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CHAPTER II.

A STRANGE ACQUAINTANCE.

A WEEK had elapsed since our hero's very momentous conversation with his father, and his projected pilgrimage having been successfully accomplished, we are to imagine him, as best we may, making his entrée into the very comfortable library where his aunt, Lady Helen Basinstoke, Sir Charles, her husband, and a young lady, evidently under twenty, had been for a few minutes assembled before dinner.

“ How do you do, nephew, how do you do? right glad am I to see you at last,” exclaimed the sturdy little Baronet, grasping the newcomer's hand with fearful cordiality. “Here's

your aunt, Lady Helen, who will say the same to you, I make no doubt.”

This surmise proved to be tolerably correct, for Lady Helen's paraphrase of her husband's welcome, was couched in these words :

“How do you do, St. Edmunds ? I am very happy to see you at length.”

“I am aware, my dear aunt,” replied our hero, affectionately embracing her, “ that you must think me very remiss, in deferring for so long paying my respects to you ; yet, I can assure you that it was from no want of inclination, but in consequence of extraordinary pressure of regimental and other duties.”

“ It is now three years and four months since we have met,” observed Lady Helen, whose formal countenance and bearing seemed to betoken a memory peculiarly retentive of everything unpleasant.

"Eh! you don't mean to say so !” replied St. Edmunds. “To be sure, I have been very unlucky; for last year, when you came up to town, I was abroad, and this season, when we were anxiously expecting you, Sir Charles's illness detained you here. I need not inquire how he is now, at all events. But dear me !"

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continued he, turning suddenly round, and thus observing, for the first time, the young lady already alluded to, and who was sitting opposite to Lady Helen, her chin resting upon her hand, and her eyes intently fixed upon the fire, “I have ten thousand apologies to make : I really had not seen my cousin Constance.”

“That's not her, Lord bless you !" cried Sir Charles, with not a little of disparagement in his tone: “ Constance has rather more colour in her cheeks than that. But here she is to speak for herself.”

As these words were uttered, another young lady entered the room, not very tall, and commanding in stature, to be sure, but with one of those faces, which ignorant or prejudiced foreigners are prone to consider as appertaining merely to the ideal types of English beauty, figured in the annual keepsakes. Further I need not describe her, for all those who have seen her will surely not require to be reminded of what they are not very likely to forget; and as to those who have not beheld her, let me recommend them to seek an early opportunity of encountering the joyous glance of her bright

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blue eyes, though I should advise them not to gaze there too often, nor too long.

No sooner did she behold the new-comer, than she hastened forward to meet him, frankly extending her two hands; but St. Edmunds being a devout observer of old customs, whenever they coincided with his inclinations, considered that he could not possibly greet his cousin less warmly than his aunt, and he therefore testified his satisfaction at their meeting in precisely the same manner.

The fair Constance, though a shade of pink, if possible still lovelier than usual, mantled her cheek for a moment, immediately recovered her self-possession, and said :

“I really am most happy to see you here."

“You do not add, at last,' as the others have, Constance.”

“No; for I am afraid that my regret might sound too like a reproach.”

“That shows more consideration for my conscience than I deserve.”

“ That very consideration is intended to bear its own reproof with it, St. Edmunds," replied the smiling beauty ; “but we must not scold you, now that we have you at Redburn."

“At all events, not until you have heard all that I have to plead in my defence.”

“Ah! to be sure to be sure, we must remember that he is not quite his own master,” observed Sir Charles ; “ but if we are to dine at all to-day, I suppose it had better be at once. What on earth can they all be about !” continued he, ringing the bell; “it is almost a quarter-past seven, and they know that Edward has sent us word not to wait for him.”

The summons was answered by a stout greyheaded butler, who, in reply to his master's expostulation, urged that the dinner had been put off until a quarter-past seven

“The dinner put off !” exclaimed the latter. “ Strange enough that I should know nothing about it in my own house! Who gave the order, pray ?”

“Why, it was Miss Cecil, Sir Charles,” said the attendant, glancing rather dubiously towards the young personage who was sitting by the fire opposite to Lady Helen.

“Oh! it was your order, was it? I beg your pardon,” sarcastically observed the authoritative Baronet, accompanying the expression

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