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CHAPTER XII.

CONNY AND CECILE.

It chanced that just as these little family explanations were drawing to a close, St. Edmunds, who had been engaged in less animated, but doubtless more agreeable discourse with his cousin Conny, in the library, suddenly exclaimed:

"By Jove! there is a cat in the shrubbery and an old offender too by his looks. I must go to Sir Charles for a gun."

To the study, he accordingly proceeded in all haste, but the gun, the cat and the imperilled pheasants vanished from his thoughts in a second, when he beheld the sight which awaited him there.

"Gracious heavens! Miss Cecile," cried he, on recognising her still prostrate form, "what has happened? Shall I not call for some assistance?"

"No, no, it is nothing. Pray, pray, leave me," replied she, grieved and annoyed in the extreme at being surprised in a moment of such unusual weakness.

We have already seen that our hero's judgment would not entirely forsake him in a sudden emergency, and this he again exemplified, to our mind, on the present occasion, by returning immediately to the library- to summon Constance.

"What is it, what can it be, Cecile dear?" cried the latter as she rushed into the room, and seated herself on the sofa by her cousin. "Have they been tormenting you again while my back was turned? This is too bad! Come, tell me all about it."

"So I will, Conny, presently."

St. Edmunds here felt the full gist of the proverbial expression that three are bad company, and, with a few muttered words of discretion, accomplished a dignified retreat.

"Read that article, Conny," continued Cecile, when alone with her cousin, "and you will easily guess the rest. Well, what do you think of it? Is it not a pity that such unmeaning falsehoods should make my uncle so wretched."

[graphic]

Constance fixed her keen hlue eye full upon Cecile's face and said:

"The pity to my view, darling, is, that it should be false."

"And yet," resumed Ce"cile, slightly smiling, "there is no truth in it, happily for all parties."

"Not for Edward, at all events."

"Yes, Conny, for Edward as well as for Sir Charles, for Lady Helen, for me and even for you. Imagine for a moment the ceaseless discord that such a union would introduce into your happy family, and thank God, as I do, that we are spared this trial."

"You would not attempt to deceive Conny, I do think," said the latter little personage, again fixing her smiling eyes full upon the Saint.

"I trust that I should attempt to deceive no one, but when I do make my debut in that line, perhaps I had better begin elsewhere. Seriously, darling, however precocious I may be, according to Lady Helen's account, I do not conceive that I could speak as I do now with regard to my feelings for Edward, were they any other than those of an affectionate and devoted sister. With you at all events, Conny, concealment or subterfuge would be useless; for my heart, which is yours, is all open before you."

"Very good," replied Constance, who is amazingly practical withal, "and now I don't see what we are to distress ourselves about."

"Indeed," answered Cecile sadly, "well may you scold me! I have been weak and foolish beyond all description, but there is always something in Lady Helen's words which wounds me cruelly."

"So I have remarked, dear Cecile, and I do wish that I could give you a little of my sang-froid."

"Ah! Conny, that is not in my nature. And, besides, you should remember how different our positions are."

"Now take care," said Conny, playfully raising her forefinger, " or I shall have to begin too. You know that I never allow this sort of nonsense to be uttered before me."

"Well, I must be particularly careful at this moment," replied Cecile, in the same tone, "as I am in the greatest need of your favour. You will stand by me, Conny, in this emergency?"

[graphic]

"Of course, dear Cecile."

"Then you must tell Edward, kindly, but positively, the real, sober, homely truth, and entreat him, for the peace of the family and for mine, to set at rest, now and for ever, the anxieties which have visited me so severely to-day."

"I would rather bear another tale."

"No, Conny, you know now as well as I do that this is the only true one."

The conversation was here interrupted by the slow and cautious re-entrance of Sir Charles Basinstoke.

"Ah! you here, Conny!" exclaimed he at once, evidently much relieved on beholding her. "T have just been looking for you to bring you here"

"Indeed, and well you might, papa," said Conny laughing. "I hope that you are going to give me a proper account of all this business, and to explain how this precious child can have been found here, in your own study, actually crying her eyes out."

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