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with a look which an unfriendly witness might have pronounced to be not very good-natured.
She who was thus alluded to and addressed, slowly raised, for the first time, her dark and tremulous eyes, and fixing them anxiously upon the master of the house, replied, in a soft and almost plaintive tone:
"Indeed, Sir Charles, I gave no such order, or at least never intended to give one. At twenty minutes to seven, I met Mr. Collins; he told me that Lord St. Edmunds was only just arriving, that all the family were still out, and that he thought it might be well to put off the dinner a little. To the best of my recollection I merely concurred with him, judging that you would yourself approve."
"Very well, we don't want an argument upon it. Look alive now, Collins, as you know that I hate late hours."
"Well, but, dear papa," said Constance, coming close up to him, "you really must remember that you to-day are responsible for our irregularities. I thought that we never should get away from the Thornhills whilst you were discussing with them those foolish Lincoln papers."
"Not so foolish, I can tell you, Miss Constance, nor so insignificant neither. Proper advantage it will be to us, in the neighbourhood and in the county, when every body is convinced that we are all turned Papists, and a fine chance Edward will have of keeping his seat! To think that that boy's election cost me no less than two thousand five hundred pounds, and that now he is about as safe there as if he were my Lord Arundel and Surrey, forsooth!"
"Ah! but I should fancy, dear papa," resumed Constance, "that when this flaming contradiction, which you were drawing up during more than an hour with Mr. Thornhill, will have appeared, all will be set right."
"I should be curious to know who is likely to believe a single word of it," continued the self-exciting Baronet, "so long as we have rascally priests sneaking in and out of this house, and carriages of mine going from the very hall-door to chapel on every Saint's day
of their Calendar." We have suppressed
the epithet as one more applicable to fragments of roots, which had defied the utmost strength of the wood-axe.
"That is what I have said for many a day, I
beg leave to observe," interposed Lady Helen, who, while not conspicuous for any of the exterior characteristics of vaticination, certainly laid claim to an almost superhuman share of perspicacity.
A slight sigh might here have been overheard, the faint response, as it were, of a wounded spirit to more than one blow inflicted by some skilful and well-practised hand; but from whom the gentle protest proceeded our hero had not leisure to determine, for dinner having been announced, Lady Helen rose immediately, took his proffered arm, and, closely followed by the rest of the small party, adjourned to the dining-room. Here, each member of the family having apparently assumed his accustomed seat, the fair Constance remained at her father's right, leaving the chair between her and her mother vacant for her absent brother, and the place opposite to her to be occupied, not without a little hesitation, by her young companion, who was thus thrown into the immediate neighbourhood of St. Edmunds.
"Well, nephew!" exclaimed Sir Charles, when the soup had been removed, "what news have you brought us from London? Town is dull enough, I should suppose."
"Why, it is tolerably empty, to be sure; but still,, one always meets some one or another there, particularly in these railway days."
"And what do they say to this infamous Popish business? Not going to submit tamely to the affront, I trust?"
"Those I have seen lately did not seem to care very much about it; I am told, however, that there is some excitement down in the City, and a good deal in the country parts. What do they say to it in Lincolnshire?"
"Say? I will tell you what they say, and what I say too: that it is the most insolent aggression attempted against the Crown and the people of England since the insurrection of our North American Colonies; and that if I had my way, there is not one of these Brummagem bishops and cardinals too, but should be marched off at once to Botany Bay, and their successors after them, and we should soon see who would get tired of the game first."
"Ah! so we should," chimed in Lady Helen.
"And what," observed the smiling Con22 C£cile.
stance, "is to become of their flocks, respecting whose spiritual guidance neither Queen nor Parliament ever seem to give a thought?"
"Their flocks, girl! let them follow their pastors, say I, and a happy day it will be for England when they do—ha! ha! ha!"
"I see; our Edict of Nantes recalled, papa," replied Constance, in the same tone.
"What may that be? If it is one of your rascally Popish Bulls, I'd recall it, and no mistake, on the very first day that Parliament met."
This fresh sally gave rise to a laugh more general than the former, and even enlivened with a momentary smile the pensive features of the self-satisfied Baronet's left-hand neighbour. Observing, however, that she still took no share in the conversation, or, indeed, in the more immediate concern of the hour, St. Edmunds, who is, as we have yet to show, no less good-natured and kind-hearted than he is well-bred, turned towards her, and softly inquired if she too had been very angry at the Papal rescript.
"I!" replied she, not a little fluttered at the unexpected notice and interrogation, "I! why no, I have not."