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cool hand, this nephew of yours, I must tell you, and pretty well accustomed to diplomacy in this line. Ten to one that I should get nothing out of him which would give us much insight into this business.”
“Then, perhaps I had better speak to Cécile," observed the not unwilling Lady Helen
“I don't know what to say. It may be rather a delicate conversation, both for you and for her."
“Oh! as for me, Tewkesbury, perhaps you know already that I never find my duty too delicate or too painful to perform; as to her, you may set your scruples still more completely at rest. French blood is not at all so sensitive on these matters.”
It chanced, as her ill-fortune would have it, that she to whom this last good-natured sentiment more immediately applied, at that very moment appeared at the door of the library, in quest of another volume of the work that she was reading. On perceiving that the room was not untenanted, as it usually was at that hour, she hastily drew dack, but it was too late.
“ Nothing could be more opportune or more decisive,” whispered Lady Helen to her brother,
and then, in a louder voice, she exclaimed : “ Cécile, come here, if you please, and shut the door after you."
The luckless Saint was obeying, with no greater alacrity than she generally displayed, in responding to a summons from the same quarter, when her aunt continued :
“Come quite close up to us, pray, and look us steadily in the face, if you do not think that it is too great a favour to confer upon two very determined heretics. That is right; now, attend to my questions, and answer them with as much sincerity and good faith as may be. I must tell you that we are not given to be very truthful,” added she, in a most audible whisper, to her brother.
It is our duty to state, in extenuation of the frequency with which Lady Helen would reiterate this insinuation against her niece's veracity, that Cécile had, soon after her first arrival at Redburn, and when yet at the mature age of fourteen, been betrayed once into telling a slight falsehood. Though the offence had been visited, at the time, with three distinct punishments, each fully commensurate with the transgression, and though no similar failing was
ever imputed to her since, Lady Helen still thought herself justified, at the end of six whole years, in setting down the unfortunate Saint as an invariable and determined falsifier, a surmise the original justness of which no one, we imagine, can fairly gainsay.
“We are not, unfortunately, given to be very truthful,” repeated Lady Helen, “ so that I am obliged, when I require precise information, to study the countenance, as well as to weigh the words of the reply. Look into our faces, pray my dear,” continued she, ironically raising the chin of Cécile with her forefinger, “that we may gather at least all that you are not able to withhold. Now, tell me precisely what has occurred between yourself and Lord St. Edmunds.”
The colour fled so fast from Saint Cecilia's cheek, as these words were uttered, that many would have been moved, and even alarmed, at so sudden a revulsion ; but Lady Helen's nerves are constitutionally firm, and she merely continued :
“The question was well put, Tewkesbury, though I say so who should not, and you see
that we have obtained some answer, at all events.”
The Earl shook his head, and looked very grave.
“That you have walked with him, and talked with him by the hour, my dear,” resumed Lady Helen, “and valsed with him, contrary to my wishes, when my back was turned, and kept the whole house up, till Heaven knows what hours, I am well aware. But what his father and I have particular reasons for ascertaining is, whether any—what shall I say?—any communications have taken place between you and him, such as—such as, in short, young ladies, when they are discreet, do not exchange with young men to whom they are, and must remain, mere acquaintances. Do you understand my question ?”
“Yes,” faltered the Saint.
“ Then why do you not answer it, Cécile ? Is it because you are ashamed ?”
“I am ashamed,” gasped the indignant victim, “ ashamed, Lady Helen, for the gentle heart of womanhood, that such a conversation as this should be possible.”
“Thank you, my dear; but, perhaps you will not oblige me to remind you why it is that I do not think the gentle heart of womanhood, as you so prettily say, a much more infallible guide than the Pope of Rome. I am not to be diverted from my righteous object, let me tell you, by any morbid sensibility. That some communications have taken place between you—you, or rather your countenance, cannot deny. Of what precise nature have they been ?—No answer !—Then we must proceed constructively. Has he made you any presents for instance ?"
Cécile was about most haughtily to repel this insinuation, when the fatal recollection of the Oriental purse fell, like a sheet of ice, upon her heart, and the unuttered response died upon her lips.
“It surpasses all belief !” exclaimed Lady Helen, clasping her hands. “Most strongly have I warned that girl, that a young English gentlewoman, and one in her particular position more especially, really cannot and must not, with any regard to her self-respect, court and receive presents from young men, but it has been of no avail. No sooner had I interfered