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seemed genuine. “ But, I forgot,” he continued, “ you have been abroad these two years.

Ah, diplomate! while you have been industriously getting your country into no end of squabbles, under the usual pretext about commercial interests, fearful things have happened in Belgravia, terrible chances in Chester-square! You ask of me, what of Lady Lester's smile? Victor Grey, it is Poison !"

Victor started. “ P-poison !

“. Ay, lady, 'twas my word,” said Blandford, who had only lately gone through his first course of the divine Williams, and consequently never lost an opportunity of quoting him. “ Strychnia's a bonbon to it, sugar of lead a mild emulsion. This is the prevailing faith, alas ! but too well founded. Every person in society (for it does not seem to affect outsiders) upon whom Lady Lester once sheds her withering smile, comes to inevitable grief. Is it not so, Trelawny ?”

“I wish I could contradict you,” sighed Trelawny. “I knew a man -one of the best fellows in the world, too-Pettifold of ours. One night, on the Opera steps, she shot a smile, a cold blooded, deliberate smile, sir, at poor Pet, who had (imprudently enough, for he knew the risk he ran) volunteered to bring up her carriage, which was late. Next week, sir, came the Derby. Pet's nag (Ketch Toko,' you remember), well in front-chockful of running-bolted! So did he.

“Charley Webb,” observed Blandford —" you know Charley?-must know him

Victor assented.

"-Caught a mere simper across the dinner-table. It was just as the ladies rose.

Aware of his danger, Charley-always cool and self-possessed-ordered a hack-cab, went straight home, and to bed. Next day consulted Chambers. Doctor could do nothing; administered some nervous stuff, and cut him down-upon honour—to six cigars a day. It was hoped that the flowers and lights might have intercepted some of the poisonous particles. No go. All correct in the constitution, but the peril, it seems, comes in every possible form. Within three weeks, Charley was 'o'er the border and awa', wi' -his sister's cook !"

“Too true," said Trelawny; "Charley's weakness was a marinade de poulet à la St. Florentin, with love-apple sauce. That weakness was cookey's strength. Her admirable marinades à la aforesaid had been long the subject of much earnest comment, and restless, though futile, conjecture. She kept the secret. Charley married it.”

"Again,” said Blandford, taking up the beadroll of mischance, “Dolly Squires - Lord Dolly-hardest case of any. Ne-ver saw her but that once ! Introduced by his grandmother-incautious old party-rather blind ; perhaps took the noble nightshade for some less deadly shrub. Dolly made himself so agreeable, that my lady pinned him at once, on the spot, with one of her frankest smiles. He was hard up before, was Dolly, and this smashed him utterly. There was something, you know, about a bill, or note, that bore somebody's name that couldn't remember writing it. At all events, Dolly dates his downfal from that smile ; since which he always swore he could scarcely remember his own name, much less another's. The bill matter was titivated up by an eminent solicitor in the Poultry, and made to look like an act of romantic friendship on the

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part of Dolly. But he was obliged to go abroad. He's in the Black Sea now, afflicted with a consulship-no hope of recovery."

“ Seriously, now, my dear old boy,” said Trelawny, who seemed, despite the half-bantering tone of the conversation, to take an unaffected interest in the subject~5 seriously, on my honour—the innumerable instances (over and above these casual recollections) in which evil, in one shape or another, has followed every indication of Lady Lester's liking, surpasses belief, no less than it defies explanation. That a refined, accomplished, and, I verily believe, most amiable woman, should be the involuntary herald of so much misfortune, has astonished much more profound social philosophers than I can pretend to be. I simply bear testimony to the fact ; and, as a friend, I warn you.”

“You must at least have observed,” put in Blandford, “how rarely she smiles. Now, can that arise from any consciousness of her fatal influence, think

you

?” “ Callit, rather, a merciful dispensation," said Trelawny, with a gloomy smile. “Come, let's be off.“Excuse me,” said Victor, “your marvels have really affected my

Nothing short of a ramble among the roses will restore their tone. Farewell."

“ Ta-ta !” said Blandford. And off they went.

Victor Grey had confessed more than he quite desired that his friends should believe, when he said that their wonderful stories had affected his nerves. He paced slowly up and down, and hung over the "fifth azalia from the corner," as though that semi-decimal shrub possessed some mysterious power of administering peace to his disturbed spirit. Perhaps it did. His annoyance was not unnatural. Victor was “ in that observatory domiciled” for survey of a lovelier Aower than any the botanical brethren can exhibit. He was there to meet Clara Lester, and if there was another individual upon earth whose favour and good-will he had desired and striven to conciliate, it was Clara Lester's mother-that very person against whose deadly affability he had been so solemnly cautioned.

Small time was allowed him for meditation. A beautiful girl, upon whose arm an old lady was leaning, entered the conservatory, and walked straight up towards the fifth azalia. Victor Grey made a step to meet her.

Miss Lester !” “ You may say .Clara,' if you like it better," said the young lady. “ However, it is the same to me.”

" But-but-1-"
Victor glanced at the aged chaperon.

“Dear thing!" said Clara, looking kindly down upon her, “she's deaf. That's why I brought her. Yes, sir,” she continued, “an acquaintance so near its close need not depart from its accustomed forms."

- Clara !"

“ Don't clasp your hands. I must tell Mrs. Balcombe you are sug. gesting a charade. Yes, Mr. Grey, time is short, and I must speak plainly. Do you suppose that your engagement to my friend and schoolfellow, Cecy Gower, can be any longer a secret from me ?"

“Ah! you have heard it!" cried Victor, certainly not in the tone befitting a detected hypocrite.

« Indeed I have. A faithful, if an humble friend-
“ Your maid Flora-
“ Has warned me of your perfidy."
“I know she has. It cost me a silver thimble."
What, sir ??

Ensuring the betrayal of my perfidy.”.
Enough, sir. One who can behave with such selfish duplicity

“ Clara, Clara, hear me! I beg pardon. I'll put my hands in my pockets——there. I persuaded Flora to tell you this, despairing of an interview by any other means. For these two months—miserable months ! -your silence, your coldness, your constraint, have grown daily more intolerable. We cannot meet in private. You yourself forbid me to visit at Lady Lester's. In public, your avoidance of me is so undisguised as to have become almost the subject of remark. In utter despair I had recourse to this scheme.”

“Unhappy! foolish! distrustful!” murmured Miss Lester, in tones a little broken. " What have

you

done ?” "Done! All I hoped, all I sought. Enticed you here, and made you listen to me. Oh, Clara ! my own Clara

“For Heaven's sake, be reasonable.—Dear Mrs. Balcombe, Mr. Grey is quite a fanatic about flowers; he's perfectly raving about these calceolarias !” said Clara, into her friend's bonnet.

“So-it-seems,” said Mrs. Balcombe ; " and it's a very good signI say, 'my dear, it's a very good sign” (raising her voice) “ that the young men of the present day have such innocent tastes-tastes--tastes," concluded the old lady, playing with the end of her sentences, after the manner of the deaf.

“In one word, sir," resumed Clara, “ are you, or are you not, engaged to Cecy?"

6 The Heavens forb -I mean-eh-have I not told you it was only a stratagem ?"

" A most unfair one. However, I forgive you. I am to understand then, sir, that your sentiments remain unaltered. In other words, I am still to be persecuted with your preference? You love me, in short, as much, or as little, as ever ?"

No, Clara, not as ever,” said Victor Grey. “ All I have hitherto said to you is mere flourish, compliment, sound. The true history of a love like mine will not be told in snatches, at chance interviews, in hurried meetings, in the glare and bustle of the world. It needs a life to tell it -a home to make it heard. And now, answer me one question. Why-why did you disquiet me thus ?”

“For excellent reasons,” replied the young lady. "You had become far too demonstrative in your very flattering regard. The slightest suspicion, on my mother's part

“Your mother's !" ejaculated Victor, the remembrance of her fatal power rushing back upon his mind.

“ –Of any understanding between us," continued Clara, “would have ruined all."

“But why should she oppose it ?"

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“ A weakness—a fancy. I can hardly tell you. My dear mother, you must know, is a very peculiar person.

“So I have heard,” replied Victor, dryly.

“In the first place, she does not wish to see me married. In the next, she is herself, as you know, still young and handsome, besides possessing an originality, a force of character, rarely found in society.”

“ Thank Heaven it is,” murmured Victor.

“Attracting at least as many admirers as my own less interesting qualities, which, in truth, appear to be best appreciated by gentlemen with large accounts, and little brains!" " Ahem !” said Victor.

“ Thank you!" “ Victor, I know her,” resumed Miss Lester, gravely. “She will never consent but by force, or stratagem."

“Does she dislike me personally ?” asked Victor. " I hoped-hemthat I had made some progress in ingratiating myself. Perhaps,” he thought, “a trifle beyond the limits of prudence !"

“She likes you,” replied Clara, gloomily. “But if anything could induce her to smile Good gracious, what's the matter ?”

“N-nothing—that is—nothing. If she could only be prevailed upon to approve, without the smile

“I cannot comprehend you. Really, Victor, I think you might refrain from jesting on the subject of my mother. Her habitual calmness of expression—I may say, gravity-does not injure you."

"On the contrary," said Victor, with promptitude, “it is my safety. I-I mean that I admire and reverence it in the highest degree. Smiles do not suit everybody. Your mother, for example, offers a remarkable exception. Long may she preserve that excellent and considerate-I mean, becoming—demeanour! Gravity is everything-everything !"

“Still," said Clara, “I don't see why you should suddenly become enthusiastic in its praise ! No matter. Now, Mr. Grey-Victor-you must go. Bid your beloved calceolaria good-by. Tear yourself from your chrysanthemum. Be docile. Be resigned. I intend to be colder and more constrained than ever.”

“ The deuce you do! Pardon me, and why ?".

" At least, till somebody comes who will set all to rights. My good, kind, hearty, clever-my best and dearest"

“ Whom are you apostrophising ?”

“ –Uncle—Colonel Forester. He, as you are well aware, knows our secret. He can do anything with my mother. Leave all to me. Since you are fond of stratagems, my friend, you shall have a little experience of them. Now, go-go. You have stayed too long. If my mother should hear

“Why, my darling," said old Mrs. Balcombe, suddenly, “ here's an agreeable surprise! Your dear mother herself!" “Impossible!” exclaimed Clara.

But, the next moment, Lady Lester appeared at the entrance, apparently in search of them. Mrs. Balcombe had seen her pass the window.

Go, Victor, go—no, stay,cried Clara ; you cannot avoid her. Nor, indeed, is it necessary," she added. “Only obey my signals-follow my lead in everything I do or say. Will you ?”

“ Most implicitly, sweet guide.”
“ You will contradict nothing ?"
"Nothing."
“ Corroborate everything?"
“ To the last syllable.”

“ And when not engaged in doing so, hold your tongue. Now say something to Mrs. Balcombe.”

Availing himself of a trumpet, borne, rattling, like a sabretasche, at the side of the good lady, Victor mentioned, through that tube, that the air was peculiarly soft and balmy.

“ Ices and cheesecakes," replied Mrs. Balcombe, with a cheerful smile.

Victor speculated, for a moment, as to what he was supposed to have said ; and had barely time to ask her if she was partial to rhododendrons ? to which he received for an answer, Yes, monkeys always do," when Lady Lester joined them.

She was a woman of noble presence, with remarkably piercing darkgrey eyes, and graceful, though rather haughty manner.

My dear mamma!” said Clara.

My dear child !” said her mother. “ You are surprised— Good morning, Mr. Grey—to see me here. A note from your dear uncle informed me that he would be with us this evening."

“ This evening !” said Clara, joyfully.

“And as he can remain only one night, I directly ordered the carriage, and hastened hither to reclaim you from Mrs. Balcombe, and beg her to allow you to complete your visit on a future day.”

“ She will readily do so,” said Clara ; and in a few tones of her clear silvery voice, which Mrs. Balcombe always seemed to hear without flourish of trumpet, the matter was explained.

“ My dear uncle !” continued Clara. “ How fortunate! (If I could but see him first, all would be so easy.) Mamma!"

“ My love ?”
“ Mr. Grey was most anxious to see you.”

To see me?” asked Lady Lester, with a slight frown on her fair brow.

“ And has been endeavouring to persuade me to advocate his wishes." “ I am here, sir,” said Lady Lester, calmly and interrogatively.

Victor was thunderstruck. He could not divine Clara's meaning. She made no signals, but seemed, on the contrary, rather to enjoy his complete bewilderment. At last she said:

“Since you seem in no hurry to explain yourself, sir, I must, I suppose, inform you, my dear mamma, that Mr. Grey earnestly hopes you will grant him an interview this evening.”

This evening? But your uncle?”

“ So much the better. "That rather increases his desire to speak with you this very evening. Will you permit him to do so ?”

“ I can see no objection. You will join us, I hope, Mr. Grey, without ceremony.”

Victor bowed, and felt that he had been pushed on, like a threatened pawn, and escaped—something. continued her ladyship,

" I must run off with you, my Clara. Frank may arrive, and find no one to welcome him.”

6 And now,

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