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He was thinking of the bright blush that overspread her face when Hardyman first spoke to her; he was thinking of the invitation to her to see the stud-farm, and to ride the roan mare; he was thinking of the utterly powerless position in which he stood towards Isabel and towards the highly-born gentleman who admired her. But he kept his doubts and fears to himself. “The train won’t wait for me,” he said, and held out his hand once more.

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She was not only perplexed; she was really distressed. “Don’t take leave of me in that cold way!” she pleaded. Her eyes dropped before his, and her lips trembled a little. “Give me a kiss, Robert, at parting.” She said those bold words softly and sadly, out of the depth of her pity for him. He started; his face brightened suddenly; his sinking hope rose again. In another moment the change came; in another moment he understood her. As he touched her cheek with his lips, he turned pale again. “Don’t quite forget me,” he said, in low, faltering tones — and left her.

Miss Pink met Isabel in the hall. Refreshed by unbroken repose, the ex-schoolmistress was in the happiest frame of mind for the reception of her niece’s news.

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Informed that Moody had travelled to South Morden to personally report the progress of the inquiries, Miss Pink highly approved of him as a substitute for Mr. Troy. “Mr. Moody, as a banker’s son, is a gentleman by birth,” she remarked; “he has condescended, in becoming Lady Lydiard’s steward. What I saw of him, when he came here with you, prepossessed me in his favor. He has my confidence, Isabel, as well as yours — he is in every respect a superior person to Mr. Troy. Did you meet any friends, my dear, when you were out walking?”

The answer to this question produced a species of transformation in Miss Pink. The rapturous rank-worship of her nation feasted, so to speak, on Hardyman’s message. She looked taller and younger than usual — she was all smiles and sweetness. “At last, Isabel, you have seen birth and breeding under their right aspect,” she said. “In the society of Lady Lydiard, you cannot possibly have formed correct ideas of the English aristocracy. Observe Mr. Hardyman when he does me the honor to call to-morrow — and you will see the difference.”

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“Mr. Hardyman is your visitor, aunt — not mine. I was going to ask you to let me remain upstairs in my room.”

Miss Pink was unaffectedly shocked. “This is what you learn at Lady Lydiard’s!” she observed. “No, Isabel, your absence would be a breach of good manners — I cannot possibly permit it. You will be present to receive our distinguished friend with me. And mind this!” added Miss Pink, in her most impressive manner, “If Mr. Hardyman should by any chance ask why you have left Lady Lydiard, not one word about those disgraceful circumstances which connect you with the loss of the banknote! I should sink into the earth if the smallest hint of what has really happened should reach Mr. Hardyman’s ears. My child, I stand towards you in the place of your lamented mother; I have the right to command your silence on this horrible subject, and I do imperatively command it.”

In these words foolish Miss Pink sowed the seed for the harvest of trouble that was soon to come.

PAYING his court to the ex-schoolmistress on the next day, Hardyman made such excellent use of his opportunities that the visit to the stud-farm took place on the day after. His own carriage was placed at the disposal of Isabel and her aunt; and his own sister was present to confer special distinction on the reception of Miss Pink.

In a country like England, which annually suspends the sitting of its Legislature in honor of a horse-race, it is only natural and proper that the comfort of the horses should be the first object of consideration at a stud-farm. Nine-tenths of the land at Hardyman’s farm was devoted, in one way or another, to the noble quadruped with the low forehead and the long nose. Poor humanity was satisfied with second-rate and third-rate accommodation. The ornamental grounds, very poorly laid out, were also very limited in extent — and, as for the dwelling-house, it was literally a cottage. A parlor and a kitchen, a smoking-room, a bed-room, and a spare chamber for a friend, all scantily furnished, sufficed for the modest wants of the owner of the property. If you wished to feast your eyes on luxury you went to the stables.

The stud-farm being described, the introduction to Hardyman’s sister follows in due course.

The Honorable Lavinia Hardyman was, as all persons in society know, married rather late in life to General Drumblade. It is saying a great deal, but it is not saying too much, to describe Mrs. Drumblade as the most mischievous woman of her age in all England. Scandal was the breath of her life; to place people in false positions, to divulge secrets and destroy characters, to undermine friendships, and aggravate enmities — these were the sources of enjoyment from which this dangerous woman drew the inexhaustible fund of good spirits that made her a brilliant light in the social sphere. She was one of the privileged sinners of modern society. The worst mischief that she could work was ascribed to her “exuberant vitality.” She had that ready familiarity of manner which is (in her class) so rarely discovered to be insolence in disguise. Her power of easy self-assertion found people ready to accept her on her own terms wherever she went. She was one of those big, overpowering women, with blunt manners, voluble tongues, and goggle eyes, who carry everything before them. The highest society modestly considered itself in danger of being dull in the absence of Mrs. Drumblade. Even Hardyman himself — who saw as little of her as possible, whose frankly straightforward nature recoiled by instinct from contact with his sister — could think of no fitter person to make Miss Pink’s reception agreeable to her, while he was devoting his own attentions to her niece. Mrs. Drumblade accepted the position thus offered with the most amiable readiness. In her own private mind she placed an interpretation on her brother’s motives which did him the grossest injustice. She believed that Hardyman’s designs on Isabel contemplated the most profligate result. To assist this purpose, while the girl’s nearest relative was supposed to be taking care of her, was Mrs. Drumblade’s idea of “fun.” Her worst enemies admitted that the honorable Lavia had redeeming qualities, and owned that a keen sense of humor was one of her merits.

Was Miss Pink a likely person to resist the fascinations of Mrs. Drumblade? Alas, for the ex-schoolmistress! before she had been five minutes at the farm, Hardyman’s sister had fished for her, caught her, landed her. Poor Miss Pink!

Mrs. Drumblade could assume a grave dignity of manner when the occasion called for it. She was grave, she was dignified, when Hardyman performed the ceremonies of introduction. She would not say she was charmed to meet Miss Pink — the ordinary slang of society was not for Miss Pink’s ears — she would say she felt this introduction as a privilege. It was so seldom one met with persons of trained intellect in society. Mrs. Drumblade was already informed of Miss Pink’s earlier triumphs in the instruction of youth. Mrs. Drumblade had not been blessed with children herself; but she had nephews and nieces, and she was anxious about their education, especially the nieces. What a sweet, modest girl Miss Isabel was! The fondest wish she could form for her nieces would be that they should resemble Miss Isabel when they grew up. The question was, as to the best method of education. She would own that she had selfish motives in becoming acquainted with Miss Pink. They were at the farm, no doubt, to see Alfred’s horses. Mrs. Drumblade did not understand horses; her interest was in the question of education. She might even confess that she had accepted Alfred’s invitation in the hope of hearing Miss Pink’s views. There would be opportunities, she trusted, for a little instructive conversation on that subject. It was, perhaps, ridiculous to talk, at her age, of feeling as if she was Miss Pink’s pupil; and yet it exactly expressed the nature of the aspiration which was then in her mind.