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Felix lifted his lively eyebrows with a mixed expression of curiosity and surprise. “Who is Isabel?”

Lady Lydiard was vexed with herself for carelessly mentioning Isabel’s name in her nephew’s presence. Felix was not the sort of person whom she was desirous of admitting to her confidence in domestic matters. “Isabel is an addition to my household since you were here last,” she answered shortly.

“Young and pretty?” inquired Felix. “Ah! you look serious, and you don’t answer me. Young and pretty, evidently. Which may I see first, the addition to your household or the addition to your picture-gallery? You look at the picture-gallery — I am answered again.” He rose to approach the archway, and stopped at his first step forward. “A sweet girl is a dreadful responsibility, aunt,” he resumed, with an ironical assumption of gravity. “Do you know, I shouldn’t be surprised if Isabel, in the long run, cost you more than Hobbema. Who is this at the door?”

The person at the door was Robert Moody, returned from the bank. Mr. Felix Sweetsir, being near-sighted, was obliged to fit his eye-glass in position before he could recognize the prime minister of Lady Lydiard’s household.

“Ha! our worthy Moody. How well he wears! Not a gray hair on his head — and look at mine! What dye do you use, Moody? If he had my open disposition he would tell. As it is, he looks unutterable things, and holds his tongue. Ah! if I could only have held my tongue — when I was in the diplomatic service, you know — what a position I might have occupied by this time! Don’t let me interrupt you, Moody, if you have anything to say to Lady Lydiard.”

Having acknowledged Mr. Sweetsir’s lively greeting by a formal bow, and a grave look of wonder which respectfully repelled that vivacious gentleman’s flow of humor, Moody turned towards his mistress.

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“Have you got the bank-note?” asked her Ladyship.

Moody laid the bank-note on the table.

“Am I in the way?” inquired Felix.

“No,” said his aunt. “I have a letter to write; it won’t occupy me for more than a few minutes. You can stay here, or go and look at the Hobbema, which you please.”

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Felix made a second sauntering attempt to reach the picture-gallery. Arrived within a few steps of the entrance, he stopped again, attracted by an open cabinet of Italian workmanship, filled with rare old china. Being nothing if not a cultivated amateur, Mr. Sweetsir paused to pay his passing tribute of admiration before the contents of the cabinet. “Charming! charming!” he said to himself, with his head twisted appreciatively a little on one side. Lady Lydiard and Moody left him in undisturbed enjoyment of the china, and went on with the business of the bank-note.

“Ought we to take the number of the note, in case of accident?” asked her Ladyship.

Moody produced a slip of paper from his waistcoat pocket. “I took the number, my Lady, at the bank.”

“Very well. You keep it. While I am writing my letter, suppose you direct the envelope. What is the clergyman’s name?”

Moody mentioned the name and directed the envelope. Felix, happening to look round at Lady Lydiard and the steward while they were both engaged in writing, returned suddenly to the table as if he had been struck by a new idea.

“Is there a third pen?” he asked. “Why shouldn’t I write a line at once to Hardyman, aunt? The sooner you have his opinion about Tommie the better — don’t you think so?”

Lady Lydiard pointed to the pen tray, with a smile. To show consideration for her dog was to seize irresistibly on the high-road to her favor. Felix set to work on his letter, in a large scrambling handwriting, with plenty of ink and a noisy pen. “I declare we are like clerks in an office,” he remarked, in his cheery way. “All with our noses to the paper, writing as if we lived by it! Here, Moody, let one of the servants take this at once to Mr. Hardyman’s.”