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THE YOUNGER SISTER
Catherine Anne Austen Hubback
IN THREE VOLUMES.—VOL. II.
Originally Published By
THOMAS CAUTLEY NEWBY, PUBLISHER, LONDON
ABELA PUBLISHING, LONDON
The Younger Sister
Typographical arrangement of this edition
©Abela Publishing 2017
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London, United Kingdom
TO THE MEMORY OF HER AUNT,
THE LATE JANE AUSTEN,
THIS WORK IS AFFECTIONATELY INSCRIBED
BY THE AUTHORESS
WHO, THOUGH TOO YOUNG TO HAVE KNOWN
WAS FROM CHILDHOOD TAUGHT TO
ESTEEM HER VIRTUES,
AND ADMIRE HER TALENTS.
The invitation to the important party was not for an early date; ten days must elapse before the arrival of the day expected to bring so much happiness with it. The comfort of the Watson family suffered alternations which could only be compared to the ebbing and flowing of the tide, but that their recurrence could not be calculated on with equal certainty. When the pleasure she was to enjoy occupied her mind, Margaret was comparatively happy; the arrangement of her dress, the minor difficulties about ornaments and shoes, were even then sufficient to destroy her equanimity, and detract from her peace of mind; but this was nothing to the state of acidity and fermentation which her temper presented, when the grand insult of not being Miss Osborne's friend, and not invited to stay at the Castle, recurred in vivid colors to her memory.
But three days before the important morning, a very unexpected event threw the whole family into a ferment. Just as the two elder sisters were setting off to the town, to see if their new bonnets were making the progress which was desirable, the sudden appearance of a post-chaise startled them. Emma, who was in her father's room as usual, heard the wheels on the gravel, and naturally supposing that it was the old pony-chaise leaving the door, was perfectly astonished the next minute by the startling uproar which resounded through the hall. Loud laughter, and a mingled clatter of tongues, which might almost be denominated screaming, convinced her that whatever was the origin, it was not of a tragic nature, but her awakened curiosity made her long to know the cause, through she feared to move, as her father had fallen into a gentle doze. A shriller exclamation than before suddenly roused him from his slumber, and starting up he exclaimed:
"What are those confounded women about? Emma, go and bid them all be quiet."
Emma escaped from the room to obey his behest, and on reaching the turn of the stairs paused a moment to see who was there; just then she caught her own name.
"Emma is at home," said Margaret, "and as I really want to go, I shall not mind you. Pen, you can go and sit with her."
"Very well, it's all the same to me," replied a stranger, who she inferred was her unknown sister, "I am sure I don't want to keep you at home." And as she spoke she turned again to the door, "I say driver, you just get that trunk lifted in, there's a good fellow, and see you don't turn it bottom upwards, my man, or I vow I won't give you a sixpence—do you hear?"
The driver grinned and proceeded to pull down the trunk, whilst Penelope Watson stood at his elbow, and flourished an umbrella in her hand, very much as if she meant to enforce her threats with blows.
When satisfied, however, with the care which he took of her property, she had paid and dismissed him, she turned to her sisters, exclaiming:
"There, now you may bundle off too, as fast as you please, my bonnet and gown and all are in that trunk, and you shall not see them till I put them on, lest you should try and copy them."
"How very ill-natured," cried Margaret.
"No, it isn't, what becomes me would never suit you, so I only prevent you making a fright of yourself. Where's Emma? I want to see her."
"Here I am," said she timidly advancing, for Penelope's loud voice quite overpowered her courage.
"Here I am," mimicked Penelope, advancing towards her, "and how does your little ladyship do, pray? Why are you so long coming to welcome your new sister? I am sure you ought to have learnt more affection from Margaret."
Emma did not know what to answer to this attack, but looked at Elizabeth rather distressed.
"Never mind, Penelope," replied Miss Watson to her look, "she always says what she pleases; well, Margaret is waiting in the chaise, so I must go; Emma, will you take Pen to my father?"
And Elizabeth hastened away as she spoke.
Penelope turned to her remaining sister, and surveyed her from head to foot—
"Well," said she, "I suppose I had better go and report myself first, and then I can settle about my things; upon my word, Emma, you are very pretty, I am so glad you have dark hair and eyes; Margaret makes me quite sick of fair skins, by her nonsense about her own. Here I am, sir," cried she, advancing into her father's room as she spoke, "come to waken you all up; I am sure the old house looks as if it had gone to sleep since I went away, and there is the same fly on the window, I protest, as when I was last in the room. How do you do, my dear sir?"
"None the better for all the confounded clatter you have been making in the hall, I can tell you; I thought you had brought home a dozen children at your heels, judging from the uproar you created. What mad freak has possessed you now, Penelope?"
"Oh! I came for two things—one was to go to the Osborne Castle ball—the other I'll tell you by-and-bye."
"You are always racing over the country, and bent on having your own way, I know."
"So is every one; but they don't all know how to get it, so well as I do; but I see I'm disturbing you, so I shall go and unpack my rattle-traps—Emma come with me."
Emma seemed to obey instinctively—but she felt no pleasure in accompanying her sister. Her voice, look and manner, were alike uninviting, and she felt inclined to shrink from her. Penelope went to the parlour, and stirring the fire, drew in a chair close to the chimney—placed her feet upon the fender, and then turning abruptly round to her sister, said—
"So it is all your doing, is it, our going to the castle balls; it is really something new—Margaret wrote me word you and Miss Osborne were bosom friends?"
Emma coloured, but did not know what to say in reply.
"How sheepish you look, Emma," cried her sister, "one would think you were ashamed of it all; I am sure I think it vastly clever of you to get up a friendship with Miss Osborne, or a flirtation with her brother. I've a great respect for girls who know how to push their way and make the most of circumstances. What sort of young fellow is Lord Osborne?,"
"Plain and quiet," replied Emma.
"As if I did not know that," cried Penelope, "why, I've seen him hundreds of time, child; almost before you were born. I mean is he pleasant?—can he talk nonsense?—does he know how to make himself agreeable?"
"That must depend upon taste," replied Emma, "he never was particularly pleasant to me; and, as to his talking, it's neither good sense, nor good nonsense."
"Do you know what good nonsense is, Emma?" cried Penelope, "Why, then, I dare say you may not be quite detestable."
"I should hope not," said Emma, trying to smile.
"I thought your uncle might, perhaps, have made a Methodist of you, and that would not have suited me. Those musty old doctors of divinity have, sometimes, queer notions."
"I must beg, Penelope, when you mention my late uncle, you will do so with respect," said Emma, with spirit.
Penelope looked surprised—and, for a moment, was silent; when next she spoke it was to question Emma minutely, as to the quality, price and texture of her dress, for the important day and night in prospect.
"I expect Margaret will be ready to expire with envy, when she sees the real Indian muslin that I mean to wear," pursued she, in a tone of great satisfaction; "I am not going to tell you how I came by it—for that's a great secret for some days to come. Is not Margaret horridly jealous?"
Emma looked shocked.
"Oh, I see!" laughed Penelope, "you are too good to abuse a sister—quite a Miss Charity or Miss Meek of a good little girl's prize book. But, if you like to sit like a goose weighing every word you are about to utter, I can tell you that does not suit me at all. I always say what comes into my head, without caring for anybody."
As Emma, however, did not follow the same method, she did not express how very unpleasant a course she considered it; and the sisters did not quarrel then.
"How has Margaret got on with Tom Musgrove?" continued Penelope, "by-the-bye, have you seen Tom Musgrove, yourself?"
"A little," said Emma.
"And how do you like him?—what do you think of him?—do you think he is in love with Margaret?" pursued Penelope.
"No," replied Emma, answering only to the last question.
"Nor do I; I don't see that he is at all more in love with her, than he has been with twenty other girls—myself included. But it's very good fun talking to him when he is in spirits. Emma can you keep a secret?"
"Yes, I hope so, when necessary; but I would rather have none to keep."
"How absurd—why, it's the best fun possible, to have a good secret; I would tell you one, if you would promise not to betray it."
"I shall be very happy to hear anything you like to tell me, and, I dare say you would not ask me to do anything wrong."
"Wrong! why, are you such a little Methodist, as to consider whether every thing is wrong—it's my own affair, and how can there be anything wrong in my telling you if I like? If one always stops to meditate whether any one would think a thing wrong, one might give over talking altogether."
Emma was silent from not very well knowing what to say in reply; and, after a momentary pause, Penelope went on:
"Now, the only reason I want you not to tell is, because I wish to surprise all the others by the news some day. You will promise not to mention it!"
"You had much better not tell me at all, Penelope; because then, your secret will certainly be safe," said Emma, good-humouredly; "if you, who are interested in it, cannot resist telling it—how can you expect me to be proof to such a temptation?"
"You are very much mistaken," said Penelope, angrily tossing her head, "if you suppose I cannot resist telling any thing I wish to keep secret; I assure you, I am quite as discreet, when occasion requires, as your little ladyship can be, though I do not set up to be so superior to all my family, and give myself airs of discretion and superfine prudence."
Emma saw she had made her sister angry—though she did know exactly how or why, and she attempted, but vainly, to apologise for the involuntary offence. Penelope was not to be propitiated.
"I can tell you, Miss Emma, it's no use at all, your trying to be so grand and indifferent; it was not a trifling mark of my regard, what I was going to tell you, but, if you do not wish to hear it, you may let it alone. I dare say, Margaret will shew more interest in my concerns; I can tell her some day."
And with these words, Penelope rose and hastily quitted the room, slamming the door after her with all her might.
During the three succeeding days there was every possible opportunity taken by her to display to Emma the superior confidence with which Margaret was treated. Slips of paper were continually thrown across the table, containing mysterious words or incomprehensible signs. There was whispering too in corners, and talking with their fingers; hints were thrown out, which convulsed Margaret with laughing, but in which the uninitiated could see no joke; and every means taken to raise a curiosity which would have flattered Pen's self-importance. Elizabeth and Emma bore this infliction with remarkable heroism—having a strong internal conviction that a secret which required so much exertion to give it importance could not be much worth knowing, or that it would soon certainly become public.
Affairs were in this state when the important day, which had already excited such intense speculation or anticipation in the minds of the four sisters. Emma's toilette was very satisfactory to herself in its results, she hoped she should not be the plainest or worst dressed person in the room, and she certainly took especial care to arrange her hair in a way that she had reason to think Mr. Howard admired.
Duly were they transported to the scene of such great anticipations, and when they had sufficiently arranged their dresses and shaken out the creases, after being so very much squeezed, they were marshalled up the grand staircase into the state-apartment.
It was worthwhile to watch Margaret's countenance, when, for the first time, contemplating the rich furniture and evidences of wealth which surrounded her. An overpowering sense of her own insignificance, and a conviction, that amidst so much that was rich, beautiful, and costly, her own elaborate toilette would pass unregarded, were the most prominent of her feelings. She could not resign herself to the idea of being one amongst the many unimportant individuals who contributed to form one whole and animated picture; she had flattered herself with the idea that she should be quite distinguished; she had fancied that because her dress was the most elegant she had ever worn, it would be equally superior to those of the other visitors. Suddenly she found her mistake. Around her, on every side, were gay groups dressed in a far more expensive style; jewels glittered, laces and Indian shawls, velvets and brocades rustled or waved before her eyes, and the discovery that, however superior to her usual style were her present habiliments, numbers present surpassed her in elegance, caused a bitter mortification to her vain mind. It was everywhere a scene of gay bustle: animated whispers, light laughter, finery and flirtation were on every side of her and her sisters, as they followed the stream of visitors ascending to the reception-rooms. There were few whom they knew by sight; none to speak to, amongst all the company; some who passed bestowed a stare, some put up their eye-glasses, and some their lips, as they saw the four sisters unattended by any gentleman walking together. These were ladies: men when they looked once, looked again, for the whole family were good-looking, and Emma's beauty could not fail to attract when once observed. But looks did not satisfy Margaret or Penelope, who both wanted to be conspicuous characters, envied every woman accompanied or addressed by a man, and felt extremely ill-used by everything around them.
After passing through several state-apartments, where they followed in the wake of many others, they arrived at the entrance of the music saloon, where they at last encountered Miss Osborne and her mother. The latter curtsied, and then turned to some one else; the former broke off a conversation with some young people round her, to offer her hand to Elizabeth and her youngest sister, to whom she expressed much pleasure at the meeting; and said a few civil words to the two others, when Miss Watson named them. Both Elizabeth and Emma were satisfied with their reception, and would have been glad to find quiet seats from which they might survey the company, and thus secure all the share in the amusement that they felt they had a right to expect. But the others were not so easily satisfied. They wanted to keep close to Miss Osborne, hoping for the distinction of further notice, and they both declared that they had no idea of being wedged into a corner where nobody could see them. To avoid attracting attention by their angry whispers, their sisters were obliged to comply, though they both felt uncomfortable at parading the rooms without any chaperone or gentleman to escort them, and yet did not like to attach themselves to Miss Osborne, lest she should think so large a body of followers troublesome.
Passing once more down one of the drawing-rooms, they for the first time perceived an acquaintance. This was Tom Musgrove, who was in the act of escorting a party of fashionable-looking ladies, and either did not, or would not see them. To pass him unobserved, however, suited neither Pen nor Margaret, and the latter having failed to catch his eye, the former pulled his elbow to make him look at them. Emma turned blushing away, quite ashamed of the free manner of her sister's address.
His attention thus arrested, he could not avoid speaking—but his bow was as short and hurried as it was possible, and he would again have turned to his party had Penelope or Margaret allowed it. But this they would not do.
"Bless me, Tom," cried the elder sister; "how many ages it is since we met, and yet you seem not to have a word to bestow on an old friend."
His party passed on as she spoke, and as soon as they were sufficiently far off for him to be sure he should not be heard, he replied in a very short abrupt tone,
"I am much obliged for your notice, Miss Penelope, and vastly happy to see you, only just at present, as I am particularly engaged in escorting the daughters of Sir Anthony Barnard, I must beg you will excuse my further delay; your humble servant, Miss Margaret," and he rushed away as he finished his sentence.
"How provoking," muttered Penelope, "I declare, Tom Musgrove seems to have become a perfect bear since I went away."
"I wish our father was a baronet or a lord," sighed Margaret, "then he would care for us too."
"Then I am sure I should not care for him," cried Elizabeth, with much spirit; "who would value attentions dependent on such a circumstance?"
They now stood still, and seemed quite at a loss what to do, when a voice at Emma's ear made her start, and sent all the blood thrilling through her veins. The individual on whom her thoughts were fixed, he whose presence and attention were most certain of making her feel at ease—Mr. Howard, in short, was beside her.
His eager enquiries as to whether she had met Lady Osborne—whether she was pleased with what she saw, gave her satisfaction; but his proposal that they should join his sister, who was in the music saloon, and was looking out for them, was the greatest relief imaginable.
The awkwardness of feeling, from which she had been suffering, was at once done away; they would belong to some one—they would have some one to address them—some one to make them feel at home and comfortable.
Mrs. Willis was good-humoured and agreeable as ever—receiving the two strangers cordially, for the sake of their sisters, and immediately proposing that she should act as their chaperone at the ball in the evening.
To this, not even Margaret could make an objection, and Emma, with Mr. Howard by her side, was now really happy. The happiness, however, was not of very long duration; scarcely had she been seated five minutes, when she perceived Lady Osborne's eye-glass turned in their direction—and a moment after, a young man, who stood near her, and to whom she evidently addressed some words, approached and said,
"Howard, you are wanted—her ladyship finds your assistance and presence indispensable—but, before you go, I pray you to bequeath to me your seat."
With evident reluctance—Emma's only consolation, he rose, and turning to her said—
"Since, I must leave you—will you allow me to present to you my friend, Sir William Gordon—but, remember, Gordon," he added, laughing, "I shall expect my proxy to resign in my favour, the moment I return to claim the situation."
"Don't build too much upon that," cried the young Sir William, whose gay, animated countenance, would certainly have prepossessed Emma in his favour, had he not turned out Mr. Howard.
In spite, however, of his lively address, her eyes followed the other gentleman; and she perceived that Lady Osborne, after some conversation with him, sent him to fetch some young ladies from the other side of the room; and, after a good deal of bustle and change, succeeded in locating him in a corner close to herself. It was vain to watch longer, there seemed not the slightest prospect of a release for him; and, fearful lest her looks should attract notice or betray her feelings, she endeavoured to confine her attention to what was immediately around her. The music had not yet commenced, and there was neither opportunity nor inclination wanting on the part of her neighbour to amuse her with conversation.
"Have you been often at the castle?" enquired he, presently; "I do not remember to have seen you here; yet I think I should have noticed your face, had we met before."
Emma informed him that she was a comparative stranger in the neighbourhood, and had rarely been at Osborne Castle.
"Then are you sure that you are aware of the state of family politics? Are you conversant with the position of parties in the establishment?"
"On the contrary, I am quite ignorant—possessing no knowledge, and little curiosity."
"Oh, impossible! all women are curious, more or less. You must wish to have a peep behind the scenes."
"I deny it."
"But it is necessary that you should, or you will transgress again."
"Again!" said Emma, a little alarmed; "have I done so already then?"
"Certainly," replied Sir William gravely, "were you not guilty of detaining Mr. Howard by your side, when her ladyship needed him?"
"Indeed, no! he went directly she sent for him," said she, coloring.
"To send, should have been on her part, superfluous; to go on his, impossible; he should, instinctively, have sought her side, and placed himself in her service."
"Surely not—Mr. Howard is not the individual of highest rank, and could not, therefore, rightly, appropriate such a situation; and he is a free agent, and has, surely, the power of choice."
"He has, no doubt, everything to guide him. I cannot doubt of his having taste, judgment, discernment, sense; his choice cannot be questioned in some respects—but, if he intends to please her ladyship, he must prove his admiration for the mature charms of forty five, not the blooming graces—but, I am growing personal and particular, I forbear lest I should offend!"
Emma looked a little puzzled.
"Howard is my intimate friend," added Sir William, "and I really wish him well; now, do not you think he had better marry the dowager."
"It is a point which no one can presume to decide for him," said Emma, struggling with certain painful recollections.
"After all," added he, "there is no such disparity in their years—only fifteen or thereabouts—the jointure might be sometime in his possession."
"I should really be obliged, if you would find some other subject of conversation, Sir William," replied Emma, decidedly, "I do not think it good taste to criticise our hostess."
"Suppose we talk of her daughter, then?" replied he, quietly, "don't you think her rather over-dressed?"
"No," said Emma, "but I think you had better let the whole family alone."
"I think I will follow your advice and choose another subject—what shall it be?—shall we talk of yourself? Confide to me all your peculiar tastes—your wonderful aversions—your never dying friendships. How many bosom friends have you, Miss Watson?"
"None, except my sister," said Emma, amused.
"Your sister! oh, fie! no one thinks of making a friend of a sister—that is quite a burlesque—a friend's brother is, of course, a favorite—but one's own brothers or sisters are quite out of the question."
"Well, then, I am badly off indeed, for I have no friend."
"Indeed! I wish you would take me as one."
Emma shook her head.
"I assure you, I am very modest, I should make an excellent friend; only try me."
She answered only by an incredulous look.
"Here comes Lord Osborne into the room," continued he, "looking as if he were going to be hanged. Just turn your eyes this way, Miss Watson."
"Thank you," replied Emma, without complying; "but I will not add to Lord Osborne's modest confusion by looking at him."
"His modest confusion—what a good idea. Why he is the most impudent man in Great Britain. What bribe do you suppose his mother had to offer him, to induce him to come into the music saloon to-day?"
"It is difficult for me to guess. Agreeable company and excellent music no doubt."
"I cannot fancy either would gratify him; he is certainly one of the most unpolished boors in the county. I assure you his groom is a gentleman compared to him."
"For shame to say such things of your host—you are taking away his character, and there is surely some penalty attached to stealing in a dwelling-house."
"You are quite mistaken, I am doing just the reverse—giving him a character, out of the superfluity of my own. But now just look at him, he is making his way up to his mama—what would you bet that he does not tread on six ladies' toes before he crosses the room?"
Emma could not help smiling, but would not turn round, as she had no inclination to catch the young peer's eyes.
"Oh, it's not Lady Osborne, it's Howard he is addressing. I wonder what he is saying. Howard's countenance is a tell-tale, and it's something he does not like. Now they are both looking this way; upon my word his lordship is coming here. Do you think he is trying to find me, Miss Watson? Really such public notice confuses me—I am so very modest—am not I blushing now?"
Emma could not raise her eyes, for she was conscious that whether Sir William's blushes were real or fanciful, her own were painfully deep, and that he observed it. It was not however as Sir William supposed, because Lord Osborne was coming towards her, but it was the idea that Mr. Howard pointed out her seat with reluctance, joined to the arch tone and look of her companion that destroyed her composure, in spite of her utmost efforts to appear calm.
"You are acquainted with Lord Osborne, then?" said he, as if drawing an inference from something just passing.
"What makes you think so?" said she.
"I judge from your being so well aware that he is not worth looking at; had you never seen him, you would certainly have expected something superior. Shall I vacate my place in favor of his lordship?"
"As you please. It is a perfect matter of indifference to me: don't do it on my account however."
"What a perplexing answer; I don't know how to understand it; for though well aware that a lady's private opinion is usually the reverse of her public one, I am still left in the dark as to which of us you really prefer."
All this conversation passed in whispers during the bustle of arrangement, and previous to the commencement of the overture; but now the full burst of the orchestra drowned all other sounds, and made a reply from Emma unnecessary.
The silence which followed between them proved a relief to her, and thinking that her companion's attention was engrossed by some other object, she stole a glance towards the spot occupied by Lady Osborne's party. There sat her ladyship in state, and close beside her stood Mr. Howard: he was stooping to listen with a smile to some observation of his patroness, and the painful idea crossed her mind that perhaps after all they were right who suggested the possibility of an alliance between them. She could not imagine that he loved the dowager, but it was very possible that ambition, the desire of independence, vanity, or some other motive might influence him; and as to her ladyship, she must have given some ground for a conjecture so universally whispered.
A year ago, had she then known the parties, such an idea would have been rejected as absurd; but her aunt's marriage had given a shock to her feelings which seemed to destroy her confidence both in men and women, especially in middle-aged widows with large jointures. It was true that if Mr. Howard's character were such as she supposed, he would be uninfluenced by such a consideration, but in this she might be mistaken, and where such a possibility of mistake existed, it became her not to risk her own happiness by encouraging the feeling of partiality for him, which she was conscious had been growing since the commencement of their acquaintance. She made the most heroic resolutions, determining henceforth to keep as much as possible out of his company, and do everything in her power to restore her mind to a state of equanimity. She resolved therefore not to look again, but studiously to avert her eyes, and she tried hard to fix them on the orchestra, and to forget, in listening to the music, all other considerations. She was interrupted by the sudden address of Lord Osborne, who having at length worked his way up to her, exclaimed,
"I have been trying to get to you this half hour, Miss Watson, but those fellows with their music make such a confounded row, there is no knowing what one is doing here."
There was nothing in Emma's calm and collected reception of him to encourage the notion of partiality on her part which Sir William Gordon had entertained. It was polite, but as far removed from the flutter of a gratified vanity as from the consciousness of a growing attachment.
"I wish you would make room for me to sit down," he said presently. "Gordon, I think you have been here quite long enough—go and make love to Miss Carr and you will be doing a double charity."
"As how, my lord?" said Sir William without moving an inch.
"By giving her something to do, and leaving a seat for me here."
"Thank you, but in good truth I am not equal to the undertaking which your lordship has just so successfully performed. I could not make my way across such a room, and must pray your leave to remain in the modest seclusion of this corner, as best suited to my humble capacities."
"You abominably selfish fellow, you have the best seat in the room, and you know it—that's all."
Sir William bowed.
"Then your lordship can hardly expect me to give it up; possession you know is everything."
"I can make room for your lordship," cried Margaret who had long been straining forward her head to try and catch his attention. She was seated behind Emma and Elizabeth, by the side of Mrs Willis.
Lord Osborne just turned his head and gave her a momentary glance, then stooping towards Emma, enquired who was that thin girl behind her.
She informed him it was her sister.
"Indeed!" cried he; "I should never have guessed that—she is not a bit like you!"
At this moment a favorable movement was effected by Penelope, who had been seated at the extreme end of the form. Seeing the advantage of attaching Lord Osborne to their party, and too wise to expect to do so by superseding Emma, which seemed to be Margaret's idea, she quietly removed, and placing herself by Mrs. Willis, left a vacant seat.
He immediately requested Elizabeth to make room for him, and in another moment he was established by Emma's side, in the long desired position.
"What a remarkably good-natured girl," observed he in a whisper: "who is she?"
"Another sister, my lord."
"Another sister! Why in the name of Heaven, how many sisters have you in the room?"
"Only three! And how many others have you?"
Emma assured him that was all.
"Well but three is too many," replied he gravely; "it must be very awkward and disagreeable having so many—don't you find it so?"
"I never looked upon it in that light, which is fortunate, perhaps, as I see no remedy."
"That's true—you have them and cannot help it; but that does not make it less of an evil—one would not choose three sisters."
Emma did not think it necessary to reply to this speech.
"Then your father has four daughters?" continued he, as if the result of profound calculation on his part.
"Your arithmetic is quite correct, my lord," replied she, smiling a little.
"And how many sons are there?"
"That makes six children in all—what a family. It's a great draw-back certainly."
"It does not make me unhappy at all."
"That must be because you are so very good-tempered. I am not sure that I could bear it myself."
"It is fortunate that you will not probably be called on to support such an infliction!"
"Unless I were to marry a woman who had a good many brothers and sisters."
"It will be your own fault if you do that, and with so strong a prejudice against them, I should certainly advise you not."
A long pause ensued, during which every one seemed occupied with the singing, and when, at the close of the first act, there was an opportunity again afforded for conversation, Emma's attention was claimed by Miss Osborne, who made her way up to her, and offering her arm, led her into another saloon, as she said, to enjoy a little chat with her.
"How do you find Sir William Gordon?" enquired she, presently, turning away her face as she spoke, to examine some flowers near her.
"He seems chatty and pleasant," replied Emma; "but I have hardly seen enough to form a serious idea of him."
"Are you engaged to Mr. Howard for the first dance?"
"No, I have hardly seen him this afternoon," replied Emma, in her turn trying to conceal her countenance.
"That's unlucky; I wish he had asked you," observed Miss Osborne, thoughtfully.
"Thank you; but I dare say he would have done so, had he wished it; and I have no claim on him, more than any one else," replied Emma, rather proudly.
Miss Osborne looked rather quickly at her. Her eyes were particularly piercing, and she seemed to read Emma's thoughts in her face. This scrutiny somewhat distressed her companion, and she was much relieved by the approach of Lord Osborne and Sir William Gordon, who joined them, with a request that they would return to the music saloon as the performance would soon be beginning.
"Nonsense," replied Miss Osborne, "there can be no occasion to hurry—and I do not care about the first piece—it's so pleasant here—sit down again, please, Miss Watson, and, Osborne, you keep quiet."
Emma complied—the room was cool and agreeable, and she was out of sight of Mr. Howard, and therefore less annoyed than when a witness to Lady Osborne's attentions to him. Miss Osborne had a fancy for some refreshment, and sent Sir William for a glass of jelly, desiring him to select the one he thought best. Sir William insisted that her brother should accompany him to bring something for Emma, with which he complied, although his sister offered to lay any wager that he would spill it before reaching them.
"I assure you," she continued, to her companion, "he is the most awkward creature in the world, though, I own, a very good-natured one. I would not trust him to carry a jelly or a cream on any account, where I had much regard for the carpet."
The gentlemen soon re-appeared, each bearing something in his hands; but Miss Osborne's prophecy happened to be amply fulfilled: just as her brother was stooping to present to Emma a glass of whipped cream, he stumbled over a foot-stool, and laid the whole contents in her lap.
Up jumped Miss Osborne in great dismay and tribulation, and poured forth the most vague apologies, her brother being far too shocked to speak at all. Emma begged her not to be concerned, it really was so entirely an accident that there could be no blame attached to any one. Nothing could exceed the good-humour with which she bore the injury to her dress, or her desire to restore Lord Osborne to his former equanimity.
"The dress will be totally spoilt," observed Miss Osborne, sorrowfully—"and such a pretty one, what a pity: what can I do for you?"
Sir William suggested that Miss Watson should immediately try some remedy for removing the stain; perhaps Miss Osborne's own woman could afford her means of relief—at all events, it was better to make use of any method that could be effected as speedily as possible, since delay would certainly increase the evil. Adopting his advice, Miss Osborne hurried her young friend away, expressing the most sincere regrets at the accident, both as regarded spoiling her gown, and interrupting her amusement.
Emma did not attempt to deny that she was sorry for her pretty dress; but she made the admission with so much good humour, and with so evident a desire of excusing Lord Osborne, that her companion was perfectly delighted with her.
An accurate investigation up-stairs, proved that the unfortunate gown was ruined almost beyond hope of remedy; and Miss Osborne suggested that she should put on one of her own, as a substitute, as they were so nearly of a size that it was certain to fit well. Her whole wardrobe was placed at Emma's disposal, and she was soon re-equipped, and ready to descend to the company again, whilst the injured dress was submitted to the inspection of a committee of waiting women, who were to take any possible measures for its reparation. But as Miss Osborne took this opportunity of adjusting her toilette for the evening, so much time was expended up-stairs, that the concert was over before they returned to the music-room, and they found the company separated into groups, some slowly parading through the different apartments—some enjoying the collation in the refreshment-room—whilst some had disappeared to prepare their dresses for the ball.
Sir William Gordon joined them almost immediately, with enquiries as to the nature and extent of the injuries inflicted, and an assurance that the culprit had retreated, being afraid once more to face Miss Watson. Emma expressed such very simple and sincere regret that he should be distressed, that Sir William volunteered to carry to him the news of her entire forgiveness, and her friendly disposition. But Miss Osborne did not seem disposed to part with him on such an errand. Detaining Emma's arm, she engaged Sir William in a lively conversation, and it seemed evident that her desire to ascertain the nature of Emma's feelings towards Sir William arose from the fact that her own were rather warmly in his favour. He was amusing, and rather clever, and Emma enjoyed listening to him. Her attention was diverted by the approach of her sisters, and she was immediately called on to explain the change in her dress which, of course, attracted their eyes. This she did by merely relating that her gown had met with an accident, and that Miss Osborne had been so kind as to lend her another.
Now that they were standing under the immediate patronage of Miss Osborne, Tom Musgrove thought proper to approach and join them. Emma, of course, was his object, not only on her own account, but because her arm was linked in that of the honorable Miss Osborne.
"How rejoiced I am to see you looking so well, Miss Emma Watson?" cried he. "Winston must certainly agree remarkably well with you; but it is a most unexpected pleasure to meet you under this noble roof; it is the first time I have had that satisfaction."
Emma calmly admitted the fact.
"On what a magnificent scale our noble hostess entertains," continued he, "there is not such hospitality exercised in any other mansion where I visit. Does it not remind you of the old feudal times, when fair ladies held their court, and knights and squires vied with one another for their bright smiles."
"I wish you would go and see for my brother, Mr. Musgrove," said Miss Osborne, looking quickly round.
Tom bowed low and obsequiously.
"Can you tell me where I shall find his lordship?" enquired he.
"No, indeed; you must just have the goodness to search till you find him—from the turret to the cellar; from the library to the stable; including the dog-kennel—it is impossible to say where he may be."
"I obey your gracious commands with the precipitation naturally your due," cried he, bowing again, but not moving; in fact, he was too much delighted to speak to the young lady at all, to be in any hurry to conclude the interview.