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This was a year before ; Dulcie had said nothing to her father ; she might sigh, and shed even a few bitter tears in secret at finding how impossible it was to bring back these three children to the, in her eyes, only true home fold: not only this, but how they were teaching Molly and Dora,—to whom her mother's long illness had really made her as a second mother, and with whom hitherto her wishes, her sense of right and wrong had not only been law, but beloved and honoured law,—to question, to hesitate, even to rebel. If only Diana had not married, or even Kathleen had been the eldest of the three, her temper and nature were so sweet, if dreamy and a little indolent and selfengrossed, that she would never have wrought her, or the little ones, wanton conscious ill. But Friedes wide was merciless in her sense of power

and influence over all whom she came across,-just old enough, and both wise and silly enough to feel power so sweet; the breaking up, in her eyes, of merely irksome tyrannies delicious.

So now Dulcibella only smiled at Friedeswide's remonstrance, just gathered her letters together more out of the way of the breakfast cups, and remarked that she did seem to have more than her share that day.

“You might just look and see if there's any that concerns us at any rate," pouted Freda; but here the entrance of the other sisters, followed by the cook, Sarah, and three junior maids, Andrew, and the boy, completed the party. Mr. Erle took his seat, and his daughters and household subsided into their accustomed places.

Freda poured out coffee at one end; Dulcie the tea and her father's chocolate at the other; Amy had once paid a long visit to the Lawsons, and, on her return, Freda had never offered to give up her temporary post, nor Amabel to reclaim it; and she now sat opposite her father, whose own place had long been at the side of the room, delighting to look through the large bow window upon his lawn and trees.

“Now then, Dulcie, every one has their tea, --what are your letters?” asked Isa.

“Aunt Winstanley still at Geneva, I see. Molly,”—the next Dulcibella passed by; "The Great House,' that is what you girls are wanting to know about, I expect,—and George,-he will be home next Wednesday, father. Burnt Ash 11.30 train, and walk up."

“Well, but the Wollastons ?” persisted Isa.

"Hope we will all join them in a boating-picnic to Westcombe Woods,—4 to 7, to-day-"

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shall see, “ Will you go,

“All ?—who ?”

“Myself and any who will come ; Lady Wollaston hopes the wagonetteful, then some are to row up,- but there you or let papa see first,” and she passed the note to him. papa ? or may we decline it ?”

May we,-who are the we? We shall like to go,” said Isabel.

“And come with us, father, and then we needn't have wise majors with us at all,” said Friedeswide, leaning over his shoulder.

Oh, and they want Kathleen to take her violin and guitar, and have a regular musical water-party,—delicious! Oh, you will come, father?" “There seems a great deal of play coming into all our lives"

Oh, only just whilst they have the house full for Margery's birthday. But you will come too? I shan't

go

unless you do.” “Yes, I will go, for I was remiss in being so late the other day, and did not take too much pains to make myself of use or pleasure when I did join you,-also I have declined dining there to-morrow to meet Sir Thomas and his unknown wife, though they're only coming down till Monday. So let as many of us as can, do this and with a good grace. I and Amy as elders for mingled duty and pleasure, as Dulcie would rather be at home, -and you three young things for pleasure only, I dare say."

“Need I go, papa ?” asked Amabel. “No, not imperatively---" “I can, father, if you think it better," said Dulcibella; “but I

' don't think I have any social omissions to atone for,-- Amy and I called directly they came down, and we were not asked for Wednesday ; and as Mrs. Macdonald is leaving Burnt Ash to-morrow, had not Amy and I better make secure of calling on her to-day,—and tomorrow on Lady Agneta ?”

“Yes, that will be best; and I shall keep all these young people in very good order without you, I dare say.”

, “Only don't let them keep you out too late ; it is so damp on the river after sunset.”

“Oh, I trust we shall be home by then, at any rate long off the river.” And you

will take Andrew with you to drive.”
Nonsense, Dulcie; then I shall lose my box seat by father."

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“And Andrew really has more than enough to do at home; this is such a busy time.”

So it was left. Dulcibella had some regrets that, after all, the party had been arranged to consist of only these three young unknowing daughters with their father ; and yet to have gone to such a party on a Friday, an Ember day, the very anniversary of the Friday which she had once hoped to spend as much as possible in special prayer for Arthur's coming admittance to full orders, had seemed impossible to her ; also the call upon Mr. Macdonald's mother was really imperative, and impossible to be paid without her father or Amy : she had opened and read the few lines from him whilst Freda was hanging over her father, and commenting on the Great House communication-just a few lines of manly regret at having put her to such pain; an assurance scarcely needed, that he would never intrude thus on her again; the earnest hope that she would not let the words that had passed between them be any barrier to the continuance of friendly and neighbourly intercourse and assistance upon either side—the non-necessity of any answer to the note which he felt he could not leave the village without both writing and posting.

So admirably did both command their faces and voices when the two sisters drove up to Amelia Villa 4 p.m., that Friday, neither Amy nor Mrs. Macdonald dreamed of what a confession had been wrung from each the previous evening : from Mr. Macdonald in a sudden jealous alarm of the widowed Canon who might so well, and wisely, wish to make such a sweet, sensible, womanly woman, the mother of his motherless children : from Dulcibella in her wish to make him understand, once for all, how irrevocable was her own determination to remain single, that her life's story did indeed lie behind her.

But then neither was really so very young; Mr. Macdonald, though it had pleased Dulcie to call him so, and his appearance was slight and youthful, was just thirty, she eight and twenty; and by that age, as George Eliot has well put it, how many a heart-break has been got through between breakfast-time and lunch, if we still look a little pale about the lips.

Whether Dulcibella would have escaped equally well from Friedeswide or Isabel's keen eyes, she doubted; their very presence would have made this first meeting, after an interview when both natures had been stirred to their heart's depths doubly difficult and trying. As it was, she gladly fell in with Amabel's proposal to put up the pony at the

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Railway Inn and stay to the daily evensong to which in older, stronger, freer days, they had generally daily walked together, their father or Arthur their frequent companion. Only when the little waiting for the carriage and after farewells to the Macdonalds were over did Dulcie lean back with a sigh of relief, as she drove off again, thankful that mother and son had refused an invitation to lunch the next day—the only offer of hospitality which the limits of Mrs. Macdonald's visit had left open to the Rectory to make; and the need of further effort to act at length over, as a turn of the road took them beyond sight of Amelia Villa, she said simply, “Shall you mind driving, Amy? it will be so pleasant to be quite still and quiet,” passing the reins to her sister as she spoke.

Amy complied, though to the lengthening of the drive, for Diamond knew at once the change of hands; but how sweet, how soothing, how refreshing, was that shady way among the apple-planted hedge

Ducibella and her father, though of different sexes and types and of different generations, had much in common. Each breathed that day more freely, now that a dreaded blow had fallen, and the air of their lives therewith been cleared, if but for a time; in her own case Dulcibella believed for ever. Poor Alexander Macdonald and his silent suit had long been as a nightmare to her, both waking and asleep.

Meanwhile Mr. Erle had driven his young people up to the Great House, where was only one daughter, their companion from childhood, a quiet retiring girl, very glad to be freed by their presence and talents from any overwhelming share in entertaining her brothers and their friends, or even her own more especial birthday guest, Mary Lisle. All her brothers were at home, the eldest—more strictly speaking her half-brother-on leave from diplomatic service in Portugal with his Vienna-married and unknown if really English wife; Charles, the youngest, and much more her own cotemporary, from Aldershot ; Francis, the second, from the Inner Temple, where he was already working, and well in his own way, at the Bar; this the son of his life-long friend, who Mr. Erle half-hoped, half-feared was already stealing his little girl's heart away from him; they were such old friends, and had so many tastes as well as memories in common: he sketched well, wrote well, and in established Reviews; he had a keen eye for the picturesque--and perhaps that word best of all expressed the pleasure to be found in Friedeswide’s appearance, to-day and all days ; her figure was not so tall nor so lithesome as Kathleen's, whose most

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upstudied attitudes were full of languid natural grace; nor her features so regular, or her complexion so peach-like, as Isabel's,—"mere pretty doll!” thought Frank Wollaston that day as it so happened that he shook hands with this youngest sister first.

There was some afternoon tea already going on under the fine beeches on the lawn; for, after all, the picnic tea on the island had been abandoned for this slight ante-meal, and a nine o'clock dinner or supper, on return; and only fruits, cakes and ices, were to travel with them.

“Papa is too old for picnics," said Margaret Wollaston to her friends, “and we all wanted him and mamma to come with us, you see even Thomas and Agneta are here already, they came a day earlier than we had dared hope for them, so we really are all seven together, at last. I am so glad Mr. Erle is with you.”

Why, my dear ?” asked this second old man-unexpectedly near and well pleased—of the young girl whom he had christened twenty years ago; the one daughter of the Great House in spite of Sir Charles' two marriages.

Why? oh because you know you always seem a second father to me," and she slipped her hand softly into his, " a Brayscombe gathering never seems complete to me if you are not there,—I do like to see Miss Erle too, she has not after all I'm afraid changed her mind and come, has she?” looking round for Dulcibella.

“No, she and Amy had some duty calls to make, and not one of their three juniors would have liked to be left behind, so it was all as well.—Too old for picnics, Charles ? why you are younger than myself.”

“Only by dates, not facts,” answered their host, “but I don't think it was I that really felt too old, but Thomas ! he is used to warmer climates, you see, and men at thirty-five are sometimes more apt to coddle than we stouter old fellows who grew up in rougher readier days."

* English Junes are treacherous months,” said Sir Thomas, the diplomatist, with a slight shiver, and moving from the shade into the sunsbine as he spoke ; “and I remember that river mist only too well ! abroad, we are wiser, and don't expose ourselves to such varieties of temperature needlessly ;—the broiling mid-afternoon sun in which my good father made me play croquet with him yesterday !—the chill evening dews in which these young people lingered out, planning to-day's

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