“Now, this time we are particularly anxious to secure him, and my son, Lord Hollingford, will not return to England until the very week before the Duke of Atherstone is coming to us. I believe Mr. Gibson is very intimate with Mr. Hamley; do you think he could induce him to favour us with his company?”

And this from the proud Lady Cumnor; and the object of it Roger Hamley, whom she had all but turned out of her drawing-room two years ago for calling at an untimely hour; and whom Cynthia had turned out of her heart! Mrs. Gibson was surprised, and could only murmur out that she was sure Mr. Gibson would do all that her ladyship wished.

“Thank you. You know me well enough to be aware that I am not the person, nor is the Towers the house, to go about soliciting guests. But in this instance I bend my head; high rank should always be the first to honour those who have distinguished themselves by art or science.”

“Besides, mamma,” said Lady Harriet, “papa was saying that the Hamleys have been on their land since before the Conquest; while we only came into the county a century ago; and there is a tale that the first Cumnor began his fortune through selling tobacco in King James’s reign.”

If Lady Cumnor did not exactly shift her trumpet and take snuff there on the spot, she behaved in an equivalent manner. She began a low-toned, but nevertheless authoritative, conversation with Clare about the details of the wedding, which lasted until she thought it fit to go; when she abruptly plucked Lady Harriet up, and carried her off in the very midst of a description she was giving to Cynthia about the delights of Spa, which was to be one of the resting-places of the newly-married couple on their wedding- tour.

Nevertheless, she prepared a handsome present for the bride: a Bible and a Prayer-book bound in velvet with silver-clasps; and also a collection of household account-books, at the beginning of which Lady Cumnor wrote down with her own hand the proper weekly allowance of bread, butter, eggs, meat, and groceries per head, with the London prices of the articles; so that the most inexperienced housekeeper might ascertain whether her expenditure exceeded her means, as she expressed herself in the note which she sent with the handsome, dull present.

“If you are driving into Hollingford, Harriet, perhaps you will take these books to Miss Kirkpatrick,” said Lady Cumnor, after she had sealed her note with all the straightness and correctness befitting a countess of her immaculate character. “I understand they are all going up to London to-morrow for this wedding, in spite of what I said to Clare of the duty of being married in one’s own parish-church. She told me at the time that she entirely agreed with me, but that her husband had such a strong wish for a visit to London, that she did not know how she could oppose him consistently with her wifely duty. I advised her to repeat to him my reasons for thinking that they would be ill-advised to have the marriage in town; but I am afraid she has been overruled. That was her one great fault when she lived with us; she was always so yielding, and never knew how to say ‘No.’ ”

“Mamma!” said Lady Harriet, with a little sly coaxing in her tone, “do you think you would have been so fond of her, if she had opposed you, and said ‘No,’ when you wished her to say ‘Yes’?”

“To be sure I should, my dear. I like everybody to have an opinion of their own; only, when my opinions are based on thought and experience, which few people have had equal opportunities of acquiring, I think it is but proper deference in others to allow themselves to be convinced. In fact, I think it is only obstinacy which keeps them from acknowledging that they are. I am not a despot, I hope?” she asked, with some anxiety.

“If you are, dear mamma,” said Lady Harriet, kissing the stern uplifted face very fondly, “I like a despotism better than a republic; and I must be very despotic over my ponies, for it’s already getting very late for my drive round by Ash-holt.”

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