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The young man knitted his brows and twisted his long, interlaced fingers together, breathing quickly.
“Father," he burst out, "you wish me to accept !"
“I do not wish you to accept," answered the Abbot, smiling ; “but I am sure that you will accept unless I forbid you, my son, and I cannot take the responsibility of forbidding you.”
THE typical April day, which deluged the asphalte
of the Paris streets with sudden showers, only to make them bright and dazzling with bursts of warm sunshine, accorded aptly enough with Monica Ferrand's mood. The time had come for her to quit the convent where she had been so happy, and where everybody had been so good to her; and, although long ago fixed, as well as sometimes wished for, seemed to have come almost abruptly at last. So the joy of having done for ever with lessons and schooling was somewhat damped by the thought of leaving friends with whom she could scarcely hope to be brought into intimate relations again, and she could not refrain from shedding tears in the parlour of the Mother Superioress, whither she had been summoned to receive some last words of counsel and goodwill. For this the placid, rosy-cheeked old woman rebuked her gently.
"Come, my child, saying farewell is sad, and we shall be grieved to part with you ; but it is no such great misfortune, voyons, to return to one's own home, and your father will not be flattered if you welcome him with red eyes."
Monica nodded, smiled and thrust her handkerchief resolutely into her pocket. She had always been a docile little person, always ready to obey orders, and had given no anxiety to those placed in authority over her during an educational period of four years.
“ It is that I am rather afraid, ma mère," she explained apologetically.
“Of what, then? Not of your father, I hope? One has only to read his letters to see that he is full of kindness and affection and indulgence for you. Your position, I admit, will at first be strange and difficultespecially in England, where young girls are allowed to take the lead in a way which would not be thought desirable here—but you will have your sisters, who are married women and much older than yourself, to advise and direct you. Oh no, my child ! you do not do well to be afraid.”
The Reverend Mother might perhaps have spoken less confidently had she known a little more than she did about the elder sisters to whose guidance she commended her pupil. She knew, however, that they were great ladies, that they belonged to an ancient Catholic family, and that, during occasional flying visits to Paris, they had displayed a kindly interest in Monica, the child of their father's old age, who was destined to keep house for him at Lannowe on his return from India, where he had for some years past held an important official post. She surmised also that that period of ruling a large establishment, for which Monica did not seem to be particularly well qualified, was unlikely to last long. The girl would, of course, marry, and a suitable match would doubtless be arranged for her.
That indeed was very much what Monica herself, with her French training, anticipated ; only the plunge which she was about to take into the unknown made her shiver, both because it was a plunge and because she could not but fear that she might disappoint her father and her sisters. For she was, and always had been, the ugly duckling in a brood renowned for beauty. Not that she was really plain-since she had the Ferrand grace and air of breeding, the exquisite Ferrand complexion and the large blue-grey eyes, shaded by long, curved lashes, which are the especial distinction of that race—but the mould which had, once upon a time, turned out a Duchess of Leith, a Lady Bracebridge and a Mrs. Maltby appeared, in her belated case, to have lost sharpness of outline, and her features, with the exception of the eyes above mentioned, were somewhat insignificant. Her mother, as she well remembered, had pronounced her a failure, and her lookingglass confirmed the maternal verdict. She had always been much in awe of her mother, that tall, handsome, supercilious lady of whom she had seen so little, and who had died out in India almost immediately after Lord Lannowe had taken up his appointment there. Of her father, who also was a rather indistinct memory to her, she had not been in awe, and it was true that he had written kindly and affectionately ; still, the chances were that, on calling to claim her—which he might now be expected to do at any moment-his impression of his youngest daughter would be that she did the family no credit in respect of looks. Therefore it was that the colour forsook her cheeks and her heart thumped against her ribs when the door was thrown open to admit an elderly gentleman of benevolent aspect, with curly grey hair and a closely trimmed white beard, who took the Mother Superior's hand, bent low over it and expressed, in a few well-turned phrases, his thanks for the soins vraiment maternels which had been bestowed upon his child.
“And so this is my little Monica,” he went on, kissing the girl's cheek and leaving one hand upon her shoulder, which he patted while he talked. “Ah, how
the years slip by! It seems but yesterday that she was cutting her teeth and making a terrible noise about it! Well, my dear, I am very glad to be back with you, and I hope you are not altogether sorry to have me back.”
“ Elle est un peu émue, milor; elle s'exprimera plus convenablement tout à l'heure," the Mother Superior hastened to interpose, perceiving that a watery smile was all Monica could accomplish by way of response.
The conversation was carried on in French, which Lord Lannowe spoke fluently, if with a pronounced Britannic accent. He chatted on for a few minutes, giving his daughter time to recover herself. He did not seem to be disappointed either with her appearance or with her manners. He walked to the window and kept his back turned while she was taking leave of the kind old woman who had so long stood in the place of parents to her. But when the parting was over, and when he was driving away with her in a hired carriage through the wet, glittering streets, he said cheerily, in his own language
“So there's an end of conventual discipline, and the time has come to enjoy youth while it lasts. It don't last long, my dear, I can assure you; you had better make the most of it. Well, how would you like to begin? Shops, eh?”
He took her hand and gave it a little squeeze, which comforted her even more than his beaming face and his friendly words. She confessed, with a shy laugh, that she would rather like to do some shopping, only she hadn't any money.
"Bless your soul, I've got lots of money! What's the use of being banished for four years if one doesn't fill one's pocket by it?" cried Lord Lannowe, who had never had lots of money in his life, nor ever failed to spend every shilling that he could lay hands upon.