he said, in the Common Tongue of Westeros. There were other
"Maybe James can," was the quick rejoinder of Louis, who always defended Maude from Nellie's envious attacks.
By this time the clock was striking five. Half an hour more and they would be there, and going through the rooms below Nellie looked to see if everything was in order, then returning to her chamber above she waited impatiently until the sound of wheels was heard in the distance. A cloud of dust was visible next, and soon a large traveling carriage stopped at the gate, laden with trunks and boxes, as if its occupants had come to spend the remainder of the summer. A straight, slender, dandified-looking young man sprang out, followed by another far different in style, though equally as fine looking. The lady next alighted, and scarcely were her feet upon the ground when she was caught around the neck by a little fairy figure in blue, which had tripped gracefully down the walk, seemingly unconscious, but really very conscious of every step she took, for the black-mustached young man, who touched his hat to her so politely, was particular about a woman's gait.
A little apart from the rest stood the stranger, casually eyeing the diminutive creature, of whose beauty and perfections he had heard so much both from her partial aunt and his half-smitten cousin: There was a momentary thrill--a feeling such as one experiences in gazing upon a rare piece of sculpture--and then the heart of James De Vere resumed its accustomed beat, for he knew the inner chamber of the mind was empty, and henceforth Nellie's beauty would have no attraction for him. Very prettily she led the way to the house, and after ushering her guests into the parlor ran upstairs to Maude, bidding her to order supper at once, and telling her as a piece of important news which she did not already know, that "Aunt Kelsey, James, and J.C. had come."
James and J.C. De Vere were cousins, and also cousins of Mrs. Kelsey's husband; and hence the intimacy between that lady and themselves, or rather between that lady and J.C., who was undeniably the favorite, partly because he was much like herself and partly because of his name, which she thought so exclusive--so different from anyone's else. His romantic young mother, who liked anything savoring at all of "Waverly," had inflicted upon him the cognomen of Jedediah Cleishbotham, and repenting of her act when too late had dubbed him "J.C.," by which name he was now generally known. The ladies called him "a love of a man," and so he was, if a faultless form, a wicked black eye, a superb set of teeth, an unexceptionable mustache, a tiny foot, the finest of broadcloth, reported wealth, and perfect good humor constitute the ingredients which make up "a love of a man." Added to this, he really did possess a good share of common sense, and with the right kind of influence would have made a far different man from what he was. Self-love was the bane of his life, and as he liked dearly to be flattered, so he in turn became a most consummate flatterer; always, however, adapting his remarks to the nature of the person with whom he was conversing. Thus to Nellie Kennedy he said a thousand foolish things, just because he knew he gratified her vanity by doing so. Although possessing the reputation of a wealthy man, J.C. was far from being one, and his great object was to secure a wife who, while not distasteful to him, still had money enough to cover many faults, and such a one he fancied Nellie Kennedy to be. From Mrs. Kelsey he had received the impression that the doctor was very rich, and as Nellie was the only daughter, her fortune would necessarily be large. To be sure, he would rather she had been a little more sensible, but as she was not he resolved to make the best of it, and although claiming to be something of an invalid in quest of health, it was really with the view of asking her to be his wife that he had come to Laurel Hill. He had first objected to his cousin accompanying him--not for fear of rivalry, but because he disliked what he might say of Nellie, for if there was a person in the world whose opinion he respected, and whose judgment he honored, it was his Cousin James.
Wholly unlike J.C. was James, and yet he was quite as popular, for one word from him was more highly prized by scheming mothers and artful young girls than the most complimentary speech that J.C. ever made. He meant what he said; and to the kindest, noblest of hearts he added a fine commanding person, a finished education, and a quiet, gentlemanly manner, to say nothing of his unbounded wealth, and musical voice, whose low, deep tones had stirred the heart- strings of more than one fair maiden in her teens, but stirred them in vain, for James De Vere had never seen the woman he wished to call his wife; and now, at the age of twenty-six, he was looked upon as a confirmed old bachelor, whom almost anyone would marry, but whom no one ever could. He had come to Laurel Hill because Mrs. Kelsey had asked him so to do, and because he thought it would be pleasant to spend a few weeks in that part of the country.
Of Maude's existence he knew nothing, and when at last supper was announced, and he followed his cousin to the dining room, he started in surprise as his eye fell on the dark-eyed girl who, with a heightened bloom upon her cheek, presided at the table with so much grace and dignity. Whether intentionally or not, we cannot say, but Nellie failed to introduce her stepsister, and as Mrs. Kelsey was too much absorbed in looking at her pretty niece, and in talking to her brother, to notice the omission, Maude's position would have been peculiarly embarrassing but for the gentlemanly demeanor of James, who, always courteous, particularly to those whom he thought neglected, bowed politely, and made to her several remarks concerning the fineness of the day and the delightful view which Laurel Hill commanded of the surrounding country. She was no menial, he knew, and looking in her bright, black eyes he saw that she had far more mind than the dollish Nellie, who, as usual, was provoking J.C. to say all manner of foolish things.
As they were returning to the parlor J.C. said to Nellie: "By the way, Nell, who is that young girl in white, and what is she doing here?"
"Why, that's Maude Remington, my stepsister," answered Nellie. "I'm sure you've heard me speak of her."
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