On the afternoon after the croquet party Aunt Maria Wouvermans and Mrs. Van Arsdel, withdrawn to the most confidential recess of the house, held mysterious council.

"Well, Nelly," said Aunt Maria, "how did you think things looked yesterday?"

"I thought a crisis was impending, but after all nothing came. But you see, Maria," said Mrs. Van Arsdel, "that girl! she is the most peculiar creature. She wouldn't give him the least chance; she just held herself away from him. Two or three times I tried to arrange that they should be alone together, but she wouldn't. She would keep Susan and Jane Seaton at her elbow as if they had been glued to her."

"It was so provoking," said Aunt Maria, "because all the Elmores were there watching and whispering. Those Elmores are in such an elated state on account of the wedding in their family. You'd really think it was a royal marriage at the very least; and they whisper about and talk as if we had been trying to catch Sydney and couldn't; that's what provokes me! they were all on tiptoe watching every turn, and I did long to be able to come down on them with an announcement! What ails Eva? Of course she must mean to have him; no girl at her age would be fool enough to refuse such an offer; you see she's three-and-twenty."

"Well, if you'll believe me, Eva actually went and gave that croquet pin Sydney gave her to Sophie Elmore! I overheard her urging it on her, and he overheard it too, and I know he didn't like it; it was so very marked a thing, you see!"

"Eva gave that pin to Sophie Elmore! The girl is crazy. She is too provoking for anything! I can't think what it is, Nelly, makes your girls so singular."

Mrs. Wouvermans, it will appear, was one of that very common class of good people who improve every opportunity to show how very senseless their neighbors are compared with themselves. The sole and only reason, as might be gathered from her remarks, why anything disagreeable happened to anybody, was because they did not do, or had not done just as she should have done in their circumstances.

Now Mrs. Van Arsdel, though conceding in general that sister Maria was stronger and brighter than herself, was somewhat rebellious under the process of having it insisted in detail that every unfortunate turn of affairs was her fault, and so she answered with some spirit.

"I don't see that my girls are any more singular than other people's. Very few mothers have brought up nicer girls than mine. Everybody says so."

"And I say, Nelly, they are peculiar," insisted Mrs. Wouvermans. "There's Ida going off at her tangent! and Miss Eva! Well! one thing, it isn't my fault. I've done the very best I could in instructing them! It must come from the Van Arsdel side of the house. I'm sure in our family girls never made so much trouble. We all grew up sensible, and took the very best offer we had, and were married and went about our duties without any fuss. Though of course we never had a chance like this."

"Now, I shouldn't wonder in the least," said Mrs. Van Arsdel, "if Sydney should fly off to Sophie Elmore. It's evident that she is perfectly infatuated with him! and you know men's hearts are caught on the rebound very often."

"Oh, yes," said Aunt Maria, "I shouldn't wonder, just as Jerold Macy flew off to Blanche Sinclair, when Edith Enderly coquetted so with him. He never would have gone to Blanche in the world if Edith had not thrown him off. Edith was sorry enough afterward when it was too late to help it."

"I declare," said Mrs. Van Arsdel, "one never knows what trouble is till one has girls at the marrying age!"

"It's all your own fault," said Aunt Maria, "you indulge them too much. For my part," she continued, "I like the French way of arranging these things. It ought not to be left to the choice of a young silly girl. The parents ought to arrange for her, and then the thing is settled without any trouble. Of course people of experience in mature life can choose better for a girl than she can choose for herself! Our girls in America have too much liberty. If I had daughters to bring up I should bring them up so that they would never think of disputing what I told them."

"So you are always saying, Maria," said Mrs. Van Arsdel, "it's quite safe to say what you'll do when you haven't any, but it's very provoking to me. I only wish you had Ida and Eva to manage."

"I only wish I had!" said Aunt Maria. "I should have had them both well married by this time. There shouldn't be any of this kind of nonsense that you allow. I'd set down my foot. I wouldn't have it. My daughters should obey me. You let them make a perfect nose-of-wax of you. They treat you in any way they please."

"You always think so much of yourself, Maria, and whatever happens you turn round and blame me. I wish to mercy you'd had children and then you'd see! People who haven't are always delighted with themselves and always criticising people who have. If you had a family of children to manage they'd soon bring you down."

"Well, Nelly, you'll just see, you'll have a lot of old maids on your hands, that's all," said Aunt Maria. "Ida is a gone case now, and Eva is on the certain road. Girls that are so difficult and romantic and can't tell their own mind are sure to make old maids at last. There was Ellen Gilliflower, and Jane Seabright, they might both have had houses and horses and carriages of their own if they had taken offers when they could get them."

"You know poor Jane lost her lover."

"To be sure. Well, he was dead, wasn't he? and she couldn't marry him, but was that any reason why she never should marry anybody? There was John Smithson would have put her at the head of one of the best establishments about New York, and she might have had her own coupé and horses just as Mrs. Smithson does now. It's all this ridiculous idea about loving. Why, girls can love anybody they'd a mind to, and if I had a daughter she should."

"Oh! I don't know, Maria," said Mrs. Van Arsdel. "I think it is a pretty serious thing to force a daughter's affections."

"Fiddlestick upon affections, Nelly, don't you begin to talk. It makes me perfectly sick to hear the twaddle about it. People in good circumstances always like each other well enough, and any girl can get along with any man that puts her in a good position and takes good care of her. If Ida had been made to marry a good man when she first came out of school she never would have gone off at all these tangents, and she'd have been a contented woman, and so would Eva. She ought to be made to marry Wat Sydney, it is a tempting of Providence to let the thing drag on so. Now, if Sydney was like Sim Rivington, I wouldn't say a word. I think Polly's conduct is perfectly abominable, and if Sim goes on getting drunk and raises a hell upon earth at home Polly may just have herself to thank for it, for she was told all about him. She did it with her eyes open, but Eva's case is different."

At this moment the door-bell rung, and the waiter brought in a letter on a silver salver. Both ladies pounced upon it, and Aunt Maria saying, "It's to you, from Sydney," eagerly broke it open and began reading.

"I should think, sister," said Mrs. Van Arsdel, in an injured tone, "I might be allowed the first reading of my own letters."

"Oh, pshaw, don't be so peevish," said Aunt Maria, pushing it petulantly toward her. "If you don't want me to take any interest in your affairs I'm sure I don't see why I should. I'll go, and you may manage them yourself."

"But, Maria," said poor Mrs. Van Arsdel, apologetically, "one naturally has the wish to see one's own letters first."

"Well, mercy on us, child, don't be in a passion about it," said Aunt Maria, "you've got your letter, haven't you? Do read it, and you'll see it's just as I thought. That girl has offended him with her airs and graces, and he is just on the point of giving her up."

"But, you see, he says that he still desires to propose to her," said Mrs. Van Arsdel, reading, "only that as her manner to him is so marked he does not wish to expose himself to another refusal."

"Well," said Aunt Maria, "now you see, Nelly, after all, that letter leaves the game in Eva's own hands. If now she will behave herself and let you invite him to an interview and treat him properly, it can all be settled. The letter, in fact, amounts to a proposal in form. Now, Nelly, that girl must be made to behave herself. I wish I could put some pluck into you; you must be decided with her."

"It's of no use, sister, you don't know Eva. She's an easy child to be coaxed, but she has a terrible will of her own. The only way to manage her is through her affections. I can't bear to cross her, for she always was a good child."

"Well, then, tell her just how critical the state of the family is. She may have it in her power to save her father from failure. It may be just life or death with us all. Put it to her strongly. It would be a pretty thing, indeed, if instead of being mistress of Clairmont and that place at Newport, we should all be driven to take second-rate houses and live like nobodies, just for her foolish fancies. You ought to frighten her, Nelly. Set it out strongly. Appeal to her affections."

"Well, I shall do my best," said Mrs. Van Arsdel.

"Where is she? let me talk with her," said Aunt Maria.

"She and Ida are both gone driving in the Park this afternoon, but after all, sister, I think I had best manage it. I think I understand Eva better than you do. She would do more for me than for anybody, I think, for the child is very affectionate."

"There can't be anybody else in the case, can there?" said Aunt Maria. "I began to think it rather imprudent to have that Henderson round so much, but of late he seems to have stopped coming."

"I flatter myself, I managed him," said Mrs. Van Arsdel, with complacency. "I gave him a little motherly admonition that had a wonderful effect. After all it was a duty I owed to him, poor youth! Eva is wonderfully fascinating, and I could see he was getting too much interested in her. I have a regard for him. He is a nice fellow."

"I intended to have him take Ida," said Aunt Maria. "That would have been the proper thing to do."

"Well, Maria, I should think you might have found out by this time that everybody in the world isn't going to walk in the ways you mark out for them."

"It would be better for them if they would," said Aunt Maria. "If I had had the bringing up of your children from the beginning, Nelly, and you had never interfered, I think you would have seen results that you never will see now. It seems mysterious that Providence shouldn't send children to those best fitted to bring them up. Well, you must do the best you can. What time is it? Dear me, it is almost dinner time and I have a new table girl to-day. I expect she'll have everything topsy-turvey. I'll call round to-morrow to see how things come on."

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