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had they not known that the antiquated equipage contained the niece of their lord, that the rooms prepared for her reception were decorated as for an equal, not a dependent, and that their lady was herself waiting to receive the expected stranger, who was to make her home with them, before she proceeded to a ball at Buckingham Palace.
Thus, though attended by only a maid servant, Miss Cameron was received by the groom of the chambers, with one of his most recherché bows, and ushered through a noble hall, and up a marble staircase, into the presence of the Countess of St. Clair.
Clara Cameron, after travelling long since day-light had departed, and shut
in comparative darkness, almost closed her dazzled eyes at the glare of light which burst
upon her. Lady St. Clair was seated at her harp, and, as she arose to welcome her unknown niece, Clara thought she had never before seen such consummate loveliness. At first, there was a shade of constraint over her polished manners, as she extended her hand to receive her strangerguest, but, as the full light of an argand lamp fell on her face and disclosed its line: of classic beauty, joined to an inimitable grace of figure and air, in an instant that constraint vanished, and Lady St. Clair cordially embraced the orphan girl who was now placed under her care.
“ A thousand welcomes to you, my sweet niece," said the kind voice of the Countess; “I am delighted to see you, and as you are. For a moment, that great black bonnet cast such a shade over your face, I really fancied some gaunt spectre of Scotch antiquity was come to domicile beneath my roof—but that lamp has removed all my fears,-yes, and as you laughingly throw off that odious head gear, I see you are all I could wish you." And again she kissed Clara's smooth, white forehead. The practised eye of the Countess per
ceived in a moment that Clara's was a beauty of no common order, and at the same time was one which would never interfere with her own.
The contrast in their dress was as striking as the different style of their beauty-the one attired in courtly splendour to attend a ball given by Royalty-the other in deep mourning, and even that disarranged by a long and fatiguing journey,—the one a clear and brilliant blonde,—the other a pale and dark brunette. Clara gazed on the young Countess as a figure in some fairy scene, and the splendour of all around might
, well favour the illusion.
The room in which they stood, was one of the most beautiful, even in that mass of splendour-London.
The walls were hung with rich crimson damask, and the curtains of the same material, were lightened in their glow by mazy folds of white figured gauze, edged with silver fringe, and the intermediate spaces between the windows, filled with pier glasses, which now,
with the aid of lights placed before them, seemed to multiply the brilliant scene.
The walls were enlivened by some beautiful specimens of the old masters. The only modern picture was a full-length portrait of Lady St. Clair, in the act of tuning her harp, thus giving full display for all the beauties of her faultless figure. The rest of the furniture was in keeping with the magnificence already described. A carpet of roses and lilies, the texture of which looked like velvet. Sofas and fauteuils of the most elegant forms, courted to rest and repose, and richly inlaid tables, with vases of the freshest and sweetest flowers, completed the recherché decorations of the room.
But Clara's eye did not rest long on all this splendour, but rather turned to the fair inhabitant of so fair a shrine, and found her indeed well worthy of it.
The Countess of St. Clair was rather above the middle height, and cast in the exactest mould of symmetry, which was set off to the best advantage by the style of her dress, and its perfect adaptation to her figure. Nature was not there marred by art, as is frequently the case, for no fashion was adopted which did not suit the wearer; consequently, she was always cited as the bestdressed woman in London. Her costume was now simple, though rich and suited to the royal party she was about to attend.
A dress of white satin was confined with a zone of brilliants round her slender waist; a bandeau of the same costly jewels confined her waving ringlets, and sparkled over a brow of lily whiteness, while diamonds of immense value clasped the silver embroidered slippers, which might have matched in size with Cinderella's. This was a costly fancy of the young Countess's, and one which few, except the fairy foot of the highest lady in the land, had symmetry enough to follow with any advantage to the wearer. Lady St. Clair's eyes were singularly blue, and of so clear and bright a colour, as, without a poet's