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A Strange Disappearance

I saw a quick interchange of greetings between her and a fashionably dressed
lady, then they withdrew to one side with the ornament I had brought, evidently
consulting in regard to its merits. Now was my time. The book in which she had
placed the letter she had been writing lay on the table right before me, not two
inches from my hand. I had only to throw back the cover and my curiosity would
be satisfied. Taking advantage of a moment when their backs were both turned, I
pressed open the book with a careful hand, and with one eye on them and one
on the sheet before me, managed to read these words:--
MY DEAREST CECILIA.
I have tried in vain to match the sample you sent me at Stewart's, Arnold's and
McCreery's. If you still insist upon making up the dress in the way you propose, I
will see what Madame Dudevant can do for us, though I cannot but advise you to
alter your plans and make the darker shade of velvet do. I went to the Cary
reception last night and met Lulu Chittenden. She has actually grown old, but
was as lively as ever. She created a great stir in Paris when she was there; but a
husband who comes home two o'clock in the morning with bleared eyes and
empty pockets, is not conducive to the preservation of a woman's beauty. How
she manages to retain her spirits I cannot imagine. You ask me news of cousin
Holman. I meet him occasionally and he looks well, but has grown into the most
sombre man you ever saw. In regard to certain hopes of which you have
sometimes made mention, let me assure you they are no longer practicable. He
has done what--
Here the conversation ceased in the other room, the Countess made a
movement of advance and I closed the book with an inward groan over my ill-
luck.
"It is very pretty," said she with a weary air; "but as I remarked before, I am not in
the buying mood. If you will take half you mention, I may consider the subject,
but--"
"Pardon me, Madame," I interrupted, being in no wise anxious to leave the
placque behind me, "I have been considering the matter and I hold to my original
price. Mr. Blake of Second Avenue may give it to me if you do not."
"Mr. Blake!" She eyed me suspiciously. "Do you sell to him?"
"I sell to anyone I can," replied I; "and as he has an artist's eye for such things--"
Her brows knitted and she turned away. "I do not want it;" said she, "sell it to
whom you please."
I took up the placque and left the room.
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