I had to force myself to finish it. Fatally flawed on multiple levels.
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She was still on her defense: so, after imbibing his flatteries demurely a long time, she discovered, all in one moment, that they were objectionable. I know it makes me awfully happy whenever you say a kind word of me. This answer puzzled Zoe, and she was silent, and put on a cold look. She was not accustomed to be refused anything reasonable. Severne examined her closely, and saw he was expected to obey her. He then resolved to prepare, in a day or two, an autobiography full of details that should satisfy Zoe's curiosity, and win her admiration and her love.
But he could not do it all in a moment, because his memory of his real life obstructed his fancy. Meantime he operated a diversion. Tell me something about yourself— since I have the bad taste, and the presumption, to be interested in you, and can't help it. Did you spring from the foam of the Archipelago?
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How—ever—did such a strangely assorted party as yours come to travel together? Severne; not all of them what? Well, never mind, I will set you an example of communicativeness, and reveal this mystery hidden as yet from mankind. Zoe blushed pink, but turned it off. I wanted to see the Tiber, and the Colosseum, and Trajan's Pillar, and the Tarpeian Rock, and the one everlasting city that binds ancient and modern history together.
She flashed her great eyes on him, and he was dumb. She had risen above the region of his ideas. So then I told Fanny, and she said, 'Oh, do take me with you? So I asked Harrington to let me have Fanny with us, and you should have seen his face. What, he travel with a couple of us! He—I don't see why I should tell you what the monster said. But Fanny Dover was a ripe flirt, and she would set me flirting, and how could he manage the pair? In short, sir, he refused to take us, and gave his reasons, such as they were, poor dear! Then I had to tell Fanny. Then she began to cry, and told me to go without her.
But I would not do that, when I had once asked her. Then she clung round my neck, and kissed me, and begged me to be cross and sullen, and tire out dear Harrington. I am a fool to talk when you allow me to listen.
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It is not as if he had no reason to distrust women, poor dear darling. I invited Fanny to stay a month with us; and, when once she was in the house, she soon got over me, and persuaded me to play sad, and showed me how to do it. So we wore long faces, and sweet resignation, and were never cross, but kept turning tearful eyes upon our victim. How absurd of Vizard to tell you that two women would be too much for one man.
But hear the end of all our cunning. One day, after dinner, Harrington asked us to sit opposite him; so we did, and felt guilty. He surveyed us in silence a little while, and then he said, 'My young friends, you have played your little game pretty well, especially you, Zoe, that are a novice in the fine arts compared with Miss Dover. She would follow us upstairs, downstairs, and into my lady's chamber. She would have an eye at the key-hole by day, and an ear by night, when we went up to bed and talked over the events of our frivolous day. We screamed with surprise. They are like cat and dog, and never agree, except to differ.
We sought an explanation of this strange choice. He obliged us.
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It was not for his gratification he took the old cat; it was for us. She would relieve him of a vast responsibility. The vices of her character would prove too strong for the little faults of ours, which were only volatility, frivolity, flirtation—I will not tell you what he said. Would you mind telling me that? She was pale and red by turns; but Severne bowed his head with a respectful submission that disarmed her directly.
She turned her head away, and Severne, watching her, saw her eyes fill.
Are not we women too? My poor brother quite forgets he has one woman who will never, never desert nor deceive him; dear, darling fellow! Not having good enough under his skin to sympathize with that pious impulse, he first stagnated a little while; and then, not to be silent altogether, made his little, stale, commonplace comment on what she had told him.
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I have read very interesting novels with fewer new characters than this: there's a dark beauty, and a fair, and a duenna with an eagle eye and an aquiline nose. Oh, marvelous female instinct! The duenna in charge was at that moment behind that very door, and her eye and her ear at the key-hole, turn about. He has been traveling ever since, and where-ever he went he flirted; we gather so much from his accomplishment in the art; fluent, not to say voluble at times, but no egotist, for he never tells you anything about himself, nor even about his family, still less about the numerous affaires de coeur in which he has been engaged.