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O you won't marry her?" said my Lady.
"Nor see her?" said my Lady.
"Nor see her," said my Lord.
My Lady controlled a temper that was properly justifiable. "You will find it mighty difficult to avoid seeing her," she answered. And she waved her fan rather fast in front of her fair face.
"Why?" asked my Lord disdainfully.
"She will be at every ball and rout this season. Remember, she is an heiress."
"As you constantly remind me, ma'am."
"And a beauty."
"So I have heard."
"So you once thought."
"Ten years ago, when I was seventeen," said the young man, with a sneer.
"She has not changed."
"But I have," said my Lord.
This reduced my Lady to open anger. "Then you had no right to!" she cried.
My Lord smiled at an exclamation purely feminine. He felt that he had triumphed, and the sneer left his wilful lips, and the disdain vanished from his fickle blue eyes. Having vanquished his mother, he could afford to be generous.
"Come, my Lady," said he good-naturedly, "let us speak no more of the matter." And, having discerned from the window some clear companions of his walking in the Mall below, he was for joining them.
But my Lady commanded him, somewhat sharply, to stay. My Lord obeyed, lounging in the window-seat, with a roving eye for the young gallants and masked ladies walking beneath autumn foliage.
"We must be quite plain with each other, Charles," said my Lady.
"Plain as you please," said Charles, with the air of one who stays and listens very much against his will.
"Very well, then. You will not marry your cousin, Nellie O'Farrell?"
"Oh, lud, my Lady, you know why. I have not got any interest in the girl."
The Countess made solemn accusation. "When you went to Leland—"
"Seven years ago."
"You fell in love with Nellie—"
"A chit of thirteen."
"You fell in love with her," pursued my Lady grimly, "and it was arranged that you should be married when you were of age. You returned to finish your education."
My Lord moved impatiently.
"Cannot you find some yet earlier infatuation, ma'am—some infant at whom I cooed and smiled when I was in swaddling-clothes?"
My Lady changed her tactics. "This marriage has always been taken for granted. You put the poor girl in an odious position."
But my Lord was light-hearted over that aspect of the case. "Miss O'Farrell will be as glad as I to have done with this boy and girl affair."
"You make a mistake. You forget she writes to me continually."
My Lord grimaced at one of the friends below. My Lady, perceiving this, rose in wrath.
"You certainly are not worthy of poor Nellie's devotion," she exclaimed. "Here the dear child has been treasuring a lock of your hair and your picture in little—"
This finally disgusted my Lord. Was he to be dragged a victim at the heels of a school-girl's silly romance?
"Once you see her—" continued the Countess.
"I'll not see her."
"As I said, 'twill be difficult."
"I'll leave town."
"Where will you go?"
"I will go down to Garth and—and look after the estates," said my Lord recklessly.
"Leave town now—in the season?"
"Sooner than be persecuted with this Irish miss, I will, ma'am."
"It is outrageous!"
"Think what you like—I will not marry Nellie O'Farrell."
"Think what you like, you shall," said my Lady. "You will marry her."
The glance of mother and son crossed swords; the dark-blue eyes of my Lord met the bright blue eyes of my Lady with an expression of humorous defiance.
But he respected her as a foe. He knew that she was dangerous; he had seen friends of his fall victims to her wiles, he had witnessed many a marriage of her making, and his reckless idea of a move to Garth was largely the idea of retreat.
He rather flinched before facing it out with his mother and Nellie O'Farrell during the whole of the London season—he knew my Lady too well. Discretion, he thought, was the better part. But he maintained his jaunty demeanour.
"I know you are a wonderful match-maker, ma'am," he said, "but this time you will fail."
"I do not think so."
"Do you think," cried my Lord, becoming angry, "that you can drag me to the altar?"
"Certainly not, Charles. And now if you please, we will talk of it no more. You have told me your intentions, and I have told you mine, and there is really no more to be said."
With this my Lady left the room, very dignified and calm. My Lord, watching her out of the corner of his eye, scented danger in this dignity and calm.
"I certainly must go to Garth," he groaned. He rose and yawned.
The tortoiseshell mirror opposite showed a very passable young gentleman, with a great air of distinction and a charming fair face and thick brown hair showing under the peruke—that was pushed a little back as he stretched and yawned—and a figure very elegant in peach-coloured satin.
Charles, Earl of Tremaine, was one of Fortune's favourites. Nothing had ever gone wrong with his easy life; this was the first serious vexation he had ever faced. His conscience was not altogether clear in the matter.
He had fallen in love with little Nellie seven years ago; he had importuned Heaven and earth to allow her to wait for him; he had written her fervent letters for the space of a few weeks, and, worst thing of all, long, long after he had forgotten the affair, save as a piece of childish folly, he had suffered the idea of the betrothal to remain in the background. It gave a piquancy to his attentions to other ladies, it preserved him from the onslaughts of match-makers, it gilded him with a certain romance—in brief, it was a convenient tradition that he should marry Nellie O'Farrell, and as such he had fostered it, believing that it would, in due course, die a natural death through the lady's or his own marriage with someone else. He had been utterly unprepared for what had happened—the descent of Nellie on to London, armed with locks of hair, letters, and pictures in little, the sudden announcement made by his mother that the marriage must take place this season. Hateful to be thus trapped—to lose in a moment all his independence, all his pleasant, free life, for the sake of a sentimental miss he did not know!
He was resolved to resist to the utmost; my Lady's dainty fingers should not pluck his wings so easily. In vain she told him he was no longer a boy, that it was time he took a wife and went into politics; in vain she pointed out that his reckless expenses were draining his income, and that Nellie O'Farrell was a very fine fortune indeed. My Lord would not listen; he hated the very name of the girl. But he had not the courage to remain in town and meet her, backed by the whole armoury of his mother's weapons.
"I must go to Garth," he repeated. And to Garth he went the very day that Miss O'Farrell and her mother arrived in London. The town wondered, but my Lady Tremaine held her head high.
Down in Garth sulked my Lord. The place was very dreary, half shut up, with few servants, uncomfortable. My Lord had never been there alone before—there had always been his mother to keep an establishment for him. And the weather was vile—wet, mist, mud, dead leaves, bitter little winds, and early dark that had not been noticeable in town. My Lord was bored as he had never been bored before, but he did not even contemplate a return. The exile must be endured until the season was over, and that vexatious Miss O'Farrell married or returned to Ireland.
Of course, she could marry, with her fortune and her looks, and my Lady would be forced to admit defeat, and he be free to return.
Meanwhile the time passed plaguy slowly. My Lord tried several expedients to relieve himself of this dismal life. He invited several of his friends from town to come and stay with him. But they were not to be beguiled; there was no one who would leave the delights of town to come and comfort him in his retreat. He then tried to fall in love, but among all his acquaintances there was no one quite suitable; all were too high or too low, too dangerous or too easy, or ladies whom he had loved and was now out of love with again.
It was a wretched world, my Lord decided, and felt very bitterly against my Lady. She left him entirely alone. No letters, no messages arrived. That troubled him; he knew she was dangerous when so silent. It finally became intolerable, this idle, monotonous life, this blank silence from town. One day my Lord rode out of Garth House and across the fields of Garth, and paid a visit to his nearest neighbour. Lady Margaret Wynd, who was very old, very calm, and had not been to town since the days of Charles II.
She received the young man's visit with her usual serenity. "What are you doing here at this time of the year, Tremaine?" she asked.
"I have fallen out with my Lady."
"So I supposed."
"Indeed?" the old lady seemed highly amused. "And what about, pray?"
"About Miss O'Farrell."
"The Miss O'Farrell you are going to marry?" asked Lady Margaret.
"No," frowned my Lord, "the Miss O'Farrell I am not going to marry."
"I hope you do see, ma'am."
"I see the point of the quarrel, I mean, Tremaine."
She looked with sharpness at his rough riding apparel, his hair, without peruke or powder, fastened back with a plain string, his face flushed by the autumn winds.
"And why have you come to me, sir?" she added shrewdly.
"I wished to know if you have had any news of my Lady. She hasn't written anything to me, and I think she is planning something, ma'am."
"Of course she is,"
"Well, it won't do, ma'am, and please tell her so when you write."
Lady Margaret folded her hands on her ebony stick and glared at the young man. "And why won't it do, Tremaine?"
"Because nothing will make me marry the girl."
"And I am sure I do not know why, Tremaine, for all I have heard she is a good girl, and a pretty girl, and a swingeing fortune. La, what you young men do expect nowadays!"
Her words made my Lord feel that his vehemence was rather foolish.
"I am not intending to marry at all," he said, mustering a careless air, "and my Lady has been devilish interfering with her intrigues."
"Well," answered Lady Margaret, "she has not done with you yet, Tremaine, or I don't know your dear mother."
And she fed him on Naples cakes and tea, and regaled him with the gossip of the place. My Lord left uneasier than he had come. Lady Margaret knew his mother as no one else did, and she had confirmed his suspicions that the Countess was setting some springe for his capture.
He turned over in his mind all the expedients she might employ, all the tricks he had ever heard played on others, and read of in books or seen on the stage. Probably Miss O'Farrell would be brought across his path in disguise, masking as a milkmaid or a farm-girl, or a coaching accident might be arranged outside his door, and he forced to carry the fainting lady into the house, or she might write him a piteous appeal, swearing her heart was breaking, and reminding him of his youthful vows. He was quite prepared for and steeled against any of these possibilities.
He watched with a suspicious eye every woman he saw, doubtful whether Miss O'Farrell might not lurk in the petticoats of the gamekeeper's daughter or the bright gown of the serving-wench at the inn.
Another week had dragged on since his visit to Lady Margaret, and my Lord was lounging sullenly in the hall, trying to smoke himself into a stupor, when the totally unexpected happened.
The door was open on the terrace, where the last geraniums glowed scarlet in the stone vases at the head of the steps, and the dark-coloured autumn sunlight fell in a dusky bar into the gloomy old hall. This sunlight was suddenly obscured. My Lord glanced up. A lady stood in the doorway.
My Lord scrambled to his feet, conscious of his foul pipe, his muddy clothes, his untidy hair, and more at a loss than he had ever been in his life.
"Is Lord Tremaine here?" asked the lady.
"'Tis I, ma'am.'
"Oh!" She gave him a glance not altogether flattering. "I want to speak to you."
She came towards him slowly, drawing off her doeskin gloves. "I am Nellie O'Farrell," she added.
My Lord was confounded. Of all things he had not looked for this; he had been quite prepared for subterfuge, but not for direct attack. He stood staring, holding his pipe and, for a very elegant beau, looking quite foolish.
"Please sit down," said Miss O'Farrell, as if she was in her own house, and she sank into the chair within the doorway, where the sunlight fell upon her.
My Lord seated himself, surveying her cautiously, yet with intense eagerness. He could not recall her at all. She seemed entirely different from the young child he remembered. She was even of a type quite other from that he had conceived.
She was not pretty, she was a beauty. Her slender figure, her delicately poised head, the great blue-grey eyes, the short exquisite features, the pale creamy skin, the cloudy black hair, the superb air of grace and dignity combined to make a creature rare indeed. She wore a habit of fawn-coloured cloth, and a hat with black plumes that mingled with her hair. While she spoke she held her riding-crop across her knees.
"You will be thinking my coming strange?" she asked.
My Lord could only stammer.
"I am staying with Lady Margaret Wynd," she said. "It is many a broil there has been in town, and my Lady Tremaine wrote to Lady Margaret, and she asked me to come and see you myself. And I was after doing it, my Lord, as in truth if ever there was a desperate situation, this is it."
She spoke calmly, almost coldly. Was this the girl who had treasured his letters and kept his picture?
"In truth, I know not what to say," said he.
"In truth, it is difficult," she returned.
"I am at your service," said my Lord, still on guard, despite his bewilderment.
"It is this foolishness about our betrothal," said Miss O'Farrell, without a blush. "My Lady is eager for a match between you and me, my Lord."
He flushed a little at her coolness.
"And nothing I can say will make her see the foolishness—the absurdity of it."
"The foolishness—the absurdity?" echoed my Lord stupidly.
"In my eyes it is both, and highly vexatious and vastly silly."
"Ah, yes, of course," he stammered.
"Naturally, you are willing to release me from that childish promise."
"I—I have already told my Lady so."
"But she will not take it."
"Devilish obstinate my Lady is!"
"Yes, but she must be convinced."
"That will be your affair, surely. It is that much chivalry you will be having? I must be freed from this foolishness."
My Lord coloured again. "You had quite forgotten me, then?"
She opened wide her glorious eyes. "Forgotten you? And a good many other gentlemen, surely."
"The devil you have!" cried my Lord. "And how came other gentlemen about you when you were betrothed to me?"
"It was little I was caring for that betrothal, my Lord, when I had the beaux of Dublin after me skirts, and it's little I'll be caring now, with London before me, and maybe a duke in me eyes," she laughed.
My Lord was silent, shaken by something very like humiliation. He was hotly angry with the Countess. Why had she fooled him with the story of Nellie O'Farrell's romantical devotion, when the girl was a coquette and a beauty, with half a hundred gallants after her? Ah, and my Lord would have been one of them also, could he have met her without knowing who she was.
"I am sure," continued the lady, "that your Lordship is as adverse to this match as myself, though the Countess was fain to insist that you still affected me vastly."
She waited for him to answer, but my Lord was struggling with his speech like some loutish countryman.
Thereupon Miss O'Farrell continued: "By your flight to the country you made it clear that this fantastic match was as little to your liking as to mine."
My Lord contrived an answer now. "I wish to free you, ma'am, of the plague of my Lady's intrigue."
She smiled delightedly. "I knew it, surely. You would never be the one, I can see by your good-natured face, to interfere with a poor girl's happiness."
The Earl stiffened. She was a little too pleased at being free of her bargain, and he did not like the allusion to his "good-natured face." Being used to far different flattery from women, it made him feel still further awkward and at a disadvantage.
"You have greatly relieved me," said Nellie O'Farrell, with a further smile.
He frowned. After all, he was not such a miserable match. And the minx had known how to coquette. Why had she, on her side, allowed this mock betrothal to stand? He asked her.
"Ah, well," she said frankly, "it kept the others at a safe distance, and was a useful thing, surely."
His own motive exactly, yet he was annoyed.
"Now have I vexed you," cried Miss O'Farrell, "for it is vexed you are looking."
He rose. "How can I help you, ma'am?"
"Why, you can tell my Lady to leave us alone, sir."
"I have already done so," he blurted out.
"You have!" she cried joyously. "I knew it, though your lady mother was always after saying how fond you were—"
"My Lady is a clumsy plotter, after all!" cried he, red and angry.
"Well, 'tis her only son, and naturally she is partial," said Miss O'Farrell. "But won't you come back to town, sir? It is sad here."
"And what shall I do in town, ma'am?"
"Oh, you'll just be making it clear you are no beau of mine, my Lord."
"That is plain enough," said he sourly.
"Plain? Why, half the town is saying you are here out of arrant jealousy."
"Jealousy? Of whom?"
She rose and laughed. "Fie! You declare yourself a proper country Hodge! Do you think your cousin goes begging in London, sir?"
He could picture the crowd at her heels. There would be all his own friends, too. He went hot at the thought. "And who is the fortunate one?" he asked a little grimly.
She looked at him thoughtfully. "The one I'll be marrying, you mean?"
"Well, I know who it is, but it is not for me to say, tied as I am by this foolish talk of a betrothal."
My Lord felt most foolishly angry, hurt, and jealous.
Miss O'Farrell looked wistfully out of the open door at the rich sunlight falling over the old terrace and golden landscape.
"There has always been one, cousin," she said, "deep in my poor heart, and that is why I must be free—that is why I have come to you to-day, you'll understand."
The Earl did not answer.
"No doubt," added the lady, "you are in the same case?"
Bitterly my Lord regretted that he was heartwhole—desperately tried to raise the ghost of some former admired beauty.
"Well, I'll be returning to Lady Margaret," said Miss O'Farrell. "You'll come to London?"
Come to London to see her courted by every gallant in town, while he had to stand aside!
He saw her to her horse. She spoke gaily of the house, the flowers, the landscape, the sunshine. In every turn of her body, in her speech and glance, were grace and loveliness. When she rode away, it was as if she had taken the light with her.
That afternoon my Lord made the most elaborate toilet he had performed since he had been at Garth. Curled, powdered, and perfumed, he rode over to Lady Margaret's manor.
Miss O'Farrell was abroad. She was a creature, said the old lady, whom one could not keep in the house—one for the fields and open air.
"And your mother has failed," she added, sweeping a hawk-like glance over his spruce elegance.
"She'll never get the girl for you. Why, the men are round her like flies round a honey pot! You should read the reports I get from town. Why, the creature is mobbed on the Mall and in the theatre!"
"She is pretty."
Lady Margaret held up her hands.
My Lord rose.
"You are going so soon?"
The Earl murmured excuses.
"Your mother will never get her," murmured the old lady maliciously.
"No," said my Lord to himself, "my Lady won't, but I—"
On the pleasant high-road, under the great arching yellow elms of autumn, he met her riding a white horse. She greeted him frankly. Her habit was turquoise blue, with a collar of red fox fur; her black locks were blown across this in a tangle of soft ringlets.
"Why, it is pleasant surely to meet you," she said, "and a chance to say good-bye. I'm for town to-morrow."
"And I soon after."
"It is better now things are clear between us, is it not?" smiled Miss O'Farrell.
"They are not so clear," said my Lord.
She flushed. "What do you mean?"
"That you are betrothed to me, ma'am, and I am not to be jilted so lightly."
"Well, you proposed it."
"I do not understand," said Miss O'Farrell.
He leant towards her. "Do you think that, having seen you, I am going to let you go so lightly?"
She was silent, looking down at her saddle.
"You belong to me, after all—we loved when we were children."
Still she did not speak.
"Nellie," said my Lord, in a shaken voice, "I shall keep you to your bargain."
Suddenly she looked up—her glorious eyes were radiant. "I am content that it should be so, Cousin Charles."
"Oh, my darling! And he—the man you had in your heart, dear?" he added jealously and fiercely.
"Who should it be but yourself, surely?" she murmured between smiles and tears.
But even then my Lord never guessed that my Lady had sent Miss O'Farrell to Garth.
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