The curricle, which was built on sporting lines, was drawn by a team of four magnificent greys, and the ribbons were being handled by one of the most noted whips of his day: a member of the Four Horse Club, of the Bensington, the winner of above a dozen races – in short, by the Earl of Shane, as anyone but the most complete country bumpkin, catching only the most fleeing glimpse of his handsome profile, with its bar of black brown, and masterful, aquiline nose, would have known immediately. Happily, however, for his companion's peace of mind, the only persons encountered on the road were country bumpkins, the curricle having passed the Islington toll-gate, and entered upon the long, lonely stretch of road leading to the village of Highgate.
The Earl's companion was a governess, a lady, moreover, who would very soon have attained her thirtieth year, and who was seated bolt-upright beside him, dressed in a sober round gown of French cambric under a green pelisse, and a bonnet of moss-straw tied over her smooth brown ringlets. Her hands, in serviceable gloves of York tan, were clasped on the crook of a plaid parasol, and she appeared to be suffering from a strong sense of injury. Her eyes, which were a fine grey, and generally held a good deal of humour, stared stonily at the road ahead, and her mouth (too generous for beauty) was firmly compressed. For several miles she had seemed to be totally oblivious of the Earl's presence, and except for shuddering in a marked fashion whenever he sprang his horses, she paid not the smallest heed to the really remarkable driving skill he was displaying. Though he feather-edged his corners to perfection, put his horses beautifully together, cleared all obstacles, including a huge accommodation-coach which took up nearly all the road, in the most nonchalant style, and handled his long whip with the veriest flick of the wrists, he might as well, for all the admiration he evoked, have been a stage-coachman.
To do him justice, he had neither the expectation nor the desire of being admired. The excellence of his driving was a matter of course; he was, besides, in a very bad temper. He had been interrupted in the middle of his breakfast by the arrival on his doorstep of his ward's governess, who had travelled up to London from his house in Sussex to inform him, in the coolest fashion, that her charge had eloped with a lieutenant of a line regiment. He considered her attitude to have been little short of brazen. Instead of evincing the contrition proper in a lady who had so grossly failed in the execution of her duty, she had said in her calm way that it served him right for not having given his consent to the marriage six months before. You would have thought from her manner that she had positively sped the young couple on their way to the Border (though that she swore she had not); and she had actually had the effrontery to advise him to make the best of it.
But the Earl, who had enjoyed his own way ever since he could remember, was not one who acquiesced readily in the oversetting of his will, and instead of accepting Miss Fairfax's advice he had ordered out his curricle and greys, had commanded Miss Fairfax to mount up on to the seat beside him, turning a deaf ear to her protests, and had driven off at a spanking rate, with the express intention of overtaking the runaways, and of bringing the recalcitrant Miss Gellibrand back to town under the escort of her governess.
Since he was driving an unrivalled team over the first stage of the journey, and could afford to change horses as often as he chose, Miss Fairfax could place little dependence on the eloping couple's contriving to outstrip pursuit. They had, indeed, several hours' law, but she guessed that Mr. Edmund Monksley, living upon his pay, would have to be content to travel with a pair of horses only harnessed to his post-chaise. The hire of post- horses was heavy, the journey to Gretna Green long, and the Earl's method of driving too swift for any job-chaise and pair to outdistance.
The bare expanse of Finchley Common being reached, a faint hope of being held up by highwaymen sustained Miss Fairfax's spirits for some way, but when the equipage arrived at the Whetstone gate without incident, she relapsed again into melancholy.
Her silence seemed to irritate the Earl. He said in a sardonic voice, 'We have a good many miles to cover, I dare say, so you may as well come out of your sulks, ma'am. I should be interested to learn what right you imagine you have to indulge in this air of outraged virtue!'
'I have told you, sir, until I am quite tired of it, that I had nothing to do with Lucilla's flight,' said Miss Fairfax coldly.
'No! You merely encouraged the fellow to visit my ward whenever he chose, and in spite of my prohibition – which you were perfectly well aware of!'
'I didn't encourage him at all. He never set foot inside your house, sir.'
'Then where the devil did they meet?' demanded his lordship.
'In the orchard,' replied Miss Fairfax.
'Very romantic!' said the Earl, with a snort of disgust. 'And pray what were you about, ma'am?'
'Looking the other way,' said Miss Fairfax unblushingly.
'I wonder you dare to sit there and tell me so! It only remains for you to say that this damnable elopement has your approval!'
'Well, it has not,' she replied. 'I should have preferred a pretty wedding for them, but since you were so extremely disagreeable, and Mr. Monksley's regiment has been ordered to the Peninsula, I really do not know what else they could have done, poor things!'
'Do you realise, ma'am,' demanded the Earl, 'that you have helped my ward to throw herself away, at the age of seventeen, upon a penniless nobody, wholly dependent for his advancement upon the hazards of war? – since I am very certain he will never be able to afford to buy his promotion!'
'No, I fear not,' she agreed. 'I do not know, of course, the extent of Lucilla's fortune.'
'Then I expect you will be obliged to purchase a company for him,' said Miss Fairfax.
'I?' he ejaculated, looking thunderstruck.
'You are so wealthy a few hundred pounds can't signify to you, after all'
'Upon my word, ma'am! I shall do nothing of the kind!'
'Very well,' said Miss Fairfax, 'if you are determined on being disobliging, I dare say Lucilla won't care a button. She is a soldier's daughter, and not in the least likely to turn into a fashionable young lady. I feel sure she and Mr. Monksley will deal extremely together.'
'Are you aware, ma'am, that it is my intention to marry Lucilla myself?'
There was a slight pause. Miss Fairfax said rather carefully, 'I was aware of it, sir, but I have always been at a loss to know why. You must be quite sixteen years her senior, nor have you, during the three years I have been in charge of Lucilla, shown the least partiality for her society. In fact, you have kept her secluded in the country, and have only visited her at the most infrequent intervals.'
'If you mean that I am not in love with her, no, certainly I am not!' responded the Earl stiffly. 'The match was the wish of both our fathers.'
'How elevating it is to encounter such filial piety in these days!' observed Miss Fairfax soulfully.
The Earl dropped his hands, and let his team shoot, nearly unseating Miss Fairfax.
Silence reigned once more. At Barnet, which marked the end of the first stage, the greys were still going well, a circumstance which induced the Earl to sweep past the Red Lion, with its yellow-jacketed postboys and its twenty-six pairs of good horses, and press on for another nine miles to Hatfield. Miss Fairfax, who had never driven so fast in her life, began to fear that at any moment they must overtake the fugitives. She ventured presently to ask the Earl when he expected to catch up with them.
'I have no means of knowing. Before nightfall, I trust.'
'Indeed, I trust so too!' said Miss Fairfax, with a good deal of feeling. 'But if you do not?'
'Then, ma'am, we shall put up at an inn for the night, and continue our journey in the morning.'
Miss Fairfax appeared to struggle with herself, saying presently in a voice of strong emotion, 'I shall pass over the impropriety of such a scheme, my lord, but I desire to point out to you that all the baggage I have with me is this reticule!'
He shrugged his shoulders. 'I regret the inconvenience, but it can't be helped.'
This was too much for her. 'Let me tell you, sir, that it can be helped very easily, by your abandoning this chase, and returning, like a sensible man, to London!'
'I shall return when I have caught my ward, and not before.'
'Well,' said Miss Fairfax, controlling herself with an obvious effort, 'it all goes to show how mistaken one may be in a person's character. I was used to think you, sir, for all your faults, perfectly amiable and gentlemanly.'
'For all my faults!' he repeated, surprised into looking round at her. 'And pray what are these faults of mine?'
'Temper, pride, reserve, obstinacy, stupidity, and the most overbearing manners!' she replied, without hesitation.
There was just the suggestion of a quiver at the corners of his mouth. 'You are frank, ma'am! I, on the other hand, thought you, until this morning, the perfect governess.'
Miss Fairfax did not appear to derive any extraordinary degree of gratification from this tribute, but turned a little pale, and said unsteadily, 'I beg your pardon. I should not have spoken so. I am aware that in your eyes I have acted wrongly.'
He glanced quickly down at her, a softer expression on his face, but he said nothing for a few minutes, being fully engaged in quartering the road, to avoid a succession of deep pits in it. After a time, however, he said in a gentler tone, 'Come! We gain nothing by bickering, after all. I never thought to find myself quarrelling with you, Mary Fairfax!'
'Didn't you, sir?'
'Why, no!' he said, slightly smiling. 'You have always seemed to me the most restful of women, ma'am.'
'I suppose you mean unobtrusive,' said Miss Fairfax crossly.
It was many hours later, and the last grey light was fading from the sky, when the curricle entered Grantham, a distance of over a hundred miles from London. Miss Fairfax, by this time resigned to her fate, was enveloped in his lordship's many-caped driving-coat of drab cloth, and his lordship himself was in a mood of dangerous exasperation.
All had gone smoothly during the first part of the journey. The greys had held up until Hatfield was reached, and there the Earl had been fortunate enough to secure a team of strengthy, quick-actioned beasts to carry him to the next stage. But a little beyond Biggleswade they had encountered a whisky, driven by a very down-the-road-looking man, who came sweeping round a bend on the wrong side, and collided with the curricle. Thanks to the Earl's presence of mind in swerving aside almost into the ditch, there was not much damage done, but a necessary repair to one of the off-side wheels had to be effected at the next town they came to. This meant a delay of nearly an hour, but the Earl's temper was not seriously impaired until much later, when, crossing Witham Common, one of the wheelers of the team put-to at Stamford went dead lame. To be reduced at the end of a long day to running pick-axe set the seal to his lordship's exasperation. There was nothing for it but to drive slowly on to the next posting-house. The Earl, mounting the box again, after an inspection of the wheeler's leg, told Miss Fairfax bitterly that the whole business, from start to finish, might be laid at her door, an accusation which she received in weary silence.
Conversation thereafter was of a desultory nature. In Grantham, the Angel and Royal showed welcoming lights glowing in its oriel windows; and as the curricle passed under the Gothic stone arch into the courtyard, Miss Fairfax was conscious, not of any desire to return to London, but of a profound inclination towards dinner, and a well-aired bed.
The Earl handed her down from the curricle. She was so stiff that to move was quite painful, but she managed to discard the voluminous driving-coat, to straighten her bonnet, and to walk with a very fair assumption of dignity into the inn. She fancied that the maidservant who escorted her to a bedchamber looked at her curiously, but she felt too tired to enter upon any extempore explanation of her baggage-less condition.
The Earl had engaged a private parlour, and, although it was early summer, had caused a fire to be kindled in the grate. He looked to be in a better humour when Miss Fairfax presently entered the room. He was engaged in snuffing one of the candles in a branch on the table, and said in his abrupt way: 'I hope you are hungry. The cooking is good here.'
'I am hungry,' she replied. 'But mostly I am quite in a worry to know how to account to the chambermaid for my lack of baggage. It must present the oddest appearance!'
'You need not regard it. I am known here.'
This careless response did not seem to Miss Fairfax to offer the least explanation of her plight, but she refrained from pointing this out to his lordship. As she moved toward the fire, he said, 'When we changed horses at Stilton, I made certain enquiries. From what I was able to ascertain, we should by now have caught up with the runaways, had it not been for those unfortunate mishaps. They certainly stopped at Stilton, not many hours before we did. They are travelling with a single pair of post-horses. Since there is no moon, I fancy they will be putting up at Newark, or thereabouts, for the night.'
A suspicion that the couple might be in Grantham crossed Miss Fairfax's mind. As though he had read her thought, the Earl said, 'I cannot discover that they stopped in this town. Nothing has been seen of them here, or at the George. It seems odd, but it is possible, of course, that they changed horses at Greetham. I wish now that I had enquired for them there. However, they will scarcely go beyond Newark tonight. I shall drive there when we have dined.'
'Nothing,' said Miss Fairfax, with resolution, 'would induce me to travel another mile this day!'
'It will be quite unnecessary for you to do so. I shall bring Lucilla back with me.'
'If you would only let them be married!' sighed Miss Fairfax.
He ignored this remark, and, upon a servant's coming in to lay the covers, merely invited Miss Fairfax to sit down at the table. She obeyed him, but although she had fancied herself to have been hungry, and was now confronted with a very handsome dinner, she found that she was too tired to partake of anything but the lightest of repasts. The Earl pressed her in vain to salmon, lamb, green goose, and apricot tartlets: she would take nothing but some soup and a glass of wine. 'To tell you the truth,' she said candidly, 'I feel a trifle sick.'
'This, I collect, is a reproach to me for having obliged you to come with me!' said his lordship, in a goaded voice.
'Oh, no!' she murmured.
He went on eating his dinner, a heavy frown on his face. Miss Fairfax was wondering whether she would be permitted to go to bed before the Earl's return from Newark, with (or without) his ward, when one of the servants came into the room with the intelligence that a lady and gentleman had that instant arrived at the inn, and were demanding to see his lordship.
'A lady and gentleman?' repeated the Earl. 'Demanding to see me?' He looked towards Miss Fairfax in the liveliest astonishment. 'This is certainly unexpected!' he said. 'Can it be that Lucilla has thought better of her rashness?'
Miss Fairfax, who had risen from the table and gone back to the fireside, did not feel equal to hazarding any conjecture. She agreed that it was indeed unexpected.
It turned out to be more unexpected than the Earl had bargained for. Instead of Miss Gellibrand and her swain, a matron with a face not unlike a parrot's sailed into the parlour, closely followed by an insipid-looking gentleman in a sad-coloured redingote.
The Earl stood staring, his napkin still grasped in one hand, the other lightly holding the back of his chair. The matron, having paused on the threshold, tottered forward, all the plumes in her beehive-bonnet nodding in sympathy with her evident agitation, and pronounced in thrilling accents, 'We are in time!'
'What in the name of heaven does this mean?' demanded the Earl, looking black as thunder.
Miss Fairfax, who had recognised the newcomers as the Earl's aunt-in-law and her son, his cousin and heir, blinked at them in considerable surprise.
Lady Wilfrid Drayton paid no heed to her, but said, addressing her nephew, 'It means, Charles, that I am in time to stop your doing what you will regret all your life!'
'Upon my word, ma'am, someone seems to have been busy! What the— what do you know of the matter, pray?'
'I know all!' said the lady comprehensively.
'The devil you do! Perhaps you will be so obliging as to tell me, ma'am, to which of my servants you are indebted for your information?'
'It does not signify talking!' she said, sweeping this home-question aside. 'Most solemnly I wan you, Charles, that you are making a terrible mistake!'
Her son, who had been engaged in sucking the knob of his cane, removed it from his mouth to say, 'Knowing it to be a matter closely concerning us—'
'I know nothing of the sort,' interrupted the Earl, looking at him with cold contempt. 'In fact, I cannot conceive what the devil you mean by thrusting yourself into my affairs!'
'Your actions are the concern of all your family,' announced Lady Wilfrid. 'When I learned how you had set off with this woman, and with what disastrous purpose, I saw my duty plain before me!'
A slight flush rose to the Earl's cheeks. 'Be good enough, if you please, to speak of Miss Fairfax with civility, ma'am!'
'I shall never believe that the whole affair has not been her doing!'
'That, ma'am, is not a question for you to decide!'
'You may say what you please, but I know better. I knew her for a designing female the instant I clapped eyes on her, though never did I dream she would have gone to these lengths!'
'Miss Fairfax's conduct,' said the Earl surprisingly, 'has throughout been unimpeachable!'
'My poor Charles, you have been sadly deceived! As a mother, as your aunt, I most earnestly implore you to give up this project, and return with us to London! Do not allow your own good judgment to be overcome by the wiles of an unprincipled woman!'
'You are labouring under a misapprehension, ma'am,' said the Earl, meticulously polite, but with a dangerous sparkle in his eyes. 'So far from my having acted upon Miss Fairfax's instigation, she is here wholly against her will!'
The effect of this pronouncement was hardly what he had expected. Lady Wilfrid uttered a shriek, and exclaimed, 'Merciful heavens!' while her son turned a pair of goggling eyes upon Miss Fairfax, saying, 'Good Gad! You don't say so, cousin! Well, if this does not beat all! 'Pon my soul, I would not have though it of you, no, damme, I would not!'
'I don't believe it!' said Lady Wilfrid, recovering from her stupefaction. 'She meant to entrap you from the start!'
'Oh!' cried Miss Fairfax, raising her hand to a suddenly burning cheek.
The Earl, glancing swiftly from one to the other of his relatives, said, 'We are, I believe, at cross-purposes, ma'am. Oblige me by telling me in more precise terms, if you please, why you have followed me to this place.'
His aunt bent a look of deep reproach upon him. 'Attempt to pass that unprincipled female off with what degree of credit you may, you will not deceive me! Can you deny that you are on your way to Gretna Green?'
'So that's it, is it?' said the Earl. His frown had vanished, but the smile which took its place caused his cousin to remove himself thoughtfully to the other side of the table. 'No, my dear Aunt Almeria, I do not deny it!'
The afflicted lady gave a gasp. 'A nobody!' she said. 'You, a confirmed bachelor (for I don't consider for a moment that nonsensical notion you had once of marrying your ward!), to fall under the sway of a wretched little dab of a governess! You cannot mean it!'
Miss Fairfax, who felt ready to sink, made a movement of protest, but the Earl spoke before she had time to forestall him.
'I never meant anything more in my life,' he said deliberately. 'You have had your journey for nothing, ma'am: my determination to wed Miss Fairfax is fixed. As for your dismay, I am well aware that my marriage must come as a sad blow to my cousin there, but I have more than once warned him that it is ill waiting for dead men's shoes. I have the honour, ma'am, to wish you a very good evening!'
He strode to the door, and wrenched it open. Before anyone could move, however, his effect was spoiled by the tempestuous entrance of a young lady in a travelling cloak whose hood had fallen back from a head of bright, tumbled curls. Without appearing to notice the other occupants of the room, this damsel cast herself upon his lordship's chest, exclaiming, 'Oh, my dear guardian, I'm so thankful you are here! The most dreadful thing! You must come at once!'
The bemused silence which had greeted Miss Gellibrand's dramatic entrance was broken by the voice of Lady Wilfrid, stridently demanding to be told what Lucilla was doing in Grantham. No one enlightened her. The Earl, disengaging the lapels of his coat from his ward's grasp, said, 'What has happened? What has that fellow been doing to you?'
'Oh, nothing, nothing, you stupid thing!' said Miss Gellibrand, stamping her foot. 'He is in a deep swoon, and I am quite distracted!'
'In a deep swoon!' exclaimed the Earl, in tones of considerable surprise. 'In God's name, why?'
' I think his shoulder is broken,' said Miss Gellibrand tragically.
'What in the world has he been doing to get his shoulder broken? And how do you come to be here? I thought you at Newark!'!
'So we should have been, only that that odious chaise lost a wheel, just as we had passed the Ram Jam, and we were pitched into the ditch. And Edmund, in attempting to save me, was thrown heavily on to the side of the chaise, all amongst the breaking glass!'
'Oh, my poor child, were you hurt?' cried Miss Fairfax, moving towards her.
'Oh, is that you, Mary? No, only the tiniest scratch. And at first I had no notion that Edmund had sustained any serious injury, for he never said anything, and in the scramble I didn't notice that he was not using his left arm. We thought only of proceeding on our journey, knowing that Shane,, and very likely you too, would be hard on our heels. Then the thing was, how to come by another chaise? We thought we should have been able to have hired one at Stretton, and we got on to a cart that was going there, while the postboy rode on to get a wheelwright to fetch the chaise away. Only when we reached Stretton there was no chaise to be had, no suitable conveyance of any sort. There was nothing for it but to come on by the stage to Grantham. And I must say,' added Miss Gellibrand buoyantly, 'had it not been for my beginning to be in a pucker over Edmund, I should have enjoyed it above all things! Only fancy, dear sir, we had to sit four a side, and a horrid old man was chewing green onions all the way! And such an uproar as was made over our not being on the way-bill! Edmund had actually to bribe the coachman before he would take us up. He said if it was ever discovered he had shouldered us he would very likely be dismissed. However, that doesn't signify. Though we had lost so much time, we were not unhopeful of outstripping pursuit, and my spirits at least were mounting when they were utterly overpowered by the sight of you, sir, driving past the stage! I thought all was lost, not knowing then how glad I should be to see you! For when we reached this town, we were set down at the most vulgar-looking inn, and I discovered that Edmund was suffering the greatest anguish, hardly able to stand! There was no staying at that horrid tavern, so we came to the Angel, Edmund leaning upon my arm, and myself, as you may suppose, in the greatest alarm imaginable. And then, to crown all, they tried to turn us away from here, saying it was a posting-house, and they could not admit stage-passengers! I do not know what would have become of us had not Edmund sunk suddenly into a swoon! Everything was bustle and confusion then, but I caught sight of your curricle being wheeled into a coachhouse, my dear sir, and staying only to see my sainted Edmund carried into the house, I ran upstairs to find you. Please, please come to Edmund at once, and explain everything to that odious landlord!'
Lady Wilfrid, who had listened to this tumultuous recital in astonished silence, turned towards Miss Fairfax, as the Earl left the room in the wake of his volatile ward, and said in a stunned voice, 'It is Lucilla who is eloping?'
'Yes,' said Miss Fairfax.
Lady Wilfrid eyed her suspiciously. 'Am I to understand, then, that you are not about to marry my nephew?'
'No, indeed,' said Miss Fairfax, rather forlornly. 'I accompanied Lord Shane merely to take Lucilla home again.'
'Well, I don't understand!' suddenly announced Mr. Drayton. 'He said he was about to be married to you!'
'I think,' said Miss Fairfax diffidently, 'that you made him lose his temper, and he said it to make you angry.'
'He was always a disagreeable creature,' said Lady Wilfrid. 'I collect that he has set his face against Lucilla's marriage, I dare say for no other reasons than pride and self-will.'
'Indeed, ma'am, I believe Mr. Edmund Monksley to be a most unexceptionable young man,' replied Miss Fairfax, perceiving that in Lady Wilfrid Lucilla would find an eager ally. 'The only objections are Lucilla's youth and Mr. Monksley's lack of fortune.'
Lady Wilfrid fixed her with a singularly calculating gaze. 'My nephew never had the least disposition to sympathise with the Pangs of Love,' she uttered. 'With me, it is otherwise. I have the tender heart of a parent, and such vulgar considerations as poverty, or inequality of birth, weigh with me not at all. Nothing could be more affecting than Lucilla's story! But then I am all sensibility, quite unlike Shane, who has a heart of stone! I shall tell him that he has no right to forbid this marriage.'
The Honourable Frederick, who had apparently been pondering the situation, once more ceased sucking the knob of his cane to say in a tone of great relief, 'Well this is famous! If he does not wed the governess, and we can prevail upon him to consent to Lucilla's marriage to this swooning-fellow, I do not at all despair of a happy issue.'
'Excuse me,' said Miss Fairfax, conscious of her reddening cheeks. 'I think I should go downstairs to assist in restoring Mr. Monksley.'
By the time Miss Fairfax reached his side, Mr. Monksley, a fresh-faced young man, with very blue eyes and a decided chin, had recovered consciousness. Finding himself looking straight up into the countenance of his Lucilla's guardian, he at once embarked on a speech, which would no doubt have become extremely impassioned had not the Earl cut it short by saying, 'Yes, you may tell me all that later, but you had better be still now until the surgeon has attended to your shoulder.'
Tenderly clasping one of Mr. Monksley's hands, Miss Gellibrand said in resolute accents, 'Nothing you can say, Shane, will prevent my going to Gretna as soon as Edmund is well enough!'
'Nonsense!' said his lordship. 'These Gretna weddings are not at all the thing, and you had better put such romantic fustian out of your head at once.'
'Believe me, my lord,' said Mr. Monksley faintly, 'nothing but the sternest necessity could have prevailed upon me to propose so clandestine a union to one for whom I entertain feelings of the deepest respect!'
'I wish you will not talk to me like a play-actor!' said his lordship irritably. 'If you must marry my ward, let it at least be in a respectable fashion!'
'Angel!' cried Miss Gellibrand, lifting a glowing face.
His lordship regarded her with the utmost disfavour. 'If it is angelic to be more than willing to rid myself of a most tiresome charge, I am certainly an angel,' he said witheringly.
The arrival of a surgeon, carrying an ominous black bag, created a timely diversion. Mr. Monksley's broken shoulder was set and securely bound; two of the serving-men carried him upstairs to a bedchamber; and it was not until he had been comfortably disposed between sheets, and was being fed with spoonfuls of broth by his adoring Lucilla, that Miss Fairfax had leisure to go in search of her employer. She found him in the parlour belowstairs, giving some directions to the landlord. When he saw her, he smiled, and held out his hand, a gesture which made her feel very much inclined to burst into tears. The landlord having bowed himself out of the room, she said, however, in as prosaic a tone as she was able to command, 'Mr. Monksley is feeling much easier now. You have been so very kind, sir!'
'Oh, the devil take Monksley, and Lucilla too!' said his lordship. 'We have more important things to consider. What in thunder are we to do, Mary Fairfax? I told that abominable old woman that we were going to be married at Gretna Green. But no consideration on earth would prevail upon me to behave in such a preposterous fashion! Besides, I cannot possibly take you to Gretna without another rag to your back than what you stand up in.'
'My dear sir, there is no need for you to trouble your head about it,' said Miss Fairfax, trying to smile. 'I told Lady Wilfrid there was no question of our going to Gretna.'
'You did, did you?' said the Earl, looking at her rather keenly.
'Yes of course, sir. Where— where is Lady Wilfrid?'
'Gone to put up at the George, where I heartily hope she may find the sheets damp!'
'But— but why?' stammered Miss Fairfax.
'Because,' said the Earl, 'I told her that we were going to be married just as soon as I can procure a licence!'
Miss Fairfax had the oddest sensation of turning first hot and then cold. 'You are being absurd!' she said, in a voice which did not seem to belong to her.
'Mary,' said his lordship, taking her hands in his, and holding them fast, 'have those shocking faults of mine given you a disgust of me?'
'No,' said Miss Fairfax weakly. 'Oh, no!'
'I don't know how I came to be such a fool (but you said I was stupid), yet - would you believe it? - it was not until my aunt accused me of it that I knew I had been in love with you for years!'
Miss Fairfax trembled. 'But you can't! Marry to disoblige your family? Oh, no, no!'
'My family be damned!' said the Earl. 'I wish you will look at me, Mary!'
'Well, I won't,' said Miss Fairfax, making a feeble attempt to free her hands. 'I did think that you regarded me sometimes with - with a certain partiality, but I know, if you do not, how shocking such a match would be, and I won't marry you. I shall look for another eligible situation.'
'No one will employ you without a testimonial, and I shan't give you one.'
'I think you are extremely disagreeable, besides being mad!' said Miss Fairfax, in a scolding tone.
'Yes,' said the Earl, taking her in his arms. 'And I have also the most overbearing manners, so you may as well stop arguing with me, and kiss me instead.'
Miss Fairfax, apparently struck by this advice, abandoned her half-hearted struggles, said, 'Oh, my dearest!' in a wavering voice, and subsided meekly into his embrace.
Copyright © Georgette Heyer 1940
Pursuit was contributed by Georgette Heyer to The Queen's Book of the Red Cross during WW2.
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