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- MY LADY CAPRICE - 1/29 -
My Lady Caprice
by Jeffrey Farnol
I TREASURE TROVE
I sat fishing. I had not caught anything, of course - I rarely do, nor am I fond of fishing in the very smallest degree, but I fished assiduously all the same, because circumstances demanded it.
It had all come about through Lady Warburton, Lisbeth's maternal aunt. Who Lisbeth is you will learn if you trouble to read these veracious narratives - suffice it for the present that she has been an orphan from her youth up, with no living relative save her married sister Julia and her Aunt (with a capital A) - the Lady Warburton aforesaid.
Lady Warburton is small and somewhat bony, with a sharp chin and a sharper nose, and invariably uses lorgnette; also, she is possessed of much worldly goods.
Precisely a week ago Lady Warburton had requested me to call upon her - had regarded me with a curious exactitude through her lorgnette, and gently though firmly (Lady Warburton is always firm) had suggested that Elizabeth, though a dear child, was young and inclined to be a little self-willed. That she (Lady Warburton) was of opinion that Elizabeth had mistaken the friendship which had existed between us so long for something stronger. That although she (Lady Warburton) quite appreciated the fact that one who wrote books, and occasionally a play, was not necessarily immoral - Still I was, of course, a terrible Bohemian, and the air of Bohemia was not calculated to conduce to that degree of matrimonial harmony which she (Lady Warburton) as Elizabeth's Aunt, standing to her in place of a mother, could wish for. That, therefore, under these circumstances my attentions were - etc., etc.
Here I would say in justice to myself that despite the torrent of her eloquence I had at first made some attempt at resistance; but who could hope to contend successfully against a woman possessed of such an indomitable nose and chin, and one, moreover, who could level a pair of lorgnette with such deadly precision? Still, had Lisbeth been beside me things might have been different even then; but she had gone away into the country - so Lady Warburton had informed me. Thus alone and at her mercy, she had succeeded in wringing from me a half promise that I would cease my attentions for the space of six months, "just to give dear Elizabeth time to learn her own heart in regard to the matter."
This was last Monday. On the Wednesday following, as I wandered aimlessly along Piccadilly, at odds with Fortune and myself, but especially with myself, my eye encountered the Duchess of Chelsea.
The Duchess is familiarly known as the "Conversational Brook" from the fact that when once she begins she goes on forever. Hence, being in my then frame of mind, it was with a feeling of rebellion that I obeyed the summons of her parasol and crossed over to the brougham.
"So she's gone away?" was her greeting as I raised my hat - "Lisbeth," she nodded, "I happened to hear something about her, you know."
It is strange, perhaps, but the Duchess generally does "happen to hear" something about everything. "And you actually allowed yourself to be bullied into making that promise - Dick! Dick! I'm ashamed of you."
"How was I to help myself?" I began. "You see - "
"Poor boy !" said the Duchess, patting me affectionately with the handle of her parasol, "it wasn't to be expected, of course. You see, I know her - many, many years ago I was at school with Agatha Warburton."
"But she probably didn't use lorgnettes then, and - "
"Her nose was just as sharp though - 'peaky' I used to call it," nodded the Duchess. "And she has actually sent Lisbeth away - dear child - and to such a horrid, quiet little place, too, where she'll have nobody to talk to but that young Selwyn.
"I beg pardon, Duchess, but - "
"Horace Selwyn, of Selwyn Park - cousin to Lord Selwyn, of Brankesmere. Agatha has been scheming for it a long time, under the rose, you know. Of course, it would be a good match, in a way - wealthy, and all that - but I must say he bores me horribly - so very serious and precise!"
"Really !"I exclaimed, "do you mean to say - "
"I expect she will have them married before they know it - Agatha's dreadfully determined. Her character lies in her nose and chin."
"But Lisbeth is not a child - she has a will of her own, and - "
"True," nodded the Duchess, "but is it a match for Agatha's chin? And then, too, it is rather more than possible that you are become the object of her bitterest scorn by now.
"But, my dear Duchess - "
"Oh, Agatha is a born diplomat. Of course she has written before this, and without actually saying it has managed to convey the fact that you are a monster of perfidy; and Lisbeth, poor child, is probably crying her eyes out, or imagining she hates you, is ready to accept the first proposal she receives out of pure pique."
"Great heavens!" I exclaimed, "what on earth can I do?"
"You might go fishing," the Duchess suggested thoughtfully.
"Fishing!" I repeated, " - er, to be sure, but - "
"Riverdale is a very pretty place they tell me," pursued the Duchess in the same thoughtful tone; "there is a house there, a fine old place called Fane Court. It stands facing the river, and adjoins Selwyn Park, I believe."
"Duchess," I exclaimed, as I jotted down the address upon my cuff, "I owe you a debt of gratitude that I can never - "
"Tut, tut !" said her Grace.
"I think I'll start to-day, and - "
"You really couldn't do better," nodded the duchess.
* * * * *
And so it befell that on this August afternoon I sat in the shade of the alders fishing, with the smoke of my pipe floating up into the sunshine.
By adroit questioning I had elicited from mine host of the Three Jolly Anglers the precise whereabouts of Fane Court, the abode of Lisbeth's sister, and guided by his directions, had chosen this sequestered spot, where by simply turning my head I could catch a glimpse of its tall chimneys above the swaying green of the treetops.
It is a fair thing upon a summer's hot afternoon within some shady bower to lie upon one's back and stare up through a network of branches into the limitless blue beyond, while the air is full of the stir of leaves, and the murmur of water among the reeds. Or propped on lazy elbow, to watch perspiring wretches, short of breath and purple of visage, urge boats upstream or down, each deluding himself into the belief that he is enjoying it. Life under such conditions may seem very fair, as I say; yet I was not happy. The words of the Duchess seemed everywhere about me.
"You are become the object of her bitterest scorn by now," sobbed the wind.
"You are become," etc., etc., moaned the river. It was therefore with no little trepidation that I looked forward to my meeting with Lisbeth.
It was this moment that the bushes parted and a boy appeared. He was a somewhat diminutive boy, clad in a velvet suit with a lace collar, both of which were plentifully bespattered with mud. He carried his shoes and stockings beneath one arm, and in the other hand swung a hazel branch. He stood with his little brown legs well apart, regarding me with a critical eye; but when at length he spoke his attitude was decidedly friendly.
"Hallo," I returned; "and whom may you be?"
"Well," my real name is Reginald Augustus, but they call me 'The Imp.'"
"I can well believe it," I said, eyeing his muddy person.
"If you please, what is an imp?"
"An imp is a sort of an - angel."
"But," he demurred, after a moment's thought, "I haven't got wings an' things - or a trumpet."
"Your kind never do have wings and trumpets."
"Oh, I see," he said; and sitting down began to wipe the mud from his legs with his stockings.
"Rather muddy, aren't you?" I hinted. The boy cast a furtive glance at his draggled person.
"'Fraid I'm a teeny bit wet, too," he said hesitatingly. "You see, I've been playing at 'Romans" an' I had to wade, you know, because I was the standard bearer who jumped into the sea waving his sword an' crying, 'Follow me!' You remember him, don't you? - he's in the history book."
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