There was only one occupant of the coach, a gentleman who sprawled very much at his ease, with his legs stretched out before him, and his hands dug deep in the capacious pockets of his greatcoat. While the coach rattled over the cobbled streets of the town, the light from an occasional lantern or flambeau momentarily lit the interior of the vehicle and made a diamond pin or a pair of very large shoe-buckles flash, but since the gentleman lounging in the coach wore his gold-edged hat tilted low over his eyes, his face remained in shadow.
The coach was travelling fast, too fast for safety in a London street, and it soon drew out of the town, past the turnpike, on to Hounslow Heath. A faint moonlight showed the road to the coachman on the box, but so dimly that the groom beside him, who had been restive since the carriage drew out of St James's, gasped presently, as though he could no longer keep back the words: ‘Lord! you'll overturn us! It's a wicked pace!'
The only answer vouchsafed was a shrug, and a somewhat derisive laugh. The coach swayed precariously over a rough stretch of ground, and the groom, clutching the seat with both hands, said angrily: ‘You're mad! D'you think the devil's on your heels, man? Doesn't he care? Or is he drunk?' The backward jerk of his head seemed to indicate that he was speaking of the man inside the coach.
‘When you've been in his service a week you won't call this a wicked pace,' replied the coachman. ‘When Vidal travels, he travels swift, d'ye see?'
‘He's drunk three parts asleep!' the groom said.
Yet the man inside the coach might well have been asleep for all the sign of life he gave. His long body swayed easily with the lurch of the coach, his chin was sunk in the folds of his cravat, and not even the worst bumps in the road had the effect of making him so much as grasp the strap that swung beside him. His hands remained buried in his pockets, remained so even when a shot rang out and the vehicle came to a plunging standstill. But apparently he was awake, for he raised his head, yawning, and leaning it back against the cushions turned it slightly towards the off-window.
There was a good deal of commotion outside; a rough voice was raised; the coachman was cursing the groom for his tardiness in firing the heavy blunderbuss in his charge; and the horses were kicking and rearing.
Someone rode up to the door of the coach and thrust in the muzzle of a big pistol. The moonlight cast a head in silhouette, and a voice said: ‘Hand over the pretties, my hearty!'
It did not seem as though the man inside the coach moved, but a gun spoke sharply, and a stabbing point of flame flashed in the darkness. The head and shoulders at the window vanished; there was the sound of a fall, of trampling hooves, of a startled shout, and the belated explosion of the blunderbuss.
The man in the coach drew his right hand out of his pocket at last. There was an elegant silver-mounted pistol in it, still smoking. The gentleman threw it on to the seat beside him, and crushed the charred and smouldering portion of his greatcoat between very long white fingers.
The door of the coach was pulled open, and the coachman jumped up on to the hastily let-down step. The lantern he held lit up the interior, and shone full into the face of the lounging man. It was a surprisingly young face, dark and extremely handsome, the curious vividness overlaid by an expression of restless boredom.
‘Well?' said the gentleman coldly.
‘Highwaymen, my lord. The new man being unused, so to say, to such doings, was late with the blunderbuss. There was three of them. They've made off two of them, that is.'
‘Well?' said the gentleman again.
The coachman seemed rather discomposed. ‘You've killed the other, my lord.'
‘Certainly,' said the gentleman. ‘But I presume you have not opened the door to inform me of that.'
‘Well, my lord shan't we do I his brains are lying in the road, my lord. Do we leave him like that?'
‘My good fellow, are you suggesting that I should carry a footpad's corpse to my Lady Montacute's drum?'
‘No, my lord,' the coachman said hesitatingly. ‘Then then shall I drive on?'
‘Of course drive on,' said the gentleman, faintly surprised.
‘Very good, my lord,' the coachman said, and shut the door.
The groom on the box was still clasping the blunderbuss, and staring fascinated at the tumbled figure in the road. When the coachman climbed up on to the box again, and gathered the reins in his hands, he said: ‘Gawd, ain't you going to do anything?'
‘There isn't anything you can do for him,' replied the other grimly.
‘His head's almost shot off!' shuddered the groom.
The equipage began to move forward. ‘Hold your tongue, can't you? He's dead, and that's all there is to it.'
The groom licked his dry lips. ‘But don't his lordship know?'
‘Of course he knows. He don't make mistakes, not with the pistols.'
The groom drew a deep breath, thinking still of the dead man left to wallow in his blood. ‘How old is he?' he blurted out presently.
‘Twenty-four all but a month or two.'
‘Twenty-four! and shoots his man and leaves the corpse as cool as you please! My Gawd!'
He did not speak again until the coach had arrived at its destination, and then he seemed to be so lost in meditation that the coachman had to nudge him sharply. He roused himself then and jumped off the box to open the coach door. As his master stepped languidly down, he looked covertly at him, trying to see some sign of agitation in his face. There was none. His lordship sauntered up the steps to the stone porch, and passed into the lighted hall.
‘My Gawd!' said the groom again.
Inside the house two lackeys hovered about the late-comer to take his hat and coat.
There was another gentleman in the hall, just about to go up the wide stairway to the saloon. He was good-looking in a rather florid style, with very heavily-arched brows and a roving eye. His dress proclaimed the Macaroni, for he wore a short coat decorated with frog-buttons, fine striped breeches with bunches of strings at the knee, and a waistcoat hardly reaching below the waist. The frills of his shirt front stuck out at the top, and instead of the cravat, he displayed a very full handkerchief tied in a bow under his chin. On his head he wore an amazingly tall ladder-toupet, dusted with blue hair powder, and he carried in his hand a long tasselled cane.
He turned as my lord entered, and when he saw who it was, came across the hall. ‘I hoped I was the last,' he complained. He raised his quizzing-glass, and through it peered at the hole in his lordship's coat. ‘My dear Vidal!' he said, shocked. ‘My dear fellow! Ecod, my lord, your coat!'
One of the lackeys had it over his arm. My lord shook out his Dresden ruffles, but carelessly as though it mattered very little to him to be point-de-vice. ‘Well, Charles, what of my coat?' he asked.
Mr Fox achieved a shudder. ‘There's a damned hole in it, Vidal,' he protested. He moved forward and very gingerly lifted a fold of the garment. ‘And a damned smell of powder, Vidal,' he said. ‘You've been shooting someone.'
His lordship leaned against the bannister, and opened his snuff-box. ‘Some scum of a footpad only,' he said.
Mr Fox abandoned his affectations for the moment. ‘Kill him, Dominic?'
‘Of course,' said my lord.
Mr Fox grinned. ‘What have you done with the corpse, my boy?'
‘Done with it?' said his lordship with a touch of impatience. ‘Nothing. What should I do with a corpse?'
Mr Fox rubbed his chin. ‘Devil take me if I know,' he said after some thought. ‘But you can't leave a corpse on the road, Dominic. People might see it on the way back to town. Ladies won't like it.'
His lordship had raised a pinch of snuff to one classic nostril, but he paused before he sniffed. ‘I hadn't thought of that,' he admitted. A gleam, possibly of amusement, stole into his eyes. He glanced at the lackey who still held his damaged greatcoat. ‘There is a corpse somewhere on the road to town. Mr Fox does not wish it there. Remove it!'
The lackey was far too well trained to display emotion, but he was a little shaken. ‘Yes, my lord,' he said. ‘What does your lordship want done with it, if you please?'
‘I have no idea,' said his lordship. ‘Charles, what do you want done with it?'
‘Egad, what is to be done with a corpse in the middle of Hounslow Heath?' demanded Mr Fox. ‘I've a notion it should be delivered to a constable.'
‘You hear,' said his lordship. ‘The corpse must be conveyed to town.'
‘Bow Street,' interjected Mr Fox.
‘To Bow Street with the compliments of Mr Fox.'
‘No, damme, I don't take the credit for it, Dominic. Compliments of the Marquis of Vidal, my man.'
The lackey swallowed something in his throat, and said with a palpable effort: ‘It shall be attended to, sir.'
Mr Fox looked at the Marquis. ‘I don't see what else we can do, Dominic, do you?'
‘We seem to have been put to a vast deal of inconvenience already,' replied the Marquis, dusting his sleeve with a very fine handkerchief. ‘I do not propose to bother my head further in the matter.'
‘Then we may as well go upstairs,' said Mr Fox.
‘I await your pleasure, my dear Charles,' returned his lordship, and began leisurely to mount the shallow stairs.
Mr Fox fell in beside him, drawing an elegant brisé fan from his pocket. He opened it carefully, and held it for his friend to see. ‘Vernis Martin,' he said.
His lordship glanced casually down at it. ‘Very pretty,' he replied. ‘Chassereau, I suppose.'
‘Quite right,' Mr Fox said, waving it gently to and fro. ‘Subject, Télémaque, in ivory.'
They passed round the bend in the stairway. Down in the hall the two lackeys looked at one another. ‘Corpses one moment, fans the next,' said the man who held Vidal's coat. ‘There's the Quality for you!'
The episode of the corpse had by this time apparently faded from Lord Vidal's mind, but Mr Fox, thinking it a very good tale, spoke of it to at least three people, who repeated it to others. It came in due course to the ears of Lady Fanny Marling, who, in company with her son John, and her daughter Juliana, was present at the drum.
Lady Fanny had been a widow for a number of years, and the polite world had ceased to predict a second marriage for her. Flighty she had always been, but her affection for the late Mr Edward Marling had been a very real thing. Her period of mourning had lasted a full year, and when she reappeared in society it was quite a long time before she had spirits to amuse herself with even the mildest flirtation. Now, with a daughter of marriageable age, she was becoming quite matronly, and had taken to arraying herself in purples and greys, and to wearing on her exceedingly elaborate coiffure turbans that spoke the dowager.
She was talking to an old friend, one Hugh Davenant, when she overheard the story of her nephew's latest exploit, and she at once broke off her own conversation to exclaim: ‘That abominable boy! I vow and declare I never go anywhere but what I hear of him. And never any good, Hugh. Never!'
Hugh Davenant's grey eyes travelled across the room to where the Marquis was standing, and dwelled rather thoughtfully on that arrogant figure. He did not say anything for a moment, and Lady Fanny rattled on.
‘I am sure I have not the least objection to him shooting a highwayman my dear Hugh, do but look at that odd gown! What a figure of fun oh, it is Lady Mary Coke! Well, small wonder. She never could dress, and really she is become so strange of late, people say she is growing absolutely English. Yes, Hugh, I heard it from Mr Walpole, and he vowed she was mad what was I saying? Vidal! Oh, yes, well, if he must shoot highwaymen, it's very well, but to leave the poor man dead on the road though I make no doubt he would have done the same to Vidal, for I believe they are horridly callous, these fellows but that's neither here nor there. Vidal had no right to leave him. Now people will say that he is wickedly blood-thirsty, or something disagreeable, and it is quite true, only one does not want the whole world to say so.' She drew a long breath. ‘And Léonie,' she said ‘and you know, Hugh, I am very fond of dear Léonie Léonie will laugh, and say that her méchant Dominique is dreadfully thoughtless. Thoughtless!'
Davenant smiled. ‘I make no doubt she will,' he agreed. ‘I sometimes think that the Duchess of Avon will always remain, at heart Léon, a page.'
‘Hugh, do I beseech you, have a care! You do not know who may overhear you. As for Avon, I truly think he does not care at all what happens to Dominic.'
‘After all,' Hugh said slowly, ‘Dominic is so very like him.'
Lady Fanny shut her fan with a snap. ‘If you are minded to be unkind about my poor Avon, Hugh, I warn you I shall not listen. Lud, I'm sure he has been a perfect paragon ever since he married Léonie. I know he is monstrous disagreeable, and no one was ever more provoking, unless it be Rupert, who, by the way, encourages Dominic in every sort of excess, just as one would expect but I'll stake my reputation Avon was never such a yes, Hugh, such a devil as Vidal. Why, they call him Devil's Cub! And if you are going to tell me that is because he is Avon's son, all I can say is that you are in a very teasing mood, and it's no such thing.'
‘He is very young, Fanny,' Hugh said, still watching the Marquis across the room.
‘That makes it worse,' declared her ladyship. ‘Oh, my dear Lady Dawlish, I wondered whether I should see you to-night! I protest, it's an age since I had a talk with you... Odious woman, and as for her daughter, you may say what you choose, Hugh, but the girl squints! Where was I? Oh, Vidal, of course! Young? Yes, Hugh, I marvel that you should find that an excuse for him. The poor Hollands had trouble enough with their son, not but what I consider Holland was entirely to blame but I never heard that Charles Fox ever did anything worse than lose a fortune at gaming, which is a thing no one could blame in him. It is very different with Vidal. From the day he left Eton he has been outrageous, and I make no doubt he was so in the nursery. It is not only his duels, Hugh my dear, do you know he is considered positively deadly with the pistols? John tells me they say in the clubs that it makes no odds to the Devil's Cub whether he is drunk or sober, he can still pick out a playing card on the wall. He did that at White's once, and there was the most horrid scandal, for of course he was in his cups, and only fancy, Hugh, how angry all the people like old Queensberry and Mr Walpole must have been! I wish I had seen it!'
‘I did see it,' said Hugh. ‘A silly boy's trick, no more.'
‘I dare say, but it was no boy's trick to kill young Ffolliot. A pretty to-do there was over that. But as I say, it is not only his duels. He plays high well, so do we all, and he is a true Alastair and he drinks too much. No one ever saw Avon in his cups that I ever heard of, Hugh. And worse worse than all ' she stopped and made a gesture with her fan. ‘Opera dancers,' she said darkly.
Davenant smiled. ‘Well, Fanny, I deplore it as much as you do, but I believe you cannot say that no one ever saw Avon '
He was interrupted. ‘I am very fond of Justin,' said Lady Fanny tartly, ‘but I never pretended to approve of his conduct. And with all his faults Justin was ever bon ton. It is no such thing with Vidal. If he were my son, I should never have consented to let him live anywhere but under my roof. My own dear John scarce leaves my side.'
Hugh bowed. ‘I know you are very fortunate in your son, Fanny,' he said.
She sighed. ‘Indeed, he is prodigiously like his poor papa.'
Hugh made no reply to this but merely bowed again. Knowing her ladyship as he did, he was perfectly well aware that her son's staid disposition was something of a disappointment to her.
‘I am sure,' said Lady Fanny, with a touch of defiance, ‘that if I heard of my John holding holding orgies with all the wildest young rakes in town I should die of mortification.' He frowned. ‘Orgies, Fanny?'
‘Orgies, Hugh. Pray do not ask more.'
Davenant had heard a good many stories concerning the doings of Vidal's particular set, and bearing in mind what these stories were, he was somewhat surprised that they should have come to Lady Fanny's ears. From her expression of outraged virtue he inferred that she really had heard some of the worst tales. He wondered whether John Marling had been her informant, and reflected that in spite of his excesses one could not but like the Marquis better than his impeccable cousin.
At that moment Mr John Marling came across the room towards his mother. He was a good-looking young man of rather stocky build, dressed very neatly in Spanish-brown velvet. He was in his thirtieth year, but the staidness of his demeanour made him appear older. He greeted Davenant with a bow and a grave smile, and had begun to inquire politely after the older man's health, when his mother interrupted him.
‘Pray, John, where is your sister? I was put out to see that young Comyn present here to-night. I do trust you have not let her slip off with him?'
‘No,' John said. ‘She is with Vidal.'
‘Oh!' A curiously thoughtful expression came into her ladyship's face. ‘Well, I make no doubt they were glad to see each other.'
‘I don't know,' John said painstakingly. ‘Juliana cried out: "Why, my dear Dominic, you here?" or some such thing, and Vidal said: "Good God! Have I stumbled on a family gathering?"'
‘That is just his way,' Lady Fanny assured him. She turned her limpid gaze upon Davenant. ‘Vidal has a great kindness for his cousin, you know, Hugh.'
Davenant did not know it, but he was perfectly well aware of Lady Fanny's ambition. Whatever might be the imperfections of Vidal's character, he was one of the biggest prizes of the matrimonial market, and for years her ladyship had cherished hopes which she fondly believed to be secret.
John seemed disposed to argue the matter. ‘For my part I do not believe that Vidal cares a fig for Juliana,' he said. ‘And as for her, I very much fear this Frederick Comyn has taken her fancy to an alarming degree.'
‘How can you be so teasing, John?' Fanny demanded petulantly. ‘You know very well she is nothing but a child, and I am sure no thought of of marriage, or love, or any such folly has entered her head. And if it had, it is no great matter, and when she has been in Paris a week, she will have forgotten the young man's very existence.'
‘Paris?' said Hugh, foreseeing that John was going to try and convince his mother for her own good. ‘Is Juliana going to Paris?'
‘Why yes, Hugh. Have you forgotten that my dear mamma was a Frenchwoman? I am sure it is no matter for wonder that the child should visit her French relatives. They are quite wild to know her, so John is to take her next week. I don't doubt they will make so much rout with her she will hardly wish to come home again.'
‘But I do not feel at all hopeful that it will answer the purpose,' said John heavily.
‘Pray, John, do not be so provoking!' implored Lady Fanny, somewhat tartly. ‘You make it sound as though I were one of those odious scheming females whom I detest.'
Hugh thought it time to withdraw, and tactfully did so, leaving mother and son to argue in comfort.
Meanwhile, Miss Juliana Marling, a charming blonde dressed in blue lustring with spangled shoes, and her curls arranged à la Gorgonne, had dragged her cousin into one of the adjoining saloons. ‘You are the very person I wished to see!' she informed him.
The Marquis said with conspicuous lack of gallantry: ‘If you want me to do something for you, Juliana, I warn you I never do anything for anybody.'
Miss Marling opened her blue eyes very wide. ‘Not even for me, Dominic?' she said soulfully.
His lordship remained unmoved. ‘No,' he replied.
Miss Marling sighed and shook her head. ‘You are horridly disobliging, you know. It quite decides me not to marry you.'
‘I hoped it might,' said his lordship calmly.
Miss Marling made an effort to look affronted, but only succeeded in giggling. ‘You needn't be afraid. I am going to marry someone quite different,' she said.
His lordship evinced signs of faint interest at that. ‘Are you?' he inquired. ‘Does my aunt know?'
‘You may be very wicked, and quite hatefully rude,' said Miss Marling, ‘but I will say one thing for you, Dominic: you do not need to have things explained to you like John. Mamma does not mean me to marry him, and that is why I am to be packed off to France next week.'
‘Who is "he"? Ought I to know?' inquired the Marquis.
‘I don't suppose you know him. He is not at all the sort of person who would know your set,' said Miss Marling severely.
‘Ah, then I was right,' retorted my lord. ‘You are contemplating a mésalliance.'
Miss Marling stiffened in every line of her small figure. ‘It's no such thing! He may not be a brilliant match, or have a title, but all the men I have met who are brilliant matches are just like you, and would make the most horrid husbands.'
‘You may as well let me know the worst,' said my lord. ‘If you think it would annoy Aunt Fanny, I'll do what I can for you.'
She clasped both hands on his arm. ‘Dear, dear Dominic! I knew you would! It is Frederick Comyn.'
‘And who,' said the Marquis, ‘might he be?'
‘He comes from Gloucestershire or is it Somerset? Well, it doesn't signify and his papa is Sir Malcolm Comyn, and it is all perfectly respectable, as dear Aunt Léonie would say, for they have always lived there, and there is an estate, though not very large, I believe, and Frederick is the eldest son, and he was at Cambridge, and this is his first stay in town, and Lord Carlisle is his sponsor, so you see it is not a mésalliance at all.'
‘I don't,' said his lordship. ‘You may as well give up the notion, my dear. They'll never let you throw yourself away on this nobody.'
‘Dominic,' said Miss Marling with dangerous quiet.
My lord looked lazily down at her.
‘I just want you to know that my mind is made up,' she said, giving him back look for look. ‘So that it is no use to talk to me like that.'
‘Very well,' said my lord.
‘And you will make a push to help us, won't you, dearest Dominic?'
‘Oh certainly, child. I will tell Aunt Fanny that the alliance has my full approval.'
‘You are quite abominable,' said his cousin. ‘I know you dislike of all things to bestir yourself, but recollect, my lord, if once I am wed you need not be afraid any more that mamma will make you marry me.'
‘I am not in the least afraid of that,' replied his lordship.
‘I declare it would serve you right if I did marry you!' cried Miss Marling indignantly. ‘You are being quite atrocious and all I want you to do is to write a letter to Tante Elisabeth in Paris!'
His lordship's attention seemed to have wandered, but at this he brought his gaze back from the contemplation of a ripe blonde who was trying to appear unconscious of his scrutiny, and looked down into Miss Marling's face.
‘Why?' he asked.
‘It's perfectly plain, Dominic, I should have thought. Tante Elisabeth so dotes on you she will do whatever you wish, and if you were to solicit her kindness for a friend of yours about to make his début in Paris '
‘Oh, that's it, is it?' said the Marquis. ‘Much good will a letter from me avail you if my respected Aunt Fanny has already warned Tante against your nobody.'
‘She won't do that,' Miss Marling replied confidently. ‘And he is not a nobody. She has no notion, you see, that Frederick means to follow me to Paris. So you will write, will you not, Dominic?'
‘No, certainly not,' said my lord. ‘I've never set eyes on the fellow.'
‘I knew you would say something disagreeable like that,' said Miss Marling, unperturbed. ‘So I told Frederick to be ready.' She turned her head and made a gesture with her fan, rather in the manner of a sorceress about to conjure up visions. In response to the signal a young man who had been watching her anxiously disengaged himself from a knot of persons near the door, and came towards her.
He was not so tall as Vidal, and of a very different ton. From his moderate-sized pigeon's-wing wig to his low-heeled black shoes, there did not seem to be a hair or a pin out of place. His dress was in the mode, but not designed to attract attention. He wore Lunardi lace at his throat and wrists, and a black solitaire adorned his cravat. Such usual adjuncts to a gentleman's costume as quizzing-glass, fobs, and watches, he had altogether dispensed with, but he had a snuff-box in one hand, and wore a cameo-ring on one finger.
The Marquis watched his approach through his quizzing-glass. ‘Lord!' he said. ‘What's the matter with you, Ju?'
Miss Marling chose to ignore this. She sprang up as Mr Comyn reached them, and laid her hand on his arm. ‘Frederick, I have told my cousin all!' she said dramatically. ‘This is my cousin, by the way. I dare say you know of him. He is very wicked and kills people in duels. Vidal, this is Frederick.'
His lordship had risen. ‘You talk too much, Juliana,' he drawled. His dark eyes held a distinct menace, but his cousin remained unabashed. He exchanged bows with Mr Comyn. ‘Sir, your most obedient.'
Mr Comyn, who had blushed at his Juliana's introduction, said that he was honoured.
‘Vidal is going to write to my French aunt about you,' stated Miss Marling blithely. ‘She is really the only person in the family who is not shocked by him. Except me, of course.'
The Marquis caught her eye once more. Knowing that dangerous look of old, Miss Marling capitulated. ‘I won't say another word,' she promised. ‘And you will write, will you not, dear Dominic?'
Mr Comyn said in his grave young voice: ‘I think my Lord Vidal must require to know any credentials. My lord, though I am aware that I must sound like a mere adventurer, I can assure you it is no such thing. My family is well known in the West of England, and my Lord Carlisle will speak for me at need.'
‘Good God, sir! I'm not the girl's guardian!' said his lordship. ‘You had better address all this to her brother.'
Mr Comyn and Miss Marling exchanged rueful glances.
‘Mr Marling and Lady Fanny can hardly be unaware of my estate, sir, but but in short I cannot flatter myself that they look upon my suit with any favour.'
‘Of course they don't,' agreed the Marquis. ‘You'll have to elope with her.'
Mr Comyn looked extremely taken aback. ‘Elope, my lord!' he said.
‘Or give the chit up,' replied his lordship.
‘My lord,' said Mr Comyn earnestly, ‘I ask you to believe that in journeying to Paris, I have no such impropriety in mind. It was always my father's intention that I should visit France. Miss Marling's going there but puts my own journey forward.'
‘Yes,' said Juliana thoughtfully, ‘but for all that I'm not sure it wouldn't be a very good thing to do, Frederick. I must say, Vidal, you do take some prodigious clever notions into your head! I wonder I did not think of it myself.'
Mr Comyn regarded her with a hint of sternness in his frank gaze. ‘Juliana madam! You could not suppose that I would steal you away clandestinely? His lordship was jesting.'
‘Oh no, indeed he wasn't. It is just the kind of thing he would do himself. It is no good being proper and respectable, Frederick; we may be forced to elope in the end. Unless ' She paused, and looked doubtfully up at Vidal. ‘You don't suppose, do you, Dominic, that my Uncle Justin could be induced to speak for us to mamma?'
My lord answered this without hesitation. ‘Don't be a fool, Ju.'
She sighed. ‘No, I was afraid he would not. It is a vast pity, for mamma always does what Uncle Justin says.' She caught sight of a stocky figure at the far end of the room. ‘There's John! You had best go away, Frederick, for it will not do at all for John to see you talking to my cousin.'
She watched him bow, and retreat, and turned enthusiastically to the Marquis. ‘Is he not a delightful creature, Vidal?' she demanded.
My lord looked at her frowningly. ‘Juliana,' he said, ‘do I understand that you prefer him as a husband to myself?'
‘Infinitely,' Miss Marling assured him.
‘You have very bad taste, my girl,' said my lord calmly.
‘Indeed, cousin! And may I ask whether you prefer that yellow-haired chit I saw you with at Vauxhall as a wife to me?' retorted Juliana.
‘Ill-judged, my dear. I do not contemplate marriage either with her or you. Nor am I at all certain which yellow-haired chit you mean.'
Miss Marling prepared to depart. She swept a dignified curtsey, and said: ‘I do not mix with the company you keep, dear cousin, so I cannot tell you her name.'
The Marquis bowed gracefully. ‘I still live, dear Juliana.'
‘You are shameless and provoking,' Miss Marling said crossly and left him.