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April 01, 2008
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Excerpt from Friday's Child by Georgette Heyer
Do not, I beg of you, my lord, say more!' uttered Miss Milborne, in imploring accents, slightly averting her lovely countenance, and clasping both hands at her bosom.
Her companion, a tall young gentleman who had gone romantically down upon one knee before her chair, appeared put out by this faltered request. 'Damn it - I mean, dash it, Isabella!' he expostulated, correcting himself somewhat impatiently as the lady turned reproachful brown eyes upon him, 'I haven't started!'
'But I'm about to offer for you!' said the Viscount, with more than a touch of asperity.
'I know,' replied the lady.'It is useless! Say no more, my lord!'
The Viscount arose from his knee, much chagrined. 'I must say, Isabella, I think you might let a fellow speak!' he said crossly.
'I would spare you pain, my lord.'
'I wish you will stop talking in that damned theatrical way!' said the Viscount. 'And don't keep on calling me "my lord", as though you hadn't known me all your life!'
Miss Milborne flushed, and stiffened a little. It was perfectly true, since their estates marched together, that she had known the Viscount all her life, but a dazzling career as an acknowl?edged Beauty, with half the eligible young gentlemen in town at her feet, had accustomed her to a far more reverential mode of address than that favoured by her childhood's playmate. In some dudgeon, she gazed coldly out of the window, while her suitor took a few hasty turns about the room.
The prospect, which was of neat lawns, well-stocked flower-beds, and trim hedges, was a pleasing one, but it was not from any love of sylvan settings that Miss Milborne was at present sojourning in the country. Her withdrawal from the Metropolis some weeks previously had been in consequence of her having contracted an odiously childish complaint which had made it necessary for her to disappear from the Polite World at a moment when she might have been pardoned for considering herself, if not its hub, at least its cynosure. Her Mama, quite as sensible as herself of the ridiculous nature of her indisposition, had announced her to be quite worn-down by the exigencies of fashionable life, and had whisked her off to Kent in a post-chaise-and-four, where, in a comfortable mansion suitably retired from the haunts of men, she was able not only to recover her health and looks in seclusion, but also to communicate her complaint to two abigails, and a youthful page-boy. She had emerged from her sick room some weeks earlier, but since she was still a trifle pale and out of looks, Mrs Milborne, a lady distinguished by her admirable sense, had decided to keep her in the country until (she said) the roses should again bloom in her cheeks. Quite a number of ardent gentlemen had presented themselves at Milborne House, having driven all the way from London in the hopes of being permitted a glimpse of the Incomparable, but the door remained shut against them, and they were obliged to relinquish their nosegays and passionate billets into the hands of an unresponsive butler, and to tool their various chariots back to town without having had even the refreshment of being allowed to press their lips to the fair hand of the Beauty.
Lord Sheringham would undoubtedly have met with the same reception had he not presumed in a very unhandsome way upon his long acquaintance with the family, by riding over from Sheringham Place, where he had been spending the night, leaving his horse at the stables, and walking up through the gardens to enter the house through one of the long windows that opened on to the lawn. Encountering an astonished footman, his lordship, very much at home, had tossed his whip and his gloves on to a table, laid his curly-brimmed beaver beside them, and demanded the master of the house.
Mr. Milborne, being quite unblessed by the worldly wisdom which characterised his spouse, had no sooner grasped the purpose of this visit than he suggested vaguely, and not very hopefully, that his lordship had better speak to Isabella himself. 'For I'm sure I don't know, Anthony,' he had said, looking doubtfully at the Viscount. 'There's no saying what may be in their heads, no saying at all!'
Correctly divining this cryptic utterance to refer to his wife and daughter, his lordship had said: 'At all events, you've no objection, sir, have you?'
'No,' replied Mr. Milborne. 'That is - Well, no, I suppose I don't object. But you had best see Isabella for yourself !'
So the Viscount was ushered into the Beauty's presence before she had time even to draw down the blind against the too-searching light of day, and had plunged without the slightest preamble into the first offer of marriage he had ever made.
Miss Milborne found herself in the unhappy predicament of not knowing her own mind. The Viscount had been one of her acknowledged suitors for the past year, and the fact of her having known him almost from the cradle did not blind her to his charms. He was a handsome young blade, wild enough to intrigue the female fancy, and if not as brilliant a match as the Duke of Severn, who had lately shown flattering symptoms of being on the verge of declaring himself, at least he was much more presentable - his grace being a stolid young man inclined to corpulency. On the other hand, the Viscount was by no means so devout a lover as his friend Lord Wrotham, who had several times offered to blow his brains out, if such a violent act would afford her pleasure. In fact, the suspicion had more than once crossed Miss Milborne's mind that the Viscount had joined the throng of her admirers for no better reason than that he was never one to be out of the mode. His professed adoration had not so far led him to abandon the pursuit of opera-dancers and Cyprians, or to rectify those faults of character to which Miss Milborne had more than once taken exception. She was a little piqued by him. If he would but display a few tangible signs of his devotion, such as reforming his way of life, which was shocking; growing slightly haggard, like poor Wrotham; turning pale at a snub; or being cast into rapture by a smile, she thought she would have been much inclined to accept his proffered suit. But instead of behaving in a fashion which she had come to regard as her due, the Viscount continued on his reprehensible course, according her certainly a good deal of homage, but apparently deriving just as much pleasure as ever from a set of sports and pastimes which seemed to have been chosen by him with a view to causing his family the maximum amount of pain and anxiety.