A ROUGH AWAKENING
Lord Almeric continued to vapour and romance as he mounted the stairs. Mr. Pomeroy attended, sneering, at his heels. The tutor followed, and longed to separate them. He had his fears for the one and of the other, and was relieved when his lordship at the last moment hung back, and with a foolish chuckle proposed a plan that did more honour to his vanity than his taste.
‘Hist!’ he whispered. ’Do you two stop outside a minute, and you’ll hear how kind she’ll be to me! I’ll leave the door ajar, and then in a minute do you come in and roast her! Lord, ‘twill be as good as a play!’
Mr. Pomeroy shrugged his shoulders. ‘As you please,’ he growled. ’But I have known a man go to shear and be shorn!’
Lord Almeric smiled loftily, and waiting for no more, winked to them, turned the handle of the door, and simpered in.
Had Mr. Thomasson entered with him, the tutor would have seen at a glance that he had wasted his fears; and that whatever trouble threatened brooded in a different quarter. The girl, her face a blaze of excitement and shame and eagerness, stood in the recess of the farther window seat, as far from the door as she could go; her attitude the attitude of one driven into a corner. And from that alone her lover should have taken warning. But Lord Almeric saw nothing, feared nothing. Crying ‘Most lovely Julia!’ he tripped forward to embrace her, and, the wine emboldening him, was about to clasp her in his arms, when she checked him by a gesture unmistakable even by a man in his flustered state.
‘My lord,’ she said hurriedly, yet in a tone of pleading—and her head hung a little, and her cheeks began to flame. ’I ask your forgiveness for having sent for you. Alas, I have also to ask your forgiveness for a more serious fault. One—one which you may find it less easy to pardon,’ she added, her courage failing.
‘Try me!’ the little beau answered with ardour; and he struck an attitude. ‘What would I not forgive to the loveliest of her sex?’ And under cover of his words he made a second attempt to come within reach of her.
She waved him back. ‘No!’ she said. ‘You do not understand me.’
‘Understand?’ he cried effusively. ’I understand enough to—but why, my Chloe, these alarms, this bashfulness? Sure,’ he spouted,
’How can I see
you, and not love,
While you as Opening East are fair?
While cold as Northern Blasts you prove,
How can I love and not despair?’
And then, in wonder at his own readiness, ’S’help me! that’s uncommon clever of me,’ he said. ’But when a man is in love with the most beautiful of her sex—’
‘My lord!’ she cried, stamping the floor in her impatience. ’I have something serious to say to you. Must I ask you to return to me at another time? Or will you be good enough to listen to me now?’