‘Four-and-twenty next July!—impossible!’ cried Lady Catharine.
‘Very possible,’ said Miss Broadhurst, quite unconcerned.
‘Now, Lord Colambre, would you believe it? Can you believe it?’ asked Lady Catharine.
‘Yes, he can,’ said Miss Broadhurst. ’Don’t you see that he believes it as firmly as you and I do? Why should you force his lordship to pay a compliment contrary to his better judgment, or to extort a smile from him under false pretences? I am sure he sees that you, ladies, and I trust he perceives that I, do not think the worse of him for this.’
Lord Colambre smiled now without any false pretence; and, relieved at once from all apprehension of her joining in his mother’s views, or of her expecting particular attention from him, he became at ease with Miss Broadhurst, shelved a desire to converse with her, and listened eagerly to what she said. He recollected that Grace Nugent had told him that this young lady had no common character; and, neglecting his move at chess, he looked up at Grace as much as to say, ‘draw her out, pray.’
But Grace was too good a friend to comply with that request; she left Miss Broadhurst to unfold her own character.
‘It is your move, my lord,’ said Lady Catharine.
‘I beg your ladyship’s pardon—’
‘Are not these rooms beautiful, Miss Broadhurst?’ said Lady Catharine, determined, if possible, to turn the conversation into a commonplace, safe channel; for she had just felt, what most of Miss Broadhurst’s acquaintance had in their turn felt, that she had an odd way of startling people, by setting their own secret little motives suddenly before them, ‘Are not these rooms beautiful?’
The beauty of the rooms would have answered Lady Catharine’s purpose for some time, had not Lady Anne imprudently brought the conversation back again to Miss Broadhurst.
‘Do you know, Miss Broadhurst,’ said she, ’that if I had fifty sore throats, I could not have refrained from my diamonds on this gala night; and such diamonds as you have! Now, really, I could not believe you to be the same person we saw blazing at the opera the other night!’
’Really! could not you, Lady Anne? That is the very thing that entertains me. I only wish that I could lay aside my fortune sometimes, as well as my diamonds, and see how few people would know me then. Might not I, Grace, by the golden rule, which, next to practice, is the best rule in the world, calculate and answer that question?’
‘I am persuaded,’ said Lord Colambre, ’that Miss Broadhurst has friends on whom the experiment would make no difference.’
‘I am convinced of it,’ said Miss Broadhurst; ’and that is what makes me tolerably happy, though I have the misfortune to be an heiress.’
‘That is the oddest speech,’ said Lady Anne. ’Now I should so like to be a great heiress, and to have, like you, such thousands and thousands at command.’