One came forward with an offer to her. And that was no other than the Earl of Elmsley’s son, Viscount Garle. A pleasant man, of eight-and-twenty years; and he was often at Lady Verner’s. He had been intimate there a long while, going in and out as unceremoniously as did Lionel or Jan. Lady Verner and Decima could tell a tale that no one else suspected. How, in the years gone by—some four or five years ago now—he had grown to love Decima with his whole heart; and Decima had rejected him. In spite of his sincere love; of the advantages of the match; of the angry indignation of Lady Verner; Decima had steadfastly rejected him. For some time Lord Garle would not take the rejection; but one day, when my lady was out, Decima spoke with him privately for five minutes, and from that hour Lord Garle had known there was no hope; had been content to begin there and then, and strive to love her only as a sister. The little episode was never known; Decima and Lady Verner had kept counsel, and Lord Garle had not told tales of himself. Next to Lionel, Lady Verner liked Lord Garle better than any one—ten times better than she liked unvarnished Jan; and he was allowed the run of the house as though he had been its son. The first year of Lucy’s arrival—the year of Lionel’s illness, Lord Garle had been away from the neighbourhood; but somewhere about the time of Sibylla’s return, he had come back to it. Seeing a great deal of Lucy, as he necessarily did, being so much at Lady Verner’s, he grew to esteem and love her. Not with the same love he had borne for Decima—a love, such as that, never comes twice in a lifetime—but with a love sufficiently warm, notwithstanding. And he asked her to become his wife.
There was triumph for Lady Verner! Next to Decima—and all hope of that was dead for ever—she would like Lord Garle to marry Lucy. A real triumph, the presenting her to Colonel Tempest on his return, my Lady Viscountess Garle! In the delight of her heart she betrayed something of this to Lucy.
“But I am not going to marry him, Lady Verner,” objected Lucy.
“You are not going to marry him, Lucy? He confided to me the fact of his intention this morning before he spoke to you. He has spoken to you, has he not?”
“Yes,” replied Lucy; “but I cannot accept him.”
“You—cannot! What are you talking of?” cried Lady Verner.
“Please not to be angry, Lady Verner! I could not marry Lord Garle.”
Lady Verner’s lips grew pale. “And pray why can you not?” she demanded.
“I—don’t like him,” stammered Lucy.
“Not like him!” repeated Lady Verner. “Why, what can there be about Lord Garle that you young ladies do not like?” she wondered; her thoughts cast back to the former rejection by Decima. “He is good-looking, he is sensible; there’s not so attractive a man in all the county, Lionel Verner excepted.”
Lucy’s face turned to a fiery glow. “Had I known he was going to ask me, I would have requested him not to do so beforehand, as my refusal has displeased you,” she simply said. “I am sorry you should be vexed with me, Lady Verner.”