The duke fidgeted, and expressed a hope to hear that she was not of melancholy conversation; and again, that the subject of her discourse was not confined to love and lovers, happy or unhappy. He wished his duchess, he said, to be entertained upon gayer topics: love being a theme he desired to reserve to himself. ‘This month!’ he said, prognostically shaking and moaning. ’I would this month were over, and that we were well purged of it.’
Mr. Beamish reassured him. The wit and sprightliness of Chloe were so famous as to be considered medical, he affirmed; she was besieged for her company; she composed and sang impromptu verses, she played harp and harpsichord divinely, and touched the guitar, and danced, danced like the silvery moon on the waters of the mill pool. He concluded by saying that she was both humane and wise, humble-minded and amusing, virtuous yet not a Tartar; the best of companions for her Grace the young duchess. Moreover, he boldly engaged to carry the duchess through the term of her visit under a name that should be as good as a masquerade for concealing his Grace’s, while giving her all the honours due to her rank.
‘You strictly interpret my wishes,’ said the duke; ’all honours, the foremost place, and my wrath upon man or woman gainsaying them!’
‘Mine! if you please, duke,’ said Mr. Beamish.
’A thousand pardons! I leave it to you, cousin. I could not be in safer hands. I am heartily bounders to you. Chloe, then. By the way, she has a decent respect for age?’
‘She is reverentially inclined.’
’Not that. She is, I would ask, no wanton prattler of the charms and advantages of youth?’
’She has a young adorer that I have dubbed Alonzo, whom she scarce notices.’
‘Nothing could be better. Alonzo: h’m! A faithful swain?’
’Life is his tree, upon which unceasingly he carves his mistress’s initials.’
’She should not be too cruel. I recollect myself formerly: I was . . . Young men will, when long slighted, transfer their affections, and be warmer to the second flame than to the first. I put you on your guard. He follows her much? These lovers’ paintings and puffings in the neighbourhood of the most innocent of women are contagious.’
‘Her Grace will be running home all the sooner.’
’Or off!—may she forgive me! I am like a King John’s Jew, forced to lend his treasure without security. What a world is ours! Nothing, Beamish, nothing desirable will you have which is not coveted! Catch a prize, and you will find you are at war with your species. You have to be on the defensive from that moment. There is no such thing as peaceable procession on earth. Let it be a beautiful young woman!—Ah!’
Mr. Beamish replied bracingly, ’The champion wrestler challenges all comers while he wears the belt.’
The duke dejectedly assented. ’True; or he is challenged, say. Is there any tale we could tell her of this Alonzo? You could deport him for the month, my dear Beamish.’