Produced by Kevin Handy, Dave Maddock, and the Project
Online Distributed Proofreading Team
Produced by Kevin Handy, Dave Maddock, and the Project
William J. Locke
By AINSLER MAGAZINE COMPANY
By JOHN LANE COMPANY
- “No, don’t, Viviette; forgive me”
- “Dick glared at him”
- “He held out imploring hands”
- “I want you to love me forever and ever”
“Dick,” said Viviette, “ought to go about in skins like a primitive man.”
Katherine Holroyd looked up from her needlework. She was a gentle, fair-haired woman of thirty, with demure blue eyes, which regarded the girl with a mingling of pity, protection, and amusement.
“My dear,” she said, “whenever I see a pretty girl fooling about with a primitive man I always think of a sweet little monkey I once knew, who used to have great sport with a lyddite shell. Her master kept it on his table as a paper-weight, and no one knew it was loaded. One day she hit the shell in the wrong place–and they’re still looking for the monkey. Don’t think Dick is the empty shell.”
Whereupon she resumed her work, and for a few moments the click of thimble and needle alone broke the summer stillness. Viviette lay idly on a long garden chair admiring the fit of a pair of dainty tan shoes, which she twiddled with graceful twists of the ankles some five feet from her nose. At Mrs. Holroyd’s remark she laughed after the manner of one quite contented with herself–a low, musical laugh, in harmony with the blue June sky and the flowering chestnuts and the song of the thrushes.
“My intentions with regard to Dick are strictly honourable,” she remarked. “We’ve been engaged for the last eleven years, and I still have his engagement ring. It cost three-and-sixpence.”
“I only want to warn you, dear,” said Mrs. Holroyd. “Anyone can see that Dick is in love with you, and if you don’t take care you’ll have Austin falling in love with you too.”
Viviette laughed again. “But he has already fallen! I don’t think he knows it yet; but he has. It’s great fun being a woman, isn’t it, dear?”
“I don’t know that I’ve ever found it so,” Katherine replied with a sigh. She was a widow, and had loved her husband, and her sky was still tinged with grey.
Viviette, quick to catch the sadness in the voice, made no reply, but renewed the contemplation of her shoe-tips.
“I’m afraid you’re an arrant little coquette,” said Katherine indulgently.
“Lord Banstead says I’m a little devil,” she laughed.
If she was in some measure a coquette she may be forgiven. What woman can have suddenly revealed to her the thrilling sense of her sex’s mastery over men without snatching now and then the fearful joy of using her power? She was one-and-twenty, her heart still unawakened, and she had returned to her childhood’s home to find men who had danced her on their knees bending low before her, and proclaiming themselves her humble vassals. It was intoxicating. She had always looked up to Austin with awe, as one too remote and holy for girlish irreverence. And now! No wonder her sex laughed within her.
Until she had gone abroad to finish her education, she had lived in that old, grey manor-house, that dreamed in the sunshine of the terrace below which she was sitting, ever since they had brought her thither, an orphaned child of three. Mrs. Ware, her guardian, was her adopted mother; the sons, Dick and Austin Ware, her brothers–the engagement, when she was ten and Dick one-and-twenty, had hardly fluttered the fraternal relationship. She had left them a merry, kittenish child. She had returned a woman, slender, full-bosomed, graceful, alluring, with a maturity of fascination beyond her years. Enemies said she had gipsy blood in her veins. If so, the infusion must have taken place long, long ago, for her folks were as proud of their name as the Wares of Ware House. But, for all that, there was a suggestion of the exotic in the olive and cream complexion, and the oval face, pointing at the dimpled chin; something of the woodland in her lithe figure and free gestures; in her swimming, dark eyes one could imagine something fierce and untamable lying beneath her laughing idleness. Katherine Holroyd called her a coquette, Austin whatever the whim of a cultured fancy suggested, and Lord Banstead a little devil. As for Dick, he called her nothing. His love was too great; his vocabulary too small.
Lord Banstead was a neighbour who, in the course of three months, had proposed several times to Viviette.
“I’m not very much to look at,” he remarked on the first of these occasions–he was a weedy, pallid youth of six-and-twenty–“and the title’s not very old, I must admit. Governor only a scientific Johnnie, Margetson, the celebrated chemist, you know, who discovered some beastly gas or other and got made a peer–but I can sit with the other old rotters in the House of Lords, you know, if I want. And I’ve got enough to run the show, if you’ll keep me from chucking it away as I’m doing. It’d be a godsend if you’d marry me, I give you my word.”
“Before I have anything to do with you,” replied Viviette, who had heard Dick express his opinion of Lord Banstead in forcible terms, “you’ll have to forswear sack, and–and a very big AND–“
Lord Banstead, not being learned in literary allusions, looked bewildered. Viviette laughed.
“I’ll translate if you like. You’ll have to give up unlimited champagne and whiskey and lead an ostensibly respectable life.”
Whereupon Lord Banstead called her a little devil and went off in dudgeon to London and took golden-haired ladies out to supper. When he returned to the country he again offered her his title, and being rejected a second time, again called her a little devil, and went back to the fashionable supper-room. A third and a fourth time he executed this complicated manoeuvre; and now news had reached Viviette that he was in residence at Farfield, where he was boring himself exceedingly in his father’s scientific library.
“I suppose he’ll be coming over to-day,” said Viviette.
“Why do you encourage him?” asked Katherine.
“I don’t,” Viviette retorted. “I snub him unmercifully. If I am a coquette it’s with real men, not with the by-product of a chemical experiment.”
Katherine dropped her work and her underlip, and turned reproachful blue eyes on the girl.