The Tales of John Oliver Hobbes/A Bundle of Life/Chapter 8

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VIII.

Sir Ventry Coxe had been educated in the belief that his cousin Teresa loved him madly. When he married Lady Susan Hoppe-Gardner, a chorus went up from all the members of his family. "What on earth will poor Teresa do?" She was present at the wedding, nevertheless, and seemed in the best possible spirits: the relations looked wise and murmured that it was impossible for the unhappy girl to deceive them. Ventry was particularly kind to her; he clasped her hand warmly when he started on his honeymoon and thanked her again and again with tears in his eyes, for her magnificent gift in the shape of a diamond necklace for his bride: every one said it was too touching for words, several ladies declared that Teresa grew as white as a sheet and would have swooned if Lord Twacorbie, with his ready tact, had not led her to the air.

A few years passed: Miss Warcop refused all offers; Lady Susan died. This, all the relations said, was Fate. Sir Ventry, remembering Teresa's rent-roll, thought so too. He decided to make her his wife when a decent period of mourning had elapsed; there was no hurry, she was there, ready, waiting, and willing, when he wanted her.

The day at last dawned when it seemed convenient to address her on the subject: he met her in the hall as she left the drawing-room after her scene with Lady Mallinger. She was greatly embarrassed, a fact which he easily attributed to her sudden encounter with himself. Smiling magnanimously, he waited until she had regained her composure.

"Shall we go into the garden?" he suggested.

No, she was feeling rather tired; she had a slight headache; he would find her a very dull companion.

"Do come," he said, in his most persuasive manner.

Teresa, who was always amused at his conceit, and who had a motherly, pitying affection for the weaknesses which did duty for his character, yielded the point and followed him. He began to talk of former days: he reminded her of his five-and-twentieth birthday, when she gave him a hunter and wore a black cloak lined with scarlet.

"You look awfully well in scarlet," he observed. She blushed: scarlet was Wiche's favourite colour. Sir Ventry, however, took the blush to himself.

"I always admired you, you know," he said; "there is not a woman in the family who has got such a complexion, and your eyelashes are so long!"

"It is very nice of you to say so," said Teresa: "I, myself, do not think they are bad. Once or twice I have thought I looked quite decent!"

He glanced at her sideways. Was she really so plain as all the women made out?

"I am awfully fond of you," he said suddenly.

Teresa was by no means dense. "My dear Ventry," she said, with rather a nipping air, "let us talk like reasonable beings."

"I am quite serious," he replied. "Will you marry me, Teresa?"

"Certainly not. You must be mad."

"What?"

"You must be mad. And think yourself very lucky that I forgive you for making such an insulting suggestion." Trembling with anger she left him. He looked up to see whether the Heavens were falling.