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   Chapter 26 AN HONOURABLE PROPOSAL

Armorel of Lyonesse By Walter Besant Characters: 7090

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02


At the same time Mr. Alec Feilding, whose ears ought to have been burning, was engaged in a serious conversation in his own studio with Armorel's companion. The conversation took the form of reproach. 'I expected,' he said-'I had a right to expect-greater devotion-more attention to business. It was not for play that you undertook the charge of this girl. How long have you been with her? Three months? And no more influence with her than when you began.'

'Not a bit more,' Mrs. Elstree replied. She had of course taken the most comfortable chair by the fire. 'Not a bit, my dear Alec. What is more, I never shall have any influence over her. A society girl I could manage. I know what she wants, and how she looks at things. With such a girl as Armorel I am powerless.'

'She is a woman, I suppose.' He occupied a commanding position on his own hearthrug, towering above his visitor, but yet he did not command her.

'Therefore, you think, open to flattery and artful wiles. She is a woman, and yet, strange to say, not open to flattery.'

'Rubbish! It is because you are too stupid or too careless to find out the weak point.'

'To return, Alec: I have failed. I have no influence at all upon this girl. I have spent hours and hours in singing your praise. I have enlarged upon the absolute necessity of giving you a rest from business cares. I have proposed that she and I together-that was the way I put it-should buy a share in the paper, and that she should advance my half. Oh! I grew eloquent on the glory that two women thus coming to the relief of a man like yourself would achieve in after years. I tried to speak from my heart, Alec.' The woman caught his hand, but he drew it away. 'Oh! you deserve no help. You are hard-hearted, and you are selfish: you have broken every promise you ever made me: you spend all that you have in selfish pleasures: you leave me almost without assistance--'

'When I have got you into the easiest and most luxurious berth that can be imagined; when I have asked you for nothing but a simple--'

'Yes, dear Alec, but you see that an honest acknowledgment would be worth all this goodness. Well, I say that I spoke from my heart, because in spite of all I was proud of my man-mine, yes, though Philippa still imagines, poor wretch!'

'Do leave my cousin's name out of it, will you, Zoe?' he said, a little less roughly.

'I am proud of the man who is acknowledged to be the cleverest man in London.' She got up and began to walk about the studio. She stopped before the picture. 'Do you know, Alec-I am not a critic, but I can feel a thing-that this is quite the best work you have ever done. Oh! Those waves, they live and dance; and those birds, they fly; and the air is so warm and soft!-you are a great painter. Odd! your girl is curiously like Armorel. One would fancy your model was Armorel at sixteen or so-a lovely girl she must have been then, and a lovely woman she is now.' Zoe left the picture and began to look at the papers on the table. 'What is this-the new story? Is it good?'

'To you, Zoe, I may confess that it is as good as anything I have ever done.'

'You are really splendid, Alec! What is this?' She took up a very neatly written page in his handwriting. 'Poetry?'

'Those are some verses for next week's journal. I think there is no falling off there, Zoe.'

'Have you got another copy?'

'There is the copy that has gone to the printers'.'

'Then I will take this. It will do for a present-the autograph original draft of the poem-or I may ke

ep it.'

'Zoe, come back and sit down. We must talk seriously.'

She returned and took up her old position by the fire. 'As seriously as you please. It means something disagreeable-something to do with money. Let us get it over. To go back to what we were saying, therefore. I cannot get you that money from Armorel. And at the very word of money she refers one to her lawyer. No confidence at all, as between friends who love each other. That is the position, Alec.' She sat with her hands clasped over her right knee.

'I must have some money,' he said.

'Then, as I have before remarked, Alec-make it.'

'If one cannot have money, Zoe, one may get credit, which is sometimes just as good.'

'I cannot help you in getting credit.'

'Perhaps you can. You can help me, Zoe, by keeping quite quiet.'

'Oh! I am always quiet. I have remained quiet for three years and more, while you flirt with countesses and cousins. How much more quiet do you wish me to remain? While you marry them?'

'Not quite that, my child. But next door to it. While I get engaged to one of them-to one who has money.'

'Not-Philippa.'

'No-I told you before. What the devil is the good of harping on Philippa? You see, if I can let it be understood that I am going to marry an heiress, the difficulties will be tided over. Therefore I shall get engaged to your charge-Armorel Rosevean.'

'Oh!' Zoe received this proposition with coldness. 'This is a charming thing for me to sanction, isn't it?'

'It will do you no harm.'

'I have certainly endured things as bad.'

'You see, Zoe, one could always break off the thing when the time came.'

'Certainly.'

'And you would know all the time that it was a mere pretence.'

'I should certainly know that.'

'Well; is there any other observation?'

'You would make it an open engagement-go about with her-have it publicly known?'

'Of course. The whole point is publicity. I must be known to be engaged to an heiress.'

'And it would last--'

'As long as might prove necessary. One could find an excuse at any time for breaking it off.'

'Or I could.'

'Just so. It really amounts to nothing at all.'

'To nothing at all!' Zoe neither raised her voice nor her eyes. 'Here is a man who proposes to pretend love and to win a girl's affections, when he can never marry her. He also proposes to throw her over, as soon as she has served his purpose. It is nothing at all, of course! Alec, you are really a wonderful man!'

'Nonsense! The thing is done every day.'

'No-not every day. If you are the cleverest man in London, you are also the most heartless.'

'You know that you can say what you please,' he replied, without any outward sign of annoyance. 'Even heroics.'

'But,' she said, nursing her knee and swinging backwards and forwards, 'we have forgotten one thing-the most important thing of all, in fact. My poor boy, there is no more chance of your being engaged to Armorel than of your entering into the Kingdom of Heaven.'

'Why?'

'Other girls you might catch: you are tall and big and handsome; and you have the reputation of being so very, very clever. Most girls would be carried away. But not Armorel. She is not subdued by bigness in men, and she doesn't especially care for a clever man. She is actually so old-fashioned-think of it!-that she wants-character.'

'Well! What objection would that raise, I should like to know?'

Zoe laughed softly and sweetly.

'Don't you see, dear Alec? Oh! But you must let Armorel explain to you.'

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