by Georgette Heyer
Miss Seraphina Winsham, having had the introduction repeated to her in stentorian accents by her nephews, subjected his lordship to a hostile stare, and uttered, repulsively: "I daresay!" She then added: "Oh, go away, do!" but as this was apparently addressed to Lufra, who was frisking about her, his lordship stood his ground. The slight bow he made won no other response than a curt nod, and an even more repelling stare. Miss Winsham, informing Frederica darkly that it was just as she had expected, stalked out of the room.
"Oh dear!" said Frederica. "She's in one of her twitty moods! What has put her all on end, Charis? Oh, forgive me! - Lord Alverstoke - my sister!"
Charis smiled at his lordship, and gave him her hand. "How do you do? It was a very civil young man, Frederica, in Hookham's Library, who got a book down from the shelf for me, because I couldn't reach it. He was most obliging, and even dusted it with his handkerchief before he gave it to me; but my aunt thought him a coxcomb. And they were unable to supply us with Ormond, so I brought away the Knight of St John instead, which I daresay we shall like quite as well."
These words were spoken in a soft, placid voice; and the Marquis, under whose critical eyes the beauties of many seasons had passed, noted with approval that this one, the most stunning he had yet beheld, used no arts to attract, but, on the contrary, seemed to be unconscious of her charms. As one who had figured for years as the most brilliant catch on the Matrimonial Market, he was accustomed to meet with every artifice designed to ensnare him; and it was with approbation that he recognized the younger Miss Merriville's unconcern. He asked her how she like London; she replied that she liked it very well; but her attention was otherwhere, and she made no effort to pursue this opening, saying instead, in mildly reproachful accents: "Oh, Felix-love, you've torn a button from your coat!"
"Oh botheration!" responded Felix, hunching an impatient shoulder. "It don't signify!"
"Oh, no, not a bit!" she agreed. "Frederica made the tailor supply us with another set, don't you recall? I'll sew one on for you in a trice. Only come with me! you can't go about the town looking like a shag-rag, now, can you?"
It was evident that the youngest Merriville saw no objection to presenting himself to the town in this guise; but equally evident was his acceptance of his elder sister's authority, when he received, in answer to his glance of entreaty, a decided nod. He said sulkily: "Oh, very well!" but, before suffering himself to be led away by Charis, took his leave of the Marquis, and said eagerly: "And you will take me to Soho, won't you, sir?"
"If I don't, my secretary shall," replied Alverstoke.
"Oh! Well - Well, thank you, sir! Only it would be better if you came with me yourself!" urged Felix.
"Better for whom?" demanded his lordship involuntarily.
"Me," replied Felix, with the utmost candour. "I daresay they would show you anything you wanted to see, on account of your being a - a second-best nobleman, which I know you are, because it says, in a book I found, that Marquises come directly after Dukes, so--"
But at this point his disgusted brother thrust him out of the room, pausing only, before following him, to offer Alverstoke a dignified apology for his childish want of conduct. As Lufra followed close on his heels, and Charis, bestowing a valedictory smile on Alverstoke, had already departed, the Marquis was left alone with his hostess.
She said thoughtfully: "As a matter of fact, I fancy it would be better if you took him to that place yourself. He is a very enterprising boy, you know, and there's never any saying what he may take in into his head to do."
"Charles will know how to keep him in order," he replied indifferently.
She looked doubtful, but said no more. It was apparent to her that his lordship had fallen into a mood of abstraction. He was staring unseeingly at the opposite wall, an odd smile playing about the corners of his mouth. It grew, and he suddenly laughed, under his breath, saying: "By God, I'll do it!"
"Do what?" demanded Frederica.