Read CHAPTER IV of April's Lady A Novel , free online book, by Margaret Wolfe Hungerford, on ReadCentral.com.

“Tell me where is fancy bred,
Or in the heart, or in the head?
How begot, how nourished?
Reply, reply.”

“An invitation from Lady Baltimore,” says Joyce, looking at the big red crest, and coloring slightly.

“Yes.”

“How do you know?” asks she, rather suspiciously.

The young man raises his hands and eyes.

“I swear I had nothing to do with it,” says he, “I didn’t so much as hint at it. Lady Baltimore spent her time crossing the Channel in declaring to all who were well enough to hear her, that she lived only in the expectation of soon seeing you again.”

“Nonsense!” scornfully; “it is only a month ago since I was staying there, just before they went to London. By the bye, what brings them home now? In the very beginning of their season?”

I don’t know. And it is as well not to inquire perhaps. Baltimore and my cousin, as all the world knows, have not hit it off together. Yet when Isabel married him, we all thought it was quite an ideal marriage, they were so much in love with each other.”

“Hot love soon cools,” says Miss Kavanagh in a general sort of way.

“I don’t believe it,” sturdily, “if it’s the right sort of love. However, to go back to your letterwhich you haven’t even deigned to openyou will accept the invitation, won’t you?”

“I don’t know,” hesitating.

“Oh! I say, do come! It is only for a week, and even if it does bore you, still, as a Christian, you ought to consider how much, even in that short time, you will be able to add to the happiness of your fellow creatures.”

“Flattery means insincerity,” says she, tilting her chin, “keep all that sort of thing for your Miss Maliphant; it is thrown away upon me.”

My Miss Maliphant! Really I must protest against your accrediting me with such a possession. But look here, don’t disappoint us all; and you won’t be dull either, there are lots of people coming. Dicky Brown, for one.”

“Oh! will he be there?” brightening visibly.

“Yes,” rather gloomily, and perhaps a little sorry that he has said anything about Mr. Browne’s possible arrivalthough to feel jealousy about that social butterfly is indeed to sound the depths of folly; “you like him?”

“I love him,” says Miss Kavanagh promptly and with sufficient enthusiasm to restore hope in the bosom of any man except a lover.

“He is blessed indeed,” says he stiffly. “Beyond his deserts I can’t help thinking. I really think he is the biggest fool I ever met.”

“Oh! not the biggest, surely,” says she, so saucily, and with such a reprehensible tendency towards laughter, that he gives way and laughs too, though unwillingly.

“True. I’m a bigger,” says he, “but as that is your fault, you should be the last to taunt me with it.”

“Foolish people always talk folly,” says she with an assumption of indifference that does not hide her red cheeks. “Well, go on, who is to be at the Court besides Dicky?”

“Lady Swansdown.”

“I like her too.”

“But not so well as you like Dicky, you love him according to your own statement.”

“Don’t be matter-of-fact!” says Miss Kavanagh, giving him a well-deserved snub. “Do you always say exactly what you mean?”

“Alwaysto you.”

“I daresay you would be more interesting if you didn’t,” says she, with a little, lovely smile, that quite spoils the harshness of her words. Of her few faults, perhaps the greatest is, that she seldom knows her own mind, where her lovers are concerned, and will blow hot and cold, and merry and sad, and cheerful, and petulant all in one breath as it were. Poor lovers! they have a hard time of it with her as a rule. But youth is often so, and the cold, still years, as they creep on us, with dull common sense and deadly reason in their train, cure us all too soon of our pretty idle follies.

Just now she was bent on rebuffing him, but you see her strength failed her, and she spoiled her effect by the smile she mingled with the rebuff. The smile indeed was so charming that he remembers nothing but it, and so she not only gains nothing, but loses something to the other side.

“Well, I’ll try to mend all that,” says he, but so lovingly, and with such unaffected tenderness, that she quails beneath his glance. Coquette as undoubtedly Nature has made her, she has still so gentle a soul within her bosom that she shrinks from inflicting actual pain. A pang or two, a passing regret to be forgotten the next houror at all events in the next change of sceneshe is not above imparting, but when people grow earnest likelike Mr. Dysart for examplethey grow troublesome. And she hasn’t made up her mind to marry, and there are other people

“The Clontarfs are to be there too,” goes on Dysart, who is a cousin of Lady Baltimore’s, and knows all about her arrangements; “and the Brownings, and Norman Beauclerk.”

“TheClontarfs,” says Joyce, in a hurried way, that might almost be called confused; to the man who loves her, and who is watching her, it is quite plain that she is not thinking of Lord and Lady Clontarf, who are quite an ordinary couple and devoted to each other, but of that last name spokenNorman Beauclerk; Lady Baltimore’s brother, a man, handsome, agreeable, aristocraticthe man whose attentions to her a month ago had made a little topic for conversation amongst the country people. Dull country people who never go anywhere or see anything beyond their stupid selves, and who are therefore driven to do something or other to avoid suicide or the murdering of each other; gossip unlimited is their safety valve.

“Yes, and Beauclerk,” persists Dysart, a touch of despair at his heart; “you and he were good friends when last he was over, eh?”

“I am generally very good friends with everybody; not an altogether desirable character, not a strong one,” says she smiling, and still openly parrying the question.

“You liked Beauclerk,” says he, a little doggedly perhaps.

“Yeesvery well.”

“Very much! Why can’t you be honest!” says he flashing out at her.

“I don’t know what you mean,” coldly. “If, however, you persist on my looking into it, I” defiantly“yes, I do like Mr. Beauclerk very much.”

“Well, I don’t know what you see in that fellow.”

“Nothing,” airily, having now recovered herself, “that’s his charm.”

“If,” gravely, “you gave that as your opinion of Dicky Browne I could believe you.”

She laughs.

“Poor Dicky,” says she, “what a cruel judgment; and yet you are right;” she has changed her whole manner, and is now evidently bent on restoring him to good humor, and compelling him to forget all about Mr. Beauclerk. “I must give in to you about Dicky. There isn’t even the vaguest suggestion of meaning about him. I” with a deliberate friendly glance flung straight into his eyes“don’t often give in to you, do I?”

On this occasion, however, her coquetryso generally successfulis completely thrown away. Dysart, with his dark eyes fixed uncompromisingly upon hers, makes the next movean antagonistic one.

“You have a very high opinion of Beauclerk,” says he.

“Have I?” laughing uneasily, and refusing to let her rising temper give way. “We all have our opinions on every subject that comes under our notice. You have one on this subject evidently.”

“Yes, but it is not a high one,” says he unpleasantly.

“After all, what does that matter? I don’t pretend to understand you. I will only suggest to you that our opinions are but weak thingsmere prejudicesno more.”

“I am not prejudiced against Beauclerk, if you mean that,” a little hotly.

“I didn’t,” with a light shrug. “Believe me, you think a great deal more about him than I do.”

“Are you sure of that?”

“I am at all events sure of one thing,” says she quickly darting at him a frowning glance, “that you have no right to ask me that question.”

“I have not indeed,” acknowledges he stiffly still, but with so open an apology in his whole air that she forgives him. “Many conflicting thoughts led me astray. I must ask your pardon.”

“Why, granted!” says she. “AndI was cross, wasn’t I? After all an old friend like you might be allowed a little laxity. There, never mind,” holding out her hand. “Let us make it up.”

Dysart grasps the little extended hand with avidity, and peace seems restored when Tommy puts an end to all things. To anyone acquainted with children I need hardly remark that he has been listening to the foregoing conversation with all his ears and all his eyes and every bit of his puzzled intelligence.

“Well, go on,” says he, giving his aunt a push when the friendly hand-shake has come to an end.

“Go on? Where?” asks she, with apparent unconcern but a deadly foreboding at her breast. She knows her Tommy.

“You said you were going to make it up with him!” says that hero, regarding her with disapproving eyes.

“Well, I have made it up.”

“No, you haven’t! When you make it up with me you always kiss me! Why don’t you kiss him?”

Consternation on the part of the principal actors. Dysart, strange to say, is the first to recover.

“Why indeed?” says he, giving way all at once to a fatal desire for laughter. This, Miss Kavanagh, being vexed with herself for her late confusion, resents strongly.

“I am sure, Tommy,” says she, with a mildness that would not have imposed upon an infant, “that your lesson hour has arrived. Come, say good-bye to Mr. Dysart, and let us begin at once. You know I am going to teach you to-day. Good-bye, Mr. Dysartif you want to see Barbara, you will find her very probably in the study.”

“Don’t go like this,” says he anxiously. “Or if you will go, at least tell me that you will accept Lady Baltimore’s invitation.”

“I don’t know,” smiling coldly. “I think not. You see I was there for such a long time in the beginning of the year, and Barbara always wants me, and one should not be selfish you know.”

“One should not indeed!” says he, with slow meaning. “What answer, then, must I give my cousin? You know,” in a low tone, “that she is not altogether happy. You can lighten her burden a little. She is fond of you.”

“I can lighten Barbara’s burden also. Think me the very incarnation of selfishness if you will,” says she rather unjustly, “but still, if Barbara says ‘don’t go,’ I shall stay here.”

“Mrs. Monkton won’t say that.”

“Perhaps not,” toying idly with a rose, in such a careless fashion as drives him to despair. Brushing it to and fro across her lips she seems to have lost all interest in the question in hand.

“If she says to you ‘go,’ how then?”

“Why thenI may still remain here.”

“Well stay then, of course, if you so desire it!” cries he angrily. “If to make all your world unhappy is to make you happy, why be so by all means.”

All my world! Do you suppose then that it will make Barbara and Freddy unhappy to have my company? What a gallant speech!” says she, with a provoking little laugh and a swift lifting of her eyes to his.

“No, but it will make other people (more than twice two) miserable to be deprived of it.”

“Are you one of that quartette?” asks she, so saucily, yet withal so merrily that the hardest-hearted lover might forgive her. A little irresistible laugh breaks from her lips. Rather ruefully he joins in it.

“I don’t think I need answer that question,” says he. “To you at all events.”

“To me of all people rather,” says she still laughing, “seeing I am the interested party.”

“No, that character belongs to me. You have no interest in it. To me it is life or deathtoyou ”

“No, no, you mustn’t talk to me like that. You know I forbid you last time we met, and you promised me to be good.”

“I promised then the most difficult thing in the world. But never mind me; the principal thing is, your acceptance or rejection of that note. Joyce!” in a low tone, “say you will accept it.”

“Well,” relenting visibly, and now refusing to meet his eyes, “I’ll ask Barbara, and if she says I may go I ” pause.

“You will then accept?” eagerly.

“I shall thenthink about it.”

“You look like an angel,” says he, “and you have the heart of a flint.”

This remark, that might have presumably annoyed another girl, seems to fill Miss Kavanagh with mirth.

“Am I so bad as that?” cries she, gaily. “Why I shall make amends then. I shall change my evil ways. As a beginning, see here. If Barbara says go to the Court, go I will. Now, stern moralist! where are you?”

“In the seventh heaven,” says he, promptly. “Be it a Fool’s Paradise or otherwise, I shall take up my abode there for the present. And now you will go and ask Mrs. Monkton?”

“In what a hurry to get rid of me!” says this coquette of all coquettes. “Well, good-bye then ”

“Oh no, don’t go.”

“To the Court? Was ever man so unreasonable? In one breath ‘do’ and ’don’t’!”

“Was ever woman so tormenting?”

“Tormenting? No, so discerning if you will, or else so ”

“Adorable! You can’t find fault with that at all events.”

“And therefore my mission is at an end! Good-bye, again.”

“Good-bye.” He is holding her hand as though he never means to let her have it again. “That rose,” says he, pointing to the flower that had kissed her lips so often. “It is nothing to you, you can pick yourself another, give it to me.”

“I can pick you another too, a nice fresh one,” says she. “Here,” moving towards a glowing bush; “here is a bud worth having.”

“Not that one,” hastily. “Not one this garden, or any other garden holds, save the one in your hand. It is the only one in the world of roses worth having.”

“I hate to give a faded gift,” says she, looking at the rose she holds with apparent disfavor.

“Then I shall take it,” returns he, with decision. He opens her pretty pink palm, releases the dying rosebud from it and places it triumphantly in his coat.

“You haven’t got any manners,” says she, but she laughs again as she says it.

“Except bad ones you should add.”

“Yes, I forgot that. A point lost. Good-bye now, good-bye indeed.”

She waves her hand lightly to him and calling to the children runs towards the house. It seems as if she has carried all the beauty and brightness and sweetness of the day with her.

As Dysart turns back again, the afternoon appears grey and gloomy.