|Chapter Number||I (CONTINUED)|
|Newspaper Title||Queanbeyan Age (NSW : 1867 - 1904)|
|Trove Title||Love's Conquest|
LOYE'S CONQUEST. CHAPTER L.--Continued. Captain Esmonde bowed to the young lady and looked at her keenly for some seconds. He had beard of Lady Adela Collington, but the face be saw did not seem to him to have the beauty that he had been led to expect. There was character as well as intelligence in it, and the grey eyes fringed with long curling lashes were undeniably beautiful; but for him they had no charm, and be looked at her with a cold indifference that was almost like disapproval. The girl raised her gray eyes under her little dainty hat, which was perched upon the wavy masses of her dusky brown hair, and returned his gaze with interest. It was a remarkably handsome face she saw, good tempered-looking, with well-cut features, and the deeply-set happy blue eyes appeared as if they ought to melt into a pleasant smile; but they were regarding her with a *cold and grave expression that, gave her a slight shock. It almost seemed as if his -stare was hostile; hut it lasted for only a moment ; and, while Adela was asking her self what it meant, the young man deforen tially made a request for a dance. 'May I have the privelege now of securing a dance,' he said; ' I suppose your first waltz is already given away; but, if you can spare the second or third-' 'I am not engaged for the first,' said the young lady, with a frank smile, ' and I will keep that for you, if you like.' He bowed, murmuring that he should con sider himself highly honoured ; and Lord Castlehurat smiled grimly. ' Well, my dear,' be observed, 'if you have settled that matter, we must be going. Jt is beginning to rain, and Tressilian will be getting impatient. Ta-Ta, Captain Esmonde ! Thanks to you, there is no doubt which way the match will end now !' The beauty of the summer afternoon was gone; dark ominous-looking clouds had for some time been creeping up from the south west, and heavy drops of rain were now beginning to fall; The old nobleman tottered away, as he had come, leaning heivily on his daughter's arm; and Captain Esmonde remained for a few Imoments where he was, thoughtfully gazing after their departing figures. But his friends, who had moved a little away from him during the conversation, crowded round him again, and his attention was recalled to the game by a shout that proclaimed the fall of the last wicket. The match was over, and the honours of victory remained with the local eleven, gained by three runs. The finish came just in time, for the rain was beginning to fall in torrents, and the onlookers were hurrying away like a flock of scared sheep. ' Hang this weather, ' observed young Dick L'Estrange discontentedly. ' Is -there to be no end of it, I should like to know I For I the past six weeks we have had rain every day; and, if you call that summer, I don't. If it goes on much longer the river will be over the banks and the whole place will be flooded ; there won't be a dry spot to put your foot down on, much less to play upon. The ground was like a swamp to-day.' ' Oh, come, it was not so had,' said Es monde good-humouredly. ' We have been uncommonly lucky in having a fine afternoon for the match; and you couldn't have wished for a better witch. I'm a regular stick-in-the mud generally ; still I've no fault to find with this ground.' The cricketers were hastily gathering their belongings together before leaving the doner ted field, and they had found shelter for the moment in their tent. The day was to wind up with a dinner for the elevens and their friends at the chief inn of the town close and the waggonettes which w them to the scene driven up. ' Th'
near enough to catch what had passed in the interview nob five minutes before, turned round and started at the speaker in consider. able amazement. Dick L'Eatrange opened his big brown eyes very wide indeed, and took upon him self the office of Mentor. ' But I say, Esmonde, my dear fellow,' he remonstrated, ' haven't you rather a short memoty 7 You have engaged Lady Adela for the first waltz, so you will have to be there for the beginning of the dance. You can't ctu that !' Can't I 7' responded Esmonde coolly. ' I don't see why not. I had to ask her for a dance-1 could nob help myself ; but, if circumstances enable me to get out of it, I shall certainly not hesitate to avail myself of them.' ' You don't seem to regard Lady Adela with much respect, Captain Esmonde,' obser ved a man named Haughton, who was listening to the conversation. He was a rather dark sinister-looking man, and there was a disagreeable expression in his keen dark eyes. 'No-1 don't. I don't consider that a woman of that sort merits much respect,' said Esmaonde curtly. ' Why, what has she done that you should be so prejudiced against her I' asked young Dick in amazement. ' She has behaved very badly to a friend of mine,' replied Esmonde, his eyes darken ing. ' You knew Tom Buckfastleigh, didn't you 7 Well, you must have heard how atrociously she treated him. She was engaged to him last ye ar: but, because he lost the greater parb of his fortune in an unfortunate speculation, she gave him up. Surely you must have heard about it ?' ' Oh, yes-everybody . knew about the engagement,' said Dick; ' but I don't see how -Lady Adela was to blame for breaking it off ! She will have nothing - herself, and she could not well be expected to marry' a ruined man. Lord Castlehurst would never have permitted it if she had wished it ever so much.' ' But Bdckfastleigh was not ruined,' re joined Captain Esmoode; 'if he had been, there might have been some excuse for her. It was nothing of the sort; he had quite enough left to support her in as much com fort and luxury as any woman could have wished for. It was only a part of his fortune that he had lost, and he never dreamed that she would give him up for that. But she had never cared for him, and she played f..st end.loose with him. When she found that lie was not as rich as she had expected, she threw him over without compunction.' ' Are you certain that you know all the circumstances 7' asked Haughton curiously. ' I don't care what the circumstances may have been; I know that a woman must te utterly worthless to act as she did. Buck fastleigh used to he one of the best fellows going, hut he has gone ' utterly to the- bad now; and it is all her doing I Her hehaviour was absolutely heartless, and she is a dirt and a jilt!' Esmonde's good-humored countenance wore an expression of anger and contempt that was foreign indeed to his usual careless demeanor, and he spoke with an impetuous indignation that he did not attempt to control. , ' Don't you think you are a trifle hard upon her 7' said Dick, breaking a silence that was rather awkard. ' She hasn't a name for that sorb of thing about here, and I myself should have said that she was a quiet retir. ing sort of girl. However, you may be right -one never knows.' ' Ab any rate, retribution is overtaking her now,' obsoived Haughton, with a sneer; ' she has forfeited Captain Esmonde's good opinion, and she will have to sit out the first dance to-night.' Esmonde laughed, and his brow cleared. ' No very great punishment,' he sai a dl humouredly. ' our
arm of one of the best waltzrs in the room, when his retreat was discivered by Maud Throgmorton, the only daaghter of the house, who instantly-came forward with indignant reproaches. ' Oh, Captain Esmonde, what have you been thinking of to desert us like this ?. How horrid of you to stay so long at that detest able cricket dinner ! We are short of danc ing men, and mamma was counting upon you. It is abominable of you, and I shall never forgive you I' - He met this half laughing attack with an extravagint protestation of contrition and repentance; but knowing what they wer& worth, the young lady did not pay much attention to his excuses, and, telling him that the best way of making amends would be to do his duty now, she dragged him off and ab once introduced him to half a dozen helph as young damsels who were.languishing in the unenviable position of wall-flowers. Captain Esmonde did his duty gallantlyf and for the next tew dances exerted himsel to such a purpose lik to effect a decided reduction in the sum of human misery for that evening; but, while he talked to his partners, his eyes were following the move ments of a alight figure in pink, and his at tention was a good deal distracted. He was strongly prejudiced against Lady Adele, and he had reason to know that she was a heart less flirt and coquette; but, in spite of this -perhaps because of it-she was the one person in the room on whom his interest was contentrated, and he could not help watching he- d listening for the low tones of her er she passed near him. de,' said one of his part *r heavy girl, with good a sluggish smile, ' I do t absent-minded person a.' ed, rousing himself Why, what have ve minutes you have I have said, and, w to get me no ice, if I wanted it or id not, for here ve presented me, a fan that belongs pid I am. I really "ays was a muudle.
headed fellow, doing things without thinking, and constantly making blunders in conse quence; but you will forgive me, won't you 4 'll get you an ice now, if it is not 4oo late.' He rushed off upon his errand and soon reappeared again with the desired refreshment. 'Captain E monde,'said the girl, laughing, I think you are incorrigible. You are thinking of something else all the time. What is it 7' ' I don't know, I am sure,' he returned absently, and his partner saw that his atten tion had again wandered. 'Lady Adela looks very well to.night, doesn't she 8' observed the young lady, follow. ing the direction of his eyes and speaking with a roguish smile, which Esmonde did not observe. ' She certiinly has a very pretty figure, and that shade of pink suits her complexion,' he said, as if making a concewion. 'Do you consider her pretty?' inquired the young lady. ' Not in the least,' he promptly replied.. ' Ab,' she exclaimed with a sigh, ' that is the answer a man always gives if he is asked by a woman if he thinks another woman pretty. I suppose you imagine that we are all jealous of each other ; but it is a very stupid and mistaken idea. I have never yet known a man to admit that a -woman was pretty when I have asked him; and you are not more sincere than the rest.' 'I assure you that I am incapable of de ception,' declared Captain Esmonde-and in this instance he did feel himself to be sincere; ' I do not in the least admire Lady Adele.' ' Bub she has an interesting - face, and, 'ovely eyes, has she not I- I do not wonder that she is so much admired.' Is l she so much admired I' ' Oh, yes-I think so. And yet it seemed. to be of very little good to her. -,She has always plenty of partners at a dance, beca,,se she dances so well ; and than her position. But in every other way her family is againsb her, for the Oollingwoods are -frightfully unpopular in the county. They have no real friends; and I don't think Lady Adela has any either. She must feel rather isolated, I should think; and I believe that that horrid Lord Tresailian and the old earl put upon her dreadfully. But she is exceedingly proud, and she does not seem to want any sympathy.' Yes-she was exceedingly proud-Esmonde was convinced of that; but there could be no good in a girl who had behaved uo loadly
to poor Buokfastleigh. She deserved punish ment ; but it was not -in his power to inflict it ; and, if it had been, why should he be the man to do itl At present-he -was only punishing himself by refraining from dancing with the best partner in the room; and .there was no sense in that. Esmonde himself wis an enthusiastic waltzer, and: the conclusion to which this course of reasoning was likely to lead him was obvious. ' I must have one waltz at any cost,' he said to himself, sa he watched her float past. ' I'll make my excuses and secure a supper dance.' % Lady Adele however never looked in his direction, and he had not an opportunity of speaking to her until the evening was half over. During an interval when he had returned to the dancers, after escotting a partner into, supper, he was looking round in search of Lady Adela, when lie caught eight of her standing alone among the flowers in the dimly-lit conservatory that was at the end of passage leading out of the ball-room. He instantly made his way to her, end, with the easy grace that was natural to him, ex pressed his regret and made an apology for his defection. ' I was detained in town,' he said, smiling; 'but I hope you will be able to spare me another dance instead of the one I have lose.' Lady Adela listened in silence to his lightly offered explanation. She did not lork at him when he came up; but, as he finished speaking, she turned her head and raised her eyes. She certainly did appear to ad. vantage in eveningdress, and Esmonde, whose impressions had -already undergone some modification since the afternoon, was involun tarily moved to admiration. How beautiful and stately she looked in her dress of delicate shimmering pink. How equisitely clear and white was her skin-like the finest porcelain. And her darkly fringed gray eyes were lovely, Esmonde thouatbt; but their gaze was cold and grave. Her face had worn a very different and much more friendly expression in the afternoon; and he wondered vaguely why her manner should have become so much more distant. ' My programme is filled up,' she said, with quiet indifference; '1 have no dances''Ttt for I you.'
' Ate you engaged for this extra one T be asked, for the band had at that moment struck up a popular waltz as a ' supper extra.' 1 5' No,' she answered. ' But I shall not dance this, for if I did I should be too tired to stey for those that I havelpromised ; and I do not consider it honorable to wilfully break engagements.' wCptain Esmonde's bronzed face flushed as these words fell upon his ears. Were they meant as a reflection upon himself I He placed that interpretation upon them, and meb the implied reproof by a counter accusation. [To BE CONTINUED.]