Chapter 61305444

See chapter in newspaper

Chapter NumberI
Chapter TitleTHE EARL'S PROPOSAL.
Chapter Urlhttp://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article61305444
Full Date1899-12-02
Page Number6
Corrections0
Word Count2710
IllustratedN
Last Corrected0000-00-00
Newspaper TitleClarence and Richmond Examiner (Grafton, NSW : 1889 - 1915)
Trove TitleFrom Convict to Countess
article text

CHAPTER L

THU EABII'S PBOPOSAE.

"Will you marry me, my pretty maid ?" . ? ;

The girl blushed crimson as the words reached her ear, and glanced at her companion's face, but hesitated.

Then she picked her rose to pieces, leaf by leaf.

The man's face also flushed. He pressed his question in another form, and OIBO pressed the firm white hand of which ho had possessed himself.

" Do you love me, Alma ?"

'. The crimson blush spread to the girl's hair, but she still evaded him.

" Why do you ask, my Earl ? '.

Why, reader ? It was folly, was it not, to put such a question to the lady ? Eor she was friendless, and dependent upon her own exertions for a living. In a social sense she was

the earl's inforior and his Bister's governess. His mother and her friends would be furious if he con

tracted an engagement possessing neither wealth nor rank, aud they would spurn her from their titled

presence.

But, "on the other hand, Alma Grey was" , beautiful, superb. Her lover scrutinized her. as she bent over her onitilatcd flower ; ho could find no flaw. ' Her luxuriant' hair was coiled into a natural coronet that a countess might envy ; the lovely complexion of her oval face was lighted by a pair of large, violet eyes, that' ono moment were deep and tender, and tho next sparkled like twin stars, beneath her ? broad white brow ; her nose retroucee by, a i hair's breadth was justly pro- . portioned to her other features ; her sweet mouth was supported by a firm and beautifully moulded chin ; strength of character lay in its curvos, goodness and truth nestled in the radiant eyes. She carried herself like a high-bred

woman, and moved with-- that easy : grace which only comes from a per-

fectly proportioned figure. - ', j

Tile Earl's enraptured eyes travelled

over her magnificent formulier -arched j instep and trim ankle, past .¡the broad

hips and slender waist, over: the I swelling ' bust and full, round arms,

half revealed by the hanging sleeves, j Yes '; .' she '. was wonderfully perfect, crowned with beauty, exuberant health; and glowing vitality.' A woman to love and be loved. '..«»

, Nor was -shemerely, an exquisite but empty casket ¡ there we're jewels in the inner shrine. - She was edu- cated, refined, innocent;;: sweet, and true,' strong in mind as, in body ¡ and though .theology was not the Eatl's strong point, he said to himself, " She' is a pearl among women. If possible, I will get her to wife; for her price is

above rubies."

: Accordingly he answered, '? Because . I love'yow, Alma.'.' '.

; What an imprudent young man to entangle himself with a penniless girl, says .the cynical, man of .the. world. Earl i Budleigh was nn honourable ' man he might be summed up as an

" English gentleman," which miiiiy of hiB aristocratie class are not ;. at. any . rate: not. as, far -aa pretty girls aro: concerned, who are reckoned fair prey. , But,'-' unlike his. compeers, he deter, mined to be just and straight with the pretty, governess, for true ; love is. un- selfish love and reeks little of disparity in social position. He believed that if he won this woman-dearest,of all women,, to him-that he would be suprwnoly wise and bloat, and what tnie-hcarted youth or-maiden will say him nay.

' 0But.what about Alma? She. had

no friends to offend- or please ; her extravagant ' father had been dead a year. ¡ Possessed . only of ; her great .personal attractions, an excellent edu- cation, and.a couple of recommenda- tions from influential friends, she went out into the world to seek her fortuno ¡ and lo ! now.she had found it. Here it was, ready to her hand, ample and splendid enough to satisfy the most exacting woman;

She enquired, with assumed care- lessness, " You say : you love me, Budleigh, and if I love you, what then f'v

: The Earl answered promptly, " Then we will be married, dearest." ? 0

It was a dazzling offer for a dependent girl. She looked round at the sweeping glades and long dim aisles of trees, with "the noble mansion '.nestled away among them; the broad,

rich lands, the' picturesque cottages I and farms, and all this at one word I was hers. But, after all, that was the

least important part of the question she was considering. Bid she truly love the giver P, was the feeling with which she regarded him the true and the right one ? And. she fixed again her glance upon him.

The young Earl'was "ruddy and of a fair countenance," he was strong and well-built, clean and compact in figure,, frank in character, kindly in address.' Sho had liked 'him all along,- she told herself. He''had' been so respectful and sympathetic, and that sympathy had been like water to the .thirsty earth ; so that she could not but help feel affectionately ' disposed 9towards him. But now MB question'seemed to woke up something which hod lain unacknowledged in her woman's heart ; '

and as he confessed himself to be ber

lover, and pleaded with her to come into the closest and dearest relationship with himself, something never before 'experienced, like a current of fresh

life,- thrilled her through and through. Gratitude, pride, affection, love, over- flowed her heart; She bent her head beneath her lover's eye, and responded in her low, soft voice.

" If you love me, I love you too,

Eric."

Thé usual consequences of such avowals followed, to wit, the Earl clasped his sweetheart in his arms, and Eressed a long kiss upon her upturned ps. . '

' After a long and silent interval the Bari asked,

"When will you marry me, Alma?" . At the question she disengaged her-

self from his arms, and answered j sadly, "Why, never, I tiunk."

"Her lover looked at her in breath- less astonishment, almost ludicrous.

"What?" he stammered.

" At least," qualified Alma, " I accept your offer of marriage con- ditionally, which will amount to the same thing."

" What condition is that ?" enquired her friend anxiously.

" Well, Eric, you must gain your mother's consent to om* marriage, and

her promise that she will receive me j

as her future daughter. Oh, Eric, i there is grief and trouble before us. I I see it, I feel it." . . |

"Don't be a little goose," said Eric, with a superior air. " It will all come right. There goes the first bell for dinner. Come, love, one kiss, and. we will go home."

When they were a short distance from the house they separated. Eric going in to dress for dinner, while

Alma continued her walk.

These stolen meetings had boou going on for some weeks, and they mvolved considerable- risk, at least to Alma ; but young people in love will accept risks and trust to the blind goddess, ? and fortune continued to favour tho lovers. Eor the next few months the Earl conducted his affair of the heart with a discretion beyond his years, or that his infatuated con- dition would lead us to expect, so that none of his relatives suspected his

attachment.

On parting from his sweetheart one evening he said,

" Alma, I Bhall speak to my mother about you directly after breakfast to- morrow, and ' obtain her consent to our marriage. Will you modify your acceptance of my' offer, and be content if I simply inform her that we are going to bo married ?" . ?

3io,'Eric,; my pride' will not, let me consent to such an arrangement. I know your mother's prejudices ; I know too well the accusations her friends will launch against me : " that I have angled for you" and "played my cards well," and all the malicious things that envy can prompt. I feel compelled to have the sanction of your friends to my becoming their relative. You know, dear, I have been candid with you, and in all our relations with each other you have understood the position."

" Well, Alma, you tie my hands, or at least one of them, but I will make tho best fight I cnn."

Next morning Alma experienced no Binall difficulty in teaching her pupils ; King Edwards and Henrys mixed together j verbs passive seemed to be most active as they danced on the pago beforev" her eyes ; she started nervously af each noise. At ll o'clock a footman brought a note from Budleigh. " Come down at once," it said, " I can get no further with our negotiation until you have seen my mother." With her heart beating rapidly, Alma descended to the hall, where the Earl met her and drew her arm tlirough his to lend her into the library. ,

Tho old Dowager Countess looked palo and stern ; her searching eye» seemed to look Alma through and through. She bent her head slightly in response to the salutation ot her governess. .Then the Earl placed a chair at the table for Alma, and seated himself at her side. Thcro was a deep silence for a few minutes,, which Erie

broke.

"I have to tell you, Alma, that my mother is strongly opposed to our union" (the Countess gave a sarcastic smile), " but I have not invited you to our conference to hear.that objec- tion discussed ?; I have done that for the last two . hours. The result of that discussion is that ni}' mother has decided to give a conditional consent to our marriage, and I have brought you here in order to hear your

decision. The Countess will Btato to you the condition's upon which she

insists." .

The Countess spoke coldly. " I need not say that I am surprised and disappointed at Budleigh's choice. I will not dwell on that faot, Miss Grey. I have elicited from my BOH that you have stipulated with him for my con- sent to your marriage. Is it true ?".

" It is true,"- Alma answered.

" What may bo the state of your real feeling towards my son? I do not seek to know beyond this, that I must bo made certain of its perman- ence. I. will not have my plans thwarted for a mere whim on tho part of young people, and my conditions are, therefore :

" That Budleigh shall travol abroad for two years, and tho dato of such probation shall commence from the daté he leaves home ; and that if he roturas here with the Bame .feelings towards you which he professes to have at tho present time, then I will give my consent to his marriage. Provided that no engagement be announced, and no change\ be made in our present relations."

"I awnit your decision, Miss Grey." Alma asked, " Will you give mo till the morning to consider this mntter ?"

" Ton may take that time for re- flection," said the Countess.» "And meet me here at ten o'clock to- morrow." She rose, and the Earl attended her to the door, and shes passed out. Then he returned to his.

seat beside Alma.

" I think, Eric, I had better return to 'the schoolroom if our engagement is to be kept secret. The servant» are very observant, and no doubt this conference has made them curious already. But I will see you before t give my answer. Au Sevoir"

" Remember," said Eric, letting her go, " nine o'clock to-morrow at the

Hollow Beach."

" Be punctual, Eric, and then if the barque ÍB on the beach I shall not; have sailed away. Oh, don't, Eric !'*" and Alma tripped off.

Next morning Alma gave her pupth* a holiday, and at 9 a.m. Btrolled into the park with a book. Eric was at

the tree before she arrived. She told

him she had decided to accept the terms offered by the Countess ; " that; is," Bhe added with a tear and a smile,, "if you think me worth two year» exile, Eric."

Eric admitted that she was worth* more. " But the time, Alma ?"

" Don't mind the time, dearest ; itt will soon pass, and we are bo tb young." i

" But I don't like it, Alma. It. seems ridiculous to make a man leave

his native country when he does not/ want to go ; and it is a long time, say what you will."

"I know it is, Eric ; but if we love we can wait. It is a long price tc» pay, but the future is worth it, and itt

will be all the sweeter when it comes Kiss me, dear, and toke me into your mother. Tho time appointed is nearly up." , "

Budleigh found himself- in the minority, and overborne by his mother and his fiancee: There was no help* for it but to yield and to taite Alma into the library as before.

" I have come," said Alma to the? 1 Countess, " to ncccpt your terms."

"-1 nm glad to hear it, Miss Grey. It; will be bettor for all parties. Now,. Eric, tho sooner you get away the soonor your probation will be over."

" I must have a little time," said; thc Earl. " A inonth at least."

. Thc result of an argument was> that Eric consented to sail for the Contincnt in a fortnight, but that:: fortnight was the quickest that over- passed.

On thc morning of Ids departure-' Eric lcd his sweetheart for the last time to tho trysting tree. The weep- ing girl tlirow.herself upon his neck.

.."Oh, Eric, now ~-yo.u are really going I feel so lonely.;.. But-it, is ne*. that: altogether. I reéïafraid of your mother. "When I look up from my work er book I. find lier eye fixed:

upon me. I know-her thought is o£ me ; her look ÍB BO. measuring, calcu- lating. I canjee .some design form- ing, mnturing itself about mo.. And,, Eric, oh! if you saw as, ï do the¡ menace, the resoluto enmity" of her glance!; It'made my. blood, r tm cold>.

not once nor. twice." ..

" My sweet," said her lover, " com- pose yourself. It is your nerves,,

which have been over-tried and un-

strung. It will soon paBs. You need, nob bo afraid of my mothor ; Bho comes of an ancient house, and sher will treat you justly, if no. moro.. Turn your thoughts,; love, to the future ¡ I servo for you and you for-

me. ' It is not even for tho sevens,

years, and then we shall meet andi remain always together."- .-.'?"'

" But your friends, Eric, rwill they

be kind to mo ?"

" They will, Alma.' You, havo tho attractive power to, make them ; they will not resist you. 'Your beauty needs: no setting, yet shall it bo my proud, task to clasp pur family diamonds.-, upon your round amis, and placo the* tiara of a countess' upon your broad' white brow and shining chestnut, hair

and I will say to them, "Tliw- ia- my wife," and they will welcome you an"dl congratulate mo for having won you« Thou, in your fair attire, you, will be?

presented to the Sovereign,. and you. . will reign tho queen, of beauty; the?

loveliest and most attractive womaui in tho royal court."

His words of love and admiration^ and the prospect of their happy and' brilliant future, made-Alma smile through her tears, and her sweet face rogaiucd some of its bloom and grew.' more hopeful.

" Thank you, dear, for all your praise ; you comfort' me. Good bye,, my Eric ; I will be true and fiiithiuL You will find me waiting for you. when this lonely suspense is over« You have all my heart. Good-bye,, darling."

She kissed him fondly, he- gave her oue last embrace, and tho- rolling; carriage boro him away.