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myself, who used to walk behind them, Mrs. Tomkins being too infirm to perform such an undertaking. The duke meanwhile attended Miss Barrett in her drives and walks, whenever he could prevail over her delicate reserve to allow him to do so.
In the mean time poor Lady Geraldine seemed to be sinking under a load of sorrow brought on by the cruel desertion of her almost declared lover, while the indignant Lady Caroline could with difficulty suppress her feelings of indignation and contempt.
It was evident that the duke, faithful to the promise he had made his father of neither marrying, nor engaging himself to any woman before his twenty-fifth birth-day, was anxious for that day, to declare himself to the apparently pure, and certainly beautiful object who appeared to engross all his thoughts.
His grace could not be more impatient for that day than was the countess and her daughter, who dreaded that something might intervene to prevent the fulfilment of their
ardent wishes, and had used many artifices to induce the duke to declare himself.
Things were in this state, when one day Lady Geraldine missed from over her chimneypiece, (where it always hung,) a small miniature of the Duke of Lavandale, drawn when he was a boy. It was set round with small brilliants, and had been given to her ladyship by her late mother.
We searched everywhere, but it was nowhere to be found. Mrs. Tomkins declared that she thought it was likely it had been stolen by Mademoiselle Didier, or the beggarly singing whiskered count, who was at the castle on a visit, and she said she would take the first opportunity of searching their rooms. In pursuance of this determination, she for a week exerted herself so much as to go into their rooms, hunting in every improbable place for the diamonds, which she imagined must have been the object of the theft.
She had given up the search in despair, when remembering that mademoiselle was
often at work in the music room, the old lady thought, as the door was open and nobody there, she would take a peep into her work-box and into monsieur le count's music-case. Having satisfied herself that her suspicions were groundless, she was about to leave the room, when spying a newspaper upon the piano, she could not resist taking it up, and her eyes being riveted by some attractive paragraph, and being too much tired to stand to read it, she ensconced herself in a lounging chair in one of the large recesses of the oriel window, and there she remained at least half an hour, unconscious where she was, having, as usual, closed her eyes and dozed a little, as soon as she had read the article which attracted her notice.
She was roused from her pleasing reverie by the sound of voices, and being in hopes the speakers were only passing through the room, she resolved to remain quietly behind the folds of the ample curtain.
The speakers were the Duke of Lavandale and Miss Barrett. He was telling her how
much he regretted being obliged to be absent till the evening, as he had engaged to be present at the wedding of his friend Lord — that day, and to give the bride away.
“Happy, happy man,” ejaculated the duke, “what would I not give to be in his place, and to be at liberty to lay myself and my dukedom at the feet of the woman I love !”
“Are you not at liberty ? ” said the beautiful Charlotte, looking up with sweet innocent simplicity into the face of the enamoured duke.
“No, my sweet girl, I am not at liberty to declare myself, (except to one being,) till I have reached my twenty-fifth year.”
“How strange," murmured the bewitching Charlotte, “ that I never should have heard this before."
She had heard it at least a hundred times. However she wished his grace to suppose she had not, then raising her downcast eyes, and blushing, said in the sweetest voice in the world, “You will be back to dinner, it will be so dreadfully dull while you are away."
“Will I ?” replied the duke, “ Will I live ?"
Then in a low voice he pressed her to tell him how she became possessed of his portrait, as it was the one his aunt had given to Lady Geraldine.
“I-I borrowed it,” stammered Miss Barrett.
“And why did you borrow it, my sweet Miss Barrett, Oh tell me, why?”
The lovely Charlotte appeared to be completely overcome by this question, and by the duke's eager manner in asking and repeating it, at last bursting into tears, and covering her face with her handkerchief, she confessed in a faint voice that it was to copy it.
“Oh! do not be angry, do not hate me,” she sobbed.
“ Hate you, sweetest, loveliest, and best,” cried the duke, “Oh! if you could guess- but I must tear myself away or I shall be tempted to break my word to my dear though too scrupulous father; God bless you till we meet again." Then, kissing her hand, he tore himself from her, while she, looking after him, walked quietly out of the opposite door.