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name being at the house in town when you first called there after your grace's return from the continent. That person was the brother of her ladyship. I did not know it then, as he was called simply her lawyer, and was sent off, as soon as your grace was domiciled with the family. The coachman at Lord — 's iş her first cousin.”
“Impossible !” exclaimed the astonished duke. “If half you tell me be true, these women must be the most detestable and artful creatures upon the face of the earth, and I must be one of the most stupid and easilygulled persons in the world. The story too of my cousin Geraldine's Italian lover is no doubt false."
“ It is false, sir, continued Lewis, “as your grace may remember that I repeated to you what Lady Aberayron said about the trick she had played upon you, respecting the imaginary lover of Lady Geraldine.”
“By heavens !” said the duke, “ I see it all, wretch that I am to have treated my dear,
noble-minded cousins as I have done, at the instigation and from the malicious inuendoes of these fortune-hunting women.
“I will watch them, and they shall be foiled with their own weapons.”
The duke returned to the castle, and reached his own room without encountering the beautiful Charlotte.
At dinner he sat, as usual, next to her, to avoid exciting suspicions which might put the manæuverers upon their guard.
Now that he was fore-warned he was forearmed, and neither a look nor a movement of any of the party escaped him.
Tender glances passed between the fair Charlotte and the Frenchman, looks of caution from the countess, and looks of intelligence from their mutual go-between, mademoiselle.
The rest of the company, including the Ladies Clareville, little imagined the plots and counter-plots that were going on.
About half an hour (that night) after all the family had retired to their bed-rooms, Lewis came to inform the duke that the count and Miss Barrett were safely lodged in the musicroom. Thither the duke followed his faithful page, who having previously left the door of the gallery open, he entered it unseen, and unheard, and looking down into the spacious apartment beneath, saw by the faint light of a chamber-candle, the object of his admiration, the lovely, the modest, the gentle and retiring Charlotte, reclining on a sofa, the arms of the odious whiskered Frenchman encircling her waist, while she was playing with his detestable oily tresses.
It was almost more than the duke could bear, to refrain from bursting upon the deceitful and disgusting pair, but he restrained himself, resolving to punish the now hated beauty, and her mother in their own way. He would not condescend to listen to their murmured conversation, all he wanted was to convince his own eyes of the infidelity of the fond and tender Charlotte ; having done this, he turned away, not before he had seen Charlotte, the pure-minded, modest Charlotte, as he had thought her, and as her mother called her, bestow several affectionate kisses upon the vulgar Frenchman.
The following morning the duke pleaded an engagement for a week, and immediately hastened to Melton villa, where he resolved to relate all that had passed to his aunt, and entreat her good offices with his ill-used cousins.
This it has been seen he did, and astonished them besides with an account of the abominable deceit which had been practised upon him with regard to Lady Geraldine, and which had been the original and sole cause of his estrangement from her.
The Countess of Aberayron had informed him that Lady Geraldine had unfortunately become acquainted with an Italian of no consideration, but of extremely handsome appearance, and so infatuated was she, that no persuasions of her fond father could induce her to give him up; that the earl had entreated her as a friend to watch this dear child, as he found that her sister Caroline only encouraged her in her disgraceful passion. The countess then went on to say, that the unhappy earl, finding his daughters paid no attention to her kind suggestions, and anxious to give them a protectress when he should be no more, and their brother absent, proposed making her his wife, entreating her at the same time never to let the Italian approach his daughter while she should be under her motherly care. .
This and a thousand other gratuitous falsehoods she poured into the ears of the beguiled duke, extracting from him at the same time a promise of secrecy, as she did not wish, she said, to hurt the feelings of the unfortunate Lady Geraldine more than was necessary, particularly as she was already suffering acutely from her thwarted attachment.
As may be believed, all this sunk deep into the mind of the duke, who imagined his cousin's melancholy proceeded from her guardian (Lady Aberayron) preventing the visits of her Italian lover.
He also felt greatly shocked that her sister, Lady Caroline, should have condescended to sanction so improper an attachment, particularly as it was contrary to the express desire