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From the booking office I emerged on to the arrival platform, and hailing a superior-looking porter, placed a sovereign in his hand, whispering in his ear - 'The train coming in the distance contains a Lady Twisser; engage a good cab, put all her luggage on it, and if I should happen to miss the lady, as I might do in this crowd, conduct me to her.'
He obeyed my instructions au pied de la lettre, and in less than two minutes I was shaking hands on the strength of a self-introduction with Lady Fanny.
I explained that her brother was engaged in consultation with a senior counsel at the bar, and that, had it not been a very important case, he would have met her in person, but my instructions were that she was to come to his chambers, where he would probably be by the time we arrived.
Lady Fanny's portrait had by no means exaggerated her loveliness. A stately Grecian nose and finely cut lips suggested to me that she was a mare that might shy, but then her soft, brown, dreamy eyes told a sweeter tale, and I leaned back in the cab and almost wished I had not touched the Pinero cordial, for I was in momentary fear of spending in my trousers.
'This, I think, is your first visit London.'
'Scarcely,' she replied, in a voice whose gentle music made my heart bound, 'I came up with my husband six months ago to be "presented", but we only stayed the day.'
'London is a splendid city,' I rejoined, 'so full of life and gaiety, and the shops and bazaars are always replete with every knick-knack for ladies it must seem a veritable paradise.' Lady Fanny only sighed, which I thought strange, but before my cogitation's could take form we were at my chambers.
'Had not my boxes better be sent to some hotel?' said Lady Fanny. 'I am, of course, only going to make a call here.'
'Yes,' I returned, 'that is all arranged,' and tipping the cabman handsomely, I directed him to take them to a quiet hotel in Norfolk Street, Strand, and conducted her ladyship to her brother's rooms.
Here I left her for a few moments to see after my drunken guests, but found them all snoring peacefully, some on the floor, others on chairs and sofas, but all evidently settled for the night.
After knocking at Sydney's door I again entered his sitting-room, but found it empty.
Damn it, I thought to myself, the bird hasn't flown, I hope.
My ears were at this moment saluted with the gurgling which signalled that her ladyship was relieving herself in the adjoining apartment, and I quietly sat down and awaited her return.
On seeing me she started and turned as red as a full-blown peony, the flower being a simile suggested by the situation, and said, 'I had no idea, Mr Clinton, that-'
'Pray, Lady Fanny, do not mention it; I know exactly what you were about to say.
'Yes, you as a matter of fact didn't know what to say, because you thought I heard you - a-hem - in the next room - but, my dear Lady Fanny, in London we are not so particular as the hoydenish country folks, and as an old friend of your brother's you will pardon my saying that I do not think you have treated me overly well.'
'Treated you - really, Mr Clinton, you amaze me; pray what have I done?'
'Rather, my dear Lady Fanny, what have you left undone.'
'Nothing, I hope,' she said hastily, looking down as though she expected to see a petticoat or a garter falling off.
'No, I don't mean anything like that,' I said, coming closer to her, until the flame which shot from my eyes appeared to terrify her, and she moved towards the bedroom, as if to take refuge there.
Now this was the very height of my ambition; I knew once in that apartment all struggles and cries would be of little avail, for the walls were thick, the windows high, and there was no other door save the one she was gradually backing into.
'What does this conduct mean, Mr Clinton?' said the lovely girl. 'I surely am in my brother's chambers, and with his friend, for he has often written and told me of your kindness to him. You are not an impostor, one of those dreadful men of whom one reads in romances, who would harm a woman?'
'No,' I said. 'Lady Fanny, do not mistake the ardour of devotion for any sinister motive, but sit down, after your fatiguing journey, white I order in some refreshment.'
Doubly locking the door, on the principle of safe bind, safe find, I gave an order to the restaurateur around the corner which astonished that gentleman, and in less than ten minutes I had overcome Fanny's scruples, got her to take off her moire mantle and coquettish bonnet, and had placed before her a bijou supper in five courses such as I knew would make a country demoiselle open her eyes.
'Good gracious me,' said Lady Fanny, 'does my brother always live like this? If so, I am not at all surprised at his frequent requisitions on my purse.
'Yes,' I said nonchalantly, 'this is generally our supper. Permit me.' And I poured out a glass of champagne, taking care, however, that six drops of Pinero had been placed in the glass.