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During the afternoon, as good luck would have it, a wire from Hull (Oatlands Hall was thirty miles from that town) came to Mr Leveson, desiring him to repair there to meet an old college chum who was passing through the seaport en route for Norway. So about five o'clock we had an early dinner, and wished him goodbye until the following day.
Mrs Leveson had a splendid voice, and as two other musical friends dropped in later on, we had a most harmonious evening. Towards ten o'clock, while I was turning over Mrs Leveson's music for her, I seized an opportunity to whisper - 'Shall I come in to you, or will you visit a poor bachelor tonight?'
'The latter,' she replied, and blushed up to the roots of her hair. She had not yet learned how to deaden the qualms of conscience, but she was woman enough to intimate, very sotto voce, 'We should be observed if we whispered any more.' Then, aloud, 'Mr De Vaux, would you mind turning over for me, Mr Clinton is so very awkward.'
This was the cut direct, before three others, too, but I grinned and bore it. 'She did not find you so awkward this morning, Clinton,' he whispered, as he leisurely took his stand by the piano, and I passed into the adjoining apartment where lay a 'cut-and-come-again' supper, to which I did ample justice.
About eleven o'clock, the guests having gone, Mrs Leveson bade us both good-night in a stately, formal way and retired, and De Vaux and I proceeded to the billiard-room.
'I have a proposition to make you,' he said as he was chalking his cue for a game.
I couldn't think what De Vaux's rather serious manner imported, but at first imagined he was sore at losing his pin, and as my intrigue had been so delicious, I told him I knew what he was about to say, and that he might keep the heirloom (for I always believed it was an heirloom); I didn't really want it, and pointed out that he could salve his conscience m not paying the bet, as I had won it under circumstances which savoured of unfairness, but De Vaux stopped me.
'Let us sit down,' he said. 'I hardly feel in the humour for the green cloth tonight. Listen to me a few minutes.'
I sat down, curious to know what was coming next.
'The pin is yours, Clinton,' he said, 'and I have even forgotten that I ever possessed such a thing, but I wish to speak to you upon another matter.'
'My dear De Vaux,' I said, 'wait until I have lighted another cigar. Now, fire, away.'
'You are, as you justly call yourself, a Cunt Philosopher; lately I have gone in for arse castigation a good deal, and the passion that I once had for the more genuine article I foolishly imagined had died out.'
'What the devil does all this prelude mean, old man?'
'Simply this. Three years ago I was seriously, nay madly, in love with Mrs Leveson. I would have given my finger tips to possess her, and when I made advances which were spurned, and eventually proceeded to extremes which resulted in my being politely told to make myself scarce, I was cut up more than I have been in my life, either before or since.'
'What damned nonsense you are talking, De Vaux.'
I'm speaking the sober truth, Clinton. I accepted Leveson's invite down here thinking I had got over my foolish passion, but before I had been in her company ten minutes I had all the old feeling come back again with renewed force, and knowing how hopeless was the endeavour to become possessor of her charms, I made up my mind to cut short my visit.'
'What noble, lofty sentiment is this, my worthy friend; I'll be shot if I can understand it.'
When I came in and discovered you this morning, the first feeling that predominated was rampant jealousy, and I really believe that, had I not governed myself by walking hastily away from the scene, I should have shot both of you.'
'Damn it, man, the bet was of your own making.'
'I know it, and I cursed myself as a blasted idiot for having made it, and then calmer thoughts prevailed. Now, as you have enjoyed one of the divinest women that was ever cast in beauty's mould, I want you to do me a good turn. I have, I think, without wishing to remind you of obligations rendered, done you one or two services in the fucking line.'
I remembered Lucy, and at once acquiesced.
'Tonight, knowing what I did, I watched you and Mrs Leveson, and although I heard no words spoken, am quite sure that at the piano you arranged an assignation.'
'In your bedroom, or hers?'
'In my own.'
'Clinton, be a good friend,' Dc Vaux said earnestly. 'let me take your place.'
'She will find you out,' I said, not altogether falling in with his view, for although I had guessed what he was leading up to, I didn't quite relish the situation.
'What if she does, it will not matter once I am well in her; she won't cry out, that I can bargain for.'
'Well,' I said, 'how do you propose to work it?'
'Simply in this way: I take your bed, you take mine.'
'Right you are,' I said, and I really meant to oblige poor De Vaux at the time, but I was always a practical joker, and as I knew Hannah, the dread of her master having been removed, would be sure to run up within an hour of my retiring, I looked forward to some fun.