The Superfluous Mansion - Continued

AS soon as the old lady had finished her relation, Somerset made haste to offer her his compliments.

`Madam,' said he, `your story is not only entertaining but instructive; and you have told it with infinite vivacity. I was much affected towards the end, as I held at one time very liberal opinions, and should certainly have joined a secret society if I had been able to find one. But the whole tale came home to me; and I was the better able to feel for you in your various perplexities, as I am myself of somewhat hasty temper.'

`I do not understand you,' said Mrs. Luxmore, with some marks of irritation. `You must have strangely misinterpreted what I have told you. You fill me with surprise.'

Somerset, alarmed by the old lady's change of tone and manner, hurried to recant.

`Dear Mrs. Luxmore,' said he, `you certainly misconstrue my remark. As a man of somewhat fiery humour, my conscience repeatedly pricked me when I heard what you had suffered at the hands of persons similarly constituted.'

`Oh, very well indeed,' replied the old lady; `and a very proper spirit. I regret that I have met with it so rarely.'

`But in all this,' resumed the young man, `I perceive nothing that concerns myself.'

`I am about to come to that,' she returned. `And you have already before you, in the pledge I gave Prince Florizel, one of the elements of the affair. I am a woman of the nomadic sort, and when I have no case before the courts I make it a habit to visit continental spas: not that I have ever been ill; but then I am no longer young, and I am always happy in a crowd. Well, to come more shortly to the point, I am now on the wing for Evian; this incubus of a house, which I must leave behind and dare not let, hangs heavily upon my hands; and I propose to rid myself of that concern, and do you a very good turn into the bargain, by lending you the mansion, with all its fittings, as it stands. The idea was sudden; it appealed to me as humorous: and I am sure it will cause my relatives, if they should ever hear of it, the keenest possible chagrin. Here, then, is the key; and when you return at two to-morrow afternoon, you will find neither me nor my cats to disturb you in your new possession.'

So saying, the old lady arose, as if to dismiss her visitor; but Somerset, looking somewhat blankly on the key, began to protest.

`Dear Mrs. Luxmore,' said he, `this is a most unusual proposal. You know nothing of me, beyond the fact that I displayed both impudence and timidity. I may be the worst kind of scoundrel; I may sell your furniture - '

`You may blow up the house with gunpowder, for what I care!' cried Mrs. Luxmore. `It is in vain to reason. Such is the force of my character that, when I have one idea clearly in my head, I do not care two straws for any side consideration. It amuses me to do it, and let that suffice. On your side, you may do what you please - let apartments, or keep a private hotel; on mine, I promise you a full month's warning before I return, and I never fail religiously to keep my promises.'

The young man was about to renew his protest, when he observed a sudden and significant change in the old lady's countenance.

`If I thought you capable of disrespect!' she cried.

`Madam,' said Somerset, with the extreme fervour of asseveration, `madam, I accept. I beg you to understand that I accept with joy and gratitude.'

`Ah well,' returned Mrs. Luxmore, `if I am mistaken, let it pass. And now, since all is comfortably settled, I wish you a good-night.'

  By PanEris using Melati.

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