The Magnificent Masquerade

The Magnificent Masquerade by Elizabeth Mansfield

Book: The Magnificent Masquerade by Elizabeth Mansfield Read Free Book Online
Authors: Elizabeth Mansfield
That is the
girl to whom you're expected to make an offer! Couldn't you behave in a
gentlemanly manner on your first evening in her comp any?"
    Toby threw himself into a chair and ran a hand
through his thick curls. "It's been a deucedly long day, Greg, and I'm
tired. You know I ain't the sort who likes music. I can bear it all well enough
if someone's singing words that I can understand and laugh at, but just to sit
still and force myself to listen to an endless evening of piano playing ...
well, that just ain't in my line."
    Edgerton sighed in disgust. "You could
have tried, confound it! Just this once you could have made an effort to
attend. You could have concentrated on her hands on the keys, or on the
intricacy of the harmonies, or even on the charming way she bit her underlip
when she was absorbed-" "Those things might keep you awake, Greg, but
they ain't interesting to me. In fact, there's nothing about this girl you've
picked for me that I find interesting."
    "How can you say that?" his brother
demanded angrily. "She's as pretty a creature as any I've ever seen you
with, her demeanor is much calmer and gentler than I expected, she is sweet and
talented, and is evidently trying very hard to create a good impression. What
more can you ask?"
    "I can ask for someone a little less
insipid," Toby muttered sullenly.
    Now it was Greg's turn to run his fingers
through his hair. "I wouldn't call the girl insipid, exactly," he said,
his brow puckering as he dropped into a chair opposite his brother. "She
seems, rather, to be timid. As if she were dreadfully afraid of saying the
wrong thing. Her father led me to believe that she's an incorrigible
mischief-maker, but-"
    "Mischief-maker? That one?"
    Greg shook his head in puzzled agreement.
"I know. When one looks into those innocent eyes it hardly seems possible.
The only explanation I can make is that the poor chit was bullied into
submission by her father. Perhaps he threatened some dire punishment if she
didn't behave herself while she was here. It's too bad, really. I'd have liked
to see what she's like when she's being impish."
    "That girl hasn't an impish bone in her
body," Toby stated decisively. "I'd wager a monkey her father's put
one over on you."
    "You haven't a farthing to wager, old boy,
much less a monkey. So whether her father put anything over on me or not
shouldn't concern you. What should concern you is the twenty thousand pounds I
plan to settle on you the day you marry the girl."
    Toby's mouth dropped open. "Twenty
thousand? Do you mean it, Greg?"
    Greg shrugged. "I don't see why you're so
surprised. You heard me promise Father I would deal fairly with you."
    "Yes, but twenty thousand is more than
fair. It's positively magnanimous!"
    "Even though Miss Jessup goes along with
it?" Toby groaned. "She certainly sours the brew."
    "You'll have to take the brew just the way
it is, for I've given my word you'll wed her. It's up to you to find a way to
sweeten it, when you're married."
    "I don't see why you gave your word
without letting me even see the girl. It ain't like you, Greg."
    Greg felt a twinge of guilt. "It seemed a
good idea at the time," he mumbled.
    "Perhaps we can get ourselves out of this
coil," Toby suggested, his expression brightening. "We can say
Birkinshaw misrepresented the merchandise, or some such thing, can't we?"
    "Dash it all, you make-bait, Miss Jessup
is not merchandise!" Greg said furiously, slamming his hand down on the
arm of his chair, his momentary feeling of guilt completely dissipated.
"She's as fine a young woman as I can imagine, and much too good for the
likes of you!"
    "That may be," his brother muttered,
sullen again, "but I think I deserve the right to choose my own
bride."
    "Oh you do, do you'? On what basis do you
believe you `deserve' it? By your wise, thoughtful, responsible behavior in the
past?"
    "I say, Greg," Toby objected, rising
in offense, "if you're going to throw all my youthful indiscretions in my
face every time

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