by Georgette Heyer
Across the lower hall, the door into the library stood ajar. Lord Fleetwood's voice, speaking in rallying tones, assailed the ladies' ears. "I swear you are incorrigible!" said his lordship. "The loveliest of creatures drops into your lap, like a veritable honey-fall, and you behave as though a gull-groper had forced his way into your house!"
Mr Beaumaris replied with disastrous clarity: "My dear Charles, when you have been hunted by every trick known to the ingenuity of the female mind, you may more readily partake of my sentiments upon this occasion! I have had beauties hopeful of wedding my fortune swoon in my arms, break their bootlaces outside my London house, sprain their ankles when my arm is there to support them, and now it appears that I am to be pursued even into Leicestershire! An accident to her coach! Famous! What a green-horn she must believe me to be!"
A small hand closed like a vice about Miss Blackburn's wrist. Herself bridling indignantly, she saw Arabella's eyes sparkling, and her cheeks most becomingly flushed. Had she been better acquainted with Miss Tallant she might have taken fright at these signs. Arabella breathed into her ear:"Miss Blackburn, can I trust you?"
Miss Blackburn would have vigorously assured her that she could, but the hand released her wrist, and flew up to cover her mouth. Slightly startled, she nodded. To her amazement, Arabella then picked up her skirts, and fled lightly back to the top of the stairs. Turning there, she began to come slowly down again, saying in a clear, carrying voice: "Yes, indeed! I am sure I have said the same, dear ma'am, times out of mind! But do, pray, go before me!"
Miss Blackburn, turning to stare at her, with her mouth at half-cock, found a firm young hand in the small of her back, and was thrust irresistibly onward.
"But in spite of all," said Arabella, "I prefer to travel with my own horses!"
The awful scowl that accompanied these light words quite bewildered the poor little governess, but she understood that she was expected to reply in kind, and said in a quavering voice: "Very true, my dear!"
The scowl gave place to an encouraging smile. Any one of Arabella's brothers or sisters would have begged her at this point to consider all the consequences of impetuosity; Miss Blackburn, unaware of the eldest Miss Tallant's besetting fault, was merely glad that she had not disappointed her. Arabella tripped across the hall to that half-open door, and entered the library again.
It was Lord Fleetwood who came forward to receive her. He eyed her with undisguised appreciation, and said:"Now you will be more comfortable! Devilish dangerous to sit about in a wet coat, y'know! But we are yet unacquainted, ma'am! The stupidest thing! - never can catch a name when it is spoken! That man of Beaumaris's mumbles so that no one can hear him! You must let me make myself known to you, too - Lord Fleetwood, very much at your service!"
"I," said Arabella, a most dangerous glitter in her eye, "am Miss Tallant!"
His lordship, murmuring polite gratification at being made the recipient of this information, was surprised to find his inanities quite misunderstood. Arabella fetched a world-weary sigh, and enunciated with a scornful curl of her lip: "Oh, yes! The Miss Tallant!"
"Th - the Miss Tallant?" stammered his lordship, all at sea.
"The rich Miss Tallant!" said Arabella.
His lordship rolled an anguished and an enquiring eye at his host, but Mr Beaumaris, his attention arrested, was regarding the rich Miss Tallant with a distinct gleam of curiosity, not unmixed with amusement, in his face.
"I had hoped that here at least I might be unknown!" said Arabella, seating herself in a chair a little withdrawn from the fire.