Lady Margaret’s tears were atrocious to behold. "But Dennis," she cried. "Why must you go?" The delicate handkerchief she wrung in her hands seemed inadequate for the task of stanching the flow of effluvium from her nostrils as she wept and wailed.
I sighed and looked at the carpet. At the time, less than an hour prior, it had seemed like the best idea in the world to inform Margaret that I would be leaving for London. The right thing, the romantic thing. A gentleman should not and would not leave his beloved with nary a word, now would he? And as I was playing the besotted suitor, it made a great deal of sense that I should behave in every appropriate manner.
Unfortunately, the news of my departure had been met with much wailing and gnashing of teeth, and rending of garments. I had not realized that I was held in such high esteem. Truth be told, she probably did not have any other prospects.
"Margaret, my dear, I told you. An opportunity of great import has arisen. My fortune is at stake." I tried to keep my voice even and free from frustration.
The Dowager Duchess sniffed and raised her teacup to her lips. "Well," she said. Nothing else. Just "Well."
This could not stand. "Madame le Duchesse, I assure you that I am on a mission of greatest probity. A gentleman of my acquaintance, a man of great sagacity and drive, has informed me of an opportunity to make my fortune in the City. So you see, I must go."
"Business?" said the Duchess. "That hardly seems gentlemanly. As though you were a clerk or a grocer rather than a viscount and heir to one of the great estates of England!"
"From what I understand, I shall act primarily in an advisory capacity, providing the sound moral and legal advice that the lower orders so frequently lack. So I understand." I understood no such thing, but she did not need to know that.
The Duchess seemed slightly mollified by this. "It’s good that you do that, Dennis. The artisan classes are such children. Still! I hope, for your sake, that this gentleman is engaged in no questionable activities, such as assassination, or opium, or journalism."
"I am certain he is not, Your Grace," I reassured her.
Margaret, apparently somewhat put-out by the lack of attention, commenced a fresh bout of bawling. "Oh, oh! Whatever shall I do, once you are gone? How shall I live? O Beloved Dennis!" Her weeping proceeded in earnest.
"You truly are doing her a disservice," scolded the Duchess over the howls. "She has grown so attached to you, young Dennis."
Increasingly I began to feel smothered. The vermilion interior of the tearoom began to seem less like the fillip of a softly feminine quarry and more like the blood-stained oubliette of some medieval torturer. By God, I longed to cast the teapot through one of the French windows and dive to safety from this she-goat and her horse-faced offspring! London, O London! Future site of my enrichment!
Still, I stifled this urge and painted my face with a sympathetic smile. "Be at ease, Margaret dearest. It shan’t be for long." This was greeted with pronounced sobs.
"A few weeks at most!" The sobs became bean-shidh-like wails, and my smile became increasingly strained.
"Your lordship is most unkind!" declared the Duchess, masticating a biscuit furiously.
"I assure you, my intentions are solely honorable!" I declared, only to have the stricken Margaret leap from her couch, and flinging her arms about me, she began sobbing loudly--and wetly--into my shoulder.
"Oh Dennis, oh Dennis!" she sobbed.
"A most cruel thing, most cruel," glowered the Duchess, shaking her head in disapproval.
I must admit, I can take many things, but only so much in the way of wailing women. In desperation, I managed to extricate myself from Margaret’s grip, and took her hands in my own. "Beloved Margaret, I wish to assure you that my attentions are honorable, and I wish to leave with you some sign of my intent--"
"Dennis!" she gasped, the tears vanishing in a twinkling. "Do you mean it?"
Being more than a little put off my balance by the recent show of female emotion, and somewhat baffled by her remark, I could only reply, "Yes, of course my dear."
"Oh Dennis!" she exclaimed, her eyes shining. "Oh Mother, did you hear?"
"Indeed I did," the Duchess said, giving me a reproving look. "Although he is not the sort I had imagined for you, his courage and forthrightness do him credit, Margaret."
"We shall be wed in the spring," Margaret said in a tone of happy conspiracy.
Words cannot describe the feeling of creeping horror that came over me at this point.
By some ill-fortuned and fickle twist of fate, Margaret had apparently mistaken my desire to assure her of my continued interest in her as a proposal of marriage! Aghast, I racked my brain for a method to escape this most recent and nauseating predicament, but found nothing. There was nothing for it but to play along.
"But Margaret," I said weakly, "I must confess I have no ring for you."
"Ring or no ring, I am truly the happiest maid that ever lived," she cried and embraced me.
The Duchess shot me a formidable glare. "Well, then, kiss her, you young fool."
As a Girondist might look forward to le Guillotine, so I moved forward into the kiss. A pair of colder vessels of passion as Lady Margaret’s lips I have never found. As quickly as possible I broke the embrace. "Margaret," I said sternly. "For all that I care for you, I must still away to London. I had not intended to make my suit so definite until my return, for fear you think me forward--"
"You are forgiven! Forgiven an hundred times. Two hundred!"
"Still, as happy as I am that our union is assured--" I had to suppress a shudder at this point "--my fortune awaits in London. Do not fear, I shall not be remiss in writing you."
These assurances made, and with many exhortations of love from Margaret, I managed to make my way to the door, and made my escape. On the walk home, I cursed myself for a fool, as I seemed to be doing more and more frequently since arriving in Stokington. Still, what’s done cannot be undone, and I was due in London. An opportunity missed once will present itself again, whereas a too hasty action can never be recalled. I was learning that the hard way.
Damn, damn, double damn. Marriage. Damn.
The Life, Times, and Misadventures of Dennis St. Michel, Viscount of Stokington, Soldier, Gambler, Diplomat, Scoundrel, Notorious Rakehell, and Lord of Menacing House, in his Own Words.