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The Guilty River

9. Mrs Roylake's Game: First Move
The dinner at Trimley Deen has left in my memory little that I can distinctly recall. Only
a faintly-marked vision of Lady Lena rewards me for doing my best to remember her. A
tall slim graceful person, dressed in white with a simplicity which is the perfection of art,
presents to my admiration gentle blue eyes, a pale complexion delicately touched with
color, a well-carried head crowned by lovely light brown hair. So far, time helps the
reviving past to come to life again--and permits nothing more. I cannot say that I now
remember the voice once so musical in my ears, or that I am able to repeat the easy
unaffected talk which once interested me, or that I see again (in my thoughts) the perfect
charm of manner which delighted everybody, not forgetting myself. My unworthy self, I
might say; for I was the only young man, honored by an introduction to Lady Lena, who
stopped at admiration, and never made use of opportunity to approach love.
On the other hand, I distinctly recollect what my stepmother and I said to each other
when our guests had wished us good-night.
If I am asked to account for this, I can only reply that the conspiracy to lead me into
proposing marriage to Lady Lena first showed itself on the occasion to which I have
referred. In her eagerness to reach her ends, Mrs. Roylake failed to handle the fine
weapons of deception as cleverly as usual. Even I, with my small experience of worldly
women, discovered the object that she had in view.
I had retired to the seclusion of the smoking-room, and was already encircled by the
clouds which float on the heaven of tobacco, when I heard a rustling of silk outside, and
saw the smile of Mrs. Roylake beginning to captivate me through the open door.
"If you throw away your cigar," cried this amiable person, "you will drive me out of the
room. Dear Gerard, I like your smoke."
My fat man in black, coming in at the moment to bring me some soda water, looked at his
mistress with an expression of amazement and horror, which told me that he now saw
Mrs. Roylake in the smoking-room for the first time. I involved myself in new clouds. If I
suffocated my stepmother, her own polite equivocation would justify the act. She settled
herself opposite to me in an armchair. The agonies that she must have suffered, in
preventing her face from expressing emotions of disgust, I dare not attempt to imagine,
even at this distance of time.
"Now, Gerard, let us talk about the two ladies. What do you think of my friend, Lady
Rachel?"
"I don't like your friend, Lady Rachel."
"You astonish me. Why?"
 
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