The policeman, I could see, was staggered. This neighbourhood, so retired, so aristocratic, was far from what he had expected. For all that, he took the number of the cab, and spoke for a few seconds and with a decided manner in the cabman's ear.
'What can he have said?' I gasped, as soon as the cab had rolled away.
'I can very well imagine,' replied my champion; 'and I can assure you that you are now condemned to go where I have said; for, should we attempt to change our destination by the way, the jarvey will drive us straight to a police-office. Let me compliment you on your nerves,' he added. 'I have had, I believe, the most horrible fright of my existence.'
But my nerves, which he so much misjudged, were in so strange a disarray that speech was now become impossible; and we made the drive thenceforward in unbroken silence. When we arrived before the door of our destination, the young gentleman alighted, opened it with a pass-key like one who was at home, bade the driver carry the trunks into the hall, and dismissed him with a handsome fee. He then led me into this dining-room, looking nearly as you behold it, but with certain marks of bachelor occupancy, and hastened to pour out a glass of wine, which he insisted on my drinking. As soon as I could find my voice, 'In God's name,' I cried, 'where am I?'
He told me I was in his house, where I was very welcome, and had no more urgent business than to rest myself and recover my spirits. As he spoke he offered me another glass of wine, of which, indeed, I stood in great want, for I was faint, and inclined to be hysterical. Then he sat down beside the fire, lit another cigar, and for some time observed me curiously in silence.
'And now,' said he, 'that you have somewhat restored yourself, will you be kind enough to tell me in what sort of crime I have become a partner? Are you murderer, smuggler, thief, or only the harmless and domestic moonlight flitter?'
I had been already shocked by his lighting a cigar without permission, for I had not forgotten the one he threw away on our first meeting; and now, at these explicit insults, I resolved at once to reconquer his esteem. The judgment of the world I have consistently despised, but I had already begun to set a certain value on the good opinion of my entertainer. Beginning with a note of pathos, but soon brightening into my habitual vivacity and humour, I rapidly narrated the circumstances of my birth, my flight, and subsequent misfortunes. He heard me to an end in silence, gravely smoking. 'Miss Fanshawe,' said he, when I had done, 'you are a very comical and most enchanting creature; and I can see nothing for it but that I should return to-morrow morning and satisfy your landlady's demands.'
'You strangely misinterpret my confidence,' was my reply; 'and if you had at all appreciated my character, you would understand that I can take no money at your hands.'
'Your landlady will doubtless not be so particular,' he returned; 'nor do I at all despair of persuading even your unconquerable self. I desire you to examine me with critical indulgence. My name is Henry Luxmore, Lord Southwark's second son. I possess nine thousand a year, the house in which we are now sitting, and seven others in the best neighbourhoods in town. I do not believe I am repulsive to the eye, and as for my character, you have seen me under trial. I think you simply the most original of created beings; I need not tell you what you know very well, that you are ravishingly pretty; and I have nothing more to add, except that, foolish as it may appear, I am already head over heels in love with you.'
'Sir,' said I, 'I am prepared to be misjudged; but while I continue to accept your hospitality that fact alone should be enough to protect me from insult.'
'Pardon me,' said he: 'I offer you marriage.' And leaning back in his chair he replaced his cigar between his lips.
I own I was confounded by an offer, not only so unprepared, but couched in terms so singular.