[Transcriber's note: Extensive research found no evidence that the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]
By JUANITA SAVAGE
"The City of Desire," "Passion Island," "Don Lorenzo's Bride," "The Spaniard," etc.
A. L. BURT COMPANY
New York Chicago
Published by arrangement with The Dial Press
Printed in U. S. A.
COPYRIGHT, 1931, BY DIAL PRESS, INC.
Rotten Row on a brilliant June morning, and Hyde Park at its loveliest. The London "season" at its height, and throngs of fashionably-dressed men and women "taking the air," strolling idly to and fro, lounging on little green-painted chairs, or leaning on the rails watching the riders of all nationalities.
A sight well worth watching. It is the week of the International Horse Show, and there are many foreign officers in gaily-coloured uniforms, mounted on sleek and beautiful thoroughbreds, cantering along amidst a throng of more soberly clad riders of both sexes.
The "liver brigade" is at full strength. These red-faced, white-moustached, elderly men, with "Retired Colonel, Indian Army," stamped all over them, as it were, are probably telling each other, as they try to urge their hacks to a gallop, that "the Row is becoming demnably overcrowded, sir, and the place is going to the dogs. Those confounded foreigner fellows look like circus performers, and that sort of young woman wouldn't have been tolerated in my young days.... Gad! just look at that girl!"
The girl in question is mounted on a high-spirited bay which is resenting her mastery and is fighting to get the bit between his teeth. The horse rears, jerking his fine head from side to side, then bucks with a whinny of rage, and the "liver brigade" scatters. A mounted policeman, on the alert to render assistance and prevent accidents, brings along his well-trained steed at a hand-gallop, recognises the rider of the bucking thoroughbred, and reins up with a grin on his bronzed face.
He knows that Miss Myra Rostrevor, although she looks a mere slip of a girl, is quite capable of riding and handling almost any horse that ever was saddled, and is no more likely to be thrown than any of the Italian officers who have been competing for championships at the Olympia. He remembers, too, that when another woman's horse bolted with her a few weeks previously, Miss Rostrevor easily outdistanced him in pursuit of the runaway, brought the startled animal to a standstill, and rode off without waiting for a word of thanks from the scared rider.
Idlers lining the rails, however, ignorant of the identity and capabilities of Miss Myra Rostrevor, watch her struggle with her spirited steed apprehensively if they are ignorant of horsemanship, and with admiration if they are experienced.
"Ride him, missie, ride him!" ejaculates a lean, bronzed American involuntarily. "Gee! some girl! She's sure got you beat, horse, and you know it. Sits you as surely as an Arizona cowboy, and must have wrists like steel although she's got hands like a baby. Attaboy! ... Yep, she'll give you your head now, but I'll gamble she'll bring you back quiet as Mary's little lamb."
He was right. Myra Rostrevor gave her mount his head for a time and went the length of the Row, then reined him in, turned, and trotted him back at a pace that would scarce have shaken up the most liverish of the Indian Colonels. She eventually brought her horse to a standstill close to the rails, and patted his neck as she bent forward to chat smilingly to a tall, fair young man of aristocratic appearance and languid air.
"I said it! Some good-looker, too," resumed the American, and turned to a well-groomed stranger next to him, after eyeing the graceful horsewoman admiringly. "Say, sir, do you happen to know who that young lady is?" he inquired.
"Yes, I happen to know the young lady," responded the other, politely willing to satisfy the American's curiosity. "She is a Miss Rostrevor, daughter of a very old Irish family, and as wild a madcap as ever came out of the Emerald Isle."
"She looks it," the American commented. "There's a spice of devil in her expression, and I see she has red hair. I guess the man who marries her will sure need a bearing rein and a special bit and snaffle to keep that young beauty in order. But I'll bet she's not short of admirers, and lots of fellers'd jump at the chance of marrying her, and risk her kicking over the traces?"
"You are perfectly right, sir," answered the Englishman, with an amused laugh. "Miss Rostrevor has a host of admirers, which is hardly surprising, considering her remarkable beauty. Several young men have lost their heads about her, and she is credited—or should it be debited?—with having broken several hearts. Incidentally, the man to whom she is talking might be interested in your remark about the necessity for a special bit and snaffle. He and Miss Rostrevor are engaged to be married."
"Is that so?" drawled the American, gazing at the engaged couple with undisguised curiosity. "What is he? A Lord, or Duke, or something of the sort?"
"No, he hasn't any title, but he is well-connected, and is one of the wealthiest and most eligible young men in England. His name is Antony Standish, and his income is reputed to be something like a hundred thousand pounds a year. His father was Sir Mark Standish, a great iron-master and coal magnate."
"You don't say! Lemme see. One hundred thousand pounds. That's round about five hundred thousand dollars. Some income! What does Mr. Antony Standish do?"
"Nothing, if you are referring to work. He does the usual Society rounds, takes an interest in racing, and roams the world occasionally in a palatial steam yacht. One does not have to worry about work if one has an income of one hundred thousand pounds a year."
"No, I guess I'd somehow manage to struggle along on half a million dollars a year myself and kiss work good-bye," said the American, with a broad grin. "The little lady sure seems to have made a catch, sir, judging from what you've told me, and yet Mr. Antony Standish somehow don't look to me to be her style. By the look of Miss Rostrevor, and the way she handled that horse, I should have guessed her fancy would have run to something more of the big, he-man type, instead of to a Society dandy. But one can never tell where women are concerned. And five hundred thousand dollars a year will make any kind of guy almost any kind of girl's ideal."
Antony Standish was not a "guy," in the colloquial English sense of the word, but he was hardly the type of man one would have imagined as likely to capture the heart of the high-spirited Irish beauty. He was good-looking, with a fair complexion and a little sandy moustache, and he carried himself with the air of a patrician, but his face lacked character, and he had rather a weak chin. He had earned the reputation of being one of the best-dressed men in London, had a host of friends, most of whom called him "Tony," and he was talked of as "a good sport."
"Sure, and I wasn't showing off at all, at all, Tony," Myra Rostrevor was saying to him in her soft, musical voice with a delightfully attractive touch of the brogue. "It was Tiger here that was trying to show off and make himself out to be my master.... Weren't ye, Tiger?" She patted the sleek neck of her horse again as she spoke, and he pricked his ears and tossed his head as if he understood. "There isn't any horse or man who is going to master Myra Rostrevor," she added.
"That sounds like a challenge, Myra," drawled Tony Standish smilingly. "How do you know but what I may adopt cave-man tactics after we are married, and attempt to beat you into submission?"
Myra tossed her red-gold head much in the same way as her spirited mount had tossed his, and trilled out a laugh.
"I think, Tony, you'd be even less successful than Tiger, and more sorry for yourself than he is after your very first attempt," she responded.
"So perhaps I'd better not make a first attempt, even in the hope of getting a pat on the neck afterwards," laughed Tony.
There was pride and admiration in his pale blue eyes as he looked up at the girl who had promised to marry him. He was the owner of many priceless art treasures, none of which, however, was half as beautiful in his eyes as Myra Rostrevor.
Her beauty was unique, and even in an assembly of lovely women she would have attracted attention. Yet her features were not classically perfect, her small nose had the faintest suspicion of tip-tilt, and there was nothing stately or majestic about her. No one had ever compared her to a Greek goddess, but even artists raved about her beauty and charm, and competed for the privilege of painting her portrait.
She was slim but shapely. Her hair was the auburn that Titian loved to paint, with a golden gleam in it, as if a sunbeam had become entangled and failed to escape. Her complexion, innocent of powder or cosmetics, was clear and delicate as a rose-leaf but with the faintest tinge of healthy tan. Her eyes, blue as summer seas, were fringed with long, dark lashes, and she had an aggravatingly seductive dimple in each cheek, and another in the centre of her daintily-rounded chin.
A lovely, fascinating and bewitching girl, whom the fates and the fairies had endowed with that undefinable gift we call "charm." And Myra had charmed the hearts out of many men, while remaining herself heart-whole. She was still heart-whole although she was engaged to be married to Tony Standish, and she had left her fiance no illusions on that point.
"Yes, I'll marry you, Tony, but I don't love you," she had told him, when he proposed a second time after having been rejected on the first occasion. "I'm going to marry you because Aunt Clarissa insists I must marry a rich man, and you happen to be the least objectionable rich man who wants me. I like you, Tony, and think you are rather a dear, but I want you to understand I'm not in love, and you will be buying me. I'm selling myself simply because I love all the good things of life, because you can pay for them, and because Aunt Clarissa keeps badgering me to marry and I am dependent on her for practically everything."
"You have turned down other fellows as rich as I am who were crazy about you, and other men much more attractive, so you must love me a little, Myra dear," Tony had responded. "I am going to make you love me a lot."
Antony Standish had a good conceit of himself, which was hardly surprising, for he was the only child of a very rich man, had been pampered and made much of in his childhood, and later had been toadied to and sought after by women as well as men, first as heir to, and subsequently as the actual possessor of, a vast fortune. Many girls with an eye on the main chance had set their caps at him, angled for him, and made no secret of their willingness to become Mrs. Antony Standish, and Tony was not unaware of the fact.
Perhaps it was because Myra Rostrevor had always seemed to be totally indifferent to him that he had lost his heart to her, and made up his mind to win her and make her his wife at all costs. It had not been easy, but Tony had found a very willing ally in the person of Myra's aunt, Clarissa, Lady Fermanagh. For Lady Fermanagh was only too anxious to get her orphan niece off her hands, not only because Myra was an expense, but because her madcap exploits occasionally drove her almost to distraction, while her heartbreaking flirtations were the cause of gossip.
Like her fiance, Myra was an only child, who had been allowed to do everything she liked practically since infancy, and had come to expect, and accept, homage, almost as a right. Her father, Sir Dennis Rostrevor, had at one time been wealthy, but had lost practically everything in the Rebellion, when the great house that had been the home of the Rostrevors for generations was burned to the ground.
The loss broke his heart and killed him, and his death almost broke Myra's heart and left her for a time distraught and inconsolable, for she had loved and adored her handsome and indulgent father. Time, however, speedily heals grief's wounds when one is in the early twenties, and in the social whirl of English Society Myra had all but forgotten her loss and the dark days of tragedy in Ireland.
"Will you be at home if I call round in an hour or so?" inquired Tony, as Myra was about to move off, her horse becoming restive again. "I've got something important to discuss."
"Let me see," answered Myra. "I've got a luncheon appointment, then I'm going on to Hurlingham, dining with the Fitzpatricks, and going on later to Lady Trencrom's dance. Have to see my hairdresser and manicurist at eleven this morning, but I expect I shall be free by noon. Call about twelve, Tony, and don't forget to bring some chocolate and cigarettes with you."
"Righto, old thing!" said Tony smilingly, and his eyes followed Myra as she cantered away, the cynosure of many admiring glances.
Tony liked her to be admired. It seemed a compliment to his own good taste and discrimination. He liked to think that other men envied him his position as Myra's accepted lover. It pleased him to be pointed out as the lucky man who had won the heart and hand of the beautiful Miss Rostrevor, and he was not unconscious of the fact that he was being pointed out as he strolled along the Row after watching Myra out of sight.
"I remembered your instructions, darling," he announced, when he called on his betrothed at her aunt's house in Mayfair a couple of hours later. "Here we are! Chocs, your favourite brand of cigarettes, a few roses, and—er—just a little thing here that caught my eyes in Asprey's window, which I thought you might like."
The "little thing" he produced from his pocket was a platinum bracelet set with diamonds, and Myra uttered an involuntary exclamation of admiration as she opened the case containing it.
"How lovely! Sure, but you're an extravagant darlint, Tony! You deserve a kiss for this."
She just brushed Tony's cheek with her lips, and evaded him when he tried to enfold her in his arms.
"Myra, darling, I want to fix a date for our wedding," said Tony. "Let's get married before the Season is over, or early in the Autumn, and spend a long honeymoon in the East or in the South Seas. I want to make you all mine as soon as possible, dear. Let's arrange to get married next month."
Myra's smile faded, and she shook her red-gold head.
"Tony, darlint, I don't want to marry you just yet," she answered gently. "I told you when we became engaged that you must give me time to get accustomed to the idea of becoming your wife, time to try to fall in love with you first."
"Why not reverse the usual procedure, marry me first and fall in love with me after?" suggested Tony, and again Myra shook her head.
"I love taking risks, Tony, but that would be too great a risk," she responded. "It would be ghastly for us both if I married you and found myself incapable of loving you, and tragic if I fell in love with somebody else later. Please be patient, Tony. I am really and truly trying to fall in love with you."
"And you know I am tremendously in love with you, Myra, and want to make you all my own," said Tony, capturing her hands. "I know I can make you love me, and we will be enormously happy after we are married. Do be a darling and let me fix a date for our wedding."
"Be a dear, Tony, and don't press me," pleaded Myra. "We are happy enough as we are, and since we became engaged and Aunt Clarissa ceased to badger me, I've been having a gorgeous time. Let's postpone fixing a date for our marriage until next Spring, by which time I may be sure of my own heart. Perhaps it's an old-fashioned idea, but I'd like to be in love with the man I marry."
"I say, Myra!" exclaimed Tony, as if struck by a sudden idea, after a few moments of silence. "I say! A promise is a promise, you know. You won't throw me over and make me look and feel an ass, will you, if you should happen to meet someone you think you like better than me? You've promised to be my wife, you know."
"Yes, I know, Tony, but I also know you are too much of a sportsman to hold me to my promise if I should happen to fall in love with another man," Myra responded. "That isn't in the least likely to happen, Tony dear, and I am truly trying to love you in the way a girl should love the man she has promised to marry, as I have already told you. Let me have my freedom and my fling for a few months longer."
"Well, I suppose it isn't any use my trying to bully you into marrying me at once," said Tony, with a shrug, a sigh, and a wry smile. "But you know I'm tremendously in love with you, darling, and I can't help feeling jealous of the fellows who still go on dancing attendance on you although you are engaged to me. I'm haunted by the fear of someone stealing you from me."
"Tony, darlint, you've no need to be jealous," Myra smilingly assured him, and patted his cheek. "There isn't anyone else. Dozens of men profess to be in love with me, but there isn't a single man—or a married man either—that I'm the slightest little bit in love with. So don't worry! I promise you that if ever I do meet a man whom I'd rather marry than you, I'll tell you."
And with that Tony had, perforce, to be content.
A few hours later Myra was one of a fashionable and interested crowd watching the polo at Hurlingham. An exciting match was in progress, and Myra cried out enthusiastically as one of the players, after a thrilling melee, made a splendid shot, followed up, beat the defence, and scored a magnificent goal.
"Oh, well played, sir, well played!" Myra exclaimed enthusiastically, clapping her hands. "Who is he, Jimmy?" she added, turning to her escort, who was also applauding. "Do you know him?"
"I was introduced to him at a dinner at the Spanish Legation the other evening," her friend answered. "He's Governor of a Province, or something of the sort, in Spain, and a most interesting chap. Told me he spends most of his time out there hunting brigands and outlaws. Speaks English perfectly, and is good-looking enough to be a film star. Mentioned that he played polo and hoped to get a game to-day, but didn't hint that he was a star performer. I've got a rotten memory for names, but he's called Don Carlos de something-or-other." He consulted his programme. "Ah! here we are! Don Carlos de Ruiz.... Look! he's on the ball again. Well hit indeed, sir!"
At the end of the game Myra, at her own request, was introduced to Don Carlos de Ruiz, who was smilingly receiving the congratulations of English friends on his splendid play. At close quarters she found him to be a man of about thirty-five, very handsome, with clean-cut features, pale complexion, jet-black hair with a natural crinkle in it, and dark, inscrutable eyes that gleamed like black diamonds.
"Delighted to meet you, senor," said Myra, deciding at first glance he was one of the most attractive men she had ever seen. "Congratulations on the win. You played wonderfully."
"I am flattered and honoured, Miss Rostrevor," said Don Carlos, bowing low over her hand. "Praise from the most beautiful woman in England is praise indeed!"
He kissed her finger-tips, and Myra was conscious of an unusual thrill as she involuntarily jerked her hand away.
"Obviously you have the equivalent of a Blarney Stone in Spain, Don Carlos," she commented with a laugh, looking up into the bold dark eyes that were regarding her with undisguised admiration. "Do you play much polo in your own country, senor?"
"Alas, no!" Don Carlos answered. "My home is in the wilds of the Sierra Morena, Miss Rostrevor, and one has few opportunities for playing polo there. But we have good sport, nevertheless. We spend much of our time hunting a notorious brigand known as El Diablo Cojuelo, who plays hide-and-seek with us and defies capture. He kidnaps all the most beautiful of our girls, robs our rich men, and gives most of the proceeds of his robberies to the poor. The rascal even had the audacity to capture me and hold me to ransom. I had no alternative but to pay the price he demanded. Subsequently I led troops into the mountains in search of him, but he had vanished into thin air and has not since been seen. However, his disappearance and the cessation of his activities have enabled me to take a holiday, and I hope to spend some months in England. I fervently trust, Miss Rostrevor, that I shall have the pleasure of meeting you often."
"Thank you," said Myra, greatly interested. "I thought brigands were a thing of the past, and what you have told me makes me long to visit Spain. It would be tremendously thrilling to be captured and held to ransom by a Spanish brigand."
"Dear lady, if you were captured by El Diablo Cojuelo, all the riches of the Indies would not ransom you," Don Carlos responded, with a smile that showed a double row of gleaming white teeth. "Cojuelo is a connoisseur of feminine beauty, and were he fortunate enough to capture you, I feel certain nothing would induce him to part with you."
"There must certainly be the equivalent of a Blarney Stone in Spain," laughed Myra, nodding good-bye and turning away to rejoin her friends.
She met Don Carlos de Ruiz again that night at Lady Trencrom's dance, looking handsome and distinguished in full evening kit, with medals and orders in miniature glinting on his left lapel and a jewelled decoration on his breast. He recognised her instantly, and made his way masterfully through the crowd that surrounded her at the first interval.
"I shall have the pleasure of the next dance with you, Miss Rostrevor?" he said, and it struck Myra that his words were more by way of being an assertion than a question or a request.
"Indeed, senor, and you won't," she retorted in her soft Irish voice. "I'm dancing the next with my fiance, Mr. Tony Standish. Here he is coming now... Tony, my dear, this is Don Carlos de Ruiz, who plays polo like an angel."
"Didn't know that angels played polo, but I'm pleased to meet you, Don Carlos," drawled Standish. "Frightful crush, isn't it?"
"Miss Rostrevor was going to dance the next number with me, Mr. Standish, but suddenly remembered she had promised to dance with you," said Don Carlos, with smiling sang-froid, as he shook hands. "If you would be so good as to resign your right in my favour—"
He paused with a questioning glance at Tony, who looked a trifle bewildered.
"Why—er—of course, if Miss Rostrevor so wishes," Tony said, just as the band struck up; and before Myra quite realised what was happening she found herself gliding round the room in the arms of Don Carlos.
"You certainly are not lacking in nerve, senor, and you apparently have no regard for the truth," she commented, recovering from her astonishment. "I never said I was going to dance with you."
"Sweet lady, I would perjure my soul for the privilege and pleasure of dancing with you," Don Carlos responded, smiling down into her blue eyes. "It is an honour and a delight to have for partner the most beautiful and charming girl in England. You dance divinely, senorita, and are light as thistledown in my arms. My soul is enchanted, enraptured!"
"Away with your blarney!" exclaimed Myra, half-laughingly, half-impatiently, but conscious of a queer little thrill as she met his smiling glance. "Do you pay every woman you meet such fulsome and extravagant compliments, senor?"
"No, senorita, I am a connoisseur," answered Don Carlos, his tone quite serious but his black eyes twinkling. "And no compliment could be extravagant if applied to you, dear lady. One would have to be a great poet to find words to do justice to your beauty and charm."
He had a deep, musical voice which was infinitely attractive, and Myra found herself more than a little fascinated, and felt that she could listen to him all evening. But she tossed her red-gold head and laughed lightly.
"Should I respond by telling you in honeyed words that you dance as well as you play polo, and congratulate you on being a most delightful conversationalist?" she inquired in bantering tones. "Please don't be absurd!"
"Absurd?" repeated Don Carlos. "Sweet senorita, I am but speaking what is in my heart. Never have I seen any woman to compare with you. You are wonderful—my ideal! Do you believe in love at first sight?"
"It's surely daft the man is!" remarked Myra to the ceiling, before looking again into the bright eyes of her partner. "Pardon me, Don Carlos, but you are carrying your extravagant nonsense too far," she added.
Don Carlos raised his dark eyebrows in mock-surprise and sighed heavily.
"How have I offended, senorita? I have but asked a question which you have not answered. Let me explain that I have known women to fall in love with me at first sight, but never before have I myself been a victim."
"Sure, and it's a good conceit of himself the Don has, and he needs taking down a peg or two," said Myra to herself. "I am afraid I don't believe in love at first sight, Don Carlos, and the idea of any woman falling in love with you at first sight only makes me feel inclined to laugh," she said aloud. "Of course, the English conception of what love is and means may be totally different from the Spanish."
"But you are not of the cold-blooded English," Don Carlos objected, skilfully guiding her through the maze of dancers. "I have heard that the Irish are as warm-blooded as the Latins, and can love and hate with the same passionate intensity. You, I feel sure, dear lady, would be capable of loving wonderfully were your heart really awakened. And some instinct tells me it is I who will awaken your heart and kindle the fires of passion dormant within you."
The words, spoken in a low, caressing tone, thrilled Myra anew, but she made pretence of being shocked and offended.
"You flatter yourself, senor," she said, with a disdainful glance and a note of contempt in her sweet voice. "Unless you are entirely ignorant of English conventionalities, your remarks are unpardonable. Would you care to repeat to Mr. Standish, to whom I am engaged to be married, what you have just said?"
"Yes, if you so desire," responded Don Carlos calmly. "Conventionalities—English or otherwise—do not concern me. I follow the dictates of my heart in all things, and I am master of my own destiny. Shall I tell your Mr. Standish that I fell in love with you the first moment I saw you, and that I mean to take you from him by hook or by crook?"
"I think you must be crazy!" exclaimed Myra, at heart just a little scared, but more than a little fascinated. "Surely even in the wilds of Spain it is considered dishonourable to attempt to make love to a girl who is betrothed to another man?
"Not if one is prepared to fight the other man," Don Carlos replied, with a sudden smile. "I am quite prepared to fight for you, believe me. As for making love, dear lady, I have not even yet begun to make love to you in earnest. My love is a raging torrent which will overwhelm you and sweep you off your feet, a raging fire which will set your heart aflame in sympathy."
"I'm thinking, Don Carlos, that you must be a bit Irish yourself to mix up torrents and flames, and the sooner you let the torrent put your fires out the better I'll be pleased," said Myra, with forced lightness, after a pause, during which she decided it would be best to treat the whole matter as a joke. "Incidentally, you are carrying your jest too far, and I shall be seriously annoyed if you persist in this nonsense."
"Even if I have mixed my metaphors, senorita, I assure you I have never been more serious in my life," Don Carlos retorted. "May I call on you to-morrow to convince you of that fact?"
"No, thank you, senor," answered Myra. "And if you are really in earnest, I shall instruct the servants that I am never at home to Don Carlos de Ruiz."
"You are cruel, dear lady, but I warn you I am not to be rebuffed," said Don Carlos. "Love will surely find a way."
The music ceased as he spoke, and Myra disengaged herself from his encircling arm and darted away from him, glad to escape. She could not have analysed her own feelings, and found herself at a loss to know how to deal with the situation. To complain to Tony Standish seemed futile. Tony, if she told him what had happened, would, of course, be indignant and demand an explanation, and Myra felt sure in her own mind he would come off second best if there was a scene and a personal encounter.
"Sure, and is it frightened you are of the conceited Spaniard?" she asked herself. "You've prided yourself on being a match for any man, and being able to keep any ardent suitor at arm's length, and here you are in a funk! It's ashamed of you I am, Myra Rostrevor!"
She did actually feel ashamed of herself for being so disturbed by Don Carlos's extravagant words, and mentally decided she would snub him severely at the first opportunity.
The opportunity presented itself sooner than she anticipated. Next afternoon she strolled into her aunt's drawing room, and her heart gave a queer little convulsive jump when she found Lady Fermanagh engaged in animated conversation with Don Carlos.
"Myra, dear, I'm so glad you have come in," exclaimed her aunt. "Allow me to introduce Don Carlos de Ruiz. Don Carlos, my niece, Miss Myra Rostrevor."
Don Carlos was en his feet, and he bowed low smilingly.
"Miss Rostrevor and I have already been introduced, dear lady, but I did not know the senorita was your niece," he said. "What a delightful surprise! I had the honour of dancing with Miss Rostrevor last night at Lady Trencrom's ball."
As on the previous night, Myra found herself somewhat at a loss. She gave him her hand, and he bowed over it, holding it a moment longer than necessary. At that moment a footman appeared at the drawing room door.
"Pardon, your ladyship," he said. "The Countess of Carbis wishes to speak to you on the telephone."
"Good! I particularly want to speak to her," said Lady Fermanagh, rising. "Excuse me, Don Carlos. Myra, my dear, give Don Carlos some tea."
Don Carlos laughed softly as the door closed behind her ladyship, and his dark eyes were sparkling wickedly as he looked at Myra.
"Did I not warn you, sweet lady, that love would find a way?" he said. "We have a proverb in Spain that the way to make sure of winning a girl is to make love to her mother. As you have no mother, I made love last night to Lady Fermanagh, who, I was told, is your guardian, and she invited me to call. Hence my presence here. The fates are kind, and now I can make love to you in earnest. Myra, darling, my heart is all afire with love for you, and all my being is crying out for you."
Myra drew herself up to her full height, regarding him disdainfully and endeavouring to put all the hauteur she could summon up into her manner and expression.
"Here in England, Don Carlos, we call a man a cad who persists in attempting to force his unwanted attentions on a girl," she remarked icily. "I do not know if there is a Spanish equivalent for the word cad."
"'Cad'? Let me think," drawled Don Carlos, seemingly not a whit rebuffed, his dark eyes still twinkling mischievously. "In Spanish, 'cad' would be 'mozo' or 'caballerizo.' 'Caballerear' means to set up for a gentleman. You must let me teach you Spanish, Myra. It is an ideal language in which to make love. Let me tell you in Spanish that I love you, that you are the most beautiful, adorable, fascinating and seductive girl I have ever met, the loveliest and most enticing creature ever created, the woman of my dreams, my ideal, and my predestined mate."
"Let me tell you in plain English that you are the most impudent, offensive and exasperating man I have ever met!" exclaimed Myra, shaken by a gust of angry resentment. "I don't want to talk to you, senor, and I repeat that you are behaving like a cad!"
Don Carlos sighed lugubriously and turned up his eyes to the ceiling.
"I am spurned!" he lamented, as if soliloquising. "I am desolated! The most wonderfully beautiful girl in the world rebuffs me and calls me a cad when I offer her my heart and the love for which many another woman would barter her very soul! My Myra thinks I am the most exasperating and impudent man in the world! Condenacion! Still, I must be unique in one respect!" He lowered his eyes to look at Myra again. "So this is English hospitality, senorita!" he resumed, after a pause. "The Lady Fermanagh, your charming aunt, told you to offer me tea, but not even a spoonful have you proffered me."
He assumed such an absurdly pathetic expression that Myra laughed in spite of herself, and quite forgot to continue to be angry and offended.
"You are an utterly impossible person, Don Carlos," she commented, dimpling into smiles. "Sit down and let me give you tea and anything else you want."
"Ten thousand thanks, Myra!" cried Don Carlos. "How wonderful! Anything else I want! The tea does not matter, but I want ten thousand kisses from the woman who has entranced and enraptured my heart. I want to hold you in my arms, Myra mine, clasped close to my breast, to set your darling heart afire with burning kisses, to kiss the heart out of you then kiss it back again all aflame with love and longing. Myra, darling, I love you as I have never loved before, and I want you for my wife."
He stretched out his arms as if to enfold Myra in them, but she evaded him adroitly. She had been listening half-fascinated, conscious of the spell of his personality, thrilled by the passionate tones of his deep, musical voice, but she broke the spell and recovered herself in an instant.
"Quite an effective piece of play-acting!" she remarked, forcing a laugh. "You really should be on the stage, Don Carlos, or acting for the movies. I feel sure you would be a success as a film actor, and all the flappers would lose their hearts to you. Will you have some tea?"
"Myra, I am not acting," Don Carlos protested, at last showing signs of chagrin. "I am in deadly earnest. I love you and want you, and the Devil himself will not prevent me from making you my own."
"His Satanic Majesty need not concern himself with the affair at all, at all," retorted Myra, regarding him coldly. "Let me save him the trouble by assuring you that your eloquent and melodramatic protestations of love leave me cold, and your boast that no woman has ever been able to resist you inspired me only with contempt for your conceit. Let me remind you again, also, that I am engaged to be married to Mr. Antony Standish, and assure you I have not the slightest intention of transferring my affections from an English gentleman to a Spaniard who evidently prides himself on being a sort of modern Don Juan."
Don Carlos's face went white beneath the tan as he listened to the scathing words, and a gleam of anger flashed into his dark eyes.
"You do me an injustice, and I think you are doing your own heart an injustice, Myra," he said, in a curiously quiet voice, after a momentary pause. "If——"
"I object to your calling me by my Christian name," Myra interposed abruptly, intent on snubbing him. "May I remind you we met for the first time yesterday. I can hardly imagine that in your own country you would dare to call a girl 'Myra' a few hours after meeting her for the first time."
"My dear Miss Rostrevor, I can lay my hand on my heart and assure you on my word of honour that never in Spain have I ever called a girl 'Myra,' either within a few hours or a few years of our first meeting," said Don Carlos, his eyes beginning to twinkle again. "That may be explained by the fact that I have never heard the name before. But I think it is a charming name, which somehow fits you. Incidentally, senorita, may I venture to point out that you have been addressing me as 'Don Carlos,' instead of as 'Senor de Ruiz'? You have been calling me by my Christian name."
"That was only because I thought 'Don' was a sort of Spanish equivalent of 'Sir' in English," Myra responded, somewhat taken aback. "Here I should address a Knight or a Baronet as 'Sir Charles' without the slightest idea of being familiar, but I should not expect him to respond by addressing me as 'Myra.' Do I make myself plain?"
"Dear lady, you could never make yourself plain, you who are so beautiful, but you are explicit," answered Don Carlos with a radiant smile that made him look quite boyish. "I stand rebuked, Myra, but I am impenitent. Surely one is not committing a crime by calling the girl one loves by her Christian name? I would prefer to call you cara mia or querida, which are the Spanish equivalents for my beloved and sweetheart, but, of course, as you seem to think I——"
"Senor de Ruiz, I have had enough of this nonsense!" Myra interrupted, impatiently. "Your attempts at love-making are utterly distasteful, and if you imagine you are going to add me to your list of conquests you are a case for a mental specialist."
"Alas!" exclaimed Don Carlos, and again sighed heavily. "You seem to think I am a sort of mountebank who makes a hobby of paying court to women. You misjudge me, Myra. True, I have made love to women before, true, many have fallen in love with me and thrown themselves at my head—as you say in English. True——"
"You are boasting again," interposed Myra once more. "I have no desire or inclination to listen to an account of your amorous conquests."
"But you must listen, Myra," said Don Carlos earnestly. "You misjudge me. True, there have been many women in my life, but not one who inspired love, not one to whom I offered my heart, not one whom I had any wish to marry. Long ago it was foretold by a gipsy gifted with second sight that I should meet my fate in my thirty-fifth year in a foreign land, meet my ideal, the woman of my dreams. That prophecy has come true. The moment our eyes first met yesterday I knew you were the woman for whom I had been seeking and waiting. It is useless to fight against destiny, Myra. I shall win you by hook or by crook, and make you all mine."
"That sounds like a challenge, Don Carlos," retorted Myra with forced lightness. "As you believe in gipsy forecasts, however, let me tell you that a gipsy woman 'read my hand' a few years ago, warned me to beware of a tall, dark man, and foretold that I should marry a tall, fair man. If she was right, you are obviously the tall, dark man of whom I am to beware, just as Tony Standish is the man I am destined to marry."
"Pouf! I pay no heed to the foolish prattle of so-called gipsy fortune-tellers," said Don Carlos, smiling again. "The seer who foretold that I should meet and win you was King of the Spanish Gypsies, and his every prophecy comes true."
"Well, to make his prophecy come true as far as you are concerned, Don Carlos, you will have to fall in love with someone other than me," responded Myra. "Hadn't you better have some tea, senor?"
To Myra's relief, Lady Fermanagh returned just then, full of apologies for having been detained so long at the telephone.
"I hope Myra has been keeping you entertained, senor," she inquired, and Don Carlos nodded smilingly.
"More than entertained, Lady Fermanagh," he answered. "Miss Rostrevor and I have been discussing predestination. I have been telling her it was foretold by the King of the Gypsies that in this, my thirty-fifth year, I should meet my ideal, the woman predestined to be my wife. I have met her. The prophecy has come true."
"I'm afraid it is another case of mistaken identity, Aunt Clarissa," interposed Myra. "Senor de Ruiz has made the amazing and amusing suggestion that I am the woman! Did you ever hear anything more absurd?"
She thought to cover Don Carlos with confusion, but he did not turn a hair.
"Alas, Lady Fermanagh, your charming niece refuses to take me seriously!" he smilingly lamented. "It seems she was warned as a child to beware of a tall, dark, handsome man, and to put no faith in his honeyed words. I am desolated—but only temporarily!"
"From what I can make of it, you appear to have been engaged in a 'leg-pulling' contest," commented Lady Fermanagh, darting a quick glance from one to the other, and deciding that Myra was probably evolving some mischievous joke. "You don't mean to tell me seriously, Don Carlos, that you have any faith in the predictions of a gipsy?"
"Dear lady, since the King of the Gypsies predicted I should get my heart's desire, surely it would be almost heresy to doubt?" Don Carlos replied, with a side-glance at Myra. "In my own country I have the reputation always of gaining anything on which I set my heart, and here I intend to live up to my reputation. Assuredly the Gypsy King's prediction will come true, your ladyship."
He took his leave a few minutes later, pleasing Lady Fermanagh greatly by bowing low over her hand and raising her fingers to his lips.
"One of the most charming men I have met for years," the old lady remarked, when the door closed behind him. "He is a true Spanish grandee, with all the grace of a born courtier. I think it was exceedingly rude of you, Myra, to snatch your hand away as you did when Don Carlos was going to kiss your fingertips."
"Personally, Aunt, I think he is the most arrogant, ill-mannered and insufferably conceited man I have ever met," Myra responded warmly. "He openly boasts that no woman can resist him, prides himself on his conquests, and while you were out of the room he was making passionate love to me, and only made fun of my attempts to snub him. I hope you won't invite the horrible creature here again."
Lady Fermanagh regarded her in amazement for a few moments, then dissolved into laughter.
"Oh, you modern girls!" she exclaimed. "You think you know such a lot and are so advanced, yet you are as easily scared or fooled as any country maiden in Victorian times."
"My dear aunt, Don Carlos de Ruiz can neither scare nor fool me," protested Myra; "but surely I have a right to object to his attempting to make love to me when he knows I am engaged to Tony Standish."
"Remember he is a Spaniard, my dear," said her aunt, with a tolerant smile. "The greatest compliment a Latin can pay a woman is to make love to her—and the majority make love merely by way of being complimentary. Don Carlos de Ruiz probably makes love to every woman he meets, which very likely explains why he is so popular. Why, my dear, he almost made love to me!"
"But he didn't tell you he wanted to marry you, did he, Aunt Clarissa, swear he would win you by hook or by crook, and vow that Old Nick himself would not prevent him from making you his own?" inquired Myra, beginning to smile again.
Lady Fermanagh laughed heartily.
"No, my dear, he certainly did not go as far as that," she answered. "You don't mean to tell me he actually said something to that effect to you?"
"Yes, both last night at the dance, and again a few minutes ago—and he said it as if he meant it. I have half a mind to ask Tony to tell the arrogantly conceited Spaniard not to pester me with his attentions again."
"My dear child, don't make yourself ridiculous by doing anything so foolish. You need not take Don Carlos too seriously. He is very much a man of the world, probably something of a Don Juan, and likely makes love as a pastime. I met many of his type when your Uncle was in the Diplomatic Service—wealthy bachelors who made love to almost every pretty woman they met, provided always, however, that the woman was married or engaged, and there was no danger of being caught in the matrimonial net. I should say, my dear, judging from my experience, that Don Carlos probably would only have paid you compliments instead of making love to you, if he had not known you were engaged."
"That sort of philanderer deserves to be kicked or horsewhipped, Aunt Clarissa, for making a mockery of love."
"Oh, I don't know about that, my dear Myra. After all, as I have told you, men of the Latin races make love almost indiscriminately by way of paying a compliment, and pretty women in Spain, Italy, or France, would feel quite insulted if the men to whom they were introduced did not profess to be hopelessly in love with them. If you had lived abroad, Myra, you would feel flattered rather than annoyed."
"Maybe—and maybe not," said Myra, with a toss of her red-gold head. "If you are right, then Don Carlos is merely trying to amuse himself at my expense. I have no use for a professional philanderer who imagines that no woman can resist him. Him and his King of the Gypsies prophecy! Pouf!"
Yet as she dressed for dinner a little later she found herself recalling the passionate words of Don Carlos, remembering the ardent light in his dark eyes, the vibrant note in his deep, musical voice, found herself wondering, wondering, and wishing with all her heart that Tony Standish was a little more like Don Carlos de Ruiz.
"I'm not scared of him, and I am certainly not going to lose my heart to him," Myra whispered to her reflection in the mirror. "If Aunt Clarissa is right, he is only making love to me for his own amusement, and would sheer off if I took him seriously and expected him to marry me. A pretty fool I should look if I fell in love with him, broke off my engagement to Tony, and then Don Carlos levanted! But I'm not going to fall in love with him.... He certainly is fascinating, and he would be a wonderful lover if he were in earnest, but he can't make a fool of Myra Rostrevor. I'll show the conceited creature that there is one girl at least who does not find him irresistible, and I'll give him the cold shoulder again at the first opportunity."
Yet again she had the opportunity sooner than she had expected. Almost it seemed as if the fates were playing into the hands of Don Carlos. That very evening Myra discovered, to her inward consternation, that Don Carlos de Ruiz was the guest of honour at the dinner-dance to which she had been invited, and her hostess, finding they had met before, placed them together at the dinner table.
"Truly, the gods are good, fair lady!" exclaimed Don Carlos, his dark eyes sparkling. "I am the most fortunate of men to have so lovely and charming a partner. And I think I have reason to congratulate myself on contriving to surprise you twice within a few hours."
"A very unpleasant surprise," commented Myra coldly. "After what happened an hour or two ago, I should have begged to be excused from this party if I had known you would be present."
"Alas! senorita, it is sad to find you still rebelling against destiny," said Don Carlos. "Yet I am flattered, for your desire to avoid me does but prove you are afraid of losing your heart to me, and you know that only by avoiding me can you delay the day of surrender."
"Sure, senor, if conceit were a disease you would have died of it long since," retorted Myra, and turned to talk to the man on her other side.
She ignored Don Carlos completely for some time, but she found herself listening to his deep, musical voice as he chatted to his hostess and modestly acknowledged compliments fired at him across the table by a polo enthusiast. When common politeness at last compelled her to turn to speak to him again, it was to find his eyes still twinkling mischievously.
"A thousand thanks, senorita, for giving me the opportunity of admiring your beautiful back for so long," he said in a low voice. "It is flawless. Your skin is smooth as polished marble, yet soft and sweet as the petals of a rose."
"Your compliments are becoming tedious, senor," Myra remarked, assuming an air of boredom. "Am I expected to endure this kind of talk all evening?"
"All the days of your life, I hope, senorita," Don Carlos answered calmly. "In the intervals of making love to you, Myra, I shall sing the praises of your beauty even after you are all mine."
"Don Carlos, you are quite impossible!" exclaimed Myra. "I warn you again I shall take precautions to avoid you in future if you persist in this folly."
"That will necessitate your cancelling all your engagements, or nearly all of them, for the rest of the season," responded Don Carlos. "Already I have contrived to obtain an invitation to practically every function at which you are likely to be present. Your aunt was good enough to show me your engagement book this afternoon. Dear lady, I assure you that you will find it difficult to avoid me."
Myra fancied he was boasting again, but he was stating facts, as she subsequently discovered. At practically every Society function she attended during the next few weeks, save for a few private parties, Don Carlos de Ruiz was a fellow guest, and invariably he contrived to talk to her and make love, even when Tony Standish was also present, and ignored the snubs and rebuffs she administered.
"Sure, and I'm beginning to feel something like the fox must feel when the hounds are in full cry after him," soliloquised Myra, as she drove home one night after another vain attempt to rebuff Don Carlos. "No wonder he is able to boast of so many conquests if he has pursued every other woman who took his fancy as relentlessly as he is pursuing me! What can I do?"
What made Myra's position the more embarrassing was that de Ruiz and Standish had become very friendly, Don Carlos having exercised his personal magnetism to the utmost to win Tony's regard. One hobby they actually had in common was collecting old jade, and on discovering this Don Carlos sent to Spain for two of the choicest and rarest of his pieces—ancient Chinese sword ornaments of jade set with gold. These he presented to Tony, who was delighted, but protested that he could not accept so valuable a gift without making some return.
"Later, I promise you, my dear Standish, I shall take one of your treasures," said Don Carlos in his charming way. "Meanwhile accept these trifles as a token of my esteem. It is a joy to give to a fellow collector something which money cannot buy, and it will be a delight to take from you something you prize. By the way, let me remind you again of your promise to come to my place in Spain this winter to see my collection. I shall be pleased and honoured to entertain you and any of your friends at El Castillo de Ruiz."
"Thanks. Frightfully good of you, Don Carlos," said Tony. "If I make my usual cruise in my yacht this year I shall certainly make a point of visiting you. I say, if you are not already booked, what about doing me the honour of being one of my guests at Auchinleven in August for the shooting, and then being one of the yachting party later on if I arrange a cruise. I shall be charmed if you will."
"My dear Mr. Standish, you are too good," exclaimed Don Carlos, with unaffected delight. "Ten thousand thanks! Nothing will give me greater pleasure. I gladly and gratefully accept your invitation, but you must promise to allow me to attempt to return your hospitality in Spain. I cannot promise you much in the way of sport, except, perhaps, a little brigand shooting, but I can promise you some novel experiences."
"Thanks awfully," said Tony. "I must tell Myra, and show her your beautiful present."
Myra gazed at her fiance in wide-eyed amazement and consternation when she heard the news.
"Tony Standish, you must be blind and crazy!" she burst out tempestuously. "I won't come to Auchinleven if Don Carlos is to be one of your house party. I won't! Surely you must have seen for yourself that Don Carlos has been making love to me on every possible occasion for weeks? Yes, right in front of your very nose, Tony. He said he would see to it that we were fellow-guests for the shooting—and now you have invited him to Auchinleven!"
"I—er—I say, Myra, this is news to me," exclaimed Tony, flabbergasted. "You—er—you don't actually mean to say that Don Carlos has been making love to you in earnest? I can't imagine his doing such a thing. I mean to say he—er—he seems an awfully good sort, although he is a foreigner, and he and I have become quite pally. He seems quite a good sport, and he does not strike me as being the sort of chap who would poach on another fellow's preserves. Really, Myra, this is quite a shock!"
"If you are referring to me as your 'preserves,' Tony, Don Carlos has certainly been poaching—or trying to poach," said Myra. "He persists in making love to me and refuses to be rebuffed, and he has repeatedly sworn that he will take me from you and make me his own at all costs."
"The deuce he has!" ejaculated Tony, surprised, indignant, and flustered. "I say, Myra dear, I—er—I wish—er—I wish you'd told me this before—I mean before he and I became pally, I had no idea he was really making love to you. No idea, I assure you. If I'd known, I certainly wouldn't have invited him to Auchinleven or accepted his presents. Now I don't know what the deuce to do. I'm in a frightfully awkward position. Frightfully awkward!"
"Frightfully awkward!" Myra mimicked. "Oh, Tony, don't be such a duffer! Unless you want to lose me, you've got to tell Don Carlos de Ruiz—and tell him very, very plainly—that his attempts to make love to me and win me away from you have got to stop. You've got to warn him off."
"Why, of course I will, darling," said Tony, in flustered haste. "Confound the fellow! I should not have believed it of him. Never heard of such outrageous conduct. I'll go and see him at once, Myra, and warn him that if he dares to attempt to make love to you again I'll—er—I'll show him! Yes, by Jove!"
He rushed off, full of righteous indignation but still feeling he was in a "frightfully awkward position," to interview Don Carlos, whom he found wearing a silken dressing gown and stretched out luxuriously among cushions on a settee in his suite at the Ritz.
"My dear Standish, how good of you to return my call so soon!" cried Don Carlos, rising with a welcoming smile as Tony was shown in. "I am truly delighted to see you. You know what a pleasure is an unexpected visit from a friend when one is feeling bored. Sit down and make yourself comfortable, my dear Standish, and let me mix you a drink."
"Er—no, thank you," said Standish, disarmed to some extent at the outset, for he felt it would be boorish and "bad form" to have a row with a man who seemed to hold him in high regard. "No, I won't have a drink. As a matter of fact, Don Carlos, I have called to see you in connection with—er—with a delicate personal matter."
"My dear Mr. Standish, I am flattered that you should make me your confidant, and I shall be only too pleased if I can assist you."
"Assist me! Hang it all, sir, you—er—you don't seem to understand!" spluttered Tony, taken aback again, but determined, nevertheless, to "have it out" with the Spaniard. "I—er—I haven't called to take you into my confidence or anything of the sort. I have come to demand an explanation."
"An explanation?" Don Carlos raised his black eyebrows in seeming bewilderment. "An explanation? Concerning what, Mr. Standish?"
"Concerning your outrageous conduct, sir," blurted out Tony, trying to look fierce, but succeeding only in looking hot and embarrassed. "Concerning Myra—Miss Rostrevor. She tells me you have persistently been attempting to make love to her ever since you first met her, and have even gone so far as to ask her to throw me over and elope with you! What the deuce do you mean by it, sir? Miss Rostrevor, as you are well aware, is engaged to be married to me. How dare you make love to my fiancee?"
Don Carlos's eyebrows rose still higher, his lips twitched, and Tony Standish got the impression that it was only with difficulty he was refraining from laughing outright. That angered him, and his ruddy face became still redder.
"Well, what have you to say for yourself?" he demanded, after a pause. "This is no laughing matter."
"My dear Mr. Standish, what can I say for myself?" Don Carlos retorted, quietly and gravely. "Your demand for an explanation places me in a most embarrassing position. How should one answer in the circumstances. If Miss Rostrevor has told you I have been making love to her, I cannot deny the accusation without casting doubt on the word of the most charming and beautiful girl in the world. Yet if I admit that Miss Rostrevor is justified in her accusation, you may decide I have been acting dishonourably, and I shall lose your friendship. Condenacion! Was ever man placed in such an awkward position!"
"Look here, you will certainly make matters worse if you dare to insinuate that Myra was not telling the truth," exclaimed Standish hotly.
"I quite appreciate that, my dear Mr. Standish, and I realise, also, that Miss Rostrevor would be justified in hating me if I dared to cast doubt on her assertions," said Don Carlos more gravely than ever, with a sigh and a shrug. "So I must, perforce, confess that I have been making persistent love to Miss Rostrevor ever since I first met her, and—well, I am quite prepared to take the consequences. How do you deal with such a situation in England? In my country we would fight a duel, and the lady would marry the survivor. Should you think of fighting a duel, however, Mr. Standish, it is only fair to warn you that I am an expert swordsman and a dead shot. How shall we deal with the matter?"
Baffled, and at a loss to know how to deal with the situation, Tony Standish glowered at him, with the uncomfortable sensation that he was making a fool of himself, and that Don Carlos was inwardly laughing at him.
"It isn't a matter to jest about," he said stiffly. "That sort of thing isn't done in England, and I must ask you to refrain from approaching Miss Rostrevor again."
"I am desolated, senor!" exclaimed Don Carlos, with a despairing gesture. "I find it difficult to understand the English conventionalities in the matter of love-making. If you were Spanish, my dear Standish, you would not complain of my making love to your betrothed unless you were unsure of her and were afraid of my winning her away from you. If you regard me as a dangerous rival, and the adorable Miss Rostrevor takes me seriously, and you are afraid——"
"That isn't the point, Don Carlos," hastily interposed Tony, beginning to regret having made so much fuss. "I—er—I am willing to believe that you have not seriously been trying to steal Myra's affections away from me, or that possibly Myra may have taken you too seriously."
"How can a mere man hope to read what is in the heart of a woman?" responded Don Carlos, helping himself to a cigarette. "Our Spanish girls, if they think an accepted lover is not sufficiently devoted and attentive, will complain that another man is making passionate love—thus arousing the lover's jealousy and re-firing him with ardour; and a married woman will invent a lover and complain of his attentions for the same reason, if her husband's love seems to be cooling."
"I say, Don Carlos, are you suggesting that Myra complained for that reason—because she thinks I'm not keen enough?"
"My dear Standish, I am not suggesting anything. I am merely trying to explain the psychology of the women of my own country as I understand it. Yet I doubt if Englishwomen differ very greatly, after all, from their Latin sisters where affairs of the heart are concerned. Won't you have a cigarette?"
Tony accepted a cigarette from the silver-and-cedar-wood box that was slid across the table to him, and he lit it with thoughtful deliberation. Had Myra complained about Don Carlos making love to her just to keep him "up to scratch," he was wondering, and found himself more puzzled than ever. He knew that lots of men had been, and probably still were, in love with Myra, and that fact made him the more proud to be her accepted lover. He recalled Myra's boast that there was no horse or man she could not master, and he found it a little difficult to believe she was really scared of Don Carlos.
"In my country, Mr. Standish, a man betrothed to a girl as beautiful as Miss Rostrevor would feel almost insulted if his friends did not openly envy him and protest themselves hopelessly in love with the young lady he had won," resumed Don Carlos. "The lady herself would feel slighted if the friends of her betrothed did not continue to attempt to make love to her. To profess to be heartbroken because she belongs to another, and to make love to a betrothed girl or a married woman, is surely paying an indirect compliment to the accepted lover or husband, as well as a direct compliment to the lady."
"Humph! I hadn't thought of it that way," commented Tony drily. "It would never have occurred to me for a moment that in making love to Myra you were paying me any sort of compliment. Here in England, Don Carlos, any man who persists in making love to an engaged girl or a married woman is asking for trouble. Of course, I can appreciate the fact that most women would feel flattered by the thought that a man like you had fallen in love with them, even if you were only pretending out of a desire to be polite, but—er—well, obviously Myra appears to be more annoyed than flattered. Perhaps, as I said before, she has taken you too seriously."
"Or possibly not seriously enough," responded Don Carlos, his grave face crinkling into a smile. "I am hopelessly in love with her, my dear Standish, and mean to make her fall in love with me. What are we going to do in the circumstances?"
"Really, I don't know, Don Carlos," answered Standish, deciding that the other was jesting. "It's frightfully awkward. Frightfully! Er—you see, old chap, Myra says she won't come to Auchinleven for the shooting if you are going to be one of the party, and—er—well, as you can understand, that places me in a frightfully awkward position."
"I fully realise that, Mr. Standish," said Don Carlos very gravely, after a long pause which increased Tony's embarrassment. "I, also, am now placed in an awkward position. I have told many of my friends and acquaintances to-day that I have been invited to Auchinleven for the shooting by my friend Mr. Antony Standish, and now I shall have to explain to everyone that the invitation is cancelled because my friend fears I shall continue to make love to his fiancee, and Miss Rostrevor fears I may abduct her, persuade her to elope with me, or something of the sort. Yes, decidedly a difficult situation!"
"Here, I say, Don Carlos, you'll make me and Myra the laughing-stock of London if you tell people that!" Tony protested, looking quite distressed. "Myra will be furious with me and with you, and—er—I—I suppose you are thinking I am a mean sort of skunk. I'm frightfully sorry! I say, old chap, can't you suggest some way out of the difficulty?"
"Well, possibly if I were permitted to have a talk with Miss Rostrevor, and explain why I have been making love to her, she might understand matters better and raise no objection to my figuring as a guest at Auchinleven," said Don Carlos, after another thoughtful pause.
"Jolly good idea!" Tony exclaimed. "I'm quite sure if you explained matters tactfully to Myra she would understand you have really only been trying to pay her compliments. Myra's a good sort, and I feel sure she will accept your explanation."
Don Carlos made no immediate response. He dropped his cigarette into an ash-tray, rose to his feet with a sigh, and strolled to the window of his sitting room to gaze out absently across the Green Park.
"'There be three things which are too wonderful for me, yea, four which I know not: The way of an eagle in the air; the way of a serpent upon a rock; the way of a ship in the midst of the sea; and the way of a man with a maid,'" he said at length, as if to himself. "So it is written in the Book of Proverbs."
"Er—I say, old chap, I—I hope you are not going to take this too much to heart," remarked Tony, again feeling puzzled and uncomfortable. "If only Myra understands and appreciates what your love-making meant——"
"I shall be happy—provided she responds in the way I desire," broke in Don Carlos, swinging round suddenly from the window, his face lighting up into a smile again. "Of course, if Miss Rostrevor is afraid of me, or if you are afraid I shall take her from you and desire to cancel your invitation on that account, I——"
"There isn't any question of that, Don Carlos," Tony interrupted in turn. "At least, I—er—I don't think Myra is afraid of you. I fancy she has merely misunderstood your intentions."
"I should not have imagined that to be possible," said Don Carlos. "However, when I have discussed the situation with the charming lady, perhaps she will decide to allow me to be a guest at Auchinleven. I warn you, my dear Standish, that I shall not promise to refrain from making love to her, and will continue to try to win her heart. I think I can take the risk of your challenging me to mortal combat."
He looked with a challenging smile at Tony, who laughed, imagining that he was making a jest of the whole affair.
"I hardly fancy it will be a case of 'pistols for two; coffee for one,'" Tony said; "and I feel sure you will be able to make peace with Myra. As a matter of fact, Don Carlos, I am beginning to wonder now if Myra has been pulling my leg. She has played jokes on me more than once before and made me feel rather an ass."
"Perhaps on this occasion the charming lady is playing a joke on both of us," suggested Don Carlos lightly. "Let us drink a toast to her together, although we are such deadly rivals."
He slid the decanter across the table invitingly, and Tony helped himself to a drink, still imagining that Don Carlos was jesting, and deciding that Myra had again made him feel "rather an ass."
"Cheerio!" he drawled, raising his glass after Don Carlos had poured himself a drink. "All the best!"
"The toast is Miss Myra Rostrevor, the loveliest and most adorable girl in the world, and may her lover get his heart's desire," cried Don Carlos gaily, and drained his glass.
"Thanks awfully!" said Tony. "It's frightfully good of you, my dear chap, not to take offence, and I feel sure you will be able to win Myra over."
"It is my most ardent desire to win Myra over, my dear Standish," said Don Carlos, as Tony rose to go. "Pray convey to her my most respectful salutations, and beg her to receive me this afternoon."
It was with mingled amusement and exasperation that Myra listened to Tony's account of the interview. She could not help feeling that Don Carlos had turned the tables on Tony, and now had it in his power to make her look ridiculous.
"I think he is the most conceited and impudent man in the world," she commented. "And he's clever! If I refuse to go to Auchinleven, he will tell the world it is because I am afraid of falling in love with him. If you withdraw your invitation to him, he will explain it is because you are afraid he might persuade me to elope with him. He will flatter himself we are both afraid of him, and the affair will become the joke of the season."
"Yes, I realise that, Myra," drawled Tony. "He's got that laugh on us, so to speak, and I think it would be best to save our faces by pretending the whole affair was a sort of practical joke on your part. I don't suppose he'll try to make love to you again, and even if he does you will know he is not in earnest."
"Tony, you duffer, let me assure you he is very much in earnest, and he means to take me from you," said Myra. "And I warn you, my dear, that I should probably have fallen for him and jilted you if he wasn't so inordinately proud of himself and hadn't boasted that he would compel me to love him. As it is, I am not sure that I am not in love with him."
"I say, Myra, you're not pulling my leg again, are you?" asked Tony, tugging at his little sandy moustache and looking worried. "I'm in a frightfully awkward position, as I said before. I like the chap immensely, and I think he's too much of a gentleman to poach—although, of course, foreigners have a different code of morals from us, and aren't to be trusted where women are concerned. I—er—I don't quite know what to do, but, of course, I'll do anything rather than risk losing you."
There flashed into his mind as he spoke Don Carlos's remark concerning women complaining of another man's attentions in order to bring a husband or a lover "up to scratch," and he had what he would have described as a "brain wave."
"I say, I've got a bright idea, darling," he continued, before Myra could speak. "Let's solve the difficulty by getting married at once. I'll get a special licence, and we'll set a new fashion by entertaining a house party in the Highlands during our honeymoon. Even the boldest man would surely hesitate to make love to another man's wife during her honeymoon. What do you say?"
Myra pursed her red lips and wrinkled her brows in thought, and Tony took her indecision to be a good sign.
"Say 'yes,' darling," he urged. "You know I'm most tremendously in love with you and frightfully keen, and you will have no further reason to feel afraid of Don Carlos when you are my wife."
"I'm not afraid of Don Carlos," snapped Myra. "Oh, Tony, don't be so dense and exasperating! Almost I wish now I had never told you about the tiresome and conceited creature's love-making... Besides," she added, inconsequentially, "I don't want to get married yet, and if I did marry you before we go to Scotland Don Carlos would pride himself it was to protect myself from him, and it would be worse and more dangerous if he made love to me as a married woman. Oh, Tony, my dear, I'm getting mixed, but maybe you understand what I mean. I'm not afraid of Don Carlos, but I don't want to give him any chance of going about boasting that I am in love with him."
"I don't think he would do that, Myra," said Tony. "He seems an awfully decent sort of chap. If you'd heard his explanation, you would understand that he was really only paying us both a compliment by pretending to make love to you. I do hope you'll see him, my dear, and let him explain and apologise. I don't understand why you're so cross with me, darling."
He looked so absurdly pathetic that Myra's irritation gave way to amusement, and her lovely face dimpled into smiles.
"I'm not really cross with you, Tony, my dear, although I do think you have made rather a mess of things," she exclaimed, and gave Tony an affectionate pat on both cheeks. "It will be interesting and amusing to listen to Don Carlos's explanations and apologies—if any... Oh, yes, Tony, I'll see him, and I think I shall manage to take some of the conceit out of him."
As it happened, Lady Fermanagh had an engagement that afternoon, and Myra was alone when Don Carlos de Ruiz was announced. Myra had been doing some hard thinking, and she was feeling sure of herself as she rose to greet her visitor, who bowed low before smiling into her eyes.
"I have called to offer my congratulations, dear lady," he said, in his deep, caressing voice.
"Congratulations? On what, pray?" inquired Myra very coldly. "I understood from Mr. Standish that you were calling to offer apologies for having annoyed me."
"I have come to proffer both apologies and congratulations," said Don Carlos slowly, twin imps of mischief dancing in his laughing eyes. "I have come to tender my most humble apologies for having so far, apparently, failed to melt your icy heart and fire it with the love that burns within me; to congratulate you on being the first woman who has ever taken exception to my making love to her. And to congratulate you, also, on being such an excellent actress."
"Actress? What do you mean?"
"Your pretence of annoyance, dear lady, is such a fine piece of acting that almost I am persuaded you are not in love with me and have steeled your heart against me."
"Please go on being persuaded." Myra's tone was intended to be sardonic. "So far it seems to me you have called to pay yourself compliments instead of to offer apologies. Apparently you explained to Mr. Standish that your love-making was intended as a compliment. Let me tell you, Don Carlos, if that is so I want no more of your compliments."
"If I believed that, sweet lady, life would lose its savour and become but a bleak existence," responded Don Carlos. "I prefer to believe that you love, yet refrain, and that your complaint to your fiance is an indication that your resistance is weakening, that you fear unless you are able to avoid me you will inevitably surrender to the call of love."
"Your overweening conceit would be laughable if it were not so irritating," Myra retorted curtly. "I want to tell you bluntly that unless you give me your word of honour not to attempt to make love to me I shall refuse to go to Auchinleven if you are to be one of the party, and that will leave Mr. Standish no alternative but to cancel his invite to you—and explain to his friends that his reason is my objection to you."
The smile died out of Don Carlos's eyes, and he regarded Myra gravely and silently for a few moments.
"I promise you I shall not make love to you while we are in Scotland," he said at last. "It will be desperately hard to resist the temptation, but I promise to refrain. And I never go back on a promise."
"Good! In that case we can let bygones be bygones and be friends," exclaimed Myra, and impulsively held out her hand.
Don Carlos raised her fingers to his lips and kissed them, and the boyish smile came back to his face.
"Let me warn you, however, my dear Myra, that although I speak no word of love, my heart and my eyes will be making love to you all the time, and every fibre of my being will be loving you and longing for you," he said. "I shall be planning new ways of overcoming your resistance and inducing you to confess that you love me. Always my heart will be calling and calling to you."
"As long as you do not badger me with your attentions, as you have been doing, it will not concern me what is happening to your heart," remarked Myra, forcing a laugh. "You can even pretend to be heartbroken, if you think the role will suit you."
"No, the role of broken-hearted, rejected suitor would not please me," laughed Don Carlos. "I shall be the strong, silent man, biding his time, confident of eventually gaining his heart's desire. Meanwhile I am congratulating myself on having made it possible to fulfil my boast that I should be your fellow-guest in Scotland for the shooting."
"You have my leave to congratulate yourself as much as you like, Don Carlos, and to hand yourself as many bouquets as you like," said Myra smilingly, "but I shall hold you to your promise not to attempt to make love to me."
"I promise you, Myra, I shall be as silent as a Trappist monk, so far as talking love to you is concerned," Don Carlos assured her. "My promise, however, only holds good for the duration of our stay in the Highlands. After that——"
"Tony and I are going to be married in the Spring," interrupted Myra.
"I think not," said Don Carlos with great earnestness. "You will be mine, dear heart, before the Spring flowers have finished blooming."
"Oh, please don't start being absurd again, just after promising to be sensible!" protested Myra.
"You will be mine, dear heart, before the Spring flowers have finished blooming," repeated Don Carlos. "Sweet lady, you may take that as another promise made in all seriousness. I love you, and I have sworn——"
"Let's change the subject, Don Carlos," interrupted Myra again. "Oblige me by making your promise not to make love to me date from this minute."
"As you will, beloved," said Don Carlos, with an exaggerated sigh; and Myra could not decide whether or not he was laughing.
His demeanour as her fellow guest at Tony Standish's shooting lodge at Auchinleven, where he arrived about the middle of August, piqued and perplexed Myra. Not only did Don Carlos keep his promise to refrain from making love to her, but he seemed to avoid her as much as possible, and was only formally polite when they happened to be thrown together.
Yet he made love to practically all the other ladies of the party, and obviously set the hearts of several of the younger ones fluttering. Myra tried to persuade herself she was thankful to be relieved of his ardent attentions, but at heart she was annoyed to find herself ignored.
"I suppose he is proving that he was only amusing himself and that his fervent love-making was mere pretence," reflected Myra. "He is making my complaint about him seem absurd. Bother the man! I have half a mind to try to make him fall in love with me in earnest, and then take the conceit out of him by telling him I have only been amusing myself at his expense."
What added to her inward vexation was the fact that Don Carlos appeared to have won the good opinion of all the other men of the party, and had completely ingratiated himself with Tony Standish, who constantly talked about him with enthusiasm and spent much time in his company.
"Have you offended Don Carlos in some way, Myra?" Lady Fermanagh inquired one night. "I notice he seems to avoid you as much as possible, and yet he and Tony have become great friends."
"I think Don Carlos is the most exasperating man in the world, aunt, and it is most annoying that Tony should make such a fuss of him after what happened," responded Myra, half-petulantly. "It would serve Tony right if I threw him over. It is exasperating that he is so sure of me that he isn't a bit jealous of Don Carlos, and probably thinks I made a fuss about nothing. Why didn't he half-kill the conceited Spaniard for daring to make love to me? I should have loved him if he had done that—yes, even if he got the worst of it, I should have loved him for trying to give Don Carlos a hiding."
"Don't be absurd, my dear Myra!" protested Lady Fermanagh, laughingly. "I told you that the love-making of men like Don Carlos should not be taken seriously, and it was foolish of you to take offence."
"And now, I suppose, he is laughing up his sleeve at me for having taken him seriously, and thinks he is punishing me by ignoring me for being such a little prude!" said Myra. "Perhaps I did make rather a fool of myself, but I intend to get even with him. Yes, I'll get even with the conceited creature! Do you know what I have decided to do, aunt? I am going to make love to Don Carlos and make him fall in love with me in earnest, just to have the satisfaction of turning him down afterwards and making him feel, and look, a fool."
"For goodness sake don't try to do anything of the sort, Myra," counselled Lady Fermanagh. "Don Carlos is very much a man of the world, and you would be playing with fire. I should judge that he knows women better than most men. And in any case, my dear, it isn't safe to trifle with a Spaniard."
"And it isn't safe to trifle with a Rostrevor Don Carlos de Ruiz will find to his cost," retorted Myra, with a sudden laugh. "My mind is made up, and I shall start on my conquest to-night."
She took special pains over her toilette that evening, and her maid found her unusually exacting. She chose a very decollete evening frock of jade green shot with blue that matched the blue of her eyes but contrasted beautifully with her red-gold hair, and with it she wore a necklace of emeralds and turquoises.
"By Jove! Myra, dear, you are looking lovelier than ever to-night!" exclaimed Tony Standish, admiringly and adoringly, when she went down into the great hall of Auchinleven Lodge before dinner. "You look simply wonderful, darling. Wonderful!"
"Thank you for these few kind words, good sir," Myra answered smilingly, in bantering tones, and dropped a mock curtsey. "I hope Don Carlos will be equally complimentary. You see, Tony, I am afraid he is rather vexed with me for complaining to you about him and snubbing him, so I have decided to let him fall in love with me again and make you furiously jealous."
"Righto!" laughed Tony. "But don't overdo it, old thing, or I may do a bit of the Othello business, don't you know. I believe I could be as fiercely passionate as any Spaniard if I tried."
"Why not try?" responded Myra lightly. "Incidentally, I fancy Othello was a Moor, and not a Spaniard."
"Well, the Moors had something to do with Spain, so it amounts to the same thing. Talking of Spain, Myra, reminds me that Don Carlos has consented to be one of my yachting party for our Mediterranean trip in the winter, and has invited all of us to spend a week or so with him at his place, El Castillo de Ruiz, somewhere in the Sierra Morena."
"Really! That will give me plenty of time to complete my conquest," commented Myra, her blue eyes sparkling mischievously. "I suppose it isn't good form to make a fool of one's host, but Don Carlos will deserve anything he may get."
"I say, darling, I hope you're not in earnest," Tony remarked. "You seem to be in a dangerous mood to-night, and you look adorably lovely—yes, simply scrumptious! You would fascinate any man, my dear, and I am sure even Don Carlos will be clay in your hands. Don't be too hard on him, Myra. He's an awfully good chap, and I feel sure he didn't mean any harm."
"To-night, my dear Tony, I am a 'vamp,'" laughed Myra. "Just look at Aunt Clarissa over there flirting with Don Carlos, who is probably telling her she is the most accomplished and beautiful woman in the world. Watch me go and cut her out!"
Conscious that she was looking her best (a feeling that gives any woman a sense of power), Myra strolled across the hall to where Don Carlos was chatting to Lady Fermanagh.
"Forgive me if I am interrupting," she said sweetly, smiling into the dark eyes of the Spaniard. "I want to tell you I am so glad to hear from Tony that you are coming with us on the yachting cruise this winter, and I want to thank you for your invitation to El Castillo de Ruiz. I was so afraid you had not forgiven me for being so rude to you, and dreaded lest you had decided to have nothing further to do with such an ungracious person as Myra Rostrevor."
"Sweet lady, I should dismiss such a thought as treason, not to say blasphemy," Don Carlos responded gallantly. "Even when you are ungracious, if ever, you are always the most adorable and beautiful woman in the world."
Myra trilled out a laugh, her blue eyes still smiling at him.
"Thank you, senor, for these few kind words," she said. "I expect you have been saying something of the same sort to my aunt?"
"Yes, Myra, Don Carlos has been telling me that mine is the type of beauty he has always most admired, and that I seem to have discovered not only the secret of perpetual youth, but the art of growing old gracefully," Lady Fermanagh told her smilingly. "I begin to suspect him of being Irish instead of Spanish—for how can one grow old with perpetual youth, I ask you? Still, I confess I like his blarney, and I think it a pity that most Englishmen seem to have lost the knack of paying a compliment, and saying flattering things as if they meant them."
"Dear lady, you do both me and yourself an injustice," exclaimed Don Carlos, his tone very grave but his dark eyes dancing. "The greatest of courtiers, even if he had kissed your famous Blarney Stone, would surely be at a loss for words which would even do justice to your charm, let alone flattering you."
Lady Fermanagh wagged a finger at him.
"My Spanish is getting rusty, senor," she said, "but I think I remember one of the proverbs of your country: 'Haceos miel y comeras han moscas', which means, 'Make yourself honey and the flies will eat you.' Am I right?"