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A Private Arrangement


A PRIVATE ARRANGEMENT

By Guy Boothby


True love is at home on a carpet,
And mightily likes his ease;
And true love has an eye for a dinner,
And starves beneath shady trees.
His wing is the fan of a lady,
His foot's an invisible thing,
And his arrow is tipped withh a jewel,
And shot from a silver string.

Love in a Cottage

A CERTAIN amount of wealth is absolutely necessary for every amusement in this world, from pitch and toss to the game of life. "In der Beschränkung zeigt sich erst Meister" is all very pretty and nice as as art is concerned, but when it is applied to the gratification of expensive tastes, on an income of five hundred per annum, it loses a good deal of its originality. That is why so many men leave England for Australia.

There are three classes who find their way to the Colonies. First, those who come out to make money; then those who hope to marry it; and lastly, those who wilfully desire to misuse it. Horace Tufnell Aikenhead was of the second class.

His people bestirring themselves secured for him the post of private secretary to a highly popular governor, and before he left Yorkshire they pointed out how imperatively necessary it was that he should marry money, and plenty of it.

Apart from his state duties, the private secretary is an all-important personage in the vice-regal household, for not only is he the medium between the public and the presence, but more important still, in his charge are all the invitation lists, and he alone can read the cabalistic signs that bar out certain families.

His private self is seldom apparent to the outside world as, from nine o clock to five, he lives behind an orderly up a long passage, and after that time he loses his identity altogether in the pale-blue facings of his uniform. Because he recognises in himself the pivot on which the administration of the executive revolves men usually say that he is eaten up with side. But then the lay mind cannot be expected to understand the mental strain consequent upon continually inventing colonial despatches.

The Governor's wife had promised Mrs. Aikenhead to do all she could for her son. It was a foolish promise to make, for many reasons, but when she gave it the novelty of her position was still fresh from her.

Aikenhead was a very good fellow in his way, but he had read far too much poetry to be safely trusted alone with women. Moreover, he had an idea that he was competent to choose a wife for himself, which was manifestly absurd. The Countess saw this and made him promise to rivet all his attention on his work and golf, and not to make love to any girl until she should give him permission so to do. Before he had been in the colony a month she could turn him mentally inside out as neatly as her gloves. It was not for nothing that she was called the second cleverest woman in Australia.

When the time to remember her promise came round she began by carefully considering the qualifications of every damsel on her visiting list, without arriving at any satisfactory decision. Then, in some out-of-the-way, forgotten country district, she discovered just the very girl her soul desired. She was an orphan, moderately pretty, in a dimpled, rosy-cheeked style, and just one-and-twenty. Her fortune amounted to something like £100,000—nothing out of the way, but quite enough to resuscitate the glories of Aikenhead Hall.

We nicknamed her little Miss Moneybags.

I don't believe she had ever been to town before; at any rate she had never mixed in society. But the Governor's wife took her in hand, and in a week she was to be seen everywhere. She "came out" at the ball, rendered famous by the defeat of the kangaroo girl, mentioned elsewhere.

The Private Secretary danced four times with her, and the pale-blue facings were mainly responsible for the after effect. Everyone could see that he was in a fair way to being desperately in love.

The young couple had innumerable opportunities of meeting, and her ladyship felt so certain of success that she began to wonder what she should give them for a wedding present. But she was counting her chickens before they were hatched, for just at this juncture Mrs. Tom Guilfoy returned from England, and the Aikenhead family went terribly near losing the sum of one hundred thousand pounds.

Remember I acquit Mrs. Guilfoy of the slightest attempt to overthrow or divert the affection of the Private Secretary, for it was not in her nature to spoil sport. But about a week after her return she dined at Government House, and Aikenhead was placed on her left hand. He vowed that never before had he seen such a majestic creature, and devoted himself entirely to her service. Poor little Miss Moneybags, on his right, looked woefully distressed, for she was terribly in love.

Her ladyship could have wept when she saw her protégé's behaviour. She told his Excellency later that his Private Secretary was a born fool and unworthy of her consideration—which was a strong thing for such an admittedly amiable woman to say.

It was Mrs. Guilfoy's custom to receive her friends on Thursday afternoons from three to six. On one occasion Aikenhead dropped in about five and ate her cake and drank her tea in a fairyland of enchantment. Like all men who met this exquisite creature, he had fallen under her spell at once. She did not encourage him, being too fully occupied remedying a certain serious trouble in her own household (also mentioned elsewhere) to waste time on unprofitable flirtations. But because she was just ordinarily civil he said she admired him, and consequently he earned side enough to disconcert a Member of Parliament.

The more Aikenhead saw of Mrs. Guilfoy the more confirmed he became in his ridiculous belief. What he thought she was going to do for love of him we never knew. Perhaps he imagined that she would forget her good name, her husband and child, and, more important still, her social position, in order to promote his happiness. Whatever his idea was he resigned all thoughts of poor Miss Moneybags, and treated her £100,000 as if they had never existed. His Excellency gave him hints, her ladyship argued and remonstrated with all her eloquence, his brother A.D.Cs. chaffed him unmercifully, but it was all to no purpose.

He did not say so, but suggested that Mrs. Guilfoy was the one woman in the wide world for him, until she, dear soul—though quite unaware of the trouble she was causing—could not fail to see the youth's earnestness.

What there was in his character to excite the interest of seven sensible people I have yet to discover. But her ladyship well-nigh fretted herself into a fever over what she called "his feeble, vacuous stupidity."

She racked her brains to find some way out of the difficulty, and then a luminous idea struck her.

Without wasting time she ordered her carriage and straightway drove to call on Mrs. Thomas Wyndham Guilfoy.

Cosily over the drawing-room fire she told her story, painted a lurid picture of the poverty that existed at Aikenhead Hall, nearly wept when she spoke of little Miss Moneybag's broken heart, and when she left the house had secured the promise of the other's co-operation. From Mrs. Guilfoy she drove to Dives Park, and while there the Aikenhead Providence played into her hands.

Lady Dives was cogitating an entertainment of some kind for our amusement and the Governor's wife suggested, as something out of the ordinary, a mask and domino ball. Lady Dives was delighted with the idea, and next day sent out her invitations for the 23rd.

Had the Countess not insisted on her accepting, poor little Miss Moneybags would have declined the invitation; she was longing to get back to the bush, away from her disappointment.

The Private Secretary accepted because Mrs. Guilfoy was going. She told him in confidence that she would wear three cloth-of-gold roses on the left shoulder of her domino, and pressing her hand with a look of deepest devotion in his eyes, he murmured that he would remember.

Next day he wrote her a letter which should have secured his instant expulsion from the country. Mrs. Guilfoy was furious for the moment, but knowing that he was hardly responsible for his actions, her good nature ultimately triumphed, and she insinuated that she would give him an answer during the seventeenth dance on the 23rd.

Lady Dives received in the small ante-chamber leading into the drawing-room.

When the vice-regal party had settled down the Private Secretary searched the crowd of masks for a pale-blue domino, wearing a bunch of roses on the left shoulder. Having booked her last two dances before supper, and No. 17 after, he strolled about filling up his programme. During his second dance with Mrs. Guilfoy he asked point-blank for an answer to his letter. She whispered, "Wait till No. 17." Then people began to trail into supper, and she slipped away to where the heiress was seated. They retired to the ladies' room together.

Just as the theatre chimes played a quarter to twelve—a quarter of an hour before unmasking—the orchestra started the introduction to No. 17, and he rushed off to the snuggery in the corner of the big drawing-room to find his partner. She took his arm, and he led her without speaking through the conservatories up into one of the small theatre boxes. Then shutting the door he drew his chair up to hers, and taking her hand in both of his said theatrically—

"I love you—oh, you can't know how I love you I I have worshipped you ever since I first saw your face! Take pity on me, oh, take pity on me!"

She rose from her seat, trembling in every limb, and leant against the wall, trying to disengage her hands. He continued—

"What does the world matter to us? We love each other; let that suffice."

"You love me?" stammered his partner, with a depth in her voice that he failed to notice.

"I do, I swear I do!"

"But I thought you loved——"

"Don't say it. That's all over now. I thought I loved her; but how can she compare with you? Oh! say that you——"

"Hush I some one is coming. Horace, I will be your wife!"

She tore off her mask, and fell into his arms. It was Miss Moneybags!

The clock struck twelve. The door opened, and Mrs. Guilfoy on the arm of the Governor stood before them. They had unwillingly, of course, heard everything.

Aikenhead had the sense not to make a fool of himself when he saw how he had been tricked, and Mrs. Guilfoy assured him in a note next day that his fiancée knew nothing of the business.

We all attended to see them married, and a large party of us went down to the steamer to see them off to England. I am told the heiress makes him a capital wife, and he is as happy as any average man has the right to be.

This work was published before January 1, 1924, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.