Summary (Masterplots, Definitive Revised Edition)
Thorold, Earl Tresham was a middle-aged, active man, the epitome of courtesy and honor, and extremely proud of his family’s record through the generations. So proud of that reputation was he that he resolved to keep it untarnished throughout his life, and to see that other members of the family bore themselves as honorably.
The earl’s parents had died many years before, leaving a younger sister in his care. Mildred was now fourteen years of age and ready for marriage. She was loved by her brothers and her more distant relatives, who regarded her as an innocent, guileless, and beautiful young woman.
Henry, Earl Mertoun, having seen Mildred, came one day to ask her hand in marriage. Tresham was at first hesitant, but when he had talked with the young man and looked over the Mertoun family record, he realized that no more honorable and personable young suitor could have sought Mildred as a wife. He therefore gave his consent to the marriage if the girl herself agreed. Mertoun left Tresham Castle after promising to return at the end of two days, during which time the Treshams and their cousin were to broach the subject of marriage to Mildred.
In the library, that same night, Tresham, his brother Austin, and their cousin Guendolen acquainted Mildred with Mertoun’s suit, but she seemed indifferent to the nobleman’s proposal. Later, in Mildred’s room, Guendolen continued the discussion, describing the personality and appearance of the young earl. The girl still remained hesitant. When Guendolen left the room she was confident, however, that her cousin would soon look kindly on so desirable a suitor.
Shortly after Guendolen’s departure the clocks struck midnight. Mildred placed a candle in her window. A short time later a man dressed in a long, flowing cloak and a slouch hat entered through the window. The hat and cloak were swept away, revealing Henry, Earl Mertoun. Mildred declared that she could not bring herself to agree to a marriage with him under the conditions known to both, for she and Mertoun had been lovers for many weeks. She said she could not appear at a wedding under the guise of a virgin and a stranger to a man whom she had long since taken as her lover.
Seeing no real sin in what they had done, the lovers felt that their youthful years had betrayed them. They had met when Mertoun had wandered into the Tresham domain after wounded game, and they had fallen in love immediately. Within a short time Mildred had admitted Mertoun to her bedchamber.
After a lengthy discussion the young nobleman left Mildred, with her promise that she would talk to him once again on the following night before announcing her decision to her brothers and cousin.
(The entire section is 1122 words.)
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