No drowsy, eyelashed film-star with her dumbfounding bag of stale love-philtres had anything on the lovely Elizabeth Malyn as a connoisseur of husbands. Sir Richard Steele, the famous essayist, once met her on horseback at Enfield Chase. She impressed him so much with her “surpassing loveliness that he ever referred in enraptured terms to her charms of beauty, health, youth and modesty.”She began her trips to the altar at the more or less tender age of eighteen, urgently requested by distracted parents eager to have her settled. They had chosen James Fleet, the naïve son of the Lord Mayor of London in 1692. Her second husband, Colonel Sabine, a Governor of Gibraltar, had plenty of money. Her third, Lord Cathcart, commanded the greatest British fleet that ever sprang at heaven’s command from out the azure main, bound for the West Indies. Her fourth, Colonel Maguire, the only man she married for love, proved not only an autocrat at the breakfast-table the first day of her honeymoon, but a disaster. She wore a ring on her finger engraved with the couplet
“If I survive I will have had five”
Elizabeth survived, but did not marry again, although she stuck to the name Lady Cathcart. Hugh Maguire, the good-looking Irish laughing cavalier, had been too much even for her wide matrimonial experience.
“What the devil do you mean, Hugh?” demanded the angry Lady Cathcart at their first breakfast alone at her home, Welwyn Manor. “Who gave you leave to pack my best silver and sell it to dealers in London?”
“I’m smothered in debt,” guffawed Colonel Maguire. “I need money. You won’t give me any. We’re married now, and what’s yours is mine. That’s the law, isn’t it? Where on earth have you hidden all those jewels you wore at the wedding yesterday? I searched your dressing-table while you lay asleep.”
Lady Cathcart made a gesture of impatience. “I’ll see you never lay a finger on my jewels, you-you-highwayman! That silver belonged to Lord Cathcart.”
She was still a strikingly handsome woman, every inch a well-preserved Lady, English to the backbone, very much alive and irresistible. Her eyes were wise and experienced. The only signs of age, which she tolerated with good grace, were fine wrinkles at the corners of her eyes, the result of ready smiles. Her head was well-poised and her carriage confident.
Colonel Hugh Maguire had seen many wars in Europe and had fought for Maria Theresa, Queen of Hungary. He made no secret of the fact that he had married Lady Cathcart for her money. Like Petruchio, in “The Taming of the Shrew,” he undertook to marry her practically before he had seen her, a purely commercial matrimonial adventurer. She had already bought him a Colonel’s commission in the British Army when he was on his way to the gutter. He had the sly look of the bully who thought he was getting away with some petty tyranny. He looked more dignified and impressive than clever, and was less vital than his wife, in spite of the smack and tang of his winning tongue.
“Nice way to begin a honeymoon,” Lady Cathcart went on bitterly. “You told me you had a big estate in Fermanagh. Why don’t you borrow on it?”
“I’ve tried, my dear,” laughed the hardened gallant, unperturbed. “Tempo’s ancestral halls are a liability, not an asset. How about raising me some money on this big house of yours? Where are the title-deeds?”
“Where you will never find them!” she snapped angrily, and left the table, her breakfast untouched.
Lady Cathcart spent a tearful morning in her bedroom. She knew there was no time to be lost. She locked her door, took off all her clothes, and sewed her more valuable jewels in the folds of her voluminous petticoats. She plaited more in her magnificent hair. The title-deeds to her house she hid even more carefully. Behind a heavy curtain was a concealed door. She put the title-deeds, wrapped in oiled paper, in an iron chest behind the door and fastened the key around her naked waist. Mortification at his ferocious disregard for her beauty and his preoccupation with her money nerved her to outwit this derisive, fortune-hunting Irishman.
He swaggered about Welwyn Manor as if he owned it. He was familiar with the maids. He drank, gambled, sang bawdy choruses with the stable boys one-day and beat them the next, much to their astonishment. He kept up a brisk sale of Lady Cathcart’s movable property, horses, silver, pictures, books. The dealers chuckled when he brought them her trousseau.
“If you’d only get me some real money with a mortgage on this castle,” he retorted when Lady Cathcart appealed to his honour, “I’d drop this tawdry hawking like a shot.”
“I’ll never do that,” she said. “I’m humiliated enough before the servants and neighbours. They all know what takes you to London so often.”
Maguire grinned broadly. “My attorney says it would be al quite simple. All he needs is your signature and your title-deeds. He’s lend me ten thousand pounds.”
“Clever man,” she scoffed. “Did he tell you how to pay it back? Have you no money?”
“Not a penny; never had. Where are those deeds, Elizabeth?”
“My attorney has them.”
“Liar! He says you have them here at Welwyn.”
“You saw him?”
“Yesterday. Wouldn’t lend me a penny and showed me the door, damn his yellow foxy face!”
Lady Cathcart looked at him thoughtfully and left the room, wondering what his next move would be.