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CHAPTER XII A JAPANESE DIPLOMATIST
If Count Akira was indeed anxious to visit Beckleigh, he certainly did not betray much alacrity in accepting the Squire\'s cordial invitation. He did write to the effect that he would be delighted to come, but postponed his arrival until the second week in January. Official business, he stated, would keep him employed during the next few weeks, and he would be unable to leave his chief. Consequently there was only a family party present at the Christmas festivities. Mr. Colpster, being of a conservative nature, always kept these up in an old-fashioned, hospitable style. Indeed, he invited several friends to join on this occasion, as his nephew was at home, but the friends, having their own families and own festivities, declined to put in an appearance. The Squire was not sorry, as he disliked the trouble of entertaining visitors.

As it was, he gave the servants a dinner, and bestowed coals and blankets and hampers of wholesome food on the inhabitants of Hendle, Boatwain, and the other hamlets, all of which had at one time belonged to dead and gone Colpsters. For this reason did the Squire act so generously, and he hoped when the emerald was recovered--for he refused to believe that it had gone back to its shrine in Japan--that the future good fortune which would come with it would enable him to buy back the lost lands. Meanwhile, by acting as the lord of a lost manor, he retained the feudal allegiance of the villagers. There was something pathetic in the way in which the old man persistently looked forward to the rehabilitation of his family. He made sure that the Mikado Jewel would come back; he felt certain that the land would be recovered, and was convinced that when he passed away, the husband of Mara would start a new dynasty of Colpsters, through the female branch, whose glories would outshine the ancient line. But who Mara was to marry did not seem quite clear.

He spoke to the girl on the subject and suggested that she should become the wife of Theodore or Basil. Mara shuddered when he mentioned the first name, and her father noted the repugnance the shudder revealed.

"I don\'t approve much of Theodore myself," he said apologetically, "as he is extremely selfish. But he has no bad qualities which would lead him to waste money, and, moreover, he loves this place. You might do worse, dear."

"If Theodore was the only man on earth and offered me a kingdom, I would not marry him," said Mara, speaking decisively and in a firm way, which contrasted strongly with her usual indifference, "He is a bad man."

"My dear child, he has no vices. He neither drinks, nor gambles, nor----"

"If he had all the vices of which a human being is capable," interrupted Mara loudly, "I would not mind. But his bad qualities are inhuman. He is selfish and dangerous, and all his time is given to Black Magic."

The Squire laughed incredulously. "I know that Theodore dabbles in such things," he said disbelievingly; "but it is all imagination, Mara. There is no such a thing as any power to be obtained in that way."

"Yes there is. I know," said Mara, looking at her father significantly.

"Can you prove what you say, my dear?"

"No. And I don\'t want to talk any more about the matter. I won\'t marry my cousin Theodore, even if you leave the property away from me."

"I don\'t want to do that. You are my heiress, and my idea was for you to marry your cousin. Then he could take your name, and----"

"I shan\'t marry Theodore," cried Mara for the third time, and stamped.

"Basil, then. You can have no fault to find with Basil."

"I haven\'t, father, but"--Mara stopped, and a strange smile spread over her small, pale face--"I shall ask Basil to marry me, if you like," she said in an abrupt way. "He can but say no."

"He won\'t say no, my dear. Basil loves me too well to thwart my wishes. But it is his part to woo and yours to listen. Let him ask."

"I should have to wait a long time before he did that," said Mara dryly. "I wish to know the best or worst at once," and she left the room, still smiling strangely. Mr. Colpster could not understand why she smiled. But, then, neither he nor anyone else understood the girl, who seemed to hang between two worlds, the Seen and the Unseen, without making use of either, so indifferent was her attitude towards all things.

As it happened, Patricia was busy attending to the servants, as it was her housekeeping hour. Mara was thus enabled to find Basil alone, for when Miss Carrol was available he constantly followed at her heels like a faithful and adoring dog. But Patricia would not appear for some time, so the sailor read the daily paper in the smoking-room and solaced himself for the absence of the eternal feminine with his pipe. Mara knew where to find him, and entered in her light, noiseless way, to perch on the arm of his chair like a golden butterfly. Without any preamble she plunged into the reason for her intrusion into bachelor quarters.

"Basil, will you marry me?" she asked, coldly and calmly and unexpectedly.

Looking on his cousin as a child, the young man thought that she was joking, and laughed when he answered: "Of course. Will we start now for the church on the moors where all the Colpsters have been married?"

"I am in earnest, Basil," she said seriously.

"So am I," he rejoined lightly, "only it will be the marriage of Bottom and Titania with you, my airy elf," and he slipped his arm round her waist, looking at her with a smile on his handsome face.

Mara, who disliked being touched, even by Patricia, much more by this confident male thing--as she called Basil in her mind--slipped off the arm of the chair and floated like thistledown into the centre of the room.

"Don\'t be silly, Basil. I have just come from my father. He wants me to marry you or Theodore. I hate Theodore, and would sooner die than become his wife, but I told father that I would ask you to become my husband."

Basil saw that she really meant what she said, and, moreover, knew of his uncle\'s strong desire to unite the two branches of the dwindling Colpster family. Laying aside his pipe, he grew red to the roots of his closely-cropped hair. "I--I--don\'t want to," he stuttered ungallantly, and feeling very much confused. "I--I hope you don\'t mind."

A wintry smile gleamed on the girl\'s white face. "I should have minded a great deal had you really wished to marry me."

"Then why ask me?" demanded Basil, much relieved, but still confused.

"To set my father\'s mind at rest," replied Mara quietly, and as self-possessed as her cousin was disturbed. "Now that you have declined, I can tell him!" and she flitted towards the door.

"But, Mara!" Basil rose and ran across the room to catch her arm. "How can you be certain that I mean what I say?"

She turned on him with an amazed look. "You think that I am a child, Basil, but I am not. I have eyes and ears and common-sense. You will marry Patricia, will you not?"

Young Dane grew redder than ever. "I--I--have said nothing to her," he stammered nervously. "She--she doesn\'t know that I--that I----"

Mara\'s scornful laughter stopped his further speech, and she became quite friendly for so bloodless a person. "You silly boy!" she cried, ruffling what hair the barber had left him. "Patricia knows."

"But how can she?"

"Because she is a woman," said Mara impatiently. "Women are not like men, and don\'t require everything to be put into words. I saw from the moment you met Patricia that you loved her. I\'m glad; I\'m glad," she ended, with conviction, "as I don\'t want to marry you or anyone else."

Basil, with lover-like selfishness, did not pay attention to the end of her speech, but to the earlier part. "If you saw, then Miss Carrol must have seen."

"Miss Carrol!" mocked Mara, with dancing eyes. "Why not Patricia?"

"Oh!" the shy sailor blushed. "I shouldn\'t care to call her that."

His cousin took him by the coat-lapels and shook him with frail strength.

"Silly creature! If you have not the courage to take what you can get, Patricia will have nothing to do with you. Women like a bold lover."

"I don\'t believe she will ever return my love," sighed Basil dolefully.

"Oh, as to that, she returns it already."

"Mara!" he flushed again, this time with sheer delight, "do you think----"

"I don\'t think. I know, and I\'m very glad, for Patricia is a darling. I hope that father, who is as fond of her as I am, will give her Beckleigh on condition that she marries you, who can\'t say \'Bo\' to a goose."

Basil looked serious and sighed again. "I\'m sorry to upset Uncle George\'s plans, for he has always been kind to me. But not even for the estate could I give up Miss--that is, Patricia."

"No one wants you to give up either," said Mara impatiently. "Father will no doubt give you Beckleigh."

"No, dear. That would not be right. You are the heiress."

"And what would I do with it? Keep a boarding-house, or start a convent of nuns? I would much rather have a small income and be able to move round as I please."

"You will marry some day, Mara. Mr. Right will come along."

"Mr. Right will never come along," cried Mara, and coloured crimson, which was unusual, "unless he comes from the other world."

"What do you mean?" asked the sailor, greatly puzzled by this weird speech.

"Oh, never mind," retorted M............
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