Miss Nugent sat silent, and a strong sense of the monstrous unfairness of such a sudden attack possessed her. Such a declaration she felt ought to have been led up to by numerous delicate gradations of speech, each a little more daring than the last, but none so daring that they could not have been checked at any time by the exercise of a little firmness.
“If you would do anything to please me,” she said at length in a low voice, and without turning her head, “would you promise never to try and see me or speak to me again if I asked you?”
“No,” said Hardy, promptly.
Miss Nugent sat silent again. She knew that a good woman should be sorry for a man in such extremity, and should endeavour to spare his feelings by softening her refusal as much as possible, little as he might deserve such consideration. But man is impatient and jumps at conclusions. Before she was half-way through the first sentence he leaned forward and took her hand.
“Oh, good-bye,” she said, turning to him, with a pleasant smile.
“I am not going,” said Hardy, quietly; “I am never going,” he added, as he took her other hand.
Captain Nugent, anxious for his supper, found them there still debating the point some two hours later. Kate Nugent, relieved at the appearance of her natural protector, clung to him with unusual warmth. Then, in a kindly, hospitable fashion, she placed her other arm in that of Hardy, and they walked in grave silence to the house.
[Illustration: “She placed her other arm in that of Hardy.”]