At the first outburst, Annie had turned pale and shrunk back, but now she clung to the side of Lawrence, who, although his face was somewhat blanched and his form trembled a little with excitement, still stood up bravely, and endeavored, but ineffectually, to force upon the old lady’s attention a denial of her bitter accusations. With face almost as purple as the bonnet she wore, or the umbrella she shook in the air, the old lady first addressed her niece. With scorn and condemnation she spoke of the deceit which the young girl had practised upon her. But this part of the exercises was soon over. She seemed to think that although nothing could be viler than Annie’s conduct towards her, still the fact that Mr Null no longer existed, put Annie again within her grasp and control, and made it unnecessary to say much to her on this occasion. It was upon Lawrence that the main cataract of her fury poured. It would be wrong to say that she could not find words to express her ire towards him. She found plenty of them, and used them all. He had deceived her most abominably; he had come there, the expressed and avowed lover of Miss March; he had connived with her niece in her deceit; he had taken advantage of all the opportunities she gave him to attain the legitimate object of his visit, to inveigle into his snares this silly and absurd young woman; and he had dared to interfere with the plans, which, by day and by night, she had been maturing for years. In vain did Lawrence endeavor to answer or explain. She stopped not, nor listened to one word.
“And you need not imagine,” she screamed at him, “that you are going to turn round, when you like, and marry anybody you please. You are engaged, body and soul, to Roberta March, and have no right, by laws of man or heaven, to marry anybody else. If you breathe a word of love to any other woman it makes you a vile criminal in the eyes of the law, and renders you liable to prosecution, sir. Your affianced bride knows nothing of what her double-faced snake of a lover is doing here, but she shall know speedily. That is a matter which I take into my own hands. Out of my way, both of you!”
And with these words she charged by them, and rushed out of the arbor, and into the house.
They were not a happy pair, Lawrence Croft and Annie Peyton, as they stood together in the arbor, after old Mrs Keswick had left them. They were both a good deal shaken by the storm they had passed through.
“Lawrence,” said Annie, looking up to him with her large eyes full of earnestness, “there surely is no truth in what she said about your being legally bound to Miss March?”
“None in the least,” said Lawrence. “No man, under the circumstances, would consider himself engaged to a woman. At any rate, there is one thing which I wish you to understand, and that is that I am not engaged to Miss March, and that I am engaged to you. No matter what is said or done, you and I belong to each other.”