“What is the meaning of all this, Leonard?” demanded the grocer, angrily.
“You shall have an explanation instantly,” replied the apprentice; “but think not of me—think only of your daughter.”
“My father!—my father!” cried the damsel, who had been detained by Parravicin, taking off her mask, and rushing towards the grocer.
“Who then have I got?” cried Rochester.
“The piper’s daughter, I’ll be sworn,” replied Etherege.
“You are right,” replied Nizza, unmasking. “I changed dresses with Amabel, and hoped by so doing to accomplish her escape, but we have been baffled. However, as her father is here, it is of little consequence.”
“Amabel,” said the grocer, repulsing her, “before I receive you again, I must be assured that you have not been alone with the Earl of Rochester.”
“She has not, sir,” replied the apprentice. “Visit your displeasure on my head. I carried her off and would have wedded her.”
“What motive had you for this strange conduct?” asked Bloundel, incredulously.
Before Leonard could answer, Pillichody stepped forward, and said to the grocer, “Mr. Bloundel, you are deceived—on the faith of a soldier you are.”
“Peace, fool!” said Rochester, “I will not be outdone in generosity by an apprentice. Leonard Holt speaks the truth.”
“If so,” replied Bloundel, “he shall never enter my house again. Send for your indentures to-night,” he continued sharply, to Leonard, “but never venture to approach me more.”
“Father, you are mistaken,” cried Amabel. “Leonard Holt is not to blame. I alone deserve your displeasure.”
“Be silent!” whispered the apprentice; “you destroy yourself. I care not what happens to me, provided you escape the earl.”
“Come home, mistress,” cried the grocer, dragging her through the crowd which had gathered round them.
“Here is a pretty conclusion to the adventure!” cried Parravicin; “but where is the apprentice—and where is the pretty Nizza Macascree? ’Fore heaven,” he added, as he looked around for them in vain, “I should not wonder if they have eloped together.”
“Nor I,” replied Rochester. “I admire the youth’s spirit, and trust he may be more fortunate with his second mistress than with his first.”
“It shall be my business to prevent that,” rejoined Parravicin. “Help me to search for her.”
* * * * *
As the grocer disappeared with his daughter, Nizza Macascree, who had anxiously watched the apprentice, observed him turn deadly pale, and stagger; and instantly springing to his side, she supported him to a neighbouring column, against which he leaned till he had in some degree recovered from the shock. He then accompanied her to Bishop Kempe’s beautiful chapel in the northern aisle, where she expected to find her father; but it was empty.