’And then—’Pon honour, ma’am, you are good at surprises. I fear I don’t follow the course of events,’ Sir George said icily.
‘Then I changed my mind—the same day,’ she replied. She was shaking on her feet with emotion; but in his jealousy he had no pity on her weakness. ‘You know, a woman may change her mind once, Sir George,’ she added with a feeble smile.
‘I find that I don’t know as much about women—as I thought I did,’ Sir George answered grimly. ’You seem, ma’am, to be much sought after. One man can hardly hope to own you. Pray have you any other affairs to confess?’
‘I have told you—all,’ she said.
His face dark, he hung a moment between love and anger; looking at her. Then, ‘Did he kiss you?’ he said between his teeth. ‘No!’ she cried fiercely.
‘You swear it?’
She flashed a look at him.
But he had no mercy. ‘Why not?’ he persisted, moving a step nearer her. ’You were betrothed to him. You engaged yourself to him, ma’am. Why not?’
‘Because—I did not love him,’ she answered so faintly he scarcely heard.
He drew a deep breath. ‘May I kiss you?’ he said.
She looked long at him, her face quivering between tears and smiles, a great joy dawning in the depths of her eyes. ‘If my lord wills,’ she said at last, ’when I have done his bidding and—and changed—and dressed as—’
But he did not wait.
THE CLERK OF THE LEASES
When Sir George left the house, an hour later, it happened that the first person he met in the street was Mr. Fishwick. For a day or two after the conference at the Castle Inn the attorney had gone about, his ears on the stretch to catch the coming footstep. The air round him quivered with expectation. Something would happen. Sir George would do something. But with each day that passed eventless, the hope and expectation grew weaker; the care with which the attorney avoided his guest’s eyes, more marked; until by noon of this day he had made up his mind that if Sir George came at all, it would be as the wolf and not as the sheep-dog. While Julia, proud and mute, was resolving that if her lover came she would save him from himself by showing him how far he had to stoop, the attorney in the sourness of defeat and a barren prospect—for he scarcely knew which way to turn for a guinea—was resolving that the ewe-lamb must be guarded and all precautions taken to that end.
When he saw the gentleman issue from his door therefore, still more when Sir George with a kindly smile held out his hand, a condescension which the attorney could not remember that he had ever extended to him before, Mr. Fishwick’s prudence took fright. ‘Too much honoured, Sir George,’ he said, bowing low. Then stiffly, and looking from his visitor to the house and back again, ’But, pardon me, sir, if there is any matter of business, any offer to be made to my client, it were well, I think—if it were made through me.’