As he sat there, tapping the hearth-rug with the toe of his thick riding-boot and moving his lips now and then in answer to some question from the young girl, I had time to examine his every feature. Line by line they reproduced my own—nay, looking straight into his eyes I could see through them into the soul of him and recognised that soul for my own. Of all the passions there I knew that myself contained the germs. Vices repressed in youth, tendencies to sin starved in my own nature by lack of opportunity—these flourished in a rank growth. I saw virtues, too, that I had once possessed but had lost by degrees in my respectable journey through life—courage, generosity, tenderness of heart. I was discovering these with envy, one by one, when he raised his head higher and listened for a moment, with a hand on either arm of the chair.
The next instant he sprang up and faced the door. Glancing at Cicely, I saw her cowering down in her chair.
The young Squire had hardly gained his feet when the door flew open and the figures of two men appeared on the threshold—Sir Felix Williams and his only son, the father and brother of Cicely.
There, in the doorway, the intruders halted; but for an instant only. Almost before the Squire could draw, his sweetheart’s brother had sprung forward. Like two serpents their rapiers engaged in the candle-light. The soundless blades crossed and glittered. Then one of them flickered in a narrow circle, and the brother’s rapier went spinning from his hand across the room.
Young Cardinnock lowered his point at once, and his adversary stepped back a couple of paces. While a man might count twenty the pair looked each other in the face, and then the old man, Sir Felix, stepped slowly forward.
But before he could thrust—for the young Squire still kept his point lowered—Cicely sprang forward and threw herself across her lover’s breast. There, for all the gentle efforts his left hand made to disengage her, she clung. She had made her choice. There was no sign of faltering in her soft eyes, and her father had perforce to hold his hand.
The old man began to speak. I saw his face distorted with passion and his lips working. I saw the deep red gather on Cicely’s cheeks and the anger in her lover’s eyes. There was a pause as Sir Felix ceased to speak, and then the young Squire replied. But his sentence stopped midway: for once more the old man rushed upon him.
This time young Cardinnock’s rapier was raised. Girdling Cicely with his left arm he parried her father’s lunge and smote his blade aside. But such was the old man’s passion that he followed the lunge with all his body, and before his opponent could prevent it, was wounded high in the chest, beneath the collar-bone.
He reeled back and fell against the table. Cicely ran forward and caught his hand; but he pushed her away savagely and, with another clutch at the table’s edge, dropped upon the hearth-rug. The young man, meanwhile, white and aghast, rushed to the table, filled a glass with wine, and held it to the lips of the wounded man. So the two lovers knelt.