“I do,” replied Nevill, trying to speak pleasantly.
“How will you explain the deception—the fact that you have been coming here under a false name?”
“I will get around that all right. It was your suggestion, you remember, not mine, that I should take the name of Royle. Look here, Foster, I know there is some reason in what you say—I respect your motives. But you misunderstand and misjudge me. I love the girl with all my heart, with a true, pure and lasting affection. I might choose a wife in higher places, but Madge has enslaved me with her sweet face and charming disposition. As for our relations—you know what poverty drove me to. Given a secure income, and I should never have stooped to dishonor. The need of money stifled the best that was in my nature. It is not too late to reform, though. I don’t mean now, but when I come into my uncle’s fortune, which is a sure thing. Then, I promise you, I will be as straight as you could wish your daughter’s husband to be. Believe me, I am sincere. No man could offer Madge a deeper affection.”
There was no doubt that Victor Nevill spoke the truth, for once in his life; he loved Madge with a passion that dominated him, and he knew his own unworthiness. Stephen Foster paced the floor with a haggard face, with knitted brows.
“It is impossible,” he said to himself. “I would rather see her married to some poor but honest clerk.” He lighted a cigar and bit it savagely. “What if I refuse?” he added aloud.
A dangerous light flashed in Nevill’s eyes.
“I won’t give her up,” he replied; and in the words there was a hidden menace which Stephen Foster understood.
“Give her up?” he echoed. “You have not won her yet.”
“I know that, but I hope to succeed.”
“What do you expect me to do?”
“All in your power. Give me a fair show.”
“The girl shan’t be bullied or browbeaten—I won’t force her into such a step against her wishes. If she marries you, it will be of her own free will.”
“That’s fair enough. But I want an open field. You must keep other admirers away from the girl, and there isn’t any time to lose about it. It may be too late now—”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean that Madge has improved her acquaintance with the chap who pulled her out of the river a couple of weeks ago.”
“It is perfectly true. And do you know who the man is? It is none other than Jack Vernon, the artist.”
“By heavens, Jack Vernon! The same who—”
“Yes, the same. I did not tell you before.”
“And I did not dream of it. I wrote a letter of gratitude to the fellow, and told Madge to get his address from the landlord of the Black Bull—I did not know it myself, else—”
“I was afraid you might have some scruples. It is too late for that now.”
“It was like your cursed cunning,” exclaimed Stephen Foster. “Yes, I should have hesitated. But are you certain that Madge has seen the fellow since?”