’Oh, Jocelyn, my darling, are you quite sure that you are unhurt? Miss Gillespie says you were only frightened and a little bruised; but I wanted to see for myself. Mr. Tudor will not let us thank him, but we shall be grateful to him all our lives, my pet. What would your poor father and I have done without you?’
Jill hid her face like a baby on her mother’s bosom: she was crying quietly. Her interview with Mr. Tudor had certainly upset her. Uncle Brian put his hand in her rough locks. ’Never mind, my little girl: it is now over; you must go to bed and forget it,’—which was certainly very good advice. I coaxed Aunt Philippa to let her go, and promised to remain with her until she was asleep. She was very quiet, and hardly said a word as I helped her to undress, but as I sat down by the bedside she drew my head down beside hers on the pillow.
’Don’t think I am not grateful because I do not talk about it, Ursie dear,’ she whispered. ’I hope to be better all my life for what has happened to-night.’ But as Jill lay, with wide, solemn eyes, in the moonlight, I wondered what thoughts were coursing through her mind. Was she looking upon her life preserved as a life dedicated, regarding herself as set apart for higher work and nobler uses? or was her gratitude to her young preserver mixed with deeper and more mysterious feelings? I could not tell, but from that night I noticed a regular change in Jill: she became less girlish and fanciful, a new sort of womanliness developed itself, her high spirits were tempered with softness. Uncle Brian was right when he said a few days afterwards ‘that his little girl was growing a woman.’
My conscience felt decidedly uneasy that night: in spite of all argument to the contrary, I could not shake off the conviction that it was my duty to speak to Aunt Philippa. I ought to warn her of the growing intimacy between the young people. She and Uncle Brian ought to know that Mr. Tudor was not quite so harmless as he looked.
It made me very unhappy to act the traitor to this honest, simple young fellow. I would rather have taken his hand and bidden him God-speed with his wooing. If I had been Uncle Brian I would have welcomed him heartily as a suitor for Jill. True, she was absurdly young,—only sixteen,—but I would have said to him, ’If you are in earnest, if you really love this girl, and are willing to wait for her, go about your business for three years, and then come and try your chance with her. If she likes you she shall have you. I am quite aware you are poor,—that you are a curate on a hundred and fifty a year; but you are well connected and a gentleman, and as guileless as a young Nathaniel. I could not desire a better husband for my daughter.’
But it was not likely that Uncle Brian would be so quixotic. And I knew that Aunt Philippa was rather ambitious for her children, and it had been a great disappointment to her that Sara had refused a young baronet. So it was with the guilty feelings of a culprit that I entered the morning-room the next morning and asked Aunt Philippa if I might have a few minutes’ conversation with her.