“It’s strange you should like Jack so much dear Thames. He doesn’t resemble you at all.”
“The very reason why I like him, Winny. If he did resemble me, I shouldn’t care about him. And, whatever you may think, I assure you, Jack’s a downright good-natured fellow.”
Good-natured fellows are always especial favourites with boys. And, in applying the term to his friend, Thames meant to pay him a high compliment. And so Winifred understood him.
“Well,” she said, in reply, “I may have done Jack an injustice. I’ll try to think better of him in future.”
“And, if you want an additional inducement to do so, I can tell you there’s no one—not even his mother—whom he loves so well as you.”
“Loves!” echoed Winifred, slightly colouring.
“Yes, loves, Winny. Poor fellow! he sometimes indulges the hope of marrying you, when he grows old enough.”
“Have I said anything to offend you?”
“Oh! no. But if you wouldn’t have me positively dislike Jack Sheppard, you’ll never mention such a subject again. Besides,” she added, blushing yet more deeply, “it isn’t a proper one to talk upon.”
“Well then, to change it,” replied Thames, gravely, “suppose I should be obliged to leave you.”
Winifred looked as if she could not indulge such a supposition for a single moment.
“Surely,” she said, after a pause, “you don’t attach any importance to what my mother has just said. She has already forgotten it.”
“But I never can forget it, Winny. I will no longer be a burthen to those upon whom I have no claim, but compassion.”
As he said this, in a low and mournful, but firm voice, the tears gathered thickly in Winifred’s dark eyelashes.
“If you are in earnest, Thames,” she replied, with a look of gentle reproach, “you are very foolish; and, if in jest, very cruel. My mother, I’m sure, didn’t intend to hurt your feelings. She loves you too well for that. And I’ll answer for it, she’ll never say a syllable to annoy you again.”
Thames tried to answer her, but his voice failed him.
“Come! I see the storm has blown over,” cried Winifred, brightening up.
“You’re mistaken, Winny. Nothing can alter my determination. I shall quit this roof to-morrow.”
The little girl’s countenance fell.
“Do nothing without consulting my father—your father, Thames,” she implored. “Promise me that.”
“Willingly. And what’s more, I promise to abide by his decision.”
“Then, I’m quite easy,” cried Winifred, joyfully.
“I’m sure he won’t attempt to prevent me,” rejoined Thames.
The slight smile that played upon Winifred’s lips seemed to say that she was not quite so sure. But she made no answer.
“In case he should consent—”
“He never will,” interrupted Winifred.