“In case he should, I say,” continued Thames, “will you promise to let Jack Sheppard take my place in your affections, Winny?”
“Never!” replied the little damsel, “I can never love any one so much as you.”
“Excepting your father.”
Winifred was going to say “No,” but she checked herself; and, with cheeks mantling with blushes, murmured, “I wish you wouldn’t tease me about Jack Sheppard.”
The foregoing conversation, having been conducted throughout in a low tone, and apart, had not reached the ears of Mr. and Mrs. Wood, who were, furthermore, engaged in a little conjugal tete-a-tete of their own. The last observation, however, caught the attention of the carpenter’s wife.
“What’s that you’re saying about Jack Sheppard?” she cried.
“Thames was just observing—”
“Thames!” echoed Mrs. Wood, glancing angrily at her husband. “There’s another instance of your wilfulness and want of taste. Who but you would have dreamed of giving the boy such a name? Why, it’s the name of a river, not a Christian. No gentleman was ever called Thames, and Darrell is a gentleman, unless the whole story of his being found in the river is a fabrication!”
“My dear, you forget—”
“No, Mr. Wood, I forget nothing. I’ve an excellent memory, thank God! And I perfectly remember that everybody was drowned upon that occasion—except yourself and the child!”
“My love you’re beside yourself—”
“I was beside myself to take charge of your—”
“Mother?” interposed Winifred.
“It’s of no use,” observed Thames quietly, but with a look that chilled the little damsel’s heart;—“my resolution is taken.”
“You at least appear to forget that Mr. Kneebone is coming, my dear,” ventured Mr. Wood.
“Good gracious! so I do,” exclaimed his amiable consort. “But you do agitate me so much. Come into the parlour, Winifred, and dry your eyes directly, or I’ll send you to bed. Mr. Wood, I desire you’ll put on your best things, and join us as soon as possible. Thames, you needn’t tidy yourself, as you’ve hurt your arm. Mr. Kneebone will excuse you. Dear me! if there isn’t his knock. Oh! I’m in such a fluster!”
Upon which, she snatched up her fan, cast a look into the glass, smoothed down her scarf, threw a soft expression into her features, and led the way into the next room, whither she was followed by her daughter and Thames Darrell.
Mr. William Kneebone was a woollen-draper of “credit and renown,” whose place of business was held at the sign of the Angel (for, in those days, every shop had its sign), opposite Saint Clement’s church in the Strand. A native of Manchester, he was the son of Kenelm Kneebone, a staunch Catholic, and a sergeant of dragoons, who lost his legs and his life while fighting for James the Second at the battle of the Boyne, and who had little to bequeath his son except his laurels and his loyalty to the house of Stuart.