Was it he? If so, she would beg his pardon for thoughts which had accused him of cowardice. . . .
She could not wait for the truth. So much joy it would bring, or so deep anguish. She walked away blindly towards the fields, not once looking back.
“So there you’re hiding!” cried John Lambert triumphantly, saluting Nancy with a smacking kiss on either cheek, and in no way disconcerted by Emilia’s presence.
Nancy pushed him away, but half-heartedly.
“No, you mustn’t!” she protested, and her face grew suddenly tragic.
“Oh, I forgot for the moment!” John Lambert tried to look doleful. He was an energetic young land-surveyor, with tow-coloured hair and a face incurably jolly.
“You have heard, then?” asked Emilia.
“Why, bless you, your father was around to see me at eight o’clock yesterday morning, or some such hour. He must have saddled at once. He’s a stickler, is the Rector. ‘Young Mr. Lambert,’ says he, very formal, or some such words, ’I regret to say I must retract my permission that you should marry into my family, as doubtless you will wish to be released of your troth.’ ‘Hallo!’ says I, a bit surprised, but knowing his crotchets: ‘Why, what have I been doing?’ ‘Nothing,’ says he. ‘Then what has she been up to?’”—this with a wink at Emilia—“‘Nothing,’ says he again, and pours out the whole story, or so much of it as he knew and guessed, and winds up with ‘I release you,’ and a bow very formal and stiff. ’How about Miss Nancy?’ I asked; ‘does she release me too?’ ‘I haven’t asked her,’ he says, and goes on that he is not in the habit of being guided by his daughters. To which I replied: ’Well, I am—by one of ’em, anyhow—or hope to be. And, if you don’t mind, I’ll step round to-morrow at the hour she expects me. I’d do it this moment if I hadn’t a job at Bawtry. And I’m sorry for you, Rector,’ I said, ’but if you think it makes a penn’orth of difference to me apart from that, you’re mistaken.’ And so we parted.”
“Have you thought of the consequences?” Nancy demanded, tearful, but obviously worshipping this very ordinary young man.
“No, I haven’t.”
“She is back again.”
“Oh, is she? Then she found him out quick. Poor Hetty! She must be in a taking too!” His face expressed commiseration for a moment, but with an effort, and sprang back to jollity as a bow is released from its cord. “Curious, how quickly a bit of news like that gets about! I picked up with a man on the road—said his name was Wright and he comes from Lincoln—a decent fellow—tradesman—plumber, I think. At all events he knows a deal about you, and began, after a while, pumping me about your sister. I saw in a moment that he had heard something, and gave him precious little change for his money. Talked as if he knew more than I did, if only he cared to tell: but of course I didn’t encourage him.”