’I was engaged to be married to Mr. Bartholomew Miller. That’s what it is! I would have let ’ee know by letter, but there was no time, only hearing from ’ee this afternoon . . . You won’t desert me for it, will you, John? Because, as you know, I quite supposed you dead, and—and—’ Her eyes were full of tears of trepidation, and he might have felt a sob heaving within her.
The soldier was silent during two or three double bars of the tune. ’When were you to have been married to the said Mr. Bartholomew Miller?’ he inquired.
’Next week—O yes—just the same as it was with you and me. There’s a strange fate of interruption hanging over me, I sometimes think! He had bought the licence, which I preferred so that it mightn’t be like—ours. But it made no difference to the fate of it.’
‘Had bought the licence! The devil!’
‘Don’t be angry, dear John. I didn’t know!’
‘No, no, I’m not angry.’
‘It was so kind of him, considering!’
’Yes . . . I see, of course, how natural your action was—never thinking of seeing me any more! Is it the Mr. Miller who is in this dance?’
Clark glanced round upon Bartholomew and was silent again, for some little while, and she stole a look at him, to find that he seemed changed. ‘John, you look ill!’ she almost sobbed. ‘’Tisn’t me, is it?’
’O dear, no. Though I hadn’t, somehow, expected it. I can’t find fault with you for a moment—and I don’t . . . This is a deuce of a long dance, don’t you think? We’ve been at it twenty minutes if a second, and the figure doesn’t allow one much rest. I’m quite out of breath.’
’They like them so dreadfully long here. Shall we drop out? Or I’ll stop the fiddler.’
’O no, no, I think I can finish. But although I look healthy enough I have never been so strong as I formerly was, since that long illness I had in the hospital at Scutari.’
‘And I knew nothing about it!’
’You couldn’t, dear, as I didn’t write. What a fool I have been altogether!’ He gave a twitch, as of one in pain. ’I won’t dance again when this one is over. The fact is I have travelled a long way to-day, and it seems to have knocked me up a bit.’
There could be no doubt that the sergeant-major was unwell, and Selina made herself miserable by still believing that her story was the cause of his ailment. Suddenly he said in a changed voice, and she perceived that he was paler than ever: ‘I must sit down.’
Letting go her waist he went quickly to the other room. She followed, and found him in the nearest chair, his face bent down upon his hands and arms, which were resting on the table.
‘What’s the matter?’ said her father, who sat there dozing by the fire.
’John isn’t well . . . We are going to New Zealand when we are married, father. A lovely country! John, would you like something to drink?’