“Oh, not for my sake! not for my sake!” said Lady Laura, in a low voice. “For Heaven’s sake, risk not your life for me!”
“Let us keep this deep window behind us,” said Wilton, speaking to his companion, “for that will give us some advantage, at all events. Draw a little behind us, dear Lady Laura. We will manage all things as gently as we can.”
“Let me speak to them, Wilton,” said the Lady Helen—“from one circumstance or another, I must know them almost all.”
As she spoke, the large heavy latch was lifted, and the door slowly and cautiously opened.
A pause of expectation, even if it be but for a minute, is sometimes the most painful thing in the world; and the heart of poor Laura at that moment, while the door was being slowly opened, and all their eyes were fixed eagerly upon it, felt as if the blood were stayed in it till it was nearly bursting. Wilton, who saw all that took place more calmly, judged by the careful opening of the door, that there was a good deal of timidity in the persons whom it hid from their view. But when it was at length opened, the sight that it presented was not well calculated to soothe any one’s alarm.
In the doorway itself were three well-armed men, with each his sword drawn in his hand, while behind these again were seen the faces of several more. The countenance of the first, Sir George Barkley, which we have already described, was certainly not very prepossessing, and to the eyes of Laura, there was not one who had not the countenance of an assassin. It was evident that Sir George Barkley expected to see a much more formidable array than that presented to him and his companions, in the persons of two ladies and two armed gentlemen, for his eyes turned quickly from the right to the left round the room, to assure himself that it contained no one else. There was a momentary pause at the door; but when it was clear that very little was to be apprehended, the troop poured in with much more hasty and confident steps than those with which they had first approached.
Two or three of Sir George Barkley’s party were advancing quickly to the spot where Wilton and the lady stood; but the young gentleman held up his right hand suddenly, putting his left upon one of the pistols which he carried, and saying, “Stand back, gentlemen! I do not permit men with swords drawn to come too close to me, till I know their purpose—Stand back, I say!” and he drew the pistol from his belt.
“We mean you no harm, sir,” said Sir George Barkley, pausing with the rest. “But we must know who you are, and what you are doing here, and that immediately.”
“Who I am, can be of no more consequence to you, sir,” replied Wilton, “than who you are is to me—which, by your good leave, I would a great deal rather not know, if you will suffer me to be ignorant thereof;—and as to what I am doing here, I do not see that I am bound to explain that to anybody but the master of the house, or to some person authorized by law to inquire into such particulars.”