“I trust your grace does not suspect me of treachery,” he said, in a sharp and offended tone.
“Not in the least, not in the least, my lord,” replied the Duke; “but I understood your lordship to say, that my escape by the means proposed would be rendered quite certain, and I wish to ascertain whether I had not mistaken you.”
“Not in the slightest degree, my lord duke,” replied the Earl. “I pledge you my honour, that under the proposed arrangements you shall be beyond the doors of this prison, and at perfect liberty, before the dawn of day on Monday morning. I pledge myself to you in every respect, and if it be not so, I will be ready to take your place. Does this satisfy you?”
“Quite, quite,” answered the Duke. “I could desire nothing more.” And the Earl, with a formal bow, opened the door and left him.
As soon as the Earl of Byerdale was gone, the Duke called Laura from her room, and told her what had been proposed. “Laura,” he said, as he concluded, “you do not answer me: but I took upon me to reply at once, that you would be well pleased to lay aside pride and every other feeling of the kind, to save your father from this torturing suspense—to save perhaps his life itself.”
Laura’s cheeks had not regained their natural colour since the first words respecting such a sudden marriage were spoken to her. That her father had consented to her union with Wilton was of course most joyful; but the early period fixed for such an important, such an overwhelming change in her condition, was startling; and to think that Wilton could have made it the condition of his using all his exertions in her father’s cause would have been painful—terrible, if she could have believed it. We must not, indeed, say, that even if it had been really so, she would have hesitated to give him her hand, not only for her father’s sake, but because she loved him, because, as we have said before, she already looked upon herself as plighted to him beyond all recall. She would have tried to fancy that he had good motives which she did not know; she would have tried, in short, to find any palliation for such conduct; but still it would have been very painful to her—still it might, in a degree, have shaken her confidence in high and upright generosity of feeling, it might have made her doubt whether, in all respects, she had found a heart perfectly responsive to her own.
“My dear father,” she replied, gazing tenderly upon him, and laying her two hands on his, with a faint smile, “what is there that I would not do for such objects as you mention, were it ten thousand times more than marrying the man I love best, even with such terrible suddenness.—It is very sudden, indeed, I must say; and I do wonder that Wilton required it.”
“Why, my dear Laura,” replied the Duke, “it was not exactly Wilton himself. It was Lord Byerdale took it all on his own shoulders: but of course Wilton prompted it; and in such circumstances as these I could not hesitate to consent.”