Lord Sherbrooke was absent for more than half an hour; and, during that half hour, Wilton and the lady had gone farther on the journey they were taking than ever they had gone yet.—What journey?
Cannot you divine, reader? When Wilton entered those gardens, we might boldly say, as we did say, that he was not in love. When he left them, we should have hesitated. He would have hesitated himself! Was not that going far upon a journey?
However, Lord Sherbrooke at length joined them; and after a moment more of cold and ceremonious leave-taking with Lady Laura, he turned, and, accompanied by Wilton, left the house.
Lady Laura remained upon the terrace, walking more rapidly than before, and with her eyes bent upon the ground. Two minutes brought Wilton to the gates of the court-yard; but oh, in those two minutes, how his heart smote him, and how his brain reeled!
“Shall I run for the horses, my lord?” cried the groom of the chambers—“Shall I go for the horses, my lord?” exclaimed one of the running footmen who was loitering in the hall.
“No,” said Lord Sherbrooke—“we will walk and fetch them,” and taking Wilton’s arm, he sauntered quietly on from the house.
“Sherbrooke, Sherbrooke, this is all very wrong,” said Wilton, the moment they were out of hearing.
“Very wrong, Solon!” exclaimed Lord Sherbrooke—“what do you mean? Heavens and earth, what a perverse generation it is! When I expected to be thanked over and over again for the kindest possible act, to be told that it is all very wrong! You ungrateful villain! I declare I have a great mind to turn round and draw my sword upon you, and cut your throat out of pure friendship. Very wrong, say you?”
“Ay, very wrong, Sherbrooke,” replied Wilton. “You have placed me in an unpleasant and dangerous situation, and without giving me notice or a choice, have made me co-operate in doing what I do not think right.”
“Pshaw!” cried Lord Sherbrooke—“Pshaw! At your heart, my dear Wilton, you are very much obliged to me; and if you are not the most ungrateful and the most foolish of all men upon earth, you will take the goods the gods provide you, and make the best use of time and opportunity.”
“All I can say, Sherbrooke,” replied Wilton, “is, that I shall never return to that house again, except for a formal visit to the Duke.”
“Fine resolutions speedily broken!” exclaimed Lord Sherbrooke: and he was right.
Had Wilton Brown wanted an immediate illustration of the fragile nature of man’s purposes, of how completely and thoroughly our firmest resolutions are the sport of fate and accident, it could have been furnished to him within five minutes after he left the gates of the house where he had paid an unintended visit.
Lord Sherbrooke seemed perfectly well acquainted with the house and its neighbourhood, and led the way round through a green lane at the back, which presently, in one of its most sequestered spots, offered to the eyes a somewhat large old-fashioned public-house, standing back in a small paved court: while planted before it, on the edge of the road, was a sign-post, bearing on its top the effigy of a huge green dragon.