Neil Gordon had stepped from behind the trees and stood confronting him, with blazing eyes, and lips which writhed in emotion so great that at first it prevented him from speaking.
With a thrill of dismay Eric instantly understood what must have taken place. Neil had discovered that he and Kilmeny had been meeting in the orchard, and beyond doubt had carried that tale to Janet and Thomas Gordon. He realized how unfortunate it was that this should have happened before he had had time to make his own explanation. It would probably prejudice Kilmeny’s guardians still further against him. At this point in his thoughts Neil’s pent up passion suddenly found vent in a burst of wild words.
“So you’ve come to meet her again. But she isn’t here—you’ll never see her again! I hate you—I hate you—I hate you!”
His voice rose to a shrill scream. He took a furious step nearer Eric as if he would attack him. Eric looked steadily in his eyes with a calm defiance, before which his wild passion broke like foam on a rock.
“So you have been making trouble for Kilmeny, Neil, have you?” said Eric contemptuously. “I suppose you have been playing the spy. And I suppose that you have told her uncle and aunt that she has been meeting me here. Well, you have saved me the trouble of doing it, that is all. I was going to tell them myself, tonight. I don’t know what your motive in doing this has been. Was it jealousy of me? Or have you done it out of malice to Kilmeny?”
His contempt cowed Neil more effectually than any display of anger could have done.
“Never you mind why I did it,” he muttered sullenly. “What I did or why I did it is no business of yours. And you have no business to come sneaking around here either. Kilmeny won’t meet you here again.”
“She will meet me in her own home then,” said Eric sternly. “Neil, in behaving as you have done you have shown yourself to be a very foolish, undisciplined boy. I am going straightway to Kilmeny’s uncle and aunt to explain everything.”
Neil sprang forward in his path.
“No—no—go away,” he implored wildly. “Oh, sir—oh, Mr. Marshall, please go away. I’ll do anything for you if you will. I love Kilmeny. I’ve loved her all my life. I’d give my life for her. I can’t have you coming here to steal her from me. If you do—I’ll kill you! I wanted to kill you last night when I saw you kiss her. Oh, yes, I saw you. I was watching—spying, if you like. I don’t care what you call it. I had followed her—I suspected something. She was so different—so changed. She never would wear the flowers I picked for her any more. She seemed to forget I was there. I knew something had come between us. And it was you, curse you! Oh, I’ll make you sorry for it.”
He was working himself up into a fury again—the untamed fury of the Italian peasant thwarted in his heart’s desire. It overrode all the restraint of his training and environment. Eric, amid all his anger and annoyance, felt a thrill of pity for him. Neil Gordon was only a boy still; and he was miserable and beside himself.