“Hush, hush!” Betty had been saying before the words were out of his “You are but a silly boy, begging your Honour’s pardon, though you speak, I know, with all your heart. What would your Lady mother say or do to my poor little sister if she heard you?”
“She could but send her home, and then flood and fire could not hold me from her.”
“I wish that were the worst she could do. No, Sir Amyas Belamour, if you have any kindness for the poor helpless girl under your mother’s roof, you will make no advance to excite alarm or anger against her. Remember it is she who will be the sufferer and not yourself. The woman, however guiltless, is sure to fall under suspicion and bear the whole penalty. And oh! what would become of her, defenceless, simple, unprotected as she is?”
“Yet you sent her!” said he.
“Yes,” said Betty, sadly, “because there was no other choice between breaking with my Lady altogether.”
He made an ejaculation under his breath, half sad, half violent, and exclaimed, “Would that I were of age, or my father were returned.”
“But now you know all, you will leave my child in peace,” said Betty.
“What, you would give me no hope!”
“Only such as you yourself have held out,” said Betty. “When you are your own master, if you keep in the same mind till then, and remain truly worthy, I cannot tell what my father would answer.”
“I am going to speak to him this very day. I came with that intent.”
“Do no such thing, I entreat,” cried Betty. “He would immediately think it his duty to inform my Lady. Then no protestation would persuade her that we had not entrapped your youth and innocence. His grey head would be driven out without shelter, and what might not be the consequence to my sister? You could not help us, and could only make it worse. No, do nothing rash, incautious, or above all, disobedient. It would be self-love, not true love that would risk bringing her into peril and trouble when she is far out of reach of all protection.”
“Trust me, trust me, Cousin Betty,” cried the youth. “Only let me hope, and I’ll be caution itself; but oh! what an endless eternity is two years to wait without a sign!”
But here appeared the Major, accompanied by Captain Herries and Dean Churchill, who had ordered out his coach, Sunday though it were, to pay his respects to my Lady’s son, and carry him and his hosts back to sup at the Deanery. It was an age of adulation, but Betty was thankful that perilous conversations were staved off.
By the simplicity of Venus’
Merchant of Venice.
That Sunday was spent by Aurelia at the Bear Inn, at Reading. Her journey had been made by very short stages, one before breakfast, another lasting till noon, when there was a long halt for dinner and rest for horse and rider, and then another ride, never even in these longest summer days prolonged beyond six or seven o’clock at latest, such was the danger of highwaymen being attracted by the valuable horses, although the grooms in charge were so well armed that they might almost as well have been troopers.