“Nay, Clowes, he’s no intriguer against my lass, that I am bound to say. ’T was only this morning, the moment he had news of Hennion’s death, he came to me like a man, to ask permission to address her.”
“Ho, he’s deeper bitten by her charms than I thought! retorted the suitor. “Or, on second thought, more like ’t is a last desperate leap to save himself from ruin. Let me warn ye that he has enough paper out to beggar him thrice over, and ’t is only a question of time ere his creditors come down on him and force him to sell his commission; after which he must sink into beggary.”
“I sorrow to hear it. He ’s a likely lad, and has kindly stood us in stead more than once.”
“And just because of his taking parts, he is likely to keep your girl’s heart in a state of incertitude, for ’t is only mortal for eighteen to fancy twenty more than forty-four. Therefore, unless ye want a gambling bankrupt for a son-in-law, give him his marching orders.”
“I’ll not do that after his kindness to my wife and child; but I’ll take good care to warn Janice.”
“Look that ye don’t only make him the more interesting to her. Girls of her age think little of where the next meal is to come from, and dote on the young prodigal.”
“Have no fear on that score,” replied the father.
On the morning following this conversation Janice was stopped by the commissary as she was passing his office. “Will ye give me the honour of your presence within for a moment?” he requested. “I have something of import to say to ye.”
With a little trepidation the girl entered, and took the seat he placed for her.
Taking a standing position at a respectful distance, Lord Clowes without circumlocution plunged at once into the object of the interview. “That I have long wished ye for my wife, Miss Meredith,” he said with frank bluffness, “is scarce worth repeating. That in one or two instances I have given ye cause to blame or doubt me, I am full conscious; ’t is not in man, I fear, to love such beauty, grace, and elegance, and keep his blood ever within bounds. ’T was this led me to suggest our elopement, and to my effort to bind ye to the troth. In both of these I erred, and now crave a pardon. Ye can scarce hold me guilty that my love made me hot for the quickest marriage I could compass, or that, believing ye in honour pledged to me, I should seek to assure myself of the plight from your own lips, ungenerous though it was at the moment. It has since been my endeavour to show that I regretted my impulsive persecution, and I trust that my long forbearance and self-effacement have proved to ye that your comfort and happiness are the first object of my heart.”
“You have been very good to us all,” answered Janice, “and I would that I were able to repay in full measure all we owe to you. But—”
“Ye can, and by one word,” interjected the suitor.
“But, Lord Clowes,” she continued, with a voice that trembled a little, “I cannot yield to thy wish. Censurable I know myself to be—and no one can upbraid me more than I upbraid myself—yet between the two wrongs I must choose, and ’t is better for both of us that I break the implied promise, entered into at a moment when I was scarce myself than to make a new one which I know to be false from the beginning, and impossible to fulfil.”