“Of the old promise we will say naught, Miss Meredith,” replied the baron. “If your sense of right and wrong absolve ye, Baron Clowes is not the man to insist upon it. But there is still a future that ye must not overlook. ’T will be years, if ever, ere ye once again enjoy your property, and though this appointment—which is like to prove dear-bought—for the moment enables ye to face the world, it is but a short-lived dependence. To ye I will confide what is as yet known to but a half-dozen: his Majesty has accepted Sir William resignation, and he leaves us so soon as Sir Henry Clinton arrives. The new commander will have his own set of hungry hangers-on to provide with places, and your father’s days will be numbered. In my own help I shall be as unstinting as in the past, but it is quite on the cards that I, too, lose my appointment, in which case I shall return to England. Would not a marriage with me make—”
“But I love you not,” broke in Janice.
“Ye have fallen in love with that—”
“I love no one, Lord Clowes; and indeed begin to fear that I was born without a heart.”
“Then your objection is that of a very young girl who knows nothing of the world. Miss Meredith, the women who marry for love are rare indeed, and but few of them fail of a bitter disappointment. I cannot hope that my arguments will convince ye of this, but counsel with your parents, and ye’ll find they bear me out. On the one side stands eventual penury and perhaps violence for ye all; on the other, marriage with a man who, whatever his faults, loves ye hotly, who will give ye a title and wealth, and who will see to it that your parents want for nothing. ’T is an alternative that few women would hesitate over, but I ask no answer now, and would rather that ye give none till ye have taken consideration upon it.”
Janice rose. “I—I will talk with dadda and mommy,” she said, “and learn their wishes.” But even as she spoke the words a slight shiver unsteadied her voice.
After Janice left him the commissary-general mounted a horse, and, riding to the Franklin house, asked for Captain Mobray. “I have called, sir,” he announced, as the baronet entered the room, “on two matters—”
“Have they to do with the service, my Lord?” interrupted Mobray; “for otherwise I must decline—”
“First,” the caller went on unheedingly, “a number of past-due bills of yours have come into my possession in exchange for special victuals or stores, and I wish to learn your intention concerning them.”
“I—In truth—I—” haltingly began Sir Frederick, his face losing colour as he spoke. “I have had the devil’s turn of luck of late, and—and I am not in a position to take them up at the moment. I trust that you’ll give me time, and not press me too harshly.”
With a smile that expressed irony qualified by enjoyment, the creditor replied: “’T is a pleasure to aid a man to whom I am indebted for so much courtesy.”