“You mistake me, madam,” answered the dancer, “though I would such a rapid promotion were a possibility.”
The interloper made a startled step backward. “I have watched you for a quarter hour,” she exclaimed, as she turned away, “and would have sworn to your figure.”
“’T is wonderful,” remarked Janice, “how deceiving a domino can be.”
The dance ended, her partner said: “Miss Meredith, I have something to say to you of deepest consequence. Will you not come away from this crowd?”
“Ah, Sir Frederick,” pleaded the girl, “do not recur to it again. Though you importune me for a day, I could but make the same reply.”
“Sir Frederick passes his word that he will not tease you on that subject to-night; but speak I must concerning this match with Lord Clowes.”
“’T is in vain, sir,” replied Janice; “for every moment convinces me the more that I must wed him, and so you will but make my duty the harder.”
“I beg you to give me a word apart, for I have a message to you from Colonel Brereton.”
Janice’s hand dropped from the officer’s arm. “What is it?” she asked.
“’T is not to be given here,” urged the man. “I pray you to let me order your equipage and take you away. Another dance will be beginning on the moment, and some one will claim you.”
The girl raised her hand and once more placed it on her partner’s arm; taking the motion as a consent to his wishes, the officer led her to the doorway.
“Call Miss Meredith’s chair,” he ordered of the guard grouped about the outer door, and in a moment was able to hand her into the vehicle.
“Where to?” he asked. “I mean—Home!” he cried, in a far louder voice, as if to drown the slip, at the same moment jumping in and taking his seat beside her.
As he did so, the girl shrank away from him toward her corner of the gig. “Who are you?” she cried in a frightened voice.
“Who should I be but John Brereton?”
“Are you mad,” cried the girl, “to thus venture within the lines?”
“The news which brought me was enough to make me so,” answered Jack. “You cannot know what you are doing that you so much as think of marrying that scum. For years he has been nothing but a spy and mackerel, willing to do the dirtiest work, and the scorn of every decent man in London, as here. Are you, are your father and mother, are your friends, all Bedlam-crazed that you even consider it?”
“’T is as horrible to me as it is to you,” moaned Janice; “but it seems the only thing possible. Oh, Colonel Brereton, if you but knew our straits,—dependent for all we have, and with a future still more desperate,—you would not blame me for anything I am doing.” The girl broke into sobs as she ended, and turning from him leaned her head against the leathern curtain, where she wept, regardless of the fact that the aide possessed himself of her hand, and tried to comfort her, until the chaise drew up at its destination. Lifting rather than helping her from the carriage, Jack supported the maiden up the steps and into the hallway; but no sooner were they there than she freed herself from his supporting arm and exclaimed, “You must not stay here. Any instant you might be discovered.”