“I needed this,” he began, “to prove to me that you were not a witch, as well as a bewitcher, for, verily, I had begun to think that by some black art ye flew out of your window at will. Nay,” he protested, as Janice, closing her book, rose, “call ye this fair treatment, Miss Meredith? Surely, if ye have no gratitude yourself, ye should at least remember what I am doing for your father and mother, and not seek to shun me as if I were the plague, rather than a man nigh mad with love for ye.”
“’T is that very fact, Lord Clowes,” replied Janice, gravely, “which has forced avoidance of you upon me. Surely you must understand that, promised now as I am to another, both by my father’s word and by my own, your suit cannot fail to distress me?”
“Is ’t possible that, to please others, thee intends, then, to force thyself to marry this long-legged dragoon?” protested Clowes. “Hast thy father not told thee of thy own loss of Greenwood and of his undoubted loss of Boxely?”
“Our loss of property, my Lord, but makes it all the more important that we save our good name; and if our change of circumstance does not alter Major Hennion’s wishes, as I am certain it will not, we shall keep faith with him.”
“Even though Lord Clowes offers ye position, wealth, and a home for your parents, not a one of which he can give?”
“Were I not promised, Lord Clowes, nothing could induce me to marry you.”
“Why not?” questioned the baron, warmly.
“Methinks, if you but search the past, sir, you cannot for an instant be in doubt. Obligations you have heaped upon us at moments, for every one of which I thank you, but never could I bring myself to feel respect, far less affection for you.”
The commissary, with knitted brows, started to speak, but checked himself and took half a dozen strides. Returning, he said:—
“Miss Meredith, ’t is not just to judge the future by the past. Can ye not understand that what I did in Philadelphia, ay, every act of mine at which ye could take offence in our whole acquaintance, has been done on heated impulse? If ye but knew a man’s feelings when he loves as I love, and finds no response to his passion in the object of it, ye would pardon my every act.”
“’T is not alone your conduct to us, Lord Clowes, but as well that to others which has confirmed me in my conviction.”
“Ye would charge me with—”
“’T is not I alone, my Lord, that you have deceived or injured, and you cannot plead for those the excuse you plead to me.”
“’T is the circumstances of my parole of which ye speak?” demanded the baron.
“Of that and other things which have come to my knowledge.”