“Why should he insult me?” protested Janice, proudly, but still colouring at the possibility.
“Ye do right to suppose it unlikely. Yet ’t is so, and while I can hardly hope that my word will be taken for it, his lies to us a moment since prove that he is capable of any untruth.”
Evatt spoke with such honesty of manner, and with such an apparent lack of motive for inventing a tale, that Janice became doubtful. “He could n’t insult me,” she said, “for I—I have n’t done anything.”
“’T is certain that he did. Had I but known ye at the time, Miss Janice, he should have been made to swallow his coarse insult. ’T was for that I sought him this morning. Had ye not interrupted us, ’t would have fared badly for him.”
“You were very kind,” said Janice, dolefully, beginning, more from his manner than his words, to believe Evatt. “I did n’t know there were such bad men in the world. And for him to say it at the tavern, where ’t will be all over the county in no time! Was it very bad?”
“No one would believe a redemptioner,” replied Evatt. “Yet had I the right—”
“Marse Meredith send me to tell youse come to breakfast,” interrupted Peg from the gateway in the box.
“Why!” exclaimed the girl. “It can’t be seven.”
“The squire ordered it early, that I might be in the saddle betimes,” explained Evatt, and then as the girl started toward the house, he checked the movement by taking her hand. “Miss Janice,” he said, “in a half-hour I shall ride away—not because ’t is my wish, but because I’m engaged in an important and perilous mission—a mission—can ye keep a secret—even from—from your father and mother?”
Janice was too young and inexperienced to know that a secret is of all things the most to be avoided, and though her little hand, in her woman’s intuition that all was not right, tried feebly to free itself, she none the less answered eagerly if half-doubtfully, “Yes.”
“I am sent here under an assumed name—by His Majesty. Ye—I was indiscreet enough with ye, to tell—to show that I was other than what I pretend to be, but I felt then and now that I could trust ye. Ye will keep secret all I say?”
Again Janice, with her eyes on the ground, said, “Yes.”
“I must do the king’s work, and when ’t is done I return to England and resume my true position, and ye will never again hear of me—unless—” The man paused, with his eyes fixed on the downcast face of the girl.
“Unless?” asked Janice, when the silence became more embarrassing than to speak.
“Unless ye—unless ye give me the hope that by first returning here—as your father has asked me to do—that I may—may perhaps carry ye away with me. Ah, Miss Janice, ’t is an outrage to keep such beauty hidden in the wilds of America, when it might be the glory of the court and the toast of the town.”
Again a silence ensued, fairly agonising to the bewildered and embarrassed girl, which lengthened, it seemed to her, into hours, as she vainly sought for some words that she might speak.