'You have always loved me, have you not!'
'Loved you, child! You may be sure I have.'
'I am sure. And I may trust you, may I not? There is no one else just now, in whom I CAN trust.'
'Yes,' said Clemency, with all her heart.
'There is some one out there,' pointing to the door, 'whom I must see, and speak with, to-night. Michael Warden, for God's sake retire! Not now!'
Clemency started with surprise and trouble as, following the direction of the speaker's eyes, she saw a dark figure standing in the doorway.
'In another moment you may be discovered,' said Marion. 'Not now! Wait, if you can, in some concealment. I will come presently.'
He waved his hand to her, and was gone. 'Don't go to bed. Wait here for me!' said Marion, hurriedly. 'I have been seeking to speak to you for an hour past. Oh, be true to me!'
Eagerly seizing her bewildered hand, and pressing it with both her own to her breast - an action more expressive, in its passion of entreaty, than the most eloquent appeal in words, - Marion withdrew; as the light of the returning lantern flashed into the room.
'All still and peaceable. Nobody there. Fancy, I suppose,' said Mr. Britain, as he locked and barred the door. 'One of the effects of having a lively imagination. Halloa! Why, what's the matter?'
Clemency, who could not conceal the effects of her surprise and concern, was sitting in a chair: pale, and trembling from head to foot.
'Matter!' she repeated, chafing her hands and elbows, nervously, and looking anywhere but at him. 'That's good in you, Britain, that is! After going and frightening one out of one's life with noises and lanterns, and I don't know what all. Matter! Oh, yes!'
'If you're frightened out of your life by a lantern, Clemmy,' said Mr. Britain, composedly blowing it out and hanging it up again, 'that apparition's very soon got rid of. But you're as bold as brass in general,' he said, stopping to observe her; 'and were, after the noise and the lantern too. What have you taken into your head? Not an idea, eh?'
But, as Clemency bade him good night very much after her usual fashion, and began to bustle about with a show of going to bed herself immediately, Little Britain, after giving utterance to the original remark that it was impossible to account for a woman's whims, bade her good night in return, and taking up his candle strolled drowsily away to bed.
When all was quiet, Marion returned.
'Open the door,' she said; 'and stand there close beside me, while I speak to him, outside.'
Timid as her manner was, it still evinced a resolute and settled purpose, such as Clemency could not resist. She softly unbarred the door: but before turning the key, looked round on the young creature waiting to issue forth when she should open it.
The face was not averted or cast down, but looking full upon her, in its pride of youth and beauty. Some simple sense of the slightness of the barrier that interposed itself between the happy home and honoured love of the fair girl, and what might be the desolation of that home, and shipwreck of its dearest treasure, smote so keenly on the tender heart of Clemency, and so filled it to overflowing with sorrow and compassion, that, bursting into tears, she threw her arms round Marion's neck.
'It's little that I know, my dear,' cried Clemency, 'very little; but I know that this should not be. Think of what you do!'
'I have thought of it many times,' said Marion, gently.
'Once more,' urged Clemency. 'Till to-morrow.' Marion shook her head.
'For Mr. Alfred's sake,' said Clemency, with homely earnestness. 'Him that you used to love so dearly, once!'
She hid her face, upon the instant, in her hands, repeating 'Once!' as if it rent her heart.
'Let me go out,' said Clemency, soothing her. 'I'll tell him what you like. Don't cross the door-step to-night. I'm sure no good will come of it. Oh, it was an unhappy day when Mr. Warden was ever brought here! Think of your good father, darling - of your sister.'
'I have,' said Marion, hastily raising her head.