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WHAT THE AUTHOR SAYS.
As the young man opens the library door a rush of cold air meets him; it is a bitter frost, black and pinching, yet one of the wide sash windows is thrown high up, and she whom he seeks is leaning out into the hard dull air. Her elbows rest on the sill; her dark, winter dress hangs in heavy, close folds about her, and her bright blonde head leans languidly against the window frame. The blotting-book is unopened, nor is any pen dipped in the ink. Lenore's correspondence will keep, apparently. Hearing the noise he makes in entering she raises herself quickly, as one ashamed of her listless attitude, and they stand face to face.
"You sent for me," says Scrope-abruptly, without any preliminary hand-shakings, or “How do you do?"_" and I am come.'
She nods familiarly to him, and smiles a little. “I knew you would.”
“I was not in London ; your letter followed me to the South of Ireland—the instant I got it I set off—I have been travelling night and day ever since. More fool I, you will say probably.”
Again she smiles, coldly and sweetly. “Since you have said it, I need not.”
“And now that I am here,” he says, brusquely, “what do you want with me? Tell me quickly.”
Instead of complying, she turns her head round again, and looks out at the frosty black trees, while her fingers play little tunes on the sill.
Tell me,” he says, coming nearer to her, and breathing quick and hard. “What? You will not speak? I know you—you would keep me on the rack a year, if you could. Why did you write and say, 'Come back.' It was for no good, I'll be sworn, or it would not be
who did it, whatever it was. Speak out, and put me out of my misery.”
Then she speaks, but her words, at first sight, seem to have but small connection with his questions :
“ Have you been in the drawing-room ?" she asks, while the cold wind blows in on her cheek, and puts no additional colour into it. “ Have you heard Bobby say his hymn ?—such a pretty one! Yes” (putting her finger on her forehead) “this is it:
· Now if I fight
Where I shall go.'
“ What are you talking about ?” he says, looking at her in half scared amazement; “are you mad?” She stops laughing.
“Last time we met,” she says, gravely, “at the ball, don't you know?-how I hate balls !—I have an idea that I fought and scratched and bit; at least I know I
'In passions fell
And bad names calledI called you a great many ugly names, and you did not like it; you were very angry. Well, I have sent for you all this way, just to say that-that-I am sorry."
“What !” cries the young man, breaking into ungovernable fury, “is this the fool's errand you have sent for me on ?-to laugh in my face, and quote an idiotic nursery rhyme to me? By God, Lenore, it is too bad! For the last seven-eight months I have been your butt, a football for you to kick about; but I tell you I am sick of the part. I throw it up! Find some one else to take it, if you
can.” He turns toward the door; his broad chest is heaving; his strong hands are clenched ; his deep blue eyes flash and darken with uncontrolled anger—a passion much more becoming to men's hard faces than soft and sawny love.
“Stay!" she cries, rising hastily, and putting her back against the door to prevent his egress; "sit down, and, whatever you say, speak lower, for I have no special desire to be overheard. I had another reason for sending for you; but—but-I am ashamed to tell it you."
“ What is it?"
Big, upstanding, and exasperated, he does not look a man to be trifled with ; but, after all, a man may not knock a woman down, so she may shoot all her little arrows at him with a smile and a quiet mind, and fear nothing. Her eyes drop to the carpet at her feet, and a colour burns like fire on her cheeks.
“I sent for you to-to-to--ask you to marry me."
At the last words she raises her eyes, and looks him in the face. A deep and utter silence. He has staggered back against the wall, and is staring at her with wide disbelieving eyes of utter astonishment.
“I have no reason for supposing that you wish to marry me,” she says collectedly, though her face is scarlet. “You never told me so; it is only an instinct-an instinct that perhaps has led me astray." Still complete silence. "It is not leap-year, is it?" she says, with a forced laugh. “No! Well, then, I have no excuse--none, except that I wished it; and you know, from a child, I have always asked for what I wished; and always—no, not always—not always,” (stifling a sigh) “but generally I have got it."
“And—and Le Mesurier ?” says Scrope at last, in a rough and altered voice, trying to stand steadily on his feet, while his knees shake under him, and the room whirls round him,
“ What about him?” she cries sharply. “Why do you drag him in ? If it was anybody's part to mention bim it was mine. You will hear no more of him; he is gone—it is all off, you know that; it was all off before you left-only, I suppose, it gives you pleasure to hear it again."
“ And you ?" says the young man, staring into her calm face, while he stammers and stutters; “you—you—do not care ; you—you are not cut up about it?"
She turns her face suddenly aside, but only for an instant; in a moment she is looking at him again-looking at him, and smiling.
“Cut up!" she says, laughing. “What an expression! It is only men that are cut up! Do I look very down-hearted ? Do you see any willow in my hand ? No, no! I am not the sort of person that is ever cut up much about anything."
Still he looks at her with a bewildered face, paled and quivering, as one but freshly waked from a heavenly dream, that knows not whether he yet sleeps or wakes; afraid to grasp within his hand the immense and utter bliss that her words seem to set within his reach, lest it should melt away like fairy gold. His emotion does not communicate itself to her; rather, it makes her more composed.
“Well,” she says, with a pretty chilly mocking smile, not yet answered me. How cruel to keep me in suspense! Does it require so much time to decide? The matter lies in a nutshell. Do you wish to marry me, or do you not ?"
“Do I wish to go to heaven? Did Dives in hell wish for that cup of cold water ?” cries the young man, passionately, waking with a leap out of his trance, and flinging his happy arms around her.
She shudders, and pulls herself away.
"Bah !" she says coldly, retreating several paces from him; "do not let us have any flowers of rhetoric; and it is too early days to be affectionate. If Dives had got his cup of cold water he would have taken it quietly, like a gentleman, and not snatched it.”
“You were not in earnest, then ?" cries the young man, fiercely, with a revulsion of feeling as bitter as his former triumph had been heavenly sweet. “I was a fool to be taken in! It was only an unfeeling, unwomanly joke. Will you be kind enough” (coming close to her and breathing heavily) “ to tell me where the wit is—where the point?—for upon my soul I do not see it.”
“There is no wit—there is no point,” she answers, with perfect gravity and unflinching seriousness. “What wit or point need there be in naked truth ? As I stand here” (clasping her hands, and looking full into the fierce beauty of his face,) “ I am in earnest. I wish you to marry me. I ask you! It is unmaidenly-immodest of me I know that, and so do you, but—I ask you!"
“God above !” he says, in a whisper of intense excitement; “is it possible, Lenore ?” (catching her roughly by the hand). “ Turn your face to the light; let me see your eyes—I do not believe your words ; it seems so unnatural to hear any kind ones from your lips. God! when I think that it is less than a week ago that I saw you standing here together, and you giving him such soft kind looks, to get one of which I would have sacrificed twenty years of my life, and thought it a cheap bargain-you, who never threw me anything but mocks and jeers and ugly names—I cannot believe it. Say what you will to me-swear it, asseverate it-I cannot, I cannot !"
She does not answer : for the moment, I think, she finds speech difficult; she stands rigidly still; her face turned towards the bitter winter landscape, with lips tightly compressed, as one resolved not to weep.
“When I think," continues the young man vehemently, "of how you smiled—of how happy you looked if he only touched in passing the border of your gown, less than a week ago-less than a week ago --can I believe that such love has all gone? Gone? Where can it have gone to? Tell me that! Does love disappear like a morning mist ?"
“Hush !” she says, hoarsely, putting her fingers in her ears. “How many times must I tell you not to drag him in ? If I ever cared for him” (she stops, for a second, unable to manage her voice), “if I ever cared for him, that was between him and me; you had no concern in it; but now it is all over, dead ; and when things are dead what is there to do but to bury and forget them? Take me or leave me, as you choose, that is your business—I know which you would do if you were wise—but for God's sake leave that old story alone. It is ከ my
old story, not yours, and I–I have a short memory," smiling faintly, “I am fast forgetting it."
“But are you,” he cries, with a painful scepticism, hardly to be wondered at,“ are you sure of that? Are you sure that if you saw him coming in now, this minute, at that door, you would not run to him -as you ran out into the cold to meet him that first night he cameand leave me to cut the brilliant figure I have always done, ever since the unlucky day at Guingamp, where I first saw you ?”
At his words she shivers again, and shrinks, as if touched by a hot iron. “What are you talking about ?" she cries, passionately. "Why do you persist in indulging in these idiotic suppositions? He will not come back, I tell you. Do dead people ever push up their coffin-lids, and come walking back again ? If they do, I never saw them. Well, they are more likely to come back than he is—much more likely. He is done with," spreading out her hands, “so for God's sake try and help me to forget that there ever was such a person, instead of always throwing him in my teeth.” At the last words she catches her breath sobbingly, but resolutely forces back the tears that come crowding thickly under her hot lids. He stares at her stupidly still, "le
only liked me when I was on my good behaviour,” she continues, with a hard-won smile, "and you know how seldom that is. I had an idea that you would take me whether I behaved well or ill, or not at all; and so—and som I sent for you."
She stretches out her hand to him, smiling friendlily, and he; catching it between both his own broad ones, covers it with silent kisses; then, after a while, speaks slowly, and diffidently, blushing like a school girl :
“And you-you can tolerate the idea of being my wife? Youlike me a little ?"
“Like you ?" she says carelessly, with a forced laugh. “Of course I do. What a question ? Have not I asked you to marry me? What better proof could I give ? Why should not I like you? You are young, good-looking, and a parti. Of course, I like you."
He does not look very much satisfied with this expression of faith.
“You do not believe me?" she says, interrogatively. “Well, I have already given you one proof; I will give you another. I have asked you to marry me. I now ask you to marry me soon.
I'm aware,” laughing, “that it is not usual for such a proposition to come from the lady, but as I have begun by taking the initiative I suppose I must go on.
The look of wild, incredulous astonishment intensifies on his face and in his bold bright eyes. Are his ears faithful carriers of the words entrusted to them, or does his brain interpret them untruly?
“ Lenore,” he says impetuously, throwing himself on his knees beside her, as she sits, leaning back in an arm-chair ; " forgive me for being such a fool, such an unmannerly brute, as to disbelieve what you say to me, but are you sure-I will not be angry if it is so-upon my soul I will try not to be—but are you sure that it is not a joke? --that you have not made me the subject of a bet; that this is not some trap that you are drawing me into? Confess-confess that it looks like it. Five days ago, you
Five days ago, you told me that the only boon you had to ask of me was that you might never see my face again-and, by heaven, if ever any woman looked as if she meant what she said you did then-and now—now—did I hear aright?-I am afraid to think 80—you ask me to
marry you soon ?” She hangs her head a little, as if ashamed, but says nothing.
“Is it any wonder,” he continues, excitedly, “ that when I have been crying for the moon for the last six months, and bating my life and myself, and even all my own people, because I could not get it, that when it falls down on a sudden at my feet I should wish to know what brought it there?-is it any wonder that I should wish to see the dessous des cartes ?"
" There is no dessous,” she says gravely. “What can I say? I am sick of asseverating! As I believe in God, and am unutterably