“Very difficult. And if you had found him, the chances are that he would have set his face against the child. Marian Nowell will have no need to supplicate for protection from an indifferent father or a hard-hearted grandfather, if she will be my wife.
“Heaven grant that she may love you as you deserve to be loved by her!” Captain Sedgewick answered heartily.
He thought it would be the best thing that could happen to his darling to become this young man’s wife, and he had a notion that a simple, inexperienced girl could scarcely help responding to the hopes of such a lover. To his mind Gilbert Fenton seemed eminently adapted to win a woman’s heart. He forgot the fatality that belongs to these things, and that a man may have every good gift, and yet just miss the magic power to touch one woman’s heart.
Mr. Fenton lingered another week at Lidford, with imminent peril to the safe conduct of affairs at his offices in Great St. Helens. He could not tear himself away just yet. He felt that he must have some more definite understanding of his position before he went back to London; and in the meantime he pondered with a dangerous delight upon that sunny vision of a suburban villa to which Marian should welcome him when his day’s work was done.
He went every day to the cottage, and he bore himself in no manner like a rejected lover. He was indeed very hopeful as to the issue of his wooing. He knew that Marian Nowell’s heart was free, that there was no rival image to be displaced before his own could reign there, and he thought that it must go hard with him if he did not win her love.
So Marian saw him every day, and had to listen to the Captain’s praises of him pretty frequently during his absence. And Captain Sedgewick’s talk about Gilbert Fenton generally closed with a regretful sigh, the meaning of which had grown very clear to Marian.
She thought about her uncle’s words and looks and sighs a good deal in the quiet of her own room. What was there she would not do for the love of that dearest and noblest of men? Marry a man she disliked? No, that was a sin from which the girl’s pure mind would have recoiled instinctively. But she did like Gilbert Fenton—loved him perhaps—though she had never confessed as much to herself.
This calm friendship might really be love after all; not quite such love as she had read of in novels and poems, where the passion was always rendered desperate by the opposing influence of adverse circumstances and unkind kindred; but a tranquil sentiment, a dull, slow, smouldering fire, that needed only some sudden wind of jealousy or misfortune to fan it into a flame.
She knew that his society was pleasant to her, that she would miss him very much when he left Lidford; and when she tried to fancy him reconciled to her rejection of him, and returning to London to transfer his affections to some other woman, the thought was very obnoxious to her. He had not flattered her, he had been in no way slavish in his attentions to her; but he had surrounded her with a kind of atmosphere of love and admiration, the charm of which no girl thus beloved for the first time in her life could be quite proof against.