And then the thought that this man was lying desperately ill, perhaps in danger of death, blotted out every other thought. It was so bitter to know him in peril, and to be powerless to go to him; worse than useless to him were she by his side, since it was another whose image haunted his wandering brain—another whose voice he longed to hear.
She spent a sleepless melancholy night, and had no rest next day, until a commissionnaire brought her a brief note from Gilbert Fenton, telling her that if there were any change at all in the patient, it was on the side of improvement.
BOUGHT WITH A PRICE.
Ellen Carley was not allowed any time to take back the promise given to her father, had she been inclined to do so. Mr. Whitelaw made his appearance at the Grange early in the evening of the 2nd of January, with a triumphant simper upon his insipid countenance, which was inexpressibly provoking to the unhappy girl. It was clear to her, at first sight of him, that her father had been at Wyncomb that afternoon, and her hateful suitor came secure of success. His wooing was not a very romantic episode in his commonplace existence. He did not even attempt to see Ellen alone; but after he had been seated for about half-an-hour in the chimney-corner, nestling close to the fire in a manner he much affected, being of a particularly chilly temperament, given to shiver and turn blue on the smallest provocation, he delivered himself solemnly of the following address:—
“I make no doubt, Miss Carley, that you have taken notice for some time past of my sentiments towards yourself. I have never made any secret of those sentiments, neither have I talked much about them, not being a man of many words. I used to fancy myself the very reverse of a marrying man, and I don’t say but what at this moment I think the man who lives and dies a bachelor does the wisest for his own comfort and his own prosperity. But we are not the masters of our feelings, Miss Carley. You have growed upon me lately somehow, so that I’ve got not to care for my life without you. Ask Mrs. Tadman if my appetite hasn’t fell off within this last six months to a degree that has frightened her; and a man of my regular habits must be very far gone in love, Miss Carley, when his appetite forsakes him. From the time I came to know you as a young woman, in the bloom of a young woman’s beauty, I said to myself, ’That’s the girl I’ll marry, and no other.’ Your father can bear me out in that, for I said the same to him. And finding that I had his approval, I was satisfied to bide my time, and wait till you came round to the same way of thinking. Your father tells me yesterday afternoon, and again this afternoon, that you have come round to that way of feeling. I hope he hasn’t deceived me, Miss Carley.”
This was a very long speech for Stephen Whitelaw. It was uttered in little gasps or snatches of speech, the speaker stopping at the end of every sentence to take breath.