This seemed an echo of his sister’s reasoning, and vexed him a little.
“Have you any fear that we shall not suit each other, Marian?” he asked anxiously.
“I know that you are only too good for me,” she answered. Upon which Gilbert hindered the hemming of the Captain’s handkerchiefs by stooping down to kiss the little hands at work upon them. And then the talk drifted back to easier subjects, and he did not again press that question as to the date of the marriage.
At last the time came for going to the station. He had arranged for Mr. Lister’s gig to call for him at the cottage, so that he might spend every possible moment with Marian. And at three o’clock the gig appeared, driven by Martin Lister himself, and Gilbert was fain to say good-bye. His last lingering backward glance showed him the white figure under the walnut-trees, and a little hand waving farewell.
How empty and dreary his comfortable bachelor lodgings seemed to him that night when he had dined, and sat by the open window smoking his solitary cigar, listening to the dismal street-noises, and the monotonous roll of ceaseless wheels yonder in Oxford-street; not caring to go out to his club, caring still less for opera or theatre, or any of the old ways whereby he had been wont to dispose of his evenings!
His mind was full of Marian Nowell. All that was grave and earnest in his nature gave force to this his first love. He had had flirtations in the past, of course; but they had been no more than flirtations, and at thirty his heart was as fresh and inexperienced as a boy’s. It pleased him to think of Marian’s lonely position. Better, a hundred times better, that she should be thus, than fettered by ties which might come between them and perfect union. The faithful and generous protector of her childhood would of necessity always claim her love; but beyond this one affection, she would be Gilbert’s, and Gilbert’s only. There would be no mother, no sisters, to absorb her time and distract her thoughts from her husband, perhaps prejudice her against him. Domestic life for those two must needs be free from all the petty jars, the overshadowing clouds no bigger than a man’s hand, forerunners of tempest, which Mr. Fenton had heard of in many households.
He was never weary of thinking about that life which was to be. Everything else he thought of was now considered only in relation to that one subject. He applied himself to business with a new ardour; never before had he been so anxious to grow rich.