No more was said upon the subject. Ida made pretence of eating a piece of toast; the Squire mopped up the tea upon his clothes, and then drank some more.
Meanwhile the remorseless seconds crept on. It wanted but five minutes to the hour, and the hour would, she well knew, bring the man with it.
The five minutes passed slowly and in silence. Both her father and herself realised the nature of the impending situation, but neither of them spoke of it. Ah! there was the sound of wheels upon the gravel. So it had come.
Ida felt like death itself. Her pulse sunk and fluttered; her vital forces seemed to cease their work.
Another two minutes went by, then the door opened and the parlour-maid came in.
“Mr. Cossey, if you please, sir.”
“Oh,” said the Squire. “Where is he?”
“In the vestibule, sir.”
“Very good. Tell him I will be there in a minute.”
The maid went.
“Now, Ida,” said her father, “I suppose that we had better get this business over.”
“Yes,” she answered, rising; “I am ready.”
And gathering up her energies, she passed out to meet her fate.
GEORGE IS SEEN TO LAUGH
Ida and her father reached the vestibule to find Edward Cossey standing with his face to the mantelpiece and nervously toying with some curiosities upon it. He was, as usual, dressed with great care, and his face, though white and worn from the effects of agitation of mind, looked if anything handsomer than ever. As soon as he heard them coming, which owing to his partial deafness he did not do till they were quite close to him, he turned round with a start, and a sudden flush of colour came upon his pale face.
The Squire shook hands with him in a solemn sort of way, as people do when they meet at a funeral, but Ida barely touched his outstretched fingers with her own.
A few random remarks followed about the weather, which really for once in a way was equal to the conversational strain put upon it. At length these died away and there came an awful pause. It was broken by the Squire, who, standing with his back to the fire, his eyes fixed upon the wall opposite, after much humming and hawing, delivered himself thus:
“I understand, Mr. Cossey, that you have come to hear my daughter’s final decision on the matter of the proposal of marriage which you have made and renewed to her. Now, of course, this is a very important question, very important indeed, and it is one with which I cannot presume even to seem to interfere. Therefore, I shall without comment leave my daughter to speak for herself.”
“One moment before she does so,” Mr. Cossey interrupted, drawing indeed but a poor augury of success from Ida’s icy looks. “I have come to renew my offer and to take my final answer, and I beg Miss de la Molle to consider how deep and sincere must be that affection which has endured through so many rebuffs. I know, or at least I fear, that I do not occupy the place in her feelings that I should wish to, but I look to time to change this; at any rate I am willing to take my chance. As regards money, I repeat the offer which I have already made.”