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This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 283 pages of information about The Maid-At-Arms.

“I mean forever.”

“But I have.”

“I mean in wedlock!” I whispered, fiercely.

“How can I, silly—­I am promised!”

“Can I not stir you to love me?” I said.

“To love you?...  Better than I do?...  You may try.”

“Then wed me!”

“If I were wed to you would I love you better than I do?” she asked.

“Dorothy, Dorothy,” I begged, holding her fast, “wed me; I love you.”

She swayed back into her saddle, breaking my clasp.

“You know I cannot,” she said....  Then, almost tenderly:  “Do you truly desire it?  It is so dear to hear you say it—­and I have heard the words often enough, too, but never as you say them....  Had you asked me in December, ere I was in honor bound....  But I am promised; ... only a word, but it holds me like a chain....  Dear lad, forget it....  Use me kindly....  Teach me to love, ... an unresisting pupil, ... for all life is too short for me to learn in, ... alas!...  God guard us both from love’s unhappiness and grant us only its sweetness—­which you have taught me; to which I am—­I am awaking, ... after all these years, ... after all these years without you.

* * * * *

Perhaps it were kinder to let me sleep....  I am but half awake to love.

* * * * *

Is it best to wake me, after all?  Is it too late?...  Draw bridle in the starlight.  Look at me....  It is too late, for I shall never sleep again.”

X

TWO LESSONS

For two whole days I did not see my cousin Dorothy, she lying abed with hot and aching head, and the blinds drawn to keep out all light.  So I had time to consider what we had said and done, and to what we stood committed.

Yet, with time heavy on my hands and full leisure to think, I could make nothing of those swift, fevered hours together, nor what had happened to us that the last moments should have found us in each other’s arms, her tear-stained eyes closed, her lips crushed to mine.  For, within that same hour, at table, she told Sir Lupus to my very face that she desired to wed Sir George as soon as might be, and would be content with nothing save that Sir Lupus despatch a messenger to the pleasure house, bidding Sir George dispose of his affairs so that the marriage fall within the first three days of June.

I could not doubt my own ears, yet could scarce credit my shocked senses to hear her; and I had sat there, now hot with anger, now in cold amazement; not touching food save with an effort that cost me all my self-command.

As for Sir Lupus, his astonishment and delight disgusted me, for he fell a-blubbering in his joy, loading his daughter with caresses, breaking out into praises of her, lauding above all her filial gratitude and her constancy to Sir George, whom he also larded and smeared with compliments till his eulogium, buttered all too thick for my weakened stomach, drove me from the table to pace the dark porch and strive to reconcile all these warring memories a-battle in my swimming brain.

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