“I do not think it at all absurd,” reply I, beginning to speak quite stoutly, and to be rather diffuse than otherwise. “Perhaps I did, just at first, when they were all laughing, and saying about your having been at school with father; but now I do not in the least—I do not care what the boys say—I do not, really. I am not joking.”
At my words he half stretches out his hand to take mine; but, as if repressing some strong impulse, withdraws it again, and speaks quietly, with a rather sober smile.
“I am afraid that one’s soul ages more slowly than one’s body, Nancy! Even at my age it has seemed difficult to me to be brought into hourly companionship with all that was most fresh and womanly, and spirited, and pretty.”
“Pretty!” think I. “I wish the boys could hear him! they will never believe me if I tell them.”
“And not wish to have it for my own, to take and make much of. I that have never had any thing very lovely or lovable in my life. And then, dear, it was all your good-nature, you did not know what you were doing; you seemed to find some little pleasure in my society—even chose it by preference now and then. My talk did not weary you, as I should have thought it would have done, and so I grew to think—to think—Bah!” (with a movement of impatience) “it was a foolish thought! what can there be in common between me and a child like you?”
“I think that there is a great deal,” reply I, speaking very steadily, and so saying, I stretch out my hand and of my own accord put it in his again. He cannot well return it to me, so he keeps it.
“And yet it is impossible?” he says, with hesitating interrogation, while his steel-blue eyes look anxiously into mine.
“Is it?” say I, a wily smile beginning to creep over my features. “If it is, what was the use of asking me?” I have the grace to grow extremely red as I make this observation.
“Nancy!” seizing my other hand, too, and speaking in a hurried; low voice that slightly shakes with the force of his emotion, “what are you saying? You do not know what you are implying.”
“Yes I do,” reply I, firmly. “I know perfectly. And it is not impossible. Not at all, I should say.”
Upon this explicit declaration an ordinary lover would have had me in his arms and smothered me with kisses before you could look round, but my lover is abnormal. He does nothing of the kind.
“Are you sure,” he says, with an earnest gravity and imploring emphasis, “that you understand what you are doing? Are you certain, Nancy, that if we had not been friends, if you had not been loath to pain me, that you would not have answered differently? Think, child! think well of it! this is not a matter of months or even years, but of your whole long young life.”
“Yes,” say I, gravely, looking down. “I know it is.”
And put thus solemnly before me, the idea of the marriage state seems to me, hardly less weightily oppressive than the idea of eternity.