“How should I feel,” he continues (he has put a hand on each of my shoulders, and is looking-at me with a serious yet tender fixity), “if, by-and-by, in the years ahead of us, you came and told me that by my selfishness, taking advantage of your youth, I had destroyed your life?”
“And do you think,” say I, with a flash of indignation, “that even if you had done it, I should come and tell you?”
“Are you quite sure that among all the men of your acquaintance, men nearer you in age, more akin in tastes, men not gray-haired, not weather-beaten, not past their best years—there is not one with whom you would more willingly spend your life than with me? If it is so, I beseech you to tell me, as you would tell your mother!”
“If there were,” reply I, smiling broadly, a smile which greatly widens my mouth, and would show my dimples if I had any, “I should indeed be susceptible! The two curates that you saw the other night—the one who tore his gloves into strips, you know, and the other who ate so much— Toothless Jack—these are the sort of men among whom my lines have lain. Do you think I am likely to be very much in love with any of them?”
My speech does not seem so altogether reassuring as I had expected.
“I am very suspicious,” he says, half apologetically, “but you have seen so little of the world, you have led such a nun’s life! how can you answer for it that hereafter out in the world you may not meet some one more to your liking? You are a dear little, kindly, tender-hearted sort, and you do not tell me so, but you do not like me much Nancy! Indeed, dear, I could far better do without you now, than see you by-and-by wishing me away and yet be unable to rid you of me.”
“People can help falling in love,” say I, with matter-of-fact common-sense. “If I belonged to you, of course I should never think of any one else in that way.”
“Are you sure—?”
“I wish that you would not ask me any more questions,” say I, interrupting him with a pout. “I am quite sure of everything you can possibly think of.”
“I will only ask one more—are you quite sure that it is not for your brothers’ and sisters’ sakes—not your own—that you are doing this? Do you remember” (with a smile half playful, half sad) “what you told me about your views of marriage on that first day when I found you in the kitchen-garden?”
“I hope to Heaven that you did not think I was hinting,” say I, growing crimson; “it certainly sounded very like it, but I really and truly was not. I was thinking of a young man! I assure you” (speaking with great earnestness) “that I had as much idea of marrying you as of marrying father!”
Looking back with mature reflection at this speech, I think that it may be safely reckoned among my unlucky things.
“No,” he says, wincing a little, a very little. “I know you had not; but—you have not answered my question.”