“You told me, the night I dined with you at Glastonbury House, that you loved mauve as a color and that violets were your favorite flower. How could I forget?” And he permitted himself to come a step nearer to her.
She did not move away. She turned over the leaves of the English volume rather hurriedly. The paper was superlatively fine and the print a gem of art. And then she looked up, surprised.
“I have never seen this collection before,” she said wonderingly. “All the things one loves under the same cover!” And then she turned to the title-page to see which edition it was; and she found that, as far as information went, it was blank. Simply,
“To The Lady Ethelrida Montfitchet
was inscribed upon it in gold. A deep pink flush grew on her delicate face, and she dared not raise her eyes.
It would be too soon yet to tell her everything that was in his heart, he reasoned. All could be lost by one false step. So, with his masterly self-control, he resisted all temptation to fold her in his arms, and said gently:
“I thought it would be nice to have, as you say, ’all the bits one loves’ put together; and I have a very intelligent friend at my book-binder’s, who, when I had selected them, had them all arranged and printed for me, and bound as I thought you might wish. It will gratify me greatly, if it has pleased you.”
“Pleased me!” she said, and now she looked up; for the sudden conviction came to her, that to have this done took time and a great deal of money; and except once or twice before, casually, she had never met him until the evening, when, among a number of her father’s political friends, he had dined at their London house. When could he have given the order and what could this mean? He read her thoughts.
“Yes,” he said simply. “From the very first moment I ever saw you, Lady Ethelrida, to me you seemed all that was true and beautiful, the embodiment of my ideal of womanhood. I planned these books then, two days after I dined with you at Glastonbury House; and, if you had refused them, it would have caused me pain.”
Ethelrida was so moved by some new, sudden and exquisite emotion that she could not reply for a moment. He watched her with growing and passionate delight, but he said nothing. He must give her time.
“It is too, too nice of you,” she said softly, and there was a little catch in her breath. “No one has ever thought of anything so exquisite for me before, although, as you saw this morning, every one is so very kind. How shall I thank you, Mr. Markrute? I do not know.”
“You must not thank me at all, you gracious lady,” he said. “And now I must tell you that the half-hour is nearly up, and we must go down. But—may I—will you let me come again, perhaps to-morrow afternoon? I want to tell you, if it would interest you, the history of a man.”
Ethelrida had turned to look at the clock, also, and had collected herself. She was too single-minded to fence now, or to push this new, strange joy out of her life, so she said,