that men likewise, and parents pre-eminently, have
their preference for the larger offer, the deeper pocket,
the broader lands, the respectfuller consideration.
Men, after their fashion, as well as women, distinguish
the bettermost, and aid him to succeed, as Dr. Middleton
certainly did in the crisis of the memorable question
proposed to his daughter within a month of Willoughby’s
reception at Upton Park. The young lady was astonished
at his whirlwind wooing of her, and bent to it like
a sapling. She begged for time; Willoughby could
barely wait. She unhesitatingly owned that she
liked no one better, and he consented. A calm
examination of his position told him that it was unfair
so long as he stood engaged, and she did not.
She pleaded a desire to see a little of the world
before she plighted herself. She alarmed him;
he assumed the amazing god of love under the subtlest
guise of the divinity. Willingly would he obey
her behests, resignedly languish, were it not for
his mother’s desire to see the future lady of
Patterne established there before she died. Love
shone cunningly through the mask of filial duty, but
the plea of urgency was reasonable. Dr. Middleton
thought it reasonable, supposing his daughter to have
an inclination. She had no disinclination, though
she had a maidenly desire to see a little of the world—grace
for one year, she said. Willoughby reduced the
year to six months, and granted that term, for which,
in gratitude, she submitted to stand engaged; and that
was no light whispering of a word. She was implored
to enter the state of captivity by the pronunciation
of vows—a private but a binding ceremonial.
She had health and beauty, and money to gild these
gifts; not that he stipulated for money with his bride,
but it adds a lustre to dazzle the world; and, moreover,
the pack of rival pursuers hung close behind, yelping
and raising their dolorous throats to the moon.
Captive she must be.
He made her engagement no light whispering matter.
It was a solemn plighting of a troth. Why not?
Having said, I am yours, she could say, I am wholly
yours, I am yours forever, I swear it, I will never
swerve from it, I am your wife in heart, yours utterly;
our engagement is written above. To this she
considerately appended, “as far as I am concerned”;
a piece of somewhat chilling generosity, and he forced
her to pass him through love’s catechism in
turn, and came out with fervent answers that bound
him to her too indissolubly to let her doubt of her
being loved. And I am loved! she exclaimed to
her heart’s echoes, in simple faith and wonderment.
Hardly had she begun to think of love ere the apparition
arose in her path. She had not thought of love
with any warmth, and here it was. She had only
dreamed of love as one of the distant blessings of
the mighty world, lying somewhere in the world’s
forests, across wild seas, veiled, encompassed with
beautiful perils, a throbbing secrecy, but too remote
to quicken her bosom’s throbs. Her chief
idea of it was, the enrichment of the world by love.