“I ventured to speak of you. I am not over-bold, as you know.”
Her lovely eyes troubled the lids to hide their softness.
“Papa should not think of my presence with him dubiously.”
“He leaves it to you to decide.”
“Yes, then: many times: all that can be uttered.”
“Do you consider what you are saying?”
“Mr. Whitford, I shut my eyes and say Yes.”
“Beware. I give you one warning. If you shut your eyes . . .”
“Of course,” she flew from him, “big mountains must be satisfied with my admiration at their feet.”
“That will do for a beginning.”
“They speak encouragingly.”
“One of them.” Vernon’s breast heaved high.
“To be at your feet makes a mountain of you?” said she.
“With the heart of a mouse if that satisfies me!”
“You tower too high; you are inaccessible.”
“I give you a second warning. You may be seized and lifted.”
“Some one would stoop, then.”
“To plant you like the flag on the conquered peak!”
“You have indeed been talking to papa, Mr. Whitford.”
Vernon changed his tone.
“Shall I tell you what he said?”
“I know his language so well.”
“But you have acted on it?”
“Only partly. He said—”
“You will teach me nothing.”
“He said . . .”
“Vernon, no! oh! not in this house!”
That supplication coupled with his name confessed the end to which her quick vision perceived she was being led, where she would succumb.
She revived the same shrinking in him from a breath of their great word yet: not here; somewhere in the shadow of the mountains.
But he was sure of her. And their hands might join. The two hands thought so, or did not think, behaved like innocents.
The spirit of Dr. Middleton, as Clara felt, had been blown into Vernon, rewarding him for forthright outspeaking. Over their books, Vernon had abruptly shut up a volume and related the tale of the house. “Has this man a spice of religion in him?” the Rev. Doctor asked midway. Vernon made out a fair general case for his cousin in that respect. “The complemental dot on his i of a commonly civilized human creature!” said Dr. Middleton, looking at his watch and finding it too late to leave the house before morning. The risky communication was to come. Vernon was proceeding with the narrative of Willoughby’s generous plan when Dr. Middleton electrified him by calling out: “He whom of all men living I should desire my daughter to espouse!” and Willoughby rose in the Rev. Doctor’s esteem: he praised that sensibly minded gentleman, who could acquiesce in the turn of mood of a little maid, albeit Fortune had withheld from him a taste of the switch at school. The father of the little maid’s appreciation of her volatility was exhibited in his