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This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 77 pages of information about On the Church Steps.

“Bessie,” I said, leaning over her and taking her face in both my hands, “I have something to tell you.”

CHAPTER III.

“I have something to tell you;” and without an instant’s pause I went on:  “Mr. D——­ has business in England which cannot be attended to by letter.  One of us must go, and they send me.  I must sail in two weeks.”

It was a thunderbolt out of a clear sky, and Bessie gave a little gasp of surprise:  “So soon!  Oh, Charlie, take me with you!” Realizing in the next instant the purport of the suggestion, she flung away from my hands and rushed into the parlor, where a dim, soft lamp was burning on the table.  She sat down on a low chair beside it and hid her face on the table in her hands.

Like a flash of lightning all the possibilities of our marriage before many days—­arranging it with Mrs. Sloman, and satisfying my partners, who would expect me to travel fast and work hard in the short time they had allotted for the journey,—­all came surging and throbbing through my brain, while my first answer was not given in words.

When I had persuaded Bessie to look at me and to answer me in turn, I hoped we should be able to talk about it with the calm judgment it needed.

“To leave my wife—­my wife!”—­how I lingered on the word!—­“in some poky lodgings in London, while I am spending my day among dusty boxes and files of deeds in a dark old office, isn’t just my ideal of our wedding-journey; but, Bessie, if you wish it so—­”

What was there in my tone that jarred her?  I had meant to be magnanimous, to think of her comfort alone, of the hurry and business of such a journey—­tried to shut myself out and think only of her in the picture.  But I failed, of course, and went on stupidly, answering the quick look of question in her eyes:  “If you prefer it—­that is, you know, I must think of you and not of myself.”

Still the keen questioning glance.  What new look was this in her eyes, what dawning thought?

“No,” she answered after a pause, slowly withdrawing her hand from mine, “think of yourself.”

I had expected that she would overwhelm me in her girlish way with saucy protestations that she would be happy even in the dull London lodgings, and that she would defy the law-files to keep me long from her.  This sudden change of manner chilled me with a nameless fear.

“If I prefer it!  If I wish it!  I see that I should be quite in your way, an encumbrance.  Don’t talk about it any more.”

She was very near crying, and I wish to heaven she had cried.  But she conquered herself resolutely, and held herself cold and musing before me.  I might take her hand, might kiss her unresisting cheek, but she seemed frozen into sudden thoughtfulness that it was impossible to meet or to dispel.

“Bessie, you know you are a little goose!  What could I wish for in life but to carry you off this minute to New York?  Come, get your hat and let’s walk over to the parsonage now.  We’ll get Doctor Wilder to marry us, and astonish your aunt in the morning.”

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