“But the greatest gift of all?”
“My lord, if you have anything to say, you must say it plainly. There never was a woman worse than I am at the reading of riddles.”
“Could you endure to live in the quietude of an Italian lake with an old man?” Now he touched her again, and had taken her hand.
“No, my lord;—nor with a young one,—for all my days. But I do not know that age would guide me.”
Then the Duke rose and made his proposition in form. “Marie, you know that I love you. Why it is that I at my age should feel so sore a love, I cannot say.”
“So sore a love!”
“So sore, if it be not gratified. Marie, I ask you to be my wife.”
“Duke of Omnium, this from you!”
“Yes, from me. My coronet is at your feet. If you will allow me to raise it, I will place it on your brow.”
Then she went away from him, and seated herself at a distance. After a moment or two he followed her, and stood with his arm upon her shoulder. “You will give me an answer, Marie?”
“You cannot have thought of this, my lord.”
“Nay; I have thought of it much.”
“And your friends?”
“My dear, I may venture to please myself in this,—as in everything. Will you not answer me?”
“Certainly not on the spur of the moment, my lord. Think how high is the position you offer me, and how immense is the change you propose to me. Allow me two days, and I will answer you by letter. I am so fluttered now that I must leave you.” Then he came to her, took her hand, kissed her brow, and opened the door for her.
It happened that there were at this time certain matters of business to be settled between the Duke of Omnium and his nephew Mr. Palliser, respecting which the latter called upon his uncle on the morning after the Duke had committed himself by his offer. Mr. Palliser had come by appointment made with Mr. Fothergill, the Duke’s man of business, and had expected to meet Mr. Fothergill. Mr. Fothergill, however, was not with the Duke, and the uncle told the nephew that the business had been postponed. Then Mr. Palliser asked some question as to the reason of such postponement, not meaning much by his question,—and the Duke, after a moment’s hesitation, answered him, meaning very much by his answer. “The truth is, Plantagenet, that it is possible that I may marry, and if so this arrangement would not suit me.”
“Are you going to be married?” asked the astonished nephew.
“It is not exactly that,—but it is possible that I may do so. Since I proposed this matter to Fothergill, I have been thinking over it, and I have changed my mind. It will make but little difference to you; and after all you are a far richer man than I am.”
“I am not thinking of money, Duke,” said Plantagenet Palliser.