An immense change had taken place in me during the course of six years. I had become a man very much like other men; my instincts had managed to bring themselves into harmony with my affections, my intuitions with my reason. This social education had been carried on quite naturally; all I had to do was to accept the lessons of experience and the counsels of friendship. I was far from being a learned man; but I had developed a power of acquiring solid learning very rapidly. My notions of things in general were as clear as could be obtained at that time. Since then I know that real progress has been made in human knowledge; I have watched it from afar and have never thought of denying it. And as I notice that not all men of my age show themselves as reasonable, it pleases me to think that I was put on a fairly right road early in life, since I have never stopped in the blind alley of errors and prejudices.
The progress I had made intellectually seemed to satisfy Edmee.
“I am not astonished at it,” she said. “I could see it in your letters; but I rejoice at it with a mother’s pride.”
My good uncle was no longer strong enough to engage in the old stormy discussions; and I really think that if he had retained his strength he would have been somewhat grieved to find that I was no longer the indefatigable opponent who had formerly irritated him so persistently. He even made a few attempts at contradiction to test me; but at this time I should have considered it a crime to have gratified him. He showed a little temper at this, and seemed to think that I treated him too much as an old man. To console him I turned the conversation to the history of the past, to the years through which he himself had lived, and questioned him on many points wherein his experience served him better than my knowledge. In this way I obtained many healthy notions for the guidance of my own conduct, and at the same time I fully satisfied his legitimate amour propre. He now conceived a friendship for me from genuine sympathy, just as formerly he had adopted me from natural generosity and family pride. He did not disguise from me that his great desire, before falling into the sleep that knows no waking, was to see me married to Edmee; and when I told him that this was the one thought of my life, the one wish of my soul, he said:
“I know, I know. Everything depends on her, and I think she can no longer have any reasons for hesitation. . . . At all events,” he added, after a moment’s silence and with a touch of peevishness, “I cannot see any that she could allege at present.”
From these words, the first he had ever uttered on the subject which most interested me, I concluded that he himself had long been favourable to my suit, and that the obstacle, if one still existed, lay with Edmee. My uncle’s last remark implied a doubt which I dared not try to clear up, and which caused me great uneasiness. Edmee’s sensitive pride inspired me with such awe, her unspeakable goodness filled me with such respect that I dared not ask her point-blank to decide my fate. I made up my mind to act as if I entertained no other hope than that she would always let me be her brother and friend.