“You didn’t really want me, Hugh. Not then.”
Surprised, and a little uncomfortable at this evidence of intuition, I started to protest. It seemed to me then as though I had always wanted her.
“No, no,” she exclaimed, “you didn’t. You were carried away by your feelings—you hadn’t made up your mind. Indeed, I can’t see why you want me now.”
“You believe I do,” I said, and drew her toward me.
“Yes, I—I believe it, now. But I can’t see why. There must be so many attractive girls in the city, who know so much more than I do.”
I sought fervidly to reassure her on this point.... At length when we went into the house she drew away from me at arm’s length and gave me one long searching look, as though seeking to read my soul.
“Hugh, you will always love me—to the very end, won’t you?”
“Yes,” I whispered, “always.”
In the library, one on each side of the table, under the lamp, Ezra Hutchins and his wife sat reading. Mrs. Hutchins looked up, and I saw that she had divined.
“Mother, I am engaged to Hugh,” Maude said, and bent over and kissed her. Ezra and I stood gazing at them. Then he turned to me and pressed my hand.
“Well, I never saw the man who was good enough for her, Hugh. But God bless you, my son. I hope you will prize her as we prize her.”
Mrs. Hutchins embraced me. And through her tears she, too, looked long into my face. When she had released me Ezra had his watch in his hand.
“If you’re going on the ten o’clock train, Hugh—”
“Father!” Maude protested, laughing, “I must say I don’t call that very polite."...
In the train I slept but fitfully, awakening again and again to recall the extraordinary fact that I was now engaged to be married, to go over the incidents of the evening. Indifferent to the backings and the bumpings of the car, the voices in the stations, the clanging of locomotive bells and all the incomprehensible startings and stoppings, exalted yet troubled I beheld Maude luminous with the love I had amazingly awakened, a love somewhere beyond my comprehension. For her indeed marriage was made in heaven. But for me? Could I rise now to the ideal that had once been mine, thrust henceforth evil out of my life? Love forever, live always in this sanctuary she had made for me? Would the time come when I should feel a sense of bondage?...
The wedding was set for the end of September. I continued to go every week to Elkington, and in August, Maude and I spent a fortnight at the sea. There could be no doubt as to my mother’s happiness, as to her approval of Maude; they loved each other from the beginning. I can picture them now, sitting together with their sewing on the porch of the cottage at Mattapoisett. Out on the bay little white-caps danced in the sunlight, sail-boats tacked hither and thither, the strong cape breeze, laden with invigorating salt, stirred Maude’s hair, and occasionally played havoc with my papers.