“Miss Loring, I here offer you heart and hand; and in making this offer, do most solemnly affirm that you are precious to me as life.—The highest boon I can crave from heaven is the gift of your dear self.”
As he spoke, he extended his hand towards her. But her own did not stir from her lap, where it lay as still as if paralyzed.
“This is no light matter, Mr. Dexter,” she said; still with the huskiness and tremor which had before veiled her voice. “I cannot decide on a thing of such infinite moment, in hot blood and on the spur of a sudden occasion. You must give me time for reflection.”
“The heart knows no time. It neither reasons nor deliberates; but speaks out upon the instant, as yours has already done, Miss Loring,” replied Dexter, with reviving ardor.
“Time, Mr. Dexter, time! I must have time!” said Jessie, almost imploringly.
But Dexter, who saw that time might turn the scale against him, resolved to press his suit then to the final issue.
“I cannot accept delay,” he answered, throwing the most winning tenderness into his voice. “And why should you hesitate a moment?”
“My aunt”—murmured Jessie.
“Consult her with all maidenly formality. That is right—that is prudent,” he said, leaning again very near to her. “But, ere we separate this morning, let me ask one question—I am not disagreeable to you?”
“Oh, no, no, Mr. Dexter!” was the quick, earnest reply.
“Nor is your heart given to another?”
“No lips but yours have ever uttered such words as have sounded in my ears this day.”
“And no lips, speaking in your ears, can ever utter such words with half the heart-warmth that were in mine, dear Jessie! True love is ever ardent, and cannot wait. I must have a sign from you before I leave. You need not speak; but lay your hand in mine,” and he reached his hand towards her.
It was a moment of strong trial. Again her thoughts fell into confusion. Again a wild delicious thrill swept like a strain of music through all her being. She was within the sphere of an irresistible attraction. Her hand fluttered with a sudden impulse, and then, moving towards the hand of Dexter, was seized and covered with kisses.
“Thanks, dearest!” he murmured. “Thanks! By this token I know that I am loved—by this token you are mine—mine forever! Happy, happy day! It shall be the golden one in all the calendar of my life.”
With the ardor of passion he drew her to his side again, and clasping his arm around her, kissed her with all the fervor of an entranced lover—kissed her over and over again, wildly.