“‘Oh! no! no!’ she cried; ’you are our dearest and best friend. And I do not drive you away. I must leave you. The world can have only one interpretation of the relation of two people so differently situated—a very wealthy young gentleman and a poor little singer, the daughter of a poor, foreign-born workman.’
“‘Well, then,’ said I, taking her in my arms, ’let the blabbing, babbling old world know that that poor little singer sits higher in my heart, yes, in my brain and judgment, than all the queens and princesses of the world. I have found in her the one inestimable jewel of the earth—a truly good and noble woman. If I deceived you it was because I loved you; loved you with my whole heart and soul and all the depths of my being. I wanted to dwell in the same house with you; to study you; to see you always near me. I was happier when I was nursing you through your sickness than I have ever been before or since. I was sorry, to tell the truth, when you got well, and were no longer dependent on me. And now, Christina, if you will say yes, we will fix the day for the wedding.’
“I knew as soon as I began to speak that I had won my case. There was no struggle to escape from my arms; and, as I went on, she relaxed even her rigidity, and reposed on my breast with trusting confidence.
“‘Frank,’ she said, not looking up, and speaking in a low tone—’I shall always call you Frank—I loved the poor printer from the very first; and if the rich man can be content with the affection I gave the poor one, my heart and life are yours. But stop,’ she added, looking up with an arch smile, ’you must not forget the promise you made me about New Year’s day!’
“‘Ah, my dear,’ I replied, ’that was part of poor Frank’s character, and I suppose that is what you loved him for; but if you will marry a rich man you must be content to forego all those attractions of the poor, foolish printer. I shall not stand up next New Year’s day and make a vow to drink no more; but I make a vow now to kiss the sweetest woman in the world every day in the year.’
“And, lest I should forget so sacred an obligation, I began to put my vow into execution right then and there.
“Afterward the old folks were called in, and I told them my whole story. And I said to them, moreover, that there was storm and danger ahead; that the great convulsion might come any day; and so it is agreed that we are to be married, at Christina’s home, the day after to-morrow. And to-morrow I want my dear mother, and you, my dear friends, to go with me to visit the truest and noblest little woman that ever promised to make a man happy.”
When Max had finished his long story, his mother kissed and cried over him; and Estella and I shook hands with him; and we were a very happy party; and no one would have thought, from our jests and laughter, that the bloodhounds of the aristocracy were hunting for three of us, and that we were sitting under the dark presaging shadow of a storm that was ready to vomit fire and blood at any moment.