“When is next time?”
“Any and every time which gives me a chance to see you. Who should know that better than you?”
“Are you never going to give up?” she asked with averted face.
“Not till you become engaged.”
“Hush! They are all in the parlor.”
“Well, they ought to know as much, by this time, also.”
She thought it was astonishing how he made himself at home in the family circle. In half an hour there was scarcely any restraint left because a visitor was present. Yet, as if impelled by some mysterious influence, one after another slipped out; and Carrie saw with strange little thrills of dismay that she would soon be alone with that indomitable lawyer. She signalled to her mother, but the old lady’s eyes were glued to her knitting.
At last they were alone, and she expected a prompt and powerful appeal from the plaintiff; but Marstern drew his chair to the opposite side of the hearth and chatted so easily, naturally, and kindly that her trepidation passed utterly. It began to grow late, and a heavier gust than usual shook the house. It appeared to waken him to the dire necessity of breasting the gale, and he rose and said:
“I feel as if I could sit here forever, Carrie. It’s just the impression I had a year ago to-night. You, sitting there by the fire, gave then, and give now to this place the irresistible charm of home. I think I had then the decided beginning of the divine gravitation—wasn’t that what you called it?—which has been growing so strong ever since. You thought then that the ice-water I waded was in my veins. Do you think so now? If you do I shall have to take another year to prove the contrary. Neither am I convinced of the absurdity of my course, as you put it then. I studied you coolly and deliberately before I began to love you, and reason and judgment have had no chance to jeer at my love.”
“But, Hedley,” she began with a slight tremor in her tones, “you are idealizing me as certainly as the blindest. I’ve plenty of faults.”
“I haven’t denied that; so have I plenty of faults. What right have I to demand a perfection I can’t offer? I have known people to marry who imagined each other perfect, and then come to court for a separation on the ground of incompatibility of temperament. They learned the meaning of that long word too late, and were scarcely longer about it than the word itself. Now, I’m satisfied that I could cordially agree with you on some points and lovingly disagree with you on others. Chief of all it’s your instinct to make a home. You appear better at your own fireside than when in full dress at a reception. You—”
“See here, Hedley, you’ve got to give up this suit at last. I’m engaged,” and she looked away as if she could not meet his eyes.
“Engaged?” he said slowly, looking at her with startled eyes.
“Well, about the same as engaged. My heart has certainly gone from me beyond recall.” He drew a long breath. “I was foolish enough to begin to hope,” he faltered.