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The Waiting Supper
by [?]

‘And you don’t want me to see you?’

‘Yes–no–it is not that. It is that I have latterly felt frightened at what I am doing when not in your actual presence. It seems so wicked not to tell my father that I have a lover close at hand, within touch and view of both of us; whereas if you were absent my conduct would not seem quite so treacherous. The realities would not stare at one so. You would be a pleasant dream to me, which I should be free to indulge in without reproach of my conscience; I should live in hopeful expectation of your returning fully qualified to boldly claim me of my father. There, I have been terribly frank, I know.’

He in his turn had lapsed into gloomy breathings now. ‘I did plan it as you state,’ he answered. ‘I did mean to go away the moment I had your promise. But, dear Christine, I did not foresee two or three things. I did not know what a lot of pain it would cost to tear myself from you. And I did not know that my stingy uncle–heaven forgive me calling him so!–would so flatly refuse to advance me money for my purpose–the scheme of travelling with a first-rate tutor costing a formidable sum o’ money. You have no idea what it would cost!’

‘But I have said that I’ll find the money.’

‘Ah, there,’ he returned, ‘you have hit a sore place. To speak truly, dear, I would rather stay unpolished a hundred years than take your money.’

‘But why? Men continually use the money of the women they marry.’

‘Yes; but not till afterwards. No man would like to touch your money at present, and I should feel very mean if I were to do so in present circumstances. That brings me to what I was going to propose. But no–upon the whole I will not propose it now.’

‘Ah! I would guarantee expenses, and you won’t let me! The money is my personal possession: it comes to me from my late grandfather, and not from my father at all.’

He laughed forcedly and pressed her hand. ‘There are more reasons why I cannot tear myself away,’ he added. ‘What would become of my uncle’s farming? Six hundred acres in this parish, and five hundred in the next–a constant traipsing from one farm to the other; he can’t be in two places at once. Still, that might be got over if it were not for the other matters. Besides, dear, I still should be a little uneasy, even though I have your promise, lest somebody should snap you up away from me.’

‘Ah, you should have thought of that before. Otherwise I have committed myself for nothing.’

‘I should have thought of it,’ he answered gravely. ‘But I did not. There lies my fault, I admit it freely. Ah, if you would only commit yourself a little more, I might at least get over that difficulty! But I won’t ask you. You have no idea how much you are to me still; you could not argue so coolly if you had. What property belongs to you I hate the very sound of; it is you I care for. I wish you hadn’t a farthing in the world but what I could earn for you!’

‘I don’t altogether wish that,’ she murmured.

‘I wish it, because it would have made what I was going to propose much easier to do than it is now. Indeed I will not propose it, although I came on purpose, after what you have said in your frankness.’

‘Nonsense, Nic. Come, tell me. How can you be so touchy?’

‘Look at this then, Christine dear.’ He drew from his breast-pocket a sheet of paper and unfolded it, when it was observable that a seal dangled from the bottom.

‘What is it?’ She held the paper sideways, so that what there was of window-light fell on its surface. ‘I can only read the Old English letters–why–our names! Surely it is not a marriage-licence?’