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The Waiting Supper
by [?]

‘It is.’

She trembled. ‘O Nic! how could you do this–and without telling me!’

‘Why should I have thought I must tell you? You had not spoken “frankly” then as you have now. We have been all to each other more than these two years, and I thought I would propose that we marry privately, and that I then leave you on the instant. I would have taken my travelling-bag to church, and you would have gone home alone. I should not have started on my adventures in the brilliant manner of our original plan, but should have roughed it a little at first; my great gain would have been that the absolute possession of you would have enabled me to work with spirit and purpose, such as nothing else could do. But I dare not ask you now–so frank as you have been.’

She did not answer. The document he had produced gave such unexpected substantiality to the venture with which she had so long toyed as a vague dream merely, that she was, in truth, frightened a little. ‘I–don’t know about it!’ she said.

‘Perhaps not. Ah, my little lady, you are wearying of me!’

‘No, Nic,’ responded she, creeping closer. ‘I am not. Upon my word, and truth, and honour, I am not, Nic.’

‘A mere tiller of the soil, as I should be called,’ he continued, without heeding her. ‘And you–well, a daughter of one of the–I won’t say oldest families, because that’s absurd, all families are the same age–one of the longest chronicled families about here, whose name is actually the name of the place.’

‘That’s not much, I am sorry to say! My poor brother–but I won’t speak of that . . . Well,’ she murmured mischievously, after a pause, ‘you certainly would not need to be uneasy if I were to do this that you want me to do. You would have me safe enough in your trap then; I couldn’t get away!’

‘That’s just it!’ he said vehemently. ‘It is a trap–you feel it so, and that though you wouldn’t be able to get away from me you might particularly wish to! Ah, if I had asked you two years ago you would have agreed instantly. But I thought I was bound to wait for the proposal to come from you as the superior!’

‘Now you are angry, and take seriously what I meant purely in fun. You don’t know me even yet! To show you that you have not been mistaken in me, I do propose to carry out this licence. I’ll marry you, dear Nicholas, to-morrow morning.’

‘Ah, Christine! I am afraid I have stung you on to this, so that I cannot–‘

‘No, no, no!’ she hastily rejoined; and there was something in her tone which suggested that she had been put upon her mettle and would not flinch. ‘Take me whilst I am in the humour. What church is the licence for?’

‘That I’ve not looked to see–why our parish church here, of course. Ah, then we cannot use it! We dare not be married here.’

‘We do dare,’ said she. ‘And we will too, if you’ll be there.’

‘If I’ll be there!’

They speedily came to an agreement that he should be in the church-porch at ten minutes to eight on the following morning, awaiting her; and that, immediately after the conclusion of the service which would make them one, Nicholas should set out on his long-deferred educational tour, towards the cost of which she was resolving to bring a substantial subscription with her to church. Then, slipping from him, she went indoors by the way she had come, and Nicholas bent his steps homewards.


Instead of leaving the spot by the gate, he flung himself over the fence, and pursued a direction towards the river under the trees. And it was now, in his lonely progress, that he showed for the first time outwardly that he was not altogether unworthy of her. He wore long water-boots reaching above his knees, and, instead of making a circuit to find a bridge by which he might cross the Froom–the river aforesaid–he made straight for the point whence proceeded the low roar that was at this hour the only evidence of the stream’s existence. He speedily stood on the verge of the waterfall which caused the noise, and stepping into the water at the top of the fall, waded through with the sure tread of one who knew every inch of his footing, even though the canopy of trees rendered the darkness almost absolute, and a false step would have precipitated him into the pool beneath. Soon reaching the boundary of the grounds, he continued in the same direct line to traverse the alluvial valley, full of brooks and tributaries to the main stream–in former times quite impassable, and impassable in winter now. Sometimes he would cross a deep gully on a plank not wider than the hand; at another time he ploughed his way through beds of spear-grass, where at a few feet to the right or left he might have been sucked down into a morass. At last he reached firm land on the other side of this watery tract, and came to his house on the rise behind–Elsenford–an ordinary farmstead, from the back of which rose indistinct breathings, belchings, and snortings, the rattle of halters, and other familiar features of an agriculturist’s home.