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There came a delightful letter from Grace Carden, announcing her return on a certain evening, and hoping to see Henry next morning.
He called accordingly, and was received with outstretched hands and sparkling eyes, and words that repaid him for her absence.
After the first joyful burst, she inquired tenderly why he was so pale: had he been ill?
"No trouble nor anxiety, dear?"
"A little, at first, till your sweet letters made me happy. No; I did not even know that I was pale. Overstudy, I suppose. Inventing is hard work."
"What are you inventing?"
"All manner of things. Machine to forge large axes; another to grind circular saws; a railway clip: but you don't care about such things."
"I beg your pardon, sir. I care about whatever interests you."
"Well, these inventions interest me very much. One way or other, they are roads to fortune; and you know why I desire fortune."
"Ah, that I do. But excuse me, you value independence more. Oh, I respect you for it. Only don't make yourself pale, or you will make me unhappy, and a foe to invention."
On this Mr. Little made himself red instead of pale, and beamed with happiness.
They spent a delightful hour together, and, even when they parted, their eyes lingered on each other.
Soon after this the Cardens gave a dinner-party, and Grace asked if she might invite Mrs. Little and Mr. Little.
"What, is he presentable?"
"More than that," said Grace, coloring. "They are both very superior to most of our Hillsborough friends."
"Well, but did you not tell me he had quarreled with Mr. Raby?"
"No, not quarreled. Mr. Raby offered to make him his heir: but he chooses to be independent, and make his own fortune, that's all."
"Well, if you think our old friend would not take it amiss, invite them by all means. I remember her a lovely woman."
So the Littles were invited; and the young ladies admired Mr. Little on the whole, but sneered at him a little for gazing on Miss Carden, as if she was a divinity: the secret, which escaped the father, girls of seventeen detected in a minute, and sat whispering over it in the drawing-room.
After this invitation, Henry and his mother called, and then Grace called on Mrs. Little; and this was a great step for Henry, the more so as the ladies really took to each other.
The course of true love was beginning to run smooth, when it was disturbed by Mr. Coventry.
That gentleman's hopes had revived in London; Grace Carden had been very kind and friendly to him, and always in such good spirits, that he thought absence had cured her of Little, and his turn was come again. The most experienced men sometimes mistake a woman in this way. The real fact was that Grace, being happy herself, thanks to a daily letter from the man she adored, had not the heart to be unkind to another, whose only fault was loving her, and to whom she feared she had not behaved very well. However, Mr. Coventry did mistake her. He was detained in town by business, but he wrote Mr. Carden a charming letter, and proposed formally for his daughter's hand.
Mr. Carden had seen the proposal coming this year and more; so he was not surprised; but he was gratified. The letter was put into his hand while he was dressing for dinner. Of course he did not open the subject before the servants: but, as soon as they had retired, he said, "Grace, I want your attention on a matter of importance."
Grace stared a little, but said faintly, "Yes, papa," and all manner of vague maidenly misgivings crowded through her brain.
"My child, you are my only one, and the joy of the house; and need I say I shall feel your loss bitterly whenever your time comes to leave me?"
"Then I never will leave you," cried Grace, and came and wreathed her arms round his neck.
He kissed her, and parting her hair, looked with parental fondness at her white brow, and her deep clear eyes.
"You shall never leave me, for the worse," said he: "but you are sure to marry some day, and therefore it is my duty to look favorably on a downright good match. Well, my dear, such a match offers itself. I have a proposal for you."
"I am sorry to hear it."
"Wait till you hear who it is. It is Mr. Coventry, of Bollinghope."
Grace sighed, and looked very uncomfortable.
"Why, what is the matter? you always used to like him."
"So I do now; but not for a husband."
"I see no one to whom I could resign you so willingly. He is well born and connected, has a good estate, not too far from your poor father."
"He speaks pure English: now these Hillsborough manufacturers, with their provincial twang, are hardly presentable in London society."
"Dear papa, Mr. Coventry is an accomplished gentleman, who has done me the highest honor he can. You must decline him very politely: but, between ourselves, I am a little angry with him, because he knows I do not love him; and I am afraid he has made this offer to YOU, thinking you might be tempted to constrain my affections: but you won't do that, my own papa, will you? you will not make your child unhappy, who loves you?"
"No, no. I will never let you make an imprudent match; but I won't force you into a good one."
"And you know I shall never marry without your consent, papa. But I'm only nineteen, and I don't want to be driven away to Bollinghope."
"And I'm sure I don't want to drive you away anywhere. Mine will be a dull, miserable home without you. Only please tell me what to say to him."
"Oh, I leave that to you. I have often admired the way you soften your refusals. 'Le seigneur Jupiter sait dorer la pillule'--there, that's Moliere."
"Well, I suppose I must say--"
"Let me see what HE says first."
She scanned the letter closely, to see whether there was any thing that could point to Henry Little. But there was not a word to indicate he feared a rival, though the letter was any thing but presumptuous.
Then Grace coaxed her father, and told him she feared her inexperience had made her indiscreet. She had liked Mr. Coventry's conversation, and perhaps had, inadvertently, given him more encouragement than she intended: would he be a good, kind papa, and get her out of the scrape, as creditably as he could? She relied on his superior wisdom. So then he kissed her, and said he would do his best.
He wrote a kind, smooth letter, gilding and double-gilding the pill. He said, amongst the rest, that there appeared to be no ground of refusal, except a strong disinclination to enter the wedded state. "I believe there is no one she likes as well as you; and, as for myself, I know no gentleman to whom I would so gladly confide my daughter's happiness," etc., etc.
He handed this letter to his daughter to read, but she refused. "I have implicit confidence in you," said she.
Mr. Coventry acknowledged receipt of the letter, thanked Mr. Carden for the kind and feeling way in which he had inflicted the wound, and said that he had a verbal communication to make before he could quite drop the matter; would be down in about a fort-night.
Soon after this Grace dined with Mrs. Little: and, the week after that, Henry contrived to meet her at a ball, and, after waiting patiently some time, he waltzed with her.
This waltz was another era in their love. It was an inspired whirl of two lovers, whose feet hardly felt the ground, and whose hearts bounded and thrilled, and their cheeks glowed, and their eyes shot fire; and when Grace was obliged to stop, because the others stopped, her elastic and tense frame turned supple and soft directly, and she still let her eyes linger on his, and her hand nestle in his a moment: this, and a faint sigh of pleasure and tenderness, revealed how sweet her partner was to her.
Need I say the first waltz was not the last? and that evening they were more in love than ever, if possible.
Mr. Coventry came down from London, and, late that evening, he and Mr. Carden met at the Club.
Mr. Carden found him in an arm-chair, looking careworn and unhappy, and felt quite sorry for him. He hardly knew what to say to him; but Coventry with his usual grace relieved him; he rose, and shook hands, and even pressed Mr. Carden's hand, and held it.
Mr. Carden was so touched, that he pressed his hand in return, and said, "Courage! my poor fellow; the case is not desperate, you know."
Mr. Coventry shook his head, and sat down. Mr. Carden sat down beside him.
"Why, Coventry, it is not as if there was another attachment."
"There IS another attachment; at least I have too much reason to fear so. But you shall judge for yourself. I have long paid my respectful addresses to Miss Carden, and I may say without vanity that she used to distinguish me beyond her other admirers; I was not the only one who thought so; Mr. Raby has seen us together, and he asked me to meet her at Raby Hall. There I became more particular in my attentions, and those attentions, sir, were well received."
"But were they UNDERSTOOD? that is the question."
"Understood and received, upon my honor."
"Then she will marry you, soon or late: for I'm sure there is no other man. Grace was never deceitful."
"All women are deceitful."
"Let me explain: all women, worthy of the name, are cowards; and cowardice drives them to deceit, even against their will. Pray bear me to an end. On the fifth of last December, I took Miss Carden to the top of Cairnhope hill. I showed her Bollinghope in the valley, and asked her to be its mistress."
"And what did she say? Yes, or no?"
"She made certain faint objections, such as a sweet, modest girl like her makes as a matter of course, and then she yielded."
"What! consented to be your wife?"
"Not in those very words; but she said she esteemed me, and she knew I loved her; and, when I asked her whether I might speak to you, she said 'Yes.'"
"But that was as good as accepting you."
"I am glad you agree with me. You know, Mr. Carden, thousands have been accepted in that very form. Well, sir, the next thing was we were caught in that cursed snow-storm."
"Yes, she has told me all about that."
"Not all, I suspect. We got separated for a few minutes, and I found her in an old ruined church, where a sort of blacksmith was working at his forge. I found her, sir, I might say almost in the blacksmith's arms. I thought little of that at first: any man has a right to succor any woman in distress: but, sir, I discovered that Miss Carden and this man were acquaintances: and, by degrees, I found, to my horror, that he had a terrible power over her."
"What do you mean, sir? Do you intend to affront us?"
"No. And, if the truth gives you pain, pray remember it gives me agony. However, I must tell you the man was not what he looked, a mere blacksmith; he is a sort of Proteus, who can take all manner of shapes: at the time I'm speaking of, he was a maker of carving tools. Well, sir, you could hardly believe the effect of this accidental interview with that man: the next day, when I renewed my addresses, Miss Carden evaded me, and was as cold as she had been kind: she insisted on it she was not engaged to me, and said she would not marry anybody for two years; and this, I am sorry to say, was not her own idea, but this Little's; for I overheard him ask her to wait two years for him."
"Little! What, Raby's new nephew?"
"That is the man."
Mr. Carden was visibly discomposed by this communication. He did not choose to tell Coventry how shocked he was at his own daughter's conduct; but, after a considerable pause, he said, "If what you have told me is the exact truth, I shall interpose parental authority, and she shall keep her engagement with you, in spite of all the Littles in the world."
"Pray do not be harsh," said Coventry.
"No, but I shall be firm."
"Insanity in his family, for one thing," suggested Coventry, scarcely above a whisper.
"That is true; his father committed suicide. But really that consideration is not needed. My daughter must keep her engagements, as I keep mine."
With this understanding the friends parted.
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