Tiny Luttrell, by E. W. Hornung

Chapter 18.

The Third Time of Asking.

December was at hand soon enough, and with the month came Lord Manister for his answer. Though more than slightly nervous he entered the modest house in Kensington with his head very high; and certain inappropriate sensations visited him during the few minutes he was kept waiting in the drawing room. He did not sit down. Then it was Tiny Luttrell who opened the door, and those sensations made good their escape from a bosom in which they had no business. In the living presence of the person one proposes to marry there are some misgivings that had need be impossible — Christina little suspected her privilege of shutting the door on Manister’s with her own hand. He sat down at her example.

But if he was nervous so was she, and as he came bravely to the point she found it more and more difficult to meet his hungry eyes. It was rather rare for Christina to experience any difficulty of the kind. She rose, and stood in front of the fire, with her back to the room and Lord Manister. There, with her forehead resting on the rim of the mantelpiece (for Tiny that was not far to bend), and while the hot fire scorched her plain gray skirt and gave a needed color to the downcast face, she heard what Manister had to say. Soon she knew that he was saying it with his elbow on one end of the mantelpiece; and liked him for facing her so, and compelling her to face him. But when she found him waiting for his answer, she gave him it without lifting her eyes from the fire.

“No!”

He had asked her whether she had been able to make up her mind. The answer she had given was, indeed, the truth; but it had been prepared for a more conclusive question. She was vexed with him for the question he had chosen to put first; and the more so because it had snatched from her an admission which she had not intended to make. But she had not made up her mind — that was the simple truth; and now she trusted that he would make up his.

Instead of which he said sadly, after a pause:

“I wanted to give you six months!”

“It was very wrong of you to give me one,” she answered with startling ingratitude.

“Why wrong?”

“You might have seen that I was unworthy of you.”

“I might have given up loving you, I suppose, in a second!”

“I wish you would ——”

“I never shall!”

“If you ever began,” Christina added to her own sentence. At last her face was raised, and now it was his eyes that fell before the cool acumen of her smile.

“You don’t believe in me yet!” he groaned. “Not yet, though I wait, wait, wait.”

“No one asked you to wait,” Lord Manister was reminded.

“But you see that I can’t help it! You see that I am miserable about you!”

This indeed was sufficiently plain; and the sight of his misery was softening Christina by degrees. She said more kindly:

“Listen to me, Lord Manister. It is a month since you saw me. At this moment you may feel what you are saying. Very well, then, you do feel it; but have you felt it throughout the last month? Have you felt so patient — you are far too patient — all the time? Has it never seemed to you that my keeping you in doubt, even for one month, was a piece of impertinence you ought never to have stood? Wouldn’t your friends simply think you mad if they knew how you were allowing me to use you? Haven’t you yourself occasionally remembered who you are, and who I am, and burst out laughing? I must say I have; it sometimes seems to me so utterly absurd —— And you see you can’t answer my questions!”

He could not; one after another they had penetrated to the quick.

“They are not fair questions,” Manister said doggedly. “What may have crossed my mind when I have felt worried and wretched has nothing to do with it. Isn’t it enough that I tell you I can wait your own good time — that I feel a pride in waiting, now we are together and I am looking in your eyes?”

“No, I don’t think that’s quite enough,” replied Christina softly. “It would hardly be enough, you know, if you only felt me worth waiting for while you were with me. That would mean that for some reason I fascinated you. And fascination isn’t love, Lord Manister. I don’t want to be rude — much less unkind — but I can’t believe that you have ever been really in love with me; I simply can’t!”

Yet she had never felt so near to that belief before. Her words, however, helped Lord Manister back to his dignity.

“Of course you must believe only what you choose,” said he loftily. “One cannot force you to believe in one’s sincerity. I suppose I spoilt you for believing in mine some time since. At all events you were fond of me once! Only a month ago you liked me all but well enough to marry me. Yet now you do not know!”

“Therefore the decision is left to you, Lord Manister; you must give me up.”

“Never! while you are free.”

His teeth were clenched.

“But do consider. Most probably I shall never care enough for you to marry you. And oh! I wonder how you can look at me when no other girl in the world would refuse you!”

“Can’t you see that this is part of your charm?” cried the young man impulsively. “You are the one girl I know who is not worldly. You are the one girl I want!”

Christina shook her head.

“If I have any charm at all, you oughtn’t to know what it is — you ought to love me you can’t say why — there’s no sizing up real love!” she informed him rapidly, but with a smile. “There’s another thing, too. You cannot be used to being treated as I have treated you in many ways. I have often been intensely rude to you. I can’t help thinking there must be a good deal of pique in your feeling toward me.”

“There is more real love,” returned Manister, “if I know it!”

“I wonder if you do know it?” said the girl, with a laugh; but she was wondering very seriously in her heart. He protested no more; she liked him for that, too, as also for the briskness in his tone and manner when he spoke next.

“You say you don’t care for me enough, and you say I don’t care for you properly, and we won’t argue any more about either matter for the moment.” He had flung back his head from the hand that had shaded his eyes; his elbow remained on the chimney-piece, but now he was standing erect. “There is something else,” said Lord Manister, “that has prevented you from coming to a decision.”

“There is certainly one thing that has had something to do with it.”

“May I ask what it is?”

“Certainly, Lord Manister. I am going back to Australia.”

“Soon?” This was after a pause, during which their eyes had not met.

“Sooner than was intended.”

“Is it — is it for any special reason that — that you have kept from me?”

He was agitated by a sudden thought, which she read. She shook her head reassuringly.

“No, it is not to get married, nor yet engaged.”

“Then there is no one out there?”

“There is no one anywhere that I could marry for love. That’s the simple truth. I am going back to Australia because Herbert is going. Cambridge doesn’t suit him, and I’m sorry to say he doesn’t suit Cambridge. We came over together, so we are going back together. That, I promise you, is the whole and only explanation. I myself did not want to go so soon.”

“But surely you are not going this year?”

“We are — before Christmas.”

As Tiny spoke her glance went to the window: she was very anxious to see the snow before she sailed, but none had fallen yet, though December had come in dull and raw.

“But your people here must be very much against that?”

“They were, but now it is settled.”

“You must have promised to come back!”

Christina seemed surprised.

“Yes, I said I would come back some day.”

“And you shall!” cried Manister passionately. “You shall come back as my wife! Do you suppose I am going to stop short at this, when but for your brother you would have been mine today? I don’t mean to say he has influenced you, except by going back so soon; you love Australia, and you must needs go back with him. Then go! I told you to take six months; you have taken one of them. When the other five are up I am coming to you again wherever you may be. Till then I will take no answer; and whatever it may be in the end I bow to it — I bow to it!”

His passion surprised and even moved Christina; but his humility stirred up in her soul a contempt which mingled strangely with her pity. Women of spirit cannot admire the man who will submit to anything at their hands. Christina would willingly have given admiration in exchange for the love in which she was beginning to believe; it would have pleased her sense of justice, it would have promoted her self-respect to make some such small payment on account. With Manister’s patience she had none at all. She was disappointed in him. Her foot tapped angrily on the fender.

“But I don’t want you to wait!” exclaimed Christina ungraciously. “I have told you so already.”

“Still I mean to do so, and it serves me right.”

This touched her generosity.

“Ah, don’t say that!” she cried earnestly. “Oh, Lord Manister, I have forgotten all old scores — I never think of them now! The balance has been the other way so long; and I do not deserve another chance.”

“Ah, but Tiny — darling — it is I who am asking for that!”

His tone compelled her to meet his gaze — its intensity made her wince.

“You believe in me!” he cried joyously. “Say only that you believe in me, and I will go away now. I will go away happy and proud — to wait — for you.”

Then Tiny laid her little hand on his arm, and her eyes that had filled with tears answered him to his present satisfaction. He held her hand for just a few seconds before he went, and in kindness she returned his pressure. Then the shutting of the front door down below made her realize that he was gone. And she had time to dry her eyes and to gather herself together before Ruth, whose hopes had been dead some days, came into the room with a dejected mien and pointedly abstained from asking questions.

“If it interests you to hear it,” Tiny said lightly, “I am converted to your creed at last; I believe in Lord Manister!”

“But you are not engaged to him,” Ruth said wearily; “I see you are not.”

“I am not; but he insists on waiting. If only he wasn’t so tame! But I can’t help believing in him now; and that settles it.”

“Nothing is settled until you are engaged,” said the matter-of-fact sister, with a sigh.

“Nevertheless I’m going to try with all my might to care for him, now that I see that he must really care for me. And let me tell you that I shall consider myself all the more bound to him because I haven’t said yes, and because we’re not actually engaged!”

“Yes?” said the other incredulously. “That is so like you, Tiny!”

And Ruth almost sneered.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/h/hornung/ew/tiny-luttrell/chapter18.html

Last updated Tuesday, March 25, 2014 at 21:16