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His Last Proposal


[Alx Bights Bbsbrtto.] His Last Proposal BY J. FTT^E"RV-T.T* Author of "Court Lire below Stairs." "The Queen's {"!<wafa^e, Tb-. Rrw-r, ,&c. 1 "These three dsya Iets passed like a Bitot." said he, edging his way to what he -wanted to tell liar, "I'm :):,(1 you the country," w she answered, staring straight in front of her, and quite determined not to return the glance which she felt was fired upon her. "The country, he repeated, as if its con- nection with his enjoyment struck him for the first time, "1 wasn't thinking of that. When I came dow 11 on Saturday it seemed a* if I had no end of a time before me, and now that it'a Monday afternoon—tl at it's Monday afternoon, and I'm leaving you- Yes, I know, you are rather glad to be getting back to town," she said, with a ner- vous attempt to laugh. "You know that's not what I mean, and if you walk so quickly you'll put me out of wreath. Why are you in such a terrible tiurryf" "Because I want to get home in time for tea," she told him. "Look here, Mabel," he said, his voice growing husky from the forco of his feelings; "you know how much I eare for you- "For goodness' sake don't go over the same thing again," she interrupted. "It's nearly a year since I spoke about it before." "And now you want to spoil the pleasure 01 the last few days." "Then they were pleasant to you, too "And prevent your coming down to us again." "That's just it," he said, with a ring of sad- ness that touched her. "Just what?" she asked q-Liielb, ty, turning her head for a second to see hu dear plain 4ace shining with an affection that made her heart bound. "Just this. You know that I love you; that you are everything in the world to me t>nt if I have no chance of ever winning you, if you cannot care for me, it's a mistake for me to come here and bore you with my pro- posals, and it's a thing I can't stand, for it takes the heart out of me. So if you don't love me, I must only try to fo!'get you. It will be hard work, but it would only mak- it harder if I were to go on coming down here whenever I was asked." "And so you wish to turn your back on old friends," she said, knowing how unreason- able and unjust her words were. "You and I must be something more than friends, or—nothing," he told her. When he pe of his love, his words feU on her ears like music. Come what would, she knew she would never forget them they would ring in her ears through the silence of lonely days, throtigh the sleepless hours of night, when, Eerhaps, she would give the wfroie world to ear them once more. Than she mentally ,scoffed at herself for being romantic and sen- timental, and strove to harden har troubled heart. There were duties she owed to herself and to her family which must bs performed. In the time to come she would no doubt ridi- Cifle herself for having ever thonght of marry- ing him; she might even com:: to agree with others in thinking him plain. A stolen look assured her that would be impossible; at lsagt, so long as his grey eye were so full of tore for her as now. That gin nee almost be- trayed her into tenderness towards him, al- most made her forget her duty, her impera- tive duty. "So tell me, Mabel," said voice, which though it still pleaded, had an under- tone of determination, "if t i any chance for me. I am willing to wi&;> if you like; but I must know, my fate to i "How foolish you are," o the words that slipped from her; wonh that were not in the least what she had lukjiJjd to say, or anch as duty suggested to he r, "Foolish to love you?" To want to marry me. know the three younger girls have to L" educated, and my father has never been au.r tu save. And now that Sir William has tded to the property, and is full of n notions about it, the dear old d. duusu't find the agency as easy a post as it was in the old baronet's time." -1'1 know Sir William is ft "ool," came the quick and bitter reply. "He and my father have more than one disagreement already, that makes my mother and myself very troubled as to what may happen any day, considering my father's hasty temper." "I don't want a wife with money, he blurted out." f "No, but as you are poor "You cannot marry me!" "I was going to say it would be wiser for you to marry a girl with a fortune; there are many rich girls who are not too ugly; or you might marry the daughter of a solicitor, who would send you the needed hriefs and make your fortune." I didn't ask you to marry a pauper," he Sjwd, reproachfully. "I have two hundred a year, besides whatever I ma<, u-n." j "But think, what could vs'* <! on two hun- dreti a year," she asked, bro,eing herself to be hard while hating herself he words she felt compelled to speak, in hope of cur- ing liim of his infatuation. should have to live in a London suburb, in a rabbit hutch of ft flat, with pianos dinning iu our ears from above and below, while the quarrels of our neighbours were thrnst on us from either side through the match-board walls. "If you loved me half as well as I love you, Jou would not think of such sling's, lie said, alf angrily, half sadly.. I am practical and you ;.Tfc romantic, just os all men are," she told him, with an effort at gaiety which she was from feeling. "Poverty and marriage don'\ go well to- ^"If I were only, as wealthy 3 thft"fool "You mean dear old Major lliskms. Why he's near eighty." You know well enough I neAn Sir Wil- liam. You are only trifling with me. At that she frowned. He • certainly los- ing his temper, and he had dn; d to insinuate that she was mercenary. It hopeless to expect that any man would "er understand any woman; but that he s!■ <1 so wilfully and grossly misjudge her, intolerable. They walked on through tj; nark, beautiful in its undulating green, and in its an- cient oaks and elms, both c- em silent and miserable. When at last they came A; ■ n sight of the agent's house, her home, a n brick many gabled dwelling, smothered clematis, and standing serenely in its ye< .dged garden, be made his last appeal. "Mabel, do you love me? Will you marry met" he cried out. "No, I cannot marry you, she answered, thinking how detestably coif' nd harsh the Woi&e of wisdom sounded. I ØJ will wait for you for years; I will work if me JOB tike a slave," he said. "B would be foolish for ns to make pro- j anises, to bind ourselves perhaps for ye.i^s n: d '?:?J:Y" aa"1?. w* f- fro* "f'1 < freshness of our YC.<;il had g' u «e replied, in the same slow, frozen tone. "Tor God's safe, give ;J[, :D -Y:—— like -!hat," he said passionately, "ifa the best one i can give for both dur sakess," she said. "You won't marry me?" «..1: canoM marry yon." "is that your final decision? Tbia-, dear, think all it means to me. Think, for I'm ask- ing you now for tin last time." Before speaking she drew a deep breath; the mmay scene lying before her suddenly lost its glory, and the singing of a lark over- head seented to mock her as sLj Buid, It is my final answer." When they had silently passed through the garden and come to the front of the house they found the friend with whom he had come waiting for him and ready to start back to town. Tea had been served under the great cedar tree on the lawn where he was talking to her parents, while her three sisters were all at once chattering to Sir Wil- liam, a stoat young man, with a. round, shin- ing face, fair, smooth hair, a confident manner, and a load voice. Quickly his alert blue eyes fixed themselves on the two figures as they approached, and he immediately understood what had happened. "By Jove, she's chucked the fellow," he said to himself delightedly, as he took a cigar from his case. The youngest of the girls hurried forward on seeing them, her thin legs twinkling under faear short, white skirts, her hair flying behind her. 160h, Frank, where have you bpenf We waited tea for you ever so long," s'u i r akd out in her shrill treble as she linked hvr arm in his and walked beside him. "I'm afraid the tea is cold," the child's mother said. "Have a whiskey and soda instead," .in- gested her father. No, thanks, I really don't want anytl-.n.e, he mid, rousing himself, and then tnrmug to his friend added, "I'm quite read; "So am 1; your bag is in the He shook hands with all of ti Sir William, whom he did not seem i air eh to the satisfaction of that ir d J, who ehuckled to himself at the ove* r Bi t as Frank took Mabel's hand its > ureauta-e seemed to say farewell for ever. At the derc thought her heart sank and a 1 itrayed her into bidding him then and there to stay. But the words remained unspoken, her eyes had no opportunity of telegraphing a message to him. In a confused way she heard the hubbub made by her sisters, bfard the puffing and clicking of a motor-car, hoard her father's voice bidding his guests come soon again, and then saw the car take & n'om her the man she had lost for ever, who, she realised in that moment, was .JJ master of her heart. When the car and its occupants had pl'Æ,sed down the little avenue and had ili ap; si>d at the turn of the dusty road, her > s came back to her surroundings 1,1 William watching her intently and u,, i an air of satisfaction that was intolerable to her. "They'll have a pleasant run up to to* a, he said, taking the cigar from his rnouth smiling at it as he held it between lu»- fhig^rs. "Yes, I suppose .so," she answered mechanically. "I came over with a message irom my mother," he said, coming nearer to Msbftl. "She's been wondering why she Been j yon for the last few days, and she hopes you will come up to the hall and spand the day with her to-morrow." "That is very kind of Lady ^tera, £ >ut to-morrow is the day she and 1 1!!Ü to de- corate the church for ConnrmATion. 1 sop- pose she must have forgotten ¡>he on it," Mabel answered, as she went. towards the house. "Don't go in and leave me -lie said, reproachfully. i "Alone!" she said, and turnuig rounci yhe noticed for the first time that the others bad silently disappeared. A blush nine into her cheeks as she realised that thif had been done for the purpose of leaving her alone .with Sir William. "I beg your pardon, i thought my mother and the girls-" paused in COil- fusion as she saw him smile. tie also why they had gone. "So you can't come to the Hau nor- row!" he said, coming closer to her. "Not if we are to decorate "Well, when next you do, I v suf, you to enter it as its future mistress, said, nod- ding at her and congratulat s;g imageif on having proposed so neatly, at him without speaking, auo without, slightest sign of pleasure in '•> i i&c-o, he thought had grown sudde J pale. "I mean that I want you ) become my wife," he explained, surpr 1 that she showed no signs of delight. As she continued to look at hjra ins round face shining, his thick ears p/<e.,i t- ing, his manner almost n. 3 authority—he appeared hate/u! :o hvr. she wondered how she over thought it possible for her ( 'hare her hfe with him, even for the sake lier father's position, and of beiny to edu- cate and settle the girls. "Won't you say yes," he said, slipping his arm round her waist. She stepped back quickly, her lace flu.shed with indignation. "Come, come, we are lovers, aren v veT he said, seeing he had made nrntghe. It needed all her self-resirai at to sui dtie her anger as she replied, "1 <;«*nnot ae ept your offer, Sir William." "What, won't you be my wilef he asked in amazement. "No, I cannot be your wife," she ansr/ored determinedly. "Pooh, you're put out to-day; I can eee that I spoke at the wrong m m"t. Think over it, and you'll come round. T," not your answer now." "It will always be the sanir,. she calmly. At that he smiled incredulously. Aot a bit of it," he said. "We won't talk of is for a month, and then I'll ask you igain. Ye a 11 have time to come round by then; and now I'll take myself off." He raised his hat and went whistling down the little pathway leading the r >>v. I When he had gone she rush- "iito the se and up to her bedroom, wi ■ s' lj door, she flung herself on b* o bitterly. Tho sunshine pouring thr u £ tained window, as well as tH° '< t., e children playing in the ganVn.^ to mock the misery of one whr \r« 3^ d her heart until too late, u jLI 1- fully put from her the h w realised was the greatest g or her. And suffering as she u « the first time some idea of vm »• >d inflicted on another. The • te t hi- rose before her, dearer than ever in its plain- ness, his eyes full of disappointment and sor- t row. Ah, if only she could see him once [ again, if only she could let him know that her wordiiness, her drea"; of reig"r ( sisters' future, had all given way before her 'love for him. The noise of a motor-car so-mdhig f.ho'='•'> her sobs seemed to her at first the [ creation of her imagination, but as it grew louder and drew nearer, &he quickly raised her fccrvd p-'ul breathlessly. Then. iusnu^T la t.i- dow, she looked out and saw the car driv- | ing up the little avenue, with Frank "itting j limply in front, his head bandaged^ his face | ghastly. At that the room swung round her. When she recovered consciousness she was sitting on a chair, feeling weak and giddy. A glass of water somewhat revived her, she bathed her face, braced herself for an effort, and made her^way downstairs, clutching at | the bannisters Ibr help. The sounds of scared voices and hurried steps reached her, and ] then one of her sisters came bounding up the I stairs three steps at a time, on her way to the linen press. j He's not killed," she called out, thrilled by a not unpleasant excitement, but he has tad a narrow scrape. It's all the fault of those murder cars." Mabel found him in the library, lying on a sofa, and apologising for all the trouble he was giving. When he saw her in the door- way, the expression of her terror, love, and pity, stopped his words, and he muttered j something which her mother, who was bend- ing over him, mistook for a moon How YOIl must sllffer," said that gentle, kindly lady, compassionately. "Oh, how I wish the doctor was here. What can be i keeping him?" II I don't know that I need h.m now," he said, looking over her shoulder to the figure in the doorway, and smiling in a way that made the good woman think he was getting light headed. I mean, that is, I am much better now," and then a sudder; pang shoot- ing through his head made him "wince and I gasp. At that Mabel crossed the room swiftly and put her hand gently on his ban- I, daged head. He looked straight into her eyes and read what was in her heart. She might not have been able to keep back the tears if at that moment the doctor, breathless with haste and bustling with im- portance, had not come ÍlE-V ike 0 room, fol- lowed by the patient's friend, by her father, and by her sisters, whose feelings were equally divided between sorrow for Frank, whom they loved, and gratification at" being associated with such a sensational acci- dent. A blow was given to their self-import- ance when they were asked to leave the lib- rary; but they lingered outside the door planning all that they would do for his bene- fit and comfort when in the days to come he woald sit in a basket chair on the lawn. Though his accident was not so serious as had been feared, yet the doctor was by no means willing that it should be made light of. Rest and quiet were above all things necessary, and he must remain where he was for the present, an order Mabel heard with secret delight, and her sisters with frankly expressed pleasure. In the days that fol. lowed they forcibly took him into their charge. Their devotion, which no hint of his could lessen, prevented his being left alone for any time with Mabel, but on such rare occasions he made no reference to the afternoon he had parted from her, to the proposal which he bad said would be his last. And though he was undoubtedly happy in having her with him, in hearing her voice, in watching her, yet he made no reference to his love for her. His happiness was not lessened at hearing that Sir William had, on the same afternoon as the accident had occurred, gone up to town for a week, so that he was spared the I irritation which that young man's presence aiways caused him. I Mabel was also relieved by his absence, but she dreaded his return, dreaded to hear him ask her to marry him. This increased her anxiety to make, as soon as possible, the confession which she told herself was due to Frank. But as she could never count on be- ing left alone with him for five minutes, she began to fear that she would not have the I chance of speaking before he At last a I flower show in the neighbourhood offered a temptation to the three girls to forsake their duty, and though, like true heroines, they would have liked to put te:ffi]>iat!on behind them and suffer in silence and "olitude while their heartless neighbours were way, yet it required but little persuasion from Frank to induce them to leave him fo-, an atternoon. I When they had set off with many promises to return early, and instructions jjb to how he was to act meantime, be -s<r'«y.into the ) park and presently found himself in the spot where he had been when be had proposed to Mabel. The place seemed i >'o ly associ- ated with her that he rer > > there think- ing of her as he walked » > ackwards j and forwards, until at la i n.*ud sounds of a light footstep behind him, and turning quickly he came face to face with her. The J first thing he noticed was that her eyes avoided his, and that her manner seemed embarrassed. Aren't you sorry you didn't go with the children to the flower show?" he s«id. j "No," sha answered, "I remained behind that I might talk to you-that I migbt tell you something-" f 'What is it?" he asked wonder-. ing, hoping. "When I spoke to you that afternoon be- fore you left-I didn't know nntselt. I strove | to harden my heart, to be worldly, to be am- bitious, but when you had left lie, I -aw that I had been deceiving myself, that I had i been merely playing a pari--and I "knew that I had always loved you. "Mabel," he called out, standing still" scarce knowing if he could believe what he I heard. Then with an effort he eelmed him- self and said, "Don't let pity for my acci- i deut make you say what you may regret later on." Oh, Frank, don't be crue-I she said. ? But as yet he could not be certain that she' had given him what he had m »ftee tiJleaded for in vain; and restraining hit dr.-tire to take her in his arms, he said, ve you thought ct Sir William?" "I have refused to be his wife/' j I "And you will be mine?" lie asked. breath- lessly. "I will never be the wife of any tb or man," she said. At that he flung his ara'g 7tround iter and kissed her. Presently, as they returned to tell the news to her ,parents, he said, "I arn wcuder- fully lucky to have escaped death and won- the woman of my heart, all in (rie week/

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