“My brother tells me that he came to see you yesterday,” he began.
“Yes,” she answered, smiling again, but wondering in her heart how much he had told him.
“Do you find him much changed?”
“You used to be very fond of each other once, if I remember right?” said he.
“I often think how curious it is,” went on Sir Eustace in a reflective tone, “to watch the various changes time brings about, especially where the affections are concerned. One sees children at the seaside making little mounds of sand, and they think, if they are very young children, that they will find them there to-morrow. But they reckon without their tide. To-morrow the sands will have swept as level as ever, and the little boys will have to begin again. It is like that with our youthful love affairs, is it not? The tide of time comes up and sweeps them away, fortunately for ourselves. Now in your case, for instance, it is, I think, a happy thing for both of you that your sandhouse did not last. Is it not?”
Madeline sighed softly. “Yes, I suppose so,” she answered.
Bottles, behind the curtains, rapidly reviewed the past, and came to a different conclusion.
“Well, that is all done with,” said Sir Eustace cheerfully.
Madeline did not contradict him; she did not see her way to doing so just at present.
Then came a pause.
“Madeline,” said Sir Eustace presently, in a changed voice, “I have something to say to you.”
“Indeed, Sir Eustace,” she answered, lifting her eyebrows again in her note of interrogation manner, “what is it?”
“It is this, Madeline–I want to ask you to be my wife.”
The blue velvet curtains suddenly gave a jump as though they were assisting at at spiritualistic _seance_.
Sir Eustace looked at the curtains with warning in his eye.
Madeline saw nothing.
“Really, Sir Eustace!”
“I dare say I surprise you,” went on this ardent lover; “my suit may seem a sudden one, but in truth it is nothing of the sort.”
“O Lord, what a lie!” groaned the distracted Bottles.
“I thought, Sir Eustace,” murmured Madeline in her sweet low voice, “that you told me not very long ago that you never meant to marry.”
“Nor did I, Madeline, because I thought there was no chance of my marrying you” (“which I am sure I hope there isn’t,” he added to himself). “But–but, Madeline, I love you.” (“Heaven forgive me for that!”) “Listen to me, Madeline, before you answer,” and he drew his chair closer to her own. “I feel the loneliness of my position, and I want to get married. I think that we should suit each other very well. At our age, now that our youth is past” (he could not resist this dig, at which Madeline winced), “probably neither of us would wish to marry anybody much our junior. I have had many opportunities lately, Madeline, of seeing the beauty of your character, and to the beauties of your person no man could be blind. I can offer you a good position, a good fortune, and myself, such as I am. Will you take me?” and he laid his hand upon hers and gazed earnestly into her eyes.
“Really, Sir Eustace,” she murmured, “this is so very unexpected and sudden.”
“Yes, Madeline, I know it is. I have no right to take you by storm in this way, but I trust you will not allow my precipitancy to weight against me. Take a little time to think it over–a week say” (“by which time,” he reflected, “I hope to be in Algiers.”) “Only, if you can, Madeline, tell me that I may hope.”
She made no immediate answer, but, letting her hands fall idly in her lap, looked straight before her, her beautiful eyes fixed upon vacancy, and her mind amply occupied in considering the pros and cons of the situation. Then Sir Eustace took heart of grace; bending down, he kissed the Madonna-like face. Still there was no response. Only very gently she pushed him from her, whispering:
“Yes, Eustace, I think I shall be able to tell you that you may hope.”
Bottles waited to see no more. With set teeth and flaming eyes he crept, a broken man, through the door that led on to the landing, crept down the stairs and into the hall. On the pegs were his hat and coat; he took them and passed into the street.
“I have done a disgraceful thing,” he thought, “and I have paid for it.”
Softly as the door closed Sir Eustace heard it; and then he too left the room, murmuring, “I shall soon come for my answer, Madeline.”
When he reached the street his brother was gone.