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mean to prove your affection now. If so, I must say I will never consent to be more than an old friend to you."
"Oh, then you do consent?" cried Bob eagerly.
"I have not said so: the matter requires consideration. Your offer does me great honour, dear Bob; I am fully sensible of it. But at my time of life, people will think me absurd."
"Begging your pardon," said Bob; "but I never did expect to hear you talk so much nonsense. What does it matter what people say, provided we don't injure them, and can make ourselves happy."
"There was something in that," she confessed.
He went on. "I know, Esther, the whole gain in this matter will be mine. You can maintain yourself respectably, and want no man's assistance. And if you marry me, you will have to leave Littlethorpe-a place where you have lived all your life, which is very dear to you, and where you are honoured and loved, as you deserve to be, by all, from the oldest man down to the youngest child in the place. Yes, you will have to leave Littlethorpe and go to London; to change nearly all your habits; and
at a time of life when new habits and new friends are hard to acquire. Perhaps, Esther, I ask too much? Indeed, now I come to think over that part, I see I do. It is selfish. I can never be to you what you are to me; for though you may laugh, I did love you thirty years ago, child as I was; and, somehow, the longer I stay with you the more you seem to return to what you were then. I am in love with you still, Esther. The spring of love in my heart has been kept covered up all these years; and now I am come back again, you have uncovered it, and it is as fresh as if I were a boy. Some poet says that love, at whatever age it comes, finds us young; and as long as it stays with us, it keeps us young. But I know, Esther, you have no old tenderness for me to revive. I cannot be to you what you are to me; but I should like to try and see whether I could not make you happy. Esther, you might learn to love me yet! Will you try? Will you, dear Esther?"
Indeed, indeed,” said Esther, much moved, for she saw that Bob was very serious, and she felt all the weight of his words, simple and plain as they were, because they came from his heart -"indeed you must give me a little time. Like all steady old maids, I cannot bear to do anything in a hurry. To-morrow morning I will give you a direct answer. I shall see my way clearly through all the difficulties of the thing, and they are not very many, I assure you."
You want, perhaps, some evidence of my conduct and character from those who know me in London. You do not know what sort of life I have led these thirty years. I may be an idle, swindling, good-for-nothing dog."
"No, no," said Esther, looking up at him with a frank, calm smile. "I am no conjuror, certainly, and I only know the wicked
ness of London from books; but I do not want any one to bear witness as to the main points of your character. They are written in your face and bearing. Trifling faults, peculiarities, I am prepared to find in every one. No, Bob; I have a few questions to ask myself-none to ask you. And, what is more, I cannot submit to be asked any more questions by you on this subject_to-night. If, when you wake to-morrow morning, you do not find that you have been carried away by the momentary excitement of your feelings, after a long talk on old times with an old friend—if you still keep your present desire to have me for a wife in my old age -why, come to me at twelve o'clock: if you view matters differently, do not come to me then. I shall understand that; and, mind, I shall not be offended, but shall be sure you do not intend to insult me. You respect me, I know, as I do you. We may be friends even though you should change your mind, or I should see reason not to marry. Now, let us talk of something else."
"Excuse me, Esther," said Bob, moving away to the other side of the room, and taking up his hat; "I cannot talk of something else now; my mind is full of this subject. I will go and take a turn down the road, to recover myself, and then I will go and fetch home little Jenny for you. It is a dreadfully cold night. I cannot think of your going for her." So, without turning round, he went out of the room, and in a moment she heard the cottage door shut behind him.
Esther sat by the fire and thought. She did not wash up the tea things, but sat meditating with her hands before her, as if there were nothing to do. Marry Bob Parsons! It was an idea she could not get accustomed to. It did seem odd, but the novelty would soon wear off. She had been waiting all her life for some one to love her, as she wished to be loved; and now that she was beginning to get old, a real lover-what she called a lover-presented himself. Surely that must be all a romantic fancy of Bob's about being in love with her in his early youth. Yet now she recalled some jokes of his sister Polly's on this very subject; jokes she had long since forgotten, because she had never believed there was anything but nonsense in them. Polly had often said to her, "If our Bob were but a little older, I do believe, Esther, he would be making love to you." That was natural for Polly to say, because she (Esther) was always very kind to Bob, and they were the two head scholars, and wrote at the same desk, and read out of the same Testament. She used to help him at school, and he used to help her at home: especially in pumping water, peeling potatoes, and digging in the garden; three things she always disliked. And she did miss him very much as a clever little companion when he turned against her in that unaccountable way. She was hurt at it very much, she remembered; for she was really fond of him, and therefore felt his desertion of her, without any cause, as a piéce of ingratitude. Since then, she had always felt that it was not surprising that Bob Parsons never
came down to Littlethorpe to see his family; he was of a changeable nature even as a boy. Affectionate to a certain extent, perhaps certainly rather clever-but changeable; and of all characters, a changeable one was to her the most contemptible. But now, if there were any truth in what Bob had been telling her, he had not been changeable at all-only so in appearance; and was really more steadfast than any man she ever knew. Was she, then, to throw away any affection, especially such a sincere, sober one as this seemed, merely because it came late in life? or because it might excite surprise, or even a laugh, among persons who had nothing to do with the business? There was something so manly and honest in Bob's way of speaking, that she could not think he said more than he meant. He did love her still. He would try to make her happy. She felt sure that he would treat Jenny like his own child. These points settled to her satisfaction, she began to think whether she could be sure of adding to his happiness. She was, in general, successful in her endeavours to make people happy; and with so much liability to be happy as Bob Parsons seemed to possess, she thought she ran no great risk of failure this time. This reflection brought her at once to the point. "I will marry him. We shall both be the better for it. I verily believe I shall really love him before he comes back from his walk." So saying to herself, she rose from her seat, and proceeded busily to wash the cups and saucers, and to set all things in order. By the time she had finished, Bob Parsons returned with little Jenny riding on his shoulder, in a high state of enjoyment. Esther shook hands with him at the door, and they parted. She had made up her mind, but wished to be quite sure that he had made up his.
Before the clock struck twelve the next day, Bob presented himself at Esther's cottage, and she gave him the answer he wished to have. The rest of his holiday was spent even more pleasantly than the beginning; for every one wished him joy when it was known that he was going to be married to Esther at Easter, when he would get a few days' holiday to come down to Littlethorpe, where the marriage was to take place, and take his wife and little Jenny up to London. The whole village regretted parting with Esther, but both she and Bob promised to come down at least every summer and see all their old friends again. As Bob had made himself remarkably popular in this one week, the villagers did him the honour of thinking Esther's change might be for the better.
When Bob returned to town, his fellow-clerks asked all sorts of questions about where he had been, and who he had seen. first he was mysterious, and would give no information. At last he announced the important fact that something had come of his visit to the country. A wife had come of it! He was going to be married; and he invited Jack Hooper, and three other friends, to dinner with him and his wife that day four months. How
they stared! Bob Parsons going to be married! Little Bob Parsons! "Well, I never!" cried Jack Hooper. "Something has come of his Christmas Holiday with a vengeance!"
BE JUST BEFORE YOU ARE GENEROUS.
"SOPHY," said Mr Lisle one day to his wife, "you can't think how vexed I am about poor Williams!"
"What about Williams?" inquired Mrs Lisle.
"Why, he's such an unlucky dog. You know, in the first place, he had no sooner signed the agreement to take that shop in Dean Street, than he found out that Maxwell and Grieves had previously taken the one next door to open in the same line; and ef course, as he was a stranger, and they were well known in the town, there was a considerable chance of their carrying off all the business."
"Well, but why didn't he take care to ascertain who had taken the next shop?" said Mrs Lisle.
"It would have been better if he had, certainly," replied her husband; "but people can't think of everything. But I was going to tell you-you know he naturally thought that if he didn't show as good a front as Maxwell's, he'd have no chance against them at all, so that led him to spend a good deal more on his fittings-up than he had intended, and left him short of money to stock his shop; so that he was obliged to get long credits, and bought at a disadvantage. All this threw him behind from the beginning, poor fellow; and although he has been as attentive to his business as a man could be, he has never been able to bring himself up."
"Well, he should have looked about him better at first," said Mrs Lisle.
"Ah, that's always your way," answered her husband; "you never feel for anybody. I'm sure a better-hearted fellow than Williams doesn't exist. Who could be kinder than both he and his wife were when little Jane was ill? They were always sending us something or another out of the shop that they thought the child would like-dates, and figs, and sugar-candy, and oranges at a time I know they were at least half-a-crown a dozen, for I went into Maxwell's shop on purpose to ask, out of curiosity."
"It was very good-natured, I admit," answered Mrs Lisle; "but I must say I was often more sorry than obliged. The child couldn't have used half they sent had she been well, much less when she was sick. I should often have sent them back, only you said it would seem so ungrateful. That sort of thing lays
one under such awkward obligations; particularly when you know people can't afford it, which I am sure they couldn't.”
"Then it was the more kind of them at anyrate," replied the husband. "It's easy to give what one can spare, but real generosity consists in giving what one wants one's-self."
Mrs Lisle did not feel satisfied with this position of her husband: she felt there was a fallacy about it; but not having reflected sufficiently on such subjects to be able to detect at once where the weakness lay, she was silent; whilst Mr Lisle, who on his part was perfectly sincere, thinking he had gained a legitimate advantage in the argument, pursued his discourse with more confidence.
"It often seems, really," continued he, "as if fortune delighted in persecuting those who least deserve it. I'm sure if everybody had their deserts, Williams merits success much more than Maxwell-a fellow that actually wouldn't go ten miles to see his sister, though he knew she was on her deathbed."
"Yes, that was very bad indeed," answered Mrs Lisle. "I never could bear him after that.'
"And yet everything goes well with him that he undertakes,” pursued her husband. Those railroad shares that he bought, for example, I hear they are likely to pay fifteen
per cent." "I wish you'd had some of them," said Mrs Lisle; "you know Mr Bostock always told us they would turn out well. Maxwell would not have bought them without good advice-he's so cautious."
"But I hadn't the money, you know, Sophia," replied Mr Lisle. "I couldn't be off my word with Williams; and I had promised to lend him a few hundred pounds at Christmas, which he expected would have kept him up till he had time to get out of his difficulties."
"Instead of which he is farther in difficulties," said the wife. "But he couldn't foresee that," replied the husband; "nobody expects luck is always to be against them."
66 Well, but what's the matter with him now," inquired Mrs Lisle. "Has anything particular happened?"
Why, it appears that the Liverpool house that has always furnished him with sugars has got a hint from somebody-Maxwell, perhaps, I shouldn't wonder-that he's not going on well; and they have not only stopped the supplies, but they threaten to put in an execution directly, if he don't pay them at least part of the debt, if he can't pay the whole. And what makes it so particularly unlucky is, that Mrs Williams' aunt Patty, they say, positively can't hold out above another six weeks; and if they could only contrive to keep the mill going till she pops off, her money would bring them up, and set all right. Besides, she's very proud and very stingy-that everybody knows-and who can tell but she might alter her will if she found out how things are with them."