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"So I am still. Or at least I mean that people should now be good-natured to me. Oh, Captain Scudamore, how foolish I have been!"
"Don't say so, don't think it, don't believe it for a moment," said Scudamore, scarcely knowing what he said, as she burst into a storm of sobbing. "Oh, Dolly, Dolly, you know you meant no harm. You are breaking your darling heart, when you don't deserve it. I could not bear to look at you, and think of it, this morning. Everybody loves you still, as much and more than ever. Oh, Dolly, I would rather die than see you cry so terribly."
"n.o.body loves me, and I hate myself. I could never have believed I should ever hate myself. Go away, you are too good to be near me. Go away, or I shall think you want to kill me. And I wish you would do it, Captain Scudamore."
"Then let me stop," said the Captain, very softly. She smiled at the turn of his logic, through her tears. Then she wept with new anguish, that she had no right to smile.
"Only tell me one thing-may I hold you? Not of course from any right to do it, but because you are so overcome, my own, own Dolly." The Captain very cleverly put one arm round her, at first with a very light touch, and then with a firmer clasp, as she did not draw away. Her cloak was not very c.u.mbrous, and her tumultuous heart was but a little way from his.
"You know that I never could help loving you," he whispered, as she seemed to wonder what the meaning was. "May I ever hope that you will like me?"
"Me! How can it matter now to anybody? I used to think it did; but I was very foolish then. I know my own value. It is less than this. This little flower has been a good creature. It has been true to its place, and hurt n.o.body."
Instead of seeking for any more flowers, she was taking from her breast the one she had-the snow-drop, and threatening to tear it in pieces.
"If you give it to me, I shall have some hope." As he spoke, he looked at her steadfastly, without any shyness or fear in his eyes, but as one who knows his own good heart, and has a right to be answered clearly. The maiden in one glance understood all the tales of his wonderful daring, which she never used to believe, because he seemed afraid to look at her.
"You may have it, if you like," she said; "but, Blyth, I shall never deserve you. I have behaved to you shamefully. And I feel as if I could never bear to be forgiven for it."
For the sake of peace and happiness, it must be hoped that she conquered this feminine feeling, which springs from an equity of nature-the desire that none should do to us more than we ever could do to them. Certain it is that when the Rector held his dinner party, two gallant bosoms throbbed beneath the emblem of purity and content. The military Captain's snow-drop hung where every one might observe it, and some gentle-witted jokes were made about its whereabouts that morning. By-and-by it grew weary on its stalk and fell, and Erle Twemlow never missed it. But the other snow-drop was not seen, except by the wearer with a stolen glance, when people were making a loyal noise-a little glance stolen at his own heart. He had made a little cuddy there inside his inner sarcenet, and down his plaited neck-cloth ran a sly companionway to it, so that his eyes might steal a visit to the joy that was over his heart and in it. Thus are women adored by men, especially those who deserve it least.
"Attention, my dear friends, attention, if you please," cried the Rector, rising, with a keen glance at Scuddy. "I will crave your attention before the ladies go, and theirs, for it concerns them equally. We have pa.s.sed through a period of dark peril, a long time of trouble and anxiety and doubt. By the mercy of the Lord, we have escaped; but with losses that have emptied our poor hearts. England has lost her two foremost defenders, Lord Nelson, and Admiral Darling. To them we owe it that we are now beginning the New Year happily, with the blessing of Heaven, and my dear daughter married. Next week we shall attend the grand funeral of the hero, and obtain good places by due influence. My son-in-law, Percival Shargeloes, can do just as he pleases at St. Paul's. Therefore let us now, with deep thanksgiving, and one hand upon our hearts, lift up our gla.s.ses, and in silence pledge the memory of our greatest men. With the spirit of Britons we echo the last words that fell from the lips of our dying hero-'Thank G.o.d, I have done my duty!' His memory shall abide for ever, because he loved his country."
The company rose, laid hand on heart, and deeply bowing, said-"Amen!"