`Go then!' I cried; but, fearing he would obey too well, and never come again, I hastily added--`Or say what you have to say, and have done with it!'
`But which?' said he--`for I shall only say it if you really were thinking of me. So tell me, Helen.'
`You're excessively impertinent, Mr Huntingdon!'
`Not at all--too pertinent, you mean--so you won't tell me?--Well, I'll spare your woman's pride, and, construing your silence into "Yes," I'll take it for granted that I was the subject of your thoughts, and the cause of your affliction--'
`If you deny it, I won't tell you my secret,' threatened he; and I did not interrupt him again--or even attempt to repulse him, though he had taken my hand once more, and half embraced me with his other arm--I was scarcely Conscious of it, at the time,
`It is this,' resumed he: `that Annabella Wilmot, in comparison with you, is like a flaunting peony compared with a sweet, wild rosebud gemmed with dew--and I love you to distraction!--Now, tell me if that intelligence gives you any pleasure.--Silence again? That means "Yes"--Then let me add, that I cannot live without you, and if you answer, "No", to this last question, you will drive me mad--Will you bestow yourself upon me?--you will!' he cried, nearly squeezing me to death in his arms.
`No, no!' I exclaimed, struggling to free myself from him--`you must ask my uncle and aunt,'
`They won't refuse me, if you don't.'
`I'm not so sure of that-my aunt dislikes you.'
`But you don't, Helen--say you love me, and I'll go.'
`I wish you would go!' I replied.
`I will, this instant,--if you'll only say you love me.'
`You know I do,' I answered, And again he caught me in his arms, and smothered me with kisses.
At that moment, my aunt opened wide the door, and stood before us, candle in hand, in shocked and horrified amazement, gazing alternately at Mr Huntingdon and me--for we had both started up, and now stood wide enough asunder. But his confusion was only for a moment. Rallying in an instant, with the most enviable assurance, he began--
`I beg ten thousand pardons, Mrs Maxwell! Don't be too severe upon me. I've been asking your sweet niece to take me for better, for worse; and she, like a good girl, informs me she cannot think of it without her uncle's and aunt's consent. So let me implore you not to condemn me to eternal wretchedness: if you favour my cause, I am safe; for Mr Maxwell, I am certain, can refuse you nothing.'
`We will talk of this tomorrow, sir,' said my aunt, coldly. `It is a subject that demands mature and serious deliberation. At pre sent, you had better return to the drawing-room.'
`But meantime,' pleaded he, `let me commend my cause to your most indulgent--'
`No indulgence for you, Mr Huntingdon, must come between me and the consideration of my niece's happiness.'
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