Very gently J.C. wiped her tears away, and sitting down beside her he said, "The first time I ever saw you, Maude, you told me 'I did not look as if I meant for certain,' and you were right, for all my life has been a humbug; but I mean 'for certain' now. I love you, Maude, love you for the very virtues which I have so often affected to despise, and you must make me what J.C. De Vere ought to be. Will you, Maude? Will you be my wife?"
To say Maude was not gratified that this man of fashion should prefer her to all the world would be an untruth, but she could not then say "Yes," for another, and a more melodious voice was still ringing in her ear, and she saw in fancy a taller, nobler form than that of him who was pressing her to answer.
"Not yet, Mr. De Vere," she said. "Not yet. I must have time to think. It has come upon me so suddenly, so unexpectedly, for I have always thought of you as Nellie's future husband, and my manners are so different from what you profess to admire."
"'Twas only profession, Maude," he said, and then, still holding her closely to him, he frankly and ingenuously gave her a truthful history of his life up to the time of his first acquaintance with Nellie, of whom he spoke kindly, saying she pleased him better than most of his city friends, and as he began really to want a wife he had followed her to Laurel Hill, fully intending to offer her the heart which, ere he was aware of it, was given to another. "And now, I cannot live without you," he said. "You must be mine. Won't you, Maude? I will be a good husband. I will take lessons of Cousin James, who is called a pattern man."
The mention of that name was unfortunate, and rising to her feet, Maude replied: "I cannot answer you now, Mr. De Vere. I should say No, if I did, I am sure, and I would rather think of it a while."
He knew by her voice that she was in earnest, and kissing her hand he walked rapidly away, his love increasing in intensity with each step he took. He had not expected anything like hesitancy. Everyone else had met his advances at least halfway, and Maude's indecision made him feel more ardent than he otherwise might have been.
"What if she should refuse me?" he said, as he paced up and down his room, working himself up to such a pitch of feeling that when that afternoon Nellie on the lake shore was waiting impatiently his coming he on his pillow was really suffering all the pangs of a racking headache, brought on by strong nervous excitement. "What if she should say No?" he kept repeating to himself, and at last, maddened by the thought, he arose, and dashing off a wild rambling letter, was about sending it by a servant, when he received a note from her, for an explanation of which we will go back an hour or so in our story.
In a state of great perplexity Maude returned to the house, and seeking out her brother, the only person to whom she could go for counsel, she told him of the offer she had received, and asked him what he thought. In most respect Louis was far older than his years, and he entered at once into the feelings of his sister.