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Chapter Forty-Four

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« on: June 19, 2023, 11:26:44 am »

“DO you want to live at the hall?” said Edward Random. He was kneeling on the hearth-rug, drawing up the neglected fire with a couple of sheets of newspaper.

Susan, on the window-seat with a book in her lap which she was not attempting to read, could only suppose that he had not noticed Emmeline’s withdrawal. She said in her clear voice, “She’s gone to feed the cats.”


“Of course.”

A small bright flame was creeping up behind the paper. He regarded it with approval, and said, “But why? I wasn’t talking to her---and anyhow she much prefers this cat-ridden cottage. I was talking to you.”

He snatched the paper back as he spoke, and the flame followed it. There was a whoosh and a few damns before he got the whole blazing mass crammed back amongst the now reviving logs. Susan dropped her book and said, “Really----”

He sat back on his heels and surveyed his handiwork complacently.

“Well, that’s got it going anyhow. If it weren’t for the cats, I don’t believe Emmeline would ever know whether she had a fire or not.” He got up and dusted his hands. “You know, I was talking to you. I was asking you whether you would like to live at the Hall.”

Susan said, “I should hate it.”


She was frowning and rather pale.

“Oh, secret wills---and family quarrels---and big draughty rooms that never get really warm---and the furniture all in dust-sheets----”

He shook his head.

“There aren’t any draughts---Uncle James saw to that. And there aren’t any more wills---at least I hope not. And the family hatchets are beautifully and decorously buried. So what about it?”

He was standing and looking at her. She did not know whether he was serious or not. If he was, then he was asking her to marry him, and it wasn’t any sort of way to do it. Anger came up in her. It put colour into her cheeks and made her eyes shine. She held her head up high and said, “What about what?”

She was in the middle of the window-seat, and there really wasn’t room for anyone else, but all at once he was there, sliding in beside her and pushing her along to make room. She felt his hand come down on her shoulder as he said, “You know perfectly well. I couldn’t ask you when I was just going to be arrested, but I’m asking you now. Are you going to marry me?”

She moved as far away from him as the window-seat allowed. It was not very far, but she did what she could and turned to face him.

“Why do you want me to---if you really do?”

“I really do.”

She could make nothing of the words or of his face. He might have been asking her to go for a walk. She had let him kiss her, and she had kissed him back. Aunt Lucy’s training had been very emphatic on the subject of easy kissing---it made a man think less of you. Away from Greenings, she had been able to consider this rather old-fashioned. But she wasn’t away from Greenings now, and whether it was old-fashioned or not, it was horribly and convincingly true. Edward was asking her to marry him without even bothering to pretend that he cared for her. She had given herself away so completely that he didn’t have to pretend. He just wanted to settle down and get married, and she was the sensible domestic kind of girl who would never provide him with any surprises. She did not feel either sensible or domestic. She felt like the bright burning flame of anger itself.

“You are not in love with me!”

His hand dropped from her shoulder. He too leaned back.

“It depends what you mean by being in love.”

“You know perfectly well what I mean!”

He said lightly, “The gilt on the gingerbread---the icing on the cake?”

“No, I don’t mean that.”

“A lot of people do. What do you mean then? Spring fever? The feeling that you’ve got seven-league boots and can go racing off to the ends of the earth to bring back some entire and perfect chrysolite for the beloved one? The magnificent and ridiculous ecstasy of eighteen? It doesn’t last, you know, my dear---it doesn’t last.”

She thought, “He felt that for Verona Grey. He will never feel it for me.”

His hand touched hers and withdrew again.

“The chrysolite doesn’t keep the home fires burning, and you can’t live by moonshine or the cosmic rays.”

The anger went out of Susan. She was dimmed and extinguished. She felt quite intolerably flat and middle-aged. Only when you are really middle-aged there are not so many dull, lean years stretching out before you as there are at twenty-two.

“I can’t marry anyone who doesn’t love me. And you don’t. I suppose you are fond of me, but you don’t love me.”

He leaned forward and took her hands. She despised herself quite a lot for feeling that it was comfortable to have them held. He said, “Now that is where you are entirely wrong. I love you quite a lot. If it isn’t the way you want, well that’s just too bad. I think it’s quite a good way myself, because it’s got roots in the things that matter, and that means it will go on growing. It has grown quite a lot in the last few days. It mayn’t sound romantic, but that depends on what you think about romance. I don’t see why it shouldn’t be like charity and begin at home. You know, if I had to choose one word to tell you what you stand for, it would be that. I can’t think of having a home without you. It mayn’t mean anything to you, but to me it does mean everything I thought I was never going to have---everything that seemed to have dried up in me---everything that you’ve brought back and called to life again.”

All the cool, deliberate control was gone. His eyes were wet, and his voice stumbled and broke. There didn’t seem to be any moment in which she moved towards him, there was certainly no moment in which she spoke, but she found that she was in his arms, and that it was the only right and happy place for her to be.

She took up his word and made it her own. She had come home.

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