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"No, I did not think it necessary, since the Scriptural instructions on the matter are very clear, and in another world no doubt all jealousies, even Sarah's, will be obliterated. Upon that point my conscience was quite easy. So when I found that, unlike her parent, the Lady Yva was much inclined to accept the principles of the faith in which it is my privilege to instruct her, I thought it proper to say to her that if ultimately she made up her mind to do so--of course this was a sine qua non--I should be much honoured, and as a man, not as a priest, it would make me most happy if she would take me as a husband. Of course I explained to her that I considered, under the circumstances, I could quite lawfully perform the marriage ceremony myself with you and Bickley as witnesses, even should Oro refuse to give her away. Also I told her that although after her varied experiences in the past, life at Fulcombe, if we could ever get there, might be a little monotonous, still it would not be entirely devoid of interest."
"You mean Christmas decorations and that sort of thing?"
"Yes, and choir treats and entertaining Deputations and attending other Church activities."
"Well, and what did she say, Bastin?"
"Oh! she was most kind and flattering. Indeed that hour will always remain the pleasantest of my life. I don't know how it happened, but when it was over I felt quite delighted that she had refused me. Indeed on second thoughts, I am not certain but that I shall be much happier in the capacities of a brother and teacher which she asked me to fill, than I should have been as her husband. To tell you the truth, Arbuthnot, there are moments when I am not sure whether I entirely understand the Lady Yva. It was rather like proposing to one's guardian angel."
"Yes," I said, "that's about it, old fellow. 'Guardian Angel' is not a bad name for her."
Afterwards I received the confidence of Bickley.
"Look here, Arbuthnot," he said. "I want to own up to something. I think I ought to, because of certain things I have observed, in order to prevent possible future misunderstandings."
"What's that?" I asked innocently.
"Only this. As you know, I have always been a confirmed bachelor on principle. Women introduce too many complications into life, and although it involves some sacrifice, on the whole, I have thought it best to do without them and leave the carrying on of the world to others."
"Well, what of it? Your views are not singular, Bickley."
"Only this. While you were ill the sweetness of that Lady Yva and her wonderful qualities as a nurse overcame me. I went to pieces all of a sudden. I saw in her a realisation of every ideal I had ever entertained of perfect womanhood. So to speak, my resolves of a lifetime melted like wax in the sun. Notwithstanding her queer history and the marvels with which she is mixed up, I wished to marry her. No doubt her physical loveliness was at the bottom of it, but, however that may be, there it was."
"She is beautiful," I commented; "though I daresay older than she looks."
"That is a point on which I made no inquiries, and I should advise you, when your turn comes, as no doubt it will, to follow my example. You know, Arbuthnot," he mused, "however lovely a woman may be, it would put one off if suddenly she announced that she was--let us say--a hundred and fifty years old."
"Yes," I admitted, "for nobody wants to marry the contemporary of his great-grandmother. However, she gave her age as twenty- seven years and three moons."
"And doubtless for once did not tell the truth. But, as she does not look more than twenty-five, I think that we may all agree to let it stand at that, namely, twenty-seven, plus an indefinite period of sleep. At any rate, she is a sweet and most gracious woman, apparently in the bloom of youth, and, to cut it short, I fell in love with her."
"Like Bastin," I said.
"Bastin!" exclaimed Bickley indignantly. "You don't mean to say that clerical oaf presumed--well, well, after all, I suppose that he is a man, so one mustn't be hard on him. But who could have thought that he would run so cunning, even when he knew my sentiments towards the lady? I hope she told him her mind."
"The point is, what did she tell you, Bickley?"
"Me? Oh, she was perfectly charming! It really was a pleasure to be refused by her, she puts one so thoroughly at one's ease." (Here, remembering Bastin and his story, I turned away my face to hide a smile.) "She said--what did she say exactly? Such a lot that it is difficult to remember. Oh! that she was not thinking of marriage. Also, that she had not yet recovered from some recent love affair which left her heart sore, since the time of her sleep did not count. Also, that her father would never consent, and that the mere idea of such a thing would excite his animosity against all of us."
"Is that all?" I asked.
"Not quite. She added that she felt wonderfully flattered and extremely honoured by what I had been so good as to say to her. She hoped, however, that I should never repeat it or even allude to the matter again, as her dearest wish was to be able to look upon me as her most intimate friend to whom she could always come for sympathy and counsel."
"What happened then?"
"Nothing, of course, except that I promised everything that she wished, and mean to stick to it, too. Naturally, I was very sore and upset, but I am getting over it, having always practised self-control."
"I am sorry for you, old fellow."
"Are you?" he asked suspiciously. "Then perhaps you have tried your luck, too?"
His face fell a little at this denial, and he answered:
"Well, it would have been scarcely decent if you had, seeing how lately you were married. But then, so was that artful Bastin. Perhaps you will get over it--recent marriage, I mean--as he has." He hesitated a while, then went on: "Of course you will, old fellow; I know it, and, what is more, I seem to know that when your turn comes you will get a different answer. If so, it will keep her in the family as it were--and good luck to you. Only--"
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When the World Shook -by- H. Rider Haggard