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Oddsfish! by Robert Hugh Benson

It is that I love you very dearly


"Dolly,

my dear," I said, "I think you know what I have to say to you. It is that I love you very dearly, as you must have seen--"

She made a little quick movement as if to speak.

"Wait, cousin," I said, "till I have done. I tell you that I love you very dearly, and honor you, and can never forget what you did for me. And I am a man of a very considerable estate and a Catholic; so there is nothing to think of in that respect. And your father too will be pleased, I know; and we are--"

Again she made that little quick movement; and I stopped.

"Well, my dear?"

She looked up at me very quietly.

"Well, Cousin Roger; and what then?"

That confused me a little; for I had thought that she had understood. And then I thought that perhaps she too was confused.

"Why, my dear," I said very patiently as I thought, as one would speak to a child, "I am asking you if you will be my wife."

I turned away from the fire altogether, and faced her, thinking I should have her in my arms. But at first she said nothing at all, but sat immovable, scrutinizing me, I thought, as if to read all that was in my head and heart. But it was all new to me, for what did I know of love except that it was very strange

and sweet? So I waited for her answer. That answer came.

"Cousin Roger," she said in a very low voice, "I am very sorry you have spoken as you have--"

I straightened myself suddenly and looked at her more closely. She had not moved at all, except her face. A kind of roaring murmur began to fill my ears.

"Because," said she--and every word of hers now was pain to me--"because there is but one answer that I can give, which is No."

"Why--" cried I.

"You have spoken very kindly and generously. But--" and at this her voice began to ring a little--"but I am not what you think me--a maid to be flung at the head of any man who will choose to take her."

"Cousin!" cried I; and then she was on her feet too, her face all ablaze.

"Yes, Cousin!" cried she; "and never any more than that. You have acted very well, Cousin Roger; and I thank you for that compliment--that you thought it worth while to play the part--and for your great kindness to a poor country maid. I had thought it to be all over long ago--before you went away; or I would not have behaved as I have. But since you have considered it again carefully, and chosen to--to insult me after all; I have no answer at all to give, except No, a thousand times over."

"Why, Cousin--" I began again.

She stamped her foot. I could not have imagined she could be so angry.

"Wait till I have done," she said--"I do not know what my father thinks of me; but I suppose that you and he have designed all this; and led me on to make a fool of myself--Oh! Let me go! let me go!"


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