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Oddsfish! by Robert Hugh Benson

What my heart told me of my Cousin Dolly


Cousin Tom began to speak: but I prevented him.

"One moment," I said, "and you shall say what you will. There is one reason that comes to my mind which perhaps may explain her unwillingness; and that is that she may think that she is being thrown at my head. You have been very kind, Cousin, in allowing me to make this my home in the country; and I know"--(here I lied vehemently)--"I know that nothing was further from your thoughts than this. Yet it may seem so, to a foolish maid who knows nothing of the world. I do not know if you have ever said anything to her--"

"Why, Cousin--" cried Tom, in such a manner that I knew he was lying too--"what do you think--"

"Just so," I said; for I did not wish him to lie more than he need; "I was sure--"

"I may have said a word or two, once or twice," pursued Cousin Tom, intent on his own exposure--"that she must think soon about getting married, and so forth. But to say that I have thrown her at your head, Cousin, is not, I think, a kindly thing--"

"My dear man!" cried I. "I have been saying expressly that I knew you had done nothing of the sort; but that perhaps Dolly thought so." (This quieted him a little, for I watched his face.) "So the best way, I think, is for us all to be quiet for a little and say nothing. You know now what my own wishes are; and that is enough

for you and me. As to estates, I will make a settlement, if ever the marriage is arranged, that will satisfy you; but I think we need not trouble about that at present. I will do my utmost to push my suit; but it must be in my own way; and that way will be to say nothing at all for a while, but to establish easy relations with her. She is a little perturbed at present: I saw that, for I watched her to-night; and unless she can grow quiet again, all will come to nothing."

So I spoke, in the folly of my own wisdom that seemed to me so great at that time. I had dealt with men, but not at all with women, and knew nothing of them. If I had but followed my heart and spoken to her at once, while the warmth of my welcome, and the memory of the peril we had undergone together were still in heart, matters might have been very different. But I thought otherwise, and that I would be very prudent and circumspect, knowing nothing at all of a maid's heart and her ways. As for Cousin Tom, he had to yield to me; for what else could he do? The prospect that I opened before him was a better one than he could get anywhere else: he had no opening at Court, in spite of his bragging; and the Protestants round about were too wise, in their rustic way, to engage themselves with a Papist at such a time. So there the matter remained.

* * * * *

When I came to my chamber, it had a very pleasant aspect to me. The curtains were across the windows; a great fire blazed on the hearth--(I had heard my Cousin Dolly's footsteps pass across the landing, before she went to bed,--no doubt to put more wood on)--my bed was ready, and on the round table in the middle was a jug of horn-beam branches with some winter flowers. It was six months since I had been here; and matters were considerably better with me now than they had been then. Then I was being hunted; now I was free from all anxiety on that score: then I had been going up to London to resign what little position I had; now I was re-established, owing to what I had done in France, on a better footing than ever. More than all, I knew now, without any doubt at all, what my heart told me of my Cousin Dolly; and I was here, with every liberty to commend my suit to her.

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