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Where is the woman in Isabel’s place whose capacity for resistance would not have yielded a little to such an appeal as this?

“I should be an insensible wretch,” she replied warmly, “if I didn’t feel the honor you have done me, and feel it gratefully.”

“Does that mean you will have me for a husband?” asked downright Hardyman.

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She was fairly driven into a corner; but (being a woman) she tried to slip through his fingers at the last moment.

“Will you forgive me,” she said, “if I ask you for a little more time? I am so bewildered, I hardly know what to say or do for the best. You see, Mr. Hardyman, it would be a dreadful thing for me to be the cause of giving offense to your family. I am obliged to think of that. It would be so distressing for you (I will say nothing of myself) if your friends closed their doors on me. They might say I was a designing girl, who had taken advantage of your good opinion to raise herself in the world. Lady Lydiard warned me long since not to be ambitious about myself and not to forget my station in life, because she treated me like her adopted daughter. Indeed — indeed, I can’t tell you how I feel your goodness, and the compliment — the very great compliment, you pay me! My heart is free, and if I followed my own inclinations —” She checked herself, conscious that she was on the brink of saying too much. “Will you give me a few days,” she pleaded, “to try if I can think composedly of all this? I am only a girl, and I feel quite dazzled by the prospect that you set before me.”

Hardyman seized on those words as offering all the encouragement that he desired to his suit.

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“Have your own way in this thing and in everything!” he said, with an unaccustomed fervor of language and manner. “I am so glad to hear that your heart is open to me, and that all your inclinations take my part.”

Isabel instantly protested against this misrepresentation of what she had really said, “Oh, Mr. Hardyman, you quite mistake me!”

He answered her very much as he had answered Lady Lydiard, when she had tried to make him understand his proper relations towards Isabel.

“No, no; I don’t mistake you. I agree to every word you say. How can I expect you to marry me, as you very properly remark, unless I give you a day or two to make up your mind? It’s quite enough for me that you like the prospect. If Lady Lydiard treated you as her daughter, why shouldn’t you be my wife? It stands to reason that you’re quite right to marry a man who can raise you in the world. I like you to be ambitious — though Heaven knows it isn’t much I can do for you, except to love you with all my heart. Still, it’s a great encouragement to hear that her Ladyship’s views agree with mine —”

“They don’t agree, Mr. Hardyman!” protested poor Isabel. “You are entirely misrepresenting —”

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Hardyman cordially concurred in this view of the matter. “Yes! yes! I can’t pretend to represent her Ladyship’s language, or yours either; I am obliged to take my words as they come to me. Don’t disturb yourself: it’s all right — I understand. You have made me the happiest man living. I shall ride over to-morrow to your aunt’s house, and hear what you have to say to me. Mind you’re at home! Not a day must pass now without my seeing you. I do love you, Isabel — I do, indeed!” He stooped, and kissed her heartily. “Only to reward me,” he explained, “for giving you time to think.”

She drew herself away from him — resolutely, not angrily. Before she could make a third attempt to place the subject in its right light before him, the luncheon bell rang at the cottage — and a servant appeared evidently sent to look for them.

“Don’t forget to-morrow,” Hardyman whispered confidentially. “I’ll call early — and then go to London, and get the ring.”

EVENTS succeeded each other rapidly, after the memorable day to Isabel of the luncheon at the farm.

On the next day (the ninth of the month) Lady Lydiard sent for her steward, and requested him to explain his conduct in repeatedly leaving the house without assigning any reason for his absence. She did not dispute his claims to a freedom of action which would not be permitted to an ordinary servant. Her objection to his present course of proceeding related entirely to the mystery in which it was involved, and to the uncertainty in which the household was left as to the hour of his return. On those grounds, she thought herself entitled to an explanation. Moody’s habitual reserve — strengthened, on this occasion, by his dread of ridicule, if his efforts to serve Isabel ended in failure — disinclined him to take Lady Lydiard into his confidence, while his inquiries were still beset with obstacles and doubts. He respectfully entreated her Ladyship to grant him a delay of a few weeks before he entered on his explanation. Lady Lydiard’s quick temper resented his request. She told Moody plainly that he was guilty of an act of presumption in making his own conditions with his employer. He received the reproof with exemplary resignation; but he held to his conditions nevertheless. From that moment the result of the interview was no longer in doubt. Moody was directed to send in his accounts. The accounts having been examined, and found to be scrupulously correct, he declined accepting the balance of salary that was offered to him. The next day he left Lady Lydiard’s service.