Part 18 out of 18
In the midst of silks, muslins and jewels Mr. Carleton found Fleda still
on his return; looking pale and even sad, though nobody but himself
through her gentle and grateful bearing would have discerned it. He took
her out of the hands of the committee and carried her down to the little
library, adjoining the great one, but never thrown open,--_his_ room, as
it was called, where more particularly art and taste had accumulated their
wealth of attractions.
"I remember this very well," said Fleda. "This beautiful room!"
"It is as free to you as to me, Elfie; and I never gave the freedom of it
to any one else."
"I will not abuse it," said Fleda.
"I hope not, my dear Elfie," said he smiling,--"for the room will want
something to me now when you are not in it; and a gift is abused that is
not made free use of."
A large and deep bay window in the room looked upon the same green lawn
and fir wood with the windows of the library. Like those this casement
stood open, and Mr. Carleton leading Fleda there remained quietly beside
her for a moment, watching her face which his last words had a little
moved from its outward composure. Then, gently and gravely as if she had
been a child, putting his arm round her shoulders and drawing her to him
"My dear Elfie,--you need not fear being misunderstood--"
Fleda started and looked up to see what he meant. But his face said it so
plainly, in its perfect intelligence and sympathy with her, that her
barrier of self-command and reserve was all broken down; and hiding her
head in her hands upon his breast she let the pent-up burden upon her
heart come forth in a flood of unrestrained tears. She could not help
herself. And when she would fain have checked them after the first burst
and bidden them, according to her habit to wait another time, it was out
of her power; for the same kindness and tenderness that had set them a
flowing, perhaps witting of her intent, effectually hindered its
execution. He did not say a single word, but now and then a soft touch of
his hand or of his lips upon her brow, in its expressive tenderness would
unnerve all her resolution and oblige her to have no reserve that time at
least in letting her secret thoughts and feelings be known, as far as
tears could tell them. She wept, at first in spite of herself and
afterwards in the very luxury of indulged feeling; till she was as quiet
as a child, and the weight of oppression was all gone. Mr. Carleton did
not move, nor speak, till she did.
"I never knew before how good you were, Mr. Carleton," said Fleda
raising her head at length, as soon as she dared, but still held fast by
that kind arm.
"What new light have you got on the subject?" said he, smiling.
"Why," said Fleda, trying as hard as ever did sunshine to scatter the
remnants of a cloud,--it was a bright cloud too by this time, "I have
always heard that men cannot endure the sight of a woman's tears."
"You shall give me a reward then. Elfie."
"What reward?" said Fleda.
"Promise me that you will shed them nowhere else."
"But here--in my arms."
"I don't feel like crying any more now," said Fleda evasively;--at
least."--for drops were falling rather fast again,--" not sorrowfully."
"Promise me, Elfie," said Mr. Carleton after a pause.
But Fleda hesitated still and looked dubious.
"Come!--" he said smiling,--"you know you promised a little while ago that
you would have a particular regard to my wishes."
Fleda's cheeks answered that appeal with sufficient brightness, but she
looked down and said demurely,
"I am sure one of your wishes is that I should not say anything rashly."
"One cannot answer for such wilful things as tears."
"And for such wilful things as men?" said he smiling.
But Fleda was silent.
"Then I will alter the form of my demand. Promise me that no shadow of
anything shall come over your spirit that you do not let me either share
There was no trifling in the tone,--full of gentleness as it was; there
could be no evading its requisition. But the promise demanded was a grave
one. Fleda was half afraid to make it. She looked up, in the very way he
had seen her do when a child, to find a warrant for her words before she
uttered them. But the full, clear, steadfast eye into which she looked for
two seconds, authorized as well as required the promise; and hiding her
face again on his breast Fleda gave it, amid a gush of tears every one of
which was illumined with heart-sunshine.