Miss Madeline's Proposal (1904)

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"Auntie, I have something to tell you," said Lina, with a blush that made her look more than ever like one of the climbing roses that nodded about the windows of the "old Churchill place," as it was always called in Lower Wentworth.

Miss Madeline, sitting in the low rocker by the parlour window, seemed like the presiding genius of the place. Everything about her matched her sweet old-fashionedness, from the crown of her soft brown hair, dressed in the style of her long ago girlhood, to the toes of her daintily slippered feet. Outside of the old Churchill place, in the busy streets of the up-to-date little town, Miss Madeline might have seemed out of harmony with her surroundings. But here, in this dim room, faintly scented with whiffs from the rose garden outside, she was like a note in some sweet, perfect melody of old time.

Lina, sitting on a little stool at Miss Madeline's feet with her curly head in her aunt's lap, was as pretty as Miss Madeline herself had once been. She was also very happy, and her happiness seemed to envelop her as in an atmosphere and lend her a new radiance and charm. Miss Madeline loved her pretty niece very dearly and patted the curly head tenderly with her slender white hands.

"What is it, my dear?"

"I'm—I'm engaged," whispered Lina, hiding her face in Miss Madeline's flowered muslin lap.

"Engaged!" Miss Madeline's tone was one of surprise and awe. She blushed as she said the word as deeply as Lina had done. Then she went on, with a little quiver of excitement in her voice, "To whom, my dear?"

"Oh, you don't know him, Auntie, but I hope you will soon. His name is Ralph Wylde. Isn't it pretty? I met him last winter, and we became very good friends. But we had a quarrel before I came down here and, oh, I have been so unhappy over it. Three weeks ago he wrote me and begged my pardon—so nice of him, because I was really all to blame, you know. And he said he loved me and—all that, you know."

"No, I don't know," said Miss Madeline gently. "But—but—I can imagine."

"Oh, I was so happy. I wrote back and I had this letter from him today. He is coming down tomorrow. You'll be glad to see him, won't you, Auntie?"

"Oh, yes, my dear, and I am glad for your sake—very glad. You are sure you love him?"

"Yes, indeed," said Lina, with a little laugh, as if wondering how anyone could doubt it.

Presently, Miss Madeline said in a shy voice, "Lina, did—did you ever receive a proposal of marriage from anybody besides Mr. Wylde?"

Lina laughed roguishly. "Why, yes, Auntie, ever so many. A dozen, at least."

"Oh, my dear!" cried Miss Madeline in a slightly shocked tone.

"But I did, really. Sometimes it was horrid and sometimes it was funny. It all depended on the man. Dear me, how red and uncomfortable most of them looked—all but the fifth. He was so cool and business like that he almost surprised me into accepting him."

"And—and what did you feel like, Lina?"

"Oh, frightened, mostly—but I always wanted to laugh too. You must know how it is yourself, Auntie. What did you feel like when somebody proposed to you?"

Miss Madeline flushed from chin to brow.

"Oh, Lina," she faltered as if she were confessing something very disgraceful, yet to which she was impelled by her strict truthfulness, "I—I—never had a proposal in my life—not one."

Lina opened her big brown eyes in amazement. "Why, Aunt Madeline! And you so pretty! What was the reason?"

"I've often wondered," said Miss Madeline faintly. "I was pretty, as you say—it's so long ago I can say that now. And I had many gentlemen friends. But nobody ever wanted to marry me. I sometimes wish that—that I could have had just one proposal. Not that I wanted to marry, you know, I do not mean that, but just so that it wouldn't have seemed that I was different from anybody else. It is very foolish of me to wish it, I know, and even wicked—for if I had not cared for the person it would have made him very unhappy. But then, he would have forgotten and I would have remembered. It would always have been something to be a little proud of."

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