16. Unsuitable Suitors

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"What is it that is wrong?" My little sister repeated with increasing desperation. "Why are you so deathly pale, my love?"

"Because..." Edmund's voice broke, and he had to start again. "Because I think Sir Philip Wilkins might..."

He shook his head, unable to complete the sentence.

"Oh, I may be over-interpreting things. But Ella, love, you must tell me immediately if he should send you any more flowers."

An actress would have given her right arm for the perfect expression of puzzled innocence on Ella's face at that moment. But the problem was: this expression wasn't fake.

"Flowers? Edmund, what can be so important about a few flowers?"

"Just promise me, my love," he said with fervour. "If what I believe is correct – oh, I shudder to think of the possibility! If what I think is correct, then every single flower from Sir Philip Wilkins is an arrow straight to my heart."

"Then I shall throw them away directly," Ella exclaimed, tears in her eyes again. "What are a few flowers to me?"

"No! You must not do so. You must not do anything that would arouse suspicion." Bowing his head against the iron poles and closing his eyes, he murmured: "You were right. I am beneath you. If any suspicions were to enter your aunt's mind that you had given your heart to me, all would be over between us. Do not throw the flowers away. Do not do anything unusual. Act as though I didn't exist, and you were leading the easy, trouble-free life that you ought to have."

I shook my head. Dear me, this was getting a bit thick. Did all people act like this when they were in love, or was it just Edmund?

"Act as if you didn't exist?" cried Ella. "Edmund, without you my life would be nothing! The sun would not rise and all food would turn to ashes in my mouth!"

Yes. Apparently all people acted like this.

I didn't pay much attention to what happened afterwards. Mostly they were talking about stuff that seemed pretty silly to me, like how much they loved each other, what would happen if they didn't have each other (most of which seemed pretty unrealistic) and then some more about how much they loved each other.

Finally, when I had almost fallen asleep against the tree, the lovers' talk was abruptly interrupted by my aunt's calling from the house.

"Ella! Ella, where are you girl?"

Anxiously, my little sister looked over her shoulder.

"I must go. Farewell, my love," she whispered.

"Farewell, oh sweet Ella, light of my life." Edmund hesitated, then plunged on: "May I ask, something of you, before we depart?"

Instantly, I was wide awake! I knew it! I knew now he was going to.... well, he was going to do whatever rakes do when they take advantage of innocent girls! I didn't quite know what that was, though from the insinuations I had read in the papers, it couldn't be anything good.

I stood up, preparing to defend my sister from that foul fiend!

"May I..." he hesitated again. "May I touch the tips of your sweet fingers to carry with me the feeling of your love? Please, my dearest, just extend a hand to me?"

What? That was all? I wasn't too versed in rakishness, but I had at least expected something improper. He didn't even demand a kiss?  He had to be kidding! This fellow was too decent to be real.

"Oh Edmund." Again, my sister had tears in her eyes, and I was amazed to see her shake her head. "How could I? You know what my dear aunt would say? How could I so lay myself open to her disapproval and that of all my family?"

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