49. And a few more woes of love

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You could have struck me down with a feather. Actually, half a feather might have done it. Or maybe a very small piece of yarn?

Ella, I could see, was equally taken aback. She wasn't gaping open-mouthed at Edmund like I was – proper ladies don't do that sort of thing – but she had definitely turned an even whiter shade of pale than she normally was.

"M-marry?" Her voice was almost inaudible over the soft wind which had picked up, and which rustled the leaves in the trees as well as the soft folds of her dress in an appropriately romantic manner. "But how... Aunt Brank would never agree!"

"I asked you to run away with me, my love," Edmund reminded her, his voice gentle but firm, his gaze never leaving her face. "That means she wouldn't have to agree."

"But... go against the wishes of her and all my family...?"

"Yes."

"Shame them before all the world? Hurt them in such a way?"

"Yes, my dear. For love, it must be."

Hell's whiskers! He's really going to do it! He's really going to take advantage of your poor, innocent little sister and whisk her away.

Getting stealthily to my feet, I prepared to launch myself from the bushes if he made even one tiny move towards her.

A rake! That's what he is! A dastardly rake!

I knew what was coming next, of course. I had heard Anne and Maria discuss romance novels often enough. Next, he would grab Ella and carry her off into the night. But he didn't reckon with me in that equation! The moment he touched her, I would be ready to take up the chase!

Of course, there's the small matter of the fence between them, so you probably won't have to hurry that much.

"Are you in earnest, Edmund?" Ella whispered. "Do not toy with my heart. Would you really make me your wife, if you could?"

Grasping her hand, he stepped forward. I prepared to jump out of the bushes, but he didn't move to touch any other, strictly restricted, parts of her. Instead, he fell to his knees, bowing his head over her hand and kissing it softly.

"How could you ever doubt it?" he demanded. "For years I have admired your beauty, your charm and your loving nature. My love for you has grown and blossomed ever since it first sprang to life. Now that is has come to full bloom, nothing will stop me from making you mine. Will you do me the honour..."

With a small sob, she pulled her hand from his grasp. I could see her face as she turned from him, towards my hiding place, her arms wrapped around her slender body as if to protect herself.

"This," she said in a quivering voice, "has gone far enough."

The words may have been weak, but on Edmund they fell like a hammer blow. I was almost disappointed not to see a substantial bump swelling up on his head.

"W-what?"

"I said, this has gone far enough." She turned back to him, and as she did I could see the moisture on her face glittering in the moonlight. She seemed to have an endless supply of tears tonight. Dear me... This love-thing had to require an enormous amount of bodily fluids.

"Please," she continued, "do not torture me further by actually asking me. I could not bear it."

His voice in return was broken. Utterly defeated. "You no longer love me then."

Ella twitched as if she had been hit by a whip. Rushing forward, she grasped the poles of the fence.

"Of course I love you, Edmund. More than my own life!"

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