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23. CHAPTER XXIII (continued)
"Gratitude!" he ejaculated; and added wildly--"Jane accept me quickly. Say, Edward--give me my name--Edward--I will marry you."
"Are you in earnest? Do you truly love me? Do you sincerely wish me to be your wife?"
"I do; and if an oath is necessary to satisfy you, I swear it."
"Then, sir, I will marry you."
"Edward--my little wife!"
"Come to me--come to me entirely now," said he; and added, in his deepest tone, speaking in my ear as his cheek was laid on mine, "Make my happiness--I will make yours."
"God pardon me!" he subjoined ere long; "and man meddle not with me: I have her, and will hold her."
"There is no one to meddle, sir. I have no kindred to interfere."
"No--that is the best of it," he said. And if I had loved him less I should have thought his accent and look of exultation savage; but, sitting by him, roused from the nightmare of parting--called to the paradise of union--I thought only of the bliss given me to drink in so abundant a flow. Again and again he said, "Are you happy, Jane?" And again and again I answered, "Yes." After which he murmured, "It will atone--it will atone. Have I not found her friendless, and cold, and comfortless? Will I not guard, and cherish, and solace her? Is there not love in my heart, and constancy in my resolves? It will expiate at God's tribunal. I know my Maker sanctions what I do. For the world's judgment--I wash my hands thereof. For man's opinion--I defy it."
But what had befallen the night? The moon was not yet set, and we were all in shadow: I could scarcely see my master's face, near as I was. And what ailed the chestnut tree? it writhed and groaned; while wind roared in the laurel walk, and came sweeping over us.
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