BOOK III. WAITING FOR DEATH.
31. CHAPTER XXXI.
That moment of naturalness was the crystallizing feather-touch:
it shook flirtation into love. Remember that the ambitious man
who was looking at those Forget-me-nots under the water was very
warm-hearted and rash. He did not know where the chain went;
an idea had thrilled through the recesses within him which had
a miraculous effect in raising the power of passionate love lying
buried there in no sealed sepulchre, but under the lightest,
easily pierced mould. His words were quite abrupt and awkward;
but the tone made them sound like an ardent, appealing avowal.
"What is the matter? you are distressed. Tell me, pray."
Rosamond had never been spoken to in such tones before. I am not sure
that she knew what the words were: but she looked at Lydgate and the
tears fell over her cheeks. There could have been no more complete
answer than that silence, and Lydgate, forgetting everything else,
completely mastered by the outrush of tenderness at the sudden
belief that this sweet young creature depended on him for her joy,
actually put his arms round her, folding her gently and protectingly--
he was used to being gentle with the weak and suffering--and kissed
each of the two large tears. This was a strange way of arriving
at an understanding, but it was a short way. Rosamond was
not angry, but she moved backward a little in timid happiness,
and Lydgate could now sit near her and speak less incompletely.
Rosamond had to make her little confession, and he poured out words
of gratitude and tenderness with impulsive lavishment. In half
an hour he left the house an engaged man, whose soul was not his own,
but the woman's to whom he had bound himself.
He came again in the evening to speak with Mr. Vincy, who, just returned
from Stone Court, was feeling sure that it would not be long before he
heard of Mr. Featherstone's demise. The felicitous word "demise,"
which had seasonably occurred to him, had raised his spirits even
above their usual evening pitch. The right word is always a power,
and communicates its definiteness to our action. Considered as
a demise, old Featherstone's death assumed a merely legal aspect,
so that Mr. Vincy could tap his snuff-box over it and be jovial,
without even an intermittent affectation of solemnity; and Mr. Vincy
hated both solemnity and affectation. Who was ever awe struck
about a testator, or sang a hymn on the title to real property?
Mr. Vincy was inclined to take a jovial view of all things that evening:
he even observed to Lydgate that Fred had got the family constitution
after all, and would soon be as fine a fellow as ever again;
and when his approbation of Rosamond's engagement was asked for,
he gave it with astonishing facility, passing at once to general
remarks on the desirableness of matrimony for young men and maidens,
and apparently deducing from the whole the appropriateness of a little