Mr. Carleton Proposes

Excerpt from “Queechy” 1852

By Susan Warner

     “My dear Elfie -- you need not fear being misunderstood --.”

     Fleda started and looked up to see what he meant. But his face said it so plainly, in its perfect intelligence and sympathy with her, that her barrier of self-command and reserve was all broken down, and hiding her head in her hands upon his breast she let the pent-up burden upon her heart come forth in a flood of unrestrained tears. She could not help herself. And when she would fain have checked them after the first burst and hidden them.

     According to her habit to wait another time, it was out of her power, for the same kindness and tenderness that had set them a flowing, perhaps witting of her intent, effectively hindered its execution. He did not say a single word, but now and then a soft touch of his hand or of his lips upon her brow, in its expressive tenderness would unnerve all her resolution and oblige her to have no reserve at that time at least in letting her secret thoughts and feelings be known, as far as tears could tell them. She wept, at first in spite of herself and afterwards in the very luxury of indulged feeling, till she was quiet as a child, and the weight of oppression was all gone. Mr. Carleton did not move, nor speak, till she did.

     “I never knew before how good you were, Mr. Carleton.” said F1eda raising her head at length, as soon as she dared, but still held fast by that kind arm.

     “What new light have you got on the subject?” said he, smiling.

     “Why,” said Fleda, trying as hard as ever did sunshine to scatter the remnant of a cloud, -- it was a bright cloud too by this time, ”I have always heard that men cannot endue the sight of a woman’s tears.”

     “You shall give me a reward then, Elfie.”

     “What reward?” said Fleda.

     “Promise me that you will shed them nowhere else.”

     “Nowhere else? --”

     “But -- here -- in my arms.”

     “I don’t feel like crying anymore now,” said Fleda evasively, -- “at least,” -- For drops were falling rather fast again, -- “not sorrowfully.”

     “Promise me, Elfie.” said Mr. Carleton after a pause.

     But Fleda hesitated still and looked dubious.

     “Come! --“he said smiling, -- “You know you promised a little while ago that you would have a particular regard to my wishes.”

     Fleda’s cheeks answered that appeal with sufficient brightness, but she looked down and said demurely,

     “I am sure one of your wishes is that I should not say anything rashly.”

     “Well? --“

     “One cannot answer for such wilful things as tears.”

     “And for such wilful things as men?” said he smiling.

     But Fleda was silent.

     “Then I will alter the form of my demand. Promise me that no shadow of anything shall come over your spirit that you do not let me either share or remove.”

     There was no trifling in the tone, -- full of gentleness as it was, there could be no evading its requesting. But the promise demanded was a grave one. Fleda was half afraid to make it. She looked up, in the very way he had seen her do when a child, to find warrant for her words before she uttered them. But the full, clear, steadfast eye into which she looked for two seconds, authorized as well as required the promise, and hiding her face again on his breast Fleda gave it, amid a gush of tears every one of which was illummed with heart-sunshine.


"The Scribbling Women"
Copyright ~ Estate of Andre Norton
Online Rights -
Donated by - Estate of Andre Norton

 Digitized and edited by Jay Watts aka: “Lots-a-watts” ~ May 2015

Duplication (in whole or parts) of this story for profit of any kind NOT permitted.