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|The Sapphire Ring||H. G. [Herbert George] Wells|
|Page 1 of 2||
They sat with tea and strawberries and cream before them at a little table in front of the pavilion in Regent's Park. Her confession was still unmade. Manning leaned forward on the table, talking discursively on the probable brilliance of their married life. Ann Veronica sat back in an attitude of inattention, her eyes on a distant game of cricket, her mind perplexed and busy. She was recalling the circumstances under which she had engaged herself to Manning, and trying to understand a curious development of the quality of this relationship.
The particulars of her engagement were very clear in her memory. She had taken care he should have this momentous talk with her on a garden-seat commanded by the windows of the house. They had been playing tennis, with his manifest intention looming over her.
"Let us sit down for a moment," he had said. He made his speech a little elaborately. She plucked at the knots of her racket and heard him to the end, then spoke in a restrained undertone.
"You ask me to be engaged to you, Mr. Manning," she began.
"I want to lay all my life at your feet."
"Mr. Manning, I do not think I love you. . . . I want to be very plain with you. I have nothing, nothing that can possibly be passion for you. I am sure. Nothing at all."
He was silent for some moments.
"Perhaps that is only sleeping," he said. "How can you know?"
"I think--perhaps I am rather a cold-blooded person."
She stopped. He remained listening attentively.
"You have been very kind to me," she said.
"I would give my life for you."
Her heart had warmed toward him. It had seemed to her that life might be very good indeed with his kindliness and sacrifice about her. She thought of him as always courteous and helpful, as realizing, indeed, his ideal of protection and service, as chivalrously leaving her free to live her own life, rejoicing with an infinite generosity in every detail of her irresponsive being. She twanged the catgut under her fingers.
"It seems so unfair," she said, "to take all you offer me and give so little in return."
"It is all the world to me. And we are not traders looking at equivalents."
"You know, Mr. Manning, I do not really want to marry."
"It seems so--so unworthy"--she picked among her phrases "of the noble love you give--"
She stopped, through the difficulty she found in expressing herself.
"But I am judge of that," said Manning.
"Would you wait for me?"
Manning was silent for a space. "As my lady wills."
"Would you let me go on studying for a time?"
"If you order patience."
"I think, Mr. Manning . . . I do not know. It is so difficult. When I think of the love you give me--One ought to give you back love."
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H. G. [Herbert George] Wells
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