“I feel I should apologize for my mother.”
Ursula looked at Humphrey with something between a smile and a wince. “I appreciate the apology, but I rather think I’m more responsible. If I were content to live the boring life your mother and my aunt deem appropriate, none of this would have happened.”
Humphrey was silent for a moment as they walked. They had managed to navigate a few more minutes of polite discussion after Mrs. Marshall had been calmed, but both were quite grateful when Mrs. Elliott suggested they take a stroll in the garden. They walked side-by-side, unconsciously mirroring one another with their hands clasped loosely behind their backs. Ursula looked on ahead, gazing disinterestedly at the trees which marked the edge of the Elliott land, while Humphrey studied the path a few yards ahead of them.
“If you were content to do as our matriarchal dragons commanded,” Humphrey began quietly, startling a laugh from Ursula.
“Matriarchal dragons!” she cried. “Oh, it’s too perfect. I never knew you had such a way with words.”
A faint pink tinged Humphrey’s cheeks. “You may have noticed I prefer to keep my words to myself.”
“My masterful powers of observation hinted at that fact, yes.”
He smiled slightly, though he still looked ahead as they walked. “Perhaps we have more in common than our dragons would think,” he mused. “Sharp eyes…certain talents we prefer to keep hidden…”
It was Ursula’s turn to blush. “That picture was–“
“I have seen naked men before, you know,” Humphrey said, a tad peevishly. “Er–I didn’t mean that quite as it sounded. I only mean–that picture was positively tame compared to the work of many artists. And it had…energy.”
Ursula stopped. “Thank you, I think,” she said.
Humphrey turned his head, seeing she no longer followed, and backtracked slightly. He sighed, shoved a hand through his sandy hair, propped his hands on his hips. “Look,” he said finally, staring intently at her shoes. “They want us to get married. It might save us a lot of trouble if we just agree to it.”
“Humphrey–” Ursula began.
He held up a hand. “Hear me out. I know you’re not interested in the life of a banker’s wife, any more than I wish to be a banker. But giving in now would save us months if not years of badgering from our respective female guardians on the subject of matrimony, and capitulation on this point might gain us a degree of leeway in other areas.”
“You want your doctorate.”
Humphrey looked at her then, just for an instant. “Yes. And you must want something more than the dull life of a country lady under the thumb of your aunt. You could attend Wellesley, if you like.”
“And if I don’t like?” Ursula countered, musingly
He seemed genuinely surprised. “Well–I suppose there are many things you could do with your time. Charitable organizations, or women’s clubs…”
“Welding?” Ursula suggested brightly, smiling when this earned her another short-lived glance.
“I suppose…” Humphrey said, scratching an ear. “Whatever you wish, provided we could find someone willing to teach you. Err–unless you are already proficient in the art?”
“Humphrey,” Ursula laughed. “No, I’m not,” she continued with a smile, “and I was teasing you–although I have always wanted to learn.”
“You’ll consider it, then?” he said with ill-disguised relief.
Ursula inhaled, then exhaled slowly. “I will,” she said.
“On one condition,” she added as Humphrey opened his mouth. “From now on, when we speak, try to remember that there are nearly six feet between my footwear and my face.”
Humphrey smiled at that, and managed a slightly longer look at her this time. “I’ll do my best.”
Oh, hey. Ursula. I’m really failing at this whole weekly update thing, huh? But slowly but surely, we progress…to a proposal of marriage! Okay, not the most romantic proposal in the world, but what can you expect from dear Humphrey? Now the question is…what will Ursula decide?