Benton still didn't answer her, but took her arm into his and continued walking, for all the world as though they had not just finished a most crucial conversation. She tried to stay calm and wait for him to speak again. Damn, he was so annoying sometimes. After all his pleading and insisting on getting married, he was suddenly so blasé. No, not suddenly. She had to be fair. It was only since he had made his announcement that SHE had to be the one to propose to HIM before he would agree to get married. And now she had finally come around to his way of thinking - really did want to get married - he was giving her a hard time about it.

They reached a certain street corner which was, they knew from experience, the limit of distance they could walk and be able to turn around and get back to the consulate before exactly an hour was up. Like a soldier on parade, Benton came to an abrupt stop, spun on his heel and swivelled his body back in the direction from which they had come. Margaret trotted around him as he turned. They headed back.

He was so maddeningly calm. She wasn't used to it, she now realized. She was more accustomed to his pleading, cajoling, insisting, imploring. Yes, something had changed on that crazy night. It was as though he had snapped and in an instant suddenly changed his whole attitude. She considered as she walked: it was understandable. He'd been so excited about having a baby with her. The miscarriage must have caused something to come unglued in his brain.

Then, still walking with her on his arm, without even turning towards her he said, calmly, "Propose to me."

"I thought I did that just now," she pointed out.

"Not officially. You didn't say the actual words."

She harrumphed in annoyance, and then immediately regretted the involuntary response because he seemed to stiffen up even as they were walking, although he continued to hold her arm in his.

"Does it mean that much to you?" she ventured.

"Yes. Margaret, I know it is hard for you to show your feelings, but can't you, for the sake of our future together, indulge me just once?"

She stopped and he stopped with her. "Look at me," she said.

He did look. She could not read his expression. It was as blank as the expression wore when on guard duty.

Very slowly and distinctly she pronounced, "I propose to you that we get married."

His reaction did not please her.

"Why?" he said, still blankly.

"I don't understand the question."

"Why do you want to marry me?" Benton insisted.

Margaret fought her annoyance. What did he want now?

"This wasn't part of the deal, Benton. Why are you torturing me?"

"I'm trying to get you to say you love me. That you should find this to be torture is interesting."

She bit her lip and turned away. Benton took hold of her chin and turned her head around to face him again. Finally, he smiled at her and she relaxed a little.

"Okay, the torture is over. Yes, I'll marry you. I've always wanted to, even before the baby. Just be warned, I'm not going to let you back out." With this, he took her in his arms and kissed her � just hard and long enough to make it clear that he meant what he said. Then he continued walking and she trotted along beside.

"You had me worried there for a minute," she admitted.

They returned to the Consulate without any further talk of consequence. All through the afternoon, Margaret mused. Now that the big decision had finally been made, now that she was committed to marriage, it was as though her mind had cleared and left her free to consider other matters. She would pick up a file folder, peruse its contents and toss it back on her desk, unable to concentrate. Thoughts about Benton's recent behaviour tossed and jumped around in her mind.

Then one thought leaped up over the heads of the others and called attention to itself. She hadn't told Ben, during the walk at lunchtime, that she loved him. It was so obvious that this was what she was supposed to have said, but she hadn't spoken the words. And he had let the matter drop without insisting. It was very puzzling.

Could it be that his love for her was of so accepting a nature that he was able to tolerate even this and still want to make a life with her? In his place, she thought, she wouldn't be so accepting. She'd insist on hearing the words. The events of the last several weeks played through her mind, and she paused and played back key scenes that had just flown past unnoticed at the time.

Just at five, while Benton was clearing his desk for the evening, she stuck her head into his tiny office.

"Come home with me tonight. We can celebrate our engagement," she said.

"You know I have to walk Diefenbaker and feed him first," he pointed out.

"I'll drive you. We'll walk and feed him together, then take him back to my place," she paused, and then ducked her head a little before saying, "the whole family should be together on such an important night, don't you think?"

Benton grinned hugely. As she had hoped he would, he had understood what she meant. She couldn't bring herself to say "I love you" out loud yet, but this was as close as she could come. And, Benton, oh wonderful Benton, had the intelligence to see she was making her best effort and the confidence to wait while she built up her own confidence - bit by bit - to let him know how she truly felt.



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