“Mr. Mildmay!”—she began.
“Oh! you need not look like that,” he interrupted. “It’s perfectly true. I think you knew it upon the steamer. I suppose that last day I made myself a nuisance to you, with my advice and fears, and all that sort of thing. Well, you see, now I ask no questions. I am content to take you as you are. You want some one to look after you, Virginia. Will you marry me?”
She set down her glass, which was half raised to her lips, and looked at him with wide open eyes and trembling lips.
Virginia seemed to find speech impossible, and it seemed to him that he could see the tears gathering in her eyes.
“Forgive me,” he said, leaning over the table towards her. “I ought to have asked you differently, I know, but I am so afraid that you will slip away, as you did before, and that I shall lose sight of you again. You want some one to take care of you, dear, and I am going to do it.”
She looked at him with swimming eyes, and he laid his hand softly for a moment upon hers.
“Mr. Mildmay,” she said, “you must not say such things to me. It is quite impossible, entirely and absolutely impossible.”
“I don’t believe it,” he answered calmly. “You will have to give me some very good reasons before I go away again and leave you.”
“Reasons!” she faltered. “Oh! there is every reason in the world. You don’t know me, or anything about me, and you know very well that I am doing things here that no nice girl would do.”
“I know nothing of the sort,” he answered, smiling, “because you are a nice girl. But, on the other hand, of course, I am glad to hear that your search, whatever it may be, is over. You can tell me about it or not, just as you please. Perhaps I may be able to help. Perhaps you would like to tell me. If not, it doesn’t matter.”
She found speech difficult, almost impossible. He seemed so sure of his position, so absolutely confident that there could be nothing which could possibly separate them.
“But you don’t understand,” she tried to say. “I am not the sort of person at all whom you ought to think of marrying. I am very, very poor, and I am over here because I betrayed a trust, to try and steal back something which was lost through my carelessness. I might be put in prison for what I am trying to do. All sorts of things might happen to me. You mustn’t have anything to do with me.”
He smiled, and rested his hand for a moment once more upon her thin white fingers.
“Little girl,” he said, “I believe in you, and that is quite enough. I shall get a special license to-morrow.”
She laughed a little hysterically.
“Forgive me,” she said, wiping her eyes, “but over in New York they call Englishmen slow. How dare you talk of special licenses, when I have told you that I cannot, that I will not even think of marrying you!”