“I am very glad, dear, that you can find anything in me to like; but if you do care for me, and think me worth waiting for, I am going to ask something of your affection: I am going to ask you to trust me as well as to love me. I do not, for reasons that I will not enter into, but which I beg you to believe are perfectly straightforward, wish anything to be said of our engagement at present, not even to your friend Hilda. Do you trust me sufficiently to agree to that?”
“Philip, I trust you as much as I love you, and for years I have loved you with all my heart. And now, dear, please go; I want to think.”
In the hall a servant gave him a note; it was from Hilda, and ran thus—
“I have changed my mind. I will meet you in the summer-house this evening. I have something to say to you.”
Philip whistled as he read it.
“Devilish awkward,” he thought to himself; “if I am going to marry Maria, she must leave this. But I cannot bear to part with her. I love her! I love her!”
It was some time before Philip could make up his mind whether or no he would attend his tryst with Hilda. In the first place, he felt that it was an unsafe proceeding generally, inasmuch as moonlight meetings with so lovely a person might, should they come to the knowledge of Miss Lee, be open to misconstruction; and particularly because, should she show the least tenderness towards him, he knew in his heart that he could not trust himself, however much he might be engaged in another direction. At twenty-one the affections cannot be outraged with impunity, but have an awkward way of asserting themselves, ties of honour notwithstanding.
But as a rule, when in our hearts we wish to do anything, that thing must be bad indeed if we cannot find a satisfactory excuse for doing it; and so it was with Philip. Now, thought he to himself, would be his opportunity to inform Hilda of his relations with Maria Lee, and to put an end to his flirtation with her; for, ostensibly at any rate, it was nothing more than a very serious flirtation—that is to say, though there had been words of love, and even on her part a passionate avowal of affection, wrung in an unguarded moment from the depths of her proud heart, there had been no formal engagement. It was a thing that must be done, and now was the time to do it. And so he made up his mind to go.
But when, that night, he found himself sitting in the appointed place, and waiting for the coming of the woman he was about to discard, but whom he loved with all the intensity of his fierce nature, he began to view the matter in other lights, and to feel his resolution oozing from him. Whether it was the silence of the place that told upon his nerves, strained as they were with expectation—for silence, and more especially silence by night, is a great unveiler of realities,—or the dread of bitter words,