Philip had sat or rather crouched himself down upon the log of a tree that lay outside the summer-house, and covered his face with his hand, as though her loveliness was more than he could bear to look upon. Now, however, he raised his eyes and let them dwell upon her scornful features.
“I had rather,” he said slowly—“I had rather lose my life than lose you; I love you so that I would buy you at the price even of my honour. When will you marry me?”
“What, have you made up your mind so quickly? Are you sure? Then,”— and here she changed her whole tone and bearing, and passionately stretched out her arms towards him,—“my dearest Philip, my life, my love, I will marry you when you will.”
“To-morrow, if you like!”
“You must promise me something first.”
“What is it?”
“That you will keep the marriage a complete secret, and bear another name until my father’s death. If you do not, he will most probably disinherit me.”
“I do not like your terms, Philip. I do not like secret marriages; but you are giving up much to marry me, so I suppose I must give up something to marry you.”
“You solemnly promise that nothing shall induce you to reveal that you are my wife until I give you permission to do so?”
“I promise—that is, provided you do not force me to in self-defence.”
“You need not fear that,” he said. “But how shall we arrange about getting married?”
“I can meet you in London.”
“Very well. I will go up early to-morrow, and get a licence, and then on Wednesday I can meet you, and we can be married.”
“As you will, Philip; where shall I meet you?”
He gave her an address which she carefully noted down.
“Now,” she said, “you must go, it is late. Yes, you may kiss me now. There, that will do, now go.” In another minute he was gone.
“I have won the game,” she mused; “poor Maria. I am sorry for her, but perhaps hers is the better part. She will get over it, but mine is a sad fate; I love passionately, madly, but I do not trust the man I love. Why should our marriage be so secret? He cannot be entangled with Maria, or she would have told me.” And she stretched out her arms towards the path by which he had left her, and cried aloud, in the native tongue that sounded so soft upon her lips, “Oh, my heart’s darling! if I could only trust you as well as I love you, it is a happy woman that I should be to-night.”
Nothing occurred to interfere with the plan of action decided on by Hilda and Philip; no misadventure came to mock them, dashing the Tantalus cup of joy to earth before their eyes. On the contrary, within forty-eight hours of the conversation recorded in the last chapter, they were as completely and irrevocably man and wife, as a special licence and the curate of a city church, assisted by the clerk and the pew-opener, could make them.