“It is over,” she said to herself. “I can never marry him now. That woman is as far above me as the stars, and, sooner or later, he would find it all out. He must go, ah, God! he must go to marry her. Why should I not destroy these letters, and marry him to-morrow? bind him to me by a tie that no letters can ever break? What! purchase his presence at the price of his daily scorn? Oh, such water is too bitter for me to drink! I have sinned against you, Arthur, but I will sin no more. Good-bye, my dear, good-bye.”
And she laid her throbbing head upon the rail of the verandah, and wept bitterly.
About three o’clock that afternoon Arthur returned to the Quinta, having lunched on board the Roman. He found Mildred sitting in her favourite place on the museum verandah. She was very pale, and, if he had watched her, he would have seen that she was trembling all over, but he did not observe her particularly.
“Well,” he said, “it is all nonsense about half the crew being drowned; only one man was killed, by the fall of a spar, poor chap. They ran into Vigo, as I thought. The other mail is just coming in— but what is the matter, Mildred? You look pale.”
“Nothing, dear; I have a good deal to think of, that is all.”
“Ah, yes! Well, my love, have you made up your mind?”
“Why did I refuse to marry you before; for your sake, or mine, Arthur?”
“You said—absurdly, I thought—for mine!”
“And what I said I meant, and what I meant, I mean. Look me in the face, dear, and tell me, upon your honour as a gentleman, that you love me, really love me, and I will marry you to-morrow.”
“I am very fond of you, Mildred, and I will make you a good and true husband.”
“Precisely; that is what I expected, but it is not enough for me. There was a time when I thought that I could be well satisfied if you would only look kindly upon me, but I suppose that l’appetit vient en mangeant, for, now you do that, I am not satisfied. I long to reign alone. But that is not all. I will not consent to tie you, who do not love me, to my apron-strings for life. Believe me, the time is very near when you would curse me, if I did. You say”—and she rose and stretched out her arm—“that you will either marry me or go. I have made my choice. I will not beat out my heart against a stone. I will not marry you. Go, Arthur, go!”
A great anxiety came into his face.
“Do you fully understand what you are saying, Mildred? Such ties as exist between us cannot be lightly broken.”
“But I will break them, and my own heart with them, before they become chains so heavy that you cannot bear them. Arthur”—and she came up to him, and put her hands upon his shoulders, looking, with wild and sorrowful eyes, straight into his face—“tell me now, dear—do not palter, or put me off with any courteous falsehood—tell me as truly as you will speak upon the judgment-day, do you still love Angela Caresfoot as much as ever?”