“Why did I come?” he repeated, passionately. “Why did I come? Can you ask that? How could I help but come? You must have known I would come. Surely you must have known! Didn’t you hear me calling you when you paddled away? I came to get the right. I came to get your promise, your kisses, to hear you say the word, to get you! I thought you understood. It was all so clear to me. I thought you knew. That was why I was so glad to go, so eager to get away that I could not even realize I was parting from you—so I could the sooner reach Quebec—reach you! Don’t you see how I felt? All this present was merely something to get over, to pass by, to put behind us until I got to Quebec in August—and you. I looked forward so eagerly to that, I was so anxious to get away, I was desirous of hastening on to the time when things could be sure! Don’t you understand?”
“Yes, I think I do,” replied the girl, softly.
“And I thought of course you knew, I should not have kissed you otherwise.”
“How could I know?” she sighed. “You said nothing, and, oh! I wanted so to hear!”
And singularly enough he said nothing now, but they stood facing each other hand in hand, while the great vibrant life they were now touching so closely filled their hearts and eyes, and left them faint. So they stood for hours or for seconds, they could not tell, spirit-hushed, ecstatic. The girl realized that they must part.
“You must go,” she whispered brokenly, at last. “I do not want you to, but you must.”
She smiled up at him with trembling lips that whispered to her soul that she must be brave.
“Now go,” she nerved herself to say, releasing her hands.
“Tell me,” he commanded.
“What?” she asked.
“What I most want to hear.”
“I can tell you many things,” said she, soberly, “but I do not know which of them you want to hear. Ah, Ned. I can tell you that you have come into a girl’s life to make her very happy and very much afraid. And that is a solemn thing; is it not?”
“Yes,” said he.
“And I can tell you that this can never be undone. That is a solemn thing, too, is it not?”
“Yes,” said he.
“And that, according as you treat her, this girl will believe or not believe in the goodness of all men or the badness of all men. Ah, Ned, a woman’s heart is fragile, and mine is in your keeping.”
Her face was raised bravely and steadily to his. In the starlight it shone white and pathetic. And her eyes were two liquid wells of darkness in the shadow, and her half-parted lips were wistful and childlike.
The man caught both her hands, again looking down on her. Then he answered her, solemnly and humbly.
“Virginia,” said he, “I am setting out on a perilous Journey. As I deal with you, may God deal with me.”
“Ah, that is as I like you,” she breathed.