She made no answer, but once more she sang:
“O let the solid
Not fail beneath my feet
Before my life has found
What some have found so sweet;”
and then suddenly broke off.
“Why are you looking at me?” she said. “I can feel you looking at me and it makes me nervous.”
He bent towards her and looked her in the eyes.
“I love you, Ida,” he said, “I love you with all my heart,” and he stopped suddenly.
She turned quite pale, even in that light he could see her pallor, and her hands fell heavily on the keys.
The echo of the crashing notes rolled round the room and slowly died away—but still she said nothing.
At last she spoke, apparently with a great effort.
“It is stifling in here,” she said, “let us go out.” She rose, took up a shawl that lay beside her on a chair, and stepped through the French window into the garden. It was a lovely autumn night, and the air was still as death, with just a touch of frost in it.
Ida threw the shawl over her shoulders and followed by Harold walked on through the garden till she came to the edge of the moat, where there was a seat. Here she sat down and fixed her eyes upon the hoary battlements of the gateway, now clad in a solemn robe of moonlight.
Harold looked at her and felt that if he had anything to say the time had come for him to say it, and that she had brought him here in order that she might be able to listen undisturbed. So he began again, and told her that he loved her dearly.
“I am some seventeen years older than you,” he went on, “and I suppose that the most active part of my life lies in the past; and I don’t know if, putting other things aside, you could care to marry so old a man, especially as I am not rich. Indeed, I feel it presumptuous on my part, seeing what you are and what I am not, to ask you to do so. And yet, Ida, I believe if you could care for me that, with heaven’s blessing, we should be very happy together. I have led a lonely life, and have had little to do with women—once, many years ago, I was engaged, and the matter ended painfully, and that is all. But ever since I first saw your face in the drift five years and more ago, it has haunted me and been with me. Then I came to live here and I have learnt to love you, heaven only knows how much, and I should be ashamed to try to put it into words, for they would sound foolish. All my life is wrapped up in you, and I feel as though, should you see me no more, I could never be a happy man again,” and he paused and looked anxiously at her face, which was set and drawn as though with pain.
“I cannot say ‘yes,’ Colonel Quaritch,” she answered at length, in a tone that puzzled him, it was so tender and so unfitted to the words.
“I suppose,” he stammered, “I suppose that you do not care for me? Of course, I have no right to expect that you would.”