Such was his love—this brave, plain spoken, single hearted Scotsman. Would that there were more such men and more such love in the world! Few women could have resisted it, certainly not Hilary, especially with a little secret of her own lying perdu at the bottom of her heart; that “sleeping angel” whence half her strength and courage had come; the noble, faithful, generous love of a good woman for a good man. But this secret Robert Lyon had evidently never guessed, or deemed himself wholly unworthy of such a possession.
He took her hand at last, and held it firmly.
“And now that you know all, do you think in time—I’ll not hurry you—but in time, do you think I could make you love me?”
She looked up in his face with her honest eyes. Smiling as they were, there was pathos in them; the sadness left by those long years of hidden suffering, now forever ended.
“I have loved you all my life,” said Hilary.
Let us linger a little over this chapter of happy love: so sweet, so rare a thing. Aye, most rare: though hundreds continually meet, love, or fancy they do, engage themselves, and marry; and hundreds more go through the same proceeding, with the slight difference of the love omitted—Hamlet, with the part of Hamlet left out. But the real love, steady and true: tried in the balance, and not found wanting: tested by time, silence, separation; by good and ill fortune; by the natural and inevitable change which years make in every character—this is the rarest thing to be found on earth, and the most precious.
I do not say that all love is worthless which is not exactly this sort of love. There have been people who have succumbed instantly and permanently to some mysterious attraction, higher than all reasoning; the same which made Hilary “take an interest” in Robert Lyon’s face at church, and made him, he afterward confessed, the very first time he gave Ascott a lesson in the parlor at Stowbury, say to himself, “If I did marry, I think I should like such a wife as that brown-eyed bit lassie.” And there have been other people, who choosing their partners from accidental circumstances, or from mean worldly motives, have found Providence kinder to them than they deserved, and settled down into happy, affectionate husbands and wives.
But none of these loves can possibly have the sweetness, the completeness of such a love as that between Hilary Leaf and Robert Lyon.