“Would you be contented here with any other man as your companion?” he asked, his head suddenly swimming.
“Oh, no!” she cried decisively. “I don’t believe I’d like it here with anybody but you. Now, don’t look like that! I’m not such a fool as you may be thinking, Hugh. I know the world pretty well. I know how other people love, even though it has never been part of my lot. I’m not quite a hypocrite. I was not presented at court for nothing. You see, you are so good and we are such friends. It never occurred to me before, but I’m sure I couldn’t endure being here with any other man I know. Isn’t it queer I never thought of that?” she asked, in real wonder.
He looked at her steadily before answering. The flare of the torch revealed a childlike sincerity in her face, and he knew she did not realize the construction he might have been justified in according her impulsive confession. His heart throbbed silently. A wave of tenderness welled within him, bringing with it a longing to kiss the hem of her raiment, to touch her soft, black hair, to whisper gently in her ear, to clasp her hand, to do something fondly grateful.
“Are you quite sure of that?” he asked softly. She looked up into his eyes honestly, frankly, unwaveringly, pressing his arm with a smile of enthusiasm.
“Quite sure. Why not? Who could be better, more thoughtful, braver than you, and for the sake of a woman who, by mistake, owes her life to you? When you have done so much for me, why should I not say that you are the man I like best of all I know? It is strange, perhaps, that it should make any particular difference, but it seems to me no other man could inspire the feeling of resignation and contentment that you do. Really, it isn’t so hard to live in the wilderness, is it?”
“Have you never known any one else with whom you could have been contented here?” he asked persistently.
“Oh, I don’t know what other men would be like if they were in your place,” she said. She appeared deeply thoughtful for some time, as if trying to imagine others of her acquaintance in Hugh’s place. “I am sure I cannot imagine any one being just like you,” she went on, conclusively.
“No one you may have loved?”
“I have never loved anybody,” she cried.
“Do you know what love means?”
“I haven’t the faintest conception,” she laughed, mockingly.
“I believe you said that to me some time ago,” he said.
“I wish I could love,” she said lightly. “But I suppose the chance is forever lost if I am doomed to stay on this island all my life.”
His smile was understood by the night.
THE COMING OF THE ENEMY