She gave him her hand with the frankness which was her chief charm, and with a look in her eyes so full of trust and truth that his heart sunk within him for very fear lest he should prove unworthy of so much confidence.
“Oh, Arnold,” she said, “I think that I have loved you all along, ever since you began to write to me. And yet I never thought that love would come to me.”
He led her into that bosky grove set with seats convenient for lovers, which lies romantically close to the Italian Restaurant, where they sell the cocoa and the ginger beer. There was no one in the place besides themselves, and here, among the falling leaves, and in a solitude as profound as on the top of a Dartmoor tor, Arnold told the story of his love again, and with greater coherence, though even more passion.
“Oh,” said Iris again, “how could you love me, Arnold—how could you love any girl so? It is a shame, Arnold; we are not worth so much. Could any woman,” she thought, “be worth the wealth of passion and devotion which her lover poured out for her?”
“My tutor,” he went on, “if you only knew what things you have taught me, a man of experience! If I admired you when I thought you must be a man, and pictured an old scholar full of books and wisdom, what could I do when I found that a young girl had written those letters? You gave mine back to me; did you think that I would ever part with yours? And you owned—oh, Iris, what would not the finished woman of the world give to have the secret of your power?—you owned that you knew all my letters, every one, by heart. And after all, you will love me, your disciple and pupil, and a man who has his way to make from the very beginning and first round of the ladder. Think, Iris, first. Is it right to throw away so much upon a man who is worth so little?”
“But I am glad that you are poor. If you were rich I should have been afraid—oh, not of you, Arnold—never of you, but of your people. And, besides it is so good—oh, so very good for a young man—a young man of the best kind, not my cousin’s kind—to be poor. Nobody ought ever to be allowed to become rich before he is fifty years of age at the very least. Because now you will have to work in earnest, and you will become a great artist—yes, a truly great artist, and we shall be proud of you.”
“You shall make of me what you please, and what you can. For your sake, Iris, I wish I were another Raphael. You are my mistress and my queen. Bid me to die, and I will dare—Iris, I swear that the words of the extravagant old song are real to me.”
“Nay,” she said, “not your queen, but your servant always. Surely love cannot command. But, I think,” she added softly, with a tender blush; “I think—nay, I am sure and certain that it can obey.”
He stooped and kissed her fingers.
“My love,” he murmured; “my love—my love!”
The shadows lengthened and the evening fell; but those two foolish people sat side by side, and hand in hand, and what they said further we need not write down, because to tell too much of what young lovers whisper to each other is a kind of sacrilege.