“Helen Romer!” she murmured, faintly; “and you love her?” A sick, cold misery rushed into her heart. She strove to withdraw her hands from his; but he only held them the tighter.
“No; by the God above us, I love you, and only you,” he answered her, almost roughly; “but I am bound to her. I cannot afford to marry her—we have neither of us any money; but I am bound all the same. Only one thing can set me free; if, in five years, we are, neither of us, better off than now, she has told me that I may go free. Under no other conditions can I ever marry any one else. That is my secret, Vera. At any moment she can claim me, and for five years I must wait for her.”
“Then I will wait for you five years too,” she cried, passionately. “Is my love less strong, less constant, than hers, do you think? Can I not wait patiently too?” She wound her arms about his neck, and drew his face down to hers.
“Five years,” she murmured; “it is but a small slice out of one’s life after all; and when it is over, it seems such a little space to look back upon. Dearest, some day we shall remember how miserable, and yet how happy too, we have been this morning; and we shall smile, as we remember it all, out of the fulness of our content.”
How was he to gainsay so sweet a prophet? Already the train was slackening, and the moment when they must part drew near. The beautiful head lay upon his breast; the deep, shadowy eyes, which love for the first time had softened into the perfection of their own loveliness, mirrored themselves in his; the flower-shaped, trembling lips were close up to his. How could he resist their gentle pleading? There was no time for more words, for more struggles between love and duty.
“So be it, then,” he murmured, and caught her in one last, passionate embrace to his heart.
Five minutes later a tall young lady, deeply veiled as when she had entered the train, got out of it and walked swiftly away from Tripton station down the hill towards the high road. So absorbed was she in her own reflections that she utterly failed to notice another figure, also female and also veiled, who, preceding her through the mist, went on swiftly before her down the road. Nor did she pay the slightest attention to the fact until a turn in the road brought her suddenly face to face with two persons who stood deep in conversation under the shelter of the tall, misty hedge-row.
As Vera approached these two persons sprang apart with a guilty suddenness, and revealed to her astonished eyes—Beatrice Miller and Mr. Herbert Pryme.
AN UNLUCKY LOVE-LETTER.
Heaven first taught letters for some wretch’s
Some banished lover, or some captive maid.
Pope, “Eloisa and Abelard.”
To ascertain rightly how Mr. Pryme and Miss Miller came to be found in the parish of Tripton at nine o’clock in the morning, standing together under a wet hedge-row, it will be necessary to take a slight retrospect of what had taken place in the history of these two people since the time when the young barrister had spent that memorable week at Shadonake.