‘Hope, I have a secret to tell you,’ I said.
‘A secret,’ she exclaimed eagerly. ‘I love secrets.’
‘A great secret,’ I repeated, as I felt my face burning.
‘Why — it must be something awful!’
‘Not very,’ I stammered. Having missed my cue from the beginning, I was now utterly confused.
‘William!’ she exclaimed, ‘what is the matter of you.’
‘I — I am in love,’ said I, very awkwardly.
‘Is that all?’ she answered, a trace of humour in her tone. ’I thought it was bad news.’
I stooped to pick a rose and handed it to her.
‘Well,’ she remarked soberly, but smiling a little, as she lifted the rose to her lips, ‘is it anyone I know?’
I felt it was going badly with me, but caught a sudden inspiration.
‘You have never seen her,’ I said.
If she had suspected the truth I had turned the tables on her, and now she was guessing. A quick change came into her face, and, for a moment, it gave me confidence.
‘Is she pretty?’ she asked very seriously as she dropped the flower and looked down crushing it beneath her foot.
‘She is very beautiful — it is you I love, Hope.’
A flood of colour came into her cheeks then, as she stood a moment looking down at the flower in silence.
‘I shall keep your secret,’ she said tenderly, and hesitating as she spoke, ’and when you are through college — and you are older — and I am older — and you love me as you do now — I hope — I shall love you, too — as — I do now.’
Her lips were trembling as she gave me that sweet assurance — dearer to me — far dearer than all else I remember of that golden time — and tears were coursing down her cheeks. For myself I was in a worse plight of emotion. I dare say she remembered also the look of my face in that moment.
‘Do not speak of it again,’ she said, as we walked away together on the shorn sod of the orchard meadow, now sown with apple blossoms, ’until we are older, and, if you never speak again, I shall know you — you do not love me any longer.’
The dinner horn sounded. We turned and walked slowly back
‘Do I look all right?’ she asked, turning her face to me and smiling sweetly.
‘All right,’ I said. ’Nobody would know that anyone loved you — except for your beauty and that one tear track on your cheek.’
She wiped it away as she laughed.
‘Mother knows anyway,’ she said, ’and she has given me good advice. Wait!’ she added, stopping and turning to me. ’Your eyes are wet!’
I felt for my handkerchief.
‘Take mine,’ she said.
Elder Whitmarsh was at the house and they were all sitting down to dinner as we came in.
‘Hello!’ said Uncle Eb. ‘Here’s a good-lookin’ couple. We’ve got a chicken pie an’ a Baptis’ minister fer dinner an’ both good. Take yer pew nex’ t’ the minister,’ he added as he held the chair for me.