There she stopped. The fervour she repressed in speech threw a glow over her face, like that on a frosty bare autumn sky after sunset.
I pressed my lips to her hand.
In our silence another of the fatal yellow volumes thumped the floor.
She looked into my eyes and asked,
‘Have we been speaking before a witness?’
So thoroughly had she renovated me, that I accused and reproved the lurking suspicion with a soft laugh.
‘Beloved! I wish we had been.’
‘If it might be,’ she said, divining me and musing.
‘How? What do you ask?’
The look on my face alarmed her. I was breathless and colourless, with the heart of a hawk eyeing his bird—a fox, would be the truer comparison, but the bird was noble, not one that cowered. Her beauty and courage lifted me into high air, in spite of myself, and it was a huge weight of greed that fell away from me when I said,
’I would not urge it for an instant. Consider—if you had just plighted your hand in mine before a witness!’
‘My hand is in yours; my word to you is enough.’
’Enough. My thanks to heaven for it! But consider—a pledge of fidelity that should be my secret angel about me in trouble and trial; my wedded soul! She cannot falter, she is mine for ever, she guides me, holds me to work, inspirits me!—she is secure from temptation, from threats, from everything—nothing can touch, nothing move her, she is mine! I mean, an attested word, a form, that is—a betrothal. For me to say—my beloved and my betrothed! You hear that? Beloved! is a lonely word:— betrothed! carries us joined up to death. Would you?—I do but ask to know that you would. To-morrow I am loose in the world, and there ’s a darkness in the thought of it almost too terrible. Would you?—one sworn word that gives me my bride, let men do what they may! I go then singing to battle—sure!—Remember, it is but the question whether you would.’
‘Harry, I would, and will,’ she said, her lips shuddering—’wait’—for a cry of joy escaped me—’I will look you me in the eyes and tell me you have a doubt of me.’
I looked: she swam in a mist.
We had our full draught of the divine self-oblivion which floated those ghosts of the two immortal lovers through the bounds of their purgatorial circle, and for us to whom the minutes were ages, as for them to whom all time was unmarked, the power of supreme love swept out circumstance. Such embraces cast the soul beyond happiness, into no known region of sadness, but we drew apart sadly, even as that involved pair of bleeding recollections looked on the life lost to them. I knew well what a height she dropped from when the senses took fire. She raised me to learn how little of fretful thirst and its reputed voracity remains with love when it has been met midway in air by a winged mate able to sustain, unable to descend farther.