‘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.
And it was before a witness, though unviewed by us.
The farewell had come. Her voice was humbled.
Never, I said, delighting in the now conscious bravery of her eyes engaging mine, shadowy with the struggle, I would never doubt her, and I renounced all pledges. To be clear in my own sight as well as in hers, I made mention of the half-formed conspiracy to obtain her plighted troth in a binding manner. It was not necessary for me to excuse myself; she did that, saying, ’Could there be a greater proof of my darling’s unhappiness? I am to blame.’
We closed hands for parting. She hesitated and asked if my father was awake; then promptly to my answer:
’I will see him. I have treated you ill. I have exacted too much patience. The suspicion was owing to a warning I had this evening, Harry; a silly warning to beware of snares; and I had no fear of them, believe me, though for some moments, and without the slightest real desire to be guarded, I fancied Harry’s father was overhearing me. He is your father, dearest: fetch him to me.