The girl gazed at him with a frightened look; he had sunk down upon his knee before her, and he caught her hand which lay upon the log at her side.
“Helen!” he cried, “you cannot mean to forget that? For that promise has been the one joy of my life, that for which I have labored so hard! My one hope, Helen! I came to-day to claim it, to tell you—”
And with a wild glance about her, the girl sprang to her feet, snatching her hand away from his.
“Arthur!” she cried; “Arthur, you must not speak to me so!”
“I must not, Helen?”
“No, no,” she cried, trembling; “we were only children, and we did not know the meaning of the words we used. You must not talk to me that way, Arthur.”
“Helen!” he protested, helplessly.
“No, no, I will not allow it!” she cried more vehemently, stepping back as he started towards her, and holding close to her the hand he had held. “I had no idea there was such a thought in your mind—”
Helen stopped, breathlessly.
“—or you would not have been so kind to me?” the other added faintly.
“I thought of you as an old friend,” said Helen. “I was but a child when I went away. I wish you still to be a friend, Arthur; but you must not act in that way.”
The young man glanced once at her, and when he saw the stern look upon her face he buried his head in his arms without a sound.
For fully a minute they remained thus, in silence; then as Helen watched him, her chest ceased gradually to heave, and a gentler look returned to her face. She came and sat down on the log again.
“Arthur,” she said after another silence, “can we not just be friends?”
The young man answered nothing, but he raised his head and gazed at her; and she saw that there were tears in his eyes, and a look of mute helplessness upon his face. She trembled slightly, and rose to her feet again.
“Arthur,” she said gravely, “this must not be; we must not sit here any longer. I must go.”
“Helen!” exclaimed the other, springing up.
But he saw her brow knit again, and he stopped short. The girl gazed about her, and the village in the distance caught her eye.
“Listen,” she said, with forced calmness; “I promised father that I would go and see old Mrs. Woodward, who was asking for me. You may wait here, if you like, and walk home with me, for I shall not be gone very long. Will you do it?”
The other gazed at her for a moment or two; he was trying to read the girl’s heart, but he saw only the quiet firmness of her features.
“Will you wait, Arthur?” she asked again.
And Arthur’s head sank upon his breast. “Yes, Helen,” he said. When he lifted it again, the girl was gone; she had disappeared in the thicket, and he could hear her footsteps as she passed swiftly down the hillside.