Richard Feverel has just rescued Lucy's book from the river, and now firmly refuses to admit that he is wet, simply because he cannot bear to be separated from the charming girl, whose acquaintance strange Chance has just enabled him to make. * * * *
"It's true," he said; and his own gravity then touched him to join a duet with her, which made them no longer feel strangers, and did the work of a month of intimacy. Better than sentiment, laughter opens the breast to love; opens the whole breast to his full quiver, instead of a corner here and there for a solitary arrow. . . .
They laughed and forgot the cause of their laughter, and the sun dried his light river clothing, and they strolled toward the blackbird's copse, and stood near a stile in sight of the foam of the weir and the many-coloured rings of eddies streaming forth from it.
Richard's boat, meanwhile, had contrived to shoot the weir, and was swinging, bottom upwards, broadside with the current down the rapid backwater.
"Will you let it go?" said the damsel, eyeing it curiously.
"Yes," he replied, and low, as if he spoke in the core of his thought. " What do I care for it now !"
His old life was whirled away with it, dead, drowned. His new life was with her, alive, divine.
"You must really not come any further," she softly said.
"And will you go, and not tell me who you are?" he asked, growing bold as the fears of losing her came across him." And will you not tell me before you go" - his face burned -" how you came by that-that paper?"
She chose to select the easier question to reply to: "You ought to know me; we have been introduced." Sweet was her winning, offhand affability.
"Then who, in heaven's name, are you?
Tell me ! I never could have forgotten you."
"You have, I think," she said demurely.
"Impossible that we could have ever met, and I forget you !"
She looked up to him quickly. ' Do you remember Belthorpe? "
"Then I am old Blaize's niece." She tripped him a soft curtsey.
The magnetised youth gazed at her. By what magic was it that this divine sweet creature could be allied with that old churl?
"Have you forgot the Desboroughs of Dorset, too?" She peered at him archly from a side-bend of the flapping brim.
"The Desboroughs of Dorset? "A light broke in on him. " And have you grown to this? That little girl I saw there!"
He drew close to her to read the nearest features of the vision. She could no more laugh off the piercing fervour of his eyes. Her volubility fluttered under his deeply wistful look, and now neither voice was high, and they were mutually constrained.
"You see," she murmured, "we are old acquaintances."
Richard, his eyes still intently fixed on her, returned, "You are very beautiful!"
Miss Desborough made an effort to trifle with this terrible directness; but his eyes would not be gainsaid, and checked her lips. She turned away from them, her bosom a little rebellious. Praise so passionately spoken, and by one who has been a damsel's first dream, dreamed of nightly many long nights, and clothed in the virgin silver of her thoughts in bud, praise from him is the coin the heart cannot reject, if it would. She quickened her steps to the stile.
"I have offended you," said a mortally wounded voice across her shoulder.
That he should think so were too dreadful.
"Oh, no, no ! You would never offend me." She gave him her whole sweet face.
"Then why-why do you leave me?
"Because," she hesitated, "I must go."
"No, you must not go. Why must you go? Do not go."
"Indeed I must," she said, pulling at the obnoxious broad brim of her hat; and, interpreting a pause he made for his assent to her rational resolve, shyly looking at him
She held her hand out, and said " Good-bye " as if it were a natural thing to say.
. . . He took the hand, and held it, gazing between her eyes.
"Good-bye," she said again, as frankly as she could, and at the same time slightly compressing her fingers on his in token of adieu. It was a signal for his to close firmly upon hers.
"You will not go?"
"Pray leave me," she pleaded, her sweet brows suing in wrinkles.
"You will not go?" Mechanically he drew the white hand nearer his thumping heart.
"I must," she faltered piteously.
"You will not go? "
"Oh, yes-yes !"
"Tell me. Do you wish to go?"
The question was subtle. A moment or two she did not answer, and then forswore herself, and said, "Yes."
"Do you-do you wish to go?" He looked with quivering eyelids under hers.
A fainter "Yes" responded to his passionate repetition.
"You wish-wish to leave me?" His breath went with the words.
"Indeed I must."
Her hand became a closer prisoner.
All at once an alarming delicious shudder went through her frame. From him to her it coursed, and back from her to him. Forward and back love's electric messenger rushed from heart to heart, knocking at each, till it surged simultaneously against the bars of its prison, crying out for its mate. They stood trembling in unison, a lovely couple under these fair heavens of the morning.
When he could get his voice it said, "Will you go?"
But she had none to reply with, and could only mutely bend upward her gentle wrist.
Strange, that now she was released she should linger by him. Strange that his audacity, instead of the executioner, brought blushes and timid tenderness to his side, and the sweet words, "You are not angry with me?"
"With you, O beloved!" cried his soul. "And you forgive me, fair charity !"
She repeated her words in deeper sweetness to his bewildered look; and he, inexperienced, possessed by her; almost lifeless with the divine new emotions she had realised in him, could only sigh and gaze at her wonderingly.
"I think it was rude of me to go without thanking you again," she said, and again proffered her hand.
The sweet heaven-bird shivered out his song above him. The gracious glory of heaven fell upon his soul. He touched her hand, not moving his eyes from her, nor speaking; and she, with a soft word of farewell, passed across the stile, and up the pathway through the dewy shades of the copse, and out of the arch of the light, away from his eyes.