HE paused; his head sank on his breast; his story was told.
I have repeated his words as nearly as I can remember them; but I can give no idea of the modest and touching resignation with which he spoke. To say that I pitied him with my whole heart, is to say nothing. I loved him with my whole heart--and I may acknowledge it now!
"Oh, Mr. Cameron," I said, as soon as I could trust myself to speak, "can nothing be done to help you? Is there no hope?"
"There is always hope," he answered, without raising his head. "I have to thank you, Miss Brading, for teaching me that."
"To thank me?" I repeated. "How have I taught you to hope?"
"You have brightened my dreary life. When I am with you, all my bitter remembrances leave me. I am a happy man again; and a happy man can always hope. I dream now of finding what I have never yet had--a dear and devoted friend, who will rouse the energy that has sunk in me under the martyrdom that I have endured. Why do I submit to the loss of my rights and my liberty, without an effort to recover them? I was alone in the world until I met with you. I had no kind hand to raise me, no kind voice to encourage me. Shall I ever find the hand? Shall I ever hear the voice? When I am with you, the hope that you have taught me answers Yes. When I am by myself, the old despair comes back, and says No."
He lifted his head for the first time. If I had not understood what his words meant, his look would have enlightened me. The tears came into my eyes; my heart heaved and fluttered wildly; my hands mechanically tore up and scattered the grass round me. The silence became unendurable. I spoke, hardly knowing what I was saying; tearing faster and faster at the poor harmless grass, as if my whole business in life was to pull up the greatest quantity in the shortest possible space of time!
"We have only known each other a little while," I said; "and a woman is but a weak ally in such a terrible position as yours. But useless as I may be, count on me, now and always, as your friend--"
He moved close to me before I could say more, and took my hand. He murmured in my ear,
"May I count on you one day as the nearest and dearest friend of all? Will you forgive me, Mary, if I own that I love you? You have taught me to love, as you have taught me to hope. It is in your power to lighten my hard lot. You can recompense me for all that I have suffered; you can rouse me to struggle for my freedom and my rights. Be the good angel of my life! Forgive me, love me, rescue me--be my wife!"
I don't know how it happened. I found myself in his arms--and I answered him in a kiss. Taking all the circumstances into consideration, I dare say I was guilty, in accepting him, of the rashest act that ever a woman committed. Very good. I didn't care then--I don't care now. I was then, and I am now, the happiest woman living.
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