“I don’t want her to know,” said Noaks, with a return of nervousness. “You mustn’t tell any one. I—the fact is—”
“Ah, that is so like you!” the girl said tenderly. “I suppose it was your modesty that all this while blinded me. Please, sir, I have a confession to make to you. Never till to-night have I loved you.”
Exquisite was the shock of these words to one who, not without reason, had always assumed that no woman would ever love him. Before he knew what he was doing, he had bent down and kissed the sweet upturned face. It was the first kiss he had ever given outside his family circle. It was an artless and a resounding kiss.
He started back, dazed. What manner of man, he wondered, was he? A coward, piling profligacy on poltroonery? Or a hero, claiming exemption from moral law? What was done could not be undone; but it could be righted. He drew off from the little finger of his left hand that iron ring which, after a twinge of rheumatism, he had to-day resumed.
“You mean—?” She leapt to her feet.
“That we are engaged. I hope you don’t think we have any choice?”
She clapped her hands, like the child she was, and adjusted the ring.
“It is very pretty,” she said.