The wind blew again in the tree- tops; a volley of cold sea-rain deluged the garden, and, as the deuce would have it, a gutter which had been hitherto choked up began suddenly to play upon my head and shoulders with the vivacity of a fountain. We parted with a shock; I sprang to my feet, and she to hers, as though we had been discovered. A moment after, but now both standing, we had again approached the window on either side.
'Flora,' I said, 'this is but a poor offer I can make you.'
She took my hand in hers and clasped it to her bosom.
'Rich enough for a queen!' she said, with a lift in her breathing that was more eloquent than words. 'Anne, my brave Anne! I would be glad to be your maidservant; I could envy that boy Rowley. But, no!' she broke off, 'I envy no one--I need not--I am yours.'
'Mine,' said I, 'for ever! By this and this, mine!'
'All of me,' she repeated. 'Altogether and forever!'
And if the god were envious, he must have seen with mortification how little he could do to mar the happiness of mortals. I stood in a mere waterspout; she herself was wet, not from my embrace only, but from the splashing of the storm. The candles had guttered out; we were in darkness. I could scarce see anything but the shining of her eyes in the dark room. To her I must have appeared as a silhouette, haloed by rain and the spouting of the ancient Gothic gutter above my head.
Presently we became more calm and confidential; and when that squall, which proved to be the last of the storm, had blown by, fell into a talk of ways and means. It seemed she knew Mr. Robbie, to whom I had been so slenderly accredited by Romaine--was even invited to his house for the evening of Monday, and gave me a sketch of the old gentleman's character which implied a great deal of penetration in herself, and proved of great use to me in the immediate sequel. It seemed he was an enthusiastic antiquary, and in particular a fanatic of heraldry. I heard it with delight, for I was myself, thanks to M. de Culemberg, fairly grounded in that science, and acquainted with the blazons of most families of note in Europe. And I had made up my mind--even as she spoke, it was my fixed determination, though I was a hundred miles from saying it-- to meet Flora on Monday night as a fellow-guest in Mr. Robbie's house.
I gave her my money--it was, of course, only paper I had brought. I gave it her, to be her marriage-portion, I declared.
'Not so bad a marriage-portion for a private soldier,' I told her, laughing, as I passed it through the bars.
'O, Anne, and where am I to keep it?' she cried. 'If my aunt should find it! What would I say!'
'Next your heart,' I suggested.
'Then you will always be near your treasure,' she cried, 'for you are always there!'
We were interrupted by a sudden clearness that fell upon the night. The clouds dispersed; the stars shone in every part of the heavens; and, consulting my watch, I was startled to find it already hard on five in the morning.
CHAPTER XXVII--THE SABBATH DAY
It was indeed high time I should be gone from Swanston; but what I was to do in the meanwhile was another question. Rowley had received his orders last night: he was to say that I had met a friend, and Mrs. McRankine was not to expect me before morning. A good enough tale in itself; but the dreadful pickle I was in made it out of the question. I could not go home till I had found harbourage, a fire to dry my clothes at, and a bed where I might lie till they were ready.
Fortune favoured me again. I had scarce got to the top of the first hill when I spied a light on my left, about a furlong away. It might be a case of sickness; what else it was likely to be--in so rustic a neighbourhood, and at such an ungodly time of the morning--was beyond my fancy. A faint sound of singing became audible, and gradually swelled as I drew near, until at last I could make out the words, which were singularly appropriate both to the hour and to the condition of the singers.