"Have I deserved that you should write to me?" was all I could say.
"You have nobly deserved everything that I can do for you, as long as we both live. Whatever the end is you shall know it."
"And if I can ever be of help again, at any future time, long after the memory of my presumption and my folly is forgotten——"
I could add no more. My voice faltered, my eyes moistened in spite of me.
She caught me by both hands—she pressed them with the strong, steady grasp of a man—her dark eyes glittered—her brown complexion flushed deep—the force and energy of her face glowed and grew beautiful with the pure inner light of her generosity and her pity.
"I will trust you—if ever the time comes I will trust you as my friend and her friend, as my brother and her brother." She stopped; drew me nearer to her—the fearless, noble creature—touched my forehead, sister-like, with her lips, and called me by my Christian name. "God bless you, Walter!" she said. "Wait here alone and compose yourself—I had better not stay for both our sakes; I had better see you go from the balcony upstairs."
She left the room. I turned away towards the window, where nothing faced me but the lonely autumn landscape—I turned away to master myself, before I too left the room in my turn, and left it for ever.
A minute passed—it could hardly have been more—when I heard the door open again softly, and the rustling of a woman's dress on the carpet moved towards me. My heart beat violently as I turned round. Miss Fairlie was approaching me from the farther end of the room.
She stopped and hesitated when our eyes met, and when she saw that we were alone. Then, with that courage which women lose so often in the small emergency, and so seldom in the great, she came on nearer to me, strangely pale and strangely quiet, drawing one hand after her along the table by which she walked, and holding something at her side in the other, which was hidden by the folds of her dress.
"I only went into the drawing-room," she said, "to look for this. It may remind you of your visit here, and of the friends you leave behind you. You told me I had improved very much when I did it—and I thought you might like——"
She turned her head away, and offered me a little sketch, drawn throughout by her own pencil, of the summer-house