ny more, and to believe me, on my word, in what I have just told you. It is the truth. Sir Percival, the truth which I think my promised husband has a claim to hear, at any sacrifice of my own feelings. I trust to his generosity to pardon me, and to his honour to keep my secret."
"Both those trusts are sacred to me," he said, "and both shall be sacredly kept."
After answering in those terms he paused, and looked at her as if he was waiting to hear more.
"I have said all I wish to say," she added quietly—"I have said more than enough to justify you in withdrawing from your engagement."
"You have said more than enough," he answered, "to make it the dearest object of my life to KEEP the engagement." With those words he rose from his chair, and advanced a few steps towards the place where she was sitting.
She started violently, and a faint cry of surprise escaped her. Every word she had spoken had innocently betrayed her purity and truth to a man who thoroughly understood the priceless value of a pure and true woman. Her own noble conduct had been the hidden enemy, throughout, of all the hopes she had trusted to it. I had dreaded this from the first. I would have prevented it, if she had allowed me the smallest chance of doing so. I even waited and watched now, when the harm was done, for a word from Sir Percival that would give me the opportunity of putting him in the wrong.
"You have left it to ME, Miss Fairlie, to resign you," he continued. "I am not heartless enough to resign a woman who has just shown herself to be the noblest of her sex."
He spoke with such warmth and feeling, with such passionate enthusiasm, and yet with such perfect delicacy, that she raised her head, flushed up a little, and looked at him with sudden animation and spirit.
"No!" she said firmly. "The most wretched of her sex, if she must give herself in marriage when she cannot give her love."
"May she not give it in the future," he asked, "if the one object of her husband's life is to deserve it?"
"Never!" she answered. "If you still persist in maintaining our engagement, I may be your true and faithful wife, Sir Percival— your loving wife, if I know my own heart, never!"
She looked so irresistibly beautiful as she said those brave words that no man alive could have steeled his heart