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Chapter X 


My sleeplessness while Nicolete slept had not been all ecstasy, for I had come to a bitter resolution; and next morning, when we were once more on our way, I took a favourable opportunity of conveying it to Nicolete.

"Nicolete," I said, as we rested awhile by the roadside, "I have something serious to say to you."

"Yes, dear," she said, looking rather frightened.

"Well, dear, it is this,--our love must end with our holiday. No good can come of it."

"But oh, why? I love you."

"Yes, and I love you,--love you as I never thought I could love again. Yet I know it is all a dangerous dream,--a trick of our brains, an illusion of our tastes."

"But oh, why? I love you."

"Yes, you do to-day, I know; but it couldn't last. I believe I could love you for ever; but even so, it wouldn't be right. You couldn't go on loving me. I am too old, too tired, too desillusione, perhaps too selfish."

"I will love you always!" said girl Nicolete.

"Whereas you," I continued, disregarding the lovely refrain of her tear-choked voice, "are standing on the wonderful threshold of life, waiting in dreamland for the dawn. And it will come, and with it the fairy prince, with whom you shall wander hand in hand through all its fairy rose-gardens; but I, dear Nicolete,--I am not he."

Nicolete did not speak.

"I know," I continued, pressing her hand, "that I may seem young enough to talk like this, but some of us get through life quicker than others, and when we say, `It is done,' it is no use for onlookers to say, `Why, it is just beginning!' Believe me, Nicolete, I am not fit husband for you."

"Then shall I take no other," said Nicolete, with set face.

"Oh, yes, you will," I rejoined; "let but a month or two pass, and you will see how wise I was, after all. Besides, there are other reasons, of which there is no need to speak--"

"What reasons?"

"Well," I said, half laughing, "there is the danger that, after all, we mightn't agree. There is nothing so perilously difficult as the daily intercourse of two people who love each other. You are too young to realise its danger. And I couldn't bear to see our love worn away by the daily dropping of tears, not to speak of its being rent by the dynamite of daily quarrels.

We know each other's tastes, but we know hardly anything of each other's natures."

Nicolete looked at me strangely. 'Troth, it was a strange way to make love, I knew.

"And what else?" she asked somewhat coldly.

"Well, then, though it's not a thing one cares to speak of, I'm a poor man--"

Nicolete broke through my sentence with a scornful exclamation.

"You," I continued straight on,--"well, you have been accustomed to a certain spaciousness and luxury of life. This it would be out of my power to continue for you. These are real reasons, very real reasons, dear Nicolete, though you may not think so now. The law of the world in these matters is very right. For the rich and the poor to marry is to risk, terribly risk, the very thing they would marry for --their love. Love is better an unmarried than a married regret."

Nicolete was silent again.

"Think of your little woodland chalet, and your great old trees in the park,--you couldn't live without them. I have, at most, but one tree worth speaking of to offer you--"

I purposely waived the glamour which my old garden had for my mind, and which I wouldn't have exchanged for fifty parks.

"Trees!" retorted Nicolete,--"what are trees?"

"Ah, my dear girl, they are a good deal,--particularly when they are genealogical, as my one tree is not."

"Aucassin," she said suddenly, almost fiercely, "can you really jest? Tell me this,--do you love me?"

"I love you," I said simply; "and it is just because I love you so much that I have talked as I have done. No man situated as I am who loved you could have talked otherwise."

"Well, I have heard it all, weighed it all," said Nicolete, presently; "and to me it is but as thistledown against the love within my heart. Will you cast away a woman who loves you for theories? You know you love me, know I love you. We should have our trials, our ups and downs, I know; but surely it is by those that true love learns how to grow more true and strong. Oh, I cannot argue! Tell me again, do you love me?"

And there she broke down and fell sobbing into my arms. I consoled her as best I might, and presently she looked up at me through her tears.

"Tell me again," she said, "that you love me, just as you did yesterday, and promise never to speak of all those cruel things again. Ah! have you thought of the kind of men you would give me up to?"

At that I confess I shuddered, and I gave her the required assurance.

"And you won't be wise and reasonable and ridiculous any more?"

"No," I answered; adding in my mind, "not, at all events, for the present."

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