Lavender and Old Lace by Myrtle Reed
XI. The Rose of all the World
"He didn't forget me! He didn't forget me!" Ruth's heart sang in time with her step as she went home. Late afternoon flooded all the earth with gold, and from the other side of the hill came the gentle music of the sea.
The doors were open, but there was no trace of Hepsey. She put the roses in her water pitcher, and locked her door upon them as one hides a sacred joy. She went out again, her heart swelling like the throat of a singing bird, and walked to the brow of the cliff, with every sense keenly alive. Upon the surface of the ocean lay that deep, translucent blue which only Tadema has dared to paint.
"I must go down," she murmured.
Like a tawny ribbon trailed upon the green, the road wound down the hill. She followed it until she reached the side path on the right, and went down into the woods. The great boughs arched over her head like the nave of a cathedral, and the Little People of the Forest, in feathers and fur, scattered as she approached. Bright eyes peeped at her from behind tree trunks, or the safe shelter of branches, and rippling bird music ended in a frightened chirp,
"Oh," she said aloud, "don't be afraid!"
Was this love, she wondered, that lay upon her eyes like the dew of a Spring morning, that made the air vocal with rapturous song, and wrought white magic in her soul? It had all the mystery ind freshness of the world's beginning; it was the rush of waters where sea and river meet, the perfume of a flower, and the far light trembling from a star. It was sunrise where there had been no day, the ecstasy of a thousand dawns; a new sun gleaming upon noon. All the joy of the world surged and beat in her pulses, till it seemed that her heart had wings.
Sunset came upon the water, the colour on the horizon reflecting soft iridescence upon the blue. Slow sapphire surges broke at her feet, tossing great pearls of spray against the cliff. Suddenly, as if by instinct, she turned--and faced Winfield.
"Thank you for the roses," she cried, with her face aglow.
He gathered her into his arms. "Oh, my Rose of All the World," he murmured, "have I found you at last?"
It was almost dusk when they turned to go home, with their arms around each other, as if they were the First Two, wandering through the shaded groves of Paradise, before sin came into the world.
"Did you think it would be like this?" she asked, shyly.
"No, I didn't, darling. I thought it would be very prim and proper. I never dreamed you'd let me kiss you--yes, I did, too, but I thought it was too good to be true."
"I had to--to let you," she explained, crimsoning, "but nobody ever did before. I always thought--" Then Ruth hid her face against his shoulder, in maidenly shame.
When they came to the log across the path, they sat down, very close together. "You said we'd fight if we came here," Ruth whispered.
"We're not going to, though. I want to tell you something, dear, and I haven't had the words for it till now."
"What is it?" she asked, in alarm.
"It's only that I love you, Ruth," he said, holding her closer, "and when I've said that, I've said all. It isn't an idle word; it's all my life that I give you, to do with as you will. It isn't anything that's apart from you, or ever could be; it's as much yours as your hands or eyes are. I didn't know it for a little while--that's because I was blind. To think that I should go up to see you, even that first day, without knowing you for my sweetheart--my wife!"
"No, don't draw away from me. You little wild bird, are you afraid of Love? It's the sweetest thing God ever let a man dream of, Ruth--there's nothing like it in all the world. Look up, Sweet Eyes, and say you love me!"
Ruth's head drooped, and he put his hand under her chin, turning her face toward him, but her eyes were downcast still. "Say it, darling," he pleaded.
"I--I can't," she stammered.
"I want you to say it, sweetheart. Won't you?"
"When--when it's dark."
"It's dark now."
"No it isn't. How did you know?"
"How did I know what, dear?"
"That I--that I--cared."
"I knew the day you cried. I didn't know myself until then, but it all came in a minute."
"I was afraid you were going to stay away a whole week."
"I couldn't, darling--I just had to come."
"Did you see everybody you wanted to see?"
"I couldn't see anything but your face, Ruth, with the tears on it. I've got to go back to-morrow and have another try at the oculist."
"Oh!" she exclaimed, in acute disappointment.
"It's the last time, sweetheart; we'll never be separated again."
"Never in all the world--nor afterward."
"I expect you think I'm silly," she said, wiping her eyes, as they rose to go home, "but I don't want you to go away."
"I don't want to go, dearest. If you're going to cry, you'll have me a raving maniac. I can't stand it, now."
"I'm not going to," she answered, smiling through her tears, "but it's a blessed privilege to have a nice stiff collar and a new tie to cry on."
"They're at your service, dear, for anything but that. I suppose we're engaged now, aren't we?"
"I don't know," said Ruth, in a low tone; "you haven't asked me to marry you."
"Do you want me to?"
"It's time, isn't it?"
Winfield bent over and whispered to her.
"I must think about it," said Ruth, very gravely, "it's so sudden."
"Oh, you sweet girl," he laughed, "aren't you going to give me any encouragement?"
"You've had some."
"I want another," he answered, purposely misunderstanding her, "and besides, it's dark now."
The sweet-scented twilight still lingered on the hillside, and a star or two gleamed through the open spaces above. A moment later, Ruth, in her turn, whispered to him. It was only a word or two, but the bright-eyed robins who were peeping at them from the maple branches must have observed that it was highly satisfactory.