Amid all the roar and rattle of the huge city they were as thoroughly left to themselves as though they were in the centre of Salisbury Plain.

"You must have a protector," Tom said with decision.

"Oh, Cousin Tom, don't be foolish; I can protect myself very well."

"You must have some one who has a right to look after you." The young man's voice was husky, for the back part of his throat had become unaccountably dry of a sudden.

"You can pass now, sir," roared the constable, for there was a momentary break in the traffic.

"Don't go for a moment," Tom cried, desperately detaining his companion by the sleeve of her jacket. "We are alone here and can talk. Don't you think--don't you think you could like me a little bit if you were to try? I love you so, Kate, that I cannot help hoping that my love is not all lost."

"All clear now, sir," shouted the constable once more.

"Don't mind him," said Tom, still detaining her on the little-island. "Since I met you in Edinburgh, Kate, I have seemed to be walking in a dream. Do what I will, go where I will, I still have you before my eyes and hear your sweet voice in my ears. I don't believe any girl was ever loved more dearly than I love you, but I find it so hard to put into words the thoughts that I have in my mind. For Heaven's sake, give me some little gleam of hope to carry away with me. You don't dislike me, Kate, do you?"

"You know that I don't, Cousin Tom," said the young lady, with downcast eyes. He had cornered her so skilfully against the great lamp that she could move neither to the right nor to the left.

"Do you like me, then, Kate?" he asked eagerly, with a loving light in his earnest grey eyes.

"Of course I do."

"Do you think you could love me?" continued this persistent young man. "I don't mean all at once, and in a moment, because I know very well that I am not worthy of it. But in time don't you think you could come to love me?"

"Perhaps," murmured Kate, with averted face. It was such a very little murmur that it was wonderful that it should be audible at all; yet it pealed in the young man's ears above the rattle and the clatter of the busy street. His head was very near to hers at the time.

"Now's your time, sir," roared the semaphoric policeman.

Had Tom been in a less exposed position it is possible that he might have acted upon that well-timed remark from the cunning constable. The centre of a London crossing is not, however, a very advantageous spot for the performance of love passages. As they walked on, threading their way among the vehicles, Tom took his companion's hand in his, and they exchanged one firm grip, which each felt to be of the nature of a pledge. How sunny and bright the dull brick-lined streets appeared to those two young people that afternoon. They were both looking into a future which seemed to be one long vista of happiness and love. Of all the gifts of Providence, surely our want of knowledge of the things which are to come upon us is the most merciful, and the one we could least dispense with!

So happy and so light-hearted were these two lovers that it was not until they found themselves in Warwick Street once more that they came down from the clouds, and realized that there were some commonplace details which must be dealt with in one way or another.

"Of course, I may tell my own people, dearest, about our engagement?" Tom said.

"I wonder what your mother will say?" answered Kate, laughing merrily. "She will be awfully astonished."

"How about Girdlestone?" asked Tom.

The thought of the guardian had never occurred to either of them before. They stared at each other, and Kate's face assumed such an expression of dismay that her companion burst out laughing.

"Don't be frightened, darling," he said. "If you like, I'll go in and 'beard the lion in his den.' There is no time like the present."

"No, no, dear Tom," she cried eagerly. "You must not do that." It was impossible for her to tell him how especially Girdlestone had cautioned her against him, but she felt that it would never do to allow the two to meet.

The Firm of Girdlestone Page 51

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