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Dead Men Tell No Tales E. W. Hornung

Chapter XIX My Great Hour

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"Love you?" I echoed. "With every fibre of my being! With every atom of my heart and soul and body! I love you well enough to live to a hundred for you, or to die for you to-night!"

"Well enough to - give me up?" she whispered.

I felt as though a cold hand had checked my heart at its hottest, but I mastered myself sufficiently to face her question and to answer it as honestly as I might.

"Yes!" I cried; "well enough even to do that, if it was for your happiness; but I might be rather difficult to convince about that."

"You are very strong and true," she murmured. "Yes, I can trust you as I have never trusted anybody else! But - how long have you been so foolish?" And she tried very hard to smile.

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"Since I first saw you; but I only knew it on the night of the fire. Till that night I resisted it like an idiot. Do you remember how we used to argue? I rebelled so against my love! I imagined that I had loved once already and once for all. But on the night of the fire I knew that my love for you was different from all that had gone before or would ever come again. I gave in to it at last, and oh! the joy of giving in! I had fought against the greatest blessing of my life, and I never knew it till I had given up fighting. What did I care about the fire? I was never happier - until now! You sang through my heart like the wind through the rigging; my one fear was that I might go to the bottom without telling you my love. When I asked to say a few last words to you on the poop, it was to tell you my love before we parted, that you might know I loved you whatever came. I didn't do so, because you seemed so frightened, poor darling! I hadn't it in my heart to add to your distress. So I left you without a word. But I fought the sea for days together simply to tell you what I couldn't die without telling you. When they picked me up, it was your name that brought back my senses after days of delirium. When I heard that you were dead, I longed to die myself. And when I found you lived after all, the horror of your surroundings was nothing to be compared with the mere fact that you lived; that you were unhappy and in danger was my only grief, but it was nothing to the thought of your death; and that I had to wait twenty-four hours without coming to you drove me nearer to madness than ever I was on the hen-coop. That's how I love you, Eva," I concluded; "that's how I love and will love you, for ever and ever, no matter what happens."

Those sweet gray eyes of hers had been fixed very steadily upon me all through this outburst; as I finished they filled with tears, and my poor love sat wringing her slender fingers, and upbraiding herself as though she were the most heartless coquette in the country.

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Dead Men Tell No Tales
E. W. Hornung

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