'If you have changed at all, my love, since we parted,' said Martin at length, as he looked upon her with a proud delight, 'it is only to be more beautiful than ever!'
Had she been of the common metal of love-worn young ladies, she would have denied this in her most interesting manner; and would have told him that she knew she had become a perfect fright; or that she had wasted away with weeping and anxiety; or that she was dwindling gently into an early grave; or that her mental sufferings were unspeakable; or would, either by tears or words, or a mixture of both, have furnished him with some other information to that effect, and made him as miserable as possible. But she had been reared up in a sterner school than the minds of most young girls are formed in; she had had her nature strengthened by the hands of hard endurance and necessity; had come out from her young trials constant, self-denying, earnest, and devoted; had acquired in her maidenhood--whether happily in the end, for herself or him, is foreign to our present purpose to inquire--something of that nobler quality of gentle hearts which is developed often by the sorrows and struggles of matronly years, but often by their lessons only. Unspoiled, unpampered in her joys or griefs; with frank and full, and deep affection for the object of her early love; she saw in him one who for her sake was an outcast from his home and fortune, and she had no more idea of bestowing that love upon him in other than cheerful and sustaining words, full of high hope and grateful trustfulness, than she had of being unworthy of it, in her lightest thought or deed, for any base temptation that the world could offer.
'What change is there in YOU, Martin,' she replied; 'for that concerns me nearest? You look more anxious and more thoughtful than you used.'
'Why, as to that, my love,' said Martin as he drew her waist within his arm, first looking round to see that there were no observers near, and beholding Mr Tapley more intent than ever on the fog; 'it would be strange if I did not; for my life--especially of late--has been a hard one.'
'I know it must have been,' she answered. 'When have I forgotten to think of it and you?'
'Not often, I hope,' said Martin. 'Not often, I am sure. Not often, I have some right to expect, Mary; for I have undergone a great deal of vexation and privation, and I naturally look for that return, you know.'
'A very, very poor return,' she answered with a fainter smile. 'But you have it, and will have it always. You have paid a dear price for a poor heart, Martin; but it is at least your own, and a true one.'
'Of course I feel quite certain of that,' said Martin, 'or I shouldn't have put myself in my present position. And don't say a poor heart, Mary, for I say a rich one. Now, I am about to break a design to you, dearest, which will startle you at first, but which is undertaken for your sake. I am going,' he added slowly, looking far into the deep wonder of her bright dark eyes, 'abroad.'
'Only to America. See now. How you droop directly!'
'If I do, or, I hope I may say, if I did,' she answered, raising her head after a short silence, and looking once more into his face, 'it was for grief to think of what you are resolved to undergo for me. I would not venture to dissuade you, Martin; but it is a long, long distance; there is a wide ocean to be crossed; illness and want are sad calamities in any place, but in a foreign country dreadful to endure. Have you thought of all this?'
'Thought of it!' cried Martin, abating, in his fondness--and he WAS very fond of her--hardly an iota of his usual impetuosity. 'What am I to do? It's very well to say, "Have I thought of it?" my love; but you should ask me in the same breath, have I thought of starving at home; have I thought of doing porter's work for a living; have I thought of holding horses in the streets to earn my roll of bread from day to day? Come, come,' he added, in a gentler tone, 'do not hang down your head, my dear, for I need the encouragement that your sweet face alone can give me.