Above the Trap-doors

The next day, he saw her at the Opera. She was still wearing the plain gold ring. She was gentle and kind to him. She talked to him of the plans which he was forming, of his future, of his career.

He told her that the date of the Polar expedition had been put forward and that he would leave France in three weeks, or a month at latest. She suggested, almost gaily, that he must look upon the voyage with delight, as a stage toward his coming fame. And when he replied that fame without love was no attraction in his eyes, she treated him as a child whose sorrows were only short-lived.

`How can you speak so lightly of such serious things?' he asked. `Perhaps we shall never see each other again! I may die during that expedition.'

`Or I,' she said simply.

She no longer smiled or jested. She seemed to be thinking of some new thing that had entered her mind for the first time. Her eyes were all aglow with it.

`What are you thinking of, Christine?'

`I am thinking that we shall not see each other again...'

`And does that make you so radiant?'

`And that, in a month, we shall have to say good-by for ever!'

`Unless, Christine, we pledge our faith and wait for each other for ever.'

She put her hand on his mouth.

`Hush, Raoul!...You know there is no question of that... And we shall never be married: that is understood!'

She seemed suddenly almost unable to contain an overpowering gaiety. She clapped her hands with childish glee. Raoul stared at her in amazement.

`But...but,' she continued, holding out her two hands to Raoul, or rather giving them to him, as though she had suddenly resolved to make him a present of them, `but if we can not be married, we can ... we can be engaged! Nobody will know but ourselves, Raoul. There have been plenty of secret marriages: why not a secret engagement?...We are engaged, dear, for a month! In a month, you will go away, and I can be happy at the thought of that month all my life long!'

She was enchanted with her inspiration. Then she became serious again.

`This,' she said, `is a happiness that will harm no one.'

Raoul jumped at the idea. He bowed to Christine and said:

`Mademoiselle, I have the honor to ask for your hand.'

`Why, you have both of them already, my dear betrothed!... Oh, Raoul, how happy we shall be!...We must play at being engaged all day long.'

It was the prettiest game in the world and they enjoyed it like the children that they were. Oh, the wonderful speeches they made to each other and the eternal vows they exchanged! They played at hearts as other children might play at ball; only, as it was really their two hearts that they flung to and fro, they had to be very, very handy to catch them, each time, without hurting them.

One day, about a week after the game began, Raoul's heart was badly hurt and he stopped playing and uttered these wild words:

  By PanEris using Melati.

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