“I don’t blame you,” she said, almost in a whisper; “I blame myself. I have been a bad friend to you, who have been so loyal and loving to me. I ought not to have let this happen. For it can’t be, Paul; I can’t say what you want me to say. We can never be anything more to one another than friends.”
A cold hand seemed to grasp my heart—a horrible fear that I had lost all that I cared for—all that made life desirable.
“Why can’t we?” I asked. “Do you mean that—that the gods have been gracious to some other man?”
“No, no,” she answered, hastily—almost indignantly, “of course I don’t mean that.”
“Then it is only that you don’t love me yet. Of course you don’t. Why should you? But you will, dear, some day. And I will wait patiently until that day comes and not trouble you with entreaties. I will wait for you as Jacob waited for Rachel; and as the long years seemed to him but as a few days because of the love he bore her, so it shall be with me, if only you will not send me away quite without hope.”
She was looking down, white-faced, with a hardening of the lips as if she were in bodily pain. “You don’t understand,” she whispered. “It can’t be—it can never be. There is something that makes it impossible, now and always. I can’t tell you more than that.”
“But, Ruth, dearest,” I pleaded despairingly, “may it not become possible some day? Can it not be made possible? I can wait, but I can’t give you up. Is there no chance whatever that this obstacle may be removed?”
“Very little, I fear. Hardly any. No, Paul; it is hopeless, and I can’t bear to talk about it. Let me go now. Let us say good-bye here and see one another no more for a while. Perhaps we may be friends again some day—when you have forgiven me.”
“Forgiven you, dearest!” I exclaimed. “There is nothing to forgive. And we are friends, Ruth. Whatever happens, you are the dearest friend I have on earth, or can ever have.”
“Thank you, Paul,” she said faintly. “You are very good to me. But let me go, please. I must go. I must be alone.”
She held out a trembling hand, and, as I took it, I was shocked to see how terribly agitated and ill she looked.
“May I not come with you, dear?” I pleaded.
“No, no!” she exclaimed breathlessly; “I must go away by myself. I want to be alone. Good-bye!”
“Before I let you go, Ruth—if you must go—I must have a solemn promise from you.”
Her sad grey eyes met mine and her lips quivered with an unspoken question.
“You must promise me,” I went on, “that if ever this barrier that parts us should be removed, you will let me know instantly. Remember that I love you always, and that I am waiting for you always on this side of the grave.”
She caught her breath in a little quick sob, and pressed my hand.