His words came confusedly and uncontrolled, but his voice had a longing pathetic ring in it, as of a very hopeless appeal. Veronica had been startled at first, and her eyes were wide and girlish as she looked at him. It was the first time that any man had ever told her that he loved her, and for that reason it was to be memorable; but it did not seem to be the first time. Taquisara’s manly pleading and fervent voice when he had spoken yesterday had left her ears dull to this real first time of hearing love speeches, so that this seemed the second, and the words she heard, after the first little shock of realizing what they were, touched no chord that would respond.
She did not answer at first, but half unconsciously she shook her head, as she turned from him and looked away once more. Perhaps that was the most unkind thing she could have done; for it was so natural, and simple, and unaffected a refusal, that he could hardly be mistaken as to her meaning; and, after all, she had led him on to speak. She herself was shocked at her own heartlessness a moment later, and in one of those absurd concatenations of ideas which run through the mind at important moments, she felt as though she had been giving a merchant an infinity of trouble to show his wares, only to buy nothing and go away. Then, the brutality of the involuntary simile distressed her, too, and she felt that she ought to say something to destroy the effect of it on her own mind, as well as to comfort Gianluca. But she could not find much to say. Very young women rarely do, under the circumstances.
“I am very sorry,” she said gently.
She felt that he might have a right to reproach her for coming there, and she was grateful to him for not doing so, having really very little idea of the nature of the over-submissive and humble love which sapped his manliness instead of rousing his courage.
“Ah, I knew it!” he almost moaned, and resting his elbows upon his knees he covered his face with his delicate, white hands, that trembled spasmodically now and then. “I knew it,” he repeated in his broken voice. “You were kind to let me speak—I kiss your hands—for your kindness—I thank you—”
His voice broke altogether. Veronica heard a smothered sob, and glancing at him nervously, saw the tears trickling down between his fingers. She looked up quickly to see whether Bianca had noticed anything, but the sweet, deep voice was singing softly to the subdued chords of the piano, and Veronica sat quite still, waiting for Gianluca to recover his self-control.
She felt that she pitied him, but at the same time considered him in some way an inferior being; and as the idea of marrying him crossed her mind again, her heart started in repugnance at the mere thought.