“Ah, yes!” sighed Coronado. “Admirable old gentleman! I should not have forgotten him. However, he is a solace which comes rather late. It is only two years since he perceived that he had done me injustice, and received me into favor. And his affection is somewhat cold. Garcia is an old man laden with affairs. Moreover, men in general have little sympathy with men. When we are saddened, we do not look to our own sex for cheer. We look to yours.”
Almost every woman responds promptly to a claim for pity.
“I am sorry for you, Coronado,” said Clara, in her artless way. “I am, truly.”
“You do not know, you cannot know, how you console me.”
Satisfied with the results of his experiment in boring for sympathy, he tried another, a dangerous one, it would seem, but very potent when it succeeds.
“This lack of affection has had sad results. I have searched everywhere for it, only to meet with disappointment. In my desperation I have searched where I should not. I have demanded true love of people who had no true love to give. And for this error and wrong I have been terribly punished. The mere failure of hope and trust has been hard enough to bear. But that was not the half. Shame, self-contempt, remorse have been an infinitely heavier burden. If any man was ever cured of trusting for happiness to a wicked world, it is Coronado.”
In spite of his words and his elaborately penitent expression, Clara only partially understood him. Some kind of evil life he was obviously confessing, but what kind she only guessed in the vaguest fashion. However, she comprehended enough to interest her warmly: here was a penitent sinner who had forsaken ways of wickedness; here was a struggling soul which needed encouragement and tenderness. A woman loves to believe that she can be potent over hearts, and especially that she can be potent for good. Clara fixed upon Coronado’s face a gaze of compassion and benevolence which was almost superhuman. It should have shamed him into honesty; but he was capable of trying to deceive the saints and the Virgin; he merely decided that she was in a fit frame to accept him.
“At last I have a faint hope of a sure and pure happiness,” he said. “I have found one who I know can strengthen me and comfort me, if she will. I am seeking to be worthy of her. I am worthy of her so far as adoration can make me. I am ready to surrender my whole life—all that I am and that I can be—to her.”
Clara had begun to guess his meaning; the quick blood was already flooding her cheek; the light in her eyes was tremulous with agitation.
“Clara, you must know what I mean,” continued Coronado, suddenly reaching his hand toward her, as if to take her captive. “You are the only person I ever loved. I love you with all my soul. Can your heart ever respond to mine? Can you ever bring yourself to be my wife?”