“I won’t stop! I’m in earnest. I want to matter—to mean something to you! I want to count with you—”
“Kipling says, ‘let all men count with you, and none too much.’”
“Well, I’d rather count too much than not at all. Oh, Azalea,—you do understand me, don’t you? Let me count, dear,—let me count for everything in your life—”
Azalea Thorpe couldn’t believe her ears. What Van Reypen was saying seemed as if it could have but one meaning,—yet that was impossible! Philip Van Reypen, the high-born, aristocratic Philip, couldn’t be seriously interested in a crude, ignorant Western girl!
“Thank you, Phil,” she said, resolving to accept his words as a sign of friendship, “you’re awfully good to me, and your friendship counts. I begin to think friendship is the one thing in life that does count. And it is the friends I have made—lately,—here,—that have made me see,—made me realise my own unworthiness,—and when I say that, I mean it.”
“I won’t let you mean it!” he cried, “I won’t let you call yourself unworthy. For you count with me,—Azalea, more than the whole world! More than anything or everything in the world. Can’t I count that way with you,—can’t I, Azalea?”
The dark handsome face was very earnest, and as it drew nearer to her own, and she looked deep in the eloquent eyes, she could no longer fail to understand.
“What,—what,—” she murmured, drawing back in confusion, “what do you mean?”
“Don’t you know what I mean, Brownie? Listen, and I will tell you, then. I love you, dear,—I love you.” He held her hands in his own and gazed into her face. “I can’t tell you when it came or how,—but suddenly—I knew it! I knew I loved you, and should always love you. Tell me,—tell me, Azalea, that you can learn to love me.”
“Oh, don’t—I can’t—”
“Not just at once, dear,—I can’t hope for that. But, can’t you learn,—can’t you try to learn—If I help you? Brownie,—that’s all my own name for you,—isn’t it, you nutbrown maid! Brownie, darling,—you must love me. I can’t bear it if you don’t!”
Azalea looked mystified,—then amazed,—and then her face lighted up with a sudden radiant happiness,—she seemed glorified, exalted.
Van Reypen caught her in his arms.
“You do love me,—you witch! you beauty! Azalea, you look transfigured! You do love me,—tell me so!”
Then her face changed. She repulsed him,—she sought to leave his encircling clasp.
“Don’t!” she cried, “don’t! It is horrible!”
She burst into uncontrollable tears, and her whole frame shook with her turbulent sorrow.
“Have I been too abrupt?” asked Van Reypen, filled with dismay. “Give me a little hope, dear, just say you’ll let me tell you this some other time, and I’ll not trouble you now.”
“Oh, it isn’t that,” Azalea sobbed, “it’s—oh, no! I can’t tell you,—it’s too dreadful! Let me go!” and she ran from him and hurried back to the house and up to her own room.