“I suppose I’m a bad lot, perhaps a little worse than most others, but I think—I hope—there’s some good in me. I know all this sounds absurd and affected, but really I’m not posing; you won’t mind if I speak just as I think, for this once. I promise,” he went on with a half smile, “not to do it again. You know my mother died when I was little and I have lived mostly with men. You have been to me what the society of women has been to other fellows. You see, you are the only girl I ever knew very well—the only one I ever wanted to know. I have cared for you the way other men have cared for the different women that come into their lives; as they have cared for their mothers, their sisters—and their wives. You have already influenced me as a mother or sister should have done; what if I should ever ask you to be—to be the other to me, the one that’s best of all?”
Young Haight turned toward her as he finished and looked at her for the first time. Turner was still very much embarrassed.
“Oh, I’m very glad if I’ve been a help to—to anybody—to you,” she said, confusedly. “But I never knew that you cared—that you thought about me—in that way. But you mustn’t, you know, you mustn’t care for me in that way. I ought to tell you right away that I never could care for you more than—I always have done; I mean care for you only as a very, very good friend. You don’t know, Dolly,” she went on eagerly, “how it hurts me to tell you so, because I care so much for you in every other way that I wouldn’t hurt your feelings for anything; but then you know at the same time it would hurt you a great deal more if I shouldn’t tell you, but encourage you, and let you go on thinking that perhaps I liked you more than any one else, when I didn’t. Now wouldn’t that be wrong? You don’t know how glad it makes me feel that I have been of some good to you, and that is just why I want to be sincere now and not make you think any less of me—think any worse of me.”
“Oh, I know,” answered young Haight. “I know I shouldn’t have said anything about it. I knew beforehand, or thought I knew, that you didn’t care in that way.”
“Maybe I have been wrong,” she replied, “in not seeing that you cared so much, and have given you a wrong impression. I thought you knew how it was all the time.”
“Knew how what was?” he asked, looking up.
“Why,” she said, “knew how Van and I were.”
“I knew that Van cared for you a great deal.”
“Yes, but you know,” she went on, hesitating and confused, “you know we are engaged. We have been engaged for nearly two years.”
“But he don’t consider himself as engaged!” The words were almost out of Haight’s mouth, but he shut his teeth against them and kept silence—he hardly knew why.
“Suppose Vandover were out of the question,” he said, getting up and smiling in order not to seem as serious as he really was.