And now the girl seemed to be all woman, tender, sympathetic, and the courage came to him; he sate himself beside her and took her hand in his, and it gave him hope that she did not draw it away.
What he said, how he said it, how he stumbled over his story of love and devotion he never knew. But it was an honest story, a story that did him honour, and did honour too to the woman he told it to.
“I love you, dear. I have loved you from the moment I first saw you. I know you are high above me. I know what I am, an unlovely sort of fellow, rough and—and not fit to touch your hand—” for, being deeply in love, his opinion of himself had naturally sunk to zero. The perfection of the beloved object always makes an honest man painfully conscious of his own inferiority and unworthiness. And so it was with Johnny Everard, this day beside the green pool. And the slim, cool hand was not withdrawn.
“Johnny, what are you asking me? Why have you come here to me? What do you want—of me?” she asked, yet did not look him in the face, but sat with eyes resting on the placid water.
“Just to tell you that—to tell you how I love you, Joan.”
Another man had told her that; the echo of his words came back to her from the past. How often those words of his had come back; she could never forget them. Yet she told herself that she hated him who had uttered them, hated him, for was he not a proved craven?
("If, in telling you that I love you, is a sin fast all forgiveness, I glory in it. I take not one word of it back.")
And now another, a worthier, better man, was telling her the same story, holding her hand, and, she knew, looking into her face; yet her eyes did not meet his.
And, listening to him, her heart grew more bitter than ever before to the man who had uttered those words she would never forget, bitter against him, yet more against herself. For she was conscious of shame and anger—at her woman’s weakness, at the folly of which her woman’s heart was capable.
“I know I am not fit for you, not good enough for you, Joan. There isn’t a man living who would be—but—I love you—dear, and with God’s help I would try to make you a happy woman.”
Manly words, honest and sincere, she knew, as must be all that this man said and did—a man to rely on, a very tower of strength; a man to protect her, a man to whom she could take her troubles and her secrets, knowing full well that he would not fail her.
And while these thoughts passed in her mind she sat there silently, her hand in his, and never thought to draw it away.
“Joan, will you be my wife, dear? I am asking for more than I could ever deserve. There is nothing about me that makes me worthy of that great happiness and honour, save one thing—my love for you.”
“And yet,” she said, and broke her silence for the first time, “there is one question that you do not ask me, Johnny.”