He was more humble when he spoke again. “I don’t want you to think I’m what I may seem to be, Miss Presson. But what is there I can do in politics, just now, different from what I’m doing? I have taken my side with the General. I propose to stay there, of course. But I do not want to have people think I’m a fool. And I haven’t heard much else from any one since I started out.” There was wistfulness in his voice. He suddenly felt drawn to her. He craved her counsel. It was the mastery of the woman, more worldly-wise. He was bewildered and ashamed. The image of Clare Kavanagh was not dimmed in his soul. She had been with him daily in his thoughts. He knew that he felt affection for her. It was tenderness, desire to protect, the real impulse of the man toward his mate. But the feeling was all unexpressed and incoherent.
And yet Madeleine Presson, more than ever before, attracted him powerfully. She had the elements that he had never seen and experienced in womankind. Just at that moment she dominated, for his passion had betrayed him into a rather puerile outbreak.
Subtle analysis of the emotions was beyond him. He did not understand. His life had trained him along more primitive lines of selection. But he realized now that he was trying to probe something in his soul that defied his rather limited powers of judging. He had not given his heart unreservedly, he had not pledged himself. Clare Kavanagh had repented of a child’s weakness and had run away from him, vaguely hinting that she would forget him. This masterful young woman, driving him back to town, her determined profile outlined against the gloom as he gazed shyly at her, did not appear to be interested in him, except as a rebel to authority and needing chastisement.
The child of the woods, as he thought of her, stirred all his tenderness, his sympathy, and the soft ties of long intimacy and understanding bound him.
But this girl, with beauty and brains, on his own level of independence of thought, stirred new desires and ambitions in him. She was helpmate and counsellor. He wondered if newer times and conditions did not demand stronger qualities than mere womanhood in the wife who was to accompany a man into the vicissitudes of public life. Not that he felt that he was more than an humble instrument of the real power. But he fell to considering the subject from the general viewpoint. His own experiences had awakened new ideas that he pondered, having a very provocative suggestion at his side.
Still more humbly he asked her: “If you have been thinking the matter over, Miss Presson, what advice do you give me?”
“I advise you to have a serious talk with your grandfather. He has had much experience. Use your own judgment, too, but be ready to hear the evidence. You have not shown that willingness, yet, so far as I can determine. I haven’t any advice of my own to offer. I’ll not presume. Only this: be as honest as you can, but don’t be so impractically honest that you chop down all your bridges behind you and neglect to gather timber for the bridges ahead of you.”