“I am sorry to hear you say that. I thought perhaps that as a friend—”
“Mr. Benham understands my interest in him, I think,” she paused and averted her head, one small foot tapping the floor impatiently. “I cannot see where this conversation is leading us. I beg that you will be explicit.”
“I was counting on your interest, for he values your good opinion more I think than that of anyone in the world.”
Her foot ceased tapping and she bent forward, one elbow on her knee, her head lowered thoughtfully.
“What do you want, Mr. Canby?” she asked abruptly.
“Yes, your help. Jerry needs it—”
“He did not ask—?”
“No. I haven’t consulted Jerry—”
“Please listen. If Jerry’s future means anything to you, you will do what you can. Jerry has—has gotten into bad company—he is slipping, Miss Habberton—slipping down. I don’t know whose the fault is, his father’s for his idealism, or mine for my selfish delight in the experiment of his education, but Jerry is failing us. You see, I’m telling you all. I have given up. A dream, you have called it. It was a dream; but I can’t see him fail without an effort to help him. When a man centers all his hopes in life on one ambition, its failure is tragic. You see I’m humble. It has cost me something to come to you. I hope you understand what it means.”
My appeal had reached her, for I think she realized how seldom such a person as I could be moved to emotion.
“But I—how can I help?” she asked.
“Will you listen and not think me visionary? Jerry cares for you. To him you have made a different appeal from that of any other woman in the world. You were the first. You stirred him. You may not be aware. In his mind you stand for everything that is clean and noble. In his heart, I know—I have not studied Jerry all these years for nothing—he has a shrine there—for you, Miss Habberton. You will always be Una, the first. I hope you will forgive me and believe me. It is necessary that you should.”
She smiled at me gently.
“You are very much in earnest, Mr. Canby. I can forgive much to one of your sincerity. But doesn’t it seem to you a curious conversation?”
“I had hoped you cared enough—”
“And if I did, do you think anything would give you the right to come to me without Mr. Benham’s permission and speak of—”
“You must let me finish,” I demanded. “You are kind, charitable. Trying to save people from themselves is your life work. I merely bring you a soul to save, a friend in danger. Can you refuse, refuse him? Jerry is drinking. It has not been for long, but he is in trouble. He has gotten beyond his depth—a woman—Oh, don’t misunderstand me! It is mental, a strange attraction, weird, Jerry doesn’t understand at all. He’s bewitched, but she is slowly brutalizing him, his mind I mean. Don’t you understand?”