“Mr. Worthington,” she said, “you have thanked me for caring for you when you were sick. You have expressed a wish to return in some way what you were pleased to call a kindness. There is a way, a favor you can grant me, a favor we women prize so highly; will you grant it? Will you let me do as I please? that’s the favor.”
She looked a very queen born to be obeyed as she talked thus to Hugh. She did not make him feel small or mean, only submissive, while her kindness touched a tender chord, which could not vibrate unseen. Hugh was very weak, very nervous, too, and turning his head away so that she could not see his face, he let the hot tears drop upon his pillow; slowly at first they came, but gradually as everything—his embarrassed condition, Rocket’s loss, ’Lina’s selfishness, and Alice’s generosity, came rushing over him—they fell in perfect torrents, and Alice felt a keen pang of pity, as sob after sob smote upon her ear, and she knew the shame it must be to him thus to give away before her.
“I did not mean to distress you so. I am sorry if I have done a wrong,” she said to him softly, a sound of tears in her own voice.
He turned his white, suffering face toward her, and answered with quivering lip:
“It is not so much that. It is everything combined. I am weak, I’m sick, I’m discouraged,” and Hugh could not restrain the tears. Soon rallying, however, he continued:
“You think me a snivelling coward, no doubt, but believe me, Miss Johnson, it is not my nature thus to give way. Tears and Hugh Worthington are usually strangers to each other. I am a man, and I will prove it to you, when I get well, but now I am not myself, and I grant the favor you ask, simply because I can’t help it. You meant it in kindness. I take it as such. I thank you, but it must not be repeated. You have come to be my friend, my sister, you say. God bless you for that. I need a sister’s love so much, and Adah has given it to me. You like Adah?” and he fixed his eyes inquiringly on Alice, who answered:
“Yes, very much.”
Now that the money matter was settled Hugh did not care to talk longer of that or of himself, and eagerly seized upon Adah as a topic interesting to both, and which would be likely to keep Alice with him for a while at least, so, after a moment’s silence, during which Alice was revolving the expediency of leaving him lest he should become too weary, he continued:
“Miss Johnson, you don’t know how much I love Adah Hastings; not as men generally love,” he hastily added, as he caught an expression of surprise on Alice’s face, “not as that villain professed to love her, but, as it seems to me, a brother might love an only sister. I mean no disrespect to ’Lina,” and his chin quivered a little, “but I have dreamed of a different, brotherly love from what I feel toward her, and my heart has beaten so fast when I built castles of what might have been had we both been different, I, more forbearing, more even tempered, more like the world in general, and she, more—more”—he knew not what, for he would not speak against her, so he finally added, “had she known, just how to take me—just how to make allowances for my rough, uncouth ways, which, of course, annoy her.”