The boy for the first time quailed somewhat. He looked at her, and raised a hand childishly as if to ward off something.
“I didn’t ask, Charlotte,” he half whimpered. “If he was to offer me any now, I would not take it. I would just fling it in his face. I would, Charlotte; I would, honest.”
“I heard you,” said Charlotte.
“I didn’t ask him. I said if he had given me a little of that candy, I wouldn’t have been obliged to take any. I said—”
“I heard what you said. Now you must come at once.”
Anderson said good-morning rather feebly. Charlotte made a distant inclination of her head in response, and they were gone, but he heard Eddy cry out, in a tone of reproachful glee:
“There! you’ve made me late at school, Charlotte. Look at that clock; it’s after nine. You’ve made me late at school with all that fussing over a few old peppermint-drops.”
Anderson, after they were gone, sat staring out of the window at the green spray of the spring boughs. His mouth was twitching, but his forehead was contracted. This problem of feminity and childhood which he had confronted was too much for him. The boy did not perplex him quite so much—he did not think so much about him—but the girl, the pure and sweet unreason of her proceedings, was beyond his mental grasp. The attitude of reproach which this delicate and altogether lovely young blossom of a thing had adopted towards him filled him with dismay and a ludicrous sense of guilt. He had a keen sense of the unreason and contrariness of her whole attitude, but he had no contempt towards her on account of it. He felt as if he were facing some new system of things, some higher order of creature for whom unreason was the finest reason. He bowed before the pure, unordered, untempered feminine, and his masculine mind reeled. And all the time, deeper within himself than he had ever reached with the furthest finger of his emotions, whether for pain or joy, he felt this tenderness, which was like the quickening of another soul, so alive was it. He felt the wonder and mystery of the awakening of love in his heart, this reaching out with all the best of him for the protection and happiness of another than himself. He saw before him, with no dimming because of absence, the girl’s little, innocent, fair face, and such a tenderness for her was over him that he felt as if he actually clasped her and enfolded her, but only for her protection and good, never for himself.
“The little thing,” he thought over and over—“the little, innocent, beautiful thing! What kind of a place is she in, among what kind of people? What does this all mean?”