She walked on very fast; they were nearly home. When they reached her gate, she said good-night, quickly, and would have gone in without another word, but Jerome stopped her. He had begun to understand her understanding of it all, and had taken a sudden resolution. “Better anything than she should think herself shamed and slighted,” he told himself.
“Will you wait just a minute?” he said; “I’ve got something I want to say.”
Lucina waited, her face averted.
“I’ve made up my mind to tell you why I thought I ought not to come, that Sunday night,” said Jerome; “I didn’t think of telling you, but I can see now that you may think I meant to slight you, if I don’t. I did not think at first that you could dream I could slight anybody like you, and not want to go to see you, but I begin to see that you don’t just know how every one looks at you.”
“I thought I ought not to come, because all of a sudden I found out that I was—what they call in love with you.”
Lucina stood perfectly still, her face turned away.
“I hope you are not offended,” said Jerome; “I knew, of course, that there is no question of—your liking me. I would not want you to. I am not telling you for that, but only that you may not feel hurt because I slighted your invitation the other night, and because I thought at first I could not accept this. But I was foolish about it, I guess. If you would like to have me come, that is enough.”
“You have not known me long enough to like me,” said Lucina, in a very small, sweet voice, still keeping her face averted.
“I guess time don’t count much in anything like this,” said Jerome.
“Well,” said Lucina, with a soft, long breath, “I cannot see why your liking me should hinder you from coming.”
“I guess you’re right; it shouldn’t if you want me to come.”
“Why did you ever think it should?” Lucina flashed her blue eyes around at him a second, then looked away again.
“I was afraid if—I saw you too often I should want to marry you so much that I would want nothing else, not even to help other people,” said Jerome.
“Why need you think about marrying? Can’t you come to see me like a friend? Can’t we be happy so?” asked Lucina, with a kind of wistful petulance.
“I needn’t think about it, and we can—”
“I don’t want to think about marrying yet,” said Lucina; “I don’t know as I shall ever marry. I don’t see why you should think so much about that.”
“I don’t,” said Jerome; “I shall never marry.”
“You will, some time,” Lucina said, softly.
“No; I never shall.”
Lucina turned. “I must go in,” said she.
Her hand and Jerome’s found each other, with seemingly no volition of their own. “I am glad you didn’t come because you didn’t like me,” Lucina said, softly; “and we can be friends and no need of thinking of that other.”