“How exquisitely you put it! Who else could have told me to mind my own business so delightfully? Well, it isn’t my business. I acknowledge that, and I spoke only because I knew you would be sorry if you had gone too far. I remembered our promise to be friends.”
She threw a touch of real feeling into her tone, and he responded, “Yes, and I thank you for it, though it isn’t easy.”
She put out her hand to him, and, as he questioningly took it, she pressed his with animation. “Of course it isn’t! Or it wouldn’t be for any other man. But don’t you suppose I appreciate that supreme courage of yours? There is nobody else-nobody!—who could stand up to an impertinence and turn it to praise by such humility.”
“Don’t go too far, or I shall be turning your praise to impertinence by my humility. You’re quite right, though, about the main matter. I needn’t suppose anything so preposterous as you suggest, to feel that people are best left alone to outlive their troubles, unless they are of the most obvious kind.”
“Now, if I thought I had done anything to stop you from offering that sort of helpfulness which makes you a blessing to everybody, I should never forgive myself.”
“Nothing so dire as that, I believe. But if you’ve made me question the propriety of applying the blessing in all cases, you have done a very good thing.”
Miss Rasmith was silent and apparently serious. After a moment she said, “And I, for my part, promise to let poor little Boyne alone.”
Breckon laughed. “Don’t burlesque it! Besides, I haven’t promised anything.”
“That is very true,” said Miss Rasmith, and she laughed, too.
In one of those dramatic reveries which we all hold with ourselves when fortune has pressingly placed us, Ellen Kenton had imagined it possible for her to tell her story to the man who had so gently and truly tried to be her friend. It was mostly in the way of explaining to him how she was unworthy of his friendship that the story was told, and she fancied telling it without being scandalized at violating the conventions that should have kept her from even dreaming of such a thing. It was all exalted to a plane where there was no question of fit or unfit in doing it, but only the occasion; and he would never hear of the unworthiness which she wished to ascribe to herself. Sometimes he mournfully left her when she persisted, left her forever, and sometimes he refused, and retained with her in a sublime kindness, a noble amity, lofty and serene, which did not seek to become anything else. In this case she would break from her reveries with self-accusing cries, under her breath, of “Silly, silly! Oh, how disgusting!” and if at that moment Breckon were really coming up to sit by her, she would blush to her hair, and wish to run away, and failing the force for this, would sit cold and blank to his civilities, and have to be skilfully and gradually talked back to self-respect and self-tolerance.