Never had her beauty and her strength influenced him as tonight. While she was singing he saw and heard no one else. The tent swarmed with a confused crowd of faces and he knew he was sitting there hemmed in by a mob of people, but they had no meaning to him. He felt powerless to avoid speaking to her. He knew he should speak when they were alone.
Now that he had spoken, he felt that he had misjudged either Rachel or the opportunity. He knew, or thought he knew, that she had begun to care something for him. It was no secret between them that the heroine of Jasper’s first novel had been his own ideal of Rachel, and the hero in the story was himself and they had loved each other in the book, and Rachel had not objected. No one else knew. The names and characters had been drawn with a subtle skill that revealed to Rachel, when she received a copy of the book from Jasper, the fact of his love for her, and she had not been offended. That was nearly a year ago.
Tonight he recalled the scene between them with every inflection and movement unerased from his memory. He even recalled the fact that he began to speak just at that point on the avenue where, a few days before, he had met Rachel walking with Rollin Page. He had wondered at the time what Rollin was saying.
“Rachel,” Jasper had said, and it was the first time he had ever spoken her first name, “I never knew till tonight how much I loved you. Why should I try to conceal any longer what you have seen me look? You know I love you as my life. I can no longer hide it from you if I would.”
The first intimation he had of a repulse was the trembling of Rachel’s arm in his. She had allowed him to speak and had neither turned her face toward him nor away from him. She had looked straight on and her voice was sad but firm and quiet when she spoke.
“Why do you speak to me now? I cannot bear it—after what we have seen tonight.”
“Why—what—” he had stammered and then was silent.
Rachel withdrew her arm from his but still walked near him. Then he had cried out with the anguish of one who begins to see a great loss facing him where he expected a great joy.
“Rachel! Do you not love me? Is not my love for you as sacred as anything in all of life itself?”
She had walked silent for a few steps after that. They passed a street lamp. Her face was pale and beautiful. He had made a movement to clutch her arm and she had moved a little farther from him.
“No,” she had replied. “There was a time I—cannot answer for that you—should not have spoken to me—now.”
He had seen in these words his answer. He was extremely sensitive. Nothing short of a joyous response to his own love would ever have satisfied him. He could not think of pleading with her.
“Some time—when I am more worthy?” he had asked in a low voice, but she did not seem to hear, and they had parted at her home, and he recalled vividly the fact that no good-night had been said.