He paused, gazing very earnestly upon her face, into which crimsoning blushes began to come.
“I am pleased to meet you, Mr. Hendrickson. I did not wish to be excused,” she answered, and then, as if she had been led to utter more than maidenly modesty approved, averted her face suddenly, and seemed confused. There followed a moment or two of silence; when her visitor said, leaning close to her, and speaking in a low, penetrating, steady voice—
“Your reply, Miss Loring, is an admission of more than I had expected—not more than I had hoped.”
He saw her start, as if she had touched an electric wire. But her face remained averted.
Warmer words were on his lips, hut he hesitated to give them utterance. There was a pause. Motionless sat the young maiden, her face still partly turned away. Suddenly, and with an almost wild impulse, Hendrickson caught her hand, and raising it to his lips, said—
“I cannot hold back the words a moment longer, dear Miss Loring! From the hour I first looked into your face, I felt that we were made for each other; and now”—
But ere he could finish the sentence, Jessie had flung his hand away and started to her feet.
He was on his feet also. For some moments they stood gazing at each other. The countenance of Miss Loring was of an ashen hue; her lips, almost as pallid as her cheeks, stood arching apart, and her eyes had the stare of one frightened by some fearful apparition.
“Miss Loring! pardon my folly! Your language made me bold to utter what had else slept in my heart eternally silent. Forget this hour!”
“Never! Never!” and she struck her hands together wildly. Her voice had in it a wail of suffering that sent a thrill to the heart of Paul Hendrickson.
Then recollecting herself, she struggled for the mastery over her feelings. He saw the struggle, and awaited the result. A brief interval sufficed to restore a degree of self-possession.
“I have nothing then to hope?” said the young man. His tones were evenly balanced.
“Too late! Too late!” she answered, in a hoarse voice. “The cup is dashed to pieces at my feet, and the precious wine spilled!”
“Oh, speak not thus! Recall the words!” exclaimed Hendrickson, reaching out his hands towards her.
But she moved back a pace or (sic) too repeating the sentence—
“Too late! Too late!”
“It is never too late!” urged the now almost desperate lover, advancing towards the maiden.
But retreating from him she answered in a warning voice—
“Touch me not! I am already pledged to another!”
“Impossible! Oh, light of my life!”
“Sir! tempt me not!” she said interrupting him, “I have said it was too late! And now leave me. Go seek another to walk beside you in life’s pleasant ways. Our paths diverge here.”