‘But he never has.’
’We have been like brothers together,—one brother being very much older than the other, indeed; or like father and son. I think he should place his hopes elsewhere.’
’What am I to say? If he have such hope he has not told me. I think it almost cruel that a girl should be asked in that way.’
’Hetta, I should not wish to be cruel to you. Of course I know the way of the world in such matters. I have no right to ask you about Paul Montague,—no right to expect an answer. But it is all the world to me. You can understand that I should think you might learn to love even me, if you loved no one else.’ The tone of his voice was manly, and at the same time full of entreaty. His eyes as he looked at her were bright with love and anxiety. She not only believed him as to the tale which he now told her; but she believed in him altogether. She knew that he was a staff on which a woman might safely lean, trusting to it for comfort and protection in life. In that moment she all but yielded to him. Had he seized her in his arms and kissed her then, I think she would have yielded. She did all but love him. She so regarded him that had it been some other woman that he craved, she would have used every art she knew to have backed his suit, and would have been ready to swear that any woman was a fool who refused him. She almost hated herself because she was unkind to one who so thoroughly deserved kindness. As it was, she made him no answer, but continued to walk beside him trembling. ’I thought I would tell it you all, because I wish you to know exactly the state of my mind. I would show you if I could all my heart and all my thoughts about yourself as in a glass case. Do not coy your love for me if you can feel it. When you know, dear, that a man’s heart is set upon a woman as mine is set on you, so that it is for you to make his life bright or dark, for you to open or to shut the gates of his earthly Paradise, I think you will be above keeping him in darkness for the sake of a girlish scruple.’
’If ever there should come a time in which you can say it truly, remember my truth to you and say it boldly. I at least shall never change. Of course if you love another man and give yourself to him, it will be all over. Tell me that boldly also. I have said it all now. God bless you, my own heart’s darling. I hope,—I hope I may be strong enough through it all to think more of your happiness than of my own.’ Then he parted from her abruptly, taking his way over one of the bridges, and leaving her to find her way into the house alone.