The Boulevard at that time was little more than a country road. The part he intended showing her was much farther out on this same West Side, where there was scarcely a house. It connected Douglas Park with Washington or South Park, and was nothing more than a neatly MADE road, running due south for some five miles over an open, grassy prairie, and then due east over the same kind of prairie for the same distance. There was not a house to be encountered anywhere along the larger part of the route, and any conversation would be pleasantly free of interruption.
At the stable he picked a gentle horse, and they were soon out of range of either public observation or hearing.
"Can you drive?" he said, after a time.
"I never tried," said Carrie.
He put the reins in her hand, and folded his arms.
"You see there's nothing to it much," he said, smilingly.
"Not when you have a gentle horse," said Carrie.
"You can handle a horse as well as any one, after a little practice," he added, encouragingly.
He had been looking for some time for a break in the conversation when he could give it a serious turn. Once or twice he had held his peace, hoping that in silence her thoughts would take the color of his own, but she had lightly continued the subject. Presently, however, his silence controlled the situation. The drift of his thoughts began to tell. He gazed fixedly at nothing in particular, as if he were thinking of something which concerned her not at all. His thoughts, however, spoke for themselves. She was very much aware that a climax was pending.
"Do you know," he said, "I have spent the happiest evenings in years since I have known you?"
"Have you?" she said, with assumed airiness, but still excited by the conviction which the tone of his voice carried.
"I was going to tell you the other evening," he added, "but somehow the opportunity slipped away."
Carrie was listening without attempting to reply. She could think of nothing worth while to say. Despite all the ideas concerning right which had troubled her vaguely since she had last seen him, she was now influenced again strongly in his favor.
"I came out here to-day," he went on, solemnly, "to tell you just how I feel — to see if you wouldn't listen to me."
Hurstwood was something of a romanticist after his kind. He was capable of strong feelings — often poetic ones — and under a stress of desire, such as the present, he waxed eloquent. That is, his feelings and his voice were colored with that seeming repression and pathos which is the essence of eloquence.
"You know," he said, putting his hand on her arm, and keeping a strange silence while he formulated words, "that I love you?" Carrie did not stir at the words. She was bound up completely in the man's atmosphere. He would have churchlike silence in order to express his feelings, and she kept it. She did not move her eyes from the flat, open scene before her. Hurstwood waited for a few moments, and then repeated the words.
"You must not say that," she said, weakly.
Her words were not convincing at all. They were the result of a feeble thought that something ought to be said. He paid no attention to them whatever.
"Carrie," he said, using her first name with sympathetic familiarity, "I want you to love me. You don't know how much I need some one to waste a little affection on me. I am practically alone. There is nothing in my life that is pleasant or delightful. It's all work and worry with people who are nothing to me."
As he said this, Hurstwood really imagined that his state was pitiful. He had the ability to get off at a distance and view himself objectively — of seeing what he wanted to see in the things which made up his existence. Now, as he spoke, his voice trembled with that peculiar vibration which is the result of tensity. It went ringing home to his companion's heart.
"Why, I should think," she said, turning upon him large eyes which were full of sympathy and feeling, "that you would be very happy. You know so much of the world."
"That is it," he said, his voice dropping to a soft minor, "I know too much of the world."
It was an important thing to her to hear one so well-positioned and powerful speaking in this manner. She could not help feeling the strangeness of her situation. How was it that, in so little a while, the narrow life of the country had fallen from her as a garment, and the city, with all its mystery, taken its place? Here was this greatest mystery, the man of money and affairs sitting beside her, appealing to her. Behold, he had ease and comfort, his strength was great, his position high, his clothing rich, and yet he was appealing to her. She could formulate no thought which would be just and right. She troubled herself no more upon the matter. She only basked in the warmth of his feeling, which was as a grateful blaze to one who is cold. Hurstwood glowed with his own intensity, and the heat of his passion was already melting the wax of his companion's scruples.
"You think," he said, "I am happy; that I ought not to complain? If you were to meet all day with people who care absolutely nothing about you, if you went day after day to a place where there was nothing but show and indifference, if there was not one person in all those you knew to whom you could appeal for sympathy or talk to with pleasure, perhaps you would be unhappy too.
He was striking a chord now which found sympathetic response in her own situation. She knew what it was to meet with people who were indifferent, to walk alone amid so many who cared absolutely nothing about you. Had not she? Was not she at this very moment quite alone? Who was there among all whom she knew to whom she could appeal for sympathy? Not one. She was left to herself to brood and wonder.
"I could be content," went on Hurstwood, "if I had you to love me. If I had you to go to; you for a companion. As it is, I simply move about from place to place without any satisfaction. Time hangs heavily on my hands. Before you came I did nothing but idle and drift into anything that offered itself. Since you came — well, I've had you to think about."
The old illusion that here was some one who needed her aid began to grow in Carrie's mind. She truly pitied this sad, lonely figure. To think that all his fine state should be so barren for want of her; that he needed to make such an appeal when she herself was lonely and without anchor. Surely, this was too bad.
"I am not very bad," he said, apologetically, as if he owed it to her to explain on this score. "You think, probably, that I roam around, and get into all sorts of evil? I have been rather reckless, but I could easily come out of that. I need you to draw me back, if my life ever amounts to anything."
Carrie looked at him with the tenderness which virtue ever feels in its hope of reclaiming vice. How could such a man need reclaiming? His errors, what were they, that she could correct? Small they must be, where all was so fine. At worst, they were gilded affairs, and with what leniency are gilded errors viewed. He put himself in such a lonely light that she was deeply moved.
"Is it that way?" she mused.
He slipped his arm about her waist, and she could not find the heart to draw away. With his free hand he seized upon her fingers. A breath of soft spring wind went bounding over the road, rolling some brown twigs of the previous autumn before it. The horse paced leisurely on, unguided.
"Tell me," he said, softly, "that you love me."
Her eyes fell consciously.
"Own to it, dear," he said, feelingly; "you do, don't you?"
She made no answer, but he felt his victory.
"Tell me," he said, richly, drawing her so close that their lips were near together. He pressed her hand warmly, and then released it to touch her cheek.
"You do?" he said, pressing his lips to her own.
For answer, her lips replied.
"Now," he said, joyously, his fine eyes ablaze, "you're my own girl, aren't you?"
By way of further conclusion, her head lay softly upon his shoulder.