"I'm glad to see you appear no worse for your accident," he said, releasing her hand at last. "You got home all right, without attracting any one's notice?"
"Oh, yes," she answered, trying to make her reply seem wholly indifferent and disinterested.
"Your chauffeur is all right, too," he went on. "I telephoned this morning. He had already left the doctor's. There's nothing more the matter with him than a broken arm and a scalp wound. That's fortunate, isn't it?"
"Very fortunate," she admitted.
All at once as they stood there there seemed to have arisen between them an invisible, impenetrable barrier. They faced each other wordlessly, each embarrassed by the knowledge of the secret gulf that was between them. Hoff was the first to recover from it.
"Come," he said, "sit down. There is something I wish to say to you,--something of the utmost importance, Jane."
Still struggling with her emotions, Jane allowed him to place a chair for her and seated herself, striving all the while to crush back into her heart the warmth of feeling toward him that always overwhelmed her in his presence, endeavoring to present to him a mask of cold indifference. Yet her curiosity, as well as her affections, had been greatly stirred by his remark. What was it that he was about to say to her? Did he intend, in spite of the insurmountable obstacles between them, dared he, ask her to marry him? Tremblingly she waited for what he had to say.
"Jane," he said, "you know that I love you. I am confident, too, that you love me."
"I don't love you," she forced her unwilling lips to say. "I can't. When our country is at war, when she needs men, brave men, how could any true American girl love any man who stayed at home, who idled about the hotels, who--"
"Girl," his voice grew suddenly stern and commanding, softening a little as he repeated her name, "Jane, dear, let me finish. I love you. There are grave reasons--all-important reasons--why I may not now ask you to be my wife."
"I never could be your wife," she cried desperately, "the wife of a--"
The word died in her throat. She could not bring herself to tell him, the man she loved, the thing she knew he was.
"My Jane," he said, wholly unheeding her impassioned protest, "you know little yet of what life means in this great world of ours. You, here in your parents' home, sheltered, protected, inexperienced, have not the knowledge nor the means of judging me. You must take me on faith, on the faith of your love for me. For a woman, life holds but two great treasures, two loves--her husband's and her children's. With a man it is different. Love is his, too, but there is something more, something bigger--duty. Here in your country--"