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- Quill's Window - 20/55 -
"I don't mean sports, Miss Crown. I was thinking of those wonderful boy and girl games,--such as 'playing house,' 'getting married,' 'hide-and-go-seek,'--all that sort of thing."
"Yes, I know," she admitted. "We often played at getting married, and we had very large but inanimate families, and we quarrelled like real married people, and I used to cry and take my playthings home, and he used to stand outside our fence and make faces at me till I hated him ferociously. But all that was when we were very small, you see."
"And as all such things turn out, I suppose he grew up and went off and got married to some one else."
"He is not married, Mr. Thane."
"Well, for that matter, neither are you," said he, leaning forward, his eyes fixed intently on hers. She did not flinch. "I wonder just how you feel toward him today, Miss Crown."
She was incapable of coquetry. "We are not the best of friends," she said quietly. "Now, if you please, let us talk of something else. Did I tell you that an old Ambulance man is coming down for a day or two nest week? A Harvard man who lives in Chicago. His sister and I went to New York together to take our chances there on getting over to France. I think I've told you about her,--Mary Blythe?"
"Blythe?" repeated Courtney thoughtfully. "Blythe. Seems to me I heard of a chap named Blythe over there in the Ambulance, but I don't remember whether I ran across him anywhere or not. He may have been after my time, however. I was with the Ambulance in '15 and the early part of '16, you see."
"Addison Blythe. He was afterwards a Field Artillery captain. I've known Mary Blythe for years, but I know him very slightly. He went direct from Harvard to France, you see."
"What section was he with?"
"I don't know. I only know he was at Pont-a-Mousson for several months. You were there too at one time, I remember. I've heard him speak of the Bois le Pretre. You may have been there at the same time."
"Hardly possible. I should have known him in that case. My section was sent up to Bar le Duc just before the first big Verdun battle."
"Why, he was all through the first battle of Verdun. His section was transferred from Pont-a-Mousson at an hour's notice. Were there more than one section at Pont-a-Mousson?"
"I don't know how they were fixed after I left. You see, I was trying to get into the aviation end of the game along about that time. I was in an aviation camp for a couple of months, but went back to the Ambulance just before the Verdun scrap. They slapped me into another section, of course. I used to see fellows from my own section occasionally, but I don't recall any one named Blythe. He probably was sent up while I was at Toul,--or it may have been during the time I was with a section in the Vosges. I was up near Dunkirk too for a while,--only for a few weeks. When did you say he was coming?"
"Next Tuesday. They are stopping off on their way to attend a wedding in Louisville. You two will have a wonderful time reminiscing."
"Blythe. I'll rummage around in my memory and see if I can place him. There was a fellow named Bright up there at one time,--at least I got the name as Bright. It may have been Blythe. I'll be tickled to death to meet him, Miss Crown."
"You will love Mary Blythe. She is a darling."
"I may be susceptible, Miss Crown, but I am not inconstant," said he, with a gallant bow.
She was annoyed with herself for blushing.
"Will you throw another log or two on the fire, please?" she said, arising. "I think I hear a car coming up the drive. The poor Mallons will be chilled to the bone."
He smiled to himself as he took the long hickory logs from the wood box and placed them carefully on the fire. He had seen the swift flood of colour mount to her cheeks, and the odd little waver in her eyes before she turned them away. She was at the window, looking out, when he straightened himself and gingerly brushed the wood dust from his hands. Instead of joining her, he remained with his back to the fire, his feet spread apart, his hands in his coat pockets, comforting himself with the thought that she was wondering why he had not followed her. It was, he rejoiced, a very clever bit of strategy on his part. He waited for her to turn away from the window and say, with well-assumed perplexity: "I was sure I heard a car, Mr. Thane."
And that is exactly what she did say after a short interval, adding:
"It must have been the wind in the chimney."
"Very likely," he agreed.
She remained at the window. He held his position before the fire.
"If I were just a plain damned fool," he was saying to himself, "I'd rush over there and spoil everything. It's too soon,--too soon. She's not ready yet,--not ready."
Alix, looking out across the porch into the grey drizzle that drenched the lawn, thrust her hand into her skirt pocket and, clutching the bit of paper in her fingers, crumpled it into a small ball. Her eyes were serene, however, as she turned away and walked back to the fireplace.
"I don't believe they are coming, after all. I think they might have telephoned," she said, glancing up at the old French ormula clock on the mantelpiece. "Half-past four. We will wait a few minutes longer and then have tea."
His heart gave a sudden thump. Was it possible--but no! She would not stoop to anything like that. The little thrill of exultation departed as quickly as it came.
"Tire trouble, perhaps," he ventured.
Tea was being brought in when the belated guests arrived. Courtney, spurred by the brief vision of success ahead, was never in better form, never more entertaining, never so well provided with polite cynicisms. Later on, when he and Alix were alone and he was putting on his raincoat in the hall, she said to him impulsively:
"I don't know what I should have done without you, Mr. Thane. You were splendid. I was in no mood to be nice or agreeable to anybody."
"Alas!" he sighed. "That shows how unobserving I am. I could have sworn you were in a perfectly adorable mood."
"Well, I wasn't," she said stubbornly. "I was quite horrid."
"Has anything happened to--to distress you, Miss Crown?" he inquired anxiously. His voice was husky and a trifle unsteady. "Can't you tell me? Sometimes it helps to--"
"Nothing has happened," she interrupted nervously. "I was--just stupid, that's all."
"When am I to see you again?" he asked, after a perceptible pause. "May I come tonight?"
"Not tonight," she said, shaking her head.
She gave no reason,--nothing more than the two little words,--and yet he went away exulting. He walked home through the light, gusty rain, so elated that he forgot to use his cane,--and he had limped quite painfully earlier in the afternoon, complaining of the dampness and chill. He had the habit of talking to himself when walking alone in the darkness. He thought aloud:
"She wants to be alone,--she wants to think. She has suddenly realized. She is frightened. She doesn't understand. She is bewildered. She doesn't want to see me tonight. Bless her heart! I'll bet my head she doesn't sleep a wink. And tomorrow? Tomorrow I shall see her. But not a word, not a sign out of me. Not tomorrow or next day or the day after that. Keep her thinking, keep her guessing, keep her wondering whether I really care. Pretty soon she'll realize how miserable she is,--and then!"
THE CHIMNEY CORNER
A. Lincoln Pollock was full of news at supper that evening. Courtney, coming in a little late,--in fact, Miss Margaret Slattery already had removed the soup plates and was beginning to wonder audibly whether a certain guy thought she was a truck-horse or something like that,--found the editor of the Sun anticipating by at least twelve hours the forthcoming issue of his paper. He was regaling his fellow-boarders with news that would be off the press the first thing in the morning,--having been confined to the composing-room for the better part of a week,--and he was enjoying himself. Charlie Webster once made the remark that "every time the Sun goes to press, Link Pollock acts for all the world like a hen that's just laid an egg, he cackles so."
"I saw Nancy Strong this morning and she was telling me about a letter she had from David yesterday. He wants her to pack up and come to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to live with him. He says he'll take a nice little apartment, big enough for the two of 'em, if she'll only come. She can't make up her mind what to do. She's so fond of Alix she don't see how she can desert her,--at least, not till she gets married,--and yet she feels she owes it to her son to go and make a home for him. Every once in a while Alix makes her a present of a hundred dollars or so,--once she gave her three hundred in cold, clean cash,--and actually loves her as if she was
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