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- Quill's Window - 40/55 -
the open air. She took to the leaf-strewn woodland roads, and there was a definite goal in mind.
Courtney remembered Rosabel Vick.
"I guess I'd better call her up," he said to himself. "I ought to have done it several days ago. Beastly rotten of me to have neglected it. She's probably been sitting over there waiting ever since--Gad, she may; have some good news. Maybe she is mistaken."
He went over to the telephone exchange and called up the Vick house. Rosabel answered.
"That you, Rosie?...Well, I couldn't. I've been laid up, completely out of commission ever since I saw you....What?...I--I didn't get that, Rosie. Speak louder,--closer to the telephone."
Very distinctly now came the words, almost in a wail:
"Oh, Courtney, why--why do you lie to me?"
"Lie to you? My dear girl, do you know what you are--"
A low moan, and a harsh, choking sob smote his ear, and then the click of the receiver on the hook.
"Well, I'll be hanged!" he muttered angrily. "That's the last time I'll call you up, take it from me."
And it was the last time he ever called her up.
Then he, too, ravaged by uneasy thoughts, struck off into the country lanes, the better to commune with himself. In due course, he came to the gate leading up to the top of Quill's Window. Here he lagged. His gaze went across the strip of pasture-land to the deserted house above the main-travelled road. He started. His gaze grew more intense. A lone figure traversed the highway. It turned in at the gate, and, as he watched, strode swiftly up the path to the front door....He saw her bend over, evidently to insert a key in the lock. Then the door opened and closed behind her.
Every word of David's letter was impressed on Alix's brain. Over and over again she repeated to herself certain passages as she strode rapidly through the winding lanes. She spoke them tenderly, wonderingly, and her eyes were shining.
I have always loved you. I want you to know it. There has never been an hour in all these years that I have not thought of you, that your dear face has not been before me. In France, here, everywhere,--always I am looking into your eyes, always I am hearing your voice, always I am feeling the gentle touch of your hand. Now you know. I could not have told you before. I am the blacksmith's son. God knows I am not ashamed of that. But I cannot forget, nor can you, that a blacksmith's son lies buried at the top of that grim old hill, and that he was not good enough for the daughter of a Windom. I hear that you have given your heart to some one else. You will marry him. But to the end of your days,--and I hope they may be many,--I want you to know that there is one man who will love you with all his heart and all his soul to the end of HIS days. I hope you will be happy. It is my greatest, my only wish. Once upon a time, we stole away, you and I, to write romances of love and adventure. Even then, you were my heroine. I was putting you into my poor story, but you were putting your dreams into yours, and I was not your dream hero. Then we would read to each, other what we had written. Do you remember how guardedly we read and how stealthy we were so as not to arouse suspicion or attract attention to our lair? I shall never forget those happy hours. Every line I wrote and read to you, Alix dear, was of you and FOR you. You were my heroine. My hero, feeble creature, told you how much I loved you, and you never suspected.
I am telling you all this now, when my hope is dead, so that you may know that my love for you began when you were little more than a baby, and has endured to this day and will endure forever. I pray God you may always be happy. And now, in closing, I can only add the trite sentence,--which I recall reading in more than one novel and which I was imitative enough to put into my own unfinished masterpiece: If ever you are in trouble and despair and need me, I will come to you from the ends of the earth. I mean it, Alix. With all the best wishes in the world, I am and will remain
P.S.--I have just looked up from this letter to catch sight of myself in a mirror across the office. I have to smile. That beastly but honourable glass reveals the true secret of my failure to captivate you. How could any self-respecting heroine fall in love with a chap with a nose like mine, and a mouth that was intended for old Goliath himself, and cheek bones that were handed down by Tecumseh, and eyes that squint a little--but I daresay that's because they are somewhat blurred at this particular instant. I am reminded of the "Yank" who had his nose shot off at Chateau Thierry. He said that now that the Germans didn't have anything visible to train their artillery on, the war would soon be over. He had lost his nose but not his sense of the ridiculous. I have managed to retain both.
Up in that bare, dust-laden room, with the two candles burning at her elbows, sat Alix. There were tears in her eyes, a wistful little smile on her lips. She was reading again the clumsy lines David had written in those long-ago days of adolescence. Now they meant something to her. They were stilted, commonplace expressions; she would have laughed at them had they been written by any one else, and she still would have been vastly amused, even now, were it not for the revelations contained in his letter. And the postscript,--how like him to have added that whimsical twist! He wanted her to smile, even though his heart was hurt.
Ten years! Ten years ago they had sat opposite each other at this dusty table, their heads bent to the task, their brows furrowed, their hands reaching out to the same bottle of ink, their souls athrill with romance. And she was writing of a handsome, incredibly valiant hero, whilst he--he was writing of her! Time and again his hand, in seeking the ink, had touched the hand of his heroine,--she remembered once jabbing her pen into his less nimble finger as she went impatiently to the fount of romance, and he had exclaimed with a grimace: "Gee, you must have struck a snag, Alix!" She recalled the words as of yesterday, almost as of this very moment, and her arrogant rejoinder, "Well, why can't you keep your hand out of the way?"
She was always hurting him, and he was always patient. She was always sorry, and he was always forgiving. She was superior in her weakness, he was gentle in his strength.
And his heroine? She read through the mist that filled her eyes and saw herself. The lofty heroine wooed by the poor and humble musician who crept up from unutterable depths to worship unseen at her feet! "The Phantom Singer!" The lover she could not see because her starry eyes were fixed upon the peak! And yet he stood beneath her casement window and sang her to sleep, lulled her into sweet dreams,--and went his lonely way in the chill of the morning hours, only to return again at nightfall.
She looked up from the sheet she held. She stared, not into space, but at the face of David Strong, sitting opposite,--the phantom singer. It was as plain to her as if he were actually there. She looked into his deep grey eyes, honest and true and smiling.
What was it he said in his letter? About his nose and mouth and eyes? They were before her now. That keen, boyish face with its coat of tan,--its broad, whimsical mouth and the white, even teeth that once on a dare had cracked a walnut for her; its rugged jaw and the long, straight nose; its wide forehead and the straight eyebrows; and the thick hair as black as the raven's wing, rumpled by fingers that strove desperately to encourage a recalcitrant brain; and those big, bony hands, so large that her little brown paws were lost in them; and the broad shoulders hunched over the table, supported by widespread elbows that encroached upon her allotted space so often that she had to remind him: "I do wish you'd watch what you're doing," and he would get up and meekly recover the scattered sheets of paper from the floor. Ugly? David ugly? Why, he was BEAUTIFUL!
Suddenly her head dropped upon her arms, now resting on David's manuscript; she sobbed.
"Oh, Davy,--Davy, I wish you were here! I wish you were here now!"
The creaking of the stairs startled her. She half arose and stared at the open door, expecting to see--the ghost! Goose-flesh crept out all over her. The ghost that people said came to--
The very corporeal presence of Courtney Thane appeared in the doorway.
For many seconds she was stupefied. She could see his lips moving, she knew he was speaking, she could see his smile as he approached, and yet only an unintelligible mumble came to her ears.
"--and so I cut across the field and ventured in where angels do not fear to tread," were the first words that possessed any degree of coherency for her.
She hastily thrust the precious manuscript into the drawer. He stopped several feet away and looked about the room curiously, his gaze coming back to her after a moment. The light of the candles was full on her face.
"Well, of all the queer places," he said. "What in the world brings you here? I thought no one ever entered this house, Alix."
"I have not been inside this house in ten years," she said, struggling for control of herself. "I came today to--to look for some papers that were left here. I was on the point of leaving when you came up." She picked up her gloves from the table.
"It's cold here. Do you think it was wise for you to sit here in this chilly--Gad, it's like an ice-house or a tomb. Better let me give you my coat." He started to remove his overcoat. There was an anxious, solicitous expression in his eyes.
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