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- The Window-Gazer - 40/55 -
compounded of derision and relief--a shamefaced smile which admitted an opinion of herself very far from flattering.
So occupied was she with her mental reactions that she had no attention to spare for the opposite side of the street and therefore missed the slightly peculiar action of her husband-by-courtesy. Professor Spence, when he had first caught sight of his wife had automatically paused, as if to call or cross over. It had become their friendly habit to inform each other of their daily plans and a cheery "whither away?" had risen naturally to the professor's lips. It rose to them, but did not leave them, for, in the intervening instant, he had grasped the fact of Desire's smiling abstraction and had sought its explanation in the place from which she had come. desire calling at old Bones' office at this hour of the morning? Before he had recovered from the surprise of it, she had passed.
Time, which seems so mighty, is sometimes quite negligible. The most amazing mental illuminations may occupy only the fraction of a second. A light flashes and is gone--but meanwhile one has seen.
The professor's pause was hardly noticeable. He walked on at once. But years could not have instructed him more thoroughly than that one second. He had received a revelation. Like all revelations, he received it in its entirety and realized it piecemeal. His thoughts stumbled over each other in confusion. . . . Desire at John's office at this unusual hour? . . . Desire in her prettiest frock and smiling . . . smiling, and so lost in her own thoughts that she saw no one . . . Desire . . . John? . . . What the devil!
Spence had a finicky dislike of strong language. He thought it savored of weakness, yet he found himself swearing heartily as he hurried on--meaningless swears which by their very childishness brought him back to common sense. His step slowed, he forced himself to be reasonable. He took a brief against his own unwarranted disturbance of mind and reduced it to argument. There was nothing at all strange, he pointed out, in Desire having called at old Bones' office at this, or any other, time of day (but what under heaven did she do it for?). She might easily have forgotten to tell the doctor some-thing. (What in thunder would she have to tell him?) She might have dropped in, in passing (at that hour of the morning?) merely to ask him over for some tennis (was the dashed telephone out of order?). Or she might have felt a trifle seedy (pshaw! her health was perfect--idiot!). Anyway she had a perfect right to see Dr. Rogers at any time and for any reason she might choose. (Yes, she had--that was the devil of it!)
At this point of his argument the professor was nearly-run down by a delivery boy on a bicycle and saved himself only by a sharp collision with a telegraph pole. This served to clear his brain somewhat. His confusion of thought dropped away. He began to look his revelation in the face--
It was certainly possible! Why had he never seen it before? . . . He had been warned. John himself had warned him--Old John who had been so palpably "hit" when he had first seen Desire at Friendly Bay. But he, Benis Spence, had laughed. Honestly laughed. No possibility of this possibility had troubled him. He simply had not seen it. And now--he saw. The thing italicised itself on his brain.
Granted that Desire might love, there was no reason on earth why she should not love John.
The conclusion seemed childishly simple and yet he had never seriously considered it. Why? Relentlessly he forced himself to answer why. It was because he had believed that when Desire woke to love, if she should so wake, she would wake to love for him! He tore this admission out of a shrinking heart and laughed at it. It was funny, quite funny in its ridiculous conceit. . . . But it hadn't been conceit, it had been assurance. Impossible to account for, and absurd as it seemed now, it was some-thing higher than vanity which had hidden in his heart that happy sense of kinship with Desire which had made John's warning seem an emptiness of words.
It was gone now, that wonderful sense of "belonging," swept away in the swift rush of startled doubt. Searching as it might, his mind could not find anywhere the faintest foothold for a belief that Desire, free to choose, should turn to him and not to another.
"I had better go and sleep this off somewhere," murmured the professor with a wry smile. "Mustn't let it get ahead of me. Mustn't make any more mistakes. This needs thinking out--steady now!"
He tried to forget his own problem in thinking of hers. It couldn't be very pleasant for her--this. And yet she had been smiling as she came out of John's office. perhaps she did not know yet? On second thoughts, he felt sure that she did not know. He recognized the essentials of Desire. She was loyalty itself. And had he not reason to know from his own present experience that the beginnings of love can be very blind.
John, too--but with John it was different. John had given his warning. If the warning were to be justified he could not blame John. He could not blame anyone save his own too confident self. Why, oh why, had he been so sure? Had he not known that love is the most unaccountable of all the passions? How had he dared to build security on that subtle thing within himself which, without cause or reason, had claimed as his the unstirred heart of the girl he had married.
Spence returned home with lagging step. The old distaste for familiar things, which he thought had gone with the coming of Desire, was heavy upon him. The gate of his pleasant home shut behind him like a prison gate. In short, Benis Spence paid for a moment's enlightenment with a bad day and a night that was no better.
By the morning he had won through. One must carry on. And the advantage of a quiet manner is that no one notices when it grows more quiet.
Desire was already in the library when he entered it. She looked very crisp and cool. It struck Spence for the first time that she was dressing her part--the neat, dark skirt and laundered blouse, blackbowed at the neck in a perfect orgy of simplicity, were eminently secretarial. How beautifully young she was!
Desire looked up from her note-book with business-like promptitude.
"I think," she said, "that we are quite ready to go on with the thirteenth chapter."
"But I think," said Benis, "that it would be much nicer to go fishing."
"Well, it's Friday, for one thing. Do you really think it safe to begin the thirteenth chapter on a Friday?"
His secretary's smile was dutiful, but her lips were firm. "We didn't do a thing-yesterday," she reminded him. "I couldn't find you anywhere and no one knew where you were."
"I was--just around," vaguely.
"Not around here," Desire was uncompromising. "Benis, I think we should really be more businesslike. We should have talked this thirteenth chapter over yesterday. I see you have a note here for some opening paragraphs on The Apprehension of Color in Primitive Minds--"
A cascade of goblin laughter from Yorick interrupted her.
"Yorick is amused," said Benis. "He knows all about the apprehension of color in primitive minds. He advises us to go fishing."
Desire watched him stroke the bird's bent head with a puzzled frown.
"I wish you wouldn't joke about--this," she said slowly. "You don't want that habit of mind to affect your serious work."
Spence looked up surprised.
"The whole character of the book is changing," went on Desire resolutely. "It will all have to be revised and brought into harmony. I'm sure you've felt it yourself. In a book like this the treatment must be the same throughout. I've heard you say that a hundred times. It doesn't matter what the treatment is, the necessary thing is that it be consistent. Isn't that right?"
Spence forgot the parrot (who immediately pecked his finger). He almost forgot that he had suffered an awakening and had passed a bad night. Desire interested him in the present moment as she always did. She was--what was she? "Satisfying" was perhaps the best word for it. Just to be with her seemed to round out life.
"Prove it!" said he with some heat.
For half an hour he listened while she proved it with great energy and a thorough knowledge of her facts. He listened because he liked to listen and not because she was telling him anything new. He knew just where his "treatment" of his material had changed, and he knew, as Desire did not, what had changed it. For the change was not really in the treatment at all, but in himself.
This book had been his earliest ambition. It had been the sole companion of his thoughts for years. It had been the little idol which must be served. Without a word of it being written, it had grown with his growth. His notes for it comprised all that he had filched from life. He had not hurried. He was leisurely by nature. Then had come the war, lifting him out of all the things he knew. And, after the war, its great weariness. Not until he had met Desire and found, in her fresh interest, something of his own lost enthusiasm, had he been able to work again. Then, in a glow of recovered energy, the book had been begun. And all had gone well until the book's inspirer had begun to usurp the place of the book itself. (Spence smiled as he realized that Desire was painstakingly tracing the course of her self-caused destruction.) How could he think of the book when he wanted only to think of her? Insensibly, his gathered facts had begun to lose their prime importance, his deductions had lost their sense of weight, all that he had done seemed strangely insignificant--it was like looking at something through the wrong end of a telescope. The great book was a star which grew steadily smaller.
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