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- The Window-Gazer - 50/55 -


"You'll miss her, too, old chap," he said, adding angrily, "dashed sentimentality!"

The sound of his own voice steadied him. He must be careful. Above all, he must not sink into self-pity. He must go back to his work. It had meant everything to him once. It must mean everything to him again. If he were a man at all he must fight through this inertia. Life had tumbled him out of his shell, played with him for an hour, and now would tumble him back again--no, by Jove, he refused to be tumbled back! He would fight through. He would come out somewhere, some-time.

It occurred to him that he ought to be thankful that Desire at least was going to be happy. But he did not feel glad. He was not even sure that she was going to be happy. Something kept stubbornly insisting that she would have been much happier with him. Quite with-out prejudice, had they not been extraordinarily well suited? He put the question up to fate. The hardest thing about the whole hard matter was the insistent feeling that a second mistake had been made. John and Desire--his mind refused to see any fitness in the mating. Yet this very perversity of love was something which he had long recognized with the complacence of assured psychology.

He heard Mary's voice in the hall. He had forgotten Mary. He hoped she would not tap upon the library door--as she sometimes did. No, thank heaven, she had gone upstairs! That was an odd idea of Aunt Caroline's. If he had felt like smiling he would have smiled at it. Desire jealous of Mary? Ridiculous. . . .

"Here comes old Bones," said Yorick conversationally.

The professor started. It was a phrase he had him-self taught the bird during that time of illness when John's visit had been the bright spot in long dull days. It had amused them both that the parrot seldom made a mistake, seeming to know, long before his master, when the doctor was near.

But today? Surely Yorick was wrong today. John would not come today. Would never come again--but did anyone save John race up the drive in that abandoned manner? Benis frowned. He did not want to see John. He would not see him! But as he went to leave the library by one door John threw open the other and stood for an instant blinded by the comparative dimness within.

"Where are you, Benis?"

"Here."

Spence closed the door. His brief anger was swallowed up in something else. Never, even in France, had he seen John look like this.

"We're a precious pair of dupes!" began John in a high voice and without preliminaries. "Prize idiots--imbeciles!"

"Very likely," said Benis. "But you're not talking to New York."

He made no move to take the paper which John held out in a shaking hand.

"What is the matter with you?" he asked sternly.

"What's the matter with me? Oh, nothing. What's the matter with all of us? Crazy--that's all! Here--read it! It's from Desire. Must have posted it last night."

Spence put the letter aside.

"If you have news, you had better tell it. That is if you can talk in an ordinary voice."

John laughed harshly. "My voice is all right. Not so dashed cool as yours. Read it!"

Spence took the sheet held out to him; but he had no wish to> read Desire's words to John.

"If it is a private letter--" he began.

"Oh, don't be a bigger fool than you have been! Unless," with sudden suspicion, "you've known all along? Perhaps you have. Even you could hardly have been so completely duped."

"If you will tell me what you are talking about--"

"Read it. It is plain enough."

The professor slowly opened the folded sheet. It was a longer note than the one she had left for him.

"Dear John," he read, "if I I'd known yesterday that I would leave so soon I could have said good-bye. But my decision was made suddenly. I think you must have seen how it is with Benis and Mary and I can't go "with-out telling you that I knew about it from the first. I don't want you to blame Benis. He told me about it before we were married, and I took the risk with my eyes open. How could he, or I, have guessed that he had given up hope too soon?--and anyway, it wasn't in the bargain that I should love him.--It just happened.--He is desperately unhappy. Help him if you can.--Your affectionate Desire."

"My affectionate Desire!" mocked John, still in that high, strained voice which now was perilously near a sob. "That--that is what I was to her, a convenient friend! You--you had it all. And let it go, for the sake of that blond-haired, deer-eyed, fashion plate--"

"That's enough! You are not an hysterical girl. Sit down. . . . I can't understand this, John. I thought--"

The two men looked at each other, a long look in which distrust at least was faced and ended. The excited flush, died out of John's cheek. He looked weary and shame-faced.

"I thought she loved you," said Spence simply.

The doctor's eyes fell. It was his honest admission that he, too, had thought this possible.

"Even now," went on the professor haltingly, "I can-not believe . . . it doesn't seem possible . . . me? . . . John, does the letter mean that Desire loves me?"

John Rogers nodded, turning away.

Silence fell between them.

"What will you do--about the other?" asked the doctor presently.

"What other? There is no other. I loved Desire from the very first night I saw her. I didn't know it, then. It was all new. And," with a bitter smile, "so different from what one expects. Mary was never any-thing but the figure of straw I told you of. I thought," naively, "that Desire had forgotten Mary."

"Did you?" said John. "Why man, the woman doesn't live who would forget! And Miss Davis filled the bill to the last item--even the name 'Mary'."

"Oh what a pal was M-Mary!" croaked Yorick obligingly.

"The bird, too!" said John. "Everyone doing his little best to sustain the illusion--even, if I am any judge, the lady herself."

But Benis Spence had never wasted time upon the lady herself. And he did not begin now. With a face which had suddenly become years younger he was searching frantically in his desk for the transcontinental time-table.

CHAPTER XXXVI

The train crawled.

Although it was a fast express whose speed might well provoke the admiration of travellers, in one traveller it provoked nothing save grim endurance. Beside the consuming impatience of Benis Hamilton Spence, its best effort was a little thing. When it slowed, he fidgeted, when it stopped he fumed. He wanted to get out and push it.

Five days--four--three--two--a day and a half--the vastness of the spaces over which it must carry him grew endless as his mind continually tried to span them. He felt a distinct grievance that any country should be so wide.

"Making good time!" said a genial person, travelling in the tobacco trade. The professor eyed him with suspicion, as a man deranged by optimism.

The train crawled.

Spence removed his eyes from the passing landscape and tried to forget how slowly it was passing. He saw himself at the end of his journey. He saw Desire. He saw a grudging moment, or second perhaps, devoted to explanation. And then--How happy they were going to be! (If the train would only forget to stop at stations it might get somewhere.) How wonderful it would be to feel the empty world grow full again! To raise one's eyes, just casually, and to see--Desire. To speak, in just one's ordinary voice, and to know she heard. To stretch out one's hand and feel that she was there. (What were they doing now? Putting on more cars? Outrageous!) He would even write that book presently, when he got around to it. (When one felt sure one could write.) But first they would go away, just he and she, east of the sun and west of the moon. They would sit together somewhere, as they used to sit on the sun-warmed grass at Friendly Bay, and say nothing at all. . . . How nearly they had missed it . . . but it would be all right now. Love, whom they had both denied, had both given and forgiven. It would be all right, it must be all right, now! (But how the train crawled.)

Poor John, poor old Bones! What a blow it had been for him. Although he should certainly have had more sense than to fancy--Well, of course, a man can fancy anything it he wants it badly enough. Spence was honestly sorry for John--that is, he would be when he had time to consider John's case. But John, too, would be all right presently. (Why under heaven do trains need to wait ten minutes while silly people walk on platforms without hats?) John would marry a nice girl. Not a girl like Desire--not that type of girl at all.


The Window-Gazer - 50/55

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