It was, as Moses had said, a very spacious room, and its furnishings were distinctive; but, though warm and brightly lighted, to stay in it to-night was impossible, and, ringing for his coat and hat, he made ready to go out.
At the table he lingered a moment and glanced at some letters upon it. Mechanically he took one up, looked at the writing of his name, and wondered indifferently who it was from. Breaking it open, he read the few words it contained, and at them his face colored and he bit his lips to hide their twitching. He read:
Dear Mr. Laine,—Dorothea
has just told me. I
am so sorry. Claudia Keith.
With a sudden surrender to something stubbornly withheld, he sat down in the chair near the table, leaned back in it, and closed his eyes to keep back that which stung and blinded them. To most of his friends the going of General would be but the going of a dog, and barely a passing thought would be its portion when they heard, but she must understand. He got up. No. There was no one who could really understand.
A LETTER PROM DOROTHEA
For a moment he hesitated whether to go down or up the street. The air was biting, but the snow, fairly well cleaned from the sidewalks, no longer bothered; and, crossing into Madison Avenue, he turned down and began to walk rapidly toward that part of the city where there would be few people and little glare, and as he walked unconsciously he repeated over and over to himself: “Dorothea has just told me. I am so sorry.”
“Mister, please, sir, buy a paper?” He stopped abruptly. The boy in front of him stamped first one foot and then the other, and the hand he held out was rough and red. Drawing it back he blew on it for a little warmth.
“What are you doing out this time of night?” Laine asked the question hardly knowing why. “You ought to be home in bed.”
“Ain’t got no home.” The boy laughed cheerfully, and again put his fist to his mouth and blew upon it. “I’m sleepin’ with another boy this week, but I have to pay him. Please buy a paper, Mister!”
Under his breath Laine caught himself saying something, then handed the boy a piece of money and passed on. Where was he, anyhow? Surely he was in no mood for the life of this neighborhood. It was one he had seldom been in, and as he looked at its houses dull wonder filled him as to their occupants. To keep breath in their bodies meant sordid struggle and bitter strife, but possibly they were happy. Certainly he had long since learned the possession of mere material things did not mean happiness. He had long since learned a great many things it was unfortunate to know.
A clock in the church near by struck ten, and turning he went over into the Avenue and began his walk up-town. As he reached Madison Square he looked at the empty benches and wondered as to the fate of the derelicts who daily filled them in warm weather, and wondered if they, too, wondered what it was all for—this thing called life.