“Good!” The girl from Philadelphia went out of the room. “If only—” In his eyes no longer was restraint, and Claudia turned her head as if listening to something outside.
“I believe mother is calling me,” she said. “Would you mind telling her, Mr. Laine, I am coming right away?”
Laine looked at his watch. Twenty minutes past twelve. Christmas was over. Two days after were over also, and in the morning most of the guests were going away.
From the basket by the hearth he threw a fresh log on the smoldering fire, lifted it with his foot farther back on the hot ashes, drew the old-fashioned arm-chair closer to the fender, and, turning down the light from the lamp on the pie-crust table near the mantel, sat down and lighted a fresh cigar.
It had been very beautiful, very wonderful, this Christmas in the country. Its memories would go with him through life, and yet he must go away and say no word of what he had meant to say to Claudia.
Very definitely he had understood, from the day of his arrival, that to tell her of his love would be a violation of a code to which the directness of his nature had given little thought in the reaction of feeling which had possessed him when he read her note. He was a guest by invitation, and to speak now would be beyond pardon. In his heart was no room for humor, and yet a comic side of the situation in which he found himself was undeniable. The contrast it afforded to former opportunities was absurdly sharp and determined, and the irony of the little god’s way of doing things was irritatingly manifest.
If in Claudia’s heart was knowledge of the secret in his, she masked it well. Warmly cordial, coolly impersonal, frankly unconscious, she had never avoided him, and still had so managed that they were never alone together. Hands clasped loosely, he leaned forward and stared into the heart of the blazing logs. Of course she knew. All women know when they are loved. No. The log fell apart, and its burning flame glowed rich and red. She had not known, or she would not have asked him to Elmwood. Merely as she would ask any other lonely man in whom she felt a kindly interest, she had asked him, and, thus far, her home was the love of her life. In a thousand ways he had felt it, seen it, understood it; and the man who would take her from it must awaken within her that which as yet was still asleep.
The days just past had been miserably happy. Before others light laughter and gay speech. In his heart surrender and suppliance, and before him always the necessity of silence until he could come again, and he must go that he might come again.
One by one, pictures of recent experiences passed before him, experiences of simple, happy, homelike living; and things he had almost forgotten to believe in seemed real and true once more. A new sense of values, a new understanding of the essentials of life, had been born again; and something growing cold and cynical had warmed and softened.