“I’m glad that they please you,” said he, pulling himself together for the ordeal of the call. “How are you getting along up here? Very well, I trust?”
“Fine. It’s so quiet and nice.... And I don’t mind about graduating a bit any more. Isn’t that funny?”
“You must hurry up and get well and return to the dining-room again, F—F—Fifi—, and to the algebra lessons—”
“Don’t,” said Fifi. “I can’t bear it.”
But she whisked at her eyes with a tiny dab of a handkerchief, and when she looked at him she was smiling, quite clear and happy.
“Have you missed me since I stopped coming?”
“Missed you?” he echoed, exactly as he had done before.
But this time Fifi said, shamelessly, “I’ll bet you have!—Haven’t you?”
Come, Mr. Queed, be honest. You are supposed to have the scientist’s passion for veracity. You mercilessly demand the truth from others. Now take some of your own medicine. Stand out like a man. Have you or have you not missed this girl since she stopped coming?
“Yes,” said the little Doctor, rather hollowly, “I ... have missed you.”
Fifi’s smile became simply brazen. “Do you know what, Mr. Queed? You like me lots more than you will say you do.”
The young man averted his eyes. But for some time there had been in his mind the subtle consciousness of something left undone, an occasion which he had failed to meet with the final word of justice. Since he had been in the room, a vague, unwelcome resolve had been forming in his mind, and at Fifi’s bold words, it hardened into final shape. He drew a deep breath.
“You referred to me as your friend once, F—Fifi. And I said that I was not.”
“I was—mistaken”—so he drained his medicine to the dregs. “I ... am your friend.”
Now the child’s smile was the eternal motherly. “Lor’, Mr. Queed, I knew it all the time.”
Queed looked at the floor. The sight of Fifi affected him most curiously to-day. He felt strangely ill at ease with her, only the more so because she was so amazingly at home with him. She wore her reddish-brown hair not rounded up in front as of old, but parted smoothly in the middle, and this only emphasized the almost saintly purity of her wasted little face. Her buoyant serenity puzzled and disconcerted him.
Meantime Fifi was examining Queed carefully. “You’ve been doing something to yourself, Mr. Queed! What is it? Why, you look ten times better than even four weeks ago!”
“I think,” he said drearily, “it must be Klinker’s Exercises. I give them,” broke from him, “one hour and twenty minutes a day!”
But he pulled himself together, conscientiously determined to take the cheery view with Fifi.
“It is an extraordinary thing, but I am feeling better, physically and mentally, than I ever felt before, and this though I never had a really sick day in my life. It must be the exercises, for that is the only change I have made in my habits. Yet I never supposed that exercise had any such practical value as that. However,” he went on slowly, “I am beginning to believe that there are several things in this world that I do not understand.”