“I think not. I think, you know, you’re deceiving yourself.”
They looked at one another, and suddenly both men smiled.
“I want to spare you,” said Eugene; “but it sounds a little absurd.”
“The sooner I go the better,” said Stafford. “I must tell you, old fellow, I go in confident hope. If I am wrong—”
“Everything is over! Would you feel that?”
Eugene was always honest with Stafford. He searched his heart.
“I should be cut up,” he said. “But no—not that.”
Stafford smiled sadly.
“How I wish I could do things by halves!” he exclaimed.
“You will come back?”
“I’ll leave a line for you as I go by. Whatever happens, you have treated me well.”
“Good-by, old man. I can’t say good luck. When shall I see you?”
“That depends,” said Stafford.
Eugene showed him the road to the Dower House, and he set out at a brisk walk.
A Lover’s Fate and a Friend’s Counsel.
It was about half-past three when Stafford left Territon Park; about the same hour Claudia sallied forth from the Dower House to take her constitutional. When two people start to walk at the same time from opposite ends of the same road, barring accidents, they meet somewhere about the middle. In accordance with this law, when Claudia was about two miles from home, walking along the path through the dense woods of Territon Park, she saw Stafford coming toward her. There were no means of escape, and with a sigh of resignation she sat down on a rustic seat and awaited his approach. He saw her as soon as she saw him, and came up to her without any embarrassment.
“I am lucky,” he said, “I was going over to see you.”
Claudia had given some thought to this interview and had determined on her best course.
“Mr. Lane told me you were coming.”
“Dear old Eugene!”
“But I hoped you would not.”
“Don’t let us begin at the end. I haven’t seen you since I left Millstead. Were you surprised at my going?”
“I was rather surprised at the way you went.”
“I thought you would understand it. Now, honestly, didn’t you?”
“Perhaps I did.”
“I thought so. You had seen what I only saw that very night. You understood—”
“Please, Father Stafford—”
“Say Mr. Stafford.”
“No. I know you as Father Stafford, and I like that best.”
“As you will—for the present. You knew how I stood. You saw I loved you—no, I am going on—and yet felt myself bound not to tell you.”
“I saw nothing of the kind. It never entered my head.”
“Claudia, is it possible? Did you never think of it?”
“As nothing more than a possibility—and a very unhappy possibility.”