His glare of annoyance changed to bewilderment at the sight of her, and he said:
“Rose! Has anything happened? What’s the matter?” And catching her by the arm, he led her into the office. “Here, sit down and get your breath and tell me about it!”
She smiled and took his face in both her hands. “But it’s the other way,” she said. “There’s nothing the matter with me. I came down, you poor old boy, to see what was the matter with you.”
He frowned and took her hands away and stepped back out of her reach. Had it not been for the sheer incredibility of it, she’d have thought that her touch was actually distasteful to him.
“Oh,” he said. “I thought I told you over the phone there was nothing the matter!—Won’t you be awfully late to the Randolphs’?”
“I had ten minutes,” she said, “and I thought ...”
She broke off the sentence when she saw him snap out his watch and look at it.
“I know there’s something,” she said. “I can tell just by the way your eyes look and the way you’re so tight and—strained. If you’d just tell me about it, and then sit down and let me—try to take the strain away....”
Beyond a doubt the strain was there. The laugh he meant for a good-humored dismissal of her fears, didn’t sound at all as it was intended to.
“Can’t you tell me?” she repeated.
“Good heavens!” he said. “There’s nothing to tell! I’ve got an argument before the Court of Appeals to-morrow and there’s a ruling decision against me. It is against me, and it’s bad law. But that isn’t what I want to tell them. I want some way of making a distinction so that I can hold that the decision doesn’t rule.”
“And it wouldn’t help,” she ventured, “if you told me all about it? I don’t care about the dinner.”
“I couldn’t explain in a month,” he said.
“Oh, I wish I were some good,” she said forlornly.
He pulled out his watch again and began pacing up and down the room.
“I just can’t stand it to see you like that,” she broke out again. “If you’ll only sit down for five minutes and let me try to get that strained look out of your eyes....”
“Good God, Rose!” he shouted. “Can’t you take my word for it and let it alone? I’m not ill, nor frightened, nor broken-hearted. I don’t need to be comforted nor encouraged. I’m in an intellectual quandary. For the next three hours, or six, or however long it takes, I want my mind to run cold and smooth. I’ve got to be tight and strained. That’s the way the job’s done. You can’t solve an intellectual problem by having your hand held, or your eyes kissed, or anything like that. Now, for God’s sake, child, run along and let me forget you ever existed, for a while!”
And he ground his teeth over an impulse that all but got the better of him, after she’d shut the door, to follow her out into the corridor and pull her up in his arms and kiss her face all over, and to consign the Law and the Prophets both, to the devil.