“I must report it to the company.”
“Must you?” The voice seemed to be vaguely troubled. “To-night?”
“Don’t give a thought to it,” he said. “To-morrow will do just as well. I’m sorry to have troubled you.”
“Good-night,” she said again.
“Can’t remember her own name!” thought Banneker, moved and pitiful.
Darkness and quiet were grateful to him as he entered the office. By sense of direction he found his chair, and sank into it. Overhead he could hear the soft sound of her feet moving about the room, his room. Quiet succeeded. Banneker, leagues removed from sleep, or the hope of it, despite his bodily weariness, followed the spirit of wonder through starlit and sunlit realms of dream.
The telegraph-receiver clicked. Not his call. But it brought him back to actualities. He lighted his lamp and brought down the letter-file from which had been extracted the description of the wreck for Gardner of the Angelica City Herald.
Drawing out the special paper, he looked at the heading and smiled. “Letters to Nobody.” He took a fresh sheet and began to write. Through the night he wrote and dreamed and dozed and wrote again. When a sound of song, faint and sweet and imminent, roused him to lift his sleep-bowed head from the desk upon which it had sunk, the gray, soiled light of a stormy morning was in his eyes. The last words he had written were:
“The breast of the world rises and falls with your breathing.”
Banneker was twenty-four years old, and had the untainted soul of a boy of sixteen.
Overhead she was singing. The voice was clear and sweet and happy. He did not know the melody; some minor refrain of broken rhythm which seemed always to die away short of fulfillment. A haunting thing of mystery and glamour, such mystery and glamour as had irradiated his long and wonderful night. He heard the door open and then her light footsteps on the stair outside. Hot-eyed and disheveled, he rose, staggering a little at first as he hurried to greet her.
She stood poised on the lower step.
“Good-morning,” he said.
She made no return to his accost other than a slow smile. “I thought you were a dream,” she murmured.
“No. I’m real enough. Are you better? Your head?”
She put a hand to the bandage. “It’s sore. Otherwise I’m quite fit. I’ve slept like the dead.”
“I’m glad to hear it,” he replied mechanically. He was drinking her in, all the grace and loveliness and wonder of her, himself quite unconscious of the intensity of his gaze.
She accepted the mute tribute untroubled; but there was a suggestion of puzzlement in the frown which began to pucker her forehead.
“You’re really the station-agent?” she asked with a slight emphasis upon the adverb.
“Yes. Why not?”