In the distance somewhere a motor-car hummed, and came closer, louder down the street, to slow its sound with sliding creak and jar outside in front of the house. Lane heard laughter and voices of a party of young people. Footsteps, heavy and light, came up the walk, and on to the porch. Lorna was returning rather late from the motion-picture, thought Lane, and he raised his head from the pillow, to lean toward the open window, listening.
“Come across, kiddo,” said a boy’s voice, husky and low.
Lane heard a kiss—then another.
“Cheese it, you boob!”
“Gee, your gettin’ snippy. Say, will you ride out to Flesher’s to-morrow night?”
“Nothing doing, I’ve got a date. Good night.”
The hall door below opened and shut. Footsteps thumped off the porch and out to the street. Lane heard the giggle of girls, the snap of a car-door, the creaking of wheels, and then a low hum, dying away.
Lorna came slowly up stairs to enter her room, moving quietly. And Lane lay on his bed, wide-eyed, staring into the blackness. “My little sister,” he whispered to himself. And the words that had meant so much seemed a mockery.
Lane saw the casement of his window grow gray with the glimmering light of dawn. After that he slept several hours. When he awoke it was nine o’clock. The long night with its morbid dreams and thoughts had passed, and in the sunshine of day he saw things differently.
To move, to get up was not an easy task. It took stern will, and all the strength of muscle he had left, and when he finally achieved it there was a clammy dew of pain upon his face. With slow guarded movements he began to dress himself. Any sudden or violent action might burst the delicate gassed spots in his lungs or throw out of place one of the lower vertebrae of his spine. The former meant death, and the latter bent his body like a letter S and caused such excruciating agony that it was worse than death. These were his two ever-present perils. The other aches and pains he could endure.
He shaved and put on clean things, and his best coat, and surveyed himself in the little mirror. He saw a thin face, white as marble, but he was not ashamed of it. His story was there to read, if any one had kind enough eyes to see. What would Helen think of him—and Margaret Maynard—and Dal—and Mel Iden? Bitter curiosity seemed his strongest feeling concerning his fiancee. He would hold her as engaged to him until she informed him she was not. As for the others, thought of them quickened his interest, especially in Mel. What had happened to her.
It was going to be wonderful to meet them—and to meet everybody he had once known. Wonderful because he would see what the war had done to them and they would see what it had done to him. A peculiar significance lay between his sister and Helen—all these girls, and the fact of his having gone to war.