How then to spend this last remnant of his life! No one would guess what passed through his lonely soul. No one would care. But out of the suffering that now seemed to give him spirit and wisdom and charity there dawned a longing to help, to save. He would return good for evil. All had failed him, but he would fail no one.
Then he had a strange intense desire to understand the present. Only a day home—and what colossal enigma! The war had been chaos. Was this its aftermath? Had people been rocked on their foundations? What were they doing—how living—how changing? He would see, and be grateful for a little time to prove his faith. He knew he would find the same thing in others that existed in himself.
He would help his mother, and cheer her, and try to revive something of hope in her. He would bend a keen and patient eye upon Lorna, and take the place of her father, and be kind, loving, yet blunt to her, and show her the inevitable end of this dancing, dallying road. Perhaps he could influence Helen. He would see the little soldier-worshipping Bessy Bell, and if by talking hours and hours, by telling the whole of his awful experience of war, he could take up some of the time so fraught with peril for her, he would welcome the ordeal of memory. And Mel Iden—how thought of her seemed tinged with strange regret! Once she and he had been dear friends, and because of a falsehood told by Helen that friendship had not been what it might have been. Suppose Mel, instead of Helen, had loved him and been engaged to him! Would he have been jilted and would Mel have been lost? No! It was a subtle thing—that answer of his spirit. It did not agree with Mel Iden’s frank confession.
It might be difficult, he reflected, to approach Mel. But he would find a way. He would rest a few days—then find where she lived and go to see her. Could he help her? And he had an infinite exaltation in his power to help any one who had suffered. Lane recalled Mel’s pale sweet face, the shadowed eyes, the sad tremulous lips. And this image of her seemed the most lasting of the impressions of the day.
The arbiters of social fate in Middleville assembled at Mrs. Maynard’s on a Monday afternoon, presumably to partake of tea. Seldom, however, did they meet without adding zest to the occasion by a pricking down of names.
Mrs. Wrapp was the leading spirit of this self-appointed tribunal—a circumstance of expanding, resentment to Mrs. Maynard, who had once held the reins with aristocratic hands. Mrs. Kingsley, the third member of the great triangle, claimed an ancestor on the Mayflower, which was in her estimation a guerdon of blue blood. Her elaborate and exclusive entertainments could never be rivalled by those of Mrs. Wrapp. She was a widow with one child, the daughter Elinor, a girl of nineteen.