“How strange! Who was your officer?”
“You’ll laugh when you hear,” he replied, without hint of laugh himself. “Heavens, how things come about! My officer was from Middleville.”
“Daren! Who?” she asked, quickly, her eyes darkening with thought.
“Captain Vane Thesel.”
How singular to Lane the fact she did not laugh! She only stared. Then it seemed part of her warmth and glow, her subtle response to his emotion, slowly receded. He felt what he could not see.
“Oh! He. Vane Thesel,” she said, without wonder or surprise or displeasure, or any expression Lane anticipated.
Her strange detachment stirred a hideous thought—could Thesel have been.... But Lane killed the culmination of that thought. Not, however, before dark, fiery jealousy touched him with fangs new to his endurance.
To drive it away, Lane launched into more narrative of the war. And as he talked he gradually forgot himself. It might be hateful to rake up the burning threads of memory for the curious and the soulless, but to tell Mel Iden it was a keen, strange delight. He watched the changes of her expression. He learned to bring out the horror, sadness, glory that abided in her heart. And at last he cut himself off abruptly: “But I must save something for another day.”
That broke the spell.
“No, you must never come back.”
He picked up his hat and his stick.
“Mel, would you shut the door in my face?”
“No, Daren—but I’ll not open it,” she replied resolutely.
“You must not come.”
“For my sake—or yours?”
“Both our sakes.”
He backed out on the little porch, and looked at her as she stood there. Beyond him, indeed, were his emotions then. Sad as she seemed, he wanted to make her suffer more—an inexplicable and shameful desire.
“Mel, you and I are alike,” he said.
“Oh, no, Daren; you are noble and I am....”
“Mel, in my dreams I see myself standing—plodding along the dark shores of a river—that river of tears which runs down the vast naked stretch of our inner lives.... I see you now, on the opposite shore. Let us reach our hands across—for the baby’s sake.”
“Daren, it is a beautiful thought, but it—it can’t be,” she whispered.
“Then let me come to see you when I need—when I’m down,” he begged.
“Mel, what harm can it do—just to let me come?”
“No—don’t ask me. Daren, I am no stone.”
“You’ll be sorry when I’m out there in—Woodlawn.... That won’t be long.”
That broke her courage and her restraint.
“Come, then,” she whispered, in tears.
Lane’s intentions and his spirit were too great for his endurance. It was some time before he got downtown again. And upon entering the inn he was told some one had just called him on the telephone.