“Oh, my poor boy, I don’t know—I can’t tell,” she replied, brokenly. “By God’s goodness you have brought about one miracle. Who knows? You might change Mel. For you have brought something great back from the war.”
“Mrs. Iden, I will persuade her to marry me,” said Lane. “And then, Mr. Iden, we must see what is best for her and the boy—in the future.”
“Aye, son. One lesson learned makes other lessons easy. I will take Mel and her mother far away from Middleville—where no one ever heard of us.”
“Good! You can all touch happiness again.... And now, if you and Mrs. Iden will excuse me—I will go.”
Lane bade the couple good night, and slowly, as might have a lame man, he made his way through the gloaming, out to the road, and down to the bridge, where as always he lingered to catch the mystic whispers of the river waters, meant only for his ear. Stronger to-night! He was closer to that nameless thing. The shadows of dusk, the dark murmuring river, held an account with him, sometime to be paid. How blessed to fall, to float down to that merciful oblivion.
Several days passed before Lane felt himself equal to the momentous interview with Mel Iden. After his call upon Mel’s father and mother he was overcome by one of his sick, weak spells, that happily had been infrequent of late. This one confined him to his room. He had about fought and won it out, when the old injury at the base of his spine reminded him that misfortunes did not come singly. Quite unexpectedly, as he bent over with less than his usual caution, the vertebra slipped out; and Lane found his body twisted like a letter S. And the old pain was no less terrible for its familiarity.
He got back to his bed and called his mother. She sent for Doctor Bronson. He came at once, and though solicitous and kind he lectured Lane for neglecting the osteopathic treatment he had advised. And he sent his chauffeur for an osteopath.
“Lane,” said the little physician, peering severely down upon him, “I didn’t think you’d last as long as this.”
“I’m tough, Doctor—hard to kill,” returned Lane, making a wry face. “But I couldn’t stand this pain long.”
“It’ll be easier presently. We can fix that spine. Some good treatments to strengthen ligaments, and a brace to wear—we can fix that.... Lane, you’ve wonderful vitality.”
“A doctor in France told me that.”
“Except for your mental condition, you’re in better shape now than when you came home.” Doctor Bronson peered at Lane from under his shaggy brows, walked to the window, looked out, and returned, evidently deep in thought.
“Boy, what’s on your mind?” he queried, suddenly.
“Oh, Lord! listen to him,” sighed Lane. Then he laughed. “My dear Doctor, I have nothing on my mind—absolutely nothing.... This world is a beautiful place. Middleville is fine, clean, progressive. People are kind—thoughtful—good. What could I have on my mind?”