“But I supposed,” he said, and paused, “I sort of thought you—had reasons for staying round here?”
“There’s no use hanging round,” John said; “it’s better to pull out altogether. It’s easier that way,” he said, simply. “So I’m off for a year. They wanted me to sign for three years, but I said, ‘one.’ Things may look better for me when I get home.”
Maurice, standing with his back to the fire, his hands in his pocket, looked down at the steady youngster—looked at the mild eyes behind those large spectacles, looked at the clean, strong lines of the jaw and forehead. A good fellow. A very good fellow. He wondered why Edith wouldn’t take him? ("It couldn’t make any difference to me,” he thought; “and I want her to be happy.”)
“Johnny,” he said, “you can say, ‘Mind your business,’ before I begin, if you want to. But I don’t think anybody’s cutting you out? Better ‘try, try again.’”
Johnny took his pipe from his mouth, bent forward to shake the ashes out of it, and stared into the fire. Then he said, clearing his throat once or twice: “I’ve bothered her, ‘trying,’ I thought I’d start on a new tack.”
“You’ll get her yet!” Maurice encouraged him. He wondered, as he spoke, how he could speak so lightly, urging old Johnny to go ahead and make another stab at it, and, maybe, “get her”! He wondered if he was looking at things the way the dead look at the living? He was not, he thought, suffering, as he had suffered in those first moments when Eleanor had flung the truth at him. “You’ll get her yet,” he said, vaguely.
Johnny took out his tobacco pouch, and began to fill his pipe, poking his thumb down into the bowl with slow precision, then holding it on a level with his eyes and squinting at it, to make sure it was smooth; he seemed profoundly engrossed by that pipe—but he put it in his mouth without lighting it.
“Well, I don’t know,” he said; “I haven’t an awful lot of hope that I’ll ever get her. But I thought I’d try this way. Maybe, if she doesn’t see me for a year....”
“There’s nobody ahead of you, anyway,” Maurice said, absently.
“Well, I don’t know,” John Bennett said again.
His voice was so harsh that Maurice’s preoccupation sharpened into uneasy attention. Johnny’s hopes and fears had not really touched him. His encouraging platitudes were only a way of smothering his own thoughts. But that, “Well, I don’t know—” woke a keenly attentive fear: was there anybody else? ("Not that that could make any difference to me.”)
“You ’don’t know’?” he said; “how do you mean? You think there is somebody?”
Johnny Bennett was silent; he had an impulse to say “you are several kinds of a fool, old man.” But he was silent.
“Why, Great Scott!” Maurice protested. “Buried up there in the mountains, she hardly knows a fellow—except you!—and me,” he added, with a laugh.