He was sorry he had climbed the stairway, sorry he had solved the mystery of the brocade gown, sorry he had lied, sorry, frenziedly sorry that whatever new thing slipped into his life, no matter how simple and beautiful it seemed, took on the familiar complexity fatal to his peace of mind.
But he was passionately grateful for the tense moment when Joan had seemed to turn to him for sympathy, a wild and lonely dryad of a girl in a mended gown.
THE BLOSSOM STORM
At nightfall, with his telegram to Garry depressingly linked with a memory of winding, sodden, lonely roads, dripping woods and the clink of milk-cans, Kenny was summoned to the sitting room of Adam Craig.
A fire burned in the open fireplace. Lamp-light softened the shabbiness of the old room and shone pleasantly on dark wood and a great many faded books. Later Kenny knew that every book in the farmhouse was here upon his shelves. Adam Craig sat huddled in a wheelchair. Kenny thought of the runaway who hated him. He thought of Joan. He thought of the bleak old rooms that seemed one in spirit with the man before him. A wrinkled, evil old man, he told himself with a shudder, with piercing eyes and a face Italian in its subtlety.
Adam Craig looked steadily at the Irishman in the doorway and found his stare returned. The gaze of neither faltered. So began what Kenny, when his singular relations with the old man had goaded him to startled appraisal, was pleased to call a “friendship that was never a friendship and a feud that was never a feud.”
“I sent you a message,” said Adam Craig.
“Your niece brought it.”
The old man tapped with slender, wasted fingers upon the arm of his chair.
“What was it?” he asked guilelessly.
“As I remember it,” stammered Kenny in surprise, “you were good enough to say that I might stay here as long as I chose.”
“Like all women and some Irishmen,” said Adam Craig, “she lied. I said you could stay as long as you were willing to pay.”
Kenny changed color. The invalid chose to misinterpret his interval of constraint.
“So,” he said softly, “you don’t always pay!”
The random shot of inference went home. It was the first of many. Kenny fought back his temper. Affronted, he crossed the room and laid a roll of bills upon the table. Craig counted them with an irritating show of care.
“That, Mr. O’Neill,” he said, “will guarantee my hospitality for the space of a month!”
He put the roll of money in the pocket of his bathrobe and Kenny fancied his fingers loathe to leave it.