And Donald had not written.
Kenny, as the days slipped by, faced a new and tragic problem. October was at hand. Work beckoned with urgent hand. If he did not go soon somebody would have to balance up his check book for him and tell him how long he could live without working. Brian, dear lad, had been a jewel at figures.
But how could he work with the thought of the winter wind and Joan tormenting him? And the snow-bound cabin in the pines? And the ferry and the ladder of icy vine? And Adam Craig?
He could not, would not go! And where in the name of all lunatics was Brian? Life in the studio without him would be impossible. What did he intend to do? Could he, Kenny, settle down to work with the problem of his penitential quest for his son still unsettled?
And why in the name of the Sacred Question-mark, was his life a string of questions!
In the end he fled from Adam’s tongue. So he told himself. In reality panic plunged him into action. His summer was ending. His madness was not. And for that alarming fact he blamed Brian.
“I was worried,” he remembered irritably, “and just in the mood to make a colossal fool of myself. And I have!”
Otherwise this seizure must have run its course by now. It bothered him that he had pledged himself to linger at the farm until Joan was quite herself. Surely the gods of love and honor would understand that he had foreseen no such troublous dilemma as that which faced him now. He must take himself in hand. He must find an undisturbing level of common sense and keep his roving feet upon it. The need was drastic.
“I’ll be back in a month,” he told Joan, his lips white with compassion for himself and her, and stared moodily at the blaze of autumn on the hills, knowing he would not return. “Often I’ve longed for a winter of sketching in such a wild and lonely spot.”
“And then,” said Joan, “when Donald writes you must be here.”
“I must be here,” said Kenny.
That he felt was the kindest way. Surely, surely it was the kindest. It saved Joan the painful thought of permanent separation. In a month without him she would soon forget. A month, he knew of old, worked wonders. Absence, he had proved again and again, never made a heart grow fonder. Propinquity was at once a danger and a cure.
Joan waved him down the farm lane, her soft eyes wistful. An adorable will-of-the-wisp! Almost he could not bring himself to leave her. But for Hughie’s eyes, he would have vaulted from the farm buggy, crying her name.
“The farm,” she had said with frank tears in her eyes, “will be just like a grave without you.”
Kenny knew it would.
The studio he found could match it.
Things went badly from the start. Whitaker for one thing claimed to have lost track of Brian and Kenny thought he lied. For another, he could not bring himself to work. A sense in the studio of a presence gone, he told Garry, haunted him, Brian’s lazy authoritative guardianship and the comparative order to which he could reduce existence when he chose were indispensable to his daily comfort.