Interspersed with these details she recounted incidents of her London life as an ambulance-driver, and it was all her listener could do to follow the swift irrelevance of her course. Only once did she pause when, in answer to his question, she told him she had heard nothing of Dick.
A few minutes later she rose to go.
‘I have stayed much too long,’ she said. ’I do hope you’ll get better quickly.’
He took her hand in his, but made no attempt to translate the meaning of the moment into language. He had worked against her country; while she plied her rounds of mercy, he had written on the debasement and the fallacy of it all. Lying in the wreck of his idealism, in the grip of physical pain, dreading the torture of his own thoughts, could he express what her coming had meant? He wanted to tell her of his heart-hunger, of his loneliness, his gratitude, understanding, reverence, and, above all, of his love. There was so much that it made him silent.
‘Good-bye, Elise,’ he said.
‘Good-bye,’ she answered.
That was the end. Of such paltry substance are words.
‘By Gar!’ said the French-Canadian, looking after her as she disappeared down the ward, ’she mak me tink of my leetle girl Marie; only Marie, mebbe, is only so high, comme ca, and got de black hair, so! I am homeseek. Yes. It mak me verra homeseek. Godam!’
She did not come again. Every morning his heart quickened with hope, and each afternoon grew heavy with discouragement as the hours passed by without the step he listened for. The arrival of the mail was an instant of mad expectancy and mute resignation. But every day carried its cargo of renewed hope, and he grudged the very hours of sleep that separated him from it.
He wrote to her three times—pleaded with her to come again. He begged forgiveness for omitted or committed things which might have hurt her, but no reply came. He thought of writing to Roselawn, fancying she might have gone there, but he was certain that before the letter could reach her she would have come again, and they would only laugh at the idea of any misunderstanding.
He blamed himself for a hundred imaginary crimes. He had not asked her if she would return. Perhaps he had carelessly uttered words that wounded her. He knew her pride; knew that after their parting at the flat it must have been hard for her to make the first move towards reconciliation—and she might have mistaken his joy for petty personal triumph.
Or—had he been an utter fool? Was this her punishment of him? With the consummate artistry of her sex, had she simulated sympathy and forbearance to make his torture all the more exquisite? He dismissed the suggestion as something vile, but, feeding on his doubts and longings, it grew stronger and more insistent with every hour’s passing. A hundred times a day he closed his eyes and lived the sweet memory of her visit; but with the gathering arraignments of his doubts, he wondered if it had all been the studied act of the English girl’s reprisal on the American who had dared to challenge her nation.