“Unfortunately, I am not at present free to go,” he replied, more quietly, “for the reason that I have already accepted some professional work here. However, I agree not to trouble you again with my presence until—”
He paused in uncertainty as to his next word.
“You give me welcome.”
She extended her hand.
“You certainly speak with sufficient confidence.”
“‘Fools rush in where angels fear to tread,’” he quoted lightly; “and I herewith announce myself a firm believer in miracles.”
“Then your faith is about to be put to a most severe test.”
“I welcome that. Yet, if parting is insisted upon, we can, at least, remain friends. You certainly do not hold my words against me?”
The flush, although fainter, again crept into the clear cheeks, and her eyes fell before this questioning.
“No true woman ever remains wholly indifferent,” she acknowledged with swift frankness, “or neglects to think kindly in her secret heart of any one who has told her that story; and I am a woman.”
For a brief moment her hand rested warm and throbbing within his own, and there passed an electric flash of the eyes between them. Then she withdrew her fingers and opened the door.
“Good-bye,” she whispered, the word lingering like perfume, and vanished, even as he took a step toward her.
“HE MEANS FIGHT”
Winston remained staring blankly at the closed door behind which she had so swiftly vanished, his mind a chaos of doubt. He assuredly never purposed saying what he had said under the spur of deprivation, yet he regretted no single word that he had uttered. That he earnestly worshipped this briefly known woman was a fact borne in upon him suddenly; yet now, the fact once completely realized, he surrendered unconditionally to the inevitable. For a moment his thought of her obscured all lesser things; he saw nothing else in the wide world really worth striving after—every aroused impulse thrilled to the fair face, the soft voice of Beth Norvell. He was no “quitter,” no faint-heart either in love or in war, and he was now far too deeply in earnest to accept as final a stingless rejection spoken by lips that were so openly contradicted by the smiling eyes above. Whatever of stern necessity might have inspired the utterance of such words of cold renunciation, it was assuredly neither indifference nor dislike. He forgave the lips, recalling only the eyes.