“Oh, Jim, he’s wonderful!” cried Fanny, half laughing, half crying, and altogether lovely.
“I suppose you think so. But after the way he’s treated you— By George, Fan! I can’t see—”
Fanny drew herself up proudly.
“Of course I haven’t talked much about it, Jim,” she said, with dignity; “but Wesley and I had a—a little misunderstanding. It’s all explained away now.”
And to this meager explanation she stubbornly adhered, through subsequent soul-searching conversations with her mother, and during the years of married life that followed. In time she came to believe it, herself; and the “little misunderstanding with Wesley” and its romantic denouement became a well-remembered milestone, wreathed with sentiment.
But poised triumphant on this pinnacle of joy, she yet had time to think of another than herself.
“Jim,” said she, a touch of matronly authority already apparent in her manner. “I’ve wanted for a long time to talk to you seriously about Ellen.”
“About Ellen?” he repeated.
“Jim, she’s awfully fond of you. I think you’ve treated her cruelly.”
“Look here, Fan,” said Jim, “don’t you worry yourself about Ellen Dix. She’s not in love with me, and never was.”
Having thus spoken, Jim would not say another word. He gulped down his supper and was off. He kissed Fanny when he went.
“Hope you’ll be happy, and all that,” he told her rather awkwardly. Fanny looked after him swinging down the road. “I guess it’s all right between him and Ellen,” she thought.
Jim had no definite plan as he tramped down the road in the falling darkness. He felt uncertain and miserable as he speculated with regard to Lydia. She could not guess at half the unkind things people must be saying; but she would ask for the bread of sympathy and they would give her a stone. He wished he might carry her away, shielding her and comforting her against the storm. He knew he would willingly give his life to make her happier. Of course she did not care for him. How could she? Who was he—Jim Dodge—to aspire to a girl like Lydia?
The wind had risen again and was driving dark masses of cloud across the sky; in the west a sullen red flared up from behind the hills, touching the lower edges of the vaporous mountains with purple. In a small, clear space above the red hung the silver sickle of the new moon, and near it shone a single star.... Lydia was like that star, he told himself—as wonderful, as remote.