“For Heaven’s sake, George,” I exclaimed, “what is the matter with you?”
“I’ve an idea I’m spleeny,” he replied with a ghastly attempt at a smile. This was too much for me. He should have the lecture after all. The man who thinks he is dying may be spleeny, but the man who says he is spleeny is, of the two, the one more likely to be dying.
“See here, old man,” I began, “don’t you get to thinking that when you hide your own head in the sand no one can see the colour of your feathers. You might as well try to cover up Bunker Hill Monument with a wisp of straw. Don’t you suppose I know you love Gwen Darrow? That’s what’s the matter with you.”
“Well,” he replied, “and if it is, what then?”
“What then?” I ejaculated. “What then? Why go to her like a man; tell her you love her and ask her to be your wife. That’s what I’d do if I loved—” But he interrupted me before I had finished the lie, and I was not sorry, for, if I had thought before I became involved in that last sentence, how I feared to speak to Jeannette —well, I should have left it unsaid. I have made my living giving advice till it has become a fixed habit.
“See here, Doc,” he broke in upon me, “I do love Gwen Darrow as few men ever love a woman, and the knowledge that she can never be my wife is killing me. Don’t interrupt me! I know what I am saying. She can never be my wife! Do you think I would sue for her hand? Do you think I would be guilty of making traffic of her gratitude? Has she not her father’s command to wed me if I but ask her, even as she would have wed that scoundrel, Godin, had things gone as he planned them? Did she not tell us both that she should keep her covenant with her father though it meant for her a fate worse than death? And you would have me profit by her sacrifice? For shame! Love may wither my heart till it rustles in my breast like a dried leaf, but I will never, never let her know how I love her. And see here, Doc, promise me that you will not tell her I love her—nay, I insist on it.”
Thus importuned I said, though it went much against the grain, for that was the very thing I had intended, “She shall not learn it first through me.” This seemed to satisfy him, for he said no more upon the subject. When I went back to Gwen I was in no better frame of mind than when I left her. Here were two people so determined to be miserable in spite of everything and everybody that I sought Jeannette by way of counter-irritant for my wounded sympathy.
Ah, Jeannette! Jeannette! to this day the sound of your sweet name is like a flash of colour to the eye. You were a bachelor’s first and last love, and he will never forget you.
All human things cease—some
end. Happy are they who can spring
the hard and brittle bar of experience into a bow of promise. For
such, there shall ever more be an orderly gravitation.