He came to the opening of the street where Dromore lived. She would be there, sitting by the fire in the big chair, playing with her kitten, thinking, dreaming, and—alone! He passed on at such a pace that people stared; till, turning the last corner for home, he ran almost into the arms of Oliver Dromore.
The young man was walking with unaccustomed indecision, his fur coat open, his opera-hat pushed up on his crisp hair. Dark under the eyes, he had not the proper gloss of a Dromore at this season of the year.
“Mr. Lennan! I’ve just been round to you.”
And Lennan answered dazedly:
“Will you come in, or shall I walk your way a bit?”
“I’d rather—out here, if you don’t mind.”
So in silence they went back into the Square. And Oliver said:
“Let’s get over by the rails.”
They crossed to the railings of the Square’s dark garden, where nobody was passing. And with every step Lennan’s humiliation grew. There was something false and undignified in walking with this young man who had once treated him as a father confessor to his love for Nell. And suddenly he perceived that they had made a complete circuit of the Square garden without speaking a single word.
“Yes?” he said.
Oliver turned his face away.
“You remember what I told you in the summer. Well, it’s worse now. I’ve been going a mucker lately in all sorts of ways to try and get rid of it. But it’s all no good. She’s got me!”
And Lennan thought: You’re not alone in that! But he kept silence. His chief dread was of saying something that he would remember afterwards as the words of Judas.
Then Oliver suddenly burst out:
“Why can’t she care? I suppose I’m nothing much, but she’s known me all her life, and she used to like me. There’s something—I can’t make out. Could you do anything for me with her?”
Lennan pointed across the street.
“In every other one of those houses, Oliver,” he said, “there’s probably some creature who can’t make out why another creature doesn’t care. Passion comes when it will, goes when it will; and we poor devils have no say in it.”
“What do you advise me, then?”
Lennan had an almost overwhelming impulse to turn on his heel and leave the young man standing there. But he forced himself to look at his face, which even then had its attraction—perhaps more so than ever, so pallid and desperate it was. And he said slowly, staring mentally at every word:
“I’m not up to giving you advice. The only thing I might say is: One does not press oneself where one isn’t wanted; all the same— who knows? So long as she feels you’re there, waiting, she might turn to you at any moment. The more chivalrous you are, Oliver, the more patiently you wait, the better chance you have.”
Oliver took those words of little comfort without flinching. “I see,” he said. “Thanks! But, my God! it’s hard. I never could wait.” And with that epigram on himself, holding out his hand, he turned away.