The maid, who one Saturday in July opened the door to Jimmy Fort, had never heard the name of Laird, for she was but a unit in the ceaseless procession which pass through the boarding-houses of places subject to air-raids. Placing him in a sitting-room, she said she would find Miss ’Allow. There he waited, turning the leaves of an illustrated Journal, wherein Society beauties; starving Servians, actresses with pretty legs, prize dogs, sinking ships, Royalties, shells bursting, and padres reading funeral services, testified to the catholicity of the public taste, but did not assuage his nerves. What if their address were not known here? Why, in his fear of putting things to the test, had he let this month go by? An old lady was sitting by the hearth, knitting, the click of whose needles blended with the buzzing of a large bee on the window-pane. ’She may know,’ he thought, ‘she looks as if she’d been here for ever.’ And approaching her, he said:
“I can assure you those socks are very much appreciated, ma’am.”
The old lady bridled over her spectacles.
“It passes the time,” she said.
“Oh, more than that; it helps to win the war, ma’am.”
The old lady’s lips moved at the corners; she did not answer. ‘Deaf!’ he thought.
“May I ask if you knew my friends, Doctor and Mrs. Laird, and Miss Pierson?”
The old lady cackled gently.
“Oh, yes! A pretty young girl; as pretty as life. She used to sit with me. Quite a pleasure to watch her; such large eyes she had.”
“Where have they gone? Can you tell me?”
“Oh, I don’t know at all.”
It was a little cold douche on his heart. He longed to say: ’Stop knitting a minute, please. It’s my life, to know.’ But the tune of the needles answered: ‘It’s my life to knit.’ And he turned away to the window.
“She used to sit just there; quite still; quite still.”
Fort looked down at the window-seat. So, she used to sit just here, quite still.
“What a dreadful war this is!” said the old lady. “Have you been at the front?”
“To think of the poor young girls who’ll never have husbands! I’m sure I think it’s dreadful.”
“Yes,” said Fort; “it’s dreadful—” And then a voice from the doorway said: