“If you will tell me what you are talking about—”
“Read it. It is plain enough.”
The professor slowly opened the folded sheet. It was a longer note than the one she had left for him.
“Dear John,” he read, “if I I’d known yesterday that I would leave so soon I could have said good-bye. But my decision was made suddenly. I think you must have seen how it is with Benis and Mary and I can’t go “with-out telling you that I knew about it from the first. I don’t want you to blame Benis. He told me about it before we were married, and I took the risk with my eyes open. How could he, or I, have guessed that he had given up hope too soon?—and anyway, it wasn’t in the bargain that I should love him.—It just happened.—He is desperately unhappy. Help him if you can.—Your affectionate Desire.”
“My affectionate Desire!” mocked John, still in that high, strained voice which now was perilously near a sob. “That—that is what I was to her, a convenient friend! You—you had it all. And let it go, for the sake of that blond-haired, deer-eyed, fashion plate—”
“That’s enough! You are not an hysterical girl. Sit down. . . . I can’t understand this, John. I thought—”
The two men looked at each other, a long look in which distrust at least was faced and ended. The excited flush, died out of John’s cheek. He looked weary and shame-faced.
“I thought she loved you,” said Spence simply.
The doctor’s eyes fell. It was his honest admission that he, too, had thought this possible.
“Even now,” went on the professor haltingly, “I can-not believe . . . it doesn’t seem possible . . . me? . . . John, does the letter mean that Desire loves me?”
John Rogers nodded, turning away.
Silence fell between them.
“What will you do—about the other?” asked the doctor presently.
“What other? There is no other. I loved Desire from the very first night I saw her. I didn’t know it, then. It was all new. And,” with a bitter smile, “so different from what one expects. Mary was never any-thing but the figure of straw I told you of. I thought,” naively, “that Desire had forgotten Mary.”
“Did you?” said John. “Why man, the woman doesn’t live who would forget! And Miss Davis filled the bill to the last item—even the name ’Mary’.”
“Oh what a pal was M-Mary!” croaked Yorick obligingly.
“The bird, too!” said John. “Everyone doing his little best to sustain the illusion—even, if I am any judge, the lady herself.”
But Benis Spence had never wasted time upon the lady herself. And he did not begin now. With a face which had suddenly become years younger he was searching frantically in his desk for the transcontinental time-table.
The train crawled.
Although it was a fast express whose speed might well provoke the admiration of travellers, in one traveller it provoked nothing save grim endurance. Beside the consuming impatience of Benis Hamilton Spence, its best effort was a little thing. When it slowed, he fidgeted, when it stopped he fumed. He wanted to get out and push it.