“You have wondered about me—in a psychological way—ever since you came.” She went on, her voice taking on a harsher note. “You have been trying to ‘place’ me. Well, since you are curious I will tell you what I am. When I was younger and we lived in towns I used to wander off by myself down the main streets to gaze in the windows. I never went into any of the stores. The things I wanted were inside and for sale—but I could not buy them. I was just a window-gazer. That’s what I am still. Life is for sale somewhere. But I cannot buy it.”
The throb of her voice was like the beating of caged wings through the quiet room.
“But—” began Spence, and then he paused. It wasn’t at all easy to know what to say. “You are mistaken,” he went on finally. “Life isn’t for sale anywhere. Life is inside, not outside. And no one ever really wants the things they see in other people’s windows.”
“I do,” said Desire coldly.
She was certainty very young! Spence felt suddenly indulgent.
“What, then—for instance?” he asked.
The girl shook back her hair and arose.
“Freedom, money, leisure, books, travel, people!”
“I thought you were going to leave out people altogether,” said Spence, whimsically. “But otherwise your wants are fairly comprehensive. You have neglected only two important things—health and love.”
“I have health—and I don’t want love.”
“Not yet—of course—” began the professor, still fatherly indulgent. But she turned on him with a white face.
“Never!” she said. “That one thing I envy no one. You are wondering why I have never considered marriage as a possible way out? Well, it isn’t a possible way—for me. Marriage is a hideous thing—hideous!”
She wasn’t young now, that was certain. It was no child who stood there with a face of sick distaste. The professor’s mood of indulgent maturity melted into dismay before the half-seen horror in her eyes.
But the moment of revelation passed as quickly as it had come. The girl’s face settled again into its grave placidity.
“I’ll get the tea,” she said. “The kettle will be boiling dry.”
In the form of a letter from Professor Spence to his friend, Dr. John Rogers.
No letter yet from you, Bones; Bainbridge must be having the measles. Or perhaps I am not allowing for the fact that it takes almost a fortnight to go and come across this little bit of Empire. Also Li Ho hasn’t been across the Inlet for a week. He says “Tillicum too muchy hole. Li Ho long time patch um.”
On still days, I can hear him doing it. Perhaps my hostess is right and we are not so far away from the beach as I fancied on the night of my arrival. I’ll test this detail, and many others, soon. For today I am sitting up. I’m sure I could walk a little, if I were to try. But I am not in a hurry. Hurry is a vice of youth.