She was silent for so long a time that the professor had opportunity to think of many things. And, as he thought, his heart went down— and down. She would refuse. He knew it. The clean edge of her mind would cut through all his tangle of words right to the core of the real issue, And the core of the real issue was not as sound as it would need to be to satisfy her demands. For in that core still lay a possibility, the possibility of love. He had not eliminated love. Many a man has loved after thirty-five. Many a girl who has sworn— but no, she would not admit this possibility in her own case. It was only in his case that she would recognize it. She would see the weak spot there.... She would refuse. He could feel refusal gathering in her heart. And his own heart beat hotly in his throat. For if this failed, what other way was left? Yet to go and leave her here, alone in that rotting cottage on the hill. . .. the prey of any ghastly fate.... no, it couldn’t be done. He must convince her. He must.
“My friend,” said Desire (he loved her odd, old-fashioned way of calling him “my friend"), “I admit that you have tempted me. But—I can’t. It wouldn’t be fair. It is easy to feel sure for one’s self but it’s another thing to be sure for others. A marriage of that kind would not satisfy you. You say your outlook is wider than mine and of course it is. But I have seen more than you think. Even men who are tremendously interested in their work, like you, want—other things. They want what they call love, even if to them it always sinks to second place, if indeed it means nothing more than distraction. And love would mean more than that to you. I have an instinct which tells me that, in your case, love will come. You must be free to take it.”
It was final. He felt its finality, and more than ever he swore that it should not be so. There must be an argument somewhere—wait!
“Supposing,” said Spence haltingly, “Supposing.... supposing I am not free now? Supposing love has come—and gone?”
He was not a good liar. But his very ineptitude helped him here. It tangled the words on his tongue, it brought a convincing dew upon his forehead. “I’d rather not talk about it,” he finished. “But you see what I mean.”
“Yes. I hadn’t thought of that. It might make a difference. I should want to be very sure. If there were any chance—”
“There is no chance. Positively none. That experience, which you say you feel was a necessary experience in my case, is over and done with. It cannot recur. I am not the man to—to—” he was really unable to go on. But she finished it for him.
“To love twice,” said Desire, looking out over the sea. “Yes I can understand that—what did you say?”
“I think I may be able to walk now,” said the professor.
With the recovery of a leg sufficiently workable in the matter of climbing stairs, Dr. Farr’s boarder had resigned the family couch in the sitting-room and had retired to his spartan chamber under the eaves. From its open window that night he watched the moon. Let nothing happen to the universe in the meantime, and there would be a full moon on Friday night. The professor hoped that nothing would happen.