“You really and truly need me?” doubtfully.
“Really and truly.”
“But if I come, you ought to know something of the life I have lived. You must realize that I am not an innocent young girl.”
“Aren’t you?” The professor found it difficult to say this with the proper inflection. It did not sound as business-like as he could have wished. But she was too much absorbed to notice.
“No. I’ve seen things which young girls do not see. I have heard things which are never whispered before them. No one cared particularly what I saw or heard. When I was smaller there was always someone—some ‘housekeeper.’ They were all kinds. None of them ever stayed long. Looking back, it seems as if they passed like lurid shadows. Only one of them seemed a real person. The others were husks. Her name was Lily. She was very stout, her face was red and her voice loud. But there was something real about Lily. And she was fond of children. She liked me. She went out of her lazy way to teach me wisdom—oh, yes, it was wisdom,” in answer to Spence’s horrified exclamation, “hard, sordid wisdom, the only wisdom which would have helped me through the back alleys of those days. I am unspeakably grateful to Lily. She spared me much, and once she saved me—I can’t tell you about that,” she finished simply.
Spence bit his lip on a word to which the expression of his face gave force and meaning. But Desire was not looking at him.
“Do you see why I am different from other girls?” She asked gravely.
The professor restrained himself. “I see that you are different,” he said. “I don’t care why. But I’m glad that you have told me what you have. It explains something that has bothered me—” he paused seeking words. But she caught up his thought with lightning intuition.
“You mean it explains why marriage isn’t beautiful to me, like it may be to a sheltered girl? Yes. I wanted you to see that. It may be holy, but it isn’t holy to me. I want to live my life apart from all that. To me it is smirched and sodden and hateful. And now, do you still wish me to come and be your secretary?”
“Now more than ever,” said Spence. It was only the sealing of a business transaction. But greatly to his annoyance he could not entirely control a certain warmth and eagerness.
Desire held out a frank hand.
“Then I will marry you when you are ready,” she said.
Being a delayed letter from Dr. John Rogers to his friend and patient, Benis Hamilton Spence.
Dear Idiot: I knew you would get it—and you got it. Perhaps after this you will learn to treat your sciatic nerve with proper respect. But there is a worse complaint than sciatica. It lasts longer. Certain symptoms of it are indicated in the things which your letter leaves unsaid. Beans, old thing, you alarm me.