It was still quite light inside the tent and the doctor could see the picture clearly. It was an extraordinarily good one, quite in the professor’s happiest style. Composition, lighting, timing, all were perfect. But it is doubtful if John Rogers noticed any of these excellencies. He was absorbed at once and utterly in the personality of the person photographed. This was a girl, bending over a still pool. The pose was one of perfectly arrested grace and the face which was lifted, as if at the approach of someone, looked directly out of the picture and into Roger’s eyes. It was the most living picture he had ever seen. The lips were parted as if for speech, there was a smile behind the widely opened eyes. And both face and form were beautiful.
The doctor straightened up with a sharply drawn breath. It seemed that something had happened. For one flashing instant some inner knowledge had linked him with his own unlived experience. It was gone as soon as it came. He did not even realize it, save as a sense of strangeness. Yet, as a chemist lifts a vial and drops the one drop which changes all within his crucible, so some magic philtre tinged John Roger’s cup of life in that one stolen look.
“Have you found anything?” Aunt Caroline’s voice came impatiently.
But to himself he added “everything” for indeed the mystery of Benis seemed a mystery no longer. The photograph made everything clear. And yet not so clear, either. The doctor looked around at the ship-shape bachelorness of the tent, at the neat pile of newly typed manuscript upon the bed, and felt bewildered. Even the eccentricity of Benis, in its most extravagant mode, seemed inadequate as a covering explanation.
Giving himself a mental shake, the intruder picked up the largest chair and rejoined Aunt Caroline.
“It’s Benis right enough,” he announced. “He is probably off interviewing Indians. I had better light a fire. It may break the news.”
We left the professor somewhat abruptly in the midst of a cryptic ejaculation of “My Aunt!”
“How can it be your Aunt?” asked Desire reasonably.
“I don’t know how. But, owing to some mysterious combination of the forces of nature, it is my Aunt. No one else could wear that hat.”
“Then hadn’t we better go to meet her? You can’t sit here all night.”
“I know I can’t. It’s too near. We didn’t see her soon enough!”
“Cowardly custard!” said Desire, stamping her foot.
The professor’s mild eyes blinked at her in surprise. “Good!” he said with satisfaction. “That is the first remark suitable to your extreme youth that I’ve ever heard you make. But the sentiment it implies is all wrong. Physical courage, as such, is mere waste when opposed to my Aunt. What is wanted is technique. Technique requires thought. Thought requires leisure. That is why I am sitting here behind a boulder—what is she doing now?”