Oddly enough, there was another man in the car who was having precisely the same difficulty in deciphering his newspaper. At about the same time they both gave up the attempt; and their eyes met. And they laughed aloud. And presently, seated together, they fell into good talk, but each refrained pointedly from asking the other where he was going.
With a splendid assumption of innocence, they drove together across Boston, and remarking nothing on the coincidence, each distinctly heard the other checking his luggage for Portland, Maine.
Side by side they rolled out of Portland and saw familiar trees and hills go by. Presently Aladdin chuckled:
“Where are you going, Peter, anyway?” he said.
“Just where you are,” said Peter.
Peter,” said Aladdin, presently, “it seems to me that for two such old friends we are lacking in confidence. I know precisely what you are thinking about, and you know precisely what I am. We mustn’t play the jealous rivals to the last; and to put it plainly, Peter, if God is going to be good to you instead of me, why, I’m going to try and thank God just the same. A personal disappointment is a purely private matter and has no license to upset old ties and affections. Does it occur to you that we are after the same thing and that one of us isn’t going to get it?”
“We won’t let it make any difference,” said Peter, stoutly.
“That’s just it,” said Aladdin. “We mustn’t.”
“The situation—“Peter began.
“Is none the less difficult, I know. Here we are with a certain amount of leave to occupy as we each see fit. And, unfortunately, there’s only one thing which seems fit to either of us. And, equally unfortunately, it’s something we can’t hold hands and do at the same time. Shall I go straight from the station to Mrs. Brackett’s and wait until you’ve had your say, Peter?—not that I want to wait very long,” he added.
“That wouldn’t be at all fair,” said Peter.
“Do you mind,” said Aladdin after a pause, “telling me about what your chances are?”
Peter reddened uncomfortably.
“I’m afraid they’re not very good, ’Laddin,” he said. “She —she said she wasn’t sure. And that’s a good deal more apt to mean nothing than everything, but I can’t straighten my life out till I’m sure.”
“My chances,” said Aladdin, critically, “shouldn’t by rights be anywhere near as good as yours, but as long as they remain chances I feel just the same as you do about yours, and want to get things straightened out. But if I were any kind of a man, I’d drop it, because I’m not in her class.”
“Nonsense,” said Peter.
“No, I’m not,” said Aladdin, gloomily. “I know that. But, Peter, what is a man going to do, a single, solitary, pretty much good-for-nothing man, with three great bouncing Fates lined up against him?”