ISABEL ECCLESTONE MACKAY
So in ye matere of Life's goodlie showe Some buy what doth them plese. While others stand withoute and gaze thereinne— Your eare, good folk, for these! —OLD ENGLISH RHYME.
ISABEL ECCLESTONE MACKAY
AUTHOR OF "MIST OF MORNING," "UP THE HILL AND OVER," "THE SHINING SHIP," ETC.
Professor Spence sat upon an upturned keg—and shivered. No one had told him that there might be fog and he had not happened to think of it for himself. Still, fog in a coast city at that time of the year was not an unreasonable happening and the professor was a reasonable man. It wasn't the fog he blamed so much as the swiftness of its arrival. Fifteen minutes ago the world had been an ordinary world. He had walked about in it freely, if somewhat irritably, following certain vague directions of the hotel clerk as to the finding of Johnston's wharf. He had found Johnston's wharf; extracted it neatly from a very wilderness of wharves, a feat upon which Mr. Johnston, making boats in a shed at the end of it, had complimented him highly.
"There's terrible few as finds me just off," said Mr. Johnston. "Hours it takes 'em sometimes, sometimes days." It was clear that he was restrained from adding "weeks" only by a natural modesty.
At the time, this emphasizing of the wharf's seclusion had seemed extravagant, but now the professor wasn't so sure. For the wharf had again mysteriously lost itself. And Mr. Johnston had lost himself, and the city and the streets of it, and the sea and its ships were all lost—there was nothing left anywhere save a keg (of nails) and Professor Benis Hamilton Spence sitting upon it. Around him was nothing but a living, pulsing whiteness, which pushed momentarily nearer.
It was interesting. But it was really very cold. The professor, who had suffered much from sciatica owing to an injury of the left leg, remembered that he had been told by his medical man never to allow himself to shiver; and here he was, shivering violently without so much as asking his own leave. And the fog crept closer. He put out his hands to push it back—and immediately his hands were lost too. "Really," murmured the professor, "this is most interesting!" Nevertheless, he reclaimed his hands and placed them firmly in his coat pockets.
He began to wish that he had stayed with Mr. Johnston in the boat shed, pending the arrival of the launch which, so certain letters in his pocket informed him, would leave Johnston's wharf at 5 o'clock, or there-abouts, Mondays and Fridays. Mr. Johnston had felt very uncertain about this. "Though she does happen along off and on," he said optimistically, "and she might come today. Not," he added with commendable caution, "that I'd call old Doc. Farr's boat a 'launch' myself."
"What," asked Professor Spence, "would you call her yourself?"
"Don't know as I can just hit on a name," said Mr. Johnston. "Doesn't come natural to me to be free with language."
It had been pleasant enough on the wharf at first and certainly it had been worth something to see the fog come in. Its incredible advance, wave upon wave of massed and silent whiteness, had held him spellbound. While he had thought it still far off, it was upon him—around him, behind him, everywhere!
But perhaps it would go as quickly as it had come.
He had heard that this is sometimes a characteristic of fog. Fortunately he had already selected a keg upon which to sit, so with a patient fatalism, product of a brief but lurid career in Flemish trenches, he resigned himself to wait. The keg was dry, that was something, and if he spread the newspaper in his pocket over the most sciatic part of the shrapneled leg he might escape with nothing more than twinges.
How beautiful it was—this salt shroud from the sea! How it eddied and funneled and whorled, now massing thick like frosted glass, now thinning to a web of tissue. Suddenly, while he watched, a lane broke through. He saw clearly the piles at the wharf's end, a glimpse of dark water, and, between him and it, a figure huddled in a cloak—a female figure, also sitting upon an upturned keg. Then the magic mist closed in again.
"How the deuce did she get there?" the professor asked himself crossly. "She wasn't there before the fog came." He remembered having noticed that keg while choosing his own and there had been no woman sitting on it then. "Anyway," he reflected, "I don't know her and I won't have to speak to her." The thought warmed him so that he almost forgot to shiver. From which you may gather that Professor Spence was a bachelor, comparatively young; that he was of a retiring disposition and the object of considerable unsolicited attention in his own home town.
He arose cautiously from the keg of nails. It might be well to return to the boatshed, even at the risk of falling into the Inlet. But he had not proceeded very far before, suddenly, as he had hoped it would, the mist began to lift. Swiftly, before the puff of a warmer breeze, it eddied and thinned. Its soundless, impalpable pressure lessened. The wharf, the sea, the city began to steal back, sly, expressionless, pretending that they had been there all the time. Even Mr. Johnston could be clearly seen coming down from the boatshed with a curious figure beside him—a figure so odd and unfamiliar that he might have been part of the unfamiliar fog itself.
"Well, you've certainly struck it lucky today," called the genial Mr. Johnston. "This here is Doc. Farr's boy. He's going right back over there now and he'll take you along—if you want to go."
There was a disturbing cadence of doubt in the latter part of his speech which affected the professor's always alert curiosity, as did also the appearance of the "boy" reputed to belong to Dr. Farr. How old he was no one could have guessed. The yellow parchment of his face was ageless; ageless also the inscrutable, blank eyes. Only one thing was certain—he had never been young. For the rest, he was utterly composed and indifferent, and unmistakably Chinese.
"I hope there is no mistake," said Professor Spence hesitatingly. "Dr. Farr certainly informed me that this was the wharf at which his launch usually—er—tied up. But—there could scarcely be two doctors of that name, I suppose? It's somewhat uncommon."
"Oh, it's him you want," assured Mr. Johnston. "Only man of that name hereabouts. Lives out across the Narrows somewheres. Used to live here in Vancouver years ago but now he don't honor us much. Queer old skate! They say he's got some good Indian things, though—if it's them you're after?"
The professor ignored the question but pondered the information.
"I think you are right. It must be the same person," he said. "But he certainly led me to expect—"
A chuckle from the boat-builder interrupted him. "Ah, he'd do that, all right," grinned Mr. Johnston. "They do say he has a special gift that way."
"Well, thank you very much anyway." The professor offered his hand cordially. "And if we're going, we had better go."
"You'll be a tight fit in the launch," said Mr. Johnston. "Miss Farr's down 'ere somewhere. I saw her pass."
"Miss Farr!" The professor's ungallant horror was all too patent. He turned haunted eyes toward the second nail keg, now plainly visible and unoccupied.
"Missy in boat. She waitee. No likee!" said the Chinaman, speaking for the first time.
"But," began the professor, and then, seeing the appreciative grin upon Mr. Johnston's speaking countenance, he continued blandly—"Very well, let us not keep the lady waiting. Especially as she doesn't like it. Take this bag, my man, it's light. I'll carry the other."
With no words, and no apparent effort, the old man picked up both bags and shuffled off. The professor followed. At the end of the wharf there were steps and beneath the steps a small floating platform to which was secured what the professor afterwards described as "a marine vehicle, classification unknown." Someone, girl or woman, hidden in a loose, green coat, was already seated there. A pair of dark eyes looked up impatiently.
"I am afraid you were not expecting me," said the professor. "I am Hamilton Spence. Your father—"
"You're getting your feet wet," said the person in the coat. "Please jump in."
The professor jumped. He hadn't jumped since the sciatica and he didn't do it gracefully. But it landed him in the boat. The Chinaman was already in his place. A rattle and a roar arose, the air turned suddenly to gasoline and they were off.
"Has it a name?" asked the professor as soon as he could make himself heard.
The professor was not feeling amiable. "It might be easier to refer to it in conversation if one knew its name," he remarked, "'Launch' seems a trifle misleading."
There was a moment's silence. Then, "I suppose 'launch' is what father called it," said his companion. He could have sworn that there was cool amusement in her tone. "I see your difficulty," she went on. "But, fortunately, it has a name of its own. It is called the Tillicum.'"
"As such I salute it!" said Spence, gravely.
The other made no attempt to continue the conversation. She retired into the fastness of the green cloak, leaving the professor to ponder the situation. It seemed on the face of it an absurd situation enough, yet there should certainly be nothing absurd in it. Spence felt a somewhat bulky package of letters even now in the pocket of his coat. These letters were real and sensible enough. They comprised his correspondence with one Dr. Herbert Farr, Vancouver, B. C. As letters they were quite charming. The earlier ones had dealt with the professor's pet subject, primitive psychology. The later ones had been more personal. Spence found himself remembering such phrases as "my humble but picturesque home," "my Chinese servant, a factotum extraordinary," "my young daughter who attends to all my simple wants" and "my secretary on whose efficient aid I more and more depend—"
"I suppose there is a secretary?" he asked suddenly.
"Oh yes," answered the green cloak, "I'm it."
"And, 'a young daughter who attends'—"
"—'to all my simple wants?' That's me, too."
"But you can't be 'my Chinese servant, a factotum extraordinary?'"
"No, you have already met Li Ho."
"There?" queried the professor, gesturing weakly.
Spence pulled himself together. "There must be a home, though," he asserted firmly, "'Humble but picturesque'—"
"Well," admitted the voice from the green cloak, "it is rather picturesque. And it is certainly humble."
Suddenly she laughed. It was a very young laugh. The professor felt relieved. She was a girl, then, not a woman.
"Isn't father too' amusing?" she asked pleasantly.
"Quite too much so," agreed the professor. He was very cold. "I beg your pardon," he added stiffly, remembering his manners.
"Oh, I don't mind!" The girl assured him. "Father is a dreadful old fraud. I have no illusions. But perhaps it isn't so bad after all. He really is quite an authority on the West Coast Indians,—if that is what you wish to consult him about."
Professor Spence was in a quandary. But perfect frankness seemed indicated.
"I didn't come to consult him about anything," he said slowly. "I am a psychologist. I wish to do my own observing, at first hand. I came not to question Dr. Farr, but to board with him."
"BOARD WITH HIM!"
In her heartfelt surprise the girl turned to him and he saw her face, young, arresting, and excessively indignant.
"Quite so," he said. "Do not excite yourself. I perceive the impossibility. I can't have you attending to my wants, however simple. Neither can I share the services of a secretary whose post, I gather, is an honorary one. But I simply cannot go back to Mr. Johnston's grin: so if you can put me up for the night—"
She had turned away again and was silent for so long that Spence became uneasy. But at last she spoke.
"This is really too bad of father! He has never done anything quite as absurd as this before. I don't quite see what he expected to get out of it. He might know that you would not stay. He wouldn't want you to stay. I can't understand—unless," her voice became crisp with sudden enlightenment, "unless you were foolish enough to pay in advance! Surely you did not do that?"
The professor was observing his boots in an abstracted way.
"I am afraid my feet are very wet," he remarked.
"They are. They are resting in at least an inch of water," she said coldly. "But that isn't answering my question. Did you pay my father anything in advance?"
The professor fidgeted.
"A small payment in advance is not very unusual," he offered. "Especially if one's prospective host is anxious to add a few little unaccustomed luxuries—"
"Yes, yes," she interrupted rudely. "I recognize the phrase!" Without looking up he felt her wrathful gaze upon his face. "It means that father has simply done you brown. Oh, well, it's your own fault. You're old enough to know your way about. And the luxuries you will enjoy at our place will certainly be unaccustomed ones. Didn't you even ask for references?"
Her tone irritated the professor unaccountably.
"Are we nearly there?" he asked, disdaining to answer. "I am extremely cold."
"You will have a nice climb to warm you," she told him grimly, "all up hill!"
"'A verdant slope,'" quoted the professor sweetly, "'rising gently from salt water toward snowclad peaks, which, far away,—'" They caught each other's eyes and laughed.
"Here is our landing," said the girl quite cheerfully. "And none too soon! I suppose you haven't noticed it, but the 'Tillicum' is leaking like a sieve!"
Salt in the air and the breath of pine and cedar are excellent sleep inducers. Professor Spence had not expected to sleep that night; yet he did sleep. He awoke to find the sun high. A great beam of it lay across the foot of his camp cot, bringing comforting warmth to the toes which protruded from the shelter of abbreviated blankets. The professor wiggled his toes cautiously. He was accustomed to doing this before making more radical movements. They were a valuable index to the state of the sciatic nerve. This morning they wiggled somewhat stiffly and there were also various twinges. But considering the trying experiences of yesterday it was surprising that they could wiggle at all. He lifted himself slowly—and sank back with a relieved sigh. It would have been embarrassing, he thought, had he not been able to get up.
All men have their secret fears and Professor Spence's secret fear was embodied in a story which his friend and medical adviser (otherwise "Old Bones") had seen fit to cite as a horrible example. It concerned a man who had sciatica and who didn't take proper care of him-self. One day this man went for a walk and fell suddenly upon the pavement unable to move or even to explain matters satisfactorily to a heartless policeman who insisted that he was drunk. The doctor had laughed over this story; doctors are notoriously inhuman. The professor had laughed also, but the possible picture of him-self squirming helplessly before a casually interested public had terrors which no enemies' shrapnel had ever been able to inspire.
Well, thank heaven it hadn't happened yet! The professor confided his satisfaction to an inquisitive squirrel which swung, bright eyed, from a branch which swept the window, and, sitting up, prepared to take stock of the furnishings of his room. A grim smile signalled his discovery that there were no furnishings to take stock of. Save for his camp bed, an affair of stout canvas stretched between crossed legs, the room was beautifully bare. Not a chair, not a wash-stand, not a table cumbered it—unless a round, flat tree stump, which looked as if it might have grown up through the floor, was intended for both washstand and table. It had served the latter purpose at any rate as upon it rested the candle-stick containing the solitary candle by which he had got himself to bed.
"Single room, without bath," murmured the professor. "Oh, if my Aunt Caroline could see me now!"
Oddly enough, something in the thought of Aunt Caroline seemed to have a reconciling effect upon Aunt Caroline's nephew. He lay back upon his one thin pillow and reviewed his position with surprising fortitude. After all, Aunt Caroline couldn't see him—and that was something. Besides, it had been an adventure. It was surprising how he had come to look for adventures since that day, five years ago, when the grim adventure of war had called him from the peace-filled beginnings of what he had looked forward to as a life of scholarly leisure. He had been thirty, then, and quite done with adventuring. Now he was thirty-five and—well, he supposed the war had left him restless. Presently he would settle down. He would begin his great book on the "Psychology of Primitive Peoples." Everything would be as it had been before.
But in the meantime it insisted upon being somewhat different—hence this feeling which was not all dissatisfaction with his present absurd position. He was, he admitted it, a badly sold man. But did it matter? What had he lost except money and self-esteem? The money did not matter and he was sure that Aunt Caroline, at least, would say that he could spare the self-esteem. Besides, he would recover it in time. His opinion of himself as a man of perspicacity in business had recovered from harder blows than this. There was that affair of the South American mines, for instance,—but anybody may be mistaken about South American mines. He had told Aunt Caroline this. "It was," he told Aunt Caroline, "a financial accident. I do not blame myself. My father, as you know, was a far-sighted man. These aptitudes run in families." Aunt Caroline had said, "Humph!"
Nevertheless it was true that the elder Hamilton Spence, now deceased, had been a far-sighted man. Benis had always cherished a warm admiration for the commercial astuteness which he conceived himself to have inherited. He would have been, he thought, exactly like his father—if he had cared for the drudgery of business. So it was a habit of his, when in a quandary, to consider what his parent would have done and then to do likewise—an excellent rule if he had ever succeeded in applying it properly. But there were always so many intruding details. Take the present predicament, for instance. He could scarcely picture his father in these precise circumstances. To do so would be to presuppose actions on the part of that astute ancestor quite out of keeping with his known character. Would Hamilton Spence, senior, have crossed a continent at the word of one of whom he knew nothing, save that he wrote an agreeable letter? Would he have engaged (and paid for in advance) board and lodging at a place wholly supposititious? Would he have neglected to ask for references? Hamilton Spence, junior, was forced to admit that he would not.
But those letters of old Farr had been so blamed plausible!
Well, anyhow, he would have the pleasure of meeting and outfacing the old rascal. This satisfaction he had expected the night before. But upon their arrival at the "picturesque though humble" cottage (after a climb at the memory of which his leg still shuddered), it was found that Dr. Farr was not at home.
"He has probably gone 'up trail'" Miss Farr had said casually, "and in that case he won't be back until morning."
"Did you say up?" The professor's voice held incredulity. Whereupon his hostess had most unkindly smiled: "You're not much of a walker, are you?" was her untactful comment.
"My leg—" He had actually begun to tell her about his leg! Luckily her amused shrug had acted as a period. He felt very glad of this now. To have admitted weakness would have been weak indeed. For the girl was so splendidly strong! Only a child, of course, but so finely moulded, so superbly strung—light and lithe. How she had swung up the trail, a heavy packet in either hand, with scarcely a quickened breath to tell of the effort! Her face?—he tried to recall her face but found it provokingly elusive. It was a young face, but not youthful. The distinction seemed strained and yet it was a real distinction. The eyes were grey, he thought. The eyebrows very fine, dark and slanted slightly, as if left that way by some unanswered question. The nose was straight, delightful in profile. The mouth too firm for a face so young, the chin too square—perhaps. But even as he catalogued the features the face escaped him. He had a changing impression, only, of a graceful contour, warm and white, dark careless eyes, and hair—quantities of hair lying close and smooth in undulated waves—its color like nothing so much as the brown of a crisping autumn leaf. He remembered, though, that she was poorly dressed—and utterly unconscious, or careless, of being so. And she had been amused, undoubtedly amused, at his annoyance. A most unfeminine girl! And that at least was fortunate—for he was very, very weary of everything feminine!
Yawningly, the professor reached for his watch.
It had run down.
"Evidently they do not wake guests for breakfast," he mused. "Perhaps," with rising dismay, "there isn't any breakfast to wake them for!"
He felt suddenly ravenous and hurried into his clothes. It is really wonderful how all kinds of problems give place to the need for a wash and breakfast. Somewhere outside he could hear water running, so with a towel over his arm and a piece of soap in his pocket he started out to find it. His room, as he had noted the night before, was one of two small rooms under the eaves. There was a small, dark landing between them and a steep, ladderlike stair led directly down into the living-room. There was no one there; neither was there anyone in the small kitchen at the back. Benis Spence decided that this second room was a kitchen because it contained a cooking stove. Otherwise he would not have recognized it, Aunt Caroline's idea of a kitchen being quite otherwise. Someone had been having breakfast on a corner of the table and a fire crackled in the stove. Window and door were open, and leafy, ferny odors mingled with the smell of burning cedar. The combined scent was very pleasant, but the professor could have wished that the bouquet of coffee and fried bacon had been included. He was quite painfully hungry.
Through the open door the voice of falling water still called to him but of other and more human voices there were none. Well, he could at least wash. With a shrug he turned away from the half cleared table and, in the doorway, almost ran into the arms of a little, old man in a frock coat and a large umbrella. There were other items of attire, but they did not seem to matter.
"My dear sir," said the little, old man, in a gentle, gurgling voice. "Let me make you welcome—very, very welcome!"
"Thank you," said the professor.
There were other things that he might have said, but they did not seem to suggest themselves. All the smooth and biting sentences which his mind had held in readiness for this moment faded and died before the stunning knowledge of their own inadequacy. Surprise, pure and simple, stamped them down.
"Unpardonable, my not being at home to receive you," went on this amazing old gentleman. "But the exact time of your coming was somewhat indefinite. Still, I am displeased with myself, much displeased. You slept well, I trust?"
The professor was understood to say that he had slept well.
Dr. Farr sighed. "Youth!" he murmured, waving his umbrella. "Oh, youth!"
"Quite so," said the professor. There was a dryness in his tone not calculated to encourage rhapsody. The old gentleman's gurgle changed to a note of practical helpfulness.
"You wish to bathe, I see. I will not detain you. Our sylvan bathroom you will find just down the trail and behind those alders. Pray take your time. You will be quite undisturbed."
With another dry "Thank you," the professor passed on. He was limping slightly, otherwise he would have passed on much faster. His instinct was to seek cover before giving vent to the emotion which consumed him.
Behind the alders, and taking the precaution of stuffing his mouth with a towel, he could release this rising gust of almost hysterical laughter.
That was Dr. Herbert Farr! The fulfilled vision of the learned scholar he had come so far to see capped with nicety the climax of this absurd adventure. What an utter fool, what an unbelievable idiot he had made of himself! For the moment he saw clear and all normal reactions proved inadequate. There was left only laughter.
When this was over he felt better. Withdrawing the towel and wiping the tears of strangled mirth from his eyes he looked around him. The sylvan bathroom was indeed a charming place. Great rocks, all smooth and brown with velvet moss, curved gently down to form a basin into which fell the water from the tiny stream whose musical flowing had called to him through his window. Around, and somewhat back beneath tall sentinel trees, crept the bushes and bracken of the mountain; but, above, the foliage opened and the sun shone in, turning the brown-green water of the pool to gold. With a sigh of pure delight the laughter-weary professor stepped into its cool brightness—and with a gasp of something very different, stepped quickly out again. But, quick as he was, the liquid ice of that green-gold pool was quicker. It ran through his tortured nerve like mounting fire—"Oh—oh—damn!" said the professor heartily.
The sweat stood out on his forehead before he had rubbed and warmed the outraged limb into some semblance of quietude again. The pool seemed no longer lovely. Very gingerly he completed such ablutions as were strictly necessary and then, very cold, very stiff and very, very empty he turned back toward the house.
This time, instead of passing through the small vegetable garden behind the kitchen, he skirted the clearing, coming out into the wide, open space in front of the cottage. On one side of him, and behind, spread the mountain woods but before him and to the right the larger trees were down. There was a vista—for the first time since he had sat upon a keg in the fog he forgot him-self and his foolishness, his hunger, his aching nerves, his smarting pride, everything! The beauty before him filled his heart and mind, leaving not a cranny anywhere for lesser things. Blue sea, blue sky, blue mountains, blue smoke that rose in misty spirals as from a thousand fairy fires and, nearer, the sun-warmed, dew-drenched green—green of the earth, green of the trees, green of the graceful, sweeping curves of wooded point and bay. Far away, on peaks half hidden, snow still lay—a whiteness so ethereal that the gazer caught his breath.
And with it all there was the scent of something—something so fresh, so penetrating, so infinitely sweet—what could it be?
"Ambrosia!" said Benis Spence, unconscious that he spoke aloud.
"Balm of Gilead," said a practical voice beside him. "It smells like that in the bud, you know."
"Does it?" The professor's tone was dreamy. "Honey and wine—that's what it's like—honey and wine in the wilderness! You didn't tell me it would be like this," he added, turning abruptly to his companion of the night before.
"How could I tell what it would be like—to you?" asked the girl. "It's different for everyone. I've known people stand here and think of nothing but their breakfast."
At the word "breakfast" (which had temporarily slipped from his vocabulary) the famished professor wheeled so quickly that his knee twisted. Miss Farr smiled, her cool and too-understanding smile.
"There's something to eat," she said. "Come in."
She did not wait for him but walked off quickly. The professor followed more slowly. The path, even the front path, was rough (he had noticed that last night); but the cottage, seen now with the glamour of its outlook still in his eyes, seemed not quite so impossible as he had thought. The grace of early spring lay upon it and all around. True, it was small and unpainted and in bad repair, but its smallness and its brownness seemed not out of keeping with the mountain-side. Its narrow veranda was railed by unbarked branches from the cedars. Its walls were rough and weather-beaten, its few windows, broad and low. The door was open and led directly into the living room whence his hostess had preceded him.
The marvellous scent of the morning was everywhere. The room, as he went in, seemed full of it. Not such a bad room, either, not nearly so comfortless as he had thought last night. There was a fireplace, for instance, a real fireplace of cobble-stones, for use, not ornament; a long table stood in the middle of the room, an old fashioned sofa sprawled beneath one of the windows. There was a dresser at one end with open shelves for china and, at the other, a book-case, also open, filled with old and miscellaneous books....
And, best and most encouraging of all, there was breakfast on the table.
"I told Li Ho to give you eggs," said Miss Farr. "It is the one thing we can be sure of having fresh. Do you like eggs?"
The professor liked eggs. He had never liked eggs so well before, except once in Flanders—he looked up to thank his hostess, but she had not waited. Nevertheless the breakfast was very good. Not until he had finished the last crumb of it did he notice that the comfort of the place was more apparent than real. The table tipped whenever you touched it. The chair upon which he sat had lost an original leg and didn't take kindly to its substitute. The china was thick and chipped. The walls were unfinished and draughty, the ceiling obviously leaked. There had been some effort to keep the place livable, for the faded curtains were at least clean and the floor swept—but the blight of decay and poverty lay hopelessly upon it all.
And what was a young girl—a girl with level eyes and lifted chin—doing in this galley? ... Undoubtedly the less he bothered himself about that question the better. This young person was probably just as she wished to appear, careless and content. And in any case it was none of his business.
The sensible thing for him to do was to pack his bag and turn his back—the absurd old man with the umbrella ... pshaw! ... He wouldn't go home, of course. Aunt Caroline would say "I told you so" ... no, she wouldn't say it—she would look it, which was worse ... he had come away for a rest cure and a rest cure he intended to have ... with a groan he thought of the pictures he had formed of this place, the comfortable seclusion, the congenial old scholar, the capable secretary, the—he looked up to find that Miss Farr had returned and was regarding him with a cool and pleasantly aloof consideration.
"Are you wondering how soon you may decently leave?" she inquired. "We are not at all formal here. And, of course—" her shrug and gesture disposed of all other matters at issue. "Yours are the only feelings that need to be considered. I should like to know, though," she continued with some warmth of interest, "if you really came just to observe Indians. Father might think of a variety of attractions. Health?—any-thing from gout to tuberculosis. Fish?—father can talk about fish until you actually see them leaping. Shooting?—according to father, all the animals of the ark abound in these mountains. Curios?—father has an Indian mound somewhere which he always keeps well stocked."
Professor Spence smiled. "So many activities," he said, "should bring better results."
"They are too well known. Most people make some inquiry." The faint emphasis on the "most" made the professor feel uncomfortable. Was it possible that this young girl considered him, Benis Spence, something of a fool? He dismissed the idea as unlikely.
"Inquiry in my case would have meant delay," he answered frankly, "and I was in a hurry. I wanted to get away from—I wanted to get away for rest and study in a congenial environment. Still, I will admit that I might not have inquired in any case. I am accustomed to trust to my instinct. My father was a very far-sighted man—what are you laughing at?"
"Nothing. Only it sounded so much like 'nevertheless, my grandsire drew a long bow at the battle of Hastings'—don't you remember, in 'Ivanhoe?'"
The professor sighed. "I have forgotten 'Ivanhoe,'" he said, "which means, I suppose, that I have forgotten youth. Sometimes its ghost walks, though. I think it was that which kept me so restless at home. I thought that if I could get away—You see, before the war, I was gathering material for a book on primitive psychology and when I came back I found some of the keenness gone." He smiled grimly. "I came back inclined to think that all psychology is primitive. But I wanted to get to work again. I had never studied the West Coast Indians and your father's letters led me to believe that—er—"
It was not at all polite of her to laugh, but he had to admit that her laughter was very pleasant and young.
"It is funny, you know," she murmured apologetically. "For I am sure you pictured father as a kind of white patriarch, surrounded by his primitive children (father is certain to have called the Indians his 'children'!). Unfortunately, the Indians detest father. They're half afraid of him, too. I don't know why. Years ago, when we lived up coast—" she paused, plainly annoyed at her own loquacity, "we knew plenty of Indians then," she finished shortly.
"And are there no Indians here at all?"
"There is an Indian reservation at North Vancouver. That is the nearest. I do not think they are just what you are looking for. But both in Vancouver and Victoria you can get in touch with men who can direct you. Your journey need not be entirely wasted."
"But Dr. Farr himself—Is he not something of an authority?"
"Y-es. I suppose he is."
"What information the letters contained seemed to be the real thing."
"Oh, the letters were all right. I wrote them."
"Didn't I tell you I was the secretary? My department is the 'information bureau.' I do not see the actual letters. There are always personal bits which father puts in himself."
"Bits regarding boarding accommodation, etc.?"
She did not answer his smile, and her eyes grew hard as she nodded.
"Usually I can keep things from going that far. I can't quite see how it happened so suddenly in your case."
"I happen to be a sudden person."
"Evidently. Father was quite dumbfounded when he knew you had actually arrived. He certainly expected an interval during which he could invent good and sufficient reasons for putting you off."
"Such as smallpox. An outbreak of smallpox among the Indians is quite a favorite with father."
"The old—I beg your pardon!"
"Don't bother. You are certainly entitled to an expression of your feelings. It may be the only satisfaction, you will get. But aren't we getting away from the question?"
"When do you wish Li Ho to take you back to Vancouver?"
Professor Spence opened his lips to say that any time would suit. It was the obvious answer, the only sensible answer, the answer which he fully intended to make. But he did not make it.
"Must I really go?" he asked. He was, so he had said himself, a sudden person.
His hostess met his deprecating gaze with pure surprise.
"You can't possibly want to stay?"
"I quite possibly can. I like it here. And I'm horribly tired."
The hostility which had begun to gather in her eyes lightened a little.
"Tired? I noticed that you limped this morning. Is there anything the matter with you?"
It was certainly an ungracious way of putting it. And her eyes, while not exactly hostile, were ungracious, too. They would make anyone with a spark of pride want to go away at once. The professor told himself this. Besides, his only possible reason for wishing to stay had been some unformed idea of being helpful to the girl herself—ungrateful minx!
"If there is anything really wrong—" the cold incredulity of her tone was the last straw.
"Nothing wrong at all!" said Professor Spence. He arose briskly. Alas! He had forgotten his sciatic nerve. He had forgotten, too, the crampiness of its temper since that glacial bath, and, most completely of all, had he forgotten the fate of the man-who-didn't-take-care-of-himself. Therefore it was with something of surprise that he found himself crumpled up upon the floor. Only when he tried to rise again and felt the sweat upon his forehead did he remember the doctor's story.... Spence swore under his breath and attempted to pull himself up by the table.
"Wait a moment!"
The cold voice held authority—the authority he had come to respect in hospital—and he waited, setting his teeth. Next moment he set them still harder, for Li Ho and the girl picked him up without ceremony and laid him, whitefaced, upon the sprawling sofa.
"Why didn't you say you had sciatica?" asked Miss Farr, belligerently.
It seemed unnecessary to answer.
"I know it is sciatica," she went on, "because I've seen it before. And if you had no more sense than to bathe in that pool you deserve all you've got."
"It looked all right."
"Oh—looked! It's melted ice—simply."
"So I realized, afterwards."
"You seem to do most things afterwards. What caused it in the first place, cold?"
"The sciatica? No—an injury."
There was a slight pause.
"Was it—in the war?" The new note in her voice did not escape Spence. He lied promptly—too promptly. Desire Farr was an observant young person, quite capable of drawing conclusions.
"I'm not going to be sympathetic," she said. "That," with sudden illumination, "is probably what you ran away from. But you'd better be truthfull Was it a bullet?"
"And the treatment?"
"Rest, and the tablets in my bag."
"Right—I'll get them."
It was quite like old hospital times. The sofa was hard and the pillows knobby. But he had lain upon worse. Li Ho was not more unhandy than many an orderly. And the tablets, quickly and neatly administered by Miss Farr, brought something of relief.
Not until she saw the strain within his eyes relax did his self-appointed nurse pass sentence.
"You certainly can't move until you are better," she said. "You'll have to stay. It can't be helped but—father will have a fit."
"A fit?" murmured Spence. Privately he thought that a fit might do the old gentleman good.
"He hates having anyone here," she went on thoughtfully. "It upsets him."
"Does it? But why? I can understand it upsetting you. But he—he doesn't do the work, does he?"
"Not exactly," the girl smiled. "But—oh well, I don't believe in explanations. You'll see things for your-self, perhaps. And now I'll get you a book. I won't warn you not to move for I know you can't."
With a glance which, true to her promise, was not overburdened with sympathy, his strangely acquired hostess went out and closed the door.
He tried to read the book she had handed him ("Green Mansions"—ho-r had it wandered out here?) but his mind could not detach itself. It insisted upon listening for sounds outside. And presently a sound came—the high, thin sound of a voice shaking with weakness or rage. Then the cool tones of his absent nurse, then the voice again—certainly a most unpleasant voice—and the crashing sound of something being violently thrown to the ground and stamped upon. Through the closed door, the professor seemed to see a vision of an absurd old man with pale eyes, who shrieked and stamped upon an umbrella.
"That," said Hamilton Spence, with resignation, "that must be father having a fit!"
Letter from Professor Hamilton Spence to his friend, John Rogers, M.D.
DEAR Bones: Chortle if you want to—your worst prognostications have come true. The unexpectedness of the sciatic nerve, as set forth in your parting discourse, has amply proved itself. The dashed thing is all that you said of it—and more. It did not even permit me to collapse gracefully—or to choose my public. Your other man had a policeman, hadn't he?
Here I am, stranded upon a sofa from which I cannot get up and detained indefinitely upon a mountain from which I cannot get down. My nurse (I have a nurse) refuses to admit the mountain. She insists upon referring to this dizzy height as "just above sea-level" and declares that the precipitous ascent thereto is "a slight grade." Otherwise she is quite sane.
But sanity is more than I feel justified in claiming for anyone else in this household. There is Li Ho, for instance. Well, I'm not certain about Li Ho. He may be Chinese-sane. My nurse says he is. But I have no doubts at all about my host. He is so queer that I sometimes wonder if he is not a figment. Perhaps I imagine him. If so, my imagination is going strong. What I seem to see is a little old man in a frock coat so long that his legs (like those of the Queen of Spain) are negligible. He has a putty colored face (so blurred that I keep expecting him to rub it out altogether), white hair, pale blue eyes—and an umbrella.
Yesterday, attempting to establish cordial relations, I asked him why the umbrella. He had a fit right on the spot?
Let me explain about the fits. When his daughter just said, "Father will have a fit," I thought she spoke in a Pickwickian sense, meaning, "Father will experience annoyance." But when I heard him having it, I realized that she had probably been quite literal. When father has a fit he bangs his umbrella to the floor and jumps on it. Also he tears his hair. I have seen the pieces.
I said to my nurse: "The mention of his umbrella seems to agitate your father." She turned quite pale. "It does," she said. "I hope you haven't mentioned it." I said that I had merely asked for information. "And did you get it?" asked she. I said that I had—since it was apparent that one has to carry an umbrella if one wishes to have it handy to jump upon. She didn't laugh at all, and looked so withdrawn that it was quite plain I need expect no elucidation from her.
I had to dismiss the subject altogether. But, later on, Li Ho (who appears to partially approve of me) gave a curious side light on the matter. At night as he was tucking me up safely (the sofa is slippery), he said, "Honorable Boss got hole in head-top. Sun velly bad. Umblella keep him off."
"But he carries it at night, too," I objected.
Li Ho wagged his parchment head. "Keep moon off all same. Moon muchy more bad. Full moon find urn hole. Make Honorable Boss much klasy."
Remarkably lucid explanation—don't you think so? The "hole in head top" is evidently Li Ho's picturesque figure for "mental vacuum." Therefore I gather that our yellow brother suspects his honorable boss of being weak-headed, a condition aggravated by the direct rays of the sun and especially by the full moon. He may be right—though the old man seems harmless enough. "Childlike and bland" describes him usually. Though there are times when he looks at me with those pale eyes—and I wish that I were not quite so helpless! He dislikes me. But I have known quite sane people do that.
I am writing nonsense. One has to, with sciatica. I hope this confounded leg lets me get some sleep tonight.
P.S.: Not exactly an ideal home for a young girl—is it?
It had rained all night. It had rained all yesterday. It had rained all the day before. It was raining still. Apparently it could go on raining indefinitely.
Miss Farr said not. She said that it would be certain to clear up in a day or two. "And then," she said, "you will forget that it ever rained."
Professor Spence doubted it. He had a good memory.
"You look much better this morning," his nurse went on. "Have you tried to move your leg yet?"
"I am thinking of trying it."
This was not exactly a fib on the part of the professor because he was thinking of it. But it did not include the whole truth, because he had already tried it, tried it very successfully only a few moments before. First he had made sure that he was alone in the room and then he had proceeded with the trial. Very cautiously he had drawn his lame leg up, and tenderly stretched it out. He had turned over and back again. He had wiggled his toes to see how many of them were present—only the littlest toe was still numb. He had realized that he was much better. If the improvement kept on, he knew that in a day or so he would be able to walk with the aid of a cane. And he also knew that, with his walking, his status as an invalid guest would vanish. Luckily, no one but himself could say when the walking stage was reached—hence the strict privacy of his experiments.
"Father thinks that you should be able to walk in about three days," said Miss Farr cheerfully.
Spence said he hoped that Dr. Farr was right. But the rain, he feared, might keep him back a bit, "I am really sorry," he added, "that my presence is so distasteful to the doctor. I have been here almost two weeks and I have seen so little of him that I'm afraid I am keeping him out of his own house."
"No, you are not doing that," the girl's reassurance was cordial enough, "Father is having an outside spell just now. He quite often does. Sometimes for weeks together he spends most of his time out of doors. Then, quite suddenly, he will settle down and be more like—other people."
It was her way, the professor noticed, to state facts, not to explain them.
"Then he has what I call an 'inside spell,'" she went on. "That is when he does most of his writing. He does some quite good things, you know. And a few of them get published."
"Scientific articles?" asked Spence.
"Well—articles. You might not call them scientific. Science is very exact, isn't it? Father would rather be interesting than exact any day."
Her hearer found no difficulty in believing this.
"His folk-lore stories are the best—and the least exact," continued she, heedless of the shock inflicted upon the professorial mind. "He knows exactly the kind of things Indians tell, and tells it very much better."
"You mean he—he fakes it?"
"Well—he calls it 'editing.'"
"But, my dear girl, you can't edit folk-lore!"
"But—but it isn't done! Such material loses all value if not authentic."
The question was indifferent. So indifferent, in the face of a matter of such moment, that Hamilton Spence writhed upon his couch. Here at least there was room for genuine missionary work. He cleared his throat.
"I will tell you just how much it matters," he began firmly. But the fates were not with him, neither was his audience. Attracted by some movement which he had missed she, the audience, had slipped to the door, and was opening it cautiously.
"What is it?" asked the baffled lecturer crossly.
"S-ssh! I think it's Sami."
"A tame bear?"
"No. Wait. I'll prop you up so you can see him. Look, behind the veranda post."
The professor looked and forgot about the value of authenticity; for from behind the veranda post a most curious face was peeping—a round, solemn baby face of cafe au lait with squat, wide nose and flat-set eyes.
"A Jap?" exclaimed Spence in surprise.
"No. He's Indian. Some of the babies are so Japaneesy that it's hard to tell the difference. Father says it's a strain of the same blood. But they are not all as pretty as Sami. Isn't he a duck?"
"He is at home in the rain, anyway. Why doesn't he come in?"
"He's afraid of you."
"That's unusual—until one has seen me."
"Sami doesn't need to see a stranger."
"Well, that's primitive enough, surely! Let's call him in."
"I'd like to, but Sami won't come for calling."
"Oh, won't he? Leave the door open and watch him."
As absorbed now as the girl herself, the professor put his finger to his lips and whistled—a low, clear whistle, rather like the calling of a meditative bird. Several times he whistled so, on different notes; and then, to her surprise, the watching girl saw the little wild thing outside stir in answer to the call. Sami came out from behind the post and stood listening, for all the world like an inquiring squirrel. The whistle sounded again, a plaintive, seeking sound, infinitely alluring. It seemed to draw the heart like a living thing. Slowly at first and then with the swift, gliding motion of the woods, the wide-eyed youngster approached the open door and stood there waiting, poised and ready for advance or flight. Again the whistle came, and to it came Sami, straight as a bird to its calling mate.
"Tamed!" said the professor softly. "See, he is not a bit afraid."
"How on earth did you do it?" asked Miss Farr when the shy, brown baby had been duly welcomed. The whistler was visibly vain.
"Oh, it's quite simple. I merely talked to him in his own language."
"I see that. But where did you learn the language?"
"Well, a fellow taught me that—man I met at Ypres. He could have whistled back the dodo, I think. He knew all kinds of calls—said all the wild things answered to them."
"Was he a great naturalist?"
The cheerful vanity faded from Spence's face, leaving it sombre.
"He—would have been," he said briefly.
Miss Farr asked no more questions. It was a restful way she had. And perhaps because she did not ask, the professor felt an unaccustomed impulse. "He was a wonderful chap," he volunteered. "There are few like him in a generation. It seemed—rather a waste."
The girl nodded. "Used or wasted—it's as it happens," she said. "There is no plan."
"That's a heathen sentiment!" The professor recovered his cheerfulness. "A sentiment not at all suited for the contemplation of extreme youth."
"I am not extremely young."
"You? I was referring to our brown brother. He is becoming uneasy again. What's the matter with him?"
Whatever was the matter, it reached, at that moment, an acute stage and Sami disappeared through the door into the kitchen. Perhaps his ears were sharper than theirs and his eyes keener. He may have seen a large umbrella coming across the clearing.
Miss Farr frowned. "Sami is afraid of father," she explained briefly. The door opened as she added, "I wonder why?"
"A caprice of childhood, my daughter," said the old doctor mildly. "Who indeed can account for the vagaries of the young?"
"They are usually quite easy to account for," replied his daughter coldly. "You must have frightened the child some time."
"Tut, tut, my dear. How could an old fogey like myself frighten anyone?"
"I don't know. But I should like to."
Father and daughter looked at each other for a moment. And again the captive on the sofa found himself disliking intensely the glance of the old man's pale blue eyes. He was glad to see that they fell before the grey eyes of the girl.
"Well, well!" murmured Dr. Farr vaguely, looking away. "It doesn't matter. It doesn't matter. Tut, tut, a trifle!"
"I don't think so," said she. And abruptly she went out after the child.
"Fanciful, very fanciful," murmured the old man, looking after her. "And stubborn, very stubborn. A bad fault in one so young. But," beaming benevolently upon his guest, "we must not trouble you with our small domestic discords. You are much better, I see, much better. That is good."
"Getting along very nicely, thanks," said Spence. "I was able to change position this morning without assistance."
"Only that?" The doctor's disappointment was patent. "Come, we should progress better than that. If you will allow me to prescribe—"
"Thank you—no. I feel quite satisfied with the treatment prescribed by old Bones—I mean by my friend, Dr. Rogers. He understands the case thoroughly. One must be patient."
"Quite so, quite so." The curiously blurred face of the doctor seemed for a moment to take on sharper lines. Spence had observed it do this before under stress of feeling. But as the exact feeling which caused the change was usually obscure, it seemed safest to ignore it altogether. He was growing quite expert at ignoring things. For, quite contrary to the usual trend of his character, he was reacting to the urge of a growing desire to stay where he wasn't wanted. He didn't reason about it. He did not even admit it. But it moved in his mind.
"I'm not fretting at all about being tied up here," he went on cheerfully. "I find the air quite stimulating. I believe I could work here. In fact, I have some notes with me which I may elaborate. I fancy that, as you said in your letters, Miss Farr will prove a most capable secretary. I am going to ask her to help me."
"Are you indeed?" The doctor's tone was polite but absent.
"You do not object, I hope?"
"Object—why should I object? But Desire is busy, very busy. I doubt if her duties will spare her. I doubt it very much."
"Naturally, I should wish to offer her ample remuneration."
Again the loose lines of the strange old face seemed to sharpen. There was a growing eagerness in the pale eyes ... but it died.
"Even in that case," said Dr. Farr regretfully, "I fear it will be impossible."
Spence pressed this particular point no further. He had found out what he wanted to know, namely, that his host's desire to see the last of him was stronger even than his desire for money. His own desire to see more of his host strengthened in proportion.
"Supposing we leave it to Miss Farr herself," he suggested smoothly. "Since you have personally no objection. If she is unwilling to oblige me, of course—"
"I will speak to her," promised the doctor.
"What surprises me, doctor," he went on, pushing a little further, "is how you have managed to keep so very intelligent a secretary in so restricted an environment. The stronger one's wings, the stronger the temptation to use them."
He had expected to strike fire with this, but the pale eyes looked placidly past him.
"Desire has left me, at times, but—she has always come back." The old man's voice was very gentle, almost caressing, and should certainly have provided no reason for the chill that crept up his hearer's spine.
"She has never found work suited to her, perhaps," suggested Spence. "If you will allow me,—"
"You are very kind," the velvet was off the doctor's voice now. He rose with a certain travesty of dignity. "But I may say that I desire—that I will tolerate—no interference. My daughter's future shall be her father's care."
Spence laughed. It was an insulting laugh, and he knew it. But the contrast between the grandiloquent words and the ridiculous figure which uttered them was too much for him. Besides, though the most courteous of men, he deliberately wished to be insulting. He couldn't help it. There rose up in him, suddenly, a wild and unreasoning anger that mere paternity could place anyone (and especially a young girl with cool, grey eyes) in the power of such a caricature of manhood.
"Really?" said Spence. There was everything in the word that tone could utter of challenge and derision. He raised himself upon his elbow. The doctor, who had been closely contemplating his umbrella, looked up slowly. The eyes of the two men met.... Spence had never seen eyes like that ... they dazzled him like sudden sunlight on a blade of steel ... they clung to his mind and bewildered it ... he forgot the question at issue ... he forgot—
Just then Li Ho opened the kitchen door.
"Get 'um lunch now," said Li Ho, in his toneless drawl. "Like 'um egg flied? Like 'um boiled?"
Spence sank back upon his pillow.
"Like um any old way!" he said. His voice sounded a little breathless.
The doctor, once again absorbed in the contemplation of his umbrella, went out.
Luncheon, for which Li Ho had provided eggs both boiled and fried, was eaten alone. His hostess did not honor him with her company, nor did her father return. Li Ho was attentive but silent And outside the rain still rained.
Professor Spence lay and counted the drops as they fell from a knot hole in the veranda roof—one small drop—two medium-sized drops—one big drop—as if some unseen djinn were measuring them out in ruthless monotony. He counted the drops until his brain felt soggy and he began to speculate upon what Aunt Caroline would think of fried eggs for luncheon. He wondered why there were no special dishes for special meals in Li Ho's domestic calendar; why all things, to Li Ho, were good (or bad) at all times? Would he give them porridge and bacon for dinner? Spence decided that he didn't mind. He was ready to like anything which was strikingly different from Aunt Caroline....
One small drop—two medium-sized drops—one big drop.... He wondered when he would know his young nurse well enough to call her by her first name? (Prefixed by "miss," perhaps.) "Desire"—it was a rather charming name. How old would she be, he wondered; twenty? There were times when she looked even younger than twenty. But he had to confess that she never acted like it. At least she did not act as he had believed girls of twenty are accustomed to act. Very differently indeed.... One small drop—two medium-sized—oh, bother the drops! Where was she, anyway? Did she intend to stay out all afternoon? Was that the way she treated an invalid? ... He couldn't see why people go out in the rain, anyway. People are apt to take their deaths of cold. People may get pneumonia. It would serve people right—almost.... One drop—oh, confound the drops!
The professor tried to read. The book he opened had been a famous novel, a best-seller, some five years ago. It had been thought "advanced." Advanced!—but now how inconceivably flat and stale! How on earth had anyone ever praised it, called it "epoch-marking," bought it by the thousand thousand? Why, the thing was dead—a dead book, than which there is nothing deader. This reflection gave him something to think of for a while. Instead of counting drops he amused himself by strolling back through the years, a critical stretcher-bearer, picking up literary corpses by the wayside. They were thickly strewn. He was appalled to find how faintly beat the pulse of life even in the living. Would not another generation see the burial of them all? Was there no new Immortal anywhere?
"When I write a novel," thought the professor solemnly, "which, please God, I shall never do, I will write about people and not about things. Things change always; people never." It was a wise conclusion but it did not help the afternoon to pass.
Desire, that is to say Miss Farr, had passed the window twice already. He might have called her. But he hadn't. If people forget one's very existence it is not prideful to call them. And the Spences are a prideful race. Desire (he decided it didn't matter if he called her Desire to himself, she was such a child) was wearing—an old tweed coat and was carrying wood. She wore no hat and her hair was glossy with rain.... People take such silly risks—And where was Li Ho? Why wasn't he carrying the wood? Not that the wood seemed to bother Desire in the least.
The captive on the sofa sighed. It was no use trying to hide from himself his longing to be out there with her in that heavenly Spring-pierced air, revelling in its bloomy wetness; strong and fit in muscle and nerve, carrying wood, getting his head soaked, doing all the foolish things which youth does with impunity and careless joy. The new restlessness, which he had come so far to quiet, broke over him in miserable, taunting waves.
Why was he here on the sofa instead of out there in the rain? The war? But he was too inherently honest to blame the war. It was, perhaps, responsible for the present state of his sciatic nerve but not for the selling of his birthright of sturdy youth. The causes of that lay far behind the war. Had he not refused himself to youth when youth had called? Had he not shut himself behind study doors while Spring crept in at the window? The war had come and dragged him out. Across his quiet, ordered path its red trail had stretched and to go forward it had been necessary to go through. The Spences always went through. But Nature, every inch a woman, had made him pay for scorning her. She had killed no fatted calf for her prodigal.
So here he was, at thirty-five, envying a girl who could carry wood without weariness. The envy had become acute irritation by the time the wood was stacked and the wood-carrier brought her shining hair and rain-tinted cheeks into the living-room.
"Leg bad again?" asked Desire casually.
"It's time for tea. I'll see about it."
"You'll take your wet things off first. You must be wet through. Do you want to come down with pneumonia?"
The girl's eyebrows lifted. "That's silly," she said. And indeed the remark was absurd enough addressed to one on whom the wonder and mystery of budding life rested so visibly. "I'm not wet at all," she went on. "Only my coat." She slipped out of the old tweed ulster, scattering bright drops about the room. "And my hair," she added as if by an afterthought. "I'll dry it presently. But I don't wonder you're cross. The fire is almost out. We'll have something to eat when the kettle boils. Father's gone up trail. He probably won't be back." For an instant she stood with a considering air as if intending to add something. Then turned and went into the kitchen without doing it. She came back with a handful of pine-knots with which she deftly mended the fire.
The professor moved restlessly.
"I'll be around soon now," he said, "and then you shan't do that."
"Shan't do what?"
"That's funny." Desire placed a crackling pine-knot on the apex of her pyramid and sat back on her heels to watch it blaze. Her tone was ruminative. "There's no real sense in that, you know. Why shouldn't I carry wood when I am perfectly able to do it? Your objection is purely an acquired one—a manifestation of the herd instinct."
There was a slight pause. Professor Spence was wondering if he had really heard this.
"W—what was that you said?" he asked cautiously.
Desire laughed. He had observed with wonder, amounting almost to awe, that she never giggled.
"Score one for me!" She turned grey, mirthful eyes on his. "Amn't I learned? I read it in an article in an old Sociological Review—a copy left here by a man whom father—well, we needn't bother about that part of it. But the article was wonderful. I can't remember who wrote it."
"Trotter, perhaps,—yes, it would be Trotter," murmured the professor.
Desire swung round upon her heels, regarding him a trifle wistfully.
"I should like to know all that you know," she said. "All the strange things inside our minds."
"Would you? But if you knew what I know you would only know that you knew nothing at all."
"Yes, it's all very well to say that," shrewdly, "but you don't mean it. Besides, even if you don't know anything, you have glimpses of all sorts of wonderful things which might be known. You can go on, and it's the going on that matters."
"But I can't carry wood."
A little smile curled the corners of Desire's lips. He did not see it because she had turned to the fire again and, with that deliberate unself-consciousness which characterized her, was proceeding to unpin and dry her hair. Spence had not seen it undone before and was astonished at its length and lustre. The girl shook it as a young colt shakes its mane, spreading it out to the blaze upon her hands.
"I know what you mean, though," admitted Spence, "there is nothing like the fascination of the unknown. It very nearly did for me."
Desire looked up long enough to allow her slanting brows to ask their eternal question.
"Too much inside, not enough outside," he answered. "I ought to have made myself a man first and a student afterward. Then I might have been out in the rain you."
She considered this, as she considered most things, gravely. Then met it in her downright way.
"There's nothing very wrong with you, is there? Nothing but what can be put right."
"Well then, you can begin again. And begin properly."
"I am thirty-five."
"In that case you have no time to waste."
It was a thoroughly sensible remark. But somehow the professor did not like it. After all, thirty-five is not so terribly old. He decided to change the subject. But there was no immediate hurry. It was pleasant to lie there in the firelight watching this enigma of girl-hood dry her hair. Perhaps she would notice his silence and ask him what he was thinking about.
"You really ought to offer me a penny for my thoughts," he observed plaintively.
"Oh, were you thinking? So was I."
"I'll give you a penny for yours!"
Desire shook her head.
"No? Then I'll give you mine for nothing. I was thinking what a pity it is that you are only an amateur nurse."
"I hate nursing."
"How unwomanly! Lots of women hate it—but few admit it. However, it wasn't a nurse's duties I was thinking of, but a patient's privileges. You see, if you were a professional nurse I could call you 'Nurse Desire.'"
"Do you mean that you want to call me by my first name?"
"Since you put it more bluntly than I should dare to,—yes. It is a charming name. But perhaps—"
"Oh, you may use it if you like," said the owner of the name indifferently. "It sounds more natural. I am not accustomed to 'Miss Fair.'"
This ought to have been satisfactory. But it wasn't. And after he had led up to it so tactfully, too! Not for the first time did it occur to our psychologist that tact was wasted upon this downright young person. He decided not to be tactful any longer.
"I'm getting well so rapidly," he said, "that I shall have to admit it soon."
The girl nodded.
"Are you glad?"
"Of course I am glad."
"I shall walk with a cane almost in no time. And when I can walk, I shall have to go away."
"Yes." There was no hesitation in her prompt agreement. Neither did she add any polite regrets. The professor felt unduly irritated. He had never become used to her ungirlish taciturnity. It always excited him. The women he had known, especially the younger women, had all been chatterers. They had talked and he had not listened. This girl said little and her silences seemed to clamour in his ears. Well, she would have to answer this time.
"Do you want me to go?" he asked plainly.
"I don't want you to go." Her tone was thoughtful. "But I know you can't stay. One has to accept things."
"One doesn't. One can make things happen."
"Do you honestly believe that?" He was astonished at the depth of mockery in her tone.
"I certainly do believe it. I'll prove it if you like."
Again she was silent.
He went on eagerly. "Why shouldn't I stay—for a time at least? I have plenty of work to go on with. Indeed it was with the definite intention of doing this work that I came. If you want me, I'll stay right enough. The bargain that was made with your father was a straight, fair business arrangement. I have no scruples about requiring him to carry out his part of it The trouble was that it seemed as if insistence would be unfair to you. But if you and I can arrange that—if you will agree to let me do what I can to help, chores, you know, carrying wood and so on, then I should not need to feel myself a burden."
"You have not been a burden."
"Thanks. You have been extraordinarily kind. As for the rest of it—I mentioned the matter to Dr. Farr this morning."
She was interested now. He could see her eyes, intent, through the falling shadow of her hair.
"I reminded him that he had offered me the services of a secretary and explained that I was ready to avail myself of his offer."
"And what did he say to that?"
"Well—er—we agreed to leave the decision to you."
"Was that all?"
"Practically, but not quite. You quarreled, didn't you? Frankly, I do not understand father's attitude but I know what his attitude is. He does not want you here. Neither you nor anyone else. The secretarial work you offer would be—I can't tell you exactly what it would be to me. It would teach me something—and I am so hungry to know! But he will find some way to make it impossible. You will have to go."
"Nonsense! He cannot go back on his agreement."
"You mean he has accepted money? That," bitterly, "means nothing to him."
"Nevertheless it gives me ground to stand on. And you, too. You have done secretarial work before?"
"Yes. I have certain qualifications. At intervals I have tried to make myself independent. Several times I have secured office positions in Vancouver. But father has always made the holding of them impossible."
"I would rather not go into it." There was weary disgust in her voice.
"But what reason does he give?"
"That his daughter's place is in her father's house—funny, isn't it?"
"You do not think that affection has anything to do with it?"
"Not even remotely. Whatever his reason may be for keeping me with him, it is not that. Affection is something of which one knows by instinct, don't you think? Even Li Ho—I know instinctively that Li Ho is fond of me. I am absolutely certain that my father is not."
"It is no life for a young girl."
"It has been my life."
The professor felt uncomfortable. There was that in her tone which forbade all comment. She had given him this tiny glimpse and quite evidently intended to give no more. But Spence, upon occasion, could be a persistent man.
"Miss Desire," he said gravely, "do you absolutely decline my friendship?" If she wanted directness, she was getting it now.
"How can I do otherwise?" Her face was turned from him and her low voice was muffled by her hair. But for the first time she had cast away her guard of light indifference. "Friendship is impossible for me. I thought you would see—and go away. Nothing that you can do would be any real help. I have tried before to free myself. But I could not. Nor, in the little flights of freedom which I had, did I find anything that I wanted. I am as well here as anywhere. Unless—"
She was silent, looking into the fire.
"Unless I were really free," she added softly.
He could not see her face. But she looked very young sitting there with her unbound hair and hands clasped childishly about her knees.
"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.
And I am actually getting some work done. Bones, old thing, I have made a discovery for the lack of which many famous men have died too soon. I have discovered the perfect secretary!
These blank lines represent all the things which I might say but which, with great moral effort, I suppress. I know what a frightful bore is the man who insists upon talking about a new discovery. Therefore I shall not indulge my natural inclination to tell you just how perfect this secretary is. I shall merely note that she is quick, accurate, silent, interested, appreciative, intelligent to a remarkable degree—Good Heavens! I'm doing it! I blush now when I remember that I engaged Miss Farr's services in the first place from motives of philanthropy. Is it possible that I was ever fatuous enough to believe that I was the party who conferred the benefit? If so, I very soon discovered my mistake. In justice to myself I must state that I saw at once what a treasure I had come upon. You remember what a quick, sure judgment my father had? Somehow I seem to be getting more like him all the time. The moment any proposition takes on a purely business aspect, I become, as it were, pure intellect. I see the exact value, business value, of the thing. Aunt Caroline never agrees with me in this. She insists upon referring to that oil property at Green Lake and that little matter of South American Mines. But those mistakes were trifles. Any man might have made them.
In this case, where I am right on the spot, there can be no possibility of a mistake. I see with my own eyes. Miss Farr is a dream of secretarial efficiency. She combines, with ease, those widely differing qualities which are so difficult to come by in a single individual. It is inspiring to work with her. I find that her co-operation actually stimulates creative thought. My notes are expanding at a most satisfactory rate. My introductory chapter already assumes form. And—by Jove! I seem to be doing it again.
But one simply does not make these discoveries every day.
The other aspects of the situation here, the non-business aspects, are not so satisfactory. The menage is certainly peculiar. I had what amounted to a bloodless duel with mine host the other day. Perhaps I was not as tactful as I might have been. But he is an irritating person. One of those people who seem to file your nerves. In fact there is something almost upsetting' about that mild old scoundrel. He gives me what the Scots call a "scunner." (You have to hear a true Scot pronounce it before you get its inner meaning.) And when, that day, he began talking about his daughter's future being her father's care, I said—I forget exactly what I said but he seemed to get the idea all right. It annoyed him. We were both annoyed. He did not put his feelings into words. He put them into his eyes instead. And horrid, nasty feelings they were. Quite murderous.
The duel was interrupted by Li Ho. Li Ho never listens but he always hears. Seems to have some quieting influence over his "honorable Boss," too.
But I wish you could have seen the old fellow's eyes, Bones. I think they might have told some tale to a medical mind. Normally, his eyes are blurry like the rest of his fatherly face. And their color, I think, is blue. But just then they looked like no eyes I have ever seen. A cold light on burnished steel is the only simile I can think of—perfect hardness, perfect coldness, lustre without depth! The description is poor, but you may get the idea better if I describe the effect of the look rather than the look itself. The warm spot in my heart froze. And it takes something fairly eerie to freeze the heart at its core.
From this, as a budding psychologist, I draw a conclusion—there was something abnormal, something not quite human in that flashing look. The conclusion seems somewhat strained now. But at the time I was undoubtedly glad to see Li Ho. Li Ho may be a Chink, but he is human.
You may gather that our "battle of the Glances" did not smooth my pillow here. If the old chap didn't want me to stay before, he is even less anxious for my company now. But I am going to stay. Aunt Caroline would call this stubbornness. But of course it isn't. It is merely a certain strength of character and a business determination to carry out a business bargain. Dr. Farr allowed me to engage board here and to pay for it. I am under no obligation to take cognizance of his deeper feelings.
The only feelings which concern me in this matter are the feelings of his daughter. If my staying were to prove a burden for her I could not, of course, stay. But I see many ways in which I may be helpful, and I know that she needs and wants the secretarial work which I have given her. Usually she holds her head high and one isn't even allowed to guess. But one does guess. Her meagre ration of life is plain beyond all artifice of pride.
John, she interests me intensely. She is a strange child. She is a strange woman. For both child and woman she seems to be, in fascinating combination. But, lest you should mistake me, good old bone-head, let me make it plain that there is absolutely no danger of my falling in love with her. My interest is not that kind of interest. I am far too hard headed to be susceptible. I can appreciate the tragedy of a charming girl placed in such unsavory environment, and feel impelled to seek some way of escape for her without being for one moment disturbed by that unreasoning madness called love. Every student of psychology understands the nature and the danger of loving. 'Every sensible student profits by what he understands. You and I have had this out before and you know my unalterable determination never to allow myself to become the slave of those primitive and passing instincts. Nature, the old hussy, is welcome to the use of man as a tool for her own purposes. But there are enough tools without me. The race will not perish because I intend to remain my own man. But I shall have to evolve some way of helping Miss Farr. She cannot be left here under these conditions.
I am writing to Aunt Caroline, briefly, that I am immersed in study and that my return is indefinite. Don't, for heaven's sake, let her suspect that I have employed Miss Farr as secretary. You know Aunt Caroline's failing. Do be discreet!
B. H. S.
P.S.: Any arrangement I may find it necessary to propose in Miss Farr's case will be based on business, not sentiment. B.
Desire was seated upon a moss-covered rock, hugging her knees and gazing out to sea. It was her favorite attitude and, according to Professor Spence, a very dangerous one, especially in connection with a moss-covered rock. He would have liked to point out this obvious fact but that would have been fussy—and fussy the professor was firmly determined not to be. Aunt Caroline was fussy. The best he could do was to select another rock, not so slippery, and to provide an object lesson as to the proper way of sitting upon it. Unfortunately, Desire was not looking. They had come a little way "up trail"—at least Desire had said it was a little way, and her companion was too proud of his recovered powers of locomotion to express unkind doubt of the adjective. There had been no rainy days for a week. The air was sun-soaked, and salt-soaked, and somewhere there was a wind. But not here. Here some high rock angle shut it out and left them to the drowsy calm of wakening Summer. Below them lay the blue-green gulf, white-flecked and gently heaving; above them bent a sky which only Italy could rival—and if Miss Farr with her hands clasped round her knees were to move ever so little, either way, there was nothing to prevent her from falling off the face of the mountain. The professor tried not to let this reflection spoil his enjoyment of the view. He reminded him-self that she was probably much safer than she looked. And he remembered Aunt Caroline. Still—
"Don't you think you might sit a little farther back?" he suggested carelessly.
"I can't talk to the back of your head."
"Talk!" dreamily, "do you really have to talk?"
Naturally the professor was silent.
"That's rude, I suppose," said Desire, suddenly swinging round (a feat which brought Spence's heart into his mouth). "I don't seem to acquire the social graces very rapidly, do I?"
"I thought," the professor's tone was somewhat stiff, "that we came up here for the express purpose of talking."
"Y-es. You did express some such purpose. But—must we? It won't do any good, you know."
"I don't know. And it will do good. One can't get anywhere without proper discussion."
The girl sighed. "Very well—let's discuss. You begin."
"My month," said Spence firmly, "is almost up. I shall have to move along on Friday."
"On Friday?" If he had intended to startle her, he had certainly succeeded. "Was—was the arrangement only for a month?" she asked in a lowered voice.
"The arrangement was to continue for as long as I wished. But only one month's payment was made in advance. With Friday, Dr. Farr's obligation toward me ends. He is not likely to extend it."
She sat so still that he forgot how slippery the moss was and thought only of the growing shadow on her face.
"But, the work!" she murmured. "We are only just beginning. I wish—oh, I shall miss it dreadfully."
"'It,'" said Spence, "is not a personal pronoun."
"I shall miss you, too, of course."
"Well, be careful not to overemphasize it."
Her grey eyes looked frankly and straightly into his. Their clear depths held a rueful smile. "You are conceited enough already," she said, "but if it will make you feel any better, I don't mind admitting that I shall miss you far, far more than you deserve."
"Spoken like a lady!" said Spence warmly. "And now let us consider my side of it. After the month that I have spent here—do you really think that I intend to go away—like that?"
"There is only one way of going, isn't there?"
"Not at all. There are various ways. Ways which are quite, quite different."
"You have thought of some other—some quite different way?"
"Yes. But I daren't tell it to you while you sit on that slippery rock. It is a somewhat startling way and you might—er—manifest emotion. I should prefer to have you manifest it in a less dangerous place."
Desire's very young laugh rippled out. "Fussy!" she said. But nevertheless she climbed down and sat demurely upon stones in the hollow. There was an unfamiliar light in her waiting eyes, the light of interest and of hope.
Spence, rather to his consternation, realized that it was up to him to justify that hope. And he wasn't at all sure ... however, he had to go through with it, ... There was a fighting chance, anyway.
"Let's think about the work for a moment," he began nervously. "That work, my book, you know, is simply going all to pot if you can't keep on with it. You can see yourself what it means to have a competent secretary. And you like the work. You've just admitted that you like it."
He saw the light begin to fade from her eyes. She shook her head.
"If you are going to suggest that I go with you as your secretary," she said with her old bluntness, "it is useless. I have tried that way out. I won't try it again." Her lips grew stern and her eyes dark with some too bitter memory.
"I honestly don't see what Dr. Farr could do," said Spence tentatively.
"You would," said Dr. Farr's daughter with decision.
"And anyway," proceeding hastily, "that wasn't what I was thinking of. I knew that you would refuse to go as my secretary. I ask you to go as my wife."
"Is this where I am expected to manifest emotion?" she asked dryly.
"Yes. And you're doing it! I knew you would. Women are utterly unreasoning. You won't even listen to what I have to say."
The girl moved slowly away.
"And I can't get up without help," he added querulously.
Desire stopped. "You can," she said.
"I can't. Not after that dreadful climb."
"Then I shall wait until you are ready. But we do not need to continue this conversation."
The professor sighed. "This," he said, "is what comes of taking a woman at her word."
"I might have known," he went on guilefully, "that you didn't really mean it. No young girl would."
"That you had no room in your scheme of things for ordinary marriage. Of course you were talking nonsense. I beg your pardon."
"Will you kindly explain what you mean!"
"I will if you will sit down so that I may talk to you on my own level. You see, your determination not to marry struck me very much at the time because it voiced my own—er—determination also. I said to myself, 'Here are two people sufficiently original to wish to escape the common lot.' I thought about it a great deal. And then an idea came. It was, I admit, the inspiration of a moment. But it grew. It certainly grew."
Desire sat down again and folded her hands over her knees.
"I will listen."
"It is very simple," he hastened to explain. "Simplicity is, I think, the keynote of all true inspiration. An idea comes, and we are filled with amazement that we have so long ignored the obvious. Take our case. Here are we two, strongly of one mind and wanting the same thing. A perfectly feasible way of getting that thing occurs to me. Yet when I suggest this way you jump up and rush away."
"I haven't rushed yet."
"No. But you were going to. And all because you cannot be logical. No woman can."
His listener brushed this away with a gesture of impatience.
"I can prove it," went on the wily one. "You object to marriage, yet you covet the freedom marriage gives. Now what is the logical result of that? The logical result is fear—fear that some day you may want freedom so badly that you will marry in order to get it."
"It is not—I won't."
"I knew you would not admit it. But it is true all the same. The other night when you said 'marriage is hideous,' I saw fear in your eyes. There is fear in your eyes now."
The girl dropped her eyes and raised them again instantly. Her slanting eyebrows frowned.
"Nevertheless," she said, "I shall not marry."
"But you will, as an honest person, admit the other part of the proposition—that you want something at least of what marriage can give?"
"Well then—that states your case. Now let me state mine. I, too, have an insuperable objection to marriage. My—er—disinclination is probably more soundly based than yours, since it is built upon a wider view of life. But I, too, want certain things which marriage might bring. I want a home. Not too homey a home, in the strictly domestic sense (Aunt Caroline is strictly domestic) but a—a congenial home. I want the advice and help of a clever woman together with the sense of permanence and security which, in our imperfect state of civilization, is made possible only by marriage. And I, too, have my secret fear. I am afraid that some day I may be driven—in short, I am afraid of Aunt Caroline."
Desire's inquiring eyebrows lifted.
"A man—afraid of his aunt?"
"Yes," gloomily, "it is men who are afraid of aunts. It is not at all funny," he added as her eyes relaxed, "if you knew Aunt Caroline you wouldn't think so. She is determined to have me married and she has a long life of successful effort behind her. One failure is nothing to an aunt. She is always quite certain that the next venture will turn out well. And it usually does. In brief, I am thirty-five and I go in terror of the unknown. If I do not marry soon to please myself, I shall end by marrying to please someone else. Do you follow me?"
"Make it plainer," ordered Desire soberly. "Make it absolutely plain."
"I will. My proposition is, in its truest and strictest sense, a marriage of convenience. Marriage, it appears, can give us both what we want, a formal ceremony will legalize your position as my secretary and free you entirely from the interference of your father. It will permit you to accept freely my protection and everything else which I have. Your way will be open to the things you spoke of the other night, freedom, leisure, money, travel, books. The only thing we are shutting out is the thing you say you have no use for—love. But perhaps you did not mean—"
"Then, logically, my proposal is sound."
"Am I to take all these things, and give nothing?"
"Not at all. You give me the things I want most, freedom, security, the grace of companionship, and collaboration in my work, so long as your interest in it continues. I will be a safely married man and you—you will be a window-gazer no longer. There is only one point"—the speaker's gaze turned from her and wandered out to sea—"I can be sure of what I can bring into your life," his voice was almost stern, "but I warn you to be very sure of what you will be shutting out."
"Children," said Spence crisply.
"I do not care for children."
The professor's soberness vanished. "Oh—what a whopper!" he exclaimed.
"I mean, I do not want children of my own."
"But supposing you were to develop a desire for them later on?"
She nodded thoughtfully.
"I might," she acknowledged. "But in my case it would be merely the outcropping of a feminine instinct, easily suppressed. I am not at all afraid of it. Look at all the women who are perfectly happy without children."
"Hum!" said the professor. "I am looking at them. But I find them unconvincing. There are a few, however, of whom what you say is true. You may be one of them. How about Sami?"
"Sami? Oh, Sami is different. He is more like a mountain imp than a child. I don't think Sami would seem real anywhere but here. If anyone were to try to transplant him he might vanish altogether. Poor little chap—how terribly he would miss me!" finished Desire artlessly.
She had accepted the possibility, then! Spence's heart gave a leap and was promptly reproved for leaping. This was not, he reminded himself, an affair of the heart at all. It was a coldly-thought-out, hard-headed business proposition. Such a proposition as his father's son might fittingly conceive. The thing to do now was to stride on briskly and avoid sentiment.
"Then as we seem to agree upon the essentials," he said, "there remains only one concrete difficulty, your father. He would object to marriage as to other things, I suppose?"
"Yes, but we should have to ignore that."
"You wouldn't mind?" somewhat doubtfully.
"No. I have always known that a break would come some day. It isn't as if he really cared. Or as if I cared. I don't. If I should decide that there is an honest chance for freedom, a chance which I can take and keep my self-respect, I am conscious of no duty that need restrain me."
Spence said nothing, and after a moment she went on.
"Why should I pretend—as he pretends? I loath it! Day after day, even when there is no one to see, he keeps up that horrible semblance of affection. And all the time he hates me. I see it in his eyes. And once or twice—" She hesitated and then went rapidly on without finishing her sentence. "There is some reason why it is to his advantage to keep me with him. But it imposes no obligation upon me. I do not even know what it is."
"Perhaps Li Ho may know?"
"Li Ho does know. Li Ho knows everything. But when I asked him he said, 'Honorable boss much lonely—heap scared of devil maybe.' Li Ho always refers to devils when he doesn't wish to tell anything."
"I've noticed that. He's a queer devil himself. Would he stay on, do you think?"
"Yes. And that's odd, too. In some way Li Ho is father's man. It's as if he owned him. There must be a story which explains it. But no one will ever hear it. Li Ho keeps his secrets."
Spence nodded. "Yes. Li Ho and his kind are the product of forces we only guess at. I asked a man who had spent twenty years in China if he had learned to understand the Oriental mind. He said he had learned more than that, he had learned that the Oriental mind is beyond understanding. But—aren't we getting away from our subject? Let's begin all over again. Miss Farr, I have the honor to ask your hand in marriage."
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.