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IX


Elizabeth had gone about all day with a smile on her lips and a sort
of exaltation in her eyes. She had, girl fashion, gone over and
over the totally uneventful evening they had spent together,
remembering small speeches and gestures; what he had said and she
had answered.

She had, for instance, mentioned Clare Rossiter, very casually. Oh
very, very casually. And he had said: "Clare Rossiter? Oh, yes,
the tall blonde girl, isn't she?"

She was very happy. He had not seemed to find her too young or
particularly immature. He had asked her opinion on quite important
things, and listened carefully when she replied. She felt, though,
that she knew about one-tenth as much as he did, and she determined
to read very seriously from that time on. Her mother, missing
her that afternoon, found her curled up in the library, beginning
the first volume of Gibbon's "Rome" with an air of determined
concentration, and wearing her best summer frock.

She did not intend to depend purely on Gibbon's "Rome," evidently.

"Are you expecting any one, Elizabeth?" she asked, with the frank
directness characteristic of mothers, and Elizabeth, fixing a date
in her mind with terrible firmness, looked up absently and said:

"No one in particular."

At three o'clock, with a slight headache from concentration, she
went upstairs and put up her hair again; rather high this time to
make her feel taller. Of course, it was not likely he would come.
He was very busy. So many people depended on him. It must be
wonderful to be like that, to have people needing one, and looking
out of the door and saying: "I think I see him coming now."

Nevertheless when the postman rang her heart gave a small leap and
then stood quite still. When Annie slowly mounted the stairs she
was already on her feet, but it was only a card announcing: "Mrs.
Sayre, Wednesday, May fifteenth, luncheon at one-thirty."

However, at half past four the bell rang again, and a masculine
voice informed Annie, a moment later, that it would put its overcoat
here, because lately a dog had eaten a piece out of it and got most
awful indigestion.

The time it took Annie to get up the stairs again gave her a moment
so that she could breathe more naturally, and she went down very
deliberately and so dreadfully poised that at first he thought she
was not glad to see him.

"I came, you see," he said. "I intended to wait until to-morrow,
but I had a little time. But if you're doing anything - "

"I was reading Gibbon's 'Rome,'" she informed him. "I think every
one should know it. Don't you?"

"Good heavens, what for?" he inquired.

"I don't know." They looked at each other, and suddenly they laughed.

"I wanted to improve my mind," she explained. "I felt, last night,
that you-that you know so many things, and that I was frightfully
stupid."

"Do you mean to say," he asked, aghast, "that I - ! Great Scott!"

Settled in the living-room, they got back rather quickly to their
status of the night before, and he was moved to confession.

"I didn't really intend to wait until to-morrow," he said. "I got
up with the full intention of coming here to-day, if I did it over
the wreck of my practice. At eleven o'clock this morning I held up
a consultation ten minutes to go to Yardsleys and buy a tie, for
this express purpose. Perhaps you have noticed it already."

"I have indeed. It's a wonderful tie."

"Neat but not gaudy, eh?" He grinned at her, happily. "You know,
you might steer me a bit about my ties. I have the taste of an
African savage. I nearly bought a purple one, with red stripes.
And Aunt Lucy thinks I should wear white lawn, like David!"

They talked, those small, highly significant nothings which are
only the barrier behind which go on the eager questionings and
unspoken answers of youth and love. They had known each other for
years, had exchanged the same give and take of neighborhood talk
when they met as now. To-day nothing was changed, and everything.

Then, out of a clear sky, he said:

"I may be going away before long, Elizabeth."

He was watching her intently. She had a singular feeling that
behind this, as behind everything that afternoon, was something not
spoken. Something that related to her. Perhaps it was because of
his tone.

"You don't mean-not to stay?"

"No. I want to go back to Wyoming. Where I was born. Only for a
few weeks."

And in that "only for a few weeks" there lay some of the unspoken
things. That he would miss her and come back quickly to her. That
she would miss him, and that subconsciously he knew it. And behind
that, too, a promise. He would come back to her.

"Only for a few weeks," he repeated. "I thought perhaps, if you
wouldn't mind my writing to you, now and then - I write a rotten
hand, you know. Most medical men do."

"I should like it very much," she said, primly.

She felt suddenly very lonely, as though he had already gone, and
slightly resentful, not at him but at the way things happened. And
then, too, everyone knew that once a Westerner always a Westerner.
The West always called its children. Not that she put it that way.
But she had a sort of vision, gained from the moving pictures, of a
country of wide spaces and tall mountains, where men wore quaint
clothing and the women rode wild horses and had the dash she knew
she lacked. She was stirred by vague jealousy.

"You may never come back," she said, casually. "After all, you
were born there, and we must seem very quiet to you."

"Quiet!" he exclaimed. "You are heavenly restful and comforting.
You - " he checked himself and got up. "Then I'm to write, and you
are to make out as much of my scrawl as you can and answer. Is
that right?"

"I'll write you all the town gossip."

"If you do - !" he threatened her. "You're to write me what you're
doing, and all about yourself. Remember, I'll be counting on you."

And, if their voices were light, there was in both of them the sense
of a pact made, of a bond that was to hold them, like clasped hands,
against their coming separation. It was rather anti-climacteric
after that to have him acknowledge that he didn't know exactly when
he could get away!

She went with him to the door and stood there, her soft hair blowing,
as he got into the car. When he looked back, as he turned the corner,
she was still there. He felt very happy affable, and he picked up
an elderly village woman with her and went considerably out of his
way to take her home.

He got back to the office at half past six to find a red-eyed
Minnie in the hall.





The Breaking Point by Mary Roberts Rinehart
Category:
General Fiction

Mystery and detective stories
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