FROM the first they were always tinglingly, electrically aware of each other; yet from the first he knew that he must never speak to her, and she knew that he knew it. To strike up (on any excuse whatever) an informal acquaintanceship in the train, or on the platform where they met daily, would be to put themselves on the level of those other daily travelers — those girls, for instance, who giggled and nudged each other and glanced over their shoulders at young men; those young men who set their hats at dashing angles, and looked conscious, and got into conversation with the girls who glanced. Whereas it was just their difference from these others that formed the wordless, magic link between them; to sever it would be to brush the bloom off romance — that romance which, owing to the cruel prohibitions of their joint social law, was such an unconscionable time beginning.
All this they knew without the exchange of a single word, because they had the subtle freemasonry of youth to help them, as well as a dozen visible signs — the clothes they wore, the books and papers they read, the way that neither would join in the jostling scramble for seats in the train, the way that both held aloof from the casual, platitudinous observations of fellow travelers.
In the country, indeed, they might have weakened — might have contrived to evade the social law in some manner not too vulgarian; but on crowded platforms and in suburban trains, each sickened and shrank from the thought of doing any one of the things that Toms, Dicks, and Harrys did daily before their eyes, in order to achieve acquaintance with dreadfully over-willing Mordies Violets, or Gerts. And so it happened that they were immutably stranded, for lack of the one social necessity — a common acquaintance to effect an introduction between them.
It added to the cruelty of their fate that they not only entered but left the train together, morning and evening, and that they were nevertheless prevented, by this same code which they had to hold high above the heads of contaminating hordes, from discovering or seeking to discover each other’s place of residence or work.
The situation, to minds more mellowed by maturity, might have had its humor, but they were both suffering the first violent assaults of desperately serious youth, and saw no mitigating circumstance to their dilemma. Six months of secret dreams and disappointments, hopes and despairs, passed over their heads. The most that he could achieve on any day was an opportunity to offer her his seat; then, standing above her, it was possible to watch her bent head and thrill over the flowerlike way in which her white neck thrust slenderly upward out of the soft sheath of her collar. And sometimes (crowning thrill!) a flame would run along that whiteness, flushing it for a minute, as she felt above her the gaze that she could not — and would not meet. Because of that touchingly tender effect of her youth, and because he did not know her name, he thought of her at first as ‘ the Greuze girl ; yet he realized joyfully, too, that the Greuze in her was only skin-deep, that she had character as well as that soft, dewy beauty.
And the most that she could hope for on any day was even less: a glimpse of him before he saw her, an opportunity to study the generous lines of his face, the frank carriage of his dark head, the something indefinable of breeding and distinction that was to her like water in the desert of her humdrum days. Nothing more was possible; for as soon as he caught sight of her, she had to become unaware of his existence.
That was the standard she set; the standard in which, ruefully yet proudly, he acquiesced. For was she not right ? What protection had either of them against being engulfed in this maelstrom of commonness, this welter of crowded, third-class carriages and Cockney accents, and general ugliness of spirit, except the standard of conduct that they brought with them out of the shining past of a gentle upbringing? Their abstention from haphazard acquaintanceship became to them as the ‘ dressing-for-dinner’ rite to which in outposts of empire exiles cling for protection against the call of the slovenly wild.
But because he was a man (or almost), and therefore a romantic dreamer, he said to himself hopefully day by day, ‘There will be a miracle.’
And because she was a woman (or almost), and therefore soberly practical, she told herself firmly, ‘There will be no miracle.’
Yet it was he who was right.
The miracle occurred on a spring evening. He was standing, as he often did to look out for her, at the top of one of the flights of stairs in the station, a point of vantage from which he could not miss her, whether she went toward their train by way of a staircase, or slipped through the crowd on the level below.
On this evening she came along the high wooden gallery on which he was standing, but for once she did not go straight down the nearest stairs without appearing to notice him. Instead, she stopped when she was about ten yards away, glanced uncertainly, first at him, then at a letter she held open in her hand, and finally — with more confidence— at him again. After that, she walked steadily toward him, and their eyes held each other.
Yet even then he did not grasp that she was going to speak. So that, when she halted within two paces of him, and said nervously, but at the same time without any doubt, ‘ You are Mr. Kenley, aren’t you?’ he did not deny it, simply because at that moment he could neither have denied nor affirmed anything whatever — for joy.
But she did not wait for his answer; she was too nervous for that, and went on at once, ‘ I am so sorry to have kept you waiting. I was early, really, but there are two tea-rooms, and I could n’t be sure from your letter which one it would be, and whether you would be outside or inside. Perhaps it was stupid of me — I’m sorry —’
Her voice gave a frightened catch and failed her; in place of it, she made a tentative movement of the letter toward him.
And then he understood what had happened: this was the miracle in which he had hoped and trusted. She was speaking to him because she mistook him for someone else, someone with whom she had an appointment. And as soon as he understood that, he was passionately resolved to miss no scrap of advantage that the miracle might put in his way. He saw in a flash that, if he told her his name was not Kenley, he would lose her at once; whereas if he let her think it was, there was at any rate a sporting chance for him. Instead, therefore, of a young man tongue-tied with astonishment and overwhelmed with happiness, he became in an instant a cool, wary soldier of fortune, playing for time and taking every inch of cover that offered.
The first and obvious cover was, of course, the letter. ‘Not at all,’ he replied, with vague courtesy, and took the open, typewritten sheet out of her hand. There immediately he found more cover in the printed heading, ‘Kenley and Hutton, Publishers,’ so that he could add easily and almost wit hout a hiatus, ‘No doubt the mistake was ours’; and at the same time tear a sort of telegraphic heart out of the typewritten lines that followed.
‘ Madam — obliged — letter — 20th inst. — answer — advertisement — secretary — possible — come — some arrangement. Note — you are engaged — daytime — interview — this office — impracticable. Suggest — meet Mr. Kenley, Jr. — Wednesday, 5.30 P.M. — station tea-room — recognize Mr. Kenley— dispatch-case marked “K".’ And then, correctly and formally, at the foot of the page, ‘ Miss Gisela Mornington,’ and some address that swam meaninglessly before his eyes because of the ecstatic fitness of that name. ‘ Gisela! Gisela!’—He had her now, the very essence of her, in those flowing, melting syllables of her name. And the words that clamored absurdly (and quite inaccurately) to be said were,
'I have caught you fast for ever in a tangle of sweet rhymes.’
What, however, he did say, with a very decent impersonation of some credible Mr. Kenley, Jr., was, ‘Yes — our fault, I see. The directions are not clear, and I must apologize for the misunderstanding, Miss — er —’ (he pretended to consult the letter again) ‘ Mornington.’
At the same time he unobtrusively turned his dispatch-case ‘K’ side inward, lest the authentic Mr. Kenley, Jr., should arrive. For there was really nothing, he found, with which the soldier of fortune whom he had so surprisingly become was incapable of dealing.
The next step was even simpler, if possible, than the first: the letter itself fairly shrieked it at him.
‘Well, we can hardly talk here, of course,’ he said, with what he hoped was just enough authority for ‘ Kenley ’ and just enough friendliness for the ‘Junior,’ who might set her at her ease. ‘Our idea was that, if you would join me over a cup of tea, it would give us an opportunity to go into the business. Thank you!’
She had made a murmur that might have been construed as dissent, but he ignored it and settled the matter high-handedly by swinging open the tea-room door and motioning her to enter.
It answered: with bent head she preceded him submissively. So far, then, she had not the least suspicion, he reflected; already she was yielding him the obedience due to an employer. He felt the exultation of success.
In the tea-room there was a pleasant, soothing buzz of talk, and they had a little green-tiled table to themselves in a quiet corner; yet he found that he had not succeeded in setting her at her ease, her nervousness had actually increased, and he saw that she was afraid to lift her cup because of the trembling of her hands.
At once in a rush of tenderness, he decided to drop the least suggestion of the ‘Junior ’ whom he was longing to be, if only it would charm away her preposterous, adorable terror.
‘You must n’t be frightened, you know, Miss Mornington,’ he assured her on a note of quite elderly encouragement. ‘ I expect you are new to applying for posts and so on, but really there’s nothing to be afraid of. I only want to ask you a few questions.’
‘But that’s just it,’ she answered, with a sort of desperate, hunted misery. ‘You ’ll be angry; you’ve a right to be angry. I’m wasting your time. I ought to have t-told you at once that I sh-shan’t suit you. I —’ She pushed back her chair, evidently intending precipitate flight.
‘Sit down, please!’ he said, with a sharp return to authority; and once more she yielded delicious obedience. ‘Now,’ he ordered slowly and impressively, ‘ tell me what you mean.’
‘Yes. I’m sorry. Of course I must.
I won’t keep you long.’ She twisted her fingers in her lap and spoke in a low voice, not looking at him. ‘ I saw your advertisement and applied for the post because it is just what I should like, and I wanted to see what chance I had of getting it. But I had no right to do it.
I’m a teacher; I teach in an elementary school — and hate it. So I’m having lessons in typewriting and shorthand, and as soon as I know enough, I shall take a post as secretary. Only, I don’t know enough, yet. My typing is all right, but my shorthand can’t possibly be good enough for another two or three months. So you see —
‘Yes, I see,’ he agreed gravely. ‘ Your application for a post has been a little premature.’ Then — lest they should never get further — he ventured on a bold stroke. ‘ Why do you hate teaching?’ he demanded.
As he had hoped, the unexpectedness — the very irrelevance of the question brought her eyes up to meet his. And when once it had done that, he put his whole soul into making her remember that, whereas to-day he was Mr. Kenley, Jr., to her, and her prospective employer, for six months he had been the nameless fellow traveler who had established a secret kinship with her.
And he succeeded; she did remember. He saw the misery and the fright recede from her eyes and a glint of laughter take their place; he saw the flame he loved sweep over her face and neck, like a brief sunset flush on snow. She leaned forward the confidential fraction of an inch.
‘ It’s not so much the teaching I hate,’ she answered, and treated him for the first time as an equal, ‘as the taught — and the teachers! ’
‘Yes. Don’t you know?’ She seemed to despair, if he did n’t know, of telling him,but suddenly decided that illustration would do. ‘The head mistress,’ she explained, still with those dancing eyes, ‘says “interring” and “municipal". And the other teachers—oh, well, for instance, they never say “ Good-bye,” you know; they say “ Bye-bye,” or “ ta-ta,” or “So long.’”
He did know, and laughed; and they hung together over the moment of lovely sympathy that that gave them. Then she took fright again.
‘But I ’m keeping you,’ she stammered. ‘I shall make you miss your train. And of course I know I ought n’t to have dreamed you could wait till my shorthand ’— Again there came that nervous catch that engulfed her voice.
So that had been her hope — that she might be waited for by Kenley and Hutton. It threw a ray of light for him on the next of his precarious steps as Mr. Kenley, Jr. And then that unguarded admission that she knew which was his train! Surely he could also reap some advantage from that?
He glanced out of the tea-room window at the great station-clock. ‘Five minutes more before — our train,’ he informed her with a little gesture of apology. ‘You will forgive my knowing that we catch the same one?’ He smiled. And now, if we had any gift of tongues, one or both of us would remark, “It’s a small world, is n’t it?”’
This daring allusion, not only to their previous dumb understanding, but also to one of the causes of it,— the wearisome parrot-talk of their fellow passengers, — swept the last of her composure away on the flood of a flush. It was the effect for which he had hoped, so that, before she was able to think again with any clearness, he might propound and carry his next point.
‘As to the possibility of the firm waiting for your services, Miss Mornington, it would obviously be inconvenient; but, after seeing you, I won’t say offhand that it is entirely out of the question. I should need, however, to explain this point to you a little more in detail. And, as you remind me’ (‘Oh, base advantage, Mr. Kenley, Jr!’ his heart cried out on him, even as he took it), ‘our train will not wait. It is fortunate, therefore, that we can continue our talk on the journey. If you have finished — ? ’
He had her now, bewildered and snared; she went with him docilely out of the tea-room, down the stairs, on to the platform. There his original project — to secure by bribery a first-class carriage for the two of them — gave place to an inspiration far more cunning: they would travel third, as usual. He perceived anew, with critical detachment, that under this spur of love and danger he was easily outrivaling the serpent in subtlety.
And again the result was just what he had anticipated. Having a matter
— however businesslike — to discuss in private, and being wedged in among a dozen people, all of a kind to be unblushingly agape with curiosity about any private matter whatsoever, they were driven to speak practically in whispers. And thereupon they became subject to that law of nature whereby any two persons conducting a conversation in whispers are at once involved in an element of quite astonishing intimacy, with or without their knowledge and consent.
‘Perhaps I ought to make rather clearer my own standing in the firm,’was his first murmur; for he was anxious to secure himself against any suspicious reflections on her part later, over the fact that he habitually traveled in third-class carriages. ‘The fact is, I am not yet in a position of authority at all.’ He smiled modestly, and she made an answering murmur of surprise. ' I am my father’s son, of course, he elucidated further, ‘but Mr. Hutton wishes to be assured of my qualifications before I am given a junior partnership or anything of that sort. So I am undergoing a year’s trial rather severe trial — at the office, you know, just like any clerk, and am not really in a position to treat with you or anyone except as my father’s mouthpiece and Mr. Hutton’s — very much Mr. Hutton’s. My father, you see, Miss Mornington, is the literary partner in the firm, and Mr. Hutton the business one, and literature is apt to be a trifle — bullied by business, is n’t it? Perhaps you think it strange that I refer to things of this sort; but it is necessary because it affects this rather delicate question of the secretaryship.’
‘Yes, of course — I see,’ she rejoined gratefully. ‘Thank you for telling me.
He might look at her now’, and did. How serious she was over it all, and with what a repressed, delicious excitement shining through the seriousness. She was really keen on Kenley and Hutton, then? — wanted the job tremendously? And all he had done had been to deprive her of her chance of getting it. But his twinge of remorse was swiftly forgotten in the anxiety of a new thought: Kenley and Hutton might write to her, of course, as she had missed her appointment; and then where would he be? Not even the subtlety of serpents would avail then to save him from exposure.
The thought made him desperate. If he had only the present moment, at any rate he would make the most of it. She wanted more about Kenley and Hutton?—She should have it! Heaven knew, it had suddenly become easy enough to supply. Why, he could positively see the pair of them, and so should she.
‘Our present secretary,’ he went on, still with that smoothness that he found a continuous incitement to new departures in lying, ‘who does the more confidential work both for my father and Mr. Hutton, is leaving us in a month, because she is getting married this summer. She is an excellent secretary, and Mr. Hutton will mourn her wholeheartedly; but my father— well, Miss Mornington, will you forgive my being perfectly frank with you? Thank you! — Then I will say that she has certain little mannerisms which do not affect Mr. Hutton, but which harass my father, and sometimes distract his attention to the detriment of his work. I should like to secure for him in future the services of someone free from such mannerisms — someone, may I put it, who is less violently a lady than most secretaries, and more securely a gentlewoman? So you will, I hope, forgive my saying that I recognized you at once as personally the right secretary for my father, whatever you may, so far, be professionally. Which brings us, does n’t it, to the professional point you have mentioned. You require three months longer, I understand — ’
‘No, I would make two do — I would!’ she broke in with a sort of anguished eagerness.
‘Very well, let us say two, then. And, deducting the time for the present secretary’s notice to expire, the gap is, in fact, reduced to one month, is n’t it?'
She hung on his words with an effect of breathlessness. ‘One month — yes.’
’So that if I could induce our present secretary to stay that one month longer, you would be ready to take her place?’
’Yes — oh, yes!’
’Well, Miss Mornington, I don’t say I can do it, but I do say I will try. I know my father’s character, and I am sure he would like to have you, so I shall do my best to keep the post open for you. And I shall hope to tell you the result in a day or two.’
He might, he reflected, have opened the gates of paradise rather than of a publisher’s office to her, judging by her dazzled expression. She thanked him in an awed way, and then they were at their destination. Lest he should rouse her suspicions, he forced himself to let her go home, as usual, alone; for he would be lucky, he realized, if after such a yarn he escaped detection even until the shattering communication from Kenley and Hutton reached her.
The next morning on the platform he felt himself rewarded for his restraint. She acknowledged his salutation with a smile, so that he knew the seismic letter had not yet arrived. But, in view of the desperate fact that it might so soon arrive, he permitted his promised ‘day or two’ to elapse no later than that evening.
‘ Well, I’m glad to be able to tell you,’ he said, as he joined her on the platform as a matter of course, ‘that our little difficulty is overcome. My father has had a talk with the secretary, and she has agreed to stay on until June instead of May. Air. Hutton, of course, knows nothing except that she finds she can be with us for another month, and is pleased to hear it, while my father is looking forward to your coming to us at the end of it. May we take it, therefore, that the matter is settled?’
‘ Yes, please!’ she responded; and her moment of delight and thanks tided him neatly over the delicate process of establishing himself for the second time beside her in the train.
After the second time the process somehow lost its delicacy (though not its glory), for it had developed safely into a habit. Each day he saw, with growing confidence in his luck, that Kenley and Hutton had not written; each day he had only to begin by making some inquiry about her shorthand, and then they could both slip happily from everyday moorings and down enchanted streams of youth. For two months they did it; for two months he (knowing that there were only two) battled successfully with the demon that would have seduced him from his one remaining principle — a determination not to ask her to marry him until she knew the truth; for two months she was content to wait, as if they had all eternity for drifting together down those streams. Twice every day they met; on Saturday afternoons and Sundays they walked together in woods, or climbed together to hilltops, or drifted together down actual as well as metaphorical streams.
It was on a Saturday afternoon in a wood that she told him she had passed her final tests and was ready for Kenley and Hutton; and after a moment’s pause, he asked her to be at the office on Tuesday morning. That gave him his last week-end with her, and Monday for telling her the truth.
He told it. With a youthfully dramatic sense of fitness, he expiated his crime on the spot where it had been committed. Once more he waited for her at the top of the station stairs, and once more they went into the tea-room together.
At the first words of his confession she gave him a strange, wistful look; after that, she dropped her eyes and twisted the fingers on her lap, as once before.
He did not spare himself. He had a feeling that to make any excuses would only harden her righteous judgment. Once or twice, when she made a low sound, as of pain, it strung him up afresh to self-flagellation. At the end they both sat for a while over their pretty tea-cups and their gay, greentiled table as over the grave of the beloved.
She was the one to break the heavy silence. ‘So it’s over,’ she said hopelessly, and lifted her eyes with an effort.
It was only what he had expected— what he had really known that her sentence would be; yet at that knell of finality, something blurred his eyes so that he could no longer see her.
‘Ah, no, no! ’ she cried, and her voice suddenly sharpened to a note of passionate protection. ‘Not because of what you’ve done! But — if you feel so badly about that, what will you think of me — of me? You only took advantage of an opportunity. I made it.'
‘You — ?’
‘Yes — made it — manufactured it carefully, deliberately, shamelessly,’ she told him with the bitterness of intolerable misery. ‘Oh, of course I knew you — liked me; and I knew all through those first months what you were thinking: that something would happen to bring us together — a miracle. And I knew it would n’t — ever! In books there are miracles; in books heroines are rescued from fires by heroes, but in real life the hero gets hold of the housemaid — if anybody; in books heroes meet their mates and marry them; in real life they meet after they have each married someone else; in books heroes go to war and come back to be nursed well from nice tidy leg or arm wounds; in real life there is nothing to come back — or worse than nothing. It is so! — it is so! You can’t deny it. And so I knew nothing would ever happen to help us. You would just go on hoping for a miracle, and I would just go on knowing there would n’t be one. And then, one day, you would n’t be there, and I should n’t know even your name or where to look for you, and it. would all be over before it was begun. Or else I would get ill — or even just have to catch a different train, or— Oh, it — it was driving me mad. And so at last I did it! ’
‘But what? What did you do?’ he asked, conscious of a new and riotous hope.
‘ I had lunch one day with a friend who is at Kenley and Hutton’s,’she said colorlessly. ‘She had some of their printed note-paper in her case, and I managed to take a sheet. Then I typed the letter to myself that I showed to you. All the rest was true. I am an elementary schoolteacher, and I do hate it, and I have been learning shorthand and typewriting, and now I am ready to take a post. But there was never any advertisement; never any appointment to meet Mr. Kenley, Junior. I made it up to go with the “K” on your dispatch-case.’
She was not even going to ask his name! That, as an indication of how entirely she felt it all to be ’over,’was what struck him first. Then another of the manifold aspects of what she had said staggered him.
‘Well, but then — if you knew there was no appointment — what on earth did you make of me — of my pretending to be Kenley Junior?
‘I know,’ she acknowledged, and her eyes shrank away from him. ’It did nearly finish it. I almost gave myself away. Don’t you remember how nervous I was? All I’d planned was just a start, something we could use in place of an introduction. But then, when it went on, it — it was like having recited some ancient spell and finding it work. For a minute I even thought that by some wild chance your name really must be Kenley. Then — I saw.’
‘What did you see?’
His eyes were alight now with his new hope. Hers were still shamed and desperate, but she forced herself bravely to tell him the truth — at last.
‘I saw that, at any rate, we did — both care, or you would n’t have done it; you would n’t have jumped at the chance like that, or have found a way to carry it through. And that made me —happy. I could n’t tell then. It was only for two months at the most — and I could n’t. I did take off one month to punish myself. Do you remember?’
‘Rather!’ His relief bubbled over into a laugh. ‘It’s simply stupendous luck, is n’t it? We’re quits, don’t you see, because we’re both in it, and now we’ve both told. We ’re pot and kettle, and can never mention the word black. Why, it’s simply the only thing that could put us right, our both having lied like — well, like each other!’
She shook her head. ‘Not like each other. I — wish it were. But I was the worst. I did an awful thing, and I shall be ashamed all my life. And so I will never see you again, because you’d never be able to forget that I did it — that I began it — '
‘Darling!’ He stopped her boldly with the word that he had hitherto forbidden himself. ‘What rot! Why, don’t you see that I’ve got my miracle, in spite of both our lies, and in spite of your frightfully elderly cynicism about books and real life?’
‘Got it? A miracle?’
‘ Well, is n’t it? — that a girl — not any girl, but a girl gently born, educated, sensitive — a girl like you_
should risk so much, dare so much — for me?’
‘Oh!’ she despaired, ‘you’re kind and chivalrous, but it’s no good. It does bring me down to the dust. And besides, can’t you see that we must part? It would spoil everything, vulgarize everything now. That’s my punishment for doing it. I might have known! Of course one can’t do a thing like that and not suffer for it.’
He weighed the new argument with sudden gravity. And before he spoke, that priceless gift of maturity — the sense of humor that can pillory not only other people but one’s self — had descended upon him.
‘No,’ he agreed, with a kind of cheerful grimness, ‘we’ve both got to suffer for it all right, I expect. But not in the way you mean.’
‘ Not — ? How, then ? ’
He leaned over the table, looking her steadily in the eyes — not lover to lover now, but comrade to comrade.
We’ve both got to get off our high horse, he said with crisp conviction. ‘That’s what’s the matter with us, don’t you see? We’ve been putting on the most sickening airs of superiority, and now Nature has — has just walloped us down a peg. We’ve been sticking our cultured noses in the air and despising the people we work with and travel with, all because we’ve got twopenn ’ orth more education than they. We’ve passed by, with our well-bred shudders, on the other side from all those poor young devils who want a spice of romance and adventure, and take the simplest way to get it. Well, now, look at us! What have we done? Why have we both lied and schemed and smothered our consciences for two months? For exactly the same reason that they giggle and glance and nudge: because we wanted each other so badly that we had to find a way. There’s not a pin to choose between us and them, and we have got to be honest with ourselves and acknowledge it. It’s humiliating; it’s almost incredible; but that’s our particularly nasty medicine,
I’m afraid: that we ’re just ordinary. We’re being trounced into admitting that
God alone knows which is which;
The soul squats down in the flesh,
Like a tinker drunk in a ditch.
t Aren’t we?’
It was a hard saying and he knew it; yet he was unreasoningly disappointed because she did not immediately testify to its truth.
Instead, she glanced at the stationclock.
‘We shall miss the train if we don’t go now,’ she observed in a cool voice.
He said nothing more, and they went. But in spite of their going together as usual, he could not find the enchanted stream of the last two months. He had offered her hard truth (as he had offered it to himself) and it had proved too hard for her. He tasted the anguish of loving and of having to stoop to the beloved.
In the train, for once, by an ironic chance, there were seats for both of them —seats side by side. Yet they were further apart than in the days before the sham miracle.
He looked drearily out of the window. Though it was June, rain was falling in a hopeless drizzle.
‘Puts you in mind of the autumn, don’t it? remarked a young woman next to Gisela, and he observed with astonishment that she was speaking to Gisela. ‘And what I always sy,’ pursued the young woman, with an air of being both profound and original, ‘is that there’s something sad-like about the autumn. Ever noticed it yerself?'
His lips curled in weariness and scorn. Then he saw with surprise that Gisela was looking at the speaker.
‘Yes,’ she answered, ‘I have. I’ve often noticed how sad the autumn is.'
And her tone was gentle, sympathetic, even— his heart leaped — humble. As she finished speaking, she bent her head abruptly, and over the slim column of her neck swept a revealing flame —
So she had beaten him, after all! He, indeed, had stumbled upon a truth and communicated it to her, but she had done infinitely more: already she had put it into practice. And this, he realized, was her way of telling him that she acknowledged their hard truth; this — in a crowded, third-class railway-carriage — was her acceptance of the proposal of marriage that he had (or good heavens! had n’t he?) made.
Well, if he had n’t, it was evident that for the moment the omission could not be rectified. Yet something had to be done to mark the sudden glory of the world — to celebrate the fact that once again the morning stars sang together. For now he understood what her temporary coolness had meant: she had ‘ learned something. That always feels at first as if you had lost something.’
‘I say,’ he ventured; and could not speak below his breath because her head was turned away.
‘Yes?’ She looked at him.
But by then, of course, it was no good; half the carriage was comfortably listening.
For a moment he was confounded. Then he gave a gleeful young laugh: he had discovered the offspring of necessity. ‘You’ve won,’ he declared. ‘You’ve pronounced it before I’d finished learning how to spell it.’
She was puzzled. ‘Pronounced what?’
Then she saw — not only his meaning, but the baffled blankness to which he had successfully reduced their audience. Her eyes danced.
‘ Oh, but it was you,’ she returned demurely, ‘who made it so interesting.'