The Weakness of Joanna
The love story of a girl who couldn’t read the riddle of her own heart
JOANNA swung up the avenue, breathing deeply of the fresh night air. She walked so superbly and trod the pavements with so light a step that people turned round to stare after her. But her thoughts were fixed intently on some inner rapture and she walked heedless of the outer world until she reached the imposing marble edifice she knew with affectionate familiarity as the “Shop.” Fitting her key into the lock, she came down to earth with a sharp sigh and a quick shake of the head. The heavy door slid shut behind her.
“’Evening, MacCarthy,” she called to the watchman“How are you?”
The old man hurried up to shake hands with her. “Glad to see y’ back, Miss,” he said. “The place ain’t seemed the same without y\” He grinned. “And Mr. Howard -I bet he’s glad to have y’ back, pickin’ up the pieces afther him.”
She laughed and replied: “I’m glad to be back, too." Going into her own office, she switched on the lights and looked round the room. She had been in for a few minutes that afternoon, but there had been so many interruptions with people coming in to welcome her home and Howard constantly popping in to assure himself she was actually back, that she hardly had had time to sit down and catch her breath. She felt that she must get back and familiarize herself again with the place and quietly consider the change that had come over her since she last saw it.
She was like a watch in need of adjusting. Her life, her heart, had been running too fast. She was not at all the same calm, poised Joanna who, four months ago,
composedly had set sail for Europe and a particularly ticklish bit of business. She wanted a long evening alone in her office. Her studio apartment wouldn’t do. She had tried to be hard and practical there and it simply did not work. She began to unpack her trunks—and the dresses, scarfs, hats, she had worn on shipboard, each one reminded her of Bob. Dancing with Bob. Walking with Bob. Deck tennis. Ship’s concert. Or the night in Venice when their gondola wandered past ancient palaces, etched in blackness against the moon, and the weird, sad cry of the gondoliers sent delicious, exquisite shivers up and down her back. And then her heart would beat—beat—until she felt it in her throat.
The office was panelled in oak. A few very fine prints were on the walls, and the tw'o tall windows were hung with heavy yellow silk. It was a calming atmosphere. It was like a cool hand stroking her forehead.
On the desk was a low bowl of the subtlest green Venetian glass, and from it rose the supple stems of a dozen red tulips. Joanna frowned a little. In the excitement of her return she had completely forgotten to thank Howard for them.
She sat down at the desk and tried to concentrate on her immediate problem. She fixed her eyes sternly on an empty panel in the opposite wall, but the gracious line of the tulips persisted in her vision, distracting her mind and stirring up discordant emotions. She flung out an impatient hand and pushed the bowl to one side, slopping the water on the desk.
“I wish I had a padded cell. Dash those tulips!” She mopped at the water with her scrappy little handkerchief.
Howard stood in the doorway, his sensitive mouth twisted a little.
“’Couldn’t help hearing you,” he said apologetically. “What’s the matter with the tulips? I thought you rather liked the things.”
“I do, Howard. I love them. Only I was trying to think and they kept getting in my way. They’re too lovely. You startled me,” she added.
“I’m sorry. Am I bothering you? I’ve missed you horribly, and it occurred to me you might be here tonight.”
“What made you think that?” she asked idly, wishing he would go, and glad at the same time to have him there because he was an excuse for not finding a solution to her problem.
“Oh, I don’t know,” he said vaguely. “I thought you’d probably want to know what blunders and messes I’d been making without your guiding hand.”
He cupped a tulip in his hand and looked down at it, but not as if he saw the warm redness of it. Rather as if he were holding it for comfort, for support. As if the feel of the petals gave him the necessary stimulus to go on.
“I don’t really mean that, you know. I came because I had to see you tonight. And I nearly always know where you’re going to be and what you’re going to do.”
“Mercy!” Joanna laughed a little. “You scare me.”
He glanced up at her swiftly and then as swiftly his eyes fell again to the flower.
“It’s because I love you so. It gives me some queer wisdom about you.”
She sat limp, stunned by the statement he had dropped, as it wTere, into her lap.
“I—I nev reamed—never thought—” she stam-
mered at last
The tulip, crushed and wilted, drooped languidly over the edge of the bowl as he released it suddenly.
“Didn’t you know?” he asked in surprise.
She shook her head, her eyes fixed in a sort of fright on the dead flower. In her mind wavered a nebulous feeling that was almost sorrow that Romance had come so late to her. When she had been very young, when she was at the adventurous, expectant age, she would have loved the excitement, the thrill of her position. But at that time she had shut romance out, put away everything that threatened to distract her from the success she had set her heart on. And now the prize was within her reach, and here was Love, knocking at the door with a bagful of dreams and a pocketful of eternal youth! And she could only feel this fright, this vague unhappiness.
Howard was leaning toward her, speaking quickly, urgently.
“It doesn't seem possible for you not to have known. I thought you understood that I wouldn’t say anything to—to bother you. Perhaps it is because I haven’t seen you for so long, but you seem different somehow. More beautiful even, and softer . . . and younger.” He
laughed tenderly. “I mean, you seem in some strange way younger than you did when I first knew you—how many years ago, Jo darling?” He drew his hand across his eyes.
An odd compassion overwhelmed her. That was what he always did when he was not quite sure of his ground. But he could not suspect her—yet.
“I’m not very good at this sort of thing,” he continued. “What I’m trying to say is that something in you, something fresh and sweet, gave me courage to tell you how much I love you . . . adore you.”
She sat very still, not surprised any more, realizing that she had known it all for a long, long time. And she was thirty years old, and a newspaper article had written her up as “one of the city’s clearest-headed young business women.”
“But that isn’t all.” Howard’s voice was triumphant. “I’ve got something real at last. It makes me feel— well, just a little more worthy of you. The idea’s been spinning around in my head for years, and now I’ve worked it up. It’s a valve for ice machines, which makes the use of ammonia absolutely safe. It means that cooling plants can be installed in residences in hot countries and the kids can monkey round it without getting hurt.
Jo, I’ve done it finally!
I’m as sure of it as I am that—that I’m no good at this business of selling art.”
YTL^HILE he poured * * out his heart to her, half humorous, half passionate, just touching her hand, her mind darted this way and that, like an imprisoned bird seeking escape.
Dear old Howard! Not one of his many inventions had succeeded. He was either just too late with his patent, or someone cheated him, or the idea wasn’t quite right.
But perhaps this really would . . . But what difference would its success or failure make to her, to them? Poor old Howard !
At last she drew back her hand and rose unsteadily to her feet. The hand that he had held she put behind her back.
It was tingling oddly.
“Howard, there’s something I’ve got to tell you. I wasn’t going to yet, not for a long time. But you—you’re forcing me to. I’m so glad about the—the ice machine. I’ll always be your friend and . . . ”
All the blood left his face. He pulled himself up from the desk as if he were suddenly very tired. There was a short, hurting silence. Then he said, too quietly:
“There’s someone else.”
She bowed her head.
“Ah!” It was like a quick groan. “Who is he?”
“I don’t think you know him—Robert Kennedy.”
“No. It doesn’t matter, of course. He’s very lucky. I hope he appreciates his luck.” His voice was thick. “And—you love him, Jo?”
“Oh . . . yes.”
“Then that’s all right,” he said after a moment, and smiled. “You’ll forgive me if I don’t say the conventional things right now. And you must forget what I’ve said tonight. You mustn’t feel the least bit bothered about me, Jo dear.”
Her eyes filled as he turned away, trying to appear jaunty and unconcerned so that she might not be “bothered” about him. And his clothes suddenly seemed to be too big for him and—
“Howard!” she cried involuntarily as the big night door banged shut. She knew where he would go. Back to his laboratory and his ice machine—his youngest child—for comfort, and in the morning he would smile at her and their life together in the shop would go on as before.
Bat would it? There was Bob and her problem, all unsolved. Suddenly she burst into an unexpected storm of tears.
Feeling limp and shaken and ashamed of herself, she finally washed her face, bathing her swollen eyes angrily as if they were to blame for their unattractive condition. She struggled for a while with a desire to hear Bob’s voice, until the thought that she was actually engaged to be married to him struck her so forcibly that she yanked the receiver off the hook and called the number of his club, in sudden impatience at the time she had wasted.
Bob’s vibrant positive voice came into the buzzing instrument.
“Why, honey, you’re a peach to give me a ring. I tried to get you at the apartment ...”
She could hear vague sounds of laughter and confused noises like clinking glasses and tinkling ice.
“Who—aren’t you alone?”
“Why, no. A few of the chaps dropped in to say hello. Nothing special.” His voice dropped. ‘You know how I wish you were here. Can’t we have breakfast together ... or something?”
“Oh, Bob!” She was suddenly in a fever. “Can’t you get away for a few minutes? I'm at the office. Come and walk home with me.”
“Surest thing, you know. Ten minutes and I’ll be with you.”
She hung up the receiver and sat staring straight before her, trying to realize Bob. It had been such a short time. Ten miraculous days in Venice and then the meeting again on the boat at Havre and the short trip back together. She was beginning to understand how little she knew about him—his associates, his family, even his likes and dislikes. Involuntarily, her thoughts switched to Howard. She knew all about Howard.
“You take care of Howard,” old Mr. Dryden had said before he died. “He’s my son and I love him and the business must stay in his name. He could have been an artist or something like that. Then I could have done something for him. I could have made him known all over the world. Those inventions . ” The old
man rambled on and on. Joanna could see him still, propped up in the huge carved bed, incredibly wasted and small and more commanding than ever.
“There’s a will. Left everything to Howard, with a partnership for you if you stick it out. You’re clever. Cleverest woman I’ve ever known. Might have been my daughter. Never mind. Take care of Howard. He’ll get into a hole sooner or later. Let him play with his useless inventions, but make him stick to the business too.” The sunken eyes glittered inquisitively. “If there is a life beyond the grave, I want to know there’s still a Dryden with some interest in the shop -even if it’s a forced interest.” And the last coherent words he spoke were: “Those cursed inventions . . . You take care of him, Jo.”
And now the time was almost up. Her partnership in the old and famous firm of Dryden, Inc., was within reach. She could not honestly say whether she had worked so long for the sake of that or because she loved the business. The buying and selling of pictures, old and new; the handling of art objects of fabulous value; the varied human contacts, the really tremendous responsibility—it made a colorful life. Howard had ambled along beside her, leaving every decision to her, whimsical and unbusinesslike, perfectly indifferent to every activity but tinkering with his “useless inventions.” Lovable and aggravating . . Oh, yes, there was very little about Howard that she didn’t know.
She moved restlessly. Bob, never having seen Howard, was jealous of him; of the shop. Marrying Bob meant giving up Dryden’s, giving up everything that had been her life since she was seventeen years old and pitchforked out of business school into her first job taking the most hectic dictation in the world from the “Old Man.” She hadn’t done that long. He had decided that she had what he called a “flair for art,” and proceeded to put her through an intensive cultivation. She had ended by being his righthand man, but the tight lines around her mouth dated back to the years when she had worked at the shop all day and studied more than half the night, gone through grilling cross-examinations sprung on her without an instant’s notice, and closed her mind to everything but ambition.
She had stuck through that, and now, five years after the Old Man’s death, she was going to leave the shop to drift like a ship without a captain. When she reached that point she got up hastily. She
powdered her nose and put on her hat and walked very fast through the dim showrooms to the door, which she
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The Weakness of Joanna
Continued, from page 7
j opened and shut as furtively as if she J had been doing something traitorous.
DOB was coming, swinging down the J Avenue with the long easy stride of the athlete. A moment and he was beside her, bent swiftly and kissed her lips.
“Lord!” he cried, “it’s been years since I’ve seen you.”
She laughed lightly, forgetting Howard, forgetting Dryden, Inc., feeling so absurdly young and carefree at his touch. He was different from the ether men she
knew well. His superb physique seemed to set him off from the rest of mankind as if a statue of the Periclean age had stepped from its pedestal, endowed with the warm and joyous pulse of life. His eyes were merry and his lips curled in an almost constant half smile, as if the mere fact of being alive at all was a source of unending delight to him. And if his mind was the sort that never abandons its youthful prejudices and modes of thought, it was at least a mind honest in its limitations, striving very hard to be a tenant worthy of its outer temple
As they walked along, arms and hips in a delicious rhythm of contact, she said suddenly:
“Will you do something for me, Bob?” “Anything in the world.”
“Howard Dryden has invented some new kind of ice machine. I want you to help him put it on the market. You told me you did some promoting once, and now that you’re in the advertising business it seems to me you’re just the person Howard needs.” She clenched her hands, too absorbed in her anxiety for Howard’s success to notice the sudden glowering silence by her side. “Oh, I do so want this thing to be a go ! I can’t bear to have him disappointed again.”
Bob didn’t like the tone of her voice. Looking down at her, he saw that her lips were pressed close together, as if to keep more words from flying out.
“I don’t see why you’re so excited about it,” he said stiffly. “You told me none of his things had ever been any good. Why try to get me in on something that’s bound to be a flop?”
“Oh! Did I really say that? What I meant was, he’s never made a success from a business point of view, of anything. Plenty of them were good.”
Bob kicked at a piece of paper which lay in his way.
“Look here, Jo. Let’s have a showdown on this before we go any farther. Just how much do you care about this— this wonderful inventor?”
Tears of weariness and vexation sprang to Joanna’s eyes. She stopped short. Bob stopped short.
“I don’t see why you ask that—or why I should answer it.” She made her voice as disagreeable, as aggravating as she could.
“Because,” replied Bob violently, “I won’t stand for any of this half-and-half stuff. Either you belong to me or you don’t. I haven’t liked the sound of this bird from the beginning. A kind of highbrow, underdone egg who’s willing to take his orders from a woman.”
Joanna gasped for adequate words, but Bob rushed on:
“There won’t be any of that with us, Jo, I tell you. I admire your intelligence and I think you’re great and all that— but that’s not the reason I’m so crazy about you.”
“I’m beginning to wonder whether you are so crazy about me, after all,” interrupted Joanna, hot and cold by turns. “If you think I’m going to stultify my intelligence to please your masculine vanity, you’re very much mistaken.” “Well, if you think I’m going to forget that I’m the head of the family to please your feminine conceit, you’re equally mistaken,” snapped Bob. “Listen, Jo, I love you more than I can possibly begin to tell you. I’ll work my fingers to the bone to give you everything you want, and I’ll do my level best to make you happy. But no modern ideas are ever going to make me believe that it’s a woman’s place to run things. I’m so oldfashioned that I think woman’s place is in the home.” He finished with a gesture which meant, “Take it ... or leave it.” With one accord they turned and walked on a few paces, a sullen stretch of sidewalk between. They were in the quiet street in which she lived. She felt his beauty, his physical appeal like a burden upon her, and before she knew it she was trying to excuse him. “Such a kid! But he’s so sweet.” Trying to bring her hard-won standards into line with his, to understand his point of view. Anything rather than lose him. She told herself angrily that such condoning was more than folly; it was criminal weakness. It was the kind of weakness that she most despised in women; this ready capitulation of their ideals at the behest of their lovers. Bitterly she put herself down as just another weak-kneed, lovesick, foolish woman. And longed to fling herself into his arms and feel the hard contours of his body against her softness. At last she said with an effort:
“We don’t talk the same language, Bob.”
He laughed confidently, unable to hold rancor long.
“Oh yes, we do. About everything that really matters.” His eyes, glancing down at her, caught the light from a street lamp. They were such a clear, clear blue in the daytime, and now they were like inky pools in moonlight. She said quickly:
“This is where I live.” She fitted her key in the lock. It was dark in the vestibule and his arms were around her, his lips pressed against her mouth, forcing her back and back. She gasped, and he whispered triumphantly, with a little laugh running through the words:
“We understand each other in the most important way, Jo darling, don’t we?”
“Oh!” She was breathless. “I—I’m not sure thaUit is the most important. I’m not, Bob.” She was arguing with herself.
“Just take my word for it, sweetheart, and everything will be all right,” he said, and her response was prayerlike in its fervor:
“Oh, I hope so.”
He was curiously sensitive to physical reactions. He caught the fatigue in her voice, and held her drooping body in swift tenderness.
“You’re dog tired,” he said gently. “I’ll run along, but I tell you what I’ll do. Just to prove that you really, down in the bottom of your heart, agree with me about this He and She stuff, I’ll drop around at your place tomorrow about half past five and see your friend Dryden. And then you can decide which kind of man you want to have around all the rest of your life.”
She could feel, rather than see, the curl of his lips as he smiled down at her, much amused at his own idea, so terrifyingly confident.
SHE spent a restless, nervous night, and fell asleep only to dream feverishly and wake with a start as the alanthus tree in the backyard rubbed its barren branches against her window in the storm which came with the early morning. She was wet and cross by the time she reached the shop. The city looked dank and ugly and the people impossibly unattractive. Even the reposeful interior of Dryden’s failed to soothe her. Howard was nervous and his apologetic anxiety about his management of the place during her absence infuriated her unreasonably. That she found nothing serious to criticize only made matters worse, for, she thought, he really can do it if he has to; it just shows ! But what it showed she did not analyze. Nothing was said about last evening. Nothing ever would be said unless she brought up the subject. For Howard it was a closed chapter, and the only reminder he gave her—and that an unconscious one—was the curious look of being too thin for his clothes.
It was a horrid day. One of those days when it rains and rains, and a lot of little things, unimportant in themselves, conspire to rasp nerves already frazzled by wet feet and general dampness. She had been having, in a way, a holiday, and she didn’t feel ready to settle down to office work again. - She was unhappy about Howard, and she didn’t understand Bob. Least of all did she understand herself.
By the end of the day she was pretty well exhausted. She did not think of the ice machine until she met Howard with his hat and raincoat on, ready to go home. She glanced at her wrist watch. Fivej twenty. Bob, always punctual, would arrive in ten minutes. She blurted out:
“I told Bob Kennedy about your | machine. He’s coming around at half i past five to talk to you about it. He’s going to manage it for you.”
“I beg your pardon?”
She flushed. It was as if he thought ¡ her indelicate, insensitive. Oh, what rot! !
“You don’t mind, do you? He’s in the j advertising business and he knows about!
promoting inventions. He’s just the person for ...”
“I would rather run it myself, Jo . . for several reasons.”
They were standing together in the dignified, sombrely handsome foyer. The rain beat ceaselessly against the door, the shop being officially closed for the day and the wide awning removed. Several girls, stenographers and bookkeepers, wrapped up in waterproofs, said “Good night,” and someone turned down the lights in the big showroom behind them. In the half darkness she could see the reproachful, wondering look on Howard’s face. Told to him that way, her act, which she had intended as a sort of retribution for the hurt she had dealt him, acquired the crude aspect of a cruel and thoughtless thrust at a man already down. Provoked at herself, but too weary and nervous to explain, perhaps too sure of him, she said impatiently:
“I want you to let him do it, Howard. He’s really good, and you’ll have the first real chance at success you’ve ever had.” She added in a hard, businesslike voice: “Don’t let yourself be swayed by a foolish sentiment. It’s too important.” “He doesn’t dream yet how important it is,” she thought unhappily. She longed to say, “If this thing is a success, it means that you’ll he safe—without me.” But she could not bring herself to tell him that she was going to leave Dryden’s—going out of his life far more completely than he imagined.
“I can’t feel that it is a foolish sentiment.” Howard’s voice was cold with repression. “I’m sure that you meant it kindly. You are always much too good to me, Jo. But I’d . . . rather not.” “Well, you can’t refuse to meet him,” Joanna replied. “You’ll have to sometime, you know.” She felt an insane desire to goad him into some cry, to hear him say: “I love you so much that I can’t hear to have anything to do with this man you are going to marry.”
But he only repeated his dull, “I’d really rather not.” And then added hastily: “Of course, I shall be glad to meet him. I—I’m so anxious to congratulate him.” He was so polite, so determined to erase from her mind any memory of last night, that she itched to shake him.
She was looking at him with exasperation, when a figure, tall and dripping wet, appeared in the door, a moist grey ghost through the heavy glass.
“There’s Bob, now,” she said, and after a barely perceptible hesitation Howard I walked over and opened the door.
! V\/ITH a gust of wind and a deluge of i W rain Boh flung himself in, chuckling, j and stood comically dripping water from I the brim of his hat, the cuffs of his sleeves, the edge of his raincoat. His eyes were i shining. He looked the very personifica, tion of the Joy of Life. Howard was not proof against his buoyancy. He liked Bob even if he didn’t want to. Nobody could help it.
Joanna saw his resistance melt away beneath the sun of Bob’s interest in the ice machine. Watching him objectively, she did not wonder that Boh was a success. “What a line!” she marvelled to herself. “He’s sold himself to Howard already. Smarty! He’s trying to show me how much better he is than poor old Howard.” She giggled a little. In a way the joke was on Bob: he’d so completely missed the point of her relationship with Howard. As if there was anything about ; Howard that he could show her!
She suddenly announced that she was going home.
“Oh, you can’t go home,” protested Bob. “We’re all going over to Dryden’s to see the machine and then we’re all going out to dinner—on me.”
“The first part is fine,” said Howard, “but the second part is mixed. I’m taking you two out to dinner. For—for a congratulatory party.” He smiled gaily. Joanna blinked and tasted in her
mouth the bitterness of swallowed tears. No, she simply could not hear the sight of Howard being gay!
Dinner was out of the question, she managed to say firmly, but she’d go with them to the laboratory; and as they donned hats and coats, having left Boh wandering vaguely among the treasures of the big showrooms, she said in a small voice:
“You—you like him, don’t you, Howard?”
"Yes. He’s delightful.” His thin figure wavered toward her in the dim hallway. “You make a beautiful pair.”
Howard considered himself very ugly, very dull and uninteresting. It was natural, it was perfectly right and proper that Jo with her beauty and brains should choose a splendid creature like that boy. A woman’s instinct rarely goes wrong; not a balanced woman like Jo, anyway. Howard fixed his lips in a pleasant smile before he left the semi-darkness of the cloak room.
His laboratory was a large, light corner room in a lofty building overlooking a river. He slept, ascetically indifferent to his surroundings, in a small room next to it. The storm beat against the windows, through which could be dimly discerned, far down, the grey restless life of the river. They left their outside things, wet even from the short run from the taxi to the door, in the bathroom, and then Howard led them quickly in to the laboratory, but not before Joanna had made caustic comment on the slatternliness of his cleaning woman—another item of Howard’s life which she had in charge. And again she thought, panicky, “How will he get along without me?”
In the crowded laboratory where Howard reigned supreme and no cleaning woman’s profane touch was known, the model of the ice machine reposed, squatly majestic, in the centre of the room. The two men plunged into a maze of technicalities, and Joanna, after listening for a while, wandered back into the bedroom. She straightened the bureau, put clean towels in the bathroom and made a mental note, “New soap.” She pounced on the wrinkled bed and stripped it and turned the mattress. Fresh, clean sheets, smooth! Plumping up the pillow, she thought, “I love Howard’s dependence on me. Will the other thing suit me?” Terror-stricken, she forced back the hideous thought. Too late for such ideas.
With her hands caught at her breast in an unfamiliar, strained gesture, she looked slowly around the little room. It was her farewell to Howard. It was a renunciation.
She went quickly into the laboratory.
“I was just going to call you.” Howard’s eyes were shining. “I’m going to start it and I want you to see it run.”
She smiled brilliantly at him. She decided she wouldn’t tell Howard she was leaving Dryden’s—leaving him — until the ice machine was a proved success. It had to be a success.
“Kennedy thinks it’s pretty good,” Howard said happily. He laughed, with a little shy glance at each of them, his fingers resting on the switch, motionless. “I’m almost afraid to turn it on,” he said. He fixed his eyes on Joanna’s face, as if from her he could draw courage. She hadn’t ever failed him at these critical moments. No, there was the same steady look, cheerfully expectant.
The switch clicked. The room filled with the low buzz of the motor. Absorbed, they watched in silence as the little compression pump moved with perfect regularity—up and down, up and down. Water fell over the coils and splashed into a pan.
Howard said triumphantly, raising his voice a little to be heard over the noise:
“Watch the automatic valve; here, Jo. That’s mine!”
But even as she nodded, smiling, there came a report like a shot. The little valve flew apart. Her lungs filled with torturing, suffocating fumes, so that she reeled
under the agony, her hands pressed against her stinging eyes. She was very dimly conscious of a cry of pain, a dull thud. And then Bob’s voice, faint as if he were very far away:
“Quick, Jo, get out of here!”
SHE felt his arm supporting her. She choked agonizingly, managed to stammer, “Open the windows,” and thrust him away. Hazily, she had seen Howard’s limp body crumpled grotesquely beside the silent machine. She almost fell beside him, half blinded by the ammonia, seeing only one thing clearly— something streaming from a gash in Howard’s temple, forming a ghastly little pool on the floor.
It seemed unendurable ages before Bob got the windows up. She raged at his slowness, hating him for it, watching him stagger through the acrid fumes with no more sympathy than she felt for the
stupid, senseless machine itself. At last j the warped windows yielded, and the I fresh wind-swept rain stormed through the room. It beat against her, wetting her, lifting the weight from her lungs. It ¡ drenched Howard’s head. He stirred.
“Howard! Howard!” She crouched beside him, her hands sticky red as she tried, still bewildered from the pain of suffocation, to staunch the blood with her handkerchief.
Bob kneeled opposite her. With the gentleness of great strength, he turned the inert body, and pressed his ear against the faintly throbbing heart. He smiled up at her reassuringly. Their eyes met, and he rose to his knees, his smile gone.
In her eyes there was no recognition of him at all; no consciousness of anything but that still form between them. He was—he understood it clearly—of no importance to her whatever.
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The Weakness of Joanna
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"If that man dies,” said the agony in her face, "I will die, too. Without him, my life would be futile, worthless, nothing.”
Very gently, Bob said:
“He’s alive, Jo. He’ll be all right.” She might have wasted hours, days,
explaining that her yielding to him had been only a weakness, and not convinced him. But here he saw it. He saw it in her grey face, her colorless lips that twitched, her great staring eyes, and the stained hands that patted ineffectually at the little constant trickle of blood.
Howard opened his eyes and with a groan struggled to lift his head. He muttered:
“Jo! Jo! Are you there?”
“Right here,” she whispered, pressing him back against her knee, in a passion of tenderness. “Lie still. My dearest, lie still.”
“My—head—” Suddenly his eyes sprang open. “Are you hurt, Jo?”
“Don’t leave me, Jo.”
“Never! Never!” She bent swiftly and touched her lips to his.
“It will save time if I go and get a doctor, instead of telephoning.”
Bob, his voice so carefully calm, so matter of fact, stumbled from the room. He looked back once.
“Hurry,” Joanna called over her shoulder. “I’m so afraid he’ll faint again.”