FICTION

HUNDRED TIMES A YEAR

RICHARD HOFFMANN August 1 1934
FICTION

HUNDRED TIMES A YEAR

RICHARD HOFFMANN August 1 1934

HUNDRED TIMES A YEAR

FICTION

RICHARD HOFFMANN

AS ALWAYS, when the roan mare took a fence like that, Tommie Livingston was glad of the extravagance that had led him to save her out of last autumn's wreckage. Curving her sleek, strong

neck, she cocked her ears off at Burgoyne’s Ridge, cloaked now in the new green of spring. Tommie patted the neck, ran his hand down the firm sleekness, and knew lie was no longer completely sorry about the wreckage. It had been a stiff winter out here at the kennels, but it had been absorbing too, and this was full reward—green touching the river %illows, smooth hill contours beside the valley, the cushioned turf under Raque 1’s hoofs, sweet country smells.

He saw a long grey roadster tum in between the stone walls of his lane—a girl alone in it, small and arrestingly confident behind the big wheel. Even if he hadn’t known it was the Tabor car -one of them—he would have been sure the girl was Gretchen. And there, after nine years, was one thing settled; one small but stirring thing: He hadn’t

changed her image too much in keeping it with him through that long, eventful time. At first glance across the meadow, he knew her.

One brief whistle brought the scattering of dogs on to him.

“Heel,” he said. “ ’Ware hoofs, all.” Raquel turned with the pressure of his knee and cantered back to the farmhouse.

He was sure she hadn’t come to see how nine years might have changed him. In her thoughtful, unafraid reticence, remembered as if from yesterday, there had been no curiosity like that, nor any room for it. Sometimes he had tried to forecast the first scene between them, knowing each time that it wouldn’t be as he pictured it. But now, going to her at last, his eagerness busied itself with the idea that coincidence might step in. Her lips might part in the gentle way that put the burden of humor into her lighted eyes; and she might wonder, as he had wondered, what juvenile trifle had sent them away from each other—bitterly, proudly, stubbornly— with never even a written word between them since.

She was still in the car when he got to the farmyard, and her sure little head, cleanly carried over the turtle-neck of her green jersey, turned to him only after he had dismounted. The ash-blonde hair, sun-touched, wasn’t in pigtails any more, of course; it was brought guilelessly over her head to a trim bun at the back. But the mask of faint freckles lay across her nose and round her unafraid, very thoughtful blue eyes. And the simply curved lips were still slightly pursed in repose, still silently saying, “I can take care of myself.”

“Good morning,” she said, no welcome in her crisp diction. "You teach dogs tricks, don’t you?”

npOMMIE let his eyes barely laugh at the brisk, incurious assurance of one so small in so large a car, one whom he'd once seen in pigtails, solemnly learning to ride too big a bicycle.

“No,” he said, “I don't teach tricks. I don’t know anyone who does—round here.”

“I was told I'd find someone here at the kennels,” she said, proposing to waste no time with strangers who might be laughing inwardly with that impertinence of many strangers.

“Perhaps they meant someone who trains dogs, trains ’em to take their useful places in the social order. I do that—or try to.”

“ ‘Train, then,” said Gretchen crisply. Without dropping her steady look she put her hand on the

on hamper by her on the seat. “I’ve got a wire-haired terrier.

I want him useful in the field—fox-hunting."

Tommie swung the hamper out of the car and squatted down to open the grill at one end. So this was it—no faintest signal of recognition to tell him why, when he had been tired or lonely or disappointed these last years in the world, he had thought of her with sure comfort, the comfort of promise; nor why, in moments of success or of fleeting beauty, he had thought of her, too, with a lift to pleasure, an undefined, happy sharing of good.

He ran his hands over the terrier’s coat, appraising him closely, then looked up with a smile of candid friendliness.

“Smart little chap,” he said. “You want him a proper working terrier—down earths, ride the pommel in front of you, that sort of thing?”

"Yes.”

And now, watching her, Tommie felt she was after all as acutely aware of him as he was of her, as taut and expectant of something to happen between them.

Gretchen,” he said steadily, “do you have to pretend we’re strangers?”

That slipped into her thought without a ripple.

"No,” she said. “Would you rather I didn’t? After all this time, is it especially important, one way or the other?"

"More important, I should think, than the row that— that stopped everything. I don’t even remember what that was about. Do you?”

“I don’t know,” she said, as if he’d asked her whether she thought it would rain tomorrow. “I hadn’t tried very hard.” Then: “How long d’you s’pose you’ll be with the terrier?”

“I’ll have to see,” Tommie said quietly. “He ought to take it easy till he settles in here. Then it depends how quickly he learns. It would help if you came over sometimes to be with him.”

“Why?” said Gretchen, answering a faintly impertinent challenge. “It is your—your profession, isn’t it?” The extra crispness to the word “profession” was not quite ironical.

“Mm-hm.” Tommie smiled ruefully to himself. “But if you’re going to work him, it’ll help to have him used to you from the beginning. Owners so often expect a dog who’s never seen ’em before to begin working smartly for ’em right off.”

“Then I shouldn't be any help,” she said casually. “The dog’s a present for my fiancé.”

Of course it was over. What else could he expect? Even if they had fallen in love again, it would have had nothing to do with nine years ago, nothing to do with his ridiculous fancy that in a single chaste and confiding kiss she had entrusted herself to him for ever. And he, just as if he had never learned that wariness of illusion is an elementary asset in the world, could still feel the run of hope in his blood at the thought of her being with him again in the fields and woods of the summer valley.

“I didn’t know about that,’’ he said soberly. “I hope you’ll be happy—very happy.”

She watched him keenly an instant, as if to be sure he meant that.

“We should be,” she said. “It’s not on a storybook basis.”

“Who is he?”

“Guido Orcagna,’’ said Gretchen. “He’s a Roman—a count." It was like saying, he was a setter, black and white. “You'll see him probably. And you’ll hear he’s marrying me for money.”

TOMMIE hated the brittleness of that, shied at believing it as he had shied at believing the worldly assurance of the photographs he had come upon that tried to make Gretchen a socially busy and important person, here and abroad. He said dryly:

"And is he marrying you for that?”

“Partly,” she agreed. “He’s not a coward. That means, among other things, that he's not afraid of the truth. He’s told me he couldn't marry me if I were poor. And I don’t want him to be any more in love with me than he can be, which isn't up to storybook standard. I want a friend, a companion, someone who can pity without pitying himself, someone who won’t—won’t be a coward. So I’m going to marry him.”

There was a purpose in her telling him all this, and some inner kernel of his heart went limp and hopeless within the warmth of steady anger.

“That settles ‘storybook’ love,” he said. “Where do you get your ideas of cowardice?”

“From what I’ve seen," Gretchen said simply. She took the cigarette he offered her and drew the first smoke deep into her lungs so that it came out with her speech as she went on. “I was in love, in ‘storybook’ love once, with a

coward. I lived with him a long time before I found it out. It hurt like the devil, and I've remembered it."

Tommie knew a stealthy fear creeping in him then; a fear that had no source and no purpose except that of malice against his spirit. And the disciplined gra%'ity of his own voice was strange to him as he said:

“You lived with him?"

“In my mind, my illusions,” said Gretchen. “There’s no moral difference betw'een that and any other way, is there?”

“No,” said Tommie, and there was no relaxing of the discipline on his voice or of the malign, sourceless fear under it. "No, I s’pose not. How—how was he a coward?”

“I was here, in this valley,” she said, with no sharpening of interest in what she remembered. “He went away to make his career— in ships, let’s say, shipping. I heard of his brilliance, his coming up so certainly. And I kept him with me, close, feeling—like a little fool—that I was waiting for him and he knew' it, that it perhaps helped him wherever he was—off in South America or at home.

“Then his company got into trouble. The responsibility and the work, the value of his power and influence grew' with the trouble—to help save the great thing that two generations of strong men had built. And at the crisis of all this, the worst time, when he had his greatest chance—” She paused an instant. “Do you know what he did?”

With astounding clarity the sensations of that calamitous day a year ago came to Tommie—the smell of hot oil beside the plane at the airport, the grim effort to make himself hear the Old Man’s final instructions through muffling veils of fatigue; then a salty, rich taste in the back of his mouth, the Old Man’s queer look of concern, and an outlandish splash of crimson suddenly upon the cables in his own hand; and a long time afterward, Dr. Race’s acid, faraway assurance: “Oh, it’s perfectly simple. Load him into the plane on a stretcher and have an undertaker ready to bury him in B. A.”

“Yes,” Tommie said to Gretchen, and his voice w'as hollow and stubborn over the bitter illness of his heart, “I know what he did. He bolted; turned tail and ran. He came back to the safe valley he’d loved once—to teach dogs tricks for a living.”

She looked at him steadily, her young, solemn eyes wilfully ignorant of compassion.

“You’re a good guesser,” she said.

"No,” he said, his look hard with the accusation of his pride. “No good at all, I think.”

■pVEN IF Tommie had deceived himself so far as to believe that the strange, taut passage v'ith Gretchen had ended anything for him, he would have been undeceived the next time he saw the roadster roll into his lane. Fresh, hopeful excitement took him entirely, and he had to deliver himself a sound and contemptuous kick for his disappointment when he saw it wasn’t Gretchen. A dark, alert, well-favored young man in tweed jacket and grey flannels introduced himself as Guido Orcagna, explained in a comfortable intimacy at once lively and shy that he w'as here not to see his dog but to see Tommie.

Orcagna received applejack and ginger ale as if it were some special reserve Tommie saved for his most honored visitors. And in a nimble voice that could not quite evade the habit of a foreign language, he came with gay candor to his purpose. He had heard things of Tommie which had, from the first, intrigued him— and from people besides Gretchen. Tommie was pleased to do him the honor of calling him Guido and of accepting his hope that they could be more than acquaintances.

He, Guido, needed a friend in this crow'ded country where you could still be so very lonely, and an infallible intuition had told him to hope for it here.

Tommie found no trouble in responding to the blithe ingenuousness, the half-shy, half-con fident expectance of cordiality. And as spring grewand the edge of summer overlapped it, Tommie’s affectionate pleasure in Guido’s frequent appearances at the farm deepened. The quick, mobile mind was eager for any channel of interest. Tommie’s affairs were no less important to Guido than his own, Tommies opinions something more important; and in the sparkling air of refreshment so happily breathed by both of them, Tommie looked back on the winter’s enforced solitude with less philosophic eyes.

The most curious part of it for Tommie was that what flourished between Guido and himself seemed to have no connection with Gretchen; neither with the Gretchen whom he sometimes saw briefly and formally on his few expeditions into the summer’s gaiety, nor with the Gretchen íe had so long remembered who was inseparable from his sense of shared pleasure in the features of the valley—the slow river, the sentinel elms in the meadows, the cool, quiet woods.

^u.rá° said one day out in the kennels, watcung a Scottie plucked and smartened for the local dog show “Gretchen says she has told you it is half true

w ,f busybodies say—that I am marrying her for her money.

Yes, she told me,” Tommie said.

"And what do you think, ay?”

Tommie looked up from his work speculatively, but

Guido’s dark, confident eyes wanted honestly to know. "I think it's too bad,” Tommie said.

Guido leaned forward in unoffended eagerness.

Of course it is too bad. No one, Tommie, wishes it were not too bad more than I do. But here is a thing 1 expect you to understand—as my friend, not as a what-do-vou-callit—Nordic, an Anglo^axon. I love this Gretchen. She is wonderful, superb; there is no one like her. But 1 am lazy. I love thee world, I love to go about. I shoot, 1 ride horses, I dance, gamble, and talk, all very well People like me, and I am amused very much of thee time. So I must have money, do I not? And what could be more lucky than falling in love with a girl who has plenty, ay? I ask you this honorably, Tommie.”

“\ou can call it lucky, I s’pose," Tommie said, “but where does pride, self-respect, whatever it is, come in? Dam it all, Guido, a man—”

“There you are being a little Nordic with me,” Guido said in mild regret. “It desolates me to think how' much unhappiness you may make yourself with this pride thing, Tommie, this self-respect. Suppose I, Guido, your friend, put up my self-respect now, ay? I go away without a girl whom I love, I go aw'ay without any money, I go away with haunting memories of what might have been—a pretty phrase, ay?— and all I have left to live on is my pride. But thee other way, I say never mind thee self-respect, so-called, and what happens then? I make this girl happy, I make myself happy, there is money for us both to be happy with, we are companions in thee life we like, and I have only knocked one so-little corner off my pride. So!”

“Guido, it’s your party; yours and Gretchen’s,” Tommie said, attentive to the bored Scottie under his hands. “If you’re sure nobody’s going to be badly hurt, then that’s the main thing. It’s none of my blinking business.”

T3UT EVEN that, with its implications, did nothing to send Gretchen out of the valley. All it did was make him suddenly see why the latest picture of her he had come upon—one of subtle shades and lighting in a shiny,

expensive magazine—was not a portrait. It left out the little mask of freckles round her thoughtful eyes—thoughtful, they used to be, not because she might not grow lovelylooking, not because someone might not like her, but because there was a premonition of hurt, of betrayal, upon the honorable softness guarded within her straight, slender little body.

Once, before July passed, Tommie saw Gretchen alone again—at a country-club party to which Guido had stubbornly urged him. Tommie stopjied their dance at the side of the room, and Gretchen, neither willingly nor unwillingly, agreed it might be pleasant to go outdoors for a while. The loom of Burgoyne’s Ridge rested darkly in the tranquil bath of the night there across the valley from the terrace. T all trees rustled a little against the winking stars, and in the intervals of broad stillness, with the orchestra’s rhythms muted on the other side of the building, a phantom of fragrance drifted in the dark.

Do you still love it here in the valley?” Tommie asked out of the perverse, uninvited comfort simply of being here with her.

Real spring,” Gretchen said in a sort of reticent tenderness, “and the summer, and most of autumn—they’re heavenly. Autumn I’ve missed specially when I’ve been away. But I wouldn’t stay the winter for anything.”

“You’ve never tried it,” Tommie said.

"No." Tommie knew she stood very straight and tentative beside him, her eyes solemnly considering something that wasn’t mentioned. Then she put both hands to the low wall behind her and with sure economy of effort swung herself up to a seat ujxm it. “Bleakness comes after the leaves have fallen and the earth is hard and cruel. It’s harder than I am. I don’t like my own hardness. I don’t want it challenged by the season, the land—as well as byother things.”

"It isn’t all hard,” Tommie said, consciously pleading for the valley and not for her. “It isn’t cruel after a night of the soft snow thickening over everything, when the sun comes late and the valley’s all clear and still and white.

Continued on page 46

Continued from page 15—Starts on page 14

There are plenty of times when you feel you’re earning the spring. But when it does come, it’s even better for the feeling you’ve earned it—even if Guido would call that a slightly Nordic remark.” He hadn’t meant to mention Guido.

“Guido earns things,” Gretchen said detachedly. “Not always the safe things either; the things that would come of themselves whether you earned ’em or not.”

The last was said so dryly, with a dry silence falling in after it, that the scene was finished for Tommie.

“I never doubted it,” he said. “I’m very fond of Guido.”

He would never tell her why he was here, teaching dogs “tricks." He must find some guileless way to keep Guido from telling her. And if, next week in New' York, he could bully Dr. Race into letting him go hack to work, it w'ould make up—a little, and not very admirably—for having been a sentimental ass so long to let Gretchen think she had shamed him out of the valley.

IT WAS not long after this that Tommie began to notice in Guido an occasional clouding-over of the bright gaiety, an uneasy preoccupation that sometimes took him off to a distance from which he came back slightly startled and apologetic. And Tommie did his best to trump up the feeling that it couldn’t be significant for him, beyond his affection for Guido. Then one day Guido girded himself, took a resigned breath of decision, and came to it.

“Tommie, my good friend,” he said. “I must find a job. I must go to work like a little man.”

“What for?” said Tommie, alert at once. "The financial affairs of my family-inlaw-to-be, they are not happy any more,” Guido explained soberly. “Gretchen’s father is being honorable about something I do not understand, in his firm. Thee bankers, I think, are not so popular or happy as they were. All I understand is that his honor will he expensive, very expensive for him. There will be not much money left—a little of course, but not very much. I have found out something, Tommie: I

could not leave Gretchen like that. She is too gotxl to be treated like that by anybody. And besides, I am in love with her.” Tommie watched the gentle, concerned appeal of Guido’s eyes for a respectful moment before he said :

“What’re you going to do?”

"Well,” said Guido drearily. “Well— Tommie, what did your doctor say, ay, in New York?”

“He said I’m to stay here. Another year anyway. The more I argued, the more insulting he got. But, Guido, I’m not the only guy you know' who’s ever been in business.” "No, Tommie, but you are my friend. If I must work, I want to work with you. I will not hide from you that I am frightened a little—of myself. Responsibility is something I am not very well used to. I do not want to sell things to people—automobiles or perfume—because I have charm and a title. I want a job such as you had, with thee chance to do big things, if I am good enough. And,” he added artlessly, “I would try very hard to be good enough.”

“I wouldn’t worry about that,” said Tommie, trying to pay tribute with his confidence. “But you don't need me,

Guido. There’s Mr. Tabor. Letters from him will take you in to almost anybody you can name.”

“I do not want that either, Tommie,” Guido said. "He is not part of me; he would do what he could for me because of Gretchen. You are part of me; you are my friend because you wanted to be. That is important. 1 want to do this whole thing in a good way from thee beginning. Tommie, that seems perhaps queer to you, but—”

“Doesn’t seem queer at all,” Tommie cut in promptly. "It’s fine. And if you think I’m surprised, you’re wrong too.”

Guido thanked him for that with a quiet look as he went on:

“It is I who am surprised. You have done much of this, Tommie. Pride, self-respect—

I have caught them from—in our friendship —somewhere.” He smiled with a youthful, faint sort of sheepishness.

“You didn’t need to catch ’em,” Tommie said. “And anyw’ay there was Gretchen, Look, Guido, I’ll give you letters, go with you, to anybody I know. But times aren’t w'hat they were, and people forget quickly.”

“I know you will do much for me, Tommie,” Guido said. “And I am grateful, very grateful. But I am at sea. If you must be here another year, let me have a job with you—here in thee kennels—until you are ready to go back.”

“Nonsense,” Tommie said at once. “It wouldn’t pay anything; it wouldn’t be anything, for you. You couldn’t be married on it, Guido.”

“Gretchen is a sportsman, Tommie,” Guido said. “We w'ould be married and spend thee wfinter in thee gardener’s cottage. And you w'ould be best man, ay?” His eyes warmed invitingly. “We could have very good, simple times in thee winter here—the three of us.”

The impossibility of the thing—of living near Gretchen all winter, of seeing her with Guido w'hile that old, tense communion between them went on—it was too fantastic a thought to keep for even an instant. It couldn’t happen. Yet here was Guido urging it with a solemnity that forced Tommie to consider it as something imminent, something that must be struck at directly, now, while it was fresh. There would be no cutting loose from the implacable haunting of the dream if Gretchen were to be here this winter, no cutting loose except through dire trouble or simple cowardice.

“You haven’t spoken to Gretchen,” Tommie stated.

“No,” said Guido, calm outside the desperate turbulence upon Tommie, calmly hopeful of help from him. “I will go to her with a finished plan, made by me—by you and me, Tommie.”

“Guido, we can’t do it. I’ll do anything to help, absolutely anything. I’ll do it because we’re good friends, close friends; because I’d expect you to do the same thing for me. But this just plain can’t happen— can't, Guido, because. . . ”

He stopped—because of the incredulity stealing into Guido’s look, and his own thought: Because what? Because you’re unwilling to face the fact that this girl has grown away from your nine-year image of her; because in your all-fired infallibility you can’t stand her being anything but what you thought she’d be, can’t stand her marrying another man for reasons to which she has every right of her own ; because she holds against you something your pride kept you from explaining to her, just as it made you leave her and lose her nine years ago. And you—a self-constituted authority on courage, cowardice and self-respect—you sit up here and tell a friend you’ll do “anything” to help him show his courage and his sportsmanship, for the girl you loved once, for the girl you. . .

It went into him with the clean, merciless sting of iodine in a wound, and before it was finished Tommie w'as on his feet.

“You wait here till I come back, Guido,” he said quickly. “It can be done—easily.”

GRETCHEN looked smaller in riding clothes—tailored tweed coat, shiny chestnut boots close to her straight legs, canary tie loosely knotted at her low soft collar. She stood by one of the French windows of the long, comfortable library— firm and straight under her sun-touched hair, solemnly sure of her ideas of cowardice— and waited for Tommie to come to her.

“Gretchen,” he began, “I’ve come to ask a favor. The reason’s not mine to give you;

you’ll know it when you see Guido. But please—for his sake if no one else’s—try to understand. Will you?”

"Of course, if I can,” she said as if he were asking her to sell tickets for a church play. “What’s the favor?”

“Gretchen,” Tommie said, watching her as steadily as she watched him, pushing away the stubbornness that tried at this last minute to stop his petition: “Gretchen,

we’ve got to be friends, got to—”

"Col to?” Gretchen said in formal incredulity.

“Yes, got to,” Tommie said. “Guido’s finer than perhapseven you thought. He’s—” Tommie interrupted himself with an impatient exclamation for the unyielding antagonism of her eyes. “You can’t think I like pleading, after all that’s happened.”

“I couldn’t have—once,” she said evenly. “And I don’t think you need explain Guido’s fineness to me.”

Tommie drew a full breath of anger, then let it go, for its uselessness to him. Perhaps he was thoroughly wrong; perhaps he had been a quixotic fool to come. But he had come and there was something to finish. Ina voice cool and calm with a taut sort of patience he said:

“I shan’t try to judge what I’ve come to say. Your contempt for me, or whatever it is, is right, just, only if you know all the facts. I don’t think you know them all. I want you to, if you’ll listen.” And under her steady, solemn watching, he made a passionless account of that dreary time over a year ago, when Nemesis for profligacy with the resources of his body had quietly overtaken him.

“It’s nothing you wouldn’t have done— or Guido,” Tommie concluded in a low tone. "They finally fired me, refused to have me back as an office boy even till I could show them a bill of health from Race. And that’s why I’m here; I hope it makes a difference. I hope we can be friends, as Guido expects us to be.”

She came back to him slowly, not letting him see her eyes. She took his wrist, slipped the cigarette from his fingers, and swiftly bent her head to his hand. Her lips stayed against it for the first moment of Tommie’s breathless dismay; and when she felt his touch on her hair, she turned a little and he felt her cheek was wet.

“Oh, Tommie, what have I done?” she said, an awed, frantic hurry in her words. “It’s not—”

“Well!” Guido’s voice, a chill upon its nimbleness, sounded from the door behind Tommie, and Gretchen’s head went up. "It seems I have come at an interesting moment.”

He came toward them, the hostility of his look burning on Tommie.

“Perhaps,” he went on in savage ease, “perhaps you were right; perhaps thee winter here would have been the mistake you first thought.” He nodded in belated agreement.

“Guido, don’t be an ass,” Tommie said; and Guido’s hand beat the air down in swift gesture.

“No, I shall not,” he said. “But I shall hear whatever I need to hear from my fiancée.” He waited a moment before adding with a slight ironic bow; “After you have gone.”

Tommie glanced at Gretchen. She smiled at him a little, kind, reticent smile.

T-JE WORKED hard to have the field dogs ready for autumn shooting, and the season ran toward its end—golden rod standing in the fields and, later, the nights cool in a new freshness that left the grass drenched for the mornings. He was sorry, deeply sorry, to have lost Guido. “Lost” he was, for even if Guido came back with his regret for mistrust, a fundamental spark between them was quenched. But over that sorrow there was a singing sense of achievement in having trampled his stubborn pride and brought into being, even for a moment, the Gretchen he had looked for.

One morning at the station, the agent pointed to a stack of trunks on the platform,

saying rather proudly: “Tabor's off to!

Europe again. Means summer’s 'bout over. Reckon it’s true things are lookin’ better for the old man?”

And that afternoon, when he came in with the dogs, Gretchen was waiting at the farm in the long, grey roadster. He had known she would come to fetch the terrier; he had been counting on that, before he began the job he had to do in his heart.

She was as he’d hoped she would be; the defenses against him unremembered in her blue eyes, a soft quality of understanding under their thoughtfulness. And her firm grip of his hand tacitly shared his knowledge of the things they’d had together before it had grown too late.

“So you’ve come for the dog,” he said, smiling. ‘‘Ld hoped you might forget him.” “Come for the dog,” she said; “and to thank you very much; and to ask you to forgive me.”

“There’s nothing to forgive,” he said; then, for the quick edge of reproof in her look: “And if there were, I’d forgive it— easily. Everything’s all right, isn’t it? Guido understood everything?”

“Much nearer right than it was before,” she said. “Guido understood.” She handed him an envelope. “That’s for you—Guido apologizing for that and for not coming to say good-by.”

Tommie started to slip the envelope into his pocket, but she said:

“I was to wait while you read it. He said there might be a message.”

Tommie opened the flap, grudging this time to Guido’s apologies.

“Dear Tommie; I do the fairest thing I have done to any people, and the only reason I do not think I have to be a fool all the rest of my life is that I do not feel noble or well or proud that I have done it. All I do is kick myself. You—in love with Gretchen—helping me; Gretchen ready to stay with me after she knew about you. I cannot stay in such an oppressive atmosphere. Tell Gretchen I will be gone when she gets home. It is mostly you and your Nordic pride that have made this devil’s mess for me. And you and your Nordic pride can go to the devil, Tommie, my friend. Guido.”

Gretchen’s eyes were concerned for his incredulity when he looked up at her again. “Gretchen,” he said, “Guido’s gone.”

The concern of her look melted gently to relief.

“I know,” she said. “I was wondering how I could let you know it.”

Quickly lie leaned over the side of the car and took her hand.

“Then you’ve jolly well got to spend the winter here,” he said.

Her whole young solemnity softened to humor, her lips parting, her eyelids drooping a little as she looked down at his mouth. “Why?”

“Probably because I don’t like to let the dog go,” he said in vicious delight. “Gretchen, you know good and well why.”

“Y'ou’ve never told me—not since—not lately, have you?”

“In the last nine years I’ve told you nine hundred times.”

“But a hundred times a year isn’t much, is it? It’s not even once a day.” She said it quietly, modestly, as if she’d wondered about it before. ,

“It’s not bad,” said Tommie, “considering you weren’t ever there to hear it.”

Her eyes, credulous and young again, wanted him very much to believe what she j said now;

“I tried to hear it. Sometimes I thought I did, but I was afraid to trust it, because I hoped for it so, even—even after your crash.” She let her musing, regretful look stray to where the late sun made reddened gold of the pine trunks below the first meadow, then brought it, full of intimate hope, to his again. “Tommie,” she said, “I think—if you told me now—I could hear it.”