Touch of the Spur
Should a woman in love demand that her man "settle down?" Here’s the story of one who found a satisfying answer
ELISABETH SANXAY HOLDING
LUCIA SIGNED for the telegram and laid it on Moran’s desk. He was busy with some figuring and did not look up, and she sat down at her typewriter, watching him. He was a big man, a little stooped, with a weatherbeaten face, hair growing grey, tired blue eyes; he was a moderately successful building contractor in a small Ontario town. Hut Lucia Rossi did not see him like that.
“I hope it’s not bad news,” she thought. “I hope it’s nothing to worry him.”
He leaned back in his chair and began to fill his pipe. “There’s a telegram, Mr. Moran.”
“Yes,” he said, and was in no hurry to open it. “That lumber shipment, I guess.”
When his pipe was drawing, he tore open the envelope. “Well!” he said aloud, and looked at Lucia with a smile. She smiled back at him, her dark face alive and beautiful. “My son’s coming home!”
“Soon, Mr. Moran?”
“He’s in New York now. Never told me he was sailing. That’s just like Martin. Independent as a hog on ice. He’ll be home tonight.” He glanced at his watch. “Five o’clock. You get your things on, Miss Rossi, and I’ll drive you home.”
She got ready in haste, not to keep him waiting. She had little enough to spend on clothes, but whatever she had she wore with grace and spirit. She locked the office door and they went down the stairs. It was cold outside, but there was no wind.
“Might have snow,” he said.
The little lighted shops on Railroad Avenue looked cosy and warm, but the sky overhead was sullen; the red and green lights down the track were a little blurred. He started the car, and began to talk to her about Petersen, the foreman, who had broken his wrist; about the new Elm Ridge development.
“I sawr Andrews’ plans for the houses,” he said. “They’re pretty. Spanish style . . .I’ve always thought I’d like to see Spain. Travel.”
“I hope you will travel, Mr. Moran.”
“Well,” he said, “you want to do those things when you’re young. Like Martin, for instance. He always had this idea about seeing the world. When he was eighteen, he went off to New York and got himself a job in a big typewriter company. They’ve got branches all over the world, and he made up his mind he’d get over to Paris. He took French lessons and learned all he could about the business, and two years ago he got his chance. He wrote me a while ago that he thought they’d send him to London before long.”
She could see his face by a street lamp; he looked tired, but he was smiling to himself.
“That’s the life!” he said.
HE TURNED up a side road that led through empty fields, and stopped before a little farmhouse. Lucia’s grandmother opened the door—a little, frail, grey-haired woman. She didn’t speak much English, but Moran had picked up a few words of Italian from his men.
“Come sta?” he said.
She was delighted.
“Come sta, signor!” she cried. “St, si! You spik very good.”
“It’s cold. Molto ƒreddo,” he said seriously.
“Ah, si! Si, si, signor!”
They stood on the porch, watching Moran out of sight; he turned the comer and went on home, along the roads he had known all his life. He had built his house himself, and he was proud of it—a solid white house standing four-square in a neat lawn planted with evergreens. He wished though
that his sister would remember to turn on the hall light; he didn’t like to see the place dark.
“Over there in Paris, now . . . ” he thought.
In his mind were bright little pictures of Paris that he had got from books and movies; sidewalk cafés with striped awnings, the narrow, cobbled streets where D’Artagnan had ridden, the Eiffel Tower outlined in light, gardens with fountains.
“Martin’ll have plenty to talk about,” he thought. “I suppose he speaks French like a native now. Funny to think of Martin parleyvooing.”
His sister heard his step on the verandah and came hurrying from the kitchen, turning on the hall light as she came. She was a little, sandy-haired woman, very serious. When she was a girl she had been studious; she had painted little water colors and played the piano. For a time she had given music lessons, but when her brother’s young wife had died she had gone to live with him. She had been busy enough, with the two motherless little boys, Martin and Jim, and the house to look after; she had forgotten the water colors and the piano-playing.
“Well, Miss Lizzy Moran!” said her brother. “ I’ve got some news for you. ’ ’
“Martin’s coming home!” she cried.
“Now, what makes you think that? How d’you know I haven’t got a million-dollar contract?”
“I hope you have,” she said, pretending not to be so excited. “Then maybe you’ll get a newr hat. This one’s a shame and a disgrace.”
They both pretended. They sat down to dinner as if it were any ordinary night, as if they were not listening.
“I hear a car!” said Miss Lizzy.
As she left the room, Moran pushed back his chair and rose; he heard the door open, a gust of icy air blew along the floor, and he heard his son’s voice.
“Aunt Lizzy? It’s good to be home again !”
COMETH ING in that young voice made ^ Moran’s tired eyes narrow; then he straightened his big shoulders and went out into the hall.
“Well, here I am, dad! Back again.”
Their hands met in a vigorous clasp.
‘That’s a new rug, isn’t it? Everything looks fine.”
He was looking about him, with an odd intensity as if he couldn’t see enough. Like his mother’s people, Martin was strong but slenderly built. He had grown thinner; the fine modelling of cheekbone and jaw was more obvious; there was something strained and unhappy in his young face.
“Have you had your dinner, Martin?” asked Miss Lizzy. “Yes? But maybe you’d like a nice hot cup of coffee and a piece of homemade pie.”
“I certainly would,” said Martin. But the hearty tone was ill-done.
“Sit down, boy. Sit down.” said his father, as Miss Lizzy left the room. “It’s good to see you back.”
“I threw up my job in Paris,” said Martin. “I—made a fool of myself over there ... I got in debt. I wanted to come home. I just had enough to pay what I owed and get back. I came steerage.”
“Well,” said Moran, carefully knocking out his pipe. “I guess that didn’t hurt you.”
“I’d like to go to work in your office,” said Martin unsteadily.
“You mean you want to stay home, boy?”
“Yes. I’ll try to make good. I’m sorry ...”
Miss Lizzy came back then, and Martin drank the coffee, ate the pie.
“It’s queer to think of Brother Jim being married,” he said.
“The house is very quiet these days,” said Miss Lizzy.
“I thought—I guess it’s too late now, though—I thought maybe I’d run over and see Sally.”
“It s only half-past eight, Martin.’He rose, and smiled down at her and his father. They heard him run up the stairs with his bag. and presently come down again: the front door closed behind him. Miss Lizzy took up her sewing, and Moran began to read. He was very fond of reading. Adventure stories were what he likedburied treasure, international spies, shipwrecks. But he could not keep his mind on his book tonight. Glancing up, Miss Lizzy saw him staring before him at nothing. The house was very quiet.
■ÜRANK CASWELL went over to the window and looked out : nothing to see in the cold, still darkness.
“You’re darned unkind. Sally.” he said.
I m not! she said. But she wasn’t sure. She sat in the middle of the big sofa, her fair head bent, a strange confusion in her heart. She was sorry tor Frank, but in her pity was an irrepressible sense of triumph.
He s the most important bov 1 know,” she thought “Other girls run after him so. and 1 never lift a finger ”
His father owned the Caswell Mills, and Frank had everything—a wonderful car of his own. plenty of money to spend. But even if he hadn’t all that, he would still have been somehow important. 1 íe was going to take his father’s place some day. and he was serious about it : everyone said how clever he was. He was good-looking, too; tall and fair.
“You change all the time,” he said. “One time you’re nice to me; act as if you were glad to see me. And the next time you’re like this.”
“Oh—formal,” he said. “You know all right. Maybe it’s amusing for you, but it’s not for me.” “Well, 1 can’t help it," she said. “I suppose I have moods.” She was a little thing, straight and slight, with curly light hair and brown eyes. Sometimes she felt sure she was pretty, and felt gay and nonchalant about it; and sometimes she hated her looks, thought herself insignificant and silly.
“I don’t really know what I’m like,” she thought, half-ready to cry. “I don’t knowhow I feel about Frank either. He’s much more attractive to me than anyone else—but how do I know
that isn't just a sort of infatuation and not at all lasting?”
“Moods?” said Frank. He went over to the fireplace, where the coals burned bright in the grate; the sedate, oldfashioned sitting room was warm and tranquil.
“You needn’t reproach me.” she said.
But she didn’t mind his reproaching her. He looked rather darling, standing there, so tall, so important yet so unhappy. Someone was coming up on the verandah.
“It wouldn't do Frank any harm if it’s one of the other boys, she thought. "I keep too many evenings just for him.”
Still, she hoped it wasn’t. It seemed to her that there was something vitally important just about to be said between Frank and herself, something that would make her know how she felt about Frank . . . The doorbell rang. Old Hannah was in the kitchen, but she wouldn’t bestir herself when she knew that Sally was in the sitting room.
\\ ho s that?” Frank demanded.
How do I know?” she asked, and went into the hall to open the door. And Frank heard her cry:
"Why, Martin! Oh. Martin!”
He heard the note of delight in her voice; he saw her face as she came back, leading Martin by the hand.
“Frank, you remember Martin Moran?”
Naturally he remembered him; they had been in high school together.
“Been abroad, haven’t you?” he asked.
In Paris. Martin answered. “Will you smoke, Sally? Have one, Frank?”
He was two years younger than Frank, but somehow he seemed older, with that preoccupied, unsmiling air.
“Sit down, Martin, and tell us about Paris,” said Sally. “I’m crazy to hear—”
“Sorry,” said Frank, “but I'll have to be going. I’ll be seeing you, Martin.”
lie couldn t help it il his chagrin, his unhappiness were obvious. Sally didn’t want him; she didn’t even go to the door with him. She was sitting beside Martin.
“Night, Frank. See you soon.”
He let himself out; he got into his car and drove away.
O ALLY had grown up with the Moran boys. They lived ^ next door, and she had been in and out of their house all the time. Miss Lizzy made a pet of her; Jim Moran had been kind and a little lofty to her, but Martin had teased her. She could remember sitting on the front steps, trying to do her homework, with Martin jogging her elbow and laughing. He had laughed so often, and she had always tried to laugh, too; a faithful little comrade. He had been sweet to her; she remembered the wonderful evening when he had taken her to the Ice Carnival at Miller’s Pond, and had told her she was “graceful.” Martin had always been a sort of special person, different from anyone else quick-tempered, sometimes moody, so that you never quite knew what to expect. And now, after two years in Paris, he was stranger than ever.
“I hope you’re going to stay home a nice long time, Martin.” she said.
“I’m going to stay here for good.”
“For good? I’m so terribly glad, Martin.”
He sat on the sofa beside her, his lean hands clasped between his knees, staring at nothing with his brows drawn together.
“You look tired, Martin,” she said gently.
He turned toward her, and it seemed to her that there was something miserable and puzzled in his eyes. She laid her hand on his arm, and he looked down at her little rosytipped fingers.
“I am tired,” he said. “Tired of myself mostly. I made a fool of myself over there. I got in with a crowd who had plenty of money. I’d spend two weeks pay in one evening. I—suddenly I got so dam’ sick of it, I threw up my job. I wanted to come home.”
He was unhappy, and she was very sorry for him. Yet she was so proud that he had come to her, that he should talk to her like this.
“That doesn’t matter, Martin,” she said. “That’s all over.” She was surprised by the tears that rose in her eyes;
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she tried to go on smiling. “You’re home now. And we’ll have wonderful times this winter.”
“I got that letter from you.”
“That was such a stupid-letter. Only I thought you’d just like to hear all the news.” “I was at home that day, getting over a party. And then I got your letter. It was ¡ike you, talking ... I wanted to see you so much.”
She couldn’t help crying, to think of Martin over there in Paris, reading her letter and wanting to see her.
“It was your letter that made me come home,” he said. “Back to you.”
Their eyes met.
“Oh, Sally!” he cried. “I’ve been such a fool !”
She drew his head down on her shoulder, held him close, stroking his dark hair.
“Martin, darling, that doesn’t matter. You’re home now. You’re going to stay here.”
“Do you really care, Sally?”
It was the strangest, the most wonderful thing . . . She had always been fond of Martin, had always looked up to him as a sort of special person. But she hadn’t known before that she loved him. Not until his dark head rested on her shoulder, not until he came to her in the unhappiness and disappointment she could not quite understand.
“I’m going to work with dad,” he said. “I won’t get much at first. I won’t be worth much. Maybe 1 never will be.”
“I know you will!” she said, with a sob. “I know you’ll get on. Don’t be so unhappy, Martin.”
“Yes, but I’ve failed once,” he cried, with a sort of wonder.
“It doesn’t matter, Martin. Anyhow, I don’t believe it. I like you just the way you are.”
TT WAS cold in the room when Martin L awoke; he hastened to close the window and found the world turned white. From the grey sky the snow was still falling, thick and soft; there was a drift on the windowsill, and the curtains were bedraggled. The trees in the little wood next to the house were bare, and through the branches he could see the red roof of Doctor Willett’s house. He stood looking at it, thinking of Sally. She was the doctor’s only child.
Ever since the day her letter had reached him in Paris, he had been thinking of Sally. He hadn’t thought of her much before that; he had almost forgotten all about Gainesville. He had been a reckless, joyous fool, and now he had to pay for it.
“Dad never said a word,” he thought. “I’ve disappointed him, but he never said a word, didn’t even ask a question. He was only glad to see me back. I’ve got to make good now.”
Never yet in his life had he met with anything but that kindliness, that generosity from his father.
“There’s no one like him,” he thought. “If I could be half the man he is . . . Pie’ll be glad if I marry Sally and settle down.” The house was strangely quiet without Brother Jim. Mr. Moran and his sister and Martin sat at breakfast, and there wasn’t much to say. When the meal was finished, Martin got the car 'out of the garage and drove off with his father. The roads were muddy, covered with melting snow. They turned into Railroad Avenue, lined with little shops, the people all looking drab todayin goloshes and heavy coats.
“Pretty big change, eh?” said Moran. “Place like this—after gay Paree.”
“It looks good to me,” said Martin. He was not going to let his father suspect the curious bleakness that had come over him. They stopped before the new Arcade Build1 ing and went up one flight of stairs, to the I new office of which Moran was so proud, j And Martin saw Lucia.
I He felt a surprise that was almost a shock I at the sight of that dark, beautiful girl. In
her violet jersey and tweed skirt, with her shining black hair, her well-kept hands, her neat shoes, there was an indefinable distinction about her which he hadn’t expected to find here. Again and again he had to look at her, to wonder that he should find her here. He could see all that she did for his father, how clever she was, how tactful; he saw that when she looked at his father there was a wonderful gentleness in her smile, her voice.
She was no more than civil to Martin. In the afternoon, Moran went out. Martin had undertaken to open a new set of books, in place of his father’s casual method; he sat at the desk, pretending to be preoccupied with this task, but all the time he was aware of Lucia. She was typing; her slim fingers moving quickly, her profile clear as a cameo. She stopped to take off a page.
“Have you been in Gainesville long?” he asked.
“Nineteen years,” she answered coolly. That must be all her life. It was hard to believe it.
“It’s queer that I’ve never met you before,” he said.
“You have,” said Lucia. “I’ve seen you often. Don’t you remember Joe’s Soda Fountain?”
“Yes, of course. But—”
“Joe is my father,” she said. “He used to let me help him sometimes. I loved it.” Martin could remember a slim, quick little girl with two thick dark pigtails; an alert, unsmiling little girl. And she had turned into this?
“I suppose you went away somewhere to school,”'he said.
“Eve never been away from Gainesville,” she said. “I live with my grandmother and my father and my four little brothers and sisters. Father’s given up the store now and is raising vegetables.”
For a moment her dark eyes met his in a cool, direct glance; then she put another page into the typewriter.
“But see here,” said Martin. “We ought to have a talk about old times. Will you come out to lunch with me?”
“I’m sorry,” she answered. “I can’t.”
She gave no explanation; she went on with her work. And he could not delude himself into thinking that she had the least interest in him. She was civil, that was all. Only when Moran came in did she change and smile.
He spoke to his father about her as they were driving home.
“That Miss Rossi seems very competent,” he said.
“She’s more than that,” said Moran. “She’s certainly made the best of herself. I mean—she hasn’t had any advantages—” “Well, it’s sort of an advantage to be born with brains and character and good looks,” said Moran. “Good stock . . . Joe Rossi’s a hard-working fellow. He’s done well. Owns his own house; brings up his kids the best way he can. The grandmother’s nice, too. Sometimes I drop in and have a glass of the wine she makes. I like her.”
He was at home everywhere, thought Martin, and welcome everywhere. He didn’t know how people loved and respected him. He just tried to do an honest job and to be kindly and generous to his neighbors; that was all.
They entered the quiet house together, but it didn’t remain quiet. The telephone rang again and again ; old friends wanted to see Martin, just back from Paris. Brother Jim telephoned.
“So you're back, you son-of-a-gun,” he said. “Drive over tonight.”
“I can’t. I’m going over to Sally’s.” “Wait a moment till I speak to Madeline . . . okay. Madeline says come to dinner on Sunday. And bring Sally.”
Nobody, thought Martin, seemed at all surprised by his new interest in Sally. No one but himself. He had been fond of her all his life, but he had never suspected how fond
until he had got that letter in Paris. And then he had longed for her, had come back to her, had found in her the solace he needed. She was so happy to see him that evening. She didn’t care whether lie talked or not; they sat in front of the fire, hand in hand.
“This is the best thing that could have happened to me,” he thought. “The best there is in life.”
HE HAD a lot of new ideas about the business; he felt that he could be genuinely useful before long. His father listened to every suggestion with serious interest.
“Go ahead, boy. Try it,” he would say. But Lucia blocked every attempt he made. She was so cool and amiable that for a time he could scarcely believe in her hostility. In the end, though, he had to believe in it.
“What’s the matter • with her?” he thought, nettled and a little surprised. He was not accustomed to being disliked. All his life he had won the affection of the people about him without effort, without even being aware of it. And he wanted Lucia to like him.
When his father was out of the office he tried to talk to her. She answered him. and that was all. Again and again he made friendly overtures, again and again he was rebuffed by her smiling indifference. He grew angry, doggedly determined to overcome her antagonism. He would think about the situation before he went to sleep, wondering why she always worked against him, why she wouldn’t talk to him. He spoke of it to Sally.
“There’s a girl called Lucia Rossi in dad’s office,” he said. “She’s—”
“I went to school with her,” said Sally. “She was much the best one in the class. She’s beautiful, isn’t she?”
“In a way,” he said. “But she’s too darn self-sufficient.”
On Sunday morning he stopped for Sally. Her father had given her a new fur coat and she was delighted with it.
“These women . . .” said Doctor Willett, standing in the doorway. “They’re all alike, eh, Martin?”
They both looked at Sally standing in the drive, so gay and pretty and little, and on both their faces was the same immeasurable indulgence.
“Take care of her, Martin,” said the doctor.
It was very cold; Sally’s face was rosy; she sat close to Martin and every now and then their eyes met and they smiled.
“Funny to think of Jim being married,” he said.
“Their wedding was lovely. Madeline looked so sweet in one of those short veils.” He thought of Sally in a wedding-veil, thought of himself standing at the altar. How did a man feel at that moment, when he pledged himself to protect and cherish a little, happy thing like Sally? It was a responsibility so great that it dismayed him.
Jim didn’t seem in any way worried by his new responsibilities. He and Madeline were wonderfully happy. They wanted Martin to see every corner of their new house; they were proud of everything they had. Madeline had cooked a masterly dinner.
“She does very well, doesn’t she?” said Jim. “Considering that she’s nothing but a frivolous kindergarten teacher.”
Sally was perfectly at home here; she enjoyed herself. And Martin tried to be like her, easy and cheerful. In the frosty twilight he drove her home, and in a quiet lane lie stopped the car and took her in his arms and kissed her with an ardor he had not shown before. Because he had not liked Jim’s spick-and-span little house, and it seemed to him a sort of treachery to Sally. He had felt curiously unhappy, constrained even with Jim. They had talked about people he had known well two years ago, about this one getting married, that one moving away, and it hadn’t interested him. He had thought, with a pang, of the glitter of Paris at night.
“I’ll get over this,” he thought. “I'll settle down.”
Sally asked him to come in, but he made
some sort of excuse and went home. He had ! to be alone; to wait with what fortitude he had for this tide to pass over him, this longing for ships and strange ports, for the sound of foreign tongues and the sight of new faces. His father was reading in the sitting room. When his son entered he laid down his book. But Martin could not talk just then. He went up to his own room and closed the door.
“If I could be like dad,” he thought. “If Gainesville’s good enough for him, it’s certainly good enough for me. I was hellbent to get home—and now I’m here. I'll be all right in a little while. I’ll get over this."
MORAN had to go out on a job early the next morning, and Martin was left in the office with Lucia. He wanted not to notice her. ,
“I’ll be working here with her every day.” he thought. “I’ll have to get used to her, that’s all. If .she doesn’t want to talk, she needn't.”
But he had to notice her. He heard her answer the telephone in her cool, lovely voice; he saw her moving about the office, so wonderfully alive.
“Did you have a nice Sunday?” he asked. “Fine, thanks,” she answered. She began typing, and he wanted to make her talk, make her look at him.
“D’you like living in Gainesville?” he asked.
“I’ve got to like it,” she answered without glancing up.
There was no use trying. He went on with his own work, angry at her and something more than angry. At noon she brought in a bottle of milk from outside the window and opened a package of sandwiches she had brought with her.
“Have one?” she asked.
He refused with thanks, and went across the street to Gerber’s Quick Lunch. There were a couple of fellows there who knew him ; he had to laugh at their jokes about Paris, and he didn’t feel like it. When he got back to the office, he found Lucia still drinking her milk and reading a book.
“What’s the book?” he asked.
“The Memoirs of Si. Simon.”
“Never heard of it,” said Martin.
“Miss Cobb at the library lent it to me. She has been very kind to me.”
Somehow it angered him and hurt him to see her here, reading a book he had never heard of and paying no attention to him. “I don’t do much reading,” he said.
“It’s different for you,” she said. “But it’s the only way I have to learn about things. When I read a book like this—it’s about French court life before the Revolution—it makes me understand a little, anyhow.”
She had never spoken to him like this, with this friendliness. He sat down on the edge of the desk near her, and an immense happiness filled him.
“Did you really .see Versailles?” she asked. He told her about it, as well as he could. She told him things she had read; she knew more about Paris than he did. But she hadn’t seen it, and she wanted to know all the little things. She couldn’t pronounce French words, and they laughed at that; they laughed because he had noticed so little about those historical places she knew about.
“You ought to go to Paris,” he said. “You’d—”
The door opened and Sally came in, with snowflakes on her little black hat, her lashes wet, a lovely color in her cheeks.
“Hello,” she said. “Hello, Lucia. How cosy you both look.” She unfastened her coat and sat down. “Father’s just parked me here while he makes a call. He said it might be a long one. Will I be terribly in the way?”
She talked to Lucia for a few moments, and Martin watched them. They were goodhumored and easy together, but they had nothing real to say. And when Lucia began to work, Martin, too, had nothing to say.
“What have you been doing with yourself, Sally?” he asked, and thought with distress that his tone had in it something patronizing. He didn’t mean it to be so. He wanted to talk to her, make her happy. “Oh, nothing much,” she answered, and,
picking up Lucia’s book, sat turning the pages. And suddenly lie thought: “We’ll never have much to say to each other.”
It frightened him. He tried to deny it to himself. But he thought of the evenings they had spent together. He would kiss her and she would smile; she would tell him about her friends.
He had, without words, taken it for granted that he and Sally would marry. He had undertaken to “settle down,” to live in a little house like Jim’s—that sort of life. Years and years of it.
“What’s the matter with me?” he asked i himself. “It’s the best thing that could happen to me, to marry a girl like Sally. She’s so sweet. Too good for me. I’ll get over this. Once we’re married and settled down, it’ll be different.”
He did love Sally. Only, this love was not what he had expected. She had somehow become a part of his homesickness; he had been so desperately anxious to get back to Gainesville and to her. He had been sick and ashamed of his own folly ; he had thought that all he wanted was to get home and stay home. And it wasn’t so.
“London. . .’’he thought. “They’d have sent me to London. They still would. My record’s good . . . But I’ll never get to London now. I ’ve got to think of Sally—and dad.”
He looked up at Sally.
“Martin, are you too busy or could you drive me home? I don’t think I’ll wait any longe: for father.”
“I’ve got plenty of time.” he said, and the words echoed in his mind as they went down the stairs. Plenty of time . . . The work he did was of no importance, wasn’t real. It made no difference how long he stayed away from the office.
THE CAR was not there; it took him a moment to remember that his father had driven off in it.
“I’ll get a taxi from the station, Sally.” “Heavens, no!” she protested, laughing. “It would cost a fortune. I’ll ring up Frank. Lie’ll be at the mill. He can take me home.” He knew by her voice that there was something wrong.
“I haven’t said anything—nice to her,” he thought, looking anxiously at her. The ! snow was falling thick; it caught in her lashes, and made her eyes misty. “I’m not going to have Frank Caswell taking my girl home,” he said. He could see that she was unhappy, and he wanted to say the right thing, to make her happy again. “I’ll be getting jealous,” he said.
“Martin,” she said. “Martin, dear . . .” She took his bare hand in her gloved one, and held it tight.
“Martin, dear, you’re just my best friend.”
“What do you mean, Sally?”
“You were so glad to get home, Martin, and I was so glad to see you ... We were both—sort of silly—for a while.”
He drew her inside the doorway.
“No,” she said, still holding fast to his hand. “When I came up the stairs, I heard you and Lucia laughing—”
“That’s nonsense!” he cried. “It’s simply that Lucia works in the office, and we naturally have a lot to talk about.”
“I really knew—before that. The Sunday we drove out to see Jim and Madeline . . . You didn’t like their little house.”
“I did ! I did like it, Sally.”
A man came out of another office; they stood hand in hand while he passed.
“You’ve been sweet to me, Martin,” she said. “You always would be. But you I couldn’t feel—like Frank does about me.” “You mean you like Frank better?” he asked. He couldn't understand. He looked and looked at her, in profound distress, but her eyes were downcast.
“You see,” she said, “Frank’s in love with me, Martin, dear. And you’re not.”
“Sally, I am!”
“No, dear,” she said, and now he saw Í tears running down her cheeks. “We’re just I old friends—as we always have been. We I always will be.”
“You mean you don’t want to marry me, Sally?”
“No, dear,” she said and, reaching up, kissed him on the cheek. Then she drew away her hand.
“Sally, don’t go like this!”
“Oh, I’ll be seeing you,” she cried gaily, and ran out of the door. He followed her; he saw her hurrying along Railroad Avenue, in her new fur coat, with the falling snow like a cloud about her.
He felt a great regret, a confused remorse; it came to him that in some way he had failed her.
“She’s in love with Frank,” he thought. “Well, lie’s a darn fine fellow. He can give her more than I ever could. She’ll be happy.”
She turned the corner and was out of sight. And suddenly an immeasurable sense of relief filled him.
“She’s right!” he thought. “She’s right, not to want me. I haven’t settled down yet. She couldn’t have been happy with me.”
HE RAN up the stairs and into the office.
Lucia was standing by the window; she looked over her shoulder as he entered.
“I forgot dad had taken the car,” he explained.
He was too much disturbed to work; he didn’t quite know whether he was miserable or happy. Only he wanted Lucia to talk to him. He lit a cigarette and moved restlessly about the room.
“Lucia!” he said. “Let’s go over to— what used to be your father’s place—and have a hot chocolate.”
“I’d like to, Martin,” she said after a pause. “But I can’t leave the office. You see, it’s my job.”
“Is that a mean crack?” he asked, laughing. “I know I’m not exactly necessary here, just now. But I hope I can be.”
“You’re really going to stay here, Martin? You’re going to stay in Gainesville—all your life?”
“Sure !” he answered, puzzled by her tone. “It looks good to me. You like it, don’t you?”
She did not answer. The grey light of the snowy day made her look pale; she was looking out of the window, her head averted.
“Mr. Moran’s always wanted to travel,” she said at last. “But he married young— and settled down in Gainesville. He can’t go away now. He can’t leave his business. Maybe he’ll never see those places he wants to see.”
“I didn’t know that,” said Martin, troubled, still at a loss. “He’s never talked about that.”
“He’s talked to me,” she said. “He’s talked to me about you, too. He was so proud to think of you in Paris.”
“He made a mistake,” said Martin briefly. “Being proud of me. But now I’ve come home, to make good—if I can.”
“Do you think that’s what he wants?” she cried with a sudden vehemence. “It’s not! He doesn’t care if you made one mistake. He wants to know that you’re out in the world that he’ll never see. He’s got Jim here. He’s fond of Jim. He’s proud of him, too. But it was you—it was you—he liked to think about.”
“You mean that Gainesville isn’t good enough?”
“It’s not that. Only—don’t you see? There’d never have been any Gainesville, if everybody had always stayed home. The people who made it came here from England, years ago. My people came from Italy before I was born. Your people came here from Ireland a hundred years ago. There have to be some people like that; people who don’t stay home.”
“Lucia,” he said, “I don’t understand.”
“I couldn’t tell you how I feel about your father,” she went on. “It’s not only that he gave me my first job, my first chance. But he’s been so wonderful. I think he’s the finest man in the world.”
“And you don’t think I can even try to be like him?”
“That’s just what he doesn’t want! For you to settle down here.”
“You mean,” he said, “that you want me to go away again?”
“It’s not me. It’s your father.”
Their eyes met.
“It is you,” he said.
She bent her head.
“Martin,” she said, and she smiled, such a smile as he had never seen before. “I’ll be so glad to see you—when you come back.”
MORAN came up the stairs with his big shoulders bent; he was very tired.
“A light in the office?” he thought.
He opened the door and found Lucia sitting at her desk just as usual. She looked up with a smile, but he didn’t smile at her. “This won’t do,” he said.
“I wanted to get some things cleared up.” “This won’t do,” he repeated. “It’s nearly seven . . . Where’s that boy?”
“He went home, Mr. Moran. He’s—I guess he means to go away again—to London.”
Moran sat down on the edge of his desk, still in his overcoat. There was a long silence in the little office.
“About the best thing that can happen to a young fellow,” he said at last, “is to find a woman who isn’t satisfied with him, who’s always wanting him to do more. Get your things on, Miss Rossi, and I’ll drive you home.”
She was pretending to look for something in a desk drawer. He took a big folded white handkerchief out of his pocket and handed it to her.
“He’ll be back,” he said. “In another couple of years lie’ll be back. And he’ll be a man then. Come on, Miss Rossi. You don’t want old Mrs. Rossi to be worrying about you.”