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"Where is Leaf? She will be able to help."
"She is with him."
"I'll come right up."
The men leaving him, Bokker sat down on the top step and lighted his second cigarette.
The night was undoubtedly cold for early September; the shadows on the coarse grass in front of the house were thin, like carpets spreading from the foot of each tree and shrub. Above these, far away to his right, the moon sailed in unmindful, impersonal cadence to the steady throb of locusts and crickets. The country-side, typical of any part of Massachusetts, was uncultivated except in parts, and a half-starved wood on his left raised itself in an irregular broken sky-line against the deep Prussian blue of a somehow, he felt, delayed night.
It was not before the moon, a translucent clot of jelly, had fallen several feet, from above the upper corner of the house to the top of the porch under which he was sitting, that he heard light footsteps descending the stairs inside. He had not risen when some one behind him he knew that it was the girl-had opened the screen-door and come out into the chilling night air.
She did not speak to him, but, turning to the left, walked slowly by. When she had passed, he twisted himself to see the triangle of a skirt. An organdie, not a
linen, skirt, he corrected himself. She stood with her back to him, leaning against a railing, half illumined by yellow light that was pouring out of a window to one side of her. She was, he noticed immediately, more fragile, more incapable, than he had expected. At least her figure, slight and yet firm, girlish and yet not insipid or adolescent, warned him of this; but her poise promised a receptive personality and understanding, and he felt, accordingly, that he could address her.
Raising himself clumsily to his feet,he always cursed his clumsiness, and now it seemed doubly blameworthy, he removed the small felt hat from his head, placed his hand reassuringly on the strayed lock of hair which rested on his forehead, and asked:
"Is there anything I can do?"
She turned before answering him, neither shocked nor surprised at his intrusion. Her face, he saw for the first time, was lovely, one of those faces with a haunted beauty, a look, not wistful of the future, but of the past. Her mouth was soft, he felt sure, and her hands, which she held together, sensitive. Her hair, a mass of floating darkness, framed the whiteness of her skin with a deep fragrance. She was perfumed, he told himself, or was it the scent of the vine clinging to the gray walls of the building?
"It's all over. He died just after the doctor went up."
relaxation: she was opening and closing little things, make it worth while? We her hands, idle.
pay for wretchedness in joy; the two are balanced. I would n't go back. He's lived and finished. He did his little job down here. It is n't sad. It 's like a beautiful landscape: it 's big; you can't understand it. They both frighten you." "Where are you going to spend the
"I hurried," he said, hoping that she would enter into the conversation and relieve the tension of their intimacy, "but he had to dress."
"It was all so silly," she answered: "he could n't do anything. But I had to have some one. I could n't stand it alone. If I had been there by myself at the end-" She waved a hand as if to suggest impotence, inadequacy.
"Yes, I can understand. In the war I saw death. One does n't believe that it will happen, even after there is no hope." He remembered this sentence exactly; an officer had said it one night. "When the last breath dies, it's the same as if you had n't been expecting it."
"There was n't any reason for his dying; it was different fighting."
"Is there ever any reason? It comes at the most foolish times, never the psychological moment. And if you care, it appears all the more empty, futile."
"He was a cousin. I am Leaf Whitaker," she announced, as if for the first time aware that he did not know.
"My name is Still, Bokker Still. It sounds improbable here in the North. My family was Southern." They lapsed into silence again, altering their moods from personalities to the death that impregnated the hour. Even he was distinctly aware that a body was lying up-stairs, cold, unresponsive. "And yet," he said, "can you feel only sorrow because he is dead? You must remember that he does not have anything more to go through. He will escape the pain-all of it."
"He was not that kind."
"You may not think so, but people say that of me. They say it of you, I suppose. But think back. Would you live over the past? Would the unhappiness that you would have to have, not necessarily any big tragedy, but the
"She turned before answering him"
night?" she asked hopelessly. "Father said that you could stay up-stairs."
"I have n't any clothes or anything. I am just walking."
"A walking trip?"
"Yes," he smiled to himself,-"I am just out for exercise. The city got on my nerves."
"It will be too late for you to go on now. Why don't you stay here? Father will lend you pajamas."
"Would I be making too much trouble? Perhaps I can help instead of sleeping."
"No, there is n't anything. Dr. Rice
will do the notifying and all of that. I'll show you your room. Will you help me lock up?"
They went inside together. He was suddenly very tired and barely noticed that the house belonged to a comfortably poor man. It was old-fashioned, with an over-furnished parlor on his right. After shutting and locking the windows,
THE next day was unpleasant. The weather was misty until luncheon-time, when it became unaccountably hot; but evening came at last, and found Bokker and Leaf on the porch of the latter's home.
they blew out the lamps, left the halldoor open for the doctor, and, lighted by a candle, ascended the stairs. Mr. Whitaker shook hands with Bokker and gave him the pajamas, refusing his offer of further aid. So, as there was nothing he could do, he said good night and went into his room. They were too affected by the boy's death to notice the strangeness of giving him a room in their house, he reflected; in the morning he would leave as peacefully as possible. But in the meanwhile he would sleep. As he unfastened his collar and threw his tie over the foot of the bed, he eyed the clean sheets and a lithograph over the bureau, gratefully.
Bokker had justified his presence at the Whitaker house by reason of his aid. He was accustomed to adapting himself
to foreign situations, and since he had not been emotionally influenced by the recent death, not being affected by anything unconnected with himself, he had been able to take Mr. Whitaker's place. Mr. Whitaker was, he had discovered, a flower-grower and supplied a large shop in Pittsfield with much of its winter stock. There was a son, Leaf's brother, who was now learning his father's trade somewhere in the eastern part of the State.
The day having passed, Bokker was able to be amused and charmed by the singular predicament into which chance had thrown him. Coming from the road with the aid of a few lies and the assist
ance of his entire past, his friends, and wisdom, he had become for the time being a gentleman on a leisurely excursion. He had not attempted to explain himself as independent, his clothes and manners, good as they were, would not have warranted that, but he had been able to say that he was on a vacation from business, that he was the local manager of a lunch-room farther east. Linking this to his enterprise of yesterday had produced a feeling of reality in him, and several times he had caught himself speaking of his business, the people he hired, as if he were treading on solid ground. The fact that he had intruded at a time when everything was far from normal had, as he knew, been greatly in his favor, and the only thing that surprised him was the knowledge that Leaf herself had accepted his statements; more than that, had liked him. She had opened herself to him as though they had long been friends; the unfamiliar events of the preceding night had done away with those barriers which would inevitably have been part of an ordinary introduction. And the realization that Bokker had taken an active part in a very intimate matter, her cousin's death, was particularly inducive to an extraordinary alliance. His personality had, of course, played an important role in her acceptance of him, but aside from that, events in themselves had been favorable. And so it was that they sat together, perfectly contented, in the waning, pale light of late afternoon.
The trees and grasses were as if powdered with a meager covering of sifted gold-dust. The green and yellow of early autumn, and the arabesques of shadow which were slanted across the open space before them, harmonized in the tranquil unreality of the time of day; for the sunshine had lost its strength, and slid meaninglessly over the foliage, the road leading to the house, and a corn-field to their right.
Leaf was in a rocking-chair, her hands in her lap, her feet in narrow white slippers resting on the floor. Her dress, light green, with a miniature collar and tiny cuffs of lace, and her hair, a brown, reflecting auburn and gold from its surroundings, were in simple enough relationship to emphasize the purity of her
face, the candid regard of her lilac eyes, and the rose color of her mouth. Her nose, as Bokker had remarked early in the morning, was a bit too long, but it added a touch of unconventionality which made her beauty distinctive and personal. Her hands he also noticed: they were, surprisingly enough, incapable-looking.
"Miss Whitaker," he said, looking up at her, for he was hugging his knees, sitting on the floor with his back against a balustrade, "have you ever felt that a situation is merely the replica of one you lived over long ago? Do you know what I mean that something happening now happened before?"
"Not particularly," she replied, rocking slightly. ing slightly. Her voice was soft: she lent more significance to her tones than to her words. "But I do feel as though I have known you a long time.”
"That is what I am trying to say. I can't realize that we met only last night; and here now-I am not a stranger, am I?" "No."
"They explain that by saying that we did meet in some other life, or something like that. But I think that this has been inevitable. This is what would have had to happen."
"It is quite improbable, you know." "Yes. I do. It was queer last night. Were n't you frightened at a man on the road at that time?"
"I did n't think of that, as I told you. I thought that here was some one who could go faster."
"I was surprised, you were so natural. These days you expect one to be anything except natural." He was aware again of a borrowed phrase, and became silent. But it did seem, he was thinking, a perfect circumstance. In some inexplicable way they fitted, their minds singing in an ineffable harmony which made disconnected snatches of words, isolated sentences, or an unfinished thought, understood. "Are n't you lonely here?" he asked, moving a little, so that he could meet her eyes and at the same time shifting his worn shoes out of sight. "I should think that this country would seem barren, would make you revolt against its stillness. Of course I am used to quiet, but a girl—”
"I have grown used to it, and I am not absolutely alone: I have friends." "Sweethearts? A girl's friends always
"No, good friends. There is one more than the others, as usual."
"Rather a neighbor; at least his family does n't live far from here, though he is in college learning landscape architecture."
"He could learn it better by walking as I do. The fact that a bush is perennial does not necessarily mean that it will be beautiful anywhere. I might design a place. I think I could-a disciplined hedge, masses of asters and rhododendrons, wistaria, iris, and a little brook. You know the Japanese want water in any garden."
"Have you studied it? You seem to know."
"No, I have never studied it, but a friend of mine, an officer, said that I had something an institution of learning could not give me-intelligence. There is all the difference in the world between knowledge and intelligence."
"Did you go to France in the army, Mr. Bokker?"
"Yes. The war was my life-saver. It gave me a faith in human nature. But my first name is Bokker, you remember. Please, no Mister. If you don't like it, call me X. I hate Mr. Still. It does n't sound right."
"X, then. You call me Y. No, call me Leaf; we might as well make the whole thing as unconventional as possible." She smiled.
"Why are you smiling?"
"I was wondering what Tom would say."
"Tom being the landscape man." "Yes."
"When will he be here again?" "The day after to-morrow.” "Does your father like him?" "Yes, every one admires him, Bokker. You will like him, I think.
"Oh!" Leaf laughed this time, and he listened in surprise, for after her voice had stilled, there seemed to be an echo in her eyes, her body. It did not end on her lips, he saw, but in her heart.
"Do you think he will like me?"
"What would you think in the same position?"
He was tempted to thank her. Her remark had proved her innocence, because the omission of the word "jealousy" was noticeable, intended. It struck him suddenly that she realized his nearness, that he was also, to her, a suitor for her hand.
Marriage. Yes, she was considering marriage with a gentleman on a leisurely excursion, but not with him. That was it; she was accepting his own dream of himself, and could he be it? He could work; no, he could n't work, but he could stay.
"Do you like to walk? If you do, we can go out for a little while. I don't think it will be too cold."
"It will be nice to walk," he was speaking heartlessly now;-"we can get some ice-cream. There must be a place within walking distance."
"In North Stephentown, about two miles away; too far."
"Is that North Stephentown? thought it was Stephentown Center."
"I can't ever count on liking any one. My friends are scattered, some in Iquiqui, Peru, some in Boston, Massachu- "Stephentown Center is a few miles setts. What I want is sincerity-in farther up. That mountain,"-pointing papering a house or in the brokerage to a ridge not very many miles off,business. I have been told that brokerage "is called the Alps. It is the highest of is the last resource of an educated man.' the Berkshires."
She was so lovely, so appealing! It seemed as if he felt for the first time how lacking his life had been of a feminine touch. It would certainly be different with her always there, her hands on his cheek, or her cool dresses lying over his chairs, the echo of her womanliness associated with each of the small events of a day, her footsteps sounding through a silent house.
He was becoming depressed when Leaf broke into his thoughts.
"It's a full moon to-night."
"Yes. Did n't you notice last?"
"I did, but I did n't know that tonight it would be full.”