Benediction by F. Scott Fitzgerald
The Baltimore Station was hot and crowded, so Lois was forced to stand by the telegraph desk for interminable, sticky seconds while a clerk with big front teeth counted and recounted a large lady’s day message, to determine whether it contained the innocuous forty-nine words or the fatal fifty-one.
Lois, waiting, decided she wasn’t quite sure of the address, so she took the letter out of her bag and ran over it again.
“Darling,” IT BEGAN–“I understand and I’m happier than life ever meant me to be. If I could give you the things you’ve always been in tune with–but I can’t Lois; we can’t marry and we can’t lose each other and let all this glorious love end in nothing.
“Until your letter came, dear, I’d been sitting here in the half dark and thinking where I could go and ever forget you; abroad, perhaps, to drift through Italy or Spain and dream away the pain of having lost you where the crumbling ruins of older, mellower civilizations would mirror only the desolation of my heart–and then your letter came.
“Sweetest, bravest girl, if you’ll wire me I’ll meet you in Wilmington–till then I’ll be here just waiting and hoping for every long dream of you to come true. “Howard.”
She had read the letter so many times that she knew it word by word, yet it still startled her. In it she found many faint reflections of the man who wrote it–the mingled sweetness and sadness in his dark eyes, the furtive, restless excitement she felt sometimes when he talked to her, his dreamy sensuousness that lulled her mind to sleep. Lois was nineteen and very romantic and curious and courageous.
The large lady and the clerk having compromised on fifty words, Lois took a blank and wrote her telegram. And there were no overtones to the finality of her decision.
It’s just destiny–she thought–it’s just the way things work out in this damn world. If cowardice is all that’s been holding me back there won’t be any more holding back. So we’ll just let things take their course and never be sorry.
The clerk scanned her telegram:
“Arrived Baltimore today spend day with my brother meet me Wilmington three P.M. Wednesday Love
“Fifty-four cents,” said the clerk admiringly.
And never be sorry–thought Lois–and never be sorry—
Trees filtering light onto dapple grass. Trees like tall, languid ladies with feather fans coquetting airily with the ugly roof of the monastery. Trees like butlers, bending courteously over placid walks and paths. Trees, trees over the hills on either side and scattering out in clumps and lines and woods all through eastern Maryland, delicate lace on the hems of many yellow fields, dark opaque backgrounds for flowered bushes or wild climbing garden.
Some of the trees were very gay and young, but the monastery trees were older than the monastery which, by true monastic standards, wasn’t very old at all. And, as a matter of fact, it wasn’t technically called a monastery, but only a seminary; nevertheless it shall be a monastery here despite its Victorian architecture or its Edward VII additions, or even its Woodrow Wilsonian, patented, last-a-century roofing.
Out behind was the farm where half a dozen lay brothers were sweating lustily as they moved with deadly efficiency around the vegetable-gardens. To the left, behind a row of elms, was an informal baseball diamond where three novices were being batted out by a fourth, amid great chasings and puffings and blowings. And in front as a great mellow bell boomed the half-hour a swarm of black, human leaves were blown over the checker-board of paths under the courteous trees.
Some of these black leaves were very old with cheeks furrowed like the first ripples of a splashed pool. Then there was a scattering of middle-aged leaves whose forms when viewed in profile in their revealing gowns were beginning to be faintly unsymmetrical. These carried thick volumes of Thomas Aquinas and Henry James and Cardinal Mercier and Immanuel Kant and many bulging note-books filled with lecture data.
But most numerous were the young leaves; blond boys of nineteen with very stern, conscientious expressions; men in the late twenties with a keen self-assurance from having taught out in the world for five years–several hundreds of them, from city and town and country in Maryland and Pennsylvania and Virginia and West Virginia and Delaware.
There were many Americans and some Irish and some tough Irish and a few French, and several Italians and Poles, and they walked informally arm in arm with each other in twos and threes or in long rows, almost universally distinguished by the straight mouth and the considerable chin–for this was the Society of Jesus, founded in Spain five hundred years before by a tough-minded soldier who trained men to hold a breach or a salon, preach a sermon or write a treaty, and do it and not argue . . .
Lois got out of a bus into the sunshine down by the outer gate. She was nineteen with yellow hair and eyes that people were tactful enough not to call green. When men of talent saw her in a street-car they often furtively produced little stub-pencils and backs of envelopes and tried to sum up that profile or the thing that the eyebrows did to her eyes. Later they looked at their results and usually tore them up with wondering sighs.
Though Lois was very jauntily attired in an expensively appropriate travelling affair, she did not linger to pat out the dust which covered her clothes, but started up the central walk with curious glances at either side. Her face was very eager and expectant, yet she hadn’t at all that glorified expression that girls wear when they arrive for a Senior Prom at Princeton or New Haven; still, as there were no senior proms here, perhaps it didn’t matter.
She was wondering what he would look like, whether she’d possibly know him from his picture. In the picture, which hung over her mother’s bureau at home, he seemed very young and hollow-cheeked and rather pitiful, with only a well-developed mouth and all ill-fitting probationer’s gown to show that he had already made a momentous decision about his life. Of course he had been only nineteen then and now he was thirty-six–didn’t look like that at all; in recent snap-shots he was much broader and his hair had grown a little thin–but the impression of her brother she had always retained was that of the big picture. And so she had always been a little sorry for him. What a life for a man! Seventeen years of preparation and he wasn’t even a priest yet–wouldn’t be for another year.
Lois had an idea that this was all going to be rather solemn if she let it be. But she was going to give her very best imitation of undiluted sunshine, the imitation she could give even when her head was splitting or when her mother had a nervous breakdown or when she was particularly romantic and curious and courageous. This brother of hers undoubtedly needed cheering up, and he was going to be cheered up, whether he liked it or not.
As she drew near the great, homely front door she saw a man break suddenly away from a group and, pulling up the skirts of his gown, run toward her. He was smiling, she noticed, and he looked very big and–and reliable. She stopped and waited, knew that her heart was beating unusually fast.
“Lois!” he cried, and in a second she was in his arms. She was suddenly trembling.
“Lois!” he cried again, “why, this is wonderful! I can’t tell you, Lois, how MUCH I’ve looked forward to this. Why, Lois, you’re beautiful!”
His voice, though restrained, was vibrant with energy and that odd sort of enveloping personality she had thought that she only of the family possessed.
“I’m mighty glad, too–Kieth.”
She flushed, but not unhappily, at this first use of his name.
“Lois–Lois–Lois,” he repeated in wonder. “Child, we’ll go in here a minute, because I want you to meet the rector, and then we’ll walk around. I have a thousand things to talk to you about.”
His voice became graver. “How’s mother?”
She looked at him for a moment and then said something that she had not intended to say at all, the very sort of thing she had resolved to avoid.
“Oh, Kieth–she’s–she’s getting worse all the time, every way.”
He nodded slowly as if he understood.
“Nervous, well–you can tell me about that later. Now—“
She was in a small study with a large desk, saying something to a little, jovial, white-haired priest who retained her hand for some seconds.
“So this is Lois!”
He said it as if he had heard of her for years.
He entreated her to sit down.
Two other priests arrived enthusiastically and shook hands with her and addressed her as “Kieth’s little sister,” which she found she didn’t mind a bit.
How assured they seemed; she had expected a certain shyness, reserve at least. There were several jokes unintelligible to her, which seemed to delight every one, and the little Father Rector referred to the trio of them as “dim old monks,” which she appreciated, because of course they weren’t monks at all. She had a lightning impression that they were especially fond of Kieth–the Father Rector had called him “Kieth” and one of the others had kept a hand on his shoulder all through the conversation. Then she was shaking hands again and promising to come back a little later for some ice-cream, and smiling and smiling and being rather absurdly happy . . . she told herself that it was because Kieth was so delighted in showing her off.
Then she and Kieth were strolling along a path, arm in arm, and he was informing her what an absolute jewel the Father Rector was.
“Lois,” he broken off suddenly, “I want to tell you before we go any farther how much it means to me to have you come up here. I think it was–mighty sweet of you. I know what a gay time you’ve been having.”
Lois gasped. She was not prepared for this. At first when she had conceived the plan of taking the hot journey down to Baltimore staying the night with a friend and then coming out to see her brother, she had felt rather consciously virtuous, hoped he wouldn’t be priggish or resentful about her not having come before–but walking here with him under the trees seemed such a little thing, and surprisingly a happy thing.
“Why, Kieth,” she said quickly, “you know I couldn’t have waited a day longer. I saw you when I was five, but of course I didn’t remember, and how could I have gone on without practically ever having seen my only brother?”
“It was mighty sweet of you, Lois,” he repeated.
Lois blushed–he DID have personality.
“I want you to tell me all about yourself,” he said after a pause. “Of course I have a general idea what you and mother did in Europe those fourteen years, and then we were all so worried, Lois, when you had pneumonia and couldn’t come down with mother–let’s see that was two years ago–and then, well, I’ve seen your name in the papers, but it’s all been so unsatisfactory. I haven’t known you, Lois.”
She found herself analyzing his personality as she analyzed the personality of every man she met. She wondered if the effect of–of intimacy that he gave was bred by his constant repetition of her name. He said it as if he loved the word, as if it had an inherent meaning to him.
“Then you were at school,” he continued.
“Yes, at Farmington. Mother wanted me to go to a convent–but I didn’t want to.”
She cast a side glance at him to see if he would resent this.
But he only nodded slowly.
“Had enough convents abroad, eh?”
“Yes–and Kieth, convents are different there anyway. Here even in the nicest ones there are so many COMMON girls.”
He nodded again.
“Yes,” he agreed, “I suppose there are, and I know how you feel about it. It grated on me here, at first, Lois, though I wouldn’t say that to any one but you; we’re rather sensitive, you and I, to things like this.”
“You mean the men here?”
“Yes, some of them of course were fine, the sort of men I’d always been thrown with, but there were others; a man named Regan, for instance–I hated the fellow, and now he’s about the best friend I have. A wonderful character, Lois; you’ll meet him later. Sort of man you’d like to have with you in a fight.”
Lois was thinking that Kieth was the sort of man she’d like to have with HER in a fight.
“How did you–how did you first happen to do it?” she asked, rather shyly, “to come here, I mean. Of course mother told me the story about the Pullman car.”
“Oh, that—” He looked rather annoyed.
“Tell me that. I’d like to hear you tell it.”
“Oh, it’s nothing except what you probably know. It was evening and I’d been riding all day and thinking about–about a hundred things, Lois, and then suddenly I had a sense that some one was sitting across from me, felt that he’d been there for some time, and had a vague idea that he was another traveller. All at once he leaned over toward me and I heard a voice say: ‘I want you to be a priest, that’s what I want.’ Well I jumped up and cried out, ‘Oh, my God, not that!’–made an idiot of myself before about twenty people; you see there wasn’t any one sitting there at all. A week after that I went to the Jesuit College in Philadelphia and crawled up the last flight of stairs to the rector’s office on my hands and knees.”
There was another silence and Lois saw that her brother’s eyes wore a far-away look, that he was staring unseeingly out over the sunny fields. She was stirred by the modulations of his voice and the sudden silence that seemed to flow about him when he finished speaking.
She noticed now that his eyes were of the same fibre as hers, with the green left out, and that his mouth was much gentler, really, than in the picture –or was it that the face had grown up to it lately? He was getting a little bald just on top of his head. She wondered if that was from wearing a hat so much. It seemed awful for a man to grow bald and no one to care about it.
“Were you–pious when you were young, Kieth?” she asked. “You know what I mean. Were you religious? If you don’t mind these personal questions.”
“Yes,” he said with his eyes still far away–and she felt that his intense abstraction was as much a part of his personality as his attention. “Yes, I suppose I was, when I was–sober.”
Lois thrilled slightly.
“Did you drink?”
“I was on the way to making a bad hash of things.” He smiled and, turning his gray eyes on her, changed the subject.
“Child, tell me about mother. I know it’s been awfully hard for you there, lately. I know you’ve had to sacrifice a lot and put up with a great deal and I want you to know how fine of you I think it is. I feel, Lois, that you’re sort of taking the place of both of us there.”
Lois thought quickly how little she had sacrificed; how lately she had constantly avoided her nervous, half-invalid mother.
“Youth shouldn’t be sacrificed to age, Kieth,” she said steadily.
“I know,” he sighed, “and you oughtn’t to have the weight on your shoulders, child. I wish I were there to help you.”
She saw how quickly he had turned her remark and instantly she knew what this quality was that he gave off. He was SWEET. Her thoughts went of on a side-track and then she broke the silence with an odd remark.
“Sweetness is hard,” she said suddenly.
“Nothing,” she denied in confusion. “I didn’t mean to speak aloud. I was thinking of something –of a conversation with a man named Freddy Kebble.”
“Maury Kebble’s brother?”
“Yes,” she said rather surprised to think of him having known Maury Kebble. Still there was nothing strange about it. “Well, he and I were talking about sweetness a few weeks ago. Oh, I don’t know–I said that a man named Howard–that a man I knew was sweet, and he didn’t agree with me, and we began talking about what sweetness in a man was: He kept telling me I meant a sort of soppy softness, but I knew I didn’t–yet I didn’t know exactly how to put it. I see now. I meant just the opposite. I suppose real sweetness is a sort of hardness–and strength.”
“I see what you mean. I’ve known old priests who had it.”
“I’m talking about young men,” she said rather defiantly.
They had reached the now deserted baseball diamond and, pointing her to a wooden bench, he sprawled full length on the grass.
“Are these YOUNG men happy here, Kieth?”
“Don’t they look happy, Lois?”
“I suppose so, but those YOUNG ones, those two we just passed–have they–are they—?
“Are they signed up?” he laughed. “No, but they will be next month.”
“Yes–unless they break down mentally or physically. Of course in a discipline like ours a lot drop out.”
“But those BOYS. Are they giving up fine chances outside–like you did?”
“Some of them.”
“But Kieth, they don’t know what they’re doing. They haven’t had any experience of what they’re missing.”
“No, I suppose not.”
“It doesn’t seem fair. Life has just sort of scared them at first. Do they all come in so YOUNG?”
“No, some of them have knocked around, led pretty wild lives–Regan, for instance.”
“I should think that sort would be better,” she said meditatively, “men that had SEEN life.”
“No,” said Kieth earnestly, “I’m not sure that knocking about gives a man the sort of experience he can communicate to others. Some of the broadest men I’ve known have been absolutely rigid about themselves. And reformed libertines are a notoriously intolerant class. Don’t you thank so, Lois?”
She nodded, still meditative, and he continued:
“It seems to me that when one weak reason goes to another, it isn’t help they want; it’s a sort of companionship in guilt, Lois. After you were born, when mother began to get nervous she used to go and weep with a certain Mrs. Comstock. Lord, it used to make me shiver. She said it comforted her, poor old mother. No, I don’t think that to help others you’ve got to show yourself at all. Real help comes from a stronger person whom you respect. And their sympathy is all the bigger because it’s impersonal.”
“But people want human sympathy,” objected Lois. “They want to feel the other person’s been tempted.”
“Lois, in their hearts they want to feel that the other person’s been weak. That’s what they mean by human.
“Here in this old monkery, Lois,” he continued with a smile, “they try to get all that self-pity and pride in our own wills out of us right at the first. They put us to scrubbing floors–and other things. It’s like that idea of saving your life by losing it. You see we sort of feel that the less human a man is, in your sense of human, the better servant he can be to humanity. We carry it out to the end, too. When one of us dies his family can’t even have him then. He’s buried here under plain wooden cross with a thousand others.”
His tone changed suddenly and he looked at her with a great brightness in his gray eyes.
“But way back in a man’s heart there are some things he can’t get rid of–an one of them is that I’m awfully in love with my little sister.”
With a sudden impulse she knelt beside him in the grass and, Leaning over, kissed his forehead.
“You’re hard, Kieth,” she said, “and I love you for it–and you’re sweet.”
Back in the reception-room Lois met a half-dozen more of Kieth’s particular friends; there was a young man named Jarvis, rather pale and delicate-looking, who, she knew, must be a grandson of old Mrs. Jarvis at home, and she mentally compared this ascetic with a brace of his riotous uncles.
And there was Regan with a scarred face and piercing intent eyes that followed her about the room and often rested on Kieth with something very like worship. She knew then what Kieth had meant about “a good man to have with you in a fight.”
He’s the missionary type–she thought vaguely–China or something.
“I want Kieth’s sister to show us what the shimmy is,” demanded one young man with a broad grin.
“I’m afraid the Father Rector would send me shimmying out the gate. Besides, I’m not an expert.”
“I’m sure it wouldn’t be best for Jimmy’s soul anyway,” said Kieth solemnly. “He’s inclined to brood about things like shimmys. They were just starting to do the–maxixe, wasn’t it, Jimmy?–when he became a monk, and it haunted him his whole first year. You’d see him when he was peeling potatoes, putting his arm around the bucket and making irreligious motions with his feet.”
There was a general laugh in which Lois joined.
“An old lady who comes here to Mass sent Kieth this ice-cream,” whispered Jarvis under cover of the laugh, “because she’d heard you were coming. It’s pretty good, isn’t it?”
There were tears trembling in Lois’ eyes.
Then half an hour later over in the chapel things suddenly went all wrong. It was several years since Lois had been at Benediction and at first she was thrilled by the gleaming monstrance with its central spot of white, the air rich and heavy with incense, and the sun shining through the stained-glass window of St. Francis Xavier overhead and falling in warm red tracery on the cassock of the man in front of her, but at the first notes of the “O SALUTARIS HOSTIA” a heavy weight seemed to descend upon her soul. Kieth was on her right and young Jarvis on her left, and she stole uneasy glance at both of them.
What’s the matter with me? she thought impatiently.
She looked again. Was there a certain coldness in both their profiles, that she had not noticed before–a pallor about the mouth and a curious set expression in their eyes? She shivered slightly: they were like dead men.
She felt her soul recede suddenly from Kieth’s. This was her brother–this, this unnatural person. She caught herself in the act of a little laugh.
“What is the matter with me?”
She passed her hand over her eyes and the weight increased. The incense sickened her and a stray, ragged note from one of the tenors in the choir grated on her ear like the shriek of a slate-pencil. She fidgeted, and raising her hand to her hair touched her forehead, found moisture on it.
“It’s hot in here, hot as the deuce.”
Again she repressed a faint laugh and, then in an instant the weight on her heart suddenly diffused into cold fear. . . . It was that candle on the altar. It was all wrong–wrong. Why didn’t somebody see it? There was something IN it. There was something coming out of it, taking form and shape above it.
She tried to fight down her rising panic, told herself it was the wick. If the wick wasn’t straight, candles did something–but they didn’t do this! With incalculable rapidity a force was gathering within her, a tremendous, assimilative force, drawing from every sense, every corner of her brain, and as it surged up inside her she felt an enormous terrified repulsion. She drew her arms in close to her side away from Kieth and Jarvis.
Something in that candle . . . she was leaning forward–in another moment she felt she would go forward toward it–didn’t any one see it? . . . anyone?
She felt a space beside her and something told her that Jarvis had gasped and sat down very suddenly . . . then she was kneeling and as the flaming monstrance slowly left the altar in the hands of the priest, she heard a great rushing noise in her ears–the crash of the bells was like hammer-blows . . . and then in a moment that seemed eternal a great torrent rolled over her heart–there was a shouting there and a lashing as of waves . . .
. . . She was calling, felt herself calling for Kieth, her lips mouthing the words that would not come:
“Kieth! Oh, my God! KIETH!”
Suddenly she became aware of a new presence, something external, in front of her, consummated and expressed in warm red tracery. Then she knew. It was the window of St. Francis Xavier. Her mind gripped at it, clung to it finally, and she felt herself calling again endlessly, impotently–Kieth–Kieth!
Then out of a great stillness came a voice:
“BLESSED BE GOD.”
With a gradual rumble sounded the response rolling heavily through the chapel:
“Blessed be God.”
The words sang instantly in her heart; the incense lay mystically and sweetly peaceful upon the air, and THE CANDLE ON THE ALTAR WENT OUT.
“Blessed be His Holy Name.”
“Blessed be His Holy Name.”
Everything blurred into a swinging mist. With a sound half-gasp, half-cry she rocked on her feet and reeled backward into Kieth’s suddenly outstretched arms.
“Lie still, child.”
She closed her eyes again. She was on the grass outside, pillowed on Kieth’s arm, and Regan was dabbing her head with a cold towel.
“I’m all right,” she said quietly.
“I know, but just lie still a minute longer. It was too hot in there. Jarvis felt it, too.”
She laughed as Regan again touched her gingerly with the towel.
“I’m all right,” she repeated.
But though a warm peace was falling her mind and heart she felt oddly broken and chastened, as if some one had held her stripped soul up and laughed.
Half an hour later she walked leaning on Kieth’s arm down the long central path toward the gate.
“It’s been such a short afternoon,” he sighed, “and I’m so sorry you were sick, Lois.”
“Kieth, I’m feeling fine now, really; I wish you wouldn’t worry.”
“Poor old child. I didn’t realize that Benediction’d be a long service for you after your hot trip out here and all.”
She laughed cheerfully.
“I guess the truth is I’m not much used to Benediction. Mass is the limit of my religious exertions.”
She paused and then continued quickly:
“I don’t want to shock you, Kieth, but I can’t tell you how–how INCONVENIENT being a Catholic is. It really doesn’t seem to apply any more. As far as morals go, some of the wildest boys I know are Catholics. And the brightest boys–I mean the ones who think and read a lot, don’t seem to believe in much of anything any more.”
“Tell me about it. The bus won’t be here for another half-hour.”
They sat down on a bench by the path.
“For instance, Gerald Carter, he’s published a novel. He absolutely roars when people mention immortality. And then Howa–well, another man I’ve known well, lately, who was Phi Beta Kappa at Harvard says that no intelligent person can believe in Supernatural Christianity. He says Christ was a great socialist, though. Am I shocking you?”
She broke off suddenly.
“You can’t shock a monk. He’s a professional shock-absorber.”
“Well,” she continued, “that’s about all. It seems so–so NARROW. Church schools, for instance. There’s more freedom about things that Catholic people can’t see–like birth control.”
Kieth winced, almost imperceptibly, but Lois saw it.
“Oh,” she said quickly, “everybody talks about everything now.”
“It’s probably better that way.”
“Oh, yes, much better. Well, that’s all, Kieth. I just wanted to tell you why I’m a little–luke-warm, at present.”
“I’m not shocked, Lois. I understand better than you think. We all go through those times. But I know it’ll come out all right, child. There’s that gift of faith that we have, you and I, that’ll carry us past the bad spots.”
He rose as he spoke and they started again down the path.
“I want you to pray for me sometimes, Lois. I think your prayers would be about what I need. Because we’ve come very close in these few hours, I think.”
Her eyes were suddenly shining.
“Oh we have, we have!” she cried. “I feel closer to you now than to any one in the world.”
He stopped suddenly and indicated the side of the path.
“We might–just a minute—“
It was a pieta, a life-size statue of the Blessed Virgin set within a semicircle of rocks.
Feeling a little self-conscious she dropped on her knees beside him and made an unsuccessful attempt at prayer.
She was only half through when he rose. He took her arm again.
“I wanted to thank Her for letting as have this day together,” he said simply.
Lois felt a sudden lump in her throat and she wanted to say something that would tell him how much it had meant to her, too. But she found no words.
“I’ll always remember this,” he continued, his voice trembling a little—“this summer day with you. It’s been just what I expected. You’re just what I expected, Lois.”
“I’m awfully glad, Keith.”
“You see, when you were little they kept sending me snap-shots of you, first as a baby and then as a child in socks playing on the beach with a pail and shovel, and then suddenly as a wistful little girl with wondering, pure eyes–and I used to build dreams about you. A man has to have something living to cling to. I think, Lois, it was your little white soul I tried to keep near me–even when life was at its loudest and every intellectual idea of God seemed the sheerest mockery, and desire and love and a million things came up to me and said: ‘Look here at me! See, I’m Life. You’re turning your back on it!’ All the way through that shadow, Lois, I could always see your baby soul flitting on ahead of me, very frail and clear and wonderful.”
Lois was crying softly. They had reached the gate and she rested her elbow on it and dabbed furiously at her eyes.
“And then later, child, when you were sick I knelt all one night and asked God to spare you for me–for I knew then that I wanted more; He had taught me to want more. I wanted to know you moved and breathed in the same world with me. I saw you growing up, that white innocence of yours changing to a flame and burning to give light to other weaker souls. And then I wanted some day to take your children on my knee and hear them call the crabbed old monk Uncle Kieth.”
He seemed to be laughing now as he talked.
“Oh, Lois, Lois, I was asking God for more then. I wanted the letters you’d write me and the place I’d have at your table. I wanted an awful lot, Lois, dear.”
“You’ve got me, Kieth,” she sobbed “you know it, say you know it. Oh, I’m acting like a baby but I didn’t think you’d be this way, and I–oh, Kieth–Kieth—“
He took her hand and patted it softly.
“Here’s the bus. You’ll come again won’t you?”
She put her hands on his cheeks, add drawing his head down, pressed her tear-wet face against his.
“Oh, Kieth, brother, some day I’ll tell you something.”
He helped her in, saw her take down her handkerchief and smile bravely at him, as the driver kicked his whip and the bus rolled off. Then a thick cloud of dust rose around it and she was gone.
For a few minutes he stood there on the road his hand on the gate-post, his lips half parted in a smile.
“Lois,” he said aloud in a sort of wonder, “Lois, Lois.”
Later, some probationers passing noticed him kneeling before the pieta, and coming back after a time found him still there. And he was there until twilight came down and the courteous trees grew garrulous overhead and the crickets took up their burden of song in the dusky grass.
The first clerk in the telegraph booth in the Baltimore Station whistled through his buck teeth at the second clerk:
“See that girl–no, the pretty one with the big black dots on her veil. Too late–she’s gone. You missed somep’n.”
“What about her?”
“Nothing. ‘Cept she’s damn good-looking. Came in here yesterday and sent a wire to some guy to meet her somewhere. Then a minute ago she came in with a telegram all written out and was standin’ there goin’ to give it to me when she changed her mind or somep’n and all of a sudden tore it up.”
The first clerk came around tile counter and picking up the two pieces of paper from the floor put them together idly. The second clerk read them over his shoulder and subconsciously counted the words as he read. There were just thirteen.
“This is in the way of a permanent goodbye. I should suggest Italy.
“Tore it up, eh?” said the second clerk.