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   Chapter 20 “Goodby”

The Two Vanrevels By Booth Tarkington Characters: 7569

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:05


It was between twilight and candlelight, the gentle half-hour when the kind old Sand Man steals up the stairs of houses where children are; when rustic lovers stroll with slow and quiet steps down country lanes, and old bachelors are loneliest and dream of the things that might have been. Through the silence of the clear dusk came the whistle of the evening boat that was to bear Tom Vanrevel through the first stage of his long journey to the front of war, and the sound fell cheerlessly upon Miss Betty's ear, as she stood leaning against the sun-dial among the lilac bushes. Her attitude was not one of reverie; yet she stood very still, so still that, in the wan shimmer of the faded afterglow, one might have passed close by her and not have seen her. The long, dark folds of her gown showed faintly against the gray stone, and her arms, bare from the elbow, lay across the face of the dial with unrelaxed fingers clenching the cornice; her head drooping, not languidly but with tension, her eyes half-closed, showing the lashes against a pale cheek; and thus, motionless, leaning on the stone in the dusk, she might have been Sorrow's self.

She did not move, there was not even a flicker of the eyelashes, when a step sounded on the gravel of the driveway, and Vanrevel came slowly from the house. He stopped at a little distance from her, hat in hand. He was very thin, worn and old-looking, and in the failing light might have been taken for a tall, gentle ghost; yet his shoulders were squared and he held himself as straight as he had the first time she had ever seen him.

"Mrs. Tanberry told me I should find you here," he said, hesitatingly. "I have come to say good-by."

She did not turn toward him, nor did more than her lips move as she answered, "Good-by," and her tone was neither kind nor cold, but held no meaning whatever, not even indifference.

There was an interval of silence; then, without surprise, he walked sadly to the gate, paused, wheeled about suddenly, and returned with a quick, firm step.

"I will not go until I know that I do not misunderstand you," he said, "not even if there is only the slightest chance that I do. I want to say something to you, if you will let me, though naturally I remember you once asked me never to speak to you again. It is only that I have thought you did that under a misconception, or else I should still obey you. If you-"

"What is it that you wish to say?" Her tone was unchanged.

"Only that I think the hardest time for you has passed, and that-"

"Do you?" she interrupted.

"Yes," he returned, "the saddest of your life. I think it has gone forever. And I think that what will come to you will be all you wish for. There will be a little time of waiting-"

"Waiting for what?"

He drew a step nearer, and his voice became very gentle. "Cummings and I reach our regiment tomorrow night; and there in the camp is a group of men on the way to the war, and they all go the more bravely because each one of them has you in his heart;-not one but will be a better soldier because of you. I want you to believe that if all of them don't come back, yet the one whose safety you think of and fear for will return. For, you see, Crailey told me what you said to him when-when he met you here the last time. I have no way to know which of them you meant; but-he will come back to you! I am sure of it, because I believe you are to be happy. Ah, you've had your allotment of pain! After all, there is so little to regret: the town seems empty without its young men, yet you may rejoice, remembering how bravely they went and how gaily! They will sing half the way to Vera Cruz! You think it strange I should say there is so little to regret, when I've just laid away my best friend. It was his o

wn doctrine, and the selfish personal grief and soreness grows less when I think of the gallant end he made, for it was he who went away most bravely and jauntily of all. Crailey was no failure, unless I let what he taught me go to no effect. And be sure he would have told you what I tell you now, that all is well with all in the world."

"Please!" she cried, with a quick intake of breath through closed teeth.

"I will do anything in the world to please you," he answered, sorrowfully. "Do you mean that-"

She turned at last and faced him, but without lifting her eyes. "Why did you come to say good-by to me?"

"I don't understand."

"I think you do." Her voice was cold and steady, but it was suddenly given to him to perceive that she was trembling from head to heel.

An exclamation of remorse broke from him.

"Ah! You came here to be alone. I-"

"Stop," she said. "You said good-by to me once before. Did you come to see-what you saw then?"

He fell back in utter amazement, but she advanced upon him swiftly. "Was it that?" she cried.

The unfortunate young man could make no reply, and remained unable to defend himself from her inexplicable attack.

"You have not forgotten," she went on, impetuously. "It was in the crowd, just before they gave you the flag. You saw-I know you saw-and it killed me with the shame of it! Now you come to me to look at the same thing again-and the boat waiting for you! Is it in revenge for that night at the Bareauds'? Perhaps this sounds wild to you-I can't help that-but why should you try to make it harder for me?"

From the porch came a strong voice: "Vanrevel!"

"God knows I haven't meant to," said Tom, in bitter pain. "I don't understand. It's Cummings calling for me; I'll go at once. I'd hoped, stupidly enough, that you would tell me whom it was you meant when you spoke to Crailey, so that I could help to make it surer that he'd come back to you. But I've only annoyed you. And you were here-away from the house--avoiding me, and fearing that I-"

"Vanrevel!" shouted William. (Mrs. Tanberry had not told Lieutenant Cummings where to find Miss Betty.)

"Fearing? Yes?"

"Fearing that I might discover you." He let his eyes rest on her loveliness once more, and as he saw that she still trembled, he extended his hand toward her in a gesture of infinite gentleness, like a blessing, heaved one great sigh, and, with head erect and body straight, set his face manfully toward the house.

He had taken three strides when his heart stopped beating at an ineffable touch on his sleeve. For, with a sharp cry, she sprang to him; and then, once more, among the lilac bushes where he had caught the white kitten, his hand was seized and held between two small palms, and the eyes of Miss Betty Carewe looked into the very soul of him.

"No!" she cried. "No! Fearing with a sick heart that you might not come!"

Her pale face, misty with sweetness, wavered before him in the dusk, and he lifted his shaking hand to his forehead; her own went with it, and the touch of that steadied him.

"You mean," he whispered, brokenly, "you mean that you-"

"Yes, always," she answered, rushing through the words, half in tears. "There was a little time when I loved what your life had been more than you. Ah, it was you that I saw in him. Yet it was not what you had done after all, but just you! I knew there could not be anyone else-though I thought it could never be you-that night, just before they gave the flag."

"We've little time, Vanrevel!" called the voice from the porch.

Tom's eyes filled slowly. He raised them and looked at the newly come stars. "Crailey, Crailey!" he murmured.

Her gaze followed his. "Ah, it's he-and they-that make me know you will come back to me!" she said.

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