Robert Tronge 21

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robert tronge
Robert Tronge

Only after forty-five minutes of waiting did that faith begin to grow dim. She was too inexperienced in such matters to know that this was the inevitable consequence of being ready too early. She had had time to run through the whole cycle of certainty, eagerness, doubt, and she was now rapidly approaching despair. He was not coming. Perhaps he had never meant to come. Possibly he had merely yielded to a polite impulse; possibly her manner had betrayed her wishes so plainly that a clever, older person, two or three years out of college, had only too clearly read her in the moment when she had detained his hand at the door of the ball-room. There was a ring at the bell. Her heart stood perfectly still, and then began beating with a terrible force, as if it gathered itself into a hard, weighty lump again and again. Several minutes went by, too long for a man to give to taking off his coat. At last she got up and cautiously opened the door; a servant was carrying a striped cardboard box to her mother's room. Miss Severance went back and sat down. She took a long breath; her heart returned to its normal movement. Yet, for some unexplained reason, the fact that the door-bell had rung once made it more possible that it would ring again, and she began to feel a slight return of confidence. A servant opened the door, and in the instant before she turned her head she had time to debate the possibility of a visitor having come in without ringing while the messenger with the striped box was going out. But, no; Pringle was alone. Pringle had been with the family since her mother was a girl, but, like many red-haired men, he retained an appearance of youth. He wanted to know if he should take away the tea. She knew perfectly why he asked. He liked to have the tea-things put away before he had his own supper and began his arrangements for the family dinner. She felt that the crisis had come. If she said yes, she knew that her visitor would come just as tea had disappeared. If she said no, she would sit there alone, waiting for another half-hour, and when she finally did ring and tell Pringle he could take away the tea-things, he would look wise and reproachful. Nevertheless, she did say no, and Pringle with admirable self-control, withdrew. The afternoon seemed very quiet. Miss Severance became aware of all sorts of bells that she had never heard before--other door-bells, telephone-bells in the adjacent houses, loud, hideous bells on motor delivery-wagons, but not her own front door-bell. Her heart felt like lead. Things would never be the same now. Probably there was some explanation of his not coming, but it could never be really atoned for. The wild romance and confidence in this first visit could never be regained. And then there was a loud, quick ring at the bell, and at once he was in the room, breathing rapidly, as if he had run up-stairs or even from the corner. She could do nothing but stare at him. She had tried in the last ten minutes to remember what he looked like, and now she was astonished to find how exactly he looked as she remembered him. To her horror, the change between her late despair and her present joy was so extreme that she wanted to cry. The best she knew how to do was to pucker her face into a smile and to offer him those chilly finger-tips. He hardly took them, but said, as if announcing a black, but incontrovertible, fact: "You're not a bit glad to see me." "Oh, yes, I am," she returned, with an attempt at an easy social manner. "Will you have some tea?" "But why aren't you glad?" Miss Severance clasped her hands on the edge of the tea-tray and looked down. She pressed her palms together; she set her teeth, but the muscles in her throat went on contracting; and the heroic struggle was lost. "I thought you weren't coming," she said, and making no further effort to conceal the fact that her eyes were full of tears she looked straight up at him. He sat down beside her on the small, low sofa and put his hand on hers. "But I was perfectly certain to come," he said very gently, "because, you see, I think I love you." "Do you think I love you?" she asked, seeking information. "I can't tell," he answered. "Your being sorry I did not come doesn't prove anything. We'll see. You're so wonderfully young, my dear!" "I don't think eighteen is so young. My mother was married before she was twenty." He sat silent for a few seconds, and she felt his hand shut more firmly on hers. Then he got up, and, pulling a chair to the opposite side of the table, said briskly: "And now give me some tea. I haven't had any lunch." "Oh, why not?" She blew her nose, tucked away her handkerchief, and began her operations on the tea-tray. "I work very hard," he returned. "You don't know what at, do you? I'm a statistician." "What's that?" "I make reports on properties, on financial ventures, for the firm I'm with, Benson & Honaton. They're brokers. When they are asked to underwrite a scheme--" "Underwrite? I never heard that word." The boy laughed. "You'll hear it a good many times if our acquaintance continues." Then more gravely, but quite parenthetically, he added: "If a firm puts up money for a business, they want to know all about it, of course. I tell them. I've just been doing a report this afternoon, a wonder; it's what made me late. Shall I tell you about it in Hillman?" She nodded with the same eagerness with which ten years before she might have answered an inquiry as to whether he should tell her a fairy-story.