Six minutes to six, said the great round clock over the information booth in the train station. Lieutenant Blandford was excited. In six minutes, he would see the woman who had filled such a special place in his life for the past 13 months. The woman he had never seen, yet whose written words had been with him and sustained him unfailingly.
In one of his letters, he had confessed to her that he often felt fear in fighting the battle. He had received her answer: “Of course you fear … all brave men do. Next time you doubt yourself, I want you to hear my voice reciting to you: ‘Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil, for Thou art with me.’ ” And he had remembered; he had heard her imagined voice, and it had renewed his strength.
Now he was going to hear her real voice. Four minutes to six, his face grew sharp.
People were walking fast. A girl passed close to him, and Lieutenant Blandford started. She was wearing a red flower in her suit lapel, but it was a crimson sweet pea, not the little red rose they had agreed upon. Besides, this girl is too young, about 18, whereas Hollis Meynell had frankly told him she was 30.
It was all started from that book, Of Human Bondage, which was sent with hundreds of Army library books to the training camp and finally read by Lieutenant Blandford. Throughout the book were notes in a woman’s writing. He had never believed that a woman could see into a man’s heart so tenderly and understandingly. Her name was on the bookplate: Hollis Meynell. He had got hold of a telephone book and found her address. He had written and she had answered. Next day, he had been shipped out but they had gone on writing.
For 13 months, she had faithfully replied, and more than replied. When his letters did not arrive, she wrote back. He now believed he loved her and she loved him. But she had refused to send him her photograph. She explained, “If your feeling for me has any reality, any honest basis, what I look like won’t matter. When you come back, you shall see me and then you shall make your decision. Remember, both of us are free to stop or to go on after that – whichever we choose …”
One minute to six, Lieutenant Blandford’s heart leaped with excitement.
A young woman in a pale green suit was coming toward him. Her figure was long and slim; her blond hair lay back in curls from her delicate ears. Her eyes were blue, her lips and chin had a gentle firmness.
He started toward her, entirely forgetting to notice that she was wearing no little red rose, and as he moved, a small, provocative smile curved her lips.
“Going my way, soldier?” she murmured.
Uncontrollably, he made one step closer to her. Then he saw the real Hollis Meynell. She was standing almost directly behind the girl, a woman well past 40, her graying hair tucked under a worn hat. She wore a red rose in the rumpled lapel of her brown coat.
The girl in the green suit was walking quickly away. Although Blandford was keen to follow the girl, the woman whose spirit had truly companioned and upheld his own was standing in front of him. Her pale, plump face was gentle and sensible. He could see her gray eyes had a warm, kindly twinkle.
Lieutenant Blandford did not hesitate. He gripped the small leather copy of Of Human Bondage, which directed him to her. He squared his broad shoulders, saluted and held the book out toward the woman, although even while he spoke he felt shocked by the bitterness of his disappointment.
“I’m Lieutenant John Blandford, and I assume you are Miss Meynell. I’m so glad you could meet me. May … may I take you to dinner?”
The woman’s face broadened in a tolerant smile. “I don’t know what this is all about, son,” she answered. “That young lady in the green suit – the one who just went by – begged me to wear this rose on my coat. And she said that if you asked me to go out with you, I should tell you that she’s waiting for you in the restaurant across the street. She said it was some kind of a test. I’ve got two boys myself, so I didn’t mind to oblige you.”