The Anatomy of Love/Chapter 15

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pp. 765–767.

CHAPTER XV.

When Anne came down the next morning, she could hear Sybil in the music room, singing Tosti's “Good-by” to Sewell. It carried to her, as she stood in the hallway listening for a minute or two, some wayward sense of autumn. It made her heart heavy, as the fall of the first leaves of some lost summer might.

On the veranda she was confronted by the professor of anthropology with a slip of yellow paper in his hand. It was a telegram. A boy had ridden over from Cedar Hills with the message, and stood at the foot of the wide steps awaiting his answer. Macraven had not appeared for dinner the night before, and Anne was startled by his white face and the lines of doubt and anxiety about his puzzled eyes. She noticed also that his fingers, as he held the flimsy sheet of yellow paper, trembled a little.

“It's no bad news, I hope?” she asked, as Macraven looked up from his message and saw her standing before him.

“No, it's not bad news,” he said wearily, as he folded the sheet with the air of having come to some final decision. “The Amboro senate ask me if I could take charge of their extension movement for the rest of the summer, They also offer me the chair in psychology beginning next October.”

She did not seem as startled as she might have been. It was, in fact, Macraven's pale and troubled face that held her anxious eyes.

“But isn't this the best of news?” she asked, still watching his face.

“I might have thought so—once,” he said, with a ghost of a sigh. Then he turned on her abruptly. “What do you know about this offer?” he demanded.

“What should I know? What could I know?” she parried.

“I feel that you should know, because I feel that some hint or suggestion for it first came from you, long before it officially reached the hands of the University of Amboro senate!”

“Who am I, to think of dictating appointments to a college senate?” demanded Anne.

“Under the circumstances,” he went on, with his slow and deliberate firmness, “I could not accept the offer.”

“But you must!” cried-Anne.

He looked at her again, almost wistfully.

“Can't you see I don't deserve it?” he asked, less adamantine in his tone. “Can't you see that it's unfair for me to use my friends for my own advancement?”

“That's hairsplitting!” said the practical Anne. “It's what you've always looked for and waited for, and there's no reason why you shouldn't take it.”

“It means too much work, too much worry and grind, and getting nothing back out of life!”

The young professor's eyes, as he spoke, were on the shadowy gardens, on the sunlit orchard and the undulating meadowlands, fair and fresh in the morning sunlight.

“But it's the work you love!” cried the puzzled woman at his side.

“I know I did, or thought I did, once. But during these last few weeks, I've had a chance to think things over, and it's just come home to me how small and narrow that life has been. It seems to me that all my existence has been spent in poring over books and pounding on lecture tables and worrying after some new degree.”

“One minute,” interrupted the practical Anne. “Have you had your breakfast?”

The man of science had quite forgotten about such things as breakfasts.

“Then let everything go until you've gone in and had your coffee and eggs. Please do! I'll bring the boy out some berries and cream, so he won't mind waiting for his answer.”

And as Anne was obdurate, there was nothing for Macraven to do but yield.

There was something almost pleasurable, he noticed, in this gentle coercion of hers. It was the same with her air of placid compulsion as she insisted that he should take a second cup of coffee and a second egg.

“Uncle Henry was telling me that one of the College Row houses goes with the chair in psychology,” said the elliptical Anne, over her coffee cup.

“I had never thought of that,” admitted Macraven.

“And that means you could leave that damp old hole of a deanery,” pursued Anne.

The professor of anthropology felt his left knee, absent-mindedly and yet apprehensively.

“Exactly!” triumphed Anne, as she made note of the movement. “And that damp hole was where you got it!”

He thought of the tower, rising above his little windows by night, of the wide campus beneath him in the white moonlight, of the shadowy maples beyond the tennis courts, of the heavy smell of hyacinths in the little deanery garden. He would be sorry to lose them all; they had grown so much a part of his life. Yet when he tried to picture himself as viewing them, season after season, year after year, from the same little jaillike windows, his mind recoiled from the emptiness of such a future—recoiled with a feeling that was almost terror. No, there could be no going back to old and outlived conditions. The training of a lifetime had given him the onward and upward view. He could live only by progression. Whether it brought him anxiety and fatigue, unrest or years of calm endeavor, he could exist only in the consciousness of advance. He could never be an idler. This dolce far niente life into which he had dipped for a month or two had its advantages, but without the salt of labor its sweetness was cloying and enfeebling. For, after all, effort and aspiration had their sublimities.

“You're going to take it,” said Anne, with conviction.

“Yes, I'm going to take it,” he answered deliberately, after a moment's pause.

“I knew you would,” she said simply. And her face was irradiated with a sudden soft flush of pleasure. “I knew you would, when you'd thought it over!”

They were interrupted by the sudden entrance of Sybil. She was loaded down with sprays of syringa, and her cheeks were flushed and her hair tumbled from running.

“I'm starving!” she cried, as she flung herself into her chair between Anne and Macraven. She looked very young and fresh and girlish in her pinned-up green skirt, wet with dew around the edges.

“Talking science?” she asked shortly, as she reached for the fruit, as if thinly annoyed at the wordless sense of intrusion that had greeted her appearance.

It was nothing more than the glance of a second that passed between the older man and woman, yet, brief as it was, it carried something intimate and interpretative. It was the first time, Macraven felt, that any action of Sybil's had translated itself into mere flippancy.

“My good people,” said Sybil, as she devoured her cherries, looking from one to the other with mock consternation, “I'm going to give you both up! I've done my best, and you're hopeless! I wash my hands of you! I'll never make you believe in witches and fairies, and the windflower at the end of the rainbow, and the eternal beauties of the Arcadian life, if you're going to poke over a coffeepot all morning. You're as bad as Dickie, who's still in bed, and won't turn out until half past ten at the earliest! And I've walked three miles and more!”

“Anne and I intend to walk six miles and more before luncheon!” declared Macraven, with vigor.

“Do we?” said Anne.

“We do!” repeated the young professor of anthropology, meeting her gaze determinedly. There was a new note of authority in his voice.

Sybil flashed a quick glance from one to the other. Then her eyes widened and she slowly and significantly ejaculated:

“Highty-tighty!”

Macraven looked up, and as he did so, he heard Anne cry, “Silly!” to the laughing girl, accompanying it by an impulsive little squeeze of the hand across the table. The movement was inscrutable to him.