A Case of the Inner Imperative

by Florence Finch Kelly

"This is my section," said Dr. Elizabeth Black; and the three women who were convoying her down the aisle crowded around her for a last good-bye. There was an excited flurry of talk as they hoped her journey would be pleasant and wished they were going too; and she heartily wished they were; and they wondered if she would find it tiresome; and she assured them she was a good traveller; and they charged her to write them a postal every day. Then all four had to press into the section to make room for two men to walk past them to the next seat.

"But they did n't get on here—they 've only been out on the platform," said the youngest and prettiest of the three, lowering her voice and casting a swift glance in their direction. "They look interesting, Doctor, and if they stay on long enough maybe you 'll scrape acquaintance with them. When I take a long journey I always know everybody in the car by the end of the second day."

"We must go, girls," exclaimed another. "It's time for the train to start." Then she produced a florist's parcel, which she had been trying to conceal in the folds of her dress, and unrolled from it a bunch of glowing roses. Another pressed into Dr. Black's hands a book; and the third, a box of candy.

"And here 's a magazine Dr. Wallace sent—you know she could n't come—and we agreed not to give them to you till the very last minute—for our last good-bye—" Her voice wavered and Dr. Black broke in with surprised and grateful exclamations.

"The book 's a love story," said the youngest one, an apologetic note perceptible in her voice, "but it's a pretty story, and the treatment's interesting, and I thought you might enjoy it, for railroad travelling always makes one feel sentimental, anyway."

"Oh, the train 's moving! Good-bye, dear!" The one who was nearest to Dr. Black left a hurried kiss upon her cheek, the others hastily pressed her hands, and all three scurried toward the door. Their friend raised her window and looked out in time to wave a final farewell as they landed safely upon the platform. As she settled back in her seat she saw that one of the men in the next section had also been watching for their reappearance outside. Their eyes met as she turned from the window, relieved and smiling.

She admired her roses for a moment, tucked them into her belt, and then opened her magazine. But her expression was more pensive than interested as she idled over its pages, looking now and then at a picture and reading only a paragraph or a stanza here and there. Her thoughts were more with the scenes of the life she was leaving behind her, or flying on, with inquiry and indecision, into that whither she was bound. Should she stay on the Pacific Coast where she was going to visit her father and mother in their new home, open an office in some city near them, and build up a practice there? Or should she return to take the position which had been offered her in the faculty of the women's medical college from which she had been graduated with high honors three years before? After her graduation, a year's work as interne in the women's hospital had heightened the expectations of her friends; and the success with which she had then served as physician and superintendent of a branch dispensary and hospital in the slum district had made all who were watching her progress predict for her a brilliant career.

She had accepted the appointment to the college corps of instructors with the deepest gratification, and she looked forward longingly to the opportunities it would give her for special work and to the surety of advancement that would follow. But her heart misgave her not a little as she thought of the great joy it would give her father and mother should she decide to stay near them in California, and of the grief that her mother would try to dissemble if she should return to the East.

Well, she would not decide the question now, and she put it from her as she cast a careless eye over her fellow travellers, let it rest for a moment on the two men in the section in front of her own and then turned to her book. Alternately reading, looking at the passing landscape, and now and then lapsing into reverie, her attention was so withdrawn from her surroundings that she was not aware that one of the men in front had turned several times and allowed a casual glance to pass from her down the row of heads behind her. Nor did she notice, when they returned from an hour's absence in the smoker, that he sat down in the front seat of their section.

"You don't mind riding backward?" commented his companion.

"I 'm not particularly stuck on it, but just now I want to look at that girl in the section behind us. It's good for the eyes to rest on such a splendid creature as she is."

"I 'll come over there with you and we 'll study her together," the other replied, as he changed his seat.

"Is n't she a fine specimen?" said the first. "She 's five feet nine if she 's an inch,—I noticed her when she got on at Philadelphia,—broad-shouldered and deep-chested and clear-skinned. And that glow in her cheeks rivals the roses her friends gave her. How old do you guess her, Wilson?"

"I 'd never try guessing such a problem as that! She's evidently one of the new women—you can tell that by her looks. And they never show their age, maybe because they don't think about it. This girl might be twenty, perhaps a year or two more, if you judge by her face. But if you take her expression into account—these women who do things always look as if they 'd had an experience of life that in former days they could n't acquire under forty. Well, you might split the difference and say she 's thirty."

"I don't think so. I 'd guess her under twenty-five. And she probably won't look a day older than she does now for the next fifteen years."

"I don't know about that, Adams. If she's a school-teacher she 'll get more or less sharp-featured or anxious-faced and have wrinkles and crow's-feet. And those are things that do not aid and abet a woman in forgetting her birthdays."

"But she is n't a school-teacher, Wilson. She has n't got the unmistakable school-ma'am look. I 've been wondering what she is, and I don't make it out. I don't think she 's a doctor, because she has n't got the professional cast of countenance, and she 's too carefully dressed."

Wilson laughed and turned a bantering eye upon his companion. "You must be getting interested, Adams! Is it a case of love at first sight?"

"No, you know I 'm not given to that sort of thing. But I don't read much on the cars, on account of my eyes, and while you 've been reading I 've spent the time looking at the passengers. And I found that girl and her roses by far the most pleasing items in the car."

"But she is n't beautiful," Wilson objected. "Her face is not pretty, and she 's inclined to be raw-boned."

"Yes, I 'll admit her features are irregular, and there 's fault to be found with each one. But that does n't matter. No woman with that live, creamy skin, that clear red in her cheeks, and that intelligent expression, could be any less than handsome. And she fairly glows with health and vitality. She has made me just curious enough about her vocation to want to know what it is, and if she stays on the train long enough to make an opening possible I intend to try to find out."

"Well," said Wilson, yawning, "you 're fortunate to be able to get up so much interest in your fellow-passengers. It is n't once in a dozen journeys that I find anybody on a railroad train who does n't strike me as being an entirely superfluous person."

"Oh, well," responded Adams good-naturedly, "you must remember that you are ten years older than I am, and that you are married and settled down, while I 'm not."

"It would be better for you if you were."

"Yes, I know you are always preaching at me the advantages of double blessedness. But I 'm not going to marry until I can't help it. When the girl comes along who can make me forget everything in the world but herself, I 'll marry her, if she 'll have me."

"Which she probably won't, as things generally turn out in this world," the other rejoined, smiling.

In the meantime Dr. Black was dipping here and there into the pages of her book, which had proved to be Mallock's "Human Document," more interested in its speculations concerning human nature and human nature's twin problems of life and love than in its slender thread of story. Gradually her interludes of meditation grew longer and more frequent, until the book closed in her lap and she looked dreamily out of the window, her thoughts busy with herself, her past, and her future.

Should she ever marry? She thought it rather unlikely, but she had no definite intentions on either side of the question. She smiled as her thoughts travelled back to her first engagement, in her high-school days. She admitted to herself that she had been rather a gay lassie then, and had thought more about the boys than about her studies. She remembered, too, that she had been very popular among those same boys, and that that very popularity had doomed the engagement to a brief but exciting existence.

Then she recalled how she had passed, soon after this episode, under the influence of an enthusiastic teacher who had wakened her ambitions and led her to decide that she must make of herself something out of the usual and go out into the world and take part in its work. Then succeeded a period of such close application to her books that her parents and friends became alarmed lest she should injure herself. She ceased to smile upon her youthful admirers and treated them so curtly or talked to them so toploftily that she got the reputation of having become a man-hater.

"And I was n't anything of the sort," she said to herself, smiling and smelling her roses. "I simply did n't like that kind of young men any more. They bored me to death."

About that time, she remembered, she began to be much more interested in older men, men of more knowledge and achievement, and that they also began to show a liking for her. The teachers in the high school seemed to find it interesting to talk with her. The district attorney, who was their next door neighbor, seemed just as well satisfied, when he strolled across the lawns for a chat with her father, if he found Elizabeth alone on the veranda. The family physician encouraged the scientific trend of her reading, loaned her books by Maudsley and Darwin and Havelock Ellis, and often dropped in to talk with her about her studies, her reading, and her plans. He applauded and encouraged her first tentative notion that she would like to study medicine, and it was his arguments and influence that overcame her mother's objections and persuaded her father that it would be worth while to spend upon her medical education the money it would demand. And, finally, came the doctor's wife, asking to see her alone.

"I am sure you do not realize what you are doing," the doctor's wife said, "and so I want to put it frankly before you, as one woman to another. The truth is, my husband is falling in love with you; he is fascinated by you. And I want to ask you to save him from himself, and me from no end of heartache and misery, I 'm fond of you, Elizabeth, you know that, and I 'm proud of your abilities, and I want you to have a great success, but I don't want you to trample down my happiness on your way. He and I have always been happy together until now; and it all rests with you, Elizabeth,—as a woman you know that—whether we keep our happiness and content with each other or go straight on into such disaster and wretchedness as you cannot imagine. And so I 've put my pride in my pocket—it was no small thing to do, my girl,—and have come to ask you not to take my husband's love away from me."

As Elizabeth looked back to that time she owned to herself that, deeply moved as she had been by the appeal of the doctor's wife, her feelings had not all been of the same sort. In the depths of her soul there had been no little pride and exultation that the doctor was being chained to her chariot wheels, and she remembered quite distinctly that she had had a strong desire to keep him there. She herself had felt for him nothing more than cordial friendship and gratitude; but, nevertheless, there had been mingled with generous compassion some resentment against the wife, whose appeal she could not disregard.

Two years after that episode, while at home on her summer vacation, she met a lawyer, a man of high position, wide intellectual sympathies, and much culture, who promptly fell in love with her and proposed marriage. He interested her deeply and exercised over her a greater fascination than any man she had met before, and she gave her promise to be his wife, without thought as to its effect upon her future. But when she began to prepare for her return to the medical college he interposed an amazed veto. If she was to be his wife she must give up all expectation of a career separate from their home. She wavered and hesitated for two days, and then packed her trunk and returned to her studies. Thinking of him, as she gazed at the picturesque, wooded hills and valleys of Pennsylvania, she did not regret her action. She had never regretted it, she said to herself, but, nevertheless, she was sorry, she had always felt a distinct sense of loss, that he had passed out of her life.

Since then, the straight road to her medical degree and through her subsequent labors had been undisturbed by emotional storms. Twice she had refused offers of marriage, but they had come from men for whom she felt no more than the merest passing friendship. She had worked hard, and the farther she had progressed the more pleasure she had taken in her work and the more absorbed she had become in her prospects and ambitions. Looking into the future, for which she had planned and toward which she was working with all her powers, she said calmly to herself that it was more attractive to her than any other. And yet, would she be tempted to give up her ambitions and hopes of achievement if, for instance, she were to meet a man as well endowed in mind and heart as the hero of the book she had just been reading,—with such fineness of fibre and such power of loving? She would not face the question squarely, but told herself that she was not at all likely to meet such a paragon.

"And, at any rate," she thought, as she was roused from her reverie by the cry of "Dinner now ready in the dining-car," "of one thing I am very sure, and that is that I shall never marry until I meet a man strong enough in himself and in his love for me to make me forget everything else and not care whether or not I go on with my profession."

The dining-car was so full that she was about to turn back, when the waiter beckoned her to a table at which the two forward seats were unoccupied. She took one with some hesitation and turned her face toward the window.

"I beg your pardon," said a voice from the other side of the table, "but if you find it disagreeable to ride backward won't you take my seat? I do not mind it in the least."

She turned with a smiling and grateful refusal upon her tongue, saw that her two neighbors across the table were the men from the section in front of hers, and hesitated. The other man quickly added his plea to his companion's, and in a few moments they had changed seats. The one who had first spoken asked if her friends in Philadelphia got safely off the car, and presently all three were chatting pleasantly together.

When Elizabeth returned to the Pullman the one who had proposed exchanging seats, and whom his friend called Adams, brought her some evening papers. She thanked him, and, seeing that he did not at once turn away, asked him to sit down. They talked about the news in the papers, laughed over stories which one or the other told, branched off upon books, and were pleased to find that they had some favorites in common. They spoke of the scenery through which they had passed during the day and of the brilliant sunset into which the train seemed to be plunging, and he told her of the gorgeous sunset panoramas of the Rocky Mountains and of striking effects he had seen among the snow-clad peaks of the Sierras. He related adventures into which his profession, that of mining engineer, had taken him; and Elizabeth listened with interest, asked questions, made comments, and talked entertainingly, but said nothing of her own walk in life. When finally he said good-night and went to rejoin his companion in the smoker, the evening was so far gone that the busy porter had transformed the car into a lane of tapestry.

As Elizabeth lay in her berth, musing pleasantly over the events of the evening, it occurred to her that Mr. Adams had left a number of openings into which it would have been easy for her to step with some remark about herself or her work, which would have revealed her vocation. She had not done so merely because something else which she wanted to say had happened, each time, to come into her mind. Thinking it over, she remembered so many such openings that it seemed as if they must have been made with intent. She wondered if he had been trying to find out her occupation, and smiled gleefully.

"If that's what he wants to know," she thought, "I 'll give him an interesting time to-morrow trying to find out. I wonder if he and his friend have made a wager about what my profession is. Very likely. Well, he 's a good talker and interesting enough to help pass the time; and if he wants to try again to-morrow, I 'll be at home in this section until we reach Chicago."

The next morning, with the excuse of some trivial attention to her comfort, Adams came again to Elizabeth's seat and they were soon talking as interestedly as on the previous evening. A piece of news in the morning paper gave him opportunity to turn the conversation upon the profession of teaching for women and he talked of the noble work for the public good which women do in that way. Elizabeth listened with a little gleam in the corner of her eye, agreed with him warmly and spoke with enthusiasm of her own indebtedness to some of those under whom she had studied.

Then Adams dwelt on the widening opportunities for work and self-expression which women have nowadays, and said he thought that the profession of medicine was one for which women were well fitted, and that he was not surprised that so many women found in it congenial work and marked success. With some effort Elizabeth kept her face very serious and doubted if the profession was one for which any but the most exceptional women were suited, and, on the whole, was inclined to think that if she were very ill she would rather call a man than a woman physician. He led the talk on to other occupations in which women engage, and some Elizabeth praised and others deprecated as vocations for her sex. But not once did she give any indication that they had touched upon her own kind of work. Adams looked puzzled and Elizabeth concealed behind her handkerchief a smile which she was not able to repress.

"I wonder what it can be," he thought. "She surely does something. The expression of her face, her intelligence, and her interest in all kinds of things tell that very plainly. I wish Chicago were not so near. She 's an extremely interesting woman."

"I suppose I shall soon have to bid you good-bye," he said, as they neared the station in Chicago. "I have enjoyed our brief acquaintance very much, and if I can be of any assistance to you in Chicago I shall be glad to do so. I am going farther west, to California, on the Santa Fé line, but as my train does not leave at once I shall have some time to spare."

"Why, what a jolly coincidence!" Elizabeth exclaimed. "I also am going to California on the Santa Fé line!"

"Indeed! Then I am more fortunate than I expected to be!" His pleasure shone in his brightening face. "My friend, Mr. Wilson, stops in Chicago and I have been rather dreading the boredom of the rest of the trip. I don't read much on the cars, as I have to be careful of my eyes, and the time is apt to hang heavily on my hands. I have enjoyed our talks so much that I shall be very grateful if you will let me pay you an occasional visit during the rest of the journey."

Elizabeth cast him a sidewise glance and smile. "I think the passing acquaintances one makes now and then and the brief friendships with people who merely cross one's path are among the most delightful of the small things of life. It often happens that they are more pleasant, for the time, than the old friendships that have lasted so long they have become commonplace."

"For my part," he answered, "I don't think a friendship is worth continuing after it has become commonplace. I think I 'd like to be arbiter of manners and customs long enough to make it quite the proper thing to march up to any one whose appearance you like and say, 'How do you do? Your face interests me and I 'd like to know you. Here 's my card.'"

"Oh, if you 'll do that," smiled Elizabeth, "I 'll do my best to help make you dictator! I've so often wished to do that very thing! But of course you don't dare. And yet you see such interesting faces, sometimes, faces of people you know you would like. Sometimes a face of that sort haunts me long afterward, and I almost wish I had had the courage to speak."

"I am glad you understand," Adams replied with a little embarrassed laugh, "because now I can confess that that very desire took possession of me when I saw you come into the car yesterday."

Elizabeth bent a demure glance upon his feet. "Shall I be very gracious and make a reciprocal confession, or shall I be entirely truthful and admit that I scarcely saw you yesterday until you offered me your seat in the dining-car?"

The next day, as the train swept through the emerald levels of Iowa, Adams spent most of the time at Elizabeth's side and they talked together with constant interest and satisfaction, each feeling a growing pleasure in the other's society, and an increasing sense of consequence in whatever the other said. When Elizabeth withdrew that night behind the curtains of her berth she was possessed by such a feeling of elation as she had not felt in a long time. A smile was on her lips, and a smile was in her heart. Her pulse beat fast, her brain was active, she could not sleep. Her mind was full of the happenings and the conversation of the last two days, and all that he had said to her she went over again with vivid remembrance of the least details of look and gesture. And in the background of her consciousness a triumphant refrain was keeping time with her thoughts. "He loves me," it chanted, "already he loves me, more than he knows."

In the smoking-room Adams was making up for the cigars he had denied himself during the day. He moved about restlessly, possessed by an intense desire to get out of doors and walk fast and far. His mind was filled by a galloping troop of vivid memories—a pair of bright, dark-lashed gray eyes, the sound of a low, clear laugh, the turn of a rosy cheek, an opinion which had interested him, a pretty thought, a way she had of smiling appealingly after she had said something whimsical or perverse. And underlying and overlying and penetrating through all these was an irritated consciousness of the fact that it would be a long time until the next day.

Dr. Black looked out the next morning on the wide, forlorn plains of western Kansas, with her heart as flooded with happiness as they were with sunshine. A luxurious sense of power throbbed in her veins as she smiled a good-morning to Adams across the aisle. He came at once to ask how she had slept, and if she was beginning to feel the journey wearisome. Close upon the heels of her thrilling sense of gladness and mastery came the feminine instinct of concealment, and presently Adams began to notice in her manner a suggestion of reserve. There was certainly a difference, he said to himself, a little lessening of the frank comradeship she had shown toward him the day before. He wondered if he bored her, if he had shown too much desire for her society. He went away to the smoking car, where he fidgeted about, began a cigar, threw it out of the window, and in ten minutes was back again with a book he had fished out of his travelling-bag, asking if Miss Black had read it and, if not,—would she like to take it for a while?

It was Lubbock's "Pleasures of Life." No, Elizabeth had not read it, but she had read Lubbock's book on ants, bees, and wasps, and she began to tell him about it, forgetting in the pleasure of companionship the consciousness which a little while before had veiled her manner. He followed with some stories about the tarantula and tarantula hawk which he had seen while on a professional trip in the Southwest. And so they wandered on, through talk about insects and animals, back to the book which lay on Elizabeth's lap. He took it up and read to her a page here and there, and soon they were talking earnestly about the varied ideals that are possible to the young and ambitious.

Adams had not tried again, since their second conversation, to find out her vocation. His pleasure in her society had driven all thought of it from his mind. He had even forgotten that he had ever supposed her to have a profession. Elizabeth had said nothing about her work, at first from whimsical perversity. But this morning, as they talked, a definite desire crept into her mind that he should not know.

"I shall not tell him I am a physician," she thought. "It's not much longer, and for this little while I want to be just a mere woman."

And for the rest of that day it was only at rare intervals, and even then with a little shock of surprise, like that with which one suddenly comes upon some old picture of himself, that she remembered she was a doctor of medicine. The physician was submerged in the woman. And the woman was alive to her finger-tips with realization of her endowment of the "eternal feminine."

Adams slept little that night, but lay with his head on his interlocked hands, staring out of his window at the fleeting shadows of the summer night, thinking of Elizabeth, remembering what Elizabeth had said during the day, seeing Elizabeth's face and eyes and the bit of white throat that showed above her collar, hearing Elizabeth's voice, and longing to touch, with even a finger-tip, the sweep of soft brown hair that rippled away from her neck. It seemed to him that morning would never come. He looked at his watch a score of times, and, finally, rose at the first flush of dawn.

For a while he moved restlessly back and forth between his section and the smoking-room, like an uneasy ghost of murdered sleep. But at last it occurred to him that he ought to stay out until Miss Black was ready for breakfast, lest he might embarrass her by being near when she should emerge from behind her curtains in morning dishabille. So he retired to the smoker, gave the porter a goodly fee to tell him when the lady in Number 8 arose, and sat down resolutely at the window with his elbows on the sill and his chin in his hands. He sat there determinedly, not allowing himself even to turn around, through what seemed hours and hours of time. Now and then he dozed a little, and awoke with a start, dreaming he had heard her voice beside him or had felt the ripple of her dress against his hand.

When at last the porter brought the welcome news, he went back to his seat and waited for Elizabeth to reappear from the dressing-room. It seemed to him that it must be near noon, although it was only eight o'clock, when finally he saw her coming down the aisle. He quickly bent his head over some memoranda with which he had been trying to occupy himself, and pretended to be writing very busily as she moved toward her section. But afterwards, when he looked at the paper he found on it only some meaningless scrawls. Elizabeth's color deepened as she saw him and a dark crimson wave swept to his brow as he felt her draw near.

That day Adams rarely left her side. In his tones, his looks, his manner, she was able to read his love as plainly as if it had been put into words. "And of course," she thought, with an inward smile, "he thinks he is concealing it all from me, and he would be surprised to find that I know anything about it."

Her own heart throbbed in response so exultantly and so gladly that it carried her feeling beyond the doors of expression and transformed it into irradiating feminine charm. It sparkled in her eyes, gave a new winsomeness to her smile, a softer grace to her movements, and a penetrating sweetness to her voice.

Once, when Adams had gone to fetch her a glass of water, she leaned her head upon her hand for a moment and was conscious of a little nervous catch in her breath. Something he had just said brought back to her mind a memory of the lawyer to whom she had been engaged and of whom she had been thinking—was it only three days ago? It seemed as if she had lived through many months since then. "If I had felt like this toward him," she thought, "I would not have gone back to college."

Adams gave her the water with adoration in his eyes. For an instant her glance met his and then quickly dropped. He leaned forward with a sudden start and barely checked the words of love that were ready to rush from his tongue. Then he left her for a little while and walked about restlessly for the few paces that were possible in the end of the car.

He must keep a closer watch on himself, he mused. What would she think of him if he dared to speak to her of love after a three days' acquaintance? By the merest scratch he had kept himself from clamoring "I love you! I love you!" in her ear. And justly she might have considered it an insult. What was he to her but a mere car acquaintance? True, she had seemed to find his company pleasant and congenial, and perhaps she would allow him to go to see her at her home. And then, after he had made himself known to her father and mother and allowed them to find out who and what he was—then, he would bring his fate to the test.

He went back with a tighter curb upon himself and a determination to guard his tongue more closely. Elizabeth felt at once the slight change in his demeanor. But she did not stop to reason about it or to question herself as to its cause. Conscious only of an instinctive, imperious desire for him to be again just as he had been before, she leaned toward him with a jesting remark, and the slow turn of her head, the witchery of her smile, the way her eyes flashed and dropped, strained his new resolution almost to the breaking-point. He leaned back in the seat with his arms rigid and his fists clenched until she, noticing the tense muscles of his hand, laughingly told him he would have nervous prostration if he did not learn to relax his nerves.

Presently the train switched and stopped at a small station, and Adams learned from the conductor that they would wait there, perhaps fifteen or twenty minutes, for an east-bound train to pass. Most of the passengers got out to walk up and down while they were waiting, and when Adams and Elizabeth saw, across the road, beside a restaurant, a little vine-covered arbor in which were tables and chairs, they decided that it looked inviting, and went in to see if they could get some lemonade. It was quite deserted and after a few minutes Adams went out to see if he could find a waiter.

When he returned, Elizabeth, sitting with her face toward the door, looked up with a welcoming smile, their eyes met, and hers did not drop. He rushed toward her, his face shining with love. Scarcely knowing what she did, she sprang to her feet, all her consciousness engrossed in the thrilling prescience that in another instant she would sink into his arms. But at her very side, as he seized her hand, he stopped with a perceptible rigor of muscles and expression. His resolution of an hour before had flashed into his mind and he had pulled himself together with a mighty effort.

A little tremor passed through Elizabeth's body and she drew back a little as he dropped her hand. "Oh, look! The train is going!" she exclaimed, and rushed for the door.

They ran at top speed across the road, he lifted her bodily to the front steps of the last car, and swung himself upon the rear platform. They gained their seats, flushed and panting, and the conductor, coming to see if they had got on without injury, explained that the east-bound train was late and he had been ordered to go on to the next siding and wait there. He lingered for a few minutes, chatting with them and denying their charge that he had not rung the bell. After he was gone, Adams turned to Elizabeth with a paling face and said:

"I hope you will pardon me, Miss Black. I can only throw myself on your mercy. My only excuse is that I—"

She stopped him with a gesture. "Don't speak of it," she said, in a low tone, her eyes on the floor, "and don't think of it again. In such an unusual friendship as ours, unusual incidents must be—"

A thumping jar broke her speech and a sudden stop threw them both violently forward against the other seat.

"Are you hurt?" Adams asked anxiously as they scrambled to their feet. "There must have been an accident," he went on, putting his head out of the window. He drew it back quickly, his face white. "Don't look," he exclaimed. "There's been a collision! It's horrible! But don't be alarmed. There 's no more danger now. I 'll go out and see just what has happened."

"Wait a minute, please! Perhaps you can help me," Elizabeth exclaimed, reaching for her suit case. "I'll be needed, and I 'll want help." She was hurriedly opening the case and taking out articles and packages. With face intent and manner preoccupied she appeared a different person. The woman had sunk out of sight and the physician was uppermost.

Adams looked on with an amazed face. "Then you are a physician!" he exclaimed. "I did not know—"

She nodded, without looking up, absorbed in a search for something. "That package of bandages," she murmured. "Oh, here it is. Yes, I 'm a physician, and I 've had practice in surgery. Come, let's get out there at once. If you will carry these packages I 'll take my surgical case and my medicine bag. I 'm so glad I put all these things in my suit case."

It had been a head-on collision between the two trains. In some way, nobody knew how, there had been a misunderstanding of orders, and the east-bound train, instead of waiting at the next switch, had come on toward the usual passing place. In the shock of meeting, its engine had reared and ploughed its way over the other and the two monsters lay upon the ground, a mass of twisted scraps of iron. One engineer had stuck to his post, the other had jumped, as had both the firemen. One was dead, the other three all severely injured. Among the train crews and the passengers of the day coaches there were a number of broken limbs and many severe cuts, bruises, and shocks.

From the east-bound train another physician appeared, and he and Elizabeth worked over the injured, sometimes together, sometimes separately. Adams was constantly beside her, ready to carry out her directions. He brought water, held bandages, helped her to put them on, handed instruments, and kept her belongings close at hand. She had cast aside her hat and rolled her sleeves above her elbows, and as she bent a flushed, perspiring, and absorbed face above her work, forgetful alike of her own and of his personality, she seemed so utterly unlike the woman he had known for the last three days that a feeling of bewilderment and estrangement began to creep over him. Once she complimented him upon his watchfulness and dexterity, and the smile with which she did it set his heart to throbbing again and bridged what had seemed like a chasm between the two Elizabeths.

He watched her long, slender, strong hands as she deftly and rapidly manipulated the bandages, felt for a broken bone, or used her instruments, and a great, awed wonder, the homage of intelligence to skilled capacity, mingled with the adoration that filled his soul.

He began to torture himself with doubts and questions. Could such a woman care for him? What was there about him that could appeal to so rare a prize? What had he to offer in character, or personality, or achievement, or promise? And the more he doubted the more intense became his desire to know.

Elizabeth rose from her knees beside a man whose crushed foot she had been bandaging. "Is there anybody else?" she said to Adams. Her hands and arms were smeared with blood stains, and upon her dress there were smirches of earth and blood. But Adams saw only that the red sunset rays gilded her brown hair into a halo.

"No," he answered, "I think not. The last bruise has been cared for and the last hysterical woman has quit crying. Now you must rest and refresh yourself and have some dinner. An engine is coming from the west to take the cars of the east-bound train back to the next station and all the passengers who wish can go there; and to-night another train will continue on their way those for California. It will be here before long, but perhaps it will be possible to get something to eat first."

They started toward their car and met the other physician. "Will you do me the honor of exchanging cards with me?" he said to Elizabeth. "You have shown yourself so competent here this afternoon, and your work has been so skilfully done that I want to compliment you upon it, and to say that I am sure you have before you a promising future."

Dr. Black's face flushed and her eyes sparkled with pleasure, as she read on the card the name of a famous surgeon. "You are very kind," she replied, "and I thank you heartily. Praise from one of your skill and standing is more worth having than anything else I can think of."

Her words carried fresh doubt and despair to Adams's heart. "It can't be possible," he thought, "that such a woman would care, could care, for me and my love. And yet, I must know, I must know before this day ends."

They returned to their car and found it deserted. Adams waited while Elizabeth went to the dressing-room to remove the stains of her afternoon's work.

"It can't be possible," he kept saying to himself, "but I must know—I must know, at once."

With a great effort he forced himself into an appearance of composure. He feared that he might startle and offend her if he gave expression to the ardors that throbbed in his heart and brain. "She must be tired and nervous," he thought, "and I will try to speak and act calmly.

"You would not let me finish my apology a few hours ago," he began, as soon as she returned, "but now you must listen to the only excuse I have for my fault—if it was a fault. The only thing I can say for myself is that I love you—love you so much that I almost forgot myself. I love you more than I had thought it would be possible to love any woman—and back there, in the summer-house, when I went in and saw you sitting there, my love broke from my control and swept over me like a flood, and for a moment I scarcely knew what I did—I forgot myself and the respect which was your due. But it was all because I love you so, and want you for my wife, my mate, more than I want anything else in the world. I know, we 've only known each other for three days, but I had to speak to you, now, at once. And if you care enough for me even to think about it, I won't ask for anything more until you 've had time, you and your family, to know me better and find out who and what I am."

Elizabeth listened with her gaze on her lap. She was conscious of a feeling of resentment, that increased as he went on, because he could speak so calmly and composedly. It showed in her eyes as she lifted them to his face, but quickly changed to compassion as she saw there such suspense and longing as smote her heart with pain.

"You do not need to speak," he said, and she saw his countenance wince and change. "I have read my answer in your eyes." He rose as if to go.

"Wait a moment," she said hastily. "It is right that you should know how much I also cared until—" she broke off, hesitating, and then went on, slowly and thoughtfully, with a puzzled air, as though she herself did not quite understand. "When you came back to me, in that little summer-house, and I looked into your eyes, my heart told me that you were going to seize me in your arms; and I knew that if you did I was ready to sink into your embrace and to give up everything for your sake. For you had swept me clean off my feet and had made me not care for my career, or for anything but you. But when you did n't—believe me, I don't know how or why it was—somehow the shock of your not doing it, when I was so ready to give my love—well, the tide seemed to turn then and go back. And now—I 'm on my feet again, and care tremendously about my profession and my career."

He looked at her blankly, and as his lips twitched and moved she barely heard, "And I did n't—I barely kept myself from doing it, because it seemed unworthy—"

She shrugged her shoulders and interrupted him, in a tone as low as his. "We who are strong can be taken only by a strength that is greater than ours."

"Good-bye," he said, rising. "Either my love was not quite great enough, or my strength was too great. I will send the porter to carry your bags and help you to find your section in the other train. I shall stay here until to-morrow. Good-bye."

His voice was very tender as he spoke the last word. She held out her hand, and he touched it with his lips. She pressed both hands upon her heart, which seemed bursting with cross-currents of feeling and desire. He was halfway down the aisle when she sprang to her feet and called to him to stop, to come back. He turned and saw her slowly take a step or two toward him. The intent gaze which he bent upon her wavered for an instant, and then she saw his lips grow tense and white.

"No," he said deliberately, "I shall not come back. I do not want a wife who would bring to me any less than the greatest love of which she is capable. Good-bye, Dr. Black."

He was gone, and Elizabeth, sinking back into her seat, saw him walk away into the hills. The tears gathered in her eyes. She watched him as his figure disappeared among the twilight shadows.

"I wonder if it would have been different—it might have been different," she was thinking, "if he—he had been—as he was this afternoon." She mused a little longer and then her face brightened as she rose with a triumphant lifting of her head and a half-smile on her face. "And anyway," she said aloud, "he has my address!"