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Chapter 14

The time came when Daren had to make a painful choice. His sister Lorna grew weary of his importunities and distrustful of his espionage. One night she became violent and flatly told him she would not stay in the house another day with him in it. Then she ran out, slamming the door behind her. Lane remained awake all night, in the hope that she would return. But she did not. And then he knew he must make a choice.

He made it. Lorna must not be driven from her home. Lane divided his money with his mother and packed his few effects. Mrs. Lane was distracted over the situation. She tried to convince Lane there was some kind of a law to keep a young girl home. She pleaded and begged him to remain. She dwelt on his ill health. But Lane was obdurate; and not the least of his hurts was the last one--a divination that in spite of his mother's distress there was a feeling of relief of which she was unconscious. He assured her that he would come to see her often during the afternoons and would care as best he could for his health. Then he left, saying he would send an expressman for the things he had packed.

Broodingly Lane plodded down the street. He had feared that sooner or later he would be forced to leave home, and he had shrunk from the ordeal. But now, that it was over, he felt a kind of relief, and told himself that it was of no consequence what happened to him. All that mattered was for him to achieve the few tasks he had set himself.

Then he thought of Mel Iden. She had been driven from home and would know what it meant to him. The longing to see her increased. Every disappointment left him more in need of sympathy. And now, it seemed, he would be ashamed to go to Mel Iden or Blair Maynard. Such news could not long be kept from them. Middleville was a beehive of gossips. Lane had a moment of blank despair, a feeling of utter, sick, dazed wonder at life and human nature. Then he lifted his head and went on.

Lane's first impulse was to ask Colonel Pepper if he could share his lodgings, but upon reflection he decided otherwise. He engaged a small room in a boarding house; his meals, which did not seem of much importance, he could get anywhere.

This change of residence brought Lane downtown, and naturally increased his activities. He did not husband his strength as before, nor have the leisure for bad spells. Home had been a place of rest. He could not rest in a drab little bare room he now occupied.

He became a watcher, except during the stolen hours with Bessy Bell. Then he tried to be a teacher. But he learned more than he thought. He no longer concentrated his vigilance on his sister. Having failed to force that issue, he bided his time, sensing with melancholy portent the certainty that he would soon be confronted with the stark and hateful actuality. Thus he wore somewhat away from his grim resolve to kill Swann. That adventure on the country road, when he had discovered Swann with Helen instead of Lorna, had somehow been a boon. Nevertheless he spied upon Lorna in the summer evenings when it was possible to follow her, and he dogged Swann's winding and devious path as far as possible. Apparently Swann had checked his irregularities as far as Lorna was concerned. Still Lane trusted nothing. He became an almost impassive destiny with the iron consequences in his hands.

Days passed. Every other afternoon and night he spent hours with Bessy Bell, and found a mounting happiness in the change in her, a deep and ever deeper insight into the causes that had developed her. The balance of his waking hours, which were many, he passed on the streets, in the ice cream parlors and confectionery dens, at the motion-picture theatres. He went many and odd times to Colonel Pepper's apartment, and took a peep into the club-rooms. Some of these visits were fruitful, but he did not see whom he expected to see there. At night he haunted the parks, watching and listening. Often he hired a cheap car and drove it down the river highway, where he would note the cars he passed or met. Sometimes he would stop to get out and make one of his scouting detours, or he would follow a car to some distant roadhouse, or go to the outlying summer pavilions where popular dances were given. More than once, late at night, he was an unseen and unbidden guest at one of the gay bathing parties. Strange and startling incidents seemed to gravitate toward Lane. He might have been predestined for this accumulation of facts. How vain it seethed for wild young men and women to think they hid their tracks! Some trails could not be hidden.

Toward the end of that protracted period of surveillance, Lane knew that he had become infamous in the eyes of most of that younger set. He had been seen too often, alone, watching, with no apparent excuse for his presence. And from here and there, through Bessy and Colonel Pepper, and Blair, who faithfully hunted him up, Lane learned of the unfavorable light in which he was held. Society, in the persons of the younger matrons, took exception to Lane's queer conduct and hinted of mental unbalance. The young rakes and libertines avoided him, and there was not a slacker among them who could meet his eye across cafe or billiard room.

Yet despite the peculiar species of ignominy and disgrace that Middleville gossips heaped upon Lane's head and the slow, steady decline of his speaking acquaintance with the elite, there were some who always greeted him and spoke if he gave them a chance. Helen Wrapp never failed of a green flashing glance of mockery and enticement. She smiled, she beckoned, she once called him to her car and asked him to ride with her, to come to see her. Margaret Maynard rose above dread of her mother and greeted Lane graciously when occasion offered. Dorothy Dalrymple and Elinor always evinced such unhesitating intention of friendship that Lane grew to avoid meeting them. And twice, when he had come face to face with Mel Iden, her look, her smile had been such that he had plunged away somewhere, throbbing and thrilling, to grow blind and sick and numb. It was the failure of his hopes, and the suffering he endured, and the vain longings she inspired that heightened his love. She wrote him after the last time they had passed on the street--a note that stormed Lane's heart. He did not answer. He divined that his increasing loneliness, and the sure slow decline of his health, and the heartless intolerance of the same class that had ostracized her were added burdens to Mel Iden's faithful heart. He had seen it in her face, read it in her note. And the time would come, sooner or later, when he could go to her and make her marry him.


Zane Grey

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