Lane saw the casement of his window grow gray with the glimmering light of dawn. After that he slept several hours. When he awoke it was nine o'clock. The long night with its morbid dreams and thoughts had passed, and in the sunshine of day he saw things differently.
To move, to get up was not an easy task. It took stern will, and all the strength of muscle he had left, and when he finally achieved it there was a clammy dew of pain upon his face. With slow guarded movements he began to dress himself. Any sudden or violent action might burst the delicate gassed spots in his lungs or throw out of place one of the lower vertebrae of his spine. The former meant death, and the latter bent his body like a letter S and caused such excruciating agony that it was worse than death. These were his two ever-present perils. The other aches and pains he could endure.
He shaved and put on clean things, and his best coat, and surveyed himself in the little mirror. He saw a thin face, white as marble, but he was not ashamed of it. His story was there to read, if any one had kind enough eyes to see. What would Helen think of him--and Margaret Maynard--and Dal--and Mel Iden? Bitter curiosity seemed his strongest feeling concerning his fiancee. He would hold her as engaged to him until she informed him she was not. As for the others, thought of them quickened his interest, especially in Mel. What had happened to her.
It was going to be wonderful to meet them--and to meet everybody he had once known. Wonderful because he would see what the war had done to them and they would see what it had done to him. A peculiar significance lay between his sister and Helen--all these girls, and the fact of his having gone to war.
"They may not think of it, but I know," he muttered to himself. And he sat down upon his bed to plan how best to meet them, and others. He did not know what he was going to encounter, but he fortified himself against calamity. Strange portent of this had crossed the sea to haunt him. As soon as he was sure of what had happened in Middleville, of the attitude people would have toward a crippled soldier, and of what he could do with the month or year that might be left him to live, then he would know his own mind. All he sensed now was that there had been some monstrous inexplicable alteration in hope, love, life. His ordeal of physical strife, loneliness, longing was now over, for he was back home. But he divined that his greater ordeal lay before him, here in this little house, and out there in Middleville. All the subtlety, intelligence, and bitter vision developed by the war sharpened here to confront him with terrible possibilities. Had his countrymen, his people, his friends, his sweetheart, all failed him? Was there justice in Blair Maynard's scorn? Lane's faith cried out in revolt. He augmented all possible catastrophe, and then could not believe that he had sacrificed himself in vain. He knew himself. In him was embodied all the potentiality for hope of the future. And it was with the front and stride of a soldier, facing the mystery, the ingratitude, the ignorance and hell of war, that he left his room and went down stairs to meet the evils in store.
His mother was not in the kitchen. The door stood open. He heard her outside talking to a neighbor woman, over the fence.
"--Daren looks dreadful," his mother was saying in low voice. "He could hardly walk.... It breaks my heart. I'm glad to have him along--but to see him waste away, day by day, like Mary Dean's boy--" she broke off.
"Too bad! It's a pity," replied the neighbor. "Sad--now it comes home to us. My son Ted came in last night and said he'd talked with a boy who'd seen young Maynard and the strange soldier who was with him. They must be worse off than Daren--Blair Maynard with only one leg and--"
"Mother, where are you? I'm hungry," called Lane, interrupting that conversation.
She came hurriedly in, at once fearful he might have heard, and solicitous for his welfare.
"Daren, you look better in daylight--not so white," she said. "You sit down now, and let me get your breakfast."
Lane managed to eat a little this morning, which fact delighted his mother.
"I'm going to see Dr. Bronson," said Lane, presently. "Then I'll go to Manton's, and round town a little. And if I don't tire out I'll call on Helen. Of course Lorna has gone to work?"
"Oh yes, she leaves at half after eight."
"Mother, I was awake last night when she got home," went on Lane, seriously. "It was one o'clock. She came in a car. I heard girls tittering. And some boy came up on the porch with Lorna and kissed her. Well, that might not mean much--but something about their talk, the way it was done--makes me pretty sick. Did you know this sort of thing was going on?"
"Yes. And I've talked with mothers who have girls Lorna's age. They've all run wild the last year or so. Dances and rides! Last summer I was worried half to death. But we mothers don't think the girls are really bad. They're just crazy for fun, excitement, boys. Times and pleasures have changed. The girls say the mothers don't understand. Maybe we don't. I try to be patient. I trust Lorna. I can't see through it all."
"Don't worry, mother," said Lane, patting her hand. "I'll see through it for you. And if Lorna is--well, running too much--wild as you said--I'll stop her."
His mother shook her head.
"One thing we mothers all agree on. These girls, of this generation, say fourteen to sixteen, can't be stopped."
"Then that is a serious matter. It must be a peculiarity of the day. Maybe the war left this condition."
"The war changed all things, my son," replied his mother, sadly.
Lane walked thoughtfully down the street toward Doctor Bronson's office. As long as he walked slowly he managed not to give any hint of his weakness. The sun was shining with steely brightness and the March wind was living up to its fame. He longed for summer and hot days in quiet woods or fields where daisies bloomed. Would he live to see the Indian summer days, the smoky haze, the purple asters?
Lane was admitted at once into the office of Doctor Bronson, a little, gray, slight man with shrewd, kind eyes and a thoughtful brow. For years he had been a friend as well as physician to the Lanes, and he had always liked Daren. His surprise was great and his welcome warm. But a moment later he gazed at Lane with piercing eyes.
"Look here, boy, did you go to the bad over there?" he demanded.
"How do you mean, Doctor?"
"Did you let down--debase yourself morally?"
"No. But I went to the bad physically and spiritually."
"I see that. I don't like the color of your face.... Well, well, Daren. It was hell, wasn't it? Did you kill a couple of Huns for me?"
Questions like this latter one always alienated Lane in some unaccountable way. It must have been revealed in his face.
"Never mind, Daren. I see that you did.... I'm glad you're back alive. Now what can I do for you?"
"I've been discharged from three hospitals in the last two months--not because I was well, but because I was in better shape than some other poor devil. Those doctors in the service grew hard--they had to be hard--but they saw the worst, the agony of the war. I always felt sorry for them. They never seemed to eat or sleep or rest. They had no time to save a man. It was cut him up or tie him up--then on to the next.... Now, Doc, I want you to look me over and--well--tell me what to expect."
"All right," replied Doctor Bronson, gruffly.
"And I want you to promise not to tell mother or any one. Will you?"
"Yes, I promise. Now come in here and get off some of your clothes."
"Doctor, it's pretty tough on me to get in and out of my clothes."
"I'll help you. Now tell me what the Germans did to you."
Lane laughed grimly. "Doctor, do you remember I was in your Sunday School class?"
"Yes, I remember that. What's it got to do with Germans?"
"Nothing. It struck me funny, that's all.... Well, to get it over. I was injured several times at the training camp."
"No, I guess not. Anyway I forgot about them. Doctor, I was shot four times, once clear through. I'll show you. Got a bad bayonet jab that doesn't seem to heal well. Then I had a dose of both gases--chlorine and mustard--and both all but killed me. Last I've a weak place in my spine. There's a vertebra that slips out of place occasionally. The least movement may do it. I can't guard against it. The last time it slipped out I was washing my teeth. I'm in mortal dread of this. For it twists me out of shape and hurts horribly. I'm afraid it'll give me paralysis."
"Humph! It would. But it can be fixed.... So that's all they did to you?"
Underneath the dry humor of the little doctor, Lane thought he detected something akin to anger.
"Yes, that's all they did to my body," replied Lane.
Doctor Bronson, during a careful and thorough examination of Lane's heart, lungs, blood pressure, and abdominal region, did not speak once. But when he turned him over, to see and feel the hole in Lane's back, he exclaimed: "My God, boy, what made this--a shell? I can put my fist in it."
"That's the bayonet jab."
Doctor Bronson cursed in a most undignified and unprofessional manner. Then without further comment he went on and completed the examination.
"That'll do," he said, and lent a hand while Lane put on his clothes. It was then he noticed Lane's medal.
"Ha! The Croix de Guerre!... Daren, I was a friend of your father's. I know how that medal would have made him feel. Tell me what you did to get it?"
"Nothing much," replied Lane, stirred. "It was in the Argonne, when we took to open fighting. In fact I got most of my hurts there.... I carried a badly wounded French officer back off the field. He was a heavy man. That's where I injured my spine. I had to run with him. And worse luck, he was dead when I got him back. But I didn't know that."
"So the French decorated you, hey?" asked the doctor, leaning back with hands on hips, and keenly eyeing Lane.
"Why did not the American Army give you equal honor?"
"Well, for one thing it was never reported. And besides, it wasn't anything any other fellow wouldn't do."
Doctor Bronson dropped his head and paced to and fro. Then the door-bell rang in the reception room.
"Daren Lane," began the doctor, suddenly stopping before Lane, "I'd hesitate to ask most men if they wanted the truth. To many men I'd lie. But I know a few words from me can't faze you."
"No, Doctor, one way or another it is all the same to me."
"Well, boy, I can fix up that vertebra so it won't slip out again.... But, if there's anything in the world to save your life, I don't know what it is."
"Thank you, Doctor. It's--something to know--what to expect," returned Lane, with a smile.
"You might live a year--and you might not.... You might improve. God only knows. Miracles do happen. Anyway, come back to see me."
Lane shook hands with him and went out, passing another patient in the reception room. Then as Lane opened the door and stepped out upon the porch he almost collided with a girl who evidently had been about to come in.
"I beg your----" he began, and stopped. He knew this girl, but the strained tragic shadow of her eyes was strikingly unfamiliar. The transparent white skin let the blue tracery of veins show. On the instant her lips trembled and parted.
"Oh, Daren--don't you know me?" she asked.
"Mel Iden!" he burst out. "Know you? I should smile I do. But it--it was so sudden. And you're older--different somehow. Mel, you're sweeter--why you're beautiful."
He clasped her hands and held on to them, until he felt her rather nervously trying to withdraw them.
"Oh, Daren, I'm glad to see you home--alive--whole," she said, almost in a whisper. "Are you--well?"
"No, Mel. I'm in pretty bad shape," he replied. "Lucky to get home alive--to see you all."
"I'm sorry. You're so white. You're wonderfully changed, Daren."
"So are you. But I'll say I'm happy it's not painted face and plucked eyebrows.... Mel, what's happened to you?"
She suddenly espied the decoration on his coat. The blood rose and stained her clear cheek. With a gesture of exquisite grace and sensibility that thrilled Lane she touched the medal. "Oh! The Croix de Guerre.... Daren, you were a hero."
"No, Mel, just a soldier."
She looked up into his face with eyes that fascinated Lane, so beautiful were they--the blue of corn-flowers--and lighted then with strange rapt glow.
"Just a soldier!" she murmured. But Lane heard in that all the sweetness and understanding possible for any woman's heart. She amazed him--held him spellbound. Here was the sympathy--and something else--a nameless need--for which he yearned. The moment was fraught with incomprehensible forces. Lane's sore heart responded to her rapt look, to the sudden strange passion of her pale face. Swiftly he divined that Mel Iden gloried in the presence of a maimed and proven soldier.
"Mel, I'll come to see you," he said, breaking the spell. "Do you still live out on the Hill road? I remember the four big white oaks."
"No, Daren, I've left home," she said, with slow change, as if his words recalled something she had forgotten. All the radiance vanished, leaving her singularly white.
"Left home! What for?" he asked, bluntly.
"Father turned me out," she replied, with face averted. The soft roundness of her throat swelled. Lane saw her full breast heave under her coat.
"What're you saying, Mel Iden?" he demanded, as quickly as he could find his voice.
Then she turned bravely to meet his gaze, and Lane had never seen as sad eyes as looked into his.
"Daren, haven't you heard--about me?" she asked, with tremulous lips.
"No. What's wrong?"
"I--I can't let you call on me."
"Why not? Are you married--jealous husband?"
"No, I'm not married--but I--I have a baby," she whispered.
"Mel!" gasped Lane. "A war baby?"
Lane was so shocked he could not collect his scattered wits, let alone think of the right thing to say, if there were any right thing. "Mel, this is a--a terrible surprise. Oh, I'm sorry.... How the war played hell with all of us! But for you--Mel Iden--I can't believe it."
"Daren, so terribly true," she said. "Don't I look it?"
"Mel, you look--oh--heartbroken."
"Yes, I am broken-hearted," she replied, and drooped her head.
"Forgive me, Mel. I hardly know what I'm saying.... But listen--I'm coming to see you."
"No," she said.
That trenchant word was thought-provoking. A glimmer of understanding began to dawn in Lane. Already an immense pity had flooded his soul, and a profound sense of the mystery and tragedy of Mel Iden. She had always been unusual, aloof, proud, unattainable, a girl with a heart of golden fire. And now she had a nameless child and was an outcast from her father's house. The fact, the fatality of it, stunned Lane.
"Daren, I must go in to see Dr. Bronson," she said. "I'm glad you're home. I'm proud of you. I'm happy for your mother and Lorna. You must watch Lorna--try to restrain her. She's going wrong. All the young girls are going wrong. Oh, it's a more dreadful time now than before or during the war. The let-down has been terrible.... Good-bye, Daren."
In other days Manton's building on Main Street had appeared a pretentious one to Lane's untraveled eyes. It was an old three-story red-brick-front edifice, squatted between higher and more modern structures. When he climbed the dirty dark stairway up to the second floor a throng of memories returned with the sensations of creaky steps, musty smell, and dim light. When he pushed open a door on which MANTON & CO. showed in black letters he caught his breath. Long--long past! Was it possible that he had been penned up for three years in this stifling place?
Manton carried on various lines of business, and for Middleville, he was held to be something of a merchant and broker. Lane was wholly familiar with the halls, the several lettered doors, the large unpartitioned office at the back of the building. Here his slow progress was intercepted by a slip of a girl who asked him what he wanted. Before answering, Lane took stock of the girl. She might have been all of fifteen--no older. She had curly bobbed hair, and a face that would have been comely but for the powder and rouge. She was chewing gum, and she ogled Lane.
"I want to see Mr. Manton," Lane said.
"What name, please."
She tripped off toward the door leading to Manton's private offices, and Lane's gaze, curiously following her, found her costume to be startling even to his expectant eyes. Then she disappeared. Lane's gaze sought the corner and desk that once upon a time had been his. A blond young lady, also with bobbed hair, was operating a typewriter at his desk. She glanced up, and espying Lane, she suddenly stopped her work. She recognized him. But, if she were Hattie Wilson, it was certain that Lane did not recognize her. Then the office girl returned.
"Step this way, please. Mr. Smith will see you."
How singularly it struck Lane that not once in three years had he thought of Smith. But when he saw him, the intervening months were as nothing. Lean, spare, pallid, with baggy eyes, and the nose of a drinker, Smith had not changed.
"How do, Lane. So you're back? Welcome to our city," he said, extending a nerveless hand that felt to Lane like a dead fish.
"Hello, Mr. Smith. Yes, I'm back," returned Lane, taking the chair Smith indicated. And then he met the inevitable questions as best he could in order not to appear curt or uncivil.
"I'd like to see Mr. Manton to ask for my old job," interposed Lane, presently.
"He's busy now, Lane, but maybe he'll see you. I'll find out."
Smith got up and went out. Lane sat there with a vague sense of absurdity in the situation. The click of a typewriter sounded from behind him. He wanted to hurry out. He wanted to think of other things, and twice he drove away memory of the girl he had just left at Doctor Bronson's office. Presently Smith returned, slipping along in his shiny black suit, flat-footed and slightly bowed, with his set dull expression.
"Lane, Mr. Manton asks you to please excuse him. He's extremely busy," said Smith. "I told him that you wanted your old job back. And he instructed me to tell you he had been put to the trouble of breaking in a girl to take your place. She now does the work you used to have--very satisfactorily, Mr. Manton thinks, and at less pay. So, of course, a change is impossible."
"I see," returned Lane, slowly, as he rose to go. "I had an idea that might be the case. I'm finding things--a little different."
"No doubt, Lane. You fellows who went away left us to make the best of it."
"Yes, Smith, we fellows 'went away,'" replied Lane, with satire, "and I'm finding out the fact wasn't greatly appreciated. Good day."
On the way out the little office girl opened the door for him and ogled him again, and stood a moment on the threshold. Ponderingly, Lane made his way down to the street. A rush of cool spring air seemed to refresh him, and with it came a realization that he never would have been able to stay cooped up in Manton's place. Even if his services had been greatly desired he could not have given them for long. He could not have stood that place. This was a new phase of his mental condition. Work almost anywhere in Middleville would be like that in Manton's. Could he stand work at all, not only in a physical sense, but in application of mind? He began to worry about that.
Some one hailed Lane, and he turned to recognize an old acquaintance--Matt Jones. They walked along the street together, meeting other men who knew Lane, some of whom greeted him heartily. Then, during an ensuing hour, he went into familiar stores and the postoffice, the hotel and finally the Bradford Inn, meeting many people whom he had known well. The sum of all their greetings left him in cold amaze. At length Lane grasped the subtle import--that people were tired of any one or anything which reminded them of the war. He tried to drive that thought from lodgment in his mind. But it stuck. And slowly he gathered the forces of his spirit to make good the resolve with which he had faced this day--to withstand an appalling truth.
At the inn he sat before an open fire and pondered between brief conversations of men who accosted him. On the one hand it was extremely trying, and on the other a fascinating and grim study--to meet people, and find that he could read their minds. Had the war given him some magic sixth sense, some clairvoyant power, some gift of vision? He could not tell yet what had come to him, but there was something.
Business men, halting to chat with Lane a few moments, helped along his readjustment to the truth of the strange present. Almost all kinds of business were booming. Most people had money to spend. And there was a multitude, made rich by the war, who were throwing money to the four winds. Prices of every commodity were at their highest peak, and supply could not equal demand. An orgy of spending was in full swing, and all men in business, especially the profiteers, were making the most of the unprecedented opportunity.
After he had rested, Lane boarded a street car and rode out to the suburbs of Middleville where the Maynards lived. Although they had lost their money they still lived in the substantial mansion that was all which was left them of prosperous days. House and grounds now appeared sadly run down.
A maid answered Lane's ring, and let him in. Lane found himself rather nervously expecting to see Mrs. Maynard. The old house brought back to him the fact that he had never liked her. But he wanted to see Margaret. It turned out, however, that mother and daughter were out.
"Come up, old top," called Blair's voice from the hall above.
So Lane went up to Blair's room, which he remembered almost as well as his own, though now it was in disorder. Blair was in his shirt sleeves. He looked both gay and spent. Red Payson was in bed, and his face bore the hectic flush of fever.
"Aw, he's only had too much to eat," declared Blair, in answer to Lane's solicitation.
"How's that, Red?" asked Lane, sitting down on the bed beside Payson.
"It's nothing, Dare.... I'm just all in," replied Red, with a weary smile.
"I telephoned Doc Bronson to come out," said Blair, "and look us over. That made Red as sore as a pup. Isn't he the limit? By thunder, you can't do anything for some people."
Blair's tone and words of apparent vexation were at variance with the kindness of his eyes as they rested upon his sick comrade.
"I just came from Bronson's," observed Lane. "He's been our doctor for as long as I can remember."
Both Lane's comrades searched his face with questioning eyes, and while Lane returned that gaze there was a little constrained silence.
"Bronson examined me--and said I'd live to be eighty," added Lane, with dry humor.
"You're a liar!" burst out Blair.
On Red Payson's worn face a faint smile appeared. "Carry on, Dare."
Then Blair fell to questioning Lane as to all the news he had heard, and people he had met.
"So Manton turned you down cold," said Blair, ponderingly.
"I didn't get to see him," replied Lane. "He sent out word that my old job was held by a girl who did my work better and at less pay."
The blood leaped to Blair's white cheek.
"What'd you say?" he queried.
"Nothing much. I just trailed out.... But the truth is, Blair--I couldn't have stood that place--not for a day."
"I get you," rejoined Blair. "That isn't the point, though. I always wondered if we'd find our old jobs open to us. Of course, I couldn't fill mine now. It was an outside job--lots of walking."
So the conversation see-sawed back and forth, with Red Payson listening in languid interest.
"Have you seen any of the girls?" asked Blair.
"I met Mel Iden," replied Lane.
"You did? What did she--"
"Mel told me what explained some of your hints."
"Ahuh! Poor Mel! How'd she look?"
"Greatly changed," replied Lane, thoughtfully. "How do you remember Mel?"
"Well, she was pretty--soulful face--wonderful smile--that sort of thing."
"She's beautiful now, and sad."
"I shouldn't wonder. And she told you right out about the baby?"
"No. That came out when she said I couldn't call on her, and I wanted to know why."
"But you'll go anyhow?"
"So will I," returned Blair, with spirit. "Dare, I've known for over a year about Mel's disgrace. You used to like her, and I hated to tell you. If it had been Helen I'd have told you in a minute. But Mel.... Well, I suppose we must expect queer things. I got a jolt this morning. I was pumping my sister Margie about everybody, and, of course, Mel's name came up. You remember Margie and Mel were as thick as two peas in a pod. Looks like Mel's fall has hurt Margie. But I don't just get Margie yet. She might be another fellow's sister--for all the strangeness of her."
"I hardly knew my kid sister," responded Lane.
"Ahuh! The plot thickens.... Well, I couldn't get much out of Marg. She used to babble everything. But what little she told me made up in--in shock for what it lacked in volume."
"Tell me," said Lane, as his friend paused.
"Nothing doing." ... And turning to the sick boy on the bed, he remarked, "Red, you needn't let this--this gab of ours bother you. This is home talk between a couple of boobs who're burying their illusions in the grave. You didn't leave a sister or a lot of old schoolgirl sweethearts behind to----"
"What the hell do you know about whom I left behind?" retorted Red, with a swift blaze of strange passion.
"Oh, say, Red--I--I beg your pardon, I was only kidding," responded Blair, in surprise and contrition. "You never told me a word about yourself."
For answer Red Payson rolled over wearily and turned his back.
"Blair, I'll beat it, and let Red go to sleep," said Lane, taking up his hat. "Red, good-bye this time. I hope you'll be better soon."
"I'm--sorry, Lane," came in muffled tones from Payson.
"Cut that out, boy. You've nothing to be sorry for. Forget it and cheer up."
Blair hobbled downstairs after Lane. "Don't go just yet, Dare."
They found seats in the parlor that appeared to be the same shabby genteel place where Lane had used to call upon Blair's sister.
"What ails Red?" queried Lane, bluntly.
"Lord only knows. He's a queer duck. Once in a while he lets out a crack like that. There's a lot to Red."
"Blair, his heart is broken," said Lane, tragically.
"Well!" exclaimed Blair, with quick almost haughty uplift of head. He seemed to resent Lane's surprise and intimation. It was a rebuke that made Lane shrink.
"I never thought of Red's being hurt--you know--or as having lost.... Oh, he just seemed like so many other boys ruined in health. I----"
"All right. Cut the sentiment," interrupted Blair. "The fact is Red is more of a problem than we had any idea he'd be.... And Dare, listen to this--I'm ashamed to have to tell you. Mother raised old Harry with me this morning for fetching Red home. She couldn't see it my way. She said there were hospitals for sick soldiers who hadn't homes. I lost my temper and I said: 'The hell of it, mother, is that there's nothing of the kind.' ... She said we couldn't keep him here. I tried to coax her.... Margie helped, but nothing doing."
Blair had spoken hurriedly with again a stain of red in his white cheek, and a break in his voice.
"That's--tough," replied Lane, haltingly. He could choke back speech, but not the something in his voice he would rather not have heard. "I'll tell you what. As soon as Red is well enough we'll move him over to my house. I'm sure mother will let him share my room. There's only Lorna--and I'll pay Red's board.... You have quite a family--"
"Hell, Dare--don't apologize to me for my mother," burst out Blair, bitterly.
"Blair, I believe you realize what we are up against--and I don't," rejoined Lane, with level gaze upon his friend.
"Dare, can't you see we're up against worse than the Argonne?--worse, because back here at home--that beautiful, glorious thought--idea--spirit we had is gone. Dead!"
"No, I can't see," returned Lane, stubbornly.
"Well, I guess that's one reason we all loved you, Dare--you couldn't see.... But I'll bet you my crutch Helen makes you see. Her father made a pile out of the war. She's a war-rich snob now. And going the pace!"
"Blair, she may make me see her faithlessness--and perhaps some strange unrest--some change that's seemed to come over everything. But she can't prove to me the death of anything outside of herself. She can't prove that any more than Mel Iden's confession proved her a wanton. It didn't. Not to me. Why, when Mel put her hand on my breast--on this medal--and looked at me--I had such a thrill as I never had before in all my life. Never!... Blair, it's not dead. That beautiful thing you mentioned--that spirit--that fire which burned so gloriously--it is not dead."
"Not in you--old pard," replied Blair, unsteadily. "I'm always ashamed before your faith. And, by God, I'll say you're my only anchor."
"Blair, let's play the game out to the end," said Lane.
"I get you, Dare.... For Margie, for Lorna, for Mel--even if they have--"
"Yes," answered Lane, as Blair faltered.