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CHAPTER 33 LESLIE RETURNS
A fortnight later Leslie Moore came home alone to the old house where she had spent so many bitter years. In the June twilight she went over the fields to Anne's, and appeared with ghost-like suddenness in the scented garden.
"Leslie!" cried Anne in amazement. "Where have you sprung from? We never knew you were coming. Why didn't you write? We would have met you."
"I couldn't write somehow, Anne. It seemed so futile to try to say anything with pen and ink. And I wanted to get back quietly and unobserved."
Anne put her arms about Leslie and kissed her. Leslie returned the kiss warmly. She looked pale and tired, and she gave a little sigh as she dropped down on the grasses beside a great bed of daffodils that were gleaming through the pale, silvery twilight like golden stars.
"And you have come home alone, Leslie?"
"Yes. George Moore's sister came to Montreal and took him home with her. Poor fellow, he was sorry to part with me - though I was a stranger to him when his memory first came back. He clung to me in those first hard days when he was trying to realise that Dick's death was not the thing of yesterday that it seemed to him. It was all very hard for him. I helped him all I could. When his sister came it was easier for him, because it seemed to him only the other day that he had seen her last. Fortunately she had not changed much, and that helped him, too."
"It is all so strange and wonderful, Leslie. I think we none of us realise it yet."
"I cannot. When I went into the house over there an hour ago, I felt that it MUST be a dream - that Dick must be there, with his childish smile, as he had been for so long. Anne, I seem stunned yet. I'm not glad or sorry - or ANYTHING. I feel as if something had been torn suddenly out of my life and left a terrible hole. I feel as if I couldn't be _I_ - as if I must have changed into somebody else and couldn't get used to it. It gives me a horrible lonely, dazed, helpless feeling. It's good to see you again - it seems as if you were a sort of anchor for my drifting soul. Oh, Anne, I dread it all - the gossip and wonderment and questioning. When I think of that, I wish that I need not have come home at all. Dr. Dave was at the station when I came off the train - he brought me home. Poor old man, he feels very badly because he told me years ago that nothing could be done for Dick. `I honestly thought so, Leslie,' he said to me today. `But I should have told you not to depend on my opinion - I should have told you to go to a specialist. If I had, you would have been saved many bitter years, and poor George Moore many wasted ones. I blame myself very much, Leslie.' I told him not to do that - he had done what he thought right. He has always been so kind to me - I couldn't bear to see him worrying over it."
"And Dick - George, I mean? Is his memory fully restored?"
"Practically. Of course, there are a great many details he can't recall yet - but he remembers more and more every day. He went out for a walk on the evening after Dick was buried. He had Dick's money and watch on him; he meant to bring them home to me, along with my letter. He admits he went to a place where the sailors resorted - and he remembers drinking - and nothing else. Anne, I shall never forget the moment he remembered his own name. I saw him looking at me with an intelligent but puzzled expression. I said, `Do you know me, Dick?' He answered, `I never saw you before. Who are you? And my name is not Dick. I am George Moore, and Dick died of yellow fever yesterday! Where am I? What has happened to me?' I - I fainted, Anne. And ever since I have felt as if I were in a dream."
"You will soon adjust yourself to this new state of things, Leslie. And you are young - life is before you - you will have many beautiful years yet."
"Perhaps I shall be able to look at it in that way after a while, Anne. Just now I feel too tired and indifferent to think about the future. I'm - I'm - Anne, I'm lonely. I miss Dick. Isn't it all very strange? Do you know, I was really fond of poor Dick - George, I suppose I should say - just as I would have been fond of a helpless child who depended on me for everything. I would never have admitted it - I was really ashamed of it - because, you see, I had hated and despised Dick so much before he went away. When I heard that Captain Jim was bringing him home I expected I would just feel the same to him. But I never did - although I continued to loathe him as I remembered him before. From the time he came home I felt only pity - a pity that hurt and wrung me. I supposed then that it was just because his accident had made him so helpless and changed. But now I believe it was because there was really a different personality there. Carlo knew it, Anne - I know now that Carlo knew it. I always thought it strange that Carlo shouldn't have known Dick. Dogs are usually so faithful. But HE knew it was not his master who had come back, although none of the rest of us did. I had never seen George Moore, you know. I remember now that Dick once mentioned casually that he had a cousin in Nova Scotia who looked as much like him as a twin; but the thing had gone out of my memory, and in any case I would never have thought it of any importance. You see, it never occurred to me to question Dick's identity. Any change in him seemed to me just the result of the accident.
"Oh, Anne, that night in April when Gilbert told me he thought Dick might be cured! I can never forget it. It seemed to me that I had once been a prisoner in a hideous cage of torture, and then the door had been opened and I could get out. I was still chained to the cage but I was not in it. And that night I felt that a merciless hand was drawing me back into the cage - back to a torture even more terrible than it had once been. I didn't blame Gilbert. I felt he was right. And he had been very good - he said that if, in view of the expense and uncertainty of the operation, I should decide not to risk it, he would not blame me in the least. But I knew how I ought to decide - and I couldn't face it. All night I walked the floor like a mad woman, trying to compel myself to face it. I couldn't, Anne - I thought I couldn't - and when morning broke I set my teeth and resolved that I WOULDN'T. I would let things remain as they were. It was very wicked, I know. It would have been just punishment for such wickedness if I had just been left to abide by that decision. I kept to it all day. That afternoon I had to go up to the Glen to do some shopping. It was one of Dick's quiet, drowsy days, so I left him alone. I was gone a little longer than I had expected, and he missed me. He felt lonely. And when I got home, he ran to meet me just like a child, with such a pleased smile on his face. Somehow, Anne, I just gave way then. That smile on his poor vacant face was more than I could endure. I felt as if I were denying a child the chance to grow and develop. I knew that I must give him his chance, no matter what the consequences might be. So I came over and told Gilbert. Oh, Anne, you must have thought me hateful in those weeks before I went away. I didn't mean to be - but I couldn't think of anything except what I had to do, and everything and everybody about me were like shadows."
"I know - I understood, Leslie. And now it is all over - your chain is broken - there is no cage."
"There is no cage," repeated Leslie absently, plucking at the fringing grasses with her slender, brown hands. "But - it doesn't seem as if there were anything else, Anne. You - you remember what I told you of my folly that night on the sand-bar? I find one doesn't get over being a fool very quickly. Sometimes I think there are people who are fools forever. And to be a fool - of that kind - is almost as bad as being a - a dog on a chain."
"You will feel very differently after you get over being tired and bewildered," said Anne, who, knowing a certain thing that Leslie did not know, did not feel herself called upon to waste overmuch sympathy.
Leslie laid her splendid golden head against Anne's knee.
"Anyhow, I have YOU," she said. "Life can't be altogether empty with such a friend. Anne, pat my head - just as if I were a little girl - MOTHER me a bit - and let me tell you while my stubborn tongue is loosed a little just what you and your comradeship have meant to me since that night I met you on the rock shore."
Turn to the next chapter: CHAPTER 34 THE SHIP O'DREAMS COMES TO HARBOR