"You're right, George." Aubrey answered a remark Basine had made. "I agree with you entirely. But after all, the purposes of this war are more than victory over an enemy. The victory over ourselves--"
Aubrey's words were lost in the racket of rising diners. The eating was over. The guests filed into the library. Henrietta slipped her hand through her husband's arm. She remembered vaguely the afternoon in the Basine library when George Basine had asked her to marry him. No,--it was in the kitchen. She would have liked to talk about it. But this was no time to mention such things. She sat down and listened to the excited remarks of the guests. There was an interruption. Aubrey, at the window, raised his voice.
"Look here," he exclaimed, "soldiers."
The company crowded to the front of the room. Men in civilian clothes carrying small bundles over their shoulders were marching four abreast down the center of the street.
"Entraining for war, by God!" said Ramsey.
They watched in silence. Soldiers going to war! There was something incongruous about that. A vague feeling of surprise and discomfort held the watchers. Men who would in a short time be lying in trenches, shooting with guns, killing other men. And they felt curiously out of touch with the marchers, as if the enemy they had been denouncing at the table and vilifying throughout their day were someone not so far away as France. As if these marching men in the street were being sent to the wrong address.
Basine hurried in the dark street. His mother and Henrietta stood in the doorway watching him. He carried a suitcase and had promised to write frequently. The Liberty Loan tour had cut short his visit. He was walking to catch his train at the neighborhood station a few blocks away.
As he turned the corner, Basine paused. Someone had called his name. He looked around and saw a man standing under the street lamp.
"Hello George. How are you?"
The man held out his hand and Basine, taking it, studied him for a moment. Keegan. Poor old Hugh Keegan. Basine smiled.
"Well, well," he exclaimed. "What are you doing around here, Hugh?"
They stood shaking hands. Basine noticed the furtive, shabby air of his old friend. He hadn't seen or heard of Keegan or thought of him for years. It was strange to meet him like this, walking in a street.
"I live down the street a ways," Keegan answered. An almost womanish shyness was in his manner. "Been hearing and reading a lot about you, George." He lowered his voice. "You sure made good."
Basine smiled deprecatingly.
"Walking my way, Hugh?" he inquired. "Going to the train." He felt nervous. Keegan was like meeting yesterdays.
"Yes," said Keegan.
They walked along. Basine felt his exhuberance leaving him. A curious desire to apologize to Keegan took hold of him. But for what? Because Keegan looked shabby. Keegan acted frightened and ashamed of something.
"We used to have some good times together, George."
The man was impossibly wistful. Like a beggar asking something--demanding something.
"Yes," said Basine. This Keegan ... this Keegan. He looked at him out of the corners of his eyes. Shabby, furtive, blond-faced, tired.
"What have you been doing, Hugh?" he asked.
"Oh, didn't you hear," Keegan answered. His voice grew more deferential.
He began to talk in an apologetic murmur.
"My wife died," he apologized. "I got married, you know, four years ago.
Four years this coming November. We went to a picnic last June and Helen ate something."
Keegan's voice sank to a confidential and still apologetic whisper.
"About two nights after," he added, "she died."
Basine looked at him and saw tears in his eyes. Keegan had married somebody and she had died. This had happened to Keegan. Basine grew nervous.
"Awf'ly glad to have seen you again, Hugh," he said after a pause. "Am sorry to hear about it. We must get together sometime. I think I'll have to run."
They shook hands and Basine hurried on. He was aware of Keegan looking after him. A vacuous-faced Keegan with tears in his eyes. A Keegan who had found something and lost it. What kind of a woman could have loved Keegan? What kind ... what kind ... poor Hugh. He had been young once.
Now it was all over. Basine sighed. Keegan saddened. Keegan was like yesterdays. He started to walk faster. He began to run, the suitcase thumping against his leg.
"I'll miss the train," he assured himself furtively and ran.
But there was plenty of time for the train. Another fifteen minutes. He was running for something else. Yes, he was running away from Keegan--from the vacuous, shabby figure of Keegan that stood weeping behind him. An oath throbbed in his mind.
"Damn...." he muttered. The word stopped him. He walked the rest of the way to the station. A sadness darkened him. He was sad, impossibly sad, as if his heart were breaking. Because Keegan had found something and lost it. Because his old friend Hugh had started to cry.... "Poor Hughie," he murmured.