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Journey’s End
by [?]

I

“Steve!” It was the girl who spoke, but the man did not seem to hear. He was staring through the window, unseeingly, into the heart of his bitter foe, Winter. He sat silent, helpless.

“Steve!”

At last he awoke.

“Mollie!–girlie!”

An hour had passed since he left the doctor’s office to reel and stagger drunkenly through the slush and the sleet, and the icy blasts, which bit cruelly into his very vitals.

Now he and Mollie were alone in the tiny library. Babcock had been warmed, washed, fed. Seemingly without volition on his part, he was before the hard-coal blaze, his feet on the fender, the light carefully shaded from his eyes. Once upon a time–

But Steve Babcock, master mechanic, had not lost his nerve–once upon a time.

“Steve”–the voice was as soft as the wide brown eyes, as the dainty oval chin–“Steve, tell me what it is.”

The man’s hand, palm outward, dropped wearily, eloquently. That was all.

“But tell me,” the girl’s chair came closer, so that she might have touched him, “you went to see the doctor?”

“Yes.”

“And he–?”

Again the silent, hopeless gesture, more fear-inspiring than words.

“Don’t keep me in suspense, please.” A small hand was on the man’s knee, now, frankly unashamed. “Tell me what he said.”

For an instant there was silence, then Babcock shrugged awkwardly, in an effort at nonchalance.

“He said I was–was–” in spite of himself, the speaker paused to moisten his lips–“a dead man.”

“Steve!”

Not a word this time; not even a shrug.

“Steve, you–you’re not–not joking with me?”

Lower and lower, still in silence, dropped the man’s chin.

“Steve,” in a steadier voice, “please answer me. You’re not joking?”

“Joking!” At last the query had pierced the fear-dulled brain. “Joking! God, no! It’s real, real, deadly real, that’s what … Oh, Mollie–!” Instinctively, as a child, the man’s head had gone to the girl’s lap. Though never before had they spoken of love or of marriage, neither noted the incongruity now. “It’s all over. We’ll never be married, never again get out into the country together, never even see the green grass next Spring–at least I won’t–never…. Oh, Mollie, Mollie!” The man’s back rose and fell spasmodically. His voice broke. “Mollie, make me forget; I can’t bear to think of it. Can’t! Can’t!”

Not a muscle of the girl’s body stirred; she made no sound. No one in advance would have believed it possible, but it was true. Five minutes passed. The man became quiet.

“Steve,” the voice was very even, “what else did the doctor say?”

“Eh?” It was the doddering query of an old man.

The girl repeated the question, slowly, with infinite patience, as though she were speaking to a child.

“What else did the doctor say?”

Her tranquillity in a measure calmed the man.

“Oh, he said a lot of things; but that’s all I remember–what I told you. It was the last thing, and he kind of tilted back in his chair. The spring needed oil; it fairly screamed. I can hear it now.

“‘Steve Babcock,’ said he, ‘you’ve got to go some place where it’s drier, where the air’s pure and clean and sweet the year round. Mexico’s the spot for you, or somewhere in the Far West where you can spend all your time in the open–under the roof of Heaven.’

“He leaned forward, and again that cursed spring interrupted.

“‘If you don’t go, and go right away,’ he said, ‘as sure as I’m talking to you, you’re a dead man.'”

Babcock straightened, and, leaden-eyed, looked dully into the blaze.

“Those,” he whispered, “were his last words.”

“And if you do go?”–very quietly.

“He said I had a chance–a fighting chance.” Once more the hopeless, deprecatory gesture.

“But what’s the use? You know, as well as I, that I haven’t a hundred dollars to my name. He might just as well have told me to go to the moon.

“We poor folks are like rats in a trap when they turn the water on–helpless. We–“