The Test


Six minutes to six, said the clock over the information booth in New
York's Grand Central Station.  The tall young Army officer lifted his
sunburned face and narrowed his eyes to note the exact time.  His heart
was pounding with a beat that choked him.  In six minutes he would see
the woman who had filled such a special place in his life for the past
18 months, the woman he had never seen yet whose words had sustained him
unfailingly.

Lt. Blandford remembered one day in particular, the worst of the
fighting, when his plane had been caught in the midst of a pack of enemy
planes.

In one of those letters, he had confessed to her that often he felt
fear, and only a few days before this battle, he had received her
answer:  "Of course you fear... all brave men do."  Next time you doubt
yourself, I want you tho hear my voice reciting to you:  'Yea, though I
walk through the valley of Death, I shall fear no evil, for thou art
with me.'  He had remembered that and it renewed his strength.

He was going to hear her voice now.  Four minutes to six.

A girl passed closer to him, and Lt. Blandford started.  She was wearing
a flower, but it was not the little red rose they had agreed upon.
Besides, this girl was only about eighteen, and Hollis Maynell had told
him she was 30.  "What of it?" he had answered, "I'm 32."  He was 29.

His mind went back to that book he had read in the training camp.  "Of
Human Bondage" it was; and throughout the book were notes in a woman's
handwriting.  He had never believed that a woman could see into a man's
heart so tenderly, so understandingly.  Her name was on the bookplate:
Hollis Maynell.  He got a hold of a New York City telephone book and
found her address.  He had written, she had answered.  Next day he had
been shipped out, but they had gone on writing.  For thirteen months she
had faithfully replied.  When his letters did not arrive, she wrote
anyway, and now he believed he loved her, and she loved him.

But she had refused all his pleas to send him her photograph.  She had
explained:  "If your feeling for me had no reality, what I look like
won't matter.  Suppose I am beautiful.  I'd always be haunted that you
had been taking a chance on just that, and that kind of love would
disgust me.  Suppose that I'm plain, (and you must admit that this is
more likely), then I'd always fear that you were only going on writing
because you were lonely and had no one else.  No, don't ask for my
picture.  When you come to New York, you shall see me and then you shall
make your own decision."

One minute to six... he flipped the pages of the book he held.  Then Lt.
Blandford's heart lept.

A young woman was coming toward him.  Her figure was long and slim; her
blond hair lay back in curls from delicate ears.  Her eyes were blue as
flowers, her lips and chin had a gentle firmness.  In her pale-green
suit, she was like springtime come alive.

He started toward her, forgetting to notice that she was wearing no
rose, and as he moved, a small, provocative smile curved her lips.

"Going my way, soldier?" she murmured.

He made one step closer to her.  Then he saw Hollis Maynell.

She was standing almost directly behind the girl, a woman well past 40,
her graying hair tucked under a worn hat.  She was more than plump.  Her
thick-ankled feet were thrust into low-heeled shoes.  But she wore a red
rose on her rumpled coat.  The girl in the green suit was walking
quickly away.

Blandford felt as though he were being split in two, so keen was his
desire to follow the girl, yet so deep was his longing for the woman
whose spirit had truly companioned and upheld his own, and there she
stood.  He could see her pale face was gentle and sensible; her gray
eyes had a warm twinkle.

Lt. Blandford did not hesitate.  His fingers gripped the worn copy of
"Of Human Bondage" which was to identify him to her.  This would not be
love, but it would be something special, a friendship for which he had
been and must be ever grateful...

He squared his shoulders, saluted, and held the book out toward the
woman, although even while he spoke he felt the bitterness for his
disappointment.

"I'm Lt. Blandford, and you're Miss Maynell.  I'm so glad you could meet
me.  May -- may I take you to dinner?"

The woman's face broadened in a tolerant smile.  "I don't know what this
is all about, son," she answered.  "That young lady in the green suit,
she begged me to wear this rose on my coat.  And she said that if you
asked me to go out with you, I should tell you she's waiting for you in
that restaurant across the street.  She said it was some kind of test."







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