Read CHAPTER XIV of Adam Johnstone's Son , free online book, by F. Marion Crawford, on ReadCentral.com.

Brook Johnstone had gone to his room when he had left his father, and was hastily packing his belongings, for he had made up his mind to leave Amalfi at once without consulting anybody.  It is a special advantage of places where there is no railway that one can go away at a moment’s notice, without waiting tedious hours for a train.  Brook did not hesitate, for it seemed to him the only right thing to do, after Clare’s refusal, and after what his father had told him.  If she had loved him, he would have stayed in spite of every opposition.  If he had never been told her mother’s history, he would have stayed and would have tried to make her love him.  As it was, he set his teeth and said to himself that he would suffer a good deal rather than do anything more to win the heart of Mrs. Bowring’s daughter.  He would get over it somehow in the end.  He fancied Clare’s horror if she should ever know the truth, and his fear of hurting her was as strong as his love.  He made no phrases to himself, and he thought of nothing theatrical which he should like to say.  He just set his teeth and packed his clothes alone.  Possibly he swore rather unmercifully at the coat which would not fit into the right place, and at the starched shirt-cuffs which would not lie flat until he smashed them out of shape with unsteady hands.

When he was ready, he wrote a few words to Clare.  He said that he was going away immediately, and that it would be very kind of her to let him say good-bye.  He sent the note by a servant, and waited in the corridor at a distance from her door.

A moment later she came out, very pale.

“You are not really going, are you?” she asked, with wide and startled eyes.  “You can’t be in earnest?”

“I’m all ready,” he answered, nodding slowly.  “It’s much better.  I only wanted to say good-bye, you know.  It’s awfully kind of you to come out.”

“Oh ­I wouldn’t have ­” but she checked herself, and glanced up and down the long corridor.  “We can’t talk here,” she added.

“It’s so hot outside,” said Brook, remembering how she had complained of the heat an hour earlier.

“Oh no ­I mean ­it’s no matter.  I’d rather go out for a moment.”

She began to walk towards the door while she was speaking.  They reached it in silence, and went out into the blazing sun.  Clare had Brook’s note still in her hand, and held it up to shield the glare from the side of her face as they crossed the platform.  Then she realised that she had brought him to the very spot whereon he had said good-bye to Lady Fan.  She stopped, and he stood still beside her.

“Not here,” she said.

“No ­not here,” he answered.

“There’s too much sun ­really,” said she, as the colour rose faintly in her cheeks.

“It’s only to say good-bye,” Brook answered sadly.  “I shall always remember you just as you are now ­with the sun shining on your hair.”

It was so bright that it dazzled him as he looked.  In spite of the heat she did not move, and their eyes met.

“Mr. Johnstone,” Clare began, “please stay.  Please don’t let me feel that I have sent you away.”  There was a shade of timidity in the tone, and the eyes seemed brave enough to say something more.  Brook hesitated.

“Well ­no ­it isn’t that exactly.  I’ve heard something ­my father has told me something since I saw you ­”

He stopped short and looked down.

“What have you heard?” she asked.  “Something dreadful about us?”

“About us all ­about him, principally.  I can’t tell you.  I really can’t.”

“About him ­and my mother?  That they were married and separated?”

The steady innocent eyes had waited for him to look up again.  He started as he heard her words.

“You don’t mean to say that you know it too?” he cried.  “Who has dared to tell you?”

“My mother ­she was quite right.  It’s wrong to hide such things ­she ought to have told me at once.  Why shouldn’t I have known it?”

“Doesn’t it seem horrible to you?  Don’t you dislike me more than ever?”

“No.  Why should I?  It wasn’t your fault.  What has it to do with you?  Or with me?  Is that the reason why you are going away so suddenly?”

Brook stared at her in surprise, and the dawn of returning gladness was in his face for a moment.

“We have a right to live, whatever they did in their day,” said Clare.  “There is no reason why you should go away like this, at a moment’s notice.”

With an older woman he would have understood the first time, but he did not dare to understand Clare, nor to guess that there was anything to be understood.

“Of course we have a right to live,” he answered, in a constrained tone.  “But that does not mean that I may stay here and make your life a burden.  So I’m going away.  It was quite different before I knew all this.  Please don’t stay out here ­you’ll get a sunstroke.  I only wanted to say good-bye.”

Man-like, having his courage at the striking-point, he wished to get it all over quickly and be off.  The colour sank from Clare’s face again, and she stood quite still for a moment, looking at him.  “Good-bye,” he said, holding out his hand, and trying hard to smile a little.

Clare looked at him still, but her hand did not meet his, though he waited, holding it out to her.  Her face hardened as though she were making an effort, then softened again, and still he waited.

“Won’t you say good-bye to me?” he asked unsteadily.

She hesitated a moment longer.

“No!” she answered suddenly.  “I ­I can’t!”

And here the story comes to its conclusion, as many stories out of the lives of men and women seem to end at what is only their turning-point.  For real life has no conclusion but real death, and that is a sad ending to a tale, and one which may as well be left to the imagination when it is possible.

Stories of strange things, which really occur, very rarely have what used to be called a “moral” either.  All sorts of things happen to people who afterwards go on living just the same, neither much better nor much worse than they were in the beginning.  The story is a slice, as it were, cut from the most interesting part of a life, generally at the point where that life most closely touches another, so that the future of the two momentarily depends upon each separately, and upon both together.  The happiness or unhappiness of both, for a long time to come, is founded upon the action of each just at those moments.  And sometimes, as in the tale here told, the least promising of all the persons concerned is the one who helps matters out.  The only logical thing about life is the certainty that it must end.  If there were any logic at all about what goes between birth and death, men would have found it out long ago, and we should all know how to live as soon as we leave school; whereas we spend our lives under Fate’s ruler, trying to understand, while she raps us over the knuckles every other minute because we cannot learn our lesson and sit up straight, and be good without being prigs, and do right without sticking it through other people’s peace of mind as one sticks a pin through a butterfly.