Six minutes to six, said the clock over the international booth in New York’s Grand Central Station. The tall young Army lieutenant lifted his sunburned face and narrowed his eyes to note the exact time. His heart was pounding with a beat. In six minutes he would see the woman who had filled such a special place in his life for the past 13 month, the woman he had never seen, yet whose written words had sustained him unfailingly.
Lieutenant Blandford remembered one day in particular, during the worst of the fighting, when his plane had been caught in the midst of a pack of enemy’s planes. In one of his letters he had confessed to her that he often 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 to hear my voice reciting to you: ‘yeah, though I walked through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, I will hear no evil: for thou art with me.’…” He had remembered, and it had renewed his strength.
Now he was going to hear her real voice. Four minutes to six.
A girl passed close to him, and Lieutenant 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 18, and Hollis Meynell 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 book plate: Hollis Meynell. He had got hold 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 13 months she had faithfully replied. When his letters did not arrive, she wrote anyway, and now he believed that he loved her and that she loved him.
But she had refused all his pleas to send him her photograph. She had explained:” If you’re feeling for me has any reality, what I look like won’t matter. Suppose I’m beautiful. I’d always been haunted by the feeling that you had been taking a chance on just that, and that kind of love would disgust me. Suppose 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 decision.”
One minute to six…he put hard on a cigarette. Then Lieutenant Blandford’s heart leaped.
A young woman was coming towards him. Her figure was long and slim; her blond hair lay back in curls over her delicate ears. Her eyes were as 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 Meynell.
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. Blandford felt as though he were being split into 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, plump face was gentle and sensible; her grey eyes had a warm twinkle.
Lieutenant Blandford did not hesitate. His fingers gripped the worn copy of Human Bondage which was to identify him to her. This would not be love, but it would be something precious, a friendship that he had been and must ever be grateful…
He squared his shoulders, saluted, and held the book out toward the woman, although even well while he spoke he fell the bitterness of disappointment. “I’m John Blandford, and you---you are Miss Meynell. May---may I take you to dinner?”
The woman smiled. “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 ask me to go out with you, I should tell you that she’s waiting for you in that restaurant across the street. She said it was some kind of test.”