This story is not his biography, remember, although things creep into it which have nothing to do with those dreams he had when he was young. We are almost done with them and with him now. There is only one more incident to be related here, and it happens seven years farther on.
It took place in New York, where he had done well--so well that there were no barriers too high for him. He was thirty-two years old, and, except for one flying trip immediately after the war, he had not been West in seven years. A man named Devlin from Detroit came into his office to see him in a business way, and then and there this incident occurred, and closed out, so to speak, this particular side of his life.
"So you're from the Middle West," said the man Devlin with careless curiosity. "That's funny--I thought men like you were probably born and raised on Wall Street. You know--wife of one of my best friends in Detroit came from your city. I was an usher at the wedding."
Dexter waited with no apprehension of what was coming.
"Judy Simms," said Devlin with no particular interest; "Judy Jones she was once."
"Yes, I knew her." A dull impatience spread over him. He had heard, of course, that she was married--perhaps deliberately he had heard no more.
"Awfully nice girl," brooded Devlin meaninglessly, "I'm sort of sorry for her."
"Why?" Something in Dexter was alert, receptive, at once.
"Oh, Lud Simms has gone to pieces in a way. I don't mean he ill-uses her, but he drinks and runs around--"
"Doesn't she run around?"
"No. Stays at home with her kids."
"She's a little too old for him," said Devlin.
"Too old!" cried Dexter. "Why, man, she's only twenty-seven."
He was possessed with a wild notion of rushing out into the streets and taking a train to Detroit. He rose to his feet spasmodically.
"I guess you're busy," Devlin apologized quickly. "I didn't realize--"
"No, I'm not busy," said Dexter, steadying his voice. "I'm not busy at all. Not busy at all. Did you say she was--twenty-seven? No, I said she was twenty-seven."
"Yes, you did," agreed Devlin dryly.
"Go on, then. Go on."
"What do you mean?"
"About Judy Jones."
Devlin looked at him helplessly.
"Well, that's--I told you all there is to it. He treats her like the devil. Oh, they're not going to get divorced or anything. When he's particularly outrageous she forgives him. In fact, I'm inclined to think she loves him. She was a pretty girl when she first came to Detroit."
A pretty girl! The phrase struck Dexter as ludicrous.
"Isn't she--a pretty girl, any more?"
"Oh, she's all right."
"Look here," said Dexter, sitting down suddenly, "I don't understand. You say she was a 'pretty girl' and now you say she's 'all right.' I don't understand what you mean--Judy Jones wasn't a pretty girl, at all. She was a great beauty. Why, I knew her, I knew her. She was--"
Devlin laughed pleasantly.
"I'm not trying to start a row," he said. "I think Judy's a nice girl and I like her. I can't understand how a man like Lud Simms could fall madly in love with her, but he did." Then he added: "Most of the women like her."
Dexter looked closely at Devlin, thinking wildly that there must be a reason for this, some insensitivity in the man or some private malice.
"Lots of women fade just like that," Devlin snapped his fingers. "You must have seen it happen. Perhaps I've forgotten how pretty she was at her wedding. I've seen her so much since then, you see. She has nice eyes."
A sort of dulness settled down upon Dexter. For the first time in his life he felt like getting very drunk. He knew that he was laughing loudly at something Devlin had said, but he did not know what it was or why it was funny. When, in a few minutes, Devlin went he lay down on his lounge and looked out the window at the New York sky-line into which the sun was sinking in dull lovely shades of pink and gold.
He had thought that having nothing else to lose he was invulnerable at last--but he knew that he had just lost something more, as surely as if he had married Judy Jones and seen her fade away before his eyes.
The dream was gone. Something had been taken from him. In a sort of panic he pushed the palms of his hands into his eyes and tried to bring up a picture of the waters lapping on Sherry Island and the moonlit veranda, and gingham on the golf-links and the dry sun and the gold color of her neck's soft down. And her mouth damp to his kisses and her eyes plaintive with melancholy and her freshness like new fine linen in the morning. Why, these things were no longer in the world! They had existed and they existed no longer.
For the first time in years the tears were streaming down his face. But they were for himself now. He did not care about mouth and eyes and moving hands. He wanted to care, and he could not care. For he had gone away and he could never go back any more. The gates were closed, the sun was gone down, and there was no beauty but the gray beauty of steel that withstands all time. Even the grief he could have borne was left behind in the country of illusion, of youth, of the richness of life, where his winter dreams had flourished.
"Long ago," he said, "long ago, there was something in me, but now that thing is gone. Now that thing is gone, that thing is gone. I cannot cry. I cannot care. That thing will come back no more."