Very quietly Audrey had taken herself out of Clayton's life. She sent him a little
note of farewell:
"We have had ten very wonderful months, Clay," she wrote. "We ought to be very
happy. So few have as much. And we both know that this can't go on. I am going
abroad. I have an opportunity to go over and see what Englishwomen are doing
in the way of standing behind their men at war. Then I am to tell our women at
home. Not that they need it now, bless them!
"I believe you will be glad to know that I am to be on the same side of the ocean
with Graham. I could get to him, I think, if anything should go wrong. Will you
send him the enclosed address?
"But, my dear, the address is for him, not for you. You must not write to me. I
have used up every particle of moral courage I possess, as it is. And I am holding
this in my mind, as you must. Time is a great healer of all wounds. We could
have been happy together; oh, my dear, so very happy together! Now that I am
going, let me be frank for once. I have given you the finest thing I am capable of.
I am better for caring for you as I have, as I do.
"But those days in the hospital told me we couldn't go on. Things like that don't
stand still. Maybe - we are only human, Clay - maybe if the old days were still
here we might have compromised with life. I don't know. But I do know that we
never will, now.
"After all, we have had a great deal, and we still have. It is a wonderful thing to
know that somewhere in the world is some one person who loves you. To waken
up in the morning to it. To go to sleep remembering it. And to have kept that love
fine and clean is a wonderful thing, too.
"I am not always on a pinnacle. There have been plenty of times when the mere
human want of you has sent me to the dust. Is it wrong to tell you that? But of
course not. You know it. But you and I know this; Clay, dear. Love that is
hopeless, that can not end in marriage, does one of two things. Either it degrades
or it exalts. It leaves its mark, always, but that mark does not need to be a stain."
Clayton lived, for a time after that, in a world very empty and very full. The new
plant was well under way. Not only was he about to make shells for the
government at a nominal profit, but Washington was asking him to assume new
and wide responsibilities. He accepted. He wanted so to fill the hours that there
would be no time to remember. But, more than that, he was actuated by a fine
and glowing desire to serve. Perhaps, underlying it all was the determination to
be, in every way, the man Audrey thought him to be. And there was, too, a
square-jawed resolution to put behind Graham, and other boys like Graham, all
the shells and ammunition they needed.
He worked hard; more than hard. Old Terry, meeting him one day in the winter
that followed, was shocked at his haggard face.
"Better take a little time off, Clay," he suggested. "We're going to Miami next
week. How about ten days or so? Fishing is good this year."