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In a man of Bill's temperament there are so many qualities wounded by a blow such as he had received, that it is hardly surprising that his emotions, when he began to examine them, were mixed. Now one, now another, of his wounds presented itself to his notice. And then individual wounds would become difficult to distinguish in the mass of injuries. Spiritually, he was in the position of a man who has been hit simultaneously in a number of sensitive spots by a variety of hard and hurtful things. He was as little able, during the early stages of his meditations, to say where he was hurt most as a man who had been stabbed in the back, bitten in the ankle, hit in the eye, smitten with a blackjack, and kicked on the shin in the same moment of time. All that such a man would be able to say with certainty would be that unpleasant things had happened to him; and that was all that Bill was able to say.

Little by little, walking swiftly the while, he began to make a rough inventory. He sorted out his injuries, catalogued them. It was perhaps his self-esteem that had suffered least of all, for he was by nature modest. He had a savage humility, valuable in a crisis of this sort.

But he looked up to Claire. He had thought her straight. And all the time that she had been saying those things to him that night of their last meeting she had been engaged to another man, a fat, bald, doddering, senile fool, whose only merit was his money. Scarcely a fair description of Mr Pickering, but in a man in Bill's position a little bias is excusable.

Bill walked on. He felt as if he could walk for ever. Automobiles whirred past, hooting peevishly, but he heeded them not. Dogs trotted out to exchange civilities, but he ignored them. The poison in his blood drove him on.

And then quite suddenly and unexpectedly the fever passed. Almost in mid-stride he became another man, a healed, sane man, keenly aware of a very vivid thirst and a desire to sit down and rest before attempting the ten miles of cement road that lay between him and home. Half an hour at a wayside inn completed the cure. It was a weary but clear-headed Bill who trudged back through the gathering dusk.

He found himself thinking of Claire as of someone he had known long ago, someone who had never touched his life. She seemed so far away that he wondered how she could ever have affected him for pain or pleasure. He looked at her across a chasm. This is the real difference between love and infatuation, that infatuation can be slain cleanly with a single blow. In the hour of clear vision which had come to him, Bill saw that he had never loved Claire. It was her beauty that had held him, that and the appeal which her circumstances had made to his pity. Their minds had not run smoothly together. Always there had been something that jarred, a subtle antagonism. And she was crooked.

Almost unconsciously his mind began to build up an image of the ideal girl, the girl he would have liked Claire to be, the girl who would conform to all that he demanded of woman. She would be brave. He realized now that, even though it had moved his pity, Claire's querulousness had offended something in him.

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He had made allowances for her, but the ideal girl would have had no need of allowances. The ideal girl would be plucky, cheerfully valiant, a fighter. She would not admit the existence of hard luck.

She would be honest. Here, too, she would have no need of allowances. No temptation would be strong enough to make her do a mean act or think a mean thought, for her courage would give her strength, and her strength would make her proof against temptation. She would be kind. That was because she would also be extremely intelligent, and, being extremely intelligent, would have need of kindness to enable her to bear with a not very intelligent man like himself. For the rest, she would be small and alert and pretty, and fair haired--and brown-eyed--and she would keep a bee farm and her name would be Elizabeth Boyd.

Having arrived with a sense of mild astonishment at this conclusion, Bill found, also to his surprise, that he had walked ten miles without knowing it and that he was turning in at the farm gate. Somebody came down the drive, and he saw that it was Elizabeth.

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She hurried to meet him, small and shadowy in the uncertain light. James, the cat, stalked rheumatically at her side. She came up to Bill, and he saw that her face wore an anxious look. He gazed at her with a curious feeling that it was a very long time since he had seen her last.

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'Where have you been?' she said, her voice troubled. 'I couldn't think what had become of you.'

'I went for a walk.'