LaFarge called up through the wind that was blowing.
The girl turned and looked down. “Who’s there?” she cried.
“It’s me,” said the old man, and, realizing this reply to be silly and strange, fell silent, his lips working. Should he call out, “Tom, my son, this is your father”? How to speak to her? She would think him quite insane and summon her parents.
The girl bent forward in the blowing light. “I know you,” she replied softly. “Please go; there’s nothing you can do.”
“You’ve got to come back!” It escaped LaFarge before he could prevent it.
The moonlit figure above drew into shadow, so there was no identity, only a voice. “I’m not your son any more,” it said. “We should never have come to town.”
“Anna’s waiting at the landing!”
“I’m sorry,” said the quiet voice. “But what can I do? I’m happy here, I’m loved, even as you loved me. I am what I am, and I take what can be taken; too late now, they’ve caught me.”
“But Anna, the shock to her. Think of that.”
“The thoughts are too strong in this house; it’s like being imprisoned. I can’t change myself back.”
“You are Tom, you were Tom, weren’t you? You aren’t joking with an old man; you’re not really Lavinia Spaulding?”
“I’m not anyone, I’m just myself; wherever I am, I am something, and now I’m something you can’t help.”
“You’re not safe in the town. It’s better out on the canal where no one can hurt you,” pleaded the old man.
“That’s true.” The voice hesitated. “But I must consider these people now. How would they feel if, in the morning, I was gone again, this time for good? Anyway, the mother knows what I am; she guessed, even as you did. I think they all guessed but didn’t question. You don’t question Providence. If you can’t have the reality, a dream is just as good. Perhaps I’m not their dead one back, but I’m something almost better to them; an ideal shaped by their minds. I have a choice of hurting them or your wife.”
“They’re a family of five. They can stand your loss better!”
“Please,” said the voice. “I’m tired.”
The old man’s voice hardened. “You’ve got to come. I can’t let Anna be hurt again. You’re our son. You’re my son, and you belong to us.”
“No, please!” The shadow trembled.
“You don’t belong to this house or these people!”
“No, don’t do this to me!”
“Tom, Tom, Son, listen to me. Come back, slip down the vines, boy. Come along, Anna’s waiting; we’ll give you a good home, everything you want.” He stared and stared upward, willing it to be.
The shadows drifted, the vines rustled.
At last the quiet voice said, “All right, Father.”
In the moonlight the quick figure of a boy slid down through the vines. LaFarge put up his arms to catch him.
The room lights above flashed on. A voice issued from one of the grilled windows. “Who’s down there?”
More lights, more voices. “Stop, I have a gun! Vinny, are you all right?” A running of feet.
Together the old man and the boy ran across the garden.
A shot sounded. The bullet struck the wall as they slammed the gate.
“Tom, you that way; I’ll go here and lead them off! Run to the canal; I’ll meet you there in ten minutes, boy!”
The moon hid behind a cloud. The old man ran in darkness.
“Anna, I’m here!”
The old woman helped him, trembling, into the boat. “Where’s Tom?”
“He’ll be here in a minute,” panted LaFarge.
They turned to watch the alleys and the sleeping town. Late strollers were still out: a policeman, a night watchman, a rocket pilot, several lonely men coming home from some nocturnal rendezvous, four men and women issuing from a bar, laughing. Music played dimly somewhere.
“Why doesn’t he come?” asked the old woman.
“He’ll come, he’ll come.” But LaFarge was not certain. Suppose the boy had been caught again, somehow, someway, in his travel down to the landing, running through the midnight streets between the dark houses. It was a long run, even for a young boy. But he should have reached here first.