Six minutes to six, said the great
round clock over the information booth in Grand
Central Station. The tall young Army lieutenant
who had just come from the direction of the
tracks lifted his sunburned face, and his eyes
narrowed to note the exact time. His heart was
pounding with a beat that shocked him because he
could not control it. In six minutes, he would
see the woman who had filled such a special place
in his life for the past 13 months, the woman he
had never seen, yet whose written words had been
with him and sustained him unfailingly.
He placed himself as close as he could to the
information booth, just beyond the ring of people
besieging the clerks...
Lieutenant Blandford remembered one night in
particular, the worst of the fighting, when his
plane had been caught in the midst of a pack of
Zeros. He had seen the grinning face of one of
the enemy pilots. 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. Didn't King David know fear? That's
why he wrote the 23rd Psalm. Next time you doubt
yourself, I want you to hear my voice reciting to
you: 'Yea, though I walk through the valley of
the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil, for
Thou art with me.'" And he had remembered; he had
heard her imagined voice, and it had renewed his
strength and skill.
Now he was going to hear her real voice. Four
minutes to six. His face grew sharp.
Under the immense, starred roof, people were
walking fast, like threads of color being woven
into a gray web. A girl passed close to him, and
Lieutenant Blandford started. She was wearing a
red flower in her suit lapel, but it was a
crimson sweet pea, not the little red rose they
had agreed upon. Besides, this girl was too
young, about 18, whereas Hollis Meynell had
frankly told him she was 30. "Well, what of it?"
he had answered. "I'm 32." He was 29.
His mind went back to that book - the book the
Lord Himself must have put into his hands out of
the hundreds of Army library books sent to the
Florida training camp. Of Human Bondage, it was;
and throughout the book were notes in a woman's
writing. He had always hated that
writing-in-habit, but these remarks were
different. He had never believed that a woman
could see into a man's heart so tenderly, so
understandingly. Her name was on the bookplate:
Hollis Meynell. He had got hold of 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, and
more than replied. When his letters did not
arrive she wrote anyway, and now he believed he
loved her, and she loved him.
But she had refused all his pleas to send him
her photograph. That seemed rather bad, of
course. But she had explained:
feeling for me has any reality, any honest basis,
what I look like won't matter. Suppose I'm
beautiful. I'd always be 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 going
on writing to me only 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. Remember, both
of us are free to stop or to go on after that -
whichever we choose..."
One minute to six - he pulled hard on a
Then Lieutenant Blandford's heart leaped higher
than his plane had ever done.
A young woman was coming toward him. Her figure
was long and slim; her blond hair lay back in
curls from her delicate ears. Her eyes were 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, entirely forgetting to
notice that she was wearing no rose, and as he
moved, a small, provocative smile curved her
"Going my way, soldier?" she murmured.
Uncontrollably, 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 in the rumpled
lapel of her brown coat.
The girl in the green suit was walking quickly
Blandford felt as though he were being split in
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. Her pale, plump face was
gentle and sensible; he could see that now. Her
gray eyes had a warm, kindly twinkle.
Lieutenant Blandford did not hesitate. His
fingers gripped the small worn, blue leather copy
of Of Human Bondage, which was to identify him to
her. This would not be love, but it would be
something precious, something perhaps even rarer
than love - a friendship for which he had been
and must ever be grateful.
He squared his broad shoulders, saluted and held
the book out toward the woman, although even
while he spoke he felt shocked by the bitterness
of his disappointment.
"I'm Lieutenant John Blandford, and you - you
are Miss Meynell. I'm so glad you could meet me.
May...may I take you to dinner?"
The woman's face broadened in a tolerant smile.
"I don't know what this is all about, son," she
answered. "That young lady in the green suit -
the one who just went by - begged me to wear this
rose on my coat.
And she said that if you asked me to go out with
you, I should tell you that she's waiting for you
in that big restaurant across the street. She
said it was some kind of a test. I've got two
boys with Uncle Sam myself, so I didn't mind to
By Sulamith Ish-Kishor
from A 3rd Serving of Chicken Soup for the Soul