The man stopped at the garden gate, and watched the woman working amongst the roses. Then, as though on a sudden impulse, he opened the gate and walked towards her.
'May I show you how to prune the roses?' he asked hesitatingly.
Jane smiled at the stranger, 'Yes, please do,' she answered easily, 'I don't know much about it, and I'm afraid I've very little time for my garden. I'm seldom at home.'
The man nodded, 'I know, I see you rarely, though we're neighbors. There is my house.' He pointed to the cottage across the road. You're home for the weekends only, aren't you?'
'I'm a traveler,' Jane smiled. 'I work for a chemical firm. This is my first real job and this is my first real home,' she looked proudly at her house. 'The only trouble,' she added a little regretfully, 'is that I cannot be at home more often.'
'Unlike us,' said the man, 'We're always at home, especially my wife. You see, she is frail and has been bed-ridden for years.'
Jane looked at the man carefully. He seemed to be young, but now she noticed the grey hair on his temples and the deep lines on his strong, handsome face. 'I'm sorry,' she said with sincerity, 'it must be hard for you.'
'Not as hard as it is for my wife,' the man replied. 'I'm away in the city for the greater part of the day and she is left quite alone in the house. But let me see what I can do about your roses. There is quite an art to pruning them properly.'
They saw each other nearly every weekend, and soon Jane was quite sure she would never have managed her garden without him. Peter was always glad to help her, to give her all the advice she needed, and he would often volunteer for any work like cutting off old branches or repairing the fence. 'This is my hobby,' he would say laughing at her scruples, 'when one sits in a bank for the whole week, one needs relaxation.'
Jane was grateful and she tried to show her appreciation by visiting his wife regularly. But Veronica was a poor, complaining woman who was too absorbed in her sufferings, and resented the lively, pretty girl who seemed to be so happy.
Jane was happy. She loved her job, her home, her garden and above all her newly acquired independence. She was the only child of well-to-do people who were divorced when she was very young, and though they both doted on her in their separate ways, she had never had the feeling of being secure. Now, she had a home of her own and she felt that she belonged somewhere at last.
Away from home, she would count the days and hours separating her from the moment of her return. Back home she felt at peace with the world and herself, she had a wonderful feeling that there across the road were friends to whom she could go to with all her problems and her joys. Peter would drop in for a moment to see that she was alright or she would walk across to say 'Hallo' to them; and the day would acquire a new brightness and the weekend would pass too quickly for her.
She did not need much to be happy in those days; his very presence across the road was enough to make her to sing with joy.
Away from home, on the long, dusty roads, in strange hotels, amongst indifferent people, she tried to remember all the precious moments she spent with Peter. She saw his face, she heard his voice again and again, and she felt the warmth of his hands shaking hers.
Back home, they were just good friends who talked and laughed together, but never mentioned their real feelings. Jane met his friends, and with unspoken consent they tried to meet each other in the company of others. They tried to appear as indifferent to each other as possible, but when their eyes met, she would blush, and he would have a tender smile on his lips. How often she recalled that tender smile, his eyes following her, watching her in a crowded room.
Sometimes she was possessed by doubts. How it was that he, who was so dear and near to her in her thoughts, seemed to treat her as a good friend, nothing more? She began to have doubts, but she would still show him her brightest face and she would never show that she was losing hope. Besides, one tender look, one warm smile from him, and she would become exuberant in her gladness and joy. Unfortunately, those moments came very seldom. Peter began to avoid her, he was seldom at home and he was no longer so eager to help her. Jane tried to take refuge in pride, but her pride brought her more misery. She suffered the torture of longing for him; she was missing him badly, and spent weekends waiting for him, knowing that he would not come. Often, while sitting next to the window, facing his house and watching his cottage and the street to catch a glimpse of him, she would recall their conversation about life after death.
'Heaven and Hell,' said Peter 'could be compared to being in love. When you're away from the person you love, you're unhappy, you suffer, you're full of longings, you're often miserable to the point of despair, your thoughts and dreams torture you; how everything changes when you see your beloved one! So must be the soul longing and despairing for God or rejoicing in Him.' She did not understand him then, but of course, Peter was always something of a philosopher. His faith was foreign to her, she had never had much religion in her confused childhood, but now she knew what he meant, for she was in Hell.
Soon Peter did not spend his weekends at home at all. His wife talked about an extra job he had, but she was nevertheless bitter about it. She now sought Jane's friendship and it was ironic that Jane realized that she was now a free and welcome visitor at his house. The two women grew close to each other. Jane feared those visits, and yet she longed for them. It was his house she wanted to see. She wanted to touch the things he used, to hear Veronica talking about him, to page the album with his photographs. She could not deny herself all that. Her love for him became deeper, for she loved him with resignation and somehow she understood that one could go on loving a person whether one's dreams would be fulfilled and whether there was any return of love or not. Jane even felt some inner satisfaction for loving him unselfishly, and she felt her love had become more pure and beautiful, but sometimes she could not help hoping that her love might be returned.
Then one Sunday evening a miracle happened.
He stood in the doorway of her lounge and looked at her with such tenderness that Jane felt her heart racing madly, she felt ridiculously happy and tearful at the same time.
He did not greet her or start any prosaic conversation, but sat next to her and said; 'Veronica is my wife. I married her for better or for worse. I cannot leave her. One cannot build happiness on the misery of others. You must help me Jane. We must be strong, no matter what we feel or what it costs us. This love is not for us.'
'But surely God will not grudge us this little happiness,' cried Jane. 'I love you, Peter, you're all that I want. I'm lost and unhappy without you. I have never had any happiness before, and never will without you. How can love, this beautiful gift of Heaven ever be wrong?'
Peter's face was full of love and pain. 'My darling, my dearest darling, He blesses the right kind of love, but He curses the wrong one. I have faith, Jane. I believe what God said. No good thing will be withheld from them that walk upright.' When the time is right we shall come together, but for now we must trust His judgment. And live our lives apart from each other.'
They lived across the road for some time after that. Jane had accepted his decision and tried to get on with her life. When Peter was transferred to another town, they did not lose contact with each other. Many years later when Veronica became seriously ill, she herself called for Jane, and Jane was with her when she died.
Today Peter and Jane are married. He is sixty and she is nearly fifty. And when you see them looking at each other or when they hold hands in public, you know that they are deeply in love. In their little lounge, they have framed a verse, which many wonder at its meaning. The verse runs as follows; 'No Good Thing Will Be Withheld from Them That Walk Upright.'
The woman stopped reading and looked doubtfully at the teacher of the Creative Writing Club. She had just submitted her story for criticism. The group of prospective writers remained silent. The teacher nodded, 'Nice romantic story. What does the class think about it?'
'Not for this time and age,' one young woman called. 'It does not sound true to life.'
The woman quietly put her typescript into her bag. 'I vouch for the authenticity of the story. You see, I am Jane.'