The Queen of Sheba
IN THE SHADOW OF MONT BLANC.
BY the time Lynde had changed his wet clothing, the rain had turned into a dull drizzle which folded itself like a curtain about the valley. Mont Blanc, with its piled-up acres of desolation, loomed through the mist, a shapeless, immeasurable cloud, within whose shadow the little town was to live darkly, half blotted out, for the next four days.
Lynde spent the afternoon between his own chamber and the reading-room of the hotel, wandering restlessly from one to the other, and not venturing to halt at Mrs. Denham’s door to inquire after Ruth. Though he held himself nearly guiltless in what had occurred, Mrs. Denham’s rebuking tone and gesture had been none the less intolerable, He was impatient to learn Ruth’s condition, and was growing every moment more anxious as he reflected on her extreme delicacy and the severe exposure she had undergone; but he could not bring himself just then to go to Mrs. Denham for information. He concluded to wait until he met her at dinner; but Mrs. Denham did not come down to the table-d’hôte.
The twilight fell earlier than usual, and the long evening set in. Lynde smoked his cigar gloomily at an open window looking upon the street. It was deserted and dismal. Even the shop across the way, where they sold alpen stocks and wood-carvings and knickknacks in polished lapis, was empty; in pleasant weather the shop was always crowded with curiosity-mongers. The raw wind spitefully blew the rain into Lynde’s face as he looked out. “ Quel temps de loup! ” sighed a polite little French gentleman, making his unlighted cigarette an excuse for addressing Lynde. The wretched little French gentleman was perishing with a desire to say a thousand graceful things to somebody, but Lynde was in no mood for epigrams. He gave his interlocutor a light, and sheered off. In a corner of the reading-room was a tattered collection of Tauchnitz novels; Lynde picked up one and tried to read, but the slim types ran together and conveyed no meaning to him. It was becoming plain that he was to have no communication with the Denhams that night unless he assumed the initiative. He penciled a line on the reverse of a visiting card and sent it up to Mrs. Denham’s parlor. The servant returned with the card on his waiter. The ladieshad retired. Then Lynde took himself off to bed disconsolately.
It was nearly nine o’clock when he awoke the following morning. The storm had not lifted; the colorless clouds were still letting down a fine, vapory rain that blurred everything. 'As soon as he had breakfasted, Lynde went to Mrs. Denham’s rooms. She answered his knock in person and invited him by a silent gesture to enter the parlor. He saw by the drawn expression of her countenance that she had not slept.
Copyright, 1877, by H. O HOUGHTON & Co.
“ Ruth is ill,” she said in a low voice, replying to Lynde’s inquiry.
“ You do not mean very ill? ”
“ I fear so. She has passed a dreadful night. I have had a doctor.”
“ Is it as serious as that? What does he say ? ”
“ He says it is a severe cold, with symptoms of pneumonia; but I do not think he knows,” returned Mrs. Denham, despairingly. “I must despatch a courier to my husband; our old family physician is now with him at Paris. I have just received a letter, and they are not coming this week! They must come at once. I do not know how to telegraph them, as they are about to change their hotel. Besides, I believe a telegram cannot be sent from here; the nearest office is at Geneva. I must send some messenger who will have intelligence enough to find Mr. Denham wherever he is.”
“ I will go.”
“ You ? ”
“ Why not? I shall waste less time than another. There should be no mistake in the delivery of this message. A courier might get drunk, or be stupid. I can do nothing here. If it had not been for me, possibly this unfortunate thing would not have happened. I am determined to go, whether you consent or not.”
“ I shall be grateful to you all my life, Mr. Lynde. I should not have thought of asking such a favor. Ruth says I was rude to you yesterday. I did not mean to be. I was distracted with anxiety at having her out in such a storm. If there is any blame in the matter it is entirely mine. You forgive me? ”
“There is nothing to forgive, Mrs. Denham; blame rests on no one; neither you nor I could foresee the rain. Write a line to Mr. Denham while I pack my valise; I shall be ready in ten minutes. Who is his banker at Paris? ”
“ I think he has none.”
“ How do you address your letters? ”
“ I have written but once since Mr. Denham’s arrival, and then I directed the letter to the Hôtel Walther.”
“ He has probably left his new address there. However, I shall have no difficulty in finding him. Mrs. Denham ” — Lynde hesitated.
“ Can I not see her a moment? ”
“ See Ruth ? ”
“ My request appears strange to you, does it not? It would not appear strange if you knew all.”
“All? I don’t understand you,” replied Mrs. Denham, resting her hand on the back of a chair and regarding him with slowly dilating pupils.
“If you knew how troubled I am —and how deeply I love her.”
“ You love Ruth! ”
“ More than I can tell you.”
“Have you told her?” Mrs. Denham demanded.
“Not in so many words.”
Mrs. Denham slowly sank into the chair and for several seconds appeared completely oblivious of the young man’s presence; then, turning sharply on Lynde, and half rising, she asked with a kind of fierceness, “ Does Ruth know it? ”
“ A woman always knows when she is loved, I fancy. Miss Denham probably knew it before I did.”
Mrs. Denham made an impatient gesture and subsided into the chair again. She remained silent a while, staring at the pattern of the carpet at her feet.
“Mr. Lynde,” she said at length, “ I was not prepared for this. The possibility that you might grow interested in my niece naturally occurred to me at first. I was pleased when I became convinced that the acquaintance between you had resolved itself into merely a friendly liking. I was thrown off my guard by your seemingly frank manner. I trusted you. You have been alone with my niece but twice, — once for only ten minutes. I will do you the justice to say that you have made the most of those two occasions.”
“ I made very little of those two occasions,” said Lynde, reflectively.
“I think you have been — treacherous! ”
“ I do not see what there can be of treachery in my admiring Miss Denham,” he replied, with a flush. “I entered into no compact not to admire her.”
“ Mr. Lynde, Mr. Denham will not approve of this.”
“Not at first, perhaps . . . but afterwards? ”
“Neither now nor afterwards, Mr. Lynde.”
“ Why not? ”
“ He has other views for Ruth,” said Mrs. Denham, coldly.
“ Other views! ” repeated Lynde, paling. “ I thought her free. ”
“ She is not free in that sense.”
The assertion Ruth had made to him the previous day on the mountain side, to the effect that she had never known any gentleman as intimately as she had known him, flashed across Lynde’s memory. If Mr. Denham had views for her, certainly Ruth was either ignorant of them or opposed to them.
“Is Miss Ruth aware of Mr. Denham’s intentions regarding her? ”
“ I must decline to answer you, Mr. Lynde,” said Mrs. Denham, rising with something like haughtiness in her manner.
“ You are right. I was wrong to speak at present. I cannot conceive what impelled me; it was neither the time nor the place. I beg you to consider everything unsaid, if you can, and I especially beg you not to allude to this conversation in your note to Mr. Denham. The one important thing now is to have proper medical attendance for your niece. The rest will take care of itself.”
Lynde bowed somewhat formally and was turning away when Mrs. Denham laid her fingers lightly on the sleeve of his coat. “I am sorry I have pained you,” she said, as if with a touch of remorse.
“ I confess I am pained,” he replied, with the faintest smile, “but I am not discouraged, Mrs. Denham.”
A quarter of an hour later Lynde was on the way to Geneva. Life and the world had somehow darkened for him within the hour. It seemed to him incredible that that was the same road over which he had passed so joyously two days before. The swollen torrents now rushed vengefully through the arches of the stone bridges; the low-hanging opaque clouds pressed the vitality out of the atmosphere; in the melancholy gray light the rain-soaked mountains wore a human aspect of dolor. He was not sorry when the mist gathered like frost on the carriage windows and shut the landscape from his sight.
The storm had been terrible in Geneva and in the neighborhood. It was a scene of devastation all along the road approaching the town. Most of the trees in the suburbs had been completely stripped of foliage by the hailstones; the leaves which still clung to the bent twigs were slit as if volleys of buckshot had been fired into them. But the saddest thing to see was field after field of rich grain mown within a few inches of the ground by those swift icy sickles which no man’s hand had held. In the section of the city through which Lynde passed to the railway the streets were literally strewn with broken tiles and chimney-pots. In some places the red and purple fragments lay ankle - deep, like leaves in autumn. Hundreds of houses had been unroofed and thousands of acres laid waste in a single night. It will take the poor of the canton fifty years to forget the summer storm of 1875.
By noon the next day Lynde was in Paris. As he stepped from the station and stood under the blue sky in the sparkling Parisian atmosphere, the gloom and desolation he had left behind at Geneva and Chamouny affected him like the remembrance of a nightmare. For a brief space he forgot his sorrowful errand; then it came back to him with its heaviness redoubled by the contrast. He threw his valise on the seat of a fiacre standing near the cross-way, and drove to the office of Galignani in the Rue de Rivoli, — the morgue in which the names of all foreign travelers are daily laid out for recognition. The third name Lynde fell upon was that of William Denham, Hôtel Meurice. The young man motioned to the driver to follow him and halt at the hotel entrance, which was only a few steps further in the arcade facing the gardens of the Tuileries.
Mr. Denham was at breakfast in the small salon opening on the paved square formed by the four interior walls of the building; he had just seated himself at the table, which was laid for two persons, when the waiter brought him Mrs. Denham’s note and Lynde’s card. Mr. Denham glanced from one to the other, and then broke the seal of the envelope with a puzzled air which directly changed into a perturbed expression.
“ Show the gentleman in here,” he said, speaking over the top of the notesheet to the servant, “ and set another cover. ”
It was a strongly featured person of fifty or fifty-five, slightly bald, and closely shaven with the exception of a heavy iron-gray mustache, who rose from the chair and stepped forward to meet Lynde as he entered, Lynde’s name was familiar to Mr. Denham, it having figured rather prominently in his wife’s correspondence during the latter part of the sojourn at Geneva.
“ You have placed us all under deep obligations to you, sir,” said Mr. Denham, with a smile in which the severity of his features melted.
“The obligations are on my side, sir,” replied Lynde. “ I owe Mrs. Denham a great many kindnesses. I wish I could have found some happier way than the present to express my sense of them.”
“ I sincerely hope she was not justified in allowing you to take this long journey. I beg of you to tell me what has happened. Mrs. Denham has been anything but explicit.”
She had merely announced Ruth’s illness, leaving it to Lynde to inform Mr. Denham of the particulars. That gentleman wrinkled his brows involuntarily as he listened to Lynde’s account of his mountain excursion alone with Ruth and the result. " I have not seen Miss Denham since,” said Lynde, concluding his statement, in which he had tripped and stumbled wofully. “ I trust that Mrs. Denham’s anxiety has exaggerated her niece’s condition.”
“Ruth is far from strong,” replied Mr. Denham, “ and my wife is almost morbidly quick to take alarm about her. In fact, we both are. Do you know how the trains run to Geneva? Is there anything earlier than the evening express ? ”
Lynde did not know.
“ We will ascertain after breakfast,” continued Mr. Denham. “ Of course you have not breakfasted yet. You ought to be in appetite by this time. I am unusually late myself, this morning, and my friend, the doctor, is still later. We tired ourselves out yesterday in a jaunt to Fontainebleau. The doctor’s an incorrigible sight-seer. Ah, there he is! Mr. Lynde, my friend, Dr. Pendegrast. ”
Lynde did not start at hearing this unexpected name, though it pierced his ear like a sharp-pointed arrow. He was paralyzed for an instant; a blur came over his eyes, and he felt that his hands and feet were turning into ice. However, he made an effort to rise and salute the elderly gentleman who stood at his side with a hand stretched out in the cordial American fashion.
Evidently Dr. Pendegrast did not recognize Lynde, in whose personal appearance three years had wrought many changes. The doctor himself had altered in no essential; he was at that period of man’s life — between fifty and sixty — when ravaging time seems to give him a respite for a couple of lustrums. As soon as Lynde could regain his self-possession he examined Dr. Pendegrast with the forlorn hope that this was not his Dr. Pendegrast; but it was he, with those round eyes like small blue-faience saucers, and that slight, wiry figure. If any doubt had lingered in the young man’s mind, it would have vanished as the doctor drew forth from his fob that same fat little gold watch, and turned it over on its back in the palm of his hand, just as he had done the day he invited Lynde to remain and dine with him at the asylum.
“Why, bless me, Denham!” he exclaimed, laying his ear to the crystal of the time-piece as if he were sounding a doubtful lung, “my watch has run down, — a thing that has n’t happened these twenty years.” As he stood with his head inclined on one side, the doctor’s cheery eyes inadvertently rested upon Mr. Denham’s face and detected its unwonted disturbance.
“ Mr. Lynde has just come from Chamouny,” said Mr. Denham, answering the doctor’s mute interrogation. “ It seems that Ruth is ill.”
Dr. Pendegrast glanced at Lynde and turned to Mr. Denham again.
“ I imagine it is only a cold,” Mr. Denham went on. “ She was caught in a rain storm on the mountain and got very wet. Mrs. Denham is of course worried about her, and Mr. Lynde has been kind enough to come all the way to Paris for us.”
“ That was very kind in him.”
Dr. Pendegrast drew a chair up to the table and began questioning Lynde. Beyond satisfying such of the doctor’s inquiries as he could, Lynde did not speak during the meal. He managed to swallow a cup of black coffee, which revived him; but he was unable to eat a mouthful. The intelligence he had brought so occupied his companions that the young man’s very noticeable agitation and constraint escaped them. In a few minutes Mr. Denham rose from his seat and begged the two gentlemen to finish their breakfast at leisure, while he went to consult the time-table at the bureau of the hotel.
“ The doctor can give you a genuine Havana,” he remarked to Lynde. “I will join you shortly in the smokingroom.”
While Dr. Pendegrast silently drank his coffee, Lynde gathered his scattered thoughts together. What course should he pursue? Should he take the doctor into his confidence, or should he let himself drift? How could the doctor help him in the circumstances? Ruth had been insane. What could do away with that dreadful fact, the revelation of which now appalled him as if he had never suspected it. Ruth, Ruth, — the very name was significant of calamity! Flemming’s words rang in his ears: “ You would not marry her! ” He had not replied to Flemming that night when the case was merely supposititious. But now—it seemed to Lynde that he had never loved Ruth until this moment. The knowledge of her misfortune had added to his love that great pity of which he had spoken to his friend. But could he marry her? He did not dare put the question squarely, for he dared not confess to himself that he could not give her up. This, then, was the key to Mrs. Denham’s cold rejection of his suit; it explained, also, Ruth’s unwillingness to have him speak to her of his love. How poignant must have been her anguish that day on Montanvert if she cared for him! She loved him,— how could he doubt it?—but she had accepted the hopelessness of the position. In his own mind he had accused her of coquetry in their walk at the cascade of Nant d’Arpenaz. He saw through it all now; the scales had fallen from his eyes. She was hiding her misery under a smooth face, as women will. A sudden reflection sent a chill over Lynde: what if she had recognized him that first day at dinner in Geneva and had been playing a part all the while! Then she was the most subtile actress that ever lived, and the leading lady of the Théâtre Français might indeed go and take lessons of her, as Flemming had said. The thought gave Lynde a shock. He would not like to have the woman he loved such an actress as that. Had Ruth revealed everything to the aunt, and was she too playing a part? In her several allusions to Dr. Pendegrast Mrs. Denham had called him “ the doctor” simply, or “an old friend of our family,” and never once pronounced his name.
“ Was that accidental or intentional? ” Lynde wondered. “It was inevitable that he and I should meet sooner or later. Was she endeavoring to keep the knowledge of Dr. Pendegrast from me as long as possible? The exigency has unmasked her! ”
“ Now, Mr. Lynde, I am at your service.”
Lynde gave a start, as if the doctor had suddenly dropped down at his side from out of the sky.
Dr. Pendegrast pushed back his chair and led the way across the quadrangle, in which a number of persons were taking coffee at small tables set here and there under oleander-trees in greenpainted tubs. The smoking-room was unoccupied. Lynde stood a moment undetermined in the centre of the apartment, and then he laid his hand on the doctor’s shoulder.
“ You don’t remember me? ”
“ Ah, then I have seen you before! ” exclaimed Dr. Pendegrast, transfixed in the act of drawing a cigar from his case.
“ Your name and your face puzzled me, but I could not place you, so I did n’t mention it. You must pardon an old man’s bad memory. I am confused. When and where have I had the pleasure of seeing you? ”
“It was scarcely a pleasure,” said Lynde with bitterness.
“ Indeed? I cannot imagine that; it is a pleasure now,” returned the doctor courteously.
“ It was three years ago, at your asylum. As you will recollect, I was brought there by mistake the day the patients ” —
“Bless me!” exclaimed the doctor, dropping the ignited match. “How could I forget you! I took such a great liking to you, too. I have thought of that awkward affair a thousand times. But, really, coming across you in this unexpected manner ” —
“ I suppose I have changed somewhat,” Lynde broke in. “ Dr. Pendegrast, I am in a very strange position here. It is imperative you should be perfectly frank with me. You will have to overlook my abruptness. Mr. Denham may return any instant, and what I have to say cannot be said in his presence. I know that Miss Denham has been under your charge as a patient. I want to know more than that bare circumstance. ”
The doctor recoiled a step. “ Of course,” he said, recovering himself, “ you must have recognized her.”
“ I met your friends six or seven weeks ago at Geneva,” continued Lynde. “ I recognized Miss Denham at once; but later I came to doubt and finally to disbelieve that I had ever seen her elsewhere. I refused to accept the testimony of my eyes and ears because — because so much of my happiness depended on my rejecting it.”
“ Does Mrs. Denham know that you are in possession of the fact you mention? Denham of course does n’t.”
“ No; it is my meeting with you that has turned my discarded doubt into a certainty.”
“ Then, for goodness' sake,” said Dr. Pendegrast, throwing a glance across the quadrangle, “do not breathe a syllable of this; do not even think of it. It has been kept from every one, — from even the most intimate friends of the family: Ruth herself is not aware of her temporary derangement. ”
“ Miss Denham does not know it? ”
“ She has not the remotest suspicion of the misfortune which befell her three years ago.”
“ Miss Denham does not know it?” repeated Lynde, in a dazed way. “ That — that seems impossible ! Pardon me. How did it happen, Dr. Pendegrast? ”
“ I assume that you are not asking me through idle curiosity,” said the doctor, looking at him attentively,
“ I have vital reasons for my question, doctor.”
“I do not see why I should not tell you, since you know so much. The family were in Florida that spring. Ruth had not been well for several months; they had gone South on her account. It was partly a pulmonary difficulty. On their return North, Ruth was prostrated by a typhoid fever. She recovered from that, but with her mind strangely disordered. The mental malady increased with her convalescence. Denham and I were old friends; he had faith in my skill, and she was placed in my care. She was brought to the asylum because I could not attend to her anywhere else. I considered her case serious at first, even hopeless. The human body is still a mystery, after science has said its last word. The human mind is a deeper mystery. While I doubted of her recovery, she recovered. At the first intimation of returning health, she was taken home; when her wandering thought came back to her she was in her own room. She remembered that she had been very ill, a long time ill; she had a faint impression that I had attended her meanwhile; but she remembered nothing more. The knowledge of her affliction was kept a secret from her, — unwisely, I think. They put it off and put it off, until it became very awkward to tell her.”
Lynde started as he recalled his conversation with Miss Denham on the rocks overhanging the Mer de Glace. With unwitting cruelty he had told Ruth her own pathetic story, and she had unconsciously pitied herself! A lump came into his throat as he remembered it.
“ That was a mistake,” said Lynde, with an effort, “ not to tell her.”
“ An absurd mistake. It has given my friends no end of trouble and embarrassment.”
“ How long was she ill this way? ”
“ Something less than two months.”
“ It was the result of the fever? ”
“ That chiefly. ”
“ It was not — hereditary? ” Lynde lingered on the word.
“ Then it is not likely to occur again? ”
“ I cannot think of anything more unlikely,” returned the doctor, “unless the same conditions conspire, which is scarcely supposable, as I could easily prove to you. You can understand, Mr. Lynde, that this has been a sore trial to Denham and his wife; they have had no children, and their hearts are bound up in Ruth. The dread of a recurrence of the trouble has haunted them night and day in spite of all the arguments I could advance to reassure them. They have got what our French friends call a fixed idea, which is generally an idea that requires a great deal of fixing. The girl ought to marry, — every woman ought to marry, it is her one mission; but between their affections and their apprehensions, my friends have allowed Ruth no opportunity to form attachments.”
“I am glad of that,” said Lynde, quietly.
“ Are you! ” snapped the doctor. “ I am not. I would like to see her married some day. I would like to see a dozen lovers about her. It is as natural for a young girl to coquet as it is for a canary to peck at its seed or trim its bill on a bit of fishbone. It is bad for the girl and the canary when they are prevented.”
“There is something human in this crisp old doctor,” said Lynde to himself, and then aloud: “ So Mr. Denham has no matrimonial plans for her?”
“ None whatever. Since Ruth’s recovery the family have been on the wing constantly, either at home or abroad. Most of Ruth’s life has been passed over here. I trust to your discretion. You will see the necessity of keeping all this to yourself.”
“ I do, and I now see that your traveling with the Denhams is a circumstance in no way connected with the state of Miss Denham’s health.”
“Not in the most distant manner, Mr. Lynde. I am with them because they are my old friends. I was worn out with professional work, and I ran across the sea to recuperate. It is fortunate I did, since Ruth chances to need me.”
Lynde pondered a moment, and then, abruptly: “ Does Mrs. Denham know of my former meeting with her niece ? ”
“ I never breathed a word to Mrs. Denham on the subject of Ruth’s escapade,” replied the doctor. “ It would have pained her without mending matters. Besides, I was not proud of that transaction.”
Mrs. Denham’s suppression of the doctor’s name, then, in speaking of him to Lynde, had been purely accidental.
“Miss Ruth’s strange hallucination, in her illness, as to personality, her fancy about the Queen of Sheba, — what was that traceable to? ” asked Lynde.
“ Heaven only knows. She was reading the Old Testament very much in those days. I have sometimes accepted that as an explanation. It often happens that a delusion takes its cue from something read, or thought, or experienced in a rational state. In the case of the man Blaisdell, for example,—you remember him, with his marble ship? He was formerly an enterprising ship-builder; during the Southern war he filled a contract with government for a couple of ironclads, and made his fortune. The depression in shipping afterwards ruined him — and he fell to constructing marble vessels! ”
Lynde did not speak immediately, and the doctor relighted his cigar, which had gone out.
“ Dr. Pendegrast, you have lifted a crushing weight from me. I cannot explain it to you now and here; but you shall know some day.”
Dr. Pendegrast smiled. “I did not recollect you at first, Mr. Lynde; my memory for names and faces is shockingly derelict, but I have retained most of my other faculties in tolerably good order. I have been unreserved with yon because I more than suspect ” —
The doctor’s sentence was cut short by Mr. Denham, who entered at the instant. He had learned that there was no train for Geneva before the night-express. Lynde lighted the cigar which he had been unconsciously holding between his fingers all this while, and on the pretense of cashing a draft at a banker’s left the two gentlemen together. He wandered absently into the Place de la Concorde, crossed the crowded bridge there, and plunged into the narrow streets of the Latin Quarter. Finding his way back after an hour or so to the other bank of the Seine, he seated himself on one of those little black iron chairs which seem to have let themselves down like spiders from the lime-trees in the Champs Élysées, and remained for a long time in a deep study.
The meeting with Dr. Pendegrast had been so severe a shock to Lynde that he could not straight-way recover his mental balance. The appalling shadow which the doctor’s presence had for the moment thrown across him had left Lynde benumbed and chilled despite the reassuring sunshine of the doctor’s words. By degrees, however, Lynde warmed to life again; his gloom slipped off and was lost in the restless tides of life which surged about him. It was the hour when Paris sits at small green tables in front of the cafés and sips its absinthe or cassis; when the boulevards are thronged, and the rich equipages come and go. There was not a cloud in the tender blue sky against which the reddish obelisk of Luxor looked like a column of jet; the fountains were playing in the Place de la Concorde, and in the Tuileries gardens beyond, the breeze dreamily stirred the foliage which hid from Lynde’s view the gray facade of the gutted palace, still standing there, calcined and cracked by the fires of the Commune. Presently all this began to distract him, and when he returned to the hotel he was in a humor that would have been comparatively tranquil if so many tedious miles had not stretched between Paris and Chamouny.
He found Mr. Denham and Dr. Pendegrast delaying dinner for him. After dinner, seeing no prospect of renewing conversation in private with the doctor, Lynde killed the time by writing a voluminous letter to Flemming, whose name he had stumbled on in the passenger-list of a steamer advertised to sail two days later from Liverpool.
As Lynde took his seat in the railway carriage that night he had a feeling that several centuries had elapsed since day-break. Every moment was a month to him until he could get back to Chamouny. The thought that Ruth might be dangerously ill scarcely presented itself among his reflections. She was free, he loved her, and there was no reason why he should not try to win her, however strongly the Denhams might be opposed to him. His mind was perfectly easy on that score; they had no right to wreck the girl’s future in their shallow fear. His two traveling companions shortly dropped asleep, but Lynde did not close his eyes during those ten weary hours to Mâcon. Thence to Geneva was five hours more of impatience. At Geneva the party halted no longer than was necessary to refresh themselves at a buffet near the station and hire a conveyance to Chamouny, which they reached two or three hours after sunset. The town still lay, as Lynde had left it, in the portentous shadow of the mountain, with the sullen rain dropping from the black sky.
Lynde drew an alarming augury from the circumstance that Mrs. Denham did not come down to greet them. It dawned upon him then for the first time with any distinctness that Ruth might be fatally ill. Mr. Denham, accompanied by Dr. Pendegrast, hastened to his wife’s apartments, and Lynde stationed himself at the head of a staircase in the hall, where he waited nearly an hour in intolerable suspense before the doctor reappeared.
“ What is it, doctor? ”
“Pneumonia. No,” he added, divining Lynde’s unspoken thought even before it had fairly shaped itself in his brain, “ it is not the other business.”
“ You are hiding the truth from me,” said Lynde, with a pang. “ She is dead! ”
“ No, but she is very low. The disease is approaching a crisis; a change must take place by to-morrow. Frankly, I dread that change. I am hiding nothing from you.”
“ Is there no hope? You do not mean that! ”
“ I am afraid I do. Perhaps it is because she is so dear to me that I always anticipate the worst when she is concerned. The other physician is more sanguine; but then he does not love Ruth as I do.”
“ You might have saved her! ”
“ Everything has been done that could be done. He is a person of remarkable skill, this Paris physician. I could have advised no change in his treatment of the case if I had been on the spot at first. That is a great deal for one physician to say of another. You had better go and get some rest,” added Dr. Pendegrast, in a changed voice, struck by the young man’s ghastly look. “ Your two nightjourneys have used you up.”
Lynde went mechanically to his room and threw himself upon the bed without undressing. He had no inclination to sleep, but his fatigue, bodily and mental, overcame him unawares as he lay listening to the wind which swept through the mountain-gorges, and rose and fell monotonously with a sound like the rote of the sea. It was a vision of the sea that filled his unrestful slumber; Ruth was dead, she had died in his arms, and he was standing woebegone, like a ghost, on the deck of a homeward bound ship, with the gray, illimitable waste of waters stretching around him.
It appeared to Lynde to be in the middle of the night, though it was in fact on the edge of day-break, that he was awakened by some one knocking softly at his door. He lighted a match, and by its momentary flicker saw Mr. Denham standing on the threshold.
“Ruth wishes to see you,” he said, indistinctly and with an indecisive air. “ As nearly as we can gather, that is what she wants. Come quickly! ”
Without waiting for a reply Mr. Denham turned and passed through the hall. Lynde followed in silence. He was less surprised than agitated by the summons; it was of a piece with the dream from which he had been roused.
There were candles burning on the mantel-piece of the chamber, and the dawn was whitening the window-panes. In that weird, blended light the face of the sick girl shone like a fading star. Lynde was conscious of no other presence, though Mrs. Denham and Dr. Pendegrast with a third person were standing near the chimney-place. Ruth raised her eyes and smiled upon Lynde as he came in; then her lids closed and did not open again, but the smile stayed in a dim way on her features, and a flush almost too faint to be perceived crept into her cheeks. Lynde stooped by the bed and took one of Ruth’s hands. She turned her head slightly on the pillow, and after a moment her lips moved as if she were making an effort to speak. Lynde remained immobile, fearing to draw breath lest a word should escape his ear. But she did not speak. As he stood there listening in the breathless stillness, the flame of the candles burned fainter and fainter in the increasing daylight; a bird twittered somewhere aloft; then the sunshine streamed through the windows, and outside all the heights were touched with sudden gold.
Dr. Pendegrast approached Lynde and rested one finger on his arm. “ You had better go now,” the doctor whispered hastily. “ I will come to you by and by.”
Lynde was sitting on the side of the bed in his own room in the broad daylight. He had been sitting motionless in one posture for an hour, —perhaps two hours, he could not tell how long, — when Dr. Pendegrast opened the door without pausing to knock. Lynde felt the cold creeping about his heart.
“Doctor,” he said,desperately, “don’t tell me! ”
“Mr. Lynde,” said Dr. Pendegrast, walking up to the bedside and speaking very slowly, as if he were doubtful of his own words and found it difficult to utter them, “ a change has taken place, but it is a change for the better. I believe that Ruth will live.”
“ She will live! ”
“ We thought she was sinking; she thought so herself, the poor child. You were worth a thousand doctors to her, that’s my belief. Mrs. Denham was afraid to tell her you had gone to Paris to fetch us, thinking it would excite her. Ruth imagined that her aunt had offended you, and thought you had gone not to return.”
“ Ah! ”
“ That troubled her, in the state she was in,—troubled her mightily. She has been able to take a few spoonfuls of broth,” the doctor went on, irrelevantly; “ her pulse is improved; if she has no drawback she will get well.”
Lynde looked around him bewilderedly for a moment; then he covered his face with his hands. “ I thought she was dying!” he said under his breath.
That day and the next the girl’s life hung by a thread; then the peril passed, and her recovery became merely a question of careful nursing. The days which immediately followed this certainty were the happiest Lynde had ever known. Perhaps it was because his chamber was directly over Ruth’s that he sat there in the window-seat, reading from morning until night. It was as near to her as he was permitted to approach. He saw little of Mr. Denham and still less of Mrs. Denham during that week; but the doctor spent an hour or two every evening with Lynde, and did not find it tiresome to talk of nothing but his patient. The details of her convalescence were listened to with an interest that would have won Dr. Pendegrast if he had not already been very well disposed towards the young fellow, several of whose New York friends, as it transpired, were old acquaintances of the doctor’s, — Dr. Dillon and his family, and the Delaneys. The conversation between Lynde and Dr. Pendegrast at the Hôtel Meurice had been hurried and disjointed, and in that respect unsatisfactory; but the minute history of Ruth’s previous case, which the doctor related to Lynde in the course of those long summer nights, set his mind completely at rest.
“ I could never have given her up, any way,” said Lynde to himself. “ I have loved her for three years, though I did n’t know it. That was my wife’s slipper after all,” he added, thinking of the time when it used to seem to be sitting up for him at night, on his writing-table at Rivermouth.
By and by the hours began to drag with him. The invalid could not get well fast enough to keep pace with his impatience. The day she was able for the first time to sit up a while, in an arm-chair wheeled by the bedside, was a fête day to the four Americans in the Couronne Hotel. If Lynde did not exhaust his entire inheritance in cut flowers on this occasion, it was because Dr. Pendegrast objected to them in any profusion in a sick-chamber.
“ When am I to see her?” asked Lynde that evening, as the doctor dropped into the room to make his usual report.
“ Let me think. To-day is Tuesday, — perhaps we shall let you see her by Friday or Saturday.”
“Good heavens! why don’t you put it off thirty or forty years? ”
“ I have n’t the time,” returned Dr. Pendegrast, laughing. “ Seriously, she will not be strong enough until then to bear the least excitement. I am not going to run any risks with Ruth, I can tell you. You are very impatient, of course. I will give you a soothing draught.”
“ What is it? ”
“ A piece of information.”
“ I ’ll take it! ”
“ And a piece of advice.”
“ I ’ll take that, too; you can’t frighten me.”
“ It is a betrayal of confidence on my part,” said the doctor slowly, and with an air of reconsidering his offer.
“ No matter.”
“ Well, then, Ruth’s asking for you, the other night, rather amazed Denham when he came to think it over quietly, and Mrs. Denham judged it best to inform him of the conversation which took place between you and her the morning you set out for Paris. Denham was still more amazed. She had attempted to cure him of one astonishment by giving him another. Similia similibus curantur did not work that time. Then the two came to me for consultation, and I told them I thought Ruth’s case required a doctor of divinity rather than a doctor of medicine.”
“ Did you say that! ”
“ Certainly I did. I strongly advised an operation, and designated the English Church here as a proper place in which to have it performed. Moreover, as a change of air would be beneficial as soon as might be afterwards, I suggested for the invalid a short trip to Geneva — with not too much company. My dear fellow, you need not thank me; I am looking exclusively to Ruth’s happiness,
— yours can come in incidentally, if it wants to. Mrs. Denham is your ally.”
“Is she, indeed? I thought differently. And Ruth ” —
“Ruth,”interposed the doctor, with a twinkle in his eyes, “ Ruth is the good little girl in the primer who does n’t speak until she’s spoken to.”
“By Jove, she does n’t speak even then! I have tried her twice: once she evaded me, and once she refused to listen.”
“ The results of her false education,” said the doctor, sententiously.
“ To what view of the question does Mr. Denham incline? ” he asked.
“ Denham is not as unreasonable as he used to be; but he is somewhat stunned by the unexpectedness of the thing.”
“That’s the information; and now for the advice, doctor. ”
“ I advise you to speak with Denham the first chance you get. You will have an opportunity this evening. I took the liberty of asking him to come up here and smoke a cigar with us as soon as he finishes his coffee. ”
Lynde nodded his head approvingly, and the doctor went on: —
“ I shall leave you together after a while, and then you must manage it. At present he is in no state to deny Ruth anything; he would give her a lover just as he would buy her a pair of earrings. His joy over her escape from death — it was a fearfully narrow escape, let me tell you —has left him powerless. Moreover, her illness, in which there has not been a symptom of the old trouble, has reassured him on a most painful point. In short, everything is remarkably smooth for you. I think that’s Denham’s step now in the hall,” added Dr. Pendegrast, hurriedly. “ You can say what you please to him of Ruth; but mind you, my dear boy, not a word at this juncture about the Queen of Sheba — she’s dethroned, you know!”
FROM CHAMOUNY TO GENEVA.
One morning in September, a month after all this, three persons, a lady and two gentlemen, stood on the upper step of the Couronne Hotel, waving farewell with their handkerchiefs to a carriage which had just started from the door and was gayly taking the road to St. Gervais-les-Bains, on the way to Geneva.
A cool purple light stretched along the valley and reached up the mountain side to where the eternal snows begin. The crown of Mont Blanc, muffled in its scarf of cloud, was invisible. The old monarch was in that disdainful mood which sometimes lasts him for months together. From those perilous heights came down a breath that chilled the air and tempered the sunshine falling upon Chamouny, now silent and deserted, for the season was well-nigh over. With the birds, their brothers, the summer tourists had flown southward at the rustling of the first autumnal leaf. Here and there a guide leaned idly against a post in front of one of the empty hotels. There was no other indication of life in the main street save the little group we have mentioned watching the departing carriage.
This carriage, a maroon body set upon red and black wheels, was drawn by four white horses and driven by the marquis. The doctor had prescribed white horses, and he took great credit to himself that morning as he stood on the hotel steps beside Mr. and Mrs. Denham, who followed the retreating vehicle rather thoughtfully with their eyes until it turned a corner of the narrow street and was lost to them.
Thomas Bailey Aldrich.