Dr. Breen's Practice
VOL. XLVIII — SEPTEMBER, 1881. — No. CCLXXXVII.
THE next morning Grace was sitting beside her patient, with whom she had spent the night. It was possibly Mrs. Maynard’s spiritual toughness which availed her, for she did not seem much the worse for her adventure : she had a little fever, and she was slightly hoarser; but she had died none of the deaths that she projected during the watches of the night, and for which she had chastened the spirit of her physician by the repeated assurance that she forgave her everything, and George Maynard everything, and hoped that they would be good to her poor little Bella. She had the child brought from its crib to her own bed, and moaned over it; but with the return of day and the duties of life she appeared to feel that she had carried her forgiveness far enough, and was again remembering her injuries against Grace, as she lay in her morning gown on the lounge which had been brought in for her from the parlor.
“ Yes, Grace, I shall always say, if I had died — and I may die yet — that I did n’t wish to go out with Mr. Libby, and that I went purely to please you. You forced me to go. I can’t understand why you did it; for I don’t suppose you wanted to kill us, whatever you did.”
Grace could not lift her head. She bowed it over the little girl whom she had on her knee, and who was playing with the pin at Her throat, in apparent unconsciousness of all that was said. But she had really followed it, with glimpses of intelligence, as children do, and now at this negative accusal she lifted her hand, and suddenly struck Grace a stinging blow on the cheek.
Mrs. Maynard sprang from her lounge. “Why, Bella! you worthless little wretch! ” She caught her from Grace’s knee, and shook her violently. Then, casting the culprit from her at random, she flung herself down again in a fit of coughing, while the child fled to Grace for consolation, and, wildly sobbing, buried her face in the lap of her injured friend.
“ I don’t know what I shall do about that child ! ” cried Mrs. Maynard. “ She has George Maynard’s temper right over again. I feel dreadfully, Grace! ”
“ Oh, never mind it,” said Grace, fondling the child, and half addressing it. “ I suppose Bella thought I had been unkind to her mother.”
“ That’s just it! ” exclaimed Louise. “ When you ’ve been kindness itself ! Don’t I owe everything to you ? I should n’t be alive at this moment if it were not for your treatment. Oh, Grace ! ” She began to cough again ; the paroxysm increased in vehemence. She caught her handkerchief from her lips ; it was spotted with blood. She sprang to her feet, and regarded it with impersonal sternness. “Now,” she said, “ I am sick, and I want a doctor ! ”
Copyright, 1881, by HOUGHTON, MIFFLIN & Co.
“ A doctor,” Grace meekly echoed.
“Yes. I can’t be trifled with any longer. I want a man doctor ! ”
Grace had looked at the handkerchief. “ Very well,” she said with coldness. “ I shall not stand in your way of calling another physician. But if it will console you, I can tell you that the blood on your handkerchief means nothing worth speaking of. Whom shall I send for ? ” she asked, turning to go out of the room. “ I wish to be your friend still, and I will do anything I can to help you.”
“ Oh, Grace Breen ! Is that the way you talk to me ? ” whimpered Mrs. Maynard. “ You know that I don’t mean to give you up. I’m not a stone; I have some feeling. I did n’t intend to dismiss you, but I thought perhaps you would like to have a consultation about it. I should think it was time to have a consultation, should n’t you ? Of course, I’m not alarmed, but I know it’s getting serious, and I’m afraid that your medicine is n’t active enough. That’s it; it’s perfectly good medicine, but it is n’t active. They’ve all been saying that I ought to have something active. Why not try the whisky with the whitepine chips in it? I’m sure it’s indicated.” In her long course of medication she had picked up certain professional phrases, which she used with amusing seriousness. “ It would be actve, at any rate.”
Grace did not reply. As she stood smoothing the head of the little girl, who had followed her to the door, and now leaned against her, hiding her tearful face in Grace’s dress, she said, “ I don’t know of any homœopathic physician in this neighborhood. I don’t believe there’s one nearer than Boston, and I should make myself ridiculous in calling one so far for a consultation. But I ’m quite willing you should call one, and I will send for you at once.”
“ And would n’t you consult with him, after he came ? ”
“ Certainly not. It would be absurd.”
“ I should n’t like to have a doctor come all the way from Boston,” mused Mrs. Maynard, sinking on the lounge again. “ There must be a doctor in the neighborhood. It can’t be so healthy as that! ”
“ There’s an allopathic physician at Corbitant,” said Grace, passively. “ A very good one, I believe,” she added.
“ Oh, well, then ! ” cried Mrs. Maynard, with immense relief. “ Consult with him ! ”
“ I’ve told you, Louise, that I would not consult with anybody. And I certainly would n’t consult with a physician whose ideas and principles I knew nothing about.”
“ Why, but Grace ! ” Mrs. Maynard expostulated. “ Is n’t that rather prejudiced ? ” She began to take an impartial interest in Grace’s position, and fell into an argumentative tone. “ If two heads are better than one, — and everybody says they are, — I don’t see how you can consistently refuse to talk with another physician.”
“ I can’t explain to you, Louise,” said Grace. “ But you can call Dr. Mulbridge, if you wish. That will be the right way for you to do, if you have lost confidence in me.”
“ I have n’t lost confidence in you, Grace. I don’t see how you can talk so. You can give me bread pills, if you like, or air pills, and I will take them, gladly. I believe in you perfectly. But I do think that in a matter of this kind, where my health, and perhaps my life, is concerned, I ought to have a little say. I don’t ask you to give up your principles, and I don’t dream of giving you up, and yet you won’t — just to please me ! — exchange a few words with another doctor about my case, merely because he ’s allopathic. I should call it bigotry, and I don’t see how you can call it anything else.” There was a sound of voices at the door outside, and she called cheerily, “ Come in, Mr. Libby,—come in! There’s nobody but Grace, here,” she added, as the young man tentatively opened the door, and looked in. He wore an evening dress, even to the white cravat, and he carried in his hand a crush hat: there was something anomalous in his appearance, beyond the phenomenal character of his costume, and he blushed consciously as he bowed to Grace, and then at her motion shook hands with her. Mrs. Maynard did not give herself the fatigue of rising; she stretched her hand to him from the lounge, and he took it without the joy which he had shown when Grace made him the same advance. “ How very swell you look ! Going to an evening party this morning ? ” she cried; and after she had given him a second glance of greater intensity, “ Why, what in the world has come over you ? ” It was the dress which Mr. Libby wore. He was a youug fellow far too well made, and carried himself too alertly, to look as if any clothes misfitted him ; his person gave their good cut elegance, but he had the effect of having fallen away in them. “ Why, you look as if you had been sick a month ! ” Mrs. Maynard interpreted.
The young man surveyed himself with a downward glance. “ They ’re Johnson’s,” he explained. “ He had them sent down for a hop at the Long Beach House, and sent over for them. I had nothing but my camping flannels, and they have n’t been got into shape yet, since yesterday. I wanted to come over and see how you were.”
“ Poor fellow! ” exclaimed Mrs. Maynard. “ I never thought of you ! How in the world did you get to your camp ? ”
“ I walked.”
“ In all that rain ? ”
“ Well, I had been pretty well sprinkled, already. It was n’t a question of wet and dry; it was a question of wet and wet. I was going off bareheaded, — I lost my hat in the water, you know, — but your man, here, hailed me round the corner of the kitchen, and lent me one. I ’ve been taking up collections of clothes ever since.”
Mr. Libby spoke lightly, and with a cry of “ Barlow’s hat ! ” Mrs. Maynard went off in a shriek of laughter; but a deep distress kept Grace silent. It seemed to her that she had been lacking not only in thoughtfulness, but in common humanity, in suffering him to walk away several miles in the rain, without making an offer to keep him and have him provided for in the house. She remembered now her bewildered impression that he was without a hat when he climbed the stairs and helped her to the house; she recalled the fact that she had thrust him on to the danger he had escaped, and her heart was melted with grief and shame. “ Mr. Libby ” — she began, going up to him, and drooping before him in an attitude which simply and frankly expressed the contrition she felt; but she could not continue. Mrs. Maynard’s laugh broke into the usual cough, and as soon as she could speak she seized the word.
“ Well, there, now; we can leave it to Mr. Libby. It’s the principle of the thing that I look at. And I want to see how it strikes him. I want to know, Mr. Libby, if you were a doctor,” — he looked at Grace, and flushed, — “and a person was very sick, and wanted you to consult with another doctor, whether you would let the mere fact that you had n’t been introduced have any weight with you ! ” The young man silently appealed to Grace, who darkened angrily, and before he could speak Mrs. Maynard interposed. “ No, no, you shan’t ask her. I want your opinion. It’s just an abstract question.” She accounted for this fib with a wink at Grace.
“ Really,” he said, “ it’s rather formidable. I’ve never been a doctor of any kind.”
“ Oh, yes, we know that! ” said Mrs. Maynard. “ But you are now, and now would you do it ? ”
“ If the other fellow knew more, I would.”
“ But if you thought he did n’t ? ”
“ Then I would n’t. What are you trying to get at, Mrs. Maynard? I’m not going to answer any more of your questions.”
“ Yes, — one more. Don’t you think it’s a doctor’s place to get his patient well any way he can ? ”
“ Why, of course ! ”
“ There, Grace ! It’s just exactly the same case. And ninety-nine out of a hundred would decide against you every time.”
Libby turned towards Grace in confusion. “ Miss Breen — I did n’t understand— I don’t presume to meddle in anything— You’re not fair, Mrs. Maynard ! I have n’t got any opinion on the subject, Miss Breen ; I have n’t, indeed! ”
“ Oh, you can’t back out, now ! ” exclaimed Mrs. Maynard, joyously. “ You ’ve said it.”
“ And you ’re quite right, Mr. Libby,” said Grace haughtily. She bade him good-morning ; but he followed her from the room, and left Mrs. Maynard to her triumph.
“Miss Breen— Do let me speak to you, please ! Upon my word and honor, I did n’t know what she was driving at; I did n’t, indeed ! It’s pretty rough on me, for I never dreamt of setting myself up as a judge of your affairs. I know you ’re right, whatever you think ; and I take it all back; it was got out of me by fraud, any way. And I beg your pardon for not calling you Doctor — if you want me to do it; the other comes more natural; but I wish to recognize you in the way you prefer, for I do feel most respectful — reverent ” —
He was so very earnest and so really troubled, and he stumbled about so for the right word, and hit upon the wrong one with such unfailing disaster, that she must have been superhuman not to laugh. Her laughing seemed to relieve him even more than her hearty speech. “ Call me how you like, Mr. Libby. I don’t insist upon anything, with you ; but I believe I prefer Miss Breen.”
“ You ’re very kind ! Miss Breen it is, then. And you ’ll forgive my siding against you ? ” he demanded radiantly.
“ Don’t speak of that again, please. I’ve nothing to forgive you.”
They walked down-stairs and out on the piazza. Barlow stood before the steps, holding by the bit a fine bay mare, who twitched her head round a little at the sound of Libby’s voice, and gave him a look. He passed without noticing the horse. “ I ’m glad to find Mrs. Maynard so well. With that cold of hers, hanging on so long, I didn’t know but she’d be in an awful state this morning.”
“ Yes,” said Grace, “ it’s a miraculous escape.”
“ The fact is, I sent over to New Leyden for my team, yesterday. I did n’t know how things might turn out, and you’re so far from a lemon, here, that I thought I might be useful in going errands.”
Grace turned her head, and glanced at the equipage. “ Is that your team ? ”
“ Yes,” said the young fellow, with a smile of suppressed pride.
“ What an exquisite creature ! ” said the girl.
“ Is n’t she ! ” They both faced about, and stood looking at the mare and the light, shining open buggy behind her. The sunshine had the after-storm glister ; the air was brisk, and the breeze blew balm from the heart of the pine forest. “ Miss Breen,” he broke out, “ I wish you ’d take a little dash through the woods with me. I’ve got a broadtrack buggy, that’s just right for these roads. I don’t suppose it’s the thing at all to ask you, on such short acquaintance, but I wish you would ! I know you ’d enjoy it! Come ! ”
His joyous urgence gave her a strange thrill. She had long ceased to imagine herself the possible subject of what young ladies call attentions, and she did not think of herself in that way now. There was something in the frank, eager boyishness of the invitation that fascinated her, and the sunny face turned so hopefully upon her had its amusing eloquence. She looked about the place with an anxiety of which she was immediately ashamed : all the ladies were out of sight, and probably at the foot of the cliff.
“ Don’t say no, Miss Breen,” pleaded the gay voice.
The answer seemed to come of itself. “ Oh, thank you, yes, I should like to go.”
“ Good ! ” he exclaimed, and the word which riveted her consent made her recoil.
“ But not this morning. Some other day. I — I — I want to think about Mrs. Maynard. I — ought n’t to leave her. Excuse me, this morning, Mr. Libby.”
“ Why, of course,” he tried to say with unaltered gayety, but a note of disappointment made itself felt. “ Do you think she’s going to be worse ? ”
“ No, I don’t think she is. But” — She paused, and waited a space before she continued. “ I’m afraid I can’t be of use to her any longer. She has lost confidence in me — It’s important she should trust her physician.” Libby blushed, as he always did when required to recognize Grace in her professional quality. “It ’s more a matter of nerves than anything else, and if she does n’t believe in me I can’t do her any good.”
“ Yes, I can understand that,” said the young man, with gentle sympathy ; and she felt, somehow, that he delicately refrained from any leading or prompting comment.
“ She has been urging me to have a consultation with some doctor about her case, and I — it would be ridiculous!”
“ Then I would n’t do it! ” said Mr. Libby. “ You know a great deal better what she wants than she does. You had better make her do what you say.”
“ I did n’t mean to burden you with my affairs,” said Grace, “ but I wished to explain her motive in speaking to you as she did.” After she had said this, it seemed to her rather weak, and she could not think of anything else that would strengthen it. The young man might think that she had asked advice of him. She began to resent his telling her to make Mrs. Maynard do what she said. She was about to add something to snub him, when she recollected that it was her own willfulness which had precipitated the present situation, and she humbled herself.
“ She will probably change her mind,” said Libby. “ She would if you could let her carry her point,” he added, with a light esteem for Mrs. Maynard, which set him wrong again in Grace’s eyes : he had no business to speak so to her.
“ Very likely,” she said, in stiff withdrawal from all terms of confidence concerning Mrs. Maynard. She did not add anything more, and she meant that the young fellow should perceive that his audience was at an end. He did not apparently resent it, but she fancied him hurt in his acquiescence.
She went back to her patient, whom she found languid and disposed to sleep after the recent excitement, and she left her again, taking little Bella with her. Mrs. Maynard slept long, but woke none the better for her nap. Towards evening she grew feverish, and her fever mounted as the night fell. She was restless and wakeful, and between her dreamy dozes she was incessant in her hints for a consultation to Grace, who passed the night in her room, and watched every change for the worse with a self-accusing heart. The impending trouble was in that indeterminate phase which must give the physician his most anxious moments, and this inexperienced girl, whose knowledge was all to be applied, and who had hardly arrived yet at that dismaying stage when a young physician finds all the results at war with all the precepts, began to realize the awfulness of her responsibility. She had always thought of saving life, and not of losing it.
By morning Grace was as nervous and anxious as her patient, who had momentarily the advantage of her in having fallen asleep. She went stealthily out, and walked the length of the piazza, bathing her eyes with the sight of the sea, cool and dim under a clouded sky. At the corner next the kitchen she encountered Barlow, who, having kindled the fire for the cook, had spent a moment of leisure in killing some chickens at the barn ; he appeared with a cluster of his victims in his hand, but at sight of Grace he considerately put them behind him.
She had not noticed them. “ Mr. Barlow,” she said, “ how far is it to Corbitant ? ”
Barlow slouched into a conversational posture, easily resting on his raised hip the back of the hand in which he held the chickens. “Well, it’s accordin’ to who you ask. Some says six mile, and real clever folks makes it about four and a quarter.”
“ I ask you,” persisted Grace.
“ Well, the last time I was there, I thought it was about sixty. ’Most froze my fingers goin’ round the point. ’N' all I was afraid of was gettin’ there too soon. Tell you, a lee shore ain’t a pleasant neighbor in a regular old northeaster. ’F you go by land, I guess it’s about ten mile round through the woods. Want to send for Dr. Mulbridge ? I thought mebbe ” —
“ No, no ! ” said Grace. She turned back into the house, and then she came running out again ; but by this time Barlow had gone into the kitchen, where she heard him telling the cook that these were the last of the dommyneckers. At breakfast several of the ladies came and asked after Mrs. Maynard, whose restless night they had somehow heard of. When she came out of the dining-room Miss Gleason waylaid her in the hall.
“ Dr. Breen,” she said in a repressed tumult, “ I hope you won’t give way. For woman’s sake, I hope you won’t! You owe it to yourself not to give way. I’m sure Mrs. Maynard is as well off in your hands as she can be. If I did n’t think so, I should be the last to advise your being firm; but, feeling as I do, I do advise it most strongly. Everything depends on it.”
“ I don’t know what you mean, Miss Gleason,” said Grace.
“ I ’m glad it has n’t come to you yet. If it was a question of mere professional pride, I should say, By all means, call him at once. But I feel that a great deal more is involved. If you yield, you make it harder for other women to help themselves hereafter, and you confirm such people as these in their distrust of female physicians. Looking at it in a large way, I almost feel that it would be better for her to die than for you to give up ; and feeling as I do ” —
“ Are you talking of Mrs. Maynard ? ” asked Grace.
“ They are all saying that you ought to give up the case to Dr. Mulbridge. But I hope you won’t. I should n’t blame you for calling in another female physician ” —
“ Thank you,” answered Grace. “ There is no danger of her dying. But it seems to me that she has too many female physicians already. In this house I should think it better to call a man.” She left the barb to rankle in Miss Gleason’s breast, and followed her mother to her room, who avenged Miss Gleason by a series of inquisitional tortures, ending with the hope that, whatever she did, Grace would not have that silly creature’s blood on her hands. The girl opened her lips to attempt some answer to this unanswerable aspiration, when the unwonted sound of wheels on the road without caught her ear.
“ What is that, Grace ? ” demanded her mother, as if Grace were guilty of the noise.
“ Mr. Libby,” answered Grace, rising.
“ Has he come for you ? ”
“ I don’t know. But I am going down to see him.”
At sight of the young man’s face, Grace felt her heart lighten, He had jumped from his buggy, and was standing at his smiling ease on the piazza steps, looking about as if for some one, and he brightened joyfully at her coming. He took her hand with eager friendliness, and at her impulse began to move away to the end of the piazza with her. The ladies had not yet descended to the beach ; apparently their interest in Dr. Breen’s patient kept them.
“ How is Mrs. Maynard, this morning ? ” he asked ; and she answered, as they got beyond earshot, —
“ Not better, I’m afraid.”
“ Oh, I’m sorry,” said the young man. “ Then you won’t be able to drive with me, this morning ? I hope she is n’t seriously worse ? ” he added, recurring to Mrs. Maynard at the sight of the trouble in Grace’s face.
“ I shall ask to drive with you,” she returned. “ Mr. Libby, do you know where Corbitant is ? ”
“ Oh, yes.”
“ And will you drive me there ? ”
“ Why, certainly ! ” he cried, in polite wonder.
“Thank you.” She turned half round, and cast a woman’s look at the other women. “ I shall be ready in half an hour. Will you go away, and come back then ? Not sooner.”
Anything you please, Miss Breen,” he said, laughing in his mystification. “ In thirty minutes, or thirty days.”
They went back to the steps, and he mounted his buggy. She sat down, and taking some work from her pocket, bent her head over it. At first she was pale, and then she grew red. But these fluctuations of color could not keep her spectators long; one by one they dispersed and descended the cliff; and when she rose to go for her hat the last had vanished, with a longing look at her. It was Miss Gleason.
Grace briefly announced her purpose to her mother, who said, “ I hope you are not doing anything impulsive;” and she answered, “ No, I had quite made up my mind to it last night.”
Mr. Libby had not yet returned when she went back to the piazza, and she walked out on the road by which he must arrive. She had not to walk far. He drew in sight before she had gone a quarter of a mile, driving rapidly. “ Am I late ? ” he asked, turning and pulling up at the roadside, with well-subdued astonishment at encountering her.
“ Oh, no; not that I know.” She mounted to the seat, and they drove off in a silence which endured for a long time. If Libby had been as vain as he seemed light, he must have found it cruelly unflattering, for it ignored his presence and even his existence. She broke the silence at last with a deepdrawn sigh, as frankly sad as if she had been quite alone, but she returned to consciousness of him in it. “ Mr. Libby, you must think it is very strange for me to ask you to drive me to Corbitant without troubling myself to tell you my errand.”
“ Oh, not at all,” said the young man. “ I’m glad to be of use on any terms. It is n’t often that one gets the chance.”
“ I am going to see Dr. Mulbridge,” she began, and then stopped so long that he perceived she wished him to say something.
He said, “Yes ? ”
“ Yes. I thought this morning that I should give Mrs. Maynard’s case up to him. I should n’t be at all troubled at seeming to give it up under a pressure of opinion, though I should not give it up for that. Of course,” she explained, “you don’t know that all those women have been saying that I ought to call in Dr. Mulbridge. It’s one of those things,” she added bitterly, “ that make it so pleasant for a woman to try to help women.” He made a little murmur of condolence, and she realized that she had thrown herself on his sympathy, when she thought she had been merely thinking aloud. “ What I mean is that he is a man of experience and reputation, and could probably be of more use to her than I, for she would trust him more. But I have known her a long time, and I understand her temperament and her character, — which goes for a good deal in such matters, — and I have concluded not to give up the case. I wish to meet Dr. Mulbridge, however, and ask him to see her in consultation with me. That is all,” she ended rather haughtily, as if she had been dramatizing the fact to Dr. Mulbridge in her own mind.
“ I should think that would be the right thing,” said Libby, simply, with uncalled-for approval ; but he left this dangerous ground abruptly. “ As you say, character goes for a great deal, in these things. I’ve seen Mrs. Maynard at the point of death before. As a general rule, she does n’t die. If you have known her a long time, you know what I mean. She likes to share her sufferings with her friends. I’ve seen poor old Maynard ” —
“ Mr. Libby ! ” Grace broke in. “ You may speak of Mr. Maynard as you like, but I cannot allow your disrespectfulness to Mrs. Maynard. It’s shocking You had no right to be their friend, if you felt toward them as you seem to have done.”
“ Why, there was no harm in them. I liked them! ” explained the young man.
“ People have no right to like those they don’t respect! ”
Libby looked as if this were rather a new and droll idea, but he seemed not to object to her tutoring him. “ Well,” he said, “ as far as Mrs. Maynard was concerned, I don’t know that I liked her any more than I respected her.”
Grace ought to have frowned at this, but she had to check a smile in order to say gravely, “ I know she is disagreeable at times. And she likes to share her sufferings with others, as you say. But her husband was fully entitled to any share of them that he may have borne. If he had been kinder to her, she would n’t be what and where she is now.”
“ Kinder to her ! ” Libby exclaimed. “ He ’s the kindest fellow in the world ! Now, Miss Breen,” he said earnestly, “ I hope Mrs. Maynard has n’t been talking against her husband to you ? ”
“ Is it possible,” demanded Grace, “ that you don’t know they ’re separated, and that she’s going to take steps for a divorce ? ”
“ A divorce ? No ! What in the world for ? ”
“ I never talk gossip. I thought of course she had told you ” —
“She never told me a word! She was ashamed to do it ! She knows that I know Maynard was the best husband in the world to her. All she told me was that he was out on his ranch, and she had come on here for her health. It’s some ridiculous little thing that no reasonable woman would have dreamt of caring for. It’s one of her caprices. It’s her own fickleness. She’s tired of him, — or thinks she is, — and that’s all about it. Miss Breen, I beg you won’t believe anything against Maynard ! ”
“ I don’t understand,” faltered Grace, astonished at his fervor, and the light it cast upon her first doubts of him. “ Of course, I only know the affair from her report, and I have n’t concerned myself in it, except as it affected her health. And I don’t wish to misjudge him. And I like your — defending him,” she said, though it instantly seemed a patronizing thing to have said. “ But I could n’t withhold my sympathy where I believed there had been neglect and systematic unkindness, and finally desertion.”
“ Oh, I know Mrs. Maynard ; I know her kind of talk. I’ve seen Maynard’s neglect and unkindness, and I know just what his desertion would be. If he’s left her, it’s because she wanted him to leave her; he did it to humor her, to please her. I shall have a talk with Mrs. Maynard, when we get back.”
“ I ’m afraid I can’t allow it at present,” said Grace, very seriously. “ She is worse to-day. Otherwise I should n’t be giving you this trouble.”
“ Oh, it’s no trouble ” —
“ But I’m glad — I’m glad we’ve had this understanding. I ’m very glad. It makes me think worse of myself and better of — others.”
Libby gave a laugh. “ And you like that ? You ’re easily pleased.”
She remained grave. “ I ought to be able to tell you what I mean. But it is n’t possible — now. Will you let me beg your pardon ? ” she urged, with impulsive earnestness.
“Why, yes,” he answered, smiling.
“ And not ask me why ? ”
“ Thank you. Yes,” she added hastily, “ she is so much worse that some one of greater experience than I must see her, and I have made up my mind. Dr. Mulbridge may refuse to consult with me. I know very well that there is a prejudice against women physicians, and I could n’t especially blame him for sharing it. I have thought it all over. If he refuses, I shall know what to do.” She had ceased to address Libby, who respected her soliloquy. He drove on rapidly over the soft road, where the wheels made no sound, and the track wandered with apparent aimlessness through the interminable woods of young oak and pine. The low trees were full of the sunshine, and dappled them with shadow as they dashed along ; the fresh, green ferns springing from the brown carpet of the pine-needles were as if painted against it. The breath of the pines was heavier for the recent rain, and the woody smell of the oaks was pungent where the balsam failed. They met no one, but the solitude did not make itself felt through her preoccupation. From time to time she dropped a word or two, but for the most she was silent, and he did not attempt to lead. By and by they came to an opener place, where there were many red field-lilies tilting in the wind.
“Would you like some of those?” he asked, pulling up.
“ I should, very much,” she answered, glad of the sight of the gay things. But when he had gathered her a bunch of the flowers she looked down at them in her lap, and said, “ It’s silly in me to be caring for lilies at such a time, and I should make an unfavorable impression on Dr. Mulbridge if he saw me with them. But I shall risk their effect on him. He may think I have been botanizing.”
“Unless you tell him you haven’t,” the young man suggested.
“ I need n’t do that.”
“ I don’t think any one else would do it.”
She colored a little at the tribute to her candor, and it pleased her, though it had just pleased her as much to forget that she was not like any other young girl who might be simply and irresponsibly happy in flowers gathered for her by a young man. “ I wont tell him, either! ” she cried, willing to grasp the fleeting emotion again ; but it was gone, and only a little residue of sad consciousness remained.
The woods gave way on either side of the road, which began to be a village street, sloping and shelving down toward the curve of a quiet bay. The neat weather-gray dwellings, shingled to the ground and brightened with dooryard flowers and creepers, straggled off into the boat-houses and fishing-huts on the shore, and the village seemed to get afloat at last in the sloops and schooners riding in the harbor, whose smooth plane rose higher to the eye than the town itself. The salt and the sand were everywhere, but though there had been no positive prosperity in Corbitant for a generation, the place had an impregnable neatness, which defied decay; if there had been a dog in the street, there would not have been a stick to throw at him.
One of the better, but not the best, of the village houses, which did not differ from the others in any essential particular, and which stood flush upon the street, bore a door-plate with the name Dr. Rufus Mulbridge, and Libby drew up in front of it without having had to alarm the village with inquiries. Grace forbade his help in dismounting, and ran to the door, where she rang one of those bells which sharply respond at the back of the panel to the turn of a crank in front; she observed, in a difference of paint, that this modern improvement had displaced an old-fashioned knocker. The door was opened by a tall and strikingly handsome old woman, whose black eyes still kept their keen light under her white hair, and whose dress showed none of the incongruity which was offensive in the door-bell: it was in the perfection of an antiquated taste, which, however, came just short of characterizing it with gentlewomanliness.
“ Is Dr. Mulbridge at home ? ” asked Grace.
“Yes,” said the other, with a certain hesitation, and holding the door ajar.
“ I should like to see him,” said Grace, mounting to the threshold.
“Is it important?” asked the elder woman.
“ Quite,” replied Grace, with an accent at once of surprise and decision.
“ You may come in,” said the other reluctantly, and she opened a door into a room at the side of the hall.
“You may give Dr. Mulbridge my card, if you please,” said Grace, before she turned to go into this room, and the other took it, and left her to find a chair for herself. It was a country doctor’s office, with the usual country doctor’s supply of drugs on a shelf, but very much more than the country doctor’s usual library : the standard works were there, and there were also the principal periodicals and the latest treatises of note in the medical world. In a long upright case, like that of an old hall clock, was the anatomy of one who had long done with time; a laryngoscope and some other professional apparatus of constant utility lay upon the leaf of the doctor’s desk. There was nothing in the room which did not suggest his profession, except the sword and the spurs which hung upon the wall opposite where Grace sat beside one of the front windows. She spent her time in study of the room and its appointments, and in now and then glancing out at Mr. Libby, who sat statuesquely patient in the buggy. His profile cut against the sky was blameless ; and a humorous shrewdness which showed in the wrinkle at his eye and in the droop of his yellow mustache gave its regularity life and charm. It occurred to her that if Dr. Mulbridge caught sight of Mr. Libby before he saw her, or before she could explain that she had got one of the gentlemen at the hotel — she resolved upon this prevarication — to drive her to Corbitant in default of another conveyance, he would have his impressions and his conjectures, which doubtless the bunch of lilies in her hand would do their part to stimulate. She submitted to this possibility, and waited for his coming, which began to seem unreasonably delayed. The door opened at last, and a tall, powerfully framed man of thirty-five or forty, dressed in an ill-fitting suit of gray Canada homespun, appeared. He moved with a slow, pondering step, and carried his shaggy head bent downwards from shoulders slightly rounded. His dark beard was already grizzled, and she saw that his mustache was burnt and turned tawny at points by smoking, of which habit his presence gave stale evidence to another sense. He held Grace’s card in his hand, and he looked at her, as he advanced, out of gray eyes that, if not sympathetic, were perfectly intelligent, and that at once sought to divine and class her. She perceived that he took in the lilies and her coming color; she felt that he noted her figure and her dress.
She half rose in response to his questioning bow, and he motioned her to her seat again. “ I had to keep you waiting,” he said. “ I was up all night with a patient, and I was asleep when my mother called me.” He stopped here, and definitively waited for her to begin.
She did not find this easy, as he took a chair in front of her, and sat looking steadily in her face. “ I ’m sorry to have disturbed you ” —
“ Oh, not at all,” he interrupted. “ The rule is to disturb a doctor.”
“ I mean,” she began again, “ that I am not sure that I am justified in disturbing you.”
He waited a little while for her to go on, and then he said, “ Well, let us hear.”
“ I wish to consult with you,” she broke out, and again she came to a sudden pause ; and as she looked into his vigilant face, in which she was not sure there was not a hovering derision, she could not continue. She felt that she ought to gather courage from the fact that he had not started, or done anything positively disagreeable when she had asked for a consultation ; but she could not, and it did not avail her to reflect that she was rendering herself liable to all conceivable misconstruction, — that she was behaving childishly, with every appearance of behaving guiltily.
He came to her aid again, in a blunt fashion, neither kind nor unkind, but simply common sense. “ What is the matter ? ”
“ What is the matter ? ” she repeated.
“ Yes. What are the symptoms ? Where and how are you sick ? ”
“ I am not sick ! ” she cried. They stared at each other in reciprocal amazement and mystification.
“ Then excuse me if I ask you what you wish me to do ! ”
“Oh!” said Grace, realizing his natural error, with a flush. “ It is n’t in regard to myself that I wish to consult with you. It’s another person — a friend ” —
“ Well,” said Dr. Mulbridge, laughing with the impatience of a physician used to making short cuts through the elaborate and reluctant statements of ladies seeking advice, “what is the matter with your friend ? ”
“ She has been an invalid for some time,” replied Grace. The laugh, which had its edge of patronage and conceit, stung her into self-possession again, and she briefly gave the points of Mrs. Maynard’s case, with the recent accident and the symptoms developed during the night. He listened attentively, nodding his head at times, and now and then glancing sharply at her, as one might at a surprisingly intelligent child.
“ I must see her,” he said decidedly, when she came to an end. “ I will see her as soon as possible. I will come over to Jocelyn’s this afternoon,—as soon as I can get my dinner, in fact.”
There was such a tone of dismissal in his words that she rose, and he promptly followed her example. She stood hesitating a moment. Then, “ I don’t know whether you understood that I wish merely to consult with you,” she said ; “ that I don’t wish to relinquish the case to you ” —
“Relinquish the case — consult” — Dr. Mulbridge stared at her. “ No, I don’t understand. What do you mean by not relinquishing the case ? If there is some one else in attendance ” —
“ I am in attendance,” said the girl firmly. “ I am Mrs. Maynard’s physician.”
“ You ? Physician ” —
“ If you have looked at my card ” — she began, with indignant severity.
He gave a sort of roar of amusement and apology, and then he stared at her again with much of the interest of a naturalist in an extraordinary specimen. “ I beg your pardon,” he exclaimed, “ I did n't look at it ; ” but he now did so, where he held it crumpled in the palm of his left hand. “ My mother said it was a young lady, and I did n't look. Will you — will you sit down, Dr. Breen ? ” He bustled in getting her several chairs. “ I live off here in a corner, and I have never happened to meet any ladies of — our profession, before. Excuse me, if I spoke under a mistaken impression. I — I — I should not have — ah — taken you for a physician. You ” — He checked himself, as if he might have been going to say that she was too young and too pretty. “ Of course, I shall have pleasure in consulting with you in regard to your friend’s case, though I’ve no doubt you are doing all that can be done.” With a great show of deference, he still betrayed something of the air of one who humors a joke; and she felt this, but felt that she could not openly resent it.
“Thank you,” she returned, with dignity, indicating with a gesture of her hand that she would not sit down again. “ I am sorry to ask you to come so far.”
“ Oh, not at all. I shall be driving over in that direction, at any rate. I’ve a patient near there.” He smiled upon her with frank curiosity, and seemed willing to detain her, but at a loss how to do so. “ If I had n’t been stupid from my nap I should have inferred a scientific training from your statement of your friend’s case.” She still believed that he was laughing at her, and that this was a mock ; but she was still helpless to resent it except by an assumption of yet colder state. This had apparently no effect upon Dr. Mulbridge. He continued to look at her with hardly concealed amusement, and visibly to grow more and more conscious of her elegance and style, now that she stood before him. There had been a time when, in planning her career, she had imagined herself studying a masculine simplicity and directness of address ; but the over-success of some young women, her fellows at the school, in this direction had disgusted her with it, and she had perceived that after all there is nothing better for a girl, even a girl who is a doctor of medicine, than a lady-like manner. Now, however, she wished that she could do or say something aggressively mannish, for she felt herself dwindling away to the merest femininity, under a scrutiny which had its fascination, whether agreeable or disagreeable. “ You must,” he said, with really unwarrantable patronage, “ have found that the study of medicine has its difficulties,— you must have been very strongly drawn to it.”
“ Oh, no, not at all; I had rather an aversion at first,” she replied, with the instant superiority of a woman where the man suffers any topic to become personal. “ Why did you think I was drawn to it ? ”
“I don’t know—I don’t know that I thought so,” he stammered. “ I believe I intended to ask,” he added bluntly ; but she had the satisfaction of seeing him redden, and she did not volunteer anything in his relief. She divined that it would leave him with an awkward sense of defeat if he quitted the subject there ; and in fact he had determined that he would not. “ Some of our ladies take up the study abroad,” he said; and he went on to speak, with a real deference, of the eminent woman who did the American name honor by the distinction she achieved in the schools of Paris.
“ I have never been abroad,” said Grace.
“ No ? ” he exclaimed. “ I thought all American ladies had been abroad ; ” and now he said, with easy recognition of her resolution not to help him out, “ I suppose you have your diploma from the Philadelphia school.”
“ No,” she returned, “ from the New York school, — the homœopathic school of New York.”
Dr. Mulbridge instantly sobered, and even turned a little pale, but he did not say anything. He remained looking at her as if she had suddenly changed from a piquant mystery to a terrible dilemma.
She moved towards the door. “ Then I may expect you,” she said, “about the middle of the afternoon.”
He did not reply ; he stumbled upon the chairs in following her a pace or two with a face of acute distress. Then he broke out with “ I can’t come ! I can’t consult with you ! ”
She turned and looked at him with astonishment, which he did his best to meet. Her astonishment congealed into hauteur, and then dissolved into the helplessness of a lady who has been offered a rudeness; but still she did not speak. She merely looked at him, while he halted and stammered on,
“ Personally, I — I — should be — obliged — I should feel honored — I — I — It has nothing to do with your — your — being a — a — a — woman — lady. I should not care for that. No. But surely you must know the reasons — the obstacles — which deter me ? ”
“ No, I don’t,” she said, calm with the advantage of his perturbation. “ But if you refuse, that is sufficient. I will not inquire your reasons. I will simply withdraw my request.”
“ Thank you ! But I beg you to understand that they have no reference whatever to you in — your own — capacity — character — individual quality. They are purely professional — that is, technical — I should say, disciplinary, — entirely disciplinary. Yes, disciplinary.” The word seemed to afford Dr. Mulbridge the degree of relief which can come only from an exactly significant and luminously exegetic word.
“ I don’t at all know what you mean,” said Grace. “ But it is not necessary that I should know. Will you allow me ? ” she asked, for Dr. Mulbridge had got between her and the door, and stood with his hand on the latch.
His face flushed, and drops stood on his forehead. “ Surely, Miss — I mean Doctor—Breen, you must know why I can’t consult with you! We belong to two diametrically opposite schools — theories — of medicine. It would be impracticable— impossible —for us to consult. We could find no common ground. Have you never heard that the — ah — regular practice cannot meet homœopathists in this way ? If you had told me — if I had known—you were a homœopathist, I could n’t have considered the matter at all. I can’t now express any opinion as to your management of the case, but I have no doubt that you will know what to do — from your point of view — and that you will prefer to call in some one of your own — persuasion. I hope that you don’t hold me personally responsible for this result! ”
“ Oh, no!” replied the girl, with a certain dreamy abstraction. “ I had heard that you made some such distinction — I remember, now. But I could n’t realize anything so ridiculous.”
Dr. Mulbridge colored. “ Excuse me,” he said, “ if, even under the circumstances, I can’t agree with you that the position taken by the regular practice is ridiculous.”
She did not make any direct reply. “ But I supposed that you only made this distinction, as you call it, in cases where there is no immediate danger ; that in a matter of life and death you would waive it. Mrs. Maynard is really ” —
“ There are no conditions under which I could not conscientiously refuse to waive it.”
“ Then,” cried Grace, “ I withdraw the word! It is not ridiculous. It is monstrous, atrocious, inhuman ! ”
A light of humorous irony glimmered in Dr. Mulbridge’s eye. “ I must submit to your condemnation.”
“ Oh, it is n’t a personal condemnation ! ” she retorted. “ I have no doubt that personally you are not responsible. We can lay aside our distinctions as allopathist and homœopathist, and you can advise with me ” —
“ It’s quite impossible,” said Dr. Mulbridge. “ If I advised with you, I might be — A little while ago, one of our school in Connecticut was expelled from the State Medical Association for consulting with ” — he began to hesitate, as if he had not hit upon a fortunate or appropriate illustration, but he pushed on — “ with his own wife, who was a physician of your school.”
She haughtily ignored his embarrassment. “ I can appreciate your difficulty, and pity any liberal-minded person who is placed as you are, and disapproves of such wretched bigotry.”
“ I am obliged to tell you,” said Dr. Mulbridge, “ that I don’t disapprove of it.”
“ I am detaining you,” said Grace. “ I beg your pardon. I was curious to know how far superstition and persecution can go in our day.” If the epithets were not very accurate, she used them with a woman’s effectiveness, and her intention made them descriptive. “ Goodday,” she added, and she made a movement toward the door, from which Dr. Mulbridge retired. But she did not open the door. Instead, she sank into the chair which stood in the corner, and passed her hand over her forehead, as if she were giddy.
Dr. Mulbridge’s finger was instantly on her wrist. “ Are you faint ? ”
“ No, no ! ” she gasped, pulling her hand away. “ I am perfectly well.” Then she was for a time silent before she added by a supreme effort, “ I have no right to endanger another’s life, through any miserable pride, and I never will. Mrs. Maynard needs greater experience than mine, and she must have it. I can’t justify myself in the delay and uncertainty of sending to Boston. I relinquish the case. I give it to you. And I will nurse her under your direction, obediently, conscientiously. Oh ! ” she cried, at his failure to make any immediate response. “ Surely you won’t refuse to take the case ! ”
“ I won’t refuse,” he said, with an effect of difficult concession. “ I will come. I will drive over at once, after dinner.” She rose, now, and put her hand on the door-latch.
“ Do you object to my nursing your patient? She is an old school friend. But I could yield that point, too, if ” — “Oh, no, no! I shall be only too glad of your help, and your ” — he was going to say advice, but he stopped himself, and repeated — “ help.”
They stood inconclusively a moment, as if they would both be glad of something more to say. Then she said, tentatively, “ Good-morning,” and he responded experimentally, “ Good-morning;” and with that they involuntarily parted, and she went out of the door, which he stood holding open even after she had got out of the gate.
His mother came down the stairs. “ What in the world were you quarreling with that girl about, Rufus?”
“ We were not quarreling, mother.”
“ Well, it sounded like it. Who was she ? ”
“ Who ? ” repeated her son, absently. “ Dr. Breen.”
“ Doctor Breen ? That girl a doctor ? ”
“ I thought she was some saucy thing. Well, upon my word ! ” exclaimed Mrs. Mulbridge. “ So that is a female doctor, is it ? Was she sick ? ”
“ No,” said her son, with what she knew to be professional finality. “ Mother, if you can hurry dinner a little, I shall be glad. I have to drive over to Jocelyn’s, and I should like to start as soon as possible.”
“ Who was the young man with her ? Her beau, I guess.”
“ Was there a young man with her ? ” asked Dr, Mulbridge.
His mother went out without speaking. She could be unsatisfactory, too.
No one but Mrs. Breen knew of her daughter’s errand, and when Grace came back she alighted from Mr. Libby’s buggy with an expression of thanks that gave no clue as to the direction or purpose of it. He touched his hat to her with equal succinctness, and drove away, including all the ladies on the piazza in a cursory obeisance.
“ We must ask you, Miss Gleason,” said Mrs. Alger. “ Your admiration of Dr. Breen clothes you with authority and responsibility.”
“ I can’t understand it at all,” Miss Gleason confessed. “ But I ’m sure there’s nothing in it. He is n’t her equal. She would feel that it was n’t right — under the circumstances.”
“ But if Mrs. Maynard was well it would be a fair game, you mean,” said Mrs. Alger.
“ No,” returned Miss Gleason, with tho greatest air of candor, “ I can’t admit that I meant that.”
“ Well,” said the elder lady, “ the presumption is against them. Every young couple seen together must be considered in love till they prove the contrary.”
“ I like it in her,” said Mrs. Frost. “ It shows that she is human, after all. It shows that she is like other girls. It’s a relief.”
“ She is n’t like other girls,” contended Miss Gleason, darkly.
“ I would rather have Mr. Libby’s opinion,” said Mrs. Merritt.
Grace went to Mrs. Maynard’s room, and told her that Dr. Mulbridge was coming directly after dinner.
“ I knew you would do it! ” cried Mrs. Maynard, throwing her right arm round Grace’s neck, while the latter bent over to feel the pulse in her left. “ I knew where you had gone, as soon as your mother told me you had driven off with Walter Libby. I’m so glad that you’ve got somebody to consult! Your theories are perfectly right, and I’m sure that Dr. Mulbridge will just tell you to keep on as you’ve been doing.”
Grace withdrew from her caress. “Dr. Mulbridge is not coming for a consultation. He refused to consult with me.”
“ Refused to consult ? Why, how perfectly ungentlemanly ! Why did he refuse ? ”
“ Because he is an allopathist and I am an homœopathist.”
“ Then, what is he coming for, I should like to know ! ”
“ I have given up the case to him,” said Grace wearily.
“ Very well, then !” cried Mrs. Maynard. “ I won’t be given up. I will simply die! Not a pill, not a powder, of his will I touch! If he thinks himself too good to consult with another doctor, and a lady at that, merely because she does n’t happen to be allopathist, he can go along! I never heard of anything so conceited, so disgustingly mean, in my life. No, Grace ! Why, it’s horrid ! ” She was silent, and then, “ Why, of course,” she added, “ if he comes, I shall have to see him. I look like a fright, I suppose.”
“I will do your hair,” said Grace, with indifference to these vows and protests ; and without deigning further explanation or argument she made the invalid’s toilet for her. If given time, Mrs. Maynard would talk herself into any necessary frame of mind, and Grace merely supplied the monosyllabic promptings requisite for her transition from mood to mood. It was her final resolution that when Dr. Mulbridge did come she should give him a piece of her mind; and she received him with anxious submissiveness, and hung upon all his looks and words with quaking and with an inclination to attribute her unfavorable symptoms to the treatment of her former physician. She did not spare him certain apologies for the disorderly appearance of her person and her room.
Grace sat by and watched him with perfectly quiescent observance. The large, somewhat uncouth man gave evidence to her intelligence that he was all physician, and that he had not chosen his profession from any theory or motive, however good, but had been as much chosen by it as if he had been born a physician. He was incredibly gentle and soft in all his movements, and perfectly kind, without being at any moment unprofitably sympathetic. He knew when to listen and when not to listen, — to learn everything from the quivering bundle of nerves before him without seeming to have learnt anything alarming; he smiled when it would do her good to be laughed at, and treated her with such grave respect that she could not feel herself trifled with, nor remember afterwards any point of neglect. When he rose and left some medicines, with directions to Grace for giving them and instructions for contingencies, she followed him from the room.
“ Well ? ” she said anxiously.
“ Mrs. Maynard is threatened with pneumonia. Or, I don’t know why I should say threatened,” he added ; “ she has pneumonia.”
“ I supposed — I was afraid so,” faltered the girl.
“ Yes.” He looked into her eyes with even more seriousness than he spoke. “ Has she friends here ? ” he asked.
“ No ; her husband is in Cheyenne, out on the plains.”
“ He ought to know,” said Dr. Mulbridge. “ A great deal will depend upon her nursing — Miss — ah — Dr. Breen.”
“ You need n’t call me Dr. Breen,” said Grace. “ At present, I am Mrs. Maynard’s nurse.”
He ignored this as he had ignored every point connected with the interview of the morning. He repeated the directions he had already given with still greater distinctness, and, saying that he should come in the morning, drove away. She went back to Louise: inquisition for inquisition, it was easier to meet that of her late patient than that of her mother, and for once the girl spared herself.
“ I know he thought I was very bad,” whimpered Mrs. Maynard, for a beginning. “What is the matter with me? ”
“ Your cold has taken an acute form ; you will have to go to bed ” —
“ Then, I’m going to be down sick! I knew I was ! I knew it! And what am I going to do, off in such a place as this ? No one to nurse me, or look after Bella ! I should think you would be satisfied now, Grace, with the result of your conscientiousness: you were so very sure that Mr. Libby was wanting to flirt with me that you drove us to our death, because you thought he felt guilty and was trying to fib out of it.”
“ Will you let me help to undress you ? ” asked Grace, gently. “ Bella shall be well taken care of, and I am going to nurse you myself, under Dr. Mulbridge’s direction. And once for all, Louise, I wish to say that I hold myself to blame for all ” —
“ Oh, yes ! Much good that does now!” Being got into bed, with the sheet smoothed under her chin, she said, with the effect of drawing a strictly logical conclusion from the premises, Well, I should think George Maynard would want to be with his family! ” Spent with this ordeal, Grace left her at last, and went out on the piazza, where she found Libby returned. In fact, he had, upon second thoughts, driven back, and put up his horse at Jocelyn’s, that he might be of service there in case he were needed. The ladies, with whom he had been making friends, discreetly left him to Grace, when she appeared, and she frankly walked apart with him, and asked him if he could go over to New Leyden, and telegraph to Mr. Maynard.
“Has she asked for him?” he inquired, laughing. “ I knew it would come to that.”
“ She has not asked ; she has said that she thought he ought to be with his family,” repeated Grace, faithfully.
“ Oh, I know how she said it : as if he had gone away willfully, and kept away against her wishes and all the claims of honor and duty. It would n’t take her long to get round to that if she thought she was very sick. Is she so bad ? ” he inquired, with light skepticism.
“ She ’s threatened with pneumonia. We can’t tell how bad she may be.”
“ Why, of course I ’ll telegraph. But I don't think anything serious can be the matter with Mrs. Maynard.”
“ Dr. Mulbridge said that Mr. Maynard ought to know.”
“ Is that so ? ” asked Libby, in quite a different tone. If she recognized the difference, she was meekly far from resenting it; he, however, must have wished to repair his blunder. “ I think you need n’t have given up the case to
him. I think you ’re too conscientious about it ” —
“ Please don’t speak of that, now,” she interposed.
“ Well, I won’t,” he consented. “ Can I be of any use here to-night ? ”
“ No, we shall need nothing more. The doctor will be here again in the morning.”
Libby did not come in the morning till after the doctor had gone, and then he explained that he had waited to hear in reply to his telegram, so that they might tell Mrs. Maynard her husband had started; and he had only just now heard.
“ And has he started ? ” Grace asked.
“ I heard from his partner. Maynard was at the ranch. His partner had gone for him.”
“ Then, he will soon be here,” she said.
“ He will, if telegraphing can bring him. I sat up half the night with the operator. She was very obliging when she understood the case.”
“ She ? ” repeated Grace, with a slight frown.
“ The operators are nearly all women, in the country.”
“ Oh ! ” She looked grave. Can they trust young girls with such important duties ? ”
“ They did n’t in this instance,” replied Libby. “ She was a pretty old girl. What made you think she was young ? ”
“ I don’t know. I thought you said she was young.” She blushed, and seemed about to say more, but she did not.
He waited, and then he said, “ You can tell Mrs. Maynard that I telegraphed on my own responsibility, if you think it’s going to alarm her.”
“ Well,” said Grace, with a helpless sigh.
“ You don’t like to tell her that,” he suggested, after a moment, in which he had watched her.
“ How do you know ? ”
“ Ok, I know. And some day I will tell you how — if you will let me.”
It seemed a question ; and she did not know what it was that kept her silent and breathless, and hot in the throat. “ I don't like to do it,” she said, at last. “ I hate myself whenever I have to feign anything. I knew perfectly well that you did n’t say she was young,” she broke out desperately.
“ Say Mrs. Maynard was young ? ” he asked stupidly.
“ No ! ” she cried. She rose hastily from the bench where she had been sitting with him. “ I must go back to her now.”
He mounted to his buggy, and drove thoughtfully away at a walk.
The ladies, whose excited sympathies for Mrs. Maynard had kept them from the beach till now, watched him quite out of sight before they began to talk of Grace.
“ I hope Dr. Breen’s new patient will he more tractable,” said Mrs. Merritt. “ It would be a pity if she had to give him up, too, to Dr. Mulbridge.”
Mrs. Scott failed of the point. “ Why, is Mr. Libby sick ? ”
“ Not very,” answered Mrs. Merritt, with a titter of self-applause.
“ I should be sorry,” interposed Mrs. Alger, authoritatively, “ if we had said anything to influence the poor thing in what she has done.”
“ Oh, I don’t think we need distress ourselves about undue influence ! ” Mrs. Merritt exclaimed.
Mrs. Alger chose to ignore the suggestion. “ She had a very difficult part; and I think she has acted courageously. I always feel sorry for girls who attempt anything of that kind. It ’s a fearful ordeal.”
“ But they say Miss Breen was n’t obliged to do it for a living,” Mrs. Scott suggested.
“ So much the worse,” said Mrs. Merritt.
“ No, so much the better,” returned Mrs. Alger.
Mrs. Merritt, sitting on the edge of the piazza, stooped over with difficulty and plucked a grass-straw, which she bit as she looked rebelliously away.
Mrs. Frost had installed herself as favorite since Mrs. Alger had praised her hair. She now came forward, and, dropping fondly at her knee, looked up to her for instruction. “ Don’t you think that she showed her sense in giving up at the very beginning, if she found she was n’t equal to it ? ” She gave her head a little movement from side to side, and put the mass of her back hair more on show.
“ Perhaps,” said Mrs. Alger, looking at the favorite not very favorably.
“ Oh, I don’t think she’s given up,” Miss Gleason interposed, in her breathless manner. She waited to be asked why, and then she added, “ I think she’s acting in consultation with Dr. Mulbridge. He may have a certain influence over her,—I think he has; but I know they ’re acting in unison.”
Mrs. Merritt flung her grass-straw away. “ Perhaps it is to be Dr. Mulbridge, after all, and not Mr. Libby.”
“ I have thought of that,” Miss Gleason assented, candidly. “ Yes, I have thought of that. I have thought of their being constantly thrown together, in this way. It would not discourage me. She could be quite as true to her vocation as if she remained single. Truer”
“ Talking of true,” said Mrs. Scott, “ always does make me think of blue. They say that yellow will be worn on everything this winter.”
“ Old gold ? ” asked Mrs. Frost.
“ Yes, more than ever.”
“ Dear ! ” cried the other lady. “ I don’t know what I shall do. It perfect ly kills my hair.”
“ Oh, Miss Gleason ! ” exclaimed the young girl. “ Do you believe in character coming out in color ? ”
“Yes, certainly. I have always believed that.”
“Well, I’ve got a friend, and she wouldn’t have anything to do with a girl that wore magenta more than she would fly.”
“ I should suppose,” explained Miss Gleason, “that all those aniline dyes implied something coarse in people.”
“Is n’t it curious,” asked Mrs. Frost, “ how red-haired people have come in fashion ? I can recollect, when I was a little girl, that everybody laughed at red hair. There was one girl at the first school I ever went to, — the boys used to pretend to burn their fingers at her hair.”
“ I think Dr. Breen’s hair is a very pretty shade of brown,” said the young girl.
Mrs. Merritt rose from the edge of the piazza. “ I think that if she has n’t given up to him entirely she’s the most submissive consulting physician I ever saw,” she said, and walked out over the grass towards the cliff.
The ladies looked after her. “ Is Mrs. Merritt more pudgy when she’s sitting down or when she’s standing up ? ” asked Mrs. Scott.
Miss Gleason seized her first chance of speaking with Grace alone. “ Oh, do you know how much you are doing for us all ? ”
“ Doing for you all ? How, doing ? ” faltered Grace, whom she had whisperingly halted in a corner of the hall leading from the dining-room.
“ By acting in unison, — by solving the most perplexing problem in women’s practicing your profession.” She passed the edge of her fan over her lips before letting it fall furled upon her left hand, and looked luminously into Grace’s eyes.
“ I don’t at all know what you mean, Miss Gleason,” said the other.
Miss Gleason kicked out the skirt of her dress, so as to leave herself perfectly free for the explanation. “ Practicing in harmony with a physician of the other sex. I have always felt that there was the great difficulty, — how to bring that about. I have always felt that the true physician must be dual, — have both the woman’s nature and the man’s; the woman’s tender touch, the man’s firm grasp. You have shown how the medical education of women can meet this want. The physician can actually be dual, — be two, in fact. Hereafter, I have no doubt we shall always call a physician of each sex. But it’s wonderful how you could ever bring it about, though you can do anything ! Has n’t it worn upon you ? ” Miss Gleason darted out her sentences in quick, short breaths, fixing Grace with her eyes, and at each clause nervously tapping her chest with her reopened fan.
“ If you suppose,” said Grace, “ that Dr. Mulbridge and I are acting professionally in unison, as you call it, you are mistaken. He has entire charge of the case ; I gave it up to him, and I am merely nursing Mrs. Maynard under his direction.”
“ How splendid ! ” Miss Gleason exclaimed. “ Do you know that I admire you for giving up, — for knowing when to give up ? So few women do that! Is n’t he magnificent ? ”
“ Magnificent ? ”
“ I mean, psychically. He is what I should call a strong soul. You must have felt his masterfulness ; you must have enjoyed it! Don’t you like to be dominated ? ”
“ No,” said Grace, “ I should n’t at all like it.”
“ Oh, I do ! I like to meet one of those forceful masculine natures that simply bid you obey. It’s delicious. Such a sense of self-surrender,” Miss Gleason explained. “ It is n’t because they are men,” she added. “ I have felt the same influence from some women. I felt it, in a certain degree, on first meeting you.”
“ I am very sorry,” said Grace, coldly. “ I should dislike being controlled myself, and I should dislike still more to control others.”
“ You ’re doing it now ! ” cried Miss Gleason, with delight. “ I could not do a thing to resist your putting me down ! Of course you don’t know that you ’re doing it; it’s purely involuntary. And you would n’t know that he was dominating you. And he would n’t.”
Very probably Dr. Mulbridge would not have recognized himself in the character of all-compelling, lady’s-novel hero which Miss Gleason imagined for him. Life presented itself rather simply to him, as it does to most men, and he easily dismissed its subtler problems from a mind preoccupied with active cares. As far as Grace was concerned, she had certainly roused in him an unusual curiosity ; nothing less than her homœopathy would have made him withdraw his consent to a consultation with her, and his fear had been that in his refusal she should escape from his desire to know more about her, her motives, her purposes. He had accepted without scruple the sacrifice of pride she had made to him; but he had known how to appreciate her scientific training, which he found as respectable as that of any clever young man of their profession. He praised, in his way, the perfection with which she interpreted his directions and intentions in regard to the patient. “ If there were such nurses as you, Miss Breen, there would be very little need of doctors,” he said, with a sort of interrogative fashion of laughing peculiar to him.
“ I thought of being a nurse once,” she answered. “ Perhaps I may still be one. The scientific training won’t be lost.”
“ Oh, no! It’s a pity that more of them have n’t it. But I suppose they think nursing is rather too humble an ambition.”
“ I don’t think it so,” said Grace, briefly.
“ Then you didn’t care for medical distinction.”
He looked at her quizzically, as if this were much droller than if she had cared. “ I don’t understand why you should have gone into it. You told me, I think, that it was repugnant to you ; and it’s hard work for a woman, and very uncertain work for any one. You must have had a tremendous desire to benefit your race.”
His characterization of her motive was so distasteful that she made no reply, and left him to his conjectures, in which he did not appear unhappy. “ How do you find Mrs. Maynard today ? ” she asked.
He looked at her with an instant coldness, as if he did not like her asking, and were hesitating whether to answer. But he said at last, “ She is no better. She will be worse before she is better. You see,” he added, “ that I have n’t been able to arrest the disorder in its first stage. We must hope for what can be done, now, in the second.”
She had gathered from the half-jocose ease with which he had listened to Mrs. Maynard’s account of herself, and to her own report, an encouragement which now fell to the ground. “ Yes,” she asserted, in her despair, “ that is the only hope.”
He sat beside the table in the hotel parlor, where they found themselves alone for the moment, and drubbed upon it with an absent look. “ Have you sent for her husband? ” he inquired, returning to himself.
“ Yes; Mr. Libby telegraphed the evening we saw you.”
“That’s good,” said Dr. Mulbridge, with comfortable approval; and he rose to go away.
Grace impulsively detained him. “ I won’t ask you whether you consider Mrs. Maynard’s case a serious one, if you object to my doing so.”
“ I don’t know that I object,” he said slowly, with a teasing smile, such as one might use with a persistent child whom one chose to baffle in that way.
She disdained to avail herself of the implied permission. “ What I mean — what I wish to tell you is — that I feel myself responsible for her sickness, and that if she dies I shall be guilty of her death.”
“Ah?" said Dr. Mulbridge, with more interest, but the same smile. “ What do you mean ? ”
“ She did n’t wish to go that day when she was caught in the storm. But I insisted; I forced her to go.” She stood panting with the intensity of the feeling which had impelled her utterance.
“ What do you mean by forcing her to go ?”
“ I don’t know. I — I — persuaded her.”
Dr. Mulbridge smiled, as if he perceived her intention not to tell him something she wished to tell him. He looked down into his hat, which he carried in his hand.
“ Did you believe the storm was coming ? ”
“ No ! ”
“ And you did n't make it come ? ”
“ Of course not! ”
He looked at her and laughed,
“ Oh, you don’t at all understand ! ” she cried.
“ I ’m not a doctor of divinity,” he said. “ Good-morning.”
“ Wait, wait! ” she implored. “ I am afraid — I don’t know — Perhaps my being near her is injurious to her ; perhaps I ought to let some one else nurse her. I wished to ask you this ” — She stopped, breathlessly.
“ I don’t think you have done her any harm as yet,” he answered lightly. “ However,” he said, after a moment’s consideration, “ why don’t you take a holiday ? Some of the other ladies might look after her a while.”
“ Do you really think,” she palpitated, “ that I might ? Do you think I ought ? I’m afraid I ought n’t ” —
“ Not if your devotion is hurtful to her? ” he asked. “ Send some one else to her for a while. Any one can take care of her for a few hours.”
“ I could n’t leave her — feeling as I do about her.”
“ I don’t know how you feel about her,” said Dr. Mulbridge. “ But you can’t go on at this rate. I shall want your help by and by, and Mrs. Maynard does n’t need you now. Don’t go back to her.”
“ But if she should get worse while I am away ” —
“ You think your staying and feeling bad would make her better ? Don’t go back,” he repeated ; and he went out to his ugly rawboned horse, and, mounting his shabby wagon, rattled away. She lingered, indescribably put to shame by the brutal common sense which she could not impeach, but which she still felt was no measure of the case. It was true that she had not told him everything, and she could not complain that he had mocked her appeal for sympathy if she had trifled with him by a partial confession. But she indignantly denied to herself that she had wished to appeal to him for sympathy.
She wandered out on the piazza, which she found empty, and stood gazing at the sea in a reverie of passionate humiliation. She was in that mood, familiar to us all, when we long to be consoled and even flattered for having been silly. In a woman this mood is near to tears ; at a touch of kindness the tears come, and momentous questions are decided. What was perhaps uppermost in the girl’s heart was a detestation of the man to whom she had seemed a simpleton; her thoughts pursued him, and divined the contempt with which he must be thinking of her and her pretensions. She heard steps on the sand, and Libby came round the corner of the house from the stable.
W. D. Howells.
- Copyright, 1381, by W. D. HOWELLS All rights reseved.↩