Dr. Breen's Practice
LIBBY’S friends had broken up their camp on the beach, and had gone to a lake in the heart of the woods for the fishing. He had taken a room at the Long Beach House, but he spent most of his time at Jocelyn’s, where he kept his mare for use in going upon errands for Mrs. Maynard. Grace saw him constantly, and he was always doing little things for her with a divination of her unexpressed desires which women find too rarely in men. He brought her flowers, which, after refusing them for Mrs. Maynard, the first time, she accepted for herself. He sometimes brought her books, the light sort which form the sentimental currency of young people, and she lent them round among the other ladies, who were insatiable of them. She took a pleasure in these attentions, as if they had been for some one else. In this alien sense she liked to be followed up with a chair to the point where she wished to sit; to have her hat fetched, or her shawl; to drop her work or her handkerchief, secure that it would be picked up for her. It all interested her, and it was a relief from the circumstances that would have forbidden her to recognize it as gallantry, even if her own mind had not been so far from all thought of that. It followed often upon some application of hers for his advice or help, for she had fallen into the habit of going to him with difficulties. He had a prompt common sense that made him very useful in emergencies, and a sympathy or an insight that was quick in suggestions and expedients. Perhaps she overrated other qualities of his in her admiration of the practical readiness which kept his amiability from seeming weak. But the practical had so often been the unattainable with her that it was not strange she should overrate it, and that she should rest upon it in him with a trust that included all he chose to do in her behalf.
“ What is the matter, Mr. Libby ? ” she asked, as he came toward her.
“ Is anything the matter ? ” he demanded in turn.
“ Yes; you are looking downcast,” she cried reproachfully.
“I did n’t know that I must n’t look downcast. I did n’t suppose it would be very polite, under the circumstances, to go round looking as bobbish as I feel.”
“ It’s the best thing you could possibly do. But you ’re not feeling very bobbish now.” A woman respects the word a man uses, not because she would have chosen it, but because she thinks that he has an exact intention in it, which could not be reconveyed in a more feminine phrase. In this way slang arises. “ Is n’t it time for Mr. Maynard to be here ? ”
Copyright, 1881, by HOUGHTON, MIFFLIN & Co.
“ Yes,” he answered. Then, “ How did you know I was thinking of that?”
“ I did n’t. I only happened to think it was time. What are you keeping back, Mr. Libby ? ” she pursued tremulously.
“Nothing, upon my honor. I almost wish there were something to keep back. But there is n’t anything. There have n’t been any accidents reported. And I should n’t keep anything back from you.”
“ Why ? ”
“ Because you would be equal to it, whatever it was.”
“ I don't see why you say that.” She weakly found comfort in the praise which she might once have resented as patronage.
“ I don’t see why I should n’t,” he retorted.
“ Because I am not fit to be trusted at all.”
“ Do you mean ” —
“ Oh, I have n’t the strength to mean anything,” she said. “ But I thank you, thank you very much,” she added. She turned her head away.
“ Confound Maynard ! ” cried the young man. “ I don’t see why he does n’t come, He must have started four days ngo. He ought to have had sense enough to telegraph when he did start. I did n’t tell his partner to ask him. You can’t think of everything. I’ve been trying to find out something. I’m going over to Leyden, now, to try to wake up somebody in Cheyenne who knows Maynard.” He looked ruefully at Grace, who listened with anxious unintelligence. “ You ’re getting worn out, Miss Breen,” he said. “ I wish I could ask you to go with me to Leyden. It would do you good. But my mare’s fallen lame ; I’ve just been to see her. Is there anything I can do for you over there ?”
“ Why, how are you going ? ” she asked.
“ In my boat,” he answered consciously.
“ The same boat ? ”
“ Yes. I’ve bad her put to rights. She was n’t much damaged.”
She was silent a moment, while he stood looking down at her in the chair into which she had sunk. “ Does it take you long ? ”
“ Oh, no. It’s shorter than it is by land. I shall have the tide with me both ways. I can make the run there and back in a couple of hours.”
“ Two hours ? ”
“ Yes. ”
A sudden impulse, unreasoned and unreasonable, in which there seemed hope of some such atonement, or expiation, as the same ascetic nature would once have found in fasting or the scourge, prevailed with her. She rose. “ Mr. Libby, ” she panted, “ if you will let me, I should like to go with you in your boat. Do you think it will be rough? ”
“ No, it’s a light breeze ; just right. You need n’t be afraid.”
“ I’m not afraid. I should not care if it were rough! I should not care if it stormed! I hope it—I will ask mother to stay with Mrs. Maynard.”
Mrs. Breen had not been pleased to have her daughter in charge of Mrs. Maynard’s case, but she had not liked her giving it up. She had said more than once that she had no faith in Dr. Mulbridge. She willingly consented to Grace’s prayer, and went down into Mrs. Maynard’s room, and insinuated misgivings in which the sick woman found so much reason that they began for the first time to recognize each other’s good qualities. They decided that the treatment was not sufficiently active, and that she should either have something that would be more loosening to the cough, or some application — like mustard plasters — to her feet, so as to take away that stuffed feeling about the head.
At that hour of the afternoon, when most of the ladies were lying down in their rooms, Grace met no one on the beach but Miss Gleason and Mrs. Alger, who rose from their beds of sand under the cliff, at her passage with Mr. Libby to his dory.
“ Don’t you want to go to Leyden ? ” he asked jocosely over his shoulder.
“ You don’t mean to say you 're going?” Miss Gleason demanded of Grace.
“ Yes, certainly. Why not ? ”
“ Well, you are brave ! ” She shut her novel upon her thumb, that she might have nothing to do but admire Grace’s courage, as the girl walked away.
“ It will do her good, poor thing,” said the elder woman. “ She looks wretchedly.”
“ I can understand just why she does it,” murmured Miss Gleason in adoring rapture.
“ I hope she does it for pleasure,” said Mrs. Alger.
“ It is n’t that,” returned Miss Gleason mysteriously.
“ At any rate Mr. Libby seemed pleased.”
“ Oh, she would never marry him ! ” said Miss Gleason.
The other laughed, and at that moment Grace also laughed. The strong current of her purpose, the sense of escape from the bitter servitude of the past week, and the wild hope of final expiation through the chances she was tempting gave her a buoyancy long unfelt. She laughed in gayety of heart as she helped the young man draw his dory down the sand, and then took her place at one end while he gave it the last push and then leaped in at the other. He pulled out to where the boat lay tilting at anchor, and held the dory alongside by the gunwale that she might step aboard. But after rising she faltered, looking intently at the boat as if she missed something there.
“ I thought you had a man to sail your boat.”
“ I had. But I let him go last week. Perhaps I ought to have told you,” he said, looking up at her aslant. " Are you afraid to trust my seamanship? Adams was a mere form. He behaved like a fool, that day.”
“ Oh, I’m not afraid,” said Grace. She stepped from the dory into the boat, and he flung out the dory’s anchor and followed. The sail went up with a pleasant clucking of the tackle, and the light wind filled it; Libby made the sheet fast, and, sitting down in the stern on the other side, took the tiller and headed the boat toward the town that shimmered in the distance. The water hissed at the bow, and seethed and sparkled from the stern; the land breeze that bent their sail blew cool upon her cheek and freshened it with a tinge of color.
“ This will do you good,” he said, looking into hers with his kind, gay eyes.
The color in her cheeks deepened a little. “ Oh, I am better than I look. I did n’t come for” —
“ For medicinal purposes. Well, I am glad of it. We’ve a good hour between us and news or no news from Maynard, and I should like to think we were out for pleasure. You don’t object?”
“ No. You can even smoke, if that will heighten the illusion.”
“ It will make it reality. But you don’t mean it ? ”
“ Yes, why not ? ”
“ I don't know. But I could n’t have dreamt of smoking in your presence. And we take the liberty to dream very strange things.”
“ Yes,” she said, “ it’s shocking what things we do dream of people. But am I so forbidding ? ” she asked, a little sadly.
“ Not now,” said Libby. He got out a pouch of tobacco and some cigarette papers, and putting the tiller under his arm, he made himself a cigarette. “ You seem interested,” he said, as he lifted his eyes from his work, on which he found her intent, and struck his fusee.
“ I was admiring your skill,”she answered.
“ Do you think it was worth a voyage to South America ? ”
“ I should n’t have thought the voyage was necessary.”
“ Oh, perhaps you think you can do it,”he said, handing her the tobacco and papers. She took them and made a cigarette. “It took me a whole day to learn to make bad ones, and this is beautiful. But I will never smoke it. I will keep this always.”
“ You had better smoke it, if you want more,” she said.
“ Will you make some more ? I can’t smoke the first one ! ”
“ Then smoke the last,”she said, offering him the things back.
“ No, go on. I ’ll smoke it.”
She lent herself to the idle humor of the time, and went on making cigarettes till there were no more paper’s. From time to time she looked up from this labor, and scanned the beautiful bay, which they had almost wholly to themselves. They passed a collier lagging in the deep channel, and signaling for a pilot to take her up to the town. A yacht, trim and swift, cut across their course; the ladies on board waved a salutation with their handkerchiefs, and Libby responded.
“ Do you know them ? ” asked Grace.
“ No ! ” he laughed. “ But ladies like to take these liberties at a safe distance.”
“ Yes, that’s a specimen of woman’s daring,” she said with a self-scornful curl of the lip, which presently softened into a wistful smile. “ How lovely it all is ! ” she sighed.
“ Yes, there’s nothing better in all the world than a sail. It is all the world while it lasts. A boat ’s like your own fireside for snugness.”
A dreamier light came into her eye, which wandered, with a turn of the head giving him the tender curve of her cheek, over the levels of the bay, roughened everywhere by the breeze, but yellowish green in the channels and dark with the thick growth of eel-grass in the shallows; then she lifted her face to the pale blue heavens in an effort that slanted towards him the soft round of her chin, and showed her full throat.
“ This is the kind of afternoon,” she said, still looking at the sky, that you think will never end.”
“ I wish it would n’t,” he answered.
She lowered her eyes to his, and asked : “ Do you have times when you are sorry that you ever tried to do anything — when it seems foolish to have tried ? ”
“ I have the other kind of times: when I wish that I had tried to do something.”
“ Oh yes, I have those, too. It’s wholesome to be ashamed of not having tried to do anything; but to be ashamed of having tried — it’s like death. There seems no recovery from that.”
He did not take advantage of her confession, or try to tempt her to further confidence ; and women like men who have this wisdom, or this instinctive generosity, and trust them further.
“ Aud the worst of it is that you can’t go back and be like those that have never tried at all. If you could, that would be some consolation for having failed. There’s nothing left of you but your mistake.”
“ Well,” he said, “ some people are not even mistakes. I suppose that almost any sort of success looks a good deal like failure from the inside. It must be a poor creature that comes up to his own mark. The best way is not to have any mark, and then you ’re in no danger of not coming up to it.” He laughed, but she smiled sadly.
“ You don’t believe in thinking about yourself,” she said.
“ Oh, I try a little introspection, now and then. But I soon get through: there is n’t much of me to think about.”
“ No, don’t talk in that way,” she pleaded, and she was very charming in her earnestness : it was there that her charm lay. “ I want you to be serious with me, and tell me — tell me how men feel when ” —
A sudden splashing startled her, and looking round she saw a multitude of curious, great-eyed, black heads, something like the heads of boys, and something like the heads of dogs, thrusting from the water, and flashing under it again at sight of them with a swish that sent the spray into the air. She sprang to her feet. “ Oh, look at those things ! Look at them ! Look at them ! ” She laid vehement hands upon the young man, and pushed him in the direction in which she wished him to look, at some risk of pushing him overboard, while he laughed at her ecstasy.
“ They ’re seals. The bay’s full of them. Did you never see them on the reef at Jocelyn’s ? ”
“ I never saw them before ! ” she cried. “ How wonderful they are! Oh ! ” she shouted, as one of them glanced sadly at her over its shoulder, and then vanished with a whirl of the head. “ The Beatrice Cenci attitude.”
“ They ’re always trying that,” said Libby. “Look yonder.” He pointed to a bank of mud which the tide had not yet covered, and where a herd of seals lay basking in the sun. They started at his voice, and wriggling and twisting and bumping themselves over the earth to the water’s edge, they plunged in. “ Their walk is n’t so graceful as their swim. Would you like one for a pet, Miss Breen ? That ’s all they ’re good for since kerosene came in. They can’t compete with that, and they ’re not the kind that wear the cloaks.”
She was standing with her hand pressed hard upon his shoulder.
“ Did they ever kill them ? ”
“ They used to take that precaution.”
“ With those eyes ? It was murder ! ” She withdrew her hand and sat down.
“ Well, they only catch them, now. I tried it myself once. I set out at low tide, about ten o’clock one night, and got between the water and the biggest seal on the bank. We fought it out on that line till daylight.”
“ And did you get it ? ” she demanded, absurdly interested.
“ No, it got me. The tide came in, and the seal beat.”
“ I am glad of that.”
“ Thank you.”
“ What did you want with it ? ”
“ I don’t think I wanted it at all. At any rate, that’s what I always said. I shall have to ask you to sit on this side,” he added, loosening the sheet and preparing to shift the sail. “ The wind has backed round a little more to the south, and it’s getting lighter.”
“ If it’s going down we shall be late,” she said with an intimation of apprehension.
“ We shall be at Leyden on time. If the wind falls then, I can get a horse at the stable and have you driven back.”
He kept scanning the sky. Then, “ Did you ever hear them whistle for a wind ? ” he asked.
“ No. What is it like ? ”
“ When Adams does it, it’s like this.” He put on a furtive look, and glanced once or twice at her askance. “ Well! ” he said with the reproduction of a strong nasal, “ of course I don’t believe there’s anything in it. Of course it ’s all foolishness. Now you must urge me a little,” he added, in his own manner.
“ Oh, by all means go on, Mr. Adams,” she cried, with a laugh.
He rolled his head again to one side, sheepishly. “Well, I don’t presume it doos have anything to do with the wind — well, I don’t presume it doos.” He was silent long enough to whet an imagined expectation ; then he set his face towards the sky, and began a soft, low, coaxing sibillation between his teeth. “ S-s-s-s ; s-s-s-s-s-s ! Well, it don’t stand to reason it can bring the wind — S-s-s-s-s-s-s ; s-s-s-s. Why, of course it’s all foolishness. S-s-s-s.” He continued to emit these sibillants, interspersing them with Adams’s protests. Suddenly the sail pulled the loose sheet taut and the boat leaped forward over the water.
“ Wonderful ! ” cried the girl.
“ That’s what I said to Adams —or words to that effect. But I thought we should get it from the look of the sky, before I proposed to whistle for it. Now, then,” he continued, “ I will be serious, if you like.”
“ Serious ? ”
“ Yes. Did n’t you ask me to be serious just before those seals interrupted you?”
“ Oh ! ” she exclaimed, coloring a little. “ I don’t think we can go back to that, now.” He did not insist, and she said, presently, " I thought the sailors had a superstition about ships that are lucky and unlucky. But you've kept your boat.”
“ I kept her for luck : the lightning never strikes twice in the same place. And I never saw a boat that behaved so well.”
“ Do you call it behaving well to tip over ? ”
“ She behaved well before that. She did n’t tip over outside the reef.”
“ It certainly goes very smoothly,” said the girl. She had in vain recurred to the tragic motive of her coming ; she could not revive it; there had been nothing like expiation in this eventless voyage ; it had been a pleasure and no penance. She abandoned herself with a weak luxury to the respite from suffering and anxiety ; she made herself the good comrade of the young man whom perhaps she even tempted to flatter her farther and farther out of the dreariness in which she had dwelt, and if any woeful current of feeling swept beneath, she would not fathom it, but resolutely floated, as one may at such times, on the surface. They laughed together and jested : they talked in the gay idleness of such rare moods. They passed a yacht at anchor, and a young fellow in a white duck cap, leaning over the rail, saluted Libby with the significant gravity which one young man uses towards another whom he sees in a sailboat with a pretty girl.
She laughed at this. “ Do you know your friend ? ” she asked.
“ Yes. This time I do.”
“ He fancies you are taking some young lady a sail. What would he say if you were to stop and introduce me to him as Dr. Breen ? ”
“ Oh, he knows who you are. It’s Johnson.”
“ The one whose clothes you came over in, that morning ? ”
“ Yes. I suppose you laughed at me.”
“ I liked your having the courage to do it. But how does he know me.”
“I — I described you. He’s rather an old friend.”
This also amused her. “ I should like to hear how you described me.”
“ I will tell you sometime. It was an elaborate description. I could n’t get through with it now before we landed.”
The old town had come out of the haze of the distance, a straggling village of weather-beaten wood and weather-beaten white paint, picturesque, but no longer a vision of gray stone and pale marble. A coal yard and a brick locomotive house and rambling railroad sheds stretched along the water-front. They found their way easily enough through the sparse shipping to the steps at the end of the wooden pier, where Libby dropped the sail and made his boat fast.
A little pleasant giddiness, as if the lightness of her heart had mounted to her head, made her glad of his arm up these steps, and up the wharf; and she kept it as they climbed the sloping elmshaded village street to the main thoroughfare, with its brick sidewalks, its shops and awnings, and its cheerful stir and traffic.
The telegraph office fronted the head of the street which they had ascended. “ You can sit here in the apothecary’s till I come down,” he said.
“ Do you think that will be professionally appropriate ? I am only a nurse, now.”
“ No, I was n’t thinking of that. But I saw a chair in there. And we can make a pretense of wanting some soda. It is the proper thing to treat young ladies to soda when one brings them in from the country.”
“ It does have that appearance,” she assented, with a smile. She kept him waiting with what would have looked like coquettish hesitation in another, while she glanced at the windows overhead, pierced by a skein of converging wires. “ Suppose I go up with you ? ”
“ I should like that better,” he said, and she followed him lightly up the stairs that led to the telegraph office. A young man stood at the machine with a cigar in his mouth, and his eyes intent upon the ribbon of paper unreeling itself before him.
“Just hold on,” he said to Libby, without turning his head. “ I’ve got something here for you.” He read: “ ‘ Dispatch received yesterday. Coming right through. George Maynard.’ ”
“ Good ! ” cried Libby.
“ Dated Council Bluffs. Want it written out ? ”
“ No. What’s to pay ? ”
“ Paid,” said the operator.
The laconically transacted business ended with this, the wire began to cluck again like the anxious hen whose manner the most awful and mysterious of the elements assumes in becoming articulate, and nothing remained for them but to come away.
“ That was what I was afraid of,” said Libby. “ Maynard was at his ranch, and it must have been a good way out. They ’re fifty or sixty miles out, sometimes. That would account for the delay. Well, Mrs. Maynard does n’t know how long it takes to come from Cheyenne, and we can tell her he ’s on the way, and has telegraphed.” They were walking rapidly down the street to the wharf where his boat lay. “ Oh ! ” he exclaimed, halting abruptly. “ I promised to send you back by land, if you preferred.”
“ Has the wind fallen ? ”
“ Oh, no. We shall have a good breeze.”
“ I won’t put you to the trouble of getting a horse. I can go back perfectly well in the boat.”
“ Well, that’s what I think,” he said cheerily.
She did not respond, and he could not be aware that any change had come over her mood. But when they were once more seated in the boat, and the sail was pulling in the fresh breeze, she turned to him with a scarcely concealed indignation. “ Have you a fancy for experimenting upon people, Mr. Libby ? ”
“ Experimenting ? I ? I don’t know in the least what you mean ! ”
“ Why did you tell me that the operator was a woman ? ”
“ Because the other operator is,” he answered.
“ Oh ! ” she said, and fell blankly silent.
“ There is a good deal of business there. They have to have two operators,” he explained, after a pause.
“ Why, of course,” she murmured in deep humiliation. If he had suffered her to be silent as long as she would, she might have offered him some reparation ; but he spoke.
“ Why did you think I had been experimenting on you ? ” he asked.
“ Why ? ” she repeated. The sense of having put herself in the wrong exasperated her with him. “ Oh, I dare say you were curious. Don't you suppose I have noticed that men are puzzled at me ? What did you mean by saying that you thought I would be equal to anything ? ”
“I meant—I thought you would like to be treated frankly.”
“ And you would n’t treat everybody so ? ”
“I would n’t treat Mrs. Maynard so.”
“ Oh ! ” she said. “ You treat me upon a theory.”
“ Don’t you like that ? We treat everybody upon a theory ” —•
“ Yes, I know ” —
“ And I should tell you the worst of anything at once, because I think you are one of the kind that don’t like to have their conclusio s made for them.”
“ And you would really let women make their own conclusions,” she said. “ You are very peculiar ! ” She waited a while, and then she asked, “ And what is your theory of me ? ”
“ That you are very peculiar.”
“ How ? ”
“ You are proud.”
“ And is pride so very peculiar ? ”
“ Yes ; in women.”
“ Indeed ! You set up for a connoisseur of female character. That’s very common, nowadays. Why don’t you tell me something more about yourself ? We’re always talking about me.”
He might well have been doubtful of her humor. He seemed to decide that she was jesting, for he answered lightly, “ Why, you began it.”
“ I know I did, this time. But now I wish to stop it, too.”
He looked down at the tiller in his hands. “Well,” he said, “I should like to tell you about myself. I should like to know what you think of the kind of man I am. Will you be honest if I will ? ”
“That’s a very strange condition,” she answered, meeting and then avoiding the gaze he lifted to her face.
“ What ? Being honest ? ”
“ Well, no — Or, yes ! ”
“It is n’t for you.”
“ Thank you. But I’m not under discussion now.”
“ Well, in the first place,” he began, “ I was afraid of you when we met.”
“ Afraid of me ? ”
“ That is n’t the word, perhaps. We ’ll say ashamed of myself. Mrs. Maynard told me about you, and I thought you would despise me for not doing or being anything in particular. I thought you must.”
“ Indeed ! ”
He hesitated, as if still uncertain of her mood from this intonation, and then he went on : “ But I had some little hope you would tolerate me, after all. You looked like a friend I used to have.
— Do you mind my telling you ? ”
“ Oh, no. Though I can’t say that it’s ever very comfortable to be told that you look like some one else.”
“ I don’t suppose any one else would have been struck by the resemblance,” said Libby with a laugh of reminiscence. “ He was huge. But he had eyes like a girl, — I beg your pardon, — like yours.”
“ You mean that I have eyes like a man.”
He laughed, and said, “ No,” and then turned grave. “ As long as he lived” —
“ Oh, is he dead ? ” she asked more gently than she had yet spoken.
“ Yes, he died just before I went abroad. I went out on business for my father, — he ’s an importer and jobber,
— and bought goods for him. Do you despise business ? ”
“ I don’t know anything about it.”
“ I did it to please my father, and he said I was a very good buyer. He thinks there’s nothing like buying — except selling, He used to sell things himself, over the counter, and not so long ago, either. I fancied it made a difference for me when I was in college, and that the yardstick came between me and society. I was an ass for thinking anything about it. Though I did n’t really care, much. I never liked society, and I did like boats and horses. I thought of a profession, once. But it would n’t work. I’ve been round the world twice, and I’ve done nothing but enjoy myself since I left college, — or try to. When I first saw you I was hesitating about letting my father make me of use. He wants me to become one of the most respectable members of society, — he wants me to be a cottonspinner. You know there’s nothing so irreproachable as cotton, for a business ? ”
“ No. I don’t know about those things.”
“ Well, there is n’t. When I was abroad, buying and selling, I made a little discovery : I found that there were goods we could make and sell in the European market cheaper than the English, and that gave my father the notion of buying a mill to make them. I’m boring you ! ”
“Well, he bought it; and he wants me to take charge of it.”
“ And shall you ? ”
“ Do you think I’m fit for it ? ”
“ I ? How should I know ? ”
“You don’t know cotton ; but you know me a little. Do I strike you as fit for anything ? ” She made no reply to this, and he laughed. “ I assure you I felt small enough when I heard what you had done, and thought what I had done. It gave me a start; and I wrote my father that night that I would go in for it.”
“ I once thought of going to a factory town,” she answered, without willful evasion, “ to begin my practice there among the operatives’ children. I should have done it if it had not been for coming here with Mrs. Maynard. It would have been better ” —
“ Come to my factory town, Miss Breen ! There ought to be fevers there in the autumn, with all the low lands that I’m allowed to flood. Mrs. Maynard told me about your plan.”
“ Pray, what else did Mrs. Maynard tell you about me ? ”
“ About your taking up a profession, in the way you did, when you need n’t, and when you did n’t particularly like it.”
“ Oh ! ” she said. Then she added : “ And because I was n’t obliged to it, and did n’t like it, you tolerated me ? ”
“ Tolerated ? ” he echoed.
This vexed her. “ Yes, tolerate ! Everybody, interested or not, has to make up his mind whether to tolerate me, as soon as he hears what I am. What excuse did you make for me ? ”
“ I did n’t make any,” said Libby.
“ But you had your misgiving, your surprise.”
“ I thought if you could stand it, other people might. I thought it was your affair.”
“ Just as if I had been a young man ? ”
“ No ! That was n’t possible.”
She was silent. Then, “ The conversation has got back into the old quarter,” she said. “ You are talking about me again. Have you heard from your friends since they went away ? ”
“ What friends ? ”
“ Those you were camping with.” “No.”
“ What did they say when they heard that you had found a young doctress at Jocelyn’s ? How did you break the fact to them ? What jokes did they make? You needn’t be afraid to tell me ! ” she cried. “ Give me Mr. Johnson’s comments.”
He looked at her in surprise that incensed her still more, and rendered her incapable of regarding the pain with which he answered her. “ I’m afraid,” he said, “ that I have done something to offend you.”
“ Oh no! What could you have done ? ”
“ Then you really mean to ask me whether I would let any one make a joke of you in my presence ? ”
“ Yes ; why not ? ”
“ Because it was impossible,” he answered.
“ Why was it impossible ? ” she pursued.
“ Because — I love you.”
She had been looking him defiantly in the eyes, and she could not withdraw her gaze. For the endless moment that ensued, her breath was taken away. Then she asked, in a low, steady voice,
“ Did you mean to say that ?”
“I believe you, and I forgive you. No, no ! ” she cried at a demonstration of protest from him. “ Don’t speak again ! ”
He obeyed, instantly, implicitly. With the tiller in his hand he looked past her and guided the boat’s course. It became intolerable.
“ Have I ever done anything that gave you the right to— to — say that ? ” she asked, without the self-command which she might have wished to show.
“ No,” he said, “ you were only the most beautiful ” —
“ I am not beautiful! And if I were ” —
“ It was n’t to be helped ! I saw from the first how good and noble you were, and ” —
“ This is absurd ! ” she exclaimed.
“ I am neither good nor noble ; and if I were ” —
“It wouldn’t make any difference. Whatever you are, you are the one woman in the world to me ; and you always will be.”
“ Mr. Libby ! ”
“ Oh, I must speak, now ! You were always thinking, because you had studied a man’s profession, that no one would think of you as a woman, as if that could make any difference to a man that had the soul of a man in him ! ”
“No, no!” she protested. “I did n’t think that. I always expected to be considered as a woman.”
“ But not as a woman to fall in love with. I understood. And that somehow made you all the dearer to me. If you had been a girl like other girls, I should n’t have cared for you.”
“I did n’t mean to speak to you today. But sometime I did mean to speak ; because whatever I was, I loved you ; and I thought you did n’t dislike me.”
“ I did like you,” she murmured, “ very much. And I respected you. But you can’t say that I ever gave you any hope, in this — this — way.” She almost asked him if she had.
“ No, — not purposely. And if you did, it’s over now. You have rejected me. I understand that. There’s no reason why you should n’t. And I can hold my tongue.” He did not turn, but looked steadily past her at the boat’s head.
An emotion stirred in her breast which took the form of a reproach. “ Was it fair, then, to say this when neither of us could escape afterwards ? ”
“ I did n’t mean to speak,” he said, without looking up, “and I never meant to place you where you could n’t escape.”
It was true that she had proposed to go with him in the boat, and that she had chosen to come back with him, when he had offered to have her driven home from Leyden. “ No, you are not to blame,” she said, at last. “ I asked to come with you. Shall I tell you why ? ” Her voice began to break. In her pity for him and her shame for herself the tears started to her eyes. She did not press her question, but, “Thank you for reminding me that I invited myself to go with you,” she said with feeble bitterness.
He looked tip at her in silent wonder, and she broke into a sob. He said gently. “ I don’t suppose you expect me to deny that. You don’t think me such a poor dog as that.”
“ Why, of course not,” she answered with quivering lips, while she pressed her handkerchief to her eyes.
“ I was only too glad to have you come. I always meant to tell you — what I have told ; but not when I should seem to trap you into listening.”
“ No,” she murmured, “ I can believe that of you. I do believe it. I take back what I said. Don’t let us speak of it any more, now,” she continued, struggling for her lost composure, with what success appeared in the fresh outburst with which she recognized his forbearance to hint at any painfulness to himself in the situation.
“ I don’t mind it so much on my account, but oh! how could you for your own sake ? Do let us get home as fast as we can ! ”
“I am doing everything I can to release you,” he said. “ If you will sit here,” he added, indicating the place beside him in the stern, “ you won’t have to change so much, when I want to tack.”
She took the other seat, and for the first time she noticed that the wind had grown very light. She watched him with a piteous impatience while he shifted the sail from side to side, keeping the sheet in his hand for convenience in the frequent changes. He scanned the sky, and turned every current of the ebbing tide to account. It was useless ; the boat crept, and presently it scarcely moved.
“ The wind is down,” he said, making the sheet fast, and relaxing his hold on the tiller.
“And the tide is going out!” she exclaimed.
“ The tide is going out,” he admitted.
“ If we should get caught on these flats,” she began, with rising indignation.
“ We should have to stay till the tide turned.”
She looked wildly about for aid. If there were a row-boat anywhere within hail, she could be taken to Jocelyn’s in that. But they were quite alone on those lifeless waters.
Libby got out a pair of heavy oars from the bottom of the boat, and setting the rowlocks on either side, tugged silently at them.
The futile effort suggested an idea to her which doubtless she would not have expressed if she had not been lacking, as she once said, in a sense of humor.
“ Why don’t you whistle for a wind ? ”
He stared at her in sad astonishment to make sure that she was in earnest, and then, “ Whistle! ” he echoed forlornly, and broke into a joyless laugh.
“ You knew the chances of delay that I took in asking to come with you,” she cried, “ and you should have warned me. It was ungenerous — it was ungentlemanly ! ”
“It was whatever you like. I must be to blame. I suppose I was too glad to have you come. If I thought anything I thought you must have some particular errand at Leyden. You seemed anxious to go, even if it. stormed.”
“ If it had stormed,” she retorted, “ I should not have cared ! I hoped it
would storm. Then at least I should have run the same danger — I hoped it would he dangerous.”
“ I don’t understand what you mean,” he said.
“ I forced that wretched creature to go with you that day when you said it was going to be rough ; and I shall have her blood upon my hands, if she dies ” —
“ Is it possible,” cried Libby, pulling in his useless oars, and leaning forward upon them. “ that she has gone on letting you think I believed there was going to be a storm ? She knew perfectly well that I did n't mind what Adams said ; he was always croaking.” She sat looking at him in a daze, but she could not speak, and he continued. “ I see: it happened by one chance in a million to turn out as he said; and she has been making you pay for it. Why, I suppose,” he added with a melancholy smile of intelligence, “ she’s had so much satisfaction in holding you responsible for what’s happened, that she’s almost glad of it! ”
“ She has tortured me ! ” cried the girl. “ But you—you, when you saw that I did n’t believe there was going to be any storm, why did you — why did n’t you ” —
“ I did n’t believe it either! It was Mrs. Maynard that proposed the sail, but when I saw that you didn’t like it, I was glad of any excuse for putting it off. I could n’t help wanting to please you, and I could n't see why you urged us afterwards ; but I supposed you had some reason.”
She passed her hand over her forehead, as if to clear away the confusion in which all this involved her. " But why—why did you let me go on thinking myself to blame ” —
“ How could I know what you were thinking ? Heaven knows I did n’t dream of such a thing ! Though I remember, now, your saying ” —
“ Oh, I see ! ” she cried. " You are a man! But I can’t forgive it,—no, I can’t forgive it! You wished to deceive her if you did n’t wish to deceive me. How can you excuse yourself for repeating what you did n’t believe ? ”
“ I was willing she should think Adams was right.”
“ And that was deceit. What can you say to it ? ”
“ There is only one thing I could say,” he murmured, looking hopelessly into her eyes, “ and that’s of no use.”
She turned her head away. Her tragedy had fallen to nothing; or rather it had never been. All her remorse, all her suffering, was mere farce now ; but his guilt in the matter was the greater. A fierce resentment burned in her heart; she longed to make him feel something of the anguish she had needlessly undergone.
He sat watching her averted face.
“ Miss Breen,” he said huskily, " will you let me speak to you ? ”
“ Oh, you have me in your power,” she answered cruelly. “ Say what you like.”
He did not speak, nor make any motion to do so. A foolish, idle curiosity to know what, after all that had happened, he could possibly have to say, stirred within her, but she disdainfully stifled it. They were both so still that a company of seals found it safe to put their heads above water, and approach near enough to examine her with their round soft eyes. She turned from the silly things in contempt that they should even have interested her. She felt that from time to time her companion lifted an anxious glance to the dull heavens. At last the limp sail faintly stirred ; it flapped; it filled shallowly; the boat moved. The sail seemed to have had a prescience of the wind before it passed over the smooth water like a shadow.
When a woman says she never will forgive a man, she always has a condition of forgiveness in her heart. Now that the wind had risen again, " I have no right to forbid you to speak,” she said, as if no silence had elapsed, and she turned round and quietly confronted him ; she no longer felt so impatient to escape.
He did not meet her eye at once, and he seemed in no haste to avail himself of the leave granted him. A heavy sadness blotted the gayety of a face whose sunny sympathy had been her only cheer for many days. She fancied a bewilderment in its hopelessness which smote her with still sharper pathos. “ Of course,” she said, “ I appreciate your wish to do what I wanted, about Mrs. Maynard. I remember my telling you that she ought n’t to go out, that day. But that was not the way to do it.”
“ There was no other,” he said.
“ No,” she assented, upon reflection. “ Then it ought n’t to have been done.”
He showed no sign of intending to continue, and after a moment of restlessness, she began again.
“ If I have been rude or hasty in refusing to hear you, Mr. Libby, I am very wrong. I must hear anything you have to say.”
“ Oh, not unless you wish.”
“ I wish whatever you wish.”
“ I ’m not sure that I wish that now. I have thought it over ; I should only distress you for nothing. You are letting me say why sentence should n't be passed upon me. Sentence is going to be passed any way. I should only repeat what I have said. You would pity me, but you could n’t help me. And that would give you pain for nothing. No, it would be useless.”
“It would be useless to talk to me about — loving.” She took the word on her lips with a certain effect of adopting it for convenience’ sake in her vocabulary. “ All that was ended for me long ago, — ten years ago. And my whole life since then has been shaped to do without it. I will tell you my story if you like. Perhaps it’s your due. I wish to be just. You may have a right to know.”
“ No, I have n’t. But — perhaps I ought to say that Mrs. Maynard told me something.”
“ Well, I am glad of that; though she had no right to do it. Then you can understand.”
“ Oh, yes, I can understand. I don’t pretend that I had any reason in it.”
He forbore again to urge any plea for himself, and once more she was obliged to interfere in his behalf. “Mr. Libby, I have never confessed that I once wronged you in a way that I’m very sorry for.”
“ About Mrs. Maynard ? Yes, I know. I won’t try to whitewash myself, but it did n’t occur to me how it would look. I wanted to talk with her about you.”
“ You ought to have considered her, though,” she said gently.
“ She ought to have considered herself,” he retorted, with his unfailing bitterness for Mrs. Maynard. “ But it does n’t matter whose fault it was. I’m sufficiently punished; for I know that it injured me with you.”
“ It did at first. But now I can see that I was wrong. I wished to tell you that. It is n’t creditable to me that I thought you intended to flirt with her. If I had been better myself” —
“ You ! ” He could not say more.
That utter faith in her was very charming. It softened her more and more; it made her wish to reason with him, and try gently to show him how impossible his hope was. “ And you know,” she said, recurring to something that had gone before, “ that even if I had cared for you in the way you wish, it could n’t be. You would n’t want to have people laughing and saying I had been a doctress.”
“ I should n’t have minded. I know how much people’s talk is worth.”
“ Yes,” she said. “ I know you would be generous and brave about that — about anything. But what— what if I could n’t give up my career — my hopes of being useful in the way I have planned ? You would n’t have liked me to go on practicing medicine?”
“ I thought of that,” he answered simply. “ I did n’t see how it could be done. But if you saw auy way, I was willing — No, that was my great trouble ! I knew that it was selfish in
me, and very conceited, to suppose you would give up your whole life for me ; and whenever I thought of that, I determined not to ask you. But I tried not to think of that.”
“ Well, don’t you see ? But if I could have answered you as you wish, it would n’t have been anything to give up everything for you. A woman is n’t something else first, and a woman afterwards. I understand how unselfishly you meant, and indeed, indeed I thank you. But don’t let’s talk of it any more. It could n’t have been, and there is nothing but misery in thinking of it. Come,” she said, with a struggle for cheerfulness, “let us forget it. Let it be just as if you had n’t spoken to me ; I know you did n’t intend to do it; and let us go on as if nothing had happened.”
“ Oh, we can’t go on,” he answered. “ I shall get away, as soon as Maynard comes, and rid you of the sight of me.”
“ Are you going away ? ” she softly asked. “ Why need you ? I know that people always seem to think they can’t be friends after — such a thing as this. But why should n’t we ? I respect you, and I like you very much. You have shown me more regard and more kindness than any other friend ” —
“ But I was n’t your friend,” he interrupted ; “ I loved you.”
“ Well,” she sighed in gentle perplexity, “ then you can’t be my friend ? ”
“ Never. But I shall always love you. If it would do any good, I would stay, as you ask it. I should n’t mind myself. But I should be a nuisance to you.”
“ No, no ! ” she exclaimed. “ I will take the risk of that. I need your advice, your — sympathy, your— You won’t trouble me, indeed you won’t. Perhaps you have mistaken your — feeling about me. It’s such a very little time since we met,” she pleaded.
“That makes no difference,—the time. And I’m not mistaken.”
“ Well, stay at least till Mrs. Maynard is well, and we can all go away together. Promise me that! ” She instinctively put out her hand toward him in entreaty. He took it, and pressing it to his lips covered It with kisses. “ Oh ! ” she grieved in reproachful surprise.
“ There ! ” he cried. “ You see that I must go ! ”
“ Yes,” she sighed in assent, “ you must go.”
They did not look at each other again, but remained in a lamentable silence while the boat pushed swiftly before the freshening breeze, and when they reached the place where the dory lay, he dropped the sail and threw out the anchor without a word.
He was haggard to the glance she stole at him, when they had taken their places in the dory, and he confronted her, pulling hard at the oars. He did not lift his eyes to hers, but from time to time he looked over his shoulder at the boat’s prow, and he rowed from one point to another for a good landing. A dreamy pity for him filled her ; through the memories of her own suffering, she divined the soreness of his heart.
She started from her reverie as the bottom of the dory struck the sand. The shoal water stretched twenty feet beyond. He pulled in the oars and rose desperately. “ It’s of no use : I shall have to carry you ashore.”
She sat staring up into his face, and longing to ask him something ; to accuse him of having done this purposely. But she had erred in so many doubts, her suspicions of him had all recoiled so pitilessly upon her, that she had no longer the courage to question or reproach him. “ Oh, no, thank you,” she said weakly. “ I won’t trouble you. I — I will wait till the tide is out.”
“ The tide’s out now,” he answered with coldness, “ and you can’t wade.”
She rose desperately. “ Why, of course ! ” she cried in self contempt, glancing at the water, into which he promptly stepped to his boot-tops. “ A woman must n’t get her feet wet.”
Grace went to her own room to lay aside her shawl and hat before going to Mrs. Maynard, and found her mother sewing there.
“ Why, who is with Mrs. Maynard? ” she asked.
“ Miss Gleason is reading to her,” said Mrs. Breen. “ If she had any sort of active treatment, she could get well at once. I could n’t take the responsibility of doing anything for her, and it was such a worry to stay and see everything going wrong that when Miss Gleason came in I was glad to get away. Miss Gleason seems to believe in your Dr. Mulbridge.”
“ My Dr. Mulbridge! ” echoed Grace.
“ She talked of him as if he were yours. I don’t know what you’ve been saying to her about him ; but you had better be careful. The woman is a fool.” She now looked up at her daughter for the first time. “ Why, what is the matter with you ? What kept you so long ? You look perfectly wild.”
“ I feel wild,” said Grace calmly.
The wind went down.”
“ Was that all ? I don’t see why that
should make you feel wild,” said her mother, dropping her spectacles to her sewing again.
“ It was n’t all,” answered the girl, sinking provisionally upon the side of a chair, with her shawl still on her arm, and her hat in her hand. “ Mother, have you noticed anything peculiar about Mr. Libby?”
“ He’s the only person who seems to be of the slightest use about here ; I’ve noticed that,” said Mrs. Breen. “ He’s always going and coming for you and Mrs. Maynard. Where is that worthless husband of hers? Has n’t he had time to come from Cheyenne yet? ”
“ He’s on the way. He was out at his ranch when Mr. Libby telegraphed first, and had to be sent for. We found a dispatch from him at Leyden, saying he had started,” Grace explained.
“ What business had he to be so far away at all ? ” demanded her mother. It was plain that Mrs. Breen was in her most censorious temper, which had probably acquired a sharper edge towards Maynard from her reconciliation with his wife.
Grace seized her chance to meet the worst. “ Do you think that I have done anything to encourage Mr. Libby ? ” she asked, looking bravely at her mother.
“ Encourage him to do what ? ” asked Mrs. Breen, without lifting her eyes from her work.
“ Encourage him to—think I cared for him; to—to be in love with me.”
Mrs. Breen lifted her head now, and pushed her spectacles up on her forehead, while she regarded her daughter in silence. “ Has he been making love to you ? ”
Her mother pushed her spectacles down again, and, turning the seam which she had been sewing, flattened it with her thumb-nail. She made this action expressive of having foreseen such a result, and of having struggled against it, neglected and alone. “ Very well then. I hope you accepted him ? ” she asked quietly.
“ Mother ! ”
“ Why not ? You must like him,” she continued in the same tone. “ You have been with him every moment the last week that you have n’t been with Mrs. Maynard. At least I’ve seen nothing of you, except when you came to tell me you were going to walk or to drive with him. You seem to have asked him to take you, most of the time.”
“ How can you say such a thing, mother ? ” cried the girl.
“ Did n’t you ask him to let you go with him this afternoon ? You told me you did.”
“ Yes, I did. I did it for a purpose.”
“ Ah! for a purpose,” said Mrs. Breen, taking a survey of the new seam, which she pulled from her knee, where one end of it was pinned, towards her chin. She left the word to her daughter, who was obliged to take it.
“ I asked him to let me go with him because Louise had tortured me about making her go out in his boat, till I could n’t bear it any longer. It seemed to me that if I took the same risk myself, it would be something ; and I hoped there would be a storm.”
“ I should think yon had taken leave of your senses,” Mrs. Breen observed, with her spectacles intent upon her seam. “ Did you think it would be any consolation to him if you were drowned, or to her ? And if,” she added, her conscience rising equal to the vicarious demand upon it, “ you hoped there would be danger, had you any right to expose him to it? Even if you chose to risk your own life, you had no right to risk his.” She lifted her spectacles again, and turned their austere glitter upon her daughter.
“ Yes, it all seems very silly now,” said the girl with a hopeless sigh.
“ Silly ! ” cried her mother. “ I ’m glad you can call it silly.”
“ And it seemed worse still when he told me that he had never believed it was going to storm that day, when he took Louise out. His man said it was, and he repeated it, because he saw I did n’t want her to go.”
“ Perhaps,” suggested Mrs. Breen, “if he was willing to deceive her then, he is willing to deceive you now.”
“ He did n’t deceive her. He said what he had heard. And he said it because he—I wished it.”
“ I call it deceiving. Truth is truth. That is what I was taught; and that’s what I supposed I had taught you.”
“I would trust Mr. Libby in anything,” returned the daughter. “ He is perfectly frank about himself. He confessed that he had done it to please me. He said that nothing else could excuse it.”
“ Oh, then, you have accepted him ! ”
“ No, mother, I have n’t. I have refused him, and he is going away, as soon as Mr. Maynard comes.” She sat looking at the window, and the tears stole into her eyes, and blurred the sea and sky together where she saw their meeting at the horizon line.
“ Well,” said her mother, “ then that is the end of it, I presume.”
“Yes, that’s the end,” said Grace. “ But — I felt sorry for him, mother. Once,” she went on, “ I thought I had everything clear before me ; but now I seem only to have made confusion of my life. Yes,” she added drearily, “ it was foolish and wicked, and it was perfectly useless, too. I can’t escape from the consequences of what I did. It makes no difference what he believed or any one believed. I drove them on to risk their lives because I thought myself so much better than they ; because I was self-righteous and suspicious and stubborn. Well, I must hear the penalty ; and oh, if I could only bear it alone! ” With a long sigh she took back the burden which she had been struggling to cast off, and from which for a time she had actually seemed to escape. She put away her hat and shawl, and stood before the glass, smoothing her hair. “ When will it ever end? ” she moaned to the reflection there, rather than to her mother, who did not interrupt this spiritual ordeal. In another age, such a New England girl would have tortured herself with inquisition as to some neglected duty to God ; in ours, when religion is so largely humanified, this Puritan soul could only wreak itself in a sense of irreparable wrong to her fellow-creature.
When she went out, she met Miss Gleason half-way down the corridor to Mrs. Maynard’s door. The latter had a book in her hand, and came forward whispering. “ She ’s asleep,” she said very sibilantly. “ I have read her to sleep, and she’s sleeping beautifully. Have you ever read it ? ” she asked, with hoarse breaks from her undertone, as she held up one of those cheap-library editions of a novel toward Grace.
“ Jane Eyre ? Why, of course. Long ago.”
“ So have I,” said Miss Gleason. “ But I sent and got it again, to refresh my impressions of Rochester. We all think Dr. Mulbridge is just like him. Rochester is my ideal character — a perfect conception of a man : so abrupt, so rough, so savage. Oh, I like those men ! Don’t you ? ” she fluted. “ Mrs. Maynard sees the resemblance, as well as the rest of us. But I know ! You don’t approve of them. I suppose they can't be defended on some grounds ; but I can see how even in such a case as this the perfect mastery of the manphysician constitutes the highest usefulness of the woman-physician. The advancement of women must be as women. ‘ Male and female created he them,’ and it is only in remembering this that we are helping Gawd, whether as an anthropomorphic conception or a universally pervading instinct of love, don’t you think ? ”
With her novel clapped against her breast, she leaned winningly over toward Grace, and fixed her with her wide eyes, which had rings of white round them.
“ Do tell me ! ” she ran on without waiting an answer. “ Did n't you go with Mr. Libby because you hoped it might storm, and wished to take the same risk as Mrs. Maynard ? I told Mrs. Alger you did ! ”
Grace flushed guiltily, and Miss Gleason cowered a little, perhaps interpreting the color as resentment. “ I should consider that a very silly motive,” she said, helplessly ashamed that she was leaving the weight of the blow upon Miss Gleason’s shoulders instead of her own.
“ Of course,” said Miss Gleason, enthusiastically, “ you can’t confess it. But I know you are capable of such a thing — of anything heroic! Do forgive me,” she said, seizing Grace’s hand. She held it a moment, gazing with a devouring fondness into her face, which she stooped a little sidewise to peer up into. Then she quickly dropped her hand, and, whirling away, glided slimly out of the corridor.
Grace softly opened Mrs. Maynard’s door, and the sick woman opened her eyes. “ I was n’t asleep,” she said hoarsely. “ But I had to pretend to be, or that woman would have killed me.”
Grace went to her, and felt her hands and her flushed forehead.
“ I am worse this evening,” said Mrs. Maynard.
“ Oh, no,” sighed the girl, dropping into a chair at the bedside, with her eyes fixed in a sort of fascination on the lurid face of the sick woman.
“ After getting me here,” continued Mrs. Maynard, in the same low, hoarse murmur, “ you might at least stay with me, a little. What kept you so long?”
“ The wind fell. We were becalmed.”
“ We were not becalmed the day I went out with Mr. Libby. But perhaps nobody forced you to go.”
Having launched this dart, she closed her eyes again with something more like content than she had yet shown ; it had an aim of which she could always be sure.
“ We have heard from Mr. Maynard,” said Grace humbly. " There was a dispatch waiting for Mr. Libby at Leyden, He is on his way.”
Mrs. Maynard betrayed no immediate effect of this other than to say, “ He had better hurry,” and did not open her eyes.
Grace went about the room with a leaden weight in every fibre, putting the place in order, and Mrs. Maynard did not speak again till she had finished. Then she said, " I want you to tell me just how bad Dr. Mulbridge thinks I am.”
“ He has never expressed any anxiety,” Grace began, with her inaptness at evasion,
“ Of course he has n’t,” murmured the sick woman. “ He is n’t a fool ! What does he say ? ”
This passed the sufferance even of remorse, “He says you must n't talk,” the girl flashed out. “ And if you insist upon doing so, I will leave you, and send some one else to take care of you.”
“Very well, then. I know what that means. When a doctor tells you not to talk, it ’s because he knows he can’t do you any good. As soon as George Maynard gets here I will have some one that can cure me; or I will know the reason why.” The conception of her husband as a champion seemed to commend him to her in novel degree. She shed some tears, and after a little reflection she asked, “ How soon will he be here ? ”
“ I don’t know,” said Grace. “ He seems to have started yesterday morning.”
“ He can be here by day after tomorrow,” Mrs. Maynard computed. “ There will be some one to look after poor little Bella, then,” she added, as if, during her sickness, Bella must have been wholly neglected. “ Don’t let the child be all dirt, when her father comes.”
“ Mother will look after Bella,” Grace replied, too meek again to resent the implication. After a pause, “ Oh, Louise,” she added, beseechingly, “ I’ve suffered so much from my own wrongheadedness and obstinacy, that I could n’t bear to see you taking the same risk, and I’m so glad that you are going to meet your husband in the right spirit.”
“ What right spirit ? ” croaked Mrs. Maynard.
“ The wish to please him, to ” —
“I don’t choose to have him say that his child disgraces him,” replied Mrs. Maynard, in the low, husky, monotonous murmur in which she was obliged to utter everything.
“ But, dear Louise ! ” cried the other, “you choose something else, too, don’t you? You wish to meet him as if no unkindness had parted you, and as if you were to be always together after this ? I hope you do! Then I should feel that all this suffering and trouble was a mercy.”
“ Other people’s misery is always a mercy to them,” hoarsely suggested Mrs. Maynard.
“ Yes, I know that,” Grace submitted, with meek conviction. “ But, Louise,” she pleaded, “ you will make up with your husband, won’t you ? Whatever he has done, that will surely be best. I know that you love him, and that he must love you, yet. It’s the only way. If you were finally separated from him, and you and he could be happy apart, what would become of that poor child ? Who will take a father’s place with her? That’s the worst about it. Oh, Louise, I feel so badly for you — for what you have lost, and may lose. Marriage must change people so that unless they live to each other, their lives will be maimed and useless. It ought to be so much easier to forgive any wrong your husband does you than to punish it; for that perpetuates the wrong, and forgiveness ends it, and it’s the only thing that can end a wrong. I am sure that your husband will be ready to do or say anything you wish ; but if he should n’t, Louise, you will receive him forgivingly, and make the first advance ? It’s a woman’s right to make the advances in forgiving.”
Mrs. Maynard lay with her hands stretched at her side under the covering, and only her face visible above it. She now turned her head a little, so as to pierce the earnest speaker with a gleam from her dull eye. “ Have you accepted Walter Libby ? ” she asked.
“ Louise ! ” cried Grace, with a blush that burned like fire.
“ That’s the way I used to talk when. I was first engaged. Wait till you 're married a while. I want Bella to have on her piqué, and her pink sash, — not the cherry one. I should think you would have studied to be a minister instead of a doctor. But you need n’t preach to me ; I shall know how to behave to George Maynard when he comes, — if he ever does come. And now I should think you had made me talk enough.”
“ Yes, yes,” said Grace, recalled to her more immediate duty in alarm.
All her helpfulness was soon to be needed. The disease, which had lingered more than usual in the early stages, suddenly approached a crisis. That night Mrs. Maynard grew so much worse that Grace sent Libby at daybreak for Dr. Mulbridge, and the young man, after leading out his own mare to see if her lameness had abated, ruefully put her back in the stable, and set off to Corbitant with the splay-foot at a rate of speed unparalleled, probably, in the animal’s recollection of a long and useful life. In the two anxious days that followed, the doctor and Grace were associated in the freedom of a common interest outside of themselves ; she went to him for help and suggestion, and he gave them as if nothing had passed to restrict or embarrass their relations. There was that, in fact, in the awe of the time and an involuntary disoccupation of hers that threw them together even more constantly than before. Dr. Mulbridge remained with his patient well into the forenoon ; in the afternoon he came again, and that night he did not go away, He superseded Grace as a nurse no less completely than he had displaced her as a physician. He let her relieve him when he flung himself down for a few minutes’ sleep, or when he went out for the huge meals which he devoured, preferring the unwholesome things with a depravity shocking to the tender physical consciences of the ladies who looked on ; but when he returned to his charge, he showed himself jealous of all that Grace had done involving the exercise of more than a servile discretion. When she asked him once if there were nothing else that she could do, he said, “ Yes, keep those women and children quiet,” in a tone that classed her with both. She longed to ask him what he thought of Mrs. Maynard’s condition ; but she had not the courage to invoke the intelligence that ignored her so completely, and she struggled in silence with such disheartening auguries as her theoretical science enabled her to make.
The next day was a Sunday, and the Sabbath hush which always hung over Jocelyn’s was intensified to the sense of those who ached between hope and fear for the life that seemed to waver and flicker in that still air. Dr. Mulbridge watched beside his patient, noting every change with a wary intelligence which no fact escaped and no anxiety clouded; alert, gentle, prompt ; suffering no question, and absolutely silent as to all impressions. He allowed Grace to remain with him when she liked, and let her do his bidding in minor matters : but when from time to time she escaped from the intolerable tension in which his reticence and her own fear held her, he did not seem to see whether she went or came.
Toward nightfall, she met him coming out of Mrs. Maynard’s room, as she drew near in the narrow corridor.
“ Where is your friend — the young man — the one who smokes ? ” he asked, as if nothing unusual had occupied him. “ I want him to give me a cigar.”
“ Dr. Mulbridge,” she said, “ I will not bear this any longer. I must know the worst — you have no right to treat me in this way. Tell me now — tell me instantly : will she live ? ”
He looked at her with an imaginable apprehension of hysterics, but as she continued firm, and placed herself resolutely in his way, he relaxed his scrutiny, and said with a smile, “ Oh, I think so. What made you think she would n’t? ”
She drew herself aside, and made way for him. “ Go ! ” she cried. She would have said more, but her indignation choked her.
He did not pass at once, and he did not seem troubled at her anger. Dr. Breen,” he said, “ I saw a good deal of pneumonia in the army, and I don’t remember a single case that was saved by the anxiety of the surgeon.”
He went now, as people do when they fancy themselves to have made a good point; and she heard him asking Barlow for Libby, outside, and then walking over the gravel toward the stable. At that moment she doubted and hated him so much that she would have been glad to keep Libby from talking or even smoking with him. But she relented a little toward him afterwards, when he returned and resumed the charge of his patient with the gentle, vigilant cheerfulness which she had admired in him from the first, omitting no care and betraying none. He appeared to take it for granted that Grace saw an improvement, but he recognized it by nothing explicit till he rose and said, “ I think I will leave Mrs. Maynard with you to-night, Dr. Breen.”
The sick woman’s eyes turned to him imploringly from her pillow, and Grace spoke the terror of both when she faltered in return, “ Are you — you are not going home ? ”
“ I shall sleep in the house ” —
“ Oh, thank you! ” she cried, fervently.
“ And you can call me if you wish. But there won’t be any occasion. Mrs. Maynard is very much better.” He waited to give, in a sort of absent-minded way, certain directions. Then he went out, and Grace sank back into the chair from which she had started at his rising, and wept long and silently with a hidden face. When she took away her hands and dried her tears, she saw Mrs. Maynard beckoning to her. She went to the bedside.
“ What is it, dear ? ” she asked, tenderly.
“ Stoop down,” whispered the other ; and as Grace bowed her ear Mrs. Maynard touched her cheek with her dry lips. In this kiss doubtless she forgave the wrong which she had hoarded in her heart, and there perverted into a deadly injury. But they both knew upon what terms the pardon was accorded, and that if Mrs. Maynard had died, she would have died holding Grace answerable for her undoing.
W. D. Howells.
- Copyright, 1881, by W. D. HOWELLS. All rights reserved.↩