Dr. Breen's Practice
In the morning Dr. Mulbridge drove back to Corbitant, and in the evening Libby came over from New Leyden with Maynard, in a hired wagon. Maynard was a day later than his wife had computed, but, as she appeared to have reflected, she had left the intervening Sunday out of her calculation ; for this was one of the few things she taxed herself to say. For the rest, she seemed to be hoarding her strength against his coming.
Grace met him at a little distance from the house, whither she had walked with Bella, for a breath of the fresh air after her long day in the sick-room, and did not find him the boisterous and jovial Hoosier she had imagined him. It was, in fact, hardly the moment for the expression of Western humor. He arrived a sleep-broken, travel-creased figure, with more than the Western man’s usual indifference to dress ; with sad, dull eyes, and an untrimmed beard that hung in points and tags, and thinly hid the corners of a large mouth. lie took her hand laxly in his, and bowing over her from his lank height listened to her report of his wife’s state, while he held his little girl on his left arm, and the child fondly pressed her cheek against his bearded face, to which he had quietly lifted her as soon as he alighted from Libby’s buggy. Libby introduced her as Dr. Breen, and drove on, and Maynard gave her the title whenever he addressed her, with a perfect effect of single-mindedness in his gravity, as if it were an every-day thing with him to meet young ladies who were physicians, He had a certain neighborly manner of having known her a long time, and of being on good terms with her; and somewhere there resided in his loosely knit organism a powerful energy. She had almost to run in keeping at his side, as he walked on to the house, carrying his little girl on his arm, and glancing about him ; and she was not sure at last that she had succeeded in making him understand how serious the case had been.
“ I don’t know whether I ought to let you go in,” she said, “ without preparing her.”
“She’s been expecting me, hasn’t she ? ” he asked.
“ Yes, but ” —
“ And she’s awake ? ”
“ Yes ” —
“ Then I ’ll just go in and prepare her myself. I 'm a pretty good hand at preparing people to meet me. You’ve a beautiful location, here, Dr. Breen; and your town has a chance to grow. I like to see a town have some chance,” he added, with a sadness past tears in his melancholy eyes. “ Bella can show me the way to the room, I reckon,” he said, setting the little one down on the piazza, and following her in-doors ; and when Grace ventured, later, to knock at the door, Maynard’s voice bade her come in.
Copyright, 1881, by HOUGHTON, MIFFLIN & Co.
He sat beside his wife’s pillow, with her hand in his left; on his right arm perched the little girl, and rested her head on his shoulder. They did not seem to have been talking, and they did not move when Grace entered the room. But, apparently, Mrs. Maynard had known how to behave to George Maynard, and peace was visibly between them.
“ Now, you tell me about the medicines, Dr. Breen, and then you go and get some rest,” said Maynard, in his mild, caressing voice. “ I used to understand Mrs. Maynard’s ways pretty well, and I can take care of her. Libby told me all about you and your doings, and I know you must feel as pale as you look.”
“ But you can’t have had any sleep, on the way,” Grace began.
“ Sleep ? ” Maynard repeated, looking wanly at her. “ I never sleep. I’d as soon think of digesting.”
After she had given him the needed instructions, he rose from the rockingchair in which he had been softly swinging to and fro, and followed her out into the corridor, caressing with his largehand the child that lay on his shoulder. “ Of course,” she said, Mrs. Maynard is still very sick, and needs the greatest care and attention.”
“ Yes, I understand that. But I reckon it will come out all right in the end,” he said, with the optimistic fatalism which is the real religion of our orientalizing West. “ Good-night, doctor.”
She went away, feeling suddenly alone in this exclusion from the cares that had absorbed her. There was no one on the piazza, which the moonlight printed with the shadows of the posts and the fanciful jig-saw work of the arches between them. She heard a step on the sandy walk round the corner, and waited wistfully.
It was Barlow who came in sight, as she knew at once, but she asked, “ Mr. Barlow ? ”
“ Yes’m,” said Barlow. “ What can I do for you ? ”
“ Nothing. I thought it might be Mr. Libby at first. Do you know where he is?”
“ Well, I know where he ain’t” said Barlow; and having ineffectually waited to be questioned farther, he added, ‘‘He ain’t here, for one place. He’s gone back to Leyden. He had to take that horse back.”
“ Oh ! ” she said.
“ ’n’ I guess he’s goin’ to stay.”
“ To stay ? Where ? ”
“ Well, there you’ve got me, again. All I know is, I’ve got to drive that mare of his’n over to-morrow, if I can git off, and next day if I can’t. Did n’t you know he was goin’ ? ” asked Barlow, willing to recompense himself for the information he had given. “ Well !” he added sympathetically, at a little hesitation of hers.
Then she said, “ I knew he must go. Good night, Mr. Barlow,” and went indoors. She remembered that he had said he would go as soon as Maynard came, and that she had consented that this would be best. But his going now seemed abrupt, though she approved it. She thought that she had something more to say to him, which might console him or reconcile him ; she could not think what this was ; but it left an indefinite longing, an unsatisfied purpose, in her heart; and there was somewhere a tremulous sense of support withdrawn. Perhaps this was a mechanical effect of the cessation of her anxiety for Mrs. Maynard, which had been a support as well as a burden. The house was strangely quiet, as if some great noise had just been hushed, and it seemed empty. She felt timid, in her room, but she dreaded the next day more than the dark. Her life was changed, and the future, which she had once planned so clearly, and had felt so strong to encounter, had fallen to a ruin, in which she vainly endeavored to find some clew or motive of the past. She felt remanded to the conditions of the girlhood that she fancied she had altogether outlived ; she turned her face upon her pillow in a grief of bewildered aspiration and broken pride, and shed tears scarcely predicable of a doctor of medicine.
But there is no lapse or aberration of character which can be half so surprising to others as it is to one’s self. She had resented Libby’s treating her upon a theory, but she treated herself upon a theory, and we all treat ourselves upon a theory. We proceed, each of us, upon the theory that we are very brave, or generous, or gentle, or liberal, or truthful, or loyal, or just. We may have the defects of our virtues, but nothing is more certain than that we have our virtues, till there comes a fatal juncture, not at all like the juncture in which we had often imagined ourselves triumphing against temptation. It passes, and the hero finds, to his dismay and horror, that he has run away; the geuerous man has been niggard; the gentleman has behaved like a ruffian and the liberal like a bigot; the champion of truth has foolishly and vainly lied; the steadfast friend has betrayed his neighbor, the just person has oppressed him. This is the fruitful moment, apparently so sterile, in which character may spring and flower anew ; but the mood of abject humility in which the theorist of his own character is plunged and struggles for his lost self-respect is full of deceit for others. It cannot last; it may end in disowning and retrieving the error, or it may end in justifying it, and building it into the reconstructed character, as something upon the whole unexpectedly fine ; but it must end, for after all, it is only a mood. In such a mood, in the anguish of her disappointment at herself, a woman clings to whatever support offers; and it is at his own risk that the man who chances to be this support accepts the weight with which she casts herself upon him as the measure of her dependence, though he may make himself necessary to her, if he has the grace or strength to do it.
Without being able to understand fully the causes of the dejection in which this girl seemed to appeal to him, Mulbridge might well have believed himself the man to turn it in his favor. If he did not sympathize with her distress, or even clearly divine it, still his bold generalizations, he found, always had their effect with women, whose natures are often to themselves such unknown territory that a man who assumes to know them has gone far to master them. He saw that a rude moral force alone seemed to have a charm with his lady patients, women who had been bred to ease and wealth, and who had cultivated, if not very disciplined minds. Their intellectual dissipation had apparently made them a different race from the simpler-hearted womenkind of his neighbors, apt to judge men in a sharp ignorance of what is fascinating in heroes; and it would not be strange if he included Grace in the sort of contemptuous amusement with which he regarded these flatteringly dependent and submissive invalids. He at least did not conceive of her as she conceived of herself; but this may be impossible to any man with regard to any woman.
With his experience of other women’s explicit and even eager obedience, the resistance which he had at first encountered in Grace gave zest to her final submission. Since he had demolished the position she had attempted to hold against him, he liked her for having imagined she could hold it; and she had continued to pique and interest him. He relished all her scruples and misgivings, and the remorse she had tried to confide to him ; and if his enjoyment of these foibles of hers took too little account of her pain, it was never his characteristic to be tender of people in good health. He was, indeed, as alien to her Puritan spirit as if he had been born in Naples, instead of Corbitant. He came of one of those families which one finds in nearly every New England community, as thoroughly New England in race as the rest, but flourishing in a hardy skepticism and contempt of the general sense. Whatever relation such people held to the old Puritan commonwealth when Puritanism was absolute, they must later have taken an active part in its disintegration, and were probably always a destructive force at its heart.
Mulbridge’s grandfather was one of the last captains who sailed a slaver from Corbitant. When this commerce became precarious, he retired from the seas, took a young wife in second marriage, and passed his declining days in robust inebriety. He lived to cast a dying vote for General Jackson, and his son, the first Dr. Midbridge, survived to illustrate the magnanimity of his fellow-townsmen during the first year of the civil war, as a tolerated copperhead. Then he died, and his son, who was iu the West, looking up a location for practice, was known to have gone out as surgeon with one of the regiments there. It was not supposed that he went from patriotism, but when he came back, a year before the end of the struggle, and settled in his native place, his service in the army was accepted among his old neighbors as evidence of a better disposition of some sort than had hitherto been attributable to any of his name.
In fact, the lazy, good-natured boy, whom they chiefly remembered before his college days, had always been well enough liked among those who had since grown to be first mates and ship captains in the little port where he was born and grew up. They had now all retired from the sea, and, having survived its manifold perils, were patiently waiting to be drowned in sail-boats on the bay. They were of the second generation of ships’ captains still living in Corbitant; but they would be the last. The commerce of the little port had changed into the whaling trade in their time ; this had ceased in turn, and the wharves had rotted away. Dr. Mulbridge found little practice among them ; while attending their appointed fate, they were so thoroughly salted against decay as to preserve even their families. But he gradually gathered into his hands, from the clairvoyant and the Indian doctor, the business which they had shared between them since his father’s death. There was here and there a tragical case of consumption among the farming families along the coast, and now and then a frightful accident among the fishermen ; the spring and autumn brought their typhoid ; the city people who came down to the neighboring hotels were mostly sick, or fell sick ; and with the small property his father had left, he and his mother contrived to live.
They dwelt very harmoniously together ; for his mother, who had passed more than quarter of a century in strong resistance to her husband’s will, had succumbed, as not uncommonly happens with such women, to the authority of her son, whom she had no particular pleasure or advantage in thwarting. In the phrase and belief of his neighbors, he took after her, rather than his father ; hut there was something ironical and baffling in him, which the local experts could not trace to either the Mulbridges or the Gardiners. They had a quiet, indifferent faith in his ability to make himself a position and name anywhere; but they were not surprised that he had come back to live in Corbitant, which was so manifestly the best place in the world, and which, if somewhat lacking in opportunity, was ample in the leisure they believed more congenial to him than success. Some of his lady patients at the hotels, who felt at times that they could not live without him, would have carried him back to the city with them by a gentle violence ; but there was nothing in anything he said or did that betrayed ambition on his part. He liked to hear them talk, especially of their ideas of progress, as they called them, at which, with the ready adaptability of their sex, they joined him in laughing when they found that he could not take them seriously.
The social, the emotional expression of the new scientific civilization struck him as droll, particularly in respect to the emancipation of women; and he sometimes gave these ladies the impression that he did not value woman’s intellect at its true worth. He was far from light treatment of them; he was considerate of the distances that should be guarded ; but he conveyed the sense of his skepticism as to their fitness for some things to which the boldest of them aspired.
His mother would have been willing to have him go to the city if he wished, but she was too ignorant of the world outside of Corbitant to guess at his possibilities in it, and such people as she had seen from it had not pleased her with it. Those summer-boarding lady patients who came to see him were sometimes suffered to wait with her till he came in, and they used to tell her how happy she must be to keep such a son with her, and twittered their patronage of her and her nice old-fashioned parlor, and their praises of his skill, in such wise against her echoless silence that she conceived a strong repugnance for all their tribe, in which she naturally included Grace when she appeared. She had decided the girl to be particularly forthputting, from something prompt and self-reliant in her manner that day; and she viewed with tacit disgust her son’s toleration of a handsome young woman who had taken up a man’s profession. They were not people who gossiped together, or confided in each other, and she would have known nothing and asked nothing from him about her, further than she had seen for herself ; but Barlow had folks, as he called them, at Corbitant, and without her own connivance she had heard from them of all that was passing at Jocelyn’s.
It was her fashion to approach any subject upon which she wished her son to talk as if they had already talked of it, and he accepted this convention with a perfect understanding that she thus expressed at once her deference to him and her resolution to speak whether he liked it or not. She had not asked him about Mrs. Maynard’s sickness, or shown any interest in it; but after she learned from the Barlows that she was no longer in danger, she said to her son one morning, before he drove away upon his daily visit, “ Is her husband going to stay with her, or is he going back ? ”
“ I don’t know, really,” he answered, glancing at her where she sat erect across the table from him, with her hand on the lid of the coffee-pot, and her eyes downcast ; it was the face of silent determination not to be put off, which he knew. “ I don’t suppose you care, mother,” he added, pleasantly.
“ She’s nothing to me,” she assented. “ What’s that friend of hers going to do ? ”
“ You know. The one that came after you.”
“ Oh ! Dr. Breen. Yes. What did you think of her ? ”
“ I don’t see why you call her doctor.”
“ Oh, I do it out of politeness. Besides, she is one sort of doctor. Little pills,” he added, with an enjoyment of his mother’s grimness on this point.
“ I should like to see a daughter of mine pretending to be a doctor,” said Mrs. Mulbridge.
“ Then you would n’t like Dr. Breen for a daughter?” returned her son, in the same tone as before.
“ She would n’t like me for a mother,”Mrs. Mulbridge retorted.
Her son laughed, and helped himself to more baked beans and a fresh slice of rye-and-indian. He had the homely tastes and the strong digestion of the people from whom he sprung ; and he handed his cup to be filled with his mother’s strong coffee in easy defiance of consequences. As he took it back from her he said, “ I should like to see you and Mrs. Breen together. You would make a strong team.” He buttered his bread, with another laugh in appreciation of his conceit. “ If you happened to pull the same way. If you did n’t, something would break. Mrs. Breen is a lady of powerful convictions. She thinks you ought to be good, and you ought to be very sorry for it, but not so sorry as you ought to be for being happy. I don’t think she has given her daughter any reason to complain on the last score.” He broke into his laugh again, and watched his mother’s frown with interest. “ I suspect that she does n’t like me very well. You could meet on common ground, there: you don’t like her daughter,”
“ They must be a pair of them! ” said Mrs. Mulbridge immovably. “ Did her mother like her studying for a doctor ? ”
“ Yes, I understand so. Her mother is progressive : she believes in the advancement of women ; she thinks the men would oppress them if they got a chance.”
“ If one half the bold things that are running about the country had masters, it would be the best thing,” said Mrs. Mulbridge, opening the lid of the coffeepot, and clapping it to with force, after a glance inside.
“ That’s where Mrs. Breen would n’t agree with you. Perhaps because it would make the bold things happy to have masters; though she does n’t say so. Probably she wants the women to have women doctors so they won't be so well, and can have more time to think whether they have been good or not. You ought to hear some of the ladies over there talk, mother.”
“ I have heard enough of their talk.” “ Well, you ought to hear Miss Gleason. There are very few things that Miss Gleason does n’t think can be done with cut-flowers, from a wedding to a funeral.”
Mrs. Mulbridge perceived that her son was speaking figuratively of Miss Gleason’s sentimentality, but she was not very patient with the sketch he enjoyed giving of her. “ Is she a friend of that Breen girl’s ? ” she interrupted, to ask.
“ She’s an humble friend, an admirer, a worshiper. The Breen girl is her ideal woman. She thinks the Breen girl is so superior to any man living that she would like to make a match for her.” His mother glanced sharply at him, but he went on in the tone of easy generalization, and with a ce _ pleasure in the projection of these strange figures against her distorting imagination : “ You see, mother, that the most advanced thinkers among those ladies are not so very different, after all, from you old-fashioned people. When they try to think of the greatest good fortune that can befall an ideal woman, it is to have her married. The only trouble is to find a man good enough ; and if they can’t find one, they ’re apt to invent one. They have strong imaginations.”
“ I should think they would make you sick, amongst them,” said his mother. “ Are you going to have anything more to eat? ” she asked, with a housekeeper’s latent impatience to get her table cleared away.
“ Yes,” said Dr. Mulbridge; “I have n’t finished yet. And I’m in no hurry, this morning. Sit still, mother ; I want you to hear something more about my lady friends at Jocelyn’s. Dr. Breen’s mother and Miss Gleason don’t feel alike about her. Her mother thinks she was weak in giving up Mrs. Maynard’s case to me; but Miss Gleason told me about their discussion, and she thinks it is the great heroic act of Dr. Breen’s life.”
“ It showed some sense, at least,” Mrs. Mulbridge replied. She had tacitly offered to release her son from telling her anything when she had made her motion to rise; if he chose to go on now, it was his own affair. She handed him the plate of biscuit, and he took one.
“It showed inspiration, Miss Gleason says. The tears came into her eyes ; I understood her to say it was godlike. ' And only to think, doctor,’ ” he continued, with a clumsy, but unmistakable suggestion of Miss Gleason’s perfervid manner, “ ‘ that such a girl should be dragged down by her own mother to the level of petty, every-day cares and duties, and should be blamed for the most beautiful act of self-sacrifice ! Is n’t it too bad ? ’ ”
“ Rufus, Rufus! ” cried his mother, “ I can’t stan’ it! Stop ! ”
“ Oh, Dr. Breen is n’t so bad — not half so divine as Miss Gleason thinks her. And Mrs. Maynard does n’t consider her surrendering the case an act of self-sacrifice at all.”
“ I should hope not ! ” said Mrs. Mulbridge. “ I guess she would n’t have been alive to tell the tale, if it had n’t been for you.”
“ Oh, you can’t be sure of that. You must n't believe too much in doctors, mother. Mrs. Maynard is pretty tough. And she’s had wonderfully good nursing. You’ve only heard the Barlow side of the matter,” said her son, betraying now for the first time that he had been aware of any knowledge of it on her part. That was their way : though they seldom told each other anything, and went on as if they knew nothing of each other’s affairs, yet when they recognized this knowledge it was without surprise on either side. “ I could tell you a different story. She’s a very fine girl, mother ; cool and careful under instruction, and perfectly tractable and intelligent. She’s as different from those other women you’ve seen as — you are. You would like her!” He had suddenly grown earnest, and crushing the crust of a biscuit in the strong left hand which he rested on the table, he gazed keenly at her undemonstrative face. “ She’s no baby, either. She’s got a will and a temper of her own. She’s the only one of them I ever saw that was worth her salt.”
“ I thought you did n’t like selfwilled women,” said his mother, impassively.
“ She knows when to give up,” he answered, with unrelaxed scrutiny.
His mother did not lift her eyes, yet. “ How long shall you have to visit over there? ”
“ I’ve made my last professional visit.”
“ Where are you going this morning? ”
“ To Jocelyn’s.”
Mrs. Mulbridge now looked up, and met her son’s eye. “ What makes you think she ’ll have you ? ”
He did not shrink at her coming straight to the point the moment the way was clear. He had intended it, and he liked it. But he frowned a little as he said, “ Because I want her to have me, for one thing.” His jaw closed heavily, but his face lost a certain brutal look almost as quickly as it had assumed it. “ I guess,” he said, with a smile, “ that it ’s the only reason I 've got.”
“ You no need to say that,” said his mother, resenting the implication that any woman would not have him.
“ Oh, I’m not pretty to look at, mother, and I’m not particularly young; and for a while I thought there might be some one else.”
“ Who ? ”
“ The young fellow that came with her, that day.”
“ That whipper-snapper ? ”
Dr. Mulbridge assented by his silence. “ But I guess I was mistaken. I guess he’s tried, and missed it. The field is clear, for all I can see. And she ’s made a failure in one way, and then you know a woman is in the humor to try it in another. She wants a good excuse for giving up. That ’s what I think.”
“ Well,” said his mother, “ I presume you know what you ’re about, Rufus.”
She took up the coffee-pot, on the lid of which she had been keeping her hand, and went into the kitchen with it. She removed the dishes, and left him sitting before the empty table-cloth. When she came for that, he took hold of her hand, and looked up into her face, over which a scarcely discernible tremor passed.
“ Well, mother ? ”
It’s what I always knew I had got to come to, first or last. And I suppose I ought to feel glad enough I did n’t have to come to it at first.”
“ No,” said her son. “ I’m not a stripling any longer.” He laughed, keeping his mother’s hand.
She freed it, and taking up the tablecloth folded it lengthwise and then across, and laid it neatly away in the cupboard. “ I sha’n’t interfere with you, nor any woman that you bring here to be your wife. I’ve had my day, and I’m not one of the old fools that think they ’re going to have and to hold forever. You’ve always been a good boy to me, and I guess you hain’t ever had to complain of your mother stan’in’ in your way. I sha’n’t now. But I did think ” —
She stopped, and shut her lips firmly.
“ Speak up, mother ! ” he cried.
“ I guess I better not,” she answered, setting her chair back against the wall. “ I know what you mean. You mean about my laughing at women that try to take men’s places in the world. Well, I did laugh at them. They ’re ridiculous. I don’t want to marry this girl because she’s a doctor. That was the principal drawback, in my mind. But it does n’t make any difference, and would n’t now, if she was a dozen doctors.”
His mother let down the leaves of the table, and pushed it against the wall, and he rose from the chair iu which he was left sitting in the middle of the room. “ I presume,” she said, with her back toward him, as she straightened the table accurately against the mopboard, “ that you can let me have the little house at Grant’s Corner.”
Why, mother ! ” he cried. “ You don’t suppose I should ever let you be turned out of house and home ? You can stay here as long as you live. But it has n’t come to that, yet. I don’t know that she cares anything about me. But there are chances, and there are signs. The chances are that she won’t have the courage to take up her plan of life again, and that she’ll consider any other that ’s pressed home upon her. And I take it for a good sign that she’s sent that fellow adrift. If her mind had n’t been set on some one else, she’d have taken him, in this broken-up state of hers. Besides, she has formed the habit of doing what I say, and there’s a great deal in mere continuity of habit. It will be easier for her to say yes than to say no ; it would be very hard for her to say no.”
While he eagerly pressed these arguments his mother listened stonily, without apparent interest or sympathy. But at the end she asked, “ How are you going to support a wife ? Your practice here won’t do it. Has she got anything ? ”
“ She has property, I believe,” replied her son. “ She seems to have been brought up in that way.”
“ She won’t want to come and live here, then. She ’ll have notions of her own. If she’s like the rest of them, she ’ll never have you.”
“ If she were like the rest of them, I’d never have her. But she is n’t. As far as I’m concerned, it’s nothing against her that she’s studied medicine. She did n’t do it from vanity, or ambition, or any abnormal love of it. She did it, so far as I can find out, because she wished to do good, that way. She’s been a little notional ; she’s had her head addled by women’s talk, and she’s in a queer freak ; but it’s only a girl’s freak, after all ; you can’t say anything worse of her. She’s a splendid woman, and her property’s neither here nor there. I could support her.”
“ I presume,” replied his mother, “ that she’s been used to ways that ain’t like our ways. I’ve always stuck up for you, Rufus, stiff enough, I guess ; but I ain’t agoin’ to deny that you ’re country born and bred. I can see that, and she can see it, too. It makes a great difference with girls. I don’t know as she ’d call you what they call a gentleman.”
Dr. Mulbridge flushed angrily ; every American, of whatever standing or breeding, thinks of himself as a gentleman, and nothing can gall him more than the insinuation that he is less. “ What do you mean, mother ? ”
“ You hain’t ever been in such lady’s society as hers in the same way. I know that they all think the world of you, and flatter you up, and they ’re as biddable as you please, when you ’re doctorin’ ’em; but I guess it would be different if you was to set up for one of their own kind amongst ’em.”
“ There is n’t one of them,” he retorted, “ that I don’t believe I could have for the turn of my hand, especially if it was doubled into a fist. They like force.”
“ Oh, you’ve only seen the sick married ones ; I guess you ’ll find a well girl is another thing.”
“ They ’re all alike. And I think I should be something of a relief if I was n’t like what she’s been used to hearing called a gentleman ; she’d prefer me on that account. But if you come to blood, I guess the Mulbridges and Gardiners can hold up their heads with the best, anywhere.”
“Yes, like the Camfers and Rafflins.” These were people of ancestral consequence and local history, who had gone up to Boston from Corbitant, and had succeeded severally as green-grocers and retail dry-goods men, with the naturally attendant social distinction.
“ Pshaw ! ” cried her son. “ If she cares for me at all, she won’t care for the cut of my clothes, or my table manners.”
“Yes, that’s so. ’T ain’t on my account that I want you should make sure she doos care.”
He looked hard at her immovable face, with its fallen eyes, and then went out of the room. He never quarreled with his mother, because his anger, like her own, was dumb, and silenced him as it mounted. Her misgivings had stung him deeply, and at the bottom of his indolence and indifference was a fiery pride, not easily kindled, but unquenchable. He flung the harness upon his old, unkempt horse, and tackled him to the mud-encrusted buggy, for whose shabbiness he had never cared before. He was tempted to go back into the house, and change his uncouth Canada homespun coat for the broadcloth frock which he wore when he went to Boston ; but he scornfully resisted, and drove off in his accustomed figure.
His mother’s last words repeated themselves to him, and in that dialogue, in which he continued to dramatize their different feelings, he kept replying, “ Well, the way to find out whether she cares is to ask her.”
During her convalescence Mrs. Maynard had the time and inclination to give Grace some good advice. She said that she had thought a great deal about it throughout her sickness, and she had come to the conclusion that Grace was throwing away her life.
“ You ’re not fit to be a doctor, Grace,” she said. “ You ’re too nervous, and you ’re too conscientious. It is n’t merely your want of experience. No matter how much experience you had, if you saw a case going wrong in your hands, you’d want to call in some one else to set it right. Do you suppose Dr. Mulbridge would have given me up to another doctor because he was afraid he could n’t cure me ? No, indeed ! He’d have let me die first, and I should n’t have blamed him. Of course I know what pressure I brought to bear upon you, but you had no business to mind me. You ought n’t to have minded my talk any more than the buzzing of a mosquito, and no real doctor would. If he wants to be a success, he must be hard-hearted ; as hard-hearted as ” — she paused for a comparison, and failing any other added—“as all possessed.” To the like large-minded and impartial effect, she ran on at great length. “ No, Grace,” she concluded, “ what you want to do is to get married. You would be a good wife, and you would be a good mother. The only trouble is that I don’t know any man worthy of you, or half worthy. No, I don’t! ”
Now that her recovery was assured, Mrs. Maynard was very forgiving and sweet and kind with every one. The ladies who came in to talk with her said that she was a changed creature; she gave them all the best advice, and she had absolutely no shame whatever for the inconsistency involved by her reconciliation with her husband. She rather flaunted the happiness of her reunion in the face of the public, and she vouchsafed an explanation to no one. There had never been anything definite in her charges against him, even to Grace, and her tacit withdrawal of them succeeded perfectly well. The ladies, after some cynical tittering, forgot them, and rejoiced in the spectacle of conjugal harmony afforded them : women are generous creatures, and there is hardly any offense which they are not willing another woman should forgive her husband, when once they have said that they do not see how she could ever forgive him.
Mrs. Maynard’s silence seemed insufficient to none but Mrs. Breen and her own husband. The former vigorously denounced its want of logic to Grace as all but criminal, though she had no objection to Mr. Maynard. He, in fact, treated her with a filial respect which went far to efface her preconceptions ; and he did what he could to retrieve himself from the disgrace of a separation in Grace’s eyes. Perhaps he thought that the late situation was known to her alone, when he casually suggested, one day, that Mrs. Maynard was peculiar.
“ Yes,” said Grace, mercifully ; “ but she has been out of health so long. That makes a great difference. She’s going to be better, now.”
“ Oh, it’s going to come out all right in the end,” he said, with his unbuoyant hopefulness, “ and I reckon I’ve got to help it along. Why, I suppose every man’s a trial at times, doctor ? ”
“ I dare say. I know that every woman is,” said the girl.
“Is that so? Well, may be you’re partly right. But you don’t suppose but what a man generally begins it, do yon ? There was Adam, you know. He did n’t pull the apple; but he fell off into that sleep, and woke up with one of his ribs dislocated, and that’s what really commenced the trouble. If it had n’t been for Adam, there would n’t have been any woman, you know ; and you could n’t blame her for what happened, after she got going ? ” There was no gleam of insinuation in his melancholy eve, and Grace listened without quite knowing what to make of it all. “ And then I suppose he was n’t punctual at meals, and stood round talking politics at night, when he ought to have been at home with his family”
“ Who ? ” asked Grace.
“ Adam,” replied Mr. Maynard, lifelessly. “ Well, they got along pretty well outside,” he continued. “ Some of the children did n’t turn out just what you might have expected ; but raising children is mighty uncertain business. Yes, they got along.” He ended his parable with a sort of weary sigh, as if oppressed by experience. Grace looked at his slovenly figure, his smoky complexion, and the shaggy outline made by his untrimmed hair and beard, and she wondered how Louise could marry him ; but she liked him, and she was willing to accept for all reason the cause of unhappiness at which he further hinted. “You see, doctor, an incompatibility is a pretty hard thing to manage. You can’t forgive it, like a real grievance. You have to try other things, and find out that there are worse things, and then you come back to it and stand it. We Te talking Wyoming and cattle range, now, and Mrs. Maynard is all for the new deal ; it’s going to make us healthy, wealthy, and wise. Well, I suppose the air will be good for her, out there. You doctors are sending lots of your patients our way, now.” The gravity with which he always assumed that Grace was a physician in full and regular practice would have had its edge of satire, coming from another, but from him, if it was ironical, it was also caressing, and she did not resent it. “ I “ve had some talk with your colleague, here, Dr. Mulbridge, and he seems to think it will be the best thing for her. I suppose you agree with him ? ”
“ Oh, yes,” said Grace, “ his opinion would be of great value. It would n’t be at all essential that I should agree with him.”
“Well, I don’t know about that,” said Maynard. “ I reckon he thinks a good deal of your agreeing with him. I’ve been talking with, him about settling, out our way. We’ve got a magnificent country, and there’s bound to be plenty of sickness there, sooner or later. Why, doctor, it would be a good opening for you ! It’s just the place for you. You ’re off here in a corner, in New England, and you have n’t got any sort of scope ; but at Cheyenne you’d have the whole field to yourself; there is n’t another lady doctor in Cheyenne. Now, you come out with us. Bring your mother with you, and grow up with the country. Your mother would like it; there’s enough moral obliquity in Cheyenne to keep her conscience in a state of healthful activity all the time. Yes, you’d get along, out there.”
Grace laughed, and shook her head. It was part of the joke which life seemed to be with Mr. Maynard that the inhabitants of New England were all eager to escape from their native section, and that they ought to be pitied and abetted in this desire. As soon as his wife’s convalescence released him from constant attendance upon her, he began an inspection of the region from the compassionate point of view. The small, frugal husbandry appealed to his commiseration, and he professed to have found the use of canvas caps upon the haycocks intolerably pathetic. “ Why, I’m told,” he said, “ that they have to blanket the apple-trees while the fruit is setting; and they kill off our Colorado bugs by turning them loose, one at a time, on the potato-patches : the bug starves to death in forty-eight hours. But you’ve got plenty of school-houses, doctor ; it does beat all, about the schoolhouses. And it’s an awful pity that there are no children to go to school in them. Why, of course the people go West as fast as they can; but they ought to be helped; the government ought to do something. They ’re good people; make first-rate citizens when you get them waked up, out there. But they ought all to be got away, and let somebody run New England as a summer resort. It’s pretty, and it’s cool and pleasant, and the fishing is excellent ; milk, eggs, and all kinds of berries and historical associations on the premises ; and it could be made very attractive three months of the year ; but my goodness ! you ought n’t to ask anybody to live here. You come out with us, doctor, and see that country, and you’ll know what I mean.”
His boasts were always uttered with a wan, lack-lustre irony, as if he were burlesquing the conventional Western brag and enjoying the mystification of his listener, whose feeble sense of humor often failed to seize his intention, and to whom any depreciation of New England was naturally unintelligible. She had not come to her final liking for him without a season of serious misgiving, but after that she rested in peace upon what every one knowing him felt to be his essential neighborliuess. Her wonder had then come to be how he could marry Louise, when they sat together on the seaward piazza, and he poured out his easy talk, unwearied and unwearying, while with one long, lank leg crossed upon the other he swung his unblacked, thin-soled boot to and fro.
“ Well, he was this kind of a fellow : when we were in Switzerland, he was always climbing some mountain or other. They could n’t have hired me to climb one of their mountains if they ’d given me all their scenery, and thrown their goitres in. I used to tell him that the side of a house was good enough for me. But nothing but the tallest mountains would do him ; and one day when he was up there on the comb of the roof somewhere, tied with a rope round his waist to the guide and a Frenchman, the guide’s foot slipped, and he commenced going down. The Frenchman was just going to cut the rope and let the guide play it alone, but he knocked the knife out of his hand with his longhandled axe, and when the jerk came he was on the other side of the comb, where he could brace himself, and brought them both up standing. Well, he ’s got muscles like bunches of steel wire. Did n’t he ever tell you about it ? ”
“ No,” said Grace, sadly.
“ Well, somebody ought to expose Libby. I don’t suppose I should ever have known about it myself, if I had n’t happened to see the guide’s friends and relations crying over him next day as if he was the guide’s funeral. Hello! There’s the doctor.” He unlimbered his lank legs, and rose with an effect of opening his person like a pocket-knife. “ As I understand it, this is an unprofessional visit, and the doctor is here among us as a guest. I don’t know exactly what to do under the circumstances, — whether we ought to talk about Mrs. Maynard’s health or the opera, — but I reckon if we show our good intentions it will come out all right in the end.”
He went forward to meet the doctor, who came up to shake hands with Grace, and then followed him in-doors to see Mrs. Maynard. Grace remained in her place, and she was still sitting there when Dr. Mulbridge returned without him. He came directly to her, and said, “ I want to speak with you, Miss Breen. Can I see you alone ? ”
“ Is — is Mrs. Maynard worse? ” she asked, rising in a little trepidation.
“ No ; it has nothing to do with her. She’s practically well, now; I can remand the case to you. I wish to see you — about yourself.” She hesitated at this peculiar summons, but some pressure was upon her to obey Dr. Mulbridge, as there was upon most people whom he wished to obey him. “ I want to talk with you,” he added, “about what you are going to do, — about your future. Will you come ? ”
“ Oh, yes,” she answered; and she suffered him to lead the way down from the piazza, and out upon one of the satidy avenues toward the woods, in which it presently lost itself. “ But there will be very little to talk about,” she continued, as they moved away, “ if you confine yourself to my future. I have none.”
“I don't see how you’ve got rid of it,” he rejoined. “ You 've got a future as much as you have a past, and there’s this advantage, — that you can do something with your future.”
“ Do you think so ? ” she asked, with a little bitterness. “ That has n’t been my experience.”
“It’s been mine,” he said, “and you can make it yours. Come, I want to talk with you about your future, because I have been thinking very seriously about my own. I want to ask your advice, and to give you mine. I ’ll commence by asking yours. What do you think of me as a physician ? I know you are able to judge.”
She was flattered, in spite of herself. There were long arrears of cool indifference to her own claims in that direction, which she might very well have resented ; but she did not. There was that flattery in his question which the junior in any vocation feels in the appeal of his senior ; and there was the flattery which any woman feels in a man’s recourse to her judgment. Still, she contrived to parry it with a little thrust. “ I don’t suppose the opinion of a mere hom##x0153;opathist can be of any value to a regular practitioner.”
He laughed. “ You have been a regular practitioner yourself for the last three weeks. What do you think of my management of the case ? ”
“ I have never abandoned my principles,” she began.
“ Oh, I know all about that ! What do you think of me as a doctor?” he persisted.
“ Of course I admire you. Why do you ask me that ? ”
“Because I wished to know. And because I wished to ask you something else. You have been brought up in a city, and I have always lived here in the country, except the two years I was out with the army. Do you think I should succeed, if I pulled up here and settled in Boston ?”
“ I have not lived in Boston,” she answered. “ My opinion would n’t be worth much on that point.”
“ Yes, it would. You know city people, and what they are, I have seen a good deal of them in my practice at the hotels about here, and some of the ladies — when they happened to feel more comfortable — have advised me to come to Boston.” II is derision seemed to throw contempt on all her sex ; but he turned to her, and asked again, earnestly, “ What do you think ? Some of the profession know me there. When I left the school, some of the faculty urged me to try my chance in the city,”
She waited a moment before she answered. “ You know that I must respect your skill, and I believe that you could succeed anywhere. I judge your fitness by my own deficiency. The first time I saw you with Mrs. Maynard, I saw that you had everything that I had n’t. I saw that I was a failure, and why, and that it would be foolish for me to keep up the struggle.”
“ Do you mean that you have given it up ? ” he demanded, with a triumph in which there was no sympathy.
“ It has given me up. I never liked it, — I told you that before, — and I never took it up from any ambitious motive. It seemed a shame for me to be of no use in the world; and I hoped that I might do something in a way that seemed natural for women. And I don’t give up because I’m unfit as a woman. I might be a man, and still be impulsive, and timid, and nervous, and everything that I thought I was not.”
“ Yes, you might be all that, and be a man; but you’d be an exceptional man, and I don’t think you ’re an exceptional woman. If you’ve failed, it is n’t your temperament that’s to blame.”
“I think it is. The wrong is somewhere in me individually. I know it is.”
Dr. Mulbridge, walking beside her, with his hands clasped behind him, threw up his head and laughed. “ Well, have it your own way, Miss Breen. Only, I don’t agree with you. Why should you wish to spare your sex at your own expense ? But that’s the way with some ladies, I’ve noticed. They approve of what women attempt because women attempt it, and they believe the attempt reflects honor on them. It’s tremendous to think what men could accomplish for their sex, if they only hung together as women do. But they can’t. They have n’t the generosity.”
“ I think you don’t understand me,” said Grace, with a severity that amused him. “ I wished to regard myself, in taking up this profession, entirely as I believed a man would have regarded himself.”
“ And were you able to do it ? ”
“ No,” she unintentionally replied to this unexpected question.
“ Haw, haw, haw ! ” laughed Dr. Mulbridge at her helpless candor. “ And are you sure that you give it up as a man would ? ”
“ I don’t know how you mean,” she said, vexed and bewildered.
“ Do you do it, fairly and squarely, because you believe that you ’re a failure, or because you partly feel that you have n’t been fairly dealt with ? ”
“ I believe that if Mrs. Maynard had had the same confidence in me that she would have had in any man, I should not have failed. But every woman physician has a double disadvantage that I had n’t the strength to overcome,— her own inexperience and the distrust of other women.”
“ Well, whose fault is that ? ”
“ Not the men’s. It is the men alone who give women any chance. They are kind, and generous, and liberal-minded.
I have no blame for them, and I have no patience with women who want to treat them as the enemies of women’s advancement. Women can’t move a step forwards without their sufferance and help. Dr. Mulbridge ! ” she cried, “I wish to apologize for the hasty and silly words I used to you the day I came to ask yon to consult with me. I ought to have been grateful to you for consenting at first, and when you took back your consent I ought to have considered your position. You were entirely right. We had no common ground to meet on, and I behaved like a petulant, foolish, vulgar girl !
“ No, no,” he protested, laughing in recollection of the seene. " You were all right, and I was in a fix, and if your own fears had n’t come to the rescue, I don’t know how I should have got out of it. It would have been disgraceful, wouldn’t it, to refuse a lady’s request? You don’t know how near I was to giving way. I can tell you, now that it’s all over. I had never seen a lady of our profession before,” he added hastily, “ and my curiosity was up. I always had my doubts about the thoroughness of women’s study, and I should have liked to see where your training failed. I must say I found it very good, — I ’ve told you that. You would n’t fail individually ; you would fail because you are a woman.”
“ I don’t believe that,” said Grace.
“ Well, then, because your patients are women. It’s all one. What will you do ? ”
“ I shall not do anything. I shall give it all up.”
“ But what shall you do, then ? ”
“I — don’t know.”
“ What are you going to be ? A fashionable woman ? Or are you going to Europe, and settle down there with the other American failures ? I ’ve heard about them, — in Rome, and Florence, and Paris. Are you going to throw away the study you’ve put into this profession ? You took it up because you wanted to do good. Don’t you want to do good any more ? Has the human race turned out unworthy ? ”
She cowered at this arraignment, in which she could not separate the mocking from the justice. “What do you advise me to do ? Do you think I could ever succeed ? ”
“ You could never succeed alone.”
“ Yes, I know that; I felt that from the first. But I have planned to unite with a woman physician older than myself ” —
“ And double your deficiency. Sit down here,” he said ; “ I wish to talk business.” They had entered the border of the woods encompassing Jocelyn’s, and he pointed to a stump, beside which lay the fallen tree. She obeyed mechanically, and he remained standing near her, with one foot lifted to the log ; he leaned forward over her, and seemed to seize a physical advantage in the posture. “ From your own point of view, you would have no right to give up your undertaking, if there was a chance of success in it. You would have no more right to give up than a woman who had gone out as a missionary.”
“ I don’t pretend to compare myself with such a woman ; but I should have no more right to give up,” she answered, helpless against the logic of her fate, which he had somehow divined.
“ Well, then, listen to me. I can give you this chance. Are you satisfied that with my advice you could have succeeded in Mrs. Maynard’s case ? ”
“Yes, I think so. But what ” —
” I think so, too. Don’t rise ! ” His will overcame the impulse that had betrayed itself, and she sank back to her seat. “ I offer you my advice from this time forward ; I offer you my help.”
“ That is very good of you,” she murmured ; “ and I appreciate your generosity more than I can say. I know the prejudice you must have had to overcome in regard to women physicians before you could bring yourself to do this ; and I know how you must have despised me for failing in my attempt, and giving myself up to my feeble temperament. But ” —
“Oh, we won’t speak of all that,” he interrupted. “ Of course I felt the prejudice against women entering the profession which we all feel; it was ridiculous and disgusting to me till I saw you. I won’t urge you from any personal motive to accept my offer. But I know that if you do you can realize all your hopes of usefulness ; and I ask you to consider that certainly. But you know the only way it could be done.”
She looked him in the eyes with dismay in her growing intelligence.
“ What — what do you mean ?”
“ I mean that I ask you to let me help you carry out your plan of life, and to save all you have done and all you have hoped, from waste, as your husband. Think ” —
She struggled to her feet as if he were opposing a palpable resistance, so strongly she felt the pressure of his will.
“It can’t be, Dr. Mulbridge. Oh, it can’t, indeed ! Let us go back ; I wish to go back ! ”
But be bad planted himself in her way, and blocked her advance, unless she chose to make it a flight.
“ I expected this,” he said, with a smile, as if her wild trepidation interested him as an anticipated symptom. “ The whole idea is new and startling to you. But I know you won’t dismiss it abruptly, and I won’t be discouraged.”
“Yes, yes; you must! I will not think of it! I can’t! I do dismiss it at once. Let me go ! ”
“ Then you really choose to be like the rest, — a thing of hysterical impulses, without conscience or reason! I supposed the weakest woman would be equal to an offer of marriage. And you had dreamt of being a physician and useful ! ”
“ I tell you,” she cried, half quelled by his derision, “ that I have found out that I am not fit for it, — that I am a failure and a disgrace ; and you had no right to expect me to be anything else.”
“ You are no failure, and I had a right to expect anything of you, after the endurance and the discretion you have shown in the last three weeks. Without your help I should have failed myself. You owe it to other women to go on.”
“ They must take care of themselves,” she said. “ If my weakness throws shame on them, they must bear it. I thank you for what you say. I believe you mean it. But if I was of any use to you, I did n’t know it ” —
“ It was probably inspiration, then,” lie interrupted, coolly. “ Come, this is n’t a thing to be frightened at. You ’re not obliged to do what I say. But I think you ought to hear me out. I have n’t spoke without serious thought, and I did n’t suppose you would reject me without a reason.”
“ Reason ? ” she repeated. “ There is no reason in it.”
“ There ought to be. There is, on my side. I have all kinds of reasons for asking you to be my wife: I believe that I can make you happy in the fulfillment of your plans; I admire you and respect you more than any other woman I ever saw ; and I love you.”
“ I don’t love you, and that is reason enough.”
“ Yes, between boys and girls. But between men and women it is n’t enough. Do you dislike me ? ”
“ Am I repulsive in any way ? ”
“ No, no ! ”
“ I know that I am not very young, and that I am not very good-looking.”
“ It is n’t that at all.”
“ Of course I know that such things weigh with women, and that personal traits and habits are important in an affair like this. I am slovenly and indifferent about my dress ; but it’s only because I have lived where every sort of spirit and ambition were useless. I don’t know about city ways, but I could pick up all of them that were worth while. I spoke of going to Boston; but I would go anywhere else with you. East or West, that you chose, and I know that I should succeed. I have n’t done what I might have done with myself, because I’ve never had an object in life. I’ve always lived in the one little place, and I’ve never been out of it except when I was in the army. I’ve always liked my profession ; but nothing has seemed worth while. You were a revelation to me ; you have put ambition and hope into me. I never saw any woman before that I would have turned my hand to have. They always seemed to me fit to be the companions of fools, or the playthings of men. But, of all the simpletons, the women who were trying to do something for woman, as they called it, trying to exemplify and illustrate a cause, were the silliest that I came across. I never happened to have met a woman doctor before you came to me ; but I had imagined them, and I could n’t believe in you when I saw you. You were not supersensitive, you were not presumptuous, and you gave up not because you distrusted yourself, but because your patient distrusted you. That was right ; I should have done the same thing myself. Under my direction, you have shown yourself faithful, docile, patient, intelligent, beyond anything I have seen. I have watched you, and I know; and I know what your peculiar trials have been from that woman. You have taught me a lesson, — I’m not ashamed to say it ; and you’ve given me a motive. I was wrong to ask you to marry me so that you might carry out your plans; that was no way to appeal to you. What I meant was that I might make your plans my own, and that we might carry them out together. I don’t care for making money; I have always been poor, and I had always expected to be so; and I am not afraid of hard work. There is n’t any self-sacrifice you’ve dreamed of that I would n’t gladly and proudly share with you. You can’t do anything by yourself, but we could do anything together, If you have any scruple about giving up your theory of medicine, you need n’t do it ; and the State Medical Association may go to the devil. I’ve said my say. What do you say ? ”
She looked all round, as if seeking escape from a mesh suddenly flung about her, and then she looked imploringly up at him, “ I have nothing to say,” she whispered huskily. “ I can’t answer you.”
“ Well, that’s all I ask,” he said, moving a few steps away, and suffering her to rise. “ Don’t answer me now. Take time, — all the time you want, all the time there is.”
“ No,” she said, rising, and gathering some strength from the sense of being on foot again. “ I don’t mean that. I mean that I don’t — I can’t consent.”
“ You don’t believe in me ? You don’t think I would do it ? ”
“ I don’t believe in myself. I have no right to doubt you. I know that I ought to honor you for what you propose.”
“ I don’t think it calls for any great honor. Of course I should n’t propose it to every lady physician.” He smiled with entire serenity and self-possession. “ Tell me one thing: was there ever a time when you would have consented ?” She did not answer. “ Then you will consent yet ? ”
“ No! Don’t deceive yourself. I shall never consent.”
“I ’ll leave that to the logic of your own conscience. You will do what seems your duty,”
“ You must n’t trust to my conscience. I fling it away ! I won’t have anything to do with it. I’ve been tortured enough by it. There is no sense or justice in it! ”
He laughed easily at her vehemence. “ I ’ll trust your conscience. But I won’t stay to worry you now. I’m coming again day after to-morrow, and I’m not afraid of what you will say then.”
He turned and left her, tearing his way through the sweet-fern and low blackberry vines, with long strides, a shape of uncouth force. After he was out of sight, she followed, scared and trembling at herself, as if she had blasphemed.
W. D. Howells.
- Copyright, 1881, by W. D. HOWELLS. All rights reserved.↩