A Little Change
IT was Christmas, a fact that Henry Farringford was doing his best to forget. He had begun the morning with a late breakfast and a dentist’s appointment; he had lunched at his club, where a few forlorn bachelors had but served to accentuate his own condition ; and now he was at home again, trying to find the companionship in books that his fellow men had failed to give. Finally he flung down a novel by Dumas.
“ What infernal rot those Frenchmen write! ” he exclaimed ; and he wondered how he could have found the story so exciting twenty years ago.
Nansen’s Farthest North held his attention for a time ; then he shut it with a slam.
“ Who in thunder cares what Nansen had to eat? Every man is an egoist, and the greater he is, the less he can get away from his own shadow. Suppose I write my adventures ? ' Breakfasted at half past nine on broiled halibut, baked potatoes, omelet, rolls, and coffee. Coffee muddy.’ If I were only great enough or rich enough, people would listen to my bills of fare with respectful attention ; but as it is, I could go and hang myself, and they would n’t care a rap. By Jove, I believe I’d like to try it. Anything for a little change. I wonder how my friends would take it if I were to die ? I suppose some fifty families would say : ‘ So Farringford has dropped off. He was amusing at dinners. Poor fellow, we shall miss him.’ But the social tide of Boston would go on just the same, and not a soul would care for Farringford the man.”
At last it was time to start for a dreary Christmas dinner in one of the most inaccessible suburbs. Farringford gave a regretful glance at his fire ; for if it was bad to be bored by himself, it was still worse to be bored by others. “ Oh, damn holidays ! ” he said, as he put on his overcoat. When he passed the mirror in the hall, his reflected face flashed a glance back at him. It was a young face for a man of forty-five ; his fair hair was unstreaked with gray, and his blue eyes had a kindly expression in spite of their cynicism.
“ You look like a great deal better fellow than you are,” he said, “ and you might have been a great deal better than you look.”
Farringford took an electric car to the Boylston Street Station, and then walked across into Kneeland Street; for he was going to the South Station. He was seldom in this quarter of the town, and was as much amused by the signs as if he had been in a foreign city. “ Bar Supplies. Any Smash in Glassware Promptly Met,” and “ Unredeemed Overcoats for Sale,” suggested a world where the inhabitants did not have to complain of monotony, whatever their other trials might be. All the shops were closed, and the streets had a deserted look. As Farringford was crossing the entrance to a narrow court, he came upon a treacherous piece of ice under the snow. He tried in vain to steady himself, and the next moment was doubled up on the ice, with an agonizing pain in his right leg. To his surprise he found it impossible to move. For an instant everything swam before his eyes, but he rallied, and hailed a laboring man who was coming toward him. A restaurant bearing the enticing sign “ Lunch Five Cents ” was giving a
Christmas dinner to a couple of seedy individuals, and Farringford was carried into this hospitable refuge, with its dingy floor and tables and uncomfortable chairs. The whole situation came before him with painful clearness. This might prove a serious accident, and as it was Christmas afternoon there was not a servant in his house. He knew that the City Hospital was somewhere in this part of the town, and he begged to be taken there. His pain was so intense that the minutes seemed to stretch into hours before the ambulance came. Then followed an intolerable jolting over the rough streets, and at last he was driven through an open gate in the iron fence inclosing the hospital buildings ; and Farringford’s heart sank as he was lifted out and wheeled into one of the accident rooms. Here he found a familiar face, but the fact that he could remember the young house surgeon who examined him, as a baby in long clothes, did not add to his sense of comfort.
“ Jack, what are you going to do to this confounded leg of mine ? ” he inquired.
“I’m going to set it. I ’ll give you a little whiff of ether, and you won’t mind.”
Farringford made a wry face. “It’s broken, then ? ” he asked dryly.
“ Well, rather.”
“ How uncommonly jolly ! I wanted a little change, and the Lord has taken me at my word.”
The prospect of having ether given him filled Farringford with a torturing dread. He was afraid he should die under the young surgeon’s hands, and all at once that life which he had thought he held so cheap became of priceless value. His eyes wandered around the room, and rested on a shelf of bottles filled with deadly looking drugs, and then on a great roll of bandages : these things were not reassuring.
“ I don’t know whether my heart will stand ether,” he said nervously.
“ Your heart is as sound as a bell. Keep perfectly still and draw long breaths, and if you don’t resist me you ’ll have no trouble.”
“ Are you sure you know enough to manage this job ? ” Farringford demanded bluntly.
The surgeon laughed. “ Ask Miss Yale,” he said, glancing at the nurse. They both had a businesslike air, as if the giving of ether were a mere bagatelle.
Miss Yale had a pleasant, wholesome face, but she was too young to inspire Farringford with entire confidence. “ Have you ever taken care of a broken leg before ? ” he inquired.
The surgeon’s mirth at this question seemed to Farringford ill timed. “ If you think it is so confoundedly amusing to break your leg, I hope you ’ll try it,” he remarked.
“ If I do, I ’ll have Miss Yale. She is the best nurse in the hospital.”
Farringford felt as if he were stretched on the rack, as the dreaded moment came nearer and nearer. And yet how soon everything would be over, for good or ill! This afternoon was just one little instant in time. Suddenly he was seized by the spirit of curiosity. It would be a new experience, and he had been craving that. If he must take ether, he would take notes as well. He felt the first whiff now.
“ Draw long breaths, Mr. Farringford,” said the doctor, — “ draw long breaths.”
He obeyed. There was a singing in his ears, and presently wheels upon wheels of machinery seemed to be revolving in his head, faster and faster and ever faster, while the low, monotonous voice of the surgeon sounded at intervals : “ Draw long breaths, Mr. Farringford, — draw long breaths.”
Then the voice ceased, and Farringford stopped taking notes.
When he came to himself the nurse was bending over him, and he heard her say : “ Why don’t you try whiskey and glycerine ? I always find that good for a cold.”
She was talking to the doctor, and he replied, “ It never does me any good.”
These two beings were chatting of their own concerns as calmly as if they were at an evening reception, while he, Farringford, was going through one of the crucial experiences of his life. Then he lapsed off again, and fancied he was on the edge of a bottomless chasm. He was sure he should fall into it if he lost control of himself, and he clutched the nurse’s hand, as if she could save him. “ I believed I had suffered,” he thought, “ but that black gulf is what suffering means. When people have nervous prostration, poor devils, they fall into it. I must keep a tight grip of myself, or I shall go quite over the edge — down — down — where ? I am on the brink now, and I can peep over, and it is worse than anything I ever imagined. It is like hell for lost souls.”
Once more he gripped the nurse’s hand, and, as if divining his thoughts, she said in her comforting voice, “ It is all over now, Mr. Farringford.”
Was there another lapse of memory ? Farringford was not sure, but after a time joy succeeded misery. The black gulf was gone, and he seemed treading on air. He was so ecstatically happy that the feeling transcended anything he had ever known. He was buoyant, radiant, young again, and the world was full of angels and saints. Then came another blank ; and when he looked up once more, the doctor was gone, and the nurse was sitting quietly at the other end of the room. He thanked her with effusion over and over again for being so good to him. A low pleasant laugh was her only rejoinder. This brought Farringford partly to himself. " I suppose I’m saying a lot of queer rubbish,” he thought, “ but I’m going to keep on. The crying fault of the American nation is a lack of demonstration.”
“ I beg your pardon, did you speak ? ” Miss Yale asked.
“ Yes. I was saying that we, as a nation, are afraid to show our feelings. Taking ether has made this clear to me, and so I am sure you will forgive me if I thank you again for your wonderful kindness to me, a stranger. I shall never forget it to my dying day.”
When the nurse had made him comfortable for the night, he called after her as she was leaving the room, “ I wish you would stay with me; ” and he added, as a little boy might have done, “ I ’m afraid of the black gulf.”
“ There is no danger from that any more. You will soon go to sleep, and the night nurse will look in on you once in a while.”
“The night nurse!” objected Farringford. “ But I don’t want a stranger.”
Miss Yale laughed, and he recollected that she had been a stranger a few hours before.
Farringford had plenty of time for thought in these monotonous days, and he often treated Miss Yale to his reflections ; for she was sympathetic, and understood his point of view. He used to watch impatiently for her slight figure in the blue-and-white-striped gown, for when she entered the room she seemed to bring a whiff of mountain air with her.
Farringford had been moved into a small private room, and he was inclined to grumble over his quarters.
“ This room is about the size of a prisoner’s cell, and quite as bare,” he informed his nurse one day.
“ Prisoners do not generally have white bedsteads with brass trimmings, or open fireplaces, or cheerful yellow walls,” she returned. “ I love every corner of this hospital, — it is so sunny and homelike.”
“ How can you always be so cheerful ? I can’t get the idea of people’s pain out of my mind. Are you hardened to it ? ”
“ I don’t think so ; but after a while the relative values change, and suffering takes a different place in our minds.”
“The relative values?” mused Farringford. “ Tell me what you mean.”
“ At first pain and sorrow are tragic; but after a time we feel happy because we can help cure pain, and sorrow gets to seem part of the plan of life to make us larger, ourselves. And then sin becomes horrible, like the black gulf you saw in the ether. We learn things here we never dreamed of, and the world seems a frightful place.”
“ And then ? ” he asked, as she paused.
“Then sin itself loses a part of its blackness; or rather, it is n’t that sin is any less black, but that goodness is brighter, like a light in the dark. A great hospital is a furnace where human souls are tried, and we get to look for the good in every one.”
“ Well, I’ve knocked about the world for more than forty years without being much impressed by the saintly qualities of the average human being. Great Scott! some of us keep our goodness locked and double-locked! ”
It was only a few nights after this Miss Yale looked so sad when she brought him his supper that she seemed transformed.
“ What a nuisance! ” he thought. “ Her greatest charm is her cheerfulness ; without that she is like the rest of them.”
“ Is it cold out of doors ? ” he asked, feeling impelled to say something.
To his extreme surprise he saw that she could not speak.
“ I am ashamed of myself for breaking down like this,” she said at last, as she hastily pressed her handkerchief to her eyes, “ but my little niece is threatened with pneumonia, and I feel as if I could not live without going home to help my sister take care of her.”
“ How can you consider it right to leave your patients ? ” he inquired, in an aggrieved tone.
“ I can’t go: that is the terrible part of it. I have sold myself body and soul to the hospital for two years, and my time is not up until next June. They are quite right in not letting me off. If nurses were allowed a life of their own, a great hospital could not be carried on. It is like the working of the laws of the universe : sometimes it comes a little hard on the individual.”
“ Dorothy is going to get well,” Miss Yale said, with a radiant face, a few days later. “ She has escaped pneumonia, and I am so happy because I am going home for six hours on Thursday. It is her birthday, and she will be seven years old.”
It chanced that Farringford’s own birthday came the day after little Dorothy’s, and perhaps it was this coincidence that made him think of sending her a present. The house doctor found out her address for him, and Farringford sent a copy of Stevenson’s A Child’s Garden of Verses to the little girl, with the following note : —
MY DEAR DOROTHY, — You have never heard of me, but I know all about you, and that you are to be seven years old to-morrow. That is a very nice age. I wish I were going to be seven, myself. My birthday comes the day after yours, so I ought to be a day younger ; but instead of that I am old enough to be your grandfather. I send you this book of verses because I like it so much, especially the lines, —
I am sure we should all be as happy as kings.”
Sometimes the world seems full of just one thing, and that is ourselves. Perhaps it seems so to you now. It is apt to when we are ill. But even then there are always kind friends, and little things happen that are pleasant every hour. For instance, I have enjoyed hearing about you. I am at the hospital. I have broken my leg, and it is n’t good fun at all. I advise you never to do it.
Good-by, from your unknown friend.
He took a childish pleasure in not signing his name or mentioning Dorothy’s aunt.
The next day Farringford waited for Miss Yale with keen impatience.
“ I have had such a happy day ! ” she said, when she came in at last, bringing the freshness of out of doors with her.
“ Is your little niece better ? ”
“ Yes. She was well enough to eat stewed oysters for dinner, and to sit up in bed and see her presents.”
Miss Yale did not say anything about the Child’s Garden of Verses, and his mental temperature dropped. “ Did she have a number of presents ? ” he asked carelessly.
“ Fourteen. That is a good many for a little lady who is only seven years old.”
Farringford made up his mind that he would never do anything again for a small child who did not have the grace to thank him.
The next morning he was aroused to the memory of his forty-six years by a small parcel that Miss Yale handed him. It was addressed in a scrawling, childish writing, “ To the Mann with the broken Legg.”
He opened it, and found inside a bottle of violet perfume and a note.
DEER MR. MANN WITH THE BROKEN LEGG, — I am so glad to get your presint. [Here the poor little scribe gave out, and the letter was finished in her mother’s hand.] I like the book. Aunt Winifred has read me some of the verses. Aunt Winifred is very dear. I wish she could take care of me, but she has to take care of a lot of strangers instead. It is funny that you and I have birthdays so near together. I know you will like the violet perfume, because it’s the nicest present I ’ve had, except your book and two dolls ; and as I had two of them, — the violet perfumes, I mean, — I send one to you. You will come to see me, won’t you, when your leg gets well ? My name is Dorothy Stuart, and it is easy to find the house, because there are two large fir trees in the front yard. I wish you were my grandfather, for he is dead, and I have n’t got any. I have only mamma and aunt Winifred, when she is n’t at the hospital.
Your loving little friend,
“ Well, Miss Yale,” said Farringford, when his nurse next came in, “ I have waited for a bottle of violet perfume all my life, and now I have got it. It is something to see Carcassonne at last.”
No one could have rebelled more strenuously against his enforced confinement than Farringford did, during the first weeks of his stay at the hospital ; but no sooner had the doctor told him that he was well enough to go home than he had an overmastering sense of regret. The bare walls of his room no longer made him think of a prisoner’s cell, but seemed far more homelike than his spacious but dreary house. He was sorry to have the end come to the pleasant intercourse he had had with an intelligent woman, with whom he could talk freely of whatever chanced to be uppermost in his mind.
“ Miss Yale,” he ventured, as he bade her good-by, “ the next time I break my leg I shall count upon you ; and if I never see you again, I want you to know that you have changed my point of view so that nothing will ever look so black to me again.”
Her back was turned to him, and she was watching the rain fall in a dreary, monotonous patter. “ I am sorry you have such a bad day to go home,” she replied.
Her unusual unresponsiveness chilled him. “ You won’t let me thank you for what you have done for me ? ’ ’ he added.
“ It is only what it is my duty to do for every patient. I wish I could have done more. You must excuse me, for I shall have to go to a man who has broken his thigh bone.”
One hot afternoon early in the following July, Farringford was reflecting on the utter vanity of all things, as he walked across Boston Common. He was almost the only one of his set still left in town, and the zest he had felt in life when he first returned to the world had departed with his acquaintances. He was to sail for Europe the next week with a friend, with whom he was to spend three months in Switzerland; but he was already regretting his promise, for he knew Switzerland so thoroughly that to go there would probably be more of a bore than to stay at home. An ambulance passing in Tremont Street suddenly recalled his life in the hospital with something akin to homesickness, and he wished himself back again, until it occurred to him that Miss Yale was no longer there, as she was to have finished her course in June. How he should like to see her again ! It was only a moment later, as if in answer to this wish, that a familiar figure came toward him, with a little girl by her side. They were both in pale summer colors, and were as refreshing to his sight as an oasis in a desert land.
“ Miss Yale, how glad I am to see you ! ” said Farringford, grasping her hand. “ And this is Dorothy, I am sure. We don’t need any introduction.”
“ I don’t know who you are,” the child answered, looking at him intently with her serious blue eyes.
“ I thought you would guess at once,” interposed her aunt. “ It is Mr. Farringford, the man who broke his leg.”
She shook her head. “ You are making fun of me. My man who broke his leg was a grandfather, a dear old gentleman with a long white beard like what my grandfather used to have.”
“ I’m dreadfully sorry to disappoint you, but we must be friends just the same. Will you come and get some icecream soda with me, Dorothy, even if I do look young for my age ? ”
“ I love ice-cream soda,” she stated, “ and I like you, although you don’t look much older than aunt Winifred.”
“ I 'm almost old enough to be her father,” said Farringford, while an unreasoning flood of youth and high spirits swept over him.
Miss Yale had an errand to do, and promised to call for Dorothy at Huyler’s. The little girl went off contentedly with her new friend.
“ Mr. Farringford,” she began, “ why have you never been to see me ? I’ve watched and watched at the window for you, and finally I thought you were dead.”
“If I had seen you once, Dorothy, I should have been most anxious to see you again.”
“ How nice! Mr. Farringford, aunt Winifred is going to take me down the river from Haverhill to Newburyport, day after to-morrow, and there is a popcorn man on board the boat. You are fond of popcorn, are n’t you ? ”
“ There is nothing in the whole world like it.”
“ Then you will come with us ! Oh, Mr. Farringford, that would be too lovely ! The boat goes at half past nine, and its name is the Merrimac.”
“ Very well, I’ll be there. Suppose we keep it a secret from your aunt ? ”
“ Oh yes, a lovely surprise.”
The ice-cream soda was even better than Dorothy had pictured it, and that is saying a great deal in this disappointing world; but the surprise was not equally successful.
As Farringford was bidding Miss Yale and Dorothy good - by, the child said : “ I shall see you day after — Oh, I forgot; it is such a splendid surprise. You can’t guess what it is, aunt Winifred.”
“ I hope Miss Yale won’t object, but I’ve been trying for years to get to Haverhill to see my great-aunt, and by a curious coincidence I was planning to spend to-morrow night there, and take the trip down the river.”
“ You did n’t tell me about your greataunt,” said Dorothy.
Farringford was at the boat landing before the appointed hour, and as passenger after passenger arrived he had a bitter sense of disappointment. Of what use was it to create an elderly relative and take a trip to this confounded Haverhill, if that exasperating Miss Yale was to punish him for his transparent iniquities by not turning up, after all ? He could imagine the mischievous gleam in her eyes the next time they met (Farringford was now sure that they should meet again), when she asked him if he had enjoyed his visit to his great-aunt. Here they were at last!
“I thought you had gone back on me,” said Farringford, as he shook hands with Dorothy.
“ Aunt Winifred did n’t much want to come, but I made her. She said it was too hot. We’ve got our lunch in that basket. Aunt Winifred said ” —
“ Dorothy,” interposed her aunt warningly.
“ I must tell him this one thing. Aunt Winifred said you had probably never had a lunch out of a basket before, but that it would ” —
“ Dorothy ! ”
— “ do you good,” finished the child hastily.
“ Miss Yale, you evidently take me for an unhappy man who has never experienced any of the joys of life. I was brought up in the country, and so I know that a picnic is the greatest fun in the world.”
“ There, did n’t I tell you so ! ” commented Dorothy. “ I knew he was a nice, sensible person.”
Farringford unfolded some camp chairs in the bow of the boat. He placed Dorothy’s between his and her aunt’s, and as often as he dared he stole a look at Miss Yale’s charming profile. He had never seen her in anything but her hospital uniform, until the other day. She wore a skirt of an indefinite grayishbrown tint, with a white waist and blue belt, and a white sailor hat. In the dress of the world she looked still younger, and, if possible, more full of an overflowing enjoyment of life. He wondered he had never been able to think of her as anything but a hospital nurse, for now that he saw her out of doors it was difficult to associate her with the confinement of brick walls.
Then followed a day of such enchantment that Farringford would gladly have had it last forever. At first the sky was gray, and the river a pale grayish blue; but after a time the sun came out, and the sky changed to pale blue and was flecked with soft woolly clouds. As they left Haverhill behind them, it looked like a place in a dream, with the white houses half hidden in the trees, and one slender white spire, while at the right a boat with a white sail glided into view.
Dorothy’s attention was divided between the popcorn man, a serious personage with a huge black oilcloth bag full to the brim with his delectable wares, and a delightful traveling musician with a redand-gold harp.
Farringford asked Dorothy if she thought she could eat ten bags of popcorn, and they finally compromised on two, — one for her and one for himself. He sat there munching popcorn, — for Dorothy exacted his loyalty, even to the last kernel, — and listening to the strains of the harp, that was badly out of tune, as it played Sweet By and By, and he had a sense of irresponsible happiness.
“ Dear Mr. Farringford,” said Dorothy, “ I wish I had known you always ; it seems such a waste to begin now.”
“ And so you wish you had known me all your long life, Dorothy ? That is just the way I feel about your aunt.”
Miss Yale stirred uneasily, and turned to look at an old gray house with a huge red chimney. “ Does your great-aunt live in that charming old house, Mr. Farringford ? ” she inquired.
He laughed boyishly. “ Do you know, Miss Yale, I have n’t a near relative in this part of the world. I don’t know when I have spent such a pleasant, homelike day.”
“ I suppose it is the popcorn that makes it seem so homelike,” said Dorothy, with conviction.
“ It is partly the popcorn, but it is largely — this carpet camp chair.”
They glided on and on : under drawbridges, which filled Dorothy with ecstatic delight as they swung open to let the boat through ; past a green marsh in the river, with a flock of white geese near the shore, craning their necks in wonder as the little steamer went by ; past an emerald-green slope at the right, with the sunlight falling on the silvery apple trees at its summit, — on and on, until the lazy river widened and finally lost itself in the sea. Here a salt breeze gave them new life ; but they did not go ashore at Newburyport, for they were planning to stop at Haverhill to see its old cemetery, where one of Winifred’s and Dorothy’s ancestors was buried. As they waited at the landing, Miss Yale opened her lunch basket.
“I don’t know whether Mr. Farringford likes ham sandwiches and hardboiled eggs,” she said, in a meditative tone ; “but when I remember his affection for his great-aunt and popcorn, I am pretty sure he will say he likes them.”
“ Miss Yale, how cruel of you ! I adore them, and this sea breeze has given me the appetite of a boy of fifteen.”
Farringford went down to the cabin, and returned with some bananas and stale chocolate drops, and they ate their simple feast with great content. At last the boat swung slowly away from the landing, and then there followed the same unfolding panorama, only reversed, that had delighted them in the morning.
When they reached Haverhill, Farringford had a sickening feeling that the happiest day of his life was approaching its close. There still remained the old Pentucket cemetery to visit. As they passed through its iron gate, Miss Yale gave an exclamation of delight as she glanced beyond the neatly trimmed grass and beds of scarlet geraniums to the brow of the hill. There was no path ; the long, unmown grass, dotted with pink clover and yellow butter and eggs, covered the spot impartially, and well-nigh blotted out the traces of the graves ; but the old gray slatestones served to mark them, and were scattered about at irregular intervals. Even the trees were old-fashioned : there were weeping willows and an acacia, horse-chestnuts, ash trees, and one tall Norway spruce. Miss Yale ran lightly up the hillside; at the summit she paused, and, shading her eyes, looked down the slope, past Farringford, to the river across the road. The Haverhill factory chimneys, on the other side of the silver stream, were softened by the trees in the foreground, and in the afternoon light their smoke made a golden haze.
Dorothy had run on ahead, and was bending over the gravestones, trying to decipher the name of her ancestor.
“I’ve found him, aunt Winifred!” she called out presently, in triumph. “ Here he is, the great, great, ever so many great grandfathers. You see I’m nearer the size of the stones than you are, so it was easier for me.”
“ Here lies buried what was mortall of Lieutenant Richard Hazen, who departed this life Sep. 25th, 1733, in the 65th year of his age,” read Winifred.
They flung themselves down in the grass, near the simple headstone; and Miss Yale was absent in her thoughts of the past, but Farringford was lost in the present, and both youth and life seemed eternal.
“A cemetery always makes me a little sad,” Winifred said, as Dorothy ran off to make nosegays of the clover and butter and eggs. “ At any other time it is never easy to remember we must all die, and when we are here it is not easy to forget it.”
“ I can’t remember it! ” cried Farringford. He had the same sense of complete, vivid joy in mere existence that he had felt in his ether vision. “ Poor fellow,” and he glanced compassionately at the lieutenant’s tombstone, “ it has all been over with him for more than a hundred and fifty years.”
“ Dear aunt Winifred, here are some flowers for you,” said Dorothy, running up with a large bouquet clasped in each hand. “ And here are some for you, dear Mr. Farringford, for I love, love, love you.”
“ Good-by; you have both made me very happy,” said Farringford, when he at last parted from Miss Yale and her little niece. “ And when I come back from Europe in the autumn, Dorothy, I shall surely go to see you.”
“ In the autumn! ” the child cried, in woe-begone tones. “That is years and years away.”
Farringford went through Switzerland with eyes closed to its beauty, — the same eyes that had been so keenly alive to every detail of loveliness on that enchanting trip down the Merrimac. “ It is on such a large scale here,” he said to himself, “ and it is so familiar that it bores me. And then there is such a difference in the company. Anything would look attractive if one were with two enthusiastic young creatures.” He tried to imagine what Miss Yale and Dorothy would say to this majestic panorama of snow-capped mountains and these vivid sunsets ; and one evening there came to him, in a sudden flash, what he wondered then that he had not known long before. After that Switzerland was very beautiful, for at every turn he had those two dear imaginary companions. He became the most irritating of companions himself, and might better have gone home at once than to have remained with his friend, in the body, while his mind was continually taking excursions across the sea. At last he worked off a little of his impatience by writing a letter to Winifred Yale, which he sent by a steamer ahead of the one he was to take, so that he could have an answer waiting for him when he reached home.
MY DEAR FRIEND [he wrote], —Will it surprise you to have me tell you how much I love you ? I, who have been silent so long, because my eyes were sealed ? And yet it seems now as if I had always known it, from the moment you came into my life, and took my hand when I was on the edge of the black gulf and saved me from — myself. I wonder how I could have gone on so blindly, unrecognizing, unknowing. I say to myself : “ Perhaps she will not love me ; for she is good, and I am not good; she is young, and I am not young; her life is full of absorbing, unselfish work, while mine, in comparison, is but a trifler’s. Perhaps I am to her but one man among many, and she opens her heart to every one, because her nature is so simple that to speak the truth freely is its law.” But something tells me that this feeling of eompletest sympathy and comprehension, this happiness so new and strange, could not have come into my life without some corresponding feeling on your side, however slight; and if you do not love me now, I feel that I can make you love me.
I used to dread growing old, unspeakably, and now it seems to me as if there were no such thing as age; as if life were but a continual progression, and length of years meant but more opportunity for loving.
Ah, if I had only spoken that day when we sat together on the hillside ! If I had only known ! But I had never been in love before with the better part of my nature, and so I failed to recognize the signs. And perhaps you would have distrusted my sudden impulse, and felt it might be only a passing mood from which I should soon recover, — who can tell?
Will you not send me one little word for my home-coming, just to say that I may come to see you ? That is all I ask, but, like Dorothy, I love, love, love you. . . .
When he reached home, Farringford ran his eyes greedily over the envelopes that were waiting for him, before he remembered that he did not even know Winifred’s handwriting. He tore open one addressed in an unfamiliar hand, only to find that it was an unpaid bill. There was no word from her. He wondered if, to save his feelings, she had spared him the knowledge in written words that she could not love him; but that would not be like her, and, at any rate, he preferred to know the worst. He sat down at his desk and wrote a few hurried lines to Dorothy’s mother, asking if she would send him her sister’s address, and he haunted the front door whenever it was time for the postman. At last the answer came, saying that Winifred had been in the country all the autumn, nursing a very exacting patient, and had overtaxed her strength and come down with typhoid fever. She was now at the City Hospital, where it was her wish to go, and she was so critically ill that the doctors gave very little hope.
Farringford sat for a long time with his face buried in his hands. After a while he rose mechanically. It would be easier to bear if he went to the hospital and learned the latest news, even if — O God, no ! There are moments when suspense is infinitely easier to bear than certainty.
As Farringford approached the City Hospital, he reflected that it was not a year since he first entered it, as the world measures time. “ You can partly understand what this trial is to those who are her nearest and dearest,” he quoted bitterly from the letter, remembering that she, who had so changed the world for him, was only his most casual acquaintance in the eyes of her friends. The beds of scarlet geraniums on the hospital lawn recalled with a sudden pang those in the Pentucket cemetery, and Winifred’s words : “ At any other time it is never easy to remember we must all die, and when we are here it is not easy to forget it.” Blind fool that he had been not to have known sooner the meaning of that day of exquisite happiness ! He went up the long flight of steps to the administration building, and entered its open door. A “ centre boy ” presently came, who knew nothing about Miss Yale, but would go and find out how she was. The suspense was almost more than Farringford could bear. He went into the reception room to wait, and as he looked out of the window the sight of a slender figure in a blue-andwhite gown, crossing from one building to the other, gave him an unreasoning moment of mad joy ; then he remembered that Winifred was no longer wearing the nurse’s uniform.
At last the boy came back. “ Miss Yale is too ill to see any one,” he said.
“ I know that. How is she ? Do they think ” —
“ They think she is going to die,” he answered indifferently, as if it were a form of words he often had to use, and one life more or less did not matter. Then, as he caught sight of Farringford’s face, he added hastily, “ But you can never tell with typhoid fever ; while there is life there is hope.”
How many times Farringford had tried to console his friends with the same trite phrase, and how futilely, he felt now ! Good God ! had those others suffered as he was suffering, while he had stood by uttering platitudes ?
The black gulf was no longer imaginary. He was over the edge now.
There are times when life is set in such a key of anguish that the least lightening of the burden comes in contrast almost with the force of joy. Farringford, after this, underwent hourly alternations of hope changing to despair ; but finally there came a time when the crisis of the fever had passed, and he was told that Winifred would get well, if there were no new developments in the treacherous disease. At first he hardly dared to rejoice, but as she grew stronger every day his hope grew stronger also.
There came a blessed afternoon, when, as he sat in the hospital reception room, the boy brought him a letter.
“The doctor won’t let Miss Yale see any one for another week,” he said, “ but she has written this note herself.”
Farringford had an intoxicating sense of happiness, and he kissed the tremulous penciled lines over and over again, as he read : —
MY DEAR FRIEND, — I may not see you yet, but they let me write a few lines at a time. I want to make you feel quite at ease by telling you that I am going to get well; and I want to thank you for the beautiful flowers you have so constantly brought me, that I have loved for themselves, but trebly because they were messengers from you ; most of all I want to thank you for your letter.
I am glad you did not speak last summer, for so much would have come between us : not what you think, but your knowledge and my ignorance, your wealth and my poverty, your position in the world and my own humility. But when we are near death we see clearly, and we lay aside our pride and speak quite simply, like little children.
Yes, I too had the same feeling of complete sympathy and comprehension, and being a woman I understood. I mean that I knew, after you left the hospital, that something had happened which would make my whole life different ; and as I believed I should never see you again, I was proud enough to say I would forget. But it is not easy to forget, if you are a woman, even when your days are filled with active work. And at last I found I must remember, and I said, “As I must remember, I will remember so that my life will be happier always, instead of suffering loss.” And finally it all seemed like a dream, until the day when I saw you again. I knew that for my own peace of mind I ought not to go down the river, but I went “ for Dorothy’s sake; ” so easily do we cheat ourselves, knowing all the time that we are cheating. And afterwards I said: “ Whatever happens, I have had one beautiful day ; nothing can take it from me. So many women go through life without even that.”
I have written this in bits and snatches, so forgive me if it is incoherent. And now they tell me you are downstairs, waiting for a message, and I send this note to you with Dorothy’s words, “ I love, love, love you.” It is as easy to tell the truth when we are very happy as when we are seven years old. . . .
Eliza Orne White.