Getting Well

I HAVE known for a long while that I am only whistling in the dark when I tell my solicitous friends, as I have a way of doing, that I am not afraid to live out here in this big house alone. I go on whistling, not because I mind being thought a coward, which is quite all right, but because I am one, and do mind being thought queer, which would be embarrassing all round; and we usually end with the mutual assumption that there is really nothing to be afraid of.

‘And then of course there are the servants . . . ‘ I murmur indefinitely, with an all-too-definite picture in my mind of Joe pursuing his night life across the fields and Lucy going sleepily to bed all those doors and rooms and corridors away.

‘And of course you have the dogs,’ they murmur back reassuringly. ’Let’s see; how many of them are there now?’ And when I tell them only one. only Jubby now, they look him over as if they thought I still had dog enough. How long would it take, I wonder. for an evildoer or evil-intender to find out that most of that bulk is composed of friendliness? Somebody once suggested that we tie a bell to his tail, so that when burglars came his enthusiastic greeting might wag us at least a warning. But say what you please, a hundred and thirty pounds of Great Dane is a wonderful advertisement of the security of home, and I hate to think how hard it would be to have to go on trying to feel safe without Jubby.

I have had to face the prospect too nearly these last days, for Lucy and I have been nursing him through pneumonia, a dramatically sudden and violent attack; and now that he is definitely ‘on the mend’ I find myself meditating a good deal on the nature of joy. It is a subject about which I should know more than most, having had in my life an unusual allotment of the various forms of happiness, and I flatter myself I am becoming more intimately acquainted with it as these forms assume the more intimate character that goes with their diminishing proportions.

There seems to be so little difference, subjectively considered, between one joy and another. The discrepancy in the delights we propose to ourselves when we are young and the ones we manage to hold on to in the teeth of the ‘robber years’ lies in the objects we consider at different epochs to be worthy of such vibrations and not in the vibrations themselves. This is naturally a personal point of view, but it is, as I have indicated, the opinion of an expert. Sir Philip Sidney said something in a sonnet about being ‘long with love acquainted,’ and this has been my case with joy. How well I know the rustle of those wings! Once it was Pearls from Samarkand that they denoted; now it is Jubby getting well, but inwardly the message is the same.

The night we saw him through his crisis was appropriately but inconveniently stormy. The little white-breasted birds that every year choose the vines over the windows as a wayside inn on their journey to wherever they are going at this season were quite literally upset by the whipping of the ivy branches and kept dashing themselves against the window glass and fluttering up and down it like distracted skaters on the ice. They seemed more than ever on this anxious night to ‘mean something,’ but, however ill-omened they might be, I did not want to see their fatal presages fulfilled on them, so I sent Lucy to call the cats into the kitchen and leave them there, cuddled as is their silly wont under a perfectly cold stove, while we sat in the parlor and kept the fire blazing. For that is where the sufferer lay, of course, in his accustomed place before the hearth with extra rugs and cushions about and beneath him. Joe had given him his tablets for the night and poured the final bottle of milk and whiskey down his throat, and so departed, leaving Lucy and me alone for the long watches.

‘If you’ll ‘sense me, Miss Annie, but you rubs the misery back into him if’n you don’t take your hand up every time,’ criticized my assistant, who watched my efforts with the camphorated oil and made involuntary motions with her own hands in the right direction every time I moved mine in the wrong.

‘All right, Lucy, you take it over,’ I consented sadly, thinking it made little difference who did the rubbing, or whether right or wrong —so low poor Jubby seemed. The doctor had said he didn’t have much of a chance, his years being so against him. But, as doctors often do, he must have underestimated something — love, perhaps, or Lucy, for before the night was over she had rubbed her patient back to life.

‘Miss Annie,’ she called, ‘he’s up and walkin’. Mus’ I let him go out?’

And out he went for a long drink of water from the fountain on the terrace, looking in the light from the windows like some fantastic and foolish beast out of a child’s picture book, with his front legs through the sleeves of a padded pyjama jacket and a leopard skin from a worn and ancient coat dangling over his shoulders. Even the wind and the rain could hardly hurt one so miraculously restored, it seemed to me, and of course neither he nor Lucy could see any reason why he should not go as usual to the fountain if he wanted a drink. The fact that he could neither stand nor stagger all the day before was already erased from their consciousness — as it deserved to be. I was the only one of the three of us who remembered it, which made me feel somehow unworthy. Even Joe when he came in the early dawn to be greeted by a risen Jubby didn’t seem particularly surprised.

Was sick . . . is well. . . . What a pleasant conjugation, and how naturally accepted by those who are not grammarians!