DR. BREEN'S PRACTICE.
By William Dean Howells
Near the verge of a bold promontory stands the hotel, and looks southeastward over a sweep of sea unbroken to the horizon. Behind it stretches the vast forest, which after two hundred years has resumed the sterile coast wrested from it by the first Pilgrims, and has begun to efface the evidences of the inroad made in recent years by the bold speculator for whom Jocelyn's is named. The young birches and spruces are breast high in the drives and avenues at Jocelyn's; the low blackberry vines and the sweet fern cover the carefully-graded sidewalks, and obscure the divisions of the lots; the children of the boarders have found squawberries in the public square on the spot where the band-stand was to have been. The notion of a sea-side resort at this point was courageously conceived, and to a certain extent it was generously realized. Except for its remoteness from the railroad, a drawback which future enterprise might be expected to remedy in some way, the place has many natural advantages. The broad plateau is cooled by a breeze from the vast forests behind it, which comes laden with health and freshness from the young pines; the sea at its feet is warmed by the Gulf Stream to a temperature delicious for bathing. There are certainly mosquitoes from the woods; but there are mosquitoes everywhere, and the report that people have been driven away by them is manifestly untrue, for whoever comes to Jocelyn's remains. The beach at the foot of the bluff is almost a mile at its curve, and it is so smooth and hard that it glistens like polished marble when newly washed by the tide. It is true that you reach it from the top by a flight of eighty steps, but it was intended to have an elevator, like those near the Whirlpool at Niagara. In the mean time it is easy enough to go down, and the ladies go down every day, taking their novels or their needle-work with them. They have various notions of a bath: some conceive that it is bathing to sit in the edge of the water, and emit shrieks as the surge sweeps against them; others run boldly in, and after a moment of poignant hesitation jump up and down half-a-dozen times, and run out; yet others imagine it better to remain immersed to the chin for a given space, looking toward the shore with lips tightly shut and the breath held. But after the bath they are all of one mind; they lay their shawls on the warm sand, and, spreading out their hair to dry, they doze in the sun, in such coils and masses as the unconscious figure lends itself to. When they rise from their beds, they sit in the shelter of the cliff and knit or sew, while one of them reads aloud, and another stands watch to announce the coming of the seals, which frequent a reef near the shore in great numbers. It has been said at rival points on the coast that the ladies linger there in despair of ever being able to remount to the hotel. A young man who clambered along the shore from one of those points reported finding day after day the same young lady stretched out on the same shawl, drying the same yellow hair, who had apparently never gone upstairs since the season began. But the recurrence of this phenomenon in this spot at the very moment when the young man came by might have been accounted for upon other theories. Jocelyn's was so secluded that she could not have expected any one to find her there twice, and if she had expected this she would not have permitted it. Probably he saw a different young lady each time.
Many of the same boarders come year after year, and these tremble at the suggestion of a change for the better in Jocelyn's. The landlord has always believed that Jocelyn's would come up, some day, when times got better. He believes that the narrow-gauge railroad from New Leyden— arrested on paper at the disastrous moment when the fortunes of Jocelyn's felt the general crash—will be pushed through yet; and every summer he promises that next summer they are going to have a steam-launch running twice a day from Leyden Harbor. But at present his house is visited once a day by a barge, as the New England coast-folks call the vehicle in which they convey city boarders to and from the station, and the old frequenters of the place hope that the station will never be nearer Jocelyn's than at present. Some of them are rich enough to afford a sojourn at more fashionable resorts; but most of them are not, though they are often people of polite tastes and of aesthetic employments. They talk with slight of the large watering-places, and probably they would not like them, though it is really economy that inspires their passion for Jocelyn's with most of them, and they know of the splendid. weariness of Newport mostly by hearsay. New arrivals are not favored, but there are not often new arrivals at Jocelyn's. The chief business of the barge is to bring fresh meat for the table and the gaunt bag which contains the mail; for in the first flush of the enterprise the place was made a post-office, and the landlord is postmaster; he has the help of the lady-boarders in his official duties.
Scattered about among the young birches there are several of those pine frames known as shells, within easy walk of the hotel, where their inmates board. They are picturesque interiors, and are on informal terms with the public as to many domestic details. The lady of the house, doing her back hair at her dressing-room glass, is divided from her husband, smoking at the parlor fire-place, only by a partition of unlathed studding. The arrest of development in these shells is characteristic of everything about the place. None of the improvements invented since the hard times began have been added to Jocelyn's; lawntennis is still unknown there; but there is a croquet-ground before the hotel, where the short, tough grass is kept in tolerable order. The wickets are pretty rusty, and it is usually the children who play; but toward the close of a certain, afternoon a young lady was pushing the balls about there. She seemed to be going over a game just played, and trying to trace the cause of her failure. She made bad shots, and laughed at her blunders. Another young lady drooped languidly on a bench at the side of the croquet-ground, and followed her movements with indifference.
"I don't see how you did it, Louise," panted the player; "it's astonishing how you beat me."
The lady on the bench made as if to answer, but ended by coughing hoarsely.
"Oh, dear child!" cried the first, dropping her mallet, and running to her. "You ought to have put on your shawl!" She lifted the knit shawl lying beside her on the bench, and laid it across the other's shoulders, and drew it close about her neck.
"Oh, don't!" said the other. "It chokes me to be bundled up so tight." She shrugged the shawl down to her shoulders with a pretty petulance. "If my chest's protected, that's all that's necessary." But she made no motion to drape the outline which her neatly-fitted dress displayed, and she did not move from her place, or look up at her anxious friend.
"Oh, but don't sit here, Louise," the latter pleaded, lingering near her. "I was wrong to let you sit down at all after you had got heated."
"Well, Grace, I had to," said she who was called Louise. "I was so tired out. I'm not going to take more cold. I can always tell when I am. I'll put on the shawl in half a minute; or else I'll go in."
"I'm sure there's nothing to keep me out. That's the worst of these lonely places: my mind preys upon itself. That's what Dr. Nixon always said: he said it was no use in air so long as my mind preyed upon itself. He said that I ought to divert my mind all I could, and keep it from preying upon itself; that it was worth all the medicine in the world."
"That's perfectly true."
"Then you ought n't to keep reminding me all the time that I'm sick. That's what starts my mind to preying upon itself; and when it gets going once I can't stop it. I ought to treat myself just like a well person; that's what the doctor said."
The other stood looking at the speaker in frowning perplexity. She was a serious-faced girl, and now when she frowned her black brows met sternly above her gray eyes. But she controlled any impulse she had to severity, and asked gently, "Shall I send Bella to you?"
"Oh, no! I can't make society out of a child the whole time. I'll just sit here till the barge comes in. I suppose it will be as empty as a gourd, as usual." She added, with a sick and weary negligence, "I don't even know where Bella is. She's run off, somewhere."
"It's quite time she should be looked up, for tea. I'll wander out that way and look for her." She indicated the wilderness generally.
"Thanks," said Louise. She now gratefully drew her shawl up over her shoulders, and faced about on the bench so as to command an easy view of the arriving barge. The other met it on her way to the place in the woods where the children usually played, and found it as empty as her friend had foreboded. But the driver stopped his horses, and leaned out of the side of the wagon with a little package in his hand. He read the superscription, and then glanced consciously at the girl. "You're Miss Breen, ain't you?"
"Yes," she said, with lady-like sweetness and a sort of business-like alertness.
"Well," suggested the driver, "this is for Miss Grace Breen, M. D."
"For me, thank you," said the young lady. "I'm Dr. Breen." She put out her hand for the little package from the homoeopathic pharmacy in Boston; and the driver yielded it with a blush that reddened him to his hair. "Well," he said slowly, staring at the handsome girl, who did not visibly share his embarrassment, "they told me you was the one; but I could n't seem to get it through me. I thought it must be the old lady."
"My mother is Mrs. Breen," the young lady briefly explained, and walked rapidly away, leaving the driver stuck in the heavy sand of Sea-Glimpse Avenue.
"Why, get up!" he shouted to his horses. "Goin' to stay here all day?" He craned his neck round the side of the wagon for a sight of her. "Well, dumm 'f I don't wish I was sick! Steps along," he mused, watching the swirl and ripple of her skirt, "like—I dunno what."
With her face turned from him Dr. Breen blushed, too; she was not yet so used to her quality of physician that she could coldly bear the confusion to which her being a doctor put men. She laughed a little to herself at the helplessness of the driver, confronted probably for the first time with a graduate of the New York homoeopathic school; but she believed that she had reasons for taking herself seriously in every way, and she had not entered upon this career without definite purposes. When she was not yet out of her teens, she had an unhappy love affair, which was always darkly referred to as a disappointment by people who knew of it at the time. Though the particulars of the case do not directly concern this story, it may be stated that the recreant lover afterwards married her dearest girl-friend, whom he had first met in her company. It was cruel enough, and the hurt went deep; but it neither crushed nor hardened her. It benumbed her for a time; she sank out of sight; but when she returned to the knowledge of the world she showed no mark of the blow except what was thought a strange eccentricity in a girl such as she had been. The world which had known her—it was that of an inland New England city—heard of her definitely after several years as a student of medicine in New York. Those who had more of her intimacy understood that she had chosen this work with the intention of giving her life to it, in the spirit in which other women enter convents, or go out to heathen lands; but probably this conception had its exaggerations. What was certain was that she was rich enough to have no need of her profession as a means of support, and that its study had cost her more than the usual suffering that it brings to persons of sensitive nerves. Some details were almost insuperably repugnant; but in schooling herself to them she believed that she was preparing to encounter anything in the application of her science.
Her first intention had been to go back to her own town after her graduation, and begin the practice of her profession among those who had always known her, and whose scrutiny and criticism would be hardest to bear, and therefore, as she fancied, the most useful to her in the formation of character. But afterwards she relinquished her purpose in favor of a design which she thought would be more useful to others: she planned going to one of the great factory towns, and beginning practice there, in company with an older physician, among the children of the operatives. Pending the completion of this arrangement, which was waiting upon the decision of the other lady, she had come to Jocelyn's with her mother, and with Mrs. Maynard, who had arrived from the West, aimlessly sick and unfriended, just as they were about leaving home. There was no resource but to invite her with them, and Dr. Breen was finding her first patient in this unexpected guest. She did not wholly regret the accident; this, too, was useful work, though not that she would have chosen; but her mother, after a fortnight, openly repined, and could not mention Mrs. Maynard without some rebellious murmur. She was an old lady, who had once kept a very vigilant conscience for herself; but after making her life unhappy with it for some threescore years, she now applied it entirely to the exasperation and condemnation of others. She especially devoted it to fretting a New England girl's naturally morbid sense of duty in her daughter, and keeping it in the irritation of perpetual self-question. She had never actively opposed her studying medicine; that ambition had harmonized very well with certain radical tendencies of her own, and it was at least not marriage, which she had found tolerable only in its modified form of widowhood; but at every step after the decisive step was taken she was beset with misgivings lest Grace was not fully alive to the grave responsibilities of her office, which she accumulated upon the girl in proportion as she flung off all responsibilities of her own. She was doubtless deceived by that show of calm which sometimes deceived Grace herself, who, in tutoring her soul to bear what it had to bear, mistook her tense effort for spiritual repose, and scarcely realized through her tingling nerves the strain she was undergoing. In spite of the bitter experience of her life, she was still very ardent in her hopes of usefulness, very scornful of distress or discomfort to herself, and a little inclined to exact the heroism she was ready to show. She had a child's severe morality, and she had hardly learned to understand that there is much evil in the world that does not characterize the perpetrators: she held herself as strictly to account for every word and deed as she held others, and she had an almost passionate desire to meet the consequence of her errors; till that was felt, an intolerable doom hung over her. She tried not to be impulsive; that was criminal in one of her calling; and she struggled for patience with an endeavor that was largely successful.
As to the effect of her career outside of herself, and of those whom her skill was to benefit, she tried to think neither arrogantly nor meanly. She would not entertain the vanity that she was serving what is called the cause of woman, and she would not assume any duties or responsibilities toward it. She thought men were as good as women; at least one man had been no worse than one woman; and it was in no representative or exemplary character that she had chosen her course. At the same time that she held these sane opinions, she believed that she had put away the hopes with the pleasures that might once have taken her as a young girl. In regard to what had changed the current of her life, she mentally asserted her mere nullity, her absolute non-existence. The thought of it no longer rankled, and that interest could never be hers again. If it had not been so much like affectation, and so counter to her strong aesthetic instinct, she might have made her dress somehow significant of her complete abeyance in such matters; but as it was she only studied simplicity, and as we have seen from the impression of the barge-driver she did not finally escape distinction in dress and manner. In fact, she could not have escaped that effect if she would; and it was one of the indomitable contradictions of her nature that she would not.
When she came back to the croquet-ground, leading the little girl by the hand, she found Mrs. Maynard no longer alone and no longer sad. She was chatting and laughing with a slim young fellow, whose gay blue eyes looked out of a sunburnt face, and whose straw hat, carried in his hand, exposed a closely shaven head. He wore a suit of gray flannel, and Mrs. Maynard explained that he was camping on the beach at Birkman's Cove, and had come over in the steamer with her when she returned from Europe. She introduced him as Mr. Libby, and said, "Oh, Bella, you dirty little thing!"
Mr. Libby bowed anxiously to Grace, and turned for refuge to the little girl. "Hello, Bella!" "Hello!" said the child. "Remember me?" The child put her left hand on that of Grace holding her right, and prettily pressed her head against the girl's arm in bashful silence. Grace said some coldly civil words to the young man: without looking at Mrs. Maynard, and passed on into the house.
"You don't mean that's your doctor?" he scarcely more than whispered.
"Yes, I do," answered Mrs. Maynard. "Is n't she too lovely? And she's just as good! She used to stand up at school for me, when all the girls were down on me because I was Western. And when I came East, this time, I just went right straight to her house. I knew she could tell me exactly what to do. And that's the reason I'm here. I shall always recommend this air to anybody with lung difficulties. It's the greatest thing ! I'm almost another person. Oh, you need n't look after her, Mr. Libby! There's nothing flirtatious about Grace," said Mrs. Maynard.
The young man recovered himself from his absentminded stare in the direction Grace had taken, with a frank laugh. "So much the better for a fellow, I should say!"
Grace handed the little girl over to her nurse, and went to her own room, where she found her mother waiting to go down to tea.
"Where is Mrs. Maynard?" asked Mrs. Breen.
"Out on the croquet-ground," answered the daughter.
"I should think it would be damp," suggested Mrs. Green.
"She will come in when the tea-bell rings. She wouldn't come in now, if I told her."
"Well," said the elder lady, "for a person who lets her doctor pay her board, I think 'she's very independent."
"I wish you would n't speak of that, mother," said the girl.
"I can't help it, Grace. It's ridiculous,—that's what it is; it's ridiculous."
"I don't see anything ridiculous in it. A physician need not charge anything unless he chooses, or she; and if I choose to make Louise my guest here it's quite the same as if she were my guest at home."
"I don't like you to have such a guest," said Mrs. Green. "I don't see what claim she has upon your hospitality."
"She has a double claim upon it," Grace answered, with a flush. "She is in sickness and in trouble. I don't see how she could have a better claim. Even if she were quite well I should consider the way she had been treated by her husband sufficient, and I should want to do everything I could for her."
"I should want her to behave herself," said Mrs. Breen dryly.
"How behave herself? What do you mean?" demanded Grace, with guilty heat.
"You know what I mean, Grace. A woman in her position ought to be more circumspect than any other woman, if she wants people to believe that her husband treated her badly."
"We ought n't to blame her for trying to forget her troubles. It's essential to her recovery for her to be as cheerful as she can be. I know that she's impulsive, and she's free in her manners with strangers; but I suppose that's her Westernism. She's almost distracted. She was crying half the night, with her troubles, and kept Bella and me both awake."
"Is Bella with her now?"
"No," Grace admitted. "Jane's getting her ready to go down with us. Louise is talking with a gentleman who came over on the steamer with her; he's camping on the beach near here. I didn't wait to hear particulars."
When the nurse brought the little girl to their door, Mrs. Green took one hand and Grace the other, and they led her down to tea. Mrs. Maynard was already at table, and told them all about meeting Mr. Libby abroad.
Until the present time she and Grace had not seen each other since they were at school together in Southington, where the girl used to hear so much to the disadvantage of her native section that she would hardly have owned to it if her accent had not found her out. It would have been pleasanter to befriend another person, but the little Westerner suffered a veritable persecution, and that was enough to make Grace her friend. Shortly after she returned home from school she married, in that casual and tentative fashion in which so many marriages seem made. Grace had heard of her as travelling in Europe with her husband, from whom she was now separated. She reported that he had known Mr. Libby in his bachelor days, and that Mr. Libby had travelled with them. Mr. Maynard appeared to have left to Mr. Libby the arrangement of his wife's pleasures, the supervision of her shopping, and the direction of their common journeys and sojourns; and it seemed to have been indifferent to him whether his friend was smoking and telling stories with him, or going with his wife to the opera, or upon such excursions as he had no taste for. She gave the details of the triangular intimacy with a frank unconsciousness; and after nine o'clock she returned from a moonlight walk on the beach with Mr. Libby.
Grace sat waiting for her at the little one's bedside, for Bella had been afraid to go to sleep alone.
"How good you are!" cried Louise, in a grateful under-tone, as she came in. She kissed Grace, and choked down a cough with her hand over her mouth.
"Louise," said Grace sternly, "this is shameful! You forget that you are married, and ill, too."
"Oh, I'm ever so much better, to-night. The air's just as dry! And you needn't mind Mr. Libby. He's such an old friend! Besides, I'm sure to gain the case."
"No matter. Even as a divorced woman, you oughtn't to go on in this way."
"Well, I would n't, with every one. But it's quite different with Mr. Libby. And, besides, I have to keep my mind from preying on itself somehow."
Mrs. Maynard sat in the sun on the seaward-looking piazza of the hotel, and coughed in the warm air. She told the ladies, as they came out from breakfast, that she was ever so much better generally, but that she seemed to have more of that tickling in her throat. Each of them advised her for good, and suggested this specific and that; and they all asked her what Miss Breen was doing for her cough. Mrs. Maynard replied, between the paroxysms, that she did not know: it was some kind of powders. Then they said they would think she would want to try something active; even those among them who were homoeopathists insinuated a fine distrust of a physician of their own sex. "Oh, it's nothing serious," Mrs. Maynard explained. "It's just bronchial. The air will do me more good than anything. I'm keeping out in it all I can."
After they were gone, a queer, gaunt man came and glanced from the doorway at her. He had one eye in unnatural fixity, and the other set at that abnormal slant which is said to qualify the owner for looking round a corner before he gets to it. A droll twist of his mouth seemed partly physical, but: there is no doubt that he had often a humorous intention. It was Barlow, the man-of-all-work, who killed and plucked the poultry, peeled the potatoes and picked the peas, pulled the sweet-corn and the tomatoes, kindled the kitchen fire, harnessed the old splayfooted mare, —safe for ladies and children, and intolerable for all others, which formed the entire stud of the Jocelyn House stables,—dug the clams, rowed and sailed the boat, looked after the bath-houses, and came in contact with the guests at so many points that he was on easy terms with them all. This ease tended to an intimacy which he was himself powerless to repress, and which, from time to time, required their intervention. He now wore a simple costume of shirt and trousers, the latter terminated by a pair of broken shoes, and sustained by what he called a single gallows; his broad-brimmed straw hat scooped down upon his shoulders behind, and in front added to his congenital difficulty of getting people in focus. "How do you do, this morning, Mrs. Maynard?" he said.
"Oh, I'm first-rate, Mr. Barlow. What sort of day do you think it's going to be for a sail?"
Barlow came out to the edge of the piazza, and looked at the sea and sky. "First-rate. Fog's most burnt away now. You don't often see a fog at Jocelyn's after ten o'clock in the mornin'."
He looked for approval to Mrs. Maynard, who said, "That's so. The air's just splendid. It 's doing everything for me."
"It's these pine woods, back o' here. Every breath on 'em does ye good. It's the balsam in it. D' you ever try," he asked, stretching his hand as far up the piazza-post as be could, and swinging into a conversational posture,—"d' you ever try whiskey—good odd Bourbon whiskey—with white- pine chips in it?"
Mrs. Maynard looked up with interest, but, shaking her head, coughed for no.
"Well, I should like to have you try that."
"What does it do?" she gasped, when she could get her breath.
"Well, it's soothin' t' the cough, and it builds ye up, every ways. Why, my brother," continued the factotum, "he died of consumption when I was a boy,—reg'lar old New England consumption. Don't hardly ever hear of it any more, round here. Well, I don't suppose there's been a case of reg'lar old New England consumption—well, not the old New England kind —since these woods growed up. He used to take whiskey with white-pine chips in it; and I can remember hearin 'em say that it done him more good than all the doctor's stuff. He'd been out to Demarary, and everywheres, and he come home in the last stages, and took up with this whiskey with whitepine chips in it. Well, it's just like this, I presume it's the balsam in the chips. It don't make any difference how you git the balsam into your system, so 's 't you git it there. I should like to have you try whiskey with white-pine chips in it."
He looked convincingly at Mrs. Maynard, who said she should like to try it. "It's just bronchial with me, you know. But I should like to try it. I know it would be soothing; and I've always heard that whiskey was the very thing to build you up. But," she added, lapsing from this vision of recovery, "I couldn't take it unless Grace said so. She'd be sure to find it out."
"Why, look here," said Barlow. "As far forth as that goes, you could keep the bottle in my room. Not but what I believe in going by your doctor's directions, it don't matter who your doctor is. I ain't sayin' nothin' against Miss Breen, you understand?"
"Oh, no!" cried Mrs. Maynard.
"I never see much nicer ladies than her and her mother in the house. But you just tell her about the whiskey with the white-pine chips in it. Maybe she never heard of it. Well, she hain't had a great deal of experience yet."
"No," said Mrs. Maynard. "And I think she'll be glad to hear of it. You may be sure I'll tell her, Mr. Barlow. Grace is everything for the balsamic properties of the air, down here. That's what she said; and as you say, it doesn't matter how you get the balsam into your system, so you get it there."
"No," said the factotum, in a tone of misgiving, as if the repetition of the words presented the theory in a new light to him.
"What I think is, and what I'm always telling Grace," pursued Mrs. Maynard, in that confidential spirit in which she helplessly spoke of her friends by their first names to every one, "that if I could once get my digestion all right, then the cough would stop of itself. The doctor said—Dr. Nixon, that is—that it was more than half the digestion any way. But just as soon as I eat anything—or if I over-eat a little—then that tickling in my throat begins, and then I commence coughing; and I'm back just where I was. It's the digestion. I oughtn't to have eaten that mince pie, yesterday."
"No," admitted Barlow. Then he said, in indirect defence of the kitchen, "I think you had n't ought to be out in the night air,—well, not a great deal."
"Well, I don't suppose it does do me much good," Mrs. Maynard said, turning her eyes seaward.
Barlow let his hand drop from the piazza post, and slouched in-doors; but he came out again as if pricked by conscience to return.
"After all, you know, it did n't cure him."
"What cure him?" asked Mrs. Maynard.
"The whiskey with the white-pine chips in it."
"Oh! Oh, yes! But mine's only bronchial. I think it might do me good. I shall tell Grace about it."
Barlow looked troubled, as if his success in the suggestion of this remedy were not finally a pleasure; but as Mrs. Maynard kept her eyes persistently turned from him, and was evidently tired, he had nothing for it but to go in-doors again. He met Grace, and made way for her on the threshold to pass out.
As she joined Mrs. Maynard, "Well, Grace," said the latter, "I do believe you are right. I have taken some more cold. But that shows that it does n't get worse of itself, and I think we ought to be encouraged by that. I'm going to be more careful of the night air after this."
"I don't think the night air was the worst thing about it, Louise," said Grace bluntly.
"You mean the damp from the sand? I put on my rubbers."
"I don't mean the damp sand," said Grace, beginning to pull over some sewing which she had in her lap, and looking down at it.
Mrs. Maynard watched her a while in expectation that she would say more, but she did not speak. "Oh—well!" she was forced to continue herself, "if you're going to go on with that!"
"The question is," said Grace, getting the thread she wanted, "whether you are going on with it."
"Why, I can't see any possible harm in it," protested Mrs. Maynard. "I suppose you don't exactly like my going with Mr. Libby, and I know that under some circumstances it would n't be quite the thing. But did n't I tell you last night how he lived with us in Europe? And when we were all coming over on the steamer together Mr. Libby and Mr. Maynard were together the whole time, smoking and telling stories. They were the greatest friends! Why, it isn't as if he was a stranger, or an enemy of Mr. Maynard's."
Grace dropped her sewing into her lap. "Really, Louise, you're incredible!" She looked sternly at the invalid; but broke into a laugh, on which Mrs. Maynard waited with a puzzled face. As Grace said nothing more, she helplessly resumed:—
"We did n't expect to go down the cliff when he first called in the evening. But he said he would help me up again, and—he did, nicely. I was n't exhausted a bit; and how I took more cold I can't understand; I was wrapped up warmly. I think I took the cold when I was sitting there after our game of croquet, with my shawl off. Don't you think so?" she wheedled.
"Perhaps," said Grace.
"He did nothing but talk about you, Grace," said Mrs. Maynard, with a sly look at the other. "He's awfully afraid of you, and he kept asking about you."
"Louise," said the other, gravely ignoring these facts, "I never undertook the care of you socially, and I object very much to lecturing you. You are nearly as old as I am, and you have had a great deal more experience of life than I have." Mrs. Maynard sighed deeply in assent. "But it does n't seem to have taught you that if you will provoke people to talk of you, you must expect criticism. One after another you've told nearly every woman in the house your affairs, and they have all sympathized with you and pitied you. I shall have to be plain, and tell you that I can't have them sneering and laughing at any one who is my guest. I can't let you defy public opinion here."
"Why, Grace," said Mrs. Maynard, buoyed above offence at her friend's words by her consciousness of the point she was about to make, "you defy public opinion yourself a good deal more than I do, every minute."
"I? How do I defy it?" demanded Grace indignantly.
"By being a doctor."
Grace opened her lips to speak, but she was not a ready person, and she felt the thrust. Before she could say anything Mrs. Maynard went on: "There isn't one of them that does n't think you're much more scandalous than if you were the greatest flirt alive. But, I don't mind them, and why should you?"
The serious girl whom she addressed was in that helpless subjection to the truth in which so many New England women pass their lives. She could not deny the truth which lurked in the exaggeration of these words, and it unnerved her, as the fact that she was doing what the vast majority of women considered unwomanly always unnerved her when she suffered herself to think of it. "You are right, Louise," she said meekly and sadly. "They think as well of you as they do of me."
"Yes, that's just what I said!" cried Mrs. Maynard, glad of her successful argument.
But however disabled, her friend resumed: "The only safe way for you is to take the ground that so long as you wear your husband's name you must honor it, no matter how cruel and indifferent to you he has been."
"Yes," assented Mrs. Maynard ruefully, "of course."
"I mean that you must n't even have the appearance of liking admiration, or what you call attentions. It's wicked."
"I suppose so," murmured the culprit.
"You have been brought up to have such different ideas of divorce from what I have," continued Grace, "that I don't feel as if I had any right to advise you about what you are to do after you gain your suit."
"I shall not want to get married again for one while; I know that much," Mrs. Maynard interpolated self-righteously.
"But till you do gain it, you ought not to regard it as emancipating you in the slightest degree."
"No," came in sad assent from the victim of the law's delays.
"And I want you to promise me that you won't go walking with Mr. Libby any more; and that you won't even see him alone, after this."
"Why, but Grace!" cried Mrs. Maynard, as much in amazement as in annoyance. "You don't seem to understand! Have n't I told you he was a friend of the family? He's quite as much Mr. Maynard's friend as he is mine. I'm sure," she added, "if I asked Mr. Libby, I should never think of getting divorced. He's all for George; and it's as much as I can do to put up with him."
"No matter. That does n't alter the appearance to people here. I don't wish you to go with him alone any more."
"Well, Grace, I won't," said Mrs. Maynard earnestly. "I won't, indeed. And that makes me think: he wanted you to go along this morning."
"To go along? Wanted me—What are you talking about?"
"Why, I suppose that's his boat, out there, now." Mrs. Maynard pointed to a little craft just coming to anchor inside the reef. "He said he wanted me to take a sail with him, this morning; and he said he would come up and ask you, too. I do hope you'll go, Grace. It's just as calm; and he always has a man with him to help sail the boat, so there is n't the least danger." Grace looked at her in silent sorrow, and Mrs. Maynard went on with sympathetic seriousness: "Oh! there's one thing I want to ask you about, Grace: I don't like to have any concealments from you." Grace did not speak, but she permitted Mrs. Maynard to proceed: "Barlow recommended it, and he's lived here a great while. His brother took it, and he had the regular old New England consumption. I thought I shouldn't like to try it without your knowing it."
"Try it? What are you talking about, Louise?"
"Why, whiskey with white-pine chips in it."
Grace rose, and moved towards the door, with the things dropping from her lap. One of these was a spool, that rolled down the steps and out upon the sandy road. She turned to pursue it, and recovered it at the cost of dropping her scissors and thimble out of opposite sides of her skirt, which she had gathered up apronwise to hold her work. When she rose from the complicated difficulty, in which Mrs. Maynard had amiably lent her aid, she confronted Mr. Libby, who was coming towards them from the cliff. She gave him a stiff nod, and attempted to move away; but in turning round and about she had spun herself into the folds of a stout linen thread escaping from its spool. These gyves not only bound her skirts but involved her feet in an extraordinary mesh, which tightened at the first step and brought her to a standstill.
Mrs. Maynard began to laugh and cough, as Mr. Libby came to her friend's help. He got the spool in his hand, and walked around her in the endeavor to free her; but in vain. She extended him the scissors with the stern passivity of a fate. "Cut it," she commanded, and Mr. Libby knelt before her and obeyed. "Thanks," she said, taking back the scissors; and now she sat down again, and began deliberately to put up her work in her handkerchief.
"I 'll go out and get my things. I won't be gone half a minute, Mr. Libby," said Mrs. Maynard, with her first breath, as she vanished indoors.
Mr. Libby leaned against the post lately occupied by the factotum in his talk with Mrs. Maynard, and looked down at Grace as she bent over her work. If he wished to speak to her, and was wavering as to the appropriate style of address for a handsome girl, who was at once a young lady and a physician, she spared him the agony of a decision by looking up at him suddenly.
"I hope," he faltered, "that you feel like a sail, this morning? Did Mrs. Maynard—"
"I shall have to excuse myself," answered Grace, with a conscience against saying she was sorry. "I am a very bad sailor."
"Well, so am I, for that matter," said Mr. Libby. "But it's smooth as a pond, to-day."
Grace made no direct response, and he grew visibly uncomfortable under the cold abstraction of the gaze with which she seemed to look through him. "Mrs. Maynard tells me you came over with her from Europe."
'Oh yes!" cried the young man, the light of pleasant recollection kindling in his gay eyes. "We had a good time. Maynard was along: he's a first-rate fellow. I wish he were here."
"Yes," said Grace, "I wish so, too." She did not know what to make of this frankness of the young man's, and she did not know whether to consider him very depraved or very innocent. In her question she continued to stare at him, without being aware of the embarrassment to which she was putting him.
"I heard of Mrs. Maynard's being here, and I thought I should find him, too. I came over yesterday to get him to go into the woods with us."
Grace decided that this was mere effrontery. "It is a pity that he is not here," she said; and though it ought to have been possible for her to go on and rebuke the young fellow for bestowing upon Mrs. Maynard the comradeship intended for her husband, it was not so. She could only look severely at him, and trust that he might conceive the intention which she could not express. She rebelled against the convention and against her own weakness, which would not let her boldly interfere in what she believed a wrong; she had defied society, in the mass, but here, with this man, whom as an atom of the mass she would have despised, she was powerless.
"Have you ever seen him?" Libby asked, perhaps clinging to Maynard because he was a topic of conversation in default of which there might be nothing to say.
"No," answered Grace.
"He 's funny. He's got lots of that Western humor, and he tells a story better than any man I ever saw. There was one story of his"—
"I have no sense of humor," interrupted Grace impatiently. "Mr. Libby," she broke out, "I 'm sorry that you've asked Mrs. Maynard to take a sail with you. The sea air"—she reddened with the shame of not being able to proceed without this wretched subterfuge—"won't do her any good."
"Then," said the young man, "you must n't let her go."
"I don't choose to forbid her," Grace began.
"I beg your pardon," he broke in. "I'll be back in a moment."
He turned, and ran to the edge of the cliff, over which he vanished, and he did not reappear till Mrs. Maynard had rejoined Grace on the piazza.
"I hope you won't mind its being a little rough, Mrs. Maynard," he said, breathing quickly. "Adams thinks we're going to have it pretty fresh before we get back."
"Indeed, I don't want to go, then!" cried Mrs. Maynard, in petulant disappointment, letting her wraps fall upon a chair.
Mr. Libby looked at Grace, who haughtily rejected a part in the conspiracy. "I wish you to go, Louise," she declared indignantly. "I will take the risk of all the harm that comes to you from the bad weather." She picked up the shawls, and handed them to Mr. Libby, on whom her eyes blazed their contempt and wonder. It cost a great deal of persuasion and insistence now to make Mrs. Maynard go, and he left all this to Grace, not uttering a word till he gave Mrs. Maynard his hand to help her down the steps. Then he said, "Well, I wonder what Miss Breen does want."
"I 'm sure I don't know," said the other. "At first she did n't want me to go, this morning, and now she makes me. I do hope it is n't going to be a storm."
"I don't believe it is. A little fresh, perhaps. I thought you might be seasick."
"Don't you remember? I'm never seasick! That's one of the worst signs."
"If I could be thoroughly seasick once, it would be the best thing I could do."
"Is she capricious?" asked Mr. Libby.
"Grace?" cried Mrs. Maynard, releasing her hand half-way down the steps, in order to enjoy her astonishment without limitation of any sort. "Grace capricious!"
"Yes," said Mr. Libby, "that's what I thought. Better take my hand again," and he secured that of Mrs. Maynard, who continued her descent. "I suppose I don't understand her exactly. Perhaps she did n't like my not calling her Doctor. I did n't call her anything. I suppose she thought I was dodging it. I was. I should have had to call her Miss Breen, if I called her anything."
"She wouldn't have cared. She is n't a doctor for the name of it."
"I suppose you think it's a pity?" he asked.
"Her being a doctor."
"I'll tell her you say so."
"No, don't. But don't you?"
"Well, I would n't want to be one," said Mrs. Mayward candidly.
"I suppose it's all right, if she does it from a sense of duty, as you say," he suggested.
"Oh, yes, she's all right. And she's just as much of a girl as anybody; though she don't know it," Mrs. Maynard added astutely. "Why would n't she come with us? Were you afraid to ask her?"
"She said she was n't a good sailor. Perhaps she thought we were too young. She must be older than you."
"Yes, and you, too!" cried Mrs. Maynard, with good-natured derision.
"She doesn't look old," returned Mr. Libby.
"She's twenty-eight. How old are you?"
"I promised the census-taker not to tell till his report came out."
"What is the color of her hair?"
"And her eyes?"
"I don't know!"
"You had better look out, Mr. Libby!" said Mrs. Maynard, putting her foot on the ground at last.
They walked across the beach to where his dory lay, and Grace saw him pulling out to the sail boat before she went in from the piazza. Then she went to her mother's room. The elderly lady was keeping indoors, upon a theory that the dew was on, and that it was not wholesome to go out till it was off. She asked, according to her habit when she met her daughter alone, "Where is Mrs. Maynard?"
"Why do you always ask that, mother?" retorted Grace, with her growing irritation in regard to her patient intensified by the recent interview. "I can't be with her the whole time."
"I wish you could," said Mrs. Breen, with noncommittal suggestion.
Grace could not keep herself from demanding, "Why?" as her mother expected, though she knew why too well.
"Because she wouldn't be in mischief then," returned Mrs. Breen.
"She's in mischief now!" cried the girl vehemently; "and it's my fault! I did it. I sent her off to sail with that ridiculous Mr. Libby!"
"Why?" asked Mrs. Breen, in her turn, with unbroken tranquillity.
"Because I am a, fool, and I couldn't help him lie out of his engagement with her."
"Did n't he want to go?"
"I don't know. Yes. They both wanted me to go with them. Simpletons! And while she had gone up-stairs for her wraps I managed to make him understand that I did n't wish her to go, either; and he ran down to his boat, and came back with a story about its going to be rough, and looked at me perfectly delighted, as if I should be pleased. Of course, then, I made him take her."
"And is n't it going to be rough?" asked Mrs. Green.
"Why, mother, the sea's like glass."
Mrs. Breen turned the subject. "You would have done better, Grace, to begin as you had planned. Your going to Fall River, and beginning practice there among those factory children, was the only thing that I ever entirely liked in your taking up medicine. There was sense in that. You had studied specially for it. You could have done good there."
"Oh, yes," sighed the girl, "I know. But what was I to do, when she came to us, sick and poor? I couldn't turn my back on her, especially after always befriending her, as I used to, at school, and getting her to depend on me."
"I don't see how you ever liked her," said Mrs. Breen.
"I never did like her. I pitied her. I always thought her a poor, flimsy little thing. But that ought n't to make any difference, if she was in trouble."
"No," Mrs. Breen conceded, and in compensation Grace admitted something more on her side: "She's worse than she used to be,—sillier. I don't suppose she has a wrong thought; but she's as light as foam."
"Oh, it is n't the wicked people who, do the harm," said Mrs. Green.
"I was sure that this air would be everything for her; and so it would, with any ordinary case. But a child would take better care of itself. I have to watch her every minute, like a child; and I never know what she will do next."
"Yes; it's a burden," said Mrs. Breen, with a sympathy which she had not expressed before. "And you're a good girl, Grace," she added in very unwonted recognition.
The grateful tears stole into the daughter's eyes, but she kept a firm face, even after they began to follow one another down her cheeks. "And if Louise had n't come, you know, mother, that I was anxious to have some older person with me when I went to Fall River. I was glad to have this respite; it gives me a chance to think. I felt a little timid about beginning alone."
"A man would n't," Mrs. Breen remarked.
"No. I am not a man. I have accepted that; with all the rest. I don't rebel against being a woman. If I had been a man, I should n't have studied medicine. You know that. I wished to be a physician because I was a woman, and because—because—I had failed where—other women's hopes are." She said it out firmly, and her mother softened to her in proportion to the girl's own strength. "I might have been just a nurse. You know I should have been willing to be that, but I thought I could be something more. But it's no use talking." She added, after an interval, in which her mother rocked to and fro with a gentle motion that searched the joints of her chair, and brought out its most plaintive squeak in pathetic iteration, and watched Grace, as she sat looking seaward through the open window, "I think it's rather hard, mother, that you should be always talking as if I wished to take my calling mannishly. All that I intend is not to take it womanishly; but as for not being a woman about it, or about anything, that's simply impossible. A woman is reminded of her insufficiency to herself every hour of the day. And it's always a man that comes to her help. I dropped some things out of my lap down there, and by the time I had gathered them up I was wound round and round with linen thread so that I could n't move a step, and Mr. Libby cut me loose. I could have done it myself, but it seemed right and natural that he should do it. I dare say he plumed himself upon his service to me, —that would be natural, too. I have things enough to keep me meek, mother!"
She did not look round at Mrs. Breen, who said, "I think you are morbid about it."
"Yes. And I have the satisfaction of knowing that whatever people think of Louise's giddiness, I'm, a great deal more scandalous to them than she is simply because I wish to do some good in the world, in a way that women have n't done it, usually."
"Now you are morbid."
"Oh, yes! Talk about men being obstacles! It's other women! There isn't a woman in the house that would n't sooner trust herself in the hands of the stupidest boy that got his diploma with me than she would in mine. Louise knows it, and she feels that she has a claim upon me in being my patient. And I 've no influence with her about her conduct because she understands perfectly well that they all consider me much worse. She prides herself on doing me justice. She patronizes me. She tells me that I'm just as nice as, if I hadn't 'been through all that.'" Grace rose, and a laugh, which was half a sob, broke from her.
Mrs. Breen could not feel the humor of the predicament. "She puts you in a false position."
"I must go and see where that poor little wretch of a child is," said Grace, going out of the room. She returned in an hour, and asked her mother for the arnica. "Bella has had a bump," she explained.
"Why, have you been all this time looking for her?
"No, I couldn't find her, and I've been reading. Barlow has just brought her in. HE could find her. She fell out of a tree, and she's frightfully bruised."
She was making search on a closet shelf as she talked. When she reappeared with the bottle in her hand, her mother asked, "Is n't it very hot and close?"
"Very," said Grace.
"I should certainly think they would perish," said Mrs. Breen, hazarding the pronoun, with a woman's confidence that her interlocutor would apply it correctly.
When Grace had seen Bella properly bathed and brown-papered, and in the way to forgetfulness of her wounds in sleep, she came down to the piazza, and stood looking out to sea. The ladies appeared one by one over the edge of the cliff, and came up, languidly stringing their shawls after them, or clasping their novels to their bosoms.
"There isn't a breath down there," they said, one after another. The last one added, "Barlow says it's the hottest day he's ever seen here."
In a minute Barlow himself appeared at the head of the steps with the ladies' remaining wraps, and confirmed their report in person. "I tell you," he said, wiping his forehead, "it's a ripper."
"It must be an awful day in town," said one of the ladies, fanning herself with a newspaper.
"Is that to-day's Advertiser, Mrs. Alger?" asked another.
"Oh, dear, no! yesterday's. We sha'n't have today's till this afternoon. It shows what a new arrival you are, Mrs. Scott—your asking."
"To be sure. But it's such a comfort being where you can see the Advertiser the same morning. I always look at the Weather Report the first thing. I like to know what the weather is going to be."
"You can't at Jocelyn's. You can only know what it's been."
"Well," Barlow interposed, jealous for Jocelyn's, "you can most al'ays tell by the look o' things."
"Yes," said one of the ladies; "but I'd rather trust the Weather Report. It's wonderful how it comes true. I don't think there 's anything that you miss more in Europe than our American Weather Report."
"I'm sure you miss the oysters," said another.
"Yes," the first admitted, "you do miss the oysters. It was the last of the R months when we landed in New York; and do you know what we did the first thing—? We drove to Fulton Market, and had one of those Fulton Market broils! My husband said we should have had it if it had been July. He used to dream of the American oysters when we were in Europe. Gentlemen are so fond of them."
Barlow, from scanning the heavens, turned round and faced the company, which had drooped in several attitudes of exhaustion on the benching of the piazza. "Well, I can most al'ays tell about Jocelyn's as good as the Weather Report. I told Mrs. Maynard here this mornin' that the fog was goin' to burn off."
"Burn off?" cried Mrs. Alger. "I should think it had!" The other ladies laughed.
"And you'll see," added Barlow, "that the wind 'll change at noon, and we'll have it cooler."
"If it's as hot on the water as it is here," said Mrs. Scott, "I should think those people would get a sunstroke."
"Well, so should I, Mrs. Scott," cordially exclaimed a little fat lady, as if here at last were an opinion in which all might rejoice to sympathize.
"It's never so hot on the water, Mrs. Merritt," said Mrs. Alger, with the instructiveness of an old habitude.
"Well, not at Jocelyn's," suggested Barlow. Mrs. Alger stopped fanning herself with her newspaper, and looked at him. Upon her motion, the other ladies looked at Barlow. Doubtless he felt that his social acceptability had ceased with his immediate usefulness. But he appeared resolved to carry it off easily. "Well," he said, "I suppose I must go and pick my peas."
No one said anything to this. When the factotum had disappeared round the corner of the house, Mrs. Alger turned her head' aside, and glanced downward with an air of fatigue. In this manner Barlow was dismissed from the ladies' minds.
"I presume," said young Mrs. Scott, with a deferential glance at Grace, "that the sun is good for a person with lung-difficulty."
Grace silently refused to consider herself appealed to, and Mrs. Merritt said, "Better than the moon, I should think."
Some of the others tittered, but Grace looked up at Mrs. Merritt and said, "I don't think Mrs. Maynard's case is so bad that she need be afraid of either."
"Oh, I am so glad to hear it!" replied the other. She looked round, but was unable to form a party. By twos or threes they might have liked to take Mrs. Maynard to pieces; but no one cares to make unkind remarks before a whole company of people. Some of the ladies even began to say pleasant things about Mr. Libby, as if he were Grace's friend.
"I always like to see these fair men when they get tanned," said Mrs. Alger. "Their blue eyes look so very blue. And the backs of their necks—just like my boys!"
"Do you admire such a VERY fighting-clip as Mr. Libby has on?" asked Mrs. Scott.
"It must be nice for summer," returned the elder lady.
"Yes, it certainly must," admitted the younger.
"Really," said another, "I wish I could go in the fighting-clip. One does n't know what to do with one's hair at the sea-side; it's always in the way."
"Your hair would be a public loss, Mrs. Frost," said Mrs. Alger. The others looked at her hair, as if they had seen it now for the first time.
"Oh, I don't think so," said Mrs. Frost, in a sort of flattered coo.
"Oh, don't have it cut off!" pleaded a young girl, coming up and taking the beautiful mane, hanging loose after the bath, into her hand. Mrs. Frost put her arm round the girl's waist, and pulled her down against her shoulder. Upon reflection she also kissed her.
Through a superstition, handed down from mother to daughter, that it is uncivil and even unkind not to keep saying something, they went on talking vapidities, where the same number of men, equally vacuous, would have remained silent; and some of them complained that the nervous strain of conversation took away all the good their bath had done them. Miss Gleason, who did not bathe, was also not a talker. She kept a bright- eyed reticence, but was apt to break out in rather enigmatical flashes, which resolved the matter in hand into an abstraction, and left the others with the feeling that she was a person of advanced ideas, but that, while rejecting historical Christianity, she believed in a God of Love. This Deity was said, upon closer analysis, to have proved to be a God of Sentiment, and Miss Gleason was herself a hero-worshiper, or, more strictly speaking, a heroine-worshiper. At present Dr. Breen was her cult, and she was apt to lie in wait for her idol, to beam upon it with her suggestive eyes, and evidently to expect it to say or do something remarkable, but not to suffer anything like disillusion or disappointment in any event. She would sometimes offer it suddenly a muddled depth of sympathy in such phrases as, "Too bad!" or, "I don't see how you keep- up?" and darkly insinuate that she appreciated all that Grace was doing. She seemed to rejoice in keeping herself at a respectful distance, to which she breathlessly retired, as she did now, after waylaying her at the top of the stairs, and confidentially darting at her the words, "I'm so glad you don't like scandal!"
After dinner the ladies tried to get a nap, but such of them as re- appeared on the piazza later agreed that it was perfectly useless. They tested every corner for a breeze, but the wind had fallen dead, and the vast sweep of sea seemed to smoulder under the sun. "This is what Mr. Barlow calls having it cooler," said Mrs. Alger.
"There are some clouds that look like thunderheads in the west," said Mrs. Frost, returning from an excursion to the part of the piazza commanding that quarter.
"Oh, it won't rain to-day," Mrs. Alger decided.
"I thought there was always a breeze at Jocelyn's," Mrs. Scott observed, in the critical spirit of a recent arrival.
"There always is," the other explained, "except the first week you're here."
A little breath, scarcely more than a sentiment of breeze, made itself felt. "I do believe the wind has changed," said Mrs. Frost. "It's east." The others owned one by one that it was so, and she enjoyed the merit of a discoverer; but her discovery was rapidly superseded. The clouds mounted in the west, and there came a time when the ladies disputed whether they had heard thunder or not: a faction contended for the bowling alley, and another faction held for a wagon passing over the bridge just before you reached Jocelyn's. But those who were faithful to the theory of thunder carried the day by a sudden crash that broke over the forest, and, dying slowly away among the low hills, left them deeply silent.
"Some one," said Mrs. Alger, "ought to go for those children." On this it appeared that there were two minds as to where the children were,— whether on the beach or in the woods.
"Was n't that thunder, Grace?" asked Mrs. Breen, with the accent by which she implicated her daughter in whatever happened.
"Yes," said Grace, from where she sat at her window, looking seaward, and waiting tremulously for her mother's next question.
"Where is Mrs. Maynard?"
"She is n't back, yet."
"Then," said Mrs. Breen, "he really did expect rough weather."
"He must," returned Grace, in a guilty whisper.
"It's a pity," remarked her mother, "that you made them go."
"Yes." She rose, and, stretching herself far out of the window, searched the inexorable expanse of sea. It had already darkened at the verge, and the sails of some fishing-craft flecked a livid wall with their white, but there was no small boat in sight.
"If anything happened to them," her mother continued, "I should feel terribly for you."
"I should feel terribly for myself," Grace responded, with her eyes still seaward.
"Where do you think they went?"
"I did n't ask," said the girl. "I wouldn't," she added, in devotion to the whole truth.
"Well, it is all of the same piece," said Mrs. Breen. Grace did not ask what the piece was. She remained staring at the dark wall across the sea, and spiritually confronting her own responsibility, no atom of which she rejected. She held herself in every way responsible,—for doubting that poor young fellow's word, and then for forcing that reluctant creature to go with him, and forbidding by her fierce insistence any attempt of his at explanation; she condemned herself to perpetual remorse with even greater zeal than her mother would have sentenced her, and she would not permit herself any respite when a little sail, which she knew for theirs, blew round the point. It seemed to fly along just on the hither side of that mural darkness, skilfully tacking to reach the end of the-reef before the wall pushed it on the rocks. Suddenly, the long low stretch of the reef broke into white foam, and then passed from sight under the black wall, against which the little sail still flickered. The girl fetched a long, silent breath. They were inside the reef, in comparatively smooth water, and to her ignorance they were safe. But the rain would be coming in another moment, and Mrs. Maynard would be drenched; and Grace would be to blame for her death. She ran to the closet, and pulled down her mother's India-rubber cloak and her own, and fled out-of-doors, to be ready on the beach with the wrap, against their landing. She met the other ladies on the stairs and in the hall, and they clamored at her; but she glided through them like something in a dream, and then she heard a shouting in her ear, and felt herself caught and held up against the wind.
"Where in land be you goin', Miss Breen?"
Barlow, in a long, yellow oil-skin coat and sou'wester hat, kept pushing her forward to the edge of the cliff, as he asked.
"I'm going down to meet them!" she screamed.
"Well, I hope you WILL meet 'em. But I guess you better go back to the house. Hey? WUNT? Well; come along, then, if they ain't past doctorin' by the time they git ashore! Pretty well wrapped up, any way!" he roared; and she perceived that she had put on her waterproof and drawn the hood over her head.
Those steps to the beach had made her giddy when she descended with leisure for such dismay; but now, with the tempest flattening her against the stair-case, and her gossamer clutching and clinging to everysurface, and again twisting itself about her limbs, she clambered down as swiftly and recklessly as Barlow himself, and followed over the beach beside the men who were pulling a boat down the sand at a run.
"Let me get in!" she screamed. "I wish to go with you!"
"Take hold of the girl, Barlow!" shouted one of the men. "She's crazy."
He tumbled himself with four others into the boat, and they all struck out together through the froth and swirl of the waves. She tried to free herself from Barlow, so as to fling the waterproof into the boat. "Take this, then. She'll be soaked through!"
Barlow broke into a grim laugh. "She won't need it, except for a windin'-sheet!" he roared. "Don't you see the boat's drivin' right on t' the sand? She'll be kindlin' wood in a minute."
"But they're inside the reef! They can come to anchor!" she shrieked in reply. He answered her with a despairing grin and a shake of the head. "They can't. What has your boat gone out for, then?"
"To pick 'em up out the sea. But they'll never git 'em alive. Look how she slaps her boom int' the water! Well! He DOES know how to handle a boat!"
It was Libby at the helm, as she could dimly see, but what it was in his management that moved Barlow's praise she could not divine. The boat seemed to be aimed for the shore, and to be rushing, head on, upon the beach; her broad sail was blown straight out over her bow, and flapped there like a banner, while the heavy boom hammered the water as she rose and fell. A jagged line of red seamed the breast of the dark wall behind; a rending crash came, and as if fired upon, the boat flung up her sail, as a wild fowl flings up its wing when shot, and lay tossing keel up, on the top of the waves. It all looked scarcely a stone's cast away, though it was vastly farther. A figure was seen to drag itself up out of the sea, and fall over into the boat, hovering and pitching in the surrounding welter, and struggling to get at two other figures clinging to the wreck. Suddenly the men in the boat pulled away, and Grace uttered a cry of despair and reproach: "Why, they're leaving it, they're leaving it!"
"Don't expect 'em to tow the wreck ashore in this weather, do ye?" shouted Barlow. "They've got the folks all safe enough. I tell ye I see 'em!" he cried, at a wild look of doubt in. her eyes. "Run to the house, there, and get everything in apple-pie order. There's goin' to be a chance for some of your doctor'n' now, if ye know how to fetch folks to."
It was the little house on the beach, which the children were always prying and peering into, trying the lock, and wondering what the boat was like, which Grace had seen launched. Now the door yielded to her, and within she found a fire kindled in the stove, blankets laid in order, and flasks of brandy in readiness in the cupboard. She put the blankets to heat for instant use, and prepared for the work of resuscitation. When she could turn from them to the door, she met there a procession that approached with difficulty, heads down and hustled by the furious blast through which the rain now hissed and shot. Barlow and one of the boat's crew were carrying Mrs. Maynard, and bringing up the rear of the huddling oil-skins and sou'westers came Libby, soaked, and dripping as he walked. His eyes and Grace's encountered with a mutual avoidance; but whatever was their sense of blame, their victim had no reproaches to make herself. She was not in need of restoration. She was perfectly alive, and apparently stimulated by her escape from deadly peril to a vivid conception of the wrong that had been done her. If the adventure had passed off prosperously, she was the sort of woman to have owned to her friend that she ought not to have thought of going. But the event had obliterated these scruples, and she realized herself as a hapless creature who had been thrust on to dangers from which she would have shrunk. "Well, Grace!" she began, with a voice arid look before which the other quailed, "I hope you are satisfied! All the time I was clinging to that wretched boat. I was wondering how you would feel. Yes, my last thoughts were of you. I pitied you. I did n't see how you could ever have peace again."
"Hold on, Mrs. Maynard!" cried Libby. "There's no, time for that, now. What had best be done, Miss Green? Had n't she better be got up to the house?"
"Yes, by all means," answered Grace.
"You might as well let me die here," Mrs. Maynard protested, as Grace wrapped the blankets round her dripping dress. "I 'm as wet as I can be, now."
Libby began to laugh at these inconsequences, to which he was probably well used. "You would n't have time to die here. And we want to give this hydropathic treatment a fair trial. You've tried the douche, and now you're to have the pack." He summoned two of the boatmen, who had been considerately dripping outside, in order to leave the interior to the shipwrecked company, and they lifted Mrs. Maynard, finally wrapped in, Grace's India-rubber cloak, and looking like some sort of strange, huge chrysalis, and carried her out into the storm and up the steps.
Grace followed last with Mr. Libby, very heavyhearted and reckless. She had not only that sore self-accusal; but the degradation of the affair, its grotesqueness, its spiritual squalor, its utter gracelessness, its entire want of dignity, were bitter as death in her proud soul. It was not in this shameful guise that she had foreseen the good she was to do. And it had all come through her own wilfulness and selfrighteousness. The tears could mix unseen with the rain that drenched her face, but they blinded her, and half-way up the steps she stumbled on her skirt, and would have fallen, if the young man had not caught her. After that, from time to time he put his arm about her, and stayed her against the gusts.
Before they reached the top he said, "Miss Breen, I'm awfully sorry for all this. Mrs. Maynard will be ashamed of what she said. Confound it! If Maynard were only here!"
"Why should she be ashamed?" demanded Grace. "If she had been drowned, I should have murdered her, and I'm responsible if anything happens to her,—I am to blame." She escaped from him, and ran into the house. He slunk round the piazza to the kitchen door, under the eyes of the ladies watching at the parlor windows.
"I wonder he let the others carry her up," said Miss Gleason. "Of course, he will marry her now,—when she gets her divorce." She spoke of Mrs. Maynard, whom her universal toleration not only included in the mercy which the opinions of the other ladies denied her, but round whom her romance cast a halo of pretty possibilities as innocently sentimental as the hopes of a young girl.
The next morning Grace was sitting beside her patient, with whom she had spent the night. It was possibly Mrs. Maynard's spiritual toughness which availed her, for she did not seem much the worse for her adventure: she had a little fever, and she was slightly hoarser; but she had died none of the deaths that she projected during the watches of the night, and for which she had chastened the spirit of her physician by the repeated assurance that she forgave her everything, and George Maynard everything, and hoped that they would be good to her poor little Bella. She had the child brought from its crib to her own bed, and moaned over it; but with the return of day and the duties of life she appeared to feel that she had carried her forgiveness far enough, and was again remembering her injuries against Grace, as she lay in her morning gown on the lounge which had been brought in for her from the parlor.
"Yes, Grace, I shall always say if I had died and I may die yet—that I did not wish to go out with Mr. Libby, and that I went purely to please you. You forced me to go. I can't understand why you did it; for I don't suppose you wanted to kill us, whatever you did."
Grace could not lift her head. She bowed it over the little girl whom she had on her knee, and who was playing with the pin at her throat, in apparent unconsciousness of all that was said. But she had really followed it, with glimpses of intelligence, as children do, and now at this negative accusal she lifted her hand, and suddenly struck Grace a stinging blow on the cheek.
Mrs. Maynard sprang from her lounge. "Why, Bella! you worthless little wretch!" She caught her from Grace's knee, and shook her violently. Then, casting the culprit from her at random, she flung herself down again in a fit of coughing, while the child fled to Grace for consolation, and, wildly sobbing, buried her face in the lap of her injured friend.
"I don't know what I shall do about that child!" cried Mrs. Maynard. "She has George Maynard's temper right over again. I feel dreadfully, Grace!"
"Oh, never mind it," said Grace, fondling the child, and half addressing it. "I suppose Bella thought I had been unkind to her mother."
"That's just it!" exclaimed Louise. "When you've been kindness itself! Don't I owe everything to you? I should n't be alive at this moment if it were not for your treatment. Oh, Grace!" She began to cough again; the paroxysm increased in vehemence. She caught her handkerchief from her lips; it was spotted with blood. She sprang to her feet, and regarded it with impersonal sternness. "Now," she said, "I am sick, and I want a doctor!"
"A doctor," Grace meekly echoed.
"Yes. I can't be trifled with any longer. I want a man doctor!"
Grace had looked at the handkerchief. "Very well," she said, with coldness. "I shall not stand in your way of calling another physician. But if it will console you, I can tell you that the blood on your handkerchief means nothing worth speaking of. Whom shall I send for?" she asked, turning to go out of the roam. "I wish to be your friend still, and I will do anything I can to help you."
"Oh, Grace Breen! Is that the way you talk to me?" whimpered Mrs. Maynard. "You know that I don't mean to give you up. I'm not a stone; I have some feeling. I did n't intend to dismiss you, but I thought perhaps you would like to have a consultation about it. I should think it was time to have a consultation, should n't you? Of course, I'm not alarmed, but I know it's getting serious, and I'm afraid that your medicine is n't active enough. That's it; it's perfectly good medicine, but it is n't active. They've all been saying that I ought to have something active. Why not try the whiskey with the white-pine chips in it? I'm sure it's indicated." In her long course of medication she had picked up certain professional phrases, which she used with amusing seriousness. "It would be active, at any rate."
Grace did not reply. As she stood smoothing the head of the little girl, who had followed her to the door, and now leaned against her, hiding her tearful face in Grace's dress, she said, "I don't know of any homoeopathic physician in this neighborhood. I don't believe there's one nearer than Boston, and I should make myself ridiculous in calling one so far for a consultation. But I'm quite willing you should call one, and I will send for you at once."
"And wouldn't you consult with him, after he came?"
"Certainly not. It would be absurd."
"I shouldn't like to have a doctor come all the way from Boston," mused Mrs. Maynard, sinking on the lounge again. "There must be a doctor in the neighborhood. It can't be so healthy as that!"
"There's an allopathic physician at Corbitant," said Grace passively. "A very good one, I believe," she added.
"Oh, well, then!" cried Mrs. Maynard, with immense relief. "Consult with him!"
"I've told you, Louise, that I would not consult with anybody. And I certainly wouldn't consult with a physician whose ideas and principles I knew nothing about."
"Why but, Grace," Mrs. Maynard expostulated. "Is n't that rather prejudiced?" She began to take an impartial interest in Grace's position, and fell into an argumentative tone. "If two heads are better than one,—and everybody says they are,—I don't see how you can consistently refuse to talk with another physician."
"I can't explain to you, Louise," said Grace. "But you can call Dr. Mulbridge, if you wish. That will be the right way for you to do, if you have lost confidence in me."
"I have n't lost confidence in you, Grace. I don't see how you can talk so. You can give me bread pills, if you like, or air pills, and I will take them gladly. I believe in you perfectly. But I do think that in a matter of this kind, where my health, and perhaps my life, is concerned, I ought to have a little say. I don't ask you to give up your principles, and I don't dream of giving you up, and yet you won't just to please me!—exchange a few words with another doctor about my case, merely because he's allopathic. I should call it bigotry, and I don't see how you can call it anything else." There was a sound of voices at the door outside, and she called cheerily, "Come in, Mr. Libby,—come in! There's nobody but Grace here," she added, as the young man tentatively opened the door, and looked in. He wore an evening dress, even to the white cravat, and he carried in his hand a crush hat: there was something anomalous in his appearance, beyond the phenomenal character of his costume, and he blushed consciously as he bowed to Grace, and then at her motion shook hands with her. Mrs. Maynard did not give herself the fatigue of rising; she stretched her hand to him from the lounge, and he took it without the joy which he had shown when Grace made him the same advance. "How very swell you look. Going to an evening party this morning?" she cried; and after she had given him a second glance of greater intensity, "Why, what in the world has come over' you?" It was the dress which Mr. Libby wore. He was a young fellow far too well made, and carried himself too alertly, to look as if any clothes misfitted him; his person gave their good cut elegance, but he had the effect of having fallen away in them. "Why, you look as if you had been sick a month!" Mrs. Maynard interpreted.
The young man surveyed himself with a downward glance. "They're Johnson's," he explained. "He had them down for a hop at the Long Beach House, and sent over for them. I had nothing but my camping flannels, and they have n't been got into shape yet, since yesterday. I wanted to come over and see how you were."
"Poor fellow!" exclaimed Mrs. Maynard. "I never thought of you! How in the world did you get to your camp?"
"In all that rain?"
"Well, I had been pretty well sprinkled, already. It was n't a question of wet and dry; it was a question of wet and wet. I was going off bareheaded, I lost my hat in the water, you know,—but your man, here, hailed me round the corner of the kitchen, and lent me one. I've been taking up collections of clothes ever since."
Mr. Libby spoke lightly, and with a cry of "Barlow's hat!" Mrs. Maynard went off in a shriek of laughter; but a deep distress kept Grace silent. It seemed to her that she had been lacking not only in thoughtfulness, but in common humanity, in suffering him to walk away several miles in the rain, without making an offer to keep him and have him provided for in the house. She remembered now her bewildered impression that he was without a hat when he climbed the stairs and helped her to the house; she recalled the fact that she had thrust him on to the danger he had escaped, and her heart was melted with grief and shame. "Mr. Libby"— she began, going up to him, and drooping before him in an attitude which simply and frankly expressed the contrition she felt; but she could not continue. Mrs. Maynard's laugh broke into the usual cough, and as soon as she could speak she seized the word.
"Well, there, now; we can leave it to Mr. Libby. It's the principle of the thing that I look at. And I want to see how it strikes him. I want to know, Mr. Libby, if you were a doctor,"—he looked at Grace, and flushed,—"and a person was very sick, and wanted you to consult with another doctor, whether you would let the mere fact that you had n't been introduced have any weight with you?" The young man silently appealed to Grace, who darkened angrily, and before he could speak Mrs. Maynard interposed. "No, no, you sha'n't ask her. I want your opinion. It's just an abstract question." She accounted for this fib with a wink at Grace.
"Really," he said, "it's rather formidable. I've never been a doctor of any kind."
"Oh, yes, we know that!" said Mrs. Maynard. "But you are now, and now would you do it?"
"If the other fellow knew more, I would."
"But if you thought he did n't?"
"Then I wouldn't. What are you trying to get at, Mrs. Maynard? I'm not going to answer any more of your questions."
"Yes,—one more. Don't you think it's a doctor's place to get his patient well any way he can?"
"Why, of course!"
"There, Grace! It's just exactly the same case. And ninety-nine out of a hundred would decide against you every time."
Libby turned towards Grace in confusion. "Miss Breen—I did n't understand—I don't presume to meddle in anything—You're not fair, Mrs. Maynard! I have n't any opinion on the subject, Miss Breen; I haven't, indeed!"
"Oh, you can't back out, now!" exclaimed Mrs. Maynard joyously. "You've said it."
"And you're quite right, Mr. Libby," said Grace haughtily. She bade him good-morning; but he followed her from the room, and left Mrs. Maynard to her triumph.
"Miss Breen—Do let me speak to you, please! Upon my word and honor, I didn't know what she was driving at; I did n't, indeed! It's pretty rough on me, for I never dreamt of setting myself up as a judge of your affairs. I know you're right, whatever you think; and I take it all back; it was got out of me by fraud, any way. And I beg your pardon for not calling you Doctor—if you want me to do it. The other comes more natural; but I wish to recognize you in the way you prefer, for I do feel most respectul—reverent—"
He was so very earnest and so really troubled, and he stumbled about so for the right word, and hit upon the wrong one with such unfailing disaster, that she must have been superhuman not to laugh. Her laughing seemed to relieve him even more than her hearty speech. "Call me how you like, Mr. Libby. I don't insist upon anything with you; but I believe I prefer Miss Breen."
"You're very kind! Miss Breen it is, then. And you'll, forgive my siding against you?" he demanded radiantly.
"Don't speak of that again, please. I've nothing to forgive you."
They walked down-stairs and out on the piazza. Barlow stood before the steps, holding by the bit a fine bay mare, who twitched her head round a little at the sound of Libby's voice, and gave him a look. He passed without noticing the horse. "I'm glad to find Mrs. Maynard so well. With that cold of hers, hanging on so long, I didn't know but she'd be in an awful state this morning."
"Yes," said Grace, "it's a miraculous escape."
"The fact is I sent over to New Leyden for my team yesterday. I did n't know how things might turn out, and you're so far from a lemon here, that I thought I might be useful in going errands."
Grace turned her head and glanced at the equipage. "Is that your team?"
"Yes," said the young fellow, with a smile of suppressed pride.
"What an exquisite creature!" said the girl.
"ISN'T she?" They both faced about, and stood looking at the mare, and the light, shining, open buggy behind her. The sunshine had the after- storm glister; the air was brisk, and the breeze blew balm from the heart of the pine forest. "Miss Breen," he broke out, "I wish you'd take a little dash through the woods with me. I've got a broad-track buggy, that's just right for these roads. I don't suppose it's the thing at all to ask you, on such short acquaintance, but I wish you would. I know you'd enjoy it: Come?"
His joyous urgence gave her a strange thrill. She had long ceased to imagine herself the possible subject of what young ladies call attentions, and she did not think of herself in that way now. There was something in the frank, eager boyishness of the invitation that fascinated her, and the sunny face turned so hopefully upon her had its amusing eloquence. She looked about the place with an anxiety of which she was immediately ashamed: all the ladies were out of sight, and probably at the foot of the cliff.
"Don't say no, Miss Breen," pleaded the gay voice.
The answer seemed to come of itself. "Oh, thank you, yes, I should like to go."
"Good!" he exclaimed, and the word which riveted her consent made her recoil.
"But not this morning. Some other day. I—I—I want to think about Mrs. Maynard. I—ought n't to leave her. Excuse me this morning, Mr. Libby."
"Why, of course," he tried to say with unaltered gayety, but a note of disappointment made itself felt. "Do you think she's going to be worse?"
"No, I don't think she is. But—" She paused, and waited a space before she continued. "I 'm afraid I can't be of use to her any longer. She has lost confidence in me—It's important she should trust her physician." Libby blushed, as he always did when required to recognize Grace in her professional quality. "It's more a matter of nerves than anything else, and if she does n't believe in me I can't do her any good."
"Yes, I can understand that," said the young man, with gentle sympathy; and she felt, somehow, that he delicately refrained from any leading or prompting comment.
"She has been urging me to have a consultation with some doctor about her case, and I—it would be ridiculous!"
"Then I would n't do it!" said Mr. Libby. "You know a great deal better what she wants than she does. You had better make her, do what you say."
"I didn't mean to burden you with my affairs," said Grace, "but I wished to explain her motive in speaking to you as she did." After she had said this, it seemed to her rather weak, and she could not think of anything else that would strengthen it. The young man might think that she had asked advice of him. She began to resent his telling her to make Mrs. Maynard do what she said. She was about to add something to snub him, when she recollected that it was her own wilfulness which had precipitated the present situation, and she humbled herself.
"She will probably change her mind," said Libby. "She would if you could let her carry her point," he added, with a light esteem for Mrs. Maynard which set him wrong again in Grace's eyes: he had no business to speak so to her.
"Very likely," she said, in stiff withdrawal from all terms of confidence concerning Mrs. Maynard. She did not add anything more, and she meant that the young fellow should perceive that his, audience was at an end. He did not apparently resent it, but she fancied him hurt in his acquiescence.
She went back to her patient, whom she found languid and disposed to sleep after the recent excitement, and she left her again, taking little Bella with her. Mrs. Maynard slept long, but woke none the better for her nap. Towards evening she grew feverish, and her fever mounted as the night fell. She was restless and wakeful, and between her dreamy dozes she was incessant in her hints for a consultation to Grace, who passed the night in her room, and watched every change for the worse with a self-accusing heart. The impending trouble was in that indeterminate phase which must give the physician his most anxious moments; and this inexperienced girl; whose knowledge was all to be applied, and who had hardly arrived yet at that dismaying stage when a young physician finds all the results at war with all the precepts, began to realize the awfulness of her responsibility. She had always thought of saving life, and not of losing it.
By morning Grace was as nervous and anxious as her patient, who had momentarily the advantage of her in having fallen asleep. She went stealthily out, and walked the length of the piazza, bathing her eyes with the sight of the sea, cool and dim under a clouded sky. At the corner next the kitchen she encountered Barlow, who, having kindled the fire for the cook, had spent s moment of leisure in killing some chickens at the barn; he appeared with a cluster of his victims in his hand, but at sight of Grace he considerately put them behind him.
She had not noticed them. "Mr. Barlow," she said, "how far is it to Corbitant?"
Barlow slouched into a conversational posture, easily resting on his raised hip the back of the hand in which he held the chickens. "Well, it 's accordin' to who you ask. Some says six mile, and real clever folks makes it about four and a quarter."
"I ask you," persisted Grace.
"Well, the last time I was there, I thought it was about sixty. 'Most froze my fingers goin' round the point. 'N' all I was afraid of was gettin' there too soon. Tell you, a lee shore ain't a pleasant neighbor in a regular old northeaster. 'F you go by land, I guess it's about ten mile round through the woods. Want to send for Dr. Mulbridge? I thought mebbe"—
"No, no!" said Grace. She turned back into the house, and then she came running out again; but by this time Barlow had gone into the kitchen, where she heard him telling the cook that these were the last of the dommyneckers. At breakfast several of the ladies came and asked after Mrs. Maynard, whese restless night they had somehow heard of. When she came out of the dining-room' Miss Gleason waylaid her in the hall.
"Dr. Breen," she said, in a repressed tumult, "I hope you won't give way. For woman's sake, I hope you won't! You owe it to yourself not to give way! I'm sure Mrs. Maynard is as well off in your hands as she can be. If I did n't think so, I should be the last to advise your being firm; but, feeling as I do, I do advise it most strongly. Everything depends on it."
"I don't know what you mean, Miss Gleason," said Grace.
"I'm glad it hasn't come to you yet. If it was a question of mere professional pride, I should say, By all means call him at once. But I feel that a great deal more is involved. If you yield, you make it harder for other women to help themselves hereafter, and you confirm such people as these in their distrust of female physicians. Looking at it in a large way, I almost feel that it would be better for her to die than for you to give up; and feeling as I do"—
"Are you talking of Mrs. Maynard?" asked Grace.
"They are all saying that you ought to give up the case to Dr. Mulbridge. But I hope you won't. I should n't blame you for calling in another female physician"—
"Thank you," answered Grace. "There is no danger of her dying. But it seems to me that she has too many female physicians already. In this house I should think it better to call a man." She left the barb to rankle in Miss Gleason's breast, and followed her mother to her room, who avenged Miss Gleason by a series of inquisitional tortures, ending with the hope that, whatever she did, Grace would not have that silly creature's blood on her hands. The girl opened her lips to attempt some answer to this unanswerable aspiration, when the unwonted sound of wheels on the road without caught her ear.
"What is that, Grace?" demanded her mother, as if Grace were guilty of the noise.
"Mr. Libby," answered Grace, rising.
"Has he come for you?"
"I don't know. But I am going down to see him."
At sight of the young man's face, Grace felt her heart lighten. He had jumped from his buggy, and was standing at his smiling ease on the piazza steps, looking about as if for some one, and he brightened joyfully at her coming. He took her hand with eager friendliness, and at her impulse began to move away to the end of the piazza with her. The ladies had not yet descended to the beach; apparently their interest in Dr. Breen's patient kept them.
"How is Mrs. Maynard this morning?" he asked; and she answered, as they got beyond earshot,—
"Not better, I'm afraid."
"Oh, I'm sorry," said the young man. "Then you won't be able to drive with me this morning? I hope she is n't seriously worse?" he added, recurring to Mrs. Maynard at the sight of the trouble in Grace's face.
"I shall ask to drive with you," she returned. "Mr. Libby, do you know where Corbitant is?"
"And will you drive me there?"
"Why, certainly!" he cried, in polite wonder.
"Thank you." She turned half round, and cast a woman's look at the other women. "I shall be ready in half an hour. Will you go away, and comeback then? Not sooner."
"Anything you please, Miss Breen," he said, laughing in his mystification. "In thirty minutes, or thirty days."
They went back to the steps, and he mounted his buggy. She sat down, and taking some work from her pocket, bent her head over it. At first she was pale, and then she grew red. But these fluctuations of color could not keep her spectators long; one by one they dispersed and descended the cliff; and when she rose to go for her hat the last had vanished, with a longing look at her. It was Miss Gleason.
Grace briefly announced her purpose to her mother, who said, "I hope you are not doing anything impulsive"; and she answered, "No, I had quite made up my mind to it last night."
Mr. Libby had not yet returned when she went back to the piazza, and she walked out on the road by which he must arrive. She had not to walk far. He drew in sight before she had gone a quarter of a mile, driving rapidly. "Am I late?" he asked, turning, and pulling up at the roadside, with wellsubdued astonishment at encountering her.
"Oh, no; not that I know." She mounted to the seat, and they drove off in a silence which endured for a long time. If Libby had been as vain as he seemed light, he must have found it cruelly unflattering, for it ignored his presence and even his existence. She broke the silence at last with a deep-drawn sigh, as frankly sad as if she had been quite alone, but she returned to consciousness of him in it. "Mr. Libby, you must think it is very strange for me to ask you to drive me to Corbitant without troubling myself to tell you my errand."
"Oh, not at all," said the young man. "I'm glad to be of use on any terms. It is n't often that one gets the chance."
"I am going to see Dr. Mulbridge," she began, and then stopped so long that he perceived she wished him to say something.
He said, "Yes?"
"Yes. I thought this morning that I should give Mrs. Maynard's case up to him. I shouldn't be at all troubled at seeming to give it up under a pressure of opinion, though I should not give it up for that. Of course," she explained, "you don't know that all those women have been saying that I ought to call in Dr. Mulbridge. It's one of those things," she added bitterly, "that make it so pleasant for a woman to try to help women." He made a little murmur of condolence, and she realized that she had thrown herself on his sympathy, when she thought she had been merely thinking aloud. "What I mean is that he is a man of experience and reputation, and could probably be of more use to her than I, for she would trust him more. But I have known her a long time, and I understand her temperament and her character,—which goes for a good deal in such matters,—and I have concluded not to give up the case. I wish to meet Dr. Mulbridge, however, and ask him to see her in consultation with me. That is all," she ended rather haughtily, as if she had been dramatizing the fact to Dr. Mulbridge in her own mind.
"I should think that would be the right thing," said Libby limply, with uncalled-for approval; but he left this dangerous ground abruptly. "As you say, character goes for a great deal in these things. I've seen Mrs. Maynard at the point of death before. As a general rule, she does n't die. If you have known her a long time, you know what I mean. She likes to share her sufferings with her friends. I've seen poor old Maynard"—
"Mr. Libby!" Grace broke in. "You may speak of Mr. Maynard as you like, but I cannot allow your disrespectfulness to Mrs. Maynard. It's shocking! You had no right to be their friend if you felt toward them as you seem to have done."
"Why, there was no harm in them. I liked them!" explained the young man.
"People have no right to like those they don't respect!"
Libby looked as if this were rather a new and droll idea. But he seemed not to object to her tutoring him. "Well," he said, "as far as Mrs. Maynard was concerned, I don't know that I liked her any more than I respected her."
Grace ought to have frowned at this, but she had to check a smile in. order to say gravely, "I know she is disagreeable at times. And she likes to share her sufferings with others, as you say. But her husband was fully entitled to any share of them that he may have borne. If he had been kinder to her, she wouldn't be what and where she is now."
"Kinder to her!" Libby exclaimed. "He's the kindest fellow in the world! Now, Miss Breen," he said earnestly, "I hope Mrs. Maynard hasn't been talking against her husband to you?"
"Is it possible," demanded Grace, "that you don't know they're separated, and that she's going to take steps for a divorce?"
"A divorce? No! What in the world for?"
"I never talk gossip. I thought of course she had told you"—
"She never told me a word! She was ashamed to do it! She knows that I know Maynard was the best husband in the world to her. All she told me was that he was out on his ranch, and she had come on here for her health. It's some ridiculous little thing that no reasonable woman would have dreamt of caring for. It's one of her caprices. It's her own fickleness. She's tired of him,—or thinks she is, and that's all about it. Miss Breen, I beg you won't believe anything against Maynard!"
"I don't understand," faltered Grace, astonished at his fervor; and the light it cast upon her first doubts of him. "Of course, I only know the affair from her report, and I haven't concerned myself in it, except as it affected her health. And I don't wish to misjudge him. And I like your—defending him," she said, though it instantly seemed a patronizing thing to have said. "But I couldn't withhold my sympathy where I believed there had been neglect and systematic unkindness, and finally desertion."
"Oh, I know Mrs. Maynard; I know her kind of talk. I've seen Maynard's neglect and unkindness, and I know just what his desertion would be. If he's left her, it's because she wanted him to leave her; he did it to humor her, to please her. I shall have a talk with Mrs. Maynard when we get back."
"I 'm afraid I can't allow it at present," said Grace, very seriously.
"She is worse to-day. Otherwise I should n't be giving you this trouble."
"Oh, it's no trouble"— "But I'm glad—I'm glad we've had this understanding. I'm very glad. It makes me think worse of myself and better of—others."
Libby gave a laugh. "And you like that? You're easily pleased."
She remained grave. "I ought to be able to tell you what I mean. But it is n't possible—now. Will you let me beg your pardon?" she urged, with impulsive earnestness.