NELLIE L. McCLUNG
I. THE DAY BEFORE II. THE DAY III. THE HOUSE OF CLAY IV. TANGLED THREADS V. WHERE MRS. CROCKS THREW THE SWITCH VI. RED ROSES VII. THE INNOCENT DISTURBER VIII. THE POWER OF INK IX. THE DOCTOR'S DECISION X. THE WOMAN WITH A SORE THOUGHT XI. ENGAGED XII. THE MACHINE XIII. THE STORM XIV. THE SEVENTH WAVE XV. THE COMING OF SPRING XVI. PRINCE OF THE HOUSE OF CLAY XVII. PETER'S REPORT XVIII. THE WOMAN OF PURPLE SPRINGS XIX. THE END OF A LONELY ROAD XX. ANNIE GRAY'S STORY XXI. THE OPENING OF THE WAY XXII. THE PLAY XXIII. COMPENSATION XXIV. HOME AGAIN XXV. THERE IS NOTHING TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE
THE DAY BEFORE
It was the last day of February, the extra day, dead still, and biting cold, with thick, lead-colored skies shading down to inky blue at the western horizon. In the ravine below John Watson's house trees cracked ominously in the frost, and not even a rabbit was stirring. The hens had not come out, though an open door had extended an invitation, and the tamworths had burrowed deeper into the stack of oat straw. The cattle had taken refuge in the big shed, and even old Nap, in spite of his thick Coat, had whimpered at the door to be let in.
Looking out of the western window, Pearl Watson, with a faint wrinkle between her eyebrows, admitted to herself that it was not a cheerful day. And Pearl had her own reasons for wanting fine weather, for tomorrow was the first of March, and the day to which she had been looking forward for three years to make a momentous decision.
The thought of this day had gone with her in the three years that had passed, like a radiant gleam, a glorious presence that brightened and idealized every experience of life, a rainbow that glorified every black cloud, and there had been some clouds in her life black enough to bring out the rainbows' colors too; as when her mother's serious illness had called her back from the city, where she was attending school. But each day had brought her one day nearer the great day, which now she could call "Tomorrow."
It had never occurred to Pearl to doubt the young doctor's sincerity, when, three years before, he had said he would wait until she was eighteen years old before he asked her something.
"And it will depend on your answer," he had said, "what sort of a day it is. It may be a dark, cold, horrible day, with cruel, biting wind, or it may be a glorious day, all sunshine and blue sky—that will all depend on your answer." And she had told him, honestly and truthfully, not being skilled in the art of coquetry, that "it generally was fine on the first of March."
That the young doctor might have forgotten all about the incident never crossed her mind in the years that followed. She did not know that there was witchery in her brown eyes and her radiant young beauty that would stir any young man's heart and loosen his tongue, causing him to say what in his sober moments he would regard as foolishness.
Pearl did not know this; she only knew that a great radiance had come to her that day, three years before, a radiance whose glory had not dimmed. Every thought and action of her life had been influenced by it, and she had developed like a fine young tree on which the spring sunshine had perpetually fallen, a fine young tree that had been sheltered from every cold blast, watered by the rains and bathed in perpetual sunshine, for Pearl's young heart was fed from the hidden springs of love and romance. For her the darkest night was lighted by stars; for her the birds sang of love and hope and happiness; for her the commonest flower was rich in beauty and perfume; and so the end of the three years found her a well developed, tall, boyishly athletic girl, with a color in her cheeks like an Okanagon peach, hair of richest brown, with little gleams of gold, waving back naturally from a high forehead; a firm chin, with a dimple; and great brown eyes, full of lights, and with a dazzling brilliance that registered every thought of her brain and emotion of her heart.
From the time when she was twelve years old the young doctor, who had then just come to Millford, had been her hero—worshipped afar, and in great secrecy.
Many a time when the family lived in the village, and Pearl was left to mind the swarm of boys while her mother was out working, she had raced to the window just to see him drive by, and, having seen him and perhaps caught a smile or nod, if he noticed her, she would go back to her strenuous task of keeping her young brothers clothed and happy and out of the wealth of a quickened imagination she would tell them more and more wonderful tales of the glorious world into which their young feet had strayed.
When the doctor had time and inclination to talk to her, Pearl's young heart swam in a crimson sea of delight, but if by any chance he hurried by, his mind filled with other things, she suffered for a brief season all the pangs of unrequited affection, and looked anxiously in the glass many times to see if her face showed signs of early decay.
But the mood soon passed and optimism again reigned. During the times of depression many a sunflower had its yellow petals torn away, as she sought to wring from it definite information regarding the state of his affections. If the sunflower brought in an adverse decision, without a moment's hesitation Pearl began upon another, and continued until a real, honest, authentic flower declared in her favor. But that she did not really trust the oracles was shown by the great frequency with which she consulted them!
As she grew older, Pearl would have liked to talk to some one about her dreams, but it was hard to begin. There was really nothing to tell. She might as well try to explain the sparkle of the sunshine, or the joyousness of the meadowlark's song in the spring, as to try to analyze the luminous wonder that had come into her own heart that day when the purple mist lay on the Tiger Hills, and the snowdrifts were beginning to sink and sag and break into little streams. It could not be done.
But still she wondered what experiences other people had had, and wished that someone would talk to her about it. At the Normal the girls had talked about "crushes" and "mashes" and people having a "bad case," and she knew that the one qualification they demanded in matters of the heart was that the young man should have the means and inclination to "show a girl a good time." She could not talk to them—there did not seem to be any point of contact. And when the subject of love and marriage was discussed around the family circle, her mother's dictum was always brief and concise:
"You'll get who's for ye—and you'll have your number. There's lots of trouble for them that don't marry, and there's lots more for them that do. But there's no use in advisin' or warnin'; it's like the pigs and the hot swill—one will stick in his nose and run away squalin'; the next one will do the same, and the next and the next. They never take warnin's; it's the way of the world!"
But nothing dimmed the glory of Pearl's rainbow dream or stilled the happy songs her heart sang day and night. She had often pictured the day the Doctor would come and tell her that the three years were past. He would drive out with his team, for the snow would be too deep for his car, and she would first hear the sleigh-bells, even before old Nap would begin to bark, and he would come in with his cheeks all red and glowing, with snow on his beaver coat; and he would tell her it was too fine to stay in, and wouldn't she come for a ride?
So sure was she that he would come that she had laid out on her bed, in the little room under the rafters, her heavy coat, overshoes and scarf, and had spent some time deciding whether her red tam or the brown velvet hat was the most becoming, and finally favored the tam, because she had once heard the Doctor say that red was the color for winter, and besides, the brown hat had a sharp rim that might give a person a nasty poke in the eye ... in case....
She made all her preparations on the day before, because, she told herself, a doctor's time was so uncertain that he might, remembering this, be afraid of being called away on The Day, and so come a day sooner.
Pearl thought of all this as she stood at the window and looked out on the bare farm yard, swept clean of beast or fowl by the bitter cold which had driven them all indoors. A bright fire burned in the Klondike heater, and from the kitchen came the cheerful song of a canary. The house was in a state of great tidiness, with its home made lounge in front of the fire, piled high with gaily flowered cushions, and the brightly striped rag carpet which was the culmination of the united efforts of the family the winter before, and before the fire a tiger-striped cat with her paws stretched out to the heat.
Pearl was alone in the room, for all the children were at school, her father and Teddy out, and her mother in the kitchen making the last of the mincemeat into pies, which sent out a real baking odor of cinnamon and cloves; a roast of pork that had been "doing too fast," was now sitting on the top of the high oven, its angry, sparking, sizzling trailing off into a throaty guttering. Some sound or smell of it seemed to have penetrated Nap's dreams, for he wakened suddenly and sat up, licking his lips and pounding the floor with his tail.
Suddenly the telephone rang, the three short and one long, which indicated that it was the Watson family who were wanted. Pearl's heart thrilled with expectation. Of course he would phone before he came to make sure she was at home. The receiver was in her hands in a moment.
"Hello!" she called, almost choking with excitement.
"Will you tell your father," called back a man's voice at the end of the wire, "that the cattle are coming home from the range. Last night's snow was too much for them, and Jim Fidler has just phoned through to warn us. They're comin' on mad for feed, tramplin' and bawlin', and they'll hit your place first—mos' likely—tho' they may turn south at Beckers—better phone Beckers and see."
"All right!" said Pearl, in a steady voice, "all right, and thank you."
Pearl hastily put on a coat and went to the barn to give the unwelcome news to her father and Teddy, who were busy fanning out the weed seeds from the seed grain.
"They're comin' airly," said John Watson, slowly, as he shook down the bag of seed wheat that he had just filled; "but I guess they are the best judge of whether they can make a livin' outside any longer. Well, what we have we'll share, anyway. There's no use in contradictin' a bunch of hungry steers. Keep a watch on the phone, Pearlie dear, and find out which way they turn at Beckers'. We'll open up an oat stack for them, anyway—so if they come rampin' in in the middle of the night there'll be something ready."
Pearl ran back across the wind-swept yard to the house, for the one thought in her mind was that a message might come over the phone for her! Ordinarily the home-coming of the hungry cattle would have been an event of such importance that it would have driven out all others; but there was only one consuming thought in her mind today.
When she came in the phone was ringing, and her mother, with her hands in the pie-crust, said: "Pearlie, dear, run in to the phone—that's twice it's rung since you were out, and sure I couldn't go—and me this way."
Pearl took the receiver down and found a conversation in progress. She had no thought of listening in—for at once she surmised it might be a message regarding the cattle going to one of the other houses. The first sentence, however, held her in its grip, and all thought of what she was doing was driven from her mind.
"They are going to offer the doctor the nomination tomorrow—he'll make the best run of any one in these parts."
It was a man's voice, far away and indistinct.
"That will please Miss Morrison—she always wanted to get into politics;" it was a woman who replied—"but I'm not so sure she has any chance, the doctor is a pretty cautious chap. I often think he has a girl somewhere—he goes to Hampton pretty often."
"He's not worried over women, believe me," the man's voice cut in. "I think he likes that young Watson girl as well as any one, and she has them all skinned for looks—and brains too, I guess."
The woman's voice came perceptibly nearer, and seemed to almost hiss in her ear—unconsciously she felt the antagonism. "That's absurd," she said, with sudden animation; "why, these people are nobody, the mother used to wash for me a few years ago. They are the very commonest sort—the father was only a section man. The doctor enjoys her cute speeches, that's all, but there's absolutely nothing in it—he as much as told me so."
Pearl hung up the receiver with a click, and, pressing her lips together, walked over to the window with two crimson spots burning like danger signals on her cheeks. When Pearl's soul was burdened she always wanted to get outside, where the sky and the wind and the big blue distance would help her to think. But the day was too cold for that, so instinctively she walked to the window, where the short afternoon sun was making a pale glow on the heavy clouds.
Old Nap came from his place behind the table and shoved his cold nose into her hand, with a gentle wagging of his tail, reminding her that all was not lost while she still had him.
Dropping down on her knees beside him, Pearl buried her face in his glistening white collar, and for one perilous moment was threatened with tears. But pride, which has so often come to our rescue just in time, stepped into her quivering young heart, she stood up and shook her head like an angry young heifer.
"'Common,' are they?" she said, with eyes that darted fire; "not half common enough—decent people that do their work and mind their own business,—helpin' a friend in need and hurtin' no wan—it would be a better world if people like them were commoner! 'And the mother washed for ye, did she, you dirty trollop? Well, it was a God's mercy that some one washed for you, and it was good clane washin' she did, I'll bet—and blamed little she got for it, too, while you lay in your bed with your dandruffy hair in a greasy boudoir cap, and had her climb the stairs with your breakfast. And you'd fault her for washin' for you—and cleanin' your house—you'd fault her for it! I know the kind of ye—you'd rather powder ye'r neck than wash it, any day!"
No one would recognize the young Normalite who two weeks before had taken the highest marks in English, and had read her essay at the closing exercises, and afterwards had it printed, at the editor's request, in the Evening Echo, for Pearl's fierce anger had brought her back again to the language of her childhood.
"And he as much as told you, did he?" she whispered, turning around to glare in stormy wrath at the unoffending telephone—"he as much as told you there was nothing in it?"
Pearl puckered her lips and shut one eye in a mighty mental effort to imagine what he would say, but in trying to hear his words she could only see his glowing face, the rumpled hair she loved so well, and then her voice came back like a perfect phonograph record, that strong, mellow, big voice which had always set her heart tingling and drove away every fear. She couldn't make him say anything else but the old sweet words that had lived with her for the last three years.
The storm faded from her eyes in a moment, and in the rush of joy that broke over her, she threw herself down beside old Nap and kissed the shiny top of his smooth black head. Then going over to the telephone, she shook her fist at it:
"Did my mother wash for you, ma'am? She did—and you never had better washin' done! Are we common people?—we are, and we're not ashamed. We're doin' fine, thank you—all the children are at school but me, and I've gone thro' the public school and Normal too. The crops are good—we have thirty head of cattle and six horses, sound in wind and limb. Some day we'll have a fine new house, and we'll live all over it too. John Watson did work on the section, and they'd be fine and glad to get him back. He owes no man a dollar, and bears no man a grudge. I wouldn't change him for the Governor-General for me dad—and now listen—I'm tellin' ye something, I'm goin' to marry the doctor—if he wants me—and if you don't like it there's a place you can go to. I'll not be namin' it in the presence of Nap here, for he's a good Christian."
"And you, sir,"—she addressed the telephone again,—"I thank you for your kind words regarding brains and looks. I hope it is a true word you speak, for I may need both before I'm done."
The home-coming of the cows at eventime has been sung about, written about, talked about, painted, and always it has had in it the restfulness of evening,—the drowsy whirr of insects' wings, the benediction of the sunset, the welcoming gladness of a happy family. But these pictures have not been painted by those of us who have seen the hungry cattle come in from the range when the snow covers the grass, or the springs dry up, and under the influence of fear they drive madly on.
All day long the range cattle, about three hundred in number had searched the river bottom for the grass which the heavy snowfall of the night before had covered; searched eagerly, nervously all the while, bawling, ill-naturedly pushing and horning, blaming each other in a perfectly human way. Disconsolately they wandered over the river to the other bank feeling sure they would find grass there, only to find the snow over everything, and not even a little rosebush showing its head.
Then it was that the old cow, an acknowledged leader of the herd, who bore the name of the "Broncho," on account of her wildness, her glaring red eyes and her branching horns, with an angry toss of her head to shake the water from her eyes, lifted her voice in one long, angry, rolling bellow that seemed to startle the whole herd. It had in it defiance, and determination. Like the leading spirit among the leprous men who sat at the gate of Samaria, the "Broncho" gathered up the feeling of the meeting in one long soul-stirring, racuous bawl, which, interpreted, meant, "Why sit we here until we die?"
The primitive law of self-preservation was at work—even a cow will not starve quietly. The grass had been scarce for days, and she had lain down hungry each night for a week; and now, when the grass had gone entirely, the old cow had taken her determination; she would go home and demand her right to live. This thought surging through her soul, gave decision to her movements. Whether the other cattle came or not did not matter in the least—she knew what she was going to do. The strong northwest wind which began to whip the fresh snow into loose waves, turned the cattle to face the south east, in which direction the settlement lay. Miserable cattle, like miserable people, are easily led. It is only the well-fed and comfortable who are not willing to change their condition, and so when the others saw the "Broncho" forging up the hill, the whole herd, as if at a word of command, lurched forward up the bank.
They surged onward, bawling, crowding, trampling, hooking without mercy. Companions they had been for months before, eating together, sleeping together, warming each other, playing together sometimes when the sun was bright. That was all forgotten now, for the hunger-rage was on them, and they were brutes, plain brutes, with every kind instinct dead in their shivering breasts. They knew but one law, the law of the strongest, as they drove onward, stumbling and crowding, with the cold wind stinging them like a lash.
The night closed in, dark and cheerless, closed in early, under the dull gray, unrelenting skies, and although lights blinked out cheerfully from uncurtained windows, and willow plumes of smoke spread themselves on the cold night air above all the farm-houses, the hearts of the people were apprehensive.
It was the last day of February—green grass was still far away—and the cattle, hungry, red-eyed and clamorous, were coming home!
"When time lets slip one little perfect day, O take it—for it may not come again."
When Pearl woke on the morning of March 1st, it was with a heart so light and happy it brought back the many Christmas mornings that lay scattered behind her like so many crimson roses, spilling their perfume on the shining road which led back to childhood. The sunshine that sifted through the white muslin curtains of the one small window, was rich and warm, as if summer had already come, and Pearl suddenly remembered that the sky had been overcast and heavy the day before, and the air stinging cold.
She went to the window, and looking out saw that that the clouds had all gone, leaving no trace in the unscarred sky. The sun was throwing long blue shadows over the fields, brightening the trees on the river bank, with a thin rinse of pale gold. Down in the ravine, the purple blue of the morning twilight was still hanging on the trees. The house was very quiet—there did not seem to be anyone stirring, either inside or out.
Pearl dressed herself hastily, humming a tune in happy excitement. Her whole being was charged with happiness—for the great day had come.
Coming down stairs on light feet, she threw a red sweater around her shoulders and went out the front door. In her great moments, Pearl craved the open sky and great blue distances, and on this day of all days, she wanted to breathe deep of its golden air. Somewhere she had read about air that tasted like old wine! And as she stood facing the early sun that had come up in a cloudless sky of deepest blue, she knew what was meant.
From the dull tomb of yesterday, with its cavern-like coldness and gloom, had come the resurrection of a new day, bright, blue, sparkling, cloudless, for March had slipped in quietly in the night, with a gentle breeze of wonderful softness, a quiet breeze, but one that knew its business, and long before daylight it had licked the hard edges of the drifts into icy blisters, and had purred its way into all sorts of forgotten corners where the snow lay thickest.
It went past Pearl's face now with velvety smoothness—patting her cheeks with a careless hand, like a loving friend who hurries by with no time for anything but this swift re-assurance. But Pearl knew that the wind and the sun and the crisp white snow, on which the sunbeams danced and sparkled, were her friends, and were throbbing with joy this morning, because it was her great day.
She went in at last, remembering that the children must be washed and fed for school, and found Danny's garter for him just in time to save him from the gulf of despair which threatened him. She made up the two tin pails of lunch with which her young brothers would beguile the noontide hour. She put a button on Mary's spat, in response to her request of "Aw, say Pearl, you do this—I can't eat and sew." The sudden change in the weather forced a change in the boys' foot-gear, and so there had to be a frenzied hunt for rubbers and boots to replace the frost-repelling but pervious moccasin.
One by one, as the boys were ready, fed, clothed and rubbered, they were started on their two-mile journey over the sunny, snowy road, Danny being the first to so emerge, for with his short, fat legs, he could not make the distance in as short a time as the others.
"Mr. Donald wants you to come over on Friday, Pearl—I almost forgot to tell you—he wants you to talk to us about the city, and the schools you were in—and all that. I told him you would!"
This was from Jimmy, the biggest of the Watson boys now attending school.
"All right," said Pearl, "sure I will."
There was more to the story, though, and Jimmy went on,—
"And the Tuckers said they bet you thought yourself pretty smart since you'd been to the city....
"And then what happened," asked Pearl, when he paused;
"He went home—it wouldn't stop bleedin'! but Mr. Donald says a good nose-bleed wouldn't hurt him—though of course it was wrong to fight—but it was no fight—you know what they're like—one good thump—and they're done!"
"Good for you, Jimmy" said his sister approvingly, "never pick a quarrel or hit harder than you need, that's all!—but if trouble comes—be facing the right way!"
"You bet," said Jimmy, as he closed the door behind him and the stillness which comes after the children have gone fell on the Watson home.
"Sure and ain't the house quiet when they're gone," said Mrs. Watson, looking out of the window across the gleaming landscape, dotted in six places by her generous contribution to the Chicken Hill school.
"And it won't be long until they're gone—for good."
"Cheer up, honest woman," cried Pearl gaily, "you havn't even lost either Teddy or me, and we're the eldest. It looks to me as if you will have a noisy house for quite a while yet, and I wouldn't begin to worry over anything so far away—in fact, ma, it's a good rule not to worry till you have to, and don't do it then!"
Pearl was bringing back "the room" to the state of tidiness it enjoyed during school hours, moving about with joyous haste, yet with strict attention to every detail, which did not escape her mother's eye.
"It's grand to be as light of heart as you are, Pearlie child," she said, "I'm often afraid for you—when I think of all the sad things in life and you so sure that everything will happen right. It is to them that the world is brightest that the darkest days can come, and the lightest heart sometimes has heaviest mournin'."
A little wither of disappointment went over Pearl's bright face, but she shook it off impatiently. She wished her mother would not talk like this on this day—of all days.
"Don't spoil a good day, ma, with sad talk. Look out at the Spring sun there, and the cattle, even the wild ones from the range, with their sides steaming and then nosing around so happy now, for getting all about the bad times they had even as late as last evening. There's no use telling them there's cold days coming—they wouldn't believe now—and anyway they'll know soon enough. Isn't it best to let every one have their sunny day—without a cloud on it."
Before her mother could form an answer, the one long and two short rings came on the phone. Pearl's heart turned over in its bounding joy. It had come—she knew it had come.
She took down the receiver:
"Hello," she said, in a thin voice.
"Pearl," said the voice, deep, mellow, eager. She thought she had remembered what his voice was like, but she hadn't. It was a hundred times sweeter than it had been in her memory.
"Yes," she said, holding the receiver so tightly her knuckles went white with the pressure.
"What day is it, Pearl," he said, with the laugh in his voice, the bantering laugh that made his patients love him.
"O I know" she said—"I know."
"You haven't forgotten what we said?"
"Not a word of it."
His voice came nearer, though he spoke lower.
"The train is not in yet, it is stuck out in the hills, but likely to get out any minute. Dr. Brander is on it, coming out from the city to operate for me in a very serious case, I'm not sure when I can get out—but you'll wait for me—won't you, Pearl?"
She put her red young lips close to the transmitter.
"For a thousand years!" she said.
"Well, it won't be that long," he said, with his happy laugh.
Pearl knew exactly how his brows were lifted, and his eyes wide opened.
"But it's great to have as good a margin, Pearl—and listen—" his voice fell again until it seemed to whisper in her ear—"did you happen to notice what sort of a day it is?"
"Well," said Pearl, "I am not surprised. Didn't I tell you it would be?"
"You told me!" he said.
Then it was that from Pearlie Watson's young heart there opened up a shining path straight up into heaven, and every inch of that radiant highway was bright with the gleam of angel's wings, and as she stood there leaning against the wall, her eyes dazzled with the glory of it, it seemed as if all the sweet songs that lovers have ever sung, and all the tender words they have ever spoken came marching, gaily marching down the shining high way, right into her heart.
Outside the sun gleamed and beat on the melting snow, which sent back quivery vibrations that smote the eyeballs like fire. The cattle shook the water from their sun-dazzled eyes, and turned their heads away from it, but it climbed steadily higher until it stood right over them, and blazing down upon the snowy world, defied old man Winter to his face.
Pearl was never quite sure about it in after years. But that day she did not doubt her eyes, that star dust danced in the waves of sunshine; that the gray snow birds played crack the whip outside the window; that the willow hedge, palpitating in the sunshine, beat time with its silvery branches to the music that lilted through her heart; that the blue in the sky was bluer than it had been, and the sunshine more golden than it ever was in the highest noon in highest June.
She was quite sure it was so, for every spot of color within doors was glorified too. The roses in the cushions on the lounge glowed like a fire in the heart of a green wood; the cat's eyes gleamed like olivines, but of course Pearl knew from the way he rubbed his head against her shoulder as she sat on the lounge beside him, and from the way he blinked at her—he knew, having no doubt in some occult cat-way, listened in on the phone! There was no mistaking his swaggering air of importance—he was in on it! and gave much credit to himself for having brought it all about.
The old dog, being just a plain, honest-hearted, loving dog, only knew that Pearl was very happy over something. He did not probe the cause—if it pleased her—it was enough.
At four o'clock there came another message—which set Pearl's heart dancing, and spotted her cheeks with a glowing color—the operation was over—apparently successful—and they were driving back to town. The other train might be late too, so it would be impossible for him to come out—but would she still wait? Did the thousand year limit still hold?
There was just a hint of fatigue in his voice, which awakened all the maternal instincts in Pearl, and made her heart very tender to him.
"I will wait—forever," said Pearl.
"Just until tomorrow," came back the voice—"just till tomorrow—and it will be fine tomorrow—won't it, Pearl! Say it will be fine."
"Finer still," she replied, with her cheeks like the early roses in June.
The day went by on satin wings—with each minute so charged with happiness that Pearl could well believe that heaven had slipped down to earth, and that she was walking the streets of the new Jerusalem. She sang as she worked in the house, her sweet, ribbony voice filling the room with a gladness and rapture that made her mother, with her mystical Celtic temperament almost apprehensive.
"She's a queer girl, is Pearlie," she said that night, when Pearl had gone upstairs to arbitrate a quarrel which had broken out between Bugsey and Danny as to whose turn it was to split the kindling wood. "Day about" it had been until Bugsey had urged that it be changed to "week about," and the delicate matter in dispute now was as to the day on which the week expired. Danny, who had been doing the kindling, was certain that the date of expiry had arrived, but Bugsey's calendar set the day one day later, and the battle raged, with both sides ably argued, but unfortunately not listened to by the opposing forces.
"She's a queer child, is Pearlie," said Mrs. Watson, as she beat up the bread-batter downstairs, "she's that light-hearted and free from care, and her eighteen years old. She's like somethin' that don't belong on earth, with her two big eyes shinin' like lamps, and the way she sings through the house, settin' the table or scourin' the milk pails or mendin' a coat for the boys—it don't seem natural. She's too happy, whatever its' about, and it makes me afraid for her. She's the kind that sees nothin' wrong, and won't see trouble comin' till its too late. I often feel afraid she's too good and happy for this world. She's always been the same, liltin' and singin' and makin' everyone happy around her."
Jimmy was washing his face in the enamel basin which stood on a box below the mirror, and looking around with a dripping wet face, felt with a wildy swinging motion of his arms for the towel. When he had secured it, and all danger of soapsuds getting into his eyes was removed, he joined the conversation.
"Gosh, Ma!" he said, "you don't know Pearl, she's not the saint you take her for. I'll bet the Tucker kids don't think she's too good to live. Not much! They know she can hold up her end of a row as well as any one. When she found out they had killed the cat they got from us, and tanned the skin to make a rim on a cap, you should have seen Pearl. She just cut loose on the two of them, and chased them through the sloughs and up the road clear home—larrupin' them with a binder whip, as fast as she could swing it—the yowls out of them would have done your heart good!"
Mrs. Watson stopped her work, with her floury hands raised in consternation.
"God's mercy," she cried, "did Pearl do that—and both of them bigger'n her. Ain't it a wonder they did not turn on her?"
"Turn"—-Jimmy cried scornfully, "Turn—is it? They were too busy runnin'. Gosh—they would'a flew if they knew how. Served them right—they knew blame well they deserved it, for Pearl would never have given them the cat if they hadn't worked it so smooth. They told her they wanted a strain of Tiger in their cats, for all of theirs were black—and Pearl, gave them our fine young Tom—and they promised all sorts to be good to him—and when Pearl saw his skin on their caps, and put it to them, they said they hadn't said it was a 'strain of tiger for their cats' they wanted, but a 'strand of tiger for their caps'—that's what made Pearl so mad." Mr. Donald said Pearl did quite right, and he told the Tuckers they were the making of great politicians—they were so smart at getting out of things. But Gosh, you should have seen Pearl! She finished the job off right, too, you bet, and made them put up slab at the school and did the printin' on it in red ink. You can see it there,—they have had to print it over once or twice. We all know the words off by heart:
Young Tom, Tiger cat, Owned by P. Watson, Given away in good faith April 1st, Wickedly killed to make a cap, April 15th, Avenged by former owner, May 1st. T. Tucker. S. Tucker.
People all look at it when they come to the church, and I guess the Tuckers feel pretty small. Pearl says if they are really sorry, it is all right, and young Tom has not died in vain. Every cat has to die sometime, and if he had softened the Tucker's hearts—it is all right. Pearl said she wasn't real sure about them, and I guess if they kill another cat, she'll kill them sure—she said that's the way to do with people like them. Make them repentant—or dead!"
"God save us all," cried Mrs. Watson, in real distress, "whatever will happen to her when she goes out into the world. That's awful talk for a girl especially. Whatever will become of her when she leaves home. She'll be in hot water all the time."
"No fear of Pearlie!" said her father proudly—as he opened the end door of the stove and picked up a coal for his pipe, placing it without undue haste in the bowl, and carefully pressing it down with his thumb. Leaning back in the chintz-covered rocking chair, he spread his feet out to the heat which came from the oven door, and repeated, "No fear of Pearlie—there ain't a girl in the country better able to do for herself. Faith—and she's no fool—and never was—I ain't worrying about Pearlie wherever she goes—or whatever she meets—I ain't worrying."
"You don't worry about anything, John," said Mrs. Watson, in reproof, as she covered the bread with many wrappings and fixed two chairs to hold it behind the stove for the night; "you didn't even worry the night the crop froze, sleepin' and snorin' the whole night through, with me up every half hour watching the thermometer, and it slippin' lower and lower, and the pan o' water on the woodpile gettin' its little slivers of ice around the edge, and when the thermometer went to thirty, I knew it was all up with the wheat, but do you think I could wake you—you rolled over with a grunt, leavin' me alone to think of the two hundred acres gone in the night, after all our hard work ... and then to have you come down in the mornin', stretchin' and yawnin', after a good night's sleep, and says you, as cheerful as could be, 'Cold mornin', Ma!'"
John Watson took his pipe from his mouth, and laughed quietly.
"And what was wrong with that, Ma—sure now it was cold—you said yourself it was," he said gently.
The boys joined in the laugh, but Mrs. Watson repeated her point.
"Cold it was, sure enough, but think o' me up frettin' and fumin', and you come down as cheerful as if starvation wasn't starin' us in the face."
"But we didn't starve, Ma," said Billy, coming to his father's defense, "the crop was all right for feed, and we did well after all. You had all your frettin' for nothing."
"It's that way mostly," said John Watson, "I never saw any good yet in frettin'. Anyway, Ma does enough of it for all of us, so that lets me out. There's the two kinds of Irish—them that don't fret over anything—and them that frets over every thing—that's me and you, Ma—and it works out fine—it runs about even. You've always been so sure that things were goin' wrong, I've just had to be a little surer that they wern't. And then of course I knew that night that you would watch the frost—if there was any watchin' to it."
"John, it is well for you that you have some one to do your watchin'," said Mrs. Watson. "You're an easy goin' man, John, but I'll say this for you, that a better natured man never lived."
When all the family had gone to bed, and the last sound had died out in the house, Pearl stood long at the window and looked out at the moonlit valley. The warm day had melted the frost from the window, and when she put out the lamp, the moonlight seemed almost as clear as day. Silvery-mauve and blue it lay on the quiet, snowy fields, with a deeper color on the trees, as if they had wound yards and yards of the gauzy stuff around their bare shoulders, for the night was chilly. To Pearl it was even more beautiful than the sunshine of the day, for in its silvery stillness, she could think and dream without interruption.
The night was too beautiful to sleep, and the riot of joy in her heart made her forget that anyone ever grew weary or tired. She was part of the moonlight, with its glistening witchery, part of the overarching sky, with its wealth of glittering stars, part of the velvety night wind that caressed the trees in its gentle passing. Her young soul was in tune with them all! For the greatest thing in life had come to her in those few common-place words that had come to her over the telephone. He had not forgotten—he was coming tomorrow!
The tired note in his voice had awakened an entirely new chord in the song her heart sang. He needed her. He needed some one to look after him, care for him, watch him, save him from the hundred little worrying things that were sapping his energy. People did not understand that he ever got tired—he was so strong, so buoyant, so ready to do things for them. Well, there will be someone now, thought Pearl, with a glow that surged through her veins and made her cheeks flame, to take care of him.
"Is the doctor in, Mrs. Clay?"
"He is—but he's sleeping—maybe I can tell you what you want to know—step in here—so he won't hear us—he was out all night—and he must not be wakened...."
And when he had to go—she would harness the team and drive him, so he could sleep all the way, and when the roads were fit for it, she would drive the car—and soon she would be able to set bones and do common things like that. He would show her—and then they would go to New York—in two or three years maybe—he had told her once he wanted to do this—for a post-graduate course—and they would have a little suite, and she would study, too.
And always, always, always they would be together—and no matter how many people there were praising him and wanting him—he would just be her man—and at night, when he was tired—and all the noise of the day was over and everyone was gone, she would have him all to herself.
Pearl's head sank on the window sill, while an ecstacy of joy swept over her—happy tears filled her eyes—life was so sweet—so rich—so full....
THE HOUSE OF CLAY
When the operation was over, the two doctors drove back to Millford, the younger man so deeply engrossed in his own thoughts he hardly heard the older doctor's incessant conversation. But that did not in any wise discourage Dr. Brander, for to him, talking was much like breathing, it went on easily, unconsciously, and without the necessity of a listener.
On Dr. Clay there had fallen the pleasant, drowsy feeling of one whose work is done for the day, and a hard day it had been, with its uncertainty of the delayed train, and his patient's condition. But all had gone well, and his patient's reaction had been satisfactory. More than that, the older doctor had concurred in all that he had done, and commended his treatment of the case from the beginning.
So, comfortably seated in the cutter, with a brown bear robe over their knees, and the mate of it over the seat, the two doctors drove home in the purple-blue twilight, seated side by side, but with minds far removed from each other.
The doctor's horses knew every road that led home, and trotted on without any guidance or word from him—they were a fine team of glossy chestnuts of whom the young doctor was extremely proud. But tonight, a strange lassitude of spirit was upon him and he only wanted to relax his weary brain and dream away the snowy miles to the rhythmic beat of the horses' hoofs.
He had never been more contented in his life. His work was going well—that day the Liberals had offered him the nomination for the coming provincial election! It was an honor which he appreciated, though he had no desire to enter politics. He loved his work—the people he served were devoted to him—he could read it in their faces and their stammering words. He knew what they wanted to say, even though it was conveyed in a few halting fragments of sentences—"You're all right—Doc—sure—glad you got here—we knew you'd make it—somehow—you and them high steppers of yours can get through the snow—if any one can."
Slowly, for a great weariness was on him, he began to think of Pearl, the red-cheeked shining-eyed Pearl, who had singled him out for her favor ever since he came to the village six years ago; Pearl, with her contagious optimism and quaint ways, who had the good gift of putting every one in good humor. He smiled to himself when he thought of how often he had made it convenient to pass the school just at four o'clock, and give Pearl and the rest of them a ride home, and the delight he had always had in her fresh young face, so full of lights and shadows.
"Robbing the cradle, eh, Doc?" Sam Motherwell had once said, in his clumsy way, when he met them on the road—"Nothin' like pickin' them out young and trainin' them up the way you want them."
He had made no answer to this, but he still felt the wave of anger that swept over him at the blundering words. "All the same, I wish Pearl were older"—he had admitted to himself that day. "If she keeps her wise little ways and her clever tongue, she'll be a great woman—she has a way with her."
At the rink, he had always looked forward to a skate with her—it was really a dull night for him if she were not there, and now he wondered just what it was that attracted him so. There was a welcoming gladness in her eyes that flattered him, a comradeship in her conversation that drew him on to talk with more ease and freedom; there was a wholesome friendliness in what she said, which always left him a sense of physical and mental well-being.
"What a nurse she would make," he thought, "what a great nurse;" "I wish she were older ... eighteen is too young for a girl to marry—I wouldn't allow it at all—if I didn't know who she is getting—that makes all the difference in the world ... of course her father and mother may object, but I believe what Pearl says, goes—what Pearl says will go—with all of us! The Parker house can be bought—and fixed up ... we'll have a fireplace put in, and waterworks—I wish I did not feel so tough and tired ... but she said she'd wait a thousand years!"
Suddenly the voice of Dr. Brander rasped through his brain, and brought him to attention:
"Clay, you're in love, or something—I don't believe you've heard a word I said, you young scamp, in the last six miles—and you've missed a fine exposition on cancers—causes and cure."
"I beg your pardon, Dr. Brander," he apologized, "I believe I was almost asleep. I get into a drowsy habit on my long drives—especially when I am coming home—when the days' work is over—it seems good to stretch out—but I do apologize: What were you saying?"
"O, I'm done now," said his companion, not in the least disturbed; "I want you to tell me about yourself and your work here. You know you interest me, Clay. You are a sort of popular idol with all these people, and I have been wondering how you do it. A man must give freely of himself to be as popular as you are, Clay—do you ever find yourself giving out under the strain, and in need of a rest?"
"Just a little tired, sometimes," the young man confessed, "but it's nothing—at all."
The old man watched him narrowly, taking careful note that the pallor of his face had suddenly changed to a heightened color. "When we get supper, Clay, I want to have a serious talk with you. You may remember that I approached this subject the last time you were in the city. I want to give you the report on the examination I gave you at that time." There was a quality in his voice which gave the young man a momentary sense of dread, not unmixed with a certain impatience. He was too tired to be bothered. He wanted nothing but a chance to think his own thoughts, as the sorrel team struck off the miles with their tireless feet.
When they had had supper at the Chinese restaurant, they went to the doctor's office. The sun, though long since set, still threw spikes of light upon the western sky and caught the under side of one ragged cloud which seemed to have been forgotten in an otherwise clear sky.
In the office, a cheerful coal fire glowed through its mica windows, and in front of the doctor's leather chair, were his slippers, and over it was thrown a brightly colored house coat.
A gasoline lamp threw a strong white light on the comfortable room, and the city papers lay, still unfolded, on the table beside a pile of letters.
The old doctor exclaimed with delight:
"Who fixes you up so fine, Clay—surely there's a woman around this place!"
"My landlady"—said the young doctor, "looks after me."
"I know, I know," said the older man, "I know the kind of fellow you are—the kind women love to fuss around. I'll bet you get dozens of bedroom slippers and ties and mufflers at Christmas. Women are like cats—they love to rub their heads against any one that will stroke them and say 'poor pussy'—they're all the same."
The old doctor seated himself in the big chair and warmed his hands before the glowing coals.
"And now, Clay, I want to talk to you. There are certain facts that must be told. I have been interested in your case ever since I met you. You are a distinct type, with your impulsive temperament, clear skin and tapering fingers. But what I have to say to you would have been said easier if I did not know you so well—and if I had not been here and seen you in your native setting—as it were.... Being a medical man yourself, Clay, you know the difficulties of the situation."
The young doctor sat down suddenly, and smiled wanly:
"There need be no difficulty, Dr. Brander", he said, "I am ready to hear ..." he left the sentence unfinished.
The old doctor went on:
"There is no immediate cause for alarm," he said, speaking slowly, "people live for years with it, as you know—a cracked plate sometimes outlasts the good one—and as a matter of fact none of us are entirely free from it."
The old doctor was swaying backwards as he spoke, and his voice rose and fell with the motion, as the tone of a phonograph when the door is opened or shut.
"You will have to be more careful, though, Clay, you will have to call a halt on your activities—there must be no more of the all night sessions of yours—and those fifty mile drives—it is just like this—you are carrying a mortgage on your business—a heavy mortgage—and yet one that the business can carry—with care, great care. Many a good business man carries a heavy mortgage and pays well too, but of course it cannot stand financial strain or stress like the business which is clear of debt. With great care, you should be good for many years—but you must not draw on your reserves—you must never spend your capital—you must never be tired, or excited, or hurried, or worried."
And this climate is a bit strenuous in winter—you must get out before another one comes, and live some place that is easier. This country keeps a man on his toes all the time, with its brilliant sunshine, its strong winds, its bracing air. You need a softer air, a duller atmosphere, a sleepier environment that will make you never do today what you can put off till tomorrow, and never put off till tomorrow what you might as well put off till the day after tomorrow."
"What a life!" broke from the young man's lips.
"A very fascinating life, my dear sir," said the old doctor, intoning his words like a very young clergyman—"a fascinating life, and one that I would enjoy. Here we hurry up in the morning and hurry to bed at night so we can hurry to get up again in the morning—we chase ourselves around like a cat in the ancient pursuit of its own tail, and with about the same results. The Western mind is in a panic all the time—losing time by the fear of losing time. The delights of mediation are not ours—we are pursued, even as we pursue; we are the chasers and the chased; the hunter and the hunted; we are spending and the spent; we are borrowed and lent—and what is the good of it all? I have always wanted to be an Oriental, dreaming in the shade of a palm tree, letting the sun and the wind ripen my fruits and my brain, while I sat—with never a care—king of the earth—and the air—O, take it from me, young fellow, there are wonderful delights in contemplation, delights of which we are as ignorant as the color blind are of the changing hues of the Autumn woods, or the deaf man is of music. We are deaf, blind and dumb about the things of the soul! We think activity is the only form of growth."
The young doctor, whose handsome face had grown pale, watched him with a sort of fascination. The words seemed to roll from his lips without the slightest effort, and apparently without causing his heart one emotion. If the young doctor had not known him so well, he would have thought him entirely unconcerned:
"We are cursed, you and I, and all of us," he resumed, with too much activity. We are obscessed with a passion for material achievement! We are hand-worshippers—leg-worshippers—speed-worshippers. We mistake activity for progress."
"But it is progress," burst from the young man, "activity does bring achievement—development."
The door of the office opened suddenly, and two young fellows rushed in.
"Are you coming to the lacrosse meeting, Doc,—we are going to organize, and we want you for President again, of course."
Then, seeing the city doctor, whom they recognized,—
"Excuse the interruption, but we can't get on without Dr. Clay, he's the whole works of the lacrosse team."
"I will not be able to go over tonight, boys," said the Doctor, "but you'll get on all right. You are getting to work pretty early—this is the first fine day."
When the lacrosse boys had gone, Dr. Clay finished his argument:
"These fellows prove what I was saying. When I came here six years ago, there was not even a baseball team in the place—the young fellows gathered on street corners in summer, loafing and idling, revelling in crazy, foolish degrading stories—absolute degenerations—now see them—on the tail of a blizzard, they dig out their lacrosse sticks and start the game on the second fine day. From the time the hockey is over now, until hockey time again—these fellows talk and dream lacrosse, and a decenter, cleaner lot of lads you won't find anywhere. Activity has saved them—activity is growth, it is life—it is everything!"
The old man shook his head slowly:
"They are not saved, my dear boy—none of us are—who depend on outward things for your happiness. Outward things change—vanish. 'As a man thinketh in his heart—so is he!'—that is the secret of triumphant living. As a man thinketh. These fellows of yours—for I know this lacrosse team has been one of the many ways you took of sapping your energy—do not think. They play, run, scrap, cheer, but there's no meditation—no turning inward of the thoughts, no mental progress.
"It would not be natural for growing boys, alive to their fingertips, to sit yapping like lazy collie dogs, just thinking," said the young doctor heatedly. "They want avenues of self-expression, and in lacrosse and hockey they find it."
"Artificial aids to happiness—every one of them—crutches for lame souls—the Kingdom of Heaven is within you," the old doctor rambled on, "but it is all a part of this great new country—this big west is new and crude and distinct—only the primary colors are used in the picture, there are no half tones, no shadows, and above all—or perhaps I should say behind all—no background. A thing is good or bad—black or white—blue or red. We are mostly posters here in this great big, dazzling country."
In the silence that fell on them, the young man's mind went limping back to the old doctor's first words—the dreadful, fateful, significant words. He had said it—said the thing that if it were true would exile him from the world he loved! On him the ban had fallen!
"I suppose," said he, standing behind his chair, whose back he held with nervous fingers, "there is no chance that you might be mistaken. It is hard for me to believe this. I am so strong—so well—so much alive, except my cough—I am as well as ever I was, and the cough is a simple thing—this seems impossible to me!"
The old doctor had gone to the window to watch the throng of boys and girls who raced past on their way to the hill for an evening's sleigh-ride.
"It always seems impossible," he said, with the air of a man who is totally disassociated from human affairs, and is simply stating an interesting fact, "that is part of the disease, and a very attractive part too. The people who have it, never think they have—even to the last they are hopeful—and sure they will be better tomorrow. No, I am afraid I am not mistaken. You know yourself the theory Clay, of the two sets of microbes, the builders and the destroyers. Just at the present moment, the destroyers have the best of it—they have put one over on the builders—but that does not say that the good microbes are not working—and may yet win. You are young, buoyant, happy, hopeful, temperate in your habits—all of which gives you a better chance—if you will throw the weight of your influence on the side of the builders—there is a good chance of winning—I should think with your Irish blood you would enjoy the fight, Clay."
The young doctor turned around suddenly and threw back his head, with an impatient gesture.
"I love a fight, Dr. Brander, but it has to be of something worth while. I have fought for the life of a man, a woman, a child, and I have fought joyfully—for life is sweet, and I desired it for these people, believing it to be a good gift. But in the fight you outline for me, I see nothing to fire man's heart. I won't fight for life if it means just breathing and scraping along at a poor, dying rate, cheating the undertaker of a nice little piece of legitimate business—I can't grow enthusiastic over the prospect of always thinking about myself—and my rest—and my sleep—or my clothes—always looking for a draught or fleeing from the night air or a thunderstorm—never able to do a man's job or a day's work. I can't do it, Dr. Brander, and you couldn't do it. It's a poor, miserable, dull existence, unhappy for me, and no service to any one."
Two red spots burned in his cheeks, and the old doctor, noticing them, wished again that he had come to see him sooner.
"See here, Clay," he said, sitting down again, with his hands spread out on his knees, "you exaggerate this thing. You do not think you are working unless you are slaving and owling around all hours of the night, setting bones and pulling teeth, or ushering into this wicked world sundry squalling babies who never asked to come, and do not like it now they are here. You have been as strong as an ox, and keen as a race-horse, now you have to slow up—you have to get out of this country before another winter, and when you come back in Spring you can go on with your patients—always with care."
The young doctor surveyed him with curling lip.
"Resume my practice," he said, "how simple. Send word ahead, I suppose, by circular letter—
"'Dear Friends, I will be with you May 1st, to attend to your medical needs. Save your appendicitis and neuralgia and broken bones for me. Medical season opens for business May 1st, every one welcome'. Something like that ought to be sufficient to hold my practice. It has always seemed to me very inconsiderate for people to get sick in the winter, and certainly it is no time for infants to begin their career.... Now, see here, Dr. Brander, I appreciate all you say. I know why you are talking this way to me. It is out of the kindness of your heart—for you have a soft old heart behind all that professionalism. But it does not look reasonable to me that a man who has really lived, can ever drag along like you say. Who wants to live, anyway, beyond the time of usefulness? I don't. I want to pass out like old Prince—you remember my good old roan pacer, do you?"
"That red-eyed old anarchist of yours that no one could harness but you?"
"That's the one—as good a horse as ever breathed—misunderstood, that was all—well, he passed on, as the scientists say, last Fall, passed on in a blaze of glory too, but just how glorious his death was, I don't believe I realized until tonight.
"How did it happen?"
"I had a thirty mile drive to see Mrs. Porter, at Pigeon Lake—and just as I was about to start, another message came that it was very urgent if her life was to be saved. Old Prince would not drive double—and my team was tired out. So I started with him alone. The snow came on when I was half way there, and that made the going bad—to add to the difficulties, a strong wind drove the blinding snow in our faces. But the old boy ploughed on like a wrecking engine—going out in a storm to clear the track. He knew all about it, I never had to urge him. The last mile was the worst—he fell once, but staggered to his feet and went on, on three legs.... When we got to the house, I knew it was all up with old Prince—he had made his last journey."
"But he was still living when I came out to see him four hours later. The men had put him in a box stall, and had done all they could, but his eyes were rolling, and his heart missed every fourth beat."
"The two little girls came out and cried over him, and told him he had saved their mother's life, and tried to get him to eat sugar lumps ... and—right to the last there was the same proud look in his red eyes, and he gave me a sort of wink which let me know it was all right—he didn't blame me or any one—and so I kissed him once, on the white star on his honest forehead, and I put my left arm around his head so he couldn't see what was coming, and sent a bullet through his brain."
"We buried him on the hillside overlooking the lake, and the little girls put a slab up over him, which says:
"Prince of the house of Clay Who saved our mother's life, Lies here in peace, and lives In grateful memory in our hearts."
There was a silence, in which each man's mind went back to the one overwhelming thought—that bound them so close together.
Then the young doctor said slowly: "If what you say is true, I envy Prince—and would gladly change places with him."
The old man recovered himself in a moment: "You take things too seriously, Clay," he said quickly: "be glad you are not married. A wife and children clutter up a man's affairs at a time like this—you are quite free from family ties, I believe?"
"Quite free," the young man replied, "all my relatives live in the East, all able to look after themselves. I have no person depending on me—financially, I mean."
"Marriage," began the old doctor, in his most professional tone, as one who reads from a manuscript, "is one-fourth joy and three-fourths disappointment. There is no love strong enough to stand the grind of domestic life. Marriage would be highly successful were it not for the fearful bore of living together. Two houses, and a complete set of servants would make marriage practically free from disappointments. I think Saint Paul was right when he advised men to remain single if they had serious work to do. Women, the best of them, grow tiresome and double-chinned in time."
The young doctor laughed his own big, hearty laugh, the laugh which his devoted patients said did them more good than his medicine.
"I like that," he said, "a man with a forty-two waist measure, wearing an eighteen inch collar, finding fault with a woman's double chin. You are not such a raving beauty yourself."
The old man interrupted him:
"I do not need to be. I am a doctor, a prescriber of pills, a mender of bones, a plumber of pipes ... my work does not call for beauty. Beauty is an embarrassment to a doctor. You would be happier, young fellow, without that wavy brown hair and those big eyes of yours, with their long lashes. A man is built for work, like a truck. Gold and leather upholstering do not belong there. Women are different; it is their place in life to be beautiful, and when they fail in that, they fail entirely. They have no license to be fat, flabby double-chinned, flat-footed. It is not seemly, and of course you cannot tell how any of them may turn out. They are all pretty at sixteen. That is what makes marriage such a lottery."
"I don't agree with you at all," said his companion, "it is absurd to expect a woman of fifty to have the slim grace of a girl of eighteen. My mother was a big woman, and I always thought her very beautiful. I think you have a pagan way of looking at marriage. Marriage is a mutual agreement, for mutual benefit and comfort, for sympathy and companionship. Family life develops the better side of human nature, and casts out selfishness. Many a man has found himself when he gets a wife, and in the caring for his children has thrown off the shackels of selfishness. People only live when they can forget themselves, for selfishness is death. Your a great doctor, Dr. Brander, but a poor philosopher."
The older man smiled grimly.
"See here, Clay," he said, "did you ever think of how nature fools us poor dupes? Nature, old Dame Nature, has one object, and that is to people the earth—and to this end she shapes all her plans. She makes women beautiful, graceful, attractive and gives them the instinct to dress in a way that will attract men. Makes them smaller and weaker than men, too, which also makes its appeal. Why, if I hadn't watched my step, I'd been married a dozen times. These little frilled and powdered vixens have nearly got me.... If nature used half as much care in keeping people healthy and free from accidents, as she does in getting them here—it would be a happier world. But that is not nature's concern—She leaves that to the doctors!"
"Well, how does the time go? Isn't that the train whistle?"
"No hurry," said Dr. Clay, rising, "it stops at the water-tank, and that whistle is for the hill."
They walked over to the station in silence, and stood watching the red eye that came gliding through the moonlit valley. The train seemed to be slipping in to the station without a sound, in the hope that no one would notice how late it was.
"Come up and see me, Clay," said the old man kindly. "I want to give you a thorough examination—and I will expect you in a week—we'll talk things over, and see what is best. You have my bag, don't bother coming on—all right then—here's a double seat—so I can stretch out—though it's hardly worth while for an hour. Goodbye Clay, remember all I told you!"
When the doctor went back to his office, he sat long in his chair in front of the fire, and thought. The place was the same—the cheerful fire—the rows of books—the Fathers of Confederation picture on the wall—and his college group. Everything was the same as it had been—only himself. Everything in the room was strong, durable, almost everlasting, able to resist time and wear. He was the only perishable thing, it seemed.
He wondered how people act when confronted by the ruin of their hopes. Do they rave and curse and cry aloud? He could not think clearly—his mind seemed to avoid the real issue and refuse to strike on the sore place, and he thought of all sorts of other things.
The permanence—the dreadful permanence of everything in the room seemed to oppress him. "Man is mortal," he said, "his possessions outlive him every last one of these things is more durable than I am". The gray wall of the office—so strong and lasting—what chance had an army of microbes against it—the heavy front door, with its cherry panels and brass fittings, had no fear of draughts or cold. It had limitless resistance. The stocky stove, on its four squat legs, could hold its own and snap its fingers at time. They were all so arrogantly indestructible, so fearfully permanent—they had no sympathy, no common meeting ground with him.
A knock sounded on the door, and when he opened it, the station agent was there, with a long box in his hand.
"It's marked 'Rush,' so I thought I had better shoot it over to you, Doc," he said.
"Thanks, old man," the Doctor said mechanically, and put the box down on the table. On a white label, in bright red letters, stood out the word 'Perishable.'
The word struck him like a blow between the eyes. "Perishable!" Then here was something to which he might feel akin. He opened the box, with detached interest. A sweet breath of roses proclaimed the contents. He had forgotten about sending for them until now—Pearl's roses for this day—nineteen American Beauties!
He carefully unpacked the wrapping, and held up the sheaf of loveliness, and just for one moment had the thrill of joy that beauty had always brought to him. Pearl's roses! The roses, with which he had hoped to say what was in his heart—here they were, in all their exquisite loveliness, and ready to carry the words of love and hope and tenderness—but now ... he had nothing to say ... love and marriage were not for him!
He sat down heavily, beside the table over which the roses lay scattered, spilling their perfume in the room.
He fingered them lovingly, smoothing their velvety petals with a tender hand, while his mind sought in vain to readjust itself to the change the last two hours had brought.
He turned again to the fire, which glowed with blue and purple lights behind the windows of isinglass, curling and flaming and twisting, with fascinating brilliance. Long he sat, watching it, while the sounds outside in the street grew less and less, and at last when he went to the window, he found the street in darkness and in silence. The moon had set, and his watch told him it was two o'clock.
The wind whimpered in the chimney like a lonesome puppy, rising and falling, cying out and swelling with eerie rhythm; a soft spring wind, he knew it was, that seemed to catch its breath like a thing in pain.
Looking again at the roses, he noticed that the leaves were drooping. He hastily went into the dispensary and brought out two graduates filled with water to put them in; but when he lifted them—he saw, with poignant pain—they were gone past helping—they were frost-bitten.
Then it was that he gathered them in his arms, with sudden passion, and as he sat through the long night, he held them closely to him, for kin of his they surely were—these frosted roses, on whose fragrant young hearts the blight had so prematurely fallen!
At daybreak, when the light from the eastern sky came in blue at the window blind, and the gasoline lamp grew sickly and pale, the doctor went to bed. He had thought it all out and outlined his course of action.
He did not doubt the old doctor's word; his own knowledge gave corroborative evidence that it was quite true, and he wondered he had not thought of it. Still, there was something left for him to do. He would play up and play the game, even if it were a losing fight. His own house had fallen, but it would be his part now to see that the minimum amount of pain would come to Pearl over it. She was young, and had all the world before her—she would forget. He had a curious shrinking from having her know that he had the disease, for like most doctors, he loathed the thought of disease, and had often quoted to his patients in urging them to obey the laws of physiological righteousness, the words of Elbert Hubbard that "The time would come when people would feel more disgrace at being found in a hospital than in a jail, for jails were for those who broke men's laws, but those in the hospital had broken the laws of God!"
He shuddered now when he thought of it, it all seemed so unnecessary—so wantonly cruel—so so inexplicable.
Above all, Pearl must not know, for instinctively he felt that if she knew he was a sick man, she would marry him straight away—she would be so sweet about it all, and so hopeful and sure he would get well, and such a wonderfully skilful and tender nurse, that he would surely get well. For one blissful but weak moment, which while it thrilled it frightened him still more—he allowed himself to think it would be best to tell her. Just for one weak moment the thought came—to be banished forever from his mind. No! No! No! disaster had come to him, but Pearl would not be made to suffer, she would not be involved in any way.
But just what attitude to take, perplexed him. Those big, soft brown eyes of hers would see through any lie he tried to invent, and he was but a poor liar anyway. What could he tell Pearl? He would temporize—he would stall for time. She was too young—she had seen so little of the world—it would be hard to wait—he believed he could take that line with her—he would try it.
When he awakened, the sun was shining in the room, with a real spring warmth that just for a minute filled him with gladness and a sense of wellbeing. Then he remembered, and a groan burst from his lips.
The telephone rang:
Reaching out, he seized it and answered.
"It's me," said a voice, "It's Pearl! I am coming in—I know you're tired after yesterday, and you need a long sleep—so don't disturb yourself—I'll be in about two o'clock—just when the sun is brightest—didn't I tell you it would be finer still today?"
"You surely did, Pearl," he answered, "however you knew."
"I'm not coming just to see you—ma wants a new strainer, and Bugsey needs boots, and Mary has to have another hank of yarn to finish the sweater she's knitting—these are all very urgent, and I'll get them attended to first, and then...."
"Then you'll come and see me, Pearl"—he finished, "and we'll have the meeting which we adjourned three years ago—to meet yesterday."
"That's it," she said, "and goodbye until then."
He looked at his watch, it was just ten—there was yet time.
Reaching for the telephone, he called long distance, Brandon. "Give me Orchard's greenhouses," he said.
After a pause he got the wire:
"Send me a dozen and a half—no, nineteen—American Beauty roses on today's train, without fail. This is Dr. Clay of Millford talking."
He put back the telephone, and lay back with a whimsical smile, twisting his mouth. "The frosted ones are mine," he said to himself, "there will be no blight or spot or blemish on Pearl's roses."
It was quite like Pearl to walk into the doctors' office without embarrassment. It was also like her to come at the exact hour she had stated in her telephone message—and to the man who sat waiting for her, with a heart of lead, she seemed to bring the whole sunshine of Spring with her.
Ordinarily, Dr. Clay did not notice what women wore, they all looked about the same to him—but he noticed that Pearl's gray coat and furs just needed the touch of crimson which her tam o'shanter and gloves supplied, and which seemed to carry out the color in her glowing cheeks. She looked like a red apple in her wholesomeness.
He had tried to get the grittiness of the sleepless night out of his eyes, and had shaved and dressed himself with the greatest care, telling himself it did not matter—but the good habit was deeply fastened on him and could not be set aside.
There was nothing about the well-dressed young man, with his carefully brushed hair and splendid color, to suggest disease. Pearl's eyes approved of each detail, from the way his hair waved and parted back; the dull gold and purple tie, which seemed to bring out the bronze tones in his hair and the steely gray of his eyes; the well-cut business suit of rough brown tweed, with glints of green and bronze, down to the dark brown, well-polished boots.
Pearl was always proud of him; it glowed in her eyes again today, and again he felt it, warming his heart and giving him the sense of well-being which Pearl's presence always brought. All at once he felt rested and full of energy.
When the first greetings were over, and Pearl had seated herself, at his invitation, in the big chair, he said, laughing:
"'Tis a fine day, Miss Watson."
"It is that!" said Pearl, with her richest brogue, which he had often told her he hoped she would never lose.
"And you are eighteen years old now," he said, in the same tone.
"Eighteen, going on nineteen," she corrected gaily.
"All right, eighteen—going on—nineteen. Three years ago there was a little bargain made between us—without witnesses, that we would defer all that was in our minds for three years—we'd give the matter a three years' hoist—and then take it up just where we left it!"
She nodded, without speaking.
"Now I have thought about it a lot," he went on, "indeed I do not think a day has gone by without my thinking of it, and incidentally, I have thought of myself and my belongings. I wish to draw your attention to them—I am twenty-nine years old—I've got a ten years' start of you, and I will always expect to be treated with respect on account of my years—that's clearly understood, is it?"
He was struggling to get himself in hand.
"Clearly understood," she repeated, with her eyes on him in unmistakable adoration.
"Six years ago," he seemed to begin all over gain—"I came out of college, with all sorts of fine theories, just bubbling over with enthusiasm, much the same as you are now, fresh from Normal, but somehow they have mostly flattened out, and now I find myself settling down to the prosy life of a country doctor, who feeds his own horses and blackens his own boots, and discusses politics with the retired farmers who gather in the hardware store. I catch myself at it quite often. Old Bob Johnson and I are quite decided there will be a war with Germany before many years. We don't stop at Canadian affairs—the world is not too wide for us! Yes, Pearl, here I am, a country doctor, with an office in need of paint—a very good medical library—in need of reading—a very common-place, second-rate doctor—who will never be a great success, who will just continue to grub along. With you, Pearl, it is different. You have ambition, brains—and something about you that will carry you far—I always knew it—and am so glad that at the Normal they recognized your ability."
A puzzled look dimmed the brightness of her eyes just for a moment, and the doctor stumbled on.
"I am all right, as far as I go—but there's not enough of me—I'm not big enough for you, Pearl."
Pearl's eyes danced again, as she looked him up and down, and he laughed in spite of himself.
"For goodness sake, girl," he cried, "don't look at me, you make me forget what I was saying—I can't think, when you train those eyes of yours on me."
Pearl obediently turned her head away, but he could still see the dimple in her cheeks.
"I have had a long fight with myself, Pearl," and now that he was back to the truth, his voice had its old mellowness that swept her heart with tenderness—"a long fight—and it is not over yet. I'm selfish enough to want you—-that is about 99.9% of me is selfish, the other infinitesimal part cries out for me to play the man—and do the square thing—I am making a bad job of this, but maybe you understand."
He came over and turned her head around until she faced him.
"I have begun at the wrong end of this, dear, I talk as if you had said—you cared—I have no right to think you do. I should remember you are only a child—and haven't thought about—things like this!"
"O, haven't I, though," she cried eagerly. "I've been thinking—all the time—I've never stopped thinking—I've had the loveliest time thinking."
The doctor went on in a measured tone, as one who must say the words he hates to utter. All the color had gone from his voice, all the flexibility. It was as hard as steel now, and as colorless as a dusty road.
"Pearl, I am going to say what I should say, not what I want to say.... Supposing I did induce you to marry me now. Suppose I could ... in ten years from now, when you are a woman grown, you might hate me for taking advantage of your youth, your inexperience, your childish fancy for me—I am not prepared to take that risk—it would be a criminal thing to run any chances of spoiling a life like yours."
Her eyes looked straight into his, and there was a little muttered cry in them that smote his heart with pity. He had seen it in the faces of little children, his patients, who, though hurt, would not cry.
"And I am selfish enough to hope that in a few years, when you are old enough to choose, you will think of what I am doing now, and know the sacrifice I am making, and come to me of your own free will—no, I did not intend to say that—I do not mean what I said—the world is yours, Pearl, to choose as you will—I have no claim on you! You start fair."
Pearl's cheeks had lost a little of their rosy glow, and her face had taken on a cream whiteness. She stood up and looked at him, with widely opened eyes. A girl of smaller soul might have misunderstood him, and attributed to him some other motive. Though Pearl did not agree with him, she believed every word he had said.
"Supposing," she said eagerly, "that I do not want to start fair—and don't want to be free to choose—supposing I have made my choice—supposing I understand you better than you do yourself, and tell you now that you are not a second-hand doctor—that you are a sun and a shield to this little town and country, just as you have been to me—you bring health and courage by your presence—the people love and trust you—suppose I remind you that you are not only a doctor, but the one that settles their quarrels and puts terror into the evil-doer. Who was it that put the fear into Bill Plunkett when he blackened his wife's eyes, and who was it that brought in the two children from the Settlement, that were abused by their step-father, and took the old ruffian's guns away from him and marched him in too! That's a job for a second-rate doctor, isn't it? I hear the people talking about you, and I have to turn my back for fear they hear my eyes shouting out, 'That's my man you're praising' and here he is, telling me he is a second-rate doctor! Is that what you were when the fever was so bad, and all the Clarke's had it at once, and you nursed six of them through it? Mrs. Clarke says the only undressing you did was to loosen your shoe-laces!"
"Don't you see—I know you better than you do yourself. You don't see how big your work is. Is it a small thing to live six years in a place and have every one depending on you, praising you—loving you—and being able to advise them and lead the young fellows anyway you like—making men of them, instead of street loafers—and their mothers so thankful they can hardly speak of it."
"You evidently don't know what we think of you, any of us—and here I am—I don't know when it began with me—the first day I saw you—I think, when I was twelve—I've been worshipping you and treasuring up every word you ever said to me. I don't know whether it is love or not, it's something very sweet. It has made me ambitious to look my best, do my best and be my best. I want to make you proud of me—I will make you proud of me—see if I don't—I want to be with you, to help you, look after you—grow up with you—I don't know whether it is love or not—it—is something! There is nothing too hard for me to do, if it is for you—everything—any thing would be sweet to me—if you were with me. Is that love?"
She was standing before him, holding his hand in both of hers, and her eyes had the light in them, the tender, glowing light that seemed to flame blue at the edges, like the coal fire he had watched the night before.
Impulsively he drew her to him, and for a moment buried his face in her warm, white neck, kissing the curling strands of her brown hair.
"O Pearl," he cried, drawing away from her, "O Pearl—you're a hard girl to give up—you make me forget all my good resolutions. I don't want to do what I ought to do. I just want you."
There was a smothered cry in his voice that smote on Pearl's heart with a sudden fear. Mothers know the different notes in their children's cries—and in Pearl, the maternal instinct was strong.
She suddenly understood. He was suffering, there was a bar between them—for some reason, he could not marry her!
She grew years older, it seemed, in a moment, and the thought that came into her brain, clamoring to be heard, exultantly, insistently knocking for admission, was this—her mother's pessimistic way of looking at life was right—there were things too good to be true—she had been too sure of her happiness. The thought, like cold steel, lay against her heart and dulled its beating. But the pain in his eyes must be comforted. She stood up, and gravely took the hand he held out to her.
"Doctor," she said steadily, "you are right, quite right, about this—a girl of eighteen does not know her own mind—it is too serious a matter—life is too long—I—I think I love you—I mean I thought I did—I know I like to be with you—and—-all that—but I'm too young to be sure—and I'll get over this all right. You're right in all you say—and it's a good thing you are so wise about this—we might have made a bad mistake—that would have brought us unhappiness. But it has been sweet all the time, and I'm not sorry—we'll just say no more about it now and don't let it worry you—I can stand anything—if you're not worried."
He looked at her in amazement—and not being as quick as she, her words deceived him, and there was not a quiver on her lips, as she said:
"I'll go now, doctor, and we'll just forget what we were saying—they were foolish words. I'm thinking of going North to teach—one of the inspectors wrote me about a school there. I just got his letter today, and he asked me to wire him—I'll be back at the holidays."
She put the red tam on her brown hair, tucking up the loose strands, in front of the glass, as she spoke. Manlike, he did not see that her hands trembled, and her face had gone white. He sat looking at her in deep admiration.
"What a woman you are, Pearl," broke from his lips.
She could not trust herself to shake hands, or even look at him. Her one hope was to get away before her mask of unconcern broke into a thousand pieces by the pounding of her heart, which urged her to throw her arms around him and beg him to tell her what was really wrong—oh, why wouldn't he tell her!
"You'll think of this dear," he said, "in a few years when you are, I hope, happily married to the man of your choice, and you will have a kindly thought for me, and know I was not a bad sort—you'll remember every word of this Pearl, and you will understand that what is strange to you now—and you will perhaps think of me—and if not with pleasure, it will at least be without pain."
He wanted to give her the roses, which had come just a few moments before she came in, but somehow he could not frame a casual word of greeting. He would send them to her.
She was going now.
"Pearl, dearest Pearl," he cried "I cannot let you go like this—and yet—it's best for both of us."
"Sure it is," she said, smiling tightly, to keep her lips from quivering. "I'm feeling fine over it all." The pain in his voice made her play up to her part.
"I can't even kiss you, dear,'" he said. "I don't want you to have one bitter memory of this. I want you to know I was square—and loved you too well to take the kiss, which in after life might sting your face when you thought that I took advantage of your youth. A young girl's first kiss is too sacred a thing."
Suddenly Pearl's resolution broke down. It was the drawn look in his face, and its strange pallor.
She reached up and kissed his cheek.
"A little dab of a kiss like that won't leave a sting on any one's face," she said.
She was gone!
WHERE MRS. CROCKS THREW THE SWITCH
When Pearl came out of the doctor's office into the sunshine of the village street, she had but one thought—one overwhelming desire, expressed in the way she held her head, and the firm beat of her low-heeled shoes on the sidewalk—she must get away where she would not see him or the people she knew. She realized that whatever it was that had come between them was painful to him, and that he really cared for her. To see her, would be hard on him, embarrassing to them both, and she would do her share by going away—and she remembered, with a fresh pang—that when she had spoken of this, he had made no objection, thus confirming her decision that for her to go would be the best way.
The three glorious years, so full of hopes and dreams, were over! Pearl's house of hopes had fallen! All was over! And it was not his fault—he was not to blame. Instinctively, Pearl defended him in her mind against a clamorous sense of injustice which told her that she had not had a square deal! The pity of it all was what choked her and threatened to storm her well guarded magazine of self-control! It was all so sudden, so mysterious and queer, and yet, she instinctively felt, so inexorable!
Pearl had always been scornful of the tears of lovelorn maidens, and when in one of her literature lessons at the Normal, the sad journey of the lily-maid on her barge of black samite, floating down the river, so dead and beautiful, with the smile on her face and the lily in her hand, reduced form A to a common denominator of tears, and made the whole room look like a Chautauqua salute, Pearl had stoutly declared that if Elaine had played basketball or hockey instead of sitting humped up on a pile of cushions in her eastern tower, broidering the sleeve of pearls so many hours a day, she wouldn't have died so easily nor have found so much pleasure in arranging her own funeral.
But on this bright March day, the village street seemed strangely dull and dead to her, with an empty sound like a phone that has lost its connection. Something had gone from her little world, leaving it motionless, weary and old! A row of icicles hung from the roof of the corner store, irregular and stained from the shingles above, like an ugly set of ill-kept teeth, dripping disconsolately on the sidewalk below, and making there a bumpy blotch of unsightly ice!
In front of the store stood the delivery sleigh, receiving its load of parcels, which were thrown in with an air of unconcern by a blocky young man with bare red hands. The horse stood without being tied, in an apparently listless and melancholy dream. A red and white cow came out of the lane and attempted to cross the slippery sidewalk, sprawling helplessly for a moment, and then with a great effort recovered herself and went back the way she came, limping painfully, the blocky young man hastening her movements by throwing at her a piece of box lid, with the remark that that would "learn her."
The sunshine so brilliant and keen, had a cold and merciless tang in it, and a busy-body look about it, as if it delighted in shining into forbidden corners and tearing away the covers that people put on their sorrows, calling all the world to come and see! Pearl shuddered with the sudden realization that the sun could shine and the wind could blow bright and gay as ever, though hearts were writhing in agony!
She hoped she would not see any of the people she knew, for the pain that lay like a band of ice around her heart might be showing in her face—and Pearl knew that the one thing she could not stand was a word of sympathy. That would be fatal. So she hurried on. She would send a wire of acceptance to her inspector friend, and then go over to the stable for her horse, and be on her way home.
But there is something whimsical about fate. It takes a hand in our affairs without apology, and throws a switch at the last moment. If Pearl had not met Mrs. Crocks at the corner, just before she took the street to the station, this would have been a different story. But who knows? We never get a chance to try the other way, and it is best and wisest and easiest of comprehension to believe that whatever is, is best!
Mrs. Crocks was easily the best informed person regarding local happenings, in the small town of Millford. She really knew. Every community has its unlicensed and unauthorized gossips, who think they know what their neighbors are thinking and doing, but who more often than not get their data wrong, and are always careless of detail. Mrs. Crocks was not one of these.
When Bill Cavers got drunk, and spent in one grand, roaring spree all the money which he and his wife and Libby Anne had saved for their trip to Ontario, there were those who said that he went through six hundred dollars that one night, making a rough guess at the amount. Mrs. Crocks did not use any such amateur and unsatisfactory way of arriving at conclusions. She did not need to—there was a way of finding out! To the elevator she went, and looked at the books under cover of looking up a wheat ticket which her husband had cashed and found that Bill Cavers had marketed seventeen hundred and eight dollars worth of wheat. From this he had paid his store bill, and the blacksmith's bill, which when deducted, left him eight hundred and fourteen dollars—she did not bother with the cents. The deductions were easily verified—both the storekeeper and the blacksmith were married men!
This was the method she followed in all her research—careful, laborious and accurate at all costs, with a fine contempt for her less scientific contemporaries. The really high spots in her life had been when she was able to cover her competitors with confusion by showing that their facts were all wrong, which process she referred to as "showing up these idle gossips."
James Crocks, her husband, had chosen for himself a gentler avocation than his wife's, and one which brought him greater peace of mind—proprietor of the big red stable which spread itself over half a block, he had unconsciously defined himself, as well as his place of business, by having printed in huge white letters with black edging across the shingled roof, the words:
"HORSE REPOSITORY" PROP.J. CROCKS.
Here the tired horses could forget the long trail and the heavy loads, in the comfortable stalls, with their deep bedding of clean straw; and here also, James Crocks himself was able to find the cheerful company, who ate their meals in quietude of heart, asking no questions, imputing no motives, knowing nothing of human intrigue, and above all, never, never insisting that he tell them what he thought about anything! Most of his waking hours were spent here, where he found the gentle sounds of feeding horses, the honest smell of prairie hay and the blessed absence of human chatter very soothing and restful.
As time went on, and James Crocks grew more and more averse to human speech—having seen it cause so much trouble one way'n another, Mrs. Crocks found it was an economy of effort to board one of the stable boys, and that is how it came about that Mr. Bertie Peters found himself called from the hay-mow above the stable, to his proprietors' guest chamber, and all the comforts of a home, including nightly portions of raisin pie—and best of all, an interested and appreciative audience who liked to hear him talk. Mrs. Crocks as usual had made a good choice, for as Bertie talked all the time, he was sure to say something once in a while. A cynical teacher had once said of Bertie, that he never had an "unuttered thought."
But even though the livery stable happenings as related by Bertie gave Mrs. Crocks many avenues of information, all of her prescience could not be explained through that or any other human agency. The young doctor declared she had the gift or divination, was a mind reader, and could see in the dark! Many a time when he had gone quietly to the stable and taken out his team without as much as causing a dog to bark, removing his sleigh bells to further cover his movements, and stealing out of town like an absconding bank-teller, to make a call, returning the same way, still under cover of night, and flattering himself that he had fooled her this time, she would be waiting for him, and timed her call to the exact minute. Just as he got in to his room after putting his team away, his phone would ring and Mrs. Crocks would ask him about the patient he had been to see. She did not always call him, of course, but he felt she knew where he had been. There was no explanation—it was a gift!
Pearl had been rather a favorite with Mrs. Crocks when the Watsons family lived in Millford, but since they had gone to the farm and prosperity had come to them as evidenced by their better clothes, their enlarged house, their happier faces, and more particularly Pearl's success in her school work in the city, all of which had appeared in the local paper, for the editor was enthusiastic for his own town—Mrs. Crock's friendly attitude had suffered a change. She could put up with almost anything in her friends, but success!
But when she met Pearl on the street that day, her manner was friendly.
"Hello stranger," she said, "I hear you have been doing big things down there in the city, winnin' debates and makin' speeches. Good for you, Pearl—I always said you were a smart girl, even when your people were as poor as get-out. I could see it in you—but don't let it spoil you, Pearl—and don't ever forget you are just a country girl. But I am certainly glad you did so well—for your mother's sake—many a time I was dead sorry for her having to work so hard! It's a comfort to her now to see you doin' so well. Where have been now? I saw you comin' out of the doctor's office just now—anybody sick? You're not looking as pert as usual yourself—you haven't been powdering' your face, I hope! No one sick, eh? Just a friendly call then, was it? See here, Pearl—when I was young, girls did not do the chasin', we let the men do that, and I'm here to tell you it's the best way. And look here, there's enough girls after Doctor Clay without you—there was a man from the city telling Bertie at the stable that he seen our doctor in a box at the Opera with the Senator's daughter two weeks ago, and that she is fair dippy about him, and now that he is thinking of goin' into politics, it would be a great chance for him. The other side are determined to make him run for them against old Steadman, and the old lady is that mad she won't let his name be mentioned in the house. She says the country owes it to Mr. Steadman to put him in by acclamation! And the doctor hasn't accepted it yet. The committee went to see him yesterday and he turned them down but they won't take no for an answer, and they asked him to think it over—I suppose he told you all about it—"