Author of "Duncan Polite," "The Silver Maple," etc,
JENNINGS & GRAHAM
CINCINNATI, CHICAGO, KANSAS CITY,
Copyright, 1908, by
GEORGE H. DORAN
J. F. TAPLEY CO.
CHAPTER TOC I. THE HERMIT THRUSH SINGS II. AN ADVENTUROUS EXPEDITION III. HIS FIRST PATIENT IV. THE ORPHAN ARRIVES V. THE MILKSTAND CLUB VI. A FAMOUS PRACTITIONER VII. THE TRAINING OF THE ORPHANS VIII. A STRANGE COMRADESHIP IX. THE SONG IN THE NIGHT X. THE SECRET OF THE BLUE SILK GOWN XI. THE COMING OF ROSALIE XII. A RUSH FOR THE GOAL XIII. THE TREASURE-BOOK XIV. THE HERALD OF SPRING XV. THE ELOPEMENT XVI. THE CALL OF THE BANSHEE XVII. THE DAWN XVIII. THE END OF THE WAITING XIX. THE HERMIT SINGS AGAIN ETOC
THE HERMIT THRUSH SINGS
Then twilight falls with the touch Of a hand that soothes and stills, And a swamp-robin sings into light The lone white star of the hills.
Alone in the dusk he sings, And the joy of another day Is folded in peace and borne On the drift of years away. —BLISS CARMAN.
Other years, by the time the mid-June days were come, the little brook that sang through John McIntyre's pasture-field had shrunk to a mere jeweled thread of golden pools and silver shallows, with here and there only the bleached pebbles to mark its course. But this summer was of a new and wonderful variety. Just two or three brilliant, hot days, and then, as regular as the sun, up from the ocean's rim would rise dazzling cloud-mountains, piling themselves up and up into glorious towers and domes and battlements; and when the earth had begun to droop beneath the sun's blaze, with a great thunder signal they would fling their banners to the zenith, and pour from their dark heights a rain of silver spears, till the thirsty hills were drenched with bounty, and the valleys laughed and sang.
And so there had never before been such a June, not even in Acadia: such lavish wealth in orchard and garden, such abundant promise of harvest in fields choked with grain. And that was why John McIntyre's little brook ran brimful to the clumps of mint and sword-grass, high up on its banks, so content that it made no murmur as it slipped past the Acadian orchards to the sea.
John McIntyre leaned against the fence that bordered his hay-field, his feet deep in the soft grass at the water's edge. His straw hat was pushed back, showing the line where his white forehead met the tan of his face. His hands were in his pockets, a sprig of mint in his mouth; his eyes were half closed in lazy content.
Away down yonder, where the little stream met the ocean, the sun was sinking into the gleaming water, a great, fiery ball dropping from an empty sky. Far over in the east one lonely cloud reflected its glory, blossoming up from the darkening hills like a huge white rose, flushed with pink.
The fiery ball touched the ocean's rim, and the whole world kindled into a glory of color. The fading green fields brightened, quivered and glowed, as over them fell a veil of lilac mist. Through them wound the little river, a stream of molten gold. Just at John McIntyre's feet it passed lingeringly through a bed of rushes, where the dark green of the reeds turned the golden water to a glittering bronze. Their shadows wrought a marvelous pattern on the glossy surface, a magic piece of delicate bronze filagree such as nature alone could trace. Above it the swallows wheeled in the violet shadows, or soared up, flashing, into the amber light.
John McIntyre's eye followed their dizzy curves into the vast crystal dome. Yes; to-morrow would surely be a fine day. For to-morrow he was to take Mary and the children away down to that dazzling line of jewels on the horizon, where the winds and the waves of the Bay of Fundy tumbled about and buffeted one another joyously in the coolness of the ocean spray. It was their one great day in the year—the anniversary of their wedding. They had never missed its celebration in their eight happy years of married life. And there would be six altogether in the party to-morrow, besides Martin. How a man's family did grow, to be sure! The smiling content in John McIntyre's eyes deepened. He turned toward the white house on the face of the rising slope, half hidden in a nest of orchard trees. A woman's figure swayed to and fro beneath the vines of the veranda. The sunlight glanced on her fair hair and her light gown, as she swung from the green shadows into its golden pathway in time to the sweet notes of his baby's lullaby. The words came faintly across the hay-field:
"Abide with me, fast falls the eventide, The darkness deepens, Lord with me abide; When other helpers fail and comforts flee, Help of the helpless, oh, abide with me!"
Down the dim lane that led to a farther pasture-field a boy was driving a slow-moving line of cows. Around them a frisky terrier darted here and there, barking encouragingly. The boy was whistling gaily. He, too, knew that to-morrow promised to be fair.
A little breeze stirred the reeds in their bronze setting, and brought up a tang of the sea. The man slowly turned, and, skirting the edge of the hay-field, walked toward the house. His pathway ran parallel to the public highway, and from it there arose the clatter of a wagon approaching through a clump of woodland. John McIntyre waited, smiling.
Down the road it came, bumping noisily. The driver was a young man, with a dashing air and a merry, kindly eye. He was sitting on the extreme edge of the wagon-box, his feet swinging in the dust, and his hat stuck rakishly on the side of his head, and was giving forth to the echoing landscape a long, tragic "Come-all-ye" in an uproariously joyful voice:
"Come all yez true-born shanty byes, Whoever yous may be, I'd have yez pay atten-ti-on, To hear what I've got for to say, Concerning six Can-a-jen byes, Who manfully and brave, Did break the jam on the Gar-ry Rocks, And met a wat-e-ry grave!"
"Whoa! Hold up!" shouted John McIntyre, as the horses' heads appeared beyond the line of timber. "What do you mean by making such a row on the road at night and disturbing peaceable citizens?"
The driver pulled up, and the two eyed each other with that air of severity which men affect when they are afraid of displaying the fact that their love for each other is deep and tender.
"And what do you mean by holdin' up a peaceable citizen on the Queen's highway like this?" demanded the younger man, threateningly.
"You seem to be mighty gay about something. Another letter from Annie Laurie?"
"Aw, go an' choke yourself! No, siree. It'd be more like it if I was weepin' instead o' singin'. I bet you'd have been, if you'd heard the news I did to-day. Who d'ye suppose is to be your next-door neighbor?"
"I don't know."
"Satan Symonds—no less!"
John McIntyre's fine, gentle face expressed only surprised interest. "Well, let him come. He won't eat us."
"Won't he, though?" cried the young wagoner, vigorously. "He's got his eye on your farm, John McIntyre; yes, and one claw, don't forget that! I'd rather have the devil himself runnin' the next farm to me."
The man in the field leaned his bare, brown arms on the top of the fence-rails and surveyed his friend with an indulgent smile.
"I'm afraid he's closer than that to most of us already, Martin," he said, shaking his head. "Don't you worry about Joe Symonds. Why, we were boys at school together. There's no harm in him."
The younger man looked at his friend with mingled admiration and impatience in his eyes. "Lookee here, John, you're far too easy. You take a warning in time, and don't let that sneak get his claws any further into your wool than you can help. I'd shut off every bit of dealings with him. He's as sharp as a weasel. Don't you forget that he's got a hold on you already."
"Tuts! That's nothing. I'll pay that next fall, if the crops turn out only half as well as they look now."
The other shook his head. "John McIntyre," he said, with affectionate severity, "you're too honest for this world. Symonds belongs to a crooked stock. His father before him was crooked, and his grandfather was crookeder, and he's the crookedest o' the whole bunch. I—I"—he hesitated, boyishly—"I hate to go away thinkin' he's livin' next farm to you—that's all."
"Well, then, why don't you rent the River Farm yourself," said John McIntyre, banteringly, "instead of running off West like this? You and that little Ontario girl would run things just fine down there, and show Mary and me how to do it right."
A warm flush mingled with the tan on the younger man's cheek. "Maybe we will, some day," he said, with a wistful note in his voice, "but I'll have to wait till that kid is on his own feet. That won't be long, either. I bet he'll plank down all the money I've lent him before he's through college. And then I'll come scootin' home, an' there'll be a lot o' things happen all at once, 'round about that date."
"I hope so, Martin; I hope so. It's a big thing you're doing for that boy. I hope he'll never forget it."
"Not him! Bless me, it was a bigger thing he did for me. When he gets to be an M.D. I'll go back to Ontario and get little Annie Laurie, and we'll run Symonds into the river, and set up housekeeping on his tombstone. Well, so-long, John. We're goin' to have a bully day for your honeymoonin' to-morrow. Tell Mary to put up a clothes-basket o' them lemon pies, 'cause I'll be holler 'way down past my boot-soles. Good-night, John."
He started off noisily, but turned to shout back through a cloud of dust: "Mind you don't let that snake come any o' his monkey-shines over you, John! Good-night!"
The wagon rattled away down the lilac road, the driver's voice rising gaily, if jerkily, above its clatter:
"O-o-o-o-o-o-o-o! They broke the jam on the Gar-ry Rocks, And met a wat-e-ry grave!"
The other man was still smiling as he turned and made his way along the edge of the wood. Good old Martin! Where was there another such a friend as he? When John McIntyre's spirit rose in thankfulness to his Maker for the many temporal blessings lavished upon him, he never forgot to say, "And I thank thee, Lord, most of all, for Martin Heaslip!"
The fiery ball had sunk beyond the rim of the sea; the earth was still darkly radiant, pulsating with the thought of his departed glory. The great rose on the eastern horizon was fading to a tender mauve. The wooded glen was dark and silent. From its warm depths arose the perfume of the young, green earth. John McIntyre stood for a moment on the pathway, where its shadows met the lights of the open fields. He threw back his head and looked up into the quivering deep of the heavens. Involuntarily his eyes closed against their glory. He was overcome, too, with the glory of a sudden devout thought. God, away up there, encompassed by ineffable light and beauty, was like His own abiding place—too blindingly radiant to be gazed at by mortal eye, and therefore inscrutable and mysterious, but all-bountiful, nevertheless, sending down each day His largess of blessings, just as the heavens sent down their life-giving rains. At the thought John McIntyre took off his hat.
And as he stood, out of the hush of the woods there stole the last wondrous miracle of the departing day. The spirit of the twilight took voice, a marvelous voice, indescribably sweet. Away in the depths of the forest there arose a strain of music, the hermit thrush, in his woodland sanctuary, raising his hymn to the night. Calm and serene, carrying an exquisite peace, it floated out over field and hill and river, until the very heavens seemed flooded with its harmony.
"O hear all! O hear all! O holy, holy!"
That was what the voice seemed to say to John McIntyre as he stood in the lush June grass, just on the borderland between the purple and the amber, and held his breath to listen. God had sent more than one prophet into the wilderness to prepare His way, he thought in reverent awe. For this voice spoke to him of all his Maker's goodness. What more could a man desire than he possessed, he asked, in a rush of gratitude; to live out his life of healthful toil in God's free sunshine, with the happy home nest, holding Mary and their little ones safe under his eye; with a friend's strong arm to help when the day's burden grew heavy; with the world a garden of beauty and light, and at night the solemn voice of the hermit; calling him to prayer?
Once more the strain poured forth, pure, celestial:
"O hear all! O hear all! O holy, holy!"
John McIntyre turned and went up the hill, smiling, his face to the light.
AN ADVENTUROUS EXPEDITION
Sing a song of loving! Let the seasons go; Hearts can make their gardens Under sun or snow; Fear no fading blossom, Nor the dying day; Sing a song of loving That will last for aye! —ELIZABETH ROBERTS MACDONALD.
The village of Elmbrook had the finest situation for seeing what its neighbors were about of any place in the Province of Ontario. It stood on the crest of a high ridge, from which the whole earth fell away in beautiful undulations. From almost any house in the village one could see for miles down the four roads that wound up to it, and there was always a brisk competition in progress as to who should be the first to spy an approaching traveler.
Mrs. William Winters, who was the smartest woman in the township of Oro, made it her boast that many a time she had sighted a buggyload of her Highland relatives coming down from the MacDonald settlement above Glenoro, when there wasn't a bite to eat in the house, and she had fried the liveliest rooster in the barnyard and slapped up a couple of pies before they drove up to the gate.
For many years she easily maintained first rank among the Elmbrook sentinels, and might have done so to the end of her life had not one family taken an unfair advantage by calling in the aid of machinery. Silas Long, the postmaster, was a great student of astronomy, and could talk like a book on comets and northern lights, and all other incomprehensible things that sailed the heavens. So no one objected when he bought a telescope—in fact, the minister had advised it; but before long every one knew that while Si studied the celestial bodies at night the female portion of his family kept the instrument turned on objects terrestrial during the day. Old Granny Long, Silas' mother, was the one who put Mrs. Winters in the background. She was a poor, bedridden body, but lay there, day after day, happy as a queen, with her bed pulled up to the window, and the telescope trained on the surrounding country; and there was little went on between Lake Simcoe and the northern boundary of the township that she did not see. She knew the precise hour of a Monday morning at which the family washings were hung out, and which was the cleanest. It was she who made truancy an impossible risk, for no matter in what out-of-the-way place one might go nutting or swimming, Granny Long was sure to see, and report to the schoolmistress. It was from her, also, that her grandson received the heart-breaking intelligence that young Malcolm Cameron had kissed Marjorie Scott, the minister's oldest girl, at the jog in the road, on the way to prayer-meeting one evening, and if it had not been for her vigilance probably no one would have discovered that Sawed-off Wilmott, who managed the cheese factory down on the Lake Simcoe road, allowed his pigs to run in and out of the factory at will. Indeed, as the deposed and indignant Mrs. Winters often declared, a body didn't dast blow their nose inside the township without Granny Long hearing it through that everlasting spyglass.
But on this particular early May morning a hostile army might have marched up and seized Elmbrook unobserved. For there were great doings inside the village that demanded concentrated attention. All the bustle and activity of the place seemed to be gathered at one small house. In the lane, by the side door, stood a team of farm horses hitched to a large double buggy. A big, lumbering lad of about fifteen, half asleep, on the front seat, was holding the reins in his limp hands. But he was the only creature on the premises, except the horses, that was not acutely awake and supremely busy. Even the hens and geese, scratching and squawking about the garden, seemed to know that something unusual was in progress, and gathered about the door in excited groups. Inside the house there was a tremendous clatter; dishes rattled, feet ran hither and thither, voices called frantically. Every few moments a woman would dart out of the doorway, sending a startled whirl of chickens before her, deposit something in the back of the vehicle, and dash back again.
There seemed to be but one man on the premises, a big, benevolent-looking fellow, whose placid face wore an unaccustomed expression of nervous tension. He came stumbling out of the house, and walked abstractedly around the horses. He was making strange motions with his head, strongly indicative of a tendency to strangulation, and ever and anon he clutched his white collar and looked toward the house with an air of desperation. He made three aimless pilgrimages around the equipage and then paused, and addressed the goose and gander that had been following him: "We'll miss that train as sure as blazes," he remarked, stonily.
A slim little woman, in a faded lilac gown that matched her fading beauty, came staggering down the steps with a heavy basket. The big man put out one brawny arm and lifted it, without an effort, into the back of the vehicle. "We'll miss that train, Arabella, just as sure as blazes," he repeated.
The sound partially awoke the young man on the front seat. He turned and contemplated the basket with an injured air. "What in thunder are they taking a set of dishes for, Arabella?" he asked, wearily.
"It's jist a basket o' things Hannah put up. She's afraid the orphan might get hungry on the road home; and besides, she wanted to take some cookies an' cheese to Jake's folks in town."
The man was making another circuit of the buggy, followed closely by Isaac and Rebekah, the pet goose and gander. They came to a standstill in front of the steps, and he raised his face to the morning skies and shouted, as though invoking some higher power, "Hannah! Hannah! Are ye 'most ready?"
A woman's face shot out between the starched lace curtains of an upstairs window. It was a perfectly circular face, framed in thin, fair hair, which was parted in the middle, and brushed down so smooth and shiny that it looked like a coat of dull yellow paint. The face had the same good-humored, benevolent expression as the man's, mingled with the same strained air of desperate resolve. "'Most ready, Jake!" she mumbled through a mouthful of pins, "'most ready! Arabella! Arabella! Did you put in the bottle of raspberry vinegar?"
"Yes, yes, Hannah! Don't you worry?" cried the little faded lilac woman, reassuringly.
"An' the cookies, an' the pound cake, an' the home-made cheese?"
A third woman bounded down the steps, and charged through the chickens with a bundle of wrappings. She was a smart, tidy little body, with a sharp face and a determined manner. At the sight of her the big man's gloomy face took on an expression of hope.
"Susan! Susan Winters! D'ye think you could get us off?" he implored. "We'll miss that train as sure as blazes!"
She paid not the slightest attention. "Ras'berry vinegar!" she shrieked. "Hannah Sawyer, don't you know that there orphant may be an infant in arms, an' if it is, it'll die of colic on the road home if you fill it up with such stuff!"
The face which had disappeared from between the curtains came into view again, red and alarmed. "Mercy me, Susan! I didn't know. I'll give it to Jake's cousin. Arabella, did you put in the pound cake and the home——" The words died away amid the curtains.
"Couldn't you get us off somehow, Susan?" besought the big man again, looking down, helplessly, at the small woman, much as a becalmed frigate might at a noisy little tug.
"Well, Jake Sawyer, if half them trollops o' weemin in there would clear out and leave me alone, I'd 'a' had you at the station by this time. Hannah!" she addressed the window peremptorily, "you hurry up there an' come down, whether you're ready or not! I never agreed to this wild-goose chase after an orphant, but now that you're half ready you've got to go!"
There was another fleeting vision of the face between the curtains, and a choking voice gasped something about being "jist ready."
"What that orphant's got to have is a bottle o' fresh milk!" cried Mrs. Winters, darting back into the kitchen. A tall young lady, with a high pompadour, was striving to squeeze two large lemon pies into a small basket. She glanced up half apologetically as the village martinet entered.
"Hannah said last night she didn't know whatever she'd do if it cried on the road home, so ma thought I'd better bring over these pies. They keep awful well, and the basket'll easy slip under the seat in the train. When our Wes was a baby there was nothing would quiet him like a piece o' lemon pie."
"Well, Ella Anne Long, there won't be no orphant to bring home if you folks has your way!"
The exasperated little woman darted down the cellar steps, her voice coming up from the cool depths, indistinct, but plainly disapproving: "Lemon pie an' ras'berry vinegar! If Providence hasn't given folks children, it's a sign they didn't ought to have any! An' it's jist goin' clean against nature for them to go an' adopt one, that's what I'll always say!"
The young lady with the pies glanced irresolutely toward a stout woman who had just entered the back door, carrying a crock of butter. "You put them pies in, if Hannah wants them," whispered the newcomer, looking apprehensively toward the cellar, "an' say no more about it. Half the mischief in the world's done by talking about things." She hurried out to the vehicle and planted her contribution beside the bundle of wrappings.
"That there butter's for the children at the Home, Jake. Don't forget to give it to them poor things. Like as not they give 'em lard or someth'n'."
"Davy!" she called to the young man on the front seat.
"For pity's sake don't forget to call us when the train hoots for Cameron's Crossin'. 'Cause they've jist got to start then."
The boy in the buggy opened his eyes, stretched and yawned.
"I will, if it hoots good 'n' loud," he remarked, indifferently.
The maelstrom of hurry and bustle surged around Master David Munn, leaving him placid and undisturbed, but to the rest of the gathering the affair was of no small moment. Had the Sawyers been setting out on a polar expedition it is doubtful if Elmbrook could have been more exercised. For ten years, ever since their only baby had brightened their home for one week, and then gone back to heaven, Jake and Hannah Sawyer had wanted to adopt a child. That they had not done so long before was not their fault, but because the village in general, and Mrs. Winters in particular, who ruled the village, could never be brought to consent. For already the Sawyers were about as great a burden as Elmbrook could shoulder. They were the orphan children of the village themselves, and needed to be perpetually adopted. They were as good-hearted and lovable a pair as it was possible for man and woman to be; all the stray dogs and hungry cats and needy tramps found their way to the Sawyer house by unerring instinct, and Jake was never to be seen on his way to or from his mill without a troop of children climbing all over him. Nevertheless, he and his wife were a great care to their neighbors. Not once had Hannah Sawyer got through her spring house-cleaning or her fall pickling and preserving without help. Never yet had the two arrived in time at church or prayer-meeting, and they could not even go to town of a Saturday to do a half day's marketing without Mrs. Winters' eye on them. As for Jake's flour mill, if his partner, Spectacle John Cross, hadn't been a capable man, and an honest one, every one declared it would have gone up in smoke long ago.
So, naturally, the village was reluctant about adopting a third orphan; but Jake and Hannah had pleaded so, that the minister had advised Mrs. Winters to yield. And so the day had arrived when they were to take the train to a neighboring town, near which was an orphan home, and there they were to secure their long-yearned-for prize.
Of course, it was out of the question to suppose that the Sawyers could get up and catch the six-thirty train without assistance; so the Camerons had loaned their team, and the Longs their buggy, to take them to the station; Davy Munn was detailed to drive them, and all the rest of the village to get them ready.
Jake had just returned from a despairing march to the gate. "We'll miss that train, Harriet Munn, as sure as blazes!" he cried, with the air of one who has a disagreeable formula to recite at stated intervals, and is relieved to get it off his mind. He tramped back again with an agonized glance at the upstairs window.
The boy in the buggy stirred to life once more.
"What on earth's Hannah scratching 'round upstairs so long for? That orphant'll be growed up before they get it."
"She's jist ready," remarked his mother, hopefully, "an' there's no use talkin' about it, either. It jist wastes time. Jake!" she called, anxiously. "Are you sure you're all ready now?"
The man turned a desperate face toward her.
"I think so, Harriet. But if this collar don't bust soon an' give me a breath, I'll choke."
"Did you find your pipe?"
Mr. Sawyer dived absently into his coat pockets. "We'll miss that train as sure as—— Where in the nation's that pipe o' mine got to?" He rummaged despairingly. "Oh, I forgot! Susan Winters said I wasn't to take it, for fear the smoke might be bad for the orphant's eyes. D'ye think it would, Harriet?" he inquired, wistfully.
"Tuts!" she cried, disdainfully, "not a bit. Davy, there, was brought up on smoke. You go and get that pipe and put it in your pocket."
Mr. Sawyer started hopefully for the kitchen door. Davy Munn might not be exactly a bright and shining example to set for the bringing up of the orphan, but at least he looked healthy, and Jake was even more than usually helpless when bereft of his pipe. He paused on the way indoors to make one more despairing appeal to the power above. "Hannah! Aren't you 'most ready?"
Hannah's face, round and red, like the full moon, appeared for an instant from its cloudy curtain. "Harriet! Harriet Munn!" she called, "and you, Arabella, could you run up here a minit an' pin on these blue cuffs o' mine? An' I can't find my Sunday gloves, high nor low, nor my——"
The rest was lost in the curtains, but the two friends had already disappeared inside, and were charging up the stairs. Mrs. Winters, who was emerging from the kitchen door with the bottle of milk, turned and darted after them. "She ain't goin' to put them blue cuffs on that black dress!" she screamed.
"Ella Anne," whispered Jake, sidling up to the young lady with the high pompadour, "could you take a look 'round, and see if you can find my pipe? I can't seem to think where I've laid it."
Miss Long strolled around the kitchen, casting an absent eye here and there.
"Davy!" called a sharp voice from the upstairs window. "Davy Munn! Don't you dast to forget to call when the train hoots for Cameron's Crossing!"
The only calm person on the premises glanced up with half-closed eyes. "Hoh!" he ejaculated, planting his feet upon the dashboard and expectorating disdainfully in the direction of Rebekah's head, "Gabriel's trump'll hoot 'fore this shootin' match goes off! Gosh blame, if here ain't another one!"
A tall woman was coming up the lane. She was a stately, severe person, with iron-gray hair and a stern gray eye, behind which a kindly twinkle hid itself carefully from view. She had a commanding way, which, combined with the fact that she had taught the Elmbrook school for twenty years, and was the only woman in the village who neither feared Mrs. Winters nor regarded Granny Long's telescope, had earned her the title of the Duke of Wellington.
"Are you not away yet, David?" she demanded; and the boy sat up as though he had received an electric shock.
"N-no, but we're jist startin'," he said, apologetically. She passed him to where Mr. Sawyer stood in the doorway wrestling with his collar.
"Do you remember this, Jake?" she asked, holding up a baby's rattle. "I bought it for your little Joey, and put it away in my desk till he would be big enough to use it, and it's been there ever since. Maybe the new baby'll like it."
The man's eyes grew misty as he took the little toy and gazed at it tenderly. The woman's face had lost all its sternness; her gray eyes were very kind.
"Well, well, well," he stammered, with masculine dread of giving expression to anything like sentiment. "It—it looks quite—new." He hesitated, then his face brightened as he found himself once more on familiar ground. "Say, d'ye think you could help them weemin folks in there to find my pipe? It seems to have got laid away somewheres, an' I'm afraid we're goin' to miss that train as sure as—anything." He ended up lamely, making the polite alteration out of respect for the Duke's dignity.
Miss Weir marched into the kitchen. It was a scene of wild disorder.
"Hello!" giggled Miss Long. "We're having an awful time. Hannah ain't ready, of course."
"Isn't ready, Ella Anne."
"Well, isn't or ain't, it's all the same; she's not started yet. An' mind you, Mrs. Munn's upstairs helping, too, and her expecting the new doctor any minit. Say, Miss Weir, when she comes down, ask her whether he's married or not, aw, do. She's the closest creature. I can't get anything out of her."
Before the schoolmistress could rebuke Miss Long's undue curiosity regarding the young doctor Mrs. Winters came flying down the stairs, having successfully routed the blue cuffs.
"Good-morning, Miss Weir. We're here yet, you see. If these folks ain't a caution, and no mistake! Davy! Davy Munn! Are you listening for that there train?"
"Did ye look on the pantry shelf?" whispered Jake, cautiously, putting his head in at the door, and avoiding Mrs. Winters' eye. "Sometimes I leave it there."
"Just like you," grumbled the tidy schoolmistress, rummaging among the cans of spice and pickle bottles.
"Perhaps it's in the sewing-machine drawer," suggested Mrs. Munn, who had come panting down the stairs. "Hannah's jist ready, Jake," she added, hopefully.
"What'll you do if the new doctor comes on this train?" asked Miss Long, peeping at her pompadour in the little mirror above the sink.
"I dunno," answered the new doctor's housekeeper. "It's no use talkin' about it, anyhow. There's more harm done by talkin' over things than anything else in the world."
Miss Long shrugged her shoulders impatiently. That was Mrs. Munn's invariable answer. She had been old Dr. Williams' housekeeper for ten years, and had met all questions regarding his private affairs by the vague formula, "I dunno." A close woman was Mrs. Mum, as the village called her; a treasure of a woman, old Dr. Williams had said, when he recommended her to his young successor.
Ella Anne sighed. "That pipe must 'a' fell down the well," she remarked, with an accent of despair that was not all caused by the supposed catastrophe.
"Is he going to have them three downstairs rooms for his offices, or only two?" she ventured again.
Mrs. Munn stared vacantly. "I dunno," she said. "Mebby he is."
"There! If there isn't that troublesome pipe right under your nose, Ella Anne!" cried Miss Weir, pouncing upon it where it lay on the window-sill. "Your head is so full of the new doctor you can't see straight. Here, Jake!"
She started for the door, but before she reached it a great many things happened. First, Mrs. Sawyer, gowned, bonneted and shawled, though the sun promised to be blazing hot before it set, came down the stairs at a reckless pace. She was followed by Miss Arabella Winters, half hidden beneath a bundle of coats and wraps suited for children of all ages. As the two ran for the door, Mrs. Winters with a bottle of milk, Miss Long with a forgotten pie, and Mrs. Munn, who had snatched up a basket of newly laundered clothes, under the mistaken idea that they, too, were for the orphan, all rushed at the same instant for the same portal, and jammed together between the door-posts. The Duke of Wellington, still grasping the rescued pipe, threw herself upon the human wedge and drove it, helter-skelter, down the steps; and simultaneously there arose, loud and clear, not from Cameron's Crossing, some miles distant, but just from the ravine bridge, scarcely a quarter of a mile away, the shrill whistle of the train.
The six women turned and looked at each other in an instant's paralyzed dismay. Jake Sawyer opened his mouth and gave forth a slight variation of his despairing motto, "We've missed that train, as sure as blazes!"
No one had courage to deny the assertion. When the Lakeview & Simcoe Railroad Company laid a line across the township of Oro they had treated Elmbrook in a shabby fashion by placing the station a mile from the village. The inconvenience of this arrangement was largely obviated, however, by the obliging ways of Conductor Lauchie McKitterick. For if any one in the village was late in starting for the station, all one had to do was to wave a towel at the back door as the train slowed up over the ravine bridge, and Lauchie would wait at the station. Of course, it was understood that the belated traveler was already on the way thither, taking the path across McQuarry's fields. But of what use to wave all the bed-sheets in Elmbrook this morning? For though a delay of half an hour or so was neither here nor there to the Lakeview & Simcoe Limited Express, it was impossible to expect even so neighborly a body as Lauchie to wait until the big, heavy buggy and Cameron's farm team should be driven along the cross-road and down the concession. And as for Hannah Sawyer's 185 pounds being transported across the fields and over the fences in less time—not to speak of all the orphan's clothes and the pies and the pound cake and the crock of butter—well, there was no use thinking about it!
But Mrs. Winters, the indomitable, rose to even this emergency. She sprang to the buggy and began dragging out the baskets. "We'll stop him at the bridge!" she screamed. "We can run down the back lane! Davy Munn, you jump out of that rig an' run ahead! No—Miss Weir, you go! Lauchie'll have to stop if you tell him!"
It was the first time in her life Mrs. Winters had ever paid a tribute to the Duke of Wellington's power. Though it was wrung from her by the exigencies of the case, the schoolmistress accepted it. She snatched a white garment off the clothes-line, darted through the barnyard, and ran at top speed down the back lane toward the track, waving it on high, all unconscious that it was Jake's white mill overalls. Close upon her flying footsteps came the orphan-adopting expedition: Mrs. Winters, the bottle of milk leaving a white-sprinkled trail behind her; Jake, dragging the heaps of wraps and the basket of provisions, with which little Miss Arabella was vainly trying to assist him; Ella Anne Long, the basket of pies on her arm, the forgotten one in her other hand; Mrs. Munn, with the crock of butter; poor Hannah herself far behind; and lastly, Isaac and Rebekah, their necks outthrust, their wings wide, streaming along like a pair of comets, with a long, spreading tail of hens, all noisily hopeful that this unusual commotion meant an unusual meal.
Down the lane zigzagged the swift procession, Hannah floundering farther and farther in the rear. She raised her voice once in a despairing protest: "Oh, Jake! Jake!" she wailed, "I've forgot my false teeth!"
Her husband, desperately intent on his destination, did not hear the appeal, but the little woman who was generaling the flying column did, and realized that this sign of giving way must be peremptorily crushed.
"You'll jist have to gum it, Hannah!" she shrieked relentlessly over her shoulder. "Come on, come on!"
Master Davy Munn, still enthroned calmly upon the front seat of the useless vehicle, contemplated the tumultuous line with supreme contempt. Mr. Munn never hurried. Should all Elmbrook have risen up one morning and gone hurtling down to Lake Simcoe, it would have left him seated alone, undisturbed, on its vacated ridge.
He turned leisurely and chirped to the horses. "Jim Cameron lent yous to haul that outfit to the station," he complained, as they lumbered out through the gateway, "but I'll be darned if I promised to run 'em there, so yous kin git home."
Meantime, the vanguard of the Orphan Rescue Expedition had reached the railroad track. Just on the outskirts of the village lay a deep ravine, spanned by a bridge. Over this the train moved slowly, and here, with his eye on the lookout for white signals, the conductor spied the Duke of Wellington in the middle of the track, waving a white banner. Being an Elmbrook man, Lauchie took in the situation at once. Jake and Hannah were late, of course; too late even to run across the fields while he waited at the station. He gave the signal, and the train slowed down, the snorting engine coming to a standstill within a foot of the flaunting garment.
Engine Driver Nick Boyle, who would have willingly stopped at Elmbrook every day in the week, to talk over the back fences with the pretty girls, but who objected on principle to all that his chief did, poked his head out of his black box, grimy and disapproving. "What in thunder's Brass Buttons up to now?" he demanded. Miss Weir, who had thrashed Nick times without number in his youth, fixed him with her steady gray eye.
"He stopped because I signaled him to, Nicholas Boyle," she said tartly.
The Duke was still standing in the middle of the track, waving the overalls, as though the train were a wild animal to be kept quiet by having its attention diverted. The sight tickled the engineer.
"Golly, it must be a weddin'," he remarked, facetiously. "Who's gettin' hitched? You, Miss Weir?"
"Hold your tongue!" she commanded, and the abashed young man collapsed into his box.
By this time Hannah had arrived, and was being helped aboard. The wraps, the pies, the bottle of milk, the crock of butter, the basket of provisions, and her husband, were bundled after her. The group of friends stood waving good-by with sunbonnets and aprons, the schoolmistress, still holding Jake's forgotten pipe, and still faithfully brandishing the overalls, stepped off the track to let the train start, and the expedition was just drawing a breath of relief, when they were suddenly thrown back into their former state of consternation. Conductor Lauchie leaned down from the platform, and, with his thumb pointing over his shoulder, announced in a loud whisper, "Losh keep us, I would be forgetting! He'll be aboard, Harriet Munn! Your new pill-mixer'll be aboard!"
Mrs. Munn stared at him in dismay. "Not him! Not the new doctor!"
The conductor looked abashed, as though he had brought the wrong parcel from town. "Och, he would be as fine a lookin' young man as you'll see in Oro!" he whispered, apologetically. "Will I jist be puttin' him off here?"
"Don't you dast to do such a trick, Lauchie McKitterick!" cried Mrs. Winters, shaking her fist in his face. "Harriet's been up helpin' Hannah all mornin', an' she ain't ready for him. Take him on to the station, an' we'll run up an' help her red up before he comes. An' mind you go slow!"
The conductor hastily acquiesced. He was a native of Elmbrook, and knew his place when Susan Winters was giving orders. "Awl aboard!" he shouted.
The group gave one final, farewell flourish toward the train, and then turned and sped up the lane to meet the new emergency. Jake and Hannah, their faces settled once more into their accustomed expressions of good-humored placidity, leaned from their windows and waved their hands. Hannah smiled a toothless but happy smile, and Jake's eyes beamed a great content as he sat back in his seat, and, holding the rattle between his teeth, fumbled happily for a match. He looked across at his wife, and their eyes met in a rapturous smile; for at last, after years of striving and longing, they were on their way to the fulfilment of their great ambition; they were to have a child of their very own!
And so, as the train sped in one direction, and the group of women in another, no one noticed the stooped, gaunt man who dropped from the rear end of the baggage car, and, creeping down the bank of the ravine, disappeared into the green tangle of underbrush.
HIS FIRST PATIENT
Oh, the dainty, dainty maid to the borders of the brook Lingered down as lightly as the breeze; And the shy water-spiders quit their scurrying to look; And the happy water whispered to the trees. —C. G. D. ROBERTS.
Dr. Gilbert Allen, gold-medalist of the Toronto School of Medicine, and just home from a post-graduate course in London and Edinburgh, had his coat off, his sleeves rolled up, and was busy arranging bottles on the shelf of his tiny dispensary. He was whistling cheerily. It was young Dr. Allen's nature to be cheerful even under adverse circumstances, and this morning all his prospects were bright. For after years of spending money—and largely another man's money, too—he was at last on his feet. His college life had been a very happy one, it is true; so, also, had been the years since his graduation, the first two spent as house surgeon in a Toronto hospital, the last, and best of all, in the Old Land. They had given him breadth and experience; but though Gilbert was willing to concede that experience teaches, he was equally assured that she does not pay bills. Now he was a free man, and master of his profession. He used the last phrase modestly; he was ready and anxious to make the mastery more complete, and at the same time to win a name for himself and a home and a fortune for Rosalie.
As he stacked the bottles noisily in their places he glanced around the little room, and wished he might turn a handspring, just to let off steam and be able to write to Harwood and the other fellows to say his office was big enough to admit of the feat. He wisely crushed the desire, for he recognized the fact that he was under surveillance. Just outside the windows stretched a little lawn, with a star-shaped flower-bed in the middle. Up and down this green space, following a leisurely and devious course, journeyed a lawnmower, propelled by a long-limbed youth. His straw hat hung limply from his head, his coat flapped limply from his shoulders, and his trousers bulged limply from his big top-boots. Nevertheless, he had a certain lumbering airiness of movement, and such a mien of lofty indifference to his surroundings that the beholder was impressed with the idea that he was a very sprightly gentleman indeed, and need never work unless he was so minded. Just why he should spend a whole morning cutting a few square yards of short May grass was a problem the doctor had not yet solved. But even in his brief acquaintance, Gilbert had learned that the actions of this young man, who had entered into an important relation to himself as groom and general factotum, were not to be measured by any rational standard.
The slow clatter of the lawnmower grew louder, and finally ceased beneath the window. The doctor turned, a bottle in each hand. The open sash was filled by a straw hat which formed the frame for a broad, smiling countenance.
"Want any help?" the visitor inquired, genially.
"No, thank you," answered the doctor, adding, pointedly: "You have other work to do, you know."
"Oh, I ain't worryin' about that," responded his man-servant, reassuringly. "Old Doc. Williams uster say he'd make kindlin' wood o' me, when I didn't hustle round, but it never fizzed on me." He hung himself over the window-sill with a sigh of satisfaction, and gazed admiringly at his employer.
A wire door, leading from the veranda to the main portion of the house, swung slowly open, and a woman, wearing a big, blue-checked apron, and carrying a long pewter spoon, looked out anxiously. "Davy!" she called in a loud whisper, "why don't you get on with your work?"
"I'm helpin' the doctor with his mixtures," he answered, in a tone of remonstrance.
The woman's tight mouth closed emphatically. "Well, hish!" she said, raising her spoon warningly. "Susan Winters is sittin' on her porch, an' she'll hear if you don't look out. It's no use talkin' about things, anyhow."
The wire door creaked again, Mrs. Munn sailed away, and her son hung himself farther over the window-sill. Evidently he had inherited none of his mother's reticence.
"Say," he ventured, confidentially, "Elsie Cameron's home; came yesterday, the very day you came. Ain't that funny?"
The young doctor did not seem to see anything humorous in the coincidence. He glanced meaningly toward the lawnmower.
"I bet she thinks it's a kind of a come-down to come back an' work on the farm after doin' nothin' but sing for so long. She's a bully singer, I tell you, only she's got red hair."
He waited for some comment, but as there was none forthcoming, except a louder clatter of bottles, he continued: "Everybody thinks she's so awful good-lookin', but I don't think she's half as pretty as Jean—that's her sister. Say"—his voice sank to a whisper—"did anybody tell you about her sister yet?"
There was a note of strained anxiety, almost amounting to terror, in the boy's tone, that commanded Gilbert's attention. He looked around. Perhaps it was some serious illness, and the new doctor was badly in need of a patient.
"No. What's the matter with her?" he asked, interestedly.
Davy glanced about him fearfully, as though he were about to disclose the young woman as the author of a deadly crime. He leaned still farther into the room. "She's—she's my girl!" he exploded, in a loud whisper.
The new doctor turned his back suddenly. There was a long pause. "I must congratulate you," he said at last, in a smothered voice.
Davy gazed at his broad back uncertainly. He had heard that formula before, but it had always been delivered to the newly wed. He was afraid the doctor was under a pleasant misapprehension.
"We're jist kind o' keepin' company—yet," he explained carefully. "An' Jean, she's an awful girl to laugh. An' then there's old lady Cameron—that's her mother. She's a blasted bother. There's never a fella' goes to see them girls but she has to sit 'round an' do all the talkin'. It ain't fair." His tone was deeply aggrieved. "You won't like it any better'n' me if you keep company with Elsie," he added, after a pause.
The doctor turned, and his expression was so alarming that the youth slipped back several feet into the garden. "That's what everybody's been sayin'," he stammered, in self-defense. "All the folks was sayin' you'd be sure to keep company with Elsie when she came home. I thought it would be kind o' handy 'count o' me goin' to see Jean. We'd be company home, nights."
The indignation that had been rising in the young doctor's gray eyes vanished. He turned quickly to his bottles and indulged in a spasm of silent laughter. But his face was very grave when he looked around again. "Look here, David," he said firmly, "I'd advise you not to discuss my affairs. Neither you nor the rest of the village had better even speculate upon them. You're almost dead sure to be wrong. Now go on with your work."
The boy slowly and reluctantly detached himself from the window-sill, and set the lawnmower on another zigzag journey. His hat, his coat, and his trousers hung limper than ever. He moved wearily, and at the end of the garden he sat down under a cherry-tree to muse on the strange, sad fact that his new employer promised to be not one whit more companionable than old Doc. Williams.
The young doctor finished his work, and went up the stairs three steps at a time, making a commotion that brought Mrs. Munn from her pie-baking in hurried alarm. He washed his hands, resumed his coat, and, leaning out of the window, wished with all his might that he had something to do. He was seized with an honest, pagan desire that some one would get sick, or that there might be an accident in the mill—-just a mild accident, of course; or, better still, that that queer specimen of humanity sitting under his cherry-tree, down there, should be smitten with paralysis. He confessed that this last seemed the most hopeful outlook, then laughed at himself for his monstrous wishes. He seized his hat and ran downstairs. He would go out and explore the village. He must do something, he warned himself, or he would be in danger of rushing into the street and lacerating the first man he met, just for the sake of sewing him up again.
He passed out to the gate. The long, shady village street, bordered by tall, swaying elms, stretched away on either hand, peaceful and deserted. To the new doctor the place looked half asleep, and uncompromisingly healthful. The clear May morning air was filled with a chorus of robins and orioles. A bluebird in the orchard bordering his lawn was singing ecstatically. Far up the street the musical cling-clang of the blacksmith's anvil, and from the depths of the ravine, in the opposite direction, the hum of the sawmill, served only like a lullaby to make the silence more dreamy.
He stepped out upon the boardwalk that ran along the street. Overhead the maples and elms met, making a cool tunnel. In this green canopy nest-building was being carried on, on a great scale and with tremendous commotion. The doctor picked his way carefully along the undulating surface of the sidewalk, for the boards were damp and rotten, and liable to fly up at one end and break a limb; and though he was anxious for a patient, he did not fancy serving in that capacity himself.
The quiet houses, surrounded by their demure gardens, gave no indication that he was being watched from behind many a window-blind. Neither was there any stir to give hint that from the upstairs window of the village shop at the end of the street a telescope was pointing at him, while Granny Long informed the breathless circle about her bed that his necktie was of blue-gray satin, and that his hair was thick and wavy.
Quite unconscious of the sensation he was creating, the new doctor walked on. He passed a tiny white house set in a square garden bright with early blossoms. A little woman, in a faded lilac gown, sat sewing on the porch, and a green parrot, in a cage at her side, stalked to and fro on his perch, muttering sullenly. At sight of the stranger the bird gave an indignant stare, then swung, head downward, from his perch and shouted, "Oh, Lordy, ain't we havin' a slow time!"
The remark so exactly coincided with the new doctor's sentiments that he looked over the cedar hedge at the speaker with a feeling of friendly regard. But the little lilac lady seemed quite of another mind. She sprang up in dismayed haste, scattering thimble and scissors out on the pathway, and, seizing the cage, fled with it indoors.
Gilbert passed on, feeling that there was one creature, at least, in this new place who was in sympathy with him. His eye traveled with satisfaction along the double row of trim houses and neat gardens; they spoke of thrift and prosperity. There was only one exception, the place next to the home of the ennuied parrot. Hens scratched merrily in the midst of desert flower-beds, or nested under the lilac bushes, a handsome goose and gander passed in stately promenade up and down the front veranda, and the whole place had a happy, go-as-you-please air.
The last in the line was the schoolhouse, a big, square building, scarred and worn, standing in the middle of a yard trampled bare of grass, and surrounded by the forlorn skeleton of a fence. From the battered pump in one corner, to the dilapidated woodshed in the other, the whole premises had the appearance of having just weathered a long and terrible siege. The commanding voice of the Duke of Wellington coming through the open windows added to its military suggestiveness.
When he had passed the school the stranger found himself at the end of the village. The row of houses stopped at a rustic bridge spanning a ravine. Away up this valley he could see the tall smokestack of the sawmill, with its waving plume of smoke coming up out of a fairy mass of delicate May foliage. The mill-pond gleamed, green and golden brown, between the willow clumps along its margin. From the dam a stream issued in a little, noisy, silver waterfall. It babbled across the road, under the old bridge, among bracken and mint, and wound this way and that through the deep valley until it lost itself in a swamp far to the south. A hard, beaten path led from the street down into the gold and green depths. It was an alluring path, and Gilbert stepped into it. He slid and stumbled down the steep bank, catching at blossoming dogwood bushes and fragrant cedar boughs. A boyish light came into his eyes as they caught the flash of the tiny river; here green under an overhanging willow, there snow white under a rain of cherry blossoms, now silver as it ran around a shallow curve, and again gold in the sunlight filtered through a tangle of elm boughs and bitter-sweet.
The little valley was as level as a floor at the bottom, carpeted with vivid green grass spangled with dandelions, and intoxicating with the perfume of the wild-cherry blossoms. A cow stood knee deep in the stream, and another was feeding off the underbrush half way up the bank. At a sudden curve in the brook a great elm stretched up from a bank of blue violets. On its topmost limb, swinging gaily, an oriole was blowing gloriously on his little golden trumpet.
Gilbert flung himself down on the violet bank. He had been born and bred a country boy, and now, after years of city life, the old charm of the free open spaces of earth and sky came over him stronger than ever. He wondered if Rosalie would not be happy, too, if she were to come down into this green-and-gold Paradise with him, and listen to the brook babbling along over the pebbles. And yet, how could he ask her to leave the wealth and ease of her city home and come to this dull village? He reflected, with a deep sigh, upon the humiliating fact that Rosalie would not consider the proposition for an instant, even if he had the courage to make it. Well, he would work hard, and by and by he would go back to the city, and then she would listen—she must listen. He leaned back against the elm and dreamed of that day. He could see the light in Rosalie's eyes as he had seen it that last day in Toronto. He would have been happier to-day if they had not been so bright and merry on the occasion of his departure. But what beautiful eyes they were! Blue—so blue; as blue as—he was gazing at something the exact color—a spot of vivid azure that had appeared from among the trees at the top of the opposite bank. It moved, and Gilbert saw that it was the figure of a girl in a violet gown. She made a pretty rural picture as she stood for a moment poised upon the fence-top, a white sunbonnet on her head and a basket on her arm. She descended sedately, holding her basket with great care, and tripped down the zigzag path to the edge of the stream. Here some big, white stones, peeping from the golden pools, made a passage to the other side, and the trim lassie began to pick her way daintily across. Gilbert watched her with amused pleasure. He seemed to have stepped into some old rustic ballad. What was that song the boys used to sing at college? Something about the pretty, dainty maiden, going a-haying, or a-Maying, or a-something, all of a bright May morning, tra la la! This one was just like her, only she should be in her bare feet, and carry a pail and a stool, and be coming down to milk that cow standing so placidly in the stream. He felt an almost irresistible desire to sing out, "Where are you going, my pretty maid?" If he were only a gallant youth, in a velvet cloak and silken hose, he reflected, instead of a commonplace nineteenth-century young man in gray tweed, he would go down the bank and assist her over. The situation absolutely demanded it.
Suddenly he arose, with a smothered laugh. He would have to take a part in the pretty comedy, after all, for the dainty damsel was in distress. She stood poised on a stone in midstream, like a bird desiring, yet not daring, to fly. A long leap was needed to land her on the next stone, and she paused, perplexed, evidently mindful of her eggs. Gilbert came quickly down the bank, his eyes twinkling.
"May I help you across?" he asked, coming toward her, hat in hand. He felt that the words fell into a sort of jaunty rhythm of their own accord.
The girl looked up quickly, startled at his sudden appearance. The movement caused her sunbonnet to slip back, revealing her face, and Gilbert felt suddenly and unaccountably abashed, for the girl looked straight into his amused face with a glance of grave and unapproachable dignity. He did not even notice, at first, how pretty she was. He saw only those serious eyes. They were wonderful eyes, too; deep, and of a strange, elusive amber, like the water at her feet. They held the mystery of its deep brown pools, and the light of the golden flecks upon its surface. There were the same brown shadows and golden lights repeated in the masses of bronze hair piled like a crown on the top of her shapely head.
From some impulse he did not understand, Gilbert felt a vague desire to apologize for his very existence. It seemed as though that searching glance had read the frivolous thoughts in which he had been indulging. He wondered, in deep mortification, if she had noticed any faint tinge of familiarity in his manner.
"I—I beg your pardon. I hope I did not startle you," he said, half stammering. "I hope you will let me help you across."
"Thank you, you are very kind." Her voice was low, and very musical, her manner was dignity itself. "I did not know the spaces were so wide." She spoke with a frank simplicity, looking at him very honestly and very gravely, and Gilbert felt tacitly rebuked. He was struck by the fact that this country girl, in the coarse dress and sunbonnet, whom he had whimsically likened to a rustic lass, to be helped across a brook for a kiss, had instantly, by a mere glance, clothed the situation in an impregnable mantle of conventionality. He took her basket and held out his hand, feeling as though he were about to assist a princess from her carriage. With a touch she sprang past him and stepped quietly up the bank. "Thank you," she said, sedately, as she took the basket from him. "I think it is Dr. Allen to whom I am indebted, is it not?"
Gilbert clutched his hat again. "Yes, I am very fortunate to have had the privilege," he said, feeling with relief that he was beginning to recover.
"I am Miss Cameron," she said, with a stateliness that seemed to convert the sunbonnet into a crown, and the basket of eggs into a scepter.
Gilbert's mind dived back into the remembrance of his stableboy's remarks of a few minutes earlier. What had he said? He could not remember, except that the village had designated some one of that name as the object of his future attentions, and there was something, too, about red hair. He thought her hair beautiful—quite wonderful, indeed, in its bronze splendor.
He murmured some polite remark, and was wondering if he might ask to be allowed to carry the basket of eggs up the hill, or if he would be committing an outrage by so doing, when he was saved from making a second mistake by a shout from the opposite bank:
"Elsie! Elsie, lassie! Would yon be the new doctor body ye've got there?"
The voice came from a little old man, hobbling, with the aid of a stick, along the water's edge. His small body was almost bent double, and his whole person seemed engulfed in a huge straw hat, from under which appeared his only prominent feature—a long, wispy, red beard.
The girl gave a little inarticulate sound, and Gilbert glanced at her. Her stately gravity had vanished, her face was lit with a radiant smile. She ran down to the brink of the stream.
"Yes, Uncle Hughie," she called, in a clear, silvery tone, with a new caressing quality in it, "it's Dr. Allen. Do you want to speak to him?"
"Yes, yes. Oh, yes, indeed. Come away across, man! Come away! There's a poor, sick body lying down the glen a wee bit. Come away, man, and try your hand on him whatefer."
Gilbert glanced at the girl again, half doubtfully. This was so unlike the first call to a patient which he had so often pictured that he was taken unawares. She seemed to divine his thoughts.
"Will you go?" she said gently. "It is my uncle. He is always helping some one in trouble. Perhaps there has been an accident in the mill."
"Of course, of course, I shall be glad," he cried, filled with compunction; and with a word of farewell he sprang nimbly across the stepping-stones.
"Do you need my help, Uncle Hughie?" called the silvery voice behind him.
"Och, it's the good lassie you will be!" came from under the straw hat. "No, no. It is jist a poor tramp body, and the doctor will be curing him."
Gilbert reached the other side, and the queer little figure hobbled toward him with outstretched hand. He took off his hat and made a stately bow, and the young man looked at him with pleasure and surprise. The little old man's face was wrinkled and brown, and bore the marks of pain, but his eyes shone out with a warm, kind brilliancy that went straight to the stranger's heart. They were the girl's eyes, exactly, but with none of her lofty reserve.
"Ech! hech!" he cried, disappearing once more within the hat. "Indeed and indeed, and it's the new doctor! Hoch, yes, yes, it is welcome you will be to Elmbrook. Eh, and we would not be expecting such a fine-looking one. Indeed, no! And it would be a fine Scottish name, too, oh, a fine name indeed, Allen. And—you would not be hafing the Gaelic, I suppose?" His eyes gleamed wistfully from between the hat and the whiskers.
"No," said Gilbert, smiling. "My mother spoke it, but she did not teach us children."
"Och, och, well, well," he said, reassuringly. "It will not be the way of the young Canadians, and perhaps it is better. Come away, now, come away! I would be finding a poor tramp body down the glen here, ech, ech, the peety of it! The peety of it!"
He hobbled away ahead, talking volubly. Gilbert glanced back as he followed, but the princess in the violet gown had disappeared.
"Eh, now, it would jist be the good Lord that would be sending him to me, indeed. Eh, the Almighty would be giving me everything in the world that I could be wanting. But I will jist be an awful complainin' body, and sometimes I would be saying, if I would only have the chance to help some one. That's it!" he cried, turning a flashing eye upon Gilbert. "That will be the only thing worth while in this world. Eh, it is you that will be finding that out, Dr. Allen, and a happy man you will be, oh, yes, indeed. It is the doctor bodies that has the chance." He stopped and turned again. "Eh, did ye ever think He would be a doctor Himself?" he added, in an awed whisper. "Yes, yes, most folks now would be thinkin' He would jist be a preacher. But I would be rastlin' things out sometimes at night, when the rheumatics would be keeping me awake. The rheumatics would be a fine thing to make a body think, doctor, oh, yes, a fine thing, and I would be wishing one night that old Dr. Williams would be curing me, and then I would be rastlin' it out that He would jist be a doctor Himself. Oh, hoch, yes, yes, indeed it would be wonderful; yes, yes, wonderful!"
The young man regarded him curiously. Some strange emotion stirred in his heart: a memory of those days when his mother made the Great Physician a very real person to him. It seemed so long ago that he had almost forgotten, and yet he experienced a feeling as though he had suddenly come face to face with a long-lost friend.
"I am afraid such rheumatism as you must endure would keep me from thinking of anything but myself," he said, his professional eye taking in the signs of the painful disease in the old man's crippled frame.
His companion gave a joyous laugh. "Hoots! It will jist be a wee tickle sometimes. But I will be an awful complainin' body, doctor. Old Dr. Williams could be telling you I would be a terrible burden to him, indeed; and you will be finding me a bother. Yes, oh, yes. That is why I would be so pleased that the Almighty would be sending me a chance to help. For I would jist be grumblin' and a burden all the days—eh, yes, yes, och, hoch!" His voice suddenly dropped to a pitying, caressing tone, such as one might use to a hurt child. "Here he is," he whispered. "Eh, the peety of it!"
A man was half sitting, half lying, on the grassy bank of the stream, supported by a pile of balsam boughs. His long body, in its worn, patched clothing, was pitifully emaciated. His face was ghastly, and deeply marked with the sad lines that grief alone can trace. His hair was white, and yet, somehow, he did not seem aged, except by suffering. He opened his eyes as the young doctor bent over him. There was the pathetic look in them of an animal that had received its death-wound. But as the light of consciousness returned there was resentment in his glance as well as pain. He looked like a man who had been pushed to the edge of despair, but who could still fight, not in hope, but in fierce anger against his lot.
"He must be moved to some house at once," the doctor announced after a brief examination. "He seems to be suffering from exhaustion and hunger."
Old Hughie Cameron was fussing about him, making inarticulate, pitying remarks. "Oh, yes, yes, he will jist be coming with me, then," he cried eagerly. "The Cameron door will always be on the latch indeed! Oh, yes, the folks will be real pleased, whatefer."
The sick man looked up suddenly and spoke with unlooked-for strength. "I will accept charity from no living man," he said curtly.
"Hoots, toots!" cried Uncle Hughie, in gentle remonstrance. "Charity! It would jist be a bit of a neighborly act, man! Come away, now, come." His voice was coaxing. "Here is the doctor, now, waiting to help you. Yes, yes, a fine new doctor, indeed," he added enticingly.
"Come," said Gilbert authoritatively. "You must have food and shelter at once. You can't stay here."
The man opened his eyes again. "I haven't a cent of money," he said weakly, but defiantly. "But if you will take me to some place I can rent, I will earn money and pay for it after. But I will enter no man's house. I will stay here and die—it would be best, anyway." He closed his eyes indifferently.
Old Hughie suddenly plucked the puzzled young doctor's sleeve. "There will be an old shanty down the glen here, a wee step," he whispered, "jist by the Drowned Lands. It belongs to Sandy McQuarry, but he would be giv——" He paused, for the fierce eyes opened upon him—"renting it," he substituted hastily.
"I will go there," whispered the sick man, and Gilbert stooped and raised him gently.
"And what will your name be?" asked Uncle Hughie, striving in his pity to say something friendly which this strange man would not resent.
"My name," said the man slowly, "my name"—he stood and looked about him in a dazed way—"yes, yes, it's McIntyre—John McIntyre." He wavered a moment, then fell, fainting, in the young doctor's arms.
THE ORPHAN ARRIVES
O little wild feet, too softly white To roam the world's tempestuous night, The years like sleet on my windows beat, Come in and be cherished, O little wild feet. My heart is a house deep-walled and warm, To cover you from the night and storm. —C. G. D. ROBERTS.
Miss Arabella Winter and her parrot lived alone in a tiny house, next door to her brother's home, and were "managed," in company with the rest of the village, by her smart sister-in-law. In all Susan Winters' realm there was no more obedient subject than the meek little lilac lady.
She had been very pretty in her youth, and much of her girlhood's beauty lingered yet in the faint pink of her cheeks and the droop of her long lashes. Her golden-brown hair was still abundant and wavy, though in accordance with her sister-in-law's instructions she pulled it back so tightly that its undulations were quite smoothed out. And just so Miss Arabella tied down and smoothed out all the beauty curves of her life to suit the rigid lines of Susan's methods. That she ever longed for more breadth and freedom could never have entered the head of any one in the village. But then the village did not know the real Miss Arabella.
She was hurrying through her morning's work, for a column of smoke curling up from the other side of her next neighbor's orchard told that the Sawyers had returned; and if Susan did not mind, she hoped she might run over and see what kind of baby Jake and Hannah had brought home.
She shook the breakfast tablecloth out at the back door, and the hens came running to pick up the crumbs. Like all houses in Elmbrook, Miss Arabella's front door looked out upon the narrow confines of the village street, with its double row of elms and maples; but her back door commanded a view of a whole world of sky and field and wood. High up in an apple-tree of the Sawyers' orchard a bluebird was caroling joyously. Miss Arabella had never heard of the man who said that the bluebird carried the sky on his back, but she involuntarily glanced from the brilliant azure dot in the tree-top to the vivid blue of the heavens. "They're awful alike," she whispered, with a smile; then she glanced inside, "and it's the same color, too! I've a good mind"—she paused guiltily and glanced toward her brother's house. "I'll just take one glimpse," she added hurriedly. She put the tablecloth away in its drawer and ran into the little sitting-room. The old floor, under its gay covering of rag-carpet and home-made rugs, sank and creaked with even her light weight. At the sound a querulous voice from the veranda called "Arabella, Arabella!"
Miss Arabella looked severe. "Polly!" she cried, appearing at the door. "Now, Polly, be good. You were jist awful yesterday, when the doctor was passing. You'll try not to say that awful thing, won't you, Polly?"
"Oh, Annie Laurie, Annie Laurie, Annie Laurie!" gabbled Polly, walking along her perch head downward. "I'll be good, I'll be good."
Thus assured, Miss Arabella slipped into her spare bedroom. It was a tiny room, with a close, hushed air. Most of the space was taken up by a huge feather-bed, whose white surface bulged up like a monstrous baking of bread. Against the crinkly spars of the low headboard two stiff pillow-shams stood erect, like signboards, each bearing the legend, worked in red, "Sweet Dreams." The floor was covered with a home-made rug, displaying a branch of yellow roses, upon which stood a mathematically straight line of purple-breasted robins. The one window was draped in stiff, white lace curtains that fell from the ceiling in a billowing cascade and flowed out into the middle of the room. Here the flood was dammed, very appropriately, by two large, pink-tinted seashells. In one corner stood a high, old-fashioned chest of drawers, covered with a white cloth worked in red to match the "Sweet Dreams" on the pillows. It held a small looking-glass flanked by a couple of china figures; a gay Red Riding-Hood, with a pink wolf, set primly opposite a striped Bo-peep and a sky-blue lamb. There were pebbles and shells and pieces of coral, and baskets of beadwork, and many other ornaments dear to Miss Arabella's heart. She closed the old, creaking door, placed the one chair against it, and trembling as though she were about to commit a burglary, she stealthily opened the lowest drawer of the dresser and took from it a large parcel. She sat down on the low rocker and carefully untied the string. Her breath was coming fast, her eyes were shining. The stiff paper opened, and revealed a roll of bright blue silk, just the tint of the May skies. Miss Arabella touched it lovingly.
"You're the very color," she whispered; "you've never faded a bit, and it's been such a long time—oh, an awful long time!" She sighed deeply; her little face looked wan and old.
"But you haven't started to ravel yet." Her fingers had been running carefully up and down the silk, and she stopped with a start of dismay. She hurried to the low window. Yes, there along several of the folds, the blue fabric was showing signs of wear! Miss Arabella sank back into her chair and sat motionless, gazing at the bright heap in her lap. Slowly two big tears gathered, and slipped down her cheeks. She hastily covered the precious silk from possible damage, wiped her eyes with her apron, and replaced the bundle in the drawer.
"It must be a sign," she whispered tremulously. "It 'ud never 'a' begun to wear if it was goin' to be any use to me. It's a sign!" She locked the drawer, and went out slowly. Her little figure had a more pronounced droop, her eyes were very piteous.
She went back to her tasks in the tiny kitchen with a dull, hopeless air. She had just set a pail of soapy water on the back doorstep, preparatory to scrubbing the porch floor, for Susan insisted that this must be done once a week, no matter how clean it might be, when Polly's voice reached her. It was raised in uttering that shocking phrase which her mistress had forbidden, and which Polly refused to unlearn. Miss Arabella hurried out to the front veranda, fearful lest the minister or the new doctor might be within earshot.
"Good-morning, Arabella!" called a sweet voice from the other side of the cedar hedge.
Miss Arabella ran joyfully to the gate. "Oh, Elsie, is it you? Come away in and sit a minute; do, now."
"No, thank you, Arabella; not this morning. Mother sent me up to see what sort of baby Jake and Hannah have adopted. Come with me."
"I'd like to." Miss Arabella glanced wistfully across the orchard, but the vision of her sister-in-law hoeing in the garden quenched the light of hope in her eyes. "I can't go for a little bit," she added. "I haven't done the back stoop yet."
The girl stood looking down at her, a splendid contrast, in her strong, erect beauty, to the little, drooping figure. Miss Arabella looked up at her with adoring eyes. There was a strange comradeship between these two.
"Oh, Arabella, dear," cried the girl, half pityingly, half laughingly, "why don't you run away?"
Miss Arabella looked up with a sudden fire in her eyes and a flush on her cheek. "Oh, Elsie! You don't mean it—really?"
"Of course I don't really mean it, Arabella," she answered, half alarmed at the unexpected effect of her words. "Where would you run? Only I do wish you didn't have so much managing."
Miss Arabella's head drooped. She seemed ashamed of her sudden outburst. "Oh, I'm all right," she said, in some confusion, and then, to hide it, added: "It seems awful nice to have you back, Elsie. I missed you dreadful."
The girl patted her hand affectionately. "Well, you're not likely to miss me any more for a long time," she said, with rather a forced smile.
"I s'pose you've learned near everything there is to know about singing now, anyway, haven't you?" asked Miss Arabella comfortably.
Elsie Cameron laughed. "I feel as if I'd just begun to get the faintest notion of it."
"Well, well, well! Music must be awful slow work. Is that why you got tired of it?"
"Tired of it?"
"Yes; your ma was saying you didn't want to go back, though they'd all coaxed you."
The girl looked down the long, elm-bordered street; her golden-brown eyes had a hurt look, but her mouth was firm. She turned again to Miss Arabella with a faint smile. Her answer was apparently irrelevant.
"Don't you remember how Uncle Hughie used to be always telling us never to 'rastle' against the place we're put in?"
Miss Arabella looked at her, uncomprehending. In contrast to her narrow experience, Elsie Cameron seemed to possess all that heart could desire.
"Your Uncle Hughie's a wonderful wise man, Elsie," she said vaguely; then, with a deep sigh, "I suppose it's wicked to be always wantin' to do things you ain't doin'; but—I—it ain't very bad to pretend you're doin' them, so long as you do the real things, is it?" Her color was rising, and the girl looked at her with a kind curiosity. Even she knew little more of the real Arabella than the rest of the village did.
"Do you know, Arabella," she cried merrily, "I've long suspected you of leading a double life. And why shouldn't you? Why, Uncle Hughie says it's one of his greatest blessings. When he gets tired or racked with pain, he just pretends he's a chieftain of the Clan Cameron, living on his estates, and he says he's far happier than if he really were."
Miss Arabella smiled almost tearfully. It was the first time in her life she had heard her romantic day-dreaming condoned.
"Now I must run, Arabella. Good-by, Polly. Are you good to-day?"
"Oh, Annie Laurie, Annie Laurie," cried Polly, "I'll be good, I'll be good!"
Miss Arabella stood gazing after the trim figure. She sighed enviously. "She's the lucky girl," she whispered, "but it's awful queer she don't want to go on with her singin'."
A smart vehicle turned out of a gate farther up the street and came whizzing past. The young man driving raised his hat with an air of deference as he passed the girl by the roadside. Miss Arabella leaned farther over the gate.
"He looked at her awful pleased like," she said; and then her face grew pale with a sudden thought. "I'll give it to her," she whispered, choking down a rising sob. "He'll marry her, I'm sure he will, and if he does I'll give it to her, and I won't be foolish any more, so I won't." The prospect of speedy wisdom seemed a very doleful one, and Miss Arabella's figure drooped and shrank as she moved indoors.
"Arabella!" called a sharp voice over the fence, "have you got your place all red up yet?"
"Not quite, Susan," was the apologetic answer. "I've jist to do the back stoop."
"Well, don't be so long, for pity's sakes. I'm goin' up to see what sort of a baby Jake and Hannah's got, and you can come along jist as soon as you're done."
"All right, Susan." The little woman returned to her task meekly. Her small, slim hands and her frail body did not look at all suited to heavy toil, yet no one in the village worked harder than the little lilac lady. For when her own house was set in order, and brushed and swept and scrubbed, exactly as Susan demanded, Miss Arabella crossed the orchard and washed and baked, and sewed for her brother's children.
She had just finished the lowest step of the porch when she was startled by a tremendous uproar in the Sawyer orchard, and the next moment something came hurtling over the fence and landed with a splash in the pail at her feet. It was a round object, brightly colored and shining.
"Oh, Lordy, ain't we havin' a slow time!" screamed Polly, most inappropriately.
"Save us!" ejaculated Miss Arabella.
The Sawyer orchard was separated from Miss Arabella's garden by a high board fence, further fortified by Miss Arabella's long, neat woodpile. Hitherto, the place had been used exclusively as a parade-ground for Isaac and Rebekah, and the Sawyers' hens; but now it seemed to have been suddenly populated by all the children in the village, shrieking, scolding and laughing. Could the orphan be big enough to run at large? And had the McQuarry and the Cross and the Williams children all met to celebrate its arrival?
"Save us!" ejaculated Miss Arabella again, "they must 'a' got a noisy one!"
There was a scrambling, tearing noise on the other side of the fence, and a head arose above it, followed by the figure of a boy. It was a queer, wasted, tiny figure, with one shoulder higher than the other. The face was pinched and weird-looking, with that strange mixture of childishness and age that is seen in the countenances of the unfortunate little ones who are called out too early into the battle of life. A long, claw-like arm reached out, and a finger pointed at the object in Miss Arabella's pail.
"That there's our ball!" said the elf sharply. "Give us a throw!"
Miss Arabella stared, motionless.
"Are—are you Jake Sawyer's orphant?" she asked incredulously.
The boy grinned, a queer contortion of his wizened little face with more mischief in it than mirth.
"Naw, I'm just the tail of it," he answered enigmatically. "Say, when did the folks in that there house adopt you?"
Miss Arabella was too much astonished and abashed to reply; and just at that moment a second object appeared on the woodpile. It arose from the Sawyer orchard like the first, swinging itself up feet foremost in some miraculous fashion. This time it was a girl, larger and more robust than the boy, but plainly younger. Her eyes were wild, her face was bold, and she had a mad mop of bushy black hair. She perched herself astride the top board of the fence and gave back Miss Arabella's stare with interest.
"Where on earth did you come from?" cried Miss Arabella.
"None o' your business!" was the prompt retort. "Hand over that there ball!"
Miss Arabella had no time to obey, for a third apparition arose out of the Sawyer orchard, feet first, and perching itself astride the fence, commanded, "Histe over that there ball!" It was another girl, exactly like the first, except that her mad mop of hair was yellow instead of black. Miss Arabella rubbed her eyes, and wondered, in dismay, if she had been gifted with a new kind of double vision.
"Oh, my land alive!" she whispered. "Has Jake Sawyer been and gone and brought home all the orphant asylum? Mercy me! Is the yard full o' ye?" For still another head was struggling to make its appearance above the fence-top. It was a fiery red head this time, covered with crisp little curls. It belonged to a very small boy, the youngest of the quartette. His round, impish face was full of delighted grins. His dancing eyes radiated laughter and good-nature.
The four surveyed Miss Arabella's evident consternation with great enjoyment, while that startled lady stood and stared at the array with something of the feelings that Cadmus must have experienced when he beheld the fierce warriors rise from the planting of the dragon's teeth.
"We're the Sawyer orphant," said the eldest imp, with apparent relish. "An' if you don't hand over that there ball mighty quick we'll all come after it."
Galvanized into action by this threat, Miss Arabella flung the toy far among the orchard trees, and with shrieks the four small figures disappeared. Miss Arabella darted around to the front porch in a panic, and carried her parrot into the comparative safety of the house. Fortunately the noise had scared the bird into silence. But if those four wild things should once get into her garden, she reflected, what ever would become of Polly?
She ran out again, but there was no sign of the newcomers, and the noise was retreating in the direction of Jake's stable. She flung off her apron, and running to an opening in the woodpile, proceeded to climb the fence. She must go over to Hannah's immediately; yes, even if Susan objected, and see what was the meaning of this sudden inundation of orphans.
She was balanced on the top of the fence when the doctor's landlady appeared, walking leisurely up the street to buy a pound of butter at Long's store for the doctor's dinner.
Any other woman in the township would have expressed surprise at Miss Arabella's remarkable position, and evident perturbation, but the silent Mrs. Munn looked at her unconcernedly.
"Somethin' awful's happened, Harriet!" cried Miss Arabella. "Hannah's got her orphant, an' what d'ye s'pose it's like?"
"It's got red hair," ventured Mrs. Munn, undisturbed.
"Red hair! It's got red hair, an' three other kinds. An' it's got four heads!"
"What!" shrieked Mrs. Munn, shaken out of her accustomed indifference. "Arabella! You don't mean——"
But here Miss Arabella's hold on the fence relaxed, and she disappeared into the orchard. Mrs. Munn turned her back on Long's store and hurried up the street in the same direction. New doctor or no new doctor, this crisis must be met at once. The innocent and facile character of the Sawyers had long been a problem in Elmbrook, but who could have dreamed that, even in their weakest moment, Jake and Hannah could have been decoyed into adopting a four-headed monster!
Mrs. Munn's heart was heavy with dread as she hurried up the lane. Miss Arabella had already arrived, and nearly all the other women of the village were there. As she reached the door a chorus of shouts and screams broke from the enclosed yard at the back of the house. Mrs. Munn shivered. They had evidently tied up the fierce creature in the stable, where it was exercising its four pairs of lungs all at once!
But the next Instant the stable door flew open, and four figures, two mop-headed little girls in abbreviated skirts, a small, red-headed toddler, and a queer, limping boy, the fleetest of all, were precipitated into the yard. They flung themselves over the fence and went, shrieking, away across the field. Mrs. Munn drew a great breath; there was relief in it, and yet terror. It was not quite so bad, but bad enough. What was to become of Elmbrook if the Sawyers had adopted four orphans?
Mrs. Sawyer was sitting in the middle of a wildly disordered kitchen, surrounded by her neighbors. She had the air of a child who has done wrong, and knows it, but hopes for mercy. Evidently the orphans had refused to be displayed to the visitors, for their foster-mother was apologizing for their non-appearance. "They're kind o' wild yet," she explained meekly, "not ever bein' out of a big city in their lives. But Jake says jist to let them loose, an' they'll kind o' tame down all the sooner. There ain't no use callin' after them," she added resignedly, as Mrs. Winters made a threatening movement toward the door. "It jist makes them run all the harder, an' mebby they'll get as far as the pond. We'd better jist let them be."
"Well, go on wi' your story, Hannah," said old Miss McQuarry. "What possessed ye to take all the bairns, wumman?"
Mrs. Sawyer folded her hands in her lap and continued:
"It kind o' came on us gradual like. Jake an' me jist couldn't help it. Ye see, his idea was always for a little boy with red hair, like our Joey would 'a' been, an' I was always wantin' a little girl with yellow curls. Well, Jake, he knowed what I wanted, and he said if we seen a nice little girl with curly hair we'd take her; but I knowed his heart was set on a red-headed boy all the same, an' I stuck out for a boy. We talked about it so hard all the way there that we near forgot to get off when we got to the station, an' only that Minnie Morrison's aunt was there, we'd 'a' never moved. As it was, we forgot the basket with the pound cake and the cookies and the home-made cheese—and—and the crock o' butter," she faltered, with a contrite glance toward Harriet Munn.
"Oh, my, what a pity!" groaned Miss Arabella, remembering all she had suffered in toiling down the lane with the basket.
"It don't matter much, though," continued the narrator placidly. "Jake said somebody'd get them that likely needed them worse than Minnie Morrison. Well, in the afternoon, after we'd visited a while, Jake hired a livery rig an' we drove out to the orphant home. We talked quite a while to the lady that's head over all—the matron they call her; an' then she took us into a room near as big as our mill, an' there was about two dozen or more children playin' 'round. And the very minit we got inside that door Jake he hollers out, 'Oh, geewhittaker!' An' I seen his eyes were shinin' like a cat's in the dark. An' there he was, starin' as if he'd found a gold mine, at the wee, red-headed fellow we've got. An' no wonder, either; for he's as like our Joey would 'a' been as two peas. The matron she saw Jake was took with the wee fellow, an' she calls him over, an' Jake says, 'What's your name?' An' he says, as cute as cute, 'It's Joey.' An' with that, Jake grabs him up, an' the little fellow climbed up to his shoulder an' crowed like a little rooster, an' Jake looked near ready to cry, he was that pleased. 'Well,' I says, 'I guess we've got our orphant all right,' an' Jake says, 'Oh, Hannah, but your girl!' 'Never mind the girl,' says I, 'this one was made for us, an' his name, too.' Well, we jist turned 'round to tell the matron, when I sees a wee girl, with curly hair, standin' straight in front o' Jake an' starin' at him, with her lip quiverin'. That's the fair one o' the twins. An' she says in a wee, wee voice, as if she was tryin' fearful hard not to cry, 'Are ye goin' to take our Joey away?' she says. 'Is he your brother?' says I. She jist nods her head. An' she says again, in a whisper, 'Are you goin' to take him away?' Well, Jake he looked at me, an' I looked at him, an' we could both see we were thinkin' the same thing. 'She's the kind of a girl you want,' says Jake, 'an' mebby she'd help take care o' the wee chap.' 'D'ye think we can afford it?' says I; an' then she kind o' sidles up to me, an' says she, 'Aw, you won't take Joey away, will you?' An' then the matron says, 'She's a good little girl, Mrs. Sawyer; you won't ever regret it if you take her.' An' I thought how lovely I'd make her hair curl, an' tie it up with a pink ribbon, an' jist then she ups an' puts her two little arms around my neck, an' she whispers, 'We couldn't get along without our Joey,' jist awful pitiful like. An' I looks at Jake, an' Jake looks at me, an' he nods, an' I says, 'All right.' It was the only thing to do, now, wasn't it?"
Hannah paused, and gazed around appealingly.
"She got me 'round the neck, an' I couldn't no more make her let go than I could fly," she added, as an unanswerable argument.
"Well, we jist got up to go, when there was the most awful racket started up you ever heard tell of, and that other girl, the one with the black head, comes runnin' up an' starts to dance 'round an' yell an' scream. An' at that, my girl she ups an' hollers, too, an' I never heard such a bedlam, each one screamin' they didn't want to leave the other. Jake he shouted out to a big girl standin' there to know what was the matter, an' she yells that they was twins an' hadn't never been apart. An' then I seen that they were jist as alike as two peas, except for the hair. Well, the black-headed one was makin' such a fearful holler that the matron she says to the big girl, quite sharp like, 'Take her up to the ward,' whatever place that may be. An' the big girl she grabs the poor child by the arm an' begins to haul her to the door, an' the tears streamin' down her little face.
"Well, with that, Jake he puts the red-headed one down with a bang, an' he makes one leap for that big girl. I never seen Jake look like that before, only once, and that was when Joel McMurtry kicked his dog an' broke its leg, thirteen years ago next twenty-fourth. It was an awful look. An' he jist grabs that child away from her, an' he says—he says—oh, I'd be ashamed to tell you the dreadful bad word he said! I wouldn't have the minister hear about it for all the earth, for Jake's been a member of the church ever since before we were married, an' never used a bit o' bad language in his life, to my knowledge. An' then he says, in a ter'ble voice, 'You leave that child alone, she's goin' with me,' he says. An' with that she puts her arms 'round his neck an' hangs on, an' calls him all the sweet names you ever heard.
"Well, that was bad' enough, but it seems we weren't done yet. We were jist beginnin' to get collected to start again, when one o' the twins commenced to yell again. It was the black-headed one, but I ain't sure o' their names. One's Lorena, an' the other's Lenora—ain't they awful pretty names? But I think they must change them 'round, 'cause I can never remember which is which, nor Jake, neither. Well, anyhow, the black one starts to holler louder'n ever, an' she kept screamin' in between hollers, 'I don't want to leave Timmy! I don't want to leave Timmy!' An' with that, the other girl starts up the same, an' the wee red-head he gets at it harder'n the rest, an' there was the three o' them cryin' an' takin' on, 'Oh, let Timmy come, too! Let Timmy come, too!' 'Who's Timmy?' says Jake to the matron. 'Is he their dog?' says he. 'No,' says she, 'he's their brother,' says she. 'Lord 'a' mercy!' says I, 'don't tell me there's another one!' 'Yes, there he is,' says she, an' she points to him. He was settin' on the edge of a long seat, all humped up, an' queer, watchin' everything, without sayin' a word, but if I live to be a hundred I'll never get the look o' that child's face out o' my mind. It was so kind o' awful lonesome an' forsaken an' hungry-lookin', an' so fearful old, an' him not quite ten."
Hannah paused to wipe her eyes.
"I knew, the minit I seen him, we'd jist got to adopt him, or I'd wake up nights seein' his poor little face lookin' at me with them terrible eyes. But he never asked to be took. He jist looks at the others, an' he says, kind o' gruff like, 'Go on, yous; don't you mind me.'
"Well, it was my turn this time, an' I jist bust out louder'n the twins. An' I says, 'Oh, Jake,' I says, 'he'll die if we don't adopt him, too, an' so'll I!' I says. An' Jake, he jist snaps his fingers at the little fellow, an' he says, 'Come along, then, little shaver, we'll take you, too.' An' he gives one spring off the bench an' catches Jake around the legs like a big spider, an' mind you, all the three others was hangin' on to him already like leeches, an' Jake, he looks 'round kind o' helpless like, an' he says to the matron, 'There ain't any more belongin' to this family, is there?' says he. 'Cause you might as well trot 'em out.' But the matron she laughs, an' says that was all, and were we sure we could adopt so many. Jake says, 'I dunno, I'm sure,' says he, 'but it seems as if they'd adopted us, and we can't help ourselves.' That set everybody laughin', 'stead o' cryin', an' we picked up them four orphants an' brought them home last night, an' here we are."
She stopped, and looked around anxiously at the circle of neighbors. "I know it was awful of us to do it. But I hope you won't mind, will you? We jist couldn't help it."
"Well, yen's true, Hannah," exclaimed old Miss McQuarry emphatically. "It was jist the Lord's wull, wumman."
Every one looked at Mrs. Winters for her verdict.
"It's a pity to part flesh and blood, that's a fact," she admitted reluctantly. "But how you an' Jake is ever goin' to tame down them four wild things is more'n I can tell."
"You send them to school," said the Duke of Wellington, as she arose to start for that institution herself, "and I'll answer for them the biggest part of the day."
Mrs. Sawyer's face lightened. "Indeed we will, jist as soon as we can get them to settle down a bit. An' Jake says the boys'll help him in the mill, an' the girls'll help me in the house, an' we'll get along somehow."
"Well," said Mrs. Munn, rising, and forestalling any further discussion, "there's no use talkin' about things, anyhow; that does more harm than good."
The company arose and drifted toward the door.
"D'ye think they'll be awful hard to bring up, Harriet?" whispered Mrs. Sawyer tremulously, detaining the doctor's landlady for a moment behind the others.
Mrs. Munn looked steadily into Hannah Sawyer's kindly eyes. These two had been stanch friends since the days when they had sat together in school and shared dinner-pails. Only to this old comrade did Harriet Munn's reticent tongue speak out the deep thoughts of her heart. She laid her hand on Mrs. Sawyer's shoulder.
"It's jist the Lord's hand that's led you, Hannah," she said quietly, "that's what it is, and you don't need to be afraid o' nothin'."
Hannah Sawyer's homely face grew radiant. "That's jist what the minister said last night!" she exclaimed. "We'll jist do our best, an' I'm sure, with Jake an' the Lord to look after us, we ain't likely to come to want."
THE MILKSTAND CLUB
He that sees clear is gentlest of his words, And that's not truth that hath the heart to kill. —ARCHIBALD LAMPMAN.
The Cameron homestead could scarcely be said to belong to Elmbrook, but formed a suburb all by itself. It was a comfortable-looking red-brick, set away back in its orchards and fields, and was further cut off from the village by the ravine where the mill-stream ran.
Perhaps this was partly the reason why the Cameron family seemed a little exclusive. There was a deep suspicion throughout Elmbrook that old lady Cameron, as she was called, thought herself above ordinary folks, and unconsciously Elmbrook thought so, too. The father had died when the children were all little, but she had kept them together through poverty and hardship, imbuing them all with her splendid, self-sacrificing spirit, until now the elder ones had each taken an honorable position in life. James, the eldest, lived on the farm, and had lately paid off the mortgage and built a new house and barn; Hugh was a lawyer in a neighboring city; Mary was married to a minister—the greatest achievement of all; Elsie promised to be a singer, and by making special sacrifices the family had succeeded in giving her a year's training under the best teachers in the land; Malcolm was going to be a doctor, had finished his second year with honors, in fact; and Jean and Archie were still to be given their chance.
Old lady Cameron's brother-in-law, Uncle Hughie, was the best-known member of the family. He was the village philosopher, and spent his time hobbling about the farm, doing such odd jobs as his rheumatism would permit, and "rastlin'" out the problem of human life. He was sitting on the milkstand just now, his small, stooped body almost covered by his straw hat, his long beard sweeping his knees. He was swinging his feet, and singing, in a high, quavering voice, his favorite song, "The March o' the Cameron Men."
When Sawed-Off Wilmott started a cheese factory down on the Lake Simcoe road each of his patrons had built, just at the gate, a small platform, called a milkstand, from which the cans were collected. The Cameron milkstand had a flight of steps leading up to it, and a grove of plum-trees surrounding. It was a fine place to sit, of an evening, for one could be isolated and yet see all that was going on up in the village. Here Uncle Hughie regularly gathered about him a little group of friends. Next to the minister, he was considered the most learned man in the community, and the Cameron milkstand was a sort of high-class club, where only the serious-minded were admitted, and where one heard all sorts of profound subjects discussed, such as astronomy and the destiny of the British Empire.