David looked sick.
So the glowing, sweet faced bride was neglected and the groom received scant attention. The minister cleared his throat slightly, and the service went smoothly on to the end.
But the sigh of relief that went up at its conclusion betokened not so much satisfaction that another young couple were setting forth on the troubled, tempting waters of matrimony, as that David had finished another service and all might yet be well.
Carol, half way back in the church, had heard not one word of the service.
"David is an angel, but I do wish he were a little less heavenly," she thought passionately. "He—makes me nervous."
The carriage was at the door to take the minister and his wife to the Daniels home for the bridal reception, but David said, "Tell him to take us to the manse first, Carol. I've got to rest a minute. I'm tired to-night."
In the living-room of the manse he carefully removed the handsome black coat in which he had been graduated from the Seminary in Chicago, and in which a little later he had been ordained for the ministry and installed in his church in the Heights. Still later he had worn it at his marriage. David hung it over the back of a chair, saying as he did so:
"Wearing pretty well, isn't it? It may be called upon to officiate in other crises for me, so it behooves me to husband it well."
Then he dropped heavily on the davenport before the fireplace, with Carol crouching on a cushion beside him, stroking his hand.
"Let's not go to the reception," she said. "We've congratulated them a dozen times already."
"Oh, we've got to go," he answered. "They would be disappointed. We'll only stay a few minutes. Just as soon as I rest—I am played out to-night—it is only a step."
They slipped among the guests at the reception quietly and unobtrusively, but were instantly surrounded.
"A good service, David," said Mr. Daniels, eying him keenly. "You make such a pretty job of it I'd like to try it over myself."
"Now, Dan," expostulated his anxious little wife. "Don't you pay any attention to him, Mrs. Duke, he's always talking."
"I know it," said Carol appreciatively. "I never pay attention."
"You need a vacation, Mr. Duke," broke in a voice impulsively.
"I know it," assented David. "We'll take one in the spring,—and you can help pay the expenses."
"You'd better take it now," suggested Mrs. Baldwin. "The church can get along without you, you know."
But the laugh that went up was not genuine. Many of them, in their devotion to David, wondered if the church really could get along without him.
David gaily waved aside the enormous plate of refreshments that was passed to him. "I had my dinner, you know," he explained. "Carol isn't neglecting me."
"He had it, but he didn't eat it,—and it was fried chicken," said Carol sadly.
A few minutes later they were at home again, and before Carol had finished the solemn task of rubbing cold cream into her pretty skin, David was sleeping heavily, his face flushed, his hands twitching nervously at times.
Carol stood above him, gazing adoringly down upon him for a while. Then shutting her eyes, she said fervently:
"Oh, God, do make David less like an angel, and more like other men."
Early the next morning she was up and had steaming hot coffee ready for David almost before his eyes were open.
"To crowd out that mean little cough that spoils your breakfast," she said. "I shall keep you in bed to-day."
All morning David lounged around the house, hugging the fireplace, and complained of feeling cold though it was a warm bright day late in April, and although the fire was blazing. In the afternoon he took off his jacket and loosened his collar.
"It certainly is hot enough now," he declared. "Open the windows, Carol,—I am roasting."
"That is fever," she announced ominously. "Do you feel very badly?"
"Well, nothing extra," he assented grudgingly.
"David, if you love me, let's call a doctor. You are going to have the grippe, or pneumonia, or something awful, and—if you love me, David."
The pleading voice arrested his refusal and he gave the desired consent, still laughing at the silly notion.
So Carol sped next door to the home of Mr. Daniels, the fatherly elder.
"Mr. Daniels," she cried, brightly happy because David had consented to a doctor, and a doctor meant health and strength and the end of that hateful little cough. "We are going to have a doctor see David. What is the name of that man down-town—the one you think is so wonderful?"
Mr. Daniels gladly gave her the name, warmly approving the move, but he shook his head a little over David. "I am no pessimist," he said, "but David is not just exactly right."
"The doctor will fix him up," cried Carol joyously. "I am so relieved and comfortable now. Don't try to worry me."
David looked nervous when Carol gave him the name of the physician she had called.
"He is a Catholic,—and some of the members think—"
"Of course they do, but I am the head of this house," declared Carol, standing on tiptoe and assuming her most lordly air. "And Doctor O'Hara is the best in town, and he is coming."
"Oh, all right, if you feel like that about it. I don't suppose he would give me strychnine just because I am a Presbyterian minister."
"Oh, mercy!" ejaculated Carol. "I never thought of that. Do you suppose he would?"
But David only laughed at her, as he so often did.
When Carol met the doctor at the door, she found instant reassurance in the strong, kind, clever face.
"It's a cold," she explained, "but it hangs on too long, and he keeps running down-hill."
The doctor looked very searchingly into David's pale bright face. And Carol and David did not know that the extra joke and the extravagant cheeriness of his voice indicated that things looked badly. They took great satisfaction in his easy manner, and when, after a brief examination, he said:
"Now, into bed you go, Mr. Duke, and there you stay a while. Get a substitute for Sunday. You've got to make a baby of a bad cold and pet it a little."
David and Carol laughed, and when the doctor went away, and David was safely in bed, Carol perched up beside him and they had a stirring game of parcheesi. But David soon tired, and lay very quietly all evening, eating no dinner, and talking very little. Telephone messages from "the members" came thick and fast, with offers of all kinds of tempting viands, and callers came streaming to the door. But Father Daniels next door turned them every one away.
"He can't talk any more," he said in his abrupt, yet kindly way. "He's just worn out talking to this bunch,—that's all that ails him."
Next day the doctor came again, gave another examination, and said there was some little congestion in the lungs.
"Just do as I have told you,—keep the windows up, drink a lot of fresh milk, and eat all the raw eggs you can choke down."
"He won't eat anything," said Carol.
"Let him fast then, and he'll soon be begging for raw eggs. I'll see you again to-morrow."
When he returned next day there was a little shadow in the kind eyes. David lay on the cot, smiling, and Carol stood beside him.
"How do you feel to-day?"
"Oh, just fine," came the ready answer.
But the shadow in the doctor's eyes deepened.
"The meanest part of a doctor's work is handing out death blows to hope," he said. "But you two are big enough to take a hard knock without flinching, and I won't need to beat around the bush. Mr. Duke, you have tuberculosis."
David winched a little and Carol clutched his hand spasmodically, yet they smiled quickly, comfortingly into each other's eyes.
"That does not mean that your life is fanning out, by any means," continued the doctor in his easy voice. "We've got a grip on the disease now. You are getting it right at the start and you stand a splendid chance. Your clean life will help. Your laughing wife will help. Your confidence in a Divine Doctor will help. Everything is on your side. If you can, I think I should go out west somewhere,—to New Mexico, or Arizona. It is low here, and damp,—lots of people chase the cure here, and find it, but it is easier out there where the air is light and fine and the temperature is even, and where doctors specialize on lungs."
"Yes, yes, indeed, we shall go right away," declared Carol feverishly. "Yes, indeed."
"Keep on with my treatment while you are here. And get out as soon as you can. Stay in bed all the time, and don't bother with many visitors. I don't need to tell you the minor precautions. You both have brains. Be sure you use them. Now, don't get blue. You've still got plenty to laugh at, Mrs. Duke. And I give you fair warning, when you quit laughing there's the end of the fight. You haven't any other weapon strong enough to beat the germs."
It was hard indeed for Carol to see anything to laugh at just that moment, but she smiled, rather wanly, at the doctor when he went away.
There was silence between them for a moment.
At last, she leaned over him and whispered breathlessly, "Maybe it is really a good thing, David. You did need a vacation, and now you are bound to get it."
David smiled at her persistent philosophy of optimism.
Again there was silence. Finally, with an effort he spoke. "Carol, I—I could have thanked God for letting us know this two years ago. Then you would have escaped."
"David, don't say that. Just this minute I was thanking Him in my heart because we didn't know until we belonged to each other."
She lifted her lips to him, as she always did when deeply moved, and instinctively he lowered his to meet them. But before he touched her he stopped, stricken by a bitter thought, and pushed her face away almost roughly.
"Oh, Carol," he cried, "I can't. I can never kiss you again. I have loved to touch you, always. I have loved your cool, sweet, powdery skin, and your lips,—I have always thought of your lips as a crimson bow in a pale pink cloud,—I—I have loved to touch you. I have always adored your face, the look of it as well as the feel of it. I have loved to kiss you."
Carol slipped an arm beneath his head and strove to pull his hand away from his face.
"Go on and do it," she whispered passionately. "I am not afraid. You kissed me yesterday and it didn't hurt me. Kiss me, David,—I don't care if I do get it."
He laughed at her then, uncertainly, brokenly, but he laughed. "Oh, no you don't, my lady," he said. "You've got to keep strong and well to take care of me. You want to get sick so you'll get half the petting."
Like a flash came the revelation of what her future was to be. "Oh, of course," she cried, in a changed voice. "Of course we must be careful,—I forgot. I'll have to keep very strong and rugged, won't I? Indeed, I will be careful."
Then they sat silent again.
"Out west," he said at last dreamily. "Out west. I've always wanted to go west. Not just this way, but—maybe it is our chance, Carol."
"Of course it is. We'll just rest and play a couple of months, and then come back better than ever. No, let's get a church out there and stay forever. That will be Safety First. Isn't it grand we have that money in the bank, David? Think how solemn it would be now if we were clear broke, as we were before we decided to economize and start a bank-account."
David nodded, smiling, but the smile was grave. The little bank-account was very fine, but to David, lying there with the wreck of his life about him, the outlook was solemn in spite of it.
"Forty-eight, forty-nine, fifty, fifty-one, fifty-two, fifty-three,—for goodness' sake!—fifty-four, fifty-five." Carol looked helplessly at her dusty hands and mopped her face desperately with her forearm.
David, watching her from the bed in the adjoining room, gave way to silent laughter, and she resumed her solemn count.
"Fifty-six," he called. "Don't try any trickery on me."
"Fifty-six, fifty-seven, fifty-eight, fifty-nine, sixty." She sighed audibly. "Sixty-one, sixty-two, sixty-three, sixty-four—sixty-four perfectly fresh eggs," she announced, turning to the doorway and frowning at her husband, who still laughed. "Sixty-four perfectly fresh eggs, all laid yesterday."
"Now, I give you fair warning, my dear, I am no cold storage plant, and you can't make me absorb any sixty-four egg-nogs daily just to even up the demand with the supply. I drank seven yesterday, but this is too much. You must seek another warehouse."
"You are very clever and facetious, Davie, really quite entertaining. But what am I to do with sixty-four fresh eggs?"
"And I may as well confess frankly that I consider a minister's wife distinctly out of her sphere when she tries to corner the fresh egg market, particularly at the present price of existence. It isn't scriptural. It isn't orthodox. I am surprised at you, Carol. It must be some more Methodism cropping out. I never knew a Presbyterian to do it."
"And as for milk—"
"There you go again,—milk. Worse and worse. Yesterday I had milk toast, and milk custard, and fresh milk, and buttermilk. And here you come at me again first thing to-day. Milk!"
"Seven whole quarts have arrived this morning,—bless their darling old hearts."
"The parishioners," Carol explained patiently. "Ever since the doctor said fresh milk and eggs, we've been flooded with milk and—"
"Pelted with eggs. But you can't pelt any sixty-four eggs down me."
"David," she said reproachfully, "I must confess that you don't sound very sick. The doctor says, 'Take him west,' and I am taking you if I ever get rid of these eggs. But I do think it would be more appropriate to take you to a vaudeville show where you might coin some of this extravagant humor. There's a market for it, you know."
"Here comes Mrs. Sater, with a covered basket," announced David, glancing from the window. "I just wonder if the dear kind woman is bringing me a few fresh eggs. You know the doctor advised me to eat fresh eggs, and—"
Carol clutched her curly head in despair. "Cock-a-doodle-doo," she crowed.
"You mean, 'Cut-cut-cut-ca-duck-et,'" reproved David.
Mrs. Sater paused outside the manse door in blank astonishment. Dear, precious David so terribly ill, and poor little Carol getting ready to take him away to a strange and awful country, and the world full of sadness and weeping and gnashing of teeth, and yet—from the open windows of the manse came the clear ring of Carol's laughter, followed closely by David's deeper voice. What in the world was there to laugh at, since tuberculosis had rapped at the manse door?
They were young, of course, and they were still in love,—that helped. And they had the deathless courage of the young and loving. But Mrs. Sater bet a dollar she wouldn't waste any time laughing if tuberculosis were stalking through her home.
"Come in," said Carol, in answer to her second ring. "We saw you from the window, but I was laughing so I was ashamed to open the door. David's so silly, Mrs. Sater. Since he isn't obliged to strain his mental capacity by thinking up sermons, he has developed quite a funny streak. Oh, did you bring us some nice fresh eggs? How dear of you. Yes, the doctor said he must eat lots of them."
"They were just laid yesterday," said Mrs. Sater complacently. "And I said to myself, 'Nice fresh eggs like these are too good for anybody less than a preacher.' So I brought them. There's just half a dozen,—he ought to eat that many in one day."
"Oh, yes, easily. He is very fond of egg-nog."
David sputtered feebly among the pillows. "Oh, easily," he echoed helplessly.
"I knew a woman that ate eighteen eggs every day," said Mrs. Sater encouragingly. "She got well and weighed two hundred and thirty pounds, and then she had apoplexy and died."
David turned on Carol reproachfully. "There you see! That's what comes of eating raw eggs." Then he added suspiciously, "Maybe you knew it before and have been enticing me to raw eggs on purpose."
Both Carol and David seized this silly pretext to relieve their feelings, and laughed so heartily that good Mrs. Sater was quite concerned for them. She had heard it sometimes affected folks like that,—a great nervous or mental shock. She looked at them very anxiously indeed.
"Are you selling your furniture pretty well?" she asked nervously.
"Oh, just fine. Mr. Barker at the drug store has promised to fumigate everything after we are gone, so we won't scatter any germs in our wake." Carol spoke hurriedly, her heart swelling with pity as she saw the sudden convulsive clutching of David's hands beneath the covers. "Mr. Daniels has a list of 'who bought what,' and will see that everything is delivered in good shape. Only, we take the money ourselves in advance. Now look at this chair, Mrs. Sater,—a lovely chair," she rattled, thinking wretchedly of that contraction of David's hands and the darkening of his eyes. "A splendid chair. It isn't sold yet. It cost us eight seventy-five one year ago, and we are selling it for the mere pittance of five dollars even,—we make it even because we haven't any change. A most beautiful chair, an article to grace any home, a constant reminder of us, a chair in which great men have sat,—Mr. Daniels, and Mr. Baldwin, and the horrible gas collector who has made life wretched for every one in the Heights, and—all for five dollars, Mrs. Sater. Can you resist it?"
Carol's voice took on a new ring as she saw the shadow leave David's eyes, and his lips curve into laughter again.
"Well, I swan, Mrs. Duke, if you don't beat all. Yes, I'll take that chair. It may not be worth five dollars, but you are."
Carol ostentatiously collected the five dollars, doubled it carefully into a tiny bit, and tied it in the corner of her handkerchief.
"My money, Mr. David Arnold Duke, and I shall buy candy and talcum with it."
Then she ran into the adjoining room to answer the telephone.
Mrs. Sater looked about her hesitatingly and leaned forward.
"David," she said in a low voice, "Carol ought to go home to her father. It's dangerous for her to stay with you. Everybody says so. Make her go home until you are well. She may get it too if she goes along. They'll take good care of you at the Presbyterian hospital out there, you a minister and all."
The laughter, the light, left David's face at the first word.
"I know it," he said in a heavy voice. "I have told her to go home. But she won't even talk it over. She gets angry if I mention it. Every one tells me it is dangerous,—but Carol won't listen."
"Just until you get well, you know."
"I shall never get well unless she is with me. But I am trying to send her away. What can I do? I can't drive her off." His hands closed and then relaxed, lying helplessly on the covers.
When Carol returned she looked suspiciously from the stern white face on the pillow to the disturbed one of her caller.
"David is tired, Mrs. Sater," she said gently. "Let's go out in the other room and visit. I have made him laugh too much to-day, and he is weak. Come along and maybe I can sell you some more furniture." Then to David, brightly, "It was Mrs. Adams, David, she wanted to know if we needed any nice fresh eggs." She flashed a smile at him and his lips answered, but his eyes were mute. Carol looked back at him from the doorway, questioning, but finally followed Mrs. Sater into the next room.
"Mrs. Sater, you will excuse me now, won't you?" she said. "But I have a feeling that David needs me. He looks so tired. You will come in again, and—"
"Certainly, my dear, David first by all means. Run right along. And if you need any more fresh eggs, just let me know."
"Yes, thank you, yes."
"Carol," whispered the kindly woman earnestly, "why don't you go home and stay with your father until David is better? They will take such good care of him at the hospital, and he will need you when he is well, and it isn't safe, Carol, it positively is not safe. Why won't you do as he tells you?"
Carol stood up, very straight and very tall. "Mrs. Sater," she said, "you know I am an old-fashioned Methodist. And I believe that God wanted David to have me in his illness, when he is idle. If He hadn't, the illness would have come before our marriage. But I think God foresaw it coming and thought maybe I could do David good when he was laid aside. I know I am a silly little goose, but David loves me, and is happy when I am with him, and enjoys me more than anything else in the world. I am going with him. I know God expects me to do my part."
And Mrs. Sater went away, after kissing Carol's cheek, which already was paling a little with anxiety.
Carol ran back to David and sat on the floor beside him, pulling his hand from beneath the cover and kissing the white, blue-veined fingers. She crooned and gurgled over him as a mother over a little child, but did not speak until at last he turned to her and said abruptly:
"Carol, won't you go home until I get well? Please dear, for my sake."
Carol kissed the thumb once more and frowned at him. "You want to flirt with the nurses when you get out there, and are trying to get me out of the road. Every one says nurses are dangerous."
"Mrs. Sater has been talking to you. Oh, I knew it. She is a nice, kind, Christian woman, and loves us both, but, David, why doesn't God teach some people to mind their own business? She is a good Christian, I know, dear, but I do believe there is still a little work of grace to be done in her."
David smiled a little, sadly.
"Carol, it would break my heart if you got this from me."
"I won't get it. They will teach us how to be careful and sanitary, and take proper precautions, and things like that. I am going to be very, very careful. Why, honey, I won't get it. But, David, I would rather get it than go away and leave you. I couldn't do that. I should never be happy again if I left you when you were needing me."
David turned his face to the wall. "Maybe, dear," he said very gently, "maybe it would be better if you did go home,—better for me. I need perfect rest you know, and we talk and laugh so much and have such good times together. I don't know, possibly I might get well faster—alone."
For a long moment Carol gazed at him in horror. "David," she gasped. "Don't say that. Dear, I will go home if it makes you worse to have me. I will do anything. I only want to help you. But I will be very nice and quiet, like a mouse, and never say a word, and not laugh once, if you take me with you. David, do I make you feel sicker? Does my chatter weary you? I thought I was helping to amuse you."
"Carol, I can't lie like that even to send you away from me. Maybe I ought to, but I can't. Why, sweetheart, you are the only thing left in the world. You are the world to me now. Dear, I said it for your sake, not for mine, Carol, never for mine."
Slowly the smiles struggled through the anguish in her face, and she resumed her kissing of his fingers.
"Silly old goose," she murmured; "big old silly goose. Just because he's a preacher he wants to boss all the time. Can't boss me. I won't be bossed. I like to boss myself. I won't let my beautiful old David go off out there to flirt with the nurses and Indian girls and whoever else is out there. I should say not. I'll stick right along, and whenever a woman turns our way, I'll shout, 'Married! He is mine!'"
David laughed at her passionate discussion to herself.
"Besides, I have been learning a lot of things. I've been talking to the doctor privately when you couldn't hear."
"Oh, yes, and we are great friends. He says if we just live clean, white, sanitary lives, I am safe. I must keep strong and fat, and the germs can't get a start. And he has been telling me lots of nice things to do. David, I know I can help you. The doctor said so. He says I must be happy and gay, and be positively sure you will be well again in time, and I can do you more good than a tonic. Yes, he said that very thing, Doctor O'Hara did. Now please beg my pardon, and maybe I'll forgive you."
David promptly did, and peace was restored.
A committee of brotherly ministers was sent out from the Presbytery to find how things were going in the little manse in the Heights. Very gently, very tenderly they made their inquiries of Carol, and Carol answered frankly.
"With the furniture money we have six hundred dollars," she told them, rather proudly.
"That's just fine. It will take you to Albuquerque and keep you straight for a few months, and by that time we'll have things in hand back here. You know, Mrs. Duke, you and David belong to us and we are going to see you through. And then when it is all over we'll get him a church out there,—why, everything is going splendidly. Now remember, it may be a few months, or it may be ten years, but we are back of you and we are going to see you through. Don't ever wonder where next month's board is to come from. It will come. It isn't charity, Mrs. Duke. It is just the big brotherhood of the church, that's all. We are going to be your brothers, and fathers, and—mothers, too, if you will have us."
The devoted mansers rallied around them, weeping over them, giving them good advice along with other more material, but not more helpful, assistance and declaring they always knew David was too good to live. And when Carol resentfully assured them that David was still very much alive, and maybe wasn't as good as they thought, they retaliated by suggesting that her life was in no danger on that score.
On the occasion of Doctor O'Hara's last visit, Carol followed him out to the porch.
"You haven't presented your bill," she reminded him. "And it's a good thing for you we are preachers or we might have slipped away in the night."
"I haven't any bill against you," he said, smiling kindly down at her.
Carol flushed. "Doctor," she protested. "We expected to pay you. We have the money. We don't want you to think we can't afford it. We knew you were an expensive doctor, but we wanted you anyhow."
He smiled again. "I know you have the money, but, my dear little girl, you are going to need every cent of it and more too before you get rid of this specter. But I couldn't charge David anything if he were a millionaire. Don't you understand,—this is the only way we doctors have of showing what we think of the big work these preachers are doing here and there around the country?"
"But, doctor," said Carol confusedly, "we are—Presbyterians, you know—we are Protestants."
The doctor laughed. "And I am a Catholic. But what is your point? David is doing good work, not my kind perhaps, and not my way, but I hope, my dear, we are big enough and broad enough to take off our hats to a good worker whether he does things just our way or not."
Carol looked abashed. She caught her under lip between her teeth and kept her eyes upon the floor for a moment. Finally she faced him bravely.
"I wasn't big or broad,—not even a little teensy bit," she said honestly. "I was a little, shut-in, self-centered goose. But I believe I am learning things now. You are grand," she said, holding out her slender hand.
The doctor took it in his. "Carol, don't forget to laugh when you get to Albuquerque. You will be sick, and sorry, and there will be sobs in your heart, and your soul will cry aloud, but—keep laughing, for David is going to need it."
Carol went directly to her husband.
"David, I am learning lots of perfectly wonderful things. If I live to be a thousand years old,—oh, David, I believe by that time I can love everybody on earth, and have sympathy for all and condemnation for none; and I will really know that nearly every one in the world is very good, and those that are not are pretty good."
David burst into laughter at her words. "Poorly expressed, but finely meant," he cried. "Are you trying to become the preacher in our family?"
"All packed up and ready to start," she said thoughtfully, "and to-morrow night we leave our darling little manse, and our precious old mansers and turn cowboy. Aren't you glad you didn't send me home?"
WHERE HEALTH BEGINS
In a little white cottage tent, at the end of a long row of minutely similar, little white cottage tents, sat David and Carol in the early evening of a day in May, looking wistfully out at the wide sweep of gray mesa land, reaching miles away to the mountains, blue and solemn in the distance.
"Do—do you feel better yet, David?" Carol asked at last, desperately determined to break the menacing silence.
David drew his breath. "I can't seem to notice any difference yet," he replied honestly. "It doesn't look much like Missouri, does it?"
"It is pretty,—very pretty," she said resolutely.
"Carol, be a good Presbyterian and tell the truth. Do you wish you had gone home, to green and grassy Iowa?"
"David Duke, I am at home, and here is where I want to be and no place else in the world. It is big and bleak and bare, but— You are going to get well, aren't you, David?"
"Of course I am, but give me time. Even Miracle Land can't transform weakness to health in two hours."
"I must go over to the office. Mrs. Hartley said she wanted to give me some instructions."
Carol rose quickly and stepped outside the cottage.
Crossing the mesa she met three men who stopped her with a gesture. They were of sadly similar appearance, tall, thin, shoulders stooped, hair dull and lusterless, eyes dry and bright. Carol thought at first they were brothers, and so they were,—brothers in the grip of the great white plague.
"Are you a lunger?" ejaculated one of them in astonishment, noting the light in her eyes and the flush in her cheeks.
"Yes,—have you got the bugs?"
"Say, are you chasing the cure?"
"Of course not," interrupted the oldest of the three impatiently. "There's nothing the matter with her, except that she's a lunger's wife. Your husband is the minister from St. Louis, isn't he?"
"Yes,—I am Mrs. Duke."
"I am Thompson. I used to be a medical missionary in the Ozarks. How is your husband?"
"Oh, he is doing nicely," she said brightly,—the brightness assumed to hide the fear in her heart that some day David might look like that.
Thompson laughed disagreeably. "Sure, they always do nicely at first. But when the bugs get 'em, they're gone. They think they're better, they say they are getting well,—God!"
Carol looked at him with questioning reproach in the shadowed eyes. "It does not hurt us to hope, at least," she said gently. "It does no harm, and it makes us happier."
"Oh, yes," came the bitter answer. "Sure it does. But wait a few years. Bugs eat hope and happiness as well as lungs."
Carol quivered. "You make me afraid," she said.
"Thompson is an old croak," interrupted one of the younger men, smiling encouragement. "Don't waste your time on him,—talk to me. He is such a grouch that he gives the bugs a regular bed to sleep in. He'd have been well years ago if he hadn't been such a chronic kicker. Cheer up, Mrs. Duke. Of course your husband will get along. Got it right at the start, didn't you?"
"Oh, yes, right at the very start."
"That's good. Most people fool around too long and then it's too late, and all their own fault. Sure, your husband is all right. It's too bad Thompson can't die, isn't it? He's got too mean a disposition to keep on living with white folks."
"Oh, I shouldn't say that," disclaimed Carol quickly. "He—he is just not quite like the people I have known. I didn't know how to take him. He was only joking of course." She smiled forgivingly at him, and Thompson had the grace to flush a little.
"I am Jimmy Jones," said the second man. "I was a bartender in little old Chi. Far cry from a missionary to a bartender, but I'll take my chances on Paradise with Thompson any day."
"A—a bartender." Carol rubbed her slender fingers in bewilderment.
"I am Arnold Barrows, formerly a Latin professor. Amo, mas, mat," said the third man suddenly. "I am looking for my Paradise right here on earth, and I am sorry you are married. My idea of Paradise is a girl like you and a man like me, and everything else go hang."
Carol drew herself up as though poised for flight, a startled bird taking wing.
Thompson and Jones laughed at her horrified face, but the professor maintained his solemn gravity.
"He is just a fool," said the bartender encouragingly. "Don't bother about him. It is not you in particular, he is nuts on all the girls. Cheer up. We're not so bad as we sound. I have a cottage near you. Tell the parson I'll be in to-morrow to give him the latest light on the bonfires in perdition. I know all about them. Tell him we'll organize a combination prayer-meeting; he can lead the prayer and I'll give advanced lessons in bunny-hugs and fancy-fizzes."
"Good night,—good night,—good night," gasped Carol.
Forgetting her errand to the office, she rushed back to David, to safety, to the sheltering folds of the little white cottage tent.
He questioned her curiously about her experience, and although she tried to evade the harsher points, he drew every word from her reluctant lips.
"Lunger,—and bugs,—and chasers,—it doesn't sound nice, David."
"But maybe it is the best thing after all. We are not used to it yet, but I suppose it is better for them to take it lightly and laugh and be funny about it. They have to spend a lifetime with the specter, you know,—maybe the joking takes away some of the grimness."
Carol shivered a little.
"Aren't you going to the office?"
"No, I am not. If Mrs. Hartley wants to see me, she can come here. I am scared, honestly. Let's do something. Let's go to bed, David."
It was a two-roomed cottage, a thin canvas wall separating the rooms. There were window-flaps on every side, and conscientiously Carol left them every one upraised, although she had goose-flesh every time she glanced into the black wall of darkness outside the circle of their lights, a wall only punctuated by the yellow rays of light here and there, where the more riotous guests of the institution were dissipating up to the wicked hour of nine o'clock.
"Good night, David,—you will call me if you want anything, won't you?" And Carol leaped into bed, desperately afraid a lizard, or a scorpion or a centipede might lie beneath in wait for unwary pink toes once the guarding lights were out.
This was the land where health began,—the land of pure light air, of clear and penetrating sunshine, the land of ruddy cheeks and bounding blood. This was the land which would bring color back to the pale face of David, would restore the vigor to his step, the ring to his voice. It was the land where health began.
She must love it, she would love it, she did love it. It was a rich, beautiful, gracious land,—gray, sandy, barren, but green with promise to Carol and to David, as it had been to thousands of others who came that way with a burden of weakness buoyed by hope.
A shrill shriek sounded outside the tent,—a dangerous rustling in the sand, a crinkling of dead leaves in the corners of the steps, a ring, a roar, a wild tumult. Something whirled to the floor in David's room, papers rattled, curtains flapped, and there was a metallic patter on the uncarpeted floor of the tent. Carol gave an indistinct murmur of fear and burrowed beneath the covers.
It was David who threw back the blankets and turned on the lights. Just a sand-storm, that was all,—a common sand-storm, without which New Mexico might be almost any other place on earth. David's Bible had been whirled from the window-ledge, and fine sand was piling in through the screens.
Carol withdrew from the covers most courageously when she heard the comforting click of the electric switch, and the reassuring squeak of David's feet on the floor of the room.
"Everything's all right," he called to her. "Don't get scared. Will you help me put these flaps down?"
Carol leaped from her bed at that, and ran to lower the windows. Then she sat by David's side while the storm raged outside, roaring and piling sand against the little tent.
After that, to bed once more, still determinedly in love with the land of health, and praying fervently for morning.
Soon David's heavy breathing proclaimed him sound asleep. But sleep would not come to Carol. She gazed as one hypnotized into the starry brightness of the black sky as she could see it through the window beside her. How ominously dark it was. Softly she slipped out of bed and lowered the flaps of the window. She did not like that darkness. After the storm, David had insisted the windows must be opened again,—that was the first law of lungers and chasers.
She was cold when she got back into bed, for the chill of the mountain nights was new to her. And an hour later, when she was almost dozing, footsteps prowled about the tent, loitering in the leaves outside her western window. David was sleeping, she must not interfere with a moment of his restoring rest. She clasped her hands beneath the covers, and moistened her feverish lips. If it were an Indian lurking there, his deadly tomahawk upraised, she prayed he might strike the fatal blow at once. But the steps passed, and she climbed on her knees and lowered the flaps on the side where the steps sounded.
Later, the sudden tinkle of a bell across the grounds startled her into sitting posture. No, it wasn't David, after all,—somebody else,—some other woman's David, likely, ringing for the nurse. Carol sighed. How could David get well and strong out here, with all these other sick ones to wring his heart with pity? Were the doctors surely right,—was this the land of health?
Again footsteps approached the tent, stirring up the dry sand, and again Carol held her breath until they had passed. Then she grimly closed the windows on the third side of her room, and smiled to herself as she thought, "I'll get them up again before David is awake."
But she crept into bed and slept at last.
Early, very early, she was awakened by the sunlight pouring upon the flaps at the windows. It was five o'clock, and very cold. Carol wrapped a blanket about her and peeked in upon her husband.
"Good morning," she greeted him brightly. "Isn't it lovely and bright? How is my nice old boy? Nearly well?"
"Just fine. How did you sleep?"
"Like a top," she declared.
"Were you afraid?"
"Um, not exactly," she denied, glancing at him with sudden suspicion.
"Did the wind blow all your flaps down?"
"How did you know?"
"Oh, I was up long ago looking in on you. We'll get a room over in the Main Building to-day. It costs more, but the accommodations are so much better. We are directly on the path from the street, so we hear every passing footstep."
Carol blushed. "I am not afraid," she insisted.
"We'll get a room just the same. It will be easier for you all the way around."
Carol flung open the door and gazed out upon the land of health. The long desolate mesa land stretched far away to the mountains, now showing pink and rosy in the early sunshine. The little white tents about them were as suggestively pitiful as before. There were no trees, no flowers, no carpeting grass, to brighten the desolation.
Bare, bleak, sandy slopes reached to the mountains on every side. David sat up in bed and looked out with her.
"Just a long bare slope of sand, isn't it?" she whispered. "Sand and cactus,—no roses blooming here upon the sandy slopes."
"Yes, just sandy slopes to the mountains,—but Carol, they are sunny,—bare and bleak, but still they are sunny for us. Let's not lose sight of that."
THE OLD TEACHER
"Dear Carol and David—
"It is most remarkable that you two can keep on laughing away out there by yourselves. It makes me think perhaps there is something fine in this being married business that sort of makes up for the rest of it. I think it must take an exceptionally good eyesight to discern sunshine on the slopes of sickness. If I were traveling that route, I am convinced I should find it led me through dark valleys and over stony pathways with storm clouds and thunders and lightnings smashing all around my head.
"You admonished me to talk about myself and leave you alone. Well, I suppose you know more about yourselves than I could possibly tell you, and since it is your own little baby sister, I am sure you are more than willing to turn your telescope away from the sunny slopes a while for a glimpse of my business dabbles.
"This is Chicago.
"Aunt Grace was rendered more speechless than ever when I announced my intention of coming, and Prudence was shocked. But father and I talked it over, and he looked at me in that funny searching way he has and then said:
"'Good for you, Connie, you have the right idea. Chicago isn't big enough to swallow you, but it won't take you long to eat Chicago bodily. Of course you ought to go.'
"I know it is not safe to praise men too highly, they are so easily convinced of their astounding virtues, but that time I couldn't resist shaking hands with father and I said, and meant it:
"'Father, you are the only one in the world. I don't believe even the Lord could make your duplicate.'
"'Mr. Nesbitt was very angry because I left them'. He said that after he took me, a stupid little country ignoramus, and made something out of me, my desertion was nothing short of rank ingratitude and religious hypocrisy and treason to the land of my birth. One might have inferred that he picked me out of the gutter, brushed the dirt off, smoothed my ragged looks, and seated me royally in his stenographic chair, and made a business lady out of me. But it didn't work.
"Mr. Baker, the minister there, is back of it. He met me on the street one day.
"'I hear you are literary,' he said.
"'Well, I think I can write,' I answered modestly.
"Then he said he had a third-half-nephew by marriage, to whom, ground under the heel of financial incompetency, he had once loaned the startling sum of fifty dollars,—I say startling, because it startled me to know a preacher ever had that much ready cash ahead of his grocery bill. Anyhow, the third-half-nephew, with the fifty dollars as a nucleus,—I think Providence must have multiplied it a little, for our fifty dollars never accomplished miracles like that,—but with that fifty dollars as a starter he did a little plunging for himself, and is now owner and editor of a great publishing house in Chicago.
"And Mr. Baker, the old minister, kept him going and coming, you might say, by sending him at frequent intervals, bright and budding lights with which to illuminate his publications. It seems the third-half-nephew by marriage, in gratitude for the fifty dollars, never refused a position to any satellite his uncle chose to recommend. And Mr. Baker glowed with delight that he had been able, from the unliterary center of Centerville to send so many candles to shine in the chandelier of Chicago.
"All I had to do was to come.
"As I said before, I came.
"I went out to Mrs. Holly's on Prairie Avenue and the next morning set out for the Carver Publishing Company, and found it, with the assistance of most of the policemen and street-car conductors as well as a large number of ordinary pedestrians encountered between Prairie on the South Side, and Wilson Avenue on the North. I asked for Mr. Carver, and handed him Mr. Baker's letter. He shook hands with me in a melancholy way and said:
"'When do you want to begin? Where do you live?'
"'To-morrow. I have a room out on the south side, but I will move over here to be nearer the office.'
"'Hum,—you'd better wait a while.'
"'Isn't it a permanent position?' I asked suspiciously.
"'Oh, yes, the position is permanent, but you may not be.'
"'Mr. Baker assured me—'
"'Oh, sure, he's right. You've got the job. But so far, he has only sent me nineteen, and the best of them lasted just fourteen days.'
"'Then you are already counting on firing me before the end of two weeks,' I said indignantly.
"'No. I am not counting on it, but I am prepared for the worst.'
"'What is the job? What am I supposed to do?'
"'You must study our publications and do a little stenographic work, and read manuscripts and reject the bum ones,—which is an endless task,—and accept the fairly decent ones,—which takes about five minutes a week,—and read exchanges and clip shorts for filling, and write squibs of a spicy nature, and do various and sundry other things and you haven't the slightest idea how to start.'
"'No, I haven't, but you get me started, and I'll keep going all right.'
"The next morning he asked how long it took me to get to the office from Prairie, and I said:
"'I moved last night, I have a room down on Diversey Boulevard now.'
"He looked me over thoughtfully. Then he said: 'You ought to be a poet.'
"'Why? I haven't any poetic ability that I know of.'
"'Probably not, but you can get along without that. What a poet needs first of all is nerve.'
"I didn't think of anything apt to say in return so I got to work. Day after day he tried me out on something new and watched me when he thought I didn't notice, and went over my work very carefully. One morning he asked me to write five hundred words on 'The First Job in a Big City,' bringing out a country aspirant's sensations on the occasion of his first interview with a prospective employer.
"I still felt so strongly about his insolent assurance that I couldn't hold down his little old job, that I had no trouble at all with the assignment. He read it slowly and made no comment, but he gave it a place in the current issue. And then came a blessed day when he said, 'Well, you are on for good, Miss Starr. I now believe in the scriptural injunction about seventy times seven, and a kind Providence cut the margin down for me. I forgive Uncle Baker for the nineteen atrocities at last.'
"I was very happy about it, for I do love the work and the others in the office are splendid, so keen and clever, and Mr. Carver is really wonderful. We are not a large concern, and we have to lend a hand wherever hands are needed. So I am getting five times my fifteen dollars a week in experience, and I am singing inside every minute I feel so good about everything. The workers are all efficient and enthusiastic, and we are great friends. We gossip affectionately about whoever is absent, and hold a jubilee at the restaurant down-stairs when any one gets ahead with an extra story. No other publishers have come rapping at my door in a mad attempt to steal me away from Mr. Carver. I have no bulky mail soliciting stories from my facile pen. But I am making good with Mr. Carver, and that's the thing right now.
"Have I fallen in love yet? Carol, dear, I always understood that when folks get married they lose their sentimentality. Are you the proving exception? My acquaintance with Chicago masculinity is confined to the office, the Methodist Church, and the boarding-house. The office force is all married but the office boy. The Methodist congregation is composed of women, callow youths and bald heads of families. Women are counted out, of necessity. I am beyond callow youths, and not advanced to heads of families. Why, I haven't a chance to fall in love,—worse luck, too, for I need the experience in my business.
"At the boarding-house I do have a little excitement now and then. The second night after my installation a man walked into my room without knocking,—that is, he opened the door.
"'Gee, the old lady wasn't bluffing,' he said, in a tone of surprise.
"It was early in the evening and he was properly dressed and looked harmless, so I wasn't frightened.
"'Good evening,' I said in my reserved way.
"'Gave you my room, did she?' he asked.
"'She gave me this one,—for a consideration.'
"'Yes, it is mine,' he said sadly. 'She has threatened to do it, lo, these many years, but I never believed she would. Faith in fickle human nature,—ah, how futile.'
"'Yes. You see now and then I go off with the boys, and spend my money instead of paying my board, and when I come back I expect my room to be awaiting me. It always has been. The old lady said she would rent it the next time, but she had said it so many times! Well, well, well. Broke, too. It is a sad world, isn't it? Did you ever pray for death?'
"'No, I did not. And if you will excuse me, I think perhaps you had better fight it out with the landlady. I have paid a month's rent in advance.'
"'A month's rent!' He advanced and shook hands with me warmly before I knew what he was doing. 'A month in advance. It is an honor to touch your hand. Alas, how many moons have waned since I came in personal contact with one who could pay a month in advance.'
"'Oh, I am going. No room is big enough for two. Lots of fellows room together to save money, but it is too multum in too parvum; I think I prefer to spend the money. I have never resorted to it, even in my brokest days. I didn't leave my pipe here, did I?'
"'I haven't seen it,' I said very coldly.
"'Well, all right. Don't get cross about it. Out into the dark and cold, out into the wintry night, without a cent to have and hold, but landladies are always right.'
"He smiled appealingly but I frowned at him with my most ministerial air.
"'I am a poet,' he said apologetically. 'I can't help going off like that. It isn't a mental aberration. I do it for a living.'
"I had nothing to say.
"'My card.' He handed it to me with a flourish, a neatly engraved one, with the word 'advertisement' in the corner. I should have haughtily spurned it, but I was too curious to know his name. It was William Canfield Brewer.
"'Well, good night. May your sleep be undisturbed by my ghost stalking solitary through your slumbers. May no fumes from my pipe interfere with the violet de parme you represent. If you want any advertising done, just call on me, William Canfield Brewer. I write poetry, draw pictures, make up stories, and prove to the absolute satisfaction of the most skeptical public that any article is even better than you say it is. I command a princely salary,—but I can't command it long enough. Adieu, I go, my lady, fare thee well.'
"I could hardly wait for breakfast, I was so anxious to ask about him. I gleaned the following facts. The landlady had packed his belongings in an old closet and rented me the room in his absence, as he surmised. He is a darling old idiot who would rather buy the chauffeur a cigar than pay for his board. He says it is less grubby. He is too good a fellow to make both ends meet. He is too devoted to his friends to neglect them for business. He can write the best ads in Chicago and get the most money for it, but he can't afford the time. Mrs. Gaylord is a stingy old cat, she always gets her money if she waits long enough, and he pays three times as much as anything is worth when he does pay. Mrs. Gaylord's niece is infatuated with him, without reciprocation, and Mrs. Gaylord wanted her, the niece, to stick to the grocer's son; she says there is more money in being advertised than advertising others. Wouldn't Prudence faint if she could hear this gossip? Don't tell her,—and I wouldn't repeat it for the world.
"I hoped he would come back for another room,—there is lots of experience in him, I am sure, but he sent for his things. So that is over. I found his pipe. And I am keeping it so if he gets smokey and comes back he may have it.
"Oh, I tell you, Carol, Experience may teach in a very expensive school, but she makes the lessons so interesting, it is really worth the price.
"Lots of love to you both,
THE LAND O' LUNGERS
"Is Mrs. Duke in?"
David looked up quickly as the door opened. He saw a fair petulant face, with pouting lips, with discontent in the dark eyes. He did not know that face. Yet this girl had not the studied cheerfulness of manner that marks church callers at sanatoriums. She did not look sick, only cross. Oh, it was the new girl, of course. Carol had said she was coming. And she was not really sick, just threatened.
"Mrs. Duke is over at the Main Building, but will be back very soon. Will you come in and wait?"
She came in without speaking, pulled a chair from the corner of the porch, and flounced down among the cushions. David could not restrain a smile. She looked so babyishly young, and so furiously cross. To David, youth and crossness were incongruous.
"I am Nancy Tucker," said the girl at last.
"And I am Mr. Duke, as you probably surmise from seeing me on Mrs. Duke's porch. She will be back directly. I hope you are not in a hurry."
"Hurry! What's the use of hurrying? I am twenty years old. I've got a whole lifetime to do nothing in, haven't I?"
"You've got a lifetime ahead of you all right, but whether you are going to do nothing or not depends largely on you."
"It doesn't depend on me at all. It depends on God, and He said, 'Nothing doing. Just get out and rust the rest of your life. We don't need you.'"
"That does not sound like God," said David quietly.
"Well, He gave me the bugs, didn't He?"
"Oh, the bugs,—you've got them, have you? You don't look like it. I didn't know it was your health. I thought maybe it was just your disposition."
David smiled winningly as he spoke, and the smile took the sting from the words.
"The bugs are worse on the disposition than they are on the lungs, aren't they?"
"Well, it depends. Carol says they haven't hit mine yet." He lifted his head with boyish pride. "She ought to know. So I don't argue with her. I am willing to take her word for it."
Nancy smiled a little, a transforming smile that swept the discontent from her face and made her nearly beautiful. But it only lasted a moment.
"Oh, go on and smile. It did me good. You can't imagine how much better I felt directly."
"There's nothing to make me smile," cried Nancy hotly.
"You may smile at me," cried Carol gaily, as she ran in. "How do you do? You are Miss Tucker, aren't you? They were telling me about you at the office."
"Yes, I am Miss Tucker. Are you Mrs. Duke? You look too young for a minister's wife."
"Yes, I am Mrs. Duke, and I am not a bit too young."
"I asked them if I should call a doctor, and they said that could wait a while. First of all, they said, I must come to Room Six and meet the Dukes."
Carol looked puzzled. "They didn't tell me that. What did they want us to do to you?"
"I don't know. I just said, 'Well, I guess I'd better get a doctor to come and kill me off,' and they said, 'You go over to Number Six and meet the Dukes.'"
"They said lovely things about you," Carol told her, smiling. "And they say you will be well in a few months,—that you haven't T. B.'s at all yet, just premonitions."
The good news brought no answering light to the girl's face.
"They are nurses. You can't believe a word they say. It is their business to build up false hopes."
"When any one tells me David is worse, I think, 'That is a wicked story'; but when any one says, 'He is better,' I am ready to fall on my knees and salute them as messengers from Heaven," said Carol.
One of the sudden dark clouds passed quickly overhead, obscuring the glare of the sunshine, darkening the yellow sand.
"I hate this country," said Nancy Tucker. "I hate that yellow hot sand, and the yellow hot sun, and the lights and shadows on the mountains. I hate the mountains most of all. They look so abominably cock-sure, so crowy, standing off there and glaring down on us as if they were laughing at our silly little fight for health."
Carol was speechless, but David spoke up quickly.
"That is strange; Carol and I think it is a beautiful country,—the broad stretch of the mesa, the blue cloud on the mountains, the shadow in the canyons, and most of all, the sunshine on the slopes. We think the fight against T. B.'s is like walking through the dark shade in the canyons, and then suddenly stepping out on to the sunny slopes."
"I know you are a preacher. I suppose it is your business to talk like that." Then when Carol and David only smiled excusingly, she said, "Excuse me, I didn't mean to be rude. But it is hideous, and—I love to be happy, and laugh,—"
"Go on and do it," urged David. "We've just been waiting to hear you laugh."
"You should have been at the office with me," said Carol. "We laughed until we were nearly helpless. It is that silly Mr. Gooding again, David. He isn't very sick, Miss Tucker,—he just has red rales. I don't know what red rales are, but when the nurses say that, it means you aren't very sick and will soon be well. But Gooding is what he calls 'hipped on himself.' He is always scared to death. He admits it. Well, last night they had lobster salad, a silly thing to have in a sanatorium. And Gooding ordered two extra helpings. The waiter didn't want to give it to him, but Gooding is allowed anything he wants so the waiter gave in. In the night he had a pain and got scared. He rang for the nurses, and was sure he was going to die. They had to sit up with him all night and rub him, and he groaned, and told them what to tell his mother and said he knew all along he could never pull through. But the nurse gave him some castor oil, and made him take it, and finally he went to sleep. And every one is having a grand time with him this morning."
Nancy joined, rather grudgingly, in their laughter.
"Oh, I suppose funny things happen. I know that. But what's the use of laughing when we are all half dead?"
"I'm not. Not within a mile of it. You brag about yourself if you like, but count me out."
"Hello, Preacher! How are you making it to-day?"
They all turned to the window, greeting warmly the man who stood outside, leaning heavily on two canes.
"Miss Tucker, won't you meet Mr. Nevius?"
In response to the repeated inquiry, David said, "Just fine this morning. How are you?"
"Oh, I am more of an acquisition than ever. I think I have a bug in my heart." He turned to Miss Tucker cheerfully. "I am really the pride of the institution. I've got 'em in the lungs and the throat and the digestive apparatus, and the bones, and the blood, and one doctor includes the brain. But I flatter myself that I've developed them in a brand-new place, and I'm trying to get the rest of the chasers to take up a collection and have me stuffed for a parlor ornament."
"How does a bug in the heart feel?"
"Oh, just about like love. I really can't tell any difference myself. It may be one, it may be the other. But whichever it is I think I deserve to be stuffed. Hey, Barrows!" he called suddenly, balancing himself on one cane and waving a summons with the other. "Come across! New lunger is here, young, good-looking. I saw her first! Hands off!"
Barrows rushed up as rapidly as circumstances permitted, and looked eagerly inside.
"It is my turn," he said reproachfully. "You are not playing fair. I say we submit this to arbitration. You had first shot at Miss Landbury, didn't you?"
"I am not a nigger baby at a county fair, three shots for ten cents," interrupted Nancy resentfully. But when the others laughed at her ready sally, she joined in good-naturedly.
"You don't look like a lunger," said Barrows, eying her critically.
"Mr. Duke thinks I came out for the benefit of my disposition."
"Good idea." Nevius jerked a note-book from his pocket and made a hurried notation.
"Taking notes for a sermon?" asked Carol.
"No, for a sickness. That's where I'll get 'em next. I hadn't thought of the disposition. Thank you, thank you very much. I'll have it to-morrow. Bugs in the disposition,—sounds medical, doesn't it?"
"Oh, don't, Mr. Nevius," entreated Carol. "Don't get anything the matter with your disposition. We don't care where else you collect them, as long as you keep on making us laugh. But, woodman, spare that disposition."
Nevius pulled out the note-book and crossed off the notation. "There it goes again," he muttered. "Women always were a blot on the escutcheon of scientific progress. Just to oblige you, I've got to forego the pleasure of making a medical curiosity of myself. Well, well. Women are all right for domestic purposes, but they sure are a check on science."
"They are a check on your bank-book, too, let me tell you," said Barrows quickly. "I never cared how much my wife checked me up on science, but when she checked me out of three bank-accounts I drew the line."
"Speaking of death," began Nevius suddenly.
"Nobody spoke of it, and nobody wants to," said Carol.
"Miss Tucker suggests it by the forlornity of her attitude. And since she has started the subject, I must needs continue. I want to tell you something funny. You weren't here when Reddy Waters croaked, were you, Duke? He had the cottage next to mine. I was in bed at the time with—well, I don't remember where I was breaking out at the time, but I was in bed. You may have noticed that I have what might be called a classic pallor, and a general resemblance to a corpse."
Nancy shivered a little and Carol frowned, but Nevius continued imperturbably. "The undertaker down-town is a lunger, and a nervous wreck to boot. But he is a good undertaker. He works hard. Maybe he is practising up so he can do a really artistic job on himself when the time comes. Anyhow, Reddy died. They always come after them when the rest of us are in at dinner. It interferes with the appetite to see the long basket going out. So when the rest were eating, old Bennett comes driving up after Reddy. It was just about dark, that dusky, spooky time when the shadows come down from the mountains and cover up the sunny slopes you preachers rave about. So up comes Bennett, and he got into the wrong cottage. First thing I knew, some one softly pushed open the door, and in walked Bennett at the front end of the long basket, the assistant trailing him in the rear. I felt kind of weak, so I just laid there until Bennett got beside me. Then I slowly rose up and put out one cold clammy hand and touched his. Bennett choked and the assistant yelled, and they dropped the basket and fled. I rang the bell and told the nurse to make that crazy undertaker come and get the right corpse that was patiently waiting for him, and she called him on the telephone. Nothing doing. A corpse that didn't have any better judgment than that could stay in bed until doomsday for all of him. So they had to get another undertaker. But Bennett told her to get the basket and he would send the assistant after it. But I held it for ransom, and Bennett had to pay me two dollars for it."
His auditors wiped their eyes, half ashamed of their laughter.
"It is funny," said Nancy Tucker, "but it seems awful to laugh at such things."
"Awful! Not a bit of it," declared Barrows. "It's religious. Doesn't it say in the Bible, 'Laugh and the world laughs with you, Die and the world laughs on'?"
"I laugh,—but I am ashamed of myself," confessed Carol.
"What do women want to spoil a good story for?" protested Nevius. "That's a funny story, and it is true. It is supposed to be laughed at. And Reddy is better off. He had so many bugs you couldn't tell which was bugs and which was Reddy. He was an ugly guy, too, and he was stuck on a girl and she turned him down. She said Reddy was all right, but no one could raise a eugenical family with a father as ugly as Reddy. He didn't care if he died. Every night he used to flip up a coin to see if he would live till morning. He said if he got off ahead of us he was coming back to haunt us. But I told him he'd better fly while the flying was good, for I sure would show him a lively race up to the rosy clouds if I ever caught up. I knew if he got there first he'd pick out the best harp and leave me a wheezy mouth organ. He always wanted the best of everything."
Just then the nurse opened the door.
"Barrows and Nevius," she said sternly. "This is the rest hour, and you are both under orders. Please go home at once and go to bed, or I shall report to Mrs. Hartley." When they had gone, she looked searchingly into the face of the brand-new chaser. "How are you feeling now?" she asked.
"Oh, pretty well." And then she added honestly, "It really isn't as bad as I had expected. I think I can stand it a while."
"Have you caught a glimpse of the sunny slopes yet?"
Instinctively they turned their eyes to the distant mountains, with the white crown of snow at the top, and beneath, long radiating lines of alternating light and shadow, stretching down to the mesa.
"The shadows look pretty dark," she said, "but the sunny slopes are there all right. But I was happy at home; I had hopes and plans—"
"Yes, we all did," interrupted David quickly. "We were all happy, and had hopes and plans, and— But since we are here and have to stay, isn't it God's blessing that there is sunshine for us on the slopes?"
OLD HOPES AND NEW
Along toward the middle of the summer Carol began eating her meals on the porch with David, and they fixed up a small table with doilies and flowers, and said they were keeping house all over again. Sometimes, when David was sleeping, Carol slipped noiselessly into the room to turn over with loving fingers the soft woolen petticoats, and bandages, and bonnets, and daintily embroidered dresses,—gifts of the women of their church back in the Heights in St. Louis.
About David the doctors had been frank with Carol.
"He may live a long time and be comfortable, and enjoy himself. But he will never be able to do a man's work again."
"Are you sure?" Carol had taken the blow without flinching.
"Oh, yes. There is no doubt about that."
"What shall I do?"
"Just be happy that he is here, and not suffering. Love him, and amuse him, and enjoy him as much as you can. That is all you can do."
"Let's not tell him," she suggested. "It would make him so sorry."
"That is a good idea. Keep him in the dark. It is lots easier to be happy when hope goes with it."
But long before this, David had looked his future in the face. "I have been set aside for good," he thought. "I know it, I feel it. But Carol is so sure I will be well again! She shall never know the truth from me."
When Carol intensely told him he was stronger, he agreed promptly, and said he thought so, himself.
"Oh, blessed old David, I'm so glad you don't know about it," thought Carol.
"My sweet little Carol, I hope you never find out until it is over," thought David.
Sometimes Carol stood at the window when David was sleeping, and looked out over the long mesa to the mountains. Her gaze rested on the dark heavy shadows of the canyons. To her, those dark valleys in the mountains represented a buried vision,—the vision of David strong and sturdy again, springing lightly across a tennis court, walking briskly through mud and snow to conduct a little mission in the Hollow, standing tall and straight and sunburned in the pulpit swaying the people with his fervor. It was a buried hope, a shadowy canyon. Then she looked up to the sunny slopes, stretching bright and golden above the shadows up to the snowy crest of the mountain peaks. Sunny slopes,—a new hope rising out of the old and towering above it. And then she always went back to the chest in the corner of the room and fingered the tiny garments, waiting there for service, with tender fingers.
And once in a while, not very often, David would say, smiling, "Who knows, Carol, but you two may some day do the things we two had hoped to do?"
A few weeks later Aunt Grace came out from Mount Mark, and in her usual soft, gentle way drifted into the life of the chasers in the sanatorium. She told of the home, of William's work and tireless zeal, of Lark and Jim, of Fairy and Babbie, of Prudence and Jerry. She talked most of all of Connie.
"That Connie! She is a whole family all by herself. She is entirely different from the rest of you. She is unique. She doesn't really live at all, she just looks on. She watches life with the cool critical eyes of a philosopher and a stoic and an epicure all rolled into one. She comes, she sees, she draws conclusions. William and I hold our breath. She may set the world on fire with her talent, or she may become a demure little old maid crocheting jabots and feeding kittens. No one can foretell Connie."
And Carol, in a beautiful, heavenly relief at having this blessed outlet for her pent-up feelings, reclined in a big rocker on the porch, and smiled at Aunt Grace, and glowed at David, and declared the sunny slopes were so brilliant they dazzled her eyes.
There came a day when she packed a suitcase, and petted David a little and gave him very strict instructions as to how he was to conduct himself in her absence, and went away over to the other building, and settled down in a pleasant up-stairs room with Aunt Grace in charge. For several days she lounged there quietly content, gazing for hours out upon the marvelous mesa land, answering with a cheery wave the gay greetings shouted up to her from chasers loitering beneath her windows.
But one morning, she watched with weary throbbing eyes as Aunt Grace and a nurse and a chamber maid carefully wrapped up a tiny pink flannel roll for a visit to Room Number Six in the McCormick Building.
"Tell him I am just fine, and it is a lucky thing that he likes girls better than boys, and we think she is going to look like me. And be particularly sure to tell him she is very, very pretty, the doctor and the nurse both say she is,—David might overlook it if his attention were not especially called to it."
Three weeks later, the suit-case was packed once more, and Carol was moved back across the grounds to Number Six and David, where already little Julia was in full control.
"Aren't you glad she is pretty, David?" demanded Carol promptly. "I was so relieved. Most of them are so red and frowsy, you know. I've seen lots of new ones in my day, but this is my first experience with a pretty one."
The doctor and the nurse had the temerity to laugh at that, even with Julia, pink and dimply, right before them. "Oh, that old, old story," said the doctor. "I'm looking for a woman who can class her baby with the others. I intend to use my fortune erecting a monument to her if I find her,—but the fortune is safe. Every woman's baby is the only pretty one she ever saw in her life."
Carol and David were a little indignant at first, but finally they decided to make allowances for the doctor,—he was old, and of course he must be tired of babies, he had ushered in so many. They would try and apply their Christian charity to him, though it was a great strain on their religion.
But what should be done with Julia? David was so ill, Carol so weak, the baby so tender. Was it safe to keep her there? But could they let that little rosebud go?
"Why, I will just take her home with me," said Aunt Grace gently. "And we'll keep her until you are ready. Oh, it won't be a bit of trouble. We want her."
That settled it. The baby was to go.
"For once in my life I have made a sacrifice," said Carol grimly. "I think I must be improving. I have allowed myself to be hurt, and crushed, and torn to shreds, for the good of some one else. I certainly must be improving."
Later she thought, "She will know all her aunties before she knows me. She will love them better. When I go home, she will not know me, and will cry for Aunt Grace. She will be afraid of me. Really, some things are very hard." But to David she said that of course the doctors were right, and she and David were so old and sensible that it would be quite easy to do as they were bid. And they were so used to having just themselves that things would go on as they always had.
But more nights than one she cried herself to sleep, craving the touch of the little rosebud baby learning of motherhood from some one else.
NEPTUNE'S SECOND DAUGHTER
"Dearest Carol and David—
"Carol, dear, an awful thing has happened. Do you remember the millionaire's son who discovered me up the cherry tree years ago when I was an infant? He comes to see me now and then. He is very nice and attentive, and all of my friends have selected the color schemes for their boudoirs in my forthcoming palatial home. One night he telephoned and said his mother was in town with him, and they should like to come right up if I did not mind. I did not know he was in town, I hardly knew he had a mother, and I was in the act of shampooing my hair. Phyllis was making candy, and Gladys was reading aloud to us both. Imagine the mother of a millionaire's son coming right up, and I in a shampoo.
"'Oh,' I wailed, 'I haven't anything to wear, and I am not used to millionaires' sons' mothers, and I won't know what to say to her.'
"'Leave it to us, Connie!' cried my friends valiantly.
"Gladys whirled the magazine under the bed, and Phyllis turned out the electricity under the chafing-dish and put the candy in the window to finish at a later date.
"Did I tell you about our housekeeping venture? Gladys is a private secretary to something down-town and gets an enormous salary, thirty a week. Phyllis is an artist and has a studio somewhere, and we are great friends. So we took a cunning little apartment for three months, and we all live together and cook our meals in the baby kitchenette when we feel domestic, and dine out like princesses when we feel lordly. We have the kitchenette, and a bathroom with two kinds of showers, and a bedroom apiece, though mine is really a closet, and two sitting-rooms, so two of us can have beaus the same night. If we feel the need of an extra sitting-room—that is, three beaus a night—we draw cuts to see who has to resort to the park, or a movie, or the ice-cream parlor, or the kitchenette. Our time is up next week and we shall return modestly to our boarding-houses. It is great fun, but it is expensive, and we are so busy.
"We have lovely times. The girls are—not like me. They are really society buds, and wear startling evening gowns and go places in taxis, and are quite the height of fashion. It is a wonder they put up with me at all. Still every establishment must have at least one Cinderella. But let me admit honestly and Methodistically that I do less Cinderelling than either of them. Gladys darns my stockings, and Phyllis makes my bed fully half the time.
"Anyhow, when Andrew Hedges, millionaire's son, telephoned that his mother was coming up, they fell upon me, and one rubbed and one fanned, and they both talked at once, and in the end I agreed to leave myself in their hands. They knew all about millionaires' sons' mothers, it seemed, and would fix me up just exactly O. K. right. Gladys and I are the same size, and she has an exquisite semi-evening gown of Nile green and honest-to-goodness lace which I have long admired humbly from my corner among the ashes. Just the thing. I should wear it, and make the millionaire's son's mother look like twenty cents.
"Wickedly and wilfully I agreed. So when the hair was dry enough to manage, they marched me into Gladys' room—the only one of the three capable of accommodating three of us—and turned the mirrors to the wall. I protested at that. I wanted to see my progress under their skilful fingers.
"'No,' said Phyllis sagely. 'It looks horrible while it is going on. You must wait until you are finished, and then burst upon your own enraptured vision. You will enchant yourself.'
"Gladys seconded her and I assented weakly. I know I am not naturally weak, Carol, but the thought of a millionaire's son's mother affected me very strangely. It took all the starch out of my knees, and the spine out of my backbone.
"By this time I was established in Gladys' green slippers with rhinestone buckles, and Gladys was putting all of her own and Phyllis' rings on my fingers, and Phyllis was using a crimping iron on my curls. I was too curly already, but Phyllis said natural curliness was not the thing any more. Then Gladys began dabbing funny sticky stuff all over my fingers, and scratching my eyebrows, and powdering about twenty layers on my face and throat. After that, she rubbed my finger nails until I could almost see what they were doing to me. I never thought I had much hair, but when Phyllis got through with me I could hardly carry it. The ladies in Hawaii who carry bushel baskets on their heads will tell you how I felt. And whenever I moved it wabbled. But they both clapped their hands and said I looked like a dream, and of course I would have acquired another bushel had they advised it.
"I trusted them because they look so wonderful when they are finished,—just right,—never too much so.
"Our bell rang then, and Phyllis answered and said, 'Tell them Miss Starr will be in in a moment.'
"There is a general apartment maid, and when we wish to be very perfectly fine, we borrow her,—for a quarter.
"When I knew they had arrived, I leaped up, panic-stricken, and dived head first into that pile of Nile green silk and real lace. They rescued me tenderly, and pushed me in, and hooked me here, and buttoned me there, both panting and gasping, I madly hurrying them on, because I can't get over that silly old parsonage notion that it isn't good form to keep folks waiting.
"'There you are,' cried Gladys.
"'Fly,' shouted Phyllis.
"Out I dashed, recollected myself in the bathroom, and—yes, I did that foolish thing, Carol. Your vanity would have saved you such a blunder. But I tore myself from their blood-stained hands, and went in to meet a millionaire's son's mother without looking myself over in the mirror.
"When I parted the curtains, Andy leaped to his feet with his usual quick eagerness, but he stopped abruptly and his lips as well as his eyes widened.
"'How do you do?' I said, moistening my lips which already felt too wet, only I didn't know what was the matter with them. I held out my hand, unwontedly white, and he took it flabbily, instead of briskly and warmly as he usually did.
"'Mother,' he said, 'I want you to meet Miss Starr.'
"She wasn't at all the kind of millionaire's son's mother we have read about. She had no lorgnette, and she did not look me over superciliously. But she had turned my way as though confident of being pleased, and her soft eyes clouded a little, though she smiled sweetly. Her hair was silver white and curled over her forehead and around her ears. She had dimples, and she stuck her chin up like a girl when she laughed. She wore the softest, sweetest kind of a wistaria colored silk. I was charmed with her. It could not have been mutual.
"She held out her hand, smiling so gently, still with the cloud in her eyes, and we all sat down. She did not look me over, though she must have yearned to do so. But Andy looked me over thoroughly, questioningly, from the rhinestone pin at the top of the swaying hair, to the tips of my Nile green shoes. I tried to talk, but my hair wabbled so, and little invisible hair pins kept visibleing themselves and sliding into my lap and down my neck, and my lips felt so moist and sticky, and my skin didn't fit like skin, and—still I was determined to live up to my part, and I talked on and on, and—then, quite suddenly, I happened to glance into a mirror beside me. There was some one else in the room. Some one in a marvelous dress, with a white-washed throat, with lips too red, and cheeks too pink, and brows too black, some one with an unbelievable quantity of curls on top of her, and—I turned around to see whom it might be. Nobody there. I looked back to the mirror. I was not dreaming,—of course there was some one in the room. No, the room was empty save we three. I turned suspiciously to Mrs. Hedges. She was still in her place, a smiling study in wistaria and silver gray. I looked at Andy, immaculate in black and white. Then—sickening realization.
"I stood up abruptly. The atrocity in the mirror rose also.
"'That isn't I,' I cried imploringly.
"Mrs. Hedges looked startled, but Andy came to my side at once.
"'No, it certainly isn't,' he said heartily. 'What on earth have you been doing to yourself, Connie?'
"I went close to the mirror, inspecting myself, grimly, piteously. I do not understand it to this day. The girls do the same things to themselves and they look wonderful,—never like that.
"I rubbed my lips with my fingers, and understood the moisture. I examined my brows, and knew what the scratching meant. I shook the pile of hair, and a shower of invisible hair pins rewarded me. I brushed my fingers across my throat, and a cloud of powder wafted outward.
"What does it say in the Bible about the way of the unrighteous? Well, I know just as much about the subject as the Bible does, I think. For a time I was speechless. I did not wish to blame my friends. But I could not bear to think that any one should carry away such a vision of one of father's daughters.
"'Take a good look at me please,' I said, laughing, at last, 'for you will never see me again. I am Neptune's second daughter. I stepped full-grown into the world to-night from the hands of my faithless friends. Another step into my own room, and the lovely lady is gone forever.'
"Andy understands me, and he laughed. But his mother still smiled the clouded smile.
"I hurled myself into the depths of self-abasement. I spared no harsh details. I told of the shampoo, and the candy on the window-ledge, the magazine under the bed. Religiously I itemized every article on my person, giving every one her proper due. Then I excused myself and went up-stairs. I sneaked into my own room, removed the dream of Nile green and lace and jumped up and down on it a few times, in stocking feet, so the girls would not hear,—and relieved my feelings somewhat. I think I had to resort to gold dust to resurrect my own complexion,—not the best in the world perhaps, but mine, and I am for it. I combed my hair. I donned my simple blue dress,—cost four-fifty and Aunt Grace made it.' I wore my white kid slippers and stockings. My re-debut—ever hear the word?—was worth the exertion. Andy's face shone as he came to meet me. His mother did not know me.
"'I am Miss Starr,' I said. 'The one and only.'
"'Why, you sweet little thing,' she said, smiling, without the cloud.
"We went for a long drive, and had supper down-town at eleven o'clock, and she kept me with her at the hotel all night. It was Saturday. I slept with her and used all of her night things and toilet articles. I told her about the magnificent stories I am going to write sometime, and she told me what a darling Andy was when he was a baby, and between you and me, I doubt if they have a million dollars to their name. Honestly, Carol, they are just as nice as we are.
"They stayed in Chicago three days, and she admitted she came on purpose to get acquainted with me. She made me promise to spend a week with them in Cleveland when I can get away, and she gave me the dearest little pearl ring to remember her by. But I wonder—I wonder— Anyhow I can't tell him until he asks me, can I? And he has never said a word. You know yourself, Carol, you can't blurt things out at a man until he gives you a chance. So my conscience is quite free. And she certainly is adorable. Think of a mother-in-law like that, pink and gray, with dimples. Yes, she is my ideal of a mother-in-law. I haven't met 'father' yet, but he doesn't need to be very nice. A man can hide a hundred faults in one fold of a pocketbook the size of his.
"Lots of love to you both,—and you write to Larkie oftener than you do to me, which isn't fair, for she has a husband and a baby and is within reaching distance of father, and I am an orphan, and a widow, and a stranger in a strange land.
"But I love you anyhow.
THE SECOND STEP
They sat on canvas chairs on the sand outside the porch of the sanatorium, warmly wrapped in rugs, for the summer evenings in New Mexico are cold, and watched the shadows of evening tarnish the gold of the mesa. Like children, they held hands under the protecting shelter of the rug. They talked of little Julia off in Mount Mark, how she was growing, the color of her eyes, the shape of her fingers. They talked of her possible talents, and how they could best be developed, judging as well as they could in advance by the assembled qualities of all her relatives. David suggested that they might be prejudiced in her favor a little, for as far as they could determine there was no avenue of ability closed to her, but Carol stanchly refused to admit the impeachment. They talked of the schools best qualified to train her, of the teachers she must have, of the ministers they must demand for her spiritual guidance. They talked of the thousand bad habits of other little girls, and planned how Julia should be led surely, sweetly by them.
Then they were silent, thinking of the little pink rosebud baby as she had left them.
The darkness swept down from the mountains almost as sand-storms come, and Carol leaned her head against David's shoulder. She was happy. David was so much better. The horrible temperature was below ninety-nine at last, and David was allowed to walk about the mesa, and his appetite was ravenous. Maybe the doctors were wrong after all. He was certainly on the high-road to health now. She was so glad David had not known how near the dark valley he had passed.
David was rejoicing that he had never told Carol how really ill he had been. She would have been so frightened and sorry. He pictured Carol with the light dying out in her eyes, with pallor eating the roses in her cheeks, with languor in her step, and dullness in her voice,—the Carol she would surely have been had she known that David was walking under the shadow of death. David was very happy. He was so much better, of course he would soon be himself. Things looked very bright. Somehow to-night he did not yearn so much for work. It was Carol that counted most, Carol and the little Julia who was theirs, and would some day be with them. The big thing now was getting Julia ready for the life that was to come to her.
He was richly satisfied.
"Carol, this is the most wonderful thing in the world, companionship like this, being together, thinking in harmony, hoping the same hopes, sharing the same worries, planning the same future. Companionship is life to me now. There is nothing like it in all the world."
Carol snuggled against his shoulder happily.
"Love is wonderful," he went on, "but companionship is broader, for it is love, and more beyond. It is the development of love. It is the full blossom of the seed that has been planted in the heart. Service is splendid, too. But after all, it takes companionship to perfect service. One can not work alone. You are the completion of my desire to work, and you are the inspiration of my ability to work. Yes, companionship is life,—bigger than love and bigger than service, for companionship includes them both."
As the evenings grew colder, the camp chairs on the mesa were deserted, and the chattering "chasers" gathered indoors, sometimes in one or another of the airy tent cottages, sometimes before the cheerful blaze of the logs in the fireplace of the parlors, but oftenest of all they flocked into Number Six of McCormick Building, where David was confined to his cot. Always there was laughter in Number Six, merry jesting, ready repartee. So it became the mecca of those, who, even more assiduously than they chased the cure, sought after laughter and joy. In the parlors the guests played cards, but in Number Six, deferring silently to David's calling, they pulled out checkers and parcheesi, and fought desperate battles over the boards. But sometimes they fingered the dice and the checkers idly, leaning back in their chairs, and talked of temperatures, and hypodermics, and doctors, and war, and ghosts.
"I know this happened," said the big Canadian one night. "It was in my own home and I was there. So I can swear to every word of it. We came out from Scotland, and took up a big homestead in Saskatchewan. We threw up a log house and began living in it before it was half done. Evenings, the men came in from the ranches around, and we sat by the fire in the kitchen and smoked and told stories. Joined on to the kitchen there was a shed, which was intended for a summer kitchen. But just then we had half a dozen cots in it, and the hands slept there. One night one of the boys said he had a headache, and to escape the smoke in the kitchen which was too thick to breathe, he went into the shed and lay down on a cot. It was still unfinished, the shed was, and there were three or four wide boards laid across the rafters at the top to keep them from warping in the damp. Baldy lay on his back and stared up at the roof. Suddenly he leaped off the bed,—we all saw him; there was no door between the rooms. He leaped off and dashed through the kitchen.
"'What's the matter?' we asked him.
"'Let me alone, I want to get out of here,' he said, and shot through the door.
"We caught just one glimpse of his face. It was ashen. We went on smoking. 'He's a crazy Frenchman,' we said, and let it go. But my brother was out in the barn and he corralled him going by.
"'I am going to die, Don,' he said. 'I was lying on the bed, looking up at the rafters, and I saw the men come in and take the big white board and make it into a coffin for me. I am going home, I want to be with my folks.'
"Don came in scared stiff, and told us, and we said 'Pooh, pooh,' and went on smoking. But about eleven o'clock a couple of fellows from another ranch came over and said their boss had died that afternoon and they could not find the right sized boards for the coffin. They wanted a good straight one about six feet six by fourteen inches. We looked in the barns and the sheds, and could not find what they wanted. Then we went into the lean-to, where there were some loose boards in the corner, but they wouldn't do.
"'Say,' said one of them, 'how about that white board up there in the rafters? About right, huh?'
"We pulled it down, and it was just the size. They were tickled to get it, for they hated to drive twelve miles to town through snowdrifts over their heads.
"'That's the big white board that Baldy saw,' said Don suddenly. Yes, by George! We sent for Baldy that night to make sure, and it was just what he had seen, and the very men that came for the board. Baldy was mighty glad he wasn't the corpse."
"Mercy," said Carol, twitching her shoulders. "Are you sure it is true?"
"Gospel truth. I was right there. I took down the board."
"I know one that beats that," said the Scotchman promptly. "They have a sayin' over in my country, that if you have a dream, or a vision, of men comin' toward you carryin' a coffin, you will be in a coffin inside of three days. One night a neighbor of mine, next farm, was comin' home late, piped as usual, and as he came zigzaggin' down a dark lane, he looked up suddenly and saw four men marchin' solemnly toward him, carryin' a coffin. McDougall clutched his head. 'God help me,' he cried. 'It is the vision.' Then he turned in his tracks and shot over a hedge and up the bank, screamin' like mad. The spirits carryin' the coffin yelled at him and, droppin' the coffin, started up the hill after him. But McDougall only yelled louder and ran faster, and finally they lost him in the hills. So they went back. They were not spirits at all, and it was a real coffin. A woman had died, and they were takin' her in to town ready for the funeral next day. But the next day we found McDougall lyin' face down on the grass ten miles away, stone dead."
The girls shivered, and Carol shuffled her chair closer to David's bed.
"Ran himself to death?" suggested David.
"Well, he died," said the Scotchman.
"Is it true?" asked Carol, glancing fearfully through the screen of the porch into the black shadows on the mesa.
"Absolutely true," declared the Scotchman. "I was in the searchin' party that found him."
"I—I don't believe in spirits,—I mean haunting spirits," said Carol, stiffening her courage and her backbone by a strong effort.
"How about the ghosts that drove the men out into the graveyards in the Bible and made them cut up all kinds of funny capers, and finally haunted the pigs and drove 'em into the lake?" said Barrows slyly.
"They were not ghosts," protested Carol quickly. "Just evil spirits. They got drowned, you know,—ghosts don't drown."
"It does not say they got drowned," contradicted Barrows. "My Bible does not say it. The pigs got drowned. And that is what ghosts are,—evil spirits, very evil. They were too slick to get drowned themselves; they just chased the pigs in and then went off haunting somebody else."
Carol turned to David for proof, and David smiled a little.
"Well," he said thoughtfully, "perhaps it does not particularly say the ghosts were drowned. It says they went into the pigs, and the pigs were drowned. It does not say anything about the spirits coming out in advance, though."