HotFreeBooks.com
Treasure Valley
by Marian Keith
Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

And as he went about his task of relieving pain, day by day, unconsciously he was trying to live up to the high ideal that Elmbrook had placed for him.

"Give a dog a bad name and you can be hanging him," quoted old Hughie Cameron one evening when the doctor had joined the company on the milkstand, and the talk was more than usually profound. "That will be a true saying, indeed. But, hoots! toots! it will be working the other way, whatever. Give him a good name, now, and——"

"And he'll git up on his hind legs and walk like a man," said Spectacle John Cross, much to Uncle Hughie's disgust.

Dr. Allen had merely laughed, and forgotten the remark soon after. Nevertheless, the underlying truth was working out in his own life. He was being made a better man because he had been given a fine name and reputation. He had no petty conceit to be fed by his patients' adulation. It brought him only a saving sense of his own shortcomings and an honest desire to be more worthy. And there had been still another influence at work, one of which he was entirely unconscious—the quiet life of noble self-sacrifice lived by the girl on the other side of Treasure Valley was a constant source of reproach to him, though he recognized it not.

So, being the man he was, Gilbert could not be happy in view of what he had promised to do. Even Rosalie's smile was scarcely compensation for the pang he felt when he reflected that the splendid Christmas present he had in store for the man who had given him his chance in life must be used for selfish ends, and Martin must wait. That was the sting; Martin was always waiting, and when would the waiting end?

But he soon lost sight of the future, its joys, as well as its pangs, in the imperative call of the present. When the winter set in he discovered that, hitherto, his work had been but child's play. The high ridge of Elmbrook offered a splendid battle-ground for all the opposing winds. Here they met in furious combat, filling the air with the white dust of battle, and piling up their ramparts of snow until roads and fields and fences were blotted out, and the whole earth lay one dazzling waste.

With the opening of winter came an epidemic of grip [Transcriber's note: grippe?], and other seasonable maladies. The orphans went sliding on the pond before the ice was as thick as window-glass, and broke through and got severe colds; Mrs. McKitterick fell ill of pneumonia, and all the children up among the stormy hills of Glenoro took the measles. So the young doctor learned all that it meant to be a country physician during an Ontario winter. An early December storm made some of the roads impassable, and he often had to leave Speed, or the new horse he had lately bought, at some wayside farmhouse while he made the rest of the journey on snowshoes. Often he drove home in the gray winter dawn staggering for want of sleep, only to change his horse and start off in another direction. But he never shirked. His troubled conscience drove him to a vigorous fulfilment of the duty at hand. He had a vague notion that in this way he was atoning for the neglect of the greater obligation.

His capacity for toil won the admiration of the hard-working people among whom he lived. Often, as they watched his lonely cutter moving down the road, like a little ship in a stormy sea, now rising high on a snowy billow, now almost disappearing in the hollow, as he fought his way against the bitter blast to relieve some one's pain, they unanimously voted the doctor a man.

And the cures he worked! They talked them over around the kitchen fire at night, never wearying of the theme. There was Mrs. McKitterick—everybody knew about her, of course. And there was Arabella Winters, who was in bed and like to die, one day, and the doctor had her sitting up and going around the next. And as for Jake Sawyer's orphans—well, there was no knowing how often he had saved their lives. Yes, the doctor certainly was a caution.

As he worked the days flew past, and Rosalie's New Year's celebration, which was to bring him such happiness, was fast approaching. He had all the arrangements made for his holidays several weeks before. Harwood was coming to take his work for a week, and everything promised to turn out exactly as he had hoped.

On the last night of December he drove down the Lake Simcoe road to pay a farewell visit to Mrs. McKitterick. Harwood had arrived the day before, and the next morning Gilbert was to take the early train for Toronto. Lauchie had promised to wait at the back lane for him, and Davy had shoveled a path down to the railroad track.

Gilbert wore his first-prize mittens under his fur gauntlets, and Mrs. McKitterick praised him for the wonderful care he was taking of them. She was better, quite herself again, but she warned him to be back in less than a week, for how could she get on without him? He had not the heart to tell her that he would not likely be with her much longer. He had to wait for a cup of tea, and by the time he had made another call it was getting late.

As he was hurrying homeward he bethought himself of a short road to the village, a winter highway, that went up the ravine, past the Drowned Lands, following the old abandoned corduroy track. It had been made by Sandy McQuarry's teams hauling logs up to the mill, and being sheltered, was comparatively free from drifts. The doctor turned into it, and passed into the breathless silence of the cedar swamp. His horse's bells sounded startlingly clear in the tense Stillness. To his right lay the cold, drear stretches of the Drowned Lands; the gaunt tree-trunks were but dimly discernible against the gray landscape, and looked more ghostly than ever, standing there, stark and silent, like an army of the dead. Not a light could be seen, nor a sign of human habitation. Above stretched the illimitable blue of heaven, steely cold, like the frozen earth, and spangled with glittering stars. For several nights Gilbert had had very little sleep, and as he moved on through the unbroken silence his head drooped forward on his breast, the lines hung loosely in his limp hand, and he swayed from side to side like a drunken man. Speed trotted steadily onward, picking her way carefully, like the wise little animal she was. She seemed the only living thing in all the ghostly stillness.

Suddenly the horse stopped, and her sleepy driver lurched forward and almost fell over the dashboard. He sat bolt upright and stared stupidly about him. Then he guessed that something was probably wrong with the harness. Speed was a dainty little animal, and always refused to move when her attire was not in perfect order. She had once cleverly forestalled what might have been a serious accident, by standing stock-still when a strap gave way. Gilbert stumbled out and went around to her head. Sure enough, a buckle had broken. He patted the little mare affectionately.

"Ah, Speed, you're a finicky old girl," he grumbled. "If you were as dead for want of sleep as I am you wouldn't know whether you had any harness or not."

Speed rubbed him ingratiatingly with her nose as he strove, with numb fingers, to repair the damage. The bells were still, and the silence of the winter night was oppressive. The dry rustle of some dead leaves that still clung forlornly to a ghostly beech by the wayside sounded loud and startling. All at once the doctor was conscious of another sound, one that appealed to his professional ear—the sound of a smothered, strangling cough. He looked about him wonderingly, and found that he had stopped just in front of the old shanty where John McIntyre lived. He had seen the man only once or twice since the mill closed, though he often heard the eldest orphan talk about him. But Tim had been confined to the house for the past week, the result of his premature skate on the pond, and the village had heard nothing of the watchman for some time.

Gilbert stood a moment, doubtful as to what he should do. The coughing began again, with a sound in it, this time, that told the physician he must hesitate no longer. He drew his horse up to the old tumbled-down bars, tied and blanketed her, and taking his satchel, plunged through the deep snow to the shanty. He drew off his fur gauntlet and knocked on the shaky door, but the moment he had done so he recognized the futility of the act. He tried the latch, it lifted, and he stepped in. The place was in utter darkness, and bitingly cold, a chill dampness that struck the heart. The man's strangled breathing came from a corner of the room. The doctor spoke, but there was no answer. He hastily struck a match and looked around. The little flickering light showed a rickety table, an old stove red with rust, and a dark object in a far corner. It showed, also, a lantern on the floor. Gilbert lit it, and going to the corner, bent over the sick man. John McIntyre lay stretched on a low straw bed, covered with a ragged quilt and a heap of nondescript clothing. His breath was coming in choking gasps, and he gazed up at his visitor with staring, but unseeing, eyes. The doctor felt his burning forehead and his leaping pulse, and uttered a sharp exclamation. John McIntyre was sick, so sick that relief must come speedily or it would not come at all.

Gilbert was wide awake now. The weary man was lost in the alert physician. He forced some medicine down the man's throat, found some kindling-wood in the shed, and soon had a blazing fire and a boiling kettle. Then he flung aside his cap and coat and went rummaging in the meager cupboard; he must have something—anything—for poultices. He gave a relieved whistle as he stumbled upon a can of linseed meal, and reflected, with some amusement, upon how approvingly Mrs. Winters would have regarded the homely treatment. When he had adjusted the hot poultice he ran out and led his shivering horse around into the shelter of the old shed behind the house. Then he hurried back to John McIntyre's bedside and took up his night's work. A hard battle he knew it would be, with, as yet, almost even chances for life and death. He went into the struggle eagerly, with not only the strong desire to relieve pain and save life, which is part of the true physician, but with his fighting instinct keenly aroused. The battle was on; there was only his strength and skill against the dread specter, and he was determined to win.

All night long he hung over his patient, watchful, careful, seizing every smallest vantage ground, swiftly changing his tactics when he sighted defeat ahead. Once or twice he sank into the single chair the place possessed and snatched a few minutes' sleep; but when the instant came to administer medicine or change the poultices, he was wide awake again. So completely was he absorbed in his task that he lost all consciousness of time and place, until he noticed a sickly appearance in the lantern's light, and glancing at the little frosted window-pane, he saw the ghosts of the Drowned Lands standing out plainly against the dawn. Gilbert drew a deep breath. The night had ended, and with it the struggle. The doctor bent over his patient, pale and worn-looking, but his eyes aglow with the light of conquest. For he had won the battle. John McIntyre lay there, spent and white, but he was saved.

When he had made his patient as comfortable as possible with his inadequate means, Gilbert prepared to go home. He left reluctantly, but he promised himself he would send Harwood back immediately. He hurried out to the cutter, and sent Speed spinning up the road toward the village. As he faced the brightening horizon it came to him with a leap of his heart that it was New Year's Day! He would barely have time to catch the train! He drove swiftly into his own yard and dashed in at the kitchen door.

"Is Dr. Harwood up?" he demanded, coming suddenly upon Mrs. Munn, and paralyzing her preparations for breakfast.

Had he not been in such a hurry he would have known it was too much to expect his silent housekeeper to vouchsafe, all at once, the amount of information required to answer that question.

"Dear! dear!" she cried, in consternation, standing with the dripping porridge-stick held over the hot stove. "I dunno. There's a letter on your desk," she added reluctantly.

Gilbert darted into his office and tore open the note. Harwood had been called out in the night to an urgent case, fifteen miles away, and would not be back till the afternoon.

The young doctor walked slowly to the frosty window and looked out upon the white lawn, the paper crushed in his hand. He stood there, motionless, for fully a minute, and when he turned away his face was very stern. He walked upstairs and knocked peremptorily on the door of Davy's room.

The high, falsetto squeak of a gramophone was coming gaily through the portal, and without waiting for an answer Gilbert impatiently put his head through the doorway. Since the lawnmower had gone to its well-earned rest Mr. Munn lived only for this other instrument, the sound of whose music he found similar to that of his lost treasure.

He was sitting up in bed now, shrouded in blankets, a smile of content illuminating his face, while the buzzing little machine on the table at his side was grinding out a Sousa march.

The stern look on the doctor's face startled the young man. He stared in perturbation.

"Is anybody dead?" he whispered.

"Jump up quick," said the doctor sharply, "and run down and feed Speed right away; I want her again in a few minutes, do you understand? Then go down to the track when Lauchie stops, and give him a telegram I want sent on. Tell him I'm not going to Toronto."

On the third day of the new year, when John McIntyre was quite out of danger, Gilbert went over to Mrs. Winters' to ask if she could do something to make the man's surroundings more comfortable. This was just the opportunity for which the village manager had been longing ever since the watchman had taken up his residence at the Drowned Lands. She organized a housecleaning brigade, and every woman in the place joined the ranks. Old Hughie Cameron drove them down the ravine in Sandy McQuarry's big sleigh, and they descended upon John McIntyre's establishment, and soaked and washed and scrubbed until there seemed no small danger of the little shanty's joining the Drowned Lands under a deluge of soapy water. They brought all sorts of comforts, too. Miss Arabella donated her bedroom rug with the purple robins. Miss McQuarry brought bedclothes, Mrs. Winters a feather mattress, and the Longs cooking utensils; and they made beef-tea and chicken broth and jellies, until, from fearing that his patient might die of neglect, the doctor changed to apprehensions lest he be killed with over-attention.

When the rush and excitement of it was all over Gilbert felt as though he had fallen from some great height, and was not yet certain how badly he was hurt. That he had grievously offended Rosalie this time he was assured. She would listen to no explanations. He might have come if he had wanted, she declared; and when he humbly asked if he might not come yet, he was answered by a newspaper with a paragraph in the society column marked. Miss Rosalie Lane, it stated, was visiting friends in New York.

Harwood went back to the city, and, left alone, Gilbert was too busy to speculate much upon his wrongs. He put them behind him manfully, his indignation at the unfairness of Rosalie's treatment helping him to bear them. But he wrote to her again, very humbly, as usual, and repeated his promise to come to the city in the spring. She condescended to answer, but her brief note was all about the fun she was having, and she made no allusion to his future plans. And with this he was forced to be content.

He was passing John McIntyre's shanty one dazzling mid-January day, and, tying his horse, ran in to see how he was faring. He found his patient, dressed in one of his own warm bathrobes—a present from Mrs. Munn—sitting in a cushioned rocking-chair by the fire. The place was exquisitely clean and tidy, and there was a subtle touch here and there—a blooming geranium in the window, a smoothness of the feather bed—that showed the recent mark of a woman's hand. Seated in the most comfortable chair, behind the stove, was the eldest Sawyer orphan, happily devouring the remains of a boiled chicken, and talking fast and furiously. John McIntyre was pale and haggard, as usual, but his air of fierce reserve had changed to a dreary toleration of the companionship of his fellow-mortals. He was still reticent and silent, but in a helpless, broken-hearted way.

Since his recovery the young doctor felt constrained in his presence. He could not forget their first interview; so he confined his remarks and questions to strictly professional matters, and made his visits as short as possible.

"And how are you feeling to-day?" he asked cheerily, as he removed his coat, and stood warming his hands by the shining stove.

"Oh, better—quite better." It was John McIntyre's unfailing answer. The doctor slipped his fingers over his pulse, and nodded in a satisfied way.

"I don't know that it's very wise of you to be out of bed yet, though," he said. "You must not sit up too long."

He placed a bottle on the table, gave a few instructions concerning diet, and then turned to go. John McIntyre had been regarding him as though he wanted to speak.

"Sit down a moment, I would like to say something," he said suddenly.

Gilbert took a chair opposite, and looked at him inquiringly.

"They were telling me yesterday how you saved my life that night you found me here," he began slowly.

"Oh, never mind that. It's nothing. Any doctor would have done the same."

"I am not thanking you for it," said John McIntyre, in his old hard voice. "I would much rather you had left me alone. But you did what you thought best, and you have been very kind since." He paused a moment, then went on slowly: "I once said something to you, it is likely you have not forgotten. I would like to take it back. I know now I must have been mistaken."

Dr. Gilbert Allen arose. The room felt stifling. "Will you tell me exactly what you meant? Who was the friend you mentioned?" he asked in a low tone.

The man shook his head. "No; what is the use?" he asked wearily. "He is dead and gone, long ago. I was mistaken, that was all."

Gilbert went away puzzled. The "friend" was dead? Then the man had not meant Martin, after all. It was a case of conscience making a coward of him, he reflected. And so the two parted, all unconscious of how near each had come to giving an uplift to the other's life.

Gilbert drove up the glittering road, following the fairy windings and turnings of the valley. Down in the shadows the bare trees were vivid blue, up on the heights the snow was a blinding silver. He was meditating deeply on John McIntyre's words. They had hurt him more than his angry accusation that evening in the mill. How he hated himself! Why not plunge in and do the right thing now, whether Martin needed it or not, and then, after that, let the future bring what it would?

A woman's figure appeared on the road ahead of him, carrying a basket, and explaining by her presence the immaculate state of John McIntyre's home. Gilbert recognized the shimmer of Elsie Cameron's deep gold hair with renewed feelings of compunction. If he had only had the calm courage to walk the path of duty as this girl was doing! He touched his horse and drew up beside her. The keen air had given her cheeks a deeper tint, her hair was glorious in the sunlight, and her eyes were brilliant.

She thanked him smilingly as he helped her into the cutter. He could not help remembering the last time they had ridden together, and the disastrous consequences.

They spun along the smooth road, and just as they were rounding a turn in the winding valley a heavy sleigh, with a load of wood, came out of the forest and moved slowly along in the track ahead. Gilbert uttered an exclamation of impatience. "Now we shall have to crawl," he said. "Sandy might have let us pass."

"Perhaps he didn't see us. He looks preoccupied."

"Likely he's concocting some scheme for sending the minister to Muskoky for the rest of the winter."

"I really believe he'll drive him away from here some day. No one knows how much Sandy's conduct has made poor Mr. Scott suffer."

"Well, the end is near, according to Silas Long's predictions. He prophesies sure retribution, and it's not far off now, he says. Such a learned astronomer ought to know. Hello! what's the matter?"

The sleigh ahead had stopped, and its driver was haranguing some obstacle in his pathway. The two in the cutter leaned out and gazed forward inquiringly.

Right in the middle of the highway, facing Sandy McQuarry's team, stood the schoolmistress. She had a basket on her arm, and was bound for John McIntyre's place with a mold of jelly, but she was really bent on finding out if that eldest orphan-imp had been spending the day with that dreadful old man instead of coming to school.

The ravine road was narrow, and on either side the deep, untrodden snow made it impossible for a sleigh to turn out without risking an upset. It was an unwritten law of the winter highway that pedestrians must give the right of way to vehicles, particularly those that bore loads. But the Duke of Wellington was subject to no law she did not wish to obey. To turn off the road meant plunging into the deep snow, and that she had not the smallest intention of doing.

"Ye'll hae to turn oot!" shouted Sandy McQuarry peremptorily.

"Do you think I'm going to flounder through that snow to my waist?" demanded the Duke indignantly.

"Move aside and let me pass!"

"Ah canna move oot, wumman!" he cried, with truth. "Ma load'll upset!"

"What are you going to do about it, then?" Sandy McQuarry glared. "Ah'm goin' to drive on," he declared grimly.

"Indeed!" Miss Weir placed her basket exactly in the middle of the road, carefully adjusted her shawl over it, and, with perfect deliberation, sat down upon it.

"Hoh!" Sandy McQuarry grunted disdainfully. He could soon scare even the Duke of Wellington out of such an untenable position. "Ma conscience, but ye'll no sit there lang!" he muttered. He urged his team forward until the nose of one of his grays was right over her head. But he had not calculated on the immovability of the Iron Duke. She did not stir a muscle, but sat, with a calm, meditative face, gazing across the valley. The grays tossed their heads, puzzled and indignant, and then stopped.

Sandy McQuarry was red with rage.

"D'ye want me to run over ye, ye thrawn piece o' humanity, ye?" he shouted.

The Duke did not appear to hear him. He rose to his feet, whip in hand.

"Jemima Weir!" he thundered, "will ye, or will ye no step off that road and let me drive on?"

"I will no!" answered the Duke, with unkind emphasis.

The man raised his whip over his horses' backs and then paused. Plainly she intended to be slain rather than yield, and though murder was in Sandy's heart he hesitated to commit it. He glanced about him with a movement of impotent rage. Never before had he been balked in his will by man, nor had he ever met the woman who had dared to cross him. And here he was, held up in his own particular saw-log road by one of the despised sex! He remembered, in choking wrath, that he was a pillar of the Glenoro church, that before him was the schoolmistress, and behind the doctor and old Hughie Cameron's niece, and he dared not give adequate expression to the rage with which he was being consumed.

In a voice inarticulate with anger he opened a parley. He declared that he would have the law, that he would publish her high-handed act from one end of the county of Simcoe to the other, that he would get himself elected for trustee and drive her out of the section. He blustered, he threatened, he scolded, he argued. And through it all the obstacle sat on her basket, in the middle of the highway, not deigning him even a glance. But as the maddened man foamed on, there arose once to the surface the lurking twinkle in the Duke's gray eyes. For there was no doubt Sandy was weakening. He had even stooped to reason with her now.

"The snow's no more nor a half fut deep!" he was bellowing.

The Duke caught the first symptom of yielding, but was too wise to make answer.

"Yon's the doctor back there," he cried, with a great show of righteous concern, "he'll mebby be in a hurry."

There was no sign of impatience from the two, choking down their laughter, in the cutter behind; and though she could not see them, well the Duke knew they were enjoying themselves. Nevertheless, she condescended to answer.

"You'd better not keep him waiting, then," she advised.

The man darted one more glance around, the glance of an imprisoned lion which suddenly realizes its position. Slowly, his brows erect, his face dark, he descended from the sleigh and walked around to her side. He stood for a moment regarding her, with a dawning expression of something like respect struggling with the gleam of his fierce eyes.

"If Ah tramp ye a path 'round the sleigh will ye walk in it?" he asked, his voice tremulous with wrath.

The Duke weighed the proposition with great deliberation. She would have died there under the horses' feet rather than show the slightest interest in it. "Well," she admitted indifferently, "I can't say. If I don't get my skirts snowy, I might. You tramp the road, and then I'll see."

With smothered imprecations, Sandy plunged into the snow.

Dr. Allen, quenching his unseemly mirth, sprang from the cutter and came to his aid. There was something to arouse pity in the downfall of the man of strength. Neither by word nor sign did Sandy recognize either his or Elsie Cameron's presence. The atmosphere was too highly charged to admit of ordinary courtesies. When the two men had trampled a wide pathway, and made it sufficiently smooth and firm, the Duke of Wellington condescended to march out of her citadel. There was no smallest sign of haste in her movements; she stood and eyed the track critically, as if doubtful as to whether she would use it, after all. Her hesitation proved the last straw to her enemy's endurance. With an inarticulate cry of rage Sandy McQuarry sprang toward her. The Duke was tall and stately, and of no light weight, but he caught her up as if she had been a child, and with a few mighty strides bore her along the pathway. Reaching the road, he planted her in the middle of it with a violent thud.

"The Lord Almighty peety the man that gets a wumman like you!" he exclaimed with vehement solemnity. He strode back to his sleigh, leaped upon his load, and lashed his horses into a gallop.

The Duke was perfectly calm. She bowed in her stateliest fashion to Elsie and the doctor, but the twinkle in her eye answered the laughter in the girl's. Then, arranging her basket more carefully on her arm, she passed on her way as if nothing had happened.

Gilbert sprang into his cutter, and the two witnesses of poor Sandy's Waterloo followed his tumultuous retreat up the valley. They were young and light-hearted, and what wonder if one put aside her gravity and the other his troubles, and both laughed all the way to the village?

It was not until they had gained the main highway, and Sandy had disappeared, that they recovered their composure and could speak of other things.

"And you did not get away for your vacation at New Year's," the girl said. "That was too bad."

"No," said Gilbert, suddenly growing somber at the recollection. "Everything conspired against me, it seemed. I couldn't get away."

"Uncle Hughie would say that everything had conspired for you. His theory is the happiest one. He would tell you that if you had gone probably some disastrous circumstance would have followed."

"Perhaps he is right," said the young man meditatively. He could not yet regard his failure to meet Rosalie's demands as anything but a misfortune. And yet, there was that money still in the bank that Martin might have. That was surely a satisfaction.

"Oh, everything seems to me to be guided by the merest chance," he said half bitterly.

The girl shook her head. "I think it seems so only on the surface. There can be no hazard about one's duty. The results are as sure as cause and effect. You know that, Dr. Allen."

"Yes, I know it," said Gilbert as he assisted her to alight at the door. "I am aware of it, I mean, but I don't act upon it."

He looked up at her, standing on the steps above him, and felt again that longing her presence always inspired within him to do something good and great. Why was he such a sham? John McIntyre's words of praise returned, with their weight of humiliation, and he drove away in utter self-contempt.

At college, the boys always said that generally Easy Allen, as they called him, was only a very ordinary football player. He ambled cheerily about the field, and seemed to enjoy the game so much that he did not bother trying to do anything remarkable. But let something arouse him to a sense of responsibility, a goal for the other side, a knockdown that stirred his temper, then look out! He would put his head down and pitch himself into the fray, and then something had to give way, and the boys knew it wouldn't be Easy. To-day, something of that old conquering mood had come over him. He was possessed with a rage against his former dilatory self, and a fierce desire to win, to do the clean, square thing, no matter what the consequences. He had done it that New Year's morning, when John McIntyre's life lay in his hand. The call of duty had been imperative then. He had not even considered the possibility of shirking it, and in spite of all the disappointment and sorrow his action had brought, he had never once viewed it with regret. And now, once more, he had his head down, in fierce determination, and cared for nothing but to score and feel himself a man.

He marched straight past a group of patients waiting in his office and sat down at his desk. What a long time since he had written to Martin! He had almost forgotten his address. The letter was short and humble, and inside it he slipped a check. When he left it at the post-office, half an hour later, he was a poor man, and his prospects of starting a city practice in the spring were of the slimmest sort; nevertheless, he walked very straight, and held up his head with an air of pride, as though he owned the whole earth.

But his exultation did not last long. The next morning Miss Ella Anne Long handed him a letter; it was in Rosalie's handwriting. He tore it open on the street, not being able to wait till he reached home. It was merely a note, very short and very merry, telling how she had just returned from New York, and in a brief postscript, crowded in at the bottom, she announced her engagement to Guy Blackburn.



CHAPTER XIII

THE TREASURE-BOOK

And yet, O God, I know not how to fail! Within my heart still burns an unquenched fire, Like Israel of old I must prevail, Or failing, still reach on to something higher. They counted Him a failure when He trod The slopes of Calvary that led to God! —HELENA COLEMAN.

All winter the eldest orphan's reformed conduct had been the subject of joyous wonder on the part of his parents. Hannah was of the opinion that the boy had been converted at Mr. Scott's series of special meetings at Christmas time, but Jake, having been a boy himself, shook his head, and said it was likely just a spell he had taken with the cold weather, and it would work off when the summer came, like Joey's whooping-cough. But, strange to say, Tim went no more abroad with Davy Munn on lawless expeditions. Sawed-Off Wilmott and the young Lochinvar from Glenoro came regularly, on alternate evenings, to see Ella Anne Long, and never found ropes tied across the gate, nor whips nor lap-robes missing, as in Tim's unregenerate days. Even Miss Weir testified that sometimes he would not do anything particularly outrageous in school for a week at a time. The truth was that the eldest orphan had neither time nor inclination for childish mischief. Mentally, he had grown up. He dwelt no more in the common walks of humanity, but in the land of romance. For one who consorted with heroes, fought great battles, and performed mighty deeds of valor, childish pranks had no interest. He cared now for nothing in the world but to read all day long, and half the night; to read anything and everything, from the hair-raising cowboy tales Davy Munn loaned him, to the ponderous histories from the minister's book-shelf. Through this selfsame book-shelf the minister had become one of Tim's closest friends, and might have made a pastoral visitation every day in the week and been welcome. He had almost got ahead of the doctor in the eldest orphan's regard; for while the doctor had plenty of books, whole shelves of them, they were queer, stupid things, full of long, hard words, and never a battle or a shipwreck from one cover to the other.

At first, the boy's greedy desire to devour a story at one sitting filled him with impatience at his own slowness. He found, to his chagrin, that he could not read the "Waverley Novels" with the swiftness the course of events demanded. He tried having them read aloud by his father, but though Jake was always willing, he stumbled and spelled his way through the battles and adventures with a laboriousness that nearly set his young listener mad.

But one winter night Tim discovered a royal road to learning. The minister had called, and left "Quentin Durward." It was an evening the boy had been in the habit of spending with John McIntyre, so he slipped the volume inside his coat and sped away with it down to the Drowned Lands.

And wonderful good fortune, John McIntyre proved a splendid reader. Not only that, but after his first reluctance had been overcome, he seemed to like the task.

That was the beginning of a new life for both of them. The boy came almost every evening now, and as John McIntyre grew stronger he often read on, as absorbed as his listener, until the hour was late. Then, instead of going home, Tim would curl up snugly in bed behind his friend, and sleep until he was awakened in time to start for school.

One evening, when the sick man had almost recovered his wonted strength, Tim came hobbling down the road with a large volume bulging out the front of his coat. John McIntyre sat before his fire, looking through his little frosted panes at the beauty of the winter sunset, and something of the sadness in his weary eyes vanished as the little figure appeared against the filmy rose mists of Treasure Valley, and came trotting down the glittering road. There seemed to be a reflection of the sunset glow in the man's face as the boy bounded in.

"Hello!" he shouted, pitching his snowy mittens under the stove and his cap upon the bed. "I've got a new story." He struggled to extract the book from his coat. "Old Hughie Cameron gave it to me. Hech! hech! hoots! toots! indeed and indeed!" he added, hobbling about the room, and imitating the old man's caressing manner to perfection.

No one in Elmbrook had ever seen John McIntyre smile, nor did he do so now; but as he watched the absurd attempts of the youngster to portray the queer gait of the village philosopher there came into his eyes a look as though there had passed before them the ghost of the days when he, himself, was young and light-hearted and full of boyish pranks. He arose, and lighting the little lamp, placed it upon the table.

"It's a bully story," went on the boy. "Old Hughie started to read it to me an' the twins las' night, but they got to scrappin', an' I had to lambaste 'em both, an' so he didn't finish. He said mebby you would. It's about an old guy who was rich an' had chunks o' money, an' a big family, an' all the rest; an' the devil got after him an' busted up the whole thing. He got all his cows an' his horses an' things struck with lightning, an' his boys an' his girls were all at a swell birthday spree, an' the house up an' fell down, an' smashed every bloomin' one o' them—oh, say! it's a dandy!"

He placed the book on the table and shoved it toward John McIntyre. The man reached for it, but quickly drew back.

"It's—the Bible!" he said sharply.

"Yes," said Tim, "'course. Did ye ever read any of it?" He paused in embarrassment. John McIntyre, being such a particularly bad man, a fact he was prone to forget, would naturally scorn to read the Bible. He felt ashamed of himself. "It's got a whole lot o' bully yarns in it," he added apologetically.

The man was looking at the Book as though he were afraid of it.

"This man's name was Job. D'ye ever hear about him?" continued Tim insinuatingly.

"Yes, I've read it."

"Oh, have you? Well, read it again. Aw, go on. It won't hurt!"

He shoved the book into the man's hands. He had learned, long ere this, that John McIntyre was his obedient servant. "Begin at the beginning, 'cause I kinder forget how it starts."

So, for the first time in many long years, John McIntyre took into his hands the Word of God—the Book he had been wont to read every evening, so long ago, in the light of his happy home circle.

"There was a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job, and that man was perfect and upright, and one that feared God and eschewed evil."

Tim snuggled down on Miss Arabella's rug, close to the stove, his chin in his hands, and stared up with eager, devouring eyes. At first, John McIntyre read in a strained, hard voice, but soon he seemed to forget everything but the absorbing tale—the tale of his own life—a man's struggle with overwhelming sorrow; and yet how different from his own. For Job had not sinned, nor "charged God foolishly," while he, in his bitterness, had thrown the blame of his evil case upon his Maker, and declared that He knew not compassion.

Throughout the early portion of the story Tim listened with eyes and ears, but when they entered upon the long discourses of Job's friends he grew restless. There was not enough action here. Thunder and lightning, sudden deaths, and overwhelming catastrophes were exactly suited to the orphan's taste, but theological controversy was a weariness to his soul. He wriggled around impatiently, counted the purple robins again and again, and gouged holes in the single eye each possessed. But still the dreary talk went on.

"Say! ain't that coon ever goin' to get done shootin' off?" he broke in wearily, in the midst of a long speech from Eliphaz the Temanite.

John McIntyre did not hear. He had come to the answer of Job, words that found an echo in his own bitter heart:

"I was at ease, but He hath broken me asunder; He hath also taken me by my neck and shaken me to pieces, and set me up for His mark. His archers compass me round about. He cleaveth my reins asunder, and doth not spare."

The anguish in the reader's voice, conveying the strength of the man's mighty grief, made itself felt in the child's soul, and stilled him. He gazed up into John McIntyre's haggard face with a strange heaviness at his heart. Through chapter after chapter he waited, silent and subdued, but at last his weariness overcame his fears. He rolled over on the rug and yawned loudly.

"Aw, shucks!" he muttered; "they're as bad at gassin' as Ella Anne Long!" He waited through another chapter, and then broke in once more.

"Say! couldn't you skip all that blather, an' tell us what happened next? Didn't the devil get after him again?"

The reader paused, and gazed down at the boy in a dazed fashion. "What do you want?" he asked vaguely.

"I wish them fellows would hustle up, an' quit chewin'. Did Job get all right again?"

John McIntyre mechanically turned the leaves. He experienced a grim satisfaction in the boy's complaints. What did these wordy friends of Job know of sorrow and despair? As though they were conditions that could be explained away! He turned almost to the end of the story, and there he paused. A new actor had entered the sorrowful drama. Out of the whirlwind there came a Voice—the voice of the Infinite—and before its thunder the souls of Job and his friends bowed in self-abasement.

The reading went on again, continuing uninterrupted to the end. The man closed the Book, dropping it heavily upon the table.

"Is that all?" demanded Tim, fearing to be cheated out of one word of the story.

"That is all," said John McIntyre in a whisper. He shaded his eyes with his hand. What long, weary days and nights had passed over him since he last looked into that Book! He had thought never to look into it again, and yet its pages held their old convincing power. There was still that magic touch that went straight to a man's heart, as only God's word can. Job had suffered, had been bereft of all that made life worth the holding, and yet he had garnered from the seed sown in anguish, not bitterness and despair and hatred of God and man, but a golden harvest of divine revelation, a wealth of eternal hope and joy: "I know that my Redeemer liveth!"

When the eldest orphan started out for the Drowned Lands the next evening he sighted the minister on the village street ahead of him. He was about to hasten his footsteps to overtake him, when he noticed Mr. Scott pause and speak to some one.

As the boy drew slowly near, he was amazed to see that it was Sandy McQuarry. They seemed to be talking in quite a friendly tone, too, while over at Long's store Tim's foster-father, and his enemy, Spectacle John, and the blacksmith, were craning their necks through the doorway, and apparently enjoying the scene. Sandy did not speak long, but they parted with a hearty handshake.

"Hello!" cried the boy, coming up alongside the tall figure. The orphans could never be accused of stiffness or formality.

"Hello!" cried the minister, with equal cordiality. His eyes were shining, and he looked as though he had just received great and good news.

"Ain't he mad at ye any more?" asked Tim, jerking his thumb over his shoulder to indicate Sandy McQuarry, the way he had seen his father do.

The minister's eyes grew brighter. "No, Tim, he's not mad at me any more, and, please God, he never will be."

"Did you take it back, what you said about Muskoka?"

"Well, yes, partly; but it wasn't that." The laughter lines were deepening around the minister's eyes. "When you grow older you will understand better. And how are you feeling to-night? Cold better, eh?"

"Oh, I'm fine and dandy. How's yourself?" He was prancing along by the man's side, with a gait peculiar, even to himself. The orphans all had a curious, orphan-like habit of rendering pedestrianism as difficult as possible. The twins would stagger around for a whole day tied together at the ankles, and Tim now displayed this family peculiarity by hirpling along, one foot up on the smooth, hard roadway, the other plunging far into the deep snow.

"Very well, thank you," said Mr. Scott. "Where are you going?"

"Down to see John." His tone revealed his pride in the daring confession. It was a splendid thing to have such a wicked man for a chum, a man whom folks said even the minister feared.

"Ah! What are you reading now?"

"'We haven't got anything new for to-night. I was wishin' I had a book." He looked up slyly, to see if the hint had taken effect.

The minister fell easily into the trap. "Dear me! I'm sorry I didn't know that. You might have had 'Nicholas Nickleby.' I'll send it to school with Tommy to-morrow, if you promise you won't read any of it in school, eh?"

"All right; 'course not," cried Tim righteously.

"And what have you been reading since you finished 'Pilgrim's Progress'?"

The minister looked down enviously at the small, hobbling figure. If he had only been wise enough, he reflected, to go to that man with this child's faith and good-fellowship, they might have been on such terms of intimacy now, and he might have helped to cure that look of pain in John McIntyre's eyes.

"We've been readin' about a chap named Job. It's in the Bible. Ever read it?"

"The Bible!" The minister paused in the road. What miracle had led the child thither? "Did McIntyre read Job to you?"

"Yes."

"Every bit of it?"

"Yes—all but a lot o' mushy talk in the middle. Them jiggers had such an awful lot to say we skipped some of it. But we read the end."

"Ah, you've got a fine story-book now, Tim! You'll not find such another. Ask McIntyre to read you some more of its stories. They're better than 'Nicholas Nickleby.'"

Tim looked dubious. With the exception of Job, and Daniel in the lions' den, and extracts from one or two thrilling tales like that, he considered the Bible rather tame. His foster-father read a chapter to them every night before they went to bed, but the eldest of the family was generally too much occupied in pinching the twins, or keeping them in order, to give the reading anything better than a very desultory attention. But Jake's slow, droning voice was not calculated to arouse interest. "I dunno," he said, glancing up sidelong at the man. "Mebby he—I don't think he likes it—much."

"Oh, you set him at the right stories, and he will. Don't you like stories of shipwreck?"

"You bet!"

"Well, get him to read to you about Paul; he had some wonderful adventures on the sea. And there's a better story than that there, about some people who were nearly shipwrecked, and a Man on board saved them. And how do you think He did it? Why, He got up and stopped the storm and the waves."

The child nodded. "Daddy read us that one night," he said.

So the Book remained in John McIntyre's shanty, and often, when some other story was finished, the boy would bring it out. The books of Esther and Daniel, the tales of Samson and Gideon, and the wonderful stories of the Savior Himself, all had to be gone over again and again. And one night John McIntyre read of love's great sacrifice, when the skies grew dark and the earth trembled with the agony of Calvary.

Tim lay on the floor, staring up at the reader. John McIntyre's sorrowful voice had brought home to him some inkling of the stupendousness of that tragedy.

"What did they kill Him for?" he demanded sharply. "He never did anything bad, did He?"

"No." John McIntyre's voice was almost inaudible.

"Couldn't He have stopped them if He had wanted to?"

"Yes," hesitatingly.

"Why didn't He, then?" scornfully.

Why? There had been a day when John McIntyre could have given a ready answer. He would have told the boy it was God's love and man's great need that held the Savior there; but he had long ceased to believe in that love, and he was silent.

Tim waited a while, and then tried another question. "Where is Jesus now? Is He in Heaven?"

"I suppose so—yes."

"That's where our mother is—an' your boys, too, eh?"

"I suppose so," faltered the man.

"Were they very bad boys?" asked Tim in an awed whisper.

"No." The answer was almost fierce.

"Oh, then they'll be in Heaven for sure, won't they?"

"Yes."

"Are you dead sure?"

"Yes, sure." The man drew a deep breath as he answered.

The boy lay silent, evolving a new question. It came at last.

"Say! all boys and girls have to have mothers, don't they?"

"Yes."

"Then your boys must 'a' had one, too, eh?"

"Yes."

"Is—is she in Heaven, too?"

"Yes, she is." John McIntyre spoke with a defiant firmness that startled the boy.

"You're dead sure about that, ain't you?" he inquired, half admiringly.

"Yes. If there's a heaven, she's there, even if no one else is."

"But ain't there one?" cried Tim eagerly. It would be rather nice to shock Miss Scott on Sunday with the news that there was no such place, backed up by an authority like John McIntyre.

"Yes, there is." The answer was long in coming, but when it did come it sounded final.

Tim was slightly disappointed. "Well," he argued at last, "I guess there oughter be, anyhow, for good people like Mammy and Daddy Sawyer and Dr. Allen and Mr. Scott—eh?"

"I suppose so."

"Why, daddy read about it one night in the Bible. It was a city, he said—aw, shucks! I'd rather it was the country. But it had gold streets, and was all pearls and diamonds and things. Say! find it, will you?"

So the next reading was of the New Jerusalem, the city that had no need of the sun, neither of the moon, to shine in it; for the glory of God did lighten it, and the Lamb was the light thereof.

"For there shall be no night there." When John McIntyre came to those words his voice broke, and he closed the Book quickly, as though it hurt him. He had not shed a tear since that day when he and Mary laid their last child in the grave; and a far deeper sorrow had come upon him since; but something shone in his eyes now as he turned his back to the light.

For some minutes Tim lay staring into the fire, and wondering. It was a wild winter night, and the storm came wailing across the Drowned Lands, and shook the old door of the little cabin. But its sorrow-laden notes, that always found an echo in the winter of John McIntyre's lonely heart, spoke to him of something new and wonderful—of that other land where there would be "no more death, neither sorrow nor crying."

"It must be an awful pretty place," Tim ventured at last, rather wistfully. "Say!"—he looked up eagerly—"d'ye s'pose it 'ud be nicer'n Nova Scotia?" His companion did not answer, and he went on: "Our mother's there, 'cause she was good; but if our father's dead, he ain't."

John McIntyre looked down at the child, and Tim nodded his head emphatically. "Oh, but I know he ain't," he said with firm conviction. "He was so awful bad. Don't you mind I told you? He cheated a lot of other folks, an' got all their money, an' then he ran away, for fear they'd put him in jail. The last time I seen him he come to give ole Mother Cummins money for keepin' us. She was drunk that night, and I sneaked out o' bed an' listened, an' he didn't give her 'nough, an' she yelled at him, an' she says, 'Joseph Symonds, you're a——' Wha—what's the matter?"

John McIntyre had leaned forward in his chair and was glaring at the boy. "That name!" he cried. "What was your father's name?"

"Symonds—Joseph Symonds," repeated the child, staring. "That's our name, too, an' Joey was called after him."

"Was Fair Hill the place you were born in?"

"Yes. How did you know? It was right beside the ocean——" He paused. The look in John McIntyre's face alarmed him. "Ye—ye ain't goin' to get sick again, are ye?"

He arose and came nearer, and the man drew back, with a gesture of loathing. "Your—father—was Joseph Symonds!" he repeated, dazed.

Tim had a fashion, when he was very much interested in anything his friend was saying, of seizing a button of the man's coat and twisting it. He took hold of it now, and turned it around and around, gazing at him wonderingly.

"Yes; did ye know him?" he asked, innocently eager.

John McIntyre's clenched hands relaxed. His first impulse had been to hurl far from him the offspring of the scoundrel who had been his ruin. But one look into the boy's inquiring eyes, gazing at him in perfect faith, rendered him powerless. He let his hand fall heavily upon Tim's shoulder, and holding him back, stared into his wondering face. Line by line he traced resemblances, hitherto unnoticed, to the man he had hated. There was the same pointed chin, the same cunning droop of the eyes. And yet, oh, miracle of love! those very hated features now formed the one thing in the world to which his heart clung. He was overcome by a feeling of utter impotence. Hitherto, his strength had lain in his relentless hatred; and now, what had become of it? It was gone—transformed into another feeling infinitely more potent. Something of the all-conquering force of love—the impossibility of escape from it—was borne in upon John McIntyre's soul. For an instant the veil of mystery that shrouded human suffering seemed to grow transparent, and behind it shone Divine Love in the agony of Calvary. Inevitable, all-pervading, like the voice of the Apocalypse thundering from heaven, it spoke: "I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending."

The man placed his hand on the boy's head in a helpless fashion.

"Are ye sick?" whispered Tim.

"It's nothing," he faltered weakly. "I—I was just feeling weak. Come, it's time you were in bed. It is too stormy for you to go home."

And that night John McIntyre slept with a protecting arm placed around the son of the man who had ruined his life.



CHAPTER XIV

THE HERALD OF SPRING

Pale season, watcher in unvexed suspense, Still priestess of the patient middle day, Betwixt wild March's humored petulance And the warm wooing of green-kilted May. —ARCHIBALD LAMPMAN.

All day the rain had poured, a real March rain, descending in chill, driving torrents. Now and then bursts of wavering sunlight broke through the storm, but the next moment the patch of blue sky was shut out by rolling gray clouds, and followed by another downpour.

In one of the brief sunlit intervals, Miss Arabella threw a shawl over her head and ran down to Long's store for a pound of tea. She was still pale and wan, as she had always been since her illness last fall; but there was a light in her eyes and an expression of quiet determination about her mouth, telling that the little lilac lady's spirit was still on guard over her secret.

It was the hour when Silas Long and his son were having their early supper, and Ella Anne kept shop. As the sharp ring of the little bell announced a customer, she came from behind the pigeon-holed partition that served as a post-office. "Oh, I say, Arabella!" she cried, turning back at the sight of the little wind-blown figure, "mind you, there's a letter for you! Who'd ever 'a' thought o' you gettin' a letter?"

Miss Arabella's sensitive face flushed. "I guess it's a boot advertisement again," she ventured. "I got one year before last."

"No, it ain't." Miss Long reappeared with the missive, examining it minutely. "Them advertising things are open, and this one's sealed. It's got writing on the inside, too, 'stead o' print; I can make that much out through the envelope, only I can't read a word of it. It's from a place called Nugget Hill. Who do you know there?"

Miss Arabella took the letter, her reticent soul shrinking from the frank inquisitiveness. "I don't know anybody," she said honestly. "I never heard of the place."

"Miss Weir was in here, a minit ago, an' I showed it to her, an' she said that was the name of a place in the Klondyke. Who on earth would be writing to you all the way from there?"

Miss Arabella suddenly crushed the letter into her pocket; her face turned white. "I—I want a pound o' that green tea, Ella Anne, please," she stammered hurriedly.

"Aren't you goin' to read it?" asked Miss Long, reaching for the tea-scoop.

"I ain't in any hurry," faltered Miss Arabella, "but I want the tea—quick!"

"Well, if you ain't a caution! Here, give it to me. I'll read it for you, if you like."

"Oh, no, thanks, Ella Anne, I'd rather wait." There was panic in the little woman's voice. "I—I always wait quite a long while before I open my letters."

"Well, my gracious!" grumbled Miss Long. As she measured out the tea, and bound it up, she kept an inquiring eye upon her customer, and could not help seeing that she was greatly agitated.

"Well, sakes! I could no more do that than fly. Why, mebby some one's left you a fortune."

Miss Arabella made no reply. She hurriedly tucked the parcel under her shawl, and forgetting to pay for her purchase, made for the door.

"Likely Wes an' me'll be over to William's to-night for a sing, so you can run in an' tell us all about it then," Miss Long called after her.

Miss Arabella paid no heed. Just now she cared not what the future might hold, she must get beyond all prying eyes immediately, and see what that letter contained. She ran along the sodden pathway, splashing unheedingly through the mud and snow, and repeating to herself, over and over again, that he must be living, he must be, after all. Without waiting to take off her wet shawl, and all unheeding Polly's loud and profane complaint that times were dull, she fled to the safety of her spare bedroom. She pulled down the window-blind, till the place was all in darkness, dragged the chair against the door, sat upon it, and with shaking hand drew the letter from her pocket. Her cheeks were pink, her eyes were shining like stars, and she was trembling from head to foot. She opened the envelope with tender care and unfolded the well-filled sheets. Her devouring eyes seemed to take them all in at a glance.

No, he was not dead, and he had not forgotten her. But he had long ago given up hope of ever seeing her again; he had felt he had no right to trouble her—such a useless chap as he was. He had never found poor old John McIntyre, nor had he succeeded in anything else, for he had been sick, and had lost all his money, and had years of poverty that made him ashamed to think of her. But his luck had taken a wonderful turn. He had made his pile. He was just on the verge of losing everything again, and going to the dogs last winter, when a fine old chum of his sent him a haul of money. It came just in the nick of time, and not only saved him, but made his fortune. Yes, that friend was a bully old chap, but he wasn't going to tell her anything about him just now; there was a big surprise in store for her. And he was a rich man now, and she might wear silk dresses all the rest of her life if she liked. And he was coming home in June, just as fast as the train could carry him, and if it didn't go fast enough he would get out and run ahead. That is, if she wanted him still. Did she think she could forgive him? Forgive him! Miss Arabella wiped her eyes to read that again, wondering dimly what it meant. Or had she forgotten him in these long years, or was she still waiting? Somehow, he couldn't help thinking it would be just like her to wait. And was Polly living yet? And could she still say "Annie Laurie" as he had taught her? And had she kept the blue silk, as she had promised? She must answer right away, and if she did not want him he would not come; but if she did—well, look out—there would be a wedding along about the first of June.

Again and again Miss Arabella read the letter, trying to convince her dazed senses that it was real. When she had succeeded in grasping something of the joyous truth she arose dizzily and went to the dresser drawer. Very carefully she took out the roll of blue silk, and laying the letter between its shining folds, she sat down and cried over them.

"You didn't wear out, after all," she sobbed, running her fingers gently over the blue folds, "no, you didn't."

She was roused by the clicking of the front gate, and peeped fearfully under the window-blind. Susan was coming! She had paused for a moment to harangue the orphans, who were splashing up and down the middle of the road, knee deep in mud. Miss Arabella sprang up in a panic. Susan would find out. There would be no use trying to hide from her that something tremendous had happened, and she and William and the children would laugh at old Aunt Arabella's foolishness. And Susan would step in, with her strong will, and turn poor Martin away, as she had done so long ago. She must get away; she must find some hiding place for her secret. She snatched up the blue silk in frantic haste and bundled it beneath her shawl. Like a refuge to a pursued hare, came the thought of Elsie Cameron. She would run to Elsie. A glance at the window showed Susan still in violent dispute with the orphans. There was yet time to escape. Miss Arabella darted for the kitchen, frightening Polly into incoherent squalls, tore open the door, and dashed out into the storm. She splashed through the back garden, scrambled recklessly over the fence, and went staggering along the soft, yielding field behind the line of houses. The rain beat in her face, the wind flung her shawl over her head and twisted her thin skirt about her, and she knew, if Granny Long's telescope spied her, as it was almost sure to do, the whole village would be sure she had gone mad. But she was reckless. The chance of happiness had come with dazzling unexpectedness, and she was like a drowning man, who forgets all else but, the life-line thrown to him. On she ran, like a little brown leaf driven by the wind and rain, her head bent, her shawl clutched closely around her precious bundle.

She was plunging down among the dripping cedars of Treasure Valley, when she noticed, with dismay, that the stream was flowing high above the stepping-stones. It came roaring out from under the bridge, swift and swollen, with clumps of ice and snow whirling down its oily surface. Not a moment did she hesitate, but turned and scrambled up the bank again. She would likely be seen as soon as she crossed the bridge, but she must get to Elsie, no matter what the consequences. As she reached the bridge the doctor's buggy came splashing down the street behind her. He smiled, and pulled up beside the little wind-blown figure.

"May I drive you to your destination, Miss Winters?" he asked.

Miss Arabella, without a word, scrambled in. The sudden and unexpected relief almost took away her breath. If she had eluded the telescope so far, she was comparatively safe. She gave her rescuer a grateful glance as he tucked the rubber lap-robe about her. Then a pang of remorse seized her in the midst of her joy. She had intended the blue silk for Elsie's wedding day, and his wedding day, too, of course. How selfish she was to have forgotten! She glanced up at him timidly, feeling as if she were defrauding him of his rights. She remembered, regretfully, that he had looked overworked and very much older during the past few months. Her anxiety for him helped to calm her own agitation.

"You must be all wore out, doctor," she said sympathetically. "You've had such an awful winter's work."

Dr. Allen looked embarrassed. It was not the hard toil of the past winter that had so often made him feel weary. "Oh, I'm all right," he said evasively. "And you—the winter seems to have benefited you, Miss Winters," he continued, looking kindly at her shining eyes and flushed face. "It's a pleasure to see you looking so well, when I remember how ill you were last fall."

The little woman blushed guiltily. "It's—it's the spring, I guess," she stammered; and she was right, for Miss Arabella's long winter was over, and for her the birds had already begun to sing.

The young man smiled as he helped her out at the Camerons' gate. He could not help seeing that she was concealing something beneath her shawl, and was as frightened as though it had been a dynamite bomb. He was amused, and wondered, as he always did when he met Miss Arabella, what the queer little body was thinking about. He never dreamed that his conduct could have had the smallest effect upon her odd behavior, so blind was he to the far-reaching influence of all human action, good or evil.

Her heart once more in her mouth, Miss Arabella sped up the Camerons' lane to the back door. Old lady Cameron was seated by the sitting-room window, knitting. She wore her best black dress and her lace collar with the big cairngorm brooch; for the minister and his wife were expected to tea. She tapped upon the window-pane with her knitting-needle, and smilingly beckoned Miss Arabella to come in by the front way. But she shook her head and sped on. She darted up the steps and into the kitchen, without knocking. Elsie, in a trim cotton gown and a spotless white apron, was setting the tea-table; and in a warm corner behind the stove Uncle Hughie, crippled with a bad attack of rheumatism, was rocking in his old arm-chair, and singing the "March o' the Cameron Men."

"Hoots! toots! Come away, Arabella! Come away!" he cried. "Eh, hech! And would you be coming over in all the rain? Well! well! well! and that would be kind, whatefer."

Elsie put down the pitcher of milk she was bringing from the pantry and came forward to remove the visitor's dripping shawl.

"Don't, Elsie, don't!" whispered Miss Arabella, clutching it tighter. "Come on upstairs. I want to tell you something—something awful."

Elsie's big eyes opened wide. "Is anything wrong, Arabella?" she whispered.

"I—I don't know. No; but somethin' awful's happened, or goin' to happen—I don't know which."

Without another word the girl opened the door leading to the hall. She looked in at the sitting-room door as she passed.

"Mother, Arabella's coming upstairs with me for a few minutes," she called. "We'll be down soon."

She said no more until they were in the privacy of her own bedroom. She placed the trembling visitor in a chair by the window, where occasional bursts of sunlight came through the soft muslin curtains. Then she drew up another chair and sat close beside her.

"Arabella," she said, "you've heard from him?"

Miss Arabella hung her head like a schoolgirl caught in a naughty prank. "Yes," she whispered guiltily.

Elsie flung her arms about the little wet figure. "Oh, Arabella, dear, I'm so glad! I'm so glad! Now aren't you glad I wouldn't let you give me the dress? Is he coming home?"

"Yes."

"When?"

"Next summer—in June."

"Oh! And is he well? Where does he live? And why didn't—oh, tell me all about it!"

The sympathetic joy was bringing the tears to Miss Arabella's eyes again. "Oh, Elsie, you're so awful good! I—would you—would it look kind o' foolish if I was to let you read his letter?"

"Not a bit, if you don't mind, you know. I'd really love to see it," she confessed honestly.

Miss Arabella threw back her shawl and carefully unrolled the blue silk. She took the letter from its folds and then hesitated. "Mebby," she began breathlessly, "I—perhaps I'd better read it to you, Elsie—because there's parts, you know, that might sound—foolish." She looked at the girl apologetically.

"Of course, Arabella, I understand." Elsie pushed the letter back into her hand. "After all, no third person ought to see a love-letter, you know."

Much assured, and still blushing and stammering, Miss Arabella read aloud a few of the more practical details of the letter. She passed tremulously over the tender passages, and she also omitted the part about Martin's receiving help from a friend. Somehow, her jealous pride in him forbade that another should know he had not succeeded unaided.

"Poor little Arabella," whispered the girl when it was finished. "And it's coming true at last. And what a nice name he's got—Martin—what's the rest of it?"

"Martin Heaslip," whispered Arabella, as though afraid to utter it.

"Martin Heaslip—I like the sound of it. And he's rich, too. Why, it seems too good to be true."

Miss Arabella glanced up quickly, and a look of apprehension came over her radiant face. "That's just what I can't help thinking, Elsie. Don't it seem too good to happen to me?"

"Pooh! Nonsense!" laughed the other, with the sure hopefulness of youth. "Of course it'll happen. You must take your dress to Mrs. Long right away, and she and Ella Anne——"

"No! no! no!" Miss Arabella sat up straight, her eyes dilated with fear. "No, nobody's to know a whisper about it. Not anybody! Mind, Elsie, you promised. Oh, Elsie, you did!"

"Yes, yes, Arabella!" cried the girl, alarmed at the agitation she had aroused. "But who's to make your dress and give you a wedding? They must all know some time."

"No, there's nobody to know until it's all over. Once, just after he went West, he wrote and ast me to come out, an' he sent the money, an'—an'—Susan wouldn't let me go! She made me send the money back. She said I wasn't strong enough to go out and live there, and—she—meant it for kindness, you know, Elsie, but—he—I guess he felt bad." Miss Arabella carefully covered the blue silk from harm, for the tears were dropping again. "Anyhow, it, made him think he'd got to get things fixed up awful grand for me, or else he'd 'a' sent for me long ago. And Susan wouldn't let me go this time—I know she wouldn't. She'd say I was too old for such foolishness. Do you think I look awful old, Elsie?" she asked piteously.

"Oh, Arabella, dear! No! no! You look young and as pretty as a picture!" she exclaimed, truthfully. "But, Arabella"—her brow puckered worriedly—"if no one knows, how are you going to do it?"

"I'm going to write and tell him to come for me, and never let on to any one, an' we'll—we'll—what do you call it when they run away?"

"Not elope, Arabella!" cried Elsie in dismay.

"Yes, that's it. We'll elope," said Miss Arabella calmly.

The girl looked at her, and for an instant the vision of the shy, drooping little woman figuring in a runaway match filled her with a desire for laughter. But it was quenched the next instant by the gravity of the situation. What did Elsie know of this man, after all? What if the innocent little child-woman were being deceived! That feeling she often experienced, of being far older than Arabella, took possession of her.

"Arabella," she said gravely, but gently, "are you quite, quite sure that he is kind, and—and—good, and all you could wish him to be?"

Miss Arabella looked at her in childlike wonder, and then her face lit up with a heavy smile. "Oh, my! there's no fear of him!" she cried radiantly.

Elsie was silent. She dared not disturb her beautiful faith. "But, Arabella," she pleaded, "even if you told Susan and Bella and all, when he came they would have to let you marry him. And I think it would be better, much better, than to elope. It looks as though you were doing something wrong—and you're not."

Miss Arabella's head drooped again. She nervously fingered a corner of the blue silk. "It ain't exactly that," she said shyly, "but I kind of feel scared about it, Elsie." Her voice sank to a whisper. "You see, I've got so used to bein' disappointed that I guess I can't stand anything else for a while," she added, with unconscious pathos. "And I ain't dead sure that it'll happen, you know. It seems as if it was too good to be true, and if it didn't"—her face looked suddenly old and gray—"Susan and William and Ella Anne, an' all the folks, would talk and talk." She shivered. "I can't stand to be talked about, Elsie. It was just because I was so scared o' bein' talked about that I got better last fall. And, oh, I want you to make Ella Anne keep still about my letter, won't you, Elsie, please? And you'll not tell, will you?"

"No, Arabella, not a soul." She sighed in perplexity. To assist in an elopement! The staid, earnest upbringing of the country girl, coupled with her high sense of duty, made her shrink from the very word.

"And the dress, Arabella? Shall I help you make it?"

"That's what I was jist thinkin' about. I can't have it made at home, 'cause Susan an' Bella's in an' out every day. An' you can't have it here, for Jean an' the boys'll be home soon, an' they'd find out, an' if Lorry Sawyer was to get a sight of it, she'd remember all she's forgot. I was thinkin' on the way ever there's jist one woman in the village would make it an' never tell a soul, an' that's——"

Elsie nodded. "Mrs. Munn."

"Yes. Harriet dressmaked for a long time before Munn died; he wasn't no more use than Davy. An' she'd make it an' never tell. An' you'd help a little, wouldn't you, an' see that she made it—kind o'—jist a little—fashionable, Elsie?"

"Yes, Arabella; oh, yes." The answer was absently given. The girl's eyes were troubled. But Miss Arabella gazed at her in perfect faith, feeling sure she was evolving some new style for the fashioning of the blue silk gown.

"Elsie, my girl!" Old lady Cameron's soft voice, with its Highland Scotch accent, came from the foot of the stairs. "The minister's jist driving across the bridge. Come away down, and bring Arabella with you."

Elsie went into the preparations for Arabella's elopement with something of the feeling that she was assisting in a bank robbery. She suffered from a very anxious conscience the day she took the blue silk to Mrs. Munn. No need to tell that silent lady that the affair must be kept a secret; Mrs. Munn guarded everything that came her way as if it were a deadly crime in which she was implicated. She seemed not a whit disturbed by the astonishing fact that Arabella was going to elope. Such a method of getting married quite coincided with her general belief that things should not be talked about. She asked no questions concerning the prospective bridegroom, but promised to make the wedding gown entirely on faith, and if Granny Long found out she was making anything—well, she'd have to get a spy-glass as long as the sawmill smokestack!

Elsie had expected some advice and help from the elder woman, and felt disappointed and worried. The burden of the secret was beginning to weigh on her. Suppose she was helping Arabella to take a step that would end in life-long unhappiness!

She went slowly homeward, and sat down alone in her little room, sorely perplexed. She was gazing with troubled eyes down the lane, when a light came into them, and a little flush mounted to her cheek. A smart horse and buggy had turned in at the gate, and was passing below her window. The next moment Archie came up the stairs with a message. Dr. Allen wanted to know if she would like a drive.

She came down the steps clad in a long, brown coat, and a little toque with a coquettish bronze wing on it, the color of her hair. Dr. Allen looked at her approvingly. He had no smallest notion of the details of a woman's dress, but he knew that this one always seemed a wonderful harmony of color.

They sped down the lane and out upon the open, smooth highway. The roads were almost dry now, and in the dun-colored fields and the purple-gray woods there was an air of expectancy, as though the earth knew that a great change was near. It was a glorious, blustering spring day. The wind was working strenuously to keep the sky clear of clouds, and a time of it she was having. A hard-working, tidy body she was, this April afternoon, but she did not go about her work systematically. For no sooner had she swept her great floor a clear, gleaming blue, than, with a careless flourish of her broom, she scattered great rolling heaps of down all over it, and had to go frantically to work and brush them together again. Nevertheless, the wind and the clouds, and indeed the whole world, seemed to be having a grand time. The trees swung giddily before the gale, the bare, brown fields were smiling and tidy, and as clean as a floor, and the little streams by the roadside leaped and laughed at the sunlight. Only the birds seemed to be in trouble. A gasping robin clung for a moment to an unsteady perch in a lashing elm, and tried his poor little best to get out a few notes. But the frolicsome wind slapped him in the face, and choked him, and he fled before it to the shelter of the woods. Everywhere was tremendous rush and bustle and glad hurry, for was not all the world preparing for the arrival of Summer? She might come any day now, and the earth must be tidied and swept and washed and dried, to make ready for the glorious paraphernalia of green carpets and curtains, and flower cushions, and endless bric-a-brac, that grand lady was sure to bring.

Even Gilbert felt the joy of the spring day, and behaved quite cheerfully for a young man who had had his heart broken only the winter before. The two had not driven together since the day they had witnessed Sandy McQuarry's Waterloo, and they recalled it with laughter, and discussed, with even more merriment, the wonderful sequel. For since Sandy had fulfilled his wager, and come back to Elmbrook church, and had apparently decided to go softly all the rest of his days, the gossips had noticed patent signs of a strong inclination on his part to go even deeper in his humility, and make a life treaty with his conqueror, and Elmbrook was all agog over the unbelievable prospect. Since that last drive Elsie Cameron had dropped some of her reserve, and Gilbert felt they were on a friendly footing. He was not so afraid of her now, since he had done his duty, and he found her a most pleasant comrade. They talked of many things, grave and gay. They exchanged reminiscences of schooldays, for they were both Canadian born and country bred, and had a wholesome, happy past to recall. In the talk of his boyhood days Gilbert was led to tell of his early ambitions, and of the struggle he had had to get an education.

"I went to the public school until I was fourteen, and I always cherished dreams of one day being a doctor. But our farm was small, and our family large, and when father died we older boys had to turn out to earn our living. I got a job that first summer working in a sawmill near home, and there I met my fortune. There was a big, warm-hearted, rollicking chap there, who was foreman, and I thought he was the most wonderful man alive; and upon my word, I rather think so yet. He was just the sort of fellow to be a tremendous hero in the eyes of a youngster of fifteen. He could walk the logs on the river any old way, and could jump and run and throw the shoulder-stone, and do all manner of stunts, away ahead of everybody else. We kids thought he was the greatest thing outside a dime novel; and I tell you, he was a fine chap all through. I've met a good many people of all sorts since those days, but I've never seen the equal of Martin Heaslip."

"Who?" His listener whirled around in her seat, her eyes startled, her lips parted.

"Heaslip—Martin Heaslip. You don't happen to know him, do you?"

"Oh, no; not at all!" The answer came in hurried confusion. "I—it was the name—I—please go on. I beg your pardon for the interruption."

"He was a Bluenose—one of those Scotch-Irish Nova Scotians, the best kind going; but he had lots of relatives over in Bruce County; perhaps you knew some of them?"

"No, oh, no! I—it was a mistake."

"Well, one day the poor old chap met with rather a serious accident. He was walloping around the mill, as usual, singing a crazy old lumberjack song about 'six brave Cana-jen byes,' who broke a lumber jam. Martin was always whooping away at that dirge, I think I can hear him yet. I'm not up in musical terms, but I think the tune was a kind of Gregorian chant, and as mournful as a dog howling at night. It goes something like this:

'They broke the jam on the Garry Rocks, And they met a wat-e-ry grave.'

Martin could sing about as well as I can, so you may imagine what a continuous performance of that sort was like. He was bellowing away at this, as usual, never looking where he was stepping, when he stumbled, and fell against the big saw, and the mill going at top speed. I happened to be standing right behind him at the time, and I managed to jerk him back before he went right over; but he cut his foot badly, as it was, poor chap. I had always loved to tinker away at cuts and bruises, so I managed to patch him up a bit, and stop the bleeding, till the doctor came. It was nothing, any one could have done it, but poor old Martin made a great fuss over it; and he literally dragged me out of the mill and shoved me back to school. Paid every cent of my expenses until I was through my first year at college. After that I got on my own feet. I taught school for a while, and paid my way; but I'll never forget that Martin Heaslip was the man that gave me my chance. I just fancy I see him now, sailing down the river on the slipperiest log in the bunch, and roaring out his song about a 'wat-er-y grave' as gay as a lark."

The doctor paused, in happy reminiscence. There was a tense silence. At last his companion spoke.

"Where is he now?" Her voice trembled; she had turned away, and was looking far off over the clean brown fields.

"He was a wandering sort of chap. He went back to Nova Scotia; then West, somewhere, and the last move was to the Klondyke. He's been there for several years now, I fancy; hoping to make a fortune, no doubt."

Gilbert paused, slightly confused. He was ashamed to discover how little he really knew about Martin. There was no remark from his companion. She could not help noticing his evident embarrassment, and the poverty of his knowledge regarding his old friend, and she was drawing her own damaging conclusions. As the silence continued he glanced at her half inquiringly. There was a look of distress in the golden-brown depths of her eyes.

"Are you cold?" he asked, with hasty compunction. "I've been yarning away and forgetting time and place. Go on, there, Speed! You are not cold?"

"No, not at all, thank you." She answered absently. Her mind was busy running over Arabella's story, and putting the two tales side by side. So this was "the boy," who had been so generously treated and been so selfish in return; the boy who had repaid Martin's generosity with forgetfulness, and had helped to lengthen poor little Arabella's years of waiting. Her anxiety for Arabella had been swept away. She was telling herself that she should be relieved and thankful for that, but, strange to say, her feelings were exactly the opposite.

When Gilbert helped her out at her own door she bade him a hurried farewell, and ran up the steps. There was something in her movements like a hurt fawn running for cover. Her uncle sat in his accustomed corner by the window, where the sunlight came through a little green hedge of geraniums. His stockinged feet were on the stove damper, his weekly newspaper in his hand.

"Ech! hech! Elsie, lass!" he cried. "Look ye here, now! Here's the finest receep for trouble ye ever heard. Jist listen!" She paused by his chair and smiled wanly. "There's a long bit in the newspaper here that would be telling that wherever a poisonous weed grows, jist right beside it, mind ye, you will be finding the herb that cures the poison. Eh! eh! wouldn't that be jist beautiful, whatefer?" His golden-brown eyes were radiant. "Och! hoch! but it takes the Almighty to be managing things, indeed! Now, last night I would be rastlin' away when the rheumatics wouldn't let me sleep—the rheumatics would be a fine thing to make a body think—I would be rastlin' away about the poison o' sin an' trouble that would be in the world; and here, jist to-day, I would be reading this piece—and hoots! there it is, ye see! Yes, yes, it takes the Almighty to manage things, indeed! And ye mind He would be coming and living among us, ye see. There it is again: He would jist be the cure planted right among the poison! Oh! hoch! Yes! yes!"

The girl laid her hand for a minute on his rough shirt-sleeve. "And the rheumatism is bad again, is it, Uncle Hughie?"

"Hoots! not much, not much. It will jist be the April wind—and the doctor would be giving me a fine liniment last time. Oh, it is the fine young man he will be, indeed. And you would be out for a drive with him?" he added, in kindly interest.

"Yes, uncle." Her face flushed, and she moved toward the door leading to the stairs. "Yes, I was out for a little drive with Dr. Allen." She passed out, and closing the door behind her, added softly to herself, "For the last time."



CHAPTER XV

THE ELOPEMENT

For Law immutable hath one decree, "No deed of good, no deed of ill can die; All must ascend unto my loom and be Woven for man in lasting tapestry." —ISABELLA VALANCY CRAWFORD.

In the middle of May Miss Arabella's wedding gown was completed, and presented a blue cascade of frills and flounces that delighted the owner's beauty-loving soul. Just once had she tried it on, and then only in sections, for Mrs. Munn said it was dreadful bad luck to wear your wedding gown before the day. So at one time Miss Arabella had put on the billowy skirt with her lilac waist; and at another the blue silk blouse with her old gingham skirt, and even then she had been seized with such a fit of trembling that Elsie Cameron had to hold her up.

The dressmaking had been carried on in a large empty room above the doctor's surgery, and when it was finished Miss Arabella left the gown there. She dared not take it home, for fear Susan would discover it. So Mrs. Munn wrapped it carefully in a sheet and hung it behind the door. There were bunches of dried sage and mint and lavender hanging along the low rafters above it, and just to move the wedding dress gave one a whiff as sweet as a breath from all the spices of Araby.

Often, when Dr. Allen drove away, Miss Arabella would run over to Mrs. Munn's, and up the back stairs, for a look at the gown, just to convince herself that it had not been merely a beautiful dream. It was something tangible, the outward and visible sign that her happiness was real. For hours afterward she would go about her work in a kind of blissful daze, until Susan declared it was a caution how Arabella forgot things, and she wondered what on earth was the matter with her. She looked well enough, but sometimes her appetite was bad, and she, Susan, had a good mind to take her over to Dr. Allen, and see if he couldn't cure her up in a day, the way he did last fall.

Arabella had another mysterious source of forgetfulness. When Susan's watchfulness kept her from visiting Mrs. Munn's lumber room, she would slip away into her spare bedroom, shut the door, and taking out two letters from her top drawer, would sit down and read them again and again. The last letter was always convincing; it breathed Martin's strong, joyous spirit from every line, and drove away all fears. It had come promptly in answer to hers, and had been sent under cover to Mrs. Munn, for fear Ella Anne's curiosity might again be aroused.

Martin evidently retained his old rollicking spirits, for he fell in most cordially with the plan for eloping. It suited him down to the ground, he declared. He would come to Lakeview on the last night of May, and early in the morning of the first of June he would drive out in the finest livery rig the place possessed, and away they would fly, without a howd'ye-do to any one. But they must come back for a little visit after their honeymoon, for there was a certain old friend of his in Elmbrook he must see. He was not going to tell even her about him, because it was to be a big surprise. He felt like going out and shooting up the town when he thought about it all.

Miss Arabella had taken the letter to Elsie soon after its arrival, and had read parts of it aloud. Whom did Elsie suppose he meant by an old friend in the village? She couldn't remember that he had known any one here very well, except William. Martin and William had taken to each other from the first. Yes, likely he meant William.

Elsie was fashioning a white lace ruffle for the collar of the blue silk gown, and bent her shining head lower over her work. Here was another proof of Martin's whole-souled generosity. There was not a hint of blame for his ungrateful friend.

"D'ye know, Elsie," said Miss Arabella hesitatingly, "it jist makes me feel bad to see you sewing anything for that dress, because—because—it was to have been yours, you know."

"But, indeed, Arabella, you know I'd far rather see you wear it. When should I ever put on such a grand dress as that, with all the work I have to do?"

"Oh, but I Intended it for your wedding dress! You mind, I told you?"

"Wedding dress!" Elsie laughed. "Why, Arabella, it might have been worn into rag-carpet strips before I'd need it!"

"But I thought—it seemed to me, he—he always acts as if he liked you so awful, Elsie."

"He? Who? Do you mean Lauchie McKitterick or Sawed-Off Wilmott, or Sandy McQuarry, or whom do you mean, Arabella Winters?"

"Oh, dear me, Elsie!" Miss Arabella gave a half-distressed little laugh. "You know they wouldn't, one o' them, dast look at you. You know right well I mean the doctor."

The girl bent lower over her work, and a flush crept over her face. She shook her head decidedly. "Oh, no! no! Arabella. You are all wrong. Dr. Allen has no more idea of caring for me in that way than I of caring for him. Come, let me see if these wrist-bands are large enough."

Miss Arabella felt the gentle rebuke, and sighed. It was really too bad, because they were both so good-looking, and so well suited, and so young. And the faded little lilac lady thought regretfully of her lost youth.

The second letter allayed any lingering fears Elsie had felt regarding the elopement. According to Dr. Allen, she might safely trust Arabella to Martin Heaslip, and his own words went to prove the same. So if they wanted to run away, let them; they would run back in a few days, anyway, and then what would happen? Would the young man have the grace to be ashamed of himself? Martin, she was sure, would never blame him; his letter had breathed nothing but heartiest good-will. But Martin's generosity only made the other's ingratitude the blacker.

Meanwhile, the first of June was fast approaching, and as yet no one had a suspicion of the treasure hidden away in Mrs. Munn's lumber room. Even that lady's talent for keeping a secret might have been rather severely taxed had it not been that those around her were absorbed in other interests. There were Davy and his bosom comrade, the eldest orphan. They certainly would have divined that something unusual was transpiring in the old storeroom; but just now they had no time for such trivial things. For the race between Sawed-Off Wilmott and young Lochinvar, begun on the last show day, and continued hotly all winter, was fast reaching a culminating point. The boys were vastly interested in it, and since the long evenings had passed Tim had discarded books and fallen back into his old evil ways. So between them and Ella Anne, life was made a thorny path for the rival lovers.

Then the shrewd Mrs. Munn had noticed that lately the doctor seemed to be absent-minded. Indeed, he was very much worried over a problem of his own that had nothing to do with his patients. The question was, what had he done to offend Miss Cameron? Why she should have suddenly changed from warm friendship to cold avoidance of him he could not understand. Whenever he called, she was out, or overwhelmingly busy, or just about to fulfil another engagement, until he understood, and ceased calling. Her conduct hurt him more than he could have thought possible. He had long known and admired her profoundly. He cared much for her good opinion; but that her disapproval could wound him was something he had not suspected. He had supposed that Rosalie had made anything like that quite impossible for him forever.

So, in the midst of these abstractions, Miss Arabella's wedding gown hung, all unnoticed, in the fragrance of lavender and mint, until at last the end of May arrived, the eve of the day set for the elopement.

Dr. Allen had been driving Speed all day, and his other horse was out in the pasture-field; so, early in the evening, he walked down toward the Drowned Lands to see a patient, taking the pathway through the ravine. He had not been down there since the winter road had broken up, and he found Treasure Valley all a wonder of purple and gold—where the violets carpeted the banks and the marigolds choked the stream. Down in the fragrant stillness the sounds of the village grew faint and far away. Here was only the murmur of the water over the white stones, or the even-song of the vesper sparrows in the sumachs along the banks. As Gilbert came down to the water's edge he spied another figure approaching from the opposite bank, a slim figure in a white gown, with a crown of hair that rivaled the golden blossoms in the stream. He hesitated a moment, then crossed over to her.

"May I help you across?" he asked with a stiff formality he would not have used a few weeks previous.

The minds of both recurred to their first meeting in this very spot, a little more than a year before.

"I hope you will not object to my company for that length of time," he added, finding it impossible to keep something of his grievance out of his voice.

"Oh, no, certainly not," she stammered, not knowing how to truthfully refute his implied charge.

There was that look of distress in her eyes that filled him with compunction. When they reached the other side he stood and looked down at her with the old feeling that, somehow, he was all in the wrong, and she entirely right.

Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5     Next Part
Home - Random Browse