Entire PG Edition of The Works of William Dean Howells
William Dean Howells
Part 56 out of 78
"Oh, by all means go on, Mr. Adams," she cried, with a laugh.
He rolled his head again to one side sheepishly.
"Well, I don't presume it DOES have anything to do with the wind--well, I
don't PRESUME it does." He was silent long enough to whet an imagined
expectation; then he set his face towards the sky, and began a soft, low,
coaxing sibilation between his teeth. "S-s-s-s; s-s-s-s-s-s! Well, it
don't stand to reason it can bring the wind--S-s-s-s-s-s-s; s-s-s-s.
Why, of course it 's all foolishness. S-s-s-s." He continued to emit
these sibilants, interspersing them with Adams's protests. Suddenly the
sail pulled the loose sheet taut and the boat leaped forward over the
"Wonderful!" cried the girl.
"That's what I said to Adams, or words to that effect. But I thought we
should get it from the look of the sky before I proposed to whistle for
it. Now, then," he continued, "I will be serious, if you like."
"Yes. Didn't you ask me to be serious just before those seals
"Oh!" she exclaimed, coloring a little. "I don't think we can go back to
that, now." He did not insist, and she said presently, "I thought the
sailors had a superstition about ships that are lucky and unlucky. But
you've kept your boat"
"I kept her for luck: the lightning never strikes twice in the same
place. And I never saw a boat that behaved so well."
"Do you call it behaving well to tip over?"
"She behaved well before that. She didn't tip over outside the reef"
"It certainly goes very smoothly," said the girl. She had in vain
recurred to the tragic motive of her coming; she could not revive it;
there had been nothing like expiation in this eventless voyage; it had
been a pleasure and no penance. She abandoned herself with a weak luxury
to the respite from suffering and anxiety; she made herself the good
comrade of the young man whom perhaps she even tempted to flatter her
farther and farther out of the dreariness in which she had dwelt; and if
any woful current of feeling swept beneath, she would not fathom it, but
resolutely floated, as one may at such times, on the surface. They
laughed together and jested; they talked in the gay idleness of such rare
They passed a yacht at anchor, and a young fellow in a white duck cap,
leaning over the rail, saluted Libby with the significant gravity which
one young man uses towards another whom he sees in a sail-boat with a
She laughed at this. "Do you know your friend?" she asked.
"Yes. This time I do?"
"He fancies you are taking some young lady a sail. What would he say if
you were to stop and introduce me to him as Dr. Breen?"
"Oh, he knows who you are. It's Johnson."
"The one whose clothes you came over in, that morning?"
"Yes. I suppose you laughed at me."
"I liked your having the courage to do it. But how does he know me?"
"I--I described you. He's rather an old friend." This also amused her.
"I should like to hear how you described me."
"I will tell you sometime. It was an elaborate description. I could n't
get through with it now before we landed."
The old town had come out of the haze of the distance,--a straggling
village of weather-beaten wood and weather-beaten white paint,
picturesque, but no longer a vision of gray stone and pale marble. A
coal-yard, and a brick locomotive house, and rambling railroad sheds
stretched along the water-front. They found their way easily enough
through the sparse shipping to the steps at the end of the wooden pier,
where Libby dropped the sail and made his boat fast.
A little pleasant giddiness, as if the lightness of her heart had mounted
to her head, made her glad of his arm up these steps and up the wharf;
and she kept it as they climbed the sloping elm-shaded village street to
the main thoroughfare, with its brick sidewalks, its shops and awnings,
and its cheerful stir and traffic.
The telegraph office fronted the head of the street which they had
ascended. "You can sit here in the apothecary's till I come down," he
"Do you think that will be professionally appropriate? I am only a nurse
"No, I wasn't thinking of that. But I saw a chair in there. And we can
make a pretense of wanting some soda. It is the proper thing to treat
young ladies to soda when one brings them in from the country."
"It does have that appearance," she assented, with a smile. She kept him
waiting with what would have looked like coquettish hesitation in
another, while she glanced at the windows overhead, pierced by a skein of
converging wires. "Suppose I go up with you?"
"I should like that better," he said; and she followed him lightly up the
stairs that led to the telegraph office. A young man stood at the
machine with a cigar in his mouth, and his eyes intent upon the ribbon of
paper unreeling itself before him.
"Just hold on," he said to Libby, without turning his head. "I've got
something here for you." He read: "Despatch received yesterday. Coming
right through. George Maynard."
"Good!" cried Libby.
"Dated Council Bluffs. Want it written out?"
"No. What 's to pay?" `
"Paid," said the operator.
The laconically transacted business ended with this, the wire began to
cluck again like the anxious hen whose manner the most awful and
mysterious of the elements assumes in becoming articulate, and nothing
remained for them but to come away.
"That was what I was afraid of," said Libby. "Maynard was at his ranch,
and it must have been a good way out. They're fifty or sixty miles out,
sometimes. That would account for the delay. Well, Mrs. Maynard doesn't
know how long it takes to come from Cheyenne, and we can tell her he's on
the way, and has telegraphed." They were walking rapidly down the street
to the wharf where his boat lay. "Oh!" he exclaimed, halting abruptly.
"I promised to send you back by land, if you preferred."
"Has the wind fallen?"
"Oh, no. We shall have a good breeze:"
"I won't put you to the trouble of getting a horse. I can go back
perfectly well in the boat."
"Well, that's what I think," he said cheerily.
She did not respond, and he could not be aware that any change had come
over her mood. But when they were once more seated in the boat, and the
sail was pulling in the fresh breeze, she turned to him with a scarcely
concealed indignation. "Have you a fancy for experimenting upon people,
"Experimenting? I? I don't know in the least what you mean!"
"Why did you tell me that the operator was a woman?"
"Because the other operator is," he answered.
"Oh!" she said, and fell blankly silent.
"There is a good deal of business there. They have to have two
operators," he explained, after a pause.
"Why, of course," she murmured in deep humiliation. If he had suffered
her to be silent as long as she would, she might have offered him some
reparation; but he spoke.
"Why did you think I had been experimenting on you?" he asked.
"Why?" she repeated. The sense of having put herself in the wrong
exasperated her with him. "Oh, I dare say you were curious. Don't you
suppose I have noticed that men are puzzled at me? What did you mean by
saying that you thought I would be equal to anything?"
"I meant--I thought you would like to be treated frankly."
"And you would n't treat everybody so?"
"I wouldn't treat Mrs. Maynard so."
"Oh!" she said. "You treat me upon a theory."
"Don't you like that? We treat everybody upon a theory"--
"Yes, I know"
"And I should tell you the worst of anything at once, because I think you
are one of the kind that don't like to have their conclusions made for
"And you would really let women make their own conclusions," she said.
"You are very peculiar!" She waited a while, and then she asked, "And
what is your theory of me?"
"That you are very peculiar."
"You are proud."
"And is pride so very peculiar?"
"Yes; in women."
"Indeed! You set up for a connoisseur of female character. That's very
common, nowadays. Why don't you tell me something more about Yourself?
We're always talking about me."
He might well have been doubtful of her humor. He seemed to decide that
she was jesting, for he answered lightly, "Why, you began it."
"I know I did, this time. But now I wish to stop it, too."
He looked down at the tiller in his hands. "Well," he said, "I should
like to tell you about myself. I should like to know what you think of
the kind of man I am. Will you be honest if I will?"
"That's a very strange condition," she answered, meeting and then
avoiding the gaze he lifted to her face.
"What? Being honest?"
"Well, no--Or, yes!"
"It is n't for you."
"Thank you. But I'm not under discussion now."
"Well, in the first place," he began, "I was afraid of you when we met."
"Afraid of me?"
"That is n't the word, perhaps. We'll say ashamed of myself. Mrs.
Maynard told me about you, and I thought you would despise me for not
doing or being anything in particular. I thought you must."
He hesitated, as if still uncertain of her mood from this intonation, and
then he went on: "But I had some little hope you would tolerate me, after
all. You looked like a friend I used to have.--Do you mind my telling
"Oh, no. Though I can't say that it's ever very comfortable to be told
that you look like some one else."
"I don't suppose any one else would have been struck by the resemblance,"
said Libby, with a laugh of reminiscence. "He was huge. But he had eyes
like a girl,--I beg your pardon,--like yours."
"You mean that I have eyes like a man."
He laughed, and said, "No," and then turned grave. "As long as he
"Oh, is he dead?" she asked more gently than she had yet spoken.
"Yes, he died just before I went abroad. I went out on business for my
father,--he's an importer and jobber,--and bought goods for him. Do you
"I don't know anything about it."
"I did it to please my father, and he said I was a very good buyer. He
thinks there's nothing like buying--except selling. He used to sell
things himself, over the counter, and not so long ago, either.
"I fancied it made a difference for me when I was in college, and that the
yardstick came between me and society. I was an ass for thinking
anything about it. Though I did n't really care, much. I never liked
society, and I did like boats and horses. I thought of a profession,
once. But it would n't work. I've been round the world twice, and I've
done nothing but enjoy myself since I left college,--or try to. When I
first saw you I was hesitating about letting my father make me of use.
He wants me to become one of the most respectable members of society, he
wants me to be a cotton-spinner. You know there 's nothing so
irreproachable as cotton, for a business?"
"No. I don't know about those things."
"Well, there is n't. When I was abroad, buying and selling, I made a
little discovery: I found that there were goods we could make and sell in
the European market cheaper than the English, and that gave my father the
notion of buying a mill to make them. I'm boring you!"
"Well, he bought it; and he wants me to take charge of it."
"And shall you?"
"Do you think I'm fit for it?"
"I? How should I know?"
"You don't know cotton; but you know me a little. Do I strike you as fit
for anything?" She made no reply to this, and he laughed. "I assure you
I felt small enough when I heard what you had done, and thought--what I
had done. It gave me a start; and I wrote my father that night that I
would go in for it."
"I once thought of going to a factory town," she answered, without wilful
evasion, "to begin my practice there among the operatives' children. I
should have done it if it had not been for coming here with Mrs. Maynard.
It would have been better."
"Come to my factory town, Miss Breen! There ought to be fevers there in
the autumn, with all the low lands that I'm allowed to flood Mrs. Maynard
told me about your plan."
"Pray, what else did Mrs. Maynard tell you about me?"
"About your taking up a profession, in the way you did, when you needn't,
and when you did n't particularly like it."
"Oh!" she said. Then she added, "And because I was n't obliged to it,
and did n't like it, you tolerated me?"
"Tolerated?" he echoed.
This vexed her. "Yes, tolerate! Everybody, interested or not, has to
make up his mind whether to tolerate me as soon as he hears what I am.
What excuse did you make for me?"
"I did n't make any," said Libby.
"But you had your misgiving, your surprise."
"I thought if you could stand it, other people might. I thought it was
"Just as if I had been a young man?"
"No! That wasn't possible."
She was silent. Then, "The conversation has got back into the old
quarter," she said. "You are talking about me again. Have you heard
from your friends since they went away?"
"Those you were camping with."
"What did they say when they heard that you had found a young doctress at
Jocelyn's? How did you break the fact to them? What jokes did they
make? You need n't be afraid to tell me!" she cried. "Give me Mr.
He looked at her in surprise that incensed her still more, and rendered
her incapable of regarding the pain with which he answered her. "I 'm
afraid," he said, "that I have done something to offend you."
"Oh no! What could you have done?"
"Then you really mean to ask me whether I would let any one make a joke
of you in my presence?"
"Yes; why not?"
"Because it was impossible," he answered.
"Why was it impossible?" she pursued.
"Because--I love you."
She had been looking him defiantly in the eyes, and she could not
withdraw her gaze. For the endless moment that ensued, her breath was
taken away. Then she asked in a low, steady voice, "Did you mean to say
"I believe you, and I forgive you. No, no!" she cried, at a
demonstration of protest from him, "don't speak again!"
He obeyed, instantly, implicitly. With the tiller in his hand he looked
past her and guided the boat's course. It became intolerable.
"Have I ever done anything that gave you the right to--to--say that?" she
asked, without the self-command which she might have wished to show.
"No," he said, "you were only the most beautiful"--
"I am not beautiful! And if I were"--
"It wasn't to be helped! I saw from the first how good and noble you
"This is absurd!" she exclaimed. "I am neither good nor noble; and if I
"It wouldn't make any difference. Whatever you are, you are the one
woman in the world to me; and you always will be."
"Oh, I must speak now! You were always thinking, because you had studied
a man's profession, that no one would think of you as a woman, as if that
could make any difference to a man that had the soul of a man in him!"
"No, no!" she protested. "I did n't think that. I always expected to be
considered as a woman."
"But not as a woman to fall in love with. I understood. And that
somehow made you all the dearer to me. If you had been a girl like other
girls, I should n't have cared for you."
"I did n't mean to speak to you to-day. But sometime I did mean to
speak; because, whatever I was, I loved you; and I thought you did n't
"I did like you," she murmured, "very much. And I respected you. But
you can't say that I ever gave you any hope in this--this--way." She
almost asked him if she had.
"No,--not purposely. And if you did, it 's over now. You have rejected
me. I understand that. There's no reason why you shouldn't. And I can
hold my tongue." He did not turn, but looked steadily past her at the
An emotion stirred in her breast which took the form of a reproach.
"Was it fair, then, to say this when neither of us could escape
"I did n't mean to speak," he said, without looking up, "and I never
meant to place you where you could n't escape."
It was true that she had proposed to go with him in the boat, and that
she had chosen to come back with him, when he had offered to have her
driven home from Leyden. "No, you are not to blame," she said, at last.
"I asked to some with you. Shall I tell you why ?" Her voice began to
break. In her pity for him and her shame for herself the tears started
to her eyes. She did not press her question, but, "Thank you for
reminding me that I invited myself to go with you," she said, with feeble
He looked up at her in silent wonder, and she broke into a sob. He said
gently, "I don't suppose you expect me to deny that. You don't think me
such a poor dog as that."
"Why, of course not," she answered, with quivering lips, while she
pressed her handkerchief to her eyes.
"I was only too glad to have you come. I always meant to tell you--what
I have told; but not when I should seem to trap you into listening."
"No," she murmured, "I can believe that of you. I do believe it. I take
back what I said. Don't let us speak of it any more now," she continued,
struggling for her lost composure, with what success appeared in the
fresh outburst with which she recognized his forbearance to hint at any
painfulness to himself in the situation.
"I don't mind it so much on my account, but oh! how could you for your
own sake? Do let us get home as fast as we can!"
"I am doing everything I can to release you," he said. "If you will sit
here," he added, indicating the place beside him in the stern, "you won't
have to change so much when I want to tack."
She took the other seat, and for the first time she noticed that the wind
had grown very light. She watched him with a piteous impatience while he
shifted the sail from side to side, keeping the sheet in his hand for
convenience in the frequent changes. He scanned the sky, and turned
every current of the ebbing tide to account. It was useless; the boat
crept, and presently it scarcely moved.
"The wind is down," he said, making the sheet fast, and relaxing his hold
on the tiller.
"And--And the tide is going out!" she exclaimed.
"The tide is going out," he admitted.
"If we should get caught on these flats," she began, with rising
"We should have to stay till the tide turned."
She looked wildly about for aid. If there were a row-boat anywhere
within hail, she could be taken to Jocelyn's in that. But they were
quite alone on those lifeless waters.
Libby got out a pair of heavy oars from the bottom of the boat, and,
setting the rowlocks on either side, tugged silently at them.
The futile effort suggested an idea to her which doubtless she would not
have expressed if she had not been lacking, as she once said, in a sense
"Why don't you whistle for a wind?"
He stared at her in sad astonishment to make sure that she was in
earnest, and then, "Whistle!" he echoed forlornly, and broke into a
"You knew the chances of delay that I took in asking to come with you,"
she cried, "and you should have warned me. It was ungenerous--it was
"It was whatever you like. I must be to blame. I suppose I was too glad
to have you come. If I thought anything, I thought you must have some
particular errand at Leyden. You seemed anxious to go, even if it
"If it had stormed," she retorted, "I should not have cared! I hoped it
would storm. Then at least I should have run the same danger,--I hoped
it would be dangerous."
"I don't understand what you mean," he said.
"I forced that wretched creature to go with you that day when you said it
was going to be rough; and I shall have her blood upon my hands if she
"Is it possible," cried Libby, pulling in his useless oars, and leaning
forward upon them, "that she has gone on letting you think I believed
there was going to be a storm? She knew perfectly well that I didn't
mind what Adams said; he was always croaking." She sat looking at him in
a daze, but she could not speak, and he continued. "I see: it happened
by one chance in a million to turn out as he said; and she has been
making you pay for it. Why, I suppose," he added, with a melancholy
smile of intelligence, "she's had so much satisfaction in holding you
responsible for what's happened, that she's almost glad of it!"
"She has tortured me!" cried the girl. "But you--you, when you saw that
I did n't believe there was going to be any storm, why did you--why
"I did n't believe it either! It was Mrs. Maynard that proposed the
sail, but when I saw that you did n't like it I was glad of any excuse
for putting it off. I could n't help wanting to please you, and I
couldn't see why you urged us afterwards; but I supposed you had some
She passed her hand over her forehead, as if to clear away the confusion
in which all this involved her. "But why--why did you let me go on
thinking myself to blame"--
"How could I know what you were thinking? Heaven knows I didn't dream of
such a thing! Though I remember, now, your saying"--
"Oh, I see!" she cried. "You are a man! But I can't forgive it,--no, I
can't forgive it! You wished to deceive her if you did n't wish to
deceive me. How can you excuse yourself for repeating what you did n't
"I was willing she should think Adams was right."
"And that was deceit. What can you say to it?"
"There is only one thing I could say," he murmured, looking hopelessly
into her eyes, "and that's of no use."
She turned her head away. Her tragedy had fallen to nothing; or rather
it had never been. All her remorse, all her suffering, was mere farce
now; but his guilt in the matter was the greater. A fierce resentment
burned in her heart; she longed to make him feel something of the anguish
she had needlessly undergone.
He sat watching her averted face. "Miss Breen," he said huskily, "will
you let me speak to you?"
"Oh, you have me in your power," she answered cruelly. "Say what you
He did not speak, nor make any motion to do so.
A foolish, idle curiosity to know what, after all that had happened, he
could possibly have to say, stirred within her, but she disdainfully
stifled it. They were both so still that a company of seals found it
safe to put their heads above water, and approach near enough to examine
her with their round soft eyes. She turned from the silly things in
contempt that they should even have interested her. She felt that from
time to time her companion lifted an anxious glance to the dull heavens.
At last the limp sail faintly stirred; it flapped; it filled shallowly;
the boat moved. The sail seemed to have had a prescience of the wind
before it passed over the smooth water like a shadow.
When a woman says she never will forgive a man, she always has a
condition of forgiveness in her heart. Now that the wind had risen
again, "I have no right to forbid you to speak," she said, as if no
silence had elapsed, and she turned round and quietly confronted him; she
no longer felt so impatient to escape.
He did not meet her eye at once, and he seemed in no haste to avail
himself of the leave granted him. A heavy sadness blotted the gayety of
a face whose sunny sympathy had been her only cheer for many days. She
fancied a bewilderment in its hopelessness which smote her with still
sharper pathos. "Of course," she said, "I appreciate your wish to do
what I wanted, about Mrs. Maynard. I remember my telling you that she
ought n't to go out, that day. But that was not the way to do it"--
"There was no other," he said.
"No," she assented, upon reflection. "Then it ought n't to have been
He showed no sign of intending to continue, and after a moment of
restlessness, she began again.
"If I have been rude or hasty in refusing to hear you, Mr. Libby, I am
very wrong. I must hear anything you have to say."
"Oh, not unless you wish."
"I wish whatever you wish."
"I'm not sure that I wish that now. I have thought it over; I should
only distress you for nothing. You are letting me say why sentence
shouldn't be passed upon me. Sentence is going to be passed any way.
I should only repeat what I have said. You would pity me, but you
couldn't help me. And that would give you pain for nothing. No, it
would be useless."
"It would be useless to talk to me about--loving." She took the word on
her lips with a certain effect of adopting it for convenience' sake in
her vocabulary. "All that was ended for me long ago,--ten years ago.
And my whole life since then has been shaped to do without it. I will
tell you my story if you like. Perhaps it's your due. I wish to be
just. You may have a right to know."
"No, I haven't. But.--perhaps I ought to say that Mrs. Maynard told me
"Well, I am glad of that, though she had no right to do it. Then you can
"Oh, yes, I can understand. I don't pretend that I had any reason in it."
He forbore again to urge any plea for himself, and once more she was
obliged to interfere in his behalf. "Mr. Libby, I have never confessed
that I once wronged you in a way that I'm very sorry for."
"About Mrs. Maynard? Yes, I know. I won't try to whitewash myself; but
it didn't occur to me how it would look. I wanted to talk with her about
"You ought to have considered her, though," she said gently.
"She ought to have considered herself," he retorted, with his unfailing
bitterness for Mrs. Maynard. "But it doesn't matter whose fault it was.
I'm sufficiently punished; for I know that it injured me with you."
"It did at first. But now I can see that I was wrong. I wished to tell
you that. It isn't creditable to me that I thought you intended to flirt
with her. If I had been better myself"--
"You!" He could not say more.
That utter faith in her was very charming. It softened her more and
more; it made her wish to reason with him, and try gently to show him how
impossible his hope was. "And you know," she said, recurring to
something that had gone before, "that even if I had cared for you in the
way you wish, it could n't be. You would n't want to have people
laughing and saying I had been a doctress."
"I shouldn't have minded. I know how much people's talk is worth."
"Yes," she said, "I know you would be generous and brave about that--
about anything. But what--what if I could n't give up my career--my
hopes of being useful in the way I have planned? You would n't have
liked me to go on practising medicine?"
"I thought of that," he answered simply. "I didn't see how it could be
done. But if you saw any way, I was willing--No, that was my great
trouble! I knew that it was selfish in me, and very conceited, to
suppose you would give up your whole life for me; and whenever I thought
of that, I determined not to ask you. But I tried not to think of that."
"Well, don't you see? But if I could have answered you as you wish, it
wouldn't have been anything to give up everything for you. A woman isn't
something else first, and a woman afterwards. I understand how
unselfishly you meant, and indeed, indeed, I thank you. But don't let's
talk of it any more. It couldn't have been, and there is nothing but
misery in thinking of it. "Come," she said, with a struggle for
cheerfulness, "let us forget it. Let it be just as if you hadn't spoken
to me; I know you did n't intend to do it; and let us go on as if nothing
"Oh, we can't go on," he answered. "I shall get away, as soon as Maynard
comes, and rid you of the sight of me."
"Are you going away?" she softly asked. "Why need you? I know that
people always seem to think they can't be friends after--such a thing as
this. But why shouldn't we? I respect you, and I like you very much.
You have shown me more regard and more kindness than any other friend"--
"But I wasn't your friend," he interrupted. "I loved you."
"Well," she sighed, in gentle perplexity, "then you can't be my friend?"
Never. But I shall always love you. If it would do any good, I would
stay, as you ask it. I should n't mind myself. But I should be a
nuisance to you."
"No, no!" she exclaimed. "I will take the risk of that. I need your
advice, your--sympathy, your--You won't trouble me, indeed you won't.
Perhaps you have mistaken your--feeling about me. It's such a very
little time since we met," she pleaded.
"That makes no difference,--the time. And I'm not mistaken."
"Well, stay at least till Mrs. Maynard is well, and we can all go away
together. Promise me that!" She instinctively put out her hand toward
him in entreaty. He took it, and pressing it to his lips covered it with
"Oh!" she grieved in reproachful surprise.
"There!" he cried. "You see that I must go!"
"Yes," she sighed in assent, "you must go."
They did not look at each other again, but remained in a lamentable
silence while the boat pushed swiftly before the freshening breeze; and
when they reached the place where the dory lay, he dropped the sail and
threw out the anchor without a word.
He was haggard to the glance she stole at him, when they had taken their
places in the dory, and he confronted her, pulling hard at the oars. He
did not lift his eyes to hers, but from time to time he looked over his
shoulder at the boat's prow, and he rowed from one point to another for a
good landing. A dreamy pity for him filled her; through the memories of
her own suffering, she divined the soreness of his heart.
She started from her reverie as the bottom of the dory struck the sand.
The shoal water stretched twenty feet beyond. He pulled in the oars and
rose desperately. "It's of no use: I shall have to carry you ashore."
She sat staring up into his face, and longing to ask him something, to
accuse him of having done this purposely. But she had erred in so many
doubts, her suspicions of him had all recoiled so pitilessly upon her,
that she had no longer the courage to question or reproach him. "Oh, no,
thank you," she said weakly. "I won't trouble you. I--I will wait till
the tide is out."
"The tide's out now," he answered with coldness, "and you can't wade."
She rose desperately. "Why, of course!" she cried in self-contempt,
glancing at the water, into which he promptly stepped to his boot-tops.
"A woman must n't get her feet wet."
Grace went to her own room to lay aside her shawl and hat, before going
to Mrs. Maynard, and found her mother sewing there.
"Why, who is with Mrs. Maynard?" she asked.
"Miss Gleason is reading to her," said Mrs. Breen. "If she had any sort
of active treatment, she could get well at once. I couldn't take the
responsibility of doing anything for her, and it was such a worry to stay
and see everything going wrong, that when Miss Gleason came in I was glad
to get away. Miss Gleason seems to believe in your Dr. Mulbridge."
"My Dr. Mulbridge!" echoed Grace.
"She talked of him as if he were yours. I don't know what you've been
saying to her about him; but you had better be careful. The woman is a
fool." She now looked up at her daughter for the first time. "Why, what
is the matter with you what kept you so long? You look perfectly wild."
"I feel wild," said Grace calmly. "The wind went down."
"Was that all? I don't see why that should make you feel wild," said her
mother, dropping her spectacles to her sewing again.
"It was n't all," answered the girl, sinking provisionally upon the side
of a chair, with her shawl still on her arm, and her hat in her hand.
"Mother, have you noticed anything peculiar about Mr. Libby?"
"He's the only person who seems to be of the slightest use about here;
I've noticed that," said Mrs. Breen. "He's always going and coming for
you and Mrs. Maynard. Where is that worthless husband of hers? Has n't
he had time to come from Cheyenne yet?"
"He's on the way. He was out at his ranch when Mr. Libby telegraphed
first, and had to be sent for. We found a despatch from him at Leyden,
saying he had started," Grace explained.
"What business had he to be so far away at all?" demanded her mother.
It was plain that Mrs. Breen was in her most censorious temper, which had
probably acquired a sharper edge towards Maynard from her reconciliation
with his wife.
Grace seized her chance to meet the worst. "Do you think that I have
done anything to encourage Mr. Libby?" she asked, looking bravely at her
"Encourage him to do what?" asked Mrs. Breen, without lifting her eyes
from her work.
"Encouraged him to--think I cared for him; to--to be in love with me."
Mrs. Breen lifted her head now, and pushed her spectacles up on her
forehead, while she regarded her daughter in silence. "Has he been
making love to you?"
Her mother pushed her spectacles down again; and, turning the seam which
she had been sewing, flattened it with her thumb-nail. She made this
action expressive of having foreseen such a result, and of having
struggled against it, neglected and alone. "Very well, then. I hope you
accepted him?" she asked quietly.
"Why not? You must like him," she continued in the same tone. "You have
been with him every moment the last week that you have n't been with Mrs.
Maynard. At least I've seen nothing of you, except when you came to tell
me you were going to walk or to drive with him. You seem to have asked
him to take you most of the time."
"How can you say such a thing, mother?" cried the girl.
"Did n't you ask him to let you go with him this afternoon? You told me
"Yes, I did. I did it for a purpose."
"Ah! for a purpose," said Mrs. Breen, taking a survey of the new seam,
which she pulled from her knee, where one end of it was pinned, towards
her chin. She left the word to her daughter, who was obliged to take it.
"I asked him to let me go with him because Louise had tortured me about
making her go out in his boat, till I could n't bear it any longer. It
seemed to me that if I took the same risk myself, it would be something;
and I hoped there would be a storm."
"I should think you had taken leave of your senses," Mrs. Breen observed,
with her spectacles intent upon her seam. "Did you think it would be any
consolation to him if you were drowned, or to her? And if," she added,
her conscience rising equal to the vicarious demand upon it, "you hoped
there would be danger, had you any right to expose him to it? Even if
you chose to risk your own life, you had no right to risk his." She
lifted her spectacles again, and turned their austere glitter upon her
"Yes, it all seems very silly now," said the girl, with a hopeless sigh.
"Silly!" cried her mother. "I'm glad you can call it silly."
"And it seemed worse still when he told me that he had never believed it
was going to storm that day, when he took Louise out. His man said it
was, and he repeated it because he saw I did n't want her to go."
"Perhaps," suggested Mrs. Breen, "if he was willing to deceive her then,
he is willing to deceive you now."
"He didn't deceive her. He said what he had heard. And he said it
because he--I wished it."
"I call it deceiving. Truth is truth. That is what I was taught; and
that's what I supposed I had taught you."
"I would trust Mr. Libby in anything," returned the daughter. "He is
perfectly frank about himself. He confessed that he had done it to
please me. He said that nothing else could excuse it."
"Oh, then you have accepted him!"
"No, mother, I haven't. I have refused him, and he is going away as soon
as Mr. Maynard comes." She sat looking at the window, and the tears
stole into her eyes, and blurred the sea and sky together where she saw
their meeting at the horizon line.
"Well," said her mother, "their that is the end of it, I presume."
"Yes, that's the end," said Grace. "But--I felt sorry for him, mother.
Once," she went on, "I thought I had everything clear before me; but now
I seem only to have made confusion of my life. Yes," she added drearily,
"it was foolish and wicked, and it was perfectly useless, too. I can't
escape from the consequences of what I did. It makes no difference what
he believed or any one believed. I drove them on to risk their lives
because I thought myself so much better than they; because I was self-
righteous and suspicious and stubborn. Well, I must bear the penalty:
and oh, if I could only bear it alone!" With a long sigh she took back
the burden which she had been struggling to cast off, and from which for
a time she had actually seemed to escape. She put away her hat and
shawl, and stood before the glass, smoothing her hair. "When will it
ever end?" she moaned to the reflection there, rather than to her mother,
who did not interrupt this spiritual ordeal. In another age, such a New
England girl would have tortured herself with inquisition as to some
neglected duty to God;--in ours, when religion is so largely humanified,
this Puritan soul could only wreak itself in a sense of irreparable wrong
to her fellow-creature.
When she went out she met Miss Gleason half-way down the corridor to Mrs.
Maynard's door. The latter had a book in her hand, and came forward
whispering. "She's asleep," she said very sibilantly. "I have read her
to sleep, and she's sleeping beautifully. Have you ever read it?" she
asked, with hoarse breaks from her undertone, as she held up one of those
cheap library-editions of a novel toward Grace.
"Jane Eyre? Why, of course. Long ago."
"So have I," said Miss Gleason. "But I sent and got it again, to refresh
my impressions of Rochester. We all think Dr. Mulbridge is just like
him. Rochester is my ideal character,--a perfect conception of a man: so
abrupt, so rough, so savage. Oh, I like those men! Don't you?" she
fluted. "Mrs. Maynard sees the resemblance, as well as the rest of us.
But I know! You don't approve of them. I suppose they can't be defended
on some grounds; but I can see how, even in such a case as this, the
perfect mastery of the man-physician constitutes the highest usefulness
of the woman-physician. The advancement of women must be as women.
'Male and female created he them,' and it is only in remembering this
that we are helping Gawd, whether as an anthropomorphic conception or a
universally pervading instinct of love, don't you think?"
With her novel clapped against her breast, she leaned winningly over
toward Grace, and fixed her with her wide eyes, which had rings of white
round the pupils.
"Do tell me!" she ran on without waiting an answer. "Didn't you go with
Mr. Libby because you hoped it might storm, and wished to take the same
risk as Mrs. Maynard? I told Mrs. Alger you did!"
Grace flushed guiltily, and Miss Gleason cowered a little, perhaps
interpreting the color as resentment. "I should consider that a very
silly motive," she said, helplessly ashamed that she was leaving the
weight of the blow upon Miss Gleason's shoulders instead of her own.
"Of course," said Miss Gleason enthusiastically, "you can't confess it.
But I know you are capable of such a thing--of anything heroic!
Do forgive me," she said, seizing Grace's hand. She held it a moment,
gazing with a devouring fondness into her face, which she stooped a
little sidewise to peer up into. Then she quickly dropped her hand, and,
whirling away, glided slimly out of the corridor.
Grace softly opened Mrs. Maynard's door, and the sick woman opened her
eyes. "I was n't asleep," she said hoarsely, "but I had to pretend to
be, or that woman would have killed me."
Grace went to her and felt her hands and her flushed forehead.
"I am worse this evening," said Mrs. Maynard.
"Oh, no," sighed the girl, dropping into a chair at the bedside, with
her eyes fixed in a sort of fascination on the lurid face of the sick
"After getting me here," continued Mrs. Maynard, in the same low, hoarse
murmur, "you might at least stay with me a little. What kept you so
"The wind fell. We were becalmed."
"We were not becalmed the day I went out with Mr. Libby. But perhaps
nobody forced you to go."
Having launched this dart, she closed her eyes again with something more
like content than she had yet shown: it had an aim of which she could
always be sure.
"We have heard from Mr. Maynard," said Grace humbly. "There was a
despatch waiting for Mr. Libby at Leyden. He is on his way."
Mrs. Maynard betrayed no immediate effect of this other than to say,
"He had better hurry," and did not open her eyes.
Grace went about the room with a leaden weight in every fibre, putting
the place in order, and Mrs. Maynard did not speak again till she had
finished. Then she said, "I want you to tell me just how bad Dr.
Mulbridge thinks I am."
"He has never expressed any anxiety," Grace began, with her inaptness at
"Of course he has n't," murmured the sick woman. "He isn't a fool!
What does he say?"
This passed the sufferance even of remorse. "He says you mustn't talk,"
the girl flashed out. "And if you insist upon doing so, I will leave
you, and send some one else to take care of you."
"Very well, then. I know what that means. When a doctor tells you not
to talk, it's because he knows he can't do you any good. As soon as
George Maynard gets here I will have some one that can cure me, or I will
know the reason why." The conception of her husband as a champion seemed
to commend him to her in novel degree. She shed some tears, and after a
little reflection she asked, "How soon will he be here?"
"I don't know," said Grace. "He seems to have started yesterday
"He can be here by day after to-morrow," Mrs. Maynard computed. "There
will be some one to look after poor little Bella then," she added, as if,
during her sickness, Bella must have been wholly neglected. "Don't let
the child be all dirt when her father comes."
"Mother will look after Bella," Grace replied, too meek again to resent
the implication. After a pause, "Oh, Louise," she added beseechingly,
"I've suffered so much from my own wrong-headedness and obstinacy that I
couldn't bear to see you taking the same risk, and I'm so glad that you
are going to meet your husband in the right spirit."
"What right spirit?" croaked Mrs. Maynard.
"The wish to please him, to"--
"I don't choose to have him say that his child disgraces him," replied
Mrs. Maynard, in the low, husky, monotonous murmur in which she was
obliged to utter everything.
"But, dear Louise!" cried the other, "you choose something else too,
don't you? You wish to meet him as if no unkindness had parted you, and
as if you were to be always together after this? I hope you do! Then I
should feel that all this suffering and, trouble was a mercy."
"Other people's misery is always a mercy to them," hoarsely suggested
"Yes, I know that," Grace submitted, with meek conviction. "But,
Louise," she pleaded, "you will make up with your husband, won't you?
Whatever he has done, that will surely be best. I know that you love
him, and that he must love you, yet. It's the only way. If you were
finally separated from him, and you and he could be happy apart, what
would become of that poor child? Who will take a father's place with
her? That's the worst about it. Oh, Louise, I feel so badly for you--
for what you have lost, and may lose. Marriage must change people so
that unless they live to each other, their lives will be maimed and
useless. It ought to be so much easier to forgive any wrong your husband
does you than to punish it; for that perpetuates the wrong, and
forgiveness ends it, and it's the only thing that can end a wrong. I am
sure that your husband will be ready to do or say anything you wish; but
if he shouldn't, Louise, you will receive him forgivingly, and make the
first advance? It's a woman's right to make the advances in forgiving."
Mrs. Maynard lay with her hands stretched at her side under the covering,
and only her face visible above it. She now turned her head a little, so
as to pierce the earnest speaker with a gleam from her dull eye. "Have
you accepted Walter Libby?" she asked.
"Louise!" cried Grace, with a blush that burned like fire.
"That's the way I used to talk when I was first engaged. Wait till
you're married a while. I want Bella to have on her pique, and her pink
sash,--not the cherry one. I should think you would have studied to be a
minister instead of a doctor. But you need n't preach to me; I shall
know how to behave to George Maynard when he comes,--if he ever does
come. And now I should think you had made me talk enough!"
"Yes, Yes," said Grace, recalled to her more immediate duty in alarm.
All her helpfulness was soon to be needed. The disease, which had
lingered more than usual in the early stages, suddenly approached a
crisis. That night Mrs. Maynard grew so much worse that Grace sent Libby
at daybreak for Dr. Mulbridge; and the young man, after leading out his
own mare to see if her lameness had abated, ruefully put her back in the
stable, and set off to Corbitant with the splay-foot at a rate of speed
unparalleled, probably, in the animal's recollection of a long and useful
life. In the two anxious days that followed, Libby and Grace were
associated in the freedom of a common interest outside of themselves;
she went to him for help and suggestion, and he gave them, as if nothing
had passed to restrict or embarrass their relations. There was that,
in fact, in the awe of the time and an involuntary disoccupation of hers
that threw them together even more constantly than before. Dr. Mulbridge
remained with his patient well into the forenoon; in the afternoon he
came again, and that night he did not go away. He superseded Grace as a
nurse no less completely than he had displaced her as a physician. He
let her relieve him when he flung himself down for a few minutes' sleep,
or when he went out for the huge meals which he devoured, preferring the
unwholesome things with a depravity shocking to the tender physical
consciences of the ladies who looked on; but when he returned to his
charge, he showed himself jealous of all that Grace had done involving
the exercise of more than a servile discretion. When she asked him once
if there were nothing else that she could do, he said, "fires, keep those
women and children quiet," in a tone that classed her with both. She
longed to ask him what he thought of Mrs. May nard's condition; but she
had not the courage to invoke the intelligence that ignored her so
completely, and she struggled in silence with such disheartening auguries
as her theoretical science enabled her to make.
The next day was a Sunday, and the Sabbath hush which always hung over
Jocelyn's was intensified to the sense of those who ached between hope
and fear for the life that seemed to waver and flicker in that still air.
Dr. Mulbridge watched beside his patient, noting every change with a wary
intelligence which no fact escaped and no anxiety clouded; alert, gentle,
prompt; suffering no question, and absolutely silent as to all
impressions. He allowed Grace to remain with him when she liked, and let
her do his bidding in minor matters; but when from time to time she
escaped from the intolerable tension in which his reticence and her own
fear held her, he did not seem to see whether she went or came. Toward
nightfall she met him coming out of Mrs. Maynard's room, as she drew near
in the narrow corridor.
"Where is your friend--the young man--the one who smokes?" he asked, as
if nothing unusual had occupied him. "I want him to give me a cigar."
"Dr. Mulbridge," she said, "I will not bear this any longer. I must know
the worst--you have no right to treat me in this way. Tell me now--tell
me instantly: will she live?"
He looked at her with an imaginable apprehension of hysterics, but as she
continued firm, and placed herself resolutely in his way, he relaxed his
scrutiny, and said, with a smile, "Oh, I think so. What made you think
she would n't?"
She drew herself aside, and made way far him.
"Go!" she cried. She would have said more, but her indignation choked
He did not pass at once, and he did not seem troubled at her anger. "Dr.
Breen," he said, "I saw a good deal of pneumonia in the army, and I don't
remember a single case that was saved by the anxiety of the surgeon."
He went now, as people do when they fancy themselves to have made a good
point; and she heard him asking Barlow for Libby, outside, and then
walking over the gravel toward the stable. At that moment she doubted
and hated him so much that she world have been glad to keep Libby from
talking or even smoking with him. But she relented a little toward him
afterwards, when he returned and resumed the charge of his patient with
the gentle, vigilant cheerfulness which she had admired in him from the
first, omitting no care and betraying none. He appeared to take it for
granted that Grace saw an improvement, but he recognized it by nothing
explicit till he rose and said, "I think I will leave Mrs. Maynard with
you to-night, Dr. Breen."
The sick woman's eyes turned to him imploringly from her pillow, and
Grace spoke the terror of both when she faltered in return, "Are you--you
are not going home?"
"I shall sleep in the house."
"Oh, thank you!" she cried fervently.
"And you can call me if you wish. But there won't be any occasion. Mrs.
Maynard is very much better. "He waited to give, in a sort of absent-
minded way, certain directions. Then he went out, and Grace sank back
into the chair from which she had started at his rising, and wept long
and silently with a hidden face. When she took away her hands and dried
her tears, she saw Mrs. Maynard beckoning to her. She went to the
"What is it, dear?" she asked tenderly.
"Stoop down," whispered the other; and as Grace bowed her ear Mrs.
Maynard touched her cheek with her dry lips. In this kiss doubtless she
forgave the wrong which she had hoarded in her heart, and there perverted
into a deadly injury. But they both knew upon what terms the pardon was
accorded, and that if Mrs. Maynard had died, she would have died holding
Grace answerable for her undoing.
In the morning Dr. Mulbridge drove back to Corbitant, and in the evening
Libby came over from New Leyden with Maynard, in a hired wagon. He was a
day later than his wife had computed, but as she appeared to have
reflected, she had left the intervening Sunday out of her calculation;
this was one of the few things she taxed herself to say. For the rest,
she seemed to be hoarding her strength against his coming.
Grace met him at a little distance from the house, whither she had walked
with Bella, for a breath of the fresh air after her long day in the sick-
room, and did not find him the boisterous and jovial Hoosier she had
imagined him. It was, in fact, hardly the moment for the expression of
Western humor. He arrived a sleep-broken, travel-creased figure, with
more than the Western man's usual indifference to dress; with sad, dull
eyes, and an untrimmed beard that hung in points and tags, and thinly hid
the corners of a large mouth. He took her hand laxly in his, and bowing
over her from his lank height listened to her report of his wife's state,
while he held his little girl on his left arm, and the child fondly
pressed her cheek against his bearded face, to which he had quietly
lifted her as soon as he alighted from Libby's buggy.
Libby introduced Grace as Dr. Breen, and drove on, and Maynard gave her
the title whenever he addressed her, with a perfect effect of single-
mindedness in his gravity, as if it were an every-day thing with him to
meet young ladies who were physicians. He had a certain neighborly
manner of having known her a long time, and of being on good terms with
her; and somewhere there resided in his loosely knit organism a powerful
energy. She had almost to run in keeping at his side, as he walked on to
the house, carrying his little girl on his arm, and glancing about him;
and she was not sure at last that she had succeeded in making him
understand how serious the case had been.
"I don't know whether I ought to let you go in," she said, "without
"She's been expecting me, has n't she?" he asked.
"And she's awake?"
"Then I'll just go in and prepare her myself. I'm a pretty good hand at
preparing people to meet me. You've a beautiful location here, Dr.
Breen; and your town has a chance to grow. I like to see a town have
some chance," he added, with a sadness past tears in his melancholy eyes.
"Bella can show me the way to the room, I reckon," he said, setting the
little one down on the piazza, and following her indoors; and when Grace
ventured, later, to knock at the door, Maynard's voice bade her come in.
He sat beside his wife's pillow, with her hand in his left; on his right
arm perched the little girl, and rested her head on his shoulder. They
did not seem to have been talking, and they did not move when Grace
entered the room. But, apparently, Mrs. Maynard had known how to behave
to George Maynard, and peace was visibly between them.
"Now, you tell me about the medicines, Dr. Breen, and then you go and get
some rest," said Maynard in his mild, soothing voice. "I used to
understand Mrs. Maynard's ways pretty well, and I can take care of her.
Libby told me all about you and your doings, and I know you must feel as
pale as you look."
"But you can't have had any sleep on the way," Grace began.
"Sleep?" Maynard repeated, looking wanly at her. "I never sleep. I'd as
soon think of digesting."
After she had given him the needed instructions he rose from the rocking-
chair in-which he had been softly swinging to and fro, and followed her
out into the corridor, caressing with his large hand the child that lay
on his shoulder. "Of course," she said, "Mrs. Maynard is still very
sick, and needs the greatest care and attention."
"Yes, I understand that. But I reckon it will come out all right in the
end," he said, with the optimistic fatalism which is the real religion of
our orientalizing West. "Good-night, doctor."
She went away, feeling suddenly alone in this exclusion from the cares
that had absorbed her. There was no one on the piazza, which the
moonlight printed with the shadows of the posts and the fanciful jigsaw
work of the arches between them. She heard a step on the sandy walk
round the corner, and waited wistfully.
It was Barlow who came in sight, as she knew at once, but she asked, "Mr.
"Yes'm," said Barlow. "What can I do for you?"
"Nothing. I thought it might be Mr. Libby at first. Do you know where
"Well, I know where he ain't," said Barlow; and having ineffectually
waited to be questioned further, he added, "He ain't here, for one place.
He's gone back to Leyden. He had to take that horse back."
"Oh!" she said.
"N' I guess he's goin' to stay."
"To stay? Where?"
"Well, there you've got me again. All I know is I've got to drive that
mare of his'n over to-morrow, if I can git off, and next day if I can't.
Did n't you know he was goin'?" asked Barlow, willing to recompense
himself for the information he had given.
"Well!" he added sympathetically, at a little hesitation of hers:
Then she said, "I knew he must go. Good-night, Mr. Barlow," and went
indoors. She remembered that he had said he would go as soon as Maynard
came, and that she had consented that this would be best. But his going
now seemed abrupt, though she approved it. She thought that she had
something more to say to him, which might console him or reconcile him;
she could not think what this was, but it left an indefinite longing, an
unsatisfied purpose in her heart; and there was somewhere a tremulous
sense of support withdrawn. Perhaps this was a mechanical effect of the
cessation of her anxiety for Mrs. Maynard, which had been a support as
well as a burden. The house was strangely quiet, as if some great noise
had just been hushed, and it seemed empty. She felt timid in her room,
but she dreaded the next day more than the dark. Her life was changed,
and the future, which she had once planned so clearly, and had felt so
strong to encounter, had fallen to a ruin, in which she vainly endeavored
to find some clew or motive of the past. She felt remanded to the
conditions of the girlhood that she fancied she had altogether outlived;
she turned her face upon her pillow in a grief of bewildered aspiration
and broken pride, and shed tears scarcely predicable of a doctor of
But there is no lapse or aberration of character which can be half so
surprising to others as it is to one's self. She had resented Libby's
treating her upon a theory, but she treated herself upon a theory, and we
all treat ourselves upon a theory. We proceed each of us upon the theory
that he is very brave, or generous, or gentle, or liberal, or truthful,
or loyal, or just. We may have the defects of our virtues, but nothing
is more certain than that we have our virtues, till there comes a fatal
juncture, not at all like the juncture in which we had often imagined
ourselves triumphing against temptation. It passes, and the hero finds,
to his dismay and horror, that he has run away; the generous man has been
niggard; the gentleman has behaved like a ruffian, and the liberal like a
bigot; the champion of truth has foolishly and vainly lied; the steadfast
friend has betrayed his neighbor, the just person has oppressed him.
This is the fruitful moment, apparently so sterile, in which character
may spring and flower anew; but the mood of abject humility in which the
theorist of his own character is plunged and struggles for his lost self-
respect is full of deceit for others. It cannot last: it may end in
disowning and retrieving the error, or it may end in justifying it, and
building it into the reconstructed character, as something upon the whole
unexpectedly fine; but it must end, for after all it is only a mood. In
such a mood, in the anguish of her disappointment at herself, a woman
clings to whatever support offers, and it is at his own risk that the man
who chances to be this support accepts the weight with which she casts
herself upon him as the measure of her dependence, though he may make
himself necessary to her, if he has the grace or strength to do it.
Without being able to understand fully the causes of the dejection in
which this girl seemed to appeal to him, Mulbridge might well have
believed himself the man to turn it in his favor. If he did not
sympathize with her distress, or even clearly divine it, still his bold
generalizations, he found, always had their effect with women, whose
natures are often to themselves such unknown territory that a man who
assumes to know them has gone far to master them. He saw that a rude
moral force alone seemed to have a charm with his lady patients,--women
who had been bred to ease and wealth, and who had cultivated, if not very
disciplined, minds. Their intellectual dissipation had apparently made
them a different race from the simpler-hearted womenkind of his
neighbors, apt to judge men in a sharp ignorance of what is fascinating
in heroes; and it would not be strange if he included Grace in the sort
of contemptuous amusement with which he regarded these-flatteringly
dependent and submissive invalids. He at least did not conceive of her
as she conceived of herself; but this may be impossible to any man with
regard to any woman.
With his experience of other women's explicit and even eager obedience,
the resistance which he had at first encountered in Grace gave zest to
her final submission. Since he had demolished the position she had
attempted to hold against him, he liked her for having imagined she could
hold it; and she had continued to pique and interest him. He relished
all her scruples and misgivings, and the remorse she had tried to confide
to him; and if his enjoyment of these foibles of hers took too little
account of her pain, it was never his characteristic to be tender of
people in good health. He was, indeed, as alien to her Puritan spirit as
if he had been born in Naples instead of Corbitant. He came of one of
those families which one finds in nearly every New England community, as
thoroughly New England in race as the rest, but flourishing in a hardy
scepticism and contempt of the general sense. Whatever relation such
people held to the old Puritan commonwealth when Puritanism was absolute,
they must later have taken an active part in its disintegration, and were
probably always a destructive force at its heart.
Mulbridge's grandfather was one of the last captains who sailed a slaver
from Corbitant. When this commerce became precarious, he retired from
the seas, took a young wife in second marriage, and passed his declining
days in robust inebriety. He lived to cast a dying vote for General
Jackson, and his son, the first Dr. Mulbridge, survived to illustrate the
magnanimity of his fellow-townsmen during the first year of the civil
war, as a tolerated Copperhead. Then he died, and his son, who was in
the West, looking up a location for practice, was known to have gone out
as surgeon with one of the regiments there. It was not supposed that he
went from patriotism; but when he came back, a year before the end of the
struggle, and settled in his native place, his service in the army was
accepted among his old neighbors as evidence of a better disposition of
some sort than had hitherto been attributable to any of his name.
In fact, the lazy, good-natured boy, whom they chiefly remembered before
his college days, had always been well enough liked among those who had
since grown to be first mates and ship captains in the little port where
he was born and grew up. They had now all retired from the sea, and,
having survived its manifold perils, were patiently waiting to be drowned
in sail-boats on the bay. They were of the second generation of ships'
captains still living in Corbitant; but they would be the last. The
commerce of the little port had changed into the whaling trade in their
time; this had ceased in turn, and the wharves had rotted away. Dr.
Mulbridge found little practice among them; while attending their
appointed fate, they were so thoroughly salted against decay as to
preserve even their families. But he gradually gathered into his hands,
from the clairvoyant and the Indian doctor, the business which they had
shared between them since his father's death. There was here and there a
tragical case of consumption among the farming families along the coast,
and now and then a frightful accident among the fishermen; the spring
and autumn brought their typhoid; the city people who came down to the
neighboring hotels were mostly sick, or fell sick; and with the small
property his father had left, he and his mother contrived to live.
They dwelt very harmoniously together; for his mother, who had passed
more than a quarter of a century in strong resistance to her husband's
will, had succumbed, as not uncommonly happens with such women, to the
authority of her son, whom she had no particular pleasure or advantage in
thwarting. In the phrase and belief of his neighbors, he took after her,
rather than his father; but there was something ironical and baffling in
him, which the local experts could not trace to either the Mulbridges or
the Gardiners. They had a quiet, indifferent faith in his ability to
make himself a position and name anywhere; but they were not surprised
that he had come back to live in Corbitant, which was so manifestly the
best place in the world, and which, if somewhat lacking in opportunity,
was ample in the leisure they believed more congenial to him than
success. Some of his lady patients at the hotels, who felt at times that
they could not live without him, would have carried him back to the city
with them by a gentle violence; but there was nothing in anything he said
or did that betrayed ambition on his part. He liked to hear them talk,
especially of their ideas of progress, as they called them, at which,
with the ready adaptability of their sex, they joined him in laughing
when they found that he could not take them seriously. The social, the
emotional expression of the new scientific civilization struck him as
droll, particularly in respect to the emancipation of women; and he
sometimes gave these ladies the impression that he did not value woman's
intellect at its true worth. He was far from light treatment of them, he
was considerate of the distances that should be guarded; but he conveyed
the sense of his scepticism as to their fitness for some things to which
the boldest of them aspired.
His mother would have been willing to have him go to the city if he
wished, but she was too ignorant of the world outside of Corbitant to
guess at his possibilities in it, and such people as she had seen from it
had not pleased her with it. Those summer-boarding lady patients who
came to see him were sometimes suffered to wait with her till he came in,
and they used to tell her how happy she must be to keep such a son with
her, and twittered their patronage of her and her nice old-fashioned
parlor, and their praises of his skill in such wise against her echoless
silence that she conceived a strong repugnance for all their tribe, in
which she naturally included Grace when she appeared. She had decided
the girl to be particularly forth-putting, from something prompt and
self-reliant in her manner that day; and she viewed with tacit disgust
her son's toleration of a handsome young woman who had taken up a man's
profession. They were not people who gossiped together, or confided in
each other, and she would have known nothing and asked nothing from him
about her, further than she had seen for herself. But Barlow had folks,
as he called them, at Corbitant; and without her own connivance she had
heard from them of all that was passing at Jocelyn's.
It was her fashion to approach any subject upon which she wished her son
to talk as if they had already talked of it, and he accepted this
convention with a perfect understanding that she thus expressed at once
her deference to him and her resolution to speak whether he liked it or
not. She had not asked him about Mrs. Maynard's sickness, or shown any
interest in it; but after she learned from the Barlows that she was no
longer in danger, she said to her son one morning, before he drove away
upon his daily visit, "Is her husband going to stay with her, or is he
"I don't know, really," he answered, glancing at her where she sat erect
across the table from him, with her hand on the lid of the coffee-pot,
and her eyes downcast; it was the face of silent determination not to be
put off, which he knew. "I don't suppose you care, mother," he added
"She's nothing to me," she assented. "What's that friend of hers going
"You know. The one that came after you."
"Oh! Dr. Breen. Yes. What did you think of her?"
"I don't see why you call her doctor."
"Oh, I do it out of politeness. Besides, she is one sort of doctor.
Little pills," he added, with an enjoyment of his mother's grimness on
"I should like to see a daughter of mine pretending to be a doctor," said
"Then you would n't like Dr. Breen for a daughter," returned her son, in
the same tone as before.
"She wouldn't like me for a mother," Mrs. Mulbridge retorted.
Her son laughed, and helped himself to more baked beans and a fresh slice
of rye-and-Indian. He had the homely tastes and the strong digestion of
the people from whom he sprung; and be handed his cup to be filled with
his mother's strong coffee in easy defiance of consequences. As he took
it back from her he said, "I should like to see you and Mrs. Breen
together. You would make a strong team." He buttered his bread, with
another laugh in appreciation of his conceit. "If you happened to pull
the same way. If you did n't, something would break. Mrs. Breen is a
lady of powerful convictions. She thinks you ought to be good, and you
ought to be very sorry for it, but not so sorry as you ought to be for
being happy. I don't think she has given her daughter any reason to
complain on the last score." He broke into his laugh again, and watched
his mother's frown with interest. "I suspect that she does n't like me
very well. You could meet on common ground there: you don't like her
"They must be a pair of them," said Mrs. Mulbridge immovably. "Did her
mother like her studying for a doctor?"
"Yes, I understand so. Her mother is progressive she believes in the
advancement of women; she thinks the men would oppress them if they got a
"If one half the bold things that are running about the country had
masters it would be the best thing," said Mrs. Mulbridge, opening the lid
of the coffee-pot, and clapping it to with force, after a glance inside.
"That's where Mrs. Green wouldn't agree with you. Perhaps because it
would make the bold things happy to have masters, though she does n't say
so. Probably she wants the women to have women doctors so they won't be
so well, and can have more time to think whether they have been good or
not. You ought to hear some of the ladies over there talk, mother."
"I have heard enough of their talk."
"Well, you ought to hear Miss Gleason. There are very few things that
Miss Gleason does n't think can be done with cut flowers, from a wedding
to a funeral."
Mrs. Mulbridge perceived that her son was speaking figuratively of Miss
Gleason's sentimentality, but she was not very patient with the sketch
he, enjoyed giving of her. "Is she a friend of that Breen girl's?" she
interrupted to ask.
"She's an humble friend, an admirer, a worshipper. The Breen girl is her
ideal woman. She thinks the Breen girl is so superior to any man living
that she would like to make a match for her." His mother glanced sharply
at him, but he went on in the tone of easy generalization, and with a
certain pleasure in the projection of these strange figures against her
distorting imagination: "You see, mother, that the most advanced thinkers
among those ladies are not so very different, after all, from you old-
fashioned people. When they try to think of the greatest good fortune
that can befall an ideal woman, it is to have her married. The only
trouble is to find a man good enough; and if they can't find one, they're
apt to invent one. They have strong imaginations."
"I should think they would make you sick, amongst them," said his mother.
"Are you going to have anything more to eat?" she asked, with a
housekeeper's latent impatience to get her table cleared away.
"Yes," said Dr. Mulbridge; "I have n't finished yet. And I'm in no hurry
this morning. Sit still, mother; I want you to hear something more about
my lady friends at Jocelyn's. Dr. Breen's mother and Miss Gleason don't
feel alike about her. Her mother thinks she was weak in giving up Mrs.
Maynard's case to me; but Miss Gleason told me about their discussion,
and she thinks it is the great heroic act of Dr. Breen's life."
"It showed some sense, at least," Mrs. Mulbridge replied. She had
tacitly offered to release her son from telling her anything when she had
made her motion to rise; if he chose to go on now, it was his own affair.
She handed him the plate of biscuit, and he took one.
"It showed inspiration, Miss Gleason says. The tears came into her eyes;
I understood her to say it was godlike. 'And only to think, doctor,'" he
continued, with a clumsy, but unmistakable suggestion of Miss Gleason's
perfervid manner, "'that such a girl should be dragged down by her own
mother to the level of petty, every-day cares and duties, and should be
blamed for the most beautiful act of self-sacrifice! Is n't it too
"Rufus, Rufus!" cried his mother, "I can't stun' it! Stop!"
"Oh, Dr. Breen is n't so bad--not half so divine as Miss Gleason thinks
her. And Mrs. Maynard does n't consider her surrendering the case an act
of self-sacrifice at all."
"I should hope not!" said Mrs. Mulbridge. "I guess she would n't have
been alive to tell the tale, if it had n't been for you."
"Oh, you can't be sure of that. You must n't believe too much in
doctors, mother. Mrs. Maynard is pretty tough. And she's had
wonderfully good nursing. You've only heard the Barlow side of the
matter," said her sun, betraying now for the first time that he had been
aware of any knowledge of it on her part. That was their way: though
they seldom told each other anything, and went on as if they knew nothing
of each other's affairs, yet when they recognized this knowledge it was
without surprise on either side. "I could tell you a different story.
She's a very fine girl, mother; cool and careful under instruction, and
perfectly tractable and intelligent. She's as different from those other
women you've seen as you are. You would like her!" He had suddenly
grown earnest, and crushing the crust of a biscuit in the strong left
hand which he rested on the table, he gazed keenly at her undemonstrative
face. "She's no baby, either. She's got a will and a temper of her own.
She's the only one of them I ever saw that was worth her salt."
"I thought you did n't like self-willed women," said his mother
"She knows when to give up," he answered, with unrelaxed scrutiny.
His mother did not lift her eyes, yet. "How long shall you have to visit
"I've made my last professional visit."
"Where are you going this morning?"
Mrs. Mulbridge now looked up, and met her son's eye. "What makes you
think she'll have you?"
He did not shrink at her coming straight to the point the moment the way
was clear. He had intended it, and he liked it. But he frowned a
little as he said, "Because I want her to have me, for one thing." His
jaw closed heavily, but his face lost a certain brutal look almost as
quickly as it had assumed it. "I guess," he said, with a smile, "that
it's the only reason I've got."
"You no need to say that," said his mother, resenting the implication
that any woman would not have him.
"Oh, I'm not pretty to look at, mother, and I'm not particularly young;
and for a while I thought there might be some one, else."
"The young fellow that came with her, that day."
Dr. Mulbridge assented by his silence. "But I guess I was mistaken. I
guess he's tried and missed it. The field is 'clear, for all I can see.
And she's made a failure in one way, and then you know a woman is in the
humor to try it in another. She wants a good excuse for giving up.
That's what I think."
"Well," said his mother, "I presume you know what you're about, Rufus!"
She took up the coffee-pot on the lid of which she had been keeping her
hand, and went into the kitchen with it. She removed the dishes, and
left him sitting before the empty table-cloth. When she came for that,
he took hold of her hand, and looked up into her face, over which a
scarcely discernible tremor passed. "Well, mother?"
"It's what I always knew I had got to come to, first or last. And I
suppose I ought to feel glad enough I did n't have to come to it at
"No!" said her son. "I'm not a stripling any longer." He laughed,
keeping his mother's hand.
She freed it and taking up the table-cloth folded it lengthwise and then
across, and laid it neatly away in the cupboard. "I sha'n't interfere
with you, nor any woman that you bring here to be your wife. I've had my
day, and I'm not one of the old fools that think they're going to have
and to hold forever. You've always been a good boy to me, and I guess
you hain't ever had to complain' of your mother stan'in' in your way. I
sha'n't now. But I did think"
She stopped and shut her lips firmly. "Speak up, mother!" he cried.
"I guess I better not," she answered, setting her chair back against the
"I know what you mean. You mean about my laughing at women that try to
take men's places in the world. Well, I did laugh at them. They're
ridiculous. I don't want to marry this girl because she's a doctor.
That was the principal drawback, in my mind. But it does n't make any
difference, and wouldn't now, if she was a dozen doctors."
His mother let down the leaves of the table, and pushed it against the
wall, and he rose from the chair in which he was left sitting in the
middle of the room. "I presume," she said, with her back toward him, as
she straightened the table accurately against the mopboard, "that you can
let me have the little house at Grant's Corner."
"Why, mother!" he cried. "You don't suppose I should ever let you be
turned out of house and home? You can stay here as long as you live.
But it has n't come to that, yet. I don't know that she cares anything
about me. But there are chances, and there are signs. The chances are
that she won't have the courage to take up her plan of life again, and
that she'll consider any other that's pressed home upon her. And I take
it for a good sign that she's sent that fellow adrift. If her mind had
n't been set on some one else, she'd have taken him, in this broken-up
state of hers. Besides, she has formed the habit of doing what I say,
and there's a great deal in mere continuity of habit. It will be easier
for her to say yes than to say no; it would be very hard for her to say
While he eagerly pressed these arguments his mother listened stonily,
without apparent interest or sympathy. But at the end she asked, "How
are you going to support a wife? Your practice here won't do it. Has
she got anything?"
"She has property, I believe," replied her son. "She seems to have been
brought up in that way."
"She won't want to come and live here, then. She'll have notions of her
own. If she's like the rest of them, she'll never have you."
"If she were like the rest of them, I'd never have her. But she is n't.
As far as I'm concerned, it's nothing against her that she's studied
medicine. She did n't do it from vanity, or ambition, or any abnormal
love of it. She did it, so far so I can find out, because she wished to
do good that way. She's been a little notional, she's had her head
addled by women's talk, and she's in a queer freak; but it's only a
girl's freak after all: you can't say anything worse of her. She's a
splendid woman, and her property's neither here nor there. I could
"I presume," replied his mother, "that she's been used to ways that ain't
like our ways. I've always stuck up for you, Rufus, stiff enough,
I guess; but I ain't agoin' to deny that you're country born and bred.
I can see that, and she can see it, too. It makes a great difference
with girls. I don't know as she'd call you what they call a gentleman."
Dr. Mulbridge flushed angrily. Every American, of whatever standing or
breeding, thinks of himself as a gentleman, and nothing can gall him more
than the insinuation that he is less. "What do you mean, mother?"
"You hain't ever been in such ladies' society as hers in the same way.
I know that they all think the world of you, and flatter you up, and
they're as biddable as you please when you're doctorin' 'em; but I guess
it would be different if you was to set up for one of their own kind
"There is n't one of them," he retorted, "that I don't believe I could
have for the turn of my hand, especially if it was doubled into a fist.
They like force."
"Oh, you've only seen the sick married ones. I guess you'll find a well
girl is another thing."
"They're all alike. And I think I should be something of a relief if I
was n't like what she's been used to hearing called a gentleman; she'd
prefer me on that account. But if you come to blood, I guess the
Mulbridges and Gardiner, can hold up their heads with the best,
"Yes, like the Camfers and Rafllins." These were people of ancestral
consequence and local history, who had gone up to Boston from Corbitant,
and had succeeded severally as green-grocers and retail dry-goods men,
with the naturally attendant social distinction.
"Pshaw!" cried her son. "If she cares for me at all, she won't care for
the cut of my clothes, or my table manners."
"Yes, that's so. 'T ain't on my account that I want you should make sure
she doos care."
He looked hard at her immovable face, with its fallen eyes, and then went
out of the room. He never quarrelled with his mother, because his anger,
like her own, was dumb, and silenced him as it mounted. Her misgivings
had stung him deeply, and at the bottom of his indolence and indifference
was a fiery pride, not easily kindled, but unquenchable. He flung the
harness upon his old unkempt horse, and tackled him to the mud-encrusted
buggy, for whose shabbiness he had never cared before. He was tempted to
go back into the house, and change his uncouth Canada homespun coat for
the broadcloth frock which he wore when he went to Boston; but he
scornfully resisted it, and drove off in his accustomed figure.
His mother's last words repeated themselves to him, and in that dialogue,
in which he continued to dramatize their different feelings, he kept
replying, "Well, the way to find out whether she cares is to ask her."
During her convalescence Mrs. Maynard had the time and inclination to
give Grace some good advice. She said that she had thought a great deal
about it throughout her sickness, and she had come to the conclusion that
Grace was throwing away her life.
"You're not fit to be a doctor, Grace," she said. "You're too nervous,
and you're too conscientious. It is n't merely your want of experience.
No matter how much experience you had, if you saw a case going wrong in
your hands, you'd want to call in some one else to set it right. Do you
suppose Dr. Mulbridge would have given me up to another doctor because he
was afraid he couldn't cure me? No, indeed! He'd have let me die first,
and I should n't have blamed him. Of course I know what pressure I
brought to bear upon you, but you had no business to mind me. You
oughtn't to have minded my talk any more than the buzzing of a mosquito,
and no real doctor would. If he wants to be a success, he must be hard-
hearted; as hard-hearted as"--she paused for a comparison, and failing
any other added--"as all possessed." To the like large-minded and
impartial effect, she, ran on at great length. "No, Grace," she
concluded, "what you want to do is to get married. You would be a good
wife, and you would be a good mother. The only trouble is that I don't
know any man worthy of you, or half worthy. No, I don't!"
Now that her recovery was assured, Mrs. Maynard was very forgiving and
sweet and kind with every one. The ladies who came in to talk with her
said that she was a changed creature; she gave them all the best advice,
and she had absolutely no shame whatever for the inconsistency involved
by her reconciliation with her husband. She rather flaunted the
happiness of her reunion in the face of the public, and she vouchsafed an
explanation to no one. There had never been anything definite in her
charges against him, even to Grace, and her tacit withdrawal of them
succeeded perfectly well. The ladies, after some cynical tittering,
forgot them, and rejoiced in the spectacle of conjugal harmony afforded
them: women are generous creatures, and there is hardly any offence which
they are not willing another woman should forgive her husband, when once
they have said that they do not see how she could ever forgive him.
Mrs. Maynard's silence seemed insufficient to none but Mrs. Breen and her
own husband. The former vigorously denounced its want of logic to Grace
as all but criminal, though she had no objection to Mr. Maynard. He, in
fact, treated her with a filial respect which went far to efface her
preconceptions; and he did what he could to retrieve himself from the
disgrace of a separation in Grace's eyes. Perhaps he thought that the
late situation was known to her alone, when he casually suggested, one
day, that Mrs. Maynard was peculiar.
"Yes," said Grace mercifully; "but she has been out of health so long.
That makes a great difference. She's going to be better now."
"Oh, it's going to come out all right in the end," he said, with his
unbuoyant hopefulness," and I reckon I've got to help it along. Why, I
suppose every man's a trial at times, doctor?"
"I dare say. I know that every woman is," said the girl.
"Is that so? Well, may be you're partly right. But you don't suppose
but what a man generally begins it, do you? There was Adam, you know.
He did n't pull the apple; but he fell off into that sleep, and woke up
with one of his ribs dislocated, and that's what really commenced the
trouble. If it had n't been for Adam, there would n't have been any
woman, you know; and you could n't blame her for what happened after she
got going? "There vas no gleam of insinuation in his melancholy eye, and
Grace listened without quite knowing what to make of it all. "And then I
suppose he was n't punctual at meals, and stood round talking politics at
night, when he ought to have been at home with his family?"
"Who?" asked Grace.
"Adam," replied Mr. Maynard lifelessly. "Well, they got along pretty
well outside," he continued. "Some of the children didn't turn out just
what you might have expected; but raising children is mighty uncertain
business. Yes, they got along." He ended his parable with a sort of
weary sigh, as if oppressed by experience. Grace looked at his slovenly
figure, his smoky complexion, and the shaggy outline made by his
untrimmed hair and beard, and she wondered how Louise could marry him;
but she liked him, and she was willing to accept for all reason the cause
of unhappiness at which he further hinted. "You see, doctor, an
incompatibility is a pretty hard thing to manage. You can't forgive it
like a real grievance. You have to try other things, and find out that
there are worse things, and then you come back to it and stand it. We're
talking Wyoming and cattle range, now, and Mrs. Maynard is all for the
new deal; it's going to make us healthy, wealthy, and wise. Well, I
suppose the air will be good for her, out there. You doctors are sending
lots of your patients our way, now." The gravity with which he always
assumed that Grace was a physician in full and regular practice would
have had its edge of satire, coming from another; but from him, if it was
ironical, it was also caressing, and she did not resent it. "I've had
some talk with your colleague, here, Dr. Mulbridge, and he seems to think
it will be the best thing for her. I suppose you agree with him?"
"Oh, yes," said Grace, "his opinion would be of great value. It wouldn't
be at all essential that I should agree with him:'
"Well, I don't know about that," said Maynard. "I reckon he thinks a
good deal of your agreeing with him. I've been talking with him about
settling out our way. We've got a magnificent country, and there's bound
to be plenty of sickness there, sooner or later. Why, doctor, it would
be a good opening for you! It 's just the place for you. You 're off
here in a corner, in New England, and you have n't got any sort of scope;
but at Cheyenne you'd have the whole field to yourself; there is n't
another lady doctor in Cheyenne. Now, you come out with us. Bring your
mother with you, and grow up with the country. Your mother would like
it. There's enough moral obliquity in Cheyenne to keep her conscience in
a state of healthful activity all the time. Yes, you'd get along out
Grace laughed, and shook her head. It was part of the joke which life
seemed to be with Mr. Maynard that the inhabitants of New England were
all eager to escape from their native section, and that they ought to be
pitied and abetted in this desire. As soon as his wife's convalescence
released him from constant attendance upon her, he began an inspection of
the region from the compassionate point of view; the small, frugal
husbandry appealed to his commiseration, and he professed to have found
the use of canvas caps upon the haycocks intolerably pathetic. "Why, I'm
told," he said, "that they have to blanket the apple-trees while the
fruit is setting; and they kill off our Colorado bugs by turning them
loose, one at a time, on the potato-patches: the bug starves to death in
forty-eight hours. But you've got plenty of schoolhouses, doctor; it
does beat all, about the schoolhouses. And it's an awful pity that there
are no children to go to school in them. Why, of course the people go
West as fast as they can, but they ought to be helped; the Government
ought to do something. They're good people; make first-rate citizens
when you get them waked up, out there. But they ought all to be got
away, and let somebody run New England' as a summer resort. It's pretty,
and it's cool and pleasant, and the fishing is excellent; milk, eggs, and
all kinds of berries and historical associations on the premises; and it
could be made very attractive three months of the year; but my goodness!
you oughtn't to ask anybody to live here. You come out with us, doctor,
and see that country, and you'll know what I mean."
His boasts were always uttered with a wan, lack-lustre irony, as if he
were burlesquing the conventional Western brag and enjoying the
mystifications of his listener, whose feeble sense of humor often failed
to seize his intention, and to whom any depreciation of New England was
naturally unintelligible. She had not come to her final liking for him
without a season of serious misgiving, but after that she rested in peace
upon what every one knowing him felt to be his essential neighborliness.
Her wonder had then come to be how he could marry Louise, when they sat
together on the seaward piazza, and he poured out his easy talk,
unwearied and unwearying, while, with one long, lank leg crossed upon the
other, he swung his unblacked, thin-soled boot to and fro.
"Well, he was this kind of a fellow: When we were in Switzerland, he was
always climbing some mountain or other. They could n't have hired me to
climb one of their mountains if they'd given me all their scenery, and
thrown their goitres in. I used to tell him that the side of a house was
good enough for me. But nothing but the tallest mountains would do him;
and one day when he was up there on the comb of the roof somewhere, tied
with a rope round his waist to the guide and a Frenchman, the guide's
foot slipped, and he commenced going down. The Frenchman was just going
to cut the rope and let the guide play it alone; but he knocked the knife
out of his hand with his long-handled axe, and when the jerk came he was
on the other side of the comb, where he could brace himself, and brought
them both up standing. Well, he's got muscles like bunches of steel
wire. Did n't he ever tell you about it?"
"No," said Grace sadly.
"Well, somebody ought to expose Libby. I don't suppose I should ever
have known about it myself, if I hadn't happened to see the guide's
friends and relations crying over him next day as if he was the guide's
funeral. Hello! There's the doctor." He unlimbered his lank legs, and
rose with an effect of opening his person like a pocket-knife. "As I
understand it, this is an unprofessional visit, and the doctor is here
among us as a guest. I don't know exactly what to do under the
circumstances, whether we ought to talk about Mrs. Maynard's health or
the opera; but I reckon if we show our good intentions it will come out
all right in the end."
He went forward to meet the doctor, who came up to shake hands with
Grace, and then followed him in-doors to see Mrs. Maynard. Grace
remained in her place, and she was still sitting there when Dr. Mulbridge
returned without him. He came directly to her, and said, "I want to
speak with you, Miss Breen. Can I see you alone?"
"Is--is Mrs. Maynard worse?" she asked, rising in a little trepidation.
"No; it has nothing to do with her. She's practically well now; I can
remand the case to you. I wish to see you--about yourself." She
hesitated at this peculiar summons, but some pressure was upon her to
obey Dr. Mulbridge, as there was upon most people where he wished to obey
him. "I want to talk with you," he added, "about what you are going to
do,--about your future. Will you come?"
"Oh, yes," she answered; and she suffered him to lead the way down from
the piazza, and out upon one of the sandy avenues toward the woods, in
which it presently lost itself. "But there will be very little to talk
about," she continued, as they moved away, "if you confine yourself to my
future. I have none."
"I don't see how you've got rid of it," he rejoined. "You've got a
future as much as you have a past, and there's this advantage,--that you
can do something with your future."
"Do you think so?" she asked, with a little bitterness. "That has n't
been my experience."
"It's been mine," he said, "and you can make it yours. Come, I want to
talk with you about your future, because I have been thinking very
seriously about my own. I want to ask your advice and to give you mine.
I'll commence by asking yours. What do you think of me as a physician?
I know you are able to judge."
She was flattered, in spite of herself. There were long arrears of cool
indifference to her own claims in that direction, which she might very
well have resented; but she did not. There was that flattery in his
question which the junior in any vocation feels in the appeal of his
senior; and there was the flattery which any woman feels in a man's
recourse to her judgment. Still, she contrived to parry it with a little
thrust. "I don't suppose the opinion of a mere homoeopathist can be of
any value to a regular practitioner."
He laughed. "You have been a regular practitioner yourself for the last
three weeks. What do you think of my management of the case?"
"I have never abandoned my principles," she began.
"Oh, I know all about that? What do you think of me as a doctor?" he
"Of course I admire you. Why do you ask me that?"
"Because I wished to know. And because I wished to ask you something
else. You have been brought up in a city, and I have always lived here
in the country, except the two years I was out with the army. Do you
think I should succeed if I pulled up here, and settled in Boston?"
"I have not lived in Boston," she answered. "My opinion wouldn't be
worth much on that point."
"Yes, it would. You know city people, and what they are. I have seen a
good deal of them in my practice at the hotels about here, and some of
the ladies--when they happened to feel more comfortable--have advised me
to come to Boston." His derision seemed to throw contempt on all her
sex; but he turned to her, and asked again earnestly, "What do you think?
Some of the profession know me there. When I left the school, some of
the faculty urged me to try my chance in the city."
She waited a moment before she answered. "You know that I must respect
your skill, and I believe that you could succeed anywhere. I judge your
fitness by my own deficiency. The first time I saw you with Mrs.
Maynard, I saw that you had everything that I hadn't. I saw that I was a
failure, and why, and that it would be foolish for me to keep up the
"Do you mean that you have given it up?" he demanded, with a triumph in
which there was no sympathy.
"It has given me up. I never liked it,--I told you that before,--and I
never took it up from any ambitious motive. It seemed a shame for me to
be of no use in the world; and I hoped that I might do something in a way
that seemed natural for women. And I don't give up because I'm unfit as
a woman. I might be a man, and still be impulsive and timid and nervous,
and everything that I thought I was not."
"Yes, you might be all that, and be a man; but you'd be an exceptional
man, and I don't think you're an exceptional woman. If you've failed, it
is n't your temperament that's to blame."
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