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BY S. WEIR MITCHELL, M. D., AUTHOR OF "IN WAR TIME," ETC.
Mrs. Vincent was talking to her husband when, just after dinner, I entered her drawing-room.
"It is an age since we met," she cried cordially. "Sit down. Mr. Clayborne will be here shortly. And what have you done to my poor St. Clair? Read that," and she took from her work-basket a note dated the night I last saw him.
I cannot dine with you to-morrow. I have seen to-night what I shall be some day. It is horrible.
It was true, and he had gone away into the woods for a fortnight, like a wounded animal. Nor did he ever speak of it again, but came back as gay and joyous as usual. I returned the note to her.
"How could you?" she said. "I should have known how he would feel."
"I took him," I returned, " because he was reasonable in his desire to see a man die. But I suppose that, with all its awe, death is so constantly about us doctors that we cannot estimate its influence upon others. When I left him-for he would stay- he was simply curious and contemplative."
"Do you remember," said Mrs. Vincent, "that description in Stendhal of the Italian who first sees death of a sudden on a great battlefield-his surprise, his curiosity, and at last his terror? It is in his 'La Chartreuse de Parme."" "No; I will look at it, but I have seen all this in war once or twice."
As she spoke, Clayborne came in. "Of what are you speaking?" he said.
"Of fear. Of the anguish of fear, uncontrollable, like the fear in dreams."
"Yes; the agony of terror," I returned. "One sees it in the insane at times, and in delirium tremens. There is nothing in normal life to compare with it."
"And were you ever afraid in war?"
Abominably. We were supposed as surgeons to be non-combatants, but that means merely that one is to run risks without the chance to quiet himself by violent action. Practically, we lost in dead and hurt a long list of surgeons."
"Indeed? I did not know that. And what do you think the best test, after all, of a man's courage?" said Vincent.
"To face a mob or a madman. I knew a man who once by ill luck was shut up with a crazy, athletic brute. My friend locked the door, hearing the man's wife wailing outside. The brute, while suffering from a delusion, had once hurt her; and now again imagining her to have been false to him, meant to kill her. He asked for the key, and gave my friend five minutes to reflect, as he stood before him with a billet of wood he had seized from the hearth." "And what did your friend do?" "It was summer, and the windows were open. He threw the key into the street." "And what then?"
"Oh, help came just as it was wanted, which is rare in this world. I have cut a long story short. My friend said afterward that he was glad of the experience; that he had little hope of escape, and now felt sure for the first time in his life that he was equal to any test of courage."
"I can understand that," said Vincent. "In these quiet days we are rarely tried as to courage. But, after all, is n't it somewhat a matter of training-of profession? I suppose, North, it never enters into your mind to fear contagious disease?"
"Never; except as to one disease: I have a fancy I shall die of yellow fever."
"Oh, but," said our hostess, "is n't it also true that physicians do not take disease as others do?"
"No; that is a popular notion, but quite untrue. I have thrice suffered from disease thus acquired: once from smallpox, twice from diphtheria. In Ireland, in the great typhus years, physicians died in frightful numbers, and so did the old doctors here in yellow-fever days. Unlike the soldier, we are always under fire."
"I should certainly run from smallpox. I might face a madman," said Mrs. Vincent. "As to war, I should run."
"Go on,' I said.
"Dinna ye ken Mr. Gillespie, the banker?' "Yes; I see that it was reported that he died in San Francisco two days ago.'
"It is so related. But I maun tell ye the hale case.'
"Last night I hae reason to suspect that I maun hae been takin' bad wheesky. It was nae the honest barley; I blame the rye. It's a warnin' to me for life, if the gude Lord spares me to reform. Ye see, yestreen, after the Thistle Society, I went to the St. Andrew's dinner. By ill fortune Mr. McGillivray sat opposite to me. Aiblins yeken Mr. McGillivray. The mon has nae havin's, which is to say manners. He made a very opprobrious remark concernin' the True Kirk. By reason of too mony veenous counselors, I had na the recht word to han'. And thinkin' he might na understond me correctly if I bided too long, I cast a bannock at his foul face. A gude bittie haggis he threw at me. I wad na hae dune that to a dog. The beast has nae senteement of nationality (it's but a Lowlander he is, after a'). A watermelon he got for answer to his remark. It broke on his bald head, and the sinner went doun in gore, or the like of it, after the manner of the mon Sisera. And that terminated the conversation vara sateesfactorily.
"The cheerman made a point of order that I, Alexander MacAllister, was drunk, and I was over-persuaded by five men to gae hame. When I got in, there on my slate was a message to go at once to veesit Mr. Gillespie, at No. 9 St. Peter's Place. Vara ill, it said.
“Ye ken the mon 's deid. I dinna ken why I went, but the next I remember I was at his door. There were lichts in the house, and a braw hussy of a maid let me in. Preesently I was in a bedroom, and there sat Mr. Gillespie, vara white, but dressed.
"""Tak' a seat, Gawin," he said, and I sat doun.
"Then he said, "Gawin, yer owin' me a year's reent."
"Oh, aye," I said.
"I said, "That is aye gude logic," and ye ken he was a vara ingenious creature. "But war would be my neck for takin' the life of a mon?"
""I'm nae a mon, Gawin." he said; "I'm a ghaist, and it's only a change of state I'm cravin'. And there's the reent. But ye maun mak' haste, or I will call in Doctor O'Beirne."
"""Gude Lord!" I said, "ye canna mean that, Mr. Gillespie. There's a hantle of deaths at yon mon's door."
"Then he 's the practitioner for me. I canna be waur. My time 's short; I was streakit yestreen, and to-morrow I shall be put awa' in the ground. And there's the reent."
"""Wull ye forgie me the arrears?” I said. "" I wull."
"So I pulled out my little pocket-case, and mixed him enough strychnia to kill the ghaist of a witch's cat. He took it doun wi' a gulp.
"""It's rather constreengent," he said, and yon were his vara last words; and then he fell doun in a spawsm, and tied himself into bowknots, and yelled-O Lord! sir. I fled like Tam O'Shanter, and here I am. I hae killed a mon.'
And then you went home?'
"That may be, sir. When I cam' to full knowleedge of Alexander MacAllister I was seated on the step of my door in the snaw. I went in, and—will ye creedit it? — the slate was clean. But that maun be the way wi' ghaistwritin'. It's nae abidin'.'
"But the man is alive, Gawin. There is a telegram in the morning papers to say that the report of his death was a mistake. He had a faint spell or a trance — something of the kind. He will be at home next week. You must have been very drunk, Gawin.'
"I dinna ken. And there's the reent, and I saw it. Sir, a ghaist in spawsms. Nae, nae; it was nae a coeencidence. Dinna ye think, sir, considerin' the service, a gude bill for the reent and arrears would be but just ?'
"Certainly,' I said; he ought to pay.'
"I hae muckle doubt as to the matter. If he forgies me the moneys, I'll stond by the Kirk against the whole clan of the McGillivrays to the mortal end of my days. Might I hae a drop o' wheesky? No matter what kind. I'll neever blaspheme against the rye again-there 's waur things.""
"Delightful!" cried Mrs. Vincent. "You have earned your cigar," and we broke up amidst laughter in which even Clayborne joined.
(To be continued.)
S. Weir Mitchell.
OL' PAP'S FLAXEN.
BY HAMLIN GARLAND,
Author of "Main Traveled Roads," "Jason Edwards," etc.
T was in June, just before the ending of the school, that Flaxen first began to write about delaying her return. Anson was woefully disappointed. He had said all along that she would make tracks for home just as soon as school was out, and he had calculated just when she would arrive; and on the second day after the close of school for the summer he drove down to the train to meet her. She did not come, but he got a letter which said that one of her friends wanted her to stay two weeks with her, until after the Fourth of July.
"She's an awful nice girl, and we will have a grand time; she has a rich father and a piano and a pony and a buggy. It will just be grand."
"I don't blame her none," sighed Anson to Bert. "I don't want her to come away while she 's enjoyin' herself. It'll be a big change fer her to come back an' cook fer us old mossbacks after bein' at school an' in good company all these months."
He was plainly disturbed. Her vacation was going to be all too short at the best, and he was so hungry for the sight of her! Still he could not blame her for staying under the circumstances; as he told Bert, his feelings did not count. He just wanted her to get all she could out of life; "there ain't much any way for us poor devils, but what little there is we want her to have." The Fourth of July was the limit of her stay, and on the sixth, seventh, and eighth Anson drove regularly to the evening train to meet her.
On the third day another letter came, saying that she would reach home the next Monday. With this Anson rode home in triumph. During the next few days he went to the barber's and had his great beard shaved off. "Made me look so old," he explained, seeing Bert's wild start of surprise. "I've be'n carryin' that mop o' hair round so long I'd kind o' got into the notion o' bein' old myself. Got a kind o' crick in.the back, ye know. But I ain't; I ain't ten years older 'n you be."
And he was not. His long blond mustache, shaved beard, and clipped hair made a
new man of him, and a very handsome man, too, in a large way. He was curiously embarrassed by Bert's prolonged scrutiny, and said jocosely:
"We've got to brace up a little now. Company boarders comin', young lady from St. Peter's Seminary, city airs an' all that sort o' thing. Don't you let me see ye eatin' pie with your knife. I'll break the shins of any man that feeds himself with anythin' 'cept the silver-plated forks I 've bought."
Flaxen had been gone almost a year, and a year counts for much at her age. Besides Anson had exaggerated ideas of the amount of learning she could absorb in a year at a boarding-seminary, and had also a very vague. idea of what "society was in St. Peter, although he seemed suddenly to awake to the necessity of "bracing up" a little, and getting things generally into shape. He bought a new suit of clothes and a second-hand twoseated carriage, notwithstanding the sarcastic reflection of his partner, who was making his own silent comment upon this thing.
"The paternal business is auskerspeelt," he said to himself. "Ans' is goin' in on shape now. Well, it 's all right; nobody's business but ours. Let her go, Smith; but they won't be no talk in this neighborhood when they get hold of what's goin' on - oh, no!" He smiled grimly. "We can stand it, I guess; but it'll be hard on her. Ans' is a little too previous. It 's too soon to spring this trap on the poor little thing."
They stood side by side on the platform the next Monday when the train rolled into the station at Boomtown, panting with fatigue from its long run. Flaxen caught sight of Bert first as she sprang off the train, and, running to him, kissed him without much embarrassment. Then she looked around, saying:
"Where's ol' pap? Did n't he- "
"Why, Flaxen, don't ye know me?" he cried out at her elbow.
She knew his voice, but his shaven face, so much more youthful, was so strange that she knew him only by his eyes laughing down into hers. Nevertheless she kissed him doubtfully.
"Oh, what 've you done? You 've shaved off your whiskers; you don't look a bit natural-I-"
She was embarrassed, almost frightened, at the change in him. He "looked so queer"; his fair, untroubled, smiling face and blond mustache made him look younger than Bert. "Nev' mind that! She 'll grow again if ye like it better. Get int' this new buggy-it's ours. They ain't no flies on us to-day; not many," said Ans' in high glee, elaborately assisting her to the carriage, not appreciating the full meaning of the situation.
As they rode home he was extravagantly gay. He sat beside her, and she drove, wild with delight at the prairie, the wheat, the gulls, everything.
"Ain't no dust on our clo'es," said Ans', coughing, winking at Bert, and brushing off with an elaborately finical gesture an imaginary fleck from his knee and elbow. "Ain't we togged out? I guess nobody said 'boo' to us down to St. Peter, eh?"
dipped his honey with a fork, and, finally growing desperate, split a biscuit in half, and in the good old boyish way sopped it in the honey. "There, that's the Christian way of doing things!" he exulted, while Flaxen laughed. How bright she was! how strange she acted! There were moments when she embarrassed them by some new womanly grace or accomplishment, some new air which she had caught from her companions or teachers at school. It was truly amazing how much she had absorbed outside of her regular studies. She indeed was no longer a girl; she was a young woman, and to them a beautiful one.
Not a day passed without some added surprise which made Anson exult and say, “She's gettin' her money's worth down there, no two ways about that."
But as the excitement of getting back died out, poor Flaxen grew restless, moody, and "You like my clo'es?" said Flaxen, with unaccountable. Before, she had always been charming directness.
"You bet! They 're scrumptious." "Well, they ought t' be; they 're my best, except my white dress. I thought you'd like 'em; I wore 'em a-purpose."
"Like 'em? They're you 're jest as purty as a red lily er a wild rose in the wheat -ahem! Ain't she, Bert, ol' boy? We're jest about starvin' to death, we are."
"I knew you'd be. What 'll I stir up for supper? Biscuits?"
"Um, um! Say, what ye s'pose I 've got to go with 'em?" "Honey."
"Oh, you're too sharp," wailed Ans', while Flaxen went off into a peal of laughter. "Say, Bert 's be'n in the damnedest-excuse me plaguedest temper fer the last two months you ever did see."
While this chatter was going on Bert sat silent and unsmiling on the back seat. He was absorbed in seeing the exquisite color that played in her cheek, and the equally charming curves of her figure. She was well dressed, and was wonderfully mature. He was saying to himself: "Ans' ain't got no more judgment than a boy. We can't keep that girl here. More 'n that, the girl never 'll be contented again, unless-" He did not allow himself to go further. He did not yet dare even to think further.
They had a merry time that night, quite like old times. The biscuits were light and flaky, the honey was delightsome, and the milk and butter (procured specially) were fresh. What peals of laughter as Flaxen insisted on their eating potatoes with a fork, and opposed the use of the knife in scooping up the honey from their plates! Even the saturnine Bert forgot his gloom and laughed too, as Ans' laboriously
the same cheery, frank, boyish creature. As Bert said, "You know where to find her." Now she was full of strange tempers and moods. She would work most furiously for a time, and then suddenly fall dreaming, looking away out on the shimmering plain toward the east.
At Bert's instigation, a middle-aged widow had been hired, at a fabulous price, to come and do the most of the work for them, thus releasing Flaxen from the weight of the hard work, which perhaps was all the worse for her. Hard work might have prevented the unbearable, sleepless pain within. She hated the slatternly Mrs. Green at once for her meddling with her affairs, though the good woman meant no offense. She was jocose in the broad way of middle-aged persons, to whom a love-affair is legitimate food for raillery.
But Gearheart's keen eye was on Flaxen as well. He saw how eagerly she watched for the mail on Tuesdays and Fridays, and how she sought a quiet place at once in order to read and dream over her letters. She was restless a day or two before a certain letter came, with an eager, excited, expectant air. Then, after reading it, she was absent-minded, flighty in conversation; then listlessly restless, moving slowly about from one thing to another, in a kind of restless inability to take interest in anything for long.
All this, if it came to the attention of Anson at all, was laid to the schooling the girl had had.
"Of course it'll seem a little slow to you, Flaxie, but harvestin' is comin' on soon, an' then things 'll be a little more lively."
But Gearheart was not so slow-witted. He had had sisters and girl cousins, and knew "the symptoms," as Mrs. Green would have put it. He noticed that when Flaxen read