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When Miss Forrest returned from her survey of the kitchen she had come straight to the corner of the hearth where Brown stood, and had taken the chair beside the one he had lately occupied. He was therefore beside her when he sat down to drink his coffee with his guests. At a moment when Webb Atchison and Sue Breckenridge were engaged in a bit of controversy over the relative merits of varying methods of coffee making, Helena Forrest turned to Brown, who had been looking into the fire without speaking.
"I hope you don't really mind our coming up here to-night," she said.
"Mind it? If I did, I couldn't blame you, for you came against your will," he answered--and his eyes were no longer upon the fire.
"Without my consent, but not, perhaps, against my will."
He regarded her intently. She met his look without turning aside.
"You felt a curiosity to see the hermit in his cell," was his explanation of the matter.
She nodded. "Of course. Who wouldn't, after such reports as Mrs. Breckenridge brought back?"
"And now that you have seen him--you are consumed with pity?"
"No. If I am consumed with anything it is with envy."
His low laugh spoke his disbelief. She read it in the sound and in the way his gaze left her face and went back to the fire.
"You don't think I mean that," said she.
Her face, turned toward him, invited him to look at it again, but he did not--just then.
"Because you are--Helena Forrest," he answered.
"And what is she, please, in your opinion?"
"An inhabitant of another world than that I live in."
"A world of which you have an even poorer opinion than you used to have when you lived in it yourself!"
He smiled. "Anyhow, I am no longer in it. Nor ever shall go back."
A startled look passed over her face. "You don't mean that you intend to stay here--forever?"
"Not quite that. But I mean to do this sort of work, rather than the sort I began with. To do it I must live much as I am living now, where ever that may be. Now--what about the envy of me you profess?"
He turned, still smiling, at the little sound he caught from her half-closed lips.
"Are you happy in such a decision?" she murmured.
"Do I look like an unhappy man?"
She shook her head. "That's what I have been noticing about you ever since I came. You did look unhappy when you went away. Now, you don't. And it is the look on your face which gives me the sense of envy."
Brown gave one quick glance at the rest of the party. "Do you mean to say," he questioned, very low, "that you are not happy?"
"Does that seem so strange?"
"It might very naturally seem so, to one who knows what you have to make you the happiest of the happy."
"You yourself didn't find happiness among similar surroundings," she said, looking at him intently.
"Similar?" The thought seemed to amuse him.
"Well, weren't they similar? At any rate we were in the same world, and you say now we are not."
"We are so far apart," said he evenly, "that we can only signal to each other. And even then--neither is familiar with the other's code!"
"Oh!" she exclaimed, and a strange expression showed in her eyes. "What a hard, hard thing for you to say! It doesn't sound like you."
"Hard?" he questioned, with a contraction of the brows. "It is substantially what you yourself once said. If it was true then, it must be true now."
Moved by some impulse the two looked at each other searchingly, Donald Brown's face grave but tense, Helena Forrest's full of a proud pain. Clearly they were not understanding each other's code now--so much was evident.
At this instant, without warning, the outer door flew open. Mrs. Kelcey, her round red face disordered, her breath coming short, stood upon the threshold and spoke pantingly, without regard to the company assembled:
"Mr. Brown, sor! The baby's dyin--the sthranger child. It was took all of a suddint. Would ye moind comin' to say a bit of a prayer over him? Father McCarty's away, or I wouldn't ask it."
She was gone with the words. With the first sentence Brown had sprung to his feet. As Mary Kelcey vanished he turned to Doctor Brainard.
"Come, Doctor," he said, with a beckoning hand. "While I say the bit of a prayer you try what you can do to keep the baby here!"
The eminent physician rose rather slowly to his feet. "It's probably no use," he demurred. "The woman knows."
"The Lord knows, too," declared Brown, with a propelling hand on his friend's arm: "knows that you're here to give the child a chance. Come! Hurry!"
The two went out. Doctor Brainard would have stayed for his hat and overcoat, but Brown would brook no delay.
Left behind, the party by the fire looked at one another with faces sobered. Hugh Breckenridge consulted his watch.
"It's time we were off," he declared. "The Doctor's going to stay anyway, and it's no use waiting for Don to come back."
"That's right," agreed Webb Atchison. "I came up here once before, about six months ago, and I saw then enough of the way things went here to know that he lives at the beck and call of every man, woman, and child in this district--and they call him, too. He'd just finished sobering up a drunkard that night, or scant attention I'd have had. Well, I'll walk down to the hotel and send back Rogers and the car. Be ready in ten minutes?"
They said they would be ready. But in Brown's little bedroom, donning furry wraps, Helena Forrest spoke in Sue Breckenridge's ear:
"I can't bear to go till we know how it comes out."
Sue stared at her. "You don't mean to say you care? Why--it's just a forlorn little foundling--better dead than alive. I saw it when I was here two weeks ago. It has nothing to live for, dear. Don't think of it again."
"But he cared--your brother cared," said Helena Forrest.
"Oh, Don cares about everything. I never saw such a soft heart. Of course I think it's lovely of him, though I don't understand how he can be so absorbed in such a class of people."
Miss Forrest went to the one window of the room. She lifted the plain shade which covered it and looked out into the night.
Ten yards away she saw a brightly lighted, uncurtained window, beyond which were figures, plainly discernible. The figures were moving, one bringing a pail, another stooping--the scene was not one of still waiting but of tense action. She caught a glimpse of Doctor Brainard's tall form bending above something at one side, then she saw Brown himself cross the room in haste.
Mrs. Brainard and Sue went back to the outer room to stand before the fire with the purpose of accumulating all the bodily heat possible before the long, cold drive. Miss Forrest, unheeding them, remained by the window in the unlighted bedroom. Minutes passed. Hugh Breckenridge had fallen to examining the larger room's eighteenth century features--he was something of a connoisseur in antiques.
Helena, turning from the window for a moment, scanned the shadowy room in which she stood. It was very scantily furnished with the bare essentials. Upon the plain chest of drawers which held Brown's bachelor belongings stood a few simply framed photographs; an old set of hanging bookshelves was crammed full of books, with more overflowing upon the floor.
Suddenly, as she stood there, an outer door banged; swift footsteps crossed the floor. Helena turned to see Donald Brown himself rushing into the room. He ran to the chest of drawers, pulled one open, searched a minute, withdrew something, and was hurrying out of the room again, when he caught sight of the figure at the window. Involuntarily he halted for an instant.
"Can you save it?" Helena cried, under her breath.
"I don't know--Brainard's got his coat off. Pray for us, will you?"
He was gone again.
Beside the narrow bed on which he lay every night, there dropped upon its knees a figure in sumptuous furs; a face such as men vow themselves ready to die for was pressed into the hard little pillow. Helena Forrest breathed a prayer of beseeching for a life she had never seen, and when she had done lifted eyes wet with tears.
As Hugh Breckenridge, protesting at the lateness of the hour, marshalled his friends into the great car at the door, Doctor Brainard came out of Mrs. Kelcey's house and ran across to the curb.
"Don wants me to tell you that the baby's pulled through. It's gone off to sleep with his finger in its fist, and he won't leave it. He says 'good-night' to you."
"Was it the prayer or the potion that saved it, Doctor?" questioned Breckenridge in his caustic tone.
"I don't know," said the doctor--and there was something new and gentle in his voice. "It was very nearly beyond potions--I'm inclined to think it was the prayer." An hour afterward, Doctor Brainard, sitting wide-awake and thoughtful before Brown's fire, was aware of the quiet entrance of the younger man. He looked up, and a radiant smile met him.
"Still doing well, I see, Don."
Brown nodded. He sank down into the chair opposite the doctor and ran his hand through his hair. In spite of the brightness of his face the gesture betrayed weariness.
Doctor Brainard got up. He went over to the corner where his overcoat hung upon a peg in the wall, and took from a pocket a small instrument composed mostly of tubes. He inserted certain earpieces in his ears and returned to the fire.
"Sit up and let me get at you," he commanded.
Brown glanced round, saw the doctor's grotesque appearance with the stethoscope in position, and shook his head. "That's not fair. I was up rather early, and it's been a fairly full day--and night. Take me in the morning."
"I'll take you right now, when you're tired enough to show up whatever's there. Coat off, please."
He made his examination painstakingly, omitting no detail of his inquiry into the state of both heart and lungs.
"What would you say if I told you you were in a bad way?" he asked.
Brown smiled. "I shouldn't believe you. I know you too well. You can't disguise the fact that you find nothing new, and the old things improved. I know I'm stronger than I was a year ago. Why shouldn't I be--with nothing to do but take care of myself?"
The doctor whistled. "How do you make that out, that 'nothing to do?'"
"With the demands of a great parish off my shoulders the little I do here is child's play."
"After I left you with the baby," said the doctor, "Mrs. Kelcey followed me into the other room and told me a few things. In your old parish you had your sleep o' nights. In your new one I should say you spend the sleeping hours in activity."
"In my old parish," said Brown, studying the fire with an odd twist at the corners of his lips, "I lay awake nights worrying over my problems. Here, I'm asleep the minute my head touches the pillow. Isn't that a gain?"
"Too weary to do anything else, I suppose. Well, I shall have to admit that you are improved--surprisingly so. You are practically well. But what I can't understand is how a man of your calibre, your tastes, your fineness of make-up, can stand consorting with these people. Be honest, now. After such a visit as you've had to-night with the old friends, don't you feel a bit like giving in and coming back to us?"
Brown lifted his head. "Doctor," said he, slowly, and with a peculiar emphasis which made his friend study his face closely, "if the Devil wanted to put temptation in my way, just as I have decided on my future course, he did it by sending you and the others down here to-night. If I could have jumped into that car with the rest of you, and by that one act put myself back in the old place, I would have done it--but for one thing. And that's the sure knowledge that soft living makes me soft. I love the good things of this life so that they unfit me for real service. Do you know what was the matter with my heart when I came away? I do. It was high living. It was sitting with my legs under the mahogany of my millionaire parishioners' tables, driving in their limousines, drinking afternoon tea with their wives, letting them send me to Europe whenever I looked a bit pale. Soft! I was a down pillow, a lump of putty. I, who was supposed to be a fighter for the Lord!"
"Nonsense, man!" cried the doctor, now thoroughly aroused. "You were the hardest worker in the city. Your organizations--your charities--"
"My organizations, my charities!" The words came in a tone of contempt. "They were all in fine working order when I came to them. They continued to work, with no help from me. They are working quite as well now in my absence as they did in my presence. St. Timothy's is a great, strong society of the rich, and the man they engage to preach to them on Sundays has mighty little to do that any figurehead couldn't do as well. Down here--well, there is something to do which won't get done unless I do it. And if this neighbourhood, or any other similar one, needs me, there's no question that still more do I need the neighbourhood."
"In other words," said the doctor, "Mrs. Kelcey can do more for you than Bruce Brainard?"
The look which met his frown was comprehending. "Doctor," said Brown, "every man knows his own weakness. I like the society of Bruce Brainard so well that when I'm in it I can forget all the pain and sorrow in the world. When I'm with Mrs. Kelcey I have to remember the hurt, and the grind, and the hardness of life--and it's good for me. It helps me, as St. Paul said, to 'keep under my body and bring it into subjection.'"
"That's monkish doctrine."
"No, it's St. Paul's, I tell you. Remember the rest of it?--'lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway!'"
"You! A castaway!" The doctor laughed.
Brown nodded, rising. "You can see a long way into a man's body, Doctor, but not so far into his soul. There's been a pretty rotten place in mine.... Come, shall we go to bed? It's almost two."
The doctor assented, and Brown went into his bedroom to make it ready for his guest. Closing the drawers he had opened in such haste two hours before, his eye was caught by something unfamiliar. Against one of the framed photographs which stood upon the top of the chest leaned a new picture, unframed. By the light of the small lamp he had brought into the room he examined it. As the face before him was presented to his gaze he stopped breathing for the space of several thudding heartbeats.
Out of the veiling brown mists of the picture looked a pair of eyes at which one glance had long been of more moment to him than the chance to look long and steadily into other eyes. The exquisite lines of a face which, having seen, men did not forget, were there before him, in his possession. It was the face of the woman, young and rich with beauty and with worldly wealth, who had, three years before, refused to marry Donald Brown.
"How did this come here? Did Sue leave it? Or did you?" He questioned the photograph in his mind, staring at it with eager eyes. "Wasn't it enough for you to come here to-night, to make me realize how far apart we are? You like to play with men's hearts--so they say. Don't you think it's a bit cruel to play with mine--now?"
But he looked and looked at the enchanting face. And even as he looked Doctor Brainard called out from the other room:
"By the way, Don, I suppose you've noticed that Atchison seems to be getting on with his suit. Everybody thinks it's either an engagement or likely to be one soon. Pretty fine match, eh?"
It was a full minute before the answer came. When it did it sounded a little as if the speaker had his head in the clothespress which opened from the small bedroom, albeit the tone was gay enough:
"Webb's one of the best men I know. He deserves to win whatever he wants. Do you like a hard pillow or a soft, Doctor?"
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