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Chapter 12


The next day was Sunday, October sixth. I well remember the date.

I woke up as chipper as any Robert W. Chambers heroine. All my
doubts and depressions of the evening before had fled, and I was
single-heartedly delighted with the world and everything in it. The
hotel was a poor place, but it would have taken more than that to
mar my composure. I had a bitterly cold bath in a real country tin
tub, and then eggs and pancakes for breakfast. At the table was
a drummer who sold lightning rods, and several other travelling
salesmen. I'm afraid my conversation was consciously modelled along
the line of what the Professor would have said if he had been there,
but at any rate I got along swimmingly. The travelling men, after a
moment or two of embarrassed diffidence, treated me quite as one of
themselves and asked me about my "line" with interest. I described
what I was doing and they all said they envied me my freedom to come
and go independently of trains. We talked cheerfully for a long
time, and almost without intending to, I started preaching about
books. In the end they insisted on my showing them Parnassus. We
all went out to the stable, where the van was quartered, and they
browsed over the shelves. Before I knew it I had sold five dollars'
worth, although I had decided not to do any business at all on
Sunday. But I couldn't refuse to sell them the stuff as they all
seemed so keen on getting something really good to read. One man
kept on talking about Harold Bell Wright, but I had to admit that
I hadn't heard of him. Evidently the Professor hadn't stocked any
of his works. I was tickled to see that after all little Redbeard
didn't know _everything_ about literature.

After that I debated whether to go to church or to write letters.
Finally I decided in favour of the letters. First I tackled Andrew.
I wrote:


The Moose Hotel, Bath,
Sunday morning.

DEAR ANDREW:

It seems absurd to think that it's only three days since I left
Sabine Farm. Honestly, more has happened to me in these three days
than in three years at home.

I'm sorry that you and Mr. Mifflin disagreed but I quite understood
your feelings. But I'm very angry that you should have tried to
stop that check I gave him. It was none of your business, Andrew.
I telephoned Mr. Shirley and made him send word to the bank in
Woodbridge to give Mifflin the money. Mr. Mifflin did not swindle me
into buying Parnassus. I did it of my own free will. If you want to
know the truth, it was your fault! I bought it because I was scared
_you_ would if I didn't. And I didn't want to be left all alone on
the farm from now till Thanksgiving while you went off on another
trip. So I decided to do the thing myself. I thought I'd see how you
would like being left all alone to run the house. I thought it'd be
pretty nice for me to get things off my mind a while and have an
adventure of my own.

Now, Andrew, here are some directions for you:

1. Don't forget to feed the chickens twice a day, and collect _all_
the eggs. There's a nest behind the wood pile, and some of the
Wyandottes have been laying under the ice house.

2. Don't let Rosie touch grandmother's blue china, because she'll
break it as sure as fate if she lays her big, thick Swedish fingers
on it.

3. Don't forget your warmer underwear. The nights are getting
chilly.

4. I forgot to put the cover on the sewing machine. Please do that
for me or it'll get all dusty.

5. Don't let the cat run loose in the house at night: he always
breaks something.

6. Send your socks and anything else that needs darning over to Mrs.
McNally, she can do it for you.

7. Don't forget to feed the pigs.

8. Don't forget to mend the weathervane on the barn.

9. Don't forget to send that barrel of apples over to the cider mill
or you won't have any cider to drink when Mr. Decameron comes up to
see us later in the fall.

10. Just to make ten commandments, I'll add one more: You might
'phone to Mrs. Collins that the Dorcas will have to meet at some
one else's house next week, because I don't know just when I'll get
back. I may be away a fortnight more. This is my first holiday in a
long time and I'm going to chew it before I swallow it.

The Professor (Mr. Mifflin, I mean) has gone back to Brooklyn to
work on his book. I'm sorry you and he had to mix it up on the high
road like a couple of hooligans. He's a nice little man and you'd
like him if you got to know him.

I'm spending Sunday in Bath: to-morrow I'm going on toward Hastings.
I've sold five dollars' worth of books this morning even if it is
Sunday.

Your affte sister
HELEN McGiLL.

P.S. Don't forget to clean the separator after using it, or it'll
get in a fearful state.


After writing to Andrew I thought I would send a message to the
Professor. I had already written him a long letter in my mind, but
somehow when I began putting it on paper a sort of awkwardness came
over me. I didn't know just how to begin. I thought how much more
fun it would be if he were there himself and I could listen to him
talk. And then, while I was writing the first few sentences, some
of the drummers came back into the room.

"Thought you'd like to see a Sunday paper," said one of them.

I picked up the newspaper with a word of thanks and ran an eye over
the headlines. The ugly black letters stood up before me, and my
heart gave a great contraction. I felt my fingertips turn cold.


DISASTROUS WRECK
ON THE SHORE LINE
EXPRESS RUNS INTO OPEN SWITCH
--
TEN LIVES LOST, AND
MORE THAN A SCORE INJURED
--
FAILURE OF BLOCK SIGNALS

The letters seemed to stand up before me as large as a Malted Milk
signboard. With a shuddering apprehension I read the details.
Apparently the express that left Providence at four o'clock on
Saturday afternoon had crashed into an open siding near Willdon
about six o'clock, and collided with a string of freight empties.
The baggage car had been demolished and the smoker had turned over
and gone down an embankment. There were ten men killed... my head
swam. Was that the train the Professor had taken? Let me see. He
left Woodbridge on a local train at three. He had said the day
before that the express left Port Vigor at five.... If he had
changed to the express.....

In a kind of fascinated horror my eye caught the list of the dead.
I ran down the names. Thank God, no, Mifflin was not among them.
Then I saw the last entry:

UNIDENTIFIED MAN, MIDDLE-AGED.

What if that should be the Professor?

And I suddenly felt dizzy, and for the first time in my life I
fainted.

Thank goodness, no one else was in the room. The drummers had gone
outside again, and no one heard me flop off the chair. I came to in
a moment, my heart whirling like a spinning top. At first I did not
realize what was wrong. Then my eye fell on the newspaper again.
Feverishly I re-read the account, and the names of the injured, too,
which I had missed before. Nowhere was there a name I knew. But the
tragic words "unidentified man" danced before my eyes. Oh! if it
were the Professor....

In a wave the truth burst upon me. I loved that little man: I loved
him, I loved him. He had brought something new into my life, and his
brave, quaint ways had warmed my fat old heart. For the first time,
in an intolerable gush of pain, I seemed to know that my life could
never again be endurable without him. And now--what was I to do?

How could I learn the truth? Certainly if he _had_ been on the
train, and had escaped from the wreck unhurt, he would have sent
a message to Sabine Farm to let me know. At any rate, that was a
possibility. I rushed to the telephone to call up Andrew.

Oh! the agonizing slowness of telephone connections when urgent
hurry is needed! My voice shook as I said "Redfield 158 J" to the
operator. Throbbing with nervousness I waited to hear the familiar
click of the receiver at the other end. I could hear the Redfield
switchboard receive the call, and put in the plug to connect with
our wire. In imagination I could see the telephone against the wall
in the old hallway at Sabine Farm. I could see the soiled patch of
plaster where Andrew rests his elbow when he talks into the 'phone,
and the place where he jots numbers down in pencil and I rub
them off with bread crumbs. I could see Andrew coming out of
the sitting-room to answer the bell. And then the operator said
carelessly, "Doesn't answer." My forehead was wet as I came out
of the booth.

I hope I may never have to re-live the horrors of the next hour.
In spite of my bluff and hearty ways, in times of trouble I am as
reticent as a clam. I was determined to hide my agony and anxiety
from the well-meaning people of the Moose Hotel. I hurried to the
railway station to send a telegram to the Professor's address in
Brooklyn, but found the place closed. A boy told me it would not be
open until the afternoon. From a drugstore I called "information" in
Willdon, and finally got connected with some undertaker to whom the
Willdon operator referred me. A horrible, condoling voice (have you
ever talked to an undertaker over the telephone?) answered me that
no one by the name of Mifflin had been among the dead, but admitted
that there was one body still unidentified. He used one ghastly word
that made me shudder--unrecognizable. I rang off.

I knew then for the first time the horror of loneliness. I thought
of the poor little man's notebook that I had seen. I thought of his
fearless and lovable ways--of his pathetic little tweed cap, of the
missing button of his jacket, of the bungling darns on his frayed
sleeve. It seemed to me that heaven could mean nothing more than to
roll creaking along country roads, in Parnassus, with the Professor
beside me on the seat. What if I had known him only--how long was
it? He had brought the splendour of an ideal into my humdrum life.
And now--had I lost it forever? Andrew and the farm seemed faint and
far away. I was a homely old woman, mortally lonely and helpless.
In my perplexity I walked to the outskirts of the village and burst
into tears.

Finally I got a grip on myself again. I am not ashamed to say that
I now admitted frankly what I had been hiding from myself. I was in
love--in love with a little, red-bearded bookseller who seemed to me
more splendid than Sir Galahad. And I vowed that if he would have
me, I would follow him to the other end of nowhere.

I walked back to the hotel. I thought I would make one more try to
get Andrew on the telephone. My whole soul quivered when at last I
heard the receiver click.

"Hello?" said Andrew's voice.

"Oh, Andrew," I said, "this is Helen."

"Where are you?" (His voice sounded cross.)

"Andrew, is there any--any message from Mr. Mifflin? That wreck
yesterday--he might have been on that train--I've been so
frightened; do you think he was--hurt?"

"Stuff and nonsense," said Andrew. "If you want to know about
Mifflin, he's in jail in Port Vigor."

And then I think Andrew must have been surprised. I began to laugh
and cry simultaneously, and in my agitation I set down the receiver.

Christopher Morley

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