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Why should not human nature be the same in Arrowhead Village as elsewhere? It could not seem strange to the good people of that place and their visitors that these two young persons, brought together under circumstances that stirred up the deepest emotions of which the human soul is capable, should become attached to each other. But the bond between them was stronger than any knew, except the good doctor, who had learned the great secret of Maurice's life. For the first time since his infancy he had fully felt the charm which the immediate presence of youthful womanhood carries with it. He could hardly believe the fact when he found himself no longer the subject of the terrifying seizures of which he had had many and threatening experiences.
It was the doctor's business to save his patient's life, if he could possibly do it. Maurice had been reduced to the most perilous state of debility by the relapse which had interrupted his convalescence. Only by what seemed almost a miracle had he survived the exposure to suffocation and the mental anguish through which he had passed. It was perfectly clear to Dr. Butts that if Maurice could see the young woman to whom he owed his life, and, as the doctor felt assured, the revolution in his nervous system which would be the beginning of a new existence, it would be of far more value as a restorative agency than any or all of the drugs in the pharmacopoeia. He told this to Euthymia, and explained the matter to her parents and friends. She must go with him on some of his visits. Her mother should go with her, or her sister; but this was a case of life and death, and no maidenly scruples must keep her from doing her duty.
The first of her visits to the sick, perhaps dying, man presented a scene not unlike the picture before spoken of on the title-page of the old edition of Galen. The doctor was perhaps the most agitated of the little group. He went before the others, took his seat by the bedside, and held the patient's wrist with his finger on the pulse. As Euthymia entered it gave a single bound, fluttered for an instant as if with a faint memory of its old habit, then throbbed full and strong, comparatively, as if under the spur of some powerful stimulus. Euthymia's task was a delicate one, but she knew how to disguise its difficulty.
"Here is a flower I have brought you, Mr. Kirkwood," she said, and handed him a white chrysanthemum. He took it from her hand, and before she knew it he took her hand into his own, and held it with a gentle constraint. What could she do? Here was the young man whose life she had saved, at least for the moment, and who was yet in danger from the disease which had almost worn out his powers of resistance.
"Sit down by Mr. Kirkwood's side," said the doctor. "He wants to thank you, if he has strength to do it, for saving him from the death which seemed inevitable."
Not many words could Maurice command. He was weak enough for womanly tears, but their fountains no longer flowed; it was with him as with the dying, whose eyes may light up, but rarely shed a tear.
The river which has found a new channel widens and deepens--it; it lets the old water-course fill up, and never returns to its forsaken bed. The tyrannous habit was broken. The prophecy of the gitana had verified itself, and the ill a fair woman had wrought a fairer woman bad conquered and abolished.
The history of Maurice Kirkwood loses its exceptional character from the time of his restoration to his natural conditions. His convalescence was very slow and gradual, but no further accident interrupted its even progress. The season was over, the summer visitors had left Arrowhead Village; the chrysanthemums were going out of flower, the frosts had come, and Maurice was still beneath the roof of the kind physician. The relation between him and his preserver was so entirely apart from all common acquaintances and friendships that no ordinary rules could apply to it. Euthymia visited him often during the period of his extreme prostration.
"You must come every day," the doctor said. "He gains with every visit you make him; he pines if you miss him for a single day." So she came and sat by him, the doctor or good Mrs. Butts keeping her company in his presence. He grew stronger,--began to sit up in bed; and at last Euthymia found him dressed as in health, and beginning to walk about the room. She was startled. She had thought of herself as a kind of nurse, but the young gentleman could hardly be said to need a nurse any longer. She had scruples about making any further visits. She asked Lurida what she thought about it.
"Think about it?" said Lurida. "Why should n't you go to see a brother as well as a sister, I should like to know? If you are afraid to go to see Maurice Kirkwood, I am not afraid, at any rate. If you would rather have me go than go yourself, I will do it, and let people talk just as much as they want to. Shall I go instead of you?"
Euthymia was not quite sure that this would be the best thing for the patient. The doctor had told her he thought there were special reasons for her own course in coming daily to see him. "I am afraid," she said, "you are too bright to be safe for him in his weak state. Your mind is such a stimulating one, you know. A dull sort of person like myself is better for him just now. I will continue visiting him as long as the doctor says it is important that I should; but you must defend me, Lurida,--I know you can explain it all so that people will not blame me."
Euthymia knew full well what the effect of Lurida's penetrating head-voice would be in a convalescent's chamber. She knew how that active mind of hers would set the young man's thoughts at work, when what he wanted was rest of every faculty. Were not these good and sufficient reasons for her decision? What others could there be?
So Euthymia kept on with her visits, until she blushed to see that she was continuing her charitable office for one who was beginning to look too well to be called an invalid. It was a dangerous condition of affairs, and the busy tongues of the village gossips were free in their comments. Free, but kindly, for the story of the rescue had melted every heart; and what could be more natural than that these two young people whom God had brought together in the dread moment of peril should find it hard to tear themselves asunder after the hour of danger was past? When gratitude is a bankrupt, love only can pay his debts; and if Maurice gave his heart to Euthymia, would not she receive it as payment in full?
The change which had taken place in the vital currents of Maurice Kirkwood's system was as simple and solid a fact as the change in a magnetic needle when the boreal becomes the austral pole, and the austral the boreal. It was well, perhaps, that this change took place while he was enfeebled by the wasting effects of long illness. For all the long-defeated, disturbed, perverted instincts had found their natural channel from the centre of consciousness to the organ which throbs in response to every profound emotion. As his health gradually returned, Euthymia could not help perceiving a flush in his cheek, a glitter in his eyes, a something in the tone of his voice, which altogether were a warning to the young maiden that the highway of friendly intercourse was fast narrowing to a lane, at the head of which her woman's eye could read plainly enough, "Dangerous passing."
"You look so much better to-day, Mr. Kirkwood," she said, "that I think I had better not play Sister of Charity any longer. The next time we meet I hope you will be strong enough to call on me."
She was frightened to see how pale he turned,--he was weaker than she thought. There was a silence so profound and so long that Mrs. Butts looked up from the stocking she was knitting. They had forgotten the good woman's presence.
Presently Maurice spoke,--very faintly, but Mrs. Butts dropped a stitch at the first word, and her knitting fell into her lap as she listened to what followed.
"No! you must not leave me. You must never leave me. You saved my life. But you have done more than that,--more than you know or can ever know. To you I owe it that I am living; with you I live henceforth, if I am to live at all. All I am, all I hope,--will you take this poor offering from one who owes you everything, whose lips never touched those of woman or breathed a word of love before you?"
What could Euthymia reply to this question, uttered with all the depth of a passion which had never before found expression.
Not one syllable of answer did listening Mrs. Butts overhear. But she told her husband afterwards that there was nothing in the tableaux they had had in September to compare with what she then saw. It was indeed a pleasing picture which those two young heads presented as Euthymia gave her inarticulate but infinitely expressive answer to the question of Maurice Kirkwood. The good-hearted woman thought it time to leave the young people. Down went the stocking with the needles in it; out of her lap tumbled the ball of worsted, rolling along the floor with its yarn trailing after it, like some village matron who goes about circulating from hearth to hearth, leaving all along her track the story of the new engagement or of the arrival of the last "little stranger."
Not many suns had set before it was told all through Arrowhead Village that Maurice Kirkwood was the accepted lover of Euthymia Tower.
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