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 was 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 there."
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 persisted.
"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 struggle."
"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."
"I think it is. The wrong is somewhere in me individually. I know it is."
Dr. Mulbridge, walking beside her, with his hands clasped behind him, threw up his head and laughed. "Well, have it your own way, Miss Breen. Only I don't agree with you. Why should you wish to spare your sex at your own expense? But that's the way with some ladies, I've noticed. They approve of what women attempt because women attempt it, and they believe the attempt reflects honor on them. It's tremendous to think what men could accomplish for their sex, if they only hung together as women do. But they can't. They haven't the generosity."
"I think you don't understand me," said Grace, with a severity that amused him. "I wished to regard myself, in taking up this profession, entirely as I believed a man would have regarded himself."
"And were you able to do it?"
"No," she unintentionally replied to this unexpected question.
"Haw, haw, haw!" laughed Dr. Mulbridge at her helpless candor. "And are you sure that you give it up as a man would?"
"I don't know how you mean," she said, vexed and bewildered.
"Do you do it fairly and squarely because you believe that you're a failure, or because you partly feel that you have n't been fairly dealt with?"
"I believe that if Mrs. Maynard had had the same confidence in me that she would have had in any man I should not have failed. But every woman physician has a double disadvantage that I hadn't the strength to overcome,—her own inexperience and the distrust of other women."
"Well, whose fault is that?"
"Not the men's. It is the men alone who give women any chance. They are kind and generous and liberal-minded. I have no blame for them, and I have no patience with women who want to treat them as the enemies of women's advancement. Women can't move a step forwards without their sufferance and help. Dr. Mulbridge," she cried, "I wish to apologize for the hasty and silly words I used to you the day I came to ask you to consult with me. I ought to have been grateful to you for consenting at first, and when you took back your consent I ought to have considered your position. You were entirely right. We had no common ground to meet on, and I behaved like a petulant, foolish, vulgar girl!"
"No, no," he protested, laughing in recollection of the scene. "You were all right, and I was in a fix; and if your own fears had n't come to the rescue, I don't know how I should have got out of it. It would have been disgraceful, wouldn't it, to refuse a lady's request. You don't know how near I was to giving way. I can tell you, now that it's all over. I had never seen a lady of our profession before," he added hastily, "and my curiosity was up. I always had my doubts about the thoroughness of women's study, and I should have liked to see where your training failed. I must say I found it very good,—I've told you that. You wouldn't fail individually: you would fail because you are a woman."
"I don't believe that," said Grace.
"Well, then, because your patients are women. It's all one. What will you do?"
"I shall not do anything. I shall give it all up."
"But what shall you do then?"
"What are you going to be? A fashionable woman? Or are you going to Europe, and settle down there with the other American failures? I've heard about them,—in Rome and Florence and Paris. Are you going to throw away the study you've put into this profession? You took it up because you wanted to do good. Don't you want to do good any more? Has the human race turned out unworthy?"
She cowered at this arraignment, in which she could not separate the mocking from the justice. "What do you advise me to do? Do you think I could ever succeed?"
"You could never succeed alone."
"Yes, I know that; I felt that from the first. But I have planned to unite with a woman physician older than myself."
"And double your deficiency. Sit down here," he said; "I wish to talk business." They had entered the border of the woods encompassing Jocelyn's, and he painted to a stump, beside which lay the fallen tree. She obeyed mechanically, and he remained standing near her, with one foot lifted to the log; he leaned forward over her, and seemed to seize a physical advantage in the posture. "From your own point of view, you would have no right to give up your undertaking if there was a chance of success in it. You would have no more right to give up than a woman who had gone out as a missionary."
"I don't pretend to compare myself with such a woman; but I should have no more right to give up," she answered, helpless against the logic of her fate, which he had somehow divined.
"Well, then, listen to me. I can give you this chance. Are you satisfied that with my advice you could have succeeded in Mrs. Maynard's case?"
"Yes, I think so. But what"—
"I think so, too. Don't rise!"
His will overcame the impulse that had betrayed itself, and she sank back to her seat. "I offer you my advice from this time forward; I offer you my help."
"That is very good of you," she murmured; "and I appreciate your generosity more than I can say. I know the prejudice you must have had to overcome in regard to women physicians before you could bring yourself to do this; and I know how you must have despised me for failing in my attempt, and giving myself up to my feeble temperament. But"—
"Oh, we won't speak of all that," he interrupted. "Of course I felt the prejudice against women entering the profession which we all feel; it was ridiculous and disgusting to me till I saw you. I won't urge you from any personal motive to accept my offer. But I know that if you do you can realize all your hopes of usefulness; and I ask you to consider that certainly. But you know the only way it could be done."
She looked him in the eyes, with dismay in her growing intelligence.
"What—what do you mean?"
"I mean that I ask you to let me help you carry out your plan of life, and to save all you have done, and all you have hoped, from waste—as your husband. Think"—
She struggled to her feet as if he were opposing a palpable resistance, so strongly she felt the pressure of his will. "It can't be, Dr. Mulbridge. Oh, it can't, indeed! Let us go back; I wish to go back!"
But he had planted himself in her way, and blocked her advance, unless she chose to make it a flight.
"I expected this," he said, with a smile, as if her wild trepidation interested him as an anticipated symptom. "The whole idea is new and startling to you. But I know you won't dismiss it abruptly, and I won't be discouraged."
"Yes, yes, you must! I will not think of it! I can't! I do dismiss it at once. Let me go!"
"Then you really choose to be like the rest,—a thing of hysterical impulses, without conscience or reason! I supposed the weakest woman would be equal to an offer of marriage. And you had dreamt of being a physician and useful!"
"I tell you," she cried, half quelled by his derision, "that I have found out that I am not fit for it,—that I am a failure and a disgrace; and you had no right to expect me to be anything else."
"You are no failure, and I had a right to expect anything of you after the endurance and the discretion you have shown in the last three weeks. Without your help I should have failed myself. You owe it to other women to go on."
"They must take care of themselves," she said. "If my weakness throws shame on them, they must bear it. I thank you for what you say. I believe you mean it. But if I was of any use to you I did n't know it."
"It was probably inspiration, then," he interrupted coolly. "Come, this isn't a thing to be frightened at. You're not obliged to do what I say. But I think you ought to hear me out. I haven't spoken without serious thought, and I didn't suppose you would reject me without a reason."
"Reason?" she repeated. "There is no reason in it."
"There ought to be. There is, on my side. I have all kinds of reasons for asking you to be my wife: I believe that I can make you happy in the fulfilment of your plans; I admire you and respect you more than any other woman I ever saw; and I love you."
"I don't love you, and that is reason enough."
"Yes, between boys and girls. But between men and women it isn't enough. Do you dislike me?"
"Am I repulsive in any way?"
"I know that I am not very young and that I am not very good-looking."
"It is n't that at all."
"Of course I know that such things weigh with women, and that personal traits and habits are important in an affair like this. I am slovenly and indifferent about my dress; but it's only because I have lived where every sort of spirit and ambition was useless. I don't know about city ways, but I could pick up all of them that were worth while. I spoke of going to Boston; but I would go anywhere else with you, east or west, that you chose, and I know that I should succeed. I haven't done what I might have done with myself, because I've never had an object in life. I've always lived in the one little place, and I've never been out of it except when I was in the army. I've always liked my profession; but nothing has seemed worth while. You were a revelation to me; you have put ambition and hope into me. I never saw any woman before that I would have turned my hand to have. They always seemed to me fit to be the companions of fools, or the playthings of men. But of all the simpletons, the women who were trying to do something for woman, as they called it, trying to exemplify and illustrate a cause, were the silliest that I came across. I never happened to have met a woman doctor before you came to me; but I had imagined them, and I could n't believe in you when I saw you. You were not supersensitive, you were not presumptuous, and you gave up, not because you distrusted yourself, but because your patient distrusted you. That was right: I should have done the same thing myself. Under my direction, you have shown yourself faithful, docile, patient, intelligent beyond anything I have seen. I have watched you, and I know; and I know what your peculiar trials have been from that woman. You have taught me a lesson,—I 'm not ashamed to say it; and you've given me a motive. I was wrong to ask you to marry me so that you might carry out your plans: that was no way to appeal to you. What I meant was that I might make your plans my own, and that we might carry them out together. I don't care for making money; I have always been poor, and I had always expected to be so; and I am not afraid of hard work. There is n't any self-sacrifice you've dreamed of that I wouldn't gladly and proudly share with you. You can't do anything by yourself, but we could do anything together. If you have any scruple about giving up your theory of medicine, you needn't do it; and the State Medical Association may go to the devil. I've said my say. What do you say?"
She looked all round, as if seeking escape from a mesh suddenly flung about her, and then she looked imploringly up at him. "I have nothing to say," she whispered huskily. "I can't answer you."
"Well, that's all I ask," he said, moving a few steps, away, and suffering her to rise. "Don't answer me now. Take time,—all the time you want, all the time there is."
"No," she said, rising, and gathering some strength from the sense of being on foot again. "I don't mean that. I mean that I don't—I can't consent."
"You don't believe in me? You don't think I would do it?"
"I don't believe in myself. I have no right to doubt you. I know that I ought to honor you for what you propose."
"I don't think it calls for any great honor. Of course I shouldn't propose it to every lady physician." He smiled with entire serenity and self-possession. "Tell me one thing: was there ever a time when you would have consented?" She did not answer. "Then you will consent yet?"
"No. Don't deceive yourself. I shall never consent."
"I'll leave that to the logic of your own conscience. You will do what seems your duty."
"You must n't trust to my conscience. I fling it away! I won't have anything to do with it. I've been tortured enough by it. There is no sense or justice in it!"
He laughed easily at her vehemence. "I 'll trust your conscience. But I won't stay to worry you now. I'm coming again day after to-morrow, and I'm not afraid of what you will say then."
He turned and left her, tearing his way through the sweet-fern and low blackberry vines, with long strides, a shape of uncouth force. After he was out of sight, she followed, scared and trembling at herself, as if she had blasphemed.