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Chapter 4

The next morning Grace was sitting beside her patient, with whom she had spent the night. It was possibly Mrs. Maynard's spiritual toughness which availed her, for she did not seem much the worse for her adventure: she had a little fever, and she was slightly hoarser; but she had died none of the deaths that she projected during the watches of the night, and for which she had chastened the spirit of her physician by the repeated assurance that she forgave her everything, and George Maynard everything, and hoped that they would be good to her poor little Bella. She had the child brought from its crib to her own bed, and moaned over it; but with the return of day and the duties of life she appeared to feel that she had carried her forgiveness far enough, and was again remembering her injuries against Grace, as she lay in her morning gown on the lounge which had been brought in for her from the parlor.

"Yes, Grace, I shall always say if I had died and I may die yet—that I did not wish to go out with Mr. Libby, and that I went purely to please you. You forced me to go. I can't understand why you did it; for I don't suppose you wanted to kill us, whatever you did."

Grace could not lift her head. She bowed it over the little girl whom she had on her knee, and who was playing with the pin at her throat, in apparent unconsciousness of all that was said. But she had really followed it, with glimpses of intelligence, as children do, and now at this negative accusal she lifted her hand, and suddenly struck Grace a stinging blow on the cheek.

Mrs. Maynard sprang from her lounge. "Why, Bella! you worthless little wretch!" She caught her from Grace's knee, and shook her violently. Then, casting the culprit from her at random, she flung herself down again in a fit of coughing, while the child fled to Grace for consolation, and, wildly sobbing, buried her face in the lap of her injured friend.

"I don't know what I shall do about that child!" cried Mrs. Maynard. "She has George Maynard's temper right over again. I feel dreadfully, Grace!"

"Oh, never mind it," said Grace, fondling the child, and half addressing it. "I suppose Bella thought I had been unkind to her mother."

"That's just it!" exclaimed Louise. "When you've been kindness itself! Don't I owe everything to you? I should n't be alive at this moment if it were not for your treatment. Oh, Grace!" She began to cough again; the paroxysm increased in vehemence. She caught her handkerchief from her lips; it was spotted with blood. She sprang to her feet, and regarded it with impersonal sternness. "Now," she said, "I am sick, and I want a doctor!"

"A doctor," Grace meekly echoed.

"Yes. I can't be trifled with any longer. I want a man doctor!"

Grace had looked at the handkerchief. "Very well," she said, with coldness. "I shall not stand in your way of calling another physician. But if it will console you, I can tell you that the blood on your handkerchief means nothing worth speaking of. Whom shall I send for?" she asked, turning to go out of the roam. "I wish to be your friend still, and I will do anything I can to help you."

"Oh, Grace Breen! Is that the way you talk to me?" whimpered Mrs. Maynard. "You know that I don't mean to give you up. I'm not a stone; I have some feeling. I did n't intend to dismiss you, but I thought perhaps you would like to have a consultation about it. I should think it was time to have a consultation, should n't you? Of course, I'm not alarmed, but I know it's getting serious, and I'm afraid that your medicine is n't active enough. That's it; it's perfectly good medicine, but it is n't active. They've all been saying that I ought to have something active. Why not try the whiskey with the white-pine chips in it? I'm sure it's indicated." In her long course of medication she had picked up certain professional phrases, which she used with amusing seriousness. "It would be active, at any rate."

Grace did not reply. As she stood smoothing the head of the little girl, who had followed her to the door, and now leaned against her, hiding her tearful face in Grace's dress, she said, "I don't know of any homoeopathic physician in this neighborhood. I don't believe there's one nearer than Boston, and I should make myself ridiculous in calling one so far for a consultation. But I'm quite willing you should call one, and I will send for you at once."

"And wouldn't you consult with him, after he came?"

"Certainly not. It would be absurd."

"I shouldn't like to have a doctor come all the way from Boston," mused Mrs. Maynard, sinking on the lounge again. "There must be a doctor in the neighborhood. It can't be so healthy as that!"

"There's an allopathic physician at Corbitant," said Grace passively. "A very good one, I believe," she added.

"Oh, well, then!" cried Mrs. Maynard, with immense relief. "Consult with him!"

"I've told you, Louise, that I would not consult with anybody. And I certainly wouldn't consult with a physician whose ideas and principles I knew nothing about."

"Why but, Grace," Mrs. Maynard expostulated. "Is n't that rather prejudiced?" She began to take an impartial interest in Grace's position, and fell into an argumentative tone. "If two heads are better than one,—and everybody says they are,—I don't see how you can consistently refuse to talk with another physician."

"I can't explain to you, Louise," said Grace. "But you can call Dr. Mulbridge, if you wish. That will be the right way for you to do, if you have lost confidence in me."

"I have n't lost confidence in you, Grace. I don't see how you can talk so. You can give me bread pills, if you like, or air pills, and I will take them gladly. I believe in you perfectly. But I do think that in a matter of this kind, where my health, and perhaps my life, is concerned, I ought to have a little say. I don't ask you to give up your principles, and I don't dream of giving you up, and yet you won't just to please me!—exchange a few words with another doctor about my case, merely because he's allopathic. I should call it bigotry, and I don't see how you can call it anything else." There was a sound of voices at the door outside, and she called cheerily, "Come in, Mr. Libby,—come in! There's nobody but Grace here," she added, as the young man tentatively opened the door, and looked in. He wore an evening dress, even to the white cravat, and he carried in his hand a crush hat: there was something anomalous in his appearance, beyond the phenomenal character of his costume, and he blushed consciously as he bowed to Grace, and then at her motion shook hands with her. Mrs. Maynard did not give herself the fatigue of rising; she stretched her hand to him from the lounge, and he took it without the joy which he had shown when Grace made him the same advance. "How very swell you look. Going to an evening party this morning?" she cried; and after she had given him a second glance of greater intensity, "Why, what in the world has come over' you?" It was the dress which Mr. Libby wore. He was a young fellow far too well made, and carried himself too alertly, to look as if any clothes misfitted him; his person gave their good cut elegance, but he had the effect of having fallen away in them. "Why, you look as if you had been sick a month!" Mrs. Maynard interpreted.

The young man surveyed himself with a downward glance. "They're Johnson's," he explained. "He had them down for a hop at the Long Beach House, and sent over for them. I had nothing but my camping flannels, and they have n't been got into shape yet, since yesterday. I wanted to come over and see how you were."

"Poor fellow!" exclaimed Mrs. Maynard. "I never thought of you! How in the world did you get to your camp?"

"I walked."

"In all that rain?"

"Well, I had been pretty well sprinkled, already. It was n't a question of wet and dry; it was a question of wet and wet. I was going off bareheaded, I lost my hat in the water, you know,—but your man, here, hailed me round the corner of the kitchen, and lent me one. I've been taking up collections of clothes ever since."

Mr. Libby spoke lightly, and with a cry of "Barlow's hat!" Mrs. Maynard went off in a shriek of laughter; but a deep distress kept Grace silent. It seemed to her that she had been lacking not only in thoughtfulness, but in common humanity, in suffering him to walk away several miles in the rain, without making an offer to keep him and have him provided for in the house. She remembered now her bewildered impression that he was without a hat when he climbed the stairs and helped her to the house; she recalled the fact that she had thrust him on to the danger he had escaped, and her heart was melted with grief and shame. "Mr. Libby"—she began, going up to him, and drooping before him in an attitude which simply and frankly expressed the contrition she felt; but she could not continue. Mrs. Maynard's laugh broke into the usual cough, and as soon as she could speak she seized the word.

"Well, there, now; we can leave it to Mr. Libby. It's the principle of the thing that I look at. And I want to see how it strikes him. I want to know, Mr. Libby, if you were a doctor,"—he looked at Grace, and flushed,—"and a person was very sick, and wanted you to consult with another doctor, whether you would let the mere fact that you had n't been introduced have any weight with you?" The young man silently appealed to Grace, who darkened angrily, and before he could speak Mrs. Maynard interposed. "No, no, you sha'n't ask her. I want your opinion. It's just an abstract question." She accounted for this fib with a wink at Grace.

"Really," he said, "it's rather formidable. I've never been a doctor of any kind."

"Oh, yes, we know that!" said Mrs. Maynard. "But you are now, and now would you do it?"

"If the other fellow knew more, I would."

"But if you thought he did n't?"

"Then I wouldn't. What are you trying to get at, Mrs. Maynard? I'm not going to answer any more of your questions."

"Yes,—one more. Don't you think it's a doctor's place to get his patient well any way he can?"

"Why, of course!"

"There, Grace! It's just exactly the same case. And ninety-nine out of a hundred would decide against you every time."

Libby turned towards Grace in confusion. "Miss Breen—I did n't understand—I don't presume to meddle in anything—You're not fair, Mrs. Maynard! I have n't any opinion on the subject, Miss Breen; I haven't, indeed!"

"Oh, you can't back out, now!" exclaimed Mrs. Maynard joyously. "You've said it."

"And you're quite right, Mr. Libby," said Grace haughtily. She bade him good-morning; but he followed her from the room, and left Mrs. Maynard to her triumph.

"Miss Breen—Do let me speak to you, please! Upon my word and honor, I didn't know what she was driving at; I did n't, indeed! It's pretty rough on me, for I never dreamt of setting myself up as a judge of your affairs. I know you're right, whatever you think; and I take it all back; it was got out of me by fraud, any way. And I beg your pardon for not calling you Doctor—if you want me to do it. The other comes more natural; but I wish to recognize you in the way you prefer, for I do feel most respectul—reverent—"

He was so very earnest and so really troubled, and he stumbled about so for the right word, and hit upon the wrong one with such unfailing disaster, that she must have been superhuman not to laugh. Her laughing seemed to relieve him even more than her hearty speech. "Call me how you like, Mr. Libby. I don't insist upon anything with you; but I believe I prefer Miss Breen."

"You're very kind! Miss Breen it is, then. And you'll, forgive my siding against you?" he demanded radiantly.

"Don't speak of that again, please. I've nothing to forgive you."

They walked down-stairs and out on the piazza. Barlow stood before the steps, holding by the bit a fine bay mare, who twitched her head round a little at the sound of Libby's voice, and gave him a look. He passed without noticing the horse. "I'm glad to find Mrs. Maynard so well. With that cold of hers, hanging on so long, I didn't know but she'd be in an awful state this morning."

"Yes," said Grace, "it's a miraculous escape."

"The fact is I sent over to New Leyden for my team yesterday. I did n't know how things might turn out, and you're so far from a lemon here, that I thought I might be useful in going errands."

Grace turned her head and glanced at the equipage. "Is that your team?"

"Yes," said the young fellow, with a smile of suppressed pride.

"What an exquisite creature!" said the girl.

"ISN'T she?" They both faced about, and stood looking at the mare, and the light, shining, open buggy behind her. The sunshine had the after-storm glister; the air was brisk, and the breeze blew balm from the heart of the pine forest. "Miss Breen," he broke out, "I wish you'd take a little dash through the woods with me. I've got a broad-track buggy, that's just right for these roads. I don't suppose it's the thing at all to ask you, on such short acquaintance, but I wish you would. I know you'd enjoy it: Come?"

His joyous urgence gave her a strange thrill. She had long ceased to imagine herself the possible subject of what young ladies call attentions, and she did not think of herself in that way now. There was something in the frank, eager boyishness of the invitation that fascinated her, and the sunny face turned so hopefully upon her had its amusing eloquence. She looked about the place with an anxiety of which she was immediately ashamed: all the ladies were out of sight, and probably at the foot of the cliff.

"Don't say no, Miss Breen," pleaded the gay voice.

The answer seemed to come of itself. "Oh, thank you, yes, I should like to go."

"Good!" he exclaimed, and the word which riveted her consent made her recoil.

"But not this morning. Some other day. I—I—I want to think about Mrs. Maynard. I—ought n't to leave her. Excuse me this morning, Mr. Libby."

"Why, of course," he tried to say with unaltered gayety, but a note of disappointment made itself felt. "Do you think she's going to be worse?"

"No, I don't think she is. But—" She paused, and waited a space before she continued. "I 'm afraid I can't be of use to her any longer. She has lost confidence in me—It's important she should trust her physician." Libby blushed, as he always did when required to recognize Grace in her professional quality. "It's more a matter of nerves than anything else, and if she does n't believe in me I can't do her any good."

"Yes, I can understand that," said the young man, with gentle sympathy; and she felt, somehow, that he delicately refrained from any leading or prompting comment.

"She has been urging me to have a consultation with some doctor about her case, and I—it would be ridiculous!"

"Then I would n't do it!" said Mr. Libby. "You know a great deal better what she wants than she does. You had better make her, do what you say."

"I didn't mean to burden you with my affairs," said Grace, "but I wished to explain her motive in speaking to you as she did." After she had said this, it seemed to her rather weak, and she could not think of anything else that would strengthen it. The young man might think that she had asked advice of him. She began to resent his telling her to make Mrs. Maynard do what she said. She was about to add something to snub him, when she recollected that it was her own wilfulness which had precipitated the present situation, and she humbled herself.

"She will probably change her mind," said Libby. "She would if you could let her carry her point," he added, with a light esteem for Mrs. Maynard which set him wrong again in Grace's eyes: he had no business to speak so to her.

"Very likely," she said, in stiff withdrawal from all terms of confidence concerning Mrs. Maynard. She did not add anything more, and she meant that the young fellow should perceive that his, audience was at an end. He did not apparently resent it, but she fancied him hurt in his acquiescence.

She went back to her patient, whom she found languid and disposed to sleep after the recent excitement, and she left her again, taking little Bella with her. Mrs. Maynard slept long, but woke none the better for her nap. Towards evening she grew feverish, and her fever mounted as the night fell. She was restless and wakeful, and between her dreamy dozes she was incessant in her hints for a consultation to Grace, who passed the night in her room, and watched every change for the worse with a self-accusing heart. The impending trouble was in that indeterminate phase which must give the physician his most anxious moments; and this inexperienced girl; whose knowledge was all to be applied, and who had hardly arrived yet at that dismaying stage when a young physician finds all the results at war with all the precepts, began to realize the awfulness of her responsibility. She had always thought of saving life, and not of losing it.

William Dean Howells

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