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Chapter 6

No one but Mrs. Breen knew of her daughter's errand, and when Grace came back she alighted from Mr. Libby's buggy with an expression of thanks that gave no clew as to the direction or purpose of it. He touched his hat to her with equal succinctness, and drove away, including all the ladies on the piazza in a cursory obeisance.

"We must ask you, Miss Gleason," said Mrs. Alger. "Your admiration of Dr. Breen clothes you with authority and responsibility."

"I can't understand it at all," Miss Gleason confessed. "But I'm sure there's nothing in it. He isn't her equal. She would feel that it wasn't right—under the circumstances."

"But if Mrs. Maynard was well it would be a fair game, you mean," said Mrs. Alger.

"No," returned Miss Gleason, with the greatest air of candor, "I can't admit that I meant that."

"Well," said the elder lady, "the presumption is against them. Every young couple seen together must be considered in love till they prove the contrary."

"I like it in her," said Mrs. Frost. "It shows that she is human, after all. It shows that she is like other girls. It's a relief."

"She is n't like other girls," contended Miss Gleason darkly.

"I would rather have Mr. Libby's opinion," said Mrs. Merritt.

Grace went to Mrs. Maynard's room, and told her that Dr. Mulbridge was coming directly after dinner.

"I knew you would do it!" cried Mrs. Maynard, throwing her right arm round Grace's neck, while the latter bent over to feel the pulse in her left. "I knew where you had gone as soon as your mother told me you had driven off with Walter Libby. I'm so glad that you've got somebody to consult! Your theories are perfectly right and I'm sure that Dr. Mulbridge will just tell you to keep on as you've been doing."

Grace withdrew from her caress. "Dr. Mulbridge is not coming for a consultation. He refused to consult with me."

"Refused to consult? Why, how perfectly ungentlemanly! Why did he refuse?"

"Because he is an allopathist and I am a homoeopathist."

"Then, what is he coming for, I should like to know!"

"I have given up the case to him," said Grace wearily.

"Very well, then!" cried Mrs. Maynard, "I won't be given up. I will simply die! Not a pill, not a powder, of his will I touch! If he thinks himself too good to consult with another doctor, and a lady at that, merely because she doesn't happen to be allopathist, he can go along! I never heard of anything so conceited, so disgustingly mean, in my life. No, Grace! Why, it's horrid!" She was silent, and then, "Why, of course," she added, "if he comes, I shall have to see him. I look like a fright, I suppose."

"I will do your hair," said Grace, with indifference to these vows and protests; and without deigning further explanation or argument she made the invalid's toilet for her. If given time, Mrs. Maynard would talk herself into any necessary frame of mind, and Grace merely supplied the monosyllabic promptings requisite for her transition from mood to mood. It was her final resolution that when Dr. Mulbridge did come she should give him a piece of her mind; and she received him with anxious submissiveness, and hung upon all his looks and words with quaking and with an inclination to attribute her unfavorable symptoms to the treatment of her former physician. She did not spare him certain apologies for the disorderly appearance of her person and her room.

Grace sat by and watched him with perfectly quiescent observance. The large, somewhat uncouth man gave evidence to her intelligence that he was all physician—that he had not chosen his profession from any theory or motive, however good, but had been as much chosen by it as if he had been born a Physician. He was incredibly gentle and soft in all his movements, and perfectly kind, without being at any moment unprofitably sympathetic. He knew when to listen and when not to listen,—to learn everything from the quivering bundle of nerves before him without seeming to have learnt anything alarming; he smiled when it would do her good to be laughed at, and treated her with such grave respect that she could not feel herself trifled with, nor remember afterwards any point of neglect. When he rose and left some medicines, with directions to Grace for giving them and instructions for contingencies, she followed him from the room.

"Well?" she said anxiously.

"Mrs. Maynard is threatened with pneumonia. Or, I don't know why I should say threatened," he added; "she has pneumonia."

"I supposed—I was afraid so," faltered the girl.

"Yes." He looked into her eyes with even more seriousness than he spoke.

"Has she friends here?" he asked.

"No; her husband is in Cheyenne, out on the plains."

"He ought to know," said Dr. Mulbridge. "A great deal will depend upon her nursing—Miss—ah—Dr. Breen."

"You need n't call me Dr. Breen," said Grace. "At present, I am Mrs. Maynard's nurse."

He ignored this as he had ignored every point connected with the interview of the morning. He repeated the directions he had already given with still greater distinctness, and, saying that he should come in the morning, drove away. She went back to Louise: inquisition for inquisition, it was easier to meet that of her late patient than that of her mother, and for once the girl spared herself.

"I know he thought I was very bad," whimpered Mrs. Maynard, for a beginning. "What is the matter with me?"

"Your cold has taken an acute form; you will have to go to bed."

"Then I 'm going to be down sick! I knew I was! I knew it! And what am I going to do, off in such a place as this? No one to nurse me, or look after Bella! I should think you would be satisfied now, Grace, with the result of your conscientiousness: you were so very sure that Mr. Libby was wanting to flirt with me that you drove us to our death, because you thought he felt guilty and was trying to fib out of it."

"Will you let me help to undress you?" asked Grace gently. "Bella shall be well taken care of, and I am going to nurse you myself, under Dr. Mulbridge's direction. And once for all, Louise, I wish to say that I hold myself to blame for all"—

"Oh, yes! Much good that does now!" Being got into bed, with the sheet smoothed under her chin, she said, with the effect of drawing a strictly logical conclusion from the premises, "Well, I should think George Maynard would want to be with his family!"

Spent with this ordeal, Grace left her at last, and went out on the piazza, where she found Libby returned. In fact, he had, upon second thoughts, driven back, and put up his horse at Jocelyn's, that he might be of service there in case he were needed. The ladies, with whom he had been making friends, discreetly left him to Grace, when she appeared, and she frankly walked apart with him, and asked him if he could go over to New Leyden, and telegraph to Mr. Maynard.

"Has she asked for him?" he inquired, laughing. "I knew it would come to that."

"She has not asked; she has said that she thought he ought to be with his family," repeated Grace faithfully.

"Oh, I know how she said it: as if he had gone away wilfully, and kept away against her wishes and all the claims of honor and duty. It wouldn't take her long to get round to that if she thought she was very sick. Is she so bad?" he inquired, with light scepticism.

"She's threatened with pneumonia. We can't tell how bad she may be."

"Why, of course I'll telegraph. But I don't think anything serious can be the matter with Mrs. Maynard."

"Dr. Mulbridge said that Mr. Maynard ought to know."

"Is that so?" asked Libby, in quite a different tone. If she recognized the difference, she was meekly far from resenting it; he, however, must have wished to repair his blunder. "I think you need n't have given up the case to him. I think you're too conscientious about it."

"Please don't speak of that now," she interposed.

"Well, I won't," he consented. "Can I be of any use here to-night?"

"No, we shall need nothing more. The doctor will be here again in the morning."

"Libby did not come in the morning till after the doctor had gone, and then he explained that he had waited to hear in reply to his telegram, so that they might tell Mrs. Maynard her husband had started; and he had only just now heard.

"And has he started?" Grace asked.

"I heard from his partner. Maynard was at the ranch. His partner had gone for him."

"Then he will soon be here," she said.

"He will, if telegraphing can bring him. I sat up half the night with the operator. She was very obliging when she understood the case."

"She?" reputed Grace, with a slight frown.

"The operators are nearly all women in the country."

"Oh!" She looked grave. "Can they trust young girls with such important duties?"

"They did n't in this instance," relied Libby. "She was a pretty old girl. What made you think she was young?"

"I don't know. I thought you said she was young." She blushed, and seemed about to say more, but she did not.

He waited, and then he said, "You can tell Mrs. Maynard that I telegraphed on my own responsibility, if you think it's going to alarm her."

"Well," said Grace, with a helpless sigh.

"You don't like to tell her that," he suggested, after a moment, in which he had watched her.

"How do you know?"

"Oh, I know. And some day I will tell you how—if you will let me."

It seemed a question; and she did not know what it was that kept her—silent and breathless and hot in the throat. "I don't like to do it," she said at last. "I hate myself whenever I have to feign anything. I knew perfectly well that you did n't say she was young," she broke out desperately.

"Say Mrs. Maynard was young?" he asked stupidly.

"No!" she cried. She rose hastily from the bench where she had been sitting with him. "I must go back to her now."

He mounted to his buggy, and drove thoughtfully away at a walk.

The ladies, whose excited sympathies for Mrs. Maynard had kept them from the beach till now, watched him quite out of sight before they began to talk of Grace.

"I hope Dr. Breen's new patient will be more tractable," said Mrs. Merritt. "It would be a pity if she had to give him up, too, to Dr. Mulbridge."

Mrs. Scott failed of the point. "Why, is Mr. Libby sick?"

"Not very," answered Mrs. Merritt, with a titter of self-applause.

"I should be sorry," interposed Mrs. Alger authoritatively, "if we had said anything to influence the poor thing in what she has done."

"Oh, I don't think we need distress ourselves about undue influence!" Mrs. Merritt exclaimed.

Mrs. Alger chose to ignore the suggestion. "She had a very difficult part; and I think she has acted courageously. I always feel sorry for girls who attempt anything of that kind. It's a fearful ordeal."

"But they say Miss Breen was n't obliged to do it for a living," Mrs. Scott suggested.

"So much the worse," said Mrs. Merritt.

"No, so much the better," returned Mrs. Alger.

Mrs. Merritt, sitting on the edge of the piazza, stooped over with difficulty and plucked a glass-straw, which she bit as she looked rebelliously away.

Mrs. Frost had installed herself as favorite since Mrs. Alger had praised her hair. She now came forward, and, dropping fondly at her knee, looked up to her for instruction. "Don't you think that she showed her sense in giving up at the very beginning, if she found she was n't equal to it?" She gave her head a little movement from side to side, and put the mass of her back hair more on show.

"Perhaps," said Mrs. Alger, looking at the favorite not very favorably.

"Oh, I don't think she's given up," Miss Gleason interposed, in her breathless manner. She waited to be asked why, and then she added, "I think she's acting in consultation with Dr. Mulbridge. He may have a certain influence over her,—I think he has; but I know they are acting in unison."

Mrs. Merritt flung her grass-straw away. "Perhaps it is to be Dr. Mulbridge, after all, and not Mr. Libby."

"I have thought of that," Miss Gleason assented candidly. "Yes, I have thought of that. I have thought of their being constantly thrown together, in this way. It would not discourage me. She could be quite as true to her vocation as if she remained single. Truer."

"Talking of true," said Mrs. Scott, "always does make me think of blue. They say that yellow will be worn on everything this winter."

"Old gold?" asked Mrs. Frost. "Yes, more than ever."

"Dear!" cried the other lady. "I don't know what I shall do. It perfectly kills my hair."

"Oh, Miss Gleason!" exclaimed the young girl.

"Do you believe in character coming out in color?"

"Yes, certainly. I have always believed that."

"Well, I've got a friend, and she wouldn't have anything to do with a girl that wore magenta more than she would fly."

"I should suppose," explained Miss Gleason, "that all those aniline dyes implied something coarse in people."

"Is n't it curious," asked Mrs. Frost, "how red-haired people have come in fashion? I can recollect, when I was a little girl, that everybody laughed at red hair. There was one girl at the first school I ever went to,—the boys used to pretend to burn their fingers at her hair."

"I think Dr. Breen's hair is a very pretty shade of brown," said the young girl.

Mrs. Merritt rose from the edge of the piazza. "I think that if she hasn't given up to him entirely she's the most submissive consulting physician I ever saw," she said, and walked out over the grass towards the cliff.

The ladies looked after her. "Is Mrs. Merritt more pudgy when she's sitting down or when she's standing up?" asked Mrs. Scott.

Miss Gleason seized her first chance of speaking with Grace alone. "Oh, do you know how much you are doing for us all?"

"Doing for you, all? How doing?" faltered Grace, whom she had whisperingly halted in a corner of the hall leading from the dining-room.

"By acting in unison,—by solving the most perplexing problem in women's practising your profession. She passed the edge of her fan over her lips before letting it fall furled upon her left hand, and looked luminously into Grace's eyes.

"I don't at all know what you mean, Miss Gleason," said the other.

Miss Gleason kicked out the skirt of her dress, so as to leave herself perfectly free for the explanation. "Practising in harmony with a physician of the other sex. I have always felt that there was the great difficulty,—how to bring that about. I have always felt that the TRUE physician must be DUAL,—have both the woman's nature and the man's; the woman's tender touch, the man's firm grasp. You have shown how the medical education of women can meet this want. The physician can actually be dual,—be two, in fact. Hereafter, I have no doubt we shall always call a physician of each sex. But it's wonderful how you could ever bring it about, though you can do anything! Has n't it worn upon you?" Miss Gleason darted out her sentences in quick, short breaths, fixing Grace with her eyes, and at each clause nervously tapping her chest with her reopened fan.

"If you suppose," said Grace, "that Dr. Mulbridge and I are acting professionally in unison, as you call it, you are mistaken. He has entire charge of the case; I gave it up to him, and I am merely nursing Mrs. Maynard under his direction."

"How splendid!" Miss Gleason exclaimed. "Do you know that I admire you for giving up,—for knowing when to give up? So few women do that! Is n't he magnificent?"

"Magnificent?"

"I mean psychically. He is what I should call a strong soul You must have felt his masterfulness; you must have enjoyed it! Don't you like to be dominated?"

"No," said Grace, "I should n't at all like it."

"Oh, I do! I like to meet one of those forceful masculine natures that simply bid you obey. It's delicious. Such a sense of self-surrender," Miss Gleason explained. "It is n't because they are men," she added. "I have felt the same influence from some women. I felt it, in a certain degree, on first meeting you."

"I am very sorry," said Grace coldly. "I should dislike being controlled myself, and I should dislike still more to control others."

"You're doing it now!" cried Miss Gleason, with delight. "I could not do a thing to resist your putting me down! Of course you don't know that you're doing it; it's purely involuntary. And you wouldn't know that he was dominating you. And he would n't."

Very probably Dr. Mulbridge would not have recognized himself in the character of all-compelling lady's-novel hero, which Miss Gleason imagined for him. Life presented itself rather simply to him, as it does to most men, and he easily dismissed its subtler problems from a mind preoccupied with active cares. As far as Grace was concerned, she had certainly roused in him an unusual curiosity; nothing less than her homoeopathy would have made him withdraw his consent to a consultation with her, and his fear had been that in his refusal she should escape from his desire to know more about her, her motives, her purposes. He had accepted without scruple the sacrifice of pride she had made to him; but he had known how to appreciate her scientific training, which he found as respectable as that of any clever, young man of their profession. He praised, in his way, the perfection with which she interpreted his actions and intentions in regard to the patient. "If there were such nurses as you, Miss Breen, there would be very little need of doctors," he said, with a sort of interogative fashion of laughing peculiar to him.

"I thought of being a nurse once;" she answered. "Perhaps I may still be one. The scientific training won't be lost."

"Oh, no? It's a pity that more of them have n't it. But I suppose they think nursing is rather too humble an ambition."

"I don't think it so," said Grace briefly.

"Then you did n't care for medical distinction."

"No."

He looked at her quizzically, as if this were much droller than if she had cared. "I don't understand why you should have gone into it. You told me, I think, that it was repugnant to you; and it's hard work for a woman, and very uncertain work for anyone. You must have had a tremendous desire to benefit your race."

His characterization of her motive was so distasteful that she made no reply, and left him to his conjectures, in which he did not appear unhappy. "How do you find Mrs. Maynard to-day?" she asked.

He looked at her with an instant coldness, as if he did not like her asking, and were hesitating whether to answer. But he said at last, "She is no better. She will be worse before she is better. You see," he added, "that I haven't been able to arrest the disorder in its first stage. We must hope for what can be done now, in the second."

She had gathered from the half jocose ease with which he had listened to Mrs. Maynard's account of herself, and to her own report, an encouragement which now fell to the ground "Yes," she assented, in her despair, "that is the only hope."

He sat beside the table in the hotel parlor, where they found themselves alone for the moment, and drubbed upon it with an absent look. "Have you sent for her husband?" he inquired, returning to himself.

"Yes; Mr. Libby telegraphed the evening we saw you."

"That's good," said Dr. Mulbridge, with comfortable approval; and he rose to go away.

Grace impulsively detained him. "I—won't—ask you whether you consider Mrs. Maynard's case a serious one, if you object to my doing so."

"I don't know that I object," he said slowly, with a teasing smile, such as one might use with a persistent child whom one chose to baffle in that way.

She disdained to avail herself of the implied permission. "What I mean—what I wish to tell you is—that I feel myself responsible for her sickness, and that if she dies, I shall be guilty of her death."

"Ah?" said Dr. Mulbridge, with more interest, but the same smile. "What do you mean?"

"She didn't wish to go that day when she was caught in the storm. But I insisted; I forced her to go." She stood panting with the intensity of the feeling which had impelled her utterance.

"What do you mean by forcing her to go?"

"I don't know. I—I—persuaded her."

Dr. Mulbridge smiled, as if he perceived her intention not to tell him something she wished to tell him. He looked down into his hat, which he carried in his hand.

"Did you believe the storm was coming?"

"No!"

"And you did n't make it come?"

"Of course not!"

He looked at her and laughed.

"Oh, you don't at all understand!" she cried.

"I'm not a doctor of divinity," he said. "Good morning."

"Wait, wait!" she implored, "I'm afraid—I don't know—Perhaps my being near her is injurious to her; perhaps I ought to let some one else nurse her. I wished to ask you this"—She stopped breathlessly.

"I don't think you have done her any harm as yet," he answered lightly.

"However," he said, after a moment's consideration, "why don't you take a holiday? Some of the other ladies might look after her a while."

"Do you really think," she palpitated, "that I might? Do you think I ought? I'm afraid I ought n't"—

"Not if your devotion is hurtful to her?" he asked. "Send some one else to her for a while. Any one can take care of her for a few hours."

"I couldn't leave her—feeling as I do about her."

"I don't know how you feel about her," said Dr. Mulbridge. "But you can't go on at this rate. I shall want your help by and by, and Mrs. Maynard doesn't need you now. Don't go back to her."

"But if she should get worse while I am away"—

"You think your staying and feeling bad would make her better? Don't go back," he repeated; and he went out to his ugly rawboned horse, and, mounting his shabby wagon, rattled away. She lingered, indescribably put to shame by the brutal common sense which she could not impeach, but which she still felt was no measure of the case. It was true that she had not told him everything, and she could not complain that he had mocked her appeal for sympathy if she had trifled with him by a partial confession. But she indignantly denied to herself that she had wished to appeal to him for sympathy.

She wandered out on the piazza, which she found empty, and stood gazing at the sea in a revery of passionate humiliation. She was in that mood, familiar to us all, when we long to be consoled and even flattered for having been silly. In a woman this mood is near to tears; at a touch of kindness the tears come, and momentous questions are decided. What was perhaps uppermost in the girl's heart was a detestation of the man to whom she had seemed a simpleton; her thoughts pursued him, and divined the contempt with which he must be thinking of her and her pretensions. She heard steps on the sand, and Libby came round the corner of the house from the stable.

William Dean Howells

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