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Chapter 34


Lemuel got a conductor's overcoat and cap at half-price from a man who had been discharged, and put by the money saved to return to Sewell when he should come. He entered upon his duties the next morning, under the instruction of an old conductor, who said, "Hain't I seen you som'ere's before?" and he worked all day, taking money and tickets, registering fares, helping ladies on and off the car, and monotonously journeying back and forth over his route. He went on duty at six o'clock in the morning, after an early breakfast that 'Manda Grier and his mother got him, for Statira was not strong enough yet to do much, and he was to be relieved at eight. At nightfall, after two half-hour respites for dinner and tea, he was so tired that he could scarcely stand.

"Well, how do you like it, as fur's you've gone?" asked the instructing conductor, in whom Lemuel had recognised an old acquaintance. "Sweet life, ain't it? There! That switch hain't worked again! Jump off, young man, and put your shoulder to the wheel!"

The car had failed to take the right-hand turn where the line divided; it had to be pushed back, and while the driver tugged and swore under his breath at his horses, Lemuel set himself to push the car.

"'S no use!" said the driver finally. "I got to hitch 'em on at the other end, and pull her back."

He uncoupled the team from the front of the car, and swung round with it. Lemuel felt something strike him, on the leg, and he fell down. He scrambled to his feet again, but his left leg doubled under him; it went through his mind that one of the horses must have lashed out and broken it; then everything seemed to stop.

The world began again for him in the apothecary's shop where he had been carried, and from which he was put into an ambulance, by a policeman. It stopped again, as he whirled away; it renewed itself in anguish, and ceased in bliss as he fainted from the pain or came to.

They lifted him up some steps, at last, and carried him into a high, bright room, where there were two or three cots, and a long glass case full of surgical instruments. They laid him on a cot, and some one swiftly and skilfully undressed him. A surgeon had come in, and now he examined Lemuel's leg. He looked once or twice at his face.

"This is a pretty bad job, I can't tell how bad till you have had the ether. Will you leave it with me?"

"Yes. But do the best you can for me."

"You may be sure I will."

Lemuel believed that they meant to cut off his leg. He knew that he had a right to refuse and to take the consequences, but he would not; he had no right to choose death, when he had others to live for.

He woke deathly sick at first, and found himself lying in bed, one of the two rows in a long room, where there were some quiet women in neat caps and seersucker dresses going about, with bowls of food and bottles of medicine.

Lemuel still felt his leg, and the pain in it, but he had heard how mutilated men felt their lost limbs all their lives, and he was afraid to make sure by the touch of his hand.

A nurse who saw his eyes open came to him. He turned them upon her, but he could not speak. She must have understood. "The doctor thinks he can save your leg for you; but it's a bad fracture. You must be careful to keep very still."

He fell asleep; and life began again for him, in the midst of suffering and death. He saw every day broken and mangled men, drunk with ether, brought up as he had been, and laid in beds; he saw the priest of the religion to which most of the poor and lowly still belong, go and come among the cots, and stand by the pillows where the sick feebly followed him in the mystical gestures which he made on his brow and breast; he learned to know the use of the white linen screen which was drawn about a bed to hide the passing of a soul; he became familiar with the helpless sympathy, the despair of the friends who came to visit the sick and dying.

He had not lacked for more attention and interest from his own than the rules of the hospital allowed. His mother and 'Manda Grier came first, and then Statira when they would let her. She thought it hard that she was not suffered to do the least thing for him; she wished to take him away to their own rooms, where she could nurse him twice as well. At first she cried whenever she saw him, and lamented over him, so that the head nurse was obliged to explain to her that she disturbed the patients, and could not come any more unless she controlled herself. She promised, and kept her word; she sat quietly by his pillow and held his hand, when she came, except when she put up her own to hide the cough which she could not always restrain. The nurse told her that, of course, she was not accountable for the cough, but she had better try to check it. Statira brought troches with her, and held them in her mouth for this purpose.

Lemuel's family was taken care of in this time of disaster. The newspapers had made his accident promptly known; and not only Sewell, but Miss Vane and Mrs. Corey had come to see if they could be of any use.

One day a young girl brought a bouquet of flowers and set it by Lemuel's bed, when he seemed asleep. He suddenly opened his eyes, and saw Sybil Vane for the first time since their quarrel.

She put her finger to her lip, and smiled with the air of a lady benefactress; then, with a few words of official sympathy, she encouraged him to get well, and flitted to the next bed, where she bestowed a jacqueminot rosebud on a Chinaman dying of cancer.

Sewell came often to see him, at first in the teeth of his mother's obvious hostility, but with her greater and greater relenting. Nothing seemed gloomier than the outlook for Lemuel, but Sewell had lived too long not to know that the gloom of an outlook has nothing to do with a man's real future. It was impossible, of course, for Lemuel to go back to Mr. Corey's now with a sick wife, who would need so much of his care. Besides, he did not think it desirable on other accounts. He recurred to what Lemuel had said about getting work that should not take him too far away from the kind of people his betrothed was used to, and he felt a pity and respect for the boy whom life had already taught this wisdom, this resignation. He could see that before his last calamity had come upon him, Barker was trying to adjust his ambition to his next duty, or rather to subordinate it; and the conviction that he was right gave Sewell courage to think that he would yet somehow succeed. It also gave him courage to resist, on Barker's behalf, the generous importunities of some who would have befriended him. Mr. Corey and Charles Bellingham drove up to the hospital one day, to see Lemuel; and when Sewell met them the same evening, they were full of enthusiasm. Corey said that the effect of the hospital, with its wards branching from the classistic building in the centre, was delightfully Italian; it was like St. Peter's on a small scale, and he had no idea how interesting the South End was; it was quite a bit of foreign travel to go up there. Bellingham had explored the hospital throughout; he said he had found it the thing to do—it was a thing for everybody to do; he was astonished that he had never done it before. They united in praising Barker, and they asked what could be done for him. Corey was strenuous for his coming back to him; at any rate they must find something for him. Bellingham favoured the notion of doing something for his education; a fellow like that could come to almost anything.

Sewell shook his head. "All that's impossible, now. With that girl——"

"Oh, confound her!" cried Bellingham.

"I was rather disappointed at not seeing his mother," said Corey. "I had counted a good deal, I find, upon Mrs. Barker's bloomers."

"With a girl like that for his wife," pursued Sewell, "the conditions are all changed. He must cleave to her in mind as well as body, and he must seek the kind of life that will unite them more and more, not less and less. In fact, he was instinctively doing so when this accident happened. That's what marriage means."

"Oh, not always," suggested Corey.

"He must go back to Willoughby Pastures," Sewell concluded, "to his farm."

"Oh, come now!" said Bellingham, with disgust.

"If that sort of thing is to go on," said Corey, "what is to become of the ancestry of the future élite of Boston? I counted upon Barker to found one of our first families. Besides, any Irishman could take his farm and do better with it. The farm would be meat to the Irishman, and poison to Barker, now that he's once tasted town."

"Yes, I know all that," said Sewell sadly. "I once thought the greatest possible good I could do Barker, after getting him to Boston, was to get him back to Willoughby Pastures; but if that was ever true, the time is past. Now, it merely seems the only thing possible. When he gets well, he will still have an invalid wife on his hands; he must provide her a home; she could have helped him once, and would have done so, I've no doubt; but now she must be taken care of."

"Look here!" said Bellingham. "What's the reason these things can't be managed as they are in the novels? In any well-regulated romance that cough of hers would run into quick consumption and carry Barker's fiancee off in six weeks; and then he could resume his career of usefulness and prosperity here, don't you know. He could marry some one else, and found that family that Corey wants."

They all laughed, Sewell ruefully.

"As it is," said Corey, "I suppose she'll go on having hemorrhages to a good old age, and outlive him, after being a clog and burden to him all his life. Poor devil! What in the world possesses him to want to marry her? But I suppose the usual thing."

This gave Sewell greater discomfort than the question of Lemuel's material future. He said listlessly, "Oh, I suppose so," but he was far from thinking precisely that. He had seen Lemuel and the young girl together a great deal, and a painful misgiving had grown up in his mind. It seemed to him that while he had seen no want of patience and kindness towards her in Lemuel, he had not seen the return of her fondness, which, silly as it was in some of its manifestations, he thought he should be glad of in him. Yet he was not sure. Barker was always so self-contained that he might very well feel more love for her than he showed; and, after all, Sewell rather weakly asked himself, was the love so absolutely necessary?

When he repeated this question in his wife's presence, she told him she was astonished at him.

"You know that it is vitally necessary! It's all the more necessary, if he's so superior to her, as you say. I can't think what's become of your principles, my dear!"

"I do, you've got them," said Sewell.

"I really believe I have," said his wife, with that full conviction of righteousness which her sex alone can feel. "I have always heard you say that marriage without love was not only sinful in itself, but the beginning of sorrow. Why do you think now that it makes no difference?"

"I suppose I was trying to adapt myself to circumstances," answered Sewell, frankly at least. "Let's hope that my facts are as wrong as my conclusions. I'm not sure of either. I suppose, if I saw him idolising so slight and light a person as she seems to be, I should be more disheartened about his future than I am now. If he overvalued her, it would only drag him lower down."

"Oh, his future! Drag him down! Why don't you think of her, going up there to that dismal wilderness, to spend her days in toil and poverty, with a half-crazy mother-in-law, and a rheumatic brother- in-law, in such a looking hovel?" Mrs. Sewell did not group these disadvantages conventionally, but they were effective. "You have allowed your feelings about that baffling creature to blind you to everything else, David. Why should you care so much for his future, and nothing for hers? Is that so very bright?"

"I don't think that either is dazzling," sighed the minister. Yet Barker's grew a little lighter as he familiarised himself with it, or rather with Barker. He found that he had a plan for getting a teacher's place in the Academy, if they reopened it at Willoughby Pastures, as they talked of doing, under the impulse of such a course in one of the neighbouring towns, and that he was going home, in fancy at least, with purposes of enlightenment and elevation which would go far to console him under such measure of disappointment as they must bring. Sewell hinted to Barker that he must not be too confident of remodelling Willoughby Pastures upon the pattern of Boston.

"Oh no; I don't expect that," said Lemuel. "What I mean is that I shall always try to remember myself what I've learnt here—from the kind of men I've seen, and the things that I know people are all the time doing for others. I told you once that they haven't got any idea of that in the country. I don't expect to preach it into them; they wouldn't like it if I did; and they'd make fun of it; but if I could try to live it?"

"Yes," said Sewell, touched by this young enthusiasm.

"I don't know as I can all the time," said Lemuel. "But it seems to me that that's what I've learnt here, if I've learnt anything. I think the world's a good deal better than I used to."

"Do you indeed, my dear boy?" asked Sewell, greatly interested.
"It's a pretty well-meaning world—I hope it is."

"Yes, that's what I mean," said Lemuel. "I presume it ain't perfect—isn't, I should say," and Sewell smiled. "Mr. Corey was always correcting me on that. But if I were to do nothing but pass along the good that's been done me since I came here, I should be kept busy the rest of my life."

Sewell knew that this emotion was largely the physical optimism of convalescence; but he could not refuse the comfort it gave him to find Barker in such a mood, and he did not conceive it his duty to discourage it. Lofty ideals, if not indulged at the expense of lowly realities, he had never found hurtful to any; and it was certainly better for Barker to think too well than too ill of Boston, if it furnished him incentives to unselfish living. He could think of enough things in the city to warrant a different judgment, but if Barker's lesson from his experience there was this, Sewell was not the person to weaken its force with him. He said, with a smile of reserved comment, "Well, perhaps you'll be coming back to us, some day."

"I don't look forward to that," said Lemuel soberly; and then his face took a sterner cast, as if from the force of his resolution. "The first thing I've got to do after I've made a home for her is to get Statira away from the town where she can have some better air, and see if she can't get her health back. It'll be time enough to talk of Boston again when she's fit to live here."

The minister's sympathetic spirit sank again. But his final parting with Barker was not unhopeful. Lemuel consented to accept from him a small loan, to the compass of which he reduced the eager bounty of Miss Vane and Mr. Corey, representing that more would be a burden and an offence to Barker. Statira and his mother came with him to take leave of the Sewells.

They dismounted from the horse-car at the minister's door; and he saw, with sensibility, the two women helping Lemuel off; he walked with a cane, and they went carefully on either side of him. Sewell hastened to meet them at the door himself, and he was so much interested in the spectacle of this mutual affection that he failed at first to observe that Mrs. Barker wore the skirts of occidental civilisation instead of the bloomers which he had identified her with.

"She says she's goin' to put 'em on again as soon as she gets back to Willoughby," the younger woman explained to Mrs. Sewell in an aside, while the minister was engaged with Lemuel and his mother. "But I tell her as long as it ain't the fashion in Boston, I guess she hadn't better, he-e-e-re." Statira had got on her genteel prolongation of her last syllables again. "I guess I shall get along with her. She's kind of queer when you first get acquainted; but she's real good-heart-e-e-d." She was herself very prettily dressed, and though she looked thin, and at times gave a deep, dismal cough, she was so bright and gay that it was impossible not to feel hopeful about her. She became very confidential with Mrs. Sewell, whom she apparently brevetted Lemuel's best friend, and obliged to a greater show of interest in him than she had ever felt. She told her the whole history of her love affair, and of how much 'Manda Grier had done to help it on at first, and then how she had wanted her to break off with Lemuel. "But," she concluded, "I think we're goin' to get along real nice together. I don't know as we shall live all in the same hou-ou-se; I guess it'll be the best thing for Lem and I if we can board till we get some little of our health back; I'm more scared for him than what I am for my-se-e-lf. I don't presume but what we shall both miss the city some; but he might be out of a job all winter in town; I shouldn't want he should go back on them ca-a-rs. Most I hate is leavin' 'Manda Grier, she is the one that I've roomed with ever since I first came to Boston; but Lem and her don't get on very well; they hain't really either of 'em got anything against each other now, but they don't like very we-e-ll; and, of course, I got to have the friends that he wants me to have, and that's what 'Manda Grier says, to-o-o; and so it's just as well we're goin' to be where they won't cla-a-sh."

She talked to Mrs. Sewell in a low voice; but she kept her eyes upon Lemuel all the time; and when Sewell took him and his mother the length of the front drawing-room away, she was quite distraught, and answered at random till he came back.

Sewell did not know what to think. Would this dependence warm her betrothed to greater tenderness than he now showed, or would its excess disgust him? He was not afraid that Lemuel would ever be unkind to her; but he knew that in marriage kindness was not enough. He looked at Lemuel, serious, thoughtful, refined in his beauty by suffering; and then his eye wandered to Statira's delicate prettiness, so sweet, so full of amiable cheerfulness, so undeniably light and silly. What chiefly comforted him was the fact of an ally whom the young thing had apparently found in Lemuel's mother. Whether that grim personage's ignorant pride in her son had been satisfied with a girl of Statira's style and fashion, and proven capableness in housekeeping, or whether some fancy for butterfly prettiness lurking in the fastnesses of the old woman's rugged nature had been snared by the gay face and dancing eyes, it was apparent that she at least was in love with Statira. She allowed herself to be poked about and rearranged as to her shawl and the narrow-brimmed youthful hat which she wore on the peak of her skull, and she softened to something like a smile at the touch of Statira's quick hands.

They had all come rather early to make their parting visit at the Sewells, for the Barkers were going to take the two o'clock train for Willoughby Pastures, while Statira was to remain in Boston till he could make a home for her. Lemuel promised to write, as soon as he should be settled, and tell Sewell about his life and his work; and Sewell, beyond earshot of his wife, told him he might certainly count upon seeing them at Willoughby in the course of the next summer. They all shook hands several times. Lemuel's mother gave her hand from under the fringe of her shawl, standing bolt upright at arm's-length off, and Sewell said it felt like a collection of corn- cobs.

William Dean Howells