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A Spinner in the Sun by Myrtle Reed

Part 2 out of 5

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at last confronted him, and would not be put away.

"And so, Evelina," he said aloud, "you have come back. And what do you
want? What can I do for you?"

The bell rang sharply, as if answering his question. He started from
his chair, having heard no approaching footsteps. He covered the
photograph of Evelina with Ralph's letters, but the sweet face of the
boy's mother still looked out at him from its gilt frame.

The old housekeeper went to the door with the utmost leisure. It
seemed to him an eternity before the door was opened. He stood there,
waiting, summoning his faculties of calmness and his powers of control,
to meet Evelina--to have out, at last, all the shame of the years.

But it was not Evelina. The Reverend Austin Thorpe was wiping his feet
carefully upon the door-mat, and asking in deep, vibrant tones: "Is the
Doctor in?"

Anthony Dexter could have cried out from relief. When the white-haired
old man came in, floundering helplessly among the furniture, as a
near-sighted person does, he greeted him with a cordiality that warmed
his heart.

"I am glad," said the minister, "to find you in. Sometimes I am not so
fortunate. I came late, for that reason."

"I've been busy," returned the Doctor. "Sit down."

The minister sank into an easy chair and leaned toward the light. "I
wish I could have a lamp like this in my room," he remarked. "It gives
a good light."

"You can have this one," returned Dexter, with an hysterical laugh,

"I was not begging," said Mr. Thorpe, with dignity. "Miss Mehitable's
lamps are all small. Some of them give no more light than a candle."

"'How far that little candle throws its beams,'" quoted Dexter. "'So
shines a good deed in a naughty world.'"

There was a long interval of silence. Sometimes Thorpe and Doctor
Dexter would sit for an entire evening with less than a dozen words
spoken on either side, yet feeling the comfort of human companionship.

"I was thinking," said, Thorpe, finally, "of the supreme isolation of
the human soul. You and I sit here, talking or not, as the mood
strikes us, and yet, what does speech matter? You know no more of me
than I choose to give you, nor I of you."

"No," responded Dexter, "that is quite true." He did not realise what
Thorpe had just said, but he felt that it was safe to agree.

"One grows morbid in thinking of it," pursued Thorpe, screening his
blue eyes from the light with his hand. "We are like a vast plain of
mountain peaks. Some of us have our heads in the clouds always, up
among the eternal snows. Thunders boom about us, lightning rives us,
storm and sleet beat upon us. There is a rumbling on some distant peak
and we know that it rains there, too. That is all we ever know. We
are not quite sure when our neighbours are happy or when they are
troubled; when there is sun and when there is storm. The secret forces
in the interior of the mountain work on unceasingly. The distance
hides it all. We never get near enough to another peak to see the
scars upon its surface, to know of the dead timber and the dried
streams, the marks of avalanches and glacial drift, the precipices and
pitfalls, the barren wastes. In blue, shimmering distance, the peaks
are veiled and all seem fair but our own."

At the word "veiled," Dexter shuddered. "Very pretty," he said, with a
forced laugh which sounded flat. "Why don't you put it into a sermon?"

Thorpe's face became troubled. "My sermons do not please," he
answered, with touching simplicity. "They say there is not enough of
hell."

"I'm satisfied," commented the Doctor, in a grating voice. "I think
there's plenty of hell."

"You never come to church," remarked the minister, not seeing the point.

"There's hell enough outside--for any reasonable mortal," returned
Dexter. He was keyed to a high pitch. He felt that, at any instant,
something might snap and leave him inert.

Thorpe sighed. His wrinkled old hand strayed out across the papers and
turned the face of Ralph's mother toward him. He studied it closely,
not having seen it before. Then he looked up at the Doctor, whose face
was again like a mask.

"Your--?" A lift of the eyebrows finished the question.

Dexter nodded, with assumed carelessness. There was another long pause.

"Sometimes I envy you," said Thorpe, laying the picture down carefully,
"you have had so much of life and joy. I think it is better for you to
have had her and lost her than not to have had her at all," he
continued, unconsciously paraphrasing. "Even in your loneliness, you
have the comfort of memory, and your boy--I have wondered what a son
might mean to me, now, in my old age. Dead though she is, you know she
still loves you; that somewhere she is waiting to take your hand in
hers."

"Don't!" cried Dexter. The strain was well-nigh insupportable.

"Forgive me, my friend," returned Thorpe, quickly. "I--" Then he
paused. "As I was saying," he went on, after a little, "I have often
envied you."

"Don't," said Dexter, again. "As you were also saying, distance hides
the peak and you do not see the scars."

Thorpe's eyes sought the picture of Dexter's wife with an evident
tenderness, mingled with yearning. "I often think," he sighed, "that
in Heaven we may have a chance to pay our debt to woman. Through
woman's agony we come into the world, by woman's care we are nourished,
by woman's wisdom we are taught, by woman's love we are sheltered, and,
at the last, it is a woman who closes our eyes. At every crisis of a
man's life, a woman is always waiting, to help him if she may, and I
have seen that at any crisis in a woman's life, we are apt to draw back
and shirk. She helps us bear our difficulties; she faces hers alone."

Dexter turned uneasily in his chair. His face was inscrutable. The
silent moment cried out for speech--for anything to relieve the
tension. Through Ralph's letters Evelina's eyes seemed to be upon him,
beseeching him to speak.

"I knew a man,", said Anthony Dexter, hoarsely, "who unintentionally
contracted quite an unusual debt to a woman."

"Yes?" returned, Thorpe, inquiringly. He was interested.

"He was a friend of mine," the Doctor continued, with difficulty, "or
rather a classmate. I knew him best at college and afterward--only
slightly."

"The debt," Thorpe reminded him, after a pause. "You were speaking, of
his debt to a woman."

Dexter turned his face away from Thorpe and from the accusing eyes
beneath Ralph's letters. "She was a very beautiful girl," he went on,
carefully choosing his words, "and they loved each other as people love
but once. My--my friend was much absorbed in chemistry and had a
fondness for original experiment. She--the girl, you know--used to
study with him. He was teaching her and she often helped him in the
laboratory.

"They were to be married," continued Dexter. "The day before they were
to be married, he went to her house and invited her to come to the
laboratory to see an experiment which he was trying for the first time
and which promised to be unusually interesting. I need not explain the
experiment--you would not understand.

"On the way to the laboratory, they were talking, as lovers will. She
asked him if he loved her because she was herself; because, of all the
women in the world, she was the one God meant for him, or if he loved
her because he thought her beautiful.

"He said that he loved her because she was herself, and, most of all,
because she was his. 'Then,' she asked, timidly, 'when I am old and
all the beauty has gone, you will love me still? It will be the same,
even when I am no longer lovely?'

"He answered her as any man would, never dreaming how soon he was to be
tested.

"In the laboratory, they were quite alone. He began the experiment,
explaining as he went, and she watched it as eagerly as he. He turned
away for a moment, to get another chemical. As he leaned over the
retort to put it in, he heard it seethe. With all her strength, she
pushed him away instantly. There was an explosion which shook the
walls of the laboratory, a quantity of deadly gas was released, and, in
the fumes, they both fainted.

"When he came to his senses, he learned that she had been terribly
burned, and had been taken on the train to the hospital. He was the
one physician in the place and it was the only thing to be done.

"As soon as he could, he went to the hospital. They told him there
that her life would be saved and they hoped for her eyesight, but that
she would be permanently and horribly disfigured. All of her features
were destroyed, they said--she would be only a pitiful wreck of a
woman."

Thorpe was silent. His blue eyes were dim with pity. Dexter rose and
stood in front of him. "Do you understand?" he asked, in a voice that
was almost unrecognisable. "His face was close to the retort when she
pushed him away. She saved his life and he went away--he never saw her
again. He left her without so much as a word."

"He went away?" asked the minister, incredulously. "Went away and left
her when she had so much to bear? Deserted her when she needed him to
help her bear it, and when she had saved him from death, or worse?"

"You would not believe it possible?" queried Dexter, endeavouring to
make his voice even.

"Of a cur, yes," said the minister, his voice trembling with
indignation, "but of a man, no."

Anthony Dexter shrank back within himself. He was breathing heavily,
but his companion did not notice.

"It was long ago," the Doctor continued, when he had partially regained
his composure. He dared not tell Thorpe that the man had married in
the meantime, lest he should guess too much. "The woman still lives,
and my--friend lives also. He has never felt right about it. What
should he do?"

"The honour of the spoken word still holds him," said Thorpe, evenly.
"As I understand, he asked her to marry him and she consented. He was
never released from his promise--did not even ask for it. He slunk
away like a cur. In the sight of God he is bound to her by his own
word still. He should go to her and either fulfil his promise or ask
for release. The tardy fulfilment of his promise would be the only
atonement he could make."

The midnight train came in and stopped, but neither heard it.

"It would be very difficult," Thorpe was saying, "to retain any shred
of respect for a man like that. It shows your broad charity when you
call him 'friend.' I myself have not so much grace."

Anthony Dexter's breath came painfully. He tightened his fingers on
the arm of the chair and said nothing.

"It is a peculiar coincidence," mused Thorpe, He was thinking aloud
now. "In the old house just beyond Miss Mehitable's, farther up, you
know, a woman has just come to live who seems to have passed through
something like that. It would be strange, would it not, if she were
the one whom your--friend--had wronged?"

"Very," answered Dexter, in a voice the other scarcely heard.

"Perhaps, in this way, we may bring them together again. If the woman
is here, and you can find your friend, we may help him to wash the
stain of cowardice off his soul. Sometimes," cried Thorpe
passionately, "I think there is no sin but shirking. I can excuse a
liar, I can pardon a thief, I can pity a murderer, but a shirk--no!"
His voice broke and his wrinkled old hands trembled.

"My--my friend," lied Anthony Dexter, wiping the cold sweat from his
forehead, "lives abroad. I have no way of finding him."

"It is a pity," returned Thorpe. "Think of a man meeting his God like
that! It tempts one to believe in a veritable hell!"

"I think there is a veritable hell," said Dexter, with a laugh which
was not good to hear. "I think, by this time, my friend must believe
in it as well. I remember that he did not, before the--it, I mean,
happened."

Far from feeling relief, Anthony Dexter was scourged anew. A thousand
demons leaped from the silence to mock him; the earth rolled beneath
his feet. The impulse of confession was strong upon him, even in the
face of Thorpe's scorn. He wondered why only one church saw the need
of the confessional, why he could not go, even to Thorpe, and share the
burden that oppressed his guilty soul.

The silence was not to be borne. The walls of the room swayed back and
forth, as though they were of fabric and stirred by all the winds of
hell. The floor undulated; his chair sank dizzily beneath him.

Dexter struggled to his feet, clutching convulsively at the table. His
lips were parched and his tongue clung to the roof of his mouth.
"Thorpe," he said, in a hoarse whisper, "I----"

The minister raised his hand. "Listen! I thought I heard----"

A whistle sounded outside, the gate clanged shut. A quick, light step
ran up the walk, the door opened noisily, and a man rushed in. He
seemed to bring into that hopeless place all the freshness of immortal
Youth.

Blinded, Dexter moved forward, his hands outstretched to meet that
eager clasp.

"Father! Father!" cried Ralph, joyously; "I've come home!"

VIII

Piper Tom

"Laddie," said the Piper to the yellow mongrel, "we'll be having
breakfast now."

The dog answered with a joyous yelp. "You talk too much," observed his
master, in affectionate reproof; "'t is fitting that small yellow dogs
should be seen and not heard."

It was scarcely sunrise, but the Piper's day began--and ended--early.
He had a roaring fire in the tiny stove which warmed his shop, and the
tea-kettle hummed cheerily. All about him was the atmosphere of
immaculate neatness. It was not merely the lack of dust and dirt, but
a positive cleanliness.

His beardless face was youthful, but the Piper's hair was tinged with
grey at the temples. One judged him to be well past forty, yet fully
to have retained his youth. His round, rosy mouth was puckered in a
whistle as he moved about the shop and spread the tiny table with a
clean cloth.

Ranged about him in orderly rows was his merchandise. Tom Barnaby
never bothered with fixtures and showcases. Chairs, drygoods boxes,
rough shelves of his own making, and a few baskets sufficed him.

In the waterproof pedler's pack which he carried on his back when his
shop was in transit, he had only the smaller articles which women
continually need. Calico, mosquito netting, buttons, needles, thread,
tape, ribbons, stationery, hooks and eyes, elastic, shoe laces, sewing
silk, darning cotton, pins, skirt binding, and a few small frivolities
in the way of neckwear, veils, and belts--these formed Piper Tom's
stock in trade. By dint of close packing, he wedged an astonishing
number of things into a small space, and was not too heavily laden
when, with his dog and his flute, he set forth upon the highway to
establish his shop in the next place that seemed promising.

"All unknowing, Laddie," he said to the dog, as he sat down to his
simple breakfast, "we've come into competition with a woman who keeps a
shop like ours, which we didn't mean to do. It's for this that we were
making a new set of price tags all day of yesterday, which happened to
be the Sabbath. It wouldn't be becoming of us to charge less than she
and take her trade away from her, so we've started out on an even basis.

"Poor lady," laughed the Piper, "she was not willing for us to know her
prices, thinking we were going to sell cheaper than she. 'T is a hard
world for women, Laddie. I'm thinking 'tis no wonder they grow
suspicious at times."

The dog sat patiently till Piper Tom finished his breakfast, well
knowing that a generous share would be given him outside. While the
dog ate, his master put the shop into the most perfect order, removing
every particle of dust, and whistling meanwhile.

When the weather permitted, the shop was often left to keep itself, the
door being hospitably propped open with a brick, while the dog and his
master went gypsying. With a ragged, well-worn book in one pocket, a
parcel of bread and cheese in another, and his flute slung over his
shoulder, the Piper was prepared to spend the day abroad. He carried,
too, a bone for the dog, well wrapped in newspaper, and an old silver
cup to drink from.

Having finished his breakfast, the dog scampered about eagerly,
indicating, by many leaps and barks, that it was time to travel, but
the Piper raised his hand.

"Not to-day, Laddie," he said. "If we travel to-day, we'll not be
going far. Have you forgotten that 't was only day before yesterday we
found our work? Come here."

The dog seated himself before the Piper, his stubby tail wagging
impatiently.

"She's a poor soul, Laddie," sighed the Piper, at length. "I'm
thinking she's seen Sorrow face to face and has never had the courage
to turn away. She was walking in the woods, trying to find the strange
music, and was disappointed when she saw 't was only us. We must make
her glad 't was us."

After a long time, the Piper spoke again, with a lingering tenderness.
"She must be very beautiful, I'm thinking, Laddie; else she would not
hide her face. Very beautiful and very sad."

When the sun was high, Piper Tom climbed the hill, followed by his
faithful dog. On his shoulder he bore a scythe and under the other arm
was a spade. He entered Miss Evelina's gate without ceremony and made
a wry face as he looked about him. He scarcely knew where to begin.

The sound of the wide, even strokes roused Miss Evelina from her
lethargy, and she went to the window, veiled. At first she was
frightened when she saw the queer man whom she had met in the woods
hard at work in her garden.

The red feather in his hat bobbed cheerfully up and down, the little
yellow dog ran about busily, and the Piper was whistling lustily an
old, half-forgotten tune.

She watched him for some time, then a new thought frightened her again.
She had no money with which to pay him for clearing out her garden, and
he would undoubtedly expect payment. She must go out and tell him not
to work any more; that she did not wish to have the weeds removed.

Cringing before the necessity, she went out. The Piper did not see her
until she was very near him, then, startled in his turn, he said, "Oh!"
and took off his hat.

"Good-morning, madam," he went on, making a low bow. She noted that
the tip of his red feather brushed the ground. "What can I do for you,
more than I'm doing now?"

"It is about that," stammered Evelina, "that I came. You must not work
in my garden."

"Surely," said the Piper, "you don't mean that! Would you have it all
weeds? And 't is hard work for such as you."

"I--I--" answered Miss Evelina, almost in a whisper; "I have no money."

The Piper laughed heartily and put on his hat again. "Neither have I,"
he said, between bursts of seemingly uncalled-for merriment, "and
probably I'm the only man in these parts who's not looking for it. Did
you think I'd ask for pay for working in the garden?"

His tone made her feel that she had misjudged him and she did not know
what to say in reply.

"Laddie and I have no garden of our own," he explained, "and so we're
digging in yours. The place wants cleaning, for 't is a long time
since any one cared enough for it to dig. I was passing, and I saw a
place I thought I could make more pleasant. Have I your leave to try?"

"Why--why, yes," returned Miss Evelina, slowly. "If you'd like to, I
don't mind."

He dismissed her airily, with a wave of his hand, and she went back
into the house, never once turning her head.

"She's our work, Laddie," said the Piper, "and I'm thinking we've begun
in the right way. All the old sadness is piled up in the garden, and
I'm thinking there's weeds in her life, too, that it's our business to
take out. At any rate, we'll begin here and do this first. One step
at a time, Laddie--one step at a time. That's all we have to take,
fortunately. When we can't see ahead, it's because we can't look
around a corner."

All that day from behind her cobwebbed windows, Miss Evelina watched
the Piper and his dog. Weeds and thistles fell like magic before his
strong, sure strokes. He carried out armful after armful of rubbish
and made a small-sized mountain in the road, confining it with stray
boards and broken branches, as it was too wet to be burned.

Wherever she went, in the empty house, she heard that cheery,
persistent whistle. As usual, Miss Hitty left a tray on her doorstep,
laden with warm, wholesome food. Since that first day, she had made no
attempt to see Miss Evelina. She brought her tray, rapped, and went
away quietly, exchanging it for another when it was time for the next
meal.

Meanwhile, Miss Evelina's starved body was responding, slowly but
surely, to the simple, well-cooked food. Hitherto, she had not cared
to eat and scarcely knew what she was eating. Now she had learned to
discriminate between hot rolls and baking-powder biscuit, between thick
soups and thin broths, custards and jellies.

Miss Evelina had wound one of the clocks, setting it by the midnight
train, and loosening the machinery by a few drops of oil which she had
found in an old bottle, securely corked. At eight, at one, and at six,
Miss Hitty's tray was left at her back door--there had not been the
variation of a minute since the first day. Preoccupied though she was,
Evelina was not insensible of the kindness, nor of the fact that she
was stronger, physically, than she had been for years.

And now in the desolate garden, there was visible evidence of more
kindness. Perhaps the world was not wholly a place of grief and tears.
Out there among the weeds a man laboured cheerfully--a man of whom she
had no knowledge and upon whom she had no claim.

He sang and whistled as he strove mightily with the weeds. Now and
then, he sharpened his scythe with his whetstone and attacked the dense
undergrowth with yet more vigour. The little yellow mongrel capered
joyfully and unceasingly, affecting to hide amidst the mass of rubbish,
scrambling out with sharp, eager barks when his master playfully buried
him, and retreating hastily before the oncoming scythe.

Miss Evelina could not hear, but she knew that the man was talking to
the dog in the pauses of his whistling. She knew also that the dog
liked it, even if he did not understand. She observed that the dog was
not beautiful--could not be called so by any stretch of the
imagination--and yet the man talked to him, made a friend of him, loved
him.

At noon, the Piper laid down his scythe, clambered up on the crumbling
stone wall, and ate his bread and cheese, while the dog nibbled at his
bone. From behind a shutter in an upper room, Miss Evelina noted that
the dog also had bread and cheese, sharing equally with his master.

The Piper went to the well, near the kitchen door, and drank copiously
of the cool, clear water from his silver cup. Then he went back to
work again.

Out in the road, the rubbish accumulated. When the Piper stood behind
it. Miss Evelina could barely see the tip of the red feather that
bobbed rakishly in his hat. Once he disappeared, leaving the dog to
keep a reluctant guard over the spade and scythe. When he came back,
he had a rake and a large basket, which made the collection of rubbish
easier.

Safe in her house, Miss Evelina watched him idly. Her thought was
taken from herself for the first time in all the five-and-twenty years.
She contemplated anew the willing service of Miss Mehitable, who asked
nothing of her except the privilege of leaving daily sustenance at her
barred and forbidding door. "Truly," said Miss Evelina to herself, "it
is a strange world."

The personality of the Piper affected her in a way she could not
analyse. He did not attract her, neither was he wholly repellent. She
did not feel friendly toward him, yet she could not turn wholly aside.
There had been something strangely alluring in his music, which haunted
her even now, though she resented his making game of her and leading
her through the woods as he had.

Over and above and beyond all, she remembered the encounter upon the
road, always with a keen, remorseless pain which cut at her heart like
a knife. Miss Evelina thought she was familiar with knives, but this
one hurt in a new way and cut, seemingly, at a place which had not been
touched before.

Since the "white night" which had turned her hair to lustreless snow,
nothing had hurt her so much. Her coming to the empty house, driven,
as she was, by poverty--entering alone into a tomb of memories and dead
happiness,--had not stabbed so deeply or so surely. She saw herself
first on one peak and then on another, a valley of humiliation and
suffering between which it had taken twenty-five years to cross. From
the greatest hurt at the beginning to the greatest hurt--at the end?
Miss Evelina started from her chair, her hands upon her leaping heart.
The end? Ah, dear God, no! There was no end to grief like hers!

Insistently, through her memory, sounded the pipes o' Pan--the wild,
sweet, tremulous strain which had led her away from the road where she
had been splashed with the mud from Anthony Dexter's carriage wheels.
The man with the red feather in his hat had called her, and she had
come. Now he was digging in her garden, making the desolate place
clean, if not cheerful.

Conscious of an unfamiliar detachment, Miss Evelina settled herself to
think. The first hurt and the long pain which followed it, the blurred
agony of remembrance when she had come back to the empty house, then
the sharp, clean-cut stroke when she stood on the road, her eyes
downcast, and heard the wheels rush by, then clear and challenging, the
pipes o' Pan.

"'There is a divinity that shapes our ends,'" she thought, "'rough-hew
them how we may.'" Where had she heard that before? She remembered,
now--it was a favourite quotation of Anthony Dexter's.

Her lip curled scornfully. Was she never to be free from Anthony
Dexter? Was she always to be confronted with his cowardice, his
shirking, his spoken and written thoughts? Was she always to see his
face as she had seen it last, his great love for her shining in his
eyes for all the world to read? Was she to see forever his pearl
necklace, discoloured, snaky, and cold, as meaningless as the yellow
slip of paper that had come with it?

Where was the divinity that had shaped her course hither? Why had she
been driven back to the place of her crucifixion, to stand veiled in
the road while he drove by and splashed her with mud from his wheels?

Out in the garden, the Piper still strove with the weeds. He had the
place nearly half cleared now. The space on the other side of the
house was, as yet, untouched, and the trees and shrubbery all needed
trimming. The wall was broken in places, earth had drifted upon it,
and grass and weeds had taken root in the crevices.

Upon one side of the house, nearly all of the bare earth had been raked
clean. He was on the western slope, now, where the splendid poppies
had once grown. Pausing in his whistling, the Piper stooped and picked
up some small object. Miss Evelina cowered behind her shielding
shutters, for she guessed that he had found the empty vial which had
contained laudanum.

The Piper sniffed twice at the bottle. His scent was as keen as a
hunting dog's. Then he glanced quickly toward the house where Miss
Evelina, unveiled, shrank back into the farthest corner of an upper
room.

He walked to the gate, no longer whistling, and slowly, thoughtfully,
buried it deep in the rubbish. Could Miss Evelina have seen his face,
she would have marvelled at the tenderness which transfigured it and
wondered at the mist that veiled his eyes.

He stood at the gate for a long time, leaning on his scythe, his back
to the house. In sympathy with his master's mood, the dog was quiet,
and merely nosed about among the rubbish. By a flash of intuition,
Miss Evelina knew that the finding of the bottle had made clear to the
Piper much that he had not known before.

She felt herself an open book before those kind, keen eyes, which
neither sought nor avoided her veiled face. All the sorrow and the
secret suffering would be his, if he chose to read it. Miss Evelina
knew that she must keep away.

The sun set without splendour. Still the Piper stood there, leaning on
his scythe, thinking. All the rubbish in the garden was old, except
the empty laudanum bottle. The label was still legible, and also the
warning word, "Poison." She had put it there herself--he had no doubt
of that.

The dog whined and licked his master's hand, as though to say it was
time to go home. At length the Piper roused himself and gathered up
his tools. He carried them to a shed at the back of the house, and
Miss Evelina, watching, knew that he was coming back to finish his
self-appointed task.

"Yes," said the Piper, "we'll be going. 'T is not needful to bark."

He went down-hill slowly, the little dog trotting beside him and
occasionally licking his hand. They went into the shop, the door of
which was still propped open. The Piper built a fire, removed his coat
and hat, took off his leggings, cleaned his boots, and washed his hands.

Then, unmindful of the fact that it was supper-time, he sat down. The
dog sat down, too, pressing hard against him. The Piper took the dog's
head between his hands and looked long into the loving, eager eyes.

"She will be very beautiful, Laddie," he sighed, at length, "very
beautiful and very brave."

IX

Housecleaning

The brisk, steady tap sounded at Miss Evelina's door. It was a little
after eight, and she opened it, expecting to find her breakfast, as
usual. Much to her surprise, Miss Mehitable stood there, armed with a
pail, mop, and broom. Behind her, shy and frightened, was Araminta,
similarly equipped.

The Reverend Austin Thorpe, having carried a step-ladder to the back
door, had then been abruptly dismissed. Under the handle of her
scrubbing pail, the ministering angel had slipped the tray containing
Miss Evelina's breakfast.

"I've slopped it over some," she said, in explanation, "but you won't
mind that. Someway, I've never had hands enough to do what I've had to
do. Most of the work in the world is slid onto women, and then, as if
that wasn't enough, they're given skirts to hold up, too. Seems to me
that if the Almighty had meant for women to be carrying skirts all
their lives, He'd have give us another hand and elbow in our backs,
like a jinted stove-pipe, for the purpose. Not having the extra hand,
I go short on skirts when I'm cleaning."

Miss Mehitable's clean, crisp, calico gown ceased abruptly at her
ankles. Araminta's blue and white gingham was of a similar length, and
her sleeves, guiltless of ruffles, came only to her dimpled elbows.
Araminta was trying hard not to stare at Miss Evelina's veil while Aunt
Hitty talked.

"We've come," asserted Miss Mehitable, "to clean your house. We've
cleaned our own and we ain't tired yet, so we're going to do some
scrubbing here. I guess it needs it."

Miss Evelina was reminded of the Piper, who was digging in her garden
because he had no garden of his own. "I can't let you," she said,
hesitating over the words. "You're too kind to me, and I'm going to do
my cleaning myself."

"Fiddlesticks!" snorted Miss Hitty, brushing Miss Evelina from her path
and marching triumphantly in. "You ain't strong enough to do cleaning.
You just set down and eat your breakfast. Me and Minty will begin
upstairs."

In obedience to a gesture from her aunt, Araminta crept upstairs. The
house had not yet taken on a habitable look, and as she stood in the
large front room, deep in dust and draped with cobwebs, she was afraid.

Meanwhile Miss Mehitable had built a fire in the kitchen stove, put
kettles of water on to heat, stretched a line across the yard, and
brought in the step-ladder. Miss Evelina sat quietly, and apparently
took no notice of the stir that was going on about her. She had not
touched her breakfast.

"Why don't you eat?" inquired Miss Hitty, not unkindly.

"I'm not hungry," returned Miss Evelina, timidly.

"Well," answered Miss Mehitable, her perception having acted in the
interval, "I don't wonder you ain't, with all this racket goin' on.
I'll be out of here in a minute and then you can set here, nice and
quiet, and eat. I never like to eat when there's anything else going
on around me. It drives me crazy."

True to her word, she soon ascended the stairs, where the quaking
Araminta awaited her. "It'll take some time for the water to heat,"
observed Miss Hitty, "but there's plenty to do before we get to
scrubbing. Remember what I've told you, Minty. The first step in
cleaning a room is to take out of it everything that ain't nailed to
it."

Every window was opened to its highest point. Some were difficult to
move, but with the aid of Araminta's strong young arms, they eventually
went up as desired. From the windows descended torrents of bedding,
rugs, and curtains, a veritable dust storm being raised in the process.

"When I go down after the hot water, I'll hang these things on the
line," said Miss Mehitable, briskly. "They can't get any dustier on
the ground than they are now."

The curtains were so frail that they fell apart in Miss Hitty's hands.
"You can make her some new ones, Minty," she said. "She can get some
muslin at Mis' Allen's, and you can sew on curtains for a while instead
of quilts. It'll be a change."

None too carefully, Miss Mehitable tore up the rag carpet and threw it
out of the window, sneezing violently. "There's considerable less dirt
here already than there was when we come," she continued, "though we
ain't done any real cleaning yet. She can't never put that carpet down
again, it's too weak. We'll get a bucket of paint and paint the
floors. I guess Sarah Grey had plenty of rugs. She's got a lot of rag
carpeting put away in the attic if the moths ain't ate it, and, now
that I think of it, I believe she packed it into the cedar chest.
Anyway I advised her to. 'It'll come handy,' I told her, 'for Evelina,
if you don't live to use it yourself.' So if the moths ain't got the
good of it, there's carpet that can be made into rugs with some fringe
on the ends. I always did like the smell of fresh paint, anyhow.
There's nothin' you can put into a house that'll make it smell as fresh
and clean as paint. Varnish is good, too, but it's more expensive.
I'll go down now, and get the hot water and the ladder. I reckon she's
through with her breakfast by this time."

Miss Evelina had finished her breakfast, as the empty tray proved. She
sat listlessly in her chair and the water on the stove was boiling over.

"My sakes, Evelina," cried Miss Hitty, sharply, "I should think
you'd--I should think you'd hear the water fallin' on the stove," she
concluded, lamely. It was impossible to scold her as she would have
scolded Araminta.

"I'm goin' out now to put things on the line," continued Miss Hitty.
"When I get Minty started to cleanin', I'll come down and beat."

Miss Evelina made no response. She watched her brisk neighbour
wearily, without interest, as she hurried about the yard, dragging
mattresses into the sunlight, hanging musty bedding on the line, and
carrying the worn curtains to the mountain of rubbish which the Piper
had reared in front of the house.

"That creeter with the red feather can clean the yard if he's a mind
to," mused Miss Hitty, who was fully conversant with the Piper's work,
"but he can't clean the house. I'm going to do that myself."

She went in and was presently in her element. The smell of yellow soap
was as sweet incense in the nostrils of Miss Hitty, and the sound of
the scrubbing brush was melodious in her ears. She brushed down the
walls with a flannel cloth tied over a broom, washed the windows,
scrubbed every inch of the woodwork, and prepared the floor for its
destined coat of paint.

Then she sent Araminta into the next room with the ladder, and began on
the furniture. This, too, was thoroughly scrubbed, and as much paint
and varnish as would come off was allowed to come. "It'll have to be
painted," thought Miss Hitty, scrubbing happily, "but when it is
painted, it'll be clean underneath, and that's more than it has been.
Evelina 'll sleep clean to-night for the first time since she come
here. There's a year's washin' to be done in this house and before I
get round to that, I'll lend her some of my clean sheets and a quilt or
two of Minty's."

Adjourning to the back yard, Miss Mehitable energetically beat a
mattress until no more dust rose from it. With Araminta's aid she
carried it upstairs and put it in place. "I'm goin' home now after my
dinner and Evelina's," said Miss Hitty, "and when I come back I'll
bring sheets and quilts for this. You clean till I come back, and then
you can go home for your own lunch."

Araminta assented and continued her work. She never questioned her
aunt's dictates, and this was why there was no friction between the two.

When Miss Mehitable came back, however, half buried under the mountain
of bedding, she was greeted by a portentous silence. Hurrying
upstairs, she discovered that Araminta had fallen from the ladder and
was in a white and helpless heap on the floor, while Miss Evelina
chafed her hands and sprinkled her face with water.

"For the land's sake!" cried Miss Hitty. "What possessed Minty to go
and fall off the ladder! Help me pick her up, Evelina, and we'll lay
her on the bed in the room we've just cleaned. She'll come to
presently. She ain't hurt."

But Araminta did not "come to." Miss Mehitable tried everything she
could think of, and fairly drenched the girl with cold water, without
avail.

"What did it?" she demanded with some asperity. "Did she see anything
that scared her?"

"No," answered Miss Evelina, shrinking farther back into her veil. "I
was downstairs and heard her scream, then she fell and I ran up. It
was just a minute or two before you came in."

"Well," sighed Miss Hitty, "I suppose we'll have to have a doctor. You
fix that bed with the clean things I brought. It's easy to do it
without movin' her after the under sheet is on and I'll help you with
that. Don't pour any more cold water on her. If water would have
brung her to she'd be settin' up by now. And don't get scared. Minty
ain't hurt."

With this comforting assurance, Miss Hitty sped down-stairs, but her
mind was far from at rest. At the gate she stopped, suddenly
confronted by the fact that she could not bring Anthony Dexter to
Evelina's house.

"What'll I do!" moaned Miss Hitty. "What'll I do! Minty'll die if she
ain't dead now!"

The tears rolled down her wrinkled cheeks, but she ran on, as fast as
her feet would carry her, toward Doctor Dexter's. "The way'll be
opened," she thought--"I'm sure it will."

The way was opened in an unexpected fashion, for Doctor Ralph Dexter
answered Miss Hitty's frantic ring at his door.

"I'd clean forgotten you," she stammered, wholly taken aback. "I don't
believe you're anything but a play doctor, but, as things is, I reckon
you'll have to do."

Doctor Ralph Dexter threw back his head and laughed--a clear, ringing
boyish laugh which was very good to hear.

"'Play doctor' is good," he said, "when anybody's worked as much like a
yellow dog as I have. Anyhow, I'll have to do, for father's not at
home. Who's dead?"

"It's Araminta," explained Miss Hitty, already greatly relieved. "She
fell off a step-ladder and ain't come to yet."

Doctor Ralph's face grew grave. "Wait a minute." He went into the
office and returned almost immediately. As luck would have it, the
doctor's carriage was at the door, waiting for a hurry call.

"Jump in," commanded Doctor Ralph. "You can tell me about it on the
way. Where do we go?"

Miss Hitty issued directions to the driver and climbed in. In spite of
her trouble, she was not insensible of the comfort of the cushions nor
the comparative luxury of the conveyance. She was also mindful of the
excitement her presence in the doctor's carriage produced in her
acquaintances as they rushed past.

By dint of much questioning, Doctor Ralph obtained a full account of
the accident, all immaterial circumstances being brutally eliminated as
they cropped up in the course of her speech. "It's God's own mercy,"
said Miss Hitty, as they stopped at the gate, "that we'd cleaned that
room. We couldn't have got it any cleaner if 't was for a layin' out
instead of a sickness. Oh, Ralph," she pleaded, "don't let Minty die!"

"Hush!" said Doctor Ralph, sternly. He spoke with an authority new to
Miss Hitty, who, in earlier days, had been wont to drive Ralph out of
her incipient orchard with a bed slat, sharpened at one end into a
formidable weapon of offence.

Araminta was still unconscious, but she was undressed, and in bed, clad
in one of Miss Evelina's dainty but yellowed nightgowns. Doctor Ralph
worked with incredible quickness and Miss Hitty watched him, wondering,
frightened, yet with a certain sneaking confidence in him.

"Fracture of the ankle," he announced, briefly, "and one or two bad
bruises. Plaster cast and no moving."

When Araminta returned to consciousness, she thought she was dead and
had gone to Heaven. The room was heavy with soothing antiseptic
odours, and she seemed to be suspended in a vapoury cloud. On the edge
of the cloud hovered Miss Evelina, veiled, and Aunt Hitty, who was most
assuredly crying. There was a stranger, too, and Araminta gazed at him
questioningly.

Doctor Ralph's hand, firm and cool, closed over hers. "Don't you
remember me, Araminta?" he asked, much as one would speak to a child.
"The last time I saw you, you were hanging out a basket of clothes.
The grass was very green and the sky was a bright blue, and the petals
of apple blossoms were drifting all round your feet. I called to you,
and you ran into the house. Now I've got you where you can't get away."

Araminta's pale cheeks flushed. She looked pleadingly at Aunt Hitty,
who had always valiantly defended her from the encroachments of boys
and men.

"You come downstairs with me, Ralph Dexter," commanded Aunt Hitty.
"I've got some talking to do to you. Evelina, you set here with
Araminta till I get back."

Miss Evelina drew a damp, freshly scrubbed chair to the bedside. "I
fell off the step-ladder, didn't I?" asked Araminta, vaguely.

"Yes, dear." Miss Evelina's voice was very low and sweet. "You fell,
but you're all right now. You're going to stay here until you get
well. Aunt Hitty and I are going to take care of you."

In the cobwebbed parlour, meanwhile, Doctor Ralph was in the hands of
the attorney for the prosecution, who questioned him ceaselessly.

"What's wrong with Minty?"

"Broken ankle."

"How did it happen to get broke?" demanded Miss Hitty, with harshness.
"I never knew an ankle to get broke by falling off a ladder."

"Any ankle will break," temporised Dr. Ralph, "if it is hurt at the
right point."

"I wish I could have had your father."

"Father wasn't there," returned Ralph, secretly amused. "You had to
take me."

Miss Hitty's face softened. There were other reasons why she could not
have had Ralph's father.

"When can Minty go home?"

"Minty can't go home until she's well. She's got to stay right here."

"If she'd fell in the yard," asked Miss Hitty, peering keenly at him
over her spectacles, "would she have had to stay in the yard till she
got well?"

The merest suspicion of a dimple crept into the corner of Doctor
Ralph's mouth. His eyes danced, but otherwise his face was very grave.
"She would," he said, in his best professional manner. "A shed would
have had to be built over her." He fancied that Miss Hitty's constant
presence might prove disastrous to a nervous patient. He liked the
quiet, veiled woman, who obeyed his orders without question.

"How much," demanded Miss Mehitable, "is it going to cost?"

"I don't know," answered Ralph, honestly. "I'll have to come every day
for a long time--perhaps twice a day," he added, remembering the curve
of Araminta's cheek and her long, dark lashes.

Miss Hitty made an indescribable sound. Pain, fear, disbelief, and
contempt were all mingled in it.

"Don't worry," said Ralph, kindly. "You know doctoring sometimes comes
by wholesale."

Miss Hitty's relief was instantaneous and evident. "There's regular
prices, I suppose," she said. "Broken toe, broken ankle, broken
leg--each one so much. Is that it?"

Doctor Ralph was seized with a violent fit of coughing.

"How much is ankles?" demanded his inquisitor.

"I'll leave that all to you, Miss Hitty," said Ralph, when he recovered
his composure. "You can pay me whatever you think is right."

"I shouldn't pay you anything I didn't think was right," she returned,
sharply, "unless I was made to by law. As long as you've got to come
every day for a spell, and mebbe twice, I'll give you five dollars the
day Minty walks again. If that won't do, I'll get the doctor over to
the Ridge."

Doctor Ralph coughed so hard that he was obliged to cover his face with
his handkerchief. "I should think," said Miss Mehitable, "that if you
were as good a doctor as you pretend to be, you'd cure your own
coughin' spells. First thing you know, you'll be running into quick
consumption. Will five dollars do?"

Ralph bowed, but his face was very red and he appeared to be struggling
with some secret emotion. "I couldn't think of taking as much as five
dollars, Miss Hitty," he said, gallantly. "I should not have ventured
to suggest over four and a half."

"He's cheaper than his father," thought Miss Hitty, quickly suspicious.
"That's because he ain't as good a doctor."

"Four and a half, then," she said aloud. "Is it a bargain?"

"It is," said Ralph, "and I'll take the best possible care of Araminta.
Shake hands on it." He went out, his shoulders shaking with suppressed
merriment, and Miss Hitty watched him through the grimy front window.

"Seems sort of decent," she thought, "and not too grasping. He might
be real nice if he wasn't a man."

X

Ralph's First Case

"Father," said Ralph at breakfast, "I got my first case yesterday."

Anthony Dexter smiled at the tall, straight young fellow who sat
opposite him. He did not care about the case but he found endless
satisfaction in Ralph.

"What was it?" he asked, idly.

"Broken ankle. I only happened to get it because you were out. I was
accused of being a 'play doctor,' but, under the circumstances, I had
to do."

"Miss Mehitable?" queried Doctor Dexter, with lifted brows. "I
wouldn't have thought her ankles could be broken by anything short of
machinery."

"Guess they couldn't," laughed Ralph. "Anyhow, they were all right at
last accounts. It's Araminta--the pretty little thing who lives with
the dragon."

"Oh!" There was the merest shade of tenderness in the exclamation.
"How did it happen?"

"Divesting the circumstance of all irrelevant material," returned
Ralph, reaching for another crisp roll, "it was like this. With true
missionary spirit and in the belief that cleanliness is closely related
to godliness, Miss Mehitable determined to clean the old house on the
hill. The shack has been empty a long time; but now has a tenant--of
whom more anon.

"Miss Mehitable's own mansion, it seems, has been scrubbed inside and
out, and painted and varnished and generally torn up, even though it is
early in the year for such unholy doings. Having finished her own
premises, and still having strength in her elbow, and the housecleaning
microbe being yet on an unchecked rampage through her virtuous system,
and there being some soap left, Miss Mehitable wanders up to the house
with her pail.

"Shackled to her, also with a pail, is the helpless Araminta. Among
the impedimenta are the Reverend Austin Thorpe and the step-ladder, the
Reverend Thorpe being, dismissed at the door and allowed to run amuck
for the day.

"The Penates are duly thrown out of the windows, the veiled chatelaine
sitting by mute and helpless. One room is scrubbed till it's so clean
a fly would fall down in it, and the ministering angel goes back to her
own spotless residence after bedding. I believe I didn't understand
exactly why she went after the bedding, but I can doubtless find out
the next time I see Miss Mehitable.

"In the absence of the superintendent, Araminta seizes the opportunity
to fall off the top of the ladder, lighting on her ankle, and fainting
most completely on the way down. The rest is history.

"Doctor Dexter being out, his son, perforce, has to serve. The ankle
being duly set and the excitement allayed, terms are made in private
with the 'play doctor.' How much, Father, do you suppose I am to be
paid the day Araminta walks again?"

Doctor Dexter dismissed the question. "Couldn't guess," he grunted.

"Four and a half," said Ralph, proudly.

"Hundred?" asked Doctor Dexter, with a gleam of interest. "You must
have imbibed high notions at college."

"Hundred!" shouted Ralph, "Heavens, no! Four dollars and a half! Four
dollars and fifty cents, marked down from five for this day only.
Special remnant sale of repaired ankles!" The boy literally doubled
himself in his merriment.

"You bloated bondholder," said his father, fondly. "Don't be
extravagant with it."

"I won't," returned Ralph, between gasps. "I thought I'd put some of
it into unincumbered real estate and loan the rest on good security at
five per cent."

Into the lonely house Ralph's laughter came like the embodied spirit of
Youth. It searched out the hidden corners, illuminated the shadows,
stirred the silences to music. A sunbeam danced on the stair, where,
according to Doctor Dexter's recollection, no sunbeam had ever dared to
dance before. Ah, it, was good to have the boy at home!

"Miss Mehitable," observed Doctor Dexter, after a pause, "is like the
poor--always with us. I seldom get to a patient who is really in
danger before she does. She seems to have secret wires stretched all
over the country and she has the clinical history of the neighbourhood
at her tongue's end. What's more, she distributes it, continually,
painstakingly, untiringly. Every detail of every case I have charge of
is spread broadcast, by Miss Mehitable. I'd have a bad reputation,
professionally, if so much about my patients was generally known
anywhere else."

"Is she a good nurse?" asked Ralph.

"According to her light, yes; but she isn't willing to work on
recognised lines. She'll dose my patients with roots and herbs of her
own concocting if she gets a chance, and proudly claim credit for the
cure. If the patient dies, everybody blames me. I can't sit by a case
of measles and keep Miss Mehitable from throwing sassafras tea into it
more than ten hours at a stretch."

"Why don't you talk to her?" queried Ralph.

"Talk to her!" snorted Doctor Dexter. "Do you suppose I haven't
ruptured my vocal cords more than once? I might just as well put my
head out of the front window and whisper it as to talk to her."

"She won't monkey with my case," said Ralph. His mouth was firmly set.

"Won't she?" parried Doctor Dexter, sarcastically. "You go up there
and see if the cast isn't off and the fracture being fomented with
pennyroyal tea or some such mess."

"I always had an impression," said Ralph, thoughtfully, "that people
were afraid of you."

"They are," grunted Doctor Dexter, "but Miss Mehitable isn't 'people.'
She goes by herself, and isn't afraid of man or devil. If I had horns
and a barbed tail and breathed smoke, I couldn't scare her. The
patient's family, being more afraid of her than of me, invariably give
her free access to the sick-room."

"I don't want her to worry Araminta," said Ralph.

"If you don't want Araminta worried," replied Doctor Dexter,
conclusively, "you'd better put a few things into your suit case, and
move up there until she walks."

"All right," said Ralph. "I'm here to rout your malign influence.
It's me to sit by Araminta's crib and scare the old girl off. I'll bet
I can fix her."

"If you can," returned Doctor Dexter, "you are considerably more
intelligent than I take you to be."

With the welfare of his young patient very earnestly at heart, Ralph
went up the hill. Miss Evelina admitted him, and Ralph drew her into
the dusty parlour. "Can you take care of anybody?" he inquired,
without preliminary. "Can you follow directions?"

"I--think so."

"Then," Ralph went on, "I turn Araminta over to you. Miss Mehitable
has nothing to do with the case from this moment. Araminta is in your
care and mine. You take directions from me and from nobody else. Do
you understand?"

"Yes," whispered Miss Evelina, "but Mehitable won't--won't let me."

"Won't let you nothing," said Ralph, scornfully. "She's to be kept
out."

"She--she--" stammered Miss Evelina, "she's up there now."

Ralph started upstairs. Half-way up, he heard the murmur of voices,
and went up more quietly. He stepped lightly along the hall and stood
just outside Araminta's door, shamelessly listening.

"You ought to be ashamed of yourself," said an indignant feminine
voice. "The idea of a big girl like you not bein' able to stand on a
ladder without fallin' off. It's your mother's foolishness cropping
out in you, after all I've done for you. I've stood on ladders all my
life and never so much as slipped. I believe you did it a purpose,
though what you thought you'd get for doin' it puzzles me some. P'raps
you thought you'd get out of the housecleanin' but you won't. When it
comes time for the Fall cleanin,' you'll do every stroke yourself, to
pay for all this trouble and expense. Do you know what it's costin'?
Four dollars and a half of good money! I should think you'd be
ashamed!"

"But, Aunt Hitty--" began the girl, pleadingly.

"Stop! Don't you 'Aunt Hitty' me," continued the angry voice. "You
needn't tell me you didn't fall off that ladder a purpose. Four
dollars and a half and all the trouble besides! I hope you'll think of
that while you're laying here like a lady and your poor old aunt is
slavin' for you, workin' her fingers to the bone."

"If I can ever get the four dollars and a half," cried Araminta, with
tears in her voice, "I will give it back to you--oh, indeed I will!"

At this point, Doctor Ralph Dexter entered the room, his eyes snapping
dangerously.

"Miss Mehitable," he said with forced calmness, "will you kindly come
downstairs a moment? I wish to speak to you."

Dazed and startled, Miss Mehitable rose from her chair and followed
him. There was in Ralph's voice a quality which literally compelled
obedience. He drew her into the dusty parlour and closed all the doors
carefully. Miss Evelina was nowhere to be seen.

"I was standing in the hall," said Ralph, coolly, "and I heard every
word you said to that poor, helpless child. You ought to know, if you
know anything at all, that nobody ever fell off a step-ladder on
purpose. She's hurt, and she's badly hurt, and she's not in any way to
blame for it, and I positively forbid you ever to enter that room
again."

"Forbid!" bristled Aunt Hitty. "Who are you?" she demanded
sarcastically, "to 'forbid' me from nursing my own niece!"

"I am the attending physician," returned Ralph, calmly. "It is my
case, and nobody else is going to manage it. I have already arranged
with--the lady who lives here--to take care of Araminta, and----"

"Arrange no such thing," interrupted Miss Hitty, violently. Her temper
was getting away from her.

"One moment," interrupted Ralph. "If I hear of your entering that room
again before I say Araminta is cured, I will charge you just exactly
one hundred dollars for my services, and collect it by law."

Miss Hitty's lower jaw dropped, her strong, body shook. She gazed at
Ralph as one might look at an intimate friend gone suddenly daft. She
had heard of people who lost their reason without warning. Was it
possible that she was in the room with a lunatic?

She edged toward the door, keeping her eyes on Ralph.

He anticipated her, and opened it with a polite flourish. "Remember,"
he warned her. "One step into Araminta's room, one word addressed to
her, and it costs you just exactly one hundred dollars." He opened the
other door and pointed suggestively down the hill, She lost no time in
obeying the gesture, but scudded down the road as though His Satanic
Majesty himself was in her wake.

Ralph laughed to himself all the way upstairs but in the hall he paused
and his face grew grave again. From Araminta's room came the sound of
sobbing.

She did not see him enter, for her face was hidden in her pillow.
"Araminta!" said Ralph, tenderly, "You poor child."

Touched by the unexpected sympathy, Araminta raised her head to look at
him. "Oh Doctor--" she began,

"Doctor Ralph," said the young man, sitting down on the bed beside her.
"My father is Doctor Dexter and I am Doctor Ralph."

"I'm ashamed of myself for being such a baby," sobbed Araminta. "I
didn't mean to cry."

"You're not a baby at all," said Doctor Ralph, soothingly, taking her
hot hand in his. "You're hurt, and you've been bothered, and if you
want to cry, you can. Here's my handkerchief."

After a little, her sobs ceased. Doctor Ralph still sat there,
regarding her with a sort of questioning tenderness which was entirely
outside of Araminta's brief experience.

"You're not to be bothered any more," he said. "I've seen your aunt,
and she's not to set foot in this room again until you get well. If
she even speaks to you from the hall, you're to tell me."

Araminta gazed at him, wide-eyed and troubled. "I can't take care of
myself," she said, with a pathetic little smile.

"You're not going to. The lady who lives here is going to take care of
you."

"Miss Evelina? She got burned because she was bad and she has to wear
a veil all the time."

"How was she bad?" asked Ralph.

"I don't just know," whispered Araminta, cautiously. "Aunt Hitty
didn't know, or else she wouldn't tell me, but she was bad. She went
to a man's house. She----"

Then Araminta remembered that it was Doctor Dexter's house to which
Miss Evelina had gone. In shame and terror, she hid her face again.

"I don't believe anybody ever got burned just for being bad," Ralph was
saying, "but your face is hot and I'm going to cool it for you."

He brought a bowl of cold water, and with his handkerchief bathed
Araminta's flushed face and her hot hands. "Doesn't that feel good?"
he asked, when the traces of tears had been practically removed.

"Yes," sighed Araminta, gratefully, "but I've always washed my own face
before. I saw a cat once," she continued. "He was washing his
children's faces."

"Must have been a lady cat," observed Ralph, with a smile.

"The little cats," pursued Araminta, "looked to be very soft. I think
they liked it."

"They are soft," admitted Ralph. "Don't you think so?"

"I don't know. I never had a little cat."

"Never had a kitten?" cried Ralph. "You poor, defrauded child! What
kind of a kitten would you like best?"

"A little grey cat," said Araminta, seriously, "a little grey cat with
blue eyes, but Aunt Hitty would never let me have one."

"See here," said Ralph. "Aunt Hitty isn't running this show. I'm
stage manager and ticket taker and advance man and everything else, all
rolled into one. I can't promise positively, because I'm not posted on
the cat supply around here, but if I can find one, you shall have a
grey kitten with blue eyes, and you shall have some kind of a kitten,
anyhow."

"Oh!" cried Araminta, her eyes shining. "Truly?"

"Truly," nodded Ralph.

"Would--would--" hesitated Araminta--"would it be any more than four
dollars and a half if you brought me the little cat? Because if it is,
I can't----"

"It wouldn't," interrupted Ralph. "On any bill over a dollar and a
quarter, I always throw in a kitten. Didn't you know that?"

"No," answered Araminta, with a happy little laugh. How kind he was,
eyen though he was a man! Perhaps, if he knew how wicked her mother
had been, he would not be so kind to her. The stern Puritan conscience
rose up and demanded explanation.

"I--I--must tell you," she said, "before you bring me the little cat.
My mother--she--" here Araminta turned her crimson face away. She
swallowed a lump in her throat, then said, bravely: "My mother was
married!"

Doctor Ralph Dexter laughed--a deep, hearty, boyish laugh that rang
cheerfully through the empty house. "I'll tell you something," he
said. He leaned over and whispered in her ear; "So was mine!"

Araminta's tell-tale face betrayed her relief. He knew the worst
now--and he was similarly branded. His mother, too, had been an
outcast, beyond Aunt Hitty's pale. There was comfort in the thought,
though Araminta had been taught not to rejoice at another's misfortune.

Ralph strolled off down the hill, his hands in his pockets, for the
moment totally forgetting the promised kitten. "The little saint," he
mused, "she's been kept in a cage all her life. She doesn't know
anything except what the dragon has taught her. She looks at life with
the dragon's sidewise squint. I'll open the door for her," he
continued, mentally, "for I think she's worth saving. Hope to Moses
and the prophets I don't forget that cat."

No suspicion that he could forget penetrated Araminta's consciousness.
It had been pleasant to have Doctor Ralph sit there and wash her face,
talking to her meanwhile, even though he was a man, and men were
poison. Like a strong, sure bond between them, Araminta felt their
common disgrace.

"His mother was married," she thought, drowsily, "and so was mine.
Neither of them knew any better. Oh, Lord," prayed Araminta, with
renewed vigour, "keep me from the contamination of marriage, for Thy
sake. Amen."

XI

The Loose Link

Seated primly on a chair in Miss Evelina's kitchen, Miss Mehitable gave
a full account of her sentiments toward Doctor Ralph Dexter. She began
with his birth and remarked that he was a puny infant, and, for a time,
it was feared that he was "light headed."

"He got his senses after a while, though," she continued, grudgingly,
"that is, such as they are."

She proceeded through his school-days, repeated unflattering opinions
which his teachers had expressed to her, gave an elaborate description
of the conflict that ensued when she caught him stealing green apples
from her incipient, though highly promising, orchard, alluded darkly to
his tendency to fight with his schoolmates, suggested that certain
thefts of chickens ten years and more ago could, if the truth were
known, safely be attributed to Ralph Dexter, and speculated upon the
trials and tribulations a scapegrace son might cause an upright and
respected father.

All the dead and buried crimes of the small boys of the village were
excavated from the past and charged to Ralph Dexter. Miss Mehitable
brought the record fully up to the time he left Rushton for college,
having been prepared for entrance by his father. Then she began with
Araminta.

First upon the schedule were Miss Mehitable's painful emotions when
Barbara Smith had married Henry Lee. She croaked anew all her
raven-like prophecies of misfortune which had added excitement to the
wedding, and brought forth the birth of Araminta in full proof. Full
details of Barbara's death were given, and the highly magnified events
which had led to her adoption of the child. Condescending for a moment
to speak of the domestic virtues, Miss Mehitable explained, with proper
pride, how she had "brought up" Araminta. The child had been kept
close at the side of her guardian angel, never had been to school, had
been carefully taught at home, had not been allowed to play with other
children; in short, save at extremely rare intervals, Araminta had seen
no one unless in the watchful presence of her counsellor.

"And if you don't think that's work," observed Miss Hitty, piously,
"you just keep tied to one person for almost nineteen years, day and
night, never lettin' 'em out of your sight, and layin' the foundation
of their manners and morals and education, and see how you'll feel when
a blackmailing sprig of a play-doctor threatens to collect a hundred
dollars from you if you dast to nurse your own niece!"

Miss Evelina, silent as always, was moving restlessly about the
kitchen. Unaccustomed since her girlhood to activity of any
description, she found her new tasks hard. Muscles, long unused, ached
miserably from exertion. Yet Araminta had to be taken care of and her
room kept clean.

The daily visits of Doctor Ralph, who was almost painfully neat, had
made Miss Evelina ashamed of her house, though he had not appeared to
notice that anything was wrong. She avoided him when she could, but it
was not always possible, for directions had to be given and reports
made. Miss Evelina never looked at him directly. One look into his
eyes, so like his father's, had made her so faint that she would have
fallen, had not Doctor Ralph steadied her with his strong arm.

To her, he was Anthony Dexter in the days of his youth, though she
continually wondered to find it so. She remembered a story she had
read, a long time ago, of a young woman who lost her husband of a few
weeks in a singularly pathetic manner. In exploring a mountain, he
fell into a crevasse, and his body could not be recovered. Scientists
calculated that, at the rate the glacier was moving, his body might be
expected to appear at the foot of the mountain in about twenty-three
years; so, grimly, the young bride set herself to wait.

At the appointed time, the glacier gave up its dead, in perfect
preservation, owing to the intense cold. But the woman who had waited
for her husband thus was twenty-three years older; she had aged, and he
was still young. In some such way had Anthony Dexter come back to her;
eager, boyish, knowing none of life except its joy, while she, a
quarter of a century older, had borne incredible griefs, been wasted by
long vigils, and now stood, desolate, at the tomb of a love which was
not dead, but continually tore at its winding sheet and prayed for
release.

To Evelina, at times, the past twenty-five years seemed like a long
nightmare. This was Anthony Dexter--this boy with the quick, light
step, the ringing laugh, the broad shoulders and clear, true eyes. No
terror lay between them, all was straight and right; yet the
realisation still enshrouded her like a black cloud.

"And," said Miss Hitty, mournfully, "after ail my patience and hard
work in bringing up Araminta as a lady should be brought up, and having
taught her to beware of men and even of boys, she's took away from me
when she's sick, and nobody allowed to see her except a blackmailing
play-doctor, who is putting Heaven knows what devilment into her head.
I suppose there's nothing to prevent me from finishing the
housecleaning, if I don't speak to my own niece as I pass her door?"

She spoke inquiringly, but Miss Evelina did not reply.

"Most folks," continued Miss Hitty, with asperity, "is pleased enough
to have their houses cleaned for 'em to say 'thank you,' but I'm some
accustomed to ingratitude. What I do now in the way of cleanin' will
be payin' for the nursin' of Araminta."

Still Miss Evelina did not answer, her thoughts being far away.

"Maybe I did speak cross to Minty," admitted Miss Hitty, grudgingly,
"at a time when I had no business to. If I did, I'm willin' to tell
her so, but not that blackmailing play-doctor with a hundred-dollar
bill for a club. I was clean out of patience with Minty for falling
off the ladder, but I guess, as he says, she didn't go for to do it.
'T ain't in reason for folks to step off ladders or out of windows
unless they're walkin' in their sleep, and I've never let Minty sleep
in the daytime."

Unceasingly, Miss Mehitable prattled on. Reminiscence, anecdote, and
philosophical observations succeeded one another with startling
rapidity, ending always in vituperation and epithet directed toward
Araminta's physician. Dark allusions to the base ingratitude of
everybody with whom Miss Hitty had ever been concerned alternately
cumbered her speech. At length the persistent sound wore upon Miss
Evelina, much as the vibration of sound may distress one totally deaf.

The kitchen door was open and Miss Evelina went outdoors. Miss
Mehitable continued to converse, then shortly perceived that she was
alone. "Well, I never!" she gasped. "Guess I'll go home!"

Her back was very stiff and straight when she marched downhill, firmly
determined to abandon Evelina, scorn Doctor Ralph Dexter, and leave
Araminta to her well-deserved fate. One thought and one only
illuminated her gloom. "He ain't got his four dollars and a half,
yet," she chuckled, craftily. "Mebbe he'll get it and mebbe he won't.
We'll see."

While straying about the garden. Miss Evelina saw her unwelcome guest
take her militant departure, and reproached herself for her lack of
hospitality. Miss Mehitable had been very kind to her and deserved
only kindness in return. She had acted upon impulse and was ashamed.

Miss Evelina meditated calling her back, but the long years of
self-effacement and inactivity had left her inert, with capacity only
for suffering. That very suffering to which she had become accustomed
had of late assumed fresh phases. She was hurt continually in new
ways, yet, after the first shock of returning to her old home, not so
much as she had expected. It is a way of life, and one of its inmost
compensations--this finding of a reality so much easier than our fears.

April had come over the hills, singing, with a tinkle of rain and a
rush of warm winds, and yet the Piper had not returned. His tools were
in the shed, and the mountain of rubbish was still in the road in front
of the house. Half of the garden had not been touched. On one side of
the house was the bare brown earth, with tiny green shoots springing up
through it, and on the other was a twenty-five years' growth of weeds.
Miss Evelina reflected that the place was not unlike her own life; half
of it full of promise, a forbidding wreck in the midst of it, and,
beyond it, desolation, ended only by a stone wall.

"Did you think," asked a cheerful voice at her elbow, "that I was never
coming back to finish my job?"

Miss Evelina started, and gazed into the round, smiling face of Piper
Tom, who was accompanied, as always, by his faithful dog.

"'T is not our way," he went on, including the yellow mongrel in the
pronoun, "to leave undone what we've set our hands and paws to do, eh,
Laddie?"

He waited a moment, but Miss Evelina did not speak.

"I got some seeds for my garden," he continued, taking bulging parcels
from the pockets of his short, shaggy coat. "The year's sorrow is at
an end."

"Sorrow never comes to an end," she cried, bitterly.

"Doesn't it," he asked. "How old is yours?"

"Twenty-five years," she answered, choking. The horror of it was
pressing heavily upon her.

"Then," said the Piper, very gently, "I'm thinking there is something
wrong. No sorrow should last more than a year--'t is written all
around us so."

"Written? I have never seen it written."

"No," returned the Piper, kindly, "but 't is because you have not
looked to see. Have you ever known a tree that failed to put out its
green leaves in the Spring, unless it had died from lightning or old
age? When a rose blossoms, then goes to sleep, does it wait for more
than a year before it blooms again? Is it more than a year from bud to
bud, from flower to flower, from fruit to fruit? 'T is God's way of
showing that a year of darkness is enough,--at a time."

The Piper's voice was very tender; the little dog lay still at his
feet. She leaned against the crumbling wall, and turned her veiled
face away.

"'T is not for us to be happy without trying," continued the Piper,
"any more than it is for a tree to bear fruit without effort. All the
beauty and joy in the world are the result of work--work for each other
and in ourselves. When you see a butterfly over a field of clover, 't
is because he has worked to get out of his chrysalis. He was not
content to abide within his veil."

"Suppose," said Miss Evelina, in a voice that was scarcely audible,
"that he couldn't get out?"

"Ah, but he could," answered the Piper. "We can get out of anything,
if we try. I'm not meaning by escape, but by growth. You put an acorn
into a crevice in a rock. It has no wings, it cannot fly out, nobody
will lift it out. But it grows, and the oak splits the rock; even
takes from the rock nourishment for its root."

"People are not like acorns and butterflies," she stammered. "We are
not subject to the same laws."

"Why not?" asked the Piper. "God made us all, and I'm thinking we're
all brothers, having, in a way, the same Father. 'T is not for me to
hold myself above Laddie here, though he's a dog and I'm a man. 'T is
not for me to say that men are better than dogs; that they're more
honest, more true, more kind. The seed that I have in my hand, here,
I'm thinking 't is my brother, too. If I plant it, water it, and keep
the weeds away from it, 't will give me back a blossom. 'T is service
binds us all into the brotherhood."

"Did you never," asked Evelina, thickly, "hear of chains?"

"Aye," said the Piper, "chains of our own making. 'T is like the
ancient people in one of my ragged books. When one man killed another,
they chained the dead man to the living one, so that he was forever
dragging his own sin. When he struck the blow, he made his own chain."

"I am chained," cried Evelina, piteously, "but not to my own sin."

"'T is wrong," said the Piper; "I'm thinking there's a loose link
somewhere that can be slipped off."

"I cannot find it," she sobbed; "I've hunted for it in the dark for
twenty-five years."

"Poor soul," said the Piper, softly. "'T is because of the darkness,
I'm thinking. From the distaff of Eternity, you take the thread of
your life, but you're sitting in the night, and God meant you to be a
spinner in the sun. When the day breaks for you, you'll be finding the
loose link to set yourself free."

"When the day breaks," repeated Evelina, in a whisper. "There is no
day."

"There is day. I've come to lead you to it. We'll find the light
together and set the thread to going right again."

"Who are you?" cried Evelina, suddenly terror stricken.

The Piper laughed, a low, deep friendly laugh. Then he doffed his grey
hat and bowed, sweeping the earth with the red feather, in cavalier
fashion. "Tom Barnaby, at your service, but most folks call me Piper
Tom. 'T is the flute, you know," he continued in explanation, "that
I'm forever playing on in the woods, having no knowledge of the
instrument, but sort of liking the sound."

Miss Evelina turned and went into the house, shaken to her inmost soul.
More than ever, she felt the chains that bound her. Straining against
her bonds, she felt them cutting deep into her flesh. Anthony Dexter
had bound her; he alone could set her free. From this there seemed no
possible appeal.

Meanwhile the Piper mowed down the weeds in the garden, whistling
cheerily. He burned the rubbish in the road, and the smoke made a blue
haze on the hill. He spaded and raked and found new stones for the
broken wall, and kept up a constant conversation with the dog.

It was twilight long before he got ready to make the flower beds, so he
carried the tools back into the shed and safely stored away the seeds.
Miss Evelina watched him from the grimy front window as he started
downhill, but he did not once look back.

There was something jaunty in the Piper's manner, aside from the
drooping red feather which bobbed rakishly as he went home, whistling.
When he was no longer to be seen, Miss Evelina sighed. Something
seemed to have gone out of her life, like a sunbeam which has suddenly
faded. In a safe shadow of the house, she raised her veil, and wiped
away a tear.

When out of sight and hearing, the Piper stopped his whistling. "'T is
no need to be cheerful, Laddie," he explained to the dog, "when there's
none to be saddened if you're not. We don't know about the loose link,
and perhaps we can never find it, but we're going to try. We'll take
off the chain and put the poor soul in the sun again before we go away,
if we can learn how to do it, but I'm thinking 't is a heavy chain and
the sun has long since ceased to shine."

After supper, he lighted a candle and absorbed himself in going over
his stock. He had made a few purchases in the city and it took some
time to arrange them properly.

Last of all, he took out a box and opened it. He held up to the
flickering light length after length of misty white chiffon--a fabric
which the Piper had never bought before.

"'T is expensive, Laddie," he said; "so expensive that neither of us
will taste meat again for more than a week, though we walked both ways,
but I'm thinking she'll need more sometime and there was none to be had
here. We'll not be in the way of charging for it since her gown is
shabby and her shoes are worn."

Twilight deepened into night and still the Piper sat there, handling
the chiffon curiously and yet with reverence. It was silky to his
touch, filmy, cloud-like. He folded it into small compass, and crushed
it in his hands, much surprised to find that it did not crumple. All
the meaning of chiffon communicated itself to him--the lightness and
the laughter, the beauty and the love. Roses and moonlight seemed to
belong with it, youth and a singing heart.

"'T is a rare stuff, I'm thinking, Laddie," he said, at length, not
noting that the dog was asleep. "'T is a rare, fine stuff, and well
suited to her wearing, because she is so beautiful that she hides her
face."

XII

A Grey Kitten

With her mouth firmly set, and assuming the air of a martyr trying to
make himself a little more comfortable against the stake, Miss
Mehitable climbed the hill. In her capable hands were the implements
of warfare--pails, yellow soap, and rags. She carried a mop on her
shoulder as a regular carries a gun.

"Havin' said I would clean house, I will clean house," she mused, "in
spite of all the ingratitude and not listenin'. 'T won't take long,
and it'll do my heart good to see the place clean again. Evelina's got
no gumption about a house--never did have. I s'pose she thinks it's
clean just because she's swept it and brushed down the cobwebs, but it
needs more 'n a broom to take out twenty-five years' dirt."

Her militant demeanour was somewhat chastened when she presented
herself at the house. When the door was opened, she brushed past Miss
Evelina with a muttered explanation, and made straight for the kitchen
stove. She heated a huge kettle of water, filled her pail, and then,
for the first time, spoke.

"I've come to finish cleanin' as I promised I would, and I hope it'll
offset your nursin' of Minty. And if that blackmailing play-doctor
comes while I'm at work, you can tell him that I ain't speakin' to
Minty from the hall, nor settin' foot in her room, and that he needn't
be in any hurry to make out his bill, 'cause I'm goin' to take my time
about payin' it."

She went upstairs briskly, and presently the clatter of moving
furniture fairly shook the house over Miss Evelina's head. It sounded
as if Miss Mehitable did not know there was an invalid in the house,
and found distinct pleasure in making unnecessary noise. The quick,
regular strokes of the scrubbing brush swished through the hall.
Resentment inspired the ministering influence to speed.

But it was not in Miss Hitty's nature to cherish her wrath long, while
the incense of yellow soap was in her nostrils and the pleasing foam of
suds was everywhere in sight.

Presently she began to sing, in a high, cracked voice which wavered
continually off the key. She went through her repertory of hymns with
conscientious thoroughness. Then a bright idea came to her.

"There wa'n't nothin' said about singin'," she said to herself. "I
wa'n't to speak to Minty from the hall, nor set foot into her room.
But I ain't pledged not to sing in the back room, and I can sing any
tune I please, and any words. Reckon Minty can hear."

The moving of the ladder drowned the sound made by the opening of the
lower door. Secure upon her height, with her head near the open
transom of the back room. Miss Mehitable began to sing.

"Araminta Lee is a bad, un-grate-ful girl," she warbled, to a tune the
like of which no mortal had ever heard before. "She fell off of a
step-lad-der, and sprained her an-kle, and the play-doc-tor said it was
broke in or-der to get more mon-ey, breaks being more val-u-able than
sprains. Araminta Lee is lay-ing in bed like a la-dy, while her poor
old aunt works her fingers to the bone, to pay for doc-tor's bills and
nursin'. Four dollars and a half," she chanted, mournfully, "and
no-body to pay it but a poor old aunt who has to work her fin-gers to
the bone. Four dollars and a half, four dollars and a half--almost
five dollars. Araminta thinks she will get out of work by pretending
to be sick, but it is not so, not so. Araminta will find out she is
much mis-taken. She will do the Fall clean-ing all alone, alone, and
we do not think there will be any sprained an-kles, nor any four
dollars--"

Doctor Ralph Dexter appeared in the doorway, his face flaming with
wrath. Miss Mehitable continued to sing, apparently unconcerned,
though her heart pounded violently against her ribs. By a swift change
of words and music, she was singing "Rock of Ages," as any woman is
privileged to do, when cleaning house, or at any other time.

But the young man still stood there, his angry eyes fixed upon her.
The scrutiny made Miss Mehitable uncomfortable, and at length she
descended from the ladder, still singing, ostensibly to refill her pail.

"Let me hide--" warbled Miss Hitty, tremulously, attempting to leave
the room.

Doctor Ralph effectually barred the way. "I should think you'd want to
hide," he said, scornfully. "If I hear of anything; like this again,
I'll send in that bill I told you of. I know a lawyer who can collect
it."

"If you do," commented Miss Mehitable, ironically, "you know more 'n I
do." She tried to speak with assurance, but her soul was quaking
within her. Was it possible that any one knew she had over three
hundred dollars safely concealed in the attic?

"I mean exactly what I say," continued Ralph. "If you so much as climb
these stairs again, you and I will have trouble,"

Sniffing disdainfully, Miss Mehitable went down into the kitchen, no
longer singing. "You'll have to finish your own cleanin'," she said to
Miss Evelina. "That blackmailing play-doctor thinks it ain't good for
my health to climb ladders. He's afraid I'll fall off same as Minty
did and he hesitates to take more of my money."

"I'd much rather you wouldn't do any more," replied Miss Evelina,
kindly. "You have been very good to me, ever since I came here, and I
appreciate it more than I can tell you. I'm going to clean my own
house, for, indeed, I'm ashamed of it."

Miss Hitty grunted unintelligibly, gathered up her paraphernalia, and
prepared to depart. "When Minty's well," she said, "I'll come back and
be neighbourly."

"I hope you'll come before that," responded Miss Evelina. "I shall
miss you if you don't."

Miss Hitty affected not to hear, but she was mollified, none the less.

From his patient's window, Doctor Ralph observed the enemy in full
retreat, and laughed gleefully. "What is funny?" queried Araminta, She
had been greatly distressed by the recitative in the back bedroom and
her cheeks were flushed with fever.

"I was just laughing," said Doctor Ralph, "because your aunt has gone
home and is never coming back here any more."

"Oh, Doctor Ralph! Isn't she?" There was alarm in Araminta's voice,
but her grey eyes were shining.

"Never any more," he assured her, in a satisfied tone. "How long have
you lived with Aunt Hitty?"

"Ever since I was a baby."

"H--m! And how old are you now?"

"Almost nineteen."

"Where did you go to school?"

"I didn't go to school. Aunt Hitty taught me, at home."

"Didn't you ever have anybody to play with?"

"Only Aunt Hitty. We used to play a quilt game. I sewed the little
blocks together, and she made the big ones."

"Must have been highly exciting. Didn't you ever have a doll?"

"Oh, no!" Araminta's eyes were wide and reproachful now. "The Bible
says 'thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image.'"

Doctor Ralph sighed deeply, put his hands in his pockets, and paced
restlessly across Araminta's bare, nun-like chamber. As though in a
magic mirror, he saw her nineteen years of deprivation, her cramped and
narrow childhood, her dense ignorance of life. No playmates, no
dolls--nothing but Aunt Hitty. She had kept Araminta wrapped in cotton
wool, mentally; shut her out from the world, and persistently shaped
her toward a monastic ideal.

A child brought up in a convent could have been no more of a nun in
mind and spirit than Araminta. Ralph well knew that the stern
guardianship had not been relaxed a moment, either by night or by day.
Miss Mehitable had a well-deserved reputation for thoroughness in
whatever she undertook.

And Araminta was made for love. Ralph turned to look at her as she lay
on her pillow, her brown, wavy hair rioting about her flushed face.
Araminta's great grey eyes were very grave and sweet; her mouth was
that of a lovable child. Her little hands were dimpled at the
knuckles, in fact, as Ralph now noted; there were many dimples
appertaining to Araminta.

One of them hovered for an instant about the corner of her mouth. "Why
must you walk?" she asked. "Is it because you're glad your ankle isn't
broken?"

Doctor Ralph came back and sat down on the bed beside her. He had that
rare sympathy which is the inestimable gift of the physician, and long
years of practice had not yet calloused him so that a suffering
fellow-mortal was merely a "case". His heart, was dangerously tender
toward her.

"Lots of things are worse than broken ankles," he assured her. "Has it
been so bad to be shut up here, away from Aunt Hitty?"

"No," said the truthful Araminta. "I have always been with Aunt Hitty,
and it seems queer, but very nice. Someway, I feel as if I had grown
up."

"Has Miss Evelina been good to you?"

"Oh, so good," returned Araminta, gratefully. "Why?"

"Because," said Ralph, concisely, "if she hadn't been, I'd break her
neck."

"You couldn't," whispered Araminta, softly, "you're too kind. You
wouldn't hurt anybody."

"Not unless I had to. Sometimes there has to be a little hurt to keep
away a greater one."

"You hurt me, I think, but I didn't know just when. It was the smelly,
sweet stuff, wasn't it?"

Ralph did not heed the question. He was wondering what would become of
Araminta when she went back to Miss Mehitable's, as she soon must. Her
ankle was healing nicely and in a very short time she would be able to
walk again. He could not keep her there much longer. By a whimsical
twist of his thought, he perceived that he was endeavouring to wrap
Araminta in cotton wool of a different sort, to prevent Aunt Hitty from
wrapping her in her own particular brand.

"The little cat," said Araminta, fondly. "I thought perhaps it would
come to-day. Is it coming when I am well?"

"Holy Moses!" ejaculated Ralph. He had never thought of the kitten
again, and the poor child had been waiting patiently, with never a
word. The clear grey eyes were upon him, eloquent with belief.

"The little cat," replied Ralph, shamelessly perjuring himself, "was
not old enough to leave its mother. We'll have to wait until to-morrow
or next day. I was keeping it for a surprise; that's why I didn't say
anything about it. I thought you'd forgotten."

"Oh, no! When I go back home, you know, I can't have it. Aunt Hitty
would never let me."

"Won't she?" queried Ralph. "We'll see!"

He spoke with confidence he was far from feeling, and was dimly aware
that Araminta had the faith he lacked. "She thinks I'm a
wonder-worker," he said to himself, grimly, "and I've got to live up to
it."

It was not necessary to count Araminta's pulse again, but Doctor Ralph
took her hand--a childish, dimpled hand that nestled confidingly in his.

"Listen, child," he said; "I want to talk to you. Your Aunt Hitty
hasn't done right by you. She's kept you in cotton when you ought to
be outdoors. You should have gone to school and had other children to
play with."

"And cats?"

"Cats, dogs, birds, rabbits, snakes, mice, pigeons,
guinea-pigs--everything."

"I was never in cotton," corrected Araminta, "except once, when I had a
bad cold."

"That isn't just what I mean, but I'm afraid I can't make you
understand. There's a whole world full of big, beautiful things that
you don't know anything about; great sorrows, great joys, and great
loves. Look here, did you ever feel badly about anything?"

"Only--only--" stammered Araminta; "my mother, you know. She was--was
married."

"Poor child," said Ralph, beginning to comprehend. "Have you been
taught that it's wrong to be married?"

"Why, yes," answered Araminta, confidently. "It's dreadful. Aunt
Hitty isn't married, neither is the minister. It's very, very wrong.
Aunt Hitty told my mother so, but she would do it."

There was a long pause. The little warm hand still rested trustingly
in Ralph's. "Listen, dear," he began, clearing his throat; "it isn't
wrong to be married. I never before in all my life heard of anybody
who thought it was. Something is twisted in Aunt Hitty's mind, or else
she's taught you that because she's so brutally selfish that she
doesn't want you ever to be married. Some people, who are unhappy
themselves, are so constituted that they can't bear to see anybody else
happy. She's afraid of life, and she's taught you to be.

"It's better to be unhappy, Araminta, than never to take any risks. It
all lies in yourself at last. If you're a true, loving woman, and
never let yourself be afraid, nothing very bad can ever happen to you.
Aunt Hitty has been unjust to deny you life. You have the right to
love and learn and suffer, to make great sacrifices, see great
sacrifices made for you; to believe, to trust--even to be betrayed.
It's your right, and it's been kept away from you."

Araminta was very still and her hand was cold. She moved it uneasily.

"Don't, dear," said Ralph, his voice breaking. "Don't you like to have
me hold your hand? I won't, if you don't want me to."

Araminta drew her hand away. She was frightened.

"I don't wonder you're afraid," continued Ralph, huskily. "You little
wild bird, you've been in a cage all your life. I'm going to open the
door and set you free."

Miss Evelina tapped gently on the door, then entered, with a bowl of
broth for the invalid. She set it down on the table at the head of the
bed, and went out, as quietly as she had come.

"I'm going to feed you now," laughed Ralph, with a swift change of
mood, "and when I come to see you to-morrow, I'm going to bring you a
book."

"What kind of a hook?" asked Araminta, between spoonfuls.

"A novel--a really, truly novel."

"You mustn't!" she cried, frightened again. "You get burned if you
read novels."

"Some of them are pretty hot stuff, I'll admit," returned Ralph,
missing her meaning, "but, of course, I wouldn't give you that kind.
What sort of stories do you like best?"

"Daniel in the lions' den and about the ark. I've read all the Bible
twice to Aunt Hitty while she sewed, and most of the _Pilgrim's
Progress_, too. Don't ask me to read a novel, for I can't. It would
be wicked."

"All right--we won't call it a novel. It'll be just a story book. It
isn't wrong to read stories, is it?"

"No-o," said Araminta, doubtfully. "Aunt Hitty never said it was."

"I wouldn't have you do anything wrong, Araminta--you know that.
Good-bye, now, until to-morrow."

Beset by strange emotions, Doctor Ralph Dexter went home. Finding that
the carriage was not in use, he set forth alone upon his feline quest,
reflecting that Araminta herself was not much more than a little grey
kitten. Everywhere he went, he was regarded with suspicion. People
denied the possession of cats, even while cats were mewing in defiance
of the assertion. Bribes were offered, and sternly refused.

At last, ten miles from home, he found a maltese kitten its owner was
willing to part with, in consideration of three dollars and a solemn
promise that the cat was not to be hurt.

"It's for a little girl who is ill," he said. "I've promised her a
kitten."

"So your father's often said," responded the woman, "but someway, I
believe you."

On the way home, he pondered long before the hideous import of it came

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