Part 3 out of 6
Esther, as the old doctor's daughter, might almost be said to have a
duty toward the newcomer. Mrs. Sykes felt sure that Dr. Coombe would
have insisted upon proper attentions being shown, since he was always
"the politest man you ever saw, and terrible nice to strangers."
Mrs. Sykes also, with the assistance of Aunt Amy, had provided the large
basket. They might not need it all, but then again they might. It was
best to be prepared. And, anyway, no one should ever say that she, Mrs.
Sykes, "skimped" her boarders' meals. As for the big shawl, once
belonging to a venerated ancestress, it is always safe to take a big
shawl on a country trip even in June heat with the thermometer going up.
The doctor agreed to everything, even the shawl. Whether one is taking a
rest cure or not, it is distinctly pleasant to look forward to a day in
the country with a lovely girl. Esther had taken his request quite
simply. It seemed only natural to her that he should wish to explore,
while the invitation to act as guide was frankly welcomed. Indeed her
girlish gaiety in the prospect had shown very plainly that such holidays
had been rare of late. School did not "keep" on Saturday, Jane was away,
and Aunt Amy was so much better that she could leave her without
misgiving. Bubble alone prophesied disaster, and at him they
There is a little folder published by the Town Council which gives a
very good idea of the country around Coombe. We might quote this, but it
will be much better for you to go some time and see things for yourself.
Dr. Callandar saw a great deal that day, but was never very clear
afterwards in his descriptions. It was rocky in spots, he knew, and wild
and sweet and piney. And there were little lakes. He remembered the
lakes particularly because--well, because of what came later.
They had their lunch on the shores of a jewel-like bay, sitting upon the
shawl of Mrs. Sykes' grandmother. Esther had many memories of the place.
She had often camped there with her father. But it had been wilder then.
Once a bear had come right up to the door of her tent.
"By Jove!" said the doctor enviously, "what did you do?"
"I said 'shoo'!"
"And did he?"
"Yes, he did. He was a nice bear, very obedient. Some days later father
and I saw Mrs. Bear trot across the clearing with two baby bears behind.
They were moving. I think Mr. Bear was looking for a house when he
called on me."
Altogether it was a magic day. There is an erroneous belief that magic
has died out of the world. But in our hearts we all know better. Which
of us has not lived through the magic hours of a magic day? Which of us
does not know that land, unmapped, unnamed, a land whose sun is
brighter, whose grass is greener, whose sky is bluer, and whose every
road runs into a golden mist? Magic land it must be, for much seeking
cannot find it. No one, not the wisest nor the best, may enter it at
will; but for every one at some time the unseen gate swings open, birds
sing, flowers bloom, the glory and the dream descend! Poor indeed,
unutterably poor and cheated of his heritage is he who has not
passed that way.
They were not in love, of course. They were too happy for that. Love is
the greatest thing in the world, but it is seldom quite happy. Esther
and the doctor were not lovers but lingered in that deliciously
unconscious state of "going-to-be-in-love-presently" which is nothing
less than heavenly. Therefore they ate their lunch with appetite and
laughed about the story of the bear. Both were surprised when the
doctor's watch told them it was time to think of home.
They came back very slowly along the shaded trail to where the car stood
waiting in the brilliant light of the declining sun.
"Just a moment," said the doctor, and cranked vigorously. A confusion of
odd noises ensued, from which, somehow, the right noise did not emerge.
"Just a moment," he repeated. "There appears to be something loose--or
tight--or something. If you'll just sit out on the grass a moment, Miss
Esther, I'll see what it is."
Esther descended. The grass was just as pleasant to sit upon as the car
seat and she knew nothing whatever about the tricky ways of motors.
"Just a moment," said Callandar for the third time, and disappeared
behind the bonnet. Fifteen minutes after, he reappeared with a very hot
face decorated fantastically with black.
"She's sulking," he announced gloomily.
"Is she?" Esther's tone held nothing save placid amusement.
"Just a moment." The doctor banged down the bonnet and effaced himself
once more. This time under the body of the car.
Motors are mysterious things. Why a well-treated, not to say pampered,
car which some hours before had been left in perfect condition and
excellent temper should abruptly turn stubborn and refuse to fulfil its
chief end is a problem which we shall not attempt to solve. Every one
who has ever owned a motor knows that these things be.
The doctor, a modest man, considered himself a fair mechanician. In
expansive moments he, who made nothing of his undoubted excellence in
his own profession, was wont to boast that you couldn't teach him much
about motors! He had laughed to scorn the remark of his Scotch chauffeur
that "they things need a deal o' humourin'!" Humour a thing of cogs and
screws? Absurd! One must master a motor, not humour her.
Half an hour later he emerged from the car's eclipse and sank, a
pitiable figure, upon the grass beside Esther.
"Won't it go?" asked Esther dreamily. It had been very pleasant sitting
there watching the sun set.
The master of motors made a tragic gesture. "No," he said, "she won't."
"Shake her," said Esther.
Dr. Callandar pushed back his sweat-bedewed hair with fingers which left
a fearsome streak above his left eyebrow. The girl laughed. But the
doctor's decorated face was rueful.
"Do you know, Miss Esther, I'm afraid it isn't a bit funny." His tone,
too, was sober; and Esther, suddenly more fully alive to the situation,
noticed that the hands clasped recklessly about the knees of once
spotless trousers were shaking, just a little. He must be awfully tired!
"That's because you can't see yourself. Give the motor a rest. There is
plenty of time. Let's have tea here instead of on the way home. There is
cold tea and chicken-loaf, bread and butter, and half a tart."
The doctor brightened. "You may have the half-tart," he concluded
generously. "And in return you will forgive me my pessimism. I believe I
am hungry and thirsty and--if I could only swear I should be all right
Esther put her small fingers in her ears and directed an absorbed gaze
toward the sunset.
"All over!" he called. "Richard is himself again. And now we have got to
be serious. Painful as it is, I admit defeat. I can't make that car
budge an inch. It won't move. We can't push it. We have no other means
of conveyance. Deduction--we must walk!"
"Yes, only like most deductions, it doesn't get us anywhere. We _can't_
"Not to Coombe of course. Merely to the nearest farm house."
"There isn't any nearest farm house."
"Then to the nearest common or garden house."
"I thought we were going to be serious. Really, there is no house within
reasonable walking distance. We are quite in the wilds here. Don't you
remember the long stretches of waste land we came through? No one builds
on useless ground. The nearest houses of any kind are over on the other
side of the lake. The beach is good there and there are a few summer
cottages and a boarding house. Farther in is the little railway station
of Pine Lake--"
"Jove! That's what we want! Why did you try to frighten me? Once let us
reach the station and our troubles are over. There is probably an
evening train into Coombe."
"There is. But we shall never catch it. We are on the wrong side of the
lake. We have no boat. There is a trail around but it is absolutely out
of the question, too far and too rough, even if we knew it, which we do
not. It would take a woodsman to follow it even in daylight."
"But--" The doctor hesitated. He was beginning to feel seriously
disturbed. It seemed impossible that they could be as isolated as Esther
seemed to think. Distance is a small thing to a powerful motor eating up
space with an effortless appetite, which deceives novice and expert
alike. It is only when one looks back that one counts the miles. He
remembered vaguely that the nearest house was a long way back.
"I'll have another try," he answered soberly, "and in the meantime,
think--think hard! There may be some place you have forgotten. If not,
we are in rather a serious fix."
"There are no bears now," said Esther.
"There are gossips!" briefly.
The girl laughed. The thought of possible gossip seemed to disturb her
not at all. "Oh, it will be all right as soon as we explain,"
confidently. "But Aunt Amy will be terrified. If we could only get word
to Aunt Amy! I don't mind so much about Mrs. Sykes, for she is always
prepared for everything. She will comfort herself with remembering how
she said when she saw it was going to be a lovely day: 'It may be a fine
enough morning, Esther, but I have a feeling that something will happen
before night. I have put in an umbrella in case of rain and a pair of
rubbers and a rug and you'd better take my smelling salts. I hope you
won't have an accident, I'm sure, but it's best to be forewarned.'"
The doctor glanced up from his tinkering to join in her laugh. He felt
ashamed of himself. The possibility of evil tongues making capital of
their enforced position had certainly never entered into the thought of
this smiling girl. Yet that such a possibility might exist in Coombe as
well as in other places he did not doubt. And she was in his charge. The
thought of her clear eyes looking upon the thing which she did not know
enough to dread made him feel positively sick!
When he spoke to her again there was a subtle change in his manner. He
had become at once her senior, the physician, and man of the world.
"Miss Esther," he said, leaving his futile tampering with the machine,
"I can see no way out of this but one. I am a good walker and a fast
one. I shall leave you here with the car and the rugs and a revolver
(there is one in the tool box), and go back along the road. I shall walk
until I come to somewhere and then get a carriage or wagon--also a
chaperone--and come back for you. It is positively the only thing
Esther's charming mouth drooped delicately at the corners. "Oh no!
That's not at all a nice plan. I'm afraid to stay here. Not of bears,
but of tramps--or--or something."
"Where there are no houses there will be no tramps."
"There may be. You never can tell about tramps. And I couldn't shoot a
tramp. The very best I could do would be to shoot myself--"
"And I might bungle even that!" pathetically.
"But, my dear girl--"
"And anyway, I've thought of another plan. There is a place on the lake,
on this side. Not a house exactly, but a log cabin, where old Prue
lives. Did you ever hear of old Prue? She is a man-hater and a recluse
and lives all by herself in the bush. It is a dreadful place and she
keeps a fierce dog! But perhaps she keeps a boat, too. She must keep a
boat," cheerfully, "because she lives right by the water and I know she
fishes. If she would only let us have the boat! But I warn you she may
refuse. She is like the witch in 'Hansel and Gretel.' Do you remember--"
But at the first mention of the boat, the doctor had sprung to action
and was now standing ready laden with the basket and the rug. With the
air of a man who has never heard of "Hansel and Gretel" he slipped a
most businesslike revolver into a pocket of his coat. "For the dog, if
necessary," he said. "We must have that boat! Is it far?"
"Quite a walk. About two miles through the bush. But I know the way and
the trail is fairly good, or should be. It branches off from the one we
took this morning."
The sun was gone when they turned back into the woods but the wonderful
after-light of the long Canadian sunset would be with them for a good
time yet. There was no breeze to stir the trees, but the air had cooled.
It was not unpleasantly hot, now, even in the thickest places. The
doctor stepped out briskly.
"Listen!" Esther paused with uplifted finger. The trees were very still
but in the undergrowth the life of the woods was beginning to stir.
Startled squirrels raced up the fallen logs, glancing backward with
curious but resentful eyes. Hidden skirmishings and rustlings were
everywhere and something brown and furry darted across the path with a
"Don't you feel as if you were in some fairy country?" asked the girl.
"You can feel and hear them all about you though they keep well hidden.
A million eager eyes are watching, Lilliputian armies lie in ambush
beneath the leaves. How quiet they are now that we have stopped moving,
but as soon as we go on the hurry and skurry will break out afresh! We
are the invading army and the fairies fly to help the wood-folk protect
As they branched into the deeper path the light grew dimmer. Outside, it
would still be clear golden twilight but here the grey had come. And now
the trees grew closer together and a whispering began--a weird and
wonderful sighing from the soul of the forest; the old, primeval cry to
the night and to the stars.
It was almost dark when they reached the tiny clearing by the lake.
Across the cleared space the water could be seen, faintly luminous, with
the black square of the cabin outlined against it. There was no sign of
life or light from the dark windows. A dog began to bark sharply.
"He is chained!" said Callandar. "We are fortunate."
"How can you tell?"
"A free dog never barks in that tone. I think he has been a bad dog
to-day. Killing chickens, perhaps, or chasing cats. A man-hater, like
your old witch, is certain to have cats! I wonder where she is? Does she
count going to bed at sundown as one of her endearing peculiarities?"
"Quite the contrary, I imagine. Let's knock."
They raced up the path to the door like children and struck some lusty
blows. No one answered. The door was locked and every window was blank.
They knocked again, banged in fact, and then rattled the windows.
"She could never sleep through all that racket!" said Callandar with
conviction. "She must be out. Well, out or in, we've got to get that
boat. Let's explore--this path ought to lead to the lake."
"Shall we steal it?" in a delighted whisper.
"We probably shall. You won't mind going to jail, I hope?"
"Not at all!" The doctor was walking so rapidly that Esther was a little
out of breath. "Only, the oars--are certain--to be locked--in the
house!" she warned jerkily.
"Then we shall serve sentence for house breaking also."
"Oh, gracious!" Esther stumbled over the root of a tree and nearly fell.
But the doctor only walked the faster. They scrambled together down the
steep path and over the stretch of rocky beach to where the tiny float
lay a black oblong on the water. The boat house was beside it.
"Eureka!" cried the doctor, springing forward.
But the door of the boat house was open and the boat was gone.
It is a fact infinitely to be regretted, but the doctor swore!
"Well, did you _ever!_" exclaimed Esther. She was a little tired and
more than a little excited, a condition which conduces to hysteria, and
collapsing upon the end of the float she began to laugh.
"I wish," said the doctor judicially, "that I knew exactly what you find
to laugh at."
"Oh, nothing! Your face--I think you looked so very murderous. And you
did swear--didn't you?"
"Beg your pardon, I'm sure," stiffly.
For an instant they gazed resentfully at each other. The doctor was
seriously worried. Esther felt extremely frivolous. But if he wanted to
be stiff and horrid,--let him be stiff and horrid.
"I declare you act as if it were my fault the old boat is gone!" she
"Don't be silly!"
An uncomfortable silence followed. Esther began to realise how tired she
was. Callandar stared out gloomily over the darkening lake.
"Anyway it's bad enough without your being cross," said Esther in a
"Cross--my dear child! Did I seem cross? What a brute you must think me.
But to get you into this infernal tangle!--If this old woman is out in
the boat she'll have to come back some time. She can't stay out on the
lake all night."
Esther, who thought privately that this was exactly what the old woman
might do, made no reply. She rather liked the tone of his apology and
was feeling better.
"Then there is the dog. If she is anywhere near, she will be sure to
hear the dog. From the noise he is making she will deduce burglars and
return to protect her property. As a man-hater she will have no fear of
a mere burglar. Luckily for us, that dog has a carrying voice!"
Scarcely had he spoken than the dog ceased to bark.
"Shall I go and throw sticks at it?" asked Esther helpfully.
"Hush! The dog must have heard something. Let's listen!"
In the silence they listened intently. Certainly there was something, a
faint indeterminate sound, a sound not in the bush but in the lake, a
sound of disturbed water.
"The dip of a paddle," whispered Callandar. "Some one is coming in a
canoe. The dog heard it before we did--recognised it, too, probably. It
must be the witch!"
The dipping sound came nearer and presently there slipped from the
shadow of the trees a darker shadow, moving. A canoe with one paddle was
coming toward them.
Esther with undignified haste scrambled up from the float, abandoning
her position in the line of battle in favour of the doctor. The dog
broke into a chorus of ear-splitting yelps of warning and welcome. The
moving shadow loomed larger and a calm though harsh voice demanded, "Be
quiet, General! Who is there?"
"We are!" answered Callandar, stepping as far from the tree shadow as
possible. "Picnickers from Coombe, in an unfortunate predicament. Our
motor has broken down, and we want the loan of a boat to get over to
Pine Lake station."
As he spoke he was vividly conscious of Esther close behind. So near was
she that he felt her warm breath on his neck. She was breathing quickly.
Was the child really frightened? Instinctively he put out his hand,
backward, and thrilled through every nerve when something cool and small
and tremulous slipped into it.
The canoe shot up to the float.
"You can't get any boat here."
There was no surprise or resentment in the harsh level voice. Only
determination, final and unshakable.
Esther felt the doctor's hand close around her own. Its clasp meant
everything, reassurance, protection, strength. In the darkness she
exulted and even ventured to frown belligerently in the direction of the
disagreeable canoeist. They could see her plainly now. A tall woman in a
man's coat with the sleeves rolled up displaying muscular arms. Her
face, even in the half-light, looked harsh and gaunt. With a skill,
which spoke of long practice, she sprang from the canoe, scarcely
rocking it, and proceeded to tie the painter securely to a heavy ring in
the float. Then she straightened herself and turned.
"I'll loose the dog!" she announced calmly.
Just that and no more! No arguments, no revilings, no display of any
human quality. There was something uncanny in her ruthlessness.
"If you do, it will be bad for the dog," said Callandar coldly. "Who
are you who threaten decent people?"
It was the tone of authority and for an instant she answered to it. Her
harsh voice held a faint Scotch accent.
"There'll be no decent people here at this hour o' the nicht. Be off.
You'll get no boat. Nor the hussy either. The dog's well used to
"How dare you!" Esther was so angry at being called a hussy that she
forgot how frightened she was and faced the woman boldly. But the old
hard eyes stared straight into her young indignant ones and showed no
softening. Next moment old Prue had pushed the girl aside and
disappeared in the darkness of the wooded path.
"Quick!" The doctor's tone was crisp and steady. "The canoe is our
chance. Jump in, while I hold it--in the bow, anywhere!"
"But the paddle! She has taken the paddle!" Even as she objected she
obeyed. The frail craft rocked as she slid into it, careful only not to
overbalance; next moment it rocked more dangerously and then settled
evenly into the water under the doctor's added weight.
"Sit tight!" Carefully he leaned over her, steadying the canoe with one
hand on the float. In the other she saw the glint of a knife, felt the
confining rope sever, felt the strong push which separated them from the
float and then, just as a great dog, fiercely silent now, bounded from
the path above, a paddle rose and dipped and they shot out into
"If he follows and tries to overturn us I'll have to shoot him," said
the doctor cheerfully. "But he won't. Hark to him!"
The long bay of the baffled dog rose to the stars.
"There was an extra paddle in the boat-house," he explained. "I
took it out when we first came down--in case of accident. Old
She-who-must-be-obeyed must have forgotten it. It is a spliced paddle
but we shall manage excellently. Luckily I know how to use it. All I
need now is direction. Lady, 'where lies the land to which this ship
"'Far, far away is all the seamen know,'" capped Esther, laughing. "But
if you will keep on around that next point and then straight across I
think we ought to get there--Oh, look! there is the moon! We had
forgotten about the moon!"
They had indeed forgotten the moon. And the moon had been part of their
programme too. Both remembered at the same moment that, according to
schedule, they were now supposed to be almost home, running down Coombe
hill by moonlight.
"This is much nicer," said Esther, comfortably.
"But--" he did not finish his sentence. Why disturb her? Besides it
certainly was much nicer! The forgotten moon bore them no malice. A soft
radiance grew and spread around them, the whole sky and lake were
faintly shining though the goddess herself had not yet topped the trees.
The shadows were becoming blacker and more sharply defined. In front of
them the point loomed, inky black. Like a bird of the night the little
canoe shot towards it, skimmed its darkness and then slipped,
effortless, into shining silver space. The smile of the moon! Pleasing
old hypocrite! Always she smiles the same upon two in a canoe!
They were paddling toward her so that her light fell full on the
doctor's face--a clean cut, virile face, manly, stern, yet with a
whimsical sweetness hidden somewhere.
"How handsome he is!" thought Esther, exactly as the moon intended.
"Strong, too," her thought added as the light picked out his well-set
shoulders and the sweep of the arm which sped the paddle so lightly yet
so strongly up and down. Clear, yet soft, the moon showed no touch of
grey in the hair (although the grey was there) nor did she point out the
markings which were the legacy of strenuous years. Seen so, he appeared
no older than she who watched shyly from girlish eyes.
With a little shiver of utmost content Esther settled herself against
the thwart of the canoe.
Manlike he did not know the meaning of that shiver.
"Fool that I am!" he exclaimed. "You are cold, and behold we have left
behind the shawl of Mrs. Sykes' grandmother!"
"Indeed we have not! The dog would have torn it to bits. I assure you
the shawl of the venerated ancestress was in the canoe before I was."
"Then wrap yourself up. It is wonderful how cool the nights are."
Esther was not cold. But it is sometimes pleasant to be commanded. This
is what enables man to persist in a certain pleasing delusion regarding
woman's natural attitude. When she occasionally pleases herself by a
simulation of subjection he immediately thrills with pride, crying,
"Aha! I have her mastered!" Of course he finds out his mistake later.
It pleased Esther, though not cold, to wrap herself in the shawl and it
pleased Callandar to see her do it. I assure you it left the whole
question of the subjection of women quite untouched.
The moon knew all about it but, feminine herself, she favoured the
deception. Around the girl's dark head she drew a circle of light. The
branching tendrils of her hair, all alive and fanlike now in the
coolness of the night, made a nimbus of black and silver from which her
shadowed face shone like a faint pure pearl. As he seemed younger, so
did she seem older; under the moon she was no longer a child, but a
woman with mysterious eyes.
An impulse came to him--the rare impulse of confidence! Suddenly it
seemed that what he had mistaken for self-sufficiency had been in
reality loneliness. He had learned to live to himself not because he was
of himself sufficient but because no one else, save the Button Moulder,
had ever come within speaking distance. Lorna Sinnet, for all his
admiration of her, had established no claim upon his confidence, yet
now, with this young girl, whom he had known but a few weeks, a new need
developed--a need to talk of himself! A primitive need indeed, but, like
all primitive needs, compelling.
We need not follow the history. Perhaps, reported, it would not seem
very lucid. There were blanks, unsaid things, twists of phrase, eloquent
nothings which, wonderfully understandable in themselves, do not report
well. Somehow he must have made it plain, for Esther understood it and
understood him, too, in a way which we, who have never sailed with him
under the moon, cannot hope to do. Faults of expression are no hindrance
to this kind of understanding. He did not talk well, was clumsy, not at
all eloquent, but magically she reconstructed the hopes and dreams of
his ambitious youth. From a few bald phrases she fashioned the
thunderbolt which shattered them, saw him stunned, then alive again,
struggling. With every ready imagination she leaped full upon the fires
of an ambition which accepted no check but fed upon difficulty and
overleapt obstacles. Between stories of his early college life, her
sympathy sensed the deadly strain which his narrative missed and, long
before he mentioned it, her foresight had descried the coming of hard
But the really vital thing, the core of the short history, she followed
slowly word by word, anxiously. It told of wonders which she did not
know--love, passion, despair! Now indeed he seemed to be speaking in a
strange language--yet not strange entirely. She hid each broken phrase
in her heart, knowing them rare, and wondering at the treasure entrusted
to her. Some of her girlhood she left behind her as she listened.
Something new, yet surely old, stirred faintly. What was this love he
spoke of? The breath of bygone passion brushed across her untouched soul
and left it trembling!
Into the long silence which followed the story her voice drifted like a
"If she could only have lived until you came!"
It was of the girl wife she thought. Her heart was full of an aching
pity for that other girl whom life had cheated of her sweetest gift.
More than the man who had lived out a bitter expiation, did she pity her
who had missed the fight, slipped out of the struggle. Death seemed to
Esther such a terrible thing. The new life stirring in her shuddered at
the thought of mortality. That breath of the divine which we name Love
began already to proclaim itself immortal.
Yet Molly, that other girl, had loved--and died.
The doctor, too, was lost in self communings. Already, with the words
not cold upon his lips, he was surprised that he had told the story. How
could he? Why had he? That pitiful little story of Molly which had been
too sacred for the touch of a word. Above all, why had the telling been
a relief? It was a relief, he knew that. Somewhere, in the silver waters
of Pine Lake he had buried a burden. He felt lighter, younger. Had his
very love for Molly become a load whose proper name was remorse? Had his
heart harboured regret and fear under the name of sorrow? Or had he
never loved at all, never really sorrowed? Had the thing he called love
been but a boy's hot passion caught in the grip of a man's awakening
will, a mistake made irrevocable by a stubbornness of purpose which
could not face defeat? Whatever it had been, it had come to be a burden.
And the burden had lightened--it pressed no longer. In a word, he was
free! He was his own man again, unafraid, able to look into his heart,
to open all the windows--no dark corners, no haunting ghosts! He could
enter now without the dread of echoing footsteps or wistful, half-heard
whisperings. The shade of pretty, childish Molly would vex no more.
The relief of it--the pain of it! It was like a new birth.
Meanwhile the strong, sure strokes were bringing them swiftly nearer the
opposite shore where yellow dots of light proclaimed the position of the
summer cottages. One dot, larger, detached itself from the others and
indicated the flare on the end of the landing float. Outlines began to
be darkly discernible, the moon's silver mirror was shivered by lances
of gold. Very soon their journey would be ended.
The paddle dipped more slowly. Esther sighed, and sat up straighter.
Considering all the trouble they had taken, neither of them seemed
overjoyed to be so near the desired haven.
"We are nearly there," said Callandar obviously.
Esther looked backward over their shining wake. Something precious
seemed to be slipping away on those fairy ripples. Yet all she could
find to say was--
"We have come very fast. You must be tired."
Strange little commonplaces, how they take their due of all the
wonderful hours of life! Esther wriggled out of the shawl, smoothed her
hair, arranged her ruffled collar. Callandar shipped his paddle and
resumed his coat.
"Where to, now?" he asked practically.
"There is only one landing, we shall be right on it in a moment.
Then--there are several of the cottagers whom I know. But I think Mrs.
Burton will be the best. She has often asked me to visit her and is such
a dear that the present unexpected arrival will not make me
"That's good! As for me, I'll make for the station and send the
telegrams. They won't be seriously anxious yet, do you think?
Then--there is a train I think you said?"
"You have missed that. But there is a very early morning train, a milk
train--O gracious!" Esther broke off with a start of genuine
consternation. "To-morrow is Sunday!"
"Naturally!" in surprise.
"How horribly unfortunate! The milk train doesn't run on Sunday!"
"Does the milk object to Sunday travelling?"
"Don't joke!" forlornly. "It's dreadful that it should be Sunday. People
"Oh, will they?" The doctor was immensely surprised. "Why?"
"Because it's Sunday."
"What has Sunday got to do with it? They can't talk. Here you are safe
and sound with your friend Mrs. Burton by 9 o'clock, an intensely
respectable hour even in Coombe. What can they say?"
"But it's Sunday! You will return home, by rail, on Sunday. Every one
will know. Your breaking of the Sabbath will be put down to careless
pleasuring. It will hurt your practice terribly!"
Callandar laughed heartily. But before he could reply the quick bursting
out of a blaze upon the shore startled them both. "What is it?" he asked
"Only a bonfire! Some one is giving a bonfire party. It is quite the
fashionable thing. There will be songs and speeches with lemonade and
cake. Oh, hurry! We shall be in time for the programme."
The mysterious woman, born of the moon, was gone. In her place was a
rumple-haired, bright-eyed child. Callandar took up the paddle with a
"Sit still or you'll overturn the canoe!" he said warningly. And across
the narrowing stretch of water floated the opening sentiments of the
"O Cana_dah_, our heritage, our love--"
Henry Callandar, resting neck-deep in the cool green swimming pool,
tossed the wet hair out of his eyes and whistled ingratiatingly to a
watching robin. A delightful sense of guilt enveloped him, for it was
Sunday morning and, since his experience at Pine Lake a week ago, he had
learned a little of what Sunday means in Coombe. Esther had been quite
right in fearing that his return by train upon that sacred day might
deal a severe blow to his prestige--at least until Mrs. Sykes had had
time to explain to every one how unavoidable it had been--and he knew
that if he were to be caught in his present delightful occupation his
Presbyterian reputation might be considered lost forever.
The robin twittered at him prettily but refused to be beguiled. Sunday
bathing was not among its weaknesses. Presently it flew away.
"Gone to tell the minister, I'll be bound!" murmured Callandar. "'Twill
be a scandal in the kirk. I'll lose all my five patients. Horrid
Smiling, he drew himself from the embrace of the faintly shining water
and retiring to the willow screen began to dress with that virtuous
leisureliness which characterises those who rise before their fellows.
He had the world to himself; a world of cool, sweet scents, pure light
and Sabbath quiet--that wonderful quiet which seems a living thing with
a personality of its own, so different is it from the ordinary quiet of
The primrose sky gave promise of a beautiful day. The blue grey vault
overhead was already filling with shimmering golden light, the drooping
willows and the dew-wet grass were stirring in the breeze of dawn, the
voice of the water sang in the stillness.
Callandar slipped his blue tie snugly under the collar of his white
flannel shirt and sighed with the ecstasy of health renewed. A
half-forgotten couplet hummed through his brain.
"Sweet day, so cool, so calm, so bright!
The bridal of the earth and sky--"
"And it's a hymn, too, or I'm a Dutchman," he declared, much edified.
"That proves that swimming on Sunday is quite compatible with proper
orthodoxy of mind. Shouldn't wonder if the Johnnie who wrote that wrote
it on Sunday morning after a dip. I'll tell Mrs. Sykes he did
anyway--where in thunder did I put my boots?"
The missing articles had apparently fulfilled the purpose of their being
by walking away, or else the robin had collected them as evidence!
Callandar chuckled at a whimsical vision of them in a church court,
damningly marked "Exhibit 1." But as he searched for them the utter
peace of the morning fled and suddenly he became conscious that he and
the willows no longer divided the world between them. Some one was near.
He felt eyes watching. The curious half-lost instinct which warns man of
the approach of his kind, told him that he was no longer alone. The
doctor fixed a stern eye on the screening willows.
"Zerubbabel!" he commanded, "come out of there at once, sir!"
A stirring in the bushes was the only answer.
The doctor glanced at his bootless feet.
"Bubble," more mildly, "if you want a swim--"
"It isn't Bubble," said a meek voice, "it's me. Are you dressed enough
for me to come out?" Without waiting for an answer the elfish face of
Ann appeared through the willow tangle. "If you're looking for your
boots," she remarked kindly, "they're hanging on that limb behind you."
But boots no longer absorbed the doctor.
"Come out of those willows, both of you!"
"There's only me," still meekly. "And I didn't come to swim. I came for
you. Honour bright! The Button Man's here."
"Yes, he is. He came in a big grey car and was sitting on the doorstep
when Aunt got up. He told her not to disturb you, but of course Aunt
thought that you ought to know at once and when she found that you were
gone"--a poignant pause!
"Yes, when she found me gone--"
"When she found you gone," slowly, "she said you must have been called
up in the night to a patient!"
"Did she really?" The doctor's laugh rang out.
"And I hope the Lord will forgive her for such a nawful lie!" finished
"He will, Ann, He will! You can depend on that. He has a proper respect
for loyalty between friends. Did I understand you to say that you had
seen my boots? Oh, yes, thanks! Now I wonder what can have brought our
Button Man back so soon? He didn't by any chance say, I suppose?"
"Him?" with scorn. "Not much fear! I'll do up your boots if you like."
"Thanks, no. That would be using unseemly haste. Button-men who go
visiting on Sunday must learn to wait. Don't you want to have a splash,
Ann? I'll walk on slowly, you can easily catch me up!"
The child looked enviously at the now sparkling water, but shook her
"I'd love to. But I dasn't. Aunt always knows when I've been in. Even if
I go and muddy myself afterwards, she knows. She says a little bird
"A robin, I'll bet. I know that bird! Sanctimonious thing! He was
watching me this morning and went off as fast as he knew how, to spread
the news. Ann, you have lived in this remarkable town all your life. Can
you tell me just why it is wicked to go swimming on Sunday?"
Ann looked blank. "No. But it is. You're likely to get drowned any
minute! Not but what I'd risk it if it wasn't for Aunt. I'm far more
scared of Aunt than I am of God," she added reflectively.
"Why, Ann! What do you mean?"
"Well, you never can tell about God, but Aunt's a dead sure thing! If
she says you'll get a smack for going in the river you'll get it--but
God only drowns a few here and there, for examples like."
"Look here!" Callandar paused in his stride and fixed her dark eyes by
the sudden seriousness in his own. "You've got the thing all wrong. God
doesn't drown people for swimming on Sunday. He isn't that sort at all.
He--He--" the unaccustomed teacher of youth faltered hopelessly in his
effort to instruct the budding mind, but Ann's eyes were questioning and
at their bidding the essential truth of his own childhood came back to
him. "God is Love," he declared firmly. "Great Scott! a person would
think that we lived in the Dark Ages! Don't you let 'em frighten you,
Ann. What are you allowed to do on Sunday anyway?"
"Church," succinctly. "And Sunday-school and church and the 'Pilgrim's
"Well, that's something. Jolly good book, the 'Pilgrim's Progress'!"
"Yes," dubiously. "If it didn't use such a nawful lot of big words. And
if he'd only get on a little faster. He was terrible slow."
"So he was. Well, let us be merry while we can. I'll race you to the
At the gate they paused to regain their lost breath and sense of decorum
for, across the orchard, the veranda could be plainly seen with the trim
figure of Professor Willits in close proximity to the taller and gaunter
outline of Mrs. Sykes. With one of her shy quick gestures, the child
slipped her fingers from the doctor's hold and sped away through the
trees. Her friendship with Callandar was the most wonderful thing that
had ever happened to Ann, but she was not of the kind which
"Patient dead?" asked Willits dryly after they had shaken hands.
"Patient?" Then, catching sight of the flaming red in the cheeks of his
landlady, "Dead? Certainly not. Even my patients know better than to die
on a morning like this. But whatever possessed you to disturb a
righteous household? Mrs. Sykes, he doesn't deserve breakfast, but I do.
When do you think--"
"In just about five minutes, Doctor. Soon's I get the coffee boiling and
the cream skimmed. I didn't know," with an anxiously reproving glance,
"but what you might want to get washed up after you got in."
"I--no, I think I'm quite clean enough, Mrs. Sykes. But it was very
thoughtful of you to wait--"
"Aunt, the coffee's boiling over!" The warning was distinctly audible
and, with a gesture of one who abandons an untenable position, Mrs.
Sykes retreated upon the kitchen.
The visitor watched her flight with mild amaze.
"I suppose I should seem curious if I were to ask why the excellent Mrs.
Sykes imperils her immortal soul in your behalf? But why in the name of
common sense is the peril necessary? It isn't a crime, is it, for a
medical man to get up early and go for a swim?"
"You forget what day it is," said Callandar solemnly. "Or rather, you
never knew. I myself was not properly acquainted with Sunday until I
came to this place. Your presence here is in itself a scandal. People do
not visit upon the Seventh day in Coombe."
"No? You should have informed me of the town's eccentricities. As it is,
if my presence imperils your social standing you can seclude me until
the next train."
"Better than that," cheerfully, "I can take you to church."
The alarmed look upon the professor's face was so enticing that
Callandar continued with glee:
"Why not? I have always thought your objection to church-going a blot
upon an otherwise estimable character. Hitherto I have been too busy to
attend to it, but now--"
"Quit chaffing, Harry! I came up because I had to see you. You pay no
attention to my letters. I never dreamed that you would stay a month in
this backwater. What is wrong? What is the matter with you?"
"Look at me--and ask those questions again."
The keen eyes of the Button-Moulder looked deep into the doctor's steady
ones. There was a slight pause. Then--
"Yes, I see what you mean. I saw it as you came across the orchard." The
sharp voice softened. "My anxiety for your health could hardly survive
the way in which you leaped that fence! But all this makes it only the
more mysterious. Have you found the fountain of youth or--or what?"
Callandar threw an affectionate arm over the other man's shoulders.
"I _am_ young, amn't I! Trouble is, I didn't know it." He ruffled his
hair at the side so that the grey showed plainly. "Terrible thing when
one loses the realisation of youth! But I've had my lesson. I'll never
be old again, never!"
In spite of himself the professor's straight mouth curved a little. A
spark of pride glowed in his cool eyes as he bent them upon the smiling
face of his friend. Yet his tone was mocking as he said, "Then it is the
fountain of youth? One is never too old to find that chimera."
"It's not something that I've found, old cynic. It's something that I've
lost. Look at me hard! Don't you notice something missing? Did you ever
read the 'Pilgrim's Progress'?"
"Breakfast is ready!" called Ann, teetering on her toes in the doorway.
coff--ee--won't--be--cold!" chanted Ann.
"Yes, Ann. We're coming."
"But I want to know--"
"Old man, I'll tell you after breakfast. I want you to see me eat. I
wish to demonstrate that there is no deception. A miracle has really
happened. No one could observe me breakfasting and doubt it!"
When they were seated he looked guilelessly into the still disapproving
face of Mrs. Sykes. "Perhaps you are wondering, as I did, what has
brought Professor Willits back to Coombe," he said, "but time and space
mean little to professors, and the fact is that Willits has long wished
to hear a sermon by the Reverend Mr. Macnair. He is coming with me this
morning. Perhaps you hadn't better mention it, though. It might disturb
Mr. Macnair to know that so eminent a critic was listening to him."
The eminent critic frowned grimly and took a fourth cream biscuit
without noticing it.
"Not a mite!" declared Mrs. Sykes. "The man ain't born that can fluster
Mr. Macnair. Nor yet the woman, unless it's Esther Coombe--Land sakes,
Doctor! I forgot to tell you how that cup tips! Ann, get a clean table
napkin. I hope your nice white pants ain't ruined, Doctor? I really
ought to put that cup away but it's a good cup if it's held steady and I
hate to waste good things. Last time it tipped was when the Ladies' Aid
met here. Mrs. Coombe had it and the whole cup spilled right over her
dress. I was that mortified! But she didn't seem to care. I can't
imagine what's the matter with that woman. She's getting dreadful
careless about her clothes. Next time I met her she wore that same
dress, splash an' all! 'Tisn't as if she hadn't plenty of new
things,--more than they can afford, if what folks say is true. You
haven't met Mrs. Coombe yet, have you, Doctor?"
"She is away from home."
"Well, when you do meet her you'll see what I mean, or like as not you
won't, being a man. Men never seem to see anything wrong with Mary
Coombe. But Esther must feel dreadful mortified sometimes when her Ma
forgets to get hooked up behind. Esther's as neat as a pin. Always was.
Why, even when she got home last week after that awful time you and she
had up at Pine Lake, and her having to stay overnight without so much as
a clean collar, she walked in here as fresh as a daisy--won't you let me
give you some more coffee, Professor?"
"Thank you, yes. You were saying--"
"Willits, do you think so much coffee is good for you?"
"Land sakes, Doctor, my coffee won't hurt him! It never seems to trouble
you any. As I was saying, one would almost have thought that what with
picnicking in the bush all day and trapesing around in a canoe half the
night and having to stay where she wasn't expected and wouldn't like to
ask the loan of the flat-irons--"
"Please, Mrs. Sykes, don't let Ann eat another biscuit. I don't want her
to be ill just when I want a day off to take Willits to church. Willits,
as your medical adviser, I forbid more coffee. He will really injure
himself, Mrs. Sykes, if I do not take him away. He isn't used to
breakfasts like this and his constitution won't stand it."
Mrs. Sykes beamed graciously under this delicate compliment and
confiscated Ann's latest biscuit with a ruthless hand. "If you gentlemen
would like to sit in the parlour--" she offered graciously. But
Callandar with equal graciousness declined. The office would do quite
well enough. Willits might want to smoke. "And as it-seems that my watch
has stopped," he added, "perhaps you would be so kind as to tell us
when it is time to change for church."
The professor settled himself primly upon the hardest chair which the
office contained and refused a cigar.
"You seem to have acquired a reprehensible habit of fooling, Henry," he
said. "Your language also is strange. When, for instance, you say
'change for church,' to what sort of transformation do you refer?"
"Only to your clothes, old chap. Don't worry. You wouldn't expect me to
go to church in flannels?"
"I should not expect you to go to church at all."
"Well, the fact is, old man, you are painfully ignorant. I do go to
church, and the proper church costume for a professional man is a frock
coat and silk hat. But as you are a traveller, and as you are not
exactly a professional man, I shall not lose caste by taking you as
The imperturbable Willits waived the point. "I understood you to say,
also, that your watch had stopped. Was that a joke?"
"No such luck!" The doctor took out his watch and shook it. "Mainspring
gone, I'm afraid!"
"A month ago," said the professor, "if your watch had stopped you would
have had a fit."
"Really! Was I ever such an ass? Well, I'm not the slave of my watch any
longer. Time goes softly in Coombe. Aren't you glad I'm not taking
"I am glad. But I want to understand."
"Then let's return to the 'Pilgrim's Progress.' Ann and I were talking
about it this morning. Do you remember the man with the pack on his back
and how when he reached a certain spot the pack, seemingly without
effort of his own, fell off and was seen no more?"
Willits reflected. The doctor was thoroughly in earnest now. "I seem to
recollect the incident to which you refer," he said after a pause. "If I
remember rightly it is an allegory and is used in a definitely religious
sense. The man with the pack meets a certain spiritual crisis. Do I
understand that you--er--that you have experienced conversion? I am not
guilty of speaking lightly of so important a matter, but I hardly know
how to frame my question."
The doctor tilted back his chair and looked dreamily out of the window.
"I did not mean you to take my illustration literally. My religious
beliefs are very much the same as they have always been. To a
materialist like you they seem, I know, absurdly orthodox; to a church
member in good standing they might seem fatally lax; but such as they
are I have not changed them. Still, I was, as you know, a man with a
burden. You may call the burden consequence or what you will, the name
doesn't matter. The weight of that youthful, selfish, unpardonable act
which bound a young girl to me without giving her the protection which
that bond demanded, was always upon me, crushing out the joy of life.
The news of her death made no difference, except to render me hopeless
of ever making up to her for the wrong I had done. Her death did not set
me free, it bound me closer.
"I seemed like one caught in the tow of some swift tide, always fighting
to get back, yet eternally being drawn away. The tide still flows out,
for the tide of human life is the only tide which never returns, but I
have ceased to struggle. I no longer look back. It is not that God has
forgiven me (I have never been able to think of God as otherwise than
forgiving), it is that I have forgiven myself."
"It amounts to this, then," said Willits presently. "You are cured. The
balance is swinging true again. It has taken a long time, but the cure
is all the more complete for that. Now, when are you coming back to us?"
Callandar did not answer.
"You are needed. Not a day passes that your absence is not felt. You
used to have a strong sense of responsibility toward your work. What has
become of it?"
"I have it still. I am not slighting my work by taking time to build
myself into better shape for it."
"But you will simply stagnate here!" querulously. "You are becoming
slack already. You let your watch run down."
The doctor laughed.
"If many of my patients could do the same without worry they would not
need a doctor. Half of the nervous trouble of the age can be ultimately
traced to watches which won't run down. Leisure--unhurried leisure--that
is what we want. We've got to have it!"
"Piffle! I shall hear you talk about inviting your soul next."
"Well, if I do he is in better shape to accept the invitation than he
used to be."
The professor's gesture was sufficiently expressive.
"Very well. I give up. Remember, I advise against it. I think you are
making a mistake!--I'll have that cigar now. I suppose one is allowed to
smoke in the garden?"
"Yes, do, that's a good fellow! I must run up and make myself
presentable. I suppose you haven't seen Lorna lately?"
"I have seen her very lately. She asked to be remembered."
"Oh, you old prevaricator! Lorna never asked to be remembered in her
life. What she really said was, 'If you see Harry give him my love!'"
"If she did, you don't deserve it! Oh, boy," with sudden earnestness,
"why will you make a fool of yourself? She's a woman in a thousand.
Others see it if you don't. Since you've been away, MacGregor is paying
her marked attention."
"Good old Gregor!" The doctor's exclamation was one of pure pleasure.
"And yet you say my absence isn't doing any good? Go along with you!
Take your cigar and wait for me underneath the Bough. I'll not be long."
He was long, however. The professor's cigar and his cogitations came to
an end together without the promised reappearance. Even when he returned
to the office it was empty except for Ann, who in the stiffest of
starched muslin and whitest of stockings was spread out carefully upon
the widest chair. Her black hair was parted as if by a razor blade and
plastered tightly in slablike masses while the tension of the braids was
such that they stuck out on either side of the small head like decorated
sign posts. Weariness, disgust and defiance were painted visibly upon
the elfish face.
"This is the best chair!" said Ann politely, "but if you'll excuse me I
shan't get up. Every time I sit down it makes a crease in a fresh place.
By the time church is over I look like I was crumpled all over. It's the
starch!" she added in sullen explanation.
Willits, who liked children but did not understand them, essayed a mild
"Did you put some starch in your hair too?"
Ann flushed scarlet with anger and mortification and made no answer.
"It looked much nicer at breakfast," blundered on the professor
genially. "If I were you I should unstarch it--" he paused abashed by
the glare in Ann's black eyes and turned helplessly to Callandar, who
had just come in, resplendent in faultless church attire.
"Don't listen to him, Ann!" said the doctor. "Button moulders are so
ignorant. They know absolutely nothing about hair or the necessity for
special tidiness on Sundays. All the same, I'm afraid we shall have a
headache if we don't let a reef out somewhere. Sit still a moment, Ann.
I was always intended for a barber."
To the fresh astonishment of Willits his friend's skilful hands busied
themselves with the tightly drawn hair which, only too eager for
freedom, soon fell into some of its usual curves. With a quick, shy
gesture the child drew the adored hand to her lips and kissed it.
Callandar turned a deep red. The professor chuckled, and Ann, furious at
betraying herself before him, fled precipitately, the crackling starch
of her stiff skirts rattling as she ran.
For a moment Willits enjoyed his friend's embarrassment and then, as the
probable meaning of the frock coat began to dawn upon him, his
expression changed to one of apprehension.
"You weren't in earnest about that church nonsense, were you?"
"Certainly. If you need a clean collar take one of mine, and hurry up.
The first bell has stopped ringing."
"But I'm not going!"
"Not if I ask you nicely?"
"But why? What are you going for?"
"Come and see."
The shrewd eyes of the professor grew coldly thoughtful.
"That is exactly what I shall do," he decided.
From the home of Mrs. Sykes upon Duke Street to the First Presbyterian
Church upon Oliver's Hill is a brisk walk of fifteen minutes. As Coombe
lies in a valley, Oliver's Hill is not a hill, really, but a gentle
eminence. It is a charming, tree-lined street bordered by the homes and
gardens of the well-to-do. It is, in fact, _the_ street of Coombe, and
to live upon Oliver's Hill is a social passport seldom mentioned but
As if social prominence were not enough, it had another claim upon the
affections and memories of many, for up this hill every Sunday in a long
and goodly stream poured the first Presbyterians who were not only the
elect but also the elite of Coombe. To see Knox Church "come out" was
one of the sights of the town and, decorously hidden behind a muslin
curtain, a stranger might feast his eyes upon greatness unrebuked. It
was said at one time that every silk hat in Coombe attended Knox Church,
but this was vainglory, for it was afterwards proved that several
repaired to St. Michael's and at least one to the Baptist tabernacle.
With this explanation you will at once understand why the sidewalk was a
few feet broader upon the church side of Oliver's Hill, and if this
circumstance savours to you of ecclesiastical privilege we can only
conclude that you are not Presbyterian, and request you not to be so
As the doctor and his half-reluctant friend turned at the foot of the
hill they were immediately absorbed by the stream pressing upwards, for
the last bell had already begun to ring.
"We're all right," whispered Callandar encouragingly. "It rings for five
The professor opened his lips to say something, but shut them with a
snap. There was probably method in the doctor's madness but it was
method which would never be disclosed through much questioning. With an
expression of intense solemnity he fixed his eyes, gimlet-like, upon the
middle button of the Sunday blouse of the lady in front of him and
followed up the hill. To the absurdly low-toned remarks of his companion
he vouchsafed no reply whatever.
They entered the church to the subdued rustle of Sunday silks and the
whisper of Sunday voices. At the door some one shook hands with
Callandar and remarked in a ghostly whisper that it was a fine day. A
grave young man, in black, led them to a pew half way down the aisle.
Most of the pews were already full, the latest comers showing slight
signs of hurry; and as they seated themselves the bell stopped and the
There was a moment's expectant interval and then two doors, one at
either side of the pulpit, opened simultaneously and the minister
entered from one side, the choir from the other. Before the minister
walked a very solemn man with abnormally long upper lip. This was Elder
John MacTavish, a man of large substance, of great piety and poor
digestion. It was upon this latter account that the doctor always
observed him with peculiar interest, for had not Mrs. Sykes declared
that if he should only be called in once to prescribe for John
MacTavish's stomach his future in Coombe was secure?
"Doctor Parker is doing him just no good at all," she reported. "So keep
an eye on him. If he looks especially dour it's a good sign."
"Would you say that he looks especially 'dour'?" whispered Callandar to
"I should. Why?"
"Oh, nothing--only it's a good sign! Hush!"
When the minister has entered the pulpit at Knox Church there is a
moment during which you may bow your head, or, if you consider this
popish, you may cover your face with your gloved hand. It is a moment of
severe quiet. One does not dare even to cough. Hence the doctor's
But this morning the quiet was rudely broken. Somewhere, just outside
the open windows, sounded a laugh; a young, clear, unrestrained laugh,
then the call of a sharp whistle, and next moment, through the doors not
yet closed, hurtled something yellow and long-legged! With a joyous bark
it rushed along the nearest aisle, across the front of the pulpit, down
the other aisle and out at the door again.
The congregation was amazed and grieved. Its serenity was shaken, even
the minister seemed disturbed. Some younger members of the choir
giggled. It was most unseemly.
"Naughty dog!" said the voice outside the window. "Go home! Don't dare
to lick my hand!"
One of the choir members grew red in the face and choked. It was
outrageous! And then, as if nothing at all had happened, the girl who
had been the cause of the whole unfortunate incident entered and walked
down the aisle. She appeared to be quite undisturbed; was, in fact,
smiling. Every eye in the church followed her as, a little out of
breath, a little flushed, with dark hair slightly disarranged as if from
an exciting chase, she took her seat, unconscious, or careless, of them
all. The minister, who had paused with almost reproachful obviousness,
gave out the opening psalm and the congregation freed itself from
embarrassment with an accustomed flutter of hymn-books.
Going to church was somewhat interesting after all, thought Professor
Willits. Then, in common with the rest of the congregation, he detached
his eyes from the girl's exquisite profile and focused them upon
Friends of the Rev. Angus Macnair asserted that he was a man in a
thousand. For that matter he was a man in any number of thousands; for
his was a personality, true to type, yet not likely to be duplicated.
Born of a Highland Scotch father and a Lowland Scotch mother, he
developed almost exclusively in his father's vein. Loyal in the extreme,
narrow to fanaticism, passionate, emotional, yet trained to the cold
control of a red Indian, he was a man of power, at once the victim and
the triumph of his creed.
Early in life he had come under a conviction of sin, had received
assurance of forgiveness and of election and, before he had left the
Public School, his Call had come. From that time forward he had burnt
with a fierce fire of godliness which, together with a natural
incapacity for seeing two sides to anything, had carried him safely
through the manifold temptations to unbelief and heresy which beset a
modern college education. Many wondered that a man so gifted should
remain in Coombe, but the explanation is simple. He suited Coombe; the
larger churches of the larger cities he did not suit. Lax opinions,
heretical doctrines, outlooks appallingly wide were creeping in
everywhere. It is safe to say that in most of the churches of his own
faith he would have seemed bravely but hopelessly behind the times. But
in Coombe he had found his place. Coombe was conservative. Coombe
Presbyterians were still content to do without frills in the matter of
doctrine. Coombe could still listen to hell fire and, if not unduly
disturbed, did not at least smile behind its hand.
Something of all this the Button-Moulder, student of men, felt as he
watched the sombre yet glowing face of the preacher.
The sermon that morning was one of a series dealing with the
Commandments and the text was, "Thou shalt not bear false witness
against thy neighbour." The speaker had the scholar's power of
concentration, the orator's power of delivery. He was both poignant and
personal. He seemed to do everything save mention names. Some sinners in
that congregation, thought Willits, had undoubtedly been bearing false
witness, and were now listening to a few plain words! Cautiously he
glanced around, almost expecting to see the tale of guilt and sorrow
legibly imprinted upon some culprit's face. But no one seemed at all
disturbed, save one old lady who glared back at him an unmistakable
"Thou art the man!" The congregation sat, serenely, soberly attentive,
testifying their entire agreement with the speaker by an occasional sigh
or nod. The more fiery the preacher's denunciations, the more complacent
his hearers. In astonishment Willits realised that, if appearances go
for anything, no one in Knox Presbyterian Church had ever borne false
witness against anybody!
The collecting of the offering was somewhat of an anti-climax, as was
also the anthem by the choir, the latter consisting of a complicated
arrangement of the question, "If a man die shall he live again?"
reiterated singly by all parts in succession, by duets and quartets and
finally by the whole choir, without so much as a shadow of an answer
Willits gave a long sigh as they stepped into the summer day again. It
had not been uninteresting, but he was quite ready for lunch. The
doctor, on the contrary, seemed unaccountably to linger. He even paused
to talk to a fat lady in mauve velvet who had mauve cheeks to match.
"So glad to see you in church, Doctor! Young men, you know, are inclined
to be young men! And these nice days--very tempting, I'm sure! Is your
friend a stranger?"
Callandar gravely introduced Willits, who became immediately convinced
that this mauve lady was the most unpleasant person he had ever seen and
doubtless the very person to whom the minister had spoken in his sermon.
Why had Callandar let him in for this? Why was he waiting around for
anyway? There he was, shaking hands with some one else--this time it was
the girl who had laughed.
"May I present my friend, Professor Willits, Miss Coombe?"
The girl extended a graceful hand and for an instant the professor was
permitted a look into eyes which caused him to set his firm lips
"And I know, Willits, you will be delighted to meet our pastor, Mr.
A spark began to glow in the professor's eye, but Callandar's face was
guileless. The minister shook hands with professional heartiness, but
his gaze, Willits thought, was wandering. He began to feel interested.
"Very fine day," he remarked imperturbably.
"Lovely, lovely," agreed the minister, still heartily. The mauve lady
was waiting for the pastoral handshake, but he did not notice her. He
was watching the dark girl talking to Callandar.
"What is so rare as a day in June?" said Willits, with deliberate
"Ah, yes, very much so. Delighted to have met you. You will excuse me,
I'm sure. Annabel," with an impatient glance toward a stout, awkward
woman in the background, "if you are not quite ready I think Miss Coombe
and I will walk on." He moved toward the dark girl as he spoke and
"Then I'll have to come some other day to get the roses," they heard
Callandar say. "But remember I haven't a single flower in the office. So
it will have to be soon."
"At any time," answered the girl, flushing slightly.
"No flowers?" repeated the minister, a little fussily, "dear me, I will
speak to my sister. Annabel will be delighted to send you any quantity,
Doctor. You must really drop in to see our garden, some day. Sunday, of
course, is a busy day with me. Come, Miss Esther. Good morning, Doctor.
Good morning, Professor. Glad to see you at our services any time--"
Bowing courteously, the minister moved away, followed perforce by Miss
Coombe. (An invitation to lunch at the manse is an honour not to be
trifled with.) Perforce also the doctor stood aside and Willits caught
the look, half shy, half merry, which the girl threw him from the depths
of her remarkable eyes. It was really quite interesting, and rather
funny. Not often had he seen fair ladies carried off from under the nose
of Henry Callandar. Transferring his glance quickly to the face of his
friend, he hoped to surprise a look of chagrin upon his abashed
countenance, but the countenance was not abashed, and the look which he
did surprise there startled him considerably. Henry Callandar, of all
men, to be looking after any girl with a look like that!
Well, he had been invited to come and see. And he had seen.
As Esther walked away, demurely acquiescent, by the side of the Rev. Mr.
Macnair she was conscious of a conflict of emotions. The sight of the
doctor's disappointed face as he stood hat in hand, awoke regret and
perhaps a trifle of girlish gratification. She had been sorry herself to
miss that half hour among the roses but she was still too young and too
happy to know how few are such hours, how irrevocable such losses. Also,
it had seemed good to her maidenly pride that Dr. Callandar should
know--well, that he should see--just exactly what he should know and see
she did not formulate. But underneath her temporary disappointment she
felt as light and glad as a bird in springtime.
The minister was speaking, but he had been speaking for several moments
before Esther's delighted flutter would permit of her listening to him.
When at last her thoughts came back she noticed, with a happy-guilty
start, that his tone was one of dignified reproof.
"Naturally we all understand," he was saying, "at least I hope we all
understand, that you are not primarily to blame. At the worst one can
only impute carelessness--"
"Oh, but it wasn't carelessness! You don't know Buster. He's the
_cleverest_ dog! He hid. I had no idea that he was with me until he
bounded past me at the church door. And though I whistled and tried to
grab him he was in before I knew it. I'll make him sit up meekly and beg
A flush of what in a layman might have been anger crimsoned the
"You are well aware," stiffly, "that I am not referring to the incident
of the dog."
"To what then? I am sorry I wasn't listening but you seemed to be
scolding and I couldn't think of anything else." Even the abstruse Mr.
Macnair saw that her surprise was genuine. His tone grew gentler.
"You are very young, Miss Esther. But since I must speak more plainly, I
was referring to that mad escapade of a week ago. Don't misunderstand
me, the blame undoubtedly rests upon the man who was thoughtless enough,
selfish enough, to put you in such a position."
"Whatever do you mean?" Esther was torn between anger and a desire to
laugh. But seeing the earnestness in his face, anger predominated. "Can
you possibly be referring to the breakdown of Dr. Callandar's motor?"
she asked coldly.
"I refer to the whole unfortunate adventure. If your step-mother had
been at home I feel sure it would not have happened. She would never
have permitted the excursion to take place."
The girl's dark brows drew together in their own peculiar manner.
"Let us be honest," she suggested. "You know quite well that my
step-mother would not have bothered about it in the least."
"I feel it my duty," went on the minister, "to tell you that there were
some peculiar features in connection with the disablement of the motor.
I understand from the mechanician who accompanied Dr. Callandar to the
spot for the recovery of the machine that there was really very little
the matter. A short ten minutes completed the necessary repairs."
"Ten minutes? Oh, how silly he must have felt--the doctor I mean. After
all the hours he spent and the things he said." She laughed with
reminiscent amusement. "He threw the monkey wrench at it, too. And he
thought he knew so much about motors!"
Her companion observed her with sombre eyes. Was it possible that she
had actually missed the point of his remark?
"Can you understand," he said slowly, "how a man used to driving a motor
car can have been entirely baffled by so slight an accident? To me it
"So Dr. Callandar thought, only he expressed it more forcibly."
"Well, I suppose I was heartless. But it was the funniest thing I ever
saw!" Esther's laughter bubbled again.
They were now at the manse gate. He saw that he must hasten.
"My dear Miss Esther, let us be serious. I do not like to
disturb your mind but I have a duty in this matter. Has it never
occurred to you that this so-called accident may not have been
so--so--er--entirely--er--irremediable, so to speak, as it was made
"Do you mean that he did it on purpose?" The tone was one of blank
amazement. Esther's hand was upon the gate but forgot to press the
latch. She was a quick brained girl and the insinuation in the
minister's words had been patent. Yet that he should be capable of such
an idea seemed incredible! Had he been looking at her he would have seen
the clear red surge over her face from neck to brow and then recede, but
not before it had lighted a danger spark in her eyes.
"You did mean that!" She went on before he could answer. The scorn in
her voice stung. But the Reverend Angus was not a coward.
"That was my meaning. You are a young and inexperienced girl. You go
upon an excursion with a man whom none of us know. An accident, a very
peculiar accident, happens. You are led to believe that the damage is
serious, but later, when the matter is investigated, it is found to have
been trifling. What is the natural inference? What have you to say?"
"It has been said before," calmly.
"Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor."
They faced each other, the man and the girl. And the man's eyes fell.
"God forbid that I should do so," he murmured.
Esther's face softened. Her anger was not proof against humility.
"If you are really disturbed about it," she said slowly, "I can reassure
you. You say that you do not know Dr. Callandar. But I do know him. The
whole situation rests upon that. He is a man incapable of the caddish
villainy you impute. Why he could not repair the car, I cannot say. I
think," with a smile, "that he does not know quite as much about cars as
he thinks he does. But he did his best, I know that! When we found his
efforts useless we took the only course possible and made at once for
the canoe. We had to steal it, you remember, but the doctor showed no
faltering in that. He was also prepared to shoot the dog. And you have
my word for it that he made no attempt to swamp the canoe or to
otherwise complicate matters. I arrived at Mrs. Burton's by ten minutes
past nine. She was delighted to see me. Dr. Callandar walked over to the
station and sent telegrams to Aunt Amy and Mrs. Sykes. He returned to
Coombe upon the morning train. I remained with Mrs. Burton and came back
in time for school on the milk train Monday morning. That is the whole
story of the adventure and, to be frank, I enjoyed it immensely."
The minister shook his head, but he could say no more. His attitude had
not changed, yet he felt a sense of shame before the straightforward
honesty of Esther's outlook. She had no sense of the evil of the world.
That very fact seemed to make the world less evil.
"When will Mrs. Coombe be back?" he asked abruptly.
Immediately the girl's frank look clouded. "I do not know," she said.
"She hardly ever tells me when she is returning. She may be at home any
day now. You know how impulsively she acts."
"Yes--just so." The minister's manner was absent. "The fact is I wish
very much to speak with your mother regarding a certain matter. Not the
matter we have been discussing, we will say no more of that, but a
matter of great importance to--er--to me. The importance is such indeed
that I doubt if I am justified in delaying longer if you have no idea of
when I may expect to see her."
Had Esther been noticing she must have remarked the unusual agitation of
his manner, but Esther was not noticing.
"Is it anything you could discuss with me?" she asked innocently.
"Mother cares less and less for business. Unless it is something quite
private she will probably turn it over to me in any case."
"But this is not--er--a matter of business. Not exactly. Not a business
matter at all, in fact. It is a matter which--"
"Oh, there you are!" Miss Annabel's voice was breathless but gratified
and free from the faintest suspicion of having arrived, as usual, at
exactly the wrong moment. "Are you showing Esther the new rose, Angus?
Such a disappointment, Esther, my dear! I had quite made up my mind that
it was to be red. It came out pink, and such a beautifully strong
plant--such a waste! I simply can't make myself care for pink roses.
They are so common. Was I very long? You must both be starved. I know I
am. Won't you come upstairs, Esther, and put off your hat?"
Esther intimated that she would. Just now, she had no desire for the
further company of Mr. Macnair. She was conscious even of a faint
stirring of dislike. Therefore the eagerness with which she followed
Miss Annabel filled that good lady with hospitable reproach.
"I didn't intend to be so long," she apologised, "but you know what
choir-leaders are? And Angus won't speak to him. I can't make Angus out
lately. Tell me," abruptly, as they stood in the cool front room with
its closed green shutters, "did _you_ notice anything peculiar
"No," in surprise, "is he peculiar?"
"Quite. He's getting fussy. He never used to be fussy. The trouble was
to induce him to be fussy enough. Except over church matters. But this
morning he was just like an ordinary man. About his collar" (Miss
Annabel had a fascinating habit of disjointing her sentences anywhere)
"nothing suited him. And you know, Esther, what care I always take with
his collars. He said they were too shiny. Of course they're shiny. Why
not? He said he noticed that men weren't wearing shine on their collars
now. Fancy that!"
"Not really?" Esther's fresh laugh rang out.
"Well, words to that effect. He asked me if I wanted to make him a
laughing stock before the congregation. Did you ever? And he _banged
"Does he not bang doors usually?"
"Never. And he banged it hard. It shook the house."
"But people have to bang doors, hard, sometimes, even ministers. I
wouldn't worry if I were you. It probably did him the world of good. As
for the collars--he may have been noticing Dr. Callandar's. Mrs. Sykes
says the doctor sends all his laundry to the city."
"You don't say? And is it different from ours?"
"I--yes, I think it does look different."
"How did you happen to notice it? Oh, Esther, you aren't really carrying
on with that strange young man, are you?"
The girl's cheek flamed. The question, she knew, was void of offence.
"Carrying on" meant nothing, but the homely phrase seemed suddenly very
displeasing--horribly vulgar! Her very ears burned. What if, some time,
he should hear a like phrase used to describe their wonderful
friendship? The thought was acute discomfort. Oh, how mean and small and
misunderstanding people were!
She took off her hat and smoothed her hair without answering. But Miss
Annabel was so used to having her anxious queries unanswered that she
did not notice the lack.
"I know you haven't, of course," she went on. "But Coombe is such a
place for gossip. Ever since you and he had that smash-up with the
automobile, people have kind of got it into their heads that you're
keeping company. But I said to Mrs. Miller, 'I know Esther Coombe better
than you do and it isn't at all likely that a girl who can pick and
choose will go off with a stranger--even if he is a doctor. And,' I
said, 'how do we know he is a doctor anyway?' Goodness knows he came
into the place like a tramp. You've heard, haven't you, Esther, how he
came into the Imperial with nothing but a knapsack and riding in
Mournful Mark's democrat?"
This time she did pause for an answer and Esther said "Yes," shortly.
"Then that settles it. I knew you had some sense. Just like I said to
Mrs. Miller. Next time I see her I'll tell her what you say. 'Tisn't as
if we knew anything about the man. No wonder you feel vexed about it."
"I hope you will not mention the subject at all."
"Of course not. Except to tell them how silly they are. You're sure you
didn't notice anything queer about Angus when you were walking home
"Nothing at all." Yet, as she said it, it occurred to her that she had
noticed something unusual in the minister's manner--an agitation, a lack
of poise! "Perhaps he is disturbed about church matters," she suggested,
thinking of the interrupted conversation about the important matter
which was not business. "Why don't you ask him?"
Miss Annabel shook her head. "Oh, I never ask him anything! But,"
cheerfully, "I almost always manage to find out. I'm rather good at
finding out things. But this isn't a church matter. I know all the
symptoms of that. This is different. It's--it's more human!"
"Liver?" suggested Esther.
"No. I know the symptoms of liver too, Esther! What if it should be
The idea was so daring that Miss Macnair justly spoke it in italics. But
the attitude of her listener was disappointing. Esther looked as if it
might be quite a natural thing for the minister of Knox Church to
fall in love.
"Love!" she said the word caressingly. "Perhaps it is. They say love is
a disturbing thing. But--does it usually make a man bang doors?"
"It often turns a sensible man into a fool." Miss Annabel's tone held
bitterness. "But what I can't discover is this! If Angus is in love,
whom is he in love with?" The question was delivered with such force
that Esther jumped.
"I'm sure I don't know!"
"Nor do I. And that is what I must find out. I have my suspicions. My
dear, don't let me startle you, but have you ever thought that it might
possibly be--your mother?"
"Gracious! So it might! I never thought of it."
"I have not been blind," went on Miss Annabel complacently. "I have
noticed how often he calls at the Elms and how long he stays. Also how
very considerate he is of Mrs. Coombe, how patient with Jane, how
indulgent with you--"
"Indulgent with me!" indignantly. "Why should he be 'indulgent' with
"Why, indeed," asked Miss Macnair pointedly, "unless on account of your
Esther subdued a desire to laugh. Many little things, half-observed,
seemed to fit in with Miss Annabel's theory. Yet, somehow, instinct told
her that the theory was wrong.
"I don't believe it," she declared finally. "At first I thought it
possible but now I seem to know that we're on the wrong track. Mr.
Macnair is not in love with mother, and as for mother--Oh, the thing is
absurd! Aren't you awfully hungry, Miss Annabel?"
It was a curious luncheon party. The host was abstracted, nervous, far
from being his usual bland self. The guest was subdued, silent, uneasy
for no reason at all. The hostess, usually an ever-springing well of
comment and question, had decided upon quiet dignity as the most fitting
expression of sensibilities ignored by the banging of doors.
"I think, Angus," she ventured once, "that you ought to remonstrate with
Mr. McCandless in regard to 'If a man die.' An Easter Anthem is an
Easter Anthem, but after five renderings it is hardly fair to expect the
congregation to behave as if they had never heard it before."
"Quite so," said the minister absently.
"Then may I tell him myself that it is your special request--"
"Certainly not. I wish you would not interfere, Annabel. The choir does
very well. I think I have told you before that your continual desire for
something novel in music has not my sympathy. I am not sure that I
approve of this growing craze for anthems. They seem to me, sometimes,
wholly unconnected with worship. We do not ask for new hymns every
Sunday, nor do we ever become weary of the psalms. Indeed, familiarity
seems often the measure of our affection."
"Net with anthems," firmly. "Anthems are different. Aren't anthems
"I have known familiarity to breed something besides affection in the
case of anthems," agreed Esther.
In the ordinary course of things this remark would have aroused her host
into delivering a neat and timely discourse upon the proper relation of
music to the service of the Protestant Church and the tendency of the
present age to unduly exalt the former at the expense of the latter. But
to-day he merely upset the salt and looked things at the innocent
salt-cellar which his conscience, or his cloth, did not allow him
Miss Annabel raised her eyebrows at Esther in a significant way,
telegraphing, "What did I tell you?" And Esther signaled back, "You were
right. He is certainly not himself."
Several other topics were introduced with no better result and every one
felt relieved when lunch was over.
"I think," said the Reverend Angus, as they arose, "that it is probably
pleasanter in the garden."
Esther glanced at Miss Annabel. She wanted very much to go home. Yet in
Coombe it was distinctly bad mannered to leave hurriedly, after a meal.
She thought of pleading a headache, but the excuse seemed too
transparent and she could think of nothing better. Miss Annabel was
unresponsive. Her host was already moving toward the door. Now he held
it open for her. There was nothing to do but go. If she were clever she
could keep the conversation in Miss Annabel's hands.
But Miss Annabel's brother had other ideas. "I think," he suggested with
the soft authority which in that house was law, "that as you are taking
Mrs. Miller's class, Annabel, it might be well for you to look over the
Sabbath School lesson. Our guest will excuse you, I know."
"Why, I've hardly seen her at all, Angus."
"There will be time later. I am sure Miss Esther understands."
Esther understood very well and her heart sank. She was probably in for
another scolding. However, as politeness required, she murmured that on
no account would she wish to interfere with the proper religious
instruction of Mrs. Miller's class. Miss Annabel looked rebellious, but
as usual found discretion the better part and contented herself with
another facial telegram to Esther: "Find out what is the matter with
him." And Esther smiled and nodded: "I'll try."
"Perhaps you would like to see the rose bush to which my sister
referred," began the minister nervously as they stepped out upon the
lawn. "It is a very fine rose, but pink, I regret to say, pink. It is
unfortunate that Annabel should dislike pink so much. I think myself
that a pink rose is very pretty. Something a little different from the
red and white varieties."
Esther murmured, "Naturally," and opened her strange eyes widely so
that he could see the mischief which was like a blue flash in the depths
of them. He coloured faintly.
"I fear I am talking nonsense! The fact is that I am thinking of
something else. Something so important that it occupies my mind
completely. That is why, Esther, I wished to speak with you alone."
The girl was thoroughly interested now. She was flattered also. Miss
Annabel had been right. Something was troubling the minister. And she,
Esther, was to be his confidant. To her untroubled, girlish conceit
(girls are very wise!) it seemed natural enough. She had no doubt of
her ability to help him. Therefore her face and her answering "Yes?"
were warmly encouraging.
It is a general belief that a woman always knows, instinctively, when a
man is going to propose to her. She cannot be taken unawares; her
flutter, her surprise, her hesitancy are assumed as being artistically
suitable, but her unpreparedness is never bona fide. If this be the true
psychology of the matter then Esther's case was the exception which
proves the rule. No warning came to her, no intuition. She was still
looking at the minister with that warm expression of impersonal
interest, when, without further preliminaries, he began his halting
avowal of love.
Had the poor pink rose-bush suddenly flamed into crimson she could
scarcely have been more surprised. She caught her breath with the shock
of it! But shocks are quickly over. One adjusts one's self with
incredible swiftness. A moment--and it seemed to Esther that she ought
to have been expecting this. That she ought to have known it all along.
Thousands of trifles mocked at her for her blindness, thousands of
unheeded voices shrieked the truth into her opened ears. She felt
miserably guilty. Not yet had she arrived at the stage when she could
justify her blindness and deafness to herself. Later, she would
understand how custom, the life-long habit of regarding the minister as
a man apart, had helped to dull her perception. Later, common sense
would prove her innocent of any wilful blunder. But just now, in her
first bewilderment, it seemed that nothing could ever excuse that lack
of understanding which had made this declaration possible!
"I love you, Esther! I have loved you for two years." (It was like the
Reverend Angus to refer to the exact period.) "You must have seen it.
This can be no surprise to you. You may blame me in your heart for not
speaking sooner. But you were young. There seemed time enough. Then,
lately, when I saw that you were no longer a child, I decided to speak
as soon as your mother should have returned. But to-day I felt that I
could not wait longer. I must know at once--now! I must hear you say
that you love me. That you will be my wife. You will--Esther?"
His impassioned tones lingered on the name with ecstasy.
The startled girl forced herself to look at him, a look swift as a
swallow's dart, but in it she saw everything--the light on his face--the
love in his eyes! And something else she saw, something of which she did
not know the name but from which, not loving him, she shrank with an
instinctive shiver of revolt. He seemed a different man. The minister,
the teacher, was gone, and in his place stood the lover, the claimer.
Yes--that was it. He claimed her, his glance, his voice--somewhere in
the girl's heart a red spark of anger began to glow.
She tried to speak, but he silenced her by a gesture. "No, do not answer
yet. Although you must have known what I have felt for you, you are
startled by my suddenness, I can see that. I have told you that it was
not my intention to speak so soon. Circumstances have hurried me. I felt
that I must have this settled. That--that episode of last week alone
would have determined me. Things like that must not recur. I must have
the right to advise, to--to protect you. You are so young. You do not
know the world, its wickedness, its incredible vileness." His face was
white with intense inward passion. "With me you will be safe. My God!
to think of you at the mercy of that man--of any man! It stirs a madness
of hate in me. Hate is a sin, I know, but God will understand--it is
born of love, of my love for you."
Again the girl tried to force some words from her trembling lips. And
again he stopped her.
"Do not speak yet. I apologise for my violence. Forgive it. We need not
refer to this aspect of the matter again. Let us dwell only upon the
sweeter idea of our love--for you do love me? You will love me--Esther?"
But the time for speech had gone. To her own intense surprise and to the
minister's consternation, Esther burst into tears.
She was frightened, angry, stung with pity and a kind of horror. She
felt herself honoured and insulted at the same time; and with this
strange medley of emotions was a consciousness of youth and inexperience
very different from the calm, untried confidence of a few
"Forgive me, forgive me!" pleaded the conscience stricken suitor. "I
have been too sudden! I should have prepared you. I should have allowed
you to see more plainly." With a lover's first, fond air of possession
he attempted to take her hand.
"Don't!" The word was sharp as a pistol shot. Esther's tears were
suddenly stayed. Furtively she slipped the hand he had touched behind
her. With the other she felt for her handkerchief and frankly wiped
"You startled me," she explained presently. "And I am so sorry, so very
sorry! I never dreamed that you thought of me at all--in that way, any
more than I have thought of you. You honour me very much. But it is
impossible. Quite, quite impossible."
"You mean my position here, as minister? Believe me, I have thought of
all that. There may be difficulties but we will conquer them together.
Nothing is impossible if you love me, dear."
"Oh!" She turned wide blue eyes upon him. "That is just it. I do not
The blow fell swift, unerring, dealt by the mercilessly honest hand of
youth. Esther's eyes were quite dry now. Her nervousness was passing.
Regret and pity were merged in one overpowering, instinctive desire: the
desire to show him beyond all manner of doubt that she repudiated that
possessive touch upon her hand. "I could not ever possibly marry you,"
she said, as calmly as if she had been accustomed to dismissing suitors
all her life.
They were still standing by the rose-bush whose desperate fate it was to
produce pink roses. With incredulous dismay, the minister saw her turn
from him and take a step toward the house.
She had refused him! She was leaving him! At any moment Annabel might
finish her Sunday School lesson and come out upon the lawn--all his
self-possession vanished like a puff of smoke.
"Esther!" he cried, "Esther! wait. Give me a moment."
She paused, but did not turn.
"I think there is nothing more to say--I am very sorry."
Sorry! She was sorry. This young girl upon whom he had set his desire,
of whom he had felt so sure, to whom his love should have come as a
crown, was sorry. King Cophetua, flouted by the beggar maid, could not
have been more astonished, more deeply humiliated!
But the greater wound was not to his pride. At any cost to his dignity
and self-respect he could not let her go like this. His ministerial
manner fell away, his readiness deserted him. In a moment he became all
lover, pleading, entreating, with the one great abandon of his life,
with the stammering eloquence of unspeakable desire!
Slowly the girl turned to him. He saw her pure profile, then the full
charm of her changing face. The blue eyes, widely open, were darker,
lovelier than ever--Surely there was softening in their depths....
"Es--ther, Es--ther!" Miss Annabel's voice broke upon the tense moment
with cheerful insistence, and Miss Annabel herself appeared at the turn
of the walk, waving a slip of paper. She saw them at once.
"You're wanted at home, Esther. Your mother's come back. To-day! Think
of that! On the noon train. In face of the whole town. And all she said
when Elder MacTavish met her coming up from the station was that she had
forgotten it was Sunday. Fancy!"
Perhaps never, in all her life of inopportune arrivals, had Miss Annabel
been so truly welcome--or so bitterly resented! Esther turned to her
with a heart-sob of relief, the minister walked away without a word.
"Dear me! What's the matter?" said the good lady. "You seem all excited.
Perhaps I shouldn't have shouted out the news so abruptly. But it never
occurred to me that you might be startled. 'Tisn't as if your mother had
been away a year. Jane's waiting for you down by the gate. Such a
peculiar child! Nothing I could say will induce her to come in. Don't
you find Jane is a peculiar child, Esther?"
"Only a little shy," said Esther, quickening her steps.
"Shy! Mercy, I shouldn't call her shy. That child has the
self-possession of a Chinee! I hope you won't mind me saying it, but a
little shyness is exactly what Jane needs."
Esther, whose shaken nerves threatened hysterical laughter, made no
reply to this, but hurried toward the small figure by the garden gate.
"Oh, Jane!" she called, somewhat shakily.
At her voice, the Shy One stopped kicking holes in the turf with the
toes of her new boots and executing a bearlike rush, threw herself into
her sister's arms.
"I'm home, Esther! So's mother! And she says I don't have to go to
Sunday School. That's why I didn't want to come in. Let's hurry before
the minister comes."