Part 5 out of 6
"Hardly at all, he says; at least he says he would have known me
anywhere. But it's quite a long time, you know, terribly long. I was a
young girl then. Naturally, he was much older."
"I should have thought so. That's why it seems queer--your having been
Mrs. Coombe looked cross. "I did not mean schoolmates in that sense."
"Oh, merely in a Pickwickian sense!" Esther's laugh bubbled out.
Mary arose. She was afraid to risk more at present, until she had been
to her room and--rested awhile. "You are rude, as usual," she said with
dignity. "When I said that Dr. Callandar and I were schoolmates I meant
simply that we were old friends, that we knew each other when we were
both younger. I do not see anything at all humorous in the statement."
"No, of course not!" with quick compunction. "It's quite lovely. Just
like a book. Why didn't he come in?"
The question was so cleverly casual that no one could have guessed the
girl's consuming interest in the answer. But its cleverness had overshot
the mark, for so colourless was the tone in which it was asked that Mary
did not notice it at all. Instead she retreated steadily along her
"I hope I always treat your friends with proper courtesy, Esther. And I
shall expect you to do the same with mine. Dr. Callandar is a very old
friend indeed. Should he call to-night I wish you to receive him
"I'll try," said the girl demurely.
The way of escape was now open, but Mrs. Coombe hesitated. She seemed to
have something else to say. Something which did not come easily. "It's
horrid living in a town like Coombe," she burst out. "People always want
to know everything. We met the elder Miss Sinclair on the river
road--you know what that means! If people ask you any question--or
anything--you had better tell them at once that Dr. Callandar is not a
"I should not dream of suppressing the fact."
"You see," again that odd hesitation, "he may call--rather often.
And--people talk so easily."
Despite her care, Esther's sensitive face flamed in answer to the
quickened beat of her heart. What an odd thing for her mother to say!
What did she mean? Was it possible that he had already told her--asked
her? Or had she merely guessed? There was a moment's pause, and then,
"Let them talk!" said the girl softly. "It can't make any difference, to
them, how often Dr. Callandar calls."
Mrs. Coombe looked doubtful, hesitated once more, but finally turned
away without speaking. As she went, she cast a careless glance at Aunt
Amy, who stood just within the kitchen doorway, a curiously watchful
look in her usually expressionless eyes.
"Berries all ready, Auntie," said Esther cheerfully. "What's the matter
with me as a Saturday Help?"
But Aunt Amy did not smile as she usually did.
"She's gone to get dressed," she said abruptly, indicating with a
backward gesture Mrs. Coombe's retiring figure.
"For him. She's gone to get dressed for him."
Esther was puzzled. "Why shouldn't she? Oh, I forget you didn't know!
It's quite a romance. Mother used to know Dr. Callandar when she was a
girl. 'We twa hae rin aboot the braes,' you know. Only it seems so
funny. Fancy, Dr. Callandar and mother! But we shan't have to worry any
more about her health. She can't possibly avoid him now."
Aunt Amy was not listening. The curiously watchful look was still in her
eyes and suddenly, apropos of nothing, she began to wring her hands in
the strange, dumb way which always preceded one of her characteristic
mental agonies,--agonies which, far beyond her understanding as they
were, never failed to awake profound compassion in Esther.
"What is it, dear?" she asked gently. "Are you not so well?"
"Don't you ever feel things, Esther? Don't you ever sense
"No, dear. And neither do you, when you are well. You are tired." She
placed her hands firmly upon the locked hands of Aunt Amy and with
tender force attempted to separate them. But Jane, who had been a silent
but interested spectator, spoke eagerly.
"Don't, Esther! Do let her tell us what is coming. You know she always
tells right when she wrings her hands. Go on, Auntie--"
"Jane, be quiet! I'll tell you why afterwards. Auntie dear, sit down."
'Aunt Amy's hands relaxed and the strange look faded. "It's nothing,"
she said. "It's gone! I must be more careful. Do not mention it to your
mother, children. She might think me queer again, and I am not at all
queer any more. You have noticed that I'm not, haven't you, Esther? I'll
do anything you say, my dear."
"Then lie out in the hammock while I get supper. The berries are all
ready. Then we'll all get dressed. Jane may wear one of her new frocks
and you shall wear your grey voile. It will be quite a party."
"Will there be ice cream? Because if there isn't I don't want to get
dressed," sighed Jane. "My new things don't fit. They look like bags."
"It will soon be holidays and then I'll fix them for you."
Jane laid a childish cheek to her sister's hand.
"Nice Esther," she cooed. "I'm sorry I called you a pig." Then, in a
change of tone as they left Aunt Amy resting in the hammock, "Esther,
why is Auntie so afraid of mother lately? She says such queer things I
don't know what she means."
"Neither do I, dear. But I think it is just a passing fancy. She was
very much hurt about the ring being sold. When she gets it back she will
forget about it."
"She looks at mother as if she hates her."
"Oh, no!" in a startled tone. "How can you say such a thing, Jane?"
"But she does. I've seen her. I don't blame her. I think it was
"That's enough. You know nothing about it. Little girls who do not
understand have no right to criticise."
"Fred says it was the most underhan--"
"Jane, one word more and you shall have no berries to-night. Duck, don't
you realise that you are speaking in a very unkind way of your
The child's eyes filled with ready tears, but her little mouth was
stubborn. "Auntie's more my mother, Esther, and so are you. And it was
mean to take the ring and I don't care whether I have any berries
Supper was a very quiet meal that night. Mrs. Coombe, interrupted in the
process of dressing, came down in an old kimono, but ate almost nothing,
Jane was sullen, Aunt Amy silent and Esther happily oblivious to
everything save her own happy thoughts.
As soon as she could, she slipped away to her own room, and, choosing
everything with care, began to dress herself as a maiden dresses for the
eye of her lover. She was to be all in white, her dainty dress, her
petticoats, stockings and shoes. White made her look younger than ever,
absurdly young. He had never seen her all in white and she knew quite
well how soft it made the shadows of her hair, how startlingly blue her
eyes, how warm and living the ivory of her lovely neck.
"Oh, I am glad I am pretty!" she whispered to her mirror. "Glad, glad!"
Then with a laugh at her own childishness she "touched wood" to
propitiate the jealous fates and ran down stairs to hide herself in the
duskiest corner of the veranda.
It was delightful there. The cooling air was sweet with the mingled
perfumes of the garden border below, an early star had fallen,
sparkling, upon the blue-grey train of departing day, a whispering
breeze crept, soft-footed, through the shrubbery. Esther lay back in the
long chair and closed her eyes. For thirty perfect moments she waited
until the click of the garden gate announced his coming. Then she sprang
up, smiling, blushing,--peering through the screen of vines--
A man was coming up the path. At first sight he seemed a stranger, some
one who walked heavily, slowly--the doctor's step was quick and
springing. Yet it was he! She drew back, shyly, yet looked again. Some
one, in a pretty green silk gown, had slipped out from under the big elm
and was meeting him with outstretched hands.
"Mother," thought Esther, "how strange!"
They had paused and were talking together. Mary's high, sweet laugh
floated over the flowers, then her voice, a mere murmur. His voice,
lower still. Then silence. They had turned back, together, down the
Esther sat down again. She felt numb. She closed her eyes as she had
done before. But all the dreams, all the happy thoughts were gone. She
opened them abruptly to find Aunt Amy staring down upon her, dumbly,
wringing her hands. In the warm summer air the girl shivered.
"What is it?" she asked a little sharply. But Aunt Amy seemed neither to
see nor hear her. She flitted by like some wandering grey moth into the
dim garden, still wringing her hands.
Esther sat up. "How utterly absurd," she said aloud. Indeed she felt
heartily ashamed of herself. To behave like a foolish child, to startle
Aunt Amy into a fit and all because her mother and Dr. Callandar had
gone for a stroll down the lilac walk--the most natural thing in the
world. They would return presently. She had only to wait. But the
waiting was not quite the same. Those golden moments already sparkled in
the past. Nothing could ever be quite the same as if he had come
straight up the path to where she waited for him in the dusk.
* * * * *
In the living-room, Jane who had small patience with twilight, had
lighted the lamp. Its shaded beams fell in golden bars across the
veranda floor. The sky was full of stars, now, but the voice of the
breeze was growing shrill, as if whistling up the rain.
They were coming back along the side of the house. Esther rose quickly
and slipped into the safety of the commonplace with Jane and the lighted
lamp. Mrs. Coombe entered first, there was an instant to observe and
wonder at her. She seemed a different woman, young, pretty, sparkling;
even her hair seemed brighter. Behind her came Callandar and when Esther
saw his face her heart seemed to stop. It was the face, almost, of a man
of middle age, a firm, quiet face with cold eyes.
"Esther!" Mrs. Coombe's voice held incipient reproof.
The girl came forward and offered her hand. The doctor, this new doctor,
took it, let it drop and said, "Good evening, Miss Esther," then turned
to Jane with a politely worded message from Ann and Bubble.
"You can tell them I won't go," said Jane crossly. "They think they are
smart. Just because--"
Esther slipped quietly from the room. In the hall outside she paused,
breathless. She felt as if she had run a long way. Shame enveloped her,
a shame whose cause she could not put into words. She only knew that she
had, in the few seconds of that cold greeting, been profoundly
humiliated. She quivered with the sting of unwarranted expectancy. But
if this had been all, it would have been well. There was something else,
some deeper pain surging through the smart of wounded pride, something
which led her with blind steps into a dark corner of the stairs where
she sat very quiet and still.
Through the open front door, she could see the bars of lamplight on the
deserted veranda, and hear from the open windows of the living-room a
hum of conversation in which Jane seemed to be taking a leading part.
Then came the tinkle of the old piano and Mary's voice, singing, or
attempting to sing, for it was soon apparent that her voice sagged
pitifully on the high notes.
Presently Jane came out, banging the door. Jane's manners, Esther
thought, were really very bad. She had probably banged the door because
she had been sent to bed and she had probably been sent to bed because
she had been saucy. Esther wondered what particular form her sauciness
had taken, but when Jane called softly, "Esther!" she did not answer.
She did not want to put Jane to bed to-night. The child flashed past her
up the stairs and soon could be heard from an upstair window calling
imperatively for Aunt Amy. But Aunt Amy, flitting through the dim garden
wringing her hands, did not hear. Jane, much injured, went to bed by
herself that night.
In the lamp-lit room there was no more music. The murmur of voices grew
less distinct. There were intervals of silence. (Only very old friends
can support a silence gracefully--but of course these two were very old
friends.) Esther wondered, idly, how it would be best to explain her
absence to her mother. Toothache, perhaps? Not that the excuse mattered.
Mary never listened to excuses. She would be cross and fretful anyway
and complain that Esther never treated her friends with proper courtesy.
The best thing she could do would be to go to bed. But she made no
movement to go; the moments ticked by on the hall clock unnoticed.
After a time, which might have been long or short, there was a stir in
the room and her mother's voice called "Esther! Esther!"
The girl stood up, smoothed her white dress, slipped out on to the
veranda and into the garden. From there she answered the call.
"Where are you? You sound as if you had been asleep. Doctor Callandar is
Esther came lightly up the steps.
"It is early," agreed Mrs. Coombe playfully, "but I can't keep him."
Esther, herself in shadow, could see the doctor's face as he stood
quietly beside his hostess. It was full of an endless weariness. Her
pride melted. Impulsively she put out a warm hand--
"Good night, Miss Esther. How very sweet your garden is at night. But it
feels as if our fine weather were over. The wind begins to blow
Esther's hand dropped to her side. Perhaps he had not seen it in the
We all know that strange remoteness into which one wakes from out deep
sleep. Though the eye be open, the Ego is not there to use it. For an
immeasurable second, the awakener knows not who he is, nor why, nor
where. Only there is, faintly perceptible, a reminiscent consciousness
whether of joy or sorrow, a certain flavour of the soul, sweet or
bitter, into which the Ego, slipping back, announces, "I am happy" or "I
Esther had not hoped to sleep that night but she did sleep and heavily.
When she awoke it was to blankness, a cold throbbing blankness of
undefined ill being. Then her Ego, with a sigh, came back from far
places; the busy brain shot into focus; all the memories, fears,
humiliation of the night before stood forth clear and poignant. She
buried her face in the pillow.
Yet, after the first rush of consciousness, there came a difference.
There always is a difference between night and day thoughts. Fresh from
its wonder-journey, the soul is braver in the morning, the brain is
calmer, the spirit more hopeful. After a half-hour's self-examination
with her face in the pillow Esther began to wonder if she had not been
foolishly apprehensive and whether it were not possible that half her
fears were bogies. The weight began to lighten, she breathed more
freely. Looking over the rim of the sheltering pillow the morning seemed
no longer hateful.
Foremost of all comforting thoughts was the conviction that instinct
must still be trusted against evidence. Through all her speculations as
to the unexplained happenings of the previous day, she found that
instinct held firmly to its former belief regarding the doctor's
feelings toward herself. There are some things which one knows
absolutely and Esther knew that Henry Callandar had looked upon her as a
man looks upon the woman he loves. He had loved her that night when they
paddled through the moonlight; he had loved her when he watched for her
coming along the road, but most of all he had loved her when, under the
eye of Aunt Amy, they had said good-bye at the garden gate. This much
was sure, else all her instincts were foresworn.
After this came chaos. She could not in any way read the riddle of his
manner of last night. Had the sudden resumption of his old friendship
with her mother absorbed his mind to the exclusion of everything else?
Impossible, if he loved her. Had purely physical weariness or mental
worry blotted her out completely for the time being? Impossible, if he
loved her. Then what had happened?
Doubtless it would all be simple enough when she understood. She sighed
and raised her head from the pillow. At any rate it was morning. The day
must be faced and lived through. Any one of its hours might bring
The rainstorm which had swept up during the night had passed, leaving
the morning clean. She needed no recollection to tell her that it was
Sunday. The Sabbath hush was on everything; no milkman's cans jingled
down the street; no playing children called or shouted; there was a bell
ringing somewhere for early service. Esther sighed again. She was sorry
it was Sunday. Work-a-day times are easiest.
A rich odour of coffee, insinuating itself through the half open door,
testified mutely to the fact that Aunt Amy was getting breakfast. It was
later than usual. After breakfast it would be time to dress for church.
Every one in Coombe dressed for church. It was a sacred rite. One and
all, they had clothes which were strictly Sabbatarian, known indeed by
the name of Sunday Best.
Esther's Sunday best was a blue, voile, a lovely blue, the colour of her
eyes when in soft shadow. It was made with a long straight skirt
slightly high at the waist, round neck and elbow sleeves and with it
went soft, wrinkly gloves and a wide hat trimmed with cornflowers. She
knew that she looked well in it--and the doctor would be in church.
On this thought which flew into her mind like a swift swallow through an
open window, her lethargy fled and in its place came nervous haste; a
feverish impatience which brought her with a bound out of bed, flushed
and eager. Philosophy is all very well but it never yet stilled the
heart-beat of the young.
Aunt Amy looked up in mild surprise as she hurried into the kitchen in
time to butter toast and poach the eggs.
"Why, Esther!" she said in her bewildered way. "I thought--I didn't
think that you would get up this morning."
"Why? I am perfectly well, Auntie. Where is mother?"
"Oh, she's up! Picking flowers."
Esther looked slightly surprised. It was not Mrs. Coombe's habit to rise
early or to pick flowers, but before she had time to comment, Mary
herself entered the kitchen with an armful of roses.
"Hurry with your breakfast, Jane," she said, "I want you to take these
over to the doctor's office. I wonder you have not sent some to the poor
man before this, Esther. Mrs. Sykes' roses never amount to anything.
Shall I pour the coffee? I suppose you felt that you did not know him
well enough. But flowers sent in a neighbourly way would have been quite
all right. If you weren't always so stiff, people would like you better.
I felt quite ashamed of your behaviour last night. Of course it wasn't
necessary for you to stay in the room _all_ the evening, but it was
simply rude to run away as you did. You needn't make Jane an excuse.
Jane could put herself to bed, for once."
"I did--" began Jane, but catching sight of her sister's face, went no
further. And Mrs. Coombe, who was always talkative when airing a
grievance, paid no attention.
"If you are feeling huffy about the motor breaking down, you'll just
have to get over it," she went on. "It couldn't possibly have been Dr.
Callandar's fault anyway."
"I am quite sure that it wasn't."
"Then don't sulk. He is rather fine looking, don't you think? Though as
a boy he was almost ugly. It doesn't seem to matter in men--ugliness, I
mean. And of course in those days he could not afford to dress; dress
makes such a difference. I shouldn't be a bit surprised if his clothes
are English made. That baggy look that isn't really baggy, you know.
When I knew him his people were quite poor. Only a mother and sister.
The father shot himself. People said suicide ran in that family. But
Harry--Henry said that if it did, it was going to stop running. He said
such odd things. I was staying with friends when I met him, at a church
social. One meets all kinds at an affair like that. My friends didn't
ask him to the party they gave for me. For although they were a very
good family, the Chedridges, Henry was almost a hired man at that time,
working for old Dr. Inglis, to put himself through college. His mother
and sister never went out."
"Were they both invalids?"
"Don't be clever, Esther! I mean socially, of course. Jane, run up to my
dresser and look in the second drawer on the right hand side and bring
down my small photo case. I think I have a photo somewhere, not a very
good one, but enough to show how homely he was.... Amy, aren't you going
to eat any breakfast this morning?"
Aunt Amy, who had been following her niece's unusual flow of talk with
fascinated attention, returned with a start to her untasted egg. Esther
tried to eat some toast and choked. In spite of all her resolutions she
felt coldly and bitterly angry. That her mother should dare to gossip
about him like that! That she should call him "ugly," that she should
speak with that air of almost insolent proprietorship of those wonderful
early years long, long before she, Esther, had come into his life at
all, it was unendurable!
Do not smile, sophisticated young person. When you are in love you will
know, only too well, this jealousy of youless years; this tenderness for
photos and trifling remembrances of the youth of the one you love. You
will envy his very mother, who, presumably, knew him fairly well in the
nursery, and that first dreadful picture of him in plaid dress and
plastered hair will seem a sacred relic.
In the meantime you may take my word for it, and try to understand how
Esther felt as she bent, perforce, over the photo of a dark-browed lad
whose very expression was in itself a valid protest against photography.
"Ugly, wasn't he?" asked Mrs. Coombe.
"Very," said Esther.
"Perfectly fierce," said Jane, peering over her shoulder. "Really
fierce, I mean, not slang. He looks as if he would love to bite
"The photographer, probably."
Esther shrugged her shoulders and laid the photo carelessly upon the
table. So careless was she, in fact, that a sharp "Look out!" from Jane
did not prevent a sudden jerk of her elbow upsetting her steaming cup of
coffee right over the pictured face.
With an angry exclamation, Mary sprang forward to rescue her property
but Esther had already picked it up and was endeavouring to repair the
damage with her table napkin.
"Oh, do take care!" said Mary irritably. "Don't rub so _hard_--you'll
rub all the film off--there! What did I tell you?"
"Dear me! who would ever have dreamed it would rub off that easily?"
Esther surveyed the crumpled bits of photo with convincing dismay.
"Any one, with sense. It's ruined--how utterly stupid of you, Esther."
Mary's voice quivered with anger. "You provoking thing! I believe you
did it on purpose."
The cold stare from the girl's eyes stopped her, but she added
fretfully, "You are always doing things to annoy me. I can't think why,
"She was trying to dry it," declared Jane, belligerently. "She didn't
mean to hurt the old photo. Did you, darling?"
"I can hardly see what my motive could have been," said Esther politely,
rising from the table. She had deliberately tried to destroy the
photograph and was exultantly glad that she had succeeded, yet, so
quickly does the actress instinct develop under the spur of necessity,
that her face and manner showed only amused tolerance of such a foolish
Later, the culprit smiled understandingly at her image in the mirror as
she dressed for church. "I did not know I could be so catty," she told
her reflection, "but I don't care. She hadn't any right to have that
darling picture. Ugly, indeed!" The blue eyes snapped and then became
reflective. "Only she didn't think it ugly any more than I did. It was
just talk. She was certainly furious when the film rubbed off. I
wonder--" She fastened the last dark tress of hair, still wondering.
All the way to church she wondered, walking demurely with Jane up
Oliver's Hill, while Mary, nervously gay, fluttered on a step or two
ahead. Jane found her unresponsive that morning. The acquaintances they
passed found her distant. They wondered if Esther Coombe were becoming
"stuck up" since she had a school of her own? For although, as Miss
Agnes Smith said, it is not quite the thing to do more than nod and
smile on the way to church, one doesn't need to pass one's friends
looking like an absent-minded funeral.
Poor Esther! She saw nobody because she looked for only one.
"Oh, Esther, Mrs. Sykes has a new bonnet. There she is, Esther, look!"
"Very pretty," murmured Esther absently.
Jane dropped her hand. "You're blind as well as deaf, Esther. It's
perfectly, dreadfully awful, and you know it!"
Thus abjured, Esther managed to look at Mrs. Sykes' bonnet. And, having
looked, she laughed. Mrs. Sykes had certainly surpassed herself in
bonnets. And poor Ann, her skirts were stiffer, her pig-tails tighter
and her small face more mutinous than ever. The doctor was not of the
party. Esther had known that, long before Jane had noticed the bonnet.
Still, there was nothing in that. He did not always walk with Ann to
church. He might not come up Oliver's Hill at all. He might come from
the opposite direction. He might be in church already. Esther's step
quickened. But she had no excuse for hurry. Unless one sang in the choir
or were threatened with lateness it was not etiquette to push ahead of
any one on Oliver's Hill. Decently and in order was the motto, so Esther
was sharply reminded when she had almost trodden on the unhastening
heels of Mrs. Elder MacTavish.
Mrs. MacTavish turned in surprise but, seeing Esther, relaxed into the
usual Sunday smile and bow.
"Good morning, Esther. Good morning, Mrs. Coombe. Good morning, Jane.
What perfect weather we are having. You are all well, I hope?"
"Very well, thank you."
"And dear Miss Amy?"
"Very well indeed."
"So sad that she never cares to come to church. But of course one
understands. And it must be a satisfaction to you all that she keeps so
well. I said to Mr. MacTavish only last night that I felt sure Dr.
Callandar was not being called in professionally. That is the worst of
being a doctor. One can hardly attend to one's social duties without
arousing fear for the health of one's friends. Not that Dr. Callandar is
overly sociable, usually."
The last word, delivered as if by an afterthought, said everything which
she wished it to say. Esther's lips shut tightly. Mary Coombe flushed.
But she was quick to seize the opening nevertheless.
"Such an odd thing, dear Mrs. MacTavish! Dr. Callandar turns out to be
quite an old friend of--of my family. We knew each other as boy and
girl. In his college days, you know."
"How very pleasant. But I always understood your family lived in
Cleveland. Did Dr. Callandar take his degree in the States?"
"Oh, no, of course not, but I was visiting in Canada when we knew each
other. Mutual friends and--and all that, you know."
"Very romantic," said Mrs. MacTavish. Her tone was pleasantly cordial,
yet there was a something, a tinge--her quick glance took in Mrs.
Coombe's pretty dress and flowered hat, and the beginning of a smile
moved her thin lips. She said nothing. But then she did not need to say
anything. Mind reading is common with women.
Mrs. Coombe was furious. Esther laughed suddenly, a bubbling, girlish
laugh, and then pretended that she had laughed because Jane had stubbed
her toe. Jane looked hurt, Mrs. Coombe suspicious and Mrs. MacTavish
amused. So in anything but a properly Sabbatical frame of mind the
little party arrived at the church door.
Who does not know, if only in memory, that exquisite thrill of fear and
expectation with which Esther entered the place which might contain the
man she loved? Another moment, a breath, and she might see him!... And
who has not known that stab of pain, that awful darkness of the spirit,
which came upon her as, instantly, she knew that he was not there?
He was not in the church. Mental telepathy is recognised as well by its
absence as by its presence. Esther knew that the church was empty of her
lover and that it would remain empty. He was not coming to church
to-day. Fortunate indeed that Mrs. MacTavish was not looking, for the
girl's lip quivered, an unnatural darkness deepened the blue of her
eyes. Then, smiling, she followed her mother up the aisle. Girls are
wonderfully brave and if language is given us to conceal our thoughts
smiles are very convenient also.
Mary Coombe settled herself with a flutter and a rustle, and then,
behind the decorous shield of a hymn book, she whispered,
"Did you see Dr. Callandar as we came in?"
"Look and see if he is here."
The girl glanced perfunctorily around.
"No," she said.
Mrs. Coombe frowned. She was patiently annoyed and Esther felt cold
anger stir again. What difference could the doctor's absence possibly
make to Mary Coombe?
The singing of the psalm and the reading were long drawn out
wearinesses. Esther had not come to church to worship that morning. We
do not comment upon her attitude. We merely state it. To-day, church,
the service and all that it stood for had been absolutely outside of
her emotions. Yet with the prayer came the thought of God and with the
thought a thrill of angry fear--a fear which was an inevitable after
effect of her very orthodox training. God, she felt dimly, did not like
people to be very happy. He was a jealous God. He was probably angry now
because she had come to church thinking more of Dr. Callandar than of
Him. "Thou shalt have no other Gods before me!" Awful, mystical words!
Did they mean that one couldn't have any human god at all? Not even a
near, kind protecting god--like the doctor? It frightened her.
She found herself explaining to God that her lover was not really a
rival. That although she loved him so terribly it was in quite a
different way and would never interfere with her religious duties. Then,
feeling the futility of this, she pretended carelessness, trying to
deceive God into the belief that she didn't think so very much of the
This was in the prayer, while she sat with her eyes decorously shaded by
her hand. Above her in the pulpit, the minister in an ecstasy of
petition set forth the needs of the church, the state and the
individual. Esther did not hear a word until a sudden dropping of his
voice forced a certain phrase upon her attention. He was praying, with
an especial poignancy for "that blessing which maketh rich and addeth
Was there such a blessing? A blessing which would make rich and add no
sorrow? No wonder the minister prayed for it. To Esther, whose mind was
saturated with the idea of God as the author of chastenings, the
possibility came with a shock of joy. She, too, began to pray, and she
prayed for one thing only, over and over--the blessing that maketh rich
and addeth no sorrow. There was no need, she felt, to specify further.
God was sure to guess what blessing she meant.
A subdued rustle, a swaying as of barley in a gentle breeze and the
prayer was over. Esther removed her hand from her eyes and looked up at
the minister. For a tiny second his glance met hers. A thrill shot
through her, a thrill of dismay. With all the force of a new idea, it
came to her that she and he were in the same parlous case. He loved her,
as she loved--somebody else.
And that meant that he must suffer, suffer as she had suffered last
night. Last week when he had told her of his love she had been
surprised, sorry and a little angry. But last week he had spoken of
unknown things. Love and suffering had been words to her then, now they
Then, for she was learning quickly now, came another flash of
enlightenment. They had been praying for the same thing. He, too, had
prayed for the blessing which maketh rich--and he had meant _her_. She
knew it. He had been asking God to give her to him. Horrible!
Common sense shrank back before the invading flood of fear. What if God
had listened? What if He had answered? Ministers, she knew, have great
influence with God. What if He had said, "Yes"? What if all the trouble
of last night, the blankness of to-day, were part of the answer?
"Never! Never!" she said. She almost said it aloud, so real had her fear
been. Her eyes, fixed upon the minister's face, were terrified, but her
soul was strong. Fearful of blasphemy, yet brave, she faced the bogie of
a God her thought had evoked, saying, "I make my own choice. Take my
lover from me if you will--I shall never give myself to another."
All this was very wrong, shocking even, especially in church. But it
really happened and is apt to happen any Sunday in any church so long as
human love rebels at the idea of a Divine love less tender than itself.
Gradually the panic fear died down. Esther's sane and well-balanced
nature began to assert itself. Some voice, small but insistent, began to
say, "God is not like that," and she listened and was comforted. She had
not yet come to the love which casts out fear, but she was done with the
fear which casts out love.
So that when on the church steps in the sunshine she felt Angus
Macnair's hand tremble in hers, she was able to meet his eyes,
straightly, understandingly, but unafraid.
The manner in which Dr. Callandar spent that tragic Sunday is not
clearly on record. We have watched Esther so closely that he has been
permitted to escape our observation, and it would be manifestly unfair
to expect any coherent account of the day from him. He knows that he
went for a walk, early, and that he walked all day. He remembers once
resting by the willow-fringed pool which had seen his introduction into
Coombe, but he could not stay there. Between him and that hot June day
lay the wreck of a world. Once he stumbled upon the Pine Lake road and
followed it a little way. But here, too, memory came too close and drove
him aside into the fields. There he tried to face his future fairly,
under the calm sky. But it was hard work. With such a riot of feeling,
it was difficult to think. His mind continually fell away into the
contemplation of his own misery. It was a bad day, a day which left an
With night came the first sign of peace, or rather of capitulation. He
fought no more because he realised that there was nothing for which to
fight. There had never been, from the very first moment, a possibility
of escape, the smallest ray of hope. Fate had met him squarely and the
issue had never been in doubt.
It was a "wonderful clear night of stars" when, having circled the town
in his aimless wandering, he found himself opposite the schoolhouse gate
and calm enough to allow his thoughts to dwell definitely upon Esther.
She, at least, was safe, and the knowledge brought pure thankfulness.
Not for anything in the world would he have had her entangled in this
tragic coil. Leaning over the gate he saw the school steps, faintly
white in the starlight. It needed small effort of imagination to see her
there as he had seen her that first day--a happy girl, looking at him
with the long, straight glance of unawakened youth. A great wave of
protecting love went out to meet that vision. Self was lost in its
immensity. As he had found her, so, please God, she was still and so he
would leave her.
Then, somewhere in the back of his brain, a question sprang to vivid
life. Was she the same? He knew that all day he had been fighting back
that question. Last night something had frightened him--something
glimpsed for a moment in Esther's face when she had come in from the
garden to say good-night. Fancy, perhaps, or a trick of the lamplight.
She could not really have changed. He would not allow himself even to
dream that she had changed.
By this time she would know about himself and Mary--know all that any
one was to know. He had insisted upon that. Mary had promised to tell
her to-day that they were to be married soon. Next time he saw her she
would look upon him with different eyes; eyes which would see not her
sometime friend and companion but her step-mother's future husband. He
must steel himself for this. Probably she would laugh a little. He hoped
she would laugh. Last night she had looked so--she had not looked like
laughter. If she should laugh it would answer the last doubt in his
heart. He would know that she was free.
Presently he felt himself to be unbearably weary. Physical needs,
ignored all day, began to clamour. He must get home at once. No _outre_
proceedings must raise the easy breath of gossip. He must not flinch, he
dared not run away, all must be done decently and in order. Let him only
keep his head now--the bravest man need not look too far into
It must be late, he knew. The road into Coombe was deserted. All the
buggies of the country folk returning from evening service had passed
long ago and even the happy young couples indulging in a Sunday night
"after church" flirtation had decorously sought their homes. He looked
at his watch by the clear starlight. It was later even than he had
thought. No need to avoid passing the Elms, now; they would all be
asleep--he might perhaps be able to sleep himself if he knew that no
light burned in Esther's window.
There was no light in the house anywhere. It stood black in the shadow
of its trees. The doctor found himself walking softly. His steps grew
slower, paused. Irresistibly the "spirit in his feet" drew him to the
closed gate from where he could see the black oblong of her window.
"She is asleep," he thought. "Of course she is asleep. Thank God!"
Then, on the instant of dropping his eyes from the window, he saw her.
She was standing quite near, in the shadow of the elm.
"Esther!" The one word leaped from his lips like a cry.
"Yes, it is I," she said.
She offered no word of explanation nor did any need of one occur to
him. Moving from the shadow into the soft starlight she came toward him
like the spirit of the night. But when she paused, so close that only
the gate divided them, he saw that her eyes were wide and dark
"I am so glad you came. I wanted to see you. I--I could not sleep." She
spoke with the direct simplicity of a child, yet nothing could have
shown more plainly that she was a child no longer. All her pretty
girlish hesitation, all her happy shyness had passed away on the breath
of the great awakening. It was a woman who stood there, pale, remote,
with a woman's question in her eyes.
The keen shock of the change in her filled Callandar with rebellious
joy; it would be pain presently, but, just for the moment, love exulted
shamelessly, claiming her own. He tried to answer her but no words came.
"You look very tired." She seemed not to notice his silence. "I must not
keep you. But there is a question I want to ask. Mother told me to-night
that you and she are to be married. Is it true?"
How incredible she was, he thought. How perfect in her direct and simple
dignity. Yet there had crept into her tone a wistfulness which broke
"Yes. It is true." He could do no less than meet her on her own high
"She said," the girl's sweet, remote voice went on, "that you had loved
each other all your lives. Is that true, too?"
He had hoped that he might be spared the bitterness of this, but since
only one answer was possible, "It is true," he said hoarsely, "it is
true that we loved each other--long ago."
"Long ago--and now?" He was to be spared nothing, it seemed. Her wide
eyes searched his face. Lest she should read it too plainly, he
bowed his head.
Then suddenly, even as she drew back from him, hurt to the heart, some
trick of moonlight on his half-hidden face, linked to swift memory,
showed her another moonlight night, a canoe, a story told--and in a
flash the miracle had happened. Intuition had leaped the gulf of his
enforced silence--Esther knew.
A great wonder grew in her eyes, an immense relief.
"Why," she spoke whisperingly, "I see, I know! She, my mother, is the
girl you told me of. The girl you married--"
She did not need the confirmation of his miserable eyes. It was all
quite plain. With a little broken sigh of understanding, she leaned her
head against the gate post and, all child again, began to cry softly
behind the shelter of her hands.
He could say nothing, do nothing. He dared not even touch the dark, bent
head. But we may well pity him as he watched her.
The girl's sobbing wore itself out and presently she lifted
tear-drenched eyes, like the blue of the sky after rain. Her tragic,
unnatural composure had all been wept away.
"I understand--now," she faltered. "Before, I didn't. I thought dreadful
things. I thought that I--that you--oh, I couldn't bear the things I
thought! But it's better now. You did love me--didn't you?"
She went on dreamily. "It would have been too terrible if you hadn't--if
you had just pretended--had been amusing yourself--been false and base.
But I felt all along that you were never that. I knew there must be
some explanation and it didn't seem wrong to ask. Instead of pretending
that I didn't know all the things you had not time to say. Forgive me
for ever doubting that you were brave and good."
She was not yet old enough to understand the tragic appeal. For she
leaned nearer, laying her soft hand over his clenched ones.
"It is all so very, very sad," she said with quaint simplicity which was
part of her, "but not so bad--oh, not nearly so bad as if you had been
pretending--or I mistaken. Think!--How terrible to give one's love
unworthily or unasked!"
"But you do not love me," he burst out, "you cannot! You must not!"
Never had he seen her eyes so sweet, so dark.
"I do love you. And I honour you above all men."
Before he could prevent her, she had stooped--her lips brushed his hand.
"Oh, my Dear!"--He had reached the limit of his strength--instant flight
alone remained if he would keep the precious flower of her trust. And
she, too, was trembling. But in the soft starlight they looked into each
other's eyes, and what they saw there helped. Their hands clasped, but
in that moment of parting neither thought of self, so both were strong.
Mrs. Sykes thought much about her boarder in those days and, for a
wonder, said very little. Gossip as she was, she could, in the service
of one she liked, be both wise and reticent. Perhaps she knew that
oracles are valued partly for their silences. At any rate her prestige
suffered nothing, for the less she said, the more certain Coombe became
that she could, if she would, say a great deal. Of course her pretence
of seeing nothing unusual in the doctor's engagement was simply absurd.
Coombe felt sure that like the pig-baby in "Alice," she only did it "to
annoy because she knows it teases."
One by one the most expert gossips of the town charged down upon the
doctor's landlady and one by one they returned defeated.
"True about the doctor and Mary Coombe? Why, yes of course it's true.
Land sakes, it's no secret." Mrs. Sykes would look at her visitor in
innocent astonishment. "Queer? No. I don't see anything queer about it.
Mary Coombe's a nice looking woman, if she is sloppy, and I guess she
ain't any older than the doctor, if it comes to that. No, the doctor
doesn't say much about it. He ain't a talking man. Sudden? Oh, I don't
know. 'Tisn't as if they'd met like strangers. As you say, they _might_
have kept company before. But I never heard of it. I always forget,
Mrs. MacTavish, if you take sugar? One spoon or two? As you say, old
friends sometimes take up with old friends. But sometimes they don't. My
Aunt Susan found her second in a man who used to weed their garden. But
it's not safe to judge by that. Ann, hand Mrs. MacTavish this cup, and
go tell Bubble Burk that if he doesn't stop aggravating that dog, it'll
bite him some day, and nobody sorry."
In this manner did Mrs. Sykes hold the fort. Not from her would Coombe
hear of those "blue things of the soul" which her quick eye divined
behind the quiet front of her favourite. But with the doctor himself she
had no reserves, it being one of her many maxims that "what you up and
say to a person's face doesn't hurt them any." The doctor was made well
aware that her unvarnished opinion of his prospective marriage was at
his disposal at any time.
"I'm not one as gives advice that ain't asked," declared Mrs. Sykes with
sincere self-deception. "But what sensible folks see in Mary Coombe I
can't imagine. I may be biased, not having ever liked her from the very
first, but being always willing to give her a chance--which I may say
she never took. There's a verse in the Bible she reminds me of,
'Unstable as water'--Ann, what tribe was it that the Lord addressed them
"I don't know, Aunt."
"There, you see! She doesn't know! That's what happens along of all
these Sunday Schools. In my day I'd be spanked and sent to bed if I
didn't know every last thing about the tribes."
"Ann and I will go and look it up," said the doctor hastily, hoping to
escape; "it will be good discipline for both of us."
"Land sakes! I'm not blaming you, Doctor. Naturally you haven't got your
mind on texts, and I don't blame you about the other thing either. Men
are awful easy taken in. My Aunt Susan used to say that the cleverer a
man was the more he didn't understand a woman. Dr. Coombe was what you'd
call clever, too, but it didn't help him any. Mind you, I'm not
criticising, far from it, but I suppose a person may wonder what a man's
eyes are for, without offence. No one knows better than you, Doctor,
that I'm not an interfering woman and I'd never dream of saying a word
against Mary Coombe to the face of her intended husband, but if I did
say anything it would have to be the truth and the truth is that a more
thorough-paced bit of uselessness I never saw."
"Mrs. Sykes," the doctor's voice was dangerously quiet, "am I to
understand that you are tired of your boarder?"
Mrs. Sykes jumped.
"Land, Doctor, don't get ruffled! I'm real sorry if I've hurt your
feelings. I didn't mean to say a word when I set out. My tongue just
runs away. And naturally you have to stand up for Mrs. Coombe. I see
that. That'll be the last you'll hear from me and 'tisn't as if I'd ever
turn around and say 'I told you so' afterwards."
This was _amende honorable_ and the doctor received it as such; but when
he had gone into his office leaving his breakfast almost untouched, Mrs.
Sykes shook her head gloomily.
"You needn't tell me!" she murmured, oblivious of the fact that no one
was telling her anything. "You needn't tell me!" Then, with rare
self-reproach, "Perhaps I hadn't ought to have said so much, but such
blindness is enough to provoke a saint. If he'd any eyes--couldn't he
see Esther?" Mrs. Sykes sighed as she emptied the doctor's untasted cup.
More frankly disconsolate, though not so outspoken, were Ann and Bubble.
Not only did they dislike the bride elect but they objected to marriage
in general. "A honeymoon will put the kibosh on this here practice,
sure," moaned Bubble.
"Look at me. I'm not thinking of getting married, am I? No, and I'm
never going to get married either."
"I am," said Ann, "and I'm going to have ten sons and the first one is
going to be called 'Henry' after the doctor."
"Huh!" said Bubble, "bet you it isn't. Bet you go and call it after its
father. They all do."
"No chance! Bet you I won't. I wouldn't call it 'Zerubbabel' for
For an instant they glared at each other, and then as the awful
implication dawned upon Bubble his round face grew crimson and his voice
thrilled with just resentment.
"Well, if you think you're going to marry me, Miss Ann, you're jolly
"Will if I like," said Ann, retiring into her sun-bonnet.
Upon the whole, however, their affection for the doctor kept them
friendly. Both children felt that something was wrong somewhere. Their
idol was not happy. Bubble whispered to Ann of long hours when the
doctor sat in his office with an open book before him, a book the pages
of which were never turned. Ann told of weary walks when she trotted
along by his side, wholly forgotten. Only between themselves did they
ever speak of the change in him, and Henry Callandar was well repaid
for the careless kindness of his brighter hours by a faithful
guardianship, a quick-eyed consideration and a stout line of defence
which protected his privacy and ignored his moods without his ever being
aware of such a service.
Esther he seldom saw. She was remarkably clever, he thought, with a
tinge of bitterness, in arranging duties and pleasures which would take
her out of his way. It was better so, of course. It was the worst of
injustice to feel hurt with her for doing what of all things he would
have had her do. But one doesn't reason about these things, one feels.
Sometimes he wondered if that midnight interview with her at the gate
had ever really taken place--or had it been midsummer madness, too sweet
to exist even in memory? Certainly, in the Esther he saw now there was
nothing of the Esther of the stars. She wore her mask well. School had
closed for the holidays and the summer gaieties of Coombe were in full
swing. Esther boated, picnicked, played croquet and tennis. If there was
any change in her at all it showed only in a kind of feverish gaiety
which seemed to wear her strength. She was certainly thinner. Callandar
ventured to suggest to Mary that she was looking far from well. But Mary
laughed at the idea. She was very much annoyed with Esther. The girl
appeared to care nothing at all for the great event, refused to discuss
it, declined absolutely to put herself out in the slightest for the
entertainment of her mother's prospective husband, seemed to avoid him
in fact. Moreover, she openly expressed her intention of leaving home
immediately after the wedding. Mrs. Coombe was afraid people would talk.
Of them all, Aunt Amy was the only one who understood. How her poor,
unsound brain arrived at the knowledge we cannot say. Perhaps Esther was
more careless in her presence, dropping her mask almost as if alone, or
perhaps Aunt Amy's strange psychic insight took no note of masks, or
perhaps--account for it as you will, Aunt Amy knew! Esther and Dr.
Callandar loved each other, and Mary stood between. This latter fact was
not at all surprising to Aunt Amy. Was it not the special delight of the
mysterious "They" to bring misery to all Aunt Amy loved, and was not
Mary their accredited agent? The affair of the ruby ring had proved her
that, though no one else must guess it. What would come of it all, Aunt
Amy could not tell. Wring her hands as she might she could not see into
the future. Often she would mutter a little as she went about her work,
or stand still staring, straining into the dark. No one noted any
difference in her save Jane, for Jane was as yet happily free to
observe. The others, caught up in the whirl of their own destinies, saw
nothing save the problems in their own anxious hearts.
"Esther," said Jane one evening, "Aunt Amy is odder and odder and you
don't seem to care a bit."
Esther, who was preparing to go to a garden party, turned back, a little
"What do you mean, Jane?"
"I don't know. Can't you see that she isn't happy?"
"But she is better. She never complains. She almost never fancies things
"She goes into corners and stares--and she wrings her hands."
"But she always did that, duck."
Jane was not equal to a more lucid explanation.
"It's not the same," she insisted. "I know it isn't. Esther, when you
go away, will you take Aunt Amy and me?"
"How could I, dear? Your home is here. And you like Dr. Callandar, don't
"I used to. But he never plays with the pup any more. He's different.
And you're different and mother's different. I don't want to live with
mother. That was a fib I told you the other day about the cut on my
head. I didn't fall and hurt it. It was mother She threw her clothes
brush at me."
"Jane!" There was pure horror in her sister's voice.
"Yes, she did. I went into her room when she was taking some medicine in
a glass and I asked her what it was. Honest, Esther, that is all I did.
And she screamed at me--and threw the brush."
Esther came back into the room and sat down.
"When was this?" in businesslike tones.
Jane considered. "It was that day she wasn't down stairs at all, and
sent word to Dr. Callandar not to come--three days ago I think."
"Yes, I remember. O Janie dear, it looks as if things were going to be
bad again! It must have been one of her very bad headaches. She was
probably in great pain. Of course she did not mean to throw the brush
Are you sure it was medicine she was taking?"
"It was something in a glass," vaguely, "she was mixing it--look out,
Esther! You are spoiling your new gloves."
The girl threw the crumpled gloves aside and drawing the child to her
knee kissed her gently.
"It seems to me," she said slowly, "that big sister has been losing her
eyes lately. She must find them again; it isn't going to help to be a
"Help what, Esther?"
Esther's only answer was another kiss, but when she had hurried out of
the room, Jane found something round and wet upon her hand.
Jane was still looking at the wet place on her hand when the doctor
"Esther's been crying," she told him. In her voice was the awe which
children feel at the phenomenon of tears in grown-ups.
Callandar felt his heart contract--Esther crying! But he could not
question the child.
"I don't know why," went on Jane obligingly. "Esther's so strange
lately. Every one is strange. You are strange too. Am I strange?"
"A little," said Callandar gravely.
"Perhaps it's catching? Do you want mother? She is upstairs and her door
is locked. Perhaps she'll be down in a little while. She said Esther was
to stay in and entertain you, but Esther wouldn't. She has gone to a
garden party. I'll entertain you if you like."
"That will be very nice."
"Shall I play for you on the piano?"
"Thanks. And you won't mind if I sit in the corner here and close my
eyes, until your mother comes?"
"No. You may go quite to sleep if you wish. I'm not sensitive about my
playing. Bubble says you are nearly always tired now. He says you have
such a 'normous practice that you hardly ever get a wink of sleep.
That's what makes you look so kind of hollow-eyed, Bubble says."
"So Bubble has been diagnosing my case, has he?"
"Oh, he doesn't talk about professional cases usually. He said that
about you because Mrs. Atkins said that being engaged didn't seem to
agree with you. She said she was just as glad you didn't take a fancy to
her Gracie if prospective matteromony made you look like the dead
march in Saul."
"What," resumed Jane, "is a dead march in Saul?"
"It is a musical composition."
Jane considered this and then dismissed it with a shrug. "It sounded as
if it was something horrid. Mrs. Atkins thinks she's smart. Anyway, I
didn't tell mother."
"Well, suppose you run now and tell her that I am here."
"Can't. The door is locked."
"Then let us have some of the music you promised. I'll sit here and
Strange to say, Jane's music was not unsoothing. She had a smooth, light
touch and the little airs she played tinkled sweetly enough from the old
piano. The weary, nerve-wrung man was more than half asleep when she
grew tired of playing and slipped off to bed without disturbing him. The
moments ticked themselves away on the big hall clock. Mrs. Coombe did
not come, nor did the doctor waken.
He was aroused an hour later by a voice upon the veranda. It was
Esther's voice and in response to it he heard a deeper murmur, a man's
voice without doubt. There was a moment or two of low-toned talk, then
"Good-night," and the girl came in alone.
She did not see him as she came slowly across to the table. He thought
she looked grave and sad, older too--but, so dear! With a weary gesture
she began to pull off her long gloves.
"Who was it with you, Esther?" He tried hard to make the inquiry, so
devouringly eager, sound carelessly casual.
She looked up with a start.
"Oh--I didn't see you, Doctor! Mr. Macnair was with me. Did you wish to
see him?" She could play at the game of carelessness better than he.
"Where is mother?" she added quickly.
"In her room, I think. Esther, are you going to marry Macnair?"
The girl slipped off her second glove, blew gently into its fingers,
smoothed them and laid it with nice care upon the table beside
"I do not know."
He realised with a shock that he had expected an indignant denial.
"You do not love him!"
"No. Not now. He knows that. And I do not expect ever to love him. But
perhaps, after a long while, if I could make him happy--it is so
terrible not to be happy," she finished pathetically.
Callandar could have groaned aloud; the danger was so clear. And how
could he, of all men, warn her. Yet he must try. He came quickly across
to where she stood and compelled her gaze to his.
"Do not make that mistake, Esther! It is fatal. Try to believe that in
spite of--of everything, I am speaking disinterestedly. You are young
and the young hate suffering. You would marry him, out of pity. But I
tell you that no man's happiness comes to him that way. You will have
sacrificed yourself to no purpose. The risk is too awful. Wait. Time is
kind. You will know it, some day. But even though you do not believe it
now--wait. Wait forever, rather than marry a man to whom you cannot give
"That is your advice?" She spoke heavily. "You would like some day to
see me marry a man I could--love?"
"Yes, a thousand times yes!"
"I shall think over what you say." She was still gravely controlled but
it was a control which would not last much longer. She glanced around
the empty room with a quick caught breath. "Why are you left all alone?"
"Is a keeper necessary?" Then, ashamed of his irritation and willing to
end a scene which threatened to make things harder for both of them, he
added in his ordinary tone, "I really do not know who is responsible for
such unparalleled neglect. Jane played me to sleep, I fancy. She said
her mother was upstairs but would be down presently. It must be late. I
had better go."
"Wait a moment, I will see if there is any message from mother."
As she left the room her light scarf slipped from her shoulders and fell
softly across his arm. Callandar crushed it passionately to his lips and
then, folding it carefully, laid it beside the gloves upon the table.
Even the scarf was not for him. Aunt Amy, passing through the hall on
her way upstairs, saw the dumb caress and shivered anew at the
mysterious power of "They" which could tear such a man as Callandar from
the woman he loved.
Esther was gone only a moment and when she returned she brought with her
a change of atmosphere. Something had banished every trace of
self-consciousness from her manner. She looked anxious but it was an
anxiety with which no embarrassment mingled.
"Doctor," she said at once, "mother seems to be ill. The door is locked
and she did not answer my knocking. Yet she is not asleep. I could hear
her talking. I think you ought to come up."
An indescribable look flitted across the doctor's face. He looked at the
girl a moment in measuring silence and then pointed to a chair.
"Sit down," he said briefly, "I thought that this would come. I have
been afraid of it for some time. Is it possible that you have no
suspicion at all in regard to these peculiar--illnesses--of your
The startled wonder in her eyes was answer enough even without the
quick, "What do you mean?"
Callandar's face grew gravely compassionate. "I think you ought to
know," he said. "I have put off saying anything because I was not
absolutely sure myself. And I have never had quite the right opportunity
of finding out. But I have had fears for some time now that your mother
is in the habit of taking some drug which--well, which is certainly not
good for her. Do not look so frightened. It may not be serious. Do you
remember when you first consulted me about your mother and how we both
agreed that the medicine she was taking for her nervous attacks might be
harmful? I was suspicious then, but there was little to go on, only her
fear of any one seeing the prescription, and a few general symptoms
which might be due to various causes. Since then I--I have noticed
things which have made me anxious. I think for her own sake as well as
yours and mine, the sooner the truth is known the better. Are you sure
the door is locked?"
"Yes," the girl's voice was tense, "but the window is open. It opens on
the top of the veranda. You could enter there."
"If that is the only way, I must take it. I thought, I hoped that if
things were as I feared she would tell me herself, but she never has. It
is useless, now, to hope for her confidence. The instinct is so strongly
for concealment. We must help her in spite of herself."
"Hurry then! I shall wait here. You will call me if necessary?"
She did not ask him exactly what it was that he feared nor did he tell
her, but for the first time in many weeks they were able to look at each
other as comrades look. The eruption of the old trouble into the new
obscured the latter so that, for the time at least, the sick woman
behind the locked door held first place in both their thoughts.
It seemed to Esther that she waited a long time before the summons came.
Then she heard him call, "Esther!" It was a doctor's call, cool,
passionless, commanding. She flew up the stairs, closing Jane's door as
she hurried by. The door to her mother's room was open. It was brightly
lighted. The shade of the lamp had been removed and its garish yellow
fell full upon the bed and the strange figure which lay there.
Mary Coombe had apparently thrown herself down fully dressed--but in
what a costume! Surely no nightmare held anything more bizarre. Esther
had no time to notice details but she remembered afterwards how the feet
were clothed in different coloured stockings and that while one
displayed a gaily buckled slipper, the other was carefully laced into a
tan walking boot. Just now she could see nothing but the face, for the
greatest shock was there. It did not look like Mary's face at all--it
was strange, old, yellow and repulsive. Her unbrushed, lustreless hair
hung about it in a dull mat, one of her hands was clutched in it--the
hand was dirty.
A terrible thought struck every vestige of colour from Esther's cheek.
Her terrified gaze swept over the disordered room, up to the face of the
man who stood there so silently, then down again to the inert woman upon
the bed. Once, not long ago, she had seen a drunken man asleep upon the
roadside grass--like this.
"Is it--is it drink?" The words were a whisper of horror.
The doctor shook his head.
"I wish it were. I wish it were only that. Have you never heard of the
drug habit--morphia, opium? That is what we have to fight--and it is
what I feared."
"Oh!" It was a breath of relief. To Esther, who knew nothing of drugs,
or drug habits, the truth seemed less awful than the thing she
"Is--is it serious?" she asked timidly.
The doctor smiled grimly. "You will see. No need to frighten you now.
But it will be a fight from this on." He threw a light coverlet over the
helpless figure and replacing the shade on the lamp, turned down the
flaring wick. "I will tell you what I can, but at present it is very
little. Probably this began long ago, before your father's death. In the
first place there may have been a prescription--I think you said she had
had an illness in which she suffered greatly. The drug, opium in some
form probably, may have been given to reduce the pain--and continued
after need for it was gone without knowledge of its dangerous qualities.
Nervous people form the habit very quickly. Then--I am only
guessing--as the amount contained in the original prescription ceased to
produce the desired effect, she may have found out what drug it was that
her appetite craved. If she saw the danger then, it was already too
late. She could not give up voluntarily and was compelled to go on,
shutting her eyes to the inevitable consequences, if indeed she ever
clearly knew them."
"But now that you know? It ought not to be hard to help her now that you
know. There are other drugs--"
"Yes. There is a frying-pan and a fire. In fact I fear that she has
already tried that expedient herself. Some of the symptoms point to
cocaine. No, our best hope is in the decreasing dose with proper
auxiliary treatment. I cannot tell yet how serious the case may be. At
any rate there must be an end of the mystery. Every one in the house
must know, even Jane; for in this fight ignorance means danger. But," he
hesitated and his face grew dark, "you cannot realise what this is going
to mean. It is my burden, not yours. At least I have the right to save
you that. We must have a nurse--"
A little eager cry burst from her. "Oh, no! Not that! You wouldn't do
that. You can't mean not to let me help."
"You do not know--"
"I do not care what it means. But if you won't let me help, if you shut
me out--" Her voice quivered dangerously, but with a spark of her old
fire she recovered herself. "You cannot," she added more firmly,
"because it is my burden as well as yours. Whatever she is to you, she
was my father's wife and I am responsible to him. Unless extra help is
really needed, no nurse shall take my place."
"Very well," quietly. "Call Aunt Amy, then, and search the room. She
will sleep for a long time yet. When she wakes there must be no more of
the drug within her reach. I must find out the amount to which she has
been accustomed and arrange a decreasing dose. But if you are to be a
nurse, you know, you must expect a bad time. It will not be easy."
Esther's reply was to call Aunt Amy and while the doctor explained to
the bewildered old lady the danger in which her niece stood and the
absolute importance of keeping all "medicine" away from her, Esther
quietly and swiftly searched the room. Boxes and drawers she unlocked
and opened, the dresser, the writing-table, the bureau, the long unused
sewing basket, all were examined without success. But in the locked box
which contained her father's portrait, she made another discovery which
woke a little throb of angry pity in her heart. There, still wrapped in
its carelessly torn off postal wrappings, lay the box containing the
ruby ring which Jessica Bremner had returned. Mary must have got it from
the post herself and had immediately hidden it, careless of the fact
that all Esther's careful savings had been necessary to make the return
possible. Without comment she slipped the ring into the bosom of
"Have you found anything?"
Aunt Amy took a fascinated step nearer the figure on the bed. If
Callandar could have intercepted the look she cast upon it he might have
been warned of the subtle change which had taken place in her of late,
but the doctor had turned to help Esther. Aunt Amy could gaze
"She looks like Richard," said Aunt Amy suddenly. "Do you remember
Richard?" She brushed her hand over her eyes in a painful effort of
memory. "He was a bad man, a very bad man."
"She means her brother Richard," explained Esther. "He has been dead for
ages. I believe he was not a family ornament."
"Just like Richard," murmured Aunt Amy again with a quickly checked
chuckle. "But you ought to be glad of that. You won't have to marry her
now. You can marry Esther."
If a shell had burst in the quiet room, it could scarcely have caused
more consternation. The doctor's stern face quivered, Esther's searching
hand dropped paralysed. Here was a danger indeed! Was their secret
really so patent? Or had it been but a vagrant guess of a clouded mind?
Callandar recovered himself first. Without glancing at the girl he
walked quietly over to the bed and placing his hand upon Aunt Amy's
shoulder compelled wavering eyes to his.
"Aunt Amy, you must never say that again." He spoke with the crisp
incisiveness of a master, but for once his subject did not immediately
respond. With a sulky look she tried to wrench herself free.
"Why?" she questioned. But Callandar knew his business too
well to argue. "You must never say it again," he repeated.
The poor, weak lips began to quiver. Her own boldness had frightened her
quite as much as his vehemence. Her eyes fluttered and fell.
"Very well, Doctor," she answered meekly.
They searched now in silence and presently Esther emerged from the
closet with a pair of dainty slippers in her hand.
"I think I have found something," she said. "There are three pairs of
party slippers and the toes of them are all stuffed with these." She
handed the doctor a package of innocent looking tablets done up in
purplish blue paper.
Callandar glanced at them, shook them out and counted their number.
"You are sure you have them all?"
"I can find no trace of more."
"Then I think we have a strong fight coming--but a good hope, too."
Miss A. Milligan stood before the door of her select dressmaking
parlours, meditatively picking her teeth with a needle. We hasten to
observe that her teeth were quite clean and that this was merely a
harmless habit denoting intense mental concentration. Miss Milligan was
tall and full of figure with an elegant waist and a bust so like a
pin-cushion that it fulfilled the duties of that article admirably. Her
small bright eyes set in a wide expanse of face suggested nothing so
much as currants in an underdone bun, and just now, as she watched the
graceful figure of Mrs. Coombe, bride to be, disappear around the
corner, they gave the impression of having been poked too far in while
the bun was soft.
The door of Miss Milligan's select parlours did not open upon the main
street, it being far from her desire to attract promiscuous trade. The
parlours, indeed, were situated upon one of the "nicest" streets in
Coombe and occupied a corner lot, so that a splendid view down two of
the most genteel residential streets was obtainable from their windows.
The only sign of business anywhere was a board of chaste design over the
doorway, bearing the simple legend, "A. MILLIGAN." Even the word
"Dressmaker" was considered superfluous. Also there was one window, near
the door, which from time to time displayed wonderfully coloured plates
of terribly twisting and elegantly elongated females purporting to be
the very latest from Paris (_France_).
Mrs. Coombe was getting some "things" made at Miss Milligan's. It had
been rumoured at first that she had contemplated running down to Toronto
and Detroit, buying most of her trousseau there, but for some
unexplained reason the plan had been given up. Doctor Callandar, it
appeared, believed in patronising local tradesmen and had been
sufficiently ungallant to veto the Detroit visit altogether. Everybody
wondered why Mary Coombe stood it. Surely it was bad enough when a man
sets up to be a domestic tyrant after marriage. They were surprised at
Dr. Callandar--they hadn't thought it of him.
"It is women like Mary Coombe who submit tamely to such indignities,"
declared the eldest Miss Sinclair, "who have held back the emancipation
of women from the beginning of time."
"She looks so poorly, too," agreed Miss Jessie. "I am sure she needs a
change. I should think that Esther would insist upon it."
But Esther appeared in all things to back up Dr. Callandar. People
admitted that they were disappointed in Esther and only hoped that the
day would never come when she would be sorry. For if all the world loves
a lover, all the world is indulgent to a prospective bride and any one
could see that this particular bride was being denied her proper
privileges. Any one would think she was a child and not to be trusted
alone. Esther went with her everywhere, simply everywhere. Of course it
was sweet of Esther to be so attentive, but people didn't wonder that
her mother didn't like it.
Such were the current comments of the town, sent out somewhat in the
nature of feelers, for behind them all, Coombe, having a very sensitive
nose for gossip, was uneasily aware that their cleverest investigators
were not yet in possession of the root of the matter. Every one seemed
to know everything, and yet--no wonder that Miss Milligan picked her
teeth in agonies of mental tumult at finding herself sole possessor of a
satisfactory explanation which she was bound in honour not to disclose.
Mrs. Coombe had just been in. She had been having a "first fitting" and
in the privacy of the fitting room she had been perfectly frank with
Miss Milligan. She had told Miss Milligan "things." She had told her
things which would move a heart of stone, regardless of the fact that
Miss Milligan's heart was made of the softest of soft materials and beat
warmly under her spiky pin cushion. The fact that her eyes were hard and
black had nothing to do with it; mistakes in eyes occur constantly in
the best regulated families. At this very moment when her eyes were more
like currants than ever she was making up her mind that, come what
might, doctors or no doctors, she was not going to see a fellow
creature put upon.
For, you see, Mrs. Coombe, poor little thing, had confided in Miss
Milligan. She had told her all about it, and like most mysteries, it had
turned out to be very simple. It seemed that Dr. Callandar, such a
perfectly charming man in most respects, had a most absurd prejudice
against patent medicines. This prejudice, common to the medical
profession on account of patents interfering with profits, was, in Dr.
Callandar's case, almost an obsession. Miss Milligan, being a sensible
person, knew very well that there are patents _and_ patents. Some of
them are frauds, of course, but there are others which are better than
any prescription that any doctor ever wrote. Miss Milligan did not speak
from hearsay, she had had an extensive experience the results of which
lent themselves to conversational effort. Therefore it is easy to see
how she understood and sympathised at once when Mrs. Coombe told her of
a remedy which she had found to be quite excellent but which the doctor
absolutely forbade her to use.
"Not that he means to be inconsiderate, dear Miss Milligan, only he is
so very sure of his own point of view. Doctors have to be firm of
course. But you can see it is rather hard on me. The trouble is that I
cannot obtain the remedy I need in Coombe. It is a remedy very little
known and useful only in obscure nerve troubles. I have been in the
habit of getting it from a certain firm in Detroit, not a very
well-known firm, and now, of course, that is impossible--without
upsetting the doctor, which I hesitate to do."
Miss Milligan was of the opinion that a little upsetting was just what
the doctor required.
"No--o." The visitor shook her head. She could not bring her mind to it.
She would prefer to suffer herself. But did not Miss Milligan think
that, in face of such an unreasonable and violent prejudice, a little
innocent strategy might be justified?
Miss Milligan thought so, very emphatically.
Mrs. Coombe sighed. "I do so want to look well for the wedding, you
know. And really, nothing seems to help me like my own particular
medicine. It is hard, very hard, to be without it."
Miss Milligan did not doubt it. It seemed, to her, a perfect shame. But
had Mrs. Coombe ever tried "Peebles' Perfect Pick-me-ups" for the
nerves? They were certainly very excellent.
Yes. Mrs. Coombe had heard of them and no doubt they were very good for
some people. But constitutions differ so. On the whole she felt sure
that even "Peebles' Perfect Pick-me-ups" would not suit her nearly as
well as her own particular remedy.
It was at this point that Miss Milligan stopped fitting and began to
pick her teeth, a sign, as we have before stated, of great mental
activity. If nothing would suit Mrs. Coombe but this one medicine and if
the medicine could be obtained in Detroit and if Mrs. Coombe had the
correct address--why not write for it? It was a brilliant idea, but Mrs.
Coombe shook her head.
She had the address, naturally, and she had also thought of writing, but
it would be of no use. Esther and the doctor actually watched her mail.
"Oh, not in any offensive way. They did not mean to be tyrannous. They
were quite convinced that patent medicines were very injurious. But
women suffering from nerves (like yourself, dear Miss Milligan) know
that relief is often found in the least likely places and from remedies
not mentioned in the Materia Medica."
Miss Milligan knew that very well. And people are so hard to convince.
When Mrs. Barker, over the hill, had first recommended that new
blood-purifier to Miss Milligan, Miss Milligan had laughed. But after
taking only six bottles she had thanked Mrs. Barker with tears in her
eyes. "And I must say," added she in a burst of virtuous indignation,
"that if I were going to Detroit to-morrow I would bring you back all
the patent medicine you wanted, Mrs. Coombe, and be very glad to
This was most satisfactory save for one small fact, namely that Miss
Milligan was not going to Detroit to-morrow. Mrs. Coombe thanked her
very much and raised her arm (which shook sadly) while Miss Milligan
pinned in the underarm seam.
"Even as it is," went on Miss Milligan, "I don't see why--a little
higher please, and turn a trifle to the light, thank you!--I don't see
why it can't be done. Nobody inspects my mail, thank heaven! and one
address is as good to a druggist as another."
What a bright idea! Strange that it had never occurred to Mrs. Coombe to
arrange things so easily. It was very, very clever and kind of Miss
Milligan to think of it. But--people might talk! Think how upset the
doctor would be if their innocent little plot were spoken of abroad.
People are so unkind, quite horrid in fact. And as Esther and the doctor
were doing it all for her good they would naturally hate to have their
actions misunderstood. Of course, Mrs. Coombe knew that Miss Milligan
herself would never mention it to a soul. She felt quite sure of that,
still--as it did not appear how the little plot could be spread abroad
under those circumstances unless the lay-figure in the corner should
become communicative, Mrs. Coombe's sentence remained plaintively
unfinished. Miss Milligan, in spite of its being so very unnecessary,
found herself promising solemnly never to mention it.
As the whole thing was entirely unpremeditated it seemed like a special
piece of good luck that Mrs. Coombe should have at that moment in her
pocket a note to the druggists (who were not called druggists, exactly)
and that all she needed to do was to add Miss Milligan's address, and
hand to that lady sufficient money to secure a postal note as an
enclosure. She did this very quickly and the whole little affair was
satisfactorily disposed of when Esther was seen coming hurriedly down
"I thought," said Esther, who entered a little out of breath and with a
worried pucker between her eyes, "I thought that I would just run in and
see how the linings look."
"You can never tell anything from linings," said Miss Milligan in an
injured tone. "Gracious! I don't suppose any one would ever want a dress
if they went by the way the linings look. I always advise my customers
never to look in the glass until I get to the material, what with seams
on the wrong side and all!"
"There is really nothing at all to see as yet," assented Mrs. Coombe
Esther seated herself by the open window.
"Very well," she said quietly. "I won't look. I'll just wait."
Mrs. Coombe shrugged her shoulders and displaced a pin or two. There was
an injured look upon her face and Miss Milligan, replacing the pins,
wondered how it is that nice girls like Esther Coombe never see when
they're not wanted.
The fitting went quickly forward. Mrs. Coombe seemed to have lost all
her genial expansiveness. Miss Milligan's pins had overflowed from her
pin-cushion into her mouth and Esther, who appeared tired, gazed
steadily out of the window. Only the humming of the machines in the
adjoining workroom and the subdued talk and laughter of Miss Milligan's
young ladies saved the silence from becoming oppressive. Occasionally,
when her supply of pins became exhausted, Miss Milligan would
contribute a cooing murmur to the effect that it did "set beautiful
across the shoulders" or that "the long line over the hip was
Without doubt the atmosphere had changed with the coming of Esther. Mrs.
Coombe became each moment more fidgety, she became, in fact, jerky! Her
hands twitched, her head twitched, she could not stand still and
suddenly she twitched herself out of Miss Milligan's hands altogether
and flinging herself into a chair declared that she couldn't stand any
more fitting that day. Even Miss Milligan's black currant eyes could see
that her nerves were terribly wrong--she looked ghastly, poor thing! And
all on account of a silly prejudice regarding patent medicines.
Esther, who exhibited no surprise at her mother's sudden collapse,
helped Miss Milligan to unpin the linings.
"My mother has been a little longer than usual without her tonic," she
calmly explained. "The other fittings can wait," and quickly, yet
without flurry, she found Mary's hat, bag, gloves and parasol and picked
up her handkerchief which she had flung upon the floor.
Mrs. Coombe accepted these services without thanks, indulging indeed in
a little spiteful laugh which Miss Milligan obligingly attributed to her
poor nerves. Things had come to a pretty pass indeed, thought the
sympathetic dressmaker, when a grown woman is obliged to have her
medicine chosen for her like a baby.
As she stood in the doorway watching the two ladies out of sight, a just
indignation grew within the breast so strongly fortified outside, so
vulnerable within; and without even waiting to call her giggling young
ladies to order, she pinned on her hat and departed to send Mrs.
Coombe's postal note to the Detroit druggist, who, oddly enough, was not
a druggist at all.
Esther and her step-mother set out upon their homeward walk in silence.
The older woman's face was drawn and bitter, Esther's thoughtful and
sad. Though there seemed no reason for haste, Mrs. Coombe's steps grew
constantly quicker until she was hurrying breathlessly.
More than once the girl glanced at her anxiously as if about to speak,
yet hesitating. Then when the walk threatened to become a run she laid a
detaining hand upon her arm.
"If you walk so very rapidly, mother, people will notice." It was the
only argument which never failed of effect. Mrs. Coombe's steps
"Besides," went on Esther eagerly, "every moment is a gain. Ten minutes
more will make this the longest interval yet. Don't you think you
The word was only a gasp and the face Mary turned for a moment on the
girl was livid. The eyes shone with hate. "You--you beast!" she muttered
Esther turned a shade paler, but otherwise gave no sign that she had
heard. "Mother, just try, you are doing so well, so splendidly. The
doctor says ..."
"Be quiet--be quiet! I hate him. I won't try. I won't be tortured--oh,
why can't you all leave me alone!" She began to sob and moan under her
breath, careless even of a possible passerby. Fortunately there was no
one, and they were already within sight of home. Esther, very white,
supported the shaking woman with her arm and they hurried on together.
At the door she would still have accompanied her but Mary flung herself
angrily from her hold and ran up the stairs with sudden feverish
strength. Esther turned into the living room and dropped into the
She was still sitting there without having removed either hat or gloves
when, a little later, Callandar entered.
"Well, nurse," with a faint smile, "how are things to-day?" His quick
eye had noticed in a moment the girl's closed eyes and listless
attitude, but nothing in his tone betrayed it.
"Very well, I think, until a little while ago. We were late in getting
home from the dressmaker's--"
"I see. You look rather done up. The fact is you are overdoing things.
Rather foolish, don't you think?"
"No," stubbornly. "I am all right."
"You are exhausted and there is no need. Things are going well. The dose
is steadily diminishing, more quickly than she suspects. It looks as if
we might begin to breathe again. It is a great gain to feel reasonably
sure that she has no more of the stuff hidden anywhere. If she had, she
would have used it during that last crisis."
The girl in the chair winced. She hated even to think of the night to
which his words referred. "Yes," she said, "but--but there won't be any
more times like that, will there?"
"Yes," grimly. "We are not through yet. But every crisis will be a
little easier--if things go as they are going."
Esther sighed. "It is very terrible, isn't it?" she said. "And really it
doesn't seem fair, for it wasn't her fault; in the beginning she didn't
know. And she does suffer so."
"We must not think of it in that way. It helps more to think of the
suffering she is escaping. What she is going through now is saving her,
body and soul. It is taking her out of torment and leading her back to
life, and sanity. You don't know, but I do, and any struggle, any
suffering is mild compared to the horrors before her if she kept on. She
was taking some cocaine too. The word means nothing to you, but to a
physician it spells hell. So you see--it gives one strength."
Esther sat up and straightened her collar. "I'm ashamed of myself," she
said. "No wonder you want another nurse. But I won't resign yet. And I
wanted to ask you--do you think it is necessary now to be with her
whenever she goes out? She hates it so. I think she is getting to hate
me, too. Where could she possibly get the stuff? None of our local
stores would sell it without a prescription."
"I know. But in a case like this you can never be sure of anything. No,
we must not relax in the slightest. Even as it is, I am continually
afraid." He began to pace the room restlessly. "There may be a weak spot
somewhere, some loop-hole we have forgotten. I think the druggists are
safe and the mail is watched. That last supply, you are sure it was all
"Yes, I burned it. At least I gave it to Aunt Amy to burn. I couldn't
"Well, let us call Aunt Amy, and make sure. I believe I am foolishly
nervous, but--" without finishing his sentence the doctor walked to the
door and waited there until Aunt Amy answered his call.
"Auntie," said Esther, "you remember the little package I gave you that
night when mother was so ill? It was done up in purplish blue paper."
"Do you remember what you did with it, dear?"
Aunt Amy looked frightened.
"I--I don't know. I've a very good memory, Esther. But somehow I'm not
"You will remember presently," said Callandar kindly. "We want to be
quite sure that it was destroyed. You know, I explained to you, that
Mary must take no more of that medicine. It is very dangerous...."
"What does it do?" unexpectedly.
"It is a kind of poison. It makes people very ill, so ill that in time
"Mary likes it. She says it makes her nerves better and puts her to
"When did she say that?"
"When she asked me if I had any."
The doctor and the girl exchanged a quick look.
"And you gave her some?"
"Oh, no, I couldn't. I had burned it in the stove--I remember now."
They both drew a breath of intense relief. But when she had left them,
Callandar looked very sober. "There, you see," he said, "was a
possibility we had overlooked."
"Yes, and it would have been my fault. I should have made sure long ago.
It is hard to get out of the habit of taking things for granted."
"Yet it is the one thing we must never do. In this we must trust no one,
and nothing. Then we shall win. If there is no relapse now, the worst,
the slowest part, is over. Soon you will be free, dear girl--and God
bless you forever for what you have been to her and to me."
She answered him only with a wistful smile and when he had gone, she
sighed. She would be free soon, he said. Strange that he could not see
that it was her freedom that she dreaded. Hard as it had been, hard as
it was, there was a still harder time coming--the time when she would be
free--free, to leave forever the man she loved.
The present with its load of duty and anxiety, the constant strain of
watching, its bearing of poor Mary's thousand ingratitudes seemed dear
and desirable when she thought of the black gulf of separation at the
end of the tortuous way. But of course he could not guess. How could he?
Men are so different from women.
She knew, though, that she was coming to the end of her strength. Not
even the doctor guessed how great the strain of those past weeks
When Mary had awakened to find that her secret was discovered she had
been like a mad thing. There had been rage, tears, protestations,
hysterical denials--finally confession and anguished promises. That she
had never realised the reality of her danger, nor the extent of her
servitude was plain. It seemed easy enough to promise. Esther and the
doctor were making a terrible fuss about nothing, as usual. She grew
sulky under Callandar's warnings and her fury knew no bounds when she
found that certain of her hidden stores had been confiscated. She
demanded that the supply be left in her hands; was not her
But all this was before she knew what denial meant, before she realised
that the way back along the path she had trodden so easily was
thick-set with suffering; that every backward inch must be fought for
with agony and tears. Then she had broken down altogether, had raved and
pleaded. The very knowledge of the depth to which she had fallen,
threatened to send her deeper still. Callandar soon realised that if she
were to be saved it must be in spite of herself. There were but two
points of strength in her weak nature; one the newly awakened, yet
capricious passion for himself, and the other that ruling terror of her
life, which of all her inherent safeguards was the last to give way
under the assaults of the drug, namely, "What will people say?" but
neither of these, nor both of them together, could stand for a moment
before the terrible appetite when once its craving was denied.
Twice she failed her helpers just when they were beginning to hope. In
her first search Esther had not exhausted the hiding places of the
poison and, to retain the temptation by her, Mary had lied and lied
again. Twice when the crises of her desire had come upon her she had
given way, helplessly, completely; and twice they had begun all over
again. The third time she had not been able to procure the drug, had
been compelled to fight through on the decreasing dose which the doctor
No wonder Esther shuddered when she thought of that night! Yet at the
time she had stood beside the moaning woman, white and firm, when even
Callandar had staggered for a moment from the room.
Next morning they had taken heart of hope again. Undoubtedly Mary had
exhausted the supply, and the possibility of its being replenished
seemed remote. It was only a matter of time now; of care, of
unremitting, yet gentle vigilance and Mary would be cured. The bride
could go to her husband, clean and in her right mind. And Esther
would be free.
Strangely enough, it was Mary herself who objected to a hastening of
their remarriage. Perhaps in spite of her inevitable deterioration there
was that in her still which forbade her going to him as she was. Perhaps
it was only another and more obscure effect of the drug; some downward
instinct which made her dread the putting of herself within the circle
of her husband's strength. She would fight her fight outside. Why? Was
it because she would conquer of herself, or because she did not really
wish to conquer at all?
To Esther, Mary's refusal came as a reprieve. But to Callandar it was
but a lengthening out of torture. Man's love must always, in its
essence, be different from woman's; though many women seem incapable of
recognising this fact. To Esther, now that she had put aside her first
half-understood glimpse of passion, it was sweet to be near him, to hear
his voice, to touch his hand and, above all, to spend her strength in
his service. But to him the strain was almost intolerable. The sight of
her, the touch of her, the whole soul-shattering nearness of her beauty
meant constant conflict; all the fiercer since it must be unsuspected.
Willits, the only man who had been told the truth, watched the fight
with admiration, sharply touched with anxiety. Expert in the moulding of
buttons, he knew very well that Callandar was drawing rather recklessly
upon his newly acquired strength. If the tension did not slacken soon
there might be another physical breakdown, and then--Willits shrugged
his shoulders. It would be entirely too bad if this very fine button
were to be spoiled after all. His heart was sore for his friend.
"You see," Callandar had written in one of his rare letters, "it was a
right instinct which warned me that no man escapes the consequences of
his own acts. There did come a short, golden time when I put the voice
of instinct behind me and dared to think that I, at least, had shaken
myself free. Closing the door of yesterday, I boldly knocked open the
door of to-morrow--and lo, to-morrow and yesterday were one!
"I know, now, that even had poor Mary been dead, as I believed, the
payment would have been exacted in some other way. When my brain is
clear enough to think, I have flashes of thankfulness that payment is
permitted to take the form of expiation. I can save Mary, and I will. In
some strange and rather dreadful way her need is my salvation.
"I have said nothing of Esther. How can I? The other day I heard Miss
Sinclair say that Esther Coombe was losing all her good looks. 'Thin as
a rail, and peeked as a pin' were the words she used. To me she has
never been so lovely. She is thinner; there are hollows in her cheeks;
her lips are no longer a thread of scarlet. The transparent lids of her
deep, wonderful eyes droop often and her hair seems to have lost its
life and hangs soft and very close to her face. I love her. I love her
as a man loves a woman, as a knight loves his lady, as a Catholic loves
the Madonna! This terrible strain must soon be over for her. I am doing
all in my power to hurry on the marriage. She is young. She is bound to
forget. When she leaves here she goes out of my life--and may God
"She is to go to Toronto. Lorna Sinnet has good friends there and they
will take her into their circle. She will begin to taste a fuller life,
and as her interests expand the old wound will heal. She will find
happiness yet. When Mary recovers, she and I will return to Montreal. I
am quite fit now. I feel that I can never work hard enough. Mary will
like the excitement of city life, and I rely upon you and Lorna to make
our coming as easy as possible. How is Lorna? A talk with her will be
"Does not all this sound admirably lucid and sensible? I want you to see
that I am not losing my hold--that I have finally faced down the problem
of the future. And there is one thing that has come to me out of all
this, a wonderful thing; I have forgotten Fear. It seems to me that all
my life I have lived in fear. Now I am not afraid...."
It was when Bubble was entering the post office for the purpose of
posting this letter that he met Miss Milligan, coming out. Miss Milligan
was evidently in a hurry, so great a hurry that she had not time to
question Bubble upon affairs in general as was her usual custom. Instead
she asked him to do something for her. It was a trifling service, only
to deliver to Mrs. Coombe a small postal packet which she held in