小说搜索     点击排行榜   最新入库
首页 » 英文短篇小说 » I Walked in Arden » Chapter Seven I HAVE THE FIRST GREAT ADVENTURE
选择底色: 选择字号:【大】【中】【小】
Chapter Seven I HAVE THE FIRST GREAT ADVENTURE
October turned into November and angry hints of oncoming winter almost daily shrilled across the lake, scattering the heaps of yellow leaves on Myrtle Boulevard or playing the dickens with signs and hats on State Street. The nights were raw and cold; the night-shift at the factory ate their midnight lunches in the boiler room, a place which in July had seemed one of the lowest circles of the Inferno. Business was at a most critical stage, and Knowlton drove away at it day and night. We were, as he expressed it, just at the turn of the tide; it was a toss-up whether we should be swept on to the rocks or out into the sea of reasonable prosperity. I saw comparatively little of him, for he had not yet released me from night duty. I was getting quite accustomed to this nocturnal existence; I had actually grown to like it, because it left my afternoons free to go riding with Helen. I went to bed about half past seven in the morning, got up around three, and three-thirty would find Helen and me trotting sedately up Myrtle Boulevard—a sight to which the latter had become so hardened that not a verandah fluttered as we passed by. Indeed, the cool weather had driven even the most hardened gossip-scouts within. Helen's girl friends had tacitly accepted the situation, and at dinners or card parties Helen and I were always paired off together by tactful hostesses. None of the first riding party went with us now. Miss Hershey was chaperoning at White Sulphur, although there were rumours she would return for Christmas. "Mother" was querulous and fretful, particularly when we rode on stormy days; otherwise she had practically ceased active opposition. Her attitude now was resigned, if hurt, patience, varied with occasional Cassandra-like utterances of dire foreboding.

Saturdays were now thrice blessed, for the factory shut down from six o'clock Saturday evening until midnight Sunday, leaving the whole of Saturday free for me, if I kept Sunday for sleeping. We therefore reserved Saturdays for our longer expeditions into the rolling hill country behind us. (In the geography of Deep Harbor "the front" was the lake.) Soon hard frosts would come to make the roads impassable; we strove to do all the exploring possible before that should happen. I had found another horse which a modest weekly payment reserved for my exclusive use. He was a small Western pony, young and hard as nails. On frosty days he often tried to climb into the upper air, but he was to be preferred to the misanthropic Satan, who had fallen to the sad fate of hauling a grocer's wagon. Nevertheless Helen and I retained a warm spot in our hearts for old Satan and often carried him apples and sugar. In a large measure we owed him our friendship. It was an undeserved misfortune that it had come too late in life for Satan to keep up with. Helen named the new pony Starbright, because of the white star in the centre of his dark chestnut forehead. We both agreed that the name revealed no great powers of originality.

On the second Saturday in November we planned one of our longest quests. We both regretfully admitted it would probably be the last until spring; either snow or frozen ground was due at any time. The day was gusty and overcast; "Mother" tried every whine in her repertoire to dissuade us from going. Helen's obstinacy refused to yield, and off we went, taking our luncheons with us. On a hillside, by the edge of the wood, several miles away, we dismounted and built a camp fire against a large boulder. Helen endeavoured to instruct me in the art of camp cooking, a skill which she maintained she had learned one summer in the woods. It consisted principally of trying to balance a flimsy piece of bacon on a forked stick. The instant the heat reached the meat it would curl up and fall into the redhot coals. It then became my duty to burn my fingers in an attempt at rescue before the bacon turned to a cinder. In this way we spoiled a fair amount by the time we had each eaten two or three scorched slices. I commented on the fact that camp cooking seemed uneconomical, to say nothing of its lack of finesse. Helen laughingly guessed she was "out of practice," so we toasted marshmallows instead, a form of cooking in which we were more proficient. The warmth of the fire was pleasant, and we lingered on, careless of our original purpose to penetrate far into the hills. It was Helen's turn to tell me of herself, which she did, half shyly, half whimsically.

The eighteen years of her life had been passed in Deep Harbor, except for two winters at a large New England boarding-school, or during brief visits to school friends in New York. At school she had had the good fortune to come under the influence of a rare kind of teacher—one with the power of revealing the world. Helen spoke of her with dreamy affection, as of one who had opened a gate and shown the beauty of an unsuspected garden lying beyond. Having shown it, she had left Helen to wander in it at will. Thus it came about that this young girl, native of a provincial town, had found the path leading to citizenship of the world. The maturity of her judgment was astonishing; it implied an experience of life which I knew was impossible. I often found myself deferring to her opinion or leaning upon her advice, for her calm, level decisions brushed aside my cobwebs of sentiment and substituted truth for the meshes of whim or impulse. Day by day I had grown more dependent upon her until I expressed no opinion, even concerning business, without first submitting it for her approval. With all this she was a fun-loving child, full of mischief and humour, or occasionally tempest-swept by sudden child-like anger, when the storm clouds in her eyes would frighten me. After anger would follow such a melting tenderness as made me long to kneel at her feet and beg forgiveness for having caused her displeasure.

Curiously enough we neither of us analyzed what was happening to us. It seemed natural that we preferred to be together—even to be alone—and we were content with the word "friendship" as a complete explanation. Neither of us questioned it or looked beyond our next Saturday together. We must have been very young and inexperienced. Once in a while Knowlton had asked me, with his Harlequin's grin, how I was getting on; old Hemphill at the factory had stumbled his way through a clumsy joke aimed at me: neither followed the subject very far. Helen was not a topic I would allow discussed; there was something so far beyond the comprehension of the world in our attitude toward each other. Helen's own friends, I discovered, had passed from teasing to regard us as a fait accompli, and thereafter held their peace. Here again we looked upon their behaviour as simply caused by their lack of understanding. Poor old world, how we pitied it!

Today we were playing one of our new games—I don't know which of us thought of it first. The game was founded upon the Morte d'Arthur, and we were in search of the questing beast. Helen stretched comfortably before the camp fire and read aloud to me from her Mallory, which I carried in my coat pocket, the description of this mediaeval animal. As she finished we listened for the noise to come from the woodland on the edge of the hillside pasture in which we were. It sounds ridiculous to tell of it now, but it was as real to us as the play of children is to them. Beyond the edge of the wood there lay strange adventures—we had no doubt of it. Deep Harbor faded from us like a conjurer's vision, and the fields, hills and woods became the enchanted reality. We peopled it with all the crew of fairy folk and ourselves assumed r?les appropriate to our fellowship. How could ordinary Deep Harborites understand such a game or dream that this was one of the secrets of our friendship—they who thought only of such mundane things as love and marriage? Would they not laugh at the Lady Grey Eyes on her cream-coloured palfrey, escorted by her trusty knight, Edward of Over-Seas? To be sure the Lady Helen's horse was light chestnut, not cream, but in her magic capacity the mare assumed a new tint.

As we scanned the woodland, wondering what castle it hid or whether a hermit dwelt in its shade, we were aware of a tawny yellow animal approaching us. By his manner it should have been a dog, but the peculiarity of its build and complexion left some doubt. On the other hand, he was not the questing beast, for his coming was silent. Helen clung to me with delight; the creature was unusual enough, seen through our imagination, to look like the bearer of adventure. Carefully he circled us with an upstanding waving yellow signal of friendly purpose. I whistled. It awoke a sympathetic response, for he bounded up to us and laid his head in the Lady Grey Eyes' lap in token of obeisance. Dog there was no denying he was, but one whose ancestors had mingled with strange company. Chief among his forebears had been a bull dog; the others had been of that cadium-hued race to be found sleeping in the dust of village streets. From ear to ear of his square bulldog head there spread an expansive smile, whence depended a most liquid tongue. He kissed my hand, thus completing his homage.

"Ted, I want him. He's mine!" the Lady Grey Eyes declared.

"On my honour as a knight, you shall have him, if no farmer catches us in the theft, or if he does, we'll try what filthy lucre will accomplish," I replied, somewhat diverging from the purity of Mallory's style. I made fast the prize with a piece of string. There seemed no need, for he accepted gratefully whatever command we laid upon him.

"What name shall our new companion bear?" I asked. Helen regarded her treasure trove critically. In spite of the misalliance of one of his ancestors, our friend was unquestionably mainly plebeian except for the sternness of his tenacious profile. The latter gave him an air unlike any other dog. His amiability, however, was unquenchable.

"He ought to be called 'Bill' if it wasn't for his face," mused Helen. "What do you say to 'Sir Leonidas de la Patte Jaune'?"

"It strikes me as a bit beyond his linguistic ability; however, just as you say."

"He is lion-coloured—hence 'Leonidas.'" she explained—I had same doubts concerning this etymology—"and yellow paws are undoubtedly characteristic of the majority of his family." I nodded, for her latter argument was flawless.

"What shall we call him for short?" The practical world would assert itself at times.

"Leonidas, of course," said Helen with dignity. "The rest of his name is part of our secret."

I sprang to my feet. "The questing beast!" I exclaimed. "Let's test Sir Leonidas on an adventure. Let him track the questing beast through the forest!"

Helen gave a little cry of joy, her eyes shining.

"Come, Sir Leonoidas de la Patte Jaune!" she called. "We are about to lay a high adventure upon thee!" Leonidas tilted his head, listening to her, and wagged his tail at varying speeds. "Over there in yonder woods is a marvellous questing beast which we have taken an oath to bring to Arthur's Court ere a year and a day have passed. Thou shalt aid us in the quest. It is only fair to warn thee that this task is fraught with dire peril, but thy cheerful soul shall carry thee safely through all. Sir Edward of Over-Seas and I, the Lady Grey Eyes, shall be ever at thy side." She untied the string.

"Go get him! Sic 'em!" I said. Which of us he understood the better, I do not know. At any rate he was off at a bound toward the woods, and Helen followed with speed afoot.

Back and forth we ranged through dense underbrush, Leonidas making noise enough, as he crashed over dry twigs, to frighten away a menagerie of wild animals. Helen shouted with laughter at his clumsy eagerness to serve us. We worked our way into a clearing, and here Leonidas' excitement redoubled. This time he was clearly on the track of something. Helen was just a trifle nervous at the change from make-believe.

"What may one expect in these woods?" I asked.

"Nothing but woodchucks and rabbits, unless—" and she gave a scream that startled me. "Call him quick, Ted, quick!" she implored. What unknown danger were we walking into? I wondered, but I called Leonidas, and none too soon. There emerged from a thicket a small black and white animal.

"Run—run for your life, Ted!" The tone of her voice brought instant obedience. We fled in miserable panic back to our pasture, followed, luckily, by Leonidas. As we reached the remains of our camp fire, Helen sank exhausted with laughter, great tears streaming down her cheeks.

"Ted, it was a skunk," she gasped, much as Mrs. Siddons must have spoken a famous line of Lady Macbeth's. Leonidas lay panting, his nose between his paws. I wiped the sweat of exertion and relief from my forehead.

"That's the worst of adventures," I said, after a pause. "The stories never mention the unpleasant odour one is apt to encounter by the way."

"Ted, that's the narrowest escape we ever had. What would mother have said?" and she rocked again with laughter.

"My immediate concern would not have been 'mother,' if anything had happened," I commented reflectively. "Leonidas," and I turned to him, "I hope you have learned the lesson of never overplaying your hand. We sent you on one adventure, and you got us into one not on the orthodox list." Leonidas cocked one eye at me and feebly wagged his tail.

"Ted, those bushes have made my hair a sight," Helen said, and without more ado, tumbled it all down on her shoulders. Something caught my throat; I had never seen her with her hair down, and the added beauty it gave her almost hurt. I sat silent and motionless, staring at her while she combed it out as if she were doing the most ordinary thing in the world.

"Don't put it up—just yet," and I made a slight gesture to stop her, as she began to twist it into a mass.

"Why not, Ted? It's untidy enough as it is," and her grey eyes opened wide at me. I couldn't explain.

"Please leave it."

"Silly boy, if you want me to," she laughed, and tossed it back with a shake of her head.

"May I touch it?" I begged, stretching forth my hand. Instinctively she drew away slightly.

"I don't know, Ted," and we looked at each other a long minute.

"Please," I coaxed. She hesitated and then she began to do it up.

"I don't think you'd better," she said so low I could scarcely hear her. "It isn't like us, Ted." That answer was so final that I did not dream of questioning it.

"I'm sorry I asked—forgive me, Helen dear," and I got up to gather sticks with which to revive our fire. Leonidas remained on guard by Helen's side. While I was away I led the horses over to a pond at the foot of the hill and watered them. Upon my return Helen was looking her imperturbable neat self. We read the Mallory together before the fire until the sinking November sun warned us to go. The problem arose: would Leonidas follow our horses? He could not be led on a leash, and without Leonidas Helen refused to return. Experiment was necessary; to our joy Leonidas remained indifferent whether we rode or walked afoot. He was content to follow either way. With some trepidation we picked our way by the first farm-house we passed, expecting either to be challenged to surrender the dog or else to see Leonidas dash home; neither of these things happened. It was impossible to canvass the countryside, house by house, looking for his owner—at least, I thus stifled Helen's conscience on this point, for, faced with the necessity of carrying him off, she suddenly felt we ought to pay for him. Leonidas simply came.

The air grew chillier and chillier; Helen started off on a brisk canter to warm us up. Along a soft dirt road we went at a good clip, Leonidas trailing desperately in the rear. We were on the crest of a hill overlooking distant Deep Harbor and the lake. The soft coal smoke lay black over the town, blending with the lighter greys of the water and sky. All outlines were blurred and softened in the half light, and Deep Harbor might have been a city of dreams. Ahead of me, Helen must have been thinking something the same, for she pointed toward it with a sweeping gesture of her arm.

As she did so her horse caught a loose stone, stumbled, and fell. I had one glimpse of her lying motionless in the road, after her horse scrambled up and dashed on, riderless; the next I knew, I was at her side, my own horse abandoned, holding her tightly in my arms.

I was dazed with the suddenness of it all; for a moment I could not think and did nothing but hug her close, her head against my shoulder, as I bent over her face and whispered, "Helen, dear! Helen!" over and over again.

At last she opened her eyes of her own accord, for I had taken no rational steps to aid her, and smiled at me. I held her still more closely, delirious with joy; her eyes grew serious as she looked back at me, until they melted into the tenderest grey any man has ever seen. Then we both understood; there was no need of further words; her hand sought mine and rested there with quiet confidence.

"It's my knee, Ted. I've wrenched it," she whispered. "I must have fainted—that wasn't like me, Teddy dear, was it?" Again she smiled such a happy little smile that actually a tear from my eyes fell upon her cheek.

I laid her gently down, roused to some vague trace of commonsense. "I'll get some water," I said, looking helplessly around at an arid country road.

"It's much more important, Ted, to catch the horses." There was truth in this. Mine was quietly cropping grass a few yards away; Helen's was doing the same about a hundred yards further on. Leonidas joined us, evidently in deep concern. It was a simple matter to catch my horse, for he had been trained to come at command. Helen refused again to let me help her until I had made a try for her animal. I mounted and rode cautiously up to the mare; she gave a toss of her head and was off for a few yards further. We repeated this several times with the same results. Next I dismounted and advanced with elaborate flattery. Useless; the beast would not allow herself to be caught. I was in despair, imagining Helen to be suffering pain which somehow my presence might alleviate, while this confounded horse was taking me straight away. Apparently, however, the horse tired of the game after a few more minutes, or else her feminine nature desired to assert itself in a new way; as I was about to give it up as a bad job she unexpectedly permitted me to walk right up to her and seize the bridle. Needless to say, the three of us were not long in returning to Helen.

She was sitting up with one foot straight out in front of her, Leonidas proudly beside her. "I can stand on it, Ted," she called out, "but riding is out of the question." It was rapidly growing dark, and we were several miles from home. The roads we chose for riding were the unfrequented by-ways; it seemed unlikely, therefore, that there was much hope of anything passing. Also it was cold. These things we ruefully enumerated to each other.

"Do you feel much pain?" I asked when we had exhausted the list of other disadvantages in the situation. We both avoided reference to what we knew had happened when she first opened her eyes in my arms.

"It hurts only if I bend it. I don't dare take my riding boot off for fear I couldn't get it on again. It's only a twist—nothing broken, or I couldn't stand. Isn't it ridiculous, Ted?" and she laughed.

"I don't want to leave you here alone—in the dark—while I get help, dearest—and yet I don't see what else to do."

"Indeed, you won't leave me alone, Ted, if I stay here all night. We'll just wait. Perhaps I'll be able to walk after a little rest."

"There ought to be a farm near by—I could telephone from there—"

"You'll sit right here with me, dear," she said with finality. "This whole country is full of tramps—they're all making for the big cities at this time of the year."

I knew this to be true; they were to be seen everywhere. Deep Harbor's freight yards were a kind of clearing house for tramps stealing rides east and west. They camped, by night, for miles about the town. The mere thought of them made me sit promptly by Helen's side. We sat for a long time in silence.

"It is true, Ted, isn't it?" she said.

"Yes."

"And to think we never guessed it!"

"Not until I saw you lying in the road," I said with a slight catch in my voice, as the picture flashed through my mind again. Her warm, womanly hand crept into mine, and once more there was silence. We were both too overwhelmed with this new miracle to talk about it. I could not see her face, for the night was too dark. I don't think it occurred to either of us that we had not as yet exchanged a lovers' kiss or even mentioned the word "love." We both wanted a little time to think about and feel our happiness. Leonidas curled up at our feet and slept. She reached down and stroked his head gently.

"You won't laugh at me for wanting to keep Sir Leonidas do la Patte Jaune now, will you, Ted dear?"

"No," I answered, smiling in spite of myself to think what strange forms the bearers of romance could take. Then came a different mood. The world was glowing, building beautiful fantastic shapes and sounds in my mind, in which there swirled black smoke from factory chimneys, grey eyes and flowing hair, the clatter of horses' hoofs, Helen's laugh, the ugly square face of a yellow dog—a tumbling, changing medley of sound and colour, half ecstatic, half terrible, for through it all darted again and again the vision of Helen lying still and motionless upon the road—an insistent bass accompaniment striving to drown the shriller, sweeter notes of joy. I could not speak. I tried to say something to Helen, to tell her something of what I felt, but I could only press her hand and hold it tight. "Here is the true beginning of life," my thoughts cried to me. "Remember that with the beginning of life also begins the end," rumbled that terrifying bass. Why—why should fear come to me on this day of all days? Was it some ancient racial superstition of primitive man's that when the gods smiled then they plotted evil?—was it such a childish inherited instinct as this that had seized me? But dread would not shake off. "The Greeks believed great happiness to be dangerous; the mediaeval monks scourged it from their bodies; the Puritans cursed it," thundered that bass, crying down the "I love her" singing in my ears.

"If you will let me lean upon your shoulder, I think I can walk now," came Helen's gentle voice, bringing me with a start from the whirlpool of my thoughts. I stood up. "What were you thinking, Teddy?" she asked shyly as I stooped to help her to her feet.

"You know the Tannh?user overture?" I whispered.

"Yes."

"Listen to it and you'll guess a little how my head sounds."

I put one arm around her and led the horses as best I could with my left hand. We made slow and painful progress down the road. Helen was as plucky as I knew she would be; although each step was agony, not a whimper came from her lips. About half a mile from where we started the light of a farm appeared; we staggered through the little swinging gate, arousing a pack of dogs which made more noise than the Seven Champions of Christendom. With difficulty we restrained Leonidas from going to a noble death in single combat against the lot. It took as heavy knocking as upon the gates of Macbeth's castle to arouse the farmer within, who finally opened the door a distrustful crack and stood surveying us by the light of a glass oil lamp held above his head. He was clad in rubber boots, trousers, and a night shirt; the expression upon his face did not indicate any anxiety to ask us to partake of bread and salt with him.

"Have you a telephone?" I asked. "This lady was thrown from her horse and hurt. I want to get help."

He reflectively turned all this over in his mind, evidently considering the request and its accompanying statement from all conceivable angles. Leonidas tactlessly growled at him and incurred severe reproof from Helen.

"Please let me in," she pleaded. "I want very much to sit down." I was meditating choking consent out of the impassive sour-faced old man. A high-pitched nasal voice called out from the head of the stairs: "Henery, don't you dast to give no tramps anything to eat."

"I'll pay you for your trouble," I said, producing a few bills.

"I reckon I don't have to be paid for no trouble," the old codger snarled. I saw that I had made another error of tact. "What you doing out gallivantin' around this time of night?" he added.

"We are not out from choice," I reminded him. "This lady has had an accident and is seriously hurt. All we ask is to be allowed to stay here until we get help from town."

"Mary!" he turned and shouted, "c'mon down here a minute." All this time he carefully guarded the door so that entrance was not possible. I had the intelligence at last to seat Helen on the porch steps while "Mary" made suitable toilet above stairs. The old woman came down in a red flannel mother Hubbard, from which stray ruffles of her nightgown protruded.

"What's all this foolishness about, Henry?" she inquired sharply.

"Young fellow and his girl—says she's hurt," Henry replied.

"Are they married?"

"Dunno. I don't take much stock in the story myself."

"If you'll allow me to explain—" I ventured, thinking it about time I took a hand in the dialogue.

"Tell them my name, Ted. Every one around here knows father," Helen suggested. Why had I not thought of this before?

"Miss Claybourne has had a fall from her horse and is hurt," I began.

"Martin Claybourne's girl?" the old woman interrupted.

"Yes."

"Lives on Myrtle Boulevard?"

"Yes."

"Henery, you old dumbhead, open that door and get a light in the parlour. Land sakes, men is fools. Bring the child right in here. Dear, dear, Martin Claybourne's little girl hurt and you standing there shutting the door in her face—how you expect to answer to your Maker on the great day, the Lord only knows. Where are you hurt, darling?" This to Helen as I almost carried her in and laid her on the best horsehair sofa.

"I've only wrenched my knee, thank you," Helen smiled.

"I'll get you a hot poultice just as soon as I get a fire in the stove. We'll fix you all up while the men folks are telephoning. I do believe I've got a bottle of arnica up in the store closet," and she shooed "Henery" and me out of the room. I had the luck to get Mr. Claybourne on the telephone almost immediately, and partly explained to him the situation, as far as the accident was concerned, while "Henery" contributed directions where to reach us: "Tell him it's Five Mile Farm on South Ridge—Henery Tyler's place." This done, "Henery" assisted me to put the horses in the barn and to make Leonidas fast to a post. I was now anxious to return to Helen, but "Henery" put obstacles in the way: "Better leave the womenfolk alone—pertickly as you ain't married, till Mary gets that poultice fixed." I brushed his objections aside and went into the parlour. Mrs. Tyler let out a piercing shriek, for poor Helen's bare and badly swollen knee was exposed to view. Helen laughed: "It's all right, Mrs. Tyler—Ted and I—well, I want him to help."

"Land sakes!" exclaimed Mrs. Tyler, "I remember you in short dresses—seems like it was only yesterday, walkin' down Myrtle Boulevard with your dad—and do you mean to say you and him—?"

"Yes," Helen said with a dear look at me, covering her knee shyly. I rushed to her side, seizing the arnica bottle to disguise my confusion.

"My, my, how time flies!" Mrs. Tyler continued, moralizing the spectacle from beneath her curl papers. "Why, you ain't no more'n a child. How long you been keepin' company?"

"Not very long," Helen replied, her hand in mine. "You won't let that poultice burn, will you, Mrs. Tyler?"

"Land sakes, no! Clean forgot all about it. To think that numbskull Henery tried to shut the door in your face, and the minister preachin' about the good Samaritan only last Sunday—" and she mercifully departed in search of the poultice. We could hear her in the kitchen giving "Henery" an additional "piece of her mind," as she would have called it.

"Why didn't you tell me at first that you knew these people, sweetheart?" I asked. "It would have saved you some of the pain of standing." I tried to be reproachful.

Helen giggled happily. "I wanted to see if you could manage it, Ted. It was too delicious to watch you lose your temper on my account because you went at 'Henery' Tyler the wrong way. I'll never again send you as ambassador to one of our farmers. You even offered him money!" and she laughed. I, felt there was a defence to my actions, but could think of none.

"Now, Ted, do you think we ought to leave my knee alone until we see a doctor, or shall we try the arnica and Mrs. Tyler's poultice?"

"I don't know," I said. "I hate to experiment with a knee without expert advice, but I don't believe arnica will do any harm, and the poultice will be warming."

Helen promptly displayed her knee again, and I gingerly applied the arnica. Mrs. Tyler returned with a steaming poultice.

"Now, dearie, you must have it on just as hot as you can stand it," she said, making a great bustle of preparation.

"Feel it, Ted, and see if I can stand it. I don't want to be blistered," Helen whispered. I seized the poultice as Mrs. Tyler held it in mid-air ready to apply it violently. I gave an involuntary "Ouch!" it was so hot. Mrs. Tyler refused to yield without a struggle.

"It's what I always do for Henery's rheumatics—catches him in the back when he's splittin' wood for the kitchen stove. Once I give him a good hot poultice he never complains of his back again that season." Poor man, with such a dire penalty instantly exacted, who would commit a second offence? Under further protests I got the poultice sufficiently cool, and I bound it in place with quite a workmanlike-looking bandage. When all had been put to rights as well as it could be, "Henery" was admitted. He bore a tray of biscuits, a pitcher of milk, and pie. Both Helen and I recalled with a laugh that we hadn't thought of food since our campfire of the early afternoon.

"We can't eat in the parlour," said the tactful Helen, aware of how great an enormity this must seem to a farmer's wife.

"Now, dearie, don't you fret yourself. You ain't agoin' to stir, not if I can help it. I guess the parlour can put up with it for once, if a certain long-faced fool will wipe his feet before he comes trapesin' in." The latter part of this remark was directed at "Henery" who promptly retreated and was heard vigorously scraping in the passage.

"I don't suppose you have any spirits—whisky, for instance? I think a drink would do Miss Claybourne good after the shock she's had." I noticed Helen's eyes dance as I said this, and she leaned forward eagerly to hear the reply.

"Spirits!" gasped Mrs. Tyler. "You mean rum?"

"Well," I said, "rum will do, if it's all you have." Helen made a mysterious and unaccountable noise—something like a choke.

"Praise the Lord, there ain't no liquor ever passed my lips—let 'lone my threshold!" she ejaculated. "Henery" stuck his head in at the door: "I've got a little somethin' I keep for my backache up in the hayloft," he ventured timorously. "If Miss Helen needs a little for medicinal purposes, same as I do occasionally, she's welcome," and he disappeared rather hastily. "There goes an example of true courage," I thought, "for it's ten to one he's sacrificing the future as well as the present." The look on Mrs. Tyler's face was awe-inspiring; her lips closed in a firm, tight line and no sound came from them. Under all the circumstances, however, I didn't envy "Henery." Helen and I did not dare exchange glances; she hurriedly nibbled a biscuit, and I studied a cabinet full of polished sea-shells. Mrs. Tyler suddenly left the room like a shot from a gun. I turned and went to Helen. She put her arms around my neck and kissed me.

"You dear, dear Ted," she laughed. "I'm going to have such fun watching you put your foot in it all your life!"

"But—but—," I sputtered.

"Yes, darling, I know. You did it for me and with the best intentions. That will always be your reason, you delicious thing."

"You know—that was our first kiss," I said with an abrupt change of subject.

"Oh, Ted, and I had to kiss you first after all!"

"I seem to flub everything," I remarked, unaccountably nettled. Helen laughed: "If I didn't love you so, Ted, I'd shake you. There now! I've said 'I love you' first, too."

"Henery" entered with a familiar looking bottle, closely followed by Mrs. Tyler.

"There ain't more'n a thimbleful left," he apologized holding it to the light. "My back's been kind of bad during the damp spell."

"Henery Tyler, it ain't rained a mite for six weeks," Mrs. Tyler snapped. I took the bottle from "Henery" and smelt the contents; it was a cheap whisky.

"Will you take a little, Helen?" I asked. "Just to pull you together."

"I don't think I need it, Ted, unless you tell me to take it." I started to hand it back to "Henery," but Mrs. Tyler was too quick for me. She snatched the bottle: "I'll just lock this away in the medicine closet, and when Henery's back troubles him again, he can have it along with one of my hot poultices."

"Henery" looked truly woeful; it was an awful price to ask a man to pay for a drink. As Helen finished the biscuit and milk we heard a carriage outside, and Mr. Claybourne came rushing in. He was greatly relieved at seeing Helen about to eat a large slice of apple pie instead of lying crippled, as he evidently expected.

"Well, Ted, what have you been doing to my little girl?" he asked, kissing Helen and shaking hands with me all in one move.

"It wasn't all Ted's fault," Helen smiled, her eyes shining. But Mr. Claybourne was too relieved and excited to notice anything.

"I'll arrange the cushions in the carriage, and you and I will carry her out, Ted," he shouted and dashed out again. Helen beckoned me to her.

"Don't say anything tonight, dear," she whispered. "I'm too tired to face mother. Come to Sunday dinner tomorrow," and she hugged my hand against her shoulder. "Let it be another of our secrets until then." I bent over her and kissed her hair. The Tylers were discreetly busy.

"Ted, dear?"

"Yes?"

"I'm so glad I hurt my knee!"

Mr. Claybourne appeared at the door.

"The carriage is ready, Ted. You'll have to take the horses in by yourself. Help me to carry the patient. I couldn't get Dr. Sinclair, but he'll be waiting for us at the house when we get back." We gathered Helen up between us and carried her out.

"You'll look after Leonidas too, won't you, Ted?" she said. "My knee will be enough for mother for one day."

The carriage drove away with Mr. Claybourne still shouting his thanks at the Tylers, with an "If I can do anything for you, Henry, look in at my office Monday." As "Henery" and I made our way to the barn to get Leonidas and the horses I said: "Mr. Tyler, if you will also stop at my office on Monday, you'll find a package of excellent medicine for rheumatism."


欢迎访问英文小说网http://novel.tingroom.com

©英文小说网 2005-2010

有任何问题,请给我们留言,管理员邮箱:tinglishi@gmail.com  站长QQ :点击发送消息和我们联系56065533

鲁ICP备05031204号