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首页 » 英文短篇小说 » I Walked in Arden » Chapter Sixteen WE HEAR SENTENCE PRONOUNCED
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Three years and a few months more went by, not uneventfully for us, yet without any striking change in the happy quiet of our lives in the little Hertfordshire village. We had acquired a few friends, some from London, others from among our neighbours. Week-ends were certain to find our guest room occupied, if we were not ourselves away on a visit elsewhere. There was tennis of a Saturday afternoon, golf, or a walk across the fields by the paths leading Aldenham way. Often we rode horseback, particularly in the autumn, when hounds were out. We were not, however, hunting people, for we could not afford a pair of good hunters; we contented ourselves with riding to the meets on our hired beasts, with a canter through a lane afterwards.

When there was something new on at the theatre, we dined in town, coming home after the performance by the late train. Our gradually increasing circle of friends connected with the theatres made it possible for us to obtain seats for first nights—not always, of course, but for many important openings. We came to know, by sight, at least, the perpetual first night audience of London, its critics, dramatists, and friendly connections. We enjoyed thoroughly whispering and nudging one another: "There's So-and-So," or "look at that dress Mrs. What's-her-Name is wearing." It was our way of joining in the outburst of applause with which it was the custom of the pit to greet the entry of each celebrity. But our theatrical friends were not in this group of big-wigs. We knew the younger generation—players of small parts, recent graduates from the Benson company, dramatists who had not yet had a West End production, idealistic members of the Stage Society—in fact, mostly the youngsters who believed themselves "advanced." Perhaps they were; I don't know. We were keen on Ibsen and smiled pityingly at the mention of Pinero. We were Fabians because of Mr. Shaw. Sometimes we—Helen and I—dabbled a bit in writing dramatic criticism. We began to get some articles accepted. But our greatest fun upon returning from a first night was to sit down and write parodies of the notice we expected to read in the morning in The Daily Telegraph. We became quite skilled at this latter art.

During these three years we saw my mother and sister but once or twice, when they came back to London for short visits. My sister was being taken to live now in Paris, now in Rome, and finally in Munich, to follow out a theory of education invented by the family. My father we saw more often, for he came back on periodical visits to look after his business. He preferred, however, his club in town to our more inaccessible village. If we wished to see much of him, we had to go up to London.

The baby had grown to be a constant source of surprise and delight to us. Her conversation was fluent, her interest in the garden intense. In violation of all the proprieties, she sat in a high chair at table with us for breakfast and luncheon. Leonidas also had his special chair in one corner of the dining room, which he mounted at the sounding of the gong and remained in until his own plate was carried out to his kennel. The baby and Leonidas were most astonishingly good pals. He would tolerate liberties at her hands that no one else dared venture upon. The worst ordeal of the day for Leonidas was to take tea with the dolls. With a napkin tied under his chin, he was compelled to occupy a place at the dolls' tea-table and sit there immovable until the ceremony was over. No Christian martyr ever had a more expressive countenance; yet he, like the martyrs, did not question the necessity for his sufferings. The lump of sugar which signalized the close of each day's tea-party would send Leonidas galloping in frenzied circles about the garden in joy over his regained freedom.

Our income was increasing, not to make us rich, but to keep pace with the things we enjoyed doing. In the first place, there were the modest profits of our share in the Willesden factory—a sum which about covered ordinary living expenses, clothes, and theatre tickets. Then there was Helen's allowance, which we used for horseback riding, week-end trips, old books, and little luxuries. From time to time we sold a manuscript—money which it particularly delighted us to earn. The great play had not yet been written; yet we were still hopeful that the future would bring us that. Several drawers of manuscript plays were beginning to accumulate. Last of all, a sheer piece of financial luck befell us.

A friend who was a solicitor in the City, had a client interested in chemical patents. I was casually asked one day to write a report on one of these patents. Helen and I worked out a document one evening, after messing about for a few days in the laboratory upstairs, sent it to the solicitors, and thought no more about it. To our surprise we received a check for fifty guineas a few days later, together with a request for reports on other patents. We embarked cautiously on the career of consultant, for, although the fees were tempting, we both feared being taken again from our writing and reading. We set a limit to the time to be given to this new work, not thinking it right wholly to refuse such a gift at fortune's hands. These occasional fees put us beyond any fear of financial worry. Helen refused, on the other hand, to let me open an office in the City. As long as the clients were willing to submit work to me at home, well and good. My mornings, she insisted, should be kept free for writing. Thus our days were very full and very happy.

We made a few trips to the Continent on our own account. The consulting fees made these easily possible. We went to Paris and Rouen, to the French Channel watering places, through Normandy, Holland, and Belgium—all at different times. We were never away longer than ten days, on account of the baby, and often not more than the week-end. In the same way I took Helen to see more of England, until, like me, she soon came to look upon England as home. Memories of Deep Harbor, in spite of weekly letters from her father and mother, were growing dim. There was no question of home-sickness; instead, I could see the love of England in her eyes as we rode between the Hertfordshire hedgerows or chatted with our friends at tea time in the garden.

There was but one thing that troubled me; in spite of our outdoor life and quiet habits, the climate did not always agree with Helen. In the winter she had too many heavy colds; in the spring her cough lingered longer than I liked. It was in June, when we were entering upon our fourth year in the village, that I asked a doctor in town to come out and have a special look at her. She had been a little languid, a most unusual thing for her, and the cough still hung on. The local practitioner, an amiable man harassed with overwork, had made light of it.

"Your soil is a bit clayey," he had said. "It would be better if you were on gravel, but it's nothing. Keep on with your riding; it will soon pass away."

It hadn't. That is why I sent for the London man. I waited downstairs for his verdict. He came in smiling, after half an hour, and I could feel my heart leap at the sight of his cheerful face.

"I don't think it's anything," he said. "Come, we won't believe it is," he added, and a strange icy chill went through me, leaving me speechless and physically helpless. I had just strength to grasp a chair. "I shouldn't say anything to her about it," he added—"at least, not for the present. I've taken a sample of her sputum and will have it analyzed, just to make certain. Still, I can't believe it."

"Believe what?" I gasped, my voice breaking in spite of my efforts at self-control.

"Now don't you worry, old man. We've caught it early, if it is anything—that's the main thing. There is a dull spot on one of the lungs that will bear a bit of watching."

I think it was the first time in my life I have ever felt sheer, absolute terror. My thoughts were raging like a madman's. I could not speak a word, try as I would.

"Buck up, old chap," he said, looking curiously at me. "Take a drop of brandy. You mustn't let Mrs. Ted see you like that." We were old friends, this doctor and I, for he had been the family specialist in town for years. "The main thing is not to worry or let her worry. Mind, not a word to her until I tell you."

Helen came in at this point, looking her own sweet self, with a smile upon her face. She had never looked so beautiful to me in her life.

"Ted, the doctor says you are a silly old goose to worry about me. I'm quite all right. He's prescribed a tonic. In a few days I'll be as well as ever. Would you like a cup of tea, doctor, before you go? Do stay. We can give you dinner later if you will."

"Thanks very much, I must be off. Other patients to see in town, you know. You are very kind."

I detected in the doctor's manner a desire to get away quickly, which I did not believe was wholly dictated by professional motives. "That man believes more than he has told me," I thought, "and he is not easy about this case." The baby toddled in to see the guest.

"Hasn't she grown wonderfully since you saw her, doctor?" said Helen, picking the baby up in her arms.

"Er—yes," said the doctor. "Er—I shouldn't lift any heavy weights, if I were you—not just for the present, you know."

Helen put the child down, with the slightest shadow in her eyes. Something impelled me, at this, to rush to Helen's side and put my arm about her. We stood facing the doctor, almost defiantly.

"I think I'll have a try for the 4.50—by the way, I suppose you'll be in town, both of you, for the horseshow at Olympia next week?"

"Of course," said Helen; "we never miss that."

"Look in at my office as you pass by. Don't fail. Good-bye," and he was off.

Helen took the baby to the nurse and came back to me. She put her hands on my shoulders, and said: "Now, Ted, tell me what the doctor told you. No fibs, please, sweetheart."

I looked at her grey eyes and had to fight to keep the tears out of my own.

"We neither of us know for certain yet, my wife dear. He's having your sputum analyzed."

"Can you analyze it, Ted?"

"No, dear. I know nothing of physiological chemistry—and I haven't a proper microscope for that work."

"Ted," she said, sitting down in her favourite chair, "I'm not going to give in, whatever happens." She shut her lips with something of the decision I had often noted in her father's face.

"Dearest, we must not make mountains out of molehills. Wait until we know."

"No, Ted, we must think. There's the baby to consider—as well as ourselves."

I sat down beside her and held her tight. She was quite dry-eyed.

"Ted, if anything should happen—I said, sweetheart, if anything should happen, I want you to make me a promise."

"Yes," I said.

"Promise me that you will always take care of the baby. Don't let any one else take her away. She is to stay with you—and it is you, and only you, who can make her happy."

"I promise," I whispered, burying my head in her lap.

"And now, Ted dearest, we are to go on just as before until we see the doctor next week. I'm going up to dress for dinner. Will you telephone for the horses to be brought round in the morning? Not before ten."

"Very well, dear."

She waved her hand gaily at me from the door, sending me a smile and blowing a kiss with the tips of her fingers.

A week later we reported at the doctor's sanctum. He greeted us cordially, and I could not decide from his manner what answer he had for us. Carefully and methodically he sounded Helen. It made me shiver to see the quiet remorseless way his stethoscope travelled over her beautiful bare shoulders and breast. I cursed my ignorance that told me nothing of what result he was reaching.

"There," he said at last, "I don't think we need to be alarmed. Put on your dress, little girl, and wait downstairs for your husband, will you? I want just a word with him about what he is to do for you."

Helen obediently dressed and went. The doctor followed her to the door, saw her downstairs, and returned to me. I sat frozen in my chair.

"Ted," he said, examining some instrument on his desk, "there were tubercular bacilli in her sputum."

I continued to sit in silence. The room was growing hazy, and I could not struggle to any words.

"We've got the case in an early stage—so early, in fact, that I don't even yet say the diagnosis is final. With open-air treatment, she should be well again in a year. But you'll have to be careful with her. You must leave England in September."

"Leave England," I said mechanically, my tongue sticking to my throat, making it difficult to speak. "Where are we to go?"

"Up the Nile—Assuam is a good place—or out to the desert; say your own Southern California."

"Egypt or California?" I echoed, like a ventriloquist's puppet.

"Meanwhile, live in the open all you can—but no violent exercise. Don't let her ride or play tennis. A little gentle walking; nothing more."

I got to my feet. "Doctor, I want to know the truth. What chance have we?"

"Why, the best of chances. The will to win, that will do it, Ted. Keep your nerve and don't let her be frightened. Cures are often made, at this stage." He added: "I'm going to have more analyses made. It's still possible we are wrong."

"Are you certain we can fight it off?"

"Absolutely certain, if you follow instructions. Will that satisfy you?"

"I don't want to be satisfied. I want the truth."

The doctor walked up and down the room for a moment or two.

"Ted," he said slowly, turning to me, "I'm a doctor, not a prophet. Cures are possible with modern treatment. I can't say more. She is young, has lived a good, clean life, and has a good physique. Everything possible is in her favour. Don't leave her too long downstairs, or she may worry."

I groped toward the door, the doctor close at my elbow.

"Remember, Ted, that cheerfulness is our most important ally. Whatever you feel, don't let her see you anything but cheerful. By the way—" he paused.

"What?" I asked.

"She ought not to kiss her baby or be too close to it."

He studied the monogram on his cigarette case, then offered me a cigarette. I pushed it away. I could see Helen's face in my imagination, when I should tell her she could not kiss her own baby.

"You know," the doctor went on jerkily, "you ought to be careful yourself. Keep away as much as you can—at least, separate bedrooms."

I looked at him. He shrugged.

"It's my duty to warn you—that's all," he said, holding out his hand. "And keep her out of crowds—no horseshow—no theatres."

I think I said good-bye; perhaps I thanked him for his kindness, but I have no recollection of anything further until Helen and I stood outside his house, with the June sunshine pouring down on us. I tried to smile at her as I saw her grey eyes fixed on mine. It was rather a ghastly attempt.

"I want to know everything, Ted. Don't keep anything back."

I told her as gently as I could, while we continued to walk along Harley Street without noticing where we were going.

"Ted, I'm going to fight—and fight hard. I won't be beaten! I won't!"

For just a second I thought she was going to break down. I should have known my Helen better.

"We must go home and make plans, dear. Call a hansom."

I looked about. We were just emerging in the Marylebone Road, or was it Euston Road? Things danced a bit before my eyes, but I waved my stick. A hansom drew up beside us.

"Euston," I said, helping Helen in.

At home I propped Helen up in a Madeira chair in the garden while we were waiting for tea. I went into the house to get our bank passbook, for there was need to find out where we stood financially. I paused as I saw Helen with wistful eyes watching her baby playing about the garden. The flowers made bright patches of color; overhead the sun and sky were glorious with an English June. The world seemed such a beautiful place—there sat a beautiful mother watching her baby at play—"Why? why?" I asked, "why to us?" No answer came, then or since. I went into the house.

Our finances proved to be in fair shape. We had enough laid by to take us overseas if we were not extravagant travellers. The income from the factory and Helen's allowance would keep us comfortable, even granting considerable addition to our living expenses. In any event, there were two generous families to lend help. It is curious, perhaps, that at first we talked only of practical problems. The reason was that we were both so determined to fight, we thought of nothing except immediately planning our campaign. We would let the house furnished. It was the most sensible thing to do, although the first tears came to Helen's eyes when she spoke of strangers using our treasures.

After tea we wrote letters to both families. There remained the question of where to go in September. Again we took an immediate decision, or rather Helen did. She felt uncertain about carrying the baby to Egypt. Neither of us had been there, and we did not know what Assuam might be like. As for California, while it was equally a strange country to us, it was at least America, and we should be, in a measure, at home. We put postscripts to our letters, announcing southern California as our destination in September. We dined in the garden and sat late under the stars, her hand in mine.

Although we spent the whole summer in the garden, or taking short walks along the field-paths near by, Helen began to lose strength. She seemed quite unaware of it herself, for each day her word to me was that she felt much better. And, mindful of the doctor's constant injunctions to me to be always cheerful in her presence, I had to pretend that I, too, thought her steadily improving. The doctor began to speak of the benefit a change of climate would bring, by which I saw that he inwardly admitted there had been no amendment. But he buoyed us up with hope and optimism, telling us marvellous tales of cures that the American desert had wrought. Almost our whole anguish was at the thought of leaving our little home; as yet neither of us had had our confidence at all shaken. On the contrary, so optimistic is youth, we had in considerable degree recovered from our first grief. We knew we were fighting, perhaps with our backs to the wall, but we did not doubt we should win. It was when I was alone that doubt would sometimes steal in. For example, that walk Helen took easily last week, she could not finish yesterday—what did it mean? But I fought against doubt for her sake, well knowing that she would instantly detect any signs of it in me. I strove not to think at all, but to minister each day to Helen's comfort and happiness, leaving tomorrow out of the account.

Packing up and closing the house was the hardest for Helen to bear. In spite of the fatigue of climbing stairs, she went with me from room to room for one last look. We were saying good-bye to home alone because our letters to my family had been so optimistic they fancied we were merely going away for the winter. They wrote that they would come to visit us in the spring upon our return. My father had sent a check, and Mr. Claybourne had cabled he would meet us in New York. So it came that we left our house as we had entered it, alone.

At the station many kind friends came down to see us off, loading Helen with flowers. The baby was in great form, for the excitement of travel was new to her. I think it was the worst wrench of all for Helen to leave Leonidas, although dog-loving friends were keeping him for us. Poor Leonidas! the last thing we saw from the train window was the diminishing wags of his tail, as he stood wondering on the platform. For the first time since the doctor's diagnosis, Helen cried, leaning against my shoulder as our train rushed toward Liverpool. But she soon stopped, for little Helen started crying too when she saw "mummy dear" in tears. Nurse sat up, rather grim, trying to keep the child amused. I wondered how much nurse guessed or knew.

"It doesn't seem possible, Ted, that our happy life is over," Helen whispered, looking out of the carriage window. "The home we had fixed up for ourselves and were going to live in always—why should it happen to us, Ted? Why?"

It was the same question I had asked myself in the garden.

"We'll come back in June," I said. God knows whether I thought it a lie or not.

"In June, Ted. We must. It's—it's hard to be—brave, Ted, isn't it? But I won't give in! I won't!"

We reached New York after a gloomy, foggy September passage. Mr. Claybourne met us at the dock, accompanied by a Miss Brock, a trained nurse, who was to travel with us to California. We paused in New York only long enough to consult another tuberculosis specialist. This man also expressed hope, sending us on our way rejoicing. Another halt of twenty-four hours was made at Deep Harbor, to see Helen's mother.

It was a strange sensation to step off the limited at the familiar old station which we had left under such different circumstances. Before us lay State Street, with its trolley cars and soft coal smoke, not much altered. Yet the mere sight of Deep Harbor lowered my spirits as nothing else had done. I don't know why this was so. In spite of all I could do, deep depression seized me as we drove to the Claybourne residence on Myrtle Boulevard. I think Helen felt it, too, for her hand rested on mine the whole way. Mr. Claybourne was busy with his new granddaughter, whom he had deliberately spoiled from the time he first saw her on the dock at New York. She was chattering away to him, as we drove along, in a pronounced English nurse-girl accent, a habit that gave Mr. Claybourne unending delight. I think the trace of English in Helen troubled him a little. After over four years it was not surprising that Helen had acquired a few English mannerisms and tricks of speech. Her slang, indeed, was quite up to date. I had seen him look at his daughter more than once as if he felt that she had drifted far away during the four years and over of her married life. I wonder myself how it would seem if Helen had been away a long time from me and returned with strange speech and ways. I wanted to tell him she was a more splendid and wonderful woman than she had ever been.

I dreaded the meeting with Mrs. Claybourne. I feared her tears and wailings would have a depressing effect on Helen. Mrs. Claybourne was constitutionally unable to look upon any but the gloomiest side of things. What would happen now she had good cause for sorrow? I had already warned Mr. Claybourne that only cheerfulness was to be about Helen, hoping he would shield her from Mrs. Claybourne's worst. As I expected, we were met with tears, to which, however, Mr. Claybourne put a sudden and decided stop. It was possible to bully Mrs. Claybourne, I observed with satisfaction.

After luncheon Miss Brock took Helen upstairs for a rest. Mr. Claybourne and I faced one another, each equipped with one of the oily black cigars I remembered so well.

"Ted, I haven't tried to ask many questions with Helen around. What are our chances in this thing?"

"God! I wish I knew," I answered.

He smoked his cigar a while, staring out the window at the passersby on Myrtle Boulevard, much as he had done the first time I told him I loved his daughter.

"I don't need to ask if you and Helen have been happy," he went on, still gazing at the street. "I saw that in her eyes when you brought her off the boat."

"No two people could have been—happier," I murmured, my voice losing a little of its steadiness in spite of me.

"I know, Ted. Yes, I think I know—you see, she's all I have, too."

I could not reply; he was looking fixedly out the window.

"I can't come with you, Ted; my business ties me here. And I won't let Mrs. Claybourne go with you—I guess you know why. Don't spare expense—no matter what it is. Get the best specialist and the best of everything for her. If you run short, simply call on me." He fumbled in a pocket book. "Here is a draft on a Los Angeles Bank. Deposit it as a reserve fund."

I was surprised to see that his eyes, like mine, were wet when he handed me the draft. Then he smiled: "We mustn't lose our nerve, Ted. Go out there and fight for that girl," and he gripped my hand.

The next day we began our long journey across the Continent We had several hours to wait in Chicago before the Santa Fé limited left in the evening. We hired an open cab and drove for an hour along the lake front of that amazing city. Helen took her old, eager childish delight in seeing something new. Her eyes danced as I had not seen them dance for weeks. We astonished passersby by halting our cab to stare upward at sky-scrapers or to peer from alongside the curb at luxurious shop windows.

"They wonder what curious brand of country folks we are," I laughed with her.

"Ted!" Helen exclaimed, clutching my arm, "there's one of those wonderful American candy shops—do buy me some chocolates."

Again I laughed at the blend of the two countries in her remark. The cab was stopped once more and a box of chocolates added to our luggage. In our delight over sight-seeing together, we forgot for a time the shadow hanging over us. It was Miss Brock who brought us to ourselves. Helen was getting dangerously excited. The cabman drove us to our hotel. There we sat in a room looking out over the lake until time to go to our train.

Driving to the station, Helen said: "Let's stop for a day or two in Chicago on our way back next June, Ted. I think it's fun."

On the train Helen and I had a little compartment to ourselves, with another for baby, nurse, and Miss Brock, the trained nurse. Helen insisted at once on playing house and having the baby come as a caller to visit us.

"Ted—just think! We are going across the Continent. It's a real adventure, dear."

"To be anywhere with you is a beautiful adventure," I whispered. It sounded banal, but I meant it.

"Dear old boy, you still pay me compliments after being married to me for ages. And I like them just as much as ever, Ted." She snuggled against me, saying, "Make me comfy, Ted."

In spite of Helen's joy in travel, I found my courage oozing out of me on that train. The tracks stretched so remorselessly and interminably away from the rear carriage, while we went on and on. Our old life and happiness seemed to be fading far off over many horizons. Ahead of us there was nothing but a strange land and an unknown, perilous struggle. I wondered at the towns we passed through, and if, in each village we went by, there were others righting the same fears and watching beside their beloveds.

Mother and baby often sat on opposite seats, chattering to each other of the things seen out the window—gee-gees, moo-cows, and all the rest that all mothers show their babies. Little Helen no longer could sit in her mother's lap.

"Daddy," she asked one day, "why can't I sit in mummy dear's lap any more the way I did in England?"—everything now she compared with England—"and, daddy, why doesn't mummy dear kiss me good-night any more?"

I held little Helen very tight at this, for a pair of grey eyes opposite were staring out the Pullman window.

"Ted," said the grey eyes slowly, "tell her the truth."

"Mummy dear is ill, little girl—and the doctor says you mustn't sit in her lap or kiss her until she is quite well again."

"I want mummy dear to get well quickly, daddy. Tell the doctor to make her well. I want mummy dear to kiss me again."

"Ted, I'm afraid I'll have—to ask you—to—to take baby back—to nurse," the grey eyes tried to smile. "I can't stand—everything, dear."

Helen woke me up the second or third morning—I can't remember which—calling, "Ted, do look at this wonderful country—we are in New Mexico, dear. Look at it!"

I shook myself awake and climbed out of my berth. Helen was sitting in her dressing gown by the window. I noticed that the skin on her throat looked white and waxy. But I came quickly beside her.

"It is like another world out there."

Sagebrush had begun; in the distance were strange, eerie-looking mountains. Shadows were sharp and hard, with edges that looked as if they had been trimmed with a jackknife.

"It is another planet," I said, as we looked at this weird panorama unfolding before us. "It couldn't have been the same God that made this."

The train stopped with a jerk at some collection of little wooden houses whose gable roofs were squared off by false fronts.

"It's like the Western novels, Ted. Oh, look—there's a real cowboy—by Jove, Ted, he can ride!"

A man in leather chaps rode up to the little station and dismounted with a flourish, I suspect for the benefit of the train. There was, however, no doubt that he and a horse were old acquaintances. Helen made me open the window.

"May I give your horse a lump of sugar?" she called to the man. He looked up surprised, then grinned.

"Sure, lady, if I can coax him alongside of the train."

About this the horse was of another opinion. He reared magnificently and struck out with his forefeet.

"I want to ride that horse, Ted."

We compromised by handing the man the lump of sugar to be transferred to the horse. The horse sniffed it disdainfully and spat it out.

"I guess he ain't used to no dainties, lady," the man apologized.

The train whistled, and we were off again. The man swung into his saddle, the horse bolting with him across the desert. We saw him rein him in and turn in his saddle to wave his hat at the train. Helen fluttered her handkerchief out the window.

"Couldn't we take a Western pony back with us, Ted? I think we can almost afford it."

"If you want one, dear."

"I'd make a sensation on a horse like that at a meet of the Old Berkeley East hounds."

"I think his carelessness with his forefeet would bar him out," I replied.

California at last. The train climbed over a range of the curious mountains, and then coasted down into a wide, flat plain set with groves of trees.

"Orange trees, Ted!" Helen exclaimed.

"Something like the Riviera," I said, a bit doubtfully. I wasn't quite certain, this country was what we had expected. We looked anxiously at the towns, to see what they were like. I think each of us had a little the feeling we were making the best of what we saw for the others' benefit. The towns were—well, still like other Western small towns. The main streets were a hodge-podge of rural-looking shops. From a train they were not attractive.

"Of course," I said, "Los Angeles is a large city with magnificent suburbs—we mustn't expect the fruit-growing sections to be very home-like."

"I wonder, Ted? Suppose we don't like it here?"

"Nonsense," I answered stoutly. "Think of all the fine things we have heard about California."

It was dusk when the train arrived at Los Angeles. The hotel reassured us, for it was comfortable, and we were pleasantly received. In the morning I was to begin my search for a bungalow—one right out on the desert, if there were such things here as desert bungalows. I went to bed with a shade of anxiety concerning the recommendation of the London doctor. I had seen nothing yet to make me think this a particularly good place for an invalid.

A house agent took me in tow in the morning. We went first to Pasadena, a beautiful place, as I admitted to the agent, but far too town-like and civilized for our purposes. The agent had much to say about the Californian climate; I had quite a fund of information on this subject before I had done with him. I forget now his statistics: the number of days of sunshine, the number of inches of rain, the number of cool nights in summer. I likewise have forgotten his commercial statistics concerning the thousands of carloads of oranges—"citrus fruits," I believe he called oranges and lemons.

From time to time I reminded him that I was looking for a bungalow. This was necessary, for he preferred to talk of California at the expense of facts nearer home. "It's the garden spot of the world," he exclaimed ecstatically from time to time—"the sun-kissed valleys of California."

"What I am looking for is a sun-kissed bungalow in your garden spot, old thing," I remarked about two o'clock. "We haven't found one yet."

He pulled himself together, and we followed another clue out in Altadena. As we neared the great range of the Sierra Madre mountains, I felt, as children say, we were "getting warm." They towered crisp and clear, like theatrical scenery, and their lower slopes lay pleasantly exposed to the sun. The agent protested that I would find it unpleasant to live so far out.

"What is one near, if one lives further in?" I asked, not unkindly.

I was almost ready to return to Los Angeles with the resolve of seeking another agent on the next day, when we really came across a charming little bungalow standing all by itself on irrigated land. The agent was contemptuous; the locality was not fashionable; he had many other objections. Overhead the mountains fairly hung upon us. All around was open land, unbuilt upon. The house itself was new, comfortable, and of the right size. To the agent's disgust and the landlord's amazement, I paid a month's rent in advance, upon the spot, and with my own hands took down the "For Rent" sign.

One difficulty developed at the last moment.

"Your wife isn't a lunger, is she?" the landlord inquired.

"A what?" I asked.

"Lunger. Has she got T.B.? Because, if she has, I don't want her in no house of mine. Can't rent a bungalow out here after any one has died of tuberculosis in it."

"My wife is only slightly ill."

"They all say that," remarked the landlord.

"Will you let me have it for more rent?"

"No—but I'll sell it, young man."

We dickered a while and at last struck a bargain. I could not draw from the agent any opinion concerning a fair price. I had to trust to luck that I wasn't being unreasonably cheated. It was a top price, I knew, but Helen could not stay in a hotel in Los Angeles. A sum down, including a check, served to clinch the bargain. There remained only to buy some cottage furniture and install it.

On the way back the agent tried to hold me up for a commission.

"You'll collect your commission from your friend, the landlord," I replied firmly. We let it go at that.

Three days later I got enough furniture into the place to enable us to move in. My three days of preparation involved a great deal of strenuous urging. But it was done at last, even to a floored tent behind the bungalow for Helen and me to sleep in. We had likewise a cook, a protesting coloured woman from Texas, who swore many strange oaths that she had never seen any one in such a mighty hurry as I was. A special bribe got her from under the nose of some of Pasadena's elite who were besieging the employment agency.

It was late in the afternoon when Miss Brock and I carried Helen from the carriage to a long chair on the verandah and propped her up with pillows. The baby had already begun to play about the bungalow. Inside we could hear the cook talking to her pots and pans as if they were sentient beings in league against her. By the verandah stood two orange trees in blossom. The breeze stirred slightly in their branches, carrying a whiff of their sweet, sickly scent to my nostrils. I started with a shudder, for I remembered how I had always hated the scent of orange blossoms from the time I first met the flower girl under the archway of Charing Cross station. Could this be why I disliked that odour? Was I to learn the reason at last? Helen was holding my hand, resting quietly, for the journey had tired her. I saw her look at the mountains and from them to her baby at play.

"Ted," she said, so faintly I had to lean forward to hear, "I want to go home—to our own little house in Hertfordshire. Take me back, Ted. I'm homesick."


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