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THE GREAT DOCTOR.
A STORY IN TWO PARTS.
"HELLO! hello! which way now,
Mrs. Walker? It'll rain afore you git there, if you 've got fur to go. Had n't you better stop an' come in till this thunder-shower passes over?"
"Well, no, I reckon not, Mr. Bowen. I'm in a good deal of a hurry. I've been sent for over to John's." And rubbing one finger up and down the horn of her saddle, for she was on horseback, Mrs. Walker added, "Johnny's sick, Mr. Bowen, an' purty bad, I'm afeard." Then she tucked up her skirts, and, gathering up the rein, that had dropped on the neck of her horse, she inquired in a more cheerful tone, "How's all the folks, Miss Bowen, an' Jinney, an' all?"
By this time the thunder began to growl, and the wind to whirl clouds of dust along the road.
"You'd better hitch your critter under the wood-shed, an' come in a bit. My woman 'll be glad to see you, an' Jinney too, there she is now, at the winder. I'll warrant nobody goes along the big road without her seein' 'em." Mr. Bowen had left the broad kitchen-porch from which he had hallooed to the old woman, and was now walking down the gravelled path, that, between its borders of four-o'clocks and other common flowers, led from the front door to the front gate. "We 're all purty well, I 'm obleeged to you," he said, as, reaching the gate, he leaned over it, and turned his cold gray eyes upon the neat legs of the horse, rather than the anxious face of the rider.
"I'm glad to hear you 're well," Mrs. Walker said; "it a'most seems to me that, if I had Johnny the way he was last week, I would n't complain about anything. We think too much of our lile hardships, Mr. Bowen, -a good deal too much!" And Mrs. Walker
"Well, I don't know," Mr. Bowen said, opening the mouth of the horse and looking in it; "we all have our troubles, an' if it ain't one thing it's another. Now if John was n't sick, I s'pose you'd be frettin' about somethin' else; you must n't think you 're particularly sot apart in your afflictions, any how. This rain that 's getherin' is goin' to spile a couple of acres of grass for me, don't you see?"
Mrs. Walker was hurt. Her neighbor had not given her the sympathy she expected; he had not said anything about John one way nor another; had not inquired whether there was anything he could do, nor what the doetor said, nor asked any of those questions that express a kindly solicitude.
"I am sorry about your hay," she answered, "but I must be going."
"Don't want to hurry you; but if you will go, the sooner the better. That thunder-cloud is certain to bust in a few minutes." And Mr. Bowen turned toward the house.
"Wait a minute, Mrs. Walker," called a young voice, full of kindness; "here's my umberell. It'll save your bonnet, any how; and it's a real purty
But did n't I hear you say somebody was sick over to your son's house?" "Yes, darlin'," answered the old woman as she took the umbrella; "it's Johnny himself; he's right bad, they say. I just got word about an hour ago, and left everything, and started off. They think he's got the smallpox."
Jenny Bowen, the young girl who
had brought the umbrella, looked terribly frightened. "They won't let me go over, you know," she said, nodding her head toward the house, "not if it's really small-pox!" And then, with the hope at which the young are so quick to catch, she added, “May be it is n't small-pox. I haven't heard of a case anywhere about. I don't believe it is." And then she told Mrs. Walker not to fret about home. "I will go," she said, "and milk the cow, and look after things. Don't think one thought about it." And then she asked if the rest of them at John Walker's were well.
"If it's Hobert you want to know about," the grandmother said, smiling faintly, "he's well; but, darlin', you 'd better not think about him: they'll be ag'in it, in there!" and she nodded toward the house as Jenny had done before her.
The face of the young girl flushed, not with confusion, but with self-asserting and defiant brightness that seemed to say, "Let them do their worst." The thunder rattled sharper and nearer, bursting right upon the flash of the lightning, and then came the rain. But it proved not one of those bright, brief dashes that leave the world sparkling, but settled toward sunset into a slow, dull drizzle.
Jenny had her milking, and all the other evening chores, done betimes, and with an alertness and cheerfulness in excess of her usual manner, that might have indicated an unusual favor to be asked. She had made her evening toilet; that is, she had combed her hair, tied on a pair of calf-skin shoes, and a blue checked apron, newly washed and ironed; when she said, looking toward a faint light in the west, and as though the thought had just occurred to her, "It's going to break away, I see. Don't you think, mother, I had better just run over to Mrs. Walker's, and milk her cow for her?”
"Go to Miss Walker's!" repeated the mother, as though she were as much outraged as astonished. She was seated in the door, patching, by the waning light, an old pair of mud-spat
tered trousers, her own dress being very old-fashioned, coarse, and scanty, —so scant, in fact, as to reveal the angles of her form with ungraceful definiteness, especially the knees, that were almost suggestive of a skeleton, and now, as she put herself in position, as it were, stood up with inordinate prominence. Her hands were big in the joints, ragged in the nails, and marred all over with the cuts, burns, and scratches of indiscriminate and incessant toil. But her face was, perhaps, the most sadly divested of all womanly charm. It had, in the first place, the deep yellow, lifeless appearance of an old bruise, and was expressive of pain, irritation, and fanatical anxiety.
"Go to Miss Walker's!" she said again, seeing that Jenny was taking down from its peg in the kitchen-wall a woollen cloak that had been hers since she was a little girl, and her mother's before her.
"Yes, mother. You know John Walker is very sick, and Mrs. Walker has been sent for over there. She's very down-hearted about him. He's danger
ous, they think; and I thought may be I'd come round that way as I come home, and ask how he was. Don't you think I'd better?"
"I think you had better stay at home and tend to your own business. You'll spile your clothes, and do no good that I can see by traipsin' out in such a storm." 'Why, you would think it was bad for one of our cows to go without milking," Jenny said, "and I suppose Mrs. Walker's cow is a good deal like ours, and she is giving a pailful of milk now."
"How do you know so much about Miss Walker's cow? If you paid more attention to things at home, and less to other folks, you'd be more dutiful.”
"That's true, mother, but would I be any better?"
"Not in your own eyes, child; but your 're so much wiser than your father and me, that words are throwed away on you."
"I promised Mrs. Walker that I would milk for her to-night," Jen
ny said, hesitating, and dropping her
"O yes, you've always got some excuse ! What did you make a promise for, that you knowed your father would n't approve of? Take your things right off now, and peel the potaters, and sift the meal for mush in the morning; an' if Miss Walker's cow must be milked, what's to hender that Hobe, the great lazy strapper, should n't go and milk her?"
"You forget how much he has to do at home now; and one pair of hands can't do everything, even if they are Hobert Walker's!"
Jenny had spoken with much spirit and some bitterness; and the bright defiant flush, before noticed, came into her face, as she untied the cloak and proceeded to sift the meal and peel the potatoes for breakfast. She did her work quietly, but with a determination in every movement that indicated a will not easily overruled.
It was nearly dark, and the rain still persistently falling, when she turned the potato-peelings into the pig-trough that stood only a few yards from the door, and, returning, put the cloak about her shoulders, tied it deliberately, turned the hood over her head, and, without another word, walked straight out into the rain.
"Well, I must say! Well, I must say!" cried the mother, in exasperated astonishment. "What on airth is that girl a-comin' to?" And, resting her elbows on her knees, she leaned her yellow face in her hands, and gathered out of her hard, embittered heart such consolation as she could.
Jenny, meantime, tucked up her petticoats, and, having left a field or two between her and the homestead, tripped lightly along, debating with herself whether or not she should carry out her will to the full, and return by the way of Mr. John Walker's,-a question she need hardly have raised, if unexpected events had not interfered with her predeterminations. At Mrs. Walker's gate she stopped and pulled half a dozen roses from the bush that was almost lying
"O Jenny," he said, setting down the pail, "we are in such trouble at home! The doctor says father is better, but I don't think so, and I ain't satisfied with what is being done for him. Besides, I had such a strange dream, — I thought I met you, Jenny, alone, in the night, and you had six red roses in your hand, let me see how many have you." He had come close to her, and he now took the roses and counted them. There were six, sure enough.
Humph!" he said, and went on. "Six red roses, I thought; and while I looked at them they turned white as snow; and then it seemed to me it was a shroud you had in your hand, and not roses at all; and you, seeing how I was frightened, said to me, 'What if it should turn out to be my weddingdress?' And while we talked, your father came between us, and led you away by a great chain that he put round your neck. But you think all this foolish, I see." And, as if he feared the apprehension he had confessed involved some surrender of manhood, he cast down his eyes, and awaited her reply in confusion. She had too much tact to have noticed this at any time; but in view of the serious circumstances in which he then stood, she could not for the life of her have turned any feeling of his into a jest, however unwarranted she might have felt it to be.
"My grandmother was a great believer in dreams," she said, sympathetically; "but she always thought they went by contraries; and, if she was
right, why, yours bodes ever so much good. But come, Hobert, let us go into the house it's raining harder."
"How stupid of me, Jenny, not to remember that you were being drowned, almost! You must try to excuse me : I am really hardly myself to-night."
"Excuse you, Hobert! As if you could ever do anything I should not think was just right!" And she laughed the little musical laugh that had been ringing in his ears so long, and skipped before him into the house.
He followed her with better heart; and, as she strained and put away the milk, and swept the hearth, and set the house in order, he pleased himself with fancies of a home of which she would be always the charming mistress.
And who, that saw the sweet domestic cheer she diffused through the house with her harmless little gossip about this and that, and the artfully artless kindnesses to him she mingled with all, could have blamed him? He was given to melancholy and to musing; his cheek was sometimes pale, and his step languid; and he saw, all too often, troublesome phantoms coming to meet him. This disposition in another would have incited the keenest ridicule in the mind of Jenny Bowen, but in Hobert it was well enough; nay, more, it was actually fascinating, and she would not have had him otherwise. These characteristics for her sake we will not say weaknesses - · constantly suggested to her how much she could be to him, she who was so strong in all ways,—in health, in hope, and in enthusiasm. And for him it was joy enough to look upon her full bright cheek, to see her compact little figure before him; but to touch her dimpled shoulder, to feel one tress of her hair against his face, was ecstasy; and her voice,- the tenderest trill of the wood-dove was not half so delicious! But who shall define the mystery of love? They were lovers; and when we have said that, is there anything more to be said? Their love had not, however, up to the time of which we write, found utterance in words. Hobert was
the son of a poor man, and Jenny was prospectively rich, and the faces of her parents were set as flints against the poor young man. But Jenny had said in her heart more than once that she would marry him; and if the old folks had known this, they might as well have held their peace. Hobert did not dream that she had talked thus to her heart, and, with his constitutional timidity, he feared she would never say anything of the kind. Then, too, his conscientiousness stood in his way. Should he presume to take her to his poor house, even if she would come? No, no, he must not think of it; he must work and wait, and defer hope. This hour so opportune was also most inopportune, - such sorrow at home! He would not speak to-night, O no, not tonight! And yet he could bear up against everything else, if she only cared for him! Such were his resolves, as she passed to and fro before him, trifling away the time with pretence of adjusting this thing and that; but at last expedients failed, and reaching for her cloak, which hung almost above him as he sat against the wall, she said it was time to go. As frostwork disappears in the sunshine, so his brave resolutions vanished when her arm reached across his shoulder, and the ribbon that tied her beads fluttered against his cheek. With a motion quite involuntary, he snatched her hand. "No, Jenny, not yet, - not quite yet!" he said.
"And why not?" demanded Jenny; for could any woman, however innocent, or rustic, be without her little coquetries? And she added, in a tone that contradicted her words, "I am sure I should not have come if I had known you were coming!"
"I dare say not," replied Hobert, in a voice so sad and so tender withal, as to set the roses Jenny wore in her bosom trembling. "I dare say not, indeed. I would not presume to hope you would go a step out of your way to give me pleasure; only I was feeling so lonesome to-night, I thought may be — no, I did n't think anything; I cer
tainly did n't hope anything. Well, no matter, I am ready to go." And he let go the hand he had been holding, and stood up.
It was Jenny's privilege to pout a little now, and to walk sullenly and silently home, - so torturing herself and her honest - hearted lover; but she was much too generous, much too noble, to do this. She would not for the world have grieved poor Hobert, not then, - not when his heart was so sick and so weighed down with shadows; and she told him this with a simple earnestness that admitted of no doubt, concluding with, "I only wish, Hobert, I could say or do something to comfort you."
"Then you will stay? Just a moment, Jenny!" And the hand was in his again.
"Dear Jenny, dear, dear Jenny!" She was sitting on his knee now; and the rain, with its pattering against the window, drowned their heart-beats; and the summer darkness threw over them its sacred veil.
"Shall I tell you, darling, of another dream I have had to-night- since I have been sitting here?" The fair cheek bent itself close to his to listen, and he went on. "I have been dreaming, Jenny, a very sweet dream; and this is what it was. You and I were living here, in this house, with grandmother; and she was your grandmother as well as mine; and I was farmer of the land, and you were mistress of the dairy; and the little room with windows toward the sunrise, and the pretty bureau, and bed with snowwhite coverlet and pillows of down, that was "perhaps he meant to say "ours," but his courage failed him, and, with a charming awkwardness, he said, "yours, Jenny," and hurried on to speak of the door-yard flowers, and the garden with its beds of thyme and mint, its berry-bushes and hop-vines and beehives, all of which were brighter and sweeter than were ever hives and bushes in any other garden; and when he had run through the catalogue of rustic delights, he said: "And now,
Jenny, I want you to tell me the meaning of my dream; and yet I am afraid you will interpret it as your grandmother used to hers."
Jenny laughed gayly. "That is just what I will do, dear Hobert," she said; "for she used to say that only bad dreams went by contraries, and yours was the prettiest dream I ever heard."
The reply to this sweet interpretation was after the manner of all lovers since the world began. And so, for getting the stern old folks at home,— forgetting everything but each other, -they sat for an hour at the very gate of heaven. How often Hobert called her his sweetheart, and his rosebud, and other fond names, we need not stop to enumerate: how often he said that for her sake he could brave the winter storm and the summer heat, that she should never know rough work nor sad days, but that she should be as tenderly protected, as daintily cared for, as any lady of them all, how often he said all these things, we need not enumerate; nor need we say with what unquestioning trust, and deafness to all the suggestions of probability, Jenny believed. Does not love, in fact, always believe what it hopes? Who would do away with the blessed insanity that clothes the marriage day with such enchantment? Who would dare to do it?
No royal mantle could have been adjusted with tenderer and more reverent solicitude than was that night the coarse cloak about the shoulders of Jenny. The walk homeward was all too short; and whether the rain fell, or whether the moon were at her best, perhaps neither of them could have told until they were come within earshot of the Bowen homestead; then both suddenly stood still. Was it the arm of Jenny that trembled so? No, no! we must own the truth, it was the arm through which hers was drawn. At her chamber window, peering out curiously and anxiously, was the yellow-white face of Mrs. Bowen; and, leaning over the gate, gazing up and down the road, the rain falling on his bent shoulders and