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HOME > Short Stories > The Crux: A Novel > CHAPTER XI. THEREAFTER.
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If I do right, though heavens fall,
And end all light and laughter;
Though black the night and ages long,
Bitter the cold—the tempest strong—
If I do right, and brave it all—
The sun shall rise thereafter!
The of Dr. Hale gave him, in the eye of Mrs. St. Cloud, all the attractiveness of an unscaled peak to the true mountain climber. Here was a man, an unattached man, living next door to her, whom she had not even seen. Her pursuance of what Mr. Skee announced to his friends to be "one of these Friendships," did not ; neither did her interest in other relations less . Mr. Dykeman's descent from the class of was more of a disappointment to her than she would admit even to herself; his firm, kind had given a sense of comfort, of achieved content that her restless spirit missed.
But Dr. Hale, if he had been before , had now become so heavily , so empanoplied in armor offensive and , that even Mrs. Pettigrew found it difficult to obtain speech with him.
That his best friend, so long supporting him in cheerful bachelorhood, should have thus late laid down his arms, was bitterly resented. That Mr. Skee, free lance of years , and risen victor from several "stricken fields," should show signs of capitulation, annoyed him further. Whether these feelings their from another, which he refused to acknowledge, is matter for the psychologist, and Dr. Hale avoided all psychologic self-examination.
With the boys he was always a hero. They admired his quiet strength and the unbroken good nature that was always presented to those about him, whatever his inner feelings.
Mr. Peters burst to the others one day, in tones of impassioned .
"By George, fellows," he said, "you know how nice Doc was last night?"
"Never saw him when he wasn't," said Archie.
"Don't interrupt Mr. Peters," drawled Percy. "He's on the of a scientific discovery. Strange how these secrets of nature can lie unrevealed about us so long—and then suddenly burst upon our !"
Mr. Peters grinned affably. "That's all right, but I maintain my assertion; whatever the general attraction of our noble host, you'll admit that on the special occasion of yesterday evening, which we to a late hour by innocent games of cards—he was—as usual—the soul of—of——"
"Affability?" suggested Percy.
"!" Peters admitted. "If there is a well-chosen word which describes the manner of Dr. Richard Hale—it is affable! Thank you, sir, thank you. Well, what I wish to announce, so that you can all of you get down on your knees at once and worship, is that all last evening he—had a toothache—a bad toothache!"
"My word!" said Archie, and remained silent.
"Oh, come now," Percy protested, "that's against nature. Have a toothache and not mention it? Not even mention it—without exaggeration! Why Archimedes couldn't do that! Or—Sandalphon—or any of them!"
"How'd you learn the facts, my son? Tell us that."
"Heard him on the 'phone making an appointment. 'Yes;' 'since noon yesterday,' 'yes, pretty severe.' '11:30? You can't make it earlier? All right.' I'm just mentioning it to convince you fellows that you don't appreciate your opportunities. There was some exceptional Female once—they said 'to know her was a liberal education.' What would you call it to live with Dr. Hale?"
And they called it every fine thing they could think of; for these boys knew better than anyone else, the effect of that association.
His patients knew him as wise, gentle, efficient, bringing a sense of hope and assurance by the touch of that strong hand; his professional associates in the town knew him as a good and friend, and wider medical circles, readers of his articles in the professional press had an even higher opinion of his powers.
Yet none of these knew Richard Hale. None saw him sitting late in his office, the pages of his book unturned, his eyes on the red spaces of the fire. No one was with him on those night tramps that left but an hour or two of sleep to the long night, and made that sleep from self-enforced . He had left the associations of his youth and selected this far-off mountain town to build the life he chose; and if he found it unsatisfying no one was the wiser.
His successive relays of boys, young fellows fresh from the East, coming from year to year and going from year to year as business called them, could and did give good as to the home side of his character, however. It was not in nature that they should speculate about him. As they fell in love and out again with the facility of so many Romeos, they among themselves as to his misogyny.
"He certainly has a on women," they would admit. "That's the one thing you can't talk to him about—shuts up like a . Of course, he'll let you talk about your own feelings and experiences, but you might as well talk to the side of a hill. I wonder what did happen to him?"
They made no , however. It was reported that a minister's wife, a person of character, had had the courage of her , and asked him once, "Why is it that you have never married, Dr. Hale?" And that he had replied, "It is owing to my dislike of the of women." He lived his own life, unquestioned, now more markedly than ever, coming no more to The Cottonwoods.
Even when Morton Elder left, suddenly and without warning, to the great grief of his aunt and of his sister, their medical neighbor still "sulked in his tent"—or at least in his office.
Morton's departure had but one explanation; it must be that Vivian had refused him, and she did not deny it.
"But why, Vivian, why? He has improved so—it was just getting lovely to see how nice he was getting. And we all thought you were so happy." Thus the Susie. And Vivian found herself unable to explain to that happy little heart, on the brink of marriage, why she had refused her brother.
Miss Orella was even harder to satisfy. "It's not as if you were a foolish changeable young girl, my dear. And you've known Morton all your life—he was no stranger to you. It breaks my heart, Vivian. Can't you reconsider?"
The girl shook her head.
"I'm sorry, Miss Orella. Please believe that I did it for the best—and that it was very hard for me, too."
"But, Vivian! What can be the reason? I don't think you understand what a beautiful influence you have on the boy. He has improved so, since he has been here. And he was going to get a position here in town—he told me so himself—and really settle down. And now he's gone. Just off and away, as he used to be—and I never shall feel easy about him again."
Miss Orella was crying; and it the girl's heart to know the pain she was causing; not only to Morton, and to herself, but to these others.
Susie criticised her with frankness.
"I know you think you are right, Vivian, you always do—you and that conscience of yours. But I really think you had gone too far to draw back, Jimmie saw him that night he went away—and he said he looked awfully. And he really was changed so—beginning to be so nice. Whatever was the matter? I think you ought to tell me, Vivian, I'm his sister, and—being engaged and all—perhaps I could straighten it out."
And she was as nearly angry as her sunny nature allowed, when her friend refused to give any reason, beyond that she thought it right.
Her aunt did not , but pleaded. "It's not too late, I'm sure, Vivian. A word from you would bring him back in a moment. Do speak it, Vivian—do! Put your pride in your pocket, child, and don't lose a lifetime's happiness for some foolish quarrel."
Miss Orella, like Susie, was at present sure that marriage must mean a lifetime's happiness. And Vivian looked from one to the other of these loving women-folk, and could not defend herself with the truth.
Mrs. Pettigrew took up the cudgels for her. She was not going to have her favorite grandchild thus and keep silence. "Anybody'd think Vivian had married the man and then run away with another one!" she said . "Pity if a girl can't change her mind before marrying—she's held down pretty close . An engagement isn't a wedding, Orella Elder."
"But you don't consider the poor boy's feelings in the least, Mrs. Pettigrew."
"No, I don't," snapped the old lady. "I consider the poor girl's. I'm willing to bet as much as you will that his feelings aren't any worse than hers. If he'd changed his mind and run off and left her, I warrant you two wouldn't have been so hard on him."
this issue, Miss Orella wiped her eyes, and said: "Heaven knows where he is now. And I'm afraid he won't write—he never did write much, and now he's just heartbroken. I don't know as I'd have seen him at all if I hadn't been awake and heard him rushing downstairs. You've no idea how he suffers."
"I don't see as the girl's to blame that he hadn't enough to say good-bye to the aunt that's been a mother to him; or to write to her, as he ought to. A person don't need to forget all their duty because they've got the ."
Vivian shrank away from them all. Her heart ached intolerably. She had not realized how large a part in her life this constant admiration and attention had become. She missed the outward agreeableness, and the soft tide of affection, which had risen more and more warmly about her. From her earliest memories she had wished for affection—affection deep and continuous, tender and with full expression. She had been too reserved to show her feeling, too proud by far to express it, but under that delicate of hers lay always that deep to love and to be loved wholly.
Susie had been a comfort always, in her kittenish affection and ways, but Susie was doubly lost, both in her new absorption and now in this .
Then, to bring pain to Miss Orella, who had been so kind and sweet to her from earliest childhood, to hurt her so deeply, now, to in her cup of happiness this grief and anxiety, made the girl suffer keenly. Jimmie, of course, was able to comfort Susie. He told her it was no matter anyhow, and that Morton would console himself elsewhere. "He'll never wear the for any girl, my dear. Don't you worry about him."
Also, Mr. Dykeman comforted Miss Orella, not only with wise words, but with his tender sympathy and hopefulness. But no one could comfort Vivian.
Even Dr. Bellair seemed to her present sensitiveness an alien, cruel power. She had come like the angel with the flaming sword to stand between her and what, now that it was gone, began to look like Paradise.
She quite forgot that she had always shrunk from Morton when he made love too warmly, that she had been far from wholly pleased with him when he made his appearance there, that their engagement, so far as they had one, was tentative—"sometime, when I am good enough" not having arrived. The unreasoning voice of the woman's nature within her had answered, though but , to the deep call of the man's; and now she missed more than she would admit to herself the tenderness that was gone.
She had her of sharp from the memory of that tenderness, of deep thanksgiving for her escape; but fear of a danger only , does not memory of joys experienced.
Her grandmother watched her carefully, saying little. She forced no confidence, made no comment, was not affectionate, but formed a definite decision and conveyed it clearly to Dr. Bellair.
"Look here, Jane Bellair, you've upset Vivian's dish, and quite right; it's a good thing you did, and I don't know as you could have done it easier."
"I couldn't have done it harder—that I know of," the doctor answered. "I'd sooner operate on a baby—without an anæsthetic268—than tell a thing like that—to a girl like that. But it had to be done; and nobody else would."
"You did perfectly right. I'm thankful enough, I promise you; if you hadn't I should have had to—and goodness knows what a mess I'd have made. But look here, the girl's going all to pieces. Now we've got to do something for her, and do it quick."
"I know that well enough," answered her friend, "and I set about it even before I made the . You've seen that little building going up on the corner of High and Stone Streets?"
"That pretty little thing with the grass and flowers round it?"
"Yes—they got the flowers growing while the decorators finished inside. It's a first-rate little kindergarten. I've got a list of scholars all arranged for, and am going to pop the girl into it so fast she can't refuse. Not that I think she will."
"Who did it?" demanded Mrs. Pettigrew. "That man Skee?"
"Mr. Skee has had something to do with it," replied the doctor, guardedly; "but he doesn't want his name mentioned."
"Huh!" said............
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