The Housetop Room

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search

The Housetop Room


THE doctor stopped his car in front of the gate and looked up toward the big house. It stood very stately in the early light—clear yellow, with high, white trimmings, and the pear tree lifting up great sprays of blossoms toward the gable and the window tops. Bees were humming faintly among them—the low purring of the machine seemed to answer the sound.

The doctor ran the car a little farther along the greensward and stepped out. There was no one in sight. The house might have been asleep. But the front door stood wide open and he went leisurely up the path, looking with tolerant, professional eye at the masses of bloom on either side, and taking in the slow spring wind from the grass and flowers.

He rapped on the side of the door with his gloved hand and stood waiting, his back to the door, and his glance travelling back over the straight path with its fragrant edge.

An elderly woman, with rough, clean face, and sleeves rolled up to the elbow, answered the knock.

"Come in, Doctor Rodney— 'Miss Martin?' She's in the garden, I guess. You come right in." She turned her back on him and went toward an open door at the other end of the hall. "Miss Martin," she called, in a loud, clear voice—"oh, Miss Martin! Here's the doctor come to see you." She turned to him with a good-natured smile. "She's comin' right along. You set down."

Her elbows disappeared in the direction of the kitchen, and he heard the clink of pans. But he did not sit down. He stood looking toward the vista of garden at the end of the hall. Presently a figure appeared in it, laden with flowers. Her skirt was gathered in both hands, and out of the apron of it trailed the beginnings and ends of flowers. They ran over her dress and were gathered against her bosom; and her face, looking over them, had something of the same faint, wild color and freshness as she came forward smiling.

"You see what I am doing. Come in." She moved toward a door at the right and he followed her into the cool, dim room. There was little furniture—a few fine old pieces of mahogany shining with cool freshness, and at one side a table covered with dishes and vases filled with water. She sat down by it, dropping the ends of her skirt, and the flowers overflowed about her. "Sit down, please." She nodded to him, as if his presence gave her pleasure, and turned to the table. "You won't mind if I go right on—will you—with my flowers?"

"I can only stay a minute," he said.

Her hands dropped to her lap. "I wanted to ask you about the rugosas. There's some kind of insect on them."

"I'll come in to-morrow if I can—I stopped now to ask you something. I was going by—"


"It's Mrs. Caldwell—the house by the bridge, you know—there are five children, and another one coming soon. She is pretty seriously ill. There's to be an operation; it may save her—possibly the child—but it's a toss-up. It will be a great case—if she lives." He stopped, with a half-eager gesture.

"I see," she spoke slowly, her eyes on his face, "and you want me to go there—"

A comical little look of horror came into his eyes. "I wouldn't trust you," he said. "But what I do want is a place for her; she must have air and light—quiet. It's a hole—where she is now."

"I know— You want us to take her?" He nodded.

Her eyes looked down at the flowers and she fingered them slowly. "I don't see how we can—but of course we'll have to"—she smiled up a little whimsically—"if you want us to."

He nodded again. "I knew you would—as soon as I thought of it. I didn't think of you at first."

She held up a spray of roses, turning it from her and shaking it out. "I don't see where we can put her," she said.

"The north room—"

"Mr. Sedgwick has it—"

"Hasn't he gone?" The doctor's face clouded.

"He's staying all summer," she replied.

"Well"—he pondered a minute—"you could put her across the hall. It's not so quiet, but it will do."

She leaned forward. "Didn't I tell you that Mr. Calhoun is coming back—to-night?"

He stood up impatiently. "I can't see why you should have a house full of boarders," he said, brusquely.

She laughed out. "They're not boarders exactly. They're"—she looked about the cool room, "they're suitors, I think."

Sitting among her tumbling flowers, her eyes raised to him, her cheeks glowing, she was like some great, live, young goddess—some creature of another time and world.

The doctor crushed the visor of his cap in his fingers. "You will come to trouble some day," he said.

"Oh, I've come to it now," she assured him, quickly, "—if you want the room and I can't find it for you."

He grunted a little and turned toward the door. "I'm coming back—along toward night," he said, "and I'll stop and see what you have decided—"

"I've decided now—" she said, promptly. She stood up among her flowers and they dropped about her, ringing her in—"if you can wait a minute." She went across to the secretary and took down a long brass key.

The doctor eyed it suspiciously. "I won't have her put in any dungeon," he said.

She smiled. "Come and see." She led him up the straight, wide staircase and along the hall to the end of the house, and up another flight of stairs that grew steeper and turned sharply at the top, to the right. "Shut your eyes," she commanded, looking back.

He shut them and heard the click of the key in the lock, and a breath of fresh, clear air touched his forehead. Her cool fingers rested on his, guiding him up the last steps and into an invisible room.

"Don't dare look," she said, "till I tell you." She led him forward with light touch and turned him about. Then he heard the rustle of her dress and her voice coming faintly, Now—you—may—look."

He opened his eyes slowly and half turned, looking about him. . . . The great room stretched across the house, with curved, wide windows at either end—and it was like no room he had ever seen. . . . The low, arching ceiling was painted white, and the panelled doors were white, and the fluted columns of doors and windows and the little cornices that topped them and ran along the edge of the wall. Only, here and there, the whiteness was broken by panels of yellow gold in the spaces of doors and windows, and by the same yellow gold in the sunshine that came through the east window. The doctor wheeled slowly about. At the other end of the room, between the two curving windows, a fire was burning in the great fireplace; and on the side of the room, through white-panelled, open doors, he caught glimpses into little sloping rooms beyond, with small-paned windows and half-drawn curtains and subdued color and light; and in one of the rooms, on a mahogany table, a brass dish of fruit-plums and oranges and grapefruit and hothouse melons and pears, the colors of the fruit and the yellow dish glowing dully in the shining wood of the table—a bit of Dutch interior—like a picture that grows real as one looks at it. The doctor lifted his hand and turned sharply. "Where are you?" he said.

Then he saw her, sitting across the room before a grand piano that filled the space. Her hands were folded in her lap and her eyes were smiling at him. "It's just like a play, isn't it?" she said, softly.

"It's theatrical, if that's what you mean," he replied, shortly.—"You're going to let Mary Caldwell have it, I suppose?" There was a little sarcastic smile in the question.

"I'm going to ask the owners," she said, slowly. "It isn't really mine, you know," She looked about the room almost wistfully, it seemed to him, and his face softened a little.

"Who did it, anyway?" he demanded. "It's just the place I want, you know—cool and high and quiet. She'd have a chance here. I'd forgotten all about the place—we used to play up here when we were children—but not like this"—he motioned with his hand.

"No," she smiled faintly, "not like this. We did it last year—the room—the three of us. Mr. Sedgwick furnished the idea, most of it, and Mr. Calhoun, the elegance—melons out of season, and plums and grapes"—she nodded to the great dish of fruit glowing in the room beyond, "and flowers, all winter—from his greenhouse," she added, with a little, lavish movement of the hand.

"I see." His voice dropped a little. "Well, let me know to-night. It's a good place for Mary Caldwell," he said, contentedly, "and that's the main thing— Good-by." He nodded to her.

"Wait a minute, John." She rose and came toward him. Something glowed in her face, behind the richness and youth in it. "I'm going to decide," she said.

"Decide—?" He looked at her suspiciously.

She nodded. "They're suitors, you know—just as much as Penelope's were—"

He smiled a little—in spite of himself.

"In the old times they had sense," she said, firmly. "When they loved her, they said so—with a trumpet—and everybody knew it and she knew it, and she arranged tests for them—caskets and things—and if they got it right—all right, and if they didn't—'off with their heads!'" She moved her hand with a free, dramatic gesture. "But now they just come and come. They don't devour your substance, because they pay board—but it's more wearing than Penelope's way was."

He laughed out. She smiled, too, nodding to him. "You wait and see. I'm going to arrange a test—a kind of golden, silver, leaden casket thing—and have done with it."

He had turned away and his face had grown preoccupied. "All right, Nancy. I don't mind how you do it—just let me have the room for Mary Caldwell and I'll bless you—and all science will bless you." He nodded again and she heard his step—on the sharp, steep stair and along the hall and growing fainter on the long staircase below.

She looked about her in the beautiful room— The purring of the bees in the pear-tree top outside came in faintly, and, far below, the whirring of Doctor John's machine, that clicked, impatient to be off.

She reached up her arms, with a whimsical gesture, and opened them wide, as she turned toward the door. "Oh, men!" she said, softly. Then she turned the key in the lock and went swiftly down the stairs to her flowers in the cool dim room.

The old man standing in the doorway looked at her a minute with half-humorous glance. "You're late," he said.

She lifted a bit of valerian and tucked it securely in place. "Doctor John came in—and hindered me." She held back her head, looking at the vase before her. Then she pushed it one side and drew forward another.

"Was your coffee right?" she asked.

"Quite right, my dear, quite perfect. You have done wonders with Ellen." He came slowly across the room to the old secretary and seated himself with a kind of stately precision. The white beard sweeping the desk before him, and the little skull-cap on his white hair, gave him an ancient look, but the eyes that scanned the pile of letters were as dark as the girl's own. He took up a letter from the pile and opened it, and there was silence in the room. It was broken by little swishes of fragrance as the girl lifted the sprays of flowers from the floor and arranged them with swift, business-like movements.

Presently she looked across to him. He had finished his mail and was tapping the desk with thin, circumspect fingers. He nodded to her. "What is it?" he said.

"I wanted to ask you something—"

"Yes? I wish you would. There is nothing interesting in these—" He pushed the letters from him and turned in his chair to watch her.

The color was clear in her face. But if she had braced herself for any venture, it did not show in the quick, decisive movements of her fingers, that went on sorting and arranging the flowers as she talked.

"Doctor John wants a room for a Mrs. Caldwell—"

The old man smiled faintly. "He will have it, then, won't he, if he wants it?"

"Yes—he will have it. It isn't that. I took him up to the old ballroom . . . and he likes it."

"Nice of him," said the old man. "Robert Calhoun must have spent a thousand on it—without the piano—and the pictures—and the rugs."

"I know," she said—with a little whiff of impatience. "And now I think he ought to have something back for it."

He took off his glasses and stared at her a little. "How would you propose to pay him?" he said.

"I'm not proposing—not exactly," she gave a little laugh that tumbled the flowers down about her. "But it isn't altogether his, you know. It was Arthur Sedgwick's idea—"

"It was Arthur's idea," he assented, smiling. "Calhoun isn't quite equal to that—not yet."

"No—and I thought"—she threw down the bunch of flowers and looked at him with quick, soft eyes that danced—"I thought I would marry the one that gives me the best advice about giving up the room—the advice I like best, that is," she added, softly. Her look questioned him.

He returned it slowly. He rubbed the glasses and put them on his high nose. "Isn't this a little more than a joke?" he said.

But her glance held his. "It sounds crude, I suppose." Her color rose a little. "But here they have been playing the role of suitors—for years—both of them—and nobody saying a word, and I think it is time to do something."

He chuckled softly. Then he rose and came over to her. He ran his thin fingers over her hair, and touched her chin and lifted it till the eyes met his. "What is it you will 'do,' daughter?" he echoed, smiling.

"I thought you might tell them," she said.

"That you will marry them—?"

She nodded.

He shook his head slowly. "I don't think I could—quite—do that."

The wilful, laughing look danced in her face. "Then I shall—and I don't think it was ever the custom—"

"Not exactly the custom," he assented.

"I mean with Penelope and Portia and the rest," she said, quickly. "I think their fathers usually did it for them, or their cousins, or some convenient person."

"Very likely," he replied, slowly. He drew forward a chair and sat down by her; his fingers reached out and touched the quick, warm hand that moved among the flowers. "Tell me what it is you want, daughter," he said, gently.

"I think I want to be free," she threw out her arms a little, "—and either of them would say it to-morrow, and I know—and you know it—but nobody says anything."

"That is what we call good taste," he said, smiling. "They find the situation too perfect—to spoil."

"But I am a woman," she lifted her head, "just plain, primal woman."

"Like your mother," he said, patting her hand, "and your mother's mother."

She nodded. "—and all the mothers that ever were," she replied, quickly. "I think I want some one to beat me a little. . . . I don't like being worshipped," she said.

There was a sound outside. The old man turned his head.

"Mr. Martin—?" It was Ellen's voice, high and clear, in the hall. She appeared in the doorway, her elbows alert. "Fred Fitchly wants to see you—about the meadow," she said, shortly.

He smiled a tolerant, elderly smile and left the room. The girl did not look up from her flowers. "Ellen," she said, softly.

The woman half paused in the doorway, looking back. "Yes . . . m?"

"If Mr. Sedgwick should ask for me, I shall be in the upper room."

"You generally be there," said the woman, "without you're in the garden, or traipsing the woods."

"Yes. But I want particularly to have him know I am there—this morning."

"I'll tell him, if I can leave my pies," said the woman; "they're spoiling now—"

"Oh—and, Ellen"—the girl's face was unmoved—"if you could remember not to call so loud in the house—when you want us."

The woman seemed not to have heard. Her gaze was on the litter of flowers that tumbled the floor. "I shall have to sweep it up—that litter," she said.

The girl made a little free movement over her flowers. "Yes, but not yet, Ellen. Don't drive me out—not yet."

"I'll give you ten minutes," said the woman, shortly, as she stepped away.

But when she was gone the girl did not hurry. She took up the flowers and looked at them, as if not seeing them, and laid them down, a kind of light playing in her face. Presently she lifted a great bunch of peonies and stared at them wide. They were great, flaunting beauties—crimson and fringed—rising from the green-pointed leaves—the spirit of color. As she shook them apart the whole room seemed to stir a little and breathe with flushing light. She drew forward a great brass dish on the table and set the stems firmly in place, crowding them down a little, and letting them fall free at last. Her eyes rested on the brilliant mass with a kind of warm laugh.

"There you are, Mr. Robert C. Calhoun," she said, softly—"Big and rare and rich— You won't ever disappoint me. You blossom just on time and last forever—and the hall is the place for you." She lifted the dish in both hands, a little ceremoniously, and walked slowly with it to the hall and set it on the little table at the foot of the stair. The wind sweeping through the open doors swayed the great crimson petals. Down the vista of the open door she saw the garden, and beyond it the men at work in the hayfield. When she returned to the room, dim with its flowers and scent, she groped a minute and pressed her hand to her eyes. She could still see color and the men at work in the field. Then it faded and the room took shape—very fragrant aud soft and cool. She searched among the flowers daintily and lifted a stem of orchid—fine and pink and swaying—and placed it in a tall, slender glass. She smiled a little and moved away, surveying it. . . . Arthur Sedgwick, artist and poet, winner of the Webb prize—and altogether lovely. She took up the glass and held it to the light, turning it in her fingers—an old-fashioned champagne-glass—clear and beautiful in line. The light glowed in it and the orchid seemed a thing alive—a flower-soul that had drawn its breath at the gate of some other world. She held it a moment, enchanted, looking through it into something beautiful and vaguely near. Then she carried it across the room and placed it on the low shelf of marble that supported the great pier-glass between the windows. She moved backward, looking at it through the dimness, a thing of mystery in the great glass. She laid her finger to her lips and smiled, and her finger-tips wafted a little kiss to the silent flower. "You are very dear," she said, softly.

A hurried step sounded on the steep upper stair, and a man—a little breathless—entered the room.

She looked up with a smile. "I thought it was you."

"Ellen told me you were here." He cast a quick glance about the room. Then he smiled at her, a clear, sunny smile that ran with his glance—"How perfect it is!"

"Isn't it!" She leaned forward in her chair, watching him. "It grows nicer every day, I think."

"That's time," he said, quickly. "Things have to mellow—you know—like people." His eyes dwelt on her. "Do you know—you grow to look like the room yourself—I think—every day."

"It's low in the ceiling," she said, looking up at the tiny fluted lines.

He smiled. "But the spirit of it—clear and fine and gentle—" He moved his hand.

"Is that a compliment?" she asked.

He crossed to the piano and leaned on it, looking down at her. "It's anything you please. . . . You—in this room—are the very soul of life—"

"That sounds quite nice," she said.

He flushed sharply and turned away. He moved across the room and came back and stood before her—"I have nothing to offer you or any woman—but I love you," he said.

She rose and stood facing him with quiet breath. "Listen"—there was a kind of soft dignity in the words, "you shall choose for yourself whether you will have me." His hands made a little gesture, but her glance stayed them.

"I have been asked to use this room—our room—for a woman who is very ill. Shall I do it?" Her smile flashed at him.

"You shall do whatever you choose," he said, and he moved impetuously—

But she shook her head—"No, I want to know what you choose—and in choosing it you choose me—or lose me. It is a rhyme," she said, sweetly.

His lip gnawed at the edge of his mustache where the little line of gray was beginning to show. His eyes frowned. "I refuse to take part in any such nonsense."

"Very well, then, you're out of it— Off with your head," she said, gayly.

He smiled a little. "If I tell you exactly how I feel, will you play fair?" he asked.

"As fair as daylight."

"Well, then, I love you"—something swept into the words—"and I love you in this room— You are beautiful in this room—like a flower in the wind—some rare exquisite thing that has been in the light and the rain and the sun—and is gathered here—perfect forever. When I think of you I am in the heart of life—and there is light on my work—"

She leaned forward, her eyes on his face, drinking in the words. She drew a quick little sigh and her breath deepened. "That is very beautiful," she said.

"It is very true," he said. "I cannot tell you—and it seems a childish game you have put me. But—"

She lifted her hand, looking at him. "To-morrow," she said, "I will tell you." He took the hand and bent to it and kissed it. Then he left the room without a glance.

She sat looking about her—at the mysterious room—that he loved—for her sake—all its little delicacies, the clear, wonderful light in it—up in the housetop. She looked at the room as if she had never seen it before— She looked at it through his eyes. The room was life—the way life would be always—the heart of it. . . . She heard his voice again, with the new note in it that asked for something she had not meant to give. She moved a little and crossed to the fire at the other end of the room. The logs from the morning's blaze were still charred and warm, and she adjusted them, guarding the flame that leaped up and drew back. Little sparks flew up the chimney.

There was a knock at the door and she started; her glance flickered like the flame on the hearth. "Come in," she said.

It was Robert C. Calhoun, well-rounded, well-balanced, well-poised. He held out his hand in quick greeting.

"Glad to see me?" he said.

"I am, indeed. I did not think you could come so early. Sit down." She motioned to the chair.

"Not yet. It is too good to be here. I want to stretch my legs." He moved about, touching things here and there with the careful, cherishing touch of the connoisseur. Then he turned and came back to her where she was by the fire. "I want to ask you something," he said, simply. "I never knew till to-day that I wanted it. But there is something—in the air."

Her glance on his face smiled a little. "Yes?"

"It is yours, you know, this room," he went on, quickly—"but I want you to take me—with it—" He half turned. But she held up her hand.

"Wait, please. I have something to ask you— Doctor Rodney wants to put a patient here—a woman—"

His lip half opened, and closed in a little smile. "Well?"

"And when you have answered my question I will answer yours."

He looked at her with a shrewd, slow look—with something baffled behind it. "I don't see what you mean. It seems fair enough," he said, thoughtfully, "but you mean something that you do not say—don't you?"

"Yes—and it is not fair." She spoke quickly. "I want to know what your answer will be, because that will tell me something about you—something that I do not know—and, maybe, something about myself. It came to me like a kind of vision when Doctor Rodney asked me for the room," she went on, "that was not mine—to give—" He made a motion, but she stopped him. "—that the room was partly yours and partly—Arthur Sedgwick's."

"I see." He was staring into the fire now and his face was grave, and the strong lines crept into it. "I don't class with Sedgwick." His hand made a gesture toward the room. "He can do things that a man of my sort cannot do. . . . But I could make you happy—I think I could make you happy." He had turned to her.

"Shall I tell the doctor he can have the room?" she said.

He looked down at her again out of his still, gray eyes. "It is a strange question," he said. "I feel as if I were probably stepping on ground that shakes—something might give way. You make me feel like an elephant," he added, "trying a new bridge."

She smiled a little.

"What harm could it do to let him have the room?" he asked, "—have it for a while? He doesn't want it forever?"

"No, only for this patient. She is very ill, and he thinks it might save her."

"Do you mind giving up the room?" He was facing her with clear eyes.

"Do you mind—for me?" she said. "That's really what I want to know."

"But it's not fair," said the man. "I want you to do what you like best—always, and nothing else."

"And if I would rather not give it up—to carbolic and knives and pain—?" She looked about the quiet, delicate place—"If I would rather not—?"

"Then don't do it." He spoke promptly. "There are other rooms—?"

She shook her head. "Not others near enough. She mustn't be moved far."

"Then build one." He moved his hand with a quick gesture of strength. "It will not take long to build one—a little house of clean, fresh boards—out in the open. He shall have it within three days."

"In three days?" Her eyes laughed.

"In a day—two days— Money will do most things," he said, quietly, "Your doctor shall have his room."

She stood up and held out her hand. "Thank you, Robert. I will tell the doctor he shall have his room—this one—or another—just as good."

He took the hand in his and held it gently. "You will tell the doctor that?" he said, "and you will tell me—?" He waited.

"I will tell you to-morrow which it shall be," she said, "this room—or another—just as good."

"'Miss Martin'? She's up in the top story, I guess. She's been up there most all day, playing and jambering on that piano." The woman regarded the doctor with tolerant eye. Her sleeves were rolled down now, but she maintained with her nose the same air of alert good sense. "You can go right up," she said. She disappeared with unconcern, and the doctor went toward the stair.

Down the stairway dropped little notes, half-melodies of song, to meet him. He paused. . . . She was singing something—a little song ... he had not heard it for years—not since they were children and played in the big ballroom up above. He hummed it, smiling a little to himself, and going slowly to catch the last bit.

She did not stop playing as he came in, but looked up with a little nod of welcome.

He sat down on the arm of a big chair, swinging his leg boyishly—

"That's great!" he said. "Go right on—don't stop."

Her fingers ran to another tune—picking it up note by note, out from the past.

The doctor slipped into the big chair, leaning his head against the back. His eyes closed . . . and she watched the face as she played . . . strong and clean cut, with a little nervous line between the eyes . . . a strong man, worked to the bone—the hand on the arm of the big chair was mere muscle and nerve. . . . She looked at it—out of the little songs—it could hold a knife and cut clean, with quick strokes. . . . He was not afraid to hold a life in those hands of his. . . . The music moved softly into something modern and quick, and the doctor opened his eyes. "That was very nice," he said. "I nearly went to sleep."

She nodded. "I haven't played them for years—they seem to come back to-day, one by one." Her hands were in her lap. "Have you had a hard day?" she asked, looking at him.

"Not so bad. It's the distances that count. . . . You can't limit a machine, you know."

"You'd better limit yourself," she said, quietly. "You'll go smash some day."

He laughed out. "You'd like me to, wouldn't you—just to say, 'I told you'!"

"I'd like you to have sense," she said, "and save yourself for something worth while."

He glanced down the room—"Going to let Mary Caldwell have it?"

She colored a little, a quick, fleeting flush as if something had touched her. . . . Then the color danced. "What do you think?"

"I don't 'think—I know. . . . I knew this morning."

"I didn't know—not this morning."

"No, your mind is slow." He leaned back, smiling at her. "It is a wonderful case," he said, thoughtfully, "—and she is a woman in a hundred. She will fight for every inch of her life—and she is going to win—up here."

She leaned forward, following the words with quick look. "You are so sure!" she said.

"Sure!" He laughed under his breath. "They say it can't be done—but it can." His hand closed on the word and held it.

She drew her breath—with a quick nod. Of course it can—if you can!"

He did not seem to hear her, "I'll bring her to-morrow. . . . You can have it ready?" His eye ran through the room—"Take up these rugs and covers, and carry out the fruit piece over there." He motioned to the Dutch interior in the little room beyond. "And put up a bed—a good one— I'll send it. That's all." He stood up.

She started a little. "Do you have to go—right now?"

He laughed. "It's not 'right now—' I've stayed an hour. I'm always wasting time—here."

"It's not an hour—and it's not wasted," she said, slowly. "Other people need you—besides sick ones—and you need the room—even if you don't know it—and you need us."

"Of course I need you— But all these other people seem to be caught in a vise somehow." His hand closed itself. "I must do what I can."

"Yes—you must do." Her eyes followed him to the door.

He looked back. "Good-by." But she did not answer. She had turned away a little, and her face was toward the wall.

"Good-by, Nancy."

Her shoulders gave a ripple—it might be good-by—or only petulance . . . it couldn't be—

He waited a minute. Then he crossed the room. He half reached out his hand, and drew it back. . . . "What is it, Nancy?" he said, gently.

She lifted her face and threw out her arm as if warding off something. "I don't know. Only—men are so stupid!" She dried her eyes in little fierce dabs and looked at him. "You're just as bad as the others!" she said, nodding.

He started and moved a step nearer—"You know it is all yours—everything I have—body and soul—you have only to say the word—"

"That's the third time to-day," she said.

He drew back, a little bitterly. "Of course—I know it is only a joke to you—"

"But you don't know—you don't know the least thing—about me—or about any woman!"

"I know I love you," he said, soberly.

"Do you! Dear John! I love to hear you say it! Please say it—again!"

"I cannot!" He wheeled about sharply—his back to her.

But she had crossed the space—both hands on his shoulders—"Dear, blind, foolish—working Thing!" she said, "don't you know I worship everything you do!" She shook him a little.

And he turned about slowly, and blinked, and looked at her. Then his arms opened. "You poor child!" he said—slowly.

She shook her head wilfully. "Very rich lady!" she said, and she nodded, and the tears that lay close dropped off and splashed on the doctor's coat.

He looked down at them soberly and then at the shining in her face. "You will have to work very hard," he said.

"I know it—"

"And give things up—"

"Yes—" she nodded—"and you'll beat me, won't you—and only let me out for half-holidays—and forget where you left me—oh, John!" She had come close to him— "It's just you in all the world!" . . . Outside a little breeze stirred in the pear-tree tops and the fragrance of the blossoms drifted in. They stood together, looking back into the quiet room. It was filled with the warm light of the late sun—touched with the coming dusk. She turned away toward the stair. "Come," she said, "it is Mary Caldwell's room."

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1925.

The author died in 1951, so this work is also in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 60 years or less. This work may also be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.