The Staying Power of Sir Rohan
by Frank Stockton
During the winter in which I reached my twenty fifth year I lived with my mother’s brother, Dr. Alfred Morris, in Warburton, a small country town, and I was there beginning the practice of medicine. I had been graduated in the spring, and my uncle earnestly advised me to come to him and act as his assistant, which advice, considering the fact that he was an elderly man, and that I might hope to succeed him in his excellent practice, was considered good advice by myself and my family.
At this time I practised very little, but learned a great deal, for as I often accompanied my uncle on his professional visits, I could not have taken a better postgraduate course.
I had an invitation to spend the Christmas of that year with the Collingwoods, who had opened their country house, about twelve miles from Warburton, for the entertainment of a holiday house party. I had gladly accepted the invitation, and on the day before Christmas I went to the livery stable in the village to hire a horse and sleigh for the trip. At the stable I met Uncle Beamish, who had also come to hire a conveyance.
“Uncle Beamish,” as he was generally called in the village, although I am sure he had no nephews or nieces in the place, was an elderly man who had retired from some business, I know not what, and was apparently quite able to live upon whatever income he had. He was a good man, rather illiterate, but very shrewd. Generous in good works, I do not think he was fond of giving away money, but his services were at the call of all who needed them.
I liked Uncle Beamish very much, for he was not only a good story-teller, but he was willing to listen to my stories, and when I found he wanted to hire a horse and sleigh to go to the house of his married sister, with whom he intended to spend Christmas, and that his sister lived on Upper Hill turnpike, on which road the Collingwood house was situated, I proposed that we should hire a sleigh together.
“That will suit me,” said Uncle Beamish. “There couldn’t have been a better fit if I had been measured for it. Less than half a mile after you turn into the turnpike, you pass my sister’s house. Then you can drop me and go on to the Collingwoods’, which I should say isn’t more than three miles further.”
The arrangement was made, a horse and sleigh ordered, and early in the afternoon we started from Warburton.
The sleighing was good, but the same could not be said of the horse. He was a big roan, powerful and steady, but entirely too deliberate in action. Uncle Beamish, however, was quite satisfied with him.
“What you want when you are goin’ to take a journey with a horse,” said he, “is stayin’ power. Your fast trotter is all very well for a mile or two, but if I have got to go into the country in winter, give me a horse like this.”
I did not agree with him, but we jogged along quite pleasantly until the afternoon grew prematurely dark and it began to snow.
“Now,” said I, giving the roan a useless cut, “what we ought to have is a fast horse, so that we may get there before there is a storm.”
“No, doctor, you’re wrong,” said Uncle Beamish. “What we want is a strong horse that will take us there whether it storms or not, and we have got him. And who cares for a little snow that won’t hurt nobody?”
I did not care for snow, and we turned up our collars and went as merrily as people can go to the music of slowly jingling sleigh-bells.
The snow began to fall rapidly, and, what was worse, the wind blew directly in our faces, so that sometimes my eyes were so plastered up with snowflakes that I could scarcely see how to drive. I never knew snow to fall with such violence. The roadway in front of us, as far as I could see it, was soon one unbroken stretch of white from fence to fence.
“This is the big storm of the season,” said Uncle Beamish, “and it is a good thing we started in time, for if the wind keeps blowin’, this road will be pretty hard to travel in a couple of hours.”
In about half an hour the wind lulled a little and I could get a better view of our surroundings, although I could not see very far through the swiftly descending snow.
“I was thinkin’,” said Uncle Beamish, “that it might be a good idee, when we get to Crocker’s place, to stop a little, and let you warm your fingers and nose. Crocker’s is ruther more than half-way to the pike.”
“Oh, I do not want to stop anywhere,” I replied quickly. “I am all right.”
Nothing was said for some time, and then Uncle Beamish remarked:
“I don’t want to stop any more than you do, but it does seem strange that we ain’t passed Crocker’s yit. We could hardly miss his house, it is so close to the road. This horse is slow, but I tell you one thing, doctor, he’s improvin’. He is goin’ better than he did. That’s the way with this kind. It takes them a good while to get warmed up, but they keep on gettin’ fresher instead of tireder.”
The big roan was going better, but still we did not reach Crocker’s, which disappointed Uncle Beamish, who wanted to be assured that the greater part of his journey was over.
“We must have passed it,” he said, “when the snow was so blindin’.”
I did not wish to discourage him by saying that I did not think we had yet reached Crocker’s, but I believed I had a much better appreciation of our horse’s slowness than he had.
Again the wind began to blow in our faces, and the snow fell faster, but the violence of the storm seemed to encourage our horse, for his pace was now greatly increased.
“That’s the sort of beast to have,” exclaimed Uncle Beamish, spluttering as the snow blew in his mouth. “He is gettin’ his spirits up just when they are most wanted. We must have passed Crocker’s a good while ago, and it can’t be long before we get to the pike. And it’s time we was there, for it’s darkenin’.”
On and on we went, but still we did not reach the pike. We had lost a great deal of time during the first part of the journey, and although the horse was travelling so much better now, his pace was below the average of good roadsters.
“When we get to the pike,” said Uncle Beamish, “you can’t miss it, for this road doesn’t cross it. All you’ve got to do is to turn to the left, and in ten minutes you will see the lights in my sister’s house. And I’ll tell you, doctor, if you would like to stop there for the night, she’d be mighty glad to have you.”
“Much obliged,” replied I, “but I shall go on. It’s not late yet, and I can reach the Collingwoods’ in good time.”
We now drove on in silence, our horse actually arching his neck as he thumped through the snow. Drifts had begun to form across the road, but through these he bravely plunged.
“Stayin’ power is what we want, doctor!” exclaimed Uncle Beamish. “Where would your fast trotter be in drifts like these, I’d like to know? We got the right horse when we got this one, but I wish we had been goin’ this fast all the time.”
It grew darker and darker, but at last we saw, not far in front of us, a light.
“That beats me,” said Uncle Beamish. “I don’t remember no other house so near the road. It can’t be we ain’t passed Crocker’s yit! If we ain’t got no further than that, I’m in favor of stoppin’. I’m not afraid of a snow-storm, but I ain’t a fool nuther, and if we haven’t got further than Crocker’s it will be foolhardy to try to push on through the dark and these big drifts, which will be gettin’ bigger.”
I did not give it up so easily. I greatly wished to` reach my destination that night. But there were three wills in the party, and one of them belonged to the horse. Before I had any idea of such a thing, the animal made a sudden turn,–too sudden for safety,–passed through a wide gateway, and after a few rapid bounds which, to my surprise, I could not restrain, he stopped suddenly.
“Hello!” exclaimed Uncle Beamish, peering forward, “here’s a barn door.” And he immediately began to throw off the far robe that covered our knees.
“What are you going to do?” I asked.
“I’m goin’ to open the barn door and let the horse go in,” said he. “He seems to want to. I don’t know whether this is Crocker’s barn or not. It don’t look like it, but I may be mistaken. Anyway, we will let the horse in, and then go to the house. This ain’t no night to be travellin’ any further, doctor, and that is the long and the short of it. If the people here ain’t Crockers, I guess they are Christians!”
I had not much time to consider the situation, for while he had been speaking, Uncle Beamish had waded through the snow, and finding the barn door unfastened, had slid it to one side. Instantly the horse entered the dark barn, fortunately finding nothing in his way.
“Now,” said Uncle Beamish, “if we can get somethin’ to tie him with, so that he don’t do no mischief, we can leave him here and go up to the house.” I carried a pocket lantern, and quickly lighted it. “By George!” said Uncle Beamish, as I held up the lantern, “this ain’t much of a barn–it’s no more than a wagon- house. It ain’t Crocker’s–but no matter; we’ll go up to the house. Here is a hitchin’-rope.”
We fastened the horse, threw a robe over him, shut the barn door behind us, and slowly made our way to the back of the house, in which there was a lighted window. Mounting a little portico, we reached a door, and were about to knock when it was opened for us. A woman, plainly a servant, stood in a kitchen, light and warm.
“Come right in,” she said. “I heard your bells. Did you put your horse in the barn?”
“Yes,” said Uncle Beamish, “and now we would like to see–”
“All right,” interrupted the woman, moving toward an inner door. “Just wait here for a minute. I’m going up to tell her.”
“I don’t know this place,” said Uncle Beamish, as we stood by the kitchen stove, “but I expect it belongs to a widow woman.”
“What makes you think that?” I asked.
“‘Cause she said she was goin’ to tell HER. If there had been a man in the house, she would have gone to tell HIM.”
In a few moments the woman returned.
“She says you are to take off your wet things and then go into the sitting-room. She’ll be down in a minute.”
I looked at Uncle Beamish, thinking it was his right to make explanations, but, giving me a little wink, he began to take off his overcoat. It was plain to perceive that Uncle Beamish desired to assume that a place of refuge would be offered us.
“It’s an awful bad night,” he said to the woman, as he sat down to take off his arctic overshoes.
“It’s all that,” said she. “You may hang your coats over them chairs. It won’t matter if they do drip on this bare floor.
Now, then, come right into the sitting-room.”
In spite of my disappointment, I was glad to be in a warm house, and hoped we might be able to stay there. I could hear the storm beating furiously against the window-panes behind the drawn shades. There was a stove in the sitting-room, and a large lamp.
“Sit down,” said the woman. “She will be here in a minute.”
“It strikes me,” said Uncle Beamish, when we were left alone, “that somebody is expected in this house, most likely to spend Christmas, and that we are mistook for them, whoever they are.”
“I have the same idea,” I replied, “and we must explain as soon as possible.”
“Of course we will do that,” said he, “but I can tell you one thing: whoever is expected ain’t comin’, for he can’t get here. But we’ve got to stay here tonight, no matter who comes or doesn’t come, and we’ve got to be keerful in speakin’ to the woman of the house. If she is one kind of a person, we can offer to pay for lodgin’s and horse-feed; but if she is another kind, we must steer clear of mentionin’ pay, for it will make her angry. You had better leave the explainin’ business to me.”
I was about to reply that I was more than willing to do so when the door opened and a person entered–evidently the mistress of the house. She was tall and thin, past middle age, and plainly dressed. Her pale countenance wore a defiant look, and behind her spectacles blazed a pair of dark eyes, which, after an instant’s survey of her visitors, were fixed steadily upon me. She made but a step into the room, and stood holding the door. We both rose from our chairs.
“You can sit down again,” she said sharply to me. “I don’t want you. Now, sir,” she continued, turning to Uncle Beamish, “please come with me.”
Uncle Beamish gave a glance of surprise at me, but he immediately followed the old lady out of the room, and the door was closed behind them.
For ten minutes, at least, I sat quietly waiting to see what would happen next–very much surprised at the remark that had been made to me, and wondering at Uncle Beamish’s protracted absence. Suddenly he entered the room and closed the door.
“Here’s a go!” said he, slapping his leg, but very gently. “We’re mistook the worst kind. We’re mistook for doctors.” “That is only half a mistake,” said I. “What is the matter, and what can I do?”
“Nothin’,” said he, quickly,–“that is, nothin’ your own self. Just the minute she got me outside that door she began pitchin’ into you. `I suppose that’s young Dr. Glover,’ said she. I told her it was, and then she went on to say, givin’ me no chance to explain nothin’, that she didn’t want to have anything to do with you; that she thought it was a shame to turn people’s houses into paupers’ hospitals for the purpose of teachin’ medical students; that she had heard of you, and what she had heard she hadn’t liked. All this time she kept goin’ up- stairs, and I follerin’ her, and the fust thing I knowed she opened a door and went into a room, and I went in after her, and there, in a bed, was a patient of some kind. I was took back dreadful, for the state of the case came to me like a flash.
Your uncle had been sent for, and I was mistook for him. Now, what to say was a puzzle to me, and I began to think pretty fast.
It was an awkward business to have to explain things to that sharp-set old woman. The fact is, I didn’t know how to begin, and was a good deal afraid, besides, but she didn’t give me no time for considerin’. `I think it’s her brain,’ said she, `but perhaps you’ll know better. Catherine, uncover your head!’ And with that the patient turned over a little and uncovered her head, which she had had the sheet over. It was a young woman, and she gave me a good look, but she didn’t say nothin’. Now I WAS in a state of mind.”
“Of course you must have been,” I answered. “Why didn’t you tell her that you were not a doctor, but that I was. It would have been easy enough to explain matters. She might have thought my uncle could not come and he had sent me, and that you had come along for company. The patient ought to be attended to without delay.”
“She’s got to be-attended to,” said Uncle Beamish, “or else there will be a row and we’ll have to travel–storm or no storm. But if you had heard what that old woman said about young doctors, and you in particular, you would know that you wasn’t goin’ to have anything to do with this case–at least, you wouldn’t show in it. But I’ve got no more time for talkin’. I came down here on business. When the old lady said, `Catherine, hold out your hand!’ and she held it out, I had nothin’ to do but step up and feel her pulse. I know how to do that, for I have done a lot of nussin’ in my life. And then it seemed nat’ral to ask her to put out her tongue, and when she did it I gave a look at it and nodded my head. `Do you think it is her brain?’ said the old woman, half whisperin’. `Can’t say anything about that yit,’ said I. `I must go down-stairs and get the medicine-case. The fust thing to do is to give her a draught, and I will bring it up to her as soon as it is mixed.’ You have got a pocket medicine-case with you, haven’t you?”
“Oh, yes,” said I. “It is in my overcoat.”
“I knowed it,” said Uncle Beamish. “An old doctor might go visitin’ without his medicine-case, but a young one would be sure to take it along, no matter where he was goin’. Now you get it, please, quick.”
“My notion is,” said he, when I returned from the kitchen with the case, “that you mix somethin’ that might soothe her a little, if she has got anything the matter with her brain, and which won’t hurt her if she hasn’t. And then, when I take it up to her, you tell me what symptoms to look for. I can do it–I have spent nights lookin’ for symptoms. Then, when I come down and report, you might send her up somethin’ that would keep her from gettin’ any wuss till the doctor can come in the mornin’, for he ain’t comin’ here to-night.”
“A very good plan,” said I. “Now, what can I give her? What is the patient’s age?”
“Oh, her age don’t matter much,” said Uncle Beamish, impatiently. “She may be twenty, more or less, and any mild stuff will do to begin with.”
“I will give her some sweet spirits of nitre,” said I, taking out a little vial. “Will you ask the servant for a glass of water and a teaspoon?”
“Now,” said I, when I had quickly prepared the mixture, “she can have a teaspoonful of this, and another in ten minutes, and then we will see whether we will go on with it or not.”
“And what am I to look for?” said he.
“In the first place,” said I, producing a clinical thermometer, “you must take her temperature. You know how to do that?”
“Oh, yes,” said he. “I have done it hundreds of times. She must hold it in her mouth five minutes.”
“Yes, and while you are waiting,” I continued, “you must try to find out, in the first place, if there are, or have been, any signs of delirium. You might ask the old lady, and besides, you may be able to judge for yourself.”
“I can do that,” said he. “I have seen lots of it.”
“Then, again,” said I, “you must observe whether or not her pupils are dilated. You might also inquire whether there had been any partial paralysis or numbness in any part of the body. These things must be looked for in brain trouble. Then you can come down, ostensibly to prepare another prescription, and when you have reported, I have no doubt I can give you something which will modify, or I should say–”
“Hold her where she is till mornin’,” said Uncle Beamish. “That’s what you mean. Be quick. Give me that thermometer and the tumbler, and when I come down again, I reckon you can fit her out with a prescription just as good as anybody.”
He hurried away, and I sat down to consider. I was full of ambition, full of enthusiasm for the practice of my profession. I would have been willing to pay largely for the privilege of undertaking an important case by myself, in which it would depend upon me whether or not I should call in a consulting brother. So far, in the cases I had undertaken, a consulting brother had always called himself in–that is, I had practised in hospitals or with my uncle. Perhaps it might be found necessary, notwithstanding all that had been said against me, that I should go up to take charge of this case. I wished I had not forgotten to ask the old man how he had found the tongue and pulse.
In less than a quarter of an hour Uncle Beamish returned.
“Well,” said I, quickly, “what are the symptoms?”
“I’ll give them to you,” said he, taking his seat. “I’m not in such a hurry now, because I told the old woman I would like to wait a little and see how that fust medicine acted. The patient spoke to me this time. When I took the thermometer out of her mouth she says, `You are comin’ up ag’in, doctor?’ speakin’ low and quickish, as if she wanted nobody but me to hear.”
“But how about the symptoms?” said I, impatiently.
“Well,” he answered, “in the fust place her temperature is ninety-eight and a half, and that’s about nat’ral, I take it.”
“Yes,” I said, “but you didn’t tell me about her tongue and pulse.”
“There wasn’t nothin’ remarkable about them,” said he.
“All of which means,” I remarked, “that there is no fever. But that is not at all a necessary accompaniment of brain derangements. How about the dilatation of her pupils?”
“There isn’t none,” said Uncle Beamish; “they are ruther squinched up, if anything. And as to delirium, I couldn’t see no signs of it, and when I asked the old lady about the numbness, she said she didn’t believe there had been any.”
“No tendency to shiver, no disposition to stretch?”
“No,” said the old man, “no chance for quinine.”
“The trouble is,” said I, standing before the stove and fixing my mind upon the case with earnest intensity, “that there are so few symptoms in brain derangement. If I could only get hold of something tangible–”
“If I was you,” interrupted Uncle Beamish, “I wouldn’t try to get hold of nothin’. I would just give her somethin’ to keep her where she is till mornin’. If you can do that, I’ll guarantee that any good doctor can take her up and go on with her to- morrow.”
Without noticing the implication contained in these remarks, I continued my consideration of the case.
“If I could get a drop of her blood,” said I.
“No, no!” exclaimed Uncle Beamish, “I’m not goin’ to do anything of that sort. What in the name of common sense would you do with her blood?”
“I would examine it microscopically,” I said. “I might find out all I want to know.”
Uncle Beamish did not sympathize with this method of diagnosis.
“If you did find out there was the wrong kind of germs, you couldn’t do anything with them to-night, and it would just worry you,” said the old man. “I believe that nature will get along fust-rate without any help, at least till mornin’. But you’ve got to give her some medicine–not so much for her good as for our good. If she’s not treated we’re bounced. Can’t you give her somethin’ that would do anybody good, no matter what’s the matter with ’em? If it was the spring of the year I would say sarsaparilla. If you could mix her up somethin’ and put into it some of them benevolent microbes the doctors talk about, it would be a good deed to do to anybody.”
“The benign bacilli,” said I. “Unfortunately I haven’t any of them with me.”
“And if you had,” he remarked, “I’d be in favor of givin’ ’em to the old woman. I take it they would do, her more good than anybody else. Come along now, doctor; it is about time for me to go up-stairs and see how the other stuff acted–not on the patient, I don’t mean, but on the old woman. The fact is, you know, it’s her we’re dosin’.”
“Not at all,” said I, speaking a little severely. “I am trying to do my very best for the patient, but I fear I cannot do it without seeing her. Don’t you think that if you told the old lady how absolutely necessary–”
“Don’t say anything more about that!” exclaimed Uncle Beamish. “I hoped I wouldn’t have to mention it, but she told me ag’in that she would never have one of those unfledged medical students, just out of the egg-shell, experimentin’ on any of her family, and from what she said about you in particular, I should say she considered you as a medical chick without even down on you.”
“What can she know of me?” I asked indignantly.
“Give it up,” said he. “Can’t guess it. But that ain’t the p’int. The p’int is, what are you goin’ to give her? When I was young the doctors used to say, When you are in doubt, give calomel–as if you were playin’ trumps.”
“Nonsense, nonsense,” said I, my eyes earnestly fixed upon my open medical case.
“I suppose a mustard-plaster on the back of her neck–”
“Wouldn’t do at all,” I interrupted. “Wait a minute, now– yes–I know what I will do: I will give her sodium bromide–ten grains.”
“`Which will hit if it’s a deer and miss if it’s a calf’ as the hunter said?” inquired Uncle Beamish.
“It will certainly not injure her,” said I, “and I am quite sure it will be a positive advantage. If there has been cerebral disturbance, which has subsided temporarily, it will assist her to tide over the interim before its recurrence.”
“All right,” said Uncle Beamish, “give it to me, and I’ll be off. It’s time I showed up ag’in.”
He did not stay up-stairs very long this time.
“No symptoms yit, but the patient looked at me as if she wanted to say somethin’; but she didn’t git no chance, for the old lady set herself down as if she was planted in a garden-bed and intended to stay there. But the patient took the medicine as mild as a lamb.”
“That is very good,” said I. “It may be that she appreciates the seriousness of her ewe better than we do.”
“I should say she wants to git well,” he replied. “She looks like that sort of a person to me. The old woman said she thought we would have to stay awhile till the storm slackened, and I said, yes, indeed, and there wasn’t any chance of its slackenin’ to-night; besides, I wanted to see the patient before bedtime.”
At this moment the door opened and the servant-woman came in.
“She says you are to have supper, and it will be ready in about half an hour. One of you had better go out and attend to your horse, for the man is not coming back to-night.”
“I will go to the barn,” said I, rising. Uncle Beamish also rose and said he would go with me.
“I guess you can find some hay and oats,” said the woman, as we were putting on our coats and overshoes in the kitchen, “and here’s a lantern. We don’t keep no horse now, but there’s feed left.”
As we pushed through the deep snow into the barn, Uncle Beamish said:
“I’ve been tryin’ my best to think where we are without askin’ any questions, and I’m dead beat. I don’t remember no such house as this on the road.”
“Perhaps we got off the road,” said I.
“That may be,” said he, as we entered the barn. “It’s a straight road from Warburton to the pike near my sister’s house, but there’s two other roads that branch off to the right and strike the pike further off to the east. Perhaps we got on one of them in all that darkness and perplexin’ whiteness, when it wasn’t easy to see whether we were keepin’ a straight road or not.”
The horse neighed as we approached with a light.
“I would not be at all surprised,” said I, “if this horse had once belonged here and that was the reason why, as soon as he got a chance, he turned and made straight for his old home.”
“That isn’t unlikely,” said Uncle Beamish, “and that’s the reason we did not pass Crocker’s. But here we are, wherever it is, and here we’ve got to stay till mornin’.”
We found hay and oats and a pump in the corner of the wagon- house, and having put the horse in the stall and made him as comfortable as possible with some old blankets, we returned to the house, bringing our valises with us.
Our supper was served in the sitting-room because there was a good fire there, and the servant told us we would have to eat by ourselves, as “she” was not coming down.
“We’ll excuse her,” said Uncle Beamish, with an alacrity of expression that might have caused suspicion.
We had a good supper, and were then shown a room on the first floor on the other side of the hall, where the servant said we were to sleep.
We sat by the stove awhile, waiting for developments, but as Uncle Beamish’s bedtime was rapidly approaching, he sent word to the sick-chamber that he was coming up for his final visit.
This time he stayed up-stairs but a few minutes.
“She’s fast asleep,” said he, “and the old woman says she’ll call me if I’m needed in the night, and you’ll have to jump up sharp and overhaul that medicine-case if that happens.”
The next morning, and very early in the morning, I was awaked by Uncle Beamish, who stood at my side.
“Look here,” said he, “I’ve been outside. It’s stopped snowin’ and it’s clearin’ off. I’ve been to the barn and I’ve fed the horse, and I tell you what I’m in favor of doin’. There’s nobody up yit, and I don’t want to stay here and make no explanations to that old woman. I don’t fancy gittin’ into rows on Christmas mornin’. We’ve done all the good we can here, and the best thing we can do now is to git away before anybody is up, and leave a note sayin’ that we’ve got to go on without losin’ time, and that we will send another doctor as soon as possible. My sister’s doctor don’t live fur away from her, and I know she will be willin’ to send for him. Then our duty will be done, and what the old woman thinks of us won’t make no, difference to nobody.”
“That plan suits me,” said I, rising. “I don’t want to stay here, and as I am not to be allowed to see the patient, there is no reason why I should stay. What we have done will more than pay for our supper and lodgings, so that our consciences are clear.”
“But you must write a note,” said Uncle Beamish. “Got any paper?”
I tore a leaf from my note-book, and went to the window, where it was barely light enough for me to see how to write.
“Make it short,” said the old man. “I’m awful fidgety to git off.”
I made it very short, and then, valises in hand, we quietly took our way to the kitchen.
“How this floor does creak!” said Uncle Beamish. “Git on your overcoat and shoes as quick as you can, and we’ll leave the note on this table.”
I had just shaken myself into my overcoat when Uncle Beamish gave a subdued exclamation, and quickly turning, I saw entering the kitchen a female figure in winter wraps and carrying a hand-bag.
“By George!” whispered the old man, “it’s the patient!”
The figure advanced directly toward me.
“Oh, Dr. Glover!” she whispered, “I am so glad to get down before you went away!”
I stared in amazement at the speaker, but even in the dim light I recognized her. This was the human being whose expected presence at the Collingwood mansion was taking me there to spend Christmas.
“Kitty!” I exclaimed–“Miss Burroughs, I mean,–what is the meaning of this?”
“Don’t ask me for any meanings now,” she said. “I want you and your uncle to take me to the Collingwoods’. I suppose you are on your way there, for they wrote you were coming. And oh! let us be quick, for I’m afraid Jane will come down, and she will be sure to wake up aunty. I saw one of you go out to the barn, and knew you intended to leave, so I got ready just as fast as I could. But I must leave some word for aunty.”
“I have written a note,” said I. “But are you well enough to travel?”
“Just let me add a line to it,” said she. “I am as well as I ever was.”
I gave her a pencil, and she hurriedly wrote something on the paper which I had left on the kitchen table. Then, quickly glancing around, she picked up a large carving-fork, and sticking it through the paper into the soft wood of the table, she left it standing there.
“Now it won’t blow away when we open the door,” she whispered. “Come on.”
“You cannot go out to the barn,” I said; “we will bring up the sleigh.”
“Oh, no, no, no,” she answered, “I must not wait here. If I once get out of the house I shall feel safe. Of course I shall go anyway, but I don’t want any quarrelling on this Christmas morning.”
“I’m with you there,” said Uncle Beamish, approvingly. “Doctor, we can take her to the barn without her touching the snow. Let her sit in this arm-chair, and we can carry her between us. She’s no weight.”
In half a minute the kitchen door was softly closed behind us, and we were carrying Miss Burroughs to the barn. My soul was in a wild tumult. Dozens of questions were on my tongue, but I had no chance to ask any of them.
Uncle Beamish and I returned to the porch for the valises, and then, closing the back door, we rapidly began to make preparations for leaving.
“I suppose,” said Uncle Beamish, as we went into the stable, leaving Miss Burroughs in the wagon-house, “that this business is all right? You seem to know the young woman, and she is of age to act for herself.”
“Whatever she wants to do,” I answered, “is perfectly right. You may trust to that. I do not understand the matter any more than you do, but I know she is expected at the Collingwoods’, and wants to go there.”
“Very good,” said Uncle Beamish. “We’ll git away fust and ask explanations afterwards.”
“Dr. Glover,” said Miss Burroughs, as we led the horse into the wagon-house, “don’t put the bells on him. Stuff them gently under the seat–as softly as you can. But how are we all to go away? I have been looking at that sleigh, and it is intended only for two.”
“It’s rather late to think of that, miss,” said Uncle Beamish, “but there’s one thing that’s certain. We’re both very polite to ladies, but neither of us is willin’ to be left behind on this trip. But it’s a good-sized sleigh, and we’ll all pack in, well enough. You and me can sit on the seat, and the doctor can stand up in front of us and drive. In old times it was considered the right thing for the driver of the sleigh to stand up and do his drivin’.”
The baggage was carefully stowed away, and, after a look around the dimly lighted wagon-house, Miss Burroughs and Uncle Beamish got into the sleigh, and I tucked the big fur robe around them.
“I hate to make a journey before breakfast,” said Uncle Beamish, as I was doing this, “especially on Christmas mornin’, but somehow or other there seems to be somethin’ jolly about this business, and we won’t have to wait so long for breakfast, nuther. It can’t be far from my sister’s, and we’ll all stop there and have breakfast. Then you two can leave me and go on. She’ll be as glad to see any friends of mine as if they were her own. And she’ll be pretty sure, on a mornin’ like this, to have buckwheat cakes and sausages.”
Miss Burroughs looked at the old man with a puzzled air, but she asked him no questions.
“How are you going to keep yourself warm, Dr. Glover?” she said.
“Oh, this long ulster will be enough for me,” I replied, “and as I shall stand up, I could not use a robe, if we had another.”
In fact, the thought of being with Miss Burroughs and the anticipation of a sleigh-ride alone with her after we had left Uncle Beamish with his sister, had put me into such a glow that I scarcely knew it was cold weather.
“You’d better be keerful, doctor,” said Uncle Beamish. “You don’t want to git rheumatism in your j’ints on this Christmas mornin’. Here’s this horse-blanket that we are settin’ on. We don’t need it, and you’d better wrap it round you, after you git in, to keep your legs warm.”
“Oh, do! ” said Miss Burroughs. “It may look funny, but we will not meet anybody so early as this.”
“All right!” said I, “and now we are ready to start.”
I slid back the barn door and then led the horse outside. Closing the door, and making as little noise as possible in doing it, I got into the sleigh, finding plenty of room to stand up in front of my companions. Now I wrapped the horse-blanket about the lower part of my body, and as I had no belt with which to secure it, Miss Burroughs kindly offered to fasten it round my waist by means of a long pin which she took from her hat. It is impossible to describe the exhilaration that pervaded me as she performed this kindly office. After thanking her warmly, I took the reins and we started.
“It is so lucky,” whispered Miss Burroughs, “that I happened to think about the bells. We don’t make any noise at all.”
This was true. The slowly uplifted hoofs of the horse descended quietly into the soft snow, and the sleigh-runners slipped along without a sound.
“Drive straight for the gate, doctor,” whispered Uncle Beamish. “It don’t matter nothin’ about goin’ over flower-beds and grass-plats in such weather.”
I followed his advice, for no roadway could be seen. But we had gone but a short distance when the horse suddenly stopped.
“What’s the matter?” asked Miss Burroughs, in a low voice. “Is it too deep for him?”
“We’re in a drift,” said Uncle Beamish. “But it’s not too deep. Make him go ahead, doctor.”
I clicked gently and tapped the horse with the whip, but he did not move.
“What a dreadful thing,” whispered Miss Burroughs, leaning forward, “for him to stop so near the house! Dr. Glover, what does this mean?” And, as she spoke, she half rose behind me. “Where did Sir Rohan come from?”
“Who’s he?” asked Uncle Beamish, quickly.
“That horse,” she answered. “That’s my aunt’s horse. She sold him a few days ago.”
“By George! ” ejaculated Uncle Beamish, unconsciously raising his voice a little. “Wilson bought him, and his bringin’ us here is as plain as A B C. And now he don’t want to leave home.”
“But he has got to do it,” said I, jerking the horse’s head to one side and giving him a cut with the whip.
“Don’t whip him,” whispered Miss Burroughs; “it always makes him more stubborn. How glad I am I thought of the bells! The only way to get him to go is to mollify him.”
“But how is that to be done?” I asked anxiously.
“You must give him sugar and pat his neck. If I had some sugar and could get out–”
“But you haven’t it, and you can’t git out,” said Uncle Beamish. “Try him again doctor!”
I jerked the reins impatiently. “Go along!” said I. But he did not go along.
“Haven’t you got somethin’ in your medicine-case you could mollify him with?” said Uncle Beamish. “Somethin’ sweet that he might like?”
For an instant I caught at this absurd suggestion, and my mind ran over the contents of my little bottles. If I had known his character, some sodium bromide in his morning feed might, by this time, have mollified his obstinacy.
“If I could be free of this blanket,” said I, fumbling at the pin behind me, “I would get out and lead him into the road.”
“You could not do it,” said Miss Burroughs. “You might pull his head off, but he wouldn’t move. I have seen him tried.”
At this moment a window-sash in the second story of the house was raised, and there, not thirty feet from us, stood an elderly female, wrapped in a gray shawl, with piercing eyes shining through great spectacles.
“You seem to be stuck,” said she, sarcastically. “You are worse stuck than the fork was in my kitchen table.”
We made no answer. I do not know how Miss Burroughs looked or felt, or what was the appearance of Uncle Beamish, but I know I must have been very red in the face. I gave the horse a powerful crack and shouted to him to go on. There was no need for low speaking now.
“You needn’t be cruel to dumb animals,” said the old lady, “and you can’t budge him. He never did like snow, especially in going away from home. You cut a powerful queer figure, young man, with that horse-blanket around you. You don’t look much like a practising physician.”
“Miss Burroughs,” I exclaimed, “please take that pin out of this blanket. If I can get at his head I know I can pull him around and make him go.”
But she did not seem to hear me. “Aunty,” she cried, “it’s a shame to stand there and make fun of us. We have got a perfect right to go away if we want to, and we ought not to be laughed at.”
The old lady paid no attention to this remark.
“And there’s that false doctor,” she said. “I wonder how he feels just now.”
“False doctor!” exclaimed Miss Burroughs. “I don’t understand.”
“Young lady,” said Uncle Beamish, “I’m no false doctor. I intended to tell you all about it as soon as I got a chance, but I haven’t had one. And, old lady, I’d like you to know that I don’t say I’m a doctor, but I do say I’m a nuss, and a good nuss, and you can’t deny it.”
To this challenge the figure at the window made no answer.
“Catherine,” said she, “I can’t stand here and take cold, but I just want to know one thing: Have you positively made up your mind to marry that young doctor in the horse-blanket?”
This question fell like a bomb-shell into the middle of the stationary sleigh.
I had never asked Kitty to marry me. I loved her with all my heart and soul, and I hoped, almost believed, that she loved me. It had been my intention, when we should be left together in the sleigh this morning, after dropping Uncle Beamish at his sister’s house, to ask her to marry me.
The old woman’s question pierced me as if it had been a flash of lightning coming through the frosty air of a winter morning. I dropped the useless reins and turned. Kitty’s face was ablaze. She made a movement as if she was about to jump out of the sleigh and flee.
“Oh, Kitty!” said I, bending down toward her, “tell her yes! I beg I entreat, I implore you to tell her yes! Oh, Kitty! if you don’t say yes I shall never know another happy day.”
For one moment Kitty looked up into my face, and then said she:
“It is my positive intention to marry him!”
With the agility of a youth, Uncle Beamish threw the robe from him and sprang out into the deep snow. Then, turning toward us, he took off his hat.
“By George!” said he, “you’re a pair of trumps. I never did see any human bein’s step up to the mark more prompt. Madam,” he cried, addressing the old lady, “you ought to be the proudest woman in this county at seein’ such a thing as this happen under your window of a Christmas mornin’. And now the best thing that you can do is to invite us all in to have breakfast.” “You’ll have to come in,” said she, “or else stay out there and freeze to death, for that horse isn’t going to take you away.
And if my niece really intends to marry the young man, and has gone so far as to start to run away with him,–and with a false doctor,–of course I’ve got no more to say about it, and you can come in and have breakfast.” And with that she shut down the window.
“That’s talkin’,” said Uncle Beamish. “Sit still, doctor, and I’ll lead him around to the back door. I guess he’ll move quick enough when you want him to turn back.”
Without the slightest objection Sir Rohan permitted himself to be turned back and led up to the kitchen porch.
“Now you two sparklin’ angels get out,” said Uncle Beamish, “and go in. I’ll attend to the horse.”
Jane, with a broad grin on her face, opened the kitchen door.
“Merry Christmas to you both!” said she.
“Merry Christmas!” we cried, and each of us shook her by the hand.
“Go in the sitting-room and get warm,” said Jane. “She’ll be down pretty soon.”
I do not know how long we were together in that sitting-room. We had thousands of things to say, and we said most of them. Among other things, we managed to get in some explanations of the occurrences of the previous night. Kitty told her tale briefly. She and her aunt, to whom she was making a visit, and who wanted her to make her house her home, had had a quarrel two days before. Kitty was wild to go to the Collingwoods’, and the old lady, who, for some reason, hated the family, was determined she should not go. But Kitty was immovable, and never gave up until she found that her aunt had gone so far as to dispose of her horse, thus making it impossible to travel in such weather, there being no public conveyances passing the house. Kitty was an orphan, and had a guardian who would have come to her aid, but she could not write to him in time, and, in utter despair, she went to bed. She would not eat or drink, she would not speak, and she covered up her head.
“After a day and a night,” said Kitty, “aunty got dreadfully frightened and thought something was the matter with my brain. Her family are awfully anxious about their brains. I knew she had sent for the doctor and I was glad of it, for I thought he would help me. I must say I was surprised when I first saw that Mr. Beamish, for I thought he was Dr. Morris. Now tell me about your coming here.”
“And so,” she said, when I had finished, “you had no idea that you were prescribing for me! Please do tell me what were those medicines you sent up to me and which I took like a truly good girl.”
“I didn’t know it at the time,” said I, “but I sent you sixty drops of the deepest, strongest love in a glass of water, and ten grains of perfect adoration.”
“Nonsense!” said Kitty, with a blush, and at that moment Uncle Beamish knocked at the door.
“I thought I’d just step in and tell you,” said he, “that breakfast will be comin’ along in a minute. I found they were goin’ to have buckwheat cakes, anyway, and I prevailed on Jane to put sausages in the bill of fare. Merry Christmas to you both! I would like to say more, but here comes the old lady and Jane.”
The breakfast was a strange meal, but a very happy one. The old lady was very dignified. She made no allusion to Christmas or to what had happened, but talked to Uncle Beamish about people in Warburton.
I have a practical mind, and, in spite of the present joy, I could not help feeling a little anxiety about what was to be done when breakfast was over. But just as we were about to rise from the table we were all startled by a great jingle of sleigh-bells outside. The old lady arose and stopped to the window.
“There!” said she, turning toward us. “Here’s a pretty kettle of fish! There’s a two-horse sleigh outside, with a man driving, and a gentleman in the back seat who I am sure is Dr. Morris, and he has come all the way on this bitter cold morning to see the patient I sent for him to come to. Now, who is going to tell him he has come on a fool’s errand?”
“Fool’s errand!” I cried. “Every one of you wait in here and I’ll go out and tell him.”
When I dashed out of doors and stood by the side of my uncle’s sleigh, he was truly an amazed man.
“I will get in, uncle,” said I, “and if you will let John drive the horses slowly around the yard, I will tell you how I happen to be here.”
The story was a much longer one than I expected it to be, and John must have driven those horses backward and forward for half an hour.
“Well,” said my uncle, at last, “I never saw your Kitty, but I knew her father and her mother, and I will go in and take a look at her. If I like her, I will take you all on to the Collingwoods’, and drop Uncle Beamish at his sister’s house.”
“I’ll tell you what it is, young doctor,” said Uncle Beamish, at parting, “you ought to buy that big roan horse. He has been a regular guardian angel to us this Christmas.”
“Oh, that would never do at all,” cried Kitty. “His patients would all die before he got there.”
“That is, if they had anything the matter with them,” added my uncle.