A Christmas Accident and Other Stories - novelonlinefull.com
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The crisis--for Cynthia had been looking for a crisis--came, after all, unexpectedly. She had been for the mail, and as she drove the amenable horse over the homeward road she strained her eyes to read the last page of an unusually absorbing letter, for it was again sundown, and the Granger twins again sat in their doorways. There was a decided chill in the air, this late afternoon. The old men, though they were st.u.r.dy still, had put on their coats, and from behind them the comfortable glow of two stove doors promised a later hour of warmth and comfort. Their aspect was more melancholy than usual, whether it were that the bleakness of winter seemed pressing close upon the bleakness of lonely age, or that there was an added weariness in the droop of the thin shoulders and the fixed eyes--it was certain that the picture had gained a shadow of depression.
For once, Cynthia was not thinking of them as she drew near. The reins were loose in her hand, and as she bent to catch the waning light, an open newspaper, which she had laid carelessly on the seat beside her, was lifted by a transient gust of wind and tossed almost over her horse's head. No horse, of whatever serenity, can be thus treated without resentment. He jerked the reins from her heedless hands, made a sharp turn to avoid the white, wavering, inconsequent thing at his feet, a wheel caught in a neighboring boulder, and Cynthia was spilled out just in front of the Granger house and midway between the twins. In a common impulse of fright the two old men started to their feet. For an instant they paused to judge of the situation, but it was no time for fine distinctions. The accident had, to all appearances, happened as near one as the other, and meanwhile a young and pretty woman lay unsuccored upon the ground. It became a point of honor to yield nothing to an ignored companion. As speedily as their years allowed, Stephen and Reuben marched to the rescue. The horse, meanwhile, had dragged the overturned wagon but a few yards, and had stopped of his own reasonable accord. As Cynthia raised herself rather confusedly and quite convinced that she was killed, her first impression was that the angels were older than she had fancied, and looked very much like the Granger twins. But in a few seconds her balance of mind was restored, she realized that while there was life there was hope, and that for the first time in her experience the eyes of Reuben and Stephen were fixed solicitously upon a common object, that each of them had stretched out to her a helping hand, and that two voices with precisely the same anxious intonation were saying,--
"Be ye hurt?"
It was a solemn moment, but Cynthia Gardner was of the stuff that recognizes opportunity. She laid a hand upon each rugged arm, and steadied herself between them; she perceived that they trembled under her touch, and she felt that the instant in which they stood side by side was dramatic.
"I declare, 'twas too bad," said Reuben.
"'Twas too bad," said Stephen.
"Is the horse all right?" asked Cynthia, feebly.
"Yes, Johnny Allen got him," said Stephen.
"Johnny Allen came along," said Reuben, as if Stephen had not spoken, "and he's got him."
"I can walk," she said, with not unconscious pathos, "if you will walk with me, but I must go in and rest a moment;" and the three moved slowly straight forward.
A few steps brought them to the point at which they must turn aside to reach either entrance. Before them rose the old boarded-up, dismal doorway, weather-beaten, stained, repellent as bitterness. There was another fateful pause. Cynthia felt the quiver that ran through the frames of the old men as for the first time in long years they stood side by side before the doorway about which as children they had played, and through which as boys they had rushed together. In Cynthia's drooping head plans were rapidly forming themselves, but she had time to be thankful that she did not know which was Reuben and which was Stephen--it saved her the anxiety of decision; instinctively she turned to the right, a small brown hand clutching impartially either rough and shabby sleeve.
The man on her right swerved in an impulse of desertion, but her grasp did not relax.
"Is the judgment of Solomon to be p.r.o.nounced!" she said to herself, half hysterically, for her nerves were a little shaken.
"Oh, I hope I sha'n't faint!" she exclaimed aloud.
Beneath Reuben's rustic exterior beat the American heart that cannot desert an elegant female in distress. He followed the inclination of the other two to Stephen's door, and in another never-to-be-forgotten moment he stepped inside his brother's house.
Stephen's deceased wife's niece was so overcome by the spectacle that she retained barely enough presence of mind to drag forward a wooden chair upon which Cynthia sank in a condition evidently bordering upon syncope. It was a critical moment; she must not give the intruder an opportunity to escape. She knew the intruder by that impulse of desertion, and she clung the tighter to his arm when she murmured pitifully, "If you could get me some water, Mr. Granger."
Stephen hastened towards the kitchen pump--the sight of Reuben in his side of the house, after thirty years, set old chords vibrating with a suddenness that threatened to snap some disused string, and his perceptions were not as clear as usual. He seized the dipper, filled it, and looked about him.
"Where's the tumbler, Jenny?" he called impatiently.
"It's right there," answered the girl, with the explicitness of agitation.
"Whar?" he demanded with asperity.
"Settin' on the side--right back of the mola.s.ses jug."
"Mola.s.ses jug!" he exclaimed. "Nice place for the mola.s.ses jug!"
"We was goin' to have baked beans for supper," said the trembling Jenny, feeling that it was best to be tentative about even a trifling matter within the area of this convulsion, "and you always want it handy."
It was a simple statement, but it laid a finger upon the past and upon the future. Cynthia, through her half-closed eyes, saw one old man with disturbed features, standing with his hand upon her chair, while another old man shuffled toward her with a gla.s.s of water, which spilled a little in his shaking hand as he came across the humble kitchen. Most inadequate dramatic elements, yet they held the tragedy of nearly a lifetime, and the comedy, though more evident, was cast by it in the shade, and she neither laughed nor cried.
Within a few moments more she was on her homeward way, a trifling break in the harness tied up with twine, and Johnny Allen in the seat beside her as guard of honor.
The next evening the people, driving home from the Centre, were saved from some active demonstration only by the repression of the New England temperament. Some of them even, after driving past, invented an errand to drive back again, so as to make sure. For the Granger twins sat side by side in front of the disused doorway, and their straw hats were turned sociably towards one another, now and then, as they exchanged a syllable or two, and there was a mild luminousness of pleasure in the recesses of their pale-blue eyes. The evening darkened fast into night.
The plaintive half-chirp, half-whistle of a tree-toad fell in monotonous repet.i.tion upon the ear.
"Hear them little fellers!" said Stephen, ruminantly. "I reckon they think it's goin' to rain."
"Yare," said Reuben. "And," he went on, pushing back his straw hat and looking up into the sky, "I wouldn't wonder if they was right."
"Mostly are," said Stephen.