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"She hadn't adopted him," William said.
"It's the same thing; she took him, and now she gets tired of him, and won't keep him. She begins a thing, but she doesn't go on with it."
"I suppose it's better not to begin it?" William said. And there was an edge in his voice that caused Mrs. King to hold her tongue.
"Martha," the doctor said, after a while and with evident effort, "can you give me an early breakfast to-morrow morning? I've got to go back into the country, and I want to make an early start,"
Helena Richie, too, meant to make an early start the next morning; it was the day that she was to leave Old Chester. The plan of going to the western city had gradually shaped itself, and while Dr. Lavendar was writing to those friends of his, and Helena corresponding with a real-estate agent, the packing-up at the Stuffed Animal House had proceeded. Now it was all done; Maggie and Sarah had had their wages, and several presents besides; the pony had been shipped from Mercer; the rabbits boxed and sent down to the Rectory; all was done;--except the saying good-by to David. But Helena told herself that she would not say good-by to him. She could not, she said. She would see him, but he should not know it was good-by. And so she asked Dr. Lavendar to send the child up to her the day before she was to go away;--by himself. "You'll trust him with me for an hour?" she said.
She meant to cuddle the child, and give him the "forty kisses" which, at last, he was ready to accept, and let him chatter of all his mult.i.tudinous interests. Then she would send him away, and begin her empty life. The page which had held a promise of joy, would be turned over; a new, dreary chapter, with no promise in it, would begin....
David came in the afternoon. He was a little late, and explained his tardiness by saying that he had found a toad, and tying a string around its waist, had tried to play horse with it, up the hill. "But he wouldn't drive," David said disgustedly; "maybe he was a lady toad; I don't know."
"Perhaps the poor toad didn't like to be driven," Helena suggested.
David looked thoughtful. "David," she said, "I am going away. Will you write a little letter to me sometimes?"
"Maybe," said David. And slapped his pocket, in a great flurry; "Dr.
Lavendar ga' me a letter for you!"
She glanced at it to see if it needed an answer, but it was only to ask her to stop at the Rectory before she left town the next morning.
"Tell Dr. Lavendar I will, darling," she said, and David nodded.
She was sitting before the parlor fire; the little boy was leaning against her knee braiding three blades of gra.s.s; he was deeply absorbed. Helena took his face between her hands, and looked at it; then, to hide the trembling of her lips, she hid them in his neck.
"You tickle!" said David, and wriggled out of her arms with chuckles of fun. "I'm making you a ring," he said.
She let him push the little gra.s.s circlet over her finger, and then closed her hand on it lest it should slip off. "You won't forget me, David, will you?"
"No," he said surprised; "I never forget anything. I remember everything the magician did. An' I remember when I was born."
"I do. I remember my brother's candy horse. My brother--was--was, oh, seven or eight weeks older 'an me. Yes; I'll not forget you; not till I'm old. Not till I'm twenty, maybe. I guess I'll go now. We are going to have Jim Crow for dessert. Mary told me. You're prettier than Mary.
Or Dr. Lavendar." This was a very long speech for David, and to make up for it he was silent for several minutes. He took her hand, and twisted the little gra.s.s ring round and round on her finger; and then, suddenly, his chin quivered. "I don't like you. You're going away," he said; he stamped his foot and threw himself against her knee in a paroxysm of tears. "I hate you!"
It was so unexpected, and so entirely unlike David, that Helena forgot her own pain in soothing him. And, indeed, when she had said she would send him some candy--"and a false-face?" David blubbered;--"yes, dear precious!" she promised;--he quite cheered up, and dragging at her hand, he went skipping along beside her out to the green gate in the hedge.
"I'll stop at the Rectory in the morning," she said, when she kissed him, bravely, in the twilight; "so I'll see you again, dear."
"'By!" said David. And he had gone.
She stood staring after him, fiercely brushing the tears away, because they dimmed the little joyous figure, trotting into the November dusk.
The morning broke, gray and cloudy. William King had had his early breakfast; of course he had! Rather than fail in a housekeeper's duty, Martha would have sat up all night. When the doctor started for that call out into the country, Helena was just getting into the stage at the Stuffed Animal House. Once, as the coach went jolting down the hill, she lowered the misted window and looked back--then sank into her seat and put her hands over her eyes. Just for a while, there had been a little happiness in that house.
They were half-way down the hill when Jonas drew in his horses so sharply that she made a quick effort to control herself; another pa.s.senger, she thought, shrinking into her corner.
"I'll only detain you a minute or two, Jonas." William King said from the roadside. Jinny was. .h.i.tched to the fence, and at the doctor's signalling hand, the stage drew up, with rattling whiffletrees. Then he opened the door and got in; he sat down on the opposite seat.
"I wanted to say good-by to you," he said; "but, most of all, I wanted to tell you that I--I have the deepest regard for you. I want you to know that. I wanted to ask you if you would allow me to call myself your friend? I have seemed unkind, but--" he took her hand in both of his, and looked at her; his face twitched. "I implore you to believe me! I must not ask anything, or say anything, more than that. But I could not let you go away without asking your forgiveness--"
"--Without asking you to pardon me, and to believe that I--have nothing but--esteem; the most--the most--friendly esteem; you will believe that, won't you?"
"You are very good to me," she said brokenly.
He was holding her hand so hard in his, that she winced with pain; instantly his harsh grasp relaxed, and he looked down at the white hand lying in his, soft, and fragrant, and useless as a flower; he said something under his breath; then bent down and kissed it. When he lifted his head, his face was very pale. "G.o.d bless you. G.o.d always bless you. Good-by!" And he was on the road again, shutting the coach door sharply. "Go on, Jonas!" he said. And Jonas gathered up the reins.
Alone, she put her hands over her eyes again; the tumult of the moment left her breathless and broken. She had hated him because he would have robbed her of David; and then, when she robbed herself of David, she had almost forgotten him; but now, when the chill of the future was settling down upon her, to have him say he was her friend brought a sudden warmth about her heart. There seemed to be some value to life, after all.
She had told Jonas to stop at the Rectory, and Dr. Lavendar met her at the front door. He explained that he wanted to have a last look at her and make sure she was taking wraps enough for the long cold ride to Mercer. He reminded her that she was to write to him the minute she arrived, and tell him all about her journey, and Ellen Bailey,--"and Spangler, of course," Dr. Lavendar added hurriedly. Then he asked her if she would take a package with her?
"Yes, with pleasure," she said, looking vaguely out into the hall. But there was no sign of David. "Where is the package, Dr. Lavendar?"
"I told Mary to give it to Jonas," he said. There was a moment's pause, and she looked at him dumbly.
"He isn't here," Dr. Lavendar said gently.
"Oh, Dr. Lavendar, tell him I love him! Will you tell him? Don't let him forget me! Oh, don't let him quite forget me."
"He won't forget you," Dr. Lavendar said. He took both her hands, and looked into her face. It was a long and solemn look, but it was no longer questioning; the joy that there is in the presence of the angels, is done with questioning.
"Helena," he said, "your Master came into the world as a little child.
Receive Him in thy heart by faith, with thanksgiving."
She looked up at him, trembling, and without words; but he understood.
A moment later he gave her his blessing; then he said cheerfully, "I must not keep you any longer; come!" With Danny at his heels, he walked beside her down the garden path to the coach. It had begun to rain and the leather curtains flapped sharply in the cold wind. Jonas had b.u.t.toned the big ap.r.o.n up in front of him, and it was already shining wet; the steaming horses were pounding restlessly in the mud.
She did not look about her. With unsteady hands she pulled her veil down; then she said faintly, "Good-by--" She hardly returned the friendly pressure of Dr. Lavendar's hand. She was so blinded by tears that she had stumbled into the stage before she saw the child, b.u.t.toned up to his ears in his first greatcoat, and bubbling over with excitement. Even when she did see him, she did not at first understand. She looked at him, and then at Dr. Lavendar, and then back at David, to whom it was all a delightful game which, the night before, Dr. Lavendar and he had got up between them. It served its purpose, for the child had no suspicion of anything unusual in the occasion.
"_I'm_ the package!" said David joyously.
The stage went sagging and rumbling down the road. For a long minute Dr. Lavendar stood in the rain, looking after it. Then it turned the corner and was out of sight. He drew a long breath. David had gone!
A minute later he and Danny went back to the empty house.