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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Doctor: A Tale Of The Rockies - Chapter 9. Love's Tangled Ways
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The Doctor: A Tale Of The Rockies - Chapter 9. Love's Tangled Ways Post by :angiecook Category :Long Stories Author :Ralph Connor Date :May 2012 Read :2020

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The Doctor: A Tale Of The Rockies - Chapter 9. Love's Tangled Ways


The mill lane was prinked with all the June flowers. Over the snake fence massed the clover, red and white. Through the rails peeped the thistle bloom, pink and purple, and higher up above the top rail the white crest of the dogwood slowly nodded in the breeze this sweet summer day. In the clover the bumblebees, the crickets, and the grasshoppers boomed, chirped, crackled, shouting their joy to be alive in so good a place and on so good a day. Above, the sky was blue, pure blue, and all the bluer for the specks of cloud that hung, still-poised like white-winged birds, white against the blue. Last evening's rain had washed the world clean. The sky, the air, the flowers, the clover, red and white, the kindly grass that ran green everywhere under foot, the dusty road, all were washed clean. In the elm bunches by the fence, in the maples and thorns, the birds, their summer preoccupations forgotten at the bidding of this new washed day, recalled their spring songs and poured them forth with fine careless courage.

In tune to this brave symphony of colour and song, and down this flower-prinked, song-filled, clean washed, grassy lane stepped Dick this summer morning, stepped with the spring and balance of the well-trained athlete, stepped with the step of a man whose heart makes him merry music. A clean-looking man was Dick, harmonious with the day and with the lane down which he stepped. Against the grey of his suit his hands, his face, and his neck, where the negligee shirt fell away wide, revealing his strong, full curves spreading to the shoulders, all showed ruddy brown. He was a man good to look upon, with his springy step, his tan skin, his clear eye, but chiefly because out of his clear eye a soul looked forth clean and unafraid upon God's good world of wholesome growing things.

From his three years of 'varsity life he came back unspoiled to his boyhood's love of the open sky and of all things under it. He had just come through a great year in college, his third, the greatest in many ways of the college course. His class had thrust him into a man's place of leadership in that world where only manhood counts, and he had "made good." In the literary, in the gym, on the campus he had made and held high place, and on the class lists, in spite of his many distractions, he had ranked a double first. Best of all, it filled him with warm gratitude to remember that none of his fellows had grudged him any of his good things. What a decent lot they were! It humbled him to think of their pride in him. He would not disappoint them. Noblesse oblige.

At the crest of the hill he paused to look back, and here the pain that had been running below his consciousness, like the minor strain in rich music, came to the top. This was Barney's spot. At this spot Barney always made him pause to look back upon the old mill in its frame of beauty. Poor Barney! Twice he had gone down to the exams, and twice he had failed. Of all in the home circle only Dick could understand the full bitterness of the cup of humiliation that his brother had put silently to his lips and drained. To his mother, the failure brought no surprise, and she would have been glad enough to have him give up "his notion of being a doctor and be content with the mill." She had no ambitions for poor Barney, who was "a quiet lad and well-doing enough," an encomium which stood for all the virtues removed from any touch of genius. She was not hurt by his failure. Indeed, she could hardly understand how deep the shame had gone into his proud, reserved heart. His father did not talk about it, but carried him off to look at some of the mill machinery which had gone wrong, and it was only by a gentler tone in his voice that Barney knew that his father understood. But Dick, with his fuller knowledge of college life, realized as none other of them did the extent of Barney's miserable sense of defeat.

And now, as he looked back upon the mill, Barney's pain became his anew. The causes of his failure were not far to seek. "He had no chance!" said Dick aloud, leaning upon the top rail and looking with gloomy eyes upon the scene of beauty before him. Things had changed since old Doctor Ferguson's time. The scientific basis of medicine was coming to its place in medical study, and the old doctor's contempt for these new-fangled notions had wrought ill for Barney. Dick remembered how he had gone, hot with indignation for his brother, to the new English professor in chemistry, whose papers were the terror of all pass men and, indeed, all honour men who stuck too closely to the text-book. He remembered the Englishman's drawling contempt as, after looking up Barney's name and papers, he dismissed the matter with the words, "He knows nothing whatever about the subject, couldn't conduct the simplest experiment, don't you know." Poor Barney! the ancient and elementary chemistry of Dr. Ferguson seemed to hold not even the remotest affinity to that which Professor Fish expected. Dick was glad this morning that he had had sense enough to hold his tongue in the professor's presence. It comforted him to recall the generous enthusiasm with which Dr. Trent, the most brilliant surgeon on the staff, had recalled Barney's name.

"Your brother, is he? Well, sir, he's a wonder!"

"Fish doesn't think so," Dick had replied.

"Oh! Fish be hanged!" the doctor had answered, with the fine contempt of a specialist in practical work for the theorist in medicine. "He has some idiotic notions in his head that he plucks men for not knowing. I don't say they are not necessary, but useful chiefly for examination purposes. Send your brother down. Send him down. For if ever I saw an embryonic surgeon, he's one! When he comes, bring him to me."

"He'll come," Dick had answered, his face hot to think that it was for his sake Barney had remained grinding at home.

"And he's going this fall," said Dick aloud, "or no 'varsity for me." He pulled a letter out of his pocket. It was from his football comrade, young Macdonald, offering, in his father's name, to Barney and himself positions in one of the lumber mills far up the Ottawa, where, by working overtime, there was a chance of making $100 a month and all found. "And we'll make it go," said Dick. "There's $300 apiece for us, and that's more than we want. Poor old chap!" he continued, musing aloud, "he'll get his chance at last. Besides, we'll get him away from that girl, confound her! though I'm afraid it's no use now."

A deeper pain surged up from the bottom of Dick's heart. "That girl" was Iola. The night before, as they were driving home in the growing dark, with halting words and with shamed face, as if he were doing his brother a wrong, Barney had confided to him that Iola and he had come to an understanding of their mutual love. Dick remembered this morning, and he would remember to his dying day, the sense of loss, of being forsaken, that had smitten him as he cried, "Oh, Barney! is it possible?" Then, as Barney had gone on to explain how it had come about, almost apologizing, as it seemed to Dick, for his weakness, Dick, seeing in the gloom a gleam of hope, had cried, "We'll get you out of it, Barney. I'll help you this summer." And then again the inevitableness of what had taken place had come over him at Barney's reply: "But, Dick, I don't want to get out of it." At that moment Dick's world changed. No longer was he first with his brother. Iola had taken his place. In vain Barney, guessing the thought in his heart, had protested with eager, almost piteous, appeal that Dick would be the same to him as ever. In the first acute moment of his pain he had cried out some quick word of bitter reproach, but the look on Barney's face had checked him. He was glad now that he had said nothing against the girl. And as he thought of her in the saner light of the morning, he felt that he could not be quite fair to her, and yet he wished it had been some other than Iola. "It's that confounded voice of hers, and her eyes, and her whole get-up. She's got something diabolically fetching about her." Then, as if he had gone too far, he continued, still musing aloud, "She's good enough, I guess, but not for Barney." That was one of the bitter things that had survived the night. She was not good enough for his brother, his hero, his beau ideal of high manhood ever since he could think. "But there is no one good enough for Barney," he continued, "except--yes--there is one--Margaret--she is good enough--even for Barney." As Barney among men, so Margaret among women had stood with Dick, peerless. And all his life he had put these two together. Even as a little fellow, when saying his prayers to his mother, next in the list to Barney's name had always come Margaret's. She was like Barney in so many ways; strong like Barney in her relentless devotion to duty; she had Barney's fine sense of honour, of righteousness, and Barney's superb courage, and, more than anything else, the same unfathomable heart of love. One could never get to the bottom of it. No matter what the drain, there would still be love there.

It was the thought of Margaret that had set his heart singing within him this morning. Even last night, after the first few moments of pain, the thought of Margaret had come to him, bringing an odd sense of happiness, and early this morning the first consciousness of loss, that had made him tighten his arm hard about his brother, had been followed by that feeling of happiness, indefinable at first, but soon traced to the thought of Margaret. For the first time in his life he thought of her unrelated to Barney. He had always loved Margaret, rejoiced in her high spirit, her courage, her downright sincerity, her deep heart, but never for himself, always for Barney. The first resentment that Barney should have passed her by for one like Iola had given way to a timid fluttering of heart that strengthened and deepened to a great joy that the way to Margaret for him stood open. For himself, now, he might love her. With such marvellous swiftness does love work that, when his mother bade him go "pay his duty to the minister," his heart responded with so great a leap of joy that he found himself glancing quickly at the faces of those about him, sure that they must have noticed.

And now he was on his way to Margaret. It was as if he had to make acquaintance of her. He wondered how she would greet him and he wondered what he should say to her. What would she be doing now? He glanced at his watch. It was just ten o'clock. The morning work would be done. She might come for a little stroll in the woods at the back of the manse, but he would say nothing to her to-day. He would wait and watch to read her heart. He sprang up the bank, that ran along beside the fence, to go on his way. A gleam of white through the snake fence against the pink of the clover caught his eye. Under the thorn tree--he knew the spot well--and upon the grass, lay a girl. "By Jove!" he whispered, his heart stopping, thumping, then rushing, "it is Margaret." He would creep up and surprise her. The deep grass deadened his footfalls. He was close to her. He held his breath. She lay asleep, one arm under her head, the other flung wide in an abandonment of weariness. He stood gazing down upon her. Pale she looked to him, and thin and weary. The lines about her mouth and eyes spoke of cares and of griefs, too. How much older she was than he had thought! "Poor girl! she has been having a hard time! It's a shame, a downright shame! And she's only a child yet!" At the thought of her long sacrifice for those three past years a great pity stole into his heart. At that touch of pity the love that had ever filled his heart, dammed back for so long by his regard for his brother's rights, suddenly finding its new channel, burst forth and swept like a torrent through his being. He lost grip of himself and, before he knew, he had bent over the sleeping girl and kissed her lips. A long shivering sigh shook her. "Barney," she murmured, a slight smile playing about her lips. She opened her eyes. A moment she lay looking up into Dick's face, then, suddenly wide awake, she sat upright.

"You! Dick!" she cried, surprise, indignation, shame, mingling in her voice. "You--you dare to--"

"Yes, Margaret," said Dick, aghast at what he had done, "I couldn't help it. You looked so sweet and so sad, and--and I love you so much."

"You," cried the girl again, as if she could find no other word. "What did you say?"

"I said, Margaret," he replied, gathering his courage together, "that I love you so much."

"You love me?" she gasped.

"Yes, I love you. I never knew till last night."

"Last night?" she echoed, with her eyes upon his face, now grown pale, but illuminated with a light she had never seen there before.

"Yes, last night. It was always there, Margaret," he hurried to say, "but only last night I found out I might love you. I never let myself go. I thought I had no right. I mean I thought Barney--" At the mention of his brother's name, the face that had been white with a look almost of horror flamed quickly with red. "Last night," continued Dick, wondering at the change in her, "I found out, and this morning, Margaret, the whole world is just humming with joy because I know I may love you all I want to. Oh, it's great! I never imagined a fellow could hold so much love or so much joy. Do you understand me, Margaret? Do you knew what I am talking about?" Margaret's face had grown pale and haggard, as with pain, and her eyes were wide open with pity.

"Yes, Dick," she said slowly, "I know. I have just been learning." The brave lips quivered, but she kept firm hold of herself. "I know all the joy and--all the pain." She stopped short at the look in Dick's face. The buoyant, glad light flickered and went out. A look of perplexity, of great fear, and then of desolation, like that on her own face, spread over his. He knew her too well to misunderstand her meaning. She leaned over to him, still kneeling in the grass. "Oh, Dick, dear!" she cried, taking his hand in hers with a mother-touch and tone, "must you suffer, too? Oh, don't say you must! Not with my pain, Dick! Not with my pain!" Her voice rose in a cry, broke into a sob, but still she held him with her eyes.

"Do you say I must?" he answered in a hoarse tone. "I love you with all my heart."

"Oh, don't Dick, dear," she pleaded, "don't say it!"

"Yes, I will," he said, recovering his voice, "because it's true. And I'm glad it's true. I'm glad that I can at last let myself love you. It was only last night when Barney told me about Iola, you know."

"Yes, yes," she said hurriedly.

"I had always thought that it was you, and I was glad to think so for Barney. But last night"--here a quick flash of joy came into his face at the memory--"I found out, and this morning I could hardly help shouting it as I came along to you." He paused, and, leaning toward her, he took her hand. "Don't you think, Margaret, you might perhaps some time." The piteous entreaty in his voice broke down the girl's proud courage.

"Oh, Dick! Oh, Dick!" she sobbed, "don't! Don't ask me!" Her sobs came tempestuously.

He put his arms about her and, stroking her yellow hair, gently said, "Never mind, little girl. Don't do that! I can't stand that, and--well, I won't bother you a bit with my affair. Don't think about me. I'll get hold of myself. There now--hush, hush, girlie. Don't cry like that!" He held her close to him, caressing her till she grew quiet.

At length she drew away, saying, "I don't know why I should act like this. I haven't cried for a year. I think I am tired. It has been a hard winter, Dick. They used to play and sing together for hours. Oh, it was wonderful music, but I could have shrieked aloud. Don't think me horrid," she went on hurriedly. "I wonder I am not ashamed to tell you. But I never let anyone know, neither of them nor anyone else. Mind you that, Dick, no one knows." She sat up straight, her courage coming back. "I never meant to tell you, Dick, but you know you took me unaware." A little smile was struggling to the corners of her mouth and a faint flush touched her pale cheek. "But I am glad you know. And, Dick, can't we go back? Won't you forget what you have said?" Dick had been looking at her, wondering at her courage and self-command, but in his eyes a look of misery that went to the girl's heart.

"Forget!" he cried. "Tell me how."

She shook her head, and then, reading his eyes, she cried aloud, "Oh, Dick! must we go on and on like this?" She pressed her hands hard upon her heart. "There's a sore, sore pain right here," she said. "Is there to be no rest, no relief from it? It's been there for two years." She was fast losing her grip of herself again. Once more he caught her in his strong brown hands.

"Now, Margaret dear, don't do that! We'll help each other somehow. God--yes, God will help us if He takes any interest in us at all. He can't let us go on like this!"

The words steadied her.

"I know, Dick," she said, a sudden quiet falling upon her, "there has been no one else for all these months, and He has helped me. He will help you, too. Come," she continued, "let us go."

"No, sit down and talk," replied Dick. He looked at his watch. "A quarter after ten," he said, in surprise. "Can the whole world change in one little quarter of an hour?" he asked, looking up at her, "it was ten when I stopped at the hill."

"Come, Dick," she said again, "we'll talk another time, I can't trust myself just now. I was going to your mother's."

But Dick remained kneeling in the grass where he was. It seemed to him as if he had been in some strange land remote from this common life, and he shrank from contact with the ordinary day and its ordinary doings.

"I can't, Margaret," he said. "You go. Let me fight it out."

She knew too well where he was. "No, Dick, I will not leave you here. Come, do." She went quickly to him, kneeled down, put her arms about his neck and kissed him. "Help me, Dick," she whispered.

It was the word he needed. He threw his arms about her, kissed her once, and then, as if seized with a frenzy of passion, he kissed, again and again, her hair, her face, her hands, her lips, murmuring in hoarse, passionate tones, "I love you! I love you!" For a few moments she suffered him, and then gently pushed him back and drew apart from him. Her action recalled him to himself.

"Forgive me, Margaret," he cried brokenly, "I'm a great, selfish brute. I think only of myself. Now I'm ready to go. And when I weaken again, don't think me quite a cad."

He sprang up, threw back his shoulders as if adjusting them to a load, gave her his hand, and lifted her up, and together they set off down the lane, the shadow a little lighter as each felt the other near.

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