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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Tides Of Barnegat - Chapter 8. An Arrival
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The Tides Of Barnegat - Chapter 8. An Arrival Post by :rogers Category :Long Stories Author :Francis Hopkinson Smith Date :May 2012 Read :2676

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The Tides Of Barnegat - Chapter 8. An Arrival


With the departure of Jane and Lucy the old homestead took on that desolate, abandoned look which comes to most homes when all the life and joyousness have gone from them. Weeds grew in the roadway between the lilacs, dandelions flaunted themselves over the grass-plots; the shutters of the porch side of the house were closed, and the main gate always thrown wide day and night in ungoverned welcome, was seldom opened except to a few intimate friends of the old nurse.

At first Pastor Dellenbaugh had been considerate enough to mount the long path to inquire for news of the travelers and to see how Martha was getting along, but after the receipt of the earlier letters from Jane telling of their safe arrival and their sojourn in a little village but a short distance out of Paris, convenient to the great city, even his visits ceased. Captain Holt never darkened the door; nor did he ever willingly stop to talk to Martha when he met her on the road. She felt the slight, and avoided him when she could. This resulted in their seldom speaking to each other, and then only in the most casual way. She fancied he might think she wanted news of Bart, and so gave him no opportunity to discuss him or his whereabouts; but she was mistaken. The captain never mentioned his name to friend or stranger. To him the boy was dead for all time. Nor had anyone of his companions heard from him since that stormy night on the beach.

Doctor John's struggle had lasted for months, but he had come through it chastened and determined. For the first few days he went about his work as one in a dream, his mind on the woman he loved, his hand mechanically doing its duty. Jane had so woven herself into his life that her sudden departure had been like the upwrenching of a plant, tearing out the fibres twisted about his heart, cutting off all his sustenance and strength. The inconsistencies of her conduct especially troubled him. If she loved him--and she had told him that she did, and with their cheeks touching--how could she leave him in order to indulge a mere whim of her sister's? And if she loved him well enough to tell him so, why had she refused to plight him her troth? Such a course was unnatural, and out of his own and everyone else's experience. Women who loved men with a great, strong, healthy love, the love he could give her, and the love he knew she could give him, never permitted such trifles to come between them and their life's happiness. What, he asked himself a thousand times, had brought this change?

As the months went by these doubts and speculations one by one passed out of his mind, and only the image of the woman he adored, with all her qualities--loyalty to her trust, tenderness over Lucy and unquestioned love for himself--rose clear. No, he would believe in her to the end! She was still all he had in life. If she would not be his wife she should be his friend. That happiness was worth all else to him in the world. His was not to criticise, but to help. Help as SHE wanted it; preserving her standard of personal honor, her devotion to her ideals, her loyalty, her blind obedience to her trust.

Mrs. Cavendish had seen the change in her son's demeanor and had watched him closely through his varying moods, but though she divined their cause she had not sought to probe his secret.

His greatest comfort was in his visits to Martha. He always dropped in to see her when he made his rounds in the neighborhood; sometimes every day, sometimes once a week, depending on his patients and their condition--visits which were always prolonged when a letter came from either of the girls, for at first Lucy wrote to the old nurse as often as did Jane. Apart from this the doctor loved the patient caretaker, both for her loyalty and for her gentleness. And she loved him in return; clinging to him as an older woman clings to a strong man, following his advice (he never gave orders) to the minutest detail when something in the management or care of house or grounds exceeded her grasp. Consulting him, too, and this at Jane's special request--regarding any financial complications which needed prompt attention, and which, but for his services, might have required Jane's immediate return to disentangle. She loved, too, to talk of Lucy and of Miss Jane's goodness to her bairn, saying she had been both a sister and a mother to her, to which the doctor would invariably add some tribute of his own which only bound the friendship the closer.

His main relief, however, lay in his work, and in this he became each day more engrossed. He seemed never to be out of his gig unless at the bedside of some patient. So long and wearing had the routes become--often beyond Barnegat and as far as Westfield--that the sorrel gave out, and he was obliged to add another horse to his stable. His patients saw the weary look in his eyes--as of one who had often looked on sorrow--and thought it was the hard work and anxiety over them that had caused it. But the old nurse knew better.

"His heart's breakin' for love of her," she would say to Meg, looking down into his sleepy eyes--she cuddled him more than ever these days--"and I don't wonder. God knows how it'll all end."

Jane wrote to him but seldom; only half a dozen letters in all during the first year of her absence among them one to tell him of their safe arrival, another to thank him for his kindness to Martha, and a third to acknowledge the receipt of a letter of introduction to a student friend of his who was now a prominent physician in Paris, and who might be useful in case either of them fell ill. He had written to his friend at the same time, giving the address of the two girls, but the physician had answered that he had called at the street and number, but no one knew of them. The doctor reported this to Jane in his next letter, asking her to write to his friend so that he might know of their whereabouts should they need his services, for which Jane, in a subsequent letter, thanked him, but made no mention of sending to his friend should occasion require. These subsequent letters said very little about their plans and carefully avoided all reference to their daily life or to Lucy's advancement in her studies, and never once set any time for their coming home. He wondered at her neglect of him, and when no answer came to his continued letters, except at long intervals, he could contain himself no longer, and laid the whole matter before Martha.

"She means nothing, doctor, dear," she had answered, taking his hand and looking up into his troubled face. "Her heart is all right; she's goin' through deep waters, bein' away from everybody she loves--you most of all. Don't worry; keep on lovin' her, ye'll never have cause to repent it."

That same night Martha wrote to Jane, giving her every detail of the interview, and in due course of time handed the doctor a letter in which Jane wrote: "He MUST NOT stop writing to me; his letters are all the comfort I have"--a line not intended for the doctor's eyes, but which the good soul could not keep from him, so eager was she to relieve his pain.

Jane's letter to him in answer to his own expressing his unhappiness over her neglect was less direct, but none the less comforting to him. "I am constantly moving about," the letter ran, "and have much to do and cannot always answer your letters, so please do not expect them too often. But I am always thinking of you and your kindness to dear Martha. You do for me when you do for her."

After this it became a settled habit between them, he writing by the weekly steamer, telling her every thought of his life, and she replying at long intervals. In these no word of love was spoken on her side; nor was any reference made to their last interview. But this fact did not cool the warmth of his affection nor weaken his faith. She had told him she loved him, and with her own lips. That was enough--enough from a woman like Jane. He would lose faith when she denied it in the same way. In the meantime she was his very breath and being.

One morning two years after Jane's departure, while the doctor and his mother sat at breakfast, Mrs. Cavendish filling the tea-cups, the spring sunshine lighting up the snow-white cloth and polished silver, the mail arrived and two letters were laid at their respective plates, one for the doctor and the other for his mother.

As Doctor John glanced at the handwriting his face flushed, and his eyes danced with pleasure. With eager, trembling fingers he broke the seal and ran his eyes hungrily over the contents. It had been his habit to turn to the bottom of the last page before he read the preceding ones, so that he might see the signature and note the final words of affection or friendship, such as "Ever your friend," or "Affectionately yours," or simply "Your friend," written above Jane's name. These were to him the thermometric readings of the warmth of her heart.

Half way down the first page--before he had time to turn the leaf--he caught his breath in an effort to smother a sudden outburst of joy. Then with a supreme effort he regained his self-control and read the letter to the end. (He rarely mentioned Jane's name to his mother, and he did not want his delight over the contents of the letter to be made the basis of comment.)

Mrs. Cavendish's outburst over the contents of her own envelope broke the silence and relieved his tension.

"Oh, how fortunate!" she exclaimed. "Listen, John; now I really have good news for you. You remember I told you that I met old Dr. Pencoyd the last time I was in Philadelphia, and had a long talk with him. I told him how you were buried here and how hard you worked and how anxious I was that you should leave Barnegat, and he promised to write to me, and he has. Here's his letter. He says he is getting too old to continue his practice alone, that his assistant has fallen ill, and that if you will come to him at once he will take you into partnership and give you half his practice. I always knew something good would come out of my last visit to Philadelphia. Aren't you delighted, my son?"

"Yes, perfectly overjoyed," answered the doctor, laughing. He was more than delighted--brimming over with happiness, in fact--but not over his mother's news; it was the letter held tight in his grasp that was sending electric thrills through him. "A fine old fellow is Dr. Pencoyd--known him for years," he continued; "I attended his lectures before I went abroad. Lives in a musty old house on Chestnut Street, stuffed full of family portraits and old mahogany furniture, and not a comfortable chair or sofa in the place; wears yellow Nankeen waist-coats, takes snuff, and carries a fob. Oh, yes, same old fellow. Very kind of him, mother, but wouldn't you rather have the sunlight dance in upon you as it does here and catch a glimpse of the sea through the window than to look across at your neighbors' back walls and white marble steps?" It was across that same sea that Jane was coming, and the sunshine would come with her!

"Yes; but, John, surely you are not going to refuse this without looking into it?" she argued, eyeing him through her gold-rimmed glasses. "Go and see him, and then you can judge. It's his practice you want, not his house."

"No; that's just what I don't want. I've got too much practice now. Somehow I can't keep my people well. No, mother, dear, don't bother your dear head over the old doctor and his wants. Write him that I am most grateful, but that the fact is I need an assistant myself, and if he will be good enough to send someone down here, I'll keep him busy every hour of the day and night. Then, again," he continued, a more serious tone in his voice, "I couldn't possibly leave here now, even if I wished to, which I do not."

Mrs. Cavendish eyed him intently. She had expected just such a refusal Nothing that she ever planned for his advancement did he agree to.

"Why not?" she asked, with some impatience.

"The new hospital is about finished, and I am going to take charge of it."

"Do they pay you for it?" she continued, in an incisive tone.

"No, I don't think they will, nor can. It's not, that kind of a hospital," answered the doctor gravely.

"And you will look after these people just as you do after Fogarty and the Branscombs, and everybody else up and down the shore, and never take a penny in pay!" she retorted with some indignation.

"I am afraid I will, mother. A disappointing son, am I not? But there's no one to blame but yourself, old lady," and with a laugh he rose from his seat, Jane's letter in his hand, and kissed his mother on the cheek.

"But, John, dear," she exclaimed in a pleading petulance as she looked into his face, still holding on to the sleeve of his coat to detain him the longer, "just think of this letter of Pencoyd's; nothing has ever been offered you better than this. He has the very best people in Philadelphia on his list, and you would get--"

The doctor slipped his hand under his mother's chin, as he would have done to a child, and said with a twinkle in his eye--he was very happy this morning:

"That's precisely my case--I've got the very best people in three counties on my list. That's much better than the old doctor."

"Who are they, pray?" She was softening under her son's caress.

"Well, let me think. There's the distinguished Mr. Tatham, who attends to the transportation of the cities of Warehold and Barnegat; and the Right Honorable Mr. Tipple, and Mrs. and Miss Gossaway, renowned for their toilets--"

Mrs. Cavendish bit her lip. When her son was in one of these moods it was all she could do to keep her temper.

"And the wonderful Mrs. Malmsley, and--"

Mrs. Cavendish looked up. The name had an aristocratic sound, but it was unknown to her.

"Who is she?"

"Why, don't you know the wonderful Mrs. Malmsley?" inquired the doctor, with a quizzical smile.

"No, I never heard of her."

"Well, she's just moved into Warehold. Poor woman, she hasn't been out of bed for years! She's the wife of the new butcher, and--"

"The butcher's wife?"

"The butcher's wife, my dear mother, a most delightful old person, who has brought up three sons, and each one a credit to her."

Mrs. Cavendish let go her hold on the doctor's sleeve and settled back in her chair.

"And you won't even write to Dr. Pencoyd?" she asked in a disheartened way, as if she knew he would refuse.

"Oh, with pleasure, and thank him most kindly, but I couldn't leave Barnegat; not now. Not at any time, so far as I can see."

"And I suppose when Jane Cobden comes home in a year or so she will work with you in the hospital. She wanted to turn nurse the last time I talked to her." This special arrow in her maternal quiver, poisoned with her jealousy, was always ready.

"I hope so," he replied, with a smile that lighted up his whole face; "only it will not be a year. Miss Jane will be here on the next steamer."

Mrs. Cavendish put down her tea-cup and looked at her son in astonishment. The doctor still kept his eyes on her face.

"Be here by the next steamer! How do you know?"

The doctor held up the letter.

"Lucy will remain," he added. "She is going to Germany to continue her studies."

"And Jane is coming home alone?"

"No, she brings a little child with her, the son of a friend, she writes. She asks that I arrange to have Martha meet them at the dock."

"Somebody, I suppose, she has picked up out of the streets. She is always doing these wild, unpractical things. Whose child is it?"

"She doesn't say, but I quite agree with you that it was helpless, or she wouldn't have protected it."

"Why don't Lucy come with her?"

The doctor shrugged his shoulders.

"And I suppose you will go to the ship to meet her?"

The doctor drew himself up, clicked his heels together with the air of an officer saluting his superior--really to hide his joy--and said with mock gravity, his hand on his heart:

"I shall, most honorable mother, be the first to take her ladyship's hand as she walks down the gangplank." Then he added, with a tone of mild reproof in his voice: "What a funny, queer old mother you are! Always worrying yourself over the unimportant and the impossible," and stooping down, he kissed her again on the cheek and passed out of the room on the way to his office.

"That woman always comes up at the wrong moment," Mrs. Cavendish said to herself in a bitter tone. "I knew he had received some word from her, I saw it in his face. He would have gone to Philadelphia but for Jane Cobden."

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