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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Tin Soldier - BOOK TWO _ THROUGH THE CRACK - Chapter XIX. HILDA SHAKES A TREE
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The Tin Soldier - BOOK TWO _ THROUGH THE CRACK - Chapter XIX. HILDA SHAKES A TREE Post by :nosync Category :Long Stories Author :Temple Bailey Date :April 2012 Read :3026

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The Tin Soldier - BOOK TWO _ THROUGH THE CRACK - Chapter XIX. HILDA SHAKES A TREE

BOOK TWO THROUGH THE CRACK - CHAPTER XIX. HILDA SHAKES A TREE

When Dr. McKenzie and Jim Connolly arrived, Derry said apologetically as he shook hands with the Doctor, "You see, you can't get rid of me--but I have such a lot of things to talk over with you."

It was after Jean had gone to bed, however, that they had their talk, and before that Derry and Jean had walked in the moonlight and had listened to the chimes.

There had, perhaps, never been such a moon. It hung in a sky that shimmered from horizon to horizon. Against this shimmering background the college buildings were etched in black--there was a glint of gold as the light caught the icicles and made candles of them.

In the months to come that same moon was to sail over the cantonment where Derry slept heavily after hard days. It was to sail over the trenches of France, where, perhaps, he slept not at all, or slept uneasily in the midst of mud and vermin. But always when he looked up at it, he was to see the Cross on the top of the College, and to hear the chimes.

They talked that night of the things that were deep in their hearts. She wanted him to go--yes, she wanted him to go, but she was afraid.

"If something should happen to you, Derry."

"Sometimes I wonder," he said, in his grave, young voice, "why we are so--afraid. I think we have the wrong focus. We want life, even if it brings unhappiness, even if it brings suffering, even if it brings disgrace. Anything seems better than to--die--"

"But to have things stop, Derry." She shuddered. "When there's so much ahead."

"Perhaps they don't stop, dear."

"If I could only believe that--"

"Why not? Do you remember 'Sherwood,' where Blondin rides through the forest singing:

'"Death, what is death?" he cried,
"I must ride on--"'"


His face was lifted to the golden sky. She was never to forget the look upon it. And with a great ache and throb of passionate renunciation, she told herself that it was for this that the men of her generation had been born, that they might fight against the powers of darkness for the things of the spirit.

She lay awake a long time that night, thinking it out. Of how she had laughed at other women, scolded, said awful things to them of how their cowardice was holding the world back. She had thought she understood, but she had not understood. It was giving your own--your own, which was the test. _Oh, let those who had none of their own to give keep silent_.

With her breath almost stopping she thought of those glorious young souls riding on and on through infinite space, the banner of victory floating above them. No matter what might come to the world of defeat or of disaster, these souls would never know it, they had given themselves in the cause of humanity--for them there would always be the sound of silver trumpets, the clash of cymbals, the song of triumph!

Downstairs, Dr. McKenzie was listening with a frowning face to what Derry had to tell him.

"Do you mean to say that Hilda was giving him--wine?"

"Yes. Bronson told me. But he didn't want you to depend upon his unsupported testimony. So we fixed up a scheme, and I stayed outside until he flashed a light for me; and then I went in and caught her."

"It is incredible. Why should she do such a thing? She has always been a perfect nurse--a perfect nurse, Drake." He rose and walked the floor. "But deliberately to disobey my orders--what could have been her object?"

Derry hesitated.

"I haven't told you the worst."

Doctor McKenzie stopped in front of him. "The worst?"

"Dad is going to marry her."

"What?"

Derry repeated what he had said.

The Doctor dropped into a chair. "Who told you?"

"Dad."

"And she admitted that it was--true?"

"Yes."

Derry gave the facts. "He wasn't himself, of course, but that doesn't change things for me."

The Doctor in the practice of his profession had learned to conceal his emotions. He concealed now what he was feeling, but a close observer might have seen in the fading of the color in his cheeks, the beating of his clenched fist on the arm of his chair, something of that which was stirring within him.

"And this has been going on ever since she went there. She has had it in mind to wear your mother's jewels--" Derry had graphically described Bronson's watch on the stairs--"to get your father's money. I knew she was cold-blooded, but I had always thought it a rather admirable quality in a woman of her attractive type."

Before his eye came the vision of Hilda's attractiveness by his fireside, at his table. And now she would sit by the General's fire, at his table.

"She didn't say a word," Derry's young voice went on, "when he told me that I was no longer--his son. I can't tell you how I felt about her. I've never felt that way about anyone before. I've always liked people--but it was as if some evil thing had swooped down on the old house."

The lad saw straight! That was the thought which suddenly illumined Dr. McKenzie's troubled mind. Hilda was not beautiful. So beauty of body could offset the ugliness of her distorted soul.

"And so I am poor," Derry was saying, heavily, "and I must wait to marry Jean."

The red surged up in the Doctor's face. He jerked himself forward in his chair. "You shall not wait. After this you are my son, if you are not your father's."

He laid his hand on Derry's shoulder. "I've money enough, God knows. And I shan't need it. It isn't a fortune, but it is enough to make all of us comfortable for the rest of our days--and I want Jean to be happy. Do you think I am going to let Hilda Merritt stand between my child and happiness?"

"It's awfully good of you, sir," Derry's voice was husky with feeling, "but--"

"There are no 'buts.' You must let me have my own way; I shall consider it a patriotic privilege to support one soldier and his little wife."

He was riding above the situation splendidly. He even had visions of straightening things out. "When I go back I shall tell Hilda what I think of her, I shall tell her that it is preposterous--that her professional reputation is at stake."

"What will she care for her professional reputation when she is my father's wife?"

The thought of Hilda with the world, in a sense, at her feet was maddening. The Doctor paced the floor roaring like an angry lion. "It may not do any good, but I've got to tell her what I think of her."

Derry had a whimsical sense of the meeting of the white cat and this leonine gentleman--would she purr or scratch?

"The sooner you and Jean are married the better. If Hilda thinks she is going to keep you and Jean apart she is mistaken."

"Oh--did she know of the engagement?"

"Yes," the Doctor confessed. "I told her the other day when she came to fix the books."

"Then that accounts for it."

"For what?"

"Dad's attitude. I thought it was queer he should fly up all in a moment. She wanted to make trouble, Doctor, and she has made it."

Long after Derry had gone to bed, the Doctor sat there pondering on Hilda's treachery. He was in some ways a simple man--swayed by the impulse of the moment. The thought of deliberate plotting was abhorrent. In his light way he had taken her lightly. He had laughed at her. He had teased Jean, he had teased Emily, calling their intuition jealousy. Yet they had known better than he. And why should not women know women better than men know them? Just as men know men in a way that women could never know. Sex erected barriers--there was always the instinct to charm, to don one's gayest plumage; even Hilda's frankness had been used as a lure; she knew he liked it. Would she have been so frank if she had not felt its stimulus to a man of his type? And, after all, had she really been frank?

Such a woman was like a poisonous weed; and he had thought she might bloom in the same garden with Jean--until Emily had told him.

He turned to the thought of Emily with relief. Thank God he could leave Jean in her care. If Derry went, there would still be Emily with her sweet sanity, and her wise counsels.

He felt very old as he went upstairs. He stood for a long time in front of his wife's picture. How sweet she had been in her forget-me-not gown--how little and tender! Their love had burned in a white flame--there would never be anything like that for him again.

He waked in the morning, however, ready for all that was before him. He was a man who dwelt little on the past. There was always the day's work, and the work of the day after.

His appetite for the work of the coming day was, it must be confessed, whetted somewhat by the thought of what he would say to Hilda.

They had an early breakfast, with Jean between her father and Derry and eating nothing for very happiness.

There was the start in the opal light of the early morning, with a faint rose sky making a background for the cross on the College, and the chimes saying "Seven o'clock."

Jim and Mary Connolly came out in the biting air to see them off. Then Mary went over to the church to pray for Jean and Derry. But first of all she prayed for her sons.

The Doctor, arriving at his office, at once called up Hilda.

"I must see you as soon as possible."

"What has Derry Drake been telling you?"

"How do you know that he has told me anything?"

"By your voice. And you needn't think that you are going to scold me."

"I shall scold you for disobeying orders. I thought you were to be trusted, Hilda."

"I am not a saint. You know that. And I am not sure that I want you to come. I shall send you away if you scold."

She hung up the receiver and left him fuming. Her high-handed indifference to his authority sent him storming to Derry, "I've half a mind to stay away."

"I think I would. It won't do any good to go--"

But the Doctor went. He still hoped, optimistically, that Hilda might be induced to see the error of her ways.

She received him in the blue room, where the General's precious porcelain was set forth in cabinets. It was a choice little room which had been used by Mrs. Drake for the reception of special guests. Hilda was in her uniform, but without her cap. It was as if in doffing her cap, she struck her first note of independence against the Doctor's rule.

He began professionally. "Doctor Bryer telephoned this morning that his attendance of the case had been only during my absence. That he did not care to keep it unless I definitely intended to withdraw. I told him to go ahead. I told him also that you were a good nurse. I had to whitewash my conscience a bit to say it, Hilda--"

Her head went up. "I am a good nurse. But I am more than a nurse, I am a woman. Oh, I know you are blaming me for what you think I have done. But if you stood under a tree and a great ripe peach hung just out of your reach, could you be blamed for shaking the tree? Well, I shook the tree."

She was very handsome as she gave her defense with flashing eyes.

"The General asked me to marry him, and that's more than you would ever have done. You liked to think that I was half in love with you. You liked to pretend that you were half in love with me. But would you ever have offered me ease and rest from hard work? Would you ever have thought that I might some day be your daughter's equal in your home? Oh, I have wanted good times. I used to sit night after night alone in the office while you and Jean went out and did the things I was dying to do. I wanted to go to dances and to the theater and to supper with a gay crowd. But you never seemed to think of it. I am young and I want pretty clothes--yet you thought I was satisfied to have you come home and say a few careless pleasant words, and to tease me a little. That was all you ever did for me--all you ever wanted.

"But the General wants more than that. He wants me here in the big house, to be his wife, and to meet his friends. He had a man come up the other day with a lot of rings, and he bought me this." She showed the great diamonds flashing on her third finger. "I have always wanted a ring like this, and now I can have as many as I want. Do you blame me for shaking the tree?"

He sat, listening, spellbound to her sophistry. But was it sophistry? Wasn't some of it true? He saw her for the first time as a woman wanting things like other women.

She swept out her hand to include the contents of the little room. "I have always longed for a place like this. I don't know a thing about china. But I know that all that stuff in the cabinet cost a fortune. And it's a pretty room, and some day when I am the General's wife, I'll ask you here to take tea with me, and I'll wear a silver gown like your daughter wears, and I think you'll be surprised to see that I can do it well."

He flung up his hand. "I can't argue it, Hilda. I can't analyze it. But it is all wrong. In all the years that you worked for me, while I laughed at you, I respected you. But I don't respect you now."

She shrugged. "Do you think I care? And a man's respect after all is rather a cold thing, isn't it? But I am sorry you feel as you do about it. I should have been glad to have you wish me happiness."

"Happiness--" His anger seemed to die suddenly. "You won't find happiness, Hilda, if you separate a son from his father."

"Did he tell you that? I had nothing to do with it. His father was angry at his--interference."

He stood up. "We won't discuss it. But you may tell him this. That I am glad his son is poor, for my daughter will marry now the man and not his money."

"Then he will marry her?"

"Yes. On Christmas Day."

She wished that she might tell him the date of her own wedding, but she did not know it. The General seemed in no hurry. He had carefully observed the conventions; had hired a housekeeper and a maid, and there was, of course, the day nurse. Having thus surrounded his betrothed with a sort of feminine bodyguard, he spoke of the wedding as happening in the spring. And he was hard to move. As has been said, the General had once commanded a brigade. He was immensely entertained and fascinated by the lady who was to be his wife. But he was not to be managed by her. She found herself, as he grew stronger, quite strangely deferring to his wishes. She found herself, indeed, rather unexpectedly dominated.

She came back to the Doctor. "Aren't you going to wish me happiness?"

"No. How can I, Hilda?"

After he had left her, she stood very still in the middle of the room. She could still see him as he had towered above her--his crinkled hair waving back from his handsome head. She had always liked the youth of him and his laughter and his boyish fun.

The rich man upstairs was--old--.

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