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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Tin Soldier - BOOK TWO _ THROUGH THE CRACK - Chapter XXI. DERRY'S WIFE
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The Tin Soldier - BOOK TWO _ THROUGH THE CRACK - Chapter XXI. DERRY'S WIFE Post by :joe2121 Category :Long Stories Author :Temple Bailey Date :April 2012 Read :2404

Click below to download : The Tin Soldier - BOOK TWO _ THROUGH THE CRACK - Chapter XXI. DERRY'S WIFE (Format : PDF)

The Tin Soldier - BOOK TWO _ THROUGH THE CRACK - Chapter XXI. DERRY'S WIFE

BOOK TWO THROUGH THE CRACK - CHAPTER XXI. DERRY'S WIFE

It snowed hard the next morning. The General, waking, found the day nurse in charge. Bronson came in to get him ready for his breakfast. There was about the old man an air of suppressed excitement. He hurried a little in his preparations for the General's bath. But everything was done with exactness, and it was not until the General was shaved and sitting up in his gorgeous mandarin robe that Bronson said, "I'd like to go out for an hour or two this morning, if you can spare me, sir--"

"In this snow? I thought you hated snow. You've always been a perfect pussy cat about the cold, Bronson."

"Yes, sir, but this is very important, sir."

The General ran his eye over the spruce figure.

"And you are all dressed up. I hope you are not going to be married, Bronson."

It was an old joke between them. Bronson was a pre-destined bachelor, and the General knew it.

But he liked to tease him.

"No, sir. I'll be back in time to look after your lunch, sir."

The General had been growing stronger, so that he spent several hours each day in his chair. When Bronson had gone, he rose and moved restlessly about the room. The day nurse cautioned him. "The Doctor doesn't want you to exert yourself, General Drake."

He was always courteous, but none the less he meant to have his own way. "Don't worry, Miss Martin. I'll take the responsibility."

He shuffled out into the hall. When she would have followed, he waved her back. "I am perfectly able to go alone," he told her.

She stood on the threshold watching him. She was very young and she was a little afraid of him. Her eyes, as she looked upon him, saw an obstinate old man in a gay dressing gown. And the man in the gay dressing gown felt old until he faced suddenly his wife's picture on the stairs.

It had been weeks since he had seen it, and in those weeks much had happened. Her smiling presence came to him freshly, as the spring might come to one housed through a long winter, or the dawn after a dark night.

"Edith!"

He leaned upon the balustrade. The nurse, coming out, warned him. "Indeed, you'd better stay in your room."

"I'm all right. Please don't worry. You 'tend to your knitting, and I'll take care of myself."

She insisted, however, on bringing out a chair and a rug. "Perhaps it will be a change for you to sit in the hall," she conceded, and tucked him in, and he found himself trembling a little from weakness, and glad of the support which the chair gave him.

It seemed very pleasant to sit there with Edith smiling at him. For the first time in many weeks his mind was at rest. Ever since Hilda had come he had felt the pressure of an exciting presence. He felt this morning free from it, and glad to be free.

What a wife Edith had been! Holding him always to his highest and best, yet loving him even when he stumbled and fell. Bending above him in her beautiful charity and understanding, raising him up, fostering his self-respect in those moments of depression when he had despised himself.

What other woman would have done it? What other woman would have kept her love for him through it all? For she had loved him. It had never been his money with her. She would have clung to him in sickness and in poverty.

But Hilda loved his money. He knew it now as absolutely as if she had said it. For the first time in weeks he saw clearly. Last night his eyes had been opened.

He had been roused towards morning by those soft sounds in the second room, which he had heard more than once in the passing weeks. In his feverish moments, it had not seemed unlikely that his wife might be there, coming back to haunt, with her gentle presence, the familiar rooms. There was, indeed, her light step, the rustle of her silken garments--.

Half-asleep he had listened, then had opened his eyes to find the night-lamp burning, Hilda's book under it and Hilda gone!

The minutes passed as still his ears were strained. There was not a sound in the house but that silken rustle. He wondered if he sought Edith if she would speak to him. He rose and reached for his dressing gown.

Hilda had grown careless; there was no screen in front of the second door, and the crack was wide. The General standing in the dark saw her before his wife's mirror, wearing his wife's jewels, wrapped in the cloak which his wife had worn--triumphant--beautiful!

It was that air of triumph which repelled him. It was a discordant note in the Cophetua theme. He had liked her in her nurse's white. In the trappings which did not belong to her she showed herself a trifle vulgar--less than a lady.

He had crept back to bed, and wide-awake, he had worked it all out in his mind. It was his money which Hilda wanted, the things that he could give her; he meant to her pink parasols and satin slippers, and diamonds and pearls and ermines and sables, and a check-book, with unlimited credit everywhere.

And to get the things that she wanted, she had given him that which had stolen away his brains, which might indeed have done more than that--which might have killed his soul.

He had heard her come in, but he had simulated sleep. She had seated herself by the little table, and had gone on with her book. Between his half-closed eyes he had studied her--seeing her with new eyes--the hard line of her lips, the long white hands, the heaviness of her chin.

Then he had slept, and had waked to find the day nurse on duty. He felt that he should be glad never to see Hilda again. He dreaded the night when he must once more speak to her.

He was very tired sitting there in his chair. The rug had slipped from his knees. He tried to reach for it and failed. But he did not want to call the day nurse. He wanted some one with him who--cared. He raised his poor old eyes to the lady in the picture. He was cold and tired.

He wished that Bronson would come back--good old Bronson, to pull up the rug. He wished that Derry might come.

A door below opened and shut. Some one was ascending the stairs. Some one who walked with a light step--some one slim and youthful, in a white gown--!

"Edith--?"

But Edith's hair had not been crinkled and copper-colored, and Edith would have come straight up to him; she would not have hesitated on the top step as if afraid to advance.

"Who are you?"

"Jean--"

"Jean?"

"Derry's wife."

"Come here." He tried to reach out his hand to her, but could not. His tongue felt thick--.

She knelt beside his chair. Her head was bare. She wore no wrap. "We were married this morning. And my own father has gone--to France--and I wanted a father--"

"Did Derry tell you to come?"

"Bronson begged me. He was at the wedding--"

"Old Bronson?" He tried to smile, but the smile was twisted.

She was looking up at him fearfully, but her voice did not falter. "I came to tell you that Derry loves you. He doesn't want your money, oh, you know that he doesn't want it. But he is going away to the--war, and he may be killed, so many men are--killed. And he--loves you--"

"Where is he?"

"I wouldn't let him come. You see, you said things which were hard for him to forgive. I was afraid you might say such things again."

He knew that he would never say them. "Tell him that--I love him." He tried to sit up. "Tell him that he is--my son."

He fell back. He heard her quick cry, "Bronson--"

Bronson came running up the stairs, and the nurse who had watched the scene dazedly from the threshold of the General's room ran, too.

Weighted down by a sense of increasing numbness he lifted his agonized eyes to Jean. "Stay with me--stay--"

Hilda, waked by the day nurse, raged. "You should have called me at once when he left his room. Why didn't you call me?"

"Because I felt myself competent to manage the case."

"You see how you have managed it--I will be down in a minute. Get everybody out--"

Her composed manner when she came down showed nothing of that which was seething within her.

She found Jean in bridal-white sitting by the bed and holding the General's hand. The doctor had been sent for, Derry had been sent for--things were being swept out of her hands. She blamed it, still hiding her anger under a quiet manner, on Jean.

"He has had a stroke. It was probably the excitement of your coming."

The day nurse intervened. "It was before she came, Miss Merritt, that I saw him reach for the rug. I was puzzled and started to investigate, and then I saw her on the stairs--" She smiled at Jean. Never in her limited young life had the day nurse seen such a lovely bride, and she did not in the least like Miss Merritt.

Derry coming a little later held Jean's hand in his while he faced Hilda. "What does the doctor say?"

The truth came reluctantly. "He may be unconscious for days. He may never wake up--"

"I do not think we shall need your services--. I will send you a check for any amount you may name."

"But--"

"Whatever claim you may have upon him will be settled when he is in a condition to settle anything; until then, my wife and I shall stay--"

Hilda went upstairs and packed her bag. So her house of dreams tumbled about her. So she left behind her the tiara and the pearl collar with the diamond slides, and the velvet cloak with the ermine collar. Poor Hilda, with her head held high, going out of the shadowed house.

And taking Hilda's place, oh, more than taking her place, was Jean--and this was her wedding day. The little rose-colored drawing room had needed all of its rose to counteract the gray of the world outside, with the snow and Daddy's car standing ready to take him to the station.

But always there had been the thought of Derry to uphold her, and the wonder of their love. Nothing could rob her of that.

He had held her in his arms the night before, and had said, "Tomorrow we shall be in Woodstock, and shall listen to the chimes--"

And now it was tomorrow, and they were here in this great grim house with Death at the door.

Quite miraculously Emily arrived, and she and Bronson made a boudoir of Derry's sitting-room. They filled it with flowers, as was fitting for a bridal-bower. Jean's little trunk had been sent on to Woodstock, but there was her bag, and a supply of things which Emily brought from home.

A new night nurse came, and Miss Martin was retained for the day. The snow still fell, and the old man in the lacquered bed was still unconscious, his stertorous breathing sounding through the house.

And it was her wedding day!

They dined in the great room where Derry's ancestors gazed down on them. Emily was there, and it was a bridal feast, with things ordered hurriedly. Bronson, too, had seen to that. But they ate little. Emily talked and Derry ably supplemented her efforts.

But Jean was silent. It was all so different from what one might expect--! She still wore her white dress. It was a rather superlative frock with much cobwebby lace that had been her mother's, and in the place of her own small string of pearls was the longer string which had been her father's last gift to her. She had worn no veil, her crinkled copper hair in all its beauty had been uncovered.

"I can't believe that the lovely, lovely lady at the other end of the table is my wife," Derry told Miss Emily.

Jean smiled at him. She felt as if she were smiling from a great distance--and she had to look at him over a perfect thicket of orchids. "Shall I always have to sit so far away from you, Derry?" she asked in a very small voice.

"My dearest, no--" and he came and stood behind her, and reached for her little coffee cup and drank where her lips had touched, shamelessly, before the eyes of the sympathetic and romantic Miss Emily.

And now Emily had gone! And at last Jean and Derry were alone in the bridal bower, and Jean was telling Derry again what his father had said. "He begged me to stay--"

Their eyes met. "Dearest, dearest," Derry said, "what is life doing to me?"

"It has given you me, Derry"--such a little, little whisper.

"My beloved--yes."

The next morning they talked it over.

"What am I to do? He needs me more than ever--"

"There must be some way out, Derry."

But what way? The Tin Soldier had jumped from the shelf, but he had fallen through a crack! And the war was going on without him--!

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