AISLES OF ENCHANTMENT
LESLIE GORDON BARNARD
LONG before she was fully awake that morning, Althea Dale was conscious of two impressions. One was of the interminable patter of rain on the tin roof of the verandah that sloped away from her bedroom window. The other was of movements within the house: the clatter of dishes, the sound of sweeping, the prattle of children—following the more subdued voices of Granville Pearce and his wife. Comfortable sounds these—to one lying abed imianguorous ease, and with no sense of responsibility to interfere.
The rain, though, was a discouraging sound. Althea had planned that Glenn should take her in the runabout to Castle Chasm, where they would have lunch on the rocks, and take photographs of themselves and the chasm, and enjoy the solitude. She might even forgive Glenn if he acted nicely.... Perhaps it would clear in time even yet. After raining steadily for a fortnight, one day’s interlude like yesterday hardly seemed enough.
A faint knocking sounded on the door.
Althea stretched her lithe young limbs in lazy contentment.
“Hello!” she invited. “Who’s there?”
“ ’Lo, Aunt Thea. ’Sme. ’SBobbie!”
A woman’s voice interrupted in a low tone:
“Hush, Bobbie! Aunt Thea’s tired. Come away, dear!”
THE girl sprang out of bed; ran across .the floor, and opened the door a discreet crack. The fouryear-old Bobbie retreated to his mother’s skirts.
“Morning, Debbie!” called Althea. “Good heavens, look at the woman! You look like one of the good ladies who perpetually chase dirt. And so early in the morning.-
Deborah Pearce laughed.
“Early? Mercy, child, I’ve done a day’s work'already. The doctor was called away at five, and baby was wakened and couldn’t be persuaded it wasn’t time to get up like his daddy, and that roused Bobbie and Martha, so there you are. I’m an hour ahead of time in my work, so maybe I’ll find time to be agreeable to you after all. Are you going to get up? I’ve drawn the bath for you and—Bobbie!”
A shrill outcry proceeded from the adjoining bathroom. Bobbie’s mother fled to his rescue, and pulled a dripping, howling object from the bathtub into which he had fallen.
“Yah!” shrilled *the victim.
“Nashty old water! Wanted to sail my boat, an’ I fell in an’ dwownded.” His hand still clutched the soap dish which imagination had invested with romantic
and sea-going qualities and transformed into a boat.
“Here, take the child a minute,” implored Deborah, breaking off in the midst of admonitions, sympathizings, and more active work of restoration. “There’s baby crying! Go to Aunt Thea a minute, dear, she’ll help you unbutton your wet things.”
Bobbie was hesitant. Storm signals from the other room increased.
“Come,” coaxed Althea. “Come and tell Aunt Thea how you nearly got drowned!”
The suggestion of sympathy was effectual. Bobbie ceased clinging to his rescuer and fled to the new sympathizer. Althea found a wet little body in immediate contact with the clinging and rather sheer draperies that constituted her nightwear. She had a sense of clammy coldness that caused her to thrust the child from her hastily. Bobbie found himself rather rudely deposited
on the floor and set up a new howling. Althea experienced a feeling of helplessness and anger. It amazed her to see the quiet, masterly way in which Deborah smilingly handled the situation when she appeared with the pacified infant in her arms, and little Martha in tow anxious to participate in any domestic crisis. *
The sounds of subdued riot diminished as the family quartette went downstairs. Althea glanced at her watch. Eight o’clock! She shivered a little, and climbed in under the blankets again.
Eight o’clock! And the day for Deborah Pearce well advanced already. Last night, too, sitting up for Granville to return from a case, she had been darning socks and stockings well on towards midnight. It was after that when Althea had heard her come wearily up to bed. The surprising thing was to recall Deborah as a room-mate in college—a senior when Althea was a freshman. Deborah had been fond of her bed in those days. Expedients were necessary, to rouse her in time for a hastily-snatched breakfast in the morning. She seemed like a different Deborah. Perhaps that was why she looked so tired about the eyes now to her old college friend.
Althea yawned, stretched again lazily, and composed herself until nine o’clock struck on the grandfather’s clock in the hall downstairs.
Althea did not know why the things that had been before her attention for a week past should so claim her this morning. At breakfast time, when Deborah, with apologies, left her mostly to herself that the demands of a busy morning might be satisfied, she took stock. This was the first time, of course, that Glenn Merrick had failed her as a breakfast companion: ordinarily, too, she had heard him stumping about the room across from hers, had listened happily to his whistling accompaniment to his morning ablutions in the bathroom. Somehow one did not think of— commonplace things when he was around. But this morning of dismal rain—more dismal than any of its predecessors. r..
“Glenn went off on a case with the Doctor,” Deborah said. “It’s down in the village, and they’re going to look in at the mines on their rounds. I’m sorry to see this rain again.”
A LTHEA nodded. She had T*heard that the flooding of part of the mines was feared if the rain continued. The swollen river threatened subterranean trouble. It did not mean much to her; she could not rouse great interest in the mines. Glenn had wished to show her over the place, but she had decreed that it should be a hasty and casual inspection. The drabness of the place: its clustering of work-people’s cottages, hideous in their uniformity; the urchins playing noisily about; the women.. . .young ones who seemed old about the eyes, old ones who sat upon the crude platforms that jutted out from the fronts of the houses, uncovered, in. lieu of verandahs, rocking interminably, and facing— in drabness such as this—the disintegration of the poor thing men called life, the better to be termed existence.
“Come away,” she urged Glenn. “It haunts me!”
“It’s my field,” said the young man. “I hoped it might interest you, Althea! I mean to make it my life work."
He had turned the runabout into better ways, where the sunshine, welcome after so much rain, was filtering through the foliage, dappling the muddy road with golden patches. She caught his arm presently.
"Why do they have to live like that, Glenn and all this beauty at their doors?”
"Employment Economic pressureand the fact that their fathers and grandfathers before them were miners. The land means nothing to them -except a little patch of truck garden behind the houses of the more ambitious. It’s never been a very prosperous venture. When father died they owed him as much or more than they had ever paid him for his medical services. ‘I’ve no will to make, laddie.* he told me. ’except that all these poor folks' debts to me should be cancelled I know you’ll stand by that.’ And then it was he hinted, Althea, that he’d like me to follow on in his place to take up the fight for reforms that he began preventive gely. 1 promised,
CILENCE fell t S thinking of the college
da> when Granville Pearce and Glenn Merrick w ere— irte brother "meds,” but with ibont the same number et ween. A jolly quartette
they made, with much merry on concerning the
ame from homes where few things. In moderation, had been denied them. It was ■ to the girls when Granville and Glenn
tec and I a\ wed intention of together taking up the work of Glenn’s father on his death, and working out, if •uch might be. the salvation of this drab little mining comm.: seemed sil guiar that the kindly practi-
tioner should be laid aside just as Granville was looking for an opening. Their ways had gone apart then: it was queer to think of Deborah married, but Althea had little think of it. Her people had taken her abroad: Glenn meanwhile was doing a turn of hospital w'ork following his graduation from the faculty of medicine. This week or ten days, at Deborah's insistent invitation, was thea had seen Deborah in her own home, ted the chosen field of Granville Pearce and Glenn Merrick.
iid not accuse Glenn of scheming it; she did suspect 'Oer"1-»'' of being -like so many good women—a born matchmaker. Perhaps Debbie had heard rumors of young Angus Pratt—who had wealth and position and a magnetic way on his side and wished to give Glenn his chance to forget his staid, slow ways, and speak
Althea told herself she was willing enough that he should speak There was about him some aura of romance.
The visit to the mining community was in the later afternoon.
going to take you back.” he said, ‘‘through what I like to call my cathedral aisle.” Before them, presently, kMned a great mass of greenery. “Can you see the entrance, Althea?” he asked smilingly. The foliage seemed to enfold them in green billows, but the dexterity of the driver saved the flickings of a single outstretched branch. And suddenly Althea found herself within the aisle of which he spoke. A sunken road, it was, with trees that rose to meet in leafy arching above their heads, a gothic aisle of nature’s own devising. Through interstices in the leafy roof, the late sunlight filtered. In the thickets at the 3¡des choirs of birds chanted evening vespers.
“It seem3 a desecration, doesn’t it,” said Glenn, “to bring a car in here? Sometime perhaps we might walk this far. Would you believe that this is just back of some of the drab cottages you saw, and yet I venture few of them ever come this way. I’d like to make the people «ce how easily they might walk in beauty if they would. Shall I stop the car awhile?”
“Oh. do!" Althea 3aid. She felt the hushed solemnity of the place. They sat in silence for uncounted moments. The time of sunset came upon them.
T OOK!" he said, pointing above. A slight opening in 4—' the leafy roof above them seemed suddenly to be filled with a many hued glory. “It’s the cloud effect,” he explained. "Touched by the stormy sunset. You never -aw a finer stained glass window in a cathedral, Althea!” She shook her head in silence: he went on in thgsame low tone that one might use inside a cathedral of men’s building: “I’ve seen it like that before, but not often. It makes me think of a thing I ran across in ‘Modern Painters’. I jotted it down so I wouldn’t forget. Maybe you know it. Oh. here it is!” Althea remembered how it was jumbled in his notebook alongside some queer-looking medical jottings. He read: “Though nature is constantly beautiful, she does not exhibit her highest powers of beauty constantly, for then they would satiate us, and pall upon our senses. . . Her finest touches are things which must be watched for; her most perfect passages of beauty are the most evanescent’.” He put the notebook away, with a little snap of the elastic that held it. “That’s a principle of life, don’t you think, Althea? The mountain peaks are all the finer because of the valleys/” They sat in silence for a while. A rush of tenderness, of longing, flooded in upon the girl’s soul. It gave birth to a definite wish that itself was an unexpressed thing. Why
didn’t Glenn speak? Now! Could there ever be a more beautiful moment? The evening seemed tremulous with the things that her heart desired.
They returned from the aisle of enchantment, though, with the things unsaid. The beauty of the sky changed to a weird and lurid one.
“It will rain to-morrow, I’m afraid,” Glenn said as they drove home.
TPHESE things lived in Althea’s memory as she lingered over her breakfast this morning. She wished indeed that Glenn had spoken last night; perhaps then the things that irked her this morning would not loom so large. The weather! Through the low window she could see the trees dripping and swaying under the beatings of wind and rain. Beyond the trees, and visible in spite of them, fields. . . .long, flat, uninteresting fields, sodden and unlovely. The room itself! Her fastidious being rebelled against the signs of disorder. The cloth was stained with variegated traces of the children’s breakfast. Little Martha’s bib, treacle-streaked, lay wisped over the arm of her high chair, and exercised attraction for several flies. Deborah, dropping in with a little sigh of relief for a moment’s chat with her visitor, saw Althea’s eyes upon it with repulsion, and hastened its removal.
‘‘The flies have been extra bad this year,” she said, “and Bobbie took the kitchen screen to use last Sunday, when he was playing Daniel in the lions’ den. Granville called me out to see master Bobbie cramped up in a packing case with the cat and her kittens at the other end. He was using the screen to keep the ‘lions’ from escaping until he tired of the role of Daniel. The lions ran away, and Daniel got mad and put his foot through the cage. I haven’t had time to get it fixed. Goodness, look where I left the flannels! I’m sorry, dear, but I was taking them up from the wash to darn them, and called away. There’s the grocer now!. . . Bobbie, tell Martha to keep quiet, there’s a good boy! Mother’ll be there in a minute!”
Althea laughed as she watched Deborah hurry off. It ivas an odd little laugh.
' I 'HERE were several calls for the doctor during the 4 morning. In most cases Deborah was delayed in her work for conversational reasons. Althea put on an apron and devoted herself to the cause of domestic advancement. The children, wearied of the ceaseless rain, were everlastingly underfoot, or in trouble; the kitchen roof developed a leak in a vital spot immediately above the stove; dinner, when it was served at the noon hour, was blackened beyond tastiness, and Bobbie’s mature comments thereon did not allow Althea to forget that the fault was hers. She had undertaken the task while Deborah was busied with household occupations elsewhere and with a garrulous patient or two in the front parlor.
“Why don’t you shoo them about their business?” she demanded.
“The patients?” laughed Deborah. “Bless you, child, the poor souls love to get the chance to gossip with me a bit. Granville says they ceme to see me as much as to see him! Bobbie, don’t use your fingers for that!.... and do stop grumbling, dear! How do you expect the weather man to smile and be sunshiny when little boys are naughty like that? Here—let mother cut that well-done part off!”
“Well-done!” snapped Althea. “Call it burnt, Debbie! .... I don’t know how you stand it—this constant round, I mean, with hardly a moment to call your own!”
“Someday, Thea,” she said, leaning over to restrain the baby from committing suicide with a knife temptingly within reach, “you’ll understand.”
Althea snorted. All the “little irksomes” of the day rose up before her, crowned by the fact that the doctor had ’phoned to say he and Glenn could not possibly get home at noon. Glenn might have spoken to her himself at least! Why couldn’t he arrange things for this week of all weeks?
DY THE time she had aided Deborah in the dish-wash4-4 ing, and helped clean up the youngsters and seen them tucked away for an afternoon’s nap, Althea had developed a splitting headache, and retired to her own room. She was still unhappily conscious of querulous outcries at times from the children, and Deborah’s quiet voice, with a trace of real weariness, endeavoring to convince by argument, cajolery, song and story, that an afternoon sleep was an essential to little boys and girls who wished to grow up big and strong like daddy!
The men returned after nightfall. They had had a hard day. One or two bothersome cases in the Works’ Infirmary—an institution due to old Dr. Merrick; a distant call or two; the usual routine duties; and through it all a sharing of the burden of the miners who were fighting the flood that threatened disaster to one of the mines—these things had occupied their day, and now very largely their conversation. Deborah had the children in bed for the night and a steaming hot meal prepared for the men. They ate hungrily.
Althea’s headache persisted. The pile of greasy dishes accumulating once more in the kitchen appalled her— there had been no time yet for washing even their own and the children’s. . •
“You run off,” insisted Deborah. “Take her away, Glenn, she has a headache to be charmed away!”
“I’ll prescribe a little drive in the air, if the doctor will trust us with the car,” laughed Glenn. “It’s stopped raining, I believe, and in any case we’ll be snug enough.” Althea let herself be persuaded, but with rather bad grace. She hoped Glenn would be properly apologetic about neglecting %her all day. Instead he took it for granted that she understood that his duties were not the kind into which neglect could enter. He spoke of the cases that had bothered them—with triumphant enthusiasm.
“We mustn’t be away too long,” said Glenn. “The car may be needed. Things are kind of uncertain down at the mines. But I do want to show you, Althea—”
TTE TURNED the car into a tree-lined road. Half way 4 4 along he stopped, drew aside the storm curtain for her to see.
“Look, Althea!” his voice was not quite steady. She saw, vaguely outlined in the darkness', a tiny cottage, hedged about with greenery; through long low windows, square-paned, lights gleamed. He said: “It’s not pretentious, but it’s pretty in its way, and I always, have thought, driving by at night, how cosy it looked with the lights in the windows. Althea, dear, I’ve dared to dream of coming home knowing that those lights were your welcome—for me. You see, I have an option on the cottage from the people who own it now—and..,. Althea, I know you’re accustomed to things on a bigger scale than this, but I’ve dared to think that you might even love a— a country practitioner enough. . . . ”
Althea’s nails cut into her flesh. Her heart was beating tumultuously; her head throbbing intolerably. Why had he asked her to-night? And why in such words? She seemed to hear Angus Pratt’s amiable drawling tones, using those very words; “How’s your country practitioner. . . .?” with the suggesti n of a well-bred sneer in them; she could see massing before her all the things that this day of desolation had brought and especially the drudgery that was Deborah’s daily round.
She shrank back a little, choked out: “Don’t ask me, Glenn!” She meant “Don’t ask me—to-night!” She needed time to think. She heard the sharp intake of his breath; realized in some measure the hurt she had done him. She caught his arm.
“Glenn! Why must you go ahead with this wild idèa? There are prospects in the city for you and—” her voice trailed off. She felt him stiffen even before he said:
“I’m sorry, Althea. I thought I’d made all that clear yesterday!”
Althea knew she'was in the wrong, that hers was-the selfish, narrow side; and knowledge like that stings. The words were out before the quick, nervous anger that dictated them could be curbed:
“Don’t let’s discuss it, Glenn! Take.me home, please!” The car refused to start. When he got out to make some minor adjustment the sight of his set features in the glare of the lights made her want to speak... .or cry. But expression was denied her., :
The rain came down heavily again upon the sodden earth as they went homeward in silence.
'T'HE way of sleep was difficult that night. Very present 4with Althea was the remembrance of the day, and its crowning disaster, and, most vivid perhaps of all impressions, the manner in which, before she retired, Glenn had himself mixed a potion for her headache. The way he said: “Drink that—you’ll find it effective, I think!” was gravely professional. But there was a special tenderness in his ministration that touched her.
At times, tossing there sleeplessly, she felt that she would have given anything to recall her words. But always there came a stifling aftermath of thought;
“Do I love him enough to sacrifice with him and for him? Could I face the days like Deborah does?”
She fell asleep picturing Deborah in the.college days—a carefree, irresponsible creature....
These pictures merged with restless dreams so much that reality was hard to separate from the phantoms of her brain, and when the telephone rang insistently and Deborah’s voice answered it seemed a mere continuation.
“A call for Granville,” she thought, and experienced a sense of luxurious lack of responsibility when she heard the cautious footsteps that preceded the sound of the car whirring off into the darkness. She recalled a pertinent paragraph from a college paper: “A doctor has to spend five years in learning medicine, and the rest of his life out at nights practising it!” How lonely the wife of a country practitioner must be. It must mean something to Deborah even to have the children with her. The potion had lulled Althea’s nerves; she drifted off again; wakened with a start; trembling with some vague nightmare in which Glenn was reaching out hands to her in helplessness and a bell was tolling. She could hear Deborah’s voice at the telephone again; the words were indistinguishable. Another call: That would mean Glenn, as assistant, must go, she supposed. On such a night! She heard no movement though, and the drip, drip of the rain lulled her off, until she realized that her door had opened and Deborah was whispering:
“I thought I ought to call you, dear. Did you hear the boys going out a while ago?”
“I heard the car. I didn’t know—”
“There was an accident at the mines! The water under. mined the place in which the men were working to save the situation, and several were quite badly hurt.”'
DEBORAH’S touch on her arm was cold. She went on: “They got them out as quickly as they could for fear the whole thing would cave in. There was one man— Bostom—they couldn’t move. He begged them to finish him. His foot was fearfully crushed and held under a mass of wreckage impossible to lift. His son stayed with him. Granville just ’phoned me now. They’re going to operate right down there, and try and save Bostom. Granville wanted to say ‘good-bye’ in case—” She stopped, went on more quietly: “Glenn’s with him, dear, of course. I thought you ought to know!”
Althea found herself saying, in a stifled voice, presently: “Why didn’t Glenn speak to me?”
“He couldn’t, dear. Don’t you see he was down with the man in the mine? Granville could only stop a minute.”
Althea said, wildly: “Can’t we do anything? Can’t we go—” She broke off, then, and bit her lip. “You ought to go—on account of Granville. I’ll—I’ll stay with the children!”
Deborah shook her hgad.
“There’s nothing I could do, Thea, except wait. And I know he’d rather I stopped with the children. There’s no reason, though, if you feel like being near—”
Althea was already slipping into her clothes. Her fingers seemed possessed of a terrible impotency. She just nodded to Deborah. Presently she heard the sounds of an incisive conversation with the livery stable, after much fruitless ringing. And then, after an endless time, it seemed, the noise of hoofbeats, clop-clopping through the mud, the sound of scraping wheels, and of a man’s voice in a loud, “Whoa!”
A LTHEA gathered her waterproof about her, and fled out into thé rain.
She did not know just what emotions drove her to him. She was glad that the liveryman was silent—a sleepy, taciturn old fellow; her own personality was imprisoned in self-detachment through which she regarded him as just a figure in the nightmare.
The cold night air, the feel of rain blowing in upon her face, were grateful. But the patient clop-clopping of the horse through the heavy mud, irritated her. It was so • slow .... so slow....
Now there were lights ahead; the rig turned into the street of drab cottages, where lamplight showed at this untimely hour, and huddled groups were silhouetted in the doorways, and whitefaced youngsters flattened noses against the window panes, not without a sense of enjoyment of the excitement of their elders....
Beyond that, a mass of figures: women in whispering groups; men, o i 1 s k i n-c 1 ad, gleaming wetly in the light of lanterns. The crowds, gathered about the pit-head, awed Althea. They were waiting. That was what Deborah said must be done.... To wait!....
Althea pushed her way through until she could dimly make out the terrible mouth that had swallowed up Glenn and the others. The lighting was better here —the mouth seemed to mock at her. She would
have gone nearer, but encountered heavy ropes and a guard who ordered her back, sharply. She forced down an impulse to cry out that she had a right to be with Glenn— but then she had no real right.... She managed to ask: “Is it—very dangerous—for them?”
“Purty ticklish business, ma’am!”, The man, noting her look, shifted to an alarming optimism.“But there’s no saying it won’t hold up—long enough! Don’t you worry, ma’am!”
ALTHEA’S mind supplied vivid details: torn bodies, caught in the wreckage, buried alive, stifling, suffocating in those horrible depths.
Moments went by—moments that were separate eternities. And then a rumbling was heard—subterranean, terrible; a moaning echo on the lips of the crowd; hurrying figures; shouts; a woman’s voice hysterically shrilling:
“They’re gone! They’re gone! It’s caved in on them!” Althea had never known what it was to faint, but her body swayed, she gave a little outcry, turned away. A woman nearby, gaunt-cheeked, white as death itself, caught her.
“You come away, dear!” said the woman. “You cbme away! Your man’s down there, God bless him! I seen you with him drivin’ about yesterday. You passed my place. I’m Mrs. Bostom! It’s my man they’re tryin’ to save.” The words came like verbal machine-gun fire. She added: “I ought to go to the children. They’ll be so frightened, you know. So frightened about their father and their big brother. Come. They’ll heed hot water and things maybe, if—when they get them out.”
Althea responded mechanically. The suggestion of action helped. She went with the woman to the Bostom home—one of the long line of drab cottages: a place of squalor, of poverty lurking in every corner, of a brood of huddled, frightened children ranging in ages like steps of stairs. '
“I’ve seen disasters before,” said Mrs. Bostom, stillwith the nervous machine-gun fire of words—“but it never come to me. I’ve seen other women suffer. Some were brave—most of ’em. I said if ever it come to me I’d be like that. It’s easy to say before it comes!” She turned away; busied herself over the stove. “It ain’t that life’s been so easy here,” she said, “but we’ve been happy— Jem an’ I—an’ you never seen better kiddies. Jem’s been a good father—” She broke down then: Althea found herself bound by ties of which the comforting embrace was but the physical expression. . ... ' ' f _
FROM without came the murmuring of the crowd, * growing, swelling into a cheer! Hurrying figures in the street! The surge of excitement carried the women from their duties to the pit-head again. But the cheer had died away into a hushed silence. Rescuers had brought up the
body of a man—alive or dead? And who? The questions
ran through the anxious waiters.
Mrs. Bostom pushed herself forward, with Althea just behind. The people made way respectfully. But before they could reach the bearers of the burden, the answered flashed through the crowd.
“Dr. Pearce! He’s hurt!”
They carried him to the Bostom house, where the water was already heating on the fire. His face was twinged with pain, but he managed to smile up at Althea, as she bandaged under his direction,
“My arm, confound it!” he said. “My right arm, of course! My head? Oh, it’ll be O. K,—just a little knockout when another cave-in happened. Glenn’s down there doing his best to finish up, but he’s having the very devil of a time. Confound it all, another half-hour and we’d have had the poor chap patched up so as to be able to move him. Look, Althea, stick your head outside the door and tell the first person you see to send young Dumbrille-on the double. He’s helped me before. The Bostom boy is a brick but he’s useless to do anything but hold the lights. There— that’s fine, Thea! Now I’ll do famously. I’ll go supervise Glenn and Dumbrille—” “Granville, you’re not—going back?”
“I must: I can’t leave old Glenn to face death alone like that. . . . There, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to frighten you! There’s every chance we’ll come out right side up. Fetch Dumbrille now, like a good girl!”
Althea said, desperately: “Let me go instead! I’ve
picked up lofs of things from Glenn. I can help. Please, Granville!” 7
The Doctor frowned.
“It’s no place for a woman,” he said gruffly. “The whole thing may go any minute and—”
“So there is imminent danger,” she returned with sudden calmness. “Don’t you see I must go then?”
“No, I do not!”
The calmness fled; Althea cried in anguish: “You don’t understand! You don’t understand! I must speak to him, even for a minute. I must, Doctor, I must!”
He hesitated and she knew she had won. Behind her Mrs. Bostom, a silent listener to it all, caught her as she went, and kissed her full upon the lips. She said, stonily: “I’ve got to stay with the children. Give—my man—a kiss for me!”
She held the door open for them, statuesque, and watched them go into the night.
ROPES and guards no longer stayed her progress. She exulted in that; exulted in the thought that she was going to him, that they were making a way for her that she might go. The doctor’s good arm slipped through hers, reassuringly. She did not need reassurance; she was going to Glenn. That would sustain her.
Would it? As they approached the pit-head, the whisperings of the crowd died away. The people were awed, because these two were going down, and might never come up again.... She felt a sudden sense of stifling, of a desire to gulp in the good,-clean, cold air while there was time; a rebellion, born of a fear such as she had shuddered at in reading Poe, when sharing, understandingly, his fear of being buried alive. She forced herself to think only of Glenn—of Glenn down there waiting for aid, of the welcome he would give her; even while chiding her for the risk, he would approve the thing she did.
They were in the cage. . . descending .... descending into the depths... .was there no end to the descent?
Once down, they went with infinite caution, clambering at last over wreckage, fearing to jar in the least the suspended mass, above and about them, into fatal renewal of activity. And, suddenly it seemed, they were in the strange operating theatre,, where Glenn was, and a boy who held the lights, and who had grown into manhood prematurely.
Continued on page 58
Aisles of E nchantment
Continued from page 15
Glenn looked up, and met her eyes.
If she anticipated any dramatic facing of him, she was disappointed. She was conscious only of his steady gaze, his curt little nod of understanding that she had come to help. His directions, with the supervisory aid of Dr. Pearce, were given with abrupt incisiveness.
The sight of the man Bostom, whose salvage they were attempting, whose unconscious form recalled to her the tender proxy that she bore; the sicklysweet smell of anaesthetics; the face of the lad; the weirdness of the operating theatre: these were but the background in which Glenn—her Glenn—worked, with steady, calm dexterity that gave her a sense of security that the crumbling menace could not quite destroy.
ONCE, though, during an important stage, a renewed earth tremor suggested imminent doom, and she fumbled a little. He spoke to her, not unkindly, but with firmness: “Steady there! _ You
mustn’t think of anything but this just now!”
She was abashed.
Half-an-hour more, Granville had said: it must surely be hours since then! The steady work of amputation and dressing went on. The foot had to come off at the ankle to release him.
“There,” said Glenn at last. “Think we can move him now, Doctor?”
They sent the boy to the shaft to signal for help.
Would he neyer return? A terrible fear possessed Althea that even now the crumbling menace might blot them out. If her thought was mostly for herself and Glenn, it was the sweet selfishness of mating things—the fear lest, even now, the dream of happiness might not come true.
Figures appeared, cautiously; tenderly the patient was lifted on the stretcher. Cautiously, too, the rescuing procession started, momentarily halted by a new tremor.
“Hurry!” ordered Glenn sharply. “Take Althea, doctor!”
Still held by a sense of implicit obedience, she let Granville take her. Behind them came the bearers, to the bottom of the shaft. Behind them again—
“Where’s Glenn?” Althea did not recognize her own voice. Then, like distant thunder, growing, swelling, came a portentous rumbling—a hideous, shaking thing, Somewhere, back there in the darkness and danger, was Glenn! Althea'
sought to go, was scarcely restrained by Dr. Pearce. One of the men started with a light, but from out the darkness, supporting a limp, white figure, came Glenn.
“The poor kid keeled over at the last,” he explained, briefly. “I had to bring him round!”
• “Glenn!” cried Althea, wildly. “Your face—”
GLENN drew a hand across his forehead, and grinned boyishly: it was the first time he had relaxed.
“Just a little dust in my eyes,” he said. “The darn place began to come about our ears, I guess!” He broke off then, said sharply; “Why haven’t you taken Bostom up, you fools?”
Althea, -aching to go to him, to kiss him wildly, passionately, that her heart might find expression, was abashed again before professional devotion.
Not until, just at dawn, they came unhurt but wearied beyond feeling, from the bowels of the earth—their patient tenderly conveyed before, them—and stood for a moment at the pit mouth, hardly conscious of the cheering of the still waiting crowds, but only of the sweetness of the air, washed by the rain, cool with the breath of the dawn—not until then did Glenn give meaningful pressure to her arm, and say briefly:
“You’re a veteran, Althea! I’m proud of you!”
She shivered then, not with the cold air of dawn, but with a thrilling sense of ecstacy. The steaming coffee they drank in Mrs. Bostom’s kitchen was nectar of the gods; the drabpess of the village street Wàs fèdèèmêd bÿ Some ñéw âtniôsphèré, unsuspected, that transformed it even as presently the world was transformed from darkness into flooding light as the suñ rose upon a new day. Her heart trembled, on the homeward way, to tell him of her love, her admiration for him. But he did not speak, änd so her own lips were sealed.
GLENN drove her to the station twô days later when her time was up. He had been very wonderful during those two days, but no word of love had crossed his lips, and his duties still took much of his time.
Was it some wild hope that bade her say: “Take me by way of our cathedral aisle, Glenn!”
The world seemed washed clean by the recent long rains; the arching of foliage above was freshly green; the spatterings of sun on the roadway were brilliant. Glenn stopped the car. The hedges were tintons with songs of birds. • ' “Isn’t it enchanting, Glenn? I could stay here forever.”
“Most of us could, Thea, but paradoxically, we can’t.” He hesitated, then turned to her and said quietly: “You’ve wondered, Thea, why I haven’t spoken . . . again. . after the other night. I didn’t because I wished to play fair with you.”
She looked her question.
He said: “An experience like the other night lifts one to the heights. If I read you aright Thea, even the village street the other morning was an—aisle of enchantment quite as much as this is now. I think that’s why many marriages go wrong. Girls—yes, and men too—walk through the enchanted aisles right up to the altar and seal their vows there—and don’t reckon with the commonplaces, the routine, the drudgeriés. Do you think it would have been fair of me to capitalize the spiritual exaltation of that strange night we shared together, Thea? A country doctor’s life is not a sensational thing like that. In the main it’s unromantic—unless you have a vision of it from the right angle. Althea, dear, don’t think it’s easy for me to do this. Don’t think it’s lack of longing —or love.” He paused, his chin set a little more firmly. “Althea, when you get back to the city and settle down again to its surroundings —the luxuries, the pleasures you have always enjoyed—then will you write me,
'r nldy, how you feel? It’s the only fair , way to both of us. Now v/e must be going or the train will beat us out.”
THEY left behind the beauty of the sunken roadway, and passed presently into the village street leading to the station. The same familiar street with its drabness; its hideous uniformity; its dirty urchins; its platform-like verandahs on which aged women rocked their way toward eternity, or younger ones came, wisping their aprons up, to see the car go by----
Mrs. Bostom waved a hand of farewell and blessing; ran out to 'speak a word. Glenn stopped for a moment, when Althea put a hand on his arm.
“You’ll be coming back soon, miss?” -pleaded the woman. “There, I must run, the baby’s bawlin’ for his ma.” The woman’s hand was red with many washings; on the line by the house hung coarse, intimate garments just wrung out. “Jem an’ me owe you a lot, miss. You’ll be cornin’ now soon, won’t you?”
Althea leaned forward and kissed Mrs. Bostom’s wrinkled face. But when she spoke, she was looking straight up at Glenn, and smiling at him with tender defiance.
“Just as soon as Doctor Merrick comes to fetch me, Mrs. Bostom,” she said.