Chapter XVI. David Baker's Opinion
 

The next week David Baker came to Lindsay. He arrived in the afternoon when Eric was in school. When the latter came home he found that David had, in the space of an hour, captured Mrs. Williamson's heart, wormed himself into the good graces of Timothy, and become hail-fellow-well-met with old Robert. But he looked curiously at Eric when the two young men found themselves alone in the upstairs room.

"Now, Eric, I want to know what all this is about. What scrape have you got into? You write me a letter, entreating me in the name of friendship to come to you at once. Accordingly I come post haste. You seem to be in excellent health yourself. Explain why you have inveigled me hither."

"I want you to do me a service which only you can do, David," said Eric quietly. "I didn't care to go into the details by letter. I have met in Lindsay a young girl whom I have learned to love. I have asked her to marry me, but, although she cares for me, she refuses to do so because she is dumb. I wish you to examine her and find out the cause of her defect, and if it can be cured. She can hear perfectly and all her other faculties are entirely normal. In order that you may better understand the case I must tell you the main facts of her history."

This Eric proceeded to do. David Baker listened with grave attention, his eyes fastened on his friend's face. He did not betray the surprise and dismay he felt at learning that Eric had fallen in love with a dumb girl of doubtful antecedents; and the strange case enlisted his professional interest. When he had heard the whole story he thrust his hands into his pockets and strode up and down the room several times in silence. Finally he halted before Eric.

"So you have done what I foreboded all along you would do--left your common sense behind you when you went courting."

"If I did," said Eric quietly, "I took with me something better and nobler than common sense."

David shrugged his shoulders.

"You'll have hard work to convince me of that, Eric."

"No, it will not be difficult at all. I have one argument that will convince you speedily--and that is Kilmeny Gordon herself. But we will not discuss the matter of my wisdom or lack of it just now. What I want to know is this--what do you think of the case as I have stated it to you?"

David frowned thoughtfully.

"I hardly know what to think. It is very curious and unusual, but it is not totally unprecedented. There have been cases on record where pre-natal influences have produced a like result. I cannot just now remember whether any were ever cured. Well, I'll see if anything can be done for this girl. I cannot express any further opinion until I have examined her."

The next morning Eric took David up to the Gordon homestead. As they approached the old orchard a strain of music came floating through the resinous morning arcades of the spruce wood--a wild, sorrowful, appealing cry, full of indescribable pathos, yet marvelously sweet.

"What is that?" exclaimed David, starting.

"That is Kilmeny playing on her violin," answered Eric. "She has great talent in that respect and improvises wonderful melodies."

When they reached the orchard Kilmeny rose from the old bench to meet them, her lovely luminous eyes distended, her face flushed with the excitement of mingled hope and fear.

"Oh, ye gods!" muttered David helplessly.

He could not hide his amazement and Eric smiled to see it. The latter had not failed to perceive that his friend had until now considered him as little better than a lunatic.

"Kilmeny, this is my friend, Dr. Baker," he said.

Kilmeny held out her hand with a smile. Her beauty, as she stood there in the fresh morning sunshine beside a clump of her sister lilies, was something to take away a man's breath. David, who was by no means lacking in confidence and generally had a ready tongue where women were concerned, found himself as mute and awkward as a school boy, as he bowed over her hand.

But Kilmeny was charmingly at ease. There was not a trace of embarrassment in her manner, though there was a pretty shyness. Eric smiled as he recalled his first meeting with her. He suddenly realized how far Kilmeny had come since then and how much she had developed.

With a little gesture of invitation Kilmeny led the way through the orchard to the wild cherry lane, and the two men followed.

"Eric, she is simply unutterable!" said David in an undertone. "Last night, to tell you the truth, I had a rather poor opinion of your sanity. But now I am consumed with a fierce envy. She is the loveliest creature I ever saw."

Eric introduced David to the Gordons and then hurried away to his school. On his way down the Gordon lane he met Neil and was half startled by the glare of hatred in the Italian boy's eyes. Pity succeeded the momentary alarm. Neil's face had grown thin and haggard; his eyes were sunken and feverishly bright; he looked years older than on the day when Eric had first seen him in the brook hollow.

Prompted by sudden compassionate impulse Eric stopped and held out his hand.

"Neil, can't we be friends?" he said. "I am sorry if I have been the cause of inflicting pain on you."

"Friends! Never!" said Neil passionately. "You have taken Kilmeny from me. I shall hate you always. And I'll be even with you yet."

He strode fiercely up the lane, and Eric, with a shrug of his shoulders, went on his way, dismissing the meeting from his mind.

The day seemed interminably long to him. David had not returned when he went home to dinner; but when he went to his room in the evening he found his friend there, staring out of the window.

"Well," he said, impatiently, as David wheeled around but still kept silence, "What have you to say to me? Don't keep me in suspense any longer, David. I have endured all I can. To-day has seemed like a thousand years. Have you discovered what is the matter with Kilmeny?"

"There is nothing the matter with her," answered David slowly, flinging himself into a chair by the window.

"What do you mean?"

"Just exactly what I say. Her vocal organs are all perfect. As far as they are concerned, there is absolutely no reason why she should not speak."

"Then why can't she speak? Do you think--do you think--"

"I think that I cannot express my conclusion in any better words than Janet Gordon used when she said that Kilmeny cannot speak because her mother wouldn't. That is all there is to it. The trouble is psychological, not physical. Medical skill is helpless before it. There are greater men than I in my profession; but it is my honest belief, Eric, that if you were to consult them they would tell you just what I have told you, neither more nor less."

"Then there is no hope," said Eric in a tone of despair. "You can do nothing for her?"

David took from the back of his chair a crochet antimacassar with a lion rampant in the center and spread it over his knee.

"I can do nothing for her," he said, scowling at that work of art. "I do not believe any living man can do anything for her. But I do not say--exactly--that there is no hope."

"Come, David, I am in no mood for guessing riddles. Speak plainly, man, and don't torment me."

David frowned dubiously and poked his finger through the hole which represented the eye of the king of beasts.

"I don't know that I can make it plain to you. It isn't very plain to myself. And it is only a vague theory of mine, of course. I cannot substantiate it by any facts. In short, Eric, I think it is possible that Kilmeny may speak sometime--if she ever wants it badly enough."

"Wants to! Why, man, she wants to as badly as it is possible for any one to want anything. She loves me with all her heart and she won't marry me because she can't speak. Don't you suppose that a girl under such circumstances would 'want' to speak as much as any one could?"

"Yes, but I do not mean that sort of wanting, no matter how strong the wish may be. What I do mean is--a sudden, vehement, passionate inrush of desire, physical, psychical, mental, all in one, mighty enough to rend asunder the invisible fetters that hold her speech in bondage. If any occasion should arise to evoke such a desire I believe that Kilmeny would speak--and having once spoken would thenceforth be normal in that respect--ay, if she spoke but the one word."

"All this sounds like great nonsense to me," said Eric restlessly. "I suppose you have an idea what you are talking about, but I haven't. And, in any case, it practically means that there is no hope for her--or me. Even if your theory is correct it is not likely such an occasion as you speak of will ever arise. And Kilmeny will never marry me."

"Don't give up so easily, old fellow. There have been cases on record where women have changed their minds."

"Not women like Kilmeny," said Eric miserably. "I tell you she has all her mother's unfaltering will and tenacity of purpose, although she is free from any taint of pride or selfishness. I thank you for your sympathy and interest, David. You have done all you could--but, heavens, what it would have meant to me if you could have helped her!"

With a groan Eric flung himself on a chair and buried his face in his hands. It was a moment which held for him all the bitterness of death. He had thought that he was prepared for disappointment; he had not known how strong his hope had really been until that hope was utterly taken from him.

David, with a sigh, returned the crochet antimacassar carefully to its place on the chair back.

"Eric, last night, to be honest, I thought that, if I found I could not help this girl, it would be the best thing that could happen, as far as you were concerned. But since I have seen her--well, I would give my right hand if I could do anything for her. She is the wife for you, if we could make her speak; yes, and by the memory of your mother"--David brought his fist down on the window sill with a force that shook the casement,--"she is the wife for you, speech or no speech, if we could only convince her of it."

"She cannot be convinced of that. No, David, I have lost her. Did you tell her what you have told me?"

"I told her I could not help her. I did not say anything to her of my theory--that would have done no good."

"How did she take it?"

"Very bravely and quietly--'like a winsome lady'. But the look in her eyes--Eric, I felt as if I had murdered something. She bade me good-bye with a pitiful smile and went upstairs. I did not see her again, although I stayed to dinner as her uncle's request. Those old Gordons are a queer pair. I liked them, though. They are strong and staunch--good friends, bitter enemies. They were sorry that I could not help Kilmeny, but I saw plainly that old Thomas Gordon thought that I had been meddling with predestination in attempting it."

Eric smiled mechanically.

"I must go up and see Kilmeny. You'll excuse me, won't you, David? My books are there--help yourself."

But when Eric reached the Gordon house he saw only old Janet, who told him that Kilmeny was in her room and refused to see him.

"She thought you would come up, and she left this with me to give you, Master."

Janet handed him a little note. It was very brief and blotted with tears.

"Do not come any more, Eric," it ran. "I must not see you, because it would only make it harder for us both. You must go away and forget me. You will be thankful for this some day. I shall always love and pray for you."

"KILMENY."

"I must see her," said Eric desperately. "Aunt Janet, be my friend. Tell her she must see me for a little while at least."

Janet shook her head but went upstairs. She soon returned.

"She says she cannot come down. You know she means it, Master, and it is of no use to coax her. And I must say I think she is right. Since she will not marry you it is better for her not to see you."

Eric was compelled to go home with no better comfort than this. In the morning, as it was Sunday, he drove David Baker to the station. He had not slept and he looked so miserable and reckless that David felt anxious about him. David would have stayed in Lindsay for a few days, but a certain critical case in Queenslea demanded his speedy return. He shook hands with Eric on the station platform.

"Eric, give up that school and come home at once. You can do no good in Lindsay now, and you'll only eat your heart out here."

"I must see Kilmeny once more before I leave," was all Eric's answer.

That afternoon he went again to the Gordon homestead. But the result was the same; Kilmeny refused to see him, and Thomas Gordon said gravely,

"Master, you know I like you and I am sorry Kilmeny thinks as she does, though maybe she is right. I would be glad to see you often for your own sake and I'll miss you much; but as things are I tell you plainly you'd better not come here any more. It will do no good, and the sooner you and she get over thinking about each other the better for you both. Go now, lad, and God bless you."

"Do you know what it is you are asking of me?" said Eric hoarsely.

"I know I am asking a hard thing for your own good, Master. It is not as if Kilmeny would ever change her mind. We have had some experience with a woman's will ere this. Tush, Janet, woman, don't be weeping. You women are foolish creatures. Do you think tears can wash such things away? No, they cannot blot out sin, or the consequences of sin. It's awful how one sin can spread out and broaden, till it eats into innocent lives, sometimes long after the sinner has gone to his own accounting. Master, if you take my advice, you'll give up the Lindsay school and go back to your own world as soon as may be."