Chapter XIX. In the Morning

"By George, Carson, what do you think's happened now?"

Richard Kendrick had come into the store's little office like a thunderbolt.

"Well, Mr. Kendrick?"

"Benson's down with typhoid. Came back with it from the trip to Chicago. What do you think of that?"

"I thought he was looking a little seedy before he went. Well, well, that's too bad. Right in the May trade, too. Is he pretty sick?"

"So the doctor says. He's been keeping up on that trip when he ought to have been in bed. He's in bed now, all right. I took him in with a nurse to the City Hospital on the 10:40 Limited; stretcher in the baggage-car."

"Don't see where he got typhoid around here at this time of year," mused Carson.

"Nobody sees, but that doesn't matter. He has it, and it's up to us to pull him through--and to get along without him."

They sat down to talk it over. While they were at it the telephone came into the discussion with a summons of Richard to a long-distance connection. To his amazement, when communication was established between himself and his distant interlocutor, clear and vibrant came to him over the wire a voice he had dreamed of but had not heard for four months:

"Mr. Kendrick?"

"Yes. Is it--it isn't--"

"This is Miss Gray. Mr. Kendrick, your grandfather wants you very much, at our home. He has had an accident."

"An accident? What sort of an accident? Is he much hurt, Miss Gray?"

"We can't tell yet. He fell down the porch steps; he had been calling on Uncle Calvin. He--is quite helpless, but the doctor thinks there are no bones broken. Doctor Thomas wouldn't allow Mr. Kendrick to be moved, so we have him here with a nurse. He is very anxious to see you."

"I'll be there as soon as I can get there in the car. I think I can make it quicker than by train at this hour. Thank you for calling me, Miss Gray. Please--give my love to grandfather and tell him I'm coming."

"I will, Mr. Kendrick. I--we are all--so sorry. Good-bye."

Richard turned back to Carson with an anxious face. The manager was on his feet, concern in his manner.

"Something happened to old Mr. Kendrick, Mr. Richard?"

"A fall--can't move--wants me right away. It never rains but it pours, Carson--even in May. I thought Benson's illness was the worst thing that could happen to us, but this is worse yet. I'll have to leave everything to you to settle while I run down to the old gentleman. A fall, Carson--isn't that likely to be pretty serious at his age?"

"Depends on what caused it, I should say," Carson answered cautiously. "If it was any kind of shock--"

"Oh--it can't be that!" Richard Kendrick's voice showed his alarm at the thought. "Grandfather's been such an active old chap--no superfluous fat--he's not at all a high liver--takes his cold plunge just as he always has. It can't be that! But I'm off to see. Good-bye, Carson. I'll 'phone you when I know the situation. Meanwhile--wish grandfather safely out of it, will you?"

"Of course I will; I think a great deal of Mr. Kendrick. Good-bye--and don't worry about things here." Carson wrung his employer's hand, then went out with him to the curb, where the car stood, and saw him off. "He really cares," he was thinking. "Nobody could fake that anxiety. He doesn't want the old man to die--and he's his heir--to millions. Well, I like him better than ever for it. I believe if I got typhoid he'd personally carry me to the hospital or do any other thing that came into his head. Well, now it's for me to find a competent salesman for this May sale that's on with such a rush. It's going to be hard to manage without Benson."

The long, low car had never made faster time to the city, and it was in the early dusk that it came to a standstill before the porch of the Gray home. Doors and windows were wide open, lights gleamed everywhere, but the house was very quiet. The car had stolen up as silently as a car of fine workmanship may in these days of motor perfection, but it had been heard, and Mrs. Robert Gray came out to meet Richard before he could ring.

"My dear Mr. Richard," she said, pressing his hand, her face very grave and sweet, "you have come quickly. I am glad, for we are anxious. Your grandfather has dropped into a strange, drowsy state, from which it seems impossible to rouse him. But I hope you may be able to do so. He has wanted you from the first moment."

"Tell me which way to go," cried Richard, under his breath. "Is he upstairs?"

She kept her hold upon his hand, and he gripped it tight as she led him up the stairs. It was as if he felt a mother's clasp for the first time since his babyhood and could not let it go.

"In here," she indicated softly, and the young man went in, his head bent, his lips set.

       *       *       *       *       *

Two hours afterward he came out. She was waiting for him, though it was midnight. Louis and Stephen were waiting, too, and they in turn grasped his hand, their faces pitiful for the keen grief they saw in his. Then Mrs. Gray took him down to the porch, where the warm May night folded them softly about. She sat down beside him on a wide settle.

"He is all I have in the world!" cried Richard Kendrick. "If he goes--" He could not say more, and, turning, put his arms down upon the back of the seat and his head upon them. Great, tearless sobs shook him. Mrs. Gray laid her kind hand upon his shoulder, and spoke gentle, motherly words--a few words, not many--and kept her hand there until he had himself under control again.

By and by Mrs. Stephen Gray came out with a little tray upon which was set forth a simple lunch, daintily served. The young man tried to eat, to show her how much this touched him, but succeeded in swallowing only a portion of the delicate food. Then he got up. "You are all so good," said he gratefully. "You have helped me more than I can tell you. I will go back now. I want to stay with him to-night, if you will allow me."

They gave him a room across the hall from that in which his grandfather lay, but he did not occupy it. All night he sat, a silent figure on the opposite side of the bed from that where the nurse was on guard. His grandfather's regular physician was in attendance the greater part of the night at his request, though there seemed nothing to do but await the issue. Another distinguished member of the profession had seen the case in consultation early in the evening, and the two had found themselves unable between them to discover a remote possibility of hope.

In the early morning the watcher stole downstairs, feeling as if he must for at least a few moments get into the outer world. His eyes were heavy with his vigil, yet there was no sleep behind them, and he could not bear to be long away lest a change come suddenly. The old man had not roused when he had first spoken to him, and the nurse had said that his last conscious words had been a call for his grandson. Goaded by this thought, Richard turned back before he had so much as reached the foot of the garden, where he had thought he should spend at least a quarter of an hour.

As he came in at the door he was met by Roberta, cool and fresh in blue. It was but five in the morning; surely she did not commonly rise at this hour, even in May. The thought made his heart leap. She came straight to him and put both hands in his, saying in her friendly, low voice: "Mr. Kendrick, I'm sorry--sorry!"

He looked long and hungrily into her face, holding her hands with such a fierce grasp that he hurt her cruelly, though she made no sign. He did not even thank her--only held her until every detail of her face had been studied. She let him do it, and only dropped her eyes and stood colouring warmly under the inquisition. It was as if she understood that the sight of her was a moment's sedative for an aching heart, and she must yield it or be more unkind than it was in the heart of woman to be. When he released her it was with a sigh that came up from the depths, and as she left him he stood and watched her until she was out of sight.

       *       *       *       *       *

When Matthew Kendrick opened his eyes at ten o'clock on the morning after his fall the first thing they rested upon was the face he loved best in the world. It came instantly nearer, the eyes meeting his imploringly, as if begging him to speak. So with some little effort he did speak. "Well, Dick," he said slowly, "I'm glad you came, boy. I wanted you; I didn't know but I was about getting through. But--I believe I'm still here, after all."

Then he saw a strange sight. Great tears leaped into the eyes he was looking at, tears that rolled unheeded down the fresh-coloured cheeks of his boy. Richard tried to speak, but could not. He could only gently grasp his grandfather's hand and press it tightly in both his own.

"I feel pretty well battered up," the old man continued, his voice growing stronger, "but I think I can move a little." He stirred slightly under his blanket, a fact the nurse noted with joyful intentness. "So I think I'm all here. Are you so glad, Dick, that you can cry about it?"

The smile came then upon his grandson's lighting face. "Glad, grandfather?" said he, with some difficulty. "Why, you're all I have in the world! I shouldn't know how to face it without you."

The old man dropped off to sleep again, his hand contentedly resting in his grandson's. Presently the doctor looked in, studied the situation in silence, held a minute's whispered colloquy with the nurse, then moved to Richard's side. The young man looked up at him and he nodded. He bent to Richard's ear.

"Things look different," he whispered succinctly. At the slight sibilance of the whisper the old man opened his eyes again. His glance travelled up the distinguished physician's body to his face. He smiled in quite his own whimsical way.

"Fooled even a noted person like you, did I, Winston?" he chuckled feebly. "Just because I chose to go to sleep and didn't fidget round much you thought I'd got my quietus, did you?"

"I think you're a pretty vigorous personality," responded the physician, "and I'm quite willing to be fooled by you. Now I want you to take a little nourishment and go to sleep again. If you think so much of this young man of yours you can have him again in an hour, but I'm going to send him away now. You see, he's been sitting right there all night."

Matthew Kendrick's eyes rested fondly again upon Richard's smiling face. "You rascal!" he sighed. "You always did give me trouble about being up o' nights!"

       *       *       *       *       *

Richard Kendrick ran downstairs three steps at a bound. At the bottom he met Judge Calvin Gray. He seized the hand of his grandfather's old-time friend and wrung it. The expression of heavy sadness on the Judge's face changed to one of bewilderment, and as he scanned the radiant countenance of Matthew Kendrick's grandson he turned suddenly pale with joy.

"You don't mean--"

Then he comprehended that Richard was finding it as hard to speak good news as if it had been bad. But in an instant the young man was in command of himself again.

"It wasn't apoplexy--it wasn't paralysis--it was only the shock of the fall and the bruises. He's been talking to me; he's been twitting the doctor on having been fooled. Oh, he's as alive as possible, and I--Judge Gray, I never was so happy in my life!"

With congratulations in his heart for his old friend on the possession of this young love which was as genuine as it was strong, the Judge said: "Well, my dear fellow, let us thank God and breathe again. This has been the darkest night I've spent in many a year--and this is the brightest morning."

Everybody in the house was presently rejoicing in the news. But if Richard expected Roberta to be as generous with him in his joy as she had been in his grief he found himself disappointed. She did not fail to express to him her sympathy with his relief, but she did it with reinforcements of her family at hand, and with Ruth's arm about her waist. She had trusted him when torn with anxiety; clearly she did not trust him now in the reaction from that anxiety. He was in wild spirits, no doubt of that; she could see it in his brilliant eyes.

It still lacked six weeks of Midsummer.