Chapter XII. Convalescence
 

"Where did you get your splints?" asked Geoffrey. "Was this thing all arranged beforehand? you confess to the bandages in your trunk."

Vesta laughed. "Your poor cigars! I tumbled them out of their box with very little ceremony. See them, scattered all over the table! I must put them tidy."

She moved to the table, and began piling the cigars in a hollow square. "A cigar-box makes excellent splints," she said; "did you ever try it?"

But Geoffrey was thinking what a singular amount of light a white dress seemed to bring into a room, and did not immediately reply.

When he did speak, he said, "You watched me--I kept you up all night. I ought to be shot."

"That would be twice as troublesome," said Vesta, gravely; "I can set an arm, but I don't know anything about wounds, except theoretically. Perhaps you would'nt like theoretic treatment."

"Perhaps not. Was there--it seems a perfectly absurd question to ask, but--well, was any one playing the 'cello here last night? why do you laugh?"

"Only because you seem to have the 'cello so on your mind. You said such funny things last night, while you were light-headed, you know."

Geoffrey became conscious of the roots of his hair. "What did I say?" he asked.

"You seemed to think that some one was playing the 'cello; or rather, you fancied there was a 'cello in the room, and it seemed to be endowed with life. You said, 'I didn't know that 'cellos had hands!' and then you asked if it spoke Spanish. I couldn't help laughing a little at that, and you were quite short with me, and told me I that didn't know phlox from flaxseed. It was very curious!"

"Must have been!" said Geoffrey, dryly. "I'm only thankful--was that the worst thing I said?"

"Wasn't that bad enough? yes, that was the very worst. I am going out now, Doctor Strong. Is there anything I can do for you?"

"Going out!" repeated Geoffrey, in dismay.

"Yes. I have some errands to do. What is it?" for the cloud on his brow was unmistakable.

"Oh--nothing! I thought you were going to see to this crack in my skull, but it's no matter."

"It is hardly two hours since I dressed it," said Vesta. "I thought you said it felt very comfortable."

"Well--it did; but it hurts now, considerably. No matter, though, if you are busy I dare say I could get Pottle to come in sometime in the course of the day."

He had the grace to be ashamed of himself, when Vesta brought basin and sponge, and began quietly and patiently to dress the injured temple.

"I know I am fractious," he said, plaintively. "I can't seem to help it."

He looked up, and saw her clear eyes intent and full of light.

"It is healing beautifully!" she said. "I wish you could see it; it's a lovely colour now."

"It's a shame to give you all this trouble," said Geoffrey, trying to feel real contrition.

"Oh, but I like it!" he was cheerfully assured. "It's delightful to see a cut like this."

"Thank you!" said Geoffrey. "I used to feel that way myself."

"And the callous is going to form quickly in the arm, I am sure of it!" said Vesta, with shining eyes. "I am so pleased with you, Doctor Strong! And now--there! is that all right? Take the glass and see if you like the looks of it. I think the turban effect is rather becoming. Now--is there any one you would like me to go and see while I am out? Of course--I have no diploma, nothing of the sort, but I could carry out your orders faithfully, and report to you."

"Oh, you are very good!" said Geoffrey. "But--you would be gone all the--I mean--your aunts might need you, don't you think?"

"No, indeed! Aunt Phoebe is better--I gave her the drops, and Aunt Vesta is bathing her now with the lotion--I can take the afternoon perfectly well. Your case-book? this one? no, truly, Doctor Strong, it will be a pleasure, a real pleasure."

"You're awfully good!" said Geoffrey, ruefully.

"It is the most unfortunate combination I ever heard of!" said Miss Phoebe Blyth.

Miss Phoebe was in bed, too, and suffering very considerable discomfort. Erysipelas is not a thing to speak lightly of; and if it got into Miss Phoebe's temper as well as into her eyes, this was not to be wondered at.

Miss Vesta murmured some soothing words, and bathed the angry red places gently; but Miss Phoebe was not to be soothed.

"It is all very well for you, Vesta," said the poor lady, "you have never had any responsibility; of course it is not to be supposed that you should have, with what you have gone through. But with all I have on my shoulders, to be laid up in this way is--really, I must say!"

This last remark was the sternest censure that Miss Phoebe was ever known to bestow upon the Orderings of Providence.

"Has Doctor Pottle attended to the doctor's arm this morning?"

This was the question Miss Vesta had been dreading. She pretended not to hear it; but it was repeated with incisive severity.

"You are getting a little hard of hearing, Vesta. I asked you, has Doctor Strong's arm been attended to this morning?"

"Yes! oh, yes, Sister Phoebe, it has. And--it is healing finely, and so is his head. She says--I mean--"

"You mean he says!" said Miss Phoebe, with a superior air. "This excitement is too much for you, Vesta. We shall have you breaking down next. I do not know that I care to hear precisely what Doctor Pottle says. In such an emergency as this we were forced to call him in, but I have a poor opinion of his skill, and none of his intelligence. If our dear Doctor Strong is doing well, that is all I need to know."

"Yes, Sister Phoebe," acquiesced Miss Vesta, with silent thanksgiving.

"When you next visit Doctor Strong's room," Miss Phoebe continued,-- "I regret that you should be obliged to do so, my dear Vesta, but the disparity in your years is so great as to obviate any glaring impropriety, and besides, there seems to be no help for it,--when you next visit him, I beg you to give him my kindest--yes! I am convinced that there can be no--you may say my affectionate regards, Vesta. Tell him that I find myself distinctly better to-day, thanks, no doubt, to the remedies he has prescribed; and that I trust in a short time to be able to give my personal supervision to his recovery. You may point out to him that a period of seclusion and meditation, even when not unmixed with suffering, may often be productive of beneficial results, moral as well as physical; and in a mind like his-- hark! what is that sound, Vesta?"

Miss Vesta listened. "I think--it is Doctor Strong," she said. "I think he is singing, Sister Phoebe. I cannot distinguish the words; very likely some hymn his mother taught him. Dear lad!"

"He has a beautiful spirit!" said Miss Phoebe; "there are less signs of active piety than I could wish, but he has a beautiful spirit. Yes, you are right, it is a hymn, Vesta."

Even if Miss Vesta had distinguished the words, it would have made little difference, since she did not understand Italian. For this is what the young doctor was singing:

  "Voi che sapete che cosa e l'amor,
  Donne, vedete s'io l'ho nel cuor!"

The sisters listened; Miss Phoebe erect among her pillows, her nightcap tied in a rigid little bow under her chin; Miss Vesta sitting beside her, wistful and anxious, full of tender solicitude for sister, friend, niece,--in fact, for all her little world. But neither of them could tell the young doctor what he wanted to know.

       *       *       *       *       *

It was near sunset when Vesta came again into the young doctor's room. He was sitting in the big armchair by the window. He was cross, and thought medicine a profession for dogs.

"I trust you have enjoyed your afternoon!" he said, morosely. Then he looked up at the radiant face and happy eyes, and told himself that he was a squid; cuttlefish was too good a name for him.

Vesta smiled and nodded, a little out of breath.

"I ran up-stairs!" she said. "I didn't think, and I just ran. I am well, Doctor Strong, do you realise it? Oh, it is so wonderful! It is worth it all, every bit, to feel the spring coming back. You told me it would, you know; I didn't believe you, and I hasten to do homage to your superior intelligence. Hail, Solomon! Yes, I have had a most delightful afternoon, and now you shall hear all about it."

She sat down, and took out the note-book. Geoffrey had been wondering all the afternoon what colour her eyes were, now that they had ceased to be dark agates. "I know now!" he said. "They are like Mary Donnelly's."

  "'Her eyes like mountain water
    Where it's running o'er a rock.'"

"Whose eyes?" asked Vesta. "Not Luella Slocum's? I was just going to tell you about her."

"No, not hers. How is she? You must have had a sweet time there."

Vesta gave her head a backward shake--it was a pretty way she had-- and laughed. "I am sure I did her good," she said. "She was so angry at my coming, so sure I didn't know anything, and so consumed with desire to know what and where and how long I had studied, and what my father was thinking of to allow me, and what my mother would have said if she had lived to see the day, and what my aunts would say as it was, that she actually forgot her tic, poor soul, and talked a great deal, and freed her mind. It's a great thing to free the mind. But she said I need not call again; and--I'm afraid I have got you into disgrace, too, for when I said that you would come as soon as you were able, she sniffed, and said she would let you know if she wanted you. I am sorry!"

"Are you?" said Geoffrey. "I am not. She will send for Pottle to-morrow, and he will suit her exactly. Where else did you go?"

Several cases were given in detail, and for a time the talk was sternly professional. Geoffrey found his questions answered clearly and directly, with no superfluous words; moreover, there seemed to be judgment and intelligence. Well, he always said that one woman in ten thousand might--

Coming to the last case in the book, Vesta's face lightened into laughter.

"Oh, those Binney children!" she said. "They were so funny and dear! I had a delightful time there. They were all much better,--Paul's fever entirely gone, and Ellie's throat hardly inflamed at all. They wanted to get up, but I didn't think they would better before to-morrow, so we played menagerie, and had a great time."

"Played menagerie?"

"Yes. I made a hollow square with the cribs and some chairs, and they were the lions, and I was the tamer. We played for an hour,-- Mrs. Binney was tired, and I made her go and lie down,--and then I sang them to sleep, dear little lambs, and came away and left them."

"I see!" said Geoffrey. "That is what made you so late. Do you think it's exactly professional to play menagerie for an hour and a half with your patients?"

Vesta laughed; the happy sound of her laughter fretted his nerves.

"I suppose that is the way you will practise, when you have taken your degree!" he said, disagreeably.

The girl flushed, and the happy light left her eyes. "Don't talk of that!" she said. "I told you I had given it up once and for all."

"But you are well now; and--I am bound to say--you seem in many ways qualified for a physician. You might try again when you are entirely strong."

"And break down again? thank you. No; I have proved to myself that I cannot do it, and there is an end."

"Then--it's no business of mine, of course--what will you do?" asked Geoffrey. His ill-temper was dying out. The sound of her voice, so full, so even, so cordial, filled him like wine. He wanted her to go on talking; it did not matter much about what.

"What will you do?" he repeated, as the girl remained silent.

"Oh, I don't know! I suppose I shall just be a plain woman the rest of my life."

"I don't think plain is exactly the word!" said Geoffrey.

"You didn't think 'pretty' was!" said Vesta; and, with a flash of laughter, she was gone.

Geoffrey had not wanted her to go. He had been alone all the afternoon. (Ah, dear Miss Vesta! was it solitude, the patient hour you spent by his side, reading to him, chatting, trying your best to cheer the depression that you partly saw, partly divined? yes; for when an experiment in soul-chemistry is going on, it is one element, and one only, that can produce the needed result!) He had been alone, I say, all the afternoon, and his head ached, and there were shooting pains in his arm, and--he used to think it would be so interesting to break a bone, that one would learn so much better in that kind of way. Well, he was learning, learning no end; only you wanted some one to talk it over with. There was no fun in knowing things if there was no one to tell about them. And--anyhow, this bandage was getting quite dry, or it would be soon. There was the bowl of water on the stand beside him, but he could not change bandages with one hand. He heard Vesta stirring about in her room, the room next his. She was singing softly to herself; it didn't trouble her much that he was all alone, and suffering a good deal. She had a cold nature. Absurd for a person to be singing to chairs and tables, when other people--

He coughed; coughed again; sighed long and audibly. The soft singing stopped; was she--

No! it went on again. He knew the tune, but he could not hear the words. There was nothing so exasperating as not to be able to place a song.--

Crash! something shivered on the floor. Vesta came running, the song still on her lips. Her patient was flushed, and looked studiously out of the window.

"What is it? Oh, the bowl! I am so sorry! How did it happen?"

"It--fell down!" said Geoffrey.

Vesta was on her knees, picking up the pieces, sopping the spilt water with a towel. He regarded her with remorseful triumph.

"You were singing!" he said, at length.

"Was I? did I disturb you? I won't--"

"No! I don't mean that. I wanted to hear the words. I--I threw the bowl down on purpose."

Vesta looked up in utter amazement; meeting the young doctor's eyes, something in them brought the lovely colour flooding over her face and neck.

"That was childish!" she said, quietly, and went on picking up the pieces. "It was a valuable bowl."

"I am--feverish!" said Geoffrey. "This bandage is getting dry, and I am all prickles."

Vesta hesitated a moment; then she laid her hand on his forehead. "You have no fever!" she said. "You are flushed and restless, but-- Doctor Strong, this is convalescence!"

"Is that what you call it?" said Geoffrey.