Chapter XXVIII. A Fisherman
 

"'Humph!' grunted the other, 'I've noticed that there's a lot of unnecessary things that have to be done.'"

In the crisis of Deborah's trouble, Hope had turned to Dan impulsively, as the one woman turns to the one man. When she was powerless in her own strength to meet the need she looked confidently to him.

But now that she was actually on the way to him, with Corinth behind and the long road over the hills and through the forests before, she had time to think, while the conscious object of her journey forced itself on her thinking.

The thing that the young woman had so dimly foreseen, for herself, of her friendship with this man, she saw now more clearly, as she realized how much she had grown to depend upon him--upon the strength of his companionship. How she had learned to watch for his coming, and to look often toward the corner window of the house on the other side of the garden! But, after all--she asked herself--was her regard for him more than a natural admiration for his strong character, as she had seen it revealed in the past months? Their peculiar situation had placed him more in her thoughts than any man had ever been before. Was not this all? The possibility had not yet become a certainty. The revelation of Hope Farwell to herself was yet to come.

The hack, with its one passenger, arrived at Gordon's Mills about four o'clock, and Miss Farwell, climbing down from the ancient vehicle in front of the typical country hotel, inquired for Dr. Oldham.

The slouchy, slow-witted proprietor of the place passed her inquiry on to a group of natives who lounged on the porch, and one, whose horse was hitched in front of the blacksmith shop across the way, gave the information that he had seen the Doctor and the big parson at the mouth of the creek as he came past an hour before. He added that he "reckoned they wouldn't be in 'til dark, fer they was a-ketchin' a right smart of bass."

"Is it far from here?" asked the nurse.

"Somethin' less than a mile, ain't hit, Bill?"

Bill "'lowed hit war about that. Mile an' a quarter to Bud Jones', Bud called hit."

"And the road?"

"Foller the creek--can't miss it." This from the chorus. And Miss Farwell set out, watched by every eye on the place until she disappeared around the first bend.

As she drew near the river, the banks of which are marked by a high bluff on the other side, the young woman felt a growing sense of embarrassment. What would Mr. Matthews think of her coming to him in such a way? And Dr. Oldham--. Already she could feel the keen eyes of the old physician, with their knowing twinkle, fixed upon her face. The Doctor always made you feel that he knew so much more about you than you knew about yourself.

Coming to the river at the mouth of the creek, she saw them, and half hidden by the upturned roots of a fallen tree, she stood still. They were on the downstream side of the creek; Dan, with rubber boots that came to his hips, standing far out on the sandy bar, braced against the current, that tugged and pulled at his great legs; the Doctor farther down, on the bank.

Miss Farwell watched Dan with the curious interest a woman always feels when watching a man who, while engaged in a man's work or play, is unconscious of her presence.

She saw the fisherman as he threw the line far out, with a strong, high swing of his long arm. And as she looked, a lusty bass--heavy, full of fight--took the hook, and she saw the man stand motionless, intent, alert, at the instant he first felt the fish. Then she caught the skillful turn of his wrist as he struck--quick and sure; watched, with breathless interest as--bracing himself--the fisherman's powerful figure became instinct with life. With the boiling water grasping his legs, clinging to him like a tireless wrestler seeking the first unguarded moment; and with the plunging, tugging, rushing giant at the other end of the silken line--fighting with every inch of his spring--steel body for freedom, Dan made a picture to bring the light of admiration to any woman's eyes. And Hope Farwell was very much a woman.

Slowly, but surely, the strength and skill of the fisherman prevailed. The master of the waters came nearer the hand of his conqueror. The young woman held her breath while the fish made its last, mad attempt, and then--when Dan held up his prize for the Doctor, who--on the bank--had been in the fight with his whole soul, she forgot her embarrassment, and--springing into full view upon the trunk of the fallen tree--shouted and waved her congratulations.

Dan almost dropped the fish.

The Doctor, whose old eyes were not so quick to recognize the woman on the log, was amazed to see his companion go splashing, stumbling, ploughing through the water toward the shore.

"Hope--Miss Farwell!" gasped Dan, floundering up the bank, the big fish still in his hand, the shining water streaming from his high boots, his face glowing with healthful exercise--a something else, perhaps. "What good fortune brings you here?"

At his impetuous manner, and the eagerness that shone in his eyes, and sounded in his voice, the woman's face had grown rosy red, but by the time the fisherman had gained a place by her side the memory of her mission had driven every other thought from her mind. Briefly she told him of Deborah's trouble, and a few moments later the Doctor--crossing the creek higher up--joined them. As they talked Hope saw all the light and joy go from Dan's face, and in its place came a look of sadness and determination that made her wonder.

"Doctor," he said, "I am going back to Corinth with Miss Farwell tonight. We'll get a team and buggy at the Mills."

The old man swore heartily. Why had not the foolish Irishwoman let them know her situation before? Still swearing he drew from his pocket a book and hastily signed a check. "Here, Dan," he said, "use this if you have to. You understand--don't hesitate if you need it."

Reluctantly the younger man took the slip of paper. "I don't think it will be needed," he responded. "It ought not to be necessary for you to do this, Doctor."

"Humph!" grunted the other, "I've noticed that there's a lot of unnecessary things that have to be done. Hustle along, you two. I'm going back after the mate to that last one of yours."

On the way back to the hotel Dan told the nurse that the check would mean much to the Doctor if it were used at this particular time. "But," he added thoughtfully, again, "I don't think it will be used."

They stopped long enough at the hotel for a hurried lunch, then--with a half-broken team and a stout buggy--started, in the gathering dusk for Corinth.

As the light went out of the sky and the mysterious stillness of the night came upon them, they, too, grew quiet, as if no words were needed. They seemed to be passing into another world--a strange dream-world where they were alone. The things of everyday, the common-place incidents and happenings of their lives, seemed to drift far away. They talked but little. There was so little to say. Once Dan leaned over to tuck the lap robe carefully about his companion, for the early spring air was chill when the sun went down.

So they rode until they saw the lights of the town; then it all came back to them with a rush. The woman drew a long breath.

"Tired?" asked Dan, and there was that in his voice that brought the tears to the gray eyes--tears that he could not see, because of the dark.

"Not a bit," she answered cheerfully, in spite of the hidden tears. "Will you see Judge Strong tonight?" She had not asked him what he was going to do.

"Yes," he said, and when they reached the big brown house he drew the horses to a walk. "I think, if you are not too tired, I had better stop now. I will not be long."

There was now something in his voice that made her heart jump with sudden fear, such as she had felt at times when Dr. Miles, at the hospital, had told her to prepare to assist him in an operation. But in her voice no fear showed itself.

He hitched the team, and--leaving her waiting in the buggy--went up to the house. She heard him knock. The door opened, sending out a flood of light. He entered. The door closed.

She waited in the dark.