Chapter XLIII
 

Little by little the water went down. The pressure, already considerably relieved by the channel into Stearn's Bayou, slackened every hour. Orde, still half dazed with his long-delayed sleep, drove back along the marsh road to town.

His faculties were still in the torpor that follows rest after exhaustion. The warm July sun, the breeze from the Lake, the flash of light from the roadside water, these were all he had room for among his perceptions. He was content to enjoy them, and to anticipate drowsily the keen pleasure of seeing Carroll again. In the rush of the jam he had heard nothing from her. For all he knew she and Bobby might have been among the spectators on the bank; he had hardly once left the river. It did not seem to him strange that Carroll should not have been there to welcome him after the struggle was over. Rarely did she get to the booms in ordinary circumstances. This episode of the big jam was, after all, nothing but part of the day's work to Orde; a crisis, exaggerated it is true, but like many other crises a man must meet and cope with on the river. There was no reason why Carroll should drive the twelve miles between Monrovia and the booms, unless curiosity should take her.

As the team left the marsh road for the county turnpike past the mills and lumberyards, Orde shook himself fully awake. He began to review the situation. As Newmark had accurately foreseen, he came almost immediately to a realisation that the firm would not be able to meet the notes given to Heinzman. Orde had depended on the profits from the season's drive to enable him to make up the necessary amount. Those profits would be greatly diminished, if not wiped out entirely, by the expenses, both regular and irregular, incurred in holding the jam; by the damage suits surely to be brought by the owners of the piles, trees, pile-drivers and other supplies and materials requisitioned in the heat of the campaign; and by the extra labour necessary to break out the jam and to sort the logs according to their various destinations.

"I'll have to get an extension of time," said Orde to himself. "Of course Joe will let me have more time on my own personal note to the firm. And Heinzman surely ought to--I saved a lot of his logs in that jam. And if he doesn't want to, I guess an offer of a little higher interest will fetch him."

Ordinarily the state of affairs would have worried him, for it was exactly the situation he had fought against so hard. But now he was too wearied in soul and body. He dismissed the subject from his mind. The horses, left almost to themselves, lapsed into a sleepy jog. After a little they passed the bridge and entered the town. Warm spicy odours of pine disengaged themselves from the broken shingles and sawdust of the roadway, and floated upward through the hot sunshine. The beautiful maples with their dense shadows threw the sidewalks into coolness. Up one street and down another the horses took their accustomed way. Finally they pulled up opposite the Orde house. Orde hitched the horses, and, his step quickening in anticipation, sprang up the walk and into the front door.

"Hullo, sweetheart!" he called cheerily.

The echoes alone answered him. He cried again, and yet again, with a growing feeling of disappointment that Carroll should happen to be from home. Finally a door opened and shut in the back part of the house. A moment later Mary, the Irish servant girl, came through the dining-room, caught sight of Orde, threw her apron over her head, and burst into one of those extravagant demonstrations of grief peculiar to the warm-hearted of her class.

Orde stopped short, a sinking at his heart.

"What is it, Mary?" he asked very quietly.

But the girl only wept the louder, rocking back and forth in a fresh paroxysm of grief. Beside himself with anxiety Orde sprang forward to shake her by the arm, to shower her with questions. These elicited nothing but broken and incoherent fragments concerning "the missus," "oh, the sad day!" "and me lift all alone with Bobby, me heart that heavy," and the like, which served merely to increase Orde's bewilderment and anxiety. At this moment Bobby himself appeared from the direction of the kitchen. Orde, frantic with alarm, fell upon his son. Bobby, much bewildered by all this pother, could only mumble something about "smallpox," and "took mamma away with doctor."

"Where? where, Bobby?" cried Orde, fairly shaking the small boy by the shoulder. He felt like a man in a bad dream, trying to reach a goal that constantly eluded him.

At this moment a calm, dry voice broke through the turmoil of questions and exclamations. Orde looked up to see the tall, angular form of Doctor McMullen standing in the doorway.

"It's all right," said the doctor in answer to Orde's agonised expression. "Your wife was exposed to smallpox and is at my house to avoid the danger of spreading contagion. She is not ill."

Having thus in one swift decisive sentence covered the ground of Orde's anxiety, he turned to the sniffling servant.

"Mary," said he sternly, "I'm ashamed of you! What kind of an exhibition is this? Go out to the kitchen and cook us some lunch!" He watched her depart with a humourous quirk to his thin lips. "Fool Irish!" he said with a Scotchman's contempt. "I meant to head you off before you got home, but I missed you. Come in and sit down, and I'll tell you about it."

"You're quite sure Mrs. Orde is well?" insisted Orde.

"Absolutely. Never better. As well as you are."

"Where was she exposed?"

"Down at Heinzman's. You know--or perhaps you don't--that old Heinzman is the worst sort of anti-vaccination crank. Well, he's reaped the reward."

"Has he smallpox?" asked Orde. "Why, I thought I remembered seeing him up river only the other day."

"No; his daughter."

"Mina?"

"Yes. Lord knows where she got it. But get it she did. Mrs. Orde happened to be with her when she was taken with the fever and distressing symptoms that begin the disease. As a neighbourly deed she remained with the girl. Of course no one could tell it was smallpox at that time. Next day, however, the characteristic rash appeared on the thighs and armpits, and I diagnosed the case." Dr. McMullen laughed a little bitterly. "Lord, you ought to have seen them run! Servants, neighbours, friends--they all skedaddled, and you couldn't have driven them back with a steam-roller! I telegraphed to Redding for a nurse. Until she came Mrs. Orde stayed by, like a brick. Don't know what I should have done without her. There was nobody to do anything at all. As soon as the nurse came Mrs. Orde gave up her post. I tell you," cried Doctor McMullen with as near an approach to enthusiasm as he ever permitted himself, "there's a sensible woman! None of your story-book twaddle about nursing through the illness, and all that. When her usefulness was ended, she knew enough to step aside gracefully. There was not much danger as far as she was concerned. I had vaccinated her myself, you know, last year. But she might take the contagion and she wanted to spare the youngster. Quite right. So I offered her quarters with us for a couple of weeks."

"How long ago was this?" asked Orde, who had listened with a warm glow of pride to the doctor's succinct statement.

"Seven days."

"How is Mina getting on?"

"She'll get well. It was a mild case. Fever never serious after the eruption appeared. I suppose I'll have old Heinzman on my hands, though."

"Why; has he taken it?"

"No; but he will. Emotional old German fool. Rushed right in when he heard his daughter was sick. Couldn't keep him out. And he's been with her or near her ever since."

"Then you think he's in for it?"

"Sure to he," replied Dr. McMullen. "Unless a man has been vaccinated, continuous exposure means infection in the great majority of cases."

"Hard luck," said Orde thoughtfully. "I'm going to step up to your house and see Mrs. Orde."

"You can telephone her," said the doctor. "And you can see her if you want to. Only in that case I should advise your remaining away from Bobby until we see how things turn out."

"I see," said Orde. "Well," he concluded with a sigh, after a moment's thought, "I suppose I'd better stay by the ship."

He called up Dr. McMullen's house on the telephone.

"Oh, it's good to hear your voice again," cried Carroll, "even if I can't see you! You must promise me right after lunch to walk up past the house so I can see you. I'll wave at you from the window."

"You're a dear, brave girl, and I'm proud of you," said Orde.

"Nonsense! There was no danger at all. I'd been vaccinated recently. And somebody had to take care of poor Mina until we could get help. How's Bobby?"