The Red Acorn by John McElroy
Chapter XVII. Alspaugh on a Bed of Pain.
This is the very ecstacy of love, Whose violent property foredoes itself. And leads the will to desperate undertakings As often as any passion under Heaven That does afflict our natures.--Hamlet
Endurance is made possible by reason of the element of divisibility. Metaphysical mathematicians imagine that there is possibly a "fourth dimension," by the existence of which many hitherto inexplicable phenomena may be explained. They think that probably this fourth dimension is succession of time.
So endurance of unendurable things is explainable on the ground that but a small portion of them has to be endured in any given space of time.
It is the old fable of the clock, whose pendulum and wheels stopped one day, appalled by the discovery that they would have to move and tick over three million times a year for many wearisome years, but resumed work again when reminded that they would only have to tick once each second.
So it was with Rachel Bond.
The unendurable whole of a month's or a week's experience was endurable when divided in detail and spread over the hours and days.
She was a woman--young and high-natured.
Being a woman she had a martyr-joy in affliction that comes in the guise of duty. Young, she enjoyed the usefulness and importance attached to her work in the hospital. High-natured, she felt a keen satisfaction in triumphing over daily difficulties and obstacles, even though these were mainly her own feelings.
Though months had gone by it seemed as if no amount of habituation could dull the edge of the sickening disgust which continually assailed her sense and womanly instincts. The smells were as nauseating, the sights as repulsive, the sounds of misery as saddening as the day when she first set foot inside the hospital.
From throbbing heart to dainty finger-tip, every fiber in her maidenly body was in active rebellion while she ministered to the rough and coarse men who formed the bulk of the patients, and whose afflictions she could not help knowing were too frequently the direct result of their own sins and willful disobedience of Nature's laws.
One day, when flushed and wearied with the peevish exactions of a hulking fellow whose indisposition was trifling, she said to Dr. Denslow:
"It is distressing to find out how much unmanliness there is in apparently manly men."
"Yes," answered the doctor, with his customary calm philosophy; "and it is equally gratifying to find out how much real manliness there is in some apparently unmanly men. You have been having an experience with some brawny subject?"
"Yes. If the fellow's spirit were equal to his bone and brawn, he would o'ertop, Julius Caesar. Instead, he whimpers like a school-girl."
"That's about the way it usually goes. It may be that my views are colored by my lacking three or four inches of six feet, but I am sometimes strongly inclined to believe that every man--big or little--is given about the same amount of will or vital power, and the bigger and more lumbering the body he has to move with it, the less he accomplishes, and the sooner it is exhausted. You have found, I have no doubt, that as a rule the broad-chested, muscular six-footers, whose lives have ever passed at hard work in the open air, groan and sigh incessantly under the burden of minor afflictions, worry every one with their querulousness, moan for their wives, mothers, or sweethearts, and the comforts of the homes they have left, and finally fret and grieve themselves into the grave, while slender, soft-muscled boys bear real distress without a murmur, and survive sickness and wounds that by all rules ought to prove fatal."
"There is certainly a good deal in that; but what irritates me now is a display of querulous tyranny."
"Well, you know what Dr. Johnson says: 'That a sick man is a scoundrel.' There is a basis of truth in that apparent cruelty. It is true that 'scoundrel' is rather a harsh term to apply to a man whose moral obliquities have not received the official stamp in open court by a jury of his peers. The man whose imprudences and self-indulgences have made his liver slothful, his stomach rebellious, and wrecked his constitution in other ways, may--probably does--become an exasperating little tyrant, full of all manner of petty selfishness, which saps the comfort of others, as acid vapors corrode metals, but does that make him a 'scoundrel?' Opinions vary. His much enduring feminine relatives would probably resent such a query with tearful indignation, while unprejudiced outsiders would probably reply calmly in the affirmative."
"What is the medical man's view?" asked Rachel, much amused by this cool scrutiny of what people are too often inclined to regard as among the "inscrutable providences."
"I don't speak in anything for the profession at large, but my own private judgement is that any man is a scoundrel who robs others of anything that is of value to them, and he is none the less so when he makes his aches and pains, mostly incurred by his gluttony, passions or laziness, the means of plundering others of the comforts and pleasures which are their due."
Going into the wards one morning, Rachel found that Lieutenant Jacob Alspaugh had been brought in, suffering from what the Surgeon pronounced to be "febrile symptoms of a mild type, from which he will no doubt recover in a few days, with rest, quiet and proper food.
It is possibly worth while to note the coincidence that these symptoms developed with unexpected suddenness in the midst of earnest preparations by the Army of the Cumberland, for a terrible grapple at Perryville with the Rebel Army of the Tennessee.
Alspaugh recognized Rachel at once, much to her embarrassment, for her pride winced at playing the role of nurse before an acquaintance, especially when that acquaintance was her father's hired-man, whom she knew too well to esteem highly.
"O, Miss Rachel," he groaned, as she came to his cot in response to his earnest call, "I'm so glad to see you, for I'm the sickest man that ever came into this hospital. Nothin' but the best o' care 'll carry me through, and I know you'll give it to me for the sake of old times," and Jacob's face expressed to his comrades the idea that there had been a time when his relations with her had been exceedingly tender.
Rachel's face flushed at the impudent assumption, but she overcame the temptation to make a snubbing answer, and replied quietly:
"No, Jacob, you are not so sick as you think you are." ("She calls him 'Jacob,'" audibly commented some of those near, as if this was a confirmation of Jakes insinuation.) "The Surgeons say," she continued, "that your symptoms are not at all bad, and that you'll be up again in a few days."
"O, them Doctors always talk that way. They're the flintiest-hearted set I ever see in all my born days. They're always pretending that they don't believe there is nothin' the matter with a feller. I really believe they'd a little liefer a man'd die than not. They don't seem to take no sort of interest in savin' the soldiers that the country needs so badly."
Rachel felt as if it would sweeten much hard service if she could tell Alspaugh outright her opinion that he was acting very calfishly; but other counsels prevailed, and she said encouragingly:
"You are only discouraged, Jacob--that's all. A few days rest here will restore both your health and your spirits."
"No, I'm not discouraged. I'm not the kind to git down in the mouth--you know me well enough for that. I'm sick, sick I tell you--sicker'n any other man in this hospital, an' nothin' but the best o' nursin' 'll save my life for the country. O, how I wish I was at home with my mother; she'd take care o' me."
Rachel could not repress a smile at the rememberance of Jake's termagant mother nad her dirty, comfortless cottage, an how her intemperance in administering such castisement as conveyed most grief to a boy's nature first drove Jake to seek refuge with her father.
"No doubt it would be very comfortable," she answered, "if you could get home to your mother; but there's no need of it, because you'll be well before you could possibly reach there."
"No, I'll never be well," persisted Jake, "unless I have the best o' care; but I feel much better now, since I find you here, for I'm sure you'll take as much interest in me as a sister would."
She shuddered a little at the prospect of even temporary sisterly relations to the fellow, but replied guardedly:
"Of course I'll do what I can for you, Jacob," and started to move away, but he caught her dress and whimpered:
"O, don't go, Miss Rachel; do go and leave me all alone. Stay any way till I'm fixed somehow comfortable."
"I half believe the booby will have hysterics," thought Rachel, with curling lip. "Is this the man they praised so for his heroism? Does all his manhood depend upon his health? Now he hasn't the spirit of a sick kitten." Dreading a scene, however, she took her seat at the head of the cot, and gave some directions for its arrangement.
Jake's symptoms grew worse rapidly, for he bent all his crafty energies to that end. Refuge in the hospital from the unpleasant contingencies attending duty in the field was a good thing, and it became superexcellent when his condition made him the object of the care and sympathy of so fine a young lady as Miss Rachel Bond. This he felt was something like compensation for all that he had endured for the country, and he would get as much of it as possible. His mind busied itself in recalling and imitating the signs of suffering he had seen in others.
He breathed stretorously, groaned and sighed immoderately, and even had little fits of well-feigned delirium, in which he babbled of home and friends and the war, and such other things as had come within the limited scope of his mental horizon.
"Don't leave me, Miss Rachel--don't leave me," he said, in one of these simulated paroxysms, clutching at the same time, with a movement singularly well directed for a delirious man, one of her delicate hands in his great, coarse, and not-over-clean fingers. Had it been the hand of a dying man, or of one in a raging fever, that imprisoned hers, Rachel would not have felt the repulsion that she did at a touch which betrayed to her only too well that the toucher's illness was counterfeited. She could hardly restrain the impulse to dash away the loathsome hand, as she would a toad that had fallen upon her, but she swiftly remembered, as she had in hundreds of other instances since she had been in the hospital, that she was no longer in her own parlor, but in a public place, with scores of eyes noting every movement, and that such an act of just disdain would probably be misunderstood, and possibly be ruinous to a belief in her genuine sympathy with the misfortunes of the sick which she had labored so heroically to build up.
She strove to release her fingers quietly, but at this Alspaugh's paroxysm became intense. He clung the tighter to her, and kneaded her fingers in a way that was almost maddening. Never in all her life had a man presumed to take such a familiarity with her. But her woman's wit did not desert her. With her disengaged hand she felt for and took out a large pin that fastened a bit of lace to her throat, with the desperate intent to give her tormentor a sly stab that would change the current of his thoughts.
But at the moment of carrying this into effect something caused her to look up, and she saw Dr. Denslow standing before her, with an amused look in his kindly, hazel eyes.
She desisted from her purpose and restored the pin to its place in obedience to a sign from him, which told her that he thoroughly understood the case, and had a more effective way of dealing with it than the thrust of a pin point.
"I'm very much afraid that this is a dangerous case we have here, Miss Bond," he said in a stage whisper, as if very anxious that the patient should not overhear. "Yes, a very dangerous case."
Jake grew pale, released Rachel's hand, turned over on his side and groaned.
"Do you really think so, Doctor?" said Rachel in the same tone.
"Yes, really. It's as clear a case of de gustibus non disputandum as I ever saw in my life."
"O, Lordie, hev I got all of that?" asked Jake, as he sat bolt upright, with eyes starting.
"It is my unpleasant duty to tell you that you certainly have," said the Doctor, gravely. "As plainly indicated as I ever saw it. Furthermore, it is seriously complicated with fiat justitia ruat caelum, with strong hints of the presence of in media tutissimus ibis."
"Great Scott! can I ever get well?" groaned poor Jake. Rachel's strain was on her risibles, and to make her face express only sympathy and concern.
"And," continued the remorseless Surgeon, in a tone of the kindliest commiseration, "in the absence of the least espirt de corps, and dulce et decorum est pro patria mori feeling in you it is apparent that none of your mental processes are going on properly, which deranges everything."
"Can't I be sent home to die?" whimpered the wretched Jake.
"Not in your present condition. I notice, in addition to what I have told you, that your heart is not right--its action is depraved, so to speak." This with a glance at Rachel, which brought the crimson to that damsel's cheek.
"O, Doctor, please try to do something for me right off, before I get any worse," pleaded Jake, with the tears starting in his eyes.
Rachel took this opportunity to slip away to where she could laugh unobserved. The Surgeon's facial muscles were too well trained to feel any strain. he continued in the same tone of gentle consideration:
"I have already ordered the preparation of some remedies. The Steward will be here in a few minues with the barber, who will shave your head, that we may apply a couple of fly-bisters behind your ears. They are also spreading a big mustard-plaster in th dispensary for you, which will cover your whole breast and stomach. These, with a strong dose of castor-oil, may bring you around so that you will be able to go back to duty in a short time."
Jake did not notice the unsheathed sarcasm in the Surgeon's allusion to returning to duty. He was too delighted with the chance of escaping all the horrors enumerated to think of aught else, and he even forgot to beg for Rachel to come and sit beside his bedside, as he had intended doing, until the blisters began to remind him that they stuck closer than a brother. After that he devoted his entire attention to them, as a man is apt to.
A good-sized blister, made according to the United States Pharmacopoeia, has few equals as a means of concentrating the attention. When it takes a fair hold of its work it leaves the gentleman whom it patronizes little opportunity to think of anything else than it and what it is doing. Everything else is forgotten, taht it may receive full consideration. Then comes in an opportunity for a vigorous imagination. No one ever underestimates the work done by an active blister, if it is upon himself. No one ever grumbles that he is not getting his money's worth. It is the one monumental exception, where men are willing to accept and be satisfied with a fractional part of that which they have bought and paid for.
So when the layer of fresh mustard that covered the whole anterior surface of Mr. Alspaugh's torso began to take a fair hold of its appointed work that gentlemen's thoughts became strangely focused upon it, and they succeeded each other as the minutes went by something in this fashion:
FIRST TEN MINUTES.--"I 'spect that this may become rather unpleasant and bothersome, but it will not be for long, and it'll really do me much good."
SECOND TEN MINUTES.--"I had no idead that blisters felt just this way, but they never really hurt anybody but women and children--men laugh at them."
THIRD TEN MINUTES.--"The thing seems to be hunting 'round for my tender spots, and pokin' pins into 'em. I begin to wish that it was all over with."
FOURTH TEN MINUTES.--"It begins to hurt real bad. I wonder if it ain't a'most time to take it off?"
FIFTH TEN MINUTES.--"The very devil seems to be in that thing. It burns like as if a sheet of red-hot iron was layin' there."
SIXTH TEN MINUTES.--"I surely believe that they've made a terrible mistake about that blister, and put in some awful thing that'll kill me if it ain't stopped. I'll swear it's not only eat all the skin off, but it's gone through my ribs, an' is gnawin' at my insides. Why don't the Doctor come 'round an' see to it? Here, nurse, call the Doctor, an' have this think taken off."
NURSE.--"No, it's all right. The Doctor left orders that it was not to be disturbed for some time yet. I'll see to it when the proper time comes. I'm watching the clock."
SEVENTH TEN MINUTES.--"Great Jehosefat! this's jest awful. That blasted stuff's cooked my innards to rags, an' I kin feel my backbone a-sizzlin'. Say, Steward, do, for the Lord's sake, come here, an' take this thing off, while there's a little life left in me."
STEWARD.--"Can't do anything yet. You must grin and bear it a little while longer."
EIGTH TEN MINUTES.--"Holy smoke! I couldn't suffer more if I was in the lake of burnin' brimstone. Every ounce of me's jest fryin'. Say, Steward! Steward!"
STEWARD (ANGRILY).--"I have told you several times that I couldn't do anything for you yet awhile. Now keep quiet."
"But Steward, can't you at least bring me a fork?"
"Why, what do you want a fork for?"
"Jest to see for myself if I ain't cooked done--that's all."
A roar of laughter went up in which even Dr. Denslow, who had just entered the ward, joined. He orderd the blister to be taken off, and the inflamed surfaces properly dressed, which was done to the accompaniment of Jake's agonizing groans.
"I think Lieutenant Alspaugh will be content to go back to the field in a few days, if we continue this vigorous treatment," Dr. Denslow said, a little later, as he came into the reading-room of the hospital where he found Rachel sitting alone.
"O, Doctor, how could you be so cruel?" she asked in tones which were meant to be reproachful, but only poorly disguised her mirthful appreciation of the whole matter.
"I wasn't cruel; I only did my duty. The fellow's a palpable malingerer, and his being here makes it ever so much worse. He's trying to shirk duty and have a good time here in the hospital. It's my place to make the hospital so unpleasant for him that he will think the field preferable, and I'm going to do it, especially if I find him squeezing your hand again."
There was that in the tone of the last sentence which sobered her instantly. Womanly prescience told her that the Surgeon had discovered what seemed to him a fitting opportunity to say that which he had long desired. Ever since she had been in the hospital he had exerted himself to smooth her path for her, and make her stay there endurable. There was not a day in which she was not indebted to him for some unobtrusive kindness, delicately and thoughtfully rendered.
While she knew quite well that these courtesies would have been as conscientiously extended to any other woman--young or old--in her position, yet her instincts did not allow her any doubt that there was about them a flavor personal to herself and redolent of something much warmer than mere kindliness. A knowledge of this had at times tainted the pleasure she felt in accepting welcome little attentions from him. She dreaded what she knew was coming. He took her hand and started to speak with tremulous lips. But almost at the same instant the door was flung open, and a nurse entered in breathless haste.
"O, Doctor," he gasped, "I've been looking for you everywhere. That Lieutenant in the First Ward thinks he's a-dyin'. He's groanin' an' cryin', and a-takin' on at a terrible rate, an' nobody can't do nothin' with him. The Steward wants you to come there right off."
"It's only the castor oil," muttered the Doctor savagely, as he rose to follow the nurse.
This was the letter that the Orderly handed Rachel some days later:
Dear Ratie: Your letter came at last, for which I was so thankful, because I had waited so long for it that I was so tired and so anxious that I was almost at my wits' end. I am so glad that you are well, that you have got your room at last fixed up real nice and comfortable, as a young lady should have, and that you find your duties more agreeable. It is so nice in that Dr. Denslow to help you along as he does. But then that is what every real gentleman should do for a young lady--or old one for that matter. Still, I would like to thank him so much.
I am not at all well: my heart gives me so much trouble--more than ever before--and as you say nothing about coming home I have about concluded to try what a change of climate and scene will do for me, and so have concluded to accept your Aunt Tabitha's invitation to spend a few months with her. Unless you hear from me to the contrary--which you will probably not, as the mails are so uncertain in Kentucky, you had better address your next letter to me at Eau Claire.
But I am so sorry to see by your letter that you show no signs of weariness with your quixotic idea of serving the country in the hospital. I had hoped so much that you would by this time have decided that you had done enough, and come home and content yourself with doing what you could for the Sanitary Fair, and the lint-scraping bees.
Your affectionate Mother.
P.S.--Your father is well. He will go with me to Wisconsin, and then go down to Nebraska to look after his land there.
P.S.--I am so sorry to tell you that Harry Glen has acted badly again. The last letters from the regiment say that he did not go into the fight at Wildcat, and afterward was missing. They believe he was captured, and some say he was taken prisoner on purpose. Everybody's saying, "I told you so," and Mrs. Glen has not been on the street or to church since the news came. I am so sorry for her, but then you know that she used to put on quite as many airs as her position justified.
P.S.--Hoop-skirts are getting smaller every month, and some are confident that they will go entirely out of fashion by next year. I do so hope not. I so dread having to cme back to the old way of wearing a whole clothes-basketful of white skirts. The new bonnets are just the awfulest things you ever did see. Write soon.
Rachel crumpled the letter in her hand, with a quick, angry gesture, as if crushing some hateful, despicable thing, and her clear hazel eyes blazed.
"He is evidently a hopeless coward," she said to herself, "when all that has passed can not spur him into an exhibition of proper spirit. If he had the love for me he professed it could not help stimulating him to some show of manliness. I will fling him out of my heart and my world as I would fling a rotten apple out of a basket."
Then a sadder and gentler light shone in her face.
"Perhaps I am myself to blame a little. I may not be a good source of inspiration to acts of heroism. Other girls may have ways of stimulating their loves to high deeds that I know not of. Possibly I applied the lash too severely, and instead of rousing him up I killed all the hope in his heart, and made him indifferent to his future. Possibly, too, this story may not be true. The feeling in Sardis against him is strong, and they are hardly willing to do him justice. No doubt they misrepresent him in this, as they are apt to do in everything."
Her face hardened again.
"But it's of no use seeking excuses for him. My lover--my husband--must be a man who can hold his own with other men, in whatever relation of life the struggle may be. The man into whose hands I entrust the happiness of my life must have his qualities so clear and distinct that there never will be any question about them. He must not need continual explanation and defense, for then outraged pride would strangle love with a ruthless hand. No, I must never have reason to believe that my choice is inferior to other men in anything."
But notwithstanding this, she smoothed out the crumpled letter tenderly upon her knee, and read it over again, in the vain hope of finding that the words had less harshness than she had at first found in them.
"No," she said after a weary study of the lines, "it's surely worse than mother states it. She is so kind and gentle that she never fails to mitigate the harshness of anything that she hears about others, and she has told me this as mildly as the case will admit. I must give him up forever."
But though she made this resolution with a firm settling of the lines around her mouth that spoke strongly of its probable fulfilment, the arrival of the decision was the signal for the assault of a thousand tender memories and dear recollections, all pleading trumpet-tongued against the summary dismissal of the unworthy lover. All the ineffably sweet incidents of their love-life stretched themselves out in a vista before her, and tempted her to reverse her decision. But she stayed her purpose with repeating to herself:
"It will save untold misery hereafter to be firm now, and end a connection at once that must be the worse for both of us every day that it is allowed to continue."
There was a tap at the door, and Dr. Denslow entered.
The struggle had so shattered Rachel's self-control that she nervously grasped the letter and thrust it into her pocket, as if the mere sight of it would reveal to him the perturbation that was shaking her.
His quick eyes--quicker yet in whatever related to her--noticed her embarrassment.
"Excuse me," he said with that graceful tact which seemed the very fiber of his nature. "You are not in the mood to receive callers. I will go now, and look in again."
"No, no; stay. I am really glad to see you. It is nothing, I assure you."
She really wished very much to be alone with her grief, but she felt somehow that to shrink from a meeting would be an evasion of the path of duty she had marked out for her feet to tread. If she were going to eliminate all thoughts of her love and her lover from her life, there was no better time to begin than now, while her resolution was fresh. She insisted upon the Doctor remaining, and he did so. Conscious that her embarrassment had been noticed, her self-possession did not return quickly enough to prevent her falling into the error of failing to ignore this, and she confusedly stumbled into an explanation:
"I have received a letter from home which contains news that disturbs me." This was as far as she had expected to go.
Dr. Denslow's face expressed a lively sympathy. "No one dead or seriously ill, I trust."
"No, not as bad as that," she answered hastily, in the first impulse of fear that she had unwarrantably excited his sympathy. "Nor is it anything connected with property," she hastily added, as she saw the Doctor looked inquiringly, but as though fearing that further questioning might be an indelicate intrusion.
She picked nervously at the engagement ring which Harry had placed upon her finger. It fitted closely, and resisted her efforts at removal. she felt, when it was too late, that neither this nor its significance had escaped Dr. Denslow's eyes.
"A f-riend--an--acquaintance of mine has disgraced himself," she said, with a very apparent effort.
An ordinary woman would have broken down in a tearful tempest, but as has been said before she was denied that sweet relief which most women find in a readily responsive gush of tears. Her eyes became very dry and exceedingly hot. Her misery was evident.
The Doctor took her hand with a movement of involuntary sympathy. "I am deeply hurt to see you grieve," he said, "and I wish that I might say something to alleviate your troubles. Is it anything that you can tell me about?"
"No, it is nothing of which I can say a word to any one," she answered. "It is a trouble that I can share with no one, and least of all with a stranger."
"am I not more than a stranger to you?" he asked.
"O yes, indeed," she said, and hastening to correct her former coldness, added:
"You are a very dear, good friend, whom I value much more highly than I have given you reason to think."
His face brightened wonderfully, but he adventured his way slowly. "I am very glad that you esteem me what I have tried to show myself during our acquaintance."
"You have indeed shown yourself a very true friend. I could not ask for a better one."
"Then will you not trust me with a share of your sorrows, that I may help you bear them?"
"No, no; you can not. Nobody can do anything in this case but myself."
"You do not know. You do not know what love can accomplish when it sets itself to work with the ardor belonging to it."
"Love! O, do not speak to me of that," she said, suddenly awaking to the drift of his words, and striving to withdraw her hand.
"No, but I must speak of it," he said with vehemence entirely foreign to his usual half-mocking philosophy. "I must speak of it," he repeated with deepening tones. "You surely can not be blind to the fact that I love you devotedly--absorbingly. Every day's intercourse must have shown you something of this, which you could not have mistaken. You must have seen this growing upon me continually, until now I have but few thoughts into which your image does not appear, to brighten and enhance them. Tell me now that hopes, dearer--infinitely dearer--than any I have ever before cherished, are to have the crown of fruition."
"I can not--I can not," she sighed.
"What can you not? Can't you care for me at least a little?"
"I do; I care for you ever so much. I am not only grateful for all that you have been to me and done for me, but I have a feeling that goes beyond mere gratitude. But to say that I return the love you profess for me--that I even entertain any feeling resembling it--I can not, and certainly not at this time."
"But you certainly do not love any one else?"
"O, I beg of you not to question me."
"I know I have no right to ask you such a question. I have no right to pry into any matter which you do not choose to reveal to me of your own free will and accord. But as all the mail of the hospital goes through my hands, I could not help noticing that in all the months that you have been here you have written to no man, nor received a letter from one. Upon this I have built my hopes that you were heartfree."
"I can not talk of this, nor of anything now. I am so wrought up by many things that have happened--by my letter from home; by your unexpected declaration--that my poor brain is in a whirl, and I can not think clearly and connectedly on any subject. Please do not press me any more now."
The torrent of his passion was stayed by this appeal to his forbearance. He essayed to calm down his impetuous eagerness for a decision of his fate, and said penitently:
"I beg your pardon. I really forgot. I have so long sought an opportunity to speak to you upon this matter, and I have been so often balked at the last moment, that when a seeming chance came I was carried away with it, and in my selfish eagerness for my own happiness, I forgot your distress. Forgive me--do."
"I have nothing to forgive," she said frankly, most touched by his tender consideration. "You never allow me an occasion for forgiveness, or to do anything in any way to offset the favors you continually heap upon me."
"Pay them all a thousand times over by giving me the least reason to hope."
"I only wish I could--I only wish I dared. But I fear to say anything now. I can not trust myself."
"But you will at least say something that will give me the basis of a hope," he persisted.
"Not now--not now," she said, giving him her hand, which he seized and kissed fervently, and withdrew from the room.
She bolted the door and gave herself up to the most intense thought.
Assignment to duty with an expedition took Dr. Denslow away the next morning, without his being able to see her. When he returned a week later, he found this letter lying on his desk:
My very dear Friend: The declaration you honored me with making has been the subject of many hours of the most earnest consideration possible. I am certain that it si due to you and to the confession that you have made of your feelings, that I should in turn confess that I am deeply--what shall I say--interested in you? No; that is too prim and prudish a term. There is in you for me more than a mere attraction; I feel for you something deeper than even warm friendship. That you would make such a husband as I should cherish and honor, of whom I should be proud, and whose strong, kindly arms would be my secure support and protection until death claimed us, I have not the slightest doubt. But when I ask myself whether this is really love--the sacred, all-pervading passion which a woman should feel for the man to whom she gives herself, body and soul, I encounter the strongest doubts. These doubts have no reference to you--only to myself. I feel that it would be a degradation--a deep profanation--for me to give myself to you, without feeling in its entirety such a love as I have attempted to define. I have gone away from you because I want to consider this question and decide it with more calmness and impartiality than I can where I meet you daily, and daily receive some kindness from your hands. These and the magnetism of your presence are temptations which I fear might swerve me from my ideal, and possibly lead to a mistake which we both might ever afterward have reason to regret.
I have, as you will be informed, accepted a detail to one of the hospitals at Nashville. Do not write me, except to tell me of a change in your postoffice address. I will not write you, unless I have something of special moment to tell you. Believe me, whatever may betide, at least your very sincere friend,