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- The Mill Mystery - 4/43 -
withered roses I could easily believe had been his last gift. It was a vision of perfect peace, and I could not but contrast it with what my imagination told me must have been the frenzied anguish of that other death.
My approach, though light, disturbed her. Opening her eyes, she gave me one long, long look. Then, as if satisfied, she softly closed them again, breathed a little sigh, and in another moment was no more.
There's something in his soul, O'er which his melancholy sits on brood. --HAMLET.
Fearful as the experiences of this day had been, they were not yet at an end for me. Indeed, the most remarkable were to come. As I sat in this room of death--it was not far from midnight--I suddenly heard voices at the door, and Mrs. Gannon came in with Dr. Farnham.
"It is very extraordinary," I heard him mutter as he crossed the threshold. "One dying and another dead, and both struck down by the same cause."
I could not imagine what he mean, so I looked at him with some amazement. But he did not seem to heed me. Going straight to the bed, he gazed silently at Ada's pure features, with what I could not but consider a troubled glance. Then turning quickly to Mrs. Gannon, he said, in his somewhat brusque way:
"All is over here; you can therefore leave. I have a patient who demands your instant care."
"But----" she began.
"I have come on purpose for you," he put in, authoritatively. "It is an urgent case; do not keep me waiting."
"But, sir," she persisted, "it is impossible. I am expected early in the morning at Scott's Corners, and was just going to bed when you came in, in order to get a little sleep before taking the train."
"Dr. Perry's case?"
He frowned, and I am not sure but what he uttered a mild oath. At all events, he seemed very much put out.
I immediately drew near.
"Oh, sir," I cried, "if you would have confidence in me. I am not unused to the work, and----"
His stare frightened me, it was so searching and so keen.
"Who are you?" he asked.
I told him, and Mrs. Gannon put in a word for me. I was reliable, she said, and if too much experience was not wanted, would do better than such and such a one--naming certain persons, probably neighbors.
But the doctor's steady look told me he relied more on his own judgment than on anything she or I could say.
"Can you hold your tongue?" he asked.
I started. Who would not have done so?
"I see that you can," he muttered, and glanced down at my dress. "When can you be ready?" he inquired. "You may be wanted for days, and it may be only for hours."
"Will ten minutes be soon enough?" I asked.
A smile difficult to fathom crossed his firm lip.
"I will give you fifteen," he said, and turned towards the door. But on the threshold he paused and looked back. "You have not asked who or what your patient is," he grimly suggested.
"No," I answered shortly.
"Well," said he, "it is Mrs. Pollard, and she is going to die."
Mrs. Pollard! Mrs. Gannon and I involuntarily turned and looked at each other.
"Mrs. Pollard!" repeated the good nurse, wonderingly. "I did not know she was sick"
"She wasn't this noon. It is a sudden attack. Apoplexy we call it. She fell at the news of Mr. Barrows' death."
And with this parting shot, he went out and closed the door behind him.
I sank, just a little bit weakened, on the lounge, then rose with renewed vigor. "The work has fallen into the right hands," thought I. "Ada would wish me to leave her for such a task as this."
And yet I was troubled. For though this sudden prostration of Mrs. Pollard, on the hearing of her young pastor's sorrowful death, seemed to betoken a nature of more than ordinary sensibility, I had always heard that she was a hard woman, with an eye of steel and a heart that could only be reached through selfish interests. But then she was the magnate of the place, the beginning and end of the aristocracy of S----; and when is not such a one open to calumny? I was determined to reserve my judgment.
In the fifteen minutes allotted me, I was ready. Suitable arrangements had already been made for the removal of my poor Ada's body to the house that held her lover. For the pathos of the situation had touched all hearts, and her wish to be laid in the same grave with him met with no opposition. I could therefore leave with a clear conscience; Mrs. Gannon promising to do all that was necessary, even if she were obliged to take a later train than she had expected to.
Dr. Farnham was in the parlor waiting for me, and uttered a grunt of satisfaction as he saw me enter, fully equipped.
"Come; this is business," he said, and led the way at once to his carriage.
We did not speak for the first block. He seemed meditating, and I was summoning up courage for the ordeal before me. For, now that we were started, I began to feel a certain inward trembling not to be entirely accounted for by the fact that I was going into a strange house to nurse a woman of whom report did not speak any too kindly. Nor did the lateness of the hour, and the desolate aspect of the unlighted streets, tend greatly to reassure me.
Indeed, something of the weird and uncanny seemed to mingle with the whole situation, and I found myself dreading our approach to the house, which from its old-time air and secluded position had always worn for me an aspect of gloomy reserve, that made it even in the daylight, a spot of somewhat fearful interest.
Dr. Farnham, who may have suspected my agitation, though he gave no token of doing so, suddenly spoke up.
"It is only right to tell you," he said, "that I should never have accepted the service of an inexperienced girl like you, if any thing was necessary but watchfulness and discretion. Mrs. Pollard lies unconscious, and all you will have to do is to sit at her side and wait for the first dawning of returning reason. It may come at any moment, and it may never come at all. She is a very sick woman."
"I understand," I murmured, plucking up heart at what did not seem so very difficult a task.
"Her sons will be within call; so will I. By daybreak we hope to have her daughter from Newport with her. You do not know Mrs. Harrington?"
I shook my head. Who was I, that I should know these grand folks? And yet----But I promised I would say nothing about days now so completely obliterated.
"She will not be much of an assistance," he muttered. "But it is right she should come--quite right."
I remembered that I had heard that Mrs. Pollard's daughter was a beauty, and that she had made a fine match; which, said of Mrs. Pollard's daughter, must have meant a great deal. I, however, said nothing, only listened in a vague hope of hearing more, for my curiosity was aroused in a strange way about these people, and nothing which the good doctor could have said about them would have come amiss at this time.
But our drive had been too rapid, and we were too near the house for him to think of any thing but turning into the gateway with the necessary caution. For the night was unusually dark, and it was difficult to tell just where the gate-posts were. We, however, entered without accident, and in another moment a gleam of light greeted us from the distant porch.
"They are expecting us," he said, and touched up his horse. We flew up the gravelled road, and before I could still the sudden heart- beat that attacked me at sight of the grim row of cedars which surrounded the house, we were hurrying up between the two huge lions rampant that flanked the steps, to where a servant stood holding open the door. A sense of gloom and chill at once overwhelmed me. From the interior, which I faintly saw stretching before me, there breathed even in that first moment of hurried entrance a cold and haughty grandeur that, however rich and awe-inspiring, was any thing but attractive to a nature like mine.
Drawing back, I let Dr. Farnham take the lead, which he did in his own brusque way. And then I saw what the dim light had not revealed before, a young man's form standing by the newel-post of the wide
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