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- Across the Years - 6/34 -
Here and there a familiar chair or stand met her groping hands and held them hesitatingly for a moment, only to release them to the terror of an unfamiliar corner or window-sill.
The blind woman herself had long since lost all realization of what she was doing. There was only the frenzied longing to find her own. She did not hesitate even at the outer door of the apartment, but turned the key with shaking hands and stepped fearlessly into the hall. The next moment there came a scream and a heavy fall. The Whitmore apartment was just at the head of the stairs, and almost the first step of the blind woman had been off into space.
* * * * *
When Mrs. Whitmore regained consciousness she was alone in her own bed.
Out in the sitting-room, Margaret, Katherine, and the doctor talked together in low tones. At last the girls hurried into the kitchen, and the doctor turned and entered the bedroom. With a low ejaculation he hurried forward.
Mrs. Whitmore flung out her arm and clutched his hand; then she lay back on the pillow and closed her eyes.
"Doctor," she whispered, "where am I?"
"At home, in your own bed."
"Where is this place?"
Dr. Littlejohn paled. He sent an anxious glance toward the sitting-room door, though he knew very well that Margaret and Katherine were in the kitchen and could not hear.
"Where is this place?" begged the woman again.
"Why, it--it--is--" The man paused helplessly.
Five thin fingers tightened their clasp on his hand, and the low voice again broke the silence.
"Doctor, did you ever know--did you ever hear that a fall could give back--sight?"
Dr. Littlejohn started and peered into the wan face lying back on the pillow. Its impassiveness reassured him.
"Why, perhaps--once or twice," he returned slowly, falling back into his old position, "though rarely--very rarely."
"But it has happened?"
"Yes, it has happened. There was a case recently in England. The shock and blow released the pressure on the optic nerve; but--"
Something in the face he was watching brought him suddenly forward in his chair. "My dear woman, you don't mean--you can't--"
He did not finish his sentence. Mrs. Whitmore opened her eyes and met his gaze unflinchingly. Then she turned her head.
"Doctor," she said, "that picture on the wall there at the foot of the bed--it doesn't hang quite straight."
"Mrs. Whitmore!" breathed the man incredulously, half rising from his chair.
"Hush! Not yet!" The woman's insistent hand had pulled him back. "Why am I here? Where is this place?"
There was no answer.
"Doctor, you must tell me. I must know."
Again the man hesitated. He noted the flushed cheeks and shaking hands of the woman before him. It was true, she must know; and perhaps, after all, it was best she should know through him. He drew a long breath and plunged straight into the heart of the story.
Five minutes later a glad voice came from the doorway.
"Mother, dearest--then you're awake!" The doctor was conscious of a low- breathed "Hush, don't tell her!" in his ears; then, to his amazement, he saw the woman on the bed turn her head and hold out her hand with the old groping uncertainty of the blind.
"Margaret! It is Margaret, isn't it?"
Days afterward, when the weary, painracked body of the little mother was forever at rest, Margaret lifted her head from her lover's shoulder, where she had been sobbing out her grief.
"Ned, I can't be thankful enough," she cried, "that we kept it from Mother to the end. It's my only comfort. She didn't know."
"And I'm sure she would wish that thought to be a comfort to you, dear," said the doctor gently. "I am sure she would."
Phineas and the Motor Car
Phineas used to wonder, sometimes, just when it was that he began to court Diantha Bowman, the rosy-cheeked, golden-haired idol of his boyhood. Diantha's cheeks were not rosy now, and her hair was more silver than gold, but she was not yet his wife.
And he had tried so hard to win her! Year after year the rosiest apples from his orchard and the choicest honey from his apiary had found their way to Diantha's table; and year after year the county fair and the village picnic had found him at Diantha's door with his old mare and his buggy, ready to be her devoted slave for the day. Nor was Diantha unmindful of all these attentions. She ate the apples and the honey, and spent long contented hours in the buggy; but she still answered his pleadings with her gentle: "I hain't no call to marry yet, Phineas," and nothing he could do seemed to hasten her decision in the least. It was the mare and the buggy, however, that proved to be responsible for what was the beginning of the end.
They were on their way home from the county fair. The mare, head hanging, was plodding through the dust when around the curve of the road ahead shot the one automobile that the town boasted. The next moment the whizzing thing had passed, and left a superannuated old mare looming through a cloud of dust and dancing on two wabbly hind legs.
"Plague take them autymobiles!" snarled Phineas through set teeth, as he sawed at the reins. "I ax yer pardon, I'm sure, Dianthy," he added shamefacedly, when the mare had dropped to a position more nearly normal; "but I hain't no use fur them 'ere contraptions!"
Diantha frowned. She was frightened--and because she was frightened she was angry. She said the first thing that came into her head--and never had she spoken to Phineas so sharply.
"If you did have some use for 'em, Phineas Hopkins, you wouldn't be crawlin' along in a shiftless old rig like this; you'd have one yourself an' be somebody! For my part, I like 'em, an' I'm jest achin' ter ride in 'em, too!"
Phineas almost dropped the reins in his amazement. "Achin' ter ride in 'em," she had said--and all that he could give her was this "shiftless old rig" that she so scorned. He remembered something else, too, and his face flamed suddenly red. It was Colonel Smith who owned and drove that automobile, and Colonel Smith, too, was a bachelor. What if--Instantly in Phineas's soul rose a fierce jealousy.
"I like a hoss, myself," he said then, with some dignity. "I want somethin' that's alive!"
Diantha laughed slyly. The danger was past, and she could afford to be merry.
"Well, it strikes me that you come pretty near havin' somethin' that wa'n't alive jest 'cause you had somethin' that was!" she retorted. "Really, Phineas, I didn't s'pose Dolly could move so fast!"
"Dolly knew how ter move--once," he rejoined grimly. "'Course nobody pretends ter say she's young now, any more 'n we be," he finished with some defiance. But he drooped visibly at Diantha's next words.
"Why, I don't feel old, Phineas, an' I ain't old, either. Look at Colonel Smith; he's jest my age, an' he's got a autymobile. Mebbe I'll have one some day."
To Phineas it seemed that a cold hand clutched his heart.
"Dianthy, you wouldn't really--ride in one!" he faltered.
Until that moment Diantha had not been sure that she would, but the quaver in Phineas's voice decided her.
"Wouldn't I? You jest wait an' see!"
And Phineas did wait--and he did see. He saw Diantha, not a week later, pink-cheeked and bright-eyed, sitting by the side of Colonel Smith in that hated automobile. Nor did he stop to consider that Diantha was only one of a dozen upon whom Colonel Smith, in the enthusiasm of his new possession, was pleased to bestow that attention. To Phineas it could mean but one thing; and he did not change his opinion when he heard Diantha's account of the ride.
"It was perfectly lovely," she breathed. "Oh, Phineas, it was jest like flyin'!"
"'Flyin'!'" Phineas could say no more. He felt as if he were choking,-- choking with the dust raised by Dolly's plodding hoofs.
"An' the trees an' the houses swept by like ghosts," continued Diantha. "Why, Phineas, I could 'a' rode on an' on furever!"
Before the ecstatic rapture in Diantha's face Phineas went down in defeat. Without one word he turned away--but in his heart he registered a solemn vow: he, too, would have an automobile; he, too, would make Diantha wish to ride on and on forever!
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