Necessarily, such a man is impressionable, impulsive, emotional. This one was, and had no gift at hiding his feelings; or if he had it he took no trouble to exercise it. He carried his soul's prevailing weather in his face, and when he entered a room the parasols or the umbrellas went up--figuratively speaking-- according to the indications. When the soft light was in his eye it meant approval, and delivered a benediction; when he came with a frown he lowered the temperature ten degrees. He was a well-beloved man in the house of his friends, but sometimes a dreaded one.
He had a deep affection for the Lester household and its several members returned this feeling with interest. They mourned over his kind of Christianity, and he frankly scoffed at theirs; but both parties went on loving each other just the same.
He was approaching the house--out of the distance; the aunts and the culprit were moving toward the sick-chamber.
The three last named stood by the bed; the aunts austere, the transgressor softly sobbing. The mother turned her head on the pillow; her tired eyes flamed up instantly with sympathy and passionate mother-love when they fell upon her child, and she opened the refuge and shelter of her arms.
"Wait!" said Aunt Hannah, and put out her hand and stayed the girl from leaping into them.
"Helen," said the other aunt, impressively, "tell your mother all. Purge your soul; leave nothing unconfessed."
Standing stricken and forlorn before her judges, the young girl mourned her sorrowful tale through the end, then in a passion of appeal cried out:
"Oh, mother, can't you forgive me? won't you forgive me?--I am so desolate!"
"Forgive you, my darling? Oh, come to my arms!--there, lay your head upon my breast, and be at peace. If you had told a thousand lies--"
There was a sound--a warning--the clearing of a throat. The aunts glanced up, and withered in their clothes--there stood the doctor, his face a thunder-cloud. Mother and child knew nothing of his presence; they lay locked together, heart to heart, steeped in immeasurable content, dead to all things else. The physician stood many moments glaring and glooming upon the scene before him; studying it, analyzing it, searching out its genesis; then he put up his hand and beckoned to the aunts. They came trembling to him, and stood humbly before him and waited. He bent down and whispered:
"Didn't I tell you this patient must be protected from all excitement? What the hell have you been doing? Clear out of the place?"
They obeyed. Half an hour later he appeared in the parlor, serene, cheery, clothed in sunshine, conducting Helen, with his arm about her waist, petting her, and saying gentle and playful things to her; and she also was her sunny and happy self again.
"Now, then;" he said, "good-by, dear. Go to your room, and keep away from your mother, and behave yourself. But wait--put out your tongue. There, that will do--you're as sound as a nut!" He patted her cheek and added, "Run along now; I want to talk to these aunts."
She went from the presence. His face clouded over again at once; and as he sat down he said:
"You too have been doing a lot of damage--and maybe some good. Some good, yes--such as it is. That woman's disease is typhoid! You've brought it to a show-up, I think, with your insanities, and that's a service--such as it is. I hadn't been able to determine what it was before."
With one impulse the old ladies sprang to their feet, quaking with terror.
"Sit down! What are you proposing to do?"
"Do? We must fly to her. We--"
"You'll do nothing of the kind; you've done enough harm for one day. Do you want to squander all your capital of crimes and follies on a single deal? Sit down, I tell you. I have arranged for her to sleep; she needs it; if you disturb her without my orders, I'll brain you-- if you've got the materials for it.
They sat down, distressed and indignant, but obedient, under compulsion. He proceeded:
"Now, then, I want this case explained.