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Sweetapple Cove

George Van Schaick

  Produced by Juliet Sutherland, Mary Meehan, and the Online DistributedProofreading Team.





  _From John Grant's Diary_

  Have I shown wisdom or made an arrant, egregious fool of myself? This, Isuppose, is a question every man puts to himself after taking a suddendecision upon which a great deal depends.

  I have shaken the dust of the great city by the Hudson and forsaken itsrich laboratories, its vast hospitals, the earnest workers who werebeginning to show some slight interest in me. It was done not aftermature consideration but owing to the whim of a moment, to a suddendesire to change the trend of things I felt I could no longer contendwith.

  Now I live in a little house, among people who speak with an accent thathas become unfamiliar to the great outside world. They have given uptheir two best rooms to me, at a rental so small that I am somewhatashamed to tender it, at the end of every week. I also obtain theconstant care and the pleasant smiles of a good old housewife who appearsto take a certain amount of pride in her lodger. As far as I know I amthe only boarder in Sweetapple Cove, as well as the only doctor. For aday or two after my arrival I accompanied the local parson, Mr. Barnett,on visits to people he considered to be in need of my ministrations. Nowthey are coming in droves, and many scattered dwellers on the bleak coasthave heard of me. Little fishing-smacks meeting others from fartheroutports have spread the amazing news that there is a doctor at the Cove.

  With other pomps and vanities I have given up white shirts and collars,and my recent purchases include oilskins and long boots. This isfashionable apparel here, and my wearing them appears to impartconfidence in my ability.

  My only reason for writing this is that the Barnetts go to bed early.Doubtless I may also acquire the habit, in good time. Moreover, there isalways a danger of disturbing some important sermon-writing. In commondecency I can't bother these delightful people every evening, althoughthey have begged me to consider their home as my own. Mrs. Barnett is amost charming woman, and never in my life have I known anything like thewelcome she impulsively extended, but she works hard and I cannot intrudetoo much. Hence the hours after nine are exceedingly long, when itchances that there are no sick people to look after. At first, of course,I just mooned around, and called myself all sorts of names, honestlyconsidering myself the most stupendous fool ever permitted to exist infreedom from restraint. I plunged into books and devoured the medicalweeklies which the irregular mails of the place brought me, yet this didnot entirely suffice, and now I have begun to write. It may help the timeto pass away, and prevent the attacks of mold and rust. Later on, ifthings do not shape themselves according to my hopes, these dangers willbe of little import. These sheets may then mildew with the dampness ofthis land, or fly away to sea with the shrewd breezes that sweep over ourcoast, for all I shall care. At any rate they will have served theirpurpose.

  Of course I am trying to swallow my medicine like a little man. If thereis a being I despise it is the fellow who whimpers. There is little thatis admirable in professional pugilism, saving the smile often seen on afighter's face after he has just received a particularly hard andcrushing blow. Indeed, that smile is the bruiser's apology for his life.

  Lest it be inferred that I have been fighting, I hasten to declare thatit was a rather one-sided contest in which I was defeated, lock, stockand barrel, by a mere slip of a girl towards whom I had only lifted up myhands in supplication.

  "We are both very young, John," she explained to me, with anexasperating, if unconscious, imitation of the doctors she had observedas they announced very disagreeable things to their patients. "Our livesare practically only beginning. Until now we have been like thevegetables that are brought up in little wooden boxes. We are to be takenup and planted in a field, where we are to grow up into somethinguseful."

  "And we shall enjoy a great advantage over the young cabbages andlettuces," I chimed in. "We shall have the inestimable privilege of beingpermitted to select the particular farm or enclosure that pleases usbest."

  "Of course," said Dora Maclennon, cheerfully.

  "But I should be ever so glad to have you select for the two of us," Itold her. "I guarantee to follow you blindly."

  She put her hand on my arm and patted it in the abominably soothing wayshe has doubtless acquired in the babies' ward. In my case it was aboutas effectual as the traditional red rag to a bull.

  "Don't you dare touch me like that," I resented. "I'm quite through withthe mumps and measles. My complaint is one you don't understand at all.You are unable to sympathize with me because love, to you, is a meretheoretical thing. You've heard of it, perhaps you are even ready toadmit that some people suffer from such an ailment, but you don't reallyknow anything about it. It has not been a part of your curriculum. I'vebeen trying to inoculate you with this distemper but it won't take."

  "I suppose I'm a poor sort of soil for that kind of culture," shereplied, rather wistfully.

  "There is no finer soil in the world," I protested, doggedly.

  Every man in the world and at least half the women would have agreed withme. The grace of her charming figure, her smiles and that one littledimple, the waving abundance of her silken hair, the rich inflections ofher voice, each and all contradicted that foolish supposition of hers.

  "Well, I thought this was an invitation to dinner," remarked Dora,sweetly, with all the brutal talent of her sex for changing the drift ofconversation. "Of course they fed us well at the hospital, when we hadtime to eat, but...."

  "Is that your last word?" I asked, trying to subdue the eagerness of myvoice.

  "If you don't really care to go...."

  I rose and sought my hat and overcoat, while Dora wandered about myunpretentious office.

  "Your landlady could take lessons from Paddy's pig in cleanliness," shedeclared, running a finger over my bookcase and contemplating it withhorror. "I wonder that you, a surgeon, should be an accomplice to such amess."

  "It's pretty bad," I admitted, "but the poor thing has weak eyes, and shehas seen better days."

  "She deserves the bad ones, then," Dora exclaimed.

  "As in the case of many other maladies, we have as yet been unable todiscover the microbe of woman's inhumanity to woman," I observed.

  "When doggies meet they commonly growl," said Dora, "and when pussiesmeet they usually spit and scratch. Each according to his or her nature.And it seems to me that you could afford a new overcoat. That one ispositively becoming green."

  "I do believe I have another one, somewhere," I admitted.

  "Then go and find it," she commanded. "You need some one to look afteryou."

  I turned on her like the proverbial flash, or perhaps like theDowntrodden worm.

  "Isn't that just what I've been gnashing my teeth over?" I asked. "I'mglad you have the grace to admit it."

  "I'll admit anything you like," she said. "But, John dear, we can'treally be sure yet that I'm the one who ought to do it. And--and maybethere will be no room at the tables unless we hurry a little."

  She was buttoning up her gloves again, quite coolly, and cast approvingglances at some radiographic prints on my wall.

  "That must have been a splendid fracture," she commented.

  "You are a few million years old in the ways of Eve," I told her, "butyou are still young in the practice of trained nursing. To you brokenlegs and, perhaps, broken hearts, are as yet but interesting cases."

  She turned her shapely head towards me, and for an instant her eyessearched mine.

  "Do you really believe that?" she asked, in a very low-sweet voice.

  I stood bef
ore her, penitently.

  "I don't suppose I do," I acknowledged. "Let us say that it was just someof the growling of the dog. He doesn't usually mean anything by it."

  "You're an awfully good fellow, John," said the little nurse, pleasantly."I know I've been hurting you a bit. Please, I'm sorry the medicinetastes so badly."

  The only thing I could do was to lift up one of her hands and kiss awhite kid glove, _faute de mieux_. It was stretched over her fingers,however, and hence was part of her.

  When we reached the restaurant she selected a table and placed herself sothat she might see as many diners as possible. If there had been peopleoutside of Paradise, Eve would certainly have peeped through the palings.I handed her the bill of fare and she begged for Cape Cods.

  "You order the rest of it," she commanded. "I'm going to look."

  While I discussed dishes with the waiter her eyes wandered over the bigroom, taking in pretty dresses and becoming coiffures. Then she watchedthe leader of the little orchestra, who certainly wielded a masterfulbow, and gave a little sigh of content.

  "We really could afford this at least once or twice a week," I sought totempt her, "and the theatre besides, and--and--"

  She looked at me very gravely, moving a little from side to side, as ifmy head presented varied and interesting aspects.

  "That's one of the troubles with you," she finally said. "You have somemoney, a nice reasonable amount of money, and you can afford some things,and I can't tell whether you're going to be an amateur or aprofessional."

  "An amateur?" I repeated, dully.

  "I mean no reflection upon your abilities," she explained, hurriedly. "Iknow all that you have done in London and in Edinburgh, and these Germanplaces. You can tack more than half the letters of the alphabet afteryour name if you choose to. But I don't quite see what you are doing inNew York."

  "You wrote that you were coming to study nursing here," I reminded her."This is now a great centre of scientific research, thanks to theprincely endowments of the universities. Have you the slightest notion ofhow many years I have loved you, Dora?"

  "Not quite so loud," she reproved me. "I believe it began in dear old St.John's. You were about fourteen when you declared your passion, and Iwore pigtails and exceedingly short skirts. My legs, also, were thespindliest things."

  "Yes, that was the beginning, Dora, and it has continued ever since.During the years I spent abroad we kept on writing. It seemed to me thatthe whole thing was settled. I've always had your pictures with me; thefirst was little Dora, and the other one was taken when you first didyour hair up and wore long dresses. During all that time St. John's wasthe garden of the Hesperides, and you were the golden thing I was toilingfor. When you wrote that you were coming to New York I took the next boatover. Then you told me I must wait until you graduated. And now, afteryour commencement, I hoped, indeed I hoped--I'm afraid I'm worrying you,dear."

  She smiled at me, very pleasantly, but the little dimple held naught butmystery. I really think her eyes implied a sort of regret, as if shewished she could make the ordeal less hard for me.

  The waiter brought the oysters, which Dora consumed appreciatively. I wassimply compelled to eat also, lest she should deem me a peevish loser inthe great game I had sought to play. Yet I remember that these Cape Codswere distinctly hard to swallow, delicious though they probably were.

  Suddenly she looked up, and the little oyster impaled on her fork droppedon the plate.

  "There's Taurus!" she exclaimed, with gleaming eyes.

  She was looking at a rather tall man, of powerful build, whose abundanthair was splendidly tinged with silver, and who was coming in with a verybeautiful woman.

  "Is that what you nurses call him?" I asked, recognizing one of the greatsurgeons of the world.

  "Yes," she answered. "Isn't he wonderful? We're all in love with him, themean thing."

  "Kindly explain the adjective," I urged her. "Is it due to the fact thathe protected himself against the wiles of a host of pretty women bymarrying the sweetest one of the lot--with a single exception--to theutter despair of the remainder?"

  "Did you ever hear him blow up his house-staff?" Dora asked me.

  "I have heard that he could be rather strenuous at times," I admitted.

  "Well, that's how he infringes on our rights," Dora informed me. "I havenever heard him say an angry word to a nurse. He just has a way ofsmiling at one, as if he were beholding an infinitesimal infant totallyincapable of understanding. The sarcasm of it is utterly fierce and thenurse goes off, red and shaken, and feels like killing him. Don't youthink we've got just as good a right as any whipper-snapper of a newintern to be blown up?"

  "Evidently," I assented. "It is an unfair discrimination."

  "And yet we're all just crazy for him. You can hardly understand how thepersonality of the man permeates the wards, how he gives one theimpression of some wonderful being who has reached a pinnacle, andremains there, smilingly, without heeding the crowd below that worshipsand cheers. And how the patients adore him!"

  She evidently expected no answer from me, nor did I venture upon one. Herwords were very significant, and gave me a rather hopeless feeling. Shewas under the influence of the glamour of great names and reputations.Her youth demanded hero-worship. Measured by her standards I was but anice friend, to whom she could even be affectionate.

  Presently, in her enjoyment of our modest little dinner, she turned tome, appearing to forget the crowd, and sighed happily.

  "This would all be so delightful," she said, "if...."

  "I'll tell you, girlie," I said, "let us agree that all this has been adream of mine. We will say that I have never been in love with you, andregard you now with profound indifference. It has been that which somevery amazing practitioners are pleased to call an error. Now you will beable to enjoy happiness. As far as I am concerned I don't suppose it canmake me feel any worse."

  "You're a dear good boy, John," she answered. "We shall always be awfullygood friends, and perhaps, some day ... Now you must tell me all yourplans."

  "Ladies first," I objected.

  "Well, my heart is still in Newfoundland, you know. But I'm going to stayat least a year in New York. I'm going to work among the poorest and mostunpleasant, because I want to become self-reliant. Then I shall go backhome. Think of a trained nurse let loose in some of those outports! Ishould just revel in it. I am an heiress worth five hundred dollars ayear of my own. That would keep a lot of people up there. You see, I havea theory!"

  "Will you be so kind as to share it with me?" I asked.

  "Well, ordinary nursing is a humdrum thing" and there are thousands to doit. It is the same thing with you. Just now, having no practice asyet, you are working in laboratories with a lot of others; you run aroundhospitals--also with a crowd. What do you know about your ability to goright out and do a man's work, by yourself? That is what counts, to mymind."

  "I see the point," I informed her, "and you expect surely to return tothe land of codfish."

  "Yes," she nodded, "and now what about you?"

  "Oh, I am going there next week," I replied. She opened her eyes verywide, vaguely scenting some sort of joke, but in this she erred.

  "I see no use in remaining here," I said, with a determination as strongas it was recent. "It would take me a long time to put myself on thelevel of men like Taurus, and I don't want a lot of nurses falling inlove with me; I only asked for one. You are going back after a time. Verywell, I'm going now, and I'll wait for you. I can easily find some placewhere a doctor is badly needed. You will answer my letters, won't you?"

  "I promise," she said, very gravely, "and it is a very good idea. One canalways do a man's work up there."

  She ate a Nesselrode pudding while I enjoyed coffee and a cigar, to theextent that I forgot to drink the one and allowed the other to go outafter a puff or two.

  "Your money came from a good St. John's merchant who made it from thepeople of the outports," she said. "You might spend a little on the
m now,gracefully. They need it badly enough."

  We remained silent for some time, thinking of the bleak coast of our bigisland, where the price of our little dinner would have represented alarge sum, and then we left the restaurant and took a car up town.

  When she finally held out her little hand to me it was warm, and Ifancied that from it came a current that was comforting, though it mayhave been but the affectionate regard of some years of good friendship.

  "You will dine again with me, next Thursday?" I asked her. "It will takeme a few days to get ready."

  "Don't you think that Gordian knot had better be cut at once?" advisedDora. "I won't change my mind, and you know I've always been an obstinatething. There are important things for both of us to achieve, somewhere. Imust grope about to find my share of them, for I feel like the ship thatdid not find itself till it encountered a storm or two. If I promised tomeet you next week you would keep on hoping. Do plunge right in nowinstead of shivering on the bank."

  "Don't trouble about any more metaphors," I told her. "You promise to gohome within a year?"

  "I firmly intend to," she replied, "but you can't always depend on awoman's plans."

  "If I can't depend on you I have very little left to believe in," Ideclared.

  "I'm pretty sure I'll come," she said, "and--and God bless you, John!"

  So we separated there, in the silent street, before the nurses' homewhere she had taken a room a few days after her graduation. I couldn'ttrust myself to say anything more.

  The door closed upon her and I slowly walked back to my quarters, with ahead full of dreary thoughts, and several times narrowly escaped speedingtaxis and brought down upon myself some picturesque language.

  I fear that I was hardly in a mood to appreciate its beauty.