The weeks that followed were the most terrible and most wearing that
Jeannie had ever known. During the first day or two she showed a real
aptitude for her work; she was gentle, firm, and untiring, and as the
epidemic increased Miss Fortescue was soon moved to help in a larger
ward, and a dozen cases in a smaller ward, off the one under Nurse
James, were put under Jeannie. The head nurse was thus always at hand in
case she wanted her, but otherwise Jeannie had to manage her patients
alone. It was a constant matter of anxiety to Jeannie as to whether she
ought or ought not to summon the other. At first the slightest rise in a
patient’s temperature seemed to her enough grounds on which to ask the
inspection of the elder woman, for she had been told she could not be
too careful. Nurse James herself was worked almost to death; and on
Jeannie’s calling her one day to look at a patient she had exclaimed,
“It would be less trouble to look after them myself.”
Jeannie flushed slightly, but said nothing, and went back to her work.
Nurse James hurried out of the room, but returned a moment later.
“You must forgive me, Miss Avesham,” she said, “but I am worried to
death. What we should do without you and Miss Fortescue I don’t know.
But the temperature always goes up a little in the afternoon; it is only
the very sudden rise or sudden falls, particularly the latter, which
need alarm you.”
“I see; I will try to remember,” she said. “You are very patient with
The work was terribly severe to any one unaccustomed to it. In her ward
were women and girls only, who were easier to manage than the men, but
who were more hopeless and apathetic, and Jeannie often thought that she
would sooner have them fretful and irritable if they only would be less
despondent. One woman, who was having the attack very slightly, and
getting through with it very well, would spend half the day in sulky
tears, pitying herself, and moaning over the cruelty of Jeannie, who, in
obedience to her orders, did not, of course, let her have a crumb of any
solid food. Sometimes when she was giving her a wash in the morning she
would be called away by another trying to raise herself in bed or
wanting to be attended to in some way, and when she came back there
would be nothing but querulous complaints of the time she had been left;
she felt sure she would catch a cold; Jeannie had not dried her properly
before she went. At another time she would beg for food with tears,
saying how she had read a story in which was described an epidemic of
typhoid, where a charitable lady in the village had sat by her patients
and fed them with cooling fruits. Jeannie had laughed at this, out of
the superiority of her ten days’ knowledge.
“My good woman,” she said, “if I wanted to kill you I should give you a
“You are killing me with starvation,” cried the woman. “Look how thin I
have grown with a fortnight of this. Oh, for God’s sake, Miss, give me
just a crust of bread!”
Jeannie had finished washing her, and covered her up gently.
“Now I am leaving you, and I shall come again to you in two hours with
your milk,” she said. “Look, you have two hours before you. Just say
your prayers, and thank God for getting over this. And ask Him to make
you more sensible and more patient. You are more trouble than all the
rest of the ward put together.”
Jeannie took down the woman’s temperature-chart, which hung over her
bed, and put down the ten o’clock register.
“You are doing very well,” she said. “Just think over what I have said.”
The next case was as bad as a case can be. It was a girl not more than
sixteen years old, and even now, when the second week of the fever was
only just beginning, her strength was terribly exhausted by the
continued high fever. The afternoon before Jeannie had spent two hours
sponging her with iced water, and had only succeeded in bringing it
down to 102°. She came on duty herself at eight in the morning, and as
she put the thermometer into the child’s mouth she looked at the
temperature-chart. It had been 102° again at six in the morning, when it
should have been lowest, and she looked anxiously at the face. It was
very wan and thin, and the skin looked hard and tight as if it had been
stretched. Below the eyes were deep hollows, and though they were wide
open it was clear that the girl was scarcely conscious. She waited a
full half minute, and then drew the thermometer gently out of her mouth
and looked at it. It registered only 98°. She frowned and put it into
her mouth again, hoping there might have been some mistake. Then when
she saw it a second time she hurried into the next ward.
“That girl, Number 8,” she said to Nurse James, “had a six-o’clock
temperature of 102°. It has sunk to 98°.”
Nurse James hardly looked up; she was watching a man who lay quite
still, but tried every other moment to get up in bed.
“Dr. Maitland is in the next ward,” she said; “go and tell him at once.
It may be perforation. Then, when you have finished your round, if all
the rest are doing well, I wish you would come here while I finish. I
can’t leave this man alone. You can hear any sound in your ward from his
Jeannie hurried on and told Dr. Maitland. He came at once, looked at the
girl, and shook his head.
“You did quite right to send for me, Miss Avesham,” he said. “Yes, she
is as bad as she can be. I can do nothing.”
At moments like these Jeannie felt sick and utterly helpless, and almost
inclined to say that she could bear it no longer. But she said nothing,
and went on to the next bed.
The next patient was a robust woman of about thirty with a baritone
voice. She proclaimed loudly that she was perfectly well, and was being
starved. Her gray Irish eyes used to plead with Jeannie for something to
eat, and she badly resented being washed. But this morning she took it
in silence, and thanked Jeannie.
“She’s bad?” she asked, looking hard to the next bed.
“Yes, very bad,” said Jeannie, hardly able to speak. She took the
woman’s chart down from the wall and indicated the ten-o’clock
temperature on it.
“You’re nearly through, I hope,” she said. “Yes, quite normal this
morning. Now all you have to do is to lie very quiet, and you will get
stronger every day. The doctor said you might have beef-tea this morning
instead of milk.”
She smiled at her rather sadly, and was passing on, but the woman seized
“It’s cruel hard on ye,” said she; “but don’t mind so, don’t mind so.
An’ me worrying you and all. I’ll bite out me tongue before I say
another hasty word to ye.”
Then came two or three very bad cases. One was a frail, tired-looking
woman, who glanced at Jeannie wistfully as she examined the thermometer.
“I’m no better?” she asked.
Jeannie smiled, but with a heavy heart. The woman, she felt sure, could
not last through very many days of this.
“How do you feel?” she said.
“Weak and tired–oh, so tired! And I have a pain in my back.”
“Do you cough at all?” asked Jeannie.
“I couldn’t sleep for it last night,” said the woman, “and that makes a
“Keep yourself warm, then,” she said, “and lie still.”
“But I’m no better?” she asked again.
“That was one of the questions which we settled not to ask,” said
Jeannie. “When you are quite well you will get up. Till then, nothing,
Half an hour more sufficed to finish the round, and she went into the
next ward to watch the man who was so restless. For nearly an hour she
had to sit close by his bedside, with her hands continually pressing on
his shoulders to prevent his getting up. He was more than half
unconscious and wandering in his talk, saying things now and then which
ten days ago would have made Jeannie turn from him in horror and
disgust. But now she had nothing of that left, only pure pity and the
one great end in view to let none of these poor people die.
Then when Nurse James had finished her round she came back to her, and
by then it was time to get the patients’ food. Some of the more advanced
and progressing cases were already allowed Mellin’s Food, but for the
most it was still only milk and beef-tea.
At mid-day she had a couple of hours’ interval, usually returned home to
lunch, and went afterward for a walk. But to-day she felt too fagged and
too sick at heart to do more than sit in the garden and beneath the
pitiless leaden cowl of the sky. The effort of appearing cheerful and
remaining cheering was too great, and when alone she abandoned herself
to a sort of resigned hopelessness. Just before leaving the ward she had
seen the terrible screen put up round the bed of the girl who was dying.
That was all the privacy that could be given her. She almost hoped that
when she got back the end would have come; only two days before she had
sat in the still and awe-struck ward while a woman passed through her
last hours. She had heard the wandering, inarticulate cries; she had
counted her breaths through the long, pitiless silences; she had shut
her teeth hard to bear, without screaming audibly, that one last
exclamation in which the spirit clutches with unavailing hands not to be
torn away from the inert body, the one last convulsive breath in which
the body tries to retain it, and she thought she could hardly bear it
again. Then she cudgelled and contemned herself for her paltry, selfish
cowardice. Was there ever, she thought, a girl so puny-spirited?
During these ten days in which she had been nursing the epidemic had
showed no signs of abatement. Sometimes for a couple of days the return
of the fresh cases was suddenly diminished, and once when Jeannie went
to the hospital at eight in the morning to take up her duties they told
her that there had been no fresh cases reported since the night before.
But on all these occasions the lull was only temporary, and in the next
twelve hours there would perhaps be seventy more reported. She pictured
the disease to herself like some hideous monster which would lie down to
sleep for a few hours after one of its gigantic meals, and then, when
the victims were digested, would rise up again and clutch at them with
his hot hands. Once as she was leaving the hospital Dr. Maitland had
called her into his consulting-room to ask her a question about one of
her patients, and as she rose to go he had said:
“Would you like to see what is the matter with all these people?”
He pointed to a microscope which stood on the table, and Jeannie looked
through it at the drop of water which was beneath the lenses.
“There are a quantity of typhoid bacilli in that,” he said; “they are
long and black, with one pointed end, rather like pencils.”
He adjusted the light for her, and among the infinitesimal denizens of
the water she saw five or six little dark lines seemingly as lifeless as
the rest. She drew back with a shudder.
“I thought of it as some terrible beast with claws and teeth,” she said;
“but this is the more terrible.”
Never before had she realized on what a hair-breadth path this
precarious life of ours pursues its way. The strength and the wit and
the beauty of man were slaves and puppets in the hands of this minute
organism. A king on his throne mixes one day a little water with the
wine in his golden cup, and with it one of these black pencils,
invisible but to a high power of lens, and thereafter he ascends his
throne no more, but another sits in his place, before whom they sing
“God save the King.” And the father is but one among the uncounted dead.
This afternoon, as she sat under the trees in the garden after her
lunch, thoughts like these flitted bat-like through the gloomy chambers
of the brain. How insignificant and insecure was life! It was like some
ill-constructed clock which might stop any moment. And how mean and
trivial were all its best aims. Here was she, with a fair average of
birth and brains and heart, and life held for her no more heroic task
than to wage war–and, oh, how hopelessly!–with an infinitesimal atom.
The peace and sheltered security of Wroxton, the busy tranquility she
had fashioned for herself here, were all knocked in the dust. Everything
was at the mercy of the bacillus.
Luckily for her peace of mind these unfruitful imaginings were
interrupted by Pool. She did not hear his step on the soft grass, and
his voice spoke before she knew he was there.
“Mr. Collingwood is here, Miss,” he said, “and wants to know if you can
Jeannie did not move, but her voice trembled a little.
“Yes, ask him to come out here,” she said; “and bring another chair.”
She rose to meet him.
“Ah, how do you do?” she said. “Tell me, the baby is quite well?”
“Quite well,” he said, and then there was silence.
Pool brought out another chair, and still in silence they sat down.
Jeannie’s heart had suddenly begun to beat furiously.
“I heard from Arthur this morning,” he said, “and that is why I am here.
I knew, of course, from the papers that there was an epidemic of typhoid
here, and I was frightened. But his letter told me more. It told me that
you spent all your days in nursing at the hospital. And I could not bear
Jeannie said nothing, but a great, pervading peace took possession of
her troubled soul. It was as if she had suddenly passed from a stormy,
mountainous sea round into a harbour, and the bacilli resumed their real
“I could not bear it,” he said, again looking at her.
No word of explanation passed between them. His right to question what
she did Jeannie did not dispute, and he did not miss the significance of
“I could not help myself,” she said. “It was impossible for me not to do
what I could. Oh, it has been a terrible time, and we are not at the end
of it yet. Oh, these poor people!”
“Leave the place, come away,” he began, suddenly and passionately, but
then stopped, for he saw in Jeannie’s face the light of pity, divine and
human and womanly, and all that was selfish in his love for her, all
that said “I cannot live without her,” died.
“Do not leave the place,” he resumed. “Do all that your heart prompts
you to do. But promise me this–promise that you will leave no
precaution untaken to minimize the risk to yourself. I know there is no
need to ask you that, because that is your duty as much as the other,
but it will comfort me to hear you say it.”
“I promise you that,” said Jeannie, simply.
The divine deed was done, and the word yet unspoken had changed all.
Three minutes before there had been only a leaden sky, the withered,
drought-yellowed grass round her, but the grass was become the paved
sapphire of the courts of heaven, and the sky was the sky. Each of them
was so utterly in tune with the other that Jack felt no desire to speak
directly, nor did Jeannie wish it. The pause out of which music should
issue was theirs.
“And what is to be done with me?” he asked, in a lighter tone. “May I
“No, Jack,” she said, and the utter unconsciousness with which she spoke
his name smote him with sweetness. “No, you are to go back to your work,
too. We have all got our work; nothing can refute that. Tell me about
“He cries for you,” said Jack.
“Kiss him for me then, and pray for us. Oh, let me tell you about it
all. It will do me good, and I am too heart-sick to talk it over with
the others. If I tell Aunt Em about my cases it is a double burden for
her, and if she tells me about hers it is double for me. Arthur behaves
splendidly. He goes his rounds all day, like a milkman, he says, with
cans of disinfectants.”
“Ah, he helps too, does he?” said Jack. “He never mentioned that in his
“No? That is so like the dear boy. He has found lots of cases which they
were trying to keep dark, for they hate going to hospital, and he alone
of us all remains perfectly cheerful. But it is terrible at the
hospital. I have about a dozen cases almost entirely under me. One died
two days ago; another, I am afraid, will die to-day. It is so awful to
work and work and work, and with what result? Oh, I am a stupid,
ungrateful little fool! Is it not enough to find that little silver line
on the thermometer a little lower than it was at the same time
yesterday, and perhaps a degree lower than it was the day before? But
one feels so helpless. And it is all on account of a little invisible
demon which the carelessness of dirty people allowed to get into the
water-supply. People talk of the horror of war. The horror of
water-companies seems to me the more frightful.”
Jeannie paused a moment.
“But I would not have gone through it, and I would not be now going
through it for the kingdoms of the world,” she said. “The mischief has
been done, and it is an inestimable privilege to be allowed to help in
minimizing the results. It is giving me a new view of life, Jack. Here
in this sheltered, peaceful town I was in danger, I think, of becoming a
sort of ruminating animal, sleek, and living in the meadows like a sort
“I didn’t gather you were in danger of that,” remarked Jack. “You did
happen to hold some classes in your meadow, did you not?”
“Yes, classes of other cows. We were all cows together–at least I was.
But out of all this suffering there comes, I know not what–certainly
despondency; but I do not believe that that is the permanent net
result. One learns what a little thing is life, and how great. Also it
seems as if I was learning to be egoistic.”
She got up out of her chair.
“Oh, you have done me good!” she cried. “Look, what was that?”
Jack had seen it, too; it was as if the sky had winked. They waited in
silence, and in a few minutes came the growl of answering thunder.
Jeannie stretched out her arms with a great sigh.
“Thunder!” she cried. “Perhaps there will be rain. How I have prayed for
that. You don’t know what it may mean to us. Well, what is it, Pool?”
“Mrs. Raymond is here, Miss,” said he, “and would like to speak to you.”
“Very well, I will come in. Wait here, Mr. Collingwood; I will see what
Jeannie went indoors with a new briskness of step and found Mrs. Raymond
standing helplessly in the middle of the drawing-room.
“Oh, Miss Avesham,” she said, “will you come? Maria is ill, and I can’t
find any doctor in. So I thought, if you would be so kind, you would
come and look at her, as I heard you have been working at the hospital.”
“When was she taken ill?” asked Jeannie.
“She wasn’t well yesterday at lunch, and had no appetite. And my husband
said it was all nonsense and took her out for a walk. She was very bad
last night, but he said she would be all right in the morning, and now
she’s no better.”
Jeannie gave a little exclamation of impatience, and looked at her
“Yes, I’ve just got time before I go back to the hospital,” she said.
“Have you a carriage here?”
“Yes, it’s waiting,” said Mrs. Raymond.
“Very good; get in. I’ll follow you in a moment.”
She went quickly into the garden again.
“I must go,” she said to Jack. “I have to see a girl before I go back to
“And I am to go back to paint my silly little pictures?” he asked.
“Yes; you don’t paint badly, you know!”
“I will try and paint better. But I may come again?”
Jeannie shook hands with him.
“Yes, do come again,” she said.
They drove quietly through the dusty, sultry streets, and came in a few
minutes to Lammermoor. Mrs. Raymond conversed all the time in a low,
monotonous voice, like the tones of some one talking in their sleep,
chiefly in defence of her husband, though Jeannie had said no word about
“Colonel Raymond is so very strong himself,” she said, “and I think
sometimes that he doesn’t quite make allowance for the children. But he
disagrees with me, and I dare say he is right. He always finds a good
walk, he says, the best cure for a headache or a feeling of tiredness;
he says such things are best walked off. But with children, you know, it
may be different; they are so easily tired, and the Colonel always walks
very fast. But Maria’s walk yesterday certainly did her no good, and my
husband was as anxious as myself to-day that some one should see her,
and the doctors were all out. That was why I came for you, and it is so
good of you to come. Colonel Raymond is terrified for the child; he does
not at all like illness in the house. He has seen so much illness in
In–in his service. And here we are!”
Jeannie followed Mrs. Raymond up the narrow gravel walk and up the three
stone steps, with balls at the top and bottom, into Lammermoor. A strong
smell of tobacco and camphor was apparent in the hall.
“Colonel Raymond says smoking is the best disinfectant,” explained his
wife, “and he has been sprinkling camphor about in the study and in the
dining-room. He says camphor is a good disinfectant, too.”
“I should recommend you to open all the doors and windows in the house
and let in some fresh air,” she said. “Fresh air is better than either
camphor or tobacco.”
“I will tell my husband what you say,” said Mrs. Raymond. “Will you step
into the drawing-room a moment, Miss Avesham? I know Robert would like
to see you.”
“I really haven’t time,” said Jeannie. “I must be back at the hospital
“Then perhaps you will come upstairs straight?” said the other.
The house reeked of the Colonel’s disinfectants as they mounted the
stairs. On the first floor the door into his dressing-room was just
open, disclosing a view of him putting some clothes into a small valise,
with a cigar in his mouth, and in his shirt-sleeves.
“Oh, here is Robert,” said Mrs. Raymond, in her thin voice. “Robert,
here is Miss Avesham very kindly come to see Maria. What are you doing,
The Colonel treated Jeannie to his best military bow, and took the cigar
out of his mouth, but his usual heartiness was absent from his greeting.
“Very kind of you, very kind, I am sure, Miss Avesham,” he said, “to
come and see our poor little Maria. The hot weather–she feels the hot
weather, poor child.”
A curious, grim look came into Jeannie’s face. Like most people who have
the salt of courage necessary for the conduct of life she felt unkindly
toward cowardice. She noticed also that this bluff and gallant
gentleman did not advance to meet her, but rather retreated farther into
his room. She remembered also the confidence that Miss Clifford had made
her on the stair-case, and she hardened her heart.
“How do you do, Colonel Raymond?” she said, still advancing toward him,
but the Colonel retreated behind his open luggage.
“What are you doing, Robert?” asked his wife again, in the same voice.
Colonel Raymond did not reply at once, and Jeannie did not break his
“Well, I’m packing,” he said, at length. “If there’s illness in the
house a man is only in the way. Better make myself scarce, you know;
better make myself scarce.”
Jeannie looked at him fixedly for a moment. Then, breaking into a smile:
“You need not be frightened,” she said. “For any one well over forty
there is really no risk, even when typhoid is about. And I thought you
said it was only the hot weather that had tried your daughter. Well,
Mrs. Raymond, I have to be back at the hospital very soon, and I think
we had better go and see your daughter at once.”
She turned her back on the Colonel, and followed Mrs. Raymond to a
“My husband is very careful about infection,” said the latter as they
mounted the stairs. “That is so right, is it not? But I did not know he
was thinking of going away.”
“He is quite right to be careful of infection,” said Jeannie. “But there
is no need for him to go; and, indeed, we do not know if there is any
Maria slept in the same room with one of her sisters, the eldest having
the dignity of a room to herself. Jeannie cast one glance at the little
haggard, fevered face, and took out her thermometer.
“Put it under your tongue, dear,” she said, “and keep it there till I
take it away. Don’t bite it. No, it’s not medicine; it doesn’t taste
She glanced at it at the end of half a minute.
“That’s all right,” she said, reassuringly. “How do you feel?”
“Headache,” piped the little feeble voice from the bed.
“We’ll soon make that all right then,” said Jeannie. “Now lie quite
still and covered up, and your mother will come to you again.”
“And I sha’n’t go a walk to-day?” said Maria.
“No, you shall stay in bed and rest. You are a little tired.”
Jeannie closed the door when they came out.
“Yes, she has high fever,” she said to Mrs. Raymond. “Go and sit with
her, and don’t let her raise herself in bed. I am afraid it is typhoid,
but we can’t tell yet. I will see you again before I leave the house. I
am just going to speak to your husband, unless you will take the
responsibility of what you do.”
“You must speak to him, then,” said Mrs. Raymond. “But please remember,
dear Miss Avesham, how careful he is about infection.”
“Yes, I will remember,” said Jeannie.
The dressing-room door was shut when she went downstairs again, and she
knocked at it. It flew open, and it seemed to Jeannie that the Colonel
thought he was opening to his wife.
“I want to speak to you, Colonel Raymond,” she said. “Oh, please don’t
apologize for the state of your room. I have only a minute, and you need
not come downstairs.”
“You have seen Maria?” asked the Colonel.
“Yes; she is ill. She must be treated as if she had typhoid.”
“God bless my soul!” exclaimed the Colonel. “Why, I have seen men die of
it like flies!”
“They are dying of it like flies here,” said Jeannie. “Now I don’t want
to dissuade you from going away, though for a man of your age there is
really no risk. Still there is no telling what fright will do. If you
were frightened of whooping-cough you might still catch it. But I want
to know this. Will you send your daughter to the hospital? She will be
as well looked after there as here; it will take anxiety off your wife,
and you can take the other two children away with you. Might I trouble
you to open the window? This mixture of camphor and cigar is
“She would go as a paying patient?” asked the Colonel.
“Of course,” said Jeannie.
“Then, upon my soul, Miss Avesham, I think we’ll keep her here. She’ll
be better looked after in her own home. My wife is an excellent nurse,
and any little delicacies she might require will be more easily supplied
“As you will,” said Jeannie. “If, as I am afraid, it is typhoid, you
will of course have to have two trained nurses, by day and night. Mrs.
Raymond told me the decision would be with you.”
Colonel Raymond looked undecided, and slipped on his coat.
“Very difficult to decide,” he said, “very difficult. Which do you
recommend, Miss Avesham?”
“It is difficult to choose,” said Jeannie. “Ah, it lightened again; I
hope we shall have rain. As you say, perhaps she would be more
comfortable here. Please tell me at once. I am going straight back to
the hospital, and I will tell them to send an ambulance if you decide
she should go.”
“Well, she shall go, she shall go,” said the Colonel. “Nothing like
“I think you have decided right,” said Jeannie. “The other child who
sleeps in the same room must, of course, be removed at once. You have a
spare room? If not, no doubt you could make her a bed here in your
“That would be possible,” said the Colonel.
“And since the case is removed,” said Jeannie, “it will no longer be
necessary for you to go away. Please don’t trouble to come down, as I
can let myself out.”
As Jeannie left the house she noticed that the south was black with
cloud. The texture of it was different to what it had been during the
last fortnight of congested weather. The sky was no longer leaden and
dry, but moist and dark with imminent rain. A little wind was beginning
to blow in fitful gusts from the same quarter, and leaves nearly dead
danced with clouds of whirling dust about the road. Already in the air
was the hint of a change; her heart was lighter, for the two hours had
been like a caress to her troubled spirit. She had been worn with
fruitless effort; the collar of the suffering world chafed her, but one
hand brought healing to her, and her heart was holpen.
She reported the case of probable typhoid to a doctor, and went back to
her ward. Nurse James met her with a smiling face, and when Nurse James
smiled it was not without reason.
“That girl you left so ill this morning is no worse,” she said. “If
anything, she is a little stronger. Dr. Maitland thinks that the sudden
drop in the temperature may be after all a sudden turn for the better.
He says it occasionally happens. Certainly if there had been perforation
we should have known by now. Watch her very carefully.”
All the afternoon remote lightning winked distantly in the sky, and the
answering thunder got ever gradually louder and more continuous. The
wind had veered into the north-west, and was coming in sudden claps and
buffets of hot air, and the storm, a distant rack of coppery, hard-edged
cloud, distinct and different from the heavy, soft vapours overhead, was
approaching slowly from the opposite quarter. The oppression of the air
was as intolerable as ever, and strangely more acute, the remote heavens
seemed to be pressing down on the earth like a hot lid over a stewing
pot. But in the ward there was a general feeling of cheerfulness, easy
to perceive, hard to define, a survival doubtless in man of the curious
instinct in animals which makes them smell an approaching storm and
warns the domestic sort that an earthquake is coming. The earth and the
fever-stricken town were waiting for a change, which could not be for
the worse. Of them all, only the girl who had been almost despaired of
that morning lay quite still and apathetic, and again and again Jeannie
went to her bedside betwixt hope and fear.
About five the storm burst in riotous elements. For an hour before that
the strain had been almost unbearable. The forked flashes of lightning,
the dry growl of the thunder had approached nearer and nearer, and all
the earth seemed to pause, finger on lip, for the catastrophe. Now and
then a few rain-drops as big as pennies fell down upon the pavements,
and vanished again like a breath on a frosty morning on the hot, thirsty
stones. Then suddenly the heavens burst, a ribbon of blue fire leaped
downward from the zenith, and the noise of the thunder was as if the sky
had cracked. One woman half raised herself in bed and cried, “Lord, have
mercy!” but at the end of the words came a sound as if a thousand snakes
had hissed in the street outside, the blessed whisper of rain, and all
The girl who was so ill moved slightly and laid one hand outside the
bed-clothes; the woman who had cried aloud lay back in bed smiling;
Jeannie felt a pulse rise in her throat and subside again, and outside
the hiss of the snakes changed to a drumming on the roof, which got
gradually louder and more insistent. Perpendicularly it fell, like rods
of steel, and as the seconds added themselves into minutes the roofs,
drains, and gutter-pipes began to gurgle and chuckle to themselves, and
never was there a song so sweet. These guttural sounds grew ever fuller,
and in a few minutes, with a great splash, they choked and overflowed in
bubbling laughter. Again and yet again the lightning tore a path through
the clouds, and at each reverberation in the baptism of fire the earth
grew regenerate and young. The hot, stifling smell of the last six weeks
turned to something infinitely fresh and vigorous, and down the
pavements and over the roads began to flow the flushing streams.
Five was the hour of the afternoon milk and beef-tea, and Carmel hour,
as it seemed to Jeannie, of the evening sacrifice. Food and the healing
rain were poured out, a sign of His hand, abundant, health-giving.
Exultantly she went her rounds, and found smiling faces. One only did
not smile, for the girl lay in deep, natural sleep, as if the racket and
tumult outside were a lullaby to her. Outside it had grown very dark;
the wind had ceased; but as if to compensate for the darkness, from
moment to moment an intolerable brilliance of lightning made a tenfold
brightness. It was as if the town was beleaguered by the artillery of
the sky, and from right and left fired unceasingly the guns of heaven.
In the intervals between the flashes colour was blotted out from the
world, dark roofs and black trees huddled together to meet a sky
scarcely more luminous. Then in a moment the colour would be restored.
The geraniums in the boxes outside the window, black before, leaped into
their scarlet liveries; the black elm-tops, a dark blob, became an
outlined company of green leaves, and the tiled roofs of the houses were
red once more. A noise as of a hundred sacks of marbles poured out on to
a wooden floor endorsed the truths, and once again the world became
shadow and the click of gutters.
By six the first violence of the storm was momentarily abated. Sullen,
blessed rain-clouds hung ready to burst, but when Jeannie and Miss
Fortescue came to leave the hospital they passed unwetted down to Bolton
Street. In Jeannie’s head an easy melody of love and joy bubbled and
repeated, and listening to it she was silent. But Aunt Em spoke.
“I wish I had brought goloshes,” she said. “But I am glad this rain has
come; it will flush the drains.”
It was Miss Fortescue’s habit, though those who knew her best least
suspected it, to commend herself and those she loved to the special care
of God every night. Though she never talked about religion, there was
nothing in the world more real to her than her communion with things
unseen. But she never lost sight of her undoubted connection also with
things seen, and to-night her devotions were tepid. For at dinner
Jeannie had been altogether unaccountable, the obsession of gravity and
responsibility which had beleaguered her during the past week was
altogether absent, and Miss Fortescue wondered what had driven it away.
She had laughed and spilled things with the mastery of custom, and after
dinner she had stopped in the dining-room with Arthur, smoking a
Now Jeannie’s cigarette was, properly speaking, not a cigarette at all,
but a barometer. It argued a very rare content and an almost passionate
acceptance of the present circumstances of life. For weeks past, and
more especially since this epidemic had come to the town, Jeannie could
no more have smoked than she could have flown, and something, so argued
Miss Fortescue, must have occurred to send her needle up this sky-high
weather. The thunder-storm and the clearing of the air no doubt were
predisposing causes, and so also might be reckoned the wonderful turn
for the better of the case of the girl whose life had been despaired of
that morning. But Miss Fortescue was not content to accept these alone
as sufficient reasons. They would have occasioned relief, but no more,
and this sudden rise in the barometer was due to the removal of a more
marked depression. So, instead of going to bed, she put on her
dressing-gown, and knocked softly at Jeannie’s door, and receiving no
answer went in.
The room was brilliantly lighted. Jeannie seemed to have lit all the
candles she could find, and she herself was standing far from the door
by the wide-flung window and looking out into the night. She too had
taken off her dress and put on a short-sleeved dressing-gown, which left
her arms bare to nearly the shoulder. Her hair was hanging down her back
in a great black river as far as her waist, and her face, nearly in
profile, was cut like a cameo against the dark square of the night. The
rain had begun to fall heavily again, and the room was filled with the
“sh-sh-sh” of the drinking grass. Just as Miss Fortescue stood at the
door the blackness outside turned to a sheet of blue flame, and the
thousand rods of the rain became for a moment a prism of colour. Jeannie
started, and turning half round saw her aunt. A smile of great happiness
played round her mouth, and she held up her head, listening. In another
half second came the great gongs of thunder in answer to the lightning,
and she laughed with pleasure.
“Hear them, hear them!” she cried. “Oh, Aunt Em, isn’t it splendid? And
the rain! Oh, the rain! Have you come for a talk? That is good also, for
I cannot go to bed yet. Let us pull out our chairs to the window.”
Now, Miss Fortescue hated thunder-storms and snakes and German bands,
but she hated thunder-storms the most. But Jeannie’s happiness was too
infectious to be denied, and she sat down in the chair by her.
“Oh, I am so happy!” cried Jeannie. “Listen at the rivers down the
gravel walks. There won’t be a flower in the garden to-morrow.”
“I don’t know that that is altogether an advantage,” said Aunt Em.
“Haven’t you got a better reason than that?”
“Hundreds,” said Jeannie. “I am sane again. I was looking at things
awry, and I have been put right.”
“Who put you right?” asked Aunt Em.
“Why, Mr. Collingwood!” said Jeannie. “He was here this afternoon.”
“I didn’t know that,” said Miss Fortescue.
Jeannie looked at her with frank surprise.
“That never occurred to me,” she said. “Now I come to think of it, you
couldn’t have known. He came just after lunch, and we talked together
for about half an hour.”
Again a ribbon of instantaneous flame was dangled from the sky, and the
thunder replied with a short, unechoed clap. Miss Fortescue’s chair was
a little behind Jeannie’s, and as the girl leaned eagerly forward at the
lightning she saw the bright, wholesome colour flood her face and arms.
And when she turned to her, the transcendent brilliance in her face was
a thing to wonder at.
“Yes, even that,” said Jeannie, employing the figure of speech known as
hiatus. “Oh, Aunt Em! And to think that you never knew all I have known
so well this afternoon.”
There was something infinitely simple and noble in the girl’s gesture of
happiness, and Miss Fortescue’s eyes were suddenly dim.
“Jeannie, you mean it?” she cried.
“I mean it. I did not mean to tell you yet, yet I never meant not to.
Have you guessed, or have I told you? I hardly know. It matters less.
But so it is!”
“Jeannie, Jeannie!” cried Miss Fortescue, and the girl was folded in her
For a moment she lay there, her face buried on Miss Fortescue’s
shoulder, her hair lying in coils, her arms, warm, supple, clinging,
clasped round her neck, and for half a quarter of that embrace jealousy
of all the insolent happiness of youth rose bitter in the elder woman’s
throat. Here was a young life, one very dear to her, made suddenly
complete, and with a pang as overpowering as it was brief, Miss
Fortescue raged inwardly over her unfinished, incompleted life. But the
next moment all in her that was womanly, all that was true and good rose
triumphant. Her outward cynicism, her assumed hardness, fell from her
like a peeled bark, and the heart of the tree was sound. But Jeannie had
felt the slack return to her eager embrace, and she raised her head.
“You do not understand what it means to me,” she said. “You have never
But Miss Fortescue’s arms closed round her.
“Yes, dear, I have known,” she said, “though that was one of the things
you never knew about me. I have known, dear Jeannie—-”
Jeannie raised herself to a kneeling position by her chair, and the
inimitable unselfishness of love stung her heart.
“I am a little brute,” she said, quietly. “First forgive me, and then we
She looked up in the other’s face, and for a moment hardly recognised
her. The plain, strong face was no longer there; a dim-eyed girl sat in
the chair above her.
“That is no word from me to you, Jeannie,” she said. “It is an insolence
to say one forgives those one loves. But I have known.”
A crowd of confused, scarcely remembered moments suddenly sprang into
Jeannie’s mind. She looked like one awakened suddenly from sleep by a
“Tell me,” she said.
Miss Fortescue shook her head.
“The thing is past,” she replied. “I have buried it.”
Again the wild bull’s-eye of the storm flashed through the window, and
Miss Fortescue drew instinctively away. But Jeannie’s arm detained her.
“Do tell me,” she said again, “unless it would hurt you.”
“It would not hurt me,” said Miss Fortescue.
Jeannie suddenly stood up.
“What do you mean?” she said. “Is it possible that I guess, Aunt Em?”
Again the light of youth flooded Miss Fortescue’s face.
“Yes, dear, it is possible,” she said.
“My father,” said Jeannie, simply.
“Yes, your father.”
Jeannie sat down on the arm of Miss Fortescue’s chair, and kissed her
“Oh, Aunt Em, Aunt Em,” she said. “And I never knew. Yet that was
natural. I could not have known, could I, until I was able to know,
until to-day in fact, and it was like you, so like you, to give us no
possibility of guessing. Tell me all, unless it is bitter to you.”
“There is no bitterness about love,” said Miss Fortescue, gently. “How
it is possible for a woman to love and be bitter, even though her love
is not returned, I cannot guess. But once, so I thought, my love was
returned. I do not know; I may be wrong. Then he met your mother,
and–and they were very happy. And how, unless I was the lowest of God’s
creatures, could I wish anything more than that my sister and the man I
loved should love each other.”
There was a long silence, broken only by the steady hiss of the rain on
the grass outside. Jeannie’s head lay on Miss Fortescue’s shoulder, but
she did not speak. The occasion lay beyond the realm of words, and could
be met only by that great silence which is the language of hearts. The
familiar figure of her aunt had been suddenly transformed, her care and
protection for the children of her sister had on the moment become to
Jeannie a thing more sweet and tender than she had ever dreamed of, the
mask playful, severe, grotesque even, which she had known was only a
mask, was removed, and how fair-featured a soil lay below. She could not
estimate the sweet strength which even then had been so powerless to
imbitter, nor what must have been the daily sacrifice in her life. It
was not for her either, she felt, to judge her father. Perhaps, as Miss
Fortescue had said, he had never loved her, or at any rate had never
known she loved him. Jeannie was only ten when her mother died, and
since then Aunt Em had always lived with them, a mother–how truly so,
she never knew till this moment–to all three of them.
But presently Miss Fortescue went on, still without any tremor in her
“So all this has been another bond between us, dear Jeannie,” she said.
“I have always felt that as the sister of your mother and as a woman who
loved your father, God, in that inscrutable way of His, gave me a
peculiar charge. And the charge has been very sweet to me. Oh, my dear,
I don’t say it was always easy. It would be foolish to pretend that, but
nothing that is easy is worth doing. That is always a consolation–no,
not a consolation, but a strength–when one’s way seems difficult.
Perhaps all difficult things are not worth doing, but it is only among
them that you find anything that is. And when a difficult thing lies so
clearly in one’s path as this, one may take it for granted that one is
meant to try one’s hand at it. And I have tried, Jeannie.”
Jeannie’s face was still buried on her shoulder.
“Oh, Aunt Em, Aunt Em,” was all she could say.
Aunt Em stroked her hair gently.
“And then this unreasonable old aunt of yours,” she continued, “in order
to crown her efforts, comes like a burglar into your room and makes you
Jeannie lifted her head and smiled at her through her tears.
“I am not crying unhappily,” she said; “and really, I am going to cry no
more. I was crying only because things were so big, and the world was so
fine, and I was so little. Is that reasonable, do you think? I rather
believe it is. Oh, Aunt Em, if I could only tell you how I honor you!”
“I prefer that you should love me a little, Jeannie; that is quite
enough. Spare me a little from Jack; there will be plenty left. Oh, my
dear, I am so glad! I always liked that rude young man who painted your
portrait. Weeks ago I knew he loved you, and I hoped–I hoped that you
might love him.”
“How could I help it?” cried Jeannie. “And what have I done that this
great gift should come to me?”
“You have grown up into an attractive young woman,” remarked Aunt Em,
with a brisk return to her more usual attitude toward life, “and he into
an attractive young man. That, to judge by the marriages one often sees,
is more than enough.”
“Oh, I am happy, I am happy!” she cried. “What a day I have had: that
girl turned the corner, the blessed rain fell, I talked with Jack in the
garden, and I have talked to you.”
“And now you are going to bed,” said Miss Fortescue. “So I shall be off
to my room. Kiss me, my dear, once more.”
She rose as she spoke, and Jeannie, bending from her height, kissed her
on the forehead and on the cheeks, and without another word Aunt Em took
up her candle and went back to her room.
It was already after midnight and Jeannie undressed quickly and, putting
out her illumination of candles, got into bed. How long she lay there
without sleeping she did not know, but at last the myriad-voiced rain
outside blended indistinguishable into tones she knew, and in her dreams
she communed with Jack.
All night long the storm bellowed and flickered about the town, but
about four in the morning the guns of heaven were silent, and the rain
began to fall less heavily, and when Jeannie woke, soon after six, the
room was filled with the transparent aqueous light of a clear dawn. A
smell of unutterable cleanliness came in through the open window, and
from her bed she saw the last star fade in the dove-coloured sky. Short
as had been her sleep, she felt no inclination to lie in bed, and got up
and went to the bath-room. A rain-gauge was on the leads outside, and
stepping out through the open window she examined it and saw that two
inches of rain had fallen in the night. The flowers in the garden-beds,
as she had expected, were beaten down and robbed of their petals, and
the smaller gravel from the paths had been swept on to the grass in a
spreading delta. The stalwart-leaved mulberry had not suffered, and the
outline of leaves was cut out with lavishness and clearness against the
tenderness of the sky. Above no traces of the overpast tempest lingered:
the pale blue of the zenith melted with imperceptible gradation into the
dove colour of the horizons on the west and north, in the south-west the
pink of the dawn was already growing gilded before the sun imminent to
rise. Already, so it seemed to Jeannie, a flush of green had spread over
the grass, and the glistening house-roofs, so long dust-ridden, looked
clean again. Above all, the intolerable oppression of the air was no
more than a sick dream of night, and to be abroad in this exquisite dawn
was like coming out of an ill-ventilated tunnel into the coolness of
Alpine pastures. Even as she looked a beam of the risen day shot its
level arrow and struck the elm-trees in the close, and with the aptest
punctuality a thrush scudded out of the bushes below her and poured out
a throatful of repeated song. And on the moment a verse from the song of
songs chimed in her head. “The rain is over and past, the flowers appear
on the earth, the time of the singing birds has come.”
She stood looking out over the fair rejuvenated earth, smiling. At last
“Indeed it has come,” she said.