Read CHAPTER VII - THE STRENGTH OF TEN of Nancy McVeigh of the Monk Road , free online book, by R. Henry Mainer, on ReadCentral.com.

It was the sudden termination of the jingling of sleigh-bells that caused Nancy McVeigh to look curiously from her window. People seldom stopped before the old tavern since the transfer of the license to the summer hotel back on the lake shore. At one time it was an odd thing for anyone to pass without dropping in, if only for a chat or an excuse to water his horses at the pump trough. Nancy sighed when she remembered it, for it had brought much gossip and change into her daily existence. When a chance visitor did intrude upon her quietude, his welcome was assured. Also she did much of her knitting by the front window, so that she could catch glimpses of her old customers, even if she could not speak to them.

On this wintry day in the early January, it was Dr. Dodona, from town, who tied his horse to a verandah post and rapped briskly at her door.

“It’s a real pleasure to see ye, doctor,” Nancy exclaimed, as she gave him admittance. “Ye must be cold. I’ll just give ye me best chair by the fire, an’ ye can smoke a pipe while ye’re tellin’ yer errand.”

“You’re very kind, Mistress McVeigh. People like yourself make a doctor’s work less arduous,” the doctor answered, heartily.

“It’s good of ye to say so, doctor, fer it’s little demand fer service ye get out o’ me an’ mine.”

“I’m on my return from James Piper’s, down the road. His two children are ill with the cold, and I am afraid something more serious may be expected. Miss Sophia has them well in hand, and I have left a course of treatment, but I’m not at all satisfied.”

“Did ye recommend goose grease and turpentine? The winter Jennie had a bad throat I used them in plenty, an’ it’s what saved her,” Nancy remarked, sagaciously.

“Well, not exactly those remedies, but they are very good,” the doctor admitted, laughing. “Miss Sophia bade me tell you about the children, as you were expecting her to call some day this week,” he continued.

Nancy nodded her head understandingly. “An’ what d’ye expect will develop from their colds?”

“You needn’t be frightened, Mistress McVeigh, as your children are all grown up. The boy Willie has a very weak throat, and it was terribly inflamed to-day. I am quite worried about it.”

“It’s bad news ye’re bringing to-day, doctor, but niver expect trouble. Maybe they’ll change fer the better before mornin’. Ye’ll have some tea?” she asked suddenly.

“It’s putting you to a lot of trouble,” the doctor said, reluctantly, but Nancy was gone before he had finished his sentence.

When the doctor was ready to depart, she asked, anxiously, “Ye’ll let me know how they are tomorrow?”

“Most assuredly,” the doctor called from the verandah.

Two or three days followed, and each brought Dr. Dodona to Nancy’s door with a brief message as to the condition of his patients. His visits were very short, however, but he remained longer at the Piper household, and Nancy missed the smile from his face. She discussed the trend of affairs with Katie Duncan, who was her only confidant now that Will Devitt had gone out West because Nancy McVeigh’s bar no longer needed his services, and she was somewhat pessimistic in her remarks. A week went over, and they only saw Dr. Dodona as his big sorrel mare drew his cutter over the Monk Road in a whirl of snow. Then one day he passed, accompanied by James Piper, and Nancy could endure the suspense no longer.

“We’ll just have an early supper, an’ I’ll go over an’ ask at the house,” she said, decisively, to Katie Duncan. But a heavy rap at the door disturbed them at their meal. Nancy hastened to answer the summons, for she knew it was the doctor.

“I regret my not keeping to my word, Mistress McVeigh, but I am travelling fast these days. I have a lot of sick people to attend to, and the Pipers are in very bad shape.”

Nancy’s eyes bespoke her sympathy as he continued: “Willie Piper has diphtheria. Little Annie has it also, and to-day Miss Sophia has broken down. I’m afraid she is in for it, too.”

“Fer land sakes, ye don’t say so!” Nancy exclaimed, more to punctuate his words, so that she could digest their import thoroughly.

“They’ve got to have a nurse, and at the present moment I don’t know where such a person can be secured,” the doctor declared, desperately.

“An’ have ye fergotten the blarney ye gave me the night o’ the accident?” Nancy inquired, in a hurt tone.

“You don’t mean you will go?” he asked, his face lighting up suddenly.

“An’ why not? Faith, an’ I’m fair sick meself stayin’ about the house doin’ nothin’ but keepin’ comfortable; an’ my experience with Jennie will help me. Old Mrs. Conors is at the p’int of starvation since her husband died, an’ I’ve been thinkin’ o’ takin’ her in fer company. I’ll just send Katie over the night to tell her to come in the mornin’, so that the child won’t be alone.”

“I knew that you would help me out of this difficulty, Mistress McVeigh. I don’t want anything to happen to Miss Sophia, she is such a great friend of mine.”

Nancy was about to speak, then checked herself and looked at him keenly. “The wonders o’ the world are no dead yit,” she ejaculated, under her breath.

“I took the liberty of mentioning your name to James Piper before I came here to-day, and he will see that you are well paid for your work,” the doctor added, hurriedly, guessing what was passing in the mind of the old woman.

“Ye can just tell James Piper I’ll have none o’ his money. The very impudence o’ him to offer it! It’s to help the children and Miss Sophia, an’ not fer any consideration o’ that sour-faced dragon, that I go,” Nancy flung back her reply in a somewhat scornful manner.

“I’ll go now, but will see you there in the morning,” Doctor Dodona called, as he hastened away.

“So that’s how the wind blows,” Nancy muttered, thoughtfully, as she watched him depart; then she laughed softly in spite of the bad news.

Mrs. Conors, growing very feeble, was garrulously comfortable before the fire in Nancy McVeigh’s kitchen. She was in a happy frame of mind, as her worldly anxieties were now very much a dream of the past. Nancy herself, with her strong, resolute face, her kindly eyes and tall gaunt frame, enrobed in a plain, home-made black dress, was setting things to rights in the home of James Piper. Her coming brought order, and a fearless performance of the doctor’s commands. She was a herald of fresh hope, and carried into the gloomy house her sense of restful security. Her sixty-five years of life, a portion of which was spent as proprietress of a tavern, wherein the worst element of a rough countryside disported itself, had given her nerves of steel, and yet the chords to her heart were tuned to the finest feelings of sympathy. Sophia Piper felt the glow of her presence as she lay tossing and moaning in the first grips of the malady. The children cried less frequently, and Willie’s temperature lowered two points by the doctor’s thermometer after the first day’s service of the new nurse. And yet Nancy only went about doing the doctor’s wishes and whispering to each in her motherly way. Her confidence in herself seemed to exert a pleasing influence with the sick ones, and then she was so strong. The hours of night found her wakeful to the slightest noise, yet patient with their fretful humors, and in the morning she came to them as fresh as a new flower in spring.

Doctor Dodona noticed the change, and marvelled. He came morning and evening, and each time sat a long while by Miss Sophia’s bedside. He was wondering why he had never guessed something long before, and he did not suspect that Nancy read him like an open book. He had known Sophia for years, had gone to the same school with her, had worked by her side on committees of the charitable and religious organizations of the county, and here he was on the verge of confirmed bachelorhood and only learning the rudiments of love.

“His heart’s fair breakin’ fer her,” was Nancy’s muttered comment.

Then came the long night’s fight for the life of Annie, the little daughter of James Piper. A struggle where only two could join, the doctor and the Widow McVeigh, as the infectious nature of the disease forbade any assistance from without. Annie’s illness had taken a very serious turn just as the doctor arrived on his evening call. He studied her case for a long ten minutes, and then he remarked to Nancy, “It is the crisis.” Nancy smiled, not that his words amused her, but rather as an expression of her confidence in her powers to hold the spark of life in the little body. From then until early dawn they watched her, the life flickering like a spent torch in the wind. The doctor had taken extreme measures to combat the disease, and his greatest fear was that his efforts to cure might have a contrary effect by reason of the frailty of the child. Once he despaired, but, looking up, caught a momentary glint of steel in Nancy’s eyes. His very fear that she might detect his weakness compelled him to continue. For ten hours she sat with the child on a pillow in her lap, apparently impassive, yet conscious of the slightest change in the hot, gasping breathing. Occasionally the doctor arose and passed into the room where the others lay, to see that they were not suffering through lack of attention. Returning from one of these silent visits, just as the sun shot its first shafts of light under the window blind, he noted a change in the little maid.

“She’ll live,” he declared.

“I’ve not been doubtin’ the fact at all, at all,” Nancy responded, bravely trying to cover her weariness.

From that night both children began to mend rapidly, and more time was left for the care of the elder patient. The case of Miss Sophia was somewhat different. Her age made it a much more difficult problem to unseat the poison from her system. It had committed sad ravages with her constitution before she had given in, and though Dr. Dodona felt reasonably certain that he could check the trouble, yet it seemed doubtful if her strength would sustain the fight.

As the days passed he could see plainly that she was unimproved. His professional training told him that, and he threw into the work all the skill that he possessed. He suddenly became conscious that he had lost some of the assurance in himself which had been the backbone of his former successes, but it took him a short while to comprehend fully his own incapacity. As he drove over the miles of snowy road into town, after an evening at her bedside, the truth became a conviction in his mind. His heart was too deeply concerned, and it had shattered his nerves.

He wired to the city for a specialist before going to his home. Next morning he told Nancy McVeigh of his action. That good old soul fell in with the idea on the spot, and her comments caused him to turn away his face in foolish embarrassment.

“It’s what I have been expectin’ ye to do all along, but I didn’t care to suggest it to ye before, as yer professional pride might not welcome my interference. It’s her poor, thin face an’ her smile that kapes yer mind from the rale doctorin’. Ye just git a smart man from the city, an’ it’ll do ye both a power o’ good,” she said.

When he was gone Nancy went to the sick-chamber.

“Are ye able to stand good news?” she inquired.

Miss Sophia turned her face towards her, and smiled encouragingly.

“Surely, if it is really bright and hopeful,” she replied, weakly.

“Ye may suppose I’m takin’ liberties wi’ yer privit concerns, but ye will learn to fergive me whin ye are well an’ the spring is here again wi’ its quiet sunshine, its flowers an’ the grass growin’ by the roadside wi’ patterns worked in dandelions like a foine carpet.”

“I love the spring!” Miss Piper exclaimed, with animation.

It had seemed a wonderful thing to the doctor, the power to rouse the suffering woman contained in the homely phrases of Nancy McVeigh.

“As if that was all to love,” Nancy impatiently returned. “Did it ever come right home to yer heart that ye loved a man an’ ye didn’t recognize the feelin’ fer a long time afterwards. Fer instance, one who is makin’ piles o’ money out o’ the ills o’ others?” she added, pausing in her dusting to gaze shrewdly at her friend.

“It’s all a riddle to me,” Miss Sophia answered, although her words betrayed a rising interest.

“Aye, a foine riddle, to be sure, an’ one that has its answer in the face of Doctor Dodona.”

Sophia Piper’s pallid face suddenly changed color, and she frowned irritably. Nancy sat down on the foot of the bed and took the sick woman’s hand in her own long, hardened fingers.

“Ye must get well soon, dearie; the doctor’s fair beside himself thinkin’ he might lose ye, an’ he can scarce compose himself long enough to mix his own medicines. He’s a lonely man; can’t ye see it, child?”

“Do you think so?” Miss Sophia whispered, wonderingly.

“It’s not a matter o’ thinkin’, it’s the rale truth, so it is. What is that rhyme I hear the young ones say, ‘Somethin’ borrowed, somethin’ blue, somethin’ old and somethin’ new’? May I be somethin’ old at yer weddin’?” Nancy asked, tenderly.

Miss Sophia drew the old woman’s hand to her cheek and kissed it affectionately.

’Twas after the above conversation that Sophia Piper began to evince a determined desire to recover her health.

“Will the doctor be here this afternoon?” she asked.

“Ye couldn’t kape him away. He’s bringin’ a friend wi’ him, too,” Nancy vouchsafed.

“Then you’ll please tidy my hair, and have the curtains drawn back from the windows so that the sun can shine in the room,” she ordered, sweetly.

“An’ I’ll put some fresh flowers on yer table,” Nancy agreed.

The specialist came in the afternoon. He was a portly man, with iron-grey hair, clean-shaven face and a habit of emphasizing his remarks by beating time to them with his spectacles. He examined the patient thoroughly, whilst Dr. Dodona stood by deferentially, though impatiently, awaiting his opinion. Then they adjourned to another apartment, and the great man carefully diagnosed the case to his confrere. “She has been very ill,” he admitted, summing up the loose ends of his notations, “but I see no necessity for a change in your remedies.

“Do you not see a recent improvement?” he asked, shortly.

Dr. Dodona shrugged his shoulders. “Since last night, yes.”

“Continue as you have been doing. I will give you a few written suggestions as to diet and tonic,” the specialist explained, and then he dropped his professional air and slapped his fellow-practitioner familiarly on the shoulder.

“You were afraid because you have lost your heart as well as your nerve. Is that a correct diagnosis?” he asked jovially.

“Evidently you have diagnosed symptoms in the wrong party,” Dr. Dodona answered, drily.

“You had better settle it while I am here,” advised the city medical man, who showed much aptitude for other things than cases of perverse illness.

“By Jove, I will!” the doctor burst out, and in he went with a rash disregard of the noise he was making. He did not heed the warning “Sh-h!” of the widow McVeigh, so engrossed was he in his mission.

Sophia Piper’s face lit up with a glad welcome, and she held her hands towards her lover in perfect understanding.

“Hivin bless them! In all me experience I have niver met with such a love-sick pair before. They’re old enough to be more discreet,” Nancy observed to the specialist, who chatted with her whilst the two were settling their future happiness.

“And you are a judge of human nature, too?” put in the learned man, admiringly.

“The older we git the wiser we grow, sometimes,” was Nancy’s retort.