"Dear Dan! but you don't think it is anything serious, John?"
"Oh, no, Miss Kitty. He'll be fit as a fiddle in two-three days. All I mean, he give himself a little wrinch, like, and I thought let him rest up a day or two, that's all. Anybody has to rest once in a while; any hoss, I would say."
"Well!" Kitty gave Dan another lump of sugar. "I believe all he wants is more sugar, John Tucker. Just look at him! You are an angelic humbug, Dan dear, and you aren't to have another scrap. So—you'll take Old Crummles to the station, I suppose, John. And I'll take Madam Flynt with Pilot."
Kitty did not look at John Tucker as she said this; they both looked a little conscious. Old Crummles, the third horse, bought by John Tucker (Kitty vowed she would never attempt another horse trade!) was eminently safe and sound, but a trifle dull. Neither Kitty nor John Tucker specially enjoyed driving him.
"Yes, Miss!" said John Tucker. "Three o'clock, I suppose."
Immediately Kitty's heart began to smite her.
"You are as angelic as Dan, John Tucker," she [pg 187] cried. "And I am a selfish Thing! and wicked, too," she added: "I know Madam Flynt is dreadfully afraid of Pilot. She has only driven behind him once, and then she felt that her life hung on the dasher, she told me afterward. So I'll take Old Crummles, John Tucker, dear."
But John Tucker was up in arms at once in defense of his favorite.
"Madam Flynt has no call to be afraid of Pilot," he said gruffly. "Pilot is as clever a hoss as is in this State; and as stiddy, for a young hoss. What I mean, you don't expect a young hoss to reason things out the way an old one does. Take Dan now, or even Crummles, though he hasn't much more sense than a meal-tub; what I mean, you couldn't scare either one on 'em; not if you said 'Boo!' right in their count'nance. They'd toss their head, at least Dan would, and think, 'Well, I ain't a jackass, anyway!' But take a young, spirited hoss like Pilot, and he hasn't had the experience, Miss Kitty, that's all there is to it. You meet a thrashing-machine, say, with Pilot, or an elephant, or something else that it don't belong there, what I mean is. Well, he'll antic up a mite, to express surprise, same as a person would. 'My land!' he says: 'what's that?' Only he says it with his head and his four legs, not havin' language, as you may say."
"John Tucker! you never met an elephant with Pilot!"
"I did, Miss! not one, but three elephants: 'twas that circus used to go through North Cyrus to the City. [pg 188] Well! Pilot warn't only three years old then. He co't sight of them elephants, and he was all over the ro'd, all over the lot, all over the county, in a minute, but he never meant no harm. He was only wonderin', that was all. No, Miss Kitty!" John Tucker shut his jack-knife with a decided snap, and turned away from the stall.
"You take Pilot for Madam Flynt. He'll do anything in creation you tell him, and she'll have a real nice ride. I ain't any too fond of takin' him to the trains anyway," he added. "He gets real annoyed if he has to stand round waitin', and I don't know as I blame him."
So at three o'clock, after a confidential talk with Pilot, in which she explained the situation to him, and told him he was going to be just as saintly as Dan, and not so much as wink if they met a whole caravan of elephants (which was most unlikely at this season), Kitty drove up to Madam Flynt's door. Pilot stood like a rock while the two ladies got in. They were engaged in a rather acrimonious discussion as to the quality and thickness of an extra wrap carried by Miss Croly, and did not notice the horse; Kitty thought it unnecessary to call attention to him, and off they went. The day was perfect; so was Pilot. He settled down almost at once into the long smooth trot that covered twelve miles an hour and seemed absolutely effortless. "I can keep this up all day," he signified to Kitty with one ear, "if this is what you want. A trifle dull, what?"
"Yes, darling!" replied Kitty with the slightest [pg 189] movement of the reins; "but it is precisely right, and you are a Cherry Pie, and shall have the most delicious mash for your precious supper!"
There is a State Road to South Cyrus, good even in early spring. Pilot sped along over hill and dale, now and then tossing his beautiful head from sheer joy, but otherwise behaving with absolute decorum. Madam Flynt's irritation about the cloak subsiding, she began to enjoy herself thoroughly.
"How delightful the air is!" she said. "The tang is really gone: I call this positively balmy. Aren't you driving very fast, Kitty?"
"It's just his usual gait, Madam Flynt," replied Kitty craftily. "It's partly the road. Don't you think one always seems to be going faster on a smooth road?"
"That may be so!" said Madam Flynt sagaciously. "The road is certainly excellent. What are you doing, Cornelia?"
"I was tucking your feet in, Clarissa. One of them was protruding beyond the robe!"
"I protruded it on purpose!" Madam Flynt spoke with decision. "It was too warm. They are my feet, Cornelia: I suppose you will grant that?"
"Willingly, my dear Clarissa!"
Seldom, almost never, did Miss Croly allow any tinge of malice to color speech or even thought. She knew her duty and intended to do it, but her firmness was almost invariably gentle. This time, however, there was the slightest suspicion of meaning in her "willingly!" Her feet were her one beauty: long, [pg 190] narrow, high of instep. Madam Flynt's were flat and pudgy.
"Very well!" said Madam Flynt, fully appreciating the shade of tone. "Then perhaps you will let me manage them myself. We'll turn round at the heater piece, Kitty, and come back over this same good road. I am enjoying this air so! The motion is really exhilarating!"
They turned at the heater piece, and Pilot's stride quickened automatically. (Does every one know that a heater piece is the triangular space between two branching roads?) He was still behaving perfectly, he assured Kitty, but it was not in nature not to go a little faster when one's head was turned toward home and supper. Kitty explained this to Madam Flynt, who replied that she had never observed it before. Dan was one of those rare horses who can resist the call of the stable and keep the same untroubled pace whichever way their head is turned.
"Can you check the animal, my love?" quavered Miss Croly, who had been secretly alarmed all through the drive. "Nervousness is very bad for our dear friend; it induces sleeplessness."
"Nothing of the sort, Cornelia Croly!" Madam Flynt became majestic. "I have every confidence in Kitty's driving, I am sure. What—what is the matter, my dear?"
Kitty had said a word and Pilot stopped suddenly, almost too suddenly for the equilibrium of the two passengers. They were passing the Gaylord place: Kitty was aware of two figures standing by the gap in [pg 191] the hedge, one of which beckoned to her: Judge Peters and Mr. Mallow. The Judge spoke.
"You, Kitty? And with Pilot? Thank God! Madam Flynt, Miss Croly, your most obedient servant! do not be alarmed, ladies, but this is a case of emergency. Mr. Gaylord is here, seriously ill. Dr. Pettijohn must come at once. Mr. Mallow was about to set out on foot, but if you could go, Kitty?"
"Of course!" cried Kitty. "That is, if Madam Flynt——"
"Of course!" exclaimed Madam Flynt in turn. "Need you ask, Edward? Is he very ill?"
"Dying, we fear!" The Judge spoke low. "I must go back to him. Kitty, my child, do the best you——"
"Drive like hemp, will you, Kitty?" cried Mr. Mallow, down whose rosy cheeks the tears were streaming. ("Hemp" was Mr. Mallow's strongest expression: most people spelled it with ll instead of mp.)
"Oh, yes! yes! Drive as fast as you can, Kitty!" cried Madam Flynt. Russell Gaylord had been in her Sunday school class, and she loved him.
Kitty flashed a glance back.
"Do you mean it?" she cried. "You do? Oh, you darling Thing! Sit tight, then!"
She bent forward and gave a long, low, clear whistle. It was her private signal to Pilot; it meant that there was a stretch of good road ahead and no one in sight to be shocked or frightened. The black horse whinnied a response, quivered, then sprang forward literally like an arrow from a bow. The Judge looked [pg 192] after him as he shot down the road at a three-minute gait. A momentary smile lightened his sad face.
"Poor Madam Flynt!" he said. "Poor Miss Croly! Come, Marshall!" and they went back into the house.
Remember that for many years Madam Flynt and her companion had been accustomed to Flanagan's horses, whose best speed never exceeded four miles an hour. Dan's steady eight had terrified them at first; though they were now used to it, and felt a certain pride in his swiftness as he trotted sturdily along, never quickening, never slackening, his comfortable stride. Fancy, then, their emotions when, as Miss Croly afterward expressed it in her fervent way, "the lightning was unchained, and they flew with the bolt of Heaven!"
It was three good miles to Dr. Pettijohn's house. Before one mile was passed, the two ladies were perfectly sure that Kitty had lost control of the horse; that he was running away! They had heard the fatal word "Pilot!" Each clutched a side of the carriage with one hand; the other clasped that of her friend.
"Clarissa," murmured Miss Croly, "we are together in death as in life."
"Don't be—oh!" Madam Flynt had meant to say "absurd," but at this moment they turned off the smooth State road into one which led directly past Dr. Pettijohn's house. This road was an ordinary country thoroughfare, which, in our State, in the month of April, is not smooth.
"Oh!" cried Madam Flynt, as they encountered the first "honeypot." (A honeypot is a spot where the [pg 193] frost, coming out of the ground, leaves behind it unplumbed depths of liquid mud.) Down went one wheel, up went the other.
"Steady, darling!" said Kitty.
"Pooh!" said Pilot with one ear, and was out and away before one could say "Oats," much less "Jack Robinson." Madam Flynt's bonnet was over one eye, Miss Croly's dangled from the back of her head.
"Cornelia," said Madam Flynt, "I have left you an annuity!"
"Oh, Clarissa!" moaned Miss Croly, "I have sometimes opposed your wishes; with the best intent, but perhaps mistakenly. Forgive me! We will die together!"
"An annuity," repeated Madam Flynt; "sufficient to keep you and Sarah in the house—oh! as long as you live. Abby Ann has her brother. The rest goes to Kitty—Ah!"
Another "honeypot." This time any one but Kitty and Pilot would have thought they must go over.
"It is coming!" gasped Miss Croly. "Clarissa, fall on me! My body will break the fall: you may escape——"
Even in this crisis, Madam Flynt's sense of humor did not desert her. "I don't know that bones are any better than rocks to fall on!" she whispered. "Hold on tight, Cornelia! hold on——"
But now, a miracle! They whirled round a corner, whirled up a driveway: a touch on the reins, a word, and Pilot stood, breathing quickly, but otherwise statue-like, before Dr. Pettijohn's door. He had not [pg 194] been running away! Kitty had had him in control all the time! In one thought-flash, Miss Croly removed Joan of Arc and Mary Stuart from their pedestals and set up Kitty Ross as her Heroine for all time.
Three minutes more, and they were speeding back, still at arrow-flight. Dr. Pettijohn knew Pilot and Kitty, and leaned back comfortably on the front seat, reflecting that it was criminal for such a horse as that to be owned by any one but a doctor. Madam Flynt resumed her dignity, and cast a quelling glance at Miss Croly, who was now making ineffective dabs at her patroness's bonnet with a view to straightening it.
"Let me alone!" said the lady. "I prefer it as it is. And hold on, you ridiculous woman! We are going faster than ever, even if the animal is under control."
Kitty was very sorry about poor Mr. Gaylord, but she could not help realizing that Pilot was in wonderful condition to-day. She quoted under her breath, for Dr. Pettijohn's benefit:
"I would not have the horse I drive So fast that folks should stop and stare; An easy gait,—two-forty-five— Suits me; I do not care. Perhaps, just for a single spurt, Some seconds less would do no hurt!" The doctor nodded.
"Trouble is, Miss Kitty, your track is too short!" he said, as the Gaylord chimneys rose above the next turn of the road.
[pg 195] "I know!" Kitty nodded regretfully. "He's just got warmed up to his work, and here we are!"
Here they were; turning in at the great gateway; crunching over the gravel; stopping at the gaunt front door, which had not been opened in twenty years. It opened now, and Judge Peters stood on the steps.
"Well done, Kitty!" he exclaimed. "Yes, you are in time. Come in, Dr. Pettijohn. One moment!" he bent to whisper in Kitty's ear. "One more errand for you, my dear brave child! Providence sent you to-night, I am confident of it. Our poor friend desires greatly to see your Aunt Johanna. Yes!" as Kitty uttered a cry of surprise. "They were friends in youth; perhaps more than friends. He wishes to take leave of her. Is she able to come, do you think, Kitty? Not for worlds would I have her do herself an injury!"
"Perfectly able, I am sure! I'll just take the ladies home; thank you, Judge dear!"
Pilot did very well, Kitty thought, to slacken his pace so cheerfully the rest of the way to Madam Flynt's house; even so, they were two shaken and disheveled ladies who dismounted at the stone steps, and Abby Ann, hurrying out with the foot-stool, exclaimed in dismay at their appearance.
"For the goodness gracious sake, Madam!" she cried. "Whatever has happened to your bonnet?"
Madam Flynt waved her aside with dignity and addressed Kitty.
"We have had a most interesting drive!" she said. "I congratulate you, Kitty, on your skill; and I am [pg 196] deeply thankful to have been able—you understand, my dear! Good evening! Cornelia, you are treading on my skirt. If you have pretty feet, it is not necessary to trample——There! don't mind me! it was my fault, I dare say."
Every moment of this evening was bitten into Kitty's mind, an ineffaceable impression: sharpest and clearest of all, the moment when she stood faltering in the doorway of the Red Indian Room.
Miss Johanna Ross (in rose-color this time) was sitting erect among her pillows, reading "Framley Parsonage." She was going through the whole Trollope fleet of "old three-deckers" with infinite enjoyment. Her firm, rather sharp countenance was relaxed in lines of leisurely amusement. Looking up, and meeting Kitty's eyes, it waked into vivid attention.
"What's the matter?" demanded Miss Johanna. "Sickness or accident?"
She had dropped her book, and was gathering her draperies about her.
"Sickness!" Kitty spoke quietly, trying to keep all hurry out of her voice.
"An old friend of yours, Aunt Johanna, has come back and is—is very ill, I fear. He would like to see you. It is——"
"Russell Gaylord!" said Johanna Ross.
The Rosses all move quickly. "Medicated lightning," people used to call Dr. Ross, when he was summoned to an emergency case. Kitty could only think of this, as without another word her aunt flashed [pg 197] from her pillows, rustled into her clothes, and with a shake of her shoulders stood alert, able, prepared.
"Now, child!" she pinned on her veil with a steady hand. "I am ready. Who sent you? Judge Peters? Good! and you have Pilot? Good again! we need lose no time. I dreamed last night—come!"
Pilot may have wondered where his promised mash was; why he was carefully blanketed for ten minutes, then taken out once more, and once more given the signal for full speed; but beyond a whinny of surprise, and a toss of his head, he gave no sign. Kitty's word was Pilot's law. Again the miles sped by; this time the passenger took no heed of them; the pace was all too slow for her. Again the flying turn, the crunching gravel; again the door opening, the grave figure hastening down the steps.
"Alive! still conscious! yes! asking for you. Thank God you are come! The end is near, prepare for a great change, my friend!"
Shall we go in with Johanna Ross to that room where the love of her youth lies gasping his last hour away? Shall we look upon her, kneeling by the bedside, holding the skeleton hands, looking tenderly into the hollow eyes? No! we have no business there. We will come away, with the two faithful friends, who went, one to stand outside the chamber door, in case of need, the other on the steps, smoothing Pilot's glossy neck and exchanging brief snatches of talk with Kitty; she, wondering, pitying, yet dreading to touch upon the mystery that had outlasted her young life.
They were all at school together, Mr. Mallow said. [pg 198] Russ was an elegant boy. "Him and Johanna was always together, same as you and——" Here Mr. Mallow was seized with a prolonged fit of coughing.
"Anybody ask you about Russ Gaylord," cried the hotel keeper, "and you say he was nobody's enemy but his own. Nobody's but his own! Your father knew that. Doctor knew it. 'Russ,' he'd say, 'Stop now! stop to-day! you can!' but he couldn't; he couldn't. The peth was dead in him, like a dozy log. Yes! Poor Russ! too bad, ain't it?"
"Has he been ill long, Mr. Mallow?" asked Kitty timidly.
"He's ben ailin' ever sence he come. Lemme see! March wasn't it? Yes, March, and here we are in May. He's ben jest wastin' away, poor Russ has."
"Not—he hasn't been all alone, has he?" with a glance at the dark, shuttered house, the tall firs pointing spectral fingers at it, and the great chestnut tree, tossing its bare arms as if in grief or horror.
"Me and Ned—I would say the Jedge—has ben here all we could. He wouldn't have no one else! We was boon companions in primary school, and we kep' right on. Not in all ways, is what I would say; there was p'ints—no need to go into that! His heart was right in his boosum all the time, Russ's was. Now he lays there."
Mr. Mallow drew out his handkerchief and wiped his eyes simply.
All Cyrus came to Russell Gaylord's funeral. Tinkham, too, and Tupham. Some, no doubt, came from curiosity, idle or worse, to see the great house open [pg 199] once more, the long windows thrown wide, the sunlight gilding the mouldered furniture and moth-eaten tapestries. These would be outsiders. Cyrus people were full of sorrow and compassion. They came in their best clothes, Madam Flynt in her ermine and velvet, Anne Peace in her brown Sunday gown; it was all they could do. With bowed heads they entered the door. How jovially the gay young host used to welcome them to these long drawing-rooms! How shining and scented they used to be, with lights and flowers! There were flowers now. Kitty and Nelly Chanter had found enough early blossoms in the neglected garden to make a wreath—only Forsythia and Japanese pear, but it was gay and cheerful—and some one had sent a splendid wreath of passion flowers. At the last Johanna Ross, who stood at the head of the coffin, while Mr. Chanter read the service, took the bunch of violets from her bosom, and laid it over the dead man's heart.