FOR the first four years after Thea went to Germany things went on as usual with the Kronborg family. Mrs. Kronborg's land in Nebraska increased in value and brought her in a good rental. The family drifted into an easier way of living, half without realizing it, as families will. Then Mr. Kronborg, who had never been ill, died suddenly of cancer of the liver, and after his death Mrs. Kronborg went, as her neighbors said, into a decline. Hearing discouraging reports of her from the physician who had taken over his practice, Dr. Archie went up from Denver to see her. He found her in bed, in the room where he had more than once attended her, a handsome woman of sixty with a body still firm and white, her hair, faded now to a very pale primrose, in two thick braids down her back, her eyes clear and calm. When the doctor arrived, she was sitting up in her bed, knitting. He felt at once how glad she was to see him, but he soon gathered that she had made no determination to get well. She told him, indeed, that she could not very well get along without Mr. Kronborg. The doctor looked at her with astonishment. Was it possible that she could miss the foolish old man so much? He reminded her of her children.
"Yes," she replied; "the children are all very well, but they are not father. We were married young."
The doctor watched her wonderingly as she went on knitting, thinking how much she looked like Thea. The difference was one of degree rather than of kind. The daughter had a compelling enthusiasm, the mother had none. But their framework, their foundation, was very much the same.
In a moment Mrs. Kronborg spoke again. "Have you heard anything from Thea lately?"
During his talk with her, the doctor gathered that what Mrs. Kronborg really wanted was to see her daughter Thea. Lying there day after day, she wanted it calmly and continuously. He told her that, since she felt so, he thought they might ask Thea to come home.
"I 've thought a good deal about it," said Mrs. Kronborg slowly. "I hate to interrupt her, now that she 's begun to get advancement. I expect she 's seen some pretty hard times, though she was never one to complain. Perhaps she 'd feel that she would like to come. It would be hard, losing both of us while she 's off there."
When Dr. Archie got back to Denver he wrote a long letter to Thea, explaining her mother's condition and how much she wished to see her, and asking Thea to come, if only for a few weeks. Thea had repaid the money she had borrowed from him, and he assured her that if she happened to be short of funds for the journey, she had only to cable him.
A month later he got a frantic sort of reply from Thea. Complications in the opera at Dresden had given her an unhoped-for opportunity to go on in a big part. Before this letter reached the doctor, she would have made her début as Elizabeth, in "Tannhauser." She wanted to go to her mother more than she wanted anything else in the world, but, unless she failed,—which she would not,—she absolutely could not leave Dresden for six months. It was not that she chose to stay; she had to stay—or lose everything. The next few months would put her five years ahead, or would put her back so far that it would be of no use to struggle further. As soon as she was free, she would go to Moonstone and take her mother back to Germany with her. Her mother, she was sure, could live for years yet, and she would like German people and German ways, and could be hearing music all the time. Thea said she was writing her mother and begging her to help her one last time; to get strength and to wait for her six months, and then she (Thea) would do everything. Her mother would never have to make an effort again.
Dr. Archie went up to Moonstone at once. He had great confidence in Mrs. Kronborg's power of will, and if Thea's appeal took hold of her enough, he believed she might get better. But when he was shown into the familiar room off the parlor, his heart sank. Mrs. Kronborg was lying serene and fateful on her pillows. On the dresser at the foot of her bed there was a large photograph of Thea in the character in which she was to make her début. Mrs. Kronborg pointed to it.
"Is n't she lovely, doctor? It 's nice that she has n't changed much. I 've seen her look like that many a time."
They talked for a while about Thea's good fortune. Mrs. Kronborg had had a cablegram saying, "First performance well received. Great relief." In her letter Thea said; "If you 'll only get better, dear mother, there 's nothing I can't do. I will make a really great success, if you 'll try with me. You shall have everything you want, and we will always be together. I have a little house all picked out where we are to live."
"Bringing up a family is not all it 's cracked up to be," said Mrs. Kronborg with a flicker of irony, as she tucked the letter back under her pillow. "The children you don't especially need, you have always with you, like the poor. But the bright ones get away from you. They have their own way to make in the world. Seems like the brighter they are, the farther they go. I used to feel sorry that you had no family, doctor, but maybe you 're as well off."
"Thea's plan seems sound to me, Mrs. Kronborg. There 's no reason I can see why you should n't pull up and live for years yet, under proper care. You 'd have the best doctors in the world over there, and it would be wonderful to live with anybody who looks like that." He nodded at the photograph of the young woman who must have been singing "Dich, theure Halle, grüss ich wieder," her eyes looking up, her beautiful hands outspread with pleasure.
Mrs. Kronborg laughed quite cheerfully. ""Yes, would n't it? If father were here, I might rouse myself. But sometimes it 's hard to come back. Or if she were in trouble, maybe I could rouse myself."
"But, dear Mrs. Kronborg, she is in trouble," her old friend expostulated. "As she says, she 's never needed you as she needs you now. I make my guess that she 's never begged anybody to help her before."
Mrs. Kronborg smiled. "Yes, it 's pretty of her. But that will pass. When these things happen far away they don't make such a mark; especially if your hands are full and you 've duties of your own to think about. My own father died in Nebraska when Gunner was born,—we were living in Iowa then,—and I was sorry, but the baby made it up to me. I was father's favorite, too. That 's the way it goes, you see."
The doctor took out Thea's letter to him, and read it over to Mrs. Kronborg. She seemed to listen, and not to listen.
When he finished, she said thoughtfully: "I 'd counted on hearing her sing again. But I always took my pleasures as they come. I always enjoyed her singing when she was here about the house. While she was practicing I often used to leave my work and sit down in a rocker and give myself up to it, the same as if I 'd been at an entertainment. I was never one of these housekeepers that let their work drive them to death. And when she had the Mexicans over here, I always took it in. First and last,"—she glanced judicially at the photograph,—"I guess I got about as much out of Thea's voice as anybody will ever get."
"I guess you did!" the doctor assented heartily; "and I got a good deal myself. You remember how she used to sing those Scotch songs for me, and lead us with her head, her hair bobbing?"
"'Flow Gently, Sweet Afton,'—I can hear it now," said Mrs. Kronborg; "and poor father never knew when he sang sharp! He used to say, Mother, how do you always know when they make mistakes practicing?" Mrs. Kronborg chuckled.
Dr. Archie took her hand, still firm like the hand of a young woman. "It was lucky for her that you did know. I always thought she got more from you than from any of her teachers."
"Except Wunsch; he was a real musician," said Mrs Kronborg respectfully. "I gave her what chance I could, in a crowded house. I kept the other children out of the parlor for her. That was about all I could do. If she was n't disturbed, she needed no watching. She went after it like a terrier after rats from the first, poor child. She was downright afraid of it. That 's why I always encouraged her taking Thor off to outlandish places. When she was out of the house, then she was rid of it."
After they had recalled many pleasant memories together, Mrs. Kronborg said suddenly: "I always understood about her going off without coming to see us that time. Oh, I know! You had to keep your own counsel. You were a good friend to her. I 've never forgot that." She patted the doctor's sleeve and went on absently. "There was something she did n't want to tell me, and that 's why she did n't come. Something happened when she was with those people in Mexico. I worried for a good while, but I guess she 's come out of it all right. She 'd had a pretty hard time, scratching along alone like that when she was so young, and my farms in Nebraska were down so low that I could n't help her none. That 's no way to send a girl out. But I guess, whatever there was, she would n't be afraid to tell me now." Mrs. Kronborg looked up at the photograph with a smile. "She does n't look like she was beholding to anybody, does she?"
"She is n't, Mrs. Kronborg. She never has been. That was why she borrowed the money from me."
"Oh, I knew she 'd never have sent for you if she 'd done anything to shame us. She was always proud." Mrs. Kronborg paused and turned a little on her side. "It 's been quite a satisfaction to you and me, doctor, having her voice turn out so fine. The things you hope for don't always turn out like that, by a long sight. As long as old Mrs. Kohler lived, she used always to translate what it said about Thea in the German papers she sent. I could make some of it out myself,—it 's not very different from Swedish,—but it pleased the old lady. She left Thea her piece-picture of the burning of Moscow. I 've got it put away in moth-balls for her, along with the oboe her grandfather brought from Sweden. I want her to take father's oboe back there some day." Mrs. Kronborg paused a moment and compressed her lips. "But I guess she 'll take a finer instrument than that with her, back to Sweden!" she added.
Her tone fairly startled the doctor, it was so vibrating with a fierce, defiant kind of pride he had heard often in Thea's voice. He looked down wonderingly at his old friend and patient. After all, one never knew people to the core. Did she, within her, hide some of that still passion of which her daughter was all-compact?
"That last summer at home was n't very nice for her," Mrs. Kronborg began as placidly as if the fire had never leaped up in her. "The other children were acting-up because they thought I might make a fuss over her and give her the big-head. We gave her the dare, somehow, the lot of us, because we could n't understand her changing teachers and all that. That 's the trouble about giving the dare to them quiet, unboastful children; you never know how far it 'll take em. Well, we ought not to complain, doctor; she 's given us a good deal to think about."
The next time Dr. Archie came to Moonstone, he came to be a pall-bearer at Mrs. Kronborg's funeral. When he last looked at her, she was so serene and queenly that he went back to Denver feeling almost as if he had helped to bury Thea Kronborg herself. The handsome head in the coffin seemed to him much more really Thea than did the radiant young woman in the picture, looking about at the Gothic vaultings and greeting the Hall of Song.