A Complete Recovery
A COMPLETE RECOVERY.
By BARRY PAIN.
IT had been a clear summer day. In the pale evening sky was now that one star. Through flat fields a straight white road led from Saffinwell to the station. The omnibus of the Saffinwell Arms met all trains—all the poor slow six—every day. It was now making its last journey to the station for the day, to meet the evening down-train. The horses seemed to move with mechanical doggedness; they had been doing the same thing at the same times for so long. As mechanically, at a certain point in the road, the driver touched his hat. He almost always passed that lady just there. It had been a novelty to him once, and then a joke, and now it was what the thing that always happens always becomes in the end—nothing at all. But he still touched his hat every evening as he passed her, and with reason: when Miss Emmeline Folker was so ill that her sister and her doctor were ready, if necessary, to use physical force to prevent her from walking to the station to meet the evening train, she would take a cab from the Saffinwell Arms.
"Coachman," she would say, "when you get to the station, draw up in such a position that I can see everyone who comes out from the 7.15 train. When the last has gone by, unless I have occasion to give an order to the contrary, drive home at once." But it was seldom that she was so ill as to consent to the hire of a cab. "Our circumstances," she would say to her sister Alice, "are comfortable enough, but they do not justify extravagance." She refused to make any concessions to mere weather. Walking or driving—and almost always walking—she had met the last down-train at the Saffinwell Station every night for the last twelve years. "Poor mad lady!" they sometimes said in the village. She was forty-three years old, looked sixty-three, and dressed like twenty-three. She never seemed sanguine when she went to the station, or disappointed when she came back. She smiled pleasantly if she met anyone she knew; the worst weather could not damp her spirits. If she had time to chat for a minute with a friend without being late for her train, she always appeared bright, cheerful, rational. In the village all knew the story.
When Miss Emmeline Folker was thirty-one years old, and it had seemed likely that the proud beauty (as she was then—Alice had always been plain) would never become engaged, she met a certain Wilfrid Gunton and falsified expectations. Gunton was a homely man, engaged in business, not romantic, not good-looking, not particularly well off. There seemed to be no reason why Emmeline should accept him, seeing that she had refused many men more attractive and more eligible. But she did accept him, and for the first time in her life was in love. His least wish, however commonplace, had but to be spoken to become a sacred law to her. It was the every-day miracle. Shortly after her engagement he wrote that he was coming to see her. He was coming from London by the last down-train. She was to meet it, and they would walk back together to her mother's house.
She never would believe the accounts of the accident that happened to the train. She never would believe that he was dead. They showed it her in the newspapers; his mother and sisters wrote to her. She was perfectly cheerful when she read those letters, but a little embarrassed. "She is a dear lady," she said, speaking of her lover's mother, "and as fond of a joke as Wilfrid is himself, but she really ought not to do this. Suppose I were one of those nervous and hysterical women, what harm it might do! I don't know what Wilfrid will say to her. It really isn't in very good taste—with that deep mourning edge on the envelope too. However, I must write her a chaffing letter back." She sat down at once and wrote it; it was mercifully intercepted before it reached the bereaved mother. At the mention of mourning she lost her temper. "If," she said to her sister, "either you or mamma suggest that I should wear mourning, or wear it yourselves, or try in any way to keep up this stupid and hideous farce, I will never forgive you. I 'm going now," she said, "to meet the last down-train. Don't drive me to complain to Wilfrid about this silliness—it 's worse than that—it 's madness!"
Every night—every night for twelve years—she met that particular train. Medical advice was taken. It was suggested that they should leave the place, and Emmeline Folker would not hear of it—threatened to take her life if they insisted upon it. She was perfectly rational in every other respect, and it was considered best to let her have her way—to humour her. When her own mother died, she shared a sincere and natural grief, and consented to wear mourning. "But," she said, "it must be for as short a time as is decent. Wilfrid has such a dislike for dark colours. Mamma would have understood." She kept close watch on any alterations that the railway company made in the time of the arrival of the last down-train, and the dinner-time for herself and her sister was arranged to suit it. As soon as she got back from the station, she dressed for dinner (Alice never did when they were alone, but Wilfrid had said that he always preferred to dress), and at dinner a place had always been laid for him—"in case," she said. Sometimes she would say, "Poor Wilfrid 's detained again. How I detest business!" or more often, "It must have been to-morrow night he meant, then." More often still she would make no allusion whatever to the subject. As a tragedy grows old, sympathy grows less. There was a time when the village boys shouted after Miss Emmeline Folker in the street. She was distressed by it, but could not understand it. Long before twelve years had passed she had established her right; she was a familiar figure; people expected to find her every evening on the road to Saffinwell Station. That was the story.
She had changed much in those twelve years. She had lost all her beauty, and become gaunt and grey. She had acquired some old maid's ways—great neatness, and a certain formality in speaking. These were the merciless changes that nature would have of her. For the rest, she did not change. She persisted in wearing bright colours. Her sister remonstrated once. "Ah!" said Miss Emmeline Folker, "wait till Wilfrid comes, and he will tell you which of us knows his taste best." Her sister went into another room then; it did not do to let Emmeline see her crying. Emmeline had a vague idea that Alice was growing old before her time. Of herself she always spoke as quite a young woman. If any objection was raised to her going out in bad weather, she would say, "My dear Alice, you must remember that young people can do with perfect safety things that old people cannot."
As she walked along the road to the station this evening the sky became quickly overcast. A quarter of a mile from the station the torrent fell and drenched her through. The train was late, and she had to wait for some time on the platform—a limp, grotesque figure in her wet light dress.
"You don't think," she said to the porter, "that there can have been any accident, do you?"
"No, Miss," he said, with a grin, as he turned away.
He could have respected the pathos of it twelve years before; but the tragedy of twelve years ago is the comedy of to-day.
"He doesn't understand the reason for my nervousness," she thought to herself, smiling charitably.
When she got back her sister met her with some consternation.
"You must have got wet through, Emmie! You 'll catch cold! "
"Oh no, dear! I shall change everything. Wilfrid 's detained again. How annoyed the poor darling must feel at these disappointments!" It was rarely that she said so much on the subject.
Her sister's prophecy came true. On the following day Emmeline had a cold and was feverish. She became very ill indeed. Her sister nursed her assiduously, and she completely recovered.
Yes; that was where her story began to be sad—she completely recovered. The doctor had hinted to Alice that something of the kind might take place, and it did. One disease killed the other. When Emmeline recovered from her fever she also recovered from her kind, merciful delusion.
Alice had noticed that for two days her sister had never spoken of her lover, and had shown no inquietude at being unable to get to the station. Then one afternoon Emmeline said:
"Alice darling, they needn't lay three places at dinner to-night. There 's only we two now."
"Yes, dear," said Alice, with no voice to say more.
"There was something in a newspaper," Emmeline went on. "They showed me it a long time ago, and I half remember it. Have you got it still?"
Alice fetched it for her, a newspaper-cutting yellow with age. Emmeline took it in her hand, and then put it down. "After all," she said, "I remember so much that I couldn't bear any more."
"I've grown old," she went on after a pause, "and I'm not pretty any more, I couldn't help that, could I? But I must not wear these dresses. They are not suitable. Wilfrid liked bright colours just as he liked bright people. But he would understand—he was always reasonable. I must send a note to the dress-maker to-night,"
On the next morning the doctor came to see Emmeline.
"I don't think I need come again," he said afterwards to Alice. "Your sister's none the worse for her illness—in fact, she's the better for it. It's a complete recovery."
"There 's no further danger?"
"My dear Miss Folker, with reasonable care your sister may live to be eighty or ninety. She 's quite sound and——"
At this point the doctor stopped short because Miss Emmeline Folker entered the room. She had overheard the last sentences.
"Doctor," said Emmeline, smiling, "I 've caught you and Alice conspiring to give me a more unpleasant medicine than you 've achieved yet. And that is far from being necessary—the last was bad enough."
"On the contrary," said the doctor laughing, "we were conspiring not to give you any more medicine at all."
The poor joke was worried out a little further, and the doctor left.
"Ah!" said Alice, "I 'm so thankful. And you 're cheering up quite—quite! How the doctor did laugh!"
"No, dear," said Emmeline gently, "I don't think I 'll go to church to-night."
"Not on Sunday night? But you always—well, dear, why?"
"It's when they sing that 'Lettest now thy servant depart in peace' that I can't help crying. I don't want to cry about it. Wilfrid, you remember, so much disliked anything of the kind; it 's not seemly. Alice dear, I won't do it any more; only speaking of it has made me think of it, and—and—don't look at me just now, darling."