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   Chapter 4 THE DANCE

The Doctor By Ralph Connor Characters: 20482

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02


The dance was well on when Barney and Tom drove up to the McLeods' gate. They were met by Margaret and Barney's mother, who, with a group of girls and Mr. McLeod, had been waiting for them. As they drove into the yard they were met at once with eager questions as to the condition and fate of the unhappy Ben.

"Ben, is it?" said Tom. "Indeed, it's a hero we've discovered. He stud it like a brick. An' I'm not sure but there are two av thim," he said, jerking his thumb toward Barney. "Ye ought to have seen him stand there houldin' the light an' passin' the doctor sthrings, an' the blood spoutin' like a stuck pig. What happened afther, it's mesilf can't tell ye at all, for I was restin' quietly by mesilf on the floor on the broad av me back, an' naither av thim takin' annythin' to do wid me except to drown me wid watther betune times. Indeed, it's himsilf is the born doctor, an' so he is," continued Tom, warming to his theme, "for wid his hands red wid blood an' his face as white as yer apron, ma'am, niver a shiver did he give until the last knot was tied an' the last stitch was sewed. Bedad! there's not a man in the county could do the same."

There was no stopping Tom in his recital, and after many attempts Barney finally gave it up, and began unhitching his horse. Meantime the sound of the dancing had ceased, and suddenly up through the silence there rose a voice in song to the accompaniment of some stringed instrument. It was an arresting voice. The group about the horse stood perfectly still as the voice rose and soared and sank and rose again in an old familiar plantation air.

"Who in thunder is that?" cried Barney, turning to his mother.

But his mother shook her head. "Indeed, I know not, but it's likely yon strange girl that came out from town with the Murrays."

"I know," cried Teenie Ross, Rory's sister, with a little toss of her head, "Alec told me. She is the girl who has come to take the teacher's place for a month. She is the niece of Sheriff Hossie. Her father was a colonel in the Southern army, California or Virginia or some place, I don't just remember. Oh! I know all about her, Alec told me," continued Teenie with a knowing shake of her ruddy curls. "And she'll have a string of hearts dangling to her apron, if she wears one, before the month is out, so you'd better mind out, Barney."

But Barney was not heeding her. "Hush!" he said, holding up his hand, for again the voice was rising up clear and full into the night silence. Even Teenie's chatter was subdued and no one moved till the verse was finished.

"She'll be needing a boarding house, Barney," continued Teenie wickedly. "You'll just need to take her with you to the Mill."

"Indeed, and there will be no such lassie as yon in my house," said the mother, speaking sharply.

"She has no mother," said Margaret softly, "and she will need a place."

"Yes, that she will," replied Mrs. Boyle, "and I know very well where she will be going, too, and you with four little ones to do for, not to speak of the minister, the hardest of the lot." Mrs. Boyle was evidently seriously angered.

"Man! What a voice!" breathed Barney, and, making fast the horse to the waggon, he set off for the barn apparently oblivious of all about him.

"Begorra, ma'am, an' savin' yer prisince, there's nobody knows what's in that lad. But he'll stir the world yit, an' so he will. An' that's what the ould Doctor said, so it was."

When Barney reached the barn floor the Southern girl had just finished her song, and with her guitar still in her hands was idly strumming its strings. The moonlight fell about her in a flood so bright as to reveal the ivory pallor of her face and the lustrous depths of her dark eyes. It was a face of rare and romantic beauty framed in soft, fluffy, dark hair, brushed high off the forehead and gathered in a Greek knot at the back of her head. But besides the beauty of face and eyes, there was an air of gentle, appealing innocence that awakened the chivalrous instincts latent in every masculine heart, and a lazy, languorous grace that set her in striking contrast to the alert, vigorous country maids so perfectly able to care for themselves, asking odds of no man. When the singing ceased Barney came out of the shadow at his father's side, and, reaching for the violin, said, "Let me spell you a bit, Dad."

At his voice Dick, who was across the floor beside the singer, turned quickly and, seeing Barney, sprang for him, shouting, "Hello! you old whale, you!" The father hastily pulled his precious violin out of danger.

"Let go, Dick! Let go, I tell you!" said Barney, struggling in his brother's embrace; "stop it, now!"

With a mighty effort he threw Dick off from him and stood on guard with an embarrassed, half-shamed, half-indignant laugh. The crowd gathered near in delighted expectation. There was always something sure to happen when Dick "got after" his older brother.

"He won't let me kiss him," cried Dick pitifully, to the huge enjoyment of the crowd.

"It's too bad, Dick," they cried.

"So it is. But I'm not going to be put off. It's a shame!" replied Dick, in a hurt tone. "And me just home, too."

"It's a mean shame, Dick. Wouldn't stand it a minute," cried his sympathisers.

"I won't either," cried Dick, preparing to make an attack.

"Look here, Dick," cried Barney impatiently, "just quit your nonsense or I'll throw you on the floor there and sit on you. Besides, you're spoiling the music."

"Well, well, that's so," said Dick. "So on Miss Lane's account I'll forbear, provided, that is, she sings again, as, of course, she will."

It was Dick's custom to assume command in every company where he found himself.

"What is it to be? 'Dixie'?"

"Yes! Yes!" cried the crowd. "'Dixie.' We'll give you the chorus."

After a little protest the girl struck a few chords and dashed off into that old plantation song full of mingling pathos and humour. Barney picked up his father's violin, touched the strings softly till he found her key and then followed in a subdued accompaniment of weird chords. The girl turned herself toward him, her beautiful face lighting up as if she had caught a glimpse of a kindred spirit, and with a new richness and tenderness she poured forth the full flood of her song. The crowd were entranced with delight. Even those who had been somewhat impatient for the renewal of the dance joined in calls for another song. She turned to Dick, who had resumed his place beside her. "Who is the man you wanted so badly to kiss?" she asked quietly.

"Who?" he cried, so that everyone heard. "What! don't you know? That's Barney, the one and only Barney, my brother. Here, Barney, drop your fiddle and be introduced to Miss Iola Lane, late from Virginia, or is it Maryland? Some of those heathen places beyond the Dixie line."

Barney dropped the violin from his chin, came over the floor, and awkwardly offered his hand. With easy, lazy grace she rose from the block where she had been sitting.

"You accompany beautifully," she said in her soft Southern drawl; "it's in you, I can see. No one can ever be taught to accompany like that."

"Oh, pshaw! That's nothing," said Barney, eager to get back again to his shadow, "but if you don't mind I'll try to follow you if you sing again."

"Certainly," cried Dick, "she'll sing again. What will you give us now, white or black?"

"Plantation, of course," said Barney brusquely.

"All right. 'Kentucky home,' eh?" cried Dick.

The girl looked up at him with a saucy, defiant look. "Do they all obey you here?"

"Ask them."

"That's what," cried Alec Murray, "especially the girls."

She hesitated a few moments, evidently meditating rebellion, then turning to Barney, who was playing softly the air that had been asked for, "You, too, obey, I see," she said.

"Generally-, always when I like," he replied, continuing to play.

"Oh, well," shrugging her shoulders, "I suppose I must then." And she began:

"The sun shines bright on de old Kentucky home."

Again that hush fell upon the crowd. The face of the singer, with its dark, romantic beauty touched with the magic of the moonlight, the voice soft, mellow, vibrant with passion, like the deeper notes of a 'cello, supported by the weird chords of Barney's violin, held them breathless. No voice joined in the chorus. As she sang, the subtle telepathic waves came back from her audience to the girl, and with ever-deepening passion and abandon she poured forth into the moonlit silence the full throbbing tide of song. The old air, simple and time-worn, took on a new richness of tone colour and a fulness of volume suggestive of springs of unutterable depths. Even Dick's gay air of command surrendered to the spell. As before, silence followed the song.

"But you did not do your part," she said, smiling up at him with a very pretty air of embarrassment.

"No," said Dick solemnly, "we didn't dare."

"Sing again," said Barney abruptly. His voice sounded deep and hoarse, and Dick, looking curiously at him, said apologetically, "Music, when it's good, makes him quite batty."

But Iola ignored him. "Did you ever hear this?" she said to Barney. She strummed a few chords on her guitar. "It's only a little baby song, one my old mammy used to sing."

"Sleep, ma baby, close youah lil winkahs fas',

Loo-la, Loo-la, don' you gib me any sass.

Youah mammy's ol', an' want you to de berry las',

So, baby, honey, let dose mean ol' angels pass.

CHORUS:

"Sleep, ma baby, mammy can't let you go.

Sleep, ma baby, de angels want you sho!

De angels want you, guess I know,

But mammy hol' you, hol' you tight jes' so.

"Sleep, ma baby, close youah lil fingahs, Meah,

Loo-la, Loo-la, tight about ma fingahs heah,

De dawk come close, but baby don' you nebbeh feah,

Youah mammy'll hol' you, hol' you till de mawn appeah.

"Sleep, ma baby, why you lie so col', so col'?

Loo-la, Loo-la, do Massa want you for His fol'?

But, baby, honey, don' you know youah mammy's ol'

An' want you, want you, oh, she want you jes' to hol'."

A long silence followed the song. The girl laid her guitar down and sat quietly looking straight before her, wh

ile Barney played the refrain over and over. The simple pathos of the little song, its tender appeal to the mother-chords that somehow vibrate in all human hearts, reached the deep places in the honest hearts of her listeners and for some moments they stood silent about her. It was with an obvious effort that Dick released the tension by crying out, "Partners for four-hand reel." Instantly the company resolved itself into groups of four and stood waiting for the music.

"Strike up, Barney," cried Dick impatiently, shuffling before Iola, whom he had chosen for his partner. But Barney, handing the violin to his father, slipped back into the shadow where his mother and Margaret were standing. The boy's face was pale through its swarthy tan.

"Come away," he said to his mother in a strained, unnatural voice.

"Isn't she beautiful?" cried Margaret impulsively.

"Is she? I didn't notice. But great goodness! What a voice!"

"Um, some will be thinking so, I doubt," said Mrs. Boyle grimly, with a sharp glance at her son.

But Barney had become oblivious to her words and glances. He moved away as in a dream to make ready for the home going of his party, for soon the dancers would be at Sir Roger's. Nor did he waken from his dream mood during the drive home. He could hear Dick chattering gaily to Margaret and his mother of his College experiences, but except for an occasional word with his father he sat in silence, gazing not upon the fields and woods that lay in all their moonlit glory about them, but upon that new world, vast, unreal, yet vividly present, whose horizon lay beyond the line of vision, the world of his imagination, where he must henceforth live and where his work must lie. For the events of the afternoon had summoned a new self into being, a self unfamiliar, but real and terribly insistent, demanding recognition. He could not analyse the change that had come to him, nor could he account for it. He did not try to. He lived again those great moments when, having been thrust by chance into the command of these fifty mighty men, he had swung them to victory. He remembered the ease, the perfect harmony with which his faculties had wrought through those few minutes of fierce struggle. Again he passed through the awful ordeal of the operation, now holding the light, now assisting with forceps or cord or needle, now sponging away that ghastly red flow that could not be stemmed. He wondered now at his self-mastery. He could see again his fingers, bloody, but unshaking, handing the old doctor a needle and silk cord. He remembered his surprise and pity, almost contempt, for big Tom Magee lying on the floor unable to lift his head; remembered, too, the strange absence of anything like elation at the doctor's words, "My boy, you have the nerve and the fingers of a surgeon, and that's what your Maker intended you to be."

But he let his mind linger long and with thrilling joy through the interlude in the dance. Every detail of that scene stood clearly limned before his mind. The bare skeleton of the new harp, the crowding, eager, tense faces of the listeners, his mother's and Margaret's in the hindmost row, his brother standing in the centre foreground, the upturned face of the singer with its pale romantic loveliness, all in the mystery of the moonlight, and, soaring over all, that clear, vibrant, yet softly passionate, glorious voice. That was the final magic touch that rolled back the screen and set before him the new world which must henceforth be his. He could not explain that touch. The songs were the old simple airs worn threadbare by long use in the countryside. It was certainly not the songs. Nor was it the singer. Curiously enough, the girl, her personality, her character, worthy or unworthy, had only a subordinate place in his thought. He was conscious of her presence there as a subtle yet powerful influence, but as something detached from the upturned face illumined in the soft moonlight and the stream of heart-shaking song. She was to him thus far simply a vision and a voice, to which all the psychic element in him made eager response. As he drove into the quiet Mill yard it came upon him with a shock of pain that with the old life he had done forever. He felt himself already detached from it. The new self looking out upon its new world had shaken off his boyhood as the bursting leaf shakes off the husks of spring.

As Dick's gay exclamation of delight at sight of the old home fell upon his ear a deeper pain struck him, for he vaguely felt that while his brother still held his place in the centre of the stage, that stage had immeasurably extended and was now peopled with other figures, shadowy, it is true, but there, and influential. His brother, who with his mother, or, indeed, perhaps more than his mother, had absorbed his boyish devotion, must henceforth share that devotion with others. Upon this thought his brother's voice broke in.

"What's the matter, old chap? Is there anything wrong?"

The kindly tone stabbed like a knife.

"No, no. Nothing, Dick."

"Yes, but there is. You're not the same." At the anxious appeal in the voice Barney stood for a moment steadily regarding his brother, for whom he could easily give his life, with a troubled sense of change that he could not analyse to himself, much less explain to his brother.

"I don't know, Dick-I can't tell you-I don't think I am the same." A look of startled dismay fell swiftly down upon the frank, handsome face turned toward him.

"Have I done anything, Barney?" said the younger boy, his dismay showing in his tone.

"No, no, Dick, boy, it has nothing to do with you." He put his hands on his brother's shoulders, the nearest thing to an embrace he ever allowed himself. "It is in myself; but to you, my boy, I am the same." His speech came now hurriedly and with difficulty: "And whatever comes to me or to you, Dick, remember I shall never change to you-remember that, Dick, to you I shall never change." His breath was coming in quick gasps. The younger boy gazed at his usually so undemonstrative brother. Suddenly he threw his arms about his neck, crying in a broken voice, "You won't, Barney, I know you won't. If you ever do I don't want to live."

For a single moment Barney held the boy in his arms, patting his shoulder gently, then, pushing him back, said impatiently, "Well, I am a blamed old fool, anyway. What in the diggins is the matter with me, I don't know. I guess I want supper, nothing to eat since noon. But all the same, Dick," he added in a steady, matter-of-fact tone, "we must expect many changes from this out, but we'll stand by each other till the world cracks."

After Dick had gone upstairs with his father, Barney and his mother sat together talking over the doings of the day after their invariable custom.

"He is looking thin, I am thinking," said the mother.

"Oh, he's right enough. A few days after the reaper and a few meals out of your kitchen, mother, and he will be as fit as ever."

"That was a fine work of yours with the doctor." The indifferent tone did not deceive her son for a moment.

"Oh, pshaw, that was nothing. At least it seemed nothing then. There were things to be done, blood to be stopped, skin to be sewed up, and I just did what I could." The mother nodded slightly.

"You did no more than you ought, and that great Tom Magee might be doing something better than lying on his back on the floor like a baby."

"He couldn't help himself, mother. That's the way it struck him. But, man, it was fine to see the doctor, so quick and so clever, and never a slip or a stop." He paused abruptly and stood upright looking far away for some moments. "Yes, fine! Splendid!" he continued as in a dream. "And he said I had the fingers and the nerve for a surgeon. That's it. I see now-mother, I'm going to be a doctor."

His mother stood and faced him. "A doctor? You?"

The sharp tone recalled her son.

"Yes, me. Why not?"

"And Richard?"

Her son understood her perfectly. His mind went back to a morning long ago when his mother, putting his younger brother's hand in his as they set forth to school for the first time, said, "Take care of your brother, Bernard. I give him into your charge." That very day and many a day after he had stood by his brother, had fought for him, had pulled him out of scraps into which the younger lad's fiery temper and reckless spirit were frequently plunging him, but never once had he consciously failed in the trust imposed on him. And as Dick developed exceptional brilliance in his school work, together they planned for him, the mother and the older brother, the mother painfully making and saving, the brother accepting as his part the life of plodding obscurity in order that the younger boy might have his full chance of what school and college could do for him. True to the best traditions of her race, the mother had fondly dreamed of a day when she should hear from her son's lips the word of life. With never a thought of the sacrifice she was demanding, she had drawn into this partnership her elder son. And thus to the mother it seemed nothing less than an act of treachery, amounting to sacrilege, that Barney for a single moment should cherish for himself an ambition whose realisation might imperil his brother's future. Barney needed, therefore, no explanation of his mother's cry of dismay, almost of horror. He was quick with his answer.

"Dick? Oh, mother, do you think I was forgetting Dick? Of course nothing must stop Dick. I can wait-but I am going to be a doctor."

The mother looked into her son's rugged face, so like her own in its firm lines, and replied almost grudgingly, "Ay, I doubt you will." Then she added hastily, as if conscious of her ungracious tone, "And what for should you not?"

"Thank you, mother," said her son humbly, "and never fear we'll stand by Dick."

Her eyes followed him out of the room and for some moments she stood watching the door through which he had passed. Then, with a great sigh, she said aloud: "Ay, it is the grand doctor he will make. He has the nerve and the fingers whatever." Then after a pause she added: "And he will not fail the laddie, I warrant."

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