“True about the doctor and Mary Coombe? Why, yes of course it’s true. Land sakes, it’s no secret.” Mrs. Sykes would look at her visitor in innocent astonishment. “Queer? No. I don’t see anything queer about it. Mary Coombe’s a nice looking woman, if she is sloppy, and I guess she ain’t any older than the doctor, if it comes to that. No, the doctor doesn’t say much about it. He ain’t a talking man. Sudden? Oh, I don’t know. ’Tisn’t as if they’d met like strangers. As you say, they might have kept company before. But I never heard of it. I always forget, Mrs. MacTavish, if you take sugar? One spoon or two? As you say, old friends sometimes take up with old friends. But sometimes they don’t. My Aunt Susan found her second in a man who used to weed their garden. But it’s not safe to judge by that. Ann, hand Mrs. MacTavish this cup, and go tell Bubble Burk that if he doesn’t stop aggravating that dog, it’ll bite him some day, and nobody sorry.”
In this manner did Mrs. Sykes hold the fort. Not from her would Coombe hear of those “blue things of the soul” which her quick eye divined behind the quiet front of her favourite. But with the doctor himself she had no reserves, it being one of her many maxims that “what you up and say to a person’s face doesn’t hurt them any.” The doctor was made well aware that her unvarnished opinion of his prospective marriage was at his disposal at any time.
“I’m not one as gives advice that ain’t asked,” declared Mrs. Sykes with sincere self-deception. “But what sensible folks see in Mary Coombe I can’t imagine. I may be biased, not having ever liked her from the very first, but being always willing to give her a chance—which I may say she never took. There’s a verse in the Bible she reminds me of, ’Unstable as water’—Ann, what tribe was it that the Lord addressed them words to?”
“I don’t know, Aunt.”
“There, you see! She doesn’t know! That’s what happens along of all these Sunday Schools. In my day I’d be spanked and sent to bed if I didn’t know every last thing about the tribes.”
“Ann and I will go and look it up,” said the doctor hastily, hoping to escape; “it will be good discipline for both of us.”
“Land sakes! I’m not blaming you, Doctor. Naturally you haven’t got your mind on texts, and I don’t blame you about the other thing either. Men are awful easy taken in. My Aunt Susan used to say that the cleverer a man was the more he didn’t understand a woman. Dr. Coombe was what you’d call clever, too, but it didn’t help him any. Mind you, I’m not criticising, far from it, but I suppose a person may wonder what a man’s eyes are for, without offence. No one knows better than you, Doctor, that I’m not an interfering woman and I’d never dream of saying a word against Mary Coombe to the face of her intended husband, but if I did say anything it would have to be the truth and the truth is that a more thorough-paced bit of uselessness I never saw.”