“Oh! it’s spinal trouble, is it?” Mrs. Sykes surveyed him commiseratingly. “You look straight enough. But land! You never can tell. Them spinal troubles are most deceiving. Terrible things they are, but they don’t shorten life as quickly as some others. Not that that’s a blessing! Mostly, folks as has them would be glad to go long before they are took. Still, it gives them some time to be prepared. I remember—”
“I must go now, Mrs. Sykes. Give Ann some of the medicine as soon as it comes. It isn’t exactly spinal trouble that is the matter with me, you know, but—er—I’ll send down the kind of mattress I like. In fact, I shall probably wish to furnish my rooms myself. You won’t mind, I’m sure.”
“Land sakes, no, I don’t mind! Most doctors are finicky. Don’t worry about the medicine. I’ll see that Ann takes it.”
She watched him go with a glance in which satisfaction and foreboding mingled. “Poor young feller!” she mused. “He didn’t like what I said about his spine a mite. Back troubles makes folks terrible touchy.”
Two days after the installation of what Mrs. Sykes persisted in calling the “spinal mattress,” Esther Coombe was late in getting home from school. As was usually the case when this happened, Jane, designated by mournful Mark as “the Pindling One,” was sitting on the gatepost gazing disconsolately down the road. There were traces of tears upon her thin little face and the warmth of the hug which returned her sister’s greeting was evidence of an unusually disturbed mind.
“Why aren’t you playing with the other children, Jane?”
“I don’t want to play, Esther. Timothy’s dead.”
“Yes, I know, dear. But Fred has promised you a new puppy—”
“I don’t want a new puppy. I want Timothy.”
“But Timothy is so much happier, Jane. He was old, you know. In the Happy Hunting Grounds, he will be able to frisk about just like other dogs. Wouldn’t you like an apple?”
Jane considered this a moment and decided favourably. But her tale of woe was not yet complete. “Mother’s ill again,” she announced gloomily. “I mustn’t play band or nail the slats on the rabbits’ hutch. Aunt Amy gave me my dinner on the back porch. I liked that. I wouldn’t go in the house, not till you came, Esther.”
The straight brows of the elder sister came together in a worried frown.
“You know that is being silly, Jane.”
“I don’t care.”
“You must learn to care. Run now and get the apple and ask Aunt Amy to wash your face.”
Jane tripped away obediently, her griefs assuaged by the mere telling of them, and Esther passed into the house by way of the veranda. It was a charming veranda, long and low, opening through French windows directly into the living room which, like itself, was long and low, and charming. There is a charm in rooms which can be felt but not described. It exists apart from the furnishings and even the occupants; it is an essence, haunting, intangible—the soul of the room! only there are many rooms which have no soul.