The doctor acknowledged the introduction with a bow and a quick smile of gratitude.
“You are really very kind, Miss Coombe,” he said. “If—if I should take Dr. Spifkin’s practice, I hope I may see you sometimes. It is not far from here, is it, to the town—pump?”
Esther laughed. “No, but I do not live out here. I only teach here. We live in town, or almost in. You will pass the house on the way to the hotel. But before you go—” with a gleeful smile she handed him his lost pocketbook—“this fell out of your coat when I pull—helped you under the tree. I should have given it to you before, but I wanted you to understand just how far the blessing of hunger depends upon one’s power to gratify it.”
They laughed together with a splendid sense of comradeship; then with a startled “I really must ring the bell!” she turned and ran up the steps.
Smilingly he watched her disappear, waiting musingly until a sudden furious ringing told him that school was called.
Two sandwiches, an apple, and a glass of water may save a man from starvation, but they do not go far towards satisfying the reviving appetite of a convalescent. Walking with brisk step down the road, Callandar began to imagine the kind of meal he would order—a clear soup, broiled steak, crisp potatoes—a few little simple things like that! He fingered his pocketbook lovingly, glad that, for the first time in some months, he actually wanted something that money could buy.
Now that noon was past, the intense heat of the morning was tempered by a breeze. It was still hot and his footsteps raised little cyclones of dust which flew along the road before him, but the oppression in the air was gone, and walking had ceased to be a weariness. The mile which separated him from Coombe appeared no longer endless, yet so insistent were the demands of his inner man that when a town-going farmer hailed him with the usual offer of a “lift,” he accepted the invitation with alacrity.
“Better,” he murmured to himself, “the delights of rustic conversation with a good meal at the end thereof than lordly solitude and emptiness withal.”
But contrary to expectation the rustic declined to converse. He was a melancholy-looking man with a long jaw and eyes so deep-set that the observer took them on faith, and a nose which alone would have been sufficient to identify him. Beyond the first request to “step up,” he vouchsafed no word and, save for an inarticulate gurgle to his horse, seemed lost in an ageless calm. His gaze was fixed upon some indefinite portion of the horse’s back and he drove leaning forward in an attitude of complete bodily and mental relaxation. If his guest wished conversation it was apparent that he must set it going himself.
“Very warm day!” said Callandar tentatively.
“So-so.” The farmer slapped the reins over the horse’s flank, jerked them abruptly and murmured a hoarse “Giddap!” It was his method of encouraging the onward motion of the animal.