“Mrs. Philbrick, I fear that your mother cannot live through another winter in this climate,” Mercy looked at him for a moment with an expression of terror. In an instant more, the expression had given place to one of resolute and searching inquiry.
“You think, then, that she might be well in a different climate?”
“Perhaps not well, but she might live for years in a dryer, milder air. There is as yet no actual disease in her lungs,” the doctor replied.
Mercy interrupted him.
“You think she might live in comparative comfort? It would not be merely prolonging her life as a suffering invalid?” she said; adding in an undertone, as if to herself, “I would not subject her to that.”
“Oh, yes, undoubtedly,” said the doctor. “She need never die of consumption at all, if she could breathe only inland air. She will never be strong again, but she may live years without any especial liability to suffering.”
“Then I will take her away immediately,” replied Mercy, in as confident and simple a manner as if she had been proposing only to move her from one room into another. It would not seem so easy a matter for two lonely women, in a little Cape Cod village, without a male relative to help them, and with only a few thousand dollars in the world, to sell their house, break up all their life-long associations, and go out into the world to find a new home. Associations crystallize around people in lonely and out of the way spots, where the days are all alike, and years follow years in an undeviating monotony. Perhaps the process might be more aptly called one of petrifaction. There are pieces of exquisite agate which were once soft wood. Ages ago, the bit of wood fell into a stream, where the water was largely impregnated with some chemical matter which had the power to eat out the fibre of the wood, and in each spot thus left empty to deposit itself in an exact image of the wood it had eaten away. Molecule by molecule, in a mystery too small for human eye to detect, even had a watchful human eye been lying in wait to observe, the marvellous process went on; until, after the lapse of nobody knows how many centuries, the wood was gone, and in its place lay its exact image in stone,—rings of growth, individual peculiarities of structure, knots, broken slivers and chips; color, shape, all perfect. Men call it agatized wood, by a feeble effort to translate the mystery of its existence; but it is not wood, except to the eye. To the touch, and in fact, it is stone,—hard, cold, unalterable, eternal stone. The slow wear of monotonous life in a set groove does very much such a thing as this to human beings. To the eye they retain the semblance of other beings; but try them by touch, that is by contact with people, with events outside their groove, and they are stone,—agatized men and women. Carry them where you please, after they have reached middle or old age, and they will not change. There is no magic water, a drop of which will restore to them the vitality and pliability of their youth. They last well, such people,—as well, almost, as agatized wood on museum shelves; and the most you can do for them is to keep them well dusted.