“There are some women who will brew mystery from the decoction of even a very simple life. Matilda is one of them,” remarked the major to himself as he filled his pipe and settled himself before his high-piled, violet-flamed logs. “It was waxing strong in her this morning and an excitement will arrive shortly. Now I wonder—”
“Howdy, Major,” came in a mockingly lugubrious voice from the hall, and David Kildare blew into the room. He looked disappointedly around, dropped into a chair and lowered his voice another note.
“Seen Phoebe?” he demanded.
“No, haven’t you?” answered the major as he lighted his pipe and regarded the man opposite him with a large smile of welcome.
“Not for three days, hand-running. She’s been over to see Andy with Mrs. Matilda twice, and I’ve missed her both times. Now, how’s that for luck?”
“Well,” said the major reflectively, “in the terms of modern parlance, you certainly are up against it. And did it ever occur to you that a man with three ribs broken and a dislocated collar-bone, who has written a play and a sprinkle of poems, is likely to interest Phoebe Donelson enormously? There is nothing like poetry to implant a divine passion, and Andrew is undoubtedly of poetic stamp.”
“Oh, poetry—hang! It’s more Andy’s three ribs than anything else. He just looks pale and smiles at all of ’em. He always did have yellow dog eyes, the sad kind. I’d like to smash all two dozen of his ribs,” and Kildare slashed at his own sturdy legs with his crop. He had dropped in with his usual morning’s tale of woe to confide to Major Buchanan, and he had found him, as always, ready to hand out an incendiary brand of sympathy.
“He ought not to have more than twenty-three; one on the right side should be missing. Some woman’s got it—maybe Phoebe,” said the major with deadly intent.
“Nothing of the kind. I’m shy a rib myself and Phoebe is it. Don’t I get a pain in my side every time I see her? It’s the real psychic thing, only she doesn’t seem to get hold of her end of the wire like she might.”
“Don’t trust her, David, don’t trust her! You see his being injured in Panama, building bridges for his country, while you sat here idly reading the newspapers about it, has had its appeal. I know it’s dangerous, but you ought to want Phoebe to soothe his fevered brow. Nothing is too good for a hero this side of Mason and Dixon’s, my son.” The major eyed his victim with calculating coolness, gaging just how much more of the baiting he would stand. He was disappointed to see that the train of explosives he had laid failed to take fire.
“Well, he’s being handed out a choice bunch of Mason-Dixon attentions. They are giving him the cheer-up all day long. When I left, Mrs. Shelby was up there talking to him, and Mrs. Cherry Lawrence and Tom had just come in. Mrs. Cherry had brought him several fresh eggs. She had got them from Phoebe! I sent them to her from the farm this morning. Rode out and coaxed the hens for them myself. Now, isn’t a brainstorm up to me?”