From the barn doorway he watched the flutter of her cloak as she hurried down the path to the river.
THE SHADOW OF DEATH
Kenny went back to the kitchen, hungry and depressed. To his fancy, as eager at times in its morbidity as in its lighter sparkle, the shadow of death seemed brooding over the farmhouse. This an hour later the weary little doctor confirmed. He had tired shadows around his eyes, that doctor; he seemed always bored to death at the proneness of mankind to ills and aches and babies; and his kind tired voice never lost its drawl no matter what the crisis.
“It isn’t just the spine trouble, Mr. O’Neill,” he said. “With that alone he’d likely linger on for years. And it isn’t the trouble here in his chest. That’s chronic and unimportant. It’s the brandy. He drinks a quart a night and he won’t give it up.”
The doctor shook his head and pursed his lips.
“I think he’ll just slip away without regaining consciousness. Pulse is barely a flutter. Joan can tend him. She’s done it before. Every now and then for a good many years he’s had a bedfast spell. Poor child!” The doctor cleared his throat. “Well, Mr. O’Neill, such is life! I’ll stop back to-night on my way home.”
Distraught and rebellious, Kenny fought the girl’s refusal to let Hannah take her place. She hid the mended gown he hated under an apron of Hannah’s, slipped into his arms and out again with tears upon her cheeks, and fled from his protestations with her hands upon her ears. Kenny followed her to the door of Adam’s sitting room, frantic with distress. Verily, he thought, as the door closed gently in his face, the quality of Joan’s mercy was not strained. It came like Portia’s gentle rain from Heaven. It forgot and forgave and condoned. But the thought of her, flowerlike in the shadow of death, was unendurable.
Anxious to help, Kenny sculled the old punt back and forth, whenever the horn blew, until dusk. He had humbly pledged himself to curb a tendency to speed and excitement and therefore ferried the river well until a wind rose at twilight, clouds thickened overhead and a spatter of rain blew into his face. Then his patience waned and he tacked an enormous sign upon the willow under one of Hughie’s lanterns. Owing to illness, it said, the ferry had been discontinued. Afterward he went to tell Joan what he had done, and met the doctor on the stairway.
“By morning,” he nodded slowly, answering Kenny’s look. “Yes, I’m afraid he’ll be gone. I’d like to stay, Mr. O’Neill, for Joan’s sake. But there’s a baby coming over at the Jensen farm. There always is. And my duty as I see it is more with life than with death.”
“I’ll stay with him,” said Kenny. “Joan must rest.”
But she would not.
“Donald should be here too,” she said. “We are all he has.”