Amos must have dozed in his chair, for it seemed only a moment when a knock sounded on the side door and, without waiting for a reply, Maria Maxwell entered, a cape thrown about her shoulders, a lantern in one hand, and in the other a covered pitcher from which steam was curling.
“I heard David howling and I went to our gate to look; I saw that there wasn’t a light in the farm-house and so knew that something was the matter. No fire in the stove and the room quite chilly! Where is that neighbour of yours in the other half of the house? Couldn’t he have brought you in a few sticks?”
“He isn’t ter hum just now,” replied Amos, in tones that were unnecessarily feeble, while at the same time an idea entered his brain that almost made him chuckle; but the sound which was quenched in his throat only came to Maria as an uncomfortable struggle for breath that hastened her exit to the woodpile by the side fence for the material to revive the fire. In going round the house, her arms laden with logs, she bumped into the figure of The Man leading his bicycle across the grass, which deadened his footfall, as the lantern she carried blinded her to all objects not within its direct rays.
“Maria Maxwell! Is Opie ill again? You must not carry such a heavy load!” he exclaimed all in one breath, as he very quickly transferred the logs to his own arms, and was making the fire in the open stove almost before she had regained the porch, so that when she had lighted a lamp and drawn the turkey-red curtains, the reflections of the flames began to dance on the wall and cheerfulness suddenly replaced gloom.
Still Amos sat in an attitude of dejection. Thanking The Man for his aid, but taking no further notice of him, Maria began to heat the broth which was contained in the pitcher, asking Amos at the same time if he did not think that he would feel better in bed.
“I dunno’s place has much to do with it,” he grumbled; “this can’t go on no longer, it’s doing for me, that it is!”
Maria, thinking that he referred to bodily illness, hastened the preparations for bed, and The Man, feeling helpless as all men do when something active is being done in which they have no part, rose to go, and, with his hand on the latch of the porch door, said in a low voice: “If I might help you in any way, I should be very glad; I do not quite like leaving you alone with this old fellow,—you may need help in getting him to bed. Tell me frankly, would you like me to stay?”
“Frankly I would rather you would not,” said Maria, yet in so cordial a tone that no offence could be gathered from it in any way.
So the door opened and closed again and Maria began the rather laborious task of coaxing the old man to bed. When once there, the medicine given, and the soup taken, which she could not but notice that he swallowed greedily, she seated herself before the fire, resolving that, if Amos did not feel better by nine o’clock, she would have Barney come over for the night, as of course she must return to be near the Infant.