A magnanimous tone in his voice betrayed eagerness to put the Joneses under obligations to him.
“Dr. Dunlap,”—when Maria had spoken his name she panted awhile,—“when I found out I was not your wife, and left you, I began then to cough. But now—we can never be married.”
She began those formidable sounds again, and he held his breath.
Somebody in the distance began playing a violin. Its music mingled with the sounds which river-inclosed lands and the adjacent dwellings of men send up in a summer night.
“You know,” said Maria when she could speak, “how we deceived my people in Wales and in London. None of my family here know anything about that marriage.”
Another voice outside the walls, keen with anxiety, shouted her name. Dr. Dunlap hurried a few yards from her, then stopped and held his ground. A man rushed into the old building regardless of the broken floor.
“Maria, are you here?”
“Yes, brother Rice.”
She was leaving her corner to meet him. The doctor could see that she sunk to her hands and knees with weakness and helped herself up by the wall.
“Where are you? Is any one with you?”
As they met in the darkness the brother felt her hands and trembling figure.
“What possessed you to sit down here in this damp old place? You are clammy as stone. Poor little thing, were you frightened? What have you been doing?”
“I have been talking,” replied Maria.
The doctor’s heart labored like a drum. Perhaps she would tell it all out to Rice Jones now.
The same acrid restraint may be heard in a mother’s voice when she inquires, as Rice did,—
“Who was talking with you?”
“Dr. Dunlap? You don’t know Dr. Dunlap.”
“We met in England,” daringly broke out Dr. Dunlap himself.
“He is here yet, is he?” said Rice Jones. “Doctors are supposed to be the natural protectors of ailing women; but here’s one that is helping a sick girl to take her death cold.”
An attack on his professional side was what Dr. Dunlap was not prepared for. He had nothing to say, and Maria’s brother carried her out of the old college and took the nearest way home.
Noise was ceasing around the sinking bonfire, a clatter of wooden shoes setting homeward along the streets of Kaskaskia. Maria saw the stars stretching their great network downward enmeshing the Mississippi. That nightly vision is wonderful. But what are outward wonders compared to the unseen spiritual chemistry always at work within and around us, changing our loves and beliefs and needs?
Rice stopped to rest as soon as they were out of Dr. Dunlap’s hearing. Light as she was, he felt his sister’s complete prostration in her weight.
“For God’s sake, Maria,” he said to her in Welsh,—“is that fellow anything to you?”