“Is that what the new doctor told you?” he asked, instinctively lowering his voice.
“Yes. He says any regular doctor would want me to have an operation.”
Ethan was aware that, in regard to the important question of surgical intervention, the female opinion of the neighbourhood was divided, some glorying in the prestige conferred by operations while others shunned them as indelicate. Ethan, from motives of economy, had always been glad that Zeena was of the latter faction.
In the agitation caused by the gravity of her announcement he sought a consolatory short cut. “What do you know about this doctor anyway? Nobody ever told you that before.”
He saw his blunder before she could take it up: she wanted sympathy, not consolation.
“I didn’t need to have anybody tell me I was losing ground every day. Everybody but you could see it. And everybody in Bettsbridge knows about Dr. Buck. He has his office in Worcester, and comes over once a fortnight to Shadd’s Falls and Bettsbridge for consultations. Eliza Spears was wasting away with kidney trouble before she went to him, and now she’s up and around, and singing in the choir.”
“Well, I’m glad of that. You must do just what he tells you,” Ethan answered sympathetically.
She was still looking at him. “I mean to,” she said. He was struck by a new note in her voice. It was neither whining nor reproachful, but drily resolute.
“What does he want you should do?” he asked, with a mounting vision of fresh expenses.
“He wants I should have a hired girl. He says I oughtn’t to have to do a single thing around the house.”
“A hired girl?” Ethan stood transfixed.
“Yes. And Aunt Martha found me one right off. Everybody said I was lucky to get a girl to come away out here, and I agreed to give her a dollar extry to make sure. She’ll be over to-morrow afternoon.”
Wrath and dismay contended in Ethan. He had foreseen an immediate demand for money, but not a permanent drain on his scant resources. He no longer believed what Zeena had told him of the supposed seriousness of her state: he saw in her expedition to Bettsbridge only a plot hatched between herself and her Pierce relations to foist on him the cost of a servant; and for the moment wrath predominated.
“If you meant to engage a girl you ought to have told me before you started,” he said.
“How could I tell you before I started? How did I know what Dr. Buck would say?”
“Oh, Dr. Buck-” Ethan’s incredulity escaped in a short laugh. “Did Dr. Buck tell you how I was to pay her wages?”
Her voice rose furiously with his. “No, he didn’t. For I’d ‘a’ been ashamed to tell him that you grudged me the money to get back my health, when I lost it nursing your own mother!”
“You lost your health nursing mother?”
“Yes; and my folks all told me at the time you couldn’t do no less than marry me after-”