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Mother's-home life
Vol. XXXIII, No. 1 (January, 1923)

Rosseau, Victor
The truant soul,   pp. 14-16 PDF (2.7 MB)


Page 15

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The Truant Soul
From page 14
I may not even go to my house at all."
"I am  not afraid that you will take
morphine," said Joan. "But you will not
see Myers?"
"Not if I can help it. He can't come to
th e Hospital, and I don't think he will
dare to lie in wait for me at the station.
If he does, he'll find use a tough customer
to kidnap in broad daylight. There, my
dear, be calm and sensible, and when I
return I shall tell you everything that you
must know."
He kissed her and hurried In to pack
his suitcase. lie came out in a few mso-
Inents and placed it in the buggy. "Good-
nye, Joan, dearest Joan," he said. "And
you will not hint at our engagement to
Mrs. Fraser while I am   gone?   I have
very special reasons for this."
She shook her head and laughed, and
returned his kiss, and all the while her
heart grew heavier. And long after the
bsuggy had disappeared from    sight she
stood upon the porch looking after it.
CHAPTER IX.
That night was sleepless as the lst,
but all the joy that had filled her heart in
the hill cabin was gone. She lay awake,
listening to the rain that pattered on the
roof,  thinking  and  wondering.    How
strange her life had become, and how far
away the old landmarks were! She had
fought for a man's soul in darkness and
snatched it into light, and now the dark-
ness seemed closing about her again. And
she could only hope and wait through
endless hours.
In vain she tried to tell herself that It
was only an ordinary summons. On the
face of it, the call was natural ; but Joan's
instinct told her that there was more be-
hind It. Myers had not surrendered his
prey so easily as he had assumed to do.
And Lancaster had been evasive-to spare
her, perhaps, but evasive. And her task
now was only to wait.
She tried to follow Lancaster In her
ind, to picture him at the various stages
n his journey, now in the train, and now
at Avonmouth. Then she fell asleep for
a few minutes, awakening to find that the
same process had been going on in her
dreams. At eight she rose.  She imagined
that he must have finished the operation
some time before. and be at the station,
or on his way there, but her soul could
not go out to his across the distance, and
their communion seemed to be cut short
by   the  same   Impenetrable   darkness.
Dressing, she was conscious of a stronger
presentiment of approaching evil which
she could not shake away.
It was a gloomy day, and the rain came
down in torrents. About eleven o'clock Dr.
Jenkins arrived in his buggy and inquired
for Lancaster. le seemed surprised to
learn that he had gone to Avonmouth.
le was preparing to return, but Joan
felt the need of speech with him irresisti-
ble.  She did not mean to cross-examine
him, she only wanted to shake off the feel-
ing that Lancaster had passed out of her
reach by speaking to one of his associates.
She hardly knew the purpose of her ac-
costing Jenkins until she saw the look of
concern upon his face.
'Miss Wentworth, you aren't well!" he
exclaimed. "You have been overdoing it
"No, Dr. Jenkins, but-Dr. Lancaster
has gone into Avonmouth-"
"Yes, Miss Wentworth. But he won't
come to any harm there, thanks to you.
You've taught me a thing or two about
morphine patients, Miss Wentworth," he
went on, In his polite, complimentary
fashion. "I never saw anyone get well as
fast as Dr. Lancaster, nor any nurse that
could handle a situation as you did," he
added.
"Yes, but it was not really morphine,
you know," said Joan. and then she almost
gaped in astonishment.   What had she
said ? Why had she said it?
Dr. Jenkins was staring at her too.
"Not morphine, you say, Miss Wentworth?"
he stammered.
"I mean, the symptoms weren't those of
morphine poisoning," said Joan.
"0, well, Miss Wentworth, everybody
takes it in a different way," he answered.
"Yes, I reckon it was morphine right
enough.  They wouldn't put the wrong
label on the bottles. You certainly did set
things humming, Miss 'Wentworth," he
added, laughing and raising his hat.
"Walt a moment, Dr. Jenkins," persist-
ed Joan.   "I am   so anxious about the
Doctor. He ought not to have gone; be
was In no condition to go, and yet a man's
life is at stake."
The doctor's face became at once im-
penetrable. le seemed to be on his guard
against her.  He seemed to know     more
than she, Dr. Lancaster's fiancee, knew;
it was humiliating and ironical, but Joan
saw that to question him, even if she had
been so minded, was useless.
She was not minded. That would be a
disloyal act toward her lover.  Soon she
would know; and meanwhile she kept down
her fears.  She watched   Jenkins drive
away with sinking heart.   And somehow
the morning passed.
The hours of the afternoon were leaden
ones. Five o'clock came at last, with no
cessation of the downpour, and Joan went
out and paced the rain-soaked verandah
endlessly, looking anxiously in the direc-
tion of the station, though she knew that
it must be at least two hours before she
could hope to see Jenkin's buggy again on
its way up the hill.
Through the lowering western clouds the
sun, emerging for a moment, streaked the
west with angry crimson splashes. Lan-
caster must be nearly home. But It was
no use waiting there, where her fears grew
from moment to moment. She went into
the building, and saw the matron standing
within her door. Suddenly she sensed the
reflection of her own fears in Mrs. Fraser's
heart; she knew the woman was doing
nothing as she stood there, was waiting,
like herself, and, In the same manner, hop-
Ing against hope for the Doctor's safe re-
turn. Impulsively Joan entered the room.
She could keep silence no longer.     She
broke down, sobbing distractedly.
"I am afraid something has-happened
to the Doctor," she wept.
"Now you sit down in that chair, Miss
Wentworth," said Mrs. Fraser kindly. "It's
been a trying day. But Dr. Lancaster will
be home in an hour, and there's no use
becoming anxious about him. Heavens,
if we got anxious before we had cause,
what should we do ?"
"I know," sobbed the girl. "But I can't
bear waiting. I know something has hap-
pened to him."
"Now, my dear, you are all worked up
about him," she said. "le won't come to
any barm. le can't come to harm when
lie went straight to his own hospital," she
added.
But she spoke without conviction. Joan's
hysterical mnood was infecting   her, In-
creasing her own fears and forebodings.
"I reckon, you know, Miss Wentworth,
how much Dr. Jenkins and I feel we owe
to you for taking care of the Doctor," she
said, seating herself at the girl's side.
"And for getting that man out of the
place, my dear. Man? He's a devil-he's
the Doctor's devil, Miss Wentworth. And
no harm can come to the Doctor with you
watching for him and praying for him."
Joan looked up at her with troubled
face. "Mrs. Fraser, I am    so much at a
loss," she said.   "Dr. Jenkins and you
have known Dr. Lancaster so long, and I
am a stranger here. I am like a child In
comparison with you, so far as knowledge
of Dr. Lancaster is concerned. I have been
fighting his physical troubles, and I do not
know his mental ones. That is what puts me
at a loss. How can I know that Dr. Lan-
caster's enemies are not waiting for him,
or have not hurt him?"
The matron placed her hand on the
girl's knee. "Why, my dear, Dr. Lancaster
has no enemies," she said. "How could
such a splendid man have enemies? Of
course there are   troubles ; who   hasn't
them? And it may be there's things that
Dr. Jenkins and I don't know-I've thought
there might be. But we've only been here
three years, and that was long after the
Doctor's troubles began.   And of course
we never listened to the village gossip.
But, 0, Miss Wentworth, you can't imagine
the sorrow  in our hearts when we saw
that splendid man giving way to his habit,
and letting it creep over him little by little
and gain the mastery.
"At first, when I came here, It was only
at times that he'd take the morphine, and
then he'd have terrible outbursts of rage,
and it was all that we could do to control
him. I used to think that his mind wouldl
go, especially when he'd have those fits
after he came back from Avonmouth. But
after that the hoodoo got him. That was
when I was afraid."
"The hoodoo?" inquired Joan.
"Miss Wentworth, the devil who was at
him so long got hold of him once or twlce.
I've seen him come back from Avonmouth
a different man, Miss Wentworth. That's
when I've been afraid. Because the devil
that can kill the body isn't much of a
devil, but when he kills the soul there is
no help but prayer. When he's in those
dreadful moods he's another man. He's a
wicked man, Miss Wentworth, and        I'd
shoot him  then, if he tried to harm me
or any of mine, and I wouldn't think I'd
killed Dr. Lancaster.  It all began after
they accused him    of stealing the trust
funds."
"It is not true," said Joan.
"I'm sure it Isn't, Miss Wentworth. But
you see old Dr. Lancaster didn't leave the
charge of the fund to his son; he left it
in the care of the trustees.   And there
were complications about the Hospital at
Avonmouth. And then, after the Doctor's
bride ran away on the eve of their marriage
it changed all his nature."
"I have heard of that," said Joan quietly.
"But we must not discuss that in the
Doctor's absence."
"Why, everybody knows about that, Miss
Wentworth. Before it happened they say
the Doctor was the most respected man iit
Avonmouth.   He'd been born here, you
know, on the plantation down In the val-
ley Millville way. She was a Miss Reid.
She came from Farnley County. She was
the reigning belle there, admired and flat-
tered, and it turned her heart to a stone
to have all the men after her, crasy to
marry her. The Doctor was a young man
then, and he couldn't see any further into
her heart, such as it was, than the rest
of them.
"She led the Doctor a chase before she
promised him, they say. But the very day
before their marriage was to have been
she left her home without a word to any-
one, to go off with another man who's
never been   discovered.  That broke the
Doctor up. le took to drugs then, they
tell me.   The institute had been a big
p lace before; It stood over on Morley's
Hill, but It burned down one night, and
we took this old farm    house.  And the
Doctor was using the funds, they said
and wasn't responsible at all.
"The trustees found that the money was
gone.  Nobody knew    where It went, be-
cause the Doctor had his own inheritance,
and he wasn't the man to steal or squander.
They wouldn't do anything to him, because
of his family, but they put Mr. Myers in
charge of the finances. That's all. None
of us liked him, but what could we do
about it? He was here when Dr. Jenkins
and I were appointed, and as soon as we
understood how matters were we agreed
to stay as long as we could and try to
help the Doctor."
"Mrs. Fraser, I want to know why Mr.
Myers incited Dr. Lancaster to use mor-
pbine." said Joan.
"Miss Wentworth-"
"You Inow    he did.  You told me so.
And Dr. Jenkins knows."
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