- PART II
- CHAPTER IV THE ACCIDENT
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For a short time the carriage went on smoothly and swiftly through the town, where the street lamps of kerosene gave a little light to the darkness. Once out of town in the country Sam became less sure of his way, and as he could not see his hand before him, he finally left the matter to the horses, trusting their instinct to keep in the road.
"I shall know when I reach the gate, and so will Brute and Cass; but we've got to go farther to the Widder Biggs's, and darned if I b'lieve they'll know the place," he thought, with a growing conviction of his inability to recognize Mrs. Biggs's squat roof and lilacs and peonies.
The storm which had abated for a short time was increasing again. The peals of thunder were more frequent, and with each flash of lightning the horses grew more unmanageable, until at last they flew along the highway at a speed which rocked the carriage from side to side, and began at last to alarm its occupants. Eloise in her corner was holding fast to the strap, when a lurid flame filled the carriage for an instant with a blaze of light. She had removed her hat, and her face, silhouetted against the dark cushions, startled both the young men with its beauty. It was very white, except the cheeks which were flushed with | | 140 excitement. Her lips were apart, but her chief beauty was in her eyes, which were full of terror, and which shone like stars as they looked from one young man to the other.
"Oh, I am afraid. Let me out. I'd rather walk," she cried, starting to her feet and grasping the handle of the door.
"Please be quiet. There is no danger. You must not get out," Howard said, laying both his hands on hers, which he held for a moment, and pressed by way of reassuring her as he pushed her gently back into her seat.
She felt the pressure and resented it, and releasing her hands put them behind her, lest in the darkness they should be touched again. The same lightning which had showed her face to Howard had also given her a glimpse of his black eyes kindling with surprise and admiration at a beauty he had not expected. A lurch of the carriage sent Jack from his seat, and Eloise felt him close beside her. Was he going to squeeze her hands, too? She didn't know, and was holding them closely pressed behind her, when there was another flash, a deafening peal of thunder, a crash, and the next she knew the rain was falling upon her face, her head was lying against some one's arm, and two pairs of hands were tugging at her collar and jacket.
"Do you think she is dead?" was asked, in the voice which had told her not to be afraid.
"Dead!" a second voice replied. "She cannot be dead. She must not be. Miss Smith, Miss Smith! Where are you hurt?"
It was on the arm of this speaker she was lying, and she felt his breath on her face as he bent over | | 141 her. With a great effort she moved her head and answered, "I'm not dead, nor hurt either, except my foot, which is twisted under me."
"Thank God!" Jack said, and instantly the two pairs of hands groped in the dark for the twisted foot.
"Oh!" Eloise cried, sitting upright, as a sharp pain shot from her ankle to her head. "Don't touch me. I can't bear it. I am afraid it is broken. What has happened, and where is the carriage ?"
"Home by this time, if Brutus and Cassius have not demolished it in their mad fright," Howard said, explaining that at the last heavy peal of thunder the horses had swerved from the road and upset the carriage at the entrance to the park; that Sam had been thrown to some distance from the box, but had gathered himself up, and gone after the horses tearing up the avenue. "I shouted to him to come back with a lantern as quickly as possible. He'll be here soon, I think. Are you in great pain?"
"When I move, yes," Eloise replied, and then, as the full extent of the catastrophe burst upon her, she began to cry,--not softly to herself, but hysterically, with sobs which smote both Howard and Jack like blows.
It was a novel predicament in which they found themselves,--near midnight, in a thunderstorm, with a young girl on the ground unable to walk, and neither of them knowing what to do. Howard said it was a deuced shame, and Jack told her not to cry. Sam was sure to come with a lantern soon, and they'd see what was the matter. As he talked he put her head back upon his shoulder, and she let it lie there without protest.
After what seemed a long time, Sam came up with | | 142 a lantern. The carriage was badly injured, he said, having been dragged through the avenue on its side. Brutus had a gouge on his shoulder from running into a tall shrub; he had hurt his arm when he fell from the box, and the Colonel was not in a very pious state of mind on account of his damaged property.
Eloise heard it all, but did not realize its import, her foot was paining her so badly. Jack had helped her up when Sam came, but she could not walk, and her face looked so white when the lantern light fell upon it, that both men feared she was going to faint.
"What shall we do?" Howard asked, standing first on one foot and then on the other, and feeling the water ooze over the tops of his shoes.
"Take her to the Crompton house, of course. It must be nearer than Mrs. Biggs's," Jack suggested.
Before Howard could reply, Eloise exclaimed, "Oh, no, I can hop on one foot to Mrs. Biggs's if some one helps me. Is it far?"
The two men looked inquiringly at each other and then at Sam, who was the first to speak. In the Colonel's state of mind, with regard to his carriage and his horses, he did not think it advisable to introduce a helpless stranger into the house, and he said, "I'll tell you what; did you ever make a chair with your hands crossed--so?"
He indicated what he meant, and the chair was soon made, and Eloise lifted into it.
"That's just the thing; but you'll have to put an arm around each of our necks to steady yourself," Jack said. "So! That's right! hold tight!" he continued, as Eloise put an arm around each neck.
Sam was directing matters, and taking up the lantern and Jack's umbrella, which he had found lying | | 143 in the mud, he said, "I'll light the way and hold the umbrella over you. It don't rain much now."
"My hat and satchel, please," Eloise said, but neither could be found, and the strange cortege started.
For an instant the ludicrousness of the affair struck both young men, convulsing them with laughter to such an extent that the chair came near being pulled apart and Eloise dropped to the ground. She felt it giving way, and, taking her arm from Howard, clung desperately to Jack.
"Don't let me fall, please," she said.
"No danger; hold fast as you are," Jack answered cheerily, rather enjoying the feeling of the two arms clasping his neck so tightly.
What Howard felt was streams of water trickling down his back from the umbrella, which Sam held at exactly the right angle for him to get the full benefit of a bath between his collar and his neck. He did not like it, and was in a bad frame of mind mentally, when, after what seemed an eternity to Eloise, they came to three or four squat-roofed houses in a row, at one of which Sam stopped, confidently affirming it was the Widder Biggs's, although he could not see the "lalock and pineys."
"Knock louder! Kick, if necessary," Howard said, applying his own foot to the door as there came no answer to Sam's first appeal.
There was a louder knock and call, and at last a glimmer of light inside. Somebody was lighting a candle, which was at once extinguished when the door was open, and a gust of wind and rain swept in.
"Are you Mrs. Biggs?" Sam asked, as a tall figure in a very short night-robe was for a moment visible.| | 144
"Mrs. Biggs! Thunder, no! Don't you know a man from a woman? She lives second house from here," was the masculine response.
The door was shut with a bang, and the cortege moved on to the third house, which, by investigating the lilac bushes and peonies, Sam made out belonged to the Widder Biggs. It was harder to rouse her than it had been to rouse her neighbor. She was a little deaf, and the noise of the wind and rain added to the difficulty. When she did awaken her first thought was of burglars, and there was a loud cry to her son Tim to come quick and bring his gun, for somebody was breaking into the house.
"Robbers don't make such a noise as that! Open your window and see who's there," was Tim's sleepy answer, as Sam's blows fell heavily upon the door, accompanied with thuds from Howard's foot.
Mrs. Biggs opened her window cautiously, and thrust out her head, minus her false hair, and enveloped in a cotton nightcap.
"Who is it? What has happened? Anybody sick or dead?" she asked; and Sam replied, "Miss Smith is here with a broken laig, for't I know!"
"Miss Smith! A broken leg! For the land's sake, Tim, get up quick!" the widow gasped.
Closing the window and putting on a skirt, she descended to the kitchen, lighted an oil lamp, and, throwing open the door, looked at the group outside. She was prepared for Sam and Miss Smith, and did not mind her deshabille for them. But at the sight of two gentlemen, and one of them young Mr. Crompton, she came near dropping her lamp.
"Gracious goodness!" she exclaimed. "Mr. Crompton! And I half-dressed! Wait till I get on | | 145 some clothes, and my hair, and my teeth. I am a sight to behold."
"Never mind your teeth, nor your hair, nor your best gown," Sam said, pushing open the door Mrs. Biggs had partially closed, and entering the house, followed by Howard and Jack, with Eloise still clinging to Jack's neck, and half fainting with the pain in her ankle which had increased from hanging down so long.
Tim had come by this time, fastening his suspenders as he came, and caring less for his appearance than his mother. She had disappeared, but soon returned with teeth, and hair, and clothes in place, and herself ready for the emergency. Following Tim's directions they had put Eloise on a couch, where she lay with her eyes closed, and so still that they thought she had fainted.
"Bring the camphire, Timothy, and the hartshorn, and start up the oil stove for hot water, and move lively," Mrs. Biggs said to her son. "I don't believe she's broke her laig, poor thing. How white she is," she continued, laying her hand on Eloise's forehead.
This brought the tears in a copious shower, as Eloise sat up and said, "It is my ankle. I think it is sprained. If you could get off my boot."
She tried to lift it, but let it drop with a cry of pain.
"I'll bet it's sprained, and a sprain is wus than a break. I had one twenty years ago come Christmas, and went with my knee on a chair two weeks, and on crutches three," was Mrs. Biggs's consoling remark, as she held the lamp close to the fast-swelling foot, to which the wet boot clung with great tenacity.
"Oh, I can't bear it," Eloise said, as the process of removing her boot commenced; then, closing her | | 146 eyes, she lay back upon the cushions, while one after another, Mrs. Biggs, Howard, Jack, and Tim worked at the refractory boot.
It was such a small foot, Jack thought, pitying the young girl, as he saw spasms of pain upon her face, where drops of sweat were standing. He wiped these away with Mrs. Biggs's apron, lying in a chair, and smoothed her hair, and took one of her clenched hands in his, and held it while the three tried to remove the boot.
"'Tain't no use,--it's got to be cut off,--mine did. Tim, bring me the butcher knife,--the sharpest one," Mrs. Biggs said.
Eloise shuddered, and thought of the only other pair of boots she had,--her best ones, which were to have lasted a year. But there was no alternative. The boot must be cut off, and Jack continued to hold her hands while, piece by piece, the wet leather dropped upon the floor.
"Now for the stockin'; that'll come easier," Mrs. Biggs said.
"Must you take that off now?" Eloise asked, her maidenly modesty prevailing over every other feeling.
Howard and Jack understood, and went to the window, while the stocking followed the fate of the boot; and when they came back to the couch Eloise's foot was in a basin of hot water, and Mrs. Biggs was gently manipulating it, and declaring it the worst sprain she ever knew, except her own, which, after twenty years troubled her at times, and told her when a storm was coming.
"Ought she to have a doctor?" Jack asked, and Mrs. Biggs replied, "A doctor? What for, except to | | 147 run up a bill. I know what to do. She'll have to keep quiet a spell; wormwood and vinegar and hot water will do the rest. Tim, go up garret and get a handful of wormwood. It's the bundle of 'arbs to your right, There's catnip, and horehound, and spearmint, and sage, and wormwood. Be lively, and put it to steep in some vinegar, and bring me that old sheet in the under bureau drawer for bandages."
She seemed to know what she was about. Eloise was in good hands, and the two water-soaked young men were about to leave when she said, "I guess one of you will have to carry her to her chamber. I can't trust Tim, he's such a blunderhead."
"No, no! Oh, no! I can walk somehow," Eloise said, starting to her feet, and sinking back as quickly.
"Let me. I'll carry her!" Howard and Jack both exclaimed; but something in Eloise's eyes gave the preference to Jack, who lifted her as easily as if she had been a child, and carried her up the narrow stairs to the room which at intervals had been occupied by one teacher after another for nearly twenty years, for it was understood that Mrs. Biggs was to board the teachers who had no home of their own in the district.
But never had so forlorn or wretched an one been there as poor Eloise. The world certainly looked very dreary to her, and her lip quivered as she said good-by to Jack, and tried to smile in reply to his assurance that she would he better soon, and that he would call and see her on the morrow. Then he was gone, and Eloise heard the footsteps and voices of the three men as they left the house and hurried away. She was soon in bed, and as comfortable as Mrs. Biggs could make her. That good lady was a born nurse as well as a gossip, and as she arranged Eloise | | 148 for what there was left of the night, her tongue ran incessantly, first on her own sprain,--every harrowing detail of which was gone over,--then on the two young men, Howard Crompton and t'other one, who was he? She knew Mr. Howard,--everybody did. He was Col. Crompton's nephew, and he ruled the roost at the Crompton House, folks said, and would most likely be the Colonel's heir, with Miss Amy, as folks called her now. Had Miss Smith ever heard of her?
Eloise never had, and the pain in her ankle was so sharp that she gave little heed to what Mrs. Biggs was saying. She did not know either of the young men, she said. Both had been kind to her, and one, she thought, was a stranger, who came in the train with her.
"Oh, yes," Mrs. Biggs answered briskly. "I remember now. Cindy,--that's Miss Stiles, the housekeeper at Crompton Place,--told me Mr. Howard was to have company,--another high buck, I s'pose, though Howard don't do nothin' worse than drive horses pretty fast, and smoke most all the time. Drinks wine at dinner, they say, which I disbelieve in on account of Tim, who never took nothin' stronger'n sweet cider through a straw."
At last, to Eloise's relief, Mrs. Biggs said goodnight, and left her with the remark, "I don't s'pose you'll sleep a wink. I didn't the first night after my sprain, nor for a good many nights neither."
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