If You Touch


12. Chapter XII

Old Martha and Joy were bending over a tremendous pile of newspapers, cables, and telegrams that had just been brought in by special messenger from the nearest village in the outside world.

The messenger, a rosy old man, kept explaining why he had come.

"I know it's not my day to come in and that he don't want us hangin' about where he can see us, but the missus, she says, don't you dare to keep back this news from him even if he shoots you down in your tracks."

The newspapers said that the Poor Boy had been wrongfully accused, wrongfully convicted, wrongfully imprisoned, and that his 'scutcheon was clear in the eyes of all men.

Martha took it upon herself to open some of the telegrams. They were from old friends who wished to be the first, etc., etc.

"Oh!" cried Martha, "the bastes. Why couldn't they have come forward with their great hearts when his trouble was heavy upon him, when a word of belief would have strengthened him for what he had to go through?"

She wept. She raved. She talked pure Irish, and there was no one present who could understand her, and there were only seven people in Ireland who could have understood.

"Please!" said Miss Joy to the messenger, "God bless you, and go away."

He went slowly, his fingers inching their way continually around the battered circumference of the straw hat. He drove off, after a while, as one in a trance. The last thing that would have occurred to him was that his good-hearted impulse had made a rich man of him.

"We must find him," said Miss Joy, "and tell him--at once. You must find him. It's your duty and your privilege. He must hear the good news from you."

But Martha shook her head, and talked through her apron which she had thrown over it. When sense began to mingle with her words she pulled down this flag of distress, and showed a face red with emotion and tears.

"Full well I know his heart," she said. "'Tis an open book to me."

Then she laughed aloud.

"'Tis better than an open book, for I read like a snail and cannot write at all.... 'Tis you must bear him the glad tidings--you alone--with your bright hair the color of the old sideboards in the dining-room. Take the front page of a newspaper and run to him. 'Tis for you to do."

There was a wonderful light in Miss Joy's eyes. Martha mocked it: "Yea,'" said she, "'Tho' we sang as angels in her ear, she would not hear!' Be off!"

"How shall I find him?"

"If you don't know that then I am wrong. And it's me that should go. If your heart cannot take you to him, 'tis not the heart I've thought it."

But Miss Joy, clutching the front page of a newspaper, was gone, bareheaded, running, in the dusk.

As for old Martha, she wailed all alone in the kitchen. No one would ever know what it had cost her to send forth another on that errand of glad tidings.

The Poor Boy looked up calmly. What was possible in broad sunlight was no matter even of difficulty in the dusk. And yet it seemed to him that even for a creature of his brain she was preternaturally natural and solid-looking. Nor was he in the habit of letting her look quite so pale or breathe so hard. But when she spoke he was troubled; not because the sound of her voice was an unusual sound for him to hear, but because in the present instance it was accompanied with distinct vibrations. And that had never happened since she came to stay with Lord Harrow's daughter.

"Balking," she said, "has confessed!"

"Yes--yes," said the Poor Boy, "I always knew he did it. But I couldn't very well say so, could I? I had to take the gaff."

"There are telegrams and cables from all your friends to say how glad they are."

A shadow of bitterness came over the Poor Boy's face, but went swiftly.

"It can never be the same about them," he said. "They all believed. But now they are sorry."

He sighed deeply, and then smiled like sunshine.

"It was like you to bring me the news. Dear child, where is your hat, and why did you run so fast? You might have fallen and hurt yourself. Do you remember the day you turned your ankle and wouldn't let me carry you?"

"I'm not such a little fool as I used to be," she said. Her face was getting whiter and whiter.

"You are hurt!" he exclaimed.

"Yes," she said, "it's that same blessed ankle. I was so excited over the good news that I didn't mind at first, but now--I--I think I'll have to sit down and rest it."

The Poor Boy knew better than to give her a helping hand. When you touch them, they vanish.

She sank down with a little moan.

"How am I going to get back to the house?" she said. "I'm sure I don't know."

"I'll send for a motor."

A motor? Was he crazy?

"A motor couldn't get in here," she said; "the trees are too close together."

"I'll have them down," said the Poor Boy; "it's only a matter of instants," and he smiled gently. "But you know as well as I do how these things are done."

"Here's the paper," she said. "Don't you want to read for yourself?" She held it out to him. But he shook his head.

"I can see the headlines from here," he said. "Balking confesses--yes, it's all there."

And then suddenly the Poor Boy turned his face heavenward and cried with a great bitterness:

"Oh, God! oh, God!--if it only was true!"

She thought he was mad. But she was not afraid. She wanted to go to him, to comfort him, to share with him her own fine, young sanity. But the turned ankle would not do any work, and she could not get up. He heard her moan. And looked at her once more, his eyes round with wonder.

"But I have just taken you to Lord Harrow's in a motor," he said; "and yet here you are--and in pain."

"I think I can walk," she said. "If you don't mind helping me a little."

"Of course I don't mind," said the Poor Boy cautiously. "But you know as well as I do that when you touch them,--they vanish."

There was a pained silence. She was bitterly disappointed. The Poor Boy was thoroughly bewildered. His imagination was playing him an extraordinary trick.

"That's the reason," he went on, "that we can never tell each other that we love each other, you know. 'Cause if we did, we'd have to kiss and hold hands--and that would be the end of everything--better you this way--than the other way and no you."

Her pain was becoming greater than she could bear.

"Any man would help me," she began; and then came the tears in a torrent.

The Poor Boy could not stand it.

"It is better," he said, "that she should vanish!"

He stepped swiftly forward.

The realness of her almost dazed him. In his happiest day-dreams in Lord Harrow's rose-garden by the lake there had never been quite so vivid a materialization. Furthermore, she had violets in her dress, and as he bent to lift her (and resolve her into the stuff o' dreams) the sweetness of them was strong in his nostrils.

And then carrying her swiftly home, he proceeded to go quite mad.

"Well--well," he thought, "people with too much imagination always do end by going mad. And now it's happened to me."

And it was just what did happen to him a moment later, only he was to go mad with a different kind of madness--a sane and wonderful madness.

He touched her and she did not vanish.

He made a sound that was half moan, half pity, and he lifted her in his strong arms. And then carrying her swiftly home, he proceeded, as I have forewarned the reader, to go quite mad. So did she, bless her, until there was no longer any pain in her ankle or in her heart.

"Well--well," said old Martha; "what's all this?"

She stood in the door of the house lighting them with a lamp.

"This," said the Poor Boy in his ecstasy, "is a new and wonderful thing."

He laughed aloud for joy.

"And the more you kiss her--the less she vanishes!" (End)