If You Touch


2. Chapter II

One day old Martha received the following letter:

"MARTHA, DEARIE: I didn't do it. But only you believe that, and I. You will go to Joyous Guard, for love of me, and put the cottage in order. I shall live there when I come out, and you shall take care of me. But are you too old? Can you do the cooking and the housework for us two? It's I that will split the wood and carry the coals. If the work is too heavy, dearie, you must choose some one to help you. Some one who will never come where I am, whom I shall never have to look in the face. For it's you only that I can look in the face now, or bear to have look in mine. My more than mother, God bless you, and believe me always, with all my love, your


"Choose some one to help her!" Old Martha snorted. "Not if I was dead in my coffin and him wantin' only me," she said, "I'd rise up and boil my lamb's eggs for him."

But it was not alone that she sped northward to that great valley in the mountains, which the Poor Boy had called Joyous Guard, after Launcelot's domain. She took with her the Poor Boy's butler, a man of rare executive ability, and a young architect for whom the Poor Boy had had belief and affection. These three camped out in the cottage, and sent forth electric messages to plumbers, and upholsterers, and cabinet-makers. If her boy was to live in a tiny stone cottage, old Martha would see to it that that cottage should be a gem. She could spend what she pleased. She had been paid no wages since the Poor Boy's coming of age. Bonds with gilt edges were given to her on that day, deeds to two houses in which gentlefolk lived, and at all the stores where the Poor Boy had credit she had credit, just as his own mother would have had. She was a rich woman in her own right. And the young architect knew that, and in his heart was amazed at always finding her on the floor in a lake of lather, crooning as she scrubbed.

"Martha," he said once, "you're a bird. I wish I'd met you when I was a baby."

And she answered:

"Don't be thrackin' mud into the study." And then, "Mister Cotter," she said, "if ye have a heart in your body, put it into the furnace flue. It was always a bad egg for drawin', and betimes the snow will lie six feet deep in the valley."

"I'll put my heart and soul in that flue, Martha, for your sake, and we'll put it to the ordeal by fire. But who's to feed the furnace?"

"Who's to feed the furnace!" she put back her head and laughed. "Who but love, young man? Love will feed the furnace, press the trousers, and clean the boots. There will be no one to care for him but me. Mind that. No one but old Martha. Twenty year I've shed be the knowledge. It's no mere woman ye behold, Mister Cotter, 't is an army!"

"By Jove," he said, "I believe you."

And he passed out with his measuring-stick into the bright sunlight. And there stood, drawing deep breaths of the racy September air, and filling his eyes almost to overflowing with the magic beauty of the valley.

It spread away southward from the base of the cliff upon which he stood, melting at last into blue distance; an open valley studded with groups of astounding trees which were all scarlet and gold. Mountains, deep-green, purple, pale-violet, framed the valley, and through its midst was flung a bright blue necklace of long lakes and serpentine rivers. In the nearest and largest lake, towering castles of white cloud came continuously and went. Very far off, browsing among lily pads, Mr. Cotter could see a cow moose and her calf. And, high over his head, there passed presently a string of black duck. He could hear the strong beating of their wings.

Mr. Cotter was a practical man.

"Why the hell did he do it?" he mused. "He might have married, and wanted a real house in this paradise, and told me to go as far as I liked. He'd have asked us all up to stay--and now, my God! all it can ever be is a cage for a jail-bird."

When at last the cottage was in exquisite order, old Martha sent the others away and stayed on alone. In her room she had an elaborate calendar. To each day was tacked the name of its patron saint.

The old woman was religious, but every night she drew her pencil through the name of a saint, and the days passed, and the Poor Boy's term in prison drew swiftly to an end.

"Monday week," she said. "Next Monday." "Day after to-morrow." "To-morrow." "O Father of mine in heaven; O saints; O Mother heart--to-day!"