At first nobody thought Mr. Carpenter's illness serious. He had had a goo_any attacks of rheumatism in recent years, laying him up for a few days. The_e could hobble back to work, as grim and sarcastic as ever, with a new edg_o his tongue. In Mr. Carpenter's opinion teaching in Blair Water School wa_ot what it had been. Nothing there now, he said, but rollicking, soulles_oung nonentities. Not a soul in the school who could pronounce February o_ednesday.
"I'm tired trying to make soup in a sieve," he said gruffly.
Teddy and Ilse and Perry and Emily were gone—the four pupils who had leavene_he school with a saving inspiration. Perhaps Mr. Carpenter was a little tire_f—everything. He was not very old, as years go, but he had burned up most o_is constitution in a wild youth. The little, timid, faded slip of a woman wh_ad been his wife had died unobtrusively in the preceding autumn. She ha_ever seemed to matter much to Mr. Carpenter; but he had "gone down" rapidl_fter her funeral. The school children went in awe of his biting tongue an_is more frequent spurts of temper. The trustees began to shake their head_nd talk of a new teacher when the school year ended.
Mr. Carpenter's illness began as usual with an attack of rheumatism. The_here was heart trouble. Dr. Burnley, who went to see him despite hi_bstinate refusal to have a doctor, looked grave and talked mysteriously of _ack of "the will to live." Aunt Louisa Drummond of Derry Pond came over t_urse him. Mr. Carpenter submitted to this with a resignation that was a ba_men—as if nothing mattered any more.
"Have your own way. She can potter round if it will ease your consciences. S_ong as she leaves me alone I don't care what she does. I _won't_ be fed an_ _won't_ be coddled and I _won't_ have the sheets changed. Can't bear he_air, though. Too straight and shiny. Tell her to do something to it. And wh_oes her nose look as if it were always cold?"
Emily ran in every evening to sit awhile with him. She was the only person th_ld man cared to see. He did not talk a great deal, but he liked to open hi_yes every few minutes and exchange a sly smile of understanding with her—a_f the two of them were laughing together over some excellent joke of whic_nly they could sample the flavour. Aunt Louisa did not know what to make o_his commerce of grins and consequently disapproved of it. She was a kind-
hearted creature, with much real motherliness in her thwarted maiden breast,
but she was all at sea with these cheerful, Puckish, deathbed smiles of he_atient. She thought he had much better be thinking of his immortal soul. H_as not a member of the church, was he? He would not even let the ministe_ome in to see him. But Emily Starr was welcomed whenever she came. Aun_ouisa had her own secret suspicion of the said Emily Starr. Didn't she write?
Hadn't she put her own mother's second-cousin, body and bones, into one of he_tories? Probably she was looking for "copy" in this old pagan's deathbed.
_That_ explained her interest in it, beyond a doubt. Aunt Louisa looke_uriously at this ghoulish young creature. She hoped Emily wouldn't put _her_n a story.
For a long time Emily had refused to believe that it _was_ Mr. Carpenter'_eathbed. He _couldn't_ be so ill as all that. He didn't suffer—he didn'_omplain. He would be all right as soon as warmer weather came. She tol_erself this so often that she made herself believe it. She could not le_erself think of life in Blair Water without Mr. Carpenter.
One May evening Mr. Carpenter seemed much better. His eyes flashed with thei_ld satiric fire, his voice rang with its old resonance; he joked poor Aun_ouisa—who never could understand his jokes but endured them with Christia_atience. Sick people must be humoured. He told a funny story to Emily an_aughed with her over it till the little low-raftered room rang. Aunt Louis_hook her head. There were some things she did not know, poor lady, but sh_id know her own humble, faithful little trade of unprofessional nursing; an_he knew that this sudden rejuvenescence was no good sign. As the Scotch woul_ay, he was "fey." Emily in her inexperience did not know this. She went hom_ejoicing that Mr. Carpenter had taken such a turn for the better. Soon h_ould be all right, back at school, thundering at his pupils, stridin_bsently along the road reading some dog-eared classic, criticizing he_anuscripts with all his old trenchant humour. Emily was glad. Mr. Carpente_as a friend she could not afford to lose.