My first impulse was to hide myself in some obscure corner where I could ven_y feelings without fear or favour. I composed my face as well as I coul_efore leaving the 'phone booth; then I sidled across the lobby and slippe_ut of the side door. I found my way into the stable, where good old Peg wa_unching in her stall. The fine, homely smell of horseflesh and long-wor_arness leather went right to my heart, and while Bock frisked at my knees _aid my head on Peg's neck and cried. I think that fat old mare understood me.
She was as tubby and prosaic and middle-aged as I—but she loved the Professor.
Suddenly Andrew's words echoed again in my mind. I had barely heeded the_efore, in the great joy of my relief, but now their significance came to me.
"In jail." The Professor in jail! That was the meaning of his strang_isappearance at Woodbridge. That little brute of a man Shirley must hav_elephoned from Redfield, and when the Professor came to the Woodbridge ban_o cash that check they had arrested him. That was why they had shoved me int_hat mahogany sitting-room. Andrew must be behind this. The besotted old fool!
My face burned with anger and humiliation.
I never knew before what it means to be really infuriated. I could feel m_rain tingle. The Professor in jail! The gallant, chivalrous little man,
penned up with hoboes and sneak thieves suspected of being a crook… as if _ouldn't take care of myself! What did they think he was, anyway? A kidnapper?
Instantly I decided I would hurry back to Port Vigor without delay. If Andre_ad had the Professor locked up, it could only be on the charge of defraudin_e. Certainly it couldn't be for giving him a bloody nose on the road fro_helby. And if I appeared to deny the charge, surely they would have to le_r. Mifflin go.
I believe I must have been talking to myself in Peg's stall—at any rate, jus_t this moment the stableman appeared and looked very bewildered when he sa_e, with flushed face and in obvious excitement, talking to the horse. I aske_im when was the next train to Port Vigor.
"Well, ma'am," he said, "they say that all the local trains is held up til_he wreck at Willdon's cleared away. This being Sunday, I don't think you'l_et anything from here until to-morrow morning."
I reflected. It wasn't so awfully far back to Port Vigor. A flivver from th_ocal garage could spin me back there in a couple of hours at the most. Bu_omehow it seemed more fitting to go to the Professor's rescue in his ow_arnassus, even if it would take longer to get there. To tell the truth, whil_ was angry and humiliated at the thought of his being put in jail by Andrew,
I couldn't help, deep down within me, being rather thankful. Suppose he ha_een in the wreck? The Sage of Redfield had played the part of Providenc_fter all. And if I set out right away with Parnassus, I could get to Por_igor—well, by Monday morning anyway.
The good people of the Moose Hotel were genuinely surprised at the hurry wit_hich I dispatched my lunch. But I gave them no explanations. Goodness knows,
my head was full of other thoughts and the apple sauce might have bee_sbestos. You know, a woman only falls in love once in her life, and if i_aits until she's darn near forty—well, it _takes!_ You see I hadn't eve_een vaccinated against it by girlish flirtations. I began to be a governes_hen I was just a kid, and a governess doesn't get many chances to b_kittish. So now when it came, it hit me hard. That's when a woman find_erself—when she's in love. I don't care if she _is_ old or fat or homely o_rosy. She feels that little flutter under her ribs and she drops from th_ree like a ripe plum. I didn't care if Roger Mifflin and I were as odd _ouple as old Dr. Johnson and his wife, I only knew one thing: that when I sa_hat little red devil again I was going to be all his—if he'd have me. That'_hy the old Moose Hotel in Bath is always sacred to me. That's where I learne_hat life still held something fresh for me—something better than bakin_hamplain biscuits for Andrew.
* * * * * * * * *
That Sunday was one of those mellow, golden days that we New Englanders get i_ctober. The year really begins in March, as every farmer knows, and by th_nd of September or the beginning of October the season has come to it_erfect, ripened climax. There are a few days when the world seems to han_till in a dreaming, sweet hush, at the very fulness of the fruit before th_ecline sets in. I have no words (like Andrew) to describe it, but ever_utumn for years I have noticed it. I remember that sometimes at the farm _sed to lean over the wood pile for a moment just before supper to watch thos_urple October sunsets. I would hear the sharp ting of Andrew's littl_ypewriter bell as he was working in his study. And then I would try t_wallow down within me the beauty and wistfulness of it all, and run back t_ash the potatoes.
Peg drew Parnassus along the backward road with a merry little rumble. I thin_he knew we were going back to the Professor. Bock careered mightily along th_ayside. And I had much time for thinking. On the whole, I was glad; for I ha_uch to ponder. An adventure that had started as a mere lark or whim had no_ecome for me the very gist of life itself. I was fanciful, I guess, and a_omantic as a young hen, but by the bones of George Eliot, I'm sorry for th_oman that never has a chance to be fanciful. Mifflin was in jail; aye, but h_ight have been dead and—unrecognizable! My heart refused to be altogethe_ad. I was on my way to deliver him from durance vile. There seemed a kinshi_etween the season and myself, I mused, seeing the goldenrod turning bronz_nd droopy along the way. Here was I, in the full fruition of womanhood, o_he verge of my decline into autumn, and lo! by the grace of God, I had foun_y man, my master. He had touched me with his own fire and courage. I didn'_are what happened to Andrew, or to Sabine Farm, or to anything else in th_orld. Here were my hearth and my home—Parnassus, or wherever Roger shoul_itch his tent. I dreamed of crossing the Brooklyn Bridge with him at dusk,
watching the skyscrapers etched against a burning sky. I believed in callin_hings by their true names. Ink is ink, even if the bottle is marked
"commercial fluid." I didn't try to blink the fact that I was in love. I_act, I gloried in it. As Parnassus rolled along the road, and the scarle_aple leaves eddied gently down in the blue October air, I made up a kind o_hant which I called
> Hymn for a Middle-Aged Woman (Fat)
> Who Has Fallen into Love
> O God, I thank Thee who sent this great adventure my way! I am grateful t_ave come out of the barren land of spinsterhood, seeing the glory of a lov_reater than myself. I thank Thee for teaching me that mixing, and kneading,
and baking are not all that life holds for me. Even if he doesn't love me,
God, I shall always be his.
I was crooning some such babble as this to myself when, near Woodbridge, _ame upon a big, shiny motor car stranded by the roadside. Several people,
evidently intelligent and well-to-do, sat under a tree while their chauffeu_ussed with a tire. I was so absorbed in my own thoughts that I think I shoul_ave gone by without paying them much heed, but suddenly I remembered th_rofessor's creed—to preach the gospel of books in and out of season. Sunda_r no Sunday, I thought I could best honour Mifflin by acting on his ow_rinciple. I pulled up by the side of the road.
I noticed the people turn to one another in a kind of surprise, and whispe_omething. There was an elderly man with a lean, hard-worked face; a stou_oman, evidently his wife; and two young girls and a man in golfing clothes.
Somehow the face of the older man seemed familiar. I wondered whether he wer_ome literary friend of Andrew's whose photo I had seen.
Bock stood by the wheel with his long, curly tongue running in and out ove_is teeth. I hesitated a moment, thinking just how to phrase my attack, whe_he elderly gentleman called out:
"Where's the Professor?"
I was beginning to realize that Mifflin was indeed a public character.
"Heavens!" I said. "Do you know him, too?"
"Well, I should think so," he said. "Didn't he come to see me last sprin_bout an appropriation for school libraries, and wouldn't leave till I'_romised to do what he wanted! He stayed the night with us and we talke_iterature till four o'clock in the morning. Where is he now? Have you take_ver Parnassus?"
"Just at present," I said, "Mr. Mifflin is in the jail at Port Vigor."
The ladies gave little cries of astonishment, and the gentleman himself (I ha_ized him up as a school commissioner or something of that sort) seemed no_ess surprised.
"In jail!" he said. "What on earth for? Has he sandbagged somebody for readin_ick Carter and Bertha M. Clay? That's about the only crime he'd be likely t_ommit."
"He's supposed to have cozened me out of four hundred dollars," I said, "an_y brother has had him locked up. But as a matter of fact he wouldn't swindl_ hen out of a new-laid egg. I bought Parnassus of my own free will. I'm on m_ay to Port Vigor now to get him out. Then I'm going to ask him to marry me—i_e will. It's not leap year, either."
He looked at me, his thin, lined face working with friendliness. He was _ine-looking man—short, gray hair brushed away from a broad, brown forehead. _oticed his rich, dark suit and the spotless collar. This was a man o_reeding, evidently.
"Well, Madam," he said, "any friend of the Professor is a friend of ours."
(His wife and the girls chimed in with assent.) "If you would like a lift i_ur car to speed you on your errand, I'm sure Bob here would be glad to driv_arnassus into Port Vigor. Our tire will soon be mended."
The young man assented heartily, but as I said before, I was bent on takin_arnassus back myself. I thought the sight of his own tabernacle would be th_est balm for Mifflin's annoying experience. So I refused the offer, an_xplained the situation a little more fully.
"Well," he said, "then let me help in any way I can." He took a card from hi_ocket-book and scribbled something on it. "When you get to Port Vigor," h_aid, "show this at the jail and I don't think you'll have any trouble. _appen to know the people there."
So after a hand-shake all round I went on again, much cheered by this friendl_ittle incident. It wasn't till I was some way along the road that I though_f looking at the card he had given me. Then I realized why the man's face ha_een familiar. The card read quite simply: