The ordeal was not so dreadful, after all. Dr. Trent was as gruff and abrup_s usual, but he did not tell her her ailment was imaginary. After he ha_istened to her symptoms and asked a few questions and made a quic_xamination, he sat for a moment looking at her quite intently. Valanc_hought he looked as if he were sorry for her. She caught her breath for _oment. Was the trouble serious? Oh, it couldn't be, surely—it really hadn'_othered her _much_ —only lately it had got a little worse.
Dr. Trent opened his mouth—but before he could speak the telephone at hi_lbow rang sharply. He picked up the receiver. Valancy, watching him, saw hi_ace change suddenly as he listened, "'Lo—yes—yes— _what?_ —yes—yes"—a brie_nterval—"My God!"
Dr. Trent dropped the receiver, dashed out of the room and upstairs withou_ven a glance at Valancy. She heard him rushing madly about overhead, barkin_ut a few remarks to somebody—presumably his housekeeper. Then he came tearin_ownstairs with a club bag in his hand, snatched his hat and coat from th_ack, jerked open the street door and rushed down the street in the directio_f the station.
Valancy sat alone in the little office, feeling more absolutely foolish tha_he had ever felt before in her life. Foolish—and humiliated. So this was al_hat had come of her heroic determination to live up to John Foster and cas_ear aside. Not only was she a failure as a relative and non-existent as _weetheart or friend, but she was not even of any importance as a patient. Dr.
Trent had forgotten her very presence in his excitement over whatever messag_ad come by the telephone. She had gained nothing by ignoring Uncle James an_lying in the face of family tradition.
For a moment she was afraid she was going to cry. It _was_ al_o—ridiculous. Then she heard Dr. Trent's housekeeper coming down the stairs.
Valancy rose and went to the office door.
"The doctor forgot all about me," she said with a twisted smile.
"Well, that's too bad," said Mrs. Patterson sympathetically. "But it wasn'_uch wonder, poor man. That was a telegram they 'phoned over from the Port.
His son has been terribly injured in an auto accident in Montreal. The docto_ad just ten minutes to catch the train. I don't know what he'll do i_nything happens to Ned—he's just bound up in the boy. You'll have to com_gain, Miss Stirling. I hope it's nothing serious."
"Oh, no, nothing serious," agreed Valancy. She felt a little less humiliated.
It was no wonder poor Dr. Trent had forgotten her at such a moment.
Nevertheless, she felt very flat and discouraged as she went down the street.
Valancy went home by the short-cut of Lover's Lane. She did not often g_hrough Lover's Lane—but it was getting near supper-time and it would never d_o be late. Lover's Lane wound back of the village, under great elms an_aples, and deserved its name. It was hard to go there at any time and no_ind some canoodling couple—or young girls in pairs, arms intertwined,
earnestly talking over their secrets. Valancy didn't know which made her fee_ore self-conscious and uncomfortable.
This evening she encountered both. She met Connie Hale and Kate Bayley, in ne_ink organdy dresses with flowers stuck coquettishly in their glossy, bar_air. Valancy had never had a pink dress or worn flowers in her hair. Then sh_assed a young couple she didn't know, dandering along, oblivious t_verything but themselves. The young man's arm was around the girl's wais_uite shamelessly. Valancy had never walked with a man's arm about her. Sh_elt that she ought to be shocked—they might leave that sort of thing for th_creening twilight, at least—but she wasn't shocked. In another flash o_esperate, stark honesty she owned to herself that she was merely envious.
When she passed them she felt quite sure they were laughing at her—pityin_er—"there's that queer little old maid, Valancy Stirling. They say she neve_ad a beau in her whole life"—Valancy fairly ran to get out of Lover's Lane.
Never had she felt so utterly colourless and skinny and insignificant.
Just where Lover's Lane debouched on the street, an old car was parked.
Valancy knew that car well—by sound, at least—and everybody in Deerwood kne_t. This was before the phrase "tin Lizzie" had come into circulation—i_eerwood, at least; but if it had been known, this car was the tinniest o_izzies—though it was not a Ford but an old Grey Slosson. Nothing mor_attered and disreputable could be imagined.
It was Barney Snaith's car and Barney himself was just scrambling up fro_nder it, in overalls plastered with mud. Valancy gave him a swift, furtiv_ook as she hurried by. This was only the second time she had ever seen th_otorious Barney Snaith, though she had heard enough about him in the fiv_ears that he had been living "up back" in Muskoka. The first time had bee_early a year ago, on the Muskoka road. He had been crawling out from unde_is car then, too, and he had given her a cheerful grin as she went by—_ittle, whimsical grin that gave him the look of an amused gnome. He didn'_ook bad—she didn't believe he was bad, in spite of the wild yarns that wer_lways being told of him. Of course he went tearing in that terrible old Gre_losson through Deerwood at hours when all decent people were in bed—ofte_ith old "Roaring Abel," who made the night hideous with his howls—"both o_hem dead drunk, my dear." And every one knew that he was an escaped convic_nd a defaulting bank clerk and a murderer in hiding and an infidel and a_llegitimate son of old Roaring Abel Gay and the father of Roaring Abel'_llegitimate grandchild and a counterfeiter and a forger and a few other awfu_hings. But still Valancy didn't believe he was bad. Nobody with a smile lik_hat could be bad, no matter what he had done.
It was that night the Prince of the Blue Castle changed from a being of gri_aw and hair with a dash of premature grey to a rakish individual wit_verlong, tawny hair, dashed with red, dark-brown eyes, and ears that stuc_ut just enough to give him an alert look but not enough to be called flyin_ibs. But he still retained something a little grim about the jaw.
Barney Snaith looked even more disreputable than usual just now. It was ver_vident that he hadn't shaved for days, and his hands and arms, bare to th_houlders, were black with grease. But he was whistling gleefully to himsel_nd he seemed so happy that Valancy envied him. She envied him his light-
heartedness and his irresponsibility and his mysterious little cabin up on a_sland in Lake Mistawis—even his rackety old Grey Slosson. Neither he nor hi_ar had to be respectable and live up to traditions. When he rattled past he_ few minutes later, bareheaded, leaning back in his Lizzie at a rakish angle,
his longish hair blowing in the wind, a villainous-looking old black pipe i_is mouth, she envied him again. Men had the best of it, no doubt about that.
This outlaw was happy, whatever he was or wasn't. She, Valancy Stirling,
respectable, well-behaved to the last degree, was unhappy and had always bee_nhappy. So there you were.
Valancy was just in time for supper. The sun had clouded over, and a dismal,
drizzling rain was falling again. Cousin Stickles had the neuralgia. Valanc_ad to do the family darning and there was no time for _Magic of Wings_.
"Can't the darning wait till tomorrow?" she pleaded.
"Tomorrow will bring its own duties," said Mrs. Frederick inexorably.
Valancy darned all the evening and listened to Mrs. Frederick and Cousi_tickles talking the eternal, niggling gossip of the clan, as they knitte_rearily at interminable black stockings. They discussed Second Cousi_ilian's approaching wedding in all its bearings. On the whole, they approved.
Second Cousin Lilian was doing well for herself.
"Though she hasn't hurried," said Cousin Stickles. "She must be twenty-five."
"There have not—fortunately—been many old maids in our connection," said Mrs.
Valancy flinched. She had run the darning needle into her finger.
Third Cousin Aaron Gray had been scratched by a cat and had blood-poisoning i_is finger. "Cats are most dangerous animals," said Mrs. Frederick. "I woul_ever have a cat about the house."
She glared significantly at Valancy through her terrible glasses. Once, fiv_ears ago, Valancy had asked if she might have a cat. She had never referre_o it since, but Mrs. Frederick still suspected her of harbouring the unlawfu_esire in her heart of hearts.
Once Valancy sneezed. Now, in the Stirling code, it was very bad form t_neeze in public.
"You can always repress a sneeze by pressing your finger on your upper lip"
said Mrs. Frederick rebukingly.
Half-past nine o'clock and so, as Mr. Pepys would say, to bed. But Firs_ousin Stickles' neuralgic back must be rubbed with Redfern's Liniment.
Valancy did that. Valancy always had to do it. She hated the smell o_edfern's Liniment—she hated the smug, beaming, portly, be-whiskered, be-
spectacled picture of Dr. Redfern on the bottle. Her fingers smelled of th_orrible stuff after she got into bed, in spite of all the scrubbing she gav_hem.
Valancy's day of destiny had come and gone. She ended it as she had begun it,