The having a home was the motive, the guests the necessity. Then she closed her eyes again and saw the upper portion of the rich meadow land that had lain fallow so long turned into a flower farm wherein. she would raise blossoms for a well-known city dealer who had, owing to his artistic skill, a market for his wares and decorative skill in all the cities of the eastern coast. She had consulted him and he approved her plan.
The meadow was so sheltered that it would easily have a two weeks' lead over the surrounding country, and the desirability of her crop should lie in its perfection rather than rarity. Single violets in frames, lilies-of-the-valley for Easter and spring weddings, sweet peas, in separate colours, peonies, Iris, Gladioli, asters, and Dahlias: three acres in all. Upon these was her hope built, for with a market waiting, what lay between her and success but work?
Yes, work and the farm. Then came the vision of human companionship, such as her cousin Bartram and Mary Penrose shared. Could flowers and a home make up for it? After all, what is home?
Her thoughts tangled and snapped abruptly, but of one thing she was sure. She could no longer endure teaching singing to assorted tone-deaf children, many of whom could no more keep on the key than a cow on the tight rope; and when she found a talented child and gave it appreciative attention, she was oftentimes officially accused of favouritism by some disgruntled parent with a political pull, for that was what contact with the public schools of a large city had taught her to expect.
A log snapped - she looked at the clock. It was exactly nine! Going to the window, she pulled back the curtain; the old moon, that has a fashion of working northward at this time, was rising from a location wholly new to her.
She looked at Amos; he was very still, evidently asleep, yet unnaturally so, for the regular breathing of unconsciousness was not there and the firelight shadows made him look pinched and strange. Suddenly she felt alone and panic stricken; she forgot the tests so well known to her of pulse taking, and all the countryside tales of strokes and seizures came back to her. She did not hesitate a moment; a man was in the same house and she felt entirely outside of the strength of her own will.
Going to the separating door, she found it locked, on which side she could not be sure; but seeing a long key hanging by the clock she tried it, on general principles. It turned hard, and the lock finally yielded with a percussive snap. Stepping into the hall, she saw a light in the front of the house, toward which she hurried. The Man was seated by a table that was strewn with books, papers, and draughting instruments; he was not working, but in his turn gazing at the flames from a smouldering hearth fire, though his coat was off and the window open, for it was not cold but merely chilly.
Hearing her step, he started, turned, and, as he saw her upon the threshold, made a grab for his coat and swung it into place. It is strange, this instinct in civilized man of not appearing coatless before a woman he respects.
"Amos Opie is very ill, I'm afraid," she said gravely, without the least self-consciousness or thought of intrusion.
"Shall I go for the doctor?" said The Man, reaching for his hat and at the same time opening the long cupboard by the chimney, from which he took a leather-covered flask.
"No, not yet; please come and look at him. Yes, I want you very much!" This in answer to a questioning look in his eyes.
Standing together by the bed, they saw the old man's eyelids quiver and then open narrowly. The Man poured whiskey from his flask into a glass, added water, and held it to Amos's lips, where it was quickly and completely absorbed!
Next he put a finger on Amos's pulse and after a minute closed his watch with a snap, but without comment.
"You feel better now, Opie?" he questioned presently in a tone that, to the old man at least, was significant.
"What gave you this turn? Is there anything on your mind? You might as well tell now, as you will have to sooner or later, and Miss Maxwell must go home presently. You'll have to put up with me for the rest of the night and a man isn't as cheerful a compardon as a woman - is he, Amos?"
"No, yer right there, Mr. Blake, and it's the idee o' loneliness that's upsettin' me! Come down ter facts, Mr. Blake, it's the offers I've had fer the farm - yourn and hern - and my wishin' ter favour both and yet not give it up myself, and the whole's too much fer me!"
"Hers! Has Miss Maxwell made a bid for the farm? What do you want it for?" he said, turning quickly to Maria, who coloured and then replied quietly - "To live in! which is exactly what you said when I asked you a similar question a couple of months ago!"
"The p'int is," continued Amos, quickly growing more wide awake, and addressing the ceiling as a neutral and impartial listener, "that Mr. Blake has offered me five hundred more than Maria Maxwell, and though I want ter favour her (in buyin', property goes to the highest bidder; it's only contract work that's fetched by the lowest, and I never did work by contract - it's too darned frettin'), I can't throw away good money, and neither of 'em yet knows that whichsomever of 'em buys it has got ter give me a life right ter live in the summer kitchen and fetch my drinkin' water from the well in the porch! A lone widder man's a sight helplesser 'n a widder, but yet he don't get no sympathy!"
The Man from Everywhere began to laugh, and catching Maria's eye she joined him heartily. "How do you mean to manage?" he asked in a way that barred all thought of intrusion.
"I'm going to have a flower farm and take in two invalids - no, not cranks or lunatics, but merely tired people," she added, a little catch coming in her voice.
"Then you had better begin with me, for I'm precious tired of taking care of myself, and here is Amos also applying, so I do not see but what your establishment is already complete!"