The Man from Everywhere, keeping bachelor's hall in the eastern half of the farm home.
Amos Opie, living in the western half of the house, the separating door being locked on his side.
Maria Maxwell, who, upon hearing Opie is again ill, has dropped in to give him hot soup and medicine.
Amos Opie was more than usually uncomfortable this particular September evening. It may have been either a rather sudden change in the weather or the fact that now that he was sufficiently well to get about the kitchen and sit in the well-house porch, of a sunny morning, Maria Maxwell had given up the habit of running over several times a day to give him his medicine and be sure that the kettle boiled and his tea was freshly drawn, instead of being what she called "stewed bitterness" that had stood on the leaves all day.
Whichever it was, he felt wretched in body and mind, and began to think himself neglected and was consequently aggrieved. He hesitated a few minutes before he opened the door leading to The Man's part of the house, took a few steps into the square hall, and called "Mr. Blake" in a quavering voice; but no answer came, as the bachelor had not yet returned from the reservoir.
Going back, he settled heavily into the rocking-chair and groaned, - it was not from real pain, simply he had relaxed his grip and was making himself miserable, - then he began to talk to himself.
"She doesn't come in so often now he's come home, and he fights shy o' the place, thinkin' mebbe she's around, and they both wants to buy. He's offered me thirty-five hundred cash, and she's offered me thirty hundred cash, which is all the place's worth, for it'll take another ten hundred to straighten out the house, with new winder frames, floorin' 'nd plaster 'nd shingles, beams and sills all bein' sound, - when the truth is I don't wish ter sell nohow, yet can't afford to hold! I don't see light noway 'nd I'm feelin' another turn comin' when I was nigh ready ter git about agin to Miss'ss Penrose flower poles. O lordy! lordy! I wish I had some more o' that settling Z medicine Maria Maxwell brought me" (people very seldom spoke of that young woman except by her complete name). "If I had my wind, I'd yell over to her to come up! Yes, I vow I would!"
David, the hound, who had been lying asleep before the stove, in which the fire had died away, got up, stretched himself, and, going to his master, after gazing in his face for several minutes, licked his hands thoroughly and solemnly, in a way totally different from the careless and irresponsible licks of a joyous dog; then raising his head gave a long-drawn bay that finally broke from its melancholy music and degenerated into a howl.
Amos must have dozed in his chair, for it seemed only a moment when a knock sounded on the side door and, without waiting for a reply, Maria Maxwell entered, a cape thrown about her shoulders, a lantern in one hand, and in the other a covered pitcher from which steam was curling.
"I heard David howling and I went to our gate to look; I saw that there wasn't a light in the farm-house and so knew that something was the matter. No fire in the stove and the room quite chilly 1 Where is that neighbour of yours in the other half of the house? Couldn't he have brought you in a few sticks?"
"He isn't ter hum just now," replied Amos, in tones that were unnecessarily feeble, while at the same time an idea entered his brain that almost made him chuckle; but the sound which was quenched in his throat only came to Maria as an uncomfortable struggle for breath that hastejied her exit to the woodpile by the side fence for the material to revive the fire. In going round the house, her arms laden with logs, she bumped into the figure of The Man leading his bicycle across the grass, which deadened his footfall, as the lantern she carried blinded her to all objects not within its direct rays.
"Maria Maxwell! Is Opie ill again? You must not carry such a heavy load!" he exclaimed all in one breath, as he very quickly transferred the logs to his own arms, and was making the fire in the open stove almost before she had regained the porch, so that when she had lighted a lamp and drawn the turkey-red curtains, the reflections of the flames began to dance on the wall and cheerfulness suddenly replaced gloom.
Still Amos sat in an attitude of dejection. Thanking The Man for his aid, but taking no further notice of him, Maria began to heat the broth which was contained in the pitcher, asking Amos at the same time if he did not think that he would feel better in bed.
"I dunno's place has much to do with it," he grumbled; "this can't go on no longer, it's doing for me, that it is!"
Maria, thinking that he referred to bodily illness, hastened the preparations for bed, and The Man, feeling helpless as all men do when something active is being done in which they have no part, rose to go, and, with his hand on the latch of the porch door, said in a low voice: "If I might help you in any way, I should be very glad; I do not quite like leaving you alone with this old fellow, - you may need help in getting him to bed. Tell me frankly, would you like me to stay?"
"Frankly I would rather you would not," said Maria, yet in so cordial a tone that no offence could be gathered from it in any way.
So the door opened and closed again and Maria began the rather laborious task of coaxing the old man to bed. When once there, the medicine given, and the soup taken, which she could not but notice that he swallowed greedily, she seated herself before the fire, resolving that, if Amos did not feel better by nine o'clock, she would have Barney come over for the night, as of course she must return to be near the Infant.
As she sat there she pictured for the hundredth time how she would invest her little capital and rearrange her life, if Amos consented to sell her the farm, - how best to restore the home without elaborating the care of it, and take one or two people to live with her who had been ill or needed rest in cheerful surroundings. Not always the same two, for that is paralyzing after a time when the freshness of energetic influence wears off; but her experience among her friends told her that in a city's social life there was an endless supply of overwrought nerves and bodies.