JIM WAIT, FIREMAN.
[Written Expressly for The Fireman’s Journal.]
THE LAST CHANCE.
Both physicians were summoned, and both declared that Mrs. Wait died of rheumatism of the heart. There was nothing that could be done. She had died while sleeping, and probably the pain was so sudden and so slight, she had not been conscious of her danger at all, or she would have called out.
Dr. Andrews gazed upon her dead face long and silently, a proceeding which won for him a mental tribute of respect from both his uncle and Jim. If they could have guessed his thoughts! For they ran in this wise: “After all, how slight a thing may cause death ; and what a blessing that she is gone, for she was troublesome, and only in the way. If it had been uncle it would have been much better, but I am thankful for even this.”
“ During the day he was thoughtful and abstracted ; and once, when Dr. Traynorcame into the room where he was sitting, he sprang up as if in sudden alarm.
“Why, my boy, I believe you are nervous !” the old doctor said, though not unkindly.
“I think I am,” he replied. “The excess of joy I felt last night, and sympathy with Jessie in her bereavement to-day, have unmanned me. Besides, though I know it is foolish, Jessie’s trouble coming so soon after our engagement seems to be a bad omen.”
“ Why, you are dreadfully nervous,” said his uncle. “ I advise you to go out and visit your patients, and then run up home a little while. After this you can return and spend the evening with Jessie.”
“ I don’t care to go home,” he returned, “ for I fancy father and mother will not approve of my engagement, and I don’t care to mention it just yet; besides, I am in no mood to see any one.”
Throughout the day, and indeed for two days after, Dr. Andrews remained in the same morbid state. His uncle, becoming anxious concerning him, and counting upon his ability to persuade his niece into his own way of thinking, determined to visit her and tell her the whole truth. He did so, and was astonished at the storm of indignation he aroused from both Mr. and Mrs. Andrews. They told him of the relationship existing between Jessie and their family, and that they had other plans for disposing of their son’s hand ; as for his affections, he had so many loves already, it was impossible for him to care for this girl. In their anger they disclosed more of their son’s past history than they intended, and the old doctor returned home, vexed with them all, and with his nephew especially, for deceiving him concerning his character.
It was the day after Mrs. Wait’s funeral, and when Dr. Traynor reached home, he found, to his surprise, that instead of his nephew’s spending the evening with Jessie, he was at home, apparently brooding upon some unpleasant subject.
“ If I could think you were mourning for your sins, you confounded scapegrace,” he exclaimed, “ I might have some compassion on you. A pretty one you are, to come with your submissive airs and tender graces, trying to make yourself out a saint when your character, not to speak too strongly, is directly the opposite ! And I have lived for ten months with you under my roof, and never suspected you of any of the infamous acts your father and mother disclosed to me in their anger! Why, if Jim Wait knew a quarter of what I learned to-day concerning you, he would kick you out of his house the next time you set foot in it, and would serve you right, too. And if I live and have my health, I’ll acquaint him with them to-morrow !”
“ Sit down, uncle,” said Dr. Andrews, ” and do not excite yourself, I beg,” feeling that all was lost if he did not conciliate the old gentleman ‘I don’t understand you.”
“Then I’ll lose no time in explaining at once,” said Dr. Traynor, taking the proffered seat. “ I went up to see your father and mother, for I was really touched by your disconsolate manner, told them of your engagement, and said I strongly approved of it.”
“ Oh, uncle !”
“Oh, uncle, indeed! Be kind enough not to interrupt me, sir They flew into a passion, said Jessie was your own cousin—”
“ Do you understand ^English, sir ? I forgot, they did say you were unaware of the fact, though why they kept it from you is more than I know. She is the only child of your father’s sister Laura, the one your grandfather disinherited, it seems, and I believe young Wait knows it, too. What it all means I cannot understand, but it seems as if everybody was keeping secrets from everybody else, and yet every one knows the whole story. They told me, too, enough of your past behaviour to show me you would never make a fit husband for any respectable girl. And now I give you notice to quit my house to-morrow, and I shall, as sure as I live to see the morning sun, send for my lawyer and make a new will, cutting off every blood relative I have in this world, and leave what little property I have to right the wrongs some of them have committed, or bequeath it to some charitable institution !’’
“Uncle,” said Dr. Andrews, “ I own my life, until a year ago, was far from being what it should have been. Since I came here I endeavored to atone for it in a measure, and my love for Jessie has had an elevating influence upon me. In some things I have not been truthful or outspoken, but I love her sincerely, and with my whole heart. Cut me off if you will, but I beg of you do not inform her or her brother of my past life, for if I lose her, I myself am lost forever ! It is the only mercy I ask at your hands.”
Dr. Traynor was struck by the appeal. It had a tone of sincerity, and impressed him in spite of his anger. Seeing this advantage, the young doctor continued to urge his plea, and at last, after yielding slowly and gracefully, the old man made a decided concession.
“ After all, Ned, my lad, what could one expect from such parents as yours? You are not so much to blame. I promise you this much, I will do nothing without having a talk with you first. I’m exhausted, and believe I’ll retire at once. Do bring me a Dovers powder from the surgery, I am all upset and may not sleep without one. In the morning come to me at an early hour—or stay, after breakfast will do, and we will talk the matter over. If I decide to do as I have already said, you shall have due notice. I can promise no more to-night.”
“ Thanks,” his nephew said, and went dutifully for the powder. There were a number*of drugs at hand, and hastily adding as much morphine to the powder as he dared, Dr. Andrew’s folded the paper and returning to the parlor, placed the powder in his uncle’s hand. “ There is a child very ill with croup and lung disorder in the family of an old patient,” he said. “ If I am called in the night, as I am likely to be, I suppose I shall go as usual.”
“Certainly, but you had better get to bed now,” for there was a wild look in the young man’s face which troubled the old doctor.
“I will go in a few moments,” he returned, and then he was left alone.
As soon as the door closed after his uncle’s retreating form. Dr. Andrews sprang to his feet and began pacing the floor.
“ I will not lose all alter a year’s penance ! he muttered with an oath, “ I say I will not!”
Presently he left the room and went cautiously into his uncle’s office. He already possessed a duplicate key of the doctor’s secretary, he obtained it some months previously, with a view of examining the will to see if it was worded to his liking. Satisfied in this particular he still kept the key, and to-night he brought it forth to use again. The desk was opened, the will abstracted, and then he quickly left the room.
“ If he only takes the powder,” thought he, “ I shall be all right.” This thought uppermost in his mind, he went up-stairs, and listened at his uncle’s door. He could not see through the keyhole, but there was a small round aperture which had been made through the door for a patent lock at one time, and the lock was afterward removed. The place had a small bit of paper crowded into it, and this the doctor removed with his penknife, drawing it through the side where he stood, fearing it might attract his uncle’s attention if he pushed it through. For a few moments all was still, save that he could occasionally hear the old man turn restlessly in his bed. At last, greatly to his joy, Dr. Traynor rose, and mixing the powder swallowed it. He then retired to his bed, and after waiting for some time longer, the watcher was rewarded by hearing him breathe regularly and rather loudly, as if in deep slumber.
So far, all was right. He went up another flight, on tiptoe, and found the housekeeper was still stirring in her room. He remembered hearing her say she had for years been deprived of a sense of smell and this he regarded as extremely fortunate. Then he began operations in the back parlor and office, pouring.whatever inflammable liquid the surgery contained upon the carpets on the floors, and saturating the furniture, so far as possible. He was engaged in this for a long time, and at length he was startled by a ring at the door. Creeping hurriedly to his room, he waited a moment and saw the housekeeper pass down and open the door. She turned to come up the staircase, and he called down in a low tone, asking what was wanted.
She replied that the doctor was wanted at a certain house, giving the address, and bidding her not rouse his uncle, who was not well, said he would attend to the call at once. She went up to her room, and he prepared to go out. When all ready excepting his boots he went up to the woman’s room again, found all dark, and everything quiet, so he took his way down again, darkened all the windows and proceeded deliberately to set fire to the rooms below. It was now about one o’clock, and the street quite deserted. He met no one when he went out, until he had proceeded some distance.
“ His life is of no value,” he muttered; “ he must go soon in any case, and he had better die to-night than live to ruin me. This was my last and only chance.”
WHAT THE FIRE BROUGHT.
The alarm reached the station nearly an hour later. It was scarcely more than the space of a breath before the engines were out and dashing to the scene of the fire. Jim was half-crazed with anxiety, knowing whence the alarm came. When they reached the spot Kitty had bundled her crying children out on the sidewalk, and glancing up he saw Jessie with her black dress and white face at the open window, watching.
“ Stay where you are !’’ he called to her. “ You are quite safe,” and she nodded in return.
The doctor’s house was burned almost to a shell, but the engines were soon pouring huge streams of water over it, and they hoped to keep the adjoining houses safe. The doctor’s housekeeper had escaped, but she declared that Dr. Traynor was still in the burning house. She had knocked at his door and called as loudly as she could, but it was impossible to waken him or effect an entrance to his room. Dr. Andrews was absent, visiting a sick child.
Some one must go into the house and save the old man, but who? It seemed useless as well as dangerous to attempt it, for the walls were trembling perceptibly. No doubt he was already dead, and yet the search for him must be made. Jim knew’ his room, it was in front, and volunteered to go. Another fireman, equally brave, offered to assist him. There was no time to be lost. Once more Jim glanced up to the window, where Jessie stood, waved his hand as if in token of farewell and ascended the ladder, his comrade in d.mger closely following.
“Stand outside the window,” Jim said, “and tak« the doctor when I bring him. If the wall shakes too much, save yourself,” and then he rushed through the window, as it seemed, in the midst of the smoke and flame. A moment later he appeared again, with something in his arms, something which bore a semblance to a human being, but whether dead or alive no one could tell, for it was blackened with smoke or fire. This Jim threw into the arms of the man waiting to receive it.
“Quick, for your life !” he shouted, leaping after, and then the roof came crashing down, bringing the upper portion of the front wall with it.
The fireman who bore Dr. Traynor in his arms escaped with little injury. The doctor evidently was not dead, for when they put out the fire that was smouldering here and there about his clothing, he opened his eyes and stared about in a blank, dazed sort of a way. Jim was felled to the ground by some of the bricks from the falling wall, but whether fatally injured or not no one could tell.
Jessie had come down out of the house by the policemen’s advice ; she reached the sidewalk in time to see Jim lying prostrate on the ground, pinioned by the bricks that were piled over his left arm. His eyes were closed and he lay quite motionless ; some one was removing the bricks rapidly and carefully, and heeding no one, she sprang to his side and bent over him, scanning his face in an agony of suspense.
“ My darling 1” she was moaning, under her breath ; “ my darling 1 Oh, Jim, Jim !” but he did not move or speak.
They lifted him carefully and laid him down a little farther away, in hopes the cool air might revive him ; Jessie was sitting upon the ground with his head in her lap, her tears raining over his face.
” Cannot you take him home ?” she said. “ lie told me it was sale, and I am not afraid.”
“It is safe now,” said a policeman, “ for the fire is well in hand. We were only afraid when we saw the walls were falling. There is no danger now.”
“ Where is Dr. Andrews ?” asked Kitty, who now joined those who were gathered around the two injured men.
“ I had forgotten such a man lived,” she said.
The housekeeper again explained his absence, and then Jessie thought of sending for a physician.
“Take both the doctor and Jim to our apartments,” she said, “and some one please send for a physician as soon as possible. But wait— what doctor will soonest come?”
Dr. Traynor now opened his mouth as well as as his eyes ; he was beginning to recover his senses.
“ Jessie,” he said, solemnly, ” send at once for Dr. Burt.”
She didjas he requested.
” Lean your head closer to me,” he said, once more ; and as she bent her face close to his he whispered: “ I want to tell you, for I may become unconscious; if you value Jim’s life or mine, do not admit Dr Andrews to the house 1”
It was no time for further explanations ; indeed, Jessie seemed to desire none. Jim was beginning to recover; he opened his eyes and smiled, assuring her he was not much hurt.
Both men were taken into Jessie’s parlor, the doctor, who was small, being put on the sofa, and Jim laid upon a cot that was quickly prepared for him. The physician soon arrived, and began to inquire into Dr. Traynor’s injuries, but was brusquely ordered by the old doctor to look after Jim first.
” It doesn’t matter whether I die or not,” he said, ” for my life is of no value in any case, but the life of that brave boy is worth much.”
It did not seem strange to Jessie to hear Jim spoken of as a boy, but then twenty-five did not seem so old to her as it did four years ago, for she had learned that one could be manly and boyish too, even at thirtytwo. This flitted through her mind as she rendered quietly all the assistance she could to Dr. Burt, and watched his face anxiously every moment, letting not a single expression escape her. Jim’s arm was broken, and his ancle sprained ; he was also bruised in several places more or less severely.
“Well ?” asked Jessie, when the arm was set, the wounds dressed and the ankle bandaged, and the doctor was turning to his other patient.
“He is not dangerously injured at all,” said Dr. Burt,“but you will have him on your hands for two months, and perhaps three.
Jim looked at Jessie and smiled.
“ I never had such a holiday in my life,” he said, ” as I shall have now. If it does not grow irksome to you, Jessie—”
” Hush, Jim !” she replied. ” In spite of everything, I don’t believe I was ever so happy before in my life. Why, if I had you always, just as helpless as you are now, I should still be thankful all my days because you were alive. Now lie still and sleep if you can, while I help attend to the doctor.”
She gave him a kiss as a sort of anodyne, which certainly had a quieting effect, though it did not tend to produce sleep. But he dutifully closed his eyes as she turned to the doctor’s couch. The old housekeeper was bustling about, suggesting this and that, but Dr. Burt dismissed her quietly and called Jessie to his aid instead, which proceeding astonished, though it failed to anger her. Even the doctor’s wounds were less serious than were supposed, the burns being slight, but painful in the extreme.
“ Don’t stuff me with narcotics,” he said to Dr. Burt as, the bums being dressed, he was about to write out a prescription. “ I want my wits about me while I do live, and especially to-morrow, or to-day, whichever it may be.”
“ There’s the trouble of attending a physician,” retorted Dr. Burt.
“ He always wants to prescribe for himself.”
Jessie, who was reporting to Jim the state of the fire, opened her ears at the remark which followed.
“ If I had prescribed for myself last night,” he said, instead of trusting to some one else, I would have come out of the fire with a whole skin.”
“ Why, how was that ?” inquired Dr. Burt.
” I was restless and asked for a Dovers powder, and was given one of morphine instead, and that is why I did not wake in time to save myself. However, in that case I would not have known how courageous Fireman Jim, here, was. I dare say I shall doze a little, but I want you to be here at eleven o’clock this morning, sharp ; I have a little business transaction to go through.”
“ All right,” returned the doctor, as he took his leave, first bidding Jessie keep her patients quiet, and advised Kitty, who was hovering about under the delusion that she was rendering valuable assistance, to go up-stairs and keep her children still. He promised Jessie to give a report of Jim’s case to his foreman and comrades, for the other engines had all retired, only the one that was first at the scene remaining to play upon the ruins, which still smoked, though feebly,
Jessie sent her servant and the doctor’s housekeeper to bed, and then for a few moments, the doctor conversed with Jim. Jessie hovered between the two, though rather nearest to Jim, and at last, when there had been silence for some time, she found he was asleep. Then the old doctor beckoned her to his side. In a low tone he stated to her that it was his belief that Dr. Andrews gave him the morphine prfrposely and fired the house after, especially, as he had questioned the housekeeper while Jim’s wounds were being dressed, and she stated that she saw the young doctor watch his uncle through a hole in the door, and afterward creep up to her room to watch her. She wondered at his conduct, but thought no more of it after he went out of the house. After this, the old doctor questioned Jessie closely upon many matters, and she answered unreservedly, and apparently to his satisfaction. Then he informed her that, holding the opinion he did of his nephew, he felt it his duty to make his will in favor of some charitable object or institution, and he wished her to send for his lawyer, to come at ten o’clock
Because,” he said, “if that scamp fired the house, he has the will safe, and that leaves nearly everything to him. I know I may torment you a long time by lying here, and getting well at last, but f want to lose no time in setting this thing straight.”
Jim woke in time to hear the doctor’s last remark, but the old man, seeming satisfied, in turn fell asleep, and then Jim urged Jessie to try and get a nap in the easy chair, but that was impossible, for she was wide awake as noon-day.
Jessie sent for Dr. Traynor’s lawyer as he requested, and when he came the old doctor turned everybody else out of the room except Jim, (who declared he would not go) and then he made a will, as he said, ” in accordance with the facts.” When it was made Dr. Burt arrived with a man nurse he had brought to assist Jessie, and there was quite a commotion when it was found that Kitty, the housekeeper, Dr. Burt and the nurse were all to witness it, and the doctor was to assert in a separate place, over his signature, that Dr. Traynor was of sound mind.
A week passed before Mrs. Andrews considered it necessary to call. In truth, she was a long time learning the facts as publicly reported, and now she came, all smiles, sweetness and condescension, to condole with her dear uncle and ask after her truant boy.
” How very inconvenient it must be lor Mis3 Pelton to have you here,” she said, “when she has so little room. You must be removed to my house at once. Why did you not send for me as soon as this accident occurred, uncle ?”
“ Because I would have died before your arrival,” he said, gruffly. “ ]f nothing else had threatened my life, I should have died of starvation before you could have found time to come.”
“ You will have your joke, I see,” she returned, laughing, with a little gesture in an aside to Jessie, as though she considered him inexpressibly funny.
“ When shall I send the carriage for you ?” she asked, a moment later.
“ When Jessie puts me out,” he replied, “but not before.”
“ But I can make you so much more comfortable,” she declared. “ And why is it that my son did not come up and tell me all about it ?”
“ I cannot answer, except that I imagine he was in too much haste to leave the country after he found 1 was not burned up according to the programme he arranged when he set the house on fire.”
“ Uncle, you have no right to speak in this way of my son. He may have his own faulis, but he would never commit a serious crime.”
“ 1 am glad you have so good an opinion of him, but circumstances forbid my concurrence with the sentiments you express.”
“Uncle,” looking frightened, “it is a very easy matter to hint suspicions, just or unjust, but it is a very hard matter to prove them ; it is almost as hard to prove even facts, sometimes.”
” That 1 acknowledge. But 1 have taken pains to prove so many facts, that it will be rather unsafe for him to appear in this country again, no matter whether 1 am dead or alive.”
Mrs. Andrews said no more, but rose, weeping, to leave the room, Jessie followed her to the head of the staircase. She could not resist a feeling of sympathy for her, and then, too, Dr. Traynor had informed her of the relationship existing between them.
“Good-by, aunt,” she said, softly.
Mrs. Andrews turned back, and kissed her as she had done once before.
“ My child,” tie said, “ my heart is broken.” And then she hurried away.
In a month Jim was able to walk about the house, though his arm was still in a sling, and his ankle weak. The old doctor, however, did not progress so favorably. His burns would not heal, his appetite grew capricious and then failed him altogether. He became very peevish, and sometimes tried Jessie sorely, but she was very gentle and patient with him. He would have no one wait upon him but her, and the weaker he grew, the more arbitrary he became.
“ 1 know 1 vex you,” he said to her once, “ but you are very, very kind, and when 1 am gone you will not regret having been kind to me.”
” 1 do not regret it now,” she said with her usual gentleness. “ But 1 can do so little for you; 1 wish I might do more to ease your sufferings.”
He seemed very feeble, and they all knew the end was near; so no one was surprised when presently he put out his hand as if groping in the dark, and finally let it rest upon Jessie’s head—she was kneeling beside him.
” I’m going, dear,” he said, faintly and slowly. “ God bless you 1 And then he dropped asleep.
Mrs. Andrews was notified, and went to the funeral in the same carriage with Jessie, and Jim, who was now able to ride out.
“ I suppose your home will be broken up, now,” she said, when they returned,” and so, Jessie, you must come and live with me.”
“ We have formed no plans as yet,” Jim answered, “ but Jessie and I will consult together to-night. Dr. Traynor desired his will to be read at our house to-morrow, and if you please, we would like you to come in the morning at eleven, the time the doctor’s lawyer has set for the reading.”
Mrs. Andrews bowed, and was present with her husband at the hour named. Jim had said little to Jessie the previous evening, concerning her future.
“You know what I wish,” he said, “ if you think you can learn to care enough for me. But if you will be happier with your aunt, you must not consider me, but go.”
“ I will te’l you to-morrow,” she said, softly, but they were sitting in the twilight and he could not see her face.
There were several small legacies in Dr. Traynor’s will. Many old friends were remembered, among them his housekeeper, and Mrs. Andrews was left the sum of one thousand dollars. The remainder— which, however, amounted to little more than the house Mrs. Wait had occupied, and the now vacant lot beside it—was bequeathed to Jessie, who was the only one surprised at the bequest.
Mrs. Andrews was very sweet to Jessie, and when those assembled began to disperse, she warmly urged the young girl to make her home with her, and Mr. Andrews joined in the invitation.
“ My eldest daughter is on the eve of marriage,” she said, “ come my dear, and fill her place. I do not urge you to come blindly, your uncle and I both desire you to return with us and spend a short time at our house before you decide. I wish Mr. Wait to accompany us and remain to dinner, if possible. He will then understand that I can make it more comfortable for you than he can.”
Jessie looked up in Jim’s face.
“ Let us go,” he said.
So they went. And when they reached the stately mansion and were ushered into the luxurious drawing-rooms, it seemed both to Jessie and to Jim as though they were in some enchanted palace.
“ My house is a house of harmonies,” Mrs. Andrews said, smiling. “ Do you like it, my dear?”
And Jim’s heart sank within him when he saw how entranced Jessie seemed with it all. But he was used to being patient and he tried to school his heart to meet its disappointment with resignation—if fore seen troubles can be called a disappointment—and when the time came to go he turned to Jessie with the sad look his face wore that night at the theatre when the music was like the wail of a broken heart.
“ When shall I come for your decision ?” he said, and Mrs. Andrews touched the bell and ordered the carriage to take Mr. Wait home.
“ I think 1 will decide now,” she answered, blushing.
“Very sensible of you, my dear,” her aunt said.
“ I am fully aware,” she began, of all I owe to Jim. He saved my life when I was a little child, and has cared for me tenderly ever since. He loved me always, and I used his great love lavishly, knowing it would never fail. As a protection, comfort, balm, I used it, yet never thinking how precious it was. I did not know it was one love in a thousand, and when another which seemed fair because it was new, was offered, I took it, believing it could take the place of his. But the night the fire wakened me ; I awoke indeed. When I thought Jim dead, and his great love gone out forever, then, and not till then did I know what it had been to me—then I knew what the world would be to me without it.
“So, though I owe you little, and him much, I shall trespass still further upon his bounty and kindness, knowing well how great they are. Feeling distrustful of yours, I cannot live in your house of harmonies ; with its brooding air of insincerity and its discordant hearts within, so instead I will chose a home where my heart is, with my future husband, Jim Wait, Fireman.”
And Jim? while she spoke the troubled look gradually left his face, and over it stole an expression of gladness and thankfulness until it was flooded with light like one transfigured. And when she closed and turned to him, faltering and blushing as though she had been overbold, he drew her close to him with his strong right arm, and with tears in his eyes kissed and blessed her before them all.
This was a year ago. A week later they were married, removing to a cosy, quiet home only a stone’s throw from Jim’s quarters, as he once suggested. He resumed his fireman’s duties as soon as able, and a rumor has recently been circulated to the effect that he is about to become Assistant Foreman, while he is said to be competent to fill even a higher position. Since he is fitted for it it will come to him, no doubt, in time; meanwhile he performs his duties faithfully and is content.
“ I love the service,” he says, “ for it has brought me—ah, what has it not brought me !”
As for Jessie, there is not a happier woman in the city to-day, than the wife of Jim Wait, Fireman.”