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III The Heart Of Man Anna Katharine Green

XXIV Suspense

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Ten minutes after Sweetwater's arrival in the village streets, he was at home with the people he found there. His conversation with Doris in the doorway of her home had been observed by the curious and far-sighted, and the questions asked and answered had made him friends at once. Of course, he could tell them nothing, but that did not matter, he had seen and talked with Doris and their idolised young manager was no worse and might possibly soon be better.

Of his own affairs - of his business with Doris and the manager, they asked nothing. All ordinary interests were lost in the stress of their great suspense.

It was the same in the bar-room of the one hotel. Without resorting to more than a question or two, he readily learned all that was generally known of Oswald Brotherson. Every one was talking about him, and each had some story to tell illustrative of his kindness, his courage and his quick mind. The Works had never produced a man of such varied capabilities and all round sympathies. To have him for manager meant the greatest good which could befall this little community.

His rise had been rapid. He had come from the east three years before, new to the work. Now, he was the one man there. Of his relationships east, family or otherwise, nothing was said. For them his life began and ended in Derby, and Sweetwater could see, though no actual expression was given to the feeling, that there was but one expectation in regard to him and Doris, to whose uncommon beauty and sweetness they all seemed fully alive. And Sweetwater wondered, as many of us have wondered, at the gulf frequently existing between fancy and fact.

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Later there came a small excitement. The doctor was seen riding by on his way to the sick man. From the window where he sat, Sweetwater watched him pass up the street and take the road he had himself so lately traversed. It was so straight a one and led so directly northward that he could follow with his eye the doctor's whole course, and even get a glimpse of his figure as he stepped from the buggy and proceeded to tie up the horse. There was an energy about him pleasing to Sweetwater. He might have much to do with this doctor. If Oswald Brotherson died - but he was not willing to consider this possibility - yet. His personal sympathies, to say nothing of his professional interest in the mystery to which this man - and this man only - possibly held the key, alike forbade. He would hope, as these others were hoping, and if he did not count the minutes, he at least saw every move of the old horse waiting with drooping head and the resignation of long custom for the re-appearance of his master with his news of life or death.

And so an hour - two hours passed. Others were watching the old horse now. The street showed many an eager figure with head turned northward. From the open door-ways women stepped, looked in the direction of their anxiety and retreated to their work again. Suspense was everywhere; the moments dragged like hours; it became so keen at last that some impatient hearts could no longer stand it. A woman put her baby into another woman's arms and hurried up the road; another followed, then another; then an old man, bowed with years and of tottering steps, began to go that way, halting a dozen times before he reached the group now collected in the dusty highway, near but not too near that house. As Sweetwater's own enthusiasm swelled at this sight, he thought of the other Brotherson with his theories and active advocacy for reform, and wondered if men and women would forego their meals and stand for hours in the keen spring wind just to be the first to hear if he were to live or die. He knew that he himself would not. But he had suffered much both in his pride and his purse at the hands of the Brooklyn inventor; and such despoliation is not a reliable basis for sympathy. He was questioning his own judgment in this matter and losing himself in the mazes of past doubts and conjectures when a sudden change took place in the aspect of the street; he saw people running, and in another moment saw why. The doctor had shown himself on the porch which all were watching. Was he coming out? No, he stands quite still, runs his eye over the people waiting quietly in the road, and beckons to one of the smaller boys. The child, with upturned face, stands listening to what he has to say, then starts on a run for the village. He is stopped, pulled about, questioned, and allowed to run on. Many rush forth to meet him. He is panting, but gleeful. Mr. Brotherson has waked up conscious, and the doctor says, HE WILL LIVE.

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