ACROSS THE WAY XIII

“Miss Whyte!” he exclaimed with pleased astonishment and some confusion, advancing to meet her. “In what way can I be of service to you?”

“Dr. Clay? I should like you to look at my eyes; they have been troubling me lately.”

Elizabeth briefly detailed her symptoms. He listened with gravity, and then after requesting her to change her seat, he examined her eyes with absorbed attention. This took some minutes, and when he had finished there was something in his manner which prompted her to say:

“Of course you will tell me, Dr. Clay, exactly what is the matter.”
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“I am bound to do so,” he said, slowly. “I wished to make perfectly sure, before saying that your eyes are quite seriously affected–not that there is danger of a loss of sight, if proper precautions are taken–but–but it will be absolutely necessary for you to abstain from using them in order to check the progress of the disease.”

“I see,” she said, quietly, after a brief silence. “Do you mean that I cannot teach school? I am a school-teacher.”

“I knew that; and knowing it, I thought it best to tell you the whole truth. No, Miss Whyte; you must not use your eyes for at least a year, if you do not wish to lose your sight.”

“I see,” said Elizabeth again, with the hopeless air of one from whom the impossible is demanded. “I thank you, Dr. Clay, for telling me the truth,” she added, simply. “Have I strained my eyes?”

“You have evidently overtaxed them a little; but the disease is primarily a disease of the nerves. Will you excuse me for asking if at any time within the last few years you have suffered a severe shock?”

“A shock?” Elizabeth hesitated an instant, and replied gently: “Yes; but it was a number of years ago.”

“That would account for the case, nevertheless.”

A few minutes later Elizabeth was walking along the street, face to face with despair. She had not been able to obtain permission from the doctor to use her eyes even during the ten days which remained before vacation. He had said that every moment of delay would make the cure more difficult. She must absolutely cease to look at a book for one whole year. It would be necessary at first for her to visit him for treatment two or three times a week. He had said–she remembered his exact words–“I cannot do a very great deal for you; we can rely only on time for that; but believe me, I shall endeavor to help you so far as it lies in human power. I hope that you will trust me–and–and come to me freely.” Kind words these, but of what avail were they to answer the embarrassing question how she was to live? She must give up her school at least for a year; that seemed inevitable. How was she to earn her daily bread if she obeyed the doctor’s orders? Would it not be better to use her eyes to the end, and trust to charity to send her to an infirmary when she became blind? Why had she been foolish enough to refuse Mr. Ramsay’s property? But for a quixotic theory, she would not now have been at the world’s mercy.

It was the sting of shame which this last thought aroused, following in the train of her bitter reasoning, that caused her to quicken her pace and clinch her hands. That same pride, which had been her ally hitherto, had come to her rescue once more. She said to herself that she had done what she knew was right, and that no force of cruel circumstances should induce her to regret that she had not acted differently. She would prove still that she was able to make her own way without assistance, even though she were obliged to scrub floors. A shock? The shock of a betrayed faith which had arrayed her soul in bitterness against mankind. Must she own that she was crushed? Not while she had an arm to toil and a heart to strive…
by: Robert Grant (1852-1940)

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