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The Tree of Heaven
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THE GOLDEN POOL

by Robert W. Chambers

 
So the doctor, finding his patientís quarters untenanted for the first time in many months, hastened downstairs and out to the veranda, where he discovered a lean, soldierly looking young fellow clad in fishing coat fussing with rod and reel.

"Oho, my enterprising friend!" he said. "What mischief are you hatching now?"

"Iím going to try for your big trout in the Golden Pool," said his patient calmly.

This unlooked-for energy appeared to embarrass the doctor. His grim mouth tightened.

"Donít be obstinate; that fish wonít rise till evening."

"I know it, but Iím going."

"Against my orders!" demanded the exasperated doctor.,

"With pleasure," replied the young man gayly. "And itís your own doing, too. Do you remember what you said last night?"

"I said I saw a big fish rising in that pool," growled the doctor.

"Exactly; and that has done more to brace me up than all your purple pills for peculiar people."

"Donít go to the Golden Pool now!" said the doctor with emphasis. "I have a particular reason for making this request."

"What reason?"

"I wonít tell you."

"Youíre after that fish yourself! No, you donít!"

"Thatís idiotic."

"Well, anyhow, good-by."

"You shanít!" exclaimed the doctor wrathfully. "Give me that rod!"

But his patient laugh to the rod, laughing.

"Now what the devil possesses you to make for the Golden Pool at this particular minute?" demanded the vexed doctor. "youíve been an invalid for a year and more, and up to this moment youíve done what I told you."

His patient continued to laugh -- that same Light-hearted, infectious laugh which the doctor had not heard in many a month, and he looked at him keenly.

"All the same, youíre not well yet, and you know it," he said.

"My aversion to women?"

"Partly."

"You mean my memory still fails me? Well, then, what do you think happened this morning?"

"What?" inquired the doctor sulkily.

"This: I went out to the stables and recognized Phelan and Riley!  Howís that for a start? Then" --he glanced across the lawn where an old gardener pottered about among the petunias-- "thereís Dawson, isnít it?  Besides," he added, "my aversion to women is disappearing; I saw a girl on the lawn from my window this morning. Who is she?"

"Was she dressed in white?" asked the doctor,

"Donít remember."

"You never before saw her?"

"No--I donít know. I didnít see her face."

"So it seems you canít recollect the back of a relative or a neighbor! Now what you think of yourself?"

"Relative? Nonsense," he laughed; "I havenít any. As for the neighbors, give me time, for Heavenís sake! Iím doing beautifully. There are millions of things that set me thinking and worrying now -- funny flashes of memory -- hints of the past, vague glimpses that excite me to effort; but nothing -- absolutely nothin -- yet of that blank year. Was it a year?"

"More; never mind that!"

"How long was it?" asked his patient wistfully.

"Sixteen months."

"You said I was shot, I think."

"No, I didnít. You think you were, but it was done with a Malay kris. Now, what can you remember about it?"

The young man stood silent, fumbling with his rod.

"And you tell me youíre cured!" observed the doctor sarcastically, "and you canít even recollect how you got swiped with a Malay kris!"

"I might if I could see the Malay -- or the kris."

The doctor, who had begun to pace the veranda, halted and glanced sharply at his patient.

"The best way to remember things is to see Ďem? Is that your idea?"

"I think so. Itís true Iíve seen Phelan many times without remembering him, but to-day I recognized him. Isnít that good medicine?"

The doctor thought a moment, fished out his watch from the fob pocket, regarded it absently, and came down the steps to the lawn, where his patient stood making practice casts with his light bamboo rod.

"Iíll tell you why I didnít want you to go to the Golden Pool," he said.

"Well, why?"

"Poachers," replied the doctor, watching him. "They fish in the pools, and they use your canoe, and they even have the impudence to go bathing in the Golden Pool ... I didnít want you to worry."

"I think the poacher I catch will do the worrying," said the young man, laughing. "Is that all?"

"That is all. Go ahead if you want to. If you run across that girl invite her to dinner. Sheís a friend of mine." And the doctor walked off, shoving his hands deep into his capacious pockets.

His patient reeled in the line, smiling to himself, and started off across the meadow at a good swinging pace. He entered the forest by the meadow bridge, where a lank yokel was mowing grass.

"Morniní!" ventured the native, with a doubtful grin of recognition.

"Look here," said the young man, halting in the path of the scythe, "ought I to know your name? Tell me the truth."

"I calílate yew orter," replied the yokel. "Iíve been choriní for yew close tew ten year."

A shadow fell over the masterís lean face, and he went on through the underbrush, muttering to himself, passing his thin hand again and again across his forehead.

"Oh, well, Iíll stick to it," he said aloud; he said aloud; "a man canít dance on a broken leg nor think with a broken head; theyíve got to be mended first -- well mended."

Walking on through the fragrant forest, the shadow of care slipped from his face again, leaving it placid once more. The scent of the June woods, the far, dull throbbing of a partridge drumming in leafy depths, the happy sighing of a woodland world astir, all these were gentle stimulants to that sanity toward the shadowy borders of which he had so long been struggling from the region of dreadful night.

Spreading branches, dew-spangled, slapped his face as he passed; the moist rich odor of clean earth filled throat and lungs; a subdued, almost breathless expectancy brooded in the wake of the south wind.

When he emerged from the forest and entered the long glade, mountain and thicket were swimming in crystalline light; ferns hung weighted with dew; the outrush of bird music and incessant.

Far in the wet woods he could hear the river flowing -- or was it the breeze freshening in the pines?

Listening, enraptured, boyish recollections awoke, and he instinctively took his bearings from the blue peak in the east. So the Ousel Pool lay to the west. He would fish that uncertain water later; but first the Golden Pool, where the great trout had been seen, rising as recklessly as a minnow in a meadow brook.

Now, all excitement and expectancy, he waded on, knee-deep in drenched grasses, watching the soft mothlike flutter of the bluebirds among the iris. They had always hovered over this spot in June, he remembered now. Truly summer skies were healing him of his hurt; he recognized the belt of blue-beech saplings all crossbarred with sunlight, and he heard the familiar rush of waters below.

Suddenly, beyond the sprayed undergrowth, he caught a glow of color, a glimpse of that rich sunny foliage which gave the Golden Pool its name; and now the familiar water lay glimmering before him through the trees, and he began the descent, stepping quietly as a deer entering a strange covert.

At the waterís edge he paused, cautiously; but there was not canoe lying under the alders. Memory halted short, then began groping backward through the years.

Where was the canoe? There had always been one here -- in his boyhood and ever since -- up to that obscured and cloudy space of time --

He dropped to his knees and parted the leafy thicket with his hands. There was no canoe there, nothing except a book lying on a luncheon basket; and -- what was this? -- and this?

He stared stupidly for a moment, then rose and stepped trough the thicket to the edge of the water. A canoe glittered out there, pulled up on a flat, sunny rock in midstream, and upon the rock lay a girl in a dripping bathing dress drying her hair in the sun.

Instantly an odd sense of it all having happened before seized him -- the sun on the water, the canoe, the slim figure lying there. And when she indolently raised her hand, stifling a dainty yawn, and stretched her arms luxuriously, it seemed to him the repetition of a forgotten scene too familiar to surprise him.

Then, as she sat up, leisurely twisting her sun-bronzed hair, a chance turn of her head brought him into direct line of vision.  They stared at one another across the sunny water.

For one second the thought flashed on him that he knew her; then in the same moment all that had seeded familiar in the situation faded into strangeness and apprehension, and he was aware that he had never before looked upon her face.

Yet, curiously enough, his long and melancholy aversion to women had not returned at sight of her. She had risen in surprise, wide dark eyes on him; and he spoke immediately, saying he had not meant to disturb her, and that she was quite welcome to use the canoe.

Her first stammered words annoyed him. "Did the doctor -- come with you?  Are you -- are you alone?"

"I suppose the entire countryside knows I have been ill," he said; "but Iím perfectly able to be about without a doctor." He began to laugh. "But those are not the questions. The questions are what are people doing in these woods with luncheon baskets and summer novels, and how am I to fish this pool if people swim in it; and how am I to fish at all if an attractive stranger takes possession of my canoe?"

"I -- I had no idea you were coming here," she faltered. "I bathe here every morning, and then I lunch here and read."

He laughed outright at here innocent acknowledgment of the trespass.

"I have a clear case against you," he said. "Havenít you read all my notices nailed up on trees? `Warning! All trespassers will be dealt with to the full extent of the lawí -- and much more to similar effect? And do you know what a very dreadful thing it is to be dealt with to the full extent of the law?"

"But -- I am not -- not trespassing," she said. "Can you not remember?"

"Iím afraid I canít," he replied, smiling; "Iím afraid I have a clear case against you. The doctor warned me that trespassers were about."

"Did he know you were coming here?" she asked incredulously.

"He did. And Iím afraid somebody has been caught in flagrant délit!  What do you think?"

He stood there, amused, curiously noting the play of emotions over her delicate features. Consternation, dismay, had given place to quick resentment; that in turn died out, leaving something of comprehension in her perplexed face.

"So he sent you to catch a trespasser?" she said.

"I was coming to fish. Well, yes; he said I might find one."

"A trespasser? A stranger?" She hesitated; there was hurt astonishment in her voice. Suddenly her face took a deeper flush, as though she had come to an unexpected decision; her entire manner changed to serene self-possession. "What are you going to do with me? she asked curiously.

"Iím afraid I canít put you in jail," he admitted. "You see, thereís no punishment for swimming in favorite trout pools and spoiling a manís morning sport. Now, if you had only thought of catching one of my trout I could arrange to have you imprisoned."

"Please arrange it immediately, the," she said, lifting an enormous trout from the canoe and holding it up by gills with both hands.

"Good Lord," he gasped, "itís the big one!" And he sat down suddenly on a log.

Her smiling defiance softened a trifle. "Did you really wish to catch this fish very much?" she asked. "I -- I never supposed you would come here -- to-day."

"The enormity of your crime stuns me," he said. "First you invade my domain, then you abstract my canoe, then you swim in my favorite pool, the you catch the biggest fish that ever came out of it."

"No," she said, "I caught the fish first."

"Recount to me the battle," he said with a groan. "Fish like that only rise once in a life-time. Tell me how you -- but thatís useless. It was the usual case of a twig and a bent pin, I suppose?"

She smiled uncertainly, and lifted a from the canoe.

"By Jove, that looks like one of my rods!" he exclaimed. "Where did you get it?"

Her eyes were bright with excitement; she shook her head, laughing.

"Are you in league with my doctor? Who are you?" he insisted.

"Only a poacher," she admitted. "I creep about and lurk outside windows where doctors talk in loud voices about big trout they have seen. Then -- I go and catch them."

They were both laughing now; she standing beside the canoe, rod in hand, he balanced on a rock opposite.

Yet, even while laughing, his thin face sobered, darkening as though a gray shadow had crept across it.

"Are you a neighbor of mine?" he asked. "If you are, you will why I ask it. If you are not, never mind," he added wearily.

She shook her head. His face cleared.

"I thought you were not a neighbor; I was certain that I had never seen you -- as certain as a man can be awakening from -- from illness, with this mind -- his memory -- shaky -- almost blank." He bent his head, gazing into the water. Then he looked up. "You know the doctor? I think I saw you on the lawn this morning."

"Are you sure you have never before seen me?" she asked, with a ghost of a smile.

"I thought at first -- for an instant -- the canoe on the rock, and the sunshine, and you --" He fell silent, groping through the darkened corridors of thought for the key to memory.


FINIS
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