Jeanie was hanging on her father’s arm with a face of deathly whiteness, and looked on the verge of collapse.
The Reverend Stephen was serenely satisfied with himself, laughed gently at his child’s dragging progress, and assured Avery that a little wholesome fatigue was a good thing at the end of the day.
Jeanie said nothing. She seemed to be speechless with exhaustion, almost incapable of standing alone.
Mr. Lorimer recommended a cold bath, a brisk rub-down, and supper.
“After which,” he said impressively, “I shall hope to conduct a few prayers before we retire to rest.”
“That will be impossible, I am afraid,” Avery rejoined. “Jeanie is overtired and must go at once to bed.”
She spoke with quiet decision, but inwardly she was quivering with fierce anger. She longed passionately to have the child to herself, to comfort and care for her and ease away the troubles of the day.
But Mr. Lorimer at once asserted his authority. “Jeanie will certainly join us at supper,” he said. “Run along, my child, and prepare for the meal at once!”
Jeanie went up the stairs like an old woman, stumbling at every step.
Avery followed her, chafing but impotent.
At the top of the stairs Jeanie began to cough. She turned into her own room with blind, staggering movements and sank down beside the bed.
The coughing was spasmodic and convulsive. It shook her whole frame. In the end there came a dreadful tearing sound, and she caught her handkerchief to her mouth.
Avery knelt beside her, supporting her. She saw the white linen turn suddenly scarlet, and she called sharply to Mr. Lorimer to come to them.
He came, and between them they got her on to the bed.
“This is most unfortunate,” said Mr. Lorimer. “Pray how did it happen?”
And then Avery’s pent fury blazed suddenly forth upon him. “It is your doing!” she said. “You—and you alone—are responsible for this!”
He looked at her malignantly. “Pshaw, my dear Lady Evesham! You are hysterical!” he said.
Avery was bending over the bed. “Go!” she said, without looking up. “Go quickly, and fetch a doctor!”
And, very curiously, Mr. Lorimer obeyed her.
Jeanie rallied. As though to comfort Avery’s distress, she came back for a little space; but no one—not even her father—could doubt any longer that the poor little mortal life had nearly run out.
“My intervention has come too late, alas!” said Mr. Lorimer.
Which remark was received by Avery in bitter silence.
She had no further fear of being deprived of the child. It was quite out of the question to think of moving her, and she knew that Jeanie was hers for as long as the frail cord of her earthly existence lasted.