“Oh, they know well enough,” she snapped. “Those nurses know, and there’s a pig of a red-bearded doctor—I’d like to poison him. Separating mother and child! I’m going to find him, if only to show them they are not so smart after all.”
In her anger she had lapsed into English. Harmony, behind her curtain, had clutched at her heart. Jimmy’s mother!
Jimmy was not so well, although Harmony’s flight had had nothing to do with the relapse. He had found Marie a slavishly devoted substitute, and besides Peter had indicated that Harmony’s absence was purely temporary. But the breaking-up was inevitable. All day long the child lay in the white bed, apathetic but sleepless. In vain Marie made flower fairies for his pillow, in vain the little mice, now quite tame, played hide-and-seek over the bed, in vain Peter paused long enough in his frantic search for Harmony to buy colored postcards and bring them to him.
He was contented enough; he did not suffer at all; and he had no apprehension of what was coming. He asked for nothing, tried obediently to eat, liked to have Marie in the room. But he did not beg to be taken into the salon, as he once had done. There was a sort of mental confusion also. He liked Marie to read his father’s letters; but as he grew weaker the occasional confusing of Peter with his dead father became a fixed idea. Peter was Daddy.
Peter took care of him at night. He had moved into Harmony’s adjacent room and dressed there. But he had never slept in the bed. At night he put on his shabby dressing-gown and worn slippers and lay on a haircloth sofa at the foot of Jimmy’s bed—lay but hardly slept, so afraid was he that the slender thread of life might snap when it was drawn out to its slenderest during the darkest hours before the dawn. More than once in every night Peter rose and stood, hardly breathing, with the tiny lamp in his hand, watching for the rise and fall of the boy’s thin little chest. Peter grew old these days. He turned gray over the ears and developed lines about his mouth that never left him again. He felt gray and old, and sometimes bitter and hard also. The boy’s condition could not be helped: it was inevitable, hopeless. But the thing that was eating his heart out had been unnecessary and cruel.
Where was Harmony? When it stormed, as it did almost steadily, he wondered how she was sheltered; when the occasional sun shone he hoped it was bringing her a bit of cheer. Now and then, in the night, when the lamp burned low and gusts of wind shook the old house, fearful thoughts came to him—the canal, with its filthy depths. Daylight brought reason, however. Harmony had been too rational, too sane for such an end.