On that awful night I came, while forcing food on me, they said that Jack had stopped with them on his way out to the desert, where he was to complete his work for the Government. He was to go part of the distance with the English woman, who, with her camels and her guides, was traveling to the Siberian railroad. The next day they heard the whole caravan had returned. Four days out Jack had been taken ill. The only available shelter was an old monastery about a mile from the village. To this he had been moved. My hosts opened a window and pointed to a far-away, high-up light. It was like the flicker of a match in a vast cave of darkness. They told me wonderful things of the rooms in the monastery, which were cut in the solid rock of the mountain-side, and the strange dwarf priest who kept it.
They lied beautifully and cheerfully as to Jack’s condition, and all the time in their hearts they knew that he had the barest chance to live through the night.
The woman doctor had nursed him straight through, permitting no one else near. The dwarf priest brought her supplies.
Her last message for the day had been, “The crisis will soon be passed.”
Even now something grips my throat when I remember how those dear boys worked to divert me, until my strength revived. They rigged up a battered steamer-chair with furs and bath robes, put me in it, promising that as soon as I was rested they would see what could be done to get me up to the monastery. But I was not to worry. All of them set about seeing I had no time to think. Each took his turn in telling me marvelous tales of the life in that wild country. One boy brought in the new litter of puppies, begging me to carefully choose a name for each. The two ponies were trotted out and put through their pranks before the door in the half light of a dim lantern.
They showed me the treasures of their bachelor life, the family photographs and the various little nothings which link isolated lives to home and love. They even assured me they had had the table-cloth and napkins washed for my coming. Household interests exhausted, they began to talk of boyhood days. Their quiet voices soothed me. Prom exhaustion I slept. When I woke, my watch said one o’clock. The house was heavy with sleeping-stillness.
Through my window, far away the dim light wavered. It seemed to be signaling me. My decision was quick. I would go, and alone. If I called, my hosts would try to dissuade me, and I would not listen. For life or for death, I was going to Jack. The very thought lent me strength and gave my feet cunning stealthiness. A high wall was around the house but, thank Heaven, they had forgotten to lock the gate.
Soon I was in the deserted, deep-rutted street shut in on either side by mud hovels, low and crouching close together in their pitiful poverty. There was nothing to guide me, save that distant speck of flame. Further on, I heard the rush of water and made out the dim line of an ancient bridge. Half way across I stumbled. From the heap of rags my foot had struck, came moans, and, by the sound of it, awful curses. It was a handless leper. I saw the stumps as they flew at me. Sick with horror, I fled and found an open place.