His insane exposure of himself to the rage of the storm, on the night of the picnic, has combined, with previous dissipation, to lower his system so successfully as to render him an easy booty to the low, crawling fever, which, as so often in autumn, is stealing sullenly about, to lay hold on such as through any previous cause of weakness are rendered the more liable to its attacks. Slowly it saps the foundations of his being.
But Algy has always loved life, and had a strong hold on it; neither will he let go his hold on it now, without a tough struggle; and so the war is long and bitter, and we that fight on Algy’s side are weak and worn out.
Sometimes the silence of the night is broken by the boy’s voice calling strongly and loudly for Zephine. Often he mistakes me for her—often Barbara—catches our hands and covers them with insane kisses.
Sometimes he appeals to her by the most madly tender names—names that I think would surprise Mr. Huntley a good deal, and perhaps not altogether please him; sometimes he alludes to past episodes—episodes that perhaps would have done as well to remain in their graves.
On such occasions I am dreadfully frightened, and very miserable; but all the same, I cannot help glancing across at Roger, with a sort of triumph in my eyes—sort of told-you-so expression, from which it would have required a loftier nature than mine to refrain.
And so the days go on, and I lose reckoning of time. I could hardly tell you whether it were day or night.
My legs ache mostly a good deal, and I feel dull and drowsy from want of sleep. But the brunt of the nursing falls upon Barbara.
When he was well—even in his best days—Algy was never very reasonable —very considerate—neither, you may be sure, is he so now.
It is always Barbara, Barbara, for whom he is calling. God knows I do my best, and so does Roger. No most loving mother could be gentler, or spare himself less, than he does; but somehow we do not content him.
It is not to every one that the gift of nursing is vouchsafed. I think I am clumsy. Try as I will, my hands are not so quick and light and deft as hers—my dress rustles more, and my voice is less soothing.
And so it is always “Barbara! Barbara!” And Barbara is always there— always ready.
The lovely flush that outdid the garden-flowers has left her cheeks indeed, and her eyelids are drooped and heavy; but her eyes shine with as steady a sweetness as ever; for God has lit in them a lamp that no weariness can put out.
Sometimes I think that if one of the lovely spirits that wait upon God in heaven were sent down to minister here below, he would not be very different in look and way, and holy tender speech, from our Barbara.
Whether it be through her nursing, or by the strength of his own constitution, and the tenacious vitality of youth, or, perhaps, the help of all three, Algy pulls through.