AT THE GATE OF DEATH
In the morning they knew the worst. Olga had scarlet fever.
The doctor imparted the news to Nick and Muriel standing outside the door of the sick-room. Nick’s reception of it was by no means characteristic. For the first time in her life Muriel saw consternation undisguised upon the yellow face.
“Great Jupiter!” he said. “What a criminal ass I am!”
At another moment she could have laughed at the tragic force of his self-arraignment. Even as it was, she barely repressed a smile as she set his mind at rest. She needed no explanation. It was easy enough to follow the trend of his thoughts just then.
“If you are thinking of me,” she said, “I have had it.”
She saw his instant relief, though he merely acknowledged the statement by a nod.
“We must have a nurse,” he said briefly. “We shall manage all right then. I’ll do my turn. Oh, stuff!” at a look from the doctor. “I sha’n’t hurt. I’m much too tough a morsel for microbes to feed on.”
Possibly the doctor shared this opinion, for he made no verbal protest. It fell to Muriel to do this later in the day when the nurse was installed, and she was at liberty to leave Olga’s room. Nick had just returned from the post-office whence he had been sending a message to the child’s father. She came upon him stealing up to take a look at her. Seeing Muriel he stopped. “How is she?”
Muriel moved away to an open window at the end of the passage before she made reply. He followed her, and they stood together, looking out upon the sunset.
“The fever is very high,” she said. “And she is suffering a good deal of pain. She is not quite herself at times.”
“You mean she is worse?” He looked at her keenly.
It was exactly what she did mean. Olga had been growing steadily worse all day. Yet when abruptly he turned to leave her, Muriel laid a hasty hand upon his arm.
“Nick,” she said, and her voice was almost imploring, “don’t go in! Please don’t go in!”
He stopped short. “Why not?”
She removed her hand quickly. “It’s so dangerous—besides being unnecessary. Won’t you be sensible about it?”
He gave his head a queer upward jerk, and stood as one listening, not looking at her. “What for?”
She could not think of any very convincing reason for the moment. Yet it was imperative that he should see the matter as she saw it.
“Suppose I had not had it,” she ventured, “what would you have done?”
“Packed you off to the cottage again double quick,” said Nick promptly.
It was the answer she had angled for. She seized upon it. “Well, tell me why.”
He spun round on his heels and faced her. He was blinking very rapidly. “You asked me that question once before,” he said. “And out of a sentimental consideration for your feelings—I didn’t answer it. Do you really want an answer this time, or shall I go on being sentimentally considerate?”