The ayah’s paroxysm of grief had sunk to a low moaning when she re-entered her room. It sounded like a dumb creature in pain. Hastily she dressed, and twisted up her hair with fingers that she strove in vain to steady.
Then noiselessly she crept back to the nursery.
Daisy was still rocking softly to and fro before the ore, her piteous burden yet clasped against her heart. The doctor was stooping over her, and Muriel saw the half-eager, half-suspicious look in Daisy’s eyes as she watched him. She was telling him in rapid whispers what had happened.
He listened to her very quietly, his keen eyes fixed unblinking upon the baby’s face. When she ended, he stooped a little lower, his hand upon her arm.
“Let me take him,” he said.
Muriel trembled for the answer, remembering the instant refusal with which her own offer had been met. But Daisy made no sort of protest. She seemed to yield mechanically.
Only, as he lifted the tiny body from her breast, a startled, almost a bereft look crossed her face, and she whispered quickly, “You won’t let him cry?”
Jim Ratcliffe was silent a moment while he gazed intently at the little lifeless form he held. Then very gently, very pitifully, but withal very steadily, his verdict fell through the silent room.
“He will never cry any more.”
Daisy was on her feet in a moment, the agony in her eyes terrible to see. “Jim! Jim!” she gasped, in a strangled voice. “He isn’t dead! My little darling,—my baby,—the light of my eyes; tell me—he isn’t—dead!”
She bent hungrily over the burden he held, and then gazed wildly into his face. She was shaking as one in an ague.
Quietly he drew the head-covering over the baby’s face. “My dear,” he said, “there is no death.”
The words were few, spoken almost in an undertone; but they sent a curious, tingling thrill through Muriel—a thrill that seemed to reach her heart. For the first time, unaccountably, wholly intangibly, she was aware of a strong resemblance between this man whom she honoured and the man she feared. She almost felt as if Nick himself had uttered the words.
Standing dumbly by the door, she saw the doctor stoop to lay the poor little body down in the cot, saw Daisy’s face of anguish, and the sudden, wide-flung spread of her empty arms.
The next moment, her woman’s instinct prompting her, she sprang forward; and it was she who caught the stricken mother as she fell.
THE CREED OF A FIGHTER
It was growing very hot in the plains. A faint breeze born at sunset had died away long ago, leaving a wonderful, breathless stillness behind. The man who sat at work on his verandah with his shirt-sleeves turned up above his elbows sighed heavily from time to time as if he felt some oppression in the atmosphere. He was quite a young man, fair-skinned and clean-shaven, with an almost pathetically boyish look about him, a wistful expression as of one whose youth still endured though the zest thereof was denied to him. His eyes were weary and bloodshot, but he worked on steadily, indefatigably, never raising them from the paper under his hand.