Cynthia!—her letter—what was it she wanted to say to him? He got up, and resolutely turned his steps towards the cottage.
Cynthia was waiting for him. She brought him into the little drawing-room where a lamp had been lighted, and a tray of food was waiting of which she persuaded him to eat some mouthfuls. But when he questioned her as to the meaning of her letter, she evaded answering for a little while, till he had eaten something and drunk a glass of wine. Then she stretched out a hand to him, with a quiet smile.
“Come and see what I have been doing upstairs. It will be dreadful if you don’t approve!”
He followed her in surprise, and she led him upstairs through the spotless passages of the cottage, bright with books and engravings, where never a thing was out of place, to a room with a flowery paper and bright curtains, looking on the park.
“I had it all got ready in a couple of hours. We have so much room—and it is such a pleasure—” she said, in half apology. “Nobody ever gets any meals at the Ramsays’—and they can’t keep any servants. Of course you’ll change it, if you don’t like it. But Dr. Ramsay himself thought it the best plan. You see we are only a stone’s throw from him. He can run in constantly. He really seemed relieved!”
And there in a white bed, with the newly arrived special nurse—kind-faced and competent—beside him, lay his recovered son, deeply and pathetically asleep. For in his sleep the piteous head movement had ceased, and he might have passed for a very delicate child of twelve, who would soon wake like other children to a new summer day.
Into Buntingford’s strained consciousness there fell a drop of balm as he sat beside him, listening to the quiet breathing, and comforted by the mere peace of the slight form.
He looked up at Cynthia and thanked her; and Cynthia’s heart sang for joy.
The Alcotts’ unexpected guest lingered another forty-eight hours under their roof,—making a hopeless fight for life. But the influenza poison, recklessly defied from the beginning, had laid too deadly a grip on an already weakened heart. And the excitement of the means she had taken to inform herself as to the conditions of Buntingford’s life and surroundings, before breaking in upon them, together with the exhaustion of her night wandering, had finally destroyed her chance of recovery. Buntingford saw her whenever the doctors allowed. She claimed his presence indeed, and would not be denied. But she talked little more; and in her latest hours it seemed to those beside her both that the desire to live had passed, and that Buntingford’s attitude towards her had, in the end, both melted and upheld her. On the second night after her arrival, towards dawn she sent for him. She then could not speak. But her right hand made a last motion towards his. He held it, till Ramsay who had his fingers on the pulse of the left, looked up with that quiet gesture which told that all was over. Then he himself closed her eyes, and stooping, he kissed her brow—