Brother Soulsby came in, bearing a small lamp in his hand, the reddish light of which, flaring upward, revealed an unlooked-for display of amusement on his thin, beardless face. He advanced to the bedside, shading the glare from her blinking eyes with his palm, and grinned.
“A thousand guesses, old lady,” he said, with a dry chuckle, “and you wouldn’t have a ghost of a chance. You might guess till Hades froze over seven feet thick, and still you wouldn’t hit it.”
She sat up in turn. “Good gracious, man,” she began, “you don’t mean—” Here the cheerful gleam in his small eyes reassured her, and she sighed relief, then smiled confusedly. “I half thought, just for the minute,” she explained, “it might be some bounder who’d come East to try and blackmail me. But no, who is it—and what on earth have you done with him?”
Brother Soulsby cackled in merriment. “It’s Brother Ware of Octavius, out on a little bat, all by himself. He says he’s been on the loose only two days; but it looks more like a fortnight.”
“Our Brother Ware?” she regarded him with open-eyed surprise.
“Well, yes, I suppose he’s our Brother Ware—some,” returned Soulsby, genially. “He seems to think so, anyway.”
“But tell me about it!” she urged eagerly. “What’s the matter with him? How does he explain it?”
“Well, he explains it pretty badly, if you ask me,” said Soulsby, with a droll, joking eye and a mock-serious voice. He seated himself on the side of the bed, facing her, and still considerately shielding her from the light of the lamp he held. “But don’t think I suggested any explanations. I’ve been a mother myself. He’s merely filled himself up to the neck with rum, in the simple, ordinary, good old-fashioned way. That’s all. What is there to explain about that?”
She looked meditatively at him for a time, shaking her head. “No, Soulsby,” she said gravely, at last. “This isn’t any laughing matter. You may be sure something bad has happened, to set him off like that. I’m going to get up and dress right now. What time is it?”
“Now don’t you do anything of the sort,” he urged persuasively. “It isn’t five o’clock; it’ll be dark for nearly an hour yet. Just you turn over, and have another nap. He’s all right. I put him on the sofa, with the buffalo robe round him. You’ll find him there, safe and sound, when it’s time for white folks to get up. You know how it breaks you up all day, not to get your full sleep.”
“I don’t care if it makes me look as old as the everlasting hills,” she said. “Can’t you understand, Soulsby? The thing worries me—gets on my nerves. I couldn’t close an eye, if I tried. I took a great fancy to that young man. I told you so at the time.”