“They?” she questioned.
“Barnes and Everard,” Tommy said, and faced her squarely. “I went to see Everard.”
“Ah!” She caught her breath. “Major Ralston has been here. He told me—he told me—” her voice failed; she laid her head down upon Tommy’s shoulder.
He tightened his arm about her. “It’s a shame of Ralston to frighten you. He isn’t ill.” Then a sudden thought striking him, “What was he doing here so early? Isn’t the kid up to the mark?”
She shivered against him again. “He had a strange attack in the night, and Major Ralston said—said—oh, Tommy,” she suddenly clung to him, “I am going to lose him. He—isn’t—like other children.”
“Ralston said that?” demanded Tommy.
“He didn’t tell me. He told Bernard. I practically forced Bernard to tell me, but I think he thought I ought to know. He said—he said—it isn’t to be desired that my baby should live.”
“What?” said Tommy in dismay. “Oh, my darling girl, I am sorry! What’s wrong with the poor little chap?”
With her face hidden against him she made whispered answer. “You know he—came too soon. They thought at first he was all right, but now—symptoms have begun to show themselves. We thought he was just delicate, but it isn’t only that. Last night—in the night—” she shuddered suddenly and violently and paused to control herself—“I can’t talk about it. It was terrible. Major Ralston says he doesn’t suffer, but it looks like suffering. And, oh, Tommy,—he is all I have left.”
Tommy held her comfortingly close. “I say, wouldn’t you like Everard to come to you?” he said.
“Oh no! Oh no!” Her refusal was instant. “I can’t see him. Tommy, why suggest such a thing? You know I can’t.”
“I know he’s a good man,” Tommy said steadily. “Just listen a minute, old girl! I know things look black enough against him, so black that it’s probable he’ll have to send in his papers. But I tell you he’s all right. I didn’t think so at first. I thought the same as you do. But somehow that suspicion has got worn out. It was pretty beastly while it lasted, but I came to my senses at last. And I’ve been to tell him so. He was jolly decent about it, though he didn’t tell me a thing. I didn’t want him to. Besides, he always is decent. How could he be otherwise? And now we’re just as we were—friends.”
There was no mistaking the satisfaction in Tommy’s voice. He even spoke with pride, and hearing it, Stella withdrew herself slowly and wearily from his arms.
“It’s rather different for you, Tommy,” she said. “A man’s standards are different, I know. There may be what you call extenuating circumstances—though I can’t quite imagine it. I’m too tired to argue about it, Tommy dear, and you mustn’t be vexed with me. I can’t go into it with you, but I feel as if it is I—I myself—who have committed an awful sin. And it has got to be expiated, perhaps that is why my baby is to be taken from me. Bernard says it is not so. But then—Bernard is a man too.” There was a sound of heartbreak in her voice as she ended. She put up her hands with a gesture as of trying to put away some monstrous thing that threatened to crush her—a gesture that went straight to Tommy’s warm heart.