“And Stella too,” said Bernard, turning to the subject with relief.
“You won’t do that,” said Tommy quickly.
“How do you know that?” Bernard’s look had something of a piercing quality.
But Tommy eluded all search. “I do know. I can’t tell you how. But I’m certain—dead certain—that Stella won’t go back to England with you this spring.”
“You’re something of a prophet, Tommy,” remarked Bernard, after an attentive pause.
“It’s not my only accomplishment,” rejoined Tommy modestly. “I’m several things besides that. I’ve got some brains too—just a few. Funny, isn’t it? Ah, here is Stella! Come and break your fast, old girl! What’s the latest?”
He went to meet her and drew her to the table. She smiled in her wan, rather abstracted way at Bernard whom she had seen before.
“Oh, don’t get up!” she said. “I only came for a glimpse of you both. I had tiffin in my room. Peter saw to that. Baby is very weak this morning, and I thought perhaps, Tommy dear, when, you go back you would see Major Ralston for me and ask him to come up soon.” She sat down with an involuntary gesture of weariness.
“Have you slept at all?” Bernard asked her gently.
“Oh yes, thank you. I had three hours of undisturbed rest. Peter was splendid.”
“You must have another ayah,” Bernard said. “It isn’t fit for you to go on in this way.”
“No.” She spoke with the docility of exhaustion. “Peter is seeing to it. He always sees to everything. He knows a woman in the bazaar who would do—an elderly woman—I think he said she is the grandmother of Hafiz who sells trinkets. You know Hafiz, I expect? I don’t like him, but he is supposed to be respectable, and Peter is prepared to vouch for the woman’s respectability. Only she has been terribly disfigured by an accident, burnt I think he said, and she wears a veil. I told him that didn’t matter. Baby is too ill to notice, and he evidently wants me to have her. He says she has been used to English children, and is a good nurse. That is what matters chiefly, so I have told him to engage her.”
“I am very glad to hear it,” Bernard said.
“Yes, I think it will be a relief. Those screaming fits are so terrible.” Stella checked a sharp shudder. “Peter would not recommend her if he did not personally know her to be trustworthy,” she added quietly.
“No. Peter’s safe enough,” said Tommy. He was bolting his meal with great expedition. “Is the kiddie worse, Stella?”
She looked at him with that in her tired eyes that went straight to his heart. “He is a little worse every day,” she said.
Tommy swore into his cup and asked no further.
A few moments later he got up, gave her a brief kiss, and departed.
Stella sat on with her chin in her hand, every line of her expressing the weariness of the hopeless watcher. She looked crushed, as if a burden she could hardly support had been laid upon her.