“Do you know where he is?” questioned Tommy point-blank.
“Yes.” Blunt and uncompromising came Ralston’s reply. “But I’m not going to tell you, so don’t you worry yourself! You stick to business, Tommy, and for heaven’s sake don’t go round and make a mush of it!”
“Stick to business yourself!” said Tommy rudely, suddenly awaking to the fact that he was being dictated to; then pulled up, faintly grinning. “Sorry: I didn’t mean that. You’re a brick. Consider it unsaid! Good-bye!”
He held out his hand to Ralston who took it and thumped him on the back by way of acknowledgment.
“You’re growing up,” he remarked with approval, as Tommy went his way.
THE FIERY VORTEX
“There is nothing more to be done,” said Peter with mournful eyes upon the baby in the ayah’s arms. “Will not my mem-sahib take her rest?”
Stella’s eyes also rested upon the tiny wizen face. She knew that Peter spoke truly. There was nothing more to be done. She might send yet again for Major Ralston. But of what avail? He had told her that he could do no more. The little life was slipping swiftly, swiftly, out of her reach. Very soon only the desert emptiness would be left.
“The mem-sahib may trust her baba to Hanani,” murmured the ayah behind the enveloping veil. “Hanani loves the baba too.”
“Oh, I know,” Stella said.
Yet she hung over the ayah’s shoulder, for to-night of all nights she somehow felt that she could not tear herself away.
There had been a change during the day—a change so gradual as to be almost imperceptible save to her yearning eyes. She was certain that the baby was weaker. He had cried less, had, she believed, suffered less; and now he lay quite passive in the ayah’s arms. Only by the feeble, fluttering breath that came and went so fitfully could she have told that the tiny spark yet lingered in the poor little wasted frame.
Major Ralston had told her earlier in the evening that he might go on in this state for days, but she did not think it probable. She was sure that every hour now brought an infinitesimal difference. She felt that the end was drawing near.
And so a great reluctance to go possessed her, even though she would be within call all night. She had a hungry longing to stay and watch the little unconscious face which would soon be gone from her sight. She wanted to hold each minute of the few hours left.
Very softly Peter came to her side. “My mem-sahib will rest?” he said wistfully.
She looked at him. His faithful eyes besought her like the eyes of a dog. Their dumb adoration somehow made her want to cry.
“If I could only stay to-night, Peter!” she said.
“Mem-sahib,” he urged very pleadingly, “the baba sleeps now. It may be he will want you to-morrow. And if my mem-sahib has not slept she will be too weary then.”