“De cunjers what dat pore chile’s got. I done tried all de spells I knowed, but look lak dey didn’t do no good.”
“He has the fever,” said Mrs. Hollis; “and it means a long spell of nursing and bother for me.”
The judge stirred uncomfortably. “Now, Sue,” he remonstrated, “you needn’t take a bit of bother. Melvy will see to him by day, and I will look after him at night.”
Mrs. Hollis bit her lip and heroically refrained from expressing her mind.
“He’s a mighty purty chile,” said Aunt Melvy, tentatively.
“He’s a common tramp,” said Mrs. Hollis.
After supper, arranging a tray with a snowy napkin and a steaming bowl of broth, Mrs. Hollis went up to the sick-room. Her first step had been to have the patient bathed and combed and made presentable for the occupancy of the guest-chamber. It had been with rebellion of spirit that she placed him there, but the judge had taken one of those infrequent stands which she knew it was useless to resist. She put the tray on a table near the big four-poster bed, and leaned over to look at the sleeper.
Sandy lay quiet among the pillows, his fair hair tumbled, his lips parted. As the light fell on his flushed face he stirred.
“Here’s your supper,” said Mrs. Hollis, her voice softening in spite of herself. He was younger than she had thought. She slipped her arm under the pillow and raised his head.
“You must eat,” she said kindly.
He looked at her vacantly, then a momentary consciousness flitted over his face, a vague realization that he was being cared for. He put up a hot hand and gently touched her cheek; then, rallying all his strength, he smiled away his debt of gratitude. It was over in a moment, and he sank back unconscious.
[Illustration: “He smiled away his debt of gratitude”]
Through the dreary hours of the night Mrs. Hollis sat by the bed, nursing him with the aching tenderness that only a childless woman can know. Below, in the depths of a big feather-bed, the judge slept in peaceful unconcern, disturbing the silence by a series of long, loud, and unmelodious snores.
“Is that the Nelson phaeton going out the road?” asked Mrs. Hollis as she peered out through the dining-room window one morning. “I shouldn’t be a bit surprised if it was Mrs. Nelson making her yearly visits, and here my bricks haven’t been reddened.”
Sandy’s heart turned a somersault. He was sitting up for the first time, wrapped in blankets and wearing a cap to cover his close-cropped head. All through his illness he had been tortured by the thought that he had talked of Ruth, though now wild horses could not have dragged forth a question concerning her.
“Melvy,” continued Mrs. Hollis, as she briskly rubbed the sideboard with some unsavory furniture-polish, “if Mrs. Nelson does come here, you be sure to put on your white apron before you open the door; and for pity sake don’t forget the card-tray! You ought to know better than to stick out your hand for a lady’s calling-card. I told you about that last week.”