“Laurie?” she said.
The lips moved a little in answer; then again the face glanced down sideways at the fire; the hands dangled almost helplessly between the knees.
There was an appearance of weakness about the attitude that astonished and encouraged her; it appeared as if matters were not yet consummated. Yet she had a sense of nausea at the sight....
“Laurie?” she said again suddenly.
Again the lips moved as if speaking rapidly, and the eyes looked up at her quick and suspicious.
“Well?” said the mouth; and still the hands dangled.
“Laurie,” she said steadily, bending all her will at the words, “you’re very unwell. Do you understand that?”
Again the noiseless gabbling of the lips, and again a little commonplace sentence, “I’m all right.”
His voice was unnatural—a little hoarse, and quite toneless. It was as a voice from behind a mask.
“No,” said Maggie carefully, “you’re not all right. Listen, Laurie. I tell you you’re all wrong; and I’ve come to help you as well as I can. Will you do your best? I’m speaking to you, Laurie ... to you.”
Every time he answered, the lips flickered first as in rapid conversation—as of a man seen talking through a window; but this time he stammered a little over his vowels.
“I—I—I’m all right.”
Maggie leaned forward, her hands clasped tightly, and her eyes fixed steadily on that baffling face.
“Laurie; it’s you I’m speaking to—you.... Can you hear me? Do you understand?”
Again the eyes rose quick and suspicious; and her hands knit yet more closely together as she fought down the rising nausea. She drew a long breath first; then she delivered a little speech which she had half rehearsed upstairs. As she spoke he looked at her again.
“Laurie,” she said, “I want you to listen to me very carefully, and to trust me. I know what is the matter with you; and I think you know too. You can’t fight—fight him by yourself.... Just hold on as tightly as you can to me—with your mind, I mean. Do you understand?”
For a moment she thought that he perceived something of what she meant: he looked at her so earnestly with those odd questioning eyes. Then he jerked ever so slightly, as if some string had been suddenly pulled, and glanced down again at the fire....
“I ... I ... I’m all right,” he said.
It was horrible to see that motionlessness of body. He sat there as he had probably sat since entering the room. His eyes moved, but scarcely his head; and his hands hung down helplessly.
“Laurie ... attend ...” she began again. Then she broke off.
“Have you prayed, Laurie...? Do you understand what has happened to you? You aren’t really ill—at least, not exactly, but—”
Again those eyes lifted, looked, and dropped again.
It was piteous. For the instant the sense of nausea vanished, swallowed up in emotion. Why ... why, he was there all the while—Laurie ... dear Laurie....