At last the morning of the operation came, and Milly was wheeled into the theatre, where a crew of noisy students were joking and indulging in the frolics which, from time immemorial, have been the privilege of their order. As soon, however, as they caught sight of the child every voice was hushed, and quietness prevailed, for not a few already knew something of her winsomeness and beauty. As she was placed on the operating-table the sunlight fell through the lanthorn, and lighted up the golden clusters of her hair, the welcome rays calling forth from her now pale features a responsive smile. In another minute she lay peaceful and motionless under the anaesthetic—a statue, immobile, yet expressionful, as though carved by some master hand.
A burly-looking surgeon, with the sleeves of his operating coat neatly turned up, approached the table on which Milly was stretched, and in a business-like manner set about his task. Carefully handling one of his cold and glittering instruments, he paused; then bending himself over the patient, appeared as though about to make the first incision, yet hesitated.
‘What is the matter with old Rogers?’ asked the students, under their breath; and one or two of the doctors looked knowingly at each other.
There was nothing the matter, however, with old Rogers for long. He merely muttered something about it being a shame to cut into such flesh as Milly’s, and proceeded to go calmly through his work, like the old hand that he was.
The operation was successful, and yet Milly seemed to make no satisfactory progress. The old flow of life returned not, and a settled gloom rested over her once merry heart. She was as one suffering from an indefinable hunger; even she herself knew not what it was she wanted. Unremitting was the attention shown, nurses and doctors alike doing their utmost, even to works of supererogation, on her behalf. Week by week her parents visited her, while there was not a patient in the ward who would not have sacrificed a half of her own chances of recovery, if by so doing she could have ensured hers. All, however, seemed in vain; rally she could not. The ward oppressed her, and the gloomy autumn clouds that hung over the wilderness of warehouses upon which her eye rested day by day canopied her with despair. She listened for the wind—but all she heard was its monotonous hum along the telegraph wires that stretched overhead. She looked for the birds—but all she saw was the sooty-winged house-sparrow that perched upon the eaves. She longed for the stars—but the little area of sky that grudgingly spared itself for her gaze was oftener clouded than clear as the night hour drew on. The truth was, she was pining for her native heath; but she knew it not, nor did her kindly ministrants.
In the next bed to Milly’s lay a young woman slowly dying of an internal malady, whose home, too, was far away among the moors, and whose husband came week by week to visit her. On one of these visits he brought with him a bunch of flowers—for the most part made up of the ’wildings of Nature’—among which was a tuft of heather in all the glory of its autumnal bloom. Turning towards the sick child, the poor woman reached out her wasted arm, and throwing a spray on to Milly’s counterpane, said: