I was turning towards the door when I heard a low, whining cry, like that of a captured she-bear. It was from the woman. The wretched creature was on her knees at the farthest corner of the room, apparently mumbling prayers, as if in terror that her own turn might be coming next.
In her sobbing fear I thought she looked more than ever like a poisonous snake, and I will not say that the old impulse to put my foot on it did not come back for a moment. But I only said as I passed, pointing to the writhing worm on the floor:
“Look at him, madame. I wish you joy of your nobleman, and him of you.”
Then I opened the door, and notwithstanding the grim business I had been going through, I could have laughed at the scene outside.
There was old Tommy with his back to the dining-room door, his Glengarry awry on his tousled head, and his bandy legs stretched firmly apart, flourishing his big-headed blackthorn before the faces of the three powdered footmen, and inviting them to “come on.”
“Come on, now, you bleating ould billy-goats, come on, come on!”
I was in no hurry to get away, but lit a cigar in front of the house while the chauffeur was starting the motor and Tommy was wiping his steaming forehead on the sleeve of his coat.
All the way home the old man talked without ceasing, sometimes to me, and sometimes to the world in general.
“You gave him a piece of your mind, didn’t you?” he asked, with a wink of his “starboard eye.”
“I believe I did,” I answered.
“I allus said you would. ’Wait till himself is after coming home, and it’ll be the devil sit up for some of them,’ says I.”
There was only one limitation to Tommy’s satisfaction over our day’s expedition—that he had not cracked the powdered skulls of “some o’ them riddiclus dunkeys.”
[END OF MARTIN CONRAD’S MEMORANDUM]
Another month passed, and then began the last and most important phase of my too changeful story.
Every week Martin had been coming and going between Ellan and London, occupied when he was away with the business of his next Expedition (for which Parliament had voted a large sum), and when he was at home with reports, diaries, charts, maps, and photographs toward a book he was writing about his last one.
As for myself, I had been (or tried to think I had been) entirely happy. With fresh air, new milk, a sweet bedroom, and above all, good and tender nursing (God bless Christian Ann for all she did for me!), my health had improved every day—or perhaps, by that heavenly hopefulness which goes with certain maladies, it had seemed to me to do so.
Yet mine was a sort of twilight happiness, nevertheless. Though the sun was always shining in my sky, it was frequently under eclipse. In spite of the sheltered life I lived in that home of charity and love, I was never entirely free from a certain indefinable uneasiness about my position.