“Yes, it’s me! But I’m done, sir! I’m done! Bring a light someone! I can’t see—where I’m going!”
The moonstone-seller’s arm was round him, holding him up. “All right, lad! I’ve got you!” he said.
“But bring a light! Bring a light!” A note of panic ran through the reiterated words “Confound it! I must see—I will see—I—”
“My dear lad, you can’t see for a minute.” It was Nick’s voice, quick and soothing. “This infernal blood has got into your eyes. Come and have them attended to! You’ll be better directly.”
“No! It’s not the blood! It’s not the blood!” The words tumbled over each other, well-nigh incoherent in their fevered utterance. And suddenly Noel flung up his arms above his head with a wild and anguished cry. “My God! I’m blind! I’m blind!”
With the cry his strength—that fiery strength born of emergency—collapsed quite suddenly. His knees doubled under him. He fell forward in utter, overwhelming impotence, and lay prone and senseless at the Colonel’s feet....
THE BIG, BIG GAME OF LIFE
It was many hours later that understanding returned to Noel.
He came to himself abruptly, in utter darkness, with the horror of it still strong within his soul. His head was swathed in bandages. He turned it to and fro with restless jerks.
“And will ye please to lie quiet?” said the voice of the Irish regimental surgeon peremptorily by his side.
Noel, also Irish, collected his forces and made reply. “No. Why the devil should I? Where am I? What’s going to happen to me? Am I—am I blind for life?”
The falter in the words spoke to the tenseness of his suspense. The doctor answered instantly, with more of kindliness than judgment. “Faith, no! It’s not so bad as that. But ye’ll have to pretend ye are for the present, or, egad, ye will be before ye’ve done. We brought ye to the Musgraves’ shanty. Mrs. Musgrave wanted the care of ye. Damn’ quare taste on her part, I’m thinking. And now ye’re not to talk any more; but drink this stuff like a good boy and go to sleep.”
Noel drank with disgust; the taste of blood was still in his mouth. He had never been ill in his life before, and he had not the smallest intention of obeying the doctor’s orders.
“Let’s hear what happened!” he said impatiently. “Oh, leave me alone, do! When can I have this beastly bandage off my eyes?”
“Not for a very long while, my son.” The doctor’s voice was jaunty, but the eyes that looked at the blind, swathed face were full of pity. “And don’t ye go loosening it when my back’s turned, or it isn’t meself that’ll be answerable for the consequences.”
“Oh, damn the consequences!” said Noel. “I want to get up.”
“And that ye can’t!” was the doctor’s prompt rejoinder. “Ye’ll just lie quiet till further orders. Ye’ll find yourself as weak as a rat moreover, when ye start to move about. It’s only the fever in your veins that makes ye want to try.”