THE FLAG OF TRUCE
It could not be denied that I was extremely tired as I walked down the dark road; but in spite of fatigue my heart felt lighter than it had done since Charlie’s death, and the warm glow from the window of my little parlour seemed to welcome me, it looked so snug and bright. My low chair was drawn to the fire, a sort of tea-supper was awaiting me, and Mrs. Barton came out of the kitchen as soon as I had lifted the latch, to ask what she could do for me.
The first words surprised me greatly. Mr. Hamilton had called late in the afternoon, and had seemed somewhat surprised to hear I was still at the cottage, but he had left no message, and Mrs. Barton had no idea what he wanted with me.
I was half inclined to think that he had another case ready for me, but I had done my day’s work and refused to think of the morrow. The first volume of Kingsley’s Life was lying on the little table: I had brought it from the vicarage the preceding evening. I passed a delicious hour in my luxurious chair, and went to bed reluctantly that I might be fit for the next day’s fatigue.
As soon as I had breakfasted the next morning and read my letters, a chatty one from Sara and an affectionate note from Lesbia, I went down to the cottage.
I found my patient a little easier; she had passed a better night, and seemed, on the whole, more cheerful. Hope had arrived, and was scrubbing the kitchen, as I had enjoined her. Baby seemed poorly and fretful. I gave her in charge of Peggy, and set myself to the work of putting my patient and the sick-room in order, after which I intended to wash the baby and see after granny’s and the children’s dinner.
I had just brushed up the hearth and put the kettle to boil, when Mr. Hamilton’s shadow crossed the window, and the next moment he was in the room.
I was sure that a half-smile of approbation came to his lips as he looked round the room; he lifted his eyebrows as though in surprise as he noticed everything,—the neat hearth, white boards, and bright window, and lastly the comfortable appearance of the bed, with its scarlet quilt and clean sheets.
‘This is quite a transformation-scene, Miss Garston,’ he said, in an approving tone. ’No wonder you were not at home in the afternoon. My patient looks cheery too: one would think I had set the fairy Order to work.’ I felt that this was meant for high praise, and I received it graciously. I knew I had worked well and achieved wonders; but then I had Hope’s strong arms to help me: it had been straightforward work, too, with no complication: any charwoman could have done it as well. I was sorry that his commendation set Mrs. Marshall’s tongue going; she became so voluble, in spite of her cough, that I was obliged to enforce silence.