A light broke in upon her:
“Esme! Is it, after all—”
“No, no, no, no, NO!” cried the victim of this highly feminine deduction, in panic. “It isn’t any one.”
“No, of course it isn’t, dear. I didn’t mean to tease you. Hello! what have we here?”
The car stopped with a jar on a side street, some distance from the quarantined section. Seated on the curb a woman was wailing over the stiffened form of a young child. The boy’s teeth were clenched and his face darkly suffused.
“Convulsions,” said Esme.
The two girls were out of the car simultaneously. The agonized mother, an Italian, was deaf to Esme’s persuasions that the child be turned over to them.
“What shall we do?” she asked, turning to Kathleen in dismay. “I think he’s dying, and I can’t make the woman listen.”
Something of her father’s stern decisiveness of character was in Kathleen Pierce.
“Don’t be a fool!” she said briskly to the mother, and she plucked the child away from her. “Start the car, Esme.”
The woman began to shriek. A crowd gathered. O’Farrell providentially appeared from around a corner. “Grab her, you,” she directed O’Farrell.
The politician hesitated. “What’s the game?” he began. Then he caught sight of Esme. “Oh, it’s you, Miss Elliot. Sure. Hi! Can it!” he shouted, fending off the distracted mother. “They’ll take the kid to the hospital. See? You go along quiet, now.”
Speeding beyond all laws, but under protection of their red cross, they all but ran down Dr. Merritt and stopped to take him in. He confirmed Esme’s diagnosis.
“It’ll be touch and go whether we save him,” said he.
Esme carried the stricken child into the hospital ward. The two volunteers waited outside for word. In an hour it came. The boy would probably live, thanks to their promptitude.
“But you ought not to be picking up chance infants around the district,” he protested. “It isn’t safe.”
“Oh, we belong to the St. Bernard tribe,” retorted Miss Pierce. “We take ’em as we find ’em. Hugh, come and lunch with us.”
The grayish young man looked at her wistfully. “Haven’t time,” he said.
“No: I didn’t suppose you’d step aside from the thorny path, even to eat,” she retorted; and Esme, hearing the new tone under the flippant words, knew that all was well with the girl, and envied her with a great and gentle envy.
These were the days when Hal Surtaine worked with a sense of wild freedom from all personal bonds. He had definitely broken with his father. He had challenged every interest in Worthington from which there was anything to expect commercially. He had peremptorily banished Esme Elliot from his heart and his hopes, though she still forced entrance to his thoughts and would not be denied, there, the precarious rights of an undesired guest. He was now simply and solely a journalist with a mind single to his purpose, to go down fighting the best fight there was in him. Defeat, he believed, was practically certain. He would make it a defeat of which no man need be ashamed.