Across the front of the house extended a wide porch which gave a look at the Cove through a thin screen of maple and alder. From the grass-bordered walk of beach gravel half a dozen steps lifted to the floor level. As MacRae set foot on the lower step a girl came out on the porch.
MacRae stopped. The girl did not see him. Her eyes were fixed questioningly on the sea that stretched away beyond the narrow mouth of the Cove. As she looked she drew one hand wearily across her forehead, tucking back a vagrant strand of dusky hair. MacRae watched her a moment. The quick, pleased smile that leaped to his face faded to soberness.
“Hello, Dolly,” he said softly.
She started. Her dark eyes turned to him, and an inexpressible relief glowed in them. She held up one hand in a gesture that warned silence,—and by that time MacRae had come up the steps to her side and seized both her hands in his. She looked at him speechlessly, a curious passivity in her attitude. He saw that her eyes were wet.
“What’s wrong, Dolly?” he asked. “Aren’t you glad to see Johnny come marching home? Where’s dad?”
“Glad?” she echoed. “I never was so glad to see any one in my life. Oh, Johnny MacRae, I wish you’d come sooner. Your father’s a sick man. We’ve done our best, but I’m afraid it’s not good enough.”
“He’s in bed, I suppose,” said MacRae. “Well, I’ll go in and see him. Maybe it’ll cheer the old boy up to see me back.”
“He won’t know you,” the girl murmured. “You mustn’t disturb him just now, anyway. He has fallen into a doze. When he comes out of that he’ll likely be delirious.”
“Good Lord,” MacRae whispered, “as bad as that! What is it?”
“The flu,” Dolly said quietly. “Everybody has been having it. Old Bill Munro died in his shack a week ago.”
“Has dad had a doctor?”
The girl nodded.
“Harper from Nanaimo came day before yesterday. He left medicine and directions; he can’t come again. He has more cases than he can handle over there.”
They went through the front door into a big, rudely furnished room with a very old and worn rug on the floor, a few pieces of heavy furniture, and bare, uncurtained windows. A heap of wood blazed in an open cobblestone fireplace.
MacRae stopped short just within the threshold. Through a door slightly ajar came the sound of stertorous breathing, intermittent in its volume, now barely audible, again rising to a labored harshness. He listened, a look of dismayed concern gathering on his face. He had heard men in the last stages of exhaustion from wounds and disease breathe in that horribly distressed fashion.
He stood a while uncertainly. Then he laid off his mackinaw, walked softly to the bedroom door, looked in. After a minute of silent watching he drew back. The girl had seated herself in a chair. MacRae sat down facing her.