Gradually the paroxysm passed and she grew quieter; but she still clung closely to him, and at length with difficulty she began to speak.
“Oh, Eustace, it’s all so horrible! I can’t help seeing it. I’m sure he’s dead, or, if he isn’t, it’s almost worse. And I was so—unkind to him the last time we were together. I thought he was cross, but I know now he was only miserable; and I never dreamt I was never going to see him again, or I wouldn’t have been so—so horrid!”
Haltingly, pathetically, the poor little confession was gasped out through quivering sobs and the face of the man who listened was no longer a stony mask; it was alight and tender with a compassion too great for utterance.
He bent a little lower over her, pressing her head closer to his heart; and she heard its beating, slow and strong and regular, through all the turmoil of her distress.
“Poor child!” he said. “Poor child!”
It was all the comfort he had to offer, but it was more to her than any other words he had ever spoken. It voiced a sympathy which till that moment had been wholly lacking—a sympathy that she desired more than anything else on earth.
“Don’t go away, Eustace!” she begged presently. “It—it’s so dreadful all alone.”
“Try to sleep, dear,” he said gently.
“Yes, but I dream, I dream,” she whispered piteously.
He laid her very tenderly back on the pillow, and sat down beside her.
“You won’t dream while I am here,” he said.
She clasped his hand closely in both her own and begged him tremulously to kiss her. By the dim light of her night-lamp she could scarcely see his face; but as her lips met his a great peace stole over her. She felt as if he had stretched out his hands to her across the great, dividing gulf that had opened between them and drawn her to his side.
About a quarter of an hour later Eustace Tudor rose noiselessly and stood looking down at his young wife’s sleeping face. It was placid as an infant’s, and her breathing was soft and regular. He knew that, undisturbed, she would sleep so for hours.
And so he did not dare to kiss her. He only bowed his head till his lips touched the coverlet beneath which she lay; and then stealthily, silently, he crept away.
A CHANGE OF PRISONERS
Heavens, how the night crawled! Phil Turner, bound hand and foot, and cruelly cramped in every limb, hitched himself to a sitting posture and began to calculate how long he probably had to live.
There was no moon, but the starlight entered his prison—it was no more than a mud hut, but had it been built of stone walls many feet thick his chance would scarcely have been lessened. It was merely a question of time, he knew, and he marvelled that his fate had been delayed so long.
To use his comrade’s descriptive language, he had expected “a knife and good-bye” full twenty hours before. But neither had been his portion. He had been made a prisoner before he was fully awake, and hustled away to the native fort before sunrise. He had been given chupatties to eat and spring water to drink, and, though painfully stiff from his bonds, he was unwounded.