On the small hearth was a heap of white ashes, dead and cold, and the tomb-like chill of the tightly-closed room was benumbing. Asleep in the fireplace corner, his little knees drawn up to his chin and his face streaked with the dried tears, was the three-year-old baby who bore Tom Gordon’s name. And on the bed in the recess at the back of the room, her hands clenched and her passionate face a mask of long-continued agony, lay the mother.
Ardea was white to the lips and trembling when she retreated to the door-stone and beckoned to her companion.
“Can you find the way back to Deer Trace alone?” she faltered. “There is trouble here, as I feared there might be—terrible trouble and suffering. Say to my cousin that I must have Aunt Eliza, if she has to crawl here on her hands and knees. Then telephone for Doctor Williams, at Gordonia. He’ll come if you tell him the message is from me. Oh, please go, quickly!”
[Illustration: “Oh, please go quickly!”]
He was waiting only for her to finish.
“Is it quite safe for you here?” he asked.
“Quite; but I shall die of impatience if you don’t hurry!” Then her good blood made its protest heard. “Oh, please forgive me! I don’t forget that you are my guest, but—”
“Not a word, Miss Dabney. Shall I come back here with the woman or the doctor?”
“No; I’ll send for you if—if there is no hope. Otherwise you could do nothing.”
He lifted his hat and was gone, and she turned and reentered the house of trouble, bravely facing that which had to be faced.
An hour later, when Doctor Williams, with Mammy Juliet’s Pete chopping the way for him up the hazardous path, reached the end of his journey of mercy, there was a bright fire crackling on the hearth, and Miss Dabney was sitting before it, holding little Tom, who was still sleeping. Aunt Eliza, a deft middle-aged negress who had succeeded Mammy Juliet as housekeeper at Deer Trace, was bending over the bed, and the physician went quickly to stand beside her, shaking his head dubiously. A moment afterward he turned short on Ardea.
“You must go home, my dear—at once—and take the child with you. Pete is outside to help you, and my buggy is just at the foot of the path. I can’t have you here.”
“Can’t I be of some use if I stay?” she pleaded.
“No; you’d only hinder. You are much too sympathetic. Don’t delay; the minutes may count for lives,” and the physician began to unbuckle the straps of the canvas-covered case he had brought with him.
Ardea wrapped the child hastily and gave him to Pete to carry, following as quickly as she could down the path made possible by the coachman’s choppings. Happily, the doctor’s horse was freshly shod, and the quarter-mile to the manor-house was measured in safety. Ardea left little Tom with Mammy Juliet at her cabin in the old quarters, and went up to the great house to wait anxiously for news. It was drawing on to the early dusk of the cloudy evening when she saw from the window of the music-room the muffled figure of Pete opening the pasture gate for the doctor to drive through. Instantly she flew to the door and out on the steps.