A wall of pain pressed against his head, and his face went gray with agony. In an instant she was standing over him arranging his pillows, and soothing his temples with the gentle pressure of her hands.
For the first time in many months he knew the help and compassion of a woman—and the woman was Elise. He was weak from loss of blood, weary from the long travail of the mind, and her presence, with its indefinable fragrance of clover and morning flowers, was as exquisite music to his senses.
‘If you only knew,’ he murmured, ’how I have longed for this moment. It has been very lonely for me—and I have wanted you so much, Elise. God! I’ve wanted you until I had to struggle to keep from crying out your name in the very streets. Forgive me talking like this.’ He groped for her hand and held it tightly in his. ’I never had any right to tell you what you meant to me—and less now than before—but when I come back’——
‘You will never come back.’ She laughed with a strange tremulousness, but in her eyes there was something of the scorn she had shown towards him at Roselawn.
‘You are wrong,’ he said; ’I must’——
‘You are an American,’ she answered quickly, ’and that comes first with you. Your country has nothing to do with this war, and you are going back to it. You will stay there. I know you will.’
With his old decisive mannerism he sat up, and his eyes flashed with vigour.
‘I will come back,’ he said firmly. ’Life has separated us—it has not been your fault or mine—but some day, Elise, when I get my grip on things again, I shall come to you, and you will have to listen. We need each other, and nothing on the earth can alter that’——
‘Except America!’ She laughed again, and withdrew her hand from his.
‘Elise!’ he cried, reaching towards her, ’listen to me’——
The Cockney patient leaned over with a bag in his hand. ‘’Ave a gripe?’ he said genially.
’No, th’—— began Selwyn.
‘Thanks so much,’ said Elise, taking the bag and picking a small cluster for the American, afterwards handing the bag back to the Tommy.
‘’Ave a few yourself, won’t yer?’ said the warrior.
‘’Ere,’ said the Cockney, with mock brusqueness. ‘Tike a bunch.’
Perhaps from the very intensity of their previous talk, the threads snapped, and her quickly uttered sentences, with the accompanying sparkle in her eyes, showed him that he could hope for little more than badinage for the rest of her visit. Almost as if she desired to eradicate the memory of her emotional admission, she gave her vivacity full play. For a few minutes he tried to bring back the close intimacy of their souls, but she fenced him off, and met his heart-hungry glances with the gayest of smiles.
Roselawn, she told him, had been transformed into a convalescent home, and Lord and Lady Durwent were living in one of the wings. Practically all the servants had enlisted or gone into war-work; and even Mathews, the groom, after perjuring himself before a whole regiment of army doctors, had been accepted (with grave official doubts) for military service.