“Then they want money! Oh, you will pay anything they demand! Floyd, will they torture my baby boy and girl? Will they?”
“Fledra, beloved heart,” groaned Vandecar, “please don’t struggle like that! You’ll be very ill. I promised you that you should have them back some day soon, very soon. Fledra, sweet wife, you still have the baby and me—and Katherine.”
“I want my little children! I want my boy and girl!” gasped Mrs. Vandecar. “I will have them, I will! No, I sha’n’t lie down till I have them! I’m going to find them if you won’t! I will not listen to you, Floyd, I won’t ... I won’t—”
Each time the words came forth they were followed by a moan which tore the man’s heart as it had never been torn before. For a single instant he drew himself together, forced down the terrible emotion in his breast, and leaned over his wife.
“Fledra, Fledra, I command you to obey me! Lie down! I am going to bring you back your babies.”
He had never spoken to her in such a tone of authority. She sank under it with parted lips and swift-coming breath.
“But I want my babies, Floyd!” she whispered. “How can I think of them out in the cold and the storm, perhaps being tortured—”
“Fledra, sweet love, precious little mother, am I not their father, and don’t you trust me? Wait—wait a moment!”
He moved the babe from her mother’s side, called the nurse, and in a low tone told her to keep the child until he should send for her. Then he slipped his arms about the wailing mother, lay down beside her, and drew her to his breast.
During the next few hours of darkness he watched her—watched her until the night gave way to a shadowy dawn. And as she slept he still held her, praying tensely that he might be given power to keep his promise to her. When she started up he gathered her closer and hushed her to sleep as a mother does a suffering child. How gladly he would have borne her larger share, yet more gladly would he have convinced himself that by morning the children would be again under his roof!
At last Mrs. Vandecar awoke, calmer and with ready faith to acknowledge that she believed he would accomplish his task. At her own request, he brought their tiny baby.
“Will you see Katherine, too, Fledra,” ventured Vandecar. “The poor child hasn’t slept much, and she can’t be persuaded to eat.”
Misery, deep and pathetic, flashed in the blue eyes Mrs. Vandecar raised to his. At length she faltered:
“Floyd, I’ve never loved Katherine as I should. I’m sorry.... Yes, yes, I will see her—and you will bring me my babies!”
Vandecar stooped and kissed her; then, with a tightening of his throat, went out.
Five minutes later a small girl followed Mr. Vandecar in and stood beside the bed. Fledra Vandecar took the little girl-face in her hands and kissed it.