My next call on Maitland was professional. I found him abed and in a critical condition. I blamed myself severely that I had allowed other duties to keep me so long away, and had him at once removed to the house, where I might, by constant attendance in the future, atone for my negligence in the past. Despite all our efforts, however, Maitland steadily grew worse. Gwen watched by him night and day until I was finally obliged to insist, on account of her own health, that she should leave the sick room long enough to take the rest she so needed. Indeed, I feared lest I should soon have two invalids upon my hands, but Gwen yielded her place to Jeannette and Alice during the nights and soon began to show the good effects of sleep.
I should have told you that, during all this time, Jeannette was staying with us as a guest. I had convinced her father that it was best she should remain with us until the unpleasant notoriety caused by his arrest had, in a measure, subsided. Then, too, I told him with a frankness warranted, I thought, by circumstances that he could not hope to live many weeks longer, and that every effort should be made to make the blow his death would deal Jeannette as light as possible. At this he almost lost his self-control. “What will become of my child when I am gone?” he moaned. “I shall leave her penniless and without any means of support.”
“My dear Mr. Latour,” I replied, “you need give yourself no uneasiness on that score. I will give you my word, as a man of honour, that so long as Miss Darrow and I live we will see that your daughter wants for none of the necessities of life,—unless she shall find someone who shall have a better right than either of us to care for her.” This promise acted like magic upon him. He showered his blessings upon me, exclaiming, “You have lifted a great load from my heart, and I can now die in peace!” And so, indeed, he did. In less than a week he was dead. I had prepared Jeannette for the shock and so had her father, but, for all this, her grief was intense, for she loved her father with a strength of love few children give their parents. In time, however, her grief grew less insistent and she began to gain something of her old buoyancy.
In the meantime, Maitland’s life seemed to hang by a single thread. It was the very worst case of nervous prostration I have ever been called to combat, and for weeks we had to be contented if we enabled him to hold his own. During all this time Gwen watched both Maitland and myself with a closeness that suffered nothing to escape her. I think she knew the changes in his condition better even than I did.
And now I am to relate a most singular action on Gwen’s part. I doubt not most of her own sex would have considered it very unfeminine, but anyone who saw it all as I did could not, I think, fail to appreciate the nobility of womanhood which made it possible. Gwen was not dominated by those characteristics usually epitomised in the epithet ‘lady.’ She was a woman, and she possessed, in a remarkable degree, that fineness of fibre, that solidity of character, and that largeness of soul which rise above the petty conventionalities of life into the broad realm of the real verities of existence.