Her eyes seemed to dart into his soul, and try to drag something from it. The words rushed from her lips:
“Is there any message for me?”
The stranger regarded her curiously.
“No,” he stammered, “no! I guess not. He is well.... I wish....” He stopped; her white face seemed to flash scorn, despair, and entreaty on him all at once. And turning, she left him standing there.
When Christian went that evening to her uncle’s room he was sitting up in bed, and at once began to talk. “Chris,” he said, “I can’t stand this dying by inches. I’m going to try what a journey’ll do for me. I want to get back to the old country. The doctor’s promised. There’s a shot in the locker yet! I believe in that young chap; he’s stuck to me like a man.... It’ll be your birthday, on Tuesday, old girl, and you’ll be twenty. Seventeen years since your father died. You’ve been a lot to me.... A parson came here today. That’s a bad sign. Thought it his duty! Very civil of him! I wouldn’t see him, though. If there’s anything in what they tell you, I’m not going to sneak in at this time o’ day. There’s one thing that’s rather badly on my mind. I took advantage of Mr. Harz with this damned pitifulness of mine. You’ve a right to look at me as I’ve seen you sometimes when you thought I was asleep. If I hadn’t been ill he’d never have left you. I don’t blame you, Chris—not I! You love me? I know that, my dear. But one’s alone when it comes to the run-in. Don’t cry! Our minds aren’t Sunday-school books; you’re finding it out, that’s all!” He sighed and turned away.
The noise of sun-blinds being raised vibrated through the house. A feeling of terror seized on the girl; he lay so still, and yet the drawing of each breath was a fight. If she could only suffer in his place! She went close, and bent over him.
“It’s air we want, both you and I!” he muttered. Christian beckoned to the nurse, and stole out through the window.
A regiment was passing in the road; she stood half-hidden amongst the lilac bushes watching. The poplar leaves drooped lifeless and almost black above her head, the dust raised by the soldiers’ feet hung in the air; it seemed as if in all the world no freshness and no life were stirring. The tramp of feet died away. Suddenly within arm’s length of her a man appeared, his stick shouldered like a sword. He raised his hat.
“Good-evening! You do not remember me? Sarelli. Pardon! You looked like a ghost standing there. How badly those fellows marched! We hang, you see, on the skirts of our profession and criticise; it is all we are fit for.” His black eyes, restless and malevolent like a swan’s, seemed to stab her face. “A fine evening! Too hot. The storm is wanted; you feel that? It is weary waiting for the storm; but after the storm, my dear young lady, comes peace.” He smiled, gently, this time, and baring his head again, was lost to view in the shadow of the trees.