“Is that you, darling?” John’s heart stood still. What—was that? Then he perceived that the door of the room that had been his wife’s was open, and remembered that his mother was in there.
“What! Aren’t you asleep, Mother?”
Frances Freeland’s voice answered cheerfully: “Oh, no, dear; I’m never asleep before two. Come in.”
John entered. Propped very high on her pillows, in perfect regularity, his mother lay. Her carved face was surmounted by a piece of fine lace, her thin, white fingers on the turnover of the sheet moved in continual interlocking, her lips smiled.
“There’s something you must have,” she said. “I left my door open on purpose. Give me that little bottle, darling.”
John took from a small table by the bed a still smaller bottle. Frances Freeland opened it, and out came three tiny white globules.
“Now,” she said, “pop them in! You’ve no idea how they’ll send you to sleep! They’re the most splendid things; perfectly harmless. Just let them rest on the tongue and swallow!”
John let them rest—they were sweetish—and swallowed.
“How is it, then,” he said, “that you never go to sleep before two?”
Frances Freeland corked the little bottle, as if enclosing within it that awkward question.
“They don’t happen to act with me, darling; but that’s nothing. It’s the very thing for any one who has to sit up so late,” and her eyes searched his face. Yes—they seemed to say—I know you pretend to have work; but if you only had a dear little wife!
“I shall leave you this bottle when I go. Kiss me.”
John bent down, and received one of those kisses of hers that had such sudden vitality in the middle of them, as if her lips were trying to get inside his cheek. From the door he looked back. She was smiling, composed again to her stoic wakefulness.
“Shall I shut the door, Mother?”
With a little lump in his throat John closed the door.