But if the babe was like to live, Cicely was like to die. Indeed, she was very, very ill, and perhaps would have passed away had it not been for a device of Emlyn’s. For when she was at her worst and the Flounder, shaking her head and saying that she could do no more, had departed to her eternal ale and a nap, Emlyn crept up and took her mistress’s cold hand.
“Darling,” she said, “hear me,” but Cicely did not stir. “Darling,” she repeated, “hear me, I have news for you of your husband.”
Cicely’s white face turned a little on the pillow and her blue eyes opened.
“Of my husband?” she whispered. “Why, he is gone, as I soon shall be. What news of him?”
“That he is not gone, that he lives, or so I believe, though heretofore I have hid it from you.”
The head was lifted for a moment, and the eyes stared at her with wondering joy.
“Do you trick me, Nurse? Nay, you would never do that. Give me the milk, I want it now. I’ll listen. I promise you I’ll not die till you have told me. If Christopher lives why should I die who only hoped to find him?”
So Emlyn whispered all she knew. It was not much, only that Christopher had not been buried in the grave where he was said to be buried, and that he had been taken wounded aboard the ship Great Yarmouth, of the fate of which ship fortunately she had heard nothing. Still, slight as they might be, to Cicely these tidings were a magic medicine, for did they not mean the rebirth of hope, hope that for nine long months had been dead and buried with Christopher? From that moment she began to mend.
When the Flounder, having slept off her drink, returned to the sick-bed, she stared at her amazed and muttered something about witchcraft, she who had been sure that she would die, as in those days so many women did who fell into hands like hers. Indeed, she was bitterly disappointed, knowing that this death was desired by her employer, who now after all might let the Ford Inn to another. Moreover, the child was no waster, but one who was set for life. Well, that at least she could mend, and if it were done quickly the shock might kill the mother. Yet the thing was not so easy as it looked, for there were many loving eyes upon that babe.
When she wished to take it to her bed at night Emlyn forbade her fiercely, and on being appealed to, the Prioress, who knew the creature’s drunken habits and had heard rumours of the fate of the Smith infant and others, gave orders that it was not to be. So, since the mother was too weak to have it with her, the boy was laid in a little cot at her side. And always day and night one or more of the sweet-faced nuns stood at the head of that cot watching as might a guardian angel. Also it took only Nature’s food since from the first Cicely would nurse it, so that she could not mix any drug with its milk that would cause it to sleep itself away.