“Dear,” she crooned in the patient’s ear, when he seemed a little easier, “Mr Bentley will be here presently.”
Mr Thornycroft’s brows seemed to gather a momentary frown over his closed eyes.
“I’d rather not, Deb—”
“Oh, not for that! But—the wind will change soon, and then you will feel better; and then—you said it would help you to get well—I will —if you like—”
He opened his eyes and gazed at her. It took him a few seconds to understand.
“Ah—darling!” he breathed, between his pants, and with an effort drew her hand to his lips. Then—they were his last words, whispered very low—“Never mind now, Debbie—so long as you are here.”
He seemed to drowse into a kind of half-sleep, in spite of his too obvious and audible suffering. She sat beside him, sponging and fanning him, listening to his shallow, jerky, wheezy respiration, watching for the subtle something in the stifling room that should announce a change of wind, thinking of Mr Bentley’s coming, and many other things. The weary nurse came back from her brief rest and cup of tea, and sat down at the foot of the bed. She studied the patient’s face intently for some time, and felt his feet; then she took the fan from Deborah’s hand.
“You go and lie down, Miss Pennycuick. Mrs Dobson will come and sit with me for a while.”
“No, no,” said Deb. “He wants me to be here. I cannot leave him.”
After a few more minutes of silence, the nurse said again: “You had better go, Miss Pennycuick.” When Deb repeated her refusal, the nurse went out to fetch the housekeeper to persuade her.
A minute afterwards, Deb lifted her head with a jerk, and sniffed eagerly. At the same instant she heard a distant door bang.
“Thank God!” she ejaculated, and flew to the windows that all day had had to be shut tight against the furnace blast outside, and flung them wide, one after the other. The trees in the old garden were bending and rustling; the sweet, cool air came pouring in.
“The wind has changed,” she whispered, almost hysterically, to the nurse and the housekeeper, as they stealthily crept in. “And”—as they all gathered round the bed—“he is better already. His breathing is easier.”
The nurse bent over the long figure on the bed. “He is not breathing at all,” said she.
Jim Urquhart had been fighting bush fires for several days when the wind changed and carried them back over the burnt ground that extinguished them. When he rode home, dead beat, from helping a neighbour who had helped him, it was to meet the news that Mr Thornycroft was dead, and Mrs Urquhart gone to Redford to support Deborah Pennycuick.