“Oh, Debbie,” she pleaded, “Don’t go yet! Stay with them for a little. Stay and see baby undressed—I always do it myself—and have a bit of dinner with us; you will, won’t you? Give me my nursing apron, Jane.”
As she tied the sheet of flannel over her smart gown, she whispered to Jane:
“Go down and tell Mr Breen that Miss Pennycuick is going to stay to dinner.”
Then she turned up her sleeves, settled herself upon a low chair, and, with bath-tub and belaced toilet basket, and warming night-clothes around her, performed the task that made this hour the happiest of her happy day. As closely as the romping children allowed, Deb watched her, and marvelled at her quick skill and lightness of hand. Who would have thought that little Rose could be so clever? The healthy baby, so deftly handled, raised no protest, but curled her toes as if she enjoyed it; and when all was done, the snowy-robed, perfumed creature was laid to its young mother’s generous breast, and sucked itself to sleep in five minutes. Deb, wistfully observant, began to dimly apprehend that to wish Rose’s marriage undone would be about as kind as to wish back to earth the dead whom we believe in heaven.
Meanwhile, Peter had been bustling about after such dinner arrangements as he could attend to. Mr Thornycroft himself had never taken more pains to please this guest. Deb enjoyed strawberries for the first time that season, and a glass of wine that even Claud could not have carped at. Coffee was brought to the drawing-room, from which Rose slipped away for a whispered colloquy with her husband in the hall; the result of which was that they came in together to ask Miss Pennycuick to do them the honour of standing godmother to the baby. Deb put the crown upon the gracious day by promptly consenting.
“But that,” she thought, with some chagrin, as she rolled homewards— or rather, bedwards—with Peter’s flowers in the carriage beside her— “that is the extent of my tether in this direction. A christening mug, and a bit of jewellery on her birthdays—I shall be allowed that; otherwise I can be of no more use to them than if I were a workhouse pauper. They are independent of me and of everybody.”
The years passed, and the destinies of our friend began to take final shape. The bread cast upon the waters returned. The chickens came home to roost.
One winter’s morning Captain Guthrie Carey brought his ship into Hobson’s Bay. The agents of his company sent letters to him there. He took one from the sheaf, and read it carefully—read it four times. Then he tore it into little pieces and dropped it over the side. The pilot and the first officer wondered at the concentrated gravity of his mien, at the faraway look in his cold blue eyes. Yet is was a very short and simple letter. There were no names inside, and it merely said: