“I have no home, as you know; and I don’t believe I’ve got a friend in the world who cares whether I live or die.”
“This looks as if you were mistaken;” and Christie glanced about the little room, which was full of comforts and luxuries accumulated during his stay.
His face changed instantly, and he answered with the honest look and tone never given to any one but her.
“I beg your pardon: I’m an ungrateful brute. But you see I’d just made up my mind to do something worth the doing, and now it is made impossible in a way that renders it hard to bear. You are very patient with me, and I owe my life to your care: I never can thank you for it; but I will take myself out of your way as soon as I can, and leave you free to enjoy your happy holiday. Heaven knows you have earned it!”
He said those last words so heartily that all the bitterness went out of his voice, and Christie found it easy to reply with a cordial smile:
“I shall stay and see you comfortably off before I go myself. As for thanks and reward I have had both; for you have done something worth the doing, and you give me this.”
She took up the broken blade as she spoke, and carried it away, looking proud of her new trophy.
Fletcher left next day, saying, while he pressed her hand as warmly as if the vigor of two had gone into his one:
“You will let me come and see you by and by when you too get your discharge: won’t you?”
“So gladly that you shall never again say you have no home. But you must take care of yourself, or you will get the long discharge, and we can’t spare you yet,” she answered warmly.
“No danger of that: the worthless ones are too often left to cumber the earth; it is the precious ones who are taken,” he said, thinking of her as he looked into her tired face, and remembered all she had done for him.
Christie shivered involuntarily at those ominous words, but only said, “Good-by, Philip,” as he went feebly away, leaning on his servant’s arm, while all the men touched their caps and wished the Colonel a pleasant journey.
Three months later the war seemed drawing toward an end, and Christie was dreaming happy dreams of home and rest with David, when, as she sat one day writing a letter full of good news to the wife of a patient, a telegram was handed to her, and tearing it open she read:
“Captain Sterling dangerously wounded. Tell his wife to come at once. E. Wilkins.”
“No bad news I hope, ma’am?” said the young fellow anxiously, as his half-written letter fluttered to the ground, and Christie sat looking at that fateful strip of paper with all the strength and color stricken out of her face by the fear that fell upon her.
“It might be worse. They told me he was dying once, and when I got to him he met me at the door. I’ll hope for the best now as I did then, but I never felt like this before,” and she hid her face as if daunted by ominous forebodings too strong to be controlled.