Allison slept soundly until daybreak, for the first time—not stupor, but natural sleep. The nurse began to wonder if it was possible that a hand so badly crushed and broken could be healed. Hitherto her service had been mechanically kind; she had taken no interest because she saw no hope. How wonderful it would be if that long procession of learned counsellors should be mistaken after all!
Rose walked home, disdaining the waiting carriage. She had forgotten her hat and the sunset lent radiance to a face that needed no more. By rare tact and kindness, Allison had removed the sting from her shame and the burden she had borne so long was lifted from her heavy heart.
She was happier now than she had ever been before in her life, but she must hide her joy from the others as she had previously hidden her pain —or tried to. She knew that Isabel would not see, but Aunt Francesca’s eyes were keen and she could not tell even her just now.
How strange it would be to wake in the night, without that dull, dead pain! How strange it was to feel herself needed, and oh, the joy of serving him!
She thrilled with the ecstasy of sacrifice; with that maternal compassion which is a vital element in woman’s love for man. Sublimated beyond passion and self-seeking, and asking only the right to give, she poured out the treasure of her soul at his feet, though her pride demanded that he must never know.
When she went into the house, light seemed to enter the shaded room with her. No one was there, but the open piano waited, ready to receive a confidence. With a laugh that was half a sob of joy, she sat down, her fingers readily finding the one thing that suited her mood.
The wild, half-savage music rang through the house in full, deep chords, but only Rose knew the words, which, in her mind, fitted themselves to the melody as though she dared to sing them:
“Less than the dust, beneath thy
Less than the rust, that never stained thy Sword,
Less than the trust thou hast in me, O Lord,
Even less then these.
“Less than the weed that grows beside
Less than the speed of hours spent far from thee,
Less than the need thou hast in life of me;
Even less am I.”
Upstairs, Isabel yawned lazily, and wondered why Rose should play so loud, but Aunt Francesca smiled to herself, for she knew that Allison was better and that Rose was glad.
OVER THE BAR
As a flower may bloom in a night, joy returned to Madame Bernard’s house after long absence. There was no outward sign, for Rose was still quiet and self-controlled, but her face was a shade less pale and there was a tremulous music in her voice.
Isabel had ceased to limp, but still dwelt upon the shock and its lingering effects. She amused herself in her own way, reading paper-covered novels, feasting upon chocolates, teasing Mr. Boffin, and playing solitaire. Madame remarked to Rose that Isabel seemed to have a cosmic sense of time.