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- Hilda Wade - 5/52 -


"Too late!" I cried. "Too late! She is delirious--insensible!"

Hilda repeated the words slowly, but very distinctly. "Do you hear, dear? Arthur's ship . . . it is sighted. . . . Arthur's ship . . . at the Lizard."

The girl's lips moved. "Arthur! Arthur! . . . Arthur's ship!" A deep sigh. She clenched her hands. "He is coming?" Hilda nodded and smiled, holding her breath with suspense.

"Up the Channel now. He will be at Southampton tonight. Arthur . . . at Southampton. It is here, in the papers; I have telegraphed to him to hurry on at once to see you."

She struggled up for a second. A smile flitted across the worn face. Then she fell back wearily.

I thought all was over. Her eyes stared white. But ten minutes later she opened her lids again. "Arthur is coming," she murmured. "Arthur . . . coming."

"Yes, dear. Now sleep. He is coming."

All through that day and the next night she was restless and agitated; but still her pulse improved a little. Next morning she was again a trifle better. Temperature falling--a hundred and one, point three. At ten o'clock Hilda came in to her, radiant.

"Well, Isabel, dear," she cried, bending down and touching her cheek (kissing is forbidden by the rules of the house), "Arthur has come. He is here . . . down below . . . I have seen him."

"Seen him!" the girl gasped.

"Yes, seen him. Talked with him. Such a nice, manly fellow; and such an honest, good face! He is longing for you to get well. He says he has come home this time to marry you."

The wan lips quivered. "He will NEVER marry me!"

"Yes, yes, he WILL--if you will take this jelly. Look here--he wrote these words to you before my very eyes: 'Dear love to my Isa!' . . . If you are good, and will sleep, he may see you-- to-morrow."

The girl opened her lips and ate the jelly greedily. She ate as much as she was desired. In three minutes more her head had fallen like a child's upon her pillow and she was sleeping peacefully.

I went up to Sebastian's room, quite excited with the news. He was busy among his bacilli. They were his hobby, his pets. "Well, what do you think, Professor?" I cried. "That patient of Nurse Wade's--"

He gazed up at me abstractedly, his brow contracting. "Yes, yes; I know," he interrupted. "The girl in Fourteen. I have discounted her case long ago. She has ceased to interest me. . . . Dead, of course! Nothing else was possible."

I laughed a quick little laugh of triumph. "No, sir; NOT dead. Recovering! She has fallen just now into a normal sleep; her breathing is natural."

He wheeled his revolving chair away from the germs and fixed me with his keen eyes. "Recovering?" he echoed. "Impossible! Rallying, you mean. A mere flicker. I know my trade. She MUST die this evening."

"Forgive my persistence," I replied; "but--her temperature has gone down to ninety-nine and a trifle."

He pushed away the bacilli in the nearest watch-glass quite angrily. "To ninety-nine!" he exclaimed, knitting his brows. "Cumberledge, this is disgraceful! A most disappointing case! A most provoking patient!"

"But surely, sir--" I cried.

"Don't talk to ME, boy! Don't attempt to apologise for her. Such conduct is unpardonable. She OUGHT to have died. It was her clear duty. I SAID she would die, and she should have known better than to fly in the face of the faculty. Her recovery is an insult to medical science. What is the staff about? Nurse Wade should have prevented it."

"Still, sir," I exclaimed, trying to touch him on a tender spot, "the anaesthetic, you know! Such a triumph for lethodyne! This case shows clearly that on certain constitutions it may be used with advantage under certain conditions."

He snapped his fingers. "Lethodyne! pooh! I have lost interest in it. Impracticable! It is not fitted for the human species."

"Why so? Number Fourteen proves--"

He interrupted me with an impatient wave of his hand; then he rose and paced up and down the room testily. After a pause, he spoke again. "The weak point of lethodyne is this: nobody can be trusted to say WHEN it may be used--except Nurse Wade,--which is NOT science."

For the first time in my life, I had a glimmering idea that I distrusted Sebastian. Hilda Wade was right--the man was cruel. But I had never observed his cruelty before--because his devotion to science had blinded me to it.

CHAPTER II

THE EPISODE OF THE GENTLEMAN WHO HAD FAILED FOR EVERYTHING

One day, about those times, I went round to call on my aunt, Lady Tepping. And lest you accuse me of the vulgar desire to flaunt my fine relations in your face, I hasten to add that my poor dear old aunt is a very ordinary specimen of the common Army widow. Her husband, Sir Malcolm, a crusty old gentleman of the ancient school, was knighted in Burma, or thereabouts, for a successful raid upon naked natives, on something that is called the Shan frontier. When he had grown grey in the service of his Queen and country, besides earning himself incidentally a very decent pension, he acquired gout and went to his long rest in Kensal Green Cemetery. He left his wife with one daughter, and the only pretence to a title in our otherwise blameless family.

My cousin Daphne is a very pretty girl, with those quiet, sedate manners which often develop later in life into genuine self-respect and real depth of character. Fools do not admire her; they accuse her of being "heavy." But she can do without fools; she has a fine, strongly built figure, an upright carriage, a large and broad forehead, a firm chin, and features which, though well-marked and well-moulded, are yet delicate in outline and sensitive in expression. Very young men seldom take to Daphne: she lacks the desired inanity. But she has mind, repose, and womanly tenderness. Indeed, if she had not been my cousin, I almost think I might once have been tempted to fall in love with her.

When I reached Gloucester Terrace, on this particular afternoon, I found Hilda Wade there before me. She had lunched at my aunt's, in fact. It was her "day out" at St. Nathaniel's, and she had come round to spend it with Daphne Tepping. I had introduced her to the house some time before, and she and my cousin had struck up a close acquaintance immediately. Their temperaments were sympathetic; Daphne admired Hilda's depth and reserve, while Hilda admired Daphne's grave grace and self-control, her perfect freedom from current affectations. She neither giggled nor aped Ibsenism.

A third person stood back in the room when I entered--a tall and somewhat jerry-built young man, with a rather long and solemn face, like an early stage in the evolution of a Don Quixote. I took a good look at him. There was something about his air that impressed me as both lugubrious and humorous; and in this I was right, for I learned later that he was one of those rare people who can sing a comic song with immense success while preserving a sour countenance, like a Puritan preacher's. His eyes were a little sunken, his fingers long and nervous; but I fancied he looked a good fellow at heart, for all that, though foolishly impulsive. He was a punctilious gentleman, I felt sure; his face and manner grew upon one rapidly.

Daphne rose as I entered, and waved the stranger forward with an imperious little wave. I imagined, indeed, that I detected in the gesture a faint touch of half-unconscious proprietorship. "Good- morning, Hubert," she said, taking my hand, but turning towards the tall young man. "I don't think you know Mr. Cecil Holsworthy."

"I have heard you speak of him," I answered, drinking him in with my glance. I added internally, "Not half good enough for you."

Hilda's eyes met mine and read my thought. They flashed back word, in the language of eyes, "I do not agree with you."

Daphne, meanwhile, was watching me closely. I could see she was anxious to discover what impression her friend Mr. Holsworthy was making on me. Till then, I had no idea she was fond of anyone in particular; but the way her glance wandered from him to me and from me to Hilda showed clearly that she thought much of this gawky visitor.

We sat and talked together, we four, for some time. I found the young man with the lugubrious countenance improved immensely on closer acquaintance. His talk was clever. He turned out to be the son of a politician high in office in the Canadian Government, and he had been educated at Oxford. The father, I gathered, was rich, but he himself was making an income of nothing a year just then as a briefless barrister, and he was hesitating whether to accept a post of secretary that had been offered him in the colony, or to continue his negative career at the Inner Temple, for the honour and glory of it.

"Now, which would YOU advise me, Miss Tepping?" he inquired, after we had discussed the matter some minutes.

Daphne's face flushed up. "It is so hard to decide," she answered. "To decide to YOUR best advantage, I mean, of course. For naturally all your English friends would wish to keep you as long as possible in England."


Hilda Wade - 5/52

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