Towards four o'clock in the morning Joe woke up from a short sleep an_uddenly put questions to Elsie about his safety in that strange house, an_lso he inquired whose bed he was in.
"You're in my bed, Joe," she answered, kneeling again by the bedside, so as t_ave her face close to his, and to a whisper more intimately; and she told hi_he situation of the household and how her mistress had been carried to th_ospital for an operation, and how her master was laid up with a_nascertained disease, and how she alone had effective power in the house.
Then Joe began excitedly to talk of his adventures in the past twelve months,
and she perceived that a change for the worse had come over him and that h_as very ill. Both his voice and his glance indicated some development of th_alady.
"Don't tell me now, Joe dear," she stopped him. "I want to hear it all, bu_ou must rest now. To-morrow, after you've had another good sleep. I must jus_o and look at Mr. Earlforward for a minute."
She offered him a drink of water and left him, less to look at Mr. Earlforwar_han in order to give him an opportunity to calm himself, if that wa_ossible. She knew that in certain moods solitude was best for him, ill o_ell. And she went down the dark stairs to the other bedroom, which was nearl_s cold as the ice-cold stairs.
Mr. Earlforward also was worse. He seemed to be in a fever, yet looked like _orpse. Her arrival clearly gave him deep relief; he upbraided her fo_eglecting him; but somewhat timidly and cautiously, as one who feels himsel_iable to reprisals which could not be resisted. Elsie stayed with him an_ended him for a quarter of an hour, and then went to the kitchen, which th_xtravagant gas-ring was gently keeping warm, while it warmed water and trie_o dry Joe's miserable clothes.
Elsie had to think. Both men under her charge were seriously ill, and she kne_ot what was the matter with either of them. Supposing that one of them die_n her hands before the morning, or that both of them died! All her bliss a_he reappearance of Joe had vanished. She had horrible thoughts, thoughts o_hich she was ashamed but which she could not dismiss. If anyone was to di_he wanted it to be Mr. Earlforward. More, she could not help wishing that Mr.
Earlforward would in any case die. She had solemnly promised Mr. Earlforwar_ever to desert him and a promise was a promise. If he lived, and "anythin_appened" to Mrs. Earlforward, she was a prisoner for life. And if Joe live_r. Earlforward would never agree to her marrying him and having him in th_ouse with her, as would assuredly be necessary, having regard to Joe'_ealth. Whereas with Mr. Earlforward out of the way she would be her ow_istress and could easily assume full charge of Joe. Strange that s_ngelically kind and unselfish a creature could think so murderously; bu_hink thus she did.
Further, the double responsibility which impulsively she had assumed weighe_pon her with a crushing weight. Never had that always anxious brow been s_uckered up with anxiety and hesitancy as now. Ought the doctor to b_nstantly summoned? But she could not fetch him herself; she dared not eve_eave her patients long enough to let her run over to the Square and rouse on_f her friends there. And, moreover, she had a curious compunction abou_isturbing the doctor two nights in succession, and this compunction someho_ounted in the balance against even men's lives! She simply did not know wha_o do. She desperately needed counsel, and could not get it. On the whole sh_onsidered that the doctor should be sent for. Many scores, perhaps hundreds,
of people were sleeping within a hundred yards of her. Was there not one amon_hem to whom she could appeal? She returned to Joe. He was talking in hi_leep. She went to the window, opened it, and gazed out.
A lengthy perspective of the back yards of the houses in King's Cross Roa_tretched out before her; a pattern of dark walls—wall, yard, wall, yard,
wall, yard—and the joint masonries of every pair of dwellings jutting out a_egular intervals in back-rooms additional to the oblongs of the houses. Th_ky was clear, a full moon had dimmed the stars; and fine weather, which woul_ave been a boon to the day, was being wasted on the unconscious night. Th_oonlight glinted here and there on window-glass. Every upper window marked _edroom. And in every bedroom were souls awake or asleep. Not a window lit,
except one at the end of the vista. Perhaps behind that window somebody wa_uffering and somebody watching. Or it might be only that somebody was risin_o an interminable, laborious day. The heavy night of the town oppressed Elsi_readfully. She had noticed that a little dog kennelled in the yard of th_ery next house to T. T. Riceyman's was fitfully moaning and yapping. Then _ight flickered into a steady gleam behind a window of this same house, les_han a dozen feet away, with an uncanny effect upon Elsie. The light waned t_othing, and shortly afterwards the back-door opened, and the figure of _oung woman in a loose gown, with unbound hair, was silhouetted against th_adiance of a candle within the house. Across the tiny back-yard of T. T.'_lsie could plainly see the woman, whose appearance was totally unfamiliar t_er. A soul living close to her perhaps for months and years, and she did no_now her from Eve! Elsie wanted to call out to her, but dared not. A prett_ace, the woman had, only it was hard, exasperated, angry. The woman advance_enacingly upon the young, chained dog, and the next moment there was on_harp yell, followed by a diminuendo succession of yells. "That'll learn ye t_eep people awake all night," Elsie heard a thin, inimical voice say. Th_oman returned to the house. The dog began again to yap and moan. The woma_an out in a fury, picked up the animal and flung it savagely into the kennel.
Elsie could hear the thud of its soft body against the wood. She shrank back,
feeling sick. The woman retired from her victory; the door was locked; th_ight showed once more at the bedroom window, and went out; the infant dog, a_old and solitary as ever, and not in the least comprehending the intention o_he treatment which it had received, issued from the kennel and resumed it_apping and moaning.
"Poor little thing!" murmured the ingenuous Elsie, and shut the window.
No! She could not send anybody at all for the doctor. Common-sense came to he_id. She must wait till morning. A few hours, and it would be full day. An_he risk of a disaster in those few hours was exceedingly small. She must no_e a silly, frightened little fool. Joe was still talking in his restles_leep. She quickly made up the fire, and then revisited Mr. Earl-forward, wh_lso was asleep and talking. After a moment she fetched a comb and went to th_itchen, washed her face and hands in warm water, took down her blue-blac_air, combed it and did it up. And she put on a clean apron. She had to loo_ice and fresh for her patients when the next day should start. For her nigh_nd day were now the same; her existence had become continuous—no break i_onsciousness—it ran on and on and on. She did not feel tired. On th_ontrary, she felt intensely alive and energetic and observant, and had n_esire for sleep. And her greed seemed to have left her.