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Chapter 5 The two patients

  • 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.