In the midst of "Now I lay me down to sleep," she gave a slight cough! My wife fell back like one stricken with death. But the next moment she was up and brimming with the activities which terror inspires.
She commanded that the child's crib be removed from the nursery to our bedroom; and she went along to see the order executed. She took me with her, of course. We got matters arranged with speed. A cot-bed was put up in my wife's dressing room for the nurse. But now Mrs. McWilliams said we were too far away from the other baby, and what if he were to have the symptoms in the night--and she blanched again, poor thing.
We then restored the crib and the nurse to the nursery and put up a bed for ourselves in a room adjoining.
Presently, however, Mrs. McWilliams said suppose the baby should catch it from Penelope? This thought struck a new panic to her heart, and the tribe of us could not get the crib out of the nursery again fast enough to satisfy my wife, though she assisted in her own person and well-nigh pulled the crib to pieces in her frantic hurry.
We moved down-stairs; but there was no place there to stow the nurse, and Mrs. McWilliams said the nurse's experience would be an inestimable help. So we returned, bag and baggage, to our own bedroom once more, and felt a great gladness, like storm-buffeted birds that have found their nest again.
Mrs. McWilliams sped to the nursery to see how things were going on there. She was back in a moment with a new dread. She said:
"What can make Baby sleep so?"
"Why, my darling, Baby always sleeps like a graven image."
"I know. I know; but there's something peculiar about his sleep now. He seems to--to--he seems to breathe so regularly. Oh, this is dreadful."
"But, my dear, he always breathes regularly."
"Oh, I know it, but there's something frightful about it now. His nurse is too young and inexperienced. Maria shall stay there with her, and be on hand if anything happens."
"That is a good idea, but who will help you?"
"You can help me all I want. I wouldn't allow anybody to do anything but myself, anyhow, at such a time as this."
I said I would feel mean to lie abed and sleep, and leave her to watch and toil over our little patient all the weary night. But she reconciled me to it. So old Maria departed and took up her ancient quarters in the nursery.
Penelope coughed twice in her sleep.
"Oh, why don't that doctor come! Mortimer, this room is too warm. This room is certainly too warm. Turn off the register-quick!"
I shut it off, glancing at the thermometer at the same time, and wondering to myself if 70 was too warm for a sick child.
The coachman arrived from down-town now with the news that our physician was ill and confined to his bed. Mrs. McWilliams turned a dead eye upon me, and said in a dead voice:
"There is a Providence in it. It is foreordained. He never was sick before. Never. We have not been living as we ought to live, Mortimer. Time and time again I have told you so. Now you see the result. Our child will never get well. Be thankful if you can forgive yourself; I never can forgive myself."
I said, without intent to hurt, but with heedless choice of words, that I could not see that we had been living such an abandoned life.
"Mortimer! Do you want to bring the judgment upon Baby, too!"
Then she began to cry, but suddenly exclaimed:
"The doctor must have sent medicines!"
"Certainly. They are here. I was only waiting for you to give me a chance."
"Well do give them to me! Don't you know that every moment is precious now? But what was the use in sending medicines, when he knows that the disease is incurable?"
I said that while there was life there was hope.
"Hope! Mortimer, you know no more what you are talking about than the child unborn. If you would--As I live, the directions say give one teaspoonful once an hour! Once an hour!--as if we had a whole year before us to save the child in! Mortimer, please hurry.