MoboReader > Literature > The Trial, Or, More Links of the Daisy Chain

   Chapter 2 No.2

The Trial, Or, More Links of the Daisy Chain By Charlotte M. Yonge Characters: 43179

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:04

Good words are silver, but good deeds are gold.-Cecil and Mary

'It has been a very good day, papa; he has enjoyed all his meals, indeed was quite ravenous. He is asleep now, and looks as comfortable as possible,' said Ethel, five weeks after Aubrey's illness had begun.

'Thank God for that, and all His mercy to us, Ethel;' and the long sigh, the kiss, and dewy eyes, would have told her that there had been more to exhaust him than his twelve hours' toil, even had she not partly known what weighed him down.

'Poor things!' she said.

'Both gone, Ethel, both! both!' and as he entered the drawing-room, he threw himself back in his chair, and gasped with the long-restrained feeling.

'Both!' she exclaimed. 'You don't mean that Leonard-'

'No, Ethel, his mother! Poor children, poor children!'

'Mrs. Ward! I thought she had only been taken ill yesterday evening.'

'She only then gave way-but she never had any constitution-she was done up with nursing-nothing to fall back on-sudden collapse and prostration-and that poor girl, called every way at once, fancied her asleep, and took no alarm till I came in this morning and found her pulse all but gone. We have been pouring down stimulants all day, but there was no rousing her, and she was gone the first.'

'And Mr. Ward-did he know it?'

'I thought so from the way he looked at me; but speech had long been lost, and that throat was dreadful suffering. Well, "In their death they were not divided."'

He shaded his eyes with his hand; and Ethel, leaning against his chair, could not hinder herself from a shudder at the longing those words seemed to convey. He felt her movement, and put his arm round her, saying, 'No, Ethel, do not think I envy them. I might have done so once-I had not then learnt the meaning of the discipline of being without her-no, nor what you could do for me, my child, my children.'

Ethel's thrill of bliss was so intense, that it gave her a sense of selfishness in indulging personal joy at such a moment; and indeed it was true that her father had over-lived the first pangs of change and separation, had formed new and congenial habits, saw the future hope before him; and since poor Margaret had been at rest, had been without present anxiety, or the sight of decay and disappointment. Her only answer was a mute smoothing of his bowed shoulders, as she said, 'If I could be of any use or comfort to poor Averil Ward, I could go to-night. Mary is enough for Aubrey.'

'Not now, my dear. She can't stir from the boy, they are giving him champagne every ten minutes; she has the nurse, and Spencer is backwards and forwards; I think they will pull him through, but it is a near, a very near touch. Good, patient, unselfish boy he is too.'

'He always was a very nice boy,' said Ethel; 'I do hope he will get well. It would be a terrible grief to Aubrey.'

'Yes, I got Leonard to open his lips to-day by telling him that Aubrey had sent him the grapes. I think he will get through. I hope he will. He is a good friend for Aubrey. So touching it was this morning to hear him trying to ask pardon for all his faults, poor fellow-fits of temper, and the like.'

'That is his fault, I believe,' said Ethel, 'and I always think it a wholesome one, because it is so visible and unjustifiable, that people strive against it. And the rest? Was Henry able to see his father or mother?'

'No, he can scarcely sit up in bed. It was piteous to see him lying with his door open, listening. He is full of warm sound feeling, poor fellow. You would like to have heard the fervour with which he begged me to tell his father to have no fears for the younger ones, for it should be the most precious task of his life to do a parent's part by them.'

'Let me see, he is just of Harry's age,' said Ethel, thoughtfully, as if she had not the strongest faith in Harry's power of supplying a parent's place.

'Well,' said her father, 'remember, a medical student is an older man than a lieutenant in the navy. One sees as much of the interior as the other does of the surface. We must take this young Ward by the hand, and mind he does not lose his father's practice. Burdon, that young prig that Spencer got down from London, met me at Gavin's, when I looked in there on my way home, and came the length of Minster Street with me, asking what I thought of an opening for a medical man-partnership with young Ward, &c. I snubbed him so short, that I fancy I left him thinking whether his nose was on or off his face.'

'He was rather premature.'

'I've settled him any way. I shall do my best to keep the town clear for that lad; there's not much more for him, as things are now, and it will be only looking close after him for a few years, which Spencer and I can very well manage.'

'If he will let you.'

'There! that's the spitefulness of women! Must you be casting up that little natural spirit of independence against him after the lesson he has had? I tell you, he has been promising me to look on me as a father! Poor old Ward! he was a good friend and fellow-worker. I owe a great deal to him.'

Ethel wondered if he forgot how much of the unserviceableness of his maimed arm had once been attributed to Mr. Ward's dulness, or how many times he had come home boiling with annoyance at having been called in too late to remedy the respectable apothecary's half measures. She believed that the son had been much better educated than the father, and after the fearful lesson he had received, thought he might realize Dr. May's hopes, and appreciate his kindness. They discussed the relations.

'Ward came as assistant to old Axworthy, and married his daughter; he had no relations that his son knows of, except the old aunt who left Averil her £2000.'

'There are some Axworthys still,' said Ethel, 'but not very creditable people.'

'You may say that,' said Dr. May emphatically. 'There was a scapegrace brother that ran away, and was heard of no more till he turned up, a wealthy man, ten or fifteen years ago, and bought what they call the Vintry Mill, some way on this side of Whitford. He has a business on a large scale; but Ward had as little intercourse with him as possible. A terrible old heathen.'

'And the boy that was expelled for bullying Tom is in the business.'

'I hate the thought of that,' said the Doctor. 'If he had stayed on, who knows but he might have turned out as well as Ned Anderson.'

'Has not he?'

'I'm sure I have no right to say he has not, but he is a flashy slang style of youth, and I hope the young Wards will keep out of his way.'

'What will become of them? Is there likely to be any provision for them?'

'Not much, I should guess. Poor Ward did as we are all tempted to do when money goes through our hands, and spent more freely than I was ever allowed to do. Costly house, garden, greenhouses-he'd better have stuck to old Axworthy's place in Minster Street-daughter at that grand school, where she cost more than the whole half-dozen of you put together.'

'She was more worth it,' said Ethel; 'her music and drawing are first-rate. Harry was frantic about her singing last time he was at home-one evening when Mrs. Anderson abused his good-nature and got him to a tea-party-I began to be afraid of the consequences.'

'Pish!' said the Doctor.

'And really they kept her there to enable her to educate her sisters,' said Ethel. 'The last time I called on poor Mrs. Ward, she told me all about it, apologizing in the pretty way mothers do, saying she was looking forward to Averil's coming home, but that while she profited so much, they felt it due to her to give her every advantage; and did not I think-with my experience-that it was all so much for the little ones' benefit? I assured her, from my personal experience, that ignorance is a terrible thing in governessing one's sisters. Poor thing! And Averil had only come home this very Easter.'

'And with everything to learn, in such a scene as that! The first day, when only the boys were ill, there sat the girl, dabbling with her water-colours, and her petticoats reaching half across the room, looking like a milliner's doll, and neither she nor her poor mother dreaming of her doing a useful matter.'

'Who is spiteful now, papa? That's all envy at not having such an accomplished daughter. When she came out in time of need so grandly, and showed all a woman's instinct-'

'Woman's nonsense! Instinct is for irrational brutes, and the more you cultivate a woman, the less she has of it, unless you work up her practical common sense too.'

'Some one said she made a wonderful nurse.'

'Wonderful? Perhaps so, considering her opportunities, and she does better with Spencer than with me; I may have called her to order impatiently, for she is nervous with me, loses her head, and knocks everything down with her petticoats. Then-not a word to any one, Ethel-but imagine her perfect blindness to her poor mother's state all yesterday, and last night, not even calling Burdon to look at her; why, those ten hours may have made all the difference!'

'Poor thing, how is she getting on now?'

'Concentrated upon Leonard, too much stunned to admit another idea-no tears-hardly full comprehension. One can't take her away, and she can't bear not to do everything, and yet one can't trust her any more than a child.'

'As she is,' said Ethel, 'but as she won't be any longer. And the two little ones?'

'It breaks one's heart to see them, just able to sit by their nursery fire, murmuring in that weary, resigned, sick child's voice, 'I wish nurse would come.' 'I wish sister would come.' 'I wish mamma would come.' I went up to them the last thing, and told them how it was, and let them cry themselves to sleep. That was the worst business of all. Ethel, are they too big for Mary to dress some dolls for them?'

'I will try to find out their tastes the first thing to-morrow,' said Ethel; 'at any rate we can help them, if not poor Averil.'

Ethel, however, was detained at home to await Dr. Spencer's visit, and Mary, whose dreams had all night been haunted by the thought of the two little nursery prisoners, entreated to go with her father, and see what could be done for them.

Off they set together, Mary with a basket in her hand, which was replenished at the toy-shop in Minster Street with two china-faced dolls, and, a little farther on, parted with a couple of rolls, interspersed with strata of cold beef and butter, to a household of convalescents in the stage for kitchen physic.

Passing the school, still taking its enforced holiday, the father and daughter traversed the bridge and entered the growing suburb known as Bankside, where wretched cottages belonging to needy, grasping proprietors, formed an uncomfortable contrast to the villa residences interspersed among them.

One of these, with a well-kept lawn, daintily adorned with the newest pines and ornamental shrubs, and with sheets of glass glaring in the sun from the gardens at the back, was the house that poor Mr. and Mrs. Ward had bought and beautified; 'because it was so much better for the children to be out of the town.' The tears sprang into Mary's eyes at the veiled windows, and the unfeeling contrast of the spring glow of flowering thorn, lilac, laburnum, and, above all, the hard, flashing brightness of the glass; but tears were so unlike Ethel that Mary always was ashamed of them, and disposed of them quietly.

They rang, but in vain. Two of the servants were ill, and all in confusion; and after waiting a few moments among the azaleas in the glass porch, Dr. May admitted himself, and led the way up-stairs with silent footfalls, Mary following with breath held back. A voice from an open door called, 'Is that Dr. May?' and he paused to look in and say, 'I'll be with you in one minute, Henry; how is Leonard?'

'No worse, they tell me; I say, Dr. May-'

'One moment;' and turning back to Mary, he pointed along a dark passage. 'Up there, first door to the right. You can't mistake;' then disappeared, drawing the door after him.

Much discomfited, Mary nevertheless plunged bravely on, concluding 'there' to be up a narrow, uncarpeted stair, with a nursery wicket at the top, in undoing which, she was relieved of all doubts and scruples by a melancholy little duet from within. 'Mary, Mary, we want our breakfast! We want to get up! Mary, Mary, do come! please come!'

She was instantly in what might ordinarily have been a light, cheerful room, but which was in all the dreariness of gray cinders, exhausted night-light, curtained windows, and fragments of the last meal. In each of two cane cribs was sitting up a forlorn child, with loose locks of dishevelled hair, pale thin cheeks glazed with tears, staring eyes, and mouths rounded with amaze at the apparition. One dropped down and hid under the bed-clothes; the other remained transfixed, as her visitor advanced, saying, 'Well, my dear, you called Mary, and here I am.'

'Not our own Mary,' said the child, distrustfully.

'See if I can't be your own Mary.'

'You can't. You can't give us our breakfast.'

'Oh, I am so hungry!' from the other crib; and both burst into the feeble sobs of exhaustion. Recovering from fever, and still fasting at half-past nine! Mary was aghast, and promised an instant supply.

'Don't go;' and a bird-like little hand seized her on either side. 'Mary never came to bed, and nobody has been here all the morning, and we can't bear to be alone.'

'I was only looking for the bell.'

'It is of no use; Minna did jump out and ring, but nobody will come.'

Mary made an ineffectual experiment, and then persuaded the children to let her go by assurances of a speedy return. She sped down, brimming over with pity and indignation, to communicate to her father this cruel neglect, and as she passed Henry Ward's door, and heard several voices, she ventured on a timid summons of 'papa,' but, finding it unheard, she perceived that she must act for herself. Going down-stairs, she tried the sitting-room doors, hoping that breakfast might be laid out there, but all were locked; and at last she found her way to the lower regions, guided by voices in eager tones of subdued gossip.

There, in the glow of the huge red fire, stood a well-covered table, surrounded by cook, charwoman, and their cavaliers, discussing a pile of hot-buttered toast, to which the little kitchen-maid was contributing large rounds, toasted at the fire.

Mary's eyes absolutely flashed, as she said, 'The children have had no breakfast.'

'I beg your pardon, ma'am,' and the cook rose, 'but it is the nurse-maid that takes up the young ladies' meals.'

Mary did not listen to the rest; she was desperate, and pouncing on the bread with one hand, and the butter with the other, ran away with them to the nursery, set them down, and rushed off for another raid. She found that the commotion she had excited was resulting in the preparation of a tray.

'I am sure, ma'am, I am very sorry,' said the cook, insisting on carrying the kettle, 'but we are in such confusion; and the nurse-maid, whose place it is, has been up most of the night with Mr. Leonard, and must have just dropped asleep somewhere, and I was just giving their breakfast to the undertaker's young men, but I'll call her directly, ma'am.'

'Oh, no, on no account. I am sure she ought to sleep,' said Mary. 'It was only because I found the little girls quite starving that I came down. I will take care of them now. Don't wake her, pray. Only I hope,' and Mary looked beseechingly, 'that they will have something good for their dinner, poor little things.'

Cook was entirely pacified, and talked about roast chicken, and presently the little sisters were sitting up in their beds, each in her wrapper, being fed by turns with delicately-buttered slices, Mary standing between like a mother-bird feeding her young, and pleased to find the eyes grow brighter and less hollow, the cheeks less wan, the voices less thin and pipy, and a little laugh breaking out when she mistook Minna for Ella.

While tidying the room, she was assailed with entreaties to call their Mary, and let them get up, they were so tired of bed. She undertook to be still their Mary, and made them direct her to the house-maid's stores, went down on her knees at the embers, and so dealt with matches, chips, and coal, that to her own surprise and pride a fire was evoked.

'But,' said Ella, 'I thought you were a Miss May.'

'So I am, my dear.'

'But ladies don't light fires,' said Minna, in open-eyed perplexity.

'Oh,' exclaimed the younger sister, 'you know Henry said he did not think any of the Miss Mays were first-rate, and that our Ave beat them all to nothing.'

The elder, Minna, began hushing; and it must be confessed that honest Mary was not superior to a certain crimson flush of indignation, as she held her head into the grate, and thought of Ethel, Flora, and Blanche, criticized by Mr. Henry Ward. Little ungrateful chit! No, it was not a matter of laughing, but of forgiveness; and the assertion of the dignity of usefulness was speedily forgotten in the toilette of the small light skin-and-bone frames, in the course of which she received sundry compliments-'her hands were so nice and soft,' 'she did not pull their hair like their own Mary,' 'they wished she always dressed them.'

The trying moment was when they asked if they might kneel at her lap for their prayers. To Mary, the twelve years seemed as nothing since her first prayers after the day of terror and bereavement, and her eyes swam with tears as the younger girl unthinkingly rehearsed her wonted formula, and the elder, clinging to her, whispered gravely, 'Please, what shall I say?'

With full heart, and voice almost unmanageable, Mary prompted the few simple words that had come to her in that hour of sorrow. She looked up, from stooping to the child's ear, to see her father at the door, gazing at them with face greatly moved. The children greeted him fondly, and he sat down with one on each knee, and caressed them as he looked them well over, drawing out their narration of the wonderful things 'she' had done, the fingers pointing to designate who she was. His look at her over his spectacles made Mary's heart bound and feel compensated for whatever Mr. Henry Ward might say of her. When the children had finished their story, he beckoned her out of the room, promising them that he would not keep her long.

'Well done, Molly,' he said smiling, 'it is well to have daughters good for something. You had better stay with them till that poor maid has had her sleep out, and can come to them.'

'I should like to stay with them all day, only that Ethel must want me.'

'You had better go home by dinner-time, that Ethel may get some air. Perhaps I shall want one of you in the evening to be with them at the time of the funeral.'

'So soon!'

'Yes, it must be. Better for all, and Henry is glad it should be so. He is out on the sofa to-day, but he is terribly cut up.'

'And Leonard?'

'I see some improvement-Burdon does not-but I think with Heaven's good mercy we may drag him through; the pulse is rather better. Now I must go. You'll not wait dinner for me.'

Mary spent the next hour in amusing the children by the fabrication of the dolls' wardrobe, and had made them exceedingly fond of her, so that there was a very poor welcome when their own Mary at length appeared, much shocked at the duration of her own slumbers, and greatly obliged to Miss May. The little girls would scarcely let Mary go, though she pacified them by an assurance that she or her sister would come in the evening.

'Don't let it be your sister. You come, and finish our dolls' frocks!' and they hung about her, kissing her, and trying to extract a promise.

After sharing the burthen of depression, it was strange to return home to so different a tone of spirits when she found Aubrey installed in Ethel's room as his parlour, very white and weak, but overflowing with languid fun. There was grief and sympathy for the poor Wards, and anxious inquiries for Leonard; but it was not sorrow brought visibly before him, and after the decorous space of commiseration, the smiles were bright again, and Mary heard how her father had popped in to boast of his daughter being 'as good as a house-maid, or as Miss What's-her-name;' and her foray in the kitchen was more diverting to Aubrey than she was as yet prepared to understand. 'Running away with the buttered toast from under the nose of a charwoman! let Harry never talk of taking a Chinese battery after that!' her incapacity of perceiving that the deed was either valiant or ludicrous, entertaining him particularly. 'It had evidently hit the medium between the sublime and ridiculous.'

When evening came, Mary thought it Ethel's privilege to go, as the most efficient friend and comforter; but Ethel saw that her sister's soul was with the Wards, and insisted that she should go on as she had begun.

'O, Ethel, that was only with the little ones. Now you would be of use to poor Averil.'

'And why should not you? and of more use?'

'You know I am only good for small children; but if you tell me-'

'You provoking girl,' said Ethel. 'All I tell you is, that you are twenty-three years old, and I won't tell you anything, nor assist your unwholesome desire to be second fiddle.'

'I don't know what you mean, Ethel; of course you always tell me what to do, and how to do it.'

Ethel quite laug

hed now, but gave up the contest, only saying, as she fondly smoothed back a little refractory lock on Mary's smooth open brow, 'Very well then, go and do whatever comes to hand at Bankside, my dear. I do really want to stay at home, both on Aubrey's account, and because papa says Dr. Spencer is done up, and that I must catch him and keep him quiet this evening.'

Mary was satisfied in her obedience, and set off with her father. Just as they reached Bankside, a gig drove up containing the fattest old man she had ever beheld; her father whispered that it was old Mr. Axworthy, and sent her at once to the nursery, where she was welcomed with a little shriek of delight, each child bounding in her small arm-chair, and pulling her down between them on the floor for convenience of double hugging, after which she was required to go on with the doll-dressing.

Mary could not bear to do this while the knell was vibrating on her ear, and the two coffins being borne across the threshold; so she gathered the orphans within her embrace as she sat on the floor, and endeavoured to find out how much they understood of what was passing, and whether they had any of the right thoughts. It was rather disappointing. The little sisters had evidently been well and religiously taught, but they were too childish to dwell on thoughts of awe or grief, and the small minds were chiefly fixed upon the dolls, as the one bright spot in the dreary day. Mary yielded, and worked and answered their chatter till twilight came on, and the rival Mary came up to put them to bed, an operation in which she gave her assistance, almost questioning if she were not forgotten, but she learnt that her father was still in the house, the nurse believed looking at papers in Mr. Henry's room with the other gentlemen.

'And you will sit by us while we go to sleep. Oh! don't go away!'

The nurse was thankful to her for so doing, and a somewhat graver mood had come over Minna as she laid her head on her pillow, for she asked the difficult question, 'Can mamma see us now?' which Mary could only answer with a tender 'Perhaps,' and an attempt to direct the child to the thought of the Heavenly Father; and then Minna asked, 'Who will take care of us now?'

'Oh, will you?' cried Ella, sitting up; and both little maids, holding out their arms, made a proffer of themselves to be her little children. They would be so good if she would let them be-

Mary could only fondle and smile it off, and put them in mind that they belonged to their brother and sister; but the answer was, 'Ave is not so nice as you. Oh, do let us-'

'But I can't, my dears. I am Dr. May's child, you know. What could I say to him?'

'Oh! but Dr. May wouldn't mind! I know he wouldn't mind! Mamma says there was never any one so fond of little children, and he is such a dear good old gentleman.'

Mary had not recognized him as an old gentleman at fifty-eight, and did not like it at all. She argued on the impracticability of taking them from their natural protectors, and again tried to lead them upwards, finally betaking herself to the repetition of hymns, which put them to sleep. She had spent some time in sitting between them in the summer darkness, when there was a low tap, and opening the door, she saw her father. Indicating that they slept, she followed him out, and a whispered conference took place as he stood below her on the stairs, their heads on a level.

'Tired, Mary? I have only just got rid of old Axworthy.'

'The nurse said you were busy with papers in Henry's room.'

'Ay-the Will. Henry behaves very well; and is full of right feeling, poor fellow!'

'What becomes of those dear little girls? They want to make themselves a present to me, and say they know you would like it.'

'So I should, the darlings! Well, as things are left, it all goes to Henry, except the £10,000 Ward had insured his life for, which divides between the five. He undertakes, most properly, to make them a home-whether in this house or not is another thing; he and Averil will look after them; and he made a most right answer when Mr. Axworthy offered to take Leonard into his office,' proceeded the communicative Doctor, unable to help pouring himself out, in spite of time and place, as soon as he had a daughter to himself. 'Settle nothing now-education not finished; but privately he tells me he believes his mother would as soon have sent Leonard to the hulks as to that old rascal, and the scamp, his grand-nephew.'

Mary's answer to this, as his tones became incautiously emphatic, was a glance round all the attic doors, lest they should have ears.

'Now then, do you want to get home?' said the Doctor, a little rebuked.

'Oh no, not if there is anything I can do.'

'I want to get this girl away from Leonard. He is just come to the state when it all turns on getting him off to sleep quietly, and not disturbing him, and she is too excited and restless to do anything with her; she has startled him twice already, and then gets upset-tired out, poor thing! and will end in being hysterical if she does not get fed and rested, and then we shall be done for! Now I want you to take charge of her. See, here's her room, and I have ordered up some tea for her. You must get her quieted down, make her have a tolerable meal, and when she has worked off her excitement, put her to bed-undressed, mind-and you might lie down by her. If you can't manage her, call me. That's Leonard's door, and I shall be there all night; but don't if you can help it. Can you do this, or must I get Miss "What-d'ye-call-her" the elder one, if she can leave the Greens in Randall's Alley?

Well was it that Mary's heart was stout as well as tender; and instead of mentally magnifying the task, and diminishing her own capabilities, she simply felt that she had received a command, and merely asked that Ethel should be informed.

'I am going to send up to her.'

'And shall I give Averil anything to take?'

'Mutton-chops, if you can.'

'I meant sal-volatile, or anything to put her to sleep.'

'Nonsense! I hate healthy girls drugging themselves. You don't do that at home, Mary!'

Mary showed her white teeth in a silent laugh at the improbability, there being nothing Ethel more detested than what she rather rudely called nervous quackeries. Her father gave her a kiss of grateful approbation, and was gone.

There was a light on the table, and preparations for tea; and Mary looked round the pretty room, where the ornamental paper, the flowery chintz furniture, the shining brass of the bedstead, the frilled muslin toilet, and et ceteras, were more luxurious than what she ever saw, except when visiting with Flora, and so new as to tell a tale of the mother's fond preparation for the return of the daughter from school. In a few moments she heard her father saying, in a voice as if speaking to a sick child, 'Yes, I promise you, my dear. Be good, be reasonable, and you shall come back in the morning. No, you can't go there. Henry is going to bed. Here is a friend for you. Now, Mary, don't let me see her till she has slept.'

Mary took the other hand, and between them they placed her in an arm-chair, whose shining fresh white ground and gay rose-pattern contrasted with her heated, rumpled, over-watched appearance, as she sank her head on her hand, not noticing either Mary's presence or the Doctor's departure. Mary stood doubtful for a few seconds, full of pity and embarrassment, trying to take in the needs of the case.

Averil Ward was naturally a plump, well-looking girl of eighteen, with clearly-cut features, healthy highly-coloured complexion, and large bright hazel eyes, much darker than her profuse and glossy hair, which was always dressed in the newest and most stylish fashion, which, as well as the whole air of her dress and person, was, though perfectly lady like, always regarded by the Stoneborough world as something on the borders of presumption on the part of the entire Ward family.

To Mary's surprise, the five weeks' terrible visitation, and these last fearful five days of sleepless exertion and bereavement, had not faded the bright red of the cheek, nor were there signs of tears, though the eyes looked bloodshot. Indeed, there was a purple tint about the eyelids and lips, a dried-up appearance, and a heated oppressed air, as if the faculties were deadened and burnt up, though her hand was cold and trembling. Her hair, still in its elaborate arrangement, hung loose, untidy, untouched; her collar and sleeves were soiled and tumbled; her dress, with its inconvenient machinery of inflation, looked wretched from its incongruity, and the stains on the huge hanging sleeves. Not a moment could have been given to the care of her own person, since the sole burthen of nursing had so grievously and suddenly descended on her.

Mary's first instinct was to pour out some warm water, and bringing it with a sponge, to say, 'Would not this refresh you?'

Averil moved petulantly; but the soft warm stream was so grateful to her burning brow, that she could not resist; she put her head back, and submitted like a child to have her face bathed, saying, 'Thank you.'

Mary then begged to remove her tight heavy dress, and make her comfortable in her dressing-gown.

'Oh, I can't! Then I could not go back.'

'Yes, you could; this is quite a dress; besides, one can move so much more quietly without crinoline.'

'I didn't think of that;' and she stood up, and unfastened her hooks. 'Perhaps Dr. May would let me go back now!' as a mountain of mohair and scarlet petticoat remained on the floor, upborne by an over-grown steel mouse-trap.

'Perhaps he will by and by; but he said you must sleep first.'

'Sleep-I can't sleep. There's no one but me. I couldn't sleep.'

'Then at least let me try to freshen you up. There. You don't know what good it used to do my sister Blanche, for me to brush her hair. I like it.'

And Mary obtained a dreamy soothed submission, so that she almost thought she was brushing her victim to sleep in her chair, before the maid came up with the viands that Dr. May had ordered.

'I can't eat that,' said Averil, with almost disgust. 'Take it away.'

'Please don't,' said Mary. 'Is that the way you use me, Miss Ward, when I come to drink tea with you?'

'Oh, I beg your pardon,' was the mechanical answer.

Mary having made the long hair glossy once more, into a huge braid, and knotted it up, came forth, and insisted that they were to be comfortable over their grilled chickens' legs. She was obliged to make her own welcome, and entertain her hostess; and strenuously she worked, letting the dry lips imbibe a cup of tea, before she attempted the solids; then coaxing and commanding, she gained her point, and succeeded in causing a fair amount of provisions to be swallowed; after which Averil seemed more inclined to linger in enjoyment of the liquids, as though the feverish restlessness were giving place to a sense of fatigue and need of repose.

'This is all wrong,' said she, with a faint bewildered smile, as Mary filled up her cup for her. 'I ought to be treating you as guest, Miss May.'

'Oh, don't call me Miss May! Call me Mary. Think me a sister. You know I have known something of like trouble, only I was younger, and I had my sisters.'

'I do not seem to have felt anything yet,' said Averil, passing her hands over her face. 'I seem to be made of stone.'

'You have done: and that is better than feeling.'

'Done! and how miserably! Oh, the difference it might have made, if I had been a better nurse!'

'Papa and Dr. Spencer both say you have been a wonderful nurse, considering-' the last word came out before Mary was aware.

'Oh, Dr. May has been so kind and so patient with me, I shall never forget it. Even when I scalded his fingers with bringing him that boiling water-but I always do wrong when he is there-and now he won't let me go back to Leonard.'

'But, Averil, the best nurse in the world can't hold out for ever. People must sleep, and make themselves fit to go on.'

'Not when there is only one:' and she gasped.

'All the more reason, when there is but one. Perhaps it is because you are tired out that you get nervous and agitated. You will be quite different after a rest.'

'Are you sure?' whispered Averil, with her eyes rounded, 'are you sure that is all the reason?'

'What do you mean?' said Mary.

Averil drew in her breath, and squeezed both hands tight on her chest, as she spoke very low: 'They sent me away from mamma-they told me papa wanted me: then they sent me from him; they said I was better with Leonard; and-and I said to myself, nothing should make me leave Leonard.'

'It was not papa-my father-that sent you without telling you,' said Mary, confidently.

'No,' said Averil.

'No; I have heard him say that he would take all risks, rather than deceive anybody,' said Mary, eagerly. 'I have heard him and Dr. Spencer argue about what they called pious frauds, and he always said they were want of faith. You may trust him. He told me Leonard was in the state when calm sleep was chiefly wanted. I know he would think it cruel not to call you if there were need; and I do not believe there will be need.'

Something like this was reiterated in different forms; and though Averil never regularly yielded, yet as they sat on, there came pauses in the conversation, when Mary saw her nodding, and after one or two vibrations in her chair, she looked up with lustreless glassy eyes. Mary took one of these semi-wakened moments, and in the tone of caressing authority that had been already found effectual, said she must sleep in bed; took no notice of the murmur of refusal, but completed the undressing, and fairly deposited her in her bed.

Mary's scrupulous conscience was distressed at having thus led to the omission of all evening orisons; but if her own simple-hearted loving supplications at the orphan's bedside could compensate for their absence, she did her utmost. Then, as both the room-door and that of the sick-chamber had been left open, she stole into the passage, where she could see her father, seated at the table, and telegraphed to him a sign of her success. He durst not move, but he smiled and nodded satisfaction; and Mary, after tidying the room, and considering with herself, took off her more cumbrous garments, wrapped herself in a cloak, and lay down beside Averil, not expecting to sleep, but passing to thoughts of Harry, and of that 23rd Psalm, which they had agreed to say at the same hour every night. By how many hours was Harry beforehand with her? That was a calculation that to Mary was always like the beads of the chaplain of Norham Castle. Certain it is, that after she had seen Harry lighting a fire to broil chickens' legs in a Chinese temple, under the willow-pattern cannon-ball tree, and heard Henry Ward saying it was not like a lieutenant in the navy, she found herself replying, 'Use before gentility;' and in the enunciation of this-her first moral sentiment-discovered that it was broad daylight.

What o'clock it was she could not guess. Averil was sound asleep, breathing deeply and regularly, so that it was; a pleasure to listen to her; and Mary did not fear wakening her by a shoeless voyage of discovery to the place whence Dr. May was visible.

He turned at once, and with his noiseless tread came to her. 'Asleep still? So is he. All right. Here, waken me the moment he stirs.'

And rather by sign than word, he took Mary into the sickroom, indicated a chair, and laid himself on a sofa, where he was instantaneously sound asleep, before his startled daughter had quite taken everything in; but she had only to glance at his haggard wearied face, to be glad to be there, so as to afford him even a few moments of vigorous slumber with all his might.

In some awe, she looked round, not venturing to stir hand or foot. Her chair was in the full draught of the dewy morning breeze, so chilly, that she drew her shawl tightly about her; but she knew that this had been an instance of her father's care, and if she wished to make the slightest move, it was only to secure a fuller view of the patient, from whom she was half cut off by a curtain at the foot of the bed. A sort of dread, however, made Mary gaze at everything around her before she brought her eyes upon him-her father's watch on the table, indicating ten minutes to four, the Minster Tower in the rising sunlight-nay, the very furniture of the room, and Dr. May's position, before she durst familiarize herself with Leonard's appearance-he whom she had last seen as a sturdy, ruddy, healthful boy, looking able to outweigh two of his friend Aubrey.

The original disease had long since passed into typhus, and the scarlet eruption was gone, so that she only saw a yellow whiteness, that, marked by the blue veins of the bared temples, was to her mind death-like. Mary had not been sheltered from taking part in scenes of suffering; she had seen sickness and death in cottages, as well as in her own home, and she had none of the fanciful alarms, either of novelty or imagination, to startle her in the strange watch that had so suddenly been thrust on her but what did fill her with a certain apprehension, was the new and lofty beauty of expression that sat on that sleeping countenance. 'A nice boy,' 'rather a handsome lad,' 'a boy of ingenuous face,' they had always called Leonard Ward, when animated with health and spirits; and the friendship between him and Aubrey had been encouraged, but without thinking of him as more than an ordinary lad of good style. Now, however, to Mary's mind, the broad brow and wasted features in their rest had assumed a calm nobility that was like those of Ethel's favourite champions-those who conquered by 'suffering and being strong.' She looked and listened for the low regular breath, almost doubting at one moment whether it still were drawn, then only reassured by its freedom and absence from effort, that it was not soon to pass away. There was something in that look as if death must set his seal on it, rather than as if it could return to the flush of health, and the struggle and strife of school-boy life and of manhood.

More than an hour had passed, and all within the house was as still as ever; and through the window there only came such sounds as seem like audible silence-the twittering of birds, the humming of bees, the calls of boys in distant fields, the far-away sound of waggon-wheels-when there was a slight move, and Mary, in the tension of all her faculties, had well-nigh started, but restrained herself; and as she saw the half-closed fingers stretch, and the head turn, she leant forward, and touched her father's hand.

Dr. May was on his feet even before those brown eyes of Leonard's had had time to unclose; and as Mary was silently moving to the door, he made a sign to her to wait.

She stood behind the curtain. 'You are better for your sleep.'

'Yes, thank you-much better.'

The Doctor signed towards a tray, which stood by a spirit-lamp, on a table in the further corner. Mary silently brought it, and as quietly obeyed the finger that directed her to cordial and spoon-well knowing the need-since that unserviceable right arm always made these operations troublesome to her father.

'Have you been here all night, Dr. May?'

'Yes; and very glad to see you sleeping so well.'

'Thank you.' And there was something that made Mary's eyes dazzle with tears in the tone of that 'Thank you.' The Doctor held out his hand for the spoon she had prepared, and there was another 'Thank you;' then, 'Is Ave there?'

'No, I made her go to bed. She is quite well; but she wanted sleep sorely.'

'Thank you,' again said the boy; then with a moment's pause, 'Dr. May, tell me now.'

Mary would have fled as breaking treacherously in upon such tidings; but a constraining gesture of her father obliged her to remain, and keep the cordial ready for immediate administration.

'My dear, I believe you know,' said Dr. May, bending over him-and Mary well knew what the face must be saying.

'Both?' the faint tones asked.

'Recollect the sorrow that they have been spared,' said Dr. May in his lowest, tenderest tones, putting his hand out behind him, and signing to Mary for the cordial.

'She could not have borne it;' and the feebleness of those words made Mary eager to put the spoon once more into her father's hands.

'That is right, my boy. Think of their being together;' and Mary heard tears in her father's voice.

'Thank you,' again showed that the cordial was swallowed; then a pause, and in a quiet, sad, low tone, 'Poor Ave!'

'Your mending is the best thing for her.'

Then came a long sigh; and then, after a pause, the Doctor knelt down, and said the Lord's Prayer-the orphan's prayer, as so many have felt it in the hour of bereavement.

All was quite still, and both he and Mary knelt on for some short space; then he arose in guarded stillness, hastily wiped away the tears that were streaming over his face, and holding back the curtain, showed Mary the boy, again sunk into that sweet refreshing sleep. 'That is well over,' he said, with a deep sigh of relief, when they had moved to a safe distance. 'Poor fellow! he had better become used to the idea while he is too weak to think.'

'He is better?' asked Mary, repressing her agitation with difficulty.

'I believe the danger is over; and you may tell his sister so when she wakes.'

(← Keyboard shortcut) Previous Contents (Keyboard shortcut →)
 Novels To Read Online Free

Scan the QR code to download MoboReader app.

Back to Top