Page images

They could hear her chattering pleasantly as she went up-stairs with Margery. Mr. Snow stayed talking with Maria: charging her to do this, not to do the other, to go on with this medicine, to leave off that; threatening ber with unheard-of penalties if he caught her crying again in that violent fashion, only fit for a dramatic heroine at the play, and largely promised her to be well in no time if she'd only attend to his directions and make an effort of herself. Perbaps those promises were vague, as certain other large promises you have heard of-those made to Meta by George.

That same night Mr. Snow was called up to Mrs. George Godolphin. -Let us call her go to the end; but she is Mrs. Godolphin now. Margery was sleeping quietly, the child in a little bed by her side, when she was aroused by some one standing over her. It was her mistress in her night-dress. Up started the woman, wide awake instantly, crying out to know what was the matter.

“Margery, I shan't be in time. There's the ship waiting to sail, and none of my things are ready. I can't go without my things."

Margery, experienced in illness of many kinds, saw what it was. That her mistress had suddenly awoke from some vivid dream, and in her weak state was unable to shake off the delusion. In fact, that species of half-consciousness, half-delirium was upon her, which is apt in the night-time to attack some patients labouring under long-continued and excessive weakness.

She had come up exactly as she got out of bed. No slippers on her feet, nothing extra put on her shoulders. As Margery threw a warm woollen sbawl over those shoulders, she felt the ominous damp of the night-dress. A pair of list shoes of her own were at the bedside, and sbe bastily thrust them on her mistress's feet.

“Let's make baste down to your bed, ma'am, and we'll see about the things there."

Ere the lapse of another minute Maria was in the bed, Margery covering her warmly up. Margery had flung an old cloak over herself, and she now put on the list shoes, and stood talking with and humouring her mistress until her full consciousness should come.

“There'll be no time, Margery; there'll be no time to get the things: they never could be bought and made, you know. Oh, Margery! the ship must not go without me! What will be done ?!

"I'll telegraph up to that ship to-morrow morning, and get him to put off his start for a week or two,” cried Margery, nodding her head with authority. “Never you trouble yourself, ma'am ; it'll be all right. You go to sleep again comfortable, and we'll see about the things with morning light."

Some little time Margery talked; a stock of this should be got in, a stock of the other: as for linen, it could all be bought ready madeand the best way too, now calico was so cheap. Somewhat surprised that she heard no answer, no further expressed fear, Margery looked close at her mistress by the light of the night-lamp, wondering whether she had gone to sleep again. She had not gone to sleep. She was lying still, cold, white, without sense or motion; and Margery, collected Margery, very nearly gave vent to a scream.

Maria had fainted away. There was no doubt of that, but Margery did not understand it at all, or why she should have fainted when

of it; not had caughttion left by a

she ought to have gone to sleep. Margery liked it as little as she understood it; and she ran up-stairs to their landlady, Mrs. James, and got her to despatch her son for Mr. Snow.

Maria had recovered consciousness when he came in, both from the fainting-fit and from the delusion. He did not seem to think much of it; not half as much as he did about the violent fit of weeping in which he had caught her in the evening: it was nothing but the effects of the exhaustion left by that, as be believed. He admi. nistered some restorative, and said he would come again betimes in the morning. . “I'll stop here the rest of the night and watch," said Margery, as he departed.

But Maria would not hear of it. "I am not ill, Margery; it has all passed. Indeed, I insist upon your going to your bed.”

“Well, then, don't you get having none o' them dreams, ma'am, again!” remonstrated Margery. “I don't like 'em. You might catch your death of cold a-coming up that shivering staircase out o' your hot bed. And the child, too! if she got woke up by your coming in, there's no knowing what fright it mightn't put her into !"

But that was only the beginning. Night after night would these attacks of semi-delirium beset her. Mr. Snow came and came, and drew an ominous face and doubled the tonics and changed them, and talked and joked and scolded. But it all seemed of no avail: she certainly did not get better. Weary, weary hours! weary, weary days! as she lay there alone, struggling with her malady. And yet no malady either that Mr. Snow could discover, nothing but a weakness which be only half believed in.

III. A BANE: AS WAS PREDICTED YEARS BEFORE. · JANET and Bessy Godolphin sat with Mrs. George. The time had come for Janet to quit Ashlydyat, and she was paying her farewell visit to Maria. Maria looked pretty well when they had come in, as she sat at the window at work; at work with her weak and fevered hands. No very poetical employment, that on which she was engaged, but one which has to be done in most families neverthelessstocking darning. She was darping socks for Miss Meta. Miss Meta, her sleeves and white pinafore tied up with black ribbon, her golden curls somewhat in disorder, for the young lady had rebelliously broken from Margery and taken a race round the garden in the blowing wintry wind, her smooth cheeks fresh and rosy, was now roasting her face in front of the fire, her doll and a whole collection of dolls' clothes lying around her on the bearth-rug.

Maria laid down her work when the Miss Godolphins in their deep mourning entered, and rose to shake hands and drew forward chairs for them, and did altogether as anybody else does at receiving intimate friends, and seemed pretty well. In moments of excitementand the slightest thing excited her now—she appeared to be buoyed up with artificial strength. Meta bustled here and there, and threw

her doll into a corner, and scattered its clothes anywhere, and chattered without ceasing: she began telling Bessy of the large elephant papa would keep for her to go out riding upon in India.

Bessy had come, not so much to accompany Janet as for a special purpose-that of delivering a message from Lady Godolphin. My lady, deeming possibly that her displeasure had lasted long enough, graciously charged Bessy with an invitation to Maria—to spend a week at the Folly ere her departure for Calcutta. She would have come herself and invited her in person, she bade Bessy say, but for a bad cold which confined her in-doors, and she included Miss Meta in the invitation : a notable mark of attention, since Lady Godolphin much disliked children so long as they were at their troublesome age, and had never, in all the remembrance of Prior's Ash, invited one, Meta excepted, to a sojourn at her house.

“She was not for inviting Meta now," said straightforward Bessy, “but I said I would take care that she was not troublesome, in the presence of Lady Godolphin. I hope you will come, Maria. If you will fix your own time, she said, the carriage shall be here to bring


Maria gave a sort of sobbing sigh. “She is very kind. Tell Lady Godolphin how kind I feel it of her, Bessy, but I am not well enough to go from home now."

“My opinion was, that Maria would have little enough of time at home for her preparations for the voyage, without going from it for a week,” remarked Janet. “But about that, my dear”-turning kindly to her"you must be the best judge.”

“I could not go, Janet; I am not strong enough. Bessy will be so kind as explain that to Lady Godolphin. I cannot get up before middle day now.”

Bessy looked at her. “But, Maria, if you are not strong enough to go out on a week's visit, how shall you be strong enough to undertake a three months' voyage ?”.

Maria paused ere she answered the question. She was gazing out straight before her, as if seeing something at a distance-something in the future. “I think of it and of its uncertainty a great deal," she presently said. “If I can only get away; if I can only keep up sufficiently to get away, I can lie down in my berth always. And if I do die before I reach India, George will be with me."

“ Child !” almost sharply interrupted Janet, “what are you saying ?”

She seemed scarcely to hear the interruption. She sat, gazing still, her white and trembling hands lying clasped on her black dress, and she resumed, as if pursuing the train of thought.

“My great dread is, lest I should not keep up to get to London, to be taken on board ; lest George should, after all, be obliged to sail without me. It is always on my mind, Janet; it makes me dream constantly that the ship is gone and I am left behind. I wish I did not have those dreams."

“Come to Lady Godolphin's Folly, Maria," persuasively spoke Bessy. “ It will be the very best thing to cheat you of these fears. They all arise from weakness."

“Yes, I say so to myself in the daytime; that those night fancies are only the result of weakness," acquiesced Maria, who appeared to rouse up from her dreamy thought at Bessy's remark. “But I am not well enough to go to the Folly, Bessy. Margery can tell you how ill I am every night, after I wake out of those fever-dreams. The first night they fetched Mr. Snow to me, for I fainted.”

“My dear," said Janet, soothingly and quietly, “ the change to the sea air, to the altogether different life of the voyage, may restore you to health and strength in an incredibly short time."

“At times I think it may," answered Maria. “I had a pleasant dream one night,” she added, with some animation. “I thought we had arrived in safety, and I and George and Meta were sitting under a tree whose leaves were larger than an umbrella. It was so hot, but these leaves shaded us, and I seemed to be well, for we were all laugh. ing merrily together. It may come true, you know, Janet."

“ Yes," assented Janet. “Are you preparing much for the voyage ?"

« Not yet. Things can be had so quickly now. George talked it over with me when he was down, and we decided to send a list to the outfitter's, just before we sailed, so that the things might not come down here, but be packed in London."

And Margery?” asked Janet.

“I do not know what she means to do," answered Maria, shaking her head. “She protests ten times a day that she will not go; but I see she is carefully mending up all her cotton gowns, and one day I heard her say to Meta that she supposed nothing was bearable but cotton on a body's back out there. What I should do without Margery on the voyage, I don't like to think. George told her to consider of it, and give us her decision when he next came down. And you, Janet ? When shall you be back at Prior's Ash pa

“I do not suppose I shall ever come back to it," was Janet's answer. " Its reminiscences will not be so pleasing to me that I should seek to renew my acquaintance with it. What have I left here now? Nothing, save the grave of Thomas, and of my father and mother. Cecilia has her new ties: and Bessy can come to see me in Scot


"Bexley attends you, I hear.”

Yes. My aunt's old servant has got beyond his work he has been forty-two years in the family, Maria--and Bexley will replace him. I- What is it, child ?"

Janet turned to Meta, who was making a great commotion. In searching in a deep basket for some doll's clothes to show to Bessy, she had come upon a charming frock elaborately braided, which was decidedly too big for the doll. Of course Meta jumped to the conclusion that it must be for herself, and she was just as fond of finery as are other woman in embryo. Dragging the material from its place, she flew over to her mamma, asking whether it was not hers, and when she might put it on, utterly regardless of two long streams of braid which trailed after it.

Ah, how sick did Maria turn with the sight; with the remembrance it brought to her! That long past day, the last of her happiness, when she had been working quickly to finish the frock, rose vividly before her mind's eye. She saw herself sitting there, in her own pleasant morning room at the bank, blithely plying her needle in her unconscious peace, knowing nothing of those ominous shutters that were being drawn over the bank windows. What with sickness of heart and of body, Maria bad never had courage to bring the frock to light since, or to attempt to finish it.

“ Put it up again, Meta,” she said, faintly.

But Bessy had laid hold of it; industrious, practical Bessy. “Let me finish this for you, Maria. It will be a nice cool frock for the child in India. Dear me! there's not above an hour or two's work wanted at it. I'll take it home with me."

Maria murmured something about the trouble that came upon her, the illness that supervened upon it, as a lame attempt at apology. She was aware that unfinished work, lying by indefinitely, was little less than a cardinal sin in the eyes of methodical Janet. Bessy folded it up to take with her, and Janet rose.

"No, stay where you are, child,” she said, bending over Maria, who was then lying back in her chair, looking grievously wan and ill, “I can say good-by to you as you lie there. Take this, my dear," she whispered. “It is for yourself.”

Janet had slipped four sovereigns into her hand. Maria's face turned crimson. “You need not scruple, Maria. It is superfluous in my purse. My aunt sent me a handsome present for mourning and travelling expenses; a great deal more than I want."

“Indeed I have enough too, Janet. George left me five pounds when he was at home, and it is not half gone. You don't know wbat a little keeps us. I eat next to nothing, and Margery, I think, lives chiefly upon porridge: there's only Meta."

“But you ought to eat, child !"

“I can't eat," said Maria. “I have never lost that pain in my throat."

“ What pain ?" asked Janet.

“I do not know. It came on with that trouble. I feel I feel always ill within me, Janet. I seem to be always shivering inwardly; and the pain in the throat is sometimes better, sometimes worse, but it never goes quite away.

Janet looked at her searchingly. She heard the meek, resigned tone, she saw the white and wan face, the attenuate hands, the chest rising with every passing emotion, the sad, mournful look in the sweet eyes, and for the first time a suspicion that another life would shortly have to go, took possession of Miss Godolphin.

"What is George at, that he is not here to see after you ?" she asked, in a strangely severe accent.

“He cannot bear Prior's Ash, Janet,” whispered Maria. “But for me and Thomas he never would have come back to it. And I suppose he is busy in London : there must be many arrangements to make."

Janet stooped and gravely kissed her; kissed her twice. " Take

« EelmineJätka »