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The drawing-room at Knight Sutton Hall was in that state of bustle incidental to the expectation of company, which was sure to prevail wherever Mrs. Langford reigned. She walked about, removing the covers from chairs and ottomans, shaking out curtains, adjusting china, and appealing to Mrs. Frederick Langford in various matters of taste, though never allowing her to move to assist her. Henrietta, however, often came to her help, and was certainly acting in a way to incur the severe displeasure of the absent queen, by laying aside Midas's robes to assist in the arrangements. "That picture is crooked, I am sure!" said Mrs. Langford; and of course she was not satisfied till she had summoned Geoffrey from the study to give his opinion, and had made him mount upon a chair to settle its position. In the midst of the operation, in walked Uncle Roger. "Hollo! Geoffrey, what are you up to now? So, ma'am, you are making yourself smart to-day. Where is my father?"
"He has ridden over to see the South Farm," said Mrs. Langford.
"Oho! got out of the way of the beautifying,--I understand."
"Have you seen anything of Fred and Busy Bee?" asked Mrs. Frederick Langford. "They went out directly after breakfast to walk to Sutton Leigh, and I have not seen them since."
"O yes," said Mr. Roger Langford, "I can tell you what has become of them; they are gone to Allonfield. I have just seen them off in the gig, and Will with them, after some of their acting affairs."
Good, easy man; he little thought what a thunder-clap was this intelligence. Uncle Geoffrey turned round on his elevation to look him full in the face; every shade of colour left the countenance of Mrs. Frederick Langford; Henrietta let her work fall, and looked up in dismay.
"You don't mean that Fred was driving?" said her mother.
"Yes, I do! Why my boys can drive long before they are that age,-- surely he knows how!"
"O, Roger, what have you done!" said she faintly, as if the exclamation would break from her in spite of herself.
"Indeed, mamma," said Henrietta, alarmed at her paleness, "I assure you Fred has often told me how he has driven our own horses when he was sitting up by Dawson."
"Ay, ay, Mary," said Uncle Roger, "never fear. Depend upon it, boys do many and many a thing that mammas never guess at, and come out with whole bones after all."
Henrietta, meantime, was attentively watching Uncle Geoffrey's face, in hopes of discovering what he thought of the danger; but she could learn nothing, for he kept his features as composed as possible.
"I do believe those children are gone crazy about their acting," said Mrs. Langford; "and how Mr. Langford can encourage them in it I cannot think. So silly of Bee to go off in this way, when she might just as well have sent by Martin!" And her head being pretty much engrossed with her present occupation, she went out to obey a summons from the kitchen, without much perception of the consternation that prevailed in the drawing-room.
"Did you know they were going, Henrietta?" asked Uncle Geoffrey, rather sternly.
"No! I thought they meant to sent Alex. But O! uncle, do you think there is any danger?" exclaimed she, losing self-control in the infection of fear caught from the mute terror which she saw her mother struggling to overcome. Her mother's inquiring, imploring glance followed her question.
"Foolish children!" said Uncle Geoffrey, "I am very much vexed with the Bee for her wilfulness about this scheme, but as for the rest, there is hardly a steadier animal than old Dumple, and he is pretty well used to young hands."
Henrietta thought him quite satisfied, and even her mother was in some degrees tranquillized, and would have been more so, had not Mr. Roger Langford begun to reason with her in the following style:--"Come, Mary, you need not be in the least alarmed. It is quite nonsense in you. You know a boy of any spirit will always be doing things that sound imprudent. I would not give a farthing for Fred if he was always to be the mamma's boy you would make him. He is come to an age now when you cannot keep him up in that way, and he must get knocked about some time or other."
"O yes, I know I am very foolish," said she, trying to smile.
"I shall send up Elizabeth to talk to you," said Uncle Roger. "She would have a pretty life of it if she went into such a state as you do on all such occasions."
"Enough to break the heart of ten horses, as they say in Ireland," said Uncle Geoffrey, seeing that the best chance for her was to appear at his ease, and divert his brother's attention. "And by the by, Roger, you never told me if you heard any more of your poor Irish haymakers."
"Why, Geoffrey, you have an absent fit now for once in your life," said his brother. "Are you the man to ask if I heard any more of them, when you yourself gave me a sovereign to send them in the famine?"
Uncle Geoffrey, however, persevered, and finally succeeded in starting Uncle Roger upon his favourite and inexhaustible subject of the doings at the Allonfield Union. During this time Mrs. Frederick Langford put a few stitches into her work, found it would not do, and paused, stood up, seemed to be observing the new arrangement in the room,--then took a long look out at the window, and at last left the room. Henrietta ran after her to assure her that she was convinced that Uncle Geoffrey was not alarmed, and to beg her to set her mind at rest. "Thank you, my dear," said she. "I--no, really--you know how foolish I am, my dear, and I think I had rather be alone. Don't stay here and frighten yourself too; this is only my usual fright, and it will be better if I am left alone. Go down, my dear, think about something else, and let me know when they come home."
With considerable reluctance Henrietta was obliged to obey, and descended to the drawing-room, where the first words that met her ears were from Uncle Roger. "Well, I wish, with all my heart, they were safe at home again. But do you mean to say, Geoffrey, that I ought not to have let them go?"
"I shall certainly come upon you for damages, if he breaks the neck of little Bee," said Uncle Geoffrey.
"If I had guessed it," said Uncle Roger; "but then, you know, any of my boys would think nothing of driving Dumple,--even Dick I have trusted,- -and they came up--you should have seen them--as confidently as if he had been driving four-in-hand every day of his life. Upon my word your daughter has a tolerable spirit of her own, if she knew that he could not drive."
"A tolerable spirit of self-will," said Uncle Geoffrey, with a sigh. "But did you see them off, how did they manage?"
"Ah! why there, I must confess, I was to blame," said his brother. "They did clear out of the yard in a strange fashion, certainly, and I might have questioned a little closer. But never mind, 'tis all straight road. I would lay any wager they will come back safe,--boys always do."
Uncle Geoffrey smiled, but Henrietta thought it a very bad sign that he, too, looked out at the window; and the confidence founded on his tranquillity deserted her.
Uncle Roger forthwith returned to the fighting o'er again of his battles at the Board of Guardians, and Henrietta was able to get to the window, where for some ten minutes she sat, and at length exclaimed with a start, "Here is Willy running across the paddock!"
"All right!" said Uncle Roger, "they must have stopped at Sutton Leigh!"
"It is the opposite way!" said Mr. Geoffrey Langford, who at the same moment stepped up to the window. Henrietta's heart throbbed fearfully as she saw how wearied was the boy's running, and yet how rapid. She could hardly stand as she followed her uncles to the hall; her mother at the same moment came downstairs, and all together met the little boy, as, breathless, exhausted, unable to speak, he rushed into the hall, and threw himself upon his father, leaning his head against him and clinging as if he could not stand.
"Why Will, how now, my boy? Have you been racing?" said his father, kneeling on one knee, and supporting the poor little wearied fellow, as he almost lay upon his breast and shoulder. "What is the matter now?"
There was a deep silence only interrupted by the deep pantings of the boy. Henrietta leant on the banisters, giddy with suspense. Uncle Geoffrey stepped into the dining-room, and brought back a glass of wine and some water. Aunt Mary parted the damp hair that hung over his forehead, laid her cold hand on it, and said, "Poor little fellow."
At her voice Willy looked up, clung faster to his father, and whispered something unintelligible.
"What? Has anything happened? What is the matter?" were questions anxiously asked, while Uncle Geoffrey in silence succeeded in administering the wine; after which Willy managed to say, pointing to his aunt,
It was with a sort of ghastly composure that she leant over him, saying, "Don't be afraid, my dear, I am ready to hear it."
He raised himself, and gazed at her in perplexity and wonder. Henrietta's violently throbbing heart took from her almost the perception of what was happening.
"Take breath, Willy," said his father; "don't keep us all anxious."
"Bee said I was to tell Uncle Geoffrey," said the boy.
"Is she safe?" asked Aunt Mary, earnestly.
"Thanks to God," said she, holding out her hand to Uncle Geoffrey, with a look of relief and congratulation, and yet of inexpressible mournfulness which went to his heart.
"And Fred?" said Uncle Roger.
"Do not ask, Roger," said she, still as calmly as before; "I always knew how it would be."
Henrietta tried to exclaim, to inquire, but her lips would not frame one word, her tongue would not leave the roof of her mouth. She heard a few confused sounds, and then a mist came over her eyes, a rushing of waters in her ears, and she sank on the ground in a fainting fit. When she came to herself she was lying on the sofa in the drawing-room, and all was still.
"Mamma!" said she.
"Here, dear child,"--but it was Mrs. Langford's voice.
"Mamma!" again said she. "Where is mamma? Where are they all? Why does the room turn round?"
"You have not been well, my dear," said her grandmother; "but drink this, and lie still, you will soon be better."
"Where is mamma?" repeated Henrietta, gazing round and seeing no one but Mrs. Langford and Bennet. "Was she frightened at my being ill? Tell her I am better."
"She knows it, my dear: lie still and try to go to sleep."
"But weren't there a great many people?" said Henrietta. "Were we not in the hall? Did not Willy come? O! grandmamma, grandmamma, do tell me, where are mamma and Fred?"
"They will soon be here, I hope."
"But, grandmamma," cried she vehemently, turning herself round as clearer recollection returned, "something has happened--O! what has happened to Fred?"
"Nothing very serious, we hope, my dear," said Mrs. Langford. "It was Willy who frightened you. Fred has had a fall, and your mamma and uncles are gone to see about him."
"A fall! O, tell me, tell me! I am sure it is something dreadful! O, tell me all about it, grandmamma, is he much hurt? O, Freddy, Freddy!"
With more quietness than could have been anticipated from so active and bustling a nature, Mrs. Langford gradually told her granddaughter all that she knew, which was but little, as she had been in attendance on her, and had only heard the main fact of Willy's story. Henrietta clapped her hands wildly together in an agony of grief. "He is killed- -he is, I'm sure of it!" said she. "Why do you not tell me so?"
"My dear, I trust and believe that he is only stunned."
"No, no, no! papa was killed in that way, and I am sure he is! O, Fred, Fred, my own dear, dear brother, my only one! O, I cannot bear it! O, Fred!"
She rose up from the sofa, and walked and down the room in an ecstasy of sorrow. "And it was I that helped to bring him here! It was my doing! O, my own, my dearest, my twin brother, I cannot live without him!"
"Henrietta," said Mrs. Langford, "you do not know what you are saying; you must bear the will of God, be it what it may."
"I can't, I can not," repeated Henrietta; "if I am to lose him, I can't live; I don't care for anything without Fred!"
"Your mother, Henrietta."
"Mamma! O, don't speak of her; she would die, I am sure she would, without him; and then I should too, for I should have nothing."
Henrietta's grief was the more ungovernable that it was chiefly selfish; there was little thought of her mother,--little, indeed, for anything but the personal loss to herself. She hid her face in her hands, and sobbed violently, though without a tear, while Mrs. Langford vainly tried to make her hear of patience and resignation, turning away, and saying, "I can't be patient--no, I can't!" and then again repeating her brother's name with all the fondest terms of endearment.
Then came a sudden change: it was possible that he yet lived--and she became certain that he had been only stunned for a moment, and required her grandmamma to be so too. Mrs. Langford, at the risk of a cruel disappointment, was willing to encourage her hope; but Henrietta, fancying herself treated like a petted child, chose to insist on being told really and exactly what was her view of the case. Then she was urgent to go out and meet the others, and learn the truth; but this Mrs. Langford would not permit. It was in kindness, to spare her some fearful sight, which might shock and startle her, but Henrietta was far from taking it so; her habitual want of submission made itself felt in spite of her usual gentleness, now that she had been thrown off her balance, and she burst into a passionate fit of weeping.
In such a dreadful interval of suspense, her conduct was, perhaps, scarcely under her own control; and it is scarcely just to mention it as a subject of blame. But, be it remembered that it was the effect of a long previous selfishness and self-will; quiet, amiable selfishness; gentle, caressing self-will; but no less real, and more perilous and deceitful. But for this, Henrietta would have thought more of her mother, prepared for her comfort, and braced herself in order to be a support to her; she would have remembered how terrible must be the shock to her grandmother in her old age, and how painful must be the remembrances thus excited of the former bereavement; and in the attempt to console her, the sense of her own sorrow would have been in some degree relieved; whereas she now seemed to forget that Frederick was anything to any one but herself. She prayed, but it was one wild repetition of "O, give him back to me!--save his life!--let him be safe and well!" She had no room for any other entreaty; she did not call for strength and resignation on the part of herself and her mother, for whatever might be appointed; she did not pray that his life might be granted only if it was for his good; she could ask nothing but that her own beloved brother might be spared to herself, and she ended her prayer as unsubdued, and therefore as miserable, as when she began it.
The first intelligence that arrived was brought by Uncle Roger and Beatrice, who, rather to their surprise, came back in the gig, and greatly relieved their minds with the intelligence of Frederick's life, and of Philip Carey's arrival. Henrietta had sprung eagerly up on their first entrance, with parted lips and earnest eyes, and listened to their narration with trembling throbbing hope, but with scarcely a word; and when she heard that Fred still lay senseless and motionless, she again turned away, and hid her face on the arm of the sofa, without one look at Beatrice, reckless of the pang that shot through the heart of one flesh from that trying watch over her brother. Beatrice hoped for one word, one kiss, and looked wistfully at the long veil of half uncurled ringlets that floated over the crossed arms on which her forehead rested, and meantime submitted with a kind of patient indifference to her grandmother's caress, drank hot wine and water, sat by the fire, and finally was sent upstairs to change her dress. Too restless, too anxious, too wretched to stay there alone, longing for some interchange of sympathy,--but her mind too turbid with agitation to seek it where it would most surely have been found,--she hastened down again. Grandmamma was busied in giving directions for the room which was being prepared for Fred; Uncle Roger had walked out to meet those who were conveying him home: and Henrietta was sitting in the window, her forehead resting against the glass, watching intently for their arrival.
"Are they coming?" asked Beatrice anxiously.
"No!" was all the answer, hardly uttered, and without looking round, as if her cousin's entrance was perfectly indifferent to her. Beatrice went up and stood by her, looking out for a few minutes; then taking the hand that lay in her lap, she said in an imploring whisper, "Henrietta, you forgive me?"
The hand lay limp and lifeless in hers, and Henrietta scarcely raised her face as she answered, in a low, languid, dejected voice, "Of course, Bee, only I am so wretched. Don't talk to me."
Her head sunk again, and Beatrice stepped hastily back to the fire, with a more bitter feeling than she had ever known. This was no forgiveness; it was worse than anger or reproach; it was a repulse, and that when her whole heart was yearning to relieve the pent-up oppression that almost choked her, by weeping with her. She leant her burning forehead on the cool marble chimney-piece, and longed for her mother,--longed for her almost as much for her papa's, her Aunt Mary's and her grandmother's sake, as for her own. But O! what an infinite relief would one talk with her have been! She turned toward the table, and thought of writing to her, but her hand was trembling--every pulse throbbing; she could not even sit still enough to make the attempt.
At last she saw Henrietta spring to her feet, and hastening to the window beheld the melancholy procession; Fred carried on a mattress by Uncle Geoffrey and three of the labourers; Philip Carey walking at one side, and on the other Mrs. Frederick Langford leaning on Uncle Roger's arm.
Both girls hurried out to meet them, but all attention was at that moment for the patient, as he was carried in on his mattress, and deposited for a few minutes on the large hall table. Henrietta pushed between her uncles, and made her way up to him, unconscious of the presence of anyone else--even of her mother--while she clasped his hand, and hanging over him looked with an agonized intensity at his motionless features. The next moment she felt her mother's hand on her shoulder, and was forced to turn round and look into her face: the sweet mournful meekness of which came for a moment like a soft cooling breeze upon the dry burning desert of her grief.
"My poor child," said the gentle voice.
"O, mamma, is--is--." She could not speak; her face was violently agitated, and the very muscles of her throat quivered.
"They hope for the best, my dear," was the reply; but both Mr. Geoffrey Langford and Beatrice distinguished her own hopelessness in the intonation, and the very form of the expression: whereas Henrietta only took in and eagerly seized the idea of comfort which it was intended to convey to her. She would have inquired more, but Mrs. Langford was telling her mother of the arrangements she had made, and entreating her to take some rest.
"Thank you, ma'am,--thank you very much indeed--you are very kind: I am very sorry to give you so much trouble," were her answers; and simple as were the words, there was a whole world of truth and reality in them.
Preparations were now made for carrying Fred up stairs, but even at that moment Aunt Mary was not without thought for Beatrice, who was retreating, as if she feared to be as much in her way as she had been in Henrietta's.
"I did not see you, before, Queenie," she said, holding out her hand and kissing her, "you have gone through more than any one."
A thrill of fond grateful affection brought the tears into Queen Bee's eyes. How much there was even in the pronunciation of that pet playful name to touch her heart, and fill it to overflowing with love and contrition. She longed to pour out her whole confession, but there was no one to attend to her--the patient occupied the whole attention of all. He was carried to his mother's room, placed in bed, and again examined by young Mr. Carey, who pronounced with increased confidence that there was no fracture, and gave considerable hopes of improvement. While this was passing, Henrietta sat on the upper step of the stairs, her head on her hands, scarcely moving or answering when addressed. As evening twilight began to close in, the surgeon left the room, and went down to make his report to those who were anxiously awaiting it in the drawing-room; and she took advantage of his exit to come to the door, and beg to be let in.
Uncle Geoffrey admitted her; and her mother, who was sitting by the bed-side, held out her hand. Henrietta came up to her, and at first stood by her, intently watching her brother; then after a time sat down on a footstool, and, with her head resting on her mother's lap, gave herself up to a sort of quiet heavy dream, which might be called the very luxury of grief. Uncle Geoffrey sat by the fire, watching his sister-in-law even more anxiously than the patient, and thus a considerable interval passed in complete silence, only broken by the crackling of the fire, the ticking of the watches, or some slight change of posture of one or other of the three nurses. At last the stillness was interrupted by a little movement among the bedclothes, and with a feeling like transport, Henrietta saw the hand, which had hitherto lain so still and helpless, stretched somewhat out, and the head turned upon the pillow. Uncle Geoffrey stood up, and Mrs. Frederick Langford pressed her daughter's hand with a sort of convulsive tremor. A faint voice murmured "Mamma!" and while a flush of trembling joy illumined her pale face, she bent over him, answering him eagerly and fondly, but he did not seem to know her, and again repeating "Mamma," opened his eyes with a vacant gaze, and tried in vain to express some complaint.
In a short time, however, he regained a partial degree of consciousness. He knew his mother, and was continually calling to her, as if for the sake of feeling her presence, but without recognizing any other person, not even his sister or his uncle. Henrietta stood gazing sadly upon him, while his mother hung over him soothing his restlessness, and answering his half-uttered complaints, and Uncle Geoffrey was ever ready with assistance and comfort to each in turn, as it was needed, and especially supporting his sister-in-law with that sense of protection and reliance so precious to a sinking heart.
Aunt Roger came up to announce that dinner was ready, and to beg that she might stay with Fred while the rest went down. Mrs. Frederick Langford only shook her head, and thanked her, saying with a painful smile that it was impossible, but begging Uncle Geoffrey and Henrietta to go. The former complied, knowing how much alarm his absence would create downstairs; but Henrietta declared that she could not bear the thoughts of going down, and it was only by a positive order that he succeeded in making her come with him. Grandpapa kissed her, and made her sit by him, and grandmamma loaded her plate with all that was best on the table, but she looked at it with disgust, and leaning back in her chair, faintly begged not to be asked to eat.
Uncle Geoffrey poured out a glass of wine, and said in a tone which startled her by its unwonted severity, "This will not do, Henrietta; I cannot allow you to add to your mamma's troubles by making yourself ill. I desire you will eat, as you certainly can."
Every one was taken by surprise, and perhaps Mrs. Langford might have interfered, but for a sign from grandpapa. Henrietta, with a feeling of being cruelly treated, silently obeyed, swallowed down the wine, and having done so, found herself capable of making a very tolerable dinner, by which she was greatly relieved and refreshed.
Uncle Geoffrey said a few cheering words to his father and mother, and returned to Fred's room as soon as he could, without giving that appearance of hurry and anxiety which would have increased their alarm. Henrietta, without the same thoughtfulness, rushed rather than ran after him, and neither of the two came down again to tea.
Philip Carey was to stay all night, and though Beatrice was of course very glad that he should do so, yet she was much harassed by the conversation kept up with him for civility's sake. She had been leading a forlorn dreary life all the afternoon, busy first in helping grandmamma to write notes to be sent to the intended guests, and afterwards, with a feeling of intense disgust, putting out of sight all the preparations for their own self-chosen sport. She desired quiet, and yet when she found it, it was unendurable, and to talk to her father or grandfather would be a great relief, yet the first beginning might well be dreaded. Neither of them was forthcoming, and now in the evening to hear the quiet grave discussion of Allonfield gossip was excessively harassing and irritating. No one spoke for their own pleasure, the thoughts of all were elsewhere, and they only talked thus for the sake of politeness; but she gave them no credit for this, and felt fretted and wearied beyond bearing. Even this, however, was better than when they did return to the engrossing thought, and spoke of the accident, requiring of her a more exact and particular account of it. She hurried over it. Grandmamma praised her, and each word was a sting.
"But, my dear," said Mrs. Roger Langford, "what could have made you so anxious to go to Allonfield?"
"O, Aunt Roger, it was very--" but here Beatrice, whose agitated spirits made her particularly accessible to momentary emotion, was seized with such a sense of the absurdity of undertaking so foolish an expedition, with no other purpose than going to buy a pair of ass's ears, that she was overpowered by a violent fit of laughing. Grandmamma and Aunt Roger, after looking at her in amazement for a moment, both started up, and came towards her with looks of alarm that set her off again still more uncontrollably. She struggled to speak, but that only made it worse, and when she perceived that she was supposed to be hysterical, she laughed the more, though the laughter was positive pain. Once she for a moment succeeded in recovering some degree of composure, but every kind demonstration of solicitude brought on a fresh access of laughter, and a certain whispering threat of calling Philip Carey was worse than all. When, however, Aunt Roger was actually setting off for the purpose, the dread of his coming had a salutary effect, and enabled her to make a violent effort, by which she composed herself, and at length sat quite still, except for the trembling, which she could not control.
Grandmamma and Aunt Roger united in ordering her to bed, but she could not bear to go without seeing her papa, nor would she accept Mrs. Langford's offer of calling him; and at last a compromise was made that she should go up to bed on condition that her papa should come and visit her when he came out of Fred's room. Her grandmamma came up with her, helped her to undress, gave her the unwonted indulgence of a fire, and summoned Judith to prepare things as quickly and quietly as possible for Henrietta, who was to sleep with her that night. It was with much difficulty that she could avoid making a promise to go to bed immediately, and not to get up to breakfast. At last, with a very affectionate kiss, grandmamma left her to brush her hair, an operation which she resolved to lengthen out until her papa's visit.
It was long before he came, but at last his step was heard along the passage, his knock was at her door. She flew to it, and stood before him, her large black eyes looking larger, brighter, blacker than usual from the contrast with the pale or rather sallow face, and the white nightcap and dressing-gown.
"How is Fred?" asked she as well as her parched tongue would allow her to speak.
"Much the same, only talking a little more. But why are you up still? Your grandmamma said--"
"Never mind, papa," interrupted she, "only tell me this--is Fred in danger?"
"You have heard all we can tell, my dear--"
Beatrice interrupted him by an impatient, despairing look, and clasped her hands: "I know--I know; but what do you think?"
"My own impression is," said her father, in a calm, kind, yet almost reproving tone, as if to warn her to repress her agitation, "that there is no reason to give up hope, although it is impossible yet to ascertain the extent of the injury."
Beatrice retreated a step or two: she stood by the table, one hand upon it, as if for support, yet her figure quite erect, her eyes fixed on his face, and her voice firm, though husky, as she said, slowly and quietly, "Papa, if Fred dies, it is my doing."
His face did not express surprise or horror--nothing but kindness and compassion, while he answered, "My poor girl, I was afraid how it might have been." Then he led her to a chair and sat down by her side, so as to let her perceive that he was ready to listen, and would give her time. He might be in haste, but it was no time to show it.
She now spoke with more hurry and agitation, "Yes, yes, papa, it was the very thing you warned me against--I mean--I mean--the being set in my own way, and liking to tease the boys. O if I could but speak to tell you all, but it seems like a weight here choking me," and she touched her throat. "I can't get it out in words! O!" Poor Beatrice even groaned aloud with oppression.
"Do not try to express it," said her father: "at least, it is not I who can give you the best comfort. Here"--and he took up a Prayer Book.
"Yes, I feel as if I could turn there now I have told you, papa," said Beatrice; "but when I could not get at you, everything seemed dried up in me. Not one prayer or confession would come;--but now, O! now you know it, and--and--I feel as if He would not turn away His face. Do you know I did try the 51st Psalm, but it would not do, not even 'deliver me from blood-guiltiness,' it would only make me shudder! O, papa, it was dreadful!"
Her father's answer was to draw her down on her knees by his side, and read a few verses of that very Psalm, and a few clauses of the prayer for persons troubled in mind, and he ended with the Lord's Prayer. Beatrice, when it was over, leant her head against him, and did not speak, nor weep, but she seemed refreshed and relieved. He watched her anxiously and affectionately, doubting whether it was right to bestow so much time on her exclusively, yet unwilling to leave her. When she again spoke, it was in a lower, more subdued, and softer voice, "Aunt Mary will forgive me, I know; you will tell her, papa, and then it will not be quite so bad! Now I can pray that he may be saved--O, papa-- disobedient, and I the cause; how could I ever bear the thought?"
"You can only pray," replied her father.
"Now that I can once more," said Beatrice; and again there was a silence, while she stood thinking deeply, but contrary to her usual habit, not speaking, and he knowing well her tendency to lose her repentant feelings by expressing them, was not willing to interrupt her. So they remained for nearly ten minutes, until at last he thought it time to leave her, and made some movement as if to do so. Then she spoke, "Only tell me one thing, papa. Do you think Aunt Mary has any hope? There was something--something death-like in her face. Does she hope?"
Mr. Geoffrey Langford shook his head. "Not yet," said he. "I think it may be better after this first night is over. She is evidently reckoning the hours, and I think she has a kind of morbid expectation that it will be as it was with his father, who lived twelve hours after his accident."
"But surely, surely," said Beatrice eagerly, "this is a very different case; Fred has spoken so much more than my uncle did; and Philip says he is convinced that there is no fracture--"
"It is a morbid feeling," said Mr. Geoffrey Langford, "and therefore impossible to be reasoned away. I see she dreads to be told to hope, and I shall not even attempt it till these fatal twelve hours are over."
"Poor dear aunt!" sighed Beatrice. "I am glad, if it was to be, that you were here, for nobody else would understand her."
"Understand her!" said he, with something of a smile. "No, Bee, such sorrow as hers has a sacredness in it which is not what can be understood."
Beatrice sighed, and then with a look as if she saw a ray of comfort, said, "I suppose mamma will soon be here?"
"I think not," said her father, "I shall tell her she had better wait to see how things go on, and keep herself in reserve. At present it is needlessly tormenting your aunt to ask her to leave Fred for a moment, and I do not think she has even the power to rest. While this goes on, I am of more use in attending to him than your mamma could be; but if he is a long time recovering, it will be a great advantage to have her coming fresh, and not half knocked up with previous attendance."
"But how she will wish to be here!" exclaimed Beatrice, "and how you will want her!"
"No doubt of that, Queenie," said her father smiling, "but we must reserve our forces, and I think she will be of the same mind. Well, I must go. Where is Henrietta to sleep to-night?"
"With me," said Beatrice.
"I will send her to you as soon as I can. You must do what you can with her, Bee, for I can see that the way she hangs on her mamma is quite oppressive. If she had but a little vigour!"
"I don't know what to do about her!" said Beatrice with more dejection than she had yet shown, "I wish I could be of any comfort to her, but I can't--I shall never do good to anybody--only harm."
"Fear the harm, and the good will come," said Mr. Geoffrey Langford. "Good night, my dear."
Beatrice threw herself on her knees as soon as the door had closed on her father, and so remained for a considerable time in one earnest, unexpressed outpouring of confession and prayer, for how long she knew not, all that she was sensible of was a feeling of relief, the repose of such humility and submission, such heartfelt contrition as she had never known before.
So she continued till she heard Henrietta's approaching steps, when she rose and opened the door, ready to welcome her with all the affection and consolation in her power. There stood Henrietta, a heavy weight on her eyes, her hair on one side all uncurled and flattened, the colour on half her face much deepened, and a sort of stupor about her whole person, as if but one idea possessed her. Beatrice went up to meet her, and took her candle, asking what account she brought of the patient. "No better," was all the answer, and she sat down making no more detailed answers to all her cousin's questions. She would have done the same to her grandmamma, or any one else, so wrapped up was she in her own grief, but this conduct gave more pain to Beatrice than it could have done to any one else, since it kept up the last miserable feeling of being unforgiven. Beatrice let her sit still for some minutes, looking at her all the time with an almost piteous glance of entreaty, of which Henrietta was perfectly unconscious, and then began to beg her to undress, seconding the proposal by beginning to unfasten her dress.
Henrietta moved pettishly, as if provoked at being disturbed.
"I beg your pardon, dear Henrietta," said Beatrice; "if you would but let me! You will be ill to-morrow, and that would be worse still."
"No, I shan't," said Henrietta shortly, "never mind me."
"But I must, dear Henrietta. If you would but--"
"I can't go to bed," replied Henrietta, "thank you, Bee, never mind--"
Beatrice stood still, much distressed at her own inability to be of any service, and pained far more by the sight of Henrietta's grief than by the unkind rejection of herself. "Papa thinks there is great hope," said she abruptly.
"Mamma does not," said Henrietta, edging away from her cousin as if to put an end to the subject.
Beatrice almost wrung her hands. O this wilfulness of grief, how hard it was to contend with it! At last there was a knock at the door--it was grandmamma, suspecting that they were still up. Little recked Beatrice of the scolding that fell on herself for not having been in bed hours ago; she was only rejoiced at the determination that swept away all Henrietta's feeble opposition. The bell was rung, Bennet was summoned, grandmamma peremptorily ordered her to be undressed, and in another half-hour the cousins were lying side by side, Henrietta's lethargy had become a heavy sleep, Beatrice was broad awake, listening to every sound, forming every possible speculation on the future, and to her own overstretched fancy seeming actually to feel the thoughts chasing each other through her throbbing head.
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