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"Half-past one," said Mr. Geoffrey Langford, as if it was a mere casual observation, though in reality it was the announcement that the fatal twelve hours had passed more than half-an-hour since.
There was no answer, but he heard a slight movement, and though carefully avoiding any attempt to penetrate the darkness around the sick bed, he knew full well that his sister was on her knees, and when he again heard her voice in reply to some rambling speech of her son, it had a tremulous tone, very unlike its former settled hopelessness.
Again, when Philip Carey paid his morning visit, she studied the expression of his face with anxious, inquiring, almost hopeful eyes, the crushed heart-broken indifference of yesterday had passed away; and when the expedience of obtaining further advice was hinted at, she caught at the suggestion with great eagerness, though the day before her only answer had been, "As you think right." She spoke so as to show the greatest consideration for the feelings of Philip Carey, then with her usual confiding spirit, she left the selection of the person to be called in entirely to him, to her brother and father-in-law, and returned to her station by Frederick, who had already missed and summoned her.
Philip, in spite of the small follies which provoked Beatrice's sarcasm, was by no means deficient in good sense or ability; his education had owed much to the counsels of Mr. Geoffrey Langford, whom he regarded with great reverence, and he was so conscious of his own inexperience and diffident of his own opinion, as to be very anxious for assistance in this, the first very serious case which had fallen under his own management. The proposal had come at first from himself, and this was a cause of great rejoicing to those who had to reconcile Mrs. Langford to the measure. In her eyes a doctor was a doctor, member of a privileged fraternity in which she saw no distinctions, and to send for advice from London would, she thought, not only hurt the feelings of Mrs. Roger Langford, and all the Carey connection, but seriously injure the reputation of young Mr. Carey in his own neighbourhood.
Grandpapa answered, and Beatrice was glad he did so, that such considerations were as nothing when weighed in the scale against Frederick's life; she was silenced, but unconvinced, and unhappy till her son Geoffrey, coming down late to breakfast, greatly comforted her by letting her make him some fresh toast with her own hands, and persuading her that it would be greatly in favour of Philip's practice that his opinion should be confirmed by an authority of note.
The electric telegraph and the railroad brought the surgeon even before she had begun seriously to expect him, and his opinion was completely satisfactory as far as regarded Philip Carey and the measures already taken; Uncle Geoffrey himself feeling convinced that his approval was genuine, and not merely assumed for courtesy's sake. He gave them, too, more confident hope of the patient than Philip, in his diffidence, had ventured to do, saying that though there certainly was concussion of the brain, he thought there was great probability that the patient would do well, provided that they could combat the feverish symptoms which had begun to appear. He consulted with Philip Carey, the future treatment was agreed upon, and he left them with cheered and renewed spirits to enter on a long and anxious course of attendance. Roger, who was obliged to go away the next day, cheered up his brother Alex into a certainty that Fred would be about again in a week, and though no one but the boys shared the belief, yet the assurances of any one so sanguine, inspired them all with something like hope.
The attendance at first fell almost entirely on Mrs. Frederick Langford and Uncle Geoffrey, for the patient, who had now recovered a considerable degree of consciousness, would endure no one else. If his mother's voice did not answer him the first moment, he instantly grew restless and uneasy, and the plaintive inquiry, "Is Uncle Geoffrey here?" was many times repeated. He would recognise Henrietta, but his usual answer to her was "You speak so loud;" though in reality, her tone was almost exactly the same as her mother's; and above all others he disliked the presence of Philip Carey.
"Who is that?" inquired he, the first time that he was at all conscious of the visits of other people: and when his mother explained, he asked quickly, "Is he gone?"
The next day, Fred was alive to all that was going on, but suffering considerable pain, and with every sense quickened to the most acute and distressing degree, his eyes dazzled by light which, as he declared, glanced upon the picture frames in a room where his mother and uncle could scarcely see to find their way, and his ears pierced, as it were, by the slightest sound in the silent house, sleepless with pain, incapable of thought, excessively irritable in temper, and his faculties, as it seemed, restored only to be the means of suffering. Mrs. Langford came to the door to announce that Philip Carey was come. Mr. Geoffrey Langford went to speak to him, and grandmamma and Henrietta began to arrange the room a little for his reception. Fred, however, soon stopped this. "I can't bear the shaking," said he. "Tell them to leave off, mamma."
Grandmamma, unconscious of the pain she was inflicting, and believing that she made not the slightest noise, continued to put the chairs in order, but Fred gave an impatient, melancholy sort of groan and exclamation, and Mrs. Langford remarked, "Well, if he cannot bear it, it cannot be helped; but it is quite dangerous in this dark room!" And out she went, Fred frowning with pain at every step she took.
"Why do you let people come?" asked he sharply of his mother. "Where is Uncle Geoffrey gone?"
"He is speaking with Mr. Philip Carey, my dear, he will be here with him directly."
"I don't want Philip Carey; don't let him come."
"My dear boy, he must come; he has not seen you to-day, perhaps he may do something for this sad pain."
Fred turned away impatiently, and at the same moment Uncle Geoffrey opened the door to ask if Fred was ready.
"Yes," said Mrs. Frederick Langford: and Philip entered. But Fred would not turn towards him till desired to do so, nor give his hand readily for his pulse to be felt. Philip thought it necessary to see his face a little more distinctly, and begged his pardon for having the window shutters partly opened; but Fred contrived completely to frustrate his intention, as with an exclamation which had in it as much of anger as of pain, he turned his face inwards to the pillow, and drew the bed-clothes over it.
"My dear boy," said his mother, pleadingly, "for one moment only!"
"I told you I could not bear the light," was all the reply.
"If you would but oblige me for a few seconds," said Philip.
"Fred!" said his uncle gravely; and Fred made a slight demonstration as if to obey, but at the first glimpse of the dim light, he hid his face again, saying, "I can't;" and Philip gave up the attempt, closed the shutter, unfortunately not quite as noiselessly as Uncle Geoffrey had opened it, and proceeded to ask sundry questions; to which the patient scarcely vouchsafed a short and pettish reply. When at last he quitted the room, and was followed by Mrs. Frederick Langford, a "Don't go, mamma," was immediately heard.
"You must spare me for a very little while, my dear," said she, gently but steadily.
"Don't stay long, then," replied he.
Uncle Geoffrey came up to his bedside, and with a touch soft and light as a woman's, arranged the coverings disturbed by his restlessness, and for a few moments succeeded in tranquillizing him, but almost immediately he renewed his entreaties that his mother would return, and had it been any other than his uncle who had taken her place, would have grumbled at his not going to call her. On her return, she was greeted with a discontented murmur. "What an immense time you have stayed away!"--presently after, "I wish you would not have that Carey!" and then, "I wish we were at Rocksand,--I wish Mr. Clarke were here."
Patience in illness is a quality so frequently described in books as well as actually found in real life, that we are apt to believe that it comes as a matter of course, and without previous training, particularly in the young, and that peevishness is especially reserved for the old and querulous, who are to try the amiability of the heroine. To a certain degree, this is often the case; the complete prostration of strength, and the dim awe of approaching death in the acute illnesses of the young, often tame down the stubborn or petulant temper, and their patience and forbearance become the wonder and admiration of those who have seen germs of far other dispositions. And when this is not the case, who would have the heart to complain? Certainly not those who are like the mother and uncle who had most to endure from the exacting humours of Frederick Langford. High spirits, excellent health, a certain degree of gentleness of character, and a home where, though he was not over indulged, there was little to ruffle him, all had hitherto combined to make him appear one of the most amiable good-tempered boys that ever existed; but there was no substance in this apparent good quality, it was founded on no real principle of obedience or submission, and when to an habitual spirit of determination to have his own way, was superadded the irritability of nerves which was a part of his illness, when his powers of reflection were too much weakened to endure or comprehend argument; when, in fact, nothing was left to fall back upon but the simple obedience which would have been required in a child, and when that obedience was wanting, what could result but increased discomfort to himself and all concerned? Yes, even as we should lay up a store of prayers against that time when we shall be unable to pray for ourselves, so surely should we lay up a store of habits against the time when we may be unable to think or reason for ourselves! How often have lives been saved by the mere instinct of unquestioning instantaneous obedience!
Had Frederick possessed that instinct, how much present suffering and future wretchedness might have been spared him! His ideas were as yet too disconnected for him to understand or bear in mind that he was subjecting his mother to excessive fatigue, but the habit of submission would have led him to bear her absence patiently, instead of perpetually interrupting even the short repose which she would now and then be persuaded to seek on the sofa. He would have spared her his perpetual, harassing complaints, not so much of the pain he suffered, as of every thing and every person who approached him, his Uncle Geoffrey being the only person against whom he never murmured. Nor would he have rebelled against measures to which he was obliged to submit in the end, after he had distressed every one and exhausted himself by his fruitless opposition.
It was marvellous that the only two persons whose attendance he would endure could bear up under the fatigue. Even Uncle Geoffrey, one of those spare wiry men, who, without much appearance of strength are nevertheless capable of such continued exertion, was beginning to look worn and almost aged, and yet Mrs. Frederick Langford was still indefatigable, unconscious of weariness, quietly active, absorbed in the thought of her son, and yet not so absorbed as not to be full of consideration for all around. All looked forward with apprehension to the time when the consequences of such continued exertion must be felt, but in the meantime it was not in the power of any one except her brother Geoffrey to be of any assistance to her, and her relations could only wait and watch with such patience as they could command, for the period when their services might be effectual.
Mrs. Langford was the most visibly impatient. The hasty bustling of her very quietest steps gave such torture to Frederick, as to excuse the upbraiding eyes which he turned on his poor perplexed mother whenever she entered the room; and her fresh arrangements and orders always created a disturbance, which created such positive injury, that it was the aim of the whole family to prevent her visits there. This was, as may be supposed, no easy task. Grandpapa's "You had better not, my dear," checked her for a little while, but was far from satisfying her: Uncle Geoffrey, who might have had the best chance, had not time to spare for her; and no one could persuade her how impossible, nay, how dangerous it was to attempt to reason with the patient: so she blamed the whole household for indulging his fancies, and half a dozen times a day pronounced that he would be the death of his mother. Beatrice did the best she could to tranquillise her; but two spirits so apt to clash did not accord particularly well even now, though Busy Bee was too much depressed to queen it as usual. To feel herself completely useless in the midst of the suffering she had occasioned was a severe trial; and above all, poor child, she longed for her mother, and the repose of confession and parental sympathy. She saw her father only at meal times; she was anxious and uneasy at his worn looks, and even he could not be all that her mother was. Grandpapa was kind as ever, but the fault that sat so heavy on her mind was not one for discussion with any one but a mother, and this consciousness was the cause of a little reserve with him, such as had never before existed between them.
Alexander was more of a comfort to her than any one else, and that chiefly because he wanted her to be a comfort to him. All the strong affection and esteem which he really entertained for Frederick was now manifested, and the remembrance of old rivalries and petty contentions served but to make the reaction stronger. He kept aloof from his brothers, and spent every moment he could at the Hall, either reading in the library, or walking up and down the garden paths with Queen Bee. One of the many conversations which they held will serve as a specimen of the rest.
"So they do not think he is much better to-day?" said Alex, walking into the library, where Beatrice was sealing some letters.
Beatrice shook her head. "Every day that he is not worse is so much gained," said she.
"It is very odd," meditated Alex: "I suppose the more heads have in them, the easier it is to knock them!"
Beatrice smiled. "Thick skulls are proverbial, you know, Alex."
"Well, I really believe it is right. Look, Bee," and he examined his own face in the glass over the chimney; "there, do you see a little bit of a scar under my eyebrow?--there! Well, that was where I was knocked over by a cricket-ball last half, pretty much harder than poor Fred could have come against the ground,--but what harm did it do me? Why everything spun round with me for five minutes or so, and I had a black eye enough to have scared you, but I was not a bit the worse otherwise. Poor Fred, he was quite frightened for me I believe; for the first thing I saw was him, looking all green and yellow, standing over me, and so I got up and laughed at him for thinking I could care about it. That was the worst of it! I wish I had not been always set against him. I would give anything now."
"Well, but Alex, I don't understand. You were very good friends at the bottom, after all; you can't have anything really to repent of towards him."
"Oh, haven't I though?" was the reply. "It was more the other fellows' doing than my own, to be sure, and yet, after all, it was worse, knowing all about him as I did; but somehow, every one, grandmamma and all of you, had been preaching up to me all my life that cousin Fred was to be such a friend of mine. And then when he came to school, there he was--a fellow with a pink and white face, like a girl's, and that did not even know how to shy a stone, and cried for his mamma! Well, I wish I could begin it all over again."
"But do you mean that he was really a--a--what you call a Miss Molly?"
"Who said so? No, not a bit of it!" said Alex. "No one thought so in reality, though it was a good joke to put him in a rage, and pretend to think that he could not do anything. Why, it took a dozen times more spirit for him to be first in everything than for me, who had been knocked about all my life. And he was up to anything, Bee, to anything. The matches at foot-ball will be good for nothing now; I am sure I shan't care if we do win."
"And the prize," said Beatrice, "the scholarship!"
"I have no heart to try for it now! I would not, if Uncle Geoffrey had not a right to expect it of me. Let me see: if Fred is well by the summer, why then--hurrah! Really, Queenie, he might get it all up in no time, clever fellow as he is, and be first after all. Don't you think so?"
Queen Bee shook her head. "They say he must not read or study for a very long time," said she.
"Yes, but six months--a whole year is an immense time," said Alex. "O yes, he must, Bee! Reading does not cost him half the trouble it does other people; and his verses, they never fail--never except when he is careless; and the sure way to prevent that is to run him up for time. That is right. Why there!" exclaimed Alex joyfully, "I do believe this is the very best thing for his success!" Beatrice could not help laughing, and Alex immediately sobered down as the remembrance crossed him, that if Fred were living a week hence, they would have great reason to be thankful.
"Ah! they will all of them be sorry enough to hear of this," proceeded he. "There was no one so much thought of by the fellows, or the masters either."
"The masters, perhaps," said Beatrice; "but I thought you said there was a party against him among the boys?"
"Oh, nonsense! It was only a set of stupid louts who, just because they had pudding-heads themselves, chose to say that I did better without all his reading and Italian, and music, and stuff; and I was foolish enough to let them go on, though I knew all the time it was nothing but chaff. I shall let them all know what fools they were for their pains, as soon as I go back. Why, Queenie, you, who only know Fred at home, you have not the slightest notion what a fellow he is. I'll just tell you one story of him."
Alexander forthwith proceeded to tell not one story alone, but many, to illustrate the numerous excellences which he ascribed to Fred, and again and again blaming himself for the species of division which had existed between them, although the fact was that he had always been the more conciliatory of the two. Little did he guess, good, simple- hearted fellow, that each word was quite as much, or more, to his credit, as to Frederick's; but Beatrice well appreciated them, and felt proud of him.
These talks were her chief comfort, and always served to refresh her, if only by giving her the feeling that some one wanted her, and not that the only thing she could do for anybody was the sealing of the letters which her father, whose eyes were supposed to be acquiring the power of those of cats, contrived to write in the darkness of Fred's room. She thought she could have borne everything excepting Henrietta's coldness, which still continued, not from intentional unkindness or unwillingness to forgive, but simply because Henrietta was too much absorbed in her own troubles to realise to herself the feelings which she wounded. Her uncle Geoffrey had succeeded in awakening her consideration for her mother; but with her and Fred it began and ended, and when outside the sick room, she seemed not to have a thought beyond a speedy return to it. She seldom or never left it, except at meal-times, or when her grandfather insisted on her taking a walk with him, as he did almost daily. Then he walked between her and Beatrice, trying in vain to arouse her to talk, and she, replying as shortly as possible when obliged to speak, left her cousin to sustain the conversation.
The two girls went to church with grandpapa on the feast of the Epiphany, and strange it was to them to see again the wreaths which their own hands had woven, looking as bright and festal as ever, the glistening leaves unfaded, and the coral berries fresh and gay. A tear began to gather in Beatrice's eye, and Henrietta hung her head, as if she could not bear the sight of those branches, so lately gathered by her brother. As they were leaving the church, both looked towards the altar at the wreath which Henrietta had once started to see, bearing a deeper and more awful meaning than she had designed. Their eyes met, and they saw that they had the same thought in their minds.
When they were taking off their bonnets in their own room, Queen Bee stretched out a detaining hand, not in her usual commanding manner, but with a gesture that was almost timid, saying,
"Look, Henrietta, one moment, and tell me if you were not thinking of this."
And hastily opening the Lyra Innocentium, she pointed out the verse--
"Such garland grave and fair, His church to-day adorns, And--mark it well--e'en there He wears His Crown of Thorns.
"Should aught profane draw near, Full many a guardian spear Is set around, of power to go Deep in the reckless hand, and stay the grasping foe."
"They go very deep," sighed Henrietta, raising her eyes, with a mournful complaining glance.
Beatrice would have said more, but when she recollected her own conduct on Christmas Eve, it might well strike her that she was the "thing profane" that had then dared to draw near; and it pained her that she had even appeared for one moment to accuse her cousin. She was beginning to speak, but Henrietta cut her short by saying, "Yes, yes, but I can't stay," and was flying along the passage the next moment.
Beatrice sighed heavily, and spent the next quarter of an hour in recalling, with all the reality of self-reproach, the circumstances of her recklessness, vanity and self-will on that day. She knelt and poured out her confession, her prayer for forgiveness, and grace to avoid the very germs of these sins for the future, before Him Who seeth in secret: and a calm energetic spirit of hope, in the midst of true repentance, began to dawn on her.
It was good for her, but was it not selfish in Henrietta thus to leave her alone to bear her burthen? Yes, selfish it was; for Henrietta had heard the last report of Frederick since their return, and knew that her presence in his room was quite useless; and it was only for the gratification of her own feelings that she hurried thither without even stopping to recollect that her cousin might also be unhappy, and be comforted by talking to her.
Her thought was only the repining one: "the thorns go deep!" Poor child, had they yet gone deep enough? The patient may cry out, but the skilful surgeon will nevertheless probe on, till he has reached the hidden source of the malady.
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