There could be no concealment of the exceeding danger. His lungs had never been strong; and the slight cough, which, contrary to his usual habits, he had neglected all the summer, had been the token of mischief, which his recent expedition had aggravated to a fearful extent. Even the violent bleeding had not relieved the inflammation on the chest, and Violet had collected from the physician's looks and words that it could be hardly expected that he should survive the day.
Yet, through that dreadful morning, she had not failed in resolution or composure: never once had her husband seen in her look, or heard in her tone, aught but what might cheer and sustain him--never had her fortitude or steadiness given way. She had not time to think of consolation and support; but her habit of prayer and trust came to her aid, and brought strength and support around her "in these great waterfloods" of trouble. She was not forsaken in her hour of need. Hitherto there had been no space for reflection; now his quiescent state, though for the present so great a relief, brought the opportunity of realizing his situation; but therewith arose thankfulness for the space thus granted, and the power of praying that it might be blessed to him whether for life or death.
In watchfulness and supplication, she sat beside him, with her babe, much afraid that it should disturb him, and be unwelcome. However, when some little sound made him aware of its presence, he opened his eyes, moved his hand, as if to put back the covering that hid its face from him, and presently signed to have it placed on the bed by his side. It was a fine large dark boy, already so like him as to make the contrast the more striking and painful, between the unconscious serenity of the babe and the restless misery of the face of the father, laid low in the strength of manhood, and with a look of wretched uneasiness, as if the load on the mind was a worse torment than the weight on the labouring breath. He, who usually hardly deigned a glance at his infants, now lay gazing with inexpressible softness and sadness at the little sleeping face; and Violet, while gratified by that look of affection, could not help having it the more borne in on her mind, that death must be very near. Were the well-springs of love, so long closed up, only opening when he was about to leave his children for ever? If she could only have heard him speak!
Presently, as if there was some sting of reproach in the impassive features, he turned his head away abruptly, with a deep groan, and hid his face. She took away the child, and there was another silence, which she ventured to break now and then, by a few sentences of faith and prayer, but without being able to perceive whether he attended. Suddenly he started, as if thrilled in every vein, and glanced around with terrified anxiety, of which she could not at first perceive the cause, till she found it was the postman's knock. He held out his hand for the letters, and cast a hurried look at their directions. None were for him, but there was one in his sister's hand-writing. Violet did not feel herself able to read it, and was laying it aside, when she saw his looks following it. Her present world was so entirely in that room that she had forgotten all beyond; and it only now occurred to her to say, 'Your father? Do you wish for him? I will write.'
'Telegraph.' Even this whisper brought back the cough that was anguish and terror.
It was already so late in the day, that though thus summoned, there was no chance of Lord Martindale's arriving till the following evening; and Violet's heart sank at reckoning up the space that must elapse, more especially when she saw the perturbed eye, the startings at each sound, the determination to know the business of every one who came to speak to her--evident indications that there was some anxiety on his mind which she could not comprehend.
Thus passed the day--between visits from desponding doctors and vain measures for reducing the inflammation. At night Mr. Harding would have prevailed on her to go to rest, promising to keep watch in her stead; but she only shook her head, and said she could not. She had not seen, and had scarcely thought of, the elder children all day; but at about eleven o'clock at night she was startled by a sound of lamentable crying,--Johnnie's voice in the nursery. The poor little boy's nerves had been so much shaken by the fire at Martindale, that he had become subject to night alarms, which sometimes showed their effect for the whole subsequent day; and his mother stole away on hearing his cry, leaving Arthur in Mr. Harding's charge, and hoping not to be missed.
Sarah was standing over Johnnie, half-coaxing, half-scolding while he sat up in his little crib, shivering and sobbing, with chattering teeth, and terrified exclamations about papa all over blood, lying dead under the burning windows.