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- Henrietta's Wish - 40/48 -
acquire sufficient composure to count them calmly. The light came, and still she held his wrist, beginning her reckoning again and again, in the hope that it was only some momentary agitation that had so quickened them.
"What! 'tis faster?" asked Fred, speaking in a hasty alarmed tone, when she released him at last.
"You are flushed, Fred," she answered very quietly, though she felt full of consternation. "Yes, faster than it ought to be; I think you had better not sit up any longer this evening, or you will sleep no better than last night."
"Very well," said Fred.
"Then I will ring for Stephens," said she.
The first thing she did on leaving his room was to go to her own, and there write a note to young Mr. Carey, giving an account of the symptoms that had caused her so much alarm. As she wrote them down without exaggeration, and trying to give each its just weight, going back to recollect the first unfavourable sign, she suddenly remembered that as she left her sister's room, she had seen Mrs. Langford, whom she had left with Fred, at the door of the store-closet. Could she have been giving him any of her favourite nourishing things? Mrs. Geoffrey Langford could hardly believe that either party could have acted so foolishly, yet when she remembered a few words that had passed about the jelly that morning at breakfast, she could no longer doubt, and bitterly reproached herself for not having kept up a stricter surveillance. Of her suspicion she however said nothing, but sealing her note, she went down to the drawing-room, told Mr. Langford that she did not think Fred quite so well that evening, and asked him if he did not think it might be better to let Philip Carey know. He agreed instantly, and rang the bell to order a servant to ride to Allonfield; but Mrs. Langford, who could not bear any one but Geoffrey to act without consulting her, pitied man and horse for being out so late, and opined that Beatrice forgot that she was not in London, where the medical man could be called in so easily.
It was fortunate that it was the elder Beatrice instead of the younger, for provoked as she already had been before with the old lady, it was not easy even for her to make a cheerful answer. "Well, it is very kind in you to attend to my London fancies," said she; "I think if we can do anything to spare him such a night as the last, it should be tried."
"Certainly, certainly," said Mr. Langford. "It is very disappointing when he was going on so well. He must surely have been doing something imprudent."
It was very tempting to interrogate Mrs. Langford, but her daughter-in- law had long since come to a resolution never to convey to her anything like reproach, let her do what she might in her mistaken kindness of heart, or her respectable prejudices; so, without entering on what many in her place might have made a scene of polite recrimination, she left the room, and on her way up, heard Frederick's door gently opened. Stephens came quickly and softly to the end of the passage to meet her. "He is asking for you, ma'am," said he; "I am afraid he is not so well; I did not like to ring, for fear of alarming my mistress, but--"
Mrs. Geoffrey Langford entered the room, and found that the bustle and exertion of being carried to his bed had brought on excessive confusion and violent pain. He put his hand to his forehead, opened his eyes, and looked wildly about. "Oh, Aunt Geoffrey," he exclaimed, "what shall I do? It is as bad--worse than ever!"
"You have been doing something imprudent, I fear," said Aunt Geoffrey, determined to come to the truth at once.
"Only that glass of jelly--if I had guessed!"
"One to-day, one yesterday. It was grandmamma's doing. Don't let her know that I told. I wish mamma was here!"
Aunt Geoffrey tried to relieve the pain by cold applications, but could not succeed, and Fred grew more and more alarmed.
"The inflammation is coming back!" he cried, in an agony of apprehension that almost overcame the sense of pain. "I shall be in danger--I shall lose my senses--I shall die! Mamma! O! where is mamma?"
"Lie still, my dear Fred," said Mrs. Geoffrey Langford, laying her hand on him so as to restrain his struggling movements to turn round or to sit up. "Resistance and agitation will hurt you more than anything else. You must control yourself, and trust to me, and you may be sure I will do the best in my power for you. The rest is in the hands of God."
"Then you think me very ill?" said Fred, trying to speak more composedly.
"I think you will certainly make yourself very ill, unless you will keep yourself quiet, both mind and body. There--"she settled him as comfortably as she could: "Now I am going away for a few minutes. Make a resolution not to stir till I come back. Stephens is here, and I shall soon come back."
This was very unlike the way in which his mother used to beseech him as a favour to spare her, and yet his aunt's tone was so affectionate, as well as so authoritative, that he could not feel it unkind. She left the room, and as soon as she found herself alone in the passage, leant against the wall and trembled, for she felt herself for a moment quite overwhelmed, and longed earnestly for her husband to think for her, or even for one short interval in which to reflect. For this, however, there was no time, and with one earnest mental supplication, summoning up her energies, she walked on to the person whom she at that moment most dreaded to see, her sister-in-law. She found her sitting in her arm-chair, Henrietta with her, both looking very anxious, and she was glad to find her prepared.
"What is it?" was the first eager question.
"He has been attempting rather too much of late," was the answer, "and has knocked himself up. I came to tell you, because I think I had better stay with him, and perhaps you might miss me."
"O no, no, pray go to him. Nothing satisfies me so well about him as that you should be there, except that I cannot bear to give you so much trouble. Don't stay here answering questions. He will be so restless if he misses you--"
"Don't you sit imagining, Mary; let Henrietta read to you."
This proposal made Henrietta look so piteous and wistful that her mother said, "No, no, let her go to Freddy, poor child. I dare say he wants her."
"By no means," said Aunt Geoffrey, opening the door; "he will be quieter without her."
Henrietta was annoyed, and walked about the room, instead of sitting down to read. She was too fond of her own will to like being thus checked, and she thought she had quite as good a right to be with her brother as her aunt could have. Every temper has one side or other on which it is susceptible; and this was hers. She thought it affection for her brother, whereas it was impatience of being ordered.
Her mother forced herself to speak cheerfully. "Aunt Geoffrey is a capital nurse," said she; "there is something so decided about her that it always does one good. It saves all the trouble and perplexity of thinking for oneself."
"I had rather judge for myself," said Henrietta.
"That is all very well to talk of," said her mother, smiling sadly, "but it is a very different thing when you are obliged to do it."
"Well, what do you like to hear?" said Henrietta, who found herself too cross for conversation. "The old man's home?"
"Do not read unless you like it, my dear; I think you must be tired. You would want 'lungs of brass' to go on all day to both of us. You had better not. I should like to talk."
Henrietta being in a wilful fit, chose nevertheless to read, because it gave her the satisfaction of feeling that Aunt Geoffrey was inflicting a hardship upon her; although her mother would have preferred conversation. So she took up a book, and began, without any perception of the sense of what she was reading, but her thoughts dwelling partly on her brother, and partly on her aunt's provoking ways. She read on through a whole chapter, then closing the book hastily, exclaimed, "I must go and see what Aunt Geoffrey is doing with Fred."
"She is not such a very dangerous person," said Mrs. Frederick Langford, almost laughing at the form of the expression.
"Well, but you surely want to know how he is, mamma?"
"To be sure I do, but I am so afraid of his being disturbed. If he was just going to sleep now."
"Yes, but you know how softly I can open the door."
"Your aunt would let us know if there was anything to hear. Pray take care, my dear."
"I must go, I can't bear it any longer; I will only just listen," said Henrietta; "I will not be a moment."
"Let me have the book, my dear," said her mother, who knew but too well the length of Henrietta's moments, and who had just, by means of a great effort, succeeded in making herself take interest in the book.
Henrietta gave it to her, and darted off. The door of Fred's room was ajar, and she entered. Aunt Geoffrey, Bennet, and Judith were standing round the bed, her aunt sponging away the blood that was flowing from Frederick's temples. His eyes were closed, and he now and then gave long gasping sighs of oppression and faintness. "Leeches!" thought Henrietta, as she started with consternation and displeasure. "This is pretty strong! Without telling me or mamma! Well, this is what I call doing something with him indeed."
She advanced to the table, but no one saw her for more than a minute, till at last Aunt Geoffrey stepped quickly up to it in search of some bottle.
"Let me do something," said Henrietta, catching up the bottle that she
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