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- The Pillars of the House, V1 - 20/124 -


Cherry began to cry very piteously, though still silently.

'Yes, yes, we see you are sorry,' said Mr. Rugg, 'but there's nothing for it now but to let us hear the truth.'

She shook her head violently, and brow and neck turned crimson.

Mr. Rugg grew angered, and tried a sharper tone. 'Miss Geraldine, this is regular naughtiness. Let me hear directly.'

The flush became purple, and something like 'I won't' came from behind the handkerchief.

'Leave her to me, if you please,' said Sister Constance gently; 'I think she will tell me what is right to be told.'

'As you please, Lady Somerville,' said Mr. Rugg, who, since he had discovered her title, was always barbarously misusing it; 'but the thing must be told. It is doing Mrs. Underwood a serious injury to let childish naughtiness conceal the truth.'

Constance put her arm round the little girl, a tiny weight for thirteen years old, and took her into the room where she had last seen her father. She was sobbing violently, not without passion, and the more distressingly because she carefully stifled every sound, and the poor little frame seemed as if it would be rent to pieces. 'Cherry, dear child, don't,' said Constance, sitting down and gathering her into her arms; 'do try and calm yourself, and think--'

'He--he--I won't tell him!' sobbed the child. 'He's a bad man--he tells stories. He said he would not hurt me--when he knew he should most terribly. Papa said it was very wrong. Papa was quite angry--he called it deceiving, he did! I won't tell him!'

'My dear child, is there anything to tell? Don't think about him, think about what is good for your mother.'

'She told me not,' sobbed Cherry, but not with the anger there had been before. 'No, no, don't ask me; she told me not.'

'Your mother? My dear little girl, whatever it is, you ought to say it. Your dear mother seems to be too ill and confused to recollect everything herself, and if it is not known whether she has been hurt, how can anything be done for her?'

Cherry sat upon her friend's lap, and with a very heaving chest said, 'If Felix says I ought--then I will. Papa said we should mind Felix-- like him.'

'I will call Felix,' said Sister Constance.

Mr. Rugg looked very impatient of the delay; but Felix, who had just come in to dinner, was summoned. He came at once, and was soon standing by Geraldine's chair.

'Yes, Geraldine, I think you ought to tell,' he said as the loyal little thing gazed up at her new monarch. 'What did happen?'

'It was on the day after New Year's Day,' said Geraldine, now speaking very fast. 'You were all at church, and she came out of-- this room with Bernard in her arms--and called to me that I might come and sit with--him, because she was going down to the kitchen to make some beef-tea. And just then she put her foot into a loop of whip-cord, and fell. She could not save herself at all, because of Bernard; but she went backwards--against the steps.'

'Did she seem hurt at the time?'

'I did not think so. She pulled herself up by the baluster before I could get up to help her, and she never let Bernard go all the time-- he did not even scream. She only said, "Now mind, Cherry, do not say one word of this to Papa or anybody else," and she told me she wasn't hurt. Oh! was she really?' as the Sister left the room.

'I wonder whose the string was,' said Felix vindictively.

'Oh, never mind! He'll be so sorry! Oh! I hope she won't be very much vexed at my telling!'

'She will not mind now!' said Felix; 'it was only not to frighten Papa.'

And Felix had his little sister in that one position where she felt a sort of comfort--like a baby in his arms to be rocked--when Sister Constance returned with the doctor. He spoke without either the anger or the persuasive tone now, and Cherry could bear it better, though she slipped off her brother's lap instantly, and stood up in dignity.

'So your Mamma told you to conceal this mishap. That is some excuse. Now, tell me, how far did she fall?'

'Not more than four steps, I am sure--I think three.'

'And backwards?'

'Yes.'

'Do you think she struck her head?'

'Yes, the back of it.'

'Ah! And she spoke and moved at once, not like one stunned?'

'Oh no, not at all. She got up and made the beef-tea.'

'The 2d of January? That must have been about the time you began to observe that change of manner--the irritability your sister remarked,' said the doctor, turning to Felix. He nodded, angry as he had been with Alda for remarking it. All that the doctor further said was, that he must have another examination now that he knew a little more about the case; and he went away with Sister Constance, saying to her, 'Mrs. Underwood is a lady of wonderful fortitude and resolution, and really they are the worst kind of patients.'

It was now more than a fortnight since that 6th of January which saw the birth of the twins and the death of their father, and Mrs. Underwood still lay quiet and almost torpid in her bed, seldom speaking, hardly ever originating anything, and apparently taking no interest whatsoever in anything outside her room; and yet there was no symptom unfavourable to her recovery to be detected. Within the last day or two they had tried to rouse her; papers had been brought to her to sign, and she did so obediently, but she did not follow the subject: she did not refuse, but did not second, any proposal for her beginning to sit up; and this was the more remarkable, as, being a woman of much health and energy in her quiet way, she had always recovered rapidly, and filled her place in the family alarmingly soon. The nurse had begun to suspect that besides the torpor of mind there was some weakness of limb; and with the new lights acquired, Mr. Rugg had no difficulty in coming to the conclusion that there was a slight concussion of the spine, causing excitement at first, and now more serious consequences; and though he did not apprehend present danger, he thought complete recovery very doubtful.

'So they are almost worse than orphans,' said Sister Constance, when the Curate went down from reading to the invalid, and she could tell him the verdict.

'Do they know?'

'The fact? There is no need to lay the future on the shoulders of the present.'

'A very dark present. I feel as if a great bright sun, warming and invigorating, had gone out of my life. Yet I knew him but two years.'

'I can understand it, though I knew him but two days.'

'I hope he may have been the making of me,' sighed Mr. Audley. 'He ought to be.'

'I think he has been,' said she, smiling. 'There is some difference between you and the boyish young deacon that came here two years ago.'

'Who thought life without shooting barely endurable by the help of croquet! I trust so! He was very patient and tolerant--made holidays for me that first summer which it cuts me to recollect.'

'To live and share in a great sorrow does make a great step in life,' said Constance, thoughtfully looking at the much graver and more earnest brow of her husband's young cousin; 'and you were a comfort to them all as no one else could be.'

'Must you go?' he said. 'I wanted to consult you. I am thinking of giving up my present lodgings to this Mowbray Smith, who is coming as curate, and coming here.'

'Here! My dear Charles!'

'I thought I had heard legends of twelve foot square?'

'Not with thirteen children. Besides, we were seasoned!'

'Stay; you don't understand. There are three rooms on this floor. Poor Mrs. Underwood will hardly want to occupy these two just yet. I take them, and put in some furniture--live to myself, but let them board and lodge me. They may as well have what is to be made by it as any one else.'

'But can they? And, forgive me, Charles, are you prepared for the cookery here? Really, some of those children have appetites so small, that I can't bear to see them at dinner.'

'That's the very point. They all say the invaluable Sibby is as good a nurse as she is bad as a cook. Now, if they have no help, Wilmet must stay at home to look after her mother and the twins; and that is not fit for such a young girl. Now, my coming might enable them to get some one who knows the use of meat and fires, and would send upstairs the only woman who would undertake such a charge as that must be.'

'I don't like to say a word against it. It seems excellent for them.'

'I would not live with them, but I should be there to help. I could keep Felix up in his Latin, and--'

Only one suggestion more, Charles. If you do not stay here long?'

Well--if not, every week I am here is so much tided over; and just at


The Pillars of the House, V1 - 20/124

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