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- Spring Days - 50/56 -


"My good sir, I should not allow myself to have any opinions on the matter. I am summoned to attend a patient, and I give the best advice in my power."

"Yes, but one can't help forming opinions--a beautiful young girl living alone in lodgings, and having apparently for sole protector a young man, are circumstances that might be easily misconstrued, and as I am engaged to be married, I think it right to tell you exactly how I stand in relation to this young woman."

The doctor bowed.

"Do you not think I did well in making this explanation?"

"It can do no harm; we medical men see so much that we take no notice of anything but our patient. But tell me something of this young lady's suffering. Can you describe the symptoms?"

"She has a racking headache--she is shivering all over--she sits by the fire and cannot get warm. It looks to me as if it were fever."

"Does she complain of her throat?"

"Yes; she cannot swallow."

"Probably an attack of quinsy."

"Is that dangerous?"

"No; but it is infectious."

"I don't mind about that--she is alone. I will see her through it."

"I will go round to Preston Street immediately I have finished dinner --in about ten minutes or a quarter of an hour."

When the doctor had seen Lizzie, he said to Frank, who accompanied him downstairs: "Just as I expected--quinsy. She will take from eight to ten days to get well. We have taken it in time, that's one good thing. The throat is very bad. She must have a linseed poultice, and she must use the gargle. Is there any one in the house who can attend to her?"

"I am afraid not; the landlady went away this morning, leaving no one in the house but that child. She will, I hope, be home to-morrow."

"In that case you had better have a nurse in; I will give you the address of one."

When Frank returned he found her lying on the bed weeping. As before, she refused to tell him the cause of her grief. She would make no other answer than that nothing mattered now, that she didn't care what became of her; and when he spoke of going to fetch a nurse, she waved her hands excitedly, declaring she would on no consideration stop in the house with a woman she didn't know. And, hardly able to decide what course he should take, he promised not to leave her; she clung about him, and he was forced to send the child (whose name he now found to be Emma) to the chemist for the linseed, and he wrote a note asking for explicit directions how it should be used. Then he had to persuade Lizzie to go to bed. She resisted him, and it was with great difficulty that he got her boots and stockings off; then she collected her strength, unbuttoned her dress, and took off her stays. Then she said: "Go out of the room for a moment."

He found his way into the kitchen, and guessing that hot water would be required, he lit a fire. But there was no muslin, and he had to send Emma for some. Lizzie smiled faintly when they entered--Frank with a basin, Emma with a kettle and a parcel of linen. Frank poured some rum into a glass, and beat an egg up with it.

"What is that?" she asked; and her voice was so faint and hoarse that he turned, quite startled.

"Something that will do your throat good and keep your strength up. Possibly you will not be able to eat much to-morrow." He held the tumbler to her lips, and at length succeeded in getting her to drink it. "Emma, is the kettle boiling?"

"Yes, sir."

"You had better go downstairs and get some coals, and if you can't find any nightlights you must go out and buy a box. Have you got any money over?"

"Yes, sir, sixpence."

"Now, Lizzie, let me put this on your throat. Throw your head well back. There, it isn't too hot?"

And all that night he sat by her bedside. Often she could not get her breath, and he had to lift her and prop her up with pillows; and four times he lit the candle, and, with tired eyes, mixed the meal and placed it on her throat. The firelight played upon the ceiling, the kettle sang softly, the sufferer moaned, the light brought the rumble of a cart, and they awoke from shallow sleeps that blurred but did not extinguish consciousness of the actual present. "You must not uncover yourself; you will catch cold. Let me pin this shawl about you." About eight o'clock Emma knocked at the door. Frank asked her to make him a cup of tea. The morning dragged along amid many anxieties, for he could see she was worse than she had been over night.

"The disease must take its course," said the doctor; "we shall be fortunate if by poulticing we can stop it; if we can't, it will come to a head in about eight or nine days' time, and then it will break. Did you see the nurse last night? Couldn't she come?"

"She," said Frank, pointing to the sufferer, "wouldn't allow me to send for her; she said she would not stay in the house with a strange woman. She was very excited; I fancy she has had some great mental trouble--a sweetheart, I suppose. I did not like to cross her. I thought I could nurse her; I did my best. Was the poultice all right?"

"Quite right. But you will have to sit up with her to-night. You will be very tired; you had better get in a nurse."

"I think I shall be able to manage. The landlady is expected home this evening or to-morrow morning. What had she better have to eat?"

"She won't be able to eat anything for some days. Try to get her to take an egg beat up in a wine-glass of rum."

Hourly she grew worse, and on the following day Frank stood by her bed momentarily fearing that she would suffocate; once her face blackened and he had to seize and lift her out of bed, and place her in a chair. When she seemed a little easier he called Emma, and they made the bed and cleaned up the room together. Then he ate a sausage and drank a glass of beer that had been brought from the public-house.

The first night had seemed long and weary, but now the hours passed quickly; he had forgotten all but the suffering woman, and in the interest of inducing her to swallow some beef-tea, in the pride of such successes another and then another day fled lightly. Nor did he feel tired as he had done, and now a nap in an arm-chair seemed all that he required. So the landlady came as an unwelcome interruption of an absorbing occupation. Haggard and unshaven, he returned to Southwick, where he found a note on his table from General Horlock, asking him to dinner that evening.

"I know the meaning of this: Maggie will be there--a reconciliation! Can I?" He turned his ear quickly from his conscience; he was frightened of the voice that would tell him that Maggie was nothing to him, never had been, never could be; that he had been born for Lizzie Baker, as the soldier is for the sword or the bullet that kills him; others had passed him, had been heard sharply, had gleamed dangerously in his eyes. They were but signs and omens meant for others, not for him, and they had passed. But this one had remained, though often lost, as that remains which is to be, and she was now no less for him than before, though now seemingly lost irrevocably to another; and in all the seeming of irrevocable loss was drawing nearer--not with the victory and destiny of old in her eyes, but with no less victory and destiny inherent in her. Though far from him, she had been for long a disintegrated influence, but what had been distant was now near, and all was yielding like a ship in the attraction of the fabulous loadstone mountain. That room!--the wash-hand-stand, the dirty panes of glass, the iron bed-there his fate had been sealed. That body which he had lifted out of bed still lay heavy in his arms. He still breathed the odour of the hair he had gathered from the pillow and striven to pin up; those eyes of limpid blue, pale as water where isles are sleeping, burned deep and livid in his soul; the touch and sight of that flesh, the sound of that voice, those tears, the solicitude and anxiety of those hours of night and day conspired against him, and his life was big with incipient overthrow.

Lizzie was with him at all times. He saw her eyes, then her teeth, and the perfume and touch of her hair was often about him; and yet he was hardly conscious that a revolution of feeling was in progress within him; and when the time came for him to go to Horlock's he went there avoiding all thoughts of Maggie, although he knew he would be called upon that night to take a decisive step. He saw little of her before dinner, and during dinner the General's allusions to the quarrels of lovers being the renewal of love vexed him, and he thought, "Confound it! If I want to make it up I will; but I am not going to be bullied into it." When the ladies left the room he found it difficult to pretend to the kind-hearted old soldier that he did not believe that Maggie would forgive him. "Forgive me for what? I have done nothing."

"To get on with women you must always admit you are in the wrong--ha, ha, ha!" laughed the General; "now I have it from my wife--women know everything--ha, ha, ha!" laughed the General. "Have another glass of sherry?"

"No, thanks; couldn't take any more."

"I took I won't tell you how many glasses before I proposed to my wife, and then I was afraid; enough to make me--a clever woman like Mrs. Horlock, I believe you wouldn't find a woman in England like Mrs. Horlock. Look round; all that's her work. Look at that white Arab-- exactly like him. I won five hundred pounds with that horse; but I wouldn't be satisfied, and I ran him again the following day and lost it all and five hundred more with it. I had another horse. My wife is modelling him in wax; she will show it to you in the next room. Marvellous woman!"

Passing Maggie by who was sitting in the window, Frank inveigled Mrs. Horlock into an anatomical discussion. The General stretched out his feet, put on his spectacles, and took up the _St James's_. The conversation dropped, and, full of apprehension and expecting reconciliation, Frank went to Maggie and talked to her of the tennis parties he was going to, of the people he had seen--of indifferent things. The time was tense with the fate of their lives. Once she turned her head and sighed. Time slipped by, and still they talked of


Spring Days - 50/56

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