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- Warlock o' Glenwarlock - 50/98 -
of their conscious being! God is nearer to me than the air I breathe, nearer to me than the heart of wife or child, nearer to me than my own consciousness of myself, nearer to me than the words in which I speak to him, nearer than the thought roused in me by the story of his perfect son--or he is no God at all. The unbelievers might well rejoice in the loss of such a God as many Chris--tians would make of him. But if he be indeed the Father of our Lord Christ, of that Jew who lived and died doing the will of his Father, and nothing but that will, then, to all eternity, "Amen, thy will be done, O God! and nothing but thy will, in or through me!"
Cosmo had been ill a whole week--in fever and pain, and was now helpless almost as an infant. The old man had gone for his wife, and between them they had persuaded him, though all but unconscious, to exert himself sufficiently to reach the house. This effort he could recall, in the shape of an intermina--ble season during which he supported the world for Atlas, that he might get a little sleep; but it was only the aching weight of his own microcosm that he urged Atlanlean force to carry. They took him direct to the room where he now lay, for they had them--selves but one chamber, and if they took him there, what would become of the old bones to which the gardener was so fond of referring in his colloquies with himself? Also, it might be some fever he had taken, and their own lives were so much the more precious that so much of them was gone! Like most of us, they were ready to do THEIR NEXT BEST for him. They spared some of their own poor comforts to furnish the skeleton bed for him; and there he lay, like one adrift in a rotten boat on the ebbing ocean of life, while the old woman trudged away to the village to tell the doctor that there was a young Scotch gardener taken suddenly ill at their quarters in the castle.
The doctor sent his son, a man about thirty, who after travelling some years as medical attendant to a nobleman, had settled in his native village as his father's partner. He prescribed for Cosmo, and gave hope that there was nothing infectious about the case. Every day during the week he had come to see him, and the night before had been with him from dark to dawn.
The gardener's wife had informed Lady Joan that a young Scotchman who had come to her husband seeking employment, had been taken suddenly ill, and was lying in a room in the old wing; and Lady Joan had said she would speak to the housekeeper to let her have whatever she wanted for him. The doctor saw Lady Joan most every time he came to see Cosmo, and she would enquire how his patient was going on; she would also hear the housekeeper's complaints of the difficulty she had in getting wine from the butler--of which there was no lack, only he grudged it, for he was doing his best to drink up the stock the old lord had left behind him, intending to take his departure with the last bottle--but she took no farther interest in the affair. The castle was like a small deserted village, and there was no necessity for a person in one part of it knowing what was taking place in another.
But that same morning she had a letter from the laird, saying he was uneasy about his boy. He had been so inconsiderate, he informed her, as to set out to visit her without asking her leave, or even warning her of his intent; and since the letter announcing his immediate departure, received a fortnight before, he had not heard of or from him. This set Joan thinking. And the immediate result was, that she went to the gardener's wife, and questioned her concerning the appearance of her patient. In the old woman's answers she certainly could recognize no likeness to Cosmo; but he must have altered much in seven years, and she could not be satisfied without seeing the young man.
Cosmo lay fast asleep, and dreaming--but pleasant dreams now, for the fever gone, life was free to build its own castles. He thought he was dead, and floating through the air at his will, volition all that was necessary to propel him like a dragon-fly, in any direction he desired to take. He was about to go to his father, to receive his congratulations on his death, and to say to him that now the sooner he too died the better, that the creditors might have the property, everybody be paid, and they two and his mother be together for always. But first, before he set out, he must have one sight of Lady Joan, and in that hope was now hovering about the towers of the castle. He was slowly circling the two great ones of the gateway, crossing a figure of eight over the gallery where stood the machinery of the portcullis, when down he dropped, and lay bruised and heavy, unable by fiercest effort of the will to move an inch from the spot. He was making the reflection how foolish it was to begin to fly before assuring himself that he was dead, and was resolving to be quite prudent another time, when he felt as if a warm sunny cloud came over him, which made him open his eyes. They gradually cleared, and above him he saw the face of his many dreams--a little sadder than it was in them, but more beautiful.
Cosmo had so much of the childlike in him that illness made him almost a very child again, and when he saw Joan's face bending over him like a living sky, just as any child might have done, he put his arms round her neck, and drew her face down to his. Hearts get uppermost in illness, and people then behave as they would not in health. More is in it than is easily found. There is such a dumb prayer in the spirit to be _taken_!
Till he opened his eyes Lady Joan had been unable to satisfy herself whether the pale, worn, yet grand-looking youth could indeed be the lad Cosmo, and was not at all prepared for such precipitate familiarity: the moment she was released, she drew back with some feeling, if not of offence, yet of annoyance. But such a smile flooded Cosmo's face, mingled with such a pleading look of apology and excuse, which seemed to say, "How _could_ I help it?" that she was ashamed of herself. It was the same true face as the boy's, with its old look of devotion and gentle worship! To make all right she stooped of her own accord, and kissed his forehead.
"Thank you," murmured Cosmo, his own voice sounding to him like that of another. "Don't be vexed with me. I am but a baby, and have no mother. When I saw you, it was as if heaven had come down into hell, and I did not think to help it. How beautiful you are! How good of you to come to me!"
"Oh, Cosmo!" cried Lady Joan--and now large silent tears were running down her cheeks--"to think of the way you and your father took me and mine in, and here you have been lying ill--I don't know how long--in a place not fit for a beggar!"
"That's just what I am!" returned Cosmo with a smile, feeling already almost well. "I have such a long story to tell you, Joan! I remember all about it now."
"Why didn't you write,--?" said Joan, and checked herself, for alas! if he had written, what would she not have found herself compelled to do!--"Why didn't you send for me at once? They told me there was a young gardener lying ill, and of course I never dreamed it could be you. But I know if you had heard at Castle Warlock that a stranger was lying ill somewhere about the place, you would have gone to him at once! It was very wrong of me, and I am sorely punished!"
"Never mind," said Cosmo; "it's all right now. I have you, and it makes me well again all at once. When I see you standing there, looking just as you used, all the time between is shrivelled up to nothing, and the present joins right on to the past. But you look sad, Joan!--I MAY call you Joan still, mayn't I?"
"Surely, Cosmo. What else? I haven't too many to call me Joan!"
"But what makes you look sad?"
"Isn't it enough to think how I have treated you?"
"You didn't know it was me," said Cosmo.
"That is true. But if, as your father taught you, I had done it to HIM--"
"Well, there's one thing, Joan--you'll do differently another time."
"I can't be sure of that, for my very heart grows stupid, living here all alone."
"Anyhow, you will have trouble enough with me for awhile, fast as your eyes can heal me," said Cosmo, who began to be aware of a reaction.
Lady Joan's face flushed with pleasure, but the next moment grew pale again at the thought of how little she could do for him.
"The first thing," she said, "is to write to your father. When he knows I have got you, he won't be uneasy. I will go and do it at once."
Almost the moment she left him, Cosmo fell fast asleep again.
But now was Lady Joan, if not in perplexity, yet in no small discomfort. It made her miserable to think of Cosmo in such a place, yet she could not help saying to herself it was well he had not written, for she must then have asked him not to come: now that he was in the house, she dared not tell her brother; and were she to move him to any comfortable room in the castle, he would be sure to hear of it from the butler, for the less faith carried, the more favour curried! One thing only was in her power: she could make the room he was in comparatively comfortable. As soon, therefore, as she had written a hurried letter to the laird, she went hastily through some of the rooms nearest the part in which Cosmo lay, making choice of this and of that for her purpose: in the great, all but uninhabited place there were naturally many available pieces of stuff and of furniture. These she then proceeded, with her own hands, and the assistance of the gardener and his wife, to carry to his room; and when she found he was asleep, she put forth every energy to get the aspect of the place altered before he should wake. With noiseless steps she entered and left the room fifty times; and by making use of a door which had not been opened for perhaps a hundred years, she avoided attracting the least attention.
When Cosmo the second time opened his eyes, he was afresh
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