« PreviousContinue »
half an hour, if 'Brahm and me don't come across a snowdrift a leetle too deep. Good night, ma'am.” And out he
"Back in half an hour,"" said Alice musing. "Why, he said he had been to untie his horse for the night! He must be going on our account, I am sure, Ellen!”
"On your account,” said Ellen smiling. “O I knew that all the time, Miss Alice. I don't think he'll stop to relieve aunt Fortune's anxiety."
Alice sprang to call him back; but Mrs. Van Brunt assured her it was too late, and that she need not be uneasy, for her son "didn't mind the storm no more than a weatherboard." "Brahm and 'Brahm could go anywhere in any sort of a time. "He was a going without speaking to you, but I told him he had better, for maybe you wanted to send some word particular. And your room's ready now, dear, and you'd better go to bed and sleep as long as you can.'
They went thankfully. “Isn't this a pleasant room?" said Ellen, who saw every thing in rose-colour; “and a nice bed? But I feel as if I could sleep on the floor to-night. Isn't it a'most worth while to have such a time, Miss Alice, for the sake of the pleasure afterwards ?”
“I don't know, Éllen,” said Alice smiling; "I won't say that; though it is worth paying a price for to find how much kindness there is in some people's hearts. As to sleeping on the floor, I must say I never felt less inclined to it."
"Well, I am tired enough too,” said Ellen as they laid themselves down. "Two nights with you in a week! Oh those weeks before I saw you, Miss Alice!”
One earnest kiss for good-night; and Ellen's sigh of pleasure on touching the pillow was scarcely breathed when sleep deep and sound fell upon her eyelids.
It was very late next morning when they awoke, having slept rather heavily than well. They crawled out of bed feeling stiff and sore in every limb; each confessing to more evil effects from their adventure than she had been aware of the evening before. All the rubbing and bathing and drinking that Mrs. Van Brunt had administered had been too little to undo what wet and cold and fatigue had done. But Mrs. Van Brunt had set her breakfast-table with every thing her house could furnish that was nice; a bountifully spread
board it was. Mr. Humphreys was there too; and no bad feelings of two of the party could prevent that from being a most cheerful and pleasant meal. Even Mr. Humphreys and Mr.Van Brunt, two persons not usually given to many words, came out wonderfully on this occasion; gratitude and pleasure in the one, and generous feeling on the part of the other, untied their tongues; and Ellen looked from one to the other in some amazement to see how agreeable they could be. Kindness and hospitality always kept Mrs. Van Brunt in full flow; and Alice, whatever she felt, exerted herself and supplied what was wanting everywhere; like the transparent glazing which painters use to spread over the dead colour of their pictures; unknown, it was she gave life and harmony to the whole. And Ellen in her enjoyment of every thing and every body, forgot or despised aches and pains, and even whispered to Alice that coffee was making her well again.
But happy breakfasts must come to an end, and so did this, prolonged though it was. Immediately after, the party whom circumstances had gathered for the first and probably the last time, scattered again; but the meeting had left pleasant effects on all minds. Mrs. Van Brunt was in general delight that she had entertained so many people she thought a great deal of, and particularly glad of the chance of showing her kind feelings towards two of the number. Mr. Humphreys remarked upon "that very sensible, goodhearted man, Mr. Van Brunt, towards whom he felt himself under great obligation." Mr. Van Brunt said "the minister warn't such a grum man as people called him ;" and moreover said, "it was a good thing to have an education, and he had a notion to read more. As for Alice and Ellen, they went away full of kind feeling for every one and much love to each other. This was true of them before; but their late troubles had drawn them closer together and given them fresh occasion to value their friends.
Mr. Humphreys had brought the little one-horse sleigh for his daughter, and soon after breakfast Ellen saw it drive off with her. Mr. Van Brunt then harnessed his own and carried Ellen home. Ill though she felt, the poor child made an effort and spent part of the morning in finishing the long letter to her mother which had been on the stocks since
Monday. The effort became painful towards the last; and the aching limbs and trembling hand of which she complained were the first beginnings of a serious fit of illness. She went to bed that same afternoon, and did not leave it again for two weeks. Cold had taken violent hold of her system; fever set in and ran high; and half the time little Ellen's wits were roving in delirium. Nothing however could be too much for Miss Fortune's energies; she was as much at home in a sick room as in a well one. She flew about with increased agility; was up stairs and down stairs twenty times in the course of the day, and kept all straight everywhere. Ellen's room was always the picture of neatness; the fire, the wood-fire, was taken care of; Miss Fortune seemed to know by instinct when it wanted a fresh supply, and to be on the spot by magic to give it. Ellen's medicines were dealt out in proper time; her gruels and drinks perfectly well made and arranged with appetizing nicety on a little table by the bedside where she could reach them herself; and Miss Fortune was generally at hand when she was wanted. But in spite of all this there was something missing in that sick room, there was a great want; and whenever the delirium was upon her Ellen made no secret of it. She was never violent; but she moaned, sometimes impatiently and sometimes plaintively, for her mother. It was a vexation to Miss Fortune to hear her. The name of her mother was all the time on her lips; if by chance her aunt's name came in, it was spoken in a way that generally sent her bouncing out of the room.
"Mamma," poor Ellen would say, "just lay your hand on my forehead, will you? it's so hot. Oh do, mamma! -where are you? Do put your hand on my forehead, won't you?-O do speak to me, why don't you, mamma? O why don't she come to me!"
Once when Ellen was uneasily calling in this fashion for her mother's hand, Miss Fortune softly laid her own upon the child's brow; but the quick sudden jerk of the head from under it told her how well Ellen knew the one from the other; and little as she cared for Ellen it was wormwood to her.
Miss Fortune was not without offers of help during this sick time. Mrs. Van Brunt, and afterwards Mrs. Vawse,
asked leave to come and nurse Ellen; but Miss Fortune declared it was more plague than profit to her; and she couldn't be bothered with having strangers about. Mrs. Van Brunt she suffered, much against her will, to come for a day or two: at the end of that Miss Fortune found means to get rid of her civilly. Mrs. Vawse she would not allow to stay an hour. The old lady got leave however to go up to the sick room for a few minutes. Ellen, who was then in a high fever, informed her that her mother was down stairs, and her aunt Fortune would not let her come up; she pleaded with tears that she might come, and entreated Mrs. Vawse to take her aunt away and send her mother. Mrs. Vawse tried to soothe her. Miss Fortune grew impatient.
"What on earth's the use," said she, "of talking to a child that's out of her head? She can't hear reason; that's the way she gets into whenever the fever's on her. I have the pleasure of hearing that sort of thing all the time. Come away, Mrs. Vawse, and leave her; she can't be better any way than alone, and I am in the room every other thing;she's just as well quiet. Nobody knows," said Miss Fortune, on her way down stairs,-"nobody knows the blessing of taking care of other people's children that ha'n't tried it. I've tried it, to my heart's content."
Mrs. Vawse sighed, but departed in silence.
It was not when the fever was on her and delirium high that Ellen most felt the want she then so pitifully made known. There were other times, when her head was aching, and weary and weak she lay still there,-O how she longed then for the dear wonted face; the old quiet smile that carried so much of comfort and assurance with it; the voice that was like heaven's music; the touch of that loved hand to which she had clung for so many years! She could scarcely bear to think of it sometimes. In the still wakeful hours of night, when the only sound to be heard was the heavy breathing of her aunt asleep on the floor by her side, and in the long solitary day, when the only variety to be looked for was Miss Fortune's flitting in and out, and there came to be a sameness about that,-Ellen mourned her loss bitterly. Many and many were the silent tears that rolled down and wet her pillow; many a long-drawn sigh came from the very bottom of Ellen's heart; she was too weak and subdued now for violent
weeping. She wondered sadly why Alice did not come to see her; it was another great grief added to the former. She never chose, however, to mention her name to her aunt. She kept her wonder and her sorrow to herself,—all the harder to bear for that. After two weeks Ellen began to mend, and then she became exceeding weary of being alone and shut up to her room. It was a pleasure to have her Bible and hymnbook lying upon the bed, and a great comfort when she was able to look at a few words; but that was not very often, and she longed to see somebody, and hear something besides her aunt's dry questions and answers.
One afternoon Ellen was sitting, alone as usual, bolstered up in bed. Her little hymn-book was clasped in her hand; though not equal to reading, she felt the touch of it a solace to her. Half dozing, half waking, she had been perfectly quiet for some time, when the sudden and not very gentle opening of the room door caused her to start and open her eyes. They opened wider than usual, for instead of her aunt Fortune it was the figure of Miss Nancy Vawse that presented itself. She came in briskly, and shutting the door behind her advanced to the bedside.
"Well!" said she, "there you are! Why, you look smart enough. I've come to see you."
"Have you?" said Ellen, uneasily.
"Miss Fortune's gone out, and she told me to come and take care of you; so I'm agoing to spend the afternoon.” "Are you?" said Ellen again.
"Yes ain't you glad! I knew you must be lonely, so I thought I'd come."
There was a mischievous twinkle in Nancy's eyes. Ellen for once in her life wished for her aunt's presence.
"What are you doing?"
"Nothing," said Ellen.
"Nothing indeed! It's a fine thing to lie there and do nothing. You won't get well in a hurry, I guess, will you? You look as well as I do this minute. OI always knew
you was a sham."
"You are very much mistaken," said Ellen, indignantly; "I have been very sick, and I am not at all well yet."
"Fiddle-de-dee! it's very nice to think so; I guess you're lazy. How soft and good those pillows do look to be sure.