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“For mercy's sake, say something,” I cry, crossly ; " do not lapse again into that utter silence! Dear me!" (taking the wreath gingerly out of its box) “ how beautifully they do make these things nowadays! But for the scent, I really think they out-do nature."
The wheels of the first carriage become audible ; very faintly, by reason of the snow, but still audible, and Sylvia, after one final glance, shuffle, and whisk, swims out of the room. I become absorbed in an artistic agony, as I throw the lace, in a shower of costly flimsiness, over my sister's impassive head, and delicately insinuate the chilly nuptial flowers into their resting-place on the top of it.
Carriage after carriage rolls up: doors are opened; steps let down. My curiosity gets the better of me. I leave my nearly finished task, and, running to the window, press my face against the frosted pane.
“The Websters,” say I, narratively. “Ha! ha! ha! Old Mrs. Webster in a twin gown to Sylvia ; even to the swansdown on the body and tunic! Poor dear Sylvia ! she will never get over it; it will be the death of her."
As I stand there, laughing maliciously, I feel a hand on my shoulder. “What! are you come to look at them, too? Take care, they will see you. It shows a little want of imagination in Mrs. James making two dresses pin for pin alike, does not it?”
I turn towards her; but, as soon as I catch a glimpse of her face my mirth dies, and I utter a horrified ejaculation. It is lividly white, and she is gasping.
Open it wide!” she says, almost inaudibly. “I-I-I am stifling !"
“Good heavens !" cry I, apprehensively and dissuasively, with my usual practical grasp of a subject. “You are not going to faint? Do not !-not till I get you a chair. You are so heavy-I never could hold you up.”
As I speak I am struggling with the basp of the window, which is old, rusty, and evidently constructed with a view to never opening except after ten minutes of angry wrestling.
Quick! quick!” she says, faintly panting, “ wider! wider !" But it is too late. As the frozen casement grates slowly on its hinges, her head, with all its smart paraphernalia of lace and flowers, falls back lifeless, and the whole weight of her body, in all the leaden inertness of Death's counterfeit, rests in my strained arms. No one knows, until they have tried it, how heavy dead and swooned persons
I stagger under my sister's weight, and with much difficulty, and many bumps both to her and myself, get her down on the floor, where the little icy airs come and ruffle her useless laces and her soft tossed locks. Then I fly to the bell, open the door, and call mightily down the passage.
“ Louise !” I cry, “ Louise !" as Sylvia's French maid comes floating airily along—not in the least hurrying herself,
but rather throwing gallantries over her shoulder, as it were, to a strange valet in the middle distance. “Louise ! Louise! Make baste! Mademoiselle Lenore is so ill! I do not know what has happened to her !-all of a sudden, too !—she has fainted, I think; I suppose it is a faint, is not it?” (looking nervously in her face) “not anything worse ?”
Louise gives a little yell, and says “My God!" in her mother tongue, in which dippant language that adjuration does not sound half so solemn. Then we kneel down, one on each side of her, sprinkle water in her face, considerably to the injury of her tucker-pour brandy down her unconscious throat-hold strong smelling-salts to her nostrils—roughly chafe her dead hands—use all the unpleasant asperities, in fact, that are supposed necessary to induce people to come back to that life which, as a rule, they are so loth to quit. But it is all to no purpose: she shows no sign of returning consciousness.
“I do not half like it,” I say, looking apprehensively across at my coadjutor, and speaking in an unintentional whisper. "I have not a notion what to do next! Run, Louise, and tell John to go as quickly as he can for Dr. Riley-and-and-I do not like being left here by myself with her-send Mrs. Prodgers.”
“ What do you want with me?" cries Sylvia, pettishly, coming fussing in, a minute or two later ; evidently in complete ignorance of the errand on which I have sent for her..
“I wish you would not send such mysterious messages. I am so nervous already that I do not know what to do with myself ! I declare, just now, when Lord Sligo was talking to me, I had no more idea what he was saying- -Good God!" (catching sight of Lenore's stiff prostrate white figure), “what has happened? What has she done to herself now?"
“She has fainted,” repeat I, briefly, “all of a sudden, before I could look round; and we cannot bring her to.”
“Good gracious, how dreadful !” cries Sylvia, kneeling daintily down on the floor too, not however, before she has plucked up her violet velvet skirts. “What does one do when people faint ?-put cold keys down their backs—cut their stay-laces—hold looking glasses before their mouths-oh no, of course, that is to see whether they are—heavens, Jemima,” (her face blanching), “ you do not think she
Mrs. Prodgers has an inveterate aversion for pronouncing the little four-lettered word, that, in its plain shortness, expresses the destiny of the nations.
“Nonsense!” cry I, angrily, again seizing the salts, and futilely holding them to her nose.
“Feel whether her heart beats,” says Sylvia, looking very white, breathing rather short, and speaking in an awed whisper. "I am afraid to do it myself—I dare not !-you are feeling the wrong side, are not you ?--they say it is nearly in the middle."
Complying with these anatomical instructions, I feel. Yes, it beats. Life's little hammer is still knocking feebly against its neighbour ribs.
“She will be all right, just now, of course; it is only that we are not used to this sort of things. I never was the least frightened myself,” say I, doughtily, but not altogether truly.
"I wish her eyes were quite shut,” says Sylvia, peering into Lenore's swooned face with the horrified curiosity' of a child ; " they look so dreadful showing a bit of the pupil.”
“The wedding will have to be put off, of course," say I, rising, and walking towards the clock; “ half-past eleven now; it is very certain that she will not be well enough to be married before twelve."
“But the people !" cries my sister, squatting in a dismayed purple heap on the floor, for the moment utterly oblivious of nervousness, swansdown, or even of the aptness of velvet to crease, unless sat upon straight. They are all come; everybody is dressed ; most of them are already at the church; the bishop has been there half an hour."
I shake my head. “It cannot be helped."
“And the breakfast!” cries Mrs. Prodgers, as a fresh and worse aspect of the calamity presents itself to her mind. “Of course, the cold things do not matter; they will be as good to-morrow or the day after as to-day; but the soups, the entrées !”
I stifle a sigh. “There is no good in talking of it,” I say, with forced philosophy. “You had better go at once and send them all away; there is no use in keeping them waiting in the cold. Charlie, too” (with an accent of compassion); “poor boy! what a bitter disappointment it will be to him!”
“ As to that,” says Sophia, with a slight relapse into the preening and Pouter-pigeon mood, “I do not suppose that a day's delay will kill him: men are often not sorry for a little reprieve in these cases. I am sure no one can feel more thoroughly upset than I do; if I were to follow my own inclinations I should sit down and have a good
“Do not follow them then,” I say brusquely, “or, at least, send the guests away first, and cry as much as you please afterwards."
By the aid of Louise, and with many appeals on her part to the French God, skies, and Virgin, I, heavily and with difficulty, list Lenore on to the bed. Hours have passed, the doctor has come, Sylvia has resumed her black gown and giant rosary, the last carriage has rolled away with snowy wheels, before Lenore lifts the quivering white of her lids, and looks round upon us languidly, one after another. There are only three of us—the elderly doctor, to whom from our earliest infancy we bave been in the habit of exhibiting our tongues and pulses, I, who am nobody, and thirdly, a poor young man in a
“ Your poor
smart blue coat, with a kind, miserable, beautiful face, who has spent the last three hours and a half in clasping and kissing a limp white hand, which, had its owner been possessed of consciousness, would hardly have lain with such passive meekness in his fond grasp. As her eyes open he springs up joyfully to his feet and bends over her. I do the same. With a faint gesture of distaste she turns away from him to me, and speaks in a weak whisper:
“I–I-I-am at home, am I not?”
Soon afterwards she relapses into unconsciousness. All that day, and most of the following night, she lies like a plucked snowdrop in January's sleety lap, reviving from one swoon only to fall into another. Towards midnight she grows better and sinks into a natural and healthy sleep.
“I wish you would change your clothes," I say to Charlie, in a whisper, as we stand staring at her with shaded light, “ they look such a mockery” (touching the fine blue broadcloth). bouquet, too."
“Not a very good omen, is it?" he says, with a melancholy smile, lifting with his finger the drooped and yellowed head of his gardenia. “ Bah! who cares for omens ? Only old women.”
"Only old women,” repeat I, mechanically.
“She was not well last night,” he continues eagerly, “was she? I told you she was not : it accounts for her talking so oddly, does not it? It shows” (peering anxiously into my face) “that she did not mean any of the things she said, does not it?”
I say, “Of course," in a constrained voice, and try to turn away.
“Stay,” he says, laying his broad hand on my shoulder, “ do not go; I want to talk to you. I say she was not quite herself when she woke up first, was she?-did not know what she was saying—meant nothing?"
I know that I am lying, but I answer: “Oh dear, no! of course not !"
“ Was it my fancy ?” continues he, with a painful red spreading even to his forehead ; "one gets odd notions, and these damned candles” (striking one viciously with his forefinger) “cast such deceptive shadows—but it seemed to me, Jemima, that she turned away from me, as if—as if—she had rather not look at me. Did not she like my being here, do you think? She is so—80—maidenly; she thought I ought to have staid outside ?”
“ Nonsense,” say I, shortly. “It is evident that you have never fainted; you do not understand how slow people's wits are in coming
back. I do not suppose that she knew you from me, or me from the doctor.”
He does not answer. I can hardly expect my logic to be very convincing, seeing that it has not convinced myself.
“Riley is not in the least surprised at this,” I say, nodding slightly towards our patient.
“ When I told him about her not eating and not sleeping—it is my belief that she has not closed an eye for the last fortnight-- he said that the only wonder was that it had not happened before."
“Jemima,” says the young fellow, turning me unceremoniously round so as to face him, while his eyes in their searching truth go through mine like swords, tell me,I wish to know-what is it that has taken away her sleep and her appetite? Is it I ?”
It is not, as I am well aware, but I maintain a stupid silence.
“Do not answer me,” he says, with a sudden change of mood, pushing me away from him. “I do not want an answer; it was an idiotic question; this fuss and bustle have been too much for her, have not they ? and the hard weather has tried her. She will be all right again when once we get quietly off, will not she? Jemima–I say, Jemima-do you think there is a chance of our being able to have it to-morrow?"
I shake my head. “I doubt it.”
I have not the assurance to say “ Yes," and I have not the heart to say “No," so I say, “ We will see.”
WHAT THE AUTHOR SAYS.
All the next day, Lenore lies in bed, weak and white-it does not take much to pull her down—and, for the most part, silent. She asks for no one; expresses neither regrets nor self-congratulations on the subject of her deferred wedding-lies with her face, gentle and innocent as any saintly martyr's— what falsehoods faces do tell !-- on the pillow, crowned by a bright brown glory of hair-an aureole given her by nature, not martyrdom. She is not ill, neither well; very still, and only turning restive under doses of brandied beef-tea, repeated ad nauseam. There are few of the minor diseases that are worse than beef-tea and brandy. The following day passes in much the same way ; but on the third morning Jemima enters cheerfully:
“ Riley says you may get up.”
The communication does not seem to afford much satisfaction to the person to whom it is addressed. She turns her face away with a pettish jerk and hides it in the pillow.