London Pride, by Mary Elizabeth Braddon

Chapter 5

A Ministering Angel.

Angela flung off hood and mantle, and looked anxiously round the room. There were some empty phials and ointment boxes, some soiled linen rags and wet sponges, upon a table near the bed, and the chamber reeked with the odour of drugs, hartshorn and elder vinegar, cantharides, and aloes; enough to show that a doctor had been there, and that there had been some attempt at nursing the patient. But she had heard how in Holland the nurses had sometimes robbed and abandoned their charges, taking advantage of the confusions and uncertainties of that period of despair, quick and skilful to profit by sudden death, and the fears and agonies of relatives and friends, whose grief made plunder easy. She deemed it likely that one of those devilish women had first pretended to succour, and had then abandoned Lord Fareham to his fate, after robbing his house. Indeed, the open doors of a stately inlaid wardrobe between two windows over against the bed, and the confused appearance of the clothes and linen on the shelves, indicated that it had been ransacked by hasty hands; while, doubtless, there had been many valuables lying loose about a house where there was every indication of a careless profusion.

“Alas! poor gentleman, to be left by some mercenary wretch — left to die like the camel in the desert!”

She bent over him, and laid her hand with gentle firmness upon his death-cold forehead.

“What! are there saints and angels in hell as well as felons and devils?” he cried, clutching her by the wrist, and looking up at her with distended eyes, in which the natural colour of the eye-ball was tarnished almost to blackness with injected blood.

For long and lonely hours, that seemed an eternity, he had been tossing in a burning fever upon that disordered bed, until he verily believed himself in a place of everlasting torment. He had that strange, double sense which goes with delirium — the consciousness of his real surroundings, the tapestry and furniture of his own chamber, and yet the conviction that this was hell, and had always been hell, and that he had descended to this terrible under-world through infinite abysses of darkness. The glow of sunset had been to him the fierce light of everlasting flames; the burning of fever was the fire that is never quenched; the pain that racked his limbs was the worm that dieth not. And now in his torment there came the vision of a seraphic face bending over him in gentle solicitude; a face that brought comfort with it, even in the midst of his agony. After that one wild question he sank slowly back upon the pillows, and lay faint and weak, his breathing scarce audible. Angela laid her fingers on his wrist. The pulse was fluttering and intermittent.

She remembered every detail of her aunt’s treatment of the plague-patient in the convent infirmary, and how the turning-point of the malady and beginning of cure had seemed to be brought about by a draught of strong wine which the reverend mother had made her give the poor fainting creature at a crisis of extreme weakness. She looked about the room for any flask which might contain wine; but there was nothing there except the apothecary’s phials and medicaments.

It was dusk already, and she was alone in a strange house. It would seem no easy task to find what she wanted, but the case was desperate, and she knew enough of this mysterious disease to know that if the patient could not rally speedily from his prostrate condition the end must be near. With steady brain she set herself to face the difficulty — first to administer something which should sustain the sick man’s strength, and then, without loss of time, to seek a physician, and bring him to that deserted bed. Wine was the one thing she could trust to in this crisis; for of the doses and lotions on yonder table she knew nothing, nor had her experience made her a believer in the happy influence of drugs.

Her first search must be for light with which to explore the lower part of the house, where in pantry or stillroom, or, if not above ground, in the cellars, she must find what she wanted. Surely somewhere in that spacious bed-chamber there would be tinder-box and matches. There were a pair of silver candlesticks on the dressing-table, with thick wax candles burnt nearly to the sockets.

A careful search at last discovered a tinder-box and matches in a dark angle of the fireless hearth, hidden behind the heavy iron dog. She struck a light, kindled her match, and lighted a candle, the sick man’s eyes following all her movements, but his lips mute. As she went out of the door he called after her —

“Leave me not, thou holy visitant — leave not my soul in hell!”

“I will return!” she cried. “Have no fear, sir; I go to fetch some wine.”

Her errand was not done quickly. Amidst all the magnificence she had noted on her journey through the long suite of reception-rooms — the littered treasures of amber and gold, and ivory and porcelain and silver — she had seen only an empty wine-flask; so with quick footfall she ran down the wide, shallow stairs to the lower floor, and here she found herself in a labyrinth of passages opening into small rooms and servants’ offices. Here there were darkness and gloom rather than splendour; though in many of those smaller rooms there was a sober and substantial luxury which became the inferior apartments of a palace. She came at last to a room which she took to be the butler’s office, where there were dressers with a great array of costly Venetian glass, and a great many pieces of silver — cups, tankards, salvers, and other ornamental plate — in presses behind glazed doors. One of the glass panels had been broken, and the shelves in that press were empty.

Wine there was none to be found in any part of the room; but a small army of empty bottles in a corner of the floor, and a confusion of greasy plates, knives, chicken bones, and other scraps, indicated that there had been carousing here at no remote time.

The cellars were doubtless below these offices; but the wine-cellars would assuredly be locked, and she had to search for the keys. She opened drawer after drawer in the lower part of the presses, and at last, in an inner and secret drawer, found a multitude of keys, some of which were provided with parchment labels, and among these happily were two labelled “Ye great wine cellar, S.” and “Ye smaller wine cellar, W.”

This was a point gained; but the search had occupied a considerable time. She had yet enough candle to last for about half an hour, and her next business was to find one of those cellars which those keys opened. She was intensely anxious to return to her patient, having heard how in some cases unhappy wretches had leapt from the bed of death and rushed out-of-doors, delirious, half naked, to anticipate their end by a fatal chill.

On her way to the butler’s office she had seen a stone archway at the head of a flight of stairs leading down into darkness. By this staircase she hoped to find the wine-cellars, and presently descended, her candlestick in one hand, and the two great keys in the other. As she went down into the stone basement, which was built with the solidity of a dungeon, she heard the plash of the tide, and felt that she was now on a level with the river. Here she found herself again in a labyrinth of passages, with many doors standing ajar. At the end of one passage she came to a locked door, and on trying her keys, found one of them to fit the lock; it was “Ye great wine cellar, S.,” and she understood by the initial “S.” that the cellar looked south and faced the river.

She turned the heavy key with an effort that strained the slender fingers which held it; but she was unconscious of the pain, and wondered afterwards to see her hand dented and bruised where the iron had wrung it. The clumsy door revolved on massive hinges, and she entered a cellar so large that the light of her candle did not reach the furthermost corners and recesses.

This cellar was built in a series of arches, fitted with stone bins, and in the upper part of one southward-fronting arch there was a narrow grating, through which came the cool breath of evening air and the sound of water lapping against stone. A patch of faint light showed pale against the iron bars, and as Angela looked that way, a great grey rat leapt through the grating, and ran along the topmost bin, making the bottles shiver as he scuttled across them. Then came a thud on the sawdust-covered stones, and she knew that the loathsome thing was on the floor upon which she was standing. She lowered her light shudderingly, and, for the first time since she entered that house of dread, the young brave heart sank with the sickness of fear.

The cellar might swarm with such creatures; the darkness of the fast-coming night might be alive with them! And if yonder dungeon-like door were to swing to and shut with a spring lock, she might perish there in the darkness. She might die the most hideous of deaths, and her fate remain for ever unknown.

In a sudden panic she rushed back to the door, and pushed it wider — pushed it to its extremest opening. It seemed too heavy to be likely to swing back upon its hinges; yet the mere idea of such a contingency appalled her. Remembering her labour in unlocking the door from the outside, she doubted if she could open it from within were it once to close upon that awful vault. And all this time the lapping of the tide against the stone sounded louder, and she saw little spirts of spray flashing against the bars in the lessening light.

She collected herself with an effort, and began her search for the wine. Sack was the wine she had given to the sick nun, and it was that wine for which she looked. Of Burgundy, and claret, labelled “Clary Wine,” she found several full bins, and more that were nearly empty. Tokay and other rarer wines were denoted by the parchment labels which hung above each bin; but it was some minutes before she came to a bin labelled “Sherris,” which she knew was another name for sack. The bottles had evidently been undisturbed for a long time, for the bin was full of cobweb, and the thick coating of dust upon the glass betokened a respectable age in the wine. She carried off two bottles, one under each arm, and then, with even quicker steps than had brought her to that darksome place, she hastened back to the upper floor, leaving the key in the cellar door, and the door unlocked. There would be time enough to look after Lord Fareham’s wine when she had cared for Lord Fareham himself.

His eyes were fixed upon the doorway as she entered. They shone upon her in the dusk with an awful glassiness, as if life’s last look had become fixed in death. He did not speak as she drew near the bed, and set the wine bottles down upon the table among the drugs and cataplasms.

She had found a silver-handled corkscrew in the butler’s room among the relics of the feast, and with this she opened one of the bottles, Fareham watching her all the time.

“Is that some new alexipharmic?” he asked with a sudden rational air, which was almost as startling as if a dead man had spoken. “I will have no more of their loathsome drugs. They have made an apothecary’s shop of my body. I would rather they let me rot by the plague than that they should poison me with their antidotes, or dissolve me to death with their sudorifics.”

“This is not a medicine, Lord Fareham, but your own wine; and I want you to drink a long draught of it, and then, who knows but you may sleep off your malady?”

“Ay, sleep in the grave, sweet friend! I have seen the tokens on my breast that mean death. There is but one inevitable end for all who are so marked. ’Tis like the forester’s notch upon the tree. It means doom. He was king of the forest once, perhaps; but no matter. His time has come. Oh, Lord, thou hast tormented me with hot burning coals!” he cried, in a sudden access of pain; and in the next minute he was raving.

Angela filled a beaker with the bright golden wine, and offered it to the sick man’s lips. It was not without infinite pains and coaxing that she induced him to drink; but, when once his parched lips had tasted the cold liquor, he drank eagerly, as if that strong wine had been a draught of water. He gave a deep sigh of solace when the beaker was empty, for he had been enduring an agony of thirst through all the glare and heat of the afternoon, and there was unspeakable comfort in that first long drink. He would have drunk foul water with almost as keen a relish.

He talked fast and furiously, in the disjointed sentences of delirium, for some little time; and then, little by little, he grew more tranquil; and Angela, sitting beside the bed, with her fingers laid gently on his wrist, marked the quieter beat of the pulse, which no longer fluttered like the wing of a frightened bird. Then with deep thankfulness she saw the eyelids droop over the bloodshot eyeballs, while the breathing grew slower and heavier as sleep clouded the wearied brain. The spaniels crept nearer him, and nestled close to his pillow, so that the man’s dark locks were mixed with the silken curls of the dogs.

Would he die in that sleep? she wondered.

It was only now for the first time since she entered this unpeopled house that she had leisure to speculate on the circumstances which had brought about such loneliness and neglect, here where rank and state, and wealth almost without limit should have secured the patient every care and comfort that devoted service could lavish upon a sufferer. How was it that she found her sister’s husband abandoned to the care of hirelings, left to the chances of paid service?

To the cloister-reared maiden the idea of wifely duty was elevated almost to a religion. To father or to husband she would have given a boundless devotion, in sickness most of all devoted. To leave husband or father in a plague-stricken city would have seemed to her a crime as abominable as Tullia’s, a treachery base as Goneril’s or Regan’s. Could it be that her sister, that bright and lovely creature, whose face she remembered as a sunbeam incarnate, could she have been swept away by the pestilence which spared neither youth nor beauty, neither the strong man nor the weakling child? Her heart grew heavy as lead at the thought that this stranger, by whose pillow she was watching, might be the sole survivor in that forsaken palace, and that in a few more hours he, too, would be numbered with the dead, in that dreadful city where Death reigned omnipotent, and where the living seemed but a vanishing minority, pale shadows of living creatures passing silently along one inevitable pathway to the pest-house or pit.

That calm sleep of the plague-stricken might mean recovery, or it might mean death. Angela examined the potions and unguents on the table near the bed, and read the instructions on jars and phials. One was an alexipharmic draught, to be taken the last thing at night, another a sudorific, to be administered once in every hour.

“I would not wake him to give him the finest medicine that ever physician prescribed,” Angela said to herself. “I remember what a happy change one hour of quiet slumber made in Sister Monica, when she was all but dead of a quartan fever. Sleep is God’s physic.”

She knelt upon a Prie–Dieu chair remote from the bed, knowing that contagion lurked amid those voluminous hangings, beneath that stately canopy with its lustrous satin lining, on which the light of the wax candles was reflected in shining patches as upon a lake of golden water. She had no fear of the pestilence; but an instinctive prudence made her hold herself aloof, now that there was nothing more to be done for the sufferer.

She remained long in prayer, repeating one of those litanies which she had learnt in her infancy, and which of late had seemed to her to have somewhat too set and mechanical a rhythm. The earnestness and fervour seemed to have gone out of them in somewise since she had come to womanhood. The names of the saints her lips invoked were dull and cold, and evolved no image of human or superhuman love and power. What need of intercessors whose personality was vague and dim, whose earthly histories were made up of truth so interwoven with fable that she scarce dared believe even that which might be true? In the One Crucified was help for all sinners, gospel and creed, the rule of life here, the promise of immortality hereafter.

The litanies to Virgin and Saints were said as a duty — a part of implicit obedience which was the groundwork of her religion; and then all the aspirations of her heart, her prayers for the sick man yonder, her fears for her absent sister, for her father in his foreign wanderings, went up in one stream of invocation to Christ the Redeemer. To Him, and Him alone, the strong flame of faith and love rose, like the incense upon an altar — the altar of a girl’s trusting heart.

She was so lost in meditation that she was unconscious of an approaching footstep in the stillness of the deserted house, till it drew near to the threshold of the sick-room. The night was close and sultry, so she had left the door open, and that slow tread had crossed the threshold by the time she rose from her knees. Her heart beat fast, startled by the first human presence which she had known in that melancholy place, save the presence of the pest-stricken sufferer.

She found herself face to face with a middle-aged gentleman of medium stature, clad in the sober colouring that suggested one of the learned professions. He appeared even more startled than Angela at the unexpected vision which met his gaze, faintly seen in the dim light.

There was silence for a few moments, and then the stranger saluted the lady with a formal reverence, as he laid down his gold-handled cane.

“Surely, madam, this mansion of my Lord Fareham’s must be enchanted,” he said. “I left a crowd of attendants, and the stir of life below and above stairs, only this forenoon last past. I find silence and vacancy. That is scarce strange in this dejected and unhappy time; for it is but too common a trick of hireling nurses to abandon their patients, and for servants to plunder and then desert a sick house. But to find an angel where I left a hag! That is the miracle! And an angel who has brought healing, if I mistake not,” he added, in a lower voice, bending over the speaker.

“I am no angel, sir, but a weak, erring mortal,” answered the girl, gravely. “For pity’s sake, kind doctor — since I doubt not you are my lord’s physician — tell me where are my dearest sister, Lady Fareham, and her children. Tell me the worst, I entreat you!”

“Sweet lady, there is no ill news to tell. Her ladyship and the little ones are safe at my lord’s house in Oxfordshire, and it is only his lordship yonder who has fallen a victim to the contagion. Lady Fareham and her girl and boy have not been in London since the plague began to rage. My lord had business in the city, and came hither alone. He and the young Lord Rochester, who is the most audacious infidel this town can show, have been bidding defiance to the pestilence, deeming their nobility safe from a sickness which has for the most part chosen its victims among the vulgar.”

“His lordship is very ill, I fear, sir?” said Angela interrogatively.

“I left him at eleven o’clock this morning with but scanty hope of finding him alive after sundown. The woman I left to nurse him was his house-steward’s wife, and far above the common kind of plague-nurse. I did not think she would turn traitor.”

“Her husband has proved a false steward. The house has been robbed of plate and valuables, as I believe, from signs I saw below stairs; and I suppose husband and wife went off together.”

“Alack! madam, this pestilence has brought into play some of the worst attributes of human nature. The tokens and loathly boils which break out upon the flesh of the plague-stricken are less revolting to humanity than the cruelty of those who minister to the sick, and whose only desire is to profit by the miseries that surround them; wretches so vile that they have been known wilfully to convey the seeds of death from house to house, in order to infect the sound, and so enlarge their area of gains. It was an artful device of those plunderers to paint the red cross on the door, and thus scare away any visitor who might have discovered their depredations. But you, madam, a being so young and fragile, have you no fear of the contagion?”

“Nay, sir, I know that I am in God’s hand. Yonder poor gentleman is not the first plague-patient I have nursed. There was a nun came from Holland to our convent at Louvain last year, and had scarce been one night in the house before tokens of the pestilence were discovered upon her. I helped the infirmarian to nurse her, and with God’s help we brought her round. My aunt, the reverend mother, bade me give her the best wine there was in the house — strong Spanish wine that a rich merchant had given to the convent for the use of the sick — and it was as though that good wine drove the poison from her blood. She recovered by the grace of God after only a few days’ careful nursing. Finding his lordship stricken with such great weakness, I ventured to give him a draught of the best sack I could find in his cellar.”

“Dear lady, thou art a miracle of good sense and compassionate bounty. I doubt thou hast saved thy sister from widow’s weeds,” said Dr. Hodgkin, seated by the bed, with his fingers on the patient’s wrist, and his massive gold watch in the other hand. “This sound sleep promises well, and the pulse beats somewhat slower and steadier than it did this morning. Then the case seemed hopeless, and I feared to give wine — though a free use of generous wine is my particular treatment — lest it should fly to his brain, and disturb his intellectuals at a time when he should need all his senses for the final disposition of his affairs. Great estates sometimes hang upon the breath of a dying man.”

“Oh, sir, but your patient! To save his life, that would sure be your first and chiefest thought?”

“Ay, ay, my pretty miss; but I had other measures. Apollo twangs not ever on the same bowstring. Did my sudorific work well, think you?”

“He was bathed in perspiration when first I found him; but the sweat-drops seemed cold and deadly, as if life itself were being dissolved out of him.”

“Ay, there are cases in which that copious sweat is the forerunner of dissolution; but in others it augurs cure. The pent-up poison which is corrupting the patient’s blood finds a sudden vent, its virulence is diluted, and if the end prove fatal, it is that the patient lacks power to rally after the ravages of the disease, rather than that the poison kills. Was it instantly after that profuse sweat you gave him the wine, I wonder?”

“It was as speedily as I could procure it from the cellar below.”

“And that strong wine, given in the nick of time, reassembled Nature’s scattered forces, and rekindled the flame of life. Upon my soul, sweet young lady, I believe thou hast saved him! All the drugs in Bucklersbury could do no more. And now tell me what symptoms you have noted since you have watched by his bed; and tell me further if you have strength to continue his nurse, with such precautions as I shall dictate, and such help as I can send you in the shape of a stout, honest, serving-wench of mine, and a man to guard the lower part of your house, and fetch and carry for you?”

“I will do everything you bid me, with all my heart, and with such skill as I can command.”

“Those delicate fingers were formed to minister to the sick. And you will not shrink from loathsome offices — from the application of cataplasms, from cleansing foul sores? Those blains and boils upon that poor body will need care for many days to come.”

“I will shrink from nothing that may be needful for his benefit. I should love to go on nursing him, were it only for my sister’s sake. How sorry she would feel to be so far from him, could she but know of his sickness!”

“Yes, I believe Lady Fareham would be sorry,” answered the physician, with a dry little laugh; “though there are not many married ladies about Rowley’s court of whom I would diagnose as much. Not Lady Denham, for instance, that handsome, unprincipled houri, married to a septuagenarian poet, who would rather lock her up in a garret than see her shine at Whitehall; or Lady Castlemaine, whose husband has been uncivil enough to show discontent at a peerage that was not of his own earning; or a dozen others I could name, were not such scandals as these Hebrew to thine innocent ear.”

“Nay, sir, my sister has written of Court scandals in many of her letters, and it has grieved me to think her lot should be cast among people of whose reckless doings she tells me with a lively wit that makes sin seem something less than sin.”

“There is no such word as ‘sin’ in Charles Stuart’s Court, my dear young lady. It is harder to achieve bad repute nowadays than it was once to be thought a saint. Existence in this town is a succession of bagatelles. Men’s lives and women’s reputations drift down to the bottomless pit upon a rivulet of epigrams and chansons. You have heard of that Dance of Death, which was one of the nervous diseases of the fifteenth century — a malady which, after beginning with one lively caperer, would infect a whole townspeople, and send an entire population curvetting and prancing, until death stopped them. I sometimes think, when I watch the follies at Whitehall, that those graceful dancers, sliding upon pointed toe through a coranto, amid a blaze of candles and star-shine of diamonds, are capering along the same fatal road by which St. Vitus lured his votaries to the grave. And then I look at Rowley’s licentious eye and cynical lip, and think to myself, ‘This man’s father perished on the scaffold; this man’s lovely ancestress paid the penalty of her manifold treacheries after sixteen years’ imprisonment; this man has passed through the jaws of death, has left his country a fugitive and a pauper, has returned as if by a miracle, carried back to a throne upon the hearts of his people; and behold him now — saunterer, sybarite, sensualist — strolling through life without one noble aim or one virtuous instinct; a King who traffics in the pride and honour of his country, and would sell her most precious possessions, level her strongest defences, if his cousin and patron t’other side the Channel would but bid high enough.’ But a plague on my tongue, dear lady, that it must always be wagging. Not one word more, save for instructions.”

Dr. Hodgkin loved talking even better than he loved a fee, and he allowed himself a physician’s licence to be prosy; but he now proceeded to give minute directions for the treatment of the patient — the poultices and stoups and lotions which were to reduce the external indications of the contagion, the medicines which were to be given at intervals during the night. Medicine in those days left very little to Nature, and if patients perished it was seldom for want of drugs and medicaments.

“The servant I send you will bring meat and all needful herbs for making a strong broth, with which you will feed the patient once an hour. There are many who hold with the boiling of gold in such a broth, but I will not enter upon the merits of aurum potabile as a fortifiant. I take it that in this case you will find beef and mutton serve your turn. I shall send you from my own larder as much beef as will suffice for to-night’s use; and to-morrow your servant must go to the place where the country people sell their goods, butchers’ meat, poultry, and garden-stuff; for the butchers’ shops of London are nearly all closed, and people scent contagion in any intercourse with their fellow-citizens. You will have, therefore, to look to the country people for your supplies; but of all this my own man will give you information. So now, good night, sweet young lady. It is on the stroke of nine. Before eleven you shall have those who will help and protect you. Meanwhile you had best go downstairs with me, and lock and bolt the great door leading into the garden, which I found ajar.”

“There is the door facing the river, too, by which I entered.”

“Ay, that should be barred also. Keep a good heart, madam. Before eleven you shall have a sturdy watchman on the premises.”

Angela took a lighted candle and followed the physician through the great empty rooms, and down the echoing staircase; under the ceiling where Jove, with upraised goblet, drank to his queen, while all the galaxy of the Greek pantheon circled his imperial throne. Upon how many a festal procession had those Olympians looked down since that famous house-warming, when the colours were fresh from the painter’s brush, and when the third Lord Fareham’s friend and gossip, King James, deigned to witness the representation of Jonson’s “Time Vindicated,” enacted by ladies and gentlemen of quality, in the great saloon, a performance which — with the banquet and confectionery brought from Paris, and “the sweet waters which came down the room like a shower from heaven,” as one wrote who was present at that splendid entertainment, and the feux d’artifice on the river — cost his lordship a year’s income, but stamped him at once a fine gentleman. Had he been a trifle handsomer, and somewhat softer of speech, that masque and banquet might have placed Richard Revel, Baron Fareham, in the front rank of royal favourites; but the Revels were always a black-visaged race, with more force than comeliness in their countenances, and more gall than honey upon their tongues.

It was past eleven before the expected succour arrived, and in the interval Lord Fareham had awakened once, and had swallowed a composing draught, having apparently but little consciousness of the hand that administered it. At twenty minutes past eleven Angela heard the bell ring, and ran blithely down the now familiar staircase to open the garden door, outside which she found a middle-aged woman and a tall, sturdy young man, each carrying a bundle. These were the nurse and the watchman sent by Dr. Hodgkin. The woman gave Angela a slip of paper from the doctor, by way of introduction.

“You will find Bridget Basset a worthy woman, and able to turn her hand to anything; and Thomas Stokes is an honest, serviceable youth, whom you may trust upon the premises, till some of his lordship’s servants can be sent from Chilton Abbey, where I take it there is a large staff.”

It was with an unspeakable relief that Angela welcomed these humble friends. The silence of the great empty house had been weighing upon her spirits, until the sense of solitude and helplessness had grown almost unbearable. Again and again she had watched Lord Fareham turn his feverish head upon his pillow, while the parched lips moved in inarticulate mutterings; and she had thought of what she should do if a stronger delirium were to possess him, and he were to try and do himself some mischief. If he were to start up from his bed and rush through the empty rooms, or burst open one of yonder lofty casements and fling himself headlong to the terrace below! She had been told of the terrible things that plague-patients had done to themselves in their agony; how they had run naked into the streets to perish on the stones of the highway; how they had gashed themselves with knives; or set fire to their bed-clothes, seeking any escape from the torments of that foul disease. She knew that those burning plague-spots, which her hands had dressed, must cause a continual anguish that might wear out the patience of a saint; and as the dark face turned on the tumbled pillow, she saw by the clenched teeth and writhing lips, and the convulsive frown of the strongly marked brows, that even in delirium the sufferer was struggling to restrain all unmanly expressions of his agony. But now, at least, there would be this strong, capable woman to share in the long night watch; and if the patient grew desperate there would be three pair of hands to protect him from his own fury.

She made her arrangements promptly and decisively. Mrs. Basset was to stay all night with her in the patient’s chamber, with such needful intervals of rest as each might take without leaving the sick-room; and Stokes was first to see to the fastening of the various basement doors, and to assure himself that there was no one hidden either in the cellars or on the ground floor; also to examine all upper chambers, and lock all doors; and was then to make himself a bed in a dressing closet adjoining Lord Fareham’s chamber, and was to lie there in his clothes, ready to help at any hour of the night, should help be wanted.

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Last updated Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 13:31