The Heir of Redclyffe, by Charlotte M. Yonge

Chapter 31

And turned the thistles of a curse

To types beneficent.

— WORDSWORTH

It was about three weeks after the rendezvous at Bellagio, that Sir Guy and Lady Morville arrived at Vicenza, on their way from Venice. They were in the midst of breakfast when Arnaud entered, saying —

‘It was well, Sir Guy, that you changed your intention of visiting the Valtelline with Captain Morville.’

‘What! Have you heard anything of him?’

‘I fear that his temerity has caused him to suffer. I have just heard that an Englishman of your name is severely ill at Recoara.’

‘Where?’

‘At “la badia di Recoara”. It is what in English we call a watering-place, on the mountains to the north, where the Vicentini do go in summer for “fraicheur”, but they have all returned in the last two days for fear of the infection.’

‘I’ll go and make inquiries’ said Guy, rising in haste. Returning in a quarter of an hour, he said — ‘It is true. It can be no other than poor Philip. I have seen his doctor, an Italian, who, when he saw our name written, said it was the same. He calls it “una febbre molto grave”.’

‘Very heavy! Did he only know the name in writing?’

‘Only from seeing it on his passport. He has been unable to give any directions.’

‘How dreadfully ill he must be! And alone! What shall we do? You won’t think of leaving me behind you, whatever you do?’ exclaimed Amabel, imploringly.

‘It is at no great distance, and —’

‘O, don’t say that. Only take me with you. I will try to bear it, if you don’t think it right; but it will be very hard.’

Her eyes were full of tears, but she struggled to repress them, and was silent in suspense as she saw him considering.

‘My poor Amy!’ said he, presently; ‘I believe the anxiety would be worse for you if I were to leave you here.’

‘Oh, thank you!’ exclaimed she.

‘You will have nothing to do with the nursing. No, I don’t think there is much risk; so we will go together.’

‘Thank you! thank you! and perhaps I may be of some use. But is it very infectious?’

‘I hope not: caught at Colico, and imported to a fresh place. I should think there was little fear of its spreading. However, we must soon be off: I am afraid he is very ill, and almost deserted. In the first place, I had better send an express to the Consul at Venice, to ask him to recommend us a doctor, for I have not much faith in this Italian.’

They were soon on the way to Recoara, a road bordered on one side by high rocks, on the other by a little river flowing down a valley, shut in by mountains. The valley gradually contracted in the ascent, till it became a ravine, and further on a mere crevice marked by the thick growth of the chestnut-trees; but before this greater narrowing, they saw the roofs of the houses in the little town. The sun shone clear, the air had grown fresh as they mounted higher; Amabel could hardly imagine sickness and sorrow in so fair a spot, and turned to her husband to say so, but he was deep in thought, and she would not disturb him.

The town was built on the bank of the stream, and very much shut in by the steep crags, which seemed almost to overhang the inn, to which they drove, auguring favourably of the place from its fresh, clean aspect.

Guy hastened to the patient; while Amabel was conducted to a room with a polished floor, and very little furniture, and there waited anxiously until he returned. There was a flush on his face, and almost before he spoke, he leant far out of the window to try to catch a breath of air.

‘We must find another room for him directly,’ said he. ‘He cannot possibly exist where he is — a little den — such an atmosphere of fever — enough to knock one down! Will you have one got ready for him?’

‘Directly,’ said Amabel, ringing. ‘How is he?’

‘He is in a stupor; it is not sleep. He is frightfully ill, I never felt anything like the heat of his skin. But that stifling hole would account for much; very likely he may revive, when we get him into a better atmosphere. No one has attended to him properly. It is a terrible thing to be ill in a foreign country without a friend!’

Arnaud came, and Amabel sent for the hostess, while Guy returned to his charge. Little care had been taken for the solitary traveller on foot, too ill to exact attention, and whose presence drove away custom; but when his case was taken up by a Milord Inglese, the people of the inn were ready to do their utmost to cause their neglect to be forgotten, and everything was at the disposal of the Signora. The rooms were many, but very small, and the best she could contrive was to choose three rooms on the lower floor, rather larger than the rest, and opening into each other, as well as into the passage, so that it was possible to produce a thorough draught. Under her superintendence, Anne made the apartment look comfortable, and almost English, and sending word that all was ready, she proceeded to establish herself in the corresponding rooms on the floor above.

Philip was perfectly unconscious when he was carried to his new room. His illness had continued about a week, and had been aggravated first by his incredulous and determined resistance of it, and then by the neglect with which he had been treated. It was fearful to see how his great strength had been cut down, as there he lay with scarcely a sign of life, except his gasping, labouring breath. Guy stood over him, let the air blow in from the open window, sprinkled his face with vinegar, and moistened his lips, longing for the physician, for whom, however, he knew he must wait many hours. Perplexed, ignorant of the proper treatment, fearing to do harm, and extremely anxious, he still was almost rejoiced: for there was no one to whom he was so glad to do a service, and a hope arose of full reconciliation.

The patient was somewhat revived by the fresh air, he breathed more freely, moved, and made a murmuring sound, as if striving painfully for a word.

‘“Da bere”,’ at last he said; and if Guy had not known its meaning, it would have been plain from the gasping, parched manner in which it was uttered.

‘Some water?’ said Guy, holding it to his lips, and on hearing the English, Philip opened his eyes, and, as he drank, gazed with a heavy sort of wonder. ‘Is that enough? Do you like some on your forehead?’

‘Thank you.’

‘Is that more comfortable? We only heard today you were ill.’

He turned away restlessly, as if hardly glad to see Guy, and not awake to the circumstances, in a dull, feverish oppression of the senses. Delirium soon came on, or, more properly, delusion. He was distressed by thinking himself deserted, and struggling to speak Italian, and when Guy replied in English, though the native tongue seemed to fall kindly on his ear, yet, to Guy’s great grief, the old dislike appeared to prevent all comfort in his presence, though he could not repel his attentions. At night the wandering increased, till it became unintelligible raving, and strength was required to keep him in bed.

Amabel seldom saw her husband this evening. He once came up to see her, when she made him drink some coffee, but he soon went, telling her he should wait up, and begging her to go to rest quietly, as she looked pale and tired. The night was a terrible one, and morning only brought insensibility. The physician arrived, a sharp-looking Frenchman, who pronounced it to be a very severe and dangerous case, more violent than usual in malaria fever, and with more affection of the brain. Guy was glad to be set to do something, instead of standing by in inaction; but ice and blisters were applied without effect, and they were told that it was likely to be long before the fever abated.

Day after day passed without improvement, and with few gleams of consciousness, and even these were not free from wandering; they were only intervals in the violent ravings, or the incoherent murmurs, and were never clear from some torturing fancy that he was alone and ill at Broadstone, and neither the Edmonstones nor his brother-officers would come to him, or else that he was detained from Stylehurst. ‘Home’ was the word oftenest on his lips. ‘I would not go home,’ the only expression that could sometimes be distinctly heard. He was obliged to depend on Guy as the only Englishman at hand; but whenever he recognized him, the traces of repugnance were evident, and in his clearer intervals, he always showed a preference for Arnaud’s attendance. Still Guy persevered indefatigably, sitting up with him every night, and showing himself an invaluable nurse, with his tender hand, modulated voice, quick eye, and quiet activity. His whole soul was engrossed: he never appeared to think of himself, or to be sensible of fatigue; but was only absorbed in the one thought of his patient’s comfort! He seldom came to Amabel except at meals, and now and then for a short visit to her sitting-room to report on Philip’s condition. If he could spare a little more time when Philip was in a state of stupor, she used to try to persuade him to take some rest; and if it was late, or in the heat of noon, she could sometimes get him, as a favour to her, to lie down on the sofa, and let her read to him; but it did not often end in sleep, and he usually preferred taking her out into the fresh air, and wandering about among the chestnut-trees and green hillocks higher up in the ravine.

Very precious were these walks, with the quiet grave talk that the scene and the circumstances inspired — when he would tell the thoughts that had occupied him in his night-watches, and they shared the subdued and deep reflection suited to this period of apprehension. These were her happiest times, but they were few and uncertain. She had in the meantime to wait, to watch, and hope alone, though she had plenty of employment; for besides writing constant bulletins, all preparations for the sickroom fell to her share. She had to send for or devise substitutes for all the conveniences that were far from coming readily to hand in a remote Italian inn — to give orders, send commissions to Vicenza, or even to Venice, and to do a good deal, with Anne’s’ assistance, by her own manual labour. Guy said she did more for Philip outside his room than he did inside, and often declared how entirely at a loss he should have been if she had not been there, with her ready resources, and, above all, with her sweet presence, making the short intervals he spent out of the sick chamber so much more than repose, such refreshment at the time, and in remembrance.

Thus it had continued for more than a fortnight, when one evening as the French physician was departing, he told Guy that he would not fail to come the next night, as he saw every reason to expect a crisis. Guy sat intently marking every alteration in the worn, flushed, suffering face that rested helplessly on the pillows, and every unconscious movement of the wasted, nerveless limbs stretched out in pain and helplessness, contrasting his present state with what he was when last they parted, in the full pride of health, vigour, and intellect. He dwelt on all that had passed between them from the first, the strange ancestral enmity that nothing had as yet overcome, the misunderstandings, the prejudices, the character whose faultlessness he had always revered, and the repeated failure of all attempts to be friends, as if his own impatience and passion had borne fruit in the merited distrust of the man whom of all others he respected, and whom he would fain love as a brother. He earnestly hoped that so valuable a life might be spared; but if that might not be, his fervent wish was, that at least a few parting words of goodwill and reconciliation might be granted to be his comfort in remembrance.

So mused Guy during the night, as he watched the heavy doze between sleep and stupor, and tried to catch the low, indistinct mutterings that now and then seemed to ask for something. Towards morning Philip awoke more fully, and as Guy was feeling his pulse, he faintly asked —

‘How many?’ while his eyes had more of their usual expression.

‘I cannot count,’ returned Guy; ‘but it is less than in the evening. Some drink?’

Philip took some, then making an effort to look round, said — ‘What day is it?’

‘Saturday morning, the 23rd of August.’

‘I have been ill a long time!’

‘You have indeed, full three weeks; but you are better to-night.’

He was silent for some moments; then, collecting himself, and looking fixedly at Guy, he said, in his own steady voice, though very feeble — ‘I suppose, humanly speaking, it is an even chance between life and death?’

‘Yes,’ said Guy, firmly, the low sweet tones of his voice full of tenderness. ‘You are very ill; but not without hope.’ Then, after a pause, during which Philip looked thoughtful, but calm, he added — ‘I have tried to bring a clergyman here, but I could not succeed. Would you like me to read to you?’

‘Thank you-presently — but I have something to say. Some more water; — thank you.’ Then, after pausing, ‘Guy, you have thought I judged you harshly; I meant to act for the best.’

‘Don’t think of that,’ said Guy, with a rush of joy at hearing the words of reconciliation he had yearned for so long.

‘And now you have been most kind. If I live, you shall see that I am sensible of it;’ and he feebly moved his hand to his cousin, who pressed it, hardly less happy than on the day he stood before Mrs. Edmonstone in the dressing-room. Presently, Philip went on. ‘My sister has my will. My love to her, and to — to — to poor Laura.’ His voice suddenly failed; and while Guy was again moistening his lips, he gathered strength, and said — ‘You and Amy will do what you can for her. Do not let the blow come suddenly. Ah! you do not know. We have been engaged this long time.’

Guy did not exclaim, but Philip saw his amazement. ‘It was very wrong; it was not her fault,’ he added. ‘I can’t tell you now; but if I live all shall be told. If not, you will be kind to her?’

‘Indeed we will.’

‘Poor Laura!’ again said Philip, in a much weaker voice, and after lying still a little longer, he faintly whispered — ‘Read to me.’

Guy read till he fell into a doze, which lasted till Arnaud came in the morning, and Guy went up to his wife.

‘Amy,’ said he, entering with a quiet bright look, ‘he has spoken to me according to my wish.’

‘Then it is all right,’ said Amabel, answering his look with one as calm and sweet. ‘Is he better?’

‘Not materially; his pulse is still very high; but there was a gleam of perfect consciousness; he spoke calmly and clearly, fully understanding his situation. Come what will, it is a thing to be infinitely thankful for! I am very glad! Now for our morning reading.’

As soon as it was over, and when Guy had satisfied himself that the patient was still quiet, they sat down to breakfast. Guy considered a little while, and said —

‘I have been very much surprised. Had you any idea of an attachment between him and Laura?’

‘I know she is very fond of him, and she has always been his favourite. What? Has he been in love with her all this time, poor fellow?’

‘He says they are engaged.’

‘Laura? Our sister! Oh, Guy, impossible! He must have been wandering.’

‘I could have almost thought so; but his whole manner forbade me to think there was any delusion. He was too weak to explain; but he said it was not her fault, and was overcome when speaking of her. He begged us to spare her from suddenly hearing of his death. He was as calm and reasonable as I am at this moment. No, Amy, it was not delirium.’

‘I don’t know how to believe it!’ said Amabel. ‘It is so impossible for Laura, and for him too. Don’t you know how, sometimes in fevers, people take a delusion, and are quite rational about everything else, and that, too; if only it was true; and don’t you think it very likely, that if he really has been in love with her all this time, (how much he must have gone through!) he may fancy he has been secretly engaged, and reproach himself?’

‘I cannot tell,’ said Guy; ‘there was a reality in his manner of speaking that refuses to let me disbelieve him. Surely it cannot be one of the horrors of death that we should be left to reproach ourselves with the fancied sins we have been prone to, as well as with our real ones. Then’— and he rose, and walked about the room —‘if so, more than ever, in the hour of death, good Lord, deliver us!’

Amabel was silent, and presently he sat down, saying — ‘Well, time will show!’

‘I cannot think it’ said Amy. ‘Laura! How could she help telling mamma!’ And as Guy smiled at the recollection of their own simultaneous coming to mamma, she added — ‘Not only because it was right, but for the comfort of it.’

‘But, Amy, do you remember what I told you of poor Laura’s fears, and what she said to me, on our wedding-day?’

‘Poor Laura!’ said Amy. ‘Yet —’ She paused, and Guy presently said —

‘Well, I won’t believe it, if I can possibly help it. I can’t afford to lose my faith in my sister’s perfection, or Philip’s, especially now. But I must go; I have loitered too long, and Arnaud ought to go to his breakfast.’

Amabel sat long over the remains of her breakfast. She did not puzzle herself over Philip’s confession, for she would not admit it without confirmation; and she could not think of his misdoings, even those of which she was certain, on the day when his life was hanging in the balance. All she could bear to recollect was his excellence; nay, in the tenderness of her heart, she nearly made out that she had always been very fond of him, overlooking that even before Guy came to Hollywell, she had always regarded him with more awe than liking, been disinclined to his good advice, shrunk from his condescension, and regularly enjoyed Charles’s quizzing of him. All this, and all the subsequent injuries were forgotten, and she believed, as sincerely as her husband, that Philip had been free from any unkind intention. But she chiefly dwelt on her own Guy, especially that last speech, so unlike some of whom she had heard, who were rather glad to find a flaw in a faultless model, if only to obtain a fellow-feeling for it.

‘Yes,’ thought she, ‘he might look far without finding anything better than himself, though he won’t believe it. If ever he could make me angry, it will be by treating me as if I was better than he. Such nonsense! But I suppose his goodness would not be such if he was conscious of it, so I must be content with him as he is. I can’t be so unwifelike after all; for I am sure nothing makes me feel so small and foolish as that humility of his! Come, I must see about some dinner for the French doctor.’

She set to work on her housewifery cares; but when these were despatched, it was hard to begin anything else on such a day of suspense, when she was living on reports from the sick room. The delirium had returned, more violent than ever; and as she sat at her open window she often heard the disconnected words. She could do nothing but listen — she could neither read nor draw, and even letter-writing failed her today, for it seemed cruel to send a letter to his sister, and if Philip was not under a delusion, it was still worse to write to Hollywell; it made her shudder to think of the misery she might have inflicted in the former letters, where she had not spared the detail of her worst fears and conjectures, and by no means softened the account, as she had done to his sister.

Late in the afternoon the physician came, and she heard of his being quieter; indeed, there were no sounds below. It grew dark; Arnaud brought lights, and told her Captain Morville had sunk into stupor. After another long space, the doctor came to take some coffee, and said the fever was lessening, but that strength was going with it, and if “le malade” was saved, it would be owing to the care and attention of “le chevalier”.

Of Guy she saw no more that evening. The last bulletin was pencilled by him on a strip of paper, and sent to her at eleven at night:

‘Pulse almost nothing; deadly faintness; doctor does not give him up; it may be many hours: don’t sit up; you shall hear when there is anything decisive.’

Amy submitted, and slowly put herself to bed, because she thought Guy would not like to find her up; but she had little sleep, and that was dreamy, full of the same anxieties as her waking moments, and perhaps making the night seem longer than if she had been awake the whole time.

At last she started from a somewhat sounder doze than usual, and saw it was becoming light, the white summits of the mountains were beginning to show themselves, and there was twilight in the room. Just then she heard a light, cautious tread in the passage; the lock of Guy’s dressing-room was gently, slowly turned. It was over then! Life or death? Her heart beat as she heard her husband’s step in the next room, and her suspense would let her call out nothing but —‘I am not asleep!’

Guy came forward, and stood still, while she looked up to the outline of his figure against the window. With a kind of effort he said, with forced calmness —‘He’ll do now! and came to the bedside. His face was wet with tears, and her eyes were over-flowing. After a few moments he murmured a few low words of deep thanksgivings, and again there was a silence.

‘He is asleep quietly and comfortably,’ said Guy, presently, ‘and his pulse is steadier. The faintness and sinking have been dreadful; the doctor has been sitting with his hand on his pulse, telling me when to put the cordial into his mouth. Twice I thought him all but gone; and till within the last hour, I did not think he could have revived; but now, the doctor says we may almost consider the danger as over.’

‘Oh, how glad I am! Was he sensible? Could he speak?’

‘Sensible at least when not fainting; but too weak to speak, or often, to look up. When he did though, it was very kindly, very pleasantly. And now! This is joy coming in the morning, Amy!’

‘I wonder if you are happier now than after the shipwreck,’ said Amy, after a silence.

‘How can you ask? The shipwreck was a gleam, the first ray that came to cheer me in those penance hours, when I was cut off from all; and now, oh, Amy! I cannot enter into it. Such richness and fullness of blessing showered on me, more than I ever dared to wish for or dream of, both in the present and future hopes. It seems more than can belong to man, at least to me, so unlike what I have deserved, that I can hardly believe it. It must be sent as a great trial.’

Amabel thought this so beautiful, that she could not answer; and he presently gave her some further particulars. He went back in spite of her entreaties that he would afford himself a little rest, saying that the doctor was obliged to go away, and Philip still needed the most careful watching. Amy could not sleep any more, but lay musing over that ever-brightening goodness which had lately at all times almost startled her from its very unearthliness.

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Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 14:50