As the clock struck seven, Mr. Orridge put on his hat to go to the Tiger’s Head. He had just opened his own door, when he was met on the step by a messenger, who summoned him immediately to a case of sudden illness in the poor quarter of the town. The inquiries he made satisfied him that the appeal was really of an urgent nature, and that there was no help for it but to delay his attendance for a little while at the inn. On reaching the bedside of the patient, he discovered symptoms in the case which rendered an immediate operation necessary. The performance of this professional duty occupied some time. It was a quarter to eight before he left his house, for the second time, on his way to the Tiger’s Head.
On entering the inn door, he was informed that the new nurse had arrived as early as seven o’clock, and had been waiting for him in a room by herself ever since. Having received no orders from Mr. Orridge, the landlady had thought it safest not to introduce the stranger to Mrs. Frankland before the doctor came.
“Did she ask to go up into Mrs. Frankland’s room?” inquired Mr. Orridge.
“Yes, Sir,” replied the landlady. “And I thought she seemed rather put out when I said that I must beg her to wait till you got here. Will you step this way, and see her at once, Sir? She is in my parlor.”
Mr. Orridge followed the landlady into a little room at the back of the house, and found Mrs. Jazeph sitting alone in the corner farthest from the window. He was rather surprised to see that she drew her veil down the moment the door was opened.
“I am sorry you should have been kept waiting,” he said; “but I was called away to a patient. Besides, I told you between seven and eight, if you remember; and it is not eight o’clock yet.”
“I was very anxious to be in good time, Sir,” said Mrs. Jazeph.
There was an accent of restraint in the quiet tones in which she spoke which struck Mr. Orridge’s ear, and a little perplexed him. She was, apparently, not only afraid that her face might betray something, but apprehensive also that her voice might tell him more than her words expressed. What feeling was she anxious to conceal? Was it irritation at having been kept waiting so long by herself in the landlady’s room?
“If you will follow me,” said Mr. Orridge, “I will take you to Mrs. Frankland immediately.”
Mrs. Jazeph rose slowly, and, when she was on her feet, rested her hand for an instant on a table near her. That action, momentary as it was, helped to confirm the doctor in his conviction of her physical unfitness for the position which she had volunteered to occupy.
“You seem tired,” he said, as he led the way out of the door. “Surely, you did not walk all the way here?”
“No, Sir. My mistress was so kind as to let one of the servants drive me in the pony-chaise.” There was the same restraint in her voice as she made that answer; and still she never attempted to lift her veil. While ascending the inn stairs Mr. Orridge mentally resolved to watch her first proceedings in Mrs. Frankland’s room closely, and to send, after all, for the London nurse, unless Mrs. Jazeph showed remarkable aptitude in the performance of her new duties.
The room which Mrs. Frankland occupied was situated at the back of the house, having been chosen in that position with the object of removing her as much as possible from the bustle and noise about the inn door. It was lighted by one window overlooking a few cottages, beyond which spread the rich grazing grounds of West Somersetshire, bounded by a long monotonous line of thickly wooded hills. The bed was of the old-fashioned kind, with the customary four posts and the inevitable damask curtains. It projected from the wall into the middle of the room, in such a situation as to keep the door on the right hand of the person occupying it, the window on the left, and the fireplace opposite the foot of the bed. On the side of the bed nearest the window the curtains were open, while at the foot, and on the side near the door, they were closely drawn. By this arrangement the interior of the bed was necessarily concealed from the view of any person on first entering the room.
“How do you find yourself to-night, Mrs. Frankland?” asked Mr. Orridge, reaching out his hand to undraw the curtains. “Do you think you will be any the worse for a little freer circulation of air?”
“On the contrary, doctor, I shall be all the better,” was the answer. “But I am afraid — in case you have ever been disposed to consider me a sensible woman — that my character will suffer a little in your estimation when you see how I have been occupying myself for the last hour.”
Mr. Orridge smiled as he undrew the curtains, and laughed outright when he looked at the mother and child.
Mrs. Frankland had been amusing herself, and gratifying her taste for bright colors, by dressing out her baby with blue ribbons as he lay asleep. He had a necklace, shoulder-knots, and bracelets, all of blue ribbon; and, to complete the quaint finery of his costume, his mother’s smart little lace cap had been hitched comically on one side of his head. Rosamond herself, as if determined to vie with the baby in gayety of dress, wore a light pink jacket, ornamented down the bosom and over the sleeves with bows of white satin ribbon. Laburnum blossoms, gathered that morning, lay scattered about over the white counterpane, intermixed with some flowers of the lily of the valley, tied up into two nosegays with strips of cherry-colored ribbon. Over this varied assemblage of colors, over the baby’s smoothly rounded cheeks and arms, over his mother’s happy, youthful face, the tender light of the May evening poured tranquil and warm. Thoroughly appreciating the charm of the picture which he had disclosed on undrawing the curtains, the doctor stood looking at it for a few moments, quite forgetful of the errand that had brought him into the room. He was only recalled to a remembrance of the new nurse by a chance question which Mrs. Frankland addressed to him.
“I can’t help it, doctor,” said Rosamond, with a look of apology. “I really can’t help treating my baby, now I am a grown woman, just as I used to treat my doll when I was a little girl. Did anybody come into the room with you? Lenny, are you there? Have you done dinner, darling, and did you drink my health when you were left at dessert all by yourself?”
“Mr. Frankland is still at dinner,” said the doctor. “But I certainly brought someone into the room with me. Where, in the name of wonder, has she gone to? — Mrs. Jazeph!”
The housekeeper had slipped round to the part of the room between the foot of the bed and the fireplace, where she was hidden by the curtains that still remained drawn. When Mr. Orridge called to her, instead of joining him where he stood, opposite the window, she appeared at the other side of the bed, where the window was behind her. Her shadow stole darkly over the bright picture which the doctor had been admiring. It stretched obliquely across the counterpane, and its dusky edges touched the figures of the mother and child.
“Gracious goodness! who are you?” exclaimed Rosamond. “A woman or a ghost?”
Mrs. Jazeph’s veil was up at last. Although her face was necessarily in shadow in the position which she had chosen to occupy, the doctor saw a change pass over it when Mrs. Frankland spoke. The lips dropped and quivered a little; the marks of care and age about the mouth deepened; and the eyebrows contracted suddenly. The eyes Mr. Orridge could not see; they were cast down on the counterpane at the first word that Rosamond uttered. Judging by the light of his medical experience, the doctor concluded that she was suffering pain, and trying to suppress any outward manifestation of it. “An affection of the heart, most likely,” he thought to himself. “She has concealed it from her mistress, but she can’t hide it from me.”
“Who are you?” repeated Rosamond. “And what in the world do you stand there for — between us and the sunlight?”
Mrs. Jazeph neither answered nor raised her eyes. She only moved back timidly to the farthest corner of the window.
“Did you not get a message from me this afternoon?” asked the doctor, appealing to Mrs. Frankland.
“To be sure I did,” replied Rosamond. “A very kind, flattering message about a new nurse.”
“There she is,” said Mr. Orridge, pointing across the bed to Mrs. Jazeph.
“You don’t say so!” exclaimed Rosamond. “But of course it must be. Who else could have come in with you? I ought to have known that. Pray come here — (what is her name, doctor? Joseph, did you say? — No? — Jazeph?) — pray come nearer, Mrs. Jazeph, and let me apologize for speaking so abruptly to you. I am more obliged than I can say for your kindness in coming here, and for your mistress’s good-nature in resigning you to me. I hope I shall not give you much trouble, and I am sure you will find the baby easy to manage. He is a perfect angel, and sleeps like a dormouse. Dear me! now I look at you a little closer, I am afraid you are in very delicate health yourself. Doctor, if Mrs. Jazeph would not be offended with me, I should almost feel inclined to say that she looks in want of nursing herself.”
Mrs. Jazeph bent down over the laburnum blossoms on the bed, and began hurriedly and confusedly to gather them together.
“I thought as you do, Mrs. Frankland,” said Mr. Orridge. “But I have been assured that Mrs. Jazeph’s looks belie her, and that her capabilities as a nurse quite equal her zeal.”
“Are you going to make all that laburnum into a nosegay?” asked Mrs. Frankland, noticing how the new nurse was occupying herself. “How thoughtful of you! and how magnificent it will be! I am afraid you will find the room very untidy. I will ring for my maid to set it to rights.”
“If you will allow me to put it in order, ma’am, I shall be very glad to begin being of use to you in that way,” said Mrs. Jazeph. When she made the offer she looked up; and her eyes and Mrs. Frankland’s met. Rosamond instantly drew back on the pillow, and her color altered a little.
“How strangely you look at me!” she said.
Mrs. Jazeph started at the words, as if something had struck her, and moved away suddenly to the window.
“You are not offended with me, I hope?” said Rosamond, noticing the action. “I have a sad habit of saying anything that comes uppermost. And I really thought you looked just now as if you saw something about me that frightened or grieved you. Pray put the room in order, if you are kindly willing to undertake the trouble. And never mind what I say; you will soon get used to my ways — and we shall be as comfortable and friendly — ”
Just as Mrs. Frankland said the words “comfortable and friendly,” the new nurse left the window, and went back to the part of the room where she was hidden from view, between the fireplace and the closed curtains at the foot of the bed. Rosamond looked round to express her surprise to the doctor, but he turned away at the same moment so as to occupy a position which might enable him to observe what Mrs. Jazeph was doing on the other side of the bed-curtains.
When he first caught sight of her, her hands were both raised to her face. Before he could decide whether he had surprised her in the act of clasping them over her eyes or not, they changed their position, and were occupied in removing her bonnet. After she had placed this part of her wearing apparel, and her shawl and gloves, on a chair in a corner of the room, she went to the dressing-table, and began to arrange the various useful and ornamental objects scattered about it. She set them in order with remarkable dexterity and neatness, showing a taste for arrangement, and a capacity for discriminating between things that were likely to be wanted and things that were not, which impressed Mr. Orridge very favorably. He particularly noticed the carefulness with which she handled some bottles of physic, reading the labels on each, and arranging the medicine that might be required at night on one side of the table, and the medicine that might be required in the day-time on the other. When she left the dressing-table, and occupied herself in setting the furniture straight, and in folding up articles of clothing that had been thrown on one side, not the slightest movement of her thin, wasted hands seemed ever to be made at hazard or in vain. Noiselessly, modestly, observantly, she moved from side to side of the room, and neatness and order followed her steps wherever she went. When Mr. Orridge resumed his place at Mrs. Frankland’s bedside, his mind was at ease on one point at least — it was perfectly evident that the new nurse could be depended on to make no mistakes.
“What an odd woman she is,” whispered Rosamond.
“Odd, indeed,” returned Mr. Orridge, “and desperately broken in health, though she may not confess to it. However, she is wonderfully neat-handed and careful, and there can be no harm in trying her for one night — that is to say, unless you feel any objection.”
“On the contrary,” said Rosamond, “she rather interests me. There is something in her face and manner — I can’t say what — that makes me feel curious to know more of her. I must get her to talk, and try if I can’t bring out all her peculiarities. Don’t be afraid of my exciting myself, and don’t stop here in this dull room on my account. I would much rather you went downstairs, and kept my husband company over his wine. Do go and talk to him, and amuse him a little — he must be so dull, poor fellow, while I am up here; and he likes you, Mr. Orridge — he does, very much. Stop one moment, and just look at the baby again. He doesn’t take a dangerous quantity of sleep, does he? And, Mr. Orridge, one word more: When you have done your wine, you will promise to lend my husband the use of your eyes, and bring him upstairs to wish me good-night, won’t you?”
Willingly engaging to pay attention to Mrs. Frankland’s request, Mr. Orridge left the bedside.
As he opened the room door, he stopped to tell Mrs. Jazeph that he should be downstairs if she wanted him, and that he would give her any instructions of which she might stand in need later in the evening, before he left the inn for the night. The new nurse, when he passed by her, was kneeling over one of Mrs. Frankland’s open trunks, arranging some articles of clothing which had been rather carelessly folded up. Just before he spoke to her, he observed that she had a chemisette in her hand, the frill of which was laced through with ribbon.
One end of this ribbon she appeared to him to be on the point of drawing out, when the sound of his footsteps disturbed her. The moment she became aware of his approach she dropped the chemisette suddenly in the trunk, and covered it over with some handkerchiefs. Although this proceeding on Mrs. Jazeph’s part rather surprised the doctor, he abstained from showing that he had noticed it. Her mistress had vouched for her character, after five years’ experience of it, and the bit of ribbon was intrinsically worthless. On both accounts, it was impossible to suspect her of attempting to steal it; and yet, as Mr. Orridge could not help feeling when he had left the room, her conduct, when he surprised her over the trunk, was exactly the conduct of a person who is about to commit a theft.
“Pray don’t trouble yourself about my luggage,” said Rosamond, remarking Mrs. Jazeph’s occupation as soon as the doctor had gone. “That is my idle maid’s business, and you will only make her more careless than ever if you do it for her. I am sure the room is beautifully set in order. Come here and sit down and rest yourself. You must be a very unselfish, kind-hearted woman to give yourself all this trouble to serve a stranger. The doctor’s message this afternoon told me that your mistress was a friend of my poor, dear father’s . I suppose she must have known him before my time. Anyway, I feel doubly grateful to her for taking an interest in me for my father’s sake. But you can have no such feeling; you must have come here from pure good-nature and anxiety to help others. Don’t go away, there, to the window. Come and sit down by me.”
Mrs. Jazeph had risen from the trunk, and was approaching the bedside — when she suddenly turned away in the direction of the fireplace, just as Mrs. Frankland began to speak of her father.
“Come and sit here,” reiterated Rosamond, getting impatient at receiving no answer. “What in the world are you doing there at the foot of the bed?”
The figure of the new nurse again interposed between the bed and the fading evening light that glimmered through the window before there was any reply.
“The evening is closing in,” said Mrs. Jazeph, “and the window is not quite shut. I was thinking of making it fast, and of drawing down the blind — if you had no objection, ma’am?”
“Oh, not yet! not yet! Shut the window, if you please, in case the baby should catch cold, but don’t draw down the blind. Let me get my peep at the view as long as there is any light left to see it by. That long flat stretch of grazing-ground out there is just beginning, at this dim time, to look a little like my childish recollections of a Cornish moor. Do you know anything about Cornwall, Mrs. Jazeph?”
“I have heard — ” At those first three words of reply the nurse stopped. She was just then engaged in shutting the window, and she seemed to find some difficulty in closing the lock.
“What have you heard?” asked Rosamond.
“I have heard that Cornwall is a wild, dreary country,” said Mrs. Jazeph, still busying herself with the lock of the window, and, by consequence, still keeping her back turned to Mrs. Frankland.
“Can’t you shut the window, yet?” said Rosamond. “My maid always does it quite easily. Leave it till she comes up — I am going to ring for her directly. I want her to brush my hair and cool my face with a little Eau de Cologne and water.”
“I have shut it, ma’am,” said Mrs. Jazeph, suddenly succeeding in closing the lock. “And if you will allow me, I should be very glad to make you comfortable for the night, and save you the trouble of ringing for the maid.”
Thinking the new nurse the oddest woman she had ever met with, Mrs. Frankland accepted the offer. By the time Mrs. Jazeph had prepared the Eau de Cologne and water, the twilight was falling softly over the landscape outside, and the room was beginning to grow dark.
“Had you not better light a candle?” suggested Rosamond.
“I think not, ma’am,” said Mrs. Jazeph, rather hastily. “I can see quite well without.”
She began to brush Mrs. Frankland’s hair as she spoke; and, at the same time, asked a question which referred to the few words that had passed between them on the subject of Cornwall. Pleased to find that the new nurse had grown familiar enough at last to speak before she was spoken to, Rosamond desired nothing better than to talk about her recollections of her native country. But, from some inexplicable reason, Mrs. Jazeph’s touch, light and tender as it was, had such a strangely disconcerting effect on her, that she could not succeed, for the moment, in collecting her thoughts so as to reply, except in the briefest manner. The careful hands of the nurse lingered with a stealthy gentleness among the locks of her hair; the pale, wasted face of the new nurse approached, every now and then, more closely to her own than appeared at all needful. A vague sensation of uneasiness, which she could not trace to any particular part of her — which she could hardly say that she really felt, in a bodily sense, at all — seemed to be floating about her, to be hanging around and over her, like the air she breathed. She could not move, though she wanted to move in the bed; she could not turn her head so as to humor the action of the brush; she could not look round; she could not break the embarrassing silence which had been caused by her own short, discouraging answer. At last the sense of oppression — whether fancied or real — irritated her into snatching the brush out of Mrs. Jazeph’s hand. The instant she had done so, she felt ashamed of the discourteous abruptness of the action, and confused at the alarm and surprise which the manner of the nurse exhibited. With the strongest sense of the absurdity of her own conduct, and yet without the least power of controlling herself, she burst out laughing, and tossed the brush away to the foot of the bed.
“Pray don’t look surprised, Mrs. Jazeph,” she said, still laughing without knowing why, and without feeling in the slightest degree amused. “I’m very rude and odd, I know. You have brushed my hair delightfully; but — I can’t tell how — it seemed, all the time, as if you were brushing the strangest fancies into my head. I can’t help laughing at them — I can’t indeed! Do you know, once or twice, I absolutely fancied, when your face was closest to mine, that you wanted to kiss me! Did you ever hear of anything so ridiculous? I declare I am more of a baby, in some things, than the little darling here by my side!”
Mrs. Jazeph made no answer. She left the bed while Rosamond was speaking, and came back, after an unaccountably long delay, with the Eau de Cologne and water. As she held the basin while Mrs. Frankland bathed her face, she kept away at arm’s length, and came no nearer when it was time to offer the towel. Rosamond began to be afraid that she had seriously offended Mrs. Jazeph, and tried to soothe and propitiate her by asking questions about the management of the baby. There was a slight trembling in the sweet voice of the new nurse, but not the faintest tone of sullenness or anger, as she simply and quietly answered the inquiries addressed to her. By dint of keeping the conversation still on the subject of the child, Mrs. Frankland succeeded, little by little, in luring her back to the bedside — in tempting her to bend down admiringly over the infant — in emboldening her, at last, to kiss him tenderly on the cheek. One kiss was all that she gave; and she turned away from the bed, after it, and sighed heavily.
The sound of that sigh fell very sadly on Rosamond’s heart. Up to this time the baby’s little span of life had always been associated with smiling faces and pleasant words. It made her uneasy to think that anyone could caress him and sigh after it.
“I am sure you must be fond of children,” she said, hesitating a little from natural delicacy of feeling. “But will you excuse me for noticing that it seems rather a mournful fondness? Pray — pray don’t answer my question if it gives you any pain — if you have any loss to deplore; but — but I do so want to ask if you have ever had a child of your own?”
Mrs. Jazeph was standing near a chair when that question was put. She caught fast hold of the back of it, grasping it so firmly, or perhaps leaning on it so heavily, that the woodwork cracked. Her head dropped low on her bosom. She did not utter, or every attempt to utter, a single word.
Fearing that she must have lost a child of her own, and dreading to distress her unnecessarily by venturing to ask any more questions, Rosamond said nothing, as she stooped over the baby to kiss him in her turn. Her lips rested on his cheek a little above where Mrs. Jazeph’s lips had rested the moment before, and they touched a spot of wet on his smooth warm skin. Fearing that some of the water in which she had been bathing her face might have dropped on him, she passed her fingers lightly over his head, neck, and bosom, and felt no other spots of wet anywhere. The one drop that had fallen on him was the drop that wetted the cheek which the new nurse had kissed.
The twilight faded over the landscape, the room grew darker and darker; and still, though she was now sitting close to the table on which the candles and matches were placed, Mrs. Jazeph made no attempt to strike a light. Rosamond did not feel quite comfortable at the idea of lying awake in the darkness, with nobody in the room but a person who was as yet almost a total stranger; and she resolved to have the candles lighted immediately.
“Mrs. Jazeph,” she said, looking toward the gathering obscurity outside the window, “I shall be much obliged to you, if you will light the candles and pull down the blind. I can trace no more resemblances out there, now, to a Cornish prospect; the view has gone altogether.”
“Are you very fond of Cornwall, ma’am?” asked Mrs. Jazeph, rising, in rather a dilatory manner, to light the candles.
“Indeed I am,” said Rosamond. “I was born there; and my husband and I were on our way to Cornwall when we were obliged to stop, on my account, at this place. You are a long time getting the candles lit. Can’t you find the match-box?”
Mrs. Jazeph, with an awkwardness which was rather surprising in a person who had shown so much neat-handedness in setting the room to rights, broke the first match in attempting to light it, and let the second go out the instant after the flame was kindled. At the third attempt she was more successful; but she only lit one candle, and that one she carried away from the table which Mrs. Frankland could see, to the dressing-table, which was hidden from her by the curtains at the foot of the bed.
“Why do you move the candle?” asked Rosamond.
“I thought it was best for your eyes, ma’am, not to have the light too near them,” replied Mrs. Jazeph; and then added hastily, as if she was unwilling to give Mrs. Frankland time to make any objections — “And so you were going to Cornwall, ma’am, when you stopped at this place? To travel about there a little, I suppose?” After saying these words, she took up the second candle, and passed out of sight as she carried it to the dressing-table.
Rosamond thought that the nurse, in spite of her gentle looks and manners, was a remarkably obstinate woman. But she was too good-natured to care about asserting her right to have the candles placed where she pleased; and when she answered Mrs. Jazeph’s question, she still spoke to her as cheerfully and familiarly as ever.
“Oh, dear no! Not to travel about,” she said, “but to go straight to the old country house where I was born. It belongs to my husband now, Mrs. Jazeph. I have not been near it since I was a little girl of five years of age. Such a ruinous, rambling old place! You, who talk of the dreariness and wildness of Cornwall, would be quite horrified at the very idea of living in Porthgenna Tower.”
The faintly rustling sound of Mrs. Jazeph’s silk dress, as she moved about the dressing-table, had been audible all the while Rosamond was speaking. It ceased instantaneously when she said the words “Porthgenna Tower;” and for one moment there was a dead silence in the room.
“You, who have been living all your life, I suppose, in nicely repaired houses, cannot imagine what a place it is that we are going to, when I am well enough to travel again,” pursued Rosamond. “What do you think, Mrs. Jazeph, of a house with one whole side of it that has never been inhabited for sixty or seventy years past? You may get some notion of the size of Porthgenna Tower from that. There is a west side that we are to live in when we get there, and a north side, where the empty old rooms are, which I hope we shall be able to repair. Only think of the hosts of odd, old-fashioned things that we may find in those uninhabited rooms! I mean to put on the cook’s apron and the gardener’s gloves, and rummage all over them from top to bottom. How I shall astonish the housekeeper, when I get to Porthgenna, and ask her for the keys of the ghostly north rooms!”
A low cry, and a sound as if something had struck against the dressing-table, followed Mrs. Frankland’s last words. She started in the bed, and asked eagerly what was the matter.
“Nothing,” answered Mrs. Jazeph, speaking so constrainedly that her voice dropped to a whisper. “Nothing, ma’am — nothing, I assure you. I struck my side, by accident, against the table — pray don’t be alarmed! — it’s not worth noticing.”
“But you speak as if you were in pain,” said Rosamond.
“No, no — not in pain. Not hurt — not hurt, indeed.”
While Mrs. Jazeph was declaring that she was not hurt, the door of the room was opened, and the doctor entered, leading in Mr. Frankland.
“We come early, Mrs. Frankland, but we are going to give you plenty of time to compose yourself for the night,” said Mr. Orridge. he paused, and noticed that Rosamond’s color was heightened. “I am afraid you have been talking and exciting yourself a little too much,” he went on. “If you will excuse me for venturing on the suggestion, Mr. Frankland, I think the sooner good-night is said the better. Where is the nurse?”
Mrs. Jazeph sat down with her back to the lighted candle when she heard herself asked for. Just before that, she had been looking at Mr. Frankland with an eager, undisguised curiosity, which, if anyone had noticed it, must have appeared surprisingly out of character with her usual modesty and refinement of manner.
“I am afraid the nurse has accidentally hurt her side more than she is willing to confess,” said Rosamond to the doctor, pointing with one hand to the place in which Mrs. Jazeph was sitting, and raising the other to her husband’s neck as he stooped over her pillow.
Mr. Orridge, on inquiring what had happened, could not prevail on the new nurse to acknowledge that the accident was of the slightest consequence. He suspected, nevertheless, that she was suffering, or, at least, that something had happened to discompose her; for he found the greatest difficulty in fixing her attention, while he gave her a few needful directions in case her services were required during the night. All the time he was speaking, her eyes wandered away from him to the part of the room where Mr. and Mrs. Frankland were talking together. Mrs. Jazeph looked like the last person in the world who would be guilty of an act of impertinent curiosity; and yet she openly betrayed all the characteristics of an inquisitive woman while Mr. Frankland was standing by his wife’s pillow. The doctor was obliged to assume his most peremptory manner before he could get her to attend to him at all.
“And now, Mrs. Frankland,” said Mr. Orridge, turning away from the nurse, “as I have given Mrs. Jazeph all the directions she wants, I shall set the example of leaving you in quiet by saying good-night.”
Understanding the hint conveyed in these words, Mr. Frankland attempted to say good-night too, but his wife kept tight hold of both his hands, and declared that it was unreasonable to expect her to let him go for another half-hour at least. Mr. Orridge shook his head, and began to expatiate on the evils of overexcitement, and the blessings of composure and sleep. His remonstrances, however, would have produced very little effect, even if Rosamond had allowed him to continue them, but for the interposition of the baby, who happened to wake up at that moment, and who proved himself a powerful auxiliary on the doctor’s side, by absorbing all his mother’s attention immediately. Seizing his opportunity at the right moment, Mr. Orridge quietly led Mr. Frankland out of the room, just as Rosamond was taking the child up in her arms. He stopped before closing the door to whisper one last word to Mrs. Jazeph.
“If Mrs. Frankland wants to talk, you must not encourage her,” he said. “As soon as she has quieted the baby, she ought to go to sleep. There is a chair-bedstead in that corner, which you can open for yourself when you want to lie down. Keep the candle where it is now, behind the curtain. The less light Mrs. Frankland sees, the sooner she will compose herself to sleep.”
Mrs. Jazeph made no answer; she only looked at the doctor and courtesied. That strangely scared expression in her eyes, which he had noticed on first seeing her, was more painfully apparent than ever when he left her alone for the night with the mother and child. “She will never do,” thought Mr. Orridge, as he led Mr. Frankland down the inn stairs. “We shall have to send to London for a nurse, after all.”
Feeling a little irritated by the summary manner in which her husband had been taken away from her, Rosamond fretfully rejected the offers of assistance which were made to her by Mrs. Jazeph as soon as the doctor had left the room. The nurse said nothing when her services were declined; and yet, judging by her conduct, she seemed anxious to speak. Twice she advanced toward the bedside — opened her lips — stopped — and retired confusedly, before she settled herself finally in her former place by the dressing-table. Here she remained, silent and out of sight, until the child had been quieted, and had fallen asleep in his mother’s arms, with one little pink, half-closed hand resting on her bosom. Rosamond could not resist raising the hand to her lips, though she risked waking him again by doing so. As she kissed it, the sound of her kiss was followed by a faint, suppressed sob, proceeding from the other side of the curtains at the lower end of the bed.
“What is that?” she exclaimed.
“Nothing, ma’am,” said Mrs. Jazeph, in the same constrained, whispering tones in which she had answered Mrs. Frankland’s former question. “I think I was just falling asleep in the arm-chair here; and I ought to have told you perhaps that, having had my troubles, and being afflicted with a heart complaint, I have a habit of sighing in my sleep. It means nothing, ma’am, and I hope you will be good enough to excuse it.”
Rosamond’s generous instincts were aroused in a moment.
“Excuse it!” she said. “I hope I may do better than that, Mrs. Jazeph, and be the means of relieving it. When Mr. Orridge comes to-morrow you shall consult him, and I will take care that you want for nothing that he may order. No! no! Don’t thank me until I have been the means of making you well — and keep where you are, if the arm-chair is comfortable. The baby is asleep again; and I should like to have half an hour’s quiet before I change to the night side of the bed. Stop where you are for the present: I will call as soon as I want you.”
So far from exercising a soothing effect on Mrs. Jazeph, these kindly meant words produced the precisely opposite result of making her restless. She began to walk about the room, and confusedly attempted to account for the change in her conduct by saying that she wished to satisfy herself that all her arrangements were properly made for the night. In a few minutes more she began, in defiance of the doctor’s prohibition, to tempt Mrs. Frankland into talking again, by asking questions about Porthgenna Tower, and by referring to the chances for and against its being chosen as a permanent residence by the young married couple.
“Perhaps, ma’am,” she said, speaking on a sudden, with an eagerness in her voice which was curiously at variance with the apparent indifference of her manner — “Perhaps when you see Porthgenna Tower you may not like it so well as you think you will now. Who can tell that you may not get tired and leave the place again after a few days — especially if you go into the empty rooms? I should have thought — if you will excuse my saying so, ma’am — I should have thought that a lady like you would have liked to get as far away as possible from dirt and dust, and disagreeable smells.”
“I can face worse inconveniences than those, where my curiosity is concerned,” said Rosamond. “And I am more curious to see the uninhabited rooms at Porthgenna than to see the Seven Wonders of the World. Even if we don’t settle altogether at the old house, I feel certain that we shall stay there for some time.”
At that answer, Mrs. Jazeph abruptly turned away, and asked no more questions. She retired to a corner of the room near the door, where the chair-bedstead stood which the doctor had pointed out to her — occupied herself for a few minutes in making it ready for the night — then left it as suddenly as she had approached it, and began to walk up and down once more. This unaccountable restlessness, which had already surprised Rosamond, now made her feel rather uneasy — especially when she once or twice overheard Mrs. Jazeph talking to herself. Judging by words and fragments of sentences that were audible now and then, her mind was still running, with the most inexplicable persistency, on the subject of Porthgenna Tower. As the minutes wore on, and she continued to walk up and down, and still went on talking, Rosamond’s uneasiness began to strengthen into something like alarm. She resolved to awaken Mrs. Jazeph, in the least offensive manner, to a sense of the strangeness of her own conduct, by noticing that she was talking, but by not appearing to understand that she was talking to herself.
“What did you say?” asked Rosamond, putting the question at a moment when the nurse’s voice was most distinctly betraying her in the act of thinking aloud.
Mrs. Jazeph stopped, and raised her head vacantly, as if she had been awakened out of a heavy sleep.
“I thought you were saying something more about our old house,” continued Rosamond. “I thought I heard you say that I ought not to go to Porthgenna, or that you would not go there in my place, or something of that sort.”
Mrs. Jazeph blushed like a young girl. “I think you must have been mistaken, ma’am,” she said, and stooped over the chair-bedstead again.
Watching her anxiously, Rosamond saw that, while she was affecting to arrange the bedstead, she was doing nothing whatever to prepare it for being slept in. What did that mean? What did her whole conduct mean for the last half-hour? As Mrs. Frankland asked herself those questions, the thrill of a terrible suspicion turned her cold to the very roots of her hair. It had never occurred to her before, but it suddenly struck her now, with the force of positive conviction, that the new nurse was not in her right senses.
All that was unaccountable in her behavior — her odd disappearances behind the curtains at the foot of the bed; her lingering, stealthy, over-familiar way of using the hair-brush; her silence at one time, her talkativeness at another; her restlessness, her whispering to herself, her affectation of being deeply engaged in doing something which she was not doing at all — every one of her strange actions (otherwise incomprehensible) became intelligible in a moment on that one dreadful supposition that she was mad.
Terrified as she was, Rosamond kept her presence of mind. One of her arms stole instinctively round the child; and she had half raised the other to catch at the bell-rope hanging above her pillow, when she saw Mrs. Jazeph turn and look at her.
A woman possessed only of ordinary nerve would, probably, at that instant have pulled at the bell-rope in the unreasoning desperation of sheer fright. Rosamond had courage enough to calculate consequences, and to remember that Mrs. Jazeph would have time to lock the door, before assistance could arrive, if she betrayed her suspicions by ringing without first assigning some plausible reason for doing so. She slowly closed her eyes as the nurse looked at her, partly to convey the notion that she was composing herself to sleep — partly to gain time to think of some safe excuse for summoning her maid. The flurry of her spirits, however, interfered with the exercise of her ingenuity. Minute after minute dragged on heavily, and still she could think of no assignable reason for ringing the bell.
She was just doubting whether it would not be safest to send Mrs. Jazeph out of the room, on some message to her husband, to lock the door the moment she was alone, and then to ring — she was just doubting whether she would boldly adopt this course of proceeding or not, when she heard the rustle of the nurse’s silk dress approaching the bedside.
Her first impulse was to snatch at the bell-rope; but fear had paralyzed her hand; she could not raise it from the pillow.
The rustling of the silk dress ceased. She half unclosed her eyes, and saw that the nurse was stopping midway between the part of the room from which she had advanced and the bedside. There was nothing wild or angry in her look. The agitation which her face expressed was the agitation of perplexity and alarm. She stood rapidly clasping and unclasping her hands, the image of bewilderment and distress — stood so for nearly a minute — then came forward a few steps more, and said inquiringly, in a whisper:
“Not asleep? not quite asleep, yet?”
Rosamond tried to speak in answer, but the quick beating of her heart seemed to rise up to her very lips, and to stifle the words on them.
The nurse came on, still with the same perplexity and distress in her face, to within a foot of the bedside — knelt down by the pillow, and, looked earnestly at Rosamond — shuddered a little, and glanced all round her, as if to make sure that the room was empty — bent forward — hesitated — bent nearer, and whispered into her ear these words:
“When you go to Porthgenna, keep out of the Myrtle Room!”
The hot breath of the woman, as she spoke, beat on Rosamond’s cheek, and seemed to fly in one fever-throb through every vein of her body. The nervous shock of that unutterable sensation burst the bonds of the terror that had hitherto held her motionless and speechless. She started up in bed with a scream, caught hold of the bell-rope, and pulled it violently.
“Oh, hush! hush!” cried Mrs. Jazeph, sinking back on her knees, and beating her hands together despairingly with the helpless gesticulation of a child.
Rosamond rang again and again. Hurrying footsteps and eager voices were heard outside on the stairs. It was not ten o’clock yet — nobody had retired for the night — and the violent ringing had already alarmed the house.
The nurse rose to her feet, staggered back from the bedside, and supported herself against the wall of the room, as the footsteps and the voices reached the door. She said not another word. The hands that she had been beating together so violently but an instant before hung down nerveless at her side. The blank of a great agony spread over all her face, and stilled it awfully.
The first person who entered the room was Mrs. Frankland’s maid, and the landlady followed her,
“Fetch Mr. Frankland,” said Rosamond, faintly, addressing the landlady. “I want to speak to him directly. — You,” she continued, beckoning to the maid, “sit by me here till your master comes. I have been dreadfully frightened. Don’t ask me questions; but stop here.”
The maid stared at her mistress in amazement; then looked round with a disparaging frown at the nurse. When the landlady left the room to fetch Mr. Frankland, she had moved a little away from the wall, so as to command a full view of the bed. Her eyes were fixed with a look of breathless suspense, of devouring anxiety, on Rosamond’s face. From all her other features the expression seemed to be gone. She said nothing, she noticed nothing. She did not start, she did not move aside an inch, when the landlady returned, and led Mr. Frankland to his wife.
“Lenny! don’t let the new nurse stop here to-night — pray, pray don’t!” whispered Rosamond, eagerly catching her husband by the arm.
Warned by the trembling of her hand, Mr. Frankland laid his fingers lightly on her temples and on her heart.
“Good Heavens, Rosamond! what has happened? I left your quiet and comfortable, and now — ”
“I’ve been frightened, dear — dreadfully frightened, by the new nurse. Don’t be hard on her, poor creature; she is not in her right senses — I am certain she is not. Only get her away quietly — only send her back at once to where she came from. I shall die of the fright, if she stops here. She has been behaving so strangely — she has spoken such words to me — Lenny! Lenny! don’t let go of my hand. She came stealing up to me so horribly, just where you are now; she knelt down at my ear, and whispered — oh, such words!”
“Hush, hush, love!” said Mr. Frankland, getting seriously alarmed by the violence of Rosamond’s agitation. “Never mind repeating the words now; wait till you are calmer — I beg and entreat of you, wait till you are calmer. I will do everything you wish, if you will only lie down and be quiet, and try to compose yourself before you say another word. It is quite enough for me to know that this woman has frightened you, and that you wish her to be sent away with as little harshness as possible. We will put off all further explanations till to-morrow morning. I deeply regret now that I did not persist in carrying out my own idea of sending for a proper nurse from London. Where is the landlady?”
The landlady placed herself by Mr. Frankland’s side.
“Is it late?” asked Leonard.
“Oh no, Sir; not ten o’clock yet.”
“Order a fly to be brought to the door, then, as soon as possible, if you please. Where is the nurse?”
“Standing behind you, Sir, near the wall,” said the maid.
As Mr. Frankland turned in that direction, Rosamond whispered to him: “Don’t be hard on her, Lenny.”
The maid, looking with contemptuous curiosity at Mrs. Jazeph, saw the whole expression of her countenance alter, as those words were spoken. The tears rose thick in her eyes, and flowed down her cheeks. The deathly spell of stillness that had lain on her face was broken in an instant. She drew back again, close to the wall, and leaned against it as before. “Don’t be hard on her!” the maid heard her repeat to herself, in a low sobbing voice. “Don’t be hard on her! Oh, my God! she said that kindly — she said that kindly, at least!”
“I have no desire to speak to you, or to use you unkindly,” said Mr. Frankland, imperfectly hearing what she said. “I know nothing of what has happened, and I make no accusations. I find Mrs. Frankland violently agitated and frightened; I hear her connect that agitation with you — not angrily, but compassionately — and, instead of speaking harshly, I prefer leaving it to your own sense of what is right, to decide whether your attendance here ought not to cease at once. I have provided the proper means for your conveyance from this place; and I would suggest that you should make our apologies to your mistress, and say nothing more than that circumstances have happened which oblige us to dispense with your services.”
“You have been considerate toward me, Sir,” said Mrs. Jazeph, speaking quietly, and with a certain gentle dignity in her manner, “and I will not prove myself unworthy of your forbearance by saying what I might say in my own defense.” She advanced into the middle of the room, and stopped where she could see Rosamond plainly. Twice she attempted to speak, and twice her voice failed her. At the third effort she succeeded in controlling herself.
“Before I go, ma’am,” she said, “I hope you will believe that I have no bitter feeling against you for sending me away. I am not angry — pray remember always that I was not angry, and that I never complained.”
There was such a forlornness in her face, such a sweet, sorrowful resignation in every tone of her voice during the utterance of these few words, that Rosamond’s heart smote her.
“Why did you frighten me?” she asked, half relenting.
“Frighten you? How could I frighten you? Oh me! of all the people in the world, how could I frighten you?”
Mournfully saying those words, the nurse went to the chair on which she had placed her bonnet and shawl, and put them on. The landlady and the maid, watching her with curious eyes, detected that she was again weeping bitterly, and noticed with astonishment, at the same time, how neatly she put on her bonnet and shawl. The wasted hands were moving mechanically, and were trembling while they moved — and yet, slight thing though it was, the inexorable instinct of propriety guided their most trifling actions still.
On her way to the door, she stopped again at passing the bedside, looked through her tears at Rosamond and the child, struggled a little with herself, and then spoke her farewell words:—
“God bless you, and keep you and your child happy and prosperous,” she said. “I am not angry at being sent away. If you ever think of me again, after to-night, please to remember that I was not angry, and that I never complained.”
She stood for a moment longer, still weeping, and still looking through her tears at the mother and child — then turned away and walked to the door. Something in the last tones of her voice caused a silence in the room. Of the four persons in it not one could utter a word, as the nurse closed the door gently, and went out from them alone.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:49