This stalwart lady stumbled and groped her way back to her chair, and sat down again in the kitchen. The chair in which she sat was an old-fashioned armchair of plain wood, uncoloured and clumsy.
When Mildred Tarnley returned the changed appearance of her guest struck her.
“Be ye sick, ma’am?” she asked, standing, candle in hand, by the chair.
The visitor was sitting bolt upright, with a large hand clutched on each arm of the chair, with a face deadly pale and distorted by a frown or a spasm that frightened old Mildred, who fancied, as she made no sign, not the slightest stir, that she was in a fit, or possibly dead.
“For God’s sake, ma’am,” conjured old Mildred, fiercely, “will ye speak?”
The lady in the chair started, shrugged, and gasped. It was like shaking off a fit.
“Ho! oh, Mildred Tarnley, I was thinking—I was thinking—did you speak?”
Mildred looked at her, not knowing what to make of it. Too much laudanum—was it? or that nervous pain in her head.
“I only asked you how you were, ma’am—you looked so bad. I thought you was just going to work in a fit.”
“What an old fool! I never was better in my life—fit! I never had a fit—not I.”
“You used to have ’em sometimes, long ago, ma’am, and they came in the snap of a finger, like,” said Mildred, sturdily.
“Clear your head of those fits, for they have left me long ago. I’m well, I tell you—never was better. You’re old—you’re old, woman, and that which has made you so pious is also making you blind.”
“Well, you look a deal better now—you do,” said Mildred, who did not want to have a corpse or an epileptic suddenly on her hands, and was much relieved by the signs of returning vivacity and colour.
“Tarnley, you’ve been a faithful creature and true to me; I hope I may live to reward you,” said the lady, extending her hand vaguely towards the old servant.
“I’m true to them as gives me bread, and ever was, and that’s old Mildred Tarnley ’s truth. If she eats their bread, she’ll maintain their right, and that’s only honest—that’s reason, ma’am.”
“I have no right to cry no; I cry excellent, good, good, very good, for as you are my husband’s servant, I have all the benefit of your admirable fidelity. Boo! I am so grateful, and one day or other, old girl, I’ll reward you—and very good tea, and every care of me. I will tell Mr. Vairvield when he comes how good you have been—and, tell me, how is the fire, and the bed, and the bedroom—all quite comfortable?”
“Comfortable, quite, I hope, ma’am?”
“Do I look quite well now?”
“Yes’m, pure and hearty. It was only just a turn.”
“Yes, just so, perhaps, although I never felt it, and I could dance now only for—fifty things, so I won’t mind.” She laughed. “I’m sleepy, and I’m not sleepy; and I love you, old Mildred Tarnley, and you’ll tell me some more about Master Harry and his wife when we get upstairs. Who’d have thought that wild fellow would ever tie himself to a wife? Who’d have fancied that clever young man that loves making money so well, would have chosen out a wife without a florin to her fortune? Everything is so surprising. Come, let’s have a laugh, you and me together.”
“My laughing days is over, ma’am—not that I see much to laugh at for any one, and many a thing I thought a laughing matter when I was young seems o’er like a crying matter now I’m grown old,” said old Mildred, and snuffed the kitchen candle with her fingers.
“Well, give me your arm, Mildred; there’s a good old thing—yes.”
And up she got her long length. Mildred took the candle and took the tall lady gently by the wrist. The guest, however, placed her great hand upon Mildred’s shoulder, and thus they proceeded through the passages. Leaving the back stair that led to Alice’s room, at the right, they mounted the great staircase and reached a comfortably warm room with a fire flickering on the hearth, for the air was sharp. In other respects the apartment had not very much to boast.
“There’s fire here, I feel it; place my chair near it. The bed in the old place?” said the tall woman, coming to a halt.
“Yes’m. Little change here, ever, I warrant ye, only the room’s bin new papered,” answered Mildred.
“New papered, has it? Well, I’ll sit down—thanks—and I’ll get to my bed, just now.”
“Shall I assist ye, ma’am?”
“By-and-by, thanks; but not till I have eaten a bit. I have grown hungry, what your master calls peckish. What do you advise?”
“I would advise your eating something.” replied Mildred.
“There’s very little; there’s eggs quite new, there’s a bit o’ bacon, and there’s about half a cold chicken—roast, and there’s a corner o’ Chedder cheese, and there’s butter, and there’s bread—’taint much,” answered Mrs. Tarnley, glibly.
“The chicken will do very nicely, and don’t forget bread and salt, Mrs. Tarnley, and a glass of beer.”
Mrs. Tarnley poked the fire and looked about her, and then took the only candle, marched boldly off with it, shutting the door.
Toward the door the lady turned her face and listened. She heard old Mildred’s step receding.
This tall woman was not pleasant to look at. Her large features were pitted with the small-pox and deadly pale with the pallor of anger, and an unpleasant smile lighted up the whiteness of her face.
“Patience, patience,” she repeated, “what a damned trick! no matter, wait a little.”
She did wait a little in silence, screwing her lips and knitting her brows, and then a new resource struck her, and she groped in her bag and drew forth a bottle, which she applied to her lips more than once, and seemed better. It was no febrifuge nor opiate; but though the flicker of the fire showed no flush on her pallid features, the odour declared it brandy.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:11