The Heir of Redclyffe, by Charlotte M. Yonge

Chapter 33

From darkness here and dreariness,

We ask not full repose.


It seemed as if the fatigue which Guy had undergone was going to make itself felt at last, for he had a slight headache the next morning, and seemed dull and weary. Both he and Amabel sat for some time with Philip, and when she went away to write her letters, Philip began discussing a plan which had occurred to him of offering himself as chief of the constabulary force in the county where Redclyffe was situated. It was an office which would suit him very well, and opened a new hope of his marriage, and he proceeded to reckon on Lord Thorndale’s interest, counting up all the magistrates he knew, and talking them over with Guy, who, however, did not know enough of his own neighbourhood to be of much use; and when he came up-stairs a little after, said he was vexed at having been so stupid. He was afraid he had seemed unkind and indifferent. But the truth was that he was so heavy and drowsy, that he had actually fallen twice into a doze while Philip was talking.

‘Of course,’ said Amy, ‘gentle sleep will take her revenge at last for your calling her a popular delusion. Lie down, let her have her own way, and you will be good for something by and by.’

He took her advice, slept for a couple of hours, and awoke a good deal refreshed, so that though his head still ached, he was able to attend as usual to Philip in the evening.

He did not waken the next morning till so late, that he sprung up in consternation, and began to dress in haste to go to Philip; but presently he came back from his dressing-room with a hasty uncertain step, and threw himself down on the bed. Amabel came to his side in an instant, much frightened at his paleness, but he spoke directly. ‘Only a fit of giddiness — it is going off;’ and he raised himself, but was obliged to lie down again directly.

‘You had better keep quiet’ said she. ‘Is it your headache?’

‘It is aching,’ said Guy, and she put her hand over it.

‘How hot and throbbing!’ said she. ‘You must have caught cold in that walk. No, don’t try to move; it is only making it worse.’

‘I must go to Philip,’ he answered, starting up; but this brought on such a sensation of dizziness and faintness, that he sunk back on the pillow.

‘No; it is of no use to fight against it,’ said Amy, as soon as he was a little better. ‘Never mind Philip, I’ll go to him. You must keep quiet, and I will get you a cup of hot tea.’

As he lay still, she had the comfort of seeing him somewhat revived, but he listened to her persuasions not to attempt to move. It was later than she had expected, and she found that breakfast was laid out in the next room. She brought him some tea; but he did not seem inclined to lift his head to drink it; and begged her to go at once to Philip, fearing he must be thinking himself strangely forgotten, and giving her many directions about the way he liked to be waited on at breakfast.

Very much surprised was Philip to see her instead, of her husband, and greatly concerned to hear that Guy was not well.

‘Over-fatigue,’ said he. ‘He could not but feel the effects of such long-continued exertion.’ Then, after an interval, during which he had begun breakfast, with many apologies for letting her wait on him, he said, with some breaks, ‘Never was there such a nurse as he, Amy; I have felt much more than I can express, especially now. You will never have to complain of my harsh judgment again!’

‘It is too much for you to talk of these things,’ said Amabel, moved by the trembling of his feeble voice, but too anxious to return to her husband to like to wait even to hear that Philip’s opinion had altered. It required much self-command not to hurry, even by manner, her cousin’s tardy, languid movements; but she had been well trained by Charles in waiting on sick breakfasts.

When at length she was able to escape, she found that Guy had undressed, and gone to bed again. He said he was more comfortable, and desired her to go and take her own breakfast before coming back to him, and she obeyed as well as she could, but very soon was again with him. He looked flushed and oppressed, and when she put her cool hand across his forehead, she was frightened at the increased throbbing of his temples.

‘Amy,’ said he, looking steadily at her, ‘this is the fever.’

Without answering, she drew his hand into hers, and felt his pulse, which did indeed plainly respond fever. Each knew that the other was recollecting what he had said, on Sunday, of the doctor’s prediction, and Amy knew he was thinking of death; but all that passed was a proposal to send at once for the French physician. Amabel wrote her note with steadiness, derived from the very force of the shock. She could not think; she did not know whether she feared or hoped. To act from one moment to another was all she attempted, and it was well that her imagination did not open to be appalled at her own situation — so young, alone with the charge of two sick men in a foreign country; her cousin, indeed, recovering, but helpless, and not even in a state to afford her counsel; her husband sickening for this frightful fever, and with more than ordinary cause for apprehension, even without the doctor’s prophecy, when she thought of his slight frame, and excitable temperament, and that though never as yet tried by a day’s illness, he certainly had more spirit than strength, while all the fatigue he had been undergoing was likely to tell upon him now. She did not look forward, she did not look round; she did not hope or fear; she trusted, and did her best for each, as she was wanted, trying not to make herself useless to both, by showing that she wished to be in two places at once.

It was a day sufficiently distressing in itself had there been no further apprehension, for there was the restlessness of illness, working on a character too active and energetic to acquiesce without a trial in the certainty that there was no remedy for present discomfort. There was no impatience nor rebellion against the illness itself, but a wish to try one after another the things that had been effective in relieving Philip during his recovery. At the same time, he could not bear that Amabel should do anything to tire herself, and was very anxious that Philip should not be neglected. He tossed from one side to the other in burning oppression or cold chills; Amy saw him looking wistful, suggested something by way of alleviation, then found he had been wishing for it, but refraining from asking in order to spare her, and that he was sorry when she procured it. Again and again this happened; she smoothed the coverings, and shook up the pillow: he would thank her, look at her anxiously, beg her not to exert herself, but soon grew restless, and the whole was repeated.

At last, as she was trying to arrange the coverings, he exclaimed —

‘I see how it is. This is impatience. Now, I will not stir for an hour,’ and as he made the resolution, he smiled at treating himself so like a child. His power of self-restraint came to his aid, and long before the hour was over he had fallen asleep.

This was a relief; yet that oppressed, flushed, discomposed slumber, and heavy breathing only confirmed her fears that the fever had gained full possession of him. She had not the heart to write such tidings, at least till the physician should have made them too certain, nor could she even bear to use the word ‘feverish,’ in her answers to the anxious inquiries Philip made whenever she went into his room, though when he averted his face with a heavy sigh, she knew his conclusion was the same as her own.

The opinion of the physician was the only thing wanting to bring home the certainty, and that fell on her like lead in the evening; with one comfort, however, that he thought it a less severe case than the former one. It was a great relief, too, that there was no wandering of mind, only the extreme drowsiness and oppression; and when Guy was roused by the doctor’s visit, he was as clear and collected as possible, making inquiries and remarks, and speaking in a particularly calm and quiet manner. As soon as the doctor was gone, he looked up to Amabel, saying, with his own smile, only very dim —

‘It would be of no use, and it would not be true, to say I had rather you did not nurse me. The doctor hopes there is not much danger of infection, and it is too late for precautions.’

‘I am very glad,’ said Amy.

‘But you must be wise, and not hurt yourself. Will you promise me not to sit up?’

‘It is very kind of you to tell me nothing worse,’ said she, with a sad submissiveness.

He smiled again. ‘I am very sorry for you,’ he said, looking very tenderly at her. ‘To have us both on your hands at once! But it comes straight from Heaven, that is one comfort, and you made up your mind to such things when you took me.’

Sadness in his eye, a sweet smile on his lip, and serenity on his brow, joined with the fevered cheek, the air of lassitude, and the panting, oppressed breath, there was a strange, melancholy beauty about him; and while Amy felt an impulse of ardent, clinging affection to one so precious to her, there was joined with it a sort of awe and veneration for one who so spoke, looked, and felt. She hung over him, and sprinkled him with Eau-deCologne; then as his hair teased him by falling into his eyes, he asked her to cut the front lock off. There was something sad in doing this, for that ‘tumble-down wave,’ as Charlotte called it, was rather a favourite of Amy’s; it always seemed to have so much sympathy with his moods, and it was as if parting with it was resigning him to a long illness. However, it was too troublesome not to go, and he looked amused at the care with which she folded up the glossy, brown wave, and treasured it in her dressing-case, then she read to him a few verses of a psalm, and he soon fell into another doze.

There was little more of event, day after day. The fever never ran as high as in Philip’s case, and there was no delirium. There was almost constant torpor, but when for any short space he was thoroughly awakened, his mind was perfectly clear, though he spoke little, and then only on the subject immediately presented to him. There he lay for one quiet hour after another, while Amy sat by him, with as little consciousness of time as he had himself, looking neither forward nor backward, only to the present, to give him drink, bathe his face and hands, arrange his pillows, or read or repeat some soothing verse. It always was a surprise when meal times summoned her to attend to Philip, when she was asked for the letters for the post, when evening twilight gathered in, or when she had to leave the night-watch to Arnaud, and go to bed in the adjoining room.

This was a great trial, but he would not allow her to sit up; and her own sense showed her that if this was to be a long illness, it would not do to waste her strength. She knew he was quiet at night, and her trustful temper so calmed and supported her, that she was able to sleep, and thus was not as liable to be overworked as might have been feared, and as Philip thought she must be.

She always appeared in his room with her sweet face mournful and anxious, but never ruffled, or with any air of haste or discomfiture, desirous as she was to return to her husband; for, though he frequently sent her to take care of herself or of Philip, she knew that while she was away he always grew more restless and uncomfortable, and his look of relief at her reentrance said as much to her as a hundred complaints of her absence would have done.

Philip was in the meantime sorely tried by being forced to be entirely inactive and dependent, while he saw Amabel in such need of assistance; and so far from being able to requite Guy’s care, he could only look on himself as the cause of their distress, and an addition to it — a burthen instead of a help. If he had been told a little while ago what would be the present state of things, he would almost have laughed the speaker to scorn. He would never have thought a child as competent as Amy to the sole management of two sick persons, and he not able either to advise or cheer her. Yet he could not see anything went wrong that depended on her. His comforts were so cared for, that he was often sorry she should have troubled herself about them; and though he could have little of her company, he never was allowed to feel himself deserted. Anne, Arnaud, the old Italian nurse, or Amy herself, were easily summoned, and gave him full care and attention.

He was, however, necessarily a good deal alone; and though his cousin’s books were at his disposal, eyes and head were too weak for reading, and he was left a prey to his own thoughts. His great comfort was, that Guy was less ill than he had been himself, and that there was no present danger; otherwise, he could never have endured the conviction that all had been caused by his own imprudence. Imprudence! Philip was brought very low to own that such a word applied to him, yet it would have been well for him had that been the chief burthen on his mind. Was it only an ordinary service of friendship and kindred that Guy had, at the peril of his own life, rendered him? Was it not a positive return of good for evil? Yes, evil! He now called that evil, or at least harshness and hastiness in judgment, which he had hitherto deemed true friendship and consideration for Guy and Amy. Every feeling of distrust and jealousy had been gradually softening since his recovery began; gratitude had done much, and dismay at Guy’s illness did more. It would have been noble and generous in Guy to act as he had done, had Philip’s surmises been correct, and this he began to doubt, though it was his only justification, and even to wish to lose it. He had rather believe Guy blameless. He would do so, if possible; and he resolved, on the first opportunity, to beg him to give him one last assurance that all was right, and implicitly believe him. But how was it possible again to assume to be a ruler and judge over Guy after it was known how egregiously he himself had erred? There was shame, sorrow, self-humiliation, and anxiety wherever he turned, and it was no wonder that depression of spirits retarded his recovery.

It was not till the tenth day after Guy’s illness had begun that Philip was able to be dressed, and to come into the next room, where Amabel had promised to dine with him. As he lay on the sofa, she thought he looked even more ill than in bed, the change from his former appearance being rendered more visible, and his great height making him look the more thin. He was apparently exhausted with the exertion of dressing, for he was very silent all dinner-time, though Amabel could have better talked today than for some time past, since Guy had had some refreshing sleep, was decidedly less feverish, seemed better for nourishing food, and said that he wanted nothing but a puff of Redclyffe wind to make him well. He was pleased to hear of Philip’s step in recovery, and altogether, Amy was cheered and happy.

She left her cousin as soon as dinner was over, and did not come to him again for nearly an hour and a half. She was then surprised to find him finishing a letter, resting his head on one hand, and looking wan, weary, and very unhappy.

‘Have you come to letter writing?’

‘Yes,’ he answered, in a worn, dejected tone, ‘I must ask you to direct this, I can’t make it legible,’

No wonder, so much did his hand tremble, as he held out the envelope.

‘To your sister?’ she asked.

‘No; to yours. I never wrote to her before. There’s one enclosed to your father, to tell all.’

‘I am glad you have done it,’ answered Amy, in a quiet tone of sincere congratulation. ‘You will be better now it is off your mind. But how tired you are. You must go back to bed. Shall I call Arnaud?’

‘I must rest first’— and his voice failing, he laid back on the sofa, closed his eyes, turned ashy pale, and became so faint that she could not leave him, and was obliged to apply every restorative within reach before she could bring him back to a state of tolerable comfort.

The next minute her work was nearly undone, when Anne came in to ask for the letters for the post. ‘Shall I send yours?’ asked Amy.

He muttered an assent. But when she looked back to him after speaking to Anne, she saw a tremulous, almost convulsed working of the closed eyes and mouth, while the thin hands were clenched together with a force contrasting with the helpless manner in which they had hung a moment before. She guessed at the intensity of anguish it mast cost a temper so proud, a heart of so strong a mould, and feelings so deep, to take the first irrevocable step in self-humiliation, giving up into the hands of others the engagement that had hitherto been the cherished treasure of his life; and above all, in exposing Laura to bear the brunt of the penalty of the fault into which he had led her. ‘Oh, for Guy to comfort him,’ thought she, feeling herself entirely incompetent, dreading to intrude on his feelings, yet thinking it unkind to go away without one sympathizing word when he was in such distress.

‘You will be glad, in time,’ at last she said. He made no answer.

She held the stimulants to him again, and tried to arrange him more comfortably.

‘Thank you,’ at last he said. ‘How is Guy?’

‘He has just had another nice quiet sleep, and is quite refreshed.’

‘That is a blessing, at least. But does not he want you? I have been keeping you a long time?’

‘Thank you, as he is awake, I should like to go back. You are better now.’

‘Yes, while I don’t move.’

‘Don’t try. I’ll send Arnaud, and as soon as you can, you had better go to bed again.’

Guy was still awake, and able to hear what she had to tell him about Philip.

‘Poor fellow!’ said he. ‘We must try to soften it.’

‘Shall I write?’ said Amy. ‘Mamma will be pleased to hear of his having told you, and they must be sorry for him, when they hear how much the letter cost him.’

‘Ah! they will not guess at half his sorrow.’

‘I will write to papa, and send it after the other letters, so that he may read it before he hears of Philip’s.’

‘Poor Laura!’ said Guy. ‘Could not you write a note to her too? I want her to be told that I am very sorry, if I ever gave her pain by speaking thoughtlessly of him.’

‘Nay,’ said Amy, smiling, ‘you have not much to reproach yourself with in that way. It was I that always abused him.’

‘You can never do so again.’

‘No, I don’t think I can, now I have seen his sorrow.’

Amabel was quite in spirits, as she brought her writing to his bed-side, and read her sentences to him as she composed the letter to her father, while he suggested and approved. It was a treat indeed to have him able to consult with her once more, and he looked so much relieved and so much better, that she felt as if it was the beginning of real improvement, though still his pulse was fast, and the fever, though lessened, was not gone.

The letter was almost as much his as her own, and he ended his dictation thus: ‘Say that I am sure that if I get better we may make arrangements for their marriage.’

Then, as Amy was finishing the letter with her hopes of his amendment, he added, speaking to her, and not dictating —‘If not,’— she shrank and shivered, but did not exclaim, for he looked so calm and happy that she did not like to interrupt him —‘If not, you know, it will be very easy to put the money matters to rights, whatever may happen.’

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:02