The Valley of The Shadow of Death

The Future sometimes seems to sob a low warning of the events it is bringing us, like some gathering though yet remote storm, which, in tones of the wind, in flushings of the firmament, in clouds strangely torn, announces a blast strong to strew the sea with wrecks; or commissioned to bring in fog the yellow taint of pestilence, covering white Western isles with the poisoned exhalations of the East, dimming the lattices of English homes with the breath of Indian plague. At other times this Future burst suddenly, as if a rock had rent, and in it a grave had opened, whence issues the body of one that slept. Ere you are aware you stand face to face with a shrouded and unthought-of Calamity—a new Lazarus.

Caroline Helstone went home from Hollow’s Cottage in good health, as she imagined. On waking the next morning she felt oppressed with unwonted languor: at breakfast, at each meal of the following day, she missed all sense of appetite: palatable food was as ashes and sawdust to her.

‘Am I ill?’ she asked, and looked at herself in the glass. Her eyes were bright, their pupils dilated, her cheeks seemed rosier and fuller than usual. ‘I look well: why can I not eat?’

She felt a pulse beat fast in her temples; she felt, too, her brain in strange activity. Her spirits were raised; hundreds of busy and broken but brilliant thoughts engaged her mind: a glow rested on them, such as tinged her complexion.

Now followed a hot, parched, thirsty, restless night. Towards morning one terrible dream seized her like a tiger. When she woke, she felt and knew she was ill.

How she had caught the fever—fever it was—she could not tell. Probably, in her late walk home, some sweet, poisoned breeze, redolent of honeydew and miasma, had passed into her lungs and veins, and finding there already a fever of mental excitement, and a languor of long conflict and habitual sadness, had fanned the spark of flame and left a well-lit fire behind it.

It seemed, however, but a gentle fire. After two hot days and worried nights there was no violence in the symptoms, and neither her uncle, nor Fanny, nor the doctor, nor Miss Keeldar, when she called, had any fear for her. A few days would restore her, everyone believed.

The few days passed, and, though it was still thought it could not long delay, the revival had not begun. Mrs. Pryor, who had visited her daily, being present in her chamber one morning when she had been ill a fortnight, watched her very narrowly for some minutes. She took her hand and placed her finger on her wrist; then, quietly leaving the chamber, she went to Mr. Helstone’s study. With him she remained closeted a long time—half the morning. On returning to her sick young friend she laid aside shawl and bonnet. She stood awhile at the bedside, one hand placed in the other, gently rocking herself to and fro in an attitude and with a movement habitual to her. At last she said:

‘I have sent Fanny to Fieldhead to fetch a few things for me, such as I shall want during a short stay here. It is my wish to remain with you till you are better. Your uncle kindly permits my attendance. Will it to yourself be acceptable, Caroline?’

‘I am sorry you should take such needless trouble. I do not feel very ill, but I cannot refuse resolutely. It will be such comfort to know you are in the house, to see you sometimes in the room. But don’t confine yourself on my account, dear Mrs. Pryor: Fanny nurses me very well.’

Mrs. Pryor, bending over the pale little sufferer, was now smoothing the hair under her cap and gently raising her pillow. As she performed these offices, Caroline, smiling, lifted her face to kiss her.

‘Are you free from pain? Are you tolerably at ease?’ was inquired in a low, earnest voice, as the self- elected nurse yielded to the caress.

‘I think I am almost happy.’

  By PanEris using Melati.

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