‘What a little sceptic it is! Look at her small face, Mrs. Pryor, scarcely larger than the palm of my hand, alive with acuteness and eagerness.’ (To Caroline.) ‘She had the trouble of bringing you into the world, at any rate. Mind you show your duty to her by quickly getting well, and repairing the waste of these cheeks. Heigho! she used to be plump; what she has done with it all I can’t for the life of me divine.’

‘If wishing to get well will help me, I shall not be long sick. This morning I had no reason and no strength to wish it.’

Fanny here tapped at the door, and said that supper was ready.

‘Uncle, if you please, you may send me a little bit of supper—anything you like, from your own plate. That is wiser than going into hysterics—is it not?’

‘It is spoken like a sage, Cary; see if I don’t cater for you judiciously. When women are sensible—and, above all, intelligible—I can get on with them. It is only the vague, superfine sensations and extremely wire-drawn notions that put me about. Let a woman ask me to give her an edible or a wearable—be the same a roc’s egg or the breastplate of Aaron, a share of St. John’s locusts and honey or the leathern girdle about his loins—I can, at least, understand the demand; but when they pine for they know not what—sympathy, sentiment, some of these indefinite abstractions—I can’t do it; I don’t know it; I haven’t got it. Madam, accept my arm.’

Mrs. Pryor signified that she should stay with her daughter that evening. Helstone accordingly left them together. He soon returned, bringing a plate in his own consecrated hand.

‘This is chicken,’ he said, ‘but we’ll have partridge to-morrow. Lift her up, and put a shawl over her. On my word, I understand nursing. Now, here is the very same little silver fork you used when you first came to the Rectory: that strikes me as being what you may call a happy thought, a delicate attention. Take it, Cary, and munch away cleverly.’

Caroline did her best. Her uncle frowned to see that her powers were so limited. He prophesied, however, great things for the future; and as she praised the morsel he had brought, and smiled gratefully in his face, he stooped over her pillow, kissed her, and said, with a broken, rugged accent:

‘Good-night, bairnie. God bless thee!’

Caroline enjoyed such peaceful rest that night, circled by her mother’s arms, and pillowed on her breast, that she forgot to wish for any other stay; and though more than one feverish dream came to her in slumber, yet, when she woke up panting, so happy and contented a feeling returned with returning consciousness, that her agitation was soothed almost as soon as felt.

As to the mother, she spent the night like Jacob at Peniel. Till break of day she wrestled with God in earnest prayer.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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