Sick people often have fancies inscrutable to ordinary attendants, and Caroline had one which even her tender nurse could not at first explain. On a certain day in the week, at a certain hour, she would—whether worse or better—entreat to be taken up and dressed, and suffered to sit in her chair near the window. This station she would retain till noon was past: whatever degree of exhaustion or debility her wan aspect betrayed, she still softly put off all persuasion to seek repose until the church-clock had duly tolled mid-day: the twelve strokes sounded, she grew docile, and would meekly lie down. Returned to the couch, she usually buried her face deep in the pillow, and drew the coverlets close round her, as if to shut out the world and sun, of which she was tired; more than once, as she thus lay, a slight convulsion shook the sick-bed, and a faint sob broke the silence round it. These things were not unnoted by Mrs. Pryor.

One Tuesday morning, as usual, she had asked leave to rise, and now she sat wrapped in her white dressing-gown, leaning forward in the easy-chair, gazing steadily and patiently from the lattice. Mrs. Pryor was seated a little behind, knitting as it seemed, but, in truth watching her. A change crossed her pale mournful brow, animating its languor: a light shot into her faded eyes, reviving their lustre; she half rose and looked earnestly out. Mrs. Pryor, drawing softly near, glanced over her shoulder. From this window was visible the churchyard, beyond it the road, and there, riding sharply by, appeared a horseman. The figure was not yet too remote for recognition; Mrs. Pryor had long sight; she knew Mr. Moore. Just as an intercepting rising ground concealed him from view, the clock struck twelve.

‘May I lie down again?’ asked Caroline.

Her nurse assisted her to bed; having laid her down and drawn the curtain, she stood listening near. The little couch trembled, the suppressed sob stirred the air. A contraction as of anguish altered Mrs. Pryor’s features; she wrung her hands; half a groan escaped her lips. She now remembered that Tuesday was Whinbury market-day; Mr. Moore must always pass the Rectory on his way thither, just ere noon of that day.

Caroline wore continually round her neck a slender braid of silk, attached to which was some trinket. Mrs. Pryor had seen the bit of gold glisten, but had not yet obtained a fair view of it. Her patient never parted with it; when dressed it was hidden in her bosom; as she lay in bed she always held it in her hand.

That Tuesday afternoon the transient doze—more like lethargy than sleep—which sometimes abridged the long days had stolen over her; the weather was hot; while turning in febrile restlessness, she had pushed the coverlets a little aside; Mrs. Pryor bent to replace them: the small, wasted hand, lying nerveless on the sick girl’s breast, clasped as usual her jealously-guarded treasure: those fingers whose attenuation it gave pain to see, were now relaxed in sleep. Mrs. Pryor gently disengaged the braid, drawing out a tiny locket—a slight thing it was, such as it suited her small purse to purchase; under its crystal face appeared a curl of black hair—too short and crisp to have been severed from a female head.

Some agitated movement occasioned a twitch of the silken chain: the sleeper started and woke. Her thoughts were usually now somewhat scattered on waking; her look generally wandering. Half rising, as if in terror, she exclaimed:

‘Don’t take it from me, Robert! Don’t! It is my last comfort—let me keep it. I never tell anyone whose hair it is—I never show it.’

Mrs. Pryor had already disappeared behind the curtain; reclining far back in a deep armchair by the bedside, she was withdrawn from view. Caroline looked abroad into the chamber; she thought it empty. As her stray ideas returned slowly, each folding its weak wings on the mind’s sad shore, like birds exhausted—beholding void, and perceiving silence round her, she believed herself alone. Collected she was not yet; perhaps healthy self-possession and self-control were to be hers no more; perhaps that world the strong and prosperous live in had already rolled from beneath her feet for ever; so, at least, it often seemed to herself. In health, she had never been accustomed to think aloud; but now words escaped her lips unawares.

  By PanEris using Melati.

Previous chapter/page Back Home Email this Search Discuss Bookmark Next chapter/page
Copyright: All texts on Bibliomania are © Ltd, and may not be reproduced in any form without our written permission. See our FAQ for more details.