A GIRL IN TEN THOUSAND
L. T. MEADE
AUTHOR OF "BASHFUL FIFTEEN," "THE CHILDREN OF WILTON CHASE," "GIRLS NEW AND OLD," "RED ROSE AND TIGER LILY," ETC.
HURST AND COMPANY PUBLISHERS
"You are the comfort of my life, Effie. If you make up your mind to go away, what is to become of me?"
The speaker was a middle-aged woman. She was lying on a sofa in a shabby little parlor. The sofa was covered with horse-hair, the room had a faded paper, and faded chintz covered the shabby furniture. The woman's pleading words were emphasized by her tired eyes and worn face. She looked full at the young girl to whom she spoke.
"What shall I do without you, and what will your father say?"
"I have made up my mind," said Effie. "I don't want to be unkind to you, mother,—I love you more than words can say,—but I must go out into the world. I must live my life like other girls."
"You had none of these ideas until you met Dorothy Fraser."
"Yes, I have had them for a long time; Dorothy has given them emphasis, that's all. Dorothy's mother did not like her to go away, but now she is glad. She says that nothing has made Dorothy into so fine a woman as taking her life into her own hands, and making the best she can of it. Before I go, mother, I will get Agnes to learn all my duties; she shall help you. She is nearly fourteen; she ought to be of use to you, ought she not?"
"She would not be like you," replied Mrs. Staunton. "She is very young, remember, and is at school most of the day. I won't argue with you, Effie, but it tires me even to think of it."
Effie sighed. She bent down and kissed her mother. Her words had sounded hard and almost defiant, but there was nothing at all hard or defiant about her sweet face. She was a dark-eyed girl, and looked as if she might be any age between seventeen and twenty. There was a likeness between her and her mother quite sufficient to show their relationship; both faces were softly curved, both pairs of eyes were dark, and the mother must have been even prettier in her youth than the daughter was now.
"As I say," continued Mrs. Staunton, "it fills me with terror to think of doing without you."
"Try not to think of it, mother. I am not going yet, I only want to go very much indeed. I am going to talk to father about it. I want to have the thing arranged while Dorothy is here."
Here Effie went suddenly on her knees by the sofa and threw one young arm protectingly round her mother.
"You do not know what it means to me," she said. "When Dorothy talks of the full life, the keen interest, the battle, the thrill of living, I feel that I must go into it—I must."
While Effie was speaking, Mrs. Staunton looked fixedly at her. There are moments which all mothers know, when they put themselves completely out of sight, when they blot themselves out, as it were. This time had come to Mrs. Staunton now.
After a pause, she said, and her words came out even without a sigh:
"The question, after all, is this, Effie: What will your father say?"
"When he thinks it out carefully he will be pleased," replied Effie. "He must be interested in the profession I want to take up. How often—oh, how often, mother—has he groaned and sighed at the bad nursing which his patients get! You know you have always said, and he has said the same, that I am a born nurse. Won't he be proud and pleased when I come home and tell him all about the new ways in which things are done in London hospitals? You know there are six of us, and Agnes and Katie are growing up, and can take my place at home presently. Of course I know that father is quite the cleverest doctor in Whittington, but nobody gets ill here, and it is quite impossible to go on clothing and feeding six of us with no means at all. I do not think I am vain, mother, and I do not really care very much about dress, but mine is shabby, is it not? I think I should look pretty—as pretty as you must have looked long ago—if I were better dressed."
"No dress can change your face," said Mrs. Staunton, with sudden passion. "You have the sweetest and dearest face in the world to me. When you go away the sunshine will go out of my life; but, my darling, my darling, I won't—you shall never have it to say that your mother stood in your way. I must think, however, of what your father will say to this. I can only warn you that if there is one person your father dreads and dislikes more than another, it is the modern girl. He said to me, 'Thank God, Effie has none of that hideous modernity about her. She is fairly good-looking; she does not think about Girton or Newnham, or any of the women's colleges; in short, she has no advanced ideas.'"
"That is all he knows," replied Effie. "The fact is, I must and will do something to earn my living. You are sending George out into the world to win his spurs, and I am going to win mine."
"In what way?" asked Mrs. Staunton. "You know you are not clever."
"Dorothy thinks I can be a nurse, mother. May she come and see you, and talk it all over?"
"There is no harm in talking it over," said Mrs. Staunton. "But now I wish you would go upstairs and help Susan to put the children to bed. You can bring baby downstairs if you like, and I will undress him. Run along, Effie—run along, there's a good child."
"Oh, yes, mother, I'll go; only just answer me one question first. May Dorothy come here after supper to-night?"
"What is the use of my seeing her? Your father is the one to decide."
"I will ask father to stay in after supper."
"I don't think he will. A message has come from the Watson people over at the farm. Mrs. Watson was taken bad with a stitch an hour ago, and they want your father as quickly as he can go."
"Well, he will be back in time—he won't spend the whole evening there. Anyhow, Dorothy can come and see you, and if father does come in before she leaves, well and good. I may run and tell her to come, may I not?"
"Won't you put the children to bed first, and bring me baby?"
"Oh, yes, yes, if you insist."
"I do, Effie; while you are at home you must help me all you can. I have not had a bit of strength since baby was born. It is perfectly dreadful to feel all your strength going and to know that things are at sixes and sevens, and however hard you try you cannot put them right. Dear me, Effie, I did think when you were grown up that you would stay at home and be a comfort to me."
"I shall be a greater comfort to you when I send you money from London. Now, don't speak another word. I will put the children to bed, and I will look after baby myself, while you close your eyes and go to sleep."
Effie pressed her warm young lips on the older woman's brow, and then ran out of the room.
There was a large nursery upstairs, where everything at the present moment was, as Effie's mother had said, at sixes and sevens. The nursemaid, a young girl of seventeen, was not up to her duties—the children ruled her, instead of her ruling the children. Effie, however, could be masterful enough when she liked. She had a natural sense of order, and she soon put things straight in the nursery. The children were undressed quickly and put to bed; and then Effie, taking the baby in her arms, asked Susan to go downstairs.
"You can have your supper," she said. "I will look after baby."
"I thought my missus would like me to take baby to her," said the girl.
"No; I will look after him for the present," said Effie. "Mother is tired, and she must sleep. Run away, Susan, and have your supper, and come back here as quickly as you can."
"Yes, Miss Effie; and I am sure I am very much obliged to you. You 'as a wonderful way with the children, and I only wish I could learn it."
Susan left the room. Pressing the baby's soft curly head against her breast, Effie began to pace up and down with it. The baby was three months old; he was fractious and disinclined to sleep, but when his sister began to purr a soft song into his ear, an old nursery rhyme which her mother had sung to her long ago, his wide-open eyes closed, and he sank off into peaceful slumber.
When she saw that he was quite sound asleep, Effie put him in his cot, drew the cot near the crib where Philip, a dark-eyed little boy of five, lay, and bending down to kiss Phil, said:
"You are to be baby's nurse until Susan comes up; if he wakes or begins to cry, just pat him on his back. I am most anxious that mother should have a quiet time; she is just worn out, and if she hears baby cry she is certain to send for him. Now, Phil, you are a very clever little man when you like—I trust to you to keep baby from crying until Susan comes back!"
"'Es, that I will," replied Phil, in a voice of intense importance. "I do love 'ou, Effie," he said.
Effie kissed him, and softly left the room. She ran downstairs, and began to help the servant to lay supper.
No one could look more bright than Effie as she performed the thousand and one duties which fell to her lot in this poor home. Dr. Staunton was poor, there were six children, Effie was the eldest daughter; it needs no more words to explain her exact position. From morning to night Effie was busy, very busy, doing what she herself called nothing. She was getting discontented with her life. A feeling of discontent had stolen over her ever since her eldest brother George had gone to London, to help his uncle in a large warehouse. For months the dream of her life was to give up the little duties near at hand, and to take some great duties which nobody wanted her to do, far away from home. She was quite prepared for the advice which her friend Dorothy Fraser, who lived all the year round in London, and only came home for the holidays to Whittingham, was able to give her. Effie's conscience was not in the least pricked at the thought of leaving her mother—it seemed to her quite right. "Had she not to make the most of her youth? Why should she spend all her young days in looking after the children, and making things tolerable for her father and mother?"
These thoughts kept swiftly passing through her brain, as she noiselessly laid the table and made it look charming and pretty. When all was done, she took up a little frock of one of the children's, and, sitting down by the window, began to work. Her pretty dark head was bent over her task; her thick curling lashes lay heavy on her rounded cheek. Mrs. Staunton, who had been having a doze on the sofa, started up now and looked at her.
"Oh, Effie dear, I have had such a nice sleep," she said, with a little sigh; "I am ever so much the better for it. But what have you done with baby?"
"I have put him to sleep, mother; he is in his cot now, as comfortable as possible."
"How good of you, Effie! What a comfort you are to me!"
Effie smiled. "I think I hear father coming in," she said, "and supper is quite ready."
Mrs. Staunton started up from the sofa; she pushed back her tumbled hair, and shook out her somewhat untidy dress.
"Now let me make you trim," said Effie.
She ran over to her parent, put back her gray hair with an affectionate little touch, and then kissed her mother on her flushed cheeks.
"You look better for your nice sleep, mother," she said.
"So I am, darling, and for your loving care," replied Mrs. Staunton.
Her husband came into the room, and she took her place before the tea-tray.
Supper at the Stauntons' was a nondescript sort of meal. It consisted of meat and vegetables, and tea and cakes and puddings, all placed on the table together. It was the one hearty meal Dr. Staunton allowed himself in the twenty-four hours. At the children's early dinner he only snatched a little bread and cheese, but at peaceful seven o'clock the children were in bed, the house was quiet, the toil of the day was supposed to be over, and Dr. Staunton could eat heartily and enjoy himself. It was at this hour he used to notice how very pretty Effie looked, and how sweet it was to see her sitting like a little mouse on one side of the table, helping him and his wife in her affectionate way, and seeing to the comforts of all. It did not occur to him as even possible that Effie could carry such a dreadful thing as rebellion in her heart. No face could look more perfectly happy than hers. Was it possible that she was pining for a wider field of usefulness than the little niche which she filled so perfectly in the home life? Dr. Staunton never thought about it at all. Effie was just a dear little girl—not a bit modern; she was the comfort of her mother's life, and, for that matter, the comfort of his also.
He looked at her now with his usual grave smile. "Well, Effie, useful and charming as usual? I see you have not forgotten my favorite dish, and I am glad of it, for I can tell you I am just starving. I have had a hard day's work, and it is nice to feel that I can rest for this evening at least."
"Have you been to the Watsons', dear?" inquired Mrs. Staunton. "They sent a message for you two or three hours ago."
"Yes; I met the farmer in the High Street, and went straight out to the farm. Mrs. Watson is better now, poor soul; but it is a bad case, the heart is a good deal implicated. I shall have to go out there again the first thing in the morning. It would be a dreadful thing for that family if anything happened to her."
"The heart—is it heart trouble?" said Mrs. Staunton.
"Yes, yes! Don't you begin to fancy that your case is the least like hers; yours is only functional, hers is organic. Now, why have I broken through my rule of saying nothing about my patients? You will be fancying and fretting all night that you are going to shuffle off this mortal coil just as quickly as poor Mrs. Watson will have to do before long, I fear. Why, Effie, what is the matter? Why are you staring at me with those round eyes?"
Mrs. Staunton looked also at Effie, and the sudden memory of her recent conversation with her returned.
"By the way," she said, "if you are likely to be at home this evening, John, Effie would like to ask her friend Dorothy Fraser to come in for an hour or two. She wants to introduce her to you."
"She is one of those modern girls, is she not?" said the doctor.
"Oh, father, she is just splendid," said Effie. "If you only knew her, if you could hear her speak——"
"Well, my dear, don't get into a state, and above all things, don't learn that dreadful habit of exaggeration. I dare say Miss Fraser is very well, but there are few prodigies in the world, my little Effie; and, for my part, give me the home birds—they are the girls for my world; they are the girls who will make good wives by and by. There, my love, I shall be pleased to welcome any friend of yours, so ask her over, by all means. She won't mind the old doctor's pipe, I hope?"
"Oh, no, father!" Effie could not help smiling. She knew perfectly well that Dorothy thought it no harm to indulge in a tiny cigarette herself, not often, nor every day, but sometimes when she was dead beat, as she expressed it. Effie had to keep this knowledge of her friend's delinquencies to herself. If Dr. Staunton knew that Dorothy did not consider smoking the unpardonable sin in woman, he would not allow her inside his doors. "I will go and fetch her," Effie said, jumping up and putting on her hat. "She is longing to know you, father, and you can smoke two or three pipes while she is here."
Effie left the room. Mrs. Staunton looked at her husband. "I doubt if Dorothy Fraser is the best of friends for our Effie."
"Eh!" said the doctor, taking his pipe out of his mouth for a moment. "What ails the girl?"
"Oh, nothing at all," replied Mrs. Staunton. "Effie is very fond of her, and I believe she really is a fine creature. You know she is educating her two brothers."
"What is she doing—how does she earn her living?"
"Oh, she is a nurse in a hospital. She has been in St. Joseph's Hospital for years, and is now superintendent of one of the wards. She gets a good salary."
The doctor rubbed his hands together in a somewhat impatient way. "You know my opinion of lady nurses," he said, looking at his wife.
"Well, dear, make the best of Dorothy for Effie's sake. I hear the steps of the two girls now. You will do what you can to be agreeable, won't you?"
"No," said the doctor; "I shall growl like a bear with a sore head, when I see women who ought to be content with sweet home duties struggling and pining to go out into the world."
The last words had scarcely left the doctor's lips before the dining-room door was opened, and Effie, accompanied by her friend, entered the room.
Dorothy Fraser was about twenty-eight years of age; she was tall; she had a fair, calm sort of face; her eyes were large and gray, her mouth sweet. She had a way of taking possession of those she spoke to, and she had not been two minutes in the shabby little sitting-room before Dr. and Mrs. Staunton were looking at her earnestly and listening to her words with respect.
Dorothy sat near Mrs. Staunton.
"I am very glad to know you," she said, after a pause. "Effie has talked to me over and over again about you."
"May I ask how long you have known Effie?" interrupted Dr. Staunton.
"Well, exactly a week," replied Miss Fraser. "I have been home a week, and I am going to stay another week. I met Effie the night I came home, and—— But one can cultivate a friendship in a week; don't you think so, Dr. Staunton?"
"Perhaps, perhaps," said the doctor in a dubious voice. "I am slow in making friends myself. It is the old-fashioned way of country folk."
"Oh, pray don't speak of yourself as old-fashioned, Dr. Staunton; and don't run down country folk, I see so many of them at the hospital. For my part, I think they are worth twenty of those poor London people, who are half starved in body, and have only learned the wicked side of life."
"Poor creatures!" said Mrs. Staunton. "I wish you would tell us something about the hospital, my dear. It is vastly entertaining to hear all about sick people."
"No; now pardon me," said the doctor; "you will do nothing of the kind, Miss Fraser. There are not many sick folk about here, but what few there are I have got to look after, and my thoughts are bothered enough about them and their sicknesses, so I would rather, if you please, turn our conversation to people who are not ill. The wife here is a bit nervous, too, and she is never the better for hearing people talk about what they call 'bad cases.' I think it is the worst thing in the world for people to keep talking of their maladies, or even about other people's maladies. My motto is this, 'When you are ill, try and see how soon you can get well again, and when you are well, try to keep so. Never think of illness at all.'"
Miss Fraser looked fully at the doctor while he was talking. A slight frown came between her eyebrows. Effie's bright dark eyes were fixed on her friend.
"Illness interests me, of course," Dorothy said, after a pause; "but I won't talk of it. There are many other things, as you say, just as vital."
"Well, at any rate," said Mrs. Staunton, "Miss Fraser can tell us how she came to be a nurse——"
"For my part," interrupted Dr. Staunton, "I think it is a great pity that girls like you, Miss Fraser, should take up that sort of life. Lady girls are not suited to it; for one who is fitted for the life, there are fifty who are not. If you could only guess how doctors hate to see lady nurses in possession of a case. She is a fine lady through it all; she thinks she is not, but she is. Do you suppose she will wash up the cups and plates and spoons as they ought to be washed and kept in a sick person's room? and do you fancy she will clean out the grate, and go down on her knees to wash the floor? Your fine lady nurse won't. There is a case of infection, for instance,—measles or scarlet fever,—and the nurse comes down from London, and she is supposed to take possession; but one of the servants of the house has to go in to clean and dust and arrange, or the sickroom is not dusted or cleaned at all. That is your lady nurse; and I say she is not suited to the work."
Miss Fraser turned pale while the doctor was speaking.
"You must admit," she said, when he stopped and looked at her,—"you must admit, Dr. Staunton, that every lady nurse is not like that. If you have an infection case in your practice, send for me. I think I can prove to you that there are some ladies who are too truly women to think anything menial or beneath them." She colored as she spoke, and lowered her eyes.
The conversation drifted into other channels. After a time Dorothy got up and went away; and Effie, yawning slightly, went up to her room to go to bed. She slept in a little room next to the nursery. Instead of undressing at once, as was her wont, she went and stood by the window, threw it open, and looked out. "What would father say if he knew my thoughts?" she said to herself. "He despises ladies who are nurses; he thinks it wrong for any lady girl to go away from home; but I am going—yes, I am going to London. Dorothy is my friend. She is about the grandest, noblest creature I ever met, and I am going to follow in her steps. Mother will consent in the end—mother will see that I cannot throw away my life. Dear mother! I shall miss her and father awfully, but, all the same, I shall be delighted to go. I do want to get out of this narrow, narrow life; I do want to do something big and grand. Oh, Dorothy, how splendid you are! How strong you look! How delightful it is to feel that one can live a life like yours, and do good, and be loved by all! Oh, Dorothy, I hope I shall be able to copy you! I hope——"
Effie's eager thoughts came to a sudden stop. A tall dog-cart dashed down the street and pulled up short at her father's door. A young man in a Norfolk suit jumped out, threw the horse's reins to his groom, and pulled the doctor's bell furiously. Effie leaned slightly out of her window in order to see who it was. She recognized the man who stood on the doorstep with a start of surprise, and the color flew into her face. He was the young Squire of the neighborhood. His name was Harvey. His place was two miles out of Whittington. He was married; his wife was the most beautiful woman Effie had ever seen; and he had one little girl. The Harveys were rich and proud; they spent the greater part of their time in London, and had never before condescended to consult the village doctor. What was the matter now? Effie rushed from her room and knocked furiously at her father's door.
"Father, do you hear the night-bell? Are you getting up?" she called.
"Yes, child, yes," answered the doctor.
The bell downstairs kept on ringing at intervals. Effie stood trembling on the landing; she felt positively sure that something dreadful must have happened.
"May I go down stairs and say you are coming, father?" she called again through the key-hole.
"Yes, I wish you would. Say I will be downstairs in a minute."
Effie ran off; she took the chain off the heavy hall door and threw it open.
"Is Dr. Staunton in?" asked the Squire. He stared at Effie's white trembling face. His eyes were bloodshot, his hair in disorder; he looked like a man who is half distracted.
"Yes," said Effie, in as soothing a voice as she could assume; "my father will be down in a minute."
Harvey took off his cap.
"You are Miss Staunton, I presume? Pray ask your father to be as quick as possible. My little girl is ill—very ill. We want a doctor to come to The Grange without a moment's delay."
"All right, Squire; here I am," said the hearty voice of Dr. Staunton on the stairs.
The Squire shook hands with him, made one or two remarks in too low a voice for Effie to hear, sprang into his dog-cart, the doctor scrambled up by his side, and a moment later the two had disappeared. Effie stood by the open hall door looking up and down the quiet village street. The great man of the place had come and gone like a flash. The thing Mrs. Staunton had longed for, dreamed of, and almost prayed for, had come to pass at last—her husband was sent for to The Grange. Effie wondered if Fortune were really turning her wheel, and if, from this date they would be better off than they had been.
Dorothy Fraser's people lived in the house nearly opposite. From where Effie stood she could see a light still burning in her friend's window. The thought of Dorothy raised the girl's state of excitement almost to fever pitch. She longed to go over and see her friend; she knew she must not do that, however. She shut the hall door, and went slowly back to her bedroom. She wanted to sleep, but sleep was far away. She lay listening during the long hours of the summer night, and heard hour after hour strike from the church clock close by. Between two and three in the morning she dropped off into a troubled doze. She awoke in broad daylight, to start to her feet and see her father standing in the room.
"Get up, Effie," he said. "I want you; dress yourself as quickly as you can."
There was an expression about his face which prevented Effie's uttering a word. She scrambled into her clothes—he waited for her on the landing. When she was dressed he took her hand and went softly down through the house.
"I do not want your mother to be disturbed," he said. "There is a very bad case of illness at The Grange."
"What is it, father?" asked Effie.
"Well, I fear that it is a complication of scarlet fever and diphtheria. The child will have an awful fight for her life, and at the present moment I am afraid the odds are terribly against her."
"Oh, father, and she is the only child!" said Effie.
"Yes, yes, I know all that; but there is no use in going into sentiment just now—the thing is to pull her through if possible. Now, look here: I can send to London, of course, for a nurse, but she would not arrive for several hours—do you think your friend Miss Fraser would undertake the case?"
"Yes, I am sure she would," said Effie.
"That's just like you women," said the doctor impatiently; "you jump to conclusions without knowing anything at all about the matter. The child's case is horribly infectious. In fact, I shall be surprised if the illness does not run right through the house. The mother has been sitting up with this baby day and night for the last week, and they were so silly they never sent for a doctor, imagining that the awful state of the throat was due to hoarseness, and that the rash was what they were pleased to call 'spring heat.' The folly of some people is enough to drive any reasonable man to despair. They send for the doctor, forsooth, when the child is almost in the grip of death! I have managed to relieve her a bit during the night, but I must have the services of a good nurse at once. Go over and awake Miss Fraser, Effie, and bring her to see me. If she has the pluck she gave me to understand she had, she will come in as a stop-gap until I get somebody else. And now, look here: the case is so infectious, and your mother is so weak just now, that I am going to devote myself altogether to it for the next few days. I am going to take up my abode at The Grange, and I shall wire to my old friend Edwards to look after the rest of my patients. There are only half a dozen to be seen to, and he will keep them quiet until I am free again. Now go over and bring Miss Fraser for me to see. I have driven down on the Squire's dog-cart, and will take her back with me if she will come. Run along, Effie, and wake her up."
Dorothy Fraser was sound asleep when Effie rushed into her little room.
"Get up!" said Effie, shaking her friend by the shoulder.
As a nurse Miss Fraser was accustomed to unexpected disturbances. She opened her eyes now and gazed at Effie for a bewildered moment, then she sat up in bed and pushed back her heavy hair.
"Why, Effie," she exclaimed, "what do you want? I fancied I was back at St. Joseph's and that one of the nurses had got into trouble and had come to me, but I find I am at home for the holidays. Surely it is not time to get up yet?"
"It is only five o'clock," said Effie. "It is not the usual time to get up; but, Dorothy, father wants you. There is a bad case of illness at The Grange—very bad indeed, and father is nearly distracted, and he wants to know if you will help him just for a bit."
"Why, of course," cried Dorothy. "I shall be delighted."
"I knew you would; I knew you were just that splendid sort of a girl."
Miss Fraser knit her brows in some perplexity "Don't, Effie," she said. "I wish you would not go into such ecstasies over me; I am only just a nurse. A nurse is, and ought to be, at the beck and call of everyone who is in trouble. Now run away, dear; I won't be any time in getting dressed. I will join you and your father in a minute."
"Father will see you in the street," said Effie. "The fact is——"
"Oh, do run away," exclaimed Dorothy. "I cannot dress while you stand here talking. Whatever it is, I will be with your father in two or three minutes."
Effie ran downstairs again. Mrs. Fraser, who had let her in, had gone back to bed. Effie shut the Frasers' hall door as quietly as she could. She then went across the sunlit and empty street to where her father stood on the steps at his own door. The groom who had driven the doctor over was standing by the horse's head at a little distance.
"Well," said Dr. Staunton, "she has fought shy of it, has she?"
"No; she is dressing," said Effie. "She will be down in a minute or two."
"Good girl!" said Dr. Staunton. "You didn't happen to mention the nature of the case?"
"No, no," answered Effie; "but the nature of the case won't make any difference to her."
The doctor pursed up his mouth as if he meant to whistle; he restrained himself, however, and stood looking down the street. After a time he turned and glanced at his daughter.
"Now, Effie," he said, "you must do all you can for your mother. Don't let her get anxious. There is nothing to be frightened about as far as I am concerned. If mortal man can pull the child through, I will do it, but I must have no home cares as well. You will take up that burden—eh, little woman?"
"I will try, father," said Effie.
Just then Dorothy appeared. She had dressed herself in her nurse's costume—gray dress, gray cloak, gray bonnet. The dress suited her earnest and reposeful face. She crossed the road with a firm step, carrying a little bag in her hand.
"Well, Dr. Staunton," she said, "I hear you have got a case for me."
The doctor gazed at her for a moment without speaking.
"Bless me," he exclaimed; "it is a comfort to see a steady-looking person like you in the place. And so you are really willing to help me in this emergency?"
"Why, of course," said Dorothy. "I am a nurse."
"But you don't know the nature of the case yet!"
"I don't see that that makes any difference; but will you tell me?"
"And it is your holiday," pursued the doctor, gazing at her. "You don't take many holidays in the year I presume?"
"I have had a week, and I am quite rested," said Dorothy. "I always hold my life in readiness," she continued, looking up at him with a flash out of her dark blue eyes. "Anywhere at any time, when I am called, I am ready. But what is the matter? What do you want me to do?"
"I want you to help me to pull a child back from the borders of death."
"A child! I love children," said Dorothy. "What ails the child?"
"She has acute scarlet fever and diphtheria. No precautions have been taken with regard to sanitation. She is the child of rich people, but they have been wantonly neglectful, almost cruel in their negligence and ignorance. The mother, a young woman, is nearly certain to take the complaint and, to complicate everything, there is another baby expected before long. Now you understand. If you get into that house you are scarcely likely to go out of it again for some time."
Dorothy stood grave and silent.
"Oh, Dorothy, is it right for you to go?" exclaimed Effie, who was watching her friend anxiously.
"Yes," said Dorothy, "it is right. They may possibly be obliged to fill my place at St. Joseph's. I was only considering that point for a moment. After all, it is not worth troubling about. I am at your service, Dr. Staunton. We may require one or two other nurses to help us if things are as bad as you fear."
"God bless you!" said the doctor. Something very like moisture came into his eyes. He began to blow his nose violently. "Now, Effie, you will do your best at home," he said, turning to his daughter. "This way, please, Miss Fraser."
"Good-by, Effie, dear," said Dorothy. She kissed her friend. The doctor and the nurse walked toward the dog-cart; he helped her to mount, and then drove rapidly down the street. The vehicle was soon out of sight.
"I wonder what father will think of Dorothy after this?" thought Effie to herself. The feeling that her father would really approve of her friend gave her much consolation. She went back into the house, and as it was now half-past five, decided that it was not worth while to return to bed. There was always plenty to be done in this little house with its overflowing inhabitants, and Effie found heaps to occupy her until it was time to go into the nursery to help the little nursemaid with her various duties.
The children always hailed Effie with a scream of delight; they were not a bit afraid of her, for she was the most indulgent elder sister in the world, but all the same she managed to make them obey her.
Susan was sent downstairs to get her breakfast, while Effie saw the elder ones safely through the process of dressing. She took the baby on her knee, and, removing his night-clothes, put him into his bath, and dressed him herself quickly and expeditiously. She then carried him into her mother's room.
Mrs. Staunton had spent a troubled night.
"Is that you, Effie?" she exclaimed, looking at her daughter; "and oh, there is baby—how sweet he looks! What a splendid nurse you are, my darling, and what a wonderful comfort to me! Give me my dear little man. I will take care of him while you see about breakfast."
"How are you this morning, mother?" asked Effie. "Have you had a good night?"
"Yes, pretty well. I had one or two bad dreams. I could not help thinking of poor Mrs. Watson and that heart-trouble your father spoke about. I wonder how she is this morning."
"Now, mother dear," said Effie, "you know father said you were not to dwell upon that—you must turn your thoughts away from illness of every sort. I thought we might go for a little drive in the gig this morning."
"But your father will want the gig."
"No, that's just it, he won't."
"What do you mean? Surely he will go out as early as he can to see Mrs. Watson?"
"No, mother," said Effie, "he won't—not to-day. I have something to tell you. Now, please don't be frightened; there is nothing to be frightened about."
Mrs. Staunton was half sitting up in bed; she had thrown a little pale blue shawl round her shoulders, and held the pretty baby in her arms. She was a remarkably good-looking woman, a really young-looking woman for her age, but weakness was written all over her—the weakness of a frail although loving spirit, and the weakness of extreme bodily illness, for she was ill, far more ill than her children knew. The greatest anxiety of the honest doctor's life was connected with his wife's physical condition. Effie looked at her mother now, and something of the fear which dwelt in her father's heart seemed to visit her.
"I have something to tell you," she said, "but it is nothing that need make you the least bit afraid. Father has left you in my charge. He says I am to look after you, and to do all in my power to help you."
"But what can you mean, Effie? Has your father gone away?"
"Not really away," replied Effie, "for he is close to us, and can come back if necessary at any moment; but the fact is this: If all is well, father is not coming home for two or three days. In one way you will be pleased to hear this, mother. You know how you have wished him to be called in at The Grange."
"At The Grange!" exclaimed Mrs. Staunton, starting up. "You don't mean to tell me that the Harveys have sent for your father?"
"Yes, mother, I do; and is not that good news? The little girl is very ill, and Squire Harvey came over to fetch father last night—that time when the bell rang so suddenly."
"I remember," said Mrs. Staunton. "I made sure that someone came from the Watsons'."
"No; it was the Squire who called—Squire Harvey. Father went there and found the little girl very ill. He came back again this morning, and took Dorothy Fraser out with him as nurse, and he saw me, and he asked me to tell you that he would stay at The Grange for a couple of days until he could pull the child through, and you are on no account to expect him home, but you are to keep as well and cheerful as possible for his sake; and Dr. Edwards from Boltonville is to take father's work for the time. So you see," continued Effie in conclusion, "that the horse and gig will be at liberty, and we can go for a drive. I thought we might go to Boltonville, and take baby, and buy some fruit for preserving. There are sure to be heaps of strawberries at the Bolton Farm if we drive over early."
All the time Effie was speaking, Mrs. Staunton kept gazing at her. As the eager words flowed from the young girl's lips, the heart of the mother seemed to faint within her.
"You," she said, after a pause; her voice trembled, no words could come for an instant,—"you," she went on,—"Effie, you have not told me what ails the child?"
"She is very ill, mother; that goes without saying."
"But what ails her? Why should not your father come home?"
Effie thought for a moment. "I will tell about the scarlet fever, but not about the diphtheria," she said to herself. "Mother is always so terrified about diphtheria ever since poor little Johnny died of it, long, long ago. She won't mind scarlet fever so much."
"Why don't you speak, Effie?" exclaimed her mother. "You terrify me with your grave and silent way."
"There is nothing to be terrified about, mother, but you are weak, and therefore you get unduly nervous. I was only thinking for a moment whether you had better know; but of course, if you wish it, you must be told. The child at The Grange is suffering from scarlet fever."
"Do you think it will spread?"
"Father is very anxious. I heard him telling Dorothy that Mrs. Harvey had been very imprudent. You know how young she is, mother, and how beautiful; and she has been with this dear little child day and night from the beginning, not knowing in the least what ailed her, and Mrs. Harvey is expecting another baby, and of course father is anxious."
"I should think he is," cried Mrs. Staunton, drawn completely out of herself by the tragedy conveyed in these words. "Oh, poor young thing, poor young mother! I wish I were strong and well myself, that I might go and help her. She will have a bad time. She will have an awful risk when her baby arrives, Effie. Well, my darling, we can do nothing but pray for them all. There is One who can guide us even through dark days. Go down, Effie, and get breakfast, and then come back to me. I am very tired this morning, and will lie still for a little, now that I have got such a dear, useful daughter to take my place for me."
Effie put on a bright smile, and turned toward the door.
As she was leaving the room, her mother called out after her:
"There is one good thing, there is no diphtheria in the case; nothing terrifies me like that."
Effie shut the door hastily without reply.
Meanwhile Dr. Staunton and Dorothy drove quickly to The Grange. It was still very early in the morning, and when they arrived at the great hall door it was opened by Squire Harvey himself.
"That's right, Dr. Staunton!" he exclaimed. "I am so glad you have come. Oh, and I see you have brought a nurse. What a blessing! Now, perhaps, you will induce my wife to take some rest. How lucky that you were able to find a nurse in a little place like Whittington!"
"I am very fortunate indeed," replied the doctor in his hearty voice. "Nurse Fraser has been trained at St. Joseph's, and happens to be staying at Whittington for a brief holiday. She has most kindly consented to undertake the case until we can get fresh assistance from London."
"I will stay as long as I am wanted," said Dorothy in her quiet voice. "If I can be shown to a room for a moment to take off my bonnet and cloak, I will go immediately afterward to the little patient."
Dorothy's voice was perfectly cool and calm. She did not speak in the constrained whisper which the poor Squire thought it right to use. There was an everyday tone in her voice which at this moment was absolutely refreshing, and the sympathy in her blue eyes just gave the right quality to the cool tones.
The doctor looked at her with unconcealed admiration. "That girl is one in ten thousand," he said to himself. "She will keep us all on our mettle, I can see, but there is plenty of heart underneath that cool exterior."
The great luxurious house looked neglected and wretched. Although the father and mother were up, and one or two servants were assisting in the sickroom, the greater number of the servants were still in bed. There was no one to take Miss Fraser to a room, and the Squire looked round him in hopeless bewilderment.
Dorothy saw at a glance that she must take matters into her own hands.
"I do not want to trouble you," she said. "I can put my cloak and bonnet in here. I should like to put on my cap and apron before I go upstairs."
She opened a door as she spoke, and went into a room where all the blinds were down, took off her outdoor things, and, taking a cap out of her bag, slipped it over her hair, tied on a white apron, and then stood ready and capable, and fresh and bright, before the Squire and the doctor.
"Now, come straight upstairs with me," said the doctor.
They went up together; Squire Harvey followed them at a distance. When the doctor reached the first landing, he opened a green baize door, shut it behind him, and walked down a long, cool corridor which led in the direction of the nurseries.
"Now, look here," he said, turning and facing Dorothy, "the great thing that we have both to do is to keep this terrible disease from spreading. One or two of the servants have been with the case from the first; the father and mother have been in and out of the room as freely and unconstrainedly as if the child had only a cold the matter with her; if they are likely to take the infection, the mischief is probably done already; but, on the chance of this not being so, I shall beg of the Squire to come into this part of the house as seldom as possible. And as to Mrs. Harvey, she must be got away; that is your task, nurse. You will allow me to call you nurse, won't you?"
"Certainly. Call me Nurse Dorothy; I like that name best. I am called that by the children at St. Joseph's."
"Very well. I am sure you will be a blessing here; but a great deal of tact must be used. The position of affairs is extremely difficult."
"I will do my best," replied the nurse. The doctor gave her another look of complete satisfaction, and they entered the room where the little patient lay between life and death.
A small cot had been drawn almost into the center of the room, the blinds were down, there was a sense of desolation, and a heavy smell in the air.
"Who has shut these windows?" said the doctor in a voice of disapproval.
He went straight across the room, drew up one of the blinds, and opened the window two or three inches. A fresh current of air immediately improved the close atmosphere.
When he spoke, and when he and Nurse Fraser came into the room, a fair-haired young woman, who was on her knees by the side of the cot, started up suddenly, and gazed at them out of a pair of wide blue eyes. Her cheeks were deeply flushed, her lips were parched and dry.
"Oh, doctor," she said, staggering toward Dr. Staunton, "you have come back. What a blessing! She is asleep now; perhaps she is better."
The doctor went over and looked at the child. She was a little creature of not more than five years of age. In health she may have been pretty, she probably was; but now, the shadowy little face, the emaciated hands, the hot, dry, cracked lips, were the reverse of beautiful. They were all that was pathetic, however; and Dorothy's heart went straight out to the baby who lay there in such suffering and weakness.
The doctor looked at her, and gave a significant glance toward Mrs. Harvey.
Dorothy took her cue at once.
"I have come to nurse your dear little girl, madam," she said. "Dr. Staunton has brought me. I have a great deal of experience, as I am superintendent of one of the children's wards at St. Joseph's Hospital. I think you may trust your little girl to me; but first of all, let me take you to your room and put you to bed."
"Put me to bed!" said Mrs. Harvey, with a laugh which jarred on everyone's nerves. "I have not been in bed for nights. I could not sleep. When the doctor tells me that Freda is out of danger, then I may be able to sleep, but not before—not before."
"Whether you sleep or not," continued Dorothy, "you must come and lie down. You are completely worn out, and can do no good whatever to the child in your present condition. While she sleeps it is surely right that you should sleep too. Come, I will promise to call you if you are wanted."
"Yes, dear madam, let me entreat of you to go to bed," said the doctor.
The door was opened at this moment, and the Squire came in.
"Now Elfreda," he said, coming up to his wife, "you will go and take some rest, won't you?"
She looked from him to the nurse, and from the nurse to the doctor, and then her tired, bright eyes fell upon the little parched face lying on the pillow.
"I know she is going to die!" she said, with a kind of broken sob. "I cannot leave her. How can anyone dare to ask me to leave my little child just now?" Her agitation became more terrible each moment. She was evidently on the verge of hysterics.
Dorothy walked straight from the nursery to a sort of dressing-room which lay beyond. There was a small bed there, which was sometimes occupied by the under-nurse. A scared-looking, tired young woman was standing in this room. Dorothy gave her quick directions. "Get clean sheets, and make this bed up immediately," she said.
The girl started, but looked relieved at having anything explicit to do. She ran off to obey, and Dorothy came back to the sickroom.
"Hush!" she said, going up to Mrs. Harvey, who was standing shaking from head to foot with dry sobs. "You must not give way like this; it is very wrong. Remember you have not only yourself to think of." She bent forward and whispered a word in the young mother's ear. Mrs. Harvey started, and with a violent effort controlled herself.
"I see that you must not be separated from your child," continued Dorothy—"at least, not at present. I am having a bed made up for you in the dressing-room, where you will be within call."
"Ah, yes, that's better," said the poor lady—"that's much better."
"Come, then, at once," said Dorothy. She held out her hand. Mrs. Harvey crossed the room. She and Dorothy disappeared into the dressing-room.
In ten minutes the nurse came back to Dr. Staunton. "I have undressed her, and she is in bed," she said. "She is very weak, and in a terribly nervous condition; she ought to sleep for hours. Will you prepare a composing draught for her it once?"
"Yes," said the doctor; "I have brought some medicines with me."
He went out of the room, and returned in a minute or two with a small dose in a glass.
Dorothy took it into the dressing-room. Mrs. Harvey's tired eyes were shut already.
"Now, you're to drink this," said Dorothy, raising her head slightly. "Drink this—don't open your eyes. Trust. Lean on me, if you like. Believe me, that nothing would induce me not to call you if your child were in real danger, but you must sleep now—sleep, and try to believe that all will be well."
"You comfort me, nurse," said Mrs. Harvey. "You are strong. I somehow believe in you."
"You may do so," said Dorothy. She bent down and kissed the hot lips. She absolutely forgot that she was only the nurse, and that the tired woman in the bed was a lady of high position. At such a moment as this they were only two women, two sisters.
Dorothy waited for a moment to see the sleeping draught take effect, then, drawing down the blind, she left the room, closing the door softly behind her.
When she returned to the nursery, Dr. Staunton was bending over little Freda, who had opened her eyes, and was moaning in terrible pain.
"The fever is better," he said, turning to the nurse; "the feverish stage is over, and of course, although we may expect and must guard against complications, there is no reason why the child should not do well as far as that is concerned, but the state of the throat is the real anxiety. I do not like to suggest such a terrible operation as tracheotomy, but if the child does not get relief before long, I fear there is no help for it, and it must be performed."
Dorothy bent down and examined the little patient carefully.
"I have had a good deal of experience in these cases," she said, after a pause, "and have found "—she mentioned a certain remedy which could be inhaled—"work wonders, especially in the cases of children."
"I have not heard of it," said Dr. Staunton, knitting his brows in anxiety, "but it sounds simple, and I see no harm in trying it."
"It is very simple," said Dorothy. "I should like to try it."
The child moaned and tossed on her pillow.
The doctor went out of the room to prepare the medicine which the nurse had recommended, and Dorothy called one of the frightened servants to her side. She told her that she meant to take the child up and walk about the room with her in her arms.
"While she is out of bed I will have the windows closed," said the nurse, "and of course she must be well wrapped up in blankets. She may drop off to sleep again in my arms; anyhow, the change of position and the slight movement will be most refreshing to her. Will you make the bed and put on clean sheets while I am walking about with the child?"
The girl promised to obey.
"It is very infectious, ain't it, miss?" she said suddenly.
"It is in God's hands," replied the nurse.
There was a sound in her voice, a sort of thrill of strength, which subjugated the girl at once, and made her forget her fears. She obeyed the nurse's directions with a will; and when, in an hour's time, Dr. Staunton returned with the remedy which Nurse Dorothy had suggested, he scarcely knew the sickroom.
The little child had been laid back again in bed. Her long hair was combed away from her pale, worn face, Dorothy had plaited it neatly; the little face was washed, and looked almost cool compared with its old flushed and weary condition. The bed was neat, and in perfect order, with snowy sheets. The tired little head rested on a cool pillow. Dorothy and the maid had removed the carpets from the floor, and the room was sprinkled with a disinfectant. Two of the windows were open, and a faint sweet breath of air from the garden outside blew into the room.
"Why, nurse, this is an admirable change," said the doctor.
"It is necessary," replied Nurse Dorothy. "There is no chance of recovery without fresh air and a cool, quiet, calm atmosphere. I think Rhoda"—she looked at the servant as she spoke—"will help me with this case, and I should like as few other people as possible in the room. I have promised Mrs. Harvey to call her if there is any change for the worse in the child, but my impression is she will soon be better."
"God grant it!" said the doctor.
"What a blessing a good, properly-trained nurse is!" he thought, as he went off to the room which had been prepared for him, and where he was glad to take an hour or two of much-needed rest.
All through the long hours of that day Dorothy watched by the sick child. The child was on the Borderland. Her life hung in the balance—a feather's weight on either side and she would go to the country from which there is no return, or she would become well again. Dorothy's efforts were directed to turning the balance in the scale toward life.
Notwithstanding all her care, however, and all the alleviations which she used, the sick child suffered and moaned terribly. The awful state of the throat, the terrible prostration caused by this form of blood poisoning, were no light foes to have to beat and conquer. But unceasing care presently produced a happy result, and toward evening the high temperature went down a couple of degrees, and the child's breathing became less difficult.
"I believe she will recover," said Dorothy, looking at Dr. Staunton, who had just come into the room. "I hope you agree with me, doctor, in thinking that she is rather better?"
"Yes," replied the doctor, "she is better; she is less feverish, and her breathing is easier. You have done wonders already."
"What happy news for her poor mother! I am so glad that I can tell her that the child is really better," said Dorothy. "I want to induce her to give the little creature altogether into my care for the present, and not to come near her again unless a change for the worse should set in. I hear Mrs. Harvey stirring now in the next room, so she may be in at any moment. May I speak to her, doctor? Do you give me leave to tell her that her child is on the mend, and that you would rather she kept out of the room?"
"I would do anything in the world to keep her out of the room," said the doctor. "Yes, I give you full leave to say what you please. You would have more influence with her than I should have. I am almost as great a stranger to her as you are. Use your strongest influence, nurse—do what you can. I believe in you. I am sure she will do the same."
"I'll go into the day nursery and wash my hands before I see Mrs. Harvey," said Dorothy.
She was scarcely a moment away. In a couple of minutes she was standing by Mrs. Harvey's bed.
Exhausted by her days and nights of watching, the tired-out mother had slept all through the long hours of the day. She opened her eyes now with a start. Healing sleep had done wonders for her—the dewy look of youth had come back to her face; her beautiful blue eyes were fixed for a moment on Dorothy with a puzzled expression of non-recognition.
"Where am I? What has happened?" she asked in a startled voice.
"You have just had a lovely sleep," said Dorothy. "You'll be all the better for it."
"And who are you? I cannot quite collect my thoughts—I know something has happened. Who are you? I cannot remember you."
"I am the nurse who is taking care of your dear little girl. She is better."
"Oh, yes, now I remember," said Mrs. Harvey. She sat up in bed and clasped her hands tightly.
"It was wrong of me to sleep so long," she said, "but I won't be a moment getting dressed; I must go back to the child at once."
"Will you come to your room?" said Dorothy. "You can change your dress there. I know Mr. Harvey is most anxious that you should dine with him this evening."
"Dine with my husband!—have dinner? But Freda is ill; she is at death's door."
"She is ill undoubtedly, but she is better; she is on the mend. I am taking good care of her. Don't you trust me?"
"Oh, yes, I trust you; but I must go back to her. Don't talk to me of dinner; I could not eat. Is it really evening? Oh, now I remember everything—at last I remember! We have been in agony. We have lived through such a week. We have been down in the depths, truly. Yes, yes, I recollect it all—my little child, my only little child, my darling, my treasure! Oh, nurse, you should not have allowed me to sleep on all day, you should have called me; she may have been wanting me. But you say she is better—better; but perhaps Dr. Staunton—oh, I am frightened! Are you keeping anything from me? Oh, my head, my poor head! I shall go mad; I shall lose my senses."
"No, dear Mrs. Harvey," said Dorothy; "I have good news for you, not bad. Freda is really better—she is less feverish, and her throat does not hurt her so badly. I don't pretend that she is yet out of danger, but if she continues to improve as she has done during the last seven or eight hours, she will be out of danger before long. Now I want you to take care of yourself and to trust your child to me."
"Oh, I cannot give the child up to anyone. You must not keep me from her another moment. I am not a bit hungry, but I'll have something to eat in her room if you'll bring it to me. How awfully my darling must have missed me!—she is such a child for her mother. Let me go to her at once—my dear little treasure!"
"Dr. Staunton is very anxious that you should not go to her to-night."
"How can he dare to keep a mother from her child? Here, give me my dress, will you? I tell you that nothing will keep me from the room. I am sure you are deceiving me."
"Do you really think I would deceive you?" said Dorothy. "Before you went to sleep you promised to trust me. Look at me now—look into my eyes. I have nursed a great many sick children—I have seen many mothers in agony—I have never deceived one. When the truth was good I have told it; when it was bad I have also told it. I am not deceiving you, Mrs. Harvey."
Poor Mrs. Harvey's dazed and frightened eyes gazed into Dorothy's strong face. Its repose, its calm, impressed her. She was in an overstrung and highly hysterical state. She burst into tears.
"I do trust you, nurse," she said, with a great sob. "I trust you, and I bless you. I know my dear little one is better. Oh, thank God; thank the great and good God! But, dear nurse, I must go to her. You are tired, and I am quite rested and refreshed. I'll spend the night with the child, and you can go to bed."
"No, dear madam; I cannot resign the care of the child to anyone. I am using a certain remedy in the form of a spray which no one in this house understands but me. If that remedy—which has made the child better—is not continued unceasingly during the whole of this night, her throat will get as bad as ever, and there will be no hope of her recovery. I want you, Mrs. Harvey, to sleep to-night, and leave the child in my care, I wish this, and the doctor wishes it, and I am sure, if you asked your husband, he would tell you that he wished the same. You are not required to do anything for little Freda, and it is your duty to take care of yourself. If she gets worse, I promise to come for you—I promise this, Mrs. Harvey. Now, will you go to your room and dress, and then go downstairs and have some dinner? In the morning I expect to have splendid news for you."
Mrs. Harvey clasped her hands in perplexity and uncertainty.
"It is dreadful to keep a mother from her child," she said; "and yet—and yet——"
"And yet in this case it is right," said Dorothy. "You must remember that you have not only Freda to think of. There is your husband, and——"
"Oh, yes, I know; there is my poor little unhappy baby, but I cannot love it as I love Freda."
"Still you owe it a duty. It is not right of you to do anything to risk its life or your own. When it comes to you, you will see how dearly you love it. Now, please, let me take you to your room."
"But may I not take one peep at my little treasure?"
"She is asleep just now, and you may wake her. Please let me take you to your room."
Mrs. Harvey staggered to her feet.
"I trust you, nurse," she said, with a wistful sort of look. "You will remember your promise?"
"I will; nothing in the world will make me go back from my word. Now, come with me."
Dorothy led Mrs. Harvey away. They walked down the corridor together. The nurse opened a baize door, which shut away the nurseries from the rest of the house, and a moment later found herself standing in Mrs. Harvey's luxurious bedroom. Her maid was there, and Dorothy asked her to help her mistress to dress.
"What dress will you wear, madam?" asked the girl.
"Anything—it doesn't matter what," replied Mrs. Harvey.
"Yes, it matters a great deal," said Dorothy. "You ought to wear a pretty dress; I think it is your duty to do so. You have got to think of the Squire. Nothing will please him and reassure him more than to see you coming down to dinner looking bright and pretty in one of your nice dresses."
"Really, nurse, you amaze me"—began Mrs. Harvey, but then the shadow of a smile crept into her eyes. "I don't think you would talk like that if you did not really think Freda would get well," she exclaimed suddenly.
"My impression is that she will get well," replied Dorothy, "Now, please put on one of your pretty dresses."
"That pink dress with the lace ruffles, Martin," said Mrs. Harvey, turning to the maid. She got up as she spoke, walked across the room, and put her arms round Dorothy's white neck.
"You are a very brave woman," she said. "You are someone to lean on. It rests me to lean on you—I love you already."
"And I love you," said Dorothy in her simple, direct fashion. "God has given you to me to take care of just now, and I fully believe that your sweet little girl will be spared to you. Now, I see you are going to be very brave and good yourself, and I'll go back to the child. I ought not to be too long away from her."
All through the night that followed, the nurse persevered in the remedies which were slowly but surely undermining the awful blood poisoning. Slowly but surely, as the hours advanced, the fell disease lost its power, the choking sensation grew less and less in the throat, the horrible fungus-like membrane became absorbed, and the child, exhausted, worn to a little shadow, dropped toward morning into a peaceful and natural sleep.
"From my heart, I believe I have conquered," thought Dorothy. She sank on her knees by the bedside. She felt worn-out herself. Never before had she nursed a case like this. Never before had she gone through such a hand-to-hand fight with death. The child was far gone when she arrived. The diphtheria was particularly acute, and the poor little frame was already terribly weakened by the sharp attack of scarlet fever.
"Another twelve hours, and nothing would have saved her," murmured Dorothy. "Oh, I thank Thee, my God!—I thank Thee for this mercy! Oh, what a joy it is to feel that I can give this child back to her mother!"
Dorothy remained by the bedside. Her head was bowed on her hands. Someone touched her on her shoulder—she looked up, and met the keen eyes of Dr. Staunton. He was looking dreadfully pale and tired himself.
"See," said Dorothy, rising and pointing to the child, "she is not feverish now, she sleeps sweetly."
"She will recover," said the doctor. "Thank the Almighty!"
"I believe she will certainly recover," replied Dorothy.
"It is your doing, nurse."
"With God's blessing," she answered, bowing her head.
The doctor asked her one or two more questions.
"Now, the thing is, to keep up her strength," said Dorothy in conclusion. "She must have every imaginable form of nourishment. But that can be done, for I mean to undertake the management of her food myself. Please, Dr. Staunton, will you tell Mrs. Harvey the good news that her child is out of danger?"
"Yes," said the doctor; "but ought not that to be your own reward?"
"No, no; I don't want to go near her. I wish you to do all in your power to keep her from the room. I believe that when she knows that her child is really on the mend she will be guided by your wishes and those of her husband. I have a kind of feeling,—I may be wrong, of course,—but I have a kind of feeling that God will stay His hand in this matter, and that the plague will not spread. Now, the thing is to think of the mother. I suppose you will attend to her when her baby is born?"
"She has asked me to do so."
"Then, don't you think," said Dorothy, after a pause for reflection,—"don't you think you might leave little Freda to me? I am willing to be shut up in this part of the house with the child and one of the maids, a girl called Rhoda, who has been most helpful to me during the last twenty-four hours. If you are wanted, doctor, you are on the spot; but, unless there is occasion, don't you think it would be best for you not to come into this room?"
"It would be certainly the safest course as regards the mother," pursued the doctor in a thoughtful tone. "You are a wonderful woman, nurse. I'll go and consult the Squire."
One day, a week after the events related in the last chapter, Dr. Staunton suddenly walked into the little parlor where Effie and her mother were sitting together.
Effie sprang up at sight of him. Some needlework over which she had been busy fell to the floor. A rush of color came into her cheeks.
"Oh, father, father!" she exclaimed, "how delightful it is to see you again! Oh, how glad we are! Is little Freda really better? How is Mrs. Harvey? And—have you come back to stay, father?"
"I can't answer such a lot of questions all together, child," said the doctor, with a smile. "Yes, I have come home to stay. The fact is, I am tired out, and simply with doing nothing. Ever since that blessed angel of a woman, Dorothy Fraser, came to The Grange, there has been little or nothing for me to do. Yes, that's a fact; I am worn-out with doing nothing. I should like a cup of tea beyond anything. Make it strong for me, my dear—strong and fragrant."
"The kettle is boiling," said Effie. "I won't be a minute. Oh, it is delightful to have you back!" She ran out of the room, shutting the door softly behind her.
Dr. Staunton went over and sat on the sofa by his wife.
"At last, my darling," he said, putting his arms round her, "I am safe back again. You see that for yourself, thank God."
"Thank God, John," replied Mrs. Staunton. "I have missed you," she repeated.
She held out both her thin hands. The doctor put his own strong, sinewy hands round them. He clasped them tightly.
"Oh, how hot you are!" she said, starting back and looking anxiously at him. "Your fingers almost burn me."
"I am simply tired, that's all," he replied,—"tired out with doing nothing. I don't believe The Grange is a wholesome place; it is big and grand and richly furnished, but the air does not suit me. I suspect there is something wrong with the drains. The drains are probably at the root of all this mischief to poor little Freda, but let us forget all that now. Let me look at you, wife. How are you? Why, you look bonnie, bonnie!"
He stretched out his hand and passed it gently over his wife's faded cheek. "I have been thinking of you morning, noon, and night," he said. "You have never been out of my thoughts for a moment, you and the children—that dear little Effie in particular, but the other children too. I had time to pause and consider during those days of waiting at The Grange, and I could not help remembering that, if anything happened to me, there were five children unprovided for—five children, and you, Mary, with the strength of a mouse in you."
"That's all you know," replied Mrs. Staunton, with a little show of spirit. "I am better; I have made wonderful progress during the last few days. You can't think what a good nurse Effie has been—the most considerate, the most thoughtful, the most kind and clever darling you can possibly imagine. She manages the whole house; our servants would do anything for her, and the children love her so much that it is a pleasure to them to obey her. She has that wonderful and invaluable knack in a woman, she never teases or worries; she just contrives to turn people round her little finger, without their knowing anything about it themselves. But now don't let us talk any more about Effie and me. I want to hear your news. How is Mrs. Harvey? How has she borne the death of her poor little baby?"
"It lived just two hours after its birth," said the doctor, with a sad look on his face. "The shock the poor mother underwent evidently had some effect upon it. Well, she is getting on splendidly—she seemed to know from the first that her poor little baby would not live, but as Freda is doing so well, not a murmuring word has passed her lips. She is a sweet young woman, and I am thankful to say I don't believe she took a scrap of infection from poor little Freda."
"And the little one; is she continuing to get better?"
"She is doing magnificently—thanks to that fine creature, Dorothy Fraser. I never came across such a woman. If you only saw, Mary, the state of hopeless confusion, of pandemonium—for it really amounted to that—of that wretched house the morning Miss Fraser arrived; if you could only have seen the condition of the sickroom, and then have gone into it two hours later, why, it was like stepping from the infernal regions into paradise. The order of the sickroom seemed to affect the whole house. The servants ceased to be in a state of panic, the meals were properly cooked, the Squire came back to his normal condition, and Mrs. Harvey became quite cheerful. In short, except for the loss of her poor little one, she seems to have had no ill effects from the terrible strain she has undergone. Little Freda is making rapid marches toward recovery, and I do not at present see the slightest trace of the disease spreading through the house."
"Have you seen Freda often?" asked Mrs. Staunton.
"No; that good soul simply forbade it—I was like wax in her hands. Of course her reason was a very legitimate one, or I should not have submitted to it, for it would not have been safe for me to have attended to Mrs. Harvey coming straight from the child's room. All is now going on well at The Grange, and I can come home and rest."
"I wish you did not look so dreadfully worn out," said Mrs. Staunton.
"Oh, the home air will soon pull me together. Heigh-ho! here you come, my good angel, and the tea is more than welcome."
The doctor sank back in his deep armchair.
Effie placed the fragrant tea on the table, and, pouring out a cup, brought it to her father. She had made crisp toast as well, but he did not care to eat.
"Thank you, child," he said; "I am not hungry. The meals up at that place are preposterous—nothing short of preposterous. There is no doubt whatever that far more people die from eating too much than from eating too little. I wonder the Squire has a scrap of digestion left—heavy meat breakfasts, heavy meat luncheons, and then a groaning dinner at the end of the day. Such meals, and practically nothing to do for them!—for what has a man of that sort to occupy his time beyond what one would call fiddle-faddle? Well, this tea is refreshing; I will go for a walk afterward. And now tell me, Effie, have you heard anything about my patients?"
"Mr. Edwards called this morning, and said they were all doing well," said Effie. "The little Beels have got whooping-cough, but I do not think anyone else is ill. Of course poor Mrs. Watson is much as usual, but hers is a chronic case."
"Ah, yes, poor soul,"—the doctor gave an apprehensive glance toward his wife. "I cannot call to see Mrs. Watson for a day or two," he said; "not that there is the least scrap of infection, for I changed everything before I came home, but in her state it would not do to make her feel nervous. Well, wife and daughter, it is good to see you both again; and now I am going out for a stroll."
The doctor left the room. Effie stood by the table. She was putting back his empty cup on the tray, and preparing to take the things into the kitchen, when her mother spoke.
"What is the matter with your father?" she said in a husky voice.
Effie slightly turned her back. "He is just tired," she answered; "that's all."
"Put down that tray, Effie, and come here," said her mother.
"Yes, mother," she said. "Now, mother darling, you are not going to get nervous?"
"No, no, I am not nervous," said Mrs. Staunton,—her lips trembled slightly,—"I am not nervous. Nothing shall make me show nervousness or weakness of any sort in a time of real extremity. But, Effie, child, I know something."
"What in the world do you know, mother?" Effie tried to smile.
"Your father is ill. The unimportant people have escaped, but he has taken this complaint. He is ill, Effie—I know it."
"Now, mother, is that likely?" said Effie. "Father comes home tired, he has gone through a great deal of anxiety—has he not all his life been exposed to infection of all kinds? Why should he be ill now? Besides, if he were ill, he would say so. Mother, darling, I cannot listen to this kind of talk."
"All right, my dear, I will say no more. It sometimes happens so, Effie. Lives we think of no account are spared—spared on indefinitely. The one life on which so many others hang is taken."
"Mother, I do not understand you."
"I understand myself," said Mrs. Staunton. "I know what I fear. Nay, I do not fear it—I rise up with strength to meet it. You will see, Effie, dear, that your mother is no coward in any real danger."
"You are a dear," said Effie. "You are the best and most unselfish mother in the world. I feel ashamed of myself when I see how bravely you struggle against the weakness and the anxiety which must be yours, more or less, always. But now, mother, dear, you will not look trouble in the face before it comes—you will not meet it halfway. If you are really better, come out into the garden, and we will take a turn before dinner."
"Very well, my dear."
"I want to show you the sweet-peas that have come up in the south border," continued Effie. "Come, let us talk of pleasant things, and be cheerful when father comes home."
"Oh, I will be perfectly cheerful," said Mrs. Staunton.
She went into the good-sized garden at the back of the little cottage, and began with nervous, energetic fingers to pick some flowers, and to arrange them in a big nosegay.
"We will put these in the center of the supper-table," she said. "I should like to have everything as bright and cheerful as possible for your father to-night."
"Yes, that's capital," said Effie.
"We ought to have something particularly good for him to eat, Effie."
"But, mother, he said he wasn't hungry. You remember how he complained of having so many meals at The Grange."
"Yes, yes, he always was a most abstemious man; but I know what he never can resist, and that is cold raspberry tart and cream. There are plenty of raspberries ripe in the plantation—I will gather some, and I'll make the pastry for the tart myself."
"Very well, mother; but is it well for you to fag yourself picking those raspberries, and then making the tart?"
"I want to make it—I should love to make it. I used to be famed for my pastry. My mother used to say, 'You have a light hand for pastry, Mary.' I remember so well when I made my first tart. I was just fifteen—it was my fifteenth birthday. Mother showed me how to do it; and I remember how the water ran all over the pastry-board. Afterward I was the best hand at pastry in the house. Yes, I'll make the tart myself. Here is sixpence, Effie; run to the dairy and get some cream. And listen, love, as you go through the house you might tell Jane to get the pastry-board ready."
"All right, mother, I'll tell her to put it in the larder. You must not go into the hot kitchen to make that tart."
"Very well, child, I'll remember. Now run and get the cream."
Effie left her mother standing by the raspberry plantation. She was pulling the ripe raspberries and dropping them into a large cabbage leaf which she held. Her slender but weak figure was drawn up to its full height. There was a look of nervous energy about her which Effie had not observed for many a long day. The curious phase into which her mother had entered had an alarming effect upon the young girl. It frightened her far more than her father's look of lassitude and the burning touch of his hands. She tried to turn her thoughts from it. After all, why should she become nervous herself, and meet trouble halfway?
She went across the village street, and entering the pretty dairy, asked for the cream.
"Is it true, Miss Staunton, that the doctor has come back again?" asked the woman of the shop, as she handed her the jug of cream across the counter.
"Yes, Mrs. Pattens, it is quite true," replied Effie. "There's good news now at The Grange. Mrs. Harvey is doing splendidly, and little Freda is nearly well again."
"Well, it is a good thing the doctor can be spared," said the woman; "we want him bad enough here, and it seemed cruel-like that he should have been sort of buried alive at The Grange."
"He is only able to be spared now," said Effie, "because he has secured the services of a very wonderful nurse."
"Oh, one of the Fraser girls," said the woman, in a tone of contempt—"those newcomers, who have not been settled in the place above a year. For my part, I don't hold with lady-nurses. I am told they are all stuck-up and full of airs, and that they need a sight more waiting on than the patients themselves. When you get a lady-nurse into the house you have to think more of the nurse than of the patient, that's what I am told."
"It is not true," replied Effie, her eyes flashing angrily—"at least," she continued, "it is not true in the case of Nurse Fraser. You must get my father to talk to you about her some day. I am afraid I haven't time to spare now. Good-evening, Mrs. Pattens."
Effie went home with her jug of cream. Mrs. Staunton was still in the larder making the raspberry tart. Effie went and watched her, as her long thin fingers dabbled in the flour, manipulated the roller, spread out the butter, and presently produced a light puff paste, which, as Effie expressed it, looked almost as if you could blow it away.
"That's the best raspberry tart I have ever made," said Mrs. Staunton. "Now we will put it in the oven."
The raspberry tart was put in the oven, and Mrs. Staunton went upstairs to her own room.
She was a woman, who, as a rule, utterly disregarded dress. She gave but little thought to her personal appearance. Like many other women of the middle class, she had sunk since her marriage from the trim, pretty girl to the somewhat slatternly matron.
Nothing could destroy the sweet comeliness of her face, however, but in the struggle for life she and Fashion had fallen out—Fashion went in one direction, and Mrs. Staunton strayed gently in another. She did not mind whether her dress was cut according to the mode or not—she scarcely looked at her faded but still pretty face. Now and then this trait in her mother's character vexed Effie. Effie adored her mother, she thought her the most beautiful of women, and anything that took from her sweet charms annoyed her.
This evening, however, Mrs. Staunton made a careful and deliberate toilet.
She removed her dowdy black dress, and, opening a drawer in her wardrobe, took out a soft gray silk which lay folded between tissue paper and sprigs of lavender. She put the dress on, and fastened soft lace ruffles round her throat and at her wrists. The dress transformed her. It toned with all her faded charms. She put a real lace cap over her still thick and pretty hair, and, going down to the little parlor, sat upright on one of the chairs near the window which looked into the garden.
Effie came in presently, and started when she saw her mother.
"Why, mother," she said, "how sweet, how sweet you look!" She went over and kissed her. Mrs. Staunton returned her embrace very quietly.
"It is for your father," she said. "He would like me to look nice—I am sure he'd like us all to look nice to-night. Go upstairs, Effie, dear, and put on your pretty blue muslin. And you, Agnes, I wish you to wear your Sunday frock."
Agnes, who had bounded into the room at this moment, stopped short in astonishment.
"Are we all going to a party?" she asked, excitement in her tone.
"No, no; but your father has come home."
"Only father! what does that matter?" Agnes lolled on to the sofa and crossed her legs. "I want to read over my lecture for the High School. I can't be bothered to change my dress!" she exclaimed.
"Yes, Aggie, go at once when mother wishes you," said Effie. "Go and put on your Sunday frock, and tell Katie to do the same, and ask Susan to put the younger children into their white dresses. Go at once; mother wishes it."
Agnes flung herself out of the room, muttering.
Effie looked again at her mother.
She did not notice her, she was smiling softly to herself, and looking out at the garden. Effie felt her heart sink lower and lower.
She went gravely upstairs, put on her blue dress, brushed out her bright dark hair, and, looking her sweetest and freshest, came downstairs again. Mrs. Staunton was still sitting by the window. Her cheeks were flushed, her eyes were unusually bright. She looked twenty years younger than she had done two hours ago—she looked beautiful. The soul seemed to shine out of her face. When Effie came in, she stood up restlessly and looked at the supper table.
"Yes," she said, "it is just as he likes it—the fragrant coffee, the raspberry tart and the jug of cream, the new-laid eggs, the brown loaf and the fresh butter. A simple sort of meal—yes, quite simple and very wholesome. Very homelike, that's the word. Effie, there never was such a homelike sort of man as your father. Give him home and you fill his heart. This supper table is just what he will like best. He does not care for new-fangled things. He is old-fashioned—he is the best of men, Effie, the best of men."
"He will be glad to see you in your nice dress, mother—he is so proud of you—he thinks you are so lovely."
"So I am in his eyes," said Mrs. Staunton in a wistful voice. "I am old-fashioned like himself, and this dress is old-fashioned too. It was a pretty dress when it was made up. Let me see, that was twelve years ago—we went to Margate for a week, and he bought me the dress. He took great pains in choosing the exact shade of gray; he wanted it to be silver gray—he said his mother used to wear silver gray when she sat in the porch on summer evenings. Yes, this dress is like a piece of old lavender—it reminds me of the past, of the sunny, happy past. I have had such a happy life, Effie—never a cross word said, never a dour look given me. Love has surrounded me from the moment of my marriage until now. I feel young to-night, and I am going to be happy, very happy. The children must look their best too. Run up, darling, to the nursery and see that Susan is doing them justice—they are pretty children every one of them, worthy of your father. Now, let me see, would not a few roses improve this table? That great jug of sweet peas in the middle is just what he likes, but we might have roses and mignonette as well. I'll go and gather a bunch of those Banksia roses which grow in front of the house."
"You'll tire yourself, mother. Let me go."
"No; I never felt stronger than I do to-night. I'd like to pick them myself."
Mrs. Staunton went out of doors. She cut great sprays from the Banksia rose and brought them back with her. She placed them in a brown jug, and stood the jug on the table. Then she opened both windows wide, and left the door ajar. There was the sweetest smell wafted through the room—the sweet peas, roses, mignonette, seemed to be floating in the air.
The children all came down dressed in their Sunday frocks. They looked puzzled, uncomfortable, awed. One and all asked the same question:
"Is it a party, mother? Are any visitors coming to tea?"
"No. No!" replied the mother to each in his or her turn. "It is only your father who has come home, and it is right that we should give him a welcome."
When she had answered the last of the children, Dr. Staunton entered the room.
He started at the pretty sight which met his eyes. The room and the temptingly laid out supper table—the children in their best dresses—the old wife in her gray silk—looked to him the most beautiful sight his eyes had ever rested on.
What was all this festival about?—he drew himself up hastily—a sort of shudder went through him. In spite of his efforts his voice was terribly husky.
"Are we going to have company?" he asked, with a twinkle in his eyes. All the other eyes looked back at him—he knew perfectly well even before the children burst out with the news, that he himself was the company.
"You have come back, father, and mother says we are to look our very best," exclaimed little Phil.
"All right, Phil, I am more than agreeable," replied the doctor. "Now you must excuse me, good folk. I am bound in duty to do honor to all this company splendor, by washing my hands and putting on my Sunday-go-to-meeting coat."