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always fit for conversation, and when he was, was not willing to dispense with Wilmet's presence; and it was necessary at last to come to, 'I want to speak to you before she comes back;' and then, having calmed the restless eye that watched for her, the Librarian explained the necessities that called him home: and these were fully appreciated by the Major, who owned that it had been much to have had him for these six weeks, but therewith came a look of alarm, and the exclamation, 'Oh, but how about her?'
'She does not think of leaving you. We must consider how to arrange for her.'
'Has not Clement finished his terms? franked out?'
Could not he be
'Is there not a simpler way? John, nothing would make me so happy as to leave that dear girl your wife.'
'But you go before the New Year. Father, it is not to be thought of,' he said, with a nervous movement of his right hand, which he could now partially use.
'There is no reason that I should not marry you as you lie there. She would consent.'
'Dearest she would consent to anything she thought good for me, but the more reason that it cannot be thought of. Look at the wreck I am, and the glorious creature she is.'
'She would not accept that objection.'
'The more need that I should. Even if this place in my side do not, as I expect from day to day, gangrene and make an end of it at once, it can hardly be expected that there will not be some contraction or distortion to make an object of me.'
'Does Chenu tell you this?' asked his father, who had never had the chances so plainly set before him.
'No. Chenu does as well as any one can; but he has not the gift of foresight, and there is no use in taxing his French complaisance by asking questions that no one can answer,' he answered, with quiet calm and patience that almost overcame his father.
I did not think you were so despondent,' he said.
'I do not think I am despondent,' was the reply; 'I feel as if I had only to lie here and wait my orders from above. I suppose
weakness and sedatives blunt the feelings, for I do not regret all that might have been, as I should have thought I should-nay, as I did, in one night of fever in India. I can only feel thankfulness for intervals like this, and the blessing of having you both with me again. Father, I would not have spoken out, but that I thought you knew it better than I.'
'So I do so I ought, my dear boy; but I cannot cease to hope that your having been so far given back to us is an earnest that God will entirely restore you.'
'That may be yet, but in the uncertainty, it hardly seems right to take advantage of my darling's devotion to bring on her so terrible a blight in her youth and loveliness. Sending her home a widow, Father!'
'Poor child! There would be little difference in her grief; and you should take into consideration that even so, you would leave her freed from the necessity of working at that school.'
'I could do that, without injustice to Will and the girls; and there would be a pension besides,' said John thoughtfully; and his father ventured to add—
'Indeed, I think if your recovery were as partial as you would have me apprehend, it would still only be a matter of time.'
'She would have her eyes open,' said John; but he thought long before he spoke again. 'I cannot trust myself to think of it! It is so great a temptation! My Wilmet! my darling! to waste her strong young life on me!'
Mr. Harewood said no more. He had experience enough to believe such things worked themselves out without interposition; and he would have regarded it as compromising Wilmet's dignity and confidence alike to mention her words. He left the room when she returned, but nothing resulted. John was restless and uncomfortable; and Wilmet, thinking he had heard all, and deemed her forward, was unhappy, and would have become shy, if his perturbation had not brought on feverishness; and that as usual inflamed the hurts into such acute pain, that the doctor gave a stronger opiate than had been needed of late, but which at first only produced distress, moaning, and wandering. They were more anxious about him that night and all the next day, than they had been for more than a week; and only towards the second
morning did he become tranquil enough to fall into slumber, which lasted so late into the following day, that Wilmet, after being up all night, was persuaded to lie down during the noonday heat, when she had seen his sleep become more natural, and the distressful expression relax on his countenance.
She lay on her bed in a kind of waking doze, sad, anxious, and vexed at what she thought the consequence of the proposal into which she had been betrayed, feeling desolate, and dreading as much as she desired a summons to return.
Sister Hedwige did not call her till she had had more refreshing sleep than perhaps she was aware of; and then, when she came softly into the room, his eyes shone wistfully into hers, and she knelt down by him to stroke back that stiff sandy hair of his, and cool his brow with her freshly-washed hand. He lifted his as far as he could, inviting her to clasp it; his eyes again looked into hers, and a smile came out upon his face. My father has put a very wonderful thing into my head,' he said; then, as the lovely colour deepened on her cheek, 'can it be so, Wilmet?'
In her own calm way she answered, 'Do you not think it will be the best way ?'
For me? No doubt of that, my dearest, sweetest, best darling!' and the feeble force of his fingers somehow caused her brow to bend down to his fervent kiss. 'You look as lovely asno, ten times lovelier than you did on the stile when you scolded me for telling you so. Why don't you now?'
'Because I am glad my face is a pleasure to you,' she said, glowing, so as to deserve his words, in spite of the effects of her long vigil.
Ah! sick people are privileged to be foolish to their heart's content. But, Wilmet, let us be wise for once. This must not be, till you have counted the cost.' And he repeated what he had said to his father of the likelihood of permanent effects being left. 'You would want me all the more,' she said.
'I should want all the more to be with you.'
Again he smiled fondly on her. And more, my love. How easily I may be a little worse than yesterday, and then you would have to go home alone.'
'These things are for always,' said Wilmet; and the tears she had resolved against came in crystal veils over her eyes, and it was vain to squeeze them out.
'I am conquered,' said John, half quaintly, because he was afraid of emotion. 'Here is a hand, at least! My father must manage the rest. I can only be the most glad and thankful of men. Love, this is worth it all!' as she tenderly smoothed his hair with her soft hand in the way he liked so well.
'And oh! how nice it will be as you get better !'
'I can believe I shall, much more than I have hitherto done,' returned he. Then after a happy pause, while she still stroked his head, and they looked into one another's faces with hearts swelling with unspoken prayers, he added, 'But of one thing I must and will be sure-of your brother's free consent.'
She was so sure of it herself, that she only smiled at him; but his was a sort of soldierly punctilio that forbade the profiting by her devotion without the sanction of her family, and his father supported him in it, and wrote from his dictation, detailing the provision which he was making for Wilmet in case of his death and begging for a reply by telegraph, since there was not time for Mr. Harewood to wait for an answer by post, then signing it, with great effort, with three crooked initials.
There could be no doubt as to the answer; and Wilmet went about her preparations with her own peculiar modest dignity. The 'belle Mees' had been a marvel to the French part of the community ever since M. le docteur had shrugged his amazement at une grande Anglaise magnifique, mais blonde et fade, coming out instead of a professional garde malade, and then found by experience that her hand and head, her nerve and gentleness, equalled those of the most skilful sœur with whom he had ever been thrown. And when it slowly dawned on him what were her relations with the Major, his wonder at English institutions knew no bounds. He would have adored her beauty, which grew on him as something marvellous, if he had not been a little afraid of anything so lofty and so still, and so incapable of airy chatter, as he found her at the table d'hôte. She produced on him something of the effect of the Pallas of the Parthenon, come across from Athens to undertake his patient, or the goddess Neith as
John sometimes called her, when he lay watching her swift needle.
The Deaconess understood her better. Wilmet was much more nearly the stately Teutonic maiden than the Grecian divinity; and Sister Hedwige had had her days of romance, and beheld a Velleda in the noble, self-possessed, helpful woman, who was equal to any of the Fliedner disciples in resource and firmness. The German mind, too, appreciated the betrothal tie; and when Wilmet, who had grown very fond of the kindly, homely Schwesterchen, consulted her about sending to Alexandria for the bridal white that must not be denied to John's eyes, she wept with joy, promised the willing aid of the Deaconess' establishment in procuring all she needed, and, moreover, a wreath from the myrtle they nourished in memory of home.
Wilmet's commission was not needed. She found one of the big boxes that had been in use as tables and seats opened; and Zadok diving into it under the Major's directions, and turning out parcels innumerable, among which appeared a snowy mass of India muslin, exquisitely fine and covered with delicate embroidery.
'There, Wilmet, you know what that is for.'
And with all the good-will in the world, Madame Spiridione volunteered French counsel in the cutting out, and Sister Hedwige German needling in the making; and Zadok, sitting cross-legged at the door, proved himself equal to any sewing-machine, and worked faster and better than either of the European nationalities, as indeed he was the son of a dirjee, or embroiderer-man, and had learnt some of his trade, though educated at a Mission school.
Dr. Chenu half despised, half envied the convenience of being married without the production of the registers of baptism, or the consent of either of the mayors or the commanding-officer, and a mere telegram, 'With all my heart,' from the elder brother; but still, Mr. Harewood was obliged to make an expedition to Cairo to arrange the formalities for the registry of the marriage, for which the Consul promised to send an official. The question was whether this gentleman should act as father to the bride, whose choice otherwise lay between M. Spiridione, Dr. Chenu, and Zadok Krishnu, and who much inclined to the last mentioned; but on