- CHAPTER XIII. THE FETE.
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ALL that day Lilian felt restless and uneasy. Basil's ambiguous speech did not frighten her, but it perplexed and irritated her greatly, and it was a great relief to her when some friends dropped in during the afternoon—which, of course, is included in a fashionable morning—and talked over the coming glories of the fete. Lilian mentioned her intended departure, for she fully resolved that with Basil, or without him, she would keep the child in London no longer; and she met, as she had expected, with a host of objections, dissuasions, and raillery. But she held firm to her purpose; the light words of her gay acquaintances were powerless as summer-spray against a rock. Eleanor, only, was able to sway her determinations from good to evil.| | 141
She was engaged to a select dinner-party in the next street, but she went late and returned early, and busied herself till late at night in seeing that her maid and the nurse had made all due preparations for the Cambrian journey.
"Had Mr. Hope been home?" she asked, the last thing. The reply was in the affirmative; he had returned about seven o'clock, apparently to inspect some rods and a landing-net that had just arrived from "Farlow's," and he had left word with Tom, the page, that he should probably not be at home till the following noon, and that, consequently, no one was to sit up.
"Oh, very well!" said Lilian, quietly, as she dismissed Tom to his own regions; but her heart swelled within. her. It was enough that he absented himself without explanation the whole night, but the insult of communicating with her by a verbal arrangement with the servants was altogether intolerable. It was not a message even; she gathered that her name was not mentioned. Tom was the only person to whom Mr. Hope chose to reveal his movements.
The morning rose clear and shining. It was the very day for Mrs. Carisforth's rural breakfast. The sky quite cloudless, and yet a cool breeze to temper the fervent rays of the sun. While Lilian was idling | | 142 over the Morning Post and her cup of coffee, nurse came knocking for admittance.
"Well, nurse!" said Lilian, cheerfully, "how is your charge this beautiful morning?—you had better take him into the square-garden; but first bring him here; he always likes to see mamma before he goes out."
"Please, ma'am," said the functionary of the. nursery, with a grave face, "little master is very poorly again this morning; I have had a shocking night with him. I have been carrying him in my arms nearly ever since I undressed myself. I could not he five minutes together, be screamed so, the poor dear lamb! I'm sure, ma'am, there are no end of teeth shooting and working in his poor little gums; perhaps they ought to be lanced. I think Mr. Parker had better see him at once. I'm afraid of the responsibility. Why, bless you, ma'am, I've known lots of children took off like nothing with their teeth. All brisk in the morning, and dead at night, pretty lambs!"
"Hush, hush, nurse!" said Lilian, imploringly. "Send Tom for Mr. Parker this minute; and I will go to the nursery at once!"
She found the little boy in the housemaid's arms, for he was too fretful to he in his cot; and he certainly looked ill enough to justify nurse's alarm. He stretched out his arms, and cried "Mamma" most | | 143 piteously; and Lilian sat down and began to rock him, and sing to him, as him as she had done on the morning when Basil surprised her in the nursery. Her low musical song seemed to have a magical effect, for again the pitiful wailing ceased, the little bands were quietly folded, and the heavy eyelids closed on the flushed, feverish cheek. Baby was fast asleep when Mr. Parker came. He would not disturb him by examining his mouth; he would come again, he said, in a couple of hours; in the meantime felt his pulse, looked at his skin, and asked nurse all necessary questions.
"I will prepare some medicine immediately," he said, when all his interrogations were satisfied. "He must have it as soon as he awakes; he is very unwell, poor little fellow!"
"Is there danger?" asked Lilian.
"There is always danger with young children," said the doctor; the thread of their little lives is so frail, so uncertain! yet there is an elasticity in the infant constitution that often astonishes us medical men, and there is a resistance against the strength of disease that is truly marvellous in such tender things!"
"But in this case" urged Lilian—"in my boy's case—is there any danger?"
"My dear lady," replied Mr. Parker, " there is no danger at this moment. You have no cause to alarm | | 144 yourself as things now are; but if certain symptoms were to supervene, if convulsions were to appear, there would be the most imminent peril. I cannot say there is no reason to dread this; but I hope it may not be so. In the meantime keep him cool and quiet. Give him the medicine I shall send, without fail, and watch him carefully through the day."
Mr. Parker bade Lilian good morning. She was in a state of most uncomfortable perplexity. She would willingly have foregone this unfortunate breakfast. She had very little hankering after the gay scenes that awaited her. But then Basil would triumph. He would never believe that solicitude for the child had kept her at home. He would attribute it all to his own firmness and unswerving decision.
And yet, if the baby should be worse! if he should die during her absence! if, in his agony and weariness, he should cry "Mamma" again in those piteous accents, and no mother should be within reach to comfort and soothe him! It was a struggle, and sometimes it seemed as if Lilian's better feelings would prevail.
But the child awoke, took the prescribed medicine, and went to sleep again in his cot. The doctor did not arrive at the time he mentioned; he had been suddenly summoned to attend a dangerous and urgent case, and his assistant, who came to report progress, | | 145 declared that the young gentleman was going on very favorably. He must take another powder about four o'clock, and be placed in a warm bath at night.
So Lilian went again to the room where her snowy floating robes were duly spread out by her maid. There seemed no reason why she should stay at home, and give Basil so great a triumph. Nurse was careful, and far more experienced than herself; the cook, too, was a widow, and had been a mother, and knew all about teething, and she and nurse got on famously together.
An arrangement was made, that if the child manifested any of the unfavorable symptoms described by Mr. Parker, Tom was instantly to be despatched to Chirk Villa, and she would return home at once. At all events, she meant to leave very early; she did not mean to stay for the ball at night—she never intended that; she would be in her own house again before ten o'clock. The breakfast was fixed for four!
No Basil made his appearance. Lilian dressed, and looked "beautiful exceedingly;" but there was a shade on her face that neither sunshine, flowers, nor flattery could banish.
Chirk Villa was reached at last. The grounds were thronged with all the elite of the fashionable world, for Mrs. Carisforth and her dejeuners-champetre were the rage just then.| | 146
How brightly the sun shone! how cool were the verdurous alleys of umbrageous elms! how glittering were the fountains, and the mimic lake, on whose crystal bosom reposed the stately swans and the lovely water-lilies! And the flowers in green-house, hothouse and garden were all in perfection; exotics of gorgeous coloring and startling magnificence seemed indigenous to the soil in which they grew; unheard-of plants were clambering the lofty trellis-work of the grand conservatory; globules of snow, bells of richest rose-hue, wax-like petals of all delicate tints, leaves glossy as satin, met the eye at every glance, while the more ordinary beauties of the green-house and of the parterre were smiling in boundless profusion and perfection of bloom.
The dejeuner was spread in a large marquee, and many tents scattered among the trees, and the miniature temple, all brilliant with flowers and wreaths and Parian statuary, were thronged with guests. Lilian was welcomed by many to whom she was known, and joining a party composed of her most intimate acquaintances, she rambled over the fairy-like haunts to which she was led, with mingled wonder and delight.
It was an unanimous verdict that Mrs. Carisforth's fete was decidedly the fete of the season! Nothing had been seen like it! an imitation would be an absurdity! an impossibility!| | 147
At first Lilian felt her spirits rise to gaiety; but in a little while a shade seemed to steal over the beautiful flowers, the green sequestered glades, and the sparkling waters. The sun still shone in the calm western sky; golden lights were streaming through the thickets, and between the trunks of the tall trees; the fountains still rose and fell with their musical murmur, and the gay throng were waxing every hour more joyous and more mirthful!
The shadow was at Lilian's own heart. She had gained her end; she was at Chirk Villa, where she had declared, in spite of her husband's tyranny, she would be. But now a dark dread of his displeasure came upon her. Suppose he left her, never cared to see her face again; such might be the meaning of his words! Suppose the child were even now worse—dying—and his unnatural mother was enjoying herself at a brilliant fete!
Her superstitions became fears; her fears presentiments; agony blanched her check, and hushed her voice. She was the centre of a gay circle; some of the first men of the day paid their devoirs to the beautiful and graceful women who composed it. Her fascinating hostess was by her side, rallying her on her silence and abstraction; when on a little mound, not far off, as if seeking some one out from the throng, stood the familiar form of Tom, and with him one of | | 148 Mrs. Carisforth's servants. "There is my page," cried Lilian, impetuously—" oh, my child She sprang up, and rushed like a mad creature through the crowd, that parted instinctively at her approach.
One of her friends, a kind, elderly gentleman, offered his arm, but she burst away: she could not be trammelled now with the shadow of ceremony or etiquette. She reached the mound, and stood before Tom, panting and unable to speak; but clasping her hands in mute supplication to hear the worst immediately.
"The child was much worse, in violent convulsions; Mr. Parker was there, and he said missis must be sent for that minute!"
Lilian's carriage was not at hand; she would have sped away on foot; but the page had driven down in a cab, and it was still at the gate. They drove home at a dangerous speed; but Lilian thought the delays were innumerable, and the pace a snail's creep. At last the cab drew up. Lilian was at her own threshold; and now her heart throbbed as if she were a convicted criminal, and she feared to enter, knowing not what might greet her. The hall-door was open, and slowly, tremblingly she ascended the stairs. On the nursery landing she paused to listen, but no sound met her ear. She could bear no more suspense; she entered the room. She never forgot the scene she | | 149 beheld there—the group that were gathered round her old seat, the rocking chair. The nurse had the child in her arms; he had just been lifted from the little bath. Basil stood opposite, his face white and rigid as marble, and his eyes bent in unutterable anguish on his dying child. The cook knelt by the nurse; she was chafing the cold feet of the little sufferer, and the housemaid was weeping by the cradle. Mr. Parker stood somewhat apart, near the window; his sad looks, his passive inaction, showed that human skill was vain. Lilian came forward, and the cook sprang to her feet to make way for her mistress, and the miserable mother bent down to take her child in her arms once more. But Basil resolutely held her back, and Mr. Parker interposed. "Do not," he said, "the movement would be too much."
So she knelt down, and gently took the tiny damp hand in hers. The convulsions were over now; but life was fast ebbing; and in the fading twilight they watched the faint irregular breathing, and the changing face of the little one. At last, the, whole frame quivered; the eyes opened as if in bewilderment and surprise; the lips trembled, the white lids fluttered, and then closed. A little sob—a half drawn sigh—add there was one angel more before the throne of God!
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