- PART SECOND.
- CHAPTER XLIV. IMPRISONMENT AND REPRIEVE.
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IMPRISONMENT AND REPRIEVE.
ELSIE walked home alone; for since the Delvilles were out of the way, Silvertung did not deem it necessary to watch his step-daughter. He knew well she could not escape. It may seem strange that Elsie did not seek refuge among the apostates, or at the military camp, but the idea never entered her mind. She was so impressed with the power of the Church, its avenging power; her ideas of the elder's legal right over her actions were so exaggerated, that if a stranger had spoken to her concerning her troubles, she would have kept silent through fear. To attempt escape, alone, without money, as she once dreamed of, she felt would be worse than useless. Her town experience had taught her that. No, there was nothing left to her but to die. She was willing to die, now that Stanly was gone. Death would be freedom.
While thinking these sad thoughts, she came to a cottage from whence proceeded cries and moans as of a child in pain. She remembered that two children | | 346 at that cottage lay ill with the fever. An idea flashed through her mind--a desperate one truly; but, then she was desperate. The fever was contagious! If she took it! It would give her a reprieve of some weeks, and in that time--many things might happen. Fearful lest second thoughts might deter her from committing the rash deed, she ran into the cottage. Two children lay moaning and tossing in bed: no one was with them. Elsie approached, took their hot hands in hers, kissed the fevered lips, and hung over them, anxious to absorb the poison of disease. She left, as she had entered, unnoticed except by the little sufferers.
Elsie reached home in a very agitated condition, and she found her mother and Aunt Lucy still more agitated. The former was sobbing utterly, and the latter looked as if she would like to give some one a piece of her mind. Before Elsie could discover the trouble, the elder entered, and bade her follow him. The girl thought of the council: but it was useless to resist. She followed him in silence. He led her to a small room in the garret, politely invited her to enter, then closed the door and locked it.
Elsie was a prisoner. From outside the door her jailer informed her that he felt it his duty to drive out the bad spirit; and that solitary confinement and hunger were considered the most potent weapons. He hoped that twenty-four hours would make her a true obedient Saint. With this prayerful hope, the virtuous elder left his prisoner, whose heart grew lighter as the sound of his footsteps died away.
Imprisonment was preferable to his society, and starvation would bring death all the sooner.
The room looked liked a cell. A straw bed and a | | 347 broken chair comprised the furniture. Elsie's head throbbed with pain. She threw herself upon the straw and tried to rest. Perhaps some kindly spirit lulled her, for when she awoke the morning dawn was breaking. She felt very hungry; and as the long hours passed she could think of nothing but something to eat.
The elder did not intend to kill Elsie; and about noon he ordered Mrs. Mary to take her daughter some dry bread and a cup of water; and to report to him if the bad spirit was conquered. When he heard Mrs. Silvertung go up the stairs, he started from his chair as if a bright idea had just come to him, and he was afraid of losing it; then he followed her stealthily to the door Of the prison, and listened.
"My poor child," said Mrs. Silvertung, "how hungry you are! To think you should be obliged to eat dry bread."
"Dry bread is very good, Mother. Think how many would be glad to get it. You ought to be pleased to see I have an appetite."
"Don't talk that way; don't be so self-willed."
"O Elsie! why will you make us all suffer so much? I have been crying all the morning, and Aunt Lucy feels almost as bad as I do. Other girls have married their mother's husband, and they seem quite happy. Then the elder wants to do so well by us. You ought to be grateful. Why will you refuse? O Elsie! if you love me, obey his commands. I entreat you, obey him."
"Very good, indeed, very good. Mrs. Silvertung, I think your influence will soon make our obstinate Elsie a good Saint like yourself. I will come to-morrow, when I hope to congratulate you on your success. | | 348 You know how to manage her, for she is just like her father, and you managed him pretty well."
The elder locked the door. Elsie started to her feet indignant at the insult. Her mother sank into a chair. The elder overdid himself. His last taunt stung the woman's conscience into life. Elsie was furious; she did not care for herself, but that her mother should suffer imprisonment and hunger was more than she could bear. She vented her anger upon the Church, upon the elder; and strange to say, unchecked by her mother, who still sat mute and motionless. She was looking back into the past. She was thinking of the husband she had deceived, the home she had sacrificed; and for what? And her child condemned to misery or death! Could such horror be the will of God?
The hours passed drearily. Absorbed in their own sad thoughts, mother and daughter remained silent, for there was but little sympathy between them, and still less confidence; exchange of thought was impossible. When darkness came, the women tried to make themselves comfortable for the night; rather a difficult task with the meagre accommodations of their prison. Elsie was glad to lie down, for her head throbbed, her throat was parched, her limbs ached. At one time her blood seemed on fire, then again it crawled through her veins icy cold. Was her wish going to be realized?
The next noon brought the elder; but the bad spirit was not yet conquered. When the door of the prison closed upon them for another twenty-four hours, Mrs. Silvertung's indignation died out. She was again the timid, weak Mary Silvertung. She begged, she | | 349 implored Elsie to yield. Elsie listened apathetically: she refused to touch her dinner, saying her throat hurt her too much. Mrs Silvertung began to think that her strong-willed child had resolved to starve herself to death; and she poured forth tears, prayers and reproaches, till Elsie answered peevishly: "Let me be until to-morrow morning, Mother. I will, yes, but wait until to-morrow." Elsie uttered the words with difficulty, as if in pain; her head was so hot, her eyes heavy, and a bright spot burned in each cheek.
"You are ill, Elsie. I will make a noise, some one will come."
"No, dear mother, no; wait until to-morrow."
At dawn the next morning the household were awakened by a great noise from the garret. Mr. Silvertung, who was a little uneasy concerning the prison experiment, ran up-stairs, followed by Mrs. Lucy. They found Elsie lying on the bed flushed with fever and moaning piteously. Mrs. Lucy screamed out, "She has the fever. Oh! my children, they will catch it. Take her away from here."
"Of course," said Silvertung, "take her to her room."
"No;" said Lucy, "not there; the children will take it, I know they will catch it. Can't she go to the other house?"
"Nonsense, woman! how do you know it is the fever?"
"How do I know? Just look at her, feel her pulse."
"I will go for the doctor," said Silvertung. "But she must be taken from here."
Mrs. Lucy began again to expostulate, when Mrs. Mary begged she might take Elsie to the other house: some of the rooms were ready.
"Mother was in last night and said that everything | | 350 was done, even the fire ready to light. You ought to go at once; a few hours and you won't dare move her. My girl can go with you. I will do without one. Anything to get the fever out of this house."
Thus urged, Silvertung got a carriage and removed Elsie to the house in the Twentieth Ward. When the doctor came he declared it to be a case of malignant fever. Elsie had obtained her reprieve.
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