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II. A WEEK elapsed. And little Tom Canterbury, owing, no doubt, to the “elasticity," appeared to be getting well all one way. Mrs. Dawkes, caring not even for folly and fashion, in comparison with her darling child, gave orders for their immediate departure for the Rock. If the major was unable to leave London, he could remain behind, she obligingly told him, but Tom wanted country air, and Tom should have it.
She said this the morning previous to the one fixed on for their departure. An hour afterwards, the major was crossing the hall, when a visitor's knock at the door startled him ; startled him, as it seemed, to abject terror. His first impulse was to dart into the nearest room and bolt himself in; his second to dart out again, and seize Richard's arm, as he came to answer the door.
“Richard,” he whispered—and the man was amazed with the wild alarm, mingled with entreaty, in his accent—" don't open the door, for your
life. Go into the area and see who it is : if it's for me, say I went out of town at seven this morning, and shan't be back till late tonight. Swear to it, man, if they dispute your word.”
Richard descended the kitchen stairs again, and his master strode up the upper ones, four at a time, stealthily, silently, like a man who is flying from danger. Up to the second-foor strode he, as if the higher he went, the further he was removed from it. The bedroom he occupied was on this floor, but he passed into a room opposite it, which was the day nursery
A round table was drawn to the fire, and Judith, the nurse, stood at it, measuring a dessert-spoonful of mixture from a medicine-bottle. Little Tom Canterbury was by her side, watching her.
“ What's this?” asked Major Dawkes, taking up the bottle, when she had recorked it, and put it on the mantelpiece.
“I don't know, sir; I can't read writing,” replied Judith, thinking the major meant the direction, which he was looking at. If he had meant anything, it was probably the mixture, but he had spoken in abstraction, for his mind was a chaos just then. 6. The mixture. Master Canterbury,” was what was written there.
“Does he want medicine still ?" exclaimed Major Dawkes. “I thought he was well.”
“ It's only some stuff the doctor sends to comfort his inside, sir, which has been out of order,” replied Judith. “He takes a spoonful three times a day, morning, afternoon, and before he goes to bed at night."
Major Dawkes took out the cork, smelt the mixture and tasted it, while Tom drank up his spoonful. But, as Richard was heard coming up the stairs, the major hastily returned it to the mantelpiece, and went out to meet him.
“ Was I wanted ?"
“Yes, sir. The gentleman was that one who never gives his name: and I saw two men a standing off, as if they belonged to him," added Richard, in a confidential tone. “They are a waiting opposite now.”
“ You said I was out of town ?"
“ I told him I'd take a oath to it, sir, if he liked—as you desired me. And he said it would be none the nearer truth if I did.”
Major Dawkes's perplexities were hanging threateningly upon him. Simple debt would have been nothing, a trifling affair indeed, compared to what
dreaded. Agony ! disgrace ! punishment!" thought he ; “the horror and estrangement of my wife; the haughty loathing of my brother-officers; the cool scorn of the world ! I am in dread danger of it all: and only because the weak thread of a wretched child's life is not broken! Why could be not have died ! It was but the hesitation of the balance; a turn the other way, and—we should both have been the better. There has been a devil abroad since that night, ever at my elbow, whispering temptation."
The major did not go out that day; he did not dare to : what was to become of him on the next-and the next—and the next, he shuddered to contemplate. He dined at home with his wife at five o'clock, in her dressing-room. She felt very unwell, and had been lying there on the sofa all the afternoon.
" It is the fatigue of nursing Tom," said the major. “I knew it would bring its reaction.”
“ It is nothing of the sort,” replied Mrs. Dawkes. “I have taken a violent cold, or else caught Tom's complaint, for my chest feels sore. Country air will set both me and Tom to rights."
After dinner Mrs. Dawkes lay down on the sofa again, and she sent word into the nursery that her boy was to be brought to her. So he came into the room with his nurse, and the major left it.
“ You are not going to be ill like you were before, mamma,” exclaimed the child, in an uneasy tone, putting his little face close to his mother's.
“Oh no, dear,” she answered, cheerfully : “we shall both be well when we get to the Rock. The carriage will be at the door in the morning at half-past nine, you know, Judith,” continued Mrs. Dawkes to the nurse: “it will take nearly half an hour to drive to the station.”
“I know, ma'am : we shall be ready. Had Master Tom better take his medicine in the morning ? There will be a dose left.” “No, I think not. But he must take it to-night.”
yes, I shall give it him as soon as he is undressed. And that won't be long first,” added Judith : "it has struck seven.'
Mrs. Dawkes strained the child to her; and the child's little arms strained her. It was a long and close embrace, and he cried when he was taken from her, which was somewhat remarkable, as it was not a usual thing for him to do.
When he was gone, Mrs. Dawkes, after drinking a cup of tea brought by her maid, Fry, went into her bedroom to prepare for rest. irritable and impatient; so much so, that the maid asked whether she felt worse.
“Oh, I don't know," was the querulous answer. “ Since I drank that cup of hot tea, my tooth has begun to ache again, enough to distract me.”
“I would have it out, ma'am, if I were you," cried Fry. “It's always a distracting of you.
“ Have it out! have out a tooth at my age !" echoed Mrs. Dawkes ; “I'd rather suffer martyrdom. Be quick over my hair, and don't say such things to provoke me."
So Fry went on with her duties, and her mistress went on groaning, and holding one side of her face.
“Perhaps, ma'am, if you were to put a little brandy to it it might ease yon,” Fry ventured to say again. “Some cotton steeped in brandy and put into the tooth has cured many a toothache. Laudanum's best, but I suppose there's none in the house."
“It would do me no good,” fretfully answered Mrs. Dawkes.
Fry left her mistress to rest, but there was no sleep for Mrs. Dawkes, the pain in her tooth prevented it. Now it happened that there was some laudanum in the house, though the maid had been unconscious of it. It had been brought in for some purpose several weeks before, and had stood, ever since, in the major's dressing-room. Mrs. Dawkes, in a moment of desperation, rose from her bed, resolved to try it. Her own dressing-room opened on one side the bed-chamber, the major's on the other, and she snatched the night-light which was burning, and went into the latter.
It was a very small place, little better than a closet, and had no egress save through the bed-chamber. Her own dressing-room was large, and had two entrances. Over the major's washhand-stand was a narrow slab of white marble, and on that stood the bottle required by Mrs. Dawkes. His tooth-powder box and shaving-tackle usually stood there, but since he had occupied the room up-stairs they had been removed there, the laudanum-bottle alone remaining.
Mrs. Dawkes went to the slab, and stretched forth her hand to take the bottle. Most exceedingly astonished was she to find that no bottle was there.
The slab stood perfectly empty; Why, what can have gone with it ?" she uttered. 66 The bottle is always there : I saw it there this very day. And the servants do not come in here, now the room's not being used.”
She looked about with the light, but could see nothing of it; and, returning to her bedroom, steeped a bit of cotton in some spirits of camphor and put that to her tooth, and lay down again. The pain subsided very soon, and she was dozing off to sleep, when some one came into the room from the passage entrance. Mrs. Dawkes pulled aside the curtain. It was her husband, and her movement caused him to start back.
you there ? Are you in bed ?” he exclaimed. “ I could not sit up. Is it late or early ? Are you come in for the night ?"
" I have not been out yet: it is only nine. I am sorry to have disturbed you: I did not know you were here.”
He went into his dressing-room as he spoke, but came forth again immediately, “Caroline, I am going down to Kage, to see if I can't get him to do something. He ought, and he must.
“It will be of no use," she answered, drowsily. “But I don't want to talk : I shall set
my tooth on again." The major left the room, and she heard him go out at the front door; and then she sank into sleep.
Major Dawkes proceeded to the chambers of Thomas Kage, and found him in. The latter was surprised to see his visitor, and so late, for they were not on visiting terms, and there was no cordiality between them. “I will state my business in a few words,” cried the major : "you may guess its nature, from what you have heard from my wife
“That you are in embarrassment," interrupted Mr. Kage, “and want me to advance Thomas Canterbury's money to extricate you. I cannot do it.”
“ Thomas Canterbury's money!" echoed the major : "you speak as if I wanted all he possesses, and the Rock into the bargain. I only wish to borrow a very trifling portion of it ; three or four thousand pounds.”
“ Mrs. Dawkes mentioned ten or twelve thousand as the sum,” remarked Mr. Kage ; “ but the amount is of no consequence.".
“Mrs. Dawkes must have mistaken what I said I should like, for what I said I wanted. From three to four thousand pounds will be sufficient."
“Were it but three thousand pence, it would be all the same. I am surprised at you, Major Dawkes; at your ever thinking I would consent to it. It would be a positive fraud on little Canterbury.”
“I shall pay you back, long before he is of age. Kage, my good fellow,” added the major, wiping the perspiration from his brow—and indeed he had done little else since entering, for he seemed full of agitation—"consider the strait I am in. If I can't get money, and don't get money, there'll be nothing for it but the Insolvent Court : Mrs. Dawkes would never hold up her head again.”
Mr. Kage's opinion was different : it was a peculiar case, and the disgrace would not be reflected on her : the major's extravagance had brought it on himself, and on himself only. He peremptorily declined further appeal on the subject. “Were the money my own, you should have it,” said he, “but my trusteeship I will hold inviolate.”
“ Then to-morrow morning I must see about filing my petition," gloomily responded the major," and your cousin, Mrs. Dawkes, will have you to thank for it."
Mr. Kage made no reply to this. “I suppose Thomas is all right again,” he observed, as he lighted the major down the stairs.
"Oh, he is well; wants nothing now but change of air ; and his mother takes him to the Rock to-morrow. Good night."
At seven in the morning Fry was in her mistress's room, according to orders. Mrs. Dawkes rose at once, remembering her journey: she said she felt better.
“ The major must be called, Fry."
Mrs. Dawkes, no better pleased than other wives are, when told their husbands have not slept at home, proceeded to dress. During its process, she sent Fry to see whether the nurse was getting up, and meanwhile went into the major's dressing-room, for something she required. But, great as had been Mrs. Dawkes's surprise the previous night, to find the laudanum bottle absent from the slab, far, far greater was her present surprise to see it on it, in the exact place it had always occupied, as if it had never been touched. Mrs. Dawkes mechanically took it in her hand : it was the veritable bottle, labelled “Tincture of opium. Major Dawkes."
Had she only dreamt that she came ? None of the servants had been through her room in the night. But on her own dressing-table was the cotton and the phial of camphorated spirit, to prove that it was no dream.
" Judith has been up ever so long, ma'am,” said Fry, re-entering ; "and she's now going to dress Master Tom.”
Directly afterwards, in came the major, laughing gaily. “Did you think I had taken flight, Caroline? I passed the evening with Briscoe in his rooms, after I left Kage ; and it grew so late, without my being aware of it, that he gave me a bed. I feared I might disturb you, coming into the house at that hour : it was two o'clock."
“Very accommodating of Captain Briscoe to keep beds ready madeup for his friends," coldly remarked Mrs. Dawkes.
“ And that was a sofa,” laughed the major. “You will have a splen. did day for your journey : the wind—”
“ Whatever's the matter ?”
The interruption came from Fry. The nurse, Judith, had stolen quietly inside the room, and was standing there, with her hands clasped, and her face white and wild-looking. Mrs. Dawkes turned at Fry's exclamation. “ What do
you want, Judith ?” “ I got up at six, ma'am,” began Judith ; "and when I had dressed myself
I put up the things I had left last night, thinking I'd let the child sleep as long as I could. I said to myself what a long night's rest he was having; what a beautiful sleep. And I-I-went to take him up now, and I.-sir--ma’am–I can't awaken him.”
She had spoken like she looked, in a wild, bewildered sort of manner : and she appeared to shake all over.
“ It is the remains of his illness," remarked Mrs. Dawkes : but she gazed hard at Judith; thinking her manner, and her coming at all
, very strange. “Children are sure to be sleepy after an illness : take him gently up, and he will awake as you dress him.”
“ But I can't take him up, ma'am,” returned the trembling Judith, “ He-he-won't awake.”
Fry stared at her with open mouth, in private persuasion that she had lost her senses.
“ Will you please to come and see, sir,” added Judith. ma'am.”
The major, in answer to the appeal, left the room. Judith followed him closely, and laid hold of his arm.
“Oh, sir, I think he's dead,” she whispered. “ I never saw death yet, but he is stiff and cold.”
Major Dawkes roughly pushed away her arm with his elbow, and ascended the stairs, Judith at his heels. Mrs. Dawkes followed her, and Fry brought up the rear. Thomas Canterbury was
Thomas Canterbury was lying in his crib, by the side of the nurse's bed; cold, and white, and—DEAD.
“He must have died in a fit!" cried Fry.
And Mrs. Dawkes fell across the little bed, giving vent to screams of anguish.
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