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approach of Mr. Middleton, who, having heard of the pursuit and of the death of a mad dog in the immediate vicinity of the grounds, had been anxiously looking out for
I started hastily from my kneeling position, but Edward still kept his arm round me; and, turning to my uncle, he gave him in a few words an account of what had occurred: of my danger, of his agony when, from the fishinghouse, he saw the imminence of that danger, of my escape through his means, of the bite which he had received as he seized on the dog, and of the manner in which I had drawn the poison from the wound. “She has done by me,' he said, with a voice which trembled with emotion, she has done by me what Queen Eleanor did by her husband; but when I suffered her to do so, she had confessed what makes me happier, on this day of terror and anxiety, than I have ever been on any other day of my life. Wish me joy, Mr. Middleton, of the dearest, of the tenderest, of the most courageous, as well as of the loveliest bride that ever man was blest with.'
As Edward finished these words his arms drew me closer to him, and he kissed my cheek, which had grown during the last few seconds as pale as it had been crimson a moment before; and it was not love that now blanched my cheek, and made me tremble in a way which made the support of Edward's arm a matter of necessity. It was not the emotion of happiness that kept me as silent as the grave when Mr. Middleton fondly kissed me, and blessed me for what I had done, and for what I had acknowledged. My uneasiness grew so evident that both my uncle and Edward were suddenly struck with the same fear. It occurred to them both at the same time that I was ill from the terror I had undergone, and the exertion I had made ; both led me towards the house with anxious solicitude and with the tenderest
A change had come over Edward's manner; he too
looked dreadfully ill, and the nervous tension of his usually calm features was painful to see. They carried me up to my room, and when I was laid on the bed Mrs. Middleton's dear voice and tender kisses occasioned me a burst of crying, which relieved the intolerable oppression under which I was labouring. My uncle took Edward almost by force out of the room, and Mrs. Middleton followed them, after placing my maid by my bedside. She returned in a few moments, and by the direction of the doctor, who had been sent for, she gave me a nervous draught, and kept me as quiet as possible. I grew calmer, but my tears continued to flow in silence. I did not see my way before me; it seemed to me that suddenly, involuntarily, almost unconsciously, I had become pledged to Edward, that our engagement might at any moment be proclaimed to the world, and the dreadful results which I knew would follow stared me in the face; and yet how to retract—what to say, what to do—was a difficulty which I saw no means of surmounting, and every kind of congratulatory whisper of Mrs. Middleton, which was meant to soothe and gratify me, threw me into inexpressible agitation, as it showed me that Edward, my uncle, and herself, considered me just as much pledged to him, and our marriage as much the natural result of the acknowledgment which in that hour of anguish and of terror had escaped from me, as if the settlements had been signed and the wedding day named.
Towards evening I fancied that I saw on Mrs. Middleton's countenance an expression of uneasiness as she came into my room ; and with trembling anxiety I asked her how Edward was.
'He is not well; but nothing to make us uneasy,' she added, as she observed the look of terror in my face. What you so courageously did, dear child, and the subsequent searing of the scar, which, as a measure of further precaution,
was done, have entirely secured him from any danger of that dreadful kind; but the exertion, the agitation, and the operation itself, which was very painful, have brought on some fever, which it will require care and prudence to subdue.'
This new anxiety diverted my thoughts for the time from the difficulties of my own position, and I roused and exerted myself in order to be allowed to leave my room, the solitude of which I dreaded in my present state of restless excitement; but society seemed to me still more trying when I had to encounter it. I could hardly bear to hear the occurrences of the day discussed. Everybody was informed of what I had done; and the praises which were bestowed on my courage and presence of mind were uttered with smiles and tones which proved to me that, if they were not aware of all the circumstances of the case, it was at least sufficiently evident that the feelings which had prompted me at the moment had been attributed to their true cause. Rosa, especially, tormented me by allusions and playful attacks, which I could hardly bear with patience; and at last I showed my annoyance in so marked a manner that she abstained from any further reference to the subject.
Later in the evening, when the doctor came again, he found Edward's fever much increased; and when this intelligence was brought to the drawing-room, Rosa showed true and warm sympathy in the anxiety which I could no longer conceal.
A few minutes afterwards Mrs. Middleton beckoned me out of the room, and told me that Edward was in a state of intense nervous agitation, which was the more extraordinary from its contrast with his usual calm and quiet disposition. 'He is quite unlike himself,' she continued, and can hardly be persuaded to submit to the necessary restraint which the doctor prescribes. He says he must see you and speak to
you this evening; and insisted on getting up and coming to the drawing-room. At last I persuaded him to lie down again on his couch, by promising that you should come to him. After what passed between you this morning there can be no objection to it. Only remember, dear child, that everything you say to him must be calculated to soothe and calm him, for Dr. Nevis says that he could not answer for the consequences of any agitation or sudden emotion at this moment. This it was that determined me to come and fetch you, when I saw him so feverishly anxious to see you -especially as now, I am sure, that you can have nothing to say to him that will not have a tranquillising effect on his nerves, and help to give him a good night's rest, which is the greatest possible object in his present state.'
As my aunt talked on in this manner, while she led the way to Edward's room, I could not summon courage to object to this visit till, when we got near to the door, I drew back and whispered to her: 'Indeed I had better not go in; after what occurred this morning, considering all things, it may agitate him to see me. Indeed, indeed, it will be better not. Mrs. Middleton looked at me with surprise : ‘Have I not told you, Ellen, that he has been working himself into a fever from his anxiety to speak to you? The only chance of calming him is by yielding to this wish, and I assure you,' she continued in an earnest manner, 'it may be more important than you seem to think to accomplish this. The consequences may be very serious if this fever and nervous agitation should increase.'
As she said these words, without any further discussion, she opened the door, and I found myself in another moment seated by Edward's side, his burning hand in mine, and his eyes fixed upon me with that intense and overstrained expression which fever gives.
'Dearest Ellen,' he exclaimed, as Mrs. Middleton left
the room, 'I am unreasonable and ashamed of myself, but I could not rest or have a moment's peace before I had again heard from your lips the blessed assurance that all that made me so happy this morning, in spite of our fears and anxieties, was not a dream. Say it was not, dearest.'
'It was no dream,' I answered in a low voice, “but we must not speak of such dreamlike things to-night. When you are well—'
'I am well now,' he interrupted, 'if you relieve my mind from a vague fear that has haunted me ever since. Ellen, there is no obstacle to our marriage, is there ? You will be my wife? You do not answer—you do not speak?'
His hand, which held mine, trembled, and he grew paler still than when I had entered the room. Terrified at his agitation, I lost the last opportunity of retracting, and murmured: ‘Yes, yes, dearest Edward, I will be your wife. May God in heaven bless you and forgive me,' I internally added. “And now that I have set your mind at rest,' I said, with a forced smile, 'I will leave you.'
'Leave me!' he rejoined, 'now that you have made me happier than words can express! No, don't leave me now, my Ellen, my darling Ellen, whom I have loved since the days of childhood, whom I have watched with an earnest anxiety that has made me, I will own it now' (he kissed my hand tenderly as he said this), often unreasonable, often unjust.'
'No, no!' I exclaimed, that you have never been.'
"Yes, I have, Ellen,' he continued, with earnestness; though I saw much in your voice, in your countenance, and in your manner, that made me feel I was not indifferent to you, still I was tormented with doubts and with jealousies which were unworthy of you and of myself. What I now see was only pity and kindness for others, I construed into causes for suspicion ; what I now feel was forbearance and