MR. HARDIE found his daughter lying ashy pale on a little bed in the drawing-room of Albion Villa. She was now scarce conscious. The old doctor sat at her head looking very grave; and Julia kneeled over her beloved friend, pale as herself; with hands clasped convulsively, and great eyes of terror and grief.
That vivid young face, full of foreboding and woe, struck Mr. Hardie the moment he entered, and froze his very heart. The strong man quivered and sank slowly like a felled tree by the bedside; and his face and the poor girl's, whose earthly happiness he had coldly destroyed, nearly met over his crushed daughter.
"Jane, my child," he gasped; "my poor little Jane!"
"Oh let me sleep," she moaned feebly.
"Darling, it's your own papa," said Julia softly.
"Poor papa!" said she, turning rather to Julia than to him. "Let me sleep."
She was in a half lethargic state.
Mr. Hardie asked the doctor in an agitated whisper if he might move her home. The doctor shook his head: "Not by my advice; her pulse is scarce perceptible. We must not move her nor excite her, nor yet let her sink into lethargy. She is in great danger, very great."
At these terrible words Mr. Hardie groaned: and they all began to speak below the breath.
"Edward," murmured Mrs. Dodd hurriedly, "run and put off the auction: put it off altogether; then go to the railway; nothing must come here to make a noise, and get straw put down directly. Do that first, dear."
"You are kinder to me than I deserve," muttered Mr. Hardie humbly, quite cowed by the blow that had fallen on him. The words agitated Mrs. Dodd with many thoughts, but she whispered as calmly as she could, "Let us think of nothing now but this precious life."
Mr. Hardie begged to see the extent of the injury.
Mrs. Dodd dissuaded him, but he persisted. Then the doctor showed her poor head.
At that the father uttered a scream and sat quivering. Julia buried her face in the bed-clothes directly, and sobbed vehemently. It passed faintly across the benumbed and shuddering father, "How she loves my child; they all love her," but the thought made little impression at the time; the mind was too full of terror and woe. The doctor now asked for brandy in a whisper. Mrs. Dodd left the room with stealthy foot, and brought it. He asked for a quill. Julia went with swift, stealthy foot, and brought it. With adroit and tender hands they aided the doctor, and trickled stimulants down her throat. Then sat like statues of grief about the bed; only every now and then eye sought eye, and endeavoured to read what the other thought. Was there hope? Was there none? And by-and-bye, so roving is the mind, especially when the body is still, these statues began to thrill with thoughts of the past as well as the absorbing present.
Ay, here were met a strange party; a stranger, for its size, methinks, never yet met on earth, to mingle their hearts together in one grief.
Just think! Of him who sat there with his face hidden in his hands, and his frame shuddering, all the others were the victims.
Yet the lady, whose husband he had robbed and driven mad, pitied and sympathised with him, and he saw it; the lady, whom he had insulted at the altar and blighted her young heart and life, pitied and sympathised with him; the poor old doctor pitied and sympathised, and was more like an anxious father than a physician.
Even Jane was one of his victims; for she fell by the hand of a man he had dishonestly ruined and driven out of his senses.
Thinking of all he had done, and this the end of it, he was at once crushed and melted.
He saw with awe that a mightier hand than man's was upon him; it had tossed him and his daughter into the house and the arms of the injured Dodds, in defiance of all human calculation; and he felt himself a straw in that hand: so he was, and the great globe itself. Oh, if Jane should die! the one creature he loved, the one creature, bereaved of whom he could get no joy even from riches.
What would he not give to recall the past, since all his schemes had but ended in this. Thus stricken by terror of the divine wrath, and touched by the goodness and kindness of those he had cruelly wronged, all the man was broken with remorse. Then he vowed to undo his own work as far as possible: he would do anything, everything, if Heaven would spare him his child.
Now it did so happen that these resolves, earnest and sincere but somewhat vague, were soon put to the test; and, as often occurs, what he was called on to do first was that which he would rather have done last. Thus it was: about five o'clock in the afternoon Jane Hardie opened her eyes and looked about her.
It was a moment of intense anxiety. They all made signals, but held their breath. She smiled at sight of Mr. Hardie, and said, "Papa! dear papa!"
There was great joy: silent on the part of Mrs. Dodd and Julia; but Mr. Hardie, who saw in this a good omen, Heaven recognising his penitence, burst out: "She knows me; she speaks; she will live. How good God is! Yes, my darling child, it is your own father. You will be brave and get well, for my sake."
Jane did not seem to pay much heed to these words: she looked straight before her like one occupied with her own thought, and said distinctly and solemnly, "Papa — send for Alfred."
It fell on all three like a clap of thunder, those gentle but decided tones, those simple natural words.
Julia's eyes flashed into her mother's, and then sought the ground directly.
There was a dead silence.
Mr. Hardie was the one to speak "Why for him, dear? Those who love you best are all here."
"For Heaven's sake, don't thwart her, sir," said the doctor, in alarm. "This is no time to refuse her anything in your power. Sometimes the very expectation of a beloved person coming keeps them alive; stimulates the powers."
Mr. Hardie was sore perplexed. He recoiled from the sudden exposure that might take place, if Alfred without any preparation or previous conciliatory measures were allowed to burst in upon them. And while his mind was whirling within him in doubt and perplexity, Jane spoke again; but no longer calmly and connectedly; she was beginning to wander. Presently in her wandering she spoke of Edward; called him dear Edward. Mrs. Dodd rose hastily, and her first impulse was to ask both gentlemen to retire: so instinctively does a good woman protect her own sex against the other. But, reflecting that this was the father, she made an excuse and retired herself instead, followed by Julia. The doctor divined, and went to the window. The father sat by the bed, and soon gathered his daughter loved Edward Dodd.
The time was gone by when this would have greatly pained him.
He sighed like one overmatched by fate; but said, "You shall have him, my darling; he is a good young man, he shall be your husband, you shall be happy. Only live for my sake, for all our sakes." She paid no attention and wandered on a little; but her mind gradually cleared, and by-and-bye she asked quietly for a glass of water. Mr. Hardie gave it her. She sipped, and he took it from her. She looked at him close, and said distinctly, "Have you sent for Alfred?"
"No, love, not yet."
"Not yet? There is no time to lose," she said gravely.
Mr. Hardie trembled. Then, being alone with her, the miserable man unable to say no, unwilling to say yes, tried to persuade her not to ask for Alfred. "My dear," he whispered, "I will not refuse you: but I have a secret to confide to you. Will you keep it?"
"Yes, papa, faithfully."
"Poor Alfred is not himself. He has delusions: he is partly insane. My brother Thomas has thought it best for us all to put him under gentle restraint for a time. It would retard his cure to have him down here and subject him to excitement."
"Papa," said Jane, "are you deceiving me, or are you imposed upon? Alfred insane! It is a falsehood. He came to me the night before the wedding that was to be. Oh, my brother, my darling brother, how dare they say you are insane! That letter you showed me then was a falsehood? Oh, papa!"
"I feared to frighten you," said Mr. Hardie, and hung his head.
"I see it all," she cried "those wicked men with their dark words have imposed on you. Bring him to me that I may reconcile you all, and end all this misery ere I go hence and be no more seen."
"Oh, my child, don't talk so," cried Mr. Hardie, trembling. "Think of your poor father."
"I do," she cried, "I do. Oh, papa, I lie here between two worlds, and see them both so clear. Trust to me: and, if you love me — — "
"If I love you, Jane? Better than all the world twice told."
"Then don't refuse me this one favour: the last, perhaps, I shall ever ask you. I want my brother here before it is too late. Tell him he must come to his little sister, who loves him dearly, and — is dying.
"Oh no! no! no!" cried the agonised father, casting everything to the winds. "I will. He shall be here in twelve hours. Only promise me to bear up. Have a strong will; have courage. You shall have Alfred, you shall have anything you like on earth, anything that money can get you. What am I saying? I have no money; it is all gone. But I have a father's heart. Madam, Mrs. Dodd!" She came directly.
"Can you give me paper? No, I won't trust to a letter. I'll send off a special messenger this moment. It is for my son, madam. He will be here to-morrow morning. God knows how it will all end. But how can I refuse my dying child? Oh, madam, you are good, kind, forgiving; keep my poor girl alive for me: keep telling her Alfred is coming; she cares more for him than for her poor heart-broken father."
And the miserable man rushed out, leaving Mrs. Dodd in tears for him.
He was no sooner gone than Julia came in; and clasped her mother, and trembled on her bosom. Then Mrs. Dodd knew she had overheard Mr. Hardie's last words.
Jane Hardie, too, though much exhausted by the scene with her father, put out her hand to Julia, and took hers, and said feebly, but with a sweet smile, "He is coming, love; all shall be well." Then to herself as it were, and looking up with a gentle rapture in her pale face —
"Blessed are the peacemakers; for they shall be called the children of God."
On this thought she seemed to feed with innocent joy; but for a long time was too weak to speak again.
Mr. Hardie, rushing from the house, found Edward at work outside; he was crying undisguisedly, and with his coat off, working harder at spreading the straw than both the two men together he had got to help him. Mr. Hardie took his hand and wrung it, but could not speak.
In half an hour a trusty agent he had often employed was at the station waiting for the up train, nearly due.
He came back to Albion Villa. Julia met him on the stairs with her fingers to her lips. "She is sleeping; the doctor has hopes. Oh, sir, let us all pray for her day and night."
Mr. Hardie blessed her; it seemed the face of an angel, so earnest, so lovely, so pious. He went home: and at the door of his own house Peggy met him with anxious looks. He told her what he had done.
"Good Heavens!" said she; "have you forgotten? He says he will kill you the first day he gets out. You told me so yourself."
"Yes, Baker said so. I can't help it. I don't care what becomes of me; I care only for my child. Leave me, Peggy; there, go, go."
He was no sooner alone than he fell upon his knees, and offered the Great Author of life and death — a bargain. "O God," he cried, "I own my sins, and I repent them. Spare but my child, who never sinned against Thee, and I will undo all I have done amiss in Thy sight. I will refund that money on which Thy curse lies. I will throw myself on their mercy. I will set my son free. I will live on a pittance. I will part with Peggy. I will serve Mammon no more. I will attend Thine ordinances. I will live soberly, honestly, and godly all the remainder of my days; only do Thou spare my child. She is Thy servant, and does Thy work on earth, and there is nothing on earth I love but her."
And now the whistle sounded, the train moved, and his messenger was flying fast to London, with a note to Dr. Wycherley:
"DEAR SIR, — My poor daughter lies dangerously wounded, and perhaps at the point of death. She cries for her brother. He must come down to us instantly with the bearer of this. Send one of your people with him if you like. But it is not necessary. I enclose a blank cheque, signed, which please fill at your discretion. — I am, with thanks, yours in deep distress,