― 408 ―


The Dessert.


Mr. Scott was more annoyed than Isabel had ever seen him. He was sorry to lose his guest, and vexed at the sudden whim which had upset his arrangements. This affected his temper, and for a time everything was wrong. Mrs. Scott maintained her usual phlegm; but even more softly and quietly than was her habit, she commented on the misery and inconvenience of a person's not knowing his mind, or being decided in little things.

‘Did you hear anything of this extraordinary move, Miss Lang?’ she asked. ‘You were some time in Mr. Herbert's company, I think, this morning.’

‘I did not hear a word of it.’

‘He is so poorly, too. But I don't care! If he has a brain fever down there at Petty's, it will serve him right. Such a violent hurry, too—wouldn't wait a moment! He seemed like one in a dream. 'Pon my soul, I shouldn't be surprised at . . . . I don't believe he knew what he was doing or saying,’ said Mr. Scott, helping himself much more frequently and abundantly to wine than he usually did.

At last the dishes were removed, and the clatter ceased. The dessert was a little better; and Isabel cracked nuts by way of doing something. She was talking to the children, amused with some droll speech of little Julia's, when the servant came to the door and summoned her master.

A whispered dialogue was held in the hall, a few isolated words of which alone reaching the dining-room. Then Mr. Scott popped in his

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head for a moment.

‘My dear, don't be alarmed! I'll go and judge for myself. I'll wager anything it is all palaver and humbug.’

He was rather pale and hurried, notwithstanding his assuring words, and went away past the window rapidly. Isabel looked at Mrs. Scott with a vague presentiment of evil. That lady languidly remarked—'Some horse hurt, perhaps. But I wish he would be less hurried. Self-control, composure, is so very desirable, under all circumstances.’

The servant came in again, her countenance evidently full of some important news, which she was longing to impart.

‘Master has a umbrella, ma'am,’ at last she ventured to remark. Then, gathering courage, she went on—'They do say as how it is a gentleman has had a accident about two miles down the road. So the draymen say. Some drays chanced to be passing, and they told our Harry of it; and from the description, Harry thought as how it might be Mr. Herbert, and wished to tell the master. They say he was carried upon a door to the ‘Currency Lass’ inn. They thought as how the life was quite distinct.’

‘Come, that is enough,’ said Mrs. Scott. ‘I believe nothing till I know more. Everything is exaggerated. It is in all uneducated natures to magnify these accidents. Miss Lang, don't allow these little people to be frightening themselves about nothing. They must be taught early to use their reason, and to control all sudden feelings of alarm, and so on. We shall hear all in good time. Miss Lang, will you . . . . . But where is she?—Where is Miss Lang?’

No one knew. She was gone, but no one had seen her leave the room. They sought her everywhere, but vainly.

‘Very thoughtless, indeed! She has, I dare say, gone to the garden, forgetting the children might need her,’ remarked Mrs. Scott, quietly.

Soon a panting and puffing messenger came with a scrap of paper from Mr. Scott, on which he had scribbled a request for the carriage to be sent as soon as possible to the above-named public-house; for that Mr. Herbert had been thrown from his horse. He was stunned, and they feared he had broken his arm, but nothing very serious, it was hoped.

Mrs. Scott gave the necessary orders, and quietly had everything prepared for receiving her late guest. Neither did she omit to sow a few seeds of good advice, impressing on her children the moral of the event—namely, that hurry and impulse were bad things to lead any one.

In about an hour's time, Mr. Scott returned with Mr. Herbert, the latter looking very pale, and with his arm disabled. He apologized warmly, though in a hurried way, for all the trouble he had caused, and confessed he should have done wiser to follow their advice. ‘But a lesson learnt is

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a thing gained.’

‘Ah, I grumbled preciously at you, and swore you should never catch me inviting you here again,’ said Mr. Scott. ‘And, you see, you return of your own accord, and not by my asking. Of course, now you are ill and wounded, we must receive you and even nurse you. But I shall give you a bit of my mind hereafter. Never mind! What is a broken arm? ‘ 'Tis an ill wind blows no good to any one.’ So, you see, I gain a companion for some weeks to come.’

Mr. Herbert was obstinate in persisting that he would await the doctor's visit on the couch in the drawing-room instead of going at once to bed. Mrs. Scott warned him of evil and scolded, or rather ‘gave advice;’ but still he persisted. Then she wished to clear the room and send away the children.

‘Mr. Herbert must be perfectly quiet. Ask Miss Lang to take them.’

‘Can't find her no ways, ma'am.’

‘What, isn't she in yet?’

‘Where is she?’ said Mr. Scott.

‘That we don't know. Have you looked in the garden?’ said his wife to the servant.

‘Yes, ma'am. Couldn't see nothing of her there.’

‘She was here, in this room, when I left,’ said Mr. Scott. ‘For I remember observing how pale she was.’

‘Very likely! Any sudden thing turns her, poor girl. She is rather shattered. Her father's death and that fire, and all those scenes, I suppose, did it.’

‘Have you looked over the house?’ suggested Mr. Herbert.

Upon which the children were despatched to hunt her up. They thought it good fun. But ere very long, the eldest girl, Fanny, rushed back to her mother, and when close beside her burst into tears, with her face hid on her mamma's shoulder.

‘What is it, Fan?’

‘Good God! what is it?’ exclaimed Mr. Herbert, half moving off the couch, but falling back again directly from sharp pain.

‘O, I think she must be dead!’ sobbed Fanny.

‘Nonsense! You are upset—frightened, child. Where is she?’ said Mrs. Scott, trying to be severe, but, for her, very hurried.

The nurse here came in, with a disturbed face.

‘Yes,’ she said. ‘In a swoon! No one knows for how long—poor dear soul! She was lying right across the passage. Seemed as if she was going into the spare room. She was always quick and ready in thought. Perhaps she was going to see if the bed was gotten ready for the gentleman.’

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Mrs. Scott went out with nurse. And, by dint of coaxing the frightened Fanny, and sending Mary, the second child, to inquire, the gentlemen heard at last that Miss Lang had ‘awoke,’ with a great groan and looking very wild. Then, ‘mamma had explained to her that no one was dead, or even so very much hurt, and told her to lie quietly.’

‘But who was said, or supposed to be dead?’ Mr. Herbert wished to know.

‘You, I suppose,’ the child said, shyly. ‘Harry, the man, said that life was ‘distinct gone;’ and Miss Lang heard it. Perhaps that frightened her and made her ill. I've seen her bad before often, only she told me not to tell, for it was nothing.’

The child would have gone on, pleased by feeling her words were of importance, but Mr. Herbert gave a low groan, which made all the young ones look with wonder and awe on his own pain, which they were fast forgetting in their excitement about their governess. He was chained to that couch—stay there he must! but by the time that the doctor arrived, a very quick pulse and fever had set in.

Meanwhile, Isabel had sunk into a refreshing sleep. She could give no explanation of her swoon, or her intention in seeking that particular room. She had felt giddy and sick during dinner and even before. Of course the sudden news might have upset her. Mrs. Scott pronounced it to be from over-nervousness—a very bad habit, and she hoped Miss Lang would try to conquer it for the future.

Mr. Herbert said, when they were speaking of her down-stairs later in the evening, ‘that he had known Isabel faint very suddenly before, when far stronger than she seemed now.’ And then it came out that he had known more of her than the Scotts had supposed. As he was excited with pain and fever, he forgot his reserve, and even confided to Mr. Scott his friendship with the Lang family; spoke of his disagreements with Mr. Lang, and so on. So much did he say, that when, towards dawn, Mr. Scott left his friend to snatch a little sleep, he told his wife that he believed ‘there was something in it!’ with which sage and oracular sentence he turned over and went to sleep.

‘Something in what? What is Moreton thinking of, I wonder?—O—I see—I see!’ his wife soliloquized. And at breakfast the next morning, Mrs. Scott bestowed a keener look on her governess. But she said nothing, and gravely acquiesced in Isabel's assurance, that it was all past, and she was quite well and able to be in the school-room as usual. In her fall she had grazed her forehead slightly, and that mark was there. Beyond this there were no symptoms of the swoon.