Chapter XIV

  ‘Fairacre, 17th May.

‘WE do not think mother is as strong as usual. But as neither the seaside nor the hills suit her as well as Fairacre, we do not like to venture on a change to either. She will, however, most probably accompany Esther to Coonjooree for some months. Allie has gone for a couple of weeks to

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the Emberlys; and I do most of mother's sick-visiting for her. She consents to this more readily because I think she believes it is good for me. But personally I cannot help feeling how much better it would be to send Kirsty instead of me. She thoroughly believes that under all circumstances people are better off than they deserve. If a man has broken his leg, she is ready to say, “What a blessing it is not his neck!” If a poor woman is confined of her tenth baby, Kirsty reflects, “How much better than to have typhoid fever!” And when people have typhoid fever, she says, “What a mercy it is from the Lord to have medical attendance!” I confided to mother the other day how, in average sick-visiting, I am haunted by the feeling that I can do no good, and sit with a long face thinking how horrid it is to be in bed, and wondering awkwardly what I am to say next. Then the flies put me out of countenance. With the poorer people among us they are a veritable plague—in their bedchambers, and upon their beds, and in their ovens, and in their kneading-troughs. Mother answered very gently: “Charity, my dear, is a kind of Bezer in the wilderness, a city of refuge, which we must always keep open, because of the many accidents and misfortunes of life. Our visitings and readings and half-hours spent by lonely sick-beds, they may perhaps be compared to the ‘Refuge, refuge,’ written in every double way on the parting of the ways, to aid those who, without help or sympathy, might be in danger of perishing in the great desert. Think, my dear, what it is to lie, for month after month, in a poor little room, without ever hoping to be well again. Even to make hours a little pleasanter, that would otherwise be dark and lonely, is something. In such matters we must be content to live from hand to mouth, without looking for great results.”

‘You know how mother's words, “delicate as honey born in air,” at once soothe and convince the heart.

‘Yesterday the Major told us about one of his funny episodes with Adolphe. That is his man—an Austrian by birth, but with a cosmopolitan command of tongues. The Major and he bid each other an eternal farewell every three months, if not oftener. Adolphe went yesterday morning to send a telegram for his master, and did not return till late in the afternoon, very much the worse for liquor, which

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he often takes beyond the bounds of moderation, as he candidly explains, “pour la guérison de doleur.” He always knows when he has taken too much, and his custom is to come to the Major with a virtuously determined air and say, “Sir, it is wrong that I should longer anguish the heart of a true and loving woman. I must return to my Julie—and yet to leave you——” then he breaks down. Often as this little farce has been acted, with variations, it always seems to rouse the Major's ire, and then make him relent all in one scene.

‘ “If only his conscience could be touched!” murmured Mr. Ferrier. Would the Major allow him to give Adolphe some little books on the evils of alcohol? Certainly; but the Major thought it was only fair to tell Mr. Ferrier that Adolphe was always ready to sign a pledge against intoxicants. But when he is tipsy, next day he explains with great fluency how the necessity for nervine aliment is insurmountable in a climate like this.

‘No; I am not going to Laurette at as early a date as was fixed, because it is now quite evident that mother is out of health. I cannot go until she is better. Dr. Stein is in attendance, and I am head nurse, Allie bottle-washer, Kirsty major-domo. Dr. Stein tells me that our friend Professor Kellwitz contemplates matrimony—at sixty-three, and for the first time!—and to a lady who has been his intimate friend for over twenty years. Is it not dreadful to spoil so tried a friendship in this ruthless way?’