"There is nothing of her, Miss Olive," she grumbled. "She is worn to such a shadow. Tire my arms, indeed--I could lift a heavier weight than that," and Deb gave one of her ominous sniffs, and went off to her kitchen to shed a few tears in private.
All those weeks Olivia had been unremitting in her attentions, and all other visits were interdicted; but the friends at Galvaston House showed their sympathy in every possible way. Mr. Gaythorne sent choice old wine and game, and Greta and Alwyn kept the invalid supplied with fruit and flowers. Mrs. Crampton made jellies and soups, the little larder at Mayfield Villas was filled to overflowing. Mrs. Broderick took it all gratefully, and gave her nurses no trouble. "I am under orders," she would say, with a pitiful attempt at her old drollery; but only Olivia, who loved and understood her, ever guessed at the sadness of those days of convalescence.
One evening, as they were together in the twilight, Olivia ventured to hint at this depression; she was waiting for Marcus to come and fetch her, for they were to dine at Galvaston House.
"Is it because you are too weak to feel cheerful, dear Aunt Madge?" she asked, tenderly; but Mrs. Broderick shook her head.
"It is because I am a coward," she returned, with a spirit of her old energy. "Ah, Livy, I am ashamed to tell you what a coward I have been; but I simply felt as though I could not face it. Let me explain myself; I feel strong enough to talk, and it may do me good. Dear child, dearest Livy," stroking her hand, "you have been such a comfort to me! Do you remember that night when I told you I was not going to die? Well, I had had a wonderful dream, a vision rather, for I shall always think it one. I thought that I was wandering in some strange place, some vast emptiness where there was nothing human but myself, and that I came suddenly to a wide arched portal that seemed to reach to the stars, and I said to myself, 'this is the Gate of Paradise.' As I stood on the threshold I could see a green s.p.a.ce like a valley bathed in sunlight, and I even noticed the white starry flowers growing everywhere, and then I saw my dear Fergus, looking just as he did in life, only somehow with a grander and more peaceful look on his dear face, and he was leading our little Malcolm by the hand. I thought I kissed them both, and clung to them in a perfect ecstasy of joy, but Fergus looked at me in such a tender solemn way. 'Not yet, Madge,' he said, 'your work is not quite done yet; the Master has sent me to tell you so; be patient, true heart. When the time comes, Malcolm and I will be here.' And then I felt myself falling, and when I opened my eyes I saw you sitting there by the bedside."
"What a sweet dream, dearest!"
"Yes, I am beginning to feel the comfort of it now; but that night I felt as though my heart were broken to be so near and then to have to go back; but, Livy, I am trying to say it--'Thy will, not mine, be done.' G.o.d's will--not ours; surely our Father knows what is best for His poor child."
"And you are not unhappy?"
"Only a little sad and tired, but that will pa.s.s, it is pa.s.sing now,"
and the old lovely smile came to her lips. "Don't you recollect what Keble says,--
"''Tis sweet as year by year we lose Friends out of sight, in faith to muse How grows in Paradise our store.'
"What are a few more years of loneliness when Fergus and I have eternity to spend together. There, I hear Marcus's knock; he will scold me for making you look sad."
But Aunt Madge was wrong, for once in his life Marcus was too preoccupied to notice the signs of agitation on his wife's face.
"What do you think, dear people," he said, brightly, when he had greeted the invalid. "Dr. Bevan and I have settled matters; he will have the deed of partnership drawn up at once. Nothing can be fairer or more liberal than his terms. I told him I had only half-a-dozen paying patients at present, but he said that I should soon have more.
We have turned the corner, Livy, and my wife shall walk in silk attire yet," and Marcus flung back his head with a gesture of pride and importance.
"My dear laddie, I congratulate you with all my heart," returned Aunt Madge, affectionately, as she grasped his hands. "Livy looks quite dazed, and no wonder," and then a warm flush came to Olivia's cheek.
"Dear Marcus, I am so glad, so thankful," she whispered.
"Yes, but it will be uphill work at first," he returned, "and I shall have plenty to do. Bevan is not the man he was, Randolph does not seem satisfied about him; but he will pick up when the warm weather comes.
Oh, by-the-bye, Livy, I have not told you half yet. Bevan insists on our moving at once; he wants me to take a good house, either in Brunswick Place or Montague Square, or one of those roads leading out of it; it is well that we have that nest egg, the five hundred pounds untouched, it will pay for the necessary furniture, and the first year's rent will be a.s.sured."
"Yes, indeed," returned Olivia, in a low voice; she was awed and overwhelmed by this unexpected good fortune; but Marcus would not allow any more talking; his professional eyes had already noted the signs of weariness and exhaustion in the invalid.
"We must go now," he said, abruptly. "We will talk over details another time; it is no use giving Aunt Madge a bad night," and then Olivia rose reluctantly and put on her wraps.
"I shall come to-morrow afternoon and tell you everything," she said, and Mrs. Broderick nodded and smiled.
But as they slipped out into the wintry darkness and Olivia took her husband's arm, she said, with a little laugh,--
"I am so glad I have put on my wedding-dress to-night. I ought to be smart for such an occasion. This is our first dinner-party since we have been married."
"Then it won't be our last," returned Marcus, in a tone of conviction.
"I wonder, Livy, whether we shall ever regret those cosy evenings in the dear little room at No. 1, Galvaston Terrace," but Olivia only sighed happily. She was too good a wife to regret anything that led to her husband's advancement. Very likely her cares and responsibilities would be doubled. She would have less of Marcus's society, and the world would have claims upon them. The long three years' honeymoon was over, but, thank G.o.d, something else was over too,--the dread of approaching poverty, the sadness of unproductive labour, of work done only for love's sake and without grudging.
The following afternoon Mrs. Broderick lay tranquilly in the pleasant fire-lit twilight, awaiting Olivia's promised visit.
A pine log was spluttering and diffusing tiny coloured sparks. Zoe lay curled up in a silken ball on the black bearskin rug, and Olivia's favourite low chair had been wheeled to the foot of the couch, the tea-things were on the table, and the bra.s.s trivet on the fender was suggestive of hot b.u.t.tered scones.
"Oh, Aunt Madge, how cosy you look," were Olivia's first words. "May I take off my hat and jacket? I am going to stay a long time, and Marcus hopes to come round presently."
"Then we will wait tea for him," returned Aunt Madge, with something like her old briskness.
"Will you tell Deb not to bring in the kettle and scones until we ring?
Come, this is like old times. It is months since Marcus had tea with me. Now draw up your chair, Livy, and begin your story, for you are just bursting with news," and, though Olivia laughed at this, she did not deny it.
"We had such a lovely time last night," she began. "Greta looked so pretty in her black evening dress at the top of the table. She wore the pearl necklace and Olive's diamond cross. She has such a beautiful white throat the pearls hardly showed against it Mr. Gaythorne came in to dinner and sat beside her, but he was very tired and left us directly after, and we all went up to Greta's morning-room and sat round the fire talking, just we four. It was so nice and cosy."
"I suppose Mr. Gaythorne was told the grand news?"
"Oh dear, yes. He and Alwyn were so keen about it. They drank the health of Dr. Bevan's new partner. Mr. Gaythorne proposed the toast himself. Just as we left the dining-room I noticed that Greta detained Alwyn, and they did not follow upstairs for quite a quarter of an hour, but of course Marcus and I took no notice. They both looked a little bit excited when they came in. Greta gave my arm a funny little squeeze, and Alwyn cleared his throat and looked at Marcus, and then said in such a serious voice that he had an important proposal to make to us. It was Greta's idea, but he heartily approved of it. The house at Brunswick Place was waiting for a tenant. Why should not Marcus take it? It was to be let furnished. They had decided on that already, so there would be no delay or fuss necessary. 'You might go in next week,' he finished. 'The rooms only need airing and warming.'"
"My dear Livy, what a splendid idea. Three cheers for Greta, I say."
"Yes, it was all Greta's thought; but oh, Aunt Madge, what a talk we had. First, the terms that Alwyn proposed were so absurdly low that Marcus got quite red and said in almost an annoyed tone--you know how proud he is--that he must decline living at other people's expense. He would pay a fair rent for the house or he would not have it at all.
And then Alwyn patted him on the back and told him to keep calm, for no one wanted to insult him, and then they went on wrangling like two schoolboys. Marcus called Alwyn a stuck-up millionaire, and Alwyn retorted by telling him that he was as proud as a Highlander, and then Greta and I called them to order, but we were laughing so that we could hardly speak."
"How I should have loved to hear them. Marcus is so delicious when he gets on his high horse."
"Well, it was arranged at last to everybody's satisfaction, though Alwyn went on grumbling for a long time, and we are to move in next month. Marcus is to pay the full rent, and there is to be a fixed sum paid quarterly for the furniture, and at the end of two years it will be ours. They both thought this the best plan. You see, expenses will be heavy the first year, and we must not look for great profits. But there is every reasonable hope, as Marcus says, if he keeps his health, that in a year or two he may have a good practice. There is room for another doctor; even Dr. Randolph says so."
"Well, Livy dear, I can only congratulate you."
"Yes, indeed; Greta and I have been in Brunswick Place all the morning planning things. Oh, Aunt Madge, it is such a lovely house. The dining-room and drawing-room are such handsome rooms, and there is such a study for Marcus. It is too large for us, of course." And then Olivia stopped and her eyes grew very wistful.
"Aunt Madge, dear Aunt Madge, we want you and Deb to go with us. I have set my heart on it, darling, and Marcus wants it too. Don't get pale over it," as Mrs. Broderick gave a little gasp. "Listen to me a moment," and Olivia knelt by the couch and put her arms round her.
"There is Greta's morning-room on the first floor, it is such a large, cheerful room, with a bay-window overlooking the nice, old-fashioned garden, where you could lie and look out on the trees and flowers; here you see nothing but the four walls. Greta's bedroom is next to it; you would have that, too; it is a pleasant front room, very large and airy, and so nicely furnished, and my room would be just opposite. Deb could have the room just at the top of a short flight of stairs; it looks on the garden, too, and she could sit there and do her sewing. There are three or four other rooms besides attics, but they have not been used, so you can judge what a good house it is. Aunt Madge, do say you will come. It will make us so happy to know you are safe under our roof.
Think what it would be to me to have you at hand in all my little difficulties. And you shall not be troubled; you shall live your old life, and Deb will have nothing to do but take care of you." But Aunt Madge made no answer, only a curiously sweet smite played round her lips.
"I should be no expense to you," she observed presently, in a reflective tone. "I might even be able to help a little. By-the-bye, Livy, how many servants do you propose to keep in this palatial mansion?"
"I am afraid we can only afford two good ones at present. That is my difficulty, Aunt Madge. What am I to do with Martha? She is certainly not eligible for a house-parlourmaid."
"Keep her as Dot's nurse, and I will pay her wages. Yes, I mean it, Livy. In a year or two with careful training that girl will be worth her weight in gold. She will be a second Deb to you in time. Oh, that is Marcus, and we have not finished."
"Well, are you coming to us, Aunt Madge?" were Marcus's first words as he entered the room. There was unmistakable eagerness in his tone.
"If you do not want Livy to cry out her eyes with disappointment, and if I am to have a peaceful moment for the next six months, I entreat you to consent."
"Am I likely to refuse, Marcus?" But Aunt Madge's voice was not so clear as usual. "Don't you think that I shall love to have you and Livy caring for me? so it is 'yes,' and G.o.d bless you both." And a slow tear rolled down Aunt Madge's pale face.
Marcus and Olivia never repented that step. As the years went on and other children's voices were heard in the house at Brunswick Place, when three st.u.r.dy, boys climbed up on Dr. Luttrell's knees, and two small, brown-eyed girls toddled after mother, Aunt Madge's room was the heart and nucleus of the busy household.
There would come Marcus for a greeting word and a jest before he set off on his day's round, and there Olivia would betake herself for a rest and a chat. When her household tasks had been despatched, she seldom found Aunt Madge alone; Nigel or Hugh would have brought her their kites to mend, or to beg that Deb would make them new sails for their boat, and, of course, where Nigel went, fat, st.u.r.dy Ronald followed.
Or the twins would be playing with their j.a.panese babies on the carpet, or rolling over each other and Zoe (not the same Zoe, alas!) like kittens. But the most frequent visitor was Dot, dimpled and winsome as ever.
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