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Raby went for the letters, and laid them before him. He took up the fatal letter. "Why, this is not written by Mrs. Little. I know her neat Italian hand too well. See how the letters slant and straggle."
"Oh! but you must allow for the writer's agitation."
"Why should I allow for it? YOU DIDN'T. Who can look at this scrawl, and not see that the poor heart-broken creature was not herself when she wrote it? This is not a letter, it is a mere scream of agony. Put yourself in her place. Imagine yourself a woman--a creature in whom the feelings overpower the judgment. Consider the shock, the wound, the frenzy; and, besides, she had no idea that you left this house to get her husband the money from your own funds."
"She never shall know it either."
"She does know it. I have told her. And, poor thing, she thinks she was the only one to blame. She seeks your forgiveness. She pines for it.
This is the true cause of her illness; and I believe, if you could forgive her and love her, it might yet save her life."
"Then tell her I blame myself as much as her. Tell her my house, my arms, and my heart are open to her. Amboyne, you are a true friend, and a worthy man. G.o.d bless you. How shall we get her here, poor soul? Will you go for her, or shall I?"
"Let me sleep on that," said Dr. Amboyne.
In the course of the evening, Dr. Amboyne told Raby all the reports about Jael Dence and Henry Little.
"What does that matter now?" said Raby, with a sigh.
Whenever a servant came into the room, Amboyne asked him if Jael had arrived.
Raby shared his curiosity, but not his anxiety. "The girl knows her friends," said he. "She will have her cry out, you may depend; but after that she will find her way here, and, when she has got over it a little, I shall be sure to learn from her whether he was her lover, and where he was when the place was blown up. A Dence never lies to a Raby."
But when nine o'clock struck, and there were no tidings of her, Raby began to share the doctor's uneasiness, and also to be rather angry and impatient.
"Confound the girl!" said he. "Her grandfathers have stood by mine, in their danger and trouble, for two hundred years; and now, in her trouble, she slinks away from me."
"Put yourself in her place," said Amboyne. "Ten to one she thinks you are offended about her and Henry. She is afraid to come near you."
"What, when I ask her?"
"Through your stupid lazy servants, who, to save themselves trouble, have very likely told somebody else to tell her; and we know what comes of that process. Ten to one the invitation has either missed her altogether, or come to her divested of all that is kind and soothing.
And remember, she is not a man. She is a poor girl, full of shame and apprehension, and needs a gentle encouraging hand to draw her here. Do, for once, put yourself in a woman's place--you were born of a woman."
"You are right," said Raby. "I will send down a carriage for her, with a line in my own hand."
He did so.
At eleven the servant came back with the news that Jael Dence was not at home. She had been seen wandering about the country, and was believed to be wrong in her head. George, the blacksmith, and others, were gone up to the old church after her.
"Turn out with torches, every man Jack of you, and find her," said Raby.
As for Raby and Amboyne, they sat by the fireside and conversed together--princ.i.p.ally about poor Mrs. Little; but the conversation was languid.
A few minutes after midnight a terrible scream was heard. It was uttered out of doors, yet it seemed to penetrate the very room where Raby and Amboyne were seated. Both men started to their feet. The scream was not repeated. They looked at each other.
"It was in my garden," said Raby; and, with some little difficulty, he opened the window and ran out, followed by Amboyne.
They looked, but could see nothing.
But, with that death-shriek ringing in their ears, they wasted no time.
Raby waved Amboyne to the left, and himself dashed off to the right, and they scoured the lawn in less than a minute.
A cry of horror from Raby! He had found the body of a woman floating in a pool of the river, head downward.
He dashed into the water directly and drew it to the bank; Dr. Amboyne helped him, and they got it out on dry land. The face was ghastly, the body still.
"Turn her face downward," said Amboyne, "give her every chance. Carry her gently."
One took the shoulders, the other the feet; they carried her slowly in and laid her gently down before the fire.
She lay like dripping marble.
Her clothes clinging tightly round her, revealed her marvelous form and limbs of antique mold--but all so deadly still.
Amboyne kneeled over her, searching, in vain, for some sign of life. He groaned.
"Oh!" said he, "is it possible that such a creature as this can be cut off in its prime?"
"Dead!" cried Raby, trembling all over. "Oh, G.o.d forbid! One of her ancestors saved a Raby's life in battle, another saved a Raby in a foaming flood; and I couldn't save her in a dead pool! She is the last of that loyal race, and I'm the last Raby. Farewell, Dence! Farewell, Raby!"
While he bemoaned her thus, and his tears actually dripped upon her pale face, Amboyne detected a slight quivering in the drowned woman's throat.
"Hush?" said he to Raby.
There was a pair of old-fashioned bellows by the side of the fire; Amboyne seized them, and opened Jael's mouth with more ease than he expected. "That is a good sign," said he.
He inflated the bellows, and inserted the tube very carefully; then he discharged the air, then gently sucked it back again. When he had done this several times something like a sigh escaped from Jael's breast. The doctor removed the bellows, and felt her heart and examined her eyes.
"Curious!" said he. "Give me some brandy. It is more like syncope than drowning."
Acting on this notion, he laid her flat on her back, and applied neat brandy to her nostrils and ears.
After a while she moved her whole body like a wounded snake, and moaned feebly.
Raby uttered a loud shout of joy. "She is saved!" he cried. "She is saved!" He jumped about the room like a boy, and, anxious to do something or other, was for ringing up the female servants. But Amboyne would not hear of it. "On the contrary," said he, "lock the door, and let only you and I see the poor girl's distress when she comes back to this bitter world. Raby, don't you shut your eyes to the truth. This was no accident."
"I am afraid not," said Raby. "She knows the water as well as I do, and she picked out the deepest hole: poor girl! poor girl"
He then asked Amboyne in a whisper what he thought she would do when she came to her senses.
"Impossible to say. She may be violent, and if so we shall have enough to do to hold her. They tell me she threw that workman like a sack."
At this moment Jael stretched her great arms and sighed. The movement, though gentle and feminine, had a grandeur and freedom that only goes with power.
The doctor lowered his voice to a whisper. "She is a good Christian, and most likely she will be penitent, and then she will cry her heart out.
Any way, she is pretty sure to be hysterical, so mind and be firm as well as kind. There, her color is coming back. Now put yourself in her place. You and I must call this an accident. Stick to that through thick and thin. Ah, she is coming round safe. She shall see you first. You take her right hand, and look at her with all the pity and kindness I am sure you feel."
Mr. Raby took Jael's hand in both his, and fixed his eyes on her with pity and anxiety.