Chapter XIII.
 
"I'm on the rack;
For sure, the greatest evil man can know,
Bears no proportion to the dread suspense."

"Is there any change, doctor?" asked Capt. Raymond, meeting Arthur Conly in the hall.

"Hardly," was the reply: "certainly none for the worse."

"Will she get over it, do you think?" The father's tones were unsteady as he asked the question.

"My dear captain, it is impossible to tell yet," Arthur said feelingly; "but we must try to hope for the best."

Their hands met in a warm clasp.

"I shall certainly do so," the captain said. "But you are not going to leave us,--especially not in this storm?"

"No: I expect to pass the night in the house, ready to be summoned at a moment's notice, should any change take place."

"Thank you: it will be a great satisfaction to us to know we have you close at hand." And the captain turned and entered the nursery, which Arthur had just left.

Violet, seated by the side of the crib where her baby lay, looked up on her husband's entrance, greeting him with a smile of mingled love and sadness.

"Your dear presence is such a comfort and support!" she murmured as he drew near. "I don't like to lose sight of you for a single moment."

"Nor I of you, dearest," he answered, bending down to kiss her pale cheek, then taking a seat close beside her; "but I had to seek solitude for a time while fighting a battle with myself. Since that I have been with Lulu."

He concluded with a heavy sigh, and for a moment both were silent; then he said with grave tenderness,--

"I fear you will find it hard to forgive her: it has been no easy thing for me to do so."

"I cannot yet," returned Violet, a hard look that he had never seen there before stealing over her face; "and that is an added distress, for 'if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.' I think I can if my baby recovers; but should it--be taken away--or--or, worse by far, live to be a constant sufferer--oh, how can I ever forgive the author of that suffering! Pray for me, my dear husband," she sobbed, laying her head on his shoulder.

"I will, I do, my darling," he whispered, passing his arm about her, and drawing her closer; "and I know the help you need will be given.

"'Ask, and it shall be given you.'

"Perhaps it may aid the effort, if I tell you Lulu did not intentionally harm her little sister, and is greatly distressed at her state. She thought it was Rosie's dog pulling at her skirts; and I own that that explanation makes the sad affair a little less heart-rending to me, though I could not accept it as any excuse for an act done in a fury of passion, and have punished her very severely for it; that is, for her passion. I think it is right, under the circumstances, that you should know that I have, and that it is my fixed purpose to keep her in solitary confinement, at least so long as the baby continues in a critical condition."

"Oh! I am glad to know it was not done purposely," Violet exclaimed,--though in a tone hardly raised above a whisper,--lifting her tearful eyes to his face with a look of something like relief: "knowing that, I begin to feel that it may be possible to forgive and forget, especially if the consequences do not prove lasting," she added with a sob, and turning her eyes to the little wan face on the pillow. "But I certainly take no delight in the severity of her punishment: in fact, I fear it may destroy any little affection she has had for her baby sister."

"No," he said, "I am not at all apprehensive of that. When she found I was about to punish her, she said she almost wanted me to; that she felt like beating herself for hurting the baby, then went on to explain her mistake,--thinking it was the dog tugging at her dress,--and I then gave her fully to understand, that the chastisement was not for hurting the baby, but for indulging in such a fury of passion, a fault that I have punished her for on more than one former occasion; telling her, too, that I intended to chastise her every time I knew of her being guilty of it."

The sound of a low sob caused the captain to turn his head, to find his little Grace standing at the back of his chair, and crying bitterly, though without much noise.

He took her hand, and drew her to his side. "What is the matter, daughter?" he asked tenderly.

"O papa! I'm so sorry for Lulu," she sobbed; "please, mayn't I go to her for a little while?"

"No, Gracie. I cannot allow her the pleasure of seeing you, either to-night, or for some days."

"But, papa, you said--you told mamma just now--that you had already punished her very severely; and must you keep on?"

"Yes, my child, so far as to keep her in solitude, that she may have plenty of time to think about what she has brought upon herself and others by the indulgence of an ungovernable temper. She needs to have the lesson impressed upon her as deeply as possible."

"I'm so sorry for her, papa!" repeated the gentle little pleader.

"So am I, daughter," he said; "but I think, that to see that she has the full benefit of this sad lesson, will be the greatest kindness I can do her. And my little Grace must try to believe that papa knows best.

"Now, give me a good-night kiss, and go to your bed, for it is quite time you were there."

As he spoke, he took her in his arms, and held her for a moment in a close embrace. "Papa's dear little girl!" he said softly: "you have never given me a pang, except by your feeble health."

"I don't want to, papa: I hope I never, never shall!" she returned, hugging him tight.

Leaving him, she went to Violet, put her arms about her neck, and said in her sweet, childish treble, "Dear mamma, don't feel so dreadfully about baby: I've been asking God to make her quite, quite well; and I do believe he will."

When she had left the room, the captain found himself alone with his young wife and their little one. Again her head was on his shoulder, his arm about her waist.

"My husband, my dear, dear husband," she murmured, "I am so glad to have you here! I cannot tell you how I longed for you when the children were so ill. Oh, if we could only be together always, as Lester and Elsie, Edward and Zoe, are!"

"My love, my life," he said in low tones, tremulous with feeling, "what if I should tell you that your wish is already accomplished?"

She gave him a glance of astonishment and incredulity.

"It is even so: I mean all I have said," he answered to the look. "I have sent in my resignation: it has been accepted, and I have come home--no, I have come here to make a home for you and my children, hoping to live in it with you and them for the rest of my days."

Her face had grown radiant. "Oh! can it be true?" she cried, half under her breath; for even in her glad surprise, the thought of her suffering babe and its critical condition was present with her: "are we not to be forced apart again in a few days or weeks? not to go on spending more than half our lives at a distance from each other?"

"It is quite true, my darling," he answered, then went on to tell, in a few brief sentences, how it had come about.

"It cost me a struggle to give up the service," he said in conclusion; "and perhaps I might not have decided as I did, but for the thought that, if I should be needed by my country at some future day, I could offer her my services; and the thought that, at present, wife and children needed me more, probably, than she. I felt that Lulu, in particular, needed my oversight and training; that the task of bringing her up was too difficult, too trying, to be left to other hands than those of her father; and I feel that still more sensibly since hearing of this day's doings," he added in a tone of heartfelt sorrow.

"I think you are right," Violet said. "She is more willing to submit to your authority than to that of anybody else; as, indeed, she ought to be: and in a home that she will feel is really her own, her father's house, and with him constantly at hand, to watch over, and help her to correct her faults, there is hope, I think, that she may grow to be all you desire."

"Thank you, love, for saying it," he responded with emotion. "I could not blame you if now you thought her utterly irreclaimable."

"No, oh, no!" she answered earnestly. "I have great hopes of her, with her father at hand to help her in the struggle with her temper; for I am sure she does struggle against it; and I must acknowledge, that, for months past, she has been as good and lovable a child as one could desire. I don't know a more lovable one than she is when her temper does not get the better of her; and, as Gracie says, whenever it does, 'she gets sorry very soon.'"

"My darling," he said, pressing the hand he held, "you are most kind to be so ready to see what is commendable in my wayward child. I cannot reasonably expect even you to look at her with her father's partial eyes. And dearly as I certainly do love her, I have been exceedingly angry with her to-day; so angry, that, for a time, I dared not trust myself to go near her, I, who ought to have unlimited patience with her, knowing, as I do, that she inherits her temper from me."

"I don't know how to believe that, my dear, good husband," Violet said, gazing up into his face with fond, admiring eyes; "for I have never seen any evidence of it. If you have such a temper, you have certainly gained complete mastery of it. And that may well give us hope for Lulu."

"I do not despair of her," he said; "though I was near doing so to-day--for a time--after hearing a full account of her passionate behavior--her savage assault, as it seemed to be, upon her baby sister."

"Oh!" moaned Violet, bending over the little one with fast-falling tears,--for it was moaning as if in pain,--"my baby, my poor, precious baby! how gladly mamma would bear all your suffering for you, if she could! O Levis! what shall we do if she is taken from us?"

"Dear wife, I hope we may not be called to endure that trial," he said; "but, in any case, we have the gracious promise, 'As thy days, so shall thy strength be.' And that blessed assurance, for our consolation, in regard to her, 'He shall gather the lambs with his arm, and carry them in his bosom.'"

"'Tis a very sweet promise; but, oh! I don't know how to resign her, even to Him," she said, weeping bitterly.

"Nor I; but we will try to leave it all with Him. We will rejoice if she is spared to us; and, if not, we will be glad to know that she is so safe, so happy with Him--gathered with His arm, carried in His bosom."

"Yes, yes," she sobbed: "it would be only for ourselves we would need to grieve, not for her, sweet pet."

Elsie, Violet's mother, came into the room at that moment.

"My dear Vi," she said tenderly, "you are looking sadly worn and weary. I want you and the captain to take your rest to-night, while Arthur and I will care for baby."

"Thank you, dearest mamma," Violet replied; "but rest and sleep are quite as necessary to you as to me; and, besides, I could not bear to leave her."

"I took a nap on purpose to be able to sit up to-night," Elsie said; "also, I am less exhausted by mental distress than her mother is, dearly as I love her. Can you not trust her to me, with the doctor sharing my vigil?"

"I could trust your nursing sooner than my own, mother," Violet answered; "it is not that; but I cannot tear myself away from my darling, while she is in so critical a state."

"And I," said the captain, "while warmly thanking you and the doctor, cannot consent to leave either wife or baby to-night."

So, finding they were not to be persuaded to rest, the others left them to watch over the little one through that night.

The morning brought a slight change for the better, yet no certainty of recovery; but even that barely perceptible improvement, joined to the delightful prospect of always having her husband at home, cheered Violet greatly.

They had talked much of that through the night, beguiling the long hours of their tedium with many a bright plan for the future, always hoping that "baby" would be a sharer in their realization.

The captain hoped to buy or build in the near neighborhood of Ion, that Violet need not be separated from her mother,--a separation he was most desirous to avoid on his own account, also; for he entertained a very high regard and warm affection for his mother-in-law, averring that it would be scarcely possible for him to love her better were he her own son.

He had resigned to Violet the pleasure of telling the joyful news to her mother and the whole family, except his children; reserving to himself the right to communicate the glad tidings to them when, and in what way, he should deem best.

Lulu, he said, was to be kept in ignorance of it till the time of her imprisonment expired.

At a very early hour in the morning, Elsie and the doctor came to the relief of the watchers. Arthur noted and announced the improvement, thus reviving hope in the anxious hearts of the parents; and before retiring for a few hours' rest and sleep, Violet whispered to them the news that had gladdened her heart in spite of its heavy load of grief and fear.

They both rejoiced with her, and bade her hope for the best in regard to her babe.

Pain, mental and physical, kept Lulu awake a good while after her father left her; but at length she fell into a deep sleep, which lasted far beyond her customary hour for rising, the house being very still, because of the baby's illness, and the blinds down in her room, so that there was neither light nor noise to rouse her.

Her first thoughts on awaking were a little confused: then, as with a flash, all the events of yesterday came to her remembrance, bringing with them bitter upbraidings of conscience, and torturing anxieties and fears.

Would the baby die? oh! perhaps it was already dead, and she a murderess! the murderess of her own little sister--her father's child!

If that were so, how could she ever look him, or anybody else, in the face again? And what would be done to her? was there any danger that she would be put in prison? oh! that would be far worse than being sent to a boarding-school, even where the people were as strict and as disagreeable as possible!

And she would be sorry, oh, so sorry! to lose the baby sister, or to have her a sufferer from what she had done, for life, or for years, even could she herself escape all evil consequences.

All the time she was attending to the duties of the toilet, these thoughts and feelings were in her mind and heart; and her fingers trembled so that it was with difficulty she could manage buttons and hooks and eyes, or stick in a pin.

She started at every sound, longing, yet dreading,--as she had done the previous day,--to see her father; for who could tell what news he might bring her from the nursery?

Glancing at the little clock on the mantel, when at last she was quite dressed, and ready for her breakfast, she saw that it was more than an hour past the usual time for that meal; yet no one had been near her, and she was very hungry; but, even if her father had not forbidden her to leave the room, she would have preferred the pangs of hunger to showing her face in the dining-room.

Presently, however, footsteps--not those of her father--approached her door.

"Miss Lu," said a voice she recognized as that of her mamma's maid, "please open de doah: hyar's yo' breakfus."

The request was promptly complied with; and Agnes entered, carrying a waiter laden with a bountiful supply of savory and toothsome viands.

"Dar it am," she remarked, when she had set it on the table. "I s'pose mos' likely yo' kin eat ef de precious little darlin' is mos' killed by means ob yo' bein' in a passion an' kickin' ob her--de sweet honey!--down de steps."

And turning swiftly about, her head in the air, the girl swept from the room, leaving Lulu standing in the middle of the floor, fairly struck dumb with indignation, astonishment, and dismay.

"How dared Agnes--a mulatto servant-girl,--talk so to her! But was the baby really dying? Would papa never come to tell her the truth about it? She wouldn't believe any thing so dreadful till she heard it from him: very likely Agnes was only trying to torment her, and make her as miserable as possible."

She had sunk, trembling, into a chair, feeling as if she should never want to eat again; but with that last thought, her hopes revived, hunger once more asserted its sway, and she ate her breakfast with a good deal of appetite and relish.

But, when hunger was appeased, fears and anxieties renewed their assault: she grew half distracted with them, as hour after hour passed on, and no one came near her except another maid, to take away the breakfast-dishes and tidy the room.

On her, Lulu turned her back, holding an open book in her hand, and pretending to be deeply absorbed in its contents, though not a word of the sense was she taking in; for, intense as was her desire to learn the baby's condition, she would not risk any more such stabs to her sensitiveness and pride as had been given by Agnes.

This one came, did her work, and went away again in silence; but all the time she was in the room, Lulu felt that she was casting glances of disgust and disfavor at her. She could not breathe freely till the girl had left the room.

She thought surely the dinner-hour would bring her father; but it did not: her wants were again supplied by a servant.