Chapter V.
 
                                   "I feel
    Of this dull sickness at my heart afraid
    And in my eyes the death sparks flash and fade
    And something seems to steal
    Over my bosom like a frozen hand."
                            --Willis.

Dr. Arthur Conly rode briskly up the avenue at Roselands, dismounted, throwing the bridle to a servant, and went up the steps into the veranda, whistling softly to himself.

"You seem in good spirits, Art," remarked Calhoun, who sat there with the morning paper in his hand. "I haven't heard you whistle before for--well I should say something like a fortnight."

"I am in good spirits, Cal, the Ion children are out of danger, and uncle has just had a telegram from Ned announcing the safe arrival of their party in New York in good season to take the steamer."

"I presume this tells the same story, though I can't think why it isn't directed to grandpa, or to me as the eldest son of the house," Calhoun said, handing an unopened telegram to his brother.

Arthur tore it hastily open, glanced at the contents and paled to the very lips.

"What is it?" cried Calhoun in alarm.

"Mother!" said Arthur huskily, putting the paper into his brother's outstretched hand. "She has been struck down with apoplexy. Cal, I must take the first train for New York. Look at the paper, see when it leaves. Thank God that those children are out of danger! But I must see whom I can get to take charge of them and my other patients during my absence."

Then calling to a servant he directed a fresh horse to be saddled and brought to the door with all speed, and hurrying into the house, summoned his old mammy and bade her pack a valise with such clothing as he would need on a journey to the North which might occupy a week or more.

"You are acting very promptly," Calhoun said, following him in to give the desired information in regard to the train.

"Yes, there's not a minute to lose, Cal."

Calhoun's face was full of grief and anxiety. "I think I should go, too, Art, if--if you think there's any probability of--finding her alive."

"It's impossible to tell. But we can hardly both be spared from home. It should be kept from grandpa as long as possible, and if he saw us both rushing off in the direction she has taken, he would know at once that something very serious had happened her."

"Yes, you are right, and for the first time I envy you your medical knowledge and skill. She's with Virginia, the message is sent by her," glancing again at the paper which he still held in his hand. "I'm glad of that--that she has at least one of her children with her, if----"

He paused and Arthur finished the sentence. "If she will be of any use or comfort to her, you were about to say? Well, we can only hope that so terrible an emergency has developed some hitherto unsuspected excellencies in Virginia's character."

A horse came galloping up the avenue. Calhoun glanced from the window.

"Another telegram!" he cried, and both brothers dashed out upon the veranda.

This was directed to Calhoun, sent from Philadelphia by their uncle Edward Allison. He and Adelaide would be with Mrs. Conly in two hours, telegraph at once in what condition they found her, and if practicable start with her immediately for her home.

The brothers consulted together, and Arthur decided to go on with his preparations, but delay setting out upon his journey until the coming of the promised message.

It came in due time, and from it they learned that their mother was already on her way home.

The sad tidings had now to be communicated to the other near relatives, but it was deemed best to keep them from the younger children and the feeble old father until the day when she might be expected to arrive.

As gently and tenderly as possible the old gentleman's son broke the news to him.

He was much overcome. "She will never get over it, I fear," he sighed, the tears coursing down his furrowed cheeks. "One bereavement is apt to tread closely upon the heels of another, and she will probably soon follow her sister. But oh if I only knew that she had been washed from her sins in the precious blood of Christ, that she had accepted His invitation, 'Come unto me,' so that death would be but falling asleep in Him, safe in His arms, safe on His gentle breast--I think I could let her go almost willingly, for my race is well nigh run, and it can hardly be long ere I too shall get my summons home."

"Dear father, if such be the will of God, may you be spared to us for many years yet," returned his son with emotion. "And Louise! We do not know her exact condition, but let us hope that God will in His great mercy give her yet more time--months or years--in which to prepare for eternity. We will cry earnestly for her, and in the name of Christ, to Him who hath said, 'I have no pleasure in the death of him that dieth,' but bids them 'Turn yourselves and live ye.'"

"Yes; and whose promise is, 'If two of you shall agree on earth, as touching anything that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven!'"

Silence fell between them for a moment, then the old gentleman asked, "What arrangements have the boys made? She will hardly be able to drive home in a carriage."

"Oh no! they will meet her at the depot with an ambulance, and I shall be there with the carriage for Mr. Allison, Adelaide, and Virginia."

"Virginia is coming too?"

"We do not know certainly, but expect to see her with the others."

"I cannot say that I hope you will. I never saw a more useless person; she will be only in the way; and--I cannot banish a suspicion that she has brought this attack upon her poor mother. I strongly suspect that Virginia's match has turned out a very bad one, and that she has heaped reproaches upon her mother for the hand she had in bringing it about."

"I hope not!" his son exclaimed with energy; "for if so it must surely be the cause of life-long self-reproach to her. Will you go with us to the depot, father?"

"No, no, my son! let my first sight of my poor stricken child be where we will not be the gazing stock of an idle, curious crowd. I shall meet her here at my own door."

The train steamed into the depot, and Mrs. Allison, glancing from a window of the parlor-car, saw her brother and nephews standing near the track.

They saw her, too, and lifted their hats with a sad sort of smile. All felt that the invalid must be unable to sit up or her face also would have been in sight.

In another moment the train had come to a stand-still, and the next the three gentlemen were beside the couch on which Mrs. Conly lay.

She looked up at her sons with eyes full of intelligence, made an effort to speak, but in vain; and the big tears rolled down her cheeks.

They bent over her with hearts and eyes full to overflowing.

"Mother, dear mother, we are glad you have come to us alive," Calhoun said in low, tremulous tones.

"And we hope we shall soon have you much better," added Arthur.

"Yes," said Adelaide, "she is already better than when we first saw her in New York, but has not yet recovered her speech and can not help herself at all. One side seems to be quite paralyzed."

"We have an ambulance waiting," said Calhoun. "As soon as the crowd is out of the way it shall be brought close to the platform of this car and we will lift her into it."

Greetings were exchanged while they waited.

"Where is Virginia?" asked Mr. Dinsmore.

"She preferred to remain behind," replied Mrs. Allison in a low-toned aside, "and as she would have been of no use whatever, we did not urge her to come."

"It is just as well," was Mr. Dinsmore's comment.

Very tenderly and carefully the poor invalid was lifted and placed in the ambulance by her sons and brothers. The former accompanied her in it, while the latter, with Mrs. Allison, entered the Roselands family carriage, and drove thither considerably in advance of the more slowly moving ambulance.

"Has Virginia made a really good match?" Mr. Dinsmore asked, addressing his sister Adelaide.

"Good! it could hardly be worse!" she exclaimed. "Would you have believed it? we found them in a tenement-house, living most wretchedly."

"Is it possible! He was not wealthy then? Or has he lost his means since the marriage?"

"As far as I can learn," said Mr. Allison, "he has always lived by his wits; he is a professional gambler now."

"Dreadful! How does he treat his wife?"

"Very badly indeed, if we may credit her story. They live, as the saying is, like cat and dog, actually coming to blows at times. They are both bitterly disappointed, each having married the other merely for money; which neither had."

Mr. Dinsmore looked greatly concerned. "Virginia was never a favorite of mine," he remarked, "but I do not like to think of her as suffering from either poverty or the abusive treatment of a bad husband. Can nothing be done to better her condition?"

"I think not at present," said Adelaide; "she has made her bed and will have to lie in it. I don't believe the man would ever proceed to personal violence if she did not exasperate him with taunts and reproaches; with slaps, scratches, and hair pulling also, he says."

"O disgraceful!" exclaimed her uncle. "I have no pity for her if she is really guilty of such conduct."

"She told me herself that on one occasion she actually threw a cup of coffee in his face in return for his accusation that she and her mother had inveigled him into the marriage by pretences to wealth they did not possess. Poor Louise! I have no doubt her attack was brought on by the discovery of the great mistake she and Virginia had made, and reproaches heaped on her for her share in making the match."

"'Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap,'" sighed Mr. Dinsmore. "I presume Virginia was too proud to show herself here among relatives whose approval of the match had not been asked, and acquaintances who had heard of it as a splendid affair?"

"Your conjecture is entirely correct," said Adelaide. "She gave vent to her feelings on the subject in her mother's presence, supposing, I presume, as I did, that not being able to speak or move, she was also unable to hear or understand, but it was evident from the piteous expression her countenance assumed and the tears coursing down her cheeky that she did both."

"Poor Louise! she has a sad reaping--so far as that ungrateful, undutiful daughter is concerned; but Isa, Calhoun, and Arthur are of quite another stamp."

"Yes, indeed! she will surely find great comfort in them. I wish Isa was not so far away. But you have not told me how my dear old father is. How has he borne this shock?"

"It was a shock of course, especially to one so old and feeble; but I left him calmly staying himself upon his God."

They arrived at Roselands some time before the ambulance. They found the whole household, and also Mrs. Howard, her husband and sons, and Mrs. Travilla, gathered upon the veranda to receive them.

Lora stood by her father's side and Elsie too was very near, both full of loving care for him in this time of sore trial.

And Adelaide's first thought, first embrace, were for him. They wept a moment in each other's arms.

"Is she--is she alive?" he faltered.

"Yes, father, and we hope may get up again. Be comforted for her and for yourself; because 'He doeth all things well,' and 'We know that all things work together for good to them that love God.'"

"Yes, yes; and who can tell but this may be His appointed means for bringing her into the fold!"

There had been time for an exchange of greetings all around and a few comforting words to the younger Conlys, when the ambulance was seen entering the avenue.

With beating hearts and tearful eyes they watched its slow progress. Lying helpless and speechless in the shadow of death, Louise Conly seemed nearer and dearer than ever before to father, children, brothers and sisters.

The ambulance stopped close to the veranda steps, and the same strong, loving arms that had placed her in it now lifted her anew and bore her into the house, the others looking on in awed and tearful silence.

She was carried to her own room, laid upon the bed, and one by one they stood for an instant at her side with a kiss of welcome.

It was evident that she knew them all, though able to speak only with those sad, wistful eyes that gazed with new yearning affection into the faces of father and children.

But presently Arthur, by virtue of his medical authority, banished all from the room except Lora, Elsie, and a faithful and attached old negress who had lived all her days in the family and was a competent nurse.