Chapter XXIII.

An hour later, when Constance went to see Mrs. Dewey, she found her in a state of unconsciousness, nature having at last given way. Not long after I left the house, her mother, on entering the room where the children were laid out, found her insensible, lying across the bed, with her dead babes clasped in her arms.

Mrs. Floyd sent word for me to come and see her daughter, as she continued in a lethargic state. I found her like one in a deep sleep, only her breathing was light, and her pulse very feeble, but regular. She was out of the reach of my skill, and in the hands of the Great Physician. I could only trust the cure to Him. No medicine for the body would be of any avail here. I called again in the afternoon; but found no change. How little was there in the pale, pinched face that lay among the white pillows, to remind me of the handsome, dashing Mrs. Dewey, of a year gone by!

"What do you think of her, Doctor?"

Mrs. Floyd put the question. The tone had in it something that made me look narrowly into the speaker's face. My ears had not deceived me.

There was the wish in her heart that Delia might die!

I was not surprised at this. And yet the revelation of such a state of feeling, in so good and true a woman, as I had reason to know Mrs. Floyd to be, made my heart bound with a throb of pain.

Alas! alas! Into what unnatural conditions may not the mind fall, through suffering that shuts out human hope!

"Nature," said I, in answer to the question of Mrs. Floyd, "may be only gathering up her powers after a long period of exhaustion. The strife through which your daughter has passed--calmly passed to all external seeming--has not been without a wasting of internal life. How she kept on so evenly to the end, passes my comprehension. There is not one woman in a thousand who could have so borne herself through to the final act. It is meet that she should rest now."

"If she were sleeping with her babes, happy would it be for her!"

Tears fell over the face of Mrs. Floyd.

"God knows what is best," I remarked.

"She has nothing to live for in this world." A sob broke from its repression, and heaved the mother's bosom. "O Doctor, if I saw the death dews on her brow, I would not weep!"

"Leave her, my dear friend," said I, "in the hands of Him who sees deeper into the heart than it is possible for our eyes to penetrate. Her feet have left the soft, flowery ways they trod for a time, and turned into rough paths, where every footfall is upon sharp stones; but it may be that a blessed land is smiling beyond, he has been astray in the world, and God may only be leading her homeward by the way of sorrow."

Mrs. Floyd wept freely as I talked.

"His will be done," she said, sobbing.

"Your daughter," said I, taking the occasion to bear my testimony on the favorable side, "has been wronged without question. She was doubtless imprudent, but not sinful; and the present attempt to disgrace her I regard as a cruel wrong. It will recoil, I trust, in a way not dreamed of."

"O Doctor, let me thank you for such words."

And Mrs. Floyd caught my arm with an eager movement.

"I speak soberly, madam, and from observation and reflection. And I trust to see Delia live and triumph over her enemies."

"Won't you talk with the Squire, Doctor?" She still grasped my arm. "He will not hear a word from me in favor of Delia. Mr. Dewey has completely blinded him."

"Wait patiently, Mrs. Floyd," said I, in a tone of encouragement. "Your daughter is not without friends. There are those upon her side, who have the will and the power to defend her; and they will defend her, I believe successfully."

A sigh fluttered through the room, causing us both to turn quickly towards the bed on which Mrs. Dewey was lying. Her lips were moving slightly; but no change appeared on her death-like face. I laid my fingers upon her wrist, and searched for her pulse. It was very low and thread-like; but with more vitality than on the occasion of my first visit to her in the morning.

"The signs are favorable."

Mrs. Floyd did not respond. She was looking at her daughter with an expression of unutterable grief upon her countenance.

I did not attempt to give medicine, but left unerring nature to do her own work.

Mrs. Dewey did not again look upon the faces of her dead children. They were buried ere her mind awoke to any knowledge of passing events. I was at the funeral, and closely observed her husband. He appeared very sober, and shed some tears at the grave, when the little coffins were lowered together into the earth.

It was a week before Mrs. Dewey was clearly conscious of external things. I visited her every day, watching, with deep interest, her slow convalescence. It was plain, as her mind began to recover its faculties, that the memory of a sad event had faded; and I was anxious for the effect, when this painful remembrance was restored.

One day I found her sitting up in her room. She smiled feebly as I came in, and said:

"Doctor, am I never going to get well? It seems like an age since I became sick."

"You are getting on finely," I answered, in a cheerful way, sitting down by her and taking her hand, which was wasted and shadowy.

"I don't know about that, Doctor," she said.

"What makes me so weak? I've no more strength than a babe. And that reminds me of a frightful dream I had." And her countenance changed.

"A dream?" I queried.

"Yes; I thought Aggy and Lu were both dead! I saw them laid out, cold and white as statues, just as plainly as I see you now."

She stopped suddenly, an expression of fear going over her face--then looked at me in a strange, questioning way.

"Doctor"--she leaned towards me, with lips apart, and eyes full of a sudden, wild alarm. I laid my hand upon her, and said:

"You have been very ill for some time, Mrs. Dewey, and are too weak to bear excitement. Don't let mere dreams disturb you."

"Dreams?" Her eyes fell from mine. "Dreams?" she repeated. "I feel very weak, Doctor," was added, after a few moments. "Won't you assist me to lie down?"

And she made a movement to rise. I took her arm and supported her to the bed, where she quietly composed herself, and turned her face away, so as almost to hide it from my view. At this moment Mrs. Floyd came in, and I withdrew, leaving them together.

Memory had been restored. The accompanying shock was severe, but not heavy enough seriously to retard her recovery, which went on slowly. She still remained at the Allen House, rarely meeting her husband, who now spent a large part of his time in New York.

The period fixed for a trial of the case between them was fast approaching. He continued resolute, and she did not waver from her purpose to defend her good name. The deep interest I took in the case, led me to see Mr. Wallingford often, and make inquiry as to the evidence which could be produced in Mrs. Dewey's favor, and the probable chances of an honorable result. We both favored a settlement of the difficulty without a trial and its consequent exposure, if that were possible. But how to prevent this was the difficult question. Finally it was determined to make a copy of the letter found by Mrs. Dewey, and enclose it to her husband, giving him warning at the same time that the original would be produced at the trial.

Nothing was heard in response to this movement, until within a week of the day on which the case was expected to come up, when Mr. Dewey's lawyer called on Mr. Orton to know if it was still his intention to meet them in open court and resist their application for a divorce. On being assured that such was their purposes he expressed some regret at the consequent damage to the lady's reputation, as they had evidence against her of the most conclusive character. Finally he wished to know whether, in case a new ground were taken--one not touching the lady's good name--any opposition would be made. Mr. Orton said that he would consult his client, and answer the query with as little delay as practicable.

Mrs. Dewey expressed a willingness to remain passive, provided no allegations were made in the new bill that even remotely cast a shadow upon her virtue

But Mr. Wallingford, on taking the matter into further consideration, advised a different course altogether--no less than an application from the other side, on the ground of neglect, ill-treatment, and constructive conjugal infidelity, based on the important letter already referred to. Mrs. Dewey caught eagerly at this suggestion, as soon as it was presented to her. If a divorce were thus obtained, her vindication would be complete.

The ranks of the enemy were thrown into confusion by this diversion. Mr. Dewey was violent, and threatened most terrible consequences. But when the time set for the case to come up arrived, he failed to appear.

It was from the other side that the next movement came. A divorce was applied for on the part of Mrs. Dewey, in a bill carefully drawn up by Mr. Wallingford. It asked not only for a legal separation from her husband, but for alimony, and the possession of the two remaining children. An answer was filed; but it was of so feeble a character as to amount to scarcely anything in the way of opposition. The chief argument was directed against the claim for alimony. The result was as we had anticipated. In the following spring a divorce was granted, and Mrs. Dewey, with her two children, left the Allen House and returned to her father's. The maintenance allowed by the court, was one thousand dollars a year for herself, and five hundred a year for each of the children during their minority.

And so closed this exciting drama, begun in weakness, and ending in hopeless disaster. Oh, a few years! How many broken hearts do they close over? How many wrecks of goodly lives do they see scattered among the breakers!

The interposition of Mr. Wallingford, in this case, was so managed as to keep him entirely out of sight, and Mrs. Dewey was never made aware of the fact that he had rendered her a great service.