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LONDON SOCIETY.

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The heir Presumptive and the beir Apparent.

By MRS. OLIPHANT,

Author of “THE SON OF HIS FATHER,” “S1R ToM,” “THE CHRONICLES OF CARLINGFORD,” NEIGHBOURS ON THE GREEN,” KIRSTEEN,” etc., etc.

CHAPTER XXXVI.

LETITIA’S triumph and delight when she found that she was to have her ball to herself, without the presence either of- Lady Frog- more, who would have made her seem second in what she called her own house, or Mar, who would have been the hero of the evening had he appeared, were almost more than words could say. It seemed to her too good to be true that Mary should come, giving thus her sanction and approval, and then go away, interfering with nothing; and that Mar should play into her hands, and disqualify himself by the fatigue of his long ramble, a thing which she could not have hoped for! It seemed to Mrs. Parke as if Providence had taken the matter in hand and was fighting for her. It is easy to be pious when things go so much to one’s mind, and it is always so easy to deceive one’s-self about the virtuousness of one’s aims. When a woman is scheming for her children and their benefit, does it not seem as if the stars in their courses should fight for her? And Letitia would have in- dignantly flung off the charge of selfishness: was it not all for Duke—for her husband and her children—that they should have everything they wanted and a happy life ? that they should, if possible, have all the honours of the race secured to them, or at least should triumph as much as possible over the untoward accident which had alienated these honours? It was not for her- self, Letitia would have said, with fine indignation—what could it matter for her? and what could it be supposed but a mother’s first and highest duty to strive for the advantage of Duke ?

. It must not be supposed, however, that Mrs. Parke’s treatment

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of Mar had any distinct evil intention. It was her real conviction that the boy would not live, and she dealt with him as the man in the parable dealt with the talent which was given to him to make profit of, and which he laid up ina napkin. Had she been more generously inspired she would have endeavoured, even by taking a risk, to stimulate the forces of the delicate boy. Had he been her own son this is what she would have done; but Letitia’s first thought was, not to save him, but that it might not be said he had been exposed to any danger while under her charge. She thought that she protected herself from all blame by making a hothouse plant of the boy, and shutting him up from every wind that blew. “No one can say he has not been taken every care of,” she said. Should “anything happen” she, at least, would thus be free from blame. It would be known to all that she had been more careful of him than of her own—that she had not suffered the winds of heaven to visit his cheeks too roughly ; that she had kept him from fatigue, from excitement, from every- thing calculated to hurt him. And in all this she was sincere enough. That she had also wished to ignore him, to keep hin in the background, to give her own children the advantages which were meant chiefly for Mar, did not hurt her conscience. It was not for herself—she derived no benefit from the fact that Mar was not sent to school—on the contrary it was a self-denial to her, a bond preventing her from amusing herself as she would, never leaving home except for a day or two. That it gave to Duke the principal place, and made John a much more important person in the county, were objects unconnected with Mrs. Parke’s personality: then how could she be called selfish? It can never be selfishness to strive for the pre-eminence of your husband and your child. Thus Letitia made her conscience quite comfortable when it did by chance give her a pinch. But generally it must be said her perfect conviction that she was right, whatever she did, daunted her conscience and kept everything quiet. Of course she was right! She had a delicate boy to bring up who everybody said would never be reared, and she took such care of him that he was never exposed to a draught, or suffered to escape from the cotton-wool in which her assiduous and constant attention enveloped him. What could a woman do more? She thus put herself beyond the possibility of reproach whatever happened, while strengthening the conviction of everybody around

RT ee ME RS eT Le eT LOT NE eT LE FE TERESI SOM re TOOT EE Oe ne Se

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that the young Lord Frogmore would never live to grow up; but if people chose to form that conclusion the fault was not Letitia’s. She shared it indeed herself, and shook her head over the state of Mar’s health ; but when amiable neighbours said, “If care will save him I am sure, dear Mrs. Parke, you will do it,” she shook her head again. “I do all I can,” she said, “at the risk of being told I do more harm than good. Some people think I should try bracing for him—exposing him like the other children. But I think it is best to be on the safe side. I shall be blamed any- how, whatever happens, I know,” she would add with a smile. She would have convinced any one; and she did convince herself. She thought she was only angry with Mar because it was so difficult to make him take proper precautions. She was certain that she wished nothing but his good.

It may be supposed that the exhibition in the tent, the sudden surging up of Mar—the delicate boy whom nobody knew—into a distinct boyish personality, suddenly producing himself in the most attractive and characteristic way at Duke’s dinner, when she intended only Duke to be thought of, was gall and bitterness to Letitia. She was almost beside herself with rage and exaspera- tion. It had been all planned for Duke. It had been intended to give him the aspect of the heir (which he was sure to be even- tually), and if there can be supposed any more sharp deception, any more poignant disappointment than Letitia’s, when she saw the other boy, who was the shadow upon Duke’s sunshine, the barrier to his advancement, pushed to the front, and so conducting himself there as to make it for ever impossible to speak of him as of a sick and puny child—it would be very difficult to findit. That she could have strangled Mar, and also Duke and Letty, and every one who was in the complot, in the exasperation of her soul, is not too much tosay. She had to conceal this under the appear- ance of anxiety lest the boy should have harmed himself; and discoursed, as has been seen, on the danger of excitement for him, with a bitterness and energy which went too far, and betrayed something of her real motive at least to some of her children. But that real motive was not a guilty one. It was only to keep Mar in the background and bring forward her own boy. That was all—only to make Duke first, which by an accident he was not—which he ought to be by age, the other being really no more

than a child, a child to whom it was pernicious to be brought 22°

340 THE HEIR PRESUMPTIVE

forward like that, to be forced out of the quiet life which was the only thing possible to him. Letitia found herself able to carry matters with a high hand, both with her conscience and those keen critics her children. Of course she was angry. It was the very worst thing that could have happened to Mar. And for his poor mother who had fainted, what a shock !

When it happened after this that Mary fled, taking a hurried leave, excusing herself anxiously, imploring Letitia not to think her unkind, and left the course clear ; and that Mar, in his elation, possibly, after yesterday, and foolish fancy that he had emanci- pated himself, went and took that long walk and unfitted himself for the fatigue of the evening, Letitia’s spirit—we will not say her heart—gave a bound of satisfaction. The stars in their courses were fighting for her. She was mistress of her own entertain- ment, undeniably the most important person, not overshadowed by the woman who never ought to have been Lady Frogmore. And when the county ladies, so many of whom had heard of it, began to talk to her of the event of yesterday, and to express their satisfaction in hearing that her young nephew was so much stronger and had made quite a speech and such a good impression, Letitia felt herself supported by every right feeling in the gravity with which she still continued to shake her head. “Ah, poor Mar! Yes, he did very well, poor boy ; but it has cost him dear. I did not take much satisfaction in his speech, for I knew it would cost him dear.”

“TI suppose he is here to-night,” said the great lady of the county, putting up her eyeglass and looking round her. “I want to see him if you will let me, for his father and I were great friends. I want to ask him to Highwood now he is getting old enough——”

Oh, he is not here,” said Letitia. “He is in bed with a sort of nervous attack and great weakness. I tell my Duke his cousin was unable for excitement, but it is so difficult to make boys understand.”

“It was not that, mamma—it was the long walk,” whispered Letty at her ear.

“T see the Miss Winfords without partners,” said Mrs, Parke severely, “and shoals of young men about. Go and introduce them—+you little horror!” said the mother, the last words under her breath, and she turned again to the great county lady. “I

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knew,” she said, “that he could not bear anything of the kind. Absolute quiet is the only thing that suits poor Mar. But my boy is very fond of him and thinks it kindness to thrust him forward. All pure affection, but affection does just as much harm as en- mity—or more sometimes.” Letitia spoke with a strength of conviction which much impressed the ladies who were listening. “Tt is a great disappointment to us all,” she said, poor boy, that he can’t be here to-night.”

The same question was put to her again and again during the evening. “Where is little Frogmore? I want to see little Frog- more. I hear he quite distinguished himself at your tenants’ dinner, Parke.” “What have you done with the boy? I made sure we should see him to-night.” Where is the young lord?” These were the demands that flew about on every side.

John, carefully tutored by his wife, made an answer as much like hers as it was possible for so different a speaker to make.

“Yes, he made a famous speech. He’s a fine boy, but overdid himself, and my wife has put him to bed. My wife’s too careful over the boy,” said John. |

Ah, it isa great responsibility to have the care of children that are not your own,” said some one standing by.

“I suppose so,” said Mr. Parke, smoothing his big moustache.

The responsibility would not have moved John. He would have let Mar take his chance with the rest, and made no differ- ence; but he had been well tutored, and made to see that this would never do. “A mother’s always anxious, you know,” he said. “As for me, I think it does more harm than good.”

Letitia had, after much vexation, come to the conclusion that it was not a bad thing John should talk like this. It would show that there was no agreement between them for keeping Mar out of the way.

And the ball was most brilliantly successful—more successful, every one said, than any ball in the county had been for years. There was no shadow at all upon it—no reminder to the family that they were temporary tenants, and that in a few years they would all have to retire from the scene, which they all used and rejoiced in as if it were their own.

Mrs. Parke, in the satisfaction of finding all possible rivalry absent, felt that her feet were upon her native heath as she had never done: she talked to everybody of Duke’s prospects, and of

342 THE HEIR PRESUMPTIVE

the difference it made when he came home. She spoke of the younger boys, who would have their own way to make, and must not think they would always have their father’s house to fall back upon. She spoke of John’s good intelligence with “the tenants,” and how well he was getting on with the Home Farm, which he had taken into his own hands. For this night only she forgot to be careful; she took the full enjoyment of the position, as if everything was her own. Nearly a dozen years she had been in the house, with full command of everything. The children had grown up in it. How could she help feeling that it was her own? She forgot all about guardians and executors, and it seemed to her for a blessed hour or two as if all difficulties had been smoothed away, and Duke was indeed the heir, and she her- self all but Lady Frogmore. Moments of intoxication will come like this in everybody’s career—when we remember nothing that is against us, and are able to believe that all we wish is going to be fulfilled. It was remarked how Mrs. Parke’s eyes, not bright by nature, glittered, and how her little person seemed to swell with satisfaction and pride as she moved about doing the honours. But her aspect, I am afraid, was not regarded with sympathy by the greater part of her guests." We areall apt to believe that the outer world takes our view and regards matters from our standing- point in such a moment of triumph. But as a matter of fact that is precisely the time when it does not do so. Letitia’s neighbours whispered to each other that Mrs. Parke looked as if everything belonged to her—“ which it doesn’t at all, you know,” and talked as if her husband was the head of the house and her son the heir—“ whereas, as soon as little Frogmore comes of age they must all pack off.” They thought it bad taste of Letitia not to have produced the boy. “If he’sas ill as that she might have had him on the sofa. He ought to have showed for a little,” they said. But Mrs. Parke was quite unconscious of their senti- ments. There never had been a time in her life when she had ‘so ignored them. Always till now she had retained a conscious- ness of what people would be saying. But this evening it had vanished from her mind. She was fy, as people say in Scotland ; her prosperity had gone to her head and made her forget every- thing that was not delightful. Either some great and critical ‘moment, or perhaps death itself, was in her way. “Well,” she said, when all was over, it has gone off asI never

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saw anything go off before. Everything went well, the music and the floor, and the supper and the temper of the people. They were all so pleasant. The old marchioness made me the prettiest of speeches. She said, ‘The Park has never been so brilliant as in your time.’ The young people hoped we would have another every year. I said,‘ Perhaps ’—for after all there is nothing so easily managed as a ball when it zs a success.”

“You must remember, Letitia,” said John, “that there cannot be very many years now before we’ve got to march out bag and baggage.”

“Oh, don’t speak nonsense,” she cried incredulously. In the sweep of her excitement she would not receive that thought.

But, mother, it’s true,” said Duke. “I’ve liked the ball awfully. You are one for. this sort of thing ; nobody can do it like you. But of course when Mar comes of age e

“Oh, don’t speak to me of Mar. He'll never come of age!” she cried in the wildness of her elated mood. There was a universal cry: “Letitia! Mother! Mamma!” in different tones of indignation and horror.

She was driven out of all sense of decorum in her heat and excitement. “Oh, you set of fools!” Letitia said.

CHAPTER XXXVII.

NEXT morning Mar, who had slept little all night, was found to be feverish and unwell, which was a state of affairs by no means unusual or alarming, but which gave to Letitia a sort of additional triumph. “What did I say to you?” she cried. “You dragged him out of the quiet that is natural at his age and forced him to make a public appearance. You seem quite pleased with your- selves, all of you, though I told you what would happen. And here he is in bed again, and no telling when he may be allowed to get up.”

“It was the walk yesterday, mamma,” said Letty, “and not sleeping, what with the noise and the music. It was not making that speech %

“Of course you must know best,” said the mother, “and you have favoured me with your opinion to that effect before.”

“Oh, mamma, don’t, please, be angry. Mar says he is quite well enough to get up. He says it is only because he didn’t sleep.”

344 THE HEIR PRESUMPTIVE

Of course he knows best,” said Letitia. ‘You are all so sure of your own wisdom. But I hope it will convince you that for his own interests that sort of thing must not be done.”

She went away, however, without giving any distinct orders, and Mar got up. But when he was up he was giddy and queer,” so he said, and quite disposed to lie down again. The tide of life was so strong in the house with all these young people about that a delicate boy was not much remarked. Duke would rush up in the middle of his own occupation with his tennis bat still in his hand, or in his cricketing costume fresh from the village green, and say, Hallo, Mar! no better ? You must get better, old fellow, and come and have a game.” And Letty came in many times a day to ask how he was getting on. Youreally must be better to-morrow, Mar,” she said. “Mamma puts it all down to the tenants’ dinner, and says you should not have been allowed to speak. She puts all the blame on Duke and me.”

“There is no blame,” said Mar; “it is only that I am sucha poor creature. I am never good for anything.”

“Well, you must be better to-morrow,” Letty would say, and go off to her ride, or perhaps to her tennis, which she too played very well. And then Tiny would come in with her hair flying in her haste, as soon as her lesson was over. “Are you better, Mar?”

“Qh, yes, a little; but I shall not go downstairs to-day,” the boy would say, smiling at her.

“Oh, it is too tiresome,” cried Tiny ; “I want you to come with me and get some water-lilies out of the pond. Duke’s always so busy ; he will never do anything. And I want you to come down the village with me to see the man about those little dachshund puppies. It is too bad of you, Mar, to be ill now. I want you so much.”

“T am very sorry, Tiny; but you see I can’t help myself.”

Oh, you could if you would try hard! Just put ona resolution and make up your mind, and do, do be better to-morrow!” cried Tiny with vehemence. It is to be feared that this earnestness was simply on Tiny’s own account, to whom Mar was a most service- able follower—but the boy was grateful for this vigorous demand.

“T will if I can,” he said—and then Tiny flew off with her hair waving, and he remained till the next visitor arrived. To tell the truth it was rather pleasant to them all to find him there always

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ready to hear what they had to say: and when they expressed their impatience with his illness, or ordered him imperiously to get well, they were, though unconsciously, only half sincere. It’s nice to have you to run to always, Mar.” Tiny said, who being the youngest was the most unabashed in the utterance of fact. And Mar smiled and replied that it was nice to have them all coming to him. “If Iamever dull I knowI shall soon hear some one running upstairs.”

But remember,” cried Tiny, “you have promised to be better to-morrow.”

“Oh, yes,” said Mar, “I shall be better to-morrow.”

“If you don’t, I heard mamma say she would send for the doctor, Mar.”

“TI shall be better,” cried the boy. And as a matter of fact he did drag himself downstairs and got out to the avenue in a dutiful endeavour to follow Tiny to see after the dachshund: puppies ; but he grew so pale, and so soon found out that he could not drag one foot after the other, that a great panic arose among the young people. _Duke was called from his tennis (for there were-visitors that afternoon and a great game was going on)

~ by Tiny in a voice more like that of a signalman in a gale than

of a young lady. “Duke!” she said, Mar’s fainted,” which brought Duke with a rush like a regiment of cavalry across the lawn, followed by Letty, her white dress flashing like a ray of light across the shadows. Mar fainted! They flung themselves upon him where he half sat, half lay upon a great trunk of a tree which had lain there for years overgrown with moss and lichens—the very same upon which Mary his mother had once thrown herself before he was born.

No—I haven’t fainted—I’m only—very tired. I'll go in again directly,” said Mar.

“Oh, can’t you carry him home, Duke? We'll help you. Oh, it is all my fault,” cried Tiny. “If I had only known!”

“Old fellow,” cried Duke, who had the tears in his eyes, “if you'll put your arms round my neck I'll carry you. I can, I can. Oh, I wish you were twice the weight.”

“Don’t worry him,” cried Letty. “He would rather walk with your arm and mine. Oh, I did not know you were so ill, Mar!”

Here Letitia came hurrying towards them, which brought a little colour to Mar’s cheeks.

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What’s the matter?” she said. You have stopped two games, rushing off like mad creatures. Oh, I might have known it was Mar.”

The two games may go to—Bath,” cried Duke, flinging away from him with disdain the racquet which he had still been holding in his hand.

“T’m quite able to walk now,” said Mar. “I'll go home. Go back to your game, please. I’m not very well, Aunt Letitia. I couldn’t get on any further, and Tiny took fright ; that’s all.”

“You can give him your arm indoors, Duke, which he never ought to have quitted. I can’t conceive what he means. He is always doing something to pose as if he was not taken care of. Letty, go back to your friends—go back when I tell you! I hope I know how to manage him. You can tell the doctor to come when he has finished his game. It is a good thing he is here. Nowcome along, Mar ; alittle energy. If you could walk so far as this coming out you may surely get back again.”

“Qh, easily,” said Mar. And though it was not easy at all he accomplished it, and got back to the sofa in the schoolroom, where he had spent so many wistful days, putting the best face upon it that he could and urging Duke to return to his game, which that light-hearted youth, quite reassured to see that his cousin could walk and could smile, did not hesitate to do, flying downstairs heaven knows how many steps at a time to get back to his play. The anxious group which had gathered round Mar like a whirl- wind dispersed again in the same way, relieved, and thinking no evil. Oh, yes, he was better—no worse than he often was ; nothing to be frightened about.

And now let’s finish our game,” said Duke.

The robust yet careless family affection, which would have done anything for the weakling among them, left him, cheerful and com- forted, as soon as he was “better,” having no anxious thought.

And Mar was left to Letitia and her terse and unemotional

questionings. It was Mrs. Parke’s habit to take all his ailments

as a sort of reproach to herself. “You might have known that it was not fit for you-to go out in the blazing sun,” she said ; “but you seem to take a pleasure in behaving as if no attention was ever paid to you.” . She went and got him a cushion with her own hands, and thrust it under his head with an irritable movement, and walked up and

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down the room, drawing down a blind over the window which gave Mar a glimpse of the sky and green trees he loved, and putting things in order which needed no arrangement.

“The doctor is a long time over his game,” she said to the old nurse, who still attended to the wants of the schoolroom. “I think he might have come before now.”

“Don’t let me keep you up here, Aunt Letitia,” said Mar. “There is not much the matter with me; it is a pity to trouble the doctor.”

“You will please not meddle with what I do, Mar,” she replied. “If you would only pay a little attention to what may be ex- pected from yoursel Pe

The doctor came at last, and asked a great many questions and looked very grave. He ordered Mar to bed, not to lie on the sofa any longer, and gave a great many directions about quiet and fresh air and beef tea. He himself helped the boy to his room, and

“was so careful and so kind that there came to Mar’s mind a half

elation, half melancholy, in the thought that he was going to be ill—that at last, after his years of delicate health, there was going to be something the matter with him which would prove all that Mrs. Parke had said, and of which he would possibly die. A great excitement, silent and suppressed, rose in his mind with this thought. It was alarming and strange, but it was not altogether unpleasing. There is a kind of pre-eminence, of superiority, in being very ill, toa boy. It was like going into a battle. He felt solemnized, yet half amused. He was to be the hero of a sort of drama—he was to be in danger of his life. It pleased his imagin- ation, which had so little food. And he tried to catch what the doctor was saying when he followed Mrs. Parke into the next room. But by that time he was getting drowsy and his faculties dulled, and this he could not do.

In the next room the conference was grave enough. “He has never been ill before,” said the doctor. “I ever told you so from the first, Mrs. Parke; delicate but not ill, and nothing that he might not shake off with time. But he is ill now. If I am not mistaken he is in for an attack of typhoid, and I fear a bad one. [I'll go straight to the hospital at Claremont and send you a nurse —indeed, you had better have two nurses—care is everything. With great care and unremitting attention we may pull him through.”

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348

Letitia was pale, but she was ready for the emergency. “It will not be dangerous for the others ?” she said.

“No, no, there’s no danger for the others—unless your drains are bad. But he says he was at that horrid little village on the other side of the park on Friday last, and got a drink of water there. That’s enough to account for it. I’ve often spoken about the state of these cottages. It would be a kind of strange justice if he were to be the first victim. I suppose you'll let his mother know ?”

“What is the use of letting his mother know? She takes no notice of him. [ think I am the only mother he has ever known.”

“There was an aunt,” said the doctor, “who was very much devoted to him. They ought to be told. The fever is high, and he has a delicate constitution. He may have to fight for his life.”

“Will you come again to-night ?” she said.

“T will send the nurses in at once if I can get two, otherwise, perhaps, your old woman will take the night? I’ll come back first thing in the morning. But I think you should let the rela- tions know.”

When the doctor was gone Letitia followed him out of the room and went to the schoolroom, which was quite cool and empty. She sat down upon the sofa which had supported Mar’s languid limbs so long, and looked round her as if upon a new world. Her whole being was filled with excitement which threat- ened to burst all bounds. She felt as if she must have burst forth in laughing or in crying, and if she did not do so it was because the influence of conventional rules and common decorum are too strong to be broken. Every pulse was going like the wheels of a steam engine, and her heart thumping like the great piston that keeps all in motion. Was it anxiety and alarm for Mar that roused that tremendous tumult in her brain? It is to be supposed that she thought so, or tried to make herself think so for the moment. But she knew very well that this was only a gloss forced by a horrified consciousness upon her, and that in the bottom of her heart it was a sudden and dreadful hope which had sprung up in her mind. The child had been so delicate all his life, one whom all the gossips declared she would never rear ; and this had left a vague anticipation as of something she could not prevent, which would be good for them all if it came, modified by a fear of what might be said should it happen in her house, which kept Letitia

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always uneasy, and dictated those precautions which were half regard for other people’s opinion and half terror of herself. But Mar, though he had been so delicate, had kept, perhaps for that very reason, curiously free of the usual ailments of childhood. When he had them he had them in the lightest form. Never before had this delicate boy, this interloper who stood between Letitia and so many advantages, this child who everybody pro- phesied could not live—never before had he visibly hung between life and death. Typhoid fever! It wasa name to chill the blood in the veins of loving parents, of anxious friends. It made Letitia’s blood boil with a fever of impatience, of desire, of horrible eager- ness, at which she was terrified, but which she could not restrain. It was not her fault. She had done nothing to bring it about. He had got the poison out of her house because of his own childish imprudence, exposing himself as she never would have allowed him to expose himself. Letitia’s conscience was quite clear, and nobody could blame her. And he would die—a creature so fragile, with so little life in him, no constitution to fall back upon: there was no fear of a long and terrible illness ; a fever that sucked the strength away, and killed the strongest men, would not last long in suchacaseasthis. Hewoulddie. She gasped with sensations unspeakable, and felt as if she could not get her breath. He would die. The obstacle would be taken away from her path, from John’s, from Duke’s, and nobody could say that she had done it or was in any way to blame. What a thought to invade and fill her whole consciousness, all the being of a woman who wasa mother, and knew what it was in a way to love those who belonged to her ! She could not keep down the wild buoyancy of her hope and exhilaration. This boy, who never ought to have existed, who had been from his birth the obstacle to allher hopes, this supplanter, this undesired, unnecessary child—he would die! and for Letitia and all who belonged to her the future of her brightest hopes would be secured at last.

But with this there sprang up in her mind a dreadful impatience. It did not seem to her that she could go on day after day enduring all the vicissitudes of this illness until the crisis came—if indeed his strength held out till any crisis came. Sometimes the patient, if he were weak, collapsed early, and the disease did not run its full course; sometimes it was rapid, violent, foudvroyant. A hundred confused calculations ran through her mind. Mar had

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not life enough for that. Probably the fever would be slow with his low vitality, not blazing but sapping the life away—and she would have to keep up all through—expressing anxiety, watching day and night for the change, looking on with outward calm while the doctors would go through all that daily pantomime with the thermometer, which she would scarcely be able to endure. Yes, this is how it would be—weeks of it, perhaps; horrible, lingering on when it might just as well be over at once without all this slow torture. Letitia remembered, after what seemed a long time, that she had an afternoon party on the lawn, and that all her guests would be wondering at her absence. She would have to put on a grave face, and speak of her anxiety and his delicacy, and go through all the fantastic performances which decorum demanded. But he would die—of that certainty at least there could be no doubt now.

CHAPTER XXXVIIL.

THE family were all very much startled by the news, which Letitia communicated only when the arrival of a nurse in the costume which is not to be mistaken startled the household.

“What does that woman want?” said John, who was preju- diced, like so many gentlemen, against costume, and did not like the professional air.

“She is the nurse whom Dr. Barker has sent for Mar.”

“For Mar!” cried all the party with varying tones of expres- .

sion. Letitia looked round upon her husband and her children, and she felt that there was not one of them who had any sympathy with her—who thought at all of the consequences or of what would happen—if- She was provoked beyond expres- sion by the look of alarm and imbecile anxiety on all their faces.

“What is the matter?” John said. “Is there anything more than usual? I thought he had a‘cold. What is wrong with the boy ?”

“Only an attack of typhoid,” Mrs. Parke said with angry gravity. They never did sympathize with her or enter into any of her thoughts—though the advantage she anticipated was to them chiefly, she said to herself angrily, and not to her.

And that dreadful word was soon abroad in all the house. It was the evening, after dinner, and all who were at home were in the drawing-room. Thetwo schoolboys, Reggie and Jack, had, of

AND THE HEIR APPARENT. 35%

course, gone back to school. And the young ones had been talk- ing of their lawn tennis, and So-and-so’s low service, and some- body’s volleying, and a great deal of other jargon. They had been obliged to dress in a great hurry for dinner, and no one had

had the time to run in and ask for Mar. “Typhoid!” they

cried, some of them in loud and some of them in low tones.

“Who says so? You are always fancying something dreadful. Does Barker say so? And how did he get it?” said John. “I am sure we have had trouble enough with the drains.”

Tf one is to have it one will have it—whatever is done about the drains,” said Mrs. Parke.

“But oh, mamma,” said Letty, “whyanurse? I knowa great deal about nursing. There were those two ambulance classes. It would be so much nicer for dear Mar to have his own people about him. Sarah would sit up at night—she is very fond of him —and I would take care of him in the day.”

Letitia did not take the trouble to reply, but looked at the girl only, crushing her as effectually as by a torrent of words. “He shall have every care,” she said, “and the best that can be got ; but he has no constitution, and I fear it will go badly with him. There is no use in deceiving ourselves.”

“Don’t be a croaker,” cried John, getting up from his chair. It would have been strange, perhaps, if there had not flashed across the mind of John all that was implied in this evil augury. He was not quick, nor was he more selfish than other men, but into the hearts of the most innocent there is projected by times a picture as from a magic-lantern, showing as it seems from without, not from within, in a sudden glare of diabolical light the advantage which a great misfortune to some one else may bring them. John was as much horrified by this sudden perception as if he had been compassing the end of Mar. He cried out, “Good God!” which was in reality an appeal against the devilish light that had flashed upon him without any will of his; and then his voice melted, and he murmured, Poor little Mar. Poor little Mar!”

“Don’t give in in that way, father,” cried Duke. “Typhoid fever is bad enough, but not so bad as mother makes out. Why, I know half-a-dozen men who have had it. At Harrow there was one fellow as bad as bad could be, and not strong, just like Mar, and he got round all right. The stronger the fellow the worse it is for him. That’s what all the doctors say.”

a

352 THE HEIR PRESUMPTIVE

These words brought a cold chill to Letitia. In her thoughts, by way of forestalling all the disappointments there might happen, she had already thought of this.

“Oh, mamma, send for some new books from Mudie’s directly,” said Tiny ; “when Mar is ill we can never get enough books to satisfy him.”

“Oh, hold your tongue, Tiny. He will be too ill to read books,” said Letty with tears ; “and one must not let him talk either, but just a very little—nor even talk to him to amuse him till the fever goes off.”

How dull it will be for Mar!” cried Tiny. “I am sure I shall talk to him and tell him everything. To be dull is as bad as having a fever. Because you have gone to the ambulances you think you know—but I don’t believe in keeping people so quiet. When I had the measles——”

Be quiet both of you,” said Mrs. Parke, “and understand that neither of you go near Mar. He must be left in the hands of the nurses—it is too serious to play with. I shail go myself every day to see that all is right.”

There was a chorus of outcries at this decision, but Mrs. Parke was not moved. “No one must disturb him,” she repeated. The people who have the best chance are the people in the hospitals —and Mar must be treated just as if he were in a hospital—I will not have him disturbed.”

“Is it so grave as that, Letitia?” asked John very seriously, scarcely looking at her. He began to divine partly from that gleam which had come upon himself what must be in her mind.

Nothing could be more grave,” she said vehemently ; “any one except a schoolboy or a silly girl must see that. What Duke says is nonsense. It stands to reason that a weakly boy with no constitution to fall back upon, attacked by a slow disease that eats away the strength——”

John Parke rose as if the thought were intolerable, and went out of the room hurriedly. He was trying to escape from that devilish suggestion. The boy would die; all the hindrances would be removed ; the inheritance would be his which he had always looked forward to, which had been supposed to be his all his life. Not in John’s honest brain was that thought bred. It filled him with horror of himself. It made him feel as if he were Mar’s murderer, anticipating the boy’s doom. “God forgive me!

AND THE HEIR APPARENT. 353

God forgive me!” cried John: and he went out, covered with a cold dew of trouble, to humble himself and struggle with the demon. These horrible suggestions come sometimes to the minds that most loathe them: which proves to many people that there is a devil, a dreadful Satan trying what harm he can