Imágenes de páginas
[ocr errors][merged small]


The lady maintained her purpose against Mr. Clifton's vehement opposition, and her calm persistence must have conquered, but Kate Kavanagh mildly interposed, by saying, Let me go!"

"You!" exclaimed Mr. and Mrs. Clifton in a breath. Yes; I am not a bad nurse. I have had considerable experience with sick people."


But you've never had the small-pox-you're not the least marked," said Mr. Clifton.



I'll bar my doors and win-
Why, in your weak

[ocr errors]

No, sir, I have never had that disease."

"And you are willing to risk taking it ?"

Yes, sir!"


What! and you a young girl! Ain't you afraid of catching it, and having your face spoiled ?"


'Yes, sir, I am afraid of contracting it."

"Why, that is a plain contradiction of yourself; you say you are willing to risk it, and afraid of catching it. I do not understand you at all."

"Catherine is so simply truthful and straightforward !” said the lady, smiling. "She means that she is perfectly conscious of the extent of the danger of contagion, but that she thinks it her duty to brave it, nevertheless. Is not that it, my dear? But, Catherine, much as we thank you for your generous_self-devotion, we must not permit you to think of going. I must do that, for I have had the disease. If you were to persist in your purpose, my dear girl, you would almost certainly get the small-pox; and then your life, or, at the very least, your beauty, would be sacrificed."


Beauty! If I had it and were to lose it, dear lady, there is no one to care for it!"


Yes, I should care for it, my Kate," said the lady, putting her arm around the girl's waist, and drawing her closer.

"In fine, my good girl, you shall not go if you are afraid! That's certain!" said Mr. Clifton.

"Oh, sir, that would not interfere with the faithful discharge of my duties as nurse. You had best let me go, and go at once, sir. There is no time to be lost, surely. Is any competent person with Miss Clifton now, sir ?"


No one but a coloured woman, and I really must hurry

back. And so, if you really do feel disposed to go, my dear girl--is she a good nurse, Mrs. Clifton ?"


Excellent, sir! But, indeed, I do not like her exposing herself in my stead. I should not permit her to do it, indeed, if my power seconded my will," added the lady, sinking back fatigued upon her sofa cushions.

Old Mr. Clifton was evidently inclined to accept Kate's services. Mrs. Clifton was obliged to yield-more to the weakness that overpowered her frame than to the arguments set forth by Catherine. It was settled, then, that Kate should go; and she quickly put on her little straw bonnet and black silk scarf, and entered the gig that the old gentleman borrowed from the lady to convey the girl to Clifton.



THE mansion-house at White Cliffs was all but deserted. The very house-servants, pretty mulatto girls, more afraid of destroying their good looks than losing their lives, had retreated to their own dens, feigning illness as an excuse to keep out of the reach of contagion. Catherine was introduced at once into the sick-room. That sick room, what mind ean conceive, or what pen should describe it? Only those who have nursed a patient through that worst form of the most loathsome pestilence can realise its revolting horrors. To see any human being looking as the once beautiful Carolyn now looked. Her very features almost obliterated, while --fill up the pause, you who have seen the horrors of that pest it was worse than any form of illness-it was worse than death and decay. Disgust almost overmastered pity. and Catherine turned away, shuddering with sickness of body and soul. Old Mr. Clifton cast one agonised look upon the ruin, and, unable to bear the sight, rushed from the room. Catherine turned to her duty. The wretched patient was tossing about in high fever, and tearing her arms and boson under the intolerable irritation. That work of destruction must be stopped first, Catherine knew. Catherine caught her right hand, and it took all her strength to hold that hand,


whose flesh seemed as if it would drop off under the pressure, while she secured it to the bedstead; then she captured the other dashing, tossing hand, and confined it in the same manner; and then she looked at the state of her own palms. Oh, offensive duty! No wonder, she thought, that the beautiful Georgia had fled to Richmond, and the two pretty housemaids were extremely ill in their attic! Had she a wish to follow their example? No; for now all selfish fears were lost in deep compassion for the poor, forsaken wreck of beauty that lay there at her mercy. She returned to her duty. She administered to her patient an opiate, to soothe her restlessness; took a sponge and tepid water, and thoroughly cleansed the surface of the skin, and anointed face, bosom, and arms with a fragrant emollient, to allay the intolerable itching. She then released her hands, and laid them easily upon the counterpane. Lastly, she ventilated and darkened the chamber, and took her seat by the bedside, to fan her patient while she slept. And deep was her satisfaction in watching that quiet, refreshing sleep. It is not my intention to lead my reader through the dismal days that followed in that sick room, until the "secondary fever," the crisis of the disease, came and passed. Catherine nursed her patient tenderly, faithfully, night and day. Carolyn's life was spared, but her peerless beauty was gone for ever. Her luxuriant, fair hair was all lost, and her head was as bald and discoloured as her face, and that !

In that darkened chamber, and in the midst of physical suffering and weakness, Carolyn had had no opportunity of ascertaining the extent of the ravages the disease had made in her beauty-if, indeed, she knew the nature of the former, or thought about the latter; but as she approached convalescence, and was able to sit up in bed and converse, she felt an invalid's childish curiosity to look in the glass, and frequently requested her gentle nurse to hand her one. But Catherine, dreading the effect of the shock, steadily refused to comply with her wishes in that respect, and perseveringly kept the room darkened; and the sick girl, too weak to persist long in any controversy, yielded the point.

But one day, while Catherine was at her breakfast, and old Darky supplying her place by the bedside of the patient, Carolyn said in a tone that admitted of no denial or even delay. Darky, hand me that hand-glass from my dressing-table.

[ocr errors]

And the old woman impulsively, thoughtlessly obeyed her, and brought it. Carolyn was propped up in bed. She took the mirror, gave one interested look into it, plucked off her little cap, gave another horrid glance, and, uttering a long, low cry of despair, sunk back insensible upon her pillow.

Old Darky flew from the chair to the patient, and from the patient to the bell, in great trepidation-ringing peals that brought all the household hurrying in alarm to the room. Old Mr. Clifton, being nearest at hand, arrived first; and when he saw and understood what had happened, he seized the hand-glass and threw it out of the window, and laid hold of the heavy toilet mirror and sent it flying after. Then he drove old Darky from the room, forbidding her, for a stupid and dangerous maniac, ever to show her face there again. And all this time, Catherine, who had entered so quietly that no one saw or heard her, was silently trying to restore the swooning girl. As Carolyn, with a deep sigh, opened her eyes, Kate motioned for everyone to leave the chamber ; and all noiselessly withdrew. Carolyn shivered and shuddered several times, as she raised her eyes appealingly, despairingly to Catherine, who was bending tenderly over her. Catherine thought it best to answer that silent appeal by speaking at once to the point.


My dear Miss Clifton, you must not think that your face will continue to look anything like it does now, for it will not, indeed; for though it is very much discoloured, it is not much pitted, and the discolouration will wear off in a few days. And as for your hair, Miss Clifton, that will grow out very soon, and be even more beautiful and luxuriant than before, on account of the renewal of the skin; so, dear lady, take comfort and do not look in the glass again until you are better." And all this time that Catherine spoke in this gentle manner, she was bathing the girl's face and hands with bay-water, and her tender touch was even more soothing than the sedative liquid. Catherine was almost impelled to say, Have patience-bow to the will of God, and try to learn the lesson He intends to teach in this." But she felt the hour had not come for speaking such words that she herself must have patience, and wait for the time when she might minister to her spiritual need.

Up to this period, Miss Clifton did not know who her nurse was. She had heard her called "My dear child," or

[ocr errors]

"My good girl," by the physician and by her father; and they were the only visitors to the room, except old Darky, who came to relieve the nurse at meal-times, and who simply called her "Miss." And if once or twice she had heard her called Catherine, still she never imagined her to be Kate Kavanagh, but some hired attendant; and, indeed, in the languor of illness she thought nothing about it. A few days after this, however, when she had grown more composed and resigned, and while she lay watching Catherine's quiet movements through the room, she said, “My dear, good girl, my gentle nurse, tell me your name? I do pray sometimes, and I wish to know your name that I may ask God to bless you for exposing life, and health, and beauty for one whom mother, and sister, and servants all deserted." Just now, for the first time, it flashed like lightning through Kate's mind that all the danger of infection was over, and that she might now thank God for preserving her from contagion. Yes! she had forgotten herself for some time past, but now her heart leaped for joy and gratitude, and she thanked God before she replied to Miss Clifton's question, and said, "My name is Catherine Kavanagh."

to me.

"So you are Kate Kavanagh! Hoist up the blind. Come Let me look at you," said Miss Clifton, rising on her elbow. Smiling, because unconscious of the hidden meaning in her words, Catherine approached and sat down by her bed; and Carolyn took both her hands, and

Fell to the perusing of her face,
As though she'd learn it off by heart.

She pored over the broad, square forehead, looking strong, but not beautiful, for all the bright chestnut hair was pushed carelessly aside; she gazed upon those dark grey eyes under their long black fringes-such deep, transparent wells of darkness and light they were; she dwelt upon the beautiful lips, and then her glance roved over the symmetrical form, and she thought she had never seen so perfect a figure; and she sighed and raised her eyes again to the remarkable countenance, with its large features, pale and cadaverous now with a long season of confinement, fatigue, and loss of sleep, and grave with thought, and earnest with deep feeling; and she could not settle it to her satisfaction whether Kate Kavanagh was a sublime beauty or a fright. a fright. Upon the

« AnteriorContinuar »