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But
it was no one's fault. God help us all this night!'

Norah had sat down. She trembled too much to stand. He took her hands
in his. He squeezed them hard, as if, by physical pressure, the truth
could be wrung out.

'Norah.' This time his tone was calm, stagnant as despair. 'She has
married again!'

Norah shook her head sadly. The grasp slowly relaxed. The man had
fainted.

There was brandy in the room. Norah forced some drops into Mr Frank's
mouth, chafed his hands, and--when mere animal life returned, before
the mind poured in its flood of memories and thoughts--she lifted him
up, and rested his head against her knees. Then she put a few crumbs
of bread taken from the supper-table, soaked in brandy, into his
mouth. Suddenly he sprang to his feet.

'Where is she? Tell me this instant.' He looked so wild, so mad, so
desperate, that Norah felt herself to be in bodily danger; but her
time of dread had gone by. She had been afraid to tell him the truth,
and then she had been a coward. Now, her wits were sharpened by the
sense of his desperate state. He must leave the house. She would pity
him afterwards; but now she must rather command and upbraid; for he
must leave the house before her mistress came home. That one necessity
stood clear before her.

'She is not here: that is enough for you to know. Nor can I say
exactly where she is' (which was true to the letter if not to the
spirit). 'Go away, and tell me where to find you tomorrow, and I will
tell you all. My master and mistress may come back at any minute, and
then what would become of me, with a strange man in the house?'

Such an argument was too petty to touch his excited mind.

'I don't care for your master and mistress. If your master is a man,
he must feel for me--poor shipwrecked sailor that I am--kept for years
a prisoner amongst savages, always, always, always thinking of my wife
and my home--dreaming of her by night, talking to her though she
could not hear, by day. I loved her more than all heaven and earth put
together. Tell me where she is, this instant, you wretched woman, who
salved over her wickedness to her, as you do to me!'

The clock struck ten. Desperate positions require desperate measures.

'If you will leave the house now, I will come to you tomorrow and tell
you all. What is more, you shall see your child now. She lies sleeping
upstairs. Oh, sir, you have a child, you do not know that as yet--a
little weakly girl--with just a heart and soul beyond her years. We
have reared her up with such care! We watched her, for we thought
for many a year she might die any day, and we tended her, and no hard
thing has come near her, and no rough word has ever been said to her.
And now you come and will take her life into your hand, and will crush
it. Strangers to her have been kind to her; but her own father--Mr
Frank, I am her nurse, and I love her, and I tend her, and I would do
anything for her that I could. Her mother's heart beats as hers beats;
and, if she suffers a pain, her mother trembles all over. If she is
happy, it is her mother that smiles and is glad. If she is growing
stronger, her mother is healthy: if she dwindles, her mother
languishes. If she dies--well, I don't know; it is not everyone can
lie down and die when they wish it. Come upstairs, Mr Frank, and see
your child. Seeing her will do good to your poor heart. Then go away,
in God's name, just this one night; tomorrow, if need be, you can do
anything--kill us all if you will, or show yourself a great, grand
man, whom God will bless for ever and ever. Come, Mr Frank, the look
of a sleeping child is sure to give peace.'

She led him upstairs; at first almost helping his steps, till they
came near the nursery door. She had wellnigh forgotten the existence
of little Edwin. It struck upon her with affright as the shaded light
fell over the other cot; but she skilfully threw that corner of the
room into darkness, and let the light fall on the sleeping Ailsie.
The child had thrown down the coverings, and her deformity, as she
lay with her back to them, was plainly visible through her slight
nightgown. Her little face, deprived of the lustre of her eyes, looked
wan and pinched, and had a pathetic expression in it, even as she
slept. The poor father looked and looked with hungry, wistful eyes,
into which the big tears came swelling up slowly and dropped heavily
down, as he stood trembling and shaking all over. Norah was angry
with herself for growing impatient of the length of time that long
lingering gaze lasted. She thought that she waited for full half an
hour before Frank stirred. And then--instead of going away--he sank
down on his knees by the bedside, and buried his face in the clothes.
Little Ailsie stirred uneasily. Norah pulled him up in terror. She
could afford no more time, even for prayer, in her extremity of fear;
for surely the next moment would bring her mistress home. She took
him forcibly by the arm; but, as he was going, his eye lighted on the
other bed; he stopped. Intelligence came back into his face. His hands
clenched.

'His child?' he asked.

'Her child,' replied Norah. 'God watches over him,' she said
instinctively; for Frank's looks excited her fears, and she needed to
remind herself of the Protector of the helpless.

'God has not watched over me,' he said, in despair; his thoughts
apparently recoiling on his own desolate, deserted state. But Norah
had no time for pity. Tomorrow she would be as compassionate as her
heart prompted. At length she guided him downstairs, and shut the
outer door, and bolted it--as if by bolts to keep out facts.

Then she went back into the dining-room, and effaced all traces of his
presence, as far as she could. She went upstairs to the nursery and
sat there, her head on her hand, thinking what was to come of all
this misery. It seemed to her very long before her master and mistress
returned; yet it was hardly eleven o'clock. She heard the loud,
hearty Lancashire voices on the stairs; and, for the first time, she
understood the contrast of the desolation of the poor man who had so
lately gone forth in lonely despair.

It almost put her out of patience to see Mrs Openshaw come in,
calmly smiling, handsomely dressed, happy, easy, to inquire after her
children.

'Did Ailsie go to sleep comfortably?' she whispered to Norah.

'Yes.'

Her mother bent over her, looking at her slumbers with the soft eyes
of love. How little she dreamed who had looked on her last! Then she
went to Edwin, with perhaps less wistful anxiety in her countenance,
but more of pride. She took off her things, to go down to supper.
Norah saw her no more that night.

Beside having a door into the passage, the sleeping-nursery opened
out of Mr and Mrs Openshaw's room, in order that they might have
the children more immediately under their own eyes. Early the next
summer's morning, Mrs Openshaw was awakened by Ailsie's startled call
of 'Mother! mother!' She sprang up, put on her dressing-gown, and went
to her child. Ailsie was only half awake, and in a not unusual state
of terror.

'Who was he, mother? Tell me!'

'Who, my darling? No one is here. You have been dreaming, love. Waken
up quite. See, it is broad daylight.'

'Yes,' said Ailsie, looking round her; then clinging to her mother,
'but a man was here in the night, mother.'

'Nonsense, little goose. No man has ever come near you!'

'Yes, he did. He stood there. Just by Norah. A man with hair and a
beard. And he knelt down and said his prayers. Norah knows he was
here, mother' (half angrily, as Mrs Openshaw shook her head in smiling
incredulity).

'Well! we will ask Norah when she comes,' said Mrs Openshaw,
soothingly. 'But we won't talk any more about him now. It is not five
o'clock; it is too early for you to get up. Shall I fetch you a book
and read to you?'

'Don't leave me, mother,' said the child, clinging to her. So Mrs
Openshaw sat on the bedside talking to Ailsie, and telling her of what
they had done at Richmond the evening before, until the little girl's
eyes slowly closed and she once more fell asleep.

'What was the matter?' asked Mr Openshaw, as his wife returned to bed.

'Ailsie wakened up in a fright, with some story of a man having been
in the room to say his prayers--a dream, I suppose.' And no more was
said at the time.

Mrs Openshaw had almost forgotten the whole affair when she got up
about seven o'clock. But, by and by, she heard a sharp altercation
going on in the nursery--Norah speaking angrily to Ailsie, a most
unusual thing. Both Mr and Mrs Openshaw listened in astonishment.

'Hold your tongue, Ailsie! let me hear none of your dreams; never let
me hear you tell that story again!'

Ailsie began to cry.

Mr Openshaw opened the door of communication, before his wife could
say a word.

'Norah, come here!'

The nurse stood at the door, defiant. She perceived she had been
heard, but she was desperate.

'Don't let me hear you speak in that manner to Ailsie again,' he said
sternly, and shut the door.

Norah was infinitely relieved; for she had dreaded some questioning;
and a little blame for sharp speaking was what she could well bear, if
cross-examination was let alone.

Downstairs they went, Mr Openshaw carrying Ailsie; the sturdy Edwin
coming step by step, right foot foremost, always holding his mother's
hand. Each child was placed in a chair by the breakfast-table, and
then Mr and Mrs Openshaw stood together at the window, awaiting their
visitors' appearance and making plans for the day. There was a pause.
Suddenly Mr Openshaw turned to Ailsie, and said:

'What a little goosy somebody is with her dreams, wakening up poor,
tired mother in the middle of the night, with a story of a man being
in the room.'

'Father! I'm sure I saw him,' said Ailsie, half-crying. 'I don't want
to make Norah angry; but I was not asleep, for all she says I was. I
had been asleep--and I wakened up quite wide awake, though I was so
frightened. I kept my eyes nearly shut, and I saw the man quite plain.
A great brown man with a beard. He said his prayers.



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