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Robina, Angela, and Bernard-and each stood for a moment on a chair at his bed-side. The two little ones he merely kissed and blessed ; but to Robina he said a few more words about being good, and minding Mamma and Felix.
'Oh yes, Papa! And they'll have a Christmas Tree! and I'll save all my bon-bons to make your cough well.'
He watched wistfully as the bright heads passed out of sight, and the long struggling cough and gasping that followed had all the pangs of parting to add to their burthen. Half the family escorted Felix and his charge to the station ; and in the quiet that followed, Sister Constance had a good sleep on Wilmet's bed, as much, she said, as she ever required; and she came from it all freshness and brightness, making the dinnertime very charming to all the diminished party, though Wilmet felt greatly lost without the little ones; and afterwards she earned the warmest gratitude from Edgar and Geraldine by looking over their drawings and giving them some valuable hints—nay, she even devised the new and delightful occupation of ship-building for those three inconvenient subjects, Clement, Fulbert, and Lancelot. Up-stairs or down, all was gentle cheerfulness and patience wherever she went.
Felix came home about five o'clock, and his mother was persuaded to go to lie down while he amused his father with the account of the children's exemplary behaviour, and of their kind welcome at St. Faith's, where he had been kept to dine, feeling, as he said, 'uncommonly queer' at first, but at last deciding, to the great diversion of his father, that the sisters were a set of jolly old girls, but not one equal to our Sister Constance. Then he had seen the church, and was almost bewildered with the beauty of the decorations; and Mr. Underwood, though saying little, evidently much enjoyed his boy's refreshment and pleasure. He certainly seemed no worse, and Mr. Audley was allowed, what he had often asked before, to sit up with him.
But there was much to render it a long, anxious, restless night of a sort of semi-consciousness, and murmuring talk, as if he fancied himself at Vale Leston again. However, when Felix crept in, about four o'clock in the morning, anxious at the sounds he heard, he found him asleep, and this lasted for two or three hours ; he woke refreshed, and presently said, 'Epiphany! put back the curtain, that I may see the bright and morning star.'
The morning star was shining in the delicate dawn full in view, and he looked at it with quiet pleasure. 'Mother,' he said, then recollecting himself; “ah, she is resting! Thank you, Audley.'
At that moment a little cry through the thin wall made him start and flush.
* Is it so ?' he murmured; “thank God! That is well ! But his chest heaved grievously as he panted with anxiety, and his two watchers hesitated what to do, until the door was slightly opened, and before the intended sign could be made to Felix, the breathless exclamation,
“How? what? brought Sibby's half scared mournful countenance forward.
“How is she, Sibby? don't fear to say,' he said, more collectedly.
“Yes, Sir; that is—0 Sir, it is two; and it would be a mere mercy if they are taken, as they look like to be-twins, and coming like this! Perhaps Sibby was a little more lamentable, because instead of looking shocked, he clasped his hands in eager thanksgiving, as he looked upwards.
Sister Constance followed at the same moment, saying in a far more encouraging voice, 'She is doing very well.' 'It is another great mercy,' he said. “Much better than longer waiting
Will these Twelfth-day gifts live? Or do I take them with me? At least, let me baptize them-now at once,' he spoke earnestly. “My full twelve, and one over, and on Twelfth-day.'
Sister Constance had better hopes of the babes than Sibby, but this wish of his was one not to be withstood for a moment; and she went to make ready, while Mr. Audley went down for the little Parian font, and Felix and Sibby arranged the pillows and coverings. Mr. Underwood looked very bright and thankful. 'Birth-day gifts,' he said, 'what are they? You have not told me, Sibby.'
'Boy and girl, Sir,' she said, “poor little dears!
Better for them, no doubt; but this is the best for these,' he answered brightly. See, Sibby, can't you be thankful, like me, that your mistress is sheltered from what would try her? I can bear it all better without her to see.'
Sibby's only reply was a gush of tears, and presently all was made ready; Geraldine was quietly helped into the room by Edgar, and placed in her usual station by the pillow, and the boys stood against the wall, while the two babes, tiny and scarcely animate things, were carried, each by one of the elder pair; and the father, as whitely robed as if he had been in his surplice, held out his hands, and smiled with his kindly lips and clear shining blue eyes full of welcome. Has your mother any
wishes about names ?' he asked. “Wilmetwhat-?'
No, Papa, I think not;' but her eyes were brimming over with tears, and it was plain that something was suppressed.
• My dear, let me hear; I am not to be hurt by such things.'
'It is—it is only—she did say, when we came for them, that we were the children of joy—these are the children of sorrow,' murmured Wilmet, uttering the words with difficulty.
'I thought so,' he said ; then after a brief pause, “Now, Audley— For Mr. Audley said all the previous prayers, though with a voice as hard to control as Wilmet's had been. Then Wilmet held her charge close to her father, for almost inappreciable as the weight was, he could only venture to lay one arm round that grasshopper burthen, as with his long thin fingers he dashed the water. Theodore Benjamin, I baptize thee.' Alda brought the other. "Stella Eudora.' Then the two hands were folded over his face, and they all knelt round till he moved and smiled.
'Give them to me again,' he said.
• They look life-like,' he said. You will keep them. Now mind me. Charge her never to think of them as children of sorrow, but of joy. She will remember how nearly you were called Theodore, Felix. Take him as God's gift and mine-may he be a son of your right hand to you.'
The boy did take the babe, and with a deep resolve in his heart that his duty to these helpless ones should be his first thought on earth. He did not speak it, but his father saw the steadfast wistful gaze, and it was enough.
Alda ventured to ask, 'Is Eudora a gift too, Papa ?'
“Yes. A happy gift. For so she is! Let her be a little Epiphany Star to you all! Tell Mother that I call them a double joy, a double comfort! Poor little maid! and he kissed her again, 'will no one welcome her, but the father who is leaving her?' -O Papa! You know how we will love them,' sobbed Wilmet.
'I think I do, my dear;' and he smoothed the glossy hair; but with love comes joy, you know.'
'It is very hard now,' broke from the poor girl.
*Very,' he said tenderly ; 'but it will if you make the burthen a blessing—the cross a crutch-eh, my Cherry? Now, a kiss each, and go, I am tired.'
He was tired, but not apparently worse.
Edgar and his three juniors started off directly after church in quest of ice where they might behold skating, and practice sliding; and Wilmet, with a view to quiet, actually ventured on the extravagance of providing them with a shilling, that they might forage for themselves instead of coming home to dinner.
She regretted Edgar's absence, however, for when Mr. Bevan came in to hold the Epiphany Feast in the sick chamber, her father asked for Edgar and Geraldine, and looked disappointed that the boy was gone. But he murmured, 'Maybe it is best !' and when the little girl came in, flushed and awe-struck, he took her hand, and said, “May not I have this little one-my last pupil—to share the feast with me? Willing and desirous,' he smiled as he held her, and she coloured intensely, with tears in her eyes.
There could be no denial, and his judgement at such a moment could only be accepted by the Rector; and the child herself durst not say one word of her alarm and awe. Papa knew. And never could she forget that he held her hand all the time that she leant-for she could not kneel—by his bed. Her elder brother and sisters were there too, and he kissed and blessed each tenderly afterwards, and Sister Constance too knelt and asked his blessing. Then he thanked Mr. Bevan warmly, and called it a most true day of brightness. They heard him whispering to himself, 'Arise, shine, for thy Light is come ;' and the peaceful enjoyment seemed so to soothe him, that he was not as usual eager to get up.
It was only towards the early dusk that a restlessness came on, and an increase of the distress and oppression of breath, which he thought might be more bearable in his chair; and Mr. Audley, who had just come in, began with Felix to dress him, and prepare to move him. But just as they were helping him towards the chair, there was a sort of choke, a gasping struggle, his head fell on Felix's shoulder, the boy in terror managed to stretch out a hand and rang the bell; but in that second felt that there was a strange convulsive shudder, and
• Felix !' Mr. Audley's low voice sounded strange and far away. 'I do believe
The figure was entirely prone as they lifted it back to the bed. They needed not the exclamation of Sibby to reveal the truth. It was only an exclamation, it would have been a shriek if Felix had not grasped her wrist with a peremptory grasp. But that bell had been enough; there had been a sound of dismay in the very tinkle, and Sister Constance was in the door-way.
'Felix,' she said, understanding all, 'you must go to her. She heard -she is calling you. You cannot conceal it; be as quick and quiet as you can,' she added, as the stunned boy went past her, only hearing, and that as through a tempest, the feeble voice calling his name. He stood by the bed-side; she looked into his white face, and held out her hands ; then as he bent down, clasped both round his neck. “He trusted you,' she said.
He sank on his knees as she relaxed her grasp, and hid her head beneath the clothes. A few holy words of commendation of the soul departed sounded from the other room; then at Sister Constance's touch of his hand, he quitted the room.
Presently after, Felix was sitting in the large arm-chair in the diningroom, with his sister Geraldine on his lap, his arms round her, her arms tightly clasped round his neck, her hair hanging loosely down over his shoulder, her head against him, his face over her, as he rocked himself backwards and forwards with her, each straining the other closer, as though the mechanical action and motion could allay the pain. The table was all over baby things, which numerous neighbours had sent in on the first news of the twins that morning, and which the girls had been inspecting; but no one-nothing else was to be seen—when Mr. Thomas Underwood, on his way from the station, finding his knock unheard, and the door ajar, found his way to the room.
• What is this? How is your father?'
Felix raised his face, still deeply flushed, and rising, placed his sister in the chair.
• What, worse? You don't say so,' said Mr. Underwood, advancing.
“He is gone!' said Felix steadily, but in an unnatural voice. 'Quite suddenly, not very long ago,' he began, but he felt unable to guess for what space of time he had been rocking Cherry there.
• Dead! Edward Underwood ! Bless me!' said Mr. Underwood, taking off his hat, passing his hand over his forehead, and standing horror-struck. *I had no idea! You never sent over to say he was worse.'
‘He was not; it came on just now,' said Felix, holding by the mantelpiece.
He groaned. “Poor Edward! Well,' and he was forced to put his handkerchief to his eyes. He spoke more gently after that. Well, this is a sudden thing, but better than lingering on. Your poor mother, would she like to see me?'
"She was confined last night.'
* Bless me! bless me! What a state of things! Have you got anyone to be with you ?
"Yes; a lady from Dearport,' said Felix.
And it was at this moment that trampling steps were heard, making Felix spring forward with an instinct to silence them ; but at the threshold the sight of his face brought conviction to Edgar; and with a loud uncontrollable cry, tired and hungry as he was, he seemed to collapse into his brother's arms, and fainted away.
My poor boy ! exclaimed his cousin, coming to Felix's help, and himself lifting Edgar to the sofa. Of the other boys, Clement ran for water, Fulbert rushed out of sight, and Lancelot laid his head on a chair choking with tears.
Felix and Clement were, poor children! used enough to illness to attend to their brother with a collectedness that amazed their cousin ; and without calling for help, Edgar came shuddering and trembling to himself, and then burst into silent but agonized sobs, very painful to witness. He was always—boy as he was—the most easily and entirely overthrown by anything that affected him strongly; and Mr. Thomas Underwood was so much struck and touched by his exceeding grief, especially now that he looked on him as his own property, that after putting in some disjointed sentences of “There—there-You'll always have a father in me-Don't, my boy-I tell you, you are my son now,' — which to Felix's mind made it more intolerable, he said, “I'll take him home now-it will be all the better for him and for everyone, poor lad ! So many
• The three younger ones were sent to Dearport yesterday,' said Felix ; but EdgarVOL. 9.