“Your wife!” repeated Mrs. Livingstone—“very affectionate you’ve grown, all at once. Perhaps you’ve forgotten that you married her to spite Nellie, who you then believed was the bride of Mr. Wilbur, but you surely remember how you fainted when you accidentally learned your mistake.”
A cry from Mabel, who fell back, fainting, among the pillows, prevented Mrs. Livingstone from any further remarks, and satisfied with the result of her visit, she walked away, while John Jr., springing to the bedside, bore his young wife to the open window, hoping the cool night air would revive her. But she lay so pale and motionless in his arms, her head resting so heavily upon his shoulder, that with a terrible foreboding he laid her back upon the bed, and rushing to the door, shouted loudly, “Help—somebody—come quick—Mabel is dead, I know she is.”
’Lena heard the cry and hastened to the rescue, starting back when she saw the marble whiteness of Mabel’s face.
“I didn’t kill her, ’Lena. God knows I didn’t. Poor little Meb,” said John Jr., quailing beneath ’Lena’s rebuking glance, and bending anxiously over the slight form which looked so much like death.
But Mabel was not dead. ’Lena knew it by the faint fluttering of her heart, and an application of the usual remedies sufficed, at last, to restore her to consciousness. With a long-drawn sigh her eyes unclosed, and looking earnestly in ’Lena’s face, she said, “Was it a dream, ’Lena? Tell me, was it all a dream?”—then, as she observed her husband, she added, shudderingly, “No, no, not a dream. I remember it all now. And I wish I was dead.”
Again ’Lena’s rebuking glance went over to John Jr., who, advancing nearer to Mabel, gently laid his hand upon her white brow, saying, softly, “Poor, poor Meb.”
There was genuine pity in the tones of his voice, and while the hot tears gushed forth, the sick girl murmured, “Forgive me, John, I couldn’t help it. I didn’t know it, and now, if you say so, I’ll go away, alone—where you’ll never see me again.”
She comprehended it all. Her mother-in-law had rudely torn away the veil, and she saw why she was there—knew why he had sought her for his wife—understood all his coldness and neglect; but she had no word of reproach for him, her husband, and from the depths of her crushed heart she forgave him, commiserating him as the greater sufferer.
“May be I shall die,” she whispered, “and then——”
She did not finish the sentence, neither was it necessary, for John Jr. understood what she meant, and with his conscience smiting him as it did, he felt half inclined to declare, with his usual impulsiveness, that it should never be; but the rash promise was not made, and it was far better that it should not be.