’It was a low, lingering fever. I had not thought it infectious, and even now I believe it is only one of those that run through an over-crowded family. The only wonder is, that they are ever well in such a place. Dear Edmund, don’t be angry; it is what I used to do continually at Fairmead. I never caught anything; and there is plenty of chloride of lime, and all that. I never imagined you would disapprove.’
‘It is the very place where the fever began before!’ said Mr. Kendal, almost under his breath.
Instead of going into the house, he made her turn into the garden, where little Maurice was being promenaded in the sun. He stretched out from his nurse’s arms to go to them, and Albinia was going towards him, but her husband held her fast, and said, ’I beg you will not take the child till you have changed your dress.’
Albinia was quite subdued, alarmed at the effect on him.
‘You must go away at once,’ he said presently. ’How soon can you be ready? You had better take Lucy and Maurice at once to your brother’s. They will excuse the liberty when they know the cause.’
‘And pray what is to become of poor Sophy?’
’Never going out, there may be the less risk for her. I will take care of her myself.’
‘As if I was going to endure that!’ cried Albinia. ’No, no, Edmund, I am not likely to run away from you and Sophy! You may send Lucy off, if you like, but certainly not me, or if you do I shall come back the same evening.’
‘I should be much happier if you were gone.’
’Thank you, but what should I be? No, if it were to be caught here, which I don’t believe, now the pond is gone, it would be of no use to send me away, after I have been into the house with it.’
Her resolution and Sophy’s need prevailed, and most unwillingly Mr. Kendal gave up the point. She was persuaded that he was acting on a panic, the less to be wondered at after all he had suffered. She thought the chief danger was from the effect of his fears, and would fain have persuaded him to remain at Fairmead with Lucy, but she was not prepared to hear him insist on likewise removing Maurice. She had promised not to enter the sick room again, and pleaded that the little boy need never be taken into the street—that the fever was not likely to come across the running stream—that the Fairmead nursery was full enough already.
Mr. Kendal was inexorable. ’I hope you may never see what I have seen,’ he said gravely, and Albinia was silenced.
A man who had lost so many children might be allowed to be morbidly jealous of the health of the rest. But it was a cruel stroke to her to be obliged to part with her noble little boy, just when his daily advances in walking and talking made him more charming than ever. Her eyes were full of tears, and she struggled to choke back some pettish rebellious words.
‘You do not like to trust him with Susan,’ said Mr. Kendal; ’you had better come with him.’