Her father grew worse; and the doctor insisted on sending over a nurse from Coniston. Not a professed nurse — Coniston could not have supported such a one; but a widow who was ready to go where the doctor sent her for the sake of the payment. When she came, Susan suddenly gave way; she was felled by the fever herself, and lay unconscious for long weeks. Her consciousness returned to her one spring afternoon; early spring: April,— her wedding-month. There was a little fire burning in the small corner-grate, and the flickering of the blaze was enough for her to notice in her weak state. She felt that there was some one sitting on the window-side of her bed, behind the curtain, but she did not care to know who it was; it was even too great a trouble for her languid mind to consider who it was likely to be. She would rather shut her eyes, and melt off again into the gentle luxury of sleep. The next time she wakened, the Coniston nurse perceived her movement, and made her a cup of tea, which she drank with eager relish; but still they did not speak, and once more Susan lay motionless — not asleep, but strangely, pleasantly conscious of all the small chamber and household sounds; the fall of a cinder on the hearth, the fitful singing of the half-empty kettle, the cattle tramping out to field again after they had been milked, the aged step on the creaking stair — old Peggy’s, as she knew. It came to her door; it stopped; the person outside listened for a moment, and then lifted the wooden latch, and looked in. The watcher by the bedside arose, and went to her. Susan would have been glad to see Peggy’s face once more, but was far too weak to turn, so she lay and listened.
“How is she?” whispered one trembling, aged voice.
“Better,” replied the other. “She’s been awake, and had a cup of tea. She’ll do now.”
“Has she asked after him?”
“Hush! No; she has not spoken a word.”
“Poor lass! poor lass!”
The door was shut. A weak feeling of sorrow and self-pity came over Susan. What was wrong? Whom had she loved? And dawning, dawning, slowly rose the sun of her former life, and all particulars were made distinct to her. She felt that some sorrow was coming to her, and cried over it before she knew what it was, or had strength enough to ask. In the dead of night,— and she had never slept again,— she softly called to the watcher, and asked —
“Who what?” replied the woman, with a conscious affright, ill-veiled by a poor assumption of ease. “Lie still, there’s a darling, and go to sleep. Sleep’s better for you than all the doctor’s stuff.”
“Who?” repeated Susan. “Something is wrong. Who?”