WHEREIN THE HAPPINESS OF OLIVER AND
HIS FRIENDS, EXPERIENCES A SUDDEN CHECK
Spring flew swiftly by, and summer
came. If the village had been beautiful at first
it was now in the full glow and luxuriance of its
richness. The great trees, which had looked shrunken
and bare in the earlier months, had now burst into
strong life and health; and stretching forth their
green arms over the thirsty ground, converted open
and naked spots into choice nooks, where was a deep
and pleasant shade from which to look upon the wide
prospect, steeped in sunshine, which lay stretched
beyond. The earth had donned her mantle of brightest
green; and shed her richest perfumes abroad.
It was the prime and vigour of the year; all things
were glad and flourishing.
Still, the same quiet life went on
at the little cottage, and the same cheerful serenity
prevailed among its inmates. Oliver had long
since grown stout and healthy; but health or sickness
made no difference in his warm feelings of a great
many people. He was still the same gentle, attached,
affectionate creature that he had been when pain and
suffering had wasted his strength, and when he was
dependent for every slight attention, and comfort
on those who tended him.
One beautiful night, when they had
taken a longer walk than was customary with them:
for the day had been unusually warm, and there was
a brilliant moon, and a light wind had sprung up, which
was unusually refreshing. Rose had been in high
spirits, too, and they had walked on, in merry conversation,
until they had far exceeded their ordinary bounds.
Mrs. Maylie being fatigued, they returned more slowly
home. The young lady merely throwing off her
simple bonnet, sat down to the piano as usual.
After running abstractedly over the keys for a few
minutes, she fell into a low and very solemn air; and
as she played it, they heard a sound as if she were
‘Rose, my dear!’ said the elder lady.
Rose made no reply, but played a little
quicker, as though the words had roused her from some
‘Rose, my love!’ cried
Mrs. Maylie, rising hastily, and bending over her.
‘What is this? In tears! My dear
child, what distresses you?’
‘Nothing, aunt; nothing,’
replied the young lady. ’I don’t
know what it is; I can’t describe it; but I
‘Not ill, my love?’ interposed Mrs. Maylie.
‘No, no! Oh, not ill!’
replied Rose: shuddering as though some deadly
chillness were passing over her, while she spoke; ’I
shall be better presently. Close the window,
Oliver hastened to comply with her
request. The young lady, making an effort to
recover her cheerfulness, strove to play some livelier
tune; but her fingers dropped powerless over the keys.
Covering her face with her hands, she sank upon a
sofa, and gave vent to the tears which she was now
unable to repress.
‘My child!’ said the elderly
lady, folding her arms about her, ’I never saw
you so before.’
‘I would not alarm you if I
could avoid it,’ rejoined Rose; ’but indeed
I have tried very hard, and cannot help this.
I fear I am ill, aunt.’
She was, indeed; for, when candles
were brought, they saw that in the very short time
which had elapsed since their return home, the hue
of her countenance had changed to a marble whiteness.
Its expression had lost nothing of its beauty; but
it was changed; and there was an anxious haggard look
about the gentle face, which it had never worn before.
Another minute, and it was suffused with a crimson
flush: and a heavy wildness came over the soft
blue eye. Again this disappeared, like the shadow
thrown by a passing cloud; and she was once more deadly
Oliver, who watched the old lady anxiously,
observed that she was alarmed by these appearances;
and so in truth, was he; but seeing that she affected
to make light of them, he endeavoured to do the same,
and they so far succeeded, that when Rose was persuaded
by her aunt to retire for the night, she was in better
spirits; and appeared even in better health:
assuring them that she felt certain she should rise
in the morning, quite well.
‘I hope,’ said Oliver,
when Mrs. Maylie returned, ’that nothing is the
matter? She don’t look well to-night, but ’
The old lady motioned to him not to
speak; and sitting herself down in a dark corner of
the room, remained silent for some time. At length,
she said, in a trembling voice:
’I hope not, Oliver. I
have been very happy with her for some years:
too happy, perhaps. It may be time that I should
meet with some misfortune; but I hope it is not this.’
‘What?’ inquired Oliver.
‘The heavy blow,’ said
the old lady, ’of losing the dear girl who has
so long been my comfort and happiness.’
‘Oh! God forbid!’ exclaimed Oliver,
‘Amen to that, my child!’ said the old
lady, wringing her hands.
‘Surely there is no danger of
anything so dreadful?’ said Oliver. ’Two
hours ago, she was quite well.’
‘She is very ill now,’
rejoined Mrs. Maylies; ’and will be worse, I
am sure. My dear, dear Rose! Oh, what
shall I do without her!’
She gave way to such great grief,
that Oliver, suppressing his own emotion, ventured
to remonstrate with her; and to beg, earnestly, that,
for the sake of the dear young lady herself, she would
be more calm.
‘And consider, ma’am,’
said Oliver, as the tears forced themselves into his
eyes, despite of his efforts to the contrary.
’Oh! consider how young and good she is, and
what pleasure and comfort she gives to all about her.
I am sure certain quite certain that,
for your sake, who are so good yourself; and for her
own; and for the sake of all she makes so happy; she
will not die. Heaven will never let her die so
‘Hush!’ said Mrs. Maylie,
laying her hand on Oliver’s head. ’You
think like a child, poor boy. But you teach
me my duty, notwithstanding. I had forgotten
it for a moment, Oliver, but I hope I may be pardoned,
for I am old, and have seen enough of illness and death
to know the agony of separation from the objects of
our love. I have seen enough, too, to know that
it is not always the youngest and best who are spared
to those that love them; but this should give us comfort
in our sorrow; for Heaven is just; and such things
teach us, impressively, that there is a brighter world
than this; and that the passage to it is speedy.
God’s will be done! I love her; and He
knows how well!’
Oliver was surprised to see that as
Mrs. Maylie said these words, she checked her lamentations
as though by one effort; and drawing herself up as
she spoke, became composed and firm. He was still
more astonished to find that this firmness lasted;
and that, under all the care and watching which ensued,
Mrs. Maylie was every ready and collected: performing
all the duties which had devolved upon her, steadily,
and, to all external appearances, even cheerfully.
But he was young, and did not know what strong minds
are capable of, under trying circumstances.
How should he, when their possessors so seldom know
An anxious night ensued. When
morning came, Mrs. Maylie’s predictions were
but too well verified. Rose was in the first
stage of a high and dangerous fever.
‘We must be active, Oliver,
and not give way to useless grief,’ said Mrs.
Maylie, laying her finger on her lip, as she looked
steadily into his face; ’this letter must be
sent, with all possible expedition, to Mr. Losberne.
It must be carried to the market-town: which
is not more than four miles off, by the footpath across
the field: and thence dispatched, by an express
on horseback, straight to Chertsey. The people
at the inn will undertake to do this: and I can
trust to you to see it done, I know.’
Oliver could make no reply, but looked
his anxiety to be gone at once.
‘Here is another letter,’
said Mrs. Maylie, pausing to reflect; ’but whether
to send it now, or wait until I see how Rose goes on,
I scarcely know. I would not forward it, unless
I feared the worst.’
‘Is it for Chertsey, too, ma’am?’
inquired Oliver; impatient to execute his commission,
and holding out his trembling hand for the letter.
‘No,’ replied the old
lady, giving it to him mechanically. Oliver glanced
at it, and saw that it was directed to Harry Maylie,
Esquire, at some great lord’s house in the country;
where, he could not make out.
‘Shall it go, ma’am?’
asked Oliver, looking up, impatiently.
‘I think not,’ replied
Mrs. Maylie, taking it back. ’I will wait
With these words, she gave Oliver
her purse, and he started off, without more delay,
at the greatest speed he could muster.
Swiftly he ran across the fields,
and down the little lanes which sometimes divided
them: now almost hidden by the high corn on either
side, and now emerging on an open field, where the
mowers and haymakers were busy at their work:
nor did he stop once, save now and then, for a few
seconds, to recover breath, until he came, in a great
heat, and covered with dust, on the little market-place
of the market-town.
Here he paused, and looked about for
the inn. There were a white bank, and a red
brewery, and a yellow town-hall; and in one corner
there was a large house, with all the wood about it
painted green: before which was the sign of
‘The George.’ To this he hastened,
as soon as it caught his eye.
He spoke to a postboy who was dozing
under the gateway; and who, after hearing what he
wanted, referred him to the ostler; who after hearing
all he had to say again, referred him to the landlord;
who was a tall gentleman in a blue neckcloth, a white
hat, drab breeches, and boots with tops to match,
leaning against a pump by the stable-door, picking
his teeth with a silver toothpick.
This gentleman walked with much deliberation
into the bar to make out the bill: which took
a long time making out: and after it was ready,
and paid, a horse had to be saddled, and a man to be
dressed, which took up ten good minutes more.
Meanwhile Oliver was in such a desperate state of
impatience and anxiety, that he felt as if he could
have jumped upon the horse himself, and galloped away,
full tear, to the next stage. At length, all
was ready; and the little parcel having been handed
up, with many injunctions and entreaties for its speedy
delivery, the man set spurs to his horse, and rattling
over the uneven paving of the market-place, was out
of the town, and galloping along the turnpike-road,
in a couple of minutes.
As it was something to feel certain
that assistance was sent for, and that no time had
been lost, Oliver hurried up the inn-yard, with a
somewhat lighter heart. He was turning out of
the gateway when he accidently stumbled against a
tall man wrapped in a cloak, who was at that moment
coming out of the inn door.
‘Hah!’ cried the man,
fixing his eyes on Oliver, and suddenly recoiling.
‘What the devil’s this?’
‘I beg your pardon, sir,’
said Oliver; ’I was in a great hurry to get
home, and didn’t see you were coming.’
‘Death!’ muttered the
man to himself, glaring at the boy with his large
dark eyes. ’Who would have thought it!
Grind him to ashes! He’d start up from
a stone coffin, to come in my way!’
‘I am sorry,’ stammered
Oliver, confused by the strange man’s wild look.
‘I hope I have not hurt you!’
‘Rot you!’ murmured the
man, in a horrible passion; between his clenched teeth;
’if I had only had the courage to say the word,
I might have been free of you in a night. Curses
on your head, and black death on your heart, you imp!
What are you doing here?’
The man shook his fist, as he uttered
these words incoherently. He advanced towards
Oliver, as if with the intention of aiming a blow at
him, but fell violently on the ground: writhing
and foaming, in a fit.
Oliver gazed, for a moment, at the
struggles of the madman (for such he supposed him
to be); and then darted into the house for help.
Having seen him safely carried into the hotel, he
turned his face homewards, running as fast as he could,
to make up for lost time: and recalling with
a great deal of astonishment and some fear, the extraordinary
behaviour of the person from whom he had just parted.
The circumstance did not dwell in
his recollection long, however: for when he reached
the cottage, there was enough to occupy his mind, and
to drive all considerations of self completely from
Rose Maylie had rapidly grown worse;
before mid-night she was delirious. A medical
practitioner, who resided on the spot, was in constant
attendance upon her; and after first seeing the patient,
he had taken Mrs. Maylie aside, and pronounced her
disorder to be one of a most alarming nature.
‘In fact,’ he said, ’it would be
little short of a miracle, if she recovered.’
How often did Oliver start from his
bed that night, and stealing out, with noiseless footstep,
to the staircase, listen for the slightest sound from
the sick chamber! How often did a tremble shake
his frame, and cold drops of terror start upon his
brow, when a sudden trampling of feet caused him to
fear that something too dreadful to think of, had
even then occurred! And what had been the fervency
of all the prayers he had ever muttered, compared
with those he poured forth, now, in the agony and
passion of his supplication for the life and health
of the gentle creature, who was tottering on the deep
Oh! the suspense, the fearful, acute
suspense, of standing idly by while the life of one
we dearly love, is trembling in the balance!
Oh! the racking thoughts that crowd upon the mind,
and make the heart beat violently, and the breath
come thick, by the force of the images they conjure
up before it; the desperate anxiety to be doing
something to relieve the pain, or lessen the danger,
which we have no power to alleviate; the sinking of
soul and spirit, which the sad remembrance of our
helplessness produces; what tortures can equal these;
what reflections or endeavours can, in the full tide
and fever of the time, allay them!
Morning came; and the little cottage
was lonely and still. People spoke in whispers;
anxious faces appeared at the gate, from time to time;
women and children went away in tears. All the
livelong day, and for hours after it had grown dark,
Oliver paced softly up and down the garden, raising
his eyes every instant to the sick chamber, and shuddering
to see the darkened window, looking as if death lay
stretched inside. Late that night, Mr. Losberne
arrived. ’It is hard,’ said the
good doctor, turning away as he spoke; ’so young;
so much beloved; but there is very little hope.’
Another morning. The sun shone
brightly; as brightly as if it looked upon no misery
or care; and, with every leaf and flower in full bloom
about her; with life, and health, and sounds and sights
of joy, surrounding her on every side: the fair
young creature lay, wasting fast. Oliver crept
away to the old churchyard, and sitting down on one
of the green mounds, wept and prayed for her, in silence.
There was such peace and beauty in
the scene; so much of brightness and mirth in the
sunny landscape; such blithesome music in the songs
of the summer birds; such freedom in the rapid flight
of the rook, careering overhead; so much of life and
joyousness in all; that, when the boy raised his aching
eyes, and looked about, the thought instinctively
occurred to him, that this was not a time for death;
that Rose could surely never die when humbler things
were all so glad and gay; that graves were for cold
and cheerless winter: not for sunlight and fragrance.
He almost thought that shrouds were for the old and
shrunken; and that they never wrapped the young and
graceful form in their ghastly folds.
A knell from the church bell broke
harshly on these youthful thoughts. Another!
Again! It was tolling for the funeral service.
A group of humble mourners entered the gate:
wearing white favours; for the corpse was young.
They stood uncovered by a grave; and there was a mother a
mother once among the weeping train.
But the sun shone brightly, and the birds sang on.
Oliver turned homeward, thinking on
the many kindnesses he had received from the young
lady, and wishing that the time could come again, that
he might never cease showing her how grateful and attached
he was. He had no cause for self-reproach on
the score of neglect, or want of thought, for he had
been devoted to her service; and yet a hundred little
occasions rose up before him, on which he fancied he
might have been more zealous, and more earnest, and
wished he had been. We need be careful how we
deal with those about us, when every death carries
to some small circle of survivors, thoughts of so
much omitted, and so little done of so
many things forgotten, and so many more which might
have been repaired! There is no remorse so deep
as that which is unavailing; if we would be spared
its tortures, let us remember this, in time.
When he reached home Mrs. Maylie was
sitting in the little parlour. Oliver’s
heart sank at sight of her; for she had never left
the bedside of her niece; and he trembled to think
what change could have driven her away. He learnt
that she had fallen into a deep sleep, from which
she would waken, either to recovery and life, or to
bid them farewell, and die.
They sat, listening, and afraid to
speak, for hours. The untasted meal was removed,
with looks which showed that their thoughts were elsewhere,
they watched the sun as he sank lower and lower, and,
at length, cast over sky and earth those brilliant
hues which herald his departure. Their quick
ears caught the sound of an approaching footstep.
They both involuntarily darted to the door, as Mr.
‘What of Rose?’ cried
the old lady. ’Tell me at once! I
can bear it; anything but suspense! Oh, tell
me! in the name of Heaven!’
‘You must compose yourself,’
said the doctor supporting her. ’Be calm,
my dear ma’am, pray.’
‘Let me go, in God’s name!
My dear child! She is dead! She is dying!’
‘No!’ cried the doctor,
passionately. ’As He is good and merciful,
she will live to bless us all, for years to come.’
The lady fell upon her knees, and
tried to fold her hands together; but the energy which
had supported her so long, fled up to Heaven with her
first thanksgiving; and she sank into the friendly
arms which were extended to receive her.