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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesSix To Sixteen: A Story For Girls - Chapter 2. The Cholera Season...
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Six To Sixteen: A Story For Girls - Chapter 2. The Cholera Season... Post by :imported_n/a Category :Long Stories Author :Juliana Horatia Ewing Date :May 2012 Read :2805

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Six To Sixteen: A Story For Girls - Chapter 2. The Cholera Season...

CHAPTER II. THE CHOLERA SEASON--MY MOTHER GOES AWAY--MY SIXTH BIRTHDAY

We were living in a bungalow not far from the barracks at X. when the cholera came. It was when I was within a few weeks of six years old. First we heard that it was among the natives, and the matter did not excite much notice. Then it broke out among the men, and the officers talked a good deal about it. The next news was of the death of the Colonel commanding our regiment.

One of my early recollections is of our hearing of this. An ensign of our regiment (one of the "little ones") called upon my mother in the evening of the day of the Colonel's death. He was very white, very nervous, very restless. He brought us the news. The Colonel had been ill barely thirty-six hours. He had suffered agonies with wonderful firmness. He was to be buried the next day.

"He never was afraid of cholera," said Mr. Gordon; "he didn't believe it was infectious; he thought keeping up the men's spirits was everything. But, you see, it isn't nervousness, after all, that does it."

"It goes a long way, Gordon," said my father. "You're young; you've never been through one of these seasons. Don't get fanciful, my good fellow. Come here, and play with Margery."

Mr. Gordon laughed.

"I am a fool, certainly," he said. "Ever since I heard of it, I have fancied a strange, faint kind of smell everywhere, which is absurd enough."

"I will make you a camphor-bag," said my mother, "that ought to overpower any faint smell, and it is a charm against infection."

I believe Mr. Gordon was beginning to thank her, but his words ended in a sort of inarticulate groan. He stood on his feet, though not upright, and at last said feebly, "I beg your pardon, I don't feel quite well."

"You're upset, old fellow; it's quite natural," said my father. "Come and get some brandy, and you shall come back for the camphor."

My father led him away, but he did not come back. My father took him to his quarters, and sent the surgeon to him; and my mother took me on her knee, and sat silent for a long time, with the unfinished camphor-bag beside her.

The next day I went to the end of our compound with Ayah, to see the Colonel's funeral pass. The procession seemed endless. The horse he had ridden two days before by my mother's side tossed its head fretfully, as the "Dead March" wailed, and the slow tramp of feet poured endlessly on. My mother was looking out from the verandah. As Ayah and I joined her, a native servant, who was bringing something in, said abruptly, "Gordon Sahib--he dead too."

When my father returned from the funeral he found my mother in a panic. Some friends had lately invited her to stay with them, and she was now resolved to go. "I am sure I shall die if I stay here!" she cried, and it ended in her going away at once. There was some difficulty as to accommodating me and Ayah, and it was decided that, if necessary, we should follow my mother later.

For my own part, I begged to remain. I had no fear of cholera, and I was anxious to dine with my father on my birthday, as he had promised that I should.

It was on the day before my birthday that one of the surgeons was buried. The man next in rank to the poor Colonel was on leave, and the regiment was commanded by our friend Major Buller, whose little daughters were invited to spend the following evening with me. The Major, my father, and two other officers had been pall-bearers at the funeral. My father came to me on his return. He was slightly chilled, and said he should remain indoors; so I had him all to myself, and we were very happy, though he complained of fatigue, and fell asleep once on the floor with his head in my lap. He was still lying on the floor when Ayah took me to bed. I believe he had been unwell all the day, though I did not know it, and had been taking some of the many specifics against cholera, of which everybody had one or more at that time.

Half-an-hour later he sent for a surgeon, who happened to be dining with Major Buller. The Doctor and the Major came together to our bungalow, and with them two other officers who happened to be of the party, and who were friends of my father. One of them was a particular friend of my own. He was an ensign, a reckless, kind-hearted lad "in his teens," a Mr. Abercrombie, who had good reason to count my father as a friend.

Mr. Abercrombie mingled in some way with my dreams that night, or rather early morning, and when I fairly woke, it was to the end of a discussion betwixt my Ayah, who was crying, and Mr. Abercrombie, in evening dress, whose face bore traces of what looked to me like crying also. I was hastily clothed, and he took me in his arms.

"Papa wants you, Margery dear," he said; and he carried me quickly down the passages in the dim light of the early summer dawn.

Two or three officers, amongst whom I recognized Major Buller, fell back, as we came in, from the bed to which Mr. Abercrombie carried me. My father turned his face eagerly towards me, but I shrank away. That one night of suffering and collapse had changed him so that I did not know him again. At last I was persuaded to go to him, and by his voice and manner recognized him as his feeble fingers played tenderly with mine. And when he said, "Kiss me, Margery dear," I crept up and kissed his forehead, and started to feel it so cold and damp.

"Be a good girl, Margery dear," he whispered; "be very good to Mamma." There was a short silence. Then he said, "Is the sun rising yet, Buller?"

"Just rising, old fellow. Does the light bother you?"

"No, thank you; I can't see it. The fact is, I can't see you now. I suppose it's nearly over. GOD'S will be done. You've got the papers, Buller? Arkwright will be kind about it, I'm sure. You'll break it to my wife as well as you can?"

After another pause he said, "It's time you fellows went to bed and got some sleep."

But no one moved, and there was another silence, which my father broke by saying, "Buller, where are you? It's quite dark now. Would you say the Lord's Prayer for me, old fellow? Margery dear, put your hands with poor Papa's."

"I've not said my prayers yet," said I; "and you know I ought to say my prayers, for I've been dressed a long time."

The Major knelt simply by the bed. The other men, standing, bent their heads, and Mr. Abercrombie, kneeling, buried his face on the end of the bed and sobbed aloud.

Major Buller said the Lord's Prayer. I, believing it to be my duty, said it also, and my father said it with us to the clause "For Thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory," when his voice failed, and I, thinking he had forgotten (for I sometimes forgot in the middle of my most familiar prayers and hymns), helped him--"Papa dear! _for ever and ever_."

Still he was silent, and as I bent over him I heard one long-drawn breath, and then his hands, which were enfolded with mine, fell apart. The sunshine was now beginning to catch objects in the room, and a ray lighted up my father's face, and showed a change that even I could see. An officer standing at the head of the bed saw it also, and said abruptly, "He's dead, Buller." And the Major, starting up, took me in his arms, and carried me away.

I cried and struggled. I had a dim sense of what had happened, mixed with an idea that these men were separating me from my father. I could not be pacified till Mr. Abercrombie held out his arms for me. He was more like a woman, and he was crying as well as I. I went to him and buried my sobs on his shoulder. Mr. George (as I had long called him, from finding his surname hard to utter) carried me into the passage and walked up and down, comforting me.

"Is Papa really dead?" I at length found voice to ask.

"Yes, Margery dear. I'm so sorry."

"Will he go to Abraham's bosom, Mr. George?"

"Will he go _where_, Margery?"

"To Abraham's bosom, you know, where the poor beggar went that's lying on the steps in my Sunday picture-book, playing with those dear old dogs."

Mr. Abercrombie's knowledge of Holy Scripture was, I fear, limited. Possibly my remarks recalled some childish remembrance similar to my own. He said, "Oh yes, to be sure. Yes, dear."

"Do you think the dogs went with the poor beggar?" I asked. "Do you think the angels took them too?"

"I don't know," said Mr. George. "I hope they did."

There was a pause, and then I asked, in awe-struck tones, "Will the angels fetch Papa, do you think?"

Mr. George had evidently decided to follow my theological lead, and he replied, "Yes, Margery dear."

"Shall you see them?" I asked.

"No, no, Margery. I'm not good enough to see angels."

"_I think you're very good," said I. "And please be good, Mr. George, and then the angels will fetch you, and perhaps me, and Mamma, and perhaps Ayah, and perhaps Bustle, and perhaps Clive." Bustle was Mr. Abercrombie's dog, and Clive was a mastiff, the dog of the regiment, and a personal friend of mine.

"Very well, Margery dear. And now you must be good too, and you must let me take you to bed, for it's morning now, and I have had no sleep at all."

"Is it to-morrow now?" I asked; "because, if it's to-morrow, it's my birthday." And I began to cry afresh, because Papa had promised that I should dine with him, and had promised me a present also.

"I'll give you a birthday present," said my long-suffering friend; and he began to unfasten a locket that hung at his watch-chain. It was of Indian gold, with forget-me-nots in turquoise stones upon it. He opened it and pulled out a photograph, which he tore to bits, and then trampled underfoot.

"There, Margery, there's a locket for you; you can throw it into the fire, or do anything you like with it. And I wish you many happy returns of the day." And he finally fastened it round my neck with his Trichinopoli watch-chain, leaving his watch loose in his waistcoat-pocket. The locket and chain pleased me, and I suffered him to carry me to bed. Then, as he was parting from me, I thought of my father again, and asked:

"Do you think the angels have fetched Papa _now_, Mr. George?"

"I think they have, Margery."

Whereupon I cried myself to sleep. And this was my sixth birthday.

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