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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThere & Back - Chapter 37. Lady Ann And Richard
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There & Back - Chapter 37. Lady Ann And Richard Post by :Merry_V Category :Long Stories Author :George Macdonald Date :May 2012 Read :3266

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There & Back - Chapter 37. Lady Ann And Richard

CHAPTER XXXVII. LADY ANN AND RICHARD

The same afternoon, Richard was mending the torn title of a black-letter copy of Fox's Book of Martyrs. Vixen had forgotten her former fright, and her evil courage had returned. Opening the door of the library so softly that Richard heard nothing, she stole up behind him, and gave his elbow a great push just as, with the sharpest of penknives, he was paring the edge of a piece of old paper, to patch the title. The pen-knife slid along the bit of glass he was paring upon, and cut his other hand. The blood spouted, and some of it fell upon the title, which made Richard angry: it was an irremediable catastrophe, for the paper was too weak to bear any washing. He laid hold of the child, meaning once more to carry her from the room, and secure the door. Then first Vixen saw what she had done, and was seized with horror--not because she had hurt "the bear," but because of the blood, the sight of which she could not endure. It was a hereditary weakness on sir Wilton's side. One of the strongest men of his family used to faint at the least glimpse of blood. There was a tradition to account for it, not old or thin enough to cast no shadow, therefore seldom alluded to. It was not, therefore, an ordinary childish dismay, but a deep-seated congenital terror, that made Vixen give one wavering scream, and drop on the floor. Richard thought she was pretending a faint in mockery of what she had done, but when he took her up, he saw that she was insensible. He laid her on a couch, rang the bell, and asked the man to take the child to her governess. The man saw blood on the child's dress, and when he reached the schoolroom with her, informed the governess that she had had an accident in the library. Miss Malliver, with one of her accomplished shrieks, dispatched him to tell lady Ann. Coming to herself in a few minutes, Vixen told a confused story of how the bear had frightened her. Lady Ann, learning that the blood was not that of her child, came to the conclusion that Richard had played upon her peculiarity to get rid of her, for Vixen, incapable of truth, did not tell that she was herself the cause of the wound whence the blood had made its appearance. Miss Malliver, who would hardly have been sorry had Vixen's throat been cut, rose in wrath, and would have swooped down the stair upon Richard.

"Leave him to me, Malliver," said lady Ann, and rising, went down the stair. But the moment she entered the library, and saw Richard's hand tied up in his handkerchief, she bethought herself of the happy chance of satisfaction as to whether or not he was web-fingered: the absence of the peculiarity would indeed prove nothing, but the presence of it would be a warning of the worst danger: he might have had it removed, but could not have contrived to put it there!

"What have you done to yourself, Mr. Tuke?" she said, making a motion to take the wounded hand, from which at the same time she shrank with inward disgust.

"Nothing of any consequence, my lady," answered Richard, who had risen, and stood before her. "I was using a very sharp knife, and it went into my hand. I hope Miss Victoria is better?"

"There is nothing much the matter with her," answered her ladyship. "The sight of blood always makes her faint."

"It is a horrid sight, my lady!" rejoined Richard, wondering at her ladyship's affability, and ready to meet any kindness. "When I was at school, I was terribly affected by it. One boy used to provoke me to fight him, and contrive that I should make his nose bleed--after which he could do what he liked with me. But I set myself to overcome the weakness, and succeeded."

Lady Ann listened in silence, too intent on his hands to remark at the moment how the fact he mentioned bore on the question that absorbed her.

"Would you mind showing me the wound?" she said. "I am something of a surgeon."

To her disappointment, he persisted that it was nothing. Because of the peculiarity she would gladly have missed in them, he did not like showing his hands. His mother had begged him not to meddle with the oddity until she gave her consent, promising a good reason for the request when the right time should arrive; but he was sensitive about it--probably from having been teased because of it. His comfort was, that a few slits of a sharp knife would make him like other people.

Lady Ann was foiled, therefore the more eager: why should the man be so unwilling to show his hands?

"Your work must be very interesting!" she said.

"I am fond of it, my lady," he answered. "If I had a fortune left me, I should find it hard to drop it. There is nothing like work--and books--for enjoying life!"

"I daresay you are right.--But go on with your work. I have heard so much about it from Miss Wylder that I should like to see you at it."

"I am sorry, my lady, but I shall be fit for next to nothing for a day or two because of this hand. I dare not attempt going on with what I am now doing."

"Is it so very painful? You ought to have it seen to. I will send for Mr. Hurst."

As she spoke, she turned to go to the bell. Richard had tried to interrupt her, but she would not listen. He now assured her that it was his work not his hand that he was thinking of; and said that, if Mr. Lestrange had no objection, he would take a short holiday.

"Then you would like to go home!" said her ladyship, thinking it would be so easy then to write and tell him not to come back--if only Arthur could be got to do it.

"I should like to go to my grandfather's for a few days," answered Richard.

This was by no means what lady Ann desired, but she did not see how to oppose it.

"Well, perhaps you had better go," she said.

"If you please, my lady," rejoined Richard, "I must see Mr. Lestrange first. I cannot go without his permission."

"I will speak to my son about it," answered lady Ann, and went away, feeling that Richard would be a dangerous enemy. She did not hate him: she only regarded him as what might possibly prove an adverse force to be encountered and frustrated because of her family, and because of the right way of things--that those, namely, who had nothing should be kept from getting anything. In the meantime the only thing clear was, that he had better be got out of the neighbourhood! It was well sir Wilton had hardly seen the young man: if there was anything about him capable of rousing old memories, it were well it should not have the chance! Sir Wilton was not fond of books, and it could be no great pleasure to him to have the library set to rights; he was annoyed at being kept out of it, for he liked to smoke his cigar there, and shuddered at the presence of a working man except in the open air: she was certain he would feel nowise aggrieved if the design were abandoned midway! The only person she feared would oppose Tuke's departure, was Arthur.

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