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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesGreatheart - Part 1 - Chapter 23. The Way Back
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Greatheart - Part 1 - Chapter 23. The Way Back Post by :socrates Category :Long Stories Author :Ethel May Dell Date :May 2012 Read :3426

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Greatheart - Part 1 - Chapter 23. The Way Back

PART I CHAPTER XXIII. THE WAY BACK

It was three days later that Dinah began at last the long and weary pilgrimage back again. Almost against her will she turned her faltering steps up the steep ascent; for she was too tired for any sustained effort. Only that something seemed to be perpetually drawing her she would not have been moved to make the effort at all. For she was so piteously weak that the bare exertion of opening her eyes was almost more than she could accomplish. But ever the unknown influence urged her, very gently but very persistently, never passive, never dormant, but always drawing her as by an invisible cord back to the world of sunshine and tears that seemed so very far away from the land of shadows in which she wandered.

All active suffering had left her, and she would fain have been at peace; but the hand that clasped hers would not be denied. The motherly voice that had calmed the wildest fantasies of her fevered brain spoke now to her with tenderest encouragement; the love that surrounded her drew her, uplifted her, sustained her. And gradually, as she crept back from the shadows, she came to lean upon this love as upon a sure support, to count upon it as her own exclusive possession--a wonderful new gift that had come to her out of the darkness.

She still welcomed her friend Scott at her bedside, but very curiously she had grown a little shy in his presence. She could not forget that dream of hers, and for a long time she was haunted by the dread that he had in some way come to know of it. Though the steady eyes never held anything but the utmost kindness and sympathy, she was half afraid to meet them lest they should look into her heart and see the vision she had seen. She never called him Mr. Greatheart now.

With Isabel, beloved nurse and companion, she was completely at her ease. A great change had come over Isabel--such a change as turns the bare earth into a garden of spring when the bitter winter is past at last. All the ice-bound bitterness had been swept utterly away, and in its place there blossomed such a wealth of mother-love as transformed her completely.

She spent herself with the most lavish devotion in Dinah's service. There was not a wish that she expressed that was not swiftly and abundantly satisfied. Night and day she was near her, ignoring all Biddy's injunctions to rest, till the old woman, seeing the light that had dawned in the shadowed eyes, left her to take her own way in peace. She hovered in the background, always ready in case her mistress's new-found strength should fail. But Isabel did not need her care. All her being was concentrated upon the task of bringing Dinah back to life, and she thought of nothing else, meeting the strain with that strength which comes in great emergencies to all.

And as she gradually succeeded in her task, a great peace descended upon her, such as she had never known before. Biddy sometimes gazed in amazement at the smooth brow and placid countenance at Dinah's bedside.

"Sure, the young lady's been a blessing straight from the Almighty," she said to Scott.

"I think so too, Biddy," he made quiet answer.

He was much less in the sick-room now that Dinah's need of him had passed. He sometimes wondered if she even knew how many hours he had formerly spent there. He visited her every day, and it was to him that the task fell of telling her that the de Vignes had arranged to leave her in their charge.

"We have your father's permission," he said, when her brows drew together with a troubled expression. "You see, it is quite impossible to move you at present, and they must be getting home. Billy is to go with them if you think you can be happy alone with us."

She put out her little wasted hand. "I could be happy with you anywhere," she said simply. "But it doesn't seem right."

"Of course it is right," he made quiet reply. "In fact, if you ask me, I think it is our business rather than anyone else's to get you well again."

She flushed in quick embarrassment. "Oh, please, you mustn't put it like that. And I have been such a trouble to everyone ever since."

He smiled at her very kindly. "Biddy says you are a blessing from the Almighty, and I quite agree with her. It is settled then? You are content to stay with us until we take you home?"

Her hand was clasped in his, but she did not meet his look. "Oh, much more than content," she said, her voice very low. "Only--"

"Only?" he said gently.

She made an effort to lift her eyes, but dropped them again instantly. "It will make it much harder to go home," she said.

She thought he sounded somewhat grim as he said, "There is no need to meet troubles half-way, you know. You won't be strong enough for the journey for some time to come."

"I wish I could stay just as I am now," she told him tremulously, "for ever and ever and ever."

"Ah!" he said, with a faint sigh. "It is not given to any of us to bask in the sun for long."

And so, two days after, the de Vignes paid a state visit of farewell to Dinah, now pronounced out of danger but still pitiably weak,--so weak that she cried when the Colonel bade her be a good girl and get well enough to come home as soon as possible, so as not to be a burden to these kind friends of hers longer than she need.

Lady Grace's kiss was chilly and perfunctory. "I also hope you will get well quickly, Dinah," she said, "as I believe Mr. Studley and his sister are staying on mainly on your account. Sir Eustace, I understand, is returning very shortly, and I have asked him to join our house-party."

"Good-bye, dear!" murmured Rose, bending her smiling lips to kiss Dinah's forehead. "I am sorry your good time has had such a tragic end. I was hoping that you might be allowed to come to the Hunt Ball, but I am afraid that is out of the question now. Sir Eustace will be sorry too. He says you are such an excellent little dancer."

"Good-bye!" said Dinah, swallowing her tears.

She wept unrestrainedly when Billy bade her a bluff and friendly farewell, and he was practically driven from the room by Isabel; who then returned to her charge, gathered her close in her arms, and sat with her so, rocking her gently till gradually her agitation subsided.

"Do forgive me!" Dinah murmured at last, clinging round her neck.

To which Isabel made answer in that low voice of hers that so throbbed with tenderness whenever she spoke to her. "Dear child, there is nothing to forgive. You are tired and worn out. I know just how you feel. But never mind--never mind! Forget it all!"

"I know I am a burden," whispered Dinah, clinging closer.

Isabel's lips pressed her forehead. "My darling," she said, "you are such a burden as I could not bear to be without."

That satisfied Dinah for the time; but it was not the whole of her trouble, and presently, still clasped close to Isabel's heart, she gave hesitating utterance to the rest.

"It would have been--so lovely--to have gone to the Hunt Ball. I should like to dance with--with Sir Eustace again. Is he--is he really going to stay with the de Vignes?"

"I don't know, dear. Very possibly not." Isabel's voice held a hint of constraint though her arms pressed Dinah comfortingly close. "He will please himself when the time comes no doubt."

Dinah did not pursue the subject, but her mind was no longer at rest. She wondered how she could have forgotten Sir Eustace for so long, and now that she remembered him she was all on fire with the longing to see him again. Rose had spoken so possessively, so confidently, of him, as though--almost as though--he had become her own peculiar property during the long dark days in which Dinah had been wandering in another world.

Something in Dinah hotly and fiercely resented this attitude. She yearned to know if it were by any means justified. She could not, would not, believe that he had suffered himself to fall like other men a victim to Rose's wiles. He was so different from all others, so superbly far above all those other captives. And had she not heard him laugh and call Rose machine-made?

A great restlessness began to possess her. She felt she must know what had been happening during her absence from the field. She must know if Rose had succeeded in adding yet another to her long list of devoted admirers. She felt that if this were so, she could never, never forgive her. But it was not possible. She was sure--she was sure it was not possible.

Sir Eustace was not the man to grovel at any woman's feet. She recalled the arrogance of his demeanour even in his moments of greatest tenderness. She recalled the magnetic force of his personality, his overwhelming mastery. She recalled the strong holding of his arms, thrilled yet again to the burning intensity of his kisses.

No, no! He had never stooped to become one of Rose's adorers. If he had ever flirted with her, he had done it out of boredom. She was beautiful--ah yes, Rose was beautiful; but Dinah was quite convinced she had no brains. And Eustace would never seriously consider a woman without brains.

Seriously! But then had he ever taken her into his serious consideration either? Had he not rather been at pains to make her understand that what had passed between them was no more than a game to which no serious consequences were attached? She had caught his fancy, his passing fancy, and now was not her turn over? Had he not laughed and gone his way?

She chafed terribly at the thought, and ever the longing to see him again grew within her till she did not know how to hide it from those about her.

In the evening her temperature rose, and the doctor was dissatisfied with her. She passed a restless night, and was considerably weaker in the morning.

"There is something on her mind," the doctor said to Isabel. "See if you can find out what it is!"

But it was Scott who succeeded with the utmost gentleness in discovering the trouble. He came in late in the morning and sat down beside her for a few minutes.

"I have been writing letters for my brother," he said in his quiet way, "or I should have called for news of you sooner. Isabel tells me you have had a bad night."

Dinah's face was flushed and her eyes very bright. "I heard the dance-music in the distance," she said nervously. "It--it made me want to go and dance."

"I am sorry it disturbed you," he said gently. "It was only that then? You weren't really troubled about anything?"

She hesitated, then, meeting the kindness of his look, her eyes suddenly filled with tears. She turned her head away in silence.

He leaned towards her. "Is there anything you want?" he said. "Tell me what it is! I will get it for you if it is humanly possible."

"I know--I know!" faltered Dinah, and hid her face in the pillow.

He waited a moment or two, then laid a very gentle hand upon her dark head. "Don't cry, little one!" he said softly. "Tell me what it is!"

"I can't," murmured Dinah.

"You wanted to go and dance," said Scott sympathetically. "Was it just that?"

"Not--just--that!" she whispered forlornly.

"I thought not. You were wanting something more than that. What was it?"

She tried not to tell him. She would have given almost all she had to keep silence on the subject; but somehow she had to speak. Under the pressure of that kind hand, she could not maintain her silence any longer.

"I was thinking of--of your brother," she told him with tears. "I was wondering if--if he were dancing, and--and I not there!"

It was out at last, and she hid her face in overwhelming shame because she had given him a glimpse of her secret heart which none had ever seen before. She wondered with anguish what he thought of her, if she had forfeited his good opinion of her for ever, if indeed he would ever speak to her with kindness again.

And then very quietly he did speak, and in a moment all her anxiety was gone. "He may have been dancing," he said. "But I believe he has been very bored ever since the weather broke. I wonder if he might come and see you. Would it be too much for you? Should you mind?"

"Mind!" Dinah's tears were gone in a flash. She turned shining eyes upon him. "But would he come?" she said, with sudden misgiving. "Wouldn't that bore him too?"

Scott smiled at her in a way that set her mind wholly at rest. "No, I think not," he said. "When shall he come? This evening?"

Dinah slipped a confiding hand into his. She felt that now Scott knew and was not scandalized, there was no further need for embarrassment. "Oh, just any time," she said. "But hadn't I better get up? It would look better, wouldn't it?"

"I don't know about that," said Scott. "You had better ask the doctor."

Dinah's face flushed red. "Need the doctor know?" she asked him shyly. "I am--so afraid of his saying I am well enough to go home. And that--that will end everything."

"He shan't say that," Scott promised, still smiling in the fashion that so warmed her heart. "I will drop him a hint."

"Oh, you are good!" Dinah said very earnestly. "I think you are the kindest man I have ever met."

He laughed at that. "My dear, it is easy to be kind to you," he said.

"I'm sure I don't know why," she protested. "I'm getting very spoilt and selfish."

He patted her hand gently and laid it down. "You are--just you," he said, and rising with the words rather abruptly he left her.

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