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Neither the next day, however, nor the next again, was Mrs Preston able to move. The doctor had to be brought at last, and he enjoined perfect quiet and freedom from care. If she had anything on her mind, it was to be exorcised and put away, he ordered, speaking to Mrs Swayne and Pamela, who had not a notion what she had on her mind. As for the patient, she made her effort to rise every morning, and failed, and turned upon her watchers such looks of despair as bewildered them. Every morning Jack Brownlow would come to ask for her, which was the only moment of the day in which Pamela found a little comfort; but her mother found it out instinctively, and grew so restless, and moaned so pitifully VOL. III. A
when her child left her, that even that sorrowful pleasure had to be given up. The young people did not know what to think. They persuaded themselves sometimes that it was only the effect of illness, and that a fancy so sudden and unexplainable would, when she was better, vanish as unreasonably as it came; but then, what was it she had to do? When she had lain for several days in this state of feebleness, always making vain efforts after strength, another change came over Mrs Preston. The wild look went out of her eyes. One morning she called Pamela to her with more than her usual energy. "I am going to be very quiet and still for a week," she said; "if I am not better then, I will tell you what you must do, Pamela. You must send for the Eector and for Nancy Christian from old Mrs Fennell's in Masterton. This is Tuesday, and it is the 30th; and I will try for a week. If 1 am not better next Tuesday, you must send for the Eector. Promise me to do exactly what I say."
"Yes, mamma," said Pamela; "but oh! what for? —if you would only tell me what it is for! You never kept anything secret from me."
Mrs Preston turned a wistful look upon her child. "I must not tell you," she said—" I cannot tell you. If I did you would not thank me. You will know it soon enough. Don't ask me any questions for a week. I mean to try and get well to do it myself; but if I don't get well, no more time must be lost. You must not cross me, Pamela. What do you think I should care if it was not for you?"
"And perhaps if I knew I should not care," cried the poor little girl, wringing her hands. She could not tell what it was; but still it became as clear as daylight to her that it was something against Jack.
"You would tell it to him," Mrs Preston said, with a deep sigh. Perhaps Pamela did not hear her, for the words were spoken almost under her breath; but the girl heard the sigh, and divined what it meant. It was bitter to her, poor child, and hard to think that she could not be true to both—that her mother was afraid of trusting her—and that Jack and Mrs Preston were ranged on different sides, with her love and faith, as a bone of contention, between them. Perhaps it was all the harder that she could not cry over it, or get any relief to her souL Things by this time had become too serious for crying. The little soft creature grew without knowing into a serious woman. She had to give up such vain pleasures as that of tears over her trouble. No indulgence of the kind was possible to her. She sat by her mother's bedside all day long, and, with her mother's eye upon her, had to feign composure when she little possessed it. Mrs Preston was unreasonable for the first time in her life as regarded Pamela. She forgot what was needful for the child's health, which was a thing she had never done in her life before. She could not bear her daughter out of her sight. If she went down-stairs for half-an-hour, to breathe the fresh air, her mother's eyes would follow her to the door with keen suspicion and fear. Pamela was glad to think that it must be her illness, and that only, which had this effect. Even Mrs Swayne was more considerate. She was ready to come as often as it was possible to watch by the sick-bed and let the poor little nurse free; but Mrs Preston was not willing to let her free. As it happened, however, Mrs Swayne was in the room when her lodger gave Pamela instructions about calling the Eector if she were not better in a week, and it startled the curious woman. She told it to her neighbour and tenant in the next house, and she told it to old Betty; and the thing by degrees grew so patent to the parish that at last it came to Mr Hardcastle's ears. Naturally it had changed in the telling. Whereas Mrs Preston had directed him to be sent for in a certain desperate case, and as a last resource, the Eector heard that Mrs Swayne's inmate was troubled in her mind, and was anxious to confide some secret to him. What the secret was was doubtful, or else it would not have been a secret; but all Dewsbury believed that the woman was dying, and that she had done something very bad indeed, and desired the absolution of a priest before she could die in peace. When he heard this, it was equally natural that Mr Hardcastle should feel a little excited. Though he had never dreamt of setting up a confessional, the idea of a penitent with a real burden on her conscience was pleasant; and he thought it his duty to see after her without delay. He went with the wisdom of a serpent and the meekness of a dove, not professedly to receive a confession, but to call, as he said, on his suffering parishioner; and he looked very important and full of his mission when he went up-stairs. Mrs Swayne had gone astray after new lights of Dissent, and up to this moment the dwellers under her roof had received no particular notice from Mr Hardcastle, so that it was a little difficult to account for his solicitude now.
"I heard you were ill," said the Eector; "indeed I missed you from church. As you are a stranger, and suffering, I thought there might be something that we could do"
"You are very kind," said Mrs Preston; and then she looked askance both at Mrs Swayne and Pamela, keenly searching in their eyes to see if they had sent for him. And as Pamela, who knew nothing about it, naturally looked the guiltiest, her mother's