Tempest and Sunshine

by Mary Jane Holmes

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Chapter XXIII


From the grassy hillside and bright green plains of Kentucky the frosts of winter were gone. By the dancing brook and in the shady nooks of the quiet valleys, the warm spring sun had sought out and brought to life thousands of sweet wild blossoms, which in turn had faded away, giving place to other flowers of a brighter and gayer hue.

Each night from the upper balcony of her father's handsome dwelling Fanny watched in vain for the coming of Dr. Lacey, whose promised return had long been delayed by the dangerous illness of his father. Over the wooded hills the breath of summer was floating, hot, arid and laden with disease. Death was abroad in the land, and as each day exaggerated rumors of the havoc made by cholera in the sultry climate of Louisiana reached Fanny, fearful misgivings filled her mind lest Dr. Lacey, too, should fall a victim to the plague.

For herself she had no fears, though slowly but surely through her veins the fever flame was creeping, scorching her blood, poisoning her breath and burning her cheek, until her father, alarmed at her altered and languid appearance, inquired for the cause of the change. "Nothing but a slight headache," was the reply.

Next to the cholera, Mr. Middleton most feared the typhoid fever, several cases of which had recently occurred in the neighborhood, and fearing lest the disease might be stealing upon his darling, he proposed calling the physician. But this Fanny would not suffer, and persisted in saying that she was well, until at last she lay all day upon the sofa, and Aunt Katy, when her favorite herb teas failed of effecting their wonted cure, shook her head, saying, "I knew 'twould be so. I always telled you we couldn't keep her long."

Dr. Gordon was finally called and pronounced her disease to be typhoid in its worst form. Days went by, and so rapid was the progress of the fever that Mr. Middleton trembled lest of him it had been decreed: "He shall be childless." To Fanny the thought of death was familiar. For her it had no terrors, and as her outward strength decayed, her faith in the Eternal grew stronger and brighter, yet she could not die without an assurance that again in the better world she would meet the father she so much loved. For her mother she had no fears, for during many years she had been a patient, self-denying Christian.

At first Mr. Middleton listened in silence to Fanny's gentle words of entreaty, but when she spoke to him of her own death, and the love which alone could sustain him then, he clasped her tightly to his heart, as if his arm alone could keep her there forever, saying, "Oh, no, you must not tell me that; you will not die. Even now you are better." And the anxious father did try to deceive himself into the belief that Fanny was better, but when each morning's light revealed some fresh ravage the disease had made--when the flush on her cheek grew deeper and the light of her eye wilder and more startling, an agonized fear held the old man's heart in thrall. Many and many a weary night found him sleepless, as he wet his pillow with tears. Not such tears as he wept when Richard Wilmot died, nor such as fell upon the grave of his first-born, for oh, his grief then was naught compared with what he now felt for his Sunshine, his idol, his precious Fanny. "I cannot, cannot let her die," was the cry which hourly welled up from the depths of that fond father's aching heart. "Take all, take everything I own, but leave me Sunshine; she mustn't, mustn't die."

Earnestly did Fanny pray that her father might be enabled better to bear his affliction. But he turned a deaf ear alike to her and his gentle, enduring wife, who, bowed with sorrow, yet sought to soothe her grief-stricken husband. Sadly he would turn away saying, "It's no use talking. I can't be pious if they take Fanny away. I can see why t'other one died. 'Twas to bring me to my senses, and show me how bad I used her; but Fanny, my Sunshine, what has Josh done that she should leave him too? Oh, it's more than I can bar."

At Dr. Gordon's request a council of physicians in Frankfort was called. As the one who came last was about to enter her room, Mr. Middleton detained him while he said, "Save her, doctor, save her, and you shall have all I'm worth." Impatiently he awaited the decision. It came, but alas, it brought no hope.

Mr. William Middleton, who had recently come from New Orleans, broke the news to his unhappy brother. Terrible was the anguish of Uncle Joshua, when he became convinced that he must lose her. Nothing could induce him to leave her room; and as if endowed with superhuman strength, he watched by her constantly, only leaving her once each day to visit the quiet grave, the bed of his other daughter, where now the long green grass was waving, and the summer flowers were blooming, flowers which Fanny's hand had planted and the father's tears had watered.

One night they were alone, the old man and his child.

For several hours Fanny had turned uneasily upon her pillow, but she at last fell into a deep sleep. For a time her father sat quietly listening to the sound of her breathing, then arising, he softly drew aside the curtains and looked long and anxiously at her as she slept.

Suddenly lifting his hands he exclaimed, "Oh, God, save her, or help me to bear it if she dies." It was the first prayer which for long, long years had passed his lips, but it had a power to bring back the olden feeling, when a happy boy, he had knelt at his mother's side, and was not ashamed to pray. Falling on his knees, he tried to recall the words of prayer his mother had taught him, but one petition alone came from his heart in that dark, midnight hour. "Oh, don't let Fanny die, don't let her die, for who will comfort old Joshua when she is gone."

"The Saviour; He who once wept at the grave of Lazarus will be more to you than I ever was, or ever can be," said Fanny.

In her sleep she dreamed that her father prayed. She awoke and found it true. "Come nearer to me, father," said she. He did so, and then among his thick gray locks she laid her thin white hand and prayed.

It was a beautiful sight, and methinks the angels hovered round as that young disciple, apparently so near the portals of heaven, sought to lead her weeping father to the same glad world. Her words were soothing, and o'er his darkened mind a ray of light seemed feebly, faintly shining. Before the morning dawned he had resolved that if there still was hope for him he would find it. Many a time during the succeeding days he prayed in secret, not that Fanny might be spared, but that he might be reconciled to God. His prayer at length was answered, and Uncle Joshua was a changed man. He showed it in everything, in the expression of his face and in the words he uttered. For his Sunshine he still wept, but with a chastened grief, for now he knew that if she died he would see her in heaven.

Where now was Dr. Lacey? Knew he not of the threatened danger? At his father's bedside, where for many days his place had been, he had received from Mr. William Middleton a letter announcing Fanny's illness, which, however, was not then considered dangerous. On learning the contents of the letter, the elder Mr. Lacey said, turning to his son, "Go, George, go; I would not keep you from her a moment." The doctor needed no second bidding, and the first steamer which left New Orleans bore him upon its deck, anxious and impatient.

Fast the days rolled on, and they who watched Fanny alternately hoped and feared, as she one day seemed better and the next worst. Of those days we will not speak. We hasten to a night three weeks from the commencement of her illness, when gathered in her room were anxious friends, who feared the next day's sun would see her dead. Florence, Kate and Mrs. Miller were there, with tearful eyes and saddened faces. Frank Cameron, too, was there. Business, either real or fancied, had again taken him to Kentucky, and hearing of Fanny's illness, he had hastened to her.

She had requested to be raised up, and now, leaning against her Uncle William, she lay in a deep slumber. In a corner of the room sat Uncle Joshua, his head bowed down, his face covered by his hands, while the large tears fell upon the carpeting, as he sadly whispered, "It'll be lonesome at night; it'll be lonesome in the morning; it'll be lonesome everywhar."

Florence stood by him, and tried by gently smoothing his tangled hair to express the sympathy she could not speak. Suddenly there was the sound of fast-coming wheels, and Kate, thinking it must be Dr. Gordon, whom they were each moment expecting, ran out to meet him. Nearer and nearer came the carriage, and as Kate was peering through the darkness to see if it were the expected physician, Dr. Lacey sprang quickly to her side.

In Frankfort he had heard that Fanny could not live, and now he eagerly asked, "Tell me, Mrs. Miller, is she yet alive?"

Kate replied by leading him directly toward the sick chamber. As he entered the room Uncle Joshua burst into a fresh flood of tears, saying as he took the doctor's offered hand, "Poor boy! Poor George. You're losing a great deal, but not as much as I, for you can find another Fanny, but for me thar's no more Sunshine, when they carry her away."

Dr. Gordon now came and after feeling her pulse and listening to the sound of her breathing, he said, "When she wakes from this sleep, I think the matter will be decided. She will be better or worse."

And he was right, although the old clock in the hall told the hour of midnight ere she roused from the deep slumber which had seemed so much like the long last sleep of death. Her first words were for "water, water," and as she put up her hand to take the offered glass, Dr. Gordon whispered to Dr. Lacey: "She is better, but must not see you tonight."

In a twinkling Mr. Middleton's large hand was laid on Dr. Lacey's shoulder, and hurrying him into the adjoining room, he said, "Stay here till mornin', and neither breathe nor stir!"

Dr. Lacey complied with the request as far as it was possible, though never seemed a night so long, and never dawned a morning so bright as did the succeeding one, when through the house the joyous tidings ran that the crisis was past, and Fanny would live.

In the course of the morning, Fanny asked Kate, who alone was attending her, if Dr. Lacey were not there?

"What makes you think so?" asked Kate.

"Because," answered Fanny, "I either heard him or dreamed that I did."

"And if he is here, could you bear to see him now?"

"Oh, yes, yes," was the eager answer, and the next moment Dr. Lacey was by her side.

Intuitively Kate left the room, consequently we have no means of knowing what occurred during that interview, when Dr. Lacey, as it were, received back from the arms of death his Fanny, whose recovery from that time was sure though slow. Mr. Middleton, in the exuberance of his joy at having his Sunshine restored, seemed hardly sane, but frequently kept muttering to himself, "Yes, yes, I remember--I'll do it, only give me a little time"; at the same time his elbow moved impatiently, as if nudging off some unseen visitor. What it was that he remembered and would do, was not known for several days and then he informed his wife that when at first he feared that Fanny should not live, he had racked his brain to know why this fresh evil was brought upon him, and had concluded that it was partly to punish him for his ill-treatment of Julia when living, and partly because that now she was dead he had neglected to purchase for her any gravestones. "And I promised," said he, "that if she was spar'd, I'd buy as nice a gravestun as I would if 'twas Sunshine." Three weeks from that time there stood by the mound in the little graveyard a plain, handsome monument, on which was simply inscribed, "Julia, aged twenty."

One after another those who had been with Fanny during her illness departed to their homes. Frank Cameron lingered several weeks in Frankfort. Florence, too, was there with some relatives. Now, reader, if you value our friendship, you will not accuse him of being fickle. He had loved Fanny long and faithfully, but he knew the time was coming when he would see her the wife of another. What wonder was it, then, if he suffered his eye occasionally to rest admiringly upon Florence Woodburn's happy face, or that he frequently found himself trying to trace some resemblance between the dark hazel of Florence's eyes and the deep blue of Fanny's?

With woman's quick perception, Florence divined Frank's thoughts, and although she professed herself to be "terribly afraid of his Presbyterian smile and deaconish ways," she took good care not to discourage him. But she teased him unmercifully, and played him many sorry tricks. He bore it all good-humoredly, and when he started for New York he had with him a tiny casing, from which peeped the merry face of Florence, looking as if just meditating some fresh mischief.

And what of Florence? Why, safely stowed away at the bottom of her bureau drawer, under a promiscuous pile of gloves, ribbons, laces and handkerchiefs, was a big daguerreotype; but as Florence guarded that drawer most carefully, always keeping the key in her pocket, we are unable to say anything certain upon the subject. Up to this day we don't know exactly whose face it was that led Florence to the drawer so many times a day, but we are safe in saying that it looked frank enough to be Frank himself!

Here for a time we leave her, and return to Mr. Middleton's where Fanny was improving each day. Dr. Lacey watched her recovery anxiously, fearing continually lest some new calamity should happen to take his treasure from him. Owing to the protracted illness of his father, it became necessary that he should go back to New Orleans; but as soon as possible he would return, and then--Fanny could have told you what then, and so, too, could we, but we prefer keeping you in suspense.

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