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A Devotee by Mary Cholmondeley

And Lady Pierpoint left Wilderleigh


may be. Youth turns to youth,' said Mr. Loftus to himself, as he went up to his wife's room after Doll had left.

Sibyl was ill. A chill, or a shock, or excitement--who shall say which?--had just touched the delicate balance of her health and overset it. It toppled over suddenly without warning, without any of the preliminary struggles by which a strong constitution or a strong will staves off the advance of illness. She gave way entirely and at once, and the night after the night of the ball it would have been difficult to recognise, in the sunk, colourless face and motionless figure, the brilliant, lovely young girl in her little diamond crown.

Sibyl's illness did not prove dangerous, but it was long. Lady Pierpoint, who had nursed her before, sent her daughters home, and took her place again by the bedside, with the infinite patience which she had learned in helping her husband down the valley towards the death which at last became the one goal of all their longing, and which had receded before them with every toiling step towards it, till they had both wept together because he could not, could not die. Perhaps it was because her husband had gone through the slow mill of consumption that Lady Pierpoint's heart had so much tenderness for Sibyl, for whom only a year ago she had dreaded the same fate.

Mr. Loftus had the nervous horror of, and repugnance to, every form of illness

which as often accompanies a refined and sympathetic nature as it does an obtuse and selfish one. And his lonely existence had not brought him into contact with that inevitable side of domestic life. He was extraordinarily ignorant about it, and his natural impulse was to avoid it.

But he stood by his wife's bedside, adjusted his pince-nez, and accepted the situation. For many days Sibyl would take nothing unless given it by himself, would rouse herself for no voice but his. Lady Pierpoint marvelled to see him come into Sibyl's room at night in his long gray dressing-gown, to administer the food or medicine which the nurse put into his hand. His patience and his kindness did not flag, but it seemed to Lady Pierpoint as if at this eleventh hour they should not have been demanded of him; and it wounded her--why, it would be hard to say--to watch him do for Sibyl with painstaking care the little things which in her own youth her young husband had done for her, the little things which in wedded life are the great things.

Mr. Loftus sometimes made a mistake, and once he forgot that he was married, and was found pacing in the rose-garden oblivious of everything except a political crisis--but only once. He was faithful in that which is least.

Lady Pierpoint felt with a twinge of conscience that when she had endeavoured to bring about this marriage she had been selfishly engrossed in Sibyl's welfare. She had not thought enough of his.

And gradually Sibyl recovered, and went about the house again, wan and feeble, and Lady Pierpoint left Wilderleigh.

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