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[-379-]

CHAPTER CXXV.

THE RECONCILIATION.

IN the meantime the Earl of Warrington drove to the hotel in Dover Street, where Diana Arlington lay; and, upon inquiry, he ascertained that a nurse and the medical attendant were with her.
     He desired to be conducted to a private room, and then despatched the waiter to request the professional gentleman to step thither for a few moments.
     "What name shall I say, sir?" asked the servant, who was unacquainted with the earl's person.
     "It is needless to mention any name," replied the nobleman; "I shall not detain the gentleman five minutes."
     The servant disappeared, and in a few moments returned, followed by the medical attendant.
     The waiter introduced him into the apartment, and then withdrew.
     "I believe, sir," said the earl, "that you are attending upon the lady who experienced so severe an accident last night?"
     [-380-] "I was by chance passing through Dover Street when the flames burst forth," was the reply: "and I gave an immediate alarm to the police. I remained upon the spot to ascertain if my professional services could be rendered available; and it was well that I did so."
     "The lady then is much injured?" said, in a tone expressive of emotion, the earl.
     "Seriously injured," answered the surgeon; "and as I live at some distance from this neighbourhood, I considered it proper to remain with the patient all night. Indeed, I have not left her for a moment since the accident occurred."
     "Your attention shall be nobly recompensed, sir," said the earl. "Here is my card, and I am your debtor."
     The surgeon bowed low as his eye glanced upon the name of the individual in whose presence he stood.
     "And now," continued the nobleman, "answer me one question-candidly and sincerely. Will your patient be scarred by the effects of the fire?"
     "My lord, that is more than I can answer for," returned the surgeon. "Fortunately, medical assistance was rendered the moment after the accident occurred; and this circumstance should inspire great hope!"
     "Then I will hope," said the earl. "How long an interval do you imagine must elapse ere she may be pronounced convalescent? Or rather, I should have asked, is she in any positive danger?"
     "There is always danger-great danger in these cases, my lord. But, should the fever subside in a few days, I should recommend the removal of the patient to some quiet neighbourhood-afar from the bustle of the West End."
     "You said that you yourself resided some distance from hence?" observed the earl, after a few moments' reflection.
     "My abode is in Lower Holloway, my lord," answered the surgeon; "and my name is Went worth."
     "Holloway is quiet and retired," said the earl; "but is not the air too bleak there at this season?"
     "It is pure and wholesome, my lord; and the spot is tranquil, and devoid of the bustle of crowds and the din of carriages."
     "Wherever Mrs. Arlington may remain until her recovery," said the earl, "she must receive all the attentions which can be lavished upon her; and in nothing must she be thwarted where gold can procure her the gratification of her wishes."
     "I would offer to place my house at the lady's disposal, my lord-and the attention of Mrs. Wentworth would be unremitting-but-"
     "Name the obstacle," said the earl. "Perhaps you consider that the position of the lady with regard to myself,-a position the nature of which you may have divined,-is somewhat too equivocal to permit your wife-"
     "No, my lord; medical men have no scruples of that kind. I hesitated because I feared that my abode would be too humble-"
     "Then let that obstacle vanish this moment," interrupted the earl. "It is my wish that Mrs. Arlington should be removed to your house as soon as the step can be taken with safety to herself: you will then devote yourself to her cure; and on you I place my reliance. I have been unjust to her, Mr. Wentworth," continued the nobleman, pressing the surgeon's hand, and speaking in a low but hurried tone,- "I have been unjust to her-but I will make her ample reparation - that is, provided you can [-381-] preserve her beauty.-for we are all mortal-and I confess to a weakness,-but no matter! Say-you will do your best!"
     "My lord, I am poor, and struggling with the world," answered the surgeon, "and, I may say without vanity-because I possess certificates from eminent medical men under whom I have studied- that I am not ignorant of my profession. My lord, I have every inducement to devote all the knowledge I possess to the aim which you desire. My attention shall be unwearied and unremitting; and if I succeed -"
     "If you succeed in restoring her to me in that perfection of beauty which invested her when I took leave of her yesterday,-without a mark, without a scar-your fortune shall be my care, and you will have no need to entertain anxiety relative to the future, with the Earl of Warrington as your patron."
     "At present, my lord, all I can say is-I will do my best," rejoined Mr. Wentworth.
     "And at present I can ask no more," exclaimed the earl: then, after a moment's pause, he said, "May I be allowed to see your patient for a few moments?"
     The surgeon hesitated.
     "I know why you dislike this proposal," observed the nobleman: "you are afraid that, when I contemplate the altered countenance of that woman who was lately so beautiful, I shall despair of her complete care."
     "Such is, indeed, my impression," answered Mr. Wentworth. "Those symptoms and appearances which are most alarming to persons unacquainted with the medical art, are frequently the least causes of alarm to the professional man."
     "Then let me speak to her, and not see her," said the earl.
     "I understand your lordship: in a few minutes I will return."
     And the surgeon withdrew.
     During his absence the earl paced the room in an agitated and excited manner, which was quite inconsistent with the usual equanimity and even gravity of his temperament.
     Ten minutes had elapsed when the surgeon came back.
     "Will your lordship follow me?"
     Mr. Wentworth led the way to the chamber in which Diana Arlington lay.
     The shutters were closed, and the curtains were drawn around the bed; the room was nearly dark, a few struggling gleams of light alone forcing their way through the chinks in the shutters.
     When the earl entered the apartment, the surgeon remained in the passage outside the nurse had been already directed to retire for a short time.
     The nobleman approached the bed, and seating himself in a chair by the side, said, "Diana, can you forgive me for my cruelty of yesterday?"
     "I never entertained a feeling of resentment, my lord, and therefore have nothing to forgive," was the answer, in a low and plaintive tone.
     "I did you a serious wrong, Diana," continued the earl; "but I am not too proud to confess my error. I trembled at the idea of ridicule: hence the hastiness of my conduct. And then, there was a suspicion in my mind-a suspicion which made me uneasy, very uneasy-but which is now dispelled. I have read your letter which accompanied the bank-note addressed to Sir Rupert Harborough, and I am satisfied in respect to the integrity--nay, the generosity of your motives."
     "It was kind of you, my lord, to take the steps necessary to reinstate me in your good opinion," murmured Diana from her couch, in a tone evidently subdued by deep emotion.
     "There was no kindness in the performance of an act of justice," returned the earl. "When I read in this morning's newspapers the sad account of the terrible accident of last night, my heart smote me for my conduct towards you. Then I reflected upon all the happiness which I had enjoyed in your society, and I was moved-deeply, profoundly moved! I despatched a servant to this hotel to inquire if you were really as seriously injured as the journals represented, and he brought me back word that your life was no longer in positive danger, but -"
     "But that I shall be a hideous object all the remainder of my days," added Diana, with somewhat of bitterness in her manner.
     "God forbid!" cried the earl, energetically: "Mr. Wentworth seems to promise-"
     "Alas! this medical art prompts its professors to console the mind in order to heal the body; but I am not foolish enough to yield to a hope so baseless!"
     These words were uttered in a tone of the most profound melancholy.
     "Diana, you must hope," exclaimed the Earl of Warrington: "you will recover yes, you will recover; and even if a slight trace of this accident -"
     "A slight trace!" almost screamed Diana and the earl could hear her roll herself convulsively over on her pillow: "a slight trace, my lord! I shall be disfigured for life; nothing can save me! My countenance will be seared as with a red-hot iron- my neck will be covered with deep scars-my arms, my entire body will be furrowed with crimson and purple marks! Oh, God! it is hard to suffer thus!"
     And then she burst into an agonising flood of tears.
     The earl allowed her to weep without interruption: he knew that her mind would be relieved by that outpouring of feeling.
     And he was right: in a few minutes she said, "Pardon me-I am weak, I am foolish. And now proceed to tell me how you became possessed of that note which I sent with the money to Sir Rupert Harborough?"
     The Earl of Warrington then related the parti.culars of his interview with Lady Cecilia.
     "And now that I have done an act of justice, and convinced myself of the purity of the motives which induced you to act in the manner that created my displeasure," continued the earl, "let us talk of yourself. I have made arrangements with Mr. Wentworth which, I hope, will meet your approval, and conduce to your benefit. When you can be removed with safety, you shall be conveyed from this bustle of an hotel in a crowded thoroughfare to the tranquil retirement of Mr. Wentworth's abode at Holloway. I am induced to place reliance upon the skill and talent of that man-I scarcely know why."
     "Oh, yes -he is no doubt very clever," said the patient; "for his treatment of me speedily gave me relief without the acuteness of the agony which I at first experienced."
     "Everything shall be done to conduce to your comfort, Diana," resumed the nobleman. "My upholsterer shall send down to Mr. Wentwortht's house the furniture that may be required for the rooms which you are to occupy; and my steward shall supply him with ample funds."
     "How kind-how good you are," murmured Diana.
     "But I shall not attempt to see you," continued [-382-] the earl, "until your recovery is announced to me- your complete recovery; and then-"
     He checked himself; and there was a long silence.
     Suddenly the earl arose.
     "Farewell, Diana-my presence is not calculated to calm you," he exclaimed. "I shall now leave you-but, remember, I watch over you from a distance. Farewell!"
     "Farewell - till we meet again," said Diana. But-oh! how shall I dread that day! And-if -my worst fears should be confirmed-if I really become the horrible, scarred, hideous object which I dread,-then-then we shall never meet more,-for I will fly from the world and bury myself in some deep solitude whither none who ever knew me in my bright days shall trace me!"
     "You will not be forced to adopt such an alternative, Diana-believe me you will not!" exclaimed the earl. "At all events-let us hope,-let us both hope!"
     The earl hastily withdrew.
     In the passage he encountered the surgeon, to whom he reiterated his instructions relative to the attention to be shown towards the patient.
     "Mr. Wentworth," he said, in an emphatic tone, "remember all that I have told you. Gold shall be placed at your disposal with no niggard hand; spare no expense! That lady's complete restoration to her pristine beauty is your care: think of naught save that one grand aim!"
     "My lord," answered the surgeon, "I can only repeat the words I used just now - I will do my best."
     The earl pressed his hand warmly, and hurried away-more affected by the incidents of that day than he had been for many, many days.

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