Volumnia has taken Mrs. Rouncewell's place in the meantime, though pearl necklaces and rouge pots, however calculated to embellish Bath, are but indifferent comforts to the invalid under present circumstances. Volumnia, not being supposed to know (and indeed not knowing) what is the matter, has found it a ticklish task to offer appropriate observations and consequently has supplied their place with distracting smoothings of the bed-linen, elaborate locomotion on tiptoe, vigilant peeping at her kinsman's eyes, and one exasperating whisper to herself of, "He is asleep." In disproof of which superfluous remark Sir Leicester has indignantly written on the slate, "I am not."
Yielding, therefore, the chair at the bedside to the quaint old housekeeper, Volumnia sits at a table a little removed, sympathetically sighing. Sir Leicester watches the sleet and snow and listens for the returning steps that he expects. In the ears of his old servant, looking as if she had stepped out of an old picture-frame to attend a summoned Dedlock to another world, the silence is fraught with echoes of her own words, "Who will tell him!"
He has been under his valet's hands this morning to be made presentable and is as well got up as the circumstances will allow. He is propped with pillows, his grey hair is brushed in its usual manner, his linen is arranged to a nicety, and he is wrapped in a responsible dressing-gown. His eye-glass and his watch are ready to his hand. It is necessary--less to his own dignity now perhaps than for her sake--that he should be seen as little disturbed and as much himself as may be. Women will talk, and Volumnia, though a Dedlock, is no exceptional case. He keeps her here, there is little doubt, to prevent her talking somewhere else. He is very ill, but he makes his present stand against distress of mind and body most courageously.
The fair Volumnia, being one of those sprightly girls who cannot long continue silent without imminent peril of seizure by the dragon Boredom, soon indicates the approach of that monster with a series of undisguisable yawns. Finding it impossible to suppress those yawns by any other process than conversation, she compliments Mrs. Rouncewell on her son, declaring that he positively is one of the finest figures she ever saw and as soldierly a looking person, she should think, as what's his name, her favourite Life Guardsman --the man she dotes on, the dearest of creatures--who was killed at Waterloo.
Sir Leicester hears this tribute with so much surprise and stares about him in such a confused way that Mrs. Rouncewell feels it necessary to explain.
"Miss Dedlock don't speak of my eldest son, Sir Leicester, but my youngest. I have found him. He has come home."
Sir Leicester breaks silence with a harsh cry. "George? Your son George come home, Mrs. Rouncewell?"
The old housekeeper wipes her eyes. "Thank God. Yes, Sir Leicester."
Does this discovery of some one lost, this return of some one so long gone, come upon him as a strong confirmation of his hopes? Does he think, "Shall I not, with the aid I have, recall her safely after this, there being fewer hours in her case than there are years in his?"
It is of no use entreating him; he is determined to speak now, and he does. In a thick crowd of sounds, but still intelligibly enough to be understood.
"Why did you not tell me, Mrs. Rouncewell?"
"It happened only yesterday, Sir Leicester, and I doubted your being well enough to be talked to of such things."
Besides, the giddy Volumnia now remembers with her little scream that nobody was to have known of his being Mrs. Rouncewell's son and that she was not to have told. But Mrs. Rouncewell protests, with warmth enough to swell the stomacher, that of course she would have told Sir Leicester as soon as he got better.
"Where is your son George, Mrs. Rouncewell?" asks Sir Leicester,
Mrs. Rouncewell, not a little alarmed by his disregard of the doctor's injunctions, replies, in London.
"Where in London?"