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    Chapter 55

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    Chapter 55
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    CHAPTER 55

    Of Family Matters, Cares, Hopes, Disappointments, and Sorrows

    Although Mrs Nickleby had been made acquainted by her son and
    daughter with every circumstance of Madeline Bray's history which
    was known to them; although the responsible situation in which
    Nicholas stood had been carefully explained to her, and she had been
    prepared, even for the possible contingency of having to receive the
    young lady in her own house, improbable as such a result had
    appeared only a few minutes before it came about, still, Mrs
    Nickleby, from the moment when this confidence was first reposed in
    her, late on the previous evening, had remained in an unsatisfactory
    and profoundly mystified state, from which no explanations or
    arguments could relieve her, and which every fresh soliloquy and
    reflection only aggravated more and more.

    'Bless my heart, Kate!' so the good lady argued; 'if the Mr
    Cheerybles don't want this young lady to be married, why don't they
    file a bill against the Lord Chancellor, make her a Chancery ward,
    and shut her up in the Fleet prison for safety?--I have read of such
    things in the newspapers a hundred times. Or, if they are so very
    fond of her as Nicholas says they are, why don't they marry her
    themselves--one of them I mean? And even supposing they don't want
    her to be married, and don't want to marry her themselves, why in
    the name of wonder should Nicholas go about the world, forbidding
    people's banns?'

    'I don't think you quite understand,' said Kate, gently.

    'Well I am sure, Kate, my dear, you're very polite!' replied Mrs
    Nickleby. 'I have been married myself I hope, and I have seen other
    people married. Not understand, indeed!'

    'I know you have had great experience, dear mama,' said Kate; 'I
    mean that perhaps you don't quite understand all the circumstances
    in this instance. We have stated them awkwardly, I dare say.'

    'That I dare say you have,' retorted her mother, briskly. 'That's
    very likely. I am not to be held accountable for that; though, at
    the same time, as the circumstances speak for themselves, I shall
    take the liberty, my love, of saying that I do understand them, and
    perfectly well too; whatever you and Nicholas may choose to think to
    the contrary. Why is such a great fuss made because this Miss
    Magdalen is going to marry somebody who is older than herself? Your
    poor papa was older than I was, four years and a half older. Jane
    Dibabs--the Dibabses lived in the beautiful little thatched white
    house one story high, covered all over with ivy and creeping plants,
    with an exquisite little porch with twining honysuckles and all
    sorts of things: where the earwigs used to fall into one's tea on a
    summer evening, and always fell upon their backs and kicked
    dreadfully, and where the frogs used to get into the rushlight
    shades when one stopped all night, and sit up and look through the
    little holes like Christians--Jane Dibabs, SHE married a man who was
    a great deal older than herself, and WOULD marry him, notwithstanding
    all that could be said to the contrary, and she was so fond of him
    that nothing was ever equal to it. There was no fuss made about
    Jane Dibabs, and her husband was a most honourable and excellent
    man, and everybody spoke well of him. Then why should there by any
    fuss about this Magdalen?'

    'Her husband is much older; he is not her own choice; his character
    is the very reverse of that which you have just described. Don't
    you see a broad destinction between the two cases?' said Kate.

    To this, Mrs Nickleby only replied that she durst say she was very
    stupid, indeed she had no doubt she was, for her own children almost
    as much as told her so, every day of her life; to be sure she was a
    little older than they, and perhaps some foolish people might think
    she ought reasonably to know best. However, no doubt she was wrong;
    of course she was; she always was, she couldn't be right, she
    couldn't be expected to be; so she had better not expose herself any
    more; and to all Kate's conciliations and concessions for an hour
    ensuing, the good lady gave no other replies than Oh, certainly,
    why did they ask HER?, HER opinion was of no consequence, it didn't
    matter what SHE said, with many other rejoinders of the same class.

    In this frame of mind (expressed, when she had become too resigned
    for speech, by nods of the head, upliftings of the eyes, and little
    beginnings of groans, converted, as they attracted attention, into
    short coughs), Mrs Nickleby remained until Nicholas and Kate
    returned with the object of their solicitude; when, having by this
    time asserted her own importance, and becoming besides interested in
    the trials of one so young and beautiful, she not only displayed the
    utmost zeal and solicitude, but took great credit to herself for
    recommending the course of procedure which her son had adopted:
    frequently declaring, with an expressive look, that it was very
    fortunate things were AS they were: and hinting, that but for great
    encouragement and wisdom on her own part, they never could have been
    brought to that pass.

    Not to strain the question whether Mrs Nickleby had or had not any
    great hand in bringing matters about, it is unquestionable that she
    had strong ground for exultation. The brothers, on their return,
    bestowed such commendations on Nicholas for the part he had taken,
    and evinced so much joy at the altered state of events and the
    recovery of their young friend from trials so great and dangers so
    threatening, that, as she more than once informed her daughter, she
    now considered the fortunes of the family 'as good as' made. Mr
    Charles Cheeryble, indeed, Mrs Nickleby positively asserted, had, in
    the first transports of his surprise and delight, 'as good as' said
    so. Without precisely explaining what this qualification meant, she
    subsided, whenever she mentioned the subject, into such a mysterious
    and important state, and had such visions of wealth and dignity in
    perspective, that (vague and clouded though they were) she was, at
    such times, almost as happy as if she had really been permanently
    provided for, on a scale of great splendour.

    The sudden and terrible shock she had received, combined with the
    great affliction and anxiety of mind which she had, for a long time,
    endured, proved too much for Madeline's strength. Recovering from
    the state of stupefaction into which the sudden death of her father
    happily plunged her, she only exchanged that condition for one of
    dangerous and active illness. When the delicate physical powers
    which have been sustained by an unnatural strain upon the mental
    energies and a resolute determination not to yield, at last give
    way, their degree of prostration is usually proportionate to the
    strength of the effort which has previously upheld them. Thus it
    was that the illness which fell on Madeline was of no slight or
    temporary nature, but one which, for a time, threatened her reason,
    and--scarcely worse--her life itself.

    Who, slowly recovering from a disorder so severe and dangerous,
    could be insensible to the unremitting attentions of such a nurse as
    gentle, tender, earnest Kate? On whom could the sweet soft voice,
    the light step, the delicate hand, the quiet, cheerful, noiseless
    discharge of those thousand little offices of kindness and relief
    which we feel so deeply when we are ill, and forget so lightly when
    we are well--on whom could they make so deep an impression as on a
    young heart stored with every pure and true affection that women
    cherish; almost a stranger to the endearments and devotion of its
    own sex, save as it learnt them from itself; and rendered, by
    calamity and suffering, keenly susceptible of the sympathy so long
    unknown and so long sought in vain? What wonder that days became as
    years in knitting them together! What wonder, if with every hour of
    returning health, there came some stronger and sweeter recognition
    of the praises which Kate, when they recalled old scenes--they
    seemed old now, and to have been acted years ago--would lavish on
    her brother! Where would have been the wonder, even, if those
    praises had found a quick response in the breast of Madeline, and
    if, with the image of Nicholas so constantly recurring in the
    features of his sister that she could scarcely separate the two, she
    had sometimes found it equally difficult to assign to each the
    feelings they had first inspired, and had imperceptibly mingled with
    her gratitude to Nicholas, some of that warmer feeling which she had
    assigned to Kate?

    'My dear,' Mrs Nickleby would say, coming into the room with an
    elaborate caution, calculated to discompose the nerves of an invalid
    rather more than the entry of a horse-soldier at full gallop; 'how
    do you find yourself tonight? I hope you are better.'

    'Almost well, mama,' Kate would reply, laying down her work, and
    taking Madeline's hand in hers.

    'Kate!' Mrs Nickleby would say, reprovingly, 'don't talk so loud'
    (the worthy lady herself talking in a whisper that would have made
    the blood of the stoutest man run cold in his veins).

    Kate would take this reproof very quietly, and Mrs Nickleby, making
    every board creak and every thread rustle as she moved stealthily
    about, would add:

    'My son Nicholas has just come home, and I have come, according to
    custom, my dear, to know, from your own lips, exactly how you are;
    for he won't take my account, and never will.'

    'He is later than usual to-night,' perhaps Madeline would reply.
    'Nearly half an hour.'

    'Well, I never saw such people in all my life as you are, for time,
    up here!' Mrs Nickleby would exclaim in great astonishment; 'I
    declare I never did! I had not the least idea that Nicholas was
    after his time, not the smallest. Mr Nickleby used to say--your
    poor papa, I am speaking of, Kate my dear--used to say, that
    appetite was the best clock in the world, but you have no appetite,
    my dear Miss Bray, I wish you had, and upon my word I really think
    you ought to take something that would give you one. I am sure I
    don't know, but I have heard that two or three dozen native lobsters
    give an appetite, though that comes to the same thing after all, for
    I suppose you must have an appetite before you can take 'em. If I
    said lobsters, I meant oysters, but of course it's all the same,
    though really how you came to know about Nicholas--'

    'We happened to be just talking about him, mama; that was it.'

    'You never seem to me to be talking about anything else, Kate, and
    upon my word I am quite surprised at your being so very thoughtless.
    You can find subjects enough to talk about sometimes, and when you
    know how important it is to keep up Miss Bray's spirits, and
    interest her, and all that, it really is quite extraordinary to me
    what can induce you to keep on prose, prose, prose, din, din, din,
    everlastingly, upon the same theme. You are a very kind nurse,
    Kate, and a very good one, and I know you mean very well; but I will
    say this--that if it wasn't for me, I really don't know what would
    become of Miss Bray's spirits, and so I tell the doctor every day.
    He says he wonders how I sustain my own, and I am sure I very often
    wonder myself how I can contrive to keep up as I do. Of course it's
    an exertion, but still, when I know how much depends upon me in this
    house, I am obliged to make it. There's nothing praiseworthy in
    that, but it's necessary, and I do it.'

    With that, Mrs Nickleby would draw up a chair, and for some three-
    quarters of an hour run through a great variety of distracting
    topics in the most distracting manner possible; tearing herself
    away, at length, on the plea that she must now go and amuse Nicholas
    while he took his supper. After a preliminary raising of his
    spirits with the information that she considered the patient
    decidedly worse, she would further cheer him up by relating how
    dull, listless, and low-spirited Miss Bray was, because Kate
    foolishly talked about nothing else but him and family matters.
    When she had made Nicholas thoroughly comfortable with these and
    other inspiriting remarks, she would discourse at length on the
    arduous duties she had performed that day; and, sometimes, be moved
    to tears in wondering how, if anything were to happen to herself,
    the family would ever get on without her.

    At other times, when Nicholas came home at night, he would be
    accompanied by Mr Frank Cheeryble, who was commissioned by the
    brothers to inquire how Madeline was that evening. On such
    occasions (and they were of very frequent occurrence), Mrs Nickleby
    deemed it of particular importance that she should have her wits
    about her; for, from certain signs and tokens which had attracted
    her attention, she shrewdly suspected that Mr Frank, interested as
    his uncles were in Madeline, came quite as much to see Kate as to
    inquire after her; the more especially as the brothers were in
    constant communication with the medical man, came backwards and
    forwards very frequently themselves, and received a full report from
    Nicholas every morning. These were proud times for Mrs Nickleby;
    never was anybody half so discreet and sage as she, or half so
    mysterious withal; and never were there such cunning generalship,
    and such unfathomable designs, as she brought to bear upon Mr Frank,
    with the view of ascertaining whether her suspicions were well
    founded: and if so, of tantalising him into taking her into his
    confidence and throwing himself upon her merciful consideration.
    Extensive was the artillery, heavy and light, which Mrs Nickleby
    brought into play for the furtherance of these great schemes;
    various and opposite the means which she employed to bring about the
    end she had in view. At one time, she was all cordiality and ease;
    at another, all stiffness and frigidity. Now, she would seem to
    open her whole heart to her unhappy victim; the next time they met,
    she would receive him with the most distant and studious reserve, as
    if a new light had broken in upon her, and, guessing his intentions,
    she had resolved to check them in the bud; as if she felt it her
    bounden duty to act with Spartan firmness, and at once and for ever
    to discourage hopes which never could be realised. At other times,
    when Nicholas was not there to overhear, and Kate was upstairs
    busily tending her sick friend, the worthy lady would throw out dark
    hints of an intention to send her daughter to France for three or
    four years, or to Scotland for the improvement of her health
    impaired by her late fatigues, or to America on a visit, or anywhere
    that threatened a long and tedious separation. Nay, she even went
    so far as to hint, obscurely, at an attachment entertained for her
    daughter by the son of an old neighbour of theirs, one Horatio
    Peltirogus (a young gentleman who might have been, at that time,
    four years old, or thereabouts), and to represent it, indeed, as
    almost a settled thing between the families--only waiting for her
    daughter's final decision, to come off with the sanction of the
    church, and to the unspeakable happiness and content of all parties.

    It was in the full pride and glory of having sprung this last mine
    one night with extraordinary success, that Mrs Nickleby took the
    opportunity of being left alone with her son before retiring to
    rest, to sound him on the subject which so occupied her thoughts:
    not doubting that they could have but one opinion respecting it. To
    this end, she approached the question with divers laudatory and
    appropriate remarks touching the general amiability of Mr Frank

    'You are quite right, mother,' said Nicholas, 'quite right. He is a
    fine fellow.'

    'Good-looking, too,' said Mrs Nickleby.

    'Decidedly good-looking,' answered Nicholas.

    'What may you call his nose, now, my dear?' pursued Mrs Nickleby,
    wishing to interest Nicholas in the subject to the utmost.

    'Call it?' repeated Nicholas.

    'Ah!' returned his mother, 'what style of nose? What order of
    architecture, if one may say so. I am not very learned in noses.
    Do you call it a Roman or a Grecian?'

    'Upon my word, mother,' said Nicholas, laughing, 'as well as I
    remember, I should call it a kind of Composite, or mixed nose. But
    I have no very strong recollection on the subject. If it will
    afford you any gratification, I'll observe it more closely, and let
    you know.'

    'I wish you would, my dear,' said Mrs Nickleby, with an earnest

    'Very well,' returned Nicholas. 'I will.'

    Nicholas returned to the perusal of the book he had been reading,
    when the dialogue had gone thus far. Mrs Nickleby, after stopping a
    little for consideration, resumed.

    'He is very much attached to you, Nicholas, my dear.'

    Nicholas laughingly said, as he closed his book, that he was glad to
    hear it, and observed that his mother seemed deep in their new
    friend's confidence already.

    'Hem!' said Mrs Nickleby. 'I don't know about that, my dear, but I
    think it is very necessary that somebody should be in his
    confidence; highly necessary.'

    Elated by a look of curiosity from her son, and the consciousness of
    possessing a great secret, all to herself, Mrs Nickleby went on with
    great animation:

    'I am sure, my dear Nicholas, how you can have failed to notice it,
    is, to me, quite extraordinary; though I don't know why I should say
    that, either, because, of course, as far as it goes, and to a
    certain extent, there is a great deal in this sort of thing,
    especially in this early stage, which, however clear it may be to
    females, can scarcely be expected to be so evident to men. I don't
    say that I have any particular penetration in such matters. I may
    have; those about me should know best about that, and perhaps do
    know. Upon that point I shall express no opinion, it wouldn't
    become me to do so, it's quite out of the question, quite.'

    Nicholas snuffed the candles, put his hands in his pockets, and,
    leaning back in his chair, assumed a look of patient suffering and
    melancholy resignation.

    'I think it my duty, Nicholas, my dear,' resumed his mother, 'to
    tell you what I know: not only because you have a right to know it
    too, and to know everything that happens in this family, but because
    you have it in your power to promote and assist the thing very much;
    and there is no doubt that the sooner one can come to a clear
    understanding on such subjects, it is always better, every way.
    There are a great many things you might do; such as taking a walk in
    the garden sometimes, or sitting upstairs in your own room for a
    little while, or making believe to fall asleep occasionally, or
    pretending that you recollected some business, and going out for an
    hour or so, and taking Mr Smike with you. These seem very slight
    things, and I dare say you will be amused at my making them of so
    much importance; at the same time, my dear, I can assure you (and
    you'll find this out, Nicholas, for yourself one of these days, if
    you ever fall in love with anybody; as I trust and hope you will,
    provided she is respectable and well conducted, and of course you'd
    never dream of falling in love with anybody who was not), I say, I
    can assure you that a great deal more depends upon these little
    things than you would suppose possible. If your poor papa was
    alive, he would tell you how much depended on the parties being left
    alone. Of course, you are not to go out of the room as if you meant
    it and did it on purpose, but as if it was quite an accident, and to
    come back again in the same way. If you cough in the passage before
    you open the door, or whistle carelessly, or hum a tune, or
    something of that sort, to let them know you're coming, it's always
    better; because, of course, though it's not only natural but
    perfectly correct and proper under the circumstances, still it is
    very confusing if you interrupt young people when they are--when
    they are sitting on the sofa, and--and all that sort of thing: which
    is very nonsensical, perhaps, but still they will do it.'

    The profound astonishment with which her son regarded her during
    this long address, gradually increasing as it approached its climax
    in no way discomposed Mrs Nickleby, but rather exalted her opinion
    of her own cleverness; therefore, merely stopping to remark, with
    much complacency, that she had fully expected him to be surprised,
    she entered on a vast quantity of circumstantial evidence of a
    particularly incoherent and perplexing kind; the upshot of which
    was, to establish, beyond the possibility of doubt, that Mr Frank
    Cheeryble had fallen desperately in love with Kate.

    'With whom?' cried Nicholas.

    Mrs Nickleby repeated, with Kate.

    'What! OUR Kate! My sister!'

    'Lord, Nicholas!' returned Mrs Nickleby, 'whose Kate should it be,
    if not ours; or what should I care about it, or take any interest in
    it for, if it was anybody but your sister?'

    'Dear mother,' said Nicholas, 'surely it can't be!'

    'Very good, my dear,' replied Mrs Nickleby, with great confidence.
    'Wait and see.'

    Nicholas had never, until that moment, bestowed a thought upon the
    remote possibility of such an occurrence as that which was now
    communicated to him; for, besides that he had been much from home of
    late and closely occupied with other matters, his own jealous fears
    had prompted the suspicion that some secret interest in Madeline,
    akin to that which he felt himself, occasioned those visits of Frank
    Cheeryble which had recently become so frequent. Even now, although
    he knew that the observation of an anxious mother was much more
    likely to be correct in such a case than his own, and although she
    reminded him of many little circumstances which, taken together,
    were certainly susceptible of the construction she triumphantly put
    upon them, he was not quite convinced but that they arose from mere
    good-natured thoughtless gallantry, which would have dictated the
    same conduct towards any other girl who was young and pleasing. At
    all events, he hoped so, and therefore tried to believe it.

    'I am very much disturbed by what you tell me,' said Nicholas, after
    a little reflection, 'though I yet hope you may be mistaken.'

    'I don't understand why you should hope so,' said Mrs Nickleby, 'I
    confess; but you may depend upon it I am not.'

    'What of Kate?' inquired Nicholas.

    'Why that, my dear,' returned Mrs Nickleby, 'is just the point upon
    which I am not yet satisfied. During this sickness, she has been
    constantly at Madeline's bedside--never were two people so fond of
    each other as they have grown--and to tell you the truth, Nicholas,
    I have rather kept her away now and then, because I think it's a
    good plan, and urges a young man on. He doesn't get too sure, you

    She said this with such a mingling of high delight and self-
    congratulation, that it was inexpressibly painful to Nicholas to
    dash her hopes; but he felt that there was only one honourable
    course before him, and that he was bound to take it.

    'Dear mother,' he said kindly, 'don't you see that if there were
    really any serious inclination on the part of Mr Frank towards Kate,
    and we suffered ourselves for a moment to encourage it, we should be
    acting a most dishonourable and ungrateful part? I ask you if you
    don't see it, but I need not say that I know you don't, or you would
    have been more strictly on your guard. Let me explain my meaning to
    you. Remember how poor we are.'

    Mrs Nickleby shook her head, and said, through her tears, that
    poverty was not a crime.

    'No,' said Nicholas, 'and for that reason poverty should engender an
    honest pride, that it may not lead and tempt us to unworthy actions,
    and that we may preserve the self-respect which a hewer of wood and
    drawer of water may maintain, and does better in maintaining than a
    monarch in preserving his. Think what we owe to these two brothers:
    remember what they have done, and what they do every day for us with
    a generosity and delicacy for which the devotion of our whole lives
    would be a most imperfect and inadequate return. What kind of
    return would that be which would be comprised in our permitting
    their nephew, their only relative, whom they regard as a son, and
    for whom it would be mere childishness to suppose they have not
    formed plans suitably adapted to the education he has had, and the
    fortune he will inherit--in our permitting him to marry a
    portionless girl: so closely connected with us, that the
    irresistible inference must be, that he was entrapped by a plot;
    that it was a deliberate scheme, and a speculation amongst us three?
    Bring the matter clearly before yourself, mother. Now, how would
    you feel, if they were married, and the brothers, coming here on one
    of those kind errands which bring them here so often, you had to
    break out to them the truth? Would you be at ease, and feel that
    you had played an open part?'

    Poor Mrs Nickleby, crying more and more, murmured that of course Mr
    Frank would ask the consent of his uncles first.

    'Why, to be sure, that would place HIM in a better situation with
    them,' said Nicholas, 'but we should still be open to the same
    suspicions; the distance between us would still be as great; the
    advantages to be gained would still be as manifest as now. We may
    be reckoning without our host in all this,' he added more
    cheerfully, 'and I trust, and almost believe we are. If it be
    otherwise, I have that confidence in Kate that I know she will feel
    as I do--and in you, dear mother, to be assured that after a little
    consideration you will do the same.'

    After many more representations and entreaties, Nicholas obtained a
    promise from Mrs Nickleby that she would try all she could to think
    as he did; and that if Mr Frank persevered in his attentions she
    would endeavour to discourage them, or, at the least, would render
    him no countenance or assistance. He determined to forbear
    mentioning the subject to Kate until he was quite convinced that
    there existed a real necessity for his doing so; and resolved to
    assure himself, as well as he could by close personal observation,
    of the exact position of affairs. This was a very wise resolution,
    but he was prevented from putting it in practice by a new source of
    anxiety and uneasiness.

    Smike became alarmingly ill; so reduced and exhausted that he could
    scarcely move from room to room without assistance; and so worn and
    emaciated, that it was painful to look upon him. Nicholas was
    warned, by the same medical authority to whom he had at first
    appealed, that the last chance and hope of his life depended on his
    being instantly removed from London. That part of Devonshire in
    which Nicholas had been himself bred was named as the most
    favourable spot; but this advice was cautiously coupled with the
    information, that whoever accompanied him thither must be prepared
    for the worst; for every token of rapid consumption had appeared,
    and he might never return alive.

    The kind brothers, who were acquainted with the poor creature's sad
    history, dispatched old Tim to be present at this consultation.
    That same morning, Nicholas was summoned by brother Charles into his
    private room, and thus addressed:

    'My dear sir, no time must be lost. This lad shall not die, if such
    human means as we can use can save his life; neither shall he die
    alone, and in a strange place. Remove him tomorrow morning, see
    that he has every comfort that his situation requires, and don't
    leave him; don't leave him, my dear sir, until you know that there
    is no longer any immediate danger. It would be hard, indeed, to
    part you now. No, no, no! Tim shall wait upon you tonight, sir; Tim
    shall wait upon you tonight with a parting word or two. Brother
    Ned, my dear fellow, Mr Nickleby waits to shake hands and say
    goodbye; Mr Nickleby won't be long gone; this poor chap will soon
    get better, very soon get better; and then he'll find out some nice
    homely country-people to leave him with, and will go backwards and
    forwards sometimes--backwards and forwards you know, Ned. And
    there's no cause to be downhearted, for he'll very soon get better,
    very soon. Won't he, won't he, Ned?'

    What Tim Linkinwater said, or what he brought with him that night,
    needs not to be told. Next morning Nicholas and his feeble
    companion began their journey.

    And who but one--and that one he who, but for those who crowded
    round him then, had never met a look of kindness, or known a word of
    pity--could tell what agony of mind, what blighted thoughts, what
    unavailing sorrow, were involved in that sad parting?

    'See,' cried Nicholas eagerly, as he looked from the coach window,
    'they are at the corner of the lane still! And now there's Kate,
    poor Kate, whom you said you couldn't bear to say goodbye to, waving
    her handkerchief. Don't go without one gesture of farewell to

    'I cannot make it!' cried his trembling companion, falling back in
    his seat and covering his eyes. 'Do you see her now? Is she there

    'Yes, yes!' said Nicholas earnestly. 'There! She waves her hand
    again! I have answered it for you--and now they are out of sight.
    Do not give way so bitterly, dear friend, don't. You will meet them
    all again.'

    He whom he thus encouraged, raised his withered hands and clasped
    them fervently together.

    'In heaven. I humbly pray to God in heaven.'

    It sounded like the prayer of a broken heart.
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