Heartsease or Brother's Wife
This house of splendour and of princely glory Doth now stand desolated, the
affrighted servants Rush forth through all its doors. I am the last Therein.
Theodora was no sooner in the gallery than she was recalled to the present.
There was a strange gleam of light reflected on the avenue. Roused at once to
action, she hurried towards the window. The fire was within the house. She
pushed open the door leading to Mrs. Nesbit's apartments. Light was flashing at
every chink of the bed- room door. She threw it back. Out rolled a volume of
smoke, the glare of flame burst on her, the curtains were blazing! 'Aunt! Aunt
Nesbit, are you there? she cried, in tones low with horror and choked with
smoke; she plunged between the burning curtains, felt that she had a hold of
something, dragged it out, found it move and gasp, bore it from the room, and,
depositing it on a couch in the gallery, only then could perceive that it was indeed
Mrs Nesbit, uninjured, though half-suffocated.
Mrs. Garth, who slept in the adjoining room, with the door open, had been waked
by her call, and came running out. An old soldier, she had full self-possession,
and was at once effective, and it was well, for she exclaimed, 'Miss Martindale,
you are on fire,' just as the light and the scorching were revealing the same to
herself. There was no time for personal terror, barely for pain, the fire was
crushed out between them by the help of a woollen table-cover, they scarcely
knew how, they only saw that the draught had increased the blaze in the room,
and dense clouds of smoke came bursting out upon them.
Mrs. Nesbit clung terrified to her niece, but Theodora, with a word or two of
encouragement, freed herself from her grasp, and leaving her to Mrs. Garth's
care, flew up the nursery stairs. She must have the children in their mother's
sight before the alarm should reach her. Sarah's first waking impulse was to
growl, that Master Johnnie would catch his death of cold, but the next moment
she was equal to any emergency; and the little ones were at their mother's door
just as she was opening it, thinking the noise more than Maria's illness could
occasion, and setting forth to see whether there was anything amiss in the
nursery. Theodora put Annie into her arms. 'All safe. It is only the north wing.
Don't be frightened. Stay where you are.'
Violet could only obey, thankful at having her three around her, and trying to
keep her terror from being visible enough to increase Johnnie's exceeding alarm,
or to frighten Helen out of her happy state of inquisitive excitement and curiosity.
Theodora had hurried to call her parents. They were already in motion. Lord
Martindale's first care was for Violet and the children, Lady Martindale's for her
aunt, and almost instantly she was embracing and supporting the pale shrunken
figure, now feebly tottering along the gallery, forsaken by Mrs. Garth, who had
gone back to secure her own valuables.
By this time, the gallery was full of screaming maids, whom Sarah had, with
difficulty, prevented from leaping at once from attic windows; and staring men,
hallooing for water, which no one brought, except little Helen, who, escaping from