Page:Twice-Told Tales (1851) vol 2.djvu/280

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If one impatient throb had wronged him in his lifetime—if she had secretly repined, because her buoyant youth was imprisoned with his torpid—age if ever, while slumbering beside him, a treacherous dream had admitted another into her heart—yet the sick man had been preparing a revenge, which the dead now claimed. On his painful pillow, he had cast a spell around her; his groans and misery had proved more captivating charms than gayety and youthful grace; in his semblance, Disease itself had won the Rosebud for a bride; nor could his death dissolve the nuptials. By that indissoluble bond she had gained a home in every sick chamber, and nowhere else; there were her brethren and sisters; thither her husband summoned her, with that voice which had seemed to issue from the grave of Toothaker. At length she recognised her destiny.

We have beheld her as the maid, the wife, the widow; now we see her in a separate and insulated character: she was, in all her attributes, Nurse Toothaker. And Nurse Toothaker alone, with her own shrivelled lips, could make known her experience in that capacity. What a history might she record of the great sicknesses, in which she has gone hand in hand with the exterminating angel! She remembers when the small-pox hoisted a red banner on almost every house along the street. She has witnessed when the typhus fever swept off a whole household, young and old, all but a lonely mother, who vainly shrieked to follow her last loved one. Where would be Death's triumph, if none lived to weep! She can speak of strange maladies that have broken out, as if sponta-