« ПретходнаНастави »
time, and now shone but as flickering pale yellow stars making the darkness visible. Isabel gave a little hysterical sob at this sudden change from summer glare to funeral gloom, but Freda pressed her arm warningly, and she kept back her tears. Their father stood at the head of the table and said grace, but did not sit down. A slight colour flushed into his cheek, his kind blue eyes seemed fixed on Dulcie's for courage and encouragement, and then he said simply,
“We are all tired, sad, and hungry, and in need of bodily food; but, now that we are both all together, and alone, let us kneel down quietly for a few minutes and pray-in silence, for only each heart knows its own share of need for forgiveness in the matter-for our poor son and brother, and his suffering wife."
He knelt down quietly himself, and each followed his example. After that the meal was eaten in silence; and they were just rising from it, when Sarah knocked and entered with Elizabeth's second telegram.
Alas! she had had no idea that even suspense and apprehension were evil for her brother, and, if so, a sudden surprise or shock far worse ; that he was not the perfectly sound and hale man which not only he had appeared to be, but he had himself believed himself to be when they had parted, barely a week ago, on the platform at Burnt Ash; that even he was beginning to suffer from some of the ills of modern civilisation, and higher pressure of general thought and modes of daily living
He took the tell-tale envelope from the maid's hand, and began to open it, then moved a little uncertainly towards the door, then stepped back and sank with ashy change of colour into his chair, murmuring "Oh, my God, not that the poor young wife and mother is also taken from my boy;" and then the paper dropped unread from his hands, and a look of the extremity of bodily suffering replaced that of the mental apprehension which had preceded it.
Isabel shrieked; but before one word could be spoken Dulcibella was by his side. “Don't be too much alarmed," she gasped, looking
· round. “He told me such attacks might come. Thank God! I went at once for advice to Mr. Carter, and know what to do,” and she was acting as she spoke. "Open the windows, -and only one of you stay with me,-all the air we can,—yes, you, Freda,” as she found these young hands helping her, in trembling haste, to loosen every tie.
Amabel put her arms round the other younger girls, and drew them gently away. They sank down sobbing and trembling beside her in
the hall, nor could she bear to go a step further from that open door. Self-effaced, as she wished ever to be, she had not offered to her LORD of that which bad cost her nothing in thus yielding her natural place to Freda. Presently she had the blessing of hearing her father's voice say, if in faint altered tones, “I have frightened you!—it is over now. If only I could have got to the library, so that you need not have known !- Not you, my dear,” and he stroked Dulcie's hand, and she could see colour coming back to his cheeks and lips, you are my wife-daughter now; but this poor young thing" -“Who is your slave, father! not worthy to unloose your shoe,
" but at least wishing for no better office," cried Friedeswide in a tone of low excitement. “Oh, I am glad I know,—but I will go! You will be best quite quiet now," and she glanced at Dulcie inquiringly. She read her answer in her dismissing, if reassuring smile, and went away at once ; glancing at the telegram as she went, and longing to carry the hateful thing away with her. What did twenty Arthurs or twenty of his children matter compared with Arthur's father ?
“He is better—will do now. Dulcie had brandy ready in her pocket! there is ‘grit' in that girl, after all ! but you had better all get out of the way,” she cried gently, as by one of her own deft movements she passed upon one side the group which she had very nearly stumbled over, blinded by her tears, and absorbed in her now but one idea to reach her room. Oh, how thankful she was now that she had that room, where even Isa could not come unbidden. She bolted her door; went to her inner closet, and bolted that behind her also; then flung herself in a passion of grief, tears, fears, relief, sorrow and joy, upon the floor. “That hateful telegram ! I don't care! I won't ever ask what it was ! I don't care whether that young woman —that's what father called her himself when they married last July—is dead or alive.That doesn't matter to me! It's father,-oh, my father, the only person I love, or who loves me; but I know he's too good to live:
I I've felt all this week he was weaning us somehow from him, though so tender and dear and sweet; letting me have him that whole day in London, and Kathleen all Saturday afternoon in Hereford, and I dare say Isa's turn was to come next. Oh, if I could only die too."
Meanwhile Ducibella had picked up the telegram, and, after reading it, and seeing it contained po fresh ill news, told the contents to her father, whom only her fond persuasions were now keeping quiet in the armchair near the open window. Even that the little granddaughter
and niece could not now be brought to Brayscombe was become an unutterable relief, much as she had been longing to meet Arthur over that little grave, at least, if nowhere else; and full of delight as, even at such a time, her father's proposal that the child should be brought to their own churchyard for burial had made her.
"I am glad Elizabeth was in time to go with poor Arthur," was her father's comment, and he rose. “Now, my dear, I am going to the library, and wish to be quite alone; do not even you follow me, and do not be uneasy ; the pain is so completely gone that it is hard to believe it ever existed; though at the moment more than I could conceal. So thank God, His discipline if sharp, is short.”
He rose and went away; it was hard for Dulcibella only to stay to ring the bell, and then follow her sisters to the drawing-room, where they had obeyed Freda's advice and gone ; and then consult quietly with Amy as to any further mourning for themselves or maids than modern wardrobes always now afford. It seems strange to the womenkind of this decade to remember how the unexpected death of the Prince Consort but twenty years ago found most homes, out of mourning, destitute of “black.” Is the cause of the change that in the meanwhile so many women have become “working” women that they need this unobtrusive well-wearing colour as much as men ? so that, happily, those who do not choose it otherwise, need spend little more time and thought on their dress, or upon its ordering, than do their fathers and brothers.
“Let us wait and see what Aunt Elizabeth says to-morrow," said Amy softly, “if the funeral is here, or poor Adelina herself—" “Oh!
you do not know what the last telegram said ; the two children were buried this afternoon, and the doctor hopeful.' Still we need not talk of such things to-night, and will not. Have you been out at all, Isa, since-since afternoon tea ?” “ No !”
you had been in the house all the morning ; come out with me now, dear,” Dulcie put her arm through the girl's, but Isabel drew back.
“I am afraid “ Of what?”
Oh, the dark—everything.--It is all so wretched.” “But it will do you good. There is nothing really to be afraid of. Father is quite well again,—and you see,-our sister-in-law better.
You are so accustomed to fresh air and exercise, you will not sleep without them. Freda would say you ought to come, I am sure,” and she drew her out upon the broad gravel path skirting the lawn.
Did Isabel fear a lecture on her many late follies and childish perversities, and selfishnesses ? did she fear being sermonized on the uncertainty of life, and reminded from these present examples that if the old must die, the young may ? Perhaps, in her hot youth, Dulcibella must have felt bound thus to use her opportunity, and so speak, whilst the child-woman's heart was stirred, and some word spoken in season might haply find a lodging place to bear fruit later if not then. But now, to-night, she only felt her heart filled with a yearning tender pity over this foolish straying lamb, clinging to her as in old days, half weeping on her shoulder when they stood still to listen to the nightingales; and Dulcie put her arm round her, and then turned back in silence, and as they passed the open garden door she asked,
“Perhaps you are really tired, and will be glad to come in and go to bed ?"
“No, let us go round once more;" and then when they stood still at the same spot, --so delicious was the bird music from the honeysuckle-embowered old whitethorn,—the girl put her two arms round the elder sister, and sobbed, “Oh Dulcie, I have seemed such a naughty girl all the last six months; but I haven't been so really. I don't forget it all,—all as it used to be when mother was alive; but one can't say anything, except to a mother, as one gets older; and Freda thought you and Amy so foolish and old-fashioned, and particular, and we shouldn't have had a bit of fun except for her.”
Dulcibella just kissed the pretty young face of the child, struggling but in vain to be a mere child any longer.
“Oh, one can't talk of such things to other people, and I hate all your good little books! they seem to me more selfish than even I am —and make me feel quite wicked. I can't see why it's better to live only to cocker-up one's soul than to cocker-up one's body, even more selfish in some ways.”
"Perhaps God is leading you some other way. You are His child still; speak to Him as to a Father and mother in one, my poor motherless child.--Or, Isa, if you want earthly advice and guidance, go to our father, you do not know how good-how deeply religious he is, and will not till you try—"
"Oh no, I couldn't; I should be so frightened !-Besides, it would seem to me impossible to speak of such things to any one round about me. I can't even, really, speak to you here in the dark. And although I know that you will never repeat anything I say, for you are an honourable though religious woman
“Though ! oh my poor child, what has so poisoned you?”
“Books, and talk, and things I heard all those Sunday afternoons at Kensington, if it is poison I-Freda says it's light and truth ;-such clever people used to drop in always. Aunt Winstanley is such a hospitable, kind, and clever hostess, and Gertie's Irish fun and ways made it so bright and pleasant that everybody who came once came again; and if auntie sometimes did not like all they said, it's Gertie who really rules the house."
“If you really know you want advice and help, and cannot seek it from those around you, go to Mr. Macdonald, he is so good, and true, and clever.”
“No, I know to whom I shall go if I must, and I suppose I must if—if I'm ever to be happy again. I shall go to confession, I could tell all, everything, so ! and get absolution and advice—and penance.”
Dulcibella was dumb with astonishment; astonishment at other things than this being poor Isabel's panacea for all her woes and follies.
"I do not know to whom you are thinking of going,” she began slowly.
"To Mr. Hope, the new vicar of S. Gabriel's. I heard him preach once at S. Mary Magdalene's :—he made me very very unhappy then! Oh, I could not forget what he said for a long time, though no one knew I'd minded; but at least he can help me now,
I feel he can; I know he can from what he said that evening. It was very hot, and Kathleen and Aunt Winstanley were half asleep, and auntie said she could never go to church again on a summer evening,—the hot gas and all the people made her feel quite ill. And Freda laughed at us for not having after all heard the great Preacher we had gone to hear, and said she and Gertie and Arthur,—he was spending that Sunday with us,-had spent their evening much more profitably, really, watching the beautiful sunset from Kensington Gardens. But I have never forgotten; and I must go to him to-morrow.”
“You must not go, dear, without father's full knowledge and consent,” said Dulcibella very gently, but with perfect sincerity and firmness.