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Afterwards Grace came, seventeen years old, grown up since last year's visit, into a tall, pretty girl. Blanche was a little upset after each meeting with a home face, but yet the interest of the companionship threw life into her, and she liked the change of having her gentle mother to invent a thousand little comforts for her, and her handsome, thoughtful brother-manly with his nineteen years—to devote himself to her; and now the violet-eyed, raven-haired Grace, whose pretty ways were so pleasing for the elder sister to watch, was a new interest ; but none were to her all that Madeleine was, for she had known her Gerald best, and had loved and been loved by him; and in those woeful hours which, after the first anguish of a loss has passed by, will come at intervals, tearing out the very heart's life, then only Madeleine could soothe the widowed heart, talking of the precious last days, recalling all the words of love in which Gerald had spoken to her of his wife—words so often repeated—so well-known, and yet which seemed to bring unfailing balm every time they were uttered. Blanche's last words, when Madeleine came for her farewell clinging embrace, were, “A whole fortnight-how shall I do without you, my sweet comforter ? but not a day more. I know you will not stay a day more.”
The very journey in the train, with Willie to talk to her, did Madeleine good, though the night before she had felt as though she would thankfully have remained at Southbourne, the effort to go anywhere seemed beyond her strength. Tired as she was by evening, she could not but have a bright face to greet her father and Clarice, who were at the station, and the old familiar walk up the High Street, through the churchyard and under the lime trees—was so home-like, and then to be led into the study, to have her father's tender welcome, and to find Clarice pulling off her hat and gloves in her own rough, loving way-all this was very pleasant. Up in her cosy room-always hers, though she so seldom occupied it—there was a bright wood fire burning, though the excuses or it were but small, and a lovely autumn nosegay was on the table.
It was pleasant, too, to have Clarice hugging her and calling her “Jolly Old Maddie,” and to look at the round, roguish face, whose features, though not regular, were every one so full of expression and so dear, even to the wide mouth, whose pearly rows—the exception to the general irregularity—always seemed gleaming with fun. The brown mischievous hands were busy and useful now, and soon Madeleine was ready to go down to the first meal in the dear home.
A long while she sat over her fire that night, thinking of all that had happened since she was last at Brookwood-it seemed as though all her life had been condensed into the last three months, for in that time she had passed from childhood into womanhood, and her woman's heart cried out for the love that would satisfy its need—the love that she had cast away. Where was Hubert now? What was he thinking and feeling? How the very tone of his voice came back to her in the stillness of night, the voice, and with it for a moment, the face. It is so often impossible to recall a dear face ; features that we know by heart will not shape themselves into the countenance; but as she remembered some happy talk of his, the face came to her too, and she smiled for an instant and then sighed a sobbing sigh, and let the great tear-drops fall unheeded on her hands. “ Shall I ever see you again? Oh, Hubert ! and I made you think I did not love
The fortnight had soon gone. Madeleine had slipped so naturally into her elder daughter's place that it was hard to leave it again and say farewell to home. But Blanche was full of warm welcome, and told her she should never spare her again, for little Gerald had become quite unruly, and was beyond mamma or grandmamma's powers of management.
The next day Mrs. Clifford and Grace went home, and Madeleine entered again upon her duties, the most trying of which was to bring Blanche back to her proper place as mistress of the house, and—what was far more difficult—to throw any real interest into the daily round whilst she carried about with her a heart that was beyond healing. Often and often she had hard work to battle against peevishness and irritability, so unnatural to her, but so natural to any wounded spirit.
At intervals Blanche heard from Hubert Grantley, and then Madeleine would find the letter lying on the table, and carry it away to read it over and over again, to have it between her hands and fancy that the hand that wrote it was grasping hers once again. But when, by-andby, Blanche felt that she should like to see him and wrote to invite him to Southbourne, grateful thanks came in return, but he could not leave home-he had business, and his mother was poorly; and so several invitations were answered, till Blanche made up her mind that his mother could not spare him, and gave up asking him to come.
Two years had passed away since Gerald Fielding's death, and again autumn had begun to tinge the earth with the touch of his golden fingers.
Blanche and Madeleine were busy packing little Gerald's wardrobe, and he was very important in helping, or rather hindering, the work.
“It will do the boy good to have some sea air, won't it, Lina ? He grows so fast that he wants a strong tonic to keep up his strength, and nothing is like sea air for that." “And I shall have a new spade, shan't I, mamma ? and you
will show me how to build sand castles, won't you, auntie ?”
Yes, old boy, we will have some fine fun,” and Aunt Lina looked up and drew the beautiful boy to her to receive his hug.
They were going for a few weeks to the Isle of Wight, and the next evening found them settled in a pretty cottage, covered with myrtle and roses, facing a sloping beach, where the restless waves--the eloquent lips of the sympathetic sea-sighed out their whispered secrets to the shore.
Blanche, in her quiet widow's dress, was little changed with the two years. She seemed to have quite her old brightness when with her boy, but when alone or with Madeleine her face usually relaxed into its habitual expression of wistful sadness. She still clung to Madeleine like a child, but she had unconsciously caught something of her unselfishness of late, and would check herself in the midst of giving some unnecessary trouble or yielding to gloom ; also there was more repose about her than formerly. Madeleine was not altered, except that her hopeless waiting had won for her a patience and a calm which added a new charm to her sweet and pensive, yet ever cheerful face. Perhaps now, as we watched her sitting beside Blanche, the music of the wave had caught her ear, and she was wondering whether they sounded so mysteriously on the Welsh shores.
One afternoon they were all out on the beach at low tide. Gerald was busy building a tall castle with a moat round it, and Madeleineafter showing him how to make the water come into it without sapping the foundations—had taken her seat higher up on the shingles beside Blanche, and was reading to her the “Morte d'Arthur,” while Blanche worked away busily at some little garment for her boy. They were so
comfortable under the shade of a boat, and so absorbed in the beautiful
“If thou shouldest never see my face again,
Wherefore let my voice--" “Lina! who is that gentleman speaking to Gerald ?” Madeleine looked up reluctantly from her book, for all her heart was following the dying king : but when she looked that heart stopped beating. She knew at once who was there, talking to the fair child, but gazing now towards where they sat.
“Lina, can it be Mr. Grantley? I do think it must be," said Blanche. • Yes, he is coming up to us. She drew a gasping sigh as memories rushed back upon her. Madeleine had not spoken a word, but her face had grown pale, and she sat still watching him as he approached, holding little Gerald's hand, but scarcely attending to his prattle.
Blanche rose and greeted him warmly, her voice faltering as she told him how glad she was to see him again, and then Madeleine felt him bending down to her, clasping her hand once more in his old way, and looking into her eyes with the same faithful friendship. He made the effort to talk naturally, and said, “How little I expected to meet you here. I am on a walking tour with my friend Seymour, and I left him to rest this hot afternoon, whilst I came out to bask in the sun. I was in luck's way, you see.”
"Are you staying over to-night ?” asked Blanche. must both spend the evening with us, if you have no better way of passing your time.”
So they came, and though there could not fail to be a restraint between Madeleine and Hubert, yet it was such a boon to listen to his voice again, and to see his face, bright even with the shade of care that had stolen into it. He could not trust himself to talk much to Madeleine, but his eager eyes followed her whenever she moved, and when she went to the piano and sang her sweet, melodious song, his hand turned the leaf, and his murmured thanks brought the colour rushing into her face.
The next morning the two gentlemen came to say "good-bye"
« If so you
they were starting for their next stage. Blanche was talking with Mr. Seymour, whilst Hubert was examining some sea-weeds, which Madeleine was in the midst of arranging when they arrived. Only commonplaces were spoken between them, but as Blanche turned suddenly to appeal to her sister for her opinion on some subject of discussion, she noticed a something in their faces, a strange, half-concealed sadness, which made her stop in what she was saying for a moment, and almost lose the thread of the conversation. Presently they took leave of Blanche and Madeleine, but not before Blanche had begged the gentlemen to find them out at Southbourne on their way back to Wales. Hubert, who had never known the reason of his disappointment, had gained a faint hope from Madeleine's gentle, yet agitated manner, and the resolution came into his mind once more to put his fate in her hands; and so he accepted the invitation and said farewell with all the old love betraying itself in his dark, earnest eyes.
Madeleine went about that day trying vainly to silence the glad song that rang in her heart, for she knew that her trouble was now made doubly hard to bear.
Blanche puzzled herself about the two young people, but she said nothing to Madeleine while they were in the Island, but on the evening of their return to Southbourne, as they sat cosily over the fire, enjoying the warm glow and the pleasant crackle of the wood, Blanche suddenly ceased to talk, and sat back in her chair wrapped in a day dream. Madeleine roused her laughingly : “What do you see in the fire, Blanche? your face has been quite a study for the last five minutes,-a penny for your thoughts !"
“Shall I tell you what I was thinking of, Lina ? or shall I keep my thoughts to myself? You shall choose and take the consequences.'
“Of course I want to know," answered Madeleine, " am I not a woman, and could I say no ?!" and sitting down on a stool at Blanche's feet, she put her hands in her sister's lap and looked up
lovingly into her face.
“You must not mind then, Lina, when I speak out my thoughts. I want to ask you something, and not from mere curiosity. Was there ever anything between you and Mr. Grantley ?”
How could Blanche have guessed anything, and Madeleine had been so cool and indifferent in her manner to him?—but her secret must be kept.
What do you mean, Blanche ? Of course we were always good friends, but your fire dreaming has given you strange fancies.”