- CHAPTER IV. GATHERING CLOUDS.
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THE long formal dinner came at last to a conclusion, the dessert was duly dismissed, and Mrs. Hope gave the ladies signal, by telegraphing to her eldest daughter, and rising with elaborate dignity from the head of the table. Basil and his father were left over the wine. Lilian cast a mournful glance on her husband, as she prepared. to follow her mother-in-law to the drawing-room; she remembered waiting many years ago for the dentist; she recalled the eve of a long past school-examination, when she and the cleverest girl in the establishment were contesting the prize, and her sensations on those momentous occasions were certainly very similar to those which she now experienced. She scarcely knew what she dreaded; but a vague apprehension of something disagreeable frightened and oppressed her, as she crossed the stately hall, and entered the beautiful room, where she was at some future day to reign sole and undisputed mistress.| | 44
Basil had said little respecting his sisters, but his wife had gathered that Mary was wonderfully domestic and an excellent manager, her supererogatory services rendering the office of housekeeper almost a sinecure; that Theresa was eminently religions, much devoted to schools and inspections of cottages; that Olivia was alarmingly scientific; and that Harriet was the belle and beauty of the family.
They were all talented and accomplished, quite above the general run of young ladies, and the Misses Hope of Hopelands, were renowned through the county for their high breeding, their remarkable attainments, and their fascinations in general. Lilian found herself in a pitfall at the very outset. A large circular glass dish stood on one of the tables, and it was filled with wild flowers, most beautifully arranged.
What lovely flowers!" she exclaimed, as she took her seat at the window, where they were placed.
Harriet was pleased at this spontaneous tribute to her taste and judgment, for it was she who had gathered and arranged them; she drew her chair to Lilian's, and began to extol the beauty of the neighborhood's floral productions, and, somehow, Lilian found herself talking quite comfortably to Harriet; while Mrs. Hope sat cozily on the sofa; Theresa made up the shoe-club accounts; and Mary and Olivia got | | 45 into a tremendous discussion about the "old red sand- stone." It would have been well for Lilian, had the geographical dispute lasted till tea-time; as it was, the subject was quickly dismissed, and Olivia came to the pleasant recess, where Harriet and Lilian were still admiring and examining the lovely roses, and other wild flowers of the dell.
"You are a lover of flowers, I perceive, Mrs. Basil," said Olivia, mercilessly depetalizing a fine cluster of speedwell as she spoke.
"Indeed I am," replied Lilian warmly; "my sisters and I have always been so fond of collecting wild flowers; we have many beautiful kinds in our neighborhood!"
"You have the trollius," said Olivia affirmatively.
"I believe it is found only in the northern counties and in Wales. I have never yet been fortunate enough to secure a perfectly healthy specimen for my hortus siccus."
"The trollius," said Lilian, musingly, "I do not think I know it."
"The Trollius Europeus," continued Olivia, "commonly called the Mountain Globe Flower, very scarce; flowers in elevated woody places, rather affects a moist soil, and the remote vicinity of water; petals a beautiful glossy yellow, folded inwards; class and order, according to Withering, Polyandria, Polygynice: under | | 46 the natural system, Thalamiflorœ division; family, Ranunculaceœ. The aquilegia, the delphinium, the anemone, and others, you know, are in the same family!"
Poor Lilian! she felt fairly suffocated in science. If Miss Hope had spoken of the columbine and the larkspur, instead of the aquilegia and the delphinium, there would have been something for her to lay hold of; but keeping, as she did, strictly to botanical names, the anemone was the only friendly sound in the whole sentence. She did know and love the pretty fragile wood anemones, and the very name brought back tender reminiscences of the bowery lane leading to Alice Rayner's cottage.
"Do yon patronize the Linnæan or the natural system, Mrs. Basil?" asked Olivia, in the careless tone of one who pre-supposes every rational man and woman to adhere to one or the other botanical system of classification.
Lilian colored a little, and then answered quietly, "I am sorry to say I know nothing of either. I am ignorant even of the rudiments of botany."
"Is it possible? interposed Mrs. Hope, waking up from her semi-doze among the sofa cushions. "Basil is such a botanist, a perfect enthusiast in the science; he always said his wife should be devoted to the same pursuits."| | 47
"I am surprised!" echoed Olivia. "Basil is so extremely learned about plants. He is quite an authority respecting the Cryptogamœ and I know no one who understands grasses as he does, unless it be his old friend and lady-love, Fanny Charteris."
"His old lady-love!" Lilian did not raise her eyes from the fern-leaves she was pretending to examine, but she felt her cheeks flushing and fading, and she knew that curious glances were upon her. "Who is Miss Charteris?" she ventured at length to inquire, trying to look amused and unconcerned.
"Our dearest friend!" replied Theresa.
"The sweetest sweet creature!" replied Harriet.
"The most perfect of her sex and age!" said Olivia, in a tone of mingled enthusiasm and sadness. "She is, as Theresa affirms, our dearest friend. We have always looked upon her as a sister. She has shared all our studies, our plans and our pursuits, and her refined and cultivated mind is enshrined in a person well worthy of so choice a treasure."
"My beautiful Fanny!" said Mrs. Hope, mournfully, as if in soliloquy. "My gifted child! My own fair blossoms are not dearer to me than my poor banished Fanny Charteris!"
Why was Miss Charteris banished? That was a question Lilian did not dare to ask. She perfectly | | 48 comprehended all that was either expressed or supposed by Basil's mother and sisters.
Seeing her take up a line shell of the Cyprœa genus, Olivia inquired it' she were a conchologist, informing her for her satisfaction, that Basil and Fanny Charteris had collected and arranged all the shells that were in the Indian cabinet in the morning-room. Then, as the rich sunlight faded, and the first pale stars gleamed out in the grey east—"Had she given much time to astronomy?"
Poor ignorant Lilian; she had once learned a compendium of astronomy in Mangnall's Questions, but she had long ago forgotten every word. And yet she loved to watch the bright suns of night, and the radiant planets come forth in the solemn silent sky. If she knew nothing of their relative positions, distances, etc., she was no unmoved beholder of their thrilling far-off beauty. Many a night in the pleasant garden at Kirby-Brough, while Elizabeth was comfortably practising the mysteries of skirt-making, and Eleanor was firing her imagination over the pages of a fifth-rate novel, purporting to delineate fashionable life, Lilian walked alone, or sat in the rude arbour, which the "boys" had built for her special benefit, gazing in unscientific but loving wonder on the starry worlds on high.
She thanked Longfellow in her heart for his grand | | 49 idea that the stars are "the thoughts of God in the heavens."
She looked up to the quiet shining skies, and remembered that in the time of our fathers, and in the old time before them, the same lustrous orbs looked down upon a fair but troublous world. She remembered that when the grand work of creation was finished, "all the morning stars sang together for joy;" that the patriarchs walked out in the cool eventide, and gazed on the same bright constellations; that God spake in that ancient time to his servant Job of " the sweet influences of Pleiades, and the bands of Orion;" that in the night journeyings of wandering Israel, amid the fastnesses of Sinai, by the banks of the typical Jordan, beneath the proud walls of the beleaguered cities of Canaan, the same shining host shone out in the deep blue Syrian sky. And her thoughts passed onwards to later, but still far distant times, when holier feet than the patriarchs' trod the hills of Judæa, when the shores of Palestine echoed to strains more hallowed than the rapt utterance of the prophets of old time. Jesus of Nazareth, the Babe of Bethlehem, the Tempted in the desert-wilds, the Man of Sorrows came to dwell awhile with sinful men; and the stars saw the shepherds keeping their night-watch, and the Magi wending their way to the throne of the King whose kingdom was not of this world. They | | 50 looked down on the young Child and his mother borne into Egypt from the tyrant's cruel wrath; they shone over peak, and rock, and cedar-crowned height, when Jesus went up into a mountain to pray, and was there all night alone; they gleamed through the rustling olive-branches on mournful Gethsemane, and they kept their calm watch over the garden-tomb where the body of the Savior lay at rest.... Another century, and they saw the night-sky red with lurid flames; the martyr on his couch of agony, the children of the Crucified One borne swiftly to their happy home on the wheels of a fiery chariot. And still they shine on, one star differing from another star in glory, burning in the solemn midnight sky, till the day shall come "when the stars of heaven downcast," shall "like red leaves be swept away."
Such were Lilian's thoughts when she sat in the old home-garden at Kirby-Brough. Her nature, though intensely poetical, was little cultivated, and the tone of her mind was what is commonly called religious; and if the religious life were nothing more than a succession of enthusiastic impulses, and sweet, dreamy, reverential musings, such a frame of character as Lilian's would certainly be the climax of piety.
But her soul was in darkness yet; and when she thought of the sainted feet that trod the faraway | | 51 Judæan land, ages and ages ago, her emotions were no sleeper than when she read the stirring tale of the crusaders' chivalric achievements.
A vague idea that she, like the rest of mankind, was a sinner, and that Christ died for the fallen, embodied all her Christianity. She did not love Him whom she called Lord and Master; she never felt her need of Him. So far, her heart had never ached with the void that comes sooner or later to all who place their chief joy in earthly hopes; who drink only from terrestrial fountains; who take for their strongest support a reed of mortality.
When she mused so sweetly on the bright shining stars, she could not say, with swelling heart and tearful eye, "My Father made them all!" She could not soar beyond the glittering hosts to the land where there was there was no night. If she dreamed at all of heaven, it was as the abode of her departed parents, whither she, too, might go when a long happy life in this world was ended.
She knew nothing of the inheritance of the children of the kingdom; nothing of the struggle, the joy, the peace, or the warfare of the Christian life!
Presently Lilian was again roused from the reverie in which she would have been thankful to indulge, by Theresa saying—"I suppose, Mrs. Basil, you are Evangelical?"| | 52
For want of a better answer Lilian replied, "Yes."
"Because," continued Theresa, "I know Basil has strong objections to Tractarianism, and, on the other side, our family, though strictly Evangelical, eschews anything like Low Church! Mamma, Miss Stevenson has been telling me how very low the new rector of Bishop's-Coombe is."
"Dreadfully low, I hear," responded Mrs. Hope. "Well, we must have nothing to do with him."
"I wonder they allow low men in the Church," said Lilian, innocently; "a clergyman should always be a gentleman!"
The young ladies concealed their amusement, but they continued the conversation, and soon gathered that their sister-in-law was in no danger of annoying them by any opinions of another nature.
She believed Roman Catholics were very wicked, and Dissenters very vulgar, and the State Church about right, though there was no knowing what the Establishment might come to if low men were permitted to receive ordination.
But Lilian grew very weary as the evening advanced; she was tired, both physically and mentally; her head ached, and she longed to be alone with her husband once more. He was still with his father, and when the solemn serving-man went to summon the gentlemen to tea, he returned to say Mr. Hope and | | 53 Mr. Basil were gone out; and the ladies were not to wait on any account.
Harriet at length noticed poor Lilian's pale cheeks, and suggested that perhaps Mrs. Basil would like to go to her dressing-room. Lilian thankfully took the opportunity to escape, and, with a feeling of exquisite relief, she found herself alone in the luxurious apartment devoted to her use.
Elizabeth might leave commented on its extraordinary conveniences. Eleanor would probably have exulted over the costly bijouterie of the toilet-table, and, at another time, Lilian would not have been insensible to the splendor around her, still less to the beauty without, which the shades of the summer's night could not conceal; but now, wearied and saddened, she sat by the window, resting her aching head on her hand, and half-wondering what it was that made her so unhappy.
She never knew till that evening, how very imperfect was her education; she was absolutely frightened at the amount of erudition displayed by Basil's sisters, and Basil himself. He had doubtless been accustomed all his life to such cleverness; when the novelty of his new position had worn away, he would weary of the companion he had chosen for life. And Fanny Charteris!—Lilian had never heard her name before. No wonder, since she had once been more to Basil than | | 54 any one. True, she herself was preferred to Miss Charteris, but it pained her excessively to know that another had once been taken to basil's Heart; and might he not, at some future time, curse the infatuation of the hour which led him to descend from his sphere, and unite; himself with a simple, uncultivated country belle?
She looked little like a belle now, the poor lilly of Kirby-Brough, with her white cheeks, her heavy eyes, her loose uncurled hair, and her drooping figure. And where was Basil? Why did he not come home? Even as she irritably asked the useless question, she saw him cross the terrace, and enter one of the lover rooms by a French window. He was in the house, then! The next moment he would come to see if she were seriously indisposed, to hiss the quivering lips, to smooth the heavy straightened tresses, to soothe the discomfited spirits of his bride. But minutes sped on, and no step like his trod the corridor; she was left to loneliness and self-torture. Already he was beginning; to tire of her. She sat long at the window, unconsciously watching the dusky landscape; then, fearing; lest he should come and find her still up, and think she had been waiting and wishing for him she hurriedly undressed and flung herself, weary, angry, and dejected, on her bed.
Several hours passed, and then Basil came. Lilian | | 55 expected apologies, which she intended to meet with a cold silence, but none were spoken. "What, Lily!" he cried, "awake yet! They told me you were tired, and had the headache, so I thought you should have a good long nap before there was a chance of disturbing; yon. I am sorry you went to bed, we have had a delightful evening; Mary and Theresa have been giving me such music, it was a treat to hear their voices in Norma and Anna Bolena once more, and I have beaten Olivia at chess, clean beaten her—checkmated her before she knew she was in danger. There's some glory in beating Olivia, I can tell you. What! sleepy do you say? Oh, very well. Good night."
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