- CHAPTER V. A STORM.
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THREE months had passed away, and Hopelands, in all its autumnal beauty, was resting in the calm September sunshine. It was a glorious afternoon, rich lights were falling on wood and rock and glade; the bright flowers of the parterre were spreading their gorgeous petals beneath the cloudless sky, as if dark days of storm and tempest were far, far away. The woodlands were arrayed once more in their royal robes of crimson and gold; the dart fir reared his formal boughs against the pale early-fading leaves of the ash; the copper beech rustled his dark branches beneath the rich brown foliage of the stately elm; and the graceful birch rested lovingly in the shadow of the mountain ash, whose coral berries wore their softest, richest line in the radiant light of the autumnal sun.| | 57
All things were at rest round Hopelands; the light wind scarcely fanned the tresses of the silver birch; the river flowed calmly through the green pastures, where the quiet herds fed in the shadow of the tall trees; only the hum of an insect or the twitter of a bird broke the dreamy stillness of the beautiful evening.
Among the flowers walked Lilian. Her step was clouded, and her little hands nervously crushed as sweet a spray of heliotrope as was ever gathered. She was alone; the dahlias and the china-asters were the only witnesses of the fair young matron's discomfiture.
It had been a weary three months for Lilian; one perpetual straggle against the influences surrounding her. Mary would have initiated her into the mysteries of housekeeping but she refused the instruction which, indeed was not presented in a very alluring form. Then, again, Miss Hope was extremely partial to giving advice, and, worse still, she expected every one to follow it. She would say to Lilian, whom she found in the greenhouse devouring "Jane Eyre," my dear Mrs. Basil, excuse me, but really this kind of reading enervates the mind and fevers the imagination; and—you must forgive me—but if visitors should arrive and you bad to make your appearance in so neglected a toilet, unpleasant remarks would certainly be the result, which could not fail to annoy your husband."| | 58
Theresa besought Lilian to take a class in her Sunday-school, and she consented. Basil was annoyed. He wanted his wife himself on Sunday, He exclaimed; but Theresa and Olivia united in declaring that Lilian's duty called her to the Sabbath-school.
How Lilian repented her compliance cannot be told. What she suffered on burning, sultry afternoons, in a shall close room, crowded with weary children, can be better imagined than described. The heat, the hum, the monotony was overpowering.
Her class was as stupid as a class can be. The staple instruction was the Church Catechism, and the Unlucky girls and their equally unlucky teacher, had just reached the question—"What desirest thou of God in this prayer?"
Lilian remembered what hard work it had been to commit to memory that portion of the catechism; it had cost her many a tear, and many a weary Sunday afternoon, before she could fluently reply to her catechizer, "but to impart it to these stupid, tired country-girls," seemed a far worse undertaking.
Lilian's class did not improve. Theresa begged her not to wear rings at the Sunday-school and wished she would hide her gold chain and its glittering appendages beneath her mantle—such vanities took off the children's attention. At length, one sultry afternoon, when the August sun was blazing on the close stifling | | 59 school-room, Lilian created a sensation by falling from her chair to the floor, where she lay in a dead faint, that long resisted all the ordinary restoratives in cases of syncope. Basil was very angry when Lilian came home, looking as white as her dress, and evidently unable to sit up during the evening. Theresa angrily insisted that the heated atmosphere of the school-room had nothing to do with Lilian's indisposition, inasmuch as she and her sisters endured the same inconvenience year after year, without fronting, but she quite agreed with Basil, that she had better give up her class; she had proved herself a very inefficient teacher, and her heart was evidently not in the work.
Henceforth Theresa ceased to invite Lilian to accompany her on her charitable expeditions; and she contented herself with placing in her way what she considered suitable literature for so worldly a person. Lilian was constantly, finding on her toilette, or between her novels, tracts of an awakening nature. One day she found "An Alarm to Sinners" lying on her dressing-case; the next "A Word to the Unconverted" dropped from the pages of her beloved Longfellow;—very good little books in themselves, and calculated, under God's blessing, to touch the heart of the slumbering sinner; but altogether inefficacious when administered in the Pharisee-spirit of Theresa Hope. Lilian never read the tracts, but she com- | | 60 plained to Basil that she was treated like a heathen. He only laughed, and said it was Tessie's hobby; she fancied her mission was to convert the world, and the obnoxious tracts were intended for himself as much as for her.
Olivia's good intentions were even more objectionable than Theresa's laudable endeavors. Basil was imprudent enough to confess that Lilian was very imperfectly educated, and to hint that as she was so young, she might, with pleasure to herself, devote a little time to study, under the superintendence of Olivia. A more unfortunate idea could not have been started. Olivia, though certainly a talented woman, was no better an instructress than Theresa was an evangelist. She and her sister-in-law quarrelled at the outset. Lilian naturally resisted, when Olivia attempted to treat her like a school-girl; she coolly swept away all the grammars and compendiums, of science which Olivia had zealously collected for her special behoof, and stood so determinedly on her dignity as a married woman, that the discomfited professoress was fain to give up her cherished hope of educating poor dear basil's ignorant, silly child-wife; but she never forgave Lilian.
No day passed but Lilian suffered some mortification. There was a diurnal combat, and defeat, as the result; Basil was appealed to by both parties. He | | 61 had been so accustomed to the superiority of his sisters, that he could not but imagine Lilian in fault, Her temper was the chief source of complaint, acid as time passed on, many altercations occurred between husband and wife. Harassed and fretted, and far from well, Lilian scarcely looked like the same beautiful girl we saw sitting in the calm Sabbath eve by Alice Rayner's conch of suffering. Basil went fishing, and grouse and partridge shooting, and Lilian was left much to herself, and to the uncongenial society of her new relatives.
On this particular evening there had been a scene. Mrs. Hope had reproved her daughter-in-law for what she considered disrespect towards herself, and unsisterly behavior to Theresa. Lilian had retorted; calm but cutting words replied to her agitated sentences. Basil was passionately appealed to, and he, like many men, had an insuperable horror of being involved in women's quarrels, so he answered in an irritable tone, that it was disgraceful for relatives to disagree about trifles; and he did wish Lilian would learn to control her temper; her fretfulness and touchiness were a real infliction to them all, himself in particular; he was weary of it, and he rose from the table and left the room, leaving Lilian sobbing like an injured child.
Mary treated her for hysterics; but the unhappy | | 62 girl turned away with a gesture of scorn and disgust from the proffered remedies.
"You have been cruel to me ever since I came to this horrible place," sobbed Lilian; "you have all tried to make me miserable, and now you are turning my husband against me!" and she rushed from the room, for she felt that she could bear Olivia's smile and Mrs. Hope's composure no longer.
"I forgive you, Lilian," cried Theresa, as the young wife left the room; and Mrs. Hope clasped her hands and ejaculated, "What a temper! how greatly Basil is to be pitied!"
Lilian found the stillness of her own room so oppressive that she left for the flower-garden. There the formal walks seemed to fetter her rapid movements; the low hedge-rows of roses, still vivid with many autumn varieties, seemed to cage her impatience; the calm tranquillity of the lovely evening was oppressive to an unendurable degree. So she left the cultivated domain, passed by a wicket-gate into the shrubbery, and from thence through the park into a woody district that bore the name of "the Forest;" a grand chase of olden time.
On she sped, tearing her flowing dress, and wounding her feet against the knotted roots of trees, which impeded her way. For nearly an hour she hurried | | 63 on, taking no note of time, nor regarding the darkness that was gradually stealing upon her.
Suddenly a wild gust swept through the wood, the tree-tops were swayed backwards and forwards, and she saw dark clouds drifting across the evening sky. A storm was at hand; it was past sunset and she had lost her way. There was a cottage, or rather a hut, in the distance, and hither she bent her steps. She knocked; a feeble voice bade her enter. No one was visible at first, but, the same weak voice bidding her be seated, she discerned in a sort of recess, stretched upon a rude couch, the figure of a woman. She was not old, but her frame was worn to attenuation, her face was haggard and discolored, as if from cruel blows, and her breathing was short and hard. There was scarcely any furniture in the wretched abode, and very little light, for the only window was half-concealed by ivy. Lilian inquired the way to Hopelands, and found to her infinite relief that she had been making a circuit, and had reached almost the point from whence she commenced her ramble. A few steps would lead her to the south lodge, so her anxiety was dispelled, and she lingered to ask the woman if she were very ill.
"Very ill, my lady," said the poor creature; "but it won't last much longer now. I shall soon be in a better place; the doctor says I shall be gone before the winter sets in."| | 64
Lilian looked compassionately on the white, pain-worn face. "What is your name?" she asked gently.
Then Lilian remembered a tale of woe she had heard soon after her arrival. The husband of this woman was a bad man, a poacher, a drunkard—some hinted a murderer! He treated his hapless wife in the most brutal manner, and worn out with cruel usage, sorrow, starvation, and toil, she was sinking now into an early grave.
Lilian looked around her, first at the destitution so painfully visible, then at the dying woman. The tears rose in her eyes. "I am very sorry for you," she said. "I ought to have come to see you, but I did not know you lived so near Hopelands."
The sweet voice, and the kind, pitying glance, brought a smile of content to the faded lips, and poor Mary replied—"Thank you, my lady, it is very comforting to hear kind words again; but this isn't a fit place for you to come into."
Lilian answered by sitting down on the one crazy chair the apartment boasted. "How unhappy you must be!" she said, in a tone of the deepest compassion.
"Oh no, ma'am!" exclaimed the sufferer, with sudden animation, "I've no call to be unhappy; God has been so good to me. He has sent me many com- | | 65 forts, and now He is going to take me away from pain and sorrow, to dwell with Him for ever and ever."
Lilian gazed with awe on the lustrous eyes, and on the holy calm that overspread Mary's wasted features.
"You are not afraid to die?" said Lilian, after a little hesitation.
"Oh no! not now. Once I was thoughtless and did not love my Saviour. I cared only to be well off in this life, and to enjoy myself, as I thought; so He sent trouble to wean me from it, like, and after a time I took to read my Bible, thinking perhaps I might find some comfort in it, and there I found all I wanted. I saw how He loved me, and died for me; and somehow I couldn't help but love Him back again, though in a poor way. Many a weary day and night that love has held me up, and kept me patient, and now I am going to see Him face to face. I shall know there why all this trouble came upon me. I shall see it all then. I can only believe now!"
Lilian would fain have lingered, but the gloom was deepening, and the storm fast approaching; so she bade poor Mary "good night," and promised to come and see her again very soon.
She did not escape a wetting, for the rain came down in torrents, ere she could gain shelter; she reached home drenched, and sinking with fatigue. | | 66 She went to bed immediately, after sending a cheerful message to the fancily.
Olivia, however, interpreted her retirement as a fit of sulks, and Mrs. Hope lamented her babyish disposition, which led her to play pranks like a school-girl. "Really, Basil," she said, at last, "I beg you will lecture your wife severely; she may, perhaps, hear you without flying in a passion. There is no knowing what mischief might ensue from these wild, rash expeditions, so undignified, so improper, for a married woman, and that woman my son's wife! Pray talk to her very seriously."
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