- CHAPTER VI. EXPLANATIONS.
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SIX weeks longer, and the Hopelands woods were shorn of their autumnal beauty. The garden was bright no more with rainbow lines; verbenas and fuchsias were safely housed for the winter, the lest china-aster and the last of the dahlias had lifted their pale, marred faced in a valedictory gaze on the sun; the clear azure slay was as though it bad never been, and dusky, leaden clouds shut out every lingering ray of the sweet, fading sunshine.
On a wild rainy afternoon, Lilian sat alone in her dressing-room. The wind howled mournfully through the long passages; and shook the door in the uppermost story; the rain fell heavily, now pouring in steady torrents on the vet leaf-strewn turf in the park; now dashing against the window-panes, and sweeping across the dreary landscape like waves of a | | 68 misty sea. Lilian sat close to the fire; an unfinished letter to Eleanor lay on the table before her, a book of poems was near at hand, and some delicate needle work was piled in pretty satin-lined basket before her. She had tried various occupations; but not one of them yielded the slightest satisfaction; so now she was sitting, with her eves fixed on the fire, her hands listlessly crossed in her lap, and her mind laden with many conflicting emotions.
A step, and a movement on the handle of the door, roused her from her dreaming reverie. Basil came in and threw himself into the chair which stood opposite Lilian.
"Well, it's all settled, Lily!" was his exclamation, as he seized the poker, and began vigorously to settle the fire.
"What is all settled?" she asked, languidly.
"Why, our own affairs, to be sure. How can you ask, Lilian? My father has at length settled the income he is to allow me, and I must say, considering I am the heir and the only son, it is preposterously small. You will have to be very careful, I can tell you, and very managing, for we must live in some sort of style, and we shall have about half as much as we shall want."
Lilian looked up in dismay from the sewing she had taken, when her husband began to talk.| | 69
"Only half as much, Basil! What are we to do for the other half?"
"Do without! Some people have to do without the whole. Some people begin life with considerably less than nothing."
"Nonsense, Basil! That sounds very much like ten minutes less than no time. Every thing has its limit, and nothing is exactly nothing."
"Very logical! But, my dear, I have no idea of limits; on the contrary, I feel as though every thing was illimitable."
"Basil, did you come here to talk nonsense?"
"I did not, but if I prefer nonsense to rationality, I suppose there is no reason why I should not gratify myself."
"Every reason, when you come to concert plans with your wife for your future establishment."
"You mistake me; I came to impart plans—by no means to concert them. All that trouble has been happily taken off our hands. My father signifies that he has business to transact with me, and mamma and the young ladies discreetly retire. Then our respected Pater-familias informs me that in consequence of great diversity of disposition between my wife and my sisters, and by reason of the many domestic tempests which have latterly disturbed the once placid atmosphere of Hopelands, it is proposed by the heads of the | | 70 house, both jointly and severally, that we, the younger and interloping branches, should be forthwith ejected from the parent nest, and turned on the world to shift for ourselves. Next it is imparted to me, that I am to receive a certain annual income, subject to increase, should I in my turn become Pater-familias; also, that a certain house in London is to be given immediately into my possession; and, finally, that we had better lose no time in effecting the transfer of all our goods and chattels, and of our more valuable selves."
Lilian's hands trembled so violently that she was obliged to lay down her sewing. "And you could hear your wife spoken of in this way!" she exclaimed passionately," you could hear this and make no rejoinder! You are content to remove her to an establishment of her own, in order that your family may be freed from the obnoxious member, who has so unwillingly continued their guest!"
"Lilian!" said the young man, gravely, but without the slightest manifestation of temper, "remember it is you, not I, who so interpret my words. That we have been very uncomfortable together, as a family, is obvious; that you have been far from happy, I know, and, therefore, I hailed with joy the prospect of placing you at the head of an establishment of your own. I came here expecting to afford pleas- | | 71 ure; I thought you would be glad to know that very soon you would be placed beyond the animadversions of those whom you have so unfortunately prejudiced. But, Lilian, in those happy weeks after our marriage, I little foresaw the painful disappointment in store for me. I had so fondly hoped that you and my sisters would be drawn together by closer ties than those of mere relationship."
"Knowing your sisters, as of course you did, and knowing me also," replied Lilian, "you must have been a very romantic person to cherish such ill-founded hopes. I and my sisters-in-law have scarcely an idea in common. They met me with no kindly emotions; prejudice began even before I was your wife; they have called forth, and then laughed at my educational deficiencies; they have estranged themselves from me in every possible way, and of late have treated me more as a miserable dependent, than as their brother's wife, and the future mistress of Hopelands!"
"Hush, Lilian," replied Basil. "Had you striven at the first to conciliate the affections of those whom I love so dearly, this unnatural estrangement would never have been. Yes, I have been romantic! I thought, Lilian, when I wooed you from your quiet home at Kirby-Brough, that I could make you happy. You seemed so gentle, so loving, so clinging then. I | | 72 thought if my sisters had unfounded prejudices, traceable to their position and education, the sight of one so good, and pure, and beautiful must instantly dispel them. Since we came home all things have been contrary to my expectations."
"And most contrary to mine," bitterly rejoined Lilian. "Basil, God knows I came here hoping to be received as a child, and as a sister. The love I once gave to my dead father and mother, I had treasured up to bestow on the living parents of my husband. I meant to forget, to a certain extent, my old home; I wished to lay aside old habits, and old feelings, and to be in heart, as well as in name, a Hope! Basil, you know how my kindly feelings were wronged; you know, too, how cold you were, in comparison with those happy days both before and after our marriage; how satisfied you seemed in their society; how careless of my happiness! Oh, Alice Earner was very right when she said that I should need patience; she said well when she warned me not to rest my happiness on any mortal creature. Oh, that I were still the bright, joyous girl I used to be in old times! I wish you had never seen me, then we should never have loved each other; then you would have married some one in your own station and acceptable to your family, and I should have lived quietly, but happily with my sisters and brothers at Kirby-Brough."| | 73
"Do you really wish that, Lilian?" said Basil, sternly. "Do you really regret your marriage? Then, indeed, have I been miserably deceived. Come what will, I shall never wish the past otherwise than it has been. Whatever may betide, I am glad that I found you, and sought you to be my wife. Can it be possible that, after six months of married life, you deplore your lost freedom?"
"No, no, Basil! I was wild when I said so; but I have been so unhappy, and I thought you were growing cool. If you love me still, I am content to bear all things. Only say you love me as you once did, and I shall never wish myself again at Kirby-Brough; never desire any other lot than that which has befallen me!"
"Lilian, I love you dearly! I have been to blame; I have not shielded you from the storm, as I ought to have done. Having placed my flower in an ungenial atmosphere, I ought to have tended it more carefully, and bearded it from heat and tempest, to which it was unaccustomed. But, dearest, a new life is before us; a few weeks longer—a very few, for we will hasten our arrangements—and you will be freed from the trials which now beset you. In your own home things will be so different; you will be the sunshine of our dwelling, and we shall go back again to the dear old times of last summer. We will forget the | | 74 painful episode, my Lily, or remember it only as naughty children remember a punishment lesson. I will try to think myself the bridegroom of tell weeks, instead of the careless husband of six months. We will turn over a new life, and be very good, and, par consequence, very happy. Now, dry your eyes, for it is getting near dinner-time; and, Lilian dear, put on that pretty blue dress I bought you at Exeter, and braid your hair a little lower, and come down looking as mild, and bright, and bonnie as when you were Lilian Grey."
The promise was readily given, and a loving kiss sealed the compact of the new life that was to begin from that day.
The evening passed pleasantly. Lilian played some duets with Olivia, and managed to keep time and accent delightfully; she helped Theresa with her everlasting club-accounts, and she assisted Harriet in deciding upon the dress she was to wear at a ball some eight weeks in perspective. The customary tray with biscuits and wine and water made its appearance before Lilian had suppressed one yawn, or Olivia had achieved one sarcasm.
The next morning the weather was brighter, and a little before noon Lilian set out for the forest, in order to visit poor Mary Mills, who was now in the latest stage of her lingering disease. Lilian was no | | 75 fine lady, so she donned her cloak and goloshes, and traversed, without a fear, the wet pathways of the leaf-strewn wood; but the soil was so drenched, and the drippings from the bare branches so continuous, that she was glad to reach the cottage.
All was silent as usual, but, as Lilian raised the latch of the door, a tall, ill-looking man made his appearance from a shed near the entrance.
He looked at the young lady with a sullen defiant air, and a scowl that would have shaken stouter nerves than Lilian's. But Lilian recognized in him the cruel, wicked husband of her poor pensioner, and she was about to speak, when he muttered, "You've no call to come here any more—she's dead."
The brutal indifference of the wretched man, shocked Lilian more than the actual news. She hesitated, and then said, "I should like to see her once more—may I enter?" There was no answer; Mills walked away towards the thick of the forest, and Lilian ventured in.
There, on her humble bed, made, however, more comfortable by Lilian's kind care, lay the mortal remains of poor Mary. The worn, haggard look was gone; the freshness of youth seemed to have returned to the thin wasted features; and peace, such as this world giveth not, rested on the white brow of the dead.| | 76
The battle was over, the stern discipline past, the rest won. She, the obscure, humble woman, known only as the wife of the worst of characters, had gained the end of life, as gloriously as though she had been a crowned queen. Through Jesus Christ, alone, she had fought the good fight, and gained the victory. She was gone from earth one more of those hidden gems, whom the Lord will remember in that day when He makes up His jewels.
And Lilian gazed long and earnestly on the dead face, that told so eloquently of trial and triumph; and her heart yearned to know the mystery through which pain, poverty, and misery unspeakable were brought into peace, abundance, and joy—the secret alchemy which changed the aspect of every earthly thing, tinging all with a lustre that is brighter than any temporal sunshine, and glorifying even death itself.
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