- CHAPTER VIII. SISTERS IN COUNCIL.
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SISTERS IN COUNCIL.
ELEANOR had been domesticated several weeks with her sister, and thanks to her quickness of perception, and her earnest desire to comport herself worthily as a relative of the Hopes, in very few instances had Basil been annoyed by the trifles which betray the incongruities of birth and breeding, with present position.
They had, moreover, been very quiet. Lilian's health demanded repose, and there were not many opportunities for the display of those peculiarities which Basil so extremely disliked. Eleanor had even begun to find it rather dull; there was the morning call to be sure, and the daily airing when the weather permitted, but February is proverbially an unfavorable month as regards open-air walking or driving; but then the long evenings, when Basil sometimes read to his wife, but more frequently went away to his club, for Lilian he thought could not be lonely, now | | 88 that her favorite sister was by her side—that was unendurable. Very wearisome those evenings were to Eleanor, worse than those at Kirby-Brough, when the hours between tea and supper were frequently enlivened by the chance visit of a chatty friend, whose bean or brother was sure to arrive in time to join the latter meal before he escorted the lady home.
Now, with amusements of every kind going on around her, she found herself very much in the position of Tantalus, permitted almost to contemplate the scenes of gaiety which her heart desired, and yet compelled to forego them. Lilian's drawing-room was profusely furnished with literature; the best serials of the day, the newest novels, and all her favorite poets lay about in graceful confusion. The little book-tray was laden with gems of poetry and prose, but Eleanor cared for none of these things. The novels, even, were not to her taste—they were of too high a stamp; and as for Tennyson, Browning, Longfellow, Mrs. Hemans, and others, in whose exquisite pages Lilian's whole soul revelled, they were mere dross to Eleanor.
She had come to town expecting, in spite of Elizabeth's more sensible predictions, to be the gayest of the gay; she had promised her beloved friend and confidante, Flora Milner, that she would keep a regular journal of all her brilliant expeditions and inevitable triumphs, and that her most vivid impressions of | | 89 fashionable life should be duly registered for Flora's sole benefit and delight; and so far, all was vanity and vexation of spirit.
One morning when Eleanor sauntered down at a late hour to the breakfast-room, she found Basil pacing up and down in the very extreme of agitation, and the usually quiet household in thorough confusion.
In vain Eleanor poured out Basil's coffee, and tried to tempt his appetite with every delicacy that the table or sideboard afforded; he would not even sit down, and he manifested a strong desire to free himself from the restraint of her presence. It was a weary day; the pitiless rain deluged the streets, the wind howled and moaned, and the darkness was so great, that at noonday lights were needed in the lower regions of the house. Basil did not leave home; he roamed about like an unquiet spirit, and Eleanor had no word of comfort that availed anything. As he occasionally met her in his wanderings from room to room, he instinctively turned to her for at least a mite of that consolation which the proudest man will at. times deign to seek from woman; but her words were so commonplace, her sympathy so coldly expressed, that ere long these encounters chafed him, and he turned away with mingled weariness and irritation whenever the rustling of her dress announced her approach. From that day the indifference with which | | 90 Basil had regarded his wife's sister was converted into dislike.
Late in the evening Basil was called to Lilian's side. There she lay faint, and worn, and white as a veritable lily; but yet, so far as human science could discern, safe! and on her arm was laid the tiny blossom whose little life had so nearly costlier her own.
"The finest young gentleman, sir, I ever had the pleasure of dressing!" said the consequential nurse, gazing approvingly on the little red creature, almost shrouded in his delicate raiment as he lay by his mamma's side, taking his first view of mortal existence.
Basil was mite willing to take Mrs. Nurses representations on trust. She assured him that his son was a remarkably fine child, and of course she ought to know. The doctor, too, had confirmed her statement, when he announced the birth of a fine healthy boy; but the little senseless bundle on which poor Lilian, despite her weakness, gazed with such unquestionable pride, was not quite his idea of a beautiful child.
"Yes; I dare say it is a very nice, strong baby," said Basil, in reply to his wife's whispered request that he would look at its tiny face, and see if the features were not jest like his owls; "but Lilian, dearest, I have you safe at last. I began to despair; and what would the world be to me without my Lily?"| | 91
Lilian's recovery was slow; but as her strength gradually returned, she and Basil spent many happy hours in the retirement of her dressing-room. Eleanor was content not to interrupt these matrimonial tete-a-tetes. She spent a great deal of time writing to her friend Miss Milner; and a lady who lived opposite, and was on visiting terms with Lilian, offered to chaperone her occasionally, and tale her to drive in the Park; so, during Lilian's confinement, Eleanor began to enjoy a little of that life she had so long and so ardently desired.
Never, since the first few weeks of her married life, had Lilian been so happy. Basil was soon won to admire his baby, and ere it was a month old, the fatherly instinct was strong in his heart. After satisfying himself that Lilian was progressing, his first thought was for his boy, and he was soon heard boasting to his friends of the remarkable size, beauty, and intelligence of his son and heir.
Lilian was almost sorry when the doctor advised her migration to the drawing room; it seemed a breaking up of the quiet, happy life she had led since the birth of her little one. The drawing-room was open ground; any one might come there. Basil would never care to sit reading and chatting and petting her by the hour together, when they were every moment liable to interruption.| | 92
But still the effort must be made, and accordingly one morning Lilian found herself established on the sofa, in her old quarters, with the baby in his berceaunette on the other side the fire, and her favorite volumes arranged on a little table dedicated to her especial service. The morning passed happily. Eleanor practised some new polkas, and Basil read the papers, communicating small scraps of intelligence to his wife, as he imagined her feminine intellect could appreciate them.
But after dinner he took his hat, and told Lilian that now She was nearly well again he must just look in at his club and see what the fellows were doing there; he should not be late; but they had better not Wait tea.
Lilian saw him depart with tolerable composure, but it required all her stock of fortitude to refrain from tears, as she saw him disappear.
She hated that club; She could not understand why men must have a gathering-place apart from the social circle. If Basil went there, sonic fascination seemed to chain him to the spot, for he never returned at the time he specified; and when he dill, his talk was of the moors, or the debate, or the Derby, and he hinted his intentions of joining certain men, whose very names were Lilian's abhorrence, in an excursion to Norway for salmon fishing, and afterwards to some | | 93 unpronounceable castle in the Highlands for grouse shooting.
"Why could he not be content to stay at home, and watch the baby grow and prosper, and read the new books? or if change were requisite, as indeed it was, why not take her and the baby for a tour in North Wales, or a visit to the south-coast of Devon?" She knew now he would never take her to Kirby-Brough for change of air!
"Lilian," said Eleanor, when she came in from a long gossip with her new friend, Mrs. Howard, "how very dull you are; where is Basil?"
"Basil is bone to his club," said. Lilian, mournfully.
"And you are fretting because he has left you!—My dear Lilian, do you know you are very silly and unreasonable? All men in Basil's rank of life go to their club. You were always romantic—do just take a practical view of life. You and Basil are old married people now; the son and heir has made his appearance, and all the sensation you and he very naturally created has as naturally worn itself out. Men need amusement; they must have a certain amount of excitement, and that apart from their own firesides. Of course, now, Basil will return to his old haunts, or perhaps seek new ones; for he had hardly tune to establish himself comfortably before you were taken | | 94 ill. Well, you cannot find fault with that; and as Basil forms his circle, why not form yours?"
"I scarcely understand you, Eleanor."
"Why not enter into society yourself? You were moped to death at that stupid Hopelands, and when you came at last to town, your health prevented you from issuing or accepting general invitations. Why, Lilian, with half your beauty, half your income, and not a third of your position, I would become the fashion I would never have an evening disengaged. The season will soon commence, and I would commence too in good earnest. Make Basil proud of his wife, compel that stiff old dowager at Hopelands, and her detestable daughters, to yield to your supremacy. Let Mrs. Hope the younger fully eclipse Mrs. Hope the elder, and all her tribe. Try this hind of life, Lilian, and give it one real, determined trial; begin at once. Let me aid you. I was born for better things than helping Elizabeth to keep house at home. I have genius, I know; I only want scope and opportunity; and how call I use my talents more laudably, than in ensuring the happiness of my sister?"
"But, Eleanor! shall I be happy? Something tells me I too was born for higher and better ends than those I have all my life pursued. And yet—I hardly know what I mean, dear; there is another life even in this world, of which you and I know nothing. Alice | | 95 Rayner spoke of it. Eleanor, what makes Mice happy?"
"I am sure I do not know; perhaps she is not really happy."
"Yes, she is really and truly happy. If you talk with her for ten minutes you cannot doubt it; and yet, Eleanor, see how she suffers, with no prospect of anything like recovery."
"I cannot imagine," returned Eleanor, "what is the secret of her content; she is an actual puzzle to me."
"Perhaps it is," said Lilian, in a low voice, "that the life of the world to come is so beautiful, so glorious, and so sure, that the troubles of the way are no more to her than hindrances to a traveller who is sure to reach his home before night."
"Yes, she is very religious," answered Eleanor, drily.
"That hardly seems the right term to apply to Alice. I have known many people who were what is called 'very religious,' but they were quite unlike her—as impatient and discontented as yon or I could ever be."
"It seems, then, there are two kinds of religion."
"I suppose there is but one real hind, and all the rest are imitations, more or less resembling the true sort."
"But how are we to know the true from the base coin?"| | 96
"I don't know, Eleanor. Sometimes I Wish I did; everything seems so hollow, so unsatisfactory. Difficulties spring up, where one least expects them; just when one feels securest, something gives way, and the future looks dark and unpromising. If I did but know Alice's secret!"
"Ask her," said Eleanor, shortly, for this serious conversation annoyed her.
"I have asked her often, and she has told me, and to a certain extent I understand her; but, Eleanor, the knowledge only reaches my comprehension—it does not come into my heart, and I think and think till I am weary. I am sometimes afraid I shall live to find my life a burden to me. Even this little darling that God Himself has given me, will not always fill the void I often feel. One feels as much alone sometimes, as if one were solitary on earth, without ties or kindred."
"Lilian, dear, you are low-spirited to-night," said Eleanor, soothingly. "Coming into the drawing-room has wearied you; remember you are not strong yet, and Basil's defection has put you. about. You shall go to bed now, and think about my recipe for happiness. I am sure Basil will approve it. As soon as ever you are quite well, you. must give a large party, though Basil and Mrs. Howard both say there will be nobody in town till after Easter; still I dare say you | | 97 may put down as many names on your list as you wish at beginning."
Wearied and dispirited, Lilian went to bed. She lay awake, expecting Basil would come home and visit her chamber, as he always did the last thing. But the hours wore on, and she fell into an uneasy slumber, and dreamed that she and Eleanor were dancing at a crowded ball, and that Basil turned away from her, reproaching her as he went. And she too turned away from the gay scene, full of bitterness and anguish of heart; and she saw Alice Rayner far off, no longer worn with suffering, but radiant and beautiful as an angel. She strove to reach her, but there was a dark, deep sea between them, and she was left quite alone in the world. She awoke, her whole frame shaking with bitter sobs, and all was still; she was in her own chamber, the baby sleeping peacefully by her side and the night-lamp burning low in the socket.
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