- CHAPTER XI. ELEANOR'S DEPARTURE.
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LILIAN slept at last. She was weary as a little child, and leer slumber, when it stole upon her, was sleep and undisturbed. Far into the brilliant summer morning—even till the sun was near the meridian—she lay in that sound, quiet sleep; and she awoke at last, after a confused impression that some one was knocking at the door, to see Eleanor standing by her side and eyeing her with undisguised curiosity and surprise.
It must be confessed, Lilian's appearance and position afforded no small ground for wonder and conjecture.
She lay on the sofa, in the same dress that she had worn the preceding evening, when her sister left her for the night; her hair was unbound, and hung in heavy lustreless masses round her pale, sad face; her | | 120 eyes were heavy and dim, with long passionate weeping; the lids were purple and swollen, and the traces of tears were still discernible on her pallid cheeks.
She sat up when she saw Eleanor with a dull weight of something terrible on her mind, but an imperfect recollection of the circumstances under which she had fallen asleep. Her faculties, however, were quickened by Eleanor's rapid and unceremonious questions.
"Why, Lilian, what on earth is the matter? What brings yon here? Are you ill? Have you been in hysterics? Have you had bad news? Where is Basil? Why are you not in your own bed?"
These interrogations recalled Lilian to the perfect possession of her senses. Whatever Eleanor might think, she must, she should know nothing of Basil's humiliation. No mortal eye but leers had seen him enter his own house in that miserable state of degraded humanity, and the secret must be guarded as though it were a matter of life and death.
"Hush!" she said, quickly. "Speak lower, Eleanor! Basil is in bed, asleep; he came home rather poorly last night; he must not be disturbed."
"And, like a devoted wife, you are sleeping on this uncomfortable couch, lest haply you should disturb his slumbers?" replied Eleanor, in a tone of satirical interrogation. "Or," she continued, in the same annoying strain—"or is he so displeased at your reasonable | | 121 objections to leaving town that he has, by way of punishment, sentenced you to temporary banishment from his bed and board? Have a care, my dear! His next movement may be to lock you up like a per-verse child, till you say you are sorry, and promise to do as you are bid."
"Do be quiet, Eleanor; what foolish nonsense you are talking!" exclaimed poor Lilian, her little stock of patience and endurance almost exhausted. "I tell you Basil is unwell. He does not know I am here. I was weary with watching, and somehow fell asleep."
"Watching your husband! Was he really so ill that you judged it necessary to sit up with him?" persisted Eleanor.
"Watching for him, I mean. He was late, and I was tired. Really, Eleanor, how tiresome you are! My headache is almost unendurable. I wish you would tell Mary to make me a cup of strong tea immediately."
"Very well. I am going away in a minute; but perhaps you have forgotten I am returning to Kirby-Brough early to-morrow morning. I naturally wished to enjoy as much of your company as possible for the short remainder of my stay."
"I really had forgotten; but Eleanor, dear, forgive me. I am scarcely awake, and my head is distracting. Leave me now, and go on with your packing; when | | 122 I have had some tea, and made something of a toilet, I shall be quite another creature. We will have a quiet, comfortable afternoon together. I shall not go to Mrs. Pendleton's soiree."
Eleanor went away to her own quarters, quite certain, however, that something unusual had occurred, which her sister did not intend to communicate.
When she was gone, Lilian went into the adjoining bed-chamber. Basil was still sleeping heavily, though his thick breathing and uneasy posture testified to the unrefreshing nature of his slumbers.
His wife bent over him, and laid her cool hand on his burning forehead. He dill not awake, but moved irritably, and began to mutter something about "eleven to two," and the "odds" against one of the favorites of the race-course. Then there was an execration that made Lilian tremble. He exclaimed that he had been duped, betrayed; that there had been foul play; and that some one, whose name was inaudible, was concerned in it.
Poor Lilian! heavy was her sore heart; heavy her aching head; and heavy, with watching and weeping, her dim, weary eyes.
She dreaded his waking; they had parted in unseemly anger, to meet again under circumstances that overwhelmed her with terror and shame. She wondered what he would say, how he would act when he | | 123 awoke; and she sat still a long time, debating with herself whether she should pass over the affair in magnanimous silence, or whether she should reason with him, and implore him to renounce society that led to such degrading results.
While she was still undecided, he awoke; and, before he was aware of her presence, he began furiously to ring the bell.
Lilian advanced, and came to his side, quietly desiring to know what he needed. Had he answered kindly; had he but spoken to his wife with something like contrition, something approaching affection in his words or tones, all might have been well between them. But he felt ill and angry; the effects of the previous night`s excess were now most painfully experienced; and he remembered too well the unjust charges, and the burst of passion, which the evening before had driven him to seek the companionship of those those society he knew was fast leading him towards the paths of ruin and misery. He did not see the white weary face, and the mute, imploring glance which timidly and anxiously sought his; he saw only the Lilian of the preceding day, with her rosy lip curled in disdain, her dark eyes flashing fire, and her 'voice uttering words that seemed almost too violent) too bitter, to fall from a woman's tongue. He knew nothing of the long night-watch, of the love that laid | | 124 him to rest, helpless and revolting as he was; nothing of the wifely instinct that so jealously guarded the disgraceful secret; he knew only that Lilian was extravagant, dissipated, neglected her child, and caballed with her detestable sister against his lawful authority; that her temper was violent, her reproaches unscrupulous, and her heart—yes, he tried to convince himself that he believed that also—that her heart had grown vain and cold, and utterly alienated from all home affections.
So he lay still in sullen silence, and replied nothing to her gentle inquiry, and when the domestic appeared, summoned by his impetuous ringing, he gave orders for dry toast and a cup of very strong green tea, adding that in case any one called, and asked to see him, it was to be said that he was out of town, but would return the following day.
Disappointed, indignant, and chilled, Lilian went away; and after a time she sought Eleanor, who was still busy devising the best means of conveying her finery uninjured into banishment. Eleanor was in very low spirits, and by no means in an amiable frame of mind; and for some time she replied to her sister's conversation in monosyllables, or in the curtest and driest of phrases.
At length, when her arrangements were finally concluded, her taciturnity gave way, and she began | | 125 to sift Lilian, in order to discover what had passed between her and Basil on his return home. That there had been a very serious quarrel she never doubted; the truth of the case did not occur to her.
"Lilian," she said, when they were both sitting in the drawing-room, striving with very indifferent success to connect two separate pages of 'Bradshaw,' "it is for you, as much as for myself, that I regret my sudden departure. Though you will not confess it, I know that there was a terrible scene when he re-turned last night, or rather this morning." Lilian faintly uttered a denial. Eleanor continued—" Why do you try to deceive me, Lilian? I know you are miserable—I know Basil, with his dissipated habits, his coldness, and his tyranny, is breaking your heart. Now I see it is in your mind to submit, to yield yourself passively to your fate. Trust me, it will be most unwise to do so; you must check, at every opportunity—not minister to the natural imperiousness of your husband's temper. Let him see that you are not a child, to go where you are bidden, and do this, and do that, according to his lordly will and pleasure. Once gain a certain position, and he will feel convinced that you are not, and never can be, the slave of his behests; but hesitate now, let him gain the ascendancy now, and all is lost! you will never be mistress of your own establishment. Whatever betide, you must | | 126 go to Mrs. Carrisforth's breakfast, and you must not go to Llandudno, or to Rhyl, or to any place more distant than Richmond or Chiswick, for at least two months to come!"
"I will not go to Llandudno! I will not leave town during the season!—of that I am determined," replied Lilian. "I will not be banished at his pleasure, moved like an automaton to suit his arbitrary purposes. Nay, you need not smile incredulously, Eleanor, I will be true to myself; I will stay here and know where and how my husband spends the hours that are certainly not spent in general society, and most certainly not given to his own home!"
"Indeed, Lilian, I did not smile from incredulity, but from satisfaction to think that you really will vindicate your proper position, and you will succeed, though the struggle may be long and severe. And as to happiness!—why the happiness, the romantic sentimentality that you have brooded over since you were a little thing in the nursery, can very well be dispensed with."
These words brought back too many sad reminiscences. Lilian melted into tears, and exclaimed:Ȅ "But, Eleanor, I loved him! I loved him dearly, dearly! All my life long, I had yearned for that deep, unchangeable love, Which I once thought I had found in my husband. His love was so precious to me, | | 127 such a glorious treasure and all my own! And now—now it is all the same as though we had never loved each other; he is so cold, so careless; he cares nothing about my society; he never seeks it; and when unavoidably we arc left alone together, he either reproaches and lectures me, or takes refuge in silence. Oh, Eleanor, never love, never marry!"
"I never could, would, or should love in your strange irrational style. I shall marry if I can do so eligibly; and I dare say, at first, shall be fond of my husband, and we shall agree charmingly, and be called a happy couple; after a time, no doubt, we shall quarrel and dispute, like other married people, till at last we shall learn wisdom, and become considerate of each other's frailties, and observe a distant, well-bred politeness, each one going his or her own way, and then we shall become a really happy couple. You and Basil set out with extravagant fondness, and novel-like devotion; but you have now reached the turbulent act of the drama; you will end, as I said, in mutual indifference, and consequent tranquility!"
"Never, never!" said Lilian, passionately. "I would rather die than live such a hollow, joyless life. Eleanor, you and I are very different; but take care; you, too may miss your aim, and your worldly ambition may bring you no better reward than my foolish idolatry has brought me!"| | 128
"Nous verrons!" was Eleanor's only reply, She did see: long, long afterwards, she was filled with the reward of her own doings.
The sisters saw nothing of Basil that day. Lilian did not again proffer her rejected services, though she hoped in her heart he would relent, and send for her, or come to the drawing-room himself; she spoke of him only with coldness and displeasure.
Early the next morning Eleanor Grey departed. Basil formally bade her adieu, and politely wished her a prosperous journey. He sent a kind message, too, to Elizabeth and Susan, but he uttered no syllable that could be construed into the expression of a hope that at some future time, her visit, so unhappily curtailed, might be resumed.
Eleanor went her way, and Lilian and Basil were left alone once more. Every hour seemed to increase their estrangement—when and how would it all end?
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