- CHAPTER XII. A DAY-DREAM OF BETTER THINGS.
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A DAY-DREAM OF BETTER THINGS.
WHEN Lilian paid her customary visit to the nursery, on the morning of Eleanor's departure, the heavy looks and feverish skin of the little boy seemed to betoken something more than ordinary indisposition. She took him from the nurse, who was vainly endeavoring to still his weak, fretful wailing, and began to walk up and down with him in her arms. The change seemed to please him, and his crying soon ceased, and as he was evidently drowsy, Lilian commenced singing, in a low sweet voice, one of the old Yorkshire ditties which, years ago, had often soothed her own childish cares and sorrows.
Presently, the little head lay quietly on her arm, the sobs and starts were less frequent, the hot flush faded, and the baby-invalid was sound asleep, on | | 130 his sweetest and best earthly resting place—his mother's bosom! As soon as Lilian saw that he was fairly slumbering, she sat down on the rocking-chair, and laid the child gently on her knees. The nurse had occupation downstairs, so the mother and babe were left alone. He had been from his birth a remarkably fine, healthy infant; at six months old he was one of those wonder-children, whose beauty and precocity is the untiring theme of female relations and nurses. He was an intelligent child, too, and began to speak at a very early age; and now at sixteen months, he was just beginning to run alone, and chatter his fascinating gibberish in the prettiest style imaginable, when he suddenly manifested signs of illness, he began to be fretful and heavy, grew pale and Weak, and would scarcely tale necessary food. It was clearly a case of teething, and as it is an ordeal through which all children must pass, and in which all suffer more or less, his mother felt little or no alarm on his account.
She felt happier than she bad done for some time, as she sat there in the lonely nursery, with her boy slumbering on her lap while she rocked, and crooned the fragment of an old Brough-dale song. If she had attempted to analyze her feelings, she might have discovered that her cheerfulness sprang from the spontaneous discharge of one of her sweetest and holiest | | 131 duties, and she might have traced the clue a little further, and discovered that in the tranquil and due performance of daily duty is an inexhaustible source of happiness and content.
While she sat thus, she heard steps on the staircase without. It was not nurse's heavy tread, or the housemaid's quick, brisk trip; the cook was gone to market, and the page had been despatched on an errand that would employ him the whole morning. Who could it be?
Presently, he door was gently opened, and, to Lilian's extreme astonishment, her husband entered the room. He seemed not a whit less surprised than herself, and he was going to spear, when she laid her finger on her lips, and pointed significantly to the little sleeper on her knee. He nodded and kept silence; but he remained standing opposite to her, as if contemplating with pleasure the unexpected tableau he had discovered in the nursery.
It was, indeed, a lovely picture; the fair child in his tranquil sleep on the lap of his beautiful young mother—he with his innocent baby-face, his pretty light curls, and his dimpled arms and tiny hands; she in all the flower of her extreme loveliness, with the mother's soul beaming forth from the clear, radiant eyes, and the matron's sweet gravity on her pure perfect features.| | 132
Basil lingered a little while, and thought of the lines he had once read with Lilian:
To see the baby sleep so well."
But he remembered the close of Mrs. Browning's exquisite poem, and he turned shudderingly away. Though Basil had woven for himself a dark web of sin and sorrow since his little son first learned to know his voice, he still dearly loved his wife, and clung with all a youthful father's tenacity to the promise of his firstborn child.
If Lilian had but known how her husband`s heart beat with affection towards them both!—if she had but guessed how pride alone prevented him from stooping to kiss the lips that had lulled the baby to his peaceful rest!—but she neither knew, nor guessed aught of this: she too felt proud and injured, and thought the first steps of reconciliation should be taken by him who had so provoked her to anger. Besides, she had made one effort, and she had been ungraciously repulsed, so that she felt herself more grievously estranged than before.
At last Basil went away as silently as he came, his heart softened but not melted towards his wife, and Lilian remained alone, watching the quiet sleep of her boy.
As she sat thus, and heard his soft regular breath- | | 133 ing and noted how greatly he was changed from the rosy, sturdy little fellow, whose shouts and laughter were wont to make the nursery ring again, she felt herself drawls towards her child and her husband, and loosed, as it were, from the bonds of worldly pleasure-seeking and dissipation, which for the last year had so completely enthralled her.
With Eleanor seemed to depart also much of the vanity, much of the love of excitement, which her pernicious influence had grafted on Lilian's purer and better nature. Left alone she began to think this plan of going to Llandudno was by no means so unreasonable. If Basil were in difficulties, it was certainly his wife's duty to assist him in every possible way to retrieve his position; and then conscience whispered, there were her own pecuniary entanglements—there was Madame's bill! It made her turn faint to think about it, In the early days of her married life, when she and Basil were all the world to each other, it would have been difficult to confess her embarrassment; but now that a wall of separation had risen up between them, now that icy coldness kept them apart, it seemed impossible to lay the case before him. How cheerfully she would have worked, had she been able, to gain money wherewith to discharge this terrible bill; and then there were others not yet sent in; she trembled to think what their | | 134 amount might be. Partly induced by Eleanor's evil and specious counsel, and partly tempted by the bland and insinuating representations of tradesmen themselves, Lilian had opened many accounts of which Basil was in profoundest ignorance; and as she herself had kept no register of items of expenditure, she. had no idea what the sum-total might amount to. But she feared greatly, and her whole soul sickened when she reflected, that perhaps Madame's horrible array of figures was only one of a host of such cruel spectres, whose visitations she was fated to endure. And then she had made herself responsible for many of Eleanor's extravagances. The pale pink crape bonnet, with its exquisite French flowers, the costly silk dinner-dress, and the sylphide Parisian barege, that had never made their appearance on their destined arena, but were decreed to dazzle the dull optics of the unsophisticated Kirby-Broughians—these, and a whole host of trifles—and, clear female friends, you do know flow the "little things" mount up, till you are certain the obsequious tradesman has made a mistake!—these were, one and all, entered under the name of Mrs. Basil Hope, and the modiste would not send in her bill till the end of the season.
So Lilian took counsel with herself, and resolved that she would no longer refuse to leave town, the child's health affording ample reasons for so unprece- | | 135 dented a step; but that she would preserve her own dignity, and assert her rights, by firmly holding to her intention of being present at Mrs. Carisforth's breakfast. That should be her final appearance in the gay world, for the season at least—that over, and it was only twelve days hence, she would set off for Llandudno, devote herself to her boy, and once more revel in her old enjoyment of country rambles, and poetical musings in the green woodland paths, and by the mountain-streams of the beautiful Principality.
It seemed quite a relief to get away from the hot dusty town, the glare of blazing ball-rooms, the din of the orchestra, and the cramped rurality of flower-shows. She saw herself book in hand, sitting on the pebbly shore at Llandudno, watching the clear green waves roll up to her feet, and then break into a silvery crescent of white foam; she saw the red sunset lighting up the fissures and the weather-scars of the little Orme's Head; and the great Orme's Head rising dark and grand against the crimson flushings of the evening sky. She saw her little Basil stumbling among the small smooth pebbles of the beach, shouting with glee as the thunder of the great waves broke around him, and looking rosy and strong, the admiration and the envy of all the young mammas whom they encountered in their daily rambles!
It was a pleasant picture, and the longer Lilian | | 136 gazed on its vivid tints the more it delighted her imagination. The splendors of town gaiety paled in consequence. What were the exotics of the most brilliant fete, compared with the wild roses, the tall, gorgeous fox-gloves, the cerulean veronica, the graceful bindweed of the far-off, cool, flowering woodland! And Basil too would perhaps come, and the gulf which had opened between them might be closed up for ever.
Yet, notwithstanding, between Lilian and the fairyland, which she might have entered in eight-and-forty hours, had she so willed it, stood, firm and unassailable, the barrier of Mrs. Carisforth's breakfast!
She had pledged leer word to attend it; she had covenanted with herself to will that one point; yield in all but that! She knew Basil was resolute even to obstinacy, but she could be resolved, too; and, after the fatal disclosure of his own great weakness, surely he would not wish to assert his authority with the stringency he had threatened.
For several days all things went on calmly; Lilian was much in the nursery, and little Basil spent a great deal of time in the drawing-room.
He improved leis health; his fretful cries were seldom heard; and, though there was a transparency, a fragility about him that made experienced matrons shake their heads, and say all was not right with him, | | 137 he seemed to be regaining his strength and growing more robust day by day.
It was the day before the breakfast. Lilian's snowy dress lay ready for wearing; her simple white bonnet, with its pure lily-wreath, became her to admiration; the fall of her lace mantle, the perfect fit of her gloves, the delicate tint of her parasol were all sources of self-gratulation.
It was her last appearance for the season, and she had determined to gratify to the utmost her own exquisite taste, and her maid's penchant for seeing her lady arrayed in fresh and faultless costume.
Basil had never again mentioned the breakfast; he had been absent from home for several days, but Lilian judged the Norway expedition was not abandoned, for the litter in the STUDY was greatly augmented. The table was strewn with gaudy flies, new reels, salmon lines, and artificial bait. There were parcels coming in from "Farlow's," and huge, clumsy water-proof boots from "Cording's." These were evidently preparations, but Basil had not again spoken of his northern tour, so Lilian argued, that if he chose to be reserved in his own designs, she was completely exonerated from imparting to him her plans and resolutions.
But this morning, as he was preparing to go out, | | 138 he said, "Lilian, are you ready for Llandudno? I can take you to-morrow."
"The day after I shall be ready," she replied, calmly. "To-morrow, you know, is Mrs. Carisforth's fete."
"Confound Mrs. Carisforth and her fete!" he burst forth. "I have said my wife shall not appear at Chirk Villa; and, by Heaven, she shall not! I insist on being obeyed. Lilian, you go to this breakfast at your peril!"
"You are very rude!" was Lilian's answer. "I never interfere with your pleasures, though, as your wife, I were well justified in doing so. Allow me the same liberty. I shall never disgrace you! Or, at least, give your reasons for this arbitrary prohibition."
"I will give no reasons; it is enough that they exist: I forbade you, and I forbid you again, to leave this house to-morrow for Mrs.Carisforth's villa. I repeat it, I am ready to escort you to Llandudno."
"And I repeat that I am not ready to accompany you; the day after, my arrangements will be complete. I have pledged my word to go to this breakfast, and I shall keep it. If you treated me as your wife, and condescended to explain your motives, and veil your commands under the garb of wishes, I might be enabled to listen to your representations; as it is you seek to coerce me like a child, and my soul | | 139 revolts from such unqualified tyranny, I will not bear it!"
"You need not," he returned. You take your path, I will take mine. I will never tyrannize over you more!"
"He was gone before Lilian could answer. What could he mean? What did he purpose doing? It was evident that a crisis had arrived; but anything was better than the frozen stagnation of their late intercourse.
Strange to say, Lilian felt strong and nerved for the unnatural warfare that lay before her.
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