- CHAPTER XIV. THE DAWN OF DAY.
|<< chapter 13||< chapter 1||chapter 15 >||chapter 31 >>|
THE DAWN OF DAY.
AND the little child was laid to rest, in the dim, old Chapel at Hopelands, where, for nearly three centuries, the Hopes had been gathered to their fathers.
Basil stood by the open vault, while the white-robed rector solemnly read the appointed burial service for the dead, and by his side were his father and mother, and his sisters, Mary and Harriet; but Lilian was not there. Ever since the night of the child's death, she had lain like one in a waking trance. In after years, she said she could never describe her sensations—never understand the strange, fearful torpor that seemed to envelope leer faculties. She knew her boy was dead, but she felt none of those maternal agonies, that might have been looked for in a woman so sensi- | | 151 tive, so impetuous as Lilian. There was a void in her Heart, a weight dull and heavy on her spirits, and a languor on her physical frame that frightened her attendants. She endured none of those sharp intolerable pangs, the offspring of mingled brief and remorse, which sometimes mares reason totter on her throne; but a settled pain lay always, wearingly and consumingly, on her heart; she never tried to employ herself, she never spoke save to answer necessary questions in the briefest manner, and she seldom moved. Her hands hung listlessly by her side, her eyes, always tearless, sought no one's face, turned to no familiar object; it seemed as if the bodily form alone lay on the curtained bed in that quiet room, while the spirit slumbered or wandered far away into the shadowy regions of an unknown world
Basil never came to comfort his wife; he began to loathe the woman who had left her sick infant, to go to a gay party of pleasure; he turned indignantly from the vain, heartless mother; and the hour that should have drawn those alienated hearts once more into conjugal sympathy and tenderness passed away, leaving the gulf wider and deeper than ever.
After Basil returned from the funeral of his little son he resolved to remain no longer under his own roof. His friend, Captain Leavers, was impatient to set out on his fishing expedition, and he fretted at | | 152 every day's delay. He would hear of no companion save Basil, and he would not go alone; and so, loosed from all home affections, and importuned almost hourly by Leavers, he suddenly made up his mind to go the next day, and betake himself to salmon-fishing on the Norwegian lakes and rivers for the ensuing weeks.
He bade Lilian a formal adieu, and she was left alone in her solitary chamber, with no friend, no more loving attendant than her own maid.
One evening, after a day of storm and wind, the sun broke forth, the rain-clouds rolled heavily away, and before nightfall the soft blue of the summer sky spread itself over the populous haunts of the noisy city, and the aristocratic precincts of the West End. Lilian rose from her bed, and, without ringing for her maid, tremulously arrayed herself in the first garments that she could find. The astonishment of the girl was extreme, when she returned from her gossip in the kitchen, and found her mistress sitting by the empty grate, exhausted almost to fainting by the exertion of dressing, and yet more by the revulsion of feeling that almost overpowered her, as she put on the garments of every-day life once more. Lilian ordered her maid to bring her some tea, and when she had taken it, she felt stronger and considerably revived. The long torpor was over, and she began to feel restless, and oh! so sore-hearted.| | 153
Feebly she made her way to the drawing-room; that room that had witnessed her pride, her vanity, her agony of spirit through the dreary night-watches—and now her loneliness, her desertion, her utter hopelessness. She sat down in her accustomed place, listlessly gazing at the blue sky, so vivid after the rain, and flecked with bright white clouds, driving swiftly to the south. The street was very still; there seemed a lull in the hurry and bustle of London life, and the house, too, was silent as the grave. No sound of baby-laughter, no voice of childish pain or passion broke on the perfect quietude of the upper rooms; no hasty ringing of bells, no quick, manly tread ascending from the study—all was hushed as night or death.
The stillness became to Lilian awful, then unbearable, and the tranquility of the outer world seemed to force on her a strange unnatural composure; for, while she leaned back in her large chair, gazing at the soft blue evening sky, her breast was thrilled with anguish, her soul died within her for very bitterness and despair, and yet she kept back the burning tears that swelled under her heavy eyelids, and drove down the sobs and sighs that were longing to escape into audible life. It was a relief when the postman's sharp double knock thundered far down the street. Nearer and nearer it came, and Lilian was sure he was bring- | | 154 ing her a letter, though she guessed not, and cared not, from whom.
Yes, there were the two characteristic strokes at the hall-door, and a minute afterwards the page brought a letter on a salver. It was from Eleanor, a long epistle of condolence and consolation; but Lilian never tried to read it. Even the sight of that hand-writing sharpened her pain; she could not bear to think of Eleanor. As she was folding up the letter, her eyes fell on a once dear and familiar name—Alice Rayner. "Do you know," ran Eleanor's epistle, "they say here that Alice Rayner is dying; and what is very strange, she is not at Kirby-Brough, nor has been this long time. In the spring she became much worse, and that old uncle who keeps one of the royal lodges in Windsor Park, would have her up to London for the best advice. You know he is her mother's brother, this Mr. Brookes, and he has often and often begged Alice to come and live with him; but she never could make up her mind to leave Yorkshire. Now, however, it seems, his only daughter and child has married, and gone to Canada or Australia, I forget which, and he spoke so much of his loneliness, and dwelt so strongly on some new hind of medical treatment that has been very successful in cases like hers, that she thought it best to yield to leis wishes. And so the old gentleman actually came here, all the way | | 155 from Windsor, and took Alice borne with him. At first, they say, she was better, and went out a great deal in a little donkey-carriage they keep, but when the hot weather came she drooped and faded, and now the doctors—and Mr. Brookes has spared no expense, but consulted the very best authorities—say she is dying, and cannot live many weeks. How strange that Alice has been in town, so near us, and we did not know it; but if we had known, she was quite out of our circle; and even now she is within twenty miles of you, and you could go and see her if you liked; but I would advise you not, you have already had too much to endure, and your poor nerves need no further shock." Here followed more condolences, but Lilian did not read any more.
Alice dying! Alice in town, without letting her know, or calling! But then she remembered how she lead neglected Alice, by leaving her letters unanswered, and by writing short formal epistles, when tardy conscience at length forced her to tale up her pen. Ever since her marriage, this had been snore or less the case, and it was not probable that Alice, during her brief visits to town, would be in a condition to pay visits, even to an old friend, and that friend, one who had so cruelly and coldly neglected her. "And yet," said Lilian to herself, "it was not that; all my neglect, all my heartlessness, could not estrange | | 156 Alice; she was too good, too noble-minded, and she is so still. She was unable to come to nee, or I know well I should have seen her; but why did she not write just a little note—a line to say where she was staying, and to ask me to go to her?"
Then a thought flashed across Lilian's mind, and she rose, with all her old impetuosity, to seek what she wanted, but it would not do; her head swam, and she tottered, and almost fell, before she crossed the room. She sat down before a china bowl, placed in an obscure corner—she drew it towards her, and began to examine its contents.
They seemed miscellaneous enough—invitation notes, visiting cards, small bills, paid and unpaid, memoranda, dried rose-leaves, and lavender, and old letters and circulars. Many of the latter, and even some of the former, were unopened. Lilian had grown terribly careless of late, and if a note were brought to her at an inopportune moment, she had accustomed herself to toss it into the china bowl, there to await her leisure, or be forgotten, as the case might be; and she feared that Mice had written, and that, leaving flailed to recognize the writing, the missive had been consigned to this receptacle of stray documents. It was so; at the very bottom, half buried in pot-pourri, lay a tiny note from Alice, begging Lilian to come to her at her lodgings at Pentonville, or, if otherwise | | 157 engaged, to write to her at her new address in Windsor Park. It was not too late for the host, and Lilian at once began to write. Her letter was very short:—
"DEAREST ALICE,—Till this evening I did not know you had left Kirby-Brough. I have but just read your note; I will explain when I see you. Alice, dear, all is changed with me; my child is in his little grave; my husband is far away, and I—I have no hope. I would fain go to my boy, but I cannot; his bright home will never, never be mine. Let me come to you. I will tell you all, and you will forgive.—Your miserable LILIAN."
From that hour, Lilian nursed herself, and took nourishing food, that she might be strong enough for her twenty miles' journey. How could she have neglected Alice so long? For now Alice seemed all the comfort that remained to her upon earth; the thought of Alice was hope in despair, light in darkness, a gleam of heaven's sunshine, riving the low dense thunder-clouds of grief and hopelessness. Poor Lilian! how pertinaciously she clung to reeds of earth! Even now, in her great and lonely sorrow, she never thought of lifting her eyes to the everlasting bills, whence cometh strength and peace.
By return of host, Lilian's letter was answered. Two or three crooked lines, in characters that she never would Dave known as Alice's small, delicate hand- | | 158 writing, were all. They bade Lilian come immediately, "for the time was short."
It was still early morning; indeed, Lilian had not yet risen, and there was abundance of time to make all needful arrangements, and depart that very afternoon.
She rang for her maid; told her that she was suddenly called to visit a sick—perhaps, a dying—friend, and that her trunk must be packed forthwith. She despatched the page for a "Bradshaw," and then she lay back in her bed, thinking of all the old time—of Alice in her bright, joyous youth, and in her first serious illness; of Alice, patient and calm on her couch of suffering, through many a sunshiny spring and glorious summer, through many a golden autumn, and happy, festive winter; of the last Sabbath evening, when she had taken her farewell of Alice, and received from her the little, worn Bible, that had been lies solace and companion day and night all that long, weary season of pain and isolation from the world. That little, precious Bible, with its dark morocco binding, its faded, tarnished gilt edges, and its soiled, pencilled pages—where was it?
It was long since Lilian had seen it; but she fancied it was in a drawer with other disused articles; so she rose and sought it in the dressing-room, and | | 159 there it was, with many other things that reminded Lilian of the days that were no more.
She went back with the little volume in her hand, and opened it. The leaves naturally fell apart at one place, where they had often remained filed for hours, when Alice needed strength and comfort. The first words that met Lilian's gaze were the opening verses of the fourteenth chapter of St. John's Gospel—" Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God; believe also in Ate. In my Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to pre-pare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive yon unto my-self, that where I am, there ye may be also." The sacred words thrilled Lilian's heavy, aching heart; they awoke an echo in her soul, that had never before sounded in its darkened depths. "Let not your heart be troubled!—I go to prepare a place for you!"
Further on, Lilian read those blessed words that have been life, and light, and joy for more than eighteen centuries; ever since the blaster spoke them to his beloved ones, on the eve of his awful agony and woe. "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life!"
Still further in the beautiful, precious chapter!—"If ye shall ask anything in my name, I will do it And towards the close—" Peace I leave with you; my peace I give unto you; not as the world giveth, | | 160 give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid!"
And a mighty cry went up from that troubled human soul—"O God! O Father Almighty! give to me that peace—that peace which the world knoweth not. O Lamb of God, that taketh away the sins of the world, grant me thy peace!"
The spirit of God moved on the face of the waters, and God said, "Let there be light!" and, as in the old time, when brightness and beauty arose out of chaos, so was there light in that fallen, sinful, world-worn soul! Not the perfect day—not even the full beams of the morning—but a streak of heaven's own radiance, hire though faint; eternal and unfading, though far, far away on the montain-tops.
But as the dawn grows brighter and brighter—as the glorious sun rises, and illuminates even the lowly valleys of this earth; so that light, which comes straight from the Great Fountain of Light himself, shines in the unrenewed heart of man, and brightens more and more unto the perfect day; ay, even unto that day, where the eternal noon is never dimmed by cloud—where shadows of evening never fall—fur they (the redeemed) shall see his face, and "there shall be no night there."
|<< chapter 13||< chapter 1||chapter 15 >||chapter 31 >>|