- CHAPTER XX. BASIL'S RETURN.
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NEARLY a week had passed since Mr. Hope's visit. Lilian had spent the time very quietly with her needle and her books, not confining her attention as heretofore to one or two branches of literature. She had been wont to peruse nothing but poetry, and the highest kinds of fiction. To do her justice, she never read a common novel, but selected uniformly something of undoubted merit. Charlotte Bronte, Mrs. Marsh, Mrs. Gaskell, and Mrs. Muloch, were her favorite writers in the world of prose; and for poetry, she luxuriated in the pure and nobly beautiful pages of Mrs. He-mans, and poor L. E. L.'s sweet mournful numbers. She liked both Longfellow and Tennyson; but failed to enter into the spirit of the one, or comprehend the other; and she could not read Wordsworth, though | | 219 she had thrice began the "Excursion," and once listened to "Peter Bell." Now Lilian began to perceive that the human mind and soul cannot be nourished exclusively on poetry and first-class novels, any more than the physical nature can be sustained on choice wines and confectionery, without more ordinary aliment. From that auspicious evening, when she sought Alice's Bible, and read the 14th chapter of St. John, she had learned to love and to study the best of books, and many happy hours she spent now in her lonely room, forgetting those things which were behind; forgetting the present, with its load of regret and care, "and reaching forth unto those things which were before."
And from study of the Divine Word, she came to relish human writings of a solid character; and she hunted down from their obscurity, on an upper shelf, Hervey's "Theron and Aspasia," and John Newton's inestimable letters and sermons.
One evening, when the silvery chime of the timepiece had told the hour of ten, she was sitting by the fire, musing on what she had read, wearily wondering when she should hear something of Basil, and abstractedly listening to the moaning of the wind, and the dashing of the rain against the window-panes, when a cab drove up to the door, and bell and knocker were immediately put in violent motion.| | 220
Ere the rapping and tintinnabulation had ceased, Lilian was standing on the landing, anxiously listening to catch the tones of that voice she so ardently longed to hear. Very quickly she was gratified; for, the moment the door was opened, she heard Basil speaking very imperatively to Tom, and bidding him haste to disencumber the cabman of his load of luggage. Then various packages were dragged into the hall; the fare was settled and discharged, and Basil asked if there were lights in the study.
Thither he went to poor Lilian's intense disappointment. She was yearning to see his face, to speak to him, to hold his hand in hers, if no dearer embrace might be permitted; and she would have given much had he sought her, or even encountered her, instead of leaving her to go to him, and perhaps, as he might consider it, intruding upon his privacy. She felt that no time must be lost—that if she did not at once meet him with a wifely welcome, the icy barrier between them must needs be strengthened. He must see, and that immediately, that she, on her part, harbored no displeasure, no lingering resentment; and yet she hesitated; her breath came hard and irregularly; her limbs trembled, and she felt certain that if, at that instant, she encountered him, she must burst into one of those passions of tears which had long been Basil's extreme aversion. There was eau-de-cologne on the | | 221 mantel-piece, and water and a glass on the chiffoniere. She mingled some, and drank it, and then sat down to collect her thoughts, and to ask the Giver of all wisdom to assist her with strength and wisdom for the interview, which had suddenly become so momentous.
Lost in thought and prayer, she might have continued there too long, but the chiming quarters of the clock roused her, and she rose and resolutely left the room.
"Alas!" she murmured to herself, "that to meet my husband should require such an effort; that I should have lived to fear Basil—my own dear Basil!"
She passed down the stairs, and stood before the study door. It was half-open, and she saw him, with a bronzed and bearded face, very different from that he had carried away with him, standing by the table, reading letters. She could not delay; she felt her courage fast failing her, and with a noiseless step she entered the room. He did not hear her, and he tossed away the letter in his hand, with an exclamation of annoyance, and proceeded to break the seal of another, which Lilian shrewdly conjectured was Farlow's bill! He looked up as she came close to him, saying, almost in a whisper, "dear Basil!" and taking his sun-browned hand in her own cold, damp fingers. He | | 222 looked rather surprised, but he slightly returned the pressure, and bestowed on her a kiss, such as Plato might have given his most intimate female friend if he had one. Then he began to speak quickly and indifferently, as though he had left her but an hour before.
"Are you better?—I thought you were not at home—a most miserable night!—equinoctial gales I suppose, but rather early!—Is there a fire anywhere?"
"Yes!—there is something of a fire in the drawing-room, but it has gone low; I was thinking of going to bed when you drove up, but I will order it renewed; and she rang the bell for that purpose. "And you would like some tea, would you not, and something substantial with it?" she added; "there is cold fowl In the house, and excellent ham, that can be broiled directly."
"No!" he answered, shortly, as lie threw down Farlow's bill, with a grimace; "I shall smoke a cigar, and have some brandy-and-water."
"There is a very fine lobster!" Lilian ventured to say; "you used to be fond of lobster. Will you not have it with a cup of tea? I can make some in a minute."
"I hate tea! Women think a cup of tea is the true elixir vitœ, I believe."
He condescended, however, to comply with Lilian's entreaties that he would come to the fire; for the room, | | 223 long disused, felt positively vault-like in the chilly autumnal evening. She began to mix his brandy-and-water, as she had been used to do in those comparatively happy days, when it was a new thing to keep the keys and preside over an establishment, but he abruptly took the decanter from her hands, and pettishly asked her if she expected him to drink cat-lap, no better than her milk-and-water tea. Lilian silently yielded; he was rather surprised that she said nothing; but he guessed from her grave face, how horrified she felt at seeing the contents of the decanter so visibly diminished, and the crystal water-jug still filled to the brim. He lighted a cigar, and began puffing away. Never before had Lilian tamely submitted to the defilement of her pretty carpet and window draperies; no curling wreath of smoke had ever yet risen to that snowy, daintily-moulded ceiling; but now Basil was unrebuked, for his wife's mind was filled with far deeper sources of disquiet. Presently he began—
"Lilian! have you seen my father?"
"Yes, he lunched here last week."
"Well?" and he turned upon her a suspicious and inquisitive look.
"He told me you were in Scotland, and no longer in Norway, as I imagined; and"——she hesitated and colored deeply——"he asked me about our affairs."
"Oh! Then I may thank you, I suppose, for the | | 224 grand epistle I received several days ago, informing me that my iniquities were brought to light, and that I must instantly return home, present myself at Hope-lands, and receive sentence according to my transgressions. What were you pleased to say about our affairs! I did not know we had any remaining, in common."
It was hard to keep back the hot tears and the hysterical sobs that were rising in her throat, with a painful choking sensation, and Lilian had never been accustomed to self-control. But she strove hard now; another strength than her own was given her, and she was able to say, with all outward composure, "I told him of my own household matters. I could not, as you know, tell him anything about you, for I was more ignorant than himself, and had I been in your confidence, I should not have betrayed it, even to your father."
"Well, some one has been kind enough to give him an idea that there are under-currents of whose existence he was blissfully ignorant. Some exemplary individual has opened his eyes to certain proceedings of his heir, that exasperate him beyond all limits; and I am threatened with I know not what penalties, unless I make a clear statement of things in general; and with still worse if, upon examination, I am found guilty of certain practices; I suppose I must go down | | 225 to Hopelands to-morrow. What have you done for money? I have none for you, but you have next to no expenses now!"
"Mr. Hope gave me some money: he was very kind, very kind, indeed."
"Ah! I understand! You have been playing the wronged, deserted wife; left to struggle with fashionable poverty, while her spendthrift rascal of a husband is enjoying all the luxuries and amenities that life can afford—yes, I understand."
"Indeed, Basil," said Lilian, striving hard not to be angry, and battling more than ever with the tears that would rise, and the choking sensation that would not be exercised, "indeed you do not understand. I should not have spoken about money at all, had not Mr. Hope asked me if I kept all my accounts settled regularly; and when I had answered him, he wished to know if I had received from you my half-year's allowance, as the usual sum had been placed to your account three months ago.
"I confessed to him that I had not kept clear of entanglements; that for me I was deeply in debt—debt incurred through the foolish extravagance of the last year, and he was so kind as to give me a sufficient sum to pay all my bills, and set me at ease until you returned home again!"
"Ah! I thought once or twice it was a question | | 226 whether all those fine things were paid for. I fancy if Miss Eleanor had paid her share of your milliner's bills they would have been somewhat lessened. However, as the governor has obligingly settled the matter, I don't care a pin about it. I dare say you wish now you had had twice as many, and twice as costly things!"
"No indeed!" replied Lilian, much shocked, and really astonished at the tone her husband had taken.
"I was overwhelmed with shame when he put the money in my hand, and I made a solemn covenant with myself never, from that moment, to buy or order a single thin; for which I had not the money to pay."
"You will buy very few things then, I can tell you, Unless, indeed, Mr. Hope should make you a separate allowance; for I fully expect when he knows, as he must know, the full extent of my pecadilloes, he will put me upon short commons; he has already hinted, in that nice paternal epistle I spoke of, at all ungovernable beast being stinted in his provender."
Lilian was silent. Basil's tone and reckless manner distressed her exceedingly. There was a sort of vogue la galere air about him, that boded the very reverse of peace, comfort, and confidence; and she feared the result of his interview with his inflexible and displeased parent, for it was evident there would be no leaning towards compromise on either side.| | 227
"How stupid you look!" said Basil, as he poured out a further supply of brandy, and very slightly diluted it with aqua pura; "why don't you go to bed? You are as white as Mrs. Eve up there, under the glass case. I shall smoke half-a-dozen cigars yet; don't think of waiting for me—I can do very well without company; and you really do not seem to have any valuable suggestions to offer, so I shall give myself up to solitary meditation, on the best way of shirking or encountering the tempest that is brewing at Hopelands."
Lilian rose to go; but before she left the room, she remarked that she supposed he had done with the brandy, and she had better lock it up.
"Never mind that," he replied, laughing loudly; 'I will take care no temptation is left in the way of the servants; if there is any remaining, I will stow it away; so go to bed in peace, Mrs. Thrifty!"
"Any remaining! Oh, Basil! if you drink all the brandy in that decanter, it will kill you!"
"Kill me!"—I am not so easily killed, I assure You; why, you silly creature, there is not more than a wine-glassful left."
"That is because you have already taken so much; you are not yourself now; there is more than you say, and you shall not have it. Forgive me, Basil; but I love you too dearly to let you commit suicide, or, | | 228 if not that, to disgrace yourself the very first night of your return; you will be glad to-morrow that I would not let you do it."
"You would not let me do it. Things are come to a pretty pass when a man is obliged to submit to his wife's government. You are strangely altered, Lilian, since I went away."
"I am altered, thank God," said Lilian, sadly, taking up the decanter as she spoke. Basil gazed at her in stupid wonder; he did not attempt to hinder her; perhaps he could not, his large potations were beginning to take effect. He watched her out of the room, and then closed his eyes and fell into a heavy slumber. He did not awake till the morning light was shining with a sickly yellow gleam upon his face. His head ached, his hands burned, his throat and tongue were parched as with fever, and his memory was confused. He was in no enviable condition, and quite unfitted for his journey to Hopelands. To go to bed was out of the question, and he really thought if he could be privately pumped upon, it would be a very refreshing operation.
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