- CHAPTER XXIII. THE PAST AND THE FUTURE.
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THE PAST AND THE FUTURE.
FOR the next and for several succeeding days, Lilian was busily occupied. She not only gave necessary orders to Bridget and to the little Welsh maiden, who were to compose her domestic staff through the winter, but she performed with her own hands many little offices to which they had been long unaccustomed. When Saturday evening came she was very tired; but her work was done, and she looked round her new abode with thorough satisfaction in the fruit of her labors.
The house stood high, at some distance from the sea—midway it seemed between the waves and the mountains. It was roomy, but old-fashioned, the ceilings were low, the passages dark, the staircase winding, and the chimney-pieces were, one and all, lofty, and elaborately ornamented in the old-fashioned style | | 251 of carving and plaster decorations. On the regular sitting-room, Lilian and Miss Williams had expended their united taste, and their most strenuous exertions. It had looked so gloomy on the night of Mrs. Hope's arrival, that she had despaired of ever imparting to the wide, cheerless apartment, an aspect of warmth and comfort; and she dreaded Basil's first introduction to the dull, lonely mansion, of which he was doomed to be the master.
But it is astonishing what two feminine minds can effect. Busy heads and active hands have, ere now, made the most desolate abodes dwelling-places of brightness, comfort, and even of elegance and luxury; and woman, in her own undoubted sphere, her true and rightful kingdom—home!—may, if she be only gifted with a true-loving heart, and an energetic temperament, accomplish almost anything!—that is, if her efforts be prompted by the pure desire of ministering to the comfort and happiness of those, whom it is her duty and her joy to make her first earthly consideration.
Doing one's utmost for the comfort, gratification, and well-being of one's family, is a very different thing from straining every nerve, occupying every waking moment, and submitting to every kind of shift in the vain endeavor to male a better show in society than one's position and circumstances naturally allow. | | 252 Such efforts are always in the end unsuccessful; they are as futile as the weary labors of the Danaides of classic lore, and they must surely be as weary, as mocking, and as miserable. Standing on tip-toe is an unnatural, and therefore a very painful position, though it does seem to add an inch or two to one's height; walking on stilts also elevates one far above the vulgar crowd, but it is an inconvenient mode of pedestrianization; and yet there are people who stand on tip-toe, or stalk about on stilts (which are sure to give their patrons many a stumble and many a fall) all their lives long. How painful, how wearying, how unsatisfactory it must be!
Very different were Lilian's feelings when, on Saturday evening, she and Miss Williams sat down to a late tea in the room that had been garnished and "redd up" with such exceeding pains. A blazing fire cast a rich glow on the crimson curtains; on the gilt frames of some engravings that had adorned Lilian's own boudoir in her wealthier days, and which were now hung up to make a show, and to enliven the dark panneled walls of the low-ceiled room; and on the dahlias and china-asters which were liberally bestowed in every spare nook. A china-plate of flowers occupied the centre of the tea-table, flanked by bread and butter and dry toast; flowers ornamented the high, antique mantel-piece; vases of flowers were on the | | 253 piano-forte—the small cottage piano, which Mr. Hope had substituted for the grand "Collard and Collard," which had been the pride of poor Lilian's heart; and flowers smiled on distant tables, in the deep window-seats, and everywhere, in short, where they could be comfortably accommodated.
Miss Williams was to remain all night with Lilian; this was the first time of her sleeping in her new abode, and she was not yet accustomed to the idea of three women keeping sole watch and ward in a lonely house, where the roar of the sea and the moan of the mountain wind kept up a continual murmur the night through!
Miss Williams, who would walk anywhere, under any circumstances, and at any hour between dusk and dawn, seemed to Lilian a host in herself; and though Bridget volunteered to clean and load an old gun she saw in the vicarage-pantry, and to shoot any marauder who might make his appearance, her mistress felt greatly relieved when Miss Williams offered herself as companion and body-guard for the Saturday and Sunday nights. On Monday Basil was expected, and every one knows what a sense of protection is afforded by the mere presence of the master of the house.
In the meantime Lilian and Winifred Williams had become very intimate; there is nothing like working together for setting people at their ease, and making | | 254 them understand each other; a week's co-operation in useful hearty labor, is worth more than a year's chatting, dancing, and visiting, for the purpose of bringing heart to heart, those who are to become friends, in the real sense of the word. Lilian had told Miss Williams many of her own errors and shortcomings; she had explained to her that she was no longer the petted, idolized wife of her once devoted husband, but she never blamed Basil, she never said anything that could throw a reflection on his conduct, and she gave herself entire credit for the sad, bitter alienation from him, whom she still loved as passionately and undividedly as on the day when she had plighted to him her maiden faith in the dear old church at Kirby-Brough.
Miss Williams was deeply interested in the sorrowful young wife, and she cried bitterly over the recital of little Basil's death, which Lilian gave with quivering voice and whitened lips and cheeks, never sparing herself, never saying one word in extenuation of her own temper, vanity, and wilfulness, but ending ever with—"I deserved it! I was not fit to train my child: I was a careless, thoughtless, worldly mother, and God took him from me, to dwell among the angels."
"Yes! among the angels," said Miss Williams, wiping away her tears. "In years to come, when | | 255 perhaps you may be brooding anxiously and painfully over the prospects of other children, the thought of this your 'first-born blessing,' safe in the arms of Him who loved the little ones with a great Almighty love, safe from the snares of the world, from the contamination of evil example, from all that darkens the path of so many who are spared to years of maturity the thought of your darling landed safe on the heavenly shore, will give you peace and comfort."
"And when all things here seem so dark," said Lilian, "when fears and cares press heavily upon me, I think of my boy, and Alice, to whom no sorrow, no suspense can evermore come. I think of then in their bright glorious home, standing forever in the presence of their Saviour, and mingling and communing with angels and archangels, and the spirits of just men made perfect; and in looking onward to the time when I—I hope it may be so—when I, too, shall join them in that world of joy; and the way seems shorter and less dreary. Yes! it is a blessed tiling to have some loved ones already in heaven."
"It is," replied Miss Williams; and her thoughts wandered far away, to the last hours of some who were dearer to her than her own life; and now that the pain was past, the yearning void mercifully filled, she felt that it was indeed a blessing to know that of her most precious treasures, nearly all were shining | | 256 like the bright stars of heaven, around the throne of Him Who loved them and gave himself for them. And Lilian murmured half to herself, half to her musing companion;—
Friends out of sight, in faith to muse,
How grows in Paradise our store!"
"Do you know those lines, hiss Williams?"
"I know them well, and I feel the full force of their beauty; the whole poem is replete with strength and sweetness; the last verse is as remarkable for its vigor, as the preceding ones for their soft yet high-toned melody:—
With hearts new-braced and set,
To run untired love's blessed race,
As meet for those who, face to face,
Over the grave their Lord have met.'"
"Love's blessed race!" On that course Lilian had set out; the first trembling steps were taken, and ever and anon, even already, came a transient glimpse of the bright and distant goal. She hoped, she knew, as she advanced on the rough but blessed path, that the glorious towers of her inheritance would rise higher, and show clearer and clearer through the mists of worldly cares and earth-born entanglements. There was but one thing to do; to go | | 257 forwards, always forwards, doing the day's work with a cheerful heart, gathering the wayside flowers with a thankful spirit, and looking ever to Him whose love and mercy first brought her wandering feet into the heavenly road.
"Yes!" she said, turning suddenly to Miss Williams; "I see it all now, I understand that the spiritual life is a conflict, not a hymn, as some French author remarks. I see that heaven is to be won, not dreamed about. He who gave us the grace, the pardon, the remission of our sins, gave us also the work He would have us to do.
"I was reading yesterday the 15th chapter of 1st Corinthians, and I was struck with its conclusion. After a long argument on the resurrection of the body, the Apostle breaks out into a strain of holy triumph—`O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?' But he winds up in the solemn, serene tones which are fittest for a Christian who knows that a task lies before him to be faithfully performed at the bidding, and to the honor and glory of his Master's name—'Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labor is not in vain in the Lord."'
Again they were silent, and Lilian sat gazing fixedly into the glowing embers of the fire. "I am think- | | 258 ing of Monday," she said, at length. "What will Basil think of our new home? Oh, I am afraid—so afraid."
"Do not be afraid, he may take to his altered way of life more kindly than you anticipate. He may—indeed I believe he will—come to bless the day that led him, though unwillingly, to his Welsh home."
"I wish"—and again Lilian stopped.
"You wish what, my dear?"
"I wish, I do earnestly wish I were a better companion for Basil. I think if I lead been different he would not have—he would have cared more about home, he would never have sought these gay companions, whom his father so dislikes. You see I had a curious kind of education. I had some talent, and I learned a little of many things, and because I had read a great many tales, and could quote a great deal of poetry, I thought I possessed a cultivated mind. I found out my mistake when I went to Hopelands. Basil's sisters seemed to know about everything. I soon came to see that he loved literature, the study of languages and science as well as they did; and oh, how mortified, how angry I was, when sometimes he left me to my novels while he and Olivia talked about plants, and sea-weeds, and mosses, and the strata of the earth! And sometimes they talked about old times and old heroes, and they would fetch great, | | 259 heavy books out of the library, and search for what they wanted for hours, and all they talked about was Greek to me, though it did seem very entertaining—and if ever I put in a remark, I was sure to say something absurd, and Olivia would turn to Basil with such a smile and such a look of compassion. Oh, those times were torture to me; but I know I was not patient."
"How old are you, my dear?"
"I shall soon be twenty-two."
"Young enough to do a great deal in the way of mental culture. Suppose you do something in the way of self-education. There are books enough at the vicarage, and you will have sufficient time on your hands after you have attended on your domestic duties. I think study will do you good in every way; do not quite lay aside healthy fiction and poetry, but take it as a dessert to a substantial repast. I know something of botany; we will study it together in the spring; we will begin with the snowdrops. And I can help you in French and German if you choose to go into those languages. I was on the Continent for eight years; in fact, my clear, I was governess in a family who were travelling abroad."
"It will be delightful," said Lilian, with something of her old impetuosity; "and I will not let Basil know what I am about till I am quite a clever woman."
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