- CHAPTER XXIV. THE DARK DAY.
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THE DARK DAY.
THE Sunday passed calmly and pleasantly. It was the last day of the long beautiful autumn. As Lilian and her friend walked home in the afternoon from the English service,they stood on the high, breezy down, watching the bright ripples on the clear green waves, and gazed lovingly and admiringly on the crystal sky, that, unstained by mist or cloud, hung like a dome of pure sapphire over mountain, sea, and shore. Then came sunset; and the mists rose, spirit-like, from the awful bosoms of the solemn mountains. A rosy flush burned on their cold, lonely brows, and lovely tints lighted up old Ocean's quivering breast, as he rolled his silvery waves roundly and smoothly on the rocky shore.
"If to-morrow evening be so fair" said Lilian earnestly, "I am sure Basil cannot fail to be delighted | | 261 with his new home. Those grand hoary mountains, that wide heaving sea, yonder wild rocky dells, waterfall, dashing streams, mists that wear the beauty of a paradisiacal vision!—can there be a scene of more surpassing grandeur and loveliness?"
"It is most beautiful," said Miss Williams; "and the years I have spent in this place by no means diminish the pleasure I experience in watching, from season to season, the beauties that now strike you for the first time. Autumn is certainly the golden age of the mountain-land!"
The evening faded into night, and dark clouds came sailing over the sea; a mighty wind swept the restless waves, and drove the mountain mists into the vales beneath. The morning rose on a changed world. The trees were nearly stripped of their gay foliage; branches were torn from the parent stems; and many tender young shrubs lay prostrate on the ground. The mountains were not to be seen; the heavy, leaden clouds had rolled down their sides almost to the base; and a small, thick rain fell steadily and soakingly. As to the sea, it might be heard thundering on the huge shingles and rocks of the bay; but its troubled waters were shrouded in an impenetrable bluish-grey fog. Lilian looked at the dismal prospect in dismay; and when Bridget came in with the kettle and the coffee, she had to listen to a long tirade against foreign | | 262 countries, where there was summer sunshine one day, and storms fit to scare the witches on the next.
The fire would not burn brightly, the small window panes scarcely admitted the feeble light of the tempestuous morning; the wind roared round the outer walls, howled at the corners, and whistled and sighed like a tormented spirit in the dark passages of the echoing house. What would be Basil's first impression? That was all she thought about. If it had been but calm and bright as on the preceding day, and as it had been ever since she came to Wales! About noon Miss Williams left her; and Lilian, too unsettled to sew, too spiritless to read or study, sat drearily gazing out into the dun, dull depths of fog-land.
She ate her solitary dinner, wondering all the while whether Basil had reached Chester, and whether the train would stay long enough for him to obtain comfortable refreshment. Bridget put the finale to her mistress's discomforture by exclaiming, when she came to remove the dinner things, "Well! it's a shocking day for the master; he'll be sure to think he's got out of the world where other people live!"
Bryndyffryn did, indeed, seem to be a veritable Patmos, uprearing its white, rain-beaten walls, in the midst of a sea of fog. The village beneath, the church-tower, the fishermen's huts under the rocks, and the mighty Penmaenmawr himself, were as com- | | 263 pletely blotted out as though some wicked genie had spirited them away during the night. Lilian felt as if she, Bridget, and the stout Welsh lass, were left alone in an uninhabited land.
Just ere twilight fell, the wind changed, and swept away the leaden mists that had shrouded earth and sea; but the landscape was in no way improved; everything drenched in the ceaseless rain looked black and wild; the mountain sides, for the tops were still invisible, stood out savage, weird and inky; the ravines showed like sable abysses of Tartarus, and the sea, no longer green, glittering and serene, broke on the shore, and dashed and groaned in the caverns of the rocks, as though it would sap the solid foundations of the everlasting hills.
Lilian could only think of one of Tennyson's picture verses, which she remembered reading with Basil long, long ago, when her husband loved her, and called her his own precious " Lily," and when her little babe lay slumbering on her lap.
Alternately she mused on the sweet golden time, that seemed now to belong to another and a fairer life, long since passed away, and repeated to herself—
You seemed to hear them climb and fall,
And roar rock-thwarted under bellowing caves,
Beneath the windy wall."
While Lilian was absorbed in her reverie, there was a lull in the wild tumult of the storm, and, above the heavy booming of the sea, she could discern some little disturbance, quite close at hand. There was a car at the garden gate; a gentleman, well clothed in mufflers and waterproof garments, was stamping on the soaked, mossy gravel, and shaking off the rain, that literally streamed from his person; and there was the roughest and wiriest of Skye terriers, barking with all his might at the fierce gust of wind that, sweeping suddenly down from the mountains, almost carried him off his legs.
The gentleman, the dog, and the luggage were all quite familiar, and Lilian flew into the hall to welcome Basil, who, when the door was opened, looked more like a bad-tempered water-spirit than an affectionate English husband. But Lilian did not perceive his discontented look, and she hastened to bestow the kiss she had been longing to give ever since they parted at the Euston Square Station.
"There, there; that will do, Lilian!" was all the return she met with. Her affectionate demonstrations received only a cold and tardy response. With every nerve trembling, and the tears, in spite of all her efforts, rising in her eyes, she led the way into the parlor. "What place is this?" he asked, impatiently, | | 265 looking round the large, low room with all air of weariness and disgust.
"This is the parlor—the dining-room, I suppose I must call it," replied Lilian, forcing a smile; "rather different from the B——street dining-room, is it not? But still it is a snug room when the curtains are drawn, and the lamp lighted; and when the weather is bright, there is the most delightful prospect!"
Bridget now made her appearance, and carried off the wet coats and plaids, which were ruthlessly cast down on Lilian's pretty, new, crimson table-cloth, which slit flattered herself gave quite a rich tone of coloring to the sombre apartment.
"What a cursed country this is," was the next remark; "every puddle is a lake, every brook is a torrent, and the pathways are quagmires. A man at the Penmaenmawr station tells me it may be Christmas before we see the mountains again; and, as for roads, they are certainly contrived for the sole and express purpose of making beasts tumble and men swear!"
Lilian looked up deprecatingly; his tone was even harsher than his words. She knew from experience that that peculiar voice boded asperity on his part, and discomfort on her own.
"Where are we to dine? What kind of coal do you call this? Have you no idea how to make up a fire that will warm one, after a nine hours' journey on | | 266 such a day as this? I am starved to death, and I have tasted nothing but a biscuit and a little brandy-and-water since I left Euston Square. Why do you not tell me when dinner will be ready?"
A few months ago she would have answered angrily, that he asked questions in such rapid succession as to leave no opportunity for reply; but she was wiser now; both as a Christian woman, and as a prudent wife, she had learned the value of the soft answer that turneth away wrath.
She meekly answered that she had ordered tea and something substantial, thinking it would be more refreshing after his long dismal journey. He turned round sharply after poking the fire so fiercely, that the glowing embers fell on the hearth-rug, and scorched the nose of the Skye terrier, who howled dismally, and was kicked by his master, and sworn at besides.
"Confound your tea! Do you think I am to drink tea at five o'clock in the afternoon, like a country miss, or like babies at a boarding-school? Order dinner immediately, and tell them to be quick about it."
"Tell them," thought Lilian. Oh, poor Basil, you think you still have a thorough staff of servants in your kitchen. If Bridget were not here, I must fulfil your commands myself; my Welsh maid-of-all-work has not the remotest conception of the necessary treatment required for a mutton chop. Then she said, | | 267 good humoredly, " Well! I will have my tea, while you dine. I assure you, I have provided no despicable repast, whether it be called dinner, tea, or supper. Dr. Williams sent me some woodcocks this morning, and Bridget has some excellent way of cooking them; there are mutton chops, too, and cold beef from. yesterday's dinner, to say nothing of ham that is the very best I ever tasted."
"Do you mean to say you have actually dined?"
"Certainly. I dined at one o'clock. I have done so ever since I came to Bryndyffryn. The good people here would be confounded at the bare mention of a six o'clock dinner. I believe Miss Williams and her brother tale their tea at five, and they are certainly the aristocracy of the place!"
"A delightful place, on your own showing, where the clergyman's family does not even conform to civilized customs, but follows in the wake of time peasantry. I tell you what it is, Lilian, I hated the very mention of this place, I hate it more now that I am here, and I will teach Mr. Hope, of Hopelands, that he is not to banish his heir to a savage wilderness with impunity. He shall pay dearly for sending me to this barbarous, wretched nook of Great Britain. Sent out of time way of bad companions, I suppose—sent into retirement to break the naughty boy of his troublesome habits!—the ungovernable beast stinted of his provender, that | | 268 he may be tamed and subdued! Tamed, indeed! they little know me. Look! there is a letter I got yesterday from Theresa's hypocritical, cantina, Puseyite husband, taking advantage of our relationship to say 'a few words of warning to one whom the world and sinful associates have led astray!' A Puseyite, indeed! daring to lecture me! a poor, puling, whining, lackadaisical Puseyite, that is neither fish, flesh, nor fowl. Such a hybrid of Romanisin, and Anglicanism, and schism, and heresy, and dissent without the name, to talk about his priestly authority! But I wrote him a settler last night. I told him there were three things I detested and despised—Birmingham jewelry, goose-berry champagne, and Puseyism.The mean, pitiful, black-coated fellow!"
Basil was silenced by the appearance of his dinner, which he found sad fault with, but which, nevertheless, he seemed to enjoy amazingly. The bottled porter he said was flat, and he deplored the good Burgundy that he had made up his mind to buy, just before "the row" began; still he drank. much more of the abused beverage than his anxious wife liked to see. All the evening he talked on in the same strain, menacing Theresa and her husband, defying his father, and finding extensive fault with the place, the house, the furniture, and the arrangement of things generally. Lilian spoke only to be contradicted and treated as | | 269 an ignorant simpleton; to all her labors, all her thoughts, all her pretty devices seemed thrown away. Nothing pleased Basil; and at last he smoked his cigar in sulky silence, and drank such copious draughts of almost undiluted spirit, that Lilian's heart quailed within her. Poor Lilian! that one week seemed to have made Basil ten times worse than before; she could only be silent, and pray earnestly for better days to come.
She went up to bed with a heavy heart she felt a sickening sense of disappointment as she paused at the landing-window to look out on the night. The clouds had rolled away—the moon and the stars were shining brilliantly in the blue, placid sky. So will the clouds of care and sorrow roll away in God's good time," said Lilian, softly to herself, "and joy and beauty will shine again on the weary heart; but perhaps not in this life. Well! what then? this life is but an atom of time compared with the eternity of the life to come!"
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