- CHAPTER XXVII. LOST OR STRAYED.
|<< chapter 26||< chapter 1||chapter 28 >||chapter 31 >>|
LOST OR STRAYED.
TIME passed on; the twins grew and prospered. They were still pale, small children; but as the months rolled away, their little limbs became rounder and firmer; they cried less, and crowed and laughed more; and they cut their first teeth with less than the usual amount of suffering and noise. They had scarcely passed their first birth-day, when a little sister, who was called Maude, made her appearance, and she had just learned to run alone, when Lilian became once more the mother of a son.
Bridget did not leave Bryndyffryn; indeed, what Lilian would have done without her seemed incomprehensible. The Welsh maiden, who so exasperated Basil by her lack of culinary genius, was married to Dr. Williams' footboy! and a new specimen of | | 293 Cambrian femininity had taken her place in the small household. Henceforth, potatoes could he boiled without the interference of Bridget, who was always in request in the nursery. After a few lessons, the cloth could be laid, and the hearth swept up by Nest, without more than an average number of disasters; but her temper was something quite terrible. She was easily offended, and with difficulty appeased; and after a storm, there was generally a lit of sullenness, which time only had the power to dispel.
Bridget was everything to Lilian—friend, servant, companion, all but confidante. Cooking the master's dinner, nursing the babies, tending her mistress through her confinements, with all the sagacity of an experienced monthly nurse, dressing and working for the twins, taking a turn at gardening—all came in her way; and as she curtly said to Nest, in reply to her declaration that "she would not be nurse, and lady's maid, and cook, and gardener all in one"—" It was no matter what honest work anybody did, it all went into the day's labor, and counted up respectably when night came."
No one but Bridget knew what a difficult and weary task keeping house at Bryndyffryn had come to be. Expenses had greatly augmented, and though Basil's allowance had been increased, the sum entrusted to Lilian for domestic purposes was disagreea- | | 294 bly small. How she learned to contrive frocks for the little girls—how little she cared about new things for herself—how she managed to dine, day after day, upon remnants, when Basil was from home, as now frequently happened, was a mystery. Little had Lilian imagined the time would ever come when a dish of trout, a basket of apples from the vicarage, or a brace of birds in the shooting season, would be hailed with thankfulness as a valuable present. True, Basil was constantly going out with his rod and with his rifle; but few and far between were the additions he made to his wife's economical larder.
One bright summer afternoon, Lilian sat in the large parlor, busily plying her needle; the baby was crowing in Bridget's arms; Miss Maude was crawling about on the floor; and the twins were busily occupied in putting their dolls to bed. Lilian was still beautiful and graceful, but she was greatly changed since the days when Eleanor was her guest. She looked much older; she was very thin and pale, and there was a sorrowful, careworn expression on her face, that would have touched even the proud Olivia had she seen it. Her dress, too, was so unlike the elegant array of Mrs. Hope in her fashionable days—a print-dress, a plain muslin collar, fastened with an antiquated brooch, that had once been her mother's, and a dark serviceable apron was her afternoon cos- | | 295 tume. Still, the simple, inexpensive dress fitted perfectly; the color, a pretty pink, looked fresh, and in keeping with the bright summer day; the unembroidered collar was of snowy purity, though not quite so smooth as it might have been, had there been no little arms to wind lovingly round mamma's neck, no baby hands to snatch at all that presented itself. The dark braids of her hair were, however, carefully arranged, and in the heavy plaits behind, the twins had succeeded in fastening a beautiful white rose. No one could fail to recognize in Lilian, the lady and the pure-minded woman; and though the furniture of the large, low parlor was much the worse for nearly four years' wear and tear, nothing was visible to betray the careless mother and the untidy mistress. Everything bore witness to extreme purity and painstaking, and at the same time, alas! to most painful economy.
"Shall I go and get tea, ma'am, and see to the fowl for master's dinner?" asked Bridget, when the clock struck five.
"No, thank you, Bridget. I think I will get tea myself; it will be a, change. I am so tired of sitting still, and I have quite finished Maude's frock."
"Nest ought to get the tea, or else take the child," said Bridget crossly; "but she's just in one of her worst tantrums, and I know she would break the cups | | 296 and saucers, or drop the child if she had him. Bless the beautiful boy, Bridget's own darling!"
And so Lilian went into the kitchen and made ready the tea, and saw that all was ready for her husband when he should return from his fishing expedition.
"Master said he should be back early," said Bridget, when the tea was over. "If you please, ma'am, I will wash and undress Miss Maude, while you get master baby to sleep."
But Miss Maude was her papa's own daughter, and made violent opposition when required to do anything against her own wishes; and baby, who was sinking to repose, under the soothing influence of his mamma's sweet lullaby, began to remonstrate on being disturbed, and the twins tumbled over each other, and began to cry in concert; so that for the next hour, there was little tranquility at Bryndyffryn, and Lilian was only too thankful that Basil did not keep his word, and come home to what he was wont to stigmatize as" Babel and Bedlam combined."
But at length peace was restored; the belligerent little Maude sobbed herself to sleep; the twins forgot their grievances, and baby was content to lie quietly on Bridget's lap and be rocked, with his blue eyes wide open. Then Lilian perceived that the brightness of the long summer day was fading, and the sun had | | 297 gone down, leaving the sea all flushed and golden; the hoary head of Penmaenmawr glowed in the ruddy sunset light, and the air was heavy with the fragrance of wild honeysuckle and feathery meadow-sweet.
Lilian went into her garden, and from the garden into the green-lane. She began to wish that Basil would come home; used as she was to his irregular absences, and to his wild fishing expeditions, she never felt quite easy, when, as too frequently happened, his return was deferred from hour to hour, and the promise of being home to dinner or tea, as the case might be, was carelessly and thoughtlessly broken. Lilian's painful, prolonged discipline had done and was doing its appointed work; but it had in no degree chilled the earnest, passionate love she bore her erring, wayward husband. To be loved, even as she herself loved, was her brightest earthly dream. For this she prayed, and waited, and toiled: sometimes hoping the day of reward was at hand, but oftener bowing her head in meek submission to the weary lot that seemed to grow darker and lonelier day by day.
True, she had her children, and they were poor Lilian's treasures; their innocent love, their pretty, childish ways, and their baby caresses, were the solace of many a sad, anxious hour; but they could not compensate for the void left by their father's coldness and selfishness; she was not one of those women | | 298 who sink the wife in the mother; her husband was ever the first and the dearest; and, without his love, nothing earthly could make her happy. Well it was that her highest hopes were fixed where the poor human heart is secure from disappointment. On this particular evening, she felt very weary and dispirited. The friends with whom Basil was so intimate, she knew full well, were those who were under the ban of his estranged father; they were profligate, unscrupulous men of the world, deriding all morality, mocking at the semblance of religion, and alike careless of their well-being in this world and the next. She knew that they were gamblers, Sabbath-breakers, swearers, and seducers of the young and innocent; and she knew also, that in all their schemes, all their sinful amusements, they sought to associate her husband! Poor lonely Lilian! she did not reason with him, for she knew it was useless; opposition, even of the mildest kind, would only make him more resolute; he had learned now to deprecate above all things the being supposed to be under the influence of his wife. She could only pray, and try to make his home as attractive as possible, and therefore she ever met him with a smile. Let her resources be what they might, she always contrived that his table should be well served, and that the children should not annoy him more than could possibly be avoided; | | 299 but all in vain: he spent less and less time with his family; and one day he put the climax to Bridget's indignation by inquiring which of the twins was Harriet, and which Clara; averring that he had not a notion how old they were, and that he should not know the baby from any other child, were he placed in a row of brats, all squalling and wriggling about like himself. Lilian had nearly reached the end of the lane, when she heard the tramp of horses' feet beating the soft turf of the heath. She turned back—for, relying on the loneliness of the place, she had not even put on her bonnet, never expecting to meet any one, unless it were a herd boy or a fisherman taking the short cut to Aber. Presently the rider came near—and, instead of passing the end of the lane, as she expected, turned up the winding rocky path, so seldom used by equestrians, unless about to visit Bryndyffryn.
"Good evening, Mrs. Hope," said a voice close to her—a voice she both knew and disliked—" a beautiful evening, is it not? Rather too bright though for fishing. I suppose Basil has told you what a day's sport we made of it yesterday; we killed two trout apiece, that were so small we threw them away!"
Lilian looked her perplexity. Captain Leavers went on. "Is he at home?—Is Mr. Hope in just now?"| | 300
"Mr. Hope leas not yet returned," replied Lilian. I thought, Captain Leavers, you and he were fishing together. I expect my husband every moment; I walked up the lane to look for him."
"We were fishing together in the Capel-Curig lakes yesterday," returned Captain Leavers with emphasis; Hope grew tired of bad sport, and seemed rather sulky and tired of our company, for Daubeny was with us; he said he would go home by way of Nant Ffrancon, and perhaps throw a line in Ogwen or Idwal; while Daubeny and I went down by Llyn Gynant and Llyn-y-Dinas to Beddgclert; but we changed our minds and stayed at Capel-Curig all night, and I came here to ask Hope to go with us to Beanmaris to-morrow."
"Where can Mr. Hope be?" said Lilian, apprehensively. "Captain Leavers, when did he leave you at Capel-Curig?"
"Yesterday, at three o'clock in the afternoon, and I know he intended to be at home that night."
"He might, certainly, but I do not think it likely. Mrs. Hope, if the truant do not return to-morrow you must raise a hue and cry. Well!—I must go now, it is growing late, and I have a long ride before me. Good night."
Lilian stood still, and listened to the last sounds of his horse's feet, then she went into the house and | | 301 told Bridget how much site was alarmed for her husband's safety. Nest was in the kitchen, and sloe immediately exclaimed, "I dare say the master has gone up Carned Llewellyn and fallen down a precipice and got killed."
Lilian turned very pale, and shuddered; and Bridget turned round upon the unscrupulous Nest, and fiercely bid her hold her foolish tongue. "No fear!" she said, stoutly; "the master was never to be depended upon; she knew he'd come walking in before they event to bed, and want his supper, and they'd better see about getting it ready!"
And she was as good as her word, and laid the tray in the parlor, but no master came; nine, ten, eleven o'clock, and midnight struck, and no Basil! Lilian brew rigid with fear; she sat at an upper window where she could see the windings of the road, and looked out on the soft moonlight over the silvery sea, and along the dins wavy line of dark mountains, till her eyes were weary and her heart was faint within her. The church clock tolled one; slowly another hour passed; two o'clock sounded over the quiet valley and along the lonely shore whence the tide had receded to the furthest. The 'short summer night was over—the dawn broke—the birds began their singing, and then Lilian rose from her seat and sought Bridget. She had taken her resolution; she | | 302 would go herself that instant and seek her husband. Bridget tried to dissuade her but in vain; she hurried oil her shawl and bonnet, and ere the red light had flushed the cold grey brow of Penmaenmawr, Lilian left the house, and set out on her lonely, anxious journey.
|<< chapter 26||< chapter 1||chapter 28 >||chapter 31 >>|