- CHAPTER XXVIII. AMONG THE MOUNTAINS.
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AMONG THE MOUNTAINS.
OVER the heath, through the bowery lane, past the old slate quarry, and up the steep, rocky hill, Lilian went her way. She never hesitated about the path; a strange instinct led her on; and when the bright morning sun shone on the sea, she had reached the road which led straight to Bethesda.
A countryman was driving his cart at a quick pace, and as he came up to Lilian he bade her good morning in Welsh. She knew enough of the language now to return the salutation, and to ask him to give her a ride as far as he was going on the road to Ogwen. The man looked surprised, but he instantly drew up his horse and assisted the lady into the cart. The fresh morning air fanned Lilian's feverish checks, and the rest was welcome after her long and arduous journey | | 304 over a rough and hilly road, but she felt little inclined to converse; indeed, her knowledge of Welsh was about equivalent to a school-girl's French—quite unavailable for anything beyond mere interlocutory purposes. But presently she discovered that her charioteer spoke a kind of English, and she began to make inquiries touching the Nant Ffrancon pass, and to ask the nature of the ground above the Falls of the Ogwen.
"It was a queer, wild place," the man assured her; "and up about Idwal there were precipices enough to scare one. There was one place called the 'Devil's Kitchen,' where nobody could go; and if anybody ever did go, they could never get out again; except one man, who was Bishop of Bangor, thousands of years ago, and he lived in it to hide himself, and the devil helped him because he was one of his own sort."
He rambled on with many curious legends, imperfectly recollected, well garnished with the supernatural, and abounding in anachronisms; but his anxious auditor only half comprehended the purport of his words; and while he dilated on the horrors of the Devil's Kitchen, where the foul fiend howled and roared in stormy weather, and sent forth black sulphurous vapors, to the confusion and destruction of unhappy travellers, she had a horrible vision of basil stretched lifeless at the bottom of the fearful abyss.| | 305
All Bethesda was up and doing when they reached this busy, untidy-looking village. The miners were at work in the slate-quarries; the women were exchanging the compliments of the day in the dusty, irregular street, and discoursing with that vehemence and power of lung peculiar to the females of the Principality; and children by the score were screaming and quarrelling on every side. Everywhere slate was to be seen; houses built of slate, palings of slate, pavements of slate, horse-troughs of slate; divers little ornaments of slate, vended by the juvenile Bethesdians to all strangers who might wish to carry away mementoes of a slate world; and all around and everywhere slate hills—plains, galleries, valleys, tramways, all of unadulterated slate; to say nothing of heaps of refuse slate that had risen and risen, till a Lowlander might have taken them for mountains; the very dust of Bethesda was powdered slate! All this Lilian saw like one in a miserable dream; afterwards she remembered it well, though at the time she scarcely seemed to see anything but the wild dark mountains that rose like an impenetrable wall before her.
At length the cart stopped at a cottage on the roadside. Evan Williams was going no further. Lilian by this time was well shaken, and glad to find herself on her feet again; she was only two miles now from | | 306 the Falls of Ogwen, and once more she set forth with undiminished ardor; and she inquired at the principal inns at Bethesda if Basil were there, or had been seen there, but no such person had made his appearance, and one man said, that as he came from Capel-Curig the day before yesterday, he had seen a tall gentleman, who wore a brown felt hat, go up towards Idwal, with his rod in his hand and his fishing-basket oil his back; but there were many gentlemen who wore brown felt hats, and carried fishing-rods at that season of the year, though few went up the wild lonely pass, to the black solitary pool of Idwal. On, by the banks of the dashing Ogwen, Lilian took her way; her path now seemed Hemmed in by mountains, and no wayfarers met her, as she pursued her lonely road. At length she reached the famous bridge, and the waters of Llyn Ogwen were glittering in the sunshine; she was glad to see a house, and men standing about, as if preparing for fishing. She went to them and inquired if any one like her husband had passed that way.
"Yes!" the gatekeeper replied; "he knew Mr. Hope. He often hired his boat to fish on the lake; and he had passed through, on the evening of the day before yesterday; he believed he went up the mountains towards Llyn Idwal. He hoped nothing had | | 307 happened; he might be at Bethesda, trying for salmon in the river.
Lilian assured the man she had made all inquiries at Bethesda, and felt satisfied that he had not been there for more than three weeks.
The gatekeeper looked grave, and the two gentlemen who were adjusting their tackle, declared that they would abandon their row on the lake, and go with Lilian up the pass to assist her in her search. She thankfully accepted their proposal, and with many directions from the gatekeeper they set out on their exepedition; the two gentlemen, fresh and vigorous after a night's repose; Lilian, insensible to fatigue, and inspired by a spirit that bade defiance to the weakness and the natural shrinking of her womanhood. As they went on the scenery grew wilder; it was first savage, then awful; the high mountains shut out the sun that never penetrated those solitary fastnesses, and the roar of a mountain torrent, speeding madly from rock to rock in cataracts of sable water and snowy foam, deadened every other sound. They came at length to Llyn Idwal; still, and inky from the deep shadow in which it lay, and girt about with rocks, inaccessible Heights, and precipices that made the braid dizzy and the senses waver. At the head of the lake among the black slag and huge stones that covered the shore lay a broken landing-net. Lilian instantly | | 308 recognized her own work, and further on was an empty brandy-flask that bore Basil's own initials. Certain now that Basil was not far off, and yet terrified at the idea of finding him she knew not in what fearful state, the agony of suspense became unendurable, and breathlessly she sped from point to point, at a pace which tried her companions to the utmost. At last she came to a broad smooth ledge of rock, almost on a line with the Devil's Kitchen. From thence the mountain shelved abruptly down, for about twenty feet, to a little lonely tarn, on whose dark embosomed waters, sun, moon, or stars never shone. On the very brink of the lyn, but overshadowed by a huge mass of fallen rock that had toppled some time or other from the heights above, lay the object of her search. She could not speak; she only beckoned her companions, and pointed to the hollow beneath. The elder gentleman, Mr. Hughes, shuddered when he saw the prostrate form of the unfortunate man, and then he looked on the white, woe-stricken face of the anxious wife. He turned to his friend: "Braithwaite! we must have further assistance; go you down to the gatehouse and bring what men you can muster, and some rope, and our alpenstocks; there are few mountaineers who would try that path I fancy!"
Mr. Braithwaite leaped from the rock, and sped down the rugged path; he was soon out of sight. Mr. | | 309 Hughes took out his flask and poured some wine, which he bade Lilian drink; but she sat on the brink of the steep slope, measuring the depth with her eye, and summoning her strength and shill to make the descent.
"My dear madam!" said Mr. Hughes, kindly and firmly, it is impossible! you cannot and you shall not stir; even if you could manage to get down, at the risk of breaking your neck, you would only increase our difficulties. And you must take some refreshment: you have only mortal strength; and all your fortitude and energies will be needed when we succeed in extricating your husband from his unfortunate position." Thus reasoned with, Lilian obeyed; but the minutes seemed like hours before Mr. Braithwaite returned with three strong men, a coil of rope, and other necessaries. It was an arduous task, but the men were successful; and in a few minutes Basil was brought safely to Lilian's side; at least, his insensible form was placed there, and so deathlike was the trance in which he lay that all those who surrounded him feared greatly that life was extinct.
He was carried to the gatehouse; and after a while there were symptoms of restored animation; and then Lilian begged to be allowed to make use of a carriage, that was accidentally waiting at the head of the | | 310 lake, for a party who had gone on by another conveyance.
It was late in the evening before she reached Bryndyffryn, and there she found Dr. and Miss Williams and Bridget a prey to the most miserable suspense. Mr. Hughes had kindly accompanied her; indeed, it would have been heartless to allow her to take the miserable journey without assistance; for Basil, although he breathed and occasionally uttered a low moan of pain, lay in a kind of stupor, without motion, speech, or consciousness.
How far he was injured she could not tell; although she had stopped at Bethesda, in order to seek medical aid, none was forthcoming; the Esculapius of the place having departed early in the morning to visit a patient at Llandegai. Dr. Williams, however, lead foreseen the possible urgency of the case, and Lilian's regular attendant was ready to obey Bridget's hasty summons.
He shook his head gravely when he had examined his patient, and stated his conviction that he had fallen with so great a violence as to render his continued existence little short of a miracle; besides which, he conjectured that he had laid in the hollow for many hours, and then consequently exposed to the night-dews in a spot that was chilly in the most sultry weather. Mr. Owen seemed greatly alarmed, and he | | 311 immediately proposed sending to Bangor for further advice, adding, that in so serious a case, he hesitated to take upon himself the entire responsibility.
For more than a fortnight Basil lay between life and death; fever supervened, delirium naturally ensued, and mournful were the revelations poor Lilian was doomed to receive from the lips of the man she loved so well—from lips, too, that seemed about to close in death—lips that would soon tremble and grow pale beneath the icy hand of the great Spoiler!
Oh! the hours of agony, the anguished prayers that were poured forth till wearied nature could sustain no more!—the watchings, the hopings against hope, the sickening fears, the cold nerveless despair that weighed down poor Lilian to the very dust! The children were all sent to the vicarage; how they fared their mother could not guess, for Bridget was too valuable to be spared from the stricken household; but in her one awful trial, her one great agony and dread, all minor difficulties were thrust aside. Even her children occupied her thoughts but little whilst she stood by the bed of their father—of her own husband, to whom she had given her maiden heart and her maiden vows, and who had ever, through all things, been the first object of her strong, true woman's love. She seemed nerved with a supernatural strength, she was never tired, never weary with days of anguish | | 312 and nights of watchings. Miss Williams and Bridget were always at hand to proffer their assistance; and, indeed, without their continual aid, Lilian must have, given way from her inability to preserve herself from sinking into a state of utter prostration; but still she was from the first to the last, the guiding spirit of the sick-room—always prompt, always foreseeing, always alive to the minutest change, and ready for any emergency that might occur. Calm, too, even when her sorrow was greatest, and patient under ever pang of disappointment, Miss Williams wondered greatly at the young wife's composure and devotion. She had long since learned to appreciate Lilian; but till this season of dark and bitter affliction, she never fully comprehended—
A woman might be made."
On the third day of Basil's illness, Lilian wrote to her father-in-law, telling him of the mournful state to which his son was reduced, and begging him to come to Bryndyffryn without any delay. The letter remained unanswered, and Lilian felt that she and Basil were deserted. She did not know that Mr. and Mrs. Hope, with their daughter Olivia (Harriet and Mary had followed Theresa's example and married, the one a fashionable baronet, and the other a country gentleman of large fortune and ancient family,) she did not | | 313 know that they were in Baden-Baden, whither their letters were irregularly forwarded. Day by day the clouds gathered blackness. Lilian thought the extremity of human sorrow was to be her portion; but the darkest hours precede the dawn. "When need is highest, help is nighest;" and the time of man's extremity is frequently the appointed time when God will bid his helpless children stand still and see the salvation of the Lord.
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