- CHAPTER XXXI. THE OLD HAUNTS.
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THE OLD HAUNTS.
WHAT are you doing there, Lily; I have been seeking you for the last half hour?"
I am watching the sun set, and predicting a most beautiful day for our wedding to-morrow. Come up the mound, Basil, and look at that fiery globe sinking down behind the distant Cheddars. I do not like the idea of a bloomy wedding-day. I hold as superstitiously as ever to the old distich—
"If I remember aright, my Lilly, our wedding-day was all showers and sunshine. One moment clouds, that seemed to threaten waterspouts, darkened the hills, and the next the whole scene was lost in a flood of dazzling light. Well! so far, our married life has | | 337 been strictly in keeping with the aspect of that day; only my poor patient, trusting Lily, I am afraid there has been an undue preponderance of storm and darkness!"
"But, Basil, remember how the day brightened after we left Kirby-Brough! Towards noon, the rainclouds rolled away, and the warm sun shone out in the blue sky; the afternoon was beautiful, and the evening was so calm, and soft, and cloudless! We did not know night was come till we saw the stars gathering over those dusky purple moors."
"And so, Lilian, I trust it will be with us. May the evening of our life be as calm and fair as that sweet spring evening, more than seven years ago. Seven years! Why, Lily, we have served an apprenticeship to each other."
"I believe, Basil, all people, some time or other, serve an apprenticeship; but then some are idle and wilful and will not learn their business, and so the years pass on, and leave them scarcely wiser than at the outset."
"I remember standing here with you, Lilian, just seven years ago, on just such an evening. Theresa had left us to go to the week-day service, and Olivia and Mary were botanizing in the wilderness yonder!"
"But with such very different feelings, Basil. "We had neither of us learnt one of life's great lessons | | 338 then. Discipline was only just touching me with its iron hand. I knew so little of the wife's duties, and nothing of the wife's trials. And more than all, I knew nothing of the way to heaven. I had not learned to know that life is a journey beset with cares and dangers, and the world beyond a rest; or, if I did know it in a poetical sort of way, I did not feel it. Like the Athenians, I worshipped an unknown God. I did not know my Saviour; I did not recognize his love and his mercy. The wonderful scheme of Redemption was to me like the sounds of a beautiful foreign language. Thank God who has given us light, and life, and joy, in his dear Son!"
"Thank God," said Basil, reverentially.
Lilian and Basil were no longer at Bryndyffryn. As they stood on the grassy mound, with the green leaves waving around and above them, the sunset-light fell not on rock, or sea, or mountain. The rich woods and glades of Hopelands lay stretched before them in the solemn radiance of eventide. The tall trees, in whose umbrageous arms Basil had watched the rooks building their nests, when his nursemaid ran behind him, in the shady walks of the park, were making their rustling music around him now; and the merry voices of his own little daughters—Miss Maude's considerably above the others—made the old pleasant haunts of the woods echo again. There was the old | | 339 mansion, the heavy stone gables, the terrace where Henrietta Maria had walked with the few faithful friends who yet dared to compose her fugitive court; the stately avenue, whose aged trees had, in their youth, seen men-at-arms ride forth with the red rose on their helmets, to strike yet another and another blow for the fallen fortunes of "the meek usurper!"
There was the wide, velvety lawn, the grey, mossy dial in its midst; there was the matchless rose-garden, planned by an ancestress in the reign of Queen Anne; and the beautiful aviary, the pet scheme of Basil's own mother; there was the lake, where he had narrowly escaped drowning, when launching, long, long ago, an armada of fairy ships of his own construction; and right across the park, almost shrouded in ivy, and embosomed amid the large oak-trees, stood the little, deserted chapel, the mausoleum of his race, and the quiet resting-place of his first-born son.
He had left Hopelands, after the necessary explanations with his father, a reckless, angry man, setting at defiance parental rule and maternal regrets, forced reluctantly into exile, regardless of the claims of a loving, self-contemning wife, and determined upon seeking by fair or evil means, his own pleasure, and if possible, his own revenge.
Alas, those wasted years at Bryndyffryn, spent in the companionship of those whom he called friends— | | 340 whom he now knew to be his direst foes—in the pursuit of all kinds of injurious and sinful excitement, in the pernicious indulgences of the table, in days of idleness, weariness, and puerile amusements, and in nights of riotous revelling and intemperate folly; and the while, Lilian, in her sea-side home, struggling alone with sickness and weariness, and a sorely chastened heart—striving, with painful economy, to meet the expenses of her little household, and to bring up her children to love and reverence their father, and yet to serve the Lord in the days of their youth!
And now—now God, in his infinite mercy, had so overruled all the trials and sorrows of the way, that the callous heart was softened, the heavy chains of sinful habit, were broken, and the world-hardened man of pleasure was standing once more on his own ancestral domains, humble and contrite in heart; restored to the wife who loved him so well; reconciled to his earthly parents, and brought into the great family of those who serve their Heavenly Father before they go to reign with Him in the mansions of the redeemed.
Surely, there is no transformation so wonderful as that which takes place when one who has dwelt long and securely in the darkness of this world is awakened to a sense of sin, is brought to see the Source of all pardon and all peace, and learns to know the sweetness and the blessedness of reconciliation with God, | | 341 through Jesus Christ, his Son!—no alchemy so mysterious as that which transmutes the careless worldling into the bumble, happy believer!
The wedding of which Lilian has spoken was to take place next day. Olivia was to be married to one well calculated to make her a happy wife; and little had Lilian once imagined that the time would ever come when a separation from her clever, and once haughty, sister-in-law would be fraught with so much sincere regret. But, for very selfishness, Lilian could have earnestly hoped that Olivia was fated to be the old-maid aunt of the family.
Presently Basil and his wife were joined by Mr. and Mrs. Hope and Olivia herself. They were rather grave; for the last of the daughters of the house was on the eve of leaving it for another and a dearer home Olivia had some final directions to give respecting her poor people and her flower-garden; and as she concluded, she said, "But I need not trouble myself, Lilian, I leave them all to you: henceforward you will be the only daughter at home. Mary's domestic cares, poor Tessie's schools and chanting, and my old women and flowers will all devolve upon you!"
"Yes," said Mrs. Hope earnestly, "It is an unspeakable comfort to think Lilian is Mrs. and not a Miss Hope. She will always be with us; always at home at Hopelands, always at hand to take my place, | | 342 and to enact the lady of the house; for I am growing too old for my dignities, and it was the dream of days long past, that in my old age I should abdicate, and Basil's wife should reign in my stead.
"No, no! mamma," said Lilian, smiling through her tears," I will be Princess Royal, or Regent, or anything you please, but you must be Queen of dear old Hopelands as long as you live."
"Nominal sovereign, if you like, my dear," replied Mrs. Hope, "but the administrative power must lie in your hands. I trust and believe that Hopelands will thrive better under your government than under mine."
Lilian shook her head, and the two strolled away under the shadow of the wide-spreading oak-trees. When they were quite alone, Mrs. Hope said anxiously, "Lilian, my dear, I am afraid you and Basil have not quite made up your minds about living here entirely, as we so much wish; I am afraid you cannot forget all the unkindness you encountered during your first residence at Hopelands. Though you forgive me, I can never forgive myself for so wilfully misunderstanding you; and, above all, I shall never cease to reproach myself with my unkind conduct towards you when we met at Windsor."
"Don't speak of it!" cried Lilian, vehemently, "I deserved all that I then endured. Perhaps, when | | 343 I first came among you, I merited a little more tenderness and consideration; but, even then, the faults on my side were manifold. I was so exacting toward Basil, so childishly angry with all around me, so ridiculously jealous for the honor of the dear old home in Yorkshire; and then afterwards, when we lived in town, my conduct was more blameable than you can imagine. My worldiness, extravagance, and temper were enough to alienate any husband; and when we came to open war, I never thought of yielding; my only anxiety was to preserve intact what I foolishly called my rights and my dignity. The punishment came in due time; and now I can thank God from all my heart for all my trials—for the whole of my painful but most necessary discipline."
"And you will stay with us," interposed Mrs. Hope, again. "I will never interfere with the children, and grandpapa will only spoil that saucy Maude a little! And as soon as ever you come back from your little expedition to "Windsor, you must invite Elizabeth and Susan to pay you a long visit."
"And Basil and I think of visiting Kirby-Brough next spring, and staying a long while with Elizabeth after Susan's marriage. Dear little Susie! to think she is going to be the squire's lady! But Eleanor, poor thing! I wonder when we shall hear from her. How cruelly that man deceived her. What a wretched | | 344 miserable marriage she made. Poor Eleanor; she loved rank and position so much, and she thought she achieved all she wished when she gave herself to that unscrupulous adventurer. And then to think he had to fly the country, and go gold-digging in California!"
"My dear, it is a sad affair; but you ought to be thankful he married her at all. He was just the man to deceive a rash imprudent girl by a false ceremony; and the clandestine way in which everything was carried on, gave every opportunity for treachery. Though her conduct was highly censurable and unbecoming, no shame, as the world holds it, attaches itself to her name. That is a comfort!"
"An unspeakable comfort!" said Lilian, emphatically: "and some day she may come back again to be happy amongst us."
Mrs. Hope did not reply: she believed that Eleanor's restless, ambitious nature could never be really happy.
A few days after this conversation, Basil and his wife paid their projected visit to Windsor. Mr. Brookes had become very infirm, and as he told Lilian, he was ready and waiting for the Master's summons. He was delighted to see her, and her husband and children, and Bridget also, who was now installed housekeeper at Hopelands, and who accompanied her master and mistress to the lodge. Once more Lilian, | | 345 trod the glades of Windsor Forest; once again she stood in the pleasant room where Alice had resigned this mortal life; and again, when the evening lamp was lit, she sat down with her venerable host, and read aloud that precious chapter of St. John's Gospel, that had first breathed peace and joy into her weary sin-laden soul. It was Basil's favorite chapter now, and Bridget loved it too. As for Mr. Brookes, it had been his unfailing treasure for many, many long years ; and it was sweeter and richer than ever now that he stood at the entrance of the dark valley, waiting day by day to be called to descend through its cold shadows to the banks of Jordan. He was come to the borderlands; and, "Let not your heart be troubled," and "In my Father's house are many mansions," was music to his ears that were dulling now to all earthly sounds. So the little group assembled for their evening worship were filled with peace and joy unspeakable.
Once more Lilian went across the park to the grey, old church, beneath whose peaceful shadow Alice Rayner lay at rest. Flowers were blooming now on her quiet grave ; wild thyme was clustering round the humble head-stone, and the sweet singing of birds, and the rippling of waters, made melody all through the calm, sweet summer day. And there Lilian stood with her husband, and the past came back again so | | 346 vividly, that the intervening years at Bryndyffryn seemed like a dream of the night.
"She is at rest, dearest; your sweet patient Alice is in glory now!" said Basil, as he saw Lilian's tears falling fast on the lowly grave. " Do not weep for her, we shall go to her in God's good time."
"They were not tears of sorrow," said Lilian, smiling; "I was thinking how good God has been to us, to you, to me, to all the human family, in giving us his Beloved Son, through whom alone we could receive pardon and peace. I was thinking of the past; of the time when last I stood by this grave, and my heart was so heavy, and the time to come looked so dark and terrible; when I feared that you, my husband, were lost to me forever. And now—now all is changed; God has given me the desire of my heart. He has given back your love, restored us to Hopelands; bestowed upon us our darling children, and many other inestimable blessings. Oh, Basil! from this time forth shall we not show forth His praise, by seeking in all things to glorify Him, and by living to His honor and glory? Yes, every trial has turned out a mercy; every sorrow a joy, and every tear is transmuted into a real gem."
And Basil answered, "So be it. You will be my teacher, my Lily; and, God granting us grace, we will strive to glorify Him, by devoting ourselves and | | 347 all that we have to His service; and may we tread the path of life humbly and peacefully, walking hand in hand, cheering and comforting one another, till, finally, we come to that land where there is no more parting nor sorrow, and where His servants shall serve Him throughout eternity."THE END.
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