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poor child has taken it, and if she has it at all severely she must die. Tell your brother to say it is too soon for me to judge of the severity of the attack, but that if they can find Sir William Mervyn they had better prepare him for the worst. Poor fellow, it is hard lines for him."
"And Irene," I asked, "what of her? Have you seen her?"
“No,” he said, "I could not tell her the truth, she will feel it so dreadfully, so I got away without seeing her. Your brother must
break it to her as best he can."
ON the following Sunday the prayers of the Church were asked for 'Lucy Unwin, who lies dangerously ill." She had grown rapidly worse, and though, unlike Irene, her mind was rarely clouded by delirium, she showed symptoms which with her extreme delicacy gave little hope of recovery. She was able to receive my brother's ministrations daily, and was as sweet and unselfish as she could be. She had been so long accustomed to the thought of passing away from this world that it seemed only returning to the old train of ideas when she realised her danger. She had still a strong desire to get better, but it was for Sir William Mervyn's and Irene's sake. She knew they clung to her; but as day by day the hope lessened, she quietly acquiesced like a weary child sinking to sleep. The long struggle for life in spite of the fitful gleam of hope which had gilded her path for the last few months, had weaned her from this world, and already she seemed to belong more to heaven than earth.
For a fortnight the light of life flickered in the feeble flame; then came the turn of the fever, and she passed away looking as pure and calm in the mighty restfulness of death, as the snowdrops we placed on her breast. She could never have been strong again, even if she had rallied, and it seemed selfish to wish that she should be left here to battle again with weakness and suffering; the very capacity to enjoy the love and comfort which would have surrounded her taken away. It was indeed sad to see Sir William's desolation when he arrived, only just in time for the funeral; but there was no bitterness in his grief, all that devotion and faithfulness could do he had done in the last three years. He was still young, and with the bustle of life before him, the thought of the gentle girl he had loved so well would rest
with him, and draw his heart upwards and onwards, and may we not believe she still prays for him in that Land of waiting with a clearer sense of his true needs than she could have had while she lingered here?
Seven years have passed away since the little cross in Leighscombe churchyard arose to mark the resting-place of Lucy Unwin, and Sir William Mervyn is unmarried still. Those who meet him in society tell me that he is the most accomplished and clever man they know, that he leads a busy useful life as member for his county, and the only thing he lacks is a good wife to make the Hall what it was in former days. Will another fill sweet Lucy's place? I know she would have wished it so, and he knows it as well; but somehow I do not think it will be so. Rumour, of course, is busy with his name, as it is with that of any such eligible match, but time alone can put the question beyond a doubt.
Now to return to Irene. She bore the first announcement of Lucy's seizure with apparent calmness. She would not face the terrible possibility, but as the truth forced itself on her, and she saw the one she clung to on earth fading away, and in a manner through her self-will, her grief seemed too great for expression. She did not grow ill, or give way; she appeared possessed with the one idea not to miss a moment of the precious hours Lucy might still be spared to her, and the excitement gave her strength. As the days drew near to the closing scene, and the gentle sufferer relinquished her last earthly hope, that of seeing Sir William Mervyn once more, her spirit seemed more and more unearthly, her simple, childlike faith casting out all doubt and fear. She pierced Irene's heart by her frequent expressions of gratitude for all she had been to her in the past, and begged her earnestly to disconnect her illness from the unfortunate night at Heard's cottage, and to believe what she made Dr. Sumner tell her in her presence, that typhus lurks in the air, and that in her delicate state she was liable to be attacked without any infection being conveyed by others; but Irene could not take the comfort to herself. Her self-reproach was bitter, and hard to bear. She lost all her spirit and caprice. She who had been so self-reliant and determined, had no plans now for her future. She was willing to do whatever was proposed, even return to Lawton and take up the life there with everything gone that had once made it endurable.
It was a great trial to me to bid her good-bye, to know she was
going where she would be without any human sympathy; where all her purest and best aspirations would be misunderstood and thwarted. We corresponded regularly, and in her letters she never complained of her life. But when Easter was drawing near with all its sweet, consoling thoughts for the bereaved, I could see how she longed for congenial services, and still more for Church privileges. Yet as though to take vengeance on herself for the past, in which she had rested on the outward tokens of a joy she had failed to grasp inwardly, she made no effort to leave Lawton, fearing that the very wish to do so might be a return to the old paths of self-will and self-pleasing, which had led her so far from the true peace.
"No," she wrote, "I will stay at Lawton, and try to realise with my eyes shut that JESUS lives; it will be difficult to feel that the Fast is over, the Festival come, but I have not deserved it should be otherwise."
Such a sacrifice was not however required from her. Mr. Hunter had not forgotten her, nor the state of the church at Lawton. The very fact that she made no complaint proved to him how well the severe discipline of the last few months had told on her character, and he was very anxious she should enjoy all the comforts and blessings which the Church provides for her children at that season. He proposed that she should come to London for a few days, and then on to us. He had his house full of relations who had come from a distance, so he could not have her for a long visit, as he hoped, but he knew that an Easter at Leighscombe would be everything to her. We had only been deterred from giving her an invitation by a scruple on Arthur's part. She had made some costly presents towards the fuller restoration of the church, and he feared if he asked her to the vicarage it would seem to Mr. and Mrs. Purcell, that he was getting money from her which ought to belong to her family, but a hint from Mr. Hunter dissipated all difficulties, and Easter Eve found Irene our guest. She was much changed; original she would always be, but her former piquancy and brightness were all fled; the sharp repartee and ready wit which had made her fascinating to every one seemed buried in Lucy's grave.
On the Saturday before Low Sunday we went out to gather some primroses to refresh the church decorations. I can recall the day so vividly. We had set off on our quest directly after early matins. The April sun shone with unusual warmth at noon, and we sat to rest ourselves on a log of wood drawn up at the side of a gate which opened
to us across the fields; the deep blue sea was sparkling and dancing in the sunlight, with the white sails glittering in the distance the soft early green of spring surrounded us. We began making up our primroses into little bunches, the right size for use, tying them with soft cotton. There was a something in the calm beauty of the scene that made one silent. The merry notes of the birds fell on our ears, and from the distance came the regular sound of the hammer in the ship-builder's yard. We had not spoken for a few minutes. Irene had turned towards the sea, and remained with her chin resting on her hand, gazing meditatively at the view, with her lap full of primroses, and a thoughtful far-away expression in her large grey eyes. She began half to herself, as though thinking aloud,
life of work,—
But where am envy even the
"I love to fancy Lucy always bathed in sunlight, always in rest and beauty, while I am in the cold and shade. I have no place in the world. If I died to-morrow no one would miss me. I cannot overcome the old restlessness. My only hope seems in a earnest, hard, engrossing work, for myself and others. I to get it? I envy you with a definite vocation, I woman who has to work for her daily bread; and then I hate myself for my ingratitude and discontent. My very name is a satire on my character. I cannot rest. I have tried it at Lawton, I would go on trying it, but life seems to be worth something better than the dreary uselessness that stretches itself before me if I continue to live at home. If I could believe that I had a vocation for a Sister's life I should hail the thought with joy, but how dare I entertain it for a minute? When my life was bright I turned from the work, and would have given myself wholly to the world; now the world has given me up, I feel afraid to offer to GOD what has become worthless to myself. I know it is a necessity to me to have one central object. Lucy was my last, and dearest, now she is gone. Oh! Ruth, you do not know how miserable
The primroses fell from her lap, and she rested her head, sobbing, on my shoulder. I was surprised, and shocked at such an unusual demonstration of grief. What could I say to comfort her! It seemed sad and unnatural at twenty-five, with wealth and beauty on her side, to turn from life as from a cup that had been drained to the dregs.
"Try, dearest," I said, "to resign your will wholly to Another, make Him your all in all, and He will never fail you."
She did not reply; and the boys coming back just then with the
fruits of a long scramble in their well-filled baskets, and their spirits at the highest pitch of fun and mischief, she jumped up, and looked over the gate to hide the traces of her grief. I managed to make them understand that she was not to be plagued by their nonsense just then, and we walked home without recurring to the subject.
On talking the matter over with Arthur on my return home I was surprised by his saying,
"I believe if she has quite forgotten Major Unwin a Sister's life would be the happiest for her."
'But," I said, "would it be wise to enter on the religious life merely because life in the world had grown hard, and desolate? It seems to me that the beauty of the sacrifice lies in turning away from the world when it is smiling on us."
'Certainly," he replied, "that seems a higher work of grace; but you must recollect GOD does not always use the same means to attain the same ends. Some He draws to Himself by the simple attraction of His love, some He leads by the force of the circumstances by which He surrounds them; but the one is as much His work as the other. It seems to me that if Irene were once to consecrate her life to a definite work in the Church she would be following the leadings of Providence, and would find more peace than she has ever yet done. She would learn to forget herself in living for others."
"But," I remonstrated, "according to your theory all single women with love disappointments ought to become Sisters of Mercy; whereas I have always heard you say hitherto that nothing in your opinion was more dangerous than rushing into a Sisterhood, because you are discontented with the world."
Yes," he rejoined, "but now you are going into extremes. woman who would rush away from the plain duties of her home because they are difficult and uncongenial, who would neglect to help a mother or a father struggling to bring up a young family, or out of health and requiring care and watchfulness, or indeed any true work that comes to her in the natural course of events, and seeks to enter on a Sister's life to escape them, is a coward, and will neither be happy herself nor useful to the community she joins. But this is not Irene's case."
Clearly not," I replied, "I am sure she is now too humble and earnest to refuse any work, but she has so much energy and genius that she might do wonders. I believe now Mrs. Purcell's own