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day to hinder all the men about the place. It was all their tale-bearing, Mrs. Payne declared, that made the lady of Brockhurst so over-anxious. If she could have got over to the Rookery herself she could have seen how comfortable things really were for her son; but, of course, poor thing, that was impossible.
It was impossible—not on account of Mrs. Chamberlayne's age, for she was but nineteen years older than her son; and looking at them together, it was hard to believe even that that difference existed between them; but she had been for some years confined by a hopeless spinal complaint to the two rooms on the ground-floor, with the great bow-window opening into the garden, into which she was carried on her sofa when the weather was warm and fine.
The old garden parlour at Brockhurst was one of those rooms possessing a mysterious richness and comfort—a charm which the upholsterer's art has little share in imparting. Every bit of furniture seemed to have worn, as it were, to its place. It was mellow and rich with the love and attendance of several generations. There was a patriarchal largeness and suggestiveness about it. One felt that grandfathers and grandmothers, young men and maidens and little children, had all made merry together here; and there was a cheeriness in the ticking of the ebony timepiece, and a sort of jovial expectancy about the large easy-chairs, and in the grotesque faces in the great Chinese vases, whose light mosaic colours contrasted so well with the oak wainscoting and sideboards, that seemed to prophesy a return of those good old times.
The position of that brown leather arm-chair just out of the draught and of the way of careless feet, has been studied by more than one of the old Kentish patriarchs, whose names are written in the great square Bible on the sideboard. The hanging of the ancient little oval mirrors with candlesticks before them, has been seen to by eyes who knew well in what light their own was best reflected. For so many years so much had been added to it-so little taken away-hand after hand had been laid upon it with so much tenderness for those hands which had done their work there and been folded away in rest—that it could but grow rich and beautiful, gathering from time a peculiar tenderness of its own, as the little church of Nytimber had gathered the moss about its dull red roof.
Here, on a crimson sofa that was worn to a very comfort
able dulness, Mrs. Chamberlayne spent her days. She was a tall woman, with a full, fair face, blue-eyed, and of that transparent complexion which usually accompanies red hair -and Mrs. Chamberlayne's was red—not auburn or golden brown, but uncompromisingly red. She wore a dainty bit of white lace she called a cap over it, that gave
and softness to the rich bright waves that crowned a forehead broad and placid. She was a prisoner, probably for life, but her prison was one of the pleasantest spots of the earth, and she rested in it with much tranquillity and lively contentment. She was neither languid nor idle. The good books--old and new-and the fresh magazines and newspapers on her low table were well read; the pretty wool or silk embroidery had generally gained another flower or leaf for the vicar's wife to admire at each of her frequent visits. But the invalid's thoughts and fingers were most busy over her little writing
She was an indefatigable letter-writer. Her old school girl friends had been retained in spite of her great seclusion, simply by the constancy of her correspondence. Romantic, girlish attachments had become deep, strong friendships with many of those to whom her letters—stạid, sweet, sensiblecame as, perhaps, the only tokens of what life had once been, for they were still full of the warmth and heartiness of a girl's affection ; while the deepening wisdom of a woman who studied attentively and humbly the experiences of others as well as her own, made them inexpressibly precious to many a heart wavering between wrong and right, or sinking in despair.
In the atmosphere of her garden, her flowers, her books, her calm and sunny household, she received and considered the stories of her friends' troubles and anxieties, thinking out for them counsel which might well be sweet, since she came by much of it as bees come by their honey, in communion with flowers, pure air, bright sunshine, and softened shade, for these were the chief pleasures of her life and her untiring companions.
It was to this person that Elias Morgan, in the helplessness of his poverty and sorrow, brought his daughter, after discovering that an aged relative with whom he had thought to place her had gone to that narrow home in which none can receive guests.
* Charlotte Chamberlayne,' he had said, standing by her sofa and looking down at her, 'I little thought, after your son Robert's betrayal of me, to ask anything of you or yours, but I am pressed sorely. There are other friends who would perhaps belp me, but blood is thicker than water; I choose to come to you. My child is beset by the snares of the wicked. The doors of the poor are weak; will you guard her for me?'
The two travellers, their clothes covered with dust, and their faces pale and drawn, and almost haggard with intense mental suffering, seemed to have risen up like spectres before Mrs. Chamberlayne's astonished eyes. Her first movement was to glide her trembling hand under her lace shawl and lay it on her heart, which, unused to sudden agitations, had begun to beat so violently as to alarm her. Her kinsman's tale of sharp suffering, told more plainly by his voice than in his words, had come like a bitter wintry blast on the calm, sweet summer of her life. She held her hand against her side, and, closing her eyes, struggled to regain the calmness without which she was so unused to act.
Elias, who regarded Mrs. Chamberlayne in her luxurious surroundings as a kind of domestic Queen of Sheba, mistook the meaning of her rather prolonged silence and stillness, and after gazing upon her a few moments with great anguish and proud humiliation, he turned and drew Hirell towards the door, pausing before it to say,
• When my child, like Lazarus shall lie upon the bosom of her father Abraham, if you, like Dives, shall call to her for help, then may she have power to serve you, Charlotte.'
Elias was punished for his haste. His name was gently called, and, turning, he saw his afflicted kinswoman, who had been prostrate so many years, standing erect. There was a certain majesty in her form as she stood upright but helpless, reminding Elias of some newly descended angel, whose unaccustomed feet doubted the earth’s vile contact. The mingled command and entreaty of the attitude was not to be resisted. Elias approached her in some fear for her, and indeed no sooner had she seen her relatives returning, than she sank back on her sofa and fainted.
Her kind-hearted, quick-handed maids were soon about her, and had her completely restored ; and in half an hour Elias was sipping his tea with a sort of sad, stern peace at his heart concerning Hirell, whom Mrs. Chamberlayne had promised to cherish as a daughter so long as he should think fit to let her remain at Brockhurst.
If Robert Chamberlayne felt much surprise, when he came in to his tea, at the sight of his mother's visitors, he did not allow his surprise to embarrass himself or them very long ; but began to talk about his own affairs, his worry and disappointment about the new farm, and other home matters, with unusual volubility; the whole drift of his discourse being to show his mother the urgent necessity for him to take up his quarters for a time at the hooded house. This unsympathetic and selfish conduct of Robert's, instead of disgusting, seemed to please both his mother and Elias; his other listener being too much prostrated by sadness and exhaustion to notice anything that was said or done. She sat like a tired child whose mind was incapable of understanding the things that the others talked of.
Elias had left Brockhurst the next morning, and it was not till after his departure that Mrs. Chamberlayne began to feel some misgivings as to the charge she had undertaken.
When the door closed upon her father, Hirell, who was sitting on a chair near it, rose, stretched out her hand as if to re-open it, but refrained, and again sat down. Her gesture had been so impetuous, so passionate, Mrs. Chamberlayne thought to hear a childish exclamation of grief or sudden burst of tears, but she was mistaken ; Hirell was quite still and mute. It was then Mrs. Chamberlayne felt a keen regret at not being able to rise and go to her. Calling her to her side was such a different thing. She felt very kindly towards her, and was grieved to see how much a stranger. Hirell evidently felt her to be.
Like some wild mountain-bird, whose broken wing had let it fall into a rich garden, she looked with startled eyes, bewildered and stupefied, on the strange things about her. Her sad heart, more passionately loyal in its sadness than ever to the old home, the old mountains, the old customs, turned against all she saw. In her mind she was certainly grateful for the kindnesses shown her, but she regarded them as the listless eye of a dying bird regards the dainties which children hold to the wires of its cage to bribe it back to life and song. They had no power to comfort or to arouse her.
Day after day she went, in obedience to Mrs. Chamberlayne's wish, to walk about the garden, every yard of which, above and below, began to be a revelation of fresh beautysuch beauty as was not to be found in her wild mountain
home, while the thick trees hid fuller choirs of birds than she had ever heard before, singing the prologue of the summer. She looked most often to the clouds, that best imitated her own hills. Mrs. Chamberlayne used to watch her looking up at them, and think how strange a fancy it was for such young eyes to seek so wistfully through blossoms and fresh green and sunshine for the clouds whose shadows dim their beauty.
When the minister's letter about Hugh reached her it increased her depression, and seemed to make her more than ever sick of the world.
The soft, rich beauty of the budding Kentish summer was too exquisite not to be apparent to her—not to be a pain or a delight. It was a pain—it touched her to the quick-moving, yet sickening her spirit, like the passionate pleading of an unwelcome wooer.
Mrs. Chamberlayne watched and waited for improvement, but she watched and waited vainly. Perfectly tractable and gentle as her charge was in all her outward conduct, she felt her heart was yet as unapproachable and untamable in its pain as the wildest creature's in creation.
One morning she missed her. The poor bird was not, as usual, fluttering wearily about her sunny cage. She lay still in a corner of it, with dull, heavy eye, and dry, beating throat,
Mrs. Chamberlayne made her servants carry her on her light garden couch into Hirell's room, which was on the same floor as her own, and she found her in her bed too ill to move, moaning quietly, and murmuring piteously, “Father, and Kezia,' and other old home names.
After that Mrs. Chamberlayne's doctor from Reculcester, whose handsome brougham used to stop twice a week regularly outside the ivied house, became a daily visitor at Brockhurst. Every evening, at dusk, Mr. Robert used to cross the lawn and sit in the American chair outside his mother's window, and they would talk together in low voices.
At one time the smart, lively servant-maids went about the house on tip-toe, with faces and voices very much subdued. Mrs. Chamberlayne became pale, and worn-looking: Mr. Robert paid brief visits to her window many times in the day. Straw was laid down on the roadside of the house to deaden the rumbling of the carts and wagons.