Imatges de pÓgina



CHAPTER VII. MEANWHILE Irene, unconscious how her work of charity will influence her future, is sitting with a treinbling beart by the bedside of the laundress's niece. She is unused to sickness or to death, but she knows now that the one can only vanishi hence before the presence of the other; for the parish doctor met her on her entrance to the cottage, and answered her questions about Myra with the utmost frankuess.

“She may linger," be said, doublfully, “but it is more likely that she will not. She has been breaking up for some time past, and has not sufficient strength to rally from this lust attack. I shall be here again in the morning; but as I can do lier no good, it would be useless my staying now.” And the doctor mounted his stout cob, and trotted off in another direction.

Irene stood watching himn till be was out of sight, and then turned into the cottage with a sigh. When the doctor leaves the house in whichi a patient lies in extremis, it seems as if death had already entered there.

There is no cessation of business in Mrs. Cray's dwelling, though her niece does lay dying. People who work bard for their daily bread carinot afford time for sentimert, and the back kitchen is full of steam and soapsuds, and the washerwomen are clauking backwards and forwards over the wet stones in their patiens, to wring and hang out the linen; and the clatter of torgues, and rattling of tubs, and noise of tbe children, are so continuous that Irene has difficulty at first in making herself beard. But the child who took the wessage up to the Court lias been on the lookout for her, and soon brings Mrs. Cray into the front kitchen, full of apologies for baving kept her waiting.

* I'm sure it's vastly good of you, mun, to come down a second time to-day; and I hope you don't think I make lov free in sending up the gal's message to you; but she bas been that restless and uneasy since you left her this morning, that I haven't been able to do nothing with her, and the first wurds she say, as I could understaud, was, ' Send for the lady !!”

“Poor lhing !" is Irene's answer. “I am afraid the doctor thinks very badly of ber, Mrs. Cray."

“ Badly of her! Lor', my dear lady, she's marked for death before the week's over, as sure as you stand there. Wby, she's been a fighting for her breath all day, and got the ratlle in her throat as plain as ever I hear it."

“O hush! your voice will reach her," remonstrates Irene; for the laundress is speaking, if a'rytbing, rather louder than usual.

“It can't make much difference if it do, mum, and it'll come upon hier all the harder for not knowing it beforehand. It's my Joel I think of most, for his heart's just wrop up in his cousin; and what be'll do when she's took, I can't think. And I haven't had the courage to tell himn it's so near, neither. Lut you'll be wanting to go up to Myra. She's ready for you, I'll be bound.” And Mrs. Cray stands on one side to let Irene mount the rickety narrow staircase that leads to the second story, and up which her feet have passed many tines during the last few weeks. She traverses it now, silently and solemnly, as though a silent unseen presence trod every step with her; it is so strange to the young to think the young lie dying !

Myra is laid on a smail bed close by the open lattice and in the full light of the setting sun. Iler face las lost the deathlike guastliness it wore in the morning; it is flushed now, and her eyes are bright and staring. To Irene's experience she looks beller; but there is a fearful anxiety pictured on her countenance that was not there before.

Is it true?'' she says, in a hoarse whisper, as her visitor appears.

“What, Myra ?” liene answers, to gain time. But she knows what the girl must mean, for the door of her bedroom at the top of the little staircase stood wide open.

• What aunt said just now, that I am marked for death within the week. A week! O, it's a short time-it's a horribly short time!" And she begins to cry weakly, but with short gasps for breaid that are

very distressing to behold. Irene forgets Myra, poor girl, you are soon going where the difference of station between them; no secrets can be lid, and I may be able to she forgets everything excepting that here comfort you a little before you go." is a weak suffering spirit, trembling before “If you knew all, you wouldn't speak to the Great Inevitable! And she does just me, nor look at me again.” what she would have done had Myra been "Try me.” a sister of her own-she throws her hat I daren't risk it. You're the only comand mantle on a chair, and goes up to the fort that has come to me in this place, and bedside, and kneels down, and takes the yet-arid yet," she says, panting, as she poor (lying creature in her arms and presses raises herself on one elbow and stares hiher lips upon her forehead.

grily into Irene's compassionate face--“Dear Jyra, don't cry-don't be fright- “how I wish I dared to tell you every. ened. Remember who is waiting on the thing!" other side to welcome you!"

At this juncture the sound of “thwackThe sweet sympathetic tones, the pres- ing” is andible from below, and immediatesure--above all, the kiss, ronse Jyra froin ly followed by the raising of Tommy's inthe contemplation of herself.

fantine voice in discordant cries, “ Did-did-you do that.”

“She's at it again!" esclaims Jiyra, “Do what, dear?-kiss you?''

suddenly and fiercely, as the din breaks on “Yes. Did I fancy it-or were your lips. their conversation. And then, as though here ??? touching her forehead.

conscious of her impotency to interfere, “My lips were there; why not? I kissed she falls back on her pillows with a little you, that you might know how truly I sym- feeble wail of despair. Irene flies down pathize with your present trouble.”

stairs to the rescue--more for the sake of • You mustn't do it again. Ah! you the sick girl than the child and finds don't guess. You would not do it if you Tommy howling loudly in a corner of the knew- My God! my God! and I am go- kitchen, whilst Mrs. Cray is just replacing ing!" And liere Myra relapses into her a thirk stick, which she keeps for the eduformer grief.

cation of her family, on the chimney-piece. For a moment Irene is silent. She is as “Ilas Tommy been naughty?" demands pure a woman as this world has ever seen, Irene, deferentially; for it is not always but she is not ignorant that impurity ex- safe to interfere with Mrs. Cray's discipline. ists, and, like all honorable and high- “Lor, yes, mum, he always be. The minded creatures, is disposed to deal leni- most troublesome child as ever was-ip ently with the fallen. She has suspected everywheres and over everythink, directly more than once during her intercourse with my back's turned. And here he's bin upMyra, that the girl carries some unliappy setting the dripping all over the place, and secret about with her, and can well im- taking my clean apron to wipe up his muck. agine low, in the prospect of death, the I'm sure hundreds would never pay me for burden may become too lieavy to be borne the mischief that boy dues in as many days. alone. So she considers for a liille before And he not three tiil Janniverty!" she answers, and then she takes the white “Let me have him. I'll keep him quiet wasted hand in hers.

for you up stairs,” says Irene; and carries “Myra, I am sure you are not happy; I off the whimpering Tommy before the am sure you have had some great trouble laundress has time to remonstrate. in your life which you have shared with no “He's not much the worse, Vyra," she one, and now that you are so ill, the weight

says, cheerfully, as she resumes her seat by of it oppresses you. I don't want to force the bedside with the child upon lier knee. your confidence, but if it would comfort “I dare say he does try your aunt's temyou to speak to a friend, remember that I per; but give him one of your grapes, and

I will lear your secret (if you he'll forget all about it." have a secret), and I will keep it (if you But, instead of doing as Irene proposes, wish me to keep it) until my own life's Myra starts up suddenly, and seizing the end. Ouly do now what will make you boy in her arins, strains him closely to her happier and more comfortable.”

heart, and rocks backwards and forwards, * 0, I can't-I can'ı- I daren't!"

crying over him. "I durc say it will be hard to tell; hut “O my darling, my darling-my poor

am one.


darling! how I wish I could take you with blame me so much, perhaps, for the dread me!"

of losing it. And aunt frightened me. Tominy, frightened at Myra's distress, She's beat that poor child”-with a' gaspjoins his tears with hers, wbile Irene sits ing sob—" till he's been black and blue; by silently astonished. But a light has and I knew when I was gone he'd have no broken in upon her; she understands it all one but her to look to, and she'll beat bim

then-I know she will-when his poor “Myra," she says, after a while, "so this mother's cold and can't befriend him. is the secret that you would not tell me ? But if she does,” cries Myra, with fierce. My poor girl, there is no need for you to energy, as she clutches Irene by the arm speak."

and looks straight through her—" if she * I couldn't help it!" bursts forth froin does I'll come back, as there's a God in Myra; "no-not if you never looked at me heaven, and bring it home to her!" again. I've borne it in silence for years, “ She never can ill-treat him when you but it's been like a knife working in my are gone, Myra." heart the while. And he's got no one but “ She will she will! She has a hard me in the wide world--and now I must heart, aunt has, and a hard hand, and she leare lim-I must leave him! O, my heart hates the child-she always bas. And will break!"

he'll be thrown on her for bed and board, The child has struggled out of his moth- and, if she can, she'll kill him!! er's embrace again by this tiine (children, The thought is too terrible for contemas a rule, do not take kindiy to the exhibi- plation. Myra is roused from the partial tion of any violent emotion), and stands, stupor that succeeds her violence by the with his curly head lowered, as though he feel of Irene's soft lips again upon her were the offending party, while his dirty forchead. little knuckles are crammed into his wet “You did it again!" she exclaims, with eyes.

simple wonder. “You know all--and yet, Irene takes a bunch of grapes from her you did it again. O, God bless you!-God own otiering of the morning, and holds bless you!" and falls herself to kissing and them towards him.

weeping over Irene's hand. " Tommy, go and eat these in the cor- “If you mean that I know this child bener,” she says, with a smile.

longs to you, Myra, you are right; I susThe tear-stained face is raised to hers- pected it long ago; but further than this I the blue eyes sparkle, the chubby fingers know nothing. My poor girl, if you can are outstretched. Tommy is bimself again, bring yourself to confide in me, perhaps I and Irene's attention is once more directed may be able to befriend this little one when to his mother.

you are gone." ** Dear Myra!" she says, consolingly. “Would you-really ??'

** Don't touch me!" cries the other, “ To the utmost of my power." shrinking from her. "Don't speak to me “ Then I will tell you everything-every-I aint tit you should do either! But I thing! But let me drink first.” couldn't have deceived you if it hadn't Irene holds a glass of water to her lips, been for aunt. You're so good, I didn't which she drains feverishly. A clumping like that you should show me kindness un- foot comes up the staircase, and Jenny's der false pretences; but when I spoke of dishevelled head is thrust sheepishly into teiling you, and letting you go your own the doorway. way, aunt was so violent-she said the “Mother says it's hard upon seven, and child should suffer for every word I said. Tommy must go to bed.” And so, for his sake, I've let it go on till Nearly seven!” cries Irene, consulting now. But 'lwill be soon over."

lier watch. “So it is; and we dine at Irene is silent, and Myra takes her si- seven), I had no idea it was so late!" lence for displeasure.

“0, don't leave me!" whispers Myra, * Don't think harshiy of ine,” she con- turning imploring eyes upon her face. tinues, in a low tone of deprecation. “I Irene stands irresolute; she fears that know I'm unworthy; but if you could tell Colonel Mordaunt will be vexed at her what your kindness has been to me-like absence from the dinner-table, but she cold water to a thirsty soul-you wouldn't cannot permit anything to come between her and a dying fellow-creature's peace of meant to act fairly by me, but I've come to mind. So in another monient she has believe that he deceived me from the very scribbled a few lines on a leaf torn from first. Yet he did love me; 0, I am sure he her pocket-book, and despatched them to loved me almost as much as I loved him, the Court. Tommy is removed by main until he wearied of me and told me so.” force to his own apartinent, and Myra and “ You found it out, you mean. He could she are comparatively alone.

not be so cruel as to tell you.” “No one can hear us now," says Irene, “O yes, he did! Do you think I would as she closes the door and supports the dy have left him else? He told me that he ing woman on her breast.

should go abroad and leave me; that he “It's three years ago last Christmas," was bitterly asbamed of himself; that it commences Myra, feebly, “that I took a would be better if we were both dead, and situation at Oxford. Uncle was alive then, that, if he could, he would wipe out the and he thought a deal of me, and took ever remembrance of me with his blood. All so much trouble to get me the situation. I that, and a great deal more; and I have was at a hotel-I wasn't barmaid; I used to never forgotten it, and I never shall forget keep the books and an account of all the it. I believe his words will haunt me wine that was given out. But I was often wherever I may go-even into the other in and out of the bar, and I saw a good world !" many young gentlemen that way-mostly She has become so excited, and her exfrom the colleges, or their friends."

citement is followed by so much exhausHere she pauses, and faintly flushes. tion, that Irene is alarmed, and begs her

“Don't be afraid to tell me," comes the to delay telling the remainder of her story gentle voice above her. “I have not been uutil she shall be more composed. tempted in the same way, Myra; if I had, “No, no, I must finish it now; I shall perhaps I should have fallen, too.”

never be quiet until I have told you all. “ It wasn't quite so bad as that,” inter- When he said that my blood got up, and I poses the sick girl, eagerly; " at least, I left him. My cousin Joel had been hang. didn't think so. It's no use my telling you ing about the place after me, and I left what he was like, nor how we came to straight off and came back home with know each other; but after a while he be- him." gan to speak to me and hang about me, “Without saying a word to-to-the perand then I knew that he was all the world son you have been speaking of ?”' to me-that I didn't care for anything in it “ He wanted to get rid of me; why nor out of it, except he was there. You should I say a word to him? But I grieved know, don't you, what I mean ?"

afterwards- I grieved terribly; and when “Yes, I know.”

the child was born, I would have given the He was handsome and clever, and had world to find him again." plenty of money; but it would have been “Did you ever try?” all the same to me if he had been poor, Try! I've travelled miles and miles, and mean, and ugly. I loved him! O and walked myself off my feet to find him. God, how I loved him! If it hadn't been I've been to Oxford and Fretterley (that for that, worlds wouldn't have made me was the village we lived at), and all over do as I did do. For I thought more of him London, and I can hear nothing. I've all through than I did of being made a taken situations in both these towns, and lady."

used his name right and left, and got no “But he could not have made you that, news of him. There are plenty that bear even in name, without marrying you, the same name, I don't doubt, but I've Myra.”

never come upon any trace of him under But he did-at least-o, it's a bitter it, and I've good reason to believe that it story from beginning to end! Why did I was not his right one." ever try to repeat it?''

“What is the name you knew him by, “It is very bitter, but it is very common, then, Myra ?” Myra. I am feeling for you with every “ Hamilton." word you utter.”

“ Hamilton," repeats Irene.

" That is “He persuaded me to leave the hotel not a common name.” with him. I thought at the time that he “ But it's not his. I've found that out since, for I know he belonged to the col- Will you swear it? O, forgive me! I lege, and there wasn't a gentleman with am dying.” that name there all through the term. “ I swear it!His love was false, and his name was false, “0, thank God, who put it in your heart and everything that took place between us to say so! Thank God! Thank God !" was false. He deceived me from first to She lies back on her pillows, exhausted last, and I'm dying before I can bring him by her own emotion, whilst her hands are to book for it!"

feebly clasped above those of her benefac“You shouldn't think of that now, Myra. tress, and her pale lips keep murmuring at You should try to forgive bim, as you hope intervals, “Thank God!" that your own sins will be forgiven.”

If you please, mum, the colonel's sent I could have forgiven him if it hadn't the pony-chaise to fetch you home, and he been for Tommy. But to think of that hopes as you'll go immediate.” poor child left worse than alone in this The carriage !” says Irene, starting. wretched world-his mother dead and his • Then I must go.” father not owning him-is enough to turn “O, I had something more to tell you! me bitter, if I hadn't been so before. Aunt exclaims Myra; “I was only waiting for will ill-use him; she's barely decent to him the strength. You ought to know all; Inow, when I pay for his keep, and what 12" she'll do when he's thrown upon her for “I cannot wait to hear it now, dear everything, I daren't think-and I shall Myra. I am afraid my husband will be never lie quiet in my grave!"

angry. But I will come again to-morrow “Myra, don't let that thought distress morning.” you. I will look after Tommy when you “ To-morrow morning I may not be are gone."

here." “I know you're very good. You'll be “No, no, don't think it! We shall meet down here every now and then with a play. again. Meanwhile, be comforted. Rething or a copper for him—but that wont member, I have promised!" And with a prerent her beating him between whiles. farewell pressure to the sick girl's hand, He's a high-spirited child, but she's nearly Irene resumes her walking things, and taken his spirit out of him already, and drives back to the Court as quickly as her he's dreadfully frightened of her, poor ponies will carry her. Her husband is lamb! He'll cry himself to sleep every waiting to receive her on the doorstep. night when I'm in the churchyard !" And the tears steal meekly from beneath Myra's Colonel Mordaunt is not in the best of half-closed eyelids, and roll slowly down tempers, at least, for him. The little epiher hollow cheeks.

sode which took place between Irene and “He shall not, Myra," says Irene, ener- himself relative to her predilection for Mrs. getically. “Give the child into my charge, Cray's nurse-child, has made him rather and I'll take him away from the cottage sensitive on the subject of everything couand see that he is properly provided for.” nected with the laundress's cottage, and he

“You will take him up to the Court and is vexed to-night that she should have neg. keep him like your own child? He is the lected her guests and her dinner-table, to son of a gentleman,” says poor Myra, with attend the deathbed of what, in his vexaa faint spark of pride. Irene hesitates. tion, he calls a consumptive pauper." Has she been promising more than she And so, when he puts out his hand to will be able to perform ? Yet she knows help his wife down from her pony-chaise, Colonel Mordaunt's easy nature, and can he is most decidedly in that condition doalmost answer for his compliance with any mestically known as “grumpy." of her wishes.

Take them round to the stable at “0, if you could !" exclaims the dying once,” he says, sharply, looking at the mother, with clasped hands. “If I thought ponies and addressing the groom. “Why, that my poor darling would live with they've scarcely a hair unturned; they you, I could die this moment and be must have been driven home at a inost unthankful!"

usual rate." * He shall live with me, or under my “ You sent word you wanted me at once, care," cries Irene. I promise you!" so I thought it was for something partic

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