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“I wish, how I wish, to-morrow morning was come,” she said, eagerly scrutinising all the materials, as far as the dimness would allow. Then she took ap the palette, and, as she fixed it on her small hand a rush of remembrances, thrilled through her. “Oh! father, father!” she cried, raising it to her lips; "dear, dear father! If only you were here to teach me—to help me. But I should have been content with your fame then. I wish I wish I could see you now.” As she spoke, a footstep ander the window made her start, and she looked round hastily. She would not acknowledge to herself any fearfulness or dread of being thus alone; yet she felt it better to go down to the lighted room, and otherwise occapy her thoughts.
Well, that did look cheerful! In the grate burned a bright little fire; on it, singing pleasantly, was a small kettle, and, drawn near, a little table, covered with a clean white cloth, and spread in readiness for a meal. Beside the table was a cushioned chair.
“There ! I forgot all about the tea and sugar. Never mind.” And soon she saw there was no occasion to mind. A cupboard stood partly open, displaying a store of good things—grocery, bread, batter, potted meat, ham, cake, jam, biscuits, fruit.
“Whether John believes in my genius or not, he certainly believes in my appetite," said Irene, laughing. “He is very good; and I really am hungry."
With a strange feeling of independence and proprietorship, Irene commenced her solitary housekeeping, making the tea and pouring it out, cutting her own bread and butter, helping herself to preserves. How odd it was ; how very quiet ; how different from sapper-time at school. What would they all say if they could see her now? It was very pleasant-at least-yes, she thought she liked it; but it would have been much nicer if John had been there, too. What were they doing next door? Most likely taking supper in the front parlcar. And when her own sapper was over she sat quite still and listened for any tidings of her friends which might reach her through the wall. Had it been a newly-erected residence, she would probably have distinguished voices—quite possibly have been entertained by snatches of conversation; but these houses had been built in the days of substantial work, and her close attention was rewarded less by a perception of any distinct sounds than by the sense of a silence not absolutely perfect.
Hearing so little, she presently ceased listening, and commenced thinking, arranging her plans for the morrow, and considering how her work was to be commenced and carried on. And then her thoughts went into the future, when her parpose should have been accomplished and painting have become her settled occupation. She thought of work in picture-galleries ; of wanderings
through quaint, medieval cities; hours passed in palace, castle, dim cathedral, or beside broad rivers, or the changefal sea, or down in shadowy dells, or on the glad summit of high hills. And all this not in idle self-indulgence, but for very duty; that in long happy hours of patient work she might reproduce, for the joy of others, the forms of grandeur and of beauty received into her own rejoicing soul. And she would paint portraits, too-a few, just such as she delighted in--countenances glorious, beautiful. she should paint John, though he was not beautiful. She would show how worth looking at, how worthy of portrayal, a very plain face might be.
And her pictures would stand in the best shop-windows, and be hung in exhibitions, perhaps at the Royal Academy; and they would be approved by the highest authorities in Art. Not wondered at. No; she did not hope that-she should never, never achieve the fame her father would have won had he lived. No; there were no such stirrings of genius in her as there were in him; bat good pictures—beautiful, hers would be; and she should sign her name in the left-hand corner, and always add “ daughter of Launcelot Laureston, artist.” And people would get to know the name; and, perhaps, some of his scattered works might be collected, and then she would write his life, and the world would know that these were just nothing to what be would have done ; would know it had suffered a loss, never, never to be repaired. And she would paint his portrait; she could do it, in a measure, she felt sure, and have it engraved and affixed to the life, and people woald see a little how beautiful he was.
Thus, full of thoughts, she sat gazing into the fast-failing fire, almost unconscious of the emptiness and stillness around her, until there reached her, from the next house, a little more sound, as of closing doors, followed by a more perfect silence.
“ They are all gone up to bed," she thought; “perhaps I had better go op,
too." So she very gently raked out the remaining embers, lighted a candle, placed ready with a box of matches, on the mantelpiece, extinguished the lamp, and went up the stairs, walking as softly as she could, for she did not like the sound of her footsteps in the stillness.
Near the door of the chamber she put out the candle and went in. Although the sky was somewhat overcast, safficient light came through the blindless, curtainless window, to show her where was the bed, and where the fireplace. “ Now I must let John know that I am here all right," she said; and she gave a timid tap against the chiuney. Directly a light tap came in answer ; she tapped again, and again the reply came. “ John is very near,”
she thought, "I need not feel lonely ;" yet somewhat lonely she did feel, as she kneeled down and repeated the prayer taught her by her mother; and then slowly undressed and lay down on her lowly bed.
It was very comfortable, she thought--not very soft, perhaps ; bat so firm and even; and she came to the conclusion that a bed stead was a very needless invention of civilisation. " Good-night, dear John,” she said softly, not with any thoaght that he could hear her, yet feeling it pleasant to give the greeting, and before very long fatigae overcame excitement, and she fell asleep.
But unaccustomed surroundings and eager anticipations are not favonrable to anbroken repose lasting on until morning; and in the middle of the night she suddenly awoke. Where was she? She sat up, looking for the two large windows, and the five other beds, but saw only one bare window, and emptiness. Then she remembered. How strange it was that she was really here! was John awake, too, she wondered. She felt half inclined to tap on the fireplace and see; but, perhaps, she had better not, and it would be rather selfish to waken him. She had better go to sleep again; she wanted to be fresh and bright for the day's work; and she turned on her pillow and closed her eyes.
Bat with the thought of the morrow a crowd of ideas took possession of her mind, banishing all disposition to sleep, and soon she lay with her eyes wide open, watching one or two dim stars in the cloudy sky, looking in on her through the window. She wondered what time it was ; there was not, she thought, any sign of dawn, If she could only go to sleep, morning would come sooner ; but sleep she could not. She had never felt more wholly wakeful. It was wearisome, lying here all alone, and all so quiet, and staring at the emptiness. She would get up and have another look at the easel and the colours.
So she rose, partly dressed, threw her cloak round her, and, half by sight, half by feeling, found the door and her way into the painting-room. It was less dark there, the light from the streetlamp falling on the easel, standing gaunt and tall, and on the wall behind, and making it easy for her to see and handle the brushes and colours on the stand. Then she passed to the window and looked forth.
There, below her, in the grey half-darkness lay the city, the silence and stillness of night resting upon it. Yet, dim as was the light, prominent objects could just be made out, and, by means of these, localities distinguished. Here, closely-clustered spires, towers, capolas, marked the centre of the city; there, darkly discernible against the background of hills, stood St. Mary's massive tower, and near by, dimmer still, the strange cones of the glass-houses; away beyond, tall chimneys came into view, and vanished, as from some ever-barning furnace, pulsations of raddy light rose and fell. At her very feet, beneath the hill, lay the extensive buildings of the Infirmary, few of the windows wholly dark, and throngh one a strong light showing. That black mass further on--she knew what that was—the trees in Hanover Square, and that tall, spectral whiteness-yes, that must be St. Simon's, Portsmouth Square, and No. 16 must be near, and Miss Ingram, Miss Ackland, and all the girls fast asleep. How little any of them guessed she was standing here, looking down upon them. Dark, low, square; trees near ;that would be the Cathedral tower, and close by, somewhere, Advent Street must be; the old room where she once had lived, and her mother had died, and the little church of St. Austen's, and her mother's grave.
What a little world hers was ! How few she knew of all the thousands of people sleeping there so quietly; such multitudes atterly unknown, indifferent to her : and yet each one of these thousands lived a life as real, as all-important to themselves, as her life was to her. How strange it all was.
There was the train. By the long line of illumined smoke she conld trace it slowly moving along far off, and it would take its way past hamlets, villages, towns, where living people were, on to some great city thronged with life, one other of the myriad-crowded cities of the earth. How fearfully full of life the world was! What was she among so many ? Of what account how her life was spent, or what she did, or what she was ? What matter how one grain of sand slid hither or thither on the ever-shifting beach, bow one drop rolled amid the ocean ?
And yet she could not feel it so at all. No telling herself that she was but one among some fourteen hundred million inhabitants of the earth could, except for the briefest moment, destroy her intense interest in her own personality. Whether she were happy or miserable, good or bad, was of moment, unspeakable moment, must ever be, to herself.
And if to herself, 0, surely, surely to Him who had made her, who had given her a power to choose between the right and the wrong, and such a fearful capacity of happiness or misery. Oh, was it not so ? Was not this inalienable sense of personal identity, this indestructible desire for personal well-being, implanted in each one of the vast multitude, a sort of pledge that the Giver of all life knew. His children one by one, cared for them one by one, and, encompassed by the mingled cries of the universe, could distinguish each voice, give ear to the request of each. Surely it must be so, or orphans were we all.
Irene was accustomed to kneel, night and morning, and repeat a prayer; it was not often that she prayed. Bat now she felt a desire for something more than a repeated form, and she knelt, her anclosed eyes lifted to the dim sky and the pale stars.
Her words were broken, and at first no distinct petition was presented by heart or lip. Hers was less a prayer than a longing for recognition, an inarticulate cry, not to be forgotten amid this crowded loneliness. But at last, in part from habit and a knowledge of what was befitting, and in part because of some trae desire, she asked for the forgiveness of sin and for grace to live aright, and then she requested help in the work she had come there to do, for power to imagine vividly and for skill to execute.
But as she so prayed the thought flashed through her, “Can I fittingly ask God's blessing? Am I doing right ?” And she tried to force the thought away, and, when it again uprose, to argue it down. Where was the wrong? What injury was done to any one ? What harm could follow ? Still she knelt, and before she rose her thoughts became a kind of prayer, unuttered, but which, if pat into words, would not have been anlike this,
“ If it be a wrong surely it is a very small one. Forgive it, and let me do it, and give me Thy blessing all the same, and so make the wrong into right."
LOST. Three days had passed, Friday morning was come, and Irene's retreat remained undiscovered. No sound had been heard next door, nothing unusual observed by neighbour or passer-by; Mrs. Walton believed Irene to be safe at school; Miss Ingram hoped she was benefiting by Mrs. Walton's quiet society ; and her school companions were envying her this quick renewal of a holiday.
The evening before she had received a note from John, greatly regretting that he should be leaving for London, early, in the morning, on his employer's affairs. He would return that night if any way possible, for he feared she would feel lonely, and he should be very unhappy in leaving her ; but the business, being his master's, must be attended to, and it might detain him until Satarday morning; he earnestly trusted it would not. Irene was sorry, but not dismayed as at first she would have been ; she was becoming accustomed to her position, and John's near presence was less absolutely essential to her comfort. So, quite cheerfully, early in the morning, she had received and given taps on the fireplace in token of good-bye.
In all probability the scheme would have succeeded and she would have returned, as intended, to Portsmouth Square on Saturday afternoon, as if direct from the visit, leaving with John the result of her work, to be produced and confession made whenever