« AnteriorContinuar »
"Certainly not; most undesirable," interrupted Miss Ingram. “Oh! we ought to have allowed her," sighed Cla rissa. Mr. Rivers rose. “Go on; don't make a long story.”
"She wanted, father, a few days in some quiet place to try what she could do, and when you, consin, kindly gave her leave to go to Easton, she seized that opportunity. She thought she should cause no alarm; you would think she was with Mrs. Walton, and she was coming back to school this afternoon, and going to tell you everything. I helped ber; I ought not. I ought to have known this might happen. It is I who am to blame; I'm older. I put a few things there she would want, and let her in-next door."
Absurd !” said Mr. Rivers. "And no furniture! Oh!” exclaimed his mother, shocked by such discomfort.
"An Englishman's house is his castle,'” remarked Hilda.
" Secreted—by you—and in a void house !” Miss Ingram gave dreadful emphasis to each word.
John coloured deeply. “Cousin," he said, "I put all things in readiness on Monday evening before she came. I have never been in the house since. I have bad notes from her every day, pushed under the garden door. I have never seen her. I found one this morning;” and he handed Mrs. Weatherill a folded paper which had been in his hand when he entered. But Clarissa's hands trembled, and her eyes were dim.
“Shall I read it ? I presume I may,” said Miss Ingram, who thought she had at least an equal right. John passed the note from Mrs. Weatherill to his cousin, who read the missive in a cold, measured voice.
“My dear John, I have finished it. I rose very early this morning, and put the final touches. Now I know that I can paint. It is full-very full of blemishes; but there is power, and it is so like. I wish you would come in and let me show it to you before I go this afternoon; but if you prefer not, look at it carefully, and take every care of it for me; but that I know you will. I shall tell Miss Ingram all about it before Mrs. Walton comes homes next week; perhaps this very evening. I am afraid I have got you into trouble with your cousin, and perhaps at home; but I will tell them it was my fault; I made you do it. I think we shall be forgiven when the picture is seen. Oh, thank you for having helped me. Now I can be quiet, and wait patiently. I feel sure a way will open by-and-by. I would rather be a painter than anything else in the wide world. I am so glad-so happy.
“I will not write more, because I do think you will come and see the picture. It seems so long since Monday, as if I had almost forgotten what Portsmouth Square is like. I have talked to myself and to a grey pussy that comes over the garden-wall, or I should almost have forgotten how to speak. She has helped me with the good things you kindly provided, but they are not all gone. I shall think of this house as long as ever I live; and I hope-oh, I hope I shall live long. Thank you once more, and always, and for ever - Your loving Sister,
"TRENE LAURFSTON. “I sign my whole name this time, for I think it is a name that shall not be quite anknown.”
“Vain, foolish, self-willed girl," said the governess, putting down the paper.
“Can we go to her ? " asked Clarissa.
"Most certainly; I am going to her immediately ; it is my daty. Deceptive and rebellious against rightful authority she has shown herself; and you, John, have abetted her in this, and added on your own account ingratitade and treachery towards me."
“I will get the front door key,” said John. “I suppose it is in the usual place ; ” and he went out of the room. Brother, may
I come in with you, and see Irene ? " asked Lettie, following him.
“No, dear, I would rather not; she will come and see you soon I hope. I am so sorry for the unhappiness you have had ;” and he kissed the loving little face that showed signs of recent grief, for she had cried herself to sleep the night before for her lost friend. John had not yet answered a word to the reproaches cast upon him; but when he re-entered the room with the key, he said, “Cousin, there is another side. Repression may be carried too far, and almost justify resistance; but I am too grieved by the result to be eager in my own defence. Shall we go?" and the three went.
"Might I go first ? ” John asked, as he fitted the key in the lock. “I am afraid she will be so startled.”
“ Please do,” said Mrs. Weatherill.
“Certainly not. I have trasted you far too well in the past," replied his cousin. “ Startled ! It would have been well if a little of this tenderness had been shown to us."
So they went in together. As they reached the foot of the stairs John raised his voice. " Irene, do not be alarmed, Miss Ingram is here, and Mrs. Weatherill.”
“Will you please show them up ? " said Irene's voice, but she did not come forward to meet them.
The door of the painting-room was open, and they entered.
Irene stood before them, erect, her left hand on the top of the picture as it rested on the easel. She hai not spent mach time that morning in arranging her hair ; it fell in wild luxuriance over her shoulders, her cheeks were flushed, her eyes glowing with joyous triumph blended with a strange tenderness ; and she looked older, more a woman, less a child, than she had looked so few days ago. Strange it was, but in the moment of startled surprise there had not crossed her mind any suspicion of what had really happened. She conjectured that John had taken the confession on himself; had brought Miss Ingram to see the picture; and that Mrs. Weatherill, happening to be in Westhaven, had come too. So she stood beside her work in silent exultation.
For a few moments the three who had ontered stood as silently. Miss Ingram was confounded by the cool audacity of her pupil. John, who had only half believod in Ireno's powers, stood astonished by the evidence of genius the painting displayed; while Clarissa was wholly absorbed in the picture itself, which had a meaning for her--a reality it had not for the other beholders.
That wasted form, half rising from the bed; the hand uplifted, the worn pale face, yet so wonderfully beautiful, and lighted up by a glad smile ; an open window ; a sunset glow on wooded height and many-coloured tower; and beneath the picture the words“At eventide-light!” She understood it all, and there escaped her lips the unforgotten name Lancelot;” but no one heard her, save Irene.
Deceitful, disobedient child ! Miss Ingram said, when her indignation at Irene's triumphant attitude allowed her to speak.
“Oh, John, it would have been better to have let me go home, and have told myself,” she said, but not looking very troubled.
“Irene, it was found out-found out yesterday. Mrs. Walton's servant happened to come into town.”
“And told that I was not at Easton ?" she said, getting paler and paler as the truth forced itself gradually on her unwilling mind. “ And they did not know where I was, and you were not at home to tell them; and they were frightened, and have been searching for me. Oh, I am so sorry. Mrs. Weatherill, Miss Ingram, I am very, very sorry.'
And the tears came to her eyes.
"The police have been searching for you, Miss Laureston, and there are bills posted over the city, with your name and description," said Miss Ingram.
“Oh!” exclaimed Irene, shrinking back, her eyes dilating with horror, “my father's name. Mrs. Weatherill! Mrs. Weatherill !',
Clarissa had before longed to embrace her recovered child, only a sense that such an expression of affection at this moment would be far from pleasing to Miss Ingram had restrained her; but at this appeal from Irene all feelings but those of sympathy with her and joy in her safety were forgotten, and in an instant the weeping child was in her arıns.
'Pardon me, Mrs. Weatherill,” said Miss Ingram, “but this is scarcely fitting after such misconduct. We are both intensely relieved that Miss Laureston is safe; but the artfulness, the disobedience, and the disgraceful notoriety remain the same !” and Miss Ingram walked out of the room, followed by John, who was desirous, so far as might be, to pacify his cousin, and who also thought Irene and Mrs. Weatherill might like to be alone together.
For some minutes they both were silent, then Irene sobbed, “I thought we had managed so well; I never thought this would happen. I'm most of all sorry about you, ma'am. How did you know?"
“ Miss Ingram sent a telegram yesterday. I have been mach distressed; it is over now. But, dear, you should not have done it.”
“I know it. I know it. I feel it now. I am so very sorry. And yet-I can't help being glad I have painted that picture. Mrs. Weatherill, can you see any likeness ? ”
“Yes, Irene; I should have known who it must be if I had seen it anywhere," and the two moved in front of the painting, and stood looking at it silently.
“I wish poor mother could have seen it, she would have been so glad ; and I felt as if I ought to connect her with it, somehow,” Irene said at length. “ So look, ma'am, I have written in small here, in this corner, 'painted for my mother.' I thought, perhaps, she might know and be pleased. How can we tell? I feel sare my father has been near me sometimes; I feel sure of it! But I give the picture to you, Mrs. Weatherill, who have been a second mother to me, and could hardly have been kinder if you had been my own."
“I shall value it more than I can say,” Mrs. Weatherill answered, drawing Irene closer, and kissing her, "value it for your sake, and
father's." Oh, ma'am, how ill you look, frightened and grieving about me!” Irene's tears flowed afresh, as now, less self-absorbed, she noticed on her friend's face the effects of agitation and sleepless
" And after all your kindness to have made you suffer so! Mrs. Weatherill, that first night I was here I was afraid I was doing wrong, and I prayed, not exactly in words, but I know it was what I meant, that if it were wrong God would forgive and let me do it, and make it all come right and no harm bappen ! But perhaps, that cannot be ; and wrong must be wrong, and right, right; and when wrong is done, pain and trouble must come of it
somewhere, to some one! But, oh! ma'am, I wish the pain had not come to you, nor to Miss Ingram. I should like to go to Miss Ingram and ask her pardon, and tell her again how very, very sorry I am for all the trouble I have caused !” So they went in search of Miss Ingram and of John.
CHAPTER XXI.-A PROBLEM SOLVED.
How should she now provide for Irene's future ? that was a question which weighed on Clarissa's mind, as in the afternoon the train carried her onwards towards her home.
For the present Irene had returned to Portsmouth Square, bat Miss Ingram had expressed a strong desire to be relieved from the responsibility of her further care as soon as Mrs. Weatherill could make other arrangements. It would be impossible, she had said, after misconduct so publicly known, to entrast her as heretofore with the teaching of younger classes, or to hold out any expectation of her reception as a salaried assistant. It was not her desire to act harshly towards the child, or in other than a honourable spirit, towards Mrs. Weatherill. Irene should remain for the present simply as a papil, at the same reduced terms as when render. ing assistance, but, of course, such an arrangement could be only temporary; and, without wishing unreasonably to hasten Mrs. Weatherill's decision, such promptness as might be found practicable would be esteemed a favour.
And Clarissa felt that she could only thank Miss Ingram, and promise to give immediate attention to the matter. So it was that her mind, though in a wearied and inconclusive manner, was occupied by this perplexity during the return journey. Miss Ingram had pressed Mrs. Weatherill to remain with her until the Monday, and so rest after all she had undergone. But Clarissa longed to be at home, and the reaction after the excitement not having yet thoroughly set in, the journey, though burdensome, was by no means impossible.
She felt a strange yearning to see Alice again ; the fears, the dreadful imaginings which had filled her mind in regard to Irene, groundless though they had proved, seemed to oppress her still, and awaken a vague dread that something might have happened in her absence to her own and yet dearer child. And yet more, she longed to see her husband. It seemed now her one great need to lose the sensation of that cold kiss, to hear his voice again speak. ing other than those cutting words with which they parted.
But as the train neared Kingsport, and still more as the cab went slowly op Snow Hill, she began to dread the meeting. Would her husband receive her as coldly as he had parted from her? What