Chapter 31




THE SECOND TASK.

                       Hope no more,
    Since thou art furnished with hidden lore,
    To 'scape thy due reward if any day
    Without some task accomplished passed away.--MOORE.


The little dog's presence was a comfort, but his night of combat and scuffling was not a restful one and the poor prisoner's sickness of heart and nervous terrors grew upon her every hour, with misgivings lest she should be clinging to a shadow, and sacrificing her return to Betty's arms for a phantom. There were moments when her anguish of vague terror and utter loneliness impelled her to long to sign her renunciation that moment; and when she thought of recurring hours and weeks of such days and such nights her spirit quailed within her, and Loveday might have found her less calmly steadfast had she come in the morning.

She did not come, and this in itself was a disappointment, for at least she brought a human voice and a pitying countenance which, temptress though she might be, had helped to bear Aurelia through the first days. Oh! could she but find anything to do! She had dusted her two rooms as well as she could consistently with care for the dress she could not change. She blamed herself extremely for having forgotten her Bible and Prayer-book when hastily making up her bundle of necessaries, and though there was little chance that Madge should possess either, or be able to read, she nerved herself to ask. "Bible! what should ye want of a Bible, unless to play the hypocrite? I hain't got none!" was the reply.

So Aurelia could only walk up and down the court trying to repeat the Psalms, and afterwards the poetry she had learnt for Mr. Belamour's benefit, sometimes deriving comfort from the promises, but oftener wondering whether he had indeed deserted her in anger at her distrustful curiosity. She tried to scrape the mossgrown Triton, she crept up stairs to the window that looked towards the City, and cleared off some of the dimness, and she got a needle and thread and tried to darn the holes in the curtains and cushions, but the rotten stuff crumbled under her fingers, and would not hold the stitches. At last she found in a dusty corner a boardless book with neither beginning nor end, being Defoe's Plague of London. She read and read with a horrid fascination, believing every word of it, wondering whether this house could have been infected, and at length feeling for the plague spot!

A great church-clock enabled her to count the hours! Oh, how many there were of them! How many more would there be? This was only her second day, and deliverance could not come for weeks, were her young husband--if husband he were--ever so faithful. How should she find patience in this dreariness, interspersed with fits of alarm lest he should be dangerously ill and suffering? She fell on her knees and prayed for him and for herself!

Here it was getting dark again, and Madge would hunt her in presently and shut the shutters. Hark! what was that? A bell echoing over the house! Madge came after her. "Where are you, my fine mistress! Go you into the parlour, I say," and she turned the key upon the prisoner, whose heart beat like a bird fluttering in a cage. Suddenly her door was opened, and in darted Fidelia and Lettice, who flung themselves upon her with ecstatic shrieks of "Cousin Aura, dear cousin Aura!" Loveday was behind, directing the bringing in of trunks from a hackney coach. All she said was, "My Lady's daughters are to be with you for the night, madam; I must not say more, for her ladyship is waiting for me."

She was gone, while the three were still in the glad tangle of an embrace beginning again and again, with all sorts of little exclamations from the children, into which Aurelia broke with the inquiry for their brother. "He is much better," said Fay. "He is to get up to-morrow, and then he will come and find you."

"Have you seen him?"

"Oh, yes, and he says it is Sister Aura, and not Cousin Aura--"

"My dear, dear little sisters--" and she hugged them again.

"I was sitting upon his bed," said Letty, "and we were all talking about you when my Lady mamma came. Are mothers kinder than Lady mammas?"

"Was she angry?" asked Aurelia.

"Oh! she frightened me," said Fay. "She said we were pert, forward misses, and we must hold our tongues, for we should be whipped if we ever said you name, Cousin--Sister Aura, again; and she would not let us go to wish Brother Amyas good-bye this morning."

Aurelia's heart could not but leap with joy that her tyrant should have failed in carrying to Bowstead the renunciation of the marriage. Whether Lady Belamour meant it or not, she had made resistance much easier by the company of Faith and Hope, if only for a single night. She gathered from their prattle that their mother, having found that their talk with their brother was all of the one object of his thoughts, had carried them off summarily, and had been since driving about London in search of a school at which to leave them; but they were too young for Queen's Square, and there was no room at another house at which Lady Belamour had applied. She would not take them home, being, of course, afraid of their tongues, and in her perplexity had been reduced to letting them share Aurelia's captivity at least for the night.

What joy it was! They said it was an ugly dark house, but Aurelia's presence was perfect content to them, and theirs was to her comparative felicity, assuring her as they did, through their childish talk, of Sir Amyas's unbroken love and of Mr. Belamour's endeavours to find her. What mattered it that Madge was more offended than ever, and refused to make the slightest exertion for "the Wayland brats at that time of night" without warning. They had enough for supper, and if Aurelia had not, their company was worth much more to her than a full meal. The terrier's rushes after rats were only diversion now, and when all three nestled together in the big bed, the fun was more delightful than ever. Between those soft caressing creatures Aurelia heard no rats, and could well bear some kicks at night, and being drummed awake at some strange hour in the morning.

Mrs. Loveday arrive soon after the little party had gone down stairs. She said the children were to remain until her ladyship had decided where to send them; and she confirmed their report that his Honour was recovering quickly. As soon as he was sufficiently well to leave Bowstead he was to be brought to London, and married to Lady Arabella before going abroad to make the grand tour; and as a true well-wisher, Mrs. Loveday begged Miss Delavie not to hold out when it was of no use, for her Ladyship declared that her contumacy would be the worse for her. Aurelia's garrison was, however, too well reinforced for any vague alarms to shake even her out works, and she only smiled her refusal, as in truth Mrs. Loveday must have expected, for it appeared that she had secured a maid to attend on the prisoners; an extremely deaf woman, who only spoke in the broken imperfect mode of those who have never heard their own voice, deficiencies that made it possible that Madge would keep the peace with her.

Lady Belamour had also found another piece of work for Aurelia. A dark cupboard was opened, revealing shelves piled with bundle of old letters and papers. There was a family tradition that one of the ladies of the Delavie family had been an attendant of Mary of Scotland for a short time, and had received from her a recipe for preserving the complexion and texture of the skin, devised by the French Court perfumer. Nobody had ever seen this precious prescription; but it was presumed to be in the archives of the family, and her ladyship sent word that if Miss Delavie wished to deserve her favour she would put her French to some account and discover it.

A severe undertaking it was. Piles of yellow letters, files of dusty accounts, multitudes of receipts, more than one old will had to be conned it was possible to be certain they were not the nostrum. In the utter solitude, even this occupation would have been valuable, but with the little girls about her, and her own and their property, she had alternative employments enough to make it an effort to apply herself to this.

Why should she? she asked herself more than once; but then came the recollection that if she showed herself willing to obey and gratify my Lady, it might gain her good will, and if Sir Amyas should indeed hold out till Mr. Wayland came home--Her heart beat wildly at the vision of hope.

She worked principally at the letters, after the children had gone to bed, taking a packet up stairs with her, and sitting in the bedroom, deciphering them as best she might by the light of the candles that Loveday had brought her.

Every morning Loveday appeared with supplies, and messages from her Ladyship, that it was time Miss submitted; but she was not at all substantially unkind, and showed increasing interest in her captive, though always impressing on her that her obstinacy was all in vain. My Lady was angered enough at his Honour having got up from his sick bed and gone off to Carminster, and if Miss did not wish to bring her father into trouble she must yield. No, this gladdened rather than startled Aurelia, though her heart sank within her when she was warned that Mr. Wayland had been taken by the corsairs, so that my Lady would have the ball at her own foot now. The term of waiting seemed indefinitely prolonged.

The confinement to the dingy house and courtyard was trying to all three, who had been used to run about in the green park and breezy fields; but Aurelia did her best to keep her little companions happy and busy, and the sense of the insecurity of her tenure of their company aided her the more to meet with good temper and sweetness the various rubs incidental to their captivity in this close warm house in the hottest of summer weather. The pang she had felt at her own fretfulness, when she thought she had lost them, made her guard the more against giving way to impatience if they were troublesome or hard to please. Indeed, she was much more gentle and equable now, in the strength of her resolution, than she had been when uplifted by her position, yet doubtful of its mysteries.

Sundays were the most trying time. The lack of occupation in the small space was wearisome, and Aurelia's heart often echoed the old strains of Tate and Brady,

I sigh whene'er my musing thoughts Those happy days present, When I with troops of pious friends Thy temple did frequent.

She and her charges climbed up to the window above, which happily had a broken pane, tried to identify the chimes of the church bells by the notable nursery rhyme,

Oranges and lemons, Say the bells of St. Clements, &c.,

watched the church-goers as far as they could see them, and then came down to such reading of the service and other Sunday occupations as Aurelia could devise. On the Sunday of her durance it was such a broiling day that, unable to bear the heat of her parlour, she established herself and her charges in a nook of the court, close under the window, but shaded by the wall, which was covered with an immense bush of overhanging ivy, and by the elm tree in the court. Here she made Fay and Letty say their catechism, and the Psalm she had been teaching them in the week, and then rewarded them with a Bible story, that of Daniel in the den of lions. Once or twice the terrier (whose name she had learnt was Bob) had pricked his ears, and the children had thought there was a noise, but the sparrows in the ivy might be accountable for a great deal, and the little ones were to much wrapped in her tale to be attentive to anything else.

"Then it came true!" said Letty. "His God Whom he trusted did deliver him out of the den of lions?"

"God always does deliver people when they trust Him," said Fay, with gleaming eyes.

"Yes, one way or the other," said Aurelia.

"How do you think He will deliver us?" asked Letty; "for I am sure this is a den, though there are no lions."

"I do not know how," said Aurelia, "but I know He will bear us through it as long as we trust Him and do nothing wrong," and she looked up at the bright sky with hope and strength in her face.

"Hark! what's that?" cried Letty, and Bob leapt up and barked as a great sob became plainly audible, and within the room appeared Mrs. Loveday, her face all over tears, which she was fast wiping away as she rose up from crouching with her head against the window-sill.

"I beg your pardon, ma'am," said she, her voice still broken when she rejoined them, "but I would not interrupt you, so I waited within; and oh, it was so like my poor old mother at home, it quite overcame me! I did not think there was anything so near the angels left on earth."

"Nay, Loveday," said Fay, apprehending the words in a different sense, "the angels are just as near us as ever they were to Daniel, only we cannot see them. Are they not, Cousin Aura?"

"Indeed they are, and we may be as sure that they will shut the lions' mouths," said Aurelia.

"Ah! may they," sighed Loveday, who had by this time mastered her agitation, and remembered that she must discharge herself of her messages, and return hastily to my Lady's toilette.

"I have found the recipe," said Aurelia. "Here it is." And she put into Loveday's hand a yellow letter, bearing the title in scribbled writing, "Poure Embellire et blanchire la Pel, de part de Maistre Raoul, Parfumeur de la Royne Catherine."




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