Obrazy na stronie
PDF
ePub
[ocr errors]

glad that bed-time could not be put as would have happened in real off much longer.

sleep. Yet our mother did not There was

no sociable little notice this, we thought; she turned sprite now to startle us with and left us, and we heard her talklaughter, or drag us against our ing softly to herself as she went will into defying fatigue and sleep. away. I hated the old haunts that wet What a strange Sunday the summer, and Gladys hadn't the next day was ! Our stepfather heart to get much fun out of any- left the house early to do duty thing. Very often she came to at an outlying district church, the bed before I did, and grumbled service of which he shared with a herself into forgetfulness. neighbouring rector.

There was 66 Madeleine !"

to be no service in

our little “Well—where have you been, village that morning. This hapGladys? Why, it's quite dark,” I pened once every month. It was exclaimed, raising myself in bed; our mother's custom on these occa“it must be dreadfully late.” sions to attend to the Sunday

“Of course it is : ten o'clock, school herself, and we were often getting on to eleven.”

allowed to help in our fashion“What have you been about, straightening the rows of baby then?

children, examining pockets, frownKeep awake, child, do,” cried ing over nuts and apples, and genGladys. “I'm coming into bed erally assuming grown - up airs. with you for a talk, and you must The afternoons of these days were listen. There's a man with mother very happy ones : we had inother at the gate outside the wood; it's all to ourselves, and we sat together pouring with rain, and mother has in the garden under the dear old been standing there for the last walnut-tree's shade; we had our tea hour talking I've watched them brought out there sometimes too, from the tool-house."

and mother seemed as young as “It's a shame of anybody to ourselves; we were all children keep mother out in the rain. Is in the happy days when Theodora it the schoolmaster, or Hinton, was with us. When the click of

the garden - gate, announcing the “Madeleine! you're going off return of the rector, sounded, we again. Mother put her arms round used to spring up, we children, his neck,-I saw her,—and he's as each in her place, and dash away shabby as a beggar.”

into the shrubbery, or pick up our I was thoroughly roused up books and make for the house and then.

our play - room, anywhere away “Uncle Llewellyn,” burst from from the man who claimed our our lips at the same instant, and mother for his companion for the almost before we could take breath rest of the day The evening the door of our room opened, and service that followed brought with the sound of mother's gentle step it always a sense of peace, for the approaching the bed kept us quiet end of such a day was like closing and absorbed. She had come to the door upon a treasure-house of kiss us in our sleep, as she sup- sweetnesses that had already been posed: we knew this, and lay silent fully enjoyed, and that yet rewith closed eyes. And the cold, mained an overflowing store of wet cheeks she pressed against our good things, to feed upon if days faces did not make us start or turn, of famine should ever come.

or

. ?"

was

Sunday, the 9th of July, stands held loosely to one another, ready, out the first of our fasting days. too ready, to slip apart. . It never seemed properly to begin, Mother was the first to leave it never really ended. Mother did the room; I followed. Wynne not come down to breakfast until and Gladys had begun to quarrel long after Sunday-school time, and over the puppy ; Wynne was in a she said nothing about going to tormenting mood, and Gladys, who school when she did come. Oh always protected weak creatures, the breakfast that Sunday morn- would not let him have his way ing! If we could have known it with the young thing. The noise was the last meal we should ever of their dispute irritated me. I eat with mother, would Gladys went off and shut myself up in a have scolded because the milk for

room alone.

The room I went the coffee burnt? would into was on the quiet side of the Wynne have pushed impatiently house, and I placed myself near away the little dainties that ha- the window that overlooked the bitually fell to his share? I was unkempt little plantation which moody and preoccupied, or seemed we called the Wood. There was to be so rather; I could not really silence amongst the trees that have been, or every little detail of morning; it was a heavy day, and that half - hour would not have clouds hung low overhead. Underbeen pictured on my brain as it neath this window there was a has been in leaden mosaics. There small side-door that led into the was fruit on the table and wasps plantation, opening from a passage were troublesome, and Gladys in- that connected the hall-room and sisted on fighting them off with the wash-house. We never went a carving - knife which she held in and out that way, and the door continually in her right hand, was little used by any one, exceptmanaging all eatables with the ing on washing-days. As I was other. She made a dash in the listening to the silence, I heard direction of Wynne's face once, and this door being pushed open from nearly cut him. Wynne flipped the inside: it grated against the with a knotted pocket - handker- flagstone, then steps approached chief wherever a fly happened to from the path outside close to the settle on the table-cloth. A butter- house; somebody came in, and the fly flew in through the open win- door was closed again. I could dow, and I roused myself to assert see nothing ; but I knew as well that it was one I had tamed in as if I had seen that Gladys's the garden and that it knew me. beggar had just come into the Wynne flipped it, and Gladys house. Was it mother who let laughed at me. Mother was rest- him in ? And if she did, why did less, and got up for every little she? And was the beggar Uncle thing she wanted, but did not Llewellyn, and was mother hiding seem to want anything after she him from us or from any one? I had got it: she took no notice of heard nothing more, and becoming

Yes, it was mother herself, tired of speculation, I fetched from after all, who was not with us; but the schoolroom an old favourite we should have been clinging story-book, and settled myself for round her with stringent love, we a spell of quiet pleasure. I never should have called to her, Mother, stirred or thought again of the you must not go; you shall not world I lived in until I finished leave us.

Instead of this we all the last page of my book; then

us.

[ocr errors]

room.

any rate.

[ocr errors]

suddenly I began to wonder what thing, and did you see inside ?" was happening to the day. Surely asked Gladys, looking fixedly at it was getting very late ; but no the child. servants seemed to be moving “Yes; it opened when father about, there was nothing to show went in,” replied Wynne. that dinner - time was coming · Well, what did you see ?” Down I flew, then, with a sudden “I saw mother. impulse to the dining-room to look “Nobody else ?” for everybody. The dining-room Nobody,” said Wynne. But was empty, so was the drawing- somehow I felt sure he had seen

I heard voices in the ser- some other person all the same. vants' premises, and opening the “Go and lay the cloth,” said swing-door that led into the kit- Gladys, and turned again to the chen, I soon saw what was going soup. Wynne had scarcely been on, with Wynne and Gladys at gone a minute when he came back

They were cooking- a second time, and this time his Gladys, with red cheeks, standing eyes glistened with pleased exciteover the fire, Wynne waiting about ment. to fulfil her commands.

“I say,” he began, “there are Why, what's up?” I cried as two men outside the front doorI came in.

one's a policeman and they're “O Madeleine! Martha's taken trying to get in. There, they've herself off, just fancy! It's not her rung the bell. Do you hear?” Sunday out, you know; so Ellen's I should think we did hear. gone, and Martha and everybody, Such a loud, decided, crisis-creating and Wynne and I are getting the sort of bell-pull it sounded to my dinner ready. Here, Wynne, ears, and everything rushed into quick; you go and lay the cloth. my head at once that I had read · Mad, I've made such delicious or imagined of sudden catastrosoup, full of sauces, just the sort phes. Yet it only was the doormother likes.”

bell, and there was only Wynne's “ Where is mother, Gladys ?” word for the fact of there being a " Don't know."

policeman outside, and how could “ What's the matter, Wynne ?” he know? I exclaimed, as Wynne came back “Of course," said Gladys, iminto the kitchen with the table- pressively,

you

throw cloth still on his arm and a look stones at the post- office cat. I of disappointment on his face. warned you, Wynne.” " Father's home,” said Wynne. Before she could look round

Why, whatever o'clock can it Wynne was gone, flying up-stairs be then ž How oddly the day has to his room at the furthest exgone to be sure ! ”

tremity of a long passage, into “Well, I suppose we can have bed with all his clothes on, the some dinner all the same. Where quilt pulled right over his head. is he, Wynne ?”

“ Baby!” remarked Gladys, and “In the hall-room with mother, she thoroughly enjoyed the fright and they're all talking so loud.” he was having. " All! Who ?

“Hush, Gladys ! who's that goOh, father and mother.” ing to the door to let them in ? " “But you said all, Wynne.

Father.” Did you see anybody else? Did Three sets of heavy steps the hall-room door open or any- sounded in the hall, and the

16 after

hall-room door closed after three and listened for any sounds that persons who went in. Gladys and might come. It began to grow I spoke in whispers then; we dusk, and we were still there. drew close to the kitchen side of At length Wynne came creeping the green-baize swinging-door, and down the passage, leaving his bedheld it open the smallest degree room door open. with trembling fingers. I had in- Are they gone ?” he asked fected Gladys with a fear for under his breath. which I had no name. There was We shook our heads, and gave no loud talking now in the room, him no answer, only I drew him at least we heard none. It seemed down to me, and made him lay ages before the next thing hap- his head upon my lap. pened, and the tension of expec- “ Are they gone, Madeleine ?” tation was at full strain all the asked Wynne again. time.

“Be quiet, silly," Gladys said. The hall-room door opened again, “Madeleine, there's somebody and this time four sets of men's moving inside.” steps sounded along the hall. There Just at that minute Wynne's was no voice heard, no word spoken. bedroom door slammed in a sudden The latch of the front door was

gust of wind. It began to rain drawn aside; we just heard it; heavily, and the drops fell like but in the same instant almost our little lumps of lead on the skyears were pierced by a shriek that light. Our stepfather opened the made our hearts stand still, and door of the bedroom, and found there was a sound of flying feet us all sitting there together. from the room towards where the “Go away entirely, children,” men were waiting to pass out of he said in his usual formal voice : the house. The front door opened, all his self-possession seemed to the sound of rain reached us where have come back. " Your mother we stood hidden, and then came is asleep, and she must not be the slam that told us the men disturbed.” were gone; and after that another We made him tell us again sound, and then awful stillness. that mother was really asleep and Gladys and I could bear no more; nothing else, and then we conwe pushed out into the hall. sented to do as he told us. We Mother lay stretched across the left his and mother's part of the stone pavement of the threshold, house, and went down the long white and with her eyes shut. passage to our own. Wynne clung Our stepfather stood looking down to me. There had been a flash of upon her with a dark face and a lightning whilst we were talking helpless air. We rushed towards outside mother's door, and Wynne her, but he motioned us away, and could never bear to be alone in finally took the body with difficulty a thunderstorm. He enticed me in his arms, staggered with it up- to come into his room and stay stairs, and laid the helpless form with him until he should be asleep. . upon mother's bed. Then he shut Iow long a time I spent trying to the door upon himself and her. soothe his fears I do not know, or

“O Gladys, Gladys !” I cried, which of us fell asleep first; but I " what shall we do? Is our mother know that when something awoke dead ?”

me I was lying outside Wynne's We sat down in the passage as bed, and that he was sleeping. near to her door as we could get, I had never undressed, and it was

me

[ocr errors]

now

stood open.

daylight. Was this another day, There was nothing to be seen in then ? All time seemed to have the passage, but down the stairs ceased for us. I was existing in when I looked that way I saw some intermediate state that was mother rapidly descending. She neither death nor life, in which I went so quickly I could only tell was without sensation, and where that she was gone. I felt my lips I comprehended nothing. This grow white, my mouth was parched, was what I seemed aware of in- à cloud closed over me, I slipped wardly and outside—for I got up down on the floor and became and went to the window, and insensible. Martha found looked out-I met the cold pallor there, Gladys told me when I lay of the white dawn.

some hours afterwards on my bed, Wynne's bedroom was next to turning from side to side, trying the passage whose window was to smother my moans. overshadowed by a great apple- Everybody is looking for her tree, the tree in which Theodora now,” Gladys continued. Gladys saw or fancied she saw a man's

was dry-eyed; she looked nerved face staring at her on last Christ- and alert, excitement was vitalismas Eve. I opened Wynne's bed- ing her. room door and stepped outside and "Don't stay with me, Gladys, stood close to the window. On if you can do anything," I said, my left hand was the passage, on and Gladys left me. the right a door which led to the This was the silent day of our backstairs, and this door crisis. The house was deserted;

The early apples on nothing happened. When Gladys that tree, our first summer apples, returned she knew no more than were beginning to ripen ; they she had done when she went away; showed large and shapely even in there was nobody she could questhat pale light against the leaves. tion with the hope of learning As I looked I recalled an old story more than we already knew. Tomother used to tell us of her child- wards night the silent stage passed. hood, of certain apple-trees in the I recall this period in its stages, orchard near her father's Welsh terribly marked. An indescribable garden; how she and Llewellyn sound of tumult reached me where used to haunt these on early I lay : the house seemed suddenly autumn mornings. The

very to be full of people, or rather it laugh came back to my recollec- was as if conflicting presences pertion that Theodora used to give vaded its atmosphere; dismay and at one particular part of the story trouble came in and took posses—my God! I shrank with numb- sion. On the other side of the ing fear, for in the instant that I house I was aware at length that recalled it I heard the laugh again, the noise was resolving itself into the very same low chuckling laugh intelligible sounds. Mother was of a child. Sweet mother! you there, I felt. She was being taken were not a ghost then, no shadowy up-stairs by several people, of whom untouchable creature. But oh! our stepfather was one, and there even further away-lost, lost, lost ! was a doctor present; I knew his I had just power left to turn round voice. Mother was being persuaded in order to find out where the up, led up, forced up; everything laugh came from, and as I turned was being done to her against her I felt the slight wind of some thing will, I was certain of that, and I or creature passing me swiftly. longed to rush out and protect her.

« PoprzedniaDalej »