+ ~ -
Please report pronunciation problems here. Select and sample other voices. Options Pause Play
Report an Error



WHEN the servants' dinner-bell at St. Crux
rang as usual on the day of George Bartram's
departure, it was remarked that the new parlourmaid's
place at table remained empty. One of
the inferior servants was sent to her room to
make inquiries, and returned with the information
that "Louisa" felt a little faint, and begged
that her attendance at table might be excused
for that day. Upon this, the superior authority
of the housekeeper was invoked; and Mrs.
Drake went up-stairs immediately to ascertain
the truth for herself. Her first look of inquiry
satisfied her that the parlour-maid's indisposition,
whatever the cause of it might be, was
certainly not assumed to serve any idle or sullen
purpose of her own. She respectfully declined
taking any of the remedies which the housekeeper
offered and merely requested permission to try
the efficacy of a walk in the fresh air.

"I have been accustomed to more exercise,
ma'am, than I take here," she said. "Might
I go into the garden, and try what the air will
do for me?"

"Certainly. Can you walk by yourself? or
shall I send some one with you?"

"I will go by myself, if you please, ma'am."

"Very well. Put on your bonnet and shawl
and, when you get out, keep in the east garden.
The admiral sometimes walks in the north garden,
and he might feel surprised at seeing you
there. Come to my room, when you have had
air and exercise enough, and let me see how you

In a few minutes more, Magdalen was out in
the east garden. The sky was clear and sunny
but the cold shadow of the house rested on the
garden-walk, and chilled the mid-day air. She
walked towards the ruins of the old monastery,
situated on the south side of the more modern
range of buildings. Here, there were lonely
open spaces to breathe in freely; here the pale
March sunshine stole through the gaps of
desolation and decay, and met her invitingly with the
genial promise of spring.

She ascended three or four riven stone steps,
and seated herself on some ruined fragments
beyond them, full in the sunshine. The place
she had chosen had once been the entrance to
the church. In centuries long gone by, the
stream of human sin and human suffering had
flowed, day after day, to the confessional, over
the place where she now sat. Of all the miserable
women who had trodden those old stones in
the bygone time, no more miserable creature
had touched them, than the woman whose feet
rested on them now.

Her hands trembled as she placed them on either
side of her, to support herself on the stone seat.
She laid them on her lapthey trembled there.
She held them out, and looked at them wonderingly
they trembled as she looked. " Like an
old woman!" she said, faintlyand let them drop
again at her side.

For the first time, that morning, the cruel discovery
had forced itself on her mindthe discovery
that her strength was failing her, at the time when
she had most confidently trusted to it, at the
time when she wanted it most. She had felt the
surprise of Mr. Bartram's unexpected departure,
as if it had been the shock of the severest calamity
that could have befallen her. That one check to her
hopesa check which, at other times, would only
have roused the resisting power in her to new
effortshad struck her with as suffocating a
terror, had prostrated her with as all-mastering
a despair, as if she had been overwhelmed by the
crowning disaster of expulsion from St. Crux.
But one warning could be read, in such a change
as this. Into the space of little more than a
year, she had crowded the wearing and wasting
emotions of a life. The bountiful gifts of health
and strength, so prodigally heaped on her by
Nature, so long abused with impunity, were
failing her at last.

She looked up at the far faint blue of the sky.
She heard the joyous singing of birds among the
ivy that clothed the ruins. Oh, the cold distance
of the heavens! Oh, the pitiless happiness of the
birds! Oh, the lonely horror of sitting there,
and feeling old and weak and worn, in the heyday
of her youth! She rose with a last effort of
resolution, and tried to keep back the hysterical
passion swelling at her heart, by moving and
looking about her. Rapidly and more rapidly
she walked to and fro in the sunshine. The
exercise helped her, through the very fatigue
that she felt from it. She forced the rising tears