After a while they gave up waiting and watching at the front door, and shut themselves up in the parlor. The first explanation past, even Selina ceased talking; and they sat together, the three women, doing nothing, attempting to do nothing, only listening; thinking every sound was a step on the pavement or a knock at the door. Alas! what would they not have given for the fiercest knock, the most impatient, angry footstep, if only it had been their boy’s?
About one o’clock, Selina had to be put to bed in strong hysterics. She had lashed her nephew with her bitter tongue till he had rushed out of the house, declaring that none of them should ever see his face again. Now she reproached herself as being the cause of all, and fell into an agony of remorse, which engrossed her sisters’ whole care; until her violent emotion having worn itself out, she went to sleep, the only one who did sleep in that miserable family.
For Elizabeth also, having been sent to bed hours before, was found by Miss Hilary sitting on the kitchen stairs, about four in the morning. Her mistress made no attempt at reproach, but brought her into the parlor to share the silent watch, never broken except to make up the fire or light a fresh candle; till candles burned up, and shutters were opened, and upon their great calamity stared the broad unwelcome day.
“Missing”—“Lost”—“To—“—all the initials of the alphabet—we read these sort of advertisements in the newspapers; and unless there happens to be in them something intensely pathetic, comical, or horrible, we think very little about them. Only those who have undergone all that such an advertisement implies can understand its depth of misery: the sudden missing of the person out of the home circle, whether going away in anger or driven away by terror or disgrace; the hour after hour and day after day of agonized suspense; the self-reproach, real or imaginary, lest any thing might have been said or done that was not said or done—any thing prevented that was not prevented; the gnawing remorse for some cruel, or careless, or bitter word, that could so easily have been avoided.
Alas! if people could only be made to feel that every word, every action carries with it the weight of an eternity; that the merest chance may make something said or done quite unpremeditatedly, in vexation, sullenness, or spite, the last action, the last word; which may grow into an awful remembrance, rising up between them and the irredeemable past, and blackening the future for years!
Selina was quite sure her unhappy nephew had committed suicide, and that she had been the cause of it. This conviction she impressed incessantly on her two sisters as they waited upon her, or sat talking by her bedside during that long Saturday, when there was nothing else to be done.
That was the misery of it. There was nothing to be done. They had not the slightest clew to Ascott’s haunts or associates. With the last fingering of honest shame, or honest respect for his aunts, he had kept all these things to himself. To search for him in wide London was altogether impossible.