Fain would others have been the same support; but his father, though not leaving him, was completely unnerved, and unable to do anything; and Mrs. Ponsonby was suffering under one of the attacks that were brought on by any sudden agitation. Mary, though giddy and throbbing in every pulse, was forced to put a resolute check on herself—brace her limbs, steady her voice, and keep her face composed, while every faculty was absorbed in listening for sounds from her cousin’s room, and her heart was quivering with an anguish of prayer and suspense. Could she but hide her burning cheeks for one moment, let out one of the sobs that seemed to be rending her breast, throw herself on her knees and burst into tears, what an infinite relief it would be! But Mary had learnt to spend her life in having no self.
What yet is there that I should do,
Lingering in this darksome vale?
Proud and mighty, fair to view,
Are our schemes, and yet they fail,
Like the sand before the wind,
That no power of man can bind.
Arndt, Lyra Germanica.
Dynevor Terrace was said to have dark, damp kitchens, but by none who had ever been in No. 5, when the little compact fire was compressed to one glowing red crater of cinders, their smile laughing ruddily back from the bright array on the dresser, the drugget laid down, the round oaken table brought forward, and Jane Beckett, in afternoon trim, tending her geraniums, the offspring of the parting Cheveleigh nosegay, or gauffreing her mistress’s caps. No wonder that on raw evenings, Master James, Miss Clara, or my young Lord, had often been found gossiping with Jane, toasting their own cheeks as well as the bread, or pinching their fingers in her gauffreing machine.
Yet, poor little Charlotte Arnold learnt that the kitchen could be dreary, when Mrs. Beckett had been summoned to nurse Lord Fitzjocelyn, and she remained in sole charge, under Mrs. Martha’s occasional supervision. She found herself, her household cares over all too soon, on a cold light March afternoon, with the clock ticking loud enough for midnight, the smoke-jack indulging in supernatural groans, and the whole lonely house full of undefined terrors, with an unlimited space of the like solitude before her. She would even have been glad to be sure of an evening of Mrs. Martha’s good advice, and of darning stockings! She sat down by the round table to Mr. James’s wristbands; but every creak or crack of the furniture made her start, and think of death-watches. She might have learnt to contemn superstition, but that did not prevent it from affecting her nerves.
She spread her favourite study, The Old English Baron, on the table before her; but the hero had some connexion in her mind with Tom Madison, for whom she had always coveted a battle-field in France. What would he feel when he heard how he had filled up his course of evil, being well-nigh the death of his benefactor! If any one ought to be haunted, it would assuredly be no other than Tom!