Even to Mrs. Acton it was a continual wonder to see how entirely under control of that little merry mother were those great, lively, spirited boys, who never seemed to think of disobeying her first word, and, while all made fun together, and she was hardly less active and enterprising than they, always considered her comfort and likings.
So went things for a fortnight, during which the coming of the others had been put off by Dr. Drew’s absence. One morning Mr. Acton sought Mrs. Brownlow on the beach, where she was sitting with her brood round her, partly reading from a translation, partly telling them the story of Ulysses.
He called her aside, and told her that her husband had telegraphed to him to bid him to carry her the tidings that good old Mrs. Brownlow had been taken from them suddenly in the night, evidently in her sleep.
Carey turned very white, but said only “Oh! why did I go without them?”
It was such an overwhelming shock as left no room for tears. Her first thought, the only one she seemed to have room for, was to get back to her husband by the next train. She would have taken all the children, but that Mrs. Acton insisted, almost commanded, that they should be left under her charge, and reminded her that their father wished them to be out of London; nor did Allen and Robert show any wish to return to a house of mourning, being just of the age to be so much scared at sorrow as to ignore it. And indeed their mother was equally new to any real grief; her parents had been little more than a name to her, and the only loss she had actually felt was that of a favourite schoolfellow.
She had no time to think or feel till she had reached the train and taken her seat, and even then the first thing she was conscious of was a sense of numbness within, and frivolous observation without, as she found herself trying to read upside down the direction of her opposite neighbour’s parcels, counting the flounces on her dress, and speculating on the meetings and partings at the stations; yet with a terrible weight and soreness on her all the time, though she could not think of the dear grannie, of whom it was no figure of speech to say that she had been indeed a mother. The idea of her absence from home for ever was too strange, too heartrending to be at once embraced, and as she neared the end of her journey on that long day, Carey’s mind was chiefly fixed on the yearning to be with her husband and Janet, who had suffered such a shock without her. She seemed more able to feel through her husband-who was so devoted to his mother, than for herself, and she was every moment more uneasy about her little daughter, who must have been in the room with her grandmother. Comfort them? How, she did not know! The others had always petted and comforted her, and now- No one to go to when the children were ailing or naughty-no one to share little anxieties when Joe was out late-no one to be the backbone she leant on-no dear welcome from the easy chair. That thought nearly set her crying; the tears burnt in her strained eyes, but the sight of the people opposite braced her, and she tried to fix her thoughts on the unseen world, but they only wandered wide as if beyond her own control, and her head was aching enough to confuse her.