They found Babie still in the same intent, transfixed, watching state; but she let Armine draw her close to him, and listened as he told her, in a low tender voice of the talks he had had with Fordham, who had expressed to his young friend, as to no one else, his own feelings as to his state, and said much that he had spared others, who could not listen with that unrealising calmness that comes when sorrow, never yet experienced, is almost like a mere vision. And as Babie listened, the large soft tears began to fall, drop by drop, and the elder brother’s anxiety was lessened. He made them eat and drink for one another’s sake, and watched over them with a care that was almost parental, till at nearly half-past twelve o’clock the other three came home.
They said Mrs. Evelyn had come fully prepared by the telegram, and under an inexplicable certitude which made it needless to speak the word to her. She was thankful that Marmaduke had been spared the protracted weeks of struggle in which his elder brothers’ lives had closed, and she said-
“We knew each other too well to need last words.”
Indeed she was in the exalted state that often makes the earlier hours and days of bereavement the least distressing, and Sydney was absorbed in the care of her. Neither had been nearly so much overcome as Cecil and Esther, who had been hunted up with difficulty. He seemed to be as much shocked and horrified as if his brother had been in the strongest possible health; and poor Esther felt it wicked and unfeeling to have been dancing, and cried so bitterly that the united efforts of her aunt and brother could not persuade her that what was done in simple duty and obedience need give no pang, and that Mrs. Evelyn never thought of the incongruity.
It was only her husband’s prostration with grief and desolation that drew her off, to do her best with her pretty childish caresses and soothings; and when the two had been sent to their own home, Mrs. Evelyn was so calm that her friend felt she might be left with her daughter for the night, and returned, bringing her tender love to “Our Babie,” as she called the girl.
She clung very much to Barbara in the ensuing days. The presence of every one seemed to oppress her except that of her own children, and the two youngest Brownlows, for had not Armine been the depository of all Fordham’s last messages? What she really seemed to return to as a refreshment after each needful consultation with Sir James on the dreary tasks of the mourners, was to finish the packing of those “Traveller’s Joys” which lay strewn about Fordham’s sitting-room, open at the fly leaves, that the ink might dry.
Esther was very gentle and sweet, taking it quite naturally that Babie should be a greater comfort to her mother-in-law than herself; and content to be a very valuable assistant herself, for the stimulus made her far more capable than she had been thought to be. She managed almost all the feminine details, while Sir James attended to the rest. She answered all the notes, and wrote all the letters that did not necessarily fall on her husband and his mother; and her unobtrusive helpfulness made her a daughter indeed.