CHAPTER VIII. THE ENCHANTED CASTLE.
A little she began to lose her fear.—MORRIS.
Aurelia slept till she was wakened by a bounce at the door, and the rattling of the lock, but it was a little child’s voice that was crying, “I will! I will! I will go in and seem by cousin!”
Then came Mrs. Aylward’s severe voice: “No, miss, you are not to waken your cousin. Come away. Where is that slut, Jenny?”
Then there was a scuffle and a howl, as if the child were being forcibly carried away. Aurelia sprang out of bed, for sunshine was flooding the room, and she felt accountable for tardiness. She had made some progress in dressing, when again little hands were on the lock, little feet kicking the door, and little voices calling, “Let me in.”
She opened the door, and white nightgowns, all tumbled back one over the other.
“My little cousins,” she said, “come and kiss me.”
One came forward and lifted up a sweet little pale face, but the other two stood, each with a finger in the mouth, right across the threshold, in a manner highly inconvenient to Aurelia, who was only in her stiff stays and dimity petticoat, with a mass of hair hanging down below her waist. She turned to them with arms out-stretched, but this put them instantly to the rout, and they ran off as fast as their bare pink feet could carry them, till one stumbled, and lay with her face down and her plump legs kicking in the air. Aurelia caught her up, but the capture produced a powerful yell, and out, all at once hurried into the corridor, Mrs. Aylward, a tidy maid servant, a stout, buxom countrywoman, and a rough girl, scarcely out of bed, but awake enough to snatch the child out of the young lady’s arms, and carry her off. The housekeeper began scolding vigorously all round, and Aurelia escaped into her room, where she completed her toilette, looking out into a garden below, laid out in the formal Dutch fashion, with walks and beds centring in a fountain, the grass plats as sharply defined as possible, and stiff yews and cypresses dotted at regular intervals or forming straight alleys. She felt strange and shy, but the sunshine, the cheerfulness, and the sight of the children, had reassured her, and when she had said her morning prayer, she had lost the last night’s sense of hopeless dreariness and unprotectedness. When another knock came, she opened the door cheerfully, but there was a chill in meeting Mrs. Aylward’s grave, cold face, and stiff salutation. “If you are ready, madam,” she said, “I will show you to the south parlour, where the children will eat with you.”
Aurelia ventured to ask about her baggage, and was told that it would be forwarded from Brentford. Mrs. Aylward then led the way to a wide stone staircase, with handsome carved balusters, leading down into the great hall, with doors opening from all sides. All was perfectly empty, and so still, that the sweep of the dresses, and the tap of the heels made an echo; and the sunshine, streaming in at the large window, marked out every one upon the floor, in light and shadow, and exactly repeated the brown-shaded, yellow-framed medallions of painted glass upon the pavement. There was something awful and oppressive in the entire absence of all tokens of habitation, among those many closed doors.