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account of the allusion to her former lover, but because she thought that Mrs. Denham must be very near the article of death before she could voluntarily express her regret at what she had done so ruthlessly in the matter of her matrimonial prospects.
And then Mrs. Denham lay moaning to herself—" I must go into an almshouse, or into the workhouse. No! Ill go back and die at Monkswood: all the Dcnhams have been born and have died in the Cedar Room; but my sons will never die there :—they will give tip the ghost in foreign lands, and be buried in the stranger's grave!" And then she called Elizabeth, who was sitting near her:—"My dear, you will not let this interfere with your engagement to Cyril?"
"It will make no difference to me, ma'am; I accepted him without any thought of money: I did not even know of his—of your connection with this Mining Company. Bat you must not say, ' our engagement,' please; we cannot be really engaged till next April; though it is all the same thing, dear Mrs. Denham!"
"Ah, child! you are young, and very fair, and you will be flattered: —don't let them draw you away from my poor Cyril—my very poor Cyril now !—he has not a halfpenny save what he earns. Be true to Cyril."
"Dear Mrs. Denham, I love Cyril for himself, not for what he has, or has not, of this world's wealth. So that he can find a tolerable income, sufficient to satisfy papa, I do not care!"
"Bless you ! bless you, Elizabeth! I always hoped you would be my daughter:—you will be a better daughter than Lucretia ever was!"
"Poor Lucretia !" said Elizabeth, sadly. She was thinking of the elegant, fashionable Mrs. Erskine, falling from her high estate, and coming down to comparative indigence,—hoxc poor she would be Elizabeth could not guess; but Sir John had said he was afraid John Erskine was deeper in the mire than My one, and though he, at the in
stigation of his wife, had made himself a responsible person, and was perfectly innocent of fraudulent intentions, having been elaborately deceived, the world would give him credit for any amount of guilt that the defalcations of the Company might warrant.
"What will Lucretia say now'?" cried the poor old lady, fiercely, "It was she, and not her husband, who persuaded me. John Erskine is a kind, good-hearted man, but half an idiot, and would believe that the man in the moon was sent there for eating carrots on Sunday, if any one in whom he put faith told him so. He believed in new Golcondas—I think he thought that Kohinoors would become a drug in the market: there was nothing precious and rare that that accursed Cordillera Company was not going to dig up; not only gold and silver, and diamonds, but rubies, and emeralds, and amethysts, and jasper, and malachite were to be had for groping in the earth a little. I wonder they never found pearl and coral mines. And now Lucretia's fine bubble has burst,—for it was her bubble, as far as Monkswood was concerned. I shouldn't wonder if her husband isn't mobbed; for the Dublin people have been taken in to a pretty tune, I know. Yes, they'll mob that house in Merrion Square, they'll burn it down, Elizabeth; yes, they will certainly burn it to the ground, that splendid mansion, and all its luxuries. They will ransack it first, I dare say; tear to pieces all Lucretia's finery, break her wonderful old china, and her rare majolicas, and smash up her choice ceramic ware, like so many refuse tiles; and they will crack her mirrors, and trample roughly on her Persian carpets, and defile her velvet couches with their filthy garments, and all her marbles, and statues, and cabinets, and Palau Royale knick-knackeries that she brought home by the ton last autumn, will be destroyed, and she will have to get over the garden wall, or scramble through the fire-escape in the roof, or hide herself in the coalcellar."
And Mrs. Denham sat upright in her bed, waving her wrinkled hands and tossing about her grey elf-locks, like a new Cassandra. Her dark eyes glowed and scintillated, and a bright hectic-looking spot was on each withered cheek. It was absolutely frightful to watch her as she poured forth her wild predictions, as if she relished the very thought of their fulfilment.
Elizabeth tried in vain to calm her; she begged her to lie down, she offered to read to her, to sing to her, to do anything that would quiet her and send her to sleep. The composing draught, failing in its effects, seemed to have made her partially delirious, and at last Miss Ashburner rang the bell and desired the maid to beg Lady Ashburner to come to her assistance.
But my lady could do little with so obstinate a patient as Mrs. Denham. "She would not lie down," she avowed, " no! she would sit up with her eyes open and stare ruin in the face!" Then she clamoured to be taken back to Monkswood and laid in the Cedar Chamber, the chamber of state, where all the young brides were taken when they came to the Denhams' ancestral home; where all the matrons of the family gave birth to their children, and where, one by one, each scion of the race, with very few exceptions, laid himself or herself down to die. Over that threshold passed the bride in her blushing happiness, and the mother to endure her woman's pangs of childbirth, and the coffined corpse borne to its final resting-place in the grand old Hospital church of St. Croix. And there, now, Mrs. Denham entreated to be taken; nay, she would get up and dress herself and go back by the nexttiuin to Monkswood: and Sally must go first, go at once, and bid them get the Cedar Chamber ready!" For her time was come, and she must die where her husband, and her husband's father and mother, and sister, and countless generations of the Denhams had died before her; she could not and would not die at Forest Range!"
And Lady Ashburner soothed her by saying that if she would lie down
and sleep she would see whether she could not be taken back to Monkswood in the carriage, "only," she added in conclusion, "we do not think you are going to die yet, dear Mrs. Denham, we hope not; we want to nurse you carefully,—my girls and I,—we all want to nurse you till you are strong and well again. We do not think there is much the matter; it is the shock, and you are not young you know,
But she was interrupted fiercely: "I tell you I am going to die, and I will not die here, but in the Cedar Chamber! I do not want your nursing, I do not want to be strong and well again; I would rather die,—for all is lost!—all! all! oh! Ruin! Ruin! Ruin!" And she shrieked the words with passionate and dreadful emphasis, dwelling on the last till it became a shrill discordant scream.
"There is no such thing as ruin to the Christian," said Lady Ashburner, emphatically. " If his worldly joys be shattered, his coffers emptied, and his hopes laid low, he still bears with him the inestimable treasure which is his birthright and his sure inheritance. Oh! my dear Mrs. Denham, it is only for a few years at the farthest, and shall we, 'who have the eternal towers for our appointed bourne,' mourn by the wayside ruins? Shall we who have incorruptible and unfading treasure laid up for us in the Father's kingdom dash ourselves on the ground, as it were, sorrowing as they who have no steadfast hope, for the poor gold and silver of this dying world? Nay, rather let us sit still and bear the rod; let us be patient; let us have faith."
Mrs. Denham buried her face in her hands, and, leaning on her knees, rocked herself to and fro. "The Lord has deserted me," she said, presently: "I have no faith, no patience. The enemy tells me that I have deceived myself; I am not one of the elect. No, I cannot be. I feel that I am not. Drearily have I lived, and drearily I shall die."
"Nay! but listen to the promises."
"They are not for me. I am not
one of God's elect." "Come to Christ, and you will be
"I came long ago—not rightly, perhaps—but I came, and now I know I never came sincerely."
"Then come now, come again." And Lady Ashburner went on and mildly reasoned with her unhappy friend, but all in vain. She would not listen to the holy words of comfort; she cried out they were not for her; she was not a Christian,—not one of the Lord's elect. And she went on rocking herself to and fro, and making a low moan that went to our very hearts. We could only pray for her, and keep silent watch at her bedside.
We took it by turns to sit up with her during the night, and about five o'clock, when Agnes Craven was at her post, she suddenly sprang out of bed, and insisted on going immediately to Monkswood. She was so weak that she could not support herself, but slipped into Agnes' arms while she was trying to drag on her widow's bonnet over her nightcap; and Agnes easily, by the exercise of a little firmness, got her back into bed again. But she would not have her bonnet taken off, and there she sat, a ghastly spectacle, with her grey hairs streaming round her withered face, encircled with its ample frills, and the rusty crape falling back on the white draperies. Then she began to cry piteously, like a child, " Let me go; please let me go to Monkswood, I want to die there!"
Agnes did not answer her, but she knelt down and prayed that comfort might be given in that hour of dire distress; that God would have pity on His sorrowing creature and sooth her griefs, and give to her the peace which only comes through Jesus Christ, our Lord and Saviour, n hen she arose. and was wiping away her tears, she saw the dark eyes fixed upon her face, as if they read her very soul "Are you one of the Lord's people ?" asked Mrs. Denham, solemnly, and Agnes answered, " Yet.' I know Christ, and I am His, I love Him because He
first loved me; He drew me, and I followed him."
"How did He draw you?"
"By a great and deep sorrow. A thick darkness fell upon me, for the philosophy and the mere poetical religionism of my girlhood proved but broken reeds, when in my anguish I leaned upon them. I cried for light; and I looked, and lo, the Morning Star shining in unclouded lustre; then the dawn, and the Sun of Righteousness uprising in His glory; and my soul was filled with love and joy and peace, and I know that the love that sought me out will keep me to the end, and the joy no one can take from me, and the peace which passeth all understanding is that which the world knows not, and can never snatch away."
"What was your sorrow?" asked Mrs. Denham.
"I beg your pardon, but I cannot tell you, I have never told it, save to God, and if I know myself I never shall. But my heart was emptied of all its sweetness and treasure, and He filled it till it overflows with the sweetness and richness of His grace. My beautiful dreams had faded: He gave me in their stead glorious realities, and bright anticipations of a fairer day to come: my cup of bliss was dashed to the ground, and the sparkling draught was spilled; but He, my Lord and King, gave to me another cup, brimming with a costlier wine, that will cheer my heart and fill me with fresh courage for evermore, till I drink it new with my Master in the Father's kingdom."
Mrs. Denham kept silence for a while, but she grew calmer, and at last she said, " Will you go with me to Monkswood, and stay with me till
•' I will go with you, and be as your daughter till you are well again, or till the Lord calls you," said Miss Craven, "provided Lady Ashburner consents."
Then Mrs. Denham slept, and she slumbered on for many hours, till Mr. Goldfinch said she must be awakened to take some nourishment. She seemed quite collected when she opened her eyes, but very, very weak, and still all her cry was to be taken back to Monkswood. Sir John had returned, but she did not ask him what news he brought, and he was glad not to tell it for it was of the most hopeless description. Never had bubble burst more ignominiously, never had unscrupulous crafty men been more crafty or more unscrupulous, and never had the credulous been more completely fooled. He agreed with Mr.-Goldfinch that Mrs. Denham had better be removed to Monkswood while it was practicable; it would only hasten her end, and embitter her last hours to keep her at Forest Range. So the carriage was made ready, and with all tenderness and care the fallen, haughty mistress of Monkswood was borne to her own dreary but well-beloved home. And yes Craven went with her to stay she was no more needed ; it would not be long, Mr. Goldfinch said. And they laid the once stately form on that antique and once splendid bed in the solemn Cedar Chamber. And then she seemed content, and with Sally and Agnes about her wished for no one else. But as she grew weaker and weaker, Agnes, on her own responsibility, telegraphed for Cyril, and he came, and found her watching by his mother's dying bed. He was looking very ill and haggard, but all anxieties were centred now in her who would soon be beyond the reach of earthly care or sorrow.
It was a wild night, and the equinoctial gales were sweeping through the quiet valley of St. Croix, and weird sounds like dismal moans and shrieks echoed through the deserted passages of lonely Monkswood. Within the chamber of death a bright fire glowed, and a lamp burned steadily upon the table near the hearth; but the spirit of the storm was raging without, and the wind howled among the trees and beat about the corners of the house, and waved the hearse-like plumes in the canopy above the dying woman's head. The heavy silken curtains were drawn back, the blaze from the fire lighted up even the dusky cedar panels, whence the chamber
took its name; the great mirrors, and the once costly toilet-table with its antique filagree work and its faded draperies, gleamed almost cheerfully in the pleasant flame, and Agnes, and Sally, and Cyril sat together waiting the coming of the angel "with the amaranthine wreath."
It was past midnight when they heard her voice; her breath was short and her tone was hollow, as she gasped out feebly but distinctly, "I have been a very sinful woman, I have quenched the light in my own soul, and I have tried to darken it in others; I have not glorified God my Saviour. But there is forgiveness with Him; though I have been unfaithful, foolish, self-deluded, He remains the same. I yield my soul to Him—His blood ! —His
cross!" And then the words died
away in whispers inarticulate, and they heard no more. But they doubted not that she was accepted in the Beloved, and that they would hear her next joining in the songs of the ransomed multitudes around the throne. And while the tempest raged and the forest trees were torn away, and the sere leaves were being whirled by thousands on the giant breeze, her spirit passed; and the watchers in the Cedar Chamber gazed only on the worn-out garment of the flesh.
And there she lay in the solemn stillness of that fateful room; the morning light, when it shone dimly from the stormy east, stole in through the chinks of the closed shutters on a pale, rigid form, lying white-robed and motionless, with sealed eyelids and meekly folded hands, on an old moth-eaten black velvet pall which Susan had brought forth from an antique carved chest in the dressing closet; it had been used last for Mr. Denham,—for it had always been the custom of the Monkswood family to observe a sort of lying in state And afterwards Sally and Agnes walked through the darkened dreary house, going over it all, from "garret to basement." It was Agnes' first introduction to those ruinous, longdeserted rooms in the highest story; it was Sally's farewell visit to familiar haunts. They wandered through the desolate old mansion, knowing that it had passed, probably for ever, from the Denham family. Cyril was master there only for a few brief days; he was not the owner of Monks wood; his fortunes, as Denham of Monkswood, had reached their lowest ebb; but his fortunes as an individual might yet sink infinitely lower.
It was a melancholy sight on which the two women gazed, as they passed from flight to flight of those dilapidated, echoing stairs. Still whistled the wind eerily along the gloomy passages that were redolent of mould and damp; jand here and there the boarding had given way, and had to be trodden carefully: dust lay thick on the rotting floors, and the spider had woven his web on the dark oaken balustrades.
Literally, "the tempest with its spoils had drifted in," for the roof was much decayed, and while some of the casements were fastened up with rough planking, others were open to the breath of heaven; and the stormy night had brought in drifts of withered leaves, and showers of driving rain. In some of the ghostly chambers, the ivy had found entrance, and luxuriantly flourished: birds had made their nests on beam and cornice, and if one came there after dusk, one would inevitably be scared by the rush of wings and the scream and hiss of owls. The whole of the topmost story had long been uninhabitable. And in the evening another furious gale arose: it had rained and blown all day, and Agnes had not been able to return to Forest Range: and she and Sally sat cowering over a wood-fire in the smallest and cosiest room in all the house, while Cyril kept his watch as became the last of the Denhams left on British soil —in tho Cedar Chamber.
A few days more, and a dark procession passed from the frowning battlemented gateway to the venerable church of St. Croix—a church as old, or older than the cathedral— a solemn minster church, with damp, dark outer aisles, and heavy Norman arches, and mould-stained
pillars, and marble floors that covered in the dead of long departed ages. It was not properly the parish-church of St. Croix, but it was used as such—prayers being "said" daily in the hali'-ruined choir, and one sermon being preached every Sunday by the churchless Rector, who was also chaplain to the ancient hospital, inhabited by "twelve poor brethren,'' wearing flowing cloaks, with a silver cross upon the breast. The hospital had been a monastery once, and the noble pile of buildings, grand and grey withal, formed with the church three sides of a large quadrangle.
Underneath the great Norman tower, where the pilgrims used to claim their manchet of bread and their cup of ale: through the long, dim, echoing cloisters, across the damp north transept, where still the storied windows of the southern transept cast long rays of richly coloured light on worm-eaten stall and antique-lettered pavement: past the baptismal font, and up the silent choir, and again past the marriagealtar, and the table of Holy Communion—she had done with them all now—they carried the lady of Monkswood to her grave in the solemn chancel. And there they left her once more lying by her husband's side, as it had been long years ago, in the bridal, deathly Cedar Chamber. There they left her—tattered banners waving overhead, and the bat clinging to the rafters of the high-pitched roof, that half the day was lost in gloom and shadow—for there is no loftier church in all our English land than the desolate, but glorious old minster of St. Croix, with its low, square Norman tower and wonderful triforium! There they left her, with many another of the haughty Denham race, just by the beautiful and shattered rood-screen —and the mourners, Cyril and Sir John, returned to dreary Monks wood, and in another day the heir that might have been, left his father's halls, and Sally came to Forest Range, and Monkswood was given over to desolation.