« PreviousContinue »
A MEssenger with a letter was despatched by the one o'clock train from Ilverton, which was due to arrive in London in the early morning; and Catherine, to whom all arrangements were of necessity referred, thus broke the terrible news of Sir Cecil's fatal accident as tenderly as possible to Augusta, and added a request that a message might be sent at once to old Lady Sarah's faithful maid, who would best know how to prepare her aged mistress for the shock that awaited her. Through the long and dreary morning which succeeded the catastrophe, she waited anxiously for a telegram from Augusta, making no doubt that she and Philippa would come home by the first possible train. But the day was well advanced before the telegram arrived, and the contents were not at all what Catherine expected. “Absolutely prostrate and helpless. Please come here at once and without delay. Urgent.—AUGUSTA.’ ‘She ought to come home. How can she leave him lying there alone, and not come 2' said Catherine, shedding indignant tears. “What can I do? It is not as if I had ever been anything to Augusta, or she to me.” ‘Oh, my dear, my dear, you are kind and gentle; and she is a very helpless person, as she truly says. I am sure I should want you if I were in such a trouble as hers,” sobbed Miss Dulcinea, who had been completely overcome by the news which greeted her on waking. “Of course I must go if she wants me,’ Catherine said, almost angrily, “but it will only be to bring her back; and if she wanted me without delay, why did she delay so that I can only go by the slow afternoon train, which does not get there until past nine o'clock at night 2' But there was a gleam of comfort in her sorrow at the thought that her child must now be restored to her arms. “And I shall never let her go again—to suffer as I have suffered,’ thought Catherine, “after this terrible lesson of the uncertainty of life.” She wept as she packed a very few things in a small hand-case and dressing-bag, resolved that no entreaties of Augusta should detain her or Philippa in London. “It is Cecil, poor, poor Cecil, to whom we owe all the duty and affection and respect which we shall ever be able to show him now,” she sobbed. “What is Augusta to us—cold and selfish, thinking only of her own health and comfort while he lies dead in his own house—the last of his race, except my darling * * Then she sank back in her chair, appalled by the recollection that the heavy burden of responsibility which had fallen from the dead man's shoulders would now devolve upon her child. It was Philippa who was the last of the Adelstanes—whose inheritance had thus, with terrible suddenness, come upon her— and Catherine's heart sank as she thought of the changes awaiting her. Strive as she would to put all such thoughts aside, they returned upon her again and again while she made ready for her solitary journey. ‘Take me with you,' implored Lily, clinging about her with passionate tears and distressing persistence. ‘I cannot, Lily, but I will come back to-morrow. Yes, I promise,’ said Catherine, strengthening her own resolution by thus giving her word to the child. ‘You will take care of Aunt Dulcinea and of everything for me?’ ‘You must not be troublesome,” said Aunt Dulcinea, admonishing her very kindly; but she shook her head over the selfishness of Lily, though she had always found a thousand excuses for the selfishness of Philippa.
* Copyright, 1908, by Mrs. Henry de la Pasture, in the United States of America. WOL. XXV.-NO. 145, N.S. l
“Aunt Clara will come and fetch me when you are gone,” said Lily, bursting into fresh tears. ‘I wouldn't let you go,' said Aunt Dulcinea, and her soft heart melted. “I shall be back before they know I am gone,’ said Catherine soothingly. ‘ Granny knows everything, and Aunt Dulcinea is frightened of granny—you know she is,” said Lily. “But if you will forbid me to go, I can tell them so when they come for me.” ‘There, there, I forbid you,' said Catherine, and she fondled the little fragile creature who clung to her so faithfully Exhausted by grief, wakefulness, and excitement, Catherine fell asleep in the train as daylight waned, and was astonished when she woke, somewhat chilled and stiff, to find herself at her journey’s end. By the time her cab drew up at the house in Belgrave Square she had realised afresh all that had happened, and the tears started again to her eyes at the sight of the old butler's familiar face at the front door. She greeted him kindly, for his own distress was very obvious. ‘Is Lady Adelstane able to see me at once And where is Miss Philippa 2 Is she sitting up for me ! I should like to go first to her,” she said, wringing the old man's hand, which he put out to her, trembling, as though he scarce knew what he did. ‘Oh, ma’am—oh, my lady l’ said Pilkington. “Do not—do not—I know it is terrible—but indeed we must not give way,” said Catherine with a sob in her throat. ‘We wasn’t sure—we didn’t send to meet you—my lady, but— you came by the four o'clock train he faltered. ‘Yes,’ she said, surprised. ‘And there was no—you did not get the second telegram * I was afraid it was sent off too late. But her ladyship was that distracted—she didn't well know what she was doing.’ “What do you mean?’ ‘Oh, my lady, come in l You mustn't stand here—what am I thinking of ? Come in—come in,’ said Pilkington. “Her ladyship’s upstairs, most out of her mind, and here's dinner ready for you in the dining-room.’ Catherine followed him, almost wondering to see the steady and self-possessed Pilkington thus utterly unstrung. ‘What second telegram ” she repeated as he closed the diningroom door upon the little commotion in the hall—the footmen carrying in her modest luggage and paying the cabman. The old man looked at her with an expression so imploring as to be almost wild. “To ask you—whether—to ask you if—Miss Philippa had gone back to Welwysbere—to you, my lady ?” he cried, putting his shaking hands together. “For she's not been seen here since she came home from the dance at three o'clock in the morning.’ Catherine knew not what she said nor what she looked, and was not conscious how she got out of the room or upstairs; but the echo of Pilkington's words had not died from her ears before she found herself holding Augusta's shoulder in the drawing-room, almost shaking her—hoarsely asking her over and over again what she had done with her child. She was in truth for a few moments like a mad woman, knowing not what she said nor what Augusta answered. The pent-up thoughts, suppressed anxiety, and hidden jealous resentment of weeks found words and poured themselves forth, but so incoherently as merely to frighten Augusta without reaching her understanding. All she knew and felt was that Catherine was like one possessed and insane with blind fury, and that such behaviour towards a woman just bereaved of her husband was an outrage. She screamed with terror and indignation, and it was Mme. Minart who flew to her assistance and who put Catherine into a chair by the open window with a mixture of authority and soothing, and forced her presently to swallow a glass of wine. ‘Who are you?” Catherine faltered, regaining some measure of her self-command. ‘I am nobody—nothing,” said Mme. Minart in her impatient tones of suppressed force. She fixed her great dark eyes upon Catherine's white face with some compassion. ‘Be calm. Of what use this agony, this emotion ? It is not thus you can help yourself or others.” Catherine gave her a strange wild look. ‘I know now who you are. You are right—I must be calm. I must think—and act.” She put her hands to her hair, smoothed it, and rose from the armchair, refreshed physically by the wine and mentally by the Frenchwoman's reproaches. “I beg your pardon, Augusta,” said Catherine, and her voice grew almost steady. “Now tell me quickly and plainly what has happened, and what you have done with Philippa.”