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THE CHIMNEY CORNER., Ashburton Guardian, Volume 2, Issue 200, 25 November 1880
THE CHIMNEY CORNER.
THE STORY OF A DREAM. CHAPTER I .—Continued. In my dream I thought I was in the vast gloomy bedroom my uncle used to occupy. At first it seemed to me all dark and quiet and untenanted, but gradually a faint light stole through the gloom and showed me one after another of the various articles of furniture the room contained. It showed me, too, a stranger,’sadder sight than all —a large oak coffin, supported on tressels, and covered with a heavy pall Of black velvet. Bending over the coffin was the slender figure of a girl. Her back was toward me, so I could not see her face, only the coils of bright rich hair that crowned her small and shapely head. I seemed to watch her with strange and curious emotion. She drew the pall from off the coffin, and lifted the lid with apparent ease. Then I saw the old familiar face, so hard and grim and stern that even death could not soften or beautify it with its seal of endless rest. The girl bent Over and kissed the dead man’s brow, then drew a small sealed packet from the bosom of her dress and placed it on his breast, covering it with a. living shroud that wrapped him in its folds. At the same moment a voice sounded clear and shrill in the silence.
■ “Sylvia!” it cried, and I awoke with a violent start to find the fire nearly out and Thompson standing regarding me with a grave and puzzled face. “ You were asleep, sir,” he insinuated gently, as I gazed at him in the bewilderment of my startled and scarcely recovered senses.
‘‘Yes—no —I mean I suppose. I was,” I answered, rising and shaking myself from the lethargy of that strange stupor. “ Did you speak, Thompson, just before I woke ? I thought I heard some one call.”
“ Maybe you did, sir,” he answered, with a grim smile as of repressed amusement; “ but it was not me you heard.”
“No!” I said with apparent carelessness. . “ Who then ? Anyone in the house ? ”
“.Yes, sir, in the house, and in this room, too.” “ Indeed,” I said curiously, as I glanced hurriedly around. “ Well, if you must know, sir, it was yourself,” Thompson said, grinning outright now, in what seemed to me a particularly uncalled for and reprehensible manner.
; “ What did I say ? ”.I enquired, with becoming carelessness. “I know I was dreaming.” “So I thought, sir. You only said one word, but you did hollow that out and no mistake,” and he grinned again. “ What was the word? You seem amused, my good friend,” I observed with grim humor. “ Well, sir,” he answered, looking at me with a curious twinkle in his eye, “ you just shouted out at the top of your voice, ‘ Sylvia ! ’ ” CHAPTER 11. I slept soundly enough that first night of my arrival at Silverdesne, and was troubled by no more dreams. When I awoke I looked out of my window and thought how fresh and sweet the earth looked in its new spring robes of emerald green and pale soft yellow. The sunlight was playing at hide and seek with the young leaves, the dew glistened on grass and bough, the birds sang in veriest rapture, as if in exultation of the mere sense of living in a world so fair.
I dressed hurriedly and went downstairs and across the lawn, and then into the park beyond. Somehow I could not think of the gloomy side of life this morning ; of the grim old hall, with its dead master lying cold and stiff and silent in that last sleep which knows no earthly waking—no longer able to exert tyrannical rule over his household, or behold himself feared, flattered, obeyed. No; I almost forgot the melancholy occasion w’hich had brought me thither, and wandered on through the woodland where the earth was carpeted with azure bells and the celandine glistened like living gold, and the fresh cool air was scented with the perfumes it had gathered on its way through the primrose covered meadows. Suddenly I stopped. Straight before me I saw a tiny glade lovely as a fairy’s home, and standing there, with her hands full of violets, which she was tying into one great bunch, was a young girl. Her face was hidden, but something in the grace of the slender figure, the brightness of the beautiful hair, coiled loosely round her head, came to my memory with the sense of that familiar before-seen feeling which we now and then experience, and for which we cannot account. I did not move. I only remained there watching her, and wishing she would turn her head that I might see her face. When her flowers were arranged to her satisfaction she rose from ' her knees, the straight simple folds of her black dress falling around her tall and slender figure. She came straight toward me, but she had not seen me, and when I moved aside to let her pass she started violently—so violently that the flowers in her hand fell to the ground and gave me the blessed excuse of gathering them up and handing them to her again. “ Pray pardon me,” I said nervously. “I am afraid I startled you.” “Yes,” she said with even greater embarrassment than mine ; “ I—l did not expect to see a stranger here.” “ May I ask if you are Miss Leigh ?” I inquired hesitatingly. “I feel sure you must be, and if so we need not surely be strangers, for we are both inmates of Silverdesne.”
• “Yes,” she answered quietly, lifting two deep soft violet eyes to mine as she spoke, “ I am Sylvia Leigh. ” “ I knew it,” I. said triumphantly, and then the surprised cold look of the lovely face recalled me to'myself. “ I beg your pardon, Miss Leigh,” I added more soberly. “I arrived last night and I heard a great deal about you. I am so pleased to make your acquaintance. I am your guardian’s nephew, Clive Graham.,, I - -daresay you are aware of our lorig estrangement. I was surprised to‘ receive so urgent a summons here. I never thought I should set foot in Silverdesne again.” “He often spoke of you,” she said, her face lighting up with sudden ininterest. “ I think he would have liked
to have seen you before—before he died, only he had not courage to send, and then—at the last —it was so sudden.”
“ I fear it has been a trying time for you,” I said gravely, as I noted how pale and troubled she looked since that vivid flush had left her face. “ Was my uncle kind to you ? Excuse the question, but my recollections of him prompt it.”
“He was very kind—always,” she said earnestly. “He was my ;only friend.”
_ “ I was surprised to hear of his marriage,” I continued. “ I had no .idea of it.”
She flushed hotly and looked em barrassed.
“ Every one was surprised,” she said. “ Were they happy, do you think ?” I asked. She shook her head.
“ No,” she said softly, “ I fear hot. They were unsuited to each other in so many ways.” I turned and moved on by her side now, as I saw she was going home. She made no remark on my doing so, and for some time we proceeded in silence. “ What are your plans for the future, Miss Leigh ?” I asked presently, “Do you remain with Lady Helen ?” “ Oh, no, no,” she cried with sudden agitation. “ I mean, she would not desire it. lam of no use to her. I was of some little service to your uncle.”
I began to think that my proud and haughty aunt was no friend of this' lovely girl, and all my heart went put to her in friendly sympathy as I heard those words.
“ I am very friendless,” she saiid, with a faint smile. “My parents died when I was quite a child. My mother sent me to Mr. Graham with a letter from herself, written when she was on her death bed in India. I remember coming here, a little forlorn, miserable creature, frightened at the strange faces and ways of the people, clinging desperately to my black nurse, who had promised my mother to bring me to England. That is ten years ago now. Your uncle, read the letter. I never knew what it contained; but he was always good to me from that time. I. have' never known a want that he has not supplied.” “ But your life must have been dull here,” I remarked. “Dull for a young, giri of your age.” “T never found it so,” she answereid quickly. “I am not fond of society, I could never endure a town life. I have passed most of my time in reading and walking, and latterly I had a good deal to do for your uncle. He trusted’ me entirely, and used to speak of all his affairs to me. I was always glad to be able to do anything for him.” “I never heard any one speak a good word for my uncle before,” I replied in surprise. “ But lam bound to take your testimony, Miss Leigh, and I am heartily glad to hear that one human being is able to say he was generous and kind.”
“ Perhaps people have judged him too hastily,” she said gently. “He had a heavy trial in early life, and it soured and embittered his after years. It must be a terrible thing to trust any one so utterly as he trusted—to love any one so faithfully as he loved, and then find that trust and love betrayed.”
“ Was there such a romance in his life ?” I asked, with a momentary surprise at the girl’s troubled, earnest tones. “ I knew nothing of it.” “Ke told me all,” she said with a heavy sigh, as she bent her fair, sweet face over the violets in her hand. “It was a sad story, Mr. Graham. Is it any wonder that all I could do I did for his sake: and for his happiness, when I knew that that happiness had been wantonly wiecked by the unfaithfulness of my own mother ?” “ You —you mean ”
' “ I mean that she won his heart, and then cast it aside as a child would throw away a broken toy. I mean that she did him the greatest wrong a woman can do a man. I mean that in spite of the wrong and the suffering it cost him, he yet forgave her and befriended her child when, but for his charity, she would have been cast out on the world’s mercy, utterly destitute and friendless.”
The passionate, earnest words were half choked by a sob. I felt for her agitation and kept silent. Presently she recovered herself by a strong effort.
“We are close to the house now,” she said, turning to me. “ I know I need not ask you to respect my confidence. I would not have told you this had not your uncle expressly wished me to do so. He said you would know his reasons when you read his will.” All you have said will be sacred to me,” was my earnest rejoiner. “ Then good-bye,” she said with the rare sweet smile I had only once seen on her lips, and held out her hand to me.
“ I shall see you again surely,” I cried eagerly, as my fingers closed on those white and slender ones extended to me.
“ No; not until to-morrow,” she answered quickly. “I do not come down stairs. Lady Helen does not wish it.”
I smothered down some hasty and decidedly uncomplimentary observation respecting Lady Helen, but Sylvia shook her pretty golden head rebukingly, and passed up the gloomy hall and winding staircase, vanishing from my sight like a sunbeam. That day I saw her no more. ( 7o be continued. )
THE CHIMNEY CORNER., Ashburton Guardian, Volume 2, Issue 200, 25 November 1880
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