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   Chapter 2 SORROW AND SIGHING.

Salome By Emma Marshall Characters: 19920

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02


O Salome's great relief, she remembered there were no school-room lessons that afternoon. Miss Barnes had to take Ada into Fairchester in the pony-carriage for a music lesson. Carl and Hans were full of their birthday party, and had possessed themselves of a heap of decayed finery, which they were sorting in their spacious old nursery. Raymond had taken Captain, and Salome saw him trotting quickly down the drive, from the staircase window when she passed on her way to the library. She saw Reginald, too, lingering about on the lawn, and at last stretch himself full length under a spreading cedar, with his cap tilted over his eyes, and Puck, a little white dog, lying near him. She wished she could only tell Reginald. It was better Ada should not know; but Reginald was so different. Reginald lying there so unconscious of coming trouble; Raymond riding off on the very horse which had been forbidden; the little pony-carriage wheeling away to Fairchester, Ada whipping up the fat gray pony, and turning out on the road with a grand flourish; Carl and Hans singing over their wreaths of faded flowers, worn by their mother in young, happy days; nurse's voice in occasional remonstrance; and the loud singing of a canary,-all these sounds and sights told of life at Maplestone going on as it had done for so long, and only she-Salome-knew that all things were on the very brink of change. There, as she stood thus thinking, some words came to her soul in that strange, mysterious way which all of us, young and old, must have recognized sometimes as coming from some One higher and holier than ourselves-"With God is no variableness, neither shadow of turning;" and then, as if in answer to all her day-dreams, there came the memory of other words, left as a beacon pointing heavenward to all young hearts,-

"Be good, dear maid, and let who will be clever;

Do noble deeds, nor dream them all day long;

And so make life, death, and that vast for ever

One grand sweet song."

"I want to do what is right," she sighed. "I want to help them,-father, and all of them,-but oh, I must pray God to help me and make me patient!" Then, with a quiet, slow step she went to the library door and tapped gently. There was no answer. Then Salome opened the door and went in.

Her father was sitting in his arm-chair, with his back turned towards her. Salome went up to him and touched his arm.

"Papa."

Mr. Wilton turned his face towards her at last, and said, almost roughly,-

"What do you want, Salome?"

"Mother has told me all, and I am come to tell you how I love you, and I will try to help you, if I can."

"My dear-my dear child," Mr. Wilton said, "no one can help me now; I am ruined! But your mother promised not to tell you. You might as well have had another night of peace,-just as well. I told her to keep it from the children."

"But, dear father, I am not like a child now. I am the eldest girl, and I ought to know what troubles you. Mother could not keep it from me; she was obliged to tell some one. I want to ask you to be so very kind as not to go into Fairchester again to-day, but stay quiet."

"Nonsense," said Mr. Wilton impatiently; "I must go. Why should I leave the sinking ship like this? I am very well. It is all Stone's humbug, frightening your poor mother out of her wits. Here, give me another glass of wine, and then ring for Curtis to come round with the dog-cart."

Mr. Wilton suddenly rose from his chair, and before Salome could prevent it he had emptied the decanter into a tumbler, and was raising it to his lips when he dropped it with a crash upon the ground, his hand fell powerless at his side, and he sank back in the chair speechless and unconscious of any outward thing.

Instantly Salome's first thought was of her mother-to save her from the sudden shock which had blanched her own lips with terror, and for a moment left her as helpless as her poor father.

Then, instead of ringing the bell frantically, or calling out aloud, as so many girls would have done, she ran with the speed of lightning to the nursery and called her faithful friend there.

"Come to papa! quick, Stevens, quick!" Then as nurse threw down her work and obeyed her she flew to the garden, where Reginald, all unconscious of the impending sorrow, was lying under the cedar tree.

"Reginald, Reginald, get up! father is much worse. Send to Fairchester for Mr. Stone, or any doctor; pray make haste."

"Father! what is the matter with him?"

"Oh, I don't know! His face is an awful gray colour, and his mouth-O Reginald, don't ask me, only go and get some help; but don't let mother be frightened."

Reginald did as she told him without farther question; and Salome returned to the library.

The servants were gathered there now-the old butler, Greenwood; Stevens, the nurse, who had seen Mr. Wilton bring home his bride; others of the large household standing near in awe-struck silence. They made way for the little figure that appeared at the door, and let Salome pass to Stevens, who was supporting her master's head, while Greenwood was loosing his collar.

"You can do no good, my dear Miss Salome; no good."

"What do you mean, Stevens? I have sent Reginald for Mr. Stone-" Here she stopped, for Greenwood broke out into convulsive crying.

"The dear master is struck for death, and no mortal power can help him now!"

* * *

That evening about seven o'clock, Salome, sitting by her mother's side in the hushed and darkened room where the master of Maplestone lay breathing heavily, quite unconscious of any outward thing, heard the sound of horses' feet. She rose quickly and went to the hall door.

"It is Raymond. I had better tell him," she said.

On her way she met Ada, her pretty face washed with tears, like a rose in a heavy shower, who said,-

"Raymond has come back on one of Mr. St. John's horses, Salome. He has broken Captain's knees; just think of that!"

"Does he know?" Salome asked.

"I daresay they have told him in the stables. Is there any change in father?"

Salome shook her head. "Will you go and sit with mother while I find Raymond? Reginald is gone with the messages to the De Brettes and Fergusons."

"Oh, I am afraid to see father," Ada said, shuddering. "I dare not go. I wonder if Uncle Loftus will come; Miss Barnes says he is sure to start when he gets the telegram. Here comes Raymond."

Raymond came in with a would-be careless air, trying to whistle. Salome went up to him.

"Raymond, do you know what has happened?"

"My father is ill, you mean. What is the matter with him? I shall be spared a row about Captain. I have been and done for Captain, and for myself pretty nearly. What do you both look so scared for?"

"Come into the drawing-room and I will tell you, Raymond. O Raymond!" Salome said, "father is dying! Mr. Stone has telegraphed for Dr. Scott, but he has no hope."

Raymond's lip quivered, and the real boy-nature asserted itself. "I wish I had not taken Captain," he said. "Where's mother?"

"In the library. He was seized with this fit while I was with him there. He could not bear the dreadful blow which has fallen on him."

"Blow! What do you mean?"

"I forgot," Salome said simply. "Father has lost all his money, and we shall have nothing."

"What nonsense! We shall have this house, and-"

"Oh no, Raymond! The house and everything in it will have to be sold. But oh! what is that-what is that to-losing father?" and Salome covered her face with her hands and wept bitterly.

"I say, Salome, don't take on like this," said Raymond in a strangely husky and unnatural voice. "There is some mistake, depend upon it. Things can't be as bad as that. Why, what am I to do, if I can't go back to Eton?"

Ah, there was the sting to the undisciplined, selfish nature,-"What am I to do?"

Salome turned away and went back to keep her sorrowful vigil by her mother's side.

The next week was like a terrible dream to Salome. The dreaded news of the stoppage of the Central Bank came, as had been expected; but Mr. Wilton died unknowing that his worst fears had been realized, and that all was lost. He was laid to rest in the pretty churchyard of Maplestone just one week after the blow had fallen, and his widow and children were left desolate.

Uncle Loftus had arrived, as Miss Barnes had expected. He had not remained all through the sad week,-while the sunshine reigned without, and darkness and dreariness within Maplestone Court,-but he returned for the funeral; and the same evening he sat in consultation with Mr. Calvert, the lawyer, and Mr. De Brette, with the partners of the great timber concern which had collapsed in the general and widespread pressure of the time. Mr. Wilton's case was rendered far worse by the loss of a large private income derived from shares in the Central Bank. There was literally nothing left to his children but his heavy liabilities and his wife's small settlement.

"Under three hundred a year," Dr. Loftus Wilton said; "and with all their previous habits and way of life, this will be little enough. My sister-in-law is not a strong woman, and has had her own way, poor thing-I mean she has been blessed with a very indulgent husband."

"I suppose the eldest boy can earn his living," Mr. De Brette said; "he is over seventeen."

"He ought to do so. We must get him into an office. Perhaps, when the concern is wound up, Mr. Ferguson may find him a berth when a fresh start is made."

"A fresh start!" exclaimed Mr. Ferguson; "that will never be, as far as I am concerned. I should think a clerkship in a bank would be better."

"I think you ought to see Raymond," Dr. Loftus Wilton said; "he is his father's representative, and everything should be laid before him. Then there is the eldest girl, close on sixteen; a little creature, but full of nerve and sense. Shall we call them?"

The gentlemen seemed doubtful; and Mr. De Br

ette said,-

"Poor things! I think we had better leave it to you to tell them what must happen. The house will realize a good deal," he added, looking round; "fine pictures, and everything in good order. The cellar, too, must be valuable-poor Wilton's wine was always of the choicest."

"Yes, poor fellow. My brother lived up to the mark, perhaps a little too much so; but who was to foresee such a calamity as this?"

After a little more discussion the party broke up,-the lawyer gathering together the papers and Mr. Wilton's will with a half sigh, as he said,-

"This is so much waste paper now. It is a melancholy story, and there are hundreds like it. Nothing but losses all round."

Dr. Loftus Wilton strolled out into the grounds when he was left alone. He would put off talking to the children till the next day, he thought, and there was no immediate necessity to do so. He was sorry for them; but he had a large family, and a hard fight to provide for them out of a professional income as a doctor in a fashionable watering-place, where much was required in the way of appearance, and people were valued very much by what they wore, and very little by what they were. The summer was always a flat time at Roxburgh, and hence Dr. Loftus Wilton could better afford the time away from his practice. "There are good schools at Roxburgh for the small boys, and the two girls could get advantages," he thought; "but then Anna will not trouble herself about poor Arthur's family. In fact, she would not care to have them there. Still, I must do my duty. She and Emily never did hit it off. Anna thought she patronized her; and now it would be the other way, poor things." And then Dr. Wilton lighted another cigar and paced up and down the garden, till at last he found himself on the wooden bridge, and in the stillness of the summer evening heard voices. He went on, and came upon the lake, on the bank of which three black figures were sitting-Salome and her two elder brothers. The opportunity was too good to be lost, and knocking the ashes off his cigar end, Dr. Wilton descended, saying,-

"The very people I wanted to see.-Here, Reginald, my boy, stop-Raymond, I mean."

But Raymond, at the sight of his uncle, had suddenly left his seat, and, with his hands in his pockets, had disappeared in the tangled shrubbery which led away from the lake on the other side.

Reginald, however, stopped when his uncle called, and Salome, rising, said,-

"Did you want us, Uncle Loftus?" The pale, tear-stained face and little slight figure, in its black, sombre dress, touched Dr. Wilton.

"Yes, my dear; I came to talk with you and your eldest brother, as-well, as reasonable people. Sit down, Salome," and he drew her towards him on the bench.

"You know, my dear," he began, "you know you will have to leave Maplestone at once,-the sooner for all of you the better, I think,-for the place is in the possession of your poor father's creditors. Now, my dear, listen to me."

"I am listening, Uncle Loftus," Salome said.

"I cannot do much for you, for I have a large family and many expenses; but I have been thinking Roxburgh would be a good place for you all to live in. The small boys could go to school, and-"

"I mean to teach Carl and Hans, Uncle Loftus. There are Raymond and Reginald. Reginald is not fourteen."

"Oh, well, Reginald must have a year or two more, I suppose. But Raymond is well over sixteen; he must work for his living."

"And there is Ada, Uncle Loftus,-she must go on with her lessons."

"My dear, I am afraid must is a word we shall have to leave alone now. It is what you can afford out of your poor mother's income, not what you must have. Now I want you to ask her what she thinks of my plan. If she approves it, I will look for a small furnished lodging, somewhere in Roxburgh, and I will speak to your Aunt Anna-only you must get your mother's mind about it first. I shall see her to-morrow before I leave, and you can prepare her for my proposition. You must take heart, my dear. Things may brighten."

"Nothing can bring father back," said Salome passionately. "I could bear anything if only I had him. To have worked so hard for us, and then to die ruined and broken-hearted!"

Dr. Wilton had nothing to say except, "My dear, don't fret-pray don't. From what I have observed as a medical man, I think your poor father's life would not have been a long one at the best. He had a slight attack, you know, two years ago, when I advised him to go abroad for a few weeks for entire rest. And this fearful blow was too much for him-brought on the last attack of paralysis, which proved fatal. Your brothers ought not to have gone off in that way."

"I am here, Uncle Loftus," Reginald said. "I have heard every word; I am ready to do anything to help my mother," he continued, drawing himself upright from the long grass where he had been lying full length.

"That's a brave little man," Dr. Wilton said. "I wish your brother may show the same good feeling." And then he relighted his cigar, and went over the bridge again.

"How unfeeling he is!" were Reginald's first words. "Oh, dear Sal, don't!" for Salome was sobbing bitterly. "Don't, Sal; and, for any sake, don't let us go to Roxburgh to be patronized by that set of heartless people. Let's stick together, and go and live near a big school, where I can go as a day boy. Not at Rugby though; I shouldn't like that. The fellows in Crawford's house might look down on me as a day boy. It is hard to have to leave Rugby; but I don't mean to give up because I have to do my work somewhere else. One's work doesn't alter-that's one comfort; and I'll do my best. And I have got you, Sal; that's more than most fellows can say, for sisters like you don't grow like blackberries in the hedge."

"O Reg! I am sure I have not been of much use to you, only I think I understand you. And, Reg"-this was said very earnestly-"you must tell me always when I am untidy, and wake me up when I am in a dream, and remind me to put my books away, and not leave everything in a higgledy-piggledy fashion."

"Oh, bother it! clever girls like you, who are always thinking and making up stories and verses, often are all of a heap."

"But that does not make it right, Reg; and I am not a bit clever, really. Think of Ada-how beautifully she works and plays and draws! and I don't do one of those things. Sometimes I think I might make a very little money by writing a story. You know I have written heaps, and torn them up, but now I shall keep the next and read it to you. I have got it all straight in my head, not a hitch anywhere. Reg, isn't it strange I can make all things in my stories go so pit-pat and right, and yet I never can keep my goods straight? Why-would you believe it?-I've already lost one of my new black kid gloves with four buttons. I can't find it anywhere. It just shows what I shall have to do to make myself orderly."

"Ah!" said Reginald, "I see; if I were you, Sal, I would have some of my hair cut off."

"I have turned it up," Salome said; "I thought I had better try to do it myself to-day."

"Yes; but there is a great pin sticking out, and a long tail hanging down, and"-Reginald hesitated-"it makes you look as if you weren't quite trim. Trim isn't prim, you know, Sal."

"No; that's right, Reginald. Tell me just what you think, won't you, and I will tell you. I suppose," she went on, "such a sorrow as ours makes us think more of God. We are forced to think of Him; but, O Reg! I have been thinking of Him before this trouble-His love and care for every tiny creature, and giving us so many beautiful things. I feel as if no loss of money could take them away-the sky, the sunshine, the flowers-all signs of God's love. And then even this comes from Him; and I know He is love, and so I try to bear it."

"You are awfully good, Salome," Reginald said in a husky voice. "You know that talk we had at Easter. I have done what you said ever since, you know. Not that I always or ever get much good from it; but I always read the verses you said you would, and try to say a real prayer in chapel. The dear old chapel," Reginald said; "fancy if I never see it again!"

The brother and sister sat in silence for a few minutes, and then Salome said, "I must go to mother now, and tell her what Uncle Loftus wishes, and try to find Raymond. Poor Ray! it is worse for him than for any of us somehow. Ray was made to be rich."

"He'll have to get a lot of nonsense knocked out of him, I expect," Reginald said, as he and Salome parted-Reginald turning off to the stables to see poor Captain, who had been brought back comparatively worthless. And Salome, going to her mother's room, met Raymond on the stairs. To her surprise he said,-

"Come here, Sal; I want to speak with you."

They went into the library together, now so full of memories to Salome that she could hardly restrain her tears; but she was always saying to herself, "I must keep up for mother's sake, and not be weak and useless."

"I say, Salome, don't you be taken in by Uncle Loftus; he is going to ride over us, and I won't stand it. I shall not go to Roxburgh, and so I shall tell him. I must try and get into-well, into the militia, and-"

"Raymond, you cannot do it. There is only just enough money to keep mother and all of us. You don't seem to take it in, Ray. Dear Ray! I am dreadfully sorry for you, for you will feel it most; but you would do anything for mother, and if you went into a bank or an office you might soon get rich and-"

"Rich! whoever heard such nonsense? I shall go and see Mr. Calvert the first thing to-morrow, and tell him how Uncle Loftus tries to put us down."

Salome was really astonished at her brother's unreasonableness and absolute childishness; and Ada coming in to say mother wanted Salome directly, she left her with Raymond, despairing of making any impression upon him.

* * *

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