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   Chapter 33 THE GARDEN-HOUSE.

Warlock o' Glenwarlock By George MacDonald Characters: 12205

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03

She threaded and forced her way swiftly through the thick-grown shrubs, regardless of thorns and stripping twigs. It was a wilderness for many yards, but suddenly the bushes parted, and Cosmo saw before him a neglected building, overgrown with ivy, of which it would have been impossible to tell the purpose, for it was the product of a time when everything was made to look like something else. The door of it, thick with accumulated green paint, stood half open, as if the last who left it had failed in a feeble endeavour to shut it. Like a hunted creature Joan darted in, and up the creaking stair before her. Cosmo followed, every step threatening to give way under him.

The place was two degrees nearer ruin than his room. Great green stains were on the walls; plaster was lying here and there in a heap; the floors, rotted everywhere with damp, were sinking in all directions. Yet there had been no wanton destruction, for the glass in the windows was little broken. Merest neglect is all that is required to make of both man and his works a heap; for will is at the root of well-being, and nature speedily resumes what the will of man does not hold against her.

At the top of the stair, Joan turned into a room, and keeping along the wall, went cautiously to the window, and listened.

"I don't think he will venture here," she panted. "The gardener tells me his lordship seems as much afraid of the place as he and the rest of them. I don't mind it much-in the daytime.-You are never frightened, Cosmo!"

As she spoke, she turned on him a face which, for all the speed she had made, was yet pale as that of a ghost.

"I don't pretend never to be frightened," said Cosmo; "all I can say is, I hope God will help me not to turn my back on anything, however frightened I may be."

But the room he was in seemed to him the most fearful place he had ever beheld. His memory of the spare room at home, with all its age and worn stateliness and evil report, showed mere innocence beside this small common-looking, square room. If a room dead and buried for years, then dug up again, be imaginable, that is what this was like. It was furnished like a little drawing-room, and many of the niceties of work and ornament that are only to be seen in a lady's room, were yet recognizable here and there, for everything in it was plainly as it had been left by the person who last occupied it. But the aspect of the whole was indescribably awful. The rottenness and dust and displacement by mere decay, looked enough to scare even the ghosts, if they had any scare left in them. No doubt the rats had at one time their share in the destruction, but it was long since they had forsaken the house. There was no disorder. The only thing that looked as if the room had been abandoned in haste, was the door of a closet standing wide open. The house had a worse repute than ghost could give it-worse than Joan knew, for no one had ever told her what must add to her father's discredit.

Something in a corner of the closet just mentioned, caught Cosmo's eye, and he had taken one step towards it, when a sharp moan from the lips of his companion arrested him. He turned, saw her face agonized with fresh fear, and was rushing to the window, when she ran AT him, pushed him back, and stood shaking. He thought she would have fallen, and supported her. They stood listening speechless, with faces like two moons in the daytime. Presently Cosmo heard the rustling of twigs, and the sounds of back-swinging branches. These noises came nearer and nearer. Joan gazed with expanding eyes of terror in Cosmo's face, as if anywhere else she must see what would kill her.

"Joan!" cried the same voice Cosmo had heard in the garden. She shook, and held so to Cosmo's arm that she left as sure marks of her fingers there as ever did ghost. The sympathy of her fear invaded him. He would have darted to meet the enemy, but she would not let him go. The shudder of a new resolve passed through her, and she began to pull him towards the closet. Involuntarily for a moment he resisted, for he feared the worse risk to her; but her action and look were imperative, and he yielded.

They entered the closet and he pulled the door to close it upon them. It resisted; he pulled harder; a rusted hinge gave way, and the door dropped upon its front corner, so that he had partly to lift it to get it to. Just as he succeeded, Joan's name on the voice of her fear echoed awfully through the mouldy silences of the house. In the darkness of the closet, where there was just room for two to stand, she clung like a child to Cosmo, trembling in his arms like one in a fit of the ague. It is mournful to think what a fear many men are to the women of their house. The woman-fear in the world is one of its most pitiful outcries after a saviour.

Hesitating steps were heard below. They went from one to another of the rooms, then began to ascend the stair.

"Now, Joan," said Cosmo, holding her to him, "whatever you do, keep quiet. Don't utter a sound. Please God, I will take care of you."

She pressed his shoulder, but did not speak.

The steps entered the room. Both Cosmo and Joan seemed to feel the eyes that looked all about it. Then the steps came towards the closet. Now was the decisive moment! Cosmo was on the point of bursting out, with the cry of a wild animal, when something checked him, and suddenly he made up his mind to keep still to the very last. He put a hand on the lock, and pressed the door down against the floor. In the faint light that came through the crack at the top of it, he could see the dark terror of Joan's eyes fixed on his face. A hand laid hold of the lock, and pulled, and pulled, but in vain. Probably then Mergwain saw that the door was fallen from its hinge. He turned the key, and the door had not altered its position too far for his locking them in. Then they heard him go down the stair, and leave the house.

"He's not gone far!" said Cosmo. "He will have this closet open presently. You heard him lock it! We must get out of it at once! Please, let me go,

Joan, dear! I must get the door open."

She drew back from him as far as the space would allow. He put his shoulder to the door, and sent it into the middle of the room with a great crash, then ran and lifted it.

"Come, Joan! Quick!" he cried. "Help me to set it up again."

The moment something was to be done, Joan's heart returned to her. In an instant they had the door jammed into its place, with the bolt in the catch as Mergwain had left it.

"Now," said Cosmo, "we must get down the stair, and hide somewhere below, till he passes, and comes up here again."

They ran to the kitchen, and made for a small cellar opening off it. Hardly were they in it when they heard him re-enter and go up the stair. The moment he was safely beyond them, they crept out, and keeping close to the wall of the house, went round to the back of it, and through the thicket to a footpath near, which led to the highway. It was a severe trial to Cosmo's strength, now that the excitement of adventure had relaxed, and left him the weaker. Again and again Joan had to urge him on, but as soon as she judged it safe, she made him sit, and supported him.

"I believe," she said, "that wretched man of his has put him up to it. Constantine has found out something. I would not for the world he should learn all! You don't know-you are far too good to know what he would think-yes, and tell me to my face! It was not an easy life with my father, Cosmo, but I would rather be with him now, wherever he is, than go on living in that house with my brother."

"What had we better do?" said Cosmo, trying to hide his exhaustion.

"I am going to take you to the Jermyns'. They are the only friends I have. Julia will be kind to you for my sake. I will tell them all about it. Young Dr. Jermyn knows already."

Alas, it was like being let down out of paradise into purgatory! But when we cannot stay longer in paradise, we must, like our first parents, make the best of our purgatory.

"You will be able to come and see me, will you not, Joan," he said sadly.

"Yes, indeed!" she answered. "It will be easier in some ways than before. At home I never could get rid of the dread of being found out. As soon as I get you safe in, I must hurry home. Oh, dear! how shall I keep clear of stories! Only, when you are safe, I shall not care so much."

In truth, although she had seemed to fear all for herself, her great dread had been to hear Cosmo abused.

"What you must have gone through for me!" said Cosmo. "It makes me ache to think of it!"

"It will be only pleasant to look back upon, Cosmo," returned Joan with a sad smile. "But oh for such days again as we used to have on the frozen hills! There are the hills again every winter, but will the old days ever come again, Cosmo?"

"The old days never come again," answered Cosmo. "But do you know why, Joan?"

"No," murmured Joan, very sadly.

"Because they would be getting in the way of the new better days, whose turn it is," replied Cosmo. "You tell God, Joan, all about it; he will give us better days than those. To some, no doubt, it seems absurd that there should be a great hearing Life in the world; but it is what you and I need so much that we don't see how, by any possibility, to get on without it! It cannot well look absurd to us! And if you should ever find you canNOT pray any more, tell me, and I will try to help you. I don't think that time will ever come to me. I can't tell-but always hitherto, when I have seemed to be at the last gasp, things have taken a turn, and it has grown possible to go on again."

"Ah, you are younger than me, Cosmo!" said Joan, more sadly than ever.

Cosmo laughed.

"Don't you show me any airs on that ground," he said. "Leave that to Agnes. She is two years older than I, and used always to say when we were children, that she was old enough to be my mother."

"But I am more than two years older than you, Cosmo," said Joan.

"How much, then-exactly?" asked Cosmo.

"Three years and a whole month," she answered.

"Then you must be old enough to be my grandmother! But I don't mean to be sat upon for that. Agnes gave me enough of that kind of thing!"

Whether Joan began to feel a little jealous of Agnes, or only more interested in her, it would be hard to say, but Cosmo had now to answer a good many questions concerning her; and when Joan learned what a capable girl Agnes was, understanding Euclid and algebra, as Mr. Simon said, better than any boy, Cosmo himself included, he had ever had to teach, the earl's daughter did feel a little pain at the heart because of the cotter's.

They reached at last the village and the doctor's house, where, to Joan's relief, the first person they met was Charles, to whom at once she told the main part of their adventure that day. He proposed just what Joan wished, and was by no means sorry at the turn things had taken-putting so much more of the game, as he called it, into his hands.

Things were speedily arranged, all that was necessary told his father and sister, and Joan invited to stay to lunch, which was just ready. This she thought it better to do, especially as Jermyn and his sister would then walk home with her. What the doctor would say if he saw Mergwain, she did not venture to ask: she knew he would tell any number of stories to get her out of a scrape, while Cosmo would only do or endure anything, from thrashing her brother to being thrashed himself.

A comfortable room was speedily prepared for Cosmo, and Jermyn made him go to bed at once. Nor did he allow him to see Joan again, for he told her he was asleep, and she had better not disturb him-which was not true-but might have been, for all the doctor knew as he had not been to see.

Joan did not fall in with her brother for a week, and when she saw him he did not allude to the affair. What was in his mind she did not know for months. Always, however, he was ready to believe that the mantle of the wickedness of his fathers, which he had so righteously refused to put on, had fallen upon his sister instead. Only he had no proof.

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