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قراءة كتاب Chambers's Journal of Popular Literature, Science, and Art, No. 699 May 19, 1877

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‏اللغة: English
Chambers's Journal of Popular Literature, Science, and Art, No. 699
May 19, 1877

Chambers's Journal of Popular Literature, Science, and Art, No. 699 May 19, 1877

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دار النشر: Project Gutenberg
الصفحة رقم: 5

the point with them in the way of obliging me to use my wits.

'She was not entirely blameless,' I replied. 'I think she recognised that, in deciding to return to the Home, when I left it to her to choose.'

'But I am very glad you promised to procure a situation for her as soon as you can, Mary,' said Lilian. 'It seems almost too much to expect her to remain there for any length of time.'

'I have no fear of being able to do that when the right time comes,' I rejoined.

I was not able to be quite as candid as I wished to be, because I would not now touch upon the subject of my approaching marriage. I was consequently obliged to speak more indefinitely than I felt about obtaining a situation for Nancy.

'May I go with you to the Home, Mary? I too should like to say a cheering word to poor Nancy.'

I very gladly acquiesced, and we agreed to set forth the following morning. I did not, as I had always hitherto done with Philip's letters, sit gloating over the contents of this last and most precious of all half through the night, finding a new delicious meaning in every word. The remembrance of Robert Wentworth came between me and my happiness; and my letter was put away with a sigh. Disturbed and ashamed, the possibility of Philip's wife being supposed a free woman, was humiliating to me. My thoughts were reflected in my dreams. I appeared to be all night wandering in hopeless search of an intangible something:

A form without substance,
A mental mirage,
Which kindled a thirst
That it could not assuage.

I awoke feverish and unrefreshed. But Lilian and I set forth in good time to do our errand before the heat of the day; and a walk in the fresh morning air, through the prettiest of Kentish scenery, proved a very good remedy for a disturbed mind. Then I had a special reason for exerting myself to keep Lilian's thoughts from straying that morning. Her exclamation, 'Already!' when we found ourselves before the gates of the Home, seemed to shew that my efforts had not been thrown away. As the estate had been sold piecemeal, and very little ground had been purchased with the house, it had been thought necessary to build a wall round it. The aspect of the grand old house, surrounded thus by a mean-looking new wall, was almost pathetic, as well as out of character. And the great gates, which had once graced the entrance to a beautiful old park, looked specially out of place, let into a wall some feet lower than themselves, and with their fine iron-work boarded up. We saw too that all the windows in view were boarded up so high as to prevent the inmates looking out.

'I really do not see how it could hurt the people to see the beautiful country,' ejaculated Lilian, as we stood waiting for admittance after ringing the hanging bell. 'No prison could look more dismal.'

'Yes; Nancy Dean is one of the inmates here,' in answer to my query, said a sullen-looking woman, in the ugliest of dresses in shape, and make, and colour; and with her hair tucked away entirely out of sight beneath a cap uglier if possible than her dress. 'But you can't see her. This isn't visiting day. Wednesdays, second and last in the month, two till four o'clock.' Wherewith the small door let into the wall by the side of the gates, which she had opened to inquire our errand, was unceremoniously slammed to.

I did not hesitate to ring again. This was Thursday, and not one of the visiting weeks. Nancy must not be left until the following Wednesday without the knowledge that I had kept my word. It was of the gravest importance that she should know that I had made inquiries, even though I could not obtain an interview with her. But I saw now that I had made a mistake in first asking for her. I hurriedly tore a leaf from my pocket-book, and pencilled a few lines upon it, to the effect that 'a lady much interested in the Home hoped Mrs Gower would accord her a short interview;' and had it ready by the time the woman once more opened the door.

'I wish to see Mrs Gower the lady-superintendent, if you please.'

'Have you got an appointment with her?' she asked.

'If you give this to her, it will explain,' I returned, putting the folded paper into her hand.

She coolly unfolded it, read it through, and after a moment's hesitation, ungraciously made way for us to enter. Then, after relocking the gate, she left us standing just within, whilst she went into the house to do my bidding.

'Not a very courteous reception,' said Lilian.

'We ought to have inquired for the matron at first; but we can do without courtesy, if we succeed in getting our way,' I returned.

It seemed that we were to get our way. The woman came towards us again. 'I was to say that it is not usual for ladies to come at this time; Mrs Gower is always very much engaged until two o'clock; but she will see you, if you will step this way.'

We followed her into the house through a great hall, cold and forlorn-looking enough even at this season, divested as it was of everything in the way of furniture, and with its stone floor distressingly whitened. Then she pushed open a swing-door, led the way down a small well-carpeted passage, and ushered us into one of the cosiest of little rooms, luxuriously furnished. I had just a momentary glimpse of a lady lying back in an easy-chair, with her feet upon a hassock, reading a newspaper, a dainty luncheon with wine, &c. on the low table at her elbow, when at the words, 'The committee room, the committee room, of course, Downs,' we were hurriedly hustled out of the room again.

'This way, if you please,' said our conductress, leading us across the forlorn-looking hall again.

But the room we were now ushered into was to my eyes more forlorn still—a long room of noble proportions, with five windows, which had once commanded the view of a beautifully wooded undulating park, but which were now faced by a brick wall only four or five feet distant. The only flowers now to be seen were the marble ones festooned about the high old-fashioned fireplaces at each end of the room. It was now used as a committee room; a long baize-covered table, a dozen or so of heavy chairs, with ink and papers and one book, representing the furniture.

I was busily altering the aspect of things, telling myself that even the committee must feel the depressing effects of such a room as this; pulling down the offending wall, training rose-trees round the windows, and so forth, when the door opened, and Mrs Gower entered. A stout large-boned woman, between fifty and sixty years of age; severe of countenance, and expensively attired—too elaborately, I thought, for a gentlewoman's morning-dress.

'One of our lady patronesses, I presume?' she said, with a little half-bend as she advanced. 'It is not usual for ladies to come at this early hour; but we are always prepared for inspection, and happy to shew the Home, and explain our system, to ladies who may be desirous of co-operating with us.'

'I am very much interested, Mrs Gower. I do not think anything can be of more interest and importance to women than is such work as this. But I came as the friend of one of the inmates—Nancy Dean—to ask your permission for me to see her.'

'Are you a subscriber to the institution, may I ask, madam?'


'Do you bring an introduction from any one who is a subscriber?'

'No; unfortunately I know no one in any way connected with the Home.'

There was a very marked change in Mrs Gower's bearing, as she coldly observed: 'In that case, you did not, I presume, state your errand to the portress; and she was neglectful of her duty in not inquiring what it was, and giving you to understand that visitors to the inmates are only admitted upon certain days and at certain