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Once more my life was aimless and objectless; a long grey vista stretched before me, in dim gloomy perspective, and I shrank back, chilled, saddened, and well-nigh hopeless. I looked within, and there was the old void, the old inexpressible yearning, the old craving for some substantial joy, whereon my baffled, weary heart might feed and be satisfied.
Thank God, I was not, could not be satisfied thank God, no one ever is satisfied, who seeks to quench his thirst at broken cisterns of earth; who is content to lean on reeds of mortality, that fail him in the hour of need, and pierce, him through with many sorrows; who tries to grasp that in the creature, which is to be found only in the Creator! Brackish and uncertain are the waters of human life, illusive as Dead Sea apples are the purest • and most ecstatic joys of unsanctified mortality ;
“He builds too low who builds beneath the skies.”
But now, a new phase of existence was opening before me. Childhood had passed away, and the
time was come for me to be a woman among women. I was standing, not “with reluctant feet, where the brook and river meet.” I was eager to begin life; to try “society," as it is commonly understood. And I thought, as I paced for the last time the garden walks of Agenoria House, “Perhaps in the whirl of pleasure, in the honied tones of flattery, in the festal music, in the gay wreaths and costly robes of fashionable life, I may at last be happy! Why raise for myself Utopian and unattainable standards ? I have tried, already, friendship and learning; I have tried them in all sincerity and singleness of heart; and the past is a blank-a mistake-a page of my life's history to which I shall never in future years care to revert. Now I will try pleasure.” So I said farewell to the old roomy school-house, to the pleasant gardens, to my kind governesses, and to my companions; and, with a heart beating high with hope and anticipation, I commenced my homeward journey.
At the half-way stage, I was met, according to a little plan of our own that had grown into custom, by my eldest brother, now eighteen years of age, and destined for the clerical profession. In the joy of meeting, and in the sanguine hilarity of my revived spirits, I did not at first notice how very grave and care-worn he looked. We were alone inside the coach, and after a time I began to mark his dull, absent manner, and his weary aspect. I wondered if he had been studying too hard, for he was growing fast, and far from strong. But presently, as I looked further, a sickening fear stole over me, for I caught his sad, compassionate gaze fixed on my face, and it was all I could do to falter out, “Oh, Harry! what is it? Is any one sickdead?”
“No, no; not that, Milly," he answered hastily; "but, Milly dear, can you bear to hear very bad news ?"
“Yes," I replied, quite calmly; "tell me the worst.”
“Our father is ruined-he has failed-you know
what that means. We shall have to leave our pleasant home, and everything is going to be sold; it belongs to the creditors, and we shall be quite poor people. We must all learn to work; I shall never go back to Cambridge; the little ones can have no more money spent on their education-it is well that yours is complete and poor mother is almost broken-hearted."
The coach rolled steadily along; the sun shone in his noontide splendour; the birds sang as sweetly as when I had listened to them hours before, in the bright early summer morning. The flowers were as lovely, the skies as blue, the world as beautiful as ever on that fair June day; but the sun of my life was darkly and heavily clouded; the flowers were unheeded, the music jarring and discordant, and I was saying to myself, ever and anon, “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity. All is vanity and vexation of spirit.”
MY AUNT RYLAND,
Filled is life's goblet to the brim :
It was late in the afternoon when I reached my home. There it stood in the sweet summer sunshine, with the honeysuckle in full flower about the porch, and the mignonnette boxes on the window ledges redolent with perfume, and the long shadows of the copper beech-tree on the smooth emerald lawn. And all was bright and calm, as if no weight of care and sorrow weighed down the hearts of those who called that pleasant spot their home.
I saw my mother standing at the parlour window, and she smiled a sad, faint smile of welcome, and came slowly out to meet me. She seemed much older than when I parted from her scarcely five months before; her dark luxuriant hair, which had scarcely shown a single streak of grey, was now abundantly silvered, and there were lines of care on her brow and about her mouth that I had never seen before. In January, I left my mother, a handsome comely matron, all pleasantry and contentment and kindly generosity; in June, I returned to find her a faded, saddened
woman, sinking apparently into a premature old age. She came on to the gravel walk, and took me in her arms and began to cry bitterly; hers was not a nature to cope with difficulties in a reversed position, and in time of trouble tears always came more readily than words, and words more readily than actions. Life had been to her a quiet, unbroken current—a calm, pleasant tale, with here and there little episodes of joy. It was too late now to begin the struggle, which was entirely alien to her disposition; and I saw at once that what was to be done must be achieved by myself and my eldest brother and sister; for I had been told already that my father was entirely crushed.
Rose and Susan met me in the hall; they were little altered, only they were grown and looked grave; Rose especially was rapidly developing into the woman.
“Oh! Milly, I am so glad you are come,” said my elder sister, when she and I were in our own room; “it has been such a time and yet, bad as it has been, the worst is yet to come.”
"Tell me all about it,” I said, sitting down on the side of my bed; "there will be just time before tea is ready."
“Yes, if I begin directly; but Susan is so quick, she gets the meals while you and I would be thinking about it.”
"But why does Susan trouble herself with such things ? Doing servants' work will not mend matters.” ,“ You don't understand, Milly. I wanted to write