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80 different a packing-up from that I had been accustomed to at the close of the holidays: then I had taken what was necessary for the half-year and no more; now, everything that was mine was collected together to be taken to Lunechester. Then I could count the weeks that must elapse before it would be time to come home again; now there was no definite period fixed for my return; it was an understood thing that I was not going to visit Mrs. Ryland, but to live with her. I could not tell when I should see the beloved home faces once more, or where I should see them, or whether I should ever see them all together --my parents, Harry, my two sisters, and the twin boys—as we were that evening, an unbroken circle, for all the sorrow and loss that had fallen so heavily
Should I ever come back to Radenham again? I could not tell; for my father must pitch his tent where there was promise of pasture; and already there were hints of the probability of a residence in the metropolis. No, I felt sure I should not find them at Radenham-the dear old sober town-whenever I might find myself at liberty to join the household band once more. The evening passed heavily away; we were not inclined for much conversation, and from time to time we wondered how the old house looked now, with its bare walls and empty rooms, and the litter of straw on the lawn; and who had bought this, and who had the other; and my mother hoped the silver forks would go to some one who would not neglect them; and Rose sighed, and said she would never care for another piano, not if it cost a hundred guineas.
When we were alone in our room, Rose and Susan cried, and wished I were going to stay with them ; and, for the time, I wished too that I had not been so eager to seize the first opportunity of release from the troubles that had come upon us. Was it well to live in idleness and luxury while they were working for their daily bread, and compelled to forego all the little elegances, and many of the comforts, to which, of late years, they had been accustomed ?
I brightened up, however, before we slept; I reminded my sisters how many advantages I should enjoy, and promised them great things when I should be married, and have a home of my own; and Rose was cheered, and Susan smiled, and we were in better spirits than we had been since the setting-in of the tide of misfortune.
It was a brilliant July morning when I awoke, and I was glad to think I should have sunshine on my long journey, that would take two days. I was soon dressed and ready for breakfast, and by nine o'clock I had said good-bye to all except my father and Harry, who went with me to the office where the coach started. It soon came up, rattling over the rough-paved street, and then I took my place in the inside, and I and my property were consigned to the special care of the guard, who was a Radenham man, and promised to take every care of me as far as the coach went.
I had to sleep one night at an inn, and this was
source of serious annoyance to my father and mother. I was indeed very young to travel so far and so long unattended. But I did not feel any apprehension myself; for I had all the energy, as well as all the presumption, of seventeen, and I rather liked the prospect of the long, untried journey, and the certainty of having to depend upon myself for my own safe-keeping and comfort.
At length the coach was ready to start; my father grasped my hand once more, and said, “God bless you, my child !” and the impatient horses responded to the coachman's tightening of the reins, and set off full pace down the quiet Radenham market-place.
I was alone inside the coach, and I could cry to my
heart's content, and think with a tender regret of the dear faces, and the familiar scenes, that I might not see again for many a long day; and when at last I dried my eyes, and made up my mind that it would never do to begin by "giving way," I found, on looking from the coach windows, that we had already passed the boundaries of the Radenham neighbourhood, and were taking quite a different road from that which I had been accustomed to travel on my way to Hammersmith. The country was very pretty, and the corn was in many places almost ripe; the brooks ran rippling through the sunny meadows, and the hedge-rows were thick with summer flowers. I began to recover my spirits, and to look forward rather than backward; and this was quite natural, for, in early youth, anticipation is always stronger than retrospection. I began to wonder what my life at Lunechester would be like; how my Aunt Ryland would look, and, above all, what kind of people I should know and associate with in my new, untried home. The more I thought, the more content I felt: I had no doubt but that my aunt was the centre of a very delightful circle, and that I should enjoy, under her protection, all the pleasures and gaieties that I had vainly hoped to find in my own family at Ferndown.
The second time we stopped to change horses was at a very pretty road-side inn. Through the open windows, the parlours looked neat and cool; roses and clematis covered all the front of the house, and a long spray of a lovely noisette rose actually obscured the faded sign. All around were undulating meadow-grounds and shady woods; and not far off, standing by itself in a beautiful garden, was a long, low, grey house, that, from its isolation, and its proximity to the churchyard, I rightly judged to be the clergyman's residence.
While I was looking with interest on the tall box-edges, and the beds of lavender and scarlet lychnis, the door of the house opened, and an elderly gentleman in clerical costume, carrying a small valise in his hand, came rapidly down the broad gravel walk, and towards the place where the coach was standing.
“Any room inside ?” he asked, as he came up to the inn-door; “Mrs. Clarenham made me promise not to ride outside again."
“ Indeed, sir, and I don't wonder at it,” said the landlady, curtseying respectfully; “two upsets is enough in anybody's life. Travelling's dangerous work, and what will be done when these newfangled railroad things get all over the country, as they do say they will, I cannot tell. Ah!-as my poor mother used to say, sir—there's only one way of coming into this world, but there's a thousand ways of going out of it."
“Yes, Mrs. Watkins," replied the clergyman, “but there is only the one way that God chooses for each person; and as we never can tell what that way is, or how or when it will be, it is necessary to live always in readiness for the hour that will witness our departure from this world to another.”
“Ah, sir!” returned the landlady, shaking her head, “but we do forget these things too much! Really I get up on Monday morning, and find so many things to attend to, that all I have heard on the Sunday goes clean out of my head-indeed it do. But I can't help it, neither can my master; we're busy folks, you see, sir, and business must be attended to."
“And when you have attended to all the business you have in hand, suppose God should say to you, * This night thy soul shall be required of thee.' Will you not then feel that you have neglected the first business of life—the only business that you will care to have transacted, when heart and flesh are failing, and the hand of death is upon you ?”
He spoke gravely and solemnly, but very kindly,