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From all that Lady Edith heard of Mr. Clinton now, it seemed as if her once-esteemed friend had fallen under the spell of some gloomy sorcerer, and as if he had no more heart or intellect left than could be contained in a hazel-nut, leaving plenty of room to spare. The skilful training of Mrs. Lorraine had evidently brought him to such a state of mind as that of St. Francis de Sales and Madame de Chantal, by the same sort of sentimental Platonic attachment; and the influence gained over Bessie for a time by Father Eustace had been on a somewhat similar plan. It was agony even to Lady Edith, a comparative stranger, when she saw the brave little spirit of that noble boy, Alfred Clinton, flashing in his eyes while stoutly declaring his purpose to struggle against a separation from his own mother, and when she knew that the bold little fellow was sure to be conquered. Nature can only bear a certain amount of suffering, and survive. There was something, perfectly overawing in the extremity of Mrs. Clinton's anguish, when, after vainly attempting to speak, her voice became suffocated with grief, and clasping her son, with a look of death-like anguish, in her arms, she fainted.
The unconscious mother was carried to bed, in a state of merciful suspension from suffering, and days passed over her head in frightful delirium, so that fears were entertained by the doctors lest the shock to her intellects might be incurable. When Mrs. Clinton recovered her recollection, the boys had been already reclaimed by their father, to be kept under Jesuit guidance for ever. Who can measure the power of human nature to suffer and live on It seemed as if ten years of wasting anguish had gone over the head of Mrs. Clinton when she at length awoke from her trance-like state to the vague and dizzying consciousness of her own utter misery. She felt a confused and bewildering sensation of desolate wretchedness, a dull, heavy, lifeless sorrow, which finally formed itself into the one bitter consciousness that home, husband, and children were hers no more. While grief seemed gnawing at her heart-strings, Mrs. Clinton appeared to have wept her brain dry, for not a tear would flow, but she felt a shuddering consciousness of the long-enduring misery to come hereafter, as she trod the weary road of life without sunshine or hope. “My dear Mrs. Clinton,” said the kind-hearted Beatrice, “it is impossible not to feel misfortunes such as yours; but in this world of changes, try still to hope—try to look for better days.” “They must come more rapidly than time ever travels, or my broken spirit will be at rest,” replied Mrs. Clinton, whose heart nearly burst as she uttered the words. “There is a chain of inexpressible misery around me. Mine is a sorrow that knows not the name of consolation. A smouldering fire I have not long to live, and nothing to live for. Oh, teach me, if you can, to forget; but you cannot teach me not to mourn and die.”
“How truly did the saddest of all poets say that—
“‘The heart may break, and yet brokenly live on,’”
replied Lady Edith. “Though that sun can no longer charm away for you the gloom of nature, a better light, dear Mrs. Clinton, will reach your soul. Mere nature would show you the world now as a dreary desert with not a green spot for hope to rest on. Life seems to you a very long and dreary, and very crooked road; but trust in that God with whom your prayers, during a lifetime, are now registered for ever.” Mrs. Clinton neither spoke nor opened her eyes, but wished she could have remained for ever in a state of unconsciousness. Every overstrained nerve in her body seemed on the crack, but Lady Edith held her lifeless hand, still cold as death. At length a tremor shook her frame, a low convulsive sigh burst from her heart, and she attempted, in a faint gasping voice, to ask for her boys. There arises in many afflicted minds, at last, a strange, unnatural luxury in brooding over sorrow, and in hoarding up every source of anguish. Mrs. Clinton, from that hour, repeated to herself with growing despondency, that she was alone in the world now, forsaken for ever; that every fibre of hope was torn up by the root and withered; that the sting of death itself could be nothing compared to the sting of life such as hers. Meanwhile, Lady Edith and Beatrice, with ceaseless sympathy, tried to render her grief less abject, and to rouse in her the more hopeful spirit of Christian confidence in the merciful benevolence of God, till at length her tears became so softened that they only melted, but did not wither up her suffering heart, for she could look to the future as the sailor looks through his telescope for the distant prospect beyond.
“I grant that the stroke which has laid thy hopes low,
“We live to pleasure when we live to God.”
ALL men sail onwards in life under sealed orders, not knowing what a day, or even an hour, is to bring forth; but the Christian is ready to trim his sails and point his helm so as to follow the line of duty as it is step by step revealed, ever willing to welcome events as they come, because he recognises the hand that sends them. The morning dawned, on the 25th of July, 1852, Sir Allan's birthday, when he came of age, and was expected to sign the fatal deed, already prepared on parchment, and with all the due formalities, which Lady Anne told Lady Edith she had seen on the table of Father Eustace, by which he alienated from himself and from his heirs for ever, that noble property of Clanmarina, and of Cairngorum Castle, which had belonged for centuries to the clan M*Alpine, but which, having now fallen to the last heir of entail, was already almost within grasp of the Jesuits. They were no ordinary tears which fell from the aged eyes of Lady Edith Tremorne, as she