The Day at the Castle

by Grace Greenwood

The Reverend Charles Rivers was the Rector of a small country parish in the North of England. He was a good man, a true minister of Christ to his people. He had a lovely wife, and four beautiful children, and there was no happier or sweeter home in all the country round than the modest little Rectory, embowered in ivy and climbing roses.

Four or five miles from the parish church, on a noble eminence, rise the lofty towers of Glenmore Castle, which for centuries has been the great family seat of the Lords of Glenmore. It is surrounded by beautiful gardens, laid out in the French style, with hedges of box, full ten feet high. Beyond these a noble wooded park stretches away on all sides, for miles, taking in hill and valley, and a fairy little lake. To the southward it is crossed by a lazy, loitering stream, shadowed by willows, fringed with flags, and in the early summer flecked by snowy water-lilies.

The Lord Glenmore of the time of my story was a handsome young nobleman, married to a pretty London lady, very gay and fond of splendor, but kind-hearted and gentle to every one.

Whenever Lord Glenmore came up from London to his northern estate,—usually in the shooting season of the early autumn,—the happy event was made known to his tenants and friends, by the running up of a flag on the loftiest turret of the Castle.

Mr. Rivers had been his tutor, and his Lordship always hastened to renew his intimacy with his old friend and instructor, for whom he had a warm regard, running into the Rectory in his old, boyish, unceremonious way, and frequently inviting the Rector and his wife to dine at the Castle.

During one of these pleasant dinner-parties, Lord Glenmore, turning to Mrs. Rivers, said: "I know from happy experience that you and your good husband are always ready to lend a helping hand when one is in need. Now Laura and I want a little help. We have had a rather embarrassing arrival at the Castle,—the motherless little son and daughter of my brother, Colonel Montford. They were sent over from India, at our suggestion, but we hardly know what to do with them. They are shy and homesick, and thus far have had little to say to any one but their dusky old Ayah, their Indian nurse. Now, children can get on best with children, and so, my dear madam, I beg that you will lend us yours,—those charming little daughters, staid Margaret and roguish Maud, and that fine lad Robert. As for wee Master Alfred, my baby godson, I make no demand on him for the present. We think that if they could spend a day at the Castle now and then, they would help to break the ice between us and our unsocial little relations!"

Mr. and Mrs. Rivers willingly consented to their friends' request, and the next day was fixed upon for the first visit, both Lord and Lady Glenmore promising to do all in their power to entertain their young guests.

Early on a lovely autumn morning the children at the Rectory were made ready for the important visit. As soon as Lord Glenmore's carriage appeared in sight, they ran into the nursery, their faces bright with joyous anticipations, to bid their mamma good by. She was sitting with the baby on her lap, and they all bent down to kiss "the dear little fellow," ere they went.

"Why, mamma," said Margaret, "how hot Ally's lips are! is n't he well?"

"I am afraid not quite well," Mrs. Rivers replied; "he seems feverish. Now, my dears, I hope you will be very good and gentle all day. You, Margaret, must take good care of your sister, and Maud," she added, as she bent forward to tie in a smoother knot the strings of the little girl's hat, "you must not run quite wild with merriment. Robert, don't put yourself on your dignity with young Montford, on account of his shyness. Remember, almost everything is strange to him here, and he is sad. I am sure he does not mean to be haughty."

"O yes," replied Robert, turning from the canine playfellow he was affectionately patting, "I mean to treat him just the same as though he were a true-born Briton. He isn't to blame for being only an unfortunate Cawnpore boy, born among heathens and boa-constrictors and Juggernauts, and not knowing how to skate, or make snowballs. Good by, mamma, don't trouble yourself about me; I 'll carry myself 'this side up with care.' By by, baby. No, no, old Rover, you can't come; you would n't know how to behave with my lord's Italian greyhound, and my lady's dainty King Charles Spaniel."

Mr. Rivers, after seeing the children off, entered the nursery, to find his wife still troubled by the heat and crimson redness of the baby's cheeks and lips, though the old Scotch nurse, who was holding him, said cheerily: "Eh, dinna fash yoursel'. It's only a little teething fever, the bairnie will soon be weel. Gang about your ain affairs, and trust auld Elspeth."

But the mother dared not leave the little one till he was asleep. He slept very soundly until noon, and when he awoke it was evident that he was seriously ill. Mrs. Rivers again took him on her lap, but to her grief perceived that he did not seem to know her. Soon, his sweet blue eyes were rolled upward, his brow contracted, his lips were set, and his tender limbs grew rigid. Medical aid was called at once, but the little sufferer passed from one spasm into another, till almost ere physician and parents were aware that he was going, poor little Alfred was gone!

After the first wild burst of sorrow was over, Mr. Rivers said to his wife, "Shall I send to the Castle for the children?"

"No, Charles," replied the good mother, "though I yearn for them inexpressibly, I will not so sadly cut short their day of pleasure. The night of sorrow will come speedily enough."

Early in the evening, Lord Glenmore's carriage came dashing through the rustic gateway of the Rectory. Mr. Rivers was at the hall door awaiting the children. Margaret noticed that her papa looked serious, and that he kissed her with more than usual tenderness; but the others were too much occupied with the pleasant stories they had to tell of the day at the Castle, to remark on any change in him. They ran into the silent house, laughing and chatting merrily. They found their mamma in the little family parlor, sitting in the twilight, which prevented them seeing that she was very pale, and that her eyes were swollen with weeping.

They displayed before her presents of choice fruit and flowers from Lady Glenmore, and some curious Indian toys which the little Montfords had given them.

"O mamma," said Robert, "we have had such a glo-ri-ous day! Arthur Montford and I got on famously together. I taught him all the English plays I could think of, and he let me gallop about on his Shetland pony,—a splendid wild one, mamma,—till I lost my hat, and was all out of breath, and got thrown three times. Didn't hurt me, though. Altogether, we had such prime sport, that I wished for that old Bible hero, Aaron, no, Joshua, to command the sun to stand still, so that our day would never end."

"And, mamma," broke in little Maud, "dear Lady Glenmore, and her sister, Lady Fanny, played and sung for us, and showed us pictures and jewels, and Alice Montford has got such a world of dolls, and her nurse is such a dark, dark woman, and talks such a queer language, Latin, I suppose. I did n't pretend to understand it, but I told Alice my papa could."

"Well, Margaret, dear," said Mr. Rivers, "what is your experience?"

"O papa, it was indeed a charming day; but the best part was while the ladies were dressing for dinner, when Lord Glenmore took us girls down to the little lake on the other side of the Castle; and he was so kind in leading us along by the water, helping us over the bad places, and plucking flowers for us. He even sat down with us in the grass, and told us stories, while we made daisy-chains. Then he took us in his boat on the lake, and rowed about, and, O mamma, what do you think! as we were passing a thick clump of flags, he parted them with his oar, and showed us a swan's nest! I thought of Mrs. Browning's poem of little Ellie, and her 'Swan's Nest among the Reeds.' O, I had almost forgot! Lord Glenmore intrusted to me the sweetest gift for baby Alfred: see! this lovely coral necklace. He ordered it expressly from London, for his little god-son, he said. That makes me think! how is baby to-night, mamma?"

The time was come. Mrs. Rivers glanced at her husband; but he turned away his head. He could not tell them. Then, calmly, though her voice trembled a little, the mother began: "Listen, my darlings, I have something important to tell you about baby."

The children gathered closer about her, and were very still.

"While you were away, a great Lord sent for little brother, too."

"What for? to adopt him as his heir?" asked Robert.

"Yes, my son; and Ally has gone to a mansion far grander than the Castle, where the gardens are fairer, and the fields greener than any you have ever seen; and, Robert, the sun never sets over that beautiful land."

"Did he go in a carriage with a coronet on it, and two powdered footmen behind?" asked Maud.

"No, love; but gentle beings, more good and beautiful than those kind ladies of the Castle, bore him away, and will tend him, lovingly."

"I think he will miss nurse Elspeth, and cry for her, and they will have to send him home again," said poor, bewildered little Maud.

"Why, mamma," cried Margaret, "we can't spare baby to the greatest lord on earth!"

"But, my daughter, to the 'Lord of lords' we must spare him. He will 'lead' him as you were led to-day, 'beside the still waters, and cause him to lie down in pleasant pastures,' and our darling will never know pain, nor hunger, nor sorrow."

"O mamma, mamma, I know what you mean now!—baby is dead!"

Then went up the children's united voices, like one sad wail, "Baby is dead!"

"Yes, my children," said their father, in a voice broken by grief, "our precious little Alfred is gone. But, try to say, and try to help us say, 'The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.'"

The poor children could not say it then, for their bitter crying; but, before they went to bed, they sobbed forth the sacred words, as they knelt by the crib where little Ally lay, still, and very pale, dressed in a snowy muslin frock, with his waxen hands clasped on his breast, and holding a tiny white rose-bud, an emblem of his sinless little life.