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Chapter I.11
THE sun sank lower; the western breeze floated cool and fresh into the house.
As the evening advanced, the cheerful ring of the village clock came nearer and
nearer. Field and flower-garden felt the influence of the hour, and shed their
sweetest fragrance. The birds in Norah's aviary sunned themselves in the
evening stillness, and sang their farewell gratitude to the dying day.
Staggered in its progress for a time only, the pitiless routine of the house went
horribly on its daily way. The panic-stricken servants took their blind refuge in the
duties proper to the hour. The footman softly laid the table for dinner. The maid
sat waiting in senseless doubt, with the hot-water jugs for the bedrooms ranged
near her in their customary row. The gardener, who had been ordered to come to
his master, with vouchers for money that he had paid in excess of his
instructions, said his character was dear to him, and left the vouchers at his
appointed time. Custom that never yields, and Death that never spares, met on
the wreck of human happiness -- and Death gave way.
Heavily the thunder-clouds of Affliction had gathered over the house -- heavily,
but not at their darkest yet. At five, that evening, the shock of the calamity had
struck its blow. Before another hour had passed, the disclosure of the husband's
sudden death was followed by the suspense of the wife's mortal peril. She lay
helpless on her widowed bed; her own life, and the life of her unborn child,
trembling in the balance.
But one mind still held possession of its resources -- but one guiding spirit now
moved helpfully in the house of mourning.
If Miss Garth's early days had been passed as calmly and as happily as her later
life at Combe-Raven, she might have sunk under the cruel necessities of the
time. But the governess's youth had been tried in the ordeal of family affliction;
and she met her terrible duties with the steady courage of a woman who had