Shirley HTML version

20. Tomorrow
The two girls met no living soul on their way back to the Rectory: they let
themselves in noiselessly; they stole upstairs unheard: the breaking morning
gave them what light they needed. Shirley sought her couch immediately; and,
though the room was strange - for she had never slept at the Rectory before -
and though the recent scene was one unparalleled for excitement and terror by
any it had hitherto been her lot to witness, yet, scarce was her head laid on the
pillow, ere a deep, refreshing sleep closed her eyes, and calmed her senses.
Perfect health was Shirley's enviable portion; though warmhearted and
sympathetic, she was not nervous: powerful emotions could rouse and sway,
without exhausting her spirit: the tempest troubled and shook her while it lasted;
but it left her elasticity unbent, and her freshness quite unblighted. As every day
brought her stimulating emotion, so every night yielded her recreating rest.
Caroline now watched her sleeping, and read the serenity of her mind in the
beauty of her happy countenance.
For herself, being of a different temperament, she could not sleep. The
commonplace excitement of the tea-drinking and school-gathering would alone
have sufficed to make her restless all night: the effect of the terrible drama which
had just been enacted before her eyes was not likely to quit her for days. It was
vain even to try to retain a recumbent posture: she sat up by Shirley's side,
counting the slow minutes, and watching the June sun mount the heavens.
Life wastes fast in such vigils as Caroline had of late but too often kept; vigils
during which the mind - having no pleasant food to nourish it - no manna of hope
- no hived-honey of joyous memories - tries to live on the meagre diet of wishes,
and failing to derive thence either delight or support, and feeling itself ready to
perish with craving want, turns to philosophy, to resolution, to resignation; calls
on all these gods for aid, calls vainly - is unheard, unhelped, and languishes.
Caroline was a Christian; therefore in trouble she framed many a prayer after the
Christian creed; preferred it with deep earnestness; begged for patience,
strength, relief. This world, however, we all know, is the scene of trial and
probation; and, for any favourable result her petitions had yet wrought, it seemed
to her that they were unheard and unaccepted. She believed, sometimes, that
God had turned His face from her. At moments she was a Calvinist, and, sinking
into the gulf of religious despair, she saw darkening over her the doom of
Most people have had a period or periods in their lives when they have felt thus
forsaken; when, having long hoped against hope, and still seen the day of fruition
deferred, their hearts have truly sickened within them. This is a terrible hour, but
it is often that darkest point which precedes the rise of day; that turn of the year
when the icy January wind carries over the waste at once the dirge of departing
winter, and the prophecy of coming spring. The perishing birds, however, cannot
thus understand the blast before which they shiver; and as little can the suffering
soul recognise, in the climax of its affliction, the dawn of its deliverance. Yet, let
whoever grieves still cling fast to love and faith in God: God will never deceive,