while the lady of the house was busily engaged in turpentin ing the disjointed

While the lady of the house was busily engaged in

This preview shows page 593 - 595 out of 812 pages.

while the lady of the house was busily engaged in turpentin- ing the disjointed fragments of a tent-bedstead at the door of the back parlour, as if in preparation for the reception of some new lodger who had been fortunate enough to engage it. Nicholas had ample time to make these observations while the little boy, who went on errands for the lodgers, clattered down the kitchen stairs and was heard to scream, as in some remote cellar, for Miss Bray’s servant, who, presently appear- ing and requesting him to follow her, caused him to evince greater symptoms of nervousness and disorder than so natu- ral a consequence of his having inquired for that young lady would seem calculated to occasion. Upstairs he went, however, and into a front room he was shown, and there, seated at a little table by the window, on which were drawing materials with which she was occupied, sat the beautiful girl who had so engrossed his thoughts, and who, surrounded by all the new and strong interest which Nicholas attached to her story, seemed now, in his eyes, a thousand times more beautiful than he had ever yet supposed her. But how the graces and elegancies which she had dispersed about the poorly-furnished room went to the heart of Nicho- las! Flowers, plants, birds, the harp, the old piano whose notes had sounded so much sweeter in bygone times; how many struggles had it cost her to keep these two last links of that broken chain which bound her yet to home! With every slen- der ornament, the occupation of her leisure hours, replete with that graceful charm which lingers in every little tasteful work of woman’s hands, how much patient endurance and how many gentle affections were entwined! He felt as though the smile of Heaven were on the little chamber; as though the beautiful devotion of so young and weak a creature had shed a ray of its own on the inanimate things around, and made them beautiful as itself; as though the halo with which old painters surround the bright angels of a sinless world played about a being akin in spirit to them, and its light were visibly before him. And yet Nicholas was in the Rules of the King’s Bench Prison! If he had been in Italy indeed, and the time had been
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595 Charles Dickens sunset, and the scene a stately terrace! But, there is one broad sky over all the world, and whether it be blue or cloudy, the same heaven beyond it; so, perhaps, he had no need of com- punction for thinking as he did. It is not to be supposed that he took in everything at one glance, for he had as yet been unconscious of the presence of a sick man propped up with pillows in an easy-chair, who, moving restlessly and impatiently in his seat, attracted his at- tention. He was scarce fifty, perhaps, but so emaciated as to appear much older. His features presented the remains of a hand- some countenance, but one in which the embers of strong and impetuous passions were easier to be traced than any ex- pression which would have rendered a far plainer face much more prepossessing. His looks were very haggard, and his limbs
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