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The Castle of Twilight


213 pages
Library of Alexandria
It was mid-April: a sunny afternoon. A flood of golden light, borne on gusts of sweet, chilly air, poured through the open windows of the Castle into a high-vaulted, massively furnished bedroom, hung with tapestries, and strewn with dry rushes. A heavy silence that was less a thing of the moment than a part of the general atmosphere hovered about the room; and it was not lessened by the unceasing murmur of ocean waves breaking upon the face of the cliff on which the Castle stood. This sound held in it a note of unutterable melancholy. Indeed, despite the sunlight, the sparkle of the waves, and the fragrance of the fresh spring air, this whole building, the culminating point of a long slope of landscape, seemed wrapped in an atmosphere of loneliness, of sadness, of lifelessness, that found full expression in the attitude of the black-robed woman who knelt alone in the high-vaulted bedroom. Eleanore was kneeling at her priedieu. Madame Eleanore knelt at her priedieu, and did not pray. Nay, the great grief, the unvoiced bitterness in her heart, killed prayer. For, henceforth, there was one near and unbearably dear to her who must be praying for evermore. And it was this thought and the vista of her future lonely years that denied her, even as she knelt, the consolation of religion. To the still solitude of her bedchamber, and always to the foot of her crucifix, the chatelaine of Le Crépusculewas accustomed to bring her griefs; and there had been many griefs and some very bitter ones in the thirty-four years that she had reigned as mistress over the Castle. But this last was one that, trained though she was in the ways of sorrow, defied all comfort, denied the right of consolation, and forbade even the relief of an appeal to the All-merciful. Laure, her daughter, the star of her solitude, the youth and the joy of her life, the object of all the blind devotion of which her mother-soul was capable, had this morning entered upon her novitiate at the convent of the Virgins of the Magdalen. Although Madame Eleanore’s family was celebrated for its piety, though many a generation of Lavals and Crépuscules had rendered a daughter to the eternal worship of God, there were still no records left in either family of a great mother-grief when the daughter left her home. But madame, Laval as she was, Crépuscule as she had learned to be, could not find it in her heart to praise God for the loss of her child. Once again, after many years, years that she could look back upon now as filled with broad content, she was alone. Not since, many, many years ago, she had come to the Castle as a girl-bride, wife of a military lord, had such utter desolation held her in its bonds,—such desolation as, after the coming of her two children, she had thought never to feel again. In the days after the Seigneur’s first early departure for Rennes, without her, she had felt as now. It came back very vividly to her memory, how he had ridden away for the capital, the city of war, of arms, of glittering shield and piercing lance, of tourney and laughter and song; how she had longed in silence to ride thither at his side; how she had wept when he was really gone; how she had watched bitterly, day after day, for his return up the steep road that came out of the forest on the edge of the sand-downs below. Clearly indeed did her youth return to Eleanore as she knelt here, in the barred sunlight, alone with her unheeding crucifix. And intertwined with this memory was the new sense of blinding sorrow, the loss of Laure.