From Many Sources
Dodd Mead & Company
LOB LIE-BY-THE-FIRE. By Juliana H.Ewing
WILD JACK. from Temple Bar
VIRGINIA. by Mrs. Forrester.
MR. JOSIAH SMITH'S BALLOON JOURNEY. from
NUMBER 7639. by Mary Frances Peard.
GONERIL. by A. Mary F. Robinson.
OUT OF THE SEASON. from Temple Bar
Lob Lie-By-The-Fire—the Lubber-fiend, as Milton calls him—is a rough
kind of Brownie or House Elf, supposed to haunt some north-country
homesteads, where he does the work of the farm labourers, for no grander
"------to earn his cream bowl duly set."
Not that he is insensible of the pleasures of rest, for
"—When, in one night, ere glimpse of morn,
His shadowy flail hath threshed the corn
That ten day-labourers could not end,
Then lies him down the Lubber-fiend,
And, stretched out all the chimney's length,
Basks at the fire his hairy strength."
It was said that a Lob Lie-by-the-fire once haunted the little old Hall
at Lingborough. It was an old stone house on the Borders, and seemed to
have got its tints from the grey skies that hung above it. It was
cold-looking without, but cosy within, "like a north-country heart,"
said Miss Kitty, who was a woman of sentiment, and kept a commonplace
It was long before Miss Kitty's time that Lob Lie-by-the-fire first came
to Lingborough. Why and whence he came is not recorded, nor when and
wherefore he withdrew his valuable help, which, as wages rose, and
prices rose also, would have been more welcome than ever.
This tale professes not to record more of him than comes within the
memory of man.
Whether (as Fletcher says) he were the son of a witch, if curds and
cream won his heart, and new clothes put an end to his labours, it does
not pretend to tell. His history is less known than that of any other
sprite. It may be embodied in some oral tradition that shall one day be
found; but as yet the mists of forgetfulness hide it from the
storyteller of to-day as deeply as the sea fogs are wont to lie between
Lingborough and the adjacent coast.
THE LITTLE OLD LADIES.—ALMS DONE IN SECRET.
The little old ladies of Lingborough were heiresses.
Not, mind you, in the sense of being the children of some mushroom
millionnaire, with more money than manners, and (as Miss Betty had seen
with her own eyes, on the daughter of a manufacturer who shall be
nameless) dresses so fine in quality and be-furbelowed in construction
as to cost a good quarter's income (of the little old ladies), but
trailed in the dirt from "beggarly extravagance," or kicked out behind
at every step by feet which fortune (and a very large fortune, too) had
never taught to walk properly.
"And how should she know how to walk?" said Miss Betty. "Her mother
can't have taught her, poor body! that ran through the streets of Leith,
with a creel on her back, as a lassie; and got out of her coach (lined
with satin, you mind, sister Kitty?) to her dying day, with a bounce,
all in a heap, her dress caught, and her stockings exposed (among
ourselves, ladies!) like some good wife that's afraid to be late for the
market. Aye, aye! Malcolm Midden—good man!--made a fine pocket of
silver in a dirty trade, but his women'll jerk, and toss, and bounce,
and fuss, and fluster for a generation or two yet, for all the silks and
satins he can buy 'em."
From this it will be seen that the little old ladies inherited some
prejudices of their class, and were also endowed with a shrewdness of
observation common among all classes of north-country women.
But to return to what else they inherited. They were heiresses, as the
last representatives of a family as old in that Border country as the
bold blue hills which broke its horizon. They were heiresses also in
default of heirs male to their father who got the land from his uncle's
dying childless, sons being scarce in the family. They were heiresses,
finally, to the place and the farm, to the furniture that was made when
folk seasoned their wood before they worked it, to a diamond brooch
which they wore by turns, besides two diamond rings, and two black lace
shawls, that had belonged to their mother and their Auntie Jean, long
since departed thither where neither moth nor rust corrupt the true
As to the incomings of Lingborough, "It was nobody's business but their
own," as Miss Betty said to the lawyer who was their man of business,
and whom they consulted on little matters of rent and repairs at as much
length, and with as much formal solemnity, as would have gone elsewhere
to the changing hands of half a million of money. Without violating
their confidence, however, we may say that the estate paid its way, kept
them in silk stockings, and gave them new tabbinet dresses once in three
years. It supplied their wants the better that they had inherited house
plenishing from their parents, "Which they thanked their stars was not
made of tag-rag, and would last their time," and that they were quite
content with an old home and old neighbours, and never desired to change
the grand air that blew about their native hills for worse, in order to
be poisoned with bad butter, and make the fortunes of extortionate
The rental of Lingborough did more. How much more the little old ladies
did not know themselves, and no one else shall know, till that which was
done in secret is proclaimed from the housetops.
For they had had a religious scruple, founded upon a literal reading of
the scriptural command that a man's left hand should not know what has
right hand gives in alms, and this scruple had been ingeniously set at
rest by the parson, who, failing in an attempt to explain the force of
Eastern hyperbole to the little ladies' satisfaction, had said that Miss
Betty, being the elder, and the head of the house, might be likened to
the right hand, and Miss Kitty, as the younger, to the left, and that if
they pursued their good works without ostentation, or desiring the
applause even of each other, the spirit of the injunction would be
The parson was a good man and a clever. He had (as Miss Betty justly
said) a very spiritual piety. But he was also gifted with much
shrewdness in dealing with the various members of his flock. And his
word was law to the sisters.
Thus it came about that the little ladies' charities were not known even
to each other—that Miss Betty turned her morning camlet twice instead
of once, and Miss Kitty denied herself in sugar, to carry out benevolent
little projects which were accomplished in secret, and of which no
record appears in the Lingborough Ledger.
AT TEA WITH MRS. DUNMAW.
The little ladies of Lingborough were very sociable, and there was, as
they said, "as much gaiety as was good for anyone" within their reach.
There were at least six houses at which they drank tea from time to
time, all within a walk. As hosts or guests, you always met the same
people, which was a friendly arrangement, and the programmes of the
entertainments were so uniform, that no one could possibly feel awkward.
The best of manners and home-made wines distinguished these tea parties,
where the company was strictly genteel, if a little faded. Supper was
served at nine, and the parson and the lawyer played whist for love with
different partners on different evenings with strict impartiality.
Small jealousies are apt to be weak points in small societies, but there
was a general acquiescence in the belief that the parson had a friendly
preference for the little ladies of Lingborough.
He lived just beyond them, too, which led to his invariably escorting
them home. Miss Betty and Miss Kitty would not for worlds have been so
indelicate as to take this attention for granted, though it was a custom
of many years' standing. The older sister always went through the form
of asking the younger to "see if the servant had come," and at this
signal the parson always bade the lady of the house good night, and
respectfully proffered his services as an escort to Lingborough.
It was a lovely evening in June, when the little ladies took tea with
the widow of General Dunmaw at her cottage, not quite two miles from
their own home.
It was a memorable evening. The tea party was an agreeable one. The
little ladies had new tabbinets on, and Miss Kitty wore the diamond
brooch. Miss Betty had played whist with the parson, and the younger
sister (perhaps because of the brooch) had been favoured with a good
deal of conversation with the lawyer. It was an honour, because the
lawyer bore the reputation of an esprit fort, and was supposed to
have, as a rule, a contempt for feminine intellects, which good manners
led him to veil under an almost officious politeness in society. But
honours are apt to be uneasy blessings, and this one was at least as
harassing as gratifying. For a somewhat monotonous vein of sarcasm, a
painful power of producing puns, and a dexterity in suggesting doubts of
everything, were the main foundation of his intellectual reputation, and
Miss Kitty found them hard to cope with. And it was a warm evening.
But women have much courage, especially to defend a friend or a faith,
and the less Miss Kitty found herself prepared for the conflict the
harder she esteemed it her duty to fight. She fought for Church and
State, for parsons and poor people, for the sincerity of her friends,
the virtues of the Royal Family, the merit of Dr. Drugson's
prescriptions, and for her favourite theory that there is some good in
everyone and some happiness to be found every where.
She rubbed nervously at the diamond brooch with her thin little mittened
hands. She talked very fast; and if the lawyer were guilty of feeling
any ungallant indifference to her observations, she did not so much as
hear his, and her cheeks became so flushed that Mrs. Dunmaw crossed the
room in her China crape shawl and said, "My dear Miss Kitty, I'm sure
you feel the heat very much. Do take my fan, which is larger than
But Miss Kitty was saved a reply, for at this moment Miss Betty turned
on the sofa, and said, "Dear Kitty, will you kindly see if the
And the parson closed the volume of "Friendship's Offering" which lay
before him, and advanced towards Mrs. Dunmaw and took leave in his own
Miss Kitty was so much flustered that she had not even presence of mind
to look for the servant, who had never been ordered to come, but the
parson relieved her by saying in his round, deep voice, "I hope you will
not refuse me the honour of seeing you home, since our roads happen to
lie together," And she was glad to get into the fresh air, and beyond
the doubtful compliments of the lawyer's nasal suavity—"You have been
very severe upon me to-night, Miss Kitty. I'm sure I had no notion I
should find so powerful an antagonist," etc.
MIDSUMMER EVE.—A LOST DIAMOND.
It was Midsummer Eve. The long light of the North was pale and clear,
and the western sky shone luminous through the fir-wood that bordered
the road. Under such dim lights colours deepen, and the great bushes of
broom, that were each one mass of golden blossom, blazed like fairy
watch-fires up the lane.
Miss Kitty leaned on the left arm of the parson and Miss Betty on his
right. She chatted gaily, which left her younger sister at leisure to
think of all the convincing things she had not remembered to say to the
lawyer, as the evening breeze cooled her cheeks.
"A grand prospect for the crops, sir," said Miss petty; "I never saw the
broom so beautiful." But as he leaned forward to look at the yellow
blaze which foretells good luck to farmers, as it shone in the hedge on
the left-hand side of the road, she caught sight of the brooch in Miss
Kitty's lace shawl. Through a gap in the wood the light from the western
sky danced among the diamonds. But where one of the precious stones
should have been there was a little black hole.
"Sister, you've lost a stone out of your brooch!" screamed Miss Betty.
The little ladies were well-trained, and even in that moment of despair
Miss Betty would not hint that her sister's ornaments were not her sole
When Miss Kitty burst into tears the parson was a little astonished as
well as distressed. Men are apt to be so, not perhaps because women cry
on such very small accounts, as because the full reason does not always
transpire. Tears are often the climax of nervous exhaustion and this is
commonly the result of more causes than one. Ostensibly Miss Kitty was
"upset" by the loss of the diamond, but she also wept away a good deal
of the vexation of her unequal conflict with the sarcastic lawyer, and
of all this the parson knew nothing.
Miss Betty knew nothing of that, but she knew enough of things in
general to feel sure that the diamond was not all the matter.
"What is amiss, sister Kitty?" said she. "Have you hurt yourself? Do you
feel ill? Did you know the stone was out?"—"I hope you're not going to
be hysterical, sister Kitty," added Miss Betty anxiously; "there never
was a hysterical woman in our family yet."
"Oh dear no, sister Betty," sobbed Miss Kitty; "but it's all my fault. I
know I was fidgeting with it whilst I was talking; and it's a punishment
on my fidgety ways, and for ever presuming to wear it at all, when
you're the head of the family, and solely entitled to it. And I shall
never forgive myself if it's lost, and if it's found I'll never, never
wear it any more." And as she deluged her best company pocket-handkerchief
(for the useful one was in a big pocket under her dress, and could not be
got at, the parson being present), Church, State, the royal family, the
family Bible, her highest principles, her dearest affections, and the
diamond brooch, all seemed to swim before her disturbed mind in one sea
There was not a kinder heart than the parson's toward women and children
in distress. He tucked the little ladies again under his arms, and
insisted upon going back to Mrs. Dunmaw's searching the lane as they
went. In the pulpit or the drawing room a ready anecdote never failed
him, and on this occasion he had several. Tales of lost rings, and even
single gems, recovered in the most marvellous manner and the most
unexpected places—dug up in gardens, served up to dinner in fishes, and
so forth. "Never," said Miss Kitty, afterward, "never, to her dying day,
could she forget his kindness."
She clung to the parson as a support under both her sources of trouble,
but Miss Betty ran on and back, and hither and thither, looking for the
diamond. Miss Kitty and the parson looked too, and how many aggravating
little bits of glass and silica, and shining nothings and
good-for-nothings there are in the world, no one would believe who has
not looked for a lost diamond on a high road.
But another story of found jewels was to be added to the parson's stock.
He had bent his long back for about the eighteenth time, when such a
shimmer as no glass or silica can give flashed into his eyes, and he
caught up the diamond out of the dust, and it fitted exactly into the
little black hole.
Miss Kitty uttered a cry, and at the same moment Miss Betty, who was
farther down the road, did the same, and these were followed by a third,
which sounded like a mocking echo of both. And then the sisters rushed
"A most miraculous discovery!" gasped Miss Betty.
"You must have passed the very spot before," cried Miss Kitty.
"Though I'm sure, sister, what to do with it now we have found it I
don't know," said Miss Betty, rubbing her nose, as she was wont to do
"It shall be taken better care of for the future, sister Betty," said
Miss Kitty penitently. "Though how it got out I can't think now."
"Why, bless my soul! you don't suppose it got there of itself, sister?"
snapped Miss Betty. "How it did get there is another matter."
"I felt pretty confident about it, for my own part," smiled the parson
as he joined them.
"Do you mean to say, sir, that you knew it was there?" asked Miss Betty,
"I didn't know the precise spot, my dear madam, but----"
"You didn't see it, sir, I hope?" said Miss Betty.
"Bless me, my dear madam, I found it!" cried the parson.
Miss Betty bridled and bit her lip.
"I never contradict a clergyman, sir," said she, "but I can only say
that if you did see it, it was not like your usual humanity to leave it
I've got it in my hand, ma'am!"
He's got it in his hand, sister!"
cried the parson and Miss Kitty in one breath. Miss Betty was too much
puzzled to be polite.
"What are you talking about?" she asked.
"The diamond, oh dear, oh dear! The diamond!" cried Miss Kitty. "But
what are you talking about, sister?"
"The baby" said Miss Betty.
WHAT MISS BETTY FOUND.
It was found under a broom-bush. Miss Betty was poking her nose near the
bank that bordered the wood, in her hunt for the diamond, when she
caught sight of a mass of yellow of a deeper tint than the mass of
broom-blossom above it, and this was the baby.
This vivid color, less opaque than "deep chrome" and a shade more
orange, seems to have a peculiar attraction for wandering tribes.
Gipsies use it, and it is a favorite color with Indian squaws. To the
last dirty rag it is effective, whether it flutters near a tent on
Bagshot Heath, or in some wigwam doorway makes a point of brightness
against the grey shadows of the pine forest.
A large kerchief of this, wound about its body, was the baby's only
robe, but he seemed quite comfortable in it when Miss Betty found him,
sleeping on a pillow of deep hair moss, his little brown fists closed as
fast as his eyes, and a crimson toadstool grasped in one of them.
When Miss Betty screamed the baby awoke, and his long black lashes
tickled his cheeks and made him wink and cry. But by the time she
returned with her sister and the parson, he was quite happy again,
gazing up with dark eyes full of delight into the glowing broom-brush,
and fighting the evening breeze with his feet, which were entangled in
the folds of the yellow cloth, and with the battered toadstool which was
still in his hand.
"And, indeed, sir," said Miss Betty, who had rubbed her nose till it
looked like the twin toadstool to that which the baby was flourishing in
her face, "you won't suppose I would have left the poor little thing
another moment, to catch its death of cold on a warm evening like this;
but having no experience of such cases, and remembering that murder at
the inn in the Black Valley, and that the body was not allowed to be
moved till the constables had seen it, I didn't feel to know how it
might be with foundlings, and—"
But still Miss Betty did not touch the bairn. She was not accustomed to
children. But the parson had christened too many babies to be afraid of
them, and he picked up the little fellow in a moment, and tucked the
yellow rag round him, and then addressing the little ladies precisely as
if they were sponsors, he asked in his deep round voice, "Now where on
the face of the earth are the vagabonds who have deserted this child?"
The little ladies did not know, the broom bushes were silent, and the
question has remained unanswered from that day to this.
There were no railways near Lingborough at this time. The coach ran
three times a week, and a walking postman brought the letters from the
town to the small hamlets. Telegraph wires were unknown, and yet news
travelled quite as fast then as it does now, and in the course of the
following morning all the neighbourhood knew that Miss Betty had found a
baby under a broom bush, and the lawyer called in the afternoon to
inquire how the ladies found themselves after the tea party at Mrs.
Miss Kitty was glad on the whole. She felt nervous, but ready for a
renewal of hostilities. Several clinching arguments had occurred to her
in bed last night, and after hastily looking up a few lines from her
common-place book, which always made her cry when she read them, but
which she hoped to be able to hurl at the lawyer with a steady voice,
she followed Miss Betty to the drawing-room.
It was half a relief and half a disappointment to find that the lawyer
was quite indifferent to the subject of their late contest. He
overflowed with compliments; was quite sure he must have had the worst
of the argument, and positively dying of curiosity to hear about the
The little ladies were very full of the subject themselves. An active
search for the baby's relations, conducted by the parson, the clerk,
the farm-bailiff, the constable, the cowherd, and several
supernumeraries, had so far proved quite vain. The country folk were
most anxious to assist, especially by word of mouth. Except a small but
sturdy number who had seen nothing, they had all seen "tramps," but
unluckily no two could be got together whose accounts of the tramps
themselves, of the hour at which they were seen, or of the direction in
which they went, would tally with each other.
The little ladies were quite alive to the possibility that the child's
parents might never be traced, indeed the matter had been constantly
before their minds ever since the parson had carried the baby to
Lingborough, and laid it in the arms of Thomasina, the servant.
Miss Betty had sat long before her toilette-table that evening, gazing
vacantly at the looking-glass. Not that the reflection of the eight
curl-papers she had neatly twisted up was conveyed to her brain. She was
in a brown study, during which the following thoughts passed through her
mind, and they all pointed one way:
That that fine little fellow was not to blame for his people's
That they would never be found.
That it would probably be the means of the poor child's ruin, body and
soul, if they were.
That the master of the neighbouring workhouse bore a bad character.
That a child costs nothing to keep—where cows are kept too—for years.
That just at the age when a boy begins to eat dreadfully and wear out
his clothes, he is very useful on a farm (though not for these reasons).
That Thomasina had taken to him.
That there need be no nonsense about it, as he could be brought up in
his proper station in life in the kitchen and the farm yard.
That tramps have souls.
That he would be taught to say his prayers.
Miss Betty said hers, and went to bed; but all through that midsummer
night the baby kept her awake, or flaunted his yellow robe and crimson
toadstool through her dreams.
The morning brought no change in Miss Betty's views, but she felt
doubtful as to how her sister would receive them. Would she regard them
as foolish and unpractical, and her respect for Miss Betty's opinion be
The fear was needless. Miss Kitty was romantic and imaginative. She had
carried the baby through his boyhood about the Lingborough fields whilst
she was dressing; and he was attending her own funeral in the capacity
of an attached and faithful servant, in black livery with worsted frogs,
as she sprinkled salt on her buttered toast at breakfast, when she was
startled from this affecting daydream by Miss Betty's voice.
"Dear sister Kitty, I wish to consult you as to our plans in the event
of those wicked people who deserted the baby not being found."
The little ladies resolved that not an inkling of their benevolent
scheme must be betrayed to the lawyer. But they dissembled awkwardly,
and the tone in which they spoke of the tramp-baby roused the lawyer's
quick suspicions. He had a real respect for the little ladies, and was
kindly anxious to save them from their own indiscretion.
"My dear ladies," said he, "I do hope your benevolence—may I say your
romantic benevolence?—of disposition is not tempting you to adopt this
"I hope we know what is due to ourselves, and to the estate—small, as
it is—sir," said Miss Betty, "as well as to Providence, too well to
attempt to raise any child, however handsome, from that station of life
in which he was born."
"Bless me, madam! I never dreamed you would adopt a beggar child as your
heir; but I hope you mean to send it to the workhouse, if the gipsy
tramps it belongs to are not to be found?"
"We have not made up our minds, sir, as to the course we propose to
pursue," said Miss Betty, with outward dignity proportioned to her
"My dear ladies," said the lawyer anxiously, "let me implore you not to
be rash. To adopt a child in the most favorable circumstances is the
greatest of risks. But if your benevolence will take that line, pray
adopt some little boy out of one of your tenants' families. Even your
teaching will not make him brilliant, as he is likely to inherit the
minimum of intellectual capacity; but he will learn his catechism,
probably grow up respectable, and possibly grateful, since his
forefathers have (so Miss Kitty assures me) had all these virtues for
generations. But this baby is the child of a heathen, barbarous, and
wandering race. The propensities of the vagabonds who have deserted him
are in every drop of his blood. All the parsons in the diocese won't
make a Christian of him, and when (after anxieties I shudder to foresee)
you flatter yourself that he is civilized, he will run away and leave
his shoes and stockings behind him."
"He has a soul to be saved, if he is a gipsy," said Miss Kitty,
"The soul, my dear Miss Kitty "—began the lawyer, facing round upon
"Don't say anything dreadful about the soul, sir, I beg," said Miss
Betty, firmly. And then she added in a conciliatory tone, "Won't you
look at the little fellow, sir? I have no doubt his relations are
shocking people; but when you see his innocent little face and his
beautiful eyes, I think you'll say yourself that if he were a duke's son
he couldn't be a finer child."
"My experience of babies is so limited, Miss Betty," said the lawyer,
"that really—if you'll excuse me—but I can quite imagine him. I have
before now been tempted myself to adopt stray—puppies, when I have seen
them in the round, soft, innocent, bright-eyed stage. And when they have
grown up in the hands of more credulous friends into lanky,
ill-conditioned, misconducted curs, I have congratulated myself that I
was not misled by the graces of an age at which ill-breeding is less
apparent than later in life."
The little ladies both rose. "If you see no difference, sir," said Miss
Betty in her stateliest manner, "between a babe with an immortal soul
and the beasts that perish, it is quite useless to prolong the
"Reason is apt to be useless when opposed to the generous impulses of a
sex so full of sentiment as yours, madam," said the lawyer, rising also.
"Permit me to take a long farewell, since it is improbable that our
friendship will resume its old position until your protegé has—run
The words "long farewell" and "old friendship" were quite sufficient to
soften wrath in the tender hearts of the little ladies. But the lawyer
had really lost his temper, and, before Miss Betty had decided how to
offer the olive branch without conceding her principles he was gone.
The weather was warm. The little ladies were heated by discussion and
the parson by vain scouring of the country on foot, when they asked his
advice upon their project, and related their conversation with the
lawyer. The two gentlemen had so little in common that the parson felt
it his duty not to let his advice be prejudiced by this fact. For some
moments he sat silent, then he began to walk about as if he were
composing a sermon; then he stopped before the little ladies (who were
sitting as stiffly on the sofa as if it were a pew) and spoke as if he
were delivering one.
"If you ask me, dear ladies, whether it is your duty to provide for this
child because you found him, I say that there is no such obligation. If
you ask if I think it wise in your own interests, and hopeful as to the
boy's career, I am obliged to agree with your legal adviser. Vagabond
ways are seldom cured in one generation, and I think it is quite
probable that, after much trouble and anxiety spent upon him, he may go
back to a wandering life. But, Miss Betty," continued the parson in
deepening tones, as he pounded his left palm with his right fist for
want of a pulpit, "If you ask me whether I believe any child of any race
is born incapable of improvement, and beyond benefit from the charities
we owe to each other, I should deny my faith if I could say yes. I shall
not, madam, confuse the end of your connection with him with the end of
your training in him, even if he runs away, or fancy that I see the one
because I see the other. I do not pretend to know how much evil he
inherits from his forefathers as accurately as our graphic friend; but I
do know that he has a Father whose image is also to be found in His
children—not quite effaced in any of them—and whose care of this one
will last when yours, madam, may seem to have been in vain."
As the little ladies rushed forward and each shook a hand of the parson,
he felt some compunction for his speech.
"I fear I am encouraging you in grave indiscretion," said he. "But,
indeed, my dear ladies, I am quite against your project, for you do not
realize the anxieties and disappointments that are before you, I am
sure. The child will give you infinite trouble. I think he will run
away. And yet I cannot in good conscience say that I believe love's
labour must be lost. He may return to the woods and wilds; but I hope he
will carry something with him."
"Did the reverend gentleman mean Miss Betty's teaspoons?" asked the
lawyer, stroking his long chin, when he was told what the parson had
BABYHOOD.—PRETTY FLOWERS.—THE ROSE-COLOURED TULIPS.
The matter of the baby's cap disturbed the little ladies. It seemed so
like the beginning of a fulfilment of the lawyer's croakings.
Miss Kitty had made it. She had never seen a baby without a cap before,
and the sight was unusual if not indecent. But Miss Kitty was a quick
needlewoman, and when the new cap was fairly tied over the thick crop of
silky black hair, the baby looked so much less like Puck, and so much
more like the rest of the baby world, that it was quite a relief.
Miss Kitty's feelings may therefore be imagined when, going to the baby
just after the parson's departure, she found him in open rebellion
against his cap. It had been tied on whilst he was asleep, and his eyes
were no sooner open than he commenced the attack. He pulled with one
little brown hand and tugged with the other; he dragged a rosette over
his nose and got the frills into his eyes; he worried it as a puppy
worries your handkerchief if you tie it around its face and tell it to
"look like a grandmother." At last the strings gave way, and he cast it
triumphantly out of the clothes-basket which served him for cradle.
Successive efforts to induce him to wear it proved vain, so Thomasina
said the weather was warm and his hair was very thick, and she parted
this and brushed it, and Miss Kitty gave the cap to the farm-bailiff's
baby, who took to it as kindly as a dumpling to a pudding-cloth.
How the boy was ever kept inside his christening clothes, Thomasina said
she did not know. But when he got into the parson's arms he lay quite
quiet, which was a good omen. That he might lack no advantage, Miss
Betty stood godmother for him, and the parish clerk and the sexton were
He was named John.
"A plain, sensible name," said Miss Betty. "And while we are about it,"
she added, "we may as well choose his surname. For a surname he must
have, and the sooner it is decided upon the better."
Miss Kitty had made a list of twenty-seven of her favourite Christian
names, which Miss Betty had sternly rejected, that everything might be
plain, practical, and respectable at the outset of the tramp-child's
career. For the same reason she refused to adopt Miss Kitty's
suggestions for a surname.
"It's so seldom there's a chance of choosing a surname for anybody,
sister," said Miss Kitty, "it seems a pity not to choose a pretty one."
"Sister Kitty," said Miss Betty, "don't be romantic. The boy is to be
brought up in that station of life for which one syllable is ample. I
should have called him Smith if that had not been Thomasina's name. As
it is, I propose to call him Broom. He was found under a bush of broom,
and it goes very well with John, and sounds plain and respectable."
So Miss Betty bought a Bible, and on the flyleaf of it she wrote in her
fine, round, gentlewoman's writing—"John Broom. With good wishes for
his welfare, temporal and eternal. From a sincere friend!" And when the
inscription was dry the Bible was wrapped in brown paper, and put by in
Thomasina's trunk till John Broom should come to years of discretion.
He was slow to reach them, though in other respects he grew fast.
When he began to walk he would walk barefoot. To be out of doors was his
delight, but on the threshold of the house he always sat down and
discarded his shoes and stockings. Thomasina bastinadoed the soles of
his feet with the soles of his shoes "to teach him the use of them," so
she said. But Miss Kitty sighed, and thought of the lawyer's prediction.
There was no blinking the fact that the child was as troublesome as he
was pretty. The very demon of mischief danced in his black eyes, and
seemed to possess his feet and fingers as if with quicksilver. And if,
as Thomasina said, you "never knew what he would be at next," you might
also be pretty sure that it would be something he ought to have left
John Broom early developed a taste for glass and crockery, and as the
china cupboard was in that part of the house to which he by social
standing also belonged, he had many chances to seize upon cups, jugs,
and dishes. If detected with any thing that he ought not to have had, it
was his custom to drop the forbidden toy and toddle off as fast as his
unpractised feet would carry him. The havoc which this caused amongst
the glass and china was bewildering in a household where tea-sets and
dinner-sets had passed from generation to generation, where slapdash,
giddy-pated kitchenmaids never came, where Miss Betty washed the best
teacups in the parlor, where Thomasina was more careful than her
mistress, and the breaking of a single plate was a serious matter, and,
if beyond rivetting, a misfortune.
Thomasina soon found that her charge was safest, as he was happiest, out
of doors. A very successful device was to shut him up in the drying
ground, and tell him to "pick the pretty flowers." John Broom preferred
flowers even to china cups with gilding on them. He gathered nosegays of
daisies and buttercups, and the winning way in which he would present
these to the little ladies atoned, in their benevolent eyes, for many a
But the tramp-baby's restless spirit was soon weary of the
drying-ground, and he set forth one morning in search of "fresh woods
and pastures new." He had seated himself on the threshold to take off
his shoes, when he heard the sound of Thomasina's footsteps, and,
hastily staggering to his feet, toddled forth without farther delay. The
sky was blue above him, the sun was shining, and the air was very sweet.
He ran for a bit and then tumbled, and picked himself up again, and got
a fresh impetus, and so on till he reached the door of the kitchen
garden, which was open. It was an old-fashioned kitchen garden with
flowers in the borders. There were single rose-colored tulips which had
been in the garden as long as Miss Betty could remember, and they had
been so increased by dividing the clumps that they now stretched in two
rich lines of colour down both sides of the long walk. And John Broom
"Pick the pretty flowers, love," said he, in imitation of Thomasina's
patronising tone, and forthwith beginning at the end, he went steadily
to the top of the right-hand border, mowing the rose-coloured tulips as
Meanwhile, when Thomasina came to look for him he could not be found,
and when all the back premises and the drying-ground had been searched
in vain, she gave the alarm to the little ladies.
Miss Kitty's vivid imagination leaped at once to the conclusion that
the child's vagabond relations had fetched him away, and she became
rigid with alarm. But Miss Betty rushed out into the shrubbery, and Miss
Kitty took a whiff of her vinaigrette and followed her.
When they came at last to the kitchen-garden, Miss Betty's grief for the
loss of John Broom did not prevent her observing that there was
something odd about the borders, and when she got to the top, and found
that all the tulips had been picked from one side, she sank down on the
roller which happened to be lying beside her.
And John Broom staggered up to her, and crying, "For 'oo, Miss Betty,"
fell headlong with a sheaf of rose-coloured tulips into her lap.
As he did not offer any to Miss Kitty, her better judgment was not
warped, and she said, "You must slap him, sister Betty."
"Put out your hand, John Broom," said Miss Betty much agitated.
And John Broom, who was quite composed, put out both his little grubby
paws so trustfully that Miss Betty had not the heart to strike him. But
she scolded him, "Naughty boy!" and she pointed to the tulips and shook
her head. John Broom looked thoughtfully at them, and shook his.
"Naughty boy!" repeated Miss Betty, and she added in very impressive
tones, "John Broom's a very naughty boy!"
After which she took him to Thomasina, and Miss Kitty collected the
rose-colored tulips and put them into water in the best old china
In the course of the afternoon she peeped into the kitchen, where John
Broom sat on the floor under the window, gazing thoughtfully up into the
"As good as gold, bless his little heart!" murmured Miss Kitty. For as
his feet were tucked under him, she did not know that he had just put
his shoes and stockings into the pig-tub, into which he all but fell
himself from the exertion. He did not hear Miss Kitty, and thought on.
He wanted to be out again, and he had a tantalizing remembrance of the
ease with which the tender juicy stalks of the tulips went snap, snap,
in that new place of amusement he had discovered. Thomasina looked into
the kitchen and went away again. When she had gone, John Broom went away
He went both faster and steadier on his bare feet. And when he got into
the kitchen garden, it recalled Miss Betty to his mind. And he shook his
head, and said, "Naughty boy!" And then he went up the left-hand border,
mowing the tulips as he went; after which he trotted home, and met
Thomasina at the back door. And he hugged the sheaf of rose-coloured
tulips in his arms, and said, "John Broom a very naughty boy!"
Thomasina was not sentimental, and she slapped him well—his hands for
picking the tulips, and his feet for going barefoot.
But his feet had to be slapped with Thomasina's slipper, for his own
shoes could not be found.
In spite of all his pranks, John Broom did not lose the favor of his
friends. Thomasina spoiled him, and Miss Betty and Miss Kitty tried not
to do so.
The parson had said, "Treat the child fairly. Bring him up as he will
have to live hereafter. Don't make him half pet and half servant." And
following this advice, and her own resolve that there should be "no
nonsense" in the matter, Miss Betty had made it a rule that he should
not be admitted to the parlor. It bore more heavily on the tender hearts
of the little ladies than on the light heart of John Broom, and led to
their waylaying him in the passages and gardens with little gifts,
unknown to each other. And when Miss Kitty kissed his newly-washed
cheeks, and pronounced them "like ripe russets," Miss Betty murmured,
"Be judicious, sister Kitty;" and Miss Kitty would correct any possible
ill effects by saying, "Now make your betters, John Broom, and say,
'Thank you, ma'am!'" which was accomplished by the child's giving a tug
to the forelock of his thick black hair, with a world of mischief in his
When he was old enough, the little ladies sent him to the village
The total failure of their hopes for his education was not the smallest
of the disappointments Miss Betty and Miss Kitty endured on his behalf.
The quarrel with the lawyer had been made up long ago, and though there
was always a touch of raillery in his inquiries after "the young gipsy,"
he had once said, "If he turns out anything of a genius at school, I
might find a place for him in the office, by-and-by." The lawyer was
kind-hearted in his own fashion, and on this hint Miss Kitty built up
hopes, which unhappily were met by no responsive ambition in John Broom.
As to his fitness to be an errand boy, he could not carry a message from
the kitchen to the cowhouse without stopping by the way to play with the
yard-dog, and a hedgehog in the path would probably have led him astray,
if Thomasina had had a fit and he had been despatched for the doctor.
During school hours he spent most of his time under the fool's cap when
he was not playing truant. With his schoolmates he was good friends. If
he was seldom out of mischief, he was seldom out of temper. He could
beat any boy at a foot race (without shoes); he knew the notes and nests
of every bird that sang, and whatever an old pocket-knife is capable of,
that John Broom could and would do with it for his fellows.
Miss Betty had herself tried to teach him to read, and she continued to
be responsible for his religious instruction. She had hoped to stir up
his industry by showing him the Bible, and promising that when he could
read it he should have it for his "very own." But he either could not or
would not apply himself, so the prize lay unearned in Thomasina's trunk.
But he would listen for any length of time to Scripture stories, if
they were read or told him, especially to the history of Elisha, and the
adventures of the judges.
Indeed, since he could no longer be shut up in the drying-ground,
Thomasina had found that he was never so happy and so safe as when he
was listening to tales, and many a long winter evening he lay idle on
the kitchen hearth, with his head on the sheep dog, whilst the more
industrious Thomasina plied her knitting-needles, as she sat in the
inglenook, with the flickering firelight playing among the plaits of her
large cap, and told tales of the country side.
Not that John Broom was her only hearer. Annie "the lass" sat by the
hearth also, and Thomasina took care that she did not "sit with her
hands before her." And a little farther away sat the cowherd.
He had a sleeping-room above the barn, and took his meals in the house.
By Miss Betty's desire he always went in to family prayers after supper,
when he sat as close as possible to the door, under an uncomfortable
consciousness that Thomasina did not think his boots clean enough for
the occasion and would find something to pick off the carpet as she
followed him out, however hardly he might have used the door-scraper
It might be a difficult matter to decide which he liked best, beer or
John Broom. But next to these he liked Thomasina's stories.
Thomasina was kind to him. With all his failings and the dirt on his
boots, she liked him better than the farm-bailiff. The farm-bailiff was
thrifty, and sensible and faithful, and Thomasina was faithful and
sensible and thrifty, and they each had a tendency to claim the monopoly
of those virtues. Notable people complain, very properly, of thriftless
and untidy ones, but they sometimes agree better with them than with
rival notabilities. And so Thomasina's broad face beamed benevolently as
she bid the cowherd "draw up" to the fire, and he who (like Thomasina)
was a native of the country, would confirm the marvels she related, with
a proper pride in the wonderful district to which they both belonged.
He would help her out sometimes with names and dates in a local
biography. By his own account he knew the man who was murdered at the
inn in the Black Valley so intimately that it turned Annie the lass as
white as a dish-cloth to sit beside him. If Thomasina said that folk
were yet alive who had seen the little green men dance in Dawborough
Croft the cowherd would smack his knees and cry, "Scores on 'em!" And
when she whispered of the white figure which stood at the cross roads
after midnight, he testified to having seen it himself—tall beyond
mortal height, and pointing four ways at once. He had a legend of his
own too, which Thomasina sometimes gave him the chance of telling, of
how he was followed home one moonlight night by a black Something as big
as a young calf, which "wimmled and wammled," around him till he fell
senseless into the ditch, and being found there by the farm-bailiff on
his return from market was unjustly accused of the vice of intoxication.
"Fault-finders should be free of flaws," Thomasina would say with a prim
chin. She had seen the farm-bailiff himself "the worse" for more than
his supper beer.
But there was one history which Thomasina was always loth to relate, and
it was that which both John Broom and the cowherd especially
preferred—the history of the Lob Lie-by-the-fire.
Thomasina had a feeling (which was shared by Annie the lass) that it was
better not to talk of "anything" peculiar to the house in which you were
living. One's neighbours' ghosts and bogles are another matter.
But to John Broom and the cowherd no subject was so interesting as that
of the Lubber-fiend. The cowherd sighed to think of the good old times
when a man might sleep on in spite of cocks, and the stables be cleaner,
and the beasts better tended than if he had been up with the lark. And
John Broom's curiosity was never quenched about the rough, hairy
Good-fellow who worked at night that others might be idle by day, and
who was sometimes caught at his hard earned nap, lying "like a great
hurgin bear," where the boy loved to lie himself, before the fire, on
this very hearth.
Why and where he had gone, Thomasina could not tell. She had heard that
he had originally come from some other household, where he had been
offended. But whether he had gone elsewhere when he forsook
Lingborough, or whether "such things had left the country" for good, she
did not pretend to say.
And when she had told, for the third or fourth time, how his porridge
was put into a corner of the cowhouse for him over night, and how he had
been often overheard at his work, but rarely seen, and then only lying
before the fire, Miss Betty would ring for prayers, and Thomasina would
fold up her knitting and lead the way, followed by Annie the lass, whose
nerves John Broom would startle by treading on her heels, the rear being
brought up by the cowherd, looking hopelessly at his boots.
Miss Betty and Miss Kitty did really deny themselves the indulgence of
being indulgent, and treated John Broom on principles, and for his good.
But they did so in their own tremulous and spasmodic way, and got little
credit for it. Thomasina, on the other hand, spoiled him with such a
masterful managing air, and so much sensible talk, that no one would
have thought that the only system she followed was to conceal his
misdemeanours, and to stand between him and the just wrath of the
The farm-bailiff, or grieve, as he liked to call himself, was a
Scotchman, with a hard-featured face (which he washed on the Sabbath), a
harsh voice, a good heart rather deeper down in his body than is usual,
and a shrewd, money-getting head, with a speckled straw hat on the top
of it. No one could venture to imagine when that hat was new, or how
long ago it was that the farm-bailiff went to the expense of purchasing
those work-day clothes. But the dirt on his face and neck was an orderly
accumulation, such as gathers on walls, oil-paintings, and other places
to which soap is not habitually applied; it was not a matter of spills
and splashes, like the dirt John Broom disgraced himself with. And his
clothes, if old, fitted neatly about him; they never suggested
raggedness, which was the normal condition of the tramp-boy's jacket.
They only looked as if he had been born (and occasionally buried)in
them. It is needful to make this distinction, that the good man may not
be accused of inconsistency in the peculiar vexation which John Broom's
disorderly appearance caused him.
In truth, Miss Betty's protegé had reached the age at which he was to
"eat dreadfully, wear out his clothes, and be useful on the farm;" and
the last condition was quite unfulfilled. At eleven years old he could
not be trusted to scare birds, and at half that age the farm-bailiff's
eldest child could drive cattle.
"And no' just ruin the leedies in new coats and compliments, either,
like some ne'er-do-weels," added the farm-bailiff, who had heard with a
jealous ear of sixpences given by Miss Betty and Miss Kitty to their
When the eleventh anniversary of John Broom's discovery was passed, and
his character at school gave no hopes of his ever qualifying himself to
serve the lawyer, it was resolved that—"idleness being the mother of
mischief," he should be put under the care of the farm-bailiff, to do
such odd jobs about the place as might be suited to his capacity and
love of out-door life. And now John Broom's troubles began. By fair
means or foul, with here an hour's weeding and there a day's bird
scaring, and with errands perpetual, the farm-bailiff contrived to "get
some work out of" the idle little urchin. His speckled hat and grim face
seemed to be everywhere, and always to pop up when John Broom began to
They lived "at daggers drawn." I am sorry to say that John Broom's
fitful industry was still kept for his own fancies. To climb trees, to
run races with the sheep dog, to cut grotesque sticks, gather hedge
fruits, explore a bog, or make new friends among beasts and birds—at
such matters he would labor with feverish zeal. But so far from trying
to cure himself of his indolence about daily drudgery, he found a new
and pleasant excitement in thwarting the farm-bailiff at every turn.
It would not sound dignified to say that the farm-bailiff took pleasure
in thwarting John Broom. But he certainly did not show his satisfaction
when the boy did do his work properly. Perhaps he thought that praise is
not good for young people; and the child did not often give him the
chance of trying. Of blame he was free enough. Not a good scolding to
clear the air, such as Thomasina would give to Annie the lass, but his
slow, caustic tongue was always growling, like muttered thunder, over
John Broom's incorrigible head.
He had never approved of the tramp-child, who had the overwhelming
drawbacks of having no pedigree and of being a bad bargain as to
expense. This was not altogether John Broom's fault, but with his
personal failings the farm bailiff had even less sympathy. It had been
hinted that he was born in the speckled hat, and whether this were so or
not, he certainly had worn an old head whilst his shoulders were still
young, and could not remember the time when he wished to waste his
energies on any thing that did not earn or at least save something.
Once only did any thing like approval of the lad escape his lips.
Miss Betty's uncle's second cousin had returned from foreign lands with
a good fortune and several white cockatoos. He kept the fortune himself,
but he gave the cockatoos to his friends, and he sent one of them to the
little ladies of Lingborough.
He was a lovely creature (the cockatoo, not the cousin, who was plain),
and John Broom's admiration of him was boundless. He gazed at the
sulphur-colored crest, the pure white wings with their deeper-tinted
lining, and even the beak and the fierce round eyes, as he had gazed at
the broom bush in his babyhood, with insatiable delight.
The cousin did things handsomely. He had had a ring put round one of the
cockatoo's ankles, with a bright steel chain attached and a fastener to
secure it to the perch. The cockatoo was sent in the cage by coach, and
a perch, made of foreign wood, followed by the carrier.
Miss Betty and Miss Kitty were delighted both with the cockatoo and the
perch, but they were a good deal troubled as to how to fasten the two
together. There was a neat little ring on the perch, and the cockatoo's
chain was quite complete, and he evidently wanted to get out, for he
shook the walls of his cage in his gambols. But he put up his crest and
snapped when any one approached, in a manner so alarming that Annie the
lass shut herself up in the dairy, and the farm-bailiff turned his
speckled hat in his hands, and gave cautious counsel from a safe
"How he flaps!" cried Miss Betty. "I'm afraid he has a very vicious
"He only wants to get out, Miss Betty," said John Broom. "He'd be all
right with his perch, and I think I can get him on it."
"Now Heaven save us from the sin o' presumption!" cried the
farm-bailiff, and putting on the speckled hat, he added, slowly: "I'm
thinking, John Broom, that if ye're engaged wi' the leddies this morning
it'll be time I turned my hand to singling these few turnips ye've been
thinking about the week past."
On which he departed, and John Broom pressed the little ladies to leave
him alone with the bird.
"We shouldn't like to leave you alone with a wild creature like that,"
said Miss Betty.
"He's just frightened on ye, Miss Betty. He'll be like a lamb when
you're gone," urged John Broom.
"Besides, we should like to see you do it," said Miss Kitty.
"You can look in through the window, miss. I must fasten the door, or
he'll be out."
"I should never forgive myself if he hurt you, John," said Miss Betty,
irresolutely, for she was very anxious to have the cockatoo and perch in
full glory in the parlour.
"He'll none hurt me, miss," said John, with a cheerful smile on his rosy
face. "I likes him, and he'll like me."
This settled the matter. John was left with the cockatoo. He locked the
door, and the little ladies went into the garden and peeped through the
They saw John Broom approach the cage, on which the cockatoo put up his
crest, opened his beak slowly, and snarled, and Miss Betty tapped on the
window and shook her black satin workbag.
"Don't go near him!" she cried. But John Broom paid no attention.
"What are you putting up that top-knot of yours at me for?" said he to
the cockatoo. "Don't ye know your own friends? I'm going to let ye out,
I am. You're going on to your perch, you are."
"Eh, but you're a bonny creature!" he added, as the cockatoo filled the
cage with snow and sulphur flutterings.
"Keep away, keep away!" screamed the little ladies, playing a duet on
the window panes.
"Out with you!" said John Broom, as he unfastened the cage door.
And just when Miss Betty had run round, and as she shouted through the
keyhole, "Open the door, John Broom. We've changed our minds. We've
decided to keep it in its cage," the cockatoo strode solemnly forth on
his eight long toes.
"Pretty Cocky!" said he.
When Miss Betty got back to the window, John Broom had just made an
injudicious grab at the steel chain, on which Pretty Cocky flew fiercely
at him, and John, burying his face in his arms, received the attack on
his thick poll, laughing into his sleeves and holding fast to the chain,
whilst the cockatoo and the little ladies screamed against each other.
"It'll break your leg—you'll tear its eyes out!" cried Miss Kitty.
"Miss Kitty means that you'll break its leg, and it will tear your eyes
out," Miss Betty explained through the glass. "John Broom! Come away!
Lock it in! Let it go!"
But Cocky was now waddling solemnly round the room, and John Broom was
creeping after him, with the end of the chain in one hand, and the perch
in the other, and in a moment more he had joined the chain and the ring,
and just as Miss Betty was about to send for the constable and have the
door broken open, Cocky—driven into a corner—clutched his perch and
was raised triumphantly to his place in the bow-window.
He was now a parlour pet, and John Broom saw little of him. This vexed
him, for he had taken a passionate liking for the bird. The little
ladies rewarded him well for his skill, but this brought him no favour
from the farm-bailiff, and matters went on as ill as before.
One day the cockatoo got his chain entangled, and Miss Kitty promptly
advanced to put it right. She had unfastened that end which secured it
to the perch, when Cocky, who had been watching the proceeding with much
interest, dabbed at her with his beak. Miss Kitty fled, but with great
presence of mind shut the door after her. She forgot, however, that the
window was open, in front of which stood the cockatoo scanning the
summer sky with his fierce eyes, and flapping himself in the breeze.
And just as the little ladies ran into the garden, and Miss Kitty was
saying, "One comfort is, sister Betty, that it's quite safe in the room,
till we can think what to do next," he bowed his yellow crest, spread
his noble wings, and sailed out into the aether.
In ten minutes the whole able-bodied population of the place was in the
grounds of Lingborough, including the farm-bailiff.
The cockatoo was on the top of a fir-tree, and a fragment of the chain
was with him, for he had broken it, and below on the lawn stood the
little ladies, who, with the unfailing courage of women in a hopeless
cause, were trying to dislodge him by waving their pocket-handkerchiefs
and crying "sh!"
He looked composedly down out of one eye for some time, and then he
began to move.
"I think it's coming down now," said Miss Kitty.
But in a quarter of a minute, Cocky had sailed a quarter of a mile, and
was rocking himself on the top of an old willow-tree. And at this moment
John Broom joined the crowd which followed him.
"I'm thinking he's got his chain fast," said the farm-bailiff; "if
onybody that understood the beastie daured to get near him----"
"I'll get him," said John Broom, casting down his hat.
"Ye'll get yer neck thrawed," said the farm-bailiff.
"We won't hear of it," said the little ladies.
But to their horror, John Broom kicked off his shoes, after which he
spat upon his hands (a shock which Miss Kitty thought she never could
have survived), and away he went up the willow.
It was not an easy tree to climb, and he had one or two narrow escapes,
which kept the crowd breathless, but he shook the hair from his eyes,
moistened his hands afresh, and went on. The farm-bailiff's far-away
heart was stirred. No Scotchman is insensible to gallantry. And courage
is the only thing a "canny" Scot can bear to see expended without
"John Broom," screamed Miss Betty, "come down! I order, I command you to
The farm-bailiff drew his speckled hat forward to shade his upward gaze,
and folded his arms.
"Dinna call on him, leddies," he said, speaking more quickly than usual.
"Dinna mak him turn his head. Steady, lad! Grip wi' your feet. Spit on
your pawms, man."
Once the boy trod on a rotten branch, and as he drew back his foot, and
it came crashing down, the farm-bailiff set his teeth, and Miss Kitty
fainted in Thomasina's arms.
"I'll reward anyone who'll fetch him down," sobbed Miss Betty. But John
Broom seated himself on the same branch as the cockatoo, and undid the
chain and prepared his hands for the downward journey.
"You've got a rare perch, this time," said he. And Pretty Cocky crept
towards him, and rubbed its head against him and chuckled with joy.
What dreams of liberty in the tree tops, with John Broom for a
playfellow, passed through his crested head, who shall say? But when he
found that his friend meant to take him prisoner, he became very angry
and much alarmed. And when John Broom grasped him by both legs and began
to descend, Cocky pecked him vigorously. But the boy held the back of
his head towards him, and went steadily down.
"Weel done!" roared the farm-bailiff. "Gently, lad! Gude save us! ha'e
a care o' yoursen. That's weel. Keep your pow at him. Dinna let the
beast get to your een."
But when John Broom was so near the ground as to be safe, the
farm-bailiff turned wrathfully upon his son, who had been gazing
open-mouthed at the sight which had so interested his father.
"Ye look weel standing gawping here, before the leddies," said he,
"wasting the precious hours, and bringing your father's grey hairs wi'
sorrow to the grave; and John Broom yonder shaming ye, and you not so
much as thinking to fetch the perch for him, ye lazy loon. Away wi' ye
and get it, before I lay a stick about your shoulders."
And when his son had gone for the perch, and John Broom was safely on
the ground, laughing, bleeding, and triumphant, the farm-bailiff said,—
"Ye're a bauld chiel, John Broom, I'll say that for ye."
INTO THE MIST.
Unfortunately the favourable impression produced by "the gipsy lad's"
daring soon passed from the farm-bailiff's mind. It was partly effaced
by the old jealousy of the little ladies favour. Miss Betty gave the boy
no less than four silver shillings, and he ungraciously refused to let
the farm-bailiff place them in a savings bank for him.
Matters got from bad to worse. The farming man was not the only one who
was jealous, and John Broom himself was as idle and restless as ever.
Though, if he had listened respectfully to the Scotchman's counsel, or
shown any disposition to look up to and be guided by him, much might
have been overlooked. But he made fun of him and made a friend of the
cowherd. And this latter most manifest token of low breeding vexed the
respectable taste of the farm-bailiff.
John Broom had his own grievances too, and he brooded over them. He
thought the little ladies had given him over to the farm-bailiff,
because they had ceased to care for him, and that the farm-bailiff was
prejudiced against him beyond any hope of propitiation. The village folk
taunted him, too, with being an outcast, and called him Gipsy John, and
this maddened him. Then he would creep into the cowhouse and lie in the
straw against the white cow's warm back, and for a few of Miss Betty's
coppers, to spend in beer or tobacco, the cowherd would hide him from
the farm-bailiff and tell him countryside tales. To Thomasina's stories
of ghosts and gossip, he would add strange tales of smugglers on the
near-lying coast, and as John Broom listened, his restless blood
rebelled more and more against the sour sneers and dry drudgery that he
got from the farm-bailiff.
Nor were sneers the sharpest punishment his misdemeanours earned. The
farm-bailiff's stick was thick and his arm was strong, and he had a
tendency to believe that if a flogging was good for a boy, the more he
had of it the better it would be for him.
And John Broom, who never let a cry escape him at the time, would steal
away afterwards and sob out his grief into the long soft coat of the
sympathising sheep dog.
Unfortunately he never tried the effect of deserving better treatment as
a remedy for his woes. The parson's good advice and Miss Betty's
entreaties were alike in vain. He was ungrateful even to Thomasina. The
little ladies sighed and thought of the lawyer. And the parson preached
"Cocky has been tamed," said Miss Kitty thoughtfully, "perhaps John
Broom will get steadier by-and-by."
"It seems a pity we can't chain him to a perch, Miss Kitty," laughed the
parson; "he would be safe then, at any rate."
Miss Betty said afterwards that it did seem so remarkable that the
parson should have made this particular joke on this particular
night—the night when John Broom did not come home.
He had played truant all day. The farm-bailiff had wanted him, and he
had kept out of the way.
The wind was from the east, and a white mist rolled in from the sea,
bringing a strange invigorating smell, and making your lips clammy with
salt. It made John Broom's heart beat faster, and filled his head with
dreams of ships and smugglers, and rocking masts higher than the
willow-tree, and winds wilder than this wind, and dancing waves.
Then something loomed through the fog. It was the farm-bailiff's
speckled hat. John Broom hesitated—the thick stick became visible.
Then a cloud rolled between them, and the child turned, and ran, and
ran, and ran coastwards, into the sea mist.
THE SEA.—THE ONE-EYED SAILOR.—THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WORLD.
John Broom was footsore when he reached the coast, but that keen,
life-giving smell had drawn him on and held him up. The fog had cleared
off, and he strained his black eyes through the darkness to see the sea.
He had never seen it—that other world within this, on which one lived
out of doors, and climbed about all day, and no one blamed him.
When he did see it, he thought he had got to the end of the world. If
the edge of the cliff were not the end, he could not make out where the
sky began; and if that darkness were the sea, the sea was full of stars.
But this was because the sea was quiet and reflected the colour of the
night sky, and the stars were the lights of the herring-boats twinkling
in the bay.
When he got down by the water he saw the vessels lying alongside, and
they were dirtier than he had supposed. But he did not lose heart, and
remembering, from the cowherd's tales, that people who cannot pay for
their passage must either work it out or hide themselves on board ship,
he took the easier alternative, and got on to the first vessel which had
a plank to the quay, and hid himself under some tarpaulin on the deck.
The vessel was a collier bound for London, and she sailed with the
When he was found out he was not ill-treated. Indeed, the rough skipper
offered to take him home again on his return voyage. He would have liked
to go, but pride withheld him, and homesickness had not yet eaten into
his very soul. Then an old sailor with one eye (but that a sly one) met
him, and told him tales more wonderful than the cowherd's. And with him
he shipped as cabin-boy, on a vessel bound for the other side of the
A great many sins bring their own punishment in this life pretty
clearly, and sometimes pretty closely; but few more directly or more
bitterly than rebellion against the duties, and ingratitude for the
blessings, of home.
There was no playing truant on board ship; and as to the master poor
John Broom served now, his cruelty made the memory of the farm-bailiff a
memory of tenderness and gentleness and indulgence. Till he was
half-naked and half-starved, and had only short snatches of sleep in
hard corners, it had never struck him that when one has got good food
and clothes, and sound sleep in a kindly home, he has got more than
many people, and enough to be thankful for.
He did everything he was told now as fast as he could do it, in fear for
his life. The one-eyed sailor had told him that the captain always took
orphans and poor friendless lads to be his cabin-boys, and John Broom
thought what a nice kind man he must be, and how different from the
farm-bailiff, who thought nobody could be trustworthy unless he could
show parents and grand-parents, and cousins to the sixth degree. But
after they had sailed, when John Broom felt very ill, and asked the
one-eyed sailor where he was to sleep, the one-eyed sailor pleasantly
replied that if he hadn't brought a four-post bed in his pocket he must
sleep where he could, for that all the other cabin-boys were sleeping in
Davy's Locker, and couldn't be disturbed. And it was not till John Broom
had learned ship's language that he found out that Davy's Locker meant
the deep, and that the other cabin-boys were dead. "And as they'd nobody
belonging to 'em, no hearts was broke," added the sailor, winking with
his one eye.
John Broom slept standing sometimes for weariness, but he did not sleep
in Davy's Locker. Young as he was he had dauntless courage, a careless
hopeful heart, and a tough little body; and that strong, life-giving sea
smell bore him up instead of food, and he got to the other side of the
Why he did not stay there, why he did not run away into the wilderness
to find at least some easier death than to have his bones broken by the
cruel captain, he often wondered afterwards. He was so much quicker and
braver than the boys they commonly got, that the old sailor kept a sharp
watch over him with his one eye whilst they were ashore; but one day he
was too drunk to see out of it, and John Broom ran away.
It was Christmas Day, and so hot that he could not run far, for he was
at the other side of the world, where things are upside down, and he sat
down by the roadside on the outskirts of the city; and as he sat, with
his thin, brown face resting on his hands, a familiar voice beside him
said, "Pretty Cocky!" and looking up he saw a man with several cages of
birds. The speaker was a cockatoo of the most exquisite shades of cream
colour, salmon and rose, and he had a rose-coloured crest. But lovely as
he was, John Broom's eyes were on another cage, where, silent, solemn,
and sulky, sat a big white one with sulphur-coloured trimmings and
fierce black eyes; and he was so like Miss Betty's pet, that the poor
child's heart bounded as if a hand had been held out to him from home.
"If you let him get at you, you'll not do it a second time, mate," said
the man. "He's the nastiest tempered beast I ever saw. I'd have wrung
his neck long ago if he hadn't such a fine coat."
But John Broom said, as he had said before, "I like him and he'll like
When the cockatoo bit his finger to the bone, the man roared with
laughter, but John Broom did not draw his hand away. He kept it still
at the bird's beak, and with the other he gently scratched him under the
crest and wings. And when the white cockatoo began to stretch out his
eight long toes, as cats clutch with their claws from pleasure, and
chuckled, and sighed, and bit softly without hurting, and laid his head
against the bars till his snow and sulphur feathers touched John Broom's
black locks, the man was amazed.
"Look here, mate," said he, "you've the trick with birds, and no
mistake. I'll sell you this one cheap, and you'll be able to sell him
"I've not a penny in the world," said John Broom.
"You do look cleaned out too," said the man, scanning him from head to
foot. "I tell you what, you shall come with me a bit and tame the birds,
and I'll find you something to eat."
Ten minutes before, John Broom would have jumped at this offer, but now
he refused it. The sight of the cockatoo had brought back the fever of
home-sickness in all its fierceness. He couldn't stay out here. He would
dare anything, do anything, to see the hills about Lingborough once more
before him died; and even if he did not live to see them, he might live
to sleep in that part of Davy's Locker which should rock him on the
shores of home.
The man gave him a shilling for fastening a ring and chain on to the
Cocky's ankle, and with this he got the best dinner he had eaten since
he lost sight of the farm-bailiff's speckled hat in the mist.
And then he went back to the one-eyed sailor, and shipped as cabin-boy
again for the homeward voyage.
THE HIGHLANDER.—BARRACK LIFE.—THE GREAT CURSE.—JOHN BROOM'S
When John Broom did get home he did not go to sea again. He lived from
hand to mouth in the seaport town, and slept, as he was well accustomed
to sleep, in holes and corners.
Every day and every night, through the long months of the voyage, he had
dreamed of begging his way barefoot to Miss Betty's door. But now he did
not go. His life was hard, but it was not cruel. He was very idle, and
there was plenty to see. He wandered about the country as of old. The
ships and shipping too had a fascination for him now that the past was
past, and here he could watch them from the shore; and, partly for shame
and partly for pride, he could not face the idea of going back. If he
had been taunted with being a vagrant boy before, what would be said now
if he presented himself, a true tramp, to the farm-bailiff? Besides,
Miss Betty and Miss Kitty could not forgive him. It was impossible!
He was wandering about one day when he came to some fine high walls with
buildings inside. There was an open gateway, at which stood a soldier
with a musket. But a woman and some children went in, and he did not
shoot them; so when his back was turned, and he was walking stiffly to
where he came from, John Broom ran in through the gateway.
The first man he saw was the grandest-looking man he had ever seen.
Indeed, he looked more like a bird than a man—a big bird with a big
black crest. He was very tall. His feet were broad and white, like the
feathered feet of some plumy bird, his legs were bare and brown and
hairy. He was clothed in many colours. He had fur in front, which swung
as he walked, and silver and shining stones about him. He held his head
very high and from it drooped great black plumes. His face looked as if
it had been cut—roughly but artistically—out of a block of old wood,
and his eyes were the colour of a summer sky. And John Broom felt as he
had felt when he first saw Miss Betty's cockatoo.
In repose the Highlander's eye was as clear as a cairngorm and as cold,
but when it fell upon John Broom it took a twinkle not quite unlike the
twinkle in the one eye of the sailor; and then, to his amazement, this
grand creature beckoned to John Broom with a rather dirty hand.
"Yes, sir," said John Broom, staring up at the splendid giant, with eyes
"I'm saying," said the Highlander, confidentially (and it had a pleasant
homely sound to hear him speak like the farm-bailiff)—"I'm saying, I'm
confined to barracks, ye ken; and I'll gi'e ye a hawpenny if ye'll get
the bottle filled wi' whusky. Roun' yon corner ye'll see the 'Britain's
But at this moment he erected himself, his turquoise eyes looked
straight before them, and he put his hand to his head and moved it
slowly away again, as a young man with more swinging grandeur of colors
and fur and plumes, and with greater glittering of gems and silver,
passed by, a sword clattering after him.
Meanwhile John Broom had been round the corner and was back again.
"What for are ye stan'in' there, ye fule?" asked his new friend. "What
for didna ye gang for the whusky?"
"It's here, sir."
"My certy, ye dinna let the grass grow under your feet," said the
Highlander; and he added, "If ye want to run errands, laddie, ye can
come back again."
It was the beginning of a fresh life for John Broom. With many other
idle or homeless boys he now haunted the barracks, and ran errands for
the soldiers. His fleetness of foot and ready wit made him the
favourite. Perhaps, too, his youth and his bright face and eyes pleaded
for him, for British soldiers are a tender-hearted race.
He was knocked about, but never cruelly, and he got plenty of coppers
and broken victuals, and now and then an old cap or pair of boots, a
world too large for him. His principal errands were to fetch liquor for
the soldiers. In arms and pockets he would sometimes carry a dozen
bottles at once, and fly back from the canteen or public-house without
Before the summer was over he was familiar with every barrack-room and
guard-room in the place; he had food to eat and coppers to spare, and he
shared his bits with the mongrel dogs who lived, as he did, on the
good-nature of the garrison.
It must be confessed that neatness was not among John Broom's virtues.
He looped his rags together with bits of string, and wasted his pence or
lost them. The soldiers standing at the bar would often give him a drink
out of their pewter-pots. It choked him at first, and then he got used
to it, and liked it. Some relics of Miss Betty's teachings kept him
honest. He would not condescend to sip by the way out of the soldiers'
jugs and bottles, as other errand-boys did, but he came to feel rather
proud of laying his twopence on the counter, and emptying his own pot of
beer with a grimace to the bystanders through the glass at the bottom.
One day he was winking through the froth of a pint of porter at the
canteen sergeant's daughter, who was in fits of laughing, when the
pewter was knocked out of his grasp, and the big Highlander's hand was
laid on his shoulder and bore him twenty or thirty yards from the place
in one swoop.
"I'll trouble ye to give me your attention," said the Highlander, when
they came to a standstill, "and to speak the truth. Did ye ever see me
the worse of liquor?"
John Broom had several remembrances of the clearest kind to that effect,
so he put up his arms to shield his head from the probable blow, and
said, "Yes, M'Alister."
"How often?" asked the Scotchman.
"I never counted," said John Broom; "pretty often."
"How many good-conduct stripes do you ken me to have lost of your ain
"Is there a finer man than me in the regiment?" asked the Highlander,
drawing up his head.
"That there's not," said John Broom, warmly.
"Our sairgent, now," drawled the Scotchman, "wad ye say he was a better
man than me?"
"Nothing like so good," said John Broom, sincerely.
"And what d'ye suppose, man," said the Highlander, firing with sudden
passion, till the light of his clear blue eyes seemed to pierce John
Broom's very soul—"what d'ye suppose has hindered me that I'm not
sairgent, when yon man is? What has keepit me from being an officer,
that had served my country in twa battles when oor quartermaster hadna
enlisted? Wha gets my money? What lost me my stripes? What loses me
decent folks' respect and, waur than that, my ain? What gars a hand that
can grip a broadsword tremble like a woman's? What fills the canteen and
the kirkyard? What robs a man of health and wealth and peace? What
ruins weans and women, and makes mair homes desolate than war? Drink,
man, drink! The deevil of drink!"
It was not till the glare in his eyes had paled that John Broom ventured
to speak. Then he said,—
"Why don't ye give it up, M'Alister?"
The man rose to his full height, and laid his hand heavily on the boy's
shoulder, and his eyes seemed to fade with that pitiful, weary look,
which only such blue eyes show so well, "Because I canna" said he;
"because, for as big as I am, I canna. But for as little as you are,
laddie, ye can, and, Heaven help me, ye shall."
That evening he called John Broom into the barrack-room where he slept.
He was sitting on the edge of his bed, and had a little wooden money-box
in his hands.
"What money have ye, laddie?" he asked.
John Broom pulled out three halfpence lately earned, and the Scotchman
dropped them slowly into the box. Then he turned the key, and put it
into his pocket, and gave the box to the boy.
"Ye'll put what ye earn in there," said he, "I'll keep the key, and
ye'll keep the box yoursel; and when it's opened we'll open it together,
and lay out your savings in decent clothes for ye against the winter."
At this moment some men passing to the canteen shouted, "M'Alister?" The
Highlander did not answer, but he started to the door. Then he stood
irresolute, and then turned and reseated himself.
"Gang and bring me a bit o' tobacco," he said, giving John Broom a
penny. And when the boy had gone he emptied his pocket of the few pence
left, and dropped them into the box, muttering, "If he manna, I wunna."
And when the tobacco came, he lit his pipe, and sat on the bench
outside, and snarled at every one who spoke to him.
OUTPOST DUTY.—THE SERGEANT'S STORY.—GRAND ROUNDS.
It was a bitterly cold winter. The soldiers drank a great deal, and John
Broom was constantly trotting up and down, and the box grew very heavy.
Bottles were filled and refilled, in spite of greatly increased
strictness in the discipline of the garrison, for there were rumours of
invasion, and penalties were heavy, and sentry posts were increased, and
the regiments were kept in readiness for action.
The Highlander had not cured himself of drinking, though he had cured
John Broom. But, like others, he was more wary just now, and had
hitherto escaped the heavy punishments inflicted in a time of probable
war; and John Broom watched over him with the fidelity of a sheep dog,
and more than once had roused him with a can of cold water when he was
all but caught by his superiors in a state of stupor, which would not
have been credited to the frost alone.
The talk of invasion had become grave, when one day a body of men were
ordered for outpost duty, and M'Alister was among them. The officer had
got a room for them in a farmhouse, where they sat round the fire, and
went out by turns to act as sentries at various posts for an hour or two
at a time.
The novelty was delightful to John Broom. He hung about the farmhouse,
and warmed himself at the soldiers' fire.
In the course of the day M'Alister got him apart and whispered, "I'm
going on duty the night at ten, laddie. It's fearsome cold, and I hav'na
had a drop to warm me the day. If ye could ha' brought me a wee drappie
to the corner of the three roads—it's twa miles from here I'm
"It's not the miles, M'Alister," said John Broom, "but you're on outpost
"And you're misdoubting what may be done to ye for bringing liquor to a
sentry on duty? Aye, aye, lad, ye do weel to be cautious," said the
Highlander, and he turned away.
But it was not the fear of consequences to himself which had made John
Broom hesitate, and he was stung by the implication.
The night was dark and very cold, and the Highlander had been pacing up
and down his post for about half-an-hour, when his quick ear caught a
faint sound of footsteps.
"Wha goes there?" said he.
"It's I, M'Alister," whispered John Broom.
"Whisht, laddie," said the sentry; "are ye there after all? Did no one
"Not a soul; I crept by the hedges. Here's your whiskey, M'Alister; but
oh be careful!" said the lad.
The Scotchman's eyes glittered greedily at the bottle.
"Never fear," said he, "I'll just rub a wee drappie on the pawms of my
hands to keep away the frost-bite, for its awsome cold, man. Now away
wi' ye, and take tent, laddie, keep off the other sentries."
John Broom went back as carefully as he had come, and slipped in to warm
himself by the guardroom fire.
It was a good one, and the soldiers sat close round it. The officer was
writing a letter in another room, and in a low, impressive voice, the
sergeant was telling a story which was listened to with breathless
attention. John Broom was fond of stories, and he listened also.
It was of a friend of the sergeant's, who had been a boy with him in the
same village at home, who had seen active service with him abroad, and
who had slept at his post on such a night as this, from the joint
effects of cold and drink. It was war time, and he had been tried by
court-martial, and shot for the offence. The sergeant had been one of
the firing party to execute his friend, and they had taken leave of each
other as brothers, before the final parting face to face in this last
The man's voice was faltering, when the tale was cut short by the
jingling of the field officer's accoutrements as he rode by to visit the
outposts. In an instant the officer and men turned out to receive him;
and, after the usual formalities, he rode on. The officer went back to
his letter, and the sergeant and his men to their fireside.
The opening of the doors had let in a fresh volume of cold, and one of
the men called to John Broom to mend the fire. But he was gone.
John Broom was fleet of foot, and there are certain moments which lift
men beyond their natural powers, but he had set himself a hard task.
As he listened to the sergeant's tale, an agonising fear smote him for
his friend M'Alister. Was there any hope that the Highlander could keep
himself from the whiskey? Officers were making their rounds at very
short intervals just now, and if drink and cold overcame him at his
Close upon these thoughts came the jingling of the field officer's
sword, and the turn out of the guard. "Who goes there?"—"Rounds."—"What
rounds?"—"Grand rounds."—"Halt, grand rounds, advance one, and give the
counter-sign!" The familiar words struck coldly on John Broom's heart, as
if they had been orders to a firing party, and the bandage was already
across the Highlander's blue eyes. Would the grand rounds be challenged at
the three roads to-night? He darted out into the snow.
He flew, as the crow flies, across the fields, to where M'Alister was
on duty. It was a much shorter distance than by the road, which was
winding; but whether this would balance the difference between a horse's
pace and his own was the question, and there being no time to question,
he ran on.
He kept his black head down, and ran from his shoulders. The clatter,
clatter, jingle, jingle, on the hard road came to him through the still
frost on a level with his left ear. It was terrible, but he held on,
dodging under the hedges to be out of sight, and the sound lessened, and
by-and-by, the road having wound about, he could hear it faintly, but
And he reached the three roads, and M'Alister was asleep in the ditch.
But when, with jingle and clatter, the field officer of the day reached
the spot, the giant Highlander stood like a watch-tower at his post,
with a little snow on the black plumes that drooped upon his shoulders.
John Broom did not see the Highlander again for two or three days. It
was Christmas week, and, in spite of the war panic, there was festivity
enough in the barracks to keep the errand-boy very busy.
Then came New Year's Eve—"Hogmenay," as the Scotch call it—and it was
the Highland regiment's particular festival. Worn-out with
whiskey-fetching and with helping to deck barrack-rooms and carrying
pots and trestles, John Broom was having a nap in the evening, in
company with a mongrel deer-hound, when a man shook him, and said, "I
heard some one asking for ye an hour or two back; M'Alister wants ye."
"Where is he?" said John Broom, jumping to his feet.
"In hospital; he's been there a day or two. He got cold on outpost duty,
and it's flown to his lungs, they say. Ye see he's been a hard drinker,
has M'Alister, and I expect he's breaking up."
With which very just conclusion the speaker went on into the canteen,
and John Broom ran to the hospital.
Stripped of his picturesque trappings, and with no plumes to shadow the
hollows in his temples, M'Alister looked gaunt and feeble enough, as he
lay in the little hospital bed, which barely held his long limbs. Such a
wreck of giant powers of body, and noble qualities of mind as the
drink-shops are preparing for the hospitals every day!
Since the quickly-reached medical decision that he was in a rapid
decline, and that nothing could be done for him, M'Alister had been left
a good deal alone. His intellect (and it was no fool's intellect,) was
quite clear, and if the long hours by himself, in which he reckoned with
his own soul, had hastened the death-damps on his brow, they had also
written there an expression which was new to John Broom. It was not the
old sour look, it was a kind of noble gravity.
His light-blue eyes brightened as the boy came in, and he held out his
hand, and John Broom took it with both his, saying.
"I never heard till this minute, M'Alister. Eh, I do hope you'll be
"The Lord being merciful to me," said the Highlander. "But this warld's
nearly past, laddie, and I was fain to see ye again. Dinna greet, man,
for I've important business wi' ye, and I should wish your attention.
Firstly, I'm aboot to hand ower to ye the key of your box. Tak it, and
put it in a pocket that's no got a hole in it, if you're worth one.
Secondly, there's a bit bag I made mysel', and it's got a trifle o'
money in it that I'm giving and bequeathing to ye, under certain
conditions, namely, that ye shall spend the contents of the box
according to my last wishes and instructions, with the ultimate end of
your ain benefit, ye'll understand."
A fit of coughing here broke M'Alister's discourse; but, after drinking
from a cup beside him, he put aside John Broom's remonstrances with a
dignified movement of his hand, and continued,—
"When a body comes of decent folks, he won't just care, maybe, to have
their names brought up in a barrack-room. Ye never heard me say ought of
my father or my mither?"
"I'd a good hame," said the Highlander, with a decent pride in his tone.
"It was a strict hame—I've no cause now, to deceive mysel', and I'm
thinking it was a wee bit ower strict—but it was a good hame. I left
it, man—I ran away."
The glittering blue eyes turned sharply on the lad, and he went on:—
"A body doesna care to turn his byeganes oot for every fool to pick at.
Did I ever speer about your past life, and whar ye came from?"
"But that's no to say that, if I knew manners, I didna obsairve. And
there's been things now and again, John Broom, that's gar'd me think
that ye've had what I had, and done as I did. Did ye rin awa', laddie?"
John Broom nodded his black head, but tears choked his voice.
"Man!" said the Highlander, "ane word's as gude's a thousand. Gang back!
Gang hame! There's the bit siller here that's to tak ye, and the love
yonder that's waiting ye. Listen to a dying man, laddie, and gang hame!"
"I doubt if they'd have me," sobbed John Broom, "I gave 'em a deal of
"And d'ye think, lad, that that thought has na' cursed me, and keepit
me from them that loved me? Aye, lad, and till this week I never
"Weel may I want to save ye, bairn," added the Highlander tenderly, "for
it was the thocht of a' ye riskit for the like of me at the three roads
that made me consider wi' mysel' that I've aiblins been turning my back
a' my wilfu' life on love that's bigger than a man's deservings. It's
near done now, and it'll never lie in my poor power so much as rightly
to thank ye. It's strange that a man should set store by a good name
that he doesna deserve; but if any blessings of mine could bring ye
good, they're yours, that saved an old soldier's honour, and let him die
respectit in his regiment."
"Oh, M'Alister, let me fetch one of the chaplains to write a letter to
fetch your father," cried John Broom.
"The minister's been here this morning," said the Highlander, "and I've
tell't him mair than I've tell't you. And he's jest directed me to put
my sinful trust in the Father of us a'. I've sinned heaviest against
Him, laddie, but His love is stronger than the lave."
John Broom remained by his friend, whose painful fits of coughing, and
of gasping for breath, were varied by intervals of seeming stupor. When
a candle had been brought in and placed near the bed, the Highlander
roused himself and asked,—
"Is there a Bible on yon table? Could ye read a bit to me, laddie?"
There is little need to dwell on the bitterness of heart with which John
"I can't read big words, M'Alister."
"Did ye never go to school?" said the Scotchman.
"I didn't learn," said the poor boy; "I played."
"Aye, aye. Weel, ye'll learn, when ye gang hame," said the Highlander,
in gentle tones.
"I'll never get home," said John Broom, passionately. "I'll never
forgive myself. I'll never get over it, that I couldn't read to ye when
ye wanted me, M'Alister."
"Gently, gently," said the Scotchman. "Dinna daunt yoursel' owermuch wi'
the past, laddie. And for me—I'm not that presoomtious to think I can
square up a misspent life as a man might compound wi's creditors. 'Gin
HE forgi'es me, He'll forgi'e; but it's not a prayer up or a chapter
doun that'll stan' between me and the Almighty. So dinna fret yoursel',
but let me think while I may."
And so, far into the night, the Highlander lay silent, and John Broom
watched by him.
It was just midnight when he partly raised himself, and cried,—
"Whisht, laddie! do ye hear the pipes?"
The dying ears must have been quick, for John Broom heard nothing; but
in a few moments he heard the bagpipes from the officers' mess, where
they were keeping Hogmenay. They were playing the old year out with
"Auld lang syne," and the Highlander beat the tune out with his hand,
and his eyes gleamed out of his rugged face in the dim light, as
cairngorms glitter in dark tartan.
There was a pause after the first verse, and he restless, and turning
doubtfully to where John Broom sat, as if his sight were failing, he
said, "Ye'll mind your promise, ye'll gang hame?" And after awhile he
repeated the last word.
But as he spoke there settled over his face a smile so tender and so
full of happiness, that John Broom held his breath as he watched him. As
the light of sunrise creeps over the face of some rugged rock, it crept
from chin to brow, and the pale blue eyes shone tranquil, like water
that reflects heaven.
And when it had passed it left them still open, but gems that had lost
LUCK GOES.—AND COMES AGAIN.
The spirit does not always falter in its faith because the flesh is
weary with hope deferred. When week after week, month after month, and
year after year, went by and John Broom was not found, the
disappointment seemed to "age" the little ladies, as Thomasina phrased
it. But yet they said to the parson, "We do not regret it."
"God forbid that you should regret it," said he.
And even the lawyer (whose heart was kinder than his tongue) abstained
from taunting them with his prophecies, and said, "The force of habits
of early education is a power as well as that of inherent tendencies. It
is only for your sake that I regret a too romantic benevolence." And
Miss Betty and Miss Kitty tried to put the matter quite away. But John
Broom was very closely bound up with the life of many years past.
Thomasina mourned him as if he had been her son, and Thomasina being an
old and valuable servant, it is needless to say that when she was
miserable no one in the house was permitted to be quite at ease.
As to Pretty Cocky, he lived, but Miss Kitty fancied that he grew less
pretty and drooped upon his polished perch.
There were times when the parson felt almost conscience-stricken because
he had encouraged the adoption of John Broom. Disappointments fall
heavily upon elderly people. They may submit better than the young, but
they do not so easily revive. The little old ladies looked greyer and
more nervous, and the little old house looked greyer and gloomier than
Indeed there were other causes of anxiety. Times were changing, prices
were rising, and the farm did not thrive. The lawyer said that the
farm-bailiff neglected his duties, and that the cowherd did nothing but
drink; but Miss Betty trembled, and said they could not part with old
The farm-bailiff had his own trouble, but he kept it to himself. No one
knew how severely he had beaten John Broom the day before he ran away,
but he remembered it himself with painful clearness. Harsh men are apt
to have consciences, and his was far from easy about the lad who had
been entrusted to his care. He could not help thinking of it when the
day's work was over, and he had to keep filling up his evening
whiskey-glass again and again to drown disagreeable thoughts.
The whiskey answered this purpose, but it made him late in the morning:
it complicated business on market days, not to the benefit of the farm,
and it put him at a disadvantage in dealing with the drunken cowherd.
The cowherd was completely upset by John Broom's mysterious
disappearance, and he comforted himself as the farm-bailiff did, but to
a larger extent. And Thomasina winked at many irregularities in
consideration of the groans of sympathy with which he responded to her
tears as they sat round the hearth where John Broom no longer lay.
At the time that he vanished from Lingborough the gossips of the country
side said, This comes of making pets of tramps' brats, when honest
folk's sons may toil and moil without notice. But when it was proved
that the tramp-boy had stolen nothing, when all search for him was vain,
and when prosperity faded from the place season by season and year by
year, there were old folk who whispered that the gaudily-clothed child
Miss Betty had found under the broom-bush had something more than common
in him, and that whoever and whatever had offended the eerie creature,
he had taken the luck of Lingborough with him when he went away.
It was early summer. The broom was shining in the hedges with uncommon
wealth of golden blossoms. "The lanes looked for all the world as they
did the year that poor child was found," said Thomasina, wiping her
eyes. Annie the lass sobbed hysterically, and the cowherd found himself
so low in spirits that after gazing dismally at the cowstalls, which had
not been cleaned for days past, he betook himself to the ale-house to
refresh his energies for this and other arrears of work.
On returning to the farm, however, he found his hands still feeble, and
he took a drop or two more to steady them, after which it occurred to
him that certain new potatoes which he had had orders to dig were yet in
the ground. The wood was not chopped for the next day's use, and he
wondered what had become of a fork he had had in the morning and had
laid down somewhere.
So he seated himself on some straw in the corner to think about it all,
and whilst he was thinking he fell fast asleep.
By his own account many remarkable things had befallen him in the course
of his life, including that meeting with a Black Something to which
allusion has been made, but nothing so strange as what happened to him
When he awoke in the morning and sat up on the straw, and looked around
him, the stable was freshly cleaned, the litter in the stalls was shaken
and turned, and near the door was an old barrel of newly dug potatoes,
and the fork stood by it. And when he ran to the wood house there lay
the wood neatly chopped and piled to take away.
He kept his own counsel that day and took credit for the work, but when
on the morrow the farm-bailiff was at a loss to know who had thinned the
turnips that were left to do in the upper field, and Annie the lass
found the kitchen cloths she had left overnight to soak, rubbed through
and rinsed, and laid to dry, the cowherd told his tale to Thomasina, and
begged for a bowl of porridge and cream to set in the barn, as one might
set a mouse-trap baited with cheese.
"For," said he, "the luck of Lingborough's come back, missis. It's Lob
"It's Lob Lie-by-the-fire!"
So Thomasina whispered exultingly, and Annie the lass timidly. Thomasina
cautioned the cowherd to hold his tongue, and she said nothing to the
little ladies on the subject. She felt certain that they would tell the
parson, and he might not approve. The farm-bailiff knew of a farm on the
Scotch side of the Border where a brownie had been driven away by the
minister preaching his last Sunday's sermon over again at him, and as
Thomasina said, "There'd been little enough luck at Lingborough lately,
that they should wish to scare it away when it came."
And yet the news leaked out gently, and was soon known all through the
neighborhood—as a secret.
"The luck of Lingborough's come back. Lob's lying by the fire!"
He could be heard at his work any night, and several people had seen
him, though this vexed Thomasina, who knew well that the good people do
not like to be watched at their labours.
The cowherd had not been able to resist peeping down through chinks in
the floor of the loft above the barn, where he slept, and one night he
had seen Lob fetching straw for the cowhouse. "A great rough, black
fellow," said he, and he certainly grew bigger and rougher and blacker
every time the cowherd told the tale.
The Lubber-fiend appeared next to a boy who was loitering at a late hour
somewhere near the little ladies' kitchen-garden, and whom he pursued
and pelted with mud till the lad nearly lost his wits with terror. (It
was the same boy who was put in the lock-up in the autumn for stealing
Farmer Mangel's Siberian crabs.)
For this trick, however, the rough elf atoned by leaving three pecks of
newly-gathered fruit in the kitchen the following morning. Never had
there been such a preserving season at Lingborough within the memory of
The truth is, hobgoblins, from Puck to Will-o'-the-wisp, are apt to play
practical jokes and knock people about whom they meet after sunset. A
dozen tales of such were rife, and folks were more amused than amazed by
Lob Lie-by-the-fire's next prank.
There was an aged pauper who lived on the charity of the little ladies,
and whom it was Miss Betty's practice to employ to do light weeding in
the fields for heavy wages. This venerable person was toddling to his
home in the gloaming with a barrow load of Miss Betty's new potatoes,
dexterously hidden by an upper sprinkling of groundsel and hemlock, when
the Lubber-fiend sprang out from behind an elder-bush, ran at the old
man with his black head, and knocked him, heels uppermost, into the
ditch. The wheelbarrow was afterwards found in Miss Betty's farmyard,
And when the cowherd (who had his own opinion of the aged pauper, and it
was a very poor one) went that evening to drink Lob Lie-by-the-fire's
health from a bottle he kept in the harness room window, he was nearly
choked with the contents, which had turned into salt and water, as fairy
jewels turn to withered leaves.
But luck had come to Lingborough. There had not been such crops for
twice seven years past.
The lay-away hens' eggs were brought regularly to the kitchen.
The ducklings were not eaten by rats.
No fowls were stolen.
The tub of pig-meal lasted three times as long as usual.
The cart-wheels and gate-hinges were oiled by unseen fingers.
The mushrooms in the croft gathered themselves and down on a dish in the
It is by small savings that a farm thrives, and Miss Betty's farm
Everybody worked with more alacrity. Annie the lass said the butter came
in a way that made it a pleasure to churn.
The neighbours knew even more than those on the spot. They said—That
since Lob came back to Lingborough the hens laid eggs as large as
turkeys' eggs, and the turkeys' eggs were—oh, you wouldn't believe the
That the cows gave nothing but cream, and that Thomasina skimmed butter
off it as less lucky folk skim cream from milk.
That her cheeses were as rich as butter.
That she sold all she made, for Lob took the fairy butter from the old
trees in the avenue, and made it up into pats for Miss Betty's table.
That if you bought Lingborough turnips, you might feed your cows on them
all the winter and the milk would be as sweet as new-mown hay.
That horses foddered on Lingborough hay would have thrice the strength
of others, and that sheep who cropped Lingborough pastures would grow
three times as fat.
That for as good a watchdog as it was, the sheep dog never barked at
Lob, a plain proof that he was more than human.
That for all its good luck it was not safe to loiter near the place
after dark, if you wished to keep your senses. And if you took so much
as a fallen apple belonging to Miss Betty, you might look out for palsy
or St. Vitus` dance, or be carried off bodily to the underground folk.
Finally, that it was well all the cows gave double, for that Lob
Lie-by-the-fire drank two gallons of the best cream every day, with
curds, porridge, and other dainties to match. But what did that matter,
when he had been overheard to swear that luck should not leave
Lingborough till Miss Betty owned half the country side?
MISS BETTY IS SURPRISED.
Miss Betty and Miss Kitty having accepted a polite invitation from Mrs.
General Dunmaw, went down to tea with that lady one fine evening in this
Death had made a gap or two in the familiar circle during the last
fourteen years, but otherwise it was quite the same, except that the
lawyer was married and not quite so sarcastic, and that Mrs. Brown Jasey
had brought a young niece with her dressed in the latest fashion, which
looked quite as odd as new fashions are wont to do, and with a
coiffure "enough to frighten the French away," as her aunt told her.
It was while this young lady was getting more noise out of Mrs. Dunmaw's
red silk and rosewood piano than had been shaken out of it during the
last thirty years, that the lawyer brought his cup of coffee to Miss
Betty's side, and said, suavely, "I here wonderful accounts of
Lingborough, dear Miss Betty."
"I am thankful to say, sir, that the farm is doing well this year. I am
very thankful, for the past few years have been unfavourable, and we had
begun to face the fact that it might be necessary to sell the old place.
And I will not deny, sir, that it would have gone far to break my heart,
to say nothing of my sister Kitty's."
"Oh, we shouldn't have let it come to that," said the lawyer, "I could
have raised a loan—"
"Sir," said Miss Betty with dignity, "if we have our own pride, I hope
it's an honest one. Lingborough will have passed out of our family when
it's kept up on borrowed money."
"I could live in lodgings," added Miss Betty, firmly, "little as I've
been accustomed to it, but not in debt."
"Well, well, my dear madam, we needn't talk about it now. But I'm dying
of curiosity as to the mainstay of all this good luck."
"The turnips—" began Miss Betty.
"Bless my soul, Miss Betty!" cried the lawyer, "I'm not talking of
turnips. I'm talking of Lob Lie-by-the-fire, as all the country side is
for that matter."
"The country people have plenty of tales of him," said Miss Betty, with
some pride in the family goblin. "He used to haunt the old barns, they
say, in my great-grandfather's time."
"And now you've got him back again," said the lawyer.
"Not that I know of," said Miss Betty.
On which the lawyer poured into her astonished ear all the latest news
on the subject, and if it had lost nothing before reaching his house in
the town, it rather gained in marvels as he repeated it to Miss Betty.
No wonder that the little lady was anxious to get home to question
Thomasina, and that somewhat before the usual hour she said,—
"Sister Kitty, if it's not too soon for the servant—"
And the parson, threading his way to where Mrs. Dunmaw's china crape
shawl (dyed crimson) shone in the bow window, said, "The clergy should
keep respectable hours, madam; especially when they are as old as I am.
Will you allow me to thank you for a very pleasant evening, and to say
THE PARSON AND THE LUBBER-FIEND.
"Do you think there'd be any harm in leaving it alone, sister Betty?"
said Miss Kitty, tremulously.
They had reached Lingborough, and the parson had come in with them, by
Miss Betty's request, and Thomasina had been duly examined.
"Eh, Miss Betty, why should ye chase away good luck with the minister?"
"Sister Kitty! Thomasina!" said Miss Betty. "I would not accept good
luck from a doubtful quarter to save Lingborough. But if It can face
this excellent clergyman, the Being who haunted my great-grandfather's
farm is still welcome to the old barns, and you, Thomasina, need not
grudge It cream or curds."
"You're quite right, sister Betty," said Miss Kitty. "You always are;
but oh dear, oh dear!"—
"Thomasina tells me," said Miss Betty, turning to the parson, "that on
chilly evenings It sometimes comes and lies by the kitchen fire after
they have gone to bed, and I can distinctly remember my grandmother
mentioning the same thing. Thomasina has of late left the kitchen door
on the latch for Its convenience, and as they had to sit up late for us,
she and Annie have taken their work into the still-room to leave the
kitchen free for Lob Lie-by-the-fire. They have not looked into the
kitchen this evening, as such beings do not like to be watched. But they
fancy that they heard It come in. I trust, sir, that neither in myself
nor my sister Kitty does timidity exceed a proper feminine sensibility,
where duty is concerned. If you will be good enough to precede us, we
will go to meet the old friend of my great-grandfather's fortunes, and
we leave it entirely to your valuable discretion to pursue what course
you think proper on the occasion."
"Is this the door?" said the parson, cheerfully, after knocking his head
against black beams and just saving his legs down shallow and unexpected
steps on his way to the kitchen—beams so unfelt and steps so familiar
to the women that it had never struck them that the long passage was not
the most straightforward walk a man could take—"I think you said It
generally lies on the hearth?"
The happy thought struck Thomasina that the parson might be frightened
out of his unlucky interference.
"Aye, aye, sir," said she from behind. "We've heard him rolling by the
fire, and growling like thunder to himself. They say he's an awful size,
too, with the strength of four men, and a long tail, and eyes like coals
But Thomasina spoke in vain, for the parson opened the door, and as they
pressed in, the moonlight streaming through the latticed window showed
Lob lying by the fire.
"There's his tail! Ay—k!" screeched Annie the lass, and away she went,
without drawing breath to the top garret, where she locked and bolted
herself in, and sat her bandbox flat, and screamed for help.
But it was the plumy tail of the sheep dog, who was lying there with the
Lubber-fiend. And Lob was asleep, with his arms around the sheep dog's
neck, and the sheep dog's head lay on his breast, and his own head
touched the dog's.
And it was a smaller head than the parson had been led to expect, and it
had thick black hair.
As the parson bent over the hearth, Thomasina took Miss Kitty round the
waist, and Miss Betty clutched her black velvet bag till the steel beads
ran into her hands, and they were quite prepared for an explosion, and
sulphur, and blue lights, and thunder.
And then the parson's deep round voice broke the silence, saying,—
"Is that you, lad? GOD bless you, John Broom. You're welcome home!"
Some things—such as gossip—gain in the telling, but there are others
before which words fail, though each heart knows its own power of
sympathy. And such was the joy of the little ladies and of Thomasina at
John Broom's return.
The sheep dog had had his satisfaction out long ago, and had kept it to
himself, but how Pretty Cocky crowed, and chuckled, and danced, and
bowed his crest, and covered his face with his amber wings, and kicked
his seed-pot over, and spilled his water-pot on to the Derbyshire marble
chess-table, and screamed till the room rang again, and went on
screaming, with Miss Kitty's pocket-handkerchief over his head to keep
him quiet, my poor pen can but imperfectly describe.
The desire to atone for the past which had led John Broom to act the
part of one of those Good-Fellows who have, we must fear, finally
deserted us, will be easily understood. And to a nature of his type, the
earning of some self-respect, and of a character before others, was
perhaps a necessary prelude to future well-doing.
He did do well. He became a good scholar, as farmers were then. He
spent as much of his passionate energies on the farm as the farm would
absorb, and he restrained the rest. It is not cockatoos only who have
sometimes to live and be happy in this unfinished life with one wing
In fine weather, when the perch was put into the garden, Miss Betty was
sometimes startled by stumbling on John Broom in the dusk, sitting on
his heels, the unfastened chain in his hand, with his black head
lovingly laid against Cock's white and yellow poll, talking in a low
voice, and apparently with the sympathy of his companion; and as Miss
Betty justly feared, of that "other side of the world," which they both
knew, and which both at times had cravings to revisit.
Even after the sobering influences of middle age had touched him, and a
wife and children bound him with the quiet ties of home, he had (at long
intervals) his "restless times," when his good "misses" would bring out
a little store laid by in one of the children's socks, and would bid
him. "Be off, and get a breath of the sea-air," but on condition that
the sock went with him as his purse. John Broom always looked ashamed to
go, but he came back the better, and his wife was quite easy in his
absence with that confidence in her knowledge of the "master," which is
so mysterious to the unmarried, and which Miss Betty looked upon as
"want of feeling" to the end. She always dreaded that he would not
return, and a little ruse which she adopted of giving him money to make
bargains for foreign articles of vertu with sailors, is responsible
for many of the choicest ornaments in the Lingborough parlour.
"The sock'll bring him home," said Mrs. Broom, and home he came, and
never could say what he had been doing. Nor was the account given by
Thomasina's cousin, who was a tide-waiter down yonder, particularly
satisfying to the women's curiosity. He said that John Broom was always
about; that he went aboard of all the craft in the bay, and asked whence
they came and whither they were bound. That being once taunted to do it,
he went up the rigging of a big vessel like a cat, and came down it
looking like a fool. That as a rule, he gossipped and shared his tobacco
with sailors and fishermen, and brought out the sock much oftener than
was prudent for the benefit of the ragged boys who haunt the quay.
He had two other weaknesses, which a faithful biographer must chronicle.
A regiment on the march would draw him from the plough-tail itself, and
"With daddy to see the pretty soldiers" was held to excuse any of Mrs.
Broom's children from household duties.
The other shall be described in the graphic language of that acute
observer the farm-bailiff.
"If there cam' an Irish beggar, wi' a stripy cloot him and a bellows
under 's arm, and ca'd himsel' a Hielander, the lad wad gi'e him his
silly head off his shoulders."
As to the farm-bailiff, perhaps no one felt more or said less than he
did on John Broom's return. But the tones of his voice had tender
associations for the boy's ears as he took off his speckled hat, and
after contemplating the inside for some moments, put it on again, and
"Aweel, lad, sae ye've cam' hame?"
But he listened with quivering face when John Broom told the story of
M'Alister, and when it was ended he rose and went out, and "took the
pledge" against drink, and—kept it.
Moved by similar enthusiasm, the cowherd took the pledge also, and if he
didn't keep it, he certainly drank less, chiefly owing to the vigilant
oversight of the farm-bailiff, who now exercised his natural severity
almost exclusively in the denunciation of all liquors whatsoever, from
the cowherd's whiskey to Thomasina's elder-flower wine.
The plain cousin left his money to the little old ladies, and
Lingborough continued to flourish.
Partly perhaps because of this, it is doubtful if John Broom was ever
looked upon by the rustics as quite "like other folk."
The favourite version of his history is that he was Lob under the guise
of a child; that he was driven away by new clothes; that he returned
from unwillingness to see an old family go to ruin "which he had served
for hundreds of years;" that the parson preached his last Sunday's
sermon at him; and that, having stood that test, he took his place among
Whether a name invented off-hand, however plain and sensible, does not
stick to a man as his father's does, is a question. But John Broom was
not often called by his.
With Scotch caution, the farm-bailiff seldom exceeded the safe title of
"Man!" and the parson was apt to address him as "My dear boy" when he
had certainly outgrown the designation.
Miss Betty called him John Broom, but the people called him by the name
he had earned.
And long after his black hair lay white and thick on his head, like snow
on the old barn roof, and when his dark eyes were dim in an honoured old
age, the village children would point him out to each other, crying,
"There goes Lob Lie-by-the-fire, the Luck of Lingborough!"
A series of accidents had overtaken the Newbury mail from the hour that
it started in the fine dewy morning, till the sun went down; and as the
twilight deepened over the landscape it was still many miles from its
The troubles began early in the day. One of the leaders cast a shoe, and
had to be shod at the first village through which they passed. Farther
on something went wrong with the harness, and later still a much more
serious impediment to their progress arose—some accident happened to a
wheel, so that the coach must needs go half-pace, in spite of the oaths
of old Joe, the driver, whose boast it was that he had never reached
Wancote later than midnight.
But this evening old Joe's boasts were doomed to fall to the ground, for
the coach could only crawl along, and the night was closing in fast.
The guard was engaged in a somewhat mysterious occupation, an occupation
which, though only partially visible from the interior of the coach,
caused a faint shriek to issue therefrom.
"What is he doing? What is it?" cried a woman's voice.
"Nothing, madam; be easy, I entreat," was the answer from within. "There
is nothing to alarm, but rather to reassure, in his actions—he prepares
his pistols and looks to their priming. Zounds! one must be ready for
all contingencies with ten miles of unfrequented road ahead of us."
The mail continued on its way, becoming slower and slower, as an ominous
creaking of the injured wheel gave token that the pace must be reduced
to a walk.
The curtain before the window was held back, and a gentleman from within
addressed the guard.
"Will the wheel hold out, think you?" he said.
"It is impossible to assure your reverence that it will, and the night
will be dark."
The gentleman drew in his head with a little "Tut-tut" of consternation.
There were four occupants of the coach—two ladies and two gentlemen. Of
the ladies one was young, perhaps nineteen, and one close upon forty.
The younger was the parson's daughter Elizabeth, otherwise Betty Ives.
Her father, Mr. Ives, was bringing her home from Newbury, where she had
spent the last six months with her aunt, Mrs. Primrose, seeing something
of the gay world in the county town.
The father and daughter, who sat opposite to each other, bore a strong
resemblance to each other. In the girl's face the dark brows were more
arched, the large blue eyes more tender, the firm mouth more sweet, and
all tinted with the lilies and roses of a fresh country life, so
beautifully blended on the peach-like cheeks that, even without her rare
perfection of feature, the colouring alone would have made Betty
Parson Ives had been very handsome in his youth, and though worn by
years (he was forty years older than his child), and by the grief of
bereavement, he was yet famous for his good looks.
Betty wore a short dark green riding-habit and a broad felt hat. She was
as much at home on horseback as on foot, and seldom in the mornings wore
a less business-like costume.
The other two occupants of the coach were to ordinary eyes less
interesting. Mistress Mary Jones was a faded woman, who had once been
pretty, a spinster, a great friend of Betty's, and one of her father's
parishioners. She was an excellent woman in her way, albeit somewhat
given to terrors both real and fanciful.
Her opposite neighbor was a man past the prime of life, owner and
breeder of large herds of cattle near Wancote, a man who, after
attending the Newbury markets, often returned home by this very coach,
and was believed to carry large sums of money in the flap-pockets of his
Mr. Barnes had a fixed mask-like countenance, his bushy eyebrows almost
met in a wrinkle that told of thought and deep calculation. He was
clean-shaven, and his chin was swathed in a huge neckcloth of white
muslin; he wore his hat low on his brow.
"I like not to be out so late on the high road," said he very suddenly,
so that both Mr. Ives and Mistress Mary Jones started, and Betty, whom
nothing ever startled, turned her great blue eyes inquiringly on him.
"Why, sir?" she asked.
"Why, my good young lady, because the Newbury sales are just over, and
it is well known that the stock reared on Belford home farm has sold
"Are the roads not safe then, sir?" asked Mr. Ives rather anxiously.
"I do not quite say that, for it is many a long day since the coach was
attacked between Newbury and Wancote; but rumour has been busy."
"Ha!" cried Betty, sitting upright eagerly.
"It is said that Wild Jack Barnstaple has been heard of in the
"Heaven help us!" shrieked Mary Jones.
"Be calm, I entreat you, my dear madam, and have pity on my unfortunate
toes! Zounds! it is torture enough to be subject to periodical gout,
without such an infliction as the stamp of a lady's fashionable heel on
the tender place."
"But you say Wild Jack is in the neighbourhood! Oh Heaven! what will
become of us!"
Betty's blooming cheek had turned just a faint shade paler, but the
rosy colour came rushing back, her eyes flashed.
Suddenly stooping forward she said in a low voice:
"Mr. Barnes, you may confide in me. Do you carry much money?"
He answered in a tone of assumed ease, "Paper to the value of nearly a
"Then look you, Mr. Barnes," said Betty in her natural voice, "I have a
proposal to make to you. Give the valuables you have to us—to Miss Mary
Jones and to myself. Wild Jack, all say, is a gentleman—should he, by
any unfortunate chance, be on the road to-night, he will not rob women.
Your money will be safe."
"No, no, no, no!" cried Mary. "Betty, how can you propose anything so
impossible, so unfeminine! Are not men our natural protectors?" and she
threw a languishing glance at the cattle-breeder. "Shall we usurp their
"It is quite true; it is impossible," said Barnes.
"You are foolish to throw away the chance," said Betty calmly.
"I cannot see why you should not accept her offer," said the parson
restlessly; he was accustomed to yield to his daughter's judgment in
everything. "Betty is a bold girl, and she is generally in the right."
"Come, yield the point, Mr. Barnes," said Betty, with a light laugh,
holding out her hand for the pocket-book.
"Remember I have no part or parcel in it," cried Mary, shrinking farther
and farther away. "I would not for the whole world! Why, Betty," she
whimpered, "they might even search you."
"Wild Jack is a gentleman," answered the girl; then with a sudden flash
of scorn, "but even had I not such faith in his honourable dealing, I
should know how to take care of myself. Give me the papers, Mr. Barnes."
Very unwillingly, as if he despised himself for so doing, Barnes gave
them into her hands. The notes were smoothed and laid flat, they
occupied the smallest space possible.
Betty Ives placed the papers within the bosom of her tight-fitting
riding-habit, and leant back as if she had done with the subject.
Mr. Ives looked with anxious eyes through the window.
The mail was passing along a wide fair unsheltered road, on each side
spread away treeless tracts of country, flat and wide, over which the
fresh cold wind blew listlessly. To the left the horizon was bounded by
the wide expanse of the grassy Berkshire downs. They rose and fell, a
vast undulating plain, covered with short fine herbage.
It was growing very dark; the parson drew in his head, and thanked
Heaven that the country was so fine and open, that he could even in the
gathering gloom see far behind and before, and could perceive no
"We are all right here," said Mr. Barnes, his voice becoming more and
more dismal. "But a mile farther on, and we come to a small wood—the
road dips down there suddenly, it is a first-rate place for an ambush."
"Mercy! mercy!" cried Mary Jones in a voice half-strangled by the
anguish of her terror.
"We have yet a mile of safety," said Betty kindly "—a whole mile, Mary;
and going at this pace, we need not prepare our terrors for another
"Heaven grant that the moon may be up," cried Barnes.
"Sir," said Betty slowly, "I imagine that you carry arms?"
"I am not unarmed," he answered hastily, "I have pistols and a sword."
"I should have them in readiness, as I myself intend to do," said Betty,
and she drew out a tiny silver-mounted pistol. "See, it is prepared for
use. My father is a clergyman and must eschew firearms; Mary Jones is a
"Aye, a true woman, a frail woman," whined the poor lady.
"But," continued Betty, "the guard is armed, so are we; we have still a
mile to go. Ha!" her voice ended abruptly. There was a crashing sound, a
shot, a shout, a confused sense as if the whole coach were falling to
the ground. The door was torn open. Before Betty could even raise the
deadly little weapon she carried, it was seized from her hand—the whole
party were dragged out of the carriage—they found themselves surrounded
by armed men. There was a violent struggle, fighting and disorder, loud
oaths from the coachman, appalling shrieks from Mary Jones. Some one
opened a lantern and allowed its red glare to fall on the scared
prisoners and on the black masks of their captors.
The man who was evidently the leader of the party was holding Betty's
two hands in one of his in a grasp which she imagined to be gentle until
she attempted to release them, when she discovered that she might as
easily have broken bands of steel.
"Here, give me a rope, we must bind our prisoners," said this man
suddenly. "This fair lady had all but fired one shot too many for Wild
There was a laugh, and with dexterity, evidently gained from experience,
the prisoners were rapidly bound.
"I am grieved to incommode you thus, madam," said the leader, bowing low
to Betty. "Our business is with that gentleman," with a slight motion of
his hand towards the hapless Mr. Barnes. Betty bowed slightly. The light
fell full on her tall figure, on her noble head slightly raised and
thrown back, the nostrils dilated, the colour glowing richly in the soft
cheek. Wild Jack, looking at her, felt a glow of enthusiasm which
betrayed itself in his voice.
"You have nothing to fear, madam," he said.
"I? I fear nothing," said the girl calmly—"Wild Jack is a gentleman."
The highwayman made a rapid sign to his comrades, who proceeded to throw
themselves on to Samuel Barnes, and begin to search him from head to
A sudden fear flashed into Betty's mind. How if Wild Jack were unable to
restrain his companions, infuriated as they would be by their failure in
discovering the expected treasure on the person of their victim?
Her cheeks paled, for one moment she turned her eyes full on the masked
face of her captor. Masked as he was, her look thrilled him through and
"You are safe," he repeated hurriedly.
Something in his voice seemed to give her confidence, for she stooped
forward and said in a low voice, "Mr. Barnstaple, I trust to your
honour,—the money is here."
And with a grand movement she laid her bound hands on her breast.
Wild Jack bowed low, but he said nothing, and in spite of the bold front
she bore, Betty's heart beat fast.
The noise increased. Samuel Barnes, maddened with fright, struggled
against his assailants furiously, but he was overmatched, a violent blow
with the butt end of a pistol stunned him completely, and all
resistance was over. Undaunted by their want of success the coach was
then rifled, the mails ruthlessly thrown out into the road.
One or two of the men, of whom there appeared to be five at least, now
proposed to search the women.
There was a moment's pause, during which Wild Jack tightened his grasp
on Betty's arm. Had she shown one symptom of fear, it is possible that
his fierce profession would have triumphed over the infatuation of her
beauty, but the look she turned upon him was so full of confidence, such
absolute trust in his honour, that it prevailed.
He swore that he made no war upon women, and ordered back his
disappointed followers, allowing them to divide the trumpery booty they
had secured, of watches, trinkets, and the parson's purse, which was not
They stood back. Wild Jack spoke to them in a low tone, looking, as he
did so, several times up at the sky as if to see how the time went; then
advancing he opened the door of the coach, and unbinding the hands of
the two ladies, offered to hand them in.
Betty demurred. "We have duties here first," she said, pointing to the
inanimate form of poor Samuel Barnes.
"It is well then," said Wild Jack, just touching the prostrate man with
the toe of his boot. "We will leave you now, with many apologies, madam,
for our intrusion."
The others were already in the saddle and almost out of sight.
Wild Jack, who was about to mount, withdrew his foot from the stirrup
and approached Betty once more.
"Go, go!" she said. "This poor man bleeds; ah, why do you not go?"
"I am gone," he answered. "But first, fair lady, in consideration of the
booty I have resigned I demand a reward."
"What can I give you?"
He pointed to her hand, on one finger of which was a small gold ring in
the form of a serpent with tiny ruby eyes.
"Give me that," he said somewhat imperiously.
"You are welcome," she said haughtily, and she drew the ring from her
finger. "I would give a trinket of more value," she cried, stamping her
little foot, "to be freed from your company now!"
The words stung him.
"You will remember those words, madam," he said, "some day—when this
ring returns to your keeping."
He shut the lantern, which during all this time had thrown its yellow
light on the strange scene, mounted his horse and disappeared. The horse
was snow white, and it passed by like a white gleam in the darkness.
It was pitch dark now, and the horror of their situation was increased
by the moans which Mr. Barnes began to utter as consciousness slowly
It was a relief to all when the familiar sound of flint and steel smote
the ear, and the coachman awkwardly, with his bound hands, attempted to
light the lamps of the coach. Betty's first business was to unfasten the
ropes which bound the men hand and foot, and by degrees they were able
to take in their exact position.
One of the leaders had been shot dead, the traces had been cut, but the
frightened horses had not strayed out of reach.
Mary Jones was in a dead faint, and, in the absence of all restoratives,
seemed likely to remain so.
Mr. Barnes, his head carefully bound up by Betty and her father, was at
last able to rise to his feet and take his place in the carriage.
The dawn was already breaking, and a white light stealing over the murky
sky, before the mail could once more get under weigh and move heavily
Far and wide the downs stretched, silent and deserted; a bitter wind
swept over them and stirred the mane of the dead horse, who lay a
ghastly spectacle, his head thrown back, in a pool of his own blood.
From afar, from whence nor eye nor tongue could tell, came a foul raven
The village of Hendred, of which Mr. Ives was the parson, lay about two
miles beyond Wancote, in a low valley nestling under a great wave of the
downs. Behind the village a chalk cliff rose white and dazzling, and the
warm red brick of the houses, the gleaming chalk, the bright tender
green of the herbage, formed one of those sunny pictures of which
Berkshire is full.
In the centre of the village rose the little church, with its square
grey tower, over which grew a magnificent creeper with crimson leaves
glowing with a wondrous richness of colour.
A stone's throw back from the road, in a high-walled garden, stood the
parsonage. The garden was rich with orchard trees and wall fruit, and
boasted in particular one golden plum that was the parson's boast and
pride. He had imported rich soil from the valleys, and in each corner of
the garden gathered little hills of leaf-mould. Mr. Ives was a notable
Those who would see Betty Ives at her best should see her at home—at
least, so said young Mr. Robins, the rich yeoman's son, who sighed in
vain for her good graces. He was a domestic man, much given to
superintending himself, duties which were looked upon as women's
gear—"A womanish man," said the women.
On the other hand young Thornton, eldest son of Squire Thornton of
Thornton Beeches, in the neighbourhood of Wancote, gave out that to see
Mistress Betty at her best, was to see her in the hunting-field, for she
rode like a bird, and was bright and ready as a pike-staff! There was a
confusion of metaphor, but words always failed the young fellow when he
spoke of the lady who had already three times refused to be his wife.
Then Dr. Glebe, the good doctor of Wancote, in a grey bag-wig and
hunting-boots, would take a whole handful of snuff, while he swore that
Mistress Betty was only at her best by a sick-bed.
The parson laughed, and exclaimed with a tear in his eye that such a
woman as his daughter was always at her best in whatever she put her
hand to do; and the old groom Isaac assented with a chuckle, vowing that
his young lady was good all round.
The autumn was beginning, and the crimson creepers on church and wall
were at the height of their glow. Betty Ives was strolling in the
parsonage garden gathering plums from the wall.
The garden-door was on the latch, it needed but to raise it, and
Mistress Mary Jones walked in. Betty went eagerly forward to meet her
with out-stretched hands. No welcome could be more cordial than that
which Betty Ives gave to her friends.
"I am so glad to see you, Mary? and are you well? Have you lost your
Miss Mary sank into a garden-seat and sighed, still retaining the hand
of her friend.
"I am better, sweet Bet," she said; "but my nerves will not recover the
shock for years! No, no! do not shake your head and smile; if you had
the crawlings up the back that I experience, and the creepings down the
spine, and the shaking of knees, the twittering of the lips, and
quivering of the eyelids—"
"Enough, enough!" cried Betty. "Thank Heaven, I am not tormented thus!
My dear Mary, how can you survive such a multitude of ailments?"
"I have survived worse!" she answered, shuddering. "I survived the shock
"Were you very much frightened?" asked Betty in a tone of interest.
"Frightened! I was terrified. I have not nerve like yours. The dark, the
shot! the dark faces, the loud voices, the ... ah!"
Seeing Mary's chest beginning to heave, Betty thought it high time to
change the subject. "We will not recall it," she said hastily. "Let us
think on more agreeable topics. My father rode into Wancote this
morning, to stroll about the marketplace and hear the news."
"And why did you not go?"
"Because," answered Betty, "I have been making preserves the livelong
day. Up at six this morning, for Dame Martha told me that, owing to my
putting it off so long, the fruit was beginning to rot, so there was no
time to lose."
"I leave preserving to my woman," said Mary. "The hanging over the fire
is ruin to the finest skin."
"Yes, my face is scorched and heated," answered Betty, turning a cheek
like a peach to her friend. "But after all, to so weather-beaten a maid
as myself, up and out in all seasons, a scorched cheek, more or less,
signifies not; and Dame Martha works hard."
"And had your father any news from Wancote?"
"Yes, news indeed—Belton has been taken!"
"Hired or purchased by a gentleman of the name of Johnstone, whose
arrival is expected hourly."
"This is news indeed! None but a rich man could have paid the price
"His horses have arrived," went on Betty. "Only four of them as yet, but
each one of the four of surpassing beauty. One of them, Mr. Barnes told
my father, looked worth a king's ransom."
"May the owner be worthy of his cattle," said Mary Jones. "And were
there no coach-horses, no carriages? No symptoms of a lady to dispense
the hospitalities of Belton?"
"Mr. Johnstone is said to be unmarried," answered Betty gravely. "I am
sorry for it, a new neighbour would have been an agreeable addition to
There was a click of the garden-gate, then a smart rap, as if by the
knob of a hunting-whip.
"Someone is at the gate," said Miss Mary with curiosity.
"Yes," answered Betty, "and I must needs answer it myself, for the bell
is broken, as doubtless our visitor has discovered, and he may knock
till doomsday ere the sound reach the ears of Dame Martha or Isaac, both
of whom are engaged in quarrelling in the kitchen. So so! how impatient
For another succession of knocks fell on the panel.
"I entreat you, do not open the door yourself, Betty," cried Mary in a
tone of alarm. "Who knows who may be there?"
"Certainly not Wild Jack," answered Betty smiling, and disengaging
herself from her friend's arm she went forward and opened the gate.
"Does Mr. Ives live here?" asked a loud, clear voice, which, however,
suddenly changed in tone when the opening door disclosed the radiant
vision of the parson's lovely daughter.
A feathered hat was doffed, a gentleman sprang from his horse and,
bowing low, asked if he had the honour of addressing one of the family
of Mr. Ives.
"His only daughter, sir," answered Betty courteously. "If you wish to
see my father, I will beg you to come in and wait, as he will be in
shortly," Mary Jones advanced, her eyes took in at a glance the whole
distinguished appearance of the visitor, from the fine cut of his suit
of claret-coloured cloth, to the well-shaped boot with shining spurs,
and she gave a little sign of approval.
Betty summoned old Isaac and bade him take charge of the horse, and
then led the way into the garden.
"We are primitive folk here," she said. "But I find most people prefer
our garden-seats to entering the house."
Mary was somewhat scandalised, she thought these easy out-door seats a
breach of etiquette in themselves, but she could make no remonstrance
beyond a little tweak at her friend's sleeve.
Betty sat down and, inviting her visitor to do likewise, she said:
"In my character as mistress of the house, I would wish to introduce
you, sir, to my friend Mistress Mary Jones, of Elm Cottage close by, but
have not the honour of being acquainted actually with your name, albeit
I have conjectured."
"My name is John Johnstone, madam," he replied. "I have but now become
the possessor of Belton, near Wancote."
"Our new neighbour," cried Mary.
"Yes, I claim that honour," continued Mr. Johnstone.
"We are vastly pleased to make your acquaintance," said Mary, thinking
with some pride that she could boast to her friends of already knowing
Mr. Johnstone acknowledged the compliment courteously, but he never took
his eyes off his young hostess, who appeared in them a miracle of grace
With the skill of a man of the world, he drew her into animated
conversation, gathering from her information respecting the country
round, the different meets of the hounds, the neighbours, the
tradespeople, the horses. Time slipped away almost unperceived, and
neither lady knew how it had sped, when Mr. Ives, mounted on his
handsome bay cob, rode up to the door.
Mr. Ives beheld with some surprise his daughter and her friend in full
converse with a stranger.
The scene was worthy of a Watteau's brush—the sun just sinking behind
the orchard trees gilding the edge of each leaf, shone on the dark red
of John Johnstone's dress, warmed the sombre hue of fair Betty's lincoln
green, and played on the blue and primrose of Mistress Mary's
flower-like costume. It was a fair picture, and no eye could rest on a
goodlier couple than the tall lithe young man, and the noble maiden.
"It was courteous of him to pay us one of the first, nay, the first of
his neighbourly visits," said the good parson, exchanging his tie-wig
for a comfortable flannel night-cap, when he was once more alone with
"Next time he comes I will reward him with some of our golden plums,"
said Betty gaily as she fixed her white teeth in the tender skin of one
that was lusciously ripe.
Mistress Mary to her maid described the newcomer thus:
"He is tall, Deborah, very tall; slight, but with shoulders of great
breadth, and a square neck—one would say that his strength was
herculean. His eyes are dark blue, his nose a trifle arched, brows thick
and square, a sweet mouth—a very sweet mouth—but wondrous stern all
the same. But his manners, Deborah, and his curling dark hair, just
slightly dashed with powder—his manners are perfect! his hair is
divine! Heigh-ho, Deborah!"
Up from the plains a steep road rose on the downs, a road so steep, so
dazzling white that it looked like a white thread hanging on a green
Betty Ives rode slowly up the hill, leaning slightly forward to ease her
horse as she did so. Though November had set in, the sun was still
powerful, and both horse and rider were a little oppressed by its heat.
Some very close observer might have seen a change in the girl's face—a
very slight change, something that deepened the expression of the lovely
eyes, something that played softly like the shadow of a great happiness
on the mobile lips. She was thinking, thinking deeply as she rode.
Folks said that Betty Ives was very hard to win. Ruth Thornton, the
squire's buxom daughter, would have given years of her life for one of
the passionate appeals young Robins had made so often to Betty in vain.
Lady Rachel Tremame had almost broken her heart when Betty, at the
Newbury ball, had so attracted Sir Harry Clare that he had no eyes for
other than her. Yet amid her many adorers, fair Betty, with the
carelessness of inexperience, passed unpitying and fancy free.
But now times were changed: fair Betty's heart was given away.
Yet John Johnstone had not found his courtship easy, it was long before
he made any way. He wooed proudly, and she took his subjection as due to
herself, and was not grateful for that which she deemed her right. But
the young man loved her the better for this, for he was one of those who
value most that which is hardest to gain.
Betty with her rein on her horse's neck was thinking, wondering how it
was that John Johnstone was always present to her mind, that her eyes
sought him in the hunting-field, that those evenings were dull and
lonely on which he did not come in for a chat with her father before
supper-time, and all the world fell flat, stale and unprofitable, during
various short absences of his, when he would disappear for three days
together and none knew whither he went.
Betty's horse had mounted the white hill at last, and now scoured
swiftly away over the springy turf on the wide downs.
For miles she passed no human habitation, then Betty reached her
Low in a hollow dip of the green grass sea nestled a small cottage. No
tree or bush within miles, the unbroken winds tore round it, the snow
often banked up against it; but the owner, one of Mr. Ives' pensioners,
appeared to care little for wind or weather.
As Betty rode up, she sent her clear ringing voice before her:
"Rachel! Rachel Ray!"
Then paused suddenly, for fastened by the bridle to a low post close to
the cottage door, she perceived a fine bay horse that she knew well. She
drew rein, swiftly debating within herself whether she should go on, or
draw back, then shaking back her proud little head she rode forward.
Betty feared nothing on earth; should she be scared by the odd feeling
in her heart that made it beat so fast and loud? A thousand times no.
Before she had reached the cottage, the door opened, and a small troop
of ragged children tumbled out to meet her, children with black elfin
locks, and eyes gleaming like live coals, showing wild gipsy blood.
Betty leapt from her horse, and called the eldest boy to her side.
"Here, Reuben," she said, "I will give you a silver penny if you hold
Conrad steadily, and like a good boy, while I visit your grandmother."
She opened the door with a slight knock and went in. An odd sight met
By the table stood the vigorous figure of old Rachel Ray, handsome yet,
with the dark gipsy characteristics of her grandchildren—before her
the tall fine figure of John Johnstone in full hunting scarlet, just
stooping in the act of giving her a kiss.
The old woman started, and pushed him aside when she saw Betty come in.
She advanced to meet her visitor, who stood during the space of a minute
without advancing, so great was her astonishment.
"You are surprised to see an old woman kiss her nursling," cried old
Rachel. "But it would be odd if he did not, bless his brave heart!"
"Not surprised at his kissing you, Dame Rachel," said Betty, a little
less steadily than usual. "But I did not know that you were acquainted,
I thought Mr. Johnstone was a stranger to this part of the world."
The old woman turned her eyes on the young man, eyes brimming with
burning tears, and with a look of entreaty in them.
John Johnstone gave a little impatient stamp of the foot.
It seemed to Betty watching them, that thus he gave a mute answer to
some mute question or entreaty made.
"Sit down, sit down, my pretty lady," said Rachel drawing forward and
dusting a chair. "You are welcome as flowers in May, or as the first
swallow that heralds the spring. Are you well, my bonnie dear? and the
good gentleman your father?"
"We are all well, dame. I am ashamed not to have been to see you for so
long, but I am glad that you have had other visitors," and she glanced
at Mr. Johnstone.
"We are old friends," he said with a smile of rare sweetness. "One of my
most faithful servants and friends was my foster-brother Harry Ray,
Rachel's eldest son."
"Aye, aye, was!" cried the woman, her voice rising to a kind of wail."
We speak of Hal Ray in the past now."
Johnstone bit his lip, and a bitter frown contracted his brow.
"Alas, is he dead, dame?" asked Betty tenderly.
"Aye, dear heart, dead, and his bones have no grave, and happen his
spirit no rest."
"This is terrible," said Betty with a shiver.
Mr. Johnstone moved restlessly to the window, and busied himself with
"I have often told you, good mother," he said, and his voice had in it
an odd mixture of grief and irritation, "that the less we dwell on these
things the better. Mistress Betty," he went on hurriedly, "Harry Ray
when he left my service, joined his fortunes with Wild Jack Barnstaple.
He had ill-luck, poor lad, he was taken and ... and hanged."
His mother uttered a shuddering cry.
"And by the road he must hang," she cried, "till the earth and the wild
winds have done their worst, and never a one to scare the wild birds
from the flesh of my boy!"
"Dear dame," said Betty earnestly, "the soul recks little of its earthly
"God rest his soul, he was a good fellow and brave," said Johnstone
"I also have seen Wild Jack," said Betty, willing to turn the poor woman
from her troubles.
"Seen him! seen Wild Jack?" cried she.
"Aye, seen him and been his prisoner; and say who will to the contrary,
I have reason to maintain that he is a true gentleman."
"Is it so?" said Mr. Johnstone, smiling. "A cut-throat, a robber, a
highwayman, a true gentleman?"
Betty gave him an indignant glance. "I speak of him as I found him," she
said. "And we of the country have always known how to distinguish
between common malefactors and the gentlemen of the road."
"So, so!" answered Johnstone, still smiling. "And yet both end too often
on Tyburn Hill."
Betty turned pale and shivered. It seemed as if she gasped for breath;
she turned her large eyes on her lover and said, "Ah, these matters are
far too serious for so grim a jest."
But her eyes were caught and arrested by the look which met them; so
long, so burning with passionate admiration and love, with a strange
expression of exaltation, almost gratitude. Betty's heart beat fast. He
had forced her to love him, and such maidens as Betty Ives when they
give love at last, give life itself. Dame Rachel glanced from one to
another, then she rose quickly, and from a dark corner of the room
produced a pack of cards. "Come, fair lady and noble gentleman," she
said, with a touch of the professional whine in her voice. "Will you
hear your fortunes? Cross the old gipsy's hand with silver, my pretty
dears, and you shall hear all the good things past, present, and future,
that may fall to your lot."
"Will you try?" said John Johnstone, bending forward.
The rosy colour rushed into Betty's cheek, the light shone in her eyes.
"I will try," she said, half laughing.
"Then all that is good we will believe, and all that is bad will cast to
the winds as false and untrue."
"Nothing can be bad in the future of faces like yours, dear hearts,"
said Rachel, rapidly shuffling the cards.
Some minutes passed, the gipsy busily and with growing discomfiture
turning the cards, trying them in every way—the two were silent.
Betty leant her head on her hand, shading her eyes from view, full of
shyness for the first time in her bold young life. John Johnstone gazed
on her with his soul in his eyes, and yet with a strange impatient
interest in the business that was going on.
Presently Rachel flung all the cards down with violence.
"I am losing the trick of the trade," she said, in a harsh, frightened
voice. "I am getting afraid of the cards, and when you are afraid of
them, they master you."
"Tut, tut!" said John kindly. "Do not blame yourself, good mother, if
they show not all the gilded coaches and six, and the lovely bride and
gay bridegroom you would fain have promised us."
"The combinations turn to evil—all evil. Pah! it is the old story. I
was afraid of the cards, and they have mastered me."
"Was there no warning conveyed in these strange combinations, Dame?"
asked Johnstone eagerly.
"I deal not in warnings," said Rachel hastily.
"Did I deal in warnings, the reading of the cards might prove useful to
"Come, come!" he said, "you speak in riddles. The warning. Is it the
same for this gentle lady as for my rough self?"
"Aye, aye, for both—both." She bent down, and laid a dark hand on the
shoulder of each, and peering into one face after another, she muttered:
"Beware of Wild Jack Barnstaple!"
Both started. John Johnstone flushed angrily: he rose to his feet.
"We have had enough of this fooling," he said. "The day is advancing,
madam," turning to Betty. "Will you vouchsafe me the extreme pleasure of
being your escort home?"
As Betty was about to answer, she was arrested by the sound of singing
outside, in a voice so wild, loud, and sweet, it seemed the very
embodiment of the music of Nature.
"Who is singing like that?" asked Betty. "How beautiful! and how
"It is Nora Ray, only our Nora, dear heart. Her voice is sweet as the
lark, and she sings old songs she gathers in the villages round."
"Hush, hush, listen!" cried Betty, and she stood with upraised hand
The air was in the minor key, the voice of the singer thrilled to the
very nerves, every word came distinctly to their ears.
"Aye, Margaret loved the fair gentleman,
Aye, well and well-a-day,
And the winter clouds gather wild and fast;
He loved, and he galloped away.
Aye, call him! call him over the lea,
Thou sad forsaken lass,
Never more he'll come back to thee
Over the wild green grass.
The swallows return from over the sea,
Aye, well and well-a-day;
But lover will never come back to thee
Who loves and gallops away.
Aye, call him! call him over the sea,
The winter is coming fast;
He waved his hat, he bowed full low
And smiled as he galloped past.
Aye, call him! call him over the lea,
Aye, well and well-a-day;
Lover will never come back to thee
Who loves and gallops away."
A strange shiver came over Betty Ives, a thrill such as she had never
experienced before. She glanced at Dame Rachel. The old woman was
nervously fingering the cards, and muttering to herself. Then her
frightened eyes turned to her lover; he read some appeal in them.
He held out his hand, and caught hers and pressed it for one short
second to his lips.
The door burst open, and the girl who had been singing came in; her
black hair was all blown back, the great black eyes staring out of the
small dark face. She drew her scanty cloak round her and laughed a
"Will you have your fortunes told, my good gentleman? my pretty lady?"
she cried. "Cross little Nora's palm with a silver sixpence then."
"No, no, we have had enough of that. Come, dear madam, we must be
going," said Johnstone, and he conducted Betty to the place where
Reuben, faithful to his trust, held the rein of her horse.
"Do not be so long without coming to see me again, dear heart," cried
Rachel Ray, standing outside her door.
"No, no, I will come soon," answered Betty. Johnstone placed her in the
"A good gallop over the downs will bring back the colour to your cheek,"
he said softly. "You are so white and cold."
"There is something ill-omened in all here," said Betty with a slight
"Here, Nora," cried Johnstone, flinging her a piece of gold. "This is to
make up for the loss of that silver sixpence."
The girl laughed loud and shrilly. "Ah! ah!" she cried after them. "The
good gentleman! the brave fellow! For this I would follow you! aye!
follow you, my lad, from Belton to Tyburn Hill!"
"It is then true, my Betty? And I am to wish you joy?" cried Mary Jones,
with both hands outstretched.
"It is true," answered Betty, her lips parted in a smile of sunshiny
happiness. "Congratulate me, Mary; yes, wish me joy, for there is no
happier woman to-day between the Northern and Southern seas."
"I am glad to see you so happy, dear child!" cried Mary affectionately,
but there was something pinched and starved in her voice. Ah, pity for
those who possess the capacity for love and yet must go hungry to their
This odd want is none the less bitter that it meets with scant sympathy
in this hard world. In the breast of many an unsought woman lies a
wealth of wasted treasure, treasure which no one has cared to seek, and
yet what a treasure it might have been!
Mary Jones's heart had grown somewhat starved, but it was the heart of a
loving woman still, and when the bright sunshine of her young friend's
happiness shed its light on her soul, it awakened an echo of old dead
days, and swelled it with sympathy.
"Sit down, sweet one," she said, drawing Betty down on the sofa beside
her. "Tell me all about it. When did he ask you to be his wife?"
"This morning, Mary, only this morning; but it seems as if years had
passed since then."
"And what says Mr. Ives? Does he welcome the stranger who takes from him
his only child?"
"Not far, Mary—but two miles away—and my father is always to live with
me, if he so will it, so says Mr. Johnstone."
"But is he pleased?" asked Mary, with a little persistence.
"Yes, he is well pleased; he already loves him as a son. Mary, perhaps
the thing that most readily won my heart was his reverence and tender
courtesy to my father."
"I can believe it, Betty. His manners are perfect. I was only making
that same remark to Deborah this morning. Yes, I knew only one other
whose manners could compare with your John Johnstone's, Betty—only
Mary Jones sighed deeply and looked down. Betty gently pressed her hand.
Hitherto she had always laughed at her friend's tender recollections;
now, it seemed to her that her eyes were opened to her former cruelty.
But Mistress Mary was too much interested to waste too much time even on
"You must tell me all, dear," she said. "What is his family? Has he
parents living, brothers and sisters? Is his fortune assured?"
"Ah, there is some little difficulty there," answered Betty, her face
falling a little. "He has no parents, no friends, no kindred; he is all
alone in the wide world. And as for his fortune, that is assured, but it
is somehow mysteriously bound up in trusts—I know not what—he has no
papers to show my father, he asks for perfect confidence."
Mistress Mary was a prudent woman. She pursed up her lips and uttered a
little sound expressive of discontent.
"Dear Betty," she said, "it is doubtless a very good thing to be in love
with a stranger romantically, but still—"
"He is no stranger," said Betty quickly.
"No, no, not to be called a stranger," cried Mary, laughing—"an old and
valued friend of two months' standing."
"The time is short," said Betty thoughtfully. "But a whole lifetime
seems to have passed in that space! My father," she cried, as Mr. Ives
entered the room, "here is Mistress Mary Jones."
"Come to offer my warmest good wishes," said the lady, "and also all the
assistance in my power when the important day approaches."
"I shall indeed be glad and grateful for your help," said Betty
Mr. Ives persuaded Mary to remain for supper. The candles were brought
in, and the room looked bright and cheery.
"Stay with me and cheer my loneliness," said the parson cheerily. "The
young folk will stroll in the garden till supper be ready. I am too old
for dewy twilight walks, egad."
Was it a new idea that flashed into Mary's mind that caused her to
start? She glanced at Mr. Ives' comely person, at his glossy cassock,
his smartly-buckled shoes, at the neat tie-wig which surmounted a face
which she hastily pronounced as handsome as it ever had been.
With a sweep of her fan Mistress Mary renounced her waning youth.
"Stay with you!" she cried, "that will I! and you and I from the window
will superintend our dear young ones. Alas!" she said, with a
languishing look, "how lonely the house will seem when you are bereft of
Mr. Ives sighed deeply.
Outside in the gloaming, Betty Ives and her young lover walked slowly
backwards and forwards under the orchard trees.
"No father, no mother, no sisters!" she said, looking up into his face.
"No one to love, no one to love you!"
"I do not know whether I am to be pitied," he answered with a light
laugh. "My life has been one of strange vicissitudes. No, no, sweet Bet;
I have often thanked God that no one shared my life."
"But you will never do so again," she said earnestly.
"Sweetheart!" he answered. "Until you have once drunk of the cup of
happiness you know not what it is; but once tasted, you can ill spare it
"Ah, some day you will tell me about this life of yours—will you not?"
"Some day, my heart, when you and I are alone together in the fair woods
of Belton—when you are my precious wife, and when days have passed on,
and our full trust and confidence each in the other is proved and
strengthened by time. But not now, beloved, not now."
"Have you known griefs, sorrows?"
"Yes, and triumphs often."
Betty bent down her head thoughtfully; fain would she have swept away
the veil of mystery which surrounded her betrothed, but she would take
no step to do so—no confidence was precious save that which was given
The twilight gathered softly. Presently Betty turned round, and placed
her two clasped hands on his arm, her noble head proudly raised, her
large eyes seeking his.
"Look you," she said, "there is something I would wish to say to you.
You and I are to be man and wife—and I have accepted you—I know
nothing of you, John—I know not whence you come, or from among what
kinsfolk; I have taken all on trust. I love you, John, so I fear not.
They say that perfect love casteth out fear. There can be no dark
secret in your life, no deed or deeds that you shame to disclose to me.
I take you with infinite faith. So tell me what you will, dear, or as
much as you will. My heart will give you gratitude for the confidence
you give to me, and, John, my love shall cover your silence."
With a sudden impulse John Johnstone was down on his knees, he pressed
her hands to his lips with a passion akin to worship.
"My life, my love!" he cried—"my whole life shall be devoted to
rewarding your trust in me. Oh, would to God I were more worthy of you!"
Within the house Mistress Mary and Mr. Ives were very comfortable: they
played a game of patience together (in which the former was a great
proficient), they chatted, they waxed confidential, and not till Dame
Martha summoned them to sup, did they perceive the lapse of time. Mr.
Ives called from the window, and the betrothed pair came in, their eyes
shining and dazzled by the bright light.
Matters went on happily thus for many days—it seemed that the course of
true love was to run very smooth—when one evening a little incident
occurred that startled all.
The little party of four were dining together, as they generally did.
Mr. Ives was in a merry mood: he poured out a glass of good red wine,
wine that was not often brought forth from the depth of his cellar; he
bade John Johnstone fill up his glass, and as each gentleman raised it
brimming to his lips, pledged "His sacred Majesty, good King George."
With a sharp rattle John Johnstone's glass crashed untasted on the
table, and the red wine splashed like blood on the white napery.
The parson looked at him, and the colour forsook his cheek.
Mistress Mary glanced tremulously from one to another, and half rose in
The colour flushed high in Betty Ives' cheek. "Was this then the
The absent king held all her sympathies.
Mr. Ives moved back his chair from the table, and said somewhat
"Good sir, I am a man of peace. I love order and a strong government.
Can I hazard my daughter by—"
Now, strangely enough, Mary Jones came to the rescue.
"Sirs," she said, "allow me to make a proposition; it is this, that not
one of us breathe a word elsewhere of what has happened tonight. For
heaven's sake say nothing, keep all dark, and on this understanding,"
she stooped forward and daintily raised her own glass, "I also pledge
his Majesty over the sea."
But Mr. Ives did not recover his spirits that night: presentiments of
evil haunted him, misgivings that he had not done wisely by his darling.
When the small hours of the morning struck he still lay awake, tossing
restlessly to and fro.
The days passed on, and now all the world lay under a pall of white
snow. Under their dazzling mantle gleamed the dark prickly leaves of the
holly-trees with abundance of scarlet berries. Here and there a little
robin-redbreast hopped to and fro, chiefly gathering round the latticed
windows of the parsonage, where morning and evening Betty fed hundreds
of feathered pensioners.
Sportsmen cursed the hard weather, the idle horses restlessly moved in
their stalls, and the hounds dreamed dreams to pass away the long hours.
Betty was never idle. She made it her pride that when she left home as a
bride all should be found in order in her father's home. Mistress Mary
took much interest in it herself, and joined her in mending and marking
and sorting fine household linen that had need of much care.
Betty's own clothes were in course of manufacture, not many but rich, as
should become the Lady of Belton; above all, her wedding-gown of
dove-coloured and silver brocade, all trimmed with strings and strings
of orient pearls which John Johnstone had brought her one day.
He gave her many jewels but she loved the pearls best, for they were his
first gift, and destined, he said, for that day of days that was to make
her his own forever.
Almost every day as the time passed on, he brought her a new gift. Once
it was a pretty little dog, another day a ring of large rubies.
"My Betty herself is a ruby," he said, when he placed this on her hand.
"A brave stone rich in colour, strong, unchanging, and the most precious
Then there was nothing for it, but that she and her father should come
to Belton to look over Betty's future home, suggest improvements, and
choose among Mr. Johnstone's many fine horses one to be trained for his
bride's special use. She was a bold fearless rider, looking beautiful on
horseback, and she had scorned his proposal to buy her a gentle lady's
horse, expressing her wish to be allowed to ride his hunters. With one
or two exceptions John offered her the choice.
It was a brilliant frosty day on which the invitation was accepted. Mr.
Ives laughingly included Mary Jones in the little party, asserting that
two and two would be a fairer division of company.
Mary bridled and blushed and threw a tender glance at him from behind
her fan, and the parson thought to himself that after all he was not old
In every life there is perhaps one day that stands out from the others
as the happiest day—one day in which the cup of joy seems full to the
brim; it is not generally a day of powerful emotions, but of unbroken
peace, sunshine, love, sweetness and the glory of life.
Such a day had dawned for fair Betty Ives. It was not so unbroken for
her betrothed: now and then a look of care overcast his brow, and now
and then his hands clenched themselves with a slight nervous movement.
All through the day he paid her a courtship so tender, so deferential,
so loving, it might have been a votary addressing his saint, a courtier
waiting on his queen; and as the hour advanced, and the time of
departure drew near, his attentions became yet more tender, more
They visited the horses and the dogs, gave bread to the shy young
gazelle that John was endeavouring to tame, to offer to his bride. Then
he suddenly drew her aside, and while Mr. Ives and Mary Jones strolled
onwards to the garden, he took a key from his pocket, and unlocked the
door of a loose box which he had passed by hitherto.
"Here lives my best treasure, sweetheart," he said. "You must travel
far, and look wide, ere you meet with his match."
Betty looked in, and her eyes fell on a magnificent white horse. It
would have needed an experienced eye fully to appreciate the strength
and symmetry of its proportions; to Betty he looked beautiful, and words
failed to describe her admiration.
"Strange that I have never chanced to see you ride him," she said. "I
recognised at once the brown mare and the two chestnuts, and the bay
with a white star, but this one I have never seen."
"No, I never hunt Seagull," he answered thoughtfully. "I owe him my life
not once, but over and over again."
"Seagull!" exclaimed Betty. "Is not that the name of Wild Jack's famous
"Yes, he was named after him. I bethought myself that my Seagull was as
noble an animal as Wild Jack's."
"I am sure that he has not his equal in the wide world!" cried Betty.
John Johnstone turned suddenly to her and said: "Do you still keep up
your interest in that poor sinner Wild Jack, sweet Bet? or has it died
away in your gentle breast?"
"I shall never forget our first, and (heaven grant) our last interview,"
she answered with a smile. "How he justified my trust in him!"
"Poor Jack," said John Johnstone thoughtfully. "I knew Jack well once;
you were right to have faith in him. He has done good service to the
Cause. Look you, dear, he never took purse or papers on the king's
highway, but in the king's name who is over the seas; he never injured
woman or shot an unnecessary shot—keep your sympathy with Jack. And
now," he said, throwing back his head with an odd look of defiance and
pride—"now there is a reward of five hundred pounds offered for Wild
Jack's body living or dead. They place a high price on the head of one,
whom, to his honour, they dub traitor as well as highwayman!"
"Five hundred pounds," said Betty. "Alas! the reward is tempting."
"He has escaped so often from their very midst, has more than once been
prisoner, has often baffled his swiftest pursuers. Next time Wild Jack
is taken, his shrift will be short, I warrant."
The tears rose to Betty's eyes.
"God grant him a safe escape to France," she said earnestly.
"It is a good and a charitable wish, sweetheart," said John somewhat
gloomily. "But men who have lived as Wild Jack has lived, dread, exile
as much as death."
"Surely," said Betty, "that depends upon whether he is utterly
friendless, or has any who love him."
"Wild Jack is not utterly friendless," he answered with a grave sweet
"And this also is one of the mysteries," said Betty gaily. "Do not
forget your promise, that some day you will tell me all the past history
of your life, and also, above all, the story of your acquaintance with
the most famous gentleman of the road."
"Aye, some day," he said, closing the door of Seagull's home, and
placing the key in his pocket.
As they turned away he said suddenly: "Say nothing about my treasure in
there, dear Bet, I beg of you, neither to your father nor to Mistress
Betty looked up at him somewhat surprised.
"Oh, it is for a trifling reason," he said—"a mere wager."
So the matter faded from her mind.
The elders of the little party now summoned them—the evening was
closing, it was time to be going home.
They were all to ride, Mary on a pillion behind Mr. Ives.
While the horses were being saddled, Mr. Johnstone prayed them to come
in, and they entered once more the large drawing-room, and gathered
round a cheerfully blazing fire.
It was a stately room, with handsome furniture, all arranged with stiff
propriety, needing the trifling signs of a woman's presence to give
grace and life to its appearance.
"How different it will look when my lady reigns here," said John
Johnstone softly. He led her away to one of the windows, and pointed out
to her the beauties of the fair English landscape, and there unseen he
held her hand in both his, and once pressed it to his lips. Tea came in,
in cups of delicate old china, and home-made cakes and fresh butter.
"We must have a dairy fit for your superintendence, sweet Bet," said
John Johnstone. "See how pale is this butter, how thin this cream
compared to what you offer me at the parsonage."
The horses came round at last, Mr. Johnstone's bay mare with them; he
would certainly accompany them home.
Indeed it seemed as if this evening he could not tear himself away, he
lingered on and on, and it grew quite dark, and the moon rose over the
snow, and the stars shone out one by one.
Supper was over, Mistress Mary long since gone home. It was nine
o'clock—Mr. Johnstone must go. Mr. Ives sat quiet in his deep chair,
the warmth and the comfort entered into his soul, and he slept.
"Come with me to the door, sweet Bet," said John lingeringly.
"Yes, even farther than that," she said, and she caught up her fur
cloak, threw it round her, and followed him out to the garden gate. The
crisp snow crackled pleasantly under foot.
Old Isaac, who held the bay mare, left them when he had given the bridle
into her master's hand.
"They will be wishing to kiss, mayhap," he muttered to himself, "and
I'll not stand in their way, God bless them!"
John Johnstone mounted. He looked up to the sky and said, "It is later
than I thought. I have a long ride before me to-night, sweetheart. I
have business near Newbury. I had meant to go home and change the bay
mare for my faithful Seagull, but it is too late."
"When shall you be back?" asked Betty, who was used now to his sudden
"To-morrow—to-morrow at latest, and my first halt shall be here."
"Are you armed?"
He gave a laugh, and pointed to his saddle, well garnished with pistols.
"They are loaded," he said. "For it might fall out that I should meet
with Wild Jack."
"Heaven forbid!" said Betty with a shiver.
"You are cold, sweetheart, you must go in. We must part. Oh! it is
bitter to say farewell."
"Only till to-morrow, John! Only till to-morrow!"
"Only till to-morrow!" he echoed.
Then he bent down, put his hand under her chin and raised her sweet
face—the moon shone on it, on the large eyes lovingly turned to his, on
the wondering tender look, in which joy and pain seemed strangely
Their lips met, one long wild kiss—for the first time she heard his
passionate words, "My own, my beloved!" Then he drew up his reins. John
gave one glance at the moon, and noted how she mounted heaven's
arch—then he looked back no more, but set spurs to the bay mare's
flanks, and galloped away.
Betty went home; she lay down to rest with a smile on her beautiful
face. The happiest day must end when night falls.
When evening fell the next day, Betty lingered long at the gate.
"He could not get his business done in time," she said to herself. "He
will not come to-day."
But the next day passed also, and the next, and still John Johnstone had
not come home.
On the fourth day Mr. Ives rode into Wancote to hear the news, and
promised his daughter that he would go over to Belton, and find out from
the servants whether they had had any news of their master, and when
they expected him to return.
Mary Jones came over to the parsonage—it was an important day, for
Betty was to try on her wedding-gown, finished the night before.
She looked very beautiful in it, the soft colour flushing on her cheek,
her sweet eyes shining. When the little ceremony was over, Betty put her
arm round the waist of her friend, and led her away out of earshot of
busy Dame Martha, and the smart dressmakers.
"Dear Mary!" she said, "my great wish now is to see you don just such a
dress as this wedding-gown of mine."
"Oh la! Betty, bethink you of my age," cried Mary, but tears of genuine
emotion rose to her eyes.
"Yet would I fain see you my father's wife," said Betty. She put her
hands on her shoulders, and looked down from her greater height into her
"Say yes, Mary, say yes," she said.
"I must wait till the right person asks me that question," answered
Mary, half sobbing, half laughing; but Betty persisted:
"Say yes, Mary dear!"
"Well then yes, if so it must be," answered Mary. "You are a good girl,
Betty," and she kissed her warmly, and hurried away to the glass to
rearrange her elaborate curls of hair.
Mr. Ives came home full of excitement: he had heard great news in
Wancote, the whole town was ringing with it.
"What do you think has happened?" he cried as he came into the room.
"Has John come home?" asked Betty eagerly.
"No, child, and the servants say that they never expect him until he
appears, he is often away like this for a few days. The news is quite
otherwise—Wild Jack has been taken."
"Ah!" cried the women in a breath, and Betty turned white as a sheet.
"What will they do with him!" asked Mary.
"He was taken on the king's highway, some twenty miles from here on the
Newbury Road, on the cross roads where the steep way comes down from the
downs. It seems that an important paper had fallen into the possession
of some individual here, convicting many well-known gentlemen about
Wancote of loyalty to him that is over the sea, and Sir Harry Clare was
to carry the paper to Newbury to-night. I warrant some not very distant
friends of ours were shaking in their shoes."
"They rode four together and all well-armed; but Wild Jack was too much
for them—he and two others attacked the party; he seized the paper
himself, after a short encounter with young Clare, whose horse he shot
dead. That accomplished, all made off. The paper was lost. Some say Wild
Jack burnt it as he rode, some that he swallowed it, some that he tore
and scattered it to the four winds of heaven. Then, when in full flight,
his horse stumbled and fell, and the four gentlemen came up with him.
Entangled as he was by the fallen horse, he fought and kept all at bay
with his marvellous fencing powers till his men were far out of sight.
Then he broke his sword across his knee, saying that never should his
trusty weapon fall into the hands of the king's enemies. He was badly
"Well?" cried Mary breathlessly. Betty sat down, she felt cold and
"Well, they took him that night to the nearest village, bound hand and
foot. At first they hardly knew the value of their captive, for he was
not riding his famous horse Seagull; had he been mounted as usual, small
chance would they have had of capturing Wild Jack. There was a hasty
assembly of magistrates, such as could be induced to come. I warrant
some would have died sooner than join in what followed. They caused a
gallows to be erected forty feet high on the king's high road, and there
they hanged Wild Jack."
"God rest his soul," said Betty. "John will be sorry indeed, as sorry as
"Yes, John always has a certain sympathy with the gentlemen of the
road," said Mr. Ives. "But after all, order must be kept, the roads must
be made safe. I know the government will be sorely displeased that the
list of suspected gentlemen has been saved, I mean lost."
It was too late, and all were too much excited by what had passed for
Betty to broach the subject of marriage to her father that night, but
she promised herself to do so early on the following morning.
It was very cold, and Betty could not sleep; in vain she turned from
side to side, in vain she drank water and paced her room, and tried all
the devices known to the sleepless—all was fruitless; her pillow seemed
to her on fire, and incessantly in her imagination she heard the
galloping of horses so vividly, that she rose several times and went to
the window; but the night was clear, and the moon bright, and all over
the country lay one sheet of untrodden snow.
She lay down once more, and about three o'clock was roused suddenly by a
light tap, as of something which hit her window.
She went to it hastily, and as she did so, another light pebble hit the
panes. She opened the casement and looked out. Below in the garden in
the moonlight, which was almost as light as day, she saw standing a
slight woman's figure.
The figure held up a warning hand to be silent and come down.
Betty was bold and fearless, she put on her clothes hastily, and went
down. She went into the garden at once, and looked cautiously round.
There was no one to be seen at first.
She waited in some amazement, when suddenly she felt a light touch on
her shoulder, and looking round, saw standing beside her Nora Ray, the
young gipsy girl, looking more wild and elf-like than usual.
"Hist!" said the strange child. "I have brought you a token from one
whom you know so well. His day is over," she cried with a wild grin,
showing all her white teeth. "The ravens are feasting on Wild Jack's
tender flesh to-night. See here is the token; he gave it to me at the
foot of the gallows with his own hand."
With a sob Betty took it from the girl's brown hand—her own little
serpent-ring that he had taken from her that night that seemed so long
"It shall never again leave my finger," she said. "God rest his soul."
"You will cross the poor gipsy's hand with silver, pretty lady," cried
Nora. "He never failed to do so to poor Nora Ray, not he!"
Betty quickly went into the house, gave her money, and let her out of
the gate—the wild creature had come in over the wall—then she went
slowly up to her room.
She leant out of the open window, her brow burning in spite of the cold.
Suddenly came on her ear the wild sound of Nora's singing, with its
strange pathos like the sighing of the wind, or the cry of storm-tossed
Betty clasped her hands, and sank on her knees, the sound made her
shudder from head to foot. She stopped her ears with trembling fingers,
but yet every word fell on them distinctly and would not be shut out.
"Aye, call him, call him over the lea,
Aye, well and well-a-day;
Lover will never come back to thee
Who loves and gallops away."
"How pale you are this morning, my child," said Mr. Ives to his
"It is nothing. I have had a feverish night; the story of the fate of my
poor friend haunted me," she answered. She could not eat, the cold had
chilled her blood, and now and then she shivered painfully.
Betty sought her opportunity in spite of her bodily discomforts, and
fondly caressing her father's hands she knelt down by his chair.
"Father," she said. "Dear father, you know that very soon I am going to
leave you, to be married to my own true love. Our wedding-day is fixed,
but I dare say he will not be back much before then. Do you think he
will? Oh no, probably not."
"Why, child, to be sure he will! He will be back in a few days at the
outside. Why, silly child, you will make a poor wife if you fret always
when your husband is from home."
"But I do not fret. I am perfectly satisfied. Listen, dear father: when
I am married and gone away with my dear love, you will look round you
and see only my empty place, no hand to hold yours, no voice to welcome
you, no music to cheer you, no child to love you."
"Betty," cried Mr. Ives with a sob, "why do you show me so dismal a
picture? It is bad enough already."
"I have a good reason, dear father," she said. "You see I am going so
soon. I should leave you with so much lighter a heart were Mary here to
take my place. She is kind and good, and true, and would love you
Mr. Ives laughed a little.
"Mistress Mary is somewhat old to replace my daughter," he said.
"Then the more suited to be your wife."
Mr. Ives rose to his feet, and paced up and down the room. Suddenly he
stopped, and catching his daughter's hands, looked her full in the face.
"Would she have me, my Bet?" he said. "I may not be too old to wed, but
I am vastly too old to woo."
"She will have you, father," answered Betty. "And you will be quite
happy when I am gone."
So all was settled, and the elderly pair pledged to each other. The
banns were asked in church that their marriage might take place at once
when John Johnstone should take his bride away.
Days passed on, days lengthened into weeks, the wedding-day drew near,
and the bridegroom came not.
All Betty's high courage came back, the frost melted away, and the
country was open again, and once more she rode to hounds. Her colour was
high, her lips feverishly scarlet, her eyes large and brilliant. She
rode with the best, and came home with the brush at her pommel.
"Why do they look at me so strangely, father?" she asked. "Old Squire
Thornton, when he welcomed my return to the hunt, held my hand a whole
minute in his, and it was as if he were about to speak, for he swallowed
once or twice and then turned away. And Doctor Glebe would not speak to
me at all, and his face was set as a mask, though I saw that he was
watching me strangely all the time. Have I changed? Am I not the same
Betty I used to be?"
"The same, only a little thinner, my darling," her father answered, and
his eyes filled with tears.
He too had grown curiously sad of late, and followed his daughter with
"Father," she said one day, "to-morrow you know is our wedding-day. John
will come home, he must return to-night. I know that he will. I shall
wait up till the clock strikes twelve, but if he does not come (and of
course no one can tell how long business may detain him, can they?), one
thing, dear father: will you take Mary to church, even though I should
not be there, and marry her? She might wear my wedding-gown. To please
me, father, to please me?"
"Anything, anything to please you, my own child," said Mr. Ives in a
All day Betty wandered in the garden; they watched her wistfully, her
head was raised, always listening—listening to every sound.
The hours passed, evening came, the night fell. Betty had thrown wide
the casement. Her father and Mary Jones, crouching over the fire, had no
heart to speak to her, or warn her that the night was cold.
A wild stormy wind swayed the branches of the apple-trees, surging and
roaring as it rushed over the downs; the candles flickered and burned
low, and from them dropped those strange waxen off-shoots that old women
At last the church-bell struck twelve, slowly, awfully.
Betty was listening still, her head raised, her finger on her lip.
"Hush!" she said, with a strange smile. "Do you hear the white horse's
They listened. Distinctly on the ear came the sound of a horse
galloping, coming nearer and nearer, passing the door, on and on without
pause, the sound of the hoofs growing faint and fainter till lost in the
Betty held out her arms. "Mary!" she said. "Mary!" Her voice was a
strange harsh whisper, out of which all tone had passed. "Mary, he
After the lapse of another three days, it was determined that there
should be no further delay of the marriage, and one morning without pomp
or parade of any kind, Mr. Ives took his bride into Wancote, and they
returned home man and wife.
The only wedding-guest was the parson's old friend Dr. Glebe, and he
returned with them to the parsonage because he had a few serious words
that he wished to say there.
He took Mr. Ives aside, and said abruptly, "Are you mad, Ives? Do you
wish to lose that peerless daughter of yours? I warn you that you will
do so, if you are not more watchful."
"I would give my life for hers," answered her father sorrowfully. "And
so would Mary, who loves her dearly, but alas! what can we do? We cannot
bring back John Johnstone."
"You must send her away at once. She must have change of air and scene.
At once, mark you, without an hour's unnecessary delay."
"You think it will do her good?"
"I think it the one chance of escaping fatal mischief. See, I have a
plan to propose. Why not send her to Newbury to her aunt? She is a
sensible woman, and the house is full of children—they will rouse her."
"I will take her myself," cried Mr. Ives.
"Nay, nay, that would defeat my object. I want absolute change for her,
change of thought, scene, companions."
"But how manage it, if I may not go myself?"
"Squire Thornton rides to Newbury tomorrow with Sir Harry Clare, and he
will willingly be her protector."
"Yes, it will do Betty good to ride, and old Isaac can follow with a
valise full of clothes."
"Tomorrow did you say?"
"Tomorrow at daybreak."
"It shall be done. God grant that it may do her good."
The following morning, with many a tear and many a blessing Mr. Ives and
his wife started Betty on her way.
She made no resistance, passively assented to all they wished. When she
was once more in the saddle, her spirits rose feverishly again.
Sir Harry Clare, riding by her side, felt the old fascination stealing
over him again, the fascination that had well nigh broken Lady Rachel's
heart at Newbury last year. Squire Thornton saw her bright color, and
heard the old lively talk as of old, and thought how that time cures all
things, and that perhaps in the days to come, his son might have a
chance at last.
About half way on their journey the little party was joined by two
gentlemen who reached the highway by a cross-road; they lived far from
the Wancote neighbourhood. The one Sir James Templemore, the other Mr.
Squire Thornton was glad to meet with friends so rarely encountered;
they had secrets together mayhap. They saluted each other cordially,
their greeting of Sir Harry Clare was more cold.
It was a gloomy windy day, and after the midday halt to bait their
horses, the weather grew worse, a cold violent wind blew in their faces,
now and then a driving shower of rain.
"Are you tired, Mistress Betty?" asked the squire.
"No, no, I enjoy the free fresh air, it gives me new life."
"That is well," he said, riding on well pleased.
The two cavaliers who attended Betty on each side were the new arrivals,
both of whom appeared much struck by her exceeding beauty.
Now it seemed almost as if they entered into a cloud, so dark it became,
so blinded were they by wind and a fresh storm of cold fine rain. The
horses grew subdued, they whinnied and held down their tails tightly. It
was very cold.
They moved into a short trot, but pulled up soon, breathless.
The rain ceased as suddenly as it had begun, and now Betty became aware
of some tall dark object looming in front of her, only as yet half
visible. The wind howled past, and distinctly she heard a sort of
clanking noise, as of chains or the rattling of something hard clanking
"Let us ride on, let us ride fast." cried Squire Thornton in his loud
hearty voice. As he spoke there was a whirr of loud wings, and a dark
cloud of foul birds rose into the air from off that dark thing.
Betty put out her hand and laid it on Sir James Templemore's arm.
"What is it?" she said in a ghastly whisper.
"Ah, a sad sight indeed," said he sadly. "There hangs as noble a
gentleman as ever drew sword for the king, God bless him."
"Who is it?" she asked again; the whisper came hissing forth.
"Who? God rest his soul, he had many names. He was Wild Jack Barnstaple,
alias John Johnstone of Belton, alias Daredevil Jack of the North."
"For the sake of all that is sacred, hold your tongue!" shouted the
squire, who had caught the last words.
He was too late. With a wild hoarse cry that none who heard it ever
forgot, Betty flung wide her arms, and fell back on her saddle. The
terrified horse galloped furiously forward, throwing her from side to
side, then violently to the ground at the foot of the gallows.
In horror the gentlemen surrounded her, and raised her inanimate form
But it was long and very late before they could get her home.
After long hours her body awoke to life, but her brain was gone.
Heartbroken, mind gone, in very sooth mad, what remained for sweet Betty
Travellers passing by would point to the parsonage wall, and
sorrowfully tell her story. Some more curious than the rest would
perhaps stop to look through the gate.
A strange sight met their eyes.
As beautiful as ever, with a strange fearful beauty, stood Betty, her
hands hanging clasped before her, and she sang to herself softly,
"Call him, call him over the lea,
Aye, well and well-a-day;
Lover will never come back to thee
Who loves and gallops away."
Then she put her hands to her mouth as men do who wish that their voices
should carry far, and called over and over again slowly, "John
Johnstone! John Johnstone!"—the last syllable rising loud on a long
Then she would hold up her finger, and bend her head listening,
listening, listening, till she heard the sound of the galloping hoofs
come nearer and nearer, passing and fading away.
Those who watched with her in the dark evenings in the walled garden
swore that they also heard the sound, and their hair bristled with cold
"He is a very strange mixture."
"I really do not think you ought to ask him to the house. An atheist, a
man of disreputable life, a----."
"Come, come, my dear, don't give him such a character, before Virginia."
This fragment of dialogue takes place over a cheery breakfast table in a
house not very far from Park Lane.
The first speaker is a pleasant-looking man of between fifty and sixty,
and his interlocutor is a rather prim lady, who appears older, but is,
in reality, his junior by two years. They are Mr. Hamilton Hayward and
his sister, Miss Susan.
The party has a third member—the Virginia alluded to by Mr. Hayward.
She is tall, handsome, bright-looking; evidently she possesses
character, but with it the grace and charm of manner which prevent a
woman of character from falling into that disagreeable being, a
"What are Mr. Vansittart's good points?" she says, smiling at her
"He has the kindest heart in the world," Mr. Hayward replies, warmly,
"and he would never do a shabby thing. One of the few men who really
practice not letting their left hand know the good their right does. He
certainly is a looseish fish; but he does not parade his irregularities
before the world—the world need not know anything about them if it does
not insist on prying into his affairs. The greatest grudge women have
against him is that he is mortally opposed to marriage, and carries on a
crusade against it as though he were St. George, and matrimony the
Dragon. He says if you want to make two people hate each other who would
otherwise be disposed to love—"
"Hush! my dear Hamilton," cries Miss Susan, horrified. "Pray spare us a
repetition of Mr. Vansittart's iniquitous opinions."
"I suppose," laughs Virginia, "that women don't insist on marrying him
by force, do they?"
"A great many would be very glad to have him," rejoins Mr. Hamilton, "he
is a tremendously taking fellow."
"And have you really asked him to dinner?" interposes Miss Susan.
"I have, indeed, my dear, and I had a good deal of difficulty in
persuading him to come. He persisted that he went so little into
society—into ladies' society."
Miss Susan gave a little snort.
"He has no right to go into it at all with the views he holds; and,
pray, whom is he to take in to dinner?"
"Mrs. Ashton, I thought," answers Mr. Hamilton. "I am afraid he would be
bored with an unmarried lady."
"When I was young," says Miss Susan, bridling, "married women were as
modest and particular in their conversation as unmarried ones."
"Ah!" observes her brother dryly.
"Uncle," cries Virginia, "let him take me. If he is original, I shall be
sure to like him; and as I don't intend to marry, he need not be afraid
of my having designs on him. I shall give him a hint whilst he is eating
his soup that I have made a vow to coiffer Ste. Catherine."
"Virginia!" remonstrates Miss Susan; "and you know Sir Harry Hotspur is
to take you."
"No, no," cries Virginia, "he bores me to distraction. Besides,"
laughing, "he 'goes for married women.' Let him have Mrs. Ashton, and
give me Mr. Vansittart."
Miss Susan has one virtue, which is, that she is never quite so shocked
as she pretends to be. Moreover, Virginia always gets her way with both
uncle and aunt. So when the evening of the dinner party arrives, Mr.
Hayward brings Mr. Vansittart up to his niece and introduces him. Whilst
he is uttering a few of those banalités which must inevitably be the
precursors of even the most interesting conversation between two
strangers, Virginia is taking an inventory of him. He is tall, rather
dark than fair; his features are well cut, and he has particularly
expressive eyes, the color of which it takes her some time to decide
about. At the same moment he is saying to himself: "What sort of woman
is this, and what on earth shall I talk to her about? I hope to heaven
she isn't a girl of the period. She doesn't look like it—still less
like a prude. How I hate a society dinner! I suppose I shall be bored to
death, as usual."
True to her promise, Virginia apprises him, whilst he yet is
assimilating his soup, of her vow of celibacy. He turns to look at her,
being just a shade surprised at receiving such a confidence so early in
their acquaintance, and then he sees the archest smile curving the
corners of her mouth, and meets a glance from a pair of brown eyes that
he now perceives to be beautiful.
Mr. Vansittart has a quick intelligence—he understands in an instant
the object of her remark. His eyes light up with a sudden gleam, and he
murmurs quietly, "Thanks so much for putting me at my ease."
From that moment they are perfectly at home with each other, and fall to
animated talk. He does not air his theories about marriage, nor is
religion discussed between them, but there are plenty of other topics,
and they become aware of a dozen feelings and sympathies in common.
Virginia is as bright and witty as she is modest and pure-minded; there
is nothing in the world that Mr. Vansittart detests so much as a coarse
or immodest lady. So charmed is he with Virginia, that he remains
close to her side the whole evening, to the surprise of every one else.
No one ever saw him devote himself to a girl before. He stays until the
very last. As he walks away from the door, after lighting his cigar, he
reflects to himself: "If any earthly power could induce me to marry, it
would be a girl like that. But," resolutely, "nothing could." As
Virginia wends her way upstairs to bed, she says to herself with a heavy
sigh, "Why should he abuse marriage? How happy he might make some
Virginia is the daughter of a clergyman. Father and mother are both
dead. She has a brother in the army, and a sister married to a country
rector. Her uncle, Mr. Hayward, has adopted her. She is clever and
accomplished. She has both passion and imagination. Some of her ideas
are original; she hates common-placeness, but she is also imbued with
the attribute possessed by every charming woman, the love of
approbation. This prevents her doing or saying anything outre or
unconventional; this makes her careful of her appearance and fond of
fair apparel; this makes the evidence of admiration from the other sex
exceedingly agreeable to her; this causes her to adopt a manner towards
them that induces jealous women to call her a coquette. She has had
several offers of marriage, but she entertains peculiar ideas about the
strength of passion and the sympathy of thought a man and woman ought
to feel for each other before they decide to spend a life-time together.
She does not think a man who has a good income, and who is simply not
repulsive or abhorrent to her, a sufficient inducement.
The days wear on. Virginia does not forget Mr. Vansittart any more than
he forgets her, but he weighs more on her heart than she does on his,
for, happy man! he is perpetually occupied, being a barrister with a
considerable practice, whilst she is an idle woman as the well-to-do of
her sex mostly are. If she goes to balls or dances, she is always
contrasting every man, with whom she talks or dances, with him; if she
works at her embroidery, her thoughts are intent on him; if she reads, a
hero of her own ousts the hero of the novel from her brain; if she
sings, her voice is moved to strong pathos; her eyes become drowned by
that strange passion which consumes her. Days and weeks pass by; and she
does not catch a glimpse of him; does not even hear his name. She sees
it frequently in the Times. One Sunday afternoon, she and her uncle
strolling in the Park meet him. He lifts his hat, and is about to pass,
when something that her eyes have communicated to his heart, stops him
suddenly. He turns and joins them. It is a delicious summer afternoon:
they take chairs under the big trees which shade this cool green spot.
Presently a crony joins Mr. Hayward—soon the elder pair are deep in the
cause célèbre of the day. Virginia and Mr. Vansittart have forgotten
that other people exist in the world—the topics of their conversation
are ordinary enough, but it is not from them that a subtle delight
steals through their veins. What they heed is the language of each
other's eyes. His say—"You fulfil my idea of perfect womanhood. I could
love you with all my heart, with all my soul, with all my strength. I
respect you with my purest feelings; I love you with my strongest
passions; I would to God I could shake off my doubts about marriage. But
I know that if I married you, inexorable Destiny would no longer let
us love one another."
And her eyes reiterate one little sentence, "You are my lord, my master,
and I am your slave."
It was one of the very strongest cases of love at first sight. Such
cases are more common, however, than people affect to think.
"Come home and dine with us," says Mr. Hayward, as a distant clock
"I'm afraid I have not time to dress," replies Philip Vansittart; "that
is if you dine at half past seven, as I have heard you say you do."
"Never mind about dress," answers Mr. Hayward. "I won't dress either."
He has no designs on his guest, but he is a good-natured gentleman, and
he sees that these two are attracted toward each other.
Miss Susan is at church. If her brother will dine at his usual hour on
Sunday, she cannot help it, but she will not countenance him by her
Philip Vansittart thinks he has never spent such a divinely happy
evening as this. Virginia sings to him; her voice thrills to his very
soul. Mr. Hamilton is asleep in the next room. As for Virginia, when she
is alone, she first smiles a happy, triumphant smile, because she knows
he loves her, and then she bursts into a passion of tears and sobs until
her whole frame is convulsed. If his mind is really set against
marriage, what will become of her! She feels as though life without him
must be one long night of despair.
Philip Vansittart paces his room until the small hours, thinking of this
charming, lovable creature, who inspires stronger, deeper sensations in
him than he has ever felt before. He tells himself, without vanity or
self-deception, that what he feels for her, with that difference which
governs the loves of men and women, she feels for him—heart has gone
out to heart, nay, they are twain halves of a perfect heart. It is but
for him to stretch out his hand to her, and she will come. Aye! but how
can he stretch out his hand? In the society in which they both move
there is but one way in which she can be his—the way sanctioned by
society, blessed by the church. Society and the church will bless and
smile upon any union: the decrepit old man with the blooming child; the
drunkard and adulterer with the pure young girl; the avaricious youth
with the doting old woman. Marriage purifies, sanctifies, hallows
sensuality, greed, any, every base motive. To love as God made you free
to love, unfettered, and with a true heart, is a crime; to live
together full of hatred, loathing, and revolt, is to perform a sacred
duty once you have tied yourself up in church. This was Vansittart's
theory. Marriage to him was only another word for satiety, weariness,
restraint, tyranny. He had never seen what he called a happy marriage,
though he had observed many which the world crowned with that adjective,
and he had sworn a thousand oaths that he would never subject himself to
that miserable awakening which inevitably follows the temporary sleep of
mind and reason, and the short dream of passion which makes a man bind
himself with shackles.
Philip paced his room for hours, fighting the hardest battle he had ever
fought. It was the first time he had ever been tempted to marry—tempted
beyond endurance. And, at last, ashen pale, in the wan morning light,
and with set teeth, he took his final oath and resolve. He would save
himself years of wretchedness by a month's anguish; he would not go near
her, nor see her again. He was not entirely selfish; he did not forget
that she might, nay, would suffer, but he said, with a sigh, "It will be
best for her as for me."
A month passed by: two months. Virginia grew pale, listless,
distraite; her step was languid, her eye haggard. She did not know how
to endure her life; she suffered torments day and night from an
agonising desire to hear the voice, to meet the eyes again which had
given light to her soul and in whose absence she felt it must needs
perish of want. It was plain enough to her why he avoided her. He had
seen that she loved him; he would not encourage false hopes in her
breast. Had she not been warned, ere ever she met him, that he abjured
marriage? She remembered, with a breaking heart, her own first playful
words to him.
Mr. Hayward saw the change in Virginia, but he put it down entirely to
the effects of a London season—to late hours and the want of fresh air.
Never mind! the end was near at hand, and then they would go and fill
their lungs with mountain air and their eyes with fair scenes, and the
roses would come back to her cheeks and lips, and the light to her eyes.
He never for an instant connected his niece's pallor with Philip
Vansittart. He would have ridiculed the idea of people being twice in
each other's company, and breaking their hearts with longing afterwards.
Mr. Hayward, his sister, and Virginia, were dining at a Swiss table
d'hote. Exactly opposite were two empty places. The fish had been
served, and two gentlemen came in and took them. One was Mr. Philip
Vansittart. At sight of him the crimson blood rushed to Virginia's
cheeks, then ebbed away, leaving her deathly pale. For a moment she
thought she must swoon or die from the intensity of her feelings. Philip
was scarcely less moved, though, being a man, he was better able to
control his agitation. When he had time to look more narrowly at
Virginia, he saw a mighty change in her. His heart smote him; and
yet—had he not suffered? Great heaven! had his been a bed of roses? Had
he not agonised after her?
Dinner over, the party went off into the garden. A mutual unspoken
desire made Vansittart and Virginia steal off together to a secluded
spot. Twilight was creeping on—the last glow of a rosy sunset was
fading away; the strains of a delicious waltz were borne towards them.
Vansittart felt his passion mastering him. He made a herculean effort
over himself. He would speak. He would tell her the truth. After that
she would forget him. They were sitting under a tree that screened them
off from the rest of the garden. He could see well enough that she was
trembling with nervousness; that delight, fear, expectation were blended
in the beautiful eyes she turned towards him; and, lest suddenly he
should yield to that mad longing to catch her to his heart, he began to
But Virginia scarcely hears him. Her lips are burning to ask him that
one question, and, not heeding what he is saying, she turns and in a
tremulous voice that vibrates to his very soul, she says:
"Why have you kept away from us all this time?"
Why? And Vansittart catches his breath. Then the gyves of his strong
will give way as the withes fell from Samson.
"I will tell you," he says. "I love you so horribly, that it is pain
and anguish to me to be with you, for then I feel that when I leave you
I am ready to die of longing and misery."
"Well?" she utters in a very low voice, bending her eyes on the ground.
It is only one little word, but it speaks such volumes! "Why should you
leave me?" it says. "Is it not my case, too? What need you more than
"You have heard," he goes on, not daring to look at her, "that I have
forsworn marriage. Marriage," passionately, "kills love, and I would
rather, ten times over, suffer what I have suffered—and God knows that
is not a little!--than a day should come when, having known such divine
happiness as I should know were you mine, we should grow cold and
weary; when our passions should turn to indifference, to disappointment
and heart-burnings, and end, perhaps, in our cherishing feelings of
vindictive spite and bitterness against each other, and in my thinking
every woman pleasanter and fairer than you, end in your believing me to
be the greatest brute under heaven!"
"Oh!" utters Virginia, as she raises her eyes to his face with a look of
"I have seen it a thousand times," he continues vehemently. "I have
known men passionately, madly in love with women, ready to count 'the
world well lost,' to sacrifice all the future only to call that idol of
the moment theirs. I have seen them marry. I have watched the weariness
that comes from security even more than from satiety. I have seen the
links that were forged in roses become gyves of iron—tenderness and
courtesy give place to rudeness and contempt. I never saw but two people
perfectly happy, and they," lowering his voice, "were not married. I
have sworn a thousand times never to court wretchedness for myself and a
woman I loved by loading her and myself with chains. My idea has been
this. Some day I may meet with a being who, under natural circumstances,
she keeping her freedom and leaving me mine, I might love with all my
heart and be faithful to until the day of my death. I would give her all
I possessed. I would devote myself to making her happy; if she had to
sacrifice anything for my sake, I would atone to her for it by my
unwearying love. But," his voice mastered by emotion, "how dare I say
such words to you? In the sphere in which you live they would be
considered a dastardly insult—one must not dare to move one step from
the beaten track of custom. The world would scoff at the idea that my
love for you is more sacred and reverent than that of a man who,
inspired by a momentary passion for a woman and desiring her, obtains
his end by a simple and speedy means, without reflection as to the
possible misery of both in the future. And yet," his lips quivering, his
face growing deathly white, "I believe I could love you more dearly,
love you longer than husband ever loved wife."
Virginia sits rooted to the spot, a deadly anguish strangling her
heart. Then, whilst the divine strains of music still flow on, she feels
herself drawn to his heart; his lips meet hers in one long kiss that
steals her very soul away from her. He is gone—the music has
ceased—the night grows chill—she shivers. "The world well lost," she
mutters to herself, and then, with listless steps, and strange,
affrighted eyes, she drags herself up stairs to her room.
In a charming house, surrounded by an acre of ground, turned into a
small paradise, a house not more than two miles from Hyde Park Corner,
live Philip Vansittart and Virginia Hayward. The neighbourhood knows
them as Mr. and Mrs. Vansittart, and has not the very remotest
conception that in so perfectly ordered an establishment, there is
anything which they would designate as "odd." If anything could arouse
suspicion in the breasts of the servants who wait upon them, and the
tradespeople who serve them it would be the extraordinary tenderness
subsisting between them; the excessive courtesy and consideration of Mr.
Vansittart for Mrs. Vansittart, and the entire absence of that
familiarity commonly seen between affectionate husbands and wives, which
almost invariably engenders subsequent contempt.
The house is furnished with exquisite taste. Mr. Vansittart is
continually bringing home artistic treasures to add to its
embellishment. Mrs. Vansittart has a carriage and a fine pair of horses.
She seldom, however, drives into town except to the play, or to dine. A
great many gentlemen of distinction and rank come to the house, who
treat Mrs. Vansittart like a queen, and a few ladies; clever, literary
ladies, ladies holding peculiar views—very rarely the consorts of
distinguished and well-born men.
Is Philip happy? Is Virginia happy? To this I can only reply by another
question. Is any one Happy? They love each other with unfailing
tenderness—they are all the world to each other—the thought of
separation would be death to them. And yet the heart of either is gnawed
by a secret worm. In the midst of his busy life, Philip can never forget
that he has sacrificed the woman whom he adores from the very bottom of
his soul, and the horrible suspicion will stab him, that he has
sacrificed her needlessly. They are living as husband and wife, and yet
no feeling of weariness, of satiety, comes near them—each day draws
them nearer together; makes them find fresh points in each other to love
and admire. Were she his wife, occupying her proper sphere in society,
sought after, courted, admired, he with no feeling of self-reproach, she
with no consciousness (which she must feel though she never betrays) of
cruelty and selfishness on his part; might they not be even happier? He
forgets to tell himself that they are happy because no tie binds
them—nay, he says secretly in his heart that that tie is the only thing
wanting to make their felicity perfect. Now, it is too late. The world
knows the truth—marriage can never whitewash Virginia in society's
eyes—no future can condone the crime of the past. He has settled every
farthing he has in the world upon her—no mean fortune—he loads her
with gifts—he is perpetually thinking of her pleasure and amusement,
and yet, for ever, the load of his debt to her weighs down his soul.
And Virginia? Paul is all in all to her; he is her heart, her soul, her
conscience, and yet he cannot shield her from the fate which he has
brought upon her. What must inevitably be the sufferings of a proud and
pure-minded woman, who knows herself to be an object of scorn to her
sex? How would a man, naturally honorable and high-minded, feel, if, in
some fatal moment, he had been tempted to commit a forgery, or take an
unfair advantage at cards, and was afterwards shunned by every man
friend; thrust out of every club, banned utterly from the society of his
fellows, except those with whom it would revolt him to associate? This
is the only case that can parallel that of a woman who has lost the
world for a man's sake; and men who have a difficulty in realizing how
great is the sacrifice they compel or accept from a woman, would do well
to consider this.
Virginia suffered many a bitter pang when she showed herself in public
with Philip. She quivered under the open stare, or the look askance of
members of her sex; if she showed a brave front, it was that of the
Spartan boy! Philip was particularly fond of the opera and the play; he
would not have gone without her; so she accompanied him, and made no
demur. Of course every relation and friend she had in the world shunned
her as though she were a leper, which indeed, morally, she was in their
eyes. She loved society; no woman was more calculated to shine in it,
and from this she was cut off. True, they constantly entertained
brilliant and clever men, whose conversation and company were very
agreeable to her; but, however much a woman may like, may even prefer
the society of men, it is a bitter thought to her that she cannot
command that of her own sex. And, though men treated her with even a
greater and more delicate courtesy than they would perhaps have shown
their own women, Virginia was none the less keenly conscious of the
moral ban under which she lay.
She was the daughter of a clergyman, she had been religiously brought
up, and she writhed under the terrible consciousness that her life was a
sin against her God. At first she went to church, but everything she
heard there sent the iron deeper into her soul; if there were comforting
promises to repentant Magdalens, there was nothing but wrath and
threatening for those who continued in their sin. By-and-by she left off
going to church. Philip was a sceptic, most of his friends were the
same. Virginia listened to their talk, and, in time, her faith began to
waver; she liked to think they were right, and that the Bible was a
string of fables; it lessened her sense of criminality and remorse, but
it cut her off forever from the only consolation a woman can know, when
her hour of trial comes. If man could supply the place of God and
Saviour now, whither should she fly when he was torn from her or grew
weary of her?
She was glad that she had no children—could she live to be shamed by
them, scorned by them? And yet—how sweet it would have been to feel
clinging arms about her neck; to hear little voices lisp the sweetest
word on earth to a mother's ear, if only she might have been as other
mothers—as other wives! Never, never once had she breathed or hinted a
wish that Philip should marry her; she had a superstitious dread that
once the chain was forged his love for her would cease—marriage could
not now reinstate her in the world's sight—she had ceased to remember
that her life was a crime. She had heard it said so often that marriage
was simply an institution founded upon expediency; that all systems
having been tried, the one that worked best was the union of a man to
one wife, that she herself began to doubt its being a heaven-ordained
institution, and the only state tolerated by Divine Providence. But if
she ceased to feel herself actually a guilty and sinning woman, she was
none the less sensitive to the world's scorn; to the bitterness of
holding a position that society refused to tolerate or to recognize.
But, after all, she knew happiness which is denied to nine-tenths of
women, nay, to ninety-nine out of a hundred. She enjoyed the passionate,
unfailing devotion of the man whom she adored—no harsh word ever
crossed his lips to her—she was his first care and thought—no party of
pleasure ever tempted him from her side—nothing but the claim of
business could induce him to spend an evening away from her. And so the
years passed on. It is an unalterable law of nature that passion must
succumb before habit, but it may be succeeded by a calm content, a happy
trustful confidence, that wears better, and is perhaps in the long run
Twelve years elapsed, and during that time Virginia enjoyed unbroken
health. Then, one winter, she caught a severe cold, which settled on her
lungs; her life was despaired of. No woman was ever a more tender, more
devoted nurse than Philip. But this illness left her extremely delicate;
she could no longer brave all weathers as formerly, nor be Philip's
constant companion in his walks and drives. She was forbidden to go out
at night, and they had been so in the habit of going to the play,
especially in the winter months. At first he insisted on remaining at
home with her, but she was too unselfish to allow him to sacrifice
himself. There was many an evening when she was unable to leave her
room, and when talking would bring on severe paroxysms of coughing. She
succeeded in prevailing upon him to visit the theatre without her, and
sometimes even to dine with a friend. After a time he got into the
habit of going about alone, and, although he was even more tender and
considerate than before, she felt an agonising consciousness that he
could, after all, do without her, which he had sworn ten thousand times
he never could. She began to have sleepless nights and passionate fits
of crying. Nemesis was coming upon her with gigantic strides. Philip did
not suspect that she was unhappy; he thought her illness affected her
spirits. A great change had come over her, which he deplored. She no
longer was the bright, amusing companion of yore.
Two more years went by. Virginia was almost a confirmed invalid—she
could only get out in fine summer weather—then her spirits rallied, and
she was something of her old self again. Philip often spent his evenings
away from home now; it become a habit; he did not suspect that Virginia
suffered from his absence, but thought that it was really her wish,
dear, unselfish soul that she was, that he should go out and be amused.
And she, fearful of making him fancy that he felt a chain where none
existed, was careful never to show him by word or look that she suffered
from his absence. She tormented herself with the thought that he might
meet any day with a young and beautiful woman who would inspire again in
his breast the feeling that he had once known for her. And she
remembered that she was free, even if he forgot it. Poor soul! she
recognised bitterly enough now, that the only safety for a woman is in
that bond which a man may so lightly affect to set at naught: in a
contract like hers and Philip's, the man has all to gain, the woman all
It was growing dusk one November afternoon, when the door of Virginia's
drawing-room was thrown open, and Lord Harford announced. A slight blush
suffused her cheek as she rose to receive him, and she appeared slightly
embarrassed. Virginia was still beautiful, though no longer very young;
she had an extremely fragile and delicate appearance, which is
attractive to some men, notably to those who, like Lord Harford, are
big, strong and robust.
"You are not angry with me for coming, are you?" he asks almost
diffidently, as soon as the door has closed on the servant.
"No," she answers gently. Times are changed with her since the last
occasion in which she and he stood face to face in this very room. Then
she was angry, but then she was in the full flush of health and
beauty, and he was her would-be lover. There had been nothing to wound
or humiliate her in his love-making; he had come loyally to offer her
his hand and all that belonged to him, which of wealth and honor was no
mean portion. But she had been deeply stung by a man daring to remember
that she was free, and there was only one husband and lover in the world
for her. Now that, as it seemed to her, beauty and love were so far
removed from her, it was almost a pleasure to remember that she had been
"I have passed your door a hundred times," he says, "and never been
able to summon up courage enough to ask for you."
"But to-day you were braver," she utters, looking at him with something
of the old smile and manner.
"I thought perhaps you had a good many dull hours now Vansittart is so
"How do you know that he is much away?" asks Virginia, feeling vaguely
hurt at his words and tone.
"Because I so often meet him out."
"Where do you meet him?"
"Oh, at different places. Chiefly at Mrs. Devereux's."
Lord Harford looks full in Virginia's face, and she, who is so quick,
cannot fail to see that his eyes and tone are intended to convey some
"Mrs. Devereux?" she says, inquiringly. "You mean his cousin."
After this there is a pause. It is as though he wanted her to question
him; as though she were fighting against the desire to know his meaning.
She conquers herself by an effort.
"I have been very ill since you saw me last. You find me much altered,
do you not?"
"You look delicate," he answers, "but in my eyes," lowering his voice,
"you are as beautiful as ever."
She half-smiles, half-sighs.
"It is very kind of you to say that," she utters, "but I cannot deceive
myself. I am an old woman now; if ever I had any good looks they are
"They are not!" cries Lord Harford staunchly. "What I say is gospel
truth. I think your delicacy becomes you. I hate your great buxom,
Virginia smiles at his earnestness.
"Ah, if you had been mine," he goes on, "I should never have wanted to
look at another woman, young or old."
Still that strange meaning in his tone. A chill terror creeps to
Virginia's heart—she can no longer restrain herself.
"What do you mean?" she says, fixing her eyes on him. "You are hinting
at something—you want to convey something to my mind. If you are a
man—if you pretend to be my friend, speak out honestly."
He rises, and takes one or two turns in the room, then stops abruptly in
front of her.
"Will you believe me, I wonder?" he asks, "or will you think me a mean
hound who only seeks his own interest?"
"Interest?" echoes Virginia bitterly, "what interest can it be to you?"
"This much," he answers, a red flush mounting to his brow, "that I am as
anxious this moment to make you my wife as I was four years ago."
Virginia makes an impatient movement with her hand.
"Vansittart is in love with Mrs. Devereux's eldest girl, Connie. She is
a pretty little kitten of a thing, but a mere child—a doll. I go there
rather often—they are old friends of mine. Whenever I go, he is always
For a moment Virginia feels as though she were dying; then, by an
extraordinary effort, she recovers herself.
"I would rather have my tongue cut out than tell you," Lord Harford
continues, half-ashamed, "only that I want you to know where your refuge
is if he breaks your heart. Oh!" imploringly, "why will you not care for
me who am ready to devote my life to you? Marry me, and let us go abroad
and win health for you and happiness for me!"
His voice is broken with emotion—he takes one of her hands in his. She
is leaning back in her chair, very white—she is hardly conscious of his
action—all the hot blood in his veins cannot warm her chill white
"Do you think," she says at last, very slowly, "that if—if he were rid
of me, he would marry her? Does she care for him?"
"I don't think about it. Yes, it is very strange; but, child as she is,
he has perfectly infatuated her."
There is another long pause, during which he eagerly scans her face.
Suddenly her eyes light up, and she returns his glance.
"Are you really willing to marry me?" she says.
"Why do you ask?" he returns, simply. "Are my eyes not honest?"
Virginia smiles. "If you mean it," she says, "go now, and write me the
same words to-night or to-morrow."
So, as she bids him, he goes.
Lord Harford had set down nothing in malice. What he told Virginia is
absolutely true. Philip Vansittart is in love with a gay, pretty child,
whose winsome tricks have coiled her round his heart. He has never
spoken one word of love to her, for he feels and knows himself as much
bound to Virginia as though the marriage-tie he once so utterly abhorred
linked them. He no longer, strange to say, thinks and speaks so evilly
of marriage. Were he free, would he not joyfully chain himself with all
the bonds that church and society can impose to this sweet young life
which would make him young again? He has no thought or desire to blast
this girl-life as he had done Virginia's. Perish the thought! When these
ideas come to him, he hates and loathes himself; he makes superhuman
efforts to drive them away—but the limpid blue eyes come and look at
him over his briefs; the childish voice rings in his ears in the night
watches! He grows pale and haggard. At last he makes a mighty resolve.
"Virginia," he says, two nights after Lord Harford's visit to her, "let
us be married!"
He takes her hand kindly, but his eyes do not meet hers, and the tender
inflection of yore is missing from his voice.
Virginia betrays no surprise. Poor soul! She understands too well.
"Why?" she says quietly. "I think we are very well as we are."
"No," he returns hastily, "we are not! My views have changed on the
subject—changed entirely. Marriage is the best thing. It decides your
fate. To live as we do is neither one thing nor the other."
"You forget," she says, in a tone so calm as to be almost unnatural.
"This state has great advantages. There is no tie between us. If either
of us tired of the other, there is nothing to hinder our parting,
to-morrow—to-night even." He looks at her, speechless with amazement.
Her eyes do not flinch from his. "If," she continues, with that terrible
calmness,—"if you wanted to marry Miss Constance Devereux; if I wished
to marry—let us say, Lord Harford—there is nothing to prevent it
except," slowly, "the unwritten law of a faithful heart."
Philip Vansittart leans his face between his hands. He cannot find a
word to say. He is smitten with remorse, for he knows well enough that
she is faithful. But why that allusion to Lord Harford?
"What do you mean about Harford?" he asks presently.
"He wants me to marry him," replied Virginia quietly. "He asked me four
years ago; he asked me again the day before yesterday."
She draws a letter from her pocket, and scans Philip's face as he reads
it. When he has finished, he looks at her. She understands his glance
but too well. There is an only half-suppressed eagerness—a
half-suppressed hope in it.
"What shall I do?" she says, so quietly that it deceives him.
"There is no better fellow living than Harford," he says cordially. "If
you thought you could be happy with him; if—"
He stops abruptly. There is a look of such terrible agony in Virginia's
face that he starts up and takes her hand.
"No, no," he cries. "Let it be as I said. Let us marry each other. It is
the only thing to be done."
Virginia's ears, sharpened by suffering, catch the dreary tone of the
Next morning, when Philip, according to custom, went to Virginia's room,
he found her asleep. From that sleep she never woke. One more of those
unfortunate cases of an overdose of chloral. The deceased lady had
suffered much from sleeplessness, and always kept the fatal drug by her
The church gave its blessing, and society smiled when that heretic and
sceptic Mr. Vansittart led his charming girl-bride to the altar a few
months later. It was whispered that there had been an—entanglement, but
that was all hushed up now, and he had become a respectable member of
MR. JOSIAH SMITH'S BALLOON JOURNEY.
It would be an injustice to Josiah to suppose that he limited his quest
in the field of knowledge to that particular portion indicated by his
honoured association with a distinguished society. He was proud in his
modest way, if the paradox be permitted, when he produced his card, on
which was engraved "Josiah Smith, F.R.S.A." Also it was known amongst
his friends that casual references to his great work on "Underground
England" were not displeasing to him. But, as he was wont to say, "The
surest way of finding either mental or bodily recreation is to seek it
in fresh fields of labour."
Thus it came to pass one evening in the spring of this year that Josiah,
having shut himself in all day with the determination to make up for
lost time, found he had, with the aid of cold tea and wet bandages,
added as much as half a page to his great work. Feeling the need of a
little change of thought and association, he had availed himself of an
invitation kindly sent to him to join the meeting of an aëronautic
society. Josiah had listened with profound attention to the various
speeches made, and had thought, really, when he had a little more time
he would devote it to the fascinating science of aëronautics.
Amongst the guests of the society, and indeed the hero of the evening,
was Captain Mulberry, the famous guardsman who devoted much natural
talent and a considerable portion of his life to the endeavour either to
kill or hopelessly maim himself. Evil fortune had kept his sword
stainless, as far as regular warfare went, but there was generally a
little fighting going on somewhere, and, the captain's leave of absence
coinciding, he from time to time managed to sniff the exhilarating smell
of powder, and knew the music of bullet and shell. These things were
surrounded with difficulties. It obviously would not do for a man
bearing Her Majesty's commission to lend his sword to one or other
belligerents in a conflict between nations at peace with England. In a
country like Spain, for example, things naturally run a little
irregularly and the captain being on the spot may have occasionally
lapsed into battle.
But these were mere episodes. Having tried most things, he had taken to
ballooning, as offering the largest amount of risk in the least possible
space of time. He had been up in all kinds of balloons in all possible
circumstances, and had come down in various ways. He had just now
achieved a great feat, making a voyage from the Grampian Hills to the
Orkney Islands. The society desiring to do him honour had invited him to
this meeting, and Josiah had heard him describe his perilous voyage.
"A mere nothing," he said; "perhaps a little difficult going, but
nothing at all coming back. The difficulty in going out was to drop on
the Orkneys. The place is so small that when you are up in the air it
looks as if you might as well try to drop on a pin's point. But after
all, it was a nothing—a mere nothing, gentlemen, I assure you. Any one
of you could have done the same."
Every one in the room was delighted, not less with the captain's
gallantry than with his modesty. Many moving stories of his escapes were
retailed. Josiah listened with enthralled attention to an adventure
which, it seems, the captain had had in Spain, and which Josiah's
companion (a bald-headed gentleman with spectacles) narrated with great
effect. Mulberry in one of the marches of the Carlists, to whom he had
attached himself, was surprised and taken prisoner by the enemy. They
locked him in the kitchen of a farmhouse near, mentioning incidentally
that in the morning they would shoot him. They took away his sword and
pistols; and would have taken his umbrella, but the captain pleaded hard
for its society, declaring that from early boyhood he had never been
able to sleep without an umbrella under his pillow. The Spaniards had
heard much of the eccentricity of Englishmen, and not being inclined to
refuse the request of a doomed man, they left him the umbrella.
The next morning, when they came to take him out for shooting purposes,
lo! the captain and the umbrella were both gone. There was a good deal
of soot about the place, and regarding this and other signs of hasty
flight the truth flashed upon the Spaniards. There had been a fire in
the grate. The captain had opened the umbrella inside the chimney,
waited till it had been inflated with the warm air, and then, hanging on
the handle, had been drawn up clear to the top and descending in a
neighbouring field, had shut up his umbrella and walked off.
"Dear me!" said Josiah; "how very interesting. I suppose the chimneys
are wide in Spain?"
"Very wide indeed," said the bald-headed gentleman in spectacles.
Josiah regarded the captain with fresh interest after the recital of
this remarkable ascent, and it was not diminished by further tales he
heard. One related to his reception by an Illustrious Personage. After
his journey to Orkney the I.P. had sent for him immediately on his
return to town. The captain had put on his uniform and gone cheerfully.
He had heard so much of his feat that he began to think there really was
something creditable in it, and fancied the Illustrious Personage might
be going to bestow upon him some recognition of the service he had done
in blazoning abroad the pluck of the British soldier. On the contrary,
he found the Illustrious Person almost speechless with wrath, and
stuffed with oaths like plums in a Christmas pudding.
"What—what was the meaning of this flying by night, sir?" he cried
turning a flaming visage upon the contrite captain. "You'll be going
round with a circus next, riding five horses at a time, or walking round
to show your muscle. I hope I shall hear no more of this sort of thing.
Such goings-on bring disgrace upon the army and discredit upon its
officers. Stop at home, sir, and get into what mischief you like. Go and
idle your time at playing cards or worse; but don't be playing these
pranks any more. Did you ever see me in a balloon, sir? Did you ever
hear of me skimming around the world in search of adventure?"
The Illustrious Personage drew himself up to full height, and swelled
visibly before the eyes of the captain, as he angrily put these
questions, garnished with many ejaculations. He knew that our army swore
terribly in Flanders, and was nothing if not a soldier.
"Your Royal Highness cannot blame us if we sometimes go out of our way
to get into danger," said the captain, saluting. "Your Royal Highness
has much to answer for by inflaming us with the memory of Inkermann. How
can we sit still or lounge about in our peaceful homes, when we think of
you on that day?"
"Tut, tut!" said the Illustrious Personage, spluttering down like a
fire on which a bucket of water had been flung, "that was a different
thing. But come and dine with me to-night: only, drive up in a hansom,
don't arrive in a balloon."
And the Illustrious Personage, what with enjoyment of the joke, and what
with muscular effort to suppress his laughter, nearly brought about a
vacancy in the highest rank of the army.
All this was doubtless as true as the story about the exit from the
Spanish farmhouse. But it pleased the company, and was only one of a
dozen stories they told about the captain, who was chiefly longing to be
out where he could smoke a cigar.
When the meeting came to an end, Josiah walked along Pall Mall
meditating on things, and on the comparative obscurity of the work he
had assigned to himself. Whilst others were soaring in high places, he
was burrowing underground. Both were in search of knowledge. Both
desired to benefit their fellow-men. But of the two Josiah felt that the
aëronauts had the advantage of the undergrounders. It was too late for
him to think of striking out a new path; but he thought that if he had
to begin life again he would soar.
Whilst pondering on these matters, he was startled by a heavy hand laid
upon his shoulder, and heard a cheery voice exclaim:
"Got a match in your pocket, old man?"
He looked up, and there, somewhere on a level with the lantern in the
neighbouring lamp-post, was the genial face of Captain Mulberry.
"No," said Josiah, "I'm sorry I have not."
"Don't smoke, eh? You don't look the kind of old boy to have any
pleasant vices. I saw you in the Balloon Society's rooms just now, and
rather took a fancy to you."
"You are very kind," Josiah said, blushing up to where in earlier and
happier days the roots of his hair had been. "I am sure I feel it a
"If you don't mind me saying so, I think you're the innocentest-looking
old boy I have seen in a day's ride. I like innocence, particularly when
combined with middle age. It is the rarest thing in the world. I hope
you'll come and dine with me some night at my club."
"I shall like it very much indeed," said Josiah, "We are close at my
rooms—just here in King Street I live—and if you would step in, you
might light your cigar."
"Thanks, I will. You won't mind me making up to you in this way; but
'pon my honour, I took such a liking to your face, seeing it among that
mass of humbug where we were just now, that I was going to speak to you
then, only I could not get near you."
Josiah was in a tremor of delight, which presently subsided into a soft
glow of contentment, as the captain, stretching himself out over as much
of the couch as he could find in the little room, not only lit his
cigar, but praised Josiah's claret and told him a good deal more of his
balloon adventures than he had communicated to the eminent society in
whose rooms they had met.
"By the way," he said, "I am going to make a balloon excursion
to-morrow. I didn't mention it to the society because these fellows gab
so. There'd be a great crowd round, and I'd only have been hampered.
When you mean work, the less you say about it beforehand the better.
That is what I have always found. Ever up in a balloon?"
"No," said Josiah, "but I should very much like to go."
He had drunk a whole tumbler of claret in honour of his distinguished
company, and, being accustomed to more moderate measure, had begun to
think going up in a balloon was after all a mere ordinary performance.
"What do you ride?" asked the captain, looking him up and down, as if
either about to measure him for a suit of clothes, or considering where
he could most advantageously plant a blow from his ox-hoof-like fist.
"A pony—at least, I used to ride a pony when I was at home: but that is
a long time ago, and I have not ridden much since."
"I mean, what do you weigh," said the captain, laughing.
"A little over ten stone."
"Is it possible! why, I pull the scales at seventeen stun. I'd give
something to be your weight. Think of the ballast you might take up with
"Is that an important thing?" Josiah asked, his old instinct of gaining
knowledge manifesting itself.
"It's simply everything. That's how I managed to get over to the
Orkneys. These fellows that go up in balloons which they fit up like
first-floor rooms, and take everything with them except a feather bed,
don't know anything about it. They go fumbling around with a few pounds
of ballast, and when they get into a wrong current there they stick.
Now, between you and me, Mr. Smith, I don't mind telling you my secret
of successful ballooning. Take as much ballast as you can carry, and
when you get stuck in a calm or carried off by a wrong current, out goes
your ballast, up you shoot, get into another current, and there you are.
Ten stun!" he murmured, gazing wistfully upon the spare figure of his
host. "There ought to be a good deal done with that. Tell you what, old
chappie, you shall come with me to-morrow."
Josiah had been a few moments ago possessed with a burning desire to go
up in a balloon, but at these words the fire went out and he felt a cold
chill steal over his body. Still, he would like to go; but not
to-morrow. If it were next month or next week it would be different. But
to-morrow was so sudden.
"I rather fancy I have an engagement to-morrow," he said, producing his
pocket diary and anxiously gazing on it in the month of December.
"Nonsense!" said the captain, laying his large hand on Josiah's
shoulder, conveying to him an impression that if he pleased he could
take him up, put him in his coat-tail pocket, walk off, and think no
more about him till he landed him in a balloon. "You've no engagement,
and if you had you couldn't find it by holding your book upside down.
You come along with me. There's not the slightest danger, and it's not
every man who has crossed the Channel in a balloon."
"The Channel!" cried Josiah feebly. He had thought of some little
excursion. Perhaps in the fields ten or twenty miles off. "I don't think
I would like to start with the Channel. Suppose we begin somewhere else,
and try the Channel later on. It will be better—if anything happened,
you know—to have the water warm."
"Nonsense," said the captain cheerily; "we shall never be nearer the
water than 2,000 feet. We'll dine in Paris to-morrow night, and I'll
take you to the Closerie after dinner. It will do them good to see you
there. Now that's settled, and you'd better go to bed straight off.
We'll have to be up early in the morning to catch the mail train for
Dover. I've got my balloon there all ready, and we'll start about noon."
This was perfectly horrible. Josiah felt as if it was a hideous
nightmare, and he had a dim hope that presently he would wake up. But
there was the burly form of the captain before him, with his third cigar
sticking in the side of his mouth, and a pleased smile upon his face in
anticipation of this new adventure.
Those who have learned something of the character of Josiah by reading
earlier chapters of his history, will not need to be told how this
ended. If he had been in company of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego,
when they started on their progress through the fiery furnace, and if
they had insisted upon his accompanying them, he would have smiled
feebly, and gone—that is, if he could not by some means or other slink
away out of sight. Now, if he could have gone out of the door on some
pretence and run off, down King Street, he would have borne the
subsequent shame and humiliation. But he knew that the captain would
have been up with him in five strides. So he determined to make the best
of it, drank another tumbler of claret, and became almost hysterically
eager for the morning.
"I'll see you don't oversleep yourself," were the last words of the
captain as he went off. "I'll look you up and take you down to Victoria
in my hansom. You needn't bring any luggage, you know. A clean shirt and
a tooth-brush will see you through."
Thus faded Josiah's last and secret hope, one he had cherished even
whilst he drank his claret and talked boldly of aërial navigation. He
might, he had thought, peradventure oversleep himself and miss the
train, and all would be well. But the captain would call for him, and
there was plainly no escape. However, he had made his will, and
"Underground England" was in such an advanced stage that it might be
published as "a fragment," and would be sufficient to carry his name
down to remotest posterity. Whether it were sweeter thus to vex public
desire, to give so much and no more, or to satiate the public with the
full accomplishment, was a nice question. Josiah was inclined to think
that, other things being equal, he would just as soon live to finish his
work. But he had no choice, and after all, the voyage might end happily.
Captain Mulberry was an experienced aëronaut. He had never failed, and
why should failure be probable now?
Josiah made up his mind upon this point, that if they got safely across
in the balloon he would come back by the ordinary boat express. Having
once shown his possession of a daring spirit, he would be at liberty to
declare his preference for a more prosaic mode of locomotion.
How he got down to Dover he did not know. It all seemed a dream. He had
a dim recollection of the captain thundering at his door at six o'clock
in the morning. He remembered lighting his Etna, making his cup of
coffee, and thinking as he drank it it might be his last. Then they must
have caught the train. In fact, he remembered the sound of the rushing
carriage, the darkness of the tunnel, the glories of the dawning day,
and felt around him the bright fresh sunlit air that made all nature
They drove out to the balloon, which was down by the gas-works, and was
now in process of inflation. Josiah looked upon the monster, swerving
first to the right, then to the left, and threatening every moment to
break its bonds and go off on its own account. If it only would, what a
happy conclusion of this painful adventure! But he could see there was
no such danger. The captain was as cheerful as a lark, and looked with
kindling eye upon what Josiah regarded as his coffin.
Still, it was no use complaining. A man must die some time; and though
there is much to be said against the process being hurried on by
unnecessary attempts to cross the Channel in a balloon when there are
well-appointed packet-boats, it was no use arguing the matter.
There settled upon Josiah a certain mood of quiet despair. What must be
must, and it was better to avoid a scene and imitate as closely as
possible the cheerful indifference of the captain.
"Now, old man, in you tumble," said the captain. "Sit down in the bottom
of the car, and keep quiet till we get past this stack of chimneys. If
we run into them it's all over; but I reckon I'll take you clear."
This was a cheerful thing to start with. Josiah had pictured all kinds
of horrors, ending with the certainty of dropping into the sea. That
they should begin with a stack of chimneys was an unexpected
aggravation. Still, it might be better to get it over at once. At least,
he would fall on land, and the fragments picked up would receive
He got in and sat in the bottom of the car. It was, he noticed,
something like one of the coracles of which he had made mention in the
preface to "Underground England." There was something good in that. The
Romans made long journeys In the coracle. If the worst came to the
worst, they might float.
Even in the anguish of his mind, he couldn't help wondering when Captain
Mulberry would finish coming in. He had never before noticed how tall he
was, till he found the necessity of getting out of the way of his legs
as he crept between the ropes into the car.
"Let go all!" cried the captain, and Josiah felt his last hour had come.
He held his breath and stuck to his hat, being under the impression that
the whole affair would shoot up into the air like a rocket. He expected
to be deafened by the noise of whizzing through the air, and to be half
suffocated with the rush of wind. Looking over to get a last look at the
nature of the soil on which he would presently fall, Josiah beheld a
strange sight. As far as he knew, the balloon was motionless, while the
earth was dropping rapidly from under them as if the laws of gravitation
were irrevocably broken and the world was falling through space.
"Done it!" he heard the captain cry in a voice that sounded curiously
"Done what?" said Josiah, anxiously looking up.
"Why, the chimney-stack. Just cleared it by half a foot. I didn't like
to say much about it, but it was a pretty near touch-and-go affair.
That's the worst of filling a balloon. You must do it near a gasworks,
and there's sure to be a stack of chimneys at hand."
It seemed but a moment since Josiah had heard the captain call out "Let
go all," and there they were in space a thousand feet above the level of
the land, sailing calmly along in bright warm sunlight, and with no more
motion perceptible than if they were still sitting in the room in King
Street—that cherished apartment which Josiah felt his eye would never
light on more.
"This won't do," said the captain sternly; "we've got in the wrong
current, and instead of going out to sea we are going inland. In half an
hour we'll be at Canterbury."
"I have heard Canterbury's a very nice old town," said Josiah. "It
wouldn't be a bad place to stop at; and if the wind's contrary to-day,
it might be right to-morrow."
The captain said nothing, and Josiah, looking up to see what effect his
suggestion might have, noticed for the first time that on a face usually
smiling there were possibilities of a fixed hard look which it evidently
didn't beseem him to trifle with.
The balloon slowly rose till the aneroid marked a height of 1,500 feet
and still the current drove it steadily north-west. Looking southward,
Josiah beheld a sight which, if it were the last he was ever to look
upon, was at least a glorious glimpse of earth, and sky, and sea. There
lay the Channel gleaming in the sun, a broad belt of silver. Beyond it,
like a cloud, was France. Dover had vanished even to the crest of the
castle on the hill. But Josiah knew where it was by the mist that lay
over it and shone white in the rays of the sun. Save for this patch of
mist, which seemed to drift with the voyagers far below the car, there
was nothing to obscure the range of vision. Josiah could not at any time
make out forms of people. The white highways that ran like threads among
the fields, and the tiny openings in the towns and villages which he
guessed were streets, seemed to belong to a dead world, for nowhere was
there trace of living person. The strange stillness that brooded over
the earth was made more uncanny by cries that occasionally seemed to
float in the air around them, behind, before, to the right or to the
left, but never exactly beneath the car. They could hear people calling,
and the captain said that they were running after the balloon and
cheering. But Josiah could distinguish no moving thing. Yes; once he saw
some pheasants running across a field below and pointed them out to the
captain. The captain laughed, a strange resonant laugh it seemed in this
upper stillness, and said they were "a lot of chestnut horses capering
about in the field." A flock of sheep in another field huddled together,
looked like a heap of limestone chippings. As for the fields, stretched
out in illimitable extent, far as the eye could reach, they seemed to
form a gigantic carpet, with patterns chiefly diamond-shaped, and in
colour shaded from bright emerald to russet brown.
"This won't do," the captain said again, and seizing a bag of ballast
he emptied it. The balloon swiftly rose, and the aneroid marked 2,500
feet. The villages seemed mere spots, the pattern of the carpet grew
blurred. Nothing was distinguishable—nor horse, nor sheep, nor any
"Hurrah!" cried the captain, "we're off now."
Nearer and nearer came the belt of silver which seemed to girdle
continent and island. They were close to Dover, and could make out the
town. Josiah, knowing well the irregular plan on which the streets are
laid out, was struck by the manner in which, as looked down upon from
this height, they formed themselves into beautifully defined curves,
straight lines, and other highly respectable geometrical shapes. They
saw the castle and the pier with what seemed to be ants crawling on it.
A little patch of colour, that to Josiah looked like a ball of scarlet
worsted, was, the captain said, a sentry on duty.
"There's Shakespeare's Cliff," said the captain. "The Earl of Gloucester
should be with us now:—
And dizzy 'tis, to cast one's eyes so low!
The crows and choughs that wing the midway air
Show scarce so gross as beetles; half-way down
Hangs one that gathers samphire, dreadful trade!
Methinks he seems no bigger than his head:
The fishermen that walk upon the beach
Appear like mice; and yond tall anchoring bark,
Diminish'd to her cock; her cock, a buoy
Almost too small for sight."
"I'll look no more," said Josiah, who also knew his Shakespeare.
"Lest my brain turn, and the deficient sight
Topple down headlong."
It was passing strange and at first dreadful, this intense silence and
this strangeness of the familiar earth. But after a while everything
like terror passed away from Josiah's mind. He began to feel the
fascination of the thing. His spirits rose as he breathed the delicious
air, and when the captain said, "We are over the water now," and Josiah
looking down discerned the sea gleaming below, he could have clapped his
hands for joy.
"This is splendid," said the captain. "We'll be across in half an hour.
We'll catch the train for Paris, and you shall dance at the Closerie
Josiah didn't dance, and didn't know what the Closerie might be. But he
was not without susceptibility to the allurement of a quiet dinner in
Paris, and began to feel the exhilaration of having accomplished a
perilous feat, to which he would certainly drag in some reference in his
great work. It would be difficult, as he was as far as possible remote
from Underground England. But it might be worked in some antithetical
After they had sailed for the space of ten minutes the captain, who had
been throwing out bits of paper which they left far behind, suddenly
said a bad word.
"We are becalmed," he continued, and truly the bits of paper flung out
floated idly round the balloon. "We must get out of this."
He cast out the ballast, bag after bag, and higher still they soared.
Nevertheless, whenever they flung out the bits of paper, they floated
here and there, some dropping back into the car.
"There goes our last bag of ballast," said the captain, "and may luck go
with it. We are lost men unless it takes us into another current, which
let us hope won't be coming from the East and carry us out into the
Up again they mounted, how many feet Josiah didn't know, but he was
sensible of a sudden iciness in the atmosphere, a tingling of the blood
at his finger ends, and a strong disposition to bleed at the nose. The
captain threw out some more bits of paper. Still they circled round and
round, dropping into the car or falling to the distant earth now utterly
out of sight. They had passed through the cloud, and had above them a
chilly sun and an intensely blue sky. Below them were the clouds, on one
of which was clearly caught the shadow of the balloon. Josiah, when he
moved his head, could see an answering motion on the cloud, and
recognised the reflection of the captain's figure, sitting stern and
erect, with his teeth set and a look of angry determination on his brow.
This frightened Josiah a great deal more than the captain's words. He
felt that they were lost in space, and that the end must speedily come.
This terrible look on the captain's face made him sick at heart.
"Mr. Smith," said the captain, speaking scarcely above a whisper, but
his voice sounded as if he were shouting from the housetops, "you told
me you were not a married man."
"Yes," said Josiah, "I have never been married."
"That is so, or I should not have asked you to come with me. And you
have not many relations?"
"No," said Josiah, "there are not many that would miss me."
"Very well," said the captain; "I have; but your life is as valuable as
mine, and I would hold you at no disadvantage. The fact is, we are
becalmed, and there is no prospect of any wind reaching us here till
night, when we shan't know which way we are drifting, and may as well
give up all hope. There is wind overhead, I know, and it is going
straight for France. If we could get up another thousand feet or so, we
should catch the current and be over land in ten minutes. But all the
ballast has gone, and there is only one thing to be done."
"What's that?" asked Josiah faintly.
"One of us must go overboard," said the captain.
Josiah felt his heart sink within him.
"I am not sure that it would be much use my going over," the captain
continued, discussing the matter as quietly as if he were arranging what
they should have for dinner. "I'm such a thundering weight, you'd shoot
up till you bumped your head against Jupiter; and besides, you would not
know what to do with the balloon if I was gone. Still, I think we should
have equal chances. Now, I'll give you the first chance. You get hold of
me and try to push me over. If I go, you will find the balloon shoot up;
but don't be frightened: you'll be all right in a bit, and can let out a
few feet of gas. If you can't get me over—well, I must try to get you
over. Hold on a bit till I light a cigar."
In the calm still air the captain struck a light, bending low in the car
to avoid contact of flame and gas, bit the end of a cigar, and lit it.
Josiah, shaking with terror, could see in the shadow of the balloon on
the cloud the smoke curling up from the cigar and lazily spreading
"Now, old chappie," said the captain, "I'm ready. Heave hard, and over I
What was the use of disputing with a man like this? Josiah never had
been inclined to fight with men of strong will. He was certain he could
not move the captain, but he was able to try, and try he did. He got one
foot over the car, the captain encouraging him and cheerfully smoking.
"Very well done, old man. A few more tugs, and over we go. I'll just
have time to finish my cigar before I get to the bottom."
Josiah tugged and tugged till he felt the warm blood rushing through his
veins and his breath came short But though he might move one of the
captain's colossal legs, which seemed to his disordered fancy to be the
size of the Monument, he could do no more. The captain sat passive,
encouraging him by every kindly phrase he could think of. But it was of
no use, and after ten minutes' violent struggling Josiah threw himself
back in the car.
"Very sorry, old man," said the captain, with a tone of unmistakable
sincerity. "Thought once you'd have done it; but I've got a little out
of training lately and run up half a stun. Now I must see what I can do
First of all he tore off some slips of paper and threw them out. Josiah
looked at them with hungry eyes. Round and round they spun, falling back
into the car or dropping to the world beyond the clouds. There was no
hope of movement for the balloon.
"Well, Mr. Smith, it's your turn now. I must see what I can do. It's not
nice for either of us, but it would be no nicer to stay here and be
starved to death or blown out to sea. You won't feel anything after the
first rush. Good-bye. I am sorry there will be no opportunity of my
communicating with you as to the result of this interesting experiment.
I don't suppose," the captain added, his love of scientific research
increasing his unfeigned regret for the inconvenience Josiah was about
to suffer, "that ever before ten stun was dropped out of a car in a
lump. I reckon I'll get as high as most people have been. Now, if you've
any message, just hand it over. If I can do anything for you in King
Street or anywhere else, you may depend upon me."
"No," said Josiah, gulping down a rising sob; "if you will only say I
went off bravely and didn't flinch, that will be all. Perhaps you might
write a few lines by way of preface to 'Underground England,' pointing
out that I died in the interests of science."
"Certainly, my dear fellow, it shall be done," said the captain, with
quite a glow of honest energy. "If you'd like a little monument or
anything of that sort, I'll see it's run up. Now, over you go. Time's
getting on, and I don't want to miss the Paris train. Give us a shake of
your paw, then shut your eyes, for I fancy I shan't have much difficulty
with you. Heave your watch over or take it with you!"
"If you wouldn't mind accepting it," said Josiah, pulling out his fine
old turnip-shaped time-piece, "as a memento of our friendship—which,
though brief, has I trust been sincere—it would give me great
"Certainly," said the captain, weighing it in his hand critically, and
thinking to himself that it might serve as ballast in a last emergency.
"I'll hang it over my bed, and will think of you whenever it ticks.
Nothing more to say?"
"No," said Josiah; "only, please to drop me feet first."
The captain took him in his arms as if he were a child, held him for a
moment over the side of the car, and with a cheery farewell dropped him.
Josiah felt his hat go, and could see the balloon shoot up with
tremendous rapidity, though, as he reckoned, the rate of velocity would
need to be divided by about half, as he was simultaneously descending
rapidly. He felt the rush of air, and shrank from the moment, coming
nearer and nearer, when he should strike the earth. He seemed an
unconscionably long time falling. Still, through the clouds he went,
and, it seemed to him at the end of five minutes, began to get glimpses
of the earth. Down he went like a shot. The rushing noise in his ears
grew more intolerable. There was a swift upgrowth of the hedgerows, a
sudden vision of cows and horses, and of people running across fields.
Then a heavy bump, and Josiah, opening his eyes, found himself lying on
the floor in the room in King Street.
On the table were an empty claret bottle and two tumblers. The room was
full of the smoke, now growing stale, of cigars. Josiah was shivering
with cold, and the room was dark save from what light flickered in from
the lamp down the street. He struck a light, and there in its accustomed
place on the mantelpiece was his watch, the hands pointing to three
o'clock. Dazed and shivering he crept into bed, where he thought the
matter over, and amid much that was bewildering groped his way to the
conclusion that Captain Mulberry really had come into his room, had
spent an hour with him, smoked cigars, drunk claret, and then gone off.
He remembered standing at the head of the stairs shaking hands with him,
and promising to dine with him at his club one day in the following
week. Then he had gone back and lain on the couch, where, overcome with
the unaccustomed tumbler of claret and dazed with the tobacco smoke, he
had fallen asleep, dreamed, and rolled off on to the floor.
HENRY W. LUCY.
A poor garret on the sixth floor of one of the poorest houses in the
poorest quarters of Paris, does not give much opportunity for a detailed
description. There is little to be said about the furniture, which in
this case consisted of a rickety old table, a wooden stool, and a small
charcoal stove, all of the commonest kind, but all clean, and the room
was not quite without adornment. The window, to be sure, was in the
roof, but pinned to the wall were a few newspaper prints in strong
blacks and whites, and—most remarkable of all—there was an alcove for
the bed, which was carefully shut off from the room by a gaily
variegated chintz. In spite of its poverty and bareness, there was
nothing squalid or unwholesome about the place.
The house itself was a tall narrow slip. People of different callings,
and different degrees of respectability, lived in it; on the whole it
had not a bad character. The landlord was an immensely fat man, called
Plon—a name which, irresistibly converted into Plon-Plon, seemed to
give an aristocratic air to the house—and he lived and made shoes in a
small room at the foot of the lowest flight of stairs, so that he acted
as his own concierge, and boasted that no one came in or out without
his knowledge. Probably some of his lodgers contrived to elude his
vigilance, but he was as obstinate in his belief as an old Norman has a
right to be, and was a kind-hearted old fellow in the main, though with
the reputation of a grognard, and a ridiculous fear of being
discovered in a good action. Perhaps with this fear, the more credit was
due to him for occasionally running the risk, as when he saw young
Monnier, the artist, coming down the stairs one evening with a look in
his eyes, which Plon told himself gave him an immediate shuddering
back-sensation, as of cold water and marble slabs. Plon did something
for him, perhaps knocked off the rent, but he implored Monnier to show
his gratitude by saying nothing, and he never gave him more of a
greeting than the sidelong twist he vouchsafed to the other lodgers. For
the rest, his benevolence depended in a great measure upon his temper,
and he prided himself upon being very terrible at times.
With five floors we have nothing to do, and need waste no time over
them. The inmates mostly went out early and came in late, but the house
kept better hours than its neighbours, for the simple reason that those
who arrived after a certain time found themselves shut into the street
for the night. They might hammer and appeal in the strongest language
of their vocabulary, but Plon snored unmoved, and nothing short of a
fire in the house would have turned him out of his bed. Gradually this
became so well understood, that his lodgers accommodated themselves to
it as to any other of the inexorable laws of fate.
On the sixth and highest floor the crowded house resolved itself into
comparative quiet. Besides the garret of which we have spoken, there
were two other rooms, but for some years past these had been used merely
as store-rooms for furniture. No one knew to whom the furniture
belonged, some curious speculators avowing that Plon had a child—a
girl—at school in Normandy, and had collected it as part of her dowry;
others that some mysterious tie of gratitude bound him to the owner.
Whoever was right or wrong, the rooms remained closed and unlet.
The garret itself was inhabited by a young widow, whose story was
sufficiently sad. She was the daughter of a farmer in the north of
France, and married to a glazier, Jean Didier by name, with whom she had
come to Paris in search of work. If there had been no war, and, above
all, no Commune, things might have gone well with the young couple, but,
unhappily, one followed the other, and there was an end of peace. Jean
was no fool, but he was too certain that he was extremely wise not to
make mistakes, and he possessed enough of the French nature to be easily
influenced by the brag and fine promises which filled the air at that
time. It is always satisfactory to reflect on changes which assure us
the highest step of a ladder, which ordinarily takes a life-time for a
step. Jean talked a great deal about it, not only to Marie, who would
have been safe, but to others who agreed with him more thoroughly, and
were dangerous. Nevertheless, when the Commune, in March, 1871, broke
into actual life, and Jean began to see what it all meant, he was
terrified by the outburst and held back. Things which look seductive in
theory, have a way of losing their gloss when they appear as hard
realities, with accompaniments which do not belong to the ideals; and
the rabble rout of half-drunk citizens who marched, shouting, through
the streets of the 19th arrondissement, frightened Marie out of her
senses. She clung to Jean, and implored him not to join them on pain of
breaking her heart. To do him justice, common sense, perhaps aided by a
desire to keep out of the way of rifle-balls, was proving stronger than
bombast; and, to do him justice again, he was desirous to keep others
than himself from danger.
It was this which brought about the catastrophe. May came, and with it
the conquering troops from Versailles poured into the city. It was
sufficiently clear what the end would be; Jean, who never distrusted his
own reasoning powers, insisted, in spite of his wife's prayers and
Plon's expostulations, in going out into the streets, and trying to
dissuade some of his comrades from fighting. He promised to return
immediately, but he did not come, Marie became almost frenzied with
terror. She would have rushed out to seek him, but that she knew not
where to turn, and if he came, wanting help, and she was not there to
give it, matters might go hardly with him. The din of battle drew
nearer, shells were falling, bullets were whizzing, it seemed hardly
possible that any one could escape, and yet, men went by shouting and
singing, mad with either drink or excitement. Plon, after entreating
Madame Didier to come farther into shelter, shut himself into his little
room with a white face, and was seen no more. Everything seemed to grow
more horrid as the night drew on.
At about ten o'clock, Plon, hearing voices in the passage, peeped out.
There still stood Madame Didier, wan as a ghost, but with the restless
excitement gone. A man was speaking to her, an elderly, grimy,
frightened-looking man, with a bald head. He was telling a story in a
dull, hopeless kind of way, as if at such a time no one story was
particularly distinguished from another, and pity had to wait for
"He was shot in the next street; Jean says he never wished to go with
them, but they forced him along. After that he got into a doorway, where
he might have hidden himself, but Fort saw him, and denounced him. Fort
might have left him alone, as it was he your husband was trying to
persuade, but at such a time men look after their own skins. They
dragged him out and set him up with some others against a wall, and
that was the end of him, and of a good many others."
His listener flung up her hands with a gesture of wild despair, and
turned her face to the wall, speechless. The man, who was by trade a
trieur or chief chiffonnier, seeing Plon's head appear,
turned round and addressed himself to him.
"Fort is a traitor, he has denounced others. They will be here presently
searching for arms. It is short work I can tell you."
"And my—my locataire is shot!" murmured Plon, panic-struck. But the
man whose mission was ended, turned round without another word and went
out into the lurid darkness.
The landlord made a trembling effort to stagger across the passage, and
to pluck at Marie's gown. When he spoke, his voice quavered with fright.
"Come, come, Madame Didier, go upstairs, and—and—cry there like a good
woman. Here it isn't safe. Besides, if they know who you are, I might be
compromised. Poor Jean! Heavens!--"
For a volley of rifle shot poured down the street, a rush of feet
followed; and Plon fled precipitously to his den, double-bolted his
door, and rolled his mattress round him for protection. Marie Didier
slowly turned her head, and, as if recognising the wisdom of his advice,
felt her way along the wall and groped up the dark staircase. No one had
lit the small oil lamp on the premier, but light from burning houses
flashed in at windows; a child had been killed by the fragment of a
shell, and the mother was loudly wailing; some were peering out of
their doorways; they stared at Marie, who crept up like a ghost. In this
rookery the young couple had kept themselves apart, and had no friends.
But it was instinctively known that something had happened to Jean, and
only one woman was bold enough to question the wife. She answered
steadily in a strange strained voice:
"They are searching the houses. We shall have them soon."
It was, however, an hour before a party of soldiers made a rough
visitation. They dragged Plon out of his mattress, and made him climb
the stairs, panting and protesting. When they reached the top garret,
Marie was sitting in the darkness, with her arms on the poor table; she
did not move as they entered.
"Bring in the lantern!" shouted the sergeant. "Now, good woman, who have
you got hiding here?"
She turned a white face upon him, speechless. Plon, who was recovering
his pomposity, pressed forward, and laid a hand on the soldier's arm.
"Don't worry her, sergeant," he said, "her husband has just been shot."
"Serve him right," said the man brutally. "Are there more of the brood
"Not a soul. They lived here alone, these two."
"Well, we'll see."
"No cupboards here," said a soldier, whose face was bleeding from a
"There's a trap door, though," said the sergeant, holding the lantern
up to the ceiling. He glanced sharply at Marie, but she remained
immovable. "Humph," he grumbled, "if he is shot he is out of the way.
Now, friend Porpoise, the other rooms if you please."
They searched these thoroughly with no better success. But when they had
satisfied themselves and were out again, the sergeant, whose suspicions
seemed to have been aroused, flung open the door of the Didiers' garret,
and turned the lantern full upon Marie once more. She had not moved hand
"What is that blood?" said the sergeant, pointing to a trail of red
drops on the floor.
For answer she silently rolled back her sleeve, and unbandaging her arm,
showed a deep cut, from which the blood still oozed.
"Good. She has no one," said the man, withdrawing the light.
This, as all the world knows, was in 1871. Four years afterwards, at the
time my story begins, Marie Didier still occupied that attic. She lived
by taking in needlework, and it was sometimes a wonder to the few who
knew her, that working so hard as she did, she should remain so poor.
The furniture of her attic I have described, the sole addition she had
made to it was the gay chintz which curtained off the alcove with the
bed. She was always ready to do a kindness, but made no acquaintances,
and the only persons who ever climbed to her attic were Plon, who made
occasional weighty visitations, often discoursed upon his prowess at the
time of the Commune; and an idiot girl called Périne, whom Marie one day
found crying in the street; she had no father or mother, and the old
rag-picker she lived with beat her. Once or twice Marie gave her food,
and the poor creature attached herself to her like a dog, followed her
upstairs and lay across her door. After a while Madame Didier admitted
her into her room at times, and let her share her poor meals, and sleep
on a heap of sacking outside the door. Périne, in such prosperity, was
as happy as a queen. It is true that Plon at first objected, but Marie
could persuade him into anything, and he only grumbled.
On one winter day, Marie was stooping over the stove stirring something
in an earthen pipkin; Périne, seated on the wooden stool, leaned forward
and watched her operations with excessive interest. Perhaps for want of
an intelligent companion, Madame Didier was in the habit of
soliloquising aloud, and at this moment she was saying cheerfully:
"Not much, to be sure, but something! I should have liked a carrot or
two, but in these hard times that would have been extravagant. And,
after all, there is some credit in making good soup out of nothing at
all. If one could run here and there in the market—'A pound of your
best veal, monsieur'—'A bunch of those fine turnips, and a stick of
celery, madame'—well, truth obliges me to admit that it is possible
the soup would have a finer flavour, but there would not be the
satisfaction of seeing it grow out of a few onions a crust of bread, and
a pinch of salt. And that is a satisfaction which I am favoured with
tolerably often. Well, Périne, my child, it interests you—this
occupation—does it not? Do you think you will ever learn to make soup?"
The girl nodded many times.
"Périne eat it," she said.
"Listen to her!" Marie exclaimed, patting her cheek approvingly. "And
that any one should say she has no sense! She knows as well as any of
us, that the great thing in soup is to eat it with an appetite, and so
she puts together two and two—"
She was interrupted by the girl.
"Four!" she said abruptly.
Madame Didier, instead of showing astonishment, began to laugh.
"There she is with her numbers again! How strange it is that she should
never forget a number or make a mistake in a sum! In taking away or
adding together one can't puzzle her. I don't mean that I can't," she
continued, apparently addressing no one in particular, "because I am a
poor ignorant woman; but wiser people than I. Now, Périne, you shall
have your lesson. See here, I shall stand near my bed, and you over
there with your face to the wall. Do you understand?"
The girl nodded, and stumbling along towards the place indicated,
contrived on her way to knock down and break into atoms a white dish.
"Oh, the unfortunate child!" cried Marie, darting forward. "Another! and
it was my last! How many more things will you destroy!"
At this reproach the guilt-stricken Périne covered her face and howled
aloud, and Madame Didier's momentary anger passed.
"There, don't cry!" she said, "crying does no good, and it was an
accident. You'll be more careful another time, won't you? Try to move
gently, and look where you go, or some day you will hurt yourself. At
present let me see you stand well against the wall, so! I put on the
soup—and we are ready."
As she said these words she went back to the alcove. And then a strange
thing happened. For from behind the gaily-figured chintz, there issued a
strange hoarse whisper, which caused so little astonishment to Madame
Didier, that she merely echoed the words aloud. Apparently this was
"Seven six nine, and eight five four," repeated Madame Didier.
The answer from the girl came instantaneously:
"Sixteen hundred and twenty-three."
Her teacher paused for a moment, perhaps to allow the whisperer time for
objection, if there were one to make, but as nothing came she said
"Good! Now let me think of another."
"Nine ought three, and fifteen nine seven," prompted the hidden voice.
"Ah, here is a fine one! Nine ought—" she hesitated, "fifteen—"
The voice corrected her impatiently: "Nine ought three, and fifteen nine
In the same whisper she answered "Hush!" warningly, before repeating the
figures aloud and correctly. The girl, on her part, returned rapidly and
"She seems a different creature when she is doing it!" Marie exclaimed
admiringly. "Now one more, and then I must run down and see in what sort
of a temper Monsieur Plon finds himself. If it is good, he will lend me
his journal. At any rate, I shall only be gone a moment. Allons!
Something difficult, something to take away, shall it be?"
As before the whisper responded:
"From thirteen thousand nine hundred and fifty-nine, take eight thousand
five hundred and four."
Madame Didier began in a puzzled voice, "From eight thousand five
hundred and four, take thirteen—" but, seeing Périne shake her head,
caught herself up. "No, no, not that, of course not that!"
"The other way, stupid woman!" said the whisper.
Slowly she started again, "From thirteen thousand," and, interprompted
by the mysterious voice, arrived at the end of her sum, "nine hundred
Quick as thought came the answer:
"Five thousand four hundred and fifty-five."
"All those fives! You are really a wonder, Périne!" said Marie happily.
"I never could do anything like that, decidedly I am only fit to make
soup. Well, every one to his trade—we can't dine upon figures. If we
could you would provide us with plenty, eh, my child? But now I have
something for you to do while I am away. Here is the stool; I am going
to put it before the fire, so, and you shall sit upon it and watch the
pot for me. Don't move, and don't look behind you, and then, by-and-by,
you shall have a basin of the soup. If only I had something to put into
it, something good, for bread and onions are not too fattening. However,
there is plenty to be thankful for. Remember, Périne, you must not take
your eyes off the soup."
The girl, who seemed to have the faculty of obedience, sat down where
she was directed, and fastened her stolid gaze upon the pot. For a time
there was absolute silence in the garret, a ray of cold winter sunshine,
cold but bright (for this was Paris), streamed in through the little
window in the roof, and fell on Périne's slouching figure and coarse
hair. Less than five minutes, however, had passed, when the chintz
curtains of the alcove shook, parted, and from between them looked out
a pale and haggard man's face.
It will be guessed that this third inhabitant of the sixth floor attic
was no other than Jean Didier, whose name had been entered in the
bureau of police—when they tried to get some imperfect statistics of
missing men—as "Jean Didier, glazier; fought with the insurgents,
wounded at the barricade of the Rue Soleil d'Or, May 28th, 1871;
denounced as Communist by André Fort; executed on the spot."
Nevertheless, for once the police were wrong. Jean was not shot, though
it was true he was shot at. Fear, or loss of blood, or an instinctive
effort at self-preservation, caused him to reel and fall just a second
before a couple of bullets which should have found a home in his body,
spent themselves in the blood-stained wall over his head. The tide of
slaughter ebbed away, leaving ghastly heaps of dead men. From one of
these a shadow by-and-by detached itself, and drifted homewards, to the
spot where Marie was waiting in terrible anguish.
Her courage came back with the need for it; it took very little to add
to the disguise which fire and a wound had brought upon him; the people
in the house were at that moment much occupied with dragging down the
papers they had pasted over their windows. He crawled upstairs, and when
she had hastily bound up his wound, and given him some food, he managed
to get out on the roof through the trap-door. There he spent three days,
coming down at night, till she was able to put up her new chintz
curtains, and here in the garret he had remained ever since, sometimes
fairly patient, sometimes finding his lot insupportable, and railing at
fate, at Marie, and at Providence. He had had a few narrow escapes, but
his wife was as cunning as a fox when he was concerned, and fortune had
Périne's presence had a double aspect. The loneliness of the position
was so difficult for a man of his temperament to support, that he
welcomed it at times as a distraction, and these exercises of the
strange ingenuity of brain which she possessed, at the cost, as it
seemed, of all other intelligences, would very often interest and amuse
him. On the other hand she was quite as valuable as a grievance. If he
had no other fault to find with his wife, he could always blame her for
suffering the idiot girl to hang about the place, and the relief of this
was enormous. On the present occasion he contemplated her broad back
"Wretched creature! There she sits, and will sit till Marie comes back;
I wonder what she thinks would happen to her if she were to look round?
Lucky for me if she pictures some terrible fate. What sort of confused
nonsense is running through her head now? Soup and Marie take a
prominent place, I wager. So precious hard up does one become in this
rat's hole, that I make her my problem as she makes the soup hers, poor
wretch! Yet, my excellent friend, Jean Didier, I would counsel you to
keep your compassion for yourself, for, believe me, you want it at least
as much. As much? Rather, a hundred times more! For she—she knows
nothing of the blessings she has missed, while I—Heavens, I know too
well! To be cooped up here, to see no one but Marie and this idiot; to
be aware that at any moment any thing, the merest trifle, might betray
me to death, or at least transportation to New California,—was ever man
so unhappy in this world!"
Jean, who had a turn for the melodramatic, tugged despairingly with both
hands at his hair, Périne, meanwhile, intent upon the soup, bent forward
and stirred it.
"Soup for mother and Périne," she muttered.
"What red hands she has!" continued Jean with a grimace, "and I hate to
hear her call Marie, mother. But it's just Marie all over. She never
could see a poor wretch, were it only a hunted rat, but she must take it
up, and give herself all the trouble in the world, when she might have
left it alone. She was just the same as a little girl, I see her now, in
her little round cap and woollen frock, scattering food for the
frozen-out birds in the hard winters. Such a pretty, rosy-faced little
thing as she was, and they all so fond of her! I recollect taking her to
school in my wooden sledge, and she—What's the girl about now?
Why—what dog has bitten her! She has taken my tobacco from the
shelf—she—not—! Yes, by heaven, she has poured it all into the soup!"
"Périne heard mother say she wanted something to make the soup good,"
laughed the girl, nodding her head, and quite unconscious that behind
her the enraged Jean was violently shaking his fist.
"Horror! To see tobacco, dinner, everything ruined by that creature
without being able to say a word! It is simply atrocious of Marie to go
away, leave her to do all this mischief, and then expect me to put up
with it! My pipe, my one comfort! Ah-h-h-h! if only I could box her ears
and stop her from grinning away as if she had done a clever thing!"
It was at this moment that Marie returned, carrying in her arms a
cabbage. At the door, seeing the angry and distracted gesture of her
husband, she paused in consternation.
"But what then? Has anything gone wrong? The soup—Périne, you
unfortunate child, have you touched the soup?"
The girl pointed with triumph to where the tobacco had been.
"Good stuff, mother," she said, nodding.
"The tobacco! You have it put in!--Oh, my poor friend, no wonder you are
angry!" said Madame Didier in an undertone.
"Out with her!" cried her husband in a fierce whisper.
"Périne, Périne, and I have warned you so often to touch nothing without
leave! Now you have spoilt the soup, and we can have no dinner."
There was this inconvenience in the quick remorse which seized the girl
when Marie reproved her, however gently, that she broke at once into
sobs, which were as clumsy and unmanageable as her hands and feet. Jean
disliked them intensely, and he now made frantic signs to his wife that
she was to be sent away. "But she is as hungry as we are," pleaded
Marie, "and see, M. Plon has given me a cabbage, I can manage
He was, however, inexorable; and his wife, always afraid of his
committing some imprudence, though on the whole Jean might be trusted to
take care of himself, said sorrowfully:
"Périne, my poor child, you must go; there is no dinner for you today.
Don't cry, don't cry; you meant no harm—you did not know, and Heaven is
witness how sorely we sometimes suffer for that!"
Between her sobs the girl jerked out piteously:
"Périne come back?"
Marie looked imploringly at her husband, but he shook his head.
"Not tonight, not to-night, my child. As you go out beg for a bit of
bread from M. Plon, he is in a splendid temper, and will not refuse it.
There make haste, go!"
She took her by the shoulders and pushed her towards the door, but when
she left her outside, kissed her.
Périne had no sooner gone than Jean came out and flung himself angrily
on a chair.
"I shall stand this no longer. I give you notice of my determination,
Marie. You have her here, I believe, solely to torment me. Figure to
yourself having to stand by helpless, and see the creature put an end to
both one's dinner and one's pipe! She is not to come here any more,
those are my orders. Do you hear?"
"Yes, I hear," said Marie quietly, "but I beg of you to change your
mind. We are badly off, I allow, yet somehow or other we can always rub
along, and this poor child is in worse plight than we are."
"Worse? Nonsense. No one can be worse off than I am. Denounced,
executed, for I assure you I felt that bullet go through my brain, saved
just by the hair of my head—"
"Such a mercy!" breathed the wife.
"A mercy, yes—but you who can go and come and amuse yourself, never
think what this life must be to me, cooped up like a rat in his hole.
There are times when I believe I should do better to give myself up."
"For the sake of Heaven, Jean—!"
"At any rate," said Jean, descending from his heights, "I will not have
that imbécile here. You understand?"
Marie looked at him indulgently. "Yes, my friend, I understand."
"I'll lay a wager you never got that journal from old Plon-Plon?"
"He had not finished with it."
"Of course not. Then I shall go to sleep, for there is nothing else for
me to do."
He flung a handkerchief over his eyes as he spoke, put his feet on
Périne's stool, and his elbow on the table. Marie moved quietly about,
set the saucepan again on the stove, and taking some needlework from a
box, sat down near her husband, stitching rapidly. Every now and then
she glanced at him, and her mind was tenderly busy over his concerns all
the while, so that tears would have stood in her eyes if they had not
had other work to do.
"How sad the poor fellow looks!" she thought. "I'm glad he's asleep,
after that unfortunate affair with the pipe. When I remember how hard it
is to get tobacco for him, for I am dreadfully afraid that some one will
suspect me when I ask for it, I must own that Périne is an unlucky
child. But as for her not coming again, he doesn't mean that, no,
no—he's so kind hearted that he would be the last to keep her away;
besides, I know very well that while he grumbles he feels an interest in
hearing her do those wonderful sums. Anything is better for him than
seeing no one but stupid me from year's end to year's end—my poor Jean!
Three years! I declare it quite hurts me to go out and about, though to
be sure I must. But it seems so selfish."
There is no knowing to what depths of accusing wickedness Madame
Didier's meditations would have led her, but that presently she heard a
heavy creaking step upon the stairs; and flew to awake her husband and
to hustle him into his refuge. M. Plon's visits were rare, and she
discouraged them with all her might, yet when he arrived panting and
puffing at the door, she was standing by the stove working, with a
little coquettish air of greeting about her.
"You don't mean to say that you have brought the journal yourself, M.
Plon! Now that is kind of you, but it is disarranging yourself too much
to climb up those steep stairs, when I could have fetched it with
"Ugh, ugh, they are steep, there's no denying it," said Plon, sinking
into the rickety chair. "But what would you have? Up here on the sixth,
you can't expect all the luxuries of the first or second."
"You should cultivate a contented frame of mind. Madame Didier, and
beware of grumbling."
"Was I grumbling?"
"You were complaining—complaining of the stairs, and it is a pernicious
habit. Don't encourage it."
"But, indeed—" Marie was beginning with a smile, when he interrupted
her with a majestic wave of his hand.
"Halte là! Now you are contradicting, and that is another bad habit,
particularly for a woman. But nobody knows when they are well off in
these days. I often say to my friends: 'There is Madame Didier, she
lives in that nice airy attic of ours; she has no one to think of but
herself, no cares, no responsibilities; she ought to be as happy as a
bird.' Look at me, I entreat you; what a contrast! At everybody's beck
and call, cooped up in a draughty little den, making shoes with a
thousand interruptions. I ask you what sort of a life is that for a man
of my stamp? If you were to try it for a week, you'd find out whether
you were not a lucky woman! But, there, as I said before, nobody ever
knows when they are well off—not even widows. I say all this because I
take a real interest in you."
"I know you do, M. Plon, if only for the sake of my poor husband," said
Marie demurely. To say the truth she was often in a state of
uncomfortable doubt as to whether M. Plon's interest might not be going
to take a warmer form, in which case it might be more difficult than
ever for Jean to forget that he was no longer in the land of the living.
"But I must say I don't think you are the best of managers," said M.
Plon with a magisterial sweep of his hand which took in all the poor
surroundings. "With your earnings you might do better than you do,
Madame Didier. One mouth to feed, one person to dress—"
"There is Périne," faltered poor Marie.
"Yes, there is Périne, and it is true those imbeciles have appetites
like wolves. Still—well, well, you must not suppose that I am blaming
you; on the contrary, it might surprise you to hear—"
M. Plon was edging his chair a little nearer to Madame Didier, and she
thought it was time to interrupt his explanation, so she said briskly:
"Ah, by the way, what news is there to-day in Le Petit Journal?"
"There is the great robbery."
"The great robbery! Where?"
"In the Rue Vivienne. The paper is full of it—jewellery, diamonds,
plate, treasures of all kinds carried off, chest and all, that's the
wonderful part of it, for a chest is not a thing to hide in your
"And have they no clue?" asked Marie, much interested.
"Not yet, but there must have been a cart or a cab, or some vehicle in
the affair. It is clear enough that this belongs to the haute pègre,
none of your common burglars would have attempted such a daring stroke;
and I would lay a wager, too, that they're not so far off from here, if
they're in Paris, that is. I shall keep a sharp look-out, for the reward
"Really!" said Madame Didier with a sigh.
"One would suppose you wanted it yourself," said Plon angrily. "Now what
possible good could it do to you? It is extraordinary that people—women
especially—can't be contented, but must always be wishing for what they
"I was only thinking," Marie answered apologetically.
"Then don't think. Women should leave that to others," Having delivered
which sententious maxim, M. Plon rose with some difficulty from his
chair, and gazed round the room. It was a habit of his, but it always
frightened Marie, and it frightened her yet more when he turned towards
the recess and stood contemplating the curtains. "You keep those so
tightly drawn one would—Eh! what's the matter!"
For Madame Didier, stooping over the stove, had uttered a sharp feminine
"I have burnt my finger?" she exclaimed, wringing her hand.
"That comes of thinking. Does it hurt?"
"Hurt! Of course it does."
"Let me see," he said coming over.
But Marie hastily bound a bit of rag round her hand.
"The great thing is to exclude the air," she said quickly. "Then you
mean to be on the lookout for these grand robbers, M. Plon?"
"Yes, instead of idling away my time up here," he said, rolling towards
the door. "But you women dearly love a little gossip, don't you? And
though you are not the best of managers, Madame Didier, no one can say
you don't work with industry. So keep a good heart. You shall hear if I
get the reward."
As the sound of his heavy footsteps creaked down the stairs, Jean came
out and flung himself on the chair which M. Plon had occupied.
"Now that that old idiot has taken himself off, let's see what he was
"Is it true about the robbery?" asked Marie, leaning over his shoulder.
"So it seems."
"And the reward?"
"Twelve thousand francs."
"Twelve thousand francs!" repeated his wife in amazement. "Oh, you must
"There are the figures at any rate, see for yourself."
"Yes, I see. I suppose it must be so, as it is in the paper;
but—but—if we could only have a little part of it!"
"Ah, if!" said Jean with a shrug. "But how will you manage? Stand about
the corners of the Streets and ask every escarpe that passes?"
"I could almost do that," his wife answered stoutly, "when I reflect
that with money we might have an advocate, and you might be free. My
store grows so slowly, Jean!"
Jean dashed the paper to the ground, and thrust his hands through his
"Don't talk of it, if you wouldn't madden me!" he exclaimed.
"Might—might—I am sick of mights! Cooped up here I can do nothing, but
if I had only common luck I might get the end of a clue as well as any
other poor devil. I tell you, Marie, I have half a mind to give myself
up, and end everything."
She clung to him, pale as death.
"You'd get on better without me."
Jean's tragic air vanished in a rush of real emotion. He put his wife
from him and looked at her sorrowfully.
"Poor soul!" he said slowly. "And you really mean that I haven't tired
you out yet with all my moods and cross words? No? Then, decidedly, we
must rub on a little longer still."
She embraced him with all the gratitude a woman feels when her good
offices are accepted.
"To-morrow," she said cheerfully, "to-morrow will bring you some
"To-morrow will also, I imagine, bring Périne," he replied, with a
laugh, and when he laughed it was possible to see what a handsome young
fellow the haggard man had been. "Well, I am not sure that Périne isn't
preferable to old Plon-Plon. When I hear him prosing away to you on the
duty of being contented, it's all I can do not to knock him down. You a
bad manager, indeed!"
"Do not talk of anything so imprudent."
"He would roll like a ball," said Jean longingly.
"Bah, you need not fear. To do things sometimes in imagination is the
only way of keeping my muscles in exercise. Oh, if I could only get a
little fresh air, or drop in at the brasserie and hear what is doing!"
"See, here," said Marie, true to her mission of comforter, "to-night we
shall have a luxury, for this work must be finished and carried home
to-morrow morning, and so I shall allow myself a candle. Sometimes I am
afraid that I want more light than in old days, but I daresay that is a
foolish fancy. The cabbage will be ready in a few minutes; meanwhile,
tell me what more news you have got there in the paper. M. Plon has a
great respect for my scholarship, but he is afraid I waste my time over
his journals—aha, M. Plon, you little know that I have got my reader!"
"Plon is an ass," said Jean gruffly, for he did not like any one to find
a flaw in the wife whom he often scolded himself.
"Perhaps," said Marie happily. "But now, find me something horribly
delightful to-night, something to make me shudder."
"Capture of a wolf in Auvergne."
"Of a wolf! Is it possible!" demanded Madame Didier, much interested.
"And how many people did he eat?"
"Only one! What a stupid wolf! Go on, my friend."
"Suicide of a husband."
"Not that, I do not like anything so sad," she said in a changed voice.
"And where was his wife all the time, that she could not prevent it, I
should like to know? No, let me hear a little more about this robbery,
and then we will have our dinner."
The hours passed, the light faded in the little garret where Marie's
busy fingers toiled day after day to add to the little hoard so slowly
accumulating, and Marie's cheerful heart brought out greater treasures
of unselfish devotion, if her husband had only known it. Perhaps he did
know it—in a fashion. Through the night, when it came, she thought
often uneasily of Périne out in the heart of the great wicked city. But
Périne had a haunt or two of her own, and Marie said prayers for her,
and slept, hoping the girl would be safe.
She got up early the next morning while Jean was yet asleep, and cheered
herself as she looked at her scanty supply of poor coffee with the
thought that she would be paid for her work in the course of the day.
Meanwhile the breakfast would not be a very rich affair, and she was
pondering whether she could be so extravagant as to run to a crêmerie
near at hand for two sous-worth of milk, when an unexpected sound
filled her with dismay. It was Périne's shuffling steps upon the stairs,
and she was by no means sure how Jean would receive such an early
visitor. Moreover, she did not care that he should be disturbed, and she
went hastily to the door to moderate the noise of the girl's awkward
entry. For a wonder no word or look of hers could do this. Périne, who
generally was obedient to her smallest sign, was in a state of
uncontrollable excitement; she fled to Marie's arms, buried her rough
head there, sobbed her loudest, and presently, in the thick of
incoherent lamentations, pulled down her dress, and showed a heavy
bruise on her shoulder. Then she sobbed again, and implored Madame
Didier not to let them beat her.
"Come, come, come!" said Marie reassuringly, "tell me a little more
about this, and don't be a baby, Périne. Remember that you are a big
girl. No one will come here to beat you; if they did, good M. Plon would
not let them come up the stairs. Tell me who did it?"
She sat down on the stool as she spoke, and let the poor clumsy creature
rest on her knee.
"The man, the bad man!" howled Périne.
"That I hear; but what were you doing to make any one so cruel?"
"Périne only looking at pretty bright figures, mother; so pretty with
the light on them. 7639."
"What is she talking about?" said Madame Didier, puzzled, "7639?"
"Yes, yes," said the girl eagerly, and then she broke off again into her
lamentations, which lasted until Marie had bathed her hurt, and soothed
her by degrees. But when she proposed to take her to the crêmerie,
Périne began to wail again, and it was evident that something had so
terrified her, that it would be cruelty to force her out into the
streets. Every now and then she let drop another word or two on the
subject of her fright; her poor disconnected brain seemed unable to
grasp anything as a whole; something would float across it and be lost.
Marie had grown apt at gathering together these cobweb strands, and
disentangling them, but now even her ingenuity was at fault, and the
number was the only point which stood out clearly from wavering words
about a man and a box. She gathered at last that somewhere or other this
number with the light shining on it had attracted Périne's attention,
that she went to look, and that a man pushed her away with a blow, and
with threats which had been strong enough to send her terrified from the
spot. Evidently she scarcely felt secure in her present quarters, and
piteously implored Marie not to suffer him to come. Marie soothed her,
and hoped that Jean's compassion might be as strong as her own. Had she
not been taken up with Périne, she would have more quickly caught the
impatient scratching like a mouse in the wainscot, with which he
He made signs that he must speak, and with some difficulty she got
Périne into the landing, thrusting into her hands the bread which would
have been her own portion. Then she locked her door and went back to
Jean, who was eagerly waiting.
"Marie, I have a thought," he began. "What do you make out of all she
"Next to nothing," said his wife, shrugging her shoulders.
"No?" said Jean, feverishly and a little contemptuously. "Suppose I
suggested that she saw the figures on the lamp of a cab, what then?"
"What then?" repeated she, puzzled.
"And a box, and a man angry with her for looking. What then?"
"Oh, I don't understand!" said Marie, shaking her head.
"Heavens, that any one should be so dense! Have you forgotten the
"In the Rue Vivienne—oh, do you mean—do you think it possible! Jean,
how clever you are! I wonder whether—shall I run to the place and see?"
"To the place, and even if they were still there, get yourself knocked
on the head!"
"I should not mind," cried Marie eagerly. "I should mind nothing with
such a hope before me."
"No, my good Marie," Jean returned grandly; "you have excellent
intentions, but it is well you have some one to guide you. The first
thing is to find a commissaire of police."
The name seemed terrible; she turned pale, but he hurried on, losing
himself again in his excitement, and with all his haggard features
"Yes, yes, I know what you will say, but do you not understand that if
this is what I believe, anything will be forgiven to the man who can put
the sergent de ville on the track?"
"If! At any rate I will do what you bid me," the young wife said,
trembling. "There is a bureau not so far away. Only promise me you
will be prudent, for I must leave Périne here, though I will lock the
door. Remember, M. Plon has his own keys."
Nor would she relax one of her precautions in spite of his heated
impatience. But she had spoken truly, for after the daily fear of years,
the personal danger of encountering the robbers assuredly seemed nothing
in comparison with having to do with the police. She told Périne where
she was to sit, and tried to extract more coherent details, but only as
to the figures was Périne clear. These she repeated again and again,
while more than once Jean's sharp whisper reached his wife's ears. "Make
haste, make haste!" and she signed caution in return.
When she had gone there was for some time absolute silence in the
garret, Jean having flung himself on his bed, and given himself up to a
wild delirium of hope. By-and-by this took the form of restlessness. He
tossed and tumbled on his bed, and, his ear full of sounds which
expectation and imagination brought there, sometimes started up, keen to
listen, and the next moment pressed his fingers into his ears, to try to
shut out these delusive sounds. Then he became almost as reckless as to
Périne; what did her seeing him matter when so soon he would be a free
man? Once or twice the bed creaked and groaned under his tossings, so
that he imagined she would surely look round. But no, the girl was blind
and deaf to everything but Marie's orders, she sat squarely on the
wooden stool with her elbows on her knees, and her chin on her hands,
every now and then uttering a disjointed sob, until fatigue and tears
brought about their natural consequence, and it became evident that she
Jean got up and shook himself and looked out at her, his head in a
whirl. He began to think that Marie was long absent, and to lay the
blame on the back which was always ready to bear his burdens.
"She will not know where to go, she will stand gossipping with any fool
who asks her a question, and in this time I would wager a piece of
twenty sous the police or some other busy-body will have got on the
track. What more likely? And there's an end to our luck. Why did I let
her waste all these moments? Why didn't I go myself? Women always muddle
things. There would have been a scene, beyond doubt. 'Holà!—thunder
and lightning, who may this be?'" Jean planted himself in an attitude,
and struck his chest violently. "Then I should have drawn myself up,
always with dignity—thus—'This, gentlemen, is none other than Jean
Didier!'—'Who? What!'—'Jean Didier, at your service, gentlemen,
falsely denounced as Communist, executed and reported dead, but, as you
see alive, and able to render an important service to an ungrateful
country.'—That sounds sublime! I flatter myself it would have produced
an impression. Why didn't I go? Women, with all their good intentions,
haven't an idea of the value of a stroke like that! It requires genius.
And I foresee my excellent Marie will muddle the whole affair, very
likely allow them to pick her brains and cajole the number out of her,
then one of these messieurs will slip off and secure the reward."
Excitement got a strong hold upon Jean as this idea presented itself,
and his castles toppled over. "That's it, that's how it will go! And I
deserve it for having left such a delicate affair in the hands of a
woman. I could have managed it to a turn, and here I have let her go
off, and the whole thing will slip through her fingers. I could beat
myself with vexation."
In effect, he stamped his foot with such violence that Périne jumped up
and, looking round, saw him vanishing behind the curtains. She shrieked
with terror, "The man! Oh, it's the man!"
White as death, Jean rushed out and tried to calm her.
"Hush, child, hush! it's only me!"
But Périne was past all control, she screamed for "Mother!" for "M.
Plon!" until it seemed to Jean that not only the house but the whole
neighbourhood would presently be on him. He tried coaxing, he tried
menace, but Périne shrieked the more.
"Will you hold your tongue!" he cried, with a wild thought of strangling
her. "I'm a friend, I'm not the man; I won't touch you. Périne, Périne,
don't cry out so, look at me!"
At this appeal she hid her eyes with her hands.
"The man! the man! Mother! Help!" Nevertheless, though it seemed to poor
Jean that the very streets must tingle with her cries, it is possible,
for the upper-stories of the house had early risers for their dwellers,
that the deaf old woman left on the fifth floor might have heard
nothing; but unfortunately M. Plon had taken it into his head to make a
visitation to those uninhabited rooms of his in which some one had
housed his furniture, and at this moment was on his way. He knew that
Madame Didier was out, and Périne's screams seemed to point to fire or
something equally disastrous. The door was locked, but he had all his
keys about him, and soon succeeded in opening it, when Périne in a
transport of terror rushed at him, and flung herself into his arms with
a force which might have knocked over a less ponderous rescuer, and
effectually blocked the door at which Jean glanced longingly.
"Holà!" cried the astonished landlord. "Que diable! A man in
Madame Didier's room! What's the meaning of all this? Police!"
Jean advanced with a threatening gesture, and the valiant Plon quickly
retreated. For one wild moment his lodger contemplated the chances which
lay in knocking him down, and taking refuge in flight, but he reflected
that if the house were alarmed he would not get off, and if not, it
might be possible to enlist M. Plon on his side. He therefore went
quietly back into the room, saying, "Do not fear, M. Plon.... I give
you my word, I am not going to fight."
"You had better not," said the other blusteringly. "You had better not!"
"Oh, as to that ..." said Jean with anger.
M. Plon retreated a second time before this demonstration, and again
lifted his voice for the police.
"They'll be here fast enough, no doubt," said Jean quietly, though there
was a bitter feeling of downfall in his heart. "Meanwhile, perhaps it
might be as well for me to tell you who I am."
"Who you are?" repeated M. Plon indignantly. "It's easy enough to see
that, my fine fellow, though what you could expect to steal here is not
so clear. You've got the air of a gallows bird, and it's well this poor
child has me—the brave Plon—to protect her."
"Come, come, M. Plon—listen to reason. I'm the husband of Madame
"The husband of Madame Didier? What, when she hasn't got one!" cried the
other, now fairly enraged.
"Nevertheless, you might remember Jean Didier—if only you would," said
Jean imploringly, for he began to think there was yet a chance for him
if he could conciliate his landlord, and he made a few steps towards him
holding out his hands. But Périne screamed and Plon waved him
energetically back. Finding his prisoner cowed he launched some strong
invectives at him.
"You're a thief and a cut-throat, that's what you are!" he said,
shivering. "Keep off, keep off! You could no more stand in Jean Didier's
shoes than you could in mine, for he was a decent, peaceable young
fellow, and more than that, he was shot. So you've got hold of the wrong
story here, Monsieur Blacklegs, and one that won't serve you much in the
"It's true, I give you my word," said Jean.
"They did their best to shoot me, but I was only wounded. Marie got me
up here, and here I have been ever since."
"Was there ever such a cool hand!" cried Plon wrathfully. "And you
absolutely think to persuade me of this when not a soul comes in and out
of this house without my knowing. A pretty tale!"
Jean muttered "Blockhead!" under his breath. Aloud he said, "But—M.
Plon—am I not here now?"
"No, you are not!" Plon retorted,—"or if you are, you shall soon be out
of it again. Police! Help, help!"
"If only Marie were here!" groaned Jean. "M. Plon, I implore you to have
pity! wait until my wife arrives; you will believe her if you can't
believe your own eyes. Lock me into the room, do whatever you like—only
If M. Plon had indeed had sufficient calmness to contemplate the figure
before him, it is probable that in spite of alteration he would have
found something to recognise. But he was in a state of perturbed
excitement which altogether confused his judgment, and only inclined him
to refuse all his prisoner's suggestions. He therefore set himself more
vigorously than ever to bawl for help, and Périne seconded him with all
her might. The next moment Jean went back to the table, seated himself
upon it and crossed his arms. He had recognised Marie's step.
She came into the room pale as death, and even as she came, hesitated,
and held up her hand, as if she would have prevented a man who was with
her from following. But seeing that she was too late, and that Jean was
already discovered, she rushed into his arms, crying out:
"What has happened?"
M. Plon took up the parable, quite regardless of her action.
"What has happened, Madame Didier? There is no saying what might not
have happened if I had not been on the spot. Here is a rascally,
black-guardly, good-for-nothing!" and as he uttered these bold
invectives, he advanced and shook his fist in Jean's face. "You see him,
M. le Commissaire, you behold what a villain, what a desperate villain
he looks? Listen, then, I hear screams, I meet this poor imbecile flying
out in terror, I rush—I seize—I overpower—I make him my prisoner—"
At this point the police officer interposed a question:
"You used force, M. Plon?"
"I used—but certainly—moral force. He had made his way into this room
through the window, Monsieur—Monsieur—?"
"Leblanc, at your service," said the commissioner carelessly. "Did you
say through the window? That seems scarcely probable."
But Plon was positive there was no other way by which he could have
entered unseen by him. And now he would give M. le Commissaire a dozen
guesses to find out what this rascal had the villainy to pretend. To
look at him, would any one suppose now that he could be the husband of
"Apparently," said the other, glancing at them, "Madame herself is not
averse from that opinion."
"Her husband—hee, hee!" said M. Plon, getting red. "Poor Jean, who was
shot in émeute three years ago! See there, monsieur, it is ridiculous!
If any one should know anything about those times, it is I. I was myself
on the very point of becoming a martyr for my country; and as for Jean
Didier, whether rightly or wrongly, he was shot, and there was an end of
him. To pretend that he turns up three years later...."
Marie was crying, and M. Plon thought his eloquence had provoked her
tears, but she put aside his hand, walked to the commissioner, and
dropped on her knees before him.
"Monsieur, if you have a wife—"
"I have not," said the man roughly.
"But your mother! If her son—"
"I have my duty, that is enough," he said in the same tone, "Get up,
Madame Didier, and let me know the truth of all this matter. This
explains your unwillingness that I should return with you. Who's the
"My husband, monsieur," sobbed Marie, springing up and putting her hand
"How came he here?"
"Monsieur, he escaped and crawled here."
"And how has he been supported?"
"By me," said the wife simply.
Plon had recoiled during this explanation, and gazed helplessly from one
to the other.
"Go on," said Leblanc, taking out a note-book.
"He has not been out of this room for three years—three years! That is
a long time for a man to be shut up," pleaded Marie, with her heart in
her eyes. "And, M. le Commissaire, you must understand it was all a
mistake. He tried to stop them, but they dragged him along, the
Communists, and then one of them turns round and denounces him. There
are very wicked people in the world, M. le Commissaire."
Jean answered for her:
"The name of that man was Fort."
Leblanc turned the pages of his note-book more quickly."
Dumont—Court—ah, here it is, 'Jean Didier, glazier, with insurgents;
pointed out as Communist by one Fort; executed on spot.' Is that
"He was innocent," said Marie, nervously twisting her fingers.
"But am I to understand that you deny his identity?" said the officer,
turning sharply on Plon. "Speak up, man!"
M. Plon looked round, bewildered. "How could he have got into the
"Never mind that. What we want is 'yes' or 'no' Is it Jean Didier? Come
close and see for yourself."
"It is like him," said the landlord, examining him from head to foot,
"certainly it is like him; I could almost believe it was he, only—how
could he have got into the house?"
"As to that—where there's a woman—" said Leblanc, turning away. They
were all watching him, except Périne, who was sobbing stormily on the
wooden stool, and he said shortly, "There is something more in my
"More!" repeated Jean with alarm.
"Would you rather not have it?"
Marie, who had not taken her eyes from him, advanced with her hands
pressed upon her heart.
"Courage, my friend," she said breathlessly. "Yes, M. le
Commissaire, we will hear."
It had struck her that he was smiling.
He began to read in his sing-song voice, "Fort, convicted of forgery,
died last month in the Grande Roquette. Before his death he confessed
his denunciation of Jean Didier to have been false."
Jean Didier's wife turned round, opened her arms and fell upon her
husband's neck, speechless.
So this was the end of that affair. As for No. 7639, which had brought
Leblanc in pursuit of Périne, it did not turn out so romantically as
might have been desired, having nothing to do with the great robbery of
the Rue Vivienne, which remains a mystery—to most people—to this day.
But oddly enough, it set the police on the track of a smaller crime; a
certain reward was handed over to the Didiers for the use of the poor
girl, and no one will deny that it was her unconscious instrumentality
which brought their change of fortune. Jean is almost always kind to
her, but Marie treats her with a sort of reverence.
You may see them sometimes, of a summer evening, walking along the
quays. The great river sweeps slowly down, the busy lights which flit
about the houses or point the span of the bridges with golden dots,
fling long reflections on its surface. Overhead, more peaceful lights
are shining. All about us is the rush of tumult and change, men drifting
here and there, struggling, weeping, jesting, passing away; but over all
God watches, and His world goes on.
FRANCES MARY PEARD
A STORY IN FOUR CHAPTERS.
THE TWO OLD LADIES.
On one of the pleasant hills round Florence, a little beyond Camerata,
there stands a house, so small that an Englishman would probably take it
for a lodge of the great villa behind, whose garden trees at sunset cast
their shadow over the cottage and its terrace on to the steep white
road. But any of the country people could tell him that this, too, is
Casa Signorile, spite of its smallness. It stands somewhat high above
the road, a square, white house with a projecting roof, and with four
green-shuttered windows overlooking the gay but narrow terrace. The beds
under the windows would have fulfilled the fancy of that French poet who
desired that in his garden one might, in gathering a nosegay, cull a
salad, for they boasted little else than sweet basil, small and white,
and some tall grey rosemary bushes. Nearer to the door an unusually
large oleander faced a strong and sturdy magnolia-tree, and these, with
their profusion of red and white sweetness, made amends for the dearth
of garden flowers. At either end of the terrace flourished a thicket of
gum-cistus, syringa, stephanotis, and geranium bushes, and the wall
itself, dropping sheer down to the road, was bordered with the customary
Florentine hedge of China roses and irises, now out of bloom. Great
terra-cotta flower-pots, covered with devices, were placed at intervals
along the wall; as it was summer, the oranges and lemons, full of
wonderfully sweet white blossoms and young green fruit, were set there
in the sun to ripen.
It was the 17th of June. Although it was after four o'clock, the olives
on the steep hill that went down to Florence looked blindingly white,
shadeless, and sharp. The air trembled round the bright green cypresses
behind the house. The roof steamed. All the windows were shut, all the
jalousies shut, yet it was so hot that no one could stir within. The
maid slept in the kitchen; the two elderly mistresses of the house dozed
upon their beds. Not a movement; not a sound.
Gradually, along the steep road from Camerata there came a roll of
distant carriage-wheels. The sound came nearer and nearer, till one
could see the carriage, and see the driver leading the tired, thin,
cab-horse, his bones starting under the shaggy hide. Inside the carriage
reclined a handsome middle-aged lady, with a stern profile turned
towards the road; a young girl in pale pink cotton and a broad hat
trudged up the hill at the side.
"Goneril," said Miss Hamelyn, "let me beg you again to come inside the
"Oh, no, Aunt Margaret; I'm not a bit tired."
"But I have asked you; that is reason enough."
"It's so hot!" cried Goneril.
"That is why I object to your walking."
"But if it's so hot for me, just think how hot it must be for the
Goneril cast a commiserating glance at the poor halting, wheezing nag.
"The horse, probably," rejoined Miss Hamelyn, "does not suffer from
malaria, neither has he kept his aunt in Florence nursing him till the
middle heat of the summer."
"True!" said Goneril. Then, after a few minutes, "I'll get in, Aunt
Margaret, on one condition."
"In my time young people did not make conditions."
"Very well, auntie; I'll get in, and you shall answer all my questions
when you feel inclined."
The carriage stopped. The poor horse panted at his ease, while the girl
seated herself beside Miss Hamelyn. Then for a few minutes they drove on
in silence past the orchards, past the olive-yards, yellow underneath
with ripening corn; past the sudden wide views of the mountains, faintly
crimson in the midst of heat, and, on the other side, of Florence, the
towers and domes steaming beside the hazy river.
"How hot it looks down there!" cried Goneril.
"How hot it feels!" echoed Miss Hamelyn rather grimly.
"Yes, I am so glad you can get away at last, dear, poor old auntie."
Then, a little later. "Won't you tell me something about the old ladies
with whom you are going to leave me?"
Miss Hamelyn was mollified by Goneril's obedience.
"They are very nice old ladies, I met them at Mrs. Gorthrup's." But this
was not at all what the young girl wanted.
"Only think, Aunt Margaret," she cried impatiently, "I am to stay there
for at least six weeks, and I know nothing about them, not what age they
are, nor if they are tall or short, jolly or prim, pretty or ugly; not
even if they speak English!"
"They speak English," said Miss Hamelyn, beginning at the end. "One of
them is English, or at least Irish: Miss Prunty."
"And the other?"
"She is an Italian, Signora Petrucci; she used to be very handsome."
"Oh," said Goneril, looking pleased. "I'm glad she's handsome, and that
they speak English. But they are not relations?"
"No, they are not connected; they are friends."
"And have they always lived together?"
"Ever since Madame Lilli died," and Miss Hamelyn named a very celebrated
"Why?" cried Goneril, quite excited; "were they singers too?"
"Madame Petrucci; nevertheless a lady of the highest respectability.
Miss Prunty was Madame Lilli's secretary."
"How nice!" cried the young girl, "how interesting! Oh, auntie, I'm so
glad you found them out."
"So am I, child; but please remember it is not an ordinary pension. They
only take you, Goneril, till you are strong enough to travel, as an
especial favour to me and to their old friend, Mrs. Gorthrup."
"I'll remember, auntie."
By this time they were driving under the terrace in front of the little
"Goneril," said the elder lady, "I shall leave you outside; you can play
in the garden or the orchard."
Miss Hamelyn left the carriage and ascended the steep little flight of
steps that leads from the road to the cottage garden.
In the porch a singular figure was awaiting her.
"Good afternoon, Madame Petrucci," said Miss Hamelyn.
A slender old lady, over sixty, rather tall, in a brown silk skirt, and
a white burnouse that showed the shrunken slimness of her arms, came
eagerly forward. She was still rather pretty, with small refined
features, large expressionless blue eyes, and long whitish-yellow
ringlets down her cheeks, in the fashion of forty years ago.
"Oh, dear Miss Hamelyn," she cried, "how glad I am to see you.
And have you brought your charming young relation?"
She spoke with a languid foreign accent, and with an emphatic and
bountiful use of adjectives, that gave to our severer generation an
impression of insincerity. Yet it was said with truth that Giulia
Petrucci had never forgotten a friend nor an enemy.
"Goneril is outside" said Miss Hamelyn. "How is Miss Prunty?"
"Brigida? Oh, you must come inside and see my invaluable Brigida. She is
as usual fatiguing herself with our accounts." The old lady led the way
into the darkened parlour. It was small and rather stiff. As one's eyes
became accustomed to the dim green light one noticed the incongruity of
the furniture; the horsehair chairs and sofa, and large accountant's
desk with ledgers; the large Pleyel grand piano, a bookcase, in which
all the books were rare copies or priceless MSS. of old-fashioned
operas; hanging against the wall an inlaid guitar and some faded laurel
crowns; moreover, a fine engraving of a composer, twenty years ago the
most popular man in Italy; lastly, an oil-colour portrait, by Winterman,
of a fascinating blonde, with very bare white shoulders, holding in her
hands a scroll, on which were inscribed some notes of music, under the
title Giulia Petrucci. In short, the private parlour of an elderly and
respectable Diva of the year '40.
"Brigida!" cried Madame Petrucci, going to the door. "Brigida! our
charming English friend is arrived!"
"All right!" answered a strong hearty voice from upstairs. "I'm coming."
"You must excuse me, dear Miss Hamelyn," went on Madame Petrucci. "You
must excuse me for shouting in your presence, but we have only one
little servant, and during this suffocating weather I find that any
movement reminds me of approaching age." The old lady smiled, as if that
time were still far ahead.
"I am sure you ought to take care of yourself," said Miss Hamelyn. "I
hope you will not allow Goneril to fatigue you."
"Gonerilla! What a pretty name! Charming! I suppose it is in your
family?" asked the old lady.
Miss Hamelyn blushed a little, for her niece's name was a sore point
"It's an awful name for any Christian woman," said a deep voice at the
door. "And pray who's called Goneril?"
Miss Prunty came forward; a short, thick-set woman of fifty, with fine
dark eyes, and, even in a Florentine summer, with something stiff and
masculine in the fashion of her dress.
"And have you brought your niece?" she said, turning to Miss Hamelyn.
"Yes, she is in the garden."
"Well; I hope she understands that she'll have to rough it here."
"Goneril is a very simple girl," said Miss Hamelyn.
"So it's she that's called Goneril?"
"Yes," said the aunt, making an effort. "Of course I am aware of the
strangeness of the name, but—but in fact my brother was devotedly
attached to his wife, who died at Goneril's birth."
"Whew!" whistled Miss Prunty. "The parson must have been a fool who
"He did, in fact, refuse; but my brother would have no baptism saving
with that name, which, unfortunately, it is impossible to shorten."
"I think it is a charming name!" said Madame Petrucci, coming to the
rescue. "Goneril: it dies on one's lips like music! And if you do not
like it, Brigida, what's in a name? as your charming Byron said."
"I hope we shall make her happy," said Miss Prunty.
"Of course we shall!" cried the elder lady.
"Goneril is easily made happy," asserted Miss Hamelyn.
"That's a good thing," snapped Miss Prunty; "for there's not much here
to make her so!"
"Oh, Brigida! I am sure there are many attractions. The air! the view!
the historic association! and, more than all, you know there is always a
chance of the Signorino!"
"Of whom?" said Miss Hamelyn, rather anxiously.
"Of him!" cried Madame Petrucci, pointing to the engraving opposite.
"He lives, of course, in the capital; but he rents the villa behind our
house—the Medici Villa; and when he is tired of Rome he runs down here
for a week or so; and so your Gonerilla may have the benefit of his
"Very nice, I'm sure!" said Miss Hamelyn, greatly relieved; for she knew
that Signor Graziano must be fifty.
"We have known him," went on the old lady, "very nearly thirty years. He
used to largely frequent the salon of our dear, our cherished Madame
The tears came into the old lady's eyes. No doubt those days seemed near
and dear to her; she did not see the dust on those faded triumphs.
"That's all stale news!" cried Miss Prunty, jumping up. "And Gon'ril
(since I'll have to call her so) must be tired of waiting in the
They walked out on the terrace. The girl was not there; but by the gate
into the olive-yard, where there was a lean-to shed for tools, they
found her sitting on a cask, whittling a piece of wood and talking to a
curly-headed little contadino.
Hearing steps, Goneril turned round. "He was asleep," she said. "Fancy,
in such beautiful weather!"
Then, remembering that two of the ladies were strangers, she made an
old-fashioned little curtsey.
"I hope you won't find me a trouble, ladies," she said.
"She is charming!" said Madame Petrucci, throwing up her hands.
Goneril blushed; her hat had slipped back and showed her short brown
curls of hair, strong, regular, features, and flexile scarlet mouth,
laughing upwards like a faun's. She had sweet dark eyes, a little too
small and narrow.
"I mean to be very happy," she exclaimed.
"Always mean that, my dear," said Miss Prunty.
"And now, since Gonerilla is no longer a stranger," added Madame
Petrucci, "we will leave her to the rustic society of Angiolino, while
we show Miss Hamelyn our orangery."
"And conclude our business!" said Bridget Prunty.
One day when Goneril, much browner and rosier for a week among the
mountains, came in to lunch at noon, she found no signs of that usually
regular repast. The little maid was on her knees, polishing the floor;
Miss Prunty was scolding, dusting, ordering dinner, arranging vases, all
at once; strangest of all, Madame Petrucci had taken the oil-cloth cover
from her grand piano, and, seated before it, was practising her sweet
and faded notes, unheedful of the surrounding din and business.
"What's the matter!" cried Goneril.
"We expect the signorino," said Miss Prunty.
"And is he going to stay here?"
"Don't be a fool!" snapped that lady; and then she added—"Go into the
kitchen and get some of the pastry and some bread and cheese, there's a
"All right!" said Goneril.
Madame Petrucci stopped her vocalising. "You shall have all the better a
dinner to compensate you, my Gonerilla!" She smiled sweetly, and then
again became Zerlina.
Goneril cut her lunch, and took it out of doors to share with her
companion, Angiolino. He was harvesting the first corn under the olives,
but at noon it was too hot to work. Sitting still there was, however, a
cool breeze that gently stirred the sharp-edged olive-leaves.
Angiolino lay down at full length and munched his bread and cheese in
perfect happiness. Goneril kept shifting about to get herself into the
narrow shadow cast by the split and writhen trunk.
"How aggravating it is!" she cried. "In England, where there's no sun,
there's plenty of shade—and here, where the sun is like a
mustard-plaster on one's back, the leaves are all set edgewise on
purpose that they shan't cast any shadow!"
Angiolino made no answer to this intelligent remark.
"He is going to sleep again!" cried Goneril, stopping her lunch in
despair. "He is going to sleep, and there are no end of things I want to
"Sissignora," murmured the boy.
"Tell me about Signor Graziano."
"He is our padrone; he is never here."
"But he is coming to-day. Wake up, Angiolino. I tell you he is on the
"Between life and death there are so many combinations," drawled the
boy, with Tuscan incredulity and sententiousness.
"Ah!" cried the girl, with a little shiver of impatience. "Is he young?"
"Is he old, then?"
"What is he like? He must be something."
"He's our padrone," repeated Angiolino, in whose imagination Signor
Graziano could occupy no other place.
"How stupid you are!" exclaimed the young English girl.
"May be," said Angiolino stolidly.
"Is he a good padrone? do you like him?"
"Rather!" The boy smiled, and raised himself on one elbow; his eyes
twinkled with good-humored malice.
"My Babbo has much better wine than quel signore," he said.
"But that is wrong!" cried Goneril, quite shocked.
After this, conversation flagged. Goneril tried to imagine what a great
musician could be like: long hair, of course; her imagination did not
get much beyond the hair. He would, of course, be much older now than
his portrait. Then she watched Angiolino cutting the corn, and learned
how to tie the swathes together. She was occupied in this useful
employment when the noise of wheels made them both stop and look over
"Here's the padrone!" cried the boy.
"Oh, he is old!" said Goneril; "he is old and brown, like a
"To be old and good is better than youth with malice," suggested
Angiolino, by way of consolation.
"I suppose so," acquiesced Goneril.
Nevertheless she went in to dinner a little disappointed.
The signorino was not in the house; he had gone up to the villa. But he
had sent a message that later in the evening he intended to pay his
respects to old friends. Madame Petrucci was beautifully dressed in soft
black silk, old lace, and a white Indian shawl. Miss Prunty had on her
starchiest collar and most formal tie. Goneril saw it was necessary that
she, likewise, should deck herself in her best. She was too young and
impressionable not to be influenced by the flutter of excitement and
interest which filled the whole of the little cottage. Goneril, too, was
excited and anxious, although Signor Graziano had seemed so old and
like a coffee-bean. She made no progress in the piece of embroidery she
was working as a present for the two old ladies; jumping up and down to
look out of the window. When, about eight o'clock, the door-bell rang,
Goneril blushed, Madame Petrucci gave a pretty little shriek, Miss
Prunty jumped up and rang for the coffee. A moment afterwards the
signorino entered. While he was greeting her hostesses, Goneril cast a
rapid glance at him. He was tall for an Italian; rather bent and rather
grey; fifty at least, therefore very old. He certainly was brown, but
his features were fine and good, and he had a distinguished and
benevolent air that somehow made her think of an abbé, a French abbé of
the last century. She could quite imagine him saying "Enfant de St.
Louis; montez au ciel!"
Thus far had she got in her meditations, when she felt herself addressed
in clear, half-mocking tones—
"And how, this evening, is Madamigella Ruth?"
So he had seen her this evening, binding his corn.
"I am quite well, padrone," she said, smiling shyly.
The two old ladies looked on amazed, for of course they were not in the
"Signor Graziano, Miss Goneril Hamelyn," said Miss Prunty, rather
Goneril felt that the time was come for silence and good manners. She
sat quite quiet over her embroidery, listening to the talk of Sontag,
of Clementi, of musicians and singers dead and gone. She noticed that
the ladies treated Signor Graziano with the utmost reverence; even the
positive Miss Prunty furling her opinions in deference to his gayest
hint. They talked, too, of Madame Lilli; and always as if she were still
young and fair, as if she had died yesterday, leaving the echo of her
triumph loud behind her. And yet all this had happened years before
Goneril had ever seen the light.
"Mees Goneril is feeling very young!" said the signorino, suddenly
turning his sharp kind eyes upon her.
"Yes," said Goneril, all confusion.
Madame Petrucci looked almost annoyed; the gay serene little lady that
nothing ever annoyed.
"It is she that is young!" she cried, in answer to an unspoken thought.
"She is a baby!"
"Oh, I am seventeen!" said Goneril.
They all laughed, and seemed at ease again.
"Yes, yes; she is very young," said the signorino.
But a little shadow had fallen across their placid entertainment. The
spirit had left their memories; they seemed to have grown shapeless,
dusty, as the fresh and comely faces of dead Etruscan kings crumble into
mould at the touch of the pitiless sunshine.
"Signorino," said Madame Petrucci, presently, "if you will accompany me,
we will perform one of your charming melodies."
Signor Graziano rose, a little stiffly, and led the pretty withered
little Diva to the piano.
Goneril looked on, wondering, admiring. The signorino's thin white hands
made a delicate fluent melody, reminding her of running water under the
rippled shade of trees, and, like a high, sweet bird, the thin,
penetrating notes of the singer rose, swelled, and died away, admirably
true and just, even in this latter weakness. At the end, Signor Graziano
stopped his playing to give time for an elaborate cadenza. Suddenly
Madame Petrucci gasped, a sharp, discordant sound cracked the delicate
finish of her singing. She put her handkerchief to her mouth.
"Bah!" she said, "this evening I am abominably husky."
The tears rose to Goneril's eyes. Was it so hard to grow old? This doubt
made her voice loudest of all in the chorus of mutual praise and thanks
which covered the song's abrupt finale.
And then there came a terrible ordeal. Miss Prunty, anxious to divert
the current of her friend's ideas, suggested that the girl should sing.
Signor Graziano and madame insisted; they would take no refusal.
"Sing, sing, little bird!" cried the old lady.
"But, madame, how can one—after you?"
The homage in the young girl's voice made the little Diva more
good-humouredly insistant than before, and Goneril was too well-bred to
make a fuss. She stood by the piano wondering which to choose, the
Handels that she always drawled, or the Pinsuti that she always
galloped. Suddenly she came by an inspiration.
"Madame," she pleaded, "may I sing one of Angiolino's songs?"
"Whatever you like, cara mia."
And standing by the piano, her arms hanging loose, she began a chant
such as the peasants use working under the olives. Her voice was small
and deep, with a peculiar thick sweetness that suited the song,
half-humorous, half-pathetic. These were the words she sang:—
Vorrei morir di morte piccinina,
Morta la sera e viva la mattina.
Vorrei morire, e non vorrei morire,
Vorrei veder, chi mi piange e chi lide;
Vorrei morir, e star sulle finestre,
Vorrei veder chi mi cuce la veste;
Vorrei morir, e stare sulla scala,
Vorrei veder chi mi porta la bara;
Vorrei morir, e vorre' alzar la voce,
Vorrei veder chi mi parta la croce.
"Very well chosen, my dear," said Miss Prunty, when the song was
"And very well sung, my Gonerilla!" cried the old lady.
But the signorino went up to the piano and shook hands with her.
"Little Mees Goneril," he said, "you have the makings of an artist."
The two old ladies stared, for after all Goneril's performance had been
very simple. You see they were better versed in music than in human
SI VIEILLESSE POUVAIT!
Signor Graziano's usual week of holiday passed and lengthened into
almost two months, and still he stayed on at the villa. The two old
ladies were highly delighted.
"At last he has taken my advice!" cried Miss Prunty. "I always told him
those premature grey hairs came from late hours and Roman air."
Madame Petrucci shook her head and gave a meaning smile. Her friendship
with the signorino had begun when he was a lad and she a charming
married woman; like many another friendship, it had begun with a
flirtation, and perhaps (who knows?) she thought the flirtation had
As for Goneril, she considered him the most charming old man she had
ever known, and liked nothing so much as to go out a walk with him.
That, indeed, was one of the signorino's pleasures; he loved to take the
young girl all over his gardens and vineyards, talking to her in the
amiable, half-petting, half-mocking manner that he had adopted from the
first. And twice a week he gave her a music lesson.
"She has a splendid organ!" he would say.
"Vous croyez?" fluted Madame Petrucci with the vilest accent and the
most aggravating smile imaginable.
It was the one hobby of the signorino's that she regarded with
Goneril, too, was a little bored by the music lesson; but, on the other
hand, the walks delighted her.
One day Goneril was out with her friend.
"Are the peasants very much afraid of you, signore?" she asked.
"Am I such a tyrant?" counter-questioned the signorino.
"No; but they are always begging me to ask you things. Angiolino wants
to know if he may go for three days to see his uncle at Fiesole."
"But why, then, don't they ask you themselves? Is it they think me so
"Perhaps they think I can refuse you nothing."
"Chè! In that case they would ask Madame Petrucci."
Goneril ran on to pick some china roses. The signorino stopped
"It is impossible!" he cried; "she cannot think I am in love with
Giulia! She cannot think I am so old as that!"
The idea seemed horrible to him. He walked on very quickly till he came
to Goneril, who was busy plucking roses in a hedge.
"For whom are those flowers?" he asked.
"Some are for you, and some are for Madame Petrucci."
"She is a charming woman, Madame Petrucci."
"A dear old lady," murmured Goneril, much interested in her posy.
"Old do you call her?" said the signorino rather anxiously. "I should
scarcely call her that, though of course she is a good deal older than
either of us."
"Either of us!" Goneril looked up astounded. Could the signorino have
suddenly gone mad?
He blushed a little under his brown skin, that had reminded her of a
"She is a good ten years older than I am," he explained.
"Ah well, ten years isn't much."
"You don't think so?" he cried delighted. Who knows, she might not think
even thirty too much.
"Not at that age," said Goneril blandly.
Signor Graziano could think of no reply.
But from that day one might have dated a certain assumption of
youthfulness in his manners. At cards it was always the signorino and
Goneril against the two elder ladies; in his conversation, too, it was
to the young girl that he constantly appealed, as if she were his
natural companion—she, and not his friends of thirty years. Madame
Petrucci, always serene and kind, took no notice of these little
changes, but they were particularly irritating to Miss Prunty, who was,
after all, only four years older than the signorino. That lady had,
indeed, become more than usually sharp and foreboding. She received the
signorino's gay effusions in ominous silence, and would frown darkly
while Madame Petrucci petted her "little bird," as she called Goneril.
Once indeed Miss Prunty was heard to remark it was tempting Providence
to have dealings with a creature whose very name was a synonym for
ingratitude. But the elder lady only smiled, and declared that her
Gonerilla was charming, delicious, a real sunshine in the house.
"Now I call on you to support me, signorino," she cried one evening,
when the three elders sat together in the room while Goneril watered the
roses on the terrace. "Is not my Goneril a charming little bébé?"
Signor Graziano withdrew his eyes from the window.
"Most charming, certainly; but scarcely such a child. She is seventeen,
you know, my dear signora."
"Seventeen! Santo Dio! And what is one at seventeen but an innocent,
playful, charming little kitten?"
"You are always right, madame," agreed the signorino; but he looked as
if he thought she were very wrong.
"Of course I am right," laughed the little lady. "Come here my
Gonerilla, and hold my skein for me. Signor Graziano is going to charm
us with one of his delightful airs."
"I hoped she would sing," faltered the signorino.
"Who? Gonerilla? Nonsense, my friend. She winds silk much better than
Goneril laughed. She was not at all offended. But Signor Graziano made
several mistakes in his playing. At last he left the piano. "I cannot
play tonight," he cried. "I am not in the humour. Goneril, will you come
and walk with me on the terrace?"
Before the girl could reply Miss Prunty had darted an angry glance at
"Good Lord, what fools men are!" she ejaculated. "And do you think, now,
I'm going to let that girl, who's but just getting rid of her malaria,
go star-gazing with any old idiot while all the mists are curling out of
"Brigida, my love, you forget yourself," said Madame Petrucci.
"Bah!" cried the signorino. He was evidently out of temper.
The little lady hastened to smooth the troubled waters. "Talking of
malaria," she began in her serenest manner, "I always remember what my
dearest Madame Lilli told me. It was at one of Prince Teano's concerts.
You remember, signorino?"
"Chè! How should I remember," he exclaimed. "It is a lifetime ago, dead
The old lady shrank, as if a glass of water had been rudely thrown in
her face. She said nothing, staring blindly.
"Go to bed, Goneril!" cried Miss Prunty in a voice of thunder.
BIRDS OF A FEATHER.
A few mornings after these events the postman brought a letter for
Goneril. This was such a rare occurrence that she blushed rose red at
the very sight of it, and had to walk up and down the terrace several
times before she felt calm enough to read it. Then she went upstairs and
knocked at the door of Madame Petrucci's room.
"Come in, little bird."
The old lady, in pink merino and curl-papers, opened the door. Goneril
held up her letter.
"My cousin Jack is coming to Florence, and he is going to walk over to
see me this afternoon. And may he stay to dinner, cara signora?"
"Why, of course, Gonerilla. I am charmed!"
Goneril kissed the old lady, and danced downstairs brimming over with
Later in the morning Signor Graziano called.
"Will you come out with me, Mees Goneril," he said; "on my land the
earliest vintage begins to-day."
"Oh, how nice!" she cried.
"Come, then," said the signorino, smiling.
"Oh, I can't come to-day, because of Jack."
"My cousin: he may come any time."
"Your cousin?" the signorino frowned a little. "Ah, you English," he
said, "you consider all your cousins brothers and sisters!"
"Is it not so?" he asked a little anxiously.
"Jack is much nicer than my brothers," said the young girl.
"And who is he, this Jack?"
"He's a dear boy," said Goneril, "and very clever; he is going home for
the Indian Civil Service Exam; he has been out to Calcutta to see my
The signorino did not pay any attention to the latter part of this
description, but he appeared to find the beginning very satisfactory.
"So he is only a boy," he muttered to himself, and went away
Goneril spent most of the day watching the road from Florence. She might
not walk on the highway, but a steep short-cut that joined the main road
at the bottom of the hill was quite at her disposal She walked up and
down for more than an hour. At last she saw some one on the Florence
road. She walked on quickly. It was the telegraph-boy.
She tore open the envelope and read: "Venice.—Exam. on Wednesday.
Start at once. A rivederci."
It was with very red eyes that Goneril went in to dinner.
"So the cousin hasn't come," said Miss Prunty kindly.
"No; he had to go home at once for his examination."
"I dare say he'll come over again soon, my dear," said that
discriminating lady. She had quite taken Goneril back into her good
They all sat together in the little parlour after dinner. At eight
o'clock the door-bell rang. It was now seven weeks since Goneril had
blushed with excitement when first she heard that ring; and now she did
The signorino entered. He walked very straight, and his lips were set.
He came in with the air of one prepared to encounter opposition.
"Mees Goneril," he said, "will you come out on the terrace?—before it
is too late," he added, with a savage glance at Miss Prunty.
"Yes," said Goneril, and they went out together.
"So the cousin did not come?" said the signorino.
They went on a little way in silence together. The night was moonlit and
clear; not a wind stirred the leaves; the sky was like a sapphire,
containing but not shedding light. The late oleanders smelt very sweet;
the moon was so full that one could distinguish the peculiar
greyish-pink of the blossoms.
"It is a lovely night!" said Goneril.
"And a lovely place."
Then a bird sang.
"You have been here just eight weeks," said the signorino.
"I have been very happy."
He did not speak for a minute or two, and then he said:—
"Would you like to live here always?"
"Ah, yes! But that is impossible."
He took her hand and turned her gently so that her face was in the
"Dear Mees Goneril, why is it impossible?"
For a moment the young girl did not answer. She blushed very red and
"Because of Jack!" she said.
"Nothing is settled," added the young girl, "but it is no use pretending
not to know!"
"It is no use," he repeated very sadly.
And then for a little while they listened to the bird.
"Mees Goneril," said the signorino at last, "do you know why I brought
you out here?"
"Not at all," she answered.
It was a minute before he spoke again.
"I am going to Rome to-morrow," he said, "and I wanted to bid you
good-bye. You will sing to me to-night, as it will be the last time?"
"Oh, I hope not the last time!"
"Yes, yes," he said a little testily; "unless—and I pray it may not be
so—unless you ever need the help of an old friend."
"Dear Signor Graziano!"
"And now you will sing me my 'Nobil Amore'?"
"I will do anything you like!"
The signorino sighed and looked at her for a minute. Then he led her
into the little parlour where Madame Petrucci was singing shrilly in the
A. MARY F. ROBINSON.
OUT OF THE SEASON.
"But why not? There isn't a soul in London—who's to see? What harm is
there in it?"
"Oh, none of course—a cup of tea is a cup of tea, and whether you drink
it here or there, what matter!--only—well, the thing I think of is,
would Rowley mind?"
"Mind his own business, I should say, rather I That's what they have to
swear to do in the marriage service, haven't they?"
The lady to whom this question was addressed, Mrs, Rowley Dacres, shook
her head reprovingly. She was young and very pretty; and Teddy
Vere—known among certain of his friends as the Fledgeling—was not
averse to seeing her make a pretence of being angry.
"Don't let me hear you speak so flippantly of matrimony," she began
severely; "and for your future edification, it is not the man but the
woman who swears to obey."
"Then why in Heaven's name don't you do as I bid you?"
"As you bid me! Come, that's rather strong form, I must say! You're
not Rowley, are you?"
"No, worse luck for me, I'm not," and the good-looking fair face put on
such an intensely woebegone expression that the resolution of the
beholder gave way.
Poor boy! it really was dreadfully unlucky that be should be so
desperately in love with her, more especially since Rowley had taken to
be absurdly jealous of him, as if—now that she was married—she could
ever think seriously of anybody. Only after you'd been brought up—to
cut your teeth, as one might say—flirting, well, it was just a little
bit hard to give it up at twenty-three. Besides, it wasn't as if she
meant anything—except in Rowley's case she never had; and as far as
Teddy went, scores of mothers had said before her, dozens of times, that
they were only too delighted to see their sons attach themselves to a
married lady—it kept them out of harm's way; so that instead of
mischief, it was a service she was doing Teddy. The two had been of the
same party during Goodwood week. Teddy had joined them after on board
Lord Datchett's yacht at Cowes; and, his leave up, and he forced to stop
in London during the end of August, what more natural than that when she
came up to town for a few days' shopping, Teddy should offer to act
escort to her?—it was such a pleasure to him, poor fellow! And as there
wasn't a single soul left to see them, what harm could there be!
Notwithstanding, the little lady never lost sight of propriety—Garden
was always near enough for her to be able to say, "I've my maid with
me;" and added to this, "Bella Chetwode was in town, very much occupied
it's true, but still that same staunch friend, always good at a pinch,
who, if told that you had been met going to see her, invariably answered
that she expected you. Life is full of surprises, and if one is armed at
all points matters go on so much more smoothly."
Now it happened that on the previous evening Teddy had shown visible
signs of becoming unruly. He didn't see why he should be sent away. Why
could he not stop—stop and have dinner with her?
"Why? Because, in the first place, it wouldn't do; and in the second—I
forgot though," she said; "being a man, I ought to have reversed the
order—there's nothing to give you."
"That don't matter," said Teddy heroically—"I don't care what I eat."
"Oh, don't you; but I do—you might be wanting to eat me."
Teddy threw a look intended to convey that he could conceive no more
"There there, say good-bye and go away, do!" she cried. "I declare
you're beginning to get cannibalish already."
And in spite of all further entreaties and a goodly show of ill-humour,
which experience had taught him to keep handy for display, Teddy was
forced to obey her command that he should take his departure.
"I must take care not to let that boy go too far," Nina reflected when
he had gone. "He wants his paces pulled up now and then, or else he'll
get trying to kick over. However, it's only for a day or two, and then I
shall be off; and by next season—Oh, he'll have forgotten me, I
She did not "daresay" anything of the sort—there was a deal too much
vanity in her composition to willingly give up any homage that had once
been offered to her; but the supposition served as a salve for her
conscience, which in the matter was not altogether easy, for in her
letters to Rowley, and she wrote to him every day, she had never said a
single syllable of having seen Teddy. It was not that she had any wish
to be sly with him; but, reasoning in her own way—what good was there
in telling any one things which would make them uneasy, and Rowley was
such a good fellow, so wrapt up in and devoted to her,—he'd be wretched
if she told him that Teddy was in town and came to see her every day.
No; where ignorance was bliss it was folly to let it interfere with
fishing; much better let Rowley continue in peace and tranquillity; and
on Saturday he and she were to join each other at the Twyford Junction,
on their way to Scotland to pay a heap of visits together, some new
gowns for which had brought her to London; and her face softened with a
smile that flitted across it as she assured herself that ten minutes
with Rowley would make her forget the existence of Teddy. Poor
Possibly Mrs. Dacres' velvety brown eyes would have opened a trifle
wider could she have followed the footsteps of her devoted admirer.
Teddy, wise in his generation, made the provision of a consolation a
matter of principle; therefore when the door closed behind him at one
house, he quickly hailed a hansom which should take him to another,
where he would not only be welcomed, but instead of having to beg for a
dinner he would be begged to eat one. Matters turned out as he premised,
and he only picked up his grievance against Nina the next day when he
was urging her that they should go to his rooms and have tea.
When this proposition was started Teddy wasn't particularly keen as to
whether she came or whether she did not; but, ill luck would have it,
Nina chose that very opportunity for asserting her dignity—and after
that the question of the tea became a question of who should be
"If I give in again, I'll be hanged," said Teddy to himself, and he
brought to bear the various resources he was master of with such effect
that Nina, driven into a corner, was fairly beaten and confessed to
herself that it served her right—"he's been allowed to go too far, and
this is the upshot of it."
She made these reflections however with a face that told no tales,
stepped into a hansom with a pretty air of being overruled by a will
stronger than her own, and only insisted on keeping up her ungainly
sized parasol because "the sun in one's eyes is so disagreeable."
Now, as chance would have it, instead of fishing in the country,
Captain Rowley Dacres was spending that day in London. Circumstances had
brought him to town early in the morning; but, to his discredit do I
tell it, he hated shopping, and hadn't Nina told him in every letter she
sent that she was with the dressmaker every hour of the day? If he went
home he should have to go with her there, or to some other confounded
place, for so long as a shop was near, Nina would be safe to have
something to buy in it. During those few months they were engaged, what
a purgatory he had gone trough. He was a lover then—he was a husband
now, and he whistled the air of a popular tune known by the name of "Not
The first few bars had but just escaped him, when who should he stumble
across but an old chum, Nick Walcot, who, hearing that up to seven
o'clock—when he was going to pop in upon Nina—Rowley had nothing to
do, gave a mysterious wink of his eye saying, "All right, old fellow;
I'm going somewhere, and I'll take you."
The somewhere proved to be a small bijou residence in the neighbourhood
of Thurloe Square; and, arrived at the door, it suddenly struck Rowley
who lived there.
"Oh come, I say," he began, drawing back a step or two. "I don't half
think this'll do. I'm married now, you see, and I've given up this sort
Nick looked at him with an air of injured surprise.
"What do you mean?" he asked. "There's nothing against Miss Fisher that
I know of; it's simply that I've been asked to lunch with her, and as I
know she'll have a friend, I take ditto because I'd rather sit down four
than three." Rowley hastened to disabuse any prejudice against Miss
Fisher, whom he felt sure was the very soul of propriety, "Only, don't
you know, women get an idea, and though my little wife's the best sort
in the world, if she got scent that I'd been lunching with an actress
instead of going straight to her, there'd be the very deuce to pay."
"Fiddle de dee! besides, how is she to know? who's to tell her?" and
before there was time to answer, a vigorous pull was given to the bell.
"Confound this fellow; I wish I'd gone straight off to Nina. What a fool
I am!" These were the reflections of Captain Dacres as he followed his
friend into the presence of Miss Fisher, who received him with easy
"Good gracious on me! Captain Dacres," she said, "what a time it is
since I've seen you, to be sure; I took it for granted you were dead."
"Dead!" repeated Nick Walcot. "Why he's married; didn't you know?"
"Oh, it's about the same to me," laughed the lady, and then tilting
herself back in her chair so that her voice might reach the further room
more easily, she called, "Doady I say, come in here—there's a surprise
And in answer to the summons a young lady appeared, who threw herself
into a dramatic attitude exclaiming, "What! Captain Dacres? Well I
never! Why—who'd a thought of seeing you?"
Certainly it was not Captain Dacres who had anticipated that pleasure,
for while responding with the best grace he could command to the chaff
and banter which began to be darted at him, he was consigning Miss
Fisher, and more especially the effusive Doady, to every depth between
this world and the one below.
The announcement of luncheon opened a more cheerful vista. "Here I am,
and I must make the best of it," thought Rowley following, in company
with Doady, Nick Walcot and Miss Fisher. "But if ever anything of the
sort happens again may I be tarred and feathered. To think I ever
thought this woman pretty, and to fancy that to this day Nina is jealous
The luncheon, commenced at an unusually late hour, took a long time
getting through; the two ladies were excellent company, and
notwithstanding the invectives he had indulged in, five o'clock struck
very quickly. Then it was discovered that everybody was going the same
way, and it ended with two hansoms being called. Miss Fisher and Nick
Walcot got into one, Captain Rowley and Doady Donne occupied the other.
"How tiresome the sun is, let me put up your parasol?" said our friend
Rowley, with evident anxiety to screen her; but Doady begged he wouldn't
"I don't mind the sun a bit," she said. "And I'm not in the least
afraid of any one seeing me, since you've married you've grown so very
"Confound her," ejaculated Rowley mentally, and he congratulated himself
on the emptiness of London, resolving to keep his head well back and sit
a little on one side as they went through Piccadilly. Doady asked a
question about some friend in whom she had formerly felt an interest;
this led to past reminiscences and the telling of some good story, over
which Rowley was still laughing when there came a crash, followed by a
bump and a swaying forward and back. "Hang the fellow, he's run into
In an instant Rowley had dexterously jumped out on to the pavement; the
occupant of the other hansom, whose wheel was locked into theirs,
obeying the same instinct, had done the same.
"Why, if ain't Teddy Vere. Oh my!" ejaculated one feminine voice
shrilly, while from under a red parasol, still open, another groaned,
"Rowley! it can't be! Oh, what will become of me?"
Self-preservation is the first law of nature; the woman who hesitates is
lost. Before another minute had passed Nina was out of one cab and into
another close by.
"Drive off as fast as you can—never mind where! I'll tell you when we
get further on," and five minutes later she gave the cabman the address
of Mrs. Chetwode's house.
Bursting into the room she cried, "Oh, Bella, such a horrible thing has
occurred! Do help me." And she told her the whole story, ending by
saying, "I left word at home, when I went out, that I was going to see
Mrs. Chetwode said something by way of calming her, and then she rang
"Tell Martin to go to Mrs. Dacres', and say she will not return to
dinner, I've prevailed on her to stop with me. Now, my dear, try and
keep calm and put on the best face you can, and we must trust to
Providence to help us through."
"But suppose he saw me"
"Oh, no, we'll suppose he didn't see you; and I think you may trust to
Teddy—he's got his head screwed on the right way."
Nina wiped away the tears which had flowed over. "Nothing can excuse me
for being so imprudent," she said with a half sob; "all the time I knew
how wrong it was of me; and the worst is, Bella, I didn't care."
"Didn't care! How?"
"I mean I didn't care for Teddy. What could a boy like that possibly be
to me? Why, of course I love Rowley dearly—more than I could tell you;
and to think I should risk it all in this stupid way. Oh! it's my
abominable vanity; that's what it is. Aunt Jane always said it would be
my ruin, and so it will be—after this, you see, Rowley will believe
anything of me? Oh, Bella, what shall I do? I shall die."
"Well, my dear, it's the best thing that could happen to you if you are
going to behave in this absurd manner." Mrs. Chetwode saw that strong
measures must be resorted to; she quite intended reading Nina a lecture;
but the time to do so was not now. "There's no doubt but that you have
been imprudent, very; but if I am to help you it's not by letting you
sit there and cry."
"Wh—at do you wish me to do?"
"To dry your eyes and come down with me to dinner and chat away as we
always do. If your husband was going home Martin will bring back word
that he is there, or else he will come here and fetch you."
"You took the message?" Mrs. Chetwode asked as the two ladies descended
"Really, Nina, I ought to have ordered a better dinner for you."
"Oh, I'm not a bit hungry."
"But you ought to be after going about so much as we have to-day.
By-the-by, how did you decide about that hat I saw; do you think it will
suit you? Describe it to me."
Forced to answer, Nina was trotted by her friend from one subject of
toilette to the other, until in the midst of a got-up argument
concerning trimmings, there came a thundering knock at the door.
"Dear bless me! What a late visitor! Who can it be? Martin, just go out
and look—never mind the door," and Mrs. Chetwode jumped up and stood
so that she could hear the inquiry: "Is Mrs. Dacres here?"
"Yes, sir, the ladies are at dinner."
"Captain Dacres, is that you?" Bella had run out to meet him. "Why, what
a surprise—Nina, fancy, here's your husband, dear," and she preceded
Rowley back into the dining-room.
"Rowley!" For her life Nina couldn't say more—every atom of colour had
"My dear child, have I frightened you? I'm so sorry, but I found after
all I had to come to town. Carne has made such an awful mess about the
gun he was to get for me, and so I didn't write. I thought I'd surprise
Nina laughed out like a boisterous child. "What a silly thing I am," she
said, "I was afraid something had happened."
Rowley put his arm round her, for though she was laughing, her voice
sounded like crying all the time.
Under other circumstances he might have been more struck with the little
embarrassment which she could not perfectly control, but at the moment
he was not quite himself either. That impudent Doady Donne had played a
shameful hoax on him, had actually had the audacity to declare that she
had seen his wife—Nina, Mrs. Dacres—in Teddy Vere's hansom! He hadn't
taken what she said very pleasantly, for the bare notion made him
furious, and—though telling himself all the while that he didn't
believe it—until he had found Nina seated with her friend, it was
impossible to feel any security.
"'Pon my life, it's too bad!" he was saying mentally. "I don't know what
things are coming to; there ought to be a stop put to it, a line must be
drawn somewhere; and such women oughtn't to be permitted to speak of a
lady in that chaify way."
While these reflections occupied his mind he was giving scraps of news
to Nina, and answering Mrs. Chetwode, who was frankly saying that she
hadn't a morsel of dinner to give him.
"But I don't want any, I've only just had a most enormous luncheon."
"Why, my dear, at the station—ham, beef, beer—you know—veal pie—that
sort o' thing."
"Rowley! how could you! You'll be awfully ill, you know."
"Not a bit of it, not I. I—" but at this moment rat-tat-a-tat-tat went
Oh! agony—there wasn't a doubt this was Teddy!
"I say, what a game—here's another visitor!" remarked Captain Dacres
"One who is expected, I shouldn't wonder." Mrs. Chetwode, as usual, rose
equal to the emergency. "We may as well let the cat out of the bag,
Nina, and tell him.—We've got a young man coming to take us to the
play," and turning to Martin she said, "Show him into the boudoir if
that's Mr. Vere."
"Mr. Vere! What, Teddy! Here, stop, I'll open the door!" exclaimed
Rowley hastily "Don't you go"
"But why?" interposed Mrs. Chetwode amazedly.
"Because it's interrupting you so awfully in your dinner. No, no, we'll
go up stairs together—it'll be all right you'll see"
He was already in the hall, had opened the door—their voices, laughing
it seemed—sounded together.
"What can it mean?" said Nina anxiously
"Never mind, one thing is certain—he didn't see you"
"Perhaps it's the beer—he seems a little excited, don't you think?"
"I'm not going to leave them together Teddy," called out Mrs. Chetwode,
"come in here. Have you brought tickets for the comedy?"
"Oh, it's no use disguising; we've—"
"No, no!" broke in Rowley, "not a bit, I know all about it, old fellow;
they've told me what you've come to do—I'll go with you. By Jove,
capital idea! Ha, ha."
"Oh, it must be the beer," thought Nina, and watching Bella's eye she
tapped her forehead with her finger to indicate that there was no doubt
that Rowley's head was slightly affected.
"Mrs. Chetwode, I'm awfully sorry," began Teddy, "but do you know, I've
made such a mess about the comedy; they aint playing that piece at all
there now. I hope you'll both forgive me."
"How tiresome! What a naughty boy you are!" said Bella. "Now there's
nothing for us to do."
"Nothing to do," said Rowley. "Not a bit of it; we ain't going to be
stumped for one failure; we'll go somewhere—where shall it be, Nina,
"Any place you like, dear," so long as I am with you, the big brown eyes
seemed to say; and Rowley, looking back again, thought, "And I could
doubt her—bless her heart, the darling!" while Nina kept repeating,
"This will be a lesson for me as long as I live. Never again, no more
flirtation—never, never, never!"
Later in the evening when it was decided that they should all go to the
Fisheries, without hesitation as to the other two, Nina and Rowley went
"Are we to follow the turtle doves?" said Teddy with sarcasm.
"As you please," said Bella, "but it doesn't in the least matter—you
know I've a scolding in store for you, Teddy?"
"No, not now," and he held up his hands pleadingly.
"Yes, but you've been most imprudent, and it's by the very greatest luck
in the world that Rowley didn't see you. If he had, it would have been
anything but pleasant for Nina."
"Hm!" and Teddy gave his nose a screw. He was terribly tempted to tell what
he looked on as the very best joke in the world—only—well—no—perhaps
better not—if you once let a thing slip out it often gets spoken of,
nobody knows how; and as Rowley had whispered at the door, "Teddy, I say,
not a word about having seen me before," and he had answered "Honour
bright, old chap; you may trust me," he'd keep the matter dark; only there
was one to score against Miss Doady Donne for telling him last night at
dinner that she was going to play propriety to a friend that day. He hated
a lie without a reason; and as it seemed to him he'd gone quite far enough
in that direction, this would serve as a capital peg to hang a quarrel on.
"Shall we say good-night?" said Bella.
"Do you want to get rid of me?"
"Oh, I see you do," and he held out his hand to her.
"Good-night," she began, trying to hold herself very severely, "and let
this little adventure be a lesson to you. All's well that ends well, but
remember all doesn't always end so."
"Quite true," he said, feigning to have listened penitently."
By-the-way, would you mind repeating that same little sermon to our
friend Rowley?—it might be of service to him. What do I mean?—oh
nothing—only that one good turn deserves another."