Miss Mignon by John Strange Winter
It was a week before Christmas. There were no
visitors at Ferrers Court, although a couple of
days later the great hall would be filled to
overflowing with a happy, light-hearted set of people,
all bent, as they always were at Ferrers Court, on
enjoying themselves to the uttermost.
The weather was cold and cheerless, though not
cold enough to stop the hunting, and Captain Ferrers
had been absent all day, and might now come home
at any moment. Mrs. Ferrers was, in fact, rather
putting on the time, hoping he might return before
Browne brought in the tea. The children meantime
were clamouring loudly for a story.
"A story?" said Mrs. Ferrers doubtfully; she
never thought herself very good at story-telling,
and often wondered that the children seemed to like
hearing her so much.
"Yes, a story," cried three or four fresh young
voices in a breath.
"I'm afraid I've told you all my stories,"
Mrs. Ferrers said apologetically. "And I have told
them all so many times."
"Tell us about Mignon," cried Maud, for Mignon,
their half-sister, was still their favourite heroine.
Mrs. Ferrers pondered for a moment. "I don't
believe," she remarked, "that I have ever told you
about Mignon being lost."
"Mignon--lost!" cried Maud. "Oh! never."
"Lost!" echoed Pearl. "And where was she lost, Mother?"
"Tell us," cried Bertie.
"Yes; do tell us," echoed Cecil.
"Tell us," cried Madge and Baby in the same breath.
So Mrs. Ferrers gathered her thoughts together
"It was when Pearl was about four months old"--at
which Pearl drew herself up and looked
important, as if she, too, had had a share in the
adventure--"we went to London for the season. That
was in April. We had not the house we have
now, for that was let for a term, so your father
took a house near the top of Queen's Gate."
"That's where the memorial is," said Pearl. "I know."
"Yes; we know," echoed Maud.
"Well, Humphie, who had attended Mignon
ever since she was a year old, had, of course, the
entire care of Pearl, and I engaged a very nice
French maid--half-maid, half-nurse--for Mignon. She
was under Humphie, of course, but she had to take
Mignon out--not very often, for she was accustomed
to going out a great deal with your father--and to
dress her, and so on.
"Well, one day your father and I were going to
a large afternoon party where we couldn't very well
take Mignon. We stayed rather late, rushed back
and dressed and went to a dinner-party, not really
having time to see the children at all. We had a
party or two later on, but to them we never went,
for just as we ladies were going through the hall
on our way up into the drawing-room, I caught
sight of Browne at the door of the inner hall. I
turned aside at once.
"'Is anything the matter, Browne?' I asked.
Indeed, I saw by his white face that something
dreadful had happened.
"'Oh, yes, ma'am, something dreadful!' he
answered. 'I scarcely know how to tell you. Miss
Mignon is lost.'
"'Miss Mignon lost, Browne! What do you
mean?' I said. 'How can she be lost?'
"'I only know she is,' he said, in a shaking voice.
'That silly idiot Hortense went out with her about
three o'clock, with orders to go into the Park.
She--this is her story, I cannot vouch for the truth of
it, ma'am--she admits that she took her first to
look at the shop-windows in the High Street, and
that then she thought she would like to go into the
Gardens, and that while there she fell asleep. The
afternoon being so warm, she sat on a bench asleep
till half-past five, and when she woke up with a
start, feeling very shivery and cold--and serve her
right, too!--Miss Mignon was gone; there was not
a trace of her to be seen.'
"'If the silly creature had come straight home,'
Browne went on, 'something might have been done;
but instead of doing that, she must go into hysterics--with
nobody to see her, even!--and then go crying
about from one gate to the other, wandering about,
as if Miss Mignon would be likely to be sitting on
the edge of the pavement waiting for her. At
last--I suppose when she began to get hungry'--Browne
went on savagely, 'she bethought herself
of coming home, and there she landed herself at
nine o'clock, and has been steadily going out of
one faint into another ever since. I have sent James
round to the police station,' he said, 'but I thought
I had better come straight away and fetch you, ma'am.'
"Well," Mrs. Ferrers went on, "I said good-night
to our hostess and sent for your father, and we went
back at once. We were five miles from home, and
it was half-past eleven when we got there. And
there was no trace of Mignon. James had taken a
cab and gone round to all the police stations within
reach of the house, and Humphie was waiting for
us, shaking like a leaf and as white as death, and
at the sight of us Hortense went off into wild
hysterics again and shrieked till--till--I could have
shaken her," Mrs. Ferrers ended severely.
"Well, your father and I just stood and looked
at one another. 'Where can she be?' I said.
'Can't you get any information out of Hortense?
Surely the woman must know where she was last
"But, as your father said, the Gardens were all
deserted and closed hours ago. She was not at all
likely to be there. Almost without doubt she had
strayed out into the busy street, had then found
herself in a strange neighbourhood, and--and I
simply shuddered to think what might have
happened to her after that.
"For the time we were helpless; we did not
know, we could not think what to do next. A
policeman came up from the nearest station as we
stood considering what we should do. But he had
no news; he shook his head at my eager inquiry.
'No, madam,' he said, 'I'm sorry we have no news
of the little lady; but we telegraphed to all the
stations near, but no lost child has been brought in.
She must have fallen in with some private person.'
"As you may imagine," Mrs. Ferrers went on,
"I felt dreadfully blank--indeed, your father and
I simply stood and looked at one another. What
should we, what could we do next? To go out
and search about the streets at nearly midnight
would be like looking for a needle in a truss of
hay--we could not send a crier out with a bell--we
were at our wits' end. Indeed, it seemed as if we
could do nothing but wait till morning, when we
"Then just as the policeman was turning away,
another policeman came and knocked at the door.
A little girl had been taken into the police station
at Hammersmith, a pretty fair-haired child about
six years old, who did not know where she lived,
and could not make the men there understand who
"'That's not Miss Mignon,' cried Humphie
indignantly; 'Miss Mignon knows perfectly well who
she is and who she belongs to. That's never Miss
"'Ah, well, Humphie,' said your father, 'Miss
Mignon has never been lost at dead of night before;
it's enough to frighten any child, and though she's
as quick as a needle, she's only a baby after all.'
"The carriage was still at the door, and we went
down as quickly as the horses could go to Hammersmith,
feeling sure that we should find Mignon there,
frightened and tired, but safe. And when we got
there the child wasn't Mignon at all, but a little,
commonly-dressed thing who didn't seem even to
know what her name was. However, its mother
came whilst we were there, and scolded her properly
for what she called 'running away.'
"I couldn't help it," Mrs. Ferrers went on. "I
was in such trouble, wondering what had got
Mignon, and I just spoke to her straight. 'Oh,'
I said, 'you ought only to be thankful your little
girl is safe and sound, and not be scolding the
poor little frightened thing like that. How can
your speak to her so?'
"'Well,' she said, 'if you had seven of them
always up to some mischief or other, and you'd
been running about for hours till you were fit to
drop, and you hadn't a carriage to take her home
in, I daresay you'd feel a bit cross, too.'
"And I felt," Mrs. Ferrers went on reflectively,
"that there was a great deal in what she said.
They didn't live more than a mile off, and it
was our way back, so we drove them home, and
the little girl went to sleep on her mother's knee;
and I told her what trouble we were in about
Mignon. She was quite grateful for the lift, and
I promised to let her know if we found Mignon
"Well, we reached home again, and there wasn't
a sign of Mignon anywhere. With every moment
I got more and more uneasy, for Mignon was
turned six years old, and was well used to going
about and seeing strange people. I knew she
wasn't a child to get nervous unduly, or be
frightened of any one who offered to take care of
her, only I was so afraid that the wrong sort of
people might have got hold of her, and might
have decoyed her away for the sake of her clothes
or a reward.
"Oh, dear, what a dreadful night it was! Your
father went out and got a cab and went round to
all the police-stations, inquiring everywhere for
traces of her. And then he went and knocked
up all the park-keepers, but none of them had
noticed her either.
"And Humphie and I sat up by the nursery
fire; and about two in the morning, Hortense crept
down and went on her knees to me, praying and
imploring me to forgive her, and saying that if
anything had happened to little missie, she would
make away with herself."
"What's that?" asked Madge suddenly.
"Hanging herself," answered Pearl. "Judas
"Judas went out and hanged himself," corrected
Maud, who had a passion for accuracy of small
"Yes, of course, but that doesn't matter," said
Pearl. "The hanging was the principal thing.
He could have hanged himself without going out,
but going out without hanging himself would not
have been anything."
"Go on, Mother," cried a chorus of voices. "What
"Well, nothing happened for a long time,"
Mrs. Ferrers replied. "We all stayed up; I think
nobody thought of going to bed that night at
all--I know Humphie and I never did--and at
last the morning broke, and your father and
Browne began to make arrangements for putting
notices in all the papers, and when they had
written them all, they went off in the grey dim
light to try to get them put into that day's
papers. Oh! it was a most dreadful night, and
a terrible morning.
"I didn't like to put it into words, but all night
long I had thought of the Round Pond, and
wondered if my Mignon was in there. I found
out afterwards that your father had thought of
it too, and had made all arrangements for having
it dragged, though he wouldn't speak of it to me,
because he fancied I had not thought of it.
"And over and over again Humphie kept saying,
'I'm sure my precious lamb knows perfectly
well who she is and all about herself. I'm sure
of it. Why, we taught her years ago, ma'am, in
case it ever happened she got lost. "I'm Miss
Mignon, and I belong to Booties," and "Captain
Ferrers, the Scarlet Lancers." She knew it all,
"'Yes, but, Humphie, has any one taught her
304, Queen's Gate, S.W.?' I asked.
"'No,' said Humphie. 'I can't say that we have.'
"'Then she might fall in with hundreds and
thousands of people in London who wouldn't
know Captain Ferrers from Captain Jones; and
she might be too frightened to remember anything
about the Scarlet Lancers. It isn't as if we were
with the regiment still.'
"The morning wore on; nothing happened. Your
father went to Scotland Yard, and detectives came
down and examined Hortense, who went off into
fresh hysterics, and threatened to go right away
and drown herself there and then; but there was
no news of Mignon. And then Algy came in and
told me they had dragged the pond, and, thank
God, she wasn't there; though the suspense was
almost unbearable as it was.
"But we seemed no nearer to hearing anything of
her, and hardly knew what to be doing next, though
the day was wearing away, and it was horrible to
think of going through such another night as the one
we had just passed.
"And then--just at four o'clock--a handsome
carriage drew up at the door, and I heard Mignon's
voice: 'Yes, I'm sure that's the house,' she said.
"Oh! I don't know how I got to the door; I
think I tore it open, and ran down the steps to meet
her. I don't remember what I said--I think I cried.
I'm sure your father nearly choked himself in trying
to keep his sobs back. We nearly smothered Mignon
with kisses, and it was ever so long before we had
time to take any notice of the strange lady who had
brought her home.
"'I'm afraid you've had a terrible night,' she said,
with tears in her eyes. 'I found your dear little
maid wandering about in South Kensington--oh! right
down in Onslow Gardens. I saw that she was
not a child accustomed to being out alone, and I
asked her how it was. She was perfectly cool and
"'"I've lost my maid," she said. "She sat down
on a seat, and I was picking daisies, and I don't know
how, but I couldn't find her again."
"'"And what is your name?" I asked her.
"'"Oh! I'm Miss Mignon," she answered.
"'"And where do you live?" I inquired.
"'"Well, that's just what I can't remember. When
I'm at home I live at Ferrers Court, and when we
were with the regiment, our address was, "The
Scarlet Lancers"--just that. But now we are in
Town, I can't remember the name of the street. I
thought when I lost Hortense that I should know
my way back, but I missed it somehow. And
Mother will be so uneasy," she ended.
"'Well,' said the lady, 'I told her she had much
better come home with me, and that I would try to
find out Captain Ferrers; and so I did, but without
success. Then it occurred to me that as soon as
the offices were open I would telegraph to the
Scarlet Lancers, asking for Captain Ferrers' address.
And so I did; and when the answer came back, it
was your country address--
- "CAPTAIN FERRERS, Ferrers Court,
"'So I had no choice but to telegraph to Ferrers
Court for your town address. And oh, dear lady! my
heart was aching for you all the time, for I
knew you must be suffering agonies," she ended,
holding out her hands to me.
"And so, of course, I had been," Mrs. Ferrers
went on; "but 'all's well that ends well'; and we
at once taught Mignon the name of the house
she lived in, and, indeed, for a long time we sewed
a little ticket on to the hem of her frock, so that
if she did forget it, she would easily make some one
understand where she wished to be taken."
"And Hortense--what did you do with her?"
"Oh! we gave her a month's wages, and sent
her away," Mrs. Ferrers answered; "and now here
is Browne with the tea, Pearl. Can you manage it?"
"Oh! yes, Mother," Pearl answered. She was
nearly fourteen, and loved to make the tea now
and then. "Oh! here's Miss Maitland coming!
Miss Maitland, I am to pour out the tea. Mother
"Willingly, so long as you don't scald yourself,"
said Miss Maitland, smiling.
"And here is Father," cried Maud. "Bootles,
Mother has been telling us the dreadful story of
how Mignon was lost."
"Has she, sweetheart? Well, we don't want to
go through that particular experience any more,
do we, darling?"
"No! once was once too often," said Mrs. Ferrers,
slipping her hand into his.
"Two lumps of sugar," said Pearl, bringing her
father his cup.
"And muffins!" added Maud.