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´╗┐Title: A House to Let
Author: Dickens, Charles, 1812-1870, Collins, Wilkie, 1824-1889, Procter, Adelaide Anne, 1825-1864, Gaskell, Elizabeth Cleghorn, 1810-1865
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "A House to Let" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



Transcribed from the 1903 Chapman and Hall edition by David Price, email
Jeffress and Jane Foster.



A HOUSE TO LET (FULL TEXT)
by Charles Dickens, Wilkie Collins, Elizabeth Gaskell, Adelaide Ann
Procter


Contents:

Over the Way
The Manchester Marriage
Going into Society
Three Evenings in the House
Trottle's Report
Let at Last



OVER THE WAY


I had been living at Tunbridge Wells and nowhere else, going on for ten
years, when my medical man--very clever in his profession, and the
prettiest player I ever saw in my life of a hand at Long Whist, which was
a noble and a princely game before Short was heard of--said to me, one
day, as he sat feeling my pulse on the actual sofa which my poor dear
sister Jane worked before her spine came on, and laid her on a board for
fifteen months at a stretch--the most upright woman that ever lived--said
to me, "What we want, ma'am, is a fillip."

"Good gracious, goodness gracious, Doctor Towers!" says I, quite startled
at the man, for he was so christened himself: "don't talk as if you were
alluding to people's names; but say what you mean."

"I mean, my dear ma'am, that we want a little change of air and scene."

"Bless the man!" said I; "does he mean we or me!"

"I mean you, ma'am."

"Then Lard forgive you, Doctor Towers," I said; "why don't you get into a
habit of expressing yourself in a straightforward manner, like a loyal
subject of our gracious Queen Victoria, and a member of the Church of
England?"

Towers laughed, as he generally does when he has fidgetted me into any of
my impatient ways--one of my states, as I call them--and then he began,--

"Tone, ma'am, Tone, is all you require!"  He appealed to Trottle, who
just then came in with the coal-scuttle, looking, in his nice black suit,
like an amiable man putting on coals from motives of benevolence.

Trottle (whom I always call my right hand) has been in my service two-and-
thirty years.  He entered my service, far away from England.  He is the
best of creatures, and the most respectable of men; but, opinionated.

"What you want, ma'am," says Trottle, making up the fire in his quiet and
skilful way, "is Tone."

"Lard forgive you both!" says I, bursting out a-laughing; "I see you are
in a conspiracy against me, so I suppose you must do what you like with
me, and take me to London for a change."

For some weeks Towers had hinted at London, and consequently I was
prepared for him.  When we had got to this point, we got on so
expeditiously, that Trottle was packed off to London next day but one, to
find some sort of place for me to lay my troublesome old head in.

Trottle came back to me at the Wells after two days' absence, with
accounts of a charming place that could be taken for six months certain,
with liberty to renew on the same terms for another six, and which really
did afford every accommodation that I wanted.

"Could you really find no fault at all in the rooms, Trottle?" I asked
him.

"Not a single one, ma'am.  They are exactly suitable to you.  There is
not a fault in them.  There is but one fault outside of them."

"And what's that?"

"They are opposite a House to Let."

"O!" I said, considering of it.  "But is that such a very great
objection?"

"I think it my duty to mention it, ma'am.  It is a dull object to look
at.  Otherwise, I was so greatly pleased with the lodging that I should
have closed with the terms at once, as I had your authority to do."

Trottle thinking so highly of the place, in my interest, I wished not to
disappoint him.  Consequently I said:

"The empty House may let, perhaps."

"O, dear no, ma'am," said Trottle, shaking his head with decision; "it
won't let.  It never does let, ma'am."

"Mercy me!  Why not?"

"Nobody knows, ma'am.  All I have to mention is, ma'am, that the House
won't let!"

"How long has this unfortunate House been to let, in the name of
Fortune?" said I.

"Ever so long," said Trottle.   "Years."

"Is it in ruins?"

"It's a good deal out of repair, ma'am, but it's not in ruins."

The long and the short of this business was, that next day I had a pair
of post-horses put to my chariot--for, I never travel by railway: not
that I have anything to say against railways, except that they came in
when I was too old to take to them; and that they made ducks and drakes
of a few turnpike-bonds I had--and so I went up myself, with Trottle in
the rumble, to look at the inside of this same lodging, and at the
outside of this same House.

As I say, I went and saw for myself.  The lodging was perfect.  That, I
was sure it would be; because Trottle is the best judge of comfort I
know.  The empty house was an eyesore; and that I was sure it would be
too, for the same reason.  However, setting the one thing against the
other, the good against the bad, the lodging very soon got the victory
over the House.  My lawyer, Mr. Squares, of Crown Office Row; Temple,
drew up an agreement; which his young man jabbered over so dreadfully
when he read it to me, that I didn't understand one word of it except my
own name; and hardly that, and I signed it, and the other party signed
it, and, in three weeks' time, I moved my old bones, bag and baggage, up
to London.

For the first month or so, I arranged to leave Trottle at the Wells.  I
made this arrangement, not only because there was a good deal to take
care of in the way of my school-children and pensioners, and also of a
new stove in the hall to air the house in my absence, which appeared to
me calculated to blow up and burst; but, likewise because I suspect
Trottle (though the steadiest of men, and a widower between sixty and
seventy) to be what I call rather a Philanderer.  I mean, that when any
friend comes down to see me and brings a maid, Trottle is always
remarkably ready to show that maid the Wells of an evening; and that I
have more than once noticed the shadow of his arm, outside the room door
nearly opposite my chair, encircling that maid's waist on the landing,
like a table-cloth brush.

Therefore, I thought it just as well, before any London Philandering took
place, that I should have a little time to look round me, and to see what
girls were in and about the place.  So, nobody stayed with me in my new
lodging at first after Trottle had established me there safe and sound,
but Peggy Flobbins, my maid; a most affectionate and attached woman, who
never was an object of Philandering since I have known her, and is not
likely to begin to become so after nine-and-twenty years next March.

It was the fifth of November when I first breakfasted in my new rooms.
The Guys were going about in the brown fog, like magnified monsters of
insects in table-beer, and there was a Guy resting on the door-steps of
the House to Let.  I put on my glasses, partly to see how the boys were
pleased with what I sent them out by Peggy, and partly to make sure that
she didn't approach too near the ridiculous object, which of course was
full of sky-rockets, and might go off into bangs at any moment.  In this
way it happened that the first time I ever looked at the House to Let,
after I became its opposite neighbour, I had my glasses on.  And this
might not have happened once in fifty times, for my sight is uncommonly
good for my time of life; and I wear glasses as little as I can, for fear
of spoiling it.

I knew already that it was a ten-roomed house, very dirty, and much
dilapidated; that the area-rails were rusty and peeling away, and that
two or three of them were wanting, or half-wanting; that there were
broken panes of glass in the windows, and blotches of mud on other panes,
which the boys had thrown at them; that there was quite a collection of
stones in the area, also proceeding from those Young Mischiefs; that
there were games chalked on the pavement before the house, and likenesses
of ghosts chalked on the street-door; that the windows were all darkened
by rotting old blinds, or shutters, or both; that the bills "To Let," had
curled up, as if the damp air of the place had given them cramps; or had
dropped down into corners, as if they were no more.  I had seen all this
on my first visit, and I had remarked to Trottle, that the lower part of
the black board about terms was split away; that the rest had become
illegible, and that the very stone of the door-steps was broken across.
Notwithstanding, I sat at my breakfast table on that Please to Remember
the fifth of November morning, staring at the House through my glasses,
as if I had never looked at it before.

All at once--in the first-floor window on my right--down in a low corner,
at a hole in a blind or a shutter--I found that I was looking at a secret
Eye.  The reflection of my fire may have touched it and made it shine;
but, I saw it shine and vanish.

The eye might have seen me, or it might not have seen me, sitting there
in the glow of my fire--you can take which probability you prefer,
without offence--but something struck through my frame, as if the sparkle
of this eye had been electric, and had flashed straight at me.  It had
such an effect upon me, that I could not remain by myself, and I rang for
Flobbins, and invented some little jobs for her, to keep her in the room.
After my breakfast was cleared away, I sat in the same place with my
glasses on, moving my head, now so, and now so, trying whether, with the
shining of my fire and the flaws in the window-glass, I could reproduce
any sparkle seeming to be up there, that was like the sparkle of an eye.
But no; I could make nothing like it.  I could make ripples and crooked
lines in the front of the House to Let, and I could even twist one window
up and loop it into another; but, I could make no eye, nor anything like
an eye.  So I convinced myself that I really had seen an eye.

Well, to be sure I could not get rid of the impression of this eye, and
it troubled me and troubled me, until it was almost a torment.  I don't
think I was previously inclined to concern my head much about the
opposite House; but, after this eye, my head was full of the house; and I
thought of little else than the house, and I watched the house, and I
talked about the house, and I dreamed of the house.  In all this, I fully
believe now, there was a good Providence.  But, you will judge for
yourself about that, bye-and-bye.

My landlord was a butler, who had married a cook, and set up
housekeeping.  They had not kept house longer than a couple of years, and
they knew no more about the House to Let than I did.  Neither could I
find out anything concerning it among the trades-people or otherwise;
further than what Trottle had told me at first.  It had been empty, some
said six years, some said eight, some said ten.  It never did let, they
all agreed, and it never would let.

I soon felt convinced that I should work myself into one of my states
about the House; and I soon did.  I lived for a whole month in a flurry,
that was always getting worse.  Towers's prescriptions, which I had
brought to London with me, were of no more use than nothing.  In the cold
winter sunlight, in the thick winter fog, in the black winter rain, in
the white winter snow, the House was equally on my mind.  I have heard,
as everybody else has, of a spirit's haunting a house; but I have had my
own personal experience of a house's haunting a spirit; for that House
haunted mine.

In all that month's time, I never saw anyone go into the House nor come
out of the House.  I supposed that such a thing must take place
sometimes, in the dead of the night, or the glimmer of the morning; but,
I never saw it done.  I got no relief from having my curtains drawn when
it came on dark, and shutting out the House.  The Eye then began to shine
in my fire.

I am a single old woman.  I should say at once, without being at all
afraid of the name, I am an old maid; only that I am older than the
phrase would express.  The time was when I had my love-trouble, but, it
is long and long ago.  He was killed at sea (Dear Heaven rest his blessed
head!) when I was twenty-five.  I have all my life, since ever I can
remember, been deeply fond of children.  I have always felt such a love
for them, that I have had my sorrowful and sinful times when I have
fancied something must have gone wrong in my life--something must have
been turned aside from its original intention I mean--or I should have
been the proud and happy mother of many children, and a fond old
grandmother this day.  I have soon known better in the cheerfulness and
contentment that God has blessed me with and given me abundant reason
for; and yet I have had to dry my eyes even then, when I have thought of
my dear, brave, hopeful, handsome, bright-eyed Charley, and the trust
meant to cheer me with.  Charley was my youngest brother, and he went to
India.  He married there, and sent his gentle little wife home to me to
be confined, and she was to go back to him, and the baby was to be left
with me, and I was to bring it up.  It never belonged to this life.  It
took its silent place among the other incidents in my story that might
have been, but never were.  I had hardly time to whisper to her "Dead my
own!" or she to answer, "Ashes to ashes, dust to dust! O lay it on my
breast and comfort Charley!" when she had gone to seek her baby at Our
Saviour's feet.  I went to Charley, and I told him there was nothing left
but me, poor me; and I lived with Charley, out there, several years.  He
was a man of fifty, when he fell asleep in my arms.  His face had changed
to be almost old and a little stern; but, it softened, and softened when
I laid it down that I might cry and pray beside it; and, when I looked at
it for the last time, it was my dear, untroubled, handsome, youthful
Charley of long ago.

--I was going on to tell that the loneliness of the House to Let brought
back all these recollections, and that they had quite pierced my heart
one evening, when Flobbins, opening the door, and looking very much as if
she wanted to laugh but thought better of it, said:

"Mr. Jabez Jarber, ma'am!"

Upon which Mr. Jarber ambled in, in his usual absurd way, saying:

"Sophonisba!"

Which I am obliged to confess is my name.  A pretty one and proper one
enough when it was given to me: but, a good many years out of date now,
and always sounding particularly high-flown and comical from his lips.  So
I said, sharply:

"Though it is Sophonisba, Jarber, you are not obliged to mention it, that
_I_ see."

In reply to this observation, the ridiculous man put the tips of my five
right-hand fingers to his lips, and said again, with an aggravating
accent on the third syllable:

"Sophon_is_ba!"

I don't burn lamps, because I can't abide the smell of oil, and wax
candles belonged to my day.  I hope the convenient situation of one of my
tall old candlesticks on the table at my elbow will be my excuse for
saying, that if he did that again, I would chop his toes with it. (I am
sorry to add that when I told him so, I knew his toes to be tender.)  But,
really, at my time of life and at Jarber's, it is too much of a good
thing.  There is an orchestra still standing in the open air at the
Wells, before which, in the presence of a throng of fine company, I have
walked a minuet with Jarber.  But, there is a house still standing, in
which I have worn a pinafore, and had a tooth drawn by fastening a thread
to the tooth and the door-handle, and toddling away from the door.  And
how should I look now, at my years, in a pinafore, or having a door for
my dentist?

Besides, Jarber always was more or less an absurd man.  He was sweetly
dressed, and beautifully perfumed, and many girls of my day would have
given their ears for him; though I am bound to add that he never cared a
fig for them, or their advances either, and that he was very constant to
me.  For, he not only proposed to me before my love-happiness ended in
sorrow, but afterwards too: not once, nor yet twice: nor will we say how
many times.  However many they were, or however few they were, the last
time he paid me that compliment was immediately after he had presented me
with a digestive dinner-pill stuck on the point of a pin.  And I said on
that occasion, laughing heartily, "Now, Jarber, if you don't know that
two people whose united ages would make about a hundred and fifty, have
got to be old, I do; and I beg to swallow this nonsense in the form of
this pill" (which I took on the spot), "and I request to, hear no more of
it."

After that, he conducted himself pretty well.  He was always a little
squeezed man, was Jarber, in little sprigged waistcoats; and he had
always little legs and a little smile, and a little voice, and little
round-about ways.  As long as I can remember him he was always going
little errands for people, and carrying little gossip.  At this present
time when he called me "Sophonisba!" he had a little old-fashioned
lodging in that new neighbourhood of mine.  I had not seen him for two or
three years, but I had heard that he still went out with a little
perspective-glass and stood on door-steps in Saint James's Street, to see
the nobility go to Court; and went in his little cloak and goloshes
outside Willis's rooms to see them go to Almack's; and caught the
frightfullest colds, and got himself trodden upon by coachmen and
linkmen, until he went home to his landlady a mass of bruises, and had to
be nursed for a month.

Jarber took off his little fur-collared cloak, and sat down opposite me,
with his little cane and hat in his hand.

"Let us have no more Sophonisbaing, if _you_ please, Jarber," I said.
"Call me Sarah.  How do you do?  I hope you are pretty well."

"Thank you.  And you?" said Jarber.

"I am as well as an old woman can expect to be."

Jarber was beginning:

"Say, not old, Sophon--" but I looked at the candlestick, and he left
off; pretending not to have said anything.

"I am infirm, of course," I said, "and so are you.  Let us both be
thankful it's no worse."

"Is it possible that you look worried?" said Jarber.

"It is very possible.  I have no doubt it is the fact."

"And what has worried my Soph-, soft-hearted friend," said Jarber.

"Something not easy, I suppose, to comprehend.  I am worried to death by
a House to Let, over the way."

Jarber went with his little tip-toe step to the window-curtains, peeped
out, and looked round at me.

"Yes," said I, in answer: "that house."

After peeping out again, Jarber came back to his chair with a tender air,
and asked: "How does it worry you, S-arah?"

"It is a mystery to me," said I.  "Of course every house _is_ a mystery,
more or less; but, something that I don't care to mention" (for truly the
Eye was so slight a thing to mention that I was more than half ashamed of
it), "has made that House so mysterious to me, and has so fixed it in my
mind, that I have had no peace for a month.  I foresee that I shall have
no peace, either, until Trottle comes to me, next Monday."

I might have mentioned before, that there is a lone-standing jealousy
between Trottle and Jarber; and that there is never any love lost between
those two.

"_Trottle_," petulantly repeated Jarber, with a little flourish of his
cane; "how is _Trottle_ to restore the lost peace of Sarah?"

"He will exert himself to find out something about the House.  I have
fallen into that state about it, that I really must discover by some
means or other, good or bad, fair or foul, how and why it is that that
House remains To Let."

"And why Trottle?  Why not," putting his little hat to his heart; "why
not, Jarber?

"To tell you the truth, I have never thought of Jarber in the matter.  And
now I do think of Jarber, through your having the kindness to suggest
him--for which I am really and truly obliged to you--I don't think he
could do it."

"Sarah!"

"I think it would be too much for you, Jarber."

"Sarah!"

"There would be coming and going, and fetching and carrying, Jarber, and
you might catch cold."

"Sarah!  What can be done by Trottle, can be done by me.  I am on terms
of acquaintance with every person of responsibility in this parish.  I am
intimate at the Circulating Library.  I converse daily with the Assessed
Taxes.  I lodge with the Water Rate.  I know the Medical Man.  I lounge
habitually at the House Agent's.  I dine with the Churchwardens.  I move
to the Guardians.  Trottle!  A person in the sphere of a domestic, and
totally unknown to society!"

"Don't be warm, Jarber.  In mentioning Trottle, I have naturally relied
on my Right-Hand, who would take any trouble to gratify even a whim of
his old mistress's.  But, if you can find out anything to help to unravel
the mystery of this House to Let, I shall be fully as much obliged to you
as if there was never a Trottle in the land."

Jarber rose and put on his little cloak.  A couple of fierce brass lions
held it tight round his little throat; but a couple of the mildest Hares
might have done that, I am sure.  "Sarah," he said, "I go.  Expect me on
Monday evening, the Sixth, when perhaps you will give me a cup of
tea;--may I ask for no Green?  Adieu!"

This was on a Thursday, the second of December.  When I reflected that
Trottle would come back on Monday, too, I had My misgivings as to the
difficulty of keeping the two powers from open warfare, and indeed I was
more uneasy than I quite like to confess.  However, the empty House
swallowed up that thought next morning, as it swallowed up most other
thoughts now, and the House quite preyed upon me all that day, and all
the Saturday.

It was a very wet Sunday: raining and blowing from morning to night.  When
the bells rang for afternoon church, they seemed to ring in the commotion
of the puddles as well as in the wind, and they sounded very loud and
dismal indeed, and the street looked very dismal indeed, and the House
looked dismallest of all.

I was reading my prayers near the light, and my fire was growing in the
darkening window-glass, when, looking up, as I prayed for the fatherless
children and widows and all who were desolate and oppressed,--I saw the
Eye again.  It passed in a moment, as it had done before; but, this time,
I was inwardly more convinced that I had seen it.

Well to be sure, I _had_ a night that night!  Whenever I closed my own
eyes, it was to see eyes.  Next morning, at an unreasonably, and I should
have said (but for that railroad) an impossibly early hour, comes
Trottle.  As soon as he had told me all about the Wells, I told him all
about the House.  He listened with as great interest and attention as I
could possibly wish, until I came to Jabez Jarber, when he cooled in an
instant, and became opinionated.

"Now, Trottle," I said, pretending not to notice, "when Mr. Jarber comes
back this evening, we must all lay our heads together."

"I should hardly think that would be wanted, ma'am; Mr. Jarber's head is
surely equal to anything."

Being determined not to notice, I said again, that we must all lay our
heads together.

"Whatever you order, ma'am, shall be obeyed.  Still, it cannot be
doubted, I should think, that Mr. Jarber's head is equal, if not
superior, to any pressure that can be brought to bear upon it."

This was provoking; and his way, when he came in and out all through the
day, of pretending not to see the House to Let, was more provoking still.
However, being quite resolved not to notice, I gave no sign whatever that
I did notice.  But, when evening came, and he showed in Jarber, and, when
Jarber wouldn't be helped off with his cloak, and poked his cane into
cane chair-backs and china ornaments and his own eye, in trying to
unclasp his brazen lions of himself (which he couldn't do, after all), I
could have shaken them both.

As it was, I only shook the tea-pot, and made the tea.  Jarber had
brought from under his cloak, a roll of paper, with which he had
triumphantly pointed over the way, like the Ghost of Hamlet's Father
appearing to the late Mr. Kemble, and which he had laid on the table.

"A discovery?" said I, pointing to it, when he was seated, and had got
his tea-cup.--"Don't go, Trottle."

"The first of a series of discoveries," answered Jarber.  "Account of a
former tenant, compiled from the Water Rate, and Medical Man."

"Don't go, Trottle," I repeated.  For, I saw him making imperceptibly to
the door.

"Begging your pardon, ma'am, I might be in Mr. Jarber's way?"

Jarber looked that he decidedly thought he might be.  I relieved myself
with a good angry croak, and said--always determined not to notice:

"Have the goodness to sit down, if you please, Trottle.  I wish you to
hear this."

Trottle bowed in the stiffest manner, and took the remotest chair he
could find.  Even that, he moved close to the draught from the keyhole of
the door.

"Firstly," Jarber began, after sipping his tea, "would my Sophon--"

"Begin again, Jarber," said I.

"Would you be much surprised, if this House to Let should turn out to be
the property of a relation of your own?"

"I should indeed be very much surprised."

"Then it belongs to your first cousin (I learn, by the way, that he is
ill at this time) George Forley."

"Then that is a bad beginning.  I cannot deny that George Forley stands
in the relation of first cousin to me; but I hold no communication with
him.  George Forley has been a hard, bitter, stony father to a child now
dead.  George Forley was most implacable and unrelenting to one of his
two daughters who made a poor marriage.  George Forley brought all the
weight of his band to bear as heavily against that crushed thing, as he
brought it to bear lightly, favouringly, and advantageously upon her
sister, who made a rich marriage.  I hope that, with the measure George
Forley meted, it may not be measured out to him again.  I will give
George Forley no worse wish."

I was strong upon the subject, and I could not keep the tears out of my
eyes; for, that young girl's was a cruel story, and I had dropped many a
tear over it before.

"The house being George Forley's," said I, "is almost enough to account
for there being a Fate upon it, if Fate there is.  Is there anything
about George Forley in those sheets of paper?"

"Not a word."

"I am glad to hear it.  Please to read on.  Trottle, why don't you come
nearer?  Why do you sit mortifying yourself in those arctic regions?  Come
nearer."

"Thank you, ma'am; I am quite near enough to Mr. Jarber."

Jarber rounded his chair, to get his back full to my opinionated friend
and servant, and, beginning to read, tossed the words at him over his
(Jabez Jarber's) own ear and shoulder.

He read what follows:



THE MANCHESTER MARRIAGE


Mr. and Mrs. Openshaw came from Manchester to London and took the House
To Let.  He had been, what is called in Lancashire, a Salesman for a
large manufacturing firm, who were extending their business, and opening
a warehouse in London; where Mr. Openshaw was now to superintend the
business.  He rather enjoyed the change of residence; having a kind of
curiosity about London, which he had never yet been able to gratify in
his brief visits to the metropolis.  At the same time he had an odd,
shrewd, contempt for the inhabitants; whom he had always pictured to
himself as fine, lazy people; caring nothing but for fashion and
aristocracy, and lounging away their days in Bond Street, and such
places; ruining good English, and ready in their turn to despise him as a
provincial.  The hours that the men of business kept in the city
scandalised him too; accustomed as he was to the early dinners of
Manchester folk, and the consequently far longer evenings.  Still, he was
pleased to go to London; though he would not for the world have confessed
it, even to himself, and always spoke of the step to his friends as one
demanded of him by the interests of his employers, and sweetened to him
by a considerable increase of salary.  His salary indeed was so liberal
that he might have been justified in taking a much larger House than this
one, had he not thought himself bound to set an example to Londoners of
how little a Manchester man of business cared for show.  Inside, however,
he furnished the House with an unusual degree of comfort, and, in the
winter time, he insisted on keeping up as large fires as the grates would
allow, in every room where the temperature was in the least chilly.
Moreover, his northern sense of hospitality was such, that, if he were at
home, he could hardly suffer a visitor to leave the house without forcing
meat and drink upon him.  Every servant in the house was well warmed,
well fed, and kindly treated; for their master scorned all petty saving
in aught that conduced to comfort; while he amused himself by following
out all his accustomed habits and individual ways in defiance of what any
of his new neighbours might think.

His wife was a pretty, gentle woman, of suitable age and character.  He
was forty-two, she thirty-five.  He was loud and decided; she soft and
yielding.  They had two children or rather, I should say, she had two;
for the elder, a girl of eleven, was Mrs. Openshaw's child by Frank
Wilson her first husband.  The younger was a little boy, Edwin, who could
just prattle, and to whom his father delighted to speak in the broadest
and most unintelligible Lancashire dialect, in order to keep up what he
called the true Saxon accent.

Mrs. Openshaw's Christian-name was Alice, and her first husband had been
her own cousin.  She was the orphan niece of a sea-captain in Liverpool:
a quiet, grave little creature, of great personal attraction when she was
fifteen or sixteen, with regular features and a blooming complexion.  But
she was very shy, and believed herself to be very stupid and awkward; and
was frequently scolded by her aunt, her own uncle's second wife.  So when
her cousin, Frank Wilson, came home from a long absence at sea, and first
was kind and protective to her; secondly, attentive and thirdly,
desperately in love with her, she hardly knew how to be grateful enough
to him.  It is true she would have preferred his remaining in the first
or second stages of behaviour; for his violent love puzzled and
frightened her.  Her uncle neither helped nor hindered the love affair
though it was going on under his own eyes.  Frank's step-mother had such
a variable temper, that there was no knowing whether what she liked one
day she would like the next, or not.  At length she went to such extremes
of crossness, that Alice was only too glad to shut her eyes and rush
blindly at the chance of escape from domestic tyranny offered her by a
marriage with her cousin; and, liking him better than any one in the
world except her uncle (who was at this time at sea) she went off one
morning and was married to him; her only bridesmaid being the housemaid
at her aunt's.  The consequence was, that Frank and his wife went into
lodgings, and Mrs. Wilson refused to see them, and turned away Norah, the
warm-hearted housemaid; whom they accordingly took into their service.
When Captain Wilson returned from his voyage, he was very cordial with
the young couple, and spent many an evening at their lodgings; smoking
his pipe, and sipping his grog; but he told them that, for quietness'
sake, he could not ask them to his own house; for his wife was bitter
against them.  They were not very unhappy about this.

The seed of future unhappiness lay rather in Frank's vehement, passionate
disposition; which led him to resent his wife's shyness and want of
demonstration as failures in conjugal duty.  He was already tormenting
himself, and her too, in a slighter degree, by apprehensions and
imaginations of what might befall her during his approaching absence at
sea.  At last he went to his father and urged him to insist upon Alice's
being once more received under his roof; the more especially as there was
now a prospect of her confinement while her husband was away on his
voyage.  Captain Wilson was, as he himself expressed it, "breaking up,"
and unwilling to undergo the excitement of a scene; yet he felt that what
his son said was true.  So he went to his wife.  And before Frank went to
sea, he had the comfort of seeing his wife installed in her old little
garret in his father's house.  To have placed her in the one best spare
room was a step beyond Mrs. Wilson's powers of submission or generosity.
The worst part about it, however, was that the faithful Norah had to be
dismissed.  Her place as housemaid had been filled up; and, even had it
not, she had forfeited Mrs. Wilson's good opinion for ever.  She
comforted her young master and mistress by pleasant prophecies of the
time when they would have a household of their own; of which, in whatever
service she might be in the meantime, she should be sure to form part.
Almost the last action Frank Wilson did, before setting sail, was going
with Alice to see Norah once more at her mother's house.  And then he
went away.

Alice's father-in-law grew more and more feeble as winter advanced.  She
was of great use to her step-mother in nursing and amusing him; and,
although there was anxiety enough in the household, there was perhaps
more of peace than there had been for years; for Mrs. Wilson had not a
bad heart, and was softened by the visible approach of death to one whom
she loved, and touched by the lonely condition of the young creature,
expecting her first confinement in her husband's absence.  To this
relenting mood Norah owed the permission to come and nurse Alice when her
baby was born, and to remain to attend on Captain Wilson.

Before one letter had been received from Frank (who had sailed for the
East Indies and China), his father died.  Alice was always glad to
remember that he had held her baby in his arms, and kissed and blessed it
before his death.  After that, and the consequent examination into the
state of his affairs, it was found that he had left far less property
than people had been led by his style of living to imagine; and, what
money there was, was all settled upon his wife, and at her disposal after
her death.  This did not signify much to Alice, as Frank was now first
mate of his ship, and, in another voyage or two, would be captain.
Meanwhile he had left her some hundreds (all his savings) in the bank.

It became time for Alice to hear from her husband.  One letter from the
Cape she had already received.  The next was to announce his arrival in
India.  As week after week passed over, and no intelligence of the ship's
arrival reached the office of the owners, and the Captain's wife was in
the same state of ignorant suspense as Alice herself, her fears grew most
oppressive.  At length the day came when, in reply to her inquiry at the
Shipping Office, they told her that the owners had given up Hope of ever
hearing more of the Betsy-Jane, and had sent in their claim upon the
underwriters.  Now that he was gone for ever, she first felt a yearning,
longing love for the kind cousin, the dear friend, the sympathising
protector, whom she should never see again,--first felt a passionate
desire to show him his child, whom she had hitherto rather craved to have
all to herself--her own sole possession.  Her grief was, however,
noiseless, and quiet--rather to the scandal of Mrs. Wilson; who bewailed
her step-son as if he and she had always lived together in perfect
harmony, and who evidently thought it her duty to burst into fresh tears
at every strange face she saw; dwelling on his poor young widow's
desolate state, and the helplessness of the fatherless child, with an
unction, as if she liked the excitement of the sorrowful story.

So passed away the first days of Alice's widowhood.  Bye-and-bye things
subsided into their natural and tranquil course.  But, as if this young
creature was always to be in some heavy trouble, her ewe-lamb began to be
ailing, pining and sickly.  The child's mysterious illness turned out to
be some affection of the spine likely to affect health; but not to
shorten life--at least so the doctors said.  But the long dreary
suffering of one whom a mother loves as Alice loved her only child, is
hard to look forward to.  Only Norah guessed what Alice suffered; no one
but God knew.

And so it fell out, that when Mrs. Wilson, the elder, came to her one day
in violent distress, occasioned by a very material diminution in the
value the property that her husband had left her,--a diminution which
made her income barely enough to support herself, much less Alice--the
latter could hardly understand how anything which did not touch health or
life could cause such grief; and she received the intelligence with
irritating composure.  But when, that afternoon, the little sick child
was brought in, and the grandmother--who after all loved it well--began a
fresh moan over her losses to its unconscious ears--saying how she had
planned to consult this or that doctor, and to give it this or that
comfort or luxury in after yearn but that now all chance of this had
passed away--Alice's heart was touched, and she drew near to Mrs. Wilson
with unwonted caresses, and, in a spirit not unlike to that of, Ruth,
entreated, that come what would, they might remain together.  After much
discussion in succeeding days, it was arranged that Mrs. Wilson should
take a house in Manchester, furnishing it partly with what furniture she
had, and providing the rest with Alice's remaining two hundred pounds.
Mrs. Wilson was herself a Manchester woman, and naturally longed to
return to her native town.  Some connections of her own at that time
required lodgings, for which they were willing to pay pretty handsomely.
Alice undertook the active superintendence and superior work of the
household.  Norah, willing faithful Norah, offered to cook, scour, do
anything in short, so that, she might but remain with them.

The plan succeeded.  For some years their first lodgers remained with
them, and all went smoothly,--with the one sad exception of the little
girl's increasing deformity.  How that mother loved that child, is not
for words to tell!

Then came a break of misfortune.  Their lodgers left, and no one
succeeded to them.  After some months they had to remove to a smaller
house; and Alice's tender conscience was torn by the idea that she ought
not to be a burden to her mother-in-law, but ought to go out and seek her
own maintenance.  And leave her child!  The thought came like the
sweeping boom of a funeral bell over her heart.

Bye-and-bye, Mr. Openshaw came to lodge with them.  He had started in
life as the errand-boy and sweeper-out of a warehouse; had struggled up
through all the grades of employment in the place, fighting his way
through the hard striving Manchester life with strong pushing energy of
character.  Every spare moment of time had been sternly given up to self-
teaching.  He was a capital accountant, a good French and German scholar,
a keen, far-seeing tradesman; understanding markets, and the bearing of
events, both near and distant, on trade: and yet, with such vivid
attention to present details, that I do not think he ever saw a group of
flowers in the fields without thinking whether their colours would, or
would not, form harmonious contrasts in the coming spring muslins and
prints.  He went to debating societies, and threw himself with all his
heart and soul into politics; esteeming, it must be owned, every man a
fool or a knave who differed from him, and overthrowing his opponents
rather by the loud strength of his language than the calm strength if his
logic.  There was something of the Yankee in all this.  Indeed his theory
ran parallel to the famous Yankee motto--"England flogs creation, and
Manchester flogs England."  Such a man, as may be fancied, had had no
time for falling in love, or any such nonsense.  At the age when most
young men go through their courting and matrimony, he had not the means
of keeping a wife, and was far too practical to think of having one.  And
now that he was in easy circumstances, a rising man, he considered women
almost as incumbrances to the world, with whom a man had better have as
little to do as possible.  His first impression of Alice was indistinct,
and he did not care enough about her to make it distinct.  "A pretty yea-
nay kind of woman," would have been his description of her, if he had
been pushed into a corner.  He was rather afraid, in the beginning, that
her quiet ways arose from a listlessness and laziness of character which
would have been exceedingly discordant to his active energetic nature.
But, when he found out the punctuality with which his wishes were
attended to, and her work was done; when he was called in the morning at
the very stroke of the clock, his shaving-water scalding hot, his fire
bright, his coffee made exactly as his peculiar fancy dictated, (for he
was a man who had his theory about everything, based upon what he knew of
science, and often perfectly original)--then he began to think: not that
Alice had any peculiar merit; but that he had got into remarkably good
lodgings: his restlessness wore away, and he began to consider himself as
almost settled for life in them.

Mr. Openshaw had been too busy, all his life, to be introspective.  He
did not know that he had any tenderness in his nature; and if he had
become conscious of its abstract existence, he would have considered it
as a manifestation of disease in some part of his nature.  But he was
decoyed into pity unawares; and pity led on to tenderness.  That little
helpless child--always carried about by one of the three busy women of
the house, or else patiently threading coloured beads in the chair from
which, by no effort of its own, could it ever move; the great grave blue
eyes, full of serious, not uncheerful, expression, giving to the small
delicate face a look beyond its years; the soft plaintive voice dropping
out but few words, so unlike the continual prattle of a child--caught Mr.
Openshaw's attention in spite of himself.  One day--he half scorned
himself for doing so--he cut short his dinner-hour to go in search of
some toy which should take the place of those eternal beads.  I forget
what he bought; but, when he gave the present (which he took care to do
in a short abrupt manner, and when no one was by to see him) he was
almost thrilled by the flash of delight that came over that child's face,
and could not help all through that afternoon going over and over again
the picture left on his memory, by the bright effect of unexpected joy on
the little girl's face.  When he returned home, he found his slippers
placed by his sitting-room fire; and even more careful attention paid to
his fancies than was habitual in those model lodgings.  When Alice had
taken the last of his tea-things away--she had been silent as usual till
then--she stood for an instant with the door in her hand.  Mr. Openshaw
looked as if he were deep in his book, though in fact he did not see a
line; but was heartily wishing the woman would be gone, and not make any
palaver of gratitude.  But she only said:

"I am very much obliged to you, sir.  Thank you very much," and was gone,
even before he could send her away with a "There, my good woman, that's
enough!"

For some time longer he took no apparent notice of the child.  He even
hardened his heart into disregarding her sudden flush of colour, and
little timid smile of recognition, when he saw her by chance.  But, after
all, this could not last for ever; and, having a second time given way to
tenderness, there was no relapse.  The insidious enemy having thus
entered his heart, in the guise of compassion to the child, soon assumed
the more dangerous form of interest in the mother.  He was aware of this
change of feeling, despised himself for it, struggled with it nay,
internally yielded to it and cherished it, long before he suffered the
slightest expression of it, by word, action, or look, to escape him.  He
watched Alice's docile obedient ways to her stepmother; the love which
she had inspired in the rough Norah (roughened by the wear and tear of
sorrow and years); but above all, he saw the wild, deep, passionate
affection existing between her and her child.  They spoke little to any
one else, or when any one else was by; but, when alone together, they
talked, and murmured, and cooed, and chattered so continually, that Mr.
Openshaw first wondered what they could find to say to each other, and
next became irritated because they were always so grave and silent with
him.  All this time, he was perpetually devising small new pleasures for
the child.  His thoughts ran, in a pertinacious way, upon the desolate
life before her; and often he came back from his day's work loaded with
the very thing Alice had been longing for, but had not been able to
procure.  One time it was a little chair for drawing the little sufferer
along the streets, and many an evening that ensuing summer Mr. Openshaw
drew her along himself, regardless of the remarks of his acquaintances.
One day in autumn he put down his newspaper, as Alice came in with the
breakfast, and said, in as indifferent a voice as he could assume:

"Mrs. Frank, is there any reason why we two should not put up our horses
together?"

Alice stood still in perplexed wonder.  What did he mean?  He had resumed
the reading of his newspaper, as if he did not expect any answer; so she
found silence her safest course, and went on quietly arranging his
breakfast without another word passing between them.  Just as he was
leaving the house, to go to the warehouse as usual, he turned back and
put his head into the bright, neat, tidy kitchen, where all the women
breakfasted in the morning:

"You'll think of what I said, Mrs. Frank" (this was her name with the
lodgers), "and let me have your opinion upon it to-night."

Alice was thankful that her mother and Norah were too busy talking
together to attend much to this speech.  She determined not to think
about it at all through the day; and, of course, the effort not to think
made her think all the more.  At night she sent up Norah with his tea.
But Mr. Openshaw almost knocked Norah down as she was going out at the
door, by pushing past her and calling out "Mrs. Frank!" in an impatient
voice, at the top of the stairs.

Alice went up, rather than seem to have affixed too much meaning to his
words.

"Well, Mrs. Frank," he said, "what answer?  Don't make it too long; for I
have lots of office-work to get through to-night."

"I hardly know what you meant, sir," said truthful Alice.

"Well!  I should have thought you might have guessed.  You're not new at
this sort of work, and I am.  However, I'll make it plain this time.  Will
you have me to be thy wedded husband, and serve me, and love me, and
honour me, and all that sort of thing?  Because if you will, I will do as
much by you, and be a father to your child--and that's more than is put
in the prayer-book.  Now, I'm a man of my word; and what I say, I feel;
and what I promise, I'll do.  Now, for your answer!"

Alice was silent.  He began to make the tea, as if her reply was a matter
of perfect indifference to him; but, as soon as that was done, he became
impatient.

"Well?" said he.

"How long, sir, may I have to think over it?"

"Three minutes!" (looking at his watch).  "You've had two already--that
makes five.  Be a sensible woman, say Yes, and sit down to tea with me,
and we'll talk it over together; for, after tea, I shall be busy; say No"
(he hesitated a moment to try and keep his voice in the same tone), "and
I shan't say another word about it, but pay up a year's rent for my rooms
to-morrow, and be off.  Time's up!  Yes or no?"

"If you please, sir,--you have been so good to little Ailsie--"

"There, sit down comfortably by me on the sofa, and let us have our tea
together.  I am glad to find you are as good and sensible as I took for."

And this was Alice Wilson's second wooing.

Mr. Openshaw's will was too strong, and his circumstances too good, for
him not to carry all before him.  He settled Mrs. Wilson in a comfortable
house of her own, and made her quite independent of lodgers.  The little
that Alice said with regard to future plans was in Norah's behalf.

"No," said Mr. Openshaw.  "Norah shall take care of the old lady as long
as she lives; and, after that, she shall either come and live with us,
or, if she likes it better, she shall have a provision for life--for your
sake, missus.  No one who has been good to you or the child shall go
unrewarded.  But even the little one will be better for some fresh stuff
about her.  Get her a bright, sensible girl as a nurse: one who won't go
rubbing her with calf's-foot jelly as Norah does; wasting good stuff
outside that ought to go in, but will follow doctors' directions; which,
as you must see pretty clearly by this time, Norah won't; because they
give the poor little wench pain.  Now, I'm not above being nesh for other
folks myself.  I can stand a good blow, and never change colour; but, set
me in the operating-room in the infirmary, and I turn as sick as a girl.
Yet, if need were, I would hold the little wench on my knees while she
screeched with pain, if it were to do her poor back good.  Nay, nay,
wench! keep your white looks for the time when it comes--I don't say it
ever will.  But this I know, Norah will spare the child and cheat the
doctor if she can.  Now, I say, give the bairn a year or two's chance,
and then, when the pack of doctors have done their best--and, maybe, the
old lady has gone--we'll have Norah back, or do better for her."

The pack of doctors could do no good to little Ailsie.  She was beyond
their power.  But her father (for so he insisted on being called, and
also on Alice's no longer retaining the appellation of Mama, but becoming
henceforward Mother), by his healthy cheerfulness of manner, his clear
decision of purpose, his odd turns and quirks of humour, added to his
real strong love for the helpless little girl, infused a new element of
brightness and confidence into her life; and, though her back remained
the same, her general health was strengthened, and Alice--never going
beyond a smile herself--had the pleasure of seeing her child taught to
laugh.

As for Alice's own life, it was happier than it had ever been.  Mr.
Openshaw required no demonstration, no expressions of affection from her.
Indeed, these would rather have disgusted him.  Alice could love deeply,
but could not talk about it.  The perpetual requirement of loving words,
looks, and caresses, and misconstruing their absence into absence of
love, had been the great trial of her former married life.  Now, all went
on clear and straight, under the guidance of her husband's strong sense,
warm heart, and powerful will.  Year by year their worldly prosperity
increased.  At Mrs. Wilson's death, Norah came back to them, as nurse to
the newly-born little Edwin; into which post she was not installed
without a pretty strong oration on the part of the proud and happy
father; who declared that if he found out that Norah ever tried to screen
the boy by a falsehood, or to make him nesh either in body or mind, she
should go that very day.  Norah and Mr. Openshaw were not on the most
thoroughly cordial terms; neither of them fully recognising or
appreciating the other's best qualities.

This was the previous history of the Lancashire family who had now
removed to London, and had come to occupy the House.

They had been there about a year, when Mr. Openshaw suddenly informed his
wife that he had determined to heal long-standing feuds, and had asked
his uncle and aunt Chadwick to come and pay them a visit and see London.
Mrs. Openshaw had never seen this uncle and aunt of her husband's.  Years
before she had married him, there had been a quarrel.  All she knew was,
that Mr. Chadwick was a small manufacturer in a country town in South
Lancashire.  She was extremely pleased that the breach was to be healed,
and began making preparations to render their visit pleasant.

They arrived at last.  Going to see London was such an event to them,
that Mrs. Chadwick had made all new linen fresh for the occasion-from
night-caps downwards; and, as for gowns, ribbons, and collars, she might
have been going into the wilds of Canada where never a shop is, so large
was her stock.  A fortnight before the day of her departure for London,
she had formally called to take leave of all her acquaintance; saying she
should need all the intermediate time for packing up.  It was like a
second wedding in her imagination; and, to complete the resemblance which
an entirely new wardrobe made between the two events, her husband brought
her back from Manchester, on the last market-day before they set off, a
gorgeous pearl and amethyst brooch, saying, "Lunnon should see that
Lancashire folks knew a handsome thing when they saw it."

For some time after Mr. and Mrs. Chadwick arrived at the Openshaws',
there was no opportunity for wearing this brooch; but at length they
obtained an order to see Buckingham Palace, and the spirit of loyalty
demanded that Mrs. Chadwick should wear her best clothes in visiting the
abode of her sovereign.  On her return, she hastily changed her dress;
for Mr. Openshaw had planned that they should go to Richmond, drink tea
and return by moonlight.  Accordingly, about five o'clock, Mr. and Mrs.
Openshaw and Mr. and Mrs. Chadwick set off.

The housemaid and cook sate below, Norah hardly knew where.  She was
always engrossed in the nursery, in tending her two children, and in
sitting by the restless, excitable Ailsie till she fell asleep.  Bye-and-
bye, the housemaid Bessy tapped gently at the door.  Norah went to her,
and they spoke in whispers.

"Nurse! there's some one down-stairs wants you."

"Wants me!  Who is it?"

"A gentleman--"

"A gentleman?  Nonsense!"

"Well! a man, then, and he asks for you, and he rung at the front door
bell, and has walked into the dining-room."

"You should never have let him," exclaimed Norah, "master and missus
out--"

"I did not want him to come in; but when he heard you lived here, he
walked past me, and sat down on the first chair, and said, 'Tell her to
come and speak to me.'  There is no gas lighted in the room, and supper
is all set out."

"He'll be off with the spoons!" exclaimed Norah, putting the housemaid's
fear into words, and preparing to leave the room, first, however, giving
a look to Ailsie, sleeping soundly and calmly.

Down-stairs she went, uneasy fears stirring in her bosom.  Before she
entered the dining-room she provided herself with a candle, and, with it
in her hand, she went in, looking round her in the darkness for her
visitor.

He was standing up, holding by the table.  Norah and he looked at each
other; gradual recognition coming into their eyes.

"Norah?" at length he asked.

"Who are you?" asked Norah, with the sharp tones of alarm and
incredulity.  "I don't know you:" trying, by futile words of disbelief,
to do away with the terrible fact before her.

"Am I so changed?" he said, pathetically.  "I daresay I am.  But, Norah,
tell me!" he breathed hard, "where is my wife?  Is she--is she alive?"

He came nearer to Norah, and would have taken her hand; but she backed
away from him; looking at him all the time with staring eyes, as if he
were some horrible object.  Yet he was a handsome, bronzed, good-looking
fellow, with beard and moustache, giving him a foreign-looking aspect;
but his eyes! there was no mistaking those eager, beautiful eyes--the
very same that Norah had watched not half-an-hour ago, till sleep stole
softly over them.

"Tell me, Norah--I can bear it--I have feared it so often.  Is she dead?"
Norah still kept silence.   "She is dead!"  He hung on Norah's words and
looks, as if for confirmation or contradiction.

"What shall I do?" groaned Norah.  "O, sir! why did you come? how did you
find me out? where have you been?  We thought you dead, we did, indeed!"
She poured out words and questions to gain time, as if time would help
her.

"Norah! answer me this question, straight, by yes or no--Is my wife
dead?"

"No, she is not!" said Norah, slowly and heavily.

"O what a relief!  Did she receive my letters?  But perhaps you don't
know.  Why did you leave her?  Where is she?  O Norah, tell me all
quickly!"

"Mr. Frank!" said Norah at last, almost driven to bay by her terror lest
her mistress should return at any moment, and find him there--unable to
consider what was best to be done or said-rushing at something decisive,
because she could not endure her present state: "Mr. Frank! we never
heard a line from you, and the shipowners said you had gone down, you and
every one else.  We thought you were dead, if ever man was, and poor Miss
Alice and her little sick, helpless child!  O, sir, you must guess it,"
cried the poor creature at last, bursting out into a passionate fit of
crying, "for indeed I cannot tell it.  But it was no one's fault.  God
help us all this night!"

Norah had sate down.  She trembled too much to stand.  He took her hands
in his.  He squeezed them hard, as if by physical pressure, the truth
could be wrung out.

"Norah!"  This time his tone was calm, stagnant as despair.  "She has
married again!"

Norah shook her head sadly.  The grasp slowly relaxed.  The man had
fainted.

There was brandy in the room.  Norah forced some drops into Mr. Frank's
mouth, chafed his hands, and--when mere animal life returned, before the
mind poured in its flood of memories and thoughts--she lifted him up, and
rested his head against her knees.  Then she put a few crumbs of bread
taken from the supper-table, soaked in brandy into his mouth.  Suddenly
he sprang to his feet.

"Where is she?  Tell me this instant."  He looked so wild, so mad, so
desperate, that Norah felt herself to be in bodily danger; but her time
of dread had gone by.  She had been afraid to tell him the truth, and
then she had been a coward.  Now, her wits were sharpened by the sense of
his desperate state.  He must leave the house.  She would pity him
afterwards; but now she must rather command and upbraid; for he must
leave the house before her mistress came home.  That one necessity stood
clear before her.

"She is not here; that is enough for you to know.  Nor can I say exactly
where she is" (which was true to the letter if not to the spirit).  "Go
away, and tell me where to find you to-morrow, and I will tell you all.
My master and mistress may come back at any minute, and then what would
become of me with a strange man in the house?"

Such an argument was too petty to touch his excited mind.

"I don't care for your master and mistress.  If your master is a man, he
must feel for me poor shipwrecked sailor that I am--kept for years a
prisoner amongst savages, always, always, always thinking of my wife and
my home--dreaming of her by night, talking to her, though she could not
hear, by day.  I loved her more than all heaven and earth put together.
Tell me where she is, this instant, you wretched woman, who salved over
her wickedness to her, as you do to me."

The clock struck ten.  Desperate positions require desperate measures.

"If you will leave the house now, I will come to you to-morrow and tell
you all.  What is more, you shall see your child now.  She lies sleeping
up-stairs.  O, sir, you have a child, you do not know that as yet--a
little weakly girl--with just a heart and soul beyond her years.  We have
reared her up with such care: We watched her, for we thought for many a
year she might die any day, and we tended her, and no hard thing has come
near her, and no rough word has ever been said to her.  And now you, come
and will take her life into your hand, and will crush it.  Strangers to
her have been kind to her; but her own father--Mr. Frank, I am her nurse,
and I love her, and I tend her, and I would do anything for her that I
could.  Her mother's heart beats as hers beats; and, if she suffers a
pain, her mother trembles all over.  If she is happy, it is her mother
that smiles and is glad.  If she is growing stronger, her mother is
healthy: if she dwindles, her mother languishes.  If she dies--well, I
don't know: it is not every one can lie down and die when they wish it.
Come up-stairs, Mr. Frank, and see your child.  Seeing her will do good
to your poor heart.  Then go away, in God's name, just this one night-to-
morrow, if need be, you can do anything--kill us all if you will, or show
yourself--a great grand man, whom God will bless for ever and ever.  Come,
Mr. Frank, the look of a sleeping child is sure to give peace."

She led him up-stairs; at first almost helping his steps, till they came
near the nursery door.  She had almost forgotten the existence of little
Edwin.  It struck upon her with affright as the shaded light fell upon
the other cot; but she skilfully threw that corner of the room into
darkness, and let the light fall on the sleeping Ailsie.  The child had
thrown down the coverings, and her deformity, as she lay with her back to
them, was plainly visible through her slight night-gown.  Her little
face, deprived of the lustre of her eyes, looked wan and pinched, and had
a pathetic expression in it, even as she slept.  The poor father looked
and looked with hungry, wistful eyes, into which the big tears came
swelling up slowly, and dropped heavily down, as he stood trembling and
shaking all over.  Norah was angry with herself for growing impatient of
the length of time that long lingering gaze lasted.  She thought that she
waited for full half-an-hour before Frank stirred.  And then--instead of
going away--he sank down on his knees by the bedside, and buried his face
in the clothes.  Little Ailsie stirred uneasily.  Norah pulled him up in
terror.  She could afford no more time even for prayer in her extremity
of fear; for surely the next moment would bring her mistress home.  She
took him forcibly by the arm; but, as he was going, his eye lighted on
the other bed: he stopped.  Intelligence came back into his face.  His
hands clenched.

"His child?" he asked.

"Her child," replied Norah.  "God watches over him," said she
instinctively; for Frank's looks excited her fears, and she needed to
remind herself of the Protector of the helpless.

"God has not watched over me," he said, in despair; his thoughts
apparently recoiling on his own desolate, deserted state.  But Norah had
no time for pity.  To-morrow she would be as compassionate as her heart
prompted.  At length she guided him downstairs and shut the outer door
and bolted it--as if by bolts to keep out facts.

Then she went back into the dining-room and effaced all traces of his
presence as far as she could.  She went upstairs to the nursery and sate
there, her head on her hand, thinking what was to come of all this
misery.  It seemed to her very long before they did return; yet it was
hardly eleven o'clock.  She so heard the loud, hearty Lancashire voices
on the stairs; and, for the first time, she understood the contrast of
the desolation of the poor man who had so lately gone forth in lonely
despair.

It almost put her out of patience to see Mrs. Openshaw come in, calmly
smiling, handsomely dressed, happy, easy, to inquire after her children.

"Did Ailsie go to sleep comfortably?" she whispered to Norah.

"Yes."

Her mother bent over her, looking at her slumbers with the soft eyes of
love.  How little she dreamed who had looked on her last!  Then she went
to Edwin, with perhaps less wistful anxiety in her countenance, but more
of pride.  She took off her things, to go down to supper.  Norah saw her
no more that night.

Beside the door into the passage, the sleeping-nursery opened out of Mr.
and Mrs. Openshaw's room, in order that they might have the children more
immediately under their own eyes.  Early the next summer morning Mrs.
Openshaw was awakened by Ailsie's startled call of "Mother! mother!"  She
sprang up, put on her dressing-gown, and went to her child.  Ailsie was
only half awake, and in a not uncommon state of terror.

"Who was he, mother?  Tell me!"

"Who, my darling?  No one is here.  You have been dreaming love.  Waken
up quite.  See, it is broad daylight."

"Yes," said Ailsie, looking round her; then clinging to her mother, said,
"but a man was here in the night, mother."

"Nonsense, little goose.  No man has ever come near you!"

"Yes, he did.  He stood there.  Just by Norah.  A man with hair and a
beard.  And he knelt down and said his prayers.  Norah knows he was here,
mother" (half angrily, as Mrs. Openshaw shook her head in smiling
incredulity).

"Well! we will ask Norah when she comes," said Mrs. Openshaw, soothingly.
"But we won't talk any more about him now.  It is not five o'clock; it is
too early for you to get up.  Shall I fetch you a book and read to you?"

"Don't leave me, mother," said the child, clinging to her.  So Mrs.
Openshaw sate on the bedside talking to Ailsie, and telling her of what
they had done at Richmond the evening before, until the little girl's
eyes slowly closed and she once more fell asleep.

"What was the matter?" asked Mr. Openshaw, as his wife returned to bed.
"Ailsie wakened up in a fright, with some story of a man having been in
the room to say his prayers,--a dream, I suppose."  And no more was said
at the time.

Mrs. Openshaw had almost forgotten the whole affair when she got up about
seven o'clock.  But, bye-and-bye, she heard a sharp altercation going on
in the nursery.  Norah speaking angrily to Ailsie, a most unusual thing.
Both Mr. and Mrs. Openshaw listened in astonishment.

"Hold your tongue, Ailsie I let me hear none of your dreams; never let me
hear you tell that story again!" Ailsie began to cry.

Mr. Openshaw opened the door of communication before his wife could say a
word.

"Norah, come here!"

The nurse stood at the door, defiant.  She perceived she had been heard,
but she was desperate.

"Don't let me hear you speak in that manner to Ailsie again," he said
sternly, and shut the door.

Norah was infinitely relieved; for she had dreaded some questioning; and
a little blame for sharp speaking was what she could well bear, if cross-
examination was let alone.

Down-stairs they went, Mr. Openshaw carrying Ailsie; the sturdy Edwin
coming step by step, right foot foremost, always holding his mother's
hand.  Each child was placed in a chair by the breakfast-table, and then
Mr. and Mrs. Openshaw stood together at the window, awaiting their
visitors' appearance and making plans for the day.  There was a pause.
Suddenly Mr. Openshaw turned to Ailsie, and said:

"What a little goosy somebody is with her dreams, waking up poor, tired
mother in the middle of the night with a story of a man being in the
room."

"Father!  I'm sure I saw him," said Ailsie, half crying.  "I don't want
to make Norah angry; but I was not asleep, for all she says I was.  I had
been asleep,--and I awakened up quite wide awake though I was so
frightened.  I kept my eyes nearly shut, and I saw the man quite plain.  A
great brown man with a beard.  He said his prayers.  And then he looked
at Edwin.  And then Norah took him by the arm and led him away, after
they had whispered a bit together."

"Now, my little woman must be reasonable," said Mr. Openshaw, who was
always patient with Ailsie.  "There was no man in the house last night at
all.  No man comes into the house as you know, if you think; much less
goes up into the nursery.  But sometimes we dream something has happened,
and the dream is so like reality, that you are not the first person,
little woman, who has stood out that the thing has really happened."

"But, indeed it was not a dream!" said Ailsie, beginning to cry.

Just then Mr. and Mrs. Chadwick came down, looking grave and discomposed.
All during breakfast time they were silent and uncomfortable.  As soon as
the breakfast things were taken away, and the children had been carried
up-stairs, Mr. Chadwick began in an evidently preconcerted manner to
inquire if his nephew was certain that all his servants were honest; for,
that Mrs. Chadwick had that morning missed a very valuable brooch, which
she had worn the day before.  She remembered taking it off when she came
home from Buckingham Palace.  Mr. Openshaw's face contracted into hard
lines: grew like what it was before he had known his wife and her child.
He rang the bell even before his uncle had done speaking.  It was
answered by the housemaid.

"Mary, was any one here last night while we were away?"

"A man, sir, came to speak to Norah."

"To speak to Norah!  Who was he?  How long did he stay?"

"I'm sure I can't tell, sir.  He came--perhaps about nine.  I went up to
tell Norah in the nursery, and she came down to speak to him.  She let
him out, sir.  She will know who he was, and how long he stayed."

She waited a moment to be asked any more questions, but she was not, so
she went away.

A minute afterwards Openshaw made as though he were going out of the
room; but his wife laid her hand on his arm:

"Do not speak to her before the children," she said, in her low, quiet
voice.  "I will go up and question her."

"No!  I must speak to her.  You must know," said he, turning to his uncle
and aunt, "my missus has an old servant, as faithful as ever woman was, I
do believe, as far as love goes,--but, at the same time, who does not
always speak truth, as even the missus must allow.  Now, my notion is,
that this Norah of ours has been come over by some good-for-nothin chap
(for she's at the time o' life when they say women pray for
husbands--'any, good Lord, any,') and has let him into our house, and the
chap has made off with your brooch, and m'appen many another thing
beside.  It's only saying that Norah is soft-hearted, and does not stick
at a white lie--that's all, missus."

It was curious to notice how his tone, his eyes, his whole face changed
as he spoke to his wife; but he was the resolute man through all.  She
knew better than to oppose him; so she went up-stairs, and told Norah her
master wanted to speak to her, and that she would take care of the
children in the meanwhile.

Norah rose to go without a word.  Her thoughts were these:

"If they tear me to pieces they shall never know through me.  He may
come,--and then just Lord have mercy upon us all: for some of us are dead
folk to a certainty.  But he shall do it; not me."

You may fancy, now, her look of determination as she faced her master
alone in the dining-room; Mr. and Mrs. Chadwick having left the affair in
their nephew's hands, seeing that he took it up with such vehemence.

"Norah!  Who was that man that came to my house last night?"

"Man, sir!"  As if infinitely; surprised but it was only to gain time.

"Yes; the man whom Mary let in; whom she went up-stairs to the nursery to
tell you about; whom you came down to speak to; the same chap, I make no
doubt, whom you took into the nursery to have your talk out with; whom
Ailsie saw, and afterwards dreamed about; thinking, poor wench! she saw
him say his prayers, when nothing, I'll be bound, was farther from his
thoughts; who took Mrs. Chadwick's brooch, value ten pounds.  Now, Norah!
Don't go off!  I am as sure as that my name's Thomas Openshaw, that you
knew nothing of this robbery.  But I do think you've been imposed on, and
that's the truth.  Some good-for-nothing chap has been making up to you,
and you've been just like all other women, and have turned a soft place
in your heart to him; and he came last night a-lovyering, and you had him
up in the nursery, and he made use of his opportunities, and made off
with a few things on his way down!  Come, now, Norah: it's no blame to
you, only you must not be such a fool again.  Tell us," he continued,
"what name he gave you, Norah?  I'll be bound it was not the right one;
but it will be a clue for the police."

Norah drew herself up.  "You may ask that question, and taunt me with my
being single, and with my credulity, as you will, Master Openshaw.  You'll
get no answer from me.  As for the brooch, and the story of theft and
burglary; if any friend ever came to see me (which I defy you to prove,
and deny), he'd be just as much above doing such a thing as you yourself,
Mr. Openshaw, and more so, too; for I'm not at all sure as everything you
have is rightly come by, or would be yours long, if every man had his
own."  She meant, of course, his wife; but he understood her to refer to
his property in goods and chattels.

"Now, my good woman," said he, "I'll just tell you truly, I never trusted
you out and out; but my wife liked you, and I thought you had many a good
point about you.  If you once begin to sauce me, I'll have the police to
you, and get out the truth in a court of justice, if you'll not tell it
me quietly and civilly here.  Now the best thing you can do is quietly to
tell me who the fellow is.  Look here! a man comes to my house; asks for
you; you take him up-stairs, a valuable brooch is missing next day; we
know that you, and Mary, and cook, are honest; but you refuse to tell us
who the man is.  Indeed you've told one lie already about him, saying no
one was here last night.  Now I just put it to you, what do you think a
policeman would say to this, or a magistrate?  A magistrate would soon
make you tell the truth, my good woman."

"There's never the creature born that should get it out of me," said
Norah.  "Not unless I choose to tell."

"I've a great mind to see," said Mr. Openshaw, growing angry at the
defiance.  Then, checking himself, he thought before he spoke again:

"Norah, for your missus's sake I don't want to go to extremities.  Be a
sensible woman, if you can.  It's no great disgrace, after all, to have
been taken in.  I ask you once more--as a friend--who was this man whom
you let into my house last night?"

No answer.  He repeated the question in an impatient tone.  Still no
answer.  Norah's lips were set in determination not to speak.

"Then there is but one thing to be done.  I shall send for a policeman."

"You will not," said Norah, starting forwards.  "You shall not, sir!  No
policeman shall touch me.  I know nothing of the brooch, but I know this:
ever since I was four-and-twenty I have thought more of your wife than of
myself: ever since I saw her, a poor motherless girl put upon in her
uncle's house, I have thought more of serving her than of serving myself!
I have cared for her and her child, as nobody ever cared for me.  I don't
cast blame on you, sir, but I say it's ill giving up one's life to any
one; for, at the end, they will turn round upon you, and forsake you.  Why
does not my missus come herself to suspect me?  Maybe she is gone for the
police?  But I don't stay here, either for police, or magistrate, or
master.  You're an unlucky lot.  I believe there's a curse on you.  I'll
leave you this very day.  Yes!  I leave that poor Ailsie, too.  I will!
No good will ever come to you!"

Mr. Openshaw was utterly astonished at this speech; most of which was
completely unintelligible to him, as may easily be supposed.  Before he
could make up his mind what to say, or what to do, Norah had left the
room.  I do not think he had ever really intended to send for the police
to this old servant of his wife's; for he had never for a moment doubted
her perfect honesty.  But he had intended to compel her to tell him who
the man was, and in this he was baffled.  He was, consequently, much
irritated.  He returned to his uncle and aunt in a state of great
annoyance and perplexity, and told them he could get nothing out of the
woman; that some man had been in the house the night before; but that she
refused to tell who he was.  At this moment his wife came in, greatly
agitated, and asked what had happened to Norah; for that she had put on
her things in passionate haste, and had left the house.

"This looks suspicious," said Mr. Chadwick.  "It is not the way in which
an honest person would have acted."

Mr. Openshaw kept silence.  He was sorely perplexed.  But Mrs. Openshaw
turned round on Mr. Chadwick with a sudden fierceness no one ever saw in
her before.

"You don't know Norah, uncle!  She is gone because she is deeply hurt at
being suspected.  O, I wish I had seen her--that I had spoken to her
myself.  She would have told me anything."  Alice wrung her hands.

"I must confess," continued Mr. Chadwick to his nephew, in a lower voice,
"I can't make you out.  You used to be a word and a blow, and oftenest
the blow first; and now, when there is every cause for suspicion, you
just do nought.  Your missus is a very good woman, I grant; but she may
have been put upon as well as other folk, I suppose.  If you don't send
for the police, I shall."

"Very well," replied Mr. Openshaw, surlily.  "I can't clear Norah.  She
won't clear herself, as I believe she might if she would.  Only I wash my
hands of it; for I am sure the woman herself is honest, and she's lived a
long time with my wife, and I don't like her to come to shame."

"But she will then be forced to clear herself.  That, at any rate, will
be a good thing."

"Very well, very well!  I am heart-sick of the whole business.  Come,
Alice, come up to the babies they'll be in a sore way.  I tell you,
uncle!" he said, turning round once more to Mr. Chadwick, suddenly and
sharply, after his eye had fallen on Alice's wan, tearful, anxious face;
"I'll have none sending for the police after all.  I'll buy my aunt twice
as handsome a brooch this very day; but I'll not have Norah suspected,
and my missus plagued.  There's for you."

He and his wife left the room.  Mr. Chadwick quietly waited till he was
out of hearing, and then aid to his wife; "For all Tom's heroics, I'm
just quietly going for a detective, wench.  Thou need'st know nought
about it."

He went to the police-station, and made a statement of the case.  He was
gratified by the impression which the evidence against Norah seemed to
make.  The men all agreed in his opinion, and steps were to be
immediately taken to find out where she was.  Most probably, as they
suggested, she had gone at once to the man, who, to all appearance, was
her lover.  When Mr. Chadwick asked how they would find her out? they
smiled, shook their heads, and spoke of mysterious but infallible ways
and means.  He returned to his nephew's house with a very comfortable
opinion of his own sagacity.  He was met by his wife with a penitent
face:

"O master, I've found my brooch!  It was just sticking by its pin in the
flounce of my brown silk, that I wore yesterday.  I took it off in a
hurry, and it must have caught in it; and I hung up my gown in the
closet.  Just now, when I was going to fold it up, there was the brooch!
I'm very vexed, but I never dreamt but what it was lost!"

Her husband muttering something very like "Confound thee and thy brooch
too!  I wish I'd never given it thee," snatched up his hat, and rushed
back to the station; hoping to be in time to stop the police from
searching for Norah.  But a detective was already gone off on the errand.

Where was Norah?  Half mad with the strain of the fearful secret, she had
hardly slept through the night for thinking what must be done.  Upon this
terrible state of mind had come Ailsie's questions, showing that she had
seen the Man, as the unconscious child called her father.  Lastly came
the suspicion of her honesty.  She was little less than crazy as she ran
up-stairs and dashed on her bonnet and shawl; leaving all else, even her
purse, behind her.  In that house she would not stay.  That was all she
knew or was clear about.  She would not even see the children again, for
fear it should weaken her.  She feared above everything Mr. Frank's
return to claim his wife.  She could not tell what remedy there was for a
sorrow so tremendous, for her to stay to witness.  The desire of escaping
from the coming event was a stronger motive for her departure than her
soreness about the suspicions directed against her; although this last
had been the final goad to the course she took.  She walked away almost
at headlong speed; sobbing as she went, as she had not dared to do during
the past night for fear of exciting wonder in those who might hear her.
Then she stopped.  An idea came into her mind that she would leave London
altogether, and betake herself to her native town of Liverpool.  She felt
in her pocket for her purse, as she drew near the Euston Square station
with this intention.  She had left it at home.  Her poor head aching, her
eyes swollen with crying, she had to stand still, and think, as well as
she could, where next she should bend her steps.  Suddenly the thought
flashed into her mind that she would go and find out poor Mr. Frank.  She
had been hardly kind to him the night before, though her heart had bled
for him ever since.  She remembered his telling her as she inquired for
his address, almost as she had pushed him out of the door, of some hotel
in a street not far distant from Euston Square.  Thither she went: with
what intention she hardly knew, but to assuage her conscience by telling
him how much she pitied him.  In her present state she felt herself unfit
to counsel, or restrain, or assist, or do ought else but sympathise and
weep.  The people of the inn said such a person had been there; had
arrived only the day before; had gone out soon after his arrival, leaving
his luggage in their care; but had never come back.  Norah asked for
leave to sit down, and await the gentleman's return.  The landlady--pretty
secure in the deposit of luggage against any probable injury--showed her
into a room, and quietly locked the door on the outside.  Norah was
utterly worn out, and fell asleep--a shivering, starting, uneasy slumber,
which lasted for hours.

The detective, meanwhile, had come up with her some time before she
entered the hotel, into which he followed her.  Asking the landlady to
detain her for an hour or so, without giving any reason beyond showing
his authority (which made the landlady applaud herself a good deal for
having locked her in), he went back to the police-station to report his
proceedings.  He could have taken her directly; but his object was, if
possible, to trace out the man who was supposed to have committed the
robbery.  Then he heard of the discovery of the brooch; and consequently
did not care to return.

Norah slept till even the summer evening began to close in.  Then up.
Some one was at the door.  It would be Mr. Frank; and she dizzily pushed
back her ruffled grey hair, which had fallen over her eyes, and stood
looking to see him.  Instead, there came in Mr. Openshaw and a policeman.

"This is Norah Kennedy," said Mr. Openshaw.

"O, sir," said Norah, "I did not touch the brooch; indeed I did not.  O,
sir, I cannot live to be thought so badly of;" and very sick and faint,
she suddenly sank down on the ground.  To her surprise, Mr. Openshaw
raised her up very tenderly.  Even the policeman helped to lay her on the
sofa; and, at Mr. Openshaw's desire, he went for some wine and
sandwiches; for the poor gaunt woman lay there almost as if dead with
weariness and exhaustion.

"Norah!" said Mr. Openshaw, in his kindest voice, "the brooch is found.
It was hanging to Mrs. Chadwick's gown.  I beg your pardon.  Most truly I
beg your pardon, for having troubled you about it.  My wife is almost
broken-hearted.  Eat, Norah,--or, stay, first drink this glass of wine,"
said he, lifting her head, pouring a little down her throat.

As she drank, she remembered where she was, and who she was waiting for.
She suddenly pushed Mr. Openshaw away, saying, "O, sir, you must go.  You
must not stop a minute.  If he comes back he will kill you."

"Alas, Norah!  I do not know who 'he' is.  But some one is gone away who
will never come back: someone who knew you, and whom I am afraid you
cared for."

"I don't understand you, sir," said Norah, her master's kind and
sorrowful manner bewildering her yet more than his words.  The policeman
had left the room at Mr. Openshaw's desire, and they two were alone.

"You know what I mean, when I say some one is gone who will never come
back.  I mean that he is dead!"

"Who?" said Norah, trembling all over.

"A poor man has been found in the Thames this morning, drowned."

"Did he drown himself?" asked Norah, solemnly.

"God only knows," replied Mr. Openshaw, in the same tone.  "Your name and
address at our house, were found in his pocket: that, and his purse, were
the only things, that were found upon him.  I am sorry to say it, my poor
Norah; but you are required to go and identify him."

"To what?" asked Norah.

"To say who it is.  It is always done, in order that some reason may be
discovered for the suicide--if suicide it was.  I make no doubt he was
the man who came to see you at our house last night.  It is very sad, I
know."  He made pauses between each little clause, in order to try and
bring back her senses; which he feared were wandering--so wild and sad
was her look.

"Master Openshaw," said she, at last, "I've a dreadful secret to tell
you--only you must never breathe it to any one, and you and I must hide
it away for ever.  I thought to have done it all by myself, but I see I
cannot.  Yon poor man--yes! the dead, drowned creature is, I fear, Mr.
Frank, my mistress's first husband!"

Mr. Openshaw sate down, as if shot.  He did not speak; but, after a
while, he signed to Norah to go on.

"He came to me the other night--when--God be thanked--you were all away
at Richmond.  He asked me if his wife was dead or alive.  I was a brute,
and thought more of our all coming home than of his sore trial: spoke out
sharp, and said she was married again, and very content and happy: I all
but turned him away: and now he lies dead and cold!"

"God forgive me!" said Mr. Openshaw.

"God forgive us all!" said Norah.  "Yon poor man needs forgiveness
perhaps less than any one among us.  He had been among the
savages--shipwrecked--I know not what--and he had written letters which
had never reached my poor missus."

"He saw his child!"

"He saw her--yes!  I took him up, to give his thoughts another start; for
I believed he was going mad on my hands.  I came to seek him here, as I
more than half promised.  My mind misgave me when I heard he had never
come in.  O, sir I it must be him!"

Mr. Openshaw rang the bell.  Norah was almost too much stunned to wonder
at what he did.  He asked for writing materials, wrote a letter, and then
said to Norah:

"I am writing to Alice, to say I shall be unavoidably absent for a few
days; that I have found you; that you are well, and send her your love,
and will come home to-morrow.  You must go with me to the Police Court;
you must identify the body: I will pay high to keep name; and details out
of the papers.

"But where are you going, sir?"

He did not answer her directly.  Then he said:

"Norah!  I must go with you, and look on the face of the man whom I have
so injured,--unwittingly, it is true; but it seems to me as if I had
killed him.  I will lay his head in the grave, as if he were my only
brother: and how he must have hated me!  I cannot go home to my wife till
all that I can do for him is done.  Then I go with a dreadful secret on
my mind.  I shall never speak of it again, after these days are over.  I
know you will not, either."  He shook hands with her: and they never
named the subject again, the one to the other.

Norah went home to Alice the next day.  Not a word was said on the cause
of her abrupt departure a day or two before.  Alice had been charged by
her husband in his letter not to allude to the supposed theft of the
brooch; so she, implicitly obedient to those whom she loved both by
nature and habit, was entirely silent on the subject, only treated Norah
with the most tender respect, as if to make up for unjust suspicion.

Nor did Alice inquire into the reason why Mr. Openshaw had been absent
during his uncle and aunt's visit, after he had once said that it was
unavoidable.  He came back, grave and quiet; and, from that time forth,
was curiously changed.  More thoughtful, and perhaps less active; quite
as decided in conduct, but with new and different rules for the guidance
of that conduct.  Towards Alice he could hardly be more kind than he had
always been; but he now seemed to look upon her as some one sacred and to
be treated with reverence, as well as tenderness.  He throve in business,
and made a large fortune, one half of which was settled upon her.

* * * * *

Long years after these events,--a few months after her mother died,
Ailsie and her "father" (as she always called Mr. Openshaw) drove to a
cemetery a little way out of town, and she was carried to a certain mound
by her maid, who was then sent back to the carriage.  There was a head-
stone, with F. W. and a date.  That was all.  Sitting by the grave, Mr.
Openshaw told her the story; and for the sad fate of that poor father
whom she had never seen, he shed the only tears she ever saw fall from
his eyes.

* * * * *

"A most interesting story, all through," I said, as Jarber folded up the
first of his series of discoveries in triumph.  "A story that goes
straight to the heart--especially at the end.  But"--I stopped, and
looked at Trottle.

Trottle entered his protest directly in the shape of a cough.

"Well!" I said, beginning to lose my patience.  "Don't you see that I
want you to speak, and that I don't want you to cough?"

"Quite so, ma'am," said Trottle, in a state of respectful obstinacy which
would have upset the temper of a saint.  "Relative, I presume, to this
story, ma'am?"

"Yes, Yes!" said Jarber.  "By all means let us hear what this good man
has to say."

"Well, sir," answered Trottle, "I want to know why the House over the way
doesn't let, and I don't exactly see how your story answers the question.
That's all I have to say, sir."

I should have liked to contradict my opinionated servant, at that moment.
But, excellent as the story was in itself, I felt that he had hit on the
weak point, so far as Jarber's particular purpose in reading it was
concerned.

"And that is what you have to say, is it?" repeated Jarber.  "I enter
this room announcing that I have a series of discoveries, and you jump
instantly to the conclusion that the first of the series exhausts my
resources.  Have I your permission, dear lady, to enlighten this obtuse
person, if possible, by reading Number Two?"

"My work is behindhand, ma'am," said Trottle, moving to the door, the
moment I gave Jarber leave to go on.

"Stop where you are," I said, in my most peremptory manner, "and give Mr.
Jarber his fair opportunity of answering your objection now you have made
it."

Trottle sat down with the look of a martyr, and Jarber began to read with
his back turned on the enemy more decidedly than ever.



GOING INTO SOCIETY


At one period of its reverses, the House fell into the occupation of a
Showman.  He was found registered as its occupier, on the parish books of
the time when he rented the House, and there was therefore no need of any
clue to his name.  But, he himself was less easy to be found; for, he had
led a wandering life, and settled people had lost sight of him, and
people who plumed themselves on being respectable were shy of admitting
that they had ever known anything of him.  At last, among the marsh lands
near the river's level, that lie about Deptford and the neighbouring
market-gardens, a Grizzled Personage in velveteen, with a face so cut up
by varieties of weather that he looked as if he had been tattooed, was
found smoking a pipe at the door of a wooden house on wheels.  The wooden
house was laid up in ordinary for the winter, near the mouth of a muddy
creek; and everything near it, the foggy river, the misty marshes, and
the steaming market-gardens, smoked in company with the grizzled man.  In
the midst of this smoking party, the funnel-chimney of the wooden house
on wheels was not remiss, but took its pipe with the rest in a
companionable manner.

On being asked if it were he who had once rented the House to Let,
Grizzled Velveteen looked surprised, and said yes.  Then his name was
Magsman?  That was it, Toby Magsman--which lawfully christened Robert;
but called in the line, from a infant, Toby.  There was nothing agin Toby
Magsman, he believed?  If there was suspicion of such--mention it!

There was no suspicion of such, he might rest assured.  But, some
inquiries were making about that House, and would he object to say why he
left it?

Not at all; why should he?  He left it, along of a Dwarf.

Along of a Dwarf?

Mr. Magsman repeated, deliberately and emphatically, Along of a Dwarf.

Might it be compatible with Mr. Magsman's inclination and convenience to
enter, as a favour, into a few particulars?

Mr. Magsman entered into the following particulars.

It was a long time ago, to begin with;--afore lotteries and a deal more
was done away with.  Mr. Magsman was looking about for a good pitch, and
he see that house, and he says to himself, "I'll have you, if you're to
be had.  If money'll get you, I'll have you."

The neighbours cut up rough, and made complaints; but Mr. Magsman don't
know what they _would_ have had.  It was a lovely thing.  First of all,
there was the canvass, representin the picter of the Giant, in Spanish
trunks and a ruff, who was himself half the heighth of the house, and was
run up with a line and pulley to a pole on the roof, so that his Ed was
coeval with the parapet.  Then, there was the canvass, representin the
picter of the Albina lady, showing her white air to the Army and Navy in
correct uniform.  Then, there was the canvass, representin the picter of
the Wild Indian a scalpin a member of some foreign nation.  Then, there
was the canvass, representin the picter of a child of a British Planter,
seized by two Boa Constrictors--not that _we_ never had no child, nor no
Constrictors neither.  Similarly, there was the canvass, representin the
picter of the Wild Ass of the Prairies--not that _we_ never had no wild
asses, nor wouldn't have had 'em at a gift.  Last, there was the canvass,
representin the picter of the Dwarf, and like him too (considerin), with
George the Fourth in such a state of astonishment at him as His Majesty
couldn't with his utmost politeness and stoutness express.  The front of
the House was so covered with canvasses, that there wasn't a spark of
daylight ever visible on that side.  "MAGSMAN'S AMUSEMENTS," fifteen foot
long by two foot high, ran over the front door and parlour winders.  The
passage was a Arbour of green baize and gardenstuff.  A barrel-organ
performed there unceasing.  And as to respectability,--if threepence
ain't respectable, what is?

But, the Dwarf is the principal article at present, and he was worth the
money.  He was wrote up as MAJOR TPSCHOFFKI, OF THE IMPERIAL BULGRADERIAN
BRIGADE.  Nobody couldn't pronounce the name, and it never was intended
anybody should.  The public always turned it, as a regular rule, into
Chopski.  In the line he was called Chops; partly on that account, and
partly because his real name, if he ever had any real name (which was
very dubious), was Stakes.

He was a uncommon small man, he really was.  Certainly not so small as he
was made out to be, but where _is_ your Dwarf as is?  He was a most
uncommon small man, with a most uncommon large Ed; and what he had inside
that Ed, nobody ever knowed but himself: even supposin himself to have
ever took stock of it, which it would have been a stiff job for even him
to do.

The kindest little man as never growed!  Spirited, but not proud.  When
he travelled with the Spotted Baby--though he knowed himself to be a
nat'ral Dwarf, and knowed the Baby's spots to be put upon him artificial,
he nursed that Baby like a mother.  You never heerd him give a ill-name
to a Giant.  He _did_ allow himself to break out into strong language
respectin the Fat Lady from Norfolk; but that was an affair of the 'art;
and when a man's 'art has been trifled with by a lady, and the preference
giv to a Indian, he ain't master of his actions.

He was always in love, of course; every human nat'ral phenomenon is.  And
he was always in love with a large woman; I never knowed the Dwarf as
could be got to love a small one.  Which helps to keep 'em the
Curiosities they are.

One sing'ler idea he had in that Ed of his, which must have meant
something, or it wouldn't have been there.  It was always his opinion
that he was entitled to property.  He never would put his name to
anything.  He had been taught to write, by the young man without arms,
who got his living with his toes (quite a writing master _he_ was, and
taught scores in the line), but Chops would have starved to death, afore
he'd have gained a bit of bread by putting his hand to a paper.  This is
the more curious to bear in mind, because HE had no property, nor hope of
property, except his house and a sarser.  When I say his house, I mean
the box, painted and got up outside like a reg'lar six-roomer, that he
used to creep into, with a diamond ring (or quite as good to look at) on
his forefinger, and ring a little bell out of what the Public believed to
be the Drawing-room winder.  And when I say a sarser, I mean a Chaney
sarser in which he made a collection for himself at the end of every
Entertainment.  His cue for that, he took from me: "Ladies and gentlemen,
the little man will now walk three times round the Cairawan, and retire
behind the curtain."  When he said anything important, in private life,
he mostly wound it up with this form of words, and they was generally the
last thing he said to me at night afore he went to bed.

He had what I consider a fine mind--a poetic mind.  His ideas respectin
his property never come upon him so strong as when he sat upon a barrel-
organ and had the handle turned.  Arter the wibration had run through him
a little time, he would screech out, "Toby, I feel my property
coming--grind away!  I'm counting my guineas by thousands, Toby--grind
away!  Toby, I shall be a man of fortun!  I feel the Mint a jingling in
me, Toby, and I'm swelling out into the Bank of England!"  Such is the
influence of music on a poetic mind.  Not that he was partial to any
other music but a barrel-organ; on the contrary, hated it.

He had a kind of a everlasting grudge agin the Public: which is a thing
you may notice in many phenomenons that get their living out of it.  What
riled him most in the nater of his occupation was, that it kep him out of
Society.  He was continiwally saying, "Toby, my ambition is, to go into
Society.  The curse of my position towards the Public is, that it keeps
me hout of Society.  This don't signify to a low beast of a Indian; he
an't formed for Society.  This don't signify to a Spotted Baby; _he_ an't
formed for Society.--I am."

Nobody never could make out what Chops done with his money.  He had a
good salary, down on the drum every Saturday as the day came round,
besides having the run of his teeth--and he was a Woodpecker to eat--but
all Dwarfs are.  The sarser was a little income, bringing him in so many
halfpence that he'd carry 'em for a week together, tied up in a pocket-
handkercher.  And yet he never had money.  And it couldn't be the Fat
Lady from Norfolk, as was once supposed; because it stands to reason that
when you have a animosity towards a Indian, which makes you grind your
teeth at him to his face, and which can hardly hold you from Goosing him
audible when he's going through his War-Dance--it stands to reason you
wouldn't under them circumstances deprive yourself, to support that
Indian in the lap of luxury.

Most unexpected, the mystery come out one day at Egham Races.  The Public
was shy of bein pulled in, and Chops was ringin his little bell out of
his drawing-room winder, and was snarlin to me over his shoulder as he
kneeled down with his legs out at the back-door--for he couldn't be
shoved into his house without kneeling down, and the premises wouldn't
accommodate his legs--was snarlin, "Here's a precious Public for you; why
the Devil don't they tumble up?" when a man in the crowd holds up a
carrier-pigeon, and cries out, "If there's any person here as has got a
ticket, the Lottery's just drawed, and the number as has come up for the
great prize is three, seven, forty-two!  Three, seven, forty-two!"  I was
givin the man to the Furies myself, for calling off the Public's
attention--for the Public will turn away, at any time, to look at
anything in preference to the thing showed 'em; and if you doubt it, get
'em together for any indiwidual purpose on the face of the earth, and
send only two people in late, and see if the whole company an't far more
interested in takin particular notice of them two than of you--I say, I
wasn't best pleased with the man for callin out, and wasn't blessin him
in my own mind, when I see Chops's little bell fly out of winder at a old
lady, and he gets up and kicks his box over, exposin the whole secret,
and he catches hold of the calves of my legs and he says to me, "Carry me
into the wan, Toby, and throw a pail of water over me or I'm a dead man,
for I've come into my property!"

Twelve thousand odd hundred pound, was Chops's winnins.  He had bought a
half-ticket for the twenty-five thousand prize, and it had come up.  The
first use he made of his property, was, to offer to fight the Wild Indian
for five hundred pound a side, him with a poisoned darnin-needle and the
Indian with a club; but the Indian being in want of backers to that
amount, it went no further.

Arter he had been mad for a week--in a state of mind, in short, in which,
if I had let him sit on the organ for only two minutes, I believe he
would have bust--but we kep the organ from him--Mr. Chops come round, and
behaved liberal and beautiful to all.  He then sent for a young man he
knowed, as had a wery genteel appearance and was a Bonnet at a gaming-
booth (most respectable brought up, father havin been imminent in the
livery stable line but unfort'nate in a commercial crisis, through
paintin a old gray, ginger-bay, and sellin him with a Pedigree), and Mr.
Chops said to this Bonnet, who said his name was Normandy, which it
wasn't:

"Normandy, I'm a goin into Society.  Will you go with me?"

Says Normandy: "Do I understand you, Mr. Chops, to hintimate that the
'ole of the expenses of that move will be borne by yourself?"

"Correct," says Mr. Chops.  "And you shall have a Princely allowance
too."

The Bonnet lifted Mr. Chops upon a chair, to shake hands with him, and
replied in poetry, with his eyes seemingly full of tears:

"My boat is on the shore,
And my bark is on the sea,
And I do not ask for more,
But I'll Go:--along with thee."

They went into Society, in a chay and four grays with silk jackets.  They
took lodgings in Pall Mall, London, and they blazed away.

In consequence of a note that was brought to Bartlemy Fair in the autumn
of next year by a servant, most wonderful got up in milk-white cords and
tops, I cleaned myself and went to Pall Mall, one evening appinted.  The
gentlemen was at their wine arter dinner, and Mr. Chops's eyes was more
fixed in that Ed of his than I thought good for him.  There was three of
'em (in company, I mean), and I knowed the third well.  When last met, he
had on a white Roman shirt, and a bishop's mitre covered with leopard-
skin, and played the clarionet all wrong, in a band at a Wild Beast Show.

This gent took on not to know me, and Mr. Chops said: "Gentlemen, this is
a old friend of former days:" and Normandy looked at me through a eye-
glass, and said, "Magsman, glad to see you!"--which I'll take my oath he
wasn't.  Mr. Chops, to git him convenient to the table, had his chair on
a throne (much of the form of George the Fourth's in the canvass), but he
hardly appeared to me to be King there in any other pint of view, for his
two gentlemen ordered about like Emperors.  They was all dressed like May-
Day--gorgeous!--And as to Wine, they swam in all sorts.

I made the round of the bottles, first separate (to say I had done it),
and then mixed 'em all together (to say I had done it), and then tried
two of 'em as half-and-half, and then t'other two.  Altogether, I passed
a pleasin evenin, but with a tendency to feel muddled, until I considered
it good manners to get up and say, "Mr. Chops, the best of friends must
part, I thank you for the wariety of foreign drains you have stood so
'ansome, I looks towards you in red wine, and I takes my leave."  Mr.
Chops replied, "If you'll just hitch me out of this over your right arm,
Magsman, and carry me down-stairs, I'll see you out."  I said I couldn't
think of such a thing, but he would have it, so I lifted him off his
throne.  He smelt strong of Maideary, and I couldn't help thinking as I
carried him down that it was like carrying a large bottle full of wine,
with a rayther ugly stopper, a good deal out of proportion.

When I set him on the door-mat in the hall, he kep me close to him by
holding on to my coat-collar, and he whispers:

"I ain't 'appy, Magsman."

"What's on your mind, Mr. Chops?"

"They don't use me well.  They an't grateful to me.  They puts me on the
mantel-piece when I won't have in more Champagne-wine, and they locks me
in the sideboard when I won't give up my property."

"Get rid of 'em, Mr. Chops."

"I can't.  We're in Society together, and what would Society say?"

"Come out of Society!" says I.

"I can't.  You don't know what you're talking about.  When you have once
gone into Society, you mustn't come out of it."

"Then if you'll excuse the freedom, Mr. Chops," were my remark, shaking
my head grave, "I think it's a pity you ever went in."

Mr. Chops shook that deep Ed of his, to a surprisin extent, and slapped
it half a dozen times with his hand, and with more Wice than I thought
were in him.  Then, he says, "You're a good fellow, but you don't
understand.  Good-night, go along.  Magsman, the little man will now walk
three times round the Cairawan, and retire behind the curtain."  The last
I see of him on that occasion was his tryin, on the extremest werge of
insensibility, to climb up the stairs, one by one, with his hands and
knees.  They'd have been much too steep for him, if he had been sober;
but he wouldn't be helped.

It warn't long after that, that I read in the newspaper of Mr. Chops's
being presented at court.  It was printed, "It will be recollected"--and
I've noticed in my life, that it is sure to be printed that it _will_ be
recollected, whenever it won't--"that Mr. Chops is the individual of
small stature, whose brilliant success in the last State Lottery
attracted so much attention."  Well, I says to myself, Such is Life!  He
has been and done it in earnest at last.  He has astonished George the
Fourth!

(On account of which, I had that canvass new-painted, him with a bag of
money in his hand, a presentin it to George the Fourth, and a lady in
Ostrich Feathers fallin in love with him in a bag-wig, sword, and buckles
correct.)

I took the House as is the subject of present inquiries--though not the
honour of bein acquainted--and I run Magsman's Amusements in it thirteen
months--sometimes one thing, sometimes another, sometimes nothin
particular, but always all the canvasses outside.  One night, when we had
played the last company out, which was a shy company, through its raining
Heavens hard, I was takin a pipe in the one pair back along with the
young man with the toes, which I had taken on for a month (though he
never drawed--except on paper), and I heard a kickin at the street door.
"Halloa!" I says to the young man, "what's up!"  He rubs his eyebrows
with his toes, and he says, "I can't imagine, Mr. Magsman"--which he
never could imagine nothin, and was monotonous company.

The noise not leavin off, I laid down my pipe, and I took up a candle,
and I went down and opened the door.  I looked out into the street; but
nothin could I see, and nothin was I aware of, until I turned round
quick, because some creetur run between my legs into the passage.  There
was Mr. Chops!

"Magsman," he says, "take me, on the old terms, and you've got me; if
it's done, say done!"

I was all of a maze, but I said, "Done, sir."

"Done to your done, and double done!" says he.  "Have you got a bit of
supper in the house?"

Bearin in mind them sparklin warieties of foreign drains as we'd guzzled
away at in Pall Mall, I was ashamed to offer him cold sassages and gin-
and-water; but he took 'em both and took 'em free; havin a chair for his
table, and sittin down at it on a stool, like hold times.  I, all of a
maze all the while.

It was arter he had made a clean sweep of the sassages (beef, and to the
best of my calculations two pound and a quarter), that the wisdom as was
in that little man began to come out of him like prespiration.

"Magsman," he says, "look upon me!  You see afore you, One as has both
gone into Society and come out."

"O!  You _are_ out of it, Mr. Chops?  How did you get out, sir?"

"SOLD OUT!" says he.  You never saw the like of the wisdom as his Ed
expressed, when he made use of them two words.

"My friend Magsman, I'll impart to you a discovery I've made.  It's
wallable; it's cost twelve thousand five hundred pound; it may do you
good in life--The secret of this matter is, that it ain't so much that a
person goes into Society, as that Society goes into a person."

Not exactly keepin up with his meanin, I shook my head, put on a deep
look, and said, "You're right there, Mr. Chops."

"Magsman," he says, twitchin me by the leg, "Society has gone into me, to
the tune of every penny of my property."

I felt that I went pale, and though nat'rally a bold speaker, I couldn't
hardly say, "Where's Normandy?"

"Bolted.  With the plate," said Mr. Chops.

"And t'other one?" meaning him as formerly wore the bishop's mitre.

"Bolted.  With the jewels," said Mr. Chops.

I sat down and looked at him, and he stood up and looked at me.

"Magsman," he says, and he seemed to myself to get wiser as he got
hoarser; "Society, taken in the lump, is all dwarfs.  At the court of St.
James's, they was all a doing my old business--all a goin three times
round the Cairawan, in the hold court-suits and properties.  Elsewheres,
they was most of 'em ringin their little bells out of make-believes.
Everywheres, the sarser was a goin round.  Magsman, the sarser is the
uniwersal Institution!"

I perceived, you understand, that he was soured by his misfortunes, and I
felt for Mr. Chops.

"As to Fat Ladies," he says, giving his head a tremendious one agin the
wall, "there's lots of _them_ in Society, and worse than the original.
_Hers_ was a outrage upon Taste--simply a outrage upon Taste--awakenin
contempt--carryin its own punishment in the form of a Indian."  Here he
giv himself another tremendious one.  "But _theirs_, Magsman, _theirs_ is
mercenary outrages.  Lay in Cashmeer shawls, buy bracelets, strew 'em and
a lot of 'andsome fans and things about your rooms, let it be known that
you give away like water to all as come to admire, and the Fat Ladies
that don't exhibit for so much down upon the drum, will come from all the
pints of the compass to flock about you, whatever you are.  They'll drill
holes in your 'art, Magsman, like a Cullender.  And when you've no more
left to give, they'll laugh at you to your face, and leave you to have
your bones picked dry by Wulturs, like the dead Wild Ass of the Prairies
that you deserve to be!"  Here he giv himself the most tremendious one of
all, and dropped.

I thought he was gone.  His Ed was so heavy, and he knocked it so hard,
and he fell so stoney, and the sassagerial disturbance in him must have
been so immense, that I thought he was gone.  But, he soon come round
with care, and he sat up on the floor, and he said to me, with wisdom
comin out of his eyes, if ever it come:

"Magsman!  The most material difference between the two states of
existence through which your unhappy friend has passed;" he reached out
his poor little hand, and his tears dropped down on the moustachio which
it was a credit to him to have done his best to grow, but it is not in
mortals to command success,--"the difference this.  When I was out of
Society, I was paid light for being seen.  When I went into Society, I
paid heavy for being seen.  I prefer the former, even if I wasn't forced
upon it.  Give me out through the trumpet, in the hold way, to-morrow."

Arter that, he slid into the line again as easy as if he had been iled
all over.  But the organ was kep from him, and no allusions was ever
made, when a company was in, to his property.  He got wiser every day;
his views of Society and the Public was luminous, bewilderin, awful; and
his Ed got bigger and bigger as his Wisdom expanded it.

He took well, and pulled 'em in most excellent for nine weeks.  At the
expiration of that period, when his Ed was a sight, he expressed one
evenin, the last Company havin been turned out, and the door shut, a wish
to have a little music.

"Mr. Chops," I said (I never dropped the "Mr." with him; the world might
do it, but not me); "Mr. Chops, are you sure as you are in a state of
mind and body to sit upon the organ?"

His answer was this: "Toby, when next met with on the tramp, I forgive
her and the Indian.  And I am."

It was with fear and trembling that I began to turn the handle; but he
sat like a lamb.  I will be my belief to my dying day, that I see his Ed
expand as he sat; you may therefore judge how great his thoughts was.  He
sat out all the changes, and then he come off.

"Toby," he says, with a quiet smile, "the little man will now walk three
times round the Cairawan, and retire behind the curtain."

When we called him in the morning, we found him gone into a much better
Society than mine or Pall Mall's.  I giv Mr. Chops as comfortable a
funeral as lay in my power, followed myself as Chief, and had the George
the Fourth canvass carried first, in the form of a banner.  But, the
House was so dismal arterwards, that I giv it up, and took to the Wan
again.

* * * * *

"I don't triumph," said Jarber, folding up the second manuscript, and
looking hard at Trottle.  "I don't triumph over this worthy creature.  I
merely ask him if he is satisfied now?"

"How can he be anything else?" I said, answering for Trottle, who sat
obstinately silent.  "This time, Jarber, you have not only read us a
delightfully amusing story, but you have also answered the question about
the House.  Of course it stands empty now.  Who would think of taking it
after it had been turned into a caravan?"  I looked at Trottle, as I said
those last words, and Jarber waved his hand indulgently in the same
direction.

"Let this excellent person speak," said Jarber.  "You were about to say,
my good man?"--

"I only wished to ask, sir," said Trottle doggedly, "if you could kindly
oblige me with a date or two in connection with that last story?"

"A date!" repeated Jarber.  "What does the man want with dates!"

"I should be glad to know, with great respect," persisted Trottle, "if
the person named Magsman was the last tenant who lived in the House.  It's
my opinion--if I may be excused for giving it--that he most decidedly was
not."

With those words, Trottle made a low bow, and quietly left the room.

There is no denying that Jarber, when we were left together, looked sadly
discomposed.  He had evidently forgotten to inquire about dates; and, in
spite of his magnificent talk about his series of discoveries, it was
quite as plain that the two stories he had just read, had really and
truly exhausted his present stock.  I thought myself bound, in common
gratitude, to help him out of his embarrassment by a timely suggestion.
So I proposed that he should come to tea again, on the next Monday
evening, the thirteenth, and should make such inquiries in the meantime,
as might enable him to dispose triumphantly of Trottle's objection.

He gallantly kissed my hand, made a neat little speech of acknowledgment,
and took his leave.  For the rest of the week I would not encourage
Trottle by allowing him to refer to the House at all.  I suspected he was
making his own inquiries about dates, but I put no questions to him.

On Monday evening, the thirteenth, that dear unfortunate Jarber came,
punctual to the appointed time.  He looked so terribly harassed, that he
was really quite a spectacle of feebleness and fatigue.  I saw, at a
glance, that the question of dates had gone against him, that Mr. Magsman
had not been the last tenant of the House, and that the reason of its
emptiness was still to seek.

"What I have gone through," said Jarber, "words are not eloquent enough
to tell.  O Sophonisba, I have begun another series of discoveries!
Accept the last two as stories laid on your shrine; and wait to blame me
for leaving your curiosity unappeased, until you have heard Number
Three."

Number Three looked like a very short manuscript, and I said as much.
Jarber explained to me that we were to have some poetry this time.  In
the course of his investigations he had stepped into the Circulating
Library, to seek for information on the one important subject.  All the
Library-people knew about the House was, that a female relative of the
last tenant, as they believed, had, just after that tenant left, sent a
little manuscript poem to them which she described as referring to events
that had actually passed in the House; and which she wanted the
proprietor of the Library to publish.  She had written no address on her
letter; and the proprietor had kept the manuscript ready to be given back
to her (the publishing of poems not being in his line) when she might
call for it.  She had never called for it; and the poem had been lent to
Jarber, at his express request, to read to me.

Before he began, I rang the bell for Trottle; being determined to have
him present at the new reading, as a wholesome check on his obstinacy.  To
my surprise Peggy answered the bell, and told me, that Trottle had
stepped out without saying where.  I instantly felt the strongest
possible conviction that he was at his old tricks: and that his stepping
out in the evening, without leave, meant--Philandering.

Controlling myself on my visitor's account, I dismissed Peggy, stifled my
indignation, and prepared, as politely as might be, to listen to Jarber.



THREE EVENINGS IN THE HOUSE


NUMBER ONE.


I.

Yes, it look'd dark and dreary
That long and narrow street:
Only the sound of the rain,
And the tramp of passing feet,
The duller glow of the fire,
And gathering mists of night
To mark how slow and weary
The long day's cheerless flight!

II.

Watching the sullen fire,
Hearing the dreary rain,
Drop after drop, run down
On the darkening window-pane;
Chill was the heart of Bertha,
Chill as that winter day,--
For the star of her life had risen
Only to fade away.

III.

The voice that had been so strong
To bid the snare depart,
The true and earnest will,
And the calm and steadfast heart,
Were now weigh'd down by sorrow,
Were quivering now with pain;
The clear path now seem'd clouded,
And all her grief in vain.

IV.

Duty, Right, Truth, who promised
To help and save their own,
Seem'd spreading wide their pinions
To leave her there alone.
So, turning from the Present
To well-known days of yore,
She call'd on them to strengthen
And guard her soul once more.

V.

She thought how in her girlhood
Her life was given away,
The solemn promise spoken
She kept so well to-day;
How to her brother Herbert
She had been help and guide,
And how his artist-nature
On her calm strength relied.

VI.

How through life's fret and turmoil
The passion and fire of art
In him was soothed and quicken'd
By her true sister heart;
How future hopes had always
Been for his sake alone;
And now, what strange new feeling
Possess'd her as its own?

VII.

Her home; each flower that breathed there;
The wind's sigh, soft and low;
Each trembling spray of ivy;
The river's murmuring flow;
The shadow of the forest;
Sunset, or twilight dim;
Dear as they were, were dearer
By leaving them for him.

VIII.

And each year as it found her
In the dull, feverish town,
Saw self still more forgotten,
And selfish care kept down
By the calm joy of evening
That brought him to her side,
To warn him with wise counsel,
Or praise with tender pride.

IX.

Her heart, her life, her future,
Her genius, only meant
Another thing to give him,
And be therewith content.
To-day, what words had stirr'd her,
Her soul could not forget?
What dream had fill'd her spirit
With strange and wild regret?

X.

To leave him for another:
Could it indeed be so?
Could it have cost such anguish
To bid this vision go?
Was this her faith?  Was Herbert
The second in her heart?
Did it need all this struggle
To bid a dream depart?

XI.

And yet, within her spirit
A far-off land was seen;
A home, which might have held her;
A love, which might have been;
And Life: not the mere being
Of daily ebb and flow,
But Life itself had claim'd her,
And she had let it go!

XII.

Within her heart there echo'd
Again the well-known tune
That promised this bright future,
And ask'd her for its own:
Then words of sorrow, broken
By half-reproachful pain;
And then a farewell, spoken
In words of cold disdain.

XIII.

Where now was the stern purpose
That nerved her soul so long?
Whence came the words she utter'd,
So hard, so cold, so strong?
What right had she to banish
A hope that God had given?
Why must she choose earth's portion,
And turn aside from Heaven?

XIV.

To-day!  Was it this morning?
If this long, fearful strife
Was but the work of hours,
What would be years of life?
Why did a cruel Heaven
For such great suffering call?
And why--O, still more cruel!--
Must her own words do all?

XV.

Did she repent?  O Sorrow!
Why do we linger still
To take thy loving message,
And do thy gentle will?
See, her tears fall more slowly;
The passionate murmurs cease,
And back upon her spirit
Flow strength, and love, and peace.

XVI.

The fire burns more brightly,
The rain has passed away,
Herbert will see no shadow
Upon his home to-day;
Only that Bertha greets him
With doubly tender care,
Kissing a fonder blessing
Down on his golden hair.



NUMBER TWO.


I.

The studio is deserted,
Palette and brush laid by,
The sketch rests on the easel,
The paint is scarcely dry;
And Silence--who seems always
Within her depths to bear
The next sound that will utter--
Now holds a dumb despair.

II.

So Bertha feels it: listening
With breathless, stony fear,
Waiting the dreadful summons
Each minute brings more near:
When the young life, now ebbing,
Shall fail, and pass away
Into that mighty shadow
Who shrouds the house to-day.

III.

But why--when the sick chamber
Is on the upper floor--
Why dares not Bertha enter
Within the close-shut door?
If he--her all--her Brother,
Lies dying in that gloom,
What strange mysterious power
Has sent her from the room?

IV.

It is not one week's anguish
That can have changed her so;
Joy has not died here lately,
Struck down by one quick blow;
But cruel months have needed
Their long relentless chain,
To teach that shrinking manner
Of helpless, hopeless pain.

V.

The struggle was scarce over
Last Christmas Eve had brought:
The fibres still were quivering
Of the one wounded thought,
When Herbert--who, unconscious,
Had guessed no inward strife--
Bade her, in pride and pleasure,
Welcome his fair young wife.

VI.

Bade her rejoice, and smiling,
Although his eyes were dim,
Thank'd God he thus could pay her
The care she gave to him.
This fresh bright life would bring her
A new and joyous fate--
O Bertha, check the murmur
That cries, Too late! too late!

VII.

Too late!  Could she have known it
A few short weeks before,
That his life was completed,
And needing hers no more,
She might--O sad repining!
What "might have been," forget;
"It was not," should suffice us
To stifle vain regret.

VIII.

He needed her no longer,
Each day it grew more plain;
First with a startled wonder,
Then with a wondering pain.
Love: why, his wife best gave it;
Comfort: durst Bertha speak?
Counsel: when quick resentment
Flush'd on the young wife's cheek.

IX.

No more long talks by firelight
Of childish times long past,
And dreams of future greatness
Which he must reach at last;
Dreams, where her purer instinct
With truth unerring told
Where was the worthless gilding,
And where refined gold.

X.

Slowly, but surely ever,
Dora's poor jealous pride,
Which she call'd love for Herbert,
Drove Bertha from his side;
And, spite of nervous effort
To share their alter'd life,
She felt a check to Herbert,
A burden to his wife.

XI.

This was the least; for Bertha
Fear'd, dreaded, _knew_ at length,
How much his nature owed her
Of truth, and power, and strength;
And watch'd the daily failing
Of all his nobler part:
Low aims, weak purpose, telling
In lower, weaker art.

XII.

And now, when he is dying,
The last words she could hear
Must not be hers, but given
The bride of one short year.
The last care is another's;
The last prayer must not be
The one they learnt together
Beside their mother's knee.

XIII.

Summon'd at last: she kisses
The clay-cold stiffening hand;
And, reading pleading efforts
To make her understand,
Answers, with solemn promise,
In clear but trembling tone,
To Dora's life henceforward
She will devote her own.

XIV.

Now all is over.  Bertha
Dares not remain to weep,
But soothes the frightened Dora
Into a sobbing sleep.
The poor weak child will need her:
O, who can dare complain,
When God sends a new Duty
To comfort each new Pain!



NUMBER THREE.


I.

The House is all deserted
In the dim evening gloom,
Only one figure passes
Slowly from room to room;
And, pausing at each doorway,
Seems gathering up again
Within her heart the relics
Of bygone joy and pain.

II.

There is an earnest longing
In those who onward gaze,
Looking with weary patience
Towards the coming days.
There is a deeper longing,
More sad, more strong, more keen:
Those know it who look backward,
And yearn for what has been.

III.

At every hearth she pauses,
Touches each well-known chair;
Gazes from every window,
Lingers on every stair.
What have these months brought Bertha
Now one more year is past?
This Christmas Eve shall tell us,
The third one and the last.

IV.

The wilful, wayward Dora,
In those first weeks of grief,
Could seek and find in Bertha
Strength, soothing, and relief.
And Bertha--last sad comfort
True woman-heart can take--
Had something still to suffer
And do for Herbert's sake.

V.

Spring, with her western breezes,
From Indian islands bore
To Bertha news that Leonard
Would seek his home once more.
What was it--joy, or sorrow?
What were they--hopes, or fears?
That flush'd her cheeks with crimson,
And fill'd her eyes with tears?

VI.

He came.  And who so kindly
Could ask and hear her tell
Herbert's last hours; for Leonard
Had known and loved him well.
Daily he came; and Bertha,
Poor wear heart, at length,
Weigh'd down by other's weakness,
Could rest upon his strength.

VII.

Yet not the voice of Leonard
Could her true care beguile,
That turn'd to watch, rejoicing,
Dora's reviving smile.
So, from that little household
The worst gloom pass'd away,
The one bright hour of evening
Lit up the livelong day.

VIII.

Days passed.  The golden summer
In sudden heat bore down
Its blue, bright, glowing sweetness
Upon the scorching town.
And sights and sounds of country
Came in the warm soft tune
Sung by the honey'd breezes
Borne on the wings of June.

IX.

One twilight hour, but earlier
Than usual, Bertha thought
She knew the fresh sweet fragrance
Of flowers that Leonard brought;
Through open'd doors and windows
It stole up through the gloom,
And with appealing sweetness
Drew Bertha from her room.

X.

Yes, he was there; and pausing
Just near the open'd door,
To check her heart's quick beating,
She heard--and paused still more--
His low voice Dora's answers--
His pleading--Yes, she knew
The tone--the words--the accents:
She once had heard them too.

XI.

"Would Bertha blame her?"  Leonard's
Low, tender answer came:
"Bertha was far too noble
To think or dream of blame."
"And was he sure he loved her?"
"Yes, with the one love given
Once in a lifetime only,
With one soul and one heaven!"

XII.

Then came a plaintive murmur,--
"Dora had once been told
That he and Bertha--"  "Dearest,
Bertha is far too cold
To love; and I, my Dora,
If once I fancied so,
It was a brief delusion,
And over,--long ago."

XIII.

Between the Past and Present,
On that bleak moment's height,
She stood.  As some lost traveller
By a quick flash of light
Seeing a gulf before him,
With dizzy, sick despair,
Reels to clutch backward, but to find
A deeper chasm there.

XIV.

The twilight grew still darker,
The fragrant flowers more sweet,
The stars shone out in heaven,
The lamps gleam'd down the street;
And hours pass'd in dreaming
Over their new-found fate,
Ere they could think of wondering
Why Bertha was so late.

XV.

She came, and calmly listen'd;
In vain they strove to trace
If Herbert's memory shadow'd
In grief upon her face.
No blame, no wonder show'd there,
No feeling could be told;
Her voice was not less steady,
Her manner not more cold.

XVI.

They could not hear the anguish
That broke in words of pain
Through that calm summer midnight,--
"My Herbert--mine again!"
Yes, they have once been parted,
But this day shall restore
The long lost one: she claims him:
"My Herbert--mine once more!"

XVII.

Now Christmas Eve returning,
Saw Bertha stand beside
The altar, greeting Dora,
Again a smiling bride;
And now the gloomy evening
Sees Bertha pale and worn,
Leaving the house for ever,
To wander out forlorn.

XVIII.

Forlorn--nay, not so.  Anguish
Shall do its work at length;
Her soul, pass'd through the fire,
Shall gain still purer strength.
Somewhere there waits for Bertha
An earnest noble part;
And, meanwhile, God is with her,--
God, and her own true heart!

* * * * *

I could warmly and sincerely praise the little poem, when Jarber had done
reading it; but I could not say that it tended in any degree towards
clearing up the mystery of the empty House.

Whether it was the absence of the irritating influence of Trottle, or
whether it was simply fatigue, I cannot say, but Jarber did not strike
me, that evening, as being in his usual spirits.  And though he declared
that he was not in the least daunted by his want of success thus far, and
that he was resolutely determined to make more discoveries, he spoke in a
languid absent manner, and shortly afterwards took his leave at rather an
early hour.

When Trottle came back, and when I indignantly taxed him with
Philandering, he not only denied the imputation, but asserted that he had
been employed on my service, and, in consideration of that, boldly asked
for leave of absence for two days, and for a morning to himself
afterwards, to complete the business, in which he solemnly declared that
I was interested.  In remembrance of his long and faithful service to me,
I did violence to myself, and granted his request.  And he, on his side,
engaged to explain himself to my satisfaction, in a week's time, on
Monday evening the twentieth.

A day or two before, I sent to Jarber's lodgings to ask him to drop in to
tea.  His landlady sent back an apology for him that made my hair stand
on end.  His feet were in hot water; his head was in a flannel petticoat;
a green shade was over his eyes; the rheumatism was in his legs; and a
mustard-poultice was on his chest.  He was also a little feverish, and
rather distracted in his mind about Manchester Marriages, a Dwarf, and
Three Evenings, or Evening Parties--his landlady was not sure which--in
an empty House, with the Water Rate unpaid.

Under these distressing circumstances, I was necessarily left alone with
Trottle.  His promised explanation began, like Jarber's discoveries, with
the reading of a written paper.  The only difference was that Trottle
introduced his manuscript under the name of a Report.



TROTTLE'S REPORT


The curious events related in these pages would, many of them, most
likely never have happened, if a person named Trottle had not presumed,
contrary to his usual custom, to think for himself.

The subject on which the person in question had ventured, for the first
time in his life, to form an opinion purely and entirely his own, was one
which had already excited the interest of his respected mistress in a
very extraordinary degree.  Or, to put it in plainer terms still, the
subject was no other than the mystery of the empty House.

Feeling no sort of objection to set a success of his own, if possible,
side by side with a failure of Mr. Jarber's, Trottle made up his mind,
one Monday evening, to try what he could do, on his own account, towards
clearing up the mystery of the empty House.  Carefully dismissing from
his mind all nonsensical notions of former tenants and their histories,
and keeping the one point in view steadily before him, he started to
reach it in the shortest way, by walking straight up to the House, and
bringing himself face to face with the first person in it who opened the
door to him.

It was getting towards dark, on Monday evening, the thirteenth of the
month, when Trottle first set foot on the steps of the House.  When he
knocked at the door, he knew nothing of the matter which he was about to
investigate, except that the landlord was an elderly widower of good
fortune, and that his name was Forley.  A small beginning enough for a
man to start from, certainly!

On dropping the knocker, his first proceeding was to look down cautiously
out of the corner of his right eye, for any results which might show
themselves at the kitchen-window.  There appeared at it immediately the
figure of a woman, who looked up inquisitively at the stranger on the
steps, left the window in a hurry, and came back to it with an open
letter in her hand, which she held up to the fading light.  After looking
over the letter hastily for a moment or so, the woman disappeared once
more.

Trottle next heard footsteps shuffling and scraping along the bare hall
of the house.  On a sudden they ceased, and the sound of two voices--a
shrill persuading voice and a gruff resisting voice--confusedly reached
his ears.  After a while, the voices left off speaking--a chain was
undone, a bolt drawn back--the door opened--and Trottle stood face to
face with two persons, a woman in advance, and a man behind her, leaning
back flat against the wall.

"Wish you good evening, sir," says the woman, in such a sudden way, and
in such a cracked voice, that it was quite startling to hear her.  "Chilly
weather, ain't it, sir?  Please to walk in.  You come from good Mr.
Forley, don't you, sir?"

"Don't you, sir?" chimes in the man hoarsely, making a sort of gruff echo
of himself, and chuckling after it, as if he thought he had made a joke.

If Trottle had said, "No," the door would have been probably closed in
his face.  Therefore, he took circumstances as he found them, and boldly
ran all the risk, whatever it might be, of saying, "Yes."

"Quite right sir," says the woman.  "Good Mr. Forley's letter told us his
particular friend would be here to represent him, at dusk, on Monday the
thirteenth--or, if not on Monday the thirteenth, then on Monday the
twentieth, at the same time, without fail.  And here you are on Monday
the thirteenth, ain't you, sir?  Mr. Forley's particular friend, and
dressed all in black--quite right, sir!  Please to step into the dining-
room--it's always kep scoured and clean against Mr. Forley comes here--and
I'll fetch a candle in half a minute.  It gets so dark in the evenings,
now, you hardly know where you are, do you, sir?  And how is good Mr.
Forley in his health?  We trust he is better, Benjamin, don't we?  We are
so sorry not to see him as usual, Benjamin, ain't we?  In half a minute,
sir, if you don't mind waiting, I'll be back with the candle.  Come
along, Benjamin."

"Come along, Benjamin," chimes in the echo, and chuckles again as if he
thought he had made another joke.

Left alone in the empty front-parlour, Trottle wondered what was coming
next, as he heard the shuffling, scraping footsteps go slowly down the
kitchen-stairs.  The front-door had been carefully chained up and bolted
behind him on his entrance; and there was not the least chance of his
being able to open it to effect his escape, without betraying himself by
making a noise.

Not being of the Jarber sort, luckily for himself, he took his situation
quietly, as he found it, and turned his time, while alone, to account, by
summing up in his own mind the few particulars which he had discovered
thus far.  He had found out, first, that Mr. Forley was in the habit of
visiting the house regularly.  Second, that Mr. Forley being prevented by
illness from seeing the people put in charge as usual, had appointed a
friend to represent him; and had written to say so.  Third, that the
friend had a choice of two Mondays, at a particular time in the evening,
for doing his errand; and that Trottle had accidentally hit on this time,
and on the first of the Mondays, for beginning his own investigations.
Fourth, that the similarity between Trottle's black dress, as servant out
of livery, and the dress of the messenger (whoever he might be), had
helped the error by which Trottle was profiting.  So far, so good.  But
what was the messenger's errand? and what chance was there that he might
not come up and knock at the door himself, from minute to minute, on that
very evening?

While Trottle was turning over this last consideration in his mind, he
heard the shuffling footsteps come up the stairs again, with a flash of
candle-light going before them.  He waited for the woman's coming in with
some little anxiety; for the twilight had been too dim on his getting
into the house to allow him to see either her face or the man's face at
all clearly.

The woman came in first, with the man she called Benjamin at her heels,
and set the candle on the mantel-piece.  Trottle takes leave to describe
her as an offensively-cheerful old woman, awfully lean and wiry, and
sharp all over, at eyes, nose, and chin--devilishly brisk, smiling, and
restless, with a dirty false front and a dirty black cap, and short
fidgetty arms, and long hooked finger-nails--an unnaturally lusty old
woman, who walked with a spring in her wicked old feet, and spoke with a
smirk on her wicked old face--the sort of old woman (as Trottle thinks)
who ought to have lived in the dark ages, and been ducked in a
horse-pond, instead of flourishing in the nineteenth century, and taking
charge of a Christian house.

"You'll please to excuse my son, Benjamin, won't you, sir?" says this
witch without a broomstick, pointing to the man behind her, propped
against the bare wall of the dining-room, exactly as he had been propped
against the bare wall of the passage.  "He's got his inside dreadful bad
again, has my son Benjamin.  And he won't go to bed, and he will follow
me about the house, up-stairs and downstairs, and in my lady's chamber,
as the song says, you know.  It's his indisgestion, poor dear, that sours
his temper and makes him so agravating--and indisgestion is a wearing
thing to the best of us, ain't it, sir?"

"Ain't it, sir?" chimes in agravating Benjamin, winking at the candle-
light like an owl at the sunshine.

Trottle examined the man curiously, while his horrid old mother was
speaking of him.  He found "My son Benjamin" to be little and lean, and
buttoned-up slovenly in a frowsy old great-coat that fell down to his
ragged carpet-slippers.  His eyes were very watery, his cheeks very pale,
and his lips very red.  His breathing was so uncommonly loud, that it
sounded almost like a snore.  His head rolled helplessly in the monstrous
big collar of his great-coat; and his limp, lazy hands pottered about the
wall on either side of him, as if they were groping for a imaginary
bottle.  In plain English, the complaint of "My son Benjamin" was
drunkenness, of the stupid, pig-headed, sottish kind.  Drawing this
conclusion easily enough, after a moment's observation of the man,
Trottle found himself, nevertheless, keeping his eyes fixed much longer
than was necessary on the ugly drunken face rolling about in the
monstrous big coat collar, and looking at it with a curiosity that he
could hardly account for at first.  Was there something familiar to him
in the man's features?  He turned away from them for an instant, and then
turned back to him again.  After that second look, the notion forced
itself into his mind, that he had certainly seen a face somewhere, of
which that sot's face appeared like a kind of slovenly copy.  "Where?"
thinks he to himself, "where did I last see the man whom this agravating
Benjamin, here, so very strongly reminds me of?"

It was no time, just then--with the cheerful old woman's eye searching
him all over, and the cheerful old woman's tongue talking at him,
nineteen to the dozen--for Trottle to be ransacking his memory for small
matters that had got into wrong corners of it.  He put by in his mind
that very curious circumstance respecting Benjamin's face, to be taken up
again when a fit opportunity offered itself; and kept his wits about him
in prime order for present necessities.

"You wouldn't like to go down into the kitchen, would you?" says the
witch without the broomstick, as familiar as if she had been Trottle's
mother, instead of Benjamin's.  "There's a bit of fire in the grate, and
the sink in the back kitchen don't smell to matter much to-day, and it's
uncommon chilly up here when a person's flesh don't hardly cover a
person's bones.  But you don't look cold, sir, do you?  And then, why,
Lord bless my soul, our little bit of business is so very, very little,
it's hardly worth while to go downstairs about it, after all.  Quite a
game at business, ain't it, sir?  Give-and-take that's what I call
it--give-and-take!"

With that, her wicked old eyes settled hungrily on the region round about
Trottle's waistcoat-pocket, and she began to chuckle like her son,
holding out one of her skinny hands, and tapping cheerfully in the palm
with the knuckles of the other.  Agravating Benjamin, seeing what she was
about, roused up a little, chuckled and tapped in imitation of her, got
an idea of his own into his muddled head all of a sudden, and bolted it
out charitably for the benefit of Trottle.

"I say!" says Benjamin, settling himself against the wall and nodding his
head viciously at his cheerful old mother.  "I say!  Look out.  She'll
skin you!"

Assisted by these signs and warnings, Trottle found no difficulty in
understanding that the business referred to was the giving and taking of
money, and that he was expected to be the giver.  It was at this stage of
the proceedings that he first felt decidedly uncomfortable, and more than
half inclined to wish he was on the street-side of the house-door again.

He was still cudgelling his brains for an excuse to save his pocket, when
the silence was suddenly interrupted by a sound in the upper part of the
house.

It was not at all loud--it was a quiet, still, scraping sound--so faint
that it could hardly have reached the quickest ears, except in an empty
house.

"Do you hear that, Benjamin?" says the old woman.  "He's at it again,
even in the dark, ain't he?  P'raps you'd like to see him, sir!" says
she, turning on Trottle, and poking her grinning face close to him.  "Only
name it; only say if you'd like to see him before we do our little bit of
business--and I'll show good Forley's friend up-stairs, just as if he was
good Mr. Forley himself.  _My_ legs are all right, whatever Benjamin's
may be.  I get younger and younger, and stronger and stronger, and
jollier and jollier, every day--that's what I do!  Don't mind the stairs
on my account, sir, if you'd like to see him."

"Him?" Trottle wondered whether "him" meant a man, or a boy, or a
domestic animal of the male species.  Whatever it meant, here was a
chance of putting off that uncomfortable give-and-take-business, and,
better still, a chance perhaps of finding out one of the secrets of the
mysterious House.  Trottle's spirits began to rise again and he said
"Yes," directly, with the confidence of a man who knew all about it.

Benjamin's mother took the candle at once, and lighted Trottle briskly to
the stairs; and Benjamin himself tried to follow as usual.  But getting
up several flights of stairs, even helped by the bannisters, was more,
with his particular complaint, than he seemed to feel himself inclined to
venture on.  He sat down obstinately on the lowest step, with his head
against the wall, and the tails of his big great-coat spreading out
magnificently on the stairs behind him and above him, like a dirty
imitation of a court lady's train.

"Don't sit there, dear," says his affectionate mother, stopping to snuff
the candle on the first landing.

"I shall sit here," says Benjamin, agravating to the last, "till the milk
comes in the morning."

The cheerful old woman went on nimbly up the stairs to the first floor,
and Trottle followed, with his eyes and ears wide open.  He had seen
nothing out of the common in the front-parlour, or up the staircase, so
far.  The House was dirty and dreary and close-smelling--but there was
nothing about it to excite the least curiosity, except the faint scraping
sound, which was now beginning to get a little clearer--though still not
at all loud--as Trottle followed his leader up the stairs to the second
floor.

Nothing on the second-floor landing, but cobwebs above and bits of broken
plaster below, cracked off from the ceiling.  Benjamin's mother was not a
bit out of breath, and looked all ready to go to the top of the monument
if necessary.  The faint scraping sound had got a little clearer still;
but Trottle was no nearer to guessing what it might be, than when he
first heard it in the parlour downstairs.

On the third, and last, floor, there were two doors; one, which was shut,
leading into the front garret; and one, which was ajar, leading into the
back garret.  There was a loft in the ceiling above the landing; but the
cobwebs all over it vouched sufficiently for its not having been opened
for some little time.  The scraping noise, plainer than ever here,
sounded on the other side of the back garret door; and, to Trottle's
great relief, that was precisely the door which the cheerful old woman
now pushed open.

Trottle followed her in; and, for once in his life, at any rate, was
struck dumb with amazement, at the sight which the inside of the room
revealed to him.

The garret was absolutely empty of everything in the shape of furniture.
It must have been used at one time or other, by somebody engaged in a
profession or a trade which required for the practice of it a great deal
of light; for the one window in the room, which looked out on a wide open
space at the back of the house, was three or four times as large, every
way, as a garret-window usually is.  Close under this window, kneeling on
the bare boards with his face to the door, there appeared, of all the
creatures in the world to see alone at such a place and at such a time, a
mere mite of a child--a little, lonely, wizen, strangely-clad boy, who
could not at the most, have been more than five years old.  He had a
greasy old blue shawl crossed over his breast, and rolled up, to keep the
ends from the ground, into a great big lump on his back.  A strip of
something which looked like the remains of a woman's flannel petticoat,
showed itself under the shawl, and, below that again, a pair of rusty
black stockings, worlds too large for him, covered his legs and his
shoeless feet.  A pair of old clumsy muffetees, which had worked
themselves up on his little frail red arms to the elbows, and a big
cotton nightcap that had dropped down to his very eyebrows, finished off
the strange dress which the poor little man seemed not half big enough to
fill out, and not near strong enough to walk about in.

But there was something to see even more extraordinary than the clothes
the child was swaddled up in, and that was the game which he was playing
at, all by himself; and which, moreover, explained in the most unexpected
manner the faint scraping noise that had found its way down-stairs,
through the half-opened door, in the silence of the empty house.

It has been mentioned that the child was on his knees in the garret, when
Trottle first saw him.  He was not saying his prayers, and not crouching
down in terror at being alone in the dark.  He was, odd and unaccountable
as it may appear, doing nothing more or less than playing at a
charwoman's or housemaid's business of scouring the floor.  Both his
little hands had tight hold of a mangy old blacking-brush, with hardly
any bristles left in it, which he was rubbing backwards and forwards on
the boards, as gravely and steadily as if he had been at scouring-work
for years, and had got a large family to keep by it.  The coming-in of
Trottle and the old woman did not startle or disturb him in the least.  He
just looked up for a minute at the candle, with a pair of very bright,
sharp eyes, and then went on with his work again, as if nothing had
happened.  On one side of him was a battered pint saucepan without a
handle, which was his make-believe pail; and on the other a morsel of
slate-coloured cotton rag, which stood for his flannel to wipe up with.
After scrubbing bravely for a minute or two, he took the bit of rag, and
mopped up, and then squeezed make-believe water out into his make-believe
pail, as grave as any judge that ever sat on a Bench.  By the time he
thought he had got the floor pretty dry, he raised himself upright on his
knees, and blew out a good long breath, and set his little red arms
akimbo, and nodded at Trottle.

"There!" says the child, knitting his little downy eyebrows into a frown.
"Drat the dirt!  I've cleaned up.  Where's my beer?"

Benjamin's mother chuckled till Trottle thought she would have choked
herself.

"Lord ha' mercy on us!" says she, "just hear the imp.  You would never
think he was only five years old, would you, sir?  Please to tell good
Mr. Forley you saw him going on as nicely as ever, playing at being me
scouring the parlour floor, and calling for my beer afterwards.  That's
his regular game, morning, noon, and night--he's never tired of it.  Only
look how snug we've been and dressed him.  That's my shawl a keepin his
precious little body warm, and Benjamin's nightcap a keepin his precious
little head warm, and Benjamin's stockings, drawed over his trowsers, a
keepin his precious little legs warm.  He's snug and happy if ever a imp
was yet.  'Where's my beer!'--say it again, little dear, say it again!"

If Trottle had seen the boy, with a light and a fire in the room, clothed
like other children, and playing naturally with a top, or a box of
soldiers, or a bouncing big India-rubber ball, he might have been as
cheerful under the circumstances as Benjamin's mother herself.  But
seeing the child reduced (as he could not help suspecting) for want of
proper toys and proper child's company, to take up with the mocking of an
old woman at her scouring-work, for something to stand in the place of a
game, Trottle, though not a family man, nevertheless felt the sight
before him to be, in its way, one of the saddest and the most pitiable
that he had ever witnessed.

"Why, my man," says he, "you're the boldest little chap in all England.
You don't seem a bit afraid of being up here all by yourself in the
dark."

"The big winder," says the child, pointing up to it, "sees in the dark;
and I see with the big winder."  He stops a bit, and gets up on his legs,
and looks hard at Benjamin's mother.  "I'm a good 'un," says he, "ain't
I?  I save candle."

Trottle wondered what else the forlorn little creature had been brought
up to do without, besides candle-light; and risked putting a question as
to whether he ever got a run in the open air to cheer him up a bit.  O,
yes, he had a run now and then, out of doors (to say nothing of his runs
about the house), the lively little cricket--a run according to good Mr.
Forley's instructions, which were followed out carefully, as good Mr.
Forley's friend would be glad to hear, to the very letter.

As Trottle could only have made one reply to this, namely, that good Mr.
Forley's instructions were, in his opinion, the instructions of an
infernal scamp; and as he felt that such an answer would naturally prove
the death-blow to all further discoveries on his part, he gulped down his
feelings before they got too many for him, and held his tongue, and
looked round towards the window again to see what the forlorn little boy
was going to amuse himself with next.

The child had gathered up his blacking-brush and bit of rag, and had put
them into the old tin saucepan; and was now working his way, as well as
his clothes would let him, with his make-believe pail hugged up in his
arms, towards a door of communication which led from the back to the
front garret.

"I say," says he, looking round sharply over his shoulder, "what are you
two stopping here for?  I'm going to bed now--and so I tell you!"

With that, he opened the door, and walked into the front room.  Seeing
Trottle take a step or two to follow him, Benjamin's mother opened her
wicked old eyes in a state of great astonishment.

"Mercy on us!" says she, "haven't you seen enough of him yet?"

"No," says Trottle.  "I should like to see him go to bed."

Benjamin's mother burst into such a fit of chuckling that the loose
extinguisher in the candlestick clattered again with the shaking of her
hand.  To think of good Mr. Forley's friend taking ten times more trouble
about the imp than good Mr. Forley himself!  Such a joke as that,
Benjamin's mother had not often met with in the course of her life, and
she begged to be excused if she took the liberty of having a laugh at it.

Leaving her to laugh as much as she pleased, and coming to a pretty
positive conclusion, after what he had just heard, that Mr. Forley's
interest in the child was not of the fondest possible kind, Trottle
walked into the front room, and Benjamin's mother, enjoying herself
immensely, followed with the candle.

There were two pieces of furniture in the front garret.  One, an old
stool of the sort that is used to stand a cask of beer on; and the other
a great big ricketty straddling old truckle bedstead.  In the middle of
this bedstead, surrounded by a dim brown waste of sacking, was a kind of
little island of poor bedding--an old bolster, with nearly all the
feathers out of it, doubled in three for a pillow; a mere shred of
patchwork counter-pane, and a blanket; and under that, and peeping out a
little on either side beyond the loose clothes, two faded chair cushions
of horsehair, laid along together for a sort of makeshift mattress.  When
Trottle got into the room, the lonely little boy had scrambled up on the
bedstead with the help of the beer-stool, and was kneeling on the outer
rim of sacking with the shred of counterpane in his hands, just making
ready to tuck it in for himself under the chair cushions.

"I'll tuck you up, my man," says Trottle.  "Jump into bed, and let me
try."

"I mean to tuck myself up," says the poor forlorn child, "and I don't
mean to jump.  I mean to crawl, I do--and so I tell you!"

With that, he set to work, tucking in the clothes tight all down the
sides of the cushions, but leaving them open at the foot.  Then, getting
up on his knees, and looking hard at Trottle as much as to say, "What do
you mean by offering to help such a handy little chap as me?" he began to
untie the big shawl for himself, and did it, too, in less than half a
minute.  Then, doubling the shawl up loose over the foot of the bed, he
says, "I say, look here," and ducks under the clothes, head first,
worming his way up and up softly, under the blanket and counterpane, till
Trottle saw the top of the large nightcap slowly peep out on the bolster.
This over-sized head-gear of the child's had so shoved itself down in the
course of his journey to the pillow, under the clothes, that when he got
his face fairly out on the bolster, he was all nightcap down to his
mouth.  He soon freed himself, however, from this slight encumbrance by
turning the ends of the cap up gravely to their old place over his
eyebrows--looked at Trottle--said, "Snug, ain't it?  Good-bye!"--popped
his face under the clothes again--and left nothing to be seen of him but
the empty peak of the big nightcap standing up sturdily on end in the
middle of the bolster.

"What a young limb it is, ain't it?" says Benjamin's mother, giving
Trottle a cheerful dig with her elbow.  "Come on! you won't see no more
of him to-night!"

"And so I tell you!" sings out a shrill, little voice under the
bedclothes, chiming in with a playful finish to the old woman's last
words.

If Trottle had not been, by this time, positively resolved to follow the
wicked secret which accident had mixed him up with, through all its
turnings and windings, right on to the end, he would have probably
snatched the boy up then and there, and carried him off from his garret
prison, bed-clothes and all.  As it was, he put a strong check on
himself, kept his eye on future possibilities, and allowed Benjamin's
mother to lead him down-stairs again.

"Mind them top bannisters," says she, as Trottle laid his hand on them.
"They are as rotten as medlars every one of 'em."

"When people come to see the premises," says Trottle, trying to feel his
way a little farther into the mystery of the House, "you don't bring many
of them up here, do you?"

"Bless your heart alive!" says she, "nobody ever comes now.  The outside
of the house is quite enough to warn them off.  Mores the pity, as I say.
It used to keep me in spirits, staggering 'em all, one after another,
with the frightful high rent--specially the women, drat 'em.  'What's the
rent of this house?'--'Hundred and twenty pound a-year!'--'Hundred and
twenty? why, there ain't a house in the street as lets for more than
eighty!'--Likely enough, ma'am; other landlords may lower their rents if
they please; but this here landlord sticks to his rights, and means to
have as much for his house as his father had before him!'--'But the
neighbourhood's gone off since then!'--'Hundred and twenty pound,
ma'am.'--'The landlord must be mad!'--'Hundred and twenty pound,
ma'am.'--'Open the door you impertinent woman!'  Lord! what a happiness
it was to see 'em bounce out, with that awful rent a-ringing in their
ears all down the street!"

She stopped on the second-floor landing to treat herself to another
chuckle, while Trottle privately posted up in his memory what he had just
heard.  "Two points made out," he thought to himself: "the house is kept
empty on purpose, and the way it's done is to ask a rent that nobody will
pay."

"Ah, deary me!" says Benjamin's mother, changing the subject on a sudden,
and twisting back with a horrid, greedy quickness to those awkward money-
matters which she had broached down in the parlour.  "What we've done,
one way and another for Mr. Forley, it isn't in words to tell!  That nice
little bit of business of ours ought to be a bigger bit of business,
considering the trouble we take, Benjamin and me, to make the imp
upstairs as happy as the day is long.  If good Mr. Forley would only
please to think a little more of what a deal he owes to Benjamin and me--"

"That's just it," says Trottle, catching her up short in desperation, and
seeing his way, by the help of those last words of hers, to slipping
cleverly through her fingers.  "What should you say, if I told you that
Mr. Forley was nothing like so far from thinking about that little matter
as you fancy?  You would be disappointed, now, if I told you that I had
come to-day without the money?"--(her lank old jaw fell, and her
villainous old eyes glared, in a perfect state of panic, at that!)--"But
what should you say, if I told you that Mr. Forley was only waiting for
my report, to send me here next Monday, at dusk, with a bigger bit of
business for us two to do together than ever you think for?  What should
you say to that?"

The old wretch came so near to Trottle, before she answered, and jammed
him up confidentially so close into the corner of the landing, that his
throat, in a manner, rose at her.

"Can you count it off, do you think, on more than that?" says she,
holding up her four skinny fingers and her long crooked thumb, all of a
tremble, right before his face.

"What do you say to two hands, instead of one?" says he, pushing past
her, and getting down-stairs as fast as he could.

What she said Trottle thinks it best not to report, seeing that the old
hypocrite, getting next door to light-headed at the golden prospect
before her, took such liberties with unearthly names and persons which
ought never to have approached her lips, and rained down such an awful
shower of blessings on Trottle's head, that his hair almost stood on end
to hear her.  He went on down-stairs as fast as his feet would carry him,
till he was brought up all standing, as the sailors say, on the last
flight, by agravating Benjamin, lying right across the stair, and fallen
off, as might have been expected, into a heavy drunken sleep.

The sight of him instantly reminded Trottle of the curious half likeness
which he had already detected between the face of Benjamin and the face
of another man, whom he had seen at a past time in very different
circumstances.  He determined, before leaving the House, to have one more
look at the wretched muddled creature; and accordingly shook him up
smartly, and propped him against the staircase wall, before his mother
could interfere.

"Leave him to me; I'll freshen him up," says Trottle to the old woman,
looking hard in Benjamin's face, while he spoke.

The fright and surprise of being suddenly woke up, seemed, for about a
quarter of a minute, to sober the creature.  When he first opened his
eyes, there was a new look in them for a moment, which struck home to
Trottle's memory as quick and as clear as a flash of light.  The old
maudlin sleepy expression came back again in another instant, and blurred
out all further signs and tokens of the past.  But Trottle had seen
enough in the moment before it came; and he troubled Benjamin's face with
no more inquiries.

"Next Monday, at dusk," says he, cutting short some more of the old
woman's palaver about Benjamin's indisgestion.  "I've got no more time to
spare, ma'am, to-night: please to let me out."

With a few last blessings, a few last dutiful messages to good Mr.
Forley, and a few last friendly hints not to forget next Monday at dusk,
Trottle contrived to struggle through the sickening business of leave-
taking; to get the door opened; and to find himself, to his own
indescribable relief, once more on the outer side of the House To Let.



LET AT LAST


"There, ma'am!" said Trottle, folding up the manuscript from which he had
been reading, and setting it down with a smart tap of triumph on the
table.  "May I venture to ask what you think of that plain statement, as
a guess on my part (and not on Mr. Jarber's) at the riddle of the empty
House?"

For a minute or two I was unable to say a word.  When I recovered a
little, my first question referred to the poor forlorn little boy.

"To-day is Monday the twentieth," I said.  "Surely you have not let a
whole week go by without trying to find out something more?"

"Except at bed-time, and meals, ma'am," answered Trottle, "I have not let
an hour go by.  Please to understand that I have only come to an end of
what I have written, and not to an end of what I have done.  I wrote down
those first particulars, ma'am, because they are of great importance, and
also because I was determined to come forward with my written documents,
seeing that Mr. Jarber chose to come forward, in the first instance, with
his.  I am now ready to go on with the second part of my story as shortly
and plainly as possible, by word of mouth.  The first thing I must clear
up, if you please, is the matter of Mr. Forley's family affairs.  I have
heard you speak of them, ma'am, at various times; and I have understood
that Mr. Forley had two children only by his deceased wife, both
daughters.  The eldest daughter married, to her father's entire
satisfaction, one Mr. Bayne, a rich man, holding a high government
situation in Canada.  She is now living there with her husband, and her
only child, a little girl of eight or nine years old.  Right so far, I
think, ma'am?"

"Quite right," I said.

"The second daughter," Trottle went on, "and Mr. Forley's favourite, set
her father's wishes and the opinions of the world at flat defiance, by
running away with a man of low origin--a mate of a merchant-vessel, named
Kirkland.  Mr. Forley not only never forgave that marriage, but vowed
that he would visit the scandal of it heavily in the future on husband
and wife.  Both escaped his vengeance, whatever he meant it to be.  The
husband was drowned on his first voyage after his marriage, and the wife
died in child-bed.  Right again, I believe, ma'am?"

"Again quite right."

"Having got the family matter all right, we will now go back, ma'am, to
me and my doings.  Last Monday, I asked you for leave of absence for two
days; I employed the time in clearing up the matter of Benjamin's face.
Last Saturday I was out of the way when you wanted me.  I played truant,
ma'am, on that occasion, in company with a friend of mine, who is
managing clerk in a lawyer's office; and we both spent the morning at
Doctors' Commons, over the last will and testament of Mr. Forley's
father.  Leaving the will-business for a moment, please to follow me
first, if you have no objection, into the ugly subject of Benjamin's
face.  About six or seven years ago (thanks to your kindness) I had a
week's holiday with some friends of mine who live in the town of
Pendlebury.  One of those friends (the only one now left in the place)
kept a chemist's shop, and in that shop I was made acquainted with one of
the two doctors in the town, named Barsham.  This Barsham was a first-
rate surgeon, and might have got to the top of his profession, if he had
not been a first-rate blackguard.  As it was, he both drank and gambled;
nobody would have anything to do with him in Pendlebury; and, at the time
when I was made known to him in the chemist's shop, the other doctor, Mr.
Dix, who was not to be compared with him for surgical skill, but who was
a respectable man, had got all the practice; and Barsham and his old
mother were living together in such a condition of utter poverty, that it
was a marvel to everybody how they kept out of the parish workhouse."

"Benjamin and Benjamin's mother!"

"Exactly, ma'am.  Last Thursday morning (thanks to your kindness, again)
I went to Pendlebury to my friend the chemist, to ask a few questions
about Barsham and his mother.  I was told that they had both left the
town about five years since.  When I inquired into the circumstances,
some strange particulars came out in the course of the chemist's answer.
You know I have no doubt, ma'am, that poor Mrs. Kirkland was confined
while her husband was at sea, in lodgings at a village called Flatfield,
and that she died and was buried there.  But what you may not know is,
that Flatfield is only three miles from Pendlebury; that the doctor who
attended on Mrs. Kirkland was Barsham; that the nurse who took care of
her was Barsham's mother; and that the person who called them both in,
was Mr. Forley.  Whether his daughter wrote to him, or whether he heard
of it in some other way, I don't know; but he was with her (though he had
sworn never to see her again when she married) a month or more before her
confinement, and was backwards and forwards a good deal between Flatfield
and Pendlebury.  How he managed matters with the Barshams cannot at
present be discovered; but it is a fact that he contrived to keep the
drunken doctor sober, to everybody's amazement.  It is a fact that
Barsham went to the poor woman with all his wits about him.  It is a fact
that he and his mother came back from Flatfield after Mrs. Kirkland's
death, packed up what few things they had, and left the town mysteriously
by night.  And, lastly, it is also a fact that the other doctor, Mr. Dix,
was not called in to help, till a week after the birth _and burial_ of
the child, when the mother was sinking from exhaustion--exhaustion (to
give the vagabond, Barsham, his due) not produced, in Mr. Dix's opinion,
by improper medical treatment, but by the bodily weakness of the poor
woman herself--"

"Burial of the child?" I interrupted, trembling all over.  "Trottle! you
spoke that word 'burial' in a very strange way--you are fixing your eyes
on me now with a very strange look--"

Trottle leaned over close to me, and pointed through the window to the
empty house.

"The child's death is registered, at Pendlebury," he said, "on Barsham's
certificate, under the head of Male Infant, Still-Born.  The child's
coffin lies in the mother's grave, in Flatfield churchyard.  The child
himself--as surely as I live and breathe, is living and breathing now--a
castaway and a prisoner in that villainous house!"

I sank back in my chair.

"It's guess-work, so far, but it is borne in on my mind, for all that, as
truth.  Rouse yourself, ma'am, and think a little.  The last I hear of
Barsham, he is attending Mr. Forley's disobedient daughter.  The next I
see of Barsham, he is in Mr. Forley's house, trusted with a secret.  He
and his mother leave Pendlebury suddenly and suspiciously five years
back; and he and his mother have got a child of five years old, hidden
away in the house.  Wait! please to wait--I have not done yet.  The will
left by Mr. Forley's father, strengthens the suspicion.  The friend I
took with me to Doctors' Commons, made himself master of the contents of
that will; and when he had done so, I put these two questions to him.
'Can Mr. Forley leave his money at his own discretion to anybody he
pleases?'  'No,' my friend says, 'his father has left him with only a
life interest in it.'  'Suppose one of Mr. Forley's married daughters has
a girl, and the other a boy, how would the money go?'  'It would all go,'
my friend says, 'to the boy, and it would be charged with the payment of
a certain annual income to his female cousin.  After her death, it would
go back to the male descendant, and to his heirs.'  Consider that, ma'am!
The child of the daughter whom Mr. Forley hates, whose husband has been
snatched away from his vengeance by death, takes his whole property in
defiance of him; and the child of the daughter whom he loves, is left a
pensioner on her low-born boy-cousin for life!  There was good--too good
reason--why that child of Mrs. Kirkland's should be registered stillborn.
And if, as I believe, the register is founded on a false certificate,
there is better, still better reason, why the existence of the child
should be hidden, and all trace of his parentage blotted out, in the
garret of that empty house."

He stopped, and pointed for the second time to the dim, dust-covered
garret-windows opposite.  As he did so, I was startled--a very slight
matter sufficed to frighten me now--by a knock at the door of the room in
which we were sitting.

My maid came in, with a letter in her hand.  I took it from her.  The
mourning card, which was all the envelope enclosed, dropped from my
hands.

George Forley was no more.  He had departed this life three days since,
on the evening of Friday.

"Did our last chance of discovering the truth," I asked, "rest with
_him_?  Has it died with _his_ death?"

"Courage, ma'am!  I think not.  Our chance rests on our power to make
Barsham and his mother confess; and Mr. Forley's death, by leaving them
helpless, seems to put that power into our hands.  With your permission,
I will not wait till dusk to-day, as I at first intended, but will make
sure of those two people at once.  With a policeman in plain clothes to
watch the house, in case they try to leave it; with this card to vouch
for the fact of Mr. Forley's death; and with a bold acknowledgment on my
part of having got possession of their secret, and of being ready to use
it against them in case of need, I think there is little doubt of
bringing Barsham and his mother to terms.  In case I find it impossible
to get back here before dusk, please to sit near the window, ma'am, and
watch the house, a little before they light the street-lamps.  If you see
the front-door open and close again, will you be good enough to put on
your bonnet, and come across to me immediately?  Mr. Forley's death may,
or may not, prevent his messenger from coming as arranged.  But, if the
person does come, it is of importance that you, as a relative of Mr.
Forley's should be present to see him, and to have that proper influence
over him which I cannot pretend to exercise."

The only words I could say to Trottle as he opened the door and left me,
were words charging him to take care that no harm happened to the poor
forlorn little boy.

Left alone, I drew my chair to the window; and looked out with a beating
heart at the guilty house.  I waited and waited through what appeared to
me to be an endless time, until I heard the wheels of a cab stop at the
end of the street.  I looked in that direction, and saw Trottle get out
of the cab alone, walk up to the house, and knock at the door.  He was
let in by Barsham's mother.  A minute or two later, a decently-dressed
man sauntered past the house, looked up at it for a moment, and sauntered
on to the corner of the street close by.  Here he leant against the post,
and lighted a cigar, and stopped there smoking in an idle way, but
keeping his face always turned in the direction of the house-door.

I waited and waited still.  I waited and waited, with my eyes riveted to
the door of the house.  At last I thought I saw it open in the dusk, and
then felt sure I heard it shut again softly.  Though I tried hard to
compose myself, I trembled so that I was obliged to call for Peggy to
help me on with my bonnet and cloak, and was forced to take her arm to
lean on, in crossing the street.

Trottle opened the door to us, before we could knock.  Peggy went back,
and I went in.  He had a lighted candle in his hand.

"It has happened, ma'am, as I thought it would," he whispered, leading me
into the bare, comfortless, empty parlour.  "Barsham and his mother have
consulted their own interests, and have come to terms.  My guess-work is
guess-work no longer.  It is now what I felt it was--Truth!"

Something strange to me--something which women who are mothers must often
know--trembled suddenly in my heart, and brought the warm tears of my
youthful days thronging back into my eyes.  I took my faithful old
servant by the hand, and asked him to let me see Mrs. Kirkland's child,
for his mother's sake.

"If you desire it, ma'am," said Trottle, with a gentleness of manner that
I had never noticed in him before.  "But pray don't think me wanting in
duty and right feeling, if I beg you to try and wait a little.  You are
agitated already, and a first meeting with the child will not help to
make you so calm, as you would wish to be, if Mr. Forley's messenger
comes.  The little boy is safe up-stairs.  Pray think first of trying to
compose yourself for a meeting with a stranger; and believe me you shall
not leave the house afterwards without the child."

I felt that Trottle was right, and sat down as patiently as I could in a
chair he had thoughtfully placed ready for me.  I was so horrified at the
discovery of my own relation's wickedness that when Trottle proposed to
make me acquainted with the confession wrung from Barsham and his mother,
I begged him to spare me all details, and only to tell me what was
necessary about George Forley.

"All that can be said for Mr. Forley, ma'am, is, that he was just
scrupulous enough to hide the child's existence and blot out its
parentage here, instead of consenting, at the first, to its death, or
afterwards, when the boy grew up, to turning him adrift, absolutely
helpless in the world.  The fraud has been managed, ma'am, with the
cunning of Satan himself.  Mr. Forley had the hold over the Barshams,
that they had helped him in his villany, and that they were dependent on
him for the bread they eat.  He brought them up to London to keep them
securely under his own eye.  He put them into this empty house (taking it
out of the agent's hands previously, on pretence that he meant to manage
the letting of it himself); and by keeping the house empty, made it the
surest of all hiding places for the child.  Here, Mr. Forley could come,
whenever he pleased, to see that the poor lonely child was not absolutely
starved; sure that his visits would only appear like looking after his
own property.  Here the child was to have been trained to believe himself
Barsham's child, till he should be old enough to be provided for in some
situation, as low and as poor as Mr. Forley's uneasy conscience would let
him pick out.  He may have thought of atonement on his death-bed; but not
before--I am only too certain of it--not before!"

A low, double knock startled us.

"The messenger!" said Trottle, under his breath.  He went out instantly
to answer the knock; and returned, leading in a respectable-looking
elderly man, dressed like Trottle, all in black, with a white cravat, but
otherwise not at all resembling him.

"I am afraid I have made some mistake," said the stranger.

Trottle, considerately taking the office of explanation into his own
hands, assured the gentleman that there was no mistake; mentioned to him
who I was; and asked him if he had not come on business connected with
the late Mr. Forley.  Looking greatly astonished, the gentleman answered,
"Yes."  There was an awkward moment of silence, after that.  The stranger
seemed to be not only startled and amazed, but rather distrustful and
fearful of committing himself as well.  Noticing this, I thought it best
to request Trottle to put an end to further embarrassment, by stating all
particulars truthfully, as he had stated them to me; and I begged the
gentleman to listen patiently for the late Mr. Forley's sake.  He bowed
to me very respectfully, and said he was prepared to listen with the
greatest interest.

It was evident to me--and, I could see, to Trottle also--that we were not
dealing, to say the least, with a dishonest man.

"Before I offer any opinion on what I have heard," he said, earnestly and
anxiously, after Trottle had done, "I must be allowed, in justice to
myself, to explain my own apparent connection with this very strange and
very shocking business.  I was the confidential legal adviser of the late
Mr. Forley, and I am left his executor.  Rather more than a fortnight
back, when Mr. Forley was confined to his room by illness, he sent for
me, and charged me to call and pay a certain sum of money here, to a man
and woman whom I should find taking charge of the house.  He said he had
reasons for wishing the affair to be kept a secret.  He begged me so to
arrange my engagements that I could call at this place either on Monday
last, or to-day, at dusk; and he mentioned that he would write to warn
the people of my coming, without mentioning my name (Dalcott is my name),
as he did not wish to expose me to any future importunities on the part
of the man and woman.  I need hardly tell you that this commission struck
me as being a strange one; but, in my position with Mr. Forley, I had no
resource but to accept it without asking questions, or to break off my
long and friendly connection with my client.  I chose the first
alternative.  Business prevented me from doing my errand on Monday
last--and if I am here to-day, notwithstanding Mr. Forley's unexpected
death, it is emphatically because I understood nothing of the matter, on
knocking at this door; and therefore felt myself bound, as executor, to
clear it up.  That, on my word of honour, is the whole truth, so far as I
am personally concerned."

"I feel quite sure of it, sir," I answered.

"You mentioned Mr. Forley's death, just now, as unexpected.  May I
inquire if you were present, and if he has left any last instructions?"

"Three hours before Mr. Forley's death," said Mr. Dalcott, "his medical
attendant left him apparently in a fair way of recovery.  The change for
the worse took place so suddenly, and was accompanied by such severe
suffering, to prevent him from communicating his last wishes to any one.
When I reached his house, he was insensible.  I have since examined his
papers.  Not one of them refers to the present time or to the serious
matter which now occupies us.  In the absence of instructions I must act
cautiously on what you have told me; but I will be rigidly fair and just
at the same time.  The first thing to be done," he continued, addressing
himself to Trottle, "is to hear what the man and woman, down-stairs, have
to say.  If you can supply me with writing-materials, I will take their
declarations separately on the spot, in your presence, and in the
presence of the policeman who is watching the house.  To-morrow I will
send copies of those declarations, accompanied by a full statement of the
case, to Mr. and Mrs. Bayne in Canada (both of whom know me well as the
late Mr. Forley's legal adviser); and I will suspend all proceedings, on
my part, until I hear from them, or from their solicitor in London.  In
the present posture of affairs this is all I can safely do."

We could do no less than agree with him, and thank him for his frank and
honest manner of meeting us.  It was arranged that I should send over the
writing-materials from my lodgings; and, to my unutterable joy and
relief, it was also readily acknowledged that the poor little orphan boy
could find no fitter refuge than my old arms were longing to offer him,
and no safer protection for the night than my roof could give.  Trottle
hastened away up-stairs, as actively as if he had been a young man, to
fetch the child down.

And he brought him down to me without another moment of delay, and I went
on my knees before the poor little Mite, and embraced him, and asked him
if he would go with me to where I lived?  He held me away for a moment,
and his wan, shrewd little eyes looked sharp at me.  Then he clung close
to me all at once, and said:

"I'm a-going along with you, I am--and so I tell you!"

For inspiring the poor neglected child with this trust in my old self, I
thanked Heaven, then, with all my heart and soul, and I thank it now!

I bundled the poor darling up in my own cloak, and I carried him in my
own arms across the road.  Peggy was lost in speechless amazement to
behold me trudging out of breath up-stairs, with a strange pair of poor
little legs under my arm; but, she began to cry over the child the moment
she saw him, like a sensible woman as she always was, and she still cried
her eyes out over him in a comfortable manner, when he at last lay fast
asleep, tucked up by my hands in Trottle's bed.

"And Trottle, bless you, my dear man," said I, kissing his hand, as he
looked on: "the forlorn baby came to this refuge through you, and he will
help you on your way to Heaven."

Trottle answered that I was his dear mistress, and immediately went and
put his head out at an open window on the landing, and looked into the
back street for a quarter of an hour.

That very night, as I sat thinking of the poor child, and of another poor
child who is never to be thought about enough at Christmas-time, the idea
came into my mind which I have lived to execute, and in the realisation
of which I am the happiest of women this day.

"The executor will sell that House, Trottle?" said I.

"Not a doubt of it, ma'am, if he can find a purchaser."

"I'll buy it."

I have often seen Trottle pleased; but, I never saw him so perfectly
enchanted as he was when I confided to him, which I did, then and there,
the purpose that I had in view.

To make short of a long story--and what story would not be long, coming
from the lips of an old woman like me, unless it was made short by main
force!--I bought the House.  Mrs. Bayne had her father's blood in her;
she evaded the opportunity of forgiving and generous reparation that was
offered her, and disowned the child; but, I was prepared for that, and
loved him all the more for having no one in the world to look to, but me.

I am getting into a flurry by being over-pleased, and I dare say I am as
incoherent as need be.  I bought the House, and I altered it from the
basement to the roof, and I turned it into a Hospital for Sick Children.

Never mind by what degrees my little adopted boy came to the knowledge of
all the sights and sounds in the streets, so familiar to other children
and so strange to him; never mind by what degrees he came to be pretty,
and childish, and winning, and companionable, and to have pictures and
toys about him, and suitable playmates.  As I write, I look across the
road to my Hospital, and there is the darling (who has gone over to play)
nodding at me out of one of the once lonely windows, with his dear chubby
face backed up by Trottle's waistcoat as he lifts my pet for "Grandma" to
see.

Many an Eye I see in that House now, but it is never in solitude, never
in neglect.  Many an Eye I see in that House now, that is more and more
radiant every day with the light of returning health.  As my precious
darling has changed beyond description for the brighter and the better,
so do the not less precious darlings of poor women change in that House
every day in the year.  For which I humbly thank that Gracious Being whom
the restorer of the Widow's son and of the Ruler's daughter, instructed
all mankind to call their Father.





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