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Title: Mrs. Overtheway's Remembrances
Author: Ewing, Juliana Horatia Gatty, 1841-1885
Language: English
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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.

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                          MRS. OVERTHEWAY'S
                            REMEMBRANCES.


                                 BY
                       JULIANA HORATIA EWING.



                               LONDON:
              SOCIETY FOR PROMOTING CHRISTIAN KNOWLEDGE,
                     NORTHUMBERLAND AVENUE, W.C.
                   NEW YORK: E. & J.B. YOUNG & CO.



 [Published under the direction of the General Literature Committee.]



                            TO MY HUSBAND
                                 A.E.
                          IN REMEMBRANCE OF
                            1866 AND 1867
                                       J.H.E.



CONTENTS.

IDA

MRS. MOSS

THE SNORING GHOST

REKA DOM

KERGUELEN'S LAND



IDA.

... "Thou shall not lack
    The flower that's like thy face, pale Primrose."

_Cymbeline._


The little old lady lived over the way, through a green gate that
shut with a click, and up three white steps. Every morning at eight
o'clock the church bell chimed for Morning Prayer--chim! chime! chim!
chime!--and every morning at eight o'clock the little old lady came
down the white steps, and opened the gate with a click, and went where
the bells were calling.

About this time also little Ida would kneel on a chair at her nursery
window in the opposite house to watch the old lady come out and go.
The old lady was one of those people who look always the same. Every
morning her cheeks looked like faded rose-leaves, and her white hair
like a snow-wreath in a garden laughing at the last tea-rose. Every
morning she wore the same black satin bonnet, and the same white
shawl; had delicate gloves on the smallest of hands, and gathered her
skirt daintily up from the smallest of feet. Every morning she carried
a clean pocket-handkerchief, and a fresh rose in the same hand with
her Prayer-book; and as the Prayer-book, being bound up with the
Bible, was very thick, she seemed to have some difficulty in so doing.
Every morning, whatever the weather might be, she stood outside the
green gate, and looked up at the sky to see if this were clear, and
down at the ground to see if that were dry; and so went where the
bells were calling.

Ida knew the little old lady quite well by sight, but she did not know
her name. Perhaps Ida's great-uncle knew it; but he was a grave,
unsociable man, who saw very little of his neighbours, so perhaps he
did not; and Ida stood too much in awe of him to trouble him with idle
questions. She had once asked Nurse, but Nurse did not know; so the
quiet orphan child asked no more. She made up a name for the little
old lady herself, however, after the manner of Mr. John Bunyan, and
called her Mrs. Overtheway; and morning after morning, though the
bread-and-milk breakfast smoked upon the table, she would linger at
the window, beseeching--

"One minute more, dear Nurse! Please let me wait till Mrs. Overtheway
has gone to church."

And when the little old lady had come out and gone, Ida would creep
from her perch, and begin her breakfast. Then, if the chimes went on
till half the basinful was eaten, little Ida would nod her head
contentedly, and whisper--

"Mrs. Overtheway was in time."

Little Ida's history was a sad one. Her troubles began when she was
but a year old, with the greatest of earthly losses--for then her
mother died, leaving a sailor husband and their infant child. The
sea-captain could face danger, but not an empty home; so he went back
to the winds and the waves, leaving his little daughter with
relations. Six long years had he been away, and Ida had had many
homes, and yet, somehow, no home, when one day the postman brought her
a large letter, with her own name written upon it in a large hand.
This was no old envelope sealed up again--no make-believe epistle to
be put into the post through the nursery door: it was a real letter,
with a real seal, real stamps, and a great many post-marks; and when
Ida opened it there were two sheets written by the Captain's very own
hand, in round fat characters, easy to read, with a sketch of the
Captain's very own ship at the top, and--most welcome above all!--the
news that the Captain's very own self was coming home.

"I shall have a papa all to myself very soon, Nurse," said Ida. "He
has written a letter to me, and made me a picture of his ship; it is
the 'Bonne Esperance,' which he says means Good Hope. I love this
letter better than anything he has ever sent me."

Nevertheless, Ida took out the carved fans and workboxes, the beads,
and handkerchiefs, and feathers, the dainty foreign treasures the
sailor-father had sent to her from time to time; dusted them, kissed
them, and told them that the Captain was coming home. But the letter
she wore in her pocket by day, and kept under her pillow by night.

"Why don't you put your letter into one of your boxes, like a tidy
young lady, Miss Ida?" said Nurse. "You'll wear it all to bits doing
as you do."

"It will last till the ship comes home," said Miss Ida.

It had need then to have been written on the rock, graven with an iron
pen for ever; for the "Bonne Esperance" (like other earthly hopes) had
perished to return no more. She foundered on her homeward voyage, and
went down into the great waters, whilst Ida slept through the stormy
night, with the Captain's letter beneath her pillow.

Alas! Alas! Alas!

       *       *       *       *       *

Two or three months had now passed away since Ida became an orphan.
She had become accustomed to the crape-hung frock; she had learnt to
read the Captain's letter as the memorial of a good hope which it had
pleased God to disappoint; she was fairly happy again. It was in the
midst of that new desolation in her lonely life that she had come to
stay with her great-uncle, and had begun to watch the doings of the
little old lady who lived over the way. When dolls seemed vanity, and
Noah's Ark a burden, it had been a quiet amusement, demanding no
exertion, to see what little she could see of the old lady's life, and
to speculate about what she could not; to wonder and fancy what Mrs.
Overtheway looked like without her bonnet, and what she did with
herself when she was not at church. Ida's imagination did not carry
her far. She believed her friend to be old, immeasurably old,
indefinitely old; and had a secret faith that she had never been
otherwise. She felt sure that she wore a cap indoors, and that it was
a nicer one than Nurse's; that she had real tea, with sugar and cream,
instead of milk-and-water, and hot toast rather than bread-and-treacle
for tea; that she helped herself at meals, and went to bed according
to her own pleasure and convenience; was--perhaps on these very
grounds--utterly happy, and had always been so.

"I am only a little girl," said Ida, as she pressed her face sadly to
the cold window-pane. "I am only a little girl, and very sad, you
know, because Papa was drowned at sea; but Mrs. Overtheway is very
old, and always happy, and so I love her."

And in this there was both philosophy and truth.

It is a mistake to suppose that the happiness of others is always a
distasteful sight to the sad at heart. There are times in which life
seems shorn of interests and bereaved of pleasure, when it is a
relief, almost amounting to consolation, to believe that any one is
happy. It is some feeling of this nature, perhaps, which makes the
young so attractive to the old. It soothes like the sound of
harmonious music, the sight of harmonious beauty. It witnesses to a
conviction lying deep even in the most afflicted souls that (come what
may), all things were created good, and man made to be blessed; before
which sorrow and sighing flee away.

This was one of many things which formed the attraction for Ida in the
little old lady who lived over the way. That green gate shut in a life
of which the child knew nothing, and which might be one of mysterious
delights; to believe that such things could be was consoling, and to
imagine them was real entertainment. Ida would sometimes draw a chair
quietly to the table beside her own, and fancy that Mrs. Overtheway
was having tea with her. She would ask the old lady if she had been in
time for church that morning, beg her to take off her bonnet, and
apologise politely for the want of hot tea and toast. So far all was
well, for Ida could answer any of these remarks on Mrs. Overtheway's
behalf; but it may be believed that after a certain point this
one-sided conversation flagged. One day Nurse overheard Ida's low
murmurs.

"What are you talking about, Miss Ida?" said she.

"I am pretending to have Mrs. Overtheway to tea," said Ida.

"Little girls shouldn't pretend what's not true," replied Nurse, in
whose philosophy fancy and falsehood were not distinguished. "Play
with your dolls, my dear, and don't move the chairs out of their
places."

With which Nurse carried off the chair into a corner as if it had been
a naughty child, and Ida gave up her day-dream with a sigh; since to
have prolonged the fancy that Mrs. Overtheway was present, she must
have imagined her borne off at the crisis of the meal after a fashion
not altogether consistent with an old lady's dignity.

Summer passed, and winter came on. There were days when the white
steps looked whiter than usual; when the snowdrift came halfway up the
little green gate, and the snowflakes came softly down with a
persistency which threatened to bury the whole town. Ida knew that on
such days Mrs. Overtheway could not go out; but whenever it was
tolerably fine the old lady appeared as usual, came daintily down the
steps, and went where the bells were calling. Chim! chime! chim!
chime! They sounded so near through the frosty air, that Ida could
almost have fancied that the church was coming round through the snowy
streets to pick up the congregation.

Mrs. Overtheway looked much the same in winter as in summer. She
seemed as fresh and lively as ever, carried her Prayer-book and
handkerchief in the same hand, was only more warmly wrapped up, and
wore fur-lined boots, which were charming. There was one change,
however, which went to Ida's heart. The little old lady had no longer
a flower to take to church with her. At Christmas she took a sprig of
holly, and after that a spray of myrtle, but Ida felt that these were
poor substitutes for a rose. She knew that Mrs. Overtheway had flowers
somewhere, it is true, for certain pots of forced hyacinths had passed
through the little green gate to the Christmas church decorations; but
one's winter garden is too precious to be cropped as recklessly as
summer rose-bushes, and the old lady went flowerless to church and
enjoyed her bulbs at home. But the change went to Ida's heart.

Spring was early that year. At the beginning of February there was a
good deal of snow on the ground, it is true, but the air became milder
and milder, and towards the end of the month there came a real spring
day, and all the snow was gone.

"You may go and play in the garden, Miss Ida," said Nurse, and Ida
went.

She had been kept indoors for a long time by the weather and by a
cold, and it was very pleasant to get out again, even when the only
amusement was to run up and down the shingly walks and wonder how soon
she might begin to garden, and whether the gardener could be induced
to give her a piece of ground sufficiently extensive to grow a crop of
mustard-and-cress in the form of a capital I. It was the kitchen
garden into which Ida had been sent. At the far end it was cut off
from the world by an overgrown hedge with large gaps at the bottom,
through which Ida could see the high road, a trough for watering
horses, and beyond this a wood. The hedge was very thin in February,
and Ida had a good view in consequence, and sitting on a stump in the
sunshine she peered through the gap to see if any horses came to
drink. It was as good as a peep-show, and indeed much better.

"The snow has melted," gurgled the water, "here I am." It was
everywhere. The sunshine made the rich green mosses look dry, but in
reality they were wet, and so was everything else. Slish! slosh! Put
your feet where you would, the water was everywhere. It filled the
stone trough, which, being old and grey and steady, kept it still, and
bade it reflect the blue sky and the gorgeous mosses; but the trough
soon overflowed, and then the water slipped over the side, and ran off
in a wayside stream. "Winter is gone!" it spluttered as it ran.
"Winter is gone, winter-is-gone, winterisgone!" And, on the principle
that a good thing cannot be said too often, it went on with this all
through the summer, till the next winter came and stopped its mouth
with icicles. As the stream chattered, so the birds in the wood
sang--Tweet! tweet! chirrup! throstle! Spring! Spring! Spring!--and
they twittered from tree to tree, and shook the bare twigs with
melody; whilst a single blackbird sitting still upon a bough below,
sang "Life!" "Life!" "Life!" with the loudest pipe of his throat,
because on such a day it was happiness only to be alive.

It was like a wonderful fairy-tale, to which Ida listened with clasped
hands.

Presently another song came from the wood: it was a hymn sung by
children's voices, such as one often hears carolled by a troop of
little urchins coming home from school. The words fell familiarly on
Ida's ears:

    "Quite through the streets with silver sound,
      The flood of life doth flow;
    Upon whose banks on every side
      The wood of life doth grow.

    "Thy gardens and thy gallant walks
      Continually are green;
    There grow such sweet and pleasant flowers
      As nowhere else are seen.

    "There trees for evermore bear fruit,
      And evermore do spring;
    There evermore the Angels sit,
      And evermore do sing."

Here the little chorus broke off, and the children came pouring out of
the wood with chattering and laughter. Only one lingered, playing
under a tree, and finishing the song. The child's voice rose shrill
and clear like that of the blackbird above him. He also sang of
Life--Eternal life--knowing little more than the bird of the meaning
of his song, and having little less of that devotion of innocence in
which happiness is praise.

But Ida had ceased to listen to the singing. Her whole attention was
given to the children as they scampered past the hedge, dropping bits
of moss and fungi and such like woodland spoil. For, tightly held in
the grubby hands of each--plucked with reckless indifference to bud
and stalk, and fading fast in their hot prisons--were primroses. Ida
started to her feet, a sudden idea filling her brain. The birds were
right, Spring had come, and there were flowers--_flowers for Mrs.
Overtheway_.

Ida was a very quiet, obedient little girl, as a general rule; indeed,
in her lonely life she had small temptation to pranks or mischief of
any kind. She had often been sent to play in the back garden before,
and had never thought of straying beyond its limits; but to-day a
strong new feeling had been awakened by the sight of the primroses.

"The hole is very large," said Ida, looking at the gap in the hedge;
"if that dead root in the middle were pulled up, it would be
wonderfully large."

She pulled the root up, and, though wonderful is a strong term, the
hole was certainly larger.

"It is big enough to put one's head through," said Ida, and, stooping
down, she exemplified the truth of her observation.

"Where the head goes, the body will follow," they say, and Ida's
little body was soon on the other side of the hedge; the adage says
nothing about clothes, however, and part of Ida's dress was left
behind. It had caught on the stump as she scrambled through. But
accidents will happen, and she was in the road, which was something.

"It is like going into the world to seek one's fortune," she thought;
"thus Gerda went to look for little Kay, and so Joringel sought for
the enchanted flower. One always comes to a wood."

And into the wood she came. Dame Nature had laid down her new green
carpets, and everything looked lovely; but, as has been before said,
it certainly was damp. The little singer under the tree cared no more
for this, however, than the blackbird above him.

"Will you tell me, please, where you got your primroses?" asked Ida.

The child made a quaint, half-military salute; and smiled.

"Yonder," he said laconically, and, pointing up the wood, he went on
with the song that he could not understand:

    "Ah, my sweet home, Jerusalem,
      Would God I were in thee!
     Would God my woes were at an end,
      Thy joys that I might see!"

Ida went on and on, looking about her as she ran. Presently the wood
sloped downwards, and pretty steeply, so that it was somewhat of a
scramble; yet still she kept a sharp look-out, but no primroses did
she see, except a few here and there upon the ground, which had been
plucked too close to their poor heads to be held in anybody's hands.
These showed the way, however, and Ida picked them up in sheer pity
and carried them with her.

"This is how Hop-o'-my-Thumb found his way home," she thought.

At the bottom of the hill ran a little brook, and on the opposite side
of the brook was a bank, and on the top of the bank was a hedge, and
under the hedge were the primroses. But the brook was between!

Ida looked and hesitated. It was too wide to jump across, and here, as
elsewhere, there was more water than usual. To turn back, however, was
out of the question. Gerda would not have been daunted in her search
by coming to a stream, nor would any one else that ever was read of in
fairy tales. It is true that in Fairy-land there are advantages which
cannot always be reckoned upon by commonplace children in this
commonplace world. When the straw, the coal, and the bean came to a
rivulet in their travels, the straw laid himself across as a bridge
for the others, and had not the coal been a degree too hot on that
unlucky occasion, they might (for anything Ida knew to the contrary)
still have been pursuing their journey in these favourable
circumstances. But a travelling-companion who expands into a bridge on
an emergency is not to be met with every day; and as to poor Ida--she
was alone. She stood first on one leg, and then on the other, she
looked at the water, and then at the primroses, and then at the water
again, and at last perceived that in one place there was a large,
flat, moss-covered stone in the middle of the stream, which stood well
out of the water, and from which--could she but reach it--she might
scramble to the opposite bank. But how to reach it? that nice, large,
secure, comfortable-looking stone.

"I must put some more stones," thought Ida. There were plenty in the
stream, and Ida dragged them up, and began to make a ford by piling
them together. It was chilly work, for a cloud had come over the sun;
and Ida was just a little bit frightened by the fresh-water shrimps,
and some queer, many-legged beasts, who shot off the stones as she
lifted them. At last the ford was complete. Ida stepped daintily over
the bridge she had made, and jumped triumphantly on to the big stone.
Alas! for trusting to appearances. The stone that looked so firm, was
insecurely balanced below, and at the first shock one side went down
with a splash, and Ida went with it. What a triumph for the shrimps!
She scrambled to the bank, however, made up a charming bunch of
primroses, and turned to go home. Never mind how she got back across
the brook. We have all waded streams before now, and very good fun it
is in June, but rather chilly work in February; and, in spite of
running home, Ida trembled as much with cold as with excitement when
she stood at last before Mrs. Overtheway's green gate.

Click! Ida went up the white steps, marking them sadly with her wet
feet, and gave a valiant rap. The door was opened, and a tall, rather
severe-looking housekeeper asked:

"What do you want, my dear?"

A shyness, amounting to terror, had seized upon Ida, and she could
hardly find voice to answer.

"If you please, I have brought these for--"

For whom? Ida's pale face burnt crimson as she remembered that after
all she did not know the little old lady's name. Perhaps the severe
housekeeper was touched by the sight of the black frock, torn as it
was, for she said kindly:

"Don't be frightened, my dear. What do you want?"

"These primroses," said Ida, who was almost choking. "They are for
Mrs. Overtheway to take to church with her. I am very sorry, if you
please, but I don't know her name, and I call her Mrs. Overtheway
because, you know, she lives over the way. At least--" Ida added,
looking back across the road with a sudden confusion in her ideas,
"at least--I mean--you know--_we_ live over the way." And overwhelmed
with shame at her own stupidity, Ida stuffed the flowers into the
woman's hand, and ran home as if a lion were at her heels.

"Well! Miss Ida," began Nurse, as Ida opened the nursery door
(and there was something terrible in her "well"); "if I ever--" and
Nurse seized Ida by the arm, which was generally premonitory of her
favourite method of punishment--"a good shaking." But Ida clung close
and flung her arms round Nurse's neck.

"Don't shake me, Nursey, dear," she begged, "my head aches so. I have
been very naughty, I know. I've done everything you can think of; I've
crept through the hedge, and been right through the wood, and made a
ford, and tumbled into the brook, and waded back, and run all the way
home, and been round by the town for fear you should see me. And I've
done something you could never, never think of if you tried till next
Christmas, I've got some flowers for Mrs. Overtheway, only I did it so
stupidly; she will think me a perfect goose, and perhaps be angry,"
and the tears came into Ida's eyes.

"She'll think you a naughty, troublesome child, as you are," said
Nurse, who seldom hesitated to assume the responsibility of any
statement that appeared to be desirable; "you're mad on that old lady,
I think. Just look at that dress!"

Ida looked, but her tears were falling much too fast for her to have a
clear view of anything, and the torn edges of the rent seemed fringed
with prismatic colours.

To crown all she was sent to bed. In reality, this was to save the
necessity of wearing her best frock till the other was mended, and
also to keep her warm in case she should have caught cold; but Nurse
spoke of it as a punishment, and Ida wept accordingly. And this was a
triumph of that not uncommon line of nursery policy which consists in
elaborately misleading the infant mind for good.

Chim! chime! went the bells next morning, and Mrs. Overtheway came
down the white steps and through the green gate with a bunch of
primroses in her hand. She looked up as usual, but not to the sky. She
looked to the windows of the houses over the way, as if she expected
some one to be looking for her. There was no face to be seen, however;
and in the house directly opposite, one of the upper blinds was drawn
down. Ida was ill.

How long she was ill, and of what was the matter with her, Ida had no
very clear idea. She had visions of toiling through the wood over and
over again, looking vainly for something that could never be found; of
being suddenly surrounded and cut off by swollen streams; and of
crawling, unclean beasts with preternatural feelers who got into her
boots. Then these heavy dreams cleared away in part, and the stream
seemed to ripple like the sound of church bells, and these chimed out
the old tune

    "Quite through the streets, with silver sound," &c.

And then, at last, she awoke one fine morning to hear the sweet
chim-chiming of the church bells, and to see Nurse sitting by her
bedside. She lay still for a few moments to make quite sure, and then
asked in a voice so faint that it surprised herself:

"Has Mrs. Overtheway gone to church?"

On which, to her great astonishment, Nurse burst into tears. For this
was the first reasonable sentence that poor Ida had spoken for several
days.

To be very ill is not pleasant; but the slow process of getting back
strength is often less pleasant still. One afternoon Ida knelt in her
old place at the window. She was up, but might not go out, and this
was a great grief. The day had been provokingly fine, and even now,
though the sun was setting, it seemed inclined to make a fresh start,
so bright was the rejuvenated glow with which it shone upon the
opposite houses, and threw a mystic glory over Mrs. Overtheway's white
steps and green railings. Oh! how Ida had wished to go out that
afternoon! How long and clear the shadows were! It seemed to Ida that
whoever was free to go into the open air could have nothing more to
desire. "Out of doors" looked like Paradise to the drooping little
maid, and the passers-by seemed to go up and down the sunny street in
a golden dream. Ida gazed till the shadows lengthened, and crept over
the street and up the houses; till the sunlight died upon the
railings, and then upon the steps, and at last lingered for half an
hour in bright patches among the chimney-stacks, and then went out
altogether, and left the world in shade.

Twilight came on and Ida sat by the fire, which rose into importance
now that the sunshine was gone; and, moreover, spring evenings are
cold.

Ida felt desolate, and, on the whole, rather ill-used. Nurse had not
been upstairs for hours, and though she had promised real tea and
toast this evening, there were no signs of either as yet. The poor
child felt too weak to play, and reading made her eyes ache. If only
there were some one to tell her a story.

It grew dark, and then steps came outside the door, and a fumbling
with the lock which made Ida nervous.

"Do come in, Nursey!" she cried.

The door opened, and someone spoke; but the voice was not the voice of
Nurse. It was a sweet, clear, gentle voice; musical, though no longer
young; such a voice as one seldom hears and never forgets, which came
out of the darkness, saying:

"It is not Nurse, my dear; she is making the tea, and gave me leave
to come up alone. I am Mrs. Overtheway."

And there in the firelight stood the little old lady, as she has been
before described, except that instead of her Prayer-book she carried a
large pot hyacinth in her two hands.

"I have brought you one of my pets, my dear," said she. "I think we
both love flowers."

The little old lady had come to tea. This was charming. She took off
her bonnet, and her cap more than fulfilled Ida's expectations,
although it was nothing smarter than a soft mass of tulle, tied with
white satin strings. But what a face looked out of it! Mrs.
Overtheway's features were almost perfect. The beauty of her eyes was
rather enhanced by the blue shadows that Time had painted round them,
and they were those good eyes which remind one of a clear well, at the
bottom of which he might see truth. When young she must have been
exquisitely beautiful, Ida thought. She was lovely still.

In due time Nurse brought up tea, and Ida could hardly believe that
her fancies were realized at last; indeed more than realized--for no
bread and treacle diminished the dignity of the entertainment; and
Nurse would as soon have thought of carrying off the Great Mogul on
his cushions, as of putting Mrs. Overtheway and her chair into the
corner.

But there is a limit even to the space of time for which one can
enjoy tea and buttered toast. The tray was carried off, the hyacinth
put in its place, and Ida curled herself up in an easy chair on one
side of the fire, Mrs. Overtheway being opposite.

"You see I am over the way still," laughed the little old lady. "Now,
tell me all about the primroses." So Ida told everything, and
apologized for her awkward speeches to the housekeeper.

"I don't know your name yet," said she.

"Call me Mrs. Overtheway still, my dear, if you please," said the
little old lady. "I like it."

So Ida was no wiser on this score.

"I was so sorry to hear that you had been made ill on my account,"
said Mrs. Overtheway. "I have been many times to ask after you, and
to-night I asked leave to come to tea. I wish I could do something to
amuse you, you poor little invalid. I know you must feel dull."

Ida's cheeks flushed.

"If you would only tell me a story," she said, "I do so like hearing
Nurse's stories. At least she has only one, but I like it. It isn't
exactly a story either, but it is about what happened in her last
place. But I am rather tired of it. There's Master Henry--I like him
very much, he was always in mischief; and there's Miss Adelaide, whose
hair curled naturally--at least with a damp brush--I like her; but I
don't have much of them; for Nurse generally goes off about a quarrel
she had with the cook, and I never could tell what they quarrelled
about, but Nurse said cook was full of malice and deceitfulness, so
she left. I'm rather tired of it."

"What sort of a story shall I tell you?" asked Mrs. Overtheway.

"A true one, I think," said Ida. "Something that happened to you
yourself, if you please. You must remember a great many things, being
so old."

And Ida said this in simple good-faith, believing it to be a
compliment.

"It is quite true," said Mrs. Overtheway, "that one remembers many
things at the end of a long life, and that they are often those things
which happened a long while ago, and which are sometimes so slight in
themselves that it is wonderful that they should not have been
forgotten. I remember, for instance, when I was about your age, an
incident that occurred which gave me an intense dislike to a special
shade of brown satin. I hated it then, and at the end of more than
half a century, I hate it still. The thing in itself was a mere folly;
the people concerned in it have been dead for many years, and yet at
the present time I should find considerable difficulty in seeing the
merits of a person who should dress in satin of that peculiar hue.

"What was it?" asked Ida.

"It was not amber satin, and it was not snuff-coloured satin; it was
one of the shades of brown known by the name of feuille-morte, or
dead-leaf colour. It is pretty in itself, and yet I dislike it."

"How funny," said Ida, wriggling in the arm-chair with satisfaction.
"Do tell me about it."

"But it is not funny in the least, unfortunately," said Mrs.
Overtheway, laughing. "It isn't really a story, either. It is not even
like Nurse's experiences. It is only a strong remembrance of my
childhood, that isn't worth repeating, and could hardly amuse you."

"Indeed, indeed, it would," said Ida. "I like the sound of it. Satin
is so different from cooks."

Mrs. Overtheway laughed.

"Still, I wish I could think of something more entertaining," said
she.

"Please tell me that," said Ida, earnestly; "I would rather hear
something about you than anything else."

There was no resisting this loving argument. Ida felt she had gained
her point, and curled herself up into a listening attitude
accordingly. The hyacinth stood in solemn sweetness as if it were
listening also; and Mrs. Overtheway, putting her little feet upon the
fender to warm, began the story of ----



MRS. MOSS.

    "It did not move my grief, to see
      The trace of human step departed,
      Because the garden was deserted,
     The blither place for me!

    "Friends, blame me not! a narrow ken
      Hath childhood 'twixt the sun and sward:
      We draw the moral afterward--
     We feel the gladness then."

E. BARRETT BROWNING.


"I remember," said Mrs. Overtheway, "old as I am, I remember
distinctly many of the unrecognized vexations, longings, and
disappointments of childhood. By unrecognized, I mean those vexations,
longings, and disappointments which could not be understood by nurses,
are not confided even to mothers, and through which, even in our
cradles, we become subject to that law of humanity which gives to
every heart its own secret bitterness to be endured alone. These are
they which sometimes outlive weightier memories, and produce life-long
impressions disproportionate to their value; but oftener, perhaps, are
washed away by the advancing tide of time--the vexations, longings,
and disappointments of the next period of our lives. These are they
which are apt to be forgotten too soon to benefit our children, and
which in the forgetting make childhood all bright to look back upon,
and foster that happy fancy that there is one division of mortal life
in which greedy desire, unfulfilled purpose, envy, sorrow, weariness
and satiety, have no part, by which every man believes himself at
least to have been happy as a child.

"My childhood, on the whole, was a very happy one. The story that I am
about to relate is only a fragment of it.

"As I look into the fire, and the hot coals shape themselves into a
thousand memories of the past, I seem to be staring with childish eyes
at a board that stares back at me out of a larch plantation, and gives
notice that 'This House is to Let.' Then, again, I seem to peep
through rusty iron gates at the house itself--an old red house, with
large windows, through which one could see the white shutters that
were always closed. To look at this house, though only with my mind's
eye, recalls the feeling of mysterious interest with which I looked at
it fifty years ago, and brings back the almost oppressive happiness of
a certain day, when Sarah, having business with the couple who kept
the empty manor, took me with her, and left me to explore the grounds
whilst she visited her friends.

"Next to a companion with that rare sympathy of mind to mind, that
exceptional coincidence of tastes, which binds some few friendships in
a chain of mesmeric links, supplanting all the complacencies of love
by intuition, is a companion whose desires and occupations are in
harmony, if not in unison, with one's own. That friend whom the long
patience of the angler does not chafe, the protracted pleasures of the
sketcher do not weary, because time flies as swiftly with him whilst
he pores over his book, or devoutly seeks botanical specimens through
the artist's middle distance; that friend, in short--that valuable
friend--who is blessed with the great and good quality of riding a
hobby of his own, and the greater and better quality of allowing other
people to ride theirs.

"I did not think out all this fifty years ago, neither were the tastes
of that excellent housemaid, Sarah, quite on a level with those of
which I have spoken; but I remember feeling the full comfort of the
fact that Sarah's love for friendly gossip was quite as ardent as mine
for romantic discovery; that she was disposed to linger quite as long
to chat as I to explore; and that she no more expected me to sit
wearily through her kitchen confidences, than I imagined that she
would give a long afternoon to sharing my day-dreams in the gardens of
the deserted manor.

"We had ridden our respective hobbies till nearly tea-time before she
appeared.

"'I'm afraid you must be tired of waiting, Miss Mary,' said she.

"'Tired!' I exclaimed, 'not in the least. I have been so happy, and I
am so much obliged to you, Sarah.'

"Need I say why I was so happy that afternoon? Surely most people have
felt--at least in childhood--the fascination of deserted gardens,
uninhabited houses, ruined churches. They have that advantage over
what is familiar and in use that undiscovered regions have over the
comfortable one that the traveller leaves to explore them, that the
secret which does not concern me has over the facts which do, that
what we wish for has over what we possess.

"If you, my dear, were to open one of those drawers, and find Nurse's
Sunday dress folded up in the corner, it would hardly amuse you; but
if, instead thereof, you found a dress with a long stiff bodice,
square at the neck, and ruffled round the sleeves, such as you have
seen in old pictures, no matter how old or useless it might be, it
would shed round it an atmosphere of delightful and mysterious
speculations. This curiosity, these fancies, roused by the ancient
dress, whose wearer has passed away, are awakened equally by empty
houses where someone must once have lived, though his place knows him
no more. It was so with the manor. How often had I peeped through the
gates, catching sight of garden walks, and wondering whither they led,
and who had walked in them; seeing that the shutters behind one window
were partly open, and longing to look in.

"To-day I had been in the walks and peeped through the window. This
was the happiness.

"Through the window I had seen a large hall with a marble floor and
broad stone stairs winding upwards into unknown regions. By the walks
I had arrived at the locked door of the kitchen garden, at a small
wood or wilderness of endless delights (including a broken swing), and
at a dilapidated summer-house. I had wandered over the spongy lawn,
which was cut into a long green promenade by high clipt yew-hedges,
walking between which, in olden times, the ladies grew erect and
stately, as plants among brushwood stretch up to air and light.

"Finally, I had brought away such relics as it seemed to me that
honesty would allow. I had found half a rusty pair of scissors in the
summer-house. Perhaps some fair lady of former days had lost them
here, and swept distractedly up and down the long walks seeking them.
Perhaps they were a present, and she had given a luck-penny for them,
lest they should cut love. Sarah said the housekeeper might have
dropped them there; but Sarah was not a person of sentiment. I did not
show her the marble I found by the hedge, the acorn I picked up in the
park, nor a puny pansy which, half way back to a wild heartsease, had
touched me as a pathetic memorial of better days. When I got home, I
put the scissors, the marble, and the pansy into a box. The acorn I
hung in a bottle of water--it was to be an oak tree.

"Properly speaking, I was not at home just then, but on a visit to my
grandmother and a married aunt without children who lived with her. A
fever had broken out in my own home, and my visit here had been
prolonged to keep me out of the way of infection. I was very happy and
comfortable except for one single vexation, which was this:

"I slept on a little bed in what had once been the nursery, a large
room which was now used as a workroom. A great deal of sewing was done
in my grandmother's house, and the sewing-maid and at least one other
of the servants sat there every evening. A red silk screen was put
before my bed to shield me from the candlelight, and I was supposed
to be asleep when they came upstairs. But I never remember to have
been otherwise than wide awake, nervously awake, wearily awake. This
was the vexation. I was not a strong child, and had a very excitable
brain; and the torture that it was to hear those maids gossiping on
the other side of the dim red light of my screen I cannot well
describe, but I do most distinctly remember. I tossed till the clothes
got hot, and threw them off till I got cold, and stopped my ears, and
pulled the sheet over my face, and tried not to listen, and listened
in spite of all. They told long stories, and made many jokes that I
couldn't understand; sometimes I heard names that I knew, and fancied
I had learnt some wonderful secret. Sometimes, on the contrary, I made
noises to intimate that I was awake, when one of them would rearrange
my glaring screen, and advise me to go to sleep; and then they talked
in whispers, which was more distracting still.

"One evening--some months after my ramble round the manor--the maids
went out to tea, and I lay in peaceful silence watching the shadows
which crept noiselessly about the room as the fire blazed, and wishing
Sarah and her colleagues nothing less than a month of uninterrupted
tea-parties. I was almost asleep when Aunt Harriet came into the room.
She brought a candle, put up my screen (the red screen again!), and
went to the work-table. She had not been rustling with the work things
for many minutes when my grandmother followed her, and shut the door
with an air which seemed to promise a long stay. She also gave a
shove to my screen, and then the following conversation began:

"'I have been to Lady Sutfield's to-day, Harriet.'

"'Indeed, ma'am.' But my aunt respectfully continued her work, as I
could hear by the scraping of the scissors along the table.

"'I heard some news there. The manor is let.'

"I almost jumped in my bed, and Aunt Harriet's scissors paused.

"'Let, ma'am! To whom!'

"'To a Mrs. Moss. You must have heard me speak of her. I knew her
years ago, when we were both young women. Anastatia Eden, she was
then.'

"I could hear my aunt move to the fire, and sit down.

"'The beautiful Miss Eden? Whom did she marry at last? Was there not
some love-affair of hers that you knew about?'

"'Her love-affairs were endless. But you mean Mr. Sandford. She
treated him very ill--very ill.'

"There was a pause, while the fire crackled in the silence; and then,
to the infinite satisfaction of my curiosity, Aunt Harriet said:

"'I've forgotten the story, ma'am. He was poor, was he not?'

"'He had quite enough to marry on,' my grandmother answered,
energetically; 'but he was not a great match. It was an old story, my
dear. The world! The world! The world! I remember sitting up with
Anastatia after a ball, where he had been at her side all the evening.
We sipped hot posset, and talked of our partners. Ah, dear!' and here
my grandmother heaved a sigh; partly, perhaps, because of the follies
of youth, and partly, perhaps, because youth had gone, and could come
back no more.

"'Anastatia talked of him,' she continued. 'I remember her asking me
if "her man" were not a pretty fellow, and if he had not sweet blue
eyes and the greatest simplicity I ever knew but in a child. It was
true enough; and he was a great deal more than that--a great deal more
than she ever understood. Poor Anastatia! I advised her to marry him,
but she seemed to look on that as impossible. I remember her saying
that it would be different if she were not an acknowledged beauty; but
it was expected that she would marry well, and he was comparatively
poor, and not even singular. He was accomplished, and the soul of
honour, but simple, provokingly simple, with no pretensions to carry
off the toast of a county. My dear, if he had been notorious in any
way--for dissipation, for brawling, for extravagance--I believe it
would have satisfied the gaping world, and he would have had a chance.
But there was nothing to talk about, and Anastatia had not the courage
to take him for himself. She had the world at her feet, and paid for
it by being bound by its opinion.'

"Here my grandmother, who was apt to moralize, especially when
relating biographies of young ladies, gave another sigh.

"'Then why did she encourage him?' inquired Aunt Harriet; who also
moralized, but with more of indignation and less of philosophy.

"'I believe she loved him in spite of herself; but at the last, when
he offered, she turned prudent and refused him.'

"'Poor man! Did he ever marry?'

"'Yes, and very happily--a charming woman. But the strange part of the
story is, that he came quite unexpectedly into a large property that
was in his family.'

"'Did he? Then he would have been as good a match as most of her
admirers?'

"'Better. It was a fine estate. Poor Anastatia!'

"'Serve her right,' said my aunt, shortly.

"'She was very beautiful,' my grandmother gently recommenced. She said
this, not precisely as an excuse, but with something of the sort in
her tone. 'Very beautiful! How stately she did look that night, to be
sure! She did not paint, and her complexion (a shade too high by day)
was perfection by candlelight. I can see her now, my dear, as she
stood up for a minuet with him. We wore hoops, then; and she had a
white brocade petticoat, embroidered with pink rosebuds, and a train
and bodice of pea-green satin, and green satin shoes with pink heels.
You never saw anything more lovely than that brocade. A rich old aunt
had given it to her. The shades of the rosebuds were exquisite. I
embroidered the rosebuds on that salmon-coloured cushion downstairs
from a piece that Anastatia gave me as a pattern. Dear me! What a
dress it was, and how lovely she looked in it! Her eyes were black, a
thing you rarely see, and they shone and glittered under her powdered
hair. She had a delicately curved nose; splendid teeth, too, and
showed them when she smiled. Then such a lovely throat, and
beautifully-shaped arms! I don't know how it is, my dear Harriet,'
added my grandmother, thoughtfully, 'but you don't see the splendid
women now-a-days that there were when I was young. There are plenty of
pretty, lively girls (rather too lively, in my old-fashioned
judgment), but not the real stately beauty that it was worth a twenty
miles' drive there and back, just to see, at one of the old county
balls.'

"My aunt sniffed, partly from a depressing consciousness of being one
of a degenerate generation, and of a limited experience in the matter
of county balls; partly also to express her conviction that principle
is above beauty. She said:

"'Then Miss Eden married, ma'am?'

"'Yes, rather late, Mr. Moss; a wealthy Indian merchant, I believe.
She lost all her children, I know, one after another, and then he
died. Poor Anastatia! It seems like yesterday. And to think she should
be coming here!'

"My grandmother sighed again, and I held my breath, hoping for some
further particulars of the lovely heroine of this romance. But I was
disappointed. My uncle's voice at this moment called loudly from
below, and Aunt Harriet hurried off with a conscious meritoriousness
about her, becoming a lady who had married the right man, and took
great care of him.

"'Supper, ma'am. I think,' she said, as she left the room.

"My grandmother sat still by the fire, sighing gently now and then,
and I lay making up my mind to brave all and tell her that I was
awake. In the first place (although I was not intentionally
eavesdropping, and my being awake was certainly not my fault), I felt
rather uneasy at having overheard what I knew was not intended for my
hearing. Besides this, I wanted to hear some more stories of the
lovely Mrs. Moss, and to ask how soon she would come to the manor.
After a few seconds my grandmother rose and toddled across the room.
I made an effort, and spoke just above my breath:

"'Granny!'

"But my grandmother was rather deaf. Moreover, my voice may have been
drowned in the heavy sigh with which she closed the nursery door.

"The room was empty again; the glare of the red screen was tenderly
subdued in the firelight; but for all this I did not go to sleep. I
took advantage of my freedom to sit up in bed, toss my hair from my
forehead, and clasping my knees with my arms, to rock myself and
think. My thoughts had one object; my whole mind was filled with one
image--Mrs. Moss. The future inhabitant of my dear deserted manor
would, in any circumstances, have been an interesting subject for my
fancies. The favoured individual whose daily walk might be between the
yew-hedges on that elastic lawn; who should eat, drink, and sleep
through the commonplace hours of this present time behind those
mystical white shutters! But when the individual added to this
felicitous dispensation of fortune the personal attributes of
unparalleled beauty and pea-green satin; of having worn hoops, high
heels, and powder; of countless lovers, and white brocade with pink
rosebuds--well might I sit, my brain whirling with anticipation, as I
thought: 'She is coming here: I shall see her!' For though, of
course, I knew that having lived in those (so to speak) pre-historic
times when my grandmother was young, Mrs. Moss must now be an old
woman; yet, strange as it may seem, my dear, I do assure you that I
never realized the fact. I thought of her as I had heard of her--young
and beautiful--and modelled my hopes accordingly.

"Most people's day-dreams take, sooner or later, a selfish turn. I
seemed to identify myself with the beautiful Anastatia. I thought of
the ball as one looks back to the past. I fancied myself moving
through the _minuet de la cour_, whose stately paces scarcely made the
silken rosebuds rustle. I rejected _en masse_ countless suitors of
fabulous wealth and nobility; but when it came to Mr. Sandford, I
could feel with Miss Eden no more. My grandmother had said that she
loved him, that she encouraged him, and that she gave him up for
money. It was a mystery! In her place, I thought, I would have danced
every dance with him! I would have knitted for him in winter, and
gathered flowers for him in the summer hedges. To whom should one be
most kind, if not to those whom one most loves? To love, and take
pleasure in giving pain--to balance a true heart and clear blue eyes
against money, and prefer money--was not at that time comprehensible
by me. I pondered, and (so to speak) spread out the subject before my
mind, and sat in judgment upon it.

"Money--that is, golden guineas (my grandmother had given me one on
my birthday), crowns, shillings, sixpences, pennies, halfpennies,
farthings; and when you come to consider how many things a guinea
judiciously expended in a toy-shop will procure, you see that money is
a great thing, especially if you have the full control of it, and are
not obliged to spend it on anything useful.

"On the other hand, those whom you love and who love you--not in
childhood, thank God, the smallest part of one's acquaintance.

"I made a list on my own account. It began with my mother, and ended
with my yellow cat. (It included a crusty old gardener, who was at
times, especially in the spring, so particularly cross that I _might_
have been tempted to exchange _him_ for the undisputed possession of
that stock of seeds, tools, and flower-pots which formed our chief
subject of dispute. But this is a digression.) I took the lowest.
Could I part with Sandy Tom for any money, or for anything that money
could buy? I thought of a speaking doll, a miniature piano, a tiny
carriage drawn by four yellow mastiffs, of a fairy purse that should
never be empty, with all that might thereby be given to others or kept
for oneself: and then I thought of Sandy Tom--of his large, round,
soft head; his fine eyes (they were yellow, not blue, and glared with
infinite tenderness); his melodious purr; his expressive whiskers; his
incomparable tail.

"Love rose up as an impulse, an instinct; it would not be doubted, it
utterly refused to be spread out to question.

"'Oh, Puss?' I thought, 'if you could but leap on to the bed at this
moment I would explain it all to our mutual comprehension and
satisfaction. My dear Sandy,' I would say, 'with you to lie on the
cushioned seat, a nice little carriage, and four yellow mastiffs,
would be perfection; but as to comparing what I love--to wit, you,
Sandy!--with what I want--to wit, four yellow mastiffs and a great
many other things besides--I should as soon think of cutting off your
tail to dust the dolls' house with.' Alas! Sandy Tom was at home; I
could only imagine the gentle rub of the head with which he would have
assented. Meanwhile, I made up my mind firmly on one point. My
grandmother was wrong. Miss Anastatia Eden had not loved Mr. Sandford.

"Smash! The fire, which had been gradually becoming hollow, fell in at
this moment, and I started to find myself chilly and cramped, and so
lay down. Then my thoughts took another turn. I wondered if I should
grow up beautiful, like Mrs. Moss. It was a serious question. I had
often looked at myself in the glass, but I had a general idea that I
looked much like other little girls of my age. I began gravely to
examine myself in detail, beginning from the top of my head. My hair
was light, and cropped on a level with the lobes of my ears; this,
however, would amend itself with time; and I had long intended that my
hair should be of raven blackness, and touch the ground at least; 'but
that will not be till I am grown up,' thought I. Then my eyes: they
were large; in fact, the undue proportions they assumed when I looked
ill or tired formed a family joke. If size were all that one requires
in eyes, mine would certainly pass muster. Moreover, they had long
curly lashes. I fingered these slowly, and thought of Sandy's
whiskers. At this point I nearly fell asleep, but roused myself to
examine my nose. My grandmother had said that Mrs. Moss's nose was
delicately curved. Now, it is certainly true that a curve may be
either concave or convex; but I had heard of the bridge of a nose, and
knew well enough which way the curve should go; and I had a shrewd
suspicion that if so very short a nose as mine, with so much and so
round a tip, could be said to be curved at all, the curve went the
wrong way; at the same time I could not feel sure. For I must tell you
that to lie in a comfortable bed, at an hour long beyond the time when
one ought naturally to be asleep, and to stroke one's nose, is a
proceeding not favourable to forming a clear judgment on so important
a point as one's personal appearance. The very shadows were still as
well as silent, the fire had ceased to flicker, a delicious quietude
pervaded the room, as I stroked my nose and dozed, and dozed and
stroked my nose, and lost all sense of its shape, and fancied it a
huge lump growing under my fingers. The extreme unpleasantness of this
idea just prevented my falling asleep; and I roused myself and sat up
again.

"'It's no use feeling,' I thought, 'I'll look in the glass.'

"There was one mirror in the room. It hung above the mantelpiece. It
was old, deeply framed in dark wood, and was so hung as to slope
forwards into the room.

"In front of the fire stood an old-fashioned, cushioned arm-chair,
with a very high back, and a many-frilled chintz cover. A footstool
lay near it. It was here that my grandmother had been sitting. I
jumped out of bed, put the footstool into the chair that I might get
to a level with the glass, and climbed on to it. Thanks to the slope
of the mirror, I could now see my reflection as well as the dim
firelight would permit.

"'What a silly child!' you will say, Ida. Very silly, indeed, my dear.
And how one remembers one's follies! At the end of half a century, I
recall my reflection in that old nursery mirror more clearly than I
remember how I looked in the glass before which I put on my bonnet
this evening to come to tea with you: the weird, startled glance of my
eyes, which, in their most prominent stage of weariness, gazed at me
out of the shadows of the looking glass, the tumbled tufts of hair,
the ghostly effect of my white night-dress. As to my nose, I could
absolutely see nothing of its shape; the firelight just caught the
round tip, which shone like a little white toadstool from the gloom,
and this was all.

"'One can't see the shape, full face,' I thought. 'If I had only
another looking-glass.'

"But there was not another. I knew it, and yet involuntarily looked
round the room. Suddenly I exclaimed aloud, 'Mr. Joseph will do!'

"Who was Mr. Joseph?--you will ask. My dear Ida, I really do not know.
I have not the least idea. I had heard him called Mr. Joseph, and I
fancy he was a connection of the family. All I knew of him was his
portrait, a _silhouette_, elegantly glazed and framed in black wood,
which hung against the nursery wall. I was ignorant of his surname and
history. I had never examined his features. But I knew that happily he
had been very stout, since his ample coat and waistcoat, cut out in
black paper, converted the glass which covered them into an excellent
mirror for my dolls.

"Worthy Mr. Joseph! Here he was coming in useful again. How much we
owe to our forefathers! I soon unhooked him, and climbing back into
the chair, commenced an examination of my profile by the process of
double reflection. But all in vain! Whether owing to the dusty state
of the mirror, or to the dim light, or to the unobliging shapeliness
of Mr. Joseph's person, I cannot say, but, turn and twist as I would,
I could not get a view of my profile sufficiently clear and complete
to form a correct judgment upon. I held Mr. Joseph, now high, now low;
I stooped, I stood on tiptoe, I moved forward, I leant backward. It
was this latest manoeuvre that aggravated the natural topheaviness
of the chair, and endangered its balance. The fore-legs rose, my
spasmodic struggle was made in the wrong direction, and I, the
arm-chair, and Mr. Joseph fell backwards together.

"Two of us were light enough, and happily escaped unhurt. It was the
arm-chair which fell with such an appalling crash, and whether it were
any the worse or no, I could not tell as it lay. As soon as I had a
little recovered from the shock, therefore, I struggled to raise it,
whilst Mr. Joseph lay helplessly upon the ground, with his waistcoat
turned up to the ceiling.

"It was thus that my aunt found us.

"If only Mr. Joseph and I had fallen together, no one need have been
the wiser; but that lumbering arm-chair had come down with a bump that
startled the sober trio at supper in the dining-room below.

"'What _is_ the matter?' said Aunt Harriet.

"I was speechless.

"'What have you been doing?'

"I couldn't speak; but accumulating misfortune was gradually
overpowering me, and I began to cry.

"'Get into bed,' said Aunt Harriet.

"I willingly obeyed, and Aunt Harriet seated herself at the foot.

"'Now, think before you speak, Mary,' she said quietly, 'and then tell
me the truth. What have you been doing?'

"One large tear rolled over my nose and off the tip as I feebly
began--

"'I got into the chair--'

"'Well?' said Aunt Harriet.

"'--to look in the glass.'

"'What for?' said Aunt Harriet.

"Tears flowed unrestrainedly over my face as I howled in self-abasement--

"'To look at the shape of my nose.'

"At this point Aunt Harriet rose, and, turning her back rather
abruptly, crossed the room, and picked up Mr. Joseph. (I have since
had reason to believe that she was with difficulty concealing a fit of
laughter.)

"'What have you had this picture down for?' she inquired, still with
her back to me.

"'I couldn't see,' I sobbed, 'and I got Mr. Joseph to help me.'

"My aunt made no reply, and, still carefully concealing her face,
restored Mr. Joseph to his brass nail with great deliberation.

"There is nothing like full confession. I broke the silence.

"'Aunt Harriet, I was awake when you and Granny were here, and heard
what you said.'

"'You are a very silly, naughty child,' my aunt severely returned.
'Why don't you go to sleep when you are sent to bed?'

"'I can't,' I sobbed, 'with talking and candles.'

"'You've got the screen,' said Aunt Harriet; and I cannot tell why,
but somehow I lacked courage to say that the red screen was the chief
instrument of torture!

"'Well, go to sleep now,' she concluded, 'and be thankful you're not
hurt. You might have killed yourself.'

"Encouraged by the gracious manner in which she tucked me up, I took a
short cut to the information which I had failed to attain through Mr.
Joseph.

"'Aunt Harriet,' I said, 'do you think I shall ever be as beautiful as
Mrs. Moss?'

"'I'm ashamed of you,' said Aunt Harriet.

"I climbed no more into the treacherous arm-chair. I eschewed the
mirror. I left Mr. Joseph in peace upon the wall. I took no further
trouble about the future prospects of my nose. But night and day I
thought of Mrs. Moss. I found the old cushion, and sat by it, gazing
at the faded tints of the rosebuds, till I imagined the stiff brocade
in all its beauty and freshness. I took a vigorous drawing fit; but it
was only to fill my little book with innumerable sketches of Mrs.
Moss. My uncle lent me his paint-box, as he was wont; and if the fancy
portraits that I made were not satisfactory even to myself, they
failed in spite of cheeks blushing with vermilion, in spite of eyes as
large and brilliant as lamp-black could make them, and in spite of the
most accurately curved noses that my pencil could produce. The amount
of gamboge and Prussian blue that I wasted in vain efforts to produce
a satisfactory pea-green, leaves me at this day an astonished admirer
of my uncle's patience. At this time I wished to walk along no other
road than that which led to my dear manor, where the iron gates were
being painted, the garden made tidy, and the shutters opened; but,
above all, the chief object of my desires was to accompany my
grandmother and aunt in their first visit to Mrs. Moss.

"Once I petitioned Aunt Harriet on this subject. Her answer was--

"'My dear, there would be nothing to amuse you; Mrs. Moss is an old
woman.'

"'Granny said she was so beautiful,' I suggested.

"'So she was, my dear, when your grandmother was young.'

"These and similar remarks I heard and heeded not. They did not add
one wrinkle to my ideal of Mrs. Moss: they in no way whatever lessened
my desire of seeing her. I had never seen my grandmother young, and
her having ever been so seemed to me at the most a matter of
tradition; on the other hand, Mrs. Moss had been presented to my
imagination in the bloom of youth and beauty, and, say what they
would, in the bloom of youth and beauty I expected to see her still.

"One afternoon, about a week after the arrival of Mrs. Moss, I was
busy in the garden, where I had been working for an hour or more, when
I heard carriage wheels drive up and stop at our door. Could it be
Mrs. Moss? I stole gently round to a position where I could see
without being seen, and discovered that the carriage was not that of
any caller, but my uncle's. Then Granny and Aunt Harriet were going
out. I rushed up to the coachman, and asked where they were going. He
seemed in no way overpowered by having to reply--'To the manor, Miss.'

"That was to Mrs. Moss, and I was to be left behind! I stood
speechless in bitter disappointment, as my grandmother rustled out in
her best silk dress, followed by Aunt Harriet and my uncle, who, when
he saw me, exclaimed:

"'Why, there's my little Mary! Why don't you take her? I'll be bound
she wants to go.'

"'I do, indeed!' I exclaimed, in Cinderella-like tones.

"'But Mrs. Moss is such an old lady,' said Aunt Harriet, whose ideas
upon children were purely theoretical, and who could imagine no
interests for them apart from other children, from toys or definite
amusements--'What could the child do with herself?'

"'Do!' said my uncle, who took a rough and cheery view of life, 'why,
look about her, to be sure. And if Mrs. M. is an old lady, there'll be
all the more Indian cabinets and screens, and japanned tables, and
knick-knacks, and lap-dogs. Keep your eyes open, Miss Mary. I've never
seen the good lady or her belongings, but I'll stake my best hat on
the japan ware and the lap-dog. Now, how soon can you be dressed?'

"Later in life the selfish element mixes more largely with our
admirations. A few years thence, and in a first interview with the
object of so many fancies, I should have thought as much of my own
appearance on the occasion, as of what I was myself to see. I should
have taken some pains with my toilette. At that time, the desire to
see Mrs. Moss was too absorbing to admit of any purely personal
considerations. I dashed into the nursery, scrubbed my hands and face
to a raw red complexion, brushed my hair in three strokes, and secured
my things with one sweep. I hastily pocketed a pincushion of red
cloth, worked with yellow silk spots, in the likeness of a strawberry.
It was a pet treasure of mine, and I intended it as an offering to
Mrs. Moss. I tied my hood at the top of the stairs, fastened my tippet
in the hall, and reached the family coach by about three of those
bounds common to all young animals.

"'Halloa!' said my uncle, with his face through the carriage door.
'You've not thanked me yet.'

"I flung my arms round his starched neck-cloth.

"'You're a darling!' I exclaimed, with an emphatic squeeze.

"'You're another,' he replied, returning the embrace upon my hood.

"With this mutual understanding we parted, and I thought that if Mrs.
Moss were not certain to fulfil my ideal, I should have wished her to
be as nearly like Uncle James as the circumstances of the case would
permit. I watched his yellow waistcoat and waving hands till they
could be seen no longer, and then I settled myself primly upon the
back seat, and ventured upon a shy conciliating promise to be 'very
good.'

"'You're quite welcome to come, child,' said Aunt Harriet; 'but as I
said, there are neither children nor playthings for you.'

"Children or playthings! What did I want with either? I put my arm
through the loop by the window and watched the fields as they came and
vanished, with vacant eyes, and thought of Mrs. Moss. A dozen times
had I gone through the whole scene in my mind before we drove through
the iron gates. I fancied myself in the bare, spacious hall, at which
I had peeped; I seemed to hear a light laugh, and to see the beautiful
face of Mrs. Moss look over the banisters; to hear a rustle, and the
scraping of the stiff brocade, as the pink rosebuds shimmered, and the
green satin shoes peeped out, and tap, tap, tap, the high pink heels
resounded from the shallow stairs.

"I had dreamed this day-dream many times over before the carriage
stopped with a shake, and Aunt Harriet roused me, asking if I were
asleep. In another minute or so we were in the hall, and here I met
with my first disappointment.

"To begin with, I had seen the hall unfurnished, and had not imagined
it otherwise. I had pictured Mrs. Moss in her beauty and rose brocade,
the sole ornament of its cold emptiness. Then (though I knew that my
grandmother and aunt must both be present) I had really fancied myself
the chief character in this interview with Mrs. Moss. I had thought of
myself as rushing up the stairs to meet her, and laying the pincushion
at her green satin feet. And now that at last I was really in the
hall, I should not have known it again. It was carpeted from end to
end. Fragrant orange-trees stood in tubs, large hunting-pictures hung
upon the walls, below which stood cases of stuffed birds, and over all
presided a footman in livery, who himself looked like a stuffed
specimen of the human race with unusually bright plumage.

"No face peeped over the banisters, and when we went upstairs, the
footman went first (as seemed due to him), then my grandmother,
followed by my aunt, and lastly I, in the humblest insignificance,
behind them. My feet sank into the soft stair-carpets, I vacantly
admired the elegant luxury around me, with an odd sensation of
heartache. Everything was beautiful, but I had wanted nothing to be
beautiful but Mrs. Moss.

"Already the vision began to fade. That full-fed footman troubled my
fancies. His scarlet plush killed the tender tints of the rosebuds in
my thoughts, and the streaky powder upon his hair seemed a mockery of
the _toupêe_ I hoped to see, whose whiteness should enhance the lustre
of rare black eyes. He opened the drawing-room door and announced my
grandmother and aunt. I followed, and (so far as one may be said to
face anything when one stands behind the skirts of two intervening
elders) I was face to face with Mrs. Moss.

"That is, I was face to face with a tall, dark, old woman, with
stooping shoulders, a hooked nose, black eyes that smouldered in their
sunken sockets, and a distinct growth of beard upon her chin. Mr. Moss
had been dead many years, and his widow had laid aside her weeds. She
wore a dress of _feuille-morte_ satin, and a black lace shawl. She had
a rather elaborate cap, with a tendency to get on one side, perhaps
because it would not fit comfortably on the brown front with bunchy
curls which was fastened into its place by a band of broad black
velvet.

"And this was Mrs. Moss! This was the end of all my fancies! There was
nothing astonishing in the disappointment; the only marvel was that I
should have indulged in so foolish a fancy for so long. I had been
told more than once that Mrs. Moss was nearly as old as my
grandmother. As it was, she looked older. Why--I could not tell then,
though I know now.

"My grandmother, though never a beauty, had a sweet smile of her own,
and a certain occasional kindling of the eyes, the outward signs of a
character full of sentiment and intelligence; and these had outlasted
youth. She had always been what is called 'pleasing,' and she was
pleasing still. But in Mrs. Moss no strength, no sentiment, no
intellect filled the place of the beauty that was gone. Features that
were powerful without character, and eyes that glowed without
expression, formed a wreck with little to recall the loveliness that
had bewildered Mr. Sandford--and me.

"There is not much more to tell, Ida. This was the disappointment.
This is the cause of my dislike for a certain shade of _feuille-morte_
satin. It disappointed me of that rose brocade which I was never to
see. You shall hear how I got through the visit, however. This
meeting, which (like so many meetings) had proved the very reverse of
what was hoped.

"Through an angle of Aunt Harriet's pelisse, I watched the meeting
between my grandmother and Mrs. Moss. They kissed and then drew back
and looked at each other, still holding hands. I wondered if my
grandmother felt as I felt. I could not tell. With one of her smiles,
she bent forward, and, kissing Mrs. Moss again, said:

"'God bless you, Anastatia.'

"'God bless you, Elizabeth.'

"It was the first time Mrs. Moss had spoken, and her voice was rather
gruff. Then both ladies sat down, and my grandmother drew out her
pocket-handkerchief and wiped her eyes. Mrs. Moss began (as I thought)
to look for hers, and, not finding it, called,

"'Metcalfe!'

on which a faded little woman, with a forefinger in a faded-looking
book, came out from behind some window-curtains, and, rummaging Mrs.
Moss's chair with a practised hand, produced a large silver
snuff-box, from which Mrs. Moss took a pinch, and then offered it to
Granny, who shook her head. Mrs. Moss took another and a larger pinch.
It was evident what made her voice so gruff.

"Aunt Harriet was introduced as 'My daughter Harriet,' and made a
stiff curtsey as Mrs. Moss smiled, and nodded, and bade her 'sit down,
my dear.' Throughout the whole interview she seemed to be looked upon
by both ladies as a child, and played the part so well, sitting prim
and silent on her chair, that I could hardly help humming as I looked
at her:

    'Hold up your head,
    Turn out your toes,
    Speak when you're spoken to,
    Mend your clothes.'

I was introduced, too, as 'a grandchild,' made a curtsey the shadow of
Aunt Harriet's, received a nod, the shadow of that bestowed upon her,
and got out of the way as soon as I could, behind my aunt's chair,
where, coming unexpectedly upon three fat pug-dogs on a mat, I sat
down among them and felt quite at home.

"The sight of the pugs brought Uncle James to my mind, and when I
looked round the room, it seemed to me that he must be a conjuror at
least, so true was everything he had said. A large Indian screen hid
the door; japanned boxes stood on a little table to correspond in
front of it, and there were two cabinets having shallow drawers with
decorated handles, and a great deal of glass, through which odd
teacups, green dragons, Indian gods, and Dresden shepherdesses were
visible upon the shelves. The room was filled with knick-knacks, and
here were the pug-dogs, no less than three of them! They were very
fat, and had little beauty except as to their round heads and black
wrinkled snouts, which I kissed over and over again.

"'Do you mind Mrs. Moss's being old, and dressing in that hideous
brown dress?' I asked in a whisper at the ear of one of these round
heads. 'Think of the rosebuds on the brocade, and the pea-green satin,
and the high-heeled shoes. Ah!' I added, 'you are only a pug, and pugs
don't think.' Nevertheless, I pulled out the pincushion, and showed it
to each dog in turn, and the sight of it so forcibly reminded me of my
vain hopes, that I could not help crying. A hot tear fell upon the
nose of the oldest and fattest pug, which so offended him that he
moved away to another mat at some distance, and as both the others
fell fast asleep, I took refuge in my own thoughts.

"The question arose why should not Mrs. Moss have the pincushion
after all? I had expected her to be young and beautiful, and she had
proved old and ugly, it is true; but there is no reason why old and
ugly people should not have cushions to keep their pins in. It was a
struggle to part with my dear strawberry pincushion in the
circumstances, but I had fairly resolved to do so, when the rustle of
leave-taking began, and I had to come out of my corner.

"'Bid Mrs. Moss good-day, Mary,' said my grandmother; and added, 'the
child has been wild to come and see you, Anastatia.'

"Mrs. Moss held out her hand good-naturedly. 'So you wanted to see me,
my dear?' said she.

"I took my hand out of my pocket, where I had been holding the
pincushion, and put both into Mrs. Moss's palm.

"'I brought this for you ma'am,' I said. 'It is not a real strawberry;
it is emery; I made it myself.'

"And the fact of having sacrificed something for Mrs. Moss made me
almost fond of her. Moreover, there was an expression in her eyes at
that moment which gave them beauty. She looked at my grandmother and
laid her hand on my head.

"'I lost all mine, Elizabeth.'

"I thought she was speaking of her pincushions, and being in a
generous mood, said hastily,

"When that is worn out, ma'am, I will make you another.'

"But she was speaking of her children. Poor Mrs. Moss! She took
another huge pinch of snuff, and called, 'Metcalfe.'

"The faded little woman appeared once more.

"'I must give you a keepsake in return, my dear,' said Mrs. Moss. 'The
china pug, Metcalfe!'

"Metcalfe (whose face always wore a smile that looked as if it were
just about to disappear, and who, indeed, for that matter, always
looked as if she were just about to disappear herself) opened one of
the cabinets, and brought out a little toy pug in china, very
delicately coloured, and looking just like one of my friends on the
mat. I fell in love with it at once, and it was certainly a handsome
exchange for the strawberry pincushion.

"'You will send the child to see me now and then, Elizabeth?' said
Mrs. Moss as we retired.

"In the end Mrs. Moss and I became great friends. I put aside my dream
among the 'vain fancies' of life, and took very kindly to the manor in
its new aspect. Even the stuffed footman became familiar, and learnt
to welcome me with a smile. The real Mrs. Moss was a more agreeable
person than I have, I fear, represented her. She had failed to grasp
solid happiness in life, because she had chosen with the cowardice of
an inferior mind; but she had borne disappointment with dignity, and
submitted to heavy sorrows with patience; and a greater nature could
not have done more. She was the soul of good humour, and the love of
small chat, which contrasted so oddly with her fierce appearance, was
a fund of entertainment for me, as I fed my imagination and stored my
memory with anecdotes of the good old times in the many quiet evenings
we spent together. I learnt to love her more heartily, I confess, when
she bought a new gown and gave the _feuille-morte_ satin to Mrs.
Metcalfe.

"Mrs. Metcalfe was 'humble companion' to Mrs. Moss. She was in reality
single, but she exacted the married title as a point of respect. At
the beginning of our acquaintance I called her 'Miss Metcalfe,' and
this occasioned the only check our friendship ever received. Now I
would, with the greatest pleasure, have addressed her as 'My Lord
Archbishop,' or in any other style to which she was not entitled, it
being a matter of profound indifference to me. But the question was a
serious one to her, and very serious she made it, till I almost
despaired of our ever coming to an understanding on the subject.

"On every other point she was unassuming almost to non-entity. She was
weak-minded to the verge of mental palsy. She was more benevolent in
deed, and more wandering in conversation, than any one I have met with
since. That is, in ordinary life. In the greenhouse or garden (with
which she and the head-gardener alone had any real acquaintance) her
accurate and profound knowledge would put to shame many professed
garden botanists I have met with since. From her I learnt what little
I know of the science of horticulture, and with her I spent many happy
hours over the fine botanical works in the manor library, which she
alone ever opened.

"And so I became reconciled to things as they were, though to this day
I connect with that shade of _feuille-morte_ satin a disappointment
not to be forgotten."

       *       *       *       *       *

"It is a dull story, is it not, Ida?" said the little old lady,
pausing here. She had not told it in precisely these words, but this
was the sum and substance of it.

Ida nodded. Not that she had thought the story dull, so far as she had
heard it, and whilst she was awake; but she had fallen asleep, and so
she nodded.

Mrs. Overtheway looked back at the fire, to which, indeed, she had
been talking for some time past.

"A child's story?" she thought. "A tale of the blind, wilful folly of
childhood? Ah, my soul! Alas, my grown-up friends! Does the moral
belong to childhood alone? Have manhood and womanhood no passionate,
foolish longings, for which we blind ourselves to obvious truth, and
of which the vanity does not lessen the disappointment? Do we not
still toil after rosebuds, to find _feuilles-mortes_?"

No voice answered Mrs. Overtheway's fanciful questions. The hyacinth
nodded fragrantly on its stalk, and Ida nodded in her chair. She was
fast asleep--happily asleep--with a smile upon her face.

The shadows nodded gently on the walls, and like a shadow the little
old lady stole quietly away.

When Ida awoke, she found herself lying partly in the arm-chair, and
partly in the arms of Nurse, who was lifting her up. A candle flared
upon the table, by the fire stood an empty chair, and the heavy scent
that filled the room was as sweet as the remembrance of past
happiness. The little old lady had vanished, and, but for the
hyacinth, Ida would almost have doubted whether her visit had not been
a dream.

"Has Mrs. Overtheway been long gone, Nursey?" she asked, keeping her
eyes upon the flowerpot.

"Ever so long!" said Nurse, "and here you've been snoring away, and
the old lady's been downstairs, telling me how comfortably you were
asleep, and she's coming again to-morrow evening, if you're good."

It was precisely twelve minutes since Mrs. Overtheway left the house,
but Nurse was of a slightly exaggerative turn of mind, and few people
speak exactly on the subject of time, especially when there is an
opportunity of triumphing over someone who has been asleep before
bed-time. The condition of Ida's being good was also the work of
Nurse's own instructive fancy, but Ida caught eagerly at the welcome
news of another visit.

"Then she is not angry with me for falling asleep, Nursey? I was so
comfortable, and she has such a nice voice, I couldn't help it; I
think I left off about the pugs. I wish I had a pug with a wrinkled
black snout, don't you, Nursey?"

"I'm sure I don't, Miss Ida. My father kept all sorts of pigs, and we
used to have one with a black snout and black spots, but it was as
ugly as ugly could be; and I never could fancy the bacon would be fit
to eat. You must have been dreaming, I'm sure; the old lady would
never tell you about such rubbish, I know."

"It's pugs, not pigs, Nursey; and they're dogs, you know," said Ida,
laughing. "How funny you are! And indeed she did tell me, I couldn't
have dreamt it; I never dreamt anything so nice in my life."

"And never will, most likely," said Nurse, who was very skilful in
concluding a subject which she did not want to discuss, and who was
apt to do so by a rapid twist in the line of argument, which Ida would
find somewhat bewildering. "But, dear Miss Ida," she continued, "do
leave off clutching at that chair-arm, when I'm lifting you up; and
your eyes 'll drop out of your head, if you go on staring like that."

Ida relaxed the nervous grasp, to which she had been impelled by her
energy on the subject of the pugs, let down her eyebrows, and
submitted to be undressed. The least pleasant part of this ceremony
may be comprised in the word curl-papers. Ida's hair was dark, and
soft, and smooth, but other little girls wore ringlets, and so this
little girl must wear ringlets too. To that end her hair was every
night put into curl-papers, with much tight twisting and sharp
jerking, and Ida slept upon an irregular layer of small paper parcels,
which made pillows a mockery. With all this, however, a damp day, or a
good romp, would sometimes undo the night's work, to the great disgust
of Nurse. In her last place, the young lady's hair had curled with a
damp brush, as Ida well knew, and Nurse made so much of her own
grievance, in having to use the curl-papers, that no place was left
for Ida's grievance in having to sleep upon them. She submitted this
night therefore, as other nights, in patience, and sat swinging her
feet and accommodating her head to the sharp tugs, which always seemed
to come from unexpected quarters. Perhaps, however, her mind may have
been running a little upon grievances, which made her say:

"You know, Nursey, how you are always telling me I ought to be
thankful for having things, and not having things, and--"

"I wish you'd talk sense, and not give way with your head so when I
pull, Miss Ida," retorted Nurse, "having things, and not having
things; I don't know what you mean."

"Well, you know, Nursey, the other day when I said I didn't like
bread-and-treacle treacled so long before, and soaked in, and you said
I ought to be thankful that I had bread-and-treacle at all, and that I
hadn't a wooden leg, and to eat anything I could get, like the old
sailor man at the corner; well, do you know, I've thought of something
I _am_ so thankful for, and that is that I haven't a red screen to my
bed."

"I really do think, Miss Ida," said Nurse, "that you'll go out of your
mind some day, with your outlandish fancies. And where you get them, I
can't think. I'm sure _I_ never put such things into your head."

Ida laughed again.

"Never mind, Nursey, it all belongs to the pug story. Am I done now?
And when you've tucked me up, please, would you mind remembering to
put the flower where I can see it when I wake?"

Nurse did as she was asked, and Ida watched the hyacinth till she fell
asleep; and she slept well.

In the morning she took her old post at the window. The little old
lady had never seemed so long in making her appearance, nor the bells
so slow to begin. Chim! chime! chim! chime! There they were at last,
and there was Mrs. Overtheway. She looked up, waved a bunch of
snowdrops, and went after the bells. Ida kissed her hand, and waved it
over and over again, long after the little old lady was out of sight.

"There's a kiss for you, dear Mrs. Overtheway," she cried, "and kisses
for your flowers, and your house, and everything belonging to you, and
for the bells and the church, and everybody in it this morning, and--"

But, at this point of universal benevolence, Nurse carried her off to
breakfast.

The little old lady came to tea as before. She looked as well as ever,
and Nurse was equally generous in the matter of tea and toast. Mrs.
Overtheway told over again what Ida had missed in the story of Mrs.
Moss, and Ida apologized, with earnest distress, for her uncivil
conduct in falling asleep.

"There I was snoring away, when you were telling me such a delightful
story!" she exclaimed, penitently.

"Not snoring exactly, my dear," smiled the little old lady, "but you
looked very happy."

"I thought Nursey said so," said Ida. "Well, I'm very glad. It would
have been too rude. And you know I don't know how it was, for I _am_
so fond of stories; I like nothing so well."

"Well, shall I try again?" said Mrs. Overtheway. "Perhaps I may find a
more amusing one, and if it does put you to sleep, it won't do any
harm. Indeed, I think the doctor will say I'm very good company for
you."

"You are very good! That _I_ can tell him," said Ida, fervently, "and
please let it be about yourself again, if you can remember anything. I
like true stories."

"Talking of snoring," said Mrs. Overtheway, "reminds me of something
that happened in my youth, and it is true, though, do you know, it is
a ghost story."

Ida danced in her chair.

"That is just what I should like!" she exclaimed. "Nurse has a ghost
story, belonging to a farm-house, which she tells the housemaid, but
she says she can't tell me till I am older, and I should so like to
hear a ghost story, if it isn't too horrid."

"This ghost story isn't too horrid, I think," laughed the little old
lady, "and if you will let me think a few minutes, and then forgive my
prosy way of telling it, you shall have it at once."

There was a pause. The little old lady sat silent, and so sat Ida
also, with her eyes intently fixed on Mrs. Overtheway's face, over
which an occasional smile was passing.

"It's about a ghost who snored," said the little old lady, doubtfully.

"Delicious!" responded Ida. The two friends settled themselves
comfortably, and in some such words as these was told the following
story:--



THE SNORING GHOST.

     _Clown._ Madman, thou errest: I say there is no darkness but
     Ignorance, in which thou art more puzzled than the Egyptians
     in their fog.... What is the opinion of Pythagoras
     concerning wild fowl?

     _Malvolio._ That the soul of our grandam might haply inhabit
     a bird.

     _Clown._ What thinkest thou of his opinion?

     _Malvolio_. I think nobly of the soul, and in no way approve
     his opinion.

     _Twelfth Night_, iv. 2.


"I remember," said Mrs. Overtheway, "I remember my first visit. That
is, I remember the occasion when I and my sister Fatima did, for the
first time in our lives, go out visiting without our mother, or any
grown-up person to take care of us."

"Do you remember your mother?" asked Ida.

"Quite well, my dear, I am thankful to say. The best and kindest of
mothers!"

"Was your father alive, too?" Ida asked, with a sigh.

The old lady paused, pitying the anxious little face opposite, but
Ida went on eagerly:

"Please tell me what _he_ was like."

"He was a good deal older than my mother, who had married very early.
He was a very learned man. His tastes and accomplishments were many
and various, and he was very young-hearted and enthusiastic in the
pursuit of them all his life. He was apt to take up one subject of
interest after another, and to be for the time completely absorbed in
it. And, I must tell you, that whatever the subject might be, so long
as his head was full of it, the house seemed full of it too. It
influenced the conversation at meals, the habits of the household, the
names of the pet animals, and even of the children. I was called Mary,
in a fever of chivalrous enthusiasm for the fair and luckless Queen of
Scotland, and Fatima received her name when the study of Arabic had
brought about an eastern mania. My father had wished to call her
Shahrazád, after the renowned sultana of the 'Arabian Nights' but when
he called upon the curate to arrange for the baptism, that worthy man
flatly rebelled. A long discussion ended in my father's making a list
of eastern names, from which the curate selected that of Fatima as
being least repugnant to the sobriety of the parish registers. So
Fatima she was called, and as she grew up pale, and moon-faced, and
dark-eyed, the name became her very well."

"Was it this Fatima who went out visiting with you?" asked Ida.

"Yes, my dear; and now as to the visit. The invitation came on my
thirteenth birthday.

"One's birthday is generally a day of some importance. A very notable
day whilst one is young, but less so when one is old, when one is
being carried quickly through the last stages of life, and when it
seems hardly worth while to count time so near the end of the journey.
Even in youth, however some birthdays are more important than others.
I remember looking forward to my tenth birthday as to a high point of
dignity and advancement; and the just pride of the occasion on which I
first wrote my age with more figures than one. With similar feelings,
I longed to be thirteen. The being able to write my age with two
figures had not, after all, shed any special lustre upon life; but
when I was 'in my teens' it must 'feel different somehow.' So I
thought. Moreover, this birthday was really to bring with it solid
advantages. I was now to be allowed to read certain books of a more
grown-up character than I had read hitherto, and to sit up till nine
o'clock. I was to wear sandals to my shoes. My hair was henceforth to
grow as long as I and the Fates would permit, and the skirts of my
frocks were to take an inch in the same direction. 'In four more
years,' I said to Fatima, as we sat on the eve of my birthday,
discussing its manifold advantages, 'in four more years I shall be
grown up. Miss Ansted was introduced at seventeen.' The prospect was
illimitable.

"'Do people always grow much on their birthdays?' asked one of the
little ones. I had boasted in the nursery, that when I was thirteen I
should be 'nearly grown up,' and I myself had hardly outlived the idea
that on one's birthday one was a year older than on the previous day,
and might naturally expect to have made a year's growth during the
night.

"This birthday, however, produced no such striking change. As usual,
the presents were charming; the wreath as lovely as Fatima's deft
fingers could make it, the general holiday and pleasure-making almost
too much of a good thing. Otherwise, there was little to mark it from
other days in the year.

"Towards evening we were all sitting on the grass, the boys with their
heads on the sisters' laps, and there had been an outcry for a story,
to which no one had responded; partly, perhaps, because the exquisite
air of evening seemed a sufficient delight, the stillness too profound
to be lightly disturbed. We had remained for some time without
speaking, and the idea was becoming general among the girls that the
boys were napping, when the summer silence was broken by the distant
footfalls of a horse upon the high road.

"'Trotting!' observed one of the supposed sleepers. We were not, as a
family, given to explanations, and we drew a few more breaths of the
evening air in silence. Then someone said:

"'We might make a story out of _that_, and fancy all sorts of things.
Who is it? Where does he come from, and where is he going to?'

"'It is a messenger from the seat of war,' drawled the boy in my lap,
without moving. Then, lifting his curly head for a moment, he cried,
'To horse! gentlemen, to horse! The enemy will be at Carter's Mill by
midnight!'

"There was a pause; the solitary footfalls came nearer through the
evening mists, and a small brother, of a quaint turn of mind, much
given to the study of the historical portions of the Old Testament,
sat up and said, slowly:

"'It is one of Job's messengers. _The Chaldeans made out three bands,
and fell upon the camels, and have carried them away, yea, and slain
the servants with the edge of the sword; and I only am escaped alone
to tell thee._'

"The others boys laughed, but he lay down again, as solemnly as he had
risen.

"'That was a foot-messenger,' said my boy, contemptuously.

"'It doesn't say so,' retorted the small brother.

"'Well, any way, the camels had been carried off--so what did he ride
upon?'

"A squabble was imminent. I covered my boy's face with a handkerchief,
to keep him quiet.

"'Listen!' I said. 'It's the post. The mail from the north was stopped
on the highway, but he has saved the bags, and is riding hard for
London.'

"'It's--'

"But the new suggestion was drowned in a general shout of--

"'It's coming up the lane!'

"The footfalls had diverged from the main road, and were coming up the
sandy lane that skirted our wall. The boys lifted their heads, and we
sat expectant. There was a pause, and a familiar gate-click, and then
the footfalls broke upon the carriage-road, close by us. A man in
livery, upon a well-groomed horse--nothing more, but rather an
uncommon sight with us. Moreover, the man and his livery were strange,
and the horse looked tired.

"This event broke up the sitting, and we were strolling up to the
house, when a maid met us, saying that my mother wished to see me and
Fatima.

"We found my mother sewing, with an opened letter beside her. It was
written on one of the large quarto sheets then in use, and it was
covered and crossed, at every available corner, in a vague, scratchy
hand.

"'I have heard from an old friend of mine, Mary,' said my mother.
'She has come to live about twelves miles from here. There is
something in the letter about you and Fatima, and you may read that
part aloud, if you can. The top of the last page.'

"I found the place, and, with some difficulty, deciphered: 'The dear
Major was all delicacy and consideration--'

"'No, no!' said my mother, 'the next sentence.'

"'Dear Cecilia was all sweetness. The dress was--'

"My mother took the letter, and found the right place herself, and
then I read:

"'If you cannot come yourself, at least let us renew acquaintance in
our children. I think you have two girls about thirteen? My Lucy, a
dear child just fifteen, feels keenly the loss of her only sister, and
some young companions would be a boon, as all our company will be
_elders_. Pray send them. They can come by the coach, and shall be met
at Durnford, at the Elephant and Castle.'

"'Is the other sister dead?' asked Fatima, pityingly, when we had
discussed our personal interest in the subject.

"'Oh, no! only married,' said my mother.

"It was decided that we should go. This decision was not arrived at at
once, or without some ups and downs. My mother could not go herself,
and had some doubts as to our being old enough, as yet, to go out
visiting alone. It will be believed that I made much of being able to
say--'But you know, I am thirteen, now.'

"Next day, in the evening, my father was busy in his study, and my
mother sat at the open window, with Fatima and me at her feet. The
letter of acceptance had been duly sent by the messenger, but she had
yet a good deal of advice to give, and some doubts to express. She was
one of those people who cannot sit with idle fingers, and as she
talked she knitted. We found it easy enough to sit idle upon two
little footstools, listening to the dear kind voice, and watching two
little clouds, fragments of a larger group, which had detached
themselves, and were sailing slowly and alone across the heavens.

"'They are like us two,' Fatima had whispered to me; 'perhaps they are
going to see some other clouds.'

"'I have observed two things which are apt to befall young people who
go out visiting,' said my mother, as she turned a row in her knitting,
'one is, that they neglect little good habits while they are away, and
the other is, that they make themselves very disagreeable when they
come back.'

"The clouds drifted on, and my mother continued her knitting, arming
us with many wise counsels on small matters connected with this great
event; to which Fatima and I gratefully gave half our minds, whilst
with the other half we made rosy pictures of unparalleled excellence
under trying circumstances, by which, hereafter, we should prove these
warnings and counsels to have been, in our case, unnecessary and
superfluous.

"'Most families and most people,' said my mother, 'have little good
habits and customs of their own which they feel bound to keep,
although they are not among the great general duties which bind every
one. So long as young people are at home, these matters are often
simple enough, but when they go away certain difficulties arise. They
go amongst people whose little habits are not the same as those to
which they have been accustomed. Sometimes they come to very
uncharitable conclusions upon their friends' characters in
consequence. And, I must say, that I have never met with any one who
could be more severe than young people of your age are apt to be. I
remember it of myself, and I have seen it in so many other girls. Home
is naturally the standard, and whatever is different seems wrong. As
life goes on, these young critics learn (or should learn) to
distinguish between general and particular duties; and also coming to
know a larger number of people, they find that all good persons are
not cut to the same pattern, and that one's friends' little ways are
not therefore absurd, because one does not happen to be used to them.
On the other hand, if going amongst other people may tempt you to be
critical of their little habits, it is also apt to make you neglect
your own. Perhaps you think this cannot much matter, as they are not
the great duties, and as other people seem to get on quite well
without them. But one learns in the end, that no character of any
value is formed without the discipline of individual rules, and that
rules are of no use that are not held to against circumstances.
"Charitable to others, severe to himself," seems a maxim for grown-up
people in grown-up things; but, I believe, my little daughters, that
the doubts and difficulties of life begin very early, earlier than
they are commonly provided against; I think that innumerable girls
struggle miserably in the practice of duty, from a radical ignorance
of its principles, and that the earlier these are learnt, the smaller
is the burden of regret one heaps together to oppress the future, and
the sooner one finds that peace of mind which is not common even
amongst the young, and should-be light-hearted.'

"In these, or words to this effect, my dear mother prepared us for our
first plunge into society. We discussed the little good habits we were
to maintain, and, amongst others, certain little Sunday customs--for
we were to be away for a week.

"'We can't take all our good habits with us, if you won't come,' I
said. 'What is to become of the Sunday readings?'

"For my mother used to read to us every Sunday evening, and we were
just in the middle of that book of wondrous fascination--'The
Pilgrim's Progress.'

"'If it were not for the others, and if you would trust us with it,'
said Fatima, thoughtfully, 'we might take the book with us, and Mary
might read to me, if she would--I like her reading.'

"My mother consented. There was another copy in the house, and though
this volume was a favourite, she said it was time we learnt to take
care of valuable books. So it was settled. We talked no more that
evening; and the clouds drifted out of sight.

"'They have gone to bed in a big dark cloud on the other side' said
Fatima, yawning; and we went to bed also.

"My story wanders, Ida; this is because it is an old woman's tale. Old
people of my age become prosy, my dear. They love to linger over
little remembrances of youth, and to recall the good counsels of kind
voices long silent. But I must not put you to sleep a second time, so
I will not describe the lists of good habits which Fatima and I drew
up in fine Roman characters, and which were to be kept as good
resolutions had never been kept before. We borrowed the red ink, to
make them the more impressive to the eye, and, unfortunately, spilt
it. A bad beginning, as many of our rules had reference to tidiness.
Neither will I give you the full account of how we packed. How our
preparations began at once, and were only stopped by the necessity of
setting off when the day arrived. How we emptied all our drawers and
cupboards, and disarranged both our bookshelves; and, in making ready
for the life of order and tidiness we were to live abroad, passed that
week at home with our room in such chaos as it had never been before.
How we prepared against an amount of spare time, that experience
eventually teaches one is not to be found out visiting; and, with this
object, took more sewing than we should have performed in a month at
home; books, that we had not touched for years; drawings, that were
fated to be once touched, and no more.

"I will not describe the big box, which my father lent to us, nor the
joys of packing it. How Fatima's workbox dove-tailed with my desk. How
the books (not having been chosen with reference to this great event)
were of awkward sizes, and did not make comfortable paving for the
bottom of the trunk; whilst folded stockings may be called the
packer's delight, from their usefulness to fill up corners. How,
having packed the whole week long, we were barely ready, and a good
deal flurried at the last moment; and how we took all our available
property with us, and left the key of the trunk behind. Fancy for
yourself, how the green coach picked us up at the toll-bar, and how,
as it jingled on, we felt the first qualm of home-sickness, and,
stretching our heads and hands out of the window, waved adieux and
kisses innumerable to Home, regardless of our fellow-traveller in the
corner, an old gentleman, with a yellow silk handkerchief on his head,
who proved in the end a very pleasant companion. I remember that we
told him our family history, with minutest particulars, and conjugated
four regular Latin verbs by his orders; and that he rewarded our
confidences and learning with the most clear, the most sweet, the most
amber-coloured sticks of barley-sugar I have ever had the good fortune
to meet with. I remember also how, in the warmth of our new
friendship, Fatima unveiled to him the future, which, through some
joke of my father's, we had laid out for ourselves.

"I am to marry a Sultan, for I am moon-faced; but Mary is to be a
linguist, for she has large eyes.'

"'Then Miss Mary is not to marry?' said the old gentleman, with a grim
smile.

"I shook my head in sage disdain. 'When I am sixteen, I shall be an
Amazon.'

"Precisely what I meant by this I don't think I knew myself, but my
dreams were an odd compound of heroic and fairy lore, with a love and
ambition for learning that were simply an inheritance. Many a night
did I fancy myself master of all the languages of the world, hunting
up and down the windy hills in a dress of Lincoln green. I had a
mighty contempt for men, and a high respect for myself, that was the
greatest of my many follies.

"After these interesting revelations we had barley-sugar all round,
and the coach rattled into Durnford.

"Shall I tell you how we were met at the Elephant and Castle by a
footman of most gentlemanlike appearance (his livery excepted), who,
with a sagacity which somewhat puzzled us, discovered that we were
'the young ladies that were expected,' and led us to the carriage,
firmly opposing my efforts to fulfil the last home orders I had
received, to 'look after the box?' How in the carriage we found a lady
handsomely dressed in black, who came out to meet us, and seemed so
anxious for our comfort, and so much interested in our arrival, that
we naturally supposed her to be the lady who had invited us, till we
discovered that she was a lady's maid; and on arriving found our
hostess quite another sort of person, with no appearance at all of
being particularly interested in our arrival, which I have since found
to be the case with the heads of some other country houses.

"It was a large house, reminding me of the Manor within, but prettier
outside; old and irregularly built, with mullioned windows, and odd
wings and corners. A glowing, well-kept garden contrasted prettily
with the grey stone, and the grounds seemed magnificent to our eyes.

"We were shown into the drawing-room, where the real lady of the house
sat at a dainty writing-table, scratching away at a letter that was no
doubt as affectionate as the one which my mother had received. She was
shortsighted, which seemed to be the case also with most of the other
ladies in the room; this, perhaps, was why they stared so hard at us,
and then went on with the elaborate pieces of needlework on which all
of them were engaged. It seemed to take our hostess a second or two to
see us, and another second or two to recall who we were; then she came
forward very kindly, showed us where to sit, and asked after my
mother. Whilst I was replying, she crossed to the fire-place, and rang
the bell; and I felt slightly surprised by her seeming to wish for no
further news of her old friend. She asked if we had had a pleasant
journey, and Fatima had hardly pronounced a modest yes, before she
begged we would allow her to finish her letter, and went back to the
spindle-legged table. Whilst she scratched we looked around us. Three
or four ladies were in the room, more or less young, more or less
pretty, more or less elegantly dressed, and all with more or less
elaborate pieces of needlework. There was one gentleman, young and
dark, with large brown eyes, who seemed to be employed in making paper
pellets of an old letter, chatting the while in a low voice to a young
lady with a good deal of red hair. We afterwards found out that he was
an Irishman, familiarly called 'Pat' by some of the young ladies, who
seemed to be related to him. We had seen all this when the man-servant
appeared at the door.

"'Where is Miss Lucy, Thompson?' our hostess asked, sharply.

"'I will inquire, ma'am,' Thompson replied, with the utmost softness,
and vanished.

"The scratching began again, the Irishman went on gently chatting, and
it all felt very like a horrid dream. Then Thompson reappeared.

"'Miss Lucy is out, ma'am.'

"'Did she know what time these young ladies were to arrive?'

"'Miss Lucy knew that the carriage had gone to meet them, ma'am.'

"'Very thoughtless! Very thoughtless indeed!' said the lady. Thompson
paused respectfully, as if to receive the full weight of the remark,
and then vanished noiselessly as before.

"There was an awkward pause. Our hostess left off scratching, and
looked very cross; the Irishman fired one of his pellets across the
room, and left off chatting, and the red-haired young lady got up, and
rustled across to us. I remember her so well, Ida, for we fell deeply
in love with her and her kindness. I remember her green and white
dress. She had a fair round face, more pleasant than really pretty, a
white starlike forehead, almost too firm a mouth, but a very gentle
voice, at least, so we thought, when she said:

"'As Lucy is out, may I take these young ladies to their room?'

"Our hostess hesitated, and murmured something about Bedford, who was
the lady's maid. The starlike forehead contracted, and the red-haired
young lady said, rather emphatically:

"'As Lucy is not in to receive her friends, I thought I might perhaps
supply her place.'

"'Well, my dear Kate, if you will be so kind,' said our hostess, 'I
must finish these letters.'

"'The yellow room?' said the young lady, abruptly, and swept us off
without further parley. The Irish gentleman opened the door for us,
staring with a half-puzzled, half-amused look at the lofty air with
which the young lady passed out. He followed us into the hall, where
we left him discharging his remaining pellets at the furniture, and
whistling 'Kathleen Mavourneen,' as clearly as a bird.

"The yellow room was a large airy one, with white painted wainscoting,
a huge four-post bed with yellow curtains, and a pretty view from the
windows. In the middle of the floor we saw our box standing in all its
dignity, uncorded, and ready. Then it was the terrible fact broke upon
our minds that the key was left behind. My sufferings during the few
seconds before I found courage to confide this misfortune to our new
friend were considerable. When I did tell her, the calmness and good
nature with which she received the confession were both surprising and
delightful.

"'The lock doesn't look a very uncommon one, she said, as she opened
the door. 'I dare say I may find a key to fit it.'

"'What's the matter?' said a voice outside. It was the Irish
gentleman. She explained.

"'Keys?' said the Irish gentleman; 'got lots in my pocket, besides
their being totally unnecessary, as I'm a capital hand at
lock-picking. Let me see.'

"With which he slipped in, seeming quite as much at his ease as in the
drawing-room, and in another second had squatted upon the floor before
our box, where he seemed to be quite as comfortable as in the
arm-chair he had left. Here he poked, and fitted, and whistled, and
chatted without a pause.

"'I've locks and keys to everything I possess' he cheerfully remarked;
'and as I never lock up anything, there's no damage done if the keys
are left behind, which is a good thing, you see, as I always leave
everything everywhere.'

"'Do you make a principle of it?' asked the young lady, coldly.

"'I'm afraid I make a practice of it.' He had opened the box, and was
leaning against the bed-post, with a roguish twinkle in his brown
eyes, which faded, however, under the silent severity of the
red-haired young lady, and gave place to a look of melancholy that
might have melted granite, as he added:

"'I'm all alone, you see, that's what does it. I believe I'm the
neatest creature breathing, if I'd only somebody to keep me up to it.'

"Neither his hardened untidiness nor his lonely lot seemed, however,
to weigh heavily on his mind; for he withdrew whistling, and his notes
were heard about the passages for some little time. When they had died
away in a distant part of the house, the red-haired young lady left us
also.

"I shall not give you a lengthened account of our unpacking, dear Ida;
though it was as enjoyable, but less protracted than the packing-up
had been. How we revelled in the spacious drawers and cupboards, over
which we were queens, and how strictly we followed one of our mother's
wise counsels--'unpack to the bottom of your box at once, however
short your visit may be; it saves time in the end.' We did unpack to
the lowest book (an artificial system of memory, which I had long been
purposing to study, which I thought to find spare moments to get up
here, and which, I may as well confess, I did not look at during the
visit, and have not learnt to this day). We divided shelves and pegs
with all fairness, and as a final triumph found a use for the
elaborate watch-pockets that hung above our pillows. They were rich
with an unlimited expenditure of quilled ribbon, and must have given a
great deal of trouble to someone who had not very many serious
occupations in this life. Fatima and I wished that we had watches to
put in them, till the happy thought suddenly struck one of us, that we
could keep in them our respective papers of good habits.

"Bedford came in whilst we were in the midst of our labours, and
warmly begged us to leave everything to her, as she would put our
things away for us. The red-haired young lady had sent her, and she
became a mainstay of practical comfort to us during our visit. She
seemed a haven of humanity after the conventions of the drawing-room.
From her we got incidental meals when we were hungry, spirits of wine
when Fatima's tooth ached, warnings when we were near to being late
for breakfast, little modern and fashionable turns to our hair and
clothes, and familiar anecdotes of this household and of others in
which she had lived. I remember her with gratitude.

"Miss Lucy came home before our putting away was fairly finished, and
we had tea with her in the schoolroom. She was a slight, sharp, lively
young lady, looking older than fifteen to us, rather pretty, and very
self-possessed. She scanned us from head to foot when we first met,
and I felt as if her eyes had found defects innumerable, which seemed
the less likely, as she also was shortsighted. As her governess was
away visiting a sick relative, Miss Lucy did the honours of the
schoolroom. She was cold and inattentive at first, became patronizing
at tea, and ended by being gracious. In her gracious mood she was both
affectionate and confidential. She called us 'my dear girls,' put her
arms round us as we sat in the dark, and chattered without a pause
about herself, her governesses, her sister, and her sister's husband.

"'A wedding in the house,' she observed, 'is very good fun,
particularly if you take a principal part in it. I was chief
bride's-maid, you know, my dear girls. But I'll tell you the whole
affair from the first. You know I had never been bride's-maid before,
and I couldn't make up my mind about how I should like the dresses,'
etc., etc. And we had got no further in the story than Miss Lucy's own
costume, when we were called to dress and go downstairs.

"'What are you going to put on?' she asked, balancing herself at our
door and peering in.

"'White muslin!' we said with some pride, for they were new frocks,
and splendid in our eyes.

"'I have had so many muslins, I am tired of them,' she said; 'I shall
wear a pink silk to-night. The trimming came from London. Perhaps I
may wear a muslin to-morrow; I have an Indian one. But you shall see
my dresses to-morrow, my dear girls.'

"With which she left us, and we put on our new frocks (which were to
be _the_ evening dresses of our visit) in depressed spirits. This was
owing to the thought of the pink silk, and of the possibility of a
surfeit of white muslin.

"During the evening we learnt another of Miss Lucy's peculiarities.
Affectionate as she had been when we were alone together, she was no
sooner among the grown-up young ladies downstairs than she kept with
them as much as she was permitted, and seemed to forget us altogether.
Perhaps a fit of particularly short sight attacked her; for she seemed
to look over us, away from us, on each side of us, anywhere but at us,
and to be quite unconscious of our existence. The red-haired young
lady had made her fetch us a large scrap-book, and we sat with this
before our eyes, and the soft monotonous chit-chat of our hostess in
our ears, as she talked and worked with some elder ladies on the sofa.
It seemed a long gossip, with no particular end or beginning, in which
tatting, trimmings, military distinction, linens, servants, honourable
conduct, sentiment, settlements, expectations, and Bath waters, were
finely blended. From the constant mention of Cecilia and the dear
major, it was evident that the late wedding was the subject of
discourse; indeed, for that matter, it remained the prime topic of
conversation during our stay.

"Cecilia and the dear major were at Bath, and their letters were read
aloud at the breakfast-table. I remember wondering at the deep
interest that all the ladies seemed to take in the bride's pretty flow
of words about the fashions, the drives, and the pump-room, and the
long lists of visitors' names; this, too, without any connection
between the hearers and the people and places mentioned. When anybody
did recognize a name, however, about which she knew anything, it
seemed like the finding of a treasure. All the ladies bore down upon
it at once, dug up the family history to its farthest known point, and
divided the subject among them. Miss Lucy followed these letters
closely, and remembered them wonderfully, though (as I afterwards
found) she had never seen Bath, and knew no more of the people
mentioned than the little hearsay facts she had gathered from former
letters.

"It is a very useful art, my dear Ida, and one in which I have sadly
failed all my life, to be able to remember who is related to whom,
what watering-place such a family went to the summer before last, and
which common friends they met there, etc. But, like other arts, it
demands close attention, forbids day-dreaming, and takes up a good
deal of time.

"'_Wasn't_ it odd,' said Miss Lucy, one morning after breakfast, 'that
Cecilia and the major should meet those Hicksons!'

"'Who are the Hicksons?' I asked.

"'Oh! my dear girl, don't you remember, in Cecilia's last letter, her
telling us about the lady she met in that shop when they were in town,
buying a shawl the counterpart of her own? and it seems so odd they
should turn up in Bath, and be such nice people! Don't you remember
mamma said it must be the same family as that Colonel Hickson who was
engaged to a girl with one eye, and she caught the small-pox and got
so much marked, and he broke it off?'

"'Small-pox and one eye would look very ugly,' Fatima languidly
observed; and this subject drifted after the rest.

"One afternoon, I remember, it chanced that we were left alone with
our hostess in the drawing-room. No one else happened to be in the way
to talk to, and the good lady talked to us. We were clever girls for
our age, I fancy, and we had been used to talk a good deal with our
mother; at any rate we were attentive listeners, and I do not think
our hostess required much more of us. I think she was glad of anybody
who had not heard the whole affair from beginning to end, and so she
put up her feet on the sofa, and started afresh with the complete
history of her dear Cecilia from the cradle; and had gone on to the
major, his military exploits abroad, his genteel connections at home,
and the tendency to gout in the family which troubled him at times,
and was a sad anxiety to her dear child, when visitors were announced.

"Our intelligent attention had gained favour for us; and we were
introduced to these ladies as 'daughters of a very dear friend of
mine, whom I have not seen for years,' on which one lady gave a sweet
glance and a tight smile and murmured:

"'So pleasant to renew acquaintance in the children;' and the other
ladies gave sweet glances, and tight smiles also, and echoed:

"'So pleasant!'

"'Such sensible girls!' said our hostess, as if we were not there;
'like women of fifty. So like their dear mother! Such treasures to my
little Lucy! You know she has lost her dear sister,' etc., etc.

"For then the ladies drew together, and our hostess having got a fresh
audience, we retired to distant arm-chairs, a good deal bewildered.

"But to return to our first evening.

"Miss Lucy and we retired together, and no sooner had the drawing-room
door closed behind us, than she wound her arms round our waists, and
became as devoted as if we had been side by side the whole evening.

"'I'll tell you what I'll do, my dear girls,' she said when we
reached our room; 'I'll come and sleep with you (there's lots of room
for three), and then I can go on about Cecilia's affair, and if we
don't finish to-night we can go on to-morrow morning before we get up.
I always wake early, so I can call you. I'll come back when I'm ready
for bed.'

"And she vanished.

"We were in bed when she returned. Her hair had been undergoing some
wonderful process, and was now stowed away under a large and elaborate
night-cap.

"'Bedford was so slow,' said she; 'and then, you know, I got into bed,
and let her tidy the room, and then when she was fairly gone, out I
got, and here I am. We shall be as comfortable as possible; I'll be in
the middle, and then I can have you on each side of me, my dear
girls;' and in she sprang.

"'Did you notice this?' she asked, holding up her hand, and pointing
out the edging on the sleeve of her night-dress; 'it's a new pattern;
do you know it? Oh! my dears, the yards and yards of tatting that
Cecilia had for her trousseau!'

"Fatima and I were not rich in tatting edges, and rejoiced when the
conversation took another turn.

"'About the proposal,' she rambled on; 'do you know I don't really
know whereabouts Henry (that is the major, my brother-in-law,' she
added, with one of the little attacks of dignity to which she was
subject) 'proposed or what he said. I asked Cecy, but she wouldn't
tell me. She was very cross, often; I'm very glad she's married. I
think sisters ought to marry off as fast as they can; they never get
on well in a house together, you know.'

"I fairly gasped at this idea, and Fatima said bluntly:

"'There are lots of us, and we get on.

"'Ah!' said Miss Lucy, in tones of wisdom; 'wait till you're a little
older, and you'll see. Cecy was at school with two sisters who hated
each other like poison, and they were obliged to dress alike, and the
younger wore out her things much faster than the other one, but she
was obliged to wear them till her sister's were done. She used to wish
so her sister would marry, Cecy said, and the best fun is, now they're
both in love with the same man. He's the curate of the church they go
to.'

"'Which of them is he in love with?' I asked.

"'Oh, neither that I know of,' said Miss Lucy, composedly. 'They don't
know him, you know; but they sit close under the pulpit, and they have
such struggles about which shall get into the corner of the pew that's
nearest. Cecy and I weren't like that; but still I'm very glad she's
married. Now wasn't it stupid of her not to tell me? I should never
have told anybody, you know. And don't you wonder what gentlemen do
say, and how they say it? He couldn't propose sitting, and I think
standing would be very awkward. I suppose he knelt. Aunt Maria doesn't
approve of gentlemen kneeling; she says it's idolatry. I think they
must look very silly. Cecy wouldn't even tell me what he said. She
said he spoke to mamma, and mamma said his conduct was highly
honourable; but I think it was very stupid. Do you know, my dears, I
have a cousin who was really married at Gretna Green? She married an
officer. He was splendidly handsome; but people said things against
him, and her parents objected. So they eloped, and then went to Wales,
to such a lovely place! Wasn't it romantic? They quarrelled afterwards
though; he lives abroad now. People ought to be careful. I shall be
very careful myself; I mean to refuse the first few offers I get.'

"And so Miss Lucy rambled on, perfectly unconscious of the melancholy
and yet ludicrous way in which she degraded serious subjects, which
she was not old enough to understand, or wise enough to reverence. We
were too young then to see it fully, but her frivolity jarred upon us,
though she amused us, and excited our curiosity. She was not worse
than many other girls, with plenty of inquisitiveness and sharp sense,
and not too much refinement and feeling; whose accomplishments are
learnt from the 'first masters,' and whose principles are left to be
picked up from gossip, servants, and second-rate books; digested by
ignorant, inquisitive, and undisciplined minds.

"I won't try to recall any more of it, dear Ida. I remember it was a
continuous stream of unedifying gossip, varied by small boastings
about her own family. We've so many connections, was a favourite
phrase of Miss Lucy's, and it seemed to mean a great deal. 'Do you
like making trees?' she asked. I was getting sleepy, and without much
thought replied, 'I love trees beyond anything, and I like growing oak
trees in bottles.' Miss Lucy's, 'My dear girl, I mean family trees,
genealogical trees,' was patronizing to scorn. 'Ours is in the spring
drawer of the big oak cabinet in the drawing-room,' she added. 'We are
descended from King Stephen.'

"I believe I was the first to fall asleep that night. The last words I
remember hearing were: 'We've so many connections.'

"The next day's post brought news from Bath of more general interest
to the household. The plans of Cecilia and the major were changed;
they were coming to her mother's on the following Monday.

"'My dear girls, I _am_ so glad!' said Miss Lucy; 'you'll see them.
But you will have to move out of your room, I'm sorry to say.'

"And for the next twelve hours Miss Lucy was more descriptive of her
family glories in general, and of the glories of her sister and
brother-in-law in particular, than ever.

"Sunday was a day of mixed experiences to us; some pleasant and some
the reverse. Miss Lucy in her best clothes was almost intolerably
patronizing, and a general stiffness seemed to pervade everything, the
ladies' silk dresses included. After breakfast we dawdled about till
it was time to dress for church, and as most of the ladies took about
five minutes more than they had allowed for, it seemed likely that we
should be late. At the last moment, Miss Lucy lost her Prayer Book,
and it was not till another five minutes had gone in the search that
she remembered having left it in church the Sunday before. This being
settled we all stowed away in the carriages and drove off. It was only
a short drive; but when we came in sight of the quaint little church
there was no sound of bells, and it became evident that we were late.
In the porch we shook out our dresses, the Irishman divided the burden
of Prayer Books he had been gallantly bearing, our hostess turned back
from the half-open door to say in a loud and encouraging whisper,
'It's only the Confession;' and we swept up the little church into a
huge square pew.

"My dear Ida, I must tell you that we had been brought up to have a
just horror of being late for service, this being a point on which my
father was what is called 'very particular.' Fatima and I therefore
felt greatly discomposed by our late and disturbing entrance, though
we were in no way to blame. We had also been taught to kneel during
the prayers, and it was with a most uncomfortable sensation of doubt
and shame-facedness that we saw one lady after another sit down and
bend her bonnet over her lap, and hesitated ourselves to follow our
own customs in the face of such a majority. But the red-haired young
lady seemed fated to help us out of our difficulties. She sank at once
on her knees in a corner of the pew, her green silk falling round her;
we knelt by her side, and the question was settled. The little
Irishman cast a doubtful glance at her for a moment, and then sat
down, bending his head deeply into his hat. We went through a similar
process about responding, which did not seem to be the fashion with
our hostess and her friends. The red-haired young lady held to her own
customs, however, and we held with her. Our responses were the less
conspicuous, as they were a good deal drowned by the voice of an old
gentleman in the next pew. Diversity seemed to prevail in the manners
of the congregation. This gentleman stood during prayers, balancing a
huge Prayer Book on the corner of the pew, and responding in a loud
voice, more devout than tuneful, keeping exact time with the parson
also, as if he had a grudge against the clerk and felt it due to
himself to keep in advance of him. I remember, Ida, that as we came
in, he was just saying, 'those things which we ought _not_ to have
done,' and he said it in so terrible a voice, and took such a glance
at us over his gold-rimmed spectacles, that I wished the massive
pulpit-hangings would fall and bury my confusion. When the text of
the sermon had been given out, our hostess rustled up, and drew the
curtains well round our pew. Opposite to me, however, there was a gap
through which I could see the old gentleman. He had settled himself
facing the pulpit, and sat there gazing at the preacher with a rigid
attention which seemed to say--'Sound doctrine, if you please; I have
my eye on you.'

"We returned as we came.

"'Is there afternoon service?' I asked Miss Lucy.

"'Oh, yes!' was the reply, 'the servants go in the afternoon.'

"'Don't you?' I asked.

"'Oh, no!' said Miss Lucy, 'once is enough. You can go with the maids,
if you want to, my dears,' she added, with one of the occasional
touches of insolence in which she indulged.

"Afternoon arrived, and I held consultation with Fatima as to what we
were to do.

"When once roused, Fatima was more resolute than I.

"'Of course we'll go,' said she; 'what's the use of having written out
all our good rules and sticking at this? We always go twice at home.
Let's look for Bedford.'

"On which mission I set forth, but when I reached the top of the
stairs I caught sight of the red-haired young lady, in her bonnet and
shawl, standing at the open door, a Prayer Book in her hand. I dashed
downstairs, and entered the hall just as the Irishman came into it by
another door. In his hand was a Prayer Book also, and he picked up his
hat, and went smiling towards her. But as he approached the young
lady, she looked so much annoyed--not to say cross--that I hesitated
to go forwards.

"'Are you going to church?' said the little Irishman, with a pleased
look.

"'I don't know,' said the young lady, briefly, 'are you?'

"'I was--' he began, and stopped short, looking puzzled and vexed.

"'Is no else going?' he asked, after a moment's pause.

"'No one else ever does go,' she said, impatiently, and moved into the
hall.

"The Irishman coloured.

"'I am in the habit of going twice myself, though you may not think
it,' he said, quietly; 'my poor mother always did. But I do not
pretend to go to such good purpose as she did, or as you would, so if
it is to lie between us--'and, without finishing his sentence, he
threw his book (not too gently) on to the table, and, just lifting his
hat as he passed her, dashed out into the garden.

"I did not at all understand this little scene, but, as soon as he was
gone, I ran up to ask our friend if she were going to church, and
would take us. She consented, and I went back in triumph to Fatima. As
there was no time to lose, we dressed quickly enough; so that I was
rather surprised, when we went down, to find the Irish gentleman, with
his face restored to its usual good humour, standing by our friend,
and holding her Prayer Book as well as his own. The young lady did not
speak, but, cheerfully remarking that we had plenty of time before us,
he took our books also, and we all set forth.

"I remember that walk so well, Ida! The hot, sweet summer
afternoon--the dusty plants by the pathway--the clematis in the hedges
(I put a bit into my Prayer Book, which was there for years)--the
grasshoppers and flies that our dresses caught up from the long grass,
and which reappeared as we sat during the sermon.

"The old gentleman was in his pew, but his glance was almost
benevolent, as, in good time, we took our places. We (literally)
_followed_ his example with much heartiness in the responses; and, if
he looked over into our pew during prayers (and from his position he
could hardly avoid it), he must have seen that even the Irishman had
rejected compromises, and that we all knelt together.

"There was one other feature of that service not to be forgotten. When
the sermon was ended, and I had lost sight of the last grasshopper in
my hasty rising, we found that there was to be a hymn. It was the old
custom of this church so to conclude Evening Prayer. No one seemed to
use a book--it was Bishop Ken's evening hymn, which everyone knew,
and, I think, everyone sang. But the feature of it to us was when the
Irishman began to sing. From her startled glance, I think not even the
red-haired young lady had known that he possessed so beautiful a
voice. It had a clearness without effort, a tone, a truth, a pathos,
such as I have not often heard. It sounded strangely above the nasal
tones of the school-children, and the scraping of a solitary fiddle.
Even our neighbour, who had lustily followed the rhythm of the tune,
though without much varying from the note on which he responded,
softened his own sounds and turned to look at the Irishman, who sang
on without noticing it, till, in the last verse, he seemed disturbed
to discover how many eyes were on him. Happily, self-consciousness had
come too late. The hymn was ended.

"We knelt again for the Benediction, and then went back through the
summer fields.

"The red-haired young lady talked very little. Once she said:

"'How is it we have never heard you sing?'

"To which the Irishman replied:

"'I don't understand music, I sing by ear; and I hate 'company'
performances. I will sing to you whenever you like.'

"'Mary,' said Fatima, when we were in our room again, 'I believe those
two will marry each other some day.'

"'So do I,' I answered; 'but don't say anything about it to Lucy.'

"'No, indeed!' said Fatima, warmly. So we kept this idea sacred from
Miss Lucy's comments--why, I do not think either of us could have told
in words.

'Pity, that pleasant impressions--pity, that most impressions--pass
away so soon!

       *       *       *       *       *

"The evening was not altogether so satisfactory as the afternoon had
been. First, Miss Lucy took us to see her sister's wedding-presents,
most of which were still here in her mother's keeping. They were
splendid, and Miss Lucy was eloquent. From them we dawdled on into her
room, where she displayed her own treasures, with a running commentary
on matters of taste and fashion, which lasted till it was time to
dress for the evening, when she made the usual inquiry, 'What shall
you put on to-night, my dear girls?' and we blushed to own that there
was nothing further of our limited toilettes to reveal.

"In the drawing-room, similar subjects of conversation awaited us. Our
hostess and her friends did not seem to care much for reading, and, as
they did not work on Sunday evening, they talked the more. The chatter
ran chiefly upon the Bath fashions, and upon some ball which had been
held somewhere, where somebody had been dressed after a manner that it
appeared needful to protest against; whilst somebody else (a cousin of
our hostess) was at all points so perfectly attired, that it seemed as
if she should have afforded ample consolation for the other lady's
defects.

"Upon the beauty of this cousin, her father's wealth, and her
superabundant opportunities of matrimony, Miss Lucy enlarged to us, as
we sat in a corner. Another of her peculiarities, by-the-by, was this.
By her own account, all her relatives and friends were in some sense
beautiful. The men were generally 'splendidly handsome;' the ladies,
'the loveliest creatures.' If not 'lovely,' they were 'stylish;' if
nothing else, they were 'charming.' For those who were beyond the
magic circle, this process was reversed. If pretty, they 'wanted
style.' If the dress was beyond criticism, the nose, the complexion,
the hand was at fault. I have met with this _trait_ in other cliques,
since then.

"My dear Ida, I wish to encourage no young lady of the hoydenish age
of thirteen, in despising nice dressing and pretty looks and manners;
or in neglecting to pick up any little hints which she may glean in
such things from older friends. But there are people to whom these
questions seem of such first importance, that to be with them when you
are young and impressionable, is to feel every defect in your own
personal appearance to be a crime, and to believe that there is
neither worth, nor love, nor happiness (no life, in fact, worth living
for) connected with much less than ten thousand a year, and
'connections.' Through some such ordeal we passed that evening, in
seeing and hearing of all the expensive luxuries without which it
seemed impossible to feed, dress, sleep, go out--in fact, exist; and
all the equally expensive items of adornment, without which it
appeared to be impossible to have (or at any rate retain) the respect
and affection of your friends.

"Meanwhile, the evening slipped by, and our Sunday reading had not
been accomplished. We had found little good habits less easy to
maintain in a strange household than we had thought, and this one
seemed likely to follow some others that had been allowed to slip.
The red-haired young lady had been absent for about half an hour, and
the Irishman had been prowling restlessly round the room, performing
murderous-looking fidgets with the paper-knives, when she returned
with a book in her hand, which she settled herself resolutely to read.
The Irishman gave a comical glance at the serious-looking volume, and
then, seating himself on a chair just behind her, found apparent peace
in the effort to sharpen a flat ruler on his knees. The young lady
read on. It was evident that her Sunday customs were not apt to be
disturbed by circumstances.

"I began to feel uncomfortable. Fatima was crouched down near Lucy,
listening to the history of a piece of lace. I waited some little time
to catch her eye, and then beckoned her to me.

"'We haven't read,' I whispered.

"'Dare you go?' asked Fatima.

"'We ought,' I said.

"It required more daring than may appear. To such little people as
ourselves it _was_ rather an undertaking to cross the big
drawing-room, stealing together over the soft carpet; to attack the
large, smooth handle, open the heavy door, and leave the room in the
face of the company. We did it, however, our confusion being much
increased by the Irish gentleman, who jumped up to open the door for
us. We were utterly unable to thank him, and, stumbling over each
other in the passage, flew up to our own room like caged birds set
free.

"Fatima drew out the pillows from the bed, and made herself easy on
the floor. I found the book, and climbed into the window-seat. The sun
was setting, the light would not last much longer; yet I turned over
the pages slowly, to find the place, which was in the second part,
thinking of the conversation downstairs. Fatima heaved a deep sigh
among her cushions, and said: 'I wish we were rich.'

"'I wish we were at home,' I answered.

"'When one's at home,' Fatima continued, in doleful tones, 'one
doesn't feel it, because one sees nobody; but when one goes among
other people, it _is_ wretched not to have plenty of money and things.
And it's no good saying it isn't,' she added, hurriedly, as if to
close the subject.

"'It's getting dark,' I said.

"'I beg your pardon: go on,' sighed Fatima.

"I lifted up my voice, and read till I could see no longer. It was
about the Valley of Humiliation through which Mr. Greatheart led
Christiana and her children. The 'green valley, beautified with
lilies,' in whose meadows the air was pleasant; where 'a man shall be
free from the noise and from the hurryings of this life;' and where
'in former times men have met with angels.'

"The last streaks of crimson were fading in the sky when I read the
concluding lines of the shepherd-boy's song--

    'Fulness to such a burden is,
    That go on pilgrimage,
    Here little, and hereafter bliss,
    Is best from age to age.'

"'Here little, and hereafter bliss!'

"It is not always easy to realize what one believes. One needs
sometimes to get away from the world around, 'from the noise and from
the hurryings of this life,' and to hear, read, see, or do something
to remind one that there is a standard which is not of drawing-rooms;
that petty troubles are the pilgrimage of the soul; that great and
happy lives have been lived here by those who have had but little; and
that satisfying bliss is not here, but hereafter.

"We went downstairs slowly, hand in hand.

"'I wonder what mother is doing?' said Fatima.

       *       *       *       *       *

"The next day Miss Lucy very good-naturedly helped us to move our
belongings into the smaller room we were now to occupy. It was in
another part of the house, and we rather enjoyed the running to and
fro, especially as Miss Lucy was gracious and communicative in the
extreme.

"'This is the oldest part of the house,' she said, as we sat on the
bed resting from our labours, for the day was sultry; 'and it breaks
off here in an odd way. There are no rooms beyond this. There were
some that matched the other side of the house, but they were pulled
down.'

"'Why?' we asked.

"'Well, there's a story about it, in the family,' said Miss Lucy,
mysteriously. 'But it's a ghost story. I'll tell you, if you like. But
some people are afraid of ghost stories. I'm not; but if you are, I
won't tell it.'

"Of course we declared we were not afraid. Sitting there together, on
a sunny summer's afternoon, perhaps we were not.

"'It's years and years ago,' began Miss Lucy; 'you know the place has
belonged to another branch of our family for generations. Well, at
last it came down to an old Mr. Bartlett, who had one daughter, who,
of course, was to be the heiress. Well, she fell in love with a man
whose name I forget, but he was of inferior family, and very queer
character; and her father would not hear of it, and swore that if she
married him he would disinherit her. She would have married the man in
spite of this, though; but what he wanted was her money; so, when he
found that the old man was quite resolute, and that there was no
chance of his dying soon, he murdered him.'

"We both exclaimed; for this sudden catastrophe fairly took away our
breath. Miss Lucy's nerves were not sensitive, however, and she
rattled on.

"'He smothered him in bed, and, as he was a very old man, and might
easily have died in the night some other way, and as nothing could be
proved, he got off. Well, he married the daughter, and got the
property; but the very first evening after he took possession, as he
was passing the door of the old man's room, he heard somebody
breathing heavily inside, and when he looked in, there was the old
father asleep in his bed.'

"'Not really?' we said.

"'Of course not really,' said Miss Lucy, 'but so it was said. That's
the ghost part of it. Well, do what he would, he never could get rid
of the old man, who was always there asleep; so he pulled the rooms
down, and at last he went abroad, and there both he and his wife died,
and the property went to a cousin, who took the name of Bartlett.'

"'How awful!' we murmured. But Miss Lucy laughed, and told us other
family anecdotes, and the ghost story somewhat passed from our minds,
especially as a little later we heard wheels, and, peeping from the
landing window, beheld a post-chaise drive up.

"'It's Cecilia!' screamed Miss Lucy, and left us at once.

"I may as well say here, my dear Ida, that Cecilia and the major
proved altogether different from our expectations. Cecilia, in
travelling gear, taking off an old bonnet, begging for a cup of tea,
and complaining in soft accents that butter was a halfpenny a pound
dearer in Bath than at home, seemed to have no connection with that
Cecilia into the trimmings of whose dresses bank-notes had recklessly
dissolved. The major, an almost middle-aged man, of roughish exterior,
in plain clothes, pulling his moustache over a letter that had arrived
for him, dispelled our visions of manly beauty and military pomp even
more effectually. Later on, we discovered that Cecilia was really
pretty, soft, and gentle, a good deal lectured by her mother, and
herself more critical of Miss Lucy's dress and appearance than that
young lady had been of ours. The major proved kind and sensible. He
was well-to-do and had 'expectations,' which facts shed round him a
glory invisible to us. They seemed a happy couple; more like the rest
of the world than we had been led to suppose.

"The new-comers completely absorbed our attention during the evening,
and it was not till we were fairly entering the older part on the
house on our way to bed, that the story of the old man's ghost
recurred to my mind. It was a relief to meet Bedford at this point, to
hear her cheerful good-night, and to see her turn into a room only two
doors from ours. Once while we were undressing I said:

"'What a horrid story that was that Lucy told us.'

"To which sensible Fatima made answer: 'Don't talk about it.'

"We dismissed the subject by consent, got into bed, and I fell asleep.
I do not quite know how far on it was into the night when I was roused
by Fatima's voice repeating my name over and over again, in tones of
subdued terror. I know nothing more irritatingly alarming, when one is
young and nervous, than to be roused thus by a voice in which the
terror is evident and the cause unknown.

"'What's the matter?' I asked.

"'Don't you hear?' gasped Fatima, in a whisper.

"If she had said at once that there was a robber under the bed, a
burglar at the window, or a ghost in the wardrobe, I should have
prepared for the worst, and it would have been less alarming than this
unknown evil.

"'I hear nothing,' I said, pettishly. 'I wish you'd go to sleep,
Fatima.'

"'There!--now!' said Fatima.

"I held my breath, and in the silence heard distinctly the sound of
some one snoring in an adjoining apartment.

"'It's only some one snoring,' I said.

"'Where?' asked Fatima, with all the tragedy in her voice unabated.

"'In the room behind us, of course,' I said, impatiently. 'Can't you
hear?'

"Fatima's voice might have been the voice of a shadow as she answered:
'_There is no room there._'

"And then a cold chill crept over me also; for I remembered that the
wall from behind which the snoring unmistakably proceeded was an outer
wall. There had been the room of old Mr. Bartlett, which his
son-in-law and murderer had pulled down. There he had been heard
'breathing heavily,' and had been seen asleep upon his bed, long after
he was smothered in his own pillows, and his body shut up in the
family vault. At least, so it was said, and at that particular moment
we felt no comfort from the fact that Miss Lucy had said that 'of
course it wasn't true.' I said something, to which Fatima made no
reply, and I could feel her trembling, and hear a half-choked sob. I
think fear for her overpowered my other alarm, and gave me a sort of
strength.

"'Don't, dear,' I begged. 'Let's be brave. It must be something else.
And there's nothing in the room. Let's go to Bedford. She's next door
but one.'

"Fatima could speak no more. By the moonlight through the blind, I
jumped up, and half dragged, half helped her out of bed and across the
room. Opening the door was the worst. To touch anything at such a
moment is a trial. We groped down the passage; I felt the handle of
the first door, and turned that of the second, and in we went. The
window-blind of this room was drawn up, and the moonlight streamed
over everything. A nest of white drapery covered one chair, a muslin
dress lay like a sick ghost over a second, some little black satin
shoes and web-like stockings were on the floor, a gold watch and one
or two feminine ornaments lay on the table; and in the bed
reposed--not Bedford, but our friend Kate, fast asleep, with one arm
over the bed-clothes, and her long red hair in a pigtail streaming
over the pillow. I climbed up and treated her as Fatima had treated
me, calling her in low, frightened tones over and over again. She woke
at last, and sat up.

"'You sprites! What is the matter?' she exclaimed.

"I stumbled through an account of our misfortunes, in the middle of
which the young lady lay down, and before it was ended I believe she
was asleep again. Poor Fatima, who saw nothing before us but to return
to our room with all its terrors, here began to sob violently, which
roused our friend once more, and she became full of pity.

"'You poor children!' she said, 'I'm so sleepy. I cannot get up and
go after the ghost now; besides, one might meet somebody. But you may
get into bed if you like; there's plenty of room, and nothing to
frighten you.'

"In we both crept, most willingly. She gave us the long tail of her
hair, and said, 'If you want me, pull. But go to sleep, if you
can!'--and, before she had well finished the sentence, her eyes closed
once more. In such good company a snoring ghost seemed a thing hardly
to be realized. We held the long plait between us, and, clinging to it
as drowning men to a rope, we soon slept also.

"When we returned to our room next day, there was no snoring to be
heard, and in the full sunshine of a summer morning our fright seemed
so completely a thing of the past, that I persuaded myself to suggest
that it might have been 'fancy' (Kate had already expressed her
deliberate opinion to this effect), to which Fatima, whose convictions
were of a more resolute type than mine, replied, 'What's the use of
trying to believe what's not true? I heard it; and shall know that I
heard it, if I live till I'm a hundred.'

"In all correct ghost stories, when the hero comes down in the
morning, valiant, but exhausted from the terrors of the night, to
breakfast, his host invariably asks him how he slept. When we came
down, we found Kate and the Irishman alone together in the
breakfast-room. Now it certainly was in keeping with our adventure
when he stepped forward, and, bowing profoundly, asked how we had
passed the night; but, in spite of the gravity of his face, there was
a twinkle in the big brown eyes which showed us that we were being
made fun of; and I felt slightly indignant with our friend, who had
faithfully promised not to betray us to Miss Lucy, and might, I
thought, have saved us from the ridicule of the Irishman. The rest of
the company began to assemble, however, and to our relief the subject
was dropped. But though the Irishman kept our secret, we had every
reason to suspect that he did not forget it; he looked terribly
roguish through breakfast, and was only kept in order by Kate's severe
glances.

"'Always breathe through the nose,' he suddenly began. 'It moderates
the severity of the air, is less trying to the lungs, and prevents
snoring.'

"'Very true,' said the major, who was sensible, and liked instructive
observations.

"'It may be laid down as an axiom,' continued the Irishman, gravely,
'that the man who snores is sure to disturb somebody; and also that
the man who doesn't snore till he dies, is not likely to live to be a
snoring ghost when he is dead.'

"Kate looked daggers. The major laughed, and said, 'Let me give you
some beef.' When he didn't understand a remark he always laughed, and
generally turned the conversation to eatables, in which he was pretty
safe; for food is common ground, and a slight laugh answers most
remarks, unless at a serious meeting or a visit of condolence. A
little later the Irishman asked: 'What's the origin of the expression
to stir up with a long pole?' which turned the conversation to wild
beasts. But he presently inquired: 'What's the meaning of putting a
thing up the spout?'

"'Pawning it,' said the major, promptly.

"'People pawn their family jewels sometimes,' said Pat. 'Did you ever
hear of anybody pawning the family ghosts?' he asked, suddenly turning
to me. I gave a distressed 'No,' and he continued in a whisper, 'You
never saw a ghost up the spout?'

"But, before I could answer, he caught Kate's eye, and, making a
penitent face, became silent.

"We were in the drawing-room after breakfast, when the Irishman passed
the window outside, whistling 'Kathleen Mavourneen.' We were sitting
at Kate's feet, and she got up, and whispering, 'He's got something to
show you, but he wouldn't let me tell,' went out into the garden, we
following her.

"There we found the Irishman, with a long pole, which he was waving
triumphantly in the air. He bowed as we approached.

"'This, young ladies,' he said, 'is the original long pole spoken of
at the breakfast-table. With this I am about to stir up and bring
forth for your inspection the living and identical ghost whose snoring
disturbed your repose last night.'

"The little Irishman's jokes reassured me. I guessed that he had
found some clue to our mysterious noise; but with Fatima it was
otherwise. She had been too deeply frightened to recover so easily.
She clung tremblingly to me, as I was following him, and whispered
'I'd rather not.'

"On her behalf I summoned courage to remonstrate.

"'If you please, sir,' I said, 'Fatima would rather not; and, if you
please, don't tease us any more.'

"The young lady added her entreaties, but they were not needed. The
good-natured little gentleman no sooner saw Fatima's real distress
than he lowered his pole, and sank upon his knees on the grass, with a
face of genuine penitence.

"'I _am_ so sorry I've been tormenting you so!' he exclaimed. 'I
forgot you were really frightened, and you see I knew it wasn't a
ghost.'

"'I heard it,' murmured Fatima resolutely, with her eyes half shut.

"'So did I,' said the Irishman, gaily; 'I've heard it dozens of times.
It's the owls.'

"We both exclaimed.

"'Ah!' he said, comically, 'I see you don't believe me! That's what
comes of telling so many small fibs. But it's true, I assure you. (And
the brown eyes did look particularly truthful.) Barn-door owls do make
a noise that is very like the snoring of an old man. And there are
some young ones who live in the spout at the corner of the wall of
your room. They're snoring and scrambling in and out of that spout all
night.'

"It was quite true, Ida, as we found, when Fatima was at last
persuaded to visit the corner where the rooms had been pulled down,
and where, decorated with ivy, the old spout formed a home for the
snoring owls. By the aid of the long pole he brought out a young one
to our view--a shy, soft, lovely, shadow-tinted creature, ghostly
enough to behold, who felt like an impalpable mass of fluff, utterly
refused to be kissed, and went savagely blinking back into his spout
at the earliest possible opportunity. His snoring alarmed us no more."

"And the noise really was that?" said Ida.

"It really was, my dear."

"It's a splendid story," said Ida; "you see, I didn't go to sleep
_this_ time. And what became of everybody, please? Did the red-haired
young lady marry the Irishman?"

"Very soon afterwards, my dear," said Mrs. Overtheway. "We kept up
our friendship, too, in after life; and I have many times amused their
children with the story of the Snoring Ghost."



REKA DOM.

    "What is home, and where, but with the loving?"

FELICIA HEMANS.


At last Ida was allowed to go out. She was well wrapped up, and
escorted by Nurse in a short walk for the good of her health. It was
not very amusing, but the air was fresh and the change pleasant,
although the street did not prove quite that happy region it had
looked from the nursery windows. Moreover, however strong one may
fancy one has become indoors, the convalescent's first efforts out of
doors are apt to be as feeble as those of a white moth that has just
crept from the shelter of its cocoon, giddy with daylight, and
trembling in the open air. By-and-by this feeling passed away, and one
afternoon Ida was allowed to go by herself into the garden, "just for
a run."

The expression was metaphorical, for she was far from being able to
run; but she crept quietly up and down the walks, and gathered some
polyanthuses, putting them to her face with that pleasure which the
touch of fresh flowers gives to an invalid. Then she saw that the
hedge was budding, and that the gap through which she had scrambled
was filled up. Ida thought of the expedition and smiled. It had
certainly made her very ill, but--it had led to Mrs. Overtheway.

The little old lady did not come that day, and in the evening Ida was
sent for by her uncle. She had not been downstairs in the evenings
since her illness. These interviews with the reserved old gentleman
were always formal, uncomfortable affairs, from which Ida escaped with
a sense of relief, and that evening--being weak with illness and
disappointed by Mrs. Overtheway's absence--her nervousness almost
amounted to terror.

Nurse did her best in the way of encouragement. It was true that Ida's
uncle was not a merry gentleman, but there was such a nice dessert!
What could a well-behaved young lady desire more than to wear her best
frock, and eat almonds and raisins in the dining-room, as if she were
the lady of the house?

"Though I am sorry for the child," Nurse confided to the butler when
she had left Ida with her uncle, "for his looks are enough to frighten
a grown person, let alone a little girl. And do you go in presently,
like a good soul, if you can find an excuse, and let her see a
cheerful face."

But before the kind-hearted old man-servant could find a plausible
pretext for intruding into the dining-room, and giving an encouraging
smile from behind his master's chair, Ida was in the nursery once
more.

She had honestly endeavoured to be good. She had made her curtsey at
the door without a falter--weak as she was. She had taken her place at
the head of the table with all dignity, and had accepted the almonds
and raisins with sufficiently audible thanks. She had replied prettily
enough to her uncle's inquiries after her health; and, anxious to keep
up the conversation, had told him that the hedge was budding.

"_What's_ the matter with the hedge?" he had asked rather sharply; and
when Ida repeated her bit of spring news, he had not seemed to be
interested. It was no part of the gardener's work.

Ida relapsed into silence, and so did her uncle. But this was not all.
He had sharp eyes, and fierce bushy eyebrows, from under which he was
apt to scrutinize Ida in a way that seemed to scatter all her presence
of mind. This night of all nights she found his eyes upon her oftener
than usual. Whenever she looked up he was watching her, and her
discomfort increased accordingly. At last he broke the silence
abruptly by saying:

"You were very sorry, child, were you not, when the news came of your
father's death?"

The sudden introduction of this sacred subject made Ida's head reel.

"What?" she cried, and could get no further.

"Have you forgotten already?" the old gentleman said, almost
reprovingly. "You did not know him, it is true; but you must remember
hearing that your poor father had been drowned at sea?"

Ida's only reply was such a passionate outburst of weeping that her
uncle rang the bell in helpless dismay, and was thankful when the old
butler lifted the child tenderly in his arms and carried her back to
Nurse. The old gentleman's feelings were more kindly than his looks,
and he was really as much concerned as puzzled by the effect of his
remarks. When the butler returned with the report that Ida was going
quietly to bed, he sent her his "love" (the word seemed to struggle
with some difficulty from behind his neck-cloth), and all the
remaining almonds and raisins.

"I can't eat them," said Ida, smiling feebly, for her head was aching,
"but it is very kind of him; and please tell Brown to tell him that I
am very sorry, and please put the almonds and raisins into my box. I
will make a dolls feast with them, if ever I make dolls' feasts
again."

With which the weary little maid turned upon her pillow, and at last
forgot her troubles in sleep.

The next morning Brown delivered a similar message from the old
gentleman. He had gone away by an early train on business, but had
left Ida his love.

"It's very kind of him," said Ida, again. But she went sadly on with
some paper she was cutting into shapes. She was in low spirits this
morning.

Comfort was at hand, however. In the course of the day there came a
message from Mrs. Overtheway, asking Nurse to allow Ida to go to tea
with her that evening. And Nurse consented.

Ida could hardly believe her senses when she found herself by the
little old lady's own fireside. How dainty her room was! How full the
bookshelves were! How many pictures hung upon the walls!

Above a little table, on which were innumerable pretty things, hung
two pictures. One of these was a portrait of a man who, from his
apparent age, might have been the old lady's son, but that he was not
at all like her. He might have been good-looking, though, Ida thought,
and he had a kind, intelligent face, full of energy and
understanding, and that is better still. Close under his portrait hung
a little sketch. It was of a road running by a river. Opposite to the
river was a house and some trees. It was a pretty sketch, Ida thought,
and the road looked interesting, as some roads do in pictures--making
one wish to get into the frame and walk down them to see whither they
lead. Below the sketch were some curious-looking characters written in
ink, and of these Ida could make nothing.

Tea was soon ready. It was spread out on a little table by itself. The
white cloth seemed to Ida the whitest she had ever seen, the silver
and glass glittered, the china was covered with a rosebud pattern, and
a reading-lamp threw a clear soft light over all. The tea, the cream,
the brown bread and butter, the fresh eggs, and the honey--all were of
the very best--even the waiting-maid was pretty, and had something of
the old lady's smile.

When she had finished her duties by taking away the things, and
putting the tea-table into a corner, the two friends drew up to the
fire.

"You look better for tea, my child," said the little old lady. "Do you
eat enough at home?"

"As much as I can," said Ida, "but I am more hungry when somebody
else has tea with me. There very seldom was anybody till you came
though. Only once or twice Lady Cheetham's housekeeper has been to
tea. She is Nurse's father's first cousin, and 'quite the lady,' Nurse
says. So she won't let her have tea in the kitchen, so both she and
Nurse have tea in the nursery, and we have lots of tea-cakes and jam,
and Nurse keeps saying, 'Help yourself, Miss Ida! Make yourself at
home, Mrs. Savory!' And, you know, at other times, she's always
telling me not to be all night over my tea. So I generally eat a good
deal then, and I often laugh, for Nurse and Mrs. Savory are so funny
together. But Mrs. Savory's very kind, and last time she came she
brought me a pincushion, and the time before she gave me a Spa mug and
two apples."

Mrs. Overtheway laughed, too, at Ida's rambling account, and the two
were in high good-humour.

"What shall I do to amuse you?" asked the little old lady.

"You couldn't tell me another story?" said Ida, with an accent that
meant, "I hope you can!"

"I would, gladly, my dear, but I don't know what to tell you about;"
and she looked round the room as if there were stories in the
furniture which perhaps there were. Ida's eyes followed her, and then
she remembered the picture, and said:

"Oh! would you please tell me what the writing means under that pretty
little sketch?"

The little old lady smiled rather sadly, and looked at the sketch in
silence for a few moments. Then she said:

"It is Russian, my dear. Their letters are different from ours. The
words are 'Reka Dom' and they mean 'River House.'"

Ida gazed at the drawing with increased interest.

"Oh, do you remember anything about it? If you would tell me about
_that_!" she cried.

But Mrs. Overtheway was silent again. She was looking down, and
twisting some of the rings upon her little hand, and Ida felt ashamed
of having asked.

"I beg your pardon," she said, imploringly. "I was very rude, dear
Mrs. Overtheway; tell me what you like, please."

"You are a good child," said the little old lady, "a very good child,
my dear. I _do_ remember so much about that house, that I fall into
day-dreams when I look at it. It brings back the memories of a great
deal of pleasure and a great deal of pain. But it is one advantage of
being old, little Ida, that Time softens the painful remembrances, and
leaves us the happy ones, which grow clearer every day."

"Is it about yourself?" Ida asked, timidly. She had not quite
understood the little old lady's speech; indeed, she did not
understand many things that Mrs. Overtheway said, but they were very
satisfactory companions for all that.

"Yes, it is about myself. And since there is a dear child who cares
about old Mrs. Overtheway, and her prosy stories, and all that befell
her long ago," said the little old lady, smiling affectionately at
Ida, "I will tell her the story--my story--the story of Reka Dom."

"Oh, how good of you!" cried Ida.

"There is not much merit in it," said the little old lady. "The story
is as much for myself as you. I tell myself bits of it every evening
after tea, more so now than I used to do. I look far back, and I
endeavour to look far forward. I try to picture a greater happiness,
and companionship more perfect than any I have known; and when I shall
be able to realize them, I shall have found a better Home than Reka
Dom."

Ida crept to the little old lady's feet, and softly stroked the
slipper that rested on the fender. Then, while the March wind howled
beyond the curtains, she made herself a cosy corner by the fire, and
composed herself to hear the story.

"I remember," said Mrs. Overtheway. "I remember Reka Dom. It was our
new home.

"Circumstances had made it necessary that we should change our
residence, and the new home was to be in a certain quiet little town,
not much bigger than some big villages--a town of pebble streets and
small shops, silent, sunny, and rather dull--on the banks of a river.

"My health at this time was far from robust; but there is compensation
even for being delicate in that spring-time of youth, when the want of
physical strength is most irksome. If evening parties are forbidden,
and long walks impossible, the fragile member of the family is, on the
other hand, the first to be considered in the matter of small
comforts, or when there is an opportunity for 'change of air.' I
experienced this on the occasion when our new home was chosen. It had
been announced to us that our father and mother were going away for
one night, and that we were to be very good in the absence of those
authorized keepers of the peace. We had not failed ourselves to
enlarge this information by the discovery that they were going to the
little town by the river, to choose the house that was to be our home;
but it was not till the night before their departure that I was told
that I was to go with them. I had been unusually drooping, and it was
supposed that the expedition would revive me. My own joy was
unbounded, and that of my brothers and sisters was hardly less. They
were generously glad for my sake, and they were glad, also, that one
of the nursery conclave should be on the spot when the great choice
was made. We had a shrewd suspicion that in the selection of a house
our elders would be mainly influenced by questions of healthy
situation, due drainage, good water supply, moderate rent, and so
forth; to the neglect of more important considerations, such as odd
corners for hide-and-seek, deep window-seats, plenty of cupboards, and
a garden adapted to the construction of bowers rather than to the
cultivation of vegetables. I do not think my hopes of influencing the
parental decision were great; but still we all felt that it was well
that I should be there, and my importance swelled with every piece of
advice I received from the rest of the party.

"'It must be a big house, but, of course, that adds to the expense,'
said one of the older boys, who prided himself upon being more
grown-up in his views than the rest, and considering the question from
an elderly point of view. 'But if you don't take it out one way, you
have it another,' he continued. A manly-sounding sentence, which
impressed us all. 'Don't think about smartness, Mary,' he went on,
with a grand air of renouncing vanities; 'fine entrance, you know, and
front door. But a good back yard, if possible, and some empty
outhouses for carpenters' shops; and if you could meet with a place
with a few old boxes and barrels lying about, for rafts on the river
and so forth, it would be a good thing.'

"'I want a tidy box for a new baby-house, _dreadfully_,' added a
sister.

"'I hope there'll be deep window-places,' sighed the luxurious Fatima,
'with print patchwork cushions, like those at the farm. And I hope
some of them will face west, for the sunsets.'

"'Above all'--and it was the final and most impressive charge I
received--'whatever else is wanting, let us have two tall trees for a
swing.'

"Laden with responsibility, but otherwise light-hearted enough, I set
out with my parents by the early coach, which was to put us down about
mid-day in the little town by the river.

"I liked travelling with my father. What a father he was! But, indeed,
he was an object of such special devotion to me, and his character
exercised so strong an influence over my young days, that I think, my
dear Ida, that I must take the old woman's privilege of
discursiveness, and tell you something about him.

"I remember that he was a somewhat mysterious personage in our young
eyes. We knew little of his early life, and what we did know only
enhanced the romantic mystery which we imagined to hang round it. We
knew that he had seen many foreign lands, and in those days much
travelling was rare. This accounted for the fact that, absent and
somewhat unpractical as he was at home, he was invaluable on a
journey, making arrangements, and managing officials with the
precision of old habit. Where he had learnt his peculiar courtesy and
helpfulness with those under his charge was less obvious. My mother
said he had been accustomed to 'good society' in his youth, though we
lived quietly enough now. We knew that, as a lad, he had been at sea,
and sailors are supposed to be a handy and gentle-mannered race with
the weak and dependent. Where else he had been, and what he had done,
we did not exactly know; but I think we vaguely believed him to have
been concerned in not a few battles by land and sea; to be deep in
secrets of state, and to have lived on terms of intimacy with several
kings and queens. His appearance was sufficiently striking to favour
our dreams on his behalf. He had a tall, ungainly figure, made more
ungainly by his odd, absent ways; but withal he was an unmistakable
gentleman. I have heard it said of him that he was a man from whom no
errors in taste could be feared, and with whom no liberties could ever
be taken. He had thick hair of that yellow over which age seems to
have no power, and a rugged face, wonderfully lighted up by eyes of
rare germander blue. His hair sometimes seemed to me typical of his
mind and tastes, which Time never robbed of their enthusiasm.

"With age and knowledge the foolish fancies I wove about my father
melted away, but the peculiar affection I felt for him, over and above
my natural love as a daughter, only increased as I grew up. Our tastes
were harmonious, and we always understood each other; whereas Fatima
was apt to be awed by his stateliness, puzzled by his jokes, and at
times provoked by his eccentricities. Then I was never very robust in
my youth; and the refined and considerate politeness which he made a
point of displaying in his own family were peculiarly grateful to me.
That good manners (like charity) should begin at home, was a pet
principle with him, and one which he often insisted upon to us.

"'If you will take my advice, young people,' he would say, 'you will
be careful never to let your sisters find other young gentlemen more
ready and courteous, nor your brothers find other young ladies more
gentle and obliging than those at home.'

"My father certainly practised what he preached, and it would not have
been easy to find a more kind and helpful travelling companion than
the one with whom my mother and I set forth that early morning in
search of our new abode.

"I was just becoming too much tired to care to look any longer out of
the window, when the coach rumbled over the pebbly street into the
courtyard of the 'Saracen's Head.'

"I had never stayed at an inn before. What a palace of delights it
seemed to me! It is true that the meals were neither better nor better
cooked than those at home, and that the little room devoted to my use
was far from being as dainty as that which Fatima and I habitually
shared; but the keen zest of novelty pervaded everything, and the
faded chintz and wavy looking-glass of No. 25 are pleasant memories
still. Moreover, it had one real advantage over my own bedroom. High
up, at the back of the house, it looked out and down upon the river.
How the water glittered and sparkled! The sun was reflected from its
ripples as if countless hosts of tiny naïads each held a mirror to
catch his rays. My home had been inland, and at some distance from a
river, and the sight of water was new and charming to me. I could see
people strolling along the banks; and then a boat carrying sails of a
rich warm brown came into view and passed slowly under my eye, with a
stately grace and a fair wind. I was watching her with keen interest,
when I was summoned to dinner.

"Here, again, novelty exercised its charm. At home I think I may say
that the nursery party without exception regarded dinner in the light
of a troublesome necessity of existence. We were apt to grudge the
length and formalities of the meal; to want to go out, or not to want
to come in; or possibly the dining-room had been in use as a kite
manufactory, or a juvenile artist's studio, or a doll's dressmaker's
establishment, and we objected to make way for the roast meat and
pudding. But on this occasion I took an interest in the dignities of
the dinner-table, and examined the plates and dishes, and admired the
old-fashioned forks and spoons, and puzzled over the entwined initials
on their handles.

"After dinner we went out into the town, and looked through several
houses which were to let. My high hopes and eager interest in the
matter were soon quenched by fatigue; but faithful to my promise, I
examined each house in turn. None of them proved satisfactory to my
parents, and they were even less so to me. They were all new, all
commonplace, and all equally destitute of swing-trees, interesting
corners, deep window-seats, or superannuated boxes. Heat, fatigue, and
disappointment at last so overpowered me that my pale face attracted
notice, and my father brought me back to the inn. He carried me
upstairs to the sofa, and, pointing out a bookshelf for my amusement,
and telling me to order tea if I wished for it, went back to my
mother.

"It was a shabby little collection of volumes, that parlour library in
the 'Saracen's Head.' There was an old family Bible, a torn copy of
'Culpepper's 'Herbal,' the Homilies in inexpressibly greasy black
calf, a book of songs, a volume called 'Evelina,' which seemed chiefly
remarkable for dashes and notes of admiration, and--the book I chose.

"The book I chose would look very dull in your eyes, I dare say, my
dear Ida; you who live in an age of bright, smart story-books, with
clear type, coloured pictures, and gorgeous outsides. You don't know
what small, mean, inartistic 'cuts' enlivened your grandmother's
nursery library, that is, when the books were illustrated at all. You
have no idea how very little amusement was blended with the
instruction, and how much instruction with the amusement in our
playbooks then, and how few there were of them, and how precious those
few were! You can hardly imagine what a treasure I seemed to have
found in a volume which contained several engravings the size of the
page, besides many small wood-cuts scattered through the letter-press.
I lost sight alike of fatigue and disappointment, as I pored over the
pictures, and read bits here and there.

"And such charming pictures there were! With quaint anglers in
steeple-crowned hats, setting forth to fish, or breakfasting under a
tree (untrammelled by the formalities of a nursery meal), or bringing
their spoils to a wayside inn with a painted fish upon the sign-board,
and a hostess in a high hat and a stiff-bustled dress at the door.
Then there were small wood-cuts which one might have framed for a
doll's house; portraits of fish of all kinds, not easily
distinguishable by the unpractised eye; and nicer wood-cuts still of
country scenes, and country towns, and almost all of these with a
river in them. By the time that my father and mother returned, I had
come to the conclusion that the bank of a river was, of all
situations, the most desirable for one's home, and had built endless
bowers in the air like that in which the anglers are seated in the
picture entitled 'The Farewell;' and had imagined myself in a tall hat
and a stiff-bustled dress cooking fish for my favourite brothers after
the recipes in Walton and Cotton's 'Complete Angler.'

"They came back with disappointment on their faces. They had not got
a house, but my mother had got a headache, and we sat down to tea a
dispirited party.

"It is sometimes fortunate as well as remarkable, how soon everybody
knows everything about everybody else, especially in a small town. As
the tea-things went downstairs, our landlord came up to help us in our
difficulty. Had the gentleman succeeded in obtaining a house? If none
of the new lot suited him, the landlord believed that one or more of
older date were to let near the river. It was not the fashionable
quarter, but there had been well-to-do people and some good
substantial residences there.

"Our hopes rose again, and the idea of an old and substantial
residence in an unfashionable quarter was so much more favourable to
nursery interests than the smart gimcrack houses at which we had been
looking, that I should have been anxious to explore that part of the
town to which he directed us, even if it had not possessed a charm
that was now pre-eminent in my eyes. It was near the river.

"My mother was too much tired to attempt further investigations, but I
had completely recovered from my fatigues, and was allowed to go with
my father on the new search. He and I were very good company, despite
the difference in age between us. We were never in each other's way,
and whether we chatted or did not speak, we were happy together, and
enjoyed ourselves in our respective fashions.

"It was a lovely evening. Hand in hand we turned out of the 'Saracen's
Head' into the shingly street, took the turning which led to the
unfashionable quarter, and strolled on and on, in what Scott calls
'social silence.' I was very happy. It was not only a lovely
evening--it was one of these when the sunlight seems no longer mere
sunlight, but has a kind of magical glow, as if a fairy spell had been
cast over everything; when all houses look interesting--all country
lanes inviting--when each hedge, or ditch, or field seems a place made
to play in at some wonderful game that should go on for years.

"As we wandered on, we passed a line of small bright-looking houses,
which strongly caught my fancy. Each had its gay little garden, its
shrubbery of lilac, holly, or laurustinus, and its creeper-covered
porch. They looked so compact and cosy, so easy to keep tidy, so snug
and sunny, that one fancied the people who lived in them must be
happy, and wondered who they were.

"'Oh, father!' I exclaimed, 'what delightful houses!'

"'They are very pretty, my dear,' he answered; 'but they are much too
small for us; besides which, they are all occupied.'

"I sighed, and we were passing on, when I held him back with another
exclamation.

"'Oh! _look_ at the carnations!' For in one of the gardens large
clumps of splendid scarlet cloves caught my eye.

"My father humoured me, and we drew near to the laurustinus hedge, and
looked over into the gay little garden. As we looked, we became
conscious of what appeared like a heap or bundle of clothing near one
of the beds, which, on lifting itself up, proved to be a tall slender
lady of middle age, who, with her dress tucked neatly round her, a big
print hood on her head, and a trowel in her hand, was busily
administering such tender little attentions as mothers will lavish on
their children, and garden lovers on their flowers. She was not alone
in the garden, as we soon perceived. A shorter and stouter and younger
lady sat knitting by the side of a gentleman in a garden-chair, who
from some defect in his sight, wore a large green shade, which hid the
greater part of his face. The shade was made of covered pasteboard,
and was large and round, and so very like a lamp shade, that I hardly
ever look at one of those modern round globe lamps, my dear, if it
has a green shade, without being reminded of old Mr. Brooke.

"'Was that his name?' Ida asked.

"'Yes, my dear; but that we did not know till afterwards. When the
good lady lifted herself up, she saw us, and seemed startled. My
father raised his hat, and apologized politely. 'My little girl was so
much taken with your carnations, madam,' he said, 'that we made bold
to come near enough to look at them, not knowing that any one was in
the garden.'

"She seemed rather flustered, but pushed back her hood, and made a
stiff little curtsey in answer to my father's bow, and murmured
something about our being welcome.

"'Would you care to have some, my dear?' she added, looking at me. I
gave a delighted assent, and she had gathered two lovely carnations,
when we heard a quavering voice from under the green shade inquire--

"'What is it?'

"Our friend was at the old gentleman's side in a moment, speaking very
distinctly into his ear, as if he were deaf, whereby we heard her
answer,

"'It's a gentleman and his little daughter, James, admiring our
carnations, and I am gathering a few for the young lady, dear James.'

"'Quite right, quite right,' he croaked. 'Anything that we have.
Anything that we have.'

"It was a great satisfaction to me afterwards to remember that my
father had thanked these good people 'properly,' as I considered. As
for myself, I had only been able to blush and stammer out something
that was far from expressing my delight with the lovely nosegay I
received. Then the slender lady went back to her gardening. Her sister
took up the knitting which she had laid down, the old gentleman nodded
his lamp-shade in the direction where he supposed us to be and said,
'Good evening, sir, Good evening, miss;' and we went our way.

"The road wound on and on, and down and down, until we found ourselves
on the edge of the river. A log lay conveniently on the bank, and
there we seated ourselves. The tide was out, and the river bed was a
bed of mud except for a narrow stream of water that ran down the
middle. But, ah! how the mud glistened in the evening sunshine which
was reflected on it in prismatic colours. Little figures were dotted
here and there over its surface, and seawards the masts of some
vessels loomed large through the shining haze.

"'How beautiful everything looks this evening!' I exclaimed.

"'I see them walking in an air of glory,' murmured my father,
dreamily.

"He was quoting from a favourite old poem, which begins--

    'They are all gone into a world of light,
    And I alone sit lingering here.'

"This 'air of glory,' indeed, was over everything. The mud and the
tide pools, the dark human figures, the black and white seagulls that
sat like onyx pebbles on the river bed, the stream that spread
seawards like a silver scroll, the swans that came sailing, sailing
down the stream with just such a slow and stately pace as white-winged
ships might have come down the river with the tide, to pass (as the
swans did pass) into that 'world of light,' that shining seaward haze,
where your eye could not follow them unless shaded by your hand.

"I do not quite know how long we sat gazing before us in silent
enjoyment. Neither do I know what my father's thoughts were, as he sat
with his hands clasped on his knees and his blue eyes on the river.
For my own part, I fancied myself established in one of the little
houses as 'hostess,' with a sign-board having a fish painted upon it
hanging outside the door, and a bower of woodbine, sweet-briar,
jessamine, and myrtle commanding a view of the river. The day dream
was broken by my father's voice.

"'Mary, my dear, we must go about our business, or what will your
mother say to us? We must see after these houses. We can't live on the
river's bank.'

"'I wish we could,' I sighed; and though he had risen and turned away,
I lingered still. At this moment my father exclaimed--

"'Bless my soul!' and I jumped up and turned round.

"He was staring at a wall with a gateway in it, enclosing a house and
garden on the other side of the road. On the two gateposts were
printed in black Roman letters two words that I could not
understand--_Reka Dom_.

"'What does it mean?' I asked.

"'Reka Dom?' said my father thoughtfully (and he pronounced it _Rayka
Dome_). 'It is Russian. It means River House. Very curious! I suppose
the people who live here are Russians. It's a nice situation--a lovely
view--_lovely_!' and he had turned round to the river, but I caught
his arm.

"'Father, dear, no one lives here. Look!' and I pointed to a board
beyond the gateway, which stated in plain English that the house was
to let.

       *       *       *       *       *

"By the time that we returned to my mother, Reka Dom was to all
intents and purposes our home.

"It is true that the house was old, rambling, and out of repair, and
that what we heard of the landlord was not encouraging. He was rich,
we were told, but miserly; and 'a very queer old gentleman,' whose
oddness almost amounted to insanity. He had 'made himself so
unpleasant' to various people who had thought of taking the house,
that they drew back, and Reka Dom had been untenanted for some time.
The old woman who took care of it, and from whom we got this
information, prophesied further that he would 'do nothing to the old
place. He'd let it fall about his ears first.'

"It is also true that standing in the garden (which in its rambling,
disorderly way was charming, and commanded a lovely view), my father
rubbed his head ruefully, and said:

"'You know, Mary, your mother's chief objection to our latest home
was that the grounds were so much too large for our means of keeping
them in order; and this garden is the larger of the two, I fear.'

"And he did not seem to derive proportionate comfort from my reply.

"'But, father dear, you know you needn't keep it in order, and then we
can have it to play in.'

"And yet we took Reka Dom.

"The fact is that my father and I took a fancy to the place. On my
side this is easily to be accounted for. If all the other houses at
which we had looked had proved the direct reverse of what I (on behalf
of myself and my brothers and sisters) was in search of, Reka Dom in a
remarkable degree answered our requirements. To explore the garden was
like a tour in fairy land. It was oddly laid out. Three grass-plots or
lawns, one behind another, were divided by hedges of honeysuckle and
sweet-briar. The grass was long, the flower-borders were borders of
desolation, where crimson pæonies and some other hardy perennials made
the best of it, but the odour of the honeysuckle was luxuriously sweet
in the evening air. And what a place for bowers! The second lawn had
greater things in store for me. There, between two tall elm trees hung
a swing. With a cry of delight I seated myself, seized the ropes, and
gave a vigorous push. But the impetus was strong, and the ropes were
rotten, and I and the swing came to the ground together. This did not
deter me, however, from exploring the third lawn, where I made a
discovery to which that of the swing was as nothing.

"It was not merely that a small path through the shrubbery led me into
a little enclosed piece of ground devoted to those many-shaped,
box-edged little flower-beds characteristic of 'children's
gardens,'--it was not alone that the beds were shaped like letters,
and that there was indisputably an M among them--but they were six in
number. Just one apiece for myself and my brothers and sisters! And
though families of six children are not so very uncommon as to make it
improbable that my father's predecessor should have had the same
number of young ones as himself, the coincidence appeared to my mind
almost supernatural. It really seemed as if some kind old fairy had
conjured up the whole place for our benefit. And--bless the good
godmother!--to crown all, there were two old tea-chests and a
bottomless barrel in the yard.

"Doubtless many causes influenced my father in _his_ leaning towards
Reka Dom, and he did not confide them to me. But I do truly believe
that first and foremost of the attractions was its name. To a real
hearty lover of languages there is a charm in the sight of a strange
character, new words, a yet unknown tongue, which cannot be explained
to those who do not share the taste. And perhaps next to the mystic
attraction of words whose meaning is yet hidden, is to discover traces
of a foreign language in some unexpected and unlikely place. Russian
is not extensively cultivated; my father's knowledge of it was but
slight, and this quiet little water-side town an unlikely place for an
inscription in that language. It was curious, and then interesting,
and then the quaint simple title of the house took his fancy. Besides
this, though he could not but allow that there was reason in my
mother's views on the subject of large grounds in combination with one
man-of-all-work, he liked plenty of space and shrubbery where he could
wander about--his hands behind his back--without being disturbed; and
for his own part he had undoubtedly felt more pleasure in the
possession of large grounds than annoyance at seeing them neglected.
So the garden tempted him. Finally, there was a room opening upon a
laurel walk, which had at one time been a library. The shelves--old,
common, dirty and broken--were still there, and on the most secure of
them the housekeeper kept her cheese and candles, and an old shawl and
bonnet.

"'The place is made for us!' I exclaimed on my return from discovering
the old barrel and tea-chests. My father was standing in the library
looking out upon the garden, and he did not say No.

"From the old woman we learnt something of the former tenants. She was
a good-natured old soul, with an aggrieved tone of voice, due probably
to the depressing effects of keeping an empty house for a cantankerous
landlord. The former tenant's name was Smith, she said (unmistakably
English this!). But his lady was a _Roosian_, she believed. They had
lived in _Roosia_, and some of the children, having been born there,
were little _Roosians_, and had _Roosian_ names. She could not speak
herself, having no knowledge of the country, but she had heard that
the _Roosians_ were heathens, though Mr. Smith and his family went
regularly to church. They had lived by a river, she believed, and
their old home was called by the same outlandish name they had given
to this. She had heard that it meant a house by the water-side, but
could not say, knowing no language but her own, and having (she was
thankful to say) found it sufficient for all purposes. She knew that
before Mr. Smith's time the house was called Montague Mount, and there
was some sense in that name. Though what the sense was, she did not
offer to explain.

"'Please, please take it!' I whispered in a pause of the conversation!
'there are six little gardens, and--'

"My father broke in with mock horror on his face: 'Don't speak of six
gardens!' he exclaimed. 'The one will condemn the place, I fear, but
we must go home and consult your mother.'

"I suppose we did consult her.

"I know we described all the charms of the house and garden, and
passed rather a poor examination as to their condition, and what might
be expected from the landlord. That my father endeavoured to conceal
his personal bias, and that I made no secret of mine. At last my
mother interrupted some elaborately practical details by saying in
her gentle voice--

"'I think choosing a home is something like choosing a companion for
life. It is chiefly important to like it. There must be faults
everywhere. Do you take to the place, my dear?'

"'I like it certainly,' said my father. 'But the question is not what
I like, but what you like.'

"Then I knew it was settled, and breathed freely. For though my father
always consulted my mother's wishes, she generally contrived to choose
what she knew he would prefer. And she chose Reka Dom.

       *       *       *       *       *

"Henceforward good luck seemed to follow our new home.

"First, as to the landlord. The old woman had certainly not
exaggerated his oddity. But one of his peculiarities was a most
fortunate one for us. He was a bibliomaniac--a lover and collector of
valuable and curious books. When my father called on him to arrange
about the house, he found him sitting almost in rags, apparently
dining upon some cheese-parings, and surrounded by a library, the
value of which would have fed and clothed him with comfort for an
almost indefinite period. Upon the chair behind him sat a large black
cat with yellow eyes.

"When my father was ushered in, he gazed for a moment in silent
astonishment at the unexpected sight. Books in shelf after shelf up to
the ceiling, and piled in heaps upon the floor. As he stood
speechless, the little old man put down the plate, gathered his ragged
dressing-gown about him, and, followed by the cat, scrambled across
the floor and touched his arm.

"'You look at books as if you loved them?' he said.

"My father sighed as if a spell had been broken.

"'I am nearly half a century old,' he said, 'and I do not remember the
day when I did not love them.'

"He confessed afterwards to my mother that not less than two hours
elapsed before Reka Dom was so much as spoken of. Then his new
acquaintance was as anxious to secure him for a tenant as he had been
to take the house.

"'Put down on paper what you think wants doing, and it shall be done,'
was the old gentleman's liberal order on the subject of repairs.
'Lord! Lord!' he went on, 'it's one thing to have you, and another
thing to put the house right for men who don't know an Elzevir from an
annual in red silk. One fellow came here who would have given me five
pounds more than I wanted for the place; but he put his vile hat upon
my books. Lord! Lord!'

"The old man's strongest effort in my father's favour, however, was
the proposal of a glass of wine. He seemed to have screwed himself up
to the offer, and to be proportionately relieved when it was declined.

"'You're quite right,' he said, frankly; 'my wine is not so good as my
books. Come and see them, whenever you like.'

"'The bookshelves shall be repaired, sir,' was his final promise in
answer to a hint from my father, who (it being successful, and he
being a very straight-forward man) was ever afterwards ashamed of this
piece of diplomacy. 'And the fire-place must be seen to. Lord! Lord! A
man can live anywhere, but valuable books must be taken care of. Would
you believe it? I have a fire in this room three times a week in bad
weather. And fuel is terribly dear, terribly dear. And that slut in
the kitchen burns as much as if she had the care of the Vatican
Library. She said she couldn't roast the meat without. "Then give me
cold meat!" I said; but she roasts and boils all the same. So last
week I forbade the butcher the house, and we've lived on cheese ever
since, and _that's_ eightpence a pound. Food is terribly dear here,
sir; everything is dear. It's enough to ruin a man. And you've got a
family. Lord! Lord! How a man can keep a family and books together, I
can't imagine. However, I suppose children live chiefly on porridge.'

"Which supposition served for long as a household joke against my
brothers, whose appetite for roast meat was not less than that of
other healthy boys of the period.

"It was a happy moment when my father came back from this interview,
and Reka Dom was fairly ours. But a more delightful one was that in
which I told the successful result of my embassy to the nursery
conclave. I certainly had not the remotest claim to credit in the
matter, but I received an ovation proportionate to the good news I
brought. I told my story skilfully, and made the six gardens the
crowning point; at which climax my brother and sisters raised a shout
that so far exceeded the average of even nursery noises, that my
mother hurried to the spot, where our little sister Phil flung herself
into her arms, and almost sobbing with excitement, cried--

"'Oh, Mother dear! we're _hooraying_ for Reka Dom!'

       *       *       *       *       *

"It was sagely prophesied by our nurse and others that we should soon
be tired of our new fancy, and find 'plenty to complain of' in Reka
Dom as elsewhere. (It is nursery wisdom to chasten juvenile enthusiasm
by such depressing truths.) And undoubtedly both people and places are
apt to disappoint one's expectations on intimate acquaintance; but
there are people and places who keep love always, and such an one was
Reka Dom.

"I hardly know what to tell you of it, Ida. The happy years we spent
there were marked by no wonderful occurrences, and were not enlivened
by any particular gaiety. Beyond our own home our principal treat was
to take tea in the snug little house where we made our first
acquaintances. Those good ladies proved kind friends to us. Their buns
were not to be surpassed, and they had pale albums, and faded
treasures of the preceding generation, which it was our delight to
overhaul. The two sisters lived with their invalid brother, and that
was the household. Their names were Martha and Mary, and they
cherished a touching bit of sentiment in reference to the similarity
between their circumstances and those of the Family of Bethany.

"'I think it reminds us of what we ought to be, my dear,' Miss Mary
said to me one day. 'Only it is I who should have been called Martha,
for Martha is far more spiritually minded.' Humility was the most
prominent virtue in the character of these good ladies, and they
carried it almost to excess.

"I remember, as a child, thinking that even the holy sisters of
Bethany could hardly have been more good than the Misses Brooke, but I
was quite unable to connect any sentiment with the invalid brother. He
spoke little and did less, and yet his sisters continually quoted his
sayings and criticisms, and spoke of his fine taste and judgment; but
of all that he was supposed to say, only a few croaking common-places
ever met our ears.

"'Dear James was so much pleased with that little translation you
showed me,' or 'Dear James hopes that his young friends keep up their
practising. He considers music such a resource,' etc., etc.

"I believe they did hold conversations with him in which he probably
assented to their propositions, and they persuaded themselves that he
was very good company. And, indeed, he may have been all that they
believed; I can only say that to me dear James's remarks never
exceeded, 'Good-day, Miss. How are your excellent parents?' or some
similar civility. I really was afraid of him. There is something
appalling in a hoarse voice coming from under a green shade, and
connected with eyes you cannot meet, and features that are always
hidden. Beyond that shade we never saw to the day of his death.

"This occurred about four years after we first knew them. I well
remember the visit of condolence on which I accompanied my mother, the
bitter grief of the sisters, and the slow dropping of Miss Mary's
tears on to her black dress. Wonderful indeed is love! The most
talented and charming companion in the world could not have filled to
them the place of the helpless, uninteresting invalid who had passed
away.

"The Misses Brooke caused a commotion in the gossiping world of our
little town by going to the funeral. It was not the custom for ladies
to go to funerals, and, as a general rule, the timid sisters would not
have ventured to act against public opinion; but on this occasion they
were resolute. To hear the voice of authority meet them with the very
words wherewith Divine lips had comforted those other sisters, would
comfort them, as nothing else could. I remember how from a window we
watched the funeral with childish awe and curiosity--the thrill with
which we heard a maid announce 'the coffin,' and caught sight of the
flapping pall, and tried to realize that old Mr. Brooke was
underneath. Then close behind it came the two figures we knew so well,
veiled, black, and bent, and clinging together in the agony of that
struggle between faith and loss which every loving soul is some time
called on to endure. As we leant out of the open window, crying
bitterly in sympathy with them, and with the gloomy excitement of the
occasion, they raised themselves a little and walked more steadily.
The Rector's clear voice was cutting the air with the pathos of an
unusual sympathy.

     'I am the Resurrection and the Life--saith the Lord.'

"I understood then, and have never wondered since, how it was that the
Misses Brooke braved the gossip of the neighbourhood, and followed
their brother's body to the grave.

"These good people were, as I have said, our chief friends; but Reka
Dom itself afforded us ample amusement. The six children who had lived
there before us were a source of unfailing interest. The old woman of
the house remained about the place for a short time in the capacity of
charwoman, and she suffered many inquiries on our part as to the
names, ages, and peculiarities of our predecessors. As she had
'charred' for them, she was able to satisfy our curiosity to a
considerable extent, and then great was the pleasure of retailing to
our mother, as she sat knitting in the twilight, the anecdotes we had
collected of 'the little Russians.'

"'The Little Russians' certainly did much to cement our attachment to
Reka Dom. Their history was the history of our home. It was the
romance of the walks we played in, the swing we sat in, the gardens we
tended every day. To play at being the little Russians superseded all
other games. To 'pretend' that the little Russians were with us, and
to give dolls' entertainments in their honour, supplanted all former
fancies. Their gardens, by-the-by, were not allotted to their
successors without some difficulty, and the final decision involved a
disappointment to me. It seemed as if there could not be two opinions
as to the propriety of my having the letter M. But on further
consideration it appeared that as the remaining letters did not fit
the names of my brothers and sisters, some other way of distributing
them must be found. My mother at last decided that the letters of the
six beds were to be written on six separate bits of paper, and put in
a bag, and that one was to be drawn by each in turn. I still hoped
that I might draw the letter M, but it was not to be. That large and
sunny bed fell to my youngest brother, and I drew the letter I. Now
not only was the bed little more than a fourth of the size of that
which I had looked on as my own, but being very much in the shade, it
was not favourable to flowers. Then the four divisions of the letter M
afforded some scope for those effective arrangements which haunt one's
spring dreams for the coming summer; but what could be done with a
narrow strip with two narrower ends where the box-edging almost met,
and where nothing would blossom but lilies of the valley?

("Capricious things those lilies are! So obdurate under coaxing when
transplanted to some place they do not like, so immovably flourishing
in a home that suits them!)

"What I did was to make the best of my fate. After trying to reduce
the lilies of the valley to one neat group, and to cultivate gayer
flowers in the rest of the bed, and after signally failing in both
attempts, I begged a bit of spare ground in the big garden for my
roses and carnations, and gave up my share of the Russian plat to the
luxuriant lilies.

"It had belonged to the eldest boy. One of those born in Russia, and
with the outlandish names of which the charwoman spoke. His name was
Ivan. Many a time did I wish it had been William or Matthew, and once,
I remember, I dreamt a tantalizing dream of discovering that it was
Oliver, and of digging up the middle of the O, and effecting a round
bed of unrivalled brilliancy, with a white rose for the centre-piece
and crown. Once in the year, however, I had my revenge. In spring my
lilies of the valley were the finest to be seen. We had a custom that
all through the flower season a bouquet was laid by my mother's plate
before she came down to breakfast, and very proud we were when they
came from our own gardens. There were no horticultural wonders in
these nosegays, but in my short season of triumph, the size and
fragrance of my flowers never failed to excite admiration; and many
grown-up people besides my mother were grateful for bouquets from my
narrow bed. Credit in the matter I deserved none, for Ivan's lilies
took care of themselves.

"Having learnt the names of the little Russians, we had no difficulty
in discovering to which of them the respective letter beds had
belonged; and one of our amusements was that each should endeavour to
carry out what (so far as we could learn) had been the habits and
customs of the little Russian to whose garden he had succeeded. Then
we had a whole class of partisan games which gave us wonderful
entertainment. Sometimes we pretended to be Scottish chieftains, or
feudal barons of England, or chiefs of savage tribes. Our gardens
were always the lands we had inherited or conquered, and we called
ourselves by the names of the little Russians. When we were Highland
chiefs, I remember, we put Mac indiscriminately before all the names;
in some cases with a comical, and in others with a very satisfactory
effect. As chief of the MacIvans I felt justly proud of my title, but
a brother who represented the MacElizabeths was less fortunate. In the
sham battles our pet animals (we each had one) did duty for retainers,
much to their bewilderment. The dogs, indeed, would caper about, and
bark round the opposing parties in a way that was at least
inspiriting; but my Sandy Tom brandished his tail and took flying
leaps upon no principle whatever; and as to Fatima's tortoise, it
never budged from the beginning of the conflict to the end. Once,
indeed, by strewing dandelion heads in the direction of the enemy's
ground she induced him to advance, and at the cry of 'Forward,
MacPeters!' he put forth a lazy leg, and with elephantine dignity led
the attack, on the way to his favourite food. But (in spite of the
fable) his slow pace was against him, and in the ensuing _mêlée_ he
was left far behind.

"I could not learn much about Ivan, but of what I did discover some
things were easy enough for me to follow. He was fond of boating, a
taste I was not allowed to cultivate; but also he was fond of books,
the old woman said, and fond of sitting in the swing and reading, and
I heartily approved his choice in this respect.

"In helping to unpack my father's library, I had discovered a copy of
Walton and Cotton's 'Angler,' similar in every respect, but its good
condition, to the one that had charmed me at the inn. Sometimes the
precious volume was lent to me, and with it in my lap, and my arms
round the ropes of the swing, I passed many a happy hour. What fancies
I wove after studying those quaint, suggestive old prints! As sweet as
that 'contexture of woodbines, sweet-briar, and myrtle' in which the
anglers sat and sipped orange punch at Tottenham. The characters of
_Piscater_, _Venater_, and _Auceps_, and the style of their
conversations by the wayside, I found by no means unlike those of the
Pilgrim's Progress. The life-like descriptions of nature (none the
less attractive at my age from being quaintly mixed with fable and
symbolism, and pointed with pious morals) went straight to my heart;
and though I skipped many of the fish chapters, I re-read many of the
others, and 'The Complete Angler' did not a little to feed my strong
natural love for out-door life and country pleasures, to confirm my
habit of early rising, and to strengthen my attachment to the
neighbourhood of a river.

"But my father's library furnished another volume for my garden
studies. From him I inherited some of that taste which finds a magic
attraction in dictionaries and grammars; and I only wish that I had
properly mastered about half the languages in which it was the delight
of my girlhood to dabble. As yet, however, I only looked at the
'grammar corner' with ambitious eyes, till one day there came upon me
the desire to learn Russian. I asked my father for a Russian grammar,
and he pointed out the only one that he possessed. My father seldom
refused to lend us his books, and made no inquiries as to why we
wanted them; but he was intensely strict about their proper treatment,
so that we early learnt to turn over leaves from the top, to avoid
dogs' ears, and generally to treat books properly and put them away
punctually. Thus I got the grammar, and carried it off to the swing.
Alas! it was not even Russian and English. It was a fat old French
edition, interleaved for notes. The notes were my father's, and in
English, which was of some assistance, and I set myself resolutely to
learn the alphabet. But my progress was slow, and at last I got my
father to write _Reka Dom_ for me in Russian character, as I had
determined to master these few letters first and then proceed. I soon
became familiar with them, and was not a little proud of the
achievement. I made a large copy to fasten upon the nursery wall; I
wrote it in all my books; and Fatima, who could not be induced to
attack the fat grammar with me, became equally absorbed on her part in
the effort to reduce the inscription to cross-stitch for the benefit
of her sampler.

"I borrowed the fat grammar again, and, in spite of my father's
warnings that it was too difficult for me as yet, I hoped soon to be
proficient in the language of the little Russians. But warnings from
one's elders are apt to come true, and after a few vain efforts I left
the tough old volume in its corner and took to easier pastimes.

"I had always an inventive turn, and was, as a rule, the
director-in-chief of our amusements. I know I was often very tiresome
and tyrannical in the ensuing arrangements, and can only hope the
trouble I took on these occasions on behalf of my brothers and
sisters, served in their eyes to balance my defects. I remember one
device of mine that proved particularly troublesome.

"When sham battles had ended in real quarrels, and following in the
footsteps of the little Russians was becoming irksome--(especially to
Fatima, whose predecessor--Peter--had been of a military turn, and had
begun fortifications near the kitchen garden which she was incompetent
to carry out) a new idea struck me. I announced that letters properly
written and addressed to the little Russians, 'Reka Dom, Russia,' and
posted in the old rhubarb-pot by the tool-house, would be duly
answered. The replies to be found in a week's time at the same office.

"The announcement was received with delight, and no doubt was ever
expressed as to the genuineness of the answers which I regularly
supplied, written, by the by, in excellent English, but with Reka Dom
neatly effected in Russian characters on the note-paper. In the first
place, I allowed no awkward inquiries into the machinery of my little
plots for the benefit of the rest; and in the second, we had all, I
think, a sort of half-and-half belief, a wilful credulity in reference
to our many fancies (such as fairies and the like), of which it is
impossible to give the exact measure. But when, the six weekly letters
having become rather burdensome, I left off writing answers from Ivan
to myself, the others began to inquire why Ivan never wrote now. As
usual, I refused to give any explanations, and after inventing several
for themselves which answered for awhile, they adopted by general
consent an idea put forth by little Phillis. The child was sitting one
day with her fat cheek on her hand, and her eyes on the rhubarb-pot,
waiting for her share of the correspondence to be read aloud to her,
when the fancy seemed to strike her, and she said quietly, but with an
air of full conviction--

"'_I___ know what it is--_Ivan is dead_.'

"The idea took strange hold of us all. We said, 'Perhaps he is dead,'
and spoke and thought of him as dead, till I think we were fully
persuaded of it. No chair was set for him at the dolls' feasts, and I
gained a sort of melancholy distinction as being without a partner
now. 'You know Mary has no little Russian, since Ivan is dead.'

"When our visible pets died, we buried them with much pomp, to the
sound of a drum and a tin trumpet, in a piece of ground by the
cabbage-bed; but in the present instance that ceremony was impossible.
We resolved, however, to erect a gravestone to the memory of our fancy
friend in his own garden. I had seen letters cut on stone, and was
confident that with a chisel and hammer nothing could be easier. These
the nursery tool-box furnished. I wrote out an elaborate inscription
headed by Reka Dom in Russian characters, and we got a stone and set
to work. The task, however, was harder than we had supposed. My long
composition was discarded, and we resolved to be content with this
simple sentence, _To the memory of Ivan_. But 'brevity is the soul of
wit,' and the TO took so long to cut, that we threw out three more
words, and the epitaph finally stood thus:

TO IVAN.

"In a rude fashion this was accomplished; and with crape on our arms
and the accustomed music we set up the stone among the lilies.

       *       *       *       *       *

"In time, Ida, we grew up, as it is called. Almost before we knew it,
and whilst we still seemed to be looking forward to our emancipation
from nursery authority and childish frocks, Fatima and I found
ourselves grown-up young ladies, free to fashion our costume to our
own tastes, and far from Reka Dom. Yes, we had changed our home again.
The River House was ours no longer. Childhood also had slipped from
our grasp, but slowly as the years had seemed to pass, they had not
sufficed to accomplish every project we had made in them. Not one of
those long summers by the river had seen that gorgeous display of
flowers in our garden which in all good faith and energy we planned
with every spring. I had not learnt Russian. Years had gone by since I
first took up the fat grammar, but I had acquired little since that
time beyond the familiar characters of the well-beloved name, Reka
Dom.

"The country town that circumstances had now made our home possessed
at least one attraction for us. It was here that our old friends the
Misses Brooke had settled when their brother's death broke up the
quiet little household. I was very fond of the good ladies; not less
so now than I had been as a child, when their home-made buns and faded
albums made an evening festive, and were looked forward to as a treat.
They were good women, severe to themselves and charitable to others,
who cultivated the grace of humility almost in excess. One little
weakness, however, in their otherwise estimable characters had at
times disturbed the even course of our friendship. I hardly know what
to call it. It was not want of candour. More truthful women do not
exist than they were, and I believe they never wilfully deceived
anyone. I can only describe it as a habit of indulging in small plots
and suspicions; a want of trust in other people, partly traceable,
perhaps, to a lack of due confidence in themselves, but which was very
provoking to one as young, eager, and sincerely affectionate as I was.
I was indignant to discover little plots laid to test my sincerity;
and to find my genuine (if not minutely measured) expressions of
feeling doubted. If this peculiarity had been troublesome in the early
stages of our acquaintance, it was doubly so when we met again, after
the lapse of some years. For one thing, the dear ladies were older,
and fidgety, foolish little weaknesses of this kind sometimes increase
with years. Then I was older also, and if they had doubted their own
powers of entertainment when I was a child, they would still less
believe that I could enjoy their society now that I was a 'young
lady.' Whereas the truth was, that though my taste for buns and my
reverence for smooth pencil drawings in impossible perspective had
certainly diminished, my real enjoyment of a quiet evening with my old
friends was greater than before. I liked to take my sewing to their
undisturbed fireside, and not a few pieces of work which had flagged
under constant interruptions at home were rapidly finished as I
chatted with them. I liked to draw out the acquirements which they
would not believe that they possessed. I enjoyed rubbing my modern and
desultory reading against their old-fashioned but solid knowledge. I
admired their high and delicate principles, and respected their almost
fatiguing modesty. At an age when religious questions move and often
seriously trouble girls' minds, I drew comfort from their piety, which
(although as quiet and modest as all their other virtues) had been for
years, under my eyes, the ruling principle of all they did, the only
subject on which they had the courage to speak with decision, the
crown of their affections and pleasures, and the sufficient
consolation of their sorrow. In addition to all this, when I went to
them, I knew that my visit gave pleasure.

"It seemed hard that they could not always repose a similar confidence
in me. And yet so it was. The consistent affection of years had failed
to convince them that 'a young, pretty, lively girl' (as they were
pleased to call me) could find pleasure in the society of 'two dull
old women.' So they were apt to suspect either a second motive for my
visit, or affectation in my appearance of enjoyment. At times I was
chafed almost beyond my powers of endurance by these fancies; and on
one occasion my vexation broke all bounds of respect.

"'You think me uncandid, ma'am,' I cried; 'and what are you? If you
were to hear that I had spoken of you, elsewhere, as two dull old
women, you would be as much astonished as angered. You know you would.
You know you don't think I think so. I can't imagine why you say it!'

"And my feelings being as much in the way of my logic as those of most
other women, I got no further, but broke down into tears.

"'She says we're uncandid, Mary' sobbed Miss Martha.

"'So we are, I believe,' said Miss Mary, and then we all cried
together.

"I think the protracted worry of this misunderstanding (which had been
a long one) had made me almost hysterical. I clearly remember the
feeling of lying with my face against the horsehair sofa in the little
dining-room, feebly repeating, 'You shouldn't, you know. You
shouldn't!' amid my tears, my hair being softly stroked the while by
the two sisters, who comforted me, and blamed themselves with a depth
of self-abasement that almost made me laugh. It had hardly seemed
possible that their customary humility could go lower. The affair was
wound up with a good deal of kissing, and tea, and there were no more
suspicions for a long time.

       *       *       *       *       *

"There had been peace, as I said, for long. But as, at the best of
times, the Misses Brooke never gave us an invitation without going
through the form of apologizing for the probable dulness of the
entertainment, I was not surprised one morning to find myself invited
to tea at Belle Vue Cottage for the following evening, on the strict
condition that I should refuse the invitation if I felt disinclined to
go. I had met the good ladies as we came out of church. There was
Morning Prayer on Wednesdays and Fridays at one church in the town,
and if the two little straw bonnets of the Misses Brooke had not been
seen bending side by side at every service, the rest of the scanty
congregation would have been as much astonished as if every one in the
town who had time and opportunity for public worship had availed
themselves of the privilege. On this day they had been there as usual,
and when we turned up the street together, the invitation was given.

"'And could you induce your respected father to come with you, Mary
dear?' added Miss Mary. 'You know our rooms are small, or we should be
so glad to see Fatima. But we have a few friends coming, and she will
understand.'

"'Only a few,' Miss Martha said, hastily. 'Don't make her think
there's anything worth coming for, Mary. And mind, Mary dear, if you
don't care to come, that you say so. There's no need for "excuses"
with us. And you know exactly what our tea-parties are.'

"'Now, Miss Martha,' I said, shaking my fist at her, 'I won't bear
it!'

"'Well, my dear, you know it's true. And if you should have an
invitation to the Lodge between now and to-morrow night, mind you
throw us over. There's no dancing and heavy supper at the Cottage.'

"'I'll eat a pound of beefsteak and have a private hornpipe to fortify
me before I come, ma'am. And if the Lightfoots should ask me between
now and then, I'll think about throwing over my oldest friends to
oblige you!'

"'You're very clever, my dear,' sighed Miss Martha, 'and it's easy to
laugh at a stupid old woman like me.'

"Now this was rather unfair, for I had only taken to banter on these
occasions because a serious treatment of the subject had failed. I
made my peace, however, by grave and affectionate assurances that I
wished to come, and would like to come; and by adding a solemn promise
that if I felt averse from it when the time came, I would stay at
home.

"I was vexed to find symptoms of the old misunderstanding arising. The
good ladies were evidently in a fidgety humour to-day, and going home
full of it, I poured out my vexation to Fatima.

"Fatima's composure was not so easily ruffled as mine. She was apt to
sit in easy, graceful attitudes, looking very idle, but getting
through a wonderful amount of exquisite needlework, and listening to
my passing grievances without being much disturbed herself.

"'I don't think I would worry myself,' she said, as she rapidly sorted
the greens for a leaf in her embroidery. 'My idea is, that you will
find the party more lively than usual. I have often noticed that when
the old ladies are particularly full of apologies, something or
somebody is expected.'

"'I didn't want anything or anybody,' I said, dolefully; 'but I wish
they wouldn't take fancies, and I wish they wouldn't put one through
such cross-examinations about nothing. As to the party, who could
there be, but the old set?'

"'Nobody, I suppose. There'll be the Wilkinsons, of course;' and
Fatima marked the fact with an emphatic stitch. 'And Mr. Ward, I
suppose, and Dr. Brown, and the Jones's girls, and--'

"'Oh, the rooms wouldn't hold more!' I said.

"'There's always room for one more--for a gentleman at any rate; and,
depend upon it, it is as I say.'

"Fatima was not so fond of the Misses Brooke as I was. She did not
scruple to complain of the trouble it cost to maintain intimate
relations with the excellent but touchy old ladies, and of the hot
water about trifles into which one must perpetually fall.

"'I hope I am pretty trustworthy,' she would say, 'and I am sure you
are, Mary. And if we are not, let them drop our acquaintance. But they
treat their friends as we used to treat our flowers at Reka Dom! They
are always taking them up to see how they are going on, and I like to
vegetate in peace.'

"I could not have criticized my dear and respected old friends so
freely; but yet I knew that Fatima only spoke the truth.

"The subject was unexpectedly renewed at dinner.

"'Mary,' said my father, 'is there any mystery connected with this
tea-party at Miss Brooke's?'

"Fatima gave me a mischievous glance.

"'If there is, sir,' said I, 'I am not in the secret.'

"'I met them in the town,' he went on, 'and they were good enough to
invite me; and as I must see Ward about some registers, I ventured to
ask if he were to be of the party (thinking to save my old legs a walk
to his place). The matter was simple enough, but Miss Martha seemed to
fancy that I wanted to know who was going to be there. I fully
explained my real object, but either she did not hear or she did not
believe me, I suppose, for she gave me a list of the expected
company.'

"'I am sure she would have believed you, sir, if she had realized what
you were saying,' I said. 'I know the sort of thing, but I think that
they are generally so absorbed in their own efforts to do what they
think you want, they have no spare attention for what you say.'

"'A very ingenious bit of special pleading, my dear, but you have not
heard all. I had made my best bow and was just turning away, when
Miss Martha, begging me to excuse her, asked with a good deal of
mystery and agitation if _you_ had commissioned me to find out who was
to be at the party. I said I had not seen you since breakfast, but
that I was quite able to assure her that if you had wished to find out
anything on the subject, you would have gone direct to herself, with
which I repeated my best bow in my best style, and escaped.'

"I was too much hurt to speak, and Fatima took up the conversation
with my father.

"'You will go, sir?' she said.

"'Of course, my dear, if Mary wishes it. Besides, Ward _is_ to be
there. I learnt so much.'

"'You learnt more, sir,' said Fatima, 'and please don't leave us to
die of curiosity. Who is to be there, after all?'

"'The Wilkinsons, and Miss Jones and her sister, and Ward, and an old
friend of Miss Brooke's, a merchant.'

"'But his name, please!' cried Fatima, for my father was retreating to
his study.

"'Smith--John Smith,' he answered laughing, and we were left alone.

"I was very much disposed to be injured and gloomy, but Fatima would
not allow it. She was a very successful comforter. In the first place,
she was thoroughly sympathetic; and in the second, she had a great
dislike to any disturbance of the general peace and harmony, and at
last, her own easy, cheerful view of things became infectious where no
very serious troubles were concerned.

"'People must have their little weaknesses,' she said, 'and I am sure
they haven't many failings.'

"'This weakness is so unworthy of them,' I complained.

"'All good people's weaknesses are unworthy of them, my dear. And the
better they are, the more unworthy the weakness appears. Now, Mary, do
be reasonable! You know at the bottom how true they are, and how fond
of you. Pray allow them a few fidgety fancies, poor old dears. No
doubt we shall be just as fidgety when we are as old. I'm sure I shall
have as many fancies as hairs in my wig, and as to you, considering
how little things weigh on your mind now--'

"Fatima's reasoning was not conclusive, but I think I came at last to
believe that Miss Brooke's distrust was creditable to herself, and
complimentary to me--so it certainly must have been convincing.

"'And now,' she concluded, 'come upstairs and forget it. For I have
got two new ideas on which I want your opinion. The first is a new
stitch, in which I purpose to work some muslin dresses for us both. I
thought of it in bed this morning. The second is a new plan for
braiding your hair, which came into my head whilst father was reading
aloud that speech to us last night. I had just fastened up the last
plait when he laid down the paper.'

"'You absurd Fatima!' I cried. 'How could you! And it was so
interesting!'

"'Don't look shocked,' said Fatima. 'I shall never be a politician. Of
all studies, that of politics seems to me the most disturbing and
uncomfortable. If some angel, or inspired person would tell me which
side was in the right, and whom to believe in, I could be a capital
partisan. As it is, I don't worry myself with it; and last night when
you were looking flushed and excited at the end of the speech, I was
calmly happy--'

"'But, Fatima,' I broke in, 'you don't mean to say--'

"'If it had lasted five minutes longer,' said Fatima, 'I should have
comfortably decided whether ferns or ivy would combine better with the
loops.'

"'But, Fatima! were you really not listening when--'

"'On the whole I decide for ivy,' said Fatima, and danced out of the
room, I following and attempting one more remonstrance in the hall.

"'But, Fatima!--'

"'With perhaps a suspicion of white chrysanthemums,' she added over
the banisters.

"Both the new ideas promised to be successful, and the following
evening my hair was dressed in what Fatima now called the political
plaits. From the first evening of my introduction into society she had
established herself as my lady's maid. She took a generous delight in
dressing me up, and was as clever as she was kind about it. This
evening she seemed to have surpassed herself, as I judged by the
admiring exclamations of our younger sister Phillis--a good little
maid, who stood behind my chair with combs and pins in her hand as
Fatima's aide-de-camp. Finally, the dexterous fingers interwove some
sprays of ivy with the hair, and added white rosebuds for lack of
chrysanthemums.

"'Perfect!' Fatima exclaimed, stepping backwards with gestures of
admiration that were provokingly visible in the glass before which I
sat. 'And to think that it should be wasted on an uninteresting
tea-party! You will not wear your new muslin, of course?'

"'Indeed, I shall,' I answered. 'You know I always make myself smart
for the Cottage.' Which was true, and my reason for it was this. I
had once gone there to a quiet tea-party in a dress that was rather
too smart for the occasion, and which looked doubly gay by contrast
with the sombre costume of the elderly friends whom I met. I was
feeling vexed with myself for an error in taste, when Miss Mary came
up to me, and laying her hands affectionately on me, and smoothing my
ribbons, thanked me for having come in such a pretty costume.

"'You come in, my dear,' she said, 'like a fresh nosegay after winter.
You see we are old women, my love, and dress mostly in black, since
dear James's death; and our friends are chiefly elderly and
sombre-looking also. So it is a great treat to us to look at something
young and pretty, and remember when we were girls, and took pains with
such things ourselves.'

"'I was afraid I was too smart, Miss Mary,' I said.

"'To be sure it is a waste to wear your pretty things here,' Miss Mary
added; 'but you might let us know sometimes when you are going to a
grand party, and we will come and look at you.'

"I was touched by the humble little lady's speech, and by the thought
of how little one is apt to realize the fact that faded, fretful,
trouble-worn people in middle life have been young, and remember their
youth.

"Thenceforward I made careful toilettes for the Cottage, and this
night was not an exception to the rule.

"I was dressed early; my father was rather late, and we three girls
had nearly an hour's chat before I had to go.

"We began to discuss the merchant who was to vary the monotony of our
small social circle. Phillis had heard that a strange gentleman had
arrived in the town this afternoon by the London stage. Fatima had an
idea on the subject which she boldly stated. One of the Misses Brooke
was going to be married--to this London merchant. We were just at an
age when a real life romance is very attractive, and the town was not
rich in romances--at least, in our little society. So Fatima's idea
found great favour with us, and, as she described it, seemed really
probable. Here was an old friend, a friend of their youth, and
probably a lover, turned up again, and the sisters were in a natural
state of agitation. (It fully accounted for Miss Martha's suspicious
sensitiveness yesterday, and I felt ashamed of having being
aggrieved.) Doubtless the lovers had not been allowed to marry in
early life because he was poor. They had been parted, but had remained
faithful. He had made a fortune, like Dick Whittington, and now, a
rich London merchant, had come back to take his old love home. Being
an old friend, it was obviously a youthful attachment; and being a
merchant, he must be very rich. This happy combination--universal in
fiction, though not invariable in real life--was all that could be
desired, and received strong confirmation from the fact of his coming
from London; for in those days country girls seldom visited the
metropolis, and we regarded the great city with awe, as the centre of
all that was wealthy and wonderful. It was a charming story, and
though we could not but wish that he had returned before Miss Martha
took to a 'front' and spectacles, yet we pictured a comfortable
domestic future for them; and Fatima was positive that 'worlds' might
be done for the appearance of the future Mrs. Smith by more tasteful
costume, and longed ardently to assume the direction of her toilette.

"'I don't believe that she need wear a front,' she pleaded. 'I daresay
she has plenty of pretty grey hair underneath. Spectacles are
intellectual, if properly worn; which, by the by, they need not be at
meals when your husband is looking at you across the table; and as to
caps--'

"But here my father knocked at the door, and I put on my cloak and
hood, and went with him.

"The Misses Brooke received us affectionately, but I thought with some
excitement, and a flush on Miss Martha's cheeks almost made me smile.
I could not keep Fatima's fancy out of my head. Indeed, I was
picturing my old friend in more cheerful and matronly costume
presiding over the elegant belongings of a stout, well-to-do,
comfortable Mr. John Smith, as I moved about in the little room, and
exchanged mechanical smiles and greetings with the familiar guests. I
had settled the sober couple by their fireside, and was hesitating
between dove-colour and lavender-grey for the wedding silk, when Miss
Martha herself disturbed me before I had decided the important
question. I fancied a slight tremor in her voice as she said--

"'Mr. John Smith.'

"I dropped a more formal curtsey than I had hitherto done, as was due
to a stranger and a gentleman, and looked once at the object of my
benevolent fancies, and then down again at my mittens. His head was
just coming up from a low bow, and my instantaneous impression was,
'He wears a brown wig.' But in a moment more he was upright, and I saw
that he did not. And--he certainly was not suitable in point of age. I
took one more glance to make sure, and meeting his eyes, turned
hastily, and plunged into conversation with my nearest neighbour, not
noticing at the instant who it was. As I recovered from my momentary
confusion, I became aware that I was talking to the rector's wife, and
had advanced some opinions on the subject of the weather which she was
energetically disputing. I yielded gracefully, and went back to my
thoughts. I hope Miss Martha did not feel as I did the loss of that
suitable, comfortable, middle-aged partner my fancy had provided for
her. It did seem a pity that he had no existence. I thought that
probably marriage was the happiest condition for most people, and felt
inclined to discuss the question with the rector's wife, who had had
about twenty-two years' exemplary experience of that state. Then I
should like to have helped to choose the silk--

"At this point I was asked to play.

"I played some favourite things of Miss Brooke's and some of my own,
Mr. Smith turning over the leaves of my music; and then he was asked
to sing, and to my astonishment, prepared to accompany himself. Few
English gentlemen (if any) could accompany their own songs on the
pianoforte in my youth, Ida; most of them then had a wise idea that
the pianoforte was an instrument 'only fit for women,' and would have
as soon thought of trying to learn to play upon it as of studying the
spinning-wheel. I do not know that I had ever heard one play except my
father, who had lived much abroad. When Mr. Smith sat down at the
instrument, I withdrew into a corner, where Miss Martha followed me as
if to talk. But when he began, I think every one was silent.

"The song he sang is an old one now, Ida, but it was comparatively new
then, and it so happened that very few of us had heard it before. It
was 'Home, Sweet Home.' He had a charming voice, with a sweet pathetic
ring about it, and his singing would have redeemed a song of far
smaller merit, and of sentiment less common to all his hearers. As it
was, our sympathies were taken by storm. The rector's wife sobbed
audibly, but, I believe, happily, with an oblique reference to the ten
children she had left at home; and poor Miss Martha, behind me,
touched away tear after tear with her thin finger-tips, and finally
took to her pocket-handkerchief, and thoughts of the dear dead
brother, and the little house and garden, and I know not what earlier
home still. As for me, I thought of Reka Dom.

"We had had many homes, but that was _the_ home _par excellence_--the
beloved of my father, the beloved of us all. And as the clear voice
sang the refrain, which sounded in some of our ears like a tender cry
of recall to past happiness,

     'Home--Home--sweet, sweet Home!'

I stroked Miss Martha's knee in silent sympathy, and saw Reka Dom
before my eyes. The river seemed to flow with the melody. I swung to
the tune between the elm-trees, with Walton and Cotton on my lap. What
would Piscator have thought of it, had the milkmaid sung him this
song? I roamed through the three lawns that were better to me than
pleasures and palaces, and stood among the box-edged gardens. Then the
refrain called me back again--

     'Home--Home--sweet, sweet Home!'

I was almost glad that it ended before I, too, quite broke down.

"Everybody crowded round the singer with admiration of the song, and
inquiries about it.

"'I heard it at a concert in town the other day,' he said, 'and it
struck me as pretty, so I got a copy. It is from an English opera
called "Clari," and seems the only pretty thing in it.'

"'Do you not like it?' Miss Jones asked me; I suppose because I had
not spoken.

"'I think it is lovely,' I said, 'as far as I can judge; but it
carries one away from criticism; I do not think I was thinking of the
music; I was thinking of Home.'

"'Exactly.'

"It was not Miss Jones who said 'Exactly,' but the merchant, who was
standing by her; and he said it, not in that indefinite tone of polite
assent with which people commonly smile answers to each other's
remarks at evening parties, but as if he understood the words from
having thought the thought. We three fell into conversation about the
song--about 'Clari'--about the opera--the theatre--about London; and
then Dr. Brown, who had been educated in the great city, joined us,
and finally he and Miss Jones took the London subject to themselves,
and the merchant continued to talk to me. He was very pleasant
company, chiefly from being so alive with intelligence that it was
much less trouble to talk with him than with any one I had ever met,
except my father. He required so much less than the average amount of
explanation. It hardly seemed possible to use too few words for him to
seize your meaning by both ends, so to speak; the root your idea
sprang from, and conclusion to which it tended.

"We talked of music--of singing--of the new song, and of the subject
of it--home. And so of home-love, and patriotism, and the characters
of nations in which the feeling seemed to predominate.

"'Like everything else, it depends partly on circumstances, I
suppose,' he said. 'I sometimes envy people who have only one
home--the eldest son of a landed proprietor, for instance. I fancy I
have as much home-love in me as most people, but it has been divided;
I have had more homes than one.'

"'_I_ have had more homes than one,' I said; 'but with me I do not
think it has been divided. At least, one of the homes has been so much
dearer than the others.'

"'Do you not think so because it is the latest, and your feelings
about it are freshest?' he asked.

"I laughed. 'A bad guess. It is not my present home. This one was near
a river.'

"'Exactly.'

"This time the 'exactly' did not seem so appropriate as before, and I
explained further.

"'For one thing we were there when I was at an age when attachment to
a place gets most deeply rooted, I think. As a mere child one enjoys
and suffers like a kitten from hour to hour. But when one is just old
enough to form associations and weave dreams, and yet is still a
child--it is then, I fancy, that a home gets almost bound up with
one's life.'

"He simply said 'Yes,' and I went on. Why, I can hardly tell, except
that to talk on any subject beyond mere current chit-chit, and be
understood, was a luxury we did not often taste at the tea-parties of
the town.

"'And yet I don't know if my theory will hold good, even in our case,'
I went on, 'for my father was quite as much devoted to the place as we
were, and fell in love with it quite as early. But the foreign name
was the first attraction to him, I think.'

"'It was abroad, then?' he asked.

"I explained, and again I can hardly tell why, but I went on talking
till I had given him nearly as full a history of Reka Dom as I have
given to you. For one thing he seemed amazingly interested in the
recital, and drew out many particulars by questions; and then the song
had filled my head with tender memories, and happy little details of
old times, and it was always pleasant to prose about the River Home,
as indeed, my child, it is pleasant still.

"We were laughing over some childish reminiscence, when Miss Martha
tapped me on the shoulder and said rather louder than usual--

"'Dear Mary, there are some engravings here, my love, I should like
you to look at.'

"I felt rather astonished, for I knew every book and picture in the
house as well as I knew my own, but I followed her to a table, when
she added, in a fluttering whisper--

"'You'll excuse my interrupting you, my love, I'm sure; but it was
becoming quite particular.'

"I blushed redder than the crimson silk binding of the 'Keepsake'
before me. I wished I could honestly have misunderstood Miss Martha's
meaning. But I could not. Had I indeed talked too much and too long to
a gentleman and a stranger? (It startled me to reflect how rapidly we
had passed that stage of civil commonplace which was the normal
condition of my intercourse with the gentlemen of the town.) I was
certainly innocent of any intentional transgression of those bounds of
reticence and decorum which are a young lady's best friends, but as to
the length of my conversation with the merchant I felt quite uncertain
and unspeakably alarmed.

"I was indulging a few hasty and dismal reflections when Miss Martha
continued--

"'When I was young, dear Mary, I remember a valuable piece of advice
that was given me by my excellent friend and schoolmistress, Miss
Peckham, "If you are only slightly acquainted with a gentleman, talk
of indifferent matters. If you wish to be friendly but not
conspicuous, talk of _his_ affairs; but only if you mean to be very
intimate, speak of yourself;"' and adding, 'I'm sure you'll forgive
me, my love,' Miss Martha fluttered from the table.

"At the moment I was feeling provoked both with her and with myself,
and did not feel so sure about the forgiveness as she professed to be;
but of one thing I felt perfectly certain. Nothing but sheer necessity
should induce me to speak another syllable to the London merchant.

"Circumstances did not altogether favour my resolution. I scrupulously
avoided so much as a look at Mr. Smith, though in some mysterious way
I became conscious that he and my father were having a long
_tête-à-tête_ conversation in a corner. I devoted myself exclusively
to the rector's wife till supper, and then I carefully chose the
opposite side of the table to that to which the merchant seemed to be
going. But when I was fairly seated, for some reason he gave up his
place to someone else, and when it was impossible for me to change my
seat, he took the one next to it. It was provoking, but I steadily
resisted his attempts to talk, and kept my face as much averted as
possible. Once or twice he helped me to something on the table, but I
barely thanked him, and never lifted my eyes to his face. I could
not, however, avoid seeing the hand that helped me, and idly noticing
a ring that I had remarked before, when he was playing. It was a fine
blue stone, a lapis lazuli, curiously and artistically set. 'Rich
merchants can afford such baubles!' I thought. It was very tasteful,
however, and did not look like English work. There was something
engraven upon it, which did not look like English either. Was it
Greek? I glanced at it with some curiosity, for it reminded me of--but
that was nonsense, a fancy that came because the subject was in my
mind. At this moment the hand and ring were moved close to me and I
looked again.

"It was not a fancy. There was no mistaking the inscription this time.
I had learnt it too thoroughly--written it too often--loved it too
well--it was _Reka Dom_.

"For a moment I sat in blind astonishment. Then the truth suddenly
flashed upon me. The merchant's name was the name of our predecessors
at Reka Dom. True, it was such a common one that I had met more than
one family of Smiths since then without dreaming of any connection
between them and the River House. And yet, of course, it was there
that the Misses Brooke had known him. Before our time. Which could he
be? He was too young to be the father, and there was no John among the
little Russians--unless, yes, it was the English version of one of the
Russian names--and this was Ivan.

"It crowned my misfortunes. What would Miss Martha say if she knew
what had been the subject of our conversation? Would that that
excellent rule which had been the guide of her young ladyhood had
curtailed the conversational propensities of mine! I thought of the
three degrees of intimacy with a shudder. Why had we not been
satisfied with discussing the merits of the song?

"We had gone on to talk of him and his homes, and as if that were not
enough, had proceeded further to me and mine. I got red as I sat
listening to some civil chat from Mr. Ward the curate (eminently in
the most innocent stage of the first degree), and trying to recall
what we had not spoken of in connection with that Home which had been
so beloved of both of us, and that Ivan whose lilies I had tended for
years.

"I grew nearly frantic as I thought that he must think that I had
known who he was, and wildly indignant with the fancy for small
mysteries which had kept Miss Brooke from telling us whom we were
going to meet.

"At last the evening came to an end. I was cloaking myself in the hall
when the merchant came up and offered his help, which I declined. But
he did not go, and stood so that I could not help seeing a distressed
look in his eyes, and the nervous way in which he was turning the blue
ring upon his finger.

"'I have so wanted to speak to you again,' he said. 'I wanted to
say--'

"But at this moment I caught Miss Martha's eye in the parlour doorway,
and, dropping a hasty curtsey, I ran to my father.

"'A very nice young fellow,' my father observed, as I took his arm
outside; 'a superior, sensible, well informed gentleman, such as you
don't meet with every day.'

"I felt quite unequal to answering the remark, and he went on:

"'What funny little ways your old friends have, my dear, to be sure.
Considering how few strangers come to the place, it would have been
natural for them to tell us all about the one they asked us to meet;
and as they had known both him and us, as tenants of Reka Dom, it was
doubly natural that they should speak of him to us, and of us to him.
But he told me that we were just the people present of whom he had not
heard a word. He seems both fond of them and to appreciate their
little oddities. He told me he remembers, as a boy, that they never
would call him Ivan, which is as much his name as any by which a man
was ever baptized. They thought it might give him a tendency to
affectation to bear so singular a name in England. They always called
him John, and keep up the discipline still. When he arrived yesterday
they expressed themselves highly satisfied with the general
improvement in him, and he said he could hardly help laughing as Miss
Martha added, 'And you seem to have quite shaken off that little habit
of affectation which--you'll excuse me, dear John--you had as a boy.'
He says that, to the best of his belief, his only approach to
affectation consisted in his being rather absent and ungainly, and in
a strong aversion from Mr. Brooke.'

"'Did the old gentleman wear that frightful shade in his time?' I
asked.

"'Not always,' he says, 'but he looked worse without it. He told me a
good deal about him that I had never heard. He remembered hearing it
spoken of as a boy. It appears that the brother was very wild and
extravagant in his youth; drank, too, I fancy, and gave his poor
sisters a world of trouble, after breaking the heart of the widowed
mother who had spoiled him. When she died the sisters lived together,
and never faltered in their efforts to save him--never shut their
doors against him when he would return--and paid his debts over and
over again. He spent all his own fortune, and most of theirs, besides
being the means of breaking off comfortable marriages for both. Mr.
Smith thinks that a long illness checked his career, and eventually he
reformed.'

"'I hope he was grateful to his poor sisters,' I said.

"'One naturally thinks that he must have been so, but Smith's remark
was very just. He said, "I fancy he was both penitent and grateful as
far as he was able, but I believe he had been too long accustomed to
their unqualified self-sacrifice to feel it very sensitively!" And I
believe he is right. Such men not seldom reform in conduct if they
live long enough, but few eyes that have been blinded by years of
selfishness are opened to see clearly in this world.'

"'It ought to make one very tender with the good ladies' little
weaknesses,' I said, self-reproachfully; and I walked home in a more
peaceful state of mind. I forgave poor Miss Martha; also I was
secretly satisfied that my father had found the merchant's
conversation attractive. It seemed to give me some excuse for my
breach of Miss Peckham's golden rule. Moreover, little troubles and
offences which seemed mountains at Bellevue Cottage were apt to
dwindle into very surmountable molehills with my larger-minded
parents. I was comparatively at ease again. My father had evidently
seen nothing unusual in my conduct, so I hoped that it had not been
conspicuous. Possibly I might never meet Mr. Smith any more. I rather
hoped not. Life is long, and the world wide, and it is sometimes
possible to lose sight of people with whom one has disagreeable
associations. And then it was a wholesome lesson for the future.

"'And what was the old gentleman like?' was Fatima's first question,
when I came upstairs. I had just been talking of Mr. Brooke, and no
other old gentleman occurred to my memory at that moment.

"'What old gentleman?' I asked dreamily.

"'Miss Martha's old gentleman, the merchant--wasn't he there, after
all?'

"I blushed at my stupidity, and at a certain feeling of guiltiness in
connection with the person alluded to.

"'Oh, yes, he was there,' I answered; 'but he is not an old
gentleman.'

"'What is he, then?' Fatima asked, curiously.

"It is undoubtedly a luxury to be the bearer of a piece of startling
intelligence, and it is well not to spoil the enjoyment of it by over
haste. I finished unsnapping my necklace, and said, very
deliberately--

"'He is one of the little Russians.'

"Fatima's wit jumped more quickly than mine had done. It was she who
added--

"'Then he is Ivan.'

       *       *       *       *       *

"My hopes in reference to Mr. Smith were disappointed. I had not seen
the last of him. My mother was at this time from home, and I was
housekeeper in her absence. It was on the morning following the
Bellevue tea-party that my father said to me--

"'Mr. Smith is coming up to refer to a book of mine to-day, my dear;
and I asked him to stay to dinner. I suppose it will be convenient?'

"I said, 'Certainly, sir.'

"I could plead no domestic inconvenience; but I thought that Mr.
Smith might have gone quietly back to London by the early coach, and
spared me the agitation which the prospect of seeing him again
undoubtedly excited. He came, however. It was the first visit, but by
no means the last; and he lingered in the town, greatly to my father's
satisfaction (who had taken a strong fancy for him), but not,
apparently, to that of the Misses Brooke.

"As I afterwards found the clue to the somewhat strange conduct of our
old friends at this time, I may as well briefly state how it was.

"When the merchant first announced to them his proposed business visit
to the town, and his intention of calling on them, the good ladies (in
their affection for me, and having a high opinion of him) planned a
kindly little romance of which he and I were to be the hero and
heroine, and which was to end in our happy marriage. With this view
they arranged for our meeting at the tea-party, and avoided all
mention of each to the other, that we might meet in the (so to speak)
incidental way characteristic of real love stories. With that
suspiciousness of people in general, and of young people in
particular, which haunted Miss Martha, she attributed my ready
acceptance of the invitation to my having heard of Mr. Smith's
arrival, and to the unusual attraction of an eligible gentleman at the
tea-party. Little did she guess the benevolent plans which on my part
I had formed for her, and which the merchant's youthful appearance had
dashed to the ground.

"It is sometimes the case, my dear Ida, that people who make these
kind plans for their friends, become dissatisfied with the success of
their arrangements if they themselves cease to be the good genii of
the plot. If, that is, matters seem likely to fall out as they wish,
but without their assistance. It was so with the Misses Brooke, and
especially with Miss Martha. Fully aware of the end which she in her
own mind proposed to our acquaintance, my long conversation with the
merchant struck her as an indelicate readiness to accept attentions
which had matrimony in her perspective, and which she had designed to
be the gradual result of sundry well-chaperoned and studiously
incidental interviews at the Cottage. And when, so far from thankfully
accepting these incidental meetings, the merchant took upon himself to
become an almost daily visitor at our house, and delayed his return to
London far beyond the time proposed for his departure, the good lady's
view underwent a decided change. It was 'a pity' that a young man like
John Smith should neglect his business. It was also 'a pity' that dear
Mary's mother was not at home. And when I took occasion casually to
allude to the fact that Mr. Smith's visits were paid to my father, and
(with the exception of an occasional meal) were passed in the study
amongst German pamphlets, my statement was met by kind, incredulous
smiles, and supplemented with general and somewhat irritating
observations on the proper line of conduct for young ladies at certain
crises of life. Nothing could be kinder than Miss Martha's intentions,
and her advice might have been a still greater kindness if she would
have spoken straight-forwardly, and believed what I said. As it was, I
left off going to Bellevue Cottage, and ardently wished that the
merchant would go back to his merchandise, and leave our quiet little
town to its own dull peace.

"Sometimes I thought of the full-grown man whose intelligent face, and
the faintly foreign accent of whose voice were now familiar in our
home--the busy merchant, the polite and agreeable gentleman. And then
I thought of the Ivan I seemed to have known so much better so long
ago! The pale boy wandering by the water--reading in the swing--dead
by that other river--buried beneath the lilies. Oh! why had he lived
to come back in this new form to trouble me?

"One day he came to my father as usual, and I took the opportunity to
call on my old friends. I felt ashamed of having neglected them, and
as I knew that Mr. Smith was at our house, I could not be suspected of
having hoped to meet him at theirs. But I called at an unfortunate
moment. Miss Martha had just made up her mind that in the absence of
my mother, and the absentness of my father, it was the duty of old
friends like herself to give me a little friendly counsel. As she took
a great deal of credit for being 'quite candid, my dear,' and quietly,
but persistently refused to give me credit for the same virtue, I was
too much irritated to appreciate the kindness which led her to
undertake the task of interference in so delicate a matter; and found
her remarks far from palatable. In the midst of them the merchant was
announced.

"If I could have looked innocent it would have done me no good. As it
was, I believe I looked very guilty. After sitting for a few minutes
longer I got up to go, when to my horror the merchant rose also. The
old ladies made no effort to detain him, but Miss Martha's face spoke
volumes as we left the house. Half mad with vexation, I could hardly
help asking him why he was stupid enough to come away just at the
moment I had chosen for leaving; but he forestalled the inquiry by a
voluntary explanation. He wished to speak to me. He had something to
say.

"When he had said it, and had asked me to marry him, my cup was full.
I refused him with a vehemence which must have surprised him, modest
as he was, and rushed wildly home.

"For the next few days I led a life of anything but comfort. First as
to Ivan. My impetuous refusal did not satisfy him, and he wrote me a
letter over which I shed bitter tears of indescribable feeling.

"Then as to my father. The whole affair took him by surprise. He was
astonished, and very much put out, especially as my mother was away.
So far from its having been, as with the Misses Brooke, the first
thing to occur to him, he repeatedly and emphatically declared that it
was the very last thing he should have expected. He could neither
imagine what had made the merchant think of proposing to me, nor what
had made me so ready to refuse him. Then they were in the very middle
of a crabbed pamphlet, in which Ivan's superior knowledge of German
had been invaluable. It was most inconvenient.

"'Why didn't I like poor Ivan?'

"Ah, my child, did I not like him!

"'Then why was I so cross to him?'

"Indeed, Ida, I think the old ladies' 'ways' were chiefly to blame for
this. Their well-meant but disastrous ways of making you feel that you
were doing wrong, or in the wrong, over matters the most
straight-forward and natural. But I was safe under the wing of my
mother, before I saw Ivan again; and--many as were the years he and I
were permitted to spend together--I think I may truthfully say that I
was never cross to him any more.

"'What did he say in that letter that made me cry?'

"He asked to be allowed to make himself better known to me, before I
sent him quite away. And this developed an ingenious notion in my
father's brain, that no better opportunity could, from every point of
view, be found for this, than that I should be allowed to sit with
them in the study whilst he and Ivan went on with the German pamphlet.

"The next call I paid at Bellevue Cottage was to announce my
engagement, and I had some doubt of the reception my news might meet
with. But I had no kinder or more loving congratulations than those of
the two sisters. Small allusion was made to bygones. But when Miss
Martha murmured in my ear--

"'You'll forgive my little fussiness and over-anxiety, dear Mary. One
would be glad to guard one's young friends from some of the
difficulties and disappointments one has known oneself--' I thought of
the past life of the sisters, and returned her kiss with tenderness.
Doubtless she had feared that the merchant might be trifling with my
feelings, and that a thousand other ills might happen when the little
love affair was no longer under her careful management. But all ending
well, was well; and not even the Bellevue cats were more petted by the
old ladies than we two were in our brief and sunny betrothal.

"Sunny, although for the most part it was winter time. When we would
sit by the fireside in the privileged idleness of lovers, sometimes at
home, sometimes in the Cottage parlour; and Ivan would tell of the
Russian Reka Dom, and of all the winter beauties and pleasures of that
other river which was for months a frozen highway, with gay sleighs
flying, jingling over the snow roads, and peasants wrapped in
sheepskin crossing from the country to market in the town. How dogs
and children rolled together in snow so dry from intense cold that it
hardly wet them more than sand. And how the river closed, and when it
opened, with all the local traditions connected with these events; and
of the stratagems resorted to to keep Jack Frost out of the houses,
and of the stores laid up against the siege of the Winter King.

"But through the most interesting of his narratives Fatima's hands
were never idle. She seemed to have concentrated all her love for me
into those beautiful taper fingers, which laboured ceaselessly in
exquisite needlework on my wedding clothes.

"And when the lilies of the valley were next in blossom, Ivan and I
were married.

"The blue-stoned ring was cut down to fit my finger, and was, by my
desire, my betrothal ring, and I gave Ivan another instead of it.
Inside his was engraven the inscription we had cut upon his tombstone
at Reka Dom,--

"'TO IVAN.'"

It was a long story, and Nurse had been waiting some little time in
the old lady's kitchen when it came to an end.

"And is Ivan--?" Ida hesitatingly began.

"Dead. Many years since, my child," said the little old lady; "you
need not be afraid to speak of him, my dear. All that is past. We used
to hope that we should neither of us long outlive the other, but God
willed it otherwise. It was very bitter at first, but it is different
now. The days and hours that once seemed to widen our separation are
now fast bringing us together again."

"Was he about papa's age when he died?" Ida gently asked.

"He was older than your father can have been, my love, I think. He was
a more than middle-aged man. He died of fever. It was in London, but
in his delirium he fancied that the river was running by the windows,
and when I bathed his head he believed that the cooling drops were
from the waters of his old home.'

"Didn't he know you?" Ida asked, with sudden sympathy.

"He knew the touch of my hands always, my dear. It was my greatest
comfort. That, and the short time of perfect reason before he sank to
rest. We had been married thirty years, and I had worn my silver
wedding-ring with even more pride than the golden one. There have been
lilies on the grave of the true Ivan for half that time, and will be,
perhaps, for yet a little while, till I also am laid beneath them.

"So ends the story, my dear," the little old lady added, after a
pause.

"I should like to know what became of the old landlord, please," Ida
said.

"If you will ask an old woman like me the further history of the
people she knew in her youth," said Mrs. Overtheway, smiling, "you
must expect to hear of deaths. Of course he is dead many a long year
since. We became very intimate with him whilst we were his tenants,
and, I believe, cheered the close of his life. He and my father were
fast friends, but it was to my mother that he became especially
devoted. He said she was an exception to her sex, which from his point
of view was a high compliment. He had unbounded confidence in her
judgment, and under her influence, eventually modified many of his
peculiar habits. She persuaded him to allot a very moderate sum to
housekeeping expenses, and to indulge in the economical luxury of a
trustworthy servant. He consented to take into use a good suit of
clothes which he possessed, and in these the old man was wont at last
to accompany us to church, and to eat his Sunday dinner with us
afterwards. I do not think he was an illiberal man at heart, but he
had been very poor in his youth--('So poor, ma'am,' he said one day
to my mother, 'that I could not live with honour and decency in the
estate of a gentleman. I did not live. I starved--and bought
books,')--and he seemed unable to shake off the pinching necessity of
years. A wealthy uncle who had refused to help him whilst he lived,
bequeathed all his money to him when he died. But when late in life
the nephew became rich, habits of parsimony were a second nature, and
seemed to have grown chronic and exaggerated under the novel anxieties
of wealth. He still 'starved--and bought books.' During the last years
of his life he consulted my mother (and, I fancy, other people also)
on the merits of various public charities in the place and elsewhere;
so that we were not astonished after his death to learn from his will
that he had divided a large part of his fortune amongst charitable
institutions. With the exception of a few trifling legacies to
friends, the rest of his money was divided in equal and moderate
bequests to relatives. He left some valuable books to my father, and
the bulk of his library to the city where he was born."

"Was your mother with him when he died?" Ida asked.

"She was, my dear. But, sadly enough, only at the very last. We were
at the seaside when he was seized by his last illness, and no one told
us, for indeed it is probable that few people knew. At last a letter
from the servant announced that he was dying, and had been most
anxious to see my mother, and she hastened home. The servant seemed
relieved by her arrival, for the old gentleman was not altogether an
easy patient to nurse. He laughed at the doctor, she said, and
wouldn't touch a drop of his medicine, but otherwise was as patient as
a sick gentleman could be, and sat reading his Bible all the day long.
It was on the bed when my mother found him, but his eyes were dimming
fast. He held out his hands to my mother, and as she bent over him
said something of which she could only catch three words--'the true
riches.' He never spoke again."

"Poor man?" said Ida: "I think he was very nice. What became of his
cat?"

"Dead--dead--dead!" said the little old lady; "Ida, my child, I will
answer no more questions."

"One more, please," said Ida! "where is that dear, dear Fatima?"

"No, my child, no! Nothing more about her. Dear, dear Fatima, indeed!
And yet I will just tell you that she married, and that her husband
(older even than I am, and very deaf) is living still. He and I are
very fond of each other, though, having been a handsome man he is
sensitive about his personal appearance, and will not use a trumpet,
which I consider weak. But we get on very well. He smells my flowers,
and smiles and nods to me, and says something in a voice so low that I
can't hear it; and I stick a posy in his buttonhole, and smile and nod
to him, and say something in a voice so loud that _he_ can't hear it;
and so we go on. One day in each year we always spend together, and go
to church. The first of November."

"That is--?" said Ida.

"The Feast of All Saints, my child."

"Won't you tell me any more?" Ida asked.

"No, my dear. Not now, at any rate. Remember I am old, and have
outlived almost all of those I loved in my youth. It is right and
natural that death should be sad in your eyes, my child, and I will
not make a tragedy of the story of Reka Dom.

       *       *       *       *       *

"Then your real name," said Ida, as she gave the old lady a farewell
kiss, "is--"

"Mary Smith, my dear," said Mrs. Overtheway.

       *       *       *       *       *

Next morning the little old lady went to church as usual, and Ida was
at the window when she returned. When the child had seen her old
friend into the house she still kept her place, for the postman was
coming down the street, and it was amusing to watch him from door to
door, and to see how large a bundle of letters he delivered at each.
At Mrs. Overtheway's he delivered one, a big one, and an odd curiosity
about this letter took possession of Ida. She wished she knew what it
was about, and from whom it came, though, on the face of it, it was
not likely she would be much the wiser if she did. She was still at
the window when the door of the opposite house was opened, and the
little old lady came hurriedly out. She had only her cap upon her
head, and she held an open letter in her hand; _the_ letter, it was
evident. When she reached the little green gate she seemed to
recollect herself, and, putting her hand to her head, went back into
the house. Ida waited anxiously to see if she would come out again,
and presently she appeared, this time in her bonnet, but still with
the letter in her hand. She crossed the street, and seemed to be
coming to the house. Then the bell rang, and in she came. Ida's
curiosity became intense, and was not lessened by the fact that the
little old lady did not come to her, but stayed below talking with
some one. The old gentleman had not returned, so it must be Nurse.

At last the conversation came to an end, and Mrs. Overtheway came
upstairs.

She kissed Ida very tenderly, and inquired after her health; but
though she seemed more affectionate than usual, Ida felt persuaded
that something was the matter. She drew a chair to the fire, and the
old lady sat down, saying--

"May I stay a little with you, my dear?"

"Oh, thank you?" said Ida, and put a footstool for the old lady's
feet.

Mrs. Overtheway stroked her head tenderly for some time in silence,
and then said, in a gentle voice--

"I have something to tell you, my dear."

"Another story?" Ida asked. "Oh, thank you, if it is another story."

The old lady was silent, but at last she said, as if to herself--

"Perhaps best so," and added: "yes, my love, I will tell you a story."

Ida thanked her warmly, and another pause ensued.

"I hardly know where to begin, or what to tell you of this story,"
said the little old lady at last, seeming to falter for the first time
in her Scharazad-like powers of narration.

"Let it be about a Home, please; if you can," said Ida.

"A home!" said the old lady, and strangely enough, she seemed more
agitated than when she had spoken of Reka Dom--"It should have begun
with a broken home, but it shall not. It should end with a united
home, God willing. A home! I must begin with a far-away one, a strange
one, on the summit of high cliffs, the home of fearless, powerful
creatures, white-winged like angels."

"It's a fairy tale," said Ida.

"No, my child, it is true."

"It sounds like a fairy tale," Ida said.

"It shall be a tale of that description, if you like," said the old
lady, after a pause, "but, as I said, the main incidents are true."

"And the white-winged creatures?" Ida asked. "Were they fairies?"

"No, my love; birds. But if to see snowy albatrosses with their huge
white wings wheeling in circles about a vessel sailing in mid ocean be
anything like what I have read of and heard described, fairyland could
hardly show anything more beautiful and impressive."

"Do they fly near ships, then?" Ida asked.

"Yes, my child. I remember my husband describing them to me as he had
once seen them in southern seas. He said that when he saw them,
great, white, and majestic, holding no intercourse with anyone on
board the ship, and yet spreading their wings above her day and night
for hundreds of miles over the ocean, with folded feet, the huge white
pinions, except for an occasional flap, outstretched in steady sail,
never resting, and seemingly never weary, they looked like guardian
angels keeping watch over the crew."

"I wonder if they are sorry for the ships that go down?" said Ida,
thoughtfully.

Mrs. Overtheway took her hand.

"Do you think it unkind in me to talk of ships, my love?" she asked.

"No, no, no!" Ida exclaimed, "I don't mind _your_ talking about it. I
wish I could talk to the birds that saw papa's ship go down, if there
were any, and ask them how it was, and if he minded it much, and if he
remembered me. I used to wish I had been with him, and one night I
dreamed about it; but when the water touched me, I was frightened, and
screamed, and woke; and then I was glad I hadn't been there, for
perhaps he wouldn't have loved me so much if he had seen that I wasn't
brave."

The little old lady kissed her tenderly.

"And now the story, please," said Ida, after a pause.

And Mrs. Overtheway began the following story:



KERGUELEN'S LAND.

    "'Down in the deep, with freight and crew,
      Past any help she lies,
    And never a bale has come to shore
      Of all thy merchandise.

    'For cloth o' gold and comely frieze,'
       Winstanley said, and sigh'd,
    'For velvet coif, or costly coat,
       They fathoms deep may bide.

    'O thou, brave skipper, blithe and kind,
       O mariners bold and true,
    Sorry at heart, right sorry am I,
       A-thinking of yours and you.'"

"WINSTANLEY" (JEAN INGELOW).


"Father Albatross had been out all day, and was come home to the
island which gives its name to this story. He had only taken a short
flight, for his wife was hatching an egg, and he kept comparatively
near the island where her nest was situated. There was only one egg,
but parental affection is not influenced by numbers. There is always
love enough for the largest family, and everything that could be
desired in an only child, and Mother Albatross was as proud as if she
had been a hen sitting on a dozen.

"The Father Albatross was very considerate. Not only did he deny
himself those long flights which he and his mate had before so greatly
enjoyed, but he generally contrived to bring back from his shorter
trips some bits of news for her amusement. Their island home lay far
out of the common track of ships, but sometimes he sighted a distant
vessel, and he generally found something to tell of birds or fish,
whales or waterspouts, icebergs or storms. When there was no news he
discussed the winds and waves, as we talk of the weather and the
crops.

"Bits of news, like misfortunes, are apt to come together. The very
day on which the egg hatched, Father Albatross returned from his
morning flight so full of what he had seen, that he hardly paid any
attention to his mate's announcement of the addition to his family.

"'Could you leave the nest for a quarter of an hour, my dear?' he
asked.

"'Certainly not,' said Mother Albatross; 'as I have told you, the egg
is hatched at last.'

"'These things always happen at the least convenient moments,' said
the father bird. 'There's a ship within a mere wing-stretch, untold
miles out of her course, and going down. I came away just as she was
sinking, that you might have a chance of seeing her. It is a horrible
sight.'

"'It must be terrible to witness', she replied, 'and I would give
worlds to see it; but a mother's first duty is the nest, and it is
quite impossible for me to move. At the same time I beg that you will
return, and see whatever there is to be seen.'

"'It is not worth while,' he answered; 'there was not a moment to
lose, and by this time she must be at the bottom with all belonging to
her.'

"'Could none of them fly away?' the Mother Albatross asked.

"'No men have wings,' replied her mate, 'nor, for that matter, fins
or scales either. They are very curious creatures. The fancy they have
for wandering about between sea and sky, when Nature has not enabled
them to support themselves in either, is truly wonderful. Go where you
will over the ocean and you meet men, as you meet fish and birds. Then
if anything disables these ships that they contrive to go about in,
down they go, and as the men can neither float nor fly, they sink to
the bottom like so many stones.'

"'Were there many on the ship you saw?' the mother bird asked.

"'More than one likes to see drowned in a batch,' said Father
Albatross 'and I feel most sorry for the captain. He was a fine
fellow, with bright eyes and dark curly plumage, and would have been a
handsome creature if he had had wings. He was going about giving
orders with desperate and vain composure, and wherever he went there
went with him a large dog with dark bright curls like his own. I have
seen the ship before, and I know the dog. His name is Carlo. He is the
captain's property, and the ship's pet. Usually he is very quiet, and
sometimes, when it blows, he is ill; but commonly he was on deck,
blinking with the most self-sufficient air you can imagine. However,
to-day, from the moment that danger was imminent, he seemed to be
aware of it, and to have only one idea on the subject, to keep close
to his master. He got in front of him as he moved about, sat down at
his feet when he stood still, jumped on him when he shouted his
orders, and licked his hands when he seized the ropes. In fact, he
was most troublesome. But what can you expect of a creature that
requires four legs to go about with, and can't rise above the earth
even with these, and doesn't move as many yards in a day as I go miles
in an hour? He _can_ swim, but only for a certain length of time.
However, he is probably quiet enough now; and perhaps some lucky
chance has rolled him to his master's feet below the sea.'

"'Have men no contrivance for escaping on these occasions?' the mother
bird inquired.

"'They have boats, into which they go when the ship will hold them no
longer. It is much as if you should put out the little one to fly in a
storm against which your own wings failed.'

"'Perhaps the boats are in good order when the ship is not,' said
Mother Albatross, who had a practical gift. 'Were there boats to this
one?'

"'There were. I saw one lowered, and quickly filled with men, eager to
snatch this last chance of life.

"'Was the captain in it?' she asked.

"'No. He stayed on the ship and gave orders. The dog stayed with him.
Another boat was lowered and filled just as the ship went down.'

"'Was the captain in it?'

"'Again, no. He stayed with the vessel and some others with him. They
were just sinking as I came for you. With the last glance I gave I saw
the captain standing quite still near the wheel. The dog was sitting
on his feet. They were both looking in one direction--away over the
sea. But why should you distress yourself? It is all over long since.
Think of the little one, and let us be thankful that we belong to a
superior race. We might have been born without wings, like poor
sailors.'

"'I cannot help grieving for the captain,' said Mother Albatross.
'When you spoke of his bright eyes and handsome plumage I thought of
you; and how should I feel if you were to die? I wish he had gone in
the boats.'

"'I doubt if he would have fared better,' said the father bird. 'The
second boat must have been swamped in the sinking of the ship; and it
is far from probable that the other will get to land.'

"'Nevertheless, I hope you will fly in that direction to-morrow,' she
said, 'and bring me word whether there are any traces of the
catastrophe.'

"The following morning Father Albatross set off as he was desired. The
ship had foundered quite near to the other side of the island, and
including a little excursion to see if the first boat were still above
water, he expected to be back very shortly.

"He returned even sooner than the Mother Albatross had hoped, and
descended to the side of their nest with as much agitation as his
majestic form was capable of displaying.

"'Wonders will never cease!' he exclaimed. 'What do you think are on
the island?'

"'I couldn't guess if I were to try from now till next hatching
season,' said his mate; 'and I beg you will not keep me in suspense. I
am not equal to the slightest trial of the nerves. It is quite enough
to be a mother.'

"'The captain and one or two more men are here,' said the albatross.
'What do you think of that? You will be able to see him for yourself,
and show the youngster what men are like into the bargain. It's very
strange how they have escaped; and that lazy, self-sufficient dog is
with them.'

"'I cannot possibly leave our young one at present,' said the Mother
Albatross, 'and he certainly cannot get so far. It will be very
provoking if the men leave the island before I can see them.'

"'There is not much to fear of that,' her mate answered. 'A lucky wave
has brought them to shore, but it will take a good many lucky waves to
bring a ship to carry them home.'

"Father Albatross was right; but his mate saw the strangers sooner
than she expected. Her nest, though built on the ground, was on the
highest point of the island, and to this the shipwrecked men soon made
their way; and there the Mother Albatross had ample chance of seeing
the bright eyes of the captain as they scanned the horizon line with
keen anxiety. Presently they fell upon the bird herself.

"'What splendid creatures they are!' he said to his companion; 'and so
grandly fearless. I was never on one of these islands where they breed
before. What a pity it is that they cannot understand one! That fellow
there, who is just stretching his noble wings, might take a message
and bring us help.'

"'He is a fine creature,' said the Mother Albatross, peeping at the
captain from her nest; 'that is, he would be if he had wings, and
could speak properly, instead of making that unmusical jabbering like
a monkey.'

"'I would give a good deal to one of them for a report of the first
boat,' the captain went on. 'Heaven knows I would be content to die
here if I could know that it was safe. But I'm afraid--I'm afraid; oh!
dear!'

"And the captain paced up and down, the other consoling him.

"'He doesn't seem as tame as one might expect,' said the Mother
Albatross, 'he's so restless. But possibly he is hungry.'

"Truly it was a great amusement for the mother bird to watch the
strangers from her nest, and to question her mate on their
peculiarities.

"'What is he doing now?' she asked on one occasion, when the captain
was reading a paper which he had taken from the note-book in his
pocket.

"'That is a letter,' said the Father Albatross. 'And from the look of
it I gather that, like ourselves, he has got a young one somewhere,
wherever his nest may be.'

"'How do you gather that?' his mate inquired.

"'Because the writing is so large,' answered the Father Albatross. 'It
is one of the peculiarities of these creatures that the smaller they
are the larger they write. That letter is from a young one; probably
his own.'

"'Very remarkable indeed,' said the Mother Albatross. 'And what is he
doing _now_?'

"'Now he is writing himself,' said her mate; 'and if you observe you
will see my statement confirmed. See how much smaller he writes!'

"The captain had indeed torn a sheet from his note-book, and was busy
scribbling upon his knees. Whether the sight of papers was a familiar
memory with Carlo, or whether he was merely moved by one of those
doggish impulses we so little understand, it is impossible to say; but
when the captain began to write, Carlo began to wag his tail, and he
wagged it without pause or weariness till the captain had finished,
keeping his nearest eye half open, and fixed upon the paper and the
captain's moving hand. Once he sat up on his haunches and put his nose
on the letter.

"'That is right, old fellow, kiss it,' said the captain. 'I am just
telling her about you. Heaven send she may ever read it, poor child!'

"At this Carlo became so frantic, and so persistent in pushing his
nose on to the paper, that the captain was fain to pocket his writing
materials, and have a game at play with the 'ship's dog,' in which the
latter condescendingly joined for a few minutes, and then lay down as
before, shutting his eyes with an air which seemed to imply--

"'I see, poor fellow, you don't understand me.'

"The hardships endured by this small remnant of the ship's company
were not very great. They managed to live. The weather was fine, and
they did not at first trouble themselves about any permanent shelter.
Perhaps, too, in spite of their seaman's knowledge of the position
they were in, some dim hope of a ship out of her course as they had
been, picking them off, buoyed them up with the fancy that 'it was not
worth while.' But no ship appeared; and they built themselves a hut
near the albatross's nest, and began to talk of other seasons, and
provision for the future. They kept a look-out by turns through the
daylight, and by night when the moon and stars made the distance
visible. Every morning the sun rising above the sea met the captain's
keen eyes scanning the horizon, and every evening that closed a day's
fruitless watch, the sun's going down saw the captain's brown hands
clasped together as he said, 'God's will be done!'

"So days became weeks, and weeks ripened into months, and Carlo became
used to his new home, and happy in it, and kept watch over his master,
and took his ease as usual. But the men's appearance changed, and
their clothes began to look shabby. In the first place they were
wearing out, and, secondly, they seemed--as we say--to be 'getting too
large' for them, and to hang loosely and untidily upon their gaunt
frames. The captain's eyes looked larger and sadder, and his voice
grew hollow at sunset, and threads of white began to show among his
dark curls, and increased in number day by day.

"'His plumage will be as white as your own very soon,' said the Mother
Albatross. 'I suppose it's the climate that does it.'

"'He is getting older,' said her mate; 'men, like ourselves, get white
as they get old.'

"'But he has been here so short a time,' said Mother Albatross.

"'He is so much the older, however,' said the father bird, and his
mate said no more; for she knew by the tone of his voice when he had
got to the end of his available information on any subject, and that
beyond this point he did not like to be pressed.

"'It's hard, it's very hard, captain, and I can't submit as you do,'
said one of the men one day. He and the captain were sitting side by
side at the look out, their elbows on their knees, and their chins
upon their hands.

"'And yet it's harder for me than for you,' said the captain. 'One
must die some day. It's not that. And you are a single man, Barker,
without ties.'

"The man stooped down, and taking one of Carlo's long ears in his
hand, played absently with it, as he said--

"'No, sir. I am not married, it's true, and have no children. I feel
for you, sir, from my heart. But in a little house just out of
Plymouth, that, God above knows, I can see this moment as clearly as I
see you, there's a girl that has either forgotten me, or is breaking
as good a heart as ever beat in woman's breast for the man that should
have been her husband, and that's fast bound here upon a rock with
sea-birds. The Lord knows best, captain, but it comes hard. We all
have our troubles, sir.'

"The captain laid his hand upon his shoulder.

"'Forgive me,' he said. 'God comfort you! God bless you!' And, rising
hurriedly, he went forward, the big tears breaking over his cheeks,
and sea and sky dancing together before his eyes.

"'What do you dream of at night, Barker?' said the captain, on
another day.

"'Home, sir,' said Barker.

"'Strange!' said the captain. 'So do I. In all the time we have been
here, I have never once dreamed of this island, or of our day's work,
nor even of seeing a sail. I dream of England night after night.'

"'It's the same with myself, sir,' said Barker. 'I'm in Plymouth half
my time, I may say. And off and on I dream of my father's old home in
Surrey.'

"'Are the men going to change their feathers, do you think?' the
Mother Albatross inquired of her mate. 'They have a most wretched
appearance. Only the dog looks like himself.' (The first excitement of
pity and curiosity had subsided, and the good couple were now
naturally inclined to be critical.)

"'I detest that dog,' said Father Albatross. 'His idleness and
arrogance make me quite sick. I think I want exercise, too, and I mean
to have a good flight to-day;' and, spreading his broad wings, the
bird sailed away.

"His excursion did not quite dispel his irritability. When he
returned, he settled down by the captain, who was sitting listlessly,
as usual, with Carlo at his feet.

"'If you would only exert yourself,' began Father Albatross,
'something might come of it. You are getting as bad as the dog. Spread
out those arms of yours, and see what you can do with them! If you
could only fly a matter of a few miles, you would see a sail--and
that's more than we had any reason to expect.'

"'What can be the matter with the birds to-day?' said the captain, who
was in rather an irritable mood himself. 'They are silent enough
generally'--for the voice of the albatross is rarely heard at sea.

"'Move your arms, I tell you,' croaked the albatross. 'Up and
down--so!--and follow me.'

"'I shall have the dog going at them next,' muttered the captain.
'Come along, Carlo.' And turning his back on Father Albatross, he
moved away.

"'He doesn't understand you,' said the Mother Albatross, who
endeavoured, as is proper, to soothe her mate's irritability, and make
peace. 'Couldn't you take a message to the ship yourself? It is
nothing to your magnificent wings, and it is not his fault, poor
creature, that he is not formed like you.'

"'You speak very sensibly, my dear' said Father Albatross; and once
more he took flight over the sea.

"But he returned in even worse mood than before.

"'Nothing can equal the stupidity of human beings,' he observed. 'I
addressed myself to the captain. "There's an island with shipwrecked
men on it a few miles to the north-east," said I. "We shall see land
in about ten days, ma'am," says the captain to a lady on deck.
"There's as big a fool as yourself wrecked on an island north-east by
north," I cried. "If you had the skill of a sparrow you could see it
with your own eyes in five minutes." "It's very remarkable," said the
captain, "I never heard one of those albatross make a sound before."
"And never will again," said I; "it's a waste of time to talk to you.
It won't take long to put you and yours under water like the rest."
And away I came.'

"'I don't understand the cry of human beings myself,' said his mate,
'and I'm rather glad I do not; it would only irritate me. Perhaps he
did not understand you.'

"'They are all stupid alike,' said the father bird; 'but I have done
my best, and shall not disturb myself any more.'

"The captain watched till sunset, and folded his hands, and bent his
head as usual, and at last lay down to sleep. He dreamt of England,
and of home--of a home that had been his long since, of a young wife,
dead years ago. He dreamt that he lay, at early morning, in a sunny
room in a little cottage where they had lived, and where, in summer,
the morning sun awoke them not much later than the birds. He dreamt
that his wife was by him, and that she thought that he was asleep, and
that, so thinking, she put her arms round his neck to awaken him--that
he lay still, and pretended to be slumbering on, and that, so lying,
he saw her face bright with an unearthly beauty, and her eyes fixed
on him with such intensity of expression that they held him like a
spell. Then he felt her warm face come nearer to his, and she kissed
his cheeks, and he heard her say, 'Wake up, my darling, I have
something to show you.' Again she repeated vehemently, 'Awake! Awake!
Look! Look!' and then he opened his eyes.

"He was lying at the look-out, and Carlo was licking his face. It was
a dream, and yet the voice was strong and clear in his ears, 'Awake!
Awake! Look! Look!'

"A heavier hand than his wife's was on his shoulder, and Barker's
rough voice (hoarser than usual), repeated the words of his dream.

"The captain's eyes followed the outstretched hand to the horizon; and
then his own voice grew hoarse, as he exclaimed--

"'My God! it is a sail!'"

       *       *       *       *       *

Ida was not leaning on the little old lady's footstool now. She sat
upright, her pale face whiter than its wont.

"_Did_ the ship take them away?" she asked eagerly.

"Yes, my dear. Their signals were seen, and the ship took them home to
their friends, who had believed them to be dead."

"Do people who have been drowned--I mean who have been thought to be
drowned--ever come home _really_?" the child asked.

"Yes, really. Ida, my dear, I want you to remember that, as regards
the captain and the crew, this is a true story."

Ida clasped her hands passionately together.

"Oh, Mrs. Overtheway! Do you think Papa will ever come home?"

"My child! my dear child!" sobbed the little old lady. "I think he
will." ...

       *       *       *       *       *

"And he _is_ alive--he is coming home!" Ida cried, as she recounted
Mrs. Overtheway's story to Nurse, who knew the principal fact of it
already. "And she told it to me in this way not to frighten me. I did
cry and laugh though, and was very silly; but she said I must not be
foolish, but brave like a captain's daughter, and that I ought to
thank GOD for being so good to me, when the children of the
other poor men who died will never have their fathers back in this
world: and I am thankful, so thankful! Only it is like a mill going in
my head, and I cannot help crying. And Papa wrote me a long letter
when he was on the island, and he sent it to Mrs. Overtheway because
Uncle Garbett told him that I was fond of her, and that she would tell
me nicely, and she was to read it, and to give it to me when she had
told me. And it is such a lovely letter, with all about the island,
and poor Barker, and dear old Carlo, and about the beautiful birds,
too, only Mrs. Overtheway made up a great deal of that herself. And
please, Nursey, take off my black frock and never let me see it again,
for the Captain is really coming home, and, oh! how I wish he would
come!"

The poor child was terribly excited, but her habits of obedience stood
her in good stead, for though she was vehemently certain that she
could not possibly go to sleep, in compliance with Nurse's wishes, she
went to bed, and there at last slept heavily and long; so that when
she awoke there was only just time to dress and be ready to meet her
father. She was putting out her treasures for him to look at, the
carved fans and workboxes, the beads and handkerchiefs and feathers,
the new letter and the old one--when the Captain came.

       *       *       *       *       *

A week after the postman had delivered the letter which contained such
wonderful news for Ida, he brought another to Mrs. Overtheway's green
gate, addressed in the same handwriting--the Captain's. It was not
from the Captain, however, but from Ida.

     "MY DEAR, DEAR MRS. OVERTHEWAY,

     "We got here on Saturday night, and are so happy. Papa says
     when will you come and see us? I have got a little room to
     myself, and I have got a glass case under which I keep all
     the things that Papa ever sent me, and his letters. I bought
     it with part of a sovereign Uncle Garbett gave me when I
     came away. Do you know he was so very kind when I came away.
     He kissed me, and said, 'GOD bless you, my dear!
     You are a good child, a very good child;' and you know it
     was very kind of him, for I don't think I ever was good
     somehow with him. But he was so kind it made me cry, so I
     couldn't say anything, but I gave him a great many kisses,
     for I did not want him to know I love Papa the best. Carlo
     will put his nose on my knee, and I can't help making blots.
     He came with us in the railway carriage, and ate nearly all
     my sandwiches. When he and Papa roll on the hearthrug
     together, I mix their curls up and pretend I can't tell
     which is which. Only really Papa's have got some grey hairs
     in them: _we know why_. I always kiss the white hairs when I
     find them, and he says he thinks I shall kiss the colour
     into them again. He is so kind! I said I didn't like Nurse
     to wear her black dress now, and she said it was the best
     one she had, and she must wear it in the afternoon; so Papa
     said he would get us all some bright things, for he says
     English people dress in mud-colour, while people who live in
     much sunnier, brighter countries wear gay clothes. So we
     went into a shop this morning, and I asked him to get my
     things all blue, because it is his favourite colour. But he
     said he should choose Nurse's things himself. So he asked
     for a very smart dress, and the man asked what kind; and I
     said it was for a nurse, so he brought out a lot of prints,
     and at last Papa chose one with a yellow ground and
     carnations on it. He wanted very much to have got another
     one with very big flowers, but the man said it was meant for
     curtains, not for dresses, so I persuaded him not to get it;
     but he says now he wishes he had, as it was much the best.
     Then he got a red shawl, and a bonnet ribbon of a kind of
     green tartan. Nurse was very much pleased, but she said they
     were too smart by half. But Papa told her it was because she
     knew no better, and had never seen the parrots in the East
     Indian Islands. Yesterday we all went to church. Carlo came
     too, and when we got to the porch, Papa put up his hand, and
     said, 'Prayers, sir!' and Carlo lay down and stayed there
     till we came out. Papa says that he used to do so when he
     was going to say prayers on board ship, and that Carlo
     always lay quietly on deck till the service was over. Before
     we went to church Papa gave me a little parcel sealed up, to
     put in the plate. I asked him what it was, and he said it
     was a thankoffering. Before one of the prayers the clergyman
     said something. I don't quite remember the words, but it
     began, 'A sailor desires to thank GOD--' and oh! I
     _knew_ who it was, and I squeezed his hand very tight, and I
     tried to pray every word of that prayer, only once I began
     to think of the island--but I _did_ try! And indeed I do try
     to be very, very thankful, for I am so very happy! Papa got
     a letter from Barker this morning, and we are going out to
     choose him a wedding present. He sent a photograph of the
     girl he is going to marry, and I was rather disappointed,
     for I thought she would be very lovely, only, perhaps,
     rather sad-looking; but she doesn't look very pretty, and is
     sitting in rather a vulgar dress, with a photograph book in
     her hand. Her dress is tartan, and queer-looking about the
     waist, you know, like Nurse's, and it is coloured in the
     picture, and her brooch is gilt. Papa laughs, and says
     Barker likes colour, as he does; and he says he thinks she
     has a nice face, and he knows she is very good, and very
     fond of Barker, and that Barker thinks her beautiful. He
     didn't write before he went to see her, like Papa. He just
     walked up to the house, and found her sitting at the window
     with his photograph in her hand. She said she had been so
     restless all day, she could do nothing but sit and look at
     it. Wasn't it funny? She had been very ill with thinking he
     was dead, and Barker says she nearly died of the joy of
     seeing him again. Papa sends you his love, and I send lots
     and lots of mine, and millions of kisses. And please,
     _please_ come and see us if you can, for I miss you every
     morning, and I do love you, and am always your grateful and
     affectionate

     "IDA."

     "P.S.--I am telling Papa all your stories by bits. And do
     you know he went to sleep whilst I was telling him Mrs.
     Moss!"

Chim! chime! chim! chime! chim! chime!

The story is ended, but the bells still call to Morning Prayer, and
life goes on. The little old lady comes through the green gate, and
looks over the way, but there is no face at that window now; something
in it made her start for an instant, but it is only a looking-glass,
for the smart toilette-table has been brought back to the window where
Ida used to kneel, and the nursery is a spare bedroom once more. That
episode in this dull house in the quiet street is over, and gone by.
The old lady thinks so rather sadly as she goes where the bells are
calling. The pale, eager, loving little face that turned to her in its
loneliness, now brightens a happy home; but the remembrance of it is
with the little old lady still, pleasant as the remembrance of flowers
when winter has come. Yes, truly, not the least pleasant of Mrs.
Overtheway's Remembrances.



_The present Series of Mrs. Ewing's Works is the only authorized,
complete, and uniform Edition published._

_It will consist of 18 volumes, Small Crown 8vo, at 2s. 6d. per vol.,
issued, as far as possible, in chronological order, and these will
appear at the rate of two volumes every two months, so that the Series
will be completed within 18 months. The device of the cover was
specially designed by a Friend of Mrs. Ewing._

_The following is a list of the books included in the Series--_

1.   MELCHIOR'S DREAM, AND OTHER TALES.
2.   MRS. OVERTHEWAY'S REMEMBRANCES.
3.   OLD-FASHIONED FAIRY-TALES.
4.   A FLAT-IRON FOR A FARTHING.
5.   THE BROWNIES, AND OTHER TALES.
6.   SIX TO SIXTEEN.
7.   LOB-LIE-BY-THE-FIRE, AND OTHER TALES.
8.   JAN OF THE WINDMILL.
9.   VERSES FOR CHILDREN, AND SONGS.
10.  THE PEACE EGG--A CHRISTMAS MUMMING PLAY--HINTS FOR PRIVATE
       THEATRICALS, &c.
11.  A GREAT EMERGENCY, AND OTHER TALES.
12.  BROTHERS OF PITY, AND OTHER TALES OF BEASTS AND MEN.
13.  WE AND THE WORLD, Part I.
14.  WE AND THE WORLD, Part II.
15.  JACKANAPES--DADDY DARWIN'S DOVECOTE--THE STORY OF A SHORT LIFE.
16.  MARY'S MEADOW, AND OTHER TALES OF FIELDS AND FLOWERS.
17.  MISCELLANEA, including The Mystery of the Bloody Hand--Wonder
       Stories--Tales  of  the Khoja, and other translations.
18.  JULIANA HORATIA EWING AND HER BOOKS, with a selection  from
       Mrs. Ewing's Letters.

S.P.C.K., NORTHUMBERLAND AVENUE, LONDON, W.C.





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