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Title: Miss Grantley's Girls - And the Stories She Told Them
Author: Archer, Thomas, 1830-1893
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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MISS GRANTLEY'S GIRLS,

and

The Stories She Told Them.

by

THOMAS ARCHER,

Author of "Little Tottie," "Wayfe Summers," "Madame Prudence,"
"Strange Work," "A Fool's Paradise," &c.

Illustrated.



[Illustration: ANTOINE DISCOVERS THE MINIATURE.]


[Illustration]

London:
Blackie & Son, 49 & 50 Old Bailey, E.C.;
Glasgow, Edinburgh, and Dublin.
1886.



CONTENTS.


          CHAP.                                       Page

            I. OUR GOVERNESS,                            7

           II. MONDAY:--THE SILVER GOBLET,              20

          III. TUESDAY:--A BABY'S HAND,                 61

           IV. WEDNESDAY:--A STRANGER FROM LONDON,      87

            V. THURSDAY:--THE STORY OF A BOOKWORM,     109

           VI. FRIDAY:--I HAVE LIVED AND LOVED,        128

          VII. SATURDAY:--MISS GRANTLEY'S BROTHER,     145

[Illustration]



MISS GRANTLEY'S GIRLS,

AND THE STORIES SHE TOLD THEM.



CHAPTER I.

OUR GOVERNESS.


THERE was nothing romantic in Miss Grantley's appearance, and yet she
was the sort of person that you could not help looking at again and
again if you once saw her. She was not very young, nor was she
middle-aged--about thirty, perhaps. She was certainly not what is called
a beauty, but she was not in the least plain. She was what some people
would call "superior looking" or "rather remarkable," and yet they would
not be able to say why she attracted attention. She was very little
taller than Marion Cooper, who was the tallest of the girls in our first
class; but yet she gave one the impression of being rather above the
middle height, because she walked so well and moved in that easy
graceful manner which belongs to a person who, as the old housekeeper
at the school used to say, "was born and bred a lady." There is no way
of describing her; though Annie Bowers, who could draw beautifully, made
several pencil sketches that were wonderful likenesses. Her hair, fine,
soft, and wavy, was dark chestnut, with that warm brown tinge that looks
so well with a rather pale creamy complexion; her features were regular,
her eyes of that strange gray that looks dark at night and steel-blue in
the sunshine--eyes that seemed to see into one's thoughts, and would
have been severe except for the smile that flitted about her clear
well-cut mouth whenever anything humorous happened, or a pleasant
thought was passing through her mind. She always looked well-dressed,
though she wore silver-gray alpaca or dark brown merino in school, and
rather plain black or gray silk when she went visiting. But there was
mostly a rose or some other flower in her silver brooch, and the lace
that she sometimes wore at her neck and wrists was so fine and elegant
that Mrs. Durand, who was the widow of a general officer and had been
educated at a convent, declared it was very valuable indeed, and never
was made in England. Somebody, speaking once of Miss Grantley's
appearance, compared her to fine old china; and she had just that clear
unsullied nice look that reminded you of an old china figure, though
there was nothing particularly old-fashioned about her. She had some
very pretty old-fashioned things, though--quaint ivory carvings and
porcelain bowls, and a delightful old tea-set, and some old plate of
that dark-looking silver that always seems to have a deep shadow lying
under its smooth shining surface. She was something like that silver,
too; for though she was bright and pleasant and with a constant liking
for fun, there was a great deal of gravity beneath her smile. No one
could have treated her with familiar levity, though she was gentle and
sweet-tempered; for no one who had seen her very rare expression of deep
displeasure would care to provoke it. Of course I am chiefly speaking
now of our girls, but I think other people--grown-up and important
people--thought much the same as we did of Miss Grantley. The truth was,
nobody thought of her except with kindly feelings, because everybody
liked her. She had gone through much trouble. Her father, who had been a
wealthy squire, lost all his money in buying shares in mines, or
something of that sort, and died a poor man. His wife had been dead for
years, so that Miss Grantley was left an orphan and with few relations
except one brother, who had gone abroad to seek his fortune, but without
finding it, I suppose, since Miss Grantley, after passing examinations
and being a teacher in a great school in London, came down to Barton
Vale to be our governess.

Barton Vale is a pretty, quiet, secluded place. It is not exactly a
village, but is a suburb of a large town, only the town is nearly two
miles away, so that the Barton Vale people heard very little of the
factory people, and didn't smell the smoke from the tanneries and the
alkali works at Barton-on-the-Lees. In fact most of the principal people
of the town had come to live about the vale. The vicar, and the
principal manufacturers, the Jorrings, who were county people, and Mr.
Belfort the banker, and Mrs. Durand, and the Selways, and old Dr.
Speight, and the Norburys, had handsome houses and kept their carriages.
Even the Barton doctor, Mr. Torridge, was more in the vale than in the
town; and the solicitor had a pretty little villa next door to the
old-fashioned house that Miss Grantley had taken to open a school in.

Most of these folks knew Miss Grantley; and many of them loved her as
much as her girls did, for some of the girls belonged to the families I
have mentioned. They came to her school as daily pupils instead of being
sent to the cathedral town to live away from home; and that was one
reason that she got on so well, for the dear old vicar and his wife had
known her parents, and would have liked her to make the vicarage her
home. The banker's married daughter, Mrs. Norbury, had been a
schoolfellow of Miss Grantley, and called her "dear Bessie" when they
met, and wanted to take lessons of her in French and German; because
Miss Grantley had studied abroad, and spoke both these languages very
well.

It was because so many people there and in the town and in London, knew
her, that she was able to take the old house which was once the
maltster's, and have it done up nicely, and the great long room that had
been the front office and sample-room turned into a school-room, and the
pretty little parlour fitted with French windows, that it might open to
the garden full of rose-bushes and standard apple-trees, and with its
red brick walls covered with plums and jessamine. She began with nine
young girls whom she brought with her as boarders, and five more soon
came, so that she had fourteen in the house, and three more little ones
as day-boarders (two Selways and one Jorring), and eight of us seniors,
who went for lessons from ten to one, an hour for lunch, and then home
at four to late dinner.

It was of course a good thing for Miss Grantley that she had her own old
nurse there for cook and housekeeper, with a strong girl to do the
housework, and a woman from one of the cottages at Vale Farm to help
twice a week. The solicitor's villa had a large garden, and the gardener
and his wife lived in the cottage which had once belonged to the
maltster's foreman at the end of the orchard and close to the old kiln,
so they were always ready to help too; and our governess had very little
to pay for gardening except a few shillings for a labourer now and
then. You may very well believe, then, that Lindley House School was a
very pleasant place. Miss Grantley called it Lindley House because, she
said, old-fashioned people always connected the idea of education with
Lindley Murray's Grammar--not that she taught grammar from Lindley
Murray's book, for she declared the way of teaching was quite different
now, and that there were a good many queer rules in the old grammar
which could only be accounted for by the fact that the old gentleman who
wrote it lived for many years chiefly on boiled mutton and turnips!

When Miss Grantley said things of this kind Mrs. Parmigan used to cry
out, "My dear--pray, now--_do_ consider." And Miss Grantley used to
smile at her, and then the old lady would laugh till she shook the room.
That was the way with our governess; she seemed able to make some people
laugh by only smiling at them; and she could make people cry too by
looking at them with quite a different sort of grave smile and the
strange light in her earnest gray eyes.

Oh!--I have forgotten about Mrs. Parmigan! She was a dear old thing; had
actually been nursery governess to Miss Grantley; and, having married
and been left a widow, had heard of her former pupil and young mistress
being left fatherless and motherless, and now brought her small annuity
to Barton Vale, and helped to teach in the school and to be a sort of
mother to Miss Grantley, without wanting any wages, and only just her
board and lodging, beside which she could afford to pay for a good many
things towards the housekeeping.

She used to teach the juniors, and taught them well too, though some of
them were occasionally spoiled; and as it was very often somebody's
birthday, seed-cake and gingerbread and lemon toffee were more common
than they are in most schools. Even the senior girls came in for some of
the goodies, and used to say that, as they lived in a world where
somebody was born every minute, it would be hard if they couldn't keep a
birthday once a week.

But this saying reminds me that we might go on gossiping about our
governess for the hour together, and yet not get to the stories that she
used to tell us. It was one of her delightful plans to devote an
afternoon in each week to fancy needlework; and we used to take our work
with us on that day, and instead of going home to dinner we had luncheon
and stayed as her guests to tea, with cake or home-made bread and
butter, jam, or in summer, ripe plums and apples from the garden, or
plates of strawberries and cream from Ivory Farm.

It was then that we read in turns from some of the best books of
fiction; for Miss Grantley said, "Girls are sure to read novels, and the
imagination needs to be cultivated as well as the intellect and the
memory." So we read stories, and sometimes poems by Tennyson and
Browning and other modern writers, as well as Shakspeare, Dante,
Schiller, and Goëthe. Our governess would explain the passages to us,
and we used to talk about them afterwards; but very often the
conversation took a good deal more time than the reading, for it was
then we found out that Miss Grantley had travelled in Germany, France,
and Italy, and that she had been a student not only of subjects that she
might have to teach, but of people and their ways.

We found out too that she could tell stories of her own; and now and
then we used to persuade her to "spin a yarn," as Bella Dornton, whose
father had been a naval officer, used to say.

One summer there were to be great doings at Barton-on-the-Lees. A grand
fancy fair was to be held in the town-hall for the benefit of the
infirmary, and we had all promised to work for it; so that nobody was
offended when Miss Grantley made known that she intended to give a
half-holiday every day for a week, that we seniors might be her guests
from two o'clock to eight, and all work together in the garden parlour,
or out in the orchard beneath the apple-trees.

It was then that we made a compact with her, after a great deal of
trouble, that she should tell or read a story every day after tea, and
in return we each promised to make some specially pretty article for
her stall--for our governess had been persuaded to take a stall by some
of the people who subscribed to the infirmary, and her old school-fellow
Mrs. Norbury was to share it with her.

I don't suppose that any of us will ever forget Miss Grantley's pretty
parlour. It was a pattern of neatness and freshness, with its green silk
curtains just shading the French window which was opened to the soft
July air bearing the scent of the roses and jessamine; its low
easy-chairs, of various patterns, its oval table with a cover of white
and gold, its neat cabinet piano, the pretty dainty chimney ornaments,
the few cool light sketches in water-colour that adorned the walls, the
small book-case with a few charmingly bound volumes which filled up one
recess by the fireplace, and the china closet that occupied the other.
The contents of this china closet were always interesting to us, for
they consisted of some rare specimens of porcelain, old Chelsea, and
other exquisite ware, including the delicate tea-service which was
brought out on high days and holidays, and was in daily use during the
memorable week that we had devoted to the fancy fair.

One might go on gossiping about some of the "belongings" of this room,
and the old china and the quaint handsome tea equipage, but that this is
only a kind of introduction to our governess, or rather to the stories
she told us out of school during that working holiday. It was on the
Monday evening, after we had come in from the orchard and had finished
tea, one toothsome accompaniment to which was some delectable apricot
jam upon crisp toast, that Annie Bowers, who had been so quiet that she
might have been asleep, said in her usual deliberate way: "Miss
Grantley, that lovely silver cup (or shall I call it a vase?) fascinates
me more every time I look at it, and I shall never be contented till you
let me make a sketch of it; but the worst of it is there is no way of
making a drawing that will show all the gleam and shadow that plays upon
old silver."

"Dear me, how very poetical we are!" said Sarah Jorring interrupting.

"Not at all," said Annie in the same sleepy voice. "Anybody with an eye
can see how beautiful that is. There is something regal in the ornament
of it. The slender stem seems to grow as it expands into the bowl, the
chasing is so simple and yet so firm and grand, the handles are like
curves of the lip of the cup itself, as though they were a part of the
whole design, and not as though they were stuck on as they would be in
modern works. I could fancy it the wine-cup of a king or an emperor."

We had none of us seen this handsome goblet before, as it was usually
locked up with other silver in a chest that stood in a wardrobe closet
in Miss Grantley's bed-room. The fact is, we were all looking at it with
some curiosity, for it had been brought down with the tea-spoons and
sugar-tongs, and now stood on the table filled with pounded sugar for
the strawberries that were to be eaten by and by.

"Is it an heirloom, Miss Grantley?" asked Marian Cooper. "Has it always
belonged to you, and did some ancestor leave you the history of it?"

"Well, it has been in our family--in my mother's family--for perhaps two
centuries," replied our governess with her grave gentle smile.

"You know that my mother, or at all events my great grandmother,
belonged to the Huguenots, those French Protestants, many of whom
escaped from the persecutions in France and came to England, where they
worked at many trades. A number of these _émigrés_, as they were called,
settled in a neighbourhood close to the city of London; a place called
Saint Mary Spital. The part that they lived in was named the Spital
Fields, and there they set up in business as weavers of silk. This cup
came to my dear mother as a part of the old property that belonged to
her grandmother, and it had been brought from the south of France, from
the district where the persecution was carried on longest till the
French revolution changed everything. The 'Reign of Terror,' as it was
called, brought a terrible punishment to those who had themselves shown
no mercy; and another kind of persecution to those who, rather than deny
their religion, had endured the cruelties of a fierce soldiery. They had
seen houses burned, even women and children tortured and killed,
property destroyed, and existence made so hard and sorrowful that they
ceased to fear death, and fought on with desperate courage, or abandoned
the country that their tyrants had turned into a desert, and carried
their arts and manufactures to other lands where they might meet and
pray in peace."

"Miss Grantley," said Sarah Jorring when tea was over, and our governess
had "washed up" the dainty cups and saucers, "we don't want you to read
to us to-night, I think. You are to tell us a story instead, you know,
and it seems that there ought to be a history belonging to the Silver
Goblet."

"Yes, yes," we all cried out, "surely you know ever so much about it,
and if it's not a family secret, or if you don't wish to tell us"--

"Well," replied our governess laughing, as we all hurried to our
work-baskets and drew round the table which had been moved nearer to the
window, "as I can work and recite at the same time I may try to tell you
the only story I ever heard about this Huguenot Goblet; but mind it
isn't very romantic, and it isn't very cheerful. There is a love story
in it, though, and as girls are always supposed to prefer something of
that kind--though I have always found that girls are more interested in
the stories provided for their brothers than in their own books--I will
say on as well as I can."

[Illustration]

[Illustration]



CHAPTER II.

THE SILVER GOBLET.


THERE was a time when, on rare occasions, it flushed with the glow of
rare old wine spiced with fragrant spices; or, better still, held the
essence of odorous flowers distilled into subtle perfume. Need I say
that this goblet is "old silver?" It was in France that it held a place
of honour in the house. That house was one of note in Languedoc, not
that its owner was noble by birth, but he was of the great Protestant
families--the old Huguenots--whose undaunted spirit Louis the Fourteenth
could not quell, even with the fortresses that he built to frown them
into submission, or with the help of a fierce soldiery.

They were troublous times even long afterwards, when Anton Dormeur,
owner of looms and manufacturer of velvet, went about with a serious
face, and trusted few of his neighbours. Anton Dormeur was a man who
kept his own counsel, and, when the persecutions had for a time been
stayed, he saved money, hoping to rebuild the fortunes of his house for
those two daughters, who were but children when his wife died and left a
vacant place that never could be filled.

They were lovely--these girls--each in a different fashion. The elder,
tall, slender, dark-haired, haughty, with the complexion of a peach; the
younger, soft and fair, with locks that hung like silken skeins upon a
neck of snow, and eyes of that dark changeful sheen that is either gray,
or black, or blue, as you seek to look into their depths.

Hers were the plump white fingers that pulled the delicate rose-leaves
with which this cup was filled, till the air of that gloomy room was
fresh with the odours of a garden after evening rain.

Mathilde, her dark, proud sister, loved lilies best, and set them in a
jewelled vase. That vase perished in the great calamity that fell upon
the house, and the silver cup was among the few relics that were saved.
Alas! the beautiful, imperious Mathilde perished also in those evil
times.

Yes, this beautiful creature, whose coming seemed to lighten the dim
room in the old château with its hangings of amber damask, its gilded
panels framed with long slips of looking-glass; its satin chairs, its
quaint carved cabinets, filled with rare knick-knacks of ivory carvings,
jade-stones, jewelled daggers, boxes of filligree, and rare cups of
porcelain, like great opals, gleaming with strange lights that paled the
pearls with which their rims were set. There were tables and tripods
too, bearing bronzes and Oriental jars filled with scented woods and
spices; but it was over this silver cup that the sweet glowing face of
Sara Dormeur bent, as she stood watching for her lover's fluttering
signal amidst the trees that belted the sloping parterre, beyond the
broad stone balcony on which the windows opened.

For the father, Anton Dormeur, was averse to young Dufarge, who though
he belonged to a Protestant family among the tanners of Alais, was a man
of the people, without that connection with the old nobility which the
Huguenots cherished, even though they suffered continually by the laws
that king and nobles put in force against them.

The Protestants were loyal to the caste which yet refused to own them,
though they were of the best blood in France, or owned them secretly and
in fear, lest to be identified with the heretics might bring fire and
sword upon themselves.

Thus old Dormeur forbade Sara to have any more to say to Dufarge, but
encouraged the lover of his eldest girl, a man of twice her age, the
grim and saturnine Bartholde, by birth seigneur of an estate near
Lozère, where, however, he lived only on sufferance, for the title had
been abated after the persecutions following the Edict of Nantes, and
though Bartholde was rich, he had abandoned both title and the display
that belonged to it.

His was just such an alliance as the stately reserved manufacturer might
have been supposed to choose for his eldest daughter, and, indeed, after
they were married he would go and stay for days together at his
son-in-law's house--a place less gloomy for him now that the light had
gone out of his own; for Sara, having pleaded in vain, fled with her
lover to the north and there they were married. After this they hoped
and believed that the old man would relent. He never relented, or at
least never to their knowledge. As his sweet fair daughter knelt to him,
her golden hair streaming about her, her hands held up in supplication,
he denounced her in words taken from Holy Scripture, and would have
struck her but that the young husband stood with earnest eyes and folded
arms, he having knelt in vain, or, as he said, bent his pride to his
love for his sweet wife's sake.

So Sara Dufarge went out cursed, undowered, and an orphan, from the old
house, and Père Dormeur was left desolate indeed.

Yet amidst the gloom that settled on his life, and the hard unyielding
determination which resisted any attempts on the part of her sister to
bring him to receive his disowned daughter again, the manufacturer had
frequent struggles with his pride and obstinacy. They were scarcely
acknowledged even to himself. He thought he could trample the
suggestions of nature under foot, and he succeeded in so far as to
suffer in silence, and to make no sign of yielding, nor of admitting
the possibility of foregoing his resentful purpose.

He had much to occupy his thoughts at that time, for there were rumours
of renewed persecutions of the Protestants by command of bishops and
clergy. Not contented with refusing them the legal registration of
marriage and the certificate of death, it was said that a general
confiscation of property was ordered, and that recantation or death by
fire and sword might once more be the doom of the sectaries. Anton
Dormeur was frequently at Alais with Bartholde, and the people there
whispered that it would go hard with the manufacturer when the dragoons
came. He had already made some preparations, however. Always in
communication with the refugees who had settled in Spitalfields and
Coventry, he held money in England. This was pretty well understood; but
what few people knew was, that for weeks before the blow fell he had had
a ship ready, and that some of his most valuable effects and merchandise
were stowed among the cargo. This very cup was hidden away in a case,
surrounded by silk brocade and velvet, clothes, and lace. For days the
vessel swung with the tide, waiting for Anton Dormeur, who sought to
bring his daughter Mathilde and her husband, with their child, to be his
companions in flight. But Bartholde delayed, loath to part from the
farms and land that were his birthright. He and his little boy--the
first and only child--were on a visit to the old lonely house and its
grave master, when a messenger, his horse covered with blood and foam,
came thundering at the door, with the fearful intelligence that the
alarm was ringing at Alais, and that the persecutions of the Protestants
had begun.

Bartholde was in the saddle in a minute.

"Stay for nothing, but bring my daughter. Come on straight for your
lives to Saint Jean," cried the old man. "There will be post-horses
there, and I will order relays along the road where the people know me.
Meantime I will take the boy; he will be safe with me."

They never met again in this world. Bartholde died fighting on his own
threshold; his wife, the beautiful Mathilde, perished, perhaps, in the
flames. At all events, a wild figure was seen at an upper window just
before the great leaden roof of the château curled and fell. Fire and
sword spread in a widening circle round that district; the house of
Anton Dormeur was sacked. Achille Dufarge and his wife, the lovely Sara,
were in Paris, where no word reached them till long after, and then only
by a stranger, an old workman of the factory in Languedoc; so the months
went by, and then came the awful revolution that put an end to the royal
family, and enthroned the guillotine. Then the revolution passed out of
the hands of men, and the destinies of France seemed to be in the
keeping of murderers like Robespierre and Couthon. By that time the old
man and his grandson were in England; the boy having grown to be a tall
and handsome youth.

       *       *       *       *       *

On the door-posts of a tall gaunt-looking house in a street of that
strange part of London lying between Spitalfields and Norton Folgate,
and known as "The Liberty of the Old Artillery Ground," might be seen
the words "A. Dormeur, Silk Manufacturer."

It was a dim-looking place enough, where the yellow blinds were nearly
always drawn over the front windows, and the summer's dust collected in
the corners of the high flight of steps, and was blown round and round
in little eddies, along with bits of string and snippings of patterns or
shreds of silk and cotton. The front door stood open every day from ten
till five, to give buyers access to the warehouse, in which Anton
Dormeur--old, withered, slightly bent, and with a set look upon his face
which even his rare smile failed to disturb--unrolled pieces of silk,
made bargains, examined with a critical eye and with the aid of a
magnifying glass the fabrics brought in by the weavers, and in fact
carried on his trade as though he had for ever been separated from the
tragedy which befel him in Languedoc nearly fourteen years before.

And yet that heavy affliction darkened his mind as he rolled and
unrolled his silks, or carefully matched the skeins that came from the
dyers. The sun was shining through the windows, the lower panes of which
were dulled in order to obtain a clear high light; but the cloud upon
his puckered brow was not lifted. Hour by hour the warehouse clock
ticked away the afternoon. Customers departed; the sound of the scale
and the clatter of reels and bobbins, in another warehouse beyond the
long passage, had ceased since midday.

Presently some passing thought too bitter for absolute self-control,
crossed the old man's mind, and he bowed down his gray head for a moment
upon his folded hands; but the next instant glanced round with the
half-startled look of a man who fears he has betrayed himself. He was
busy over his patterns again as he noted that a young man at the other
end of the room was regarding him with a wistful, pitying look.

"Come, Antoine," he said, "you have had a long day's work, and we dined
early; it is time you had finished your ledger for the day. Come and
help me put up these pieces, and then get you into the fresh air. Would
that I could make the old house more cheerful for thee, boy; but
remember it is all thine own one day, and do not add to the sorrows of
the past, anxiety for the future!"

The young man had come to his side--a slender, handsome fellow, with an
olive cheek, curling hair, and a dark eye both frank and fearless.

"And you, grandpère," he said, touching the old man's hand; "why will
not you go out and seek some change from your dull life? What sorrow is
it that seems to press so hard on you to-day, and why do you think it
necessary to give me words of warning? What shadow has come between us?"

"What shadow!" echoed the old man, peering at him from under his bent
brows. "None of my throwing, boy; but do you forget what day it is? A
dark anniversary for me, if not for you; and I scarcely thought you
would have let it pass without a thought. Nay, I need not wish its
darkness to lie on you for ever either; but, Antoine, remember you are
all I have left. In my silent, lonely life, and this dull house--and I
always a reserved and seeming loveless man--you may well pine for
something more, some lighter, gayer time, and ever brood over the means
to find it. But remember, my son, that you are by birth above the paltry
pleasures of the herd; that you can come to me and ask for money if you
covet some pastime that befits you; that you need conceal nothing from
me--have no friend that I may not know also."

Antoine's face flushed for a moment. It was seldom, indeed, that his
grandfather spoke in a voice so tender and so yearning. Almost
insensibly his arm stole round the old man's neck.

"What is it?" he said again. "What have I done?"

"I accuse you of nothing, lad," replied his grandfather, gently
disengaging himself. "I thought perhaps your tastes may have needed more
money. You do not gamble, Antoine; you are never out late, for I can
hear you come in, and the sound of your violin penetrates to my room, so
that I know when you are at home. I don't expect you to be always with
me; I would not have it so; but when you want money--"

"Grandfather," said the young man hastily, "I know not what you mean.
Have I ever asked for more than the allowance you make me? Do I
complain? Except for the two or three bills that you have paid for me of
your own free-will, do I exceed your bounty?"

"Talk not of bounty, boy," said the elder, flushing in his turn.
"Antoine, could you read my heart you would see that all I desire is to
show to you the love that the world would give me no credit for, that my
own children even, thy--thy mother, Antoine, and--and Sara--ah! leave me
just now, my dear; I am surely growing old and childish, but I have
still enough of the old manhood left not to wish even my grandson to
witness my weakness. Leave me, boy, and let us meet at supper in my
room. I shall go out presently to see old Pierre, and, if I can, to
bring him home with me. Poor old faithful Pierre!"

The young man slowly left the warehouse and ascended the stairs into the
house, when he shut himself in his own room, and flung himself into a
chair, in profound dejection.

He had scarcely done so when a man came from the upper warehouse, a room
whence silk--both warp and woof--was given out to the workpeople to be
wound on bobbins or spread into the web before it was fixed in the loom.
After every such operation this silk was brought back to be reweighed,
and only when the piece was finished in a woven fabric did it find its
way into the lower warehouse, there to be measured and inspected. Access
was gained to this upper warehouse by a door in a back street, inscribed
with the words "A. Dormeur. Weavers' Entrance." And thence the
workpeople, of whom there were many each day waiting their turn, went
across a paved yard and into a passage terminating in a kind of square
lobby, at the bottom of the deep well which lighted the gloomy staircase
by a glazed window from the roof of the house.

Close to this lobby was a sliding panel, opening on a counter where the
great scales hung for weighing the silk; and here weavers and winders
gave in or took out their work from the "scale-foreman," whose name was
Bashley--one of those bad men who, with a bullying pretence of candour
and honesty, contrive to impose even on the victims over whom they
tyrannize, and at the same time, as it were, wrest from their superiors
the acknowledgment that they are "rough diamonds."

By a horrible fiction it is often thought that such a man is "just fit
to deal with workpeople." The same opinion prevailed then, and thus
Bashley was able to get a character which obtained for him a place in
the warehouse of Anton Dormeur. He had been there for some twelve
months, in place of old Pierre Dobree--a faithful fellow who had joined
his old master in London after the calamities which drove them both from
France. Pierre had been in Paris, and had escaped to bring to his master
the awful intelligence that the daughter he had denounced was now beyond
his relentless anger; but the old man, having grown old and feeble, had
retired with a pension to the French Hospital which then stood in St.
Luke's, and was called La Providence: a refuge founded to receive poor
Protestant émigrés, mostly aged men and women, who had their little
rooms quaintly furnished with their own poor household goods; and who
walked daily in the quadrangle, laid out in beds and borders.

Bashley had been only fifteen months in Dormeur's service, and yet he
had come between the grandfather and Antoine, suggesting suspicions of
the young man's probity, but so artfully that while he only seemed to
hint at small blemishes, which he pointed out for the sake of the lad's
future welfare, he left so much to be inferred that the old man had
already a new trouble added to his load.

Bashley's insinuations, when analysed, came in effect to charging
Antoine with small peculations in order to increase the amount of his
allowance--to taking beforehand what he, of course, might consider would
be his own some day, as the scoundrel would have put it. Not only this,
but he hinted at low companions--at a secret love affair with a girl far
beneath him in station--of this he would, if necessary, furnish proof.

It was with a troubled heart that Anton Dormeur, having at last escaped
from a whispered conference with Bashley, locked up the warehouse, and
went slowly out towards Shoreditch on his way to the "Providence." Old
Pierre had been the early guide, philosopher, and friend of the little
orphan boy; and the keen-faced, pippin-skinned old Frenchman had the
courage of his convictions, and roundly swore many innocent French oaths
that afternoon, when his old employer, and present patron and friend,
paced with him along the path of the old quadrangle and told him his
suspicions.

"So, that man of blague, that Bashley, is at the bottom of this also,"
he said presently. "Why did you send me away, and take that liar,
that--that--ventrebleu--that hyena?"

"But what should it be true, Pierre? My heart is very heavy."

"I tell you it is not true."

"But about the girl? He said he could prove it. And yet the boy came
and rested his hand upon my shoulder to-day as if he were candour
itself."

"Let him prove it."

"He swears he will."

"What then?"

"What then! Do you, too, think it is possible, Dobree?"

"I think it is quite possible that Antoine may be in love, and in love
with one who is poor, but not ignoble--no, never--not ignoble."

There was a strange light in the old foreman's eyes, a strange look in
his face, as he said this, so that Anton Dormeur stopped him suddenly.

"Pierre, you know something of this," he cried. "You shall tell me--what
does it mean?"

"I am not sure that I can tell you," replied the old man thoughtfully.
"Still, you invite me to sup with you to-night. Antoine will be there?"

"Ah! there again. This man Bashley told me, as one proof of his
knowledge, that even to-night--this night that I have bidden him to meet
me--Antoine will not be at home; that he may stay away altogether to
avoid my questioning; that he will certainly disappoint me for the sake
of this girl with whom he has an engagement. How then?"

Pierre was silent for a moment; a troubled look puckered his face, then
a keen sudden gleam of surprise and intelligence seemed to shoot across
it. "You said supper at nine, did you not?" he said quietly.

"Yes--the nights are dark."

"Make it ten, nevertheless."

"Agreed, but why? and what is there working in your brain, Dobree?"

"Never mind, monsieur, but lend me one, two, three sovereigns."

"Pierre, you are extravagant. What can you want with them? There will be
no company; your dress is good enough."

"There will be Master Antoine, perhaps a lady, but that I cannot tell;
there may even be two ladies."

"Pierre, it is ill-jesting," said Dormeur, turning pale and with an
angry glance; "do you remember what day it is?"

"Good Heaven! Master, forgive me. I had quite another thought than of
the day; pardon me a thousand times--pardon me. I could cut out my
thoughtless tongue; and yet, believe me, I meant--never mind what I
meant."

They had reached the passage leading to Dobree's queer little
oak-panelled room, and as the door was open, both the old men entered;
Dormeur walking up to the mantel-piece, and fiddling about there with
some old china cups, and other little ornaments with which it was
adorned. Turned with its face to the wall was a small trumpery frame,
containing as it seemed some common-looking picture; and quite
absently, and as though he scarcely knew what he was doing, the old man
placed his fingers on it to turn it face outwards. Anton Dormeur gave a
low cry, and placed his hand upon his companion's arm.

"Where did you get this?" he said slowly, looking his old foreman in the
face. "It is not old, it cannot have been painted more than a year; and
yet, as a mere likeness from memory, it is wonderful. Who could have
done it?--not you, Pierre, that is impossible."

Dobree had recovered himself. "You know that I came from Paris," he
said, with his eyes cast down; "you know, too, how a picture may be
retouched and made to look like new."

"But you are deceiving me; this is no retouching; it is clumsy--coarse;
and, except in the evidence that the face itself must have been
beautiful, not a good likeness. You wonder I can talk so calmly of this,
a poor resemblance of the bright fair girl--of my Sara--mine
although--Dobree, tell me how you came by this."

"I will tell you to-night," muttered the old man; "I swear to you that I
will tell you to-night."

"And to-night I will show you a portrait on ivory, one that will make
you think you see her as you once knew her, Pierre: a picture I keep
among some relics, and look at often--oftener than you think, or anyone
in the world could guess. Good-bye--or rather till nine--no, ten
to-night, _au revoir_."

When his grandfather had left the house, Antoine, who was restless,
unhappy, and full of vague surmises, sat for some time with his head in
his hands, and at last only roused himself with an effort. It was
growing dusk already, for autumn had given place to winter, and the days
were short. There was still light enough, however, for him to see to
write a letter, and in a few lines he told his grandfather that he
should be with him at nine o'clock, and would then ask him to give him
back the confidence that once existed between them, or to charge him
with the fault that he had committed. He felt how vague this was, and
almost hesitated; but he carried the letter to the sitting-room,
nevertheless, and opening the door gently advanced towards the table.

It was a large barely furnished room, and yet not without evidence of
luxury, or at all events of ornament. The great carved chimney-piece was
surmounted by an old mirror with sconces containing candles; a leathern
chair was drawn up to the hearth; on the table itself was a silver
standish with writing materials, and a tall goblet of Venetian glass,
while some rare china stood on a cabinet near the window.

Antoine so rarely entered this room except at night, and to bear his
grandfather company for an hour or two before bed-time, that he
involuntarily glanced round it now in the fast-fading twilight. In that
moment he remarked that the door of the cabinet was unlocked--a
circumstance so unusual that he went towards it and looked inside to
note what might be the reason of such carelessness. Then seeing this
silver cup on the shelf, he carried it to the window, and looked
curiously at its contents. There was some reason for his doing so. In
that dim silent room--where only its master came daily, and the one
domestic who, with an old housekeeper, attended to the wants of Dormeur
and his grandson, and did a little dusting once a week--the silver cup
had become the receptacle of small trinkets, of coins, and quaint pieces
of jewellery.

It was a common custom for the old man to take it out of the cabinet
when his eyes were tired with reading, and to turn over these tarnished
treasures, some of which were in small morocco cases. To one of the
latter Antoine's attention was directed, for it lay open as though it
had been hastily placed there, and covered with a piece of torn
point-lace. Removing this the young man saw a portrait, the picture of a
face so sweet, and eyes so penetrating, that he uttered an involuntary
cry. It was a deeper feeling than mere surprise or admiration that
prompted it, however. His hand trembled as he replaced the miniature,
after gazing at it with an expression of mingled wonder and terror. At
that instant the watchman passed crying the first hour after dark; and,
carefully replacing the cup, he turned the key in the cabinet door and
hurried from the room.

Now all of my story that remains to tell took place in the next three
hours, after Antoine left the house with a strange sense of wonder and
confusion in his mind; so I must explain a little the situation of the
young man--the enmity of Bashley.

It had happened, then, some months before, that Bashley being away for a
day's holiday, Antoine took his place at the scale; for it was a slack
time, and few workpeople were there to be served. He believed he had
given out the last skein of silk, and had weighed the last bobbin, so
shutting the slide, and putting up the bar, he unlocked an inner door,
and went into the house and up the stairs. Pausing on the first landing,
as he frequently did, to look thoughtfully over the balustrade and down
the well-staircase, he became aware that one person yet remained quietly
seated on the bench below. As he uttered some slight exclamation at his
own negligence, a face was turned upward towards his own--a face of such
sweet, pure, girlish beauty that he held his breath lest it should be
bent from his searching gaze--as indeed it was, but not before the plain
straw bonnet had fallen backward and left a wealth of sunny hair glowing
beneath the light that shone down upon it. A confused sense of some
picture of an angel upon Jacob's ladder that he had seen in an old
family Bible came into Antoine's thoughts as he stood and looked; but in
another moment the girl had replaced her bonnet, and with her face bent
down sat waiting as before.

In a minute he was beside her.

"Pardon me," he said, with an involuntary bow; "I thought everyone had
gone. What is it that I can do for you?"

There was no embarrassment except that of modesty as she curtseyed
before him. She might have been a young duchess by the frankness with
which she met his look.

"I come from Marie Rondeau," she said, "who has sprained her foot and
cannot walk. Mr. Bashley said she might send for the money due to her if
she was still lame."

"Your name then is--" he inquired, pausing for her to fill up the
question by her answer.

"Sara Rondeau," she said simply; "it is for my aunt that I come. I live
with my aunt."

"And Bashley, does he--did he--has he visited you to bring you money?"
Already the lad felt a short jealous pang, but knew not what it was.

"He has been to measure our work, but not to bring money. My aunt comes
here herself."

But Bashley had been there, and the image of this young girl had roused
his sordid fancy. Is it a wonder that he soon began to hate his young
master?

Antoine felt the warm blood in his face as he wrapped in a paper the few
shillings that were due.

"Do not come again on such an errand," he said. "I will call and see if
your aunt is better, and will, if necessary, bring some more money
myself."

There is little need to say that Antoine kept his promise; that merry
bustling little Marie Rondeau (how unlike her niece she was, to be
sure!) was in a constant tremor when the little wicket-gate of her
garden clicked, and she, looking through the leaden casement of the
upper room, saw the young master coming along the little path, with its
two rows of oyster-shells dividing it from the gay plots of
gilliflowers, double-stocks, and sweet-williams. She trembled too for
the peace of the fair girl, who had too soon learned to know his
footstep, and to flush with pleasure at his approach.

Already trouble seemed to threaten them, for Bashley had warned her, and
in a coarse insolent way had said he meant to be Sara's sweetheart
himself--or they might seek work elsewhere.

One night, when Antoine entered the garden, he was surprised to find old
Pierre Dobree there.

"You must come no more yet, if you would spare this child from sorrow,"
he said, after talking long and earnestly. "Your new foreman watches
you, and already hints to your grandfather that you are engaged in some
mean intrigue. You bring evil where I would have you do good, Master
Antoine. Come no more, I entreat you."

"And Sara--does she wish that also?" said the young fellow, reddening.
"I have never spoken a word to her that could not be said before her
aunt. Why do you interpose, Peter Dobree?"

"Excuse me. The aunt is my cousin, the child my ward, and I know your
grandfather well. For a month you must not come, but trust me and give
me your word, and all may yet go well."

So it was a month since Antoine had been to the little house in Bethnal
Green--and in all that slack time neither Sara nor her aunt had been to
the warehouse for work or money.

But on that night, when Antoine was to sup with his grandfather, the
month's probation was at an end. Even had it not been, he would have
felt that he must break his promise, for on that very morning as he
stood at the door after the warehouse had been opened, a boy ran up and
placed a note in his hand--a mere slip of paper, on which was scrawled--

          _"Will you never come again?--S. R."_

His sensitive nature was shocked at such a summons, and for the first
time he had a sharp pang of doubt whether he was not to be awakened from
a foolish dream. It was with a heavy heart that he bent his steps along
the narrow tangle of streets that lay between his house and the edge of
a great piece of waste ground known as Hare Street Fields, and even had
he been less preoccupied he might not have noticed that he was followed
by two men, who kept close to him in the shadows of the houses, and
walked as noiselessly as cats, and with the same stealthy tread.

Mrs. Rondeau was sitting in her lower room, sewing by the light of a
weaver's oil-lamp which hung from a string fastened to the mantel-piece.
The place was very bare. Few of the little ornaments that usually
decorate even a poor home remained, and the good woman's eyes were red
with recent crying. The loom in the upper part of the house was empty,
and so was the cupboard, or very nearly so.

"There goes the quarter," she said, as she heard the chiming of a
distant clock. "I wish I'd gone myself instead of sending the poor
child. What would Peter say if he knew--ah! and what would that old
flinty-hearted wretch say if _he_ knew! How I wish she would come, even
if she came back without the money!"

The night had set in gloomily enough, as Sara Rondeau went quickly
through the now almost deserted streets on her way to a dim shop, where
three golden balls hung to an iron bracket at the door, to show that a
pawnbroker's business was carried on within. It was not the first visit
she had made to this establishment, for the poor little household
ornaments, the loss of which had left her home so bleak and bare, were
now in the safekeeping of the proprietor; but still she shrank back as
she approached a dim side entrance in a narrow street, and drawing her
bonnet closer over her face, pushed open a baize door, and entered a
dark passage divided on one side into a row of narrow cells, separated
from each other by wooden partitions.

She made so little noise, and still kept so far back in the pervading
gloom, that her presence was unnoticed by a shabby-looking man, who was
just then engaged in earnest conversation with somebody in the next box.
Before she had spoken, and while she was yet in the shadow of the
partition, she thought she recognized the voice of the person who was
speaking as that of Bashley, and held her breath to listen, for a name
was mentioned which sent the blood back to her heart and made her feel
sick and faint.

"Well, as long as everything's safe," said the pawnbroker's assistant,
who leaned his elbows on the counter, so that his head was close to the
partition; "but we've got a good deal here now, you know, and if the
thing should be found out--."

"Yah! who's to find it out?" retorted Bashley; "I tell you everything's
ready, and the risk's mine. Old Dormeur's half childish; and as to the
young one, I tell you he's safe enough for a week, if I like to keep him
so. He'd an appointment to supper with the old man to-night, and he
won't keep it. If he's not on his way now to see the girl, he's tied up
neck and heels, by this time, and in a safe place out of harm's way. I
tell you I can be back here in an hour or two. You're too deep in now to
draw back; and besides, who can swear to raw silk? I shall go first, and
look after the girl; then I mean to call on the old man, and send him
out on a wild-goose chase. The rest's easy, for I've a key, and a light
cart at the back of the warehouse will bring the silk here in no time.
The game's in my hands now, and I shall play to win."

"But when the young one tells his version of the story?"

"How can he? He comes out without knowing where from; and if ever he
did, he's been in an empty house. A pretty story! No, no; if the old man
believes it, he won't face the disgrace, for he more than half suspects
his grandson as it is. Come now, will you or won't you?"

Sara Rondeau, crouching by the door, hears this with an undefined fear
which paralyses her for a moment, but leaves one thought in her troubled
mind.

Some foul plot is hatching against Antoine, and she is powerless to
hinder it. No--one thing she can do, if only she can creep back
unnoticed. She will use all her strength to reach Mr. Dormeur's house,
and tell him what she has heard.

It is a question of minutes. Walking backward and pressing slowly
against the noiseless door, she slips out again, and, like one pursued,
begins to run at her utmost speed through the darkened streets.

       *       *       *       *       *

Anton Dormeur sits alone in the grim old house. Cook and housekeeper
have gone to market for the means of providing supper. Not a footfall
sounds in the street; only the wailing voice of the watchman calling the
hour at a distance breaks the dead silence, amidst which the old man can
hear the ticking of the gold repeater in his pocket, the tinkle of the
ashes that stir in the old wide grate, where a fire has been lighted,
and the gnawing of a mouse behind the wainscot. He sits with the silver
goblet beside him on the table, his knees towards the fire, his furrowed
face quivering as he bends it down over the miniature he has taken from
its case, the miniature of his younger daughter, dead and--no, not
unforgiven--dead and mourned for now, with a silent grief that speaks of
years of desolation and remorse.

The light of the shaded lamp falling on the picture in his hands seems
to expand its lineaments; the tears that gather in his eyes almost give
quivering motion to the face before him. A strange emotion masters him.
His temples seem to throb, his hands to shake. The sudden sound of a
light single knock at the street door sets his nerves ajar; the quiet
click of the lock--a pause of deadest silence--and then the light tread
of an uncertain foot upon the stairs make him tremble; yet he knows not
why--does not even ask himself the reason. There is a lamp outside upon
the landing, he knows--the light of it shines down into the hall--and
yet he cannot stir towards it. What superstition holds him? Even at the
moment that he starts up from his chair, the portrait still in his hand,
his highly-strung senses enable him to hear a rustle that sounds quite
close, and is followed by a low knocking at the door of the room itself.

In a voice of hope, of dread, of fear, he knows not what or which, he
hoarsely cries, "Come in."

In the mirror above his head he sees the room-door partly open, and
then--yes, then--either to his waking vision or in disordered fancy, the
living original of the picture stands with pale and earnest face in the
upright bar of light that streams in from the landing.

His daughter--not as he had last seen her, but with a difference
unaccountable if he had had time to think or strength to reason. His
daughter, with the past years rolled back to show her in her youth, and
yet with poor and scanty dress, and long fair hair tossed in confusion
on her shoulders, whence a battered bonnet hung.

He had no time to note all this at first. He only knew that his heart
seemed to be going out in some dumb movement towards this
apparition--that he sank again into his chair--that he felt a living
hand upon his shoulder--saw a frightened face looking into his. Then his
senses came back, and he heard the voice speak rapidly, and in French.

       *       *       *       *       *

With swift steps, but without picking his way, taking the nearest road
rather by habit than with any observation, Antoine Dormeur traversed the
narrow streets leading to his destination. There were so few people
abroad that the way was clear enough, and yet there were some
apprentices or worklads on their way home; while in that neighbourhood,
just on the edge of Spitalfields, a lower colony of petty thieves and
receivers kept up the trade of two or three disreputable taverns, where
dogs, birds, and pigeons were exchanged or betted on. It may have been
in consequence of this taste for pigeon-flying that the whole
neighbourhood resounded with whistles and bird-calls. Men and boys gave
each other this shrill greeting as they passed, or warned each other by
it, or used it to express reproach or pleasure, hilarity or dismay,
varying its peculiar note to suit each emotion. The Hare Street whistle
was as well-known an institution there as the jödel is to the Tyrolese
peasant.

It scarcely surprised Antoine, therefore, when, as he reached a
beer-shop (the last lighted house before the straggling street opened
into a dirty lane leading to the open fields), a man who was just
emerging from the place gave a low whistle as he turned in the opposite
direction and crossed the road. Had he given the matter a thought, he
might have hesitated for a moment before plunging into the gloom of the
muddy lane, or at least might have grasped his walking-cane more firmly
and looked about him, in which case it is just possible he would have
seen two shadows that moved in the darkness of the wall some fifty yards
behind. As it was, he did neither. The course of his gloomy thoughts was
unbroken by so trivial an interruption, and continued to be so till he
approached a corner where a high ragged fence turned off on the edge of
a footpath.

Only a sudden scuffle, a muttered oath, and the grasp of two powerful
arms that pinioned his elbows to his side awakened him.

Three men had leaped out from the projecting corner of the fence, where
a light cart was drawn up, and were upon him before he could raise a
hand; but he was quick and active, so that by a sudden turn and trip he
bore to the ground the fellow who held him, and fell upon him heavily.

"Give it him, and quick there with the sack!" cried this worthy, as they
rolled on the path together. Another ruffian seized Antoine by the
throat. A weapon gleamed before his eyes; but in that moment a quick
patter of feet sounded in the roadway, followed by two reports like the
sudden breaking of a cocoa-nut. Crack! crack! and the ruffian's body
fell heavily against the fence, as two shadows--the two shadows that had
been following Antoine so long--danced in the footway, whence they had
just struck a second of the ruffians through a jagged hole in the fence,
and left him sticking there till he recovered his senses. In a moment
the young man felt his arms released, and struggled to his feet, his
late antagonist escaping by a plunge through the fence and a desperate
run across the fields, where he was followed by a flash and the report
of a pistol, which failed to stop him.

"Who fired?" said one of the shadows, now visible--a light active
fellow, armed with a knotted cudgel.

"I did, Mat," replied a voice that Antoine knew, as a thin spare old man
came from the open space beyond.

"Are you hurt, my boy?" he asked tenderly, approaching Antoine, who
stared from one to another in amazement.

"Pierre--Pierre Dobree!" exclaimed the young man; "you here--and
these--how is all this?"

"I will tell you presently," said the old pensioner, for it was he
indeed. "I expected a trap, and had you followed by two lads that I
could trust.--Gave him a body-guard of a couple of weaver-lads, eh?" he
said, turning to the rescuers. "You've done your work well, boys."

"Why, we haven't been three years at sea and learnt the knack of the
press-gang for nothing, daddy," replied one of them grinning; "but we
must be off; we ain't constables, you know, and there may be trouble
about."

"Antoine, you sha'n't be disappointed of your ride in the cart," said
Peter; "we must hasten, or your grandfather will be waiting supper. He
will have to excuse me, though. Come, in with you."

The two shadows leaped lightly up, and one of them took the reins.

"Stop, though," he said suddenly; "this isn't our cart. This will be
brought in stealing. It might be a hanging matter, daddy."

"I'm going to take it to the owner if I'm not much mistaken," said
Peter, as he and Antoine scrambled in at the back.

"But, Pierre Dobree, what of Sara? what of your niece? I must know. If
she is in danger, and through me, I will brave my grandfather's
displeasure, lose my hope of the fortune for which I care so little. I
will, I must find her!"

"You can no more find her than I," said the old man. "One word with your
grandfather, and then I go to seek her."

"What! She has left home then?"

"Only this evening, and for an hour or two; but if my hopes do not play
me false we shall overtake the scoundrel who detains her, and he shall
answer for it with my hand at his throat but I will have her back."

Pierre Dobree was ordinarily a calm, rather rosy, cheerful, high-dried
old Frenchman, quite small and thin, and with a very perceptible stoop;
but Antoine said afterwards that there was a very terrible look in his
face just then--such a look as may have been born, perhaps, in the days
of Terror, when he stood in the crowd beneath the guillotine and saw the
head of Achille Dufarge fall into the sack.

       *       *       *       *       *

It was many minutes before old Anton Dormeur could clear his mental
vision or recover his senses sufficiently to determine that the girl who
stood beside him touching his shoulder was real flesh and blood; but at
last, with a strong effort, he roused himself to listen; and only half
comprehending her hurried story, rose from the chair into which he had
fallen.

"And you, little one, who are you? what are you?" he asked presently,
without taking his eyes from her face. "Your name is Sara? it must
be--shall be," he exclaimed almost passionately.

"It is," said the girl--"Sara Rondeau."

"Rondeau, Rondeau! where have I heard that?"

"It is my aunt--she is a weaver; we work for you, monsieur. See you not
that this Monsieur Bashley, having a spite against us, and against
monsieur your grandson----"

"Who and what are you?" again said the old man; "you talk as one of
us--speaking of monsieur my grandson. Has he seen you? do you know him?
Your mother never saw him? she was---- Mon Dieu! what am I saying?" he
added wildly.

"Pray, pray delay not!" said the girl, clasping her hands.

"No, no, I come--first to the watch-house, and then to your house, did
you say?" And with a great effort, but almost without taking his eyes
from the child's face, Dormeur strode to a closet beside the window, and
took down a sword, which he drew quickly from the scabbard.

Sara feared him, and retreated to the door.

"What!" he said; "dost think I'd harm thee, little one? Come, take my
hand. Tell me, how did you get in?"

"I found the street-door unfastened, and knocked, but could make no one
hear; then I came in and listened, and there was a light up here, and so
I came and knocked, not knowing what to do; but there is some one there
now--hark!"

"'Tis the servants come back, child," said Anton; but he trod softly for
all that, and, turning about, traversed noiselessly the long winding
passage that led towards the back of the house.

At the end of that passage the well stair-case sent a cold gray gleam
from the skylight in the roof, but down at the basement, where the lobby
opened in the yard, there was a stronger light--the light of a lantern,
by which a man stood impatiently examining a key, and picking it with a
penknife, as though it had been clogged.

"I wanted to unlock that closet too," he muttered, "for I would swear he
keeps gold there, but the cart will be here directly. It's rare luck
that he should be out, and the women too as I verily believe, for not a
soul is stirring in the kitchen. Fancy leaving the house alone! I was a
fool not to take the chance before."

The sound of wheels aroused him, and Bashley--for it was he--gave a
half-frightened glance behind him, for he had suddenly become conscious
that he was talking to himself. He looked upwards also, as though by
some strange instinct; and there, leaning over the wooden balustrade of
the "well," their faces lighted in the gleam of his lantern, were Anton
Dormeur and Sara Rondeau, looking down upon him.

He made a dash at the door leading to the yard, then suddenly turned
and, with a desperate oath, drew a pistol and fired it from the stairs;
but his aim was uncertain, and the ball went straight upward crashing
through the skylight. Another moment, and a door clanged open, a
torrent of air rushed up the well, and amidst shouts and cries, and the
sound of falling glass, Bashley was smitten down, and handcuffed between
two officers, who had been posted in the street, according to the
instructions they had received from Peter Dobree. The old weaver had not
counted on such a success, but he had actually driven Antoine home in
the very cart which was to have carried away the plunder, after having
conveyed the young man to some place of imprisonment, where he might
have died before aid could reach him.

The first thing that Antoine saw clearly, when they had all got into the
house again, was his grandfather carrying a woman in his arms. The old
man had darted down the stairs at the moment Bashley fired his pistol;
but Sara had fainted. Poor child, she had been long without food, and
her strength gave way amidst that awful scene.

Arrived at the door of the room, the second thing Antoine saw was that
this was the very girl whom he had gone out to seek. As she lay there in
the great leathern chair, with a wan face and closed eyes, a keen
anguish wrung the lad's heart--anguish not unmingled with utter
amazement, for there, bending over her and kissing her hands, which he
held gently to his breast, was the proud old man, who had so rarely
displayed emotion.

Antoine covered his face with his hands, for his head began to reel. So
Peter Dobree found him standing outside the half-open door, when he came
panting up.

"Why, what's the matter, boy? you're not wounded surely--say?" asked the
old foreman anxiously.

Antoine pointed to the scene within the room, and Peter stooped down and
peered in--well he might. Anton Dormeur was on his knees beside the
child, moistening her lips with brandy from a teaspoon (it was a spoon
that had fallen from her dress, but he knew nothing of that, for he
found it on the floor without thinking how it came there). He spoke
encouraging words to her, talked to her as men talk to babies; touched
her forehead with his fingers, and took up one of her long fair tresses
to press it to his lips.

Presently she sighed heavily, and opened her great eyes upon him, then
flushed, drew herself further back in the chair, and began to cry.

"Pierre--Pierre Dobree!" shouted the old man, striding to the door, "he
should be here; where is he?"

"Here am I," said Peter, suddenly confronting him, and drawing Antoine
into the room, all grimed and torn, and smirched with mud, as he was.

"What is the meaning of that?" said old Dormeur, glaring into Peter's
eyes, and laying a grip upon his shoulder that must have left a bruise
there.

"The meaning of _that_ is," said Peter steadily, and looking back with
an eye as fierce as his master's--"the meaning of _that_ is, that when
nearly nineteen years ago I stood under St. Guillotine and vowed a vow,
I meant to keep it. That when Sara Dufarge--once Sara Dormeur--my loved
and lovely mistress, joined her husband--not by the guillotine, but by a
broken heart in a little country lodging at Nogent--she left her
child--_that_ child--to the nurse who had been faithful to her--to my
own good sister Nancy, who, bringing her to England when she and her
husband came to escape the troubles, found here another sister, the
widow Rondeau--childless--to whom came as a legacy that same little
orphaned one who lies now in her grandsire's chair."

Anton Dormeur stood and glared for a moment at the undaunted little old
man, who had thus kept a secret for eighteen years, though he had been
here in his service; but even in his bitter anger there came to him the
recollection of the stern relentless temper with which he had blotted
out his daughter's name from the family record; and, with a drooping
head and tears that fell fast on his furrowed cheeks, he went again and
knelt beside the girl, who now sat looking at them all with wide and
wondering eyes.

"Peter Dobree," he said presently, "go or send for your sister
Rondeau.--Antoine, dear lad, go you into the kitchen and see if any one
has come in; for we will have supper through all, and Sara, Sara, my
child, my little one, you must never leave me more."

"What! and are you, monsieur, truly my grandfather, and Monsieur Antoine
truly your grandson? Then he is--no, not my brother; what then?--But I
may kiss him?" said the wondering girl, as she stood the centre of a
talking group, apart from which stood the lad, who still looked at her
wistfully enough.

They broke into a laugh, at which she turned red as a rose, and with a
sudden gesture, which shot a pain to the old man's heart, for it was
that of her mother once again, turned away.

"Yes, but you may kiss him," said Anton gently, and leading her to where
Antoine stood--"a cousin's kiss, you know--have you learned what that
is?"

"No, I never had a cousin--at least, Antoine never kissed me," she said
simply, and held up her sweet face to the young man, who bent and
touched it with his lips.

                     ------------------------------

"I do not think I need say any more; but that is the story of the Silver
Goblet," said our governess as she rang the bell for the strawberries
and cream.

On the following evening the weather was so close and lowering that we
had to remain indoors. It was one of those heavy days which sometimes
occur in the summer months, when the whole atmosphere appears to be one
low-hanging cloud, enveloping everything in a kind of dark-gray mist,
that is only now and then pierced with red rays, and droops upon the
distant fields in a straw-coloured vapour--the effect of the sunlight
behind the atmosphere of mist.

"What a dim, uninviting evening!" said Miss Grantley as we stood at the
window looking out at the garden, where the roses seemed to droop
heavy-headed in the moisture-laden air, and the song of the birds was
hushed, or only an occasional chirp was heard as one or two thrushes
flashed from amidst the plum-trees, or a martin twittered beneath the
eaves. "What a dim evening! It almost reminds one of a London fog--not a
black fog, but a yellow one, such as one sees in the city sometimes on a
late autumn afternoon or an evening in February."

"Oh! do tell us a story about London, Miss Grantley. You _must_ know
ever so much of the streets and places there, or how could you have
learned so easily about Spitalfields and all that? Beside, you've lived
in London, haven't you?"

"Well, yes. I was in London for more than two years, and near the city
too, and I think I must have spent too much time in wandering about some
of the quaint old streets and lanes, where there are rare old churches,
and halls belonging to city companies, and ancient houses that once
belonged to noblemen of the court of King James and King Charles, but
are now used for counting-houses and warehouses, such of them as are not
pulled down at least. I made some odd acquaintances too; and a kind old
couple, who were caretakers at one of the smaller city halls, used to
ask me to take tea with them, for the old gentleman had known my
great-uncle Joseph, who was an East India merchant, and belonged to the
company that used to meet in the hall. I think the old gentleman said he
had been the 'master;' but at any rate his portrait was on the wall
along with many others, and he was so like my dear father that I stood
and cried, and often wished I could take the portrait itself away, but
that of course was impossible."

Here Miss Grantley became silent, and we could see tears shining in her
eyes, till Annie Bowers, who was standing near her, gently took her in
her arms and kissed her on the cheek, and without saying a word held her
round the waist.

"Well," resumed our governess, smiling, and pressing Annie's hand, "I
was going to say that the old gentleman had kept a kind of diary or
great memorandum-book, in which he had written--oh, in such a neat,
stiff, stalky kind of hand!--all kinds of things that had happened among
his friends and acquaintances for many years. He used to read it to me
sometimes; and once, when I had to stay there in the little cozy parlour
for a whole winter evening because of a downpour of rain, he asked me if
I should mind his reading to me a little story that he had written about
a very strange occurrence to an old friend of his who lived in just such
another lane, near just such another old hall in the city. He said that
he felt like Robinson Crusoe sometimes, except that his wife was there
with him in that quiet island of bricks and mortar; and, like Robinson
Crusoe, he had learned to put his narratives upon paper in quite a
remarkable way, so that if I didn't mind listening he would read me a
bit of a romance that was as true as anything I should be likely to get
out of the circulating libraries.

"I said of course that I should like it very much; and so, while his
wife sat on one side the fire knitting, and I was half lost in a great
leather easy-chair on the other side, the old gentleman took a bundle of
papers out of a drawer in the bookcase and read me the story that I am
now going to read to you; for as I was very much interested in it he was
so pleased that he made me a low bow, and handed me the paper neatly
folded and tied with a bit of red tape. He said it would be something to
remember him by when I went away from London."

[Illustration]



CHAPTER III.

A BABY'S HAND.


PEOPLE who know the city of London, and like to wander up and down the
streets, soon learn to leave the broad and more modern thoroughfares and
to plunge into the silence and seclusion of the queer by-ways which lie
away from the great roaring sea of traffic, like the caves and shallows
that skirt some great ocean bay.

Amongst these retired spots none are more suggestive than the old
churchyards all blurred and dim with London smoke, but yet in which a
few trees yearly put forth green leaves of little promise, and a choir
of sooty sparrows chirp around the queer old steeples or perch
impudently upon the leaden ornaments which adorn the sacred porch. In
these places--which even in summer are well-like in their cool
impenetrable shade--there is no little business going on, however, for
all round the rusty iron railing which incloses the weed-entangled
graveyard the houses of city merchants seem to crowd and hustle for
space; and, if they had any time for it, the clerks behind those
dust-blinded windows might spend an hour not unprofitably in looking
down upon the decaying monuments of departed citizens and meditating at
once on the uncertainty of human affairs and the benefits of life
assurance.

Amongst the dozen or so of such places illustrating the brick-and-mortar
history of the city none are more suggestive than the church and yard of
St. Simon Swynherde, which, lying in the circumbendibus of a lane named
after the same saint, forms, as it were, a sort of outlying island, upon
whose quiet shores the incautious wayfarer, being sometimes lost or cast
away, can hear the humming surges of the great sea as they boom in the
thoroughfares beyond. There is no alteration in this place from year to
year, except such differences as are brought about by the change of
seasons; no civic improvement troubles its sedate gloom--no adventurous
speculator regards it as a promising site for building blocks of
offices--no railway company casts an evil eye upon its seclusion within
the area formed by the church and the tall dim houses which have
mouldered into uniform neutrality of colour.

Even the march of time seems to have been arrested amidst the decay of
the place, since the bell of the church clock rusted from its bearings
and the index of the old sun-dial fell a prey to accumulated canker. The
spring brings a few green buds and feeble leaves upon the grimy trees;
the summer serves to accumulate the store of dust and torn paper and
shreds of light rubbish which the autumn wind swirls into neglected
corners on the dim evenings when the rain weeps on the blackened windows
and the mist creeps up to the steeple in long ghostly shapes. The winter
brings a frozen cyclone which whistles round and round or gently covers
the graveyard with snow, the unbroken whiteness of which is gradually
spotted and interlaced with sooty flakes, as though the genius of the
place resented the intrusion and would make no further compromise than
half mourning.

The dimmest, darkest, and dirtiest of all the houses round the yard was
that of Richard Dryce & Co., factors and general merchants. It was never
known who was the Co., for Richard Dryce managed his own business, and
lived in the house, in one of the back rooms of which overlooking a
square paved courtyard he had been born. The business belonged to his
father before him, and he himself had married into the business of
another factor and general merchant. His wife had died some twenty years
before the period of this story--died in giving birth to a boy, who was
sometimes mistaken for the Co., but who at present occupied no better
position than that of a superior clerk, with the questionable advantage
of living with his father in the dull old house, where he had to go
through the warehouse amidst innumerable bales and crates and packages
to reach the staircase that conducted him to the gloomy rooms, the
old-fashioned furniture of which suited his father, but was sorely
against his own taste.

How he should have come to have any opinion of his own is perhaps a
mystery, for he resembled his mother, who was a simple creature, easily
influenced, and with all her tastes apparently moulded on the pattern
set before her by her husband. Still, however it may have been, though
he was born in the gloomy house, and was subject to the same influences,
the younger Dryce--whose name was Robert--never took kindly to the dull
routine to which his father's habits doomed him. He was too dutiful and
too mild in disposition--in fact, too unlike his own father--to offer
any direct opposition to it, or to complain very often of its exactions;
but he felt that at twenty he was kept with too tight a hand, and that
there were worlds beyond Saint Simon Swynherde, which might be
harmlessly explored.

Richard Dryce was, however, not a bad man, not a cruel or a hard man in
his inmost heart; but he had been himself devoted from early life to one
condition of things, which were in some strange way in accordance with
his natural constitution, or with which he had become identified till
they grew into a necessary part of his existence. He was a
self-contained man--an undemonstrative man, whose mind was attuned to
respectable solitude, and who, without being a misanthrope, regarded his
fellow creatures through a ground-glass medium, which made them seem
shadowy and unapproachable. A few business acquaintances he had, with
whom he would sometimes take his chop and glass of old port at a city
tavern of an evening; he would even, on rare occasions, go the length of
smoking a cigar in company with one or two of his less distant
companions; but his laugh was like the harsh echo of a disused violin,
and he seldom or never invited anybody to see him at home.

One of the people whom he disliked most said that he was "a buttoned-up
man," and Richard Dryce could never forgive him--the description was so
true.

One of his most intimate friends, an alderman, of congenial temperament,
who had greatly distinguished himself by quarrelling and exchanging
vituperative epithets with another alderman on the magisterial bench,
seriously advised him to become a candidate for civic honours; but he
strenuously refused, although he ultimately permitted his son Robert to
achieve something like independence by becoming a liveryman of the
Worshipful Company of Twidlers, whose hall stood within the precincts of
Saint Simon Swynherde. It was only on the occasion of one of their
dinners that Robert was allowed to be out after ten o'clock; but that
restriction did not prevent his spending the larger number of his
evenings between eight o'clock and ten at the Twidlers' Hall, which
mouldy old structure, with its great, cold, lonely dining-room and
awkward polygonal ante-rooms decorated with portraits of deceased
dignitaries, held an attraction not to be found elsewhere, in the person
of pretty Agnes Raincliffe, the only daughter of the company's beadle.

For six months they had been under the sweet illusion that disinterested
affection must eventually win for itself a way to union; but old Mr.
Raincliffe had spoken seriously to them, and altogether forbade their
further meeting until Robert had spoken to his father. He went home that
very night, and, nerved to a sort of desperation, _did_ speak to his
father, ending with the usual declarations that his choice was
unalterable. Perhaps it was; but, whether or not, Richard Dryce went the
very way to make it so when he laughed that discordant laugh, and, with
a taunt against his son's weakness of purpose and his dependent
position, told him to dismiss such a scheming little hussey from his
thoughts, for he was to marry when he had permission, which would never
be granted to such a match as the beadle wanted to bring about.

Robert left his father's presence without a word; but in a week from
that date he had followed Agnes down into the country, whither she had
been sent out of the way. When he returned he wrote a letter to his
father, to say that they were married. It is easy to guess what
followed. When he called for an answer to his communication, he received
a brief note, saying that he was discarded from that hour, need never
trouble himself to enter the doors of the old house again, and that
henceforth he must look to his own exertions for the means of living.
This letter was sent by the hand of a sort of managing clerk, one
Jaggers, who was at the same time commissioned to tell Robert that he
could, if he chose, obtain a situation in a house at Liverpool, where
his father's interest was sufficient to secure him a clerkship at a very
moderate salary. Now it so happened that Jaggers had always appeared to
be the best friend young Robert ever had; he had sympathized with him on
the subject of his father's harshness; had applauded his noble
sentiments when he had imparted the secret of his engagement to Agnes;
had wished that _he_ was master of the establishment in St. Simon's
Yard, that justice might be done to disinterested virtue, and had
generally assumed the part of guide, philosopher, and friend, tempered
by humble deference, to the young man. It was arranged between them,
therefore, that, after a time, during which Robert should accept the
situation at Liverpool, a more successful appeal might be made to Dryce
senior, and that a letter addressed to him should be sent under cover to
Jaggers, who would lay it on his table.

Robert and his young wife went away, leaving this good-natured fellow to
watch their interests. A year passed, and the letter had been written,
but remained unanswered; indeed, according to Jaggers's showing, Richard
Dryce was more inveterate than ever, and was unapproachable on the
subject of his undutiful son, in pleading whose cause he, Jaggers, had
very nearly obtained his own dismissal. The firm in which Robert was a
clerk became bankrupt in the commercial crisis, and he was thrown out of
employment. Again he wrote to his father, saying that he had an
appointment offered him in Australia, and only wanted the money to pay
his passage. He received no reply, but some people who knew him in
Liverpool made up the sum, and his wife came to London to live with her
father (who was now superannuated in favour of a new beadle), and to
wait for his return, or for the remittance that was to come by the first
mail, that she might join him there.

Their first child, a girl, had been a poor sickly little creature, and
was dead; but Agnes was likely again to become a mother, and waited
anxiously for the money which would enable her to prepare for such an
event. Anxiously as she waited, it never came, and Jaggers, to whom it
was to have been directed, advanced her a sovereign, as he said, "out of
his small means," and then lost sight of her, for she and her father had
moved into other lodgings, where the managing clerk could scarcely
trouble himself to go, unless he had good news to take with him. Indeed,
he had so much to occupy his attention, that some months had elapsed
since he had seen Agnes; once only he had written a short reply to a
note imploring him to say whether any remittance had arrived; but how
could he spare time to attend to such matters when Mr. Dryce was every
week taking a less active part in the business, and the Christmas
quarter was stealing on with the balance-sheet not even thought of in
the press of country orders. Mr. Richard Dryce was still hale and
active; but those who knew him best, thought that he was breaking. His
voice was less harsh, his hair had turned from iron-gray to white, and
in his face there was an anxious look as of one who waits for something
that does not come. Once or twice old acquaintances ventured to ask
after his son, but he shook his head, and said that he knew nothing of
him; he had written to his last address, but had received no reply.

It was cold dull wintry weather, and the old man looked so solitary,
that one or two tried to rally him, and even asked him to come and dine
or spend the evening with them, to which he responded by his old harsh
laugh, and putting on his worsted gloves, trudged home through the snow.

[Illustration: MR. DRYCE'S PETITION ANSWERED.]

One morning he awoke early, almost before daylight had penetrated the
dull rooms where he lived, and had a sudden fancy to walk into the
church. It was already daylight in the streets, but the interior of St.
Simon Swynherde was dim with mist and with the obscurity of the high
windows. He could only just see the pillars and the organ, where his own
name had been painted in gilt letters since the time that he had been
churchwarden and helped to restore it. Even as he looked up at it, the
notes of the Christmas hymn came trembling into the chill morning air,
for the organist had come there to practise, and expected the parish
school children to come in to sing at a morning service. To most people
there might have been nothing in the place or its associations to evoke
much gentle feeling; but as the tones of the organ swelled and the music
grew louder, old Richard Dryce sat down in the corner of his own pew and
leaned his head upon the book-board, with his hands clasped before his
face. Not till the warm tears had trickled from between his fingers did
he raise his head, and then it was to look round him to the cushion at
the other end of the pew, for from some place near him he thought he had
heard a sound that was out of all harmony with the organ, but not
altogether apart from the associations of the Christmas hymn--the
wailing of a child. Another moment and he was bending over a bundle
seemingly composed of a coarse blue cloak, but from which there
presently came out a baby hand and, the covering once pulled aside, a
little round rosy face in which a pair of large blue eyes were wide
awake in utter astonishment. Who can tell what had been the thoughts
busy in old Dryce's mind? Was it prayer? Was it that yearning which
finds no words of entreaty, but yet ardently and dumbly implores--all
vaguely--that the crooked paths of former error may be made straight at
last--that the rough places of a mistaken course may become divinely
plain? He could not tell; and yet in some way he accepted this child as
a visible answer to a petition that he had meant to frame. When the
organist and the sextoness came down presently, and with indignant
virtue advised the removal of the child to the workhouse, he regarded
their suggestion as little less than impious, and expressed his
determination of taking the little one home with him.

His old housekeeper and the younger servants were not a little surprised
to see the merchant come home with such a companion; but Mr. Dryce was
master in his own house, and the little guest was fed. Then Doctor Banks
was sent for, and he declared that it would be necessary to provide a
nurse, while, as luck would have it, he had that very morning been sent
for to see a casual applicant for relief at the Union workhouse--a woman
who had just lost a child. Temporarily she might do well enough, and
Doctor Banks wanted to get home to dinner; so away went the housekeeper
in a cab with a letter from the doctor, and in two hours came back
bringing with her a pale pretty young woman whose name was Jane Harris,
and who, her husband having gone abroad and left her with a child which
she had just lost, was reduced to apply at the workhouse. She was so
timid, and had at first such a scared look, that Mr. Dryce had much
trouble to induce her to stay; but it was quite wonderful the way in
which the child took to her, and so a room was got ready for them both,
and she was comfortably settled, almost, as the housekeeper said, "as if
she was a lady, though for the matter of that, Doctor Banks knew more
about her than he said." At any rate Doctor Banks said the next day,
after he had had a little conversation with the new nurse, that she was
thoroughly trustworthy, and that he himself had known her father, who
once held a very respectable position in the city. So Mrs. Harris became
an inmate at the dim old house, and her charge throve under her care.

He was a bonny boy, and every day his little baby ways became of so
great interest to the lonely old man, that he was never happy after
business hours until he had the little fellow in the room. He never
stayed at his old tavern now for more than half an hour beyond the time
it took him to eat his dinner, and even went so far as to tell two or
three of his friends what he had done, and invite them home to see the
child, in whom--they being themselves fathers of families--they could
see nothing extraordinary, and wondered amongst themselves at old
Dryce's strange infatuation.

When the boy at last grew able to crawl about, and even to walk from
chair to chair, he seemed to have so grown to the old man's heart that
Dryce became subject to a kind of transformation. His laugh grew more
mellow, as though the violin had been laid near the fire, and played
upon gently; a dozen old and forgotten picture-books were disinterred
from some box, and toys strewed the floor of the dingy sitting-room. At
about this time Mrs. Harris was for a week or more strangely agitated by
a letter which was brought to her one morning, and came as she said from
her husband, who had been for some time in Australia. Upon her recovery
Mr. Dryce inquired a little into her husband's circumstances, and
hearing that he was endeavouring to establish an agency in Sydney, wrote
a letter requesting him to make some inquiries about a house to which
Dryce & Co. had made large consignments, but whose promised remittance
had not duly arrived. The old man had other matters to occupy him,
however, for with something like a resumption of his old vigour and his
business habits he had called for his books, for he had had some serious
losses lately, and began to think it necessary to give more personal
attention to the current accounts. Still every day he had his little pet
into the room to play about his knees, and indeed refused to part with
him even when nurse Harris came to put him to bed, often making her stay
and take some wine, or consulting her as to some future provisions, for
her little charge, for whom she seemed to have even more affection than
the old gentleman himself.

It was late one evening that he sat talking to her in this way, but
still with a rather absent manner, for his heavy ledgers and cash-books
lay beside him on the table. She would have taken the child away, but
Mr. Dryce told her to let him remain, and at the same time asked her to
step down into the counting-house, and if Mr. Jaggers had not left for
the night, to ask him to come up.

Now Mr. Jaggers had so seldom been invited to come upstairs, that,
although he of course knew of the adoption of the little foundling, he
had never seen the nurse; but that was scarcely any reason for her
stopping on her way downstairs and pressing her hand to her side with a
sudden spasm of fear.

She got down at last, however, and opening the two doors which led to
the passage, at the end of which was the private counting-house, stood
there in the shadow and looked in.

Mr. Jaggers was busy at his desk tearing up papers, some of which
already blazed upon the hearth. The desk itself was open, and by the
light of the shaded lamp she could see that it contained a heavily bound
box in which hung a bunch of keys. As she delivered Mr. Dryce's message,
still in the shadow of the door, he looked up with a scared face, and
dropping the lid of the desk with a loud slam, peered into the darkness.

Mrs. Harris repeated her message, and returned swiftly up the stairs,
nor stopped even to go in for the child, but shut herself into her own
room. Somehow or other Mr. Jaggers felt a cold perspiration break out
all over him, and yet he need scarcely have been cold, for he already
had his greatcoat on, and there was a decent fire in the grate burning
behind a guard. Still he shivered, and after taking the lamp and once
more looking into the entry, gave a deep sigh of relief, and in a
half-absent manner locked both box and desk and carefully placed the
keys in a breast pocket. Leaving the lamp still burning, he went
upstairs and found Mr. Dryce alone, sitting at the table with the books
open before him. He looked up as his clerk entered. "Take a seat,
Jaggers," he said, "I shall want you for an hour or more, for there are
several things here that require explanation."

Mr. Jaggers turned pale, but he took off his coat and laid it along with
his hat on the great horsehair sofa at the other end of the room. Then
both he and his employer plunged into figures, till the chimes of a
distant clock sounded nine. "We must finish this the day after
to-morrow, Jaggers," said Mr. Dryce. "I won't keep you longer."

Mr. Jaggers put on his coat and hat, and bade his employer good-night,
and he had no sooner left the room than Mrs. Harris came in to fetch the
little one, for, as she said, "it was already past his bedtime."

Richard Dryce fell into his chair, and was as near having a fit as ever
he had been in his life.

"Good heaven! Mrs. Harris--you don't mean to say you haven't got the
boy. He's not here; run and see whether he has gone into Betsy's room;
she runs away with him sometimes."

"Mamma!" said a sleepy little voice under the sofa, and Mr. Dryce and
the nurse were both on their knees in a moment.

"The precious! why, if he hasn't been asleep all the time!" said Mr.
Dryce, kissing the warm rosy cheek; "take him off to bed directly, and
bring him down to breakfast in the morning."

Mrs. Harris only just escaped meeting Jaggers on the stairs, up which he
was coming, followed by Betty with a flaring tallow candle, and looking
carefully on every stair. "I beg your pardon, sir," he said, with a
scared look, as he opened the room door, "but have you seen my keys
anywhere? I must have dropped them somewhere in the room, I think."

"No," replied Mr. Dryce, "I've seen nothing--most extraordinary!" he
said to himself, thinking of the child and forgetting Jaggers.

"It is, sir, very extraordinary," said the clerk, groping on the floor
and patting the carpet with his hands. "I know I had them when I came up
here, and I can't open my desk where I keep my money."

"Oh! never mind, Jaggers," said Mr. Dryce sleepily. "Here are a couple
of sovereigns. If we find the keys, you can have them to-morrow; and if
not, we will have a new lock. Come, good night! I'll come down and bolt
the office door after you."

Jaggers entreated his employer not to take so much trouble, and delayed
so long that the old gentleman began to grow a little impatient. At last
he got rid of him by giving him permission to come early on the
following morning, when, if his keys were not discovered by the servant
in sweeping, he might pick the lock.

Mr. Dryce was in a brown study, sitting looking at the fire, and sipping
a glass of hot negus, when Mrs. Harris knocked at the door.

"Excuse me, sir, but have you missed your keys?"

"Hang the keys!" said Mr. Dryce absently. "I beg your pardon, Mrs.
Harris; sit down a moment. I was thinking what I could buy our little
fellow for a present."

"But these keys, sir? I took them out of the bosom of baby's frock when
I undressed him. How he got them I can't tell."

Mr. Dryce took the keys in his hand and looked at them mechanically;
then he started and singled out one particular key, held it nearer the
light, at the same time comparing it with one of a bunch which he took
from his own pocket. He had turned stern and pale.

"I want you to come downstairs with me, Mrs. Harris," he said: "these
are the keys Mr. Jaggers has lost, and I'm afraid I shall want a
policeman."

First the door of the great iron safe let into the wall. Mr. Dryce knew
that it was a cunningly-made lock, and thought that no key but his would
open it. It opened easily with Jaggers's key, however; and from the
lower drawer was missing all the property which in those days were often
kept in such places--bills, gold, and notes to the value of four
thousand five hundred pounds.

With feverish haste the old man unlocked the desk and the brass-bound
box within it. The latter contained all the missing property, evidently
placed there for immediate removal. In the desk were found bills,
letters, and correspondence, a glance at which disclosed a long system
of fraud and peculation. Above all, amongst the loose papers were the
letters that Robert sent to his father, and those which had been written
by himself in repentance of the harsh parting which he had brought about
with his lost son.

While they were both looking with mute astonishment at these evidences
of Jaggers's villany, there came a low knocking at the door, and two men
entered, one of them a broad, brown-bearded man in a half seafaring
dress, the other a policeman.

"A clerk of yours, named Jaggers," said the latter. "I want to know
whether he has robbed you, or if you have reason to suspect him. This
party has given him in custody on another charge."

There was a loud scream, and Mrs. Harris fell into the arms of the
stranger, who had taken her aside to whisper to her.

"She is my wife," said he to Mr. Dryce. "I am the person to whom you
wrote, and I have brought the remittance with me from Australia."

They all went upstairs together, except the policeman, whose question
was answered by a recital of the events of the night, and the present of
a sovereign.

"Bring down the boy, and let me look at his dear little face," said old
Dryce, when they were sitting round the fire.

The child was brought down tenderly, and still asleep.

"God bless him!" said the bearded stranger. "He's not like either of us,
Aggy."

"Like either of you?" said Mr. Dryce, surprised. "How should he be like
your husband, Mrs. Harris?"

"Don't you know me, sir," said the stranger, taking Mr. Dryce's hand and
sitting in the firelight. "My name is Robert Dryce, and this is my
child, whose mother left it to the mercy of Heaven, and found that it
had reached its natural home. Forgive us, sir, for our child's sake."

Old Dryce was a shrewd man, but it took an hour to make him understand
it all; events had come about so strangely.

"Well," said Robert at last, "I'm glad you were in time to save the
money."

"Confound the money!" ejaculated the old man; "at least, too much of
it," he added, correcting himself. "This baby's hand has unlocked more
treasures for me than all the Bank of England could count on a summer's
day."

                   ------------------------------

"Oh, I shouldn't like to live in London always," said Kate Bell, whose
father was one of the large mill-owners at Barton. "I've been up twice
with papa, you know; but we lived in a great square where we could hear
the noise of the cabs all night, and of the carts and wagons as soon as
daylight came. And then there are such crowds of people in the streets;
and if you walk you are pushed about so, and if you ride you can't see
anything except from an open carriage. Except the theatre, where I went
twice, and the Zoological Gardens and the Crystal Palace, and Hyde Park,
where everybody goes before dinner, there's nothing to care for."

"Nothing to care for!" exclaimed Annie Bowers; "why, the streets and the
old historical buildings--Westminster Abbey, the Picture Galleries, the
great solemn churches, with monuments of poets and warriors, and the
constant life and movement and change, must be grand, if one only could
stay long enough to get over the feeling that you are only sight-seeing.
To be a part of it all, and to be able to go about quietly and live in
it, looking and thinking and making one's own pictures and one's own
romances of it, would be delightful for six months in the year. I often
think it would be grand to spend a summer day in the middle of one of
the bridges--Westminster or London Bridge--and watch the boats on the
river and the tide of people coming and going, and see the clouds and
the sunshine change the colour of the stream and the outlines of the
great buildings, and then to go back just at dark and see the same scene
by moonlight, with everything transformed and solemn, and listen to the
rush of the tide and watch the lights twinkling on wharves and on board
boats and barges, and the moon on the great lovely buildings of
Westminster, and the dome of St. Paul's in the distance: that is what I
should like to do."

"I used to think very much as you do, Annie, when I was last in London,"
said Miss Grantley; "but then I had very little opportunity of going to
theatres or other amusements, for I had no one to take me except in a
family party, and had to make the most of the pleasure that is to be
found in the wonderful aspects of the great city itself. Of course it is
only possible for a poor unprotected creature to see a part of the
greatest capital in the world; and so when I went to explore the bridges
or any other neighbourhood after dusk I took an escort, and one who knew
London so well that he was able to say where I ought and where I ought
not to go."

"A policeman, was it, Miss Grantley?" said Kate Bell.

"Oh, dear! no. Policemen have no time to go out as escorts to young or
middle-aged ladies," said our governess laughing. "My cavalier was a boy
who worked at a printing-office. His mother was a very respectable woman
who lived in a tidy house in a very quiet street where she let two
furnished rooms, and I was her tenant while I was studying to pass two
examinations. I had been staying with old friends of my dear father,
for they did not desert me altogether though I was only a governess;
indeed, they gave me too large a share of the amusements and
sight-seeing which take up so much time, so that I was obliged to bid
them good-bye for a good while, and restrict my visits to Sundays or one
evening a week. I think my landlady, who was a widow, had been their
cook; but at all events she was a good motherly woman, and her boy of
fourteen was always ready for an excursion when he came home from work.

"At first I was obliged to repress his sense of being a sort of
champion; and once when a bigger and very dirty boy, who had a dog in a
string, splashed my dress with mud and nearly threw me down, I had to go
home again because my young friend gave him battle, and after fighting
for several minutes came out of the fray with his collar so rumpled, his
best cap so crushed, and his face so smirched that it was a
dearly-bought victory. But he was an excellent boy and an apt pupil, for
I used to give him easy lessons in French and mathematics sometimes, so
that when I left he was able to attend an advanced class at an evening
college in the city. He had the sentiment of a gentleman too, though he
was a printer's boy and was always called Bob. He never talked to me
unless I spoke to him first or he had to give me some direction or tell
me which way we were going; and in the great thoroughfares he would
walk either just in front or at a little distance, so that no one would
have known we were companions. I used to remonstrate with him sometimes,
for it made me feel that I was selfish and discourteous to have him to
guide or follow me without acknowledgment; but he always replied that
people couldn't talk in the noise of the streets, and that what I came
out for was 'to see London or to look at shop-windows, or to see how
places looked after dark, or to get a walk and some fresh air on London
or Blackfriars' Bridge, and to be able to fancy all manner of things,
and yet to have somebody that knew all about London to keep me from
being run over or pick-pocketed or interfered with by anybody.'

"Never had lady a more devoted squire; and I really believe he used to
read up the history and anecdotes of some of the churches and public
buildings, that he might be able to have something to say when I
insisted on talking to him as we strolled quietly along in the
less-crowded thoroughfares--especially those around St. Paul's and the
Royal Exchange, where the city is nearly deserted after the hours of
business."

"Well, Miss Grantley, and is it about this very agreeable boy that you
are going to tell us a story?" asked Sarah Jorring, who was often rather
abrupt and impertinent.

For a moment a shaft of light seemed to dart from those expressive eyes
upon the questioner, but the instantaneous gleam of surprise and
annoyance passed into a smile.

"I would never willingly forget or be ashamed to speak of true service
and real courtesy," she said. "I should--we most of us would--feel some
satisfaction in acknowledging the politeness shown to us by a duke or an
earl, even though to be scrupulously courteous should be regarded as
duties and customs belonging to their station. To have received true and
delicate consideration from a printer's boy is therefore more
remarkable, and to speak of it with grateful recollection is only just.
My own want of courtesy, however, led me to forget that we seldom feel
much enthusiasm about the attentions that are bestowed on other people."

We were all silent for a moment, for there was a rebuke even in the
gentle tone in which the words were uttered; but presently Annie Bowers
said:

"Did you ever know an actor, Miss Grantley?"

"Well, I cannot say I never met an actor," replied our governess; "and
yet it was not in London, but at the village near which I lived when I
was at home with my dear father, whose house and grounds were not far
off, and whose pew in the church had belonged to his family from time
immemorial."

"Oh! do let us hear something about that, then," we said.

"Well," replied our governess, "that shall be the story for to-morrow
evening--the story of a stranger from London who visited our village."

[Illustration]

[Illustration]



CHAPTER IV.

A STRANGER FROM LONDON.


HOW it was that we began seriously to consider the expediency of
organizing "Penny Readings" in the school-room attached to the quaint
old square-towered church at Chewton Cudley I haven't the remotest idea.
I fancy it must have been Mr. Petifer, the curate, who suggested it
after he had been to preach for a friend of his in London. I know that
he was much impressed by what the congregation of St. Boanerges--his
friend's church--were doing, and that there was a noticeable difference
in his delivery when he read the lessons after his visit. We all
observed it, and some of the old-fashioned people thought that he was
going to _intone_--to which there was a strong objection--but his
efforts not carrying him beyond a peculiar rising inflection towards the
middle of a verse, and a remarkable lingering fall into deep bass at the
end, we soon regarded it as a praiseworthy attempt to give variety to
his previous vapid utterances, and came rather to like it, as it gave
the church somewhat of a cathedral flavour. The old pew-opener and
sextoness said that to hear him publish the banns was almost as good as
listening to the marriage service itself.

The truth is that we had few changes of any kind at Chewton. It had
ceased to be a market town when the new line of railway took the three
coaches off the road, and opened a branch to Noxby; and though the
tradesfolk contrived to keep their shops open they did a very quiet
business indeed. There was nothing actively speculative about the place,
and the motto of the town was "Slow and sure." From the two maiden
ladies--the Misses Twitwold--who kept the circulating library, and sold
stationery and Berlin wool--to the brewer who owned half the beer-shops,
or the landlord of the "George and Gate," who kept a select stud of
saddle-horses, and had promoted the tradesmen's club--nobody was ever
seen in a hurry, not even the doctor who had come to take old Mr.
Varico's practice, and was quite a young man from the hospitals. He
began by bustling about, and walking as though he was out for a wager,
and speaking as though he expected people to do things in a minute; but
he soon got over that. Folks at Chewton Cudley had a way of looking with
a slow, placid, immovable stare at anybody who showed unseemly haste. If
they were told to "be quick" or to "look sharp," they would leave what
they were about to gaze with a cow-like serenity at the disturber. It
was quite a lesson in placidity even to watch a farm-labourer or a
workman sit on a gate or a cart-shaft to eat a slice of bread and
cheese. Each bite was only taken after a deliberate investigation of the
sides and edges of the hunch, and was slowly masticated during a
peculiar ruminating survey of surrounding objects. The possessor of a
clasp-knife never closed it with a click; and if any adult person had
been seen to run along the High-street public attention would have been
aroused by the event.

The vicar was really the most active person in the town; and though he
had lived there in the quaint, ivy-covered parsonage house for twenty
years, and had been constantly among his parishioners, he had the same
bright, pleasant, and yet grave smile, the same quick, easy step, the
same lively way with children and old women, the same impatient
toleration of "dawdlers," as had distinguished him on his first coming.
He had been a famous cricketer at college, and one of the first things
he did was to form a cricket club; but he always said the batsman waited
to watch the ball knock down the wicket, and the fielders stood staring
into space when they ought to have made a catch. This was his fun, of
course, and the cricket club flourished in a sedate, slow-bowling sort
of way. So did the penny bank, and the evening school, and the
sewing-class--for he was well loved, was our vicar, in spite, or perhaps
because, of his offering such a contrast to the larger number of his
flock.

He was a bachelor, and his sister kept house for him--a quiet,
middle-aged lady a little older than himself, and more accomplished than
most of the Chewton ladies were, not only in music and needlework, but
in the matter of pickles, puddings, preserves, and domestic medicine,
about which she and the doctor had many pleasant discussions, as he
declared she was the best friend he had, since her herb-tea and
electuaries made people fancy they were ill enough to send for him to
complete their cure. That the vicar should have remained unmarried for
so many years had almost ceased to be a topic for speculation, for it
had somehow become known that some great sorrow had befallen him years
before, and it was supposed that he had been "crossed in love;" though,
to give them credit, there were unmarried ladies of the congregation who
never could and never would believe that a young man such as he must
have been, could have spoken in vain to any well-regulated young person
possessed of a heart. They came to the conclusion, therefore, that he
never _told_ his love; and as he had certainly never told it to _them_,
only a few of his more intimate friends knew that the shadow which had
fallen on the lives of those two kindly beings at the vicarage was the
early marriage of a younger sister with some adventurer, who had taken
her away from the home to which she never had been returned. Only
occasional tidings were received of her, for she was seldom to be found
at any stated address, and was travelling with her husband from one poor
lodging to another in the large towns, where they had sometimes sought
for her in vain.

But the vicar was no kill-joy. He entered with hearty good-will into the
scheme for weekly penny readings, and delivered an address at the
preliminary meeting, in which he alluded with a sly touch of humour to
the capabilities of Mr. Binks, the saddler, who was reputed to sing a
famous comic song, and of Raspall, the baker, who had once tried his
hand at an original Christmas carol. He even called upon the ladies--and
we were all of us rather shocked at the time--to bring their music; and
as a piano had actually been hired from somewhere, and stood on the
platform, he called upon his sister for a song there and then, and she
actually--we _were_ surprised--sang one of those old English ballads to
hear which we had regarded as the sole privilege of the select few who
were invited to take tea at the vicarage, at the sewing meetings which
we had associated with the name of Dorcas the widow. We should as soon
have thought of seeing Dorcas herself at a sewing-machine as the
vicar's sister at a piano _in public_--but she sang very well, and the
applause at the back of the room was uproarious.

So it was when the vicar himself followed with Macaulay's "Lay of
Horatius," though of course it was only intended for the front rows--for
how _could_ the tradespeople and the labourers understand it? More to
their taste was the performance of Mr. Binks, who was with difficulty
persuaded to sit on the platform, where, after fixing his eye on the
remotest corner of the ceiling, he began by giving himself a circular
twist on his chair and, moving his arm as though he were gently whipping
a horse, started with a prolonged "Oh-o-o!" and then stopped, coughed,
cogitated, and, gathering courage from the ceiling, started again with a
more emphatic

          "Oh-o-o! Terry O'Rann
           Was a nice young man,"

and went on to describe in song how some person of that name

          "Took whisky punch
           Every day for his lunch."

The landlord of the George, who was about the middle of the room, shook
his head in a deprecating manner at this, and we ladies in the front row
were saddened; but the vicar laughed, the brewer led off a round of
applause with the farmers, the doctor grinned, and the smaller
tradespeople and the boys near the door stamped till the dust from the
floor made them sneeze; and when

          "Jerry's dead ghost
           Stood by the bed-post,"

with an imitation of the Irish brogue which everybody admitted was
singularly "like the real thing," Mr. Binks had risen in public
estimation, and his name was put down on the committee.

The baker was scarcely so successful, for he could remember nothing but
the Christmas Carol by which he had risen to transient fame; and as it
contained some slight but obvious allusions to Raspall's French rolls
and Sally Lunns, with a distant but rhyming reference to rich plum-cake
and currant buns, a few disrespectful ejaculations were heard from some
unruly boys on the side benches, and the recitation ended in some
confusion and suppressed chuckling on the part of the farmers and their
wives. But the eldest Miss Rumbelow was persuaded to attempt one of
Moore's melodies, and selected "Young Love Once Dwelt," with a
singularly wiry accompaniment, and this having restored complete decorum
the curate came forward in a surprising manner, and astonished us by
that change in voice and delivery to which reference has already been
made. He had chosen "Eugene Aram's Dream" as his recitation, and the
tone in which he announced the title was, as Mrs. Multover said, "like
cold water running down your back." Every breath was held, every eye
started as he told us--

          "It wors the prame of summerer tame,
           An even-ing ca-alm and kheoule,
           When-er fower-and-twenty happy baies
           Cam trouping out of skheoule."

The boys shifted uneasily on their seats; their master looked anxious,
as though something personal was coming; and when the drama reached its
height we timid ones in front were fain to pinch each other in a stress
of nervous excitement. The tragical conclusion was marked by a
simultaneous, low, long, agricultural whistle, which did duty as a sigh,
and the audience first stared into each other's faces and then gave a
roar of applause, amidst which the vicar announced that the penny
readings were established from that night; that books containing
suitable pieces for recitation could be obtained at the circulating
library; and that practice nights for efficient members would be held on
Wednesday evenings.

But everybody went away impressed with Mr. Petifer's sudden accession of
dramatic power.

"That comes of the play-house, mark me if it do'ent," said Farmer
Shorter, as he buttoned his coat. "Folk do'ent go up to London for
notheng, an' curat's been to the tradigy--that's where he's a'been."

This first meeting of our "Penny Reading" Society gave a decided tone to
our subsequent proceedings, but we had made but slow progress, and there
was still some difficulty in inducing many of the readers to meet the
audible remarks, the half-concealed mirth, and even the exaggerated
applause of their audiences, when the vicar one evening announced his
intention of leaving Chewton for a fortnight on a visit to London, and
coming back in time to prepare a grand entertainment at the school-room.

In a few days the vicar returned, and told his sister to have the
guest's room got ready, as he expected a professional gentleman from
London to visit him in a day or two.

It was on the Wednesday that the idlers about the old coach-yard of the
George and Gate woke up from their usual expressionless stare at things
in general to notice a stranger who came along at a brisk rate, carrying
a small portmanteau, and looking sharply and with a quick penetrating
glance at them and the sign and the bar of the tap, where he called for
a glass of ale and inquired his way to the vicarage. He was a well-knit,
active man of about forty-five, with dark, glossy hair, just beginning
to gray; a dark, short moustache; shaven cheeks and chin, with a blue
tinge where the beard and whiskers would have been; and he wore
well-fitting but rather shabby clothes, which scarcely seemed to be in
keeping with the big (false or real) diamond ring on his right hand and
a huge breast-pin in his satin stock.

These were the remarks some of us made about him when he appeared on the
low platform at our penny reading the next evening, and was introduced
by the vicar as "My friend Mr. Walter De Montfort, a gentleman connected
with the dramatic profession in London, who has consented to favour us
with a reading and to contribute to our improvement as well as to our
entertainment."

A good many of us thought we had never heard reading, or rather
recitation, till that evening; there was such a keen, bright, intense
look in the man's face; such a rich, flexible, sonorous roll in his
voice; such a conscious appropriateness in his rather exaggerated
gestures, that when he commenced with what I have since learned was a
peculiarly stagey expression the poem of "King Robert of Sicily and the
Angel," and began to tell us how--

          "King-ar-Rroberut of Sissurlee"

dreamed his wonderful dream, we were all eye and ear, and when he had
concluded people looked at each other and gasped.

Who was he?--an actor--a manager of a theatre--a great tragedian? How
did the vicar first know him? How long was he going to stay? What
theatre did he perform at? All these questions were asked among
ourselves, and to some of them we obtained answers at the next Dorcas
meeting, which was held at the vicarage. Mr. De Montfort was not a
regular actor now. He had been, but he now taught elocution and
deportment, and had been introduced to the vicar by a brother clergyman
in London much interested in the union of church and stage. His
credentials were undoubted, but it was feared he was poor. Of his
ability everybody spoke highly, and he was so accomplished that the
vicar had invited him to stay for several days; but he had told them he
must be in London, for he was a widower, with one little child, a girl
who was at school, but would be waiting for him to fetch her home for
her one week's holiday in the year.

It was evident that the vicar's guest had created a very favourable
impression on us all, for though Mrs. Marchbold looked at us rather
hard, and then pursed up her lips and looked steadily at the vicar's
sister, evidently meaning to disconcert that lady with some indication
of the thought that was in all our minds, we rather resented the
rudeness, and murmured in chorus that it was evident that Mr. De
Montfort was quite a gentleman.

"Which is just what he is not," said the lady, who bore Mrs. Marchbold's
deprecatory stare with the most complete indifference. "He is not quite
a gentleman, and my brother the vicar knows that very well; but he is a
clever, amusing man, and his reading will help on the society. On the
whole, though, I think it's quite as well he should leave before long,
for I'm certain idling about in Chewton will do him no good, especially
as he has already kept us up late two nights, because a deputation came
to ask him to be a visitor at the tradesmen's club at the George."

Further discussion of the merits or demerits of the gentleman was
prevented by his entering the room along with the vicar, who told us he
had prevailed on Mr. De Montfort to take tea with us and to read us
something from Shakespeare while we were at work. Mr. De Montfort took
tea, and talked unceasingly of London, of its streets, shops, people,
trades, and amusements. He described to us the stage of a theatre, and
told us all about how a play was performed and how the actors came on
and went off, opening the door between the parlour and the drawing-room
and hanging it with table-covers to represent the front of the stage.
Then he recited _Hamlet_ and _King Lear_; and we all left off work to
look at him; and when he wound up with a performance of legerdemain, and
brought a vase that had previously been on the mantel-piece out of Mrs.
Marchbold's work-bag, and took eggs from a pillow-case, and took four
reels of cotton out of Miss Bailey's chignon, we didn't know whether to
scream or to laugh, but we all agreed that he was the most entertaining
person we had ever met or were likely to meet again.

Mr. De Montfort had grown more familiar to the Chewton Cudley people by
that time. He had only been with them a few days, and yet he had a dozen
invitations. The vicar had evidently taken an unaccountable liking to
him. There were even people who went so far as to say we should hear him
read the lessons in church if he were to stay over another Sunday. He
had been to two more penny readings, and had held an extra night for
instructing some of the members in the art of elocution. Only three
people seemed rather doubtful as to their opinion of the visitor. One of
these was the vicar's sister. She said nothing slighting, but it was
evident that she mistrusted him a little. Another was Mr. Petifer, and
his coolness to the stranger was set down to jealousy, especially when
he fired up on the subject of the probable reading of the lessons. The
third was Mr. Femm, the doctor, but he only grinned, and said he thought
he remembered having heard De Montfort recite under another name when he
was a student at Guy's Hospital, and used to go to a Hall of Harmony in
the Walworth Road. "It's dreadful to hear a doctor talk so," said Mrs.
Marchbold; "these young medical men have no reverence."

But the visitor showed such remarkable good humour, and was so very
entertaining and was so sedate and respectful to all the ladies that I
fancy there was something said about his bringing his little daughter
down to Chewton for the holidays. Mr. Binks would have taken De
Montfort off the vicar's hands in a minute. Raspall was heard to
intimate that he had a nice warm spare room over the bakehouse doing
nothing; and our principal butcher, Mr. Clodd, declared boldly that a
man like that, who could amuse any company, and was fit for any company,
was worth his meat anywhere at holiday-time.

But we had all heard that Mr. De Montfort was about to leave. He had
received an invitation from the landlord of the "George and Gate,"
countersigned by the members of the club, to spend the last evening with
them, and they had even gone so far as to wish that the vicar
himself--"if they might make so bold--would condescend to look in for an
hour."

This request of course could not be complied with, and the guest was
about to send a polite refusal--reluctantly, it must be confessed--but
the vicar readily excused him. The townsfolk naturally wanted to have
him among them again for an evening, and he could return about eleven
for a glass of hot spiced elder-wine before going to bed. The vicar had
put his hand on De Montfort's shoulder as he said this, and was looking
at him in his kind, genial way, when his visitor looked up, rose,
hesitated, and seemed about to say something. There was such a
remarkable expression in his face that the good parson afterwards said
he should never forget it; but it passed, and with a smile, which was
half trustful, half sorrowful, the actor turned away.

"Well, then, if you think I ought to go, I'll say yes," he replied; "but
I had thought to spend the last night here with you."

"I sha'n't have done work much before ten myself," said the vicar; "for
I must see about the beef and bread for the pensioners, and there are
the cakes for the school treat, and no end of things. So we'll meet at a
late supper; don't stay to the club pies and sausages, but get back in
time for ours. There's no need to say, Don't drink too much of the
'George and Gate' ale and brandy, for you never take much of either, so
far as I know."

It was a special evening at the "George and Gate," and every member of
the club who could leave his shop was there by eight o'clock. The
low-ceilinged but handsome parlour was all bright and tidy, and the
plates stood on a sideboard ready for supper. Two noble punch-bowls
graced the table, and a number of long "churchwarden" pipes supported
the large brass coffer filled with tobacco, which opened only by some
cunning mechanism, set in motion by dropping a halfpenny in a slit at
the top. Mr. Binks was in the chair; Clodd, the butcher, sat opposite; a
great fragrance of spice and lemon-peel pervaded the place. It only
needed a speech to commence the proceedings, and Mr. Binks was equal to
the occasion. It was a hearty welcome to their visitor. He responded
with a few words and a recitation. There was a song and another toast,
and then the accomplished visitor played on the "George and Gate" fiddle
in a manner that astonished everybody--played it behind his back, over
his head, under his arm, between his knees with the bow in his mouth.
Then he showed a few tricks with the cards, spun plates, passed coins
and watches into space, and sung a song with a violin accompaniment. The
evening was in his honour, and he opened his whole repertoire of
accomplishments. Time passed quickly; the waiters were at the door with
the table-cloths ready to lay for supper. Mr. Clodd proposed "The Health
of the Vicar." They all rose to do it honour, and called upon De
Montfort to reply. He had his glass in his hand--just touching it with
his lips. "I wish," he said, and then he stopped; "I wish--I could say
what I would do to deserve that he should call me his friend;
but--it--can--never--be." They wondered what he would say next, there
was such a strange look in his eyes. They were about to ask him what he
meant, when everybody there was startled by a sudden cry in the
street--a sudden cry and an uproar that penetrated to the inn-yard--the
cry of "Fire!" and the trampling of feet. They were all out in a minute,
De Montfort first, and without his hat.

"It's your place, Raspall, as I'm a living sinner," said Clodd, forcing
himself to the front and commencing to run.

"Don't say so! Don't say so!" cried the baker, "for my missis is up at
the school makin' the cakes, and the man's down below settin' the batch,
and my little Bess is in bed this hour an' more. Oh, help! help! where's
that engine?" But the key of the engine-house had to be found, and the
wretched old thing had to be wheeled out, and the hose attached and
righted; and before all this could be done the flame, which seemed to
have begun at the back of Raspall's shop, had burst through the
shutters, and was already lapping the outer wall. It was an
old-fashioned house, with a high, rickety portico over the door, and a
tall, narrow window a good way above it.

At this window, where the flicker of the flame was reflected through the
smoke that was now pouring out and blackening the old woodwork, a
glimpse of a child's face had been seen, and Raspall was already in the
roadway wringing his hands and calling for a ladder.

"We must get her down from the top of that there portico," cried Clodd;
"but I'm too heavy. Here; who'll jump atop of my back, and so try to
clamber up?"

"Stand away there!" shouted a strong deep voice; and almost before they
could move aside a man shot past them like a catapult, and with one
bound had reached the carved cornice of the portico with his right hand.
The whole structure quivered, but in another moment he had drawn himself
up with the ease of a practised acrobat, and was standing on the top. It
was De Montfort.

The window was still far above him, and the glare within showed that the
fire had reached the room; but a gutter ran down the wall to the leaden
roof of the portico, and he was seen through the smoke to clasp it by a
rusty projection and to draw his chin on a level with the sill, to cling
to the sill itself with his arm and elbow, and with one tremendous
effort to sit there amidst the smoke and to force the sash upward. They
had scarcely had time to cry out that he had entered the room when he
was out again--pursued by the flame that now roared from the open space,
but with something under his arm. Somebody had brought out a large
blanket, and four men were holding it; the engine was just beginning to
play feebly where it wasn't wanted; and a short ladder had been borrowed
from somewhere. He dropped a little heavily from the window, but was on
his feet when they called to him to let the child fall, and a cheer went
up as he seemed to gather up his strength, and tossed his living burden
from him, so that it cleared the edge of the wood-work, and was caught
and placed in her father's arms.

"Jump! jump for your life!" they cried, for the wretched portico had
begun to sway, and every lip turned white. It was too late; he had
stooped to swing himself off, when the whole thing fell in ruin, and he
in the midst of it, covered with the heavy lead and woodwork, and the
stone and bricks that had come down with it.

A score of strong and willing hands lifted the wreck away piecemeal,
and, under the direction of the doctor, got him out and placed him on a
hurdle made soft with blankets and straw. He was insensible, but his
face and head were uninjured, for he was found lying with his arms
protecting both. Carefully they bore him to the vicarage, the vicar
following, and his sister already at the door with everything ready.

It was nearly an hour before the sad group of men who stood outside
anxiously waiting heard that he was so seriously injured that his life
was in danger, and that he was still unconscious. Raspall was crying
more for the accident than for his injured house, which was still
smouldering, though the engine had at last put out the fire. His child
was safe, but he felt almost guilty for rejoicing that her life had been
spared. Binks and Clodd sat patiently on the fence opposite the vicarage
talking in low tones. At last the vicar came out to them and told them
to go home. The patient would not be left for a moment. In the morning
he would let them know if there was any change.

There was a change, but only after long efforts to restore
consciousness; and the vicar himself sat by the injured man's bedside,
with something in his hand upon which his tears fell as he looked at it
by the light of the shaded lamp. When De Montfort had been carried in
and placed upon the bed the doctor had asked to be allowed to undress
him--without help--as it required a practised hand, and for a moment the
vicar left the room to bring up some restorative and the bandages which
had been sent for to the surgery. He had turned into the dining-room,
when to his surprise the doctor came quickly but softly downstairs,
entered the room, and gently closed the door.

"Do you feel that you could bear another great shock just now?" he said
in a curious tone, taking hold of the vicar's wrist as he spoke. "Yes, I
think you can; your nerves are pretty firm."

"What do you mean? Is he dead?"

"No; but I have undressed him, and under his shirt near his heart found
something which I think you ought to see. I may be mistaken, but I
seldom miss observing a likeness, especially one so strong as this"--and
he held out a locket attached to a silken cord and holding a likeness.

The vicar trembled as he stretched out his hand for it. Some prevision
of the truth had already flashed upon him; and as he carried the trinket
to the candle above the mantel-piece he leaned heavily against the wall
and groaned as though he had been smitten with sudden pain.

"A man like that could scarcely have been cruel to a woman, at all
events," said the doctor in a low but emphatic tone. "Poverty is not the
worst of human ills, and even occasional want, if it be not too
prolonged, is endurable--more endurable than brutal neglect and
indifference. This poor fellow was going home to his child, I think?"

The vicar clasped the young man's hand, and bent his noble gray head
upon his shoulder. "Take my thanks, my dear friend," he said with a sob.
"You have recalled me to myself. He was my sister's husband."

As the vicar sat by the bedside that night watching, watching, the
injured man moved and tried to raise himself, but fell back with a heavy
sigh.

The good parson was bending over him in a moment.

"Shall I fetch the doctor again?" he asked.

"No; I must speak to you now, alone."

It was nearly an hour before the vicar went to the stair-head, and
called for his sister and the doctor to come up. We never heard quite
what took place--what was the conversation between the vicar and his
guest. But the next day the vicar went to London, and before the week
was out a plain funeral went from the vicarage to the old churchyard,
and the curate conducting the burial service had to stop with his
handkerchief to his eyes, for in the church, clad in deep mourning, was
a little girl whose silent sobbing was only hushed when the aunt whom
she had but just found took her in her arms and pressed the little pale
face to her bosom.

Nobody knew what name was on the locket, for it was replaced where it so
long had rested, and was buried when the heart beneath it had ceased to
beat; but the name afterwards carved on the tombstone was not De
Montfort.

                   ------------------------------

"I don't think I shall be able to collect my wits enough to _tell_ a
story this evening," said our governess as we sat at tea on the Thursday
evening, "for I've had a long letter to answer and to think over; but I
fancied you liked my story about the Baby's Hand, and so if you please
I'll read you another from a little black-covered manuscript book which
my old friend gave me. He said it was a story about a very near friend
and schoolfellow of his, and was one of the most pathetic and affecting
histories that he had ever known. I don't suppose you'll think so. Still
it is rather affecting, though it is only a tale of disappointment in
love; but then it was a love that lasted for a lifetime and survived
death."

[Illustration]



CHAPTER V.

THE STORY OF A BOOKWORM.


YES, she is dead, and on her snow-strewn grave I left a bunch of winter
flowers but yesterday. Ah, me! I never go and wander in that dingy
churchyard, where the sound of the great roaring city is hushed to a
sleepy murmur, but I seem to leave half my poor life there; would that I
could leave it all, I sometimes think, and that when the sexton comes to
bring the keys of the church on a Sunday morning he should find the mere
body of me lying there, my head leaning on the stone that bears her
name--not _his_ name--_her_ name, her one dear name by which I called
her last of all.

But these are ill thoughts, and as the poet says "this way madness
lies." Let me get to my books, there is comfort and companionship in
them; and yet I have held my finger in this page till the light is gone
and it's too dark to read.

I suppose I was meant for a bookworm, and yet I didn't like school. At
all events I didn't like the Free Grammar School of St. Bothwyn
By-Church, to which I had the privilege of being elected when my poor
father was clerk of the Company, and lived in the old hall till he
bought this little house in Hoxton. Ah me! how I seem to see the old
black oaken wainscot of the court room, and the little parlour where the
firelight danced in deep crimson flecks and pools in the polished floor,
and the shadowy panels! How I can remember going in after dark in winter
evenings and sitting there, a lonely motherless boy, and seeming to be
lost in some mysterious way to the outside world, as I pored over tales
of old romance, or when I grew older traced the origin of some quaint
custom in one of the heavy leather-bound volumes that filled the narrow
cramped bookcase of the clerk's office!

In the midst of my dreaming one thing was real to me, and I suppose it
was a part of my queer character, that what was said to be fancy in
other young men was the one fact of my life. I mean love. Apart from the
daily routine of the office, which often became mechanical, so that I
could pursue it and think of other things even while it was going on, I
had no true life in the present--that is to say no strongly conscious
life of my own, apart from the region of imagination--except when I was
sitting in the deep old escutcheoned bay-window of the Hall, looking out
upon the old shaded courtyard, where the sunlight, darting amidst the
spreading plane-trees, flecked and chequered the marble pavement, and
the little carved fountain trilled and rippled till it incited the
canary hanging in its gilded cage to break into song that drowned its
splashing murmur, and silenced the sparrows twittering about the heavy
woodwork of the old porch. That was my real world, because there was one
figure, one face, that held me to it, as though by a spell that I could
not, and never sought to break. I scarcely remember the time I did not
love her.

Mary never suspected, as I sat watching her at work, or reading to her
on those summer evenings, that my heart was ready to break out into
words of passionate entreaty. She had been so used to see me sitting
there, or to run with me round the little paved courtyard, or the old
dingy grass plot in the midst of its prim gravel walks at the side of
the hall that I had become an ordinary association of her life. I had
left school while she was still learning of a governess, who came four
times a week to teach her, for her father was a man of more
consideration than mine. But Mary was motherless as I was. Our mothers
had been dear friends in their school-girl days and afterwards; and our
fathers were old acquaintances; and so it came about that I was often at
the Hall for the week round after office hours, and that I seemed to
belong as much to the place as the old, fat, wheezy, brown spaniel that
stood upon the broad stone step and welcomed me with tail and tongue.
But while I remained, as it were, stationary--an old-fashioned boy, an
older-fashioned youth, an antiquated man--she altered. Occasionally when
I went to see her she had gone out visiting, and I was left to dream
away the evening in the old window waiting for her return, or, if I knew
which way she came, loitering in the street in case she should be
unattended by the maid who was usually sent to meet or to fetch her when
her father did not go himself.

It was on one of these evenings that I suddenly understood what was the
cause of the undefinable change that I had noticed in her manner some
time before. In the previous week the company had held a court dinner,
and that was the evening when the alderman introduced his son--"My son,
the captain," as he called him--a captain by purchase, and with the
right to wear a brilliant uniform and long moustachios. A chuckle-pated
fellow, for all his scarlet coat and clanking heels, but with a
bullying, insolent air. When the feast was over, and the guests were
preparing to go, it was time for me to go too, for I had been late
helping to make up some of the accounts in the office; and, after taking
my hat off the hook in the passage, turned to the old sitting-room to
look for Mary, that I might say, "Good-night."

It was beyond her time for being about, especially on the court nights,
but to my surprise, as I opened the door she was standing there with
the captain, who was holding her hand. He had no business there, and she
knew it. The other diners were already coming down the stairs at the end
of the passage. He must have stolen down quickly, and she must have been
waiting for him. This all passed through my mind in a moment as I stood
looking at him, such an ugly leer upon his face as he bent over her hand
that I had to clench my fingers till the blood started in the nails to
keep down my rising wrath.

"Hallo! who is this?" he said, as he turned with a swagger, but without
dropping her hand.

"Oh! Richard, I thought you'd gone home long ago. It's only a friend of
my father's, and he's so near-sighted I suppose he did not see anybody
here," she replied in a flutter.

"Confounded little manners," said the captain, staring at me.

I was dumb--and my limbs seemed to be rigid.

"Is he deaf too?" asked the captain with a grin. "Confounded little
manners, really."

"You're welcome to the little there are," I blurted out; "you have none
of your own. Mary, shall I take you to your father?"

She pushed away my outstretched hand and hurried from the room; and he
went out also after bestowing upon me an oath which I could hear him
repeat as he sought his hat and cloak in the hall. I stood there without
a word. My heart had seemed to drop within me as a coal fire burnt to
ashes falls together in a grate. The warmth that kept it alive had gone
out suddenly. But it smouldered yet, and when I went to meet her a few
evenings afterwards I had determined to gather courage and speak to her
once for all. I walked mechanically through the streets between the Hall
and Doctors' Commons, where she had gone on a visit, and was just
turning by the old garden beyond the Proctors' College when I heard
voices close to me, and looking up, saw her walking with _him_, clinging
to his arm, looking into his face. I hesitated for a moment, and they
saw me. "Good-night!" said she in a formal voice as she clutched his arm
tighter, and they both passed on.

So all was over. It was many weeks before I went again to see her
father. It might have been many more. I think I should never have gone
again but for my own father saying to me, "Dick, my son, I can see and
feel for you too, but bear up; you are no boy now, you know. And I had
set my heart on it too; so had our old friend. He wants you to go and
see him, Dick, to help him make up his quarterly account, as you used to
do. Perhaps she'll tire of this popinjay--and, when she comes to her
senses--"

"Or when he deserts her," I interrupted bitterly.

The dear old man said no more, but pressed my hand--his other hand upon
my shoulder. "Go and see our old friend," he repeated presently.

I went--taking care to avoid the familiar sitting-room and to go only to
the office. There her father sat, looking strangely worn and anxious,
but he rose to greet me.

He was pleased to see me. I could see that by the smile that brought
something of the old look back upon his face; but his voice shook as he
told me that at the first rumour of active service the pompous alderman
had bought the captain off, and that now he had all his time to dangle
after Mary. It had broken him, he said; he was not the man he had been.
His accounts confused him, and his cash-balance was short. He was going
that very night to see an old cousin, to ask if she would take charge of
Mary for a while; and if I would only once more look through the books
while he was gone, perhaps I might put them right.

It was a cold night, near Christmas, and there was a bright fire in the
office, which seemed to light the room with a ruddy glow that quite
paled the flame of the shaded lamp upon the writing-table. All was so
still that the ticking of the old clock upon a bracket seemed to grow
into an emphatic beat upon my ear quickened with nervous pain; but I sat
down and was soon immersed in my accustomed drudgery of figures, so
that, when I had taken out sundry balances, and checked the totals with
a sum of money in gold and silver that lay upon the table in a leather
bag, I had ceased to note how the night wore on; and after tying up the
cash and placing it inside the secretaire, of which I turned the key, I
sat down before the fire in a high-backed old leather chair and began to
think, or dream, no matter which.

Above the high carved mantel was a little round old-fashioned mirror,
and as I lay back in the chair my purblind eyes were fixed upon it as it
reflected the mingled gleams of lamp and fire that touched the shining
surfaces of the oaken wall or the furniture of the room. My back was to
the door, and yet by the sudden passing of a shadow across the glass I
saw that it was being opened stealthily--and all the doors were too
heavy and well hung to make a sound, if only the locks were noiselessly
turned. I was so concealed by the great chair, and by the darkness of
the corner where I sat beyond the radius of the lamp, that the intruder
advanced quickly. He evidently expected to find nobody there, and, with
scarcely a glance round, went to the table, peered amongst the books,
and then, as though not finding what he sought, turned to the
secretaire, and with a sudden wrench of the key opened it. I had had
time to think what I should do, and as his hand closed on the bag of
money I sprang to the bell beside the fireplace and rang it furiously;
then darted across the room and stood with my back to the door. The
captain--for it was he, and I had known him by his height and
figure--gave a sort of shriek and turned livid as he dropped the bag and
came towards me.

"You here!" he said. "It's well that I happened to come in and catch
you."

"Stand back!" I cried, "or I'll raise the neighbourhood to see the noble
captain who has turned thief. You don't go till the servants at least
know who and what you are."

"You fool!" he retorted, his face working. "It's only your word against
mine; and who has the most right here, I'd like to know?"

All this time some one was pushing heavily against the door from the
outside, and a woman was whimpering there. I stepped back, still facing
him, and flung it open. It was Mary, looking white and wild, and holding
a sealed letter in her hand.

"What is this? Why are you here, Algernon?" she asked, turning to the
captain.

"He was here to rob your father of another treasure besides yourself," I
said. "He is a thief, and I will proclaim him as such."

"A thief! How dare you?" she said, her face all aflame. "Do you know you
are speaking of my husband?"

"Husband!" I cried--"Husband!" And I leaned on a chair for support.

"Richard," she said, placing the letter on the table, "I brought this
that I might leave it for my father when he came in. You will see that
he has it, will you?--or if you go before his return, let him find it
when he comes."

Married! The room swam round; and as I stood there, dumb and sick, they
seemed to swim with it out at the door.

When I came to myself the place was still as death, save for the ticking
of the clock and the click of the failing fire. But there lay the
letter. Another moment, as it seemed to me, and her father had let
himself in and I had placed it in his hand. He read it half through
before he quite understood what had been inclosed in it--a narrow
printed slip of paper. Suddenly he unfolded that and carried it nearer
the light.

"Married!" he said. "Well, thank God for that! But--but--married, and to
him!"--and he fell forward on the table.

He didn't die. People don't mostly die of these shocks. The months went
on; the years went on; and though he'd never seen his daughter, nor
rightly knew where she was, he heard that her husband had an allowance
made him by his father after his gambling debts had been paid; but the
alderman had taken his head clerk into partnership, and there was an end
of the captain's going into the business.

My dear old father died and left me this house and his small savings. I
seldom went to the Hall, though I should have been welcome there. Four
times a year I lent a hand with the accounts for the sake of old
routine, and stayed to eat a little supper and drink a glass of the
famous claret, or to smoke a pipe with the old gentleman, who was
failing greatly. His daughter was never mentioned between us, and I
supposed he had lost sight of her altogether, when, one night, he said
quite suddenly: "Dick, I wish you'd take a letter and a message to Mary
for me."

He hadn't called me Dick for years, and I thought he was drivelling, but
he held an open letter into which he was folding some banknotes.

"You may read it, Dick. They are in London, but she has not been to see
me, and she writes for help to tide over some difficulties, she says,
till her husband can see his father. She evidently doesn't know that the
alderman's in the bankruptcy court. Poor dear, poor dear, she's reaping
the fruits of her disobedience, and yet she will not come to see me. To
her own hand, Dick, to her own hand only, must this letter go. It tells
her how, in the last resort, she may seek my cousin, if she will not
come to me before I die. My poor savings--they are but little,
Dick--will be in trust for her with my cousin, but she sha'n't know that
from me. Could you take this to-morrow morning, Dick?"

I could do no less than promise to convey it to her, and the next
morning set off to find the house, in a rather mean neighbourhood, where
I found that she and her husband had taken furnished lodgings. A servant
girl took up my name, and I was asked to walk upstairs. There, upon the
landing, stood the woman I had not seen since the night she left her
father's home, but changed, as years should not have changed her, and
with a pleading anxious look in her scared eyes that was grievous to
see.

"Richard," she said with a faint smile, and holding out her hand, "is it
you?"

"I come as the bearer of a written message," I replied; "but if I can
ever do you real service you know well enough that I should gladly aid
you."

"Thank you, Richard," she said gently, "I know it; but my father, he is
well? His writing has changed though, it trembles so," and she burst
into tears as she went to the landing window to read the letter. She had
but just finished, and was slipping it into the bosom of her dress,
when, with a sudden gesture, she said, "I dare not stay. I hear him
coming up the street. Good-bye, good-bye, and take my love to papa, my
dear, dear love. Say I'll write again or see him; but now go, and take
no notice."

I went down, and should have passed quietly from the house, but a
latch-key turned in the street door, and, as I tried to go out, the
"Captain" stood in the way. I knew him, bloated, shabby, and broken down
as he looked, but should have said nothing had he not also recognized
me, and turned upon me with an oath, wanting to know what I did there.

I had heard of their address, I said, and that misfortune had overtaken
his father, and had come to see whether I could do anything to help
them.

Could I lend him a ten-pound note there and then? he asked, with an ugly
laugh; and when I said, I had no such sum, he broke out again in a
torrent of abuse.

I would have pushed past him, but he seized me by the arm, and swung me
round facing him. I still strove to get away, when I heard his wife's
imploring voice upon the stairs; and he spoke words that made the little
blood that was in me surge swift and hot to my face. In a moment I had
wrenched myself free, and struck him full on the mouth with my clenched
hand. He was cowed for a moment, and turned white, but there were two or
three people looking on by that time.

"You miserable old pantaloon," he screamed, as he made a rush at me.

But I had one hand on the knob of the door, and, swinging round as
though I worked on a pivot, I caught him full between the eyes, and sent
him sprawling among the hats and umbrellas that he had knocked down in
his fall. Then I closed the door, and walked away. The page is turned
for ever now, I muttered to myself. I cannot even meet her father again.
Poor old gentleman!--he died--he died too soon; but not before I'd seen
him and held his hand in mine. But she had never been to the old home;
and on inquiring at the place where they had lodged, it was believed
that they had gone abroad after the death of their two children.

So that was the bitter ending, I thought. And all that dead past was to
be closed like a page in a book that is read and clasped.

Yes; but the book is reopened sometimes, where a sprig of rue has been
placed to mark between the leaves.

I didn't change. I was long past changing. And I followed my old
pursuits; went to my old haunts; wore my old clothes, as I do now, from
day to day.

So years went on, until one dreary afternoon in November--one bright and
sunny afternoon it might have been for its influence on my dim
calendar--I was rummaging one of the boxes of a bookstall in Holborn,
when the keeper of it came out and put two or three battered volumes
among the rest. Instinctively I took one of them up and opened it. A
great throb came into my heart and made me reel; for it was a
prayer-book, and there on the title-page was _her_ name--_hers_, and in
_my_ handwriting of years and years ago. The prayer-book that I had
given her.

"Dear me, sir, you look faint-like," says the dealer; "let me fetch you
a stool, or come in and sit down a bit."

"Can you--tell--me," I gasped, "where you bought this book? Where and
when?"

"Where? Why here. When? Why five minutes ago, along with two or three
more, of no particular value, of a poor little thing that said it was
all her mother had to part with--Stop, sir, stop; why, there she is
coming out of the grocer's shop this very minute. Run after the old
gentleman, James; he'll do himself a mischief, or be run over, or
something."

For I had dashed after the child like a madman, my hat off, the open
book in my hand. James had outrun me though, and was now coming back
with a child--a young girl--poorly clad; oh! so poorly clad; but yet
like Mary--my Mary--on the day I wrote that name in the book still open
in my hand.

"Mary!" I gasped.

"Yes, sir," said the child; "I must make haste home, or my mother will
have no tea."

       *       *       *       *       *

No, no, I will not dwell on the recollection of that poor room, with its
evidences of want, its signs of suffering; nor of all that might have
been said and was not. By the bedside of the woman whom I had loved and
lost, and who was now passing from the world into the great reality of
life, I had few words to speak. The only witness of the promise I
made--except the Lord and His angels--was the silently weeping girl,
_his_ only remaining child. Almost the only words were:--

"Mary."

"Dick."

And the child stood there clasping her mother's hand--_my_ hand; to be
in future my child and the child of the mother in heaven; and who shall
tell but at the resurrection----

Ah! I hear her foot upon the stair, her sweet voice singing as she
comes--that sweet sweet voice that one day, maybe, will sing me to
sleep.

                   ------------------------------

"Ah-h-h!" sighed Mrs. Parmigan, who had listened to the last two stories
without saying a word but with an expression of wonder. "How you can
remember so much about people I can't imagine; but really, my dear,
these love stories never do end except in the saddest way. Now if I
could only write a tale, which I know is, of course, quite impossible,
it should be every word of it true, and everybody should be as happy as
the day is long."

"But then you see, dear Mrs. Parmigan, that wouldn't be every word
true," said Miss Grantley with her grave smile. "I hope, my dear young
friends here are mostly happy with me at school, but there are times
when we don't feel altogether in harmony, and lessons are not learned,
and our tempers get the upper hand, and the sun seems to have gone
behind a cloud and the world turns the wrong way, till the storm lowers
and breaks, and then come regret and forbearance, and the stillness, and
'the gentle shining after rain.' Life is often a rather difficult
school, and our education in this world is not completed without trouble
and the discipline of pain and the finding of strength through weakness
and of truth through error. But come, old lady, I am not to be led into
a lecture, especially to a person of your years and experience, so tell
me what you mean,--where am I to find 'a love story,' as you call it,
that shall be without bitter-sweet, and come to a bright ending without
going through a dark passage?"

"Well, to tell you the truth, my dear, I was first thinking of my own
very happy, but at the same time very commonplace and unromantic married
life with Mr. Parmigan, who, as you know, was in the Bank of England,
and came home as regularly as the clock struck half-past five; but then
I was trying to recall what Mrs. Schwartz the cooper's wife was telling
you that day when we went into her house out of the rain after our long
walk from Fernside."

"What! has that pretty, fair, round rosy-cheeked German woman a romance
in her life?" asked Annie Bowers. "I declare I've often thought there
must have been some kind of sentimental recollection in those great
dreamy blue eyes. What a fine, strong-looking man her husband is too!
Marion and I have often stood looking into the shed while he has been at
work making tubs and casks, and sometimes we have heard him singing some
German song as we walked that way. He speaks English so well too; but
Mrs. Schwartz has a pretty buzzing accent, even the two flaxen-headed
children have caught it, and talk in what seems to be a German idiom."

"Well, would you like me to try and repeat Mrs. Schwartz's story as she
has told it to me?" said our governess. "I must let you know, however,
that she and I are very old friends, for I have been to see her over and
over again, and she and her children have been here to tea several times
in the holidays, her husband fetching them home in the evening. I was
selfish in that, for I wanted to refresh my own ear with the German
accent, and they both speak well, particularly the master cooper, who
like most of his countrymen was a true journeyman, and travelled all
over the country to practise his trade before he was drafted off to the
army to fight in the Franco-German War."

"Oh tell us the Schwartz love story!" said Sarah Jorring, "and try to
tell it just as you heard it; it would be so much more sentimental."

"But not in German," we cried, "that wouldn't be fair, to give us a
German exercise under the pretence of a story; we'll have it in
English."

"Well, you shall have it in something like the original German-English,
which seems to me very much to resemble real old English, and sounds to
my ear more simple and more fit for story-telling than the more modern
tongue. You must try to picture to yourselves Mrs. Schwartz when she was
younger and paler, and wore a round white cap and great silver
ear-rings, and was in fact a slender, rather pale pretty girl with a
plaintive look in her great blue eyes, and a voice soft and low. The
story arose from our talking about the fashion of Christmas-trees having
been adopted in England, and the recollection of the last Christmas-tree
that she had seen at her old home with her former mistress caused her to
say with a deep sigh, 'Ach! _Ich habe gelebt und geliebet_;' so I will
call the story 'I have lived and loved,' and you must try to fancy that
Mrs. Schwartz is speaking."

[Illustration]



CHAPTER VI.

"I HAVE LIVED AND LOVED."


"SO we will hang up the Polichinello that thy dear father sent thee from
afar, little Loisl; for who knows but thou and Heinrich, and I, thy
mother, may see him yet before the eve of Christmas, and while the snow
is on the ground. We will keep the tree here, near the window, and
should he come not, we will light it afresh every night that it may
shine a welcome to the dear father, and keep our hearts alive with
hope."

This is what I heard my dear mistress say when it wanted yet a week to
Christmas in the year 1871, and the master, her husband, was still there
with the Crown Prince before Paris along with his regiment. He was
ober-lieutenant, one of many going to fight against France, and ever
since the beginning, till after Sedan, after Domremy, after Metz, had
been with his men in the camp, and wherever there was much danger always
in the front. It was wonder to me how I had come to learn all about the
war and the campaign, but girl as I was (Lisba is but a child even now,
my dear mistress would say), I also had one dear to me--with the Red
Prince and the army before Orleans.

Herr postmaster Schwartz--ah! he came to talk to my mistress and to
bring letters to her from her brave husband, and I was sewing, or busy
in the room, and heard all--as he would stay in the kitchen on his way
out and tell us all about it--Bertha and me; and once he handed me a
letter.

Oh! how my hand trembled as I took it; how the Herr postmaster looked at
me through his horn spectacles and watched me, for he knew the writing!
it was his son's, the writing of Franz. And I felt the blood rush up hot
to my face, and the tears blind me as I placed in my bodice the little
letter that I dare not open while there were questioning eyes to ask:
"What is he to thee, Lisba, and what says he?"

Bertha knew. Bertha was yet more of a child than I, for she was two
years younger, but old was she in sentiment, and too often we would talk
together far into the night, but in whispers lest we should wake the
little ones, for Bertha slept next the great nursery, where our mistress
had also made her bed, and I would steal into her room to pore over the
map that the Herr postmaster had drawn with his pencil in the kitchen to
show where our armies had been, and where the cruel battles were fought.
In Alsace and to Lorraine, by Neiderbronn, at Weissenburg, at Woërth,
at Saarbruck, at Metz, at Sedan, "where," said Herr postmaster, "we have
received the sword of the Emperor Louis Napoleon Bonaparte, who is now
our prisoner in the Palace of the Habichtswald."

Then--ah! me, to think that they should be taken to the end of the
world--right into France, to Donchery, to Chalons. As near as
Strasbourg, as far as Rheims, and then on to Paris--or near it--at the
place called Nogent-sur-Marne; that is where our dear master, the
ober-lieutenant, was with the army of the Crown Prince; and we grieved
and waited, for he had had a wound, we heard, though now he was healed.
And the fighting went on, though hundreds of our brave men of the
troops--the landwehr, the reserve--were hurt, or maimed, or killed. And
many women wept over their knitting or their spinning; and the coming of
the holy Christmas time brought not peace, though the Herr postmaster
said the hungry war was now nearly over, but its jaws were not yet done
clinking, and would yet gnash many to death.

Franz! ah! he was with the Red Prince at Orleans, where they had fought
the French army of the Loire. Nor did Franz go alone, for there went
with him his best friend, his dutz brüder, Hofer, from Esmansdorff,
whither Franz had gone three years before to follow his trade of
cask-cooper and wheelwright, and there met Hofer, whose family were of
the Tyrolese Protestants that came from Zitterthal to find a refuge in
our land.

He came to Saueichenwald, to our village, this Hofer--a dark
well-looking man--not fair like Franz, nor with his broad chest and
clear blue eyes--but tall and quick, with crisp curling hair, and long
fingers. I have told him that he had hawk's eyes, for he could see the
birds on the trees, and if he had pleased, could have shot them with his
rifle, so far was his sight, so true his aim; but he hated to kill or
hurt any living thing, and loved best to play the fiddle when he was not
at work in his tan-yard. Yet now, he too was gone to the war, and was in
the midst of the slaying and burning. When first he came home with Franz
to Saueichenwald, I was afraid, for though I loved him not, but loved
Franz only, his eyes were ever fixed on me, and he came often to the
homestead; even when Franz came not he would be there in the yellow
sunshine of the autumn evening by the gate that led to the apple
orchard, or at the wicket, where Bertha and I used to stand after coming
from the dairy or the hen-house; nor was he unwelcome to the master, who
wondered at his shooting and leaping with a pole; nor to the dear
mistress, for whom he brought a work-box, all of beautifully carved
wood; nor to the little ones, Loisl and Heinrich, to whom he played the
fiddle, and whom he taught to dance or showed how the chamois is
hunted.

Often when I have stood with Bertha--for we always went together--at the
gate, he would come with his keen bright laugh and hawk's eyes, and leap
the wall that inclosed the dairy yard. Franz, too, had noticed how he
sought us, and one red evening when we were crossing the orchard, and
Hofer walked between us with an arm about each, Franz came in by the old
path from the wood on the other side, and stood there looking still and
grieved. Laughing ever, Hofer carried us both in to where Franz stood,
and with his long arms still about us caught him with a hand on each
wrist, and so stood we, two girls in the midst of two men's encircling
arms.

"Hof, is it that thou lov'st Lisba?" said Frank sternly; "if so, thou
doest not well."

"I both love her and do well, my brother," replied Hofer. "I love her
because I love thee, and in mine eyes she is thy wife. See thou then,"
and he held up his long right hand, "I am no brawler; but he who would
do her ill or move his tongue against her would have to reckon with me
as much as with thee, for she is thine and I am thine too, as thou art
mine, or what means the dagger scar in our arms that we both know of?"
Then taking me by the hand he leads me to Franz and kisses me gently on
the forehead, and even while I am putting the face of Franz from mine I
see that Hofer has stooped to kiss the poor child Bertha also, whose
hand is in his, but whose face is bowed down and red as the wild berry.
If I am a child, as my dear mistress says, then is Bertha but an infant,
and cannot know of love that should turn her cheek to flame and bring
bright tears into her eyes.

Ah me!--that evening--how we stood and watched the sun go down till the
night came, and with a dark blue shutter left only a long crevice where
the fire shone through; how we wandered back hand in hand, and parted
with a hasty "good-night" when we heard the church clock chime; and that
is not long ago, though it seems to have gone so far back; for next day
came the tidings of a levy for the army--men were wanted. Not one by
one, but altogether, the young and then the middle-aged were called out
to fight in France or to guard the frontier, and we--we were left (the
dear mistress said "we")--to wait and weep, and with only the Herr
postmaster, the father of Franz, to bring us news, and read to us the
stories of the battles, and bring to the dear mistress her letters. For
I had one letter and no more; and that told me that Franz and Hofer had
met in the same army of the Red Prince and were comrades, but not in the
same corps; but that once they came near together on the field, and in
the thick of the fight Franz had struck down a man's arm uplifted to
kill his brother.

It is easy to see how I came to learn so much of the war, and of the
places where it raged, for old Schwartz was proud of his knowledge, and
read to us and drew maps, and we had nothing else to talk about. The
village was very still, and people from the nearest town talked only of
the war and of those who had left them. Ours is a quiet place with
romantic scenes around it, and but just beyond the shadow of the giant
mountain Riesengebirge. We can see the blue profile of the Schneekoppe;
and there are those--the old ones--who still talk of the legends of
Rubezahl, the counter of turnips (the mountain spirit), who took all
kinds of disguises to punish avarice and cruelty, and to reward honesty
and help the poor. Among the poor went our dear mistress now, or they
came to her for sympathy; she who, like themselves, like all of us,
except brotherless young ones such as Bertha, grieved for a lover, or a
husband, or a brother, gone to the war. It was not likely to be a merry
Christmastide in Germanland, except that the news of victory, or of
fortresses taken, came and stirred the slow blood of the people who were
left. But we longed and prayed for peace--we women did at all
events--and with some there was scarcely heart to trim and deck the
Christmas-tree; to tell the children to prepare for the visit of the
Christ Kindlein on Christmas Eve, who would bring good gifts to the
good, but would leave the naughty to Pelsnichol to come and whip them
with his great birch. In some villages like ours an old man disguised
with a long beard and gown, and a great bag, would go about at
Christmastide to the houses where the people had expected him, and would
carry the gifts to the children, and would show others who were naughty
the birch, and give them nothing. But we had no Pelsnichol at our house,
only sweet talk about the child Christ, and the gifts of the wise men,
and of the love that should be among little ones--the love and the
heart-giving.

So the tree was decked, and placed in the window ready to light on
Christmas Eve, in the hope that it might be a sign of love and welcome.
And we were on the watch all day, and every night Bertha would go out
and sit upon the wall, looking out towards the road to the town, until
the light was no more seen in the belfry of the church, and the clock
chimed supper-time. I told not our dear mistress of this, for was it not
for Franz and the dear master that the child kept watch?--but I went not
myself to that outlook, though my heart stood still every time Bertha
returned, with her head bent down, and had seen no one coming. She had a
presentiment or fancy, she said, that the wanderer would return after
nightfall. I knew not,--I began to tell lies to myself that I cared
not,--and for this reason; I had long feared that the Herr postmaster
liked not me to be loved by his son; for behold he was postmaster, and
had been a builder of organs, and the dear master was godfather to
Franz, while I--well, I had nothing, but the dear mistress was my
godmother, and my father had been pastor of a village, and had taught me
some things before he died.

We are now but a few days to Christmas, when one night the old man comes
in with a letter for the dear mistress, at which she first sobs and
turns white, and then laughs and turns red. The dear master is wounded,
but is at the frontier, whither he had been sent, staying till he is
strong enough to come home; "but there," he writes, "I have had the luck
to fall into the hands of a good nurse, an old acquaintance, who will
bring me home."

"Ah! ha! that he could already come home," sighs the mistress.
"Loisl--Heinrich, thy dear father may yet be here before the tree is
lighted; and brings with him a nurse--who can she be, think'st thou,
Lisba?"

"I know not, unless it be one of the deaconesses who go to the
hospitals; but is it not possible, dear lady, that it is a comrade, a
surgeon of the army, an ambulance officer?"

"It is Hofer," cried Bertha, who was standing at the door of the big
kitchen, where we were listening to such parts of the letter as the
mistress pleased to read to us.

"Hofer! the lass has gone silly!" cries the Herr postmaster. "Hofer and
Franz are fighting with the army of the Loire, as the French call it,
and are who knows where. I have a letter here that reached me
yesterday, written some days ago, where Franz says--let me read it:"

(Here the old man pulls on his horn spectacles and opens a thin sheet of
paper.)

"Franz says:--'We are in quarters here at a tavern, but it has few
customers, and we are obliged to seek for what we need. It is, in fact,
almost an empty house, dismantled, half burnt, and with a good many shot
holes. Still we keep up our spirits. We have begun to hold our Christmas
already, for we have a long table and a few chairs, and somebody last
night found a great milk-pan in the half-ruined dairy of the inn, and,
having on hand a few bottles of very good red wine, we made a fine bowl
of _grog-au-vin_, with the aid of a wood fire and an old saucepan. In
came Hofer and gave us a toast and a song, and then they called on me,
and I gave them the old _Lied_, that thou hast so often played, and for
a toast, 'Fifine.' If Fifine had been there she would have been lying on
my shoulder, but since I rescued her from the teasing of a big
drum-major she has grown shy and doesn't like company; and though she
would soon be a pet with most of our men, keeps her love for me alone,
and would be a very charming companion if I had time to devote to her
pretty ways.' So you see Franz and Hofer are in France," says the old
man, taking off his spectacles.

My heart has grown cold and heavy all in a moment, and I have to lean on
the back of a chair for support.

"Who, then, is Fifine?" I ask, under my breath.

"Aha!" cries the Herr postmaster, "who, indeed? but what is it to thee?
I now, his father, might well ask; but there it is, no sooner does a
young honest fellow go out of Germany than he is thrown into the company
of these cats of Frenchwomen, and then--but I must say good-night.
Good-night, madam. Good-night, girls."

So he is gone, and the dear mistress and I look in each other's face,
and both cry "Oh!" but say no more.

So I go not to watch by the wall; but Bertha goes, and still she says it
is Hofer will bring the dear master home. The child, we say, is gone
silly with sitting on the wall in the cold, for sometimes she will come
in without her cloak; but yet we have not the heart to forbid her going
thither.

One, two, three, four days, and it is the blessed eve. We are all so
still, and our hearts are heavy, so we go about softly, as though some
one were sick or dead, when it is but our own hearts, or hopes, or
fancies, that seem dead. The dear little ones are quiet now, for we are
in the small room by the window, and as the last chime of sundown sounds
from the church, the candles on the Christmas-tree are lighted, and
shine on the pretty gifts that hang upon the branches. The dear mother
hugs the children to her heart; outside the twinkle and beaming of the
candles makes a short track of light upon the snow; the signal is all
a-glow. Will the wanderer return to-night? Where is Bertha? What is this
white-armed, loose-haired figure, flying up the path? Her hand is on the
door-latch, and as she stands there, wan and panting, she cries, "They
come! they come! The ox-wagon is now upon the hill. I saw it coming
through the snow, and the lantern shone upon the epaulette and the
buttons." She speaks and is gone, and we, the dear mistress and I, go to
the kitchen, where I stand, with a heart of lead and hands of ice.

There is a tramp of feet, a shout, the door bursts open--the dear
mistress is in her husband's arms--the little ones are clinging to him.
"Take care of my leg, darlings," he says; "the bone has not grown too
strong just yet, and I doubt if ever I shall bend the knee again. As to
Franz here, he, as you see, has his arm in a sling yet. He caught me up
in the wood, me and Hofer. Ah! that dear Hofer, he was in hospital, just
getting over a sabre cut in the cheek when I was taken there, and he has
been my good nurse ever since."

I am standing still, with downcast eyes, and there stands Franz staring
at me, with his one arm ready to take me to his heart.

"And where is Fifine?" say I, bursting into tears.

"Fifine--ah! I was near forgetting her," and he plunges his one hand
into the deep pocket of his military coat and pulls out a creature which
climbs to his shoulder, and there sits purring--a white fluffy cat with
pink eyes.

"Why, you little fool," cries old Herr postmaster as he comes behind me
and lifts me within reach of Franz, "didn't I say it was a cat of a
French woman?"

There is a light quick stride at the door--a loud jödel--a bright
laugh--and Hofer stoops his tall body and looks round. A cloud comes
over his face almost before he has greeted the dear mistress, and kissed
me on the cheek. "Where is Bertha?" he asks, and before we can answer
him he has darted out again, and we have scarcely lost the sound of his
rapid step before he is back among us, bearing the poor child in his
arms. We chafe her hands and feet, and warm and comfort her. Dear
Bertha, she had been so faithful watching there by the wall, and Hofer
had stopped behind to help up a fallen horse, and when he came not she
fainted and fell with cold and fear. But now we are all together in the
great kitchen, and supper is getting ready, and wine is on the table,
and the dear master and mistress are with their little ones at the
Christmas-tree, that makes a path of glory on the outer snow.

"Bertha, thou surely hast the second sight," says the old postmaster as
he looks at her. The colour comes again rose-red into her cheek as Hofer
draws her closer to his side.

"Yes," says she, "it is love that gives it. One has second sight when
one thinks no longer of one's self but of another."

                   ------------------------------

It was Saturday afternoon, and our week's work was nearly over. On
Monday the great fancy fair was to be held, and the side-table in Miss
Grantley's pleasant parlour was covered with samples of all kinds of
needle-work, in lace, wool, crewel, applique, and on linen, satin,
velvet, silk, and cloth. There were handscreens, water-colour sketches,
embroidery, bead-work, and all kinds of dainty knick-knacks, and we
still had the finishing touches to put to some of our presents--still
had a few completing stitches to put to some of the plainer articles,
which were to make the back ground for the stall where Miss Grantley was
to be saleswoman.

When we came into the parlour she was not there. Saturday was a holiday,
so there had been no school in the morning, and we had gone on purpose
to finish our week's work for the fancy fair.

We had scarcely taken off our hats, and indeed most of us had stepped
outside the window into the garden when she came into the room. There
was a singularly radiant eager look in her face, her eyes shone bright
as though they had been washed with glad tears, and as she kissed us one
by one there was more than the usual impressiveness, or what the French
would call _effusion_ in her manner. Annie Bowers looked at her with a
quick inquiring glance, but said nothing. Marian Cooper, who had grown
as tall as Miss Grantley was herself, held her hand tight, and spoke in
a low tone, but loud enough for us all to hear as we had clustered
round. "What story have you to tell us this evening, Miss Grantley?
Something has happened. Is it a love story, dear? Are you going to tell
us that you have promised to be married?"

"No, indeed, I am not, for no such promise has been given; and there is
no love story of which I am the heroine, I assure you. For all that, I
have had a letter from a gentleman--a letter from my brother in
Australia--which may alter my plans for the future. My dear girls, my
dear friends and companions, I think you know that you are all very dear
to me, and I believe you love me too a little; but of course in a few
months at farthest most of you will leave me. You will have given up
school, but not, I hope, given up reading and as much work and study as
will keep you a good and useful place in the world. It is most likely
that some of you will be married before I am, for I shall remain here
for some time, and until I find a successor to take the school, and then
I intend to go to the other side of the world. Whether Mrs. Parmigan
will go with me I don't know. What I do know, and the only thing I can
think about at this moment, is the real sorrow I shall have in parting
with you all. But we should have to part in any case. The world of new
duties and of new interests would be opening to you even if I remained
here and grew old as the governess of Barton Vale. I should always
rejoice to hear of your happiness and sympathize with you in trouble;
but you would not be likely to be in a position to seek either my
sympathy or my counsel, for others would have the greater right and the
closer communion. But believe me, pray believe me when I tell you, that
as the next six months go by I shall dread our parting, though more than
half of you seven girls will have left me before that time arrives. Now,
my dears, let us have tea, and then I will read you my brother's letter,
for you are all my dear friends--my very closest friends to-night; and
that letter shall be my story. It's more of a man's story than a girl's,
but it is nearly all about a girl for all that."

It was not a very quiet tea-table, for we were all excited and talking
fast, as though that was the best way to keep from crying. It was not
till we had discussed Miss Grantley's intended voyage and made out quite
a romantic future for her that she opened her brother's letter, that we
might, as she said, hear what kind of fellow he was.

[Illustration]

[Illustration]



CHAPTER VII.

MISS GRANTLEY'S BROTHER.


                                          MARIMOO, HOBART TOWN,
                                                 December 27th, 18--.

DEAR BESSIE,--It's time you came out here instead of staying in the old
country, even though you haven't learnt to make butter and cheese, and
don't know how to bake bread, or even to make "damper" properly. The
fact is, you must come; and if you like to take classes, you can make
use of your science degrees here, I can tell you, for they want "sweet
girl-graduates;" and even if they have grown to be severe and exacting
female professors, we take very kindly to them.

The fact is, Bess, I waited as long as I could for you to come over this
side to look after me, that I might cease wandering and settle down. As
you know, I've tried my hand at a good many occupations, often for the
freak of the thing, but always with a reserve force for doing the right
thing at last, and somehow I've mostly made bread and cheese and a
little more. The gold fever was over long before I reached Australia,
but I had a turn at the cradle and pan for all that, and turned up a
pretty good "claim"--enough to take me on my travels afterwards. I've
been out prospecting; I've had a turn in the great grazing grounds,
though I didn't care to sink the little money I had in a fancy flock in
the hope of turning it into a herd, or to spend my life on horseback
galloping after half-wild cattle on the plains. I wasn't long "beating
about the bush," though I've once or twice been out with the natives and
have had a brush with the rangers, one of whom--Black Jack--carried a
bullet of mine about in his shoulder for some time before he fell in a
fight with the police just outside Melbourne. His skeleton's in the
museum now; but the worst time I ever had was when I was driving----;
but I'll tell you that another time. I meant when I began this letter to
start with an announcement that ought to take your breath away, and
somehow I'm as shy of saying it on paper as I should be if you were
standing before me with those "clear cold eyes" of yours, that yet were
always shining with love to your wild brother, though you always "looked
him through." The plain truth is, I now invite you to come over here and
live with _us_. Do you read that?--US. For I am--we are--_married_. Yes;
a fact. And who do you think _we_ are? There's me to begin with, and
who's the other party, the "Co.," should you fancy? Well, don't guess.
I'll tell you. Mary Deane. You remember how I used to sing:

          "I'm sitting on the stile, Ma-ree,"

in the old house at home, when she was a little wisp of a dark-eyed
lassie, just thinking about going to the old farm belonging to her Uncle
Deane, in Herefordshire; and how she ran away and hid herself when I
wanted to say "good-bye" to her before I left. Well, her uncle made up
his mind to come to this side--as you wrote me he had--and I'd nearly
forgotten all about it, until one day, as I was strolling along towards
the bank in Sydney, who should I come upon quite suddenly but Mr. Deane,
and walking beside him a slim, elegant, bright-eyed beauty, to whom I
raised my hat, not knowing who she was, till a peal of silvery laughter
brought back my memory to the days of old, when we used to sit in the
garden on a summer evening at Barnes, and slip down the lawn to the
boat-house, that we might launch the dear old pater's wherry, and have a
moonlight trip, with soft singing of part songs, to which I know I
growled a villainous bass. Dear pater, had he lived I might have stayed
in the old country, and tried to keep up the old place; but I fear I
should have disappointed him, and so--well, all may be for the best.

Perhaps it was the remembrance of the dear balmy evenings "under the
Abeles" that put me in mind of proposing a picnic, for it was the
winter before last that I met the Deanes, and therefore our midsummer,
and a precious hot one too I can tell you, so that all the ripe fruit,
bottled beer, champagne, and everything else that was cool and slaking
was at a premium.

Mr. Deane was not altogether unacquainted with Sydney. He had been for
some time in the colony, and had done a good thing in cattle agency. "I
landed a pretty fair commission out of one lot that I had out beyond
Gomaree Flats," he said to me, "a wild lot they were too, and I bought
them on spec and sold them three weeks after with my own brand upon
them."

"You don't mean to say that they were at Goobong station and branded D,"
said I.

"Just so, have you seen any of 'em?"

"Why I _helped_ brand them," I cried; "I was on the station and rode out
after a bull that had gone away. I must have been within a couple of
miles of your place if you were at Gomaree; and--was Miss Deane with
you?"

"Mary was with me, Tom Grantley," says Mr. Deane, "and I don't think you
used to say 'Miss' in the old time when I knew your father."

"No; but then you see Mary wouldn't even come to say 'good-bye,'" I
replied; and, as I looked, I saw the girl--she _is_ a lovely girl,
Bessie, though she's now Mrs. Grantley--blush like a rose, and actually,
I think, a tear stood in her eye, though she laughed again when putting
her hand in mine. She said, "Forgive me, Tom; for if you and uncle are
to continue friends, _I_ must be friendly with you too; so I make the
first overture of reconciliation."

I felt I was a "gone coon" if I let this sort of thing go on; so I asked
them what they were doing in Sydney, dined with them the same evening,
and by that day week we had made up a picnic to Parramatta, where we
could have the pleasure of a boat on the salt-water creek that people
there call the Parramatta River, and could have a pleasant country
ramble and a dinner out in the sunshine, with the thermometer at 85° in
the shade, or thereabout--capital weather for plum-pudding; but we _had_
plum-pudding and roast-beef, too, with iced champagne; the plum-pudding
made beforehand and heated over a fire made of sticks in an iron
skillet; the roast-beef cold, with Sydney pickle, and bottled beer from
England, rather dearer than champagne, and, what was better than either,
some Australian wine, made from the Reisling grape, and about as good as
most of the hock we ever get in London.

Of course we had some delightful drives along the south shore to Port
Jackson, and back to Sydney along the south-head road--a drive in which
one may see most of the beauties of Sydney vegetation--the great
Eucalyptus or blue gum trees, between the giant boles of which shine
the glittering waters of the harbour; but there are a hundred healthy
orchids, and wild flowers of varied vivid hues, though but few of them
have any perfume. Parramatta is to Sydney what Richmond is to London, or
what Versailles was to Paris; but it is less secluded than it once was,
of course, and Cockatoo Island, once the penal settlement, is less
unfrequented than the Isle of Portland, where English convicts work out
their sentence. This, and Shark Island, are likely places enough to
attract strangers, but Parramatta was our resort on this Christmas Eve.
Nothing came of it, except that I found myself when I got back to the
hotel at night, and had bidden good-bye only after there was no further
pretext for staying for "another cigar," in the large, bare, cool room
which Mr. Deane had hired as a sitting-room in a large house in Sydney.
The drive home had been a merry and yet a melancholy--not a sentimental
one; there was a good deal of twilight about, and there was
laughing--but somehow, Mary Deane and I didn't seem to find much to
laugh about--I didn't, I know, for she told me they were going away to
Bathurst, and I think I heard a sob, I know I felt her hand tremble when
I took it in mine, and it was lucky I had been used to driving a team,
for to hold whip and reins in one hand might give a hard-mouthed boring
horse a chance of going at his own pace down a gully.

However, before I said my final farewells it had been settled that I was
to go with Mr. Deane and Mary as far as the Bathurst Plains, for I had a
little business of my own in the Blue Mountain district. We were to
start in a week, and I could scarcely believe that the whole affair was
other than a dream, as I sat at the open window smoking till the
pinky-gray dawn of Christmas Day broke over the scrubby garden of the
hotel. I had been in a sort of dream, in which the form of Mary Deane
was the chief figure, but there was another less pleasing shape, which
came and went in my visions in a purposeless kind of way, one which I
had seen that day lounging about the landing-stage, where he passed me
first with a scowl and then with a muttered oath.

Now, I had first made his acquaintance in this wise.

One night as I was coming into Sydney, about a mile from the town I
heard a sharp, sudden cry from the side of the road.

The cry came from a little "black fellow," who had been a sort of
retainer of mine in the bush, and on the plains a bright active lad, as
supple as a snake, and, as he used to say, the son of a chief. He was
called Jacky Fishook, and was a very useful fellow out there, for he
could follow a trail like a hound, could climb trees, kill game, and in
fact had a good many of the savage accomplishments, and few, if any, of
the vices of civilization--rather a rare thing among the natives. On my
return to Sydney we had parted company, and Fishook had passed some of
his time among his own people, and had also come into town now and then
to work as a light porter, or do other odd jobs. The wants of the
natives are few; and Jacky, unlike some of his people, did not drink rum
or other spirits, so if he earned sixpence he was able to keep it. He it
was who had given a shrill shout, and as I ran across a piece of waste
ground to see what was the matter, I saw him crouching on the ground,
while over him stood a big bully, whom I had before seen at the door of
a low grog-shop; making a vicious cut at the "nigger" with a heavy
stock-whip. He was a burly, powerful fellow, and, as Jacky was unarmed
and only half clad, the cut of a thong like that was bad punishment. As
soon as I appeared the Maori gave a yell of satisfaction. "You know
Fishook, black-fellow, sar?" he screamed. "You know, sar, Jacky not take
stink-water (the native word for rum), but he give no sixpence, sar; he
make for carry big thing, sar." Jacky pointed to a huge bale of hides,
or something of the kind, that had been pitched on the ground. Evidently
the bully had insisted on the poor fellow carrying the burden for
payment to be made in the shape of a glass of rum; and, discovering
this, Jacky had refused to go further.

Again the whip was raised to strike, but I caught the uplifted arm, and
with an oath the fellow turned on me, wrenched away his wrist, and came
at me like a bull. There was nothing for it but to let him have it,
and--excuse me, Bess; you know how you used to stand by when Willie and
I had a set-to--I put in my left, and followed it up with a staggerer.
He was not easily vanquished, however, though the blow drove him back
three or four paces; and, before I could get within reach, he had
snatched a pistol from his pocket. I was obliged to close with him, and
his weight was against me. My only chance was to grip his wrist, or I
should have a bullet in me. Luckily he was giddy, and one eye had begun
to swell; so that I had his arm at the very moment he pulled the
trigger, and the ball went somewhere into space. The tussle was a short
one, for there came a quick patter of feet along the path, and two
officers of the Sydney police came up.

"Hullo, Buffalo Jim!" cried one of them, "up to your tricks again. Look
here, my fine fellow, if you once get into quad, you're not likely to
come out for a while, for there's a pretty bit of evidence likely to be
turned up when once we start. Just take yourself home, and we'll come
along to see what's in that bundle. Now, then, up you come;" and in a
second they had lifted the bundle on to the fellow's shoulder, and
marched him on before them. "We saw it all before we came up, Mr.
Grantley," said one of the men as he passed, "but I s'pose you won't
charge him."

"No," said I. "He richly deserves all I gave him; but I don't want to be
dangling for a week about the Sydney court-house."

As they went away, the fellow gave me an evil look. Jacky had vanished.
Now, I had seen this big brute again while we were at Parramatta, and I
was helping Mary out of the boat at the landing-stage. He had seen me,
too, and turned away with a scowl and a muttered oath; but happening to
glance round afterwards, I noticed that he was watching us from behind
the corner of a fence. I forgot all about him for the rest of the day;
but now, at night, his ugly face and bloated form intruded upon my
dreams. I couldn't account for it; perhaps it was prevision.

I had forgotten it all again by the time we were ready for our journey
to Bathurst. Mr. Deane was to drive with Mary in a light trap and I was
to ride, for I had a good steady horse at stable in Sydney growing fat
and restive for want of exercise. So we set out and went as far as the
inn at Gum Ferry on the Nepean before we made any change in our
arrangements. On the second day's journey we were likely to have a long
ride, and Mary was anxious for a canter over Gum Plain, and beyond the
first span of the mountain, where the way is over sand, shaded on both
sides by the dark thicket of the gum tree and the forest scrub. She had
brought her habit with her, and as she had been taught to be a
first-rate horsewoman up at her father's cattle station, I resigned the
saddle, and the horse, feeling such a light weight and such a dainty
hand, was off like a bird. It was good to watch her as we drove far
behind; good to note her pretty figure as she came cantering back and
then shot forward for a long stretch across the plain. We were
approaching the sandy course--where few passengers were seen except
wagoners--and all was still and silent till we reached the fringe of
forest and heard the chattering scream of a flight of green parrots. But
above the chatter of the birds came another cry, and there, straight
ahead of us, but beyond our power to overtake, were _two_ riders. Mary
was one; the other, a big rough-looking fellow, on a powerful horse, had
dashed out from the thicket, caught her horse by the rein, and was now
taking it at a furious gallop. The thought flashed through my brain in a
moment. It was Buffalo Jim, and this was the scoundrel's revenge. The
thought was horrible. Mary was completely in the scoundrel's power,
unless she could throw herself out of the saddle and defy him until we
came up. At the pace they were going, to overtake them was impossible,
though we urged our nag to its utmost speed, and the wheels ploughed
swiftly through the dry sand. What was to be done? There straight
ahead, and getting further and further,--but plainly seen in that clear
sunny air,--the two horses kept up the furious pace. We could even see
the brave girl lean aside, and strike with all her might at the ruffian
with the light whip she carried. We could fancy his hoarse laugh of
defiance as he checked speed for a moment, and sought to wrest the whip
from her hand. My head was on fire, but neither Mr. Deane nor I spoke a
word; our eyes were simply fixed on the two figures before us, when
suddenly there seemed to be a third--right out there in the very middle
of the sunlit course. A figure like a bronze statue, which suddenly
appeared as it were from the ground,--and now stood in midway, and with
uplifted hand as though in warning. Would the horses ride him down? No;
there was a sudden check, a scurry, a wild yell, and Buffalo Jim threw
up his arms and went backward, rolling over in the sand, while Mary's
horse, released, darted forward for fifty yards or so, and was then
brought round. She met us half-way toward the place where the riderless
horse had dashed into the forest. There in the sand lay the ruffian
transfixed by a slender native spear, which had gone with unerring aim
through his neck; we had to break off the point and draw the shank
through. Lucky for Buffalo Jim if the wound were not poisoned. All we
could do was to place him in the chaise, and for Mary to remount and
keep near us. The bronze figure had vanished, as a snake might glide
into the brushwood. Indeed, for a moment, when we reached the spot, I
fancied I saw the glint of a fierce emu eye away in the dark leaves that
hung by the bark of a mighty Eucalyptus, and I gave the _cooee_ of the
native, but no response came.

Well, to make an end of this unconscionable letter, I need not tell what
trouble we had when we took the wounded man to the next station, nor how
we were detained to be examined and questioned. Buffalo Jim died in the
prison infirmary a good while after, and though we had not forgotten the
adventure, we had about ceased to think of it by the time I had settled
here in Hobart Land, for the fact is there was a magnet here that I
could not but follow, and another Christmas picnic on the Derwent,
amidst the lovely woods and gardens that fringe a part of its banks
completely settled me. The end of all which is Mary Deane became Mary
Grantley, and here we are on our own lot, with very pretty farming and a
capital dairy, and a good heart's welcome for you if you will only come
out to us. Oh, I ought to say as a sequel that about a month after we
settled down here one of the men came in and said there was a black
fellow at the fence gate asking to speak to me. Out I went, and there,
looking at me with a smile or rather a grin, was Jacky Fishook. "How do,
sar?" said he. "Just come from Sydney, sar, to look for job. Massa take
me for man, sar? yes? Jacky, sar, good black fellow, no stink-water,
sar, ride sar, fish, shoot, fetch bullocks, sar? yes."

"And then the spear, eh?" said I, frowning, "Who was it killed Buffalo
Jim, you villain?"

"Buff'lo Jim, sar, bad white fellow, sar--he try kill Maori, but Maori
too much not kill, sar. Jacky Fishook stupid fellow, sar--not know
Maori--but Maori throw spear--yes." And there and then the muscular
lithe figure was drawn up like a statue; the beady eye glaring straight
forward, the arm poised as though to hurl a javelin. It was quite
enough--I knew who had appeared suddenly in the sandy road that day.
Buffalo Jim had come out to hunt, and had himself been tracked down and
hunted.

But Jacky Fishook stayed with us. He is at this moment cleaning up my
gun; and when I go shooting to-morrow he will carry home the
game--parrots if we can get nothing better.

                                Your affectionate brother,
                                                  TOM GRANTLEY.

                 ------------------------------

Even though it is now a year or two ago that we parted with Miss
Grantley, and Mrs. Parmigan took over the school at the request of the
parents of the junior pupils, and was joined by a lady from London with
famed certificates, none of us can speak without emotion of the happy
time when we sat at work in the pretty old parlour or sat under the
trees in the pleasant orchard. We are not all at Barton now, for Annie
Bowers is studying art abroad, and Sarah Jorring, who is "engaged," is
living with her friends at Barton; but those of us who are still in the
Vale go and drink tea with Mrs. Parmigan sometimes, and none of us are
likely to forget our governess and the stories that she used to tell.



       *       *       *       *       *



Transcriber's Notes:

Obvious punctuation errors have been corrected.

Page 70, "Dyce" changed to "Dryce" (Richard Dryce sat down)

Page 85, "whieh" changed to "which" (and sight-seeing which)

Page 91, duplicate word "the" removed from text. Original read: (Dorcas
the the widow)

Page 101, "tobacoo" changed to "tobacco" (filled with tobacco)





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