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´╗┐Title: Zoe
Author: Whitaker, Evelyn, 1857-1903
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Zoe" ***

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[Illustration: Cover art]



ZOE



BY THE AUTHOR OF

'LADDIE,' 'DON,' 'POMONA,' 'BELLE,' 'PHOEBE'S HERO,' 'MISS TOOSEY'S
MISSION,' 'TIP CAT,' ETC.



[Transcriber's note: The British Library Integrated Catalogue cites
Evelyn Whitaker as the author of this book.]



LONDON: 38 Soho Square. W.1

W. & R. CHAMBERS, LIMITED

EDINBURGH: 339 High Street


1890



[Transcriber's note: The source book had varying page headers.  They
have been collected at the start of each chapter as an introductory
paragraph, and here as the Table of Contents.]


CONTENTS


CHAPTER I.

The Christening--An Outlandish Name--The Organist's
Mistake--Farm-work--Tom and Bill--The Baby--Baby and All


CHAPTER II.

Mr Robins--Village Choirs--Edith--An Elopement--A Father's Sorrow--An
Unhappy Pair--The Wanderer's Return--Father!--A Daughter's
Entreater--No Favourable Answer--A Sleepless Pillow


CHAPTER III.

Something on the Doorstep--Bill Gray--Is That a Cat?--She's Like
Mother--A Baby's Shoe--Jane Restless


CHAPTER IV.

Village Evidence--'Gray' on the Brain--Too Well He Knew--Mr Robins and
the Baby--He Had Not Done Badly


CHAPTER V.

Jane Hard at Work--Clothes for the Baby--Jane Returns--Jane Singing
over her Work--Jane's Selfish Absorption--For a Poor Person's
Child--The Organist in Church


CHAPTER VI.

The Good Baby--Mr Robins Comes and Goes--A Secret Power--Mr Robins
Happy--A Naughty Tiresome Gal!--The Gypsy Child


CHAPTER VII.

Gray Taken to the Hospital--Bill and the Baby--Mrs Gray Home
Again--Edith, Come Home!


CHAPTER VIII.

Preparation--The Room Furnished--Mrs Gray at Work--The Baby Gone--The
Gypsy Mother--The Gypsy's Story--A Foolish Fancy--Something Has
Happened--The Real Baby



ZOE.

CHAPTER I.

The Christening--An Outlandish Name--The Organist's
Mistake--Farm-work--Tom and Bill--The Baby--Baby and All


'Hath this child been already baptised, or no?'

'No, she ain't; leastwise we don't know as how she 've been or no, so
we thought as we 'd best have her done.'

The clergyman who was taking Mr Clifford's duty at Downside for that
Sunday, thought that this might be the usual undecided way of answering
among the natives, and proceeded with the service.  There were two
other babies also brought that afternoon, one of which was crying
lustily, so that it was not easy to hear what the sponsors answered;
and, moreover, the officiating clergyman was a young man, and the
prospect of holding that screaming, red-faced, little object made him
too nervous and anxious to get done with it to stop and make further
inquiries.

The woman who returned this undecided answer was an elderly woman, with
a kind, sunburnt, honest face, very much heated just now, and
embarrassed too; for the baby in her arms prevented her getting at her
pocket handkerchief to wipe the perspiration from her brow and pulling
her bonnet on to its proper position on her head.  The man beside her
was also greatly embarrassed, and kept shuffling his large hob-nailed
shoes together, and turning his hat round and round in his fingers.

I think that really that hat was the chief cause of his discomfort, for
he was so accustomed to have it on his head that he could not feel
quite himself without it; and, indeed, his wife could hardly recognise
him, as she had been accustomed to see him wearing it indoors and out
during the twenty years of their married life; pushed back for meals or
smoking, but always on his head, except in bed, and even there, report
says, on cold winter nights, he had recourse to it to keep off the
draught from that cracked pane in the window.  His face, like his
wife's, was weatherbeaten, and of the same broad, flat type as hers,
with small, surprised, dazzled-looking, pale blue eyes, and a tangle of
grizzled light hair under his chin.  He was noticeable for the green
smock-frock he wore, a garment which is so rapidly disappearing before
the march of civilisation, and giving place to the ill-cut, ill-made
coat of shoddy cloth, which is fondly thought to resemble the squire's.

The christening party was completed by a hobbledehoy lad of about
sixteen, who tried to cover his invincible shyness by a grin, and to
keep his foolish eyes from the row of farm boys in the aisle, whose
critical glances he felt in every pore.  He was so like both father and
mother, that there was no mistaking his parentage; but when Mrs Gray
took off the shepherd's-plaid shawl in which the baby was wrapped, such
a little dark head and swarthy face were exposed to view as might have
made intelligent spectators (if there were any in Downside church that
afternoon, which I doubt) reflect on the laws of heredity and reversion
to original types.

'Name this child!'

The clergyman had got successfully through his business with the
roaring George Augustus and the whimpering Alberta Florence, and had
now the little, quiet, brown-faced baby in his arms.  Even a young and
unmarried man was fain to confess that it was an unusually pretty
little face that lay against his surplice, with a pointed chin, and
more eyebrows and lashes than most young babies possess, and with dark
eyes that looked up at him with a certain intelligence, recognisable
even to an unprejudiced observer.

'Name this child!'

Mrs Gray had taken advantage of this opportunity to mop her forehead
with her blue and white pocket handkerchief, and wrestle with her
bonnet's unconquerable tendency to slip off behind, and the clergyman
passed the question on to her husband, who fixed his eye on a
bluebottle buzzing in one of the windows, and jerked out what sounded
like 'Joe.'

'I thought it was a girl,' whispered the clergyman.  'Joe, did you say?'

'No, it ain't that 'zactly.  Here, 'Liza, can't you tell the gentleman?
You knows best what it be.'

The next attempt sounded like 'Sue,' and the clergyman suggested Susan
as the name, but that would not do.

'Zola' seemed to him, though not a reader of French novels, unsuitable,
and 'Zero,' too, he could not quite appreciate.

'I can't make it out, an outlandish sorter name!' said Gray, with a
terrible inclination to put on his hat in the excitement of the moment,
only checked by a timely nudge from his wife's elbow; 'here, ain't you
got it wrote down somewheres?  Can't you show it up?'

And after a lengthened rummage in a voluminous pocket, and the
production of several articles irrelevant to the occasion--a thimble, a
bit of ginger, and part of a tract--Mrs Gray brought to light a piece
of paper, on which was written the name 'Zoe.'

'Zoe, I baptise thee'----

A sudden crash on the organ-pedals followed these words.  Mr Robins,
the organist, had, perhaps, been asleep and let his foot slip on to the
pedals, or, perhaps, he had thought there was no wind in the instrument
and that he could put his foot down with impunity.  He was plainly very
much ashamed of himself for what had happened, and it was only right
that he should be, for, of course, it made all the school children
giggle, and a good many of their elders too, who should have known
better.

The boy who blew the organ declared that he turned quite red and bent
his head over the keys as if he were examining something on them, and
he was evidently nervous and upset, for he made ever so many mistakes
in the concluding parts of the service, and, to the great surprise and
to the satisfaction of the blower, cut the voluntary at the end
unusually short, ending it in an abrupt and discordant way, which, I am
sorry to say, the blower described as 'a 'owl,' though any shock that
the boy's musical taste sustained was compensated for by the feeling
that he would be at home at least ten minutes earlier than usual to tea.

Now it so happened that Mr Robins was in the vestry when the
christening party came in to give the particulars about the babies to
be entered in the register.  He had come to fetch a music-book, which,
however, it appeared after all had been left at home; but the clergyman
was glad of his help in making out the story of the little Zoe who had
just been baptised.

I have spoken before of intelligent observers noticing and drawing
arguments from the entire want of likeness between Zoe and her parents;
but all the observers on this occasion whether intelligent or not, with
the exception of the officiating clergyman, were quite aware that Zoe
was not the Grays' baby, but was a foundling child picked up one night
by Gray in his garden.

Of her antecedents nothing was known, and, of course, any sensible
people would have sent her to the workhouse--every one agreed on this
point and told the Grays so; and yet, I think, half the women who were
so positive and severe on Mrs Gray's folly would have done just the
same.

We do not half of us know how kind-hearted we are till we are tried, or
perhaps it is our foolishness that we do not realise.

Gray was only a labourer with twelve shillings a week and a couple of
pounds more at harvest; and, of course, in bad weather there was no
work and no wages, which is the rule among the agricultural labourers
about Downside, as in many other parts, so did not present itself as a
grievance to Gray's mind, though, to be sure, in winter or wet seasons
it was a hard matter to get along.  But it was neighbours' fare, and
none of them felt hardly used, for Farmer Benson, what with bad seasons
and cattle plague, was not much better off than they were, and the men
knew it.

But out of these wages it was hardly to be expected of the most
provident of people that anything could be laid by for old age or a
rainy day; indeed, there seemed so many rainy days in the present that
it was not easy to give much thought to those in the future.  Of course
too the local provident club had come to utter and hopeless grief.  Is
there any country place where this has not been the case?  Gray had
paid into it regularly for years and had gone every Whitmonday to its
dinner, his one voluntary holiday during the year, on which occasion he
took too much beer as a sort of solemn duty connected with his
membership.  When it collapsed he was too old to join another club, and
so was left stranded.  He bore it very philosophically; indeed, I think
it was only on Whitmonday that he felt it at all, as it seemed strange
and unnatural to go to bed quite sober on that day, as he did on all
other days of the year.

On all other occasions he was a thoroughly sober man, perhaps, however,
more from necessity than choice, as the beer supplied by Farmer Benson
in the hayfield was of a quality on which, as the men said, you got 'no
forrarder' if you drank a hogshead, and Gray had no money to spare from
the necessaries of life to spend on luxury, even the luxury of getting
drunk.

He was in one way better off than his neighbours from a worldly point
of view, in that he had not a large family as most of them were blessed
with; for children are a blessing, a gift and heritage that cometh of
the Lord, even when they cluster round a cold hearth and a scanty
board.  But Gray had only two sons, the elder of whom, Tom, we have
seen at Zoe's christening, and who had been at work four years, having
managed at twelve to scramble into the fifth standard, and at once left
school triumphantly, and now can neither read nor write, having clean
forgotten everything drummed into his head, but earns three shillings
and sixpence a week going along with Farmer Benson's horses, from five
o'clock in the morning till six in the evening, the long wet furrows
and heavy ploughed land having made havoc of his legs, as such work
does with most plough-boys.

The younger boy, Bill, is six years younger and still at school, and
having been a delicate child, or as his mother puts it, 'enjoying bad
health,' is not promising for farm-work, and, being fond of his book
and a favourite at school, his mother cherishes hopes of his becoming a
school-teacher in days to come.

But such is the perversity of human nature, that though many a Downside
mother with a family of little steps envied Mrs Gray her compact family
and the small amount of washing attached to it, that ungrateful woman
yearned after an occupant for the old wooden cradle, and treasured up
the bits of baby things that had belonged to Tom and Bill, and nursed
up any young thing that came to hand and wanted care, bringing up a
motherless blind kitten with assiduous care and patience, as if the
supply of that commodity was not always largely in excess of the
demand, and lavishing more care on a sick lamb or a superfluous young
pig than most of the neighbours' babies received.

So when one evening in May, Gray came in holding a bundle in his arms
and poked it into her lap as she sat darning the holes in Tom's
stockings (she was not good at needlework, but she managed, as she
said, to 'goblify' the holes), he knew pretty well that it was into no
unwilling arms that he gave the baby.

'And a mercy it was as the darning-needle didn't run right into the
little angel,' Mrs Gray always said in recounting the story.

He had been down to the village to fetch some tobacco, for the Grays'
cottage was right away from the village, up a lane leading on to the
hillside, and there were no other cottages near.  Tom was in bed,
though it was not eight yet--but he was generally ready for bed when he
had had his tea; and Bill was up on the hill, a favourite resort of
his, and especially when it was growing dark and the great indigo sky
spread over him, with the glory of the stars coming out.

'He never were like other lads,' his mother used to say with a mixture
of pride and irritation; 'always mooning about by himself on them old
hills.'

The cottage door stood open as it always did, and Mrs Gray sat there,
plainly to be seen from the lane, with Tom's gray stocking and her eyes
and the tallow candle as near together as possible.  She did not hear a
sound, though she was listening for Bill's return, and, even though
Tom's snores penetrated the numerous crevices in the floor above, they
were hardly enough to drown other sounds.

So there was no knowing when the bundle was laid just inside the
cottage gate, not quite in the middle of the brick path, but on one
side against the box edging, where a clump of daffodils nodded their
graceful heads over the dark velvet polyanthus in the border.  Gray
nearly stepped upon the bundle, having large feet, and the way of
walking which covers a good deal of ground to right and left, a way
which plough-driving teaches.

Mrs Gray heard an exclamation.

And then Gray came in, and, as I have said, did his best to impale the
bundle, baby and all, on the top of his wife's darning-needle.



CHAPTER II.

Mr Robins--Village Choirs--Edith--An Elopement--A Father's Sorrow--An
Unhappy Pair--The Wanderer's Return--Father!--A Daughter's
Entreater--No Favourable Answer--A Sleepless Pillow


The organist of Downside, Mr Robins, lived in a little house close to
the church.

Mr Clifford the vicar was accounted very lucky by the neighbouring
clergy for having such a man, and not being exposed to all the vagaries
of a young schoolmaster, or, perhaps, still worse, schoolmistress, with
all the latest musical fancies of the training colleges.  Neither had
he to grapple with the tyranny of the leading bass nor the conceit and
touchiness that seems inseparable from the tenor voice, since Mr Robins
kept a firm and sensible hand on the reins, and drove that generally
unmanageable team, a village choir, with the greatest discretion.

But when Mr Clifford was complimented by his friends on the possession
of such a treasure, he accepted their remarks a little doubtfully,
being sometimes inclined to think that he would almost rather have had
a less excellent choir and have had some slight voice in the matter
himself.

Mr Robins imported a certain solemnity into the musical matters of
Downside, which of course was very desirable as far as the church
services were concerned; but when it came to penny-readings and village
concerts, Mr Clifford and some of the parishioners were disposed to
envy the pleasant ease of such festivities in other parishes, where,
though the music was very inferior, the enjoyment of both performers
and audience was far greater.

Mr Robins, for one thing, set his face steadily against comic songs;
and Mr Clifford in his inmost heart had an ungratified ambition to sing
a certain song, called 'The Three Little Pigs,' with which Mr Wilson in
the next parish simply brought down the house on several occasions;
though Mr Clifford felt he by no means did full justice to it,
especially in the part where the old mother 'waddled about, saying
"Umph! umph! umph!" while the little ones said "Wee! wee!"'  To be sure
Mr Wilson suffered for months after these performances from outbursts
of grunting among his youthful parishioners at sight of him, and even
at the Sunday-school one audacious boy had given vent on one occasion
to an 'umph!' very true indeed to nature, but not conducive to good
behaviour in his class.  But Mr Clifford did not know the after effects
of Mr Wilson's vocal success.

Likewise Mr Robins selected very simple music, and yet exacted an
amount of practising unheard of at Bilton or Stokeley, where, after one
or two attempts, they felt competent to face a crowded schoolroom, and
yell or growl out such choruses as 'The Heavens are telling' or 'The
Hallelujah Chorus,' with a lofty indifference to tune or time, and with
their respective schoolmasters banging away at the accompaniment,
within a bar or two of the singers, all feeling quite satisfied if they
finished up altogether on the concluding chord or thereabouts, flushed
and triumphant, with perspiration standing on their foreheads, and an
expression of honest pride on their faces, as much as to say, 'There's
for you.  What do you think of that?'

If success is to be measured by applause, there is no doubt these
performances were most successful, far more so than the accurately
rendered 'Hardy Norseman' or 'Men of Harlech' at Downside, in which
lights and shades, _pianos_ and _fortes_ were carefully observed, and
any attempt on anyone's part, even the tenors, to distinguish
themselves above the others was instantly suppressed.  The result, from
a musical point of view, was no doubt satisfactory; but the applause
was of a very moderate character, and never accompanied by those
vociferous 'angcores,' which are so truly gratifying to the soul of
musical artistes.

Mr Robins was a middle-aged man, looking older than he really was, as
his hair was quite white.  He had some small independent means of his
own, which he supplemented by his small salary as organist, and by
giving a few music lessons in the neighbourhood.  He had been in his
earlier years a vicar-choral at one of the cathedrals, and had come to
Downside twenty years ago, after the death of his wife, bringing with
him his little girl, in whom he was entirely wrapt up.

He spoilt her so persistently, and his housekeeper, Mrs Sands, was so
gentle and meek-spirited, that the effect on a naturally self-willed
child can easily be imagined; and, as she grew up, she became more and
more uncontrollable.  She was a pretty, gypsy-looking girl, inheriting
her sweet looks from her mother, and her voice and musical taste from
her father.  There was more than one young farmer in the neighbourhood
who cast admiring glances towards the corner of the church near the
organ, where the organist's pretty daughter sat, and slackened the pace
of his horse as he passed the clipped yew-hedge by the church, to catch
a glimpse of her in the bright little patch of garden, or to hear her
clear sweet voice singing over her work.

But people said Mr Robins thought no one good enough for her, and
though he himself had come of humble parentage, and in no way regarded
himself, nor expected to be regarded as a gentleman, it was generally
understood that no suitor except a gentleman would be acceptable for
Edith.

And so it took every one by surprise, and no one more so than her
father, when the girl took up with Martin Blake, the son of the
blacksmith in the next village, who might be seen most days with a
smutty face and leathern apron hammering away at the glowing red metal
on the anvil.  It would have been well for him if he had only been seen
thus, with the marks of honest toil about him; but Martin Blake was too
often to be seen at the 'Crown,' and often in a state that anyone who
loved him would have grieved to see; and he was always to be found at
any race meetings and steeplechases and fairs in the neighbourhood,
and, report said, was by no means choice in his company.

To be sure he was good-looking and pleasant-mannered, and had a sort of
rollicking, light-hearted way with him, which was very attractive; but
still it seemed little short of infatuation on the part of Edith Robins
to take up with a man whose character was so well known, and who was in
every way her inferior in position and education.

No doubt Mr Robins was very injudicious in his treatment of her when he
found out what was going on, and as this was the first time in her life
that Edith's wishes had been crossed, it was not likely that she would
yield without a struggle.  The mere fact of opposition seemed to deepen
what was at first merely an ordinary liking into an absorbing passion.
It was perfectly useless to reason with her; she disbelieved all the
stories to his discredit, which were abundant, and treated those who
repeated them as prejudiced and ill-natured.

It was in vain that Mr Robins by turns entreated and commanded her to
give him up, her father's distress or anger alike seemed indifferent to
her; and when he forbade Martin to come near the place, and kept her as
much as possible under his eye to prevent meetings between them, it
only roused in her a more obstinate determination to have her own way
in spite of him.  She was missing one morning from the little bedroom
which Mrs Sands loved to keep as dainty and pretty as a lady's, and
from the garden where the roses and geraniums did such credit to her
care, and from her place in the little church where her prayer-book
still lay on the desk as she had left it the day before.

She had gone off with Martin Blake to London, without a word of sorrow
or farewell to the father who had been so foolishly fond of her, or to
the home where her happy petted childhood had passed.  It nearly broke
her father's heart; it made an old man of him and turned his hair
white, and it seemed to freeze or petrify all his kindliness and human
sympathy.

He was a proud, reserved man, and could not bear the pity that every
one felt for him, or endure the well-meant but injudicious condolences,
mixed with 'I told you so,' and 'I 've thought for a long time,' which
the neighbours were so liberal with.  Even Mr Clifford's attempts at
consolation he could hardly bring himself to listen to courteously, and
Jane Sands' tearful eyes and quivering voice irritated him beyond all
endurance.  If there had been anyone to whom he could have talked
unrestrainedly and let out all the pent-up disappointment and wounded
love and tortured pride that surged and boiled within him, he might
have got through it better, or rather it might have raised him, as
rightly borne troubles do, above his poor, little, pitiful self, and
nearer to God; but this was just what he could not do.

He came nearest it sometimes in those long evenings of organ playing,
of the length of which poor little Jack Davis, the blower, so bitterly
complained, when the long sad notes wailed and sobbed through the
little church like the voice of a weary, sick soul making its
complaint.  But even so he could not tell it all to God, though he had
been given that power of expression in music, which must make it easier
to those so gifted to cry unto the Lord.

But the music wailed itself into silence, and Jack in his corner by the
bellows waited terror-struck at the 'unked' sounds and the darkening
church, till he ventured at last to ask: 'Be I to blow, mister?  I 'm
kinder skeered like.'

So the organist's trouble turned him bitter and hard, and changed his
love for his daughter into cold resentment; he would not have her name
mentioned in his presence, and he refused to open a letter she sent him
a few weeks after her marriage, and bid Jane Sands send it back if she
knew the address of the person who sent it.

On her side, Edith was quite as obstinate and resentful.  She had no
idea of humbling herself and asking pardon.  She thought she had quite
a right to do as she liked, and she believed her father would be too
unhappy without her to bear the separation long.  She very soon found
out the mistake she had made--indeed, even in the midst of her
infatuation about Martin Blake, I think there lurked a certain distrust
of him, and they had not been married many weeks--I might almost say
days--before this distrust was more than realised.

His feelings towards her, too, had been mere flattered vanity at being
preferred by such a superior sort of girl than any deeper feeling, and
vanity is not a sufficiently lasting foundation for married happiness,
especially when the cold winds of poverty blow on the edifice, and when
the superior sort of girl has not been brought up to anything useful,
and cannot cook the dinner, or iron a shirt, or keep the house tidy.

When his father, the old blacksmith at Bilton, died six months after
they were married, Martin wished to come back and take up the work
there, more especially as work was hard to get in London and living
dear; but Edith would not hear of it, and opposed it so violently that
she got her way, though Martin afterwards maintained that this decision
was the ruin of him, occasionally dating his ruin six months earlier,
from his wedding.  Perhaps he was right, and he might have settled down
steadily in the old home and among the old neighbours in spite of his
fine-lady wife; but when he said so, Edith was quick to remember and
cast up at him the stories which she had disbelieved and ignored
before, to prove in their constant wranglings that place and
neighbourhood had nothing to do with his idleness and unsteadiness.  No
one ever heard much of these five years in London, for Edith wrote no
more after that letter was returned.

Those five years made little difference at Downside, except in Mr
Robins' white hair and set lined face; the little house behind the
yew-hedge looked just the same, and Jane Sands' kind, placid face was
still as kind and placid.  Some of the girls had left school and gone
to service; some of the lads had developed into hobbledehoys and came
to church with walking-sticks and well-oiled hair; one or two of the
old folks had died; one or two more white-headed babies crawled about
the cottage floors; but otherwise Downside was just the same as it had
been five years before, when, one June morning, a self-willed girl had
softly opened the door under the honeysuckle porch and stepped out into
the dewy garden, where the birds were calling such a glad good-morning
as she passed to join her lover in the lane.

But the flame of life burns quicker and fiercer in London than at
Downside, for that same girl, coming back after only five years in
London, was so changed and aged and altered that--though, to be sure,
she came in the dusk and was muffled up in a big shawl--no one
recognised her, or thought for a moment of pretty, coquettish,
well-dressed Edith Robins, when the weary, shabby-looking woman passed
them by.  She had lingered a minute or two by the churchyard gate,
though tramps, for such her worn-out boots and muddy skirts proclaimed
her, do not, as a rule, care for such music as sounded out from the
church door, where Mr Robins was consoling himself for the irritation
of choir-practice by ten minutes' playing.  It was soon over, and Jack
Davis, still blower, and not much taller than he was five years before,
charged out in the rebound from the tension of long blowing, and nearly
knocked over the woman standing by the churchyard gate in the shadow of
the yew-tree, and made the baby she held in her arms give a feeble cry.

'Now then, out of the way!' he shouted in that unnecessarily loud voice
boys assume after church, perhaps to try if their lungs are still
capable of producing such a noise after enforced silence.

The woman made no answer, but after the boy had run off, went in and
waited in the porch till the sound of turning keys announced that the
organist was closing the organ and church for the night.  But as his
footsteps drew near on the stone pavement she started and trembled as
if she had been afraid, and when he came out into the porch she shrank
away into the shadow as if she wished to be unobserved.  He might
easily have passed her, for it was nearly dark from the yew-tree and
the row of elms that shut out, the western sky, where the sunset was
just dying away.  His mind, too, was occupied with other things, and he
was humming over the verse of a hymn the boys had been singing--'Far
from my heavenly home.'  There was no drilling into them the proper
rendering of the last pathetic words--

  O guide me through the desert here,
    And bring me home at last.


He quite started when a hand was laid upon his arm, and a voice,
changed indeed, and weak, but still the voice that in old days--not so
very old either--was the one voice for him in all the world, said:
'Father!'

I think just for one minute his impulse was to take her in his arms and
forget the ingratitude and desertion and deceit, like the father in the
parable whose heart went out to the poor prodigal while he was yet a
long way off; but the next moment the cold, bitter, resentful feelings
quenched the gentler impulse, and he drew away his arm from her
detaining hold, and passed on along the flagged path as if he were
unconscious of her presence, and this on the very threshold of His
house, who so pitifully forgives the debts of His servants, forasmuch
as they have not to pay.

But he had not reached the churchyard gate before she was at his side
again.

'Stop,' she said; 'you must hear me.  It's not for my own sake, it's
the child.  It's a little girl; the others were boys, and I didn't mind
so much; if they 'd grown up, they might have got on somehow--but
there! they 're safe anyhow--both of them in one week,' wailed the
mother's voice, protesting against her own words that she did not mind
about them.  'But this is a girl, and not a bit like him.  She 's like
me, and you used to say I was like mother.  She's like mother, I 'm
sure she is.  There, just look at her.  It's so dark, but you can see
even by this light that she's not like the Blakes.'  She was fumbling
to draw back the shawl from the baby's head with her disengaged hand,
while with the other she still held a grip on his arm that was almost
painful in its pressure; but he stood doggedly with his head turned
away, and gave no sign of hearing what she said.

'He left me six months ago,' she went on, 'and I 've struggled along
somehow.  I don't want ever to see him again.  They say he's gone to
America, but I don't care.  I don't mind starving myself, but it's the
little girl--Oh!  I 've not come to ask you to take me in, though it
wouldn't be for long,' and a wretched, hollow cough that had
interrupted her words once or twice before, broke in now as if to
confirm what she said; 'if you'd just take the child.  She's a dear
little thing, and not old enough at two months to have learnt any harm,
and Jane Sands would be good to her, I know she would, for the sake of
old times.  And I'll go away and never come near to trouble you
again--I 'll promise it.  Oh! just look at her!  If it wasn't so dark
you'd see she was like mother.  Why, you can feel the likeness if you
just put your hand on her little face; often in the night I 've felt
it, and I never did with the boys.  She's very good, and she's too
little to fret after me, bless her!--and she 'll never know anything
about me, and needn't even know she has a father, and he 's not ever
likely to trouble himself about her.'

Her voice grew more and more pleading and entreating as she went on,
for there was not the slightest response or movement in the still
figure before her, less movement even than in the old yew-tree behind,
whose smaller branches, black against the sky where the orange of the
sunset was darkening into dull crimson, stirred a little in the evening
air.

'Oh! you can't refuse to take her!  See, I'll carry her as far as the
door so that Jane can take her, and then I 'll go clear away and never
come near her again.  You 'll have her christened, won't you?  I 've
been thinking all the weary way what she should be called, and I
thought, unless you had a fancy for any other name' (a little stifled
sigh at the thought of how dear one name used to be to him), 'I should
like her to be Zoe.  Just when she was born, and I was thinking,
thinking of you and home and everything, that song of yours kept
ringing in my head, "Maid of Athens," and the last line of every verse
beginning with Zoe.  I can't remember the other words, but I know you
said they meant "My life, I love you;" and Zoe was life, and I thought
when I'm gone my little girl would live my life over again, my happy
old life with you, and make up to you for all the trouble her mother's
been to you.'

She stopped for want of breath and for the cough that shook her from
head to foot, and at last he turned; but even in that dim light she
could see his face plainly enough to know that there was no favourable
answer coming from those hard set lips and from those cold steady eyes,
and her hand dropped from his arm even before he spoke.

'You should have thought of this five years ago,' he said.  'I do not
see that I am called upon to support Martin Blake's family.  I must
trouble you to let me pass.'

She fell back against the trunk of the yew-tree as if he had struck
her, and the movement caused the baby to wake and cry, and the sound of
its little wailing voice followed him as he walked down the path and
out into the road, and he could hear it still when he reached his own
garden gate, where through the open door the light shone out from the
lamp that Jane Sands was just carrying into his room, where his supper
was spread and his armchair and slippers awaited him.

In after days, remembering that evening, he fancied he had heard
'Father' once more mingling with the baby's cry; but he went in and
shut the door and drew the bolt and went into the cheerful, pleasant
room, leaving outside the night and the child's cry and the black
shadow of the church and the yew-tree.

It was only the beginning of the annoyance, he told himself; he must
expect a continued course of persecution, and he listened, while he
made a pretence of eating his supper, for the steps outside and the
knock at the door, which would surely renew the unwarrantable attempt
to saddle him with the charge of the child.  He listened too, as he sat
after supper, holding up the newspaper in front of his unobservant
eyes; and he listened most of the night as he tossed on his sleepless
pillow--listened to the wind that had risen and moaned and sobbed round
the house like a living thing in pain--listened to the pitiless rain
that followed, pelting down on the ivy outside and on the tiles above
his head, as if bent on finding its way in to the warm comfortable bed
where he lay.



CHAPTER III.

Something on the Doorstep--Bill Gray--Is That a Cat?--She's Like
Mother--A Baby's Shoe--Jane Restless


But the annoyance for which Mr Robins had been preparing himself was
not repeated; the persecution, if such had been intended, was not
continued.  As the days passed by he began to leave off listening and
lying awake; he came out from his house or from the church without
furtive glances of expectation to the right and left; he lost that
constant feeling of apprehension and the necessity to nerve himself for
resistance.  He had never been one to gossip or concern himself with
other people's matters, and Jane Sands had never brought the news of
the place to amuse her master, as many in her place would have done; so
now he had no way of knowing if his daughter's return had been known in
the place, or what comments the neighbours passed on it.

He fancied that Jane looked a little more anxious than usual; but then
her sister was lying ill at Stokeley, and she was often there with her,
so that accounted for her anxiety.  It accounted, too, for her being
away one evening a fortnight later, when Mr Robins coming in in the
dusk found something laid on his doorstep.  His thoughts had been
otherwise occupied, but the moment his eyes fell on the
shepherd's-plaid shawl wrapping the bundle at his feet, he knew what it
was, and recognised a renewed attempt to coerce him into doing what he
had vowed he would not.  He saw it all in a minute, and understood that
now Jane Sands was in the plot against him, and she had devised this
way of putting the child in his path because she was afraid to come to
him openly and say what she wanted.  Perhaps even now she was watching,
expecting to see him fall into the trap they had set for him; but they
should find they were very much mistaken.

His first resolution was to fetch the police constable and get him to
take the child right off to the workhouse, but on second thoughts he
altered his purpose.  Such a step would set all the tongues in the
place wagging, and, little as he cared for public opinion, it would not
be pleasant for every one to be telling how he had sent his grandchild
to the workhouse.  Grandchild? pshaw! it was Martin Blake's brat.

The child was sleeping soundly, everything was quiet, the dusk was
gathering thick and fast.  Why should he not put the child outside some
other cottage, and throw the responsibility of disposing of it on
someone else, and be clear of it himself altogether?  The idea shaped
itself with lightning rapidity in his brain, and he passed quickly in
review the different cottages in the place and their inmates, and in
spite of his indifference to Martin Blake's brat, he selected one where
he knew a kindly reception, at any rate for the night, would be given.
He knew more about the Grays than of most of the village people.  Bill
was a favourite of his, and had been with him that afternoon after
school to fetch a book Mr Robins had promised to lend him.  He was a
bright, intelligent boy, and had a sweet voice, and the organist found
him a more apt pupil than any of the others, and had taken some pains
with him, and when he was ill the winter before had been to see him,
and so had come to know his mother, and her liking for anything young
and weak and tender.

Their cottage was at some distance, to be sure, and Mr Robins had not
had much to do with babies of late years, and was a little distrustful
of his ability to carry one so far without rousing it and so
proclaiming its presence, but there was a path across the fields but
little frequented, by which he could convey the child without much risk
of being met and observed.

And now the great thing to aim at was to carry out his plan as quickly
as possible, before any one was aware of the child being at his house;
and he gathered up the little warm bundle as gingerly as he knew how,
and was on his way to the gate, when the sound of approaching steps
along the road made him draw back and, unlocking the door, carry the
child in.  The steps stopped at the gate and turned in, and one of the
choirmen came to the door.

There were little movements and soft grumblings inside the shawl in the
organist's arms, and he turned quite cold with apprehension.

'Anyone at home?' sounded Millet's jovial voice at the open door.
''Evening, Mr Robins--are you there?  All in the dark, eh?  I wanted a
couple of words with you about that song.'

'I 'll come directly,' sounded the organist's voice, with a curious
jogging effect in it, such as Millet was used to sometimes in his
conversations with his wife at the children's bed-time.  And then
Millet heard him go up-stairs, and it was some minutes before he came
down again, and then in such a queer absent condition that if it had
been any other man in the parish than Mr Robins, whose sobriety was
unimpeachable, Millet would have said that he had had a drop too much.

He did not ask him in or strike a light, but stood at the door
answering quite at haphazard, and showing such indifference on the
vital question of a certain song suiting Millet's voice, that that
usually good-natured man was almost offended.

'Well, I 'll wish you good evening,' he said at last (it seemed to
Robins that he had been hours at the door); 'perhaps you 'll just think
it over and let me know.  Hullo!--is that a cat you have up there?  I
thought I heard something squeal out just then.'

Mr Robins was not generally given to shaking hands--indeed, some of the
choir thought he was too much stuck up to do so; but just then he
seized Millet's hand and shook it quite boisterously, at the same time
advancing with the apparent intention of accompanying him in a friendly
manner to the gate, a movement which compelled Millet to back in the
same direction, and cut short his farewell remarks, which frequently
lasted for ten minutes or more.  And all the way to the gate Robins was
talking much quicker and louder than was his usual custom, and he ended
by almost pushing Millet out at the gate, all the time expressing great
pleasure at having seen him, and pressing him to come in again any
evening he could spare the time, and have a pipe and a bit of supper
with him--such unheard-of hospitality that Millet went home quite
persuaded that the old man was, as he expressed it to his wife, 'going
off his chump;' so that it was quite a relief to meet him two days
later at the choir practice as formal and distant in his manners as
ever.

Meanwhile Mr Robins had hastened back to his bedroom where the baby lay
asleep on his bed; for it had been really Jane Sands' cat whose voice
Millet heard, and not, as Mr Robins believed, the waking child's.

It was quite dark up there, and he could only feel the warm, little
heap on his bed, but he struck a match to look at it.  The shawl had
fallen away, showing its little dark head and round sleeping face, with
one little fist doubled up against its cheek and half-open mouth, and
the other arm thrown back, the tiny hand lying with the little moist,
creased palm turned up.

'She's like mother, I 'm sure she is.'  He remembered the words and
scanned the small sleeping face.  Well, perhaps there was a likeness,
the eyelashes and the gypsy tint of the complexion; but just then the
match went out and the organist remembered there was no time to be
wasted in trying to see likenesses in Martin Blake's brat.  But just as
he was lifting the baby cautiously from his bed, a sudden thought
struck him.  Zoe was to be her name; well, it should be so, though he
had no concern in her name or anything else; so he groped about for
pencil and paper, and wrote the name in big printing letters to
disguise his hand and make it as distinct as possible, though even so,
as we have seen already, the name caused considerable perplexity to the
sponsors.  And then he pinned the paper on to the shawl, and taking the
child in his arms set out across the field path to the Grays' cottage.

There was a cold air, though it was a May night, but the child lay warm
against him, and he remembered how its mother had said she could feel
the likeness even in the dark, and he could not resist laying his cold
finger on the warm little cheek under the shawl; and then, angry with
himself for the throb that the touch sent to his heart, hastened his
steps, and had soon reached the Grays' cottage and deposited his burden
just inside the gate, where a few minutes after Gray found it.  He
could see Mrs Gray plainly as she sat at her work: a pleasant, motherly
face; but he did not linger to look at it, but turned away and retraced
his steps along the field path home.  He found himself shivering as he
went; the air seemed to have grown more chilly and penetrating without
that warm burden against his heart, and the unaccustomed weight had
made his arms tremble.

Somehow the house looked dull and uncomfortable, though Jane Sands had
come in and lighted the lamp, and was laying his supper.  Up-stairs
there was a hollow on his bed where something had lain, and by the side
of the bed he found a baby's woollen shoe, which might have betrayed
him to Jane if she had gone up-stairs.  But though he put it out of
sight directly, he felt sure that the whole matter was no secret from
Jane, and that she had been an accomplice in the trick that had been
played on him, and he smiled to himself at the thought of how he had
outwitted her, and of how puzzled she must be to know what had become
of the baby.

He did his best to appear as tranquil and composed as usual, as if
nothing had happened to disturb the ordinary current of his life, and
he forced himself to make a few remarks on indifferent subjects when
she came into the room.

She had evidently been crying, and was altogether in a nervous and
upset condition.  She forgot half the things he wanted at supper, and
her hand trembled so that she nearly overturned the lamp.  More than
once she stopped and looked at him as if she were nerving herself to
speak, and he knew quite well the question that was trembling on her
lips.  'Where is the child?  Master, where is the child?'  But he would
not help her in any way, and he quite ignored the agitation that was
only too evident; and even when he went into the kitchen to fetch his
pipe, and found her with her face buried in her arms on the kitchen
table, shaking with irrepressible sobs, he retreated softly into the
passage and called to her to bring the pipe, and when, after a long
delay, she brought it in, he was apparently absorbed in his paper, and
took no notice of her tear-stained face and quivering lips.

He heard her stirring far into the night, and once she went into the
little room next his that used to be his daughter's, and which no one
had used since she left, and in the silence of the night again he could
hear heartbreaking sobs half-stifled.

'Poor soul! poor soul!' he said to himself.  'She's a good creature is
Jane, and no doubt she's bitterly disappointed.  I 'll make it up to
her somehow.  She's a faithful, good soul!'

He was restless and uncomfortable himself, and he told himself he had
taken cold and was a bit feverish.  It was feverish fancy, no doubt,
that made him think the hollow where the child's light weight had
rested was still perceptible, but this fancy outlasted the fever of
that night and the cold that caused it, for there was hardly a night
afterwards when Mr Robins did not detect its presence, even with all
Jane Sands' thorough shaking of the feather-bed and careful spreading
of sheets and blankets.  If he dropped asleep for a minute that night
the child was in his arms again, heavy as lead, weighing him down,
down, down, into some unfathomable gulf, or he was feeling for it in
the dark, and its face was cold as death; and more than once he woke
with a start, feeling certain that a child's cry had sounded close to
his bed.



CHAPTER IV.

Village Evidence--'Gray' on the Brain--Too Well He Knew--Mr Robins and
the Baby--He Had Not Done Badly


There is certainly a penalty paid by people who keep entirely clear of
gossip, though it is not by any means in proportion to the advantages
they gain.  The penalty is that when they particularly want to hear any
piece of news, they are not likely to hear it naturally like other
people, but must go out of their way to make inquiries and evince a
curiosity which at once makes them remarkable.

Now every one in the village except Mr Robins heard of the baby found
in the Grays' garden, and discussed how it came there, but it was only
by overhearing a casual word here and there that the organist gathered
even so much as that the Grays had resolved to keep the child, and were
not going to send it to the workhouse.  Even Bill Gray knew the
organist's ways too well to trouble him with the story, though he was
too full of it himself to give his usual attention at the next choir
practice, and, at every available pause between chant and hymn, his
head and that of the boy next him were close together in deep discourse.

It had occurred to Mr Robins' mind, in the waking moments of that
restless night, that there might have been--nay, most probably
was--some mark on the child's clothes which would lead to its
identification, and, for the next few days, every glance in his
direction, or, for the matter of that, in any other direction, was
interpreted by him as having some covert allusion to this foundling
grandchild of his; but the conversation of some men outside his
yew-hedge, which he accidentally overheard one day, set his anxiety at
rest.

From this he gathered that it was generally supposed to be a child
belonging to a gypsy caravan that had passed through the village that
day.

'And I says,' said one of the men with that slow, emphatic delivery in
which the most ordinary sentiments are given forth as if they were
wisdom unheard and undreamt of before; 'and I don't mind who hears me,
as Gray did oughter set the perlice on to 'un to find the heartless
jade as did 'un.'

'Ay, sure! so he did oughter; but he ain't on gumption, Gray ain't;
never had neither, as have known him man and boy these fifty year.'

'My missus says,' went on the first speaker, 'as she seed a gypsy gal
with just such a brat as this on her arm.  She come round to parson's
back door--my Liza's kitchen gal there and telled her mother.  She were
one of them dressed-up baggages with long earrings and a yeller
handkercher round her head, a-telling fortunes; coming round the poor,
silly gals with her long tongue and sly ways.  She went in here, too.'
Mr Robins guessed, though he could not see the jerk of the thumb in his
direction.  'Mrs Sands told me so herself--the organist's listening was
quickened to yet sharper attention--'she says she had quite a job to
get rid of her, and thought she were after the spoons belike.  But she
says as she'd know the gal again anywheres, and my missus says she'd
pretty near take her davy to the child, though as I says, one brat's
pretty much like another--haw, haw! though the women don't think it.'

And the two men parted, laughing over this excellent joke.

It was most curious how that little out-of-the-way house of the Grays
and its unremarkable inmates had suddenly become conspicuous; the very
cottage was visible from all directions--from the churchyard gate, from
the organist's garden, from various points along the Stokeley road; but
perhaps this may have been because Mr Robins had never cared to
identify one thatched roof from another hitherto.  As for the Grays,
they seemed to be everywhere; that man hoeing in the turnip-field was
Gray, that boy at the head of the team in the big yellow wagon was Tom,
and Bill seemed to be all over the place, whistling along the road or
running round the corner, or waiting to change his book at the
organist's gate.  If Mr Clifford spoke to Mr Robins it was about
something to do with the Grays, and even Mr Wilson of Stokeley stopped
him in the road to ask if some people called Gray lived at Downside.
It was most extraordinary how these people, so insignificant a week
ago, were now brought into prominence.

Even before Mr Robins had overheard that conversation he had had a
fidgety sort of wish to go up to the Grays' cottage, and now he made a
pretext of asking for a book he had lent Bill, but went before the
school came out, so that only Mrs Gray was at home as he opened the
gate and went up the path.

It was a beautiful, sunny afternoon, and Mrs Gray was sitting outside
the door, making, plain as she was, a pretty picture with the shadows
of the young vine-leaves over the door dappling her print gown and
apron and the baby's little dark head and pink pinafore, a garment that
had once been Bill's, who had been of a more robust build than this
baby, and moreover, had worn the pinafore at a more advanced age, so
that the fit left a good deal to be desired, and the colour had
suffered in constant visits to the wash-tub, and was not so bright as
it had been originally.

But altogether, the faded pinafore and the vine-leaf shadows, and the
love in the woman's face, made a harmonious whole, and the song she was
singing, without a note of sweetness or tune in it, did not jar on the
organist's ear, as you might have supposed, knowing his critical and
refined taste.

'Good afternoon, Mrs Gray,' he said; 'I came for the book I lent your
son the other day.  Why, is this your baby?' he added with
unnecessarily elaborate dissimulation.  'I did not know you had any so
young.'

'Mine?  Lor' bless you, no.  Ain't you heard?  Why, I thought it was
all over the place.  Gray, he found it in the garden just there where
you be standing, a week ago come to-morrow.  Ain't she a pretty dear,
bless her! and takes such notice too, as is wonderful.  Why, she's
looking at you now as if she 'd aknown you all her life.  Just look at
her! if she ain't smiling at you, a little puss!'

'Where did she come from?'

'Well, sure, who 's to know?  There was some gypsy folks through the
place, and there 've been a lot of tramps about along of Milton Fair,
and there was one of 'em, they say, a week or two ago with just such a
baby as this 'un.  My master he 've made a few inquirements; but there!
for my part I don't care if we don't hear no more of her folks, and
Gray's much of the same mind, having took a terrible fancy to the
child.  And it's plain as she ain't got no mother worth the name, as
would leave her like that, and neglected too shameful.  As there ain't
no excuse, to my way of thinking, for a baby being dirty, let folks be
as poor as they may.'

Somewhere deep down in Mr Robins's mind, unacknowledged to himself,
there was a twinge of resentment at this reflection on the mother's
treatment of the baby.

'She 's as sweet as a blossom now,' went on Mrs Gray, tossing the baby
up, who laughed and crowed and stretched its arms.  Yes, he could see
the likeness, he was sure of it; and it brought back to his mind with
sudden vividness a young mother's look of pride and love as she held up
her little girl for the father's admiration.  Mother and child had then
been wonderfully alike, and in this baby he could trace a likeness to
both.

Mrs Gray went maundering on, as her manner was, interspersing her
narrative with baby nonsense and endearments, and Mr Robins forgot his
errand, which was, after all, only a pretext, and stood half-listening,
and more than half back in the old days of memory, and once he so far
forgot himself as to snap his fingers at the child, and touch one of
its warm, little hands, which immediately closed round his finger with
a baby's soft, tenacious grasp, from which it required a certain gentle
effort to escape.

'A pleasant, chatty sort of man the organist,' Mrs Gray said, having
talked nearly all the time herself, with only a word or two from him
now and then as reply; 'and not a bit of pride about him, let folks say
what they like.  Why, he stopped ever so long and had a deal to say;
and there, Bill, you just run down with the book, as he went off after
all without it.'

Mr Robins went home slowly across the fields in a curiously softened
frame of mind.  Perhaps it was the soft west wind, fragrant with sweet
spring scents of cowslips and cherry blossom, or the full glad sunshine
on all the varied green of tree and hedge, a thousand tints of that
'shower of greennesses' poured down so lavishly by the Giver of all
good things; perhaps it was the larks springing up from the clover in
such an ecstasy of song; or perhaps it was the clasp of a baby's hand
on his finger.  He noticed the spring beauty round him as he had not
noticed such things for many a day, stooping to pick a big, tasselled,
gold-freckled cowslip, and stopping to let a newly-fledged, awkward,
young bird hop clumsily out of the way, with a sort of tenderness and
consideration for young things unusual to him.

His mind was more at rest than it had been for the last three weeks.
The baby's crowing laughter seemed to drive out of his memory the
wailing cry and the hollow cough and the sad, beseeching voice saying
'Father,' and then the pitiless beating rain, which had been haunting
him for the last three weeks.  The sight of the baby, loved and cared
for, had taken away a misgiving, which he had hardly been conscious of
himself.  After all, he had not done badly by the child.  Mrs Gray was
a kind motherly sort of body, and used to babies, which Jane Sands was
not, and she would do well by the child, and he himself could see,
without any one being the wiser, that the child did not want for
anything, though he would not be held responsible in any way for it.



CHAPTER V.

Jane Hard at Work--Clothes for the Baby--Jane Returns--Jane Singing
over her Work--Jane's Selfish Absorption--For a Poor Person's
Child--The Organist in Church


There was one thing that puzzled Mr Robins extremely, and this was Jane
Sands' behaviour.  He was convinced that she had been a party to the
trick that had been played off on him, and she was evidently full of
some secret trouble and anxiety, for which he could only account by
attributing it to her disappointment about the baby, and perhaps
distrust of the care that would be taken of it by others.

Mr Robins often discovered her in tears, and she was constantly going
out for hours at a time, having always hitherto been almost too much of
a stay-at-home.  He suspected that these lengthened absences meant
visits to the Grays' cottage, and that baby-worship that women find so
delightful; but he found out accidentally that she had never been near
the cottage since the baby's arrival, and when he made an excuse of
sending a book by her to Bill to get her to go there, she met the boy
at the bottom of the lane, and did not go on to the cottage.

As to what he had overheard the men saying about the gypsy girl, he
felt sure that Jane had only said this to put people on the wrong
scent, though, certainly, deception of any sort was very unlike her.
Once he found her sitting up late at night at work on some small frocks
and pinafores, and he thought that at last the subject was coming to
the surface, and especially as she coloured up and tried to hide the
work when he came in.

'Busy?' he said.  'You seem very hard at work.  Who are you working
for?'

'A baby,' she stammered, 'a baby----that my sister's taking care of.'

She was so red and confused that he felt sure she was saying what was
not true, but he forgave her for the sake of the baby for whom he
firmly believed the work was being done, and who, to be sure, when he
saw it in Mrs Gray's arms, looked badly in want of clothes more fitted
to its size than Bill's old pinafores.

He stood for a minute fingering the pink, spotted print of infantile
simplicity of pattern, and listening to the quick click, click, of her
needle as it flew in and out; but it was not till he had turned away
and was half out of the kitchen, that she began a request that had been
on the tip of her tongue all the time, but which she had not ventured
to bring out while he stood at the table.

'I was going to ask--if you 'd no objection--seeing that they're no
good to any one'----

Now it was coming out, and he turned with an encouraging smile:

'Well, what is it?'

'There are some old baby-clothes put away in a drawer up-stairs.  They
're rough dried, and I've kept an eye on them, and took them out now
and then to see as the moth didn't get in them'----

'Yes?'

'Well, sir--this baby that I'm working for is terrible short of
clothes, and I thought I might take a few of them for her'----

She did not look at him once as she spoke, or she might have been
encouraged by the look on his face, which softened into a very
benignant, kindly expression.

'To be sure! to be sure!' he said.  'I 've no objection to your taking
some of them for the baby--at your sister's.'  He spoke the last words
with some meaning, and she looked quickly up at him and dropped her
work as if tumultuous words were pressing to be spoken, but stopped
them with an effort and went on with her work, only with heightened
colour and trembling fingers.

She was not slow to avail herself of his permission, for that very
night, before she went to bed, he heard her in the next room turning
out the drawer where the old baby-clothes had been stored away ever
since little Edith had discarded them for clothes of a larger size.
And next morning she was up betimes, starching and ironing and
goffering dainty little frills with such a look of love and
satisfaction on her face, that he had not the heart to hint that she
had availed herself somewhat liberally of his permission, and that less
dainty care and crispness might do equally well for the baby, bundled
up in Mrs Gray's kind but crumpling arms, to take the place of Bill's
faded pinafore.

That afternoon he purposely took his way home over the hillside and
down the lane by the Grays' cottage, with a conviction that he should
see the baby tricked out in some of those frilled and tucked little
garments over which Jane Sands had lavished so much time and attention
that morning.  But to his surprise he saw her in much the same costume
as before, only the pinafore this time was washed-out lavender instead
of pink, and, as she was in Bill's arms, and he, as the youngest of the
family, being inexperienced in nursing, a more crumpled effect was
produced than his mother had done.  He could only conclude that Jane
had not found time yet to take the things, or that Mrs Gray was
reserving them for a more showy occasion.

But he found Jane just returning as he came up to his house, and she
looked far more hot and dusty than the short walk up the lane to the
Grays accounted for, but with a beaming look on her kind face that had
not been there for many a day.

'Well,' he said, 'Jane, have you been to Stokeley?'

'Yes,' she said, 'and I took the things you were good enough to say the
baby might have.  They _were_ pleased.'

She, too, spoke with a curious meaning in her voice and manner which
somehow faded when she saw the want of response in his face.  Indeed
there was a very distinct feeling of disappointment and irritation in
his feelings.  For after all those clothes had actually gone to some
other baby.  Well! well! it is a selfish world after all, and each of
us has his own interests which take him up and engross him.  No doubt
this little common child at Stokeley was all in all to Jane Sands, and
she was glad enough of a chance to pick all the best out of those baby
clothes up-stairs that he remembered his young wife preparing so
lovingly for her baby and his.  It gave him quite a pang to think of
some little Sands or Jenkins adorned with these tucks he had seen run
so carefully and frills sewn so daintily.  He had evidently given Jane
credit for a great deal more unselfishness and devotion to him and his
than she really felt, for she had all the time been busy working and
providing for her own people, when he had thought she was full of
consideration for Edith's child.  Pshaw! he had to pull himself
together and take himself to task.  For even in these few days he had
grown to think of that little brown-faced, dark-eyed baby as his
grandchild, instead of Martin Blake's brat.  Insensibly and naturally,
too, the child had brought back the memory of its mother, first as
baby, then as sweet and winsome little child; then as bright, wilful,
coaxing girl, and, lastly, unless he kept his thoughts well in check,
there followed on these brighter memories the shadow of a white worn
woman under the yew-tree in the churchyard, and of a voice that said
'Father.'

That uninteresting child at Stokeley apparently required a great supply
of clothes, for Jane Sands was hard at work again that evening, and
when he came in from the choir practice, he heard her singing over her
work as she used to do in old days, and when he went in for his pipe,
she looked up with a smile that seemed to expect a sympathetic
response, and made no effort to conceal the work as she had done the
day before.

He stood morosely by the fireplace for a minute, shaking the ashes out
of his pipe.

'You're very much taken up with that baby,' he said crossly; and she
looked up quickly, thinking that perhaps he had a hole in his stocking,
or a button off his shirt to complain of, as a consequence of her being
engrossed in other work.  But he went on without looking at her, and
apparently deeply absorbed in getting an obstinate bit of ash out of
the pipe bowl.

'There's a child at Mrs Gray's they say is very short of clothes.  That
baby, you know'----

'That baby that was found in the garden,' Jane said in such a curiously
uninterested tone of voice that he could not resist glancing round at
her; but she was just then engaged in that mysterious process of
'stroking the gathers,' which the intelligent feminine reader will
understand requires a certain attention.  If this indifference were
assumed, Jane Sands was a much better actor and a more deceptive
character than he had believed possible; if she were too entirely
absorbed in her own people to give even a thought to her young
mistress's baby, she was not the Jane Sands he thought he had known for
the last twenty years.  The only alternative was that she knew nothing
about the baby having been left on his door-step, nor of the meeting
with his daughter in the churchyard which had preceded it.

What followed convinced him that this was the case, though it also a
little favoured the other hypothesis of her selfish absorption in her
own people.

'Perhaps,' he said, 'you could look out some of those baby things
up-stairs if there are any left.'

'What?  I beg your pardon, sir.  What did you say?'

'Those baby clothes up-stairs that you gave to your sister's baby.'

'Those!' she said, with a strange light of indignation in her eyes,
more even than you would have expected in the most grasping and greedy
person on a proposal that something should be snatched from her hungry
maw and given to another.  'Those!  Little Miss Edith's things! that
her own mother made and that I 've kept so careful all these years in
case Miss Edith's own should need them!'

You see she forgot in the excitement of the moment that these were the
very things she had been giving away so freely to that common little
child at Stokeley; but women are so inconsistent.

'Well?' he said, as her breath failed her in this unusual torrent of
remonstrance.  'Why not?'

'For a little gypsy child! a foundling that nobody knows anything
about!  Don't do it, master, don't!  I couldn't abear to see it.  Here,
let me get a bit of print and flannel and run together a few things for
the child.  I 'd rather do it a hundred times than that those things
should be given away--and just now too!'

It was very plain to Mr Robins that she did not know; but all the same
he was half inclined to point out that it was not a much more
outrageous thing to bestow these cherished garments on a foundling than
on her sister's baby; but she was evidently so unconscious of her
inconsistency in the matter that he did not know how to suggest it to
her.

'I 'm going into Stokeley to-morrow,' she went on, 'and if you liked I
could get some print and make it a few frocks.  I saw some very neat at
fourpence three-farthings that would wash beautiful, and a good stout
flannel at elevenpence.  Oh! not like that,' she said as he laid a
finger on some soft Saxony flannel with a pink edge which lay on the
table.  'Something more serviceable for a poor person's child.'

Well, perhaps it was better that Jane should not know who the baby was
of whom she spoke so contemptuously.  A baby was none the better or
healthier for being dressed up in frills and lace; and Mrs Gray was a
thoroughly clean motherly woman, and would do well by the child.

All the same, when Jane came back from Stokeley next day and unfolded
the parcel she had brought from the draper's there, he could not help
feeling that that somewhat dingy lavender, though it might wash like a
rag, was, to say the least, uninteresting, and the texture of the
flannel, even to his undiscriminating eye, was a trifle rough and
coarse for baby limbs.

He knew nothing (how should he?) of the cut and make of baby clothes,
but somehow, these, under Jane's scissors and needle, did not take such
attractive proportions as those she had prepared for the other baby;
nor did the stitches appear so careful and minute, though Jane's worst
enemy, if she had any, could not have accused her of putting bad work
even into the hem of a duster, let alone a baby's frock.  He also
noticed that, industriously as she worked at the lavender print, her
ardour was not sufficient to last beyond bedtime, and that, when the
clock struck ten, her work was put away, without any apparent
reluctance, even when, to all appearances, it was so near completion
that anyone would have given the requisite ten minutes just from the
mere desire of finishing.

That Sunday afternoon, when the curious name Zoe, sounding across the
church in the strange clergyman's voice, startled the organist, who had
not expected the christening to take place that day, one of the
distracting thoughts which made him make so many mistakes in the music,
was wondering what Jane Sands would think of the name, and whether it
would rouse any suspicion in her mind and enlighten her a little as to
who the baby at Mrs Gray's really was.  The name was full of memories
and associations to him; surely it must be also a little to Jane Sands.

But of all Sunday afternoons in the year, she had chosen this to go
over to Stokeley church.  Why, parson and clerk were hardly more
regular in their attendance than Jane Sands as a rule; it was almost an
unheard-of thing for her seat to be empty.  But to-day it was so, and
the row of little boys whom her gentle presence generally awed into
tolerable behaviour, indulged unchecked in all the ingenious
naughtiness that infant mind and body are capable of in church.

She came in rather late with his tea, apologising for having kept him
waiting.

'It was christening Sunday,' she said, and then she looked at him
rather wistfully.

Perhaps she has heard, he thought; perhaps the neighbours have told her
the name, and she is beginning to guess.

'And the baby has been called'---- she hesitated and glanced timidly at
him.

'Well?' he said encouragingly, 'what is the name?'

'Edith,' she answered, 'was one name.'

Pshaw! it was the baby at her sister's she was talking of all the time!
He turned irritably away.

'He can't bear to hear the name, even now; or, perhaps, he's cross at
being kept waiting for tea,' thought Jane Sands.



CHAPTER VI.

The Good Baby--Mr Robins Comes and Goes--A Secret Power--Mr Robins
Happy--A Naughty Tiresome Gal!--The Gypsy Child


As spring glided into summer, and June's long, bright, hay-scented days
passed by, followed by July, with its hot sun pouring down on the
ripening wheat and shaven hayfields, and on the trees, which had
settled down into the monotonous green of summer, the little,
brown-faced baby at the Grays' throve and flourished, and entwined
itself round the hearts of the kindly people in whose care Providence,
by the hands of the organist, had placed it.  It grew close to them
like the branches of the Virginia creeper against a battered, ugly, old
wall, putting out those dainty little hands and fingers that cling so
close, not even the roughest wind or driving rain can tear them apart.
Gray, coming in dirty and tired in the evening, after a long day's work
in the hayfield or carting manure, was never too tired, nor for the
matter of that too dirty, to take the baby, and let it dab its fat
hands on his face, or claw at his grizzled whiskers or slobber
open-mouthed kisses on his cheeks.

Tom, who had bought a blue tie, let Zoe scrabble at that vivid article,
and pull the bit of southernwood out of his button-hole, and rumple his
well-oiled locks out of all symmetry; while Bill expended boundless
ingenuity and time in cutting whistles, and fashioning whirligigs,
which were summarily disposed of directly they got into the baby's
hands.

As for Mrs Gray, it is unnecessary to say that she was the most
complete slave of all Zoe's abject subjects, and the neighbours all
agreed that she was downright silly-like over that little, brown-faced
brat as was no better--no, nor nothing to hold a candle to my Johnnie,
or Dolly, or Bobby as the case might be.

An unprejudiced observer might have thought that Mrs Gray had some
reason for her high opinion of Zoe, for she was certainly a very much
prettier baby than the majority in Downside, who were generally of the
dumpling type, with two currants for eyes.  And she was also a very
good baby--'And easy enough too for anyone to be good,' would be the
comment of any listening Downside mother, 'when they always gets their
own way!' which, however, is not so obvious a truth as regards babies
under a year as it is of older people.  Certainly to be put to bed
awake and smiling at seven o'clock, and thereupon to go to sleep, and
sleep soundly, till seven o'clock next morning, shows an amount of
virtue in a baby which is unhappily rare, though captious readers may
attribute it rather to good health and digestion, which may also be
credited, perhaps, with much virtue in older people.

'And I do say,' Mrs Gray was never tired of repeating to anyone who had
patience to listen, 'as nothing wouldn't upset that blessed little
angel, as it makes me quite uneasy thinking as how she's too good to
live, as is only natural to mortal babies to have the tantrums now and
then, if it 's only from stomach-ache.'

The only person who seemed to sympathise in the Grays' admiration for
the baby was the organist.  It was really wonderful, Mrs Gray said, the
fancy he had taken to the child--'Ay, and the child to him too, perking
up and looking quite peart like, as soon as ever his step come along
the path.'  The wonder was mostly in the baby taking to him, in Mrs
Gray's opinion, as there was nothing to be surprised at in anyone
taking to the baby; but 'he, with no chick nor child of his own, and
with that quiet kind of way with him as ain't general what children
like; though don't never go for to tell me as Mr Robins is proud and
stuck up, as I knows better.'

There was a sort of fascination about the child to the organist, and
when he found that no one seemed to have the slightest suspicion as to
who the baby really was, or why he should be interested in it, he gave
way more and more to the inclination to go to the Grays' cottage, and
watch the little thing, and trace the likeness that seemed every day to
grow more and more strong to his dead wife and to her baby girl.

Perhaps anyone sharper and less simple than Mrs Gray might have grown
suspicious of some other reason than pure, disinterested admiration for
little Zoe, as the cause which brought the organist so often to her
house; and perhaps, if the cottage had stood in the village street, it
might have occasioned remarks among the neighbours; but he had always,
of late years, been so reserved and solitary a man that no notice was
taken of his comings and goings, and if his way took him frequently
over the hillside and down the lane--why, it was a very nice walk, and
there was nothing to be surprised at.

The only person who might have noticed where he went, and how long he
sometimes lingered, was Jane Sands, and I cannot help thinking that in
old days she would have done so; but then, as we have seen, she was not
quite the same Jane Sands she used to be, or at any rate not quite what
we used to fancy her, devoted above all things to her master and his
interests, but much absorbed in her own matters, and in those Stokeley
friends of hers.  She had asked for a rise in her wages too, which Mr
Robins assented to; but without that cordiality he might have done a
few months before, and he strongly suspected that when quarter-day
came, the wages went the same way as those baby clothes, for there was
certainly no outlay on her own attire, which, though always
scrupulously neat, seemed to him more plain and a shade more shabby
than it used to be.

As the summer waxed and waned, the love for little Zoe grew and
strengthened in the organist's heart.  It seemed a kind of possession,
as if a spell had been cast on him; in old times it might have been set
down to witchcraft; and, indeed, it seemed something of the sort to
himself, as if a power he could not resist compelled him to seek out
the child--to think of it, to dream of it, to have it so constantly in
his mind and thoughts, that from there it found its way into his heart.
To us, who know his secret, it may be explained as the tie of blood,
the drawing of a man, in spite of himself, towards his own kith and
kin; blood is thicker than water, and the organist could not reject
this baby grandchild from his natural feelings, though he might from
his house.  And beyond and above this explanation, we may account for
it, as we may for most otherwise unaccountable things, as being the
leading of a wise Providence working out a divine purpose.

Perhaps the punishment that was to come to the organist by the hands of
little Zoe--those fat, dimpled, brown hands, that flourished about in
the air so joyously when he whistled a tune to her--began from the very
first, for it was impossible to think of the child without thinking of
the mother, and to look at Zoe without seeing the likeness that his
fond fancy made far plainer than it really was; and to think of the
mother and to see her likeness was to remember that meeting in the
churchyard, and the sad, pleading voice and hollow cough, and the cold
denial he had given, and the beating rain and howling wind of that
dreary night.  He grew by degrees to excuse himself to himself, and to
plead that he was taken unawares, and that, if she had not taken his
answer as final, but had followed him to the house, he should certainly
have relented.

And then he went a step further.  I think it was one July day, when the
baby had been more than usually gracious to him, and he had ventured,
in Mrs Gray's absence, to lift her out of the cradle and carry her down
the garden path, finding her a heavier weight than when he had first
taken her to the Grays' cottage.  She had clapped her hands at a great,
velvet-bodied humble bee; she had nestled her curly head into his neck,
and with the feeling of her soft breath on his cheek he had said to
himself: 'If Edith were to come back now, I would forgive her for the
baby's sake, for Zoe's sake.'  He forgot that he had need to be
forgiven too.  'She will come back,' he told himself, 'she will come
back to see the child.  She could not be content to hear nothing more
of her baby and never to see her, in spite of what she said.  And when
she comes it shall be different, for Zoe's sake.'

He wondered if Jane Sands knew where Edith was, or ever heard from her.
He sometimes fancied that she did, and yet, if she knew nothing of the
baby, it was hardly likely that she had any correspondence with the
mother.  He was puzzled, and more than once he felt inclined to let her
into the secret, or at least drop some hint that might lead to its
discovery.

It pleased him to imagine her delight over Edith's child, her pride in,
and devotion to it; she would never rest till she had it under her
care, and ousted Mrs Gray from all share in little Zoe.  And yet,
whenever he had got so far in his inclination to tell Jane, some proof
of her absorption in that baby at Stokeley, for whom he had a sort of
jealous dislike, threw him back upon himself, and made him doubt her
affection for her young mistress, and resolve to keep the secret to
himself, at any rate for the present.

He came the nearest telling her one day in August, when, as he was
watering his flowers in the evening, Mrs Gray passed the gate with that
very little Zoe, who was so constantly in his thoughts.

She had a little white sun-bonnet on, which Jane Sands had actually
bestowed upon her--rather grudgingly, it is true, and only because
there was some defect about it which made it unworthy of the pampered
child at Stokeley.  Zoe saw the organist, or, at least, Mrs Gray
imagined that she did, for the cry she gave might equally well have
been intended as a greeting to a pig down in the ditch.

'Well a-never, who 'd a' thought! she see you ever so far off, bless
her! and give such a jump as pretty near took her out of my arms.  Why
there!  Mr Robins don't want you, Miss Saucy, no one don't want such
rubbige; a naughty, tiresome gal! as won't go to sleep, but keeps
jumping and kicking and looking about till my arm's fit to drop with
aching.'

Jane Sands was sitting at work just outside the kitchen door at the
side of the house.  He had seen her there a minute ago when he filled
the watering-can at the pump, and a sudden impulse came into his mind
to show her the child.

He did not quite decide what he should say, or what he should do, when
the recognition, which he felt sure was unavoidable, followed the sight
of the child; but he just yielded to the impulse, and took the child
from Mrs Gray's arms and carried her round to the back-door.  The
recognition was even more instantaneous than he had expected.  As he
came round the corner of the house, with the little, white-bonneted
girl in his arms, Jane sprang up with a cry of glad surprise and
delight, such as swept away in a moment all his doubt of her loyalty to
him and his, and all his remembrance of her absorption in that little
common child at Stokeley.  She made a step forward and then stood
perfectly still, and the light and gladness faded out of her face, and
her hands, that had been stretched out in delighted greeting, fell dull
and lifeless to her sides.

He said nothing, but held the child towards her; it was only natural
that she should doubt, being so unprepared, but a second glance would
convince her.

'I thought,' she said, looking the baby over, with what in a less kind,
gentle face, might have been quite a hard, critical manner, 'I thought
for a minute'----

'Well?'

'I was mistaken,' she said; 'of course I was mistaken.'  And then she
added to herself more than to him, 'It is not a bit like'----

'Look again,' he said, 'look again; don't you see a likeness?'

'Likeness?  Oh, I suppose it's the gypsy child up at Mrs Gray's, and
you mean the likeness to the woman who came here that day she was left;
but I don't remember enough of her to say.  It's plain the child's a
gypsy.  What a swarthy skin, to be sure!'

Why, where were her eyes?  To Mr Robins it was little Edith over again.
He wondered that all the village did not see it and cry out on him.

But it was not likely that after this his confidence should go further,
and just then the child began a little grumble, and he took her back
hastily to Mrs Gray with a disappointed, crest-fallen feeling.

Jane Sands was conscious that her reception of the baby had not been
satisfactory, and she tried to make amends by little complimentary
remarks, which annoyed him more than her indifference.

'A fine, strong child, and does Mrs Gray great credit.'

'It's a nice bright little thing, and I daresay will improve as it
grows older.'

She could not imagine why the organist grunted in such a surly way in
reply to these remarks, for what on earth could it matter to him what
anyone thought of a foundling, gypsy child?



CHAPTER VII.

Gray Taken to the Hospital--Bill and the Baby--Mrs Gray Home
Again--Edith, Come Home!


It was near the end of September that John Gray broke his leg.  They
were thrashing out a wheat-rick at Farmer Benson's, and somehow he
tumbled from the top of the rick, and fell with his leg bent under him,
and found that he could not stand when he tried to struggle up to his
feet.

They ran to tell 'his missus,' who came straight off from the washtub,
with the soapsuds still about her skinny red elbows, catching up Zoe
from the cradle as she passed, at sight of whom Gray, in spite of the
pain and the deadly faintness that was dimming his eyes and clutching
his breath, made an effort to chirrup and snap his fingers at the
little one.

'It's his innerds as is hurted,' explained one of the bystanders, with
that wonderful openness and way of making the worst of everything that
is found in that class.

'The spine of his back most like,' said another, 'like poor Johnson,
over to Stokeley, as never walked another step arter his fall.'

'Ay, he do look mortal bad!  'Tis a terrible bad job!'

'Cut off like a flower!' sighed one of the women.  'There, bear up, my
dear,' to Mrs Gray, with whom she had not been on speaking terms for
some weeks, owing to a few words about her cat's thieving propensities,
'Dontee take on!  I knows well enough what you feels, as is only three
weeks since father was took with his fit.'

'Don't be skeered, old gal,' sounded Gray's voice, odd and unnatural to
the ears of the hearers, and far away and independent to himself, 'I
ain't so bad as that comes to'----

And then mercifully he became unconscious, for to go six miles with a
broken leg in a cart without springs on the way to the hospital is not
a joke, and the neighbours' kindly attempts to bring him round were
happily unsuccessful.  The worst part of that drive fell to the share
of his wife, who sat holding his head on her lap as they jolted along,
trying to keep the jars and bumps from jerking his leg, though all the
time she firmly believed he was dead, and was already, in her dulled
mind, making pitiful little arrangements about mourning and the
funeral, and contemplating, with dreary equanimity, a widowed existence
with three-and-sixpence a week for her and Tom and Bill and Zoe to live
upon.  She never left Zoe out of the calculation, even when it became
most difficult to adjust the number of mouths to be fed with the amount
of food to be put into them, and over this dark future fell the darker
shadow of the workhouse, which closes the vista of life to most of the
poor.  No wonder they live entirely in the present, and shut their eyes
persistently to the future!

There was not much going back into the past when she was a girl and the
'master' a lad, and they went courting of a Sunday afternoon along the
green lanes.  Life had been too matter-of-fact and full of hard work to
leave much sentiment even in memory.

Mr Robins heard of the accident in the evening, and went up to the
cottage, where he found Bill taking care of Zoe, who was having a fine
time of it, having soon discovered that she had only to cry for
anything that evening to get it, and that it was an occasion for
displaying a will of her own in the matter of going to bed, and being
preternaturally wide awake and inclined for a game, when on other
nights she was quite content to be laid down in the wooden cradle,
which was rapidly becoming too small for her increasing size.

Poor Bill had been at school when the accident happened, and, of
course, the neighbours had made the very worst of the matter, so the
poor boy hardly knew what part of his father had not been crushed or
injured, or if he had been killed on the spot, or had been taken barely
alive to the hospital.  The baby had been pushed into his arms, so that
he could not go up to the farm, nor find Tom to learn the rights of the
matter; so that, when Mr Robins came into the cottage, he found both
Bill and the baby crying together, the fire out, and the kettle upset
into the fender.

'Give me the child,' the organist said.  And Bill obeyed, as he did at
the choir practice when he was told to pass a hymn-book, and too
miserable to wonder much at this new aspect of his master, and at
seeing him take the baby as if he knew all about it, and sit down in
father's arm-chair.

'See if you can't make the fire burn up,' he went on; 'the child's
cold.'

Zoe seemed well content with her new nurse, and left off crying, and
sat blinking gravely at the fire, which Bill, much relieved at having
something definite to do, soon roused up to a sparkling, crackling
blaze with some dry sticks; while Mr Robins warmed her small, pink feet.

Bill would certainly have been surprised if he could have seen what was
passing in the organist's mind, a proposal ripening into a firm resolve
that he would take the child home that very night and tell Jane who she
was.  Let the village talk as it might, he did not mind; let them say
what they pleased.

He knew enough of village reports to guess that Gray was not as badly
hurt as every one declared; but still, even a trifling accident meant,
at any rate, a week or two of very short commons at the cottage,
perhaps less milk for the baby, or economy over fuel, and the September
days were growing cold and raw, and there had been more than one frost
in the mornings, and the baby's little toes were cold to his warm hand.
Mrs Gray, too, would be occupied and taken up with her husband, and
little Zoe would be pushed about from one to another, and he had heard
that there was scarlatina about, and the relieving officer had been
telling him that very morning how careless the people were about
infection.

The cottage looked quite different in the blazing firelight, and Bill,
encouraged by the organist's presence, tidied up the place, where the
washtub stood just as Mrs Gray had left it; and he set the kettle on to
boil, so that when Mrs Gray and Tom came in it presented quite a
comfortable appearance.

Mrs Gray came in tired and tearful, but decidedly hopeful, having left
Gray comfortably in bed with his leg set, and having received
reassuring opinions from nurse and doctor: and the first alarm and
apprehension being removed, there was a certain feeling of importance
in her position as wife of the injured man, and excitement at a visit
to the country town, both ways in a cart, which does not happen often
in a life-time.

The baby, thanks to the warmth and Mr Robins's nursing, had fallen
asleep in his arms.  Mrs Gray was so much confused and bewildered by
the events of the day, that she would hardly have been surprised to see
the Queen with the crown on her head sitting there in the master's
arm-chair, quite at home like, and holding the baby on one arm and the
sceptre on the other; and Tom was of too phlegmatic a disposition to be
surprised at anything.  So they made no remark, and Mr Robins laid the
baby, still asleep, in Bill's arms, and went away.

Such a beautiful, quiet September night, with great, soft stars
overhead, and the scent of fallen leaves in the air; the path beneath
his feet was soft with them, and as he passed under the elms which by
daylight were a blaze of sunny gold, some leaves dropped gently on his
head.

'To-morrow,' he said, 'I will bring little Zoe home, and I will let her
mother--I will let Edith know that the child is with me, and that if
she likes'----  It needed but a word, he felt sure, to bring the mother
to the baby, the daughter to her father.

He stood for a moment by the church-yard gate, close to the spot where
that bitter, cruel parting had been, and fancied what the meeting would
be.  After all, what was his feeling for little Zoe, and his
imagination of what his little grandchild would be to him in the
future, to the delight of having Edith's arms round his neck and
holding her to his heart once more?

'Edith,' he whispered softly, as he turned away; 'Edith, come home!'

'I wonder,' he said to Jane Sands that night; 'I wonder if you could
find out an address for me?'

She was folding up the tablecloth, and she stopped with a puzzled look.

'An address?  Whose?'

'Well,' he said, without looking at her, 'I fancy there are still some
of the Blakes, (the word came out with a certain effort) 'living at
Bilton, and perhaps you could find out from them the address I want;
or, perhaps,' he added quickly, for she understood now, and eager words
were on her lips, 'perhaps you know.  There! never mind now; if you
know, you can tell me to-morrow.'



CHAPTER VIII.

Preparation--The Room Furnished--Mrs Gray at Work--The Baby Gone--The
Gypsy Mother--The Gypsy's Story--A Foolish Fancy--Something Has
Happened--The Real Baby


Morning very often brings other counsels, but this was not the case
with Mr Robins, for when he got up next day he was more than ever
resolved to carry out his intention of bringing little Zoe home, and
letting her mother know that a welcome awaited her in her old home.

He had not slept very much during the night, for his mind had been too
full of the change that was coming in his life, and of the difference
that the presence of Edith and little Zoe would make in the dull, old
house.  Sad and worn and altered, was she!  Ah! that would soon pass
away with kindness and care and happiness, and the cough that had
sounded so hollow and ominous should be nursed away, and Edith should
be a girl again, a girl as she ought to be yet by right of her years;
and those five years of suffering and estrangement should be altogether
forgotten as if they had never been.

He went into the bedroom next his, that had been Edith's--that was to
be Edith's again--and, looking round it, noticed with satisfaction that
Jane had kept it just as it had been in the old days; and he pushed the
bed a little to one side to make room for a cot to stand beside it, a
cot which he remembered in the night as having stood for years in the
lumber-room up in the roof, and which he now with much difficulty
dragged out from behind some heavy boxes, and fitted together, wishing
there had been time to give it a coat of paint, and yet glad, with a
tremulous sort of gladness, that there was not, seeing that it would be
wanted that very night.

And just then Jane Sands came up to call him to breakfast, and stood
looking from the cot to her master's dusty coat, with such a look of
delighted comprehension on her face, that the organist felt that no
words were needed to prepare her for what was going to happen.

'I thought,' he said, 'it had better be brought down.'

'Where shall it go?' she asked.

'In Miss----in the room next mine,' he said, 'and it will want a good
airing.'

'Shall I make up the bed too?' she asked.

'Yes, you may as well.'

'Oh, master,' she said, the tears shaking in her voice and shining in
her eyes; 'will they be wanted soon?  Will they, maybe, be wanted
to-night?'

His own voice felt suspiciously shaky; his own eyes could not see the
old cot, nor Jane's beaming face quite plainly, so he only gave a gruff
assent and turned away.

'What a good, kind creature she is!' he thought.  'What a welcome she
will give Edith and Edith's little Zoe!'

During the morning he heard her up in the room sweeping and scrubbing,
as if for these five years it had been left a prey to dust and dirt;
and when he went out after dinner to give a lesson at Bilton, she was
still at it with an energy worthy of a woman, half her age.

That stupid little girl at Bilton, who generally found her music-lesson
such an intolerable weariness to the flesh, and was conscious that it
was no less so to her teacher, found the half-hour to-day quite
pleasant.  Mr Robins had never been so kind and cheerful, quite
amusing, laughing at her mistakes, and allowing her to play just the
things she knew best, and to get up in the middle of the lesson to go
to the window and see a long procession of gypsy vans going by to
Smithurst fair.

It was such a very beautiful day; perhaps it was this that produced
such a good effect on the organist's temper.  There had been a frost
that morning, but it was not enough to strip the trees, but only to
turn the elms a richer gold, and the beeches a warmer red, and the oaks
a ruddier brown; while in the hedges the purple dogwood, and hawthorn,
and bramble leaves made a wonderful variety of rich tints in the full
bright sunshine, which set the birds twittering with a momentary
delusion that it might be spring.

He did not come back over the hill, and past the Grays' cottage, for he
was going to fetch the child that evening; but he came home by the
road, meeting many more of those gypsy vans which had distracted his
pupil's attention, and looking with kindliness on the swarthy men and
bronze dark-eyed women, for the sake of little Zoe, who had been so
often called the gypsy baby.

When he reached home he found the room prepared with all the care Jane
Sands could lavish.  He had thought when he went in that morning that
it was just as Edith had left it, and all in the most perfect order;
but now the room was a bower of daintiness and cleanliness, and all
Edith's old treasures had been set out in the very order she used to
arrange them--why! even her brush and comb were laid ready on the
dressing-table, and a pair of slippers by the bedside, and a small
bunch of autumn anemones and Czar violets was placed in a little glass
beside her books.  He smiled, but with tears in his eyes, as he saw all
these loving preparations.

'Edith can hardly be here to-night,' he said to himself, 'but Zoe
will.'  And he smoothed the pillow of the cot close to the bedside, and
drew the curtain more closely over its head.

He found his tea set ready for him when he came down, but Jane Sands
had gone out, and he was rather glad of it, as she had watched him that
morning with an eager expectant eye, and he did not know what to say to
her.  It would be easier when he brought the baby and actually put it
into her arms.

The sun had set when he had finished tea, a blaze of splendour settling
down into dull purple and dead orange, leaving a stripe of pale-green
sky over the horizon, flecked with a few soft brown clouds tinged with
red.

But envious night hastened to cover up and deaden the colours of the
sky, and the almost equally gorgeous tints of tree and hedge; and, by
the time Mr Robins reached the Grays' cottage, darkness had settled
down as deep as on that evening four months ago, when he carried the
baby and left it there.

Now, as then, the cottage door was open, and Mrs Gray sat at work with
the candle close to her elbow, every now and then giving a long sniff
or a sigh, that made the tallow candle flicker and tremble.  He had
almost forgotten her husband's accident in his absorption in the baby;
but these sniffs recalled it to his mind, and he thought he would give
them a helping hand while Gray was in the hospital.

'She has been kind to my little Zoe,' he thought, 'and I will not
forget it in a hurry.  She shall come and see the child whenever she
likes; and Edith will be good to her, for she has been like a mother to
the baby all these months.'

Close by where Mrs Gray sat he could see the foot of the old cradle and
the rocker within reach of the woman's foot; but Zoe must be asleep,
for there was no rocking necessary, and Mrs Gray did not turn from her
work to look at the child, though she stopped from time to time to wipe
her eyes on her apron.

'She is taken up with her husband,' he said to himself; 'it is as well
that I am going to take the child away, as she will have no thought to
give her now.'

And then he went into the cottage, with a tap on the open door to
announce his presence.

'Good evening, Mrs Gray,' he said in a subdued voice, so as not to wake
the baby.  But he might have spared himself this precaution, for the
next glance showed him that the cradle was empty.

'Bless you, Mr Robins,' the woman said, 'you give me quite a start,
coming in so quiet like.  But, there!  I 'm all of a tremble, the
leastest thing do terrify me.  You might knock me down with a feather.
First one thing and then another!  The master yesterday and the baby
to-day!'

'What!' he said, so sharp and sudden, that it stopped the flow of words
for a moment.  'What do you mean!  Is the baby in bed up-stairs?
What's the matter?  It's not the scarlatina?  Not'----

'Bless you!' she said, 'why I thought you'd a-knowed.  It ain't the
scarlatina; the baby was as well and bonnie as ever when she went.  She
've agone! her mother come and fetch her this very day, and took her
right off.  Ay! but she were pleased to see how the little thing had
got on, and she said as she 'd never forget my kindness, and how she'd
bring her to see me whenever she come this way.  But, there!  I do miss
her terrible.  Why, it's 'most worse than the master himself.'

The organist hardly listened to what she was saying after the fact of
the mother having come and fetched her away.  Edith had come for her
baby!  How had she known?  Why had she done it to-day?  Could Jane have
let her know?  And had she come so quickly to take the child herself to
her old home?  His first impulse was to turn and hasten home; perhaps
Edith and Zoe were there already, and would find him absent.  But he
could not go without a word to Mrs Gray, who was wiping her eyes in her
apron and unconsciously rocking the empty cradle.

'You will often see her,' he said consolingly; 'she will not be very
far away.'

'Oh, I don't know about that; them gypsies go all over the place, up
and down the country, and they don't always come back for the fairs;
though she says as they don't often miss Smithurst.'

'Gypsies?' he said puzzled.

'Ay, the mother 's a gypsy sure enough, and I've said it all along, and
the child's the very image of her; there wasn't no doubt, when one saw
the two together, as they was mother and child.'

'Are you sure she was a gypsy?'  He had often said in fun that Edith
was a regular little gypsy, but he would never have thought that any
one could really mistake her for one; and besides, Mrs Gray must have
known Edith well enough at any rate by sight in the old days; and
changed as she was, it was not beyond all recognition.

'Oh, there wasn't no mistaking, and the van as she belonged to waited
just outside the village, for I went down along with her and seed it,
painted yeller with red wheels.  I knowed Zoe was gypsy born, for she'd
one of them charms round her neck as I didn't meddle with, for they do
say as there's a deal of power in them things, and that gypsies can't
be drownded or ketch fevers and things as long as they keeps 'em.'

Mr Robins sat down in the chair opposite Mrs Gray; an odd, cold sort of
apprehension was stealing over him, and the pleasant dream of home and
Edith and Zoe, in which he had been living through the day, was fading
away with every word the woman said.

'The funny part of it were that she vowed and declared as she put the
child at your door, and never came this way at all; leastways, from
what she said it must abeen your house, for she said it was hard by the
church and had a thick hedge, and that there was a kind sorter body as
she see there in the morning, as must abeen Mrs Sands, and nobody else
from her account.  She said she was in a heap of trouble just then, her
husband ill and a deal more, and she was pretty nigh at her wits' end,
and that, without thinking twice what she were about, she wropt the
baby up and laid it close agin the door of the house where she'd seen
the kind-looking body.  She would have it as it was there, say what I
would; but, maybe, poor soul, she were mazed, and hardly knew where she
were.

'She went to your house to-day, and Mrs Sands were quite put out with
her, being busy too, and expecting company, and thought it were just
her impidence; but there!  I knows what trouble is, and how it just
mazes a body, for I could no more tell where I went nor what I did
yesterday than that table there.  And another queer thing is as she
didn't know nothing about the name, and neither she nor her husband
can't read or write noways, so she couldn't have wrote it down, and she
'd never heard tell of such a name as Zoe, and didn't like it neither.
She'd always ameant it to be Rachel, as had been her mother's name
before her, and her grandmother's too.'

'Are you quite certain she was the mother?'

'Certain?  Why, you 'd only to see the two together to be sure of it.
I'd not have let her go, not were it ever so, if it hadn't been as
clear as daylight; and just now too, when I seems to want her for a bit
of comfort.'  And here Mrs Gray relapsed into her apron.

Mr Robins sat for a minute looking at her in silence, and then got up,
and without a word went out into the dark night, mechanically taking
the way to his house, and then turning on to the high-road to
Smithurst, tramping along through the mud and dead leaves with a dull,
heavy persistence.

Anything was better than going back to the empty silence of his house
and Jane Sands' expectant face, and the pretty, white-curtained room
with the cot all ready for little Zoe, who was already miles away along
that dark road before him, sleeping, perhaps, in some dirty gypsy van
put up on some bit of waste land by the roadside, or, perhaps,
surrounded by the noise and glare of the fair with its shows and
roundabouts.  His little Zoe! he could not possibly have been so
utterly deceived all through; the baby who had lain on his bed, whose
little face he had felt as he carried her up to the Grays' cottage in
the dark, whom he had seen day after day, and never failed to notice
the likeness, growing stronger with the child's growth.  Was it all a
delusion? all the foolish fancy of a fond, old man?  He tried hard to
believe that it was impossible that he could have been so deceived, and
yet from the very first he felt that it was so, and that the love that
had been growing in his heart all these months had been lavished on a
gypsy baby whose face most likely he should never see again.

And all his plans for the future, his dreams of reparation, of tender
reconciliation with Edith, and of happy, peaceful days that would
obliterate the memory of past trouble and alienation, they had all
vanished with the gypsy baby; life was as empty as the cradle by Mrs
Gray's side.

Where was he to find his daughter?  Where had she wandered that night
when the pitiless rain fell and the sullen wind moaned?  Was that the
last he should ever see of her, with the white, wan, pleading face
under the yew-tree?  And would that despairing voice, saying 'Father!'
haunt his ears till his dying day?  And would the wailing cry that
followed him as he went to his house that night be the only thing he
should ever know of his grandchild, the real little Zoe whom he had
rejected?

He was several miles away along the Smithurst road when he first
realised what he was doing, brought to the consciousness, perhaps, by
the fact of being weary and footsore and wet through from a fine rain
that had begun falling soon after he left the village.  It must be
getting late too; many of the cottages he passed showed no light from
the windows, the inmates most likely being in bed.

Painfully and wearily he toiled back to Downside; he seemed to have no
spirit left to contend against even such trifling things as mud and
inequalities in the road, and when a bramble straying from the hedge
caught his coat and tore it, he could almost have cried in feeble
vexation of spirit.  Downside street was all dark and quiet, but from
the organist's house a light shone out from the open door and down the
garden path, making a patch of light on the wet road.

Some one stood peering out into the darkness, and, at the sound of his
dragging, stumbling footsteps, Jane Sands ran down to the gate.  The
long waiting had made her anxious, for she was breathless and trembling
with excitement.

'Where have you been?' she said; 'we got so frightened.  Why are you so
late?  Oh, dearie me!' as she caught sight of his face.  'You 're ill!
Something has happened!  There, come in, doee, now; you look fit to
drop!'

He pushed by her almost roughly into the house, and dropped down
wearily into the arm-chair.  He was too worn out and exhausted to
notice anything, even the warmth and comfort of the bright fire and the
supper ready on the table.  He tossed his soaked hat on the ground, and
leaning his elbows on his knees and his head on his hands, sat bowed
down with the feeling of utter wretchedness.

Day after day, night after night, till his life's end, plenty and
comfort and neatness and respectability and warmth in dull monotony;
while outside somewhere in the cold and rain, in poverty and want and
wretchedness, wandered Edith with the wailing baby in her arms.

'You can go to bed,' he said to Jane Sands; 'I don't want any supper.'

She drew back and went softly out of the room, but some one else was
standing there, looking down at the bowed white head with eyes fuller
even of pity and tears than Jane's had been; and then she, too, left
the room, and with a raised finger to Jane, who was waiting in the
passage, she went up-stairs and, as if the way were well known to her,
to the little room which had been got ready so uselessly for the
organist's daughter.

There, sheltered by the bed-curtain, was the cot where Zoe was to have
lain, and there, wonderful to relate, a child's dark head might be
seen, deep in the soft pillow, deeper in soft sleep.

And then this strangely presuming intruder in the organist's house
softly took up the sleeping child, and wrapping a shawl round it,
carried it, still sleeping, downstairs, the dark lashes resting on the
round cheek flushed with sleep and of a fairer tint than gypsy Zoe's,
and the rosy mouth half-open.

The organist still sat with his head in his hands, and did not stir as
she entered, not even when she came and knelt down on the hearth in
front of him.

Jane Sands was unusually tiresome to-night, he thought; why could she
not leave him alone?

And then against his cold hands clasped over his face was laid
something soft and warm and tender, surely a little child's hand! and a
voice (a voice he had never thought to hear again till maybe it sounded
as his accuser before the throne of grace) said: 'Father, for Zoe's
sake.'



THE END.



  Edinburgh;
  Printed by W & R. Chambers, Limited.



FOR YOUNGER BOYS AND GIRLS

1s. net.-

  LITTLE MARY  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  L. T. Meade.
  SQUIRE'S LITTLE GIRL . . . . . . . . . . . .  L. T. Meade.
  THE GREEN CASKET . . . . . . . . . . . .   Mrs Molesworth.
  BEWITCHED LAMP . . . . . . . . . . . . .   Mrs Molesworth.
  THEIR HAPPIEST XMAS  . . . . . . . . . . . .   Edna Lyall.
  LASSIE . . . . . . . . . . . .  By the Author of _Laddie_.
  BABY JOHN  . . . . . . . . . .  By the Author of _Laddie_.
  ZOE  . . . . . . . . . . . . .  By the Author of _Laddie_.
  WILFRID CLIFFORD . . . . . . . . . . . .  Edith C. Kenyon.
  ERNEST'S GOLDEN THREAD . . . . . . . . .  Edith C. Kenyon.
  THE LITTLE KNIGHT  . . . . . . . . . . .  Edith C. Kenyon.
  A FAIRY GRANDMOTHER  . . . . . . . . . .   L. E. Tiddeman.
  HUMBLE HEROINE . . . . . . . . . . . . .   L. E. Tiddeman.
  STEADFAST GABRIEL  . . . . . . . . . . .      Mary Howitt.
  UNCLE SAM'S MONEY-BOX  . . . . . . . . .   Mrs S. C. Hall.
  SWAN'S EGG . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   Mrs S. C. Hall.
  GRAMDMAMA'S POCKETS  . . . . . . . . . .   Mrs S. C. Hall.
  WONDERFUL STORIES  . . . . . . . . . . . Hans C. Andersen.

W. & R. CHAMBERS, LIMITED, LONDON AND EDINBURGH.



Printed in Great Britain.

W. & R. CHAMBERS, LTD., LONDON and EDINBURGH.





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