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Title: Jessie Trim
Author: Farjeon, B. L. (Benjamin Leopold)
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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Google Books (Mercantile Library, New York; New York Public
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Transcriber's Notes: This edition of Jessie Trim was published by
Tinsley Brothers (London) in two installments in the following issues
of Tinsleys' Magazine:

   Vol. XIV. From January to June 1874. Chapters I.-XXV.
             https://books.google.com/books?id=Dj8xAQAAMAAJ
            (Mercantile Library, New York; New York Public Library)

   Vol. XV. From July to December 1874. Chapters XXVI.-LI.
            https://books.google.com/books?id=1-kRAAAAYAAJ
            (Mercantile Library, New York; New York Public Library)



TINSLEYS' MAGAZINE



LONDON:
ROBSON AND SONS, PRINTERS, PANCRAS ROAD, N.W.



TINSLEYS' MAGAZINE.



----------
VOL. XIV.
From January to June 1874.
----------



LONDON:
TINSLEY BROTHERS,
8 CATHERINE STREET, STRAND, W.C.
[_All rights of translation and reproduction reserved_.]



CONTENTS.
JESSIE TRIM. By B. L. Farjeon, Author of Blade-o'-Grass,'
'Golden Grain,' Bread-and-Cheese and Kisses,' 'Grif,' 'London's
Heart,' and 'Joshua Marvel:'



CONTENTS

Chap.

         I. My Grandmother's Wedding.
        II. I am frightened of my Shadow.
       III. My Grandmother's Long Stocking.
        IV. I murder my Baby-brother.
         V. I play the Part of Chief Mourner.
        VI. In which a great Change in my Circumstances takes place.
       VII. In which a Fairy in a Cotton-Print Dress is introduced.
      VIII. A Postman's Knock.
        IX. Uncle Bryan introduces himself.
         X. Our new Home.
        XI. In which I take part in some lawless Expeditions.
       XII. A singular Episode in our quiet Life.
      XIII. A sudden Shock.
       XIV. The World becomes bright again.
        XV. Jessie's Rosewater Philosophy.
       XVI. The Stone Monkey Figure gives up its Treasures.
      XVII. The true Story of Anthony Bullpit.
     XVIII. Uncle Bryan commences the Story of his Life.
       XIX. Strange Revelations in Uncle Bryan's Life.
        XX. Uncle Bryan concludes his Story.
       XXI. I receive an Invitation.
      XXII. I am introduced to a Theatrical Family.
     XXIII. The Sunday-night Suppers at the Wests'.
      XXIV. Turk, the First Villain.
       XXV. Holding the Word of Promise to the Ear.
      XXVI. We enjoy a deceitful Calm.
     XXVII. The Storm breaks.
    XXVIII. Colour-blind.
      XXIX. Preparations for an important Event
       XXX. Jessie's Triumph.
      XXXI. My Mother expresses her Fears concerning Jessie.
     XXXII. Jessie makes an Explanation.
    XXXIII. Mr. Glover.
     XXXIV. Turk West's Appearance at the West-end Theatre, and its
               Results.
      XXXV. Jessie's Birthday.
     XXXVI. I speak plainly to uncle Bryan.
    XXXVII. Turk makes a Confession.
   XXXVIII. Mr. Glover declines to satisfy me.
     XXXIX. A new Fear.
        XL. What the Neighbours said.
       XLI. Josey West declares that she has got into her proper
               Groove.
      XLII. From Frances to her Husband, Bryan Carey.
     XLIII. A happy Recovery.
      XLIV. At Rehearsal.
       XLV. Old Mac expresses his Opinion of Mr. Glover.
      XLVI. A strange Dream.
     XLVII. Exit Mr. Glover.
    XLVIII. Josey West laments her crooked Legs.
      XLIX. Uncle Bryan again.
         L. Josey West disturbs us in the Middle of the Night.
        LI. My Mother's Bible.



_TINSLEYS' MAGAZINE_.
January 1874.


JESSIE TRIM.

BY B. L. FARJEON,

AUTHOR OF 'BLADE-O'-GRASS,' 'GOLDEN GRAIN,' 'BREAD-AND-CHEESE AND
KISSES.' 'GRIF,' 'LONDON'S HEART,' AND 'JOSHUA MARVEL.'



CHAPTER I.
MY GRANDMOTHER'S WEDDING.


As my earliest remembrances are associated with my grandmother's
wedding, it takes natural precedence here of all other matter. I was
not there, of course, but I seem to see it through a mist, and I have
a distinct impression of certain actors in the scene. These are: a
smoke-dried monkey of a man in stone, my grandmother, my grandfather
(whom I never saw in the flesh), and a man with a knob on the top of
his head, making a meal off his finger-nails.

Naturally, this man's head is bald. Naturally, this man's nails are
eaten down to the quick. I am unable to state how I come to the
knowledge of these details, but I know them, and am prepared to stand
by them. Sitting, as I see myself, in a very low armchair--in which I
am such an exact fit that when I rise it rises with me, much to my
discomfort--I hear my grandmother say:

'He had a knob on the top of his head, and he was always eating his
nails.'

Then a solemn pause ensues, broken by my grandmother adding, in a
dismal tone:

'And the last time I set eyes on him was on my wedding-day.'

The words are addressed not so much to me as to the smoke-dried monkey
of a man in stone, which had occupied the place of honour on the
mantelpiece in my grandmother's house, and which she had brought with
her as a precious relic--(Jane Painter, I remember, always called it a
relict)--when she came to live with us. The head of this stone figure
is loose, and wags upon the slightest provocation. When something
falls in the room, when the door is slammed, when a person walks
sharply towards it, when it is merely looked at I sometimes fancy. I
am not prepossessed in its favour, and I regard it with uneasy
feelings, as probably possessing a power for evil, like a
malevolently-inclined idol. But my grandmother, for some mysterious
reason, values it as a very precious possession, and sits staring
dumbly at it for hours. I watch her and it until, in my imagination,
its monkey-face begins to twitch and its monkey-lips to move. At a
certain point of my watch, I fancy that its eyes roll and glare at me,
and I cover mine with my hands to shut out the disturbing sight. But I
have not sufficient courage to remain blind for more than a very few
moments, and I am soon fascinated into peeping at the figure through
the lattice of my fingers. My grandmother observes me, and says:

'I see you, child! Take your fingers away.'

I obey her timidly, and with many a doubtful glance at the monkey-man,
I ask:

'Does _it_ see me, grandmother?'

My grandmother regards it with a gloomy air; evidently she has doubts.
She does not commit herself, however, but says:

'It will belong to you, child, when I am gone. It must be kept always
in the family.'

The tone in which she utters these words denotes that evil will fall
upon the family when this heirloom is lost sight of. I am not grateful
for the prospective gift. It has already become a frightful incubus;
it weighs me down, and is a future as well as a present torment. I
think it has lived long enough--too long--and that when my grandmother
goes, she ought to take it with her. Happening to catch the eye of the
figure while this thought is in my mind, I am convinced that it shows
in its ugly face a consciousness of my bad feeling towards it; its
eyes and lips threaten me. It would have terrified, but it would not
have surprised me to find it suddenly gifted with the power of speech,
and to hear it utter dreadful words. But happily for my peace of mind
no such miracle happens. I look at my grandmother, and I begin to
fancy that she, from long staring at it, bears in her face a
resemblance to the face of the monkey-man. For how much longer will my
grandmother sit and stare at it? For how many more days and weeks and
years? She has frequently told me that naughty boys were invariably
'fetched away' to a dismal place by Some One wearing horns and a tail.
She made no mention of naughty girls; and sometimes when she has been
delighting me with these wholesome lessons, a sort of rebellion has
possessed me that I was not born a girl. Now, if Some One were to come
and 'fetch' my grandmother away, it would not grieve me; I should
rejoice. But I dare not for my life give utterance to my thought. Says
my grandmother, with a nod at the stone figure, which, suddenly
animated by a mysterious influence, returns the nod:

'I had it in my pocket on my wedding-day.'

The circumstance of its being a guest at my grandmother's wedding
invests it with an additional claim to my protection when she is gone.
How happy I should be if it would fall into the fireplace, and break
into a thousand pieces!

'Grandmother!'

'Well, child.'

Was the man with the knob on the top of his head----'

My grandmother interrupts me.

'You mean the gentleman, child.'

'Yes, I mean the gentleman--and who was always eating his nails,--was
he like that?' Pointing to the stone monkey-figure.

'Like that, child! How can such an idea have entered your head? No; he
was a very handsome man.'

A pure fiction, I am convinced, if nothing worse. How _could_ a man
with a knob on his head, and who was always eating his nails, be
handsome?

'Your grandfather used to be very jealous of him; he was one of my
sweethearts. I had several, and nine proposals of marriage before I
was twenty years of age. Some girls that I knew were ready to scratch
their eyes out with vexation. He proposed, and wished to run away with
me, but my family stepped in between us, and prevented him. You can
never be sufficiently grateful to me, child; for what would have
become of you if I had run away and married him, goodness only knows!'

The reflection which is thus forced upon me involves such wild
entanglements of possibilities that I am lost in the contemplation of
them. What _would_ have become of me? Supposing it had occurred--should
I ever have been?

'He told me,' continues my grandmother, revelling in these honey-sweet
reminiscences, 'after I had accepted your grandfather, that life was
valueless without me, and that as he had lost me, he would be sure to
go to the Devil. I don't know the end of him, for I only saw him once
after that; but he was a man of his word. He told me so in Lovers'
Walk, where I happened to be strolling one evening--quite by
accident, child, I assure you, for I burnt the letter I received from
him in the morning, for fear your grandfather should see it. Your
grandfather had a frightfully jealous disposition--as if I could help
the men looking at me! When we were first married he used to smash a
deal of crockery, with his quick temper. I hope he is forgiven for it
in the place he has gone to. He was an auctioneer and valuer; he had
an immense reputation as a valuer. It was not undeserved; he fell in
love with me. Oh, he was clever, child, in his way!'

Although I am positive that I never saw my grandfather, I have, in
some strange way, a perfect remembrance of him as a little man, very
dapper, and very precisely dressed in a snuff-coloured coat and black
breeches and stockings. Now, my grandmother was a very large woman;
side by side they are, to my mind, a ridiculous match. I have grown
quite curious concerning my grandmother's lover, and I venture to
recall her from a moody contemplation of the monkey-figure into which
she is falling.

'But about the man with the knob, grandmother?' I commence.

'Child, you are disrespectful! The man with the knob, indeed!'

'The gentleman, I mean, who wanted to marry you. What was his name?'

'Bullpit. He was connected with the law, and might have become Lord
Chancellor if I hadn't blighted him.'

'Did he behave himself at your wedding, grandmother?'

'Save the child!' she exclaims. 'You don't suppose that Mr. Bullpit
was at my wedding, do you? Why, there would have been murder done!
Your grandfather and he would have torn each other to pieces!' These
latter words are spoken in a tone of positive satisfaction, as adding
immensely to my grandmother's reputation.

'But I thought you said that the last time you saw him was on your
wedding-day?'

'So I did, child; but I didn't say he was _at_ the wedding. We were
coming out of church---- Deary, deary me! I can see it as if it was
only yesterday that it took place! The church was scarcely three
minutes' walk from mother's house, and the expense would not have been
great, but your grandfather, who was a very mean man, did not provide
carriages, and we had to go on foot. It was the talk of the whole
neighbourhood for months afterwards. I never forgave him for it, and I
can't forget it, although he is in his grave now, where all things
ought to be forgotten and forgiven. Remember that, child, and if you
have anything to forget and forgive, forget and forgive it. Animosity
is a bad thing.'

My grandmother gives me time to remember if I have anything to forget
and forgive. I feel somewhat remorseful because of the hard thoughts I
have borne towards her, and I mentally resolve that when she is in her
grave I will endeavour to forget and forgive.

'We walked,' she continues, from mother's house to the church, and
from the church back again. It was like a procession. There were five
bridesmaids, and mother and father, and your grandfather's mother and
father,'--(I am a little confused here with so many mothers and
fathers, and, notwithstanding my efforts to prevent it, they all get
jumbled up with one another)--'whom we could very well have done
without, and the Best Man, who did not know how to behave himself,
making the bridesmaids giggle as he did, as if my wedding was a thing
to be laughed at! and a great number of guests with white favours in
their coats--all but one, who ought to have known better, and who was
properly punished afterwards by being jilted by Mary Morgan. Everybody
in the town came to see us walk to church, and when the fatal knot was
tied, the crowd round the church door was so large that we could
scarcely make our way through it. The Best Man misbehaved himself
shamefully. He pretended to be overcome by grief, and he sobbed in
such a violent manner as to make the mob laugh at him, and the
bridesmaids giggle more than ever. I knew what they did it for, the
hussies! They thought he was a catch; a nice husband he turned out to
be afterwards! When we were half way between the church and mother's
house, our procession met another procession, and for a minute or two
there was a stoppage and great confusion, and several vulgar boys
hurrayed. What do you think that other procession was, child?'

I ponder deeply, but am unable to guess.

That other procession, child, was made up of policemen and riff-raff.
And in the middle of it, with handcuffs on, was Anthony Bullpit. He
had been arrested on a warrant for forgery. What with the confusion
and the struggling, the processions got mixed up together, and as I
raised my eyes I saw the eyes of Anthony Bullpit fixed upon me. Such a
shock as that look of his gave me I shall never forget--never! I knew
the meaning of it too well. It meant that all this had occurred
through me; that life without me was a mockery; that he had arranged
everything so that we should meet immediately the fatal knot was tied;
and that he was on his road to ---- where he said he would go.'

'He must have been a very wicked man, grandmother.'

'A wicked man, child! How dare you!  He was as innocent as I was, and
he did it all to punish me. I fainted dead away in the middle of the
street, and had to be carried home, and have hartshorn given to me,
and brown paper burnt under my nose. When I came to, I looked more
like a blackamoor than a bride, and my wedding dress was completely
spoilt. And nothing of all this would have occurred, child, if it had
not been for the meanness of your grandfather. If he had provided
carriages _we_ should never have met. When poor Mr. Bullpit was put
upon his trial he would not make any defence. Your grandfather said
the case was so clear that it would only have aggravated it to defend
it. But I knew better. When he pleaded guilty, I knew that he did it
to spite me, and to prove that he was a man of his word. I wanted to
go to the trial, but your grandfather objected; and when I said I
_would_ go, he locked all the doors in the house, and took the keys
away with him. Your grandfather has much to answer for. Mr. Bullpit
was transported for twenty-one years. Some wicked people said it was a
mercy he wasn't hanged. If he had been, I should never have survived
it. Poor Anthony!'

I was too young to exercise a proper judgment upon this incident in my
grandmother's life, but it is imprinted indelibly upon my memory. I
knew very well that I did not like my grandmother, and that I did not
feel happy in her society. Often when I wished to go out into the
sunshine to play, she would say,

'Bring the boy in here, and let him keep me company. It will do him
more good than running about in the dirt.'

And her word being law in the house, I used to be taken into the room
where she sat in her armchair, staring at the monkey-man on the
mantelshelf, and used to be squeezed into my own little armchair, and
placed in the corner to keep her company. For a certain sufficient
reason I deemed it advisable to be companionable; for once I had
sulked, and was sullen and ill-tempered. Then my grandmother had said:

'The child is unwell! He must have some physic.'

She herself prescribed the medicine--jalap, which was my disgust and
abhorrence--and the dose, which was not a small one. Out of that
companionship sprang my knowledge of the man with the knob on the top
of his head, and who was always eating his nails. By some process of
ratiocination I associate him with the smoke-dried monkey of a man in
stone, and I hate them both honestly. As for Anthony Bullpit being
innocent of the crime for which he was transported, I smile scornfully
at the idea. He is my model for all that is disagreeable and bad, and
I never see a man whose nails are bitten down to the quick without
associating him--often unjustly, I am sure--with meanness and
trickery.

There was a reason for my being doomed to the companionship of my
grandmother, and for my being made her victim as it were. Our family
circle comprised five individuals: my grandmother, my father and
mother, myself, and a baby-brother. My parents had, through no fault
of their own, drifted into that struggling-genteel class of persons
whose means never quite come up to their efforts to make an
appearance. We had been a little better off once upon a time, but
unfortunately my father's health had failed him, and at the period of
which I am writing he was confined to his bed, unable to work. My
mother, what with her anxiety and her ignorance of the world, was to a
certain extent helpless. Therefore, when my grandmother proposed to
come and live with us, and bring her servant, and pay so much a week
for board and lodging, her offer was gladly accepted. It was a current
belief that my grandmother had a 'long stocking' somewhere, with
plenty of money in it, and to this long stocking may be attributed
much of my unhappiness at that time. For it had come to be recognised
that I was to be my grandmother's heir, and that her long stocking
would descend to me. It was, perhaps, regarded as a fair arrangement
that, as my grandmother's property was to be mine when she was dead, I
was to be my grandmother's property while she was alive; and I have no
doubt that care was taken that her whims with respect to me should be
carefully attended to, so that my inheritance might not be
jeopardised. My mother did not know that I was unhappy; I was as a
child somewhat secretive by nature, and I kept my thoughts and
feelings much to myself. Besides, I had an intuitive perception of the
state of affairs at home, and I felt that if I offended my grandmother
my parents might suffer.



CHAPTER II.
I AM FRIGHTENED OF MY SHADOW.


I have already mentioned the name of the servant whom my grandmother
brought with her to our house; it was Jane Painter. She had
been with my grandmother for many years, from girlhood I believe,
and she was now about thirty years of age. In appearance she was
a thin, sharp-featured, pale-faced woman; in manners she was a
viciously-minded creature, fond of pinching children on the sly in
tender places, assuming the while, to deceive observers, an expression
of amiability, which intensified the malignity of her conduct. From
the moment she entered our house she became the enemy of every person
in it, and waged open and secret war upon all of us. Her service with
my grandmother had been a very easy one, but things were different
when her mistress changed her residence. She had to do double the work
she had been accustomed to, and as we were the direct cause of this,
she was not slow in showing resentment. My mother, patient as she
always was, made light of the woman's infirmities of temper, believing
that she was necessary to my grandmother; Jane Painter, however,
declined to accept the olive-branch which my mother held out to her,
and would certainly not have remained in the house but for one
inducement. This was made clear to us a very few days after the
change. My mother had occasion to remonstrate with her for some
piece of impertinence, and Jane Painter ran into my grandmother's room
in a fury, and demanded to know if she was to be treated like a
galley-slave. My mother stood quietly by, listening to the servant's
complainings. Said my grandmother,

'You must do what my daughter desires you to do, Jane. I told her you
would help her in the house.'

'I won't be ordered about as if I was a bit of dirt!' exclaimed Jane
Painter, gasping.

'O Jane!' remonstrated my mother.

'Don't O Jane me!' and then followed the unreasoning argument. 'I'm
flesh and blood the same as you are!'

'Jane,' said my grandmother, 'I mustn't be worried; my nerves won't
stand it. I sha'n't be here long, and you know what I have promised
you.'

'Whose servant am I--yours or hers?'

'Mine, Jane, and a very good servant you've been. I hope for your own
sake you are not going to be different now.'

'Haven't I served you faithfully?' asked Jane Painter, sobbing herself
into a quieter emotional stage.

'Yes, Jane, yes; and you shall be remembered for it.'

'Haven't I waited on you hand and foot?'

'Yes, Jane, yes; and you shall be remembered.'

'When you was took bad with the spasms,' blubbered Jane, didn't I stop
up with you all night till I was fit to drop?'

'Yes, Jane; and I haven't forgotten you for it. You shall be
remembered, I tell you.'

By being remembered, my grandmother meant that Jane Painter was set
down in her will for a certain portion of the contents of her long
stocking; and but for this inducement it was pretty clear that Jane
Painter would have taken her departure. The war she waged against us
from this time was passive, but bitter. I, as the recognised heir to
the long stocking, and as being likely, therefore, to diminish her
portion, came in for the largest share of her ill-temper and
animosity, and she showed much ingenuity in devising means to torment
me. Parting my hair on the wrong side, brushing it into my eyes,
rubbing the soap in my mouth and only half-wiping my face after I was
washed, buttoning my clothes awry, running pins into me, holding me
suspended by one arm as we went down stairs; these were the smallest
of my sufferings. An incident, laughable in itself, but exceedingly
painful in its effect upon me, comes vividly to my remembrance here;
and it afforded Jane Painter an opportunity of inventing a new
torture, and of inflicting upon me the sharpest and most terrible
distress I ever experienced. It occurred in this way:

Whether it was that the dull companionship of a peevish old woman was
having its due effect upon me, or whether it sprang from my natural
constitution, I was growing to be very nervous. I was frightened of
being alone in the dark; a sudden noise startled me painfully; any
unusual exhibition of tenderness brought tears to my eyes. One bright
summer afternoon I was sitting with my grandmother. Everything about
me was very quiet; my grandmother had not spoken for a long time, and
I listened to the regular sound of her breathing which told me she was
asleep. I tried all kinds of devices to while away the time. I looked
at the wall and traced the pattern of the paper; I tried to stare the
monkey-man on the mantelshelf out of countenance; I closed my eyes and
placed the tips of my forefingers on them, and then opened them to
assure myself that the world had not come to an end; I counted the
rise and fall of my grandmother's capacious bosom till I grew so
confused that the billows before me seemed to swell and fill the room.
There was no pleasure to be gained from any of these tasks, and I felt
weary and dispirited. The sunshine streaming in at the parlour-window
seemed to say, 'Why are you stopping in that dull room? Come out and
play.' I gazed wistfully at the light, and thought how nice it would
be outside. I felt that I _should_ like to go. But I knew from rueful
experience how cross my grandmother would be if I made a noise and
awoke her; and I was so tightly fixed in my little armchair that I
could not extricate myself without a struggle. I dared not attempt to
wrench myself free from its embrace in the room; it might fall to the
ground. There was nothing for it but to try and escape from the room
with the chair fixed to me. The sunshine grew brighter and brighter,
and more and more tempting. My grandmother really seemed to be fast
asleep. I stretched out my hand and touched her dress: she always
dressed in silk, and sat in state. Her steady breathing continued. I
coughed, and whispered, 'Grandmother!' but she did not hear. I spoke
more loudly. 'Grandmother!' There was no response, and then I thought
I would venture. I rose, with my chair attached to me--the firmest and
closest of friends--and crept slowly and softly out of the room into
the passage. There I released myself, and then ran out into the
sunshine. In aglow of delight I flitted about like a butterfly escaped
from prison. I was in the full height of my enjoyment, when turning my
head over my shoulder, I saw my long ungainly shadow following me, and
in sudden unreasoning fright I ran away from it. I screamed in terror
as I saw it racing fast at my heels, as if trying to leap upon me and
seize me, and my mother happening at that moment to come to the
street-door, I flew towards her in a paroxysm of terror, and,
clutching tight hold of her, hid my face in her gown. In that position
my mother, with soothing words, drew me into the house, and I was only
pacified by being assured that the 'black man' who had frightened me
had disappeared; and certainly, when I was persuaded to look around I
saw no trace of him. My grandmother, awakened by my screams, did not
fail to give me a solemn lecture for my bad behaviour in stealing from
the room, and she improved the occasion by making me tremble with new
fears by her dreadful prophecies as to what the 'black man' would do
to me if I dared to be naughty again. The incident had a serious
effect upon me, and I was ill for a week afterwards. The doctor who
was attending my father said that I was of a peculiarly sensitive
temperament, and that great care must be taken of me.

'The nervousness,' he said, which has been the cause of his fright
may, if not counteracted, produce bad results by-and-by. The lad's
nature is essentially womanly and delicate. None the worse for
that--none the worse for that!'

He laid his hand upon my head in a very kind manner, and tears rushed
to my eyes. Seeing these, he immediately removed his hand, and gave my
cheek a merry pinch.

'He will grow out of it?' questioned my mother, anxiously.

'Oh, yes,' was the reply, cheerfully uttered, 'he will grow out of it;
but you must be careful with him. Don't let him mope; give him plenty
of exercise and fresh air.'

'I should like a pony,' I said. My mother's troubled eyes sought the
floor. If she could only have seen a magic pumpkin there!

'Then,' continued the doctor, until he is older and stronger I would
fill his mind with cheerful fancies. Tell him as many stories as you
please of fairies, and princesses, and flowers, and such-like; but
none about ghosts. You would like to hear about beautiful fairies
rising out of flower-bells, and sailing in the clouds, and floating on
the water in lilies, would you not, my lad?'

I nodded gaily; his bright manner was better than all the medicine.

'Do they really do all these things, sir?'

'Surely; for such as you, my boy.' I clapped my hands. 'You see!' he
said to my mother.

Many a time after this did my mother ransack her mental store, and
bring forth bright-coloured fancies to make me glad. She told Jane
Painter what the doctor said, and asked her to tell me the prettiest
stories she knew. Jane Painter replied with one of her sweetest
smiles. It was part of her duties to put me to bed every night, and
one night, soon after I was well, she came into my room in the dark,
as I was lying half awake and half asleep. She crept up the stairs and
into the room so stealthily that I had no consciousness of her
presence until a sepulchral voice stole upon my ears saying,

'Ho! Mister Friar, Don't be so bold, For fear you should make My
'eart's blood run cold!'

My heart's blood did run cold at these dreadful words, and I uttered a
cry of fright. Then Jane Painter spoke in her natural tone.

'I knew a boy once, and his name was Namby-Pamby. He was the greatest
coward that ever breathed, and he was always telling tales. I know
what happened to him at last. You're like him. Perhaps it'll happen to
you. A fine boy you are! You ought to have been born a rabbit. I
suppose you'll tell your mother. All cowards do.' Here she must have
put her head up the chimney, for her voice sounded very hollow as she
repeated, 'Ho! Mister Friar, Don't be so bold, For fear you should
make My 'eart's blood run cold!'

I cannot describe my terror. I wrapped the counterpane tightly round
my head, and lay all of a tremble until Jane Painter thought fit to
take her departure. From that night she inflicted the most dreadful
tortures upon me. The first thing she did after putting me to bed was
to blow out the candle; then she would calmly sit down and tell me
frightful stories of murders and ghosts. Blood was her favourite
theme; she absolutely revelled in it, and to this day I cannot look
upon it without a shudder. She would prowl about the room, muttering:

'I smell blood! I smell blood!'

And then:

'Let him be alive, Or let him be dead, I'll have his blood to make my
wine, I'll grind his bones to make my bread.'

After that she would grind her teeth, and make sounds as though she
were drinking.

'Serve him right, too, the little coward! Grind his bones on two large
stones. His blood and brine I'll drink for wine.'

I suffered this martyrdom in silence. I would not tell my mother, as
all cowards did. What the effect on me would have been if
circumstances had allowed Jane Painter to continue her persecution I
am afraid to think; but fortunately for me the event occurred which
she was waiting for. My grandmother died very suddenly. The last words
she was heard to utter were, Poor Anthony!' I was not sorry when she
died. I tried to look sad, as everybody else looked, but I knew that I
was a dreadful hypocrite.



CHAPTER III.
MY GRANDMOTHER'S LONG STOCKING.


There was a friend of the family of whose name I have no
remembrance, and whom, from a certain personal peculiarity, I must
denominate Snaggletooth. He was a large man--very tall, and round in
proportion--with a glistening bald head, a smooth full-fleshed face,
and clear gray eyes. In repose, and when he was not speaking, he was
by no means an unpleasant-looking man; his face was benignant, and his
clear gray eyes beamed kindly upon you. But directly he smiled he
became transformed, and his features were made to assume an almost
fiendish expression by reason of a hideous snaggle-tooth which thrust
itself forward immediately he opened his mouth. It stuck out like a
horn, and the change it effected in his appearance was something
marvellous.

As the friend of the family, Snaggletooth came forward and offered his
assistance. My father being confined to his bed by sickness, there was
no man in the house to look after the funeral of my grandmother, and
Snaggletooth's services were gladly accepted. I fancy that he was fond
of funerals, from the zealous manner in which he attended to the
details of this and a sadder one which followed not long afterwards.
Setting this fancy aside, he proved himself a genuine and
disinterested friend. We had no near relatives; my mother was an only
daughter, and my father had but one brother, older than he, whom I had
never seen, and who had disappeared from the place many years ago. He
was supposed to be dead; and from certain chance words which I must
have heard, I had gained a vague impression that he was not a credit
to the family.

It was a strange experience for me to sit in my grandmother's room
after her death, gazing at her empty armchair. I could not keep away
from the room; I crept into it at all hours of the day, and sat there
trembling. I mentally asked the stone monkey-figure what it thought of
my grandmother's death, and I put my fingers in my ears lest I should
hear an answer. Jane Painter found me there in the evening when she
came to put me to bed, and stated that my grandmother's spirit was
present, and that she was in communication with it. She held imaginary
conversations with my grandmother's ghost in the dusk, speaking very
softly and waiting for the answers. The effect was ghastly and
terrifying. These conversations related to nothing but poor me, and
the exquisite pain Jane Painter inflicted upon me by these means may
be easily imagined.

The first thing Snaggletooth did after my grandmother's funeral was to
search for her long stocking and the treasures it was supposed to
contain. Taking the words in their literal sense, I really thought
that the long stocking would be found hidden somewhere--under the bed
perhaps, or among the feathers, or up the chimney--stuffed with money,
in shape resembling my grandmother's leg, which I knew from actual
observation to be a substantial one.

'Perhaps she made a will,' observed Snaggletooth to my mother. Jane
Painter was present, hovering about us with hungry jealous eyes, lest
she should be cheated.

'She did make a will,' said Jane Painter, 'and I'm down in it.'

'Then we will find it,' said Snaggletooth cheerfully.

My grandmother's desk was opened, and every piece of paper in it was
examined. No will was there, nor a word relating to it. Her trunk was
searched with a like result.

'Never mind,' said Snaggletooth, with a genial smile, 'we shall be
sure to find the old lady's long stocking.'

And he set to work. But although a rigid search was made, no long
stocking could be found. Snaggletooth became immensely excited. Very
hot, very dusty and dirty, and with his shirt-sleeves tucked up to his
shoulders, he gazed at vacancy, and paused to take breath.
Disappointed as he was up to this point, his faith in my grandmother's
long stocking was not shaken; he had it not, and yet he saw it in form
as palpable as the lisle-thread stockings of my grandmother, which
were scattered about the room. A closer and more systematic search was
commenced. The hunt became more and more exciting, and still not a
glimpse of the fox's tail could be seen. Under Snaggletooth's
instructions the bedstead was taken down, the pillows and mattresses
were ripped open (Snaggletooth being determined not to leave a feather
unturned), the posts were sounded to discover if they were hollow, and
the strictest examination was made of every vestige of my
grandmother's clothing without a satisfactory result. Dirtier and
hotter than ever, and covered with fluff and feathers, Snaggletooth
looked about him with an air of 'What next?' His eye fell upon my
grandmother's armchair. Out came the stuffing that it contained, and
nothing more. My grandmother's footstool: a like result. Her portly
pincushion: nothing but bran. Up came the carpet, and almost blinded
us with dust. And then Snaggletooth sat down in the midst of the wreck
and said disconsolately:

'I am afraid we must give it up.'

So it was given up, and the mystery of my grandmother's long stocking
took honourable place in the family records as an important legend for
ever afterwards.

Jane Painter passed through many stages of emotion, and ended by being
furious. She vowed--no, she swore; it is more appropriate--that she
had been robbed, and openly declared that my mother had secreted my
grandmother's long stocking, and had destroyed the will. Nay, more;
she screamed that she had seen the treasure, which consisted of new
Bank of England notes and a heap of gold, and that in the will my
grandmother had left her three hundred pounds.

'Woman!' exclaimed Snaggletooth, rising from the ruins, 'be quiet!'

'Woman yourself!' screamed Jane Painter. 'You're in the plot to rob a
poor girl, and I'll have the law of you; I'll have the law, I'll have
the law!'

'Take it and welcome,' replied Snaggletooth. 'I hate it.'

But he was no match for Jane Painter, and he retired from the contest
discomfited; did not even stop to wash his face.

My mother was sad and puzzled. I did not entirely realise at the time
the cause of her sadness, because I did not know how poor she really
was, but I learnt it afterwards. She gathered sufficient courage to
tell Jane Painter that of course she could not stop in the house after
what she had said.

'If every hair in your head was a diamond,' gasped Jane Painter, 'I
wouldn't stop. No, not if you went down on your bended knees! I'll go
to-morrow.'

Then she pounced upon two silk dresses and some other articles of
clothing, and said that my grandmother had given them to her. My
mother submitted without a word, and Jane Painter marched to her room
and locked them in her box. She did as much mischief as she could on
her last evening in our house; broke things purposely and revenged
herself grandly on poor little me. After undressing and putting me to
bed as usual, and after smelling about the room, and under the bed,
and up the chimney for blood, she imparted to me the cheerful
intelligence that my grandmother's ghost would come and take me away
exactly at twelve o'clock that night. Near to our house was a church,
and many a night had I lain awake waiting for the tolling of the hour;
but I never listened with such intensity of purpose as I listened on
this night. As midnight drew near, I clenched my fists, I bit my lips,
I drew my knees almost up to my nose. I trembled and shook in the
darkness. I would not look, I thought; and when the hour tolled, every
note seemed charged with terrible meaning, and I shut my eyes tighter
and held my breath under the clothes. But when the bell had done
tolling, my state of horrible curiosity and fear compelled me to peep
out, and there in the middle of the room stood a tall figure in white.
So loud and shrill were my hysterical cries that my mother ran into
the room, there to find Jane Painter in her nightdress. I think the
woman herself; fearful lest she had gone too far, was glad to quit the
house the following day without being called to account for her
misdeeds. She did not leave without a few parting words. She called us
all a parcel of thieves, and said that a judgment would fall upon us
one day for robbing a poor servant of the money her dead mistress had
left her.



CHAPTER IV.
I MURDER MY BABY-BROTHER.


Misfortunes never come singly, and they did not come singly to us. It
was not for us to give the lie to a proverb. Often in a family, death
is in a hurry when it commences, and takes one after another quickly;
then pauses for a long breath.

In very truth, sorrow in its deepest phase had entered our house, and
my mother's form seemed to shrink and grow less from the day she put
on mourning for my grandmother. But if my mother had her troubles, I
am sure I had mine; and one was of such a strange and terrible nature
that, even at this distance of time, and with a better comprehension
of things, a curiously-reluctant feeling comes upon me as I prepare to
narrate it. It is summarised in a very few words. I murdered my
baby-brother.

At least, such was my impression at the time. For a long while I was
afflicted by secret remorse and by fear of discovery, and never till
now have I made confession. There was only one witness of my crime:
our cat. I remember well that my father was said to be sinking at the
time, and my mother, having her hands full, and her heart, too, poor
dear! placed me and my baby-brother in the room in which I used to sit
with my grandmother. My task was to take care of the little fellow,
and to amuse him. He was so young that he could scarcely toddle, and
we had great fun with two oranges which my mother had given us to play
with. It required great strength of mind not to eat them instead of
playing with them; but the purpose for which they were given to us had
been plainly set down by my mother. All that I could hope for,
therefore, was that they might burst their skins after being knocked
about a little, when of course they would become lawful food. We
played ball with them; my baby-brother rolling them towards me, not
being strong enough to throw them, and I (secretly animated by the
wish that they would burst their skins) throwing them up to him, with
a little more force than was actually necessary, and trying to make
him catch them. I cannot tell for how long we played, for at this
precise moment of my history a mist steals upon such of my early
reminiscences as are related in this and the preceding chapters--a
mist which divides, as by a curtain, one part of my life from another.
My actual life will soon commence, the life that is tangible to me, as
it were, that stands out in stronger colour and is distinct from the
brief prologue which was acted in dreamland, and which lies nestled
deep among the days of my childhood. Cloud-memories these; most of us
have such. Some are wholly bright and sweet, some wholly sad and
bitter, some parti-coloured. When the dreamland in which these
cloud-memories have birth has faded, and we are in the summer or the
winter of our days, fighting the Battle, or, having fought it, are
waiting for the trumpet-sound which proclaims the Grand Retreat, we
can all remember where we received such and such a wound, where such
and such a refreshing draught was given to us, at what part of the
fight such and such a scar was gained, and at what part a spiritual
vision dawned upon our souls, captivating and entrancing us with hopes
too bright and beautiful ever to be realised; and though our blood be
thin and poor, and the glory of life seems to have waned with the
waning of our strength, our pulses thrill and our hearts beat with
something of the old glow as the remembrance of these pains and
pleasures comes upon us!

To return to my baby-brother. The dusk steals upon us, and we are
still playing with the oranges. The cat is watching us, and when an
orange rolls in her direction she, half timidly, half sportively,
stretches out her paw towards it, and on one occasion lies full-length
on her stomach, with an orange between the tips of her paws, and her
nose in a straight line with it. I hear my baby-brother laugh
gleefully as I scramble on all-fours after the orange. The dusk has
deepened, and my baby-brother's face grows indistinct. I throw the
orange towards him. It hits him in the face, and his gleeful laughter
changes to a scream. I absolutely never see my baby-brother again, and
never again hear his voice. All that afterwards refers to him seems to
be imparted to me when it is dark, and so strong is my impression of
this detail that in my memory I never see his face with a light upon
it. My baby-brother is taken suddenly ill, I am told. I go about the
house, always in the dark, stepping very gently, and wondering whether
my secret will become known, and if it does, what will be done to me.
Still in the dark I hear that my baby-brother is worse; that he is
dangerously ill. Then, without an interval as it seems, comes the news
that my baby-brother is dead, and I learn in some undiscoverable way
that he has died of the croup. I know better. I know that I gave him
his death-blow with the orange, and I tremble for the consequences.
But no human being appears to suspect me, and for my own sake I must
preserve silence. Even to assume an air of grief at my baby-brother's
death might be dangerous; it might look as if I were too deeply
interested in the event; so I put on my most indifferent air. There
are, however, two things in the house that I am frightened of. One is
our old Dutch clock, the significant ticking and the very ropes and
iron weights of which appear to me to be pregnant with knowledge of my
crime. Five minutes before every hour the clock gives vent to a
whirring sound, and at that sound, hitherto without significance, I
tremble. There is a warning in it, and with nervous apprehension I
count the seconds that intervene between it and the striking of the
hour, believing that then the bell will proclaim my guilt. It _does_
proclaim it; but no person understands it, no one heeds it. I lean
against the passage wall, listening to the denunciation. Snaggletooth
comes in and stands by my side while the clock is striking. I look up
into his face with imploring eyes and a sinking heart. He taps my
cheek kindly, and passes on. I breathe more freely; he does not know
the language of the bells. The other thing of which I am frightened is
our cat. I know that she knows, and I am fearful lest, by some
mysterious means, she will denounce me. If I meet her in the dark, her
green eyes glare at me. I try to win her over to my side in a covert
manner by stroking her coat; but as I smooth her fur skilfully and
cunningly, I am convinced that she arches her back in a manner more
significant than usual, and that by that action she declines to be a
passive accessory to the fact. Her very tail, as it curls beneath my
fingers, accuses me. But time goes on, and I am not arrested and led
away to be hanged. When my baby-brother is in his coffin I am taken to
see him. The cat follows at my heels; I strive to push her away
stealthily with my foot, but she rubs her ear against my leg, and will
not leave me. I do not see my baby-brother, because I shut my eyes,
and I sob and tremble so that they are compelled to take me out of the
room; but I have a vague remembrance of flowers about his coffin. I am
a little relieved when I hear that he is buried, but the night that
follows is a night of torture to me. The Dutch clock ticks, 'I know! I
know!' and the cat purrs, 'I know! I know!' and when I am in bed the
shade of Jane Painter steals into the room, and after smelling about
for blood, whispers in a ghastly undertone that _she_ knows, and is
going to tell. Of the doctor, also, I begin to be frightened, for
after his visit to my father's sick-room, my mother brings him to see
me--being anxious about me, I hear her say. He stops and speaks to me,
and when his fingers are on my wrist, I fancy that the beating of my
pulse is revealing my crime to him.

But more weighty cares even than mine are stirring in our house, and
making themselves felt. My father's last moments are approaching, and
I hear that he cannot last the day out. He lasts the day out, but he
does not last the night out. As the friend of the family, Snaggletooth
remains in the house to see the end of his old comrade. He and my
father were schoolboys together, he tells me. 'He was the cleverest
boy in the school,' Snaggletooth says; 'the cleverest boy in the
school! He used to do my sums for me. We went out birds'-nesting
together; and many and many's the time we've stood up against the
whole school, snowballing. A snowball, with a stone in it, hit him in
the face once, and knocked him flat down; but he was up in a minute,
all bloody, and rushed into the middle of our enemies, like a young
lion--like a young lion! He was the first and the cleverest of all of
us--I was a long way behind him. And now, think of him lying there
almost at his last breath, and look at me!' Snaggletooth straightens
himself as he walks upstairs, murmuring, 'The cleverest boy in the
school! And now think of him, and look at me!'

Snaggletooth's wife is in the house, and helps my mother in her
trouble. In the night this good creature and I sit together in the
kitchen--waiting. My mother comes in softly two or three times; once
she draws me out of the kitchen on to the dark landing, and kneels
down, and with her arms around my neck, sobs quietly upon my shoulder.
She kisses me many times, and whispers a prayer to me, which I repeat
after her.

'Be a good child always, Chris,' she says.

'I will, mother.' And the promise, given at such a time, sinks into my
heart with the force of a sacred obligation.

Then my mother takes me into the kitchen, and gives me into the charge
of Snaggletooth's wife, and steals away. Snaggletooth's wife begins to
prattle to amuse me, and in a few minutes I ascertain that she in some
way resembles Jane Painter; for--probably influenced by the
appropriateness of the occasion for such narrations--she tells me
stories in a low tone about the Ghost of the Red Barn, and the
Cock-lane Ghost, and Old Mother Shipton. The old witch is a favourite
theme with Snaggletooth's wife, and I hear many strange things. She
says:

'One night Mother Shipton was in a terrible rage, and she told the
grasshopper on the top of the Royal Exchange to jump over to the ball
on St. Paul's Church steeple. And so it did. Soon after that, London
was burnt to the ground.'

I muse upon this, and presently inquire: 'Was it an accident?'

'The fire? No; it was done on purpose.'

'Was it because the grasshopper jumped on to the steeple that London
was set on fire?'

'Of course,' is the reply. 'That was Mother Shipton's spite.'

Snaggletooth's wife tells so many stories of ghosts and witches that
the air smells of fire and brimstone, and I see the cat's tail stiffen
and its eyes glow fearfully. Then I hear a cry from upstairs, and
Snaggletooth's wife rises hurriedly, and looks about her with restless
hands, and the whole house is in a strange confusion. Snaggletooth
himself comes into the room, and as he whispers some consoling words
to me--only the import of which I understand--his great tooth sticks
out like a horn. He looks like a fiend.



CHAPTER V.
I PLAY THE PART OF CHIEF MOURNER.


Notwithstanding her limited means, my mother had always managed to
keep up a respectable appearance. Popular report had settled it that
my grandmother was a woman of property and that my father had money;
and the fact that my grandmother's long stocking had proved to be a
myth was most completely discredited. We are supposed, therefore, to
be well to do, and the scandal would have been great if my father had
not received a respectable funeral. Public opinion called for it. My
mother makes a great effort, and quite out of love, I am sure, and not
at all in deference to public opinion, buries my father in a manner so
respectable as to receive the entire approval of our neighbours.
Public opinion called for mutes, and two mutes--one with a very long
face and one with a very square face--are at our door, the objects of
deep and attentive contemplation on the part of the sundry and
several. Public opinion called for four black horses, and there they
stand, champing their bits, with their mouths well soaped. Public
opinion called for plumes, and there they wave, and bow, and bend,
proud and graceful attendants at the shrine of death. Public opinion
called for mock mourners, and they are ready to parody grief, with
very large feet, ill-fitting black gloves, and red-rimmed eyes, which
suggest the idea that their eyelids have been wept away by a long
course of salaried affliction. Never all his life had my father been
so surrounded by pomps and vanities; but public opinion has decided
that on such solemn occasions grief is not grief unless it is
lacquered, and that common decency would be outraged by following the
dead to the grave with simple humility.

The interior of our house has an appearance generally suggestive of
graves and coffins. The company is assembled in the little parlour
facing the street--my grandmother's room--and in her expiring attempt
at respectability my mother has provided sherry and biscuits. The
blinds are down although it is broad day; a parody of a sunbeam flows
through a chink, but the motes within it are anything but lively, and
float up and down the slanting pillar in a sluggish and funereal
manner, in perfect sympathy with the occasion. The cat peeps into the
room, debating whether she shall enter; after a cautious scrutiny she
decides in the negative, and retires stealthily, to muse over the
uncertainty of life in a more retired spot. The company is not
numerous. Snaggletooth is present, and the doctor, and two neighbours
who approve of the sherry. These latter invite Snaggletooth's
attention to the wine, and he pours out a glass and disposes of it
with a sadly resigned air; saying before he drinks it, with a tender
reference to my father as he holds it up to the light, Ah! If _he_
could!' Conversation is carried on in a deadly-lively style. I think
of my baby-brother, and a wild temptation urges me to fall upon my
knees and make confession of the murder; but I resist it, and am
guiltily dumb. Snaggletooth, observing signs of agitation in my face,
pats me on the shoulder, and says, 'Poor little fellow!' The two
neighbours follow suit, and poor-little-fellow me in sympathising
tones. After this, they approach the decanter of sherry with one
intention. There is but half a glass left, which the first to reach
the decanter pours out and drinks, while the second regards him
reproachfully, with a look which asks, On such an occasion should not
self be sacrificed? Before the lid of the coffin is fastened down, I
am taken into the room by Snaggletooth to look for the last time upon
my father's face. I see nothing but a figure in white which inspires
me with fear. I cling close to Snaggletooth. He is immensely affected,
and mutters, 'Good-bye, old schoolfellow! Ah, time! time!' As I look
up at him, his bald head glistens as would a ball of wax, and
something glistens in his eyes.

When the coffin is taken out of the house, there is great excitement
among the throng of persons in the street. They peep over each other's
shoulders to catch a glimpse of the coffin and of me. I cannot help
feeling that I am in an exalted position. A thrill of pride stirs my
heart. Am I not chief mourner?

I stand by the side of a narrow grave, dug in a corner of the
churchyard, and shaded from the sun's glare by a triangular wall, the
top of which is covered with pieces of broken bottles, arranged with
cruel nicety and precision, so that their sharp and jagged ends are
uppermost. Standing also within the shadow of the triangular wall are
a number of tombstones, some fair and white, others yellow and
crumbling from age, which I regard with the air of one who has
acquired a vested interest in the property. I do not understand the
words the clergyman utters, for he has an impediment in his speech.
But as the coffin is lowered, I am impelled gently towards the grave,
from which I shrink, however, apprehensive lest I shall be thrust into
it, and buried beneath the earth which is scattered on the coffin with
a leaden miserable sound. When the service is ended, I hear
Snaggletooth mutter, 'Think of him lying there, and look at me! And we
were schoolfellows, and played snowball together!' Snaggletooth shows
me my grandmother's grave, and the grave of my baby-brother. I dare
not look upon the latter, knowing what I know. Then Snaggletooth,
still with head uncovered, stands before a little gave over which is a
small marble tombstone, with the inscription, 'Here Lieth our Beloved
Daughter.' Seeing that his tears are falling on the grave, I creep
closer to him, and he presses me gently to his side. I read the
inscription slowly, spelling the words, 'Here Lieth our Beloved
Daughter,' and I look at him inquiringly.

'My daughter,' he says; 'the sweetest angel that ever breathed. She
was three years and one day old when she died, nearly five years ago.
Poor darling! Five years ago! Ah, time! time!'

As we pass out of the churchyard I notice again the broken glass on
the top of the wall, and I say,

'Isn't that cruel?'

'Why cruel?' asks Snaggletooth. 'No one can get in without hurting
himself.'

Snaggletooth regards me with an eye of curiosity.

'And who do you think wants to get into such a place, my little
fellow?'

I do not answer, and Snaggletooth adds,

'The angels, perhaps. Good--good. But they come in another way.'

'No one can get out without hurting himself,' I suggest.

'That is a better thought; but if they lived good lives----'

'Yes, sir.'

'Walls covered with broken glass won't hurt them.'

Snaggletooth looks upwards contemplatively. I look up also, and a
sudden dizziness comes upon me and overpowers me. Snaggletooth catches
me as I am falling.

'You are not well, my little fellow.'

'No, sir; I feel very weak, but the doctor says I shall get over it.'

Snaggletooth lifts me in his arms, and I fall asleep on his shoulder
as he carries me tenderly home.

Here we are, my mother and I, sitting in the little parlour. My mother
has been crying over me, and perhaps over the sad future that lies
before us. Not a sound now is to be heard. My condition is a strange
one. Everything about me is very unreal, and I wonderingly consider if
I shall ever wake up. All my young experiences come to me again.
I see my grandmother and myself sitting together. There upon the
mantelshelf is the figure of the smoke-dried monkey of a man in
stone, wagging his head at me; there is the man with the knob on the
top of his head--what is his name? Anthony--yes, Anthony
Bullpit--making a meal off his finger nails. In marches my
grandmother's long stocking, bulged out with money to the shape of a
very substantial leg, just as I had fancied it--that makes me laugh;
but my flesh creeps as I hear Jane Painter's voice in the dark,
telling of blood and murder. The last word, as she dwells upon it,
brings up my baby-brother, and I hear the Dutch clock tick: 'I know! I
know!' But it ticks all these fancies into oblivion, and ticks in the
picture of the churchyard. I see the graves and the tombstones, and I
read the inscription: 'Here Lieth our Beloved Daughter.' How it must
grieve her parents to know that their beloved daughter is lying shut
up in the cold earth! I raise a portrait of the child, with fair hair
and laughing eyes, and I wonder how she would look now if she were dug
up, and whether her parents would know her again. Night surprises me
confined within the triangular wall of the churchyard. The gates are
closed, and I cannot pass out. The moon shines down icily. The cold
air makes my fevered blood hotter. I _must_ get out! I cannot stop
confined here for ever! I dig my fingers into the wall; desperately I
cling to it, and strive to climb. Inch by inch I mount. With an
exquisite sense of relief I reach the top, but as I place my hands
upon it they are cut to the bone by the broken glass, and with a wild
shudder I sink into darkness and oblivion!



CHAPTER VI.
IN WHICH A GREAT CHANGE IN MY CIRCUMSTANCES TAKES PLACE.


When I recovered from the fever of which the experiences just recorded
were the prelude, I found that we had removed from the house in which
I was born, and that we were occupying apartments. We had removed also
from the neighbourhood; the streets were strange, the people were
strange; I saw no familiar faces. Hitherto we had been living in
Hertford, and many a time had I watched the barges going lazily to and
fro on the River Lea. The place we were in now was nothing but a
village; my mother told me it was called Chipping Barnet. I cannot
tell exactly what it was that restrained me from asking why the change
had been made; it must have been from an intuitive consciousness that
the subject was painful to my mother. But when, after the lapse of a
year or so, we moved away from Chipping Barnet, and began to live in
very humble fashion in two small rooms, I asked the reason.

'My dear,' said my mother, 'we cannot afford better.'

I looked into her face; it was pale and cheerful. But I saw, although
no signs of repining were there, that care had made its mark. She
smiled at me.

'We are very poor, dear child,' she said; and added quickly, with a
light in her eyes, 'but that is no reason why we should not be happy.'

She did her best to make me so, and poor as our home was, it contained
many sweet pleasures. By this time I had completely lost sight of
Snaggletooth and all our former friends and acquaintances. I did not
miss them; I had my mother with me, and I wished for no one else.
Already, my former life and my former friends were becoming to me
things of long ago. My mother often spoke of London, and of her wish
to go there.

'I think it would be better for us, Chris,' she said.

'Is London a very large place?' I asked. 'As large as this?'
stretching out my arms to gain an idea of its extent.

My mother told me what she knew of London, which was not much, for she
had only been there once, for a couple of days, and I said I was sure
I should not like it; there were too many people in it. My idea of
perfect happiness was to live with my mother in some pretty country
place, where there were fields and shady walks and turnstiles and
narrow lanes, and perhaps a river. I described the very place, and
artistically dotted it with lazy cattle listening for mysterious signs
in earth or air, or looking with steady solemn gaze far into the
horizon, as if they were observing signs hidden from human gaze. I
also put some lazy barges on the river, 'Creeping, creeping,
creeping,' I said, 'as if they were _so_ tired!'

'And we would go and live in that very place, my dear,' said my
mother, 'if we had money enough.'

'When you get money enough, mother, we _will_ go.'

'Yes, my dear.'

Other changes were made, but not in the direction I desired. Like a
whirlpool, London was drawing us nearer and nearer to its depths, and
by the time I was twelve years of age we were nearly at the bottom of
the hill down which we had been steadily going. My clothes were very
much patched and mended now; all our furniture was sold, and we were
living in one room, which was rented to us ready furnished. The
knowledge of the struggle in which my mother was engaged loomed
gradually upon me, and distressed me in a vague manner. We were really
now in London, although not in the heart of the City; and my mother,
whose needle brought us bread and very little butter, often walked
four miles to the workshop, and four miles back, on a fruitless
errand. Things were getting worse and worse with us. My mother grew
thinner and paler, but she never looked at me without a smile on her
lips--a smile that was often sad, but always tender. At night, while
she worked, she taught me to read and write; there was no free school
near us, and she could not afford to pay for my learning. But no
schoolmaster could have taught me as well as she did. She had a thin,
sweet voice, and often when I was in bed I fell asleep with her
singing by my side. I used to love to lie thus peacefully with closed
eyes, and float into dreamland upon the wings of her sweet melodies. I
woke up sometimes late in the night, and saw her dear face bending
over her work. It was always meek and cheerful; I never saw anger or
bad passion in it.

'Mother,' I said one night, after I had lain and watched her for a
long time.

She gave a start. 'Dear child; I thought you were asleep.'

'So I have been; but I woke up, and I've been watching you for a long,
long time. Mother, when I am a man I shall work for you.'

'That's right, dear. You give me pleasure and delight. I know my good
boy will try to be a good man.'

'I will try to; as good as you are. I want to be like you. Could I not
work now, mother?'

'No, dear child; you are not strong enough yet.'

'I wish I could grow into a strong man in a night,' I thought.

My mother came to the bedside and rested her fingers upon my neck.
What tenderness dwells in a loving mother's touch! I imprisoned her
fingers in mine. She leant towards me caressingly and kissed me. Sleep
stole upon me in that kiss of love.

I saw a picture in a shop window of a girl whose bright fresh face
brought my mother's face before me. But the girl's face was full of
gladness, and her cheeks were glowing; my mother's cheeks were sunken
and wan. Still the likeness was unmistakably there, and I thought how
much I should love to see my mother as bright as this bright girl. I
spoke to her about it, and she went to see the picture, which was in
the next street to ours. She came back smiling.

'It _is_ like me, Chris,' she said; 'as I was once.'

'Then you must have been very, very pretty,' I said, stroking her
cheek.

My mother laughed melodiously.

'When I was young, my dear,' she said with innocent vanity, blushing
like a girl, 'I was thought not to be ugly.'

'Ugly, indeed!' I exclaimed, looking around defiantly. 'My mother
couldn't be ugly!'

'What do you call me now, Chris?'

'You are beautiful--beautiful!' with another defiant look. My mother
shook her hand in mild remonstrance. 'You are--you are! But you're
pale and thin, and you've got lines here--and here.' I smoothed them
with my hand. 'And, mother, you're not old!'

'I'm forty, Chris.'

'That is not old. Tell me--why did you alter so?'

'Time and trouble alter us, dear. We can't be always bright.'

I thought that I might be the trouble she referred to, and I asked the
question anxiously.

'You, my darling!' she said, drawing me to her side and petting me.
'You are my joy, my comfort! I live only for you, Chris--only for
you!'

I noticed something here, and, with a touch of that logical
argumentativeness for which I was afterwards not undistinguished, I
said:

'If I am your joy and comfort, you ought to be glad.'

'And am I not glad? What does my little boy mean by his roundabouts?'

'You cried when you said I was your joy and comfort.'

'They were tears of pleasure, my dear--tears that sprang from my love
for my boy. Then perhaps they sprang from the thought--for we will be
truthful always, Chris--that I should like to buy my boy a new pair of
boots and some new clothes, and that I couldn't because I hadn't money
enough.'

'You would buy them for me if you had money?'

'Ah! what would I not buy for my darling if I had money!'

How delicious it was to nestle in her arms as she poured out the love
of her heart for me! How I worshipped her, and kissed her, and patted
her cheek, and smoothed her hair.

'You are like a lover, my dear,' she said.

'I am your lover,' I replied, and murmured softly to myself, 'Wait
till I am a man! wait till I am a man!'

That night I coaxed my mother to talk to me of the time when she was
young, and she did, with many a smile and many a blush; and in our one
little room there was much delight. She picked out the daisies of her
life, and laid them before me to gladden my heart. Simple and
beautiful were they as Nature's own sweet flower. She showed me a
picture of herself as a girl, and I saw its likeness to the picture
I had admired in the shop window. She sang me to sleep with her dear
old songs, full of sweetness and simplicity. How different are our
modern songs from those sweet old airs! The charm of simplicity is
wanting--but, indeed, it is wanting in other modern things as well.
The spirit of simplicity dwells not in crowded places.

Then commenced my first conscious worship of woman. I held her in my
heart as a devotee holds a saint. How good was this world which
contained such goodness! How sweet this life which contained such
sweetness! She was the flower of both. Modesty, simplicity, and truth,
were with her invariably. To me she became the incarnation of purity.

Time went on, and low as we were we were still going down hill
steadily and surely. It is a long hill, and there are many depths in
it. Work grew slack, and in the struggle to make both ends meet, my
mother was frequently worsted; there was often a great gap between. I
do not wonder that hearts sometimes crack in that endeavour. Yet my
mother ('by hook and by crook,' as I have heard her say merrily)
generally managed in the course of the week to scrape together some
few coins which, jealously watched and jealously spent, sufficed in a
poor way to keep body and soul together. How it was managed is a
mystery to me. The winter came on: a hard winter. Bread went up in
price; every additional halfpenny on a four-pound loaf was a dagger in
my mother's breast. We rubbed through this hard time somehow, and
Christmas glided by and the new year came upon us. A cold spring set
in, and work, which had been getting slacker and slacker, could not
now be obtained. Still my mother did not lie down and yield. She tried
other shops, and received a little work--very little--at odd times.
There came a very hard week, and my mother was much distressed. On the
Friday night I heard her murmuring to herself in her sleep as I
thought, and I fancied I heard her sob. I called to her, but she did
not answer me. Her breath rose and fell in regular rhythm. Yes, she
was asleep, and the sob I thought I heard was born of my fancy. I was
thankful for that!



CHAPTER VII.

IN WHICH A FAIRY IN A COTTON-PRINT DRESS IS INTRODUCED.


The next day was Saturday, and my mother went out early in the
morning, and returned at two o'clock with the saddest of faces.

'No work, mother?' I asked.

'No, my dear,' she replied; 'but come, my child, you must be hungry.'

There was little enough to eat, but my boy's appetite, and the cunning
way my mother had of placing our humble fare before me, made the plain
food as sweet as the best.

I noticed that she ate nothing, and I tried to persuade her to eat.

'I have no appetite, my dear,' she said, and added in reply to my
sorrowful look, 'My little boy doesn't know what I've had while I was
out this morning.'

Deeper thought than usual seemed to occupy her mind during the
afternoon, and she suddenly started up, and hurriedly threw on her
bonnet and shawl.

'Are you going to try again, mother?'

'Yes, my darling; I must try again.'

She did not return until late, but she returned radiant, and said, as
she took my face between her two hands, and kissed me:

'Child, dear child! God bless those who help the poor!'

She did not bid me repeat the words; but some deep meaning in her
voice impelled me to do so, and I said in a solemn tone, what the
words seemed to demand,

'God bless those who help the poor!'

She nodded pensively as she knelt before me, and as I looked at her
somewhat earnestly, her face flushed, and she rose, and bustled about
the room, putting things in order. I think she tried to hide her face
from me, and that her bustling about was a pretence.

'And now, Chris,' she said presently, drawing her breath quickly, as
though she had been running, 'let us go out and get something nice for
supper, and for dinner to-morrow. Put on your cap, dear; you must be
hungry.'

I was; and I was glad, indeed, to hear the good news, and to accompany
her on such an errand. She consulted me as to what she should buy, and
made me very proud and happy with her 'What do you say to this, dear?'
and 'Would you like this, my darling?' We returned home loaded with
meat, potatoes, and one or two little delicacies. I was in a state of
great satisfaction, and we made quite merry over the trifling incident
of a few potatoes rolling out of my mother's apron down the stairs in
the dark. Bump, bump, bumping,' I said, as I scrambled down after
them, 'as if they knew their way in the dark, and could see without a
candle.'

'Potatoes have eyes, my dear,' said my mother; and we laughed blithely
over it.

My mother's mood changed after supper. We always said a very simple
grace after meals. It was, 'Thank God for a good breakfast!' 'Thank
God for a good dinner!' or whatever meal it was of which we had
partaken. Our 'Thank God for a good supper!' being said, most
earnestly by my mother, she cleared away the things, and said,

'Now we will see how rich we are.'

We sat down at the table, side by side, and my mother took out of her
pocket what money it contained. I thought that our all had been
expended in our frugal purchases, but I was agreeably mistaken. There
were still left two sixpences and a few coppers. My mother selected a
battered halfpenny, and regarded it tenderly--so tenderly, and with so
much feeling, that her tears fell on it. I wondered. A battered
halfpenny, dented, dirty, bruised! I wondered more as she kissed it,
and held it to me to kiss.

'Why, mother?' I asked, as I kissed.

In reply, she told me a story.

'My dear, there lived in a great forest a poor woman who had no friend
in the world but one--a bird that she loved with all her heart and
soul, and who, not being big enough or strong enough to get food for
himself, depended, because he couldn't help it, upon what this poor
woman could provide for him. There were other birds that in some way
resembled the bird that belonged to this poor woman, and that she
loved so dearly, and many of these were also compelled to wander about
the great forest in search of food; but they found it so difficult to
obtain sufficient to eat, and they met with so many sad adventures in
their search, that their wings lost their strength, and their hearts
the brightness that was their proper heritage--for they were young
birds, whose time for battling with the world had not arrived. The
poor woman did not wish her dear bird to meet with such sad
experiences until he was strong and able to cope with them. I can't
tell you, my dear, how much she loved her bird, and how thoroughly her
whole heart was wrapped up in her treasure. Once she had friends who
were good to her; but it was the will of God that she should lose
them, and she and her bird were left alone in the world. She had many
difficulties to contend with, being a weak and foolish woman----'

I shook my head, and said, 'I am sure she wasn't; I am sure she
wasn't!' My mother pressed me closer to her side, and continued, her
fingers caressing my neck:

----'And the days were sometimes very dark for her, or would have been
but for the joy she found in her only treasure. A time came when her
heart almost fainted within her--for her bird was at home hungry, and
there was no food in the nest, and she did not know which way to turn
to get it. She wandered about the forest with rebellious thoughts in
her mind--yes, my dear, she did!--and out of her blindness and
wickedness--hush, my dearest!--out of her blindness and wickedness,
she began almost to doubt the goodness of God. She thought, foolish
woman that she was! that there was no love in the forest but the love
which filled _her_ breast; that pity, compassion, charity, had died
out of the world, and that she and her bird were to be left to perish.
But she received such a lesson, my dear, as she will never forget till
her dying day. While these despairing thoughts were in her mind, and
while her rebellious heart was crying against the sweetest attributes
with which God has endowed His children, a fairy in a cotton-print
dress came to her side----'

Mother!'

'It is true, my dear. A fairy in a cotton-print dress came to her
side, and with a sweet word and a sweeter look put into her hand a
talisman--call it a stone, my dear, if you will--a common, almost
valueless piece of stone; and the touch of the pretty little fairy
fingers to the poor woman's hand was like the touch of Moses's rod to
the rock, when the waters came forth for the famished people. And she
prayed God to forgive her for doubting His goodness, and the goodness
of those whom He made in the image of Himself. Then, as she looked at
the common piece of stone which the fairy had given to her, she saw in
it the face of an angel, and she kissed it again and again, as I do
this.'

After a little while my mother wrapped the halfpenny in a piece of
paper, and put it by, saying she hoped she would never be compelled to
spend it.

During the whole of the following week my mother was unsuccessful in
obtaining work. It was not from want of perseverance that she did not
succeed, for she came home every day weary and footsore.

'The sewing-machines are keeping many poor women out of work,' she
said.

'Then they are bad things,' I exclaimed; 'I wish they were all burnt!'

'No, my dear; they are good things; they are blessings to many poor
creatures. Why, Chris, if I had one, we should be quite rich!'

But she did not have one, and her needles were at a discount, so far
as earning bread for us was concerned. On the Saturday she went out
again early, and did not come home until late at night. Good fortune
had again attended her, and she brought home a little money.

'Have you seen the fairy in the cotton-print dress?' I asked gaily. My
mother nodded sorrowfully. Saturday's a lucky day, mother,' I said,
rubbing my hands.

'Yes, my child,' she answered, with a heavy sigh.

She added another halfpenny to the one she had kissed and put by last
week, and we went out again to make our purchases. Another week
followed, and another, with similar results and similar incidents.
Then my mother fell sick, and could not, although she tried, keep the
knowledge of her weakness from me; a sorrow of which I was not a
sharer was preying on her heart. I did not know of it; but I saw that
my mother was growing even paler and thinner, and often, when she did
not think I was observing her, I saw the tears roll down her cheek,
and her lips quiver piteously. Friday night found us with a cupboard
nearly empty, and with but one halfpenny in our treasury--the first
battered and bruised halfpenny, which my mother hoped she would never
be compelled to spend. Those she had added to it had gone during the
week. She looked at it wistfully:

'Must we spend it, Chris?'

'Is the angel's face there?' I asked.

'Yes, I see it.' And she kissed the battered coin again.

'Then we must keep it,' I said stoutly.

When I awoke the next morning, my mother was kneeling by my bedside,
and when she saw my eyes resting on her face, she clasped me in her
arms, and so we lay for fully half an hour, without a word being
spoken. There was a little milk left for breakfast, and this my mother
made into very weak milk-and-water. The bread she cut into four
slices. One she ate, two she gave to me, and one she put into the
cupboard. She laid the battered halfpenny on the mantelshelf.

'Now, Chris,' she said, as she put on her poor worn bonnet, 'when you
are hungry you can eat the slice of bread that's in the cupboard; and
if I am not at home before you are hungry again, you can buy some
bread with that halfpenny. Kiss me, dear child.'

'But, mother,' I remonstrated, you are too ill to go out. You ought to
stay at home to-day.'

I dare not, child. I _must_ go out. Why, doesn't my Chris want his
supper to-night, and his dinner to-morrow? And don't I want my supper
and dinner, too?'

'Are you going to the workshop, mother?'

'I am going that way, child.'

But I begged her to promise that she would try and be home early, and
she was compelled to promise, to satisfy me. With faltering steps she
left the room, and walked slowly downstairs. I felt that there was
something wrong, but I did not understand it, and certainly would have
been powerless to remedy it. I was soon hungry enough to eat the slice
of bread; and then I went out, and strolled restlessly about the
streets. It was a cold day, and I was glad to get indoors again,
although there was no fire. In the afternoon I was hungry again, and
mother had not returned. Should I spend the halfpenny? I took it from
the mantelshelf. The gift of a fairy in a cotton-print dress! I turned
it this way and that, in the endeavour to find some special charm in
it. It was as common a halfpenny as I had ever looked upon. I saw no
angel's face in it. But my mother said there was, and that was enough.
No; I could not spend it. Then I thought that it was unkind of me to
let my mother, ill and weak as she was, go out by herself. I
reproached myself; I might have helped her on. She promised to return
soon; perhaps she was not strong enough to return. These reproachful
thoughts and my hunger grew upon me, and my uneasiness increased,
until I became very wretched indeed. As dusk was falling, I made up my
mind that a certain duty was before me. I must walk into the City to
the shop for which my mother used to work, and seek for her. I had
been to the place two or three times to take work home, and I knew my
way pretty well. Perhaps I should meet my mother on the road. Off I
started on my self-imposed task. My increasing hunger made the
distance appear twice as long as it really was, and I could not help
lingering and longing for a little while at a fine cook-shop, the
perfume which pervaded it being more fragrant to me at the time than
all the perfumes of Arabia would have been. When I arrived at the
workshop, it was closed. There was nothing for it but to turn my face
homeward. Weary, hungry, and dispirited, I commenced my journey back;
I was anxious to get home quickly now, to lessen the chance of my
mother returning while I was absent. In my eagerness and confusion I
missed my way, and it was quite ten o'clock at night when I found
myself in a street which was familiar to me, and which I knew to be
about two miles from the street in which we lived. The neighbourhood
in which I was now was a busy one; a kind of market was held there
every Saturday night, in which poor people could purchase what they
required a trifle cheaper than they could be supplied at the regular
shops. There were a great glare of lights and a great hurly-burly of
noise which in my weak condition confused and frightened me. I
staggered feebly on, and stumbled against a man who was passing me in
a great hurry. He caught hold of my arm with such force as to swing me
round; and without any effort on my part to escape, for I was almost
unconscious, I slipped from his grasp and fell to the ground. I think
I heard the words, Unmanly brute uttered in a female voice; but my
next distinct remembrance is that I was standing on my feet, swaying
slightly, and held up by the man I had run against. He spoke to me in
sharp tones, and demanded to know where I was running to. I begged his
pardon humbly, but in tones too faint to reach his ear, for he
inquired roughly if I had a tongue in my head. There were a few
persons standing about us, and one or two women told the man he ought
to be ashamed of himself, and asked him what he meant by it, and why
he didn't leave the boy alone. In sneering reply he called them a
parcel of wise women.

'Did you ever see a thief of his size?' he asked.

'I am not a thief,' I said, in a faint tone. 'Let me go. I want to get
home.'

I raised my eyes to his face as I spoke. I could not distinguish his
features, for everything was dim before me, but he seemed to see
something in my face that occupied his attention, for he looked at me
long and earnestly.

'Have you been ill?'

'I am tired and hungry. Let me go, please,' I implored.

He released his hold of me. Glad to be free, and intent only on
getting home as soon as I could, I walked from him with uncertain
steps. But I did not know how weak I really was; and I was compelled
to cling to the shop-fronts for support. I must have stumbled on in
this way for fifty or sixty yards, when stopped to rest myself. Then,'
without raising my eyes, I knew that the man against whom I had
stumbled was standing by me again; he must have followed me out of his
course, for when we first met his road was different from mine.

'Did you see me following you?' he asked.

I was frightened of him; his voice seemed to hurt me. I had scarcely a
comprehension of the meaning of his words; and I was fearful that, if
I disputed anything he said, I might arouse his anger, and that he
would detain me again. He repeated his question; and I answered,
almost without knowing what I said,

'Yes, sir.'

My reply appeared to dissatisfy him.

'Then you have been shamming weakness?'

'Yes, sir.'

I looked about me timidly and nervously for a means of escape.
Standing in the road, close to the kerbstone, and facing a portion of
the pavement which was partly in shade, was a beggar-woman, with her
face hidden on her breast. One hand held her thin shawl tightly in
front of her; the other hand was held out supplicatingly. What it was
that caused me to fix my eyes on her I cannot tell; perhaps it was
because I recognised in her drooping form and humble attitude
something kindred to my own pitiable condition. As I gazed at her, a
little girl, very poorly dressed, and with a basket on her arm,
stopped before the woman, and put a coin into her outstretched hand.
The woman curtseyed, and stooped and kissed the little girl. As the
child, her act of charity performed, walked away, I saw her face; and
it was so sweet and good, that my mother's words with reference to the
battered halfpenny came to my mind: 'I see an angel's face in it.' I
watched her until she was lost in the throng; and then I turned to the
beggar-woman again, and saw, as in a flash of light, my mother! Was it
shame, was it joy, that convulsed me, as crying, 'Mother! mother!' I
ran and fell senseless at her feet?



CHAPTER VIII.
A POSTMAN'S KNOCK.


It seemed to me as if I had closed my eyes and opened them with
scarcely a moment's interval; and yet I was at home in our own little
room, and my mother was bending over me tenderly. I could not
immediately realise the change. The busy streets, and the glare in
them, and my fear of the man who had accused me of being a thief, were
still present to my mind. I clung closer to my mother.

'What is my darling frightened of?' she said soothingly. 'He is at
home, and safe in his mother's arms.'

'At home!' I looked around apprehensively. 'Where's the man?'

'What man, dear child? The man who carried you home?'

I had no remembrance of being carried home.

'The man who carried me home!' I exclaimed; and repeated wonderingly,
'Carried me home! No, I don't know him.'

'There is no one here, dear child, but you and I. Taste this.'

She held a cup of tea to my lips, and I drank gratefully; and ate a
slice of bread-and-butter she gave me.

'There, my dear! My darling feels better, does he not?'

'Yes.' As I looked at her, the scene I had witnessed, of which she had
been the principal figure, dawned upon me. I could not check my sobs;
I felt as if my heart would burst. 'O mother! mother!' I cried. 'I
remember now; I remember now!'

She held me in her arms, and caressed me, and pressed me to her heart.
My tears flowed upon her faithful breast.

'How did you find me, dear child? Unkind mother that I am to leave my
darling hungry and alone all the day!'

'Don't say that, mother. You mustn't; you mustn't! If anybody else
said it, I would kill him!'

'Hush, dear child! You must not excite yourself. Come, you shall go to
bed; and you shall tell me all in the morning, please God.'

'No, I want to tell you now; I want to talk to you now. I want to lie
here, and talk quietly, quietly! Oh, but I am so sorry! so sorry!'

'For what, dear child?'

Through my sobs I murmured, 'That you should have to stand in the
cold, and beg for me!' My arms were round her, and I felt her shrink
and tremble within them. 'Now I know what the poor woman in the forest
did when she went to look for food for her bird. If any one saw you
that knew you, would you not be ashamed? Would you not run away?'

Sadly and tearfully she replied, 'No, my own darling, I do not think I
should. Who would be so cruel as to say I ought to be ashamed of doing
what I do?'

'But, mother, you stand with your head down, as if you wanted to hide
your face!'

The blood rose to her face and forehead pitifully.

'I cannot help it, dearest,' she said with trembling lips; it comes
natural to me to stand so. I do not think of it at the time. And O,
Chris! don't despise your poor mother now that you have found out her
secret!'

She would have fallen at my feet if I had not kept my arms tightly
around her. In the brief pause that ensued before she spoke again, I
closed my eyes, and leant my head upon her shoulder, the better to
think of her goodness to me. I saw all the details of the picture
which now occupied my mind. I saw my mother approach the spot where
she had decided to stand, to solicit charity for me; I saw her
hesitate, and tremble, and look around warily and timidly, as though
she were about to commit a crime; and then I saw her glide swiftly
into the road and take her station there, with her dear head drooping
on her breast from shame. Yes, from shame. And it was for me she did
this!

'If I could get work to do,' she presently said, in low meek tones,
such as one who was crushed and who despaired might use if wrongfully
accused, 'I would not beg. Heaven knows I have tried hard enough; I
have implored, have almost gone on my knees for it, in vain. What was
I to do? We could not starve, and I would not go to the parish; I
would not bring that shame upon my darling's life, until everything
else in the world had failed. I did not intend my child to know. I
tried to keep the knowledge from him--I tried, I tried! O, my dear
boy! my heart is fit to break!'

I listened in awe, and could say no word to comfort her.

'It is no shame to me to do as I have done,' she said half
appealingly, half defiantly. 'It is for bread for my dear child's
life. I should stand with my face open to the people, if I had the
courage. But I am a coward--a coward! and I shrink and tremble, as if
I were a thief, with terror in my heart!'

She a coward! Dear heart! Brave soul! Her voice grew softer.

'And O, Chris, my child! since I have stood there I have learnt so
much that I did not know before. It has made me better--humbler. Never
again, never again can I doubt the goodness of God! What good there is
in the world of which we are ignorant, until sorrow brings us to the
knowledge of it! When I first stood there, the world seemed to pass
away from me, so dreadful a feeling took possession of me. In my
fancy, harsh voices clamoured at me, cruel faces mocked me from all
sides; I did not dare raise my head. But in the midst of my soul's
agony, soft fingers touched mine, and the sweet voice of a child
brought comfort to my heart. And then poor women gave, and I was
ashamed to take. I held it out to them again, begging them with my
eyes to take it back again; and they ran away, some of them.'

The floodgates of my mother's heart were open, and she was talking now
as much to herself as to me, recalling what had touched her most
deeply.

'Two weeks ago a young woman came and stood before me. God knows what
she was thinking of as she stood there in a way it made my heart ache
to see. She was very, very pretty; very, very young. She stood looking
at me so long in silence that I began almost to be afraid. I dared not
speak to her first. I have never yet spoken unbidden in that place; I
seem to myself to have no right to speak. But, seeking to soften any
hard thought she may have had in her mind for me or for herself, I
returned her look, kindly I hope, and pityingly too. "I thought I'd
make you look at me," she said in a hard voice that I felt was not
natural to her; "beggars like you haven't much to be proud of, I
should say. Thank the Lord I haven't come to that yet!" I tried to
shape an answer, but the words wouldn't leave my lips, and I could
only look at her appealingly. Poor girl! she seemed to resent this,
and tossed her head, and went away singing. But there was no singing
in her heart. I followed her with my eyes, and saw her stop at a
public-house; but she hesitated at the door, and did not enter. No;
she came back, and stood before me again. "What do you come here for?"
she asked, after a little pause. "For food," I answered. She sneered
at my answer, and I waited in sorrow for her next words. "Have you got
a husband?" "No," I said, wondering why she asked. "No more have I,"
she said. My thoughts wandered to a happier time, and pictures of
brighter days which seem to have passed away for ever came to my mind;
but the girl soon brought me back to reality. "Are you a mother?" she
asked. "Oh, yes!" I answered, with a sob of thankfulness, for the dear
Lord has made my boy a blessing to me. "So am I," she said, with a
little laugh that struck me like a knife. "Here--take this; I was
going to spend it in drink." And she put sixpence in coppers into my
hand, and ran away. But I ran after her, and entreated her to take the
money back; but she would not, and grew sullen. I still entreated, and
she said, "Very well; give it to me; I'll spend it in gin." What I
said to her after this I do not know, I was so grieved and sorry for
her; but I told her I would keep the money, and she thanked me for the
promise, oh! so humbly and gratefully, and began to cry so piteously
and passionately, that my own sorrows seemed light compared with hers.
I drew her away to a quiet street, and kissed her and soothed her, and
although we had never met before, she clung to me, and blessed me with
broken words and sobs. Then, when she was quieter, I asked her where
her little one was, and might I go with her and see it? She took me to
her room, and I saw her baby--such a pretty little thing!--and I
nursed it till it fell asleep, and then tidied up the room, and put
the bed straight. Ah, my darling! I could not repeat all that the poor
girl said. I went out and spent fourpence of the sixpence she gave me
in food for the baby, and she was not angry with me for it. I have
been to see her and her baby twice since that night, and my heart has
ached often when I have thought of them. If I were not as poor as I
am, I would try to be a friend to them. But, alas! what can I do? Yet
there is not a night I have stood in that place that I have not lifted
my heart to God for the goodness that has been shown to me. How good a
thing it is for the poor to help the poor as they do! God sweeten
their lives for them!'

We were silent for a long time after this. I broke the silence by
whispering,

'Mother, I didn't spend the halfpenny; it is on the mantelshelf now.'

'Dear child! I am sorry and glad. It is the first halfpenny I ever
received in charity, and it was given to me by a little child.'

'Let me look at it, mother.'

She took it from the mantelshelf, and placed it in my hands.

'I can see the angel's face now,' I said. 'It is the fairy in a
cotton-print dress.'

My mother nodded with a sweet smile.

'And the fairy is a little girl?'

'Yes, dear.'

'And she came every Saturday night afterwards, with a basket on her
arm, and gave you a halfpenny?'

'Yes, dear. How do you know?'

'I saw her to-night, and I guessed the rest. I am so glad you kissed
her! Mother, we will never, never spend this halfpenny!'

'Very well, my darling; but you haven't told me yet how it was you
found me out.'

I had barely finished my recital when a knock came at our door. On
opening it, our landlady was discovered, puffing and blowing. A great
basket was hanging from her hand. Benignant confidence in her lodger
reigned in her face; curiosity dwelt in her eye. As she entered, the
air became spirituously perfumed.

'O, them stairs!' she panted. They ketch me in the side! If you'll
excuse me, my dear!' And she sat down, still retaining her hold of the
basket. She went through many stages before she quite recovered
herself, gazing at us the while with that imploring look peculiar to
women who are liable to be 'ketched in the side.' Then she brightened
up, and spoke again. 'I thought I'd bring it up myself,' she said; the
stairs ain't been long cleaned, and the boy's boots are that muddy
that I told him to wait in the passage for the basket. If you'll empty
it, I'll take it down to him. Oh,' she continued, seeing that my
mother was in doubt, I don't mind the trouble the least bit in the
world! If all lodgers was as regular with their rent as you, my dear,
I shouldn't be put upon as I am!'

Still my mother hesitated; she did not understand it. I saw that the
basket was well filled, for the lid bulged up. The landlady, declaring
that it was very heavy, placed it on the table, and was about to lift
the lid, when my mother's hand restrained her.

'There is some mistake; these things are not for me.'

'Why, my dear creature!' exclaimed the landlady, growing exceedingly
confidential, 'didn't you order 'em?'

'No, I haven't marketed yet. My poor boy has been ill, and I haven't
been able to go out.'

'Well, but there can't be any mistake, my dear;' and the landlady,
scenting a mystery, became very inquisitive indeed; here's your name
on a bit of paper.'

The writing was plain enough, certainly: 'For Mrs. Carey. Paid for.
Basket to be returned.'

'Do you know the boy who brought them?' asked my mother.

'To be sure I do, my dear creature! He belongs to Mrs. Strangeways,
the greengrocer round the corner.'

'I should like to speak to him. May he come up?'

'Certainly, my dear soul!'

And the landlady, in her eagerness to get at the heart of the mystery,
disregarded the effect of muddy boots on clean stairs, and called the
boy up. But he could throw no light upon the matter. All that he knew
was that his mistress directed him to bring the things round to Mrs.
Carey's, and to make haste back with the basket. 'And please, will you
look sharp about it?' he adjured in a tone of injured innocence,
digging his knuckles into his eyes, and working them round so forcibly
that it almost seemed as though he were trying to gouge out his
eyeballs; if you keep me here much longer, missis'll swear when I get
back that I've been stopping on the road playing pitch and toss.'

The landlady, whose curiosity had now reached the highest point,
protested that it would be flying in the face of Providence to
hesitate another moment, and whipped open the basket.

'Half a pound of salt butter,' she said, calling out the things as
she placed them on the table; half a pound of tea; sixpennorth of
eggs--they're Mrs. Chizlett's eggs, my dear, sixteen a shilling--I
know 'em by the bag; a pound of brown sugar; a cabbage; taters--seven
pound for tuppence, my dear; and a lovely shoulder of mutton--none of
your scrag! There!'

My eyes glistened as I saw the good things, and my mother was
gratefully puzzled. The garrulous landlady stopped in the room for a
quarter of an hour, placing all kinds of possible constructions upon
the mystery, and inviting, in the most insinuating manner, the
confidence of my mother, whom she evidently regarded as a very artful
creature. It was sufficient for me that the food was lawfully ours,
and I blessed the generous donor in my heart. On the following day my
mother took me for a walk in the Park, and we arrived home in time to
get the baked dish from the baker's, which my mother had prepared. We
had a grand dinner, and we fared tolerably well during the week. On
the Saturday, however, our cupboard and treasury were bare, and my
mother was once more racked by those pin-and-needle anxieties which,
insignificant as they seem by the side of matters of public interest,
form the sum of the lives of hundreds of thousands of our fellow
creatures. My mother watched me very nervously. I knew what was in her
mind. She was striving to gather courage to bid me stop at home while
she went out to beg. My heart was very full as, watching her
furtively, I saw her put on her bonnet and shawl. Then she stood
irresolutely by the mantelshelf. I crept to her side.

'Mother?'

'My child!'

'Let me go with you,' I implored.

'No, no, dear child! No, no!' she cried, and she knelt before me,
and twined her arms around my neck. She was entreating me in the
tenderest manner to stop at home, when the simplest thing in the world
changed the current of our lives. A postman's knock was heard at the
street-door, and a minute afterwards the landlady came running
upstairs, almost breathless. My mother started to her feet. In one
hand the landlady held a letter by the corner of her apron; the other
hand was pressed to her side; and she panted as if her last moments
had arrived.

'O them stairs!' she exclaimed. 'They'll be the death of me! For you,
my dear.' And she held the letter towards my mother.

A circumstance so unusual as the receipt of a letter threw us all into
a state of excitement. It was certainly an event in my life. My mother
was very agitated as she looked at the address, and the landlady took
a seat, and waited in the expectation of hearing the news. But the
letter was not opened until that worthy woman had retired, which she
did in a very dignified, not to say offended, manner, as a proof that
she had not the slightest wish--not she! to pry into our private
concerns.

'There's no mistake, mother,' I said.

'No, my dear; it is addressed to me.'

Then, with great care, she opened the letter, and read aloud:


'14 Paradise-row, Windmill-street.

'Emma Carey,--Personally you will have not the slightest knowledge of
me, for I do not think you ever set eyes on me; but you will know my
name. I was not aware until a few days ago that your husband was dead.
I am poor, but not as poor as you are. I offer you and your boy a
home. You can both come and live with me if you like. If you decide to
come, you must not expect much. I am not a pleasant character, and my
disposition is not amiable. But the probability is, if you accept my
offer, that you and your boy will have regular meals, such as they
are. I keep a shop; you can help me in it. You can come at once if you
like--this very day. I don't suppose it will take you long to pack up.

'Bryan Carey.'


I started when I heard the name, for it was our own.

'It is from your uncle Bryan,' said my mother; 'your dear father's
elder brother, who disappeared many years ago.'

'I thought he was dead, mother.'

'We all supposed so, never having heard from him.'

'Was he nice, mother?'

'I have no idea, child; I never saw him. But he says that he is
neither amiable nor pleasant.'

Two words in the letter had especially attracted my attention.

'Regular meals,' I murmured, somewhat timidly.

My mother rose instantly. Unless she accepted the offer, there was but
one alternative before her; and no one knew better than I how her
sensitive nature shrank from it. It was the bitterest necessity only
that had driven her to beg.

'I will go at once and see your uncle, my dear. I don't know where
Paradise-row is, but I shall be able to find it out. I will be back as
soon as possible. Keep indoors, there's a dear child!'

She was absent for nearly three hours.

'Well, mother?' I said, running to the door as I heard her step on the
stairs.

She drew me into the room, and sat down, with her arms round my neck.

'We will go, dear,' she said, and my heart beat joyfully at the words.
'it will be a home for us. Situated as we are, what would become of my
dear child if I were to fall really ill? And I have been afraid of it
many times. Yes, we will go. Your uncle Bryan keeps a grocer's shop. I
told him I should have to give a week's warning here, and he gave me
the money to pay the rent, so that we might go to him at once.'

My mother looked about her regretfully. It belonged to her nature to
become attached to everything with which she was associated, and she
could not help having a tender feeling even for our one little room in
which we had seen so much trouble.

'Now, Chris, We will pack up.'

As uncle Bryan predicted in his letter, it did not take us long.
Everything we possessed went into one small trunk, and there was room
for more when everything was in. The smoke-dried monkey of a man in
stone--the precious relic I had inherited from my grandmother--had
been carefully taken care of, and now lay at the bottom of the trunk.
It had not brought us much luck, and I regarded it with something like
aversion.

From the inscrutable eye of a landlady living in the house nothing can
be concealed, and our landlady hovered in the passage, divining (with
that peculiar inspiration with which all of her class are gifted) that
something important was taking place. My mother called her in, and
paid her the week's rent in lieu of a week's notice. She was deeply
moved, after the fashion of landladies (living in the house), when
lodgers who have paid regularly take their departure. The fear of
another lodger not so punctual in paying as the last harrows their
souls. As my mother did not enter into particulars, not even
mentioning to the landlady where we were moving to, the inquisitive
creature invited confidence by producing from a mysterious recess in
her flannel petticoat a bottle of gin and a glass. My mother, however,
declined to be bribed, much to the landlady's chagrin; after this she
evidently regarded us with less favour.

'Uncle Bryan sent a boy with a wheelbarrow, Chris,' said my mother,
'to wheel your trunk home. He's waiting at the door now.'

'_With_ the wheelbarrow?' I asked gaily. I was in high spirits at the
better prospect which lay before us.

'Yes, dear. _With_ the wheelbarrow.'

I could not help laughing, it seemed to me such a comical idea. My
mother cast an affectionate look at the humble room we were leaving
for ever, and then we carried the trunk down to the street door, the
landlady _not_ assisting. There stood the boy with the wheelbarrow.
The trunk was lifted in, and we marched away, the boy trundling the
barrow, we holding on in front, for fear the trunk should fall into
the road. All the neighbours rushed into the street to look at the
procession.



CHAPTER IX.
UNCLE BRYAN INTRODUCES HIMSELF.


The boy took no notice of the neighbours, but wheeled straight through
them, regardless of their legs. Neither did he take any notice of us,
except by whistling in our faces. But he trundled the wheelbarrow
cheerfully, and with an airy independence most delightful to witness.
It was a long journey to Paradise-row, and it occupied a long time;
but the boy never flagged, never stopped to rest, although in the
course of the journey he performed some eccentric antics. He was not
as old as I, but he was much more strongly built. I envied him his
strong limbs and broad shoulders. It was a cold day, and he was
insufficiently clad; his toes peeped out of his boots, and his hair
straggled through a hole in his cap, and a glimpse of his bare chest
could now and then be seen through a rent in his waistcoat, which was
made to serve the purpose of a jacket by being pinned at the throat;
but the boy was not in the slightest degree affected by these
disadvantages. The wind, which made me shiver, seemed to warm him, and
he took it to his bosom literally with great contentment. His eyes
were dark and bright, his nose was a most ostensible pug, and the
curves of his large well-shaped mouth and lips spoke of saucy
enjoyment. Indeed, he was full of life, noting with eager curiosity
everything about him, and his dirty face sparkled with intelligence.
As he drove the barrow before him, he whistled and sang without the
slightest regard to nerves, and if any street lad accosted him
jocosely or derisively, he returned the salutation with spirited
interest. He appeared to be disposed to pause near the first
organ-grinder we approached; but he resisted the inclination, and
after a short but severe mental struggle, he compromised matters by
trundling the barrow three times round the unfortunate Italian, making
a wider sweep each time. My mother remonstrated with him; but the boy,
with the reins of command in his hand, paid no other attention to her
remonstrance than was expressed in a knowing cock of his eye, implying
that it was all right, and that he knew what he was about. For the
safety of our trunk we were compelled to accompany him in his circular
wanderings, and I felt particularly foolish as we swept round and
round. But the third circle completed, the boy drove straight along
again contentedly, whistling the last air the organ-grinder had played
with such force and expression as to cause some of the passers-by to
put their fingers to their ears. This man[oe]uvre the boy
conscientiously repeated with every organ-grinder we met on the road;
repeated it also, very slowly and lingeringly, at a Punch-and-Judy
show, afterwards conveying to the British public discordant
reminiscences through his nose of the interview between Punch and the
Devil; and with supreme audacity repeated it when we came to a band of
negro minstrels, proving himself quite a match for them when they
threatened him with dreadful consequences if he did not immediately
put a stop to his circular performance. Indeed, when one of the band
advanced towards him with menacing gestures, he ran the wheelbarrow
against the opposing force with such an unmistakable intention, that
to save his legs the nigger had to fly. In this manner we came at
length to the end of our journey.

I found Windmill-street to be a mere slit in a busy and bustling
neighbourhood, and Paradise-row, where uncle Bryan lived, a distinct
libel upon heaven, being, I fervently hope, as little like a
thoroughfare in Paradise as can well be imagined. Uncle Bryan's shop
was at the corner of Windmill-street and Paradise-row, and uncle Bryan
himself stood at his street-door, seemingly awaiting our arrival.

'Been loitering, eh?' was uncle Bryan's first salutation; sharply
spoken, not to us, but to the boy.

'Never stopped wheelin', so 'elp me!' returned the boy, in a tone as
sharp as my uncle's, yet with a doubtful look at my mother. 'Never
stopped to take a breathful of air from the blessed minute we started.
Arks 'er!'

My mother, being appealed to by uncle Bryan, confirmed the boy's
statement, which was strictly correct, and, to his manifest
astonishment, made no reproachful reference to his circular flights.
His astonishment, however, almost immediately assumed the form of a
satisfied leer.

'How much was it to be?' asked uncle Bryan, not at all satisfied with
my mother's assurance.

'Thrums,' replied the boy, readily. By which he meant threepence.

Uncle Bryan regarded him sourly.

'Say that again, and I'll take off a penny.'

'Well, tuppence, then. I got to pay a ha'penny for the barrer. What's
a brown, more or less?'

The question was not addressed to any of us in particular, so none of
us answered it. Uncle Bryan paid him twopence; and the boy, with never
a 'thank you,' spun the coins in the air, and caught them deftly;
then, with a wink at my mother as a trustworthy conspirator, he walked
away with his empty barrow, whistling with all his wind at mankind in
general.

Now, when uncle Bryan first spoke, I started. I thought it was not the
first time I had heard his voice. It sounded to me like the voice of
the man with whom I had had the adventure on the previous Saturday
night. The boy being out of sight, uncle Bryan turned to me.

'Why did you start just now?'

'I thought I knew your voice, sir,' I said.

'Call me uncle Bryan. Knew my voice! It isn't possible, as you've
never set eyes on me, nor I on you, till this moment.'

This was intended to settle the doubt, and I never again referred to
it, although it remained with me for a long while afterwards. The
trunk had been left on the doorstep, and uncle Bryan assisted us to
carry it upstairs to the bedroom allotted to us. A little bed for
me--uncle Bryan made it over to me in three words--was placed behind a
screen.

'I thought,' he said to my mother, 'you would like your boy to sleep
in the same room as yourself. The house is a small one, but we can
find another place for him if you wish.'

'Thank you, Bryan,' replied my mother simply, 'I would like to have
him with me.'

Uncle Bryan was evidently no waster of words, and my mother entered
readily into his humour.

'You must be tired,' he said, as he was about to leave the room; 'rest
yourself a bit. But the sooner you come downstairs, the better I
shall be pleased.'

My mother laid her hand on his arm, and detained him.

'Let me say a word to you, Bryan.'

'You will never repeat it!' he exclaimed, with a quick apprehension of
what she wished to say.

'Never, without a strong necessity, Bryan.'

He laughed; but it was more like a dry husky cough than a laugh.

'When a man locks the street-door,' he said, 'trust a woman to see
that the yard-door's on the latch.'

'I want to thank you, Bryan, for the home you have offered me and my
boy.'

'Perhaps it won't suit you.'

'It will suit us, Bryan, if it will suit you to allow us to remain.'

He seemed to chew the words, 'allow us to remain,' silently, as if
their flavour were unpleasant to him; but he said aloud:

'Wait and see, then.' And although my mother wished to continue the
conversation, he turned his back to us, and abruptly left the room.

My mother sank into a chair; she must have been very tired, for she
had walked not less than twelve miles that day.

'You must be tired too, my dear,' she said, drawing me to her side.

'Not so tired as you, mother.'

'I don't feel very, very tired, my dear!'

I knew why she said so; hope dwelt in her heart.

'I think your uncle Bryan is a good man,' she said.

I did not express dissent; but I must have looked it.

'My dear,' she said, answering my look, 'you will find in your course
through life that many sweet things have their home in the roughest
shells. Uncle Bryan has a strange rough manner, but I think--nay, I am
sure--he is a good man. Do you know, Chris, I believe those things
that came home for us last Saturday night were sent by him. No, my
dear, we will not ask him, or even speak of it. He will be better
pleased if it is not referred to. And yet I wonder how he found us
out!'

The room which was assigned to us was a back-room, small, and commonly
but cleanly furnished. Immediately beneath the window was the
water-butt, and beyond it were numbers of small back-yards--so many,
indeed, that I wondered where the houses could be that belonged to
them. The general prospect from this window, as I very soon learned,
was composed of sheets, shirts, stockings, and the usual articles of
male and female attire in the process of drying: of some other things
also--of washing-tubs, and women and little girls wringing and washing
and up to their arm-pits in soap-suds. Occasionally I saw men also
thus engaged. A variation in the prospect was sometimes afforded by
small children being brought into the yards to be slapped and then set
upon the stones to cool, and by other small children blowing
soap-bubbles out of father's pipes. The peculiarity of the scene was
that the clothes never appeared to be dried. They were eternally
hanging on the lines, which intersected each other like a Chinese
puzzle, or were being skewered to them in a damp condition. I can
safely assert that existence, as seen from our bedroom window, was one
interminable washing-day.

When we went downstairs uncle Bryan was in the shop, weighing up his
wares and attending to occasional customers. Attached to the shop were
a parlour, in which the meals were taken and which served as a general
sitting-room, and a smaller apartment in the rear. My mother called me
into the smaller room. Do you see, Chris?' she said, pointing to some
flowers on the window-sill. There were two or three pots also, in
which seeds had evidently been newly planted. In my mother's eyes,
these were a strong proof of my uncle's goodness. A rickety flight of
steps led to the basement of the house, in which there was a gloomy
kitchen (very blackbeetle-y), which could not have been used for a
considerable time. The cobwebs were thick in the corners, and a
prosperous spider, a very alderman in its proportions, peeped out of
its stronghold, with an air of 'What is all this about?' The
appearance of a woman in that deserted retreat did not please my
gentleman; it was a sign of progress. In the basement were also two or
three other gloomy recesses.

Our brief inspection ended, we ascended to the parlour. The fire was
burning brightly, and the kettle was on the hob. My mother went to the
door which led to the shop.

'At what time do you generally have tea, Bryan?' she inquired.

'At half-past five,' he replied.

It was a quarter-past five by an American clock which stood in the
centre of the mantelshelf. The clock was a common wooden one, with a
glass door in front, on which was engraved a figure of Father Time
with a crack down his back. One of his eyes was damaged, and his
scythe also was mutilated; taking him altogether, as he was there
represented, damaged and with cracks in him, old Father Time seemed by
his disconsolate appearance to be of the opinion that it was high time
an end was made of _him_. Without more ado, my mother opened the
cupboard, and finding everything there she wanted, laid the table, and
prepared the meal. Exactly at half-past five uncle Bryan came in, and
we had tea. He did not express the slightest approval of my mother's
quickness, nor did she ask for it; and when tea was over, he went into
the shop again, and my mother cleared up the things. She asked him
about to-morrow's dinner, and took me with her to market with the money
he gave her. While we were looking about us we came across the boy who
had fetched our trunk in the wheelbarrow. He was standing with others
listening to a hymn which was being sung by two men and a woman. One
of the men was blind, and he played on a harmonium, while his
companions sang. He joined in also, having a powerful voice, and I
thought the performance a very fine one.

The boy saw us; approached my mother, and said in a tone of strong
approval:

'You're a brick. I say, we sold old Bryan, didn't us?'

My mother could not help smiling, which heightened the favourable
opinion he had of her.

'What are you going to do?' he asked.

My mother explained that she was going to market.

'I'll show you the shops,' he said; and his offer was accepted.

He proved useful, and took us to the best and cheapest shops, and gave
his candid opinion (generally unfavourable) of the articles my mother
purchased. When the marketing was finished, he volunteered to carry
the basket, and did not leave us until we were within a yard or two of
uncle Bryan's shop. He enlivened the walk with many quaint and
original observations, and when he had nothing to say he whistled. He
took his departure with good-humoured winks and nods. Upon my mother
counting out her purchases to uncle Bryan, and returning him the few
coppers that were left, he said,

'We'll settle things on Monday, Emma. You'll have to take the entire
charge of the house, and to keep the expenses down, and we'll arrange
a certain sum, which must not be exceeded. If anything is saved out of
it, you can put it by in this box,' pointing to a stone money-box
shaped like an urn, which was on a shelf. You can do anything you like
to the place, but don't disturb my flower-pots.'

'What have you planted in the new pots, Bryan?'

'Some of the new Japan lilies; they'll not flower till summer. Don't
touch them; you don't understand them.'

My mother was very busy that night, dusting and cleaning, and I think
I never saw her in a happier mood. Now and then she went into the
shop, and stood quietly behind the counter, noting how uncle Bryan
attended to his business. He took not the slightest notice of her; did
not address a single word to her. Once she came bustling back, with an
air of importance. 'I've served a customer, Chris,' she said
gleefully.

Uncle Bryan's shop was stocked with small supplies of everything in
the grocery line, and in addition to these, he sold a few simple
medicines for clearing the blood--some of them, I afterwards learned,
of his own concoction and mixing. Friday was the day fixed for the
preparation and making-up of these medicines, for Saturday was the
great night for the sale of the mixtures to working people, who
purchased them in halfpenny and penny doses. I discovered that uncle
Bryan's pills were famous in the neighbourhood. I calculated that on
this Saturday night he must have served at least fifty customers with
his medicines. The little parlour presented quite a different
appearance when my mother had finished cleaning and dusting. I looked
for some expression of approval in uncle Bryan's face when he came in
to partake of a bread-and-cheese supper; but I saw none. During the
night my thoughts wandered to the little girl who had given the first
halfpenny to my mother. I spoke about her.

'Do you think she will be sorry or glad, mother, because she will not
see you to-night?'

'Sorry, I think, Chris; she will fancy I am ill.'

'But this is a great deal better, mother.'

'Infinitely better, dear child: and remember, we owe it all to uncle
Bryan.'

Neither my mother nor I felt at all strange in our new home, and I
slept as soundly as if I had lived in the house for years. Before we
went to bed, my mother and I had a delicious ten minutes' chat; the
storm in our lives which had lasted so long, and which had threatened
to wreck us, had cleared away, and a delightful sense of rest stole
into our hearts.

On the Sunday no business was done. After breakfast, uncle Bryan
brought his account-book into the parlour, and busied himself with his
accounts, adding up the week's takings, and calculating what profit
was made. My mother asked him if he was going to church.

'I never go to church,' was his reply.

My mother looked grieved, but she entered into no argument with him.

'You have no objection to our going?' she said timidly.

'What have I to do with it? I dictate to no one. If you think it right
to go to church, go.'

'Is there one near, Bryan?'

'Zion Chapel isn't two minutes' walk.'

Uncle Bryan asked no questions when we returned, and the day passed
quietly. He devoted the evening to smoking and reading. My mother did
not like the smoke at first, but it was not long before she schooled
herself to fill uncle Bryan's pipe for him. So, with a pair of horn
spectacles on his nose, and his pipe in his mouth, uncle Bryan read
and enjoyed his leisure. Occasionally he took his pipe from his mouth,
and read a few words aloud. At one time he became deeply engrossed in
a book which he took from a shelf in the shop, and he read the
following passage aloud:

'That the consciousness of existence is not dependent on the same form
or the same matter is demonstrated to our senses in the works of the
Creator, as far as our senses are capable of receiving that
demonstration. A very numerous part of the animal creation preaches to
us, far better than Paul, the belief in a life hereafter. Their little
life resembles an earth and a heaven, a present and a future state;
and comprises, if it may be so expressed, immortality in miniature.'

'Immortality in miniature!' repeated my mother, in a puzzled tone.
'What is that from, Bryan?'

'The _Age of Reason_,' he answered.

There was a long pause, broken again by uncle Bryan's voice:

'If we consider the nature of our condition here, we must see there is
no occasion for such thing as revealed religion. What is it we want to
know? Does not the creation, the universe we behold, preach to us the
existence of an Almighty Power, that governs and regulates the whole?
And is not the evidence that this creation, holds out to our senses
infinitely stronger than anything we can read in a book that any
impostor might make and call the word of God? As for morality, the
knowledge of it exists in every man's conscience.'

Presently he laid the book aside, and my mother took it up. Uncle
Bryan stretched forth his hand with the intention of keeping it from
her; but he was too late. He gazed at her furtively from beneath his
horn spectacles, as she turned over the pages. After a few minutes'
inspection of the book she returned his gaze sadly, and, with a
protecting motion, drew me to her side. I had not liked uncle Bryan's
laugh, and I liked it less now.

'Chris, my dear child,' said my mother, in a tone of infinite
tenderness, 'go upstairs and bring down my Bible.'

I did as she desired, and my mother caressed me close, with her arm
round my waist. Uncle Bryan sat on one side of the fireplace, reading
the _Age of Reason_; my mother sat on the other side, reading the
Bible.



CHAPTER X.
OUR NEW HOME.


A day or two afterwards I surprised my mother and uncle Bryan in the
midst of a conversation which I supposed had reference to myself. My
mother was in a very earnest mood, but uncle Bryan, except that he
listened attentively to what she was saying, seemed in no way stirred.
In all my life's experiences I never met or heard of a man who was
more thoroughly attentive to every little detail that passed around
him than was uncle Bryan; but although he gave his whole mind to the
smallest matter for the time being, he evinced no indication of it,
and persons who did not understand his character might reasonably have
supposed him to be utterly indifferent to what was going on.

'You will promise me, Bryan,' my mother said.

'I will promise nothing, Emma,' he replied; 'I made a promise once in
my life, and I received a promise in return. I know what came of it.'
He smiled bitterly, and added, his words seeming to me to be prompted
more by inner consciousness than by the signs of distress in my
mother's face, 'But you can make your mind easy. It is not in my
nature to force my views upon any one. Force! as if it were any matter
of mine! What comes to him must come as it has come to me--through the
light of experience.'

'Do you not believe, Bryan----'

He interrupted her, almost vehemently. 'I believe in nothing! If that
does not content you, I cannot help it.'

'If I could assist you, Bryan--if I could in any way relieve you----'

'You cannot. I am fixed. Life for me is tasteless.'

Something of desolation was in his tone as he said this, but its
plaintiveness was not designed by the speaker. Rather did he intend to
express defiance, and a renunciation of sympathy.

'But, Bryan,' said my mother, with a tender movement towards him----

'I must stop you,' he said, 'for fear you should say something which
would compel an explanation from me. Let matters rest I am but one
among hundreds of millions of crawlers. Once I saw other than visible
signs--or fancied that I saw them, fool that I was! The time has gone,
never to return; the power of comprehension has gone, never to return.
You must take me as you find me. There is very little in the world
that I like or dislike; but I can heartily despise one thing:
insincerity. Have you anything more to say?'

'No, Bryan;' and I could see that my mother was both pained and
relieved.

'I have; two or three words. A question first. You can be satisfied to
remain here?'

'Yes, Bryan, if it satisfies you. I can do no better.'

A gleam came into his eyes. 'That is sincere,' he said, with a
pleasanter smile than the last. 'Very well, then; it does satisfy me.
What I want to say now is, that there must be no break. You must not
remain, and let me get accustomed to you, and then leave me for a
woman's reason.'

'I will not, Bryan.'

With that, the conversation ended. In the night, when my mother and I
were alone in our bedroom, I said,

'Do you think uncle Bryan is a good man now, mother?'

'Is it not good of him, Chris, to give us a home?'

'Yes,' I said; but I was not quite satisfied with her answer. 'His
shell is very rough, though.'

My mother laughed. I loved to hear her laugh; it was so different from
uncle Bryan's. His laughter had no gladness in it.

'We shall find a sweet place here and there, Chris,' she said.

She tried to, I am sure, and she brightened the house with her
pleasant ways. One night we were sitting together as usual; I was
doing a sum on a slate which uncle Bryan had set for me; he was
reading; my mother was mending clothes. We had been sitting quiet for
a long time, when my mother commenced to sing one of her simple songs,
very softly, as though she were singing to herself. In the midst of
her singing she became aware that uncle Bryan was present, and with a
rapid apprehensive glance at him she paused. He looked up from his
book at once.

'Why do you stop, Emma?' he asked.

'I thought I might disturb you.'

'You do not; I like to hear you.'

The charm, however, was broken for that night, and my mother knew it,
and sang but little. Two or three nights afterwards, when uncle Bryan
was engrossed in his book, my mother began to sing again over her
work. I knew every trick of her features, and I think she was
designing enough to watch her opportunity, for there was never a more
perfect master than she of the delicate cunning which kindness to
rough and cross natures often requires. It was with much curiosity
that I quietly observed uncle Bryan's behaviour while my mother sang.
He held his book steadily before him, but he did not turn a page; and
to my, perhaps, too curious eyes there appeared to be, in the very
curve of his shoulders, a grateful recognition of my mother's wish to
please him. I could not see his face, but I liked him better at that
time than I had ever yet done. Truly, my mother was right; here at
least was one sweet place found in the rough shell. She continued her
singing in the same soft strains; and often afterwards sang when we
three were sitting together of an evening.

Exactly three weeks after we had taken up our quarters with uncle
Bryan, my mother and I paid a visit to the neighbourhood in which she
had made the acquaintance of the fairy in the cotton-print dress; but
although it was Saturday night we saw no trace of the little girl. My
mother was much disappointed; and then she went to the house in which
the young woman lived who had given her sixpence, and learned that she
had moved, the landlady did not know whither. I was glad to get away
from the neighbourhood, although I was almost as much disappointed as
my mother was at not finding our little fairy.

Our new life, having thus fairly commenced, went on for a long time
with but little variation. Uncle Bryan allowed my mother to do exactly
as she pleased, and she, without in the slightest way disturbing his
regular habits, made the house very different from what it was when
she first entered it. Every room in it, down to the basement, where
she did the cooking, was always sweet and clean. We also had flowers
on the sill of our bedroom window, and their graceful forms and bright
colours were a refreshing relief to the dark back wall. It delights me
to see the taste for _growing_ flowers cultivated by the poor. Flowers
are purifiers; they breed good thoughts. Quite a rivalry was
established between uncle Bryan and my mother in the care and
attention which they bestowed on their respective window-sills. It
went on silently and pleasantly, and my mother was not displeased
because uncle Bryan was the victor. He trained some creepers from the
window of his little back room to the window of our bedroom, and my
mother watched them with intense interest creeping up, and up, until
they reached the sill. 'They are like a message of love from your
uncle, my dear,' she said. It is by such small precious links as these
that heart is bound to heart. Yet the feelings with which uncle Bryan
inspired me were by no means of a tender nature. He made no effort to
win my affection; as a general rule, his bearing towards me was
sufficiently cold to check tender impulse, and the words, 'I believe
in nothing!' which I had heard him address sternly to my mother, had
impressed me very seriously. I regarded him sometimes with fear and
aversion.

I was sent to a cheap school, a very few pence a week being paid for
my education. My career in the school is scarcely worthy of record.
All that was taught there were reading, writing, and arithmetic; and
when these were learned our education was completed. The master never
allowed himself to be tripped up by his pupils. Arithmetic was his
strong point, and the rule-of-three was his boundary.

In that happy hunting-ground we bought and sold the usual illimitable
quantities of eggs, and yards of calico, and firkins of butter; and
there we should have wallowed until we were old men, had we remained
long enough, without ever reaching another heaven. My principal
reminiscences of those days are connected with the bully of the
school; who, whenever we met in the streets out of school-hours,
compelled me to make three very low and humble bows to him before he
would allow me to pass. I have not the satisfaction of being able to
record that he met with the usual fate (in fiction) of school
bullies--that of being soundly licked, and of being compelled to eat
humble pie for ever afterwards. He was a successful tyrant. His
position occasionally compelled him to fight two boys at a
time--one down, the other come up--but he was never beaten. A tyrant
he was, and a tyrant he remained until I lost sight of him. In his
career, virtue was never triumphant.



CHAPTER XI.
IN WHICH I TAKE PART IN SOME LAWLESS EXPEDITIONS.


In his letter which offered us a home, uncle Bryan had stated, truly
enough, that he was a poor man. Although he purchased his stock in
very small quantities, he often had as much as he could do to pay his
monthly bills. I remember well a certain occasion when he was
seriously perplexed in this way. My mother, who had been attentively
observant of him during the day, said in the evening:

'You are troubled, Bryan.'

'I am short of money, Emma,' he replied; and he went on to say that he
had to pay Messrs. So-and-so and So-and-so to-morrow; and that his
last week's takings were two pounds less than he had reckoned upon.

How much short are you, Bryan?'

He adjusted his horn spectacles, and brought forward his account-book,
and his file of bills, and every farthing the till contained. In a few
minutes he had his trouble staring him in the face in black and white,
in the shape of a deficit of two pounds eighteen shillings--a serious
sum. My mother, with a grateful look in her eyes, produced the stone
money-box, in which he had said she might put by anything she was able
to save out of the money he gave her to keep house with. She shook it;
what was in it rattled merrily. It was a hard job to get the money
out, the slit in the box was so narrow; but it was managed at last by
means of the blade of a knife, and a little pile of copper and silver
lay on the table. I think the three of us seated round the table would
not make a bad picture; but then you could not put in my mother's
delicious laugh. She had saved more than three pounds. I could
scarcely tell whether uncle Bryan was sorry or pleased. He bit his
lips very hard, but said never a word; and, taking the exact sum he
required, put the balance back into the box.

The chief difficulty uncle Bryan had to contend with in keeping his
stock properly assorted was brown sugar. Indeed, brown sugar may be
said to have been the bane of his life; to me, it was a most hateful
commodity, and I often wished there was not such an article in the
world. Uncle Bryan had to pay ready money for sugar, and he could not
purchase at the warehouse less than a bag at the time--about two
hundredpounds weight, I believe. Sometimes he had not the money to go
to the sugar market with, and the stock on the shelves had dwindled
down almost to the last quarter of a pound. Then commenced a series of
dreadful expeditions which I remember with comical terror. One of the
first instructions given by uncle Bryan to my mother had been, never,
under any pretext, to serve even the smallest quantity of sugar to a
strange customer unless he or she purchased something else at the same
time. The reason for this was that there was no profit on sugar; it
was what was called a leading article in the trade, and by some
mysterious trade machinations, arising probably out of the fever of
competition, had come to be sold by the large grocers at exactly cost
price. The small grocers, of course, were compelled to follow in the
wake of the large ones; if they had not, their customers would have
deserted them. Not only, indeed, did the small grocers make no profit
on the sugar they sold, but, taking into consideration the draft
necessary to turn the scale ever so little when weighing out quarter
and half pounds, there was an absolute loss; even the paper in the
scale would not make up for it, for it cost as much per pound as the
sugar. Hence the necessity for not serving strangers with sugar by
itself, and hence it was that I not unnaturally came to look upon it
as a desperate crime for any stranger to attempt to purchase sugar
over uncle Bryan's counter without asking at the same time for a
proper quantity of tea or coffee, or some other article upon which
there was a profit. My feelings, then, can be imagined when uncle
Bryan (being short of sugar, and not having sufficient funds to
purchase a bag at the warehouse), bidding me carry a fair-sized market
basket, took me with him one dark night--and often afterwards on many
other dark nights--to purchase brown sugar, and nothing else, in
pounds, half pounds, and quarters. The plan of operation was as
follows: uncle Bryan, selecting a likely-looking grocer's shop (an
innocent-looking fly, he being the spider), would station me at some
distance from it, bidding me wait until he returned. Then he would
enter the shop boldly, and come out, with the air of one who resided
in the neighbourhood, holding in his hand a quarter or half pound of
feloniously-acquired moist. This he would deposit in the basket (which
had a cover to it, to hide our villainy), and we would wander to
another street, in which he pounced upon another grocer's shop, where
the operation would be repeated. Thus we would wander, often for two
or three miles, until the basket was filled with packages of sugar,
with which we would return stealthily, like burglars after the
successful accomplishment of daring and unlawful deeds. When the
basket was too heavy for me to carry, uncle Bryan carried it, and
would place me in a convenient spot--always at the corner of two
streets, so that in case of pursuit we could make a rapid
disappearance--with the basket on the ground. While thus stationed, I
have trembled at the very shadow of a policeman, and have often
wondered that we were not marched off to prison. Uncle Bryan was not
always successful. On occasions he would pause suddenly in the middle
of a street, and wheel sharply round. 'Can't go into that shop,' he
would say; 'was turned out of it the week before last;' or, 'They know
me there; swore at me when they served me the last time; mustn't show
my face there for another month;' or, with a laugh, 'Come away, Chris,
quick! That woman wanted to know what I meant by imposing on a poor
widow who was trying to get an honest living.' These remarks, of
themselves, would have been sufficient to convince me that we were
committing an offence against law and morality. At first I was a
passive accomplice in these unlawful operations, but in time I became
an active agent.

'Chris, my boy,' said uncle Bryan to me one night, in an insinuating
tone; he was out of spirits, having met with a number of continuous
failures; 'do you think you could buy a quarter of a pound in that
shop?'

'I'll try to, uncle,' I said, with a sinking heart, for I had long
anticipated the dreaded moment.

'Go into the shop in an offhand way, as if you were a regular
customer. I'll wait at the corner for you.'

Go into the shop in an offhand way! Why, if I had been the greatest
criminal in the world, I could not have been more impressed with a
sense of guilt. I showed it in my face when I stepped tremblingly to
the counter, and I was instantly detected by the shopkeeper.

'Do you want anything else besides sugar?' he demanded sternly.

'N-no, sir,' I managed to answer.

'Do you know, you young ruffian, that there's a loss on sugar!' I knew
it well enough--too well to convict myself by answering. 'What do you
say to two ounces of our best mixed at two-and-eight,' he then
inquired, with satirical inquisitiveness, 'or half a pound of our
genuine mocha at one-and-four?'

As I did not know what to say except, 'Guilty, if you please, sir!'
and as I suspected him of an intention to leap over the counter and
seize me by the throat, I fled precipitately, with my heart in my
mouth, and the next minute was running away, with uncle Bryan at my
heels, as fast as my legs would carry me. When we were well out of
danger's reach, uncle Bryan indulged in the only genuine laugh I had
heard from him; but he soon became serious, and we resumed our
unlawful journey. This first attempt was not the last; I tried again
and again; but practice, which makes most things perfect, never made
me an adept in the art. Dark nights were always chosen for our
expeditions, and sometimes so many streets and thoroughfares were
closed to uncle Bryan, that he was at his wits' end which way to turn
to fill the basket.

Things went on with us in the same way until I was fourteen years of
age. Long before this, I had learned all my schoolmaster had to teach
me, and I was beginning to be distressed by the thought that I was
doing a wrong thing by remaining idle. It was time that I set to work,
and tried to help those who had been so good to me. I spoke about it,
and uncle Bryan approved in a few curt words.

'I'm afraid he's not strong enough,' said my mother.

'Nonsense!' exclaimed uncle Bryan; and I supported him.

'I want to work,' I said; 'I should like to.'

'A good trade would be the best thing,' said my mother.

Weeks passed, and I was still idle. My mother had been busy enough in
the mean while, but her efforts were unsuccessful. She learnt that a
good trade for me meant a good premium from my friends; and that of
course was out of the question. It would have been a hard matter to
scrape together even so small a sum as five pounds, and the lowest
premium asked was far above that amount. I thought it behoved me to
look for myself; and I began to stroll about the streets, and search
in the shop windows for some such announcement as, 'Wanted an
apprentice to a good trade: no premium required; liberal wages;'
followed by a description which fitted me exactly as the sort of lad
which would be preferred. But no such announcement greeted my wistful
gaze. I saw bills, 'Wanted this,' Wanted that,' and now and then I
mustered sufficient courage to go in and offer myself; but at the end
of a month's experience I could come to no other conclusion than that
I was fit for neither this nor that. My manner was against me; I was
shy and timid, and sometimes could scarcely find words suitable for my
application; but I had that kind of courage which lies in
perseverance, and my aspirations were not of an exalted nature; I was
willing to accept anything in the shape of work. I know now that I
applied for many situations for which I was totally unfitted, but I
was not conscious of it at the time; and I know also that for a few
days I was absurdly and supremely reckless in my estimate of my
fitness for the employers who made their wants public. It was during
this time that I found myself standing before one of those exceedingly
small offices which squeeze themselves by the force of impudence and
ingenuity into the very midst of really pretentious buildings which
frown them down, but cannot take the impudence out of them. In the
front of this office was a large black board, on which were wafered,
in the neatest of round-hand, the most amazing temptations to persons
in search of situations. The first temptation which assailed me was,
'Wanted a Gardener for a Gentleman's Family. Must have an
Unexceptionable Moral Character. Apply within.' The doubt I had with
reference to this announcement was not whether I would do for a
gardener (this was during my reckless days, remember), but whether my
moral character was unexceptionable. I had never before been called to
answer a declaration of this description, and now that it was put to
me in bold round-hand, I was stung by the share I took in the lawless
sugar expeditions. Not being able to resolve the doubt as to my moral
character (although sorely tempted by the exigences of my position to
give myself the benefit of it), I laid aside the gardener for future
consideration. The next temptation was, 'Wanted a Cook. High Church.'
I discarded the cook. Reckless as I was, it exceeded the limits of my
boldness to declare myself a High-Church Cook. I was not even aware
that I had ever tasted food cooked in that way; the very flavour was a
mystery to me. The next was, 'Wanted a Groom, Smart and Active. Seven
Stone. Apply within.' I debated for some time over seven stone before
I decided that it must apply to the weight of the groom. A stone was
fourteen pounds. Seven fourteens was ninety-eight (I did the sum on a
dead wall with a bit of brick I picked up in the road.) That I was
perfectly ignorant of the duties of a groom did not affect me in the
slightest degree; my only trouble was, did I weigh ninety-eight
pounds? I immediately resolved to ascertain. I strolled into a
by-street, and discovering a mysterious-looking recess wherein was
exhibited a small pile of coals and a large pair of scales to weigh
them in, I considered it a likely place to solve the problem. I had
two halfpennies in my pocket, and I thought I might bargain to be
weighed for one of them. So I walked into the recess, and tapping upon
the scales with a halfpenny, as a proof that I meant business, waited
for the result. The result came in the shape of a waddling woman with
a coaly face and an immense bonnet, who said, 'Now then?' Timidly I
replied, 'I want to be weighed, ma'am; I'll give you a halfpenny.' I
was not prepared for the suddenness of what immediately followed.
Without the slightest warning the woman lifted me in her arms with
great ease, and laid me across the scales, which were shaped like a
scuttle, with great difficulty, although I tried honestly to suit
myself to the peculiarity of the case. Presently she threw me off as
if I were a sack of coals, and tossing the weights aside, one after
another, as if they were feathers, said, 'There you are!' Her words
did not enlighten me. '_Am_ I seven stone, ma'am?' I asked, as I
handed her the coin. 'About,' was her reply. I retired, dubious, in a
very grimy and gritty condition, and walking to the little office
where the black board was, I boldly entered, and asked the young man
behind the counter (there was only room for him and me) if he wanted a
groom. _His_ reply was, 'Half a crown.' This was perplexing, and I
asked again, and received a similar answer. I soon understood that I
should have to pay the sum down before I could be accommodated with
particulars, and as a halfpenny was the whole of my wealth, I was
compelled to retire, much disheartened.

However, I was successful at length. I obtained a situation as
errand-boy, sweeper, and whatnot, at a wood-engraver's, the wages
being three shillings a week to commence with. How delighted I was
when I told my mother, and with what pride I brought home my first
week's wages, and placed them in her hand! In the duties of my new
position, and in endeavouring, not unsuccessfully, to pick up a
knowledge of the business, time passed rapidly. My steady attention to
everything that was set me to do gradually attracted the notice of my
employer, and he encouraged me in my efforts to raise myself. I was
fond of cleanliness for its own sake, and my mother's chief pleasure
was to keep my clothes neat and properly mended. I can see now the
value of the difference between my appearance and that of other boys
of my own age in the same position of life as myself, and I can more
fully appreciate the beauty of a mother's love when it is deep and
abiding--as my mother's love was for me.

And here I must say a word, lest I should be misunderstood. Some
kindly-hearted readers may suppose that my life and its surrounding
circumstances call for pity and commiseration. I declare that they are
mistaken, and that I was perfectly happy, contented in the present,
hopeful in the future. What more could I desire? Poor as our home was,
it was decent and comfortable; the anxieties which invaded it were
not, I apprehend, of a more bitter nature than the anxieties which
reign in the houses of really well-to-do and wealthy people. Well, I
had a home which contented and satisfied me; and dearer, holier,
purer, than anything else in life there was shed upon me a love which
brightened my days and sweetened my labour. Life was opening out to me
its most delightful pages. Already had I learned to love books for the
good that was in them; I was also learning to draw, and every hour's
leisure was an hour of profitable enjoyment. I began to see things,
not with the eyes of a soured and discontented mind, but with the eyes
of a mind which had been, almost unconsciously, trained to learn that
sorrow and adversity may bring forth much for which we should be truly
and sincerely grateful, and which, but for these trials, might be
hidden from us. And all this was due to the influence of Home, and of
the love which life's hard trials had strengthened. Sweet indeed are
the uses of adversity. But for it, the milk of human kindness would
taste like brackish water.



CHAPTER XII.
A SINGULAR EPISODE IN OUR QUIET LIFE.


At this point I am reminded that I have not described uncle Bryan. A
few words will suffice. A tall spare man, strongly built, with no
superfluity of flesh about him; iron-gray hair, thick and abundant;
eyebrows overlapping most conspicuously, guarding his eyes, as it
were, which lurked in their caverns, as animals might in their lairs,
on the watch. He wore no hair on his face, his cheeks were furrowed,
and his features were large and well formed. He possessed the power of
keeping himself perfectly under control; but on rare occasions, a
nervous twitching of his lips in one corner of his mouth mastered him.
This always occurred when he was in any way stirred to emotion, and I
knew perfectly well, although he tried to disguise it from me, that it
was one of his greatest annoyances that he could not conquer this
physical symptom of mental disturbance. He was not only scrupulously
just in his dealings as a tradesman; he exercised this moral sentiment
with almost painful preciseness in his intercourse with my mother and
me. He had no intimates, and he determinedly rejected all overtures of
friendship. His habits were regular, his desires few, his tastes
simple. He appeared to be contented with everything, and grateful for
nothing. If love resided in his nature, it showed itself in a fondness
for flowers; in no other form.

I was nearly eighteen years of age, and the days--garlanded with the
sweet pleasures which spring naturally from a mother's love--followed
one another calmly and tranquilly. Nothing had occurred to disturb the
peaceful current of our lives. Uneventful as the small circumstances
of my past life were in the light of surrounding things, each scene in
the simple drama which had thus far progressed was distinctly defined,
and seemed to have no connection with what preceded it or followed it.
The first, which had occurred in the house where I was born, and which
ended with my father's death; the second, in which my mother had taken
so mournful a part, and which contained so strange a mingling of joy
and sorrow; the third, which was now being played, and which up to
this period had been the least eventful of all. A certain routine of
duties was got through with unvarying regularity. Uncle Bryan's trade
yielded, with careful watching, sufficient profit for our wants; but
I, also, was earning money now, and it was with an honest feeling of
pride that I paid my mother so many shillings a week--I am almost
ashamed to say how few--towards the expenses of my living. And so the
days rolled on.

But in the web of our lives a thread was woven of which no sign had
yet been seen, and chance or destiny was drawing it towards us with
firm hand--a thread which, when it was linked to our hearts, was to
throw strong light and colour on the tranquil days.

A very pleasant summer had set in, and uncle Bryan's flowers were at
their brightest. It had grown into a custom with my mother to come for
me two or three times a week during the fine weather, in the evening,
when my day's work was done. She would wait at the corner of the
street which led to my place of business, and we generally had a
pleasant walk, arriving home at about half-past nine o'clock, in time
for supper, a favourite meal with uncle Bryan. Now, my mother and I
had been for some time casting about for an opportunity to present
uncle Bryan with a token of our affection in the shape of a pipe and a
tobacco-jar; he was so strange a character that it was absolutely
necessary we should have a tangible excuse for the presentation. My
mother found the opportunity. With great glee she informed me that she
had found out uncle Bryan's birthday, and that the presentation should
take the form of a birthday gift. 'It will be an unexpected surprise
to him, my dear,' she said, 'and we will say nothing about it
beforehand.' On a fine morning in August I rose as usual at half-past
five, and made my breakfast in the kitchen; I slept now in the little
back-room on a line with the shop and parlour. Eight o'clock was the
hour for commencing work, and I generally had a couple of hours'
delightful reading in the kitchen before I started. Sometimes,
however, when we were busy, I was directed to be at the office an hour
or so earlier, and on this morning I was due at seven o'clock. I
always wished my mother good-bye before I went to work. Treading very
softly, so as not to disturb uncle Bryan, and with my dinner and tea
under my arm--invariably prepared the last thing at night, and packed
in a handkerchief by my mother's careful hands--I crept upstairs to
her room. She called me in, and I sat by her bedside, chatting for a
few minutes. This was the anniversary of uncle Bryan's birthday, and
our purchases were to be made in the evening.

'I must be off, mother,' I said, starting up; 'I shall have to run for
it.'

'Good-morning, dear child,' she said; 'I shall come for you exactly at
eight o'clock.'

I kissed her, and ran off to work. My mother was punctual in the
evening, and we set off at once on a pilgrimage to tobacconists'
windows. Any person observing us as we stood at the windows, debating
on the shape of this pipe and the pattern of that tobacco-jar, would
at once have recognised the importance of our proceedings. At length,
after much anxious deliberation, our purchases were made, and we
walked home to Paradise-row. My mother had suggested that I should
present uncle Bryan with the birthday gifts, and in a vainful moment I
had consented, and had mentally rehearsed a fine little speech, which
I prided myself was perfect in its way. But, as is usual with the
amateur, and sometimes with the over-confident, on such occasions, my
fine little speech flew clean out of my head when the critical moment
arrived, and resolved itself into about a dozen stammering and
perfectly incomprehensible words. Covered with confusion, I pushed the
pipe and tobacco-pouch towards uncle Bryan in a most ungraceful
manner. My mother saw my difficulty.

'We have brought you a little birthday present, Bryan,' she said,
'with our love.'

He made a grimace at the last three words, and I thought at first that
he was about to sweep the things from him; but if he had any such
intention, he relinquished it.

'How did you know it was my birthday?'

'I found it out.'

'How?'

'Oh,' replied my mother, with a coquettish movement of her head, which
delighted me, but did not find favour with uncle Bryan, 'little birds
come down the chimney to tell me things.'

'Psha!' he muttered impatiently.

'Or perhaps I put this and that together, and found it out that way.
You can't hide anything from a woman, you know.'

Her gay manner met with no sympathetic response from uncle Bryan. On
the contrary, he gazed at her for a moment almost suspiciously, but
the look softened in the clear light of my mother's eyes. Then, in a
careless, ungracious manner, he thanked us for the present. I was hurt
and indignant, and I told my mother a few minutes afterwards, when we
were together in the kitchen, that I was sorry we had taken any notice
of uncle Bryan's birthday.

'He would have been much better pleased if we hadn't mentioned it,' I
said.

'No, my dear,' said my mother, 'you are not quite right. Your uncle
will grow very fond of that pipe by and by.'

My mother always won me over to her way of thinking, and I thought the
failure might be due to the bungling manner in which I had presented
the birthday offerings. I walked about the kitchen, and spoke to
myself the speech I had intended to make, with the most beautiful
effect. It was a masterpiece of elegant phrasing, and every sentence
was beautifully rounded, and came trippingly off the tongue. Of course
I was much annoyed that the opportunity of impressing uncle Bryan with
my eloquence was lost. When we reëntered the room, uncle Bryan's head
was resting on his hand, and there was an expression of weariness in
his face, which had grown pale and sad during our brief absence. My
mother's keen eyes instantly detected the change.

'You are not well, Bryan,' she said, in a concerned tone, stepping to
his side.

'There are two things that disagree with me, Emma,' he replied, with a
grim and unsuccessful attempt at humour; 'my own medicine is one,
memory is another. I've been taking a dose of each. There, don't
bother me. I have a slight headache, that's all.'

But although he tried to turn it off thus lightly, he was certainly
far from well; for he asked my mother to attend to the shop, and
leaning back in his chair, threw a handkerchief over his face, and
fell asleep. My mother and I talked in whispers, so as not to disturb
him. Uncle Bryan was not a supporter of the early-closing movement,
for he kept his shop open until eleven o'clock every night. Very
dismal it must have looked from the outside in the long winter nights,
lighted up by only one tallow candle; but it had always a home
appearance for me, from the first day I entered it. The shop-door
which led into the street was closed, and so was the door of the
parlour in which we were sitting. The upper half of this door was
glass, to enable us to see into the shop. My mother's hearing was
generally very acute, and the slightest tap on the counter was
sufficient to arouse her attention; but the tapping was seldom needed,
for the shop-door, having a complaining creak in its hinges, never
failed to announce the entrance of a customer. On this night,
customers were like angels' visits, few and far between. It was nearly
ten o'clock; uncle Bryan was still sleeping; my mother, whose hands
were never idle, was working as usual; I was reading a volume of
_Chambers's Traits for the People_, from which many a young mind has
received healthy nourishment. I was deep in the touching story of
'Picciola, or the Prison Flower,' when an amazing incident
occurred--heralded by a tap at the parlour-door.

Whoever it was that knocked must not only have opened the street-door,
but must have silenced its watch-dog creak (by bribery, perhaps); or
else my mother's hearing must have played her very false. Again, it
was necessary to lift the ledge of the counter and creep under it,
before the parlour-door could be reached.

My mother started to her feet; and opened the door. A young girl, with
bonnet and cloak on, stood before us. I thought immediately of the
fairy in the cotton-print dress; but no, it was not she who had thus
mysteriously appeared. The girl looked at us in silence.

'You should have tapped on the counter, my dear,' said my mother.

'What for?' was the answer, in the most musical voice I had ever
heard. 'I don't want to buy anything.'

This was a puzzling rejoinder. If she did not want to buy anything,
why was she here?

'This is Mr. Carey's? asked the girl.

'Yes, my dear.'

'Who are you?'

Now this was so manifestly a question which should have come from us,
and not from her, that I gazed at her in some wonder, and at the same
time in admiration, for her manner was very winning. She returned my
gaze frankly, and seemed to be pleased with my look of admiration.
Certainly a perfectly self-possessed little creature in every respect.
Uncle Bryan still slept.

'Who are you?' repeated our visitor, to my mother.

'My name is Carey,' said my mother.

'Oh, indeed!' exclaimed the girl. 'That is nice. And who is he?'
indicating uncle Bryan.

'That is my brother-in-law, Bryan.'

'Mr. Bryan Carey. I've come to see him.' And she made a movement
towards him. My mother's hand restrained her.

'Hush, my dear! You must not disturb him.'

'Oh, I am not in a hurry. But I think you ought to help me in with my
box.' This to me. 'If I was a man, I wouldn't ask you.'

Her box! Deeper and deeper the mystery grew. When the girl thus
directly addressed me, my heart beat with a feeling of intense
pleasure. Hitherto I had been mortified that she had evinced no
interest in me.

'Come along!' she exclaimed imperiously.

I followed her to the door, like a slave, and there was her box,
almost similar in appearance to the box we had brought with us. It was
altogether such an astounding experience, and so entirely an
innovation upon the regular routine of our days, that I rubbed my eyes
to be sure that I was awake. My mother had closed the door of the room
in which uncle Bryan was sleeping, and now stood by my side. I stooped
to lift the box, and found it heavy.

'What is in it?' I asked.

'Books and things,' our visitor replied. 'I'll help you. Oh, I'm
strong, though I _am_ a girl! I wish I was you.'

'Why?'

'Then I should be a boy. There! You see I am almost as strong as you
are.'

The box was in the shop by this time. My mother was perfectly
bewildered, as I myself was; but mine was a delightful bewilderment
The adventure was so new, so novel, so like an adventure, that I was
filled with excitement.

'How did the box come here?' I asked.

'Walked here, of course,' she said somewhat scornfully.

'Nonsense!' I exclaimed; although if she had persisted in her
statement, I was quite ready to believe it, as I would have believed
anything from her lips.

'Oh, you don't believe in things!'

'Yes, I do; but I don't believe that thing. How _did_ it come?'

'A boy carried it. A strong boy--not like you. Isn't that candied
lemon-peel in the glass bottle?'

'Yes.'

'I should like some. I'm very fond of sweet things.'

Quite as though the little girl were mistress of the establishment, my
mother went behind the counter, and cut a slice of the lemon-peel.

'What a small piece!' exclaimed the girl, sitting on the box, and
biting it. 'I could put it all in my mouth at once; but I like to
linger over nice things.'

And she did linger over it, while we looked on. When she had finished,
she said:

'I suppose I am to sit here till he wakes.'

'No, my dear,' said my mother, who had been regarding her childlike
ways with tenderness; 'you had better come inside. It will be more
comfortable. But, indeed, indeed, you have bewildered me!'

The girl laughed, soft and low, and my mother's heart went out to her.
The next minute we were in the parlour again. My mother motioned that
she would have to be very quiet, and pointed to a seat. Before our
visitor sat down, she took off her bonnet and mantle, and laid them
aside. The presence of this slight graceful creature was like a new
revelation to me; the common room became idealised by a subtle charm.
But how was it all to end? An hour ago she was not here; and I
wondered how we could have been happy and contented without her. She
was exceedingly pretty, and her face was full of expression. That,
indeed, was one of her strongest charms. When she spoke, it was not
only her tongue that spoke. Her eyes, her hands, the movements of her
head, put life and soul into her words, and made them sparkle. Her
hair was cut short, and just touched her shoulders; its colour was a
light auburn. Her hands were small and white; I noticed them
particularly as she took from the table the book I had been reading.

Are you fond of reading?' she asked, in a low tone.

'Yes,' I answered. It really seemed to me as if I had known her for
years. 'Are you?'

'I love it. I like to read in bed. Then I don't care for anything.'

Soon she was skimming through 'Picciola;' but looking up she noticed
that my mother's eyes were fixed admiringly upon her. She laid the
book aside and approached my mother, so that her words might not be
lost.

'It makes it strong to cut it, does it not?' was the first question.

'Makes what strong?' My mother did not know to what it was our visitor
referred. I made a shrewd guess, mentally, and discovered that I was
right.

'The hair. To cut it when one is young, as mine is cut, makes it
strong?'

'Yes, my dear. It will be all the better for being cut.'

'Why do you call me your dear?'

My mother replied gently, with a slight hesitancy: 'I won't, if you
don't like me to.'

'Oh, but I like it! And it sounds nice from you. It will be all the
better for being cut! That's what _I_ think. It was nearly down to my
waist. Do you like it?'

'It is very pretty.'

'And soft, is it not? Feel it. When I was a little child, it was much
lighter--almost like gold. I used to be glad to hear people say, "What
beautiful hair that child has got!"'

'It will get darker as you grow older.'

'I don't want it to. I'll sit in the sun as much as ever I can, so
that it sha'n't grow darker.'

'Why, my----'

'Dear. Say it, please!'

'My dear, have you been told that that is the way to keep hair light?'

'No, but I think it is. It must be the best way.' This with a positive
air, as if contradiction were out of the question.

'If you are so fond of your hair, what made you say just now that you
wished you were a boy?'

'Because I do wish it. I think it is a shame. Persons ought to have
their choice before they're born, whether they would be boys or
girls.'

'My dear!'

'Yes, they ought to have, and you can't help agreeing with me. Then I
should have been a boy, and things would have been different. All that
I should have wanted would have been to grow tall and strong. Men have
no business to be little. But as I am a girl, I must grow as pretty as
I can.'

And she smoothed her hair from her forehead with her small white
hands, and looked at us and smiled with her eyes and her lips. All
this was done with such an utter absence of conscious vanity that it
deepened my admiration of her, and I was ready to take sides with her
against the world in any proposition she might choose to lay down.
That she saw this expressed in my face, and that she, in an easy
graceful way, received the homage I paid her, as being naturally her
due, and did her best--again without conscious artifice--to strengthen
it, were as plainly conveyed by her demeanour towards me as though she
had expressed it in so many words. It struck me as strange that my
mother did not ask her any questions concerning herself, not even her
name, nor where she lived, nor what was her errand; and although all
of these questions, and especially the first, were on the tip of my
tongue a dozen times, I did not have the courage to shape them in
words. My mother not saying anything more to her, she turned towards
me.

'Are you generally rude to girls--I mean to young ladies?'

'No,' I protested warmly, ransacking my mind for the clue.

'You were to me just now. You said that I spoke nonsense.'

'I am very sorry,' I stammered; I beg your pardon; but when you said
your box walked here----'

'You shouldn't have asked foolish questions. Never mind; we are
friends again.' She gave me her hand, quite as though we had had a
serious quarrel, which was now made up. Then she nestled a little
closer to me, and proceeded with 'Picciola.'

Nothing further was said until the scene assumed another aspect. I was
looking over the pages of the story with her, when, raising my eyes, I
saw that uncle Bryan was awake. His eyes were fixed on the girl, with
a sort of bewilderment on his face as to whether he was asleep or
awake. He looked neither at my mother nor me, but only at the girl.
Her head was bent over the book, and he could not see her face. I
plucked her dress furtively under the table, and she looked up, and
met my uncle's gaze. Then I noticed his usual sign of agitation, the
twitching of his lips.

'What is this, Emma? he demanded, presently, of my mother.

My mother had been waiting for him to speak. 'This young----'

'Lady,' added the girl quickly, as my mother slightly hesitated, and
rising with great composure. 'Say it. I like to hear it. This young
lady----'

Completely dominated by the girl's gentle imperiousness, my mother
said, 'This young lady has come to see you.'

He glanced at her uncovered head; then at her bonnet and mantle. A
flush came into her cheeks, and she exclaimed,

'Oh, I don't want to stop, if you're not agreeable. I only like
agreeable people. But if you turn me out to-night I don't exactly know
where to go to; and there's my box----'

'Your box!'

'Yes, with all my things in. It's in the shop. You can go and see if
you don't believe me. But if you do go, I sha'n't like you. You have
no right to doubt my word.'

Her eyes filled with tears, and these and the words of helplessness
she had spoken were sufficient for my mother. She drew the girl to her
side with a protecting motion.

'Are you a stranger about here, my dear?'

'I don't know anything of the place,' replied the girl, in a more
childlike tone than she had yet used. 'I have no idea where I
am--except that this is Paradise-row. I shouldn't like to wander about
the streets at this time of night.'

'There is no need, my dear, there is no need. There, there! don't
cry.'

'But of course,' continued the girl, striving to restrain the
quivering of her lips, 'I would sooner do that than stop where I am
not wanted.' She would have said more, but I saw that she was fearful
of breaking down, and thus showing signs of weakness. I looked
somewhat angrily towards uncle Bryan; my mother's arm was still around
the girl's waist. With a quick comprehension he seized all the points
of sentiment in the picture.

'Ah,' he growled, this is more like a leaf out of a story-book than
anything else. You'--to the girl--'are injured innocence; you'--to my
mother--'are the good genius of the oppressed; and I am the dragon
whom St. George here'--meaning me--'would like to spit on his lance.'

'I am sure, Bryan--' commenced my mother, in a tone of mild
remonstrance; but uncle Bryan interrupted her.

'Don't be sure of anything, Emma. Let me understand matters first. How
long have I been asleep--days, weeks, or years?'

'Nearly two hours, Bryan.'

'So long! There was a man once who, at the bidding of a magician, but
dipped his head into a bucket of water----' he paused moodily.

'Yes, yes!' exclaimed the girl eagerly, advancing a step towards him,
with a desire to propitiate him. 'Go on. Tell me about him. I'm fond
of stories about magicians.'

He stared at her. 'Injured innocence,' he said, 'speak when you're
spoken to.' She tossed her head, and retreated, and uncle Bryan again
questioned my mother. 'How long has this little----'

'Young lady,' interposed the girl, with rather a comical assertion of
independence.

--'This little girl--how long has she been here?'

'About an hour, Bryan.'

'Long enough, I see, to make herself quite at home.' He seemed to be
at a loss for words, and sat drumming his fingers on the table, moving
his lips as if he were holding converse with them, and with his eyes
turned from us.

In the silence that ensued, the girl stole towards him. My mother's
footstool was near his chair, and she sat upon it, and resting her
hand timidly on his knee, said, in a sweet pleading voice,

'I wish you would be kind to me.'

Her face was upturned to his. He looked down upon it, and placing his
hands on her shoulders, said in a tone which was both low and bitter,
which was harsh from passion and tender from a softer emotion which he
could not control,

'For God's sake, child, tell me who you are! What is your name?'

'My name is Jessie Trim.'



CHAPTER XIII.
A SUDDEN SHOCK.


'Emma,' said my uncle, 'can you find something to do for a few
minutes? Chris can shut up the shop.'

We went out of the parlour together, and I put up the shutters, and
bolted them. Then my mother and I went downstairs to the kitchen, and
my mother set light to the fire, and warmed up what remained of the
day's dinner. Our usual supper was bread-and-cheese.

'She must be hungry,' said my mother, and I think it will please your
uncle.'

'I am glad she is going to stay, mother. Do you think she will stop
altogether with us?'

'I have no idea, child.'

'Jessie Trim! It's a pretty name, isn't it? Jessie, Jessie! Mother,
why didn't you ask her her name when she came in?'

'She came to see your uncle, Chris. We must never forget one thing, my
dear. This is his house, and he has been very kind to us.'

'He would be angry if he heard you say so.'

'That is his nature, and I should not say it to him. The least we can
do in return for all his goodness is to study him in every possible
way in our power. To have asked her all about herself might have been
like stealing into his confidence. He may have secrets which he would
not wish us to know.'

'Secrets! Do you think _she_ is one of them?'

'How can she be? But let you and me make up our minds, my dear--I made
up mine a long time ago, Chris--not to be too curious concerning
anything your uncle does. If he wished us to know anything, he would
tell us of his own free will.'

'I don't suppose he has anything to tell,' I said, with not the
slightest belief in my own words.

'Perhaps not. Anyhow, we'll not say anything--eh, Chris?'

'Very well, mother. She is very pretty, isn't she?'

'Very, very pretty.'

'Such beautiful hair--and such white hands!'

I was proceeding with my raptures, when my mother tapped my cheek
merrily, which brought the blood into my face strangely enough. 'At
all events,' I said, I hope she will stay with us always.'

'You stupid Chris! What has got into your head? I really don't suppose
she will stay very long.'

'But she has brought her box--and--and--'

My mother suddenly assumed a look of perplexity. 'Really, really now,'
she said, sitting down, and holding me in front of her, 'I know every
mark upon you. You have got a brown mole on your left side, and a
little red spot like a currant on the back of your neck, and another
one just here----' and then she paused.

'Well, mother?'

'Well, Chris, I really _cannot_ remember that I have ever seen a note
of interrogation anywhere about you. Have you got one, my dear? And
where is it?'

'But, mother,' I said, laughing, and kissing her, 'I must be
inquisitive and I must ask questions.'

'Only of me, dear child.'

'Well, then, only of you. Now wouldn't you grow quite fond of her?'

'I am sure I should, dear.'

'Well, wouldn't it be too bad, directly you got fond of her, for her
to go away? Now wouldn't it?'

'But life is full of changes, my dear!'

'That's not an answer, mother. You're fond of me;'--an endearing
caress answered me--'very, very fond, I know, and I am of you. Now,
supposing _I_ was to go away!'

'Child, child!' cried my mother, kneeling suddenly before me and
clasping me in her arms. If I were to lose you, my heart would break!'

I was frightened at the vehement passion of her words, and at the
white face upon which my eyes rested; but she grew more composed
presently. Then the voice of uncle Bryan was heard at the top of the
stairs, calling to us to come up.

'What can we do with our visitor to-night, Emma?' he said, thus
indicating that matters had been arranged during our absence.

'She can sleep with me. You won't mind, my dear?'

'I shall like to,' replied Jessie. He's ever so much nicer than he
was, although I can't say that he's at all polite.' This referred to
uncle Bryan, who made a grimace. 'I couldn't help coming.'

'The least said,' observed uncle Bryan, with all his usual manner upon
him, 'the soonest mended, young lady.'

She pursed up her lips: Young lady! That was all very well when we
were distant. You may call me something else now, if you like.'

'Indeed! Well, then, Miss Trim.'

She laughed saucily. How funny it sounds as you say it! Miss Trim! I
think we are quite intimate enough for you to call me Jessie.'

'You think!' retorted uncle Bryan, with some sense of enjoyment.

'You are given to thinking, I have no doubt.'

'Oh, yes; I think a good deal.'

'Upon my word What about?'

'All sorts of things that wouldn't interest you.'

I quite believe you, young lady.'

'Oh, if you like to call me that,' she said, with a shrug of her
shoulders, you can. 'But I think it's a pity when people try to make
themselves more disagreeable than they naturally are.'

For the life of him, uncle Bryan could not help laughing. This little
play of words was to him what the world is always looking out for
nowadays--a new sensation.

'Then I am naturally disagreeable, you think?'

She did not reply.

'What else do you think about me?'

'I think it must be uncomfortable for the others for you to go to
sleep every night, with a handkerchief over your face.'

'If I had known you were coming----' he said, with mock politeness;
but she interrupted him with wonderful quickness.

'Don't say unkind things. I feel when they are coming; my flesh begins
to creep.'

'Do you think anything else about me?'

'Yes; I think you might give me some supper. You can't know how hungry
I am; and I have always a good appetite.'

My mother was so intent upon this unusual dialogue, and was probably
so lost in wonder (as I myself was) at the appearance of uncle Bryan
in a new character, that she had entirely forgotten the supper; but at
Jessie Trim's mention of it she ran downstairs, and it was soon on
the table.

'Ah,' exclaimed Jessie, with approving nods; 'that smells nice.'

Uncle Bryan stared at the unexpected fare.

'You see what it is to be a young lady,' he said; hitherto we have
always been contented with bread-and-cheese.'

'This is much nicer,' said Jessie, beginning to eat; 'are you not
going to have some?'

'No. Give me some bread-and-cheese, Emma.'

The girl was too much occupied with her supper to bandy words with
him; she ate heartily, and when she had finished, asked uncle Bryan if
he did not feel in a better humour.

'_I_ always do,' she remarked, 'after meals. There is only one thing I
want now to make me feel quite amiable.'

'Then,' said uncle Bryan sententiously, 'all the trouble in the world
would come to an end.'

She nodded acquiescently.

'And that one thing is----' he questioned.

'Something I sha'n't get. I see it in your face; it is really too much
to ask for.'

'To put an end to all the trouble in the world, I would make a
sacrifice.'

'No,' she said, shaking her head, I really haven't courage to ask.'

'What is it?' demanded uncle Bryan impatiently.

Then ensued a perfect piece of comedy-acting on the part of Jessie
Trim; who, when she had worked uncle Bryan almost into a passion, made
the prettiest of curtseys, and said that the only thing she wanted to
make her feel quite amiable was a piece of candied lemon-peel.

'I always,' she added, with the oddest little twinkle in her eyes,
'like something sweet to finish my meals with.'

The expression on uncle Bryan's face was so singular that I did not
know if he was going to laugh or storm. But Jessie got her piece of
candied lemon-peel, and chewed it with great contentment, and with
many sly looks at uncle Bryan.

'Now, then,' he cried, 'it is time to go to bed.'

'It isn't healthy,' observed Jessie, who seemed determined to upset
all the rules of the house, 'to go to bed the moment after one has
eaten a heavy supper.' She spoke with perfect gravity, and with the
serious authority of a grown-up woman.

'Then we are to sit up after our time because you have over-eaten
yourself.'

'I have not over-eaten myself: I have had just enough. I wish you
wouldn't say disagreeable things; you would find it much nicer not to.
If you think I am not right in what I say about going to bed
immediately after supper, of course I will go. You are much older than
I, and ought to be much wiser.'

'But I think you _are_ right,' he growled.

'Why do you make yourself disagreeable then?' she asked, sitting down
on the stool at his feet.

Not a word was spoken for half an hour; at the end of which time our
visitor rose, just as if she were the mistress of the house, and
remarked that now she _did_ think it time we were all in bed.

'Good-night,' she said, giving him her hand; 'I hope I haven't vexed
you.' She held up her face to him to be kissed, but he did not avail
himself of the invitation, and retired to his room.

'He is a very strange man,' she said to us, and I don't quite know
whether I like him or whether I don't. Good-night, Chris.'

'Good-night, Jessie.'

My mind was full of her and her quaint ways as I undressed myself, and
I found myself unconsciously repeating, 'Good-night, Jessie! Jessie!
Jessie!' Her name was to me the sweetest of morsels. 'I am glad she
has come,' I thought; 'I hope she will stop.' I had not been in my
room two minutes before I heard her knocking at the door of the room
in which uncle Bryan slept. I crept to the wall to listen.

'Do you hear me?' she said. 'You can't be asleep already.'

But no response came from uncle Bryan.

'Do answer me!' she continued. 'If you think I have been rude to you,
I am very sorry. I shall catch my death of cold if I stand here long.
Say, good-night, Jessie!'

'Good-night.'

'Jessie!' she called out archly.

'Good-night, Jessie. Now go to bed, like a good--little girl.'

And then the house was quiet, and I fell asleep, and dreamt the
strangest and sweetest dreams about our new friend.

The following morning when I rose I moved about very quietly, and I
debated with myself whether I ought to bid my mother good-morning as
usual. I stole softly upstairs, and put my ear to the door.

'Good-morning, mother.'

I almost whispered the words, but the reply came instantly, in clear
sweet tones,

'Good-morning, dear child.'

She must have been listening for my step.

Is that you, Chris?' inquired a voice which, if I had not known the
speaker, I should have imagined had proceeded from a little child.

'Yes, Jessie,' I answered, with a thrill of delight.

'Where are you going?'

'I am going to work.'

'Good-morning.'

'Good-morning.'

I had never been so happy in my work as I was during this day, and yet
I wanted the hours to fly so that I might be home again. When eight
o'clock struck, I whipped off my apron eagerly, and ran out of the
office. My mother was at the gate.

'I didn't expect you, mother.'

'No, dear child. I wished to leave your uncle and Jessie together for
a little while. She wanted to come with me, but I thought it best to
leave her at home. Shall we take a walk, my dear?'

'Yes, but not a long one. Mother, who is she?'

'I do not know, my dear; and your uncle hasn't said a word--neither
has she.'

'Not a word! Why, mother, she couldn't keep quiet!'

'I don't think she could, dear,' said my mother, with a smile. 'I mean
not a word as to who she is. I think she gave your uncle a letter, for
he has been writing to-day with one before him; but I am not sure.'

'I have been thinking about her all day, and I can't make her out.
Anyhow, I hope she will stop with us. The house is quite different
with her in it. Don't you think so? She is as light-hearted and as
sparkling as a--a sunbeam.' I thought it a very happy simile. 'She
couldn't be anything else.'

'My dear,' said my mother gravely, she was sobbing in her sleep last
night as if her heart would break.' I looked so grieved at this that
my mother quickly added, But she has been talking to your uncle to-day
just as she did last night. She is like an April day; but then she is
quite a child.'

'A child! Why, mother, she must be--how old should _you_ think?'

'About fifteen, I should say, Chris.'

'So how can she be quite a child? And she doesn't talk like a child.'

'She does and she doesn't, my dear. I shouldn't wonder,' she said,
with her sweet laugh, that because you are nearly eighteen, you think
yourself quite a man.'

'I _am_ growing, mother, am I not?' And I straightened myself stiffly
up. Why, I am taller than you!'

'You will be as tall as your father was, my dear.'

'I am glad of that. She said men had no business to be little.'

'_She_ said!' repeated my mother, laughing; and she tapped my cheek
merrily, as she had done on the previous night, and again I blushed.
Jessie ran into the shop to welcome us when we arrived home.

The evening passed very happily with me, Jessie entertaining us with
her light talk. Her marvellous ingenuity, in twisting a few simple
words so as to make them bear sparkling meanings, afforded me endless
enjoyment. Uncle Bryan said very little, and notwithstanding the many
challenges she slyly threw out to him, declined to be drawn into
battle; but now and then she provoked him to answer her. He needed all
his skill to hold his own against her, and he spoke rather roughly to
her once or twice. On those occasions she became grave, and edged
closer to my mother, having already learned that nothing but what was
gentle could emanate from her tender nature. When Jessie went to bed
with my mother, she did not hold up her face to be kissed, as she had
done on the previous night. I do not think she debated the point with
herself, whether she should do so; she gave him a rapid look when she
wished him good-night, and decided on the instant--as she would have
decided the other way had she seen anything in his face to encourage
her. A week passed, and no word of explanation fell from uncle Bryan's
lips as to the connection that existed between these two opposite
beings; but I could not help observing that he grew more and more
reserved, more and more thoughtful. In after days I recognised how
strange a household ours really was during this period, but it did not
strike me at the time, so entirely was I wrapped up in the new sense
of happiness which Jessie Trim had brought into my life. Of the four
persons who composed the household only Jessie and I were really
happy. My mother was distressed because of uncle Bryan's growing
moroseness; with unobtrusive gentleness she strove, in a hundred
little ways, to break through the wall of silence and reserve which he
built around himself, as it were, but she could scarcely win a word
from his lips. It did not trouble me; my mind, was occupied only with
Jessie. What Jessie did, what Jessie said, how Jessie looked and felt
and thought--that was the world in which I moved now. A second week
passed, and there was still no change. One night my mother said that
she would come for me on the following evening.

'And bring Jessie,' I suggested, taking advantage of the opportunity
which I had been waiting for all the week; 'a walk will do her good.'

Jessie's eyes sparkled at the suggestion.

'I should like to come,' she said, with a grateful look; 'I haven't
had a walk since I came here. What are you thinking about?' to my
mother.

'I am thinking,' replied my mother, 'whether there will be any
objection to it.'

'On whose part?' I asked. 'Uncle Bryan's? Why, what objection can he
have?'

'I am sure,' said Jessie, he won't care, one way or another; he
doesn't care about anything, and especially about me. Why, how many
words do you think he has spoken to me all this day, Chris?'

'I can't guess, Jessie.'

She counted on her fingers. One, two, three--sixteen. "I don't know
anything about it! Be quiet! You're a magpie--nothing but chatter,
chatter, chatter!" and he didn't speak them--he growled them. So he
can't care. I shall come, Chris,'--pressing close to my mother
coaxingly--'and we'll take a nice long walk.'

'Very well, my dear,' said my mother, with a smile; 'but I _must_ ask
your uncle, Chris.'

I mapped out in my mind the pleasantest walk I knew, and on the
following night, when work was over, I hastened into the street; but
neither my mother nor Jessie was there. I looked about for them, and
waited for a quarter of an hour, and then raced home. Only my mother
was in the house.

'Why didn't you come, mother?' I asked. 'I've been waiting ever so
long. And where's Jessie?'

'My dear,' replied my mother, with her arm around my waist, 'Jessie
has gone.'

'Gone! Oh, for a walk with uncle Bryan, I suppose?'

'No, my dear; she has gone away altogether.'



CHAPTER XIV.
THE WORLD BECOMES BRIGHT AGAIN.

'Gone away altogether!'

I echoed the words, but the news was so sudden and unexpected that for
a few moments I did not quite understand their meaning. I had never,
until the last fortnight, had a friend so nearly of my own age as
Jessie; and the companionship had been to me so sweet and delightful,
and so altogether new, that to lose it now seemed like losing the best
part of my life. I released myself from my mother's embrace, and ran
upstairs to her bedroom, to look for Jessie's box. It was gone, and
the room was in all respects the same as it had been before Jessie's
arrival. Until that time it had always worn a cheerful aspect in my
eyes, but now it looked cold and desolate; the happy experiences of
the last two weeks seemed to me like a dream--but a dream which, now
that it had passed away, filled my heart with pain.

'Her box is gone,' I said, with quivering lips, when I rejoined my
mother.

'It was taken away this morning, my dear.'

'That shows that she is not coming back; and I shall never, never see
her again!'

My mother did not reply. The feeling that now stole upon me was one of
resentment towards uncle Bryan. Who was to blame but he? From the
first he had behaved harshly towards her. He saw that we were fond of
her, and he was jealous of her. He was always cold and unsympathetic
and unkind. Every unreasonable suggestion that presented itself to me
with reference to him, I welcomed and accepted as an argument against
him; and to this effect I spoke hotly and intemperately.

'Chris, Chris, my dear!' remonstrated my mother; 'you should not have
hard thoughts towards your uncle.'

'I can't help it; he almost asks for them. He won't let us like
him--he won't! I don't care if he hears me say so.'

'He can't hear you, my dear; he went away with Jessie this morning.'

'Where to?'

'I have no idea, Chris; he did not tell me.'

'And wouldn't, if you had asked,' I said bitterly.

My mother sighed, but said, with gentle firmness, 'I had no right to
ask, my dear.'

'Then we are alone in the house, mother.'

'Yes, my dear, for a little while. Sit down, and I will tell you all
about it.'

I sat down, and my mother sat beside me, and took my hand in hers.

'It came upon me as suddenly as it has come upon you, my dear, and I
am almost as sorry as you are. But life is full of such changes, my
dear child.'

'Go on, mother.' In my rebellious mood her gentle words brought no
comfort to me.

'When I said last night that I would come for you this evening, I had
no idea that anything would have prevented me. I intended to bring
Jessie, and I looked forward with pleasure to the walk we intended to
take. I did not tell your uncle that Jessie would come with me; I
thought I would wait till teatime. Lately I have considered it more
than ever my duty to study him, because of the change that has taken
place in him--you have noticed it yourself, my dear--since Jessie
came so strangely among us. For it was strange, was it not, my
dear?--almost as strange as her going away so suddenly, and as
unexpected too; for I am certain your uncle did not expect her, and
that he was as much surprised as we were. He is not to blame,
therefore, for what has occurred now. It is not for us, dear child, to
find fault with him because he is silent and reserved with us; the
only feeling we ought to have towards him is one of deep gratitude for
his great kindness to us. You don't forget our sad condition, my
darling, on the morning we received your uncle's letter.'

'No, mother, I don't forget,' I said, somewhat softened towards uncle
Bryan.

'He did not deceive us; he spoke plainly and honestly, and the
brightest expectations we could have entertained from his offer, and
the manner in which it was made, have been more than realised. Is it
not so, dear child?'

In common honesty I was compelled to admit that it was so.

'I shudder when I think what might have become of my dear boy if it
had not been for this one friend--this one only friend, my darling, in
all the wide, wide world!--who stepped forward so unselfishly to save
us. And we have been so happy here, my darling, so very, very happy,
all these years! If a cloud has come, have we not still a little
sunshine left? There, there, my dear!' returning my kisses, and wiping
her eyes; 'as I was saying'--(although she had said nothing of the
kind; but she was flurried and nervous)--'and as I told you once
before, I think Jessie gave your uncle a letter, and that I saw him,
the day after she came, writing, with this letter before him. Every
morning since then I have observed him watch for the arrival of the
postman in the neighbourhood, and every time the postman passed
without giving him the letter which I saw he expected, he grew more
anxious. This morning he reminded me that I had some errands to make;
I was away for nearly two hours, and when I came home he and Jessie
were in the shop, dressed for walking. What passed after that was so
quick and rapid that I was quite bewildered. Your uncle, beckoning me
into the parlour, said that he and Jessie were going away, and that I
was to take care of the shop while he was absent. "I want you not to
ask any questions," he said, seeing, I suppose, that I was about to
ask some. "I shall be away for two or three days, perhaps longer. Do
the best you can. You had better wish Jessie good-bye now." I could
not help asking, "Is she coming back with you?" And he said, "No." I
was so grieved, Chris, that when I went into the shop, where Jessie
was waiting, I was crying. "You are sorry I am going, then," she said.
"Indeed, indeed, I am, my dear," I replied, as I kissed her. She
kissed me quite affectionately, and said she was glad I was sorry, and
that I was to give her love to you----'

'Did she say that, mother? Did she?'

'Yes, my dear. "Give my love to Chris," she said, "and say how sorry I
am to go away without seeing him." And the next minute she was gone. I
thought of her box then, and I ran upstairs, as you did just now, and
found that it had been taken away while I was out. And that is all I
know, my dear.'

'It is very strange,' I said, after a long pause. Mother, what do you
think of it, eh?'

'My dear, I don't know what to think. The more I think, the more I am
confused. And now, my dear----'

'Yes, mother.'

'We must make ourselves happy in our old way, and we must attend to
the business properly until your uncle returns.'

Make ourselves happy in our old way! How was that possible? The light
had gone out of the house. The very room in which we three--uncle
Bryan, my mother, and I--had spent so many pleasant days before Jessie
came, looked cold and comfortless now. Even the figure of my dear
mother, bustling cheerfully about, and the sweet considerate manner in
which she strove, in many tender ways, to soften my sorrow, were not a
recompense for the loss of Jessie. I opened my book and pretended to
be occupied with it, and my mother, with that rare wisdom which
springs from perfect unselfish love, did not disturb my musings. The
evening passed very quietly, and directly the shop was shut, I went to
bed. I was in a very unhappy mood, and it was past midnight before I
fell asleep. I did not think of my mother, or of the pain she was
suffering through me. My grief was intensely selfish; I had not the
strength which often comes from suffering, nor was I blessed with such
a nature as my mother's--a nature which does not colour surrounding
circumstances with the melancholy hue of its own sorrows. Unhappily,
it falls to the lot of few to be brought within the sweet influence of
one whose mission on earth seems to be to shed the light of peace and
love upon those among whom her lot is cast, and to whom, unless we are
ungratefully forgetful, as I was on this night, we look instinctively
for comfort and consolation when trouble comes to us. In the middle of
the night, I awoke suddenly, and found my mother sitting by my bed;
she was in her nightdress, and there was a light in the room.

'Why, mother!' I exclaimed, confused for a moment.

'Don't be alarmed, dear child,' she said; 'there's nothing the matter;
but I could not sleep, knowing that you were unhappy. You too, my
dear, were a long time before you went to sleep.'

Then I knew that she must have watched and waited at my bedroom door
until I had blown out my candle.

'What time is it, mother?'

'It must be three o'clock, my dear.'

'O, mother! And you awake at this time of the night for me!'

She smiled softly. Something of worship for that pure nature stole
into my heart as I looked into her dear eyes. But there was grief in
them, too, and I asked her the reason.

'Do you know, my darling,' she said, with a wistful yearning look, and
with a sigh which she vainly strove to check, that you went to bed
to-night without kissing me? For the first time in your life, dear
child; for the first time in your life!'

In a passion of remorse I threw my arms around her neck, and kissed
her again and again, and asked her forgiveness, and said, 'How could
I--how could I be so unloving and unkind?' But she stopped my
self-reproaches with her lips on my lips, and with broken words of joy
and thankfulness. She folded me in her arms, and there was silence
between us for many minutes--silence made sacred by love as pure and
faithful as ever dwelt in woman's breast. Then I drew the clothes
around her, and she lay by my side, saying that she would wait until I
was asleep.

'This is like the old time, mother,' I whispered, 'when there was no
one else but you and me. But I love you more than I did then, mother.'

'My darling child!' she whispered, in return; 'how you comfort me! But
I won't have my dear boy speak another word, except good-night.'

We looked out on the following day for a letter from uncle Bryan, but
none came, nor any news of him. It was the same on the second day, and
the third. My mother began to grow uneasy.

'If he had only left word where he was going to!' she said. 'I am
afraid he must be ill.'

The business went on very well without him, thanks to my mother's
care and attention, except that on Saturday night the supply of 'uncle
Bryan's pills,' as they had got to be called in the neighbourhood, ran
short, which occasioned my mother much concern. Sunday and Monday
passed, and still no tidings of him. On the Tuesday--I remember the
day well: we were very busy where I was employed, and I did not come
home until past ten o'clock--the shop was shut--a most unusual thing.
I knocked at the door hurriedly, and my mother, with happiness in her
face, opened it for me.

'Uncle Bryan has come home!' I cried, in a hearty tone.

She nodded gladly, and I ran in, and threw my arms about him. I think
he was pleased with this spontaneous mark of affection; but he looked
at me curiously too, I thought. We sat down--the three of us--and a
dead silence ensued. We all looked at each other, and spoke not a
word.

'What's the matter, mother?' I asked, for certainly so strange a
silence needed explanation.

A sweet laugh answered me, and my heart almost leaped into my throat.
I darted behind the door, and there stood Jessie Trim, bending
forward, with eager face, and sparkling eyes, and hand uplifted to her
ear. But when she saw that she was discovered, her manner changed
instantly. She came forward, quite demurely.

'Are you glad?' she asked gravely, with her hand in mine.

My looks were a sufficient answer.

'And now,' she said, sitting down on the stool, and resting her hands
on her lap, we are going to live happily together for ever
afterwards.'



CHAPTER XV.
JESSIE'S ROSEWATER PHILOSOPHY.


Her voice was like music to my heart. With Jessie on one side of me,
and my mother on the other, there was not a cloud on my life, nor room
for one. I sat between them, now patting my mother's hand, now turning
restlessly to Jessie, and looking at her in delight. But the change in
the aspect of things was so sudden and unexpected, that it would not
have much amazed me to see Jessie melt into thin air. This must have
been expressed in my face, for Jessie, who was a skilful interpreter
of expression, whispered,

'It is true; I have really come back.'

'I was doubting,' I said, in a similar low tone, 'whether I was asleep
or awake.'

'Don't speak loud,' she said mockingly, 'don't look at me too hard,
and don't blow on me, or you will find that you're only dreaming.
Shall I pinch you?'

'No; I am awake, I know. This is the most famous thing that ever
happened.'

'You were sorry when I went away, then?'

'I can't tell you how sorry; but you are not going away again?'

'I suppose not; I have no place to go to.'

There was a change in her manner; she was more thoughtful and sedate
than usual, and her face was pale; but I noted these signs only in a
casual way. To be certain that everything was right, I went out of the
room to see if her box had been brought back. It was in its old place
in my mother's bedroom. My mother had followed me.

'So you are happy again, my dear,' she said, as we stood, like lovers,
with our arms around each other's waist.

'I _am_ glad, mother,' I replied, pressing her fondly to me; 'and so
are you too, I know. But tell me how it all happened.'

'There is very little to tell, dear child. I was as surprised as you
were. I was having tea when your uncle and Jessie came in suddenly; it
gave me quite a turn, for Jessie, as you see, is in mourning.' (I had
not noticed it, and I wondered at my blindness.) 'Your uncle looked
worn and anxious, and they were both very tired, as if they had come a
long distance. "I have not quite deserted you, you see," your uncle
said. I told him how glad I was he had returned, and how anxious we
had been about him. "And Jessie, too," I said. "I was afraid I was not
to see her again." "You will see a great deal of her for the future,"
said your uncle; "she will live with us now. She must sleep with you,
as there is no other room in the house for her." And that is
positively all I have to tell, Chris, except that Jessie has been very
quiet all the evening, and only showed her old spirits when your knock
was heard at the street-door.'

'And Jessie has told you nothing, mother?'

'Nothing, dear child; and I have not asked.'

'You don't even know whom she is in mourning for?'

'No, my dear.'

Jessie was displaying more of her old spirits when my mother and I
went downstairs; as we entered the room she was saying to uncle
Bryan,

'I wish you would tell me what I _am_ to call you. I can't call you
Bryan, and I don't like Mr. Carey. I could invent a name certainly, if
I wanted to be spiteful.'

'What name?' he asked, in his rough manner.

'Never mind. You'd like to know, so that you could bark and fight.
What _shall_ I call you?'

'Call me what you please,' he answered.

'Well, then, I shall call you uncle Bryan, as Chris does; I daresay I
shall get used to it in time.'

Soon after this point was settled I found an opportunity to touch
Jessie's black dress, and to press her hand sympathisingly. She
understood the meaning of the action, and her lips quivered; she did
not speak another word until she went to bed. The events of the
evening had for a time driven from my head news which I had to tell,
and which I knew would be received with pleasure. My errand-running
days were over. My employer, whose name was Eden, satisfied with the
manner in which I had performed my duties, had placed me on the
footing of a regular apprentice, and I was to learn the art of
wood-engraving in all its branches. A fair career was therefore open
to me. It is needless for me to say how these glad tidings rejoiced my
dear mother.

'Mr. Eden,' I said, 'has often asked to see my little sketches, and
has been pleased with them, I think. He told me that he commenced in
the same way himself, and he has given me every encouragement. He says
that in three years I shall be able to earn good wages. Who knows? I
may have a business of my own one day.'

And you have only yourself to thank for it, my dear child; said my
mother, casting looks of pride around.

'No, mother; you are wrong. I have kept the best bit to the last. Mr.
Eden has spoken of you a good many times--he has often seen you, you
know, when you came for me of an evening--and I have told him all
about you. When he called me into his office this afternoon, he said
that I had you to thank for this promotion, and that I was to tell you
so, with his compliments.'

'Why, my dear!' exclaimed my mother; Mr. Eden has never spoken one
word to me.'

'But he has seen you,' interrupted uncle Bryan, the tone and meaning
of his words being strangely at variance, and that is enough. Mr. Eden
is right, Chris. Whatever good fortune comes to you in life, you have
only one person in the world to thank for it.'

'I think so too, uncle.' His words softened me towards him, and I went
to his side, and said gratefully, 'You have been very good to me, sir,
also.'

'Psha!' he said, with an impatient movement of his head. 'Emma, if you
will fill my pipe for me, I will smoke it.'

The pipe we had presented to him on his birthday had not yet been
used, and my mother took it from the mantelshelf, filled it, and
handed it to him. He received it with a kind of growl, implying that
he had been conquered unawares, but he smoked it with much inward
contentment nevertheless.

I was so excitedly happy when I went to bed that I was as long getting
to sleep as I was on the night of Jessie's sudden disappearance. Here
and there life is dotted with sunny spots, the light of which is but
rarely entirely darkened, and had Jessie never returned, she might
have dwelt in my mind as one of these; or--so surrounded with romance
was her appearance and disappearance--I might have grown to wonder
whether she was a creation of my fancy, or had really belonged to my
life. But now that she was among us again, and was going to live with
us, I felt as if a bright clear stream were flowing within me,
invigorating and gladdening my pulses--a sweet refreshing stream
within the range of which sadness or melancholy could find no place.
Reason became the slave of creative thought, and within my heart
flowers were blooming, the beautiful forms and colours of which could
never wither and fade. Jessie had struck the key-note of my certain
belief when she said, 'And now we are going to live happily together
for ever afterwards.'

Curious as I was to know why she had returned to us in mourning, I
held my tongue, out of respect for my mother's wish that we should ask
no questions. Jessie's quieter mood soon wore away; little by little
she introduced colour into her dress, and in three months she was out
of mourning. I fancied now and then, as these alterations in her dress
were made, that her manner towards uncle Bryan indicated an
expectation that he would speak to her on the subject. But he made no
remark, and noticed her the least when most she invited notice.

She changed the entire aspect of our house. It belonged to her to
brighten, apparently without conscious effort, everything which came
in contact with her. The contrast between her and my mother was very
great. My mother's tastes, like her nature, were quiet and unassuming.
Her hair was always plainly done, and, within my experience, she had
never worn cap or flower; her dress was always of one sober tint; and
her pale face and almost noiseless step were in keeping with these. If
she had had the slightest reason to suppose that by placing a flower
in her hair, and wearing a bit of bright ribbon, or by any other
innocently-attractive device, she could have given me or uncle Bryan
pleasure, she would have done so instantly; but, out of her entire
disregard of self, no such thought ever entered her mind. Now Jessie
was fond of flowers and ribbons, and was gifted with the rare faculty
of knowing where a bit of colour, and what colour, would prove most
attractive. From the most simple means she produced the most exquisite
results. Her box was a perfect Pandora's box in its inexhaustible
supply of adornments, and she was continually surprising us with
something new, or something which she made to look like new. And she
was by no means disposed to hide her light under a bushel. Everything
she did must be admired, and if admiration did not come spontaneously,
she was very prompt in asking or even begging for it. It was amusing
to watch the tricksy efforts by which she strove to attract attention
to anything she was wearing for the first time, however trifling it
might be, or to the slightest change in the arrangement of her dress.
Then, when her object was attained, she would ask, 'And do you really
like it? Are you sure now?' or 'Would it look better so?' or 'What do
you think of its being this way--or that?' I was the person whom she
consulted most frequently; but I could see nothing to find fault with,
and could never suggest any improvement; whereas uncle Bryan would
shrug his shoulders, and mutter disparaging remarks, which never
failed to provoke warm replies from Jessie. Then he would smile
caustically, and hit her hard with words still more spiteful, or
retire into his shell, according to his humour.

'We will have a world made especially for you, young lady,' he
said--whenever he was disposed to be bitter, he called her young
lady'--'a world full of ribbons and flounces and flowers and silk
dresses and satin shoes, and everything else you crave for.'

'That would be nice,' she observed complacently.

'And you shall live in it all alone, so that your title to these nice
things shall not be disputed.'

'That wouldn't do,' she answered promptly; 'what is the use of having
nice things unless you get people to admire them?'

'We will have people made to order for you, then; people who shall be
always admiring you and praising you and flattering you.' He rung
changes on this theme for five minutes or so, and when he paused, she
made a grimace, as if she had been compelled to swallow a dose of
medicine. But this kind of warfare did not alter her nature. She
coaxed my mother to buy a pair of pretty ornaments for the
mantelshelf; she coaxed uncle Bryan--how she managed it, heaven only
knows! but she was cunning, and she must have entrapped him in an
unguarded moment--to allow her to buy a piece of oil-cloth for the
table, and she herself chose the pattern; and in many other ways she
made it apparent that a new spirit was at work in our household. She
made the bedroom in which she and my mother slept the prettiest room
in the house; pictures were hung or pasted on the wall; her own
especial looking-glass was set in a framework of white muslin,
daintily edged with blue ribbon. 'Blue is my favourite colour,' she
said, as she stood, the fairest object there, pointing out to me some
trifling improvement; 'it suits my complexion.' It is not difficult to
understand how popular she soon became in the neighbourhood; admiring
eyes followed her whenever she appeared in the narrow streets round
about, and I would not have changed places with an emperor when I
walked out with her by my side. If any one quality in her could have
made her more precious to me, it was her feeling towards my mother.

'No one can help loving her,' said Jessie to me, in one of our
confidential conversations. 'Is she ever angry with any one?'

'I think not,' I replied. 'Where another person would be angry, she is
sorry. There isn't another mother in the world like mine.'

'Would you like me to be like her? Would it be better for me, do you
think?'

I like you as you are, Jessie; I shouldn't like you to alter. There
are different kinds of good people, you know.'

'I am not good.'

'Nonsense! you not good!'

'Your mother is, Chris; she never goes to bed without kneeling down
and saying her prayers.'

'I know it, Jessie. And you?'

'Oh, I often forget--always when I go to bed before her. When we go
together, I kneel down, and shut my eyes; but I don't say anything. I
see things.'

On one occasion Jessie met me at the street-door when I came home from
work, and led me with an air of importance into the sitting-room,
where my mother sat in a new dress and a cap with ribbons in it. My
mother blushed as I looked at her.

'She _would_ make me do it, Chris,' she said apologetically.

'Now doesn't she look prettier so?' asked Jessie.

There was no denying it; I had never seen my mother look so
attractive, and I kissed her and told her so.

'That makes it all right,' cried Jessie, clapping her hands. 'All the
time I was persuading her, she said, "What will Chris say?" and, "Will
not Chris think it strange?"'

And Jessie pretended that something was wrong with the cap, and spread
out a ribbon here and a ribbon there, and fluttered about my mother in
the prettiest way, and then fell back to admire her handiwork.

'I want a new nightcap,' growled uncle Bryan, adding with a sarcastic
laugh, 'but the ribbons in it must suit my complexion.'

The next night Jessie gravely presented him with a nightcap gaily
decorated with ribbons. 'It will become you beautifully,' she said,
with a demure look. When he crossed lances with her, he was generally
vanquished.

Jessie explained to me the philosophy of all this.

'I like everything about me to look nice,' she said; 'what else are
things for? Everybody ought to be nice to everybody. What are people
sent into the world for, I should like to know--to make each other
comfortable or miserable?'

I subscribed most heartily to this rosewater philosophy. Certainly, if
Jessie had had her way, there would have been no heartaches in the
world; no poverty, no sickness, no rags, no rainy days. The sun would
have been eternally shining where she moved, and everything around
her would have been eternally bright. The world would have been a
garden, and she the prettiest flower in it.

In the mean time I was making rapid progress in my business. My great
ambition was to become a good draughtsman; and I had learnt all that
could be learnt in the school of art, which I had attended regularly
for some time.

'Now sketch from nature,' the master said; 'I can do nothing more for
you. You have a talent for caricature, but before that can be properly
developed, you must learn figure drawing from the life.'

These words fired me, and I commenced my studies in this direction
with my mother, who was always ready to stand in any uncomfortable
position for any length of time, while I laboured to reproduce her.
Perhaps I would come suddenly into the room while she was stooping
over the fire, or standing on tiptoe to reach something from the top
shelf of the cupboard. 'Stand still, mother,' I would cry; 'don't
move!' And the dear mother would stand as immovable as a statue until
I released her; and then, dropping her arms, or rising from her
stooping posture, with a sigh of relief which she could not suppress,
she would fall into ecstasies with my work, whether it were good or
bad. Uncle Bryan was a capital study for me, and would smile cynically
when I produced any especially ill-favoured sketch of his face or
figure. It was but natural that I should make the most careful studies
of Jessie; and she, not at all unwilling, posed for me half a dozen
times a week, until my desk was filled with sketches of her in scores
of graceful attitudes and positions. Her face was my principal study;
and I sketched it with so many different expressions upon it, that
before long I knew it by heart, and could see it with my eyes
shut--smiling, or pouting, or looking demurely at me. Jessie inspected
every scrap of my work, and very promptly tore into pieces anything
that did not please her, saying she did not want any ugly likenesses
of herself lying about. I made studies of her eyes, her lips, her
ears, her hands; and we passed a great deal of time together in this
way, to our mutual satisfaction. We were allowed full liberty; but I
sometimes detected uncle Bryan observing us with a curiously pondering
expression on his face. This did not trouble me however.



CHAPTER XVI.
THE STONE MONKEY FIGURE GIVES UP ITS TREASURES.


I had been for some time employed on a large drawing of Jessie, in
crayons. It was my first ambitious attempt in colours; and it arose
from Jessie's complaint that I could not paint her as she was.

'I am all black and white,' she said; 'I am tired of seeing myself so.
Now if you could show me my eyes as they are---- What colour are they,
Chris?'

Thereupon it was necessary that a close investigation should be made,
which was not too rapidly concluded: these matters take a long time to
determine, especially when one is an enthusiast in his art, as I was.
The next day I bought crayons, and practised secretly; and secretly
also commenced the sketch of Jessie above mentioned. I was never tired
of contemplating my work, which promised to be a success; and one
Sunday, when it was nearly completed, I went to my room to examine it.
I kept it carefully concealed in my box, and, after a long
examination, I was about to replace it, when I was startled by
Jessie's voice, asking me what I was hiding. She had entered the room
softly and slyly, on purpose to surprise me, she told me.

'I am certain,' she said, 'that you are doing something secretly. For
the last three or four weeks you have shut yourself in here night
after night, for hours together. Now I want to know all about it.'

I did not wish her to see the sketch until it was quite finished; but
as she knelt by my side, and as my box was open, I could not prevent
her from discovering it.

'O Chris!' she cried. It's beautiful!'

And she expressed such praise of it that my heart thrilled with
delight.

'You think it's like you, then, Jessie?'

'Like me! It's _me_--me, myself! Set it on the box there; I'll show
you.'

And with a rapid movement she altered the fashion of her hair to suit
my picture, and assumed the exact expression I had chosen. She looked
very bewitching as she stood before me, the living embodiment of my
work. Then she knelt before the box again, and praised the picture
still more warmly, analysing it with exclamations of pleasure.

While she was talking and admiring herself; she was tossing over the
contents of my box, when she came upon the only legacy my grandmother
had left me--the smoke-dried monkey of a man in stone, which the old
lady had solemnly confided to my care. From the day I had entered
uncle Bryan's house it had lain in my box, and by this time I had
almost forgotten it; but as Jessie held it up and turned it about, my
mind was strangely stirred by those reminiscences of my early life
with which it was inseparably connected.

'What a curious image?' exclaimed Jessie. 'How long have you had it?'

'All my life, Jessie. Put it away; it's the ugliest thing that ever
was seen.'

'I don't think so. It's funny; look at it, wagging its head. Why, you
seem quite frightened of it! Well, then, I shall take it, and keep it
in my room.'

'No, I mustn't part with it. It was given to me by my grandmother, and
she said that it must be kept always in the family. Not that I think
much of what she said.'

Jessie shifted her position, and seated herself very comfortably upon
the floor.

'Now you've got something to tell me,' she said, pulling me down
beside her. 'I've never heard of your grandmother before, and you know
how fond I am of stories.'

'But mine is not a story, And there's nothing interesting to tell.'

'Oh, yes, there is; there must be. Everybody's life is full of
stories.'

'Yours, Jessie?' I put the question somewhat timorously.

'Perhaps,' she answered gravely; and added, after a short pause, 'But
we're not speaking of me; we're speaking of you. I want to know
everything.'

But it was long before she could coax me to speak of my early life.
There was much that I felt I should be ashamed for Jessie to know; and
a burning blush came to my cheeks as I thought of the time when my
mother used to beg for our living. To escape too searching an inquiry
I began to tell her of my grandmother, which led naturally to the
story of my grandmother's wedding. Of course the man with the knob on
the top of his head, and who was always eating his nails, was
introduced, he being the principal figure at the wedding.

'There!' cried Jessie. You said you hadn't any story to tell. Why,
you've told me half a dozen already. I can see your grandmother as
plain as plain can be; and that disagreeable man, too--I wonder what
became of him, after all? What was his name, Chris?'

'Anthony Bullpit'

'I hate the name of Anthony. Go on; I want to hear more.'

I gave a description of Jane Painter, at which Jessie laughed
heartily, and clapped her hands.

'I shall come into your bedroom one night with a sheet over me, and
frighten you.'

'I shouldn't be frightened of you, Jessie; besides, I'm not a boy now,
and I'm not afraid of anything. Then your voice----'

'Well!'

'Your voice is musical. How could you frighten anybody with it?'

Jessie edged a little closer to me.

'Go on, Chris. Anything more about Jane Painter? What a wretch she
must have been!' Then came an account of my grandmother's death, and
the legend of the long stocking, in which Jessie was immensely
interested.

'And you never found any money after all, Chris?'

'No; and I'm sure we searched for it everywhere. We looked up the
chimney, and ripped the bed open, and pulled the armchair all to
pieces.'

'I'd have had the cellar dug up,' cried Jessie excitedly; I'd have had
the paper taken off the walls, and the flooring taken away bit by bit.
I am certain the money was hidden somewhere.'

I shook my head.

'Or Jane Painter stole it,' she continued. 'I sha'n't sleep to-night
for thinking of it. I do so like to find out things! And I'd like to
find out this thing more than any other.'

'Why, Jessie?'

'Such a lot of money, Chris! Hundreds and hundreds of pounds there
must have been hidden away, or stolen. Hundreds and hundreds of
pounds!'

'Would you like to be rich, Jessie?'

'Chris,' she replied, looking at me seriously, 'I think I would do
anything in the world for money.'

A miserable feeling came over me, and for the first time in my life I
repined at my lot. What would I not have sacrificed at that moment if
I could have filled her lap with money! All this time Jessie had been
playing with the stone monkey figure, and now she suddenly uttered an
exclamation of surprise.

'Look!' she cried. 'The head comes off. It isn't broken; here's the
wire it hangs upon. Why, Chris----'

She seized my hand in uncontrollable excitement, and hid the figure in
her lap.

'What's the matter, Jessie?'

'There's something inside. It's stuffed full of paper. What if it
should be your grandmother's money?'

The amazing suggestion almost took away my breath.

'It's just the kind of place,' continued Jessie, panting, 'she would
have hidden it in. She kept it all in large bank-notes, and stuffed
them in here, where nobody could possibly suspect they were, and where
she could have them under her eye all the day. O Chris! feel how my
heart beats!'

My excitement was now as great as her own.

'Quick, Jessie! Let us look!'

'No,' she cried, covering the figure with both hands, 'let us wait a
bit. This is the best part of things: knowing that something wonderful
is coming, and waiting a little before it comes. How much is it? A
hundred pounds! Five hundred pounds! It can't be less, for you say she
always wore silk dresses. What will you do with it? We'll all have new
clothes. I know where there's such a lovely blue barege, and I saw a
hat in a window yesterday, trimmed with blue ribbon, and with lilies
and forget-me-nots in it, that I'd give my life for. O Chris! I can
see myself in them already.'

So she went on for full five minutes, building her castles; then with
a long-drawn breath she said,

'Now, Chris!'

The inside of the figure was certainly full of paper, which I fished
out very easily with one of Jessie's hairpins, and amid a little cloud
of dust--emblematical of Jessie's castles, for the paper was utterly
valueless. She refused to believe at first, and when she was
convinced, her disappointment took the form of anger against my
grandmother; she declared that the old lady had done it on purpose,
and that she was a spiteful, wicked, deceitful old creature. I was
quite as disappointed as Jessie was, more for her sake than my own,
and I tried to talk her into a better mood. Thinking there might be
writing on some of the paper, I smoothed it out, piece by piece; but
there was nothing written or printed on any of it with the exception
of one long slip, which was evidently a cutting from a newspaper. It
was headed, 'Remarkable Discovery of a Forger by the Celebrated
Detective, Mr. Vinnicombe.' And glancing down the column, the name of
Anthony Bullpit attracted my attention. I became interested
immediately.

'Here's something, at all events,' I said; 'something about my
grandmother's nail-eating lover. Listen, Jessie.'

'I don't want to hear anything about him,' replied Jessie, in a pet,
leaving the room.

So I read this 'Remarkable Discovery' quietly by myself. It ran as
follows:



CHAPTER XVII.
THE TRUE STORY OF ANTHONY BULLPIT.


Among the cases tried at the late assizes was one not only of local
interest, but exceedingly remarkable, because of the extraordinary
circumstances attendant upon the arrest of the prisoner, who, after
the commission of his crime, had absconded. We throw the particulars
of this case into the form of a narrative, as being likely to prove
more interesting to our readers. The three principal characters in the
story are Mr. James Pardon, a Solicitor; Mr. Anthony Bullpit, his
confidential clerk; and Mr. Vinnicombe, a detective. These terse
definitions would be sufficient for dramatic purposes, but a
more comprehensive description is necessary here for the purposes
of our story. Mr. James Pardon is the head of the well-known and
highly-respected firm of solicitors in High-street, and to his care is
intrusted a vast amount of important business. Not only as a
solicitor, but as a man and a churchwarden his name commands universal
respect. He employs a large staff of clerks, conspicuous among whom
was Anthony Bullpit, who had been in his service from boyhood, and
whose face is familiar to most of our townsmen. Mr. Vinnicombe, we
need scarcely say, is the name of the celebrated detective whose
unerring instinct, in conjunction with a powerful and keen intellect,
has been the means of bringing many a criminal to justice. In his
profession, Mr. Vinnicombe is _facile princeps_. There is a fourth
character, who plays a minor but important part, and whom it will be
sufficiently explicit to describe as Mr. Vinnicombe's friend. Now for
the story.

To all outward appearance trustworthy and attentive to his duties,
Anthony Bullpit rose step by step in the office of Mr. James Pardon
until he had arrived at the position of head clerk; his manners were
civil and plausible, and not the slightest suspicion was entertained
of his honesty. He had access to the safe and cheque-book of the firm,
and was intrusted with much confidential business. On the twenty-first
of last month Mr. James Pardon had occasion to go to London on a
matter of great importance; he expected to be absent for at least
three weeks, and Anthony Bullpit was left to superintend the affairs
of the firm. It fortunately happened that Mr. Pardon's business in
London was transacted more rapidly than he had anticipated, and he
returned to Hertford, without warning, after an absence of fourteen
days only. His confidential clerk was absent; and to his astonishment
he was informed that, three days before his return, Anthony Bullpit
had stated in the office that he had received a letter from Mr.
Pardon, desiring his immediate attendance in London, to render
assistance in the matter on which Mr. Pardon was engaged. As Mr.
Pardon had sent no such letter to Anthony Bullpit, his suspicions that
all was not as it should be were naturally aroused, and he at once
made an examination of the affairs of the business. A very slight
inquiry was sufficient to justify his suspicions: not only had all the
money which had been received during his absence been abstracted, but
a cheque for seven hundred pounds, taken from his cheque-book, and
purporting to be signed by James Pardon, had been presented to the
bank, and cashed without hesitation. The signature was a most skilful
imitation, and Mr. Pardon acknowledges that any person might have been
deceived by it. Thus far the story is, unhappily, but an ordinary one
in the history of crime; but now come the extraordinary incidents
which elevate it almost into the sphere of romance. Mr. Pardon's
indignation was extreme, and being determined to bring the delinquent
to justice, he went at once to the police-court, and laid his charge.
While it was being taken down a person, who did not appear to be
particularly interested in the narration, was sitting by the fire,
apparently deeply engaged in a newspaper which he held in his hand.
When Mr. Pardon had finished, he gave expression to his indignation,
and to his determination to inflict upon the forger the utmost
punishment of the law. The person who was reading by the fire said
aloud, 'First catch your hare, then cook it.' Mr. Pardon, not being
aware whether the stranger was quoting from the paper he was reading
or was making an independent observation, asked, in his quick manner,
whether the words were addressed to him. 'To any one,' answered the
stranger. 'And you said----' prompted Mr. Pardon. 'I said,' repeated
the stranger, 'first catch your hare, then cook it. You see,' added
the stranger, 'the first thing you have to do is to catch your clerk;
then you can cook him--not before. Now how are you going to do it?'
Mr. Pardon confessed that he did not know how it was to be done, but
he supposed that the police---- The stranger interrupted him. 'This
clerk, Anthony Bullpit, is more than a match for the police. You
acknowledge that your name was so skilfully forged that you might have
been taken in by it yourself. Now, the skill which enabled Anthony
Bullpit to write your name in such a way as might deceive even you,
was not acquired in an hour or a day. He has been secretly practising
your signature for years, and has been secretly practising, I don't
doubt, many other things you're not acquainted with, which might come
useful to in one day or another. What does this imply? That Anthony
Bullpit is a shallow bungling sort of criminal, or an artful,
scheming, designing sort of criminal?' Mr. Pardon, himself the
shrewdest of lawyers, was struck by the shrewd intelligence of the
stranger, and admitted that it was clear that Anthony Bullpit was a
scheming, artful, designing scoundrel. 'But he had a quiet way with
him,' said Mr. Pardon, 'that any person might have been taken in by.'
The stranger smiled. 'One of your sneaking kind,' he said; 'I know
them. They're the most difficult to deal with, and the most difficult
to catch. The chances are that Anthony Bullpit had all his plans well
laid beforehand. And don't forget that he's got three days' start.
Why, you don't even know what road he has taken!' Mr. Pardon
acknowledged the reasonableness of these observations. 'May I ask,' he
said, 'with whom I have the pleasure of conversing?' 'My name is
Vinnicombe,' replied the stranger, rising. 'Mr. Vinnicombe, the famous
detective!' exclaimed Mr. Pardon. 'The same,' was the answer. Mr.
Pardon immediately made a proposition to Mr. Vinnicombe, and the
result was that, within an hour, Mr. Vinnicombe presented himself at
Mr. Pardon's office, saying that he was ready to take the case in hand
at once. What follows is from the eminent detective's own lips,
_verbatim et literatim_, taken down in our own office by the editor of
this paper:[1]


[Footnote 1: It is evident, from the manner in which he presented his
report of the case to his readers, that 'the editor of this paper' was
in advance of his times; he would have made an admirable descriptive
reporter in these days. Mr. Vinnicombe also, as is apparent from the
style of the narrative, was an advanced detective; but the qualities
which are necessary for the making of a good detective, and the spirit
which animates the class, do not differ, whatever the year.--Author.]


'The first thing Mr. Pardon wanted me to do,' said Mr. Vinnicombe, was
to trace the notes; but I said, No; the thief first, the property
afterwards. If I could trace him by the property, all right; but there
was no time to lose in ascertaining what road he had taken, and where
he was bound to. In a very short time I discovered by what means and
by what road Anthony Bullpit had left the town. That road did _not_
lead to Liverpool, and immediately I learnt this, I decided that
Liverpool was the port which he intended to reach. Why port? you ask.
Well, it wasn't likely that a cunning card like this Bullpit was going
to remain in England. I picked up a bit of gossip concerning him, and
I found out that he had had a love affair with a young lady--I mention
no names, and I only mention it professionally--and that her family,
not liking his sneaking ways, had shut their doors on him; I found out
also that this young lady was soon to be married to a gentleman who
was more worthy of her. That was one reason why it wasn't likely he
was going to remain in England; having filled his pockets with another
man's money was another reason. But there were stronger reasons than
these. He had peculiar marks about him, and if he wasn't found out
to-day by these marks, he would be to-morrow; and he knew it. So what
he had to do was to get out of the country as quick as he could. Now,
there's only two ports in England from where a man as wants to go can
go to all parts of the world, civilised and uncivilised. These ports
are London and Liverpool.

'Bullpit wouldn't go to London. Why? Mr. Pardon was there. He'd go
naturally to Liverpool, because Mr. Pardon was _not_ there. Now, I'll
tell you about these peculiar marks of his. First, he had--a knob on
the top of his head. But the knob couldn't be seen, you'll say,
because he had a bushy head of hair. That's right enough, but it don't
do away with the knob; he had it, and that was enough for me. I don't
know as ever I had any business in connection with a man as had a knob
on his head, and that circumstance made the case interesting to me. I
like to do with all sorts. Second, he had a peculiarity with his
teeth. The two middle ones in the top jaw--I hope you don't think I'm
going to swear or use bad language; but jaw's a word, and when a
word's got to be used, I use it--the two middle teeth in his top jaw
had a slit between 'em, a slit as you could see daylight through, if
there was such a thing in his mouth. That slit ain't much, you'll say.
All right. Third, he had a habit of biting his nails. Well, now, that
ain't a crime, you say. _I_ don't say it is, but he had it, and that
was enough for me. These peculiarities and a general description of
Bullpit--as to how tall he was (a man can't alter _that_), how stout
(nor that), what kind of complexion, and other personal details--were
all I had to go upon. I tracked him, without ever making a miss, in
the contrary direction of Liverpool, and then back again by another
road in the direction of Liverpool, and there I lost sight of him
completely. But I knew he must be there, and that was enough for me. I
had travelled faster than he had, and I reckoned I had gained a day
and a half on him. According to my calculation, he hadn't had time to
get away yet; he could only have been in Liverpool two days, and as
Mr. Pardon wasn't expected home for a week after he left, there was no
need for him to put on any show of hurry; it might look suspicious.
Now, what should I do? Bullpit would be sure to disguise himself--clap
on a pair of false whiskers and coloured spectacles perhaps, cut his
hair short, wear a wig; he would certainly not walk about in the
clothes he run away in. Thinking of these things I felt that Bullpit
might prove more than a match for _me_. There was the knob on his head
certainly; but I couldn't go up to every suspicious-looking stranger,
pull off his hat, and feel for the knob; people might resent it as a
liberty, and treat it accordingly. There was his habit of biting his
nails; but he would be sure to restrain himself, though it is about
the most difficult thing in the world for a man to keep from, when
he's been accustomed to it all his life. I don't see what there is in
nails except dirt to make people fond of 'em. They ain't sweet and
they ain't tasty. Well, but Bullpit. He'd be cunning enough to
restrain himself from biting his nails, knowing it was a mark to go
by; still nails don't grow in a day, and they'd be short on _his_
fingers naturally. But he'd wear gloves. Then the slit between his
teeth. Well, that couldn't be altered; but he could keep his mouth
shut. Now if I was to tell you everything I did in the first two days
I was in Liverpool, it would fill a book, and that's what you don't
want; what you _do_ want is for me to come to the point, and that I'll
do in a jiffy. I went down to the docks, and took up my lodgings near
there; I didn't stop in any particular place, but shifted from one
eating-house to another, and mixed with the customers, and talked to
the waiters; no ship sailed out of the Mersey without my being on it
at the last minute, with my eyes wide open; I communicated with the
captains and the ship-agents; I watched every new arrival at the
eating-houses, and drank with them, and did a hundred other
things--and at the end of the fourth day I was as far off as ever; I
hadn't picked up a link. Now, that nettled me; it did--it nettled me.
I had set my heart on catching this Bullpit; he was worth catching, he
was such a sly cunning customer; I looked upon it as a match between
us, and I wanted to win, and here was I four days in Liverpool, with
never a link in my hands for my pains. On the fifth day I met--quite
by accident--a professional friend, who had come down to Liverpool to
say good-bye to a relative of his who was going to America. The ship
was to sail that afternoon; it was called The Prairie Bird. We had a
bit of dinner together in the coffee-room, where other men were
dining. Over dinner I told my friend what had brought _me_ to
Liverpool; I spoke in a low tone, so as not to be overheard, and I was
not sorry when the man who was eating at the next table to ours went
away in the middle of my story; he was a little too close to us. Well,
we finished dinner; my friend insisted on paying the reckoning, and I
moved a step or two towards the next table, where the man who went
away in the middle of my story had been dining. The waiter was
clearing the table, when I saw something that set me on fire. Now,
what do you think it was? You can't guess. I should think you
couldn't, if you tried for a week. What do you say to a piece of
bread? You laugh! Well, but that piece of bread was enough for me. It
wasn't a link. It was the chain itself. In what way? I'll tell you.
You see, that piece of bread was partly eaten, and the man who had
been dining had put it down after taking his last bite at it. The
marks of his teeth were in it, but the only mark I saw was a little
ridge in the centre of the bite--just such a ridge as would be left by
a man who had a slit between two of his upper teeth, as Anthony
Bullpit had. Would that little mark have been enough for you?

'Now I had seen this man a dozen times; a most respectable-looking man
he was, with leg-of-mutton whiskers, and most respectably dressed,
something like a clergyman; and I knew he was a passenger by The
Prairie Bird. I had never for one moment suspected him. Anthony.
Bullpit was a pale-faced man; this man had a high colour. There was
nothing particular in Anthony Bullpit's walk; this man dragged one leg
behind the other slightly. Anthony Bullpit's hair was black; this
man's hair was sandy. Anthony Bullpit had good eyebrows; this man had
no eyebrows at all to speak of. Ah, he's a cunning rascal is Anthony
Bullpit, and was worth catching. I put things together very quickly in
my mind, and I settled it--if it wanted settling after the first sight
of that piece of bread--that this man, and no other, was the man I
wanted. There was only one thing that puzzled me, and that was his
nails; they were long. However, I wasn't going to let that stop me, so
I laid a little plot with my professional friend, and we went aboard
The Prairie Bird--not in company, because of the little plot I laid,
but one a minute after the other. There was my respectable customer,
standing by himself; I was puzzled even then as I looked at him, he
was so well disguised; but his height was there, and his bulk was
there, with a little added to it, which might be padding. Well, while
I stood a little distance away, with my eye on him, but not in an open
way, my professional friend walks up to him from behind, until he gets
close, and this is what my professional friend whispers to him: "Don't
start," whispers my professional friend, most confidentially; "don't
turn your head, or it might attract notice. My name's Simpson, and I
cashed the cheque for seven hundred pound for you in the Hertford
Bank. I was in the bank for six years, and I've done a little bit of
business on my own account, and have got clear away. Twelve hundred
pounds I've got about me, and I'm a fellow passenger of yours; when
The Prairie Bird gets to America, what's to hinder you and me going
partners and making our fortunes? Two such heads as ours'll be sure
to make a big one. I sha'n't speak another word to you till we're
safely off, but I'm glad I've got a friend on board." With that, my
professional friend slips quietly away. Now, if my respectable-looking
customer hadn't been the man I wanted, he would have turned round on
my professional friend, and hit him in the eye perhaps; at all events,
he would have kicked up a row. But he listened to every word, with his
eyes looking down on the deck, and the only movement he made was a
kind of twitching with his fingers, and a rising of them to his lips,
as if he wanted to set to work on his nails. He didn't get so far as
his mouth with them; he had himself too well in hand; but I was sure
of my man--his own cunning was the trap in which he was caught. I
waited until the last minute, until those who weren't going to the
other side of the Atlantic in The Prairie Bird were scrambling away
lest they should be taken by mistake; and I saw my respectable friend
give one triumphant look around, being sure then he was safe. At the
same moment, as if he couldn't stand it any longer, up went his
fingers to his lips; his longing to get at those nails of his must
have been something dreadful. Then I stepped up to him suddenly, and
before he knew where he was I had the handcuffs on him. "It's no use
making a noise about it," I said; "I want you, Anthony Bullpit. Here's
the warrant." And quick as lightning I passed my hand over his head,
and felt the knob. He saw it was all over with him, and I could see
that he turned deadly white, for all his false colour. "You sha'n't be
done out of a voyage across the sea," I said; "but it'll be a longer
voyage than the one to America. Botany Bay'll be the place as'll
suit _you_ best, I should think." He never spoke a word; I got his
trunk, and found the money in it--all changed into gold it was, the
cunning one. Well, everything was comfortably arranged, and I was
about to guide him down the ladder to the boat, when he whispered to
me, "There's another man on board as you'd like to have. He's a better
prize than I am. If you'll make it easier for me, I'll tell you who it
is." "What man?" I asked, with a quiet chuckle. "A man as has robbed
the bank of twelve hundred pound." Just then my professional friend
came to my side. "That's him," said Anthony Bullpit "And you and him's
going partners when you get safe across," I said, with a wink at my
professional friend; "he cashed that cheque for you, didn't he? Lord!
you're not half as clever as I took you to be!" He was clever enough
to understand it all without another word, for he only gave a scowl;
and when me and him and my professional friend was in the boat, he
fell-to on his nails without restraint, and before the day was out he
had eaten them down to the quick. He only asked one question, and that
was how I had discovered him. I pulled the piece of bread from my
pocket, and pointed to the marks of his teeth in it, and to the ridge
the slit in his teeth had left. I brought my man safely back, and you
know what has become of him. If I live till I'm a hundred--which isn't
likely--I shall never forget the feeling that came over me when I saw
that piece of bread with the ridge in it that brought Anthony Bullpit
to justice.'

We have only to add to Mr. Vinnicombe's statement that Anthony
Bullpit, when placed in the dock, pleaded guilty, and was sentenced to
twenty-one years' transportation. The sentence would have been for
life, but for Mr. Pardon's intercession, who pleaded for mercy for the
infamous scoundrel who had abused his trust. We have occupied more
space than we otherwise should have done with the details of this
case, for the purpose of pointing out how often the most trivial
circumstance will lead to the detection and punishment of the most
cunning criminals.


Apart from the circumstance of this Anthony Bullpit being one of my
grandmother's lovers, the narrative was interesting to me from the
really remarkable manner in which the forger was discovered. I
refolded the printed paper carefully, and replaced it in the interior
of the stone figure; and in the course of a couple of days I made a
drawing of Anthony Bullpit, as I imagined him to be, a sneaking
hang-dog figure of a man, with a hypocritical face, gnawing his
finger-nails.



CHAPTER XVIII.
UNCLE BRYAN COMMENCES THE STORY OF HIS LIFE.


'Chris is growing quite a man,' observed my mother one evening to
uncle Bryan.

Her words attracted uncle Bryan's attention, and he regarded me with
more interest than he usually evinced. We three were alone. Jessie was
spending the evening with some neighbours, and was not expected home
before ten o'clock. The family she visited was named West. I did not
know them personally, but I was curious about them, not only because
Jessie's visits to their house had lately grown very frequent, but
because they were a theatrical family. They were, in a certain sense,
famous in the neighbourhood because of their vocation, which lifted
them out of the humdrum ordinary course of common affairs. During the
whole time we had lived in Paradise-row, I had made no friends among
our neighbours. It was different with Jessie: before she had been with
us six months, she knew and was known by nearly every person in the
locality. She informed me that she was fond of company, and she
accepted invitations to tea from one and another. But lately she had
confined her intimacy to the Wests, and whenever I came home, and she
was absent, I was told she was spending an hour at their house. Many
weeks before the observation which commences this chapter was made,
Jessie and I had had a conversation about the Wests. She introduced
their name, and after informing me that she was going to have tea with
them on the following evening, asked me if I would come for her at
nine o'clock and bring her home. But I demurred to this, as being
likely to be considered an intrusion.

'What nonsense you talk!' she exclaimed. They are the most delightful
persons in the world.'

'Your friendships are quickly made, Jessie,' I said, with a jealous
pang.

'Directly I see persons I know whether I like them or not. Don't you?'

'I can't say,' I replied sententiously; 'I have never considered it.'

'Well, consider it now. Don't be disagreeable. Directly you saw me,
didn't you like me?'

'Oh, yes.'

'Very well, then; that shows you _do_ make up your mind properly about
these things, as a man ought to do.'

I thrilled with pleasure at this cunning compliment.

'But you are different, Jessie, from any one else.' (What I really
wanted to say was, 'You are different in my eyes from any one else;'
but the most important words oozed away, from my want of courage.)

'Am I?' she cried softly and complacently, as was her way when she
felt she was about to be flattered. How different? In what way? Tell
me.'

'You are prettier and nicer. There's no one in the world like you.'

'That's what you think.'

'That's what everybody must think.'

'Why, Chris!' she exclaimed, making a telescope with her two hands,
and peeping at me through them, I declare your moustachois are
coming.'

I blushed scarlet. 'Are they?' I inquired, with an effort at
unconsciousness, notwithstanding that I had already many times
secretly contemplated in my looking-glass, with the most intense
interest, these coming signs of manliness. 'But never mind them,
Jessie; tell me about the Wests.'

'They are the most wonderful people, and the most delightful. I'm in
love with all of them.'

My blushes died away; jealous pangs assailed me again.

'Are there many of them?' I asked gloomily.

'Ever so many; but you must see for yourself. You will come for me,
then? You mustn't knock at the door and say, "Tell Miss Trim I am
waiting for her;" you must come right into the house.'

But being angry with the Wests, and beginning to hate them because
Jessie was so fond of them, I insisted that it would not be proper,
because I had never been invited; and after a little quarrel, in which
I deemed it necessary, as an assertion of manliness, to become more
and more obstinate in my refusal, Jessie said with a pout, 'Oh, very
well; if you're determined to stand upon your dignity, you'll see that
other people can do so as well as you.' Thus it fell about that it
became a point almost of honour with me not to go to the Wests, nor to
express any desire to go; but I suffered agonies in consequence, and
was tempted many times to humble myself. Jessie knew as well as
possible what was going on in my mind; but she was offended with me on
the subject, and would not assist me--would not even give me an
opportunity of humbling myself.

But all this while I have left uncle Bryan regarding me, as I have
said, with more than usual interest. From me he turned his attention
to the wall, upon which hung the picture of Jessie, in crayons, which
I had finished. I said nothing, but proceeded with my work.

'What are you drawing now, Chris?' asked my uncle.

Of course it was a sketch of Jessie. I murmured some words to the
effect that it was nothing particular, and was about to put it in my
desk, when uncle Bryan expressed a wish to see it. I could not refuse,
and I handed it to him. It happened to be one of my happiest efforts;
it would have been difficult to find a more winsome face than that
which uncle Bryan gazed upon. He contemplated it for a long time
without speaking--for so long a time that I asked him if he liked it,
so as to break the awkward silence. He did not answer me. With the
sketch still in his hand he said to my mother,

'Emma, I have not treated you fairly.'

My mother looked up from her work in surprise. Uncle Bryan continued:

'What I am about to tell you ought to have been told before; but
probably no better time than this could be chosen. By the time I have
finished, you will perhaps understand my motive for saying so; but
whether you do or not, it is due to you that I should clear away some
part of the mystery which hangs around Jessie.'

Although I was burning with curiosity, I rose to leave the room,
thinking from his manner that what he was about to say was intended
only for my mother's ears.

'Nay, Chris,' he said, you can stay. 'You are almost a man, as your
mother says, and you may learn something from my words. I am about to
read some pages in my life.'

He turned from us, so that we could not see his face; and full five
minutes elapsed before he spoke. I was awaiting to hear with so much
eagerness what he had to tell, that the five minutes seemed an hour.
With his face still averted, he addressed my mother.

'Emma, you know the house in which I was born?'

'Yes, Bryan.'

'And you knew my family--my father and mother?'

'Yes.'

'They are not alive?'

I could scarcely restrain an exclamation of surprise at such a
question from the lips of a son concerning his parents. My mother's
tone was soft and pitiful as she replied,

'They have been dead many years, Bryan. They died within a year of my
marriage with your brother.'

'During the time you and my brother courted, and afterwards indeed, my
name must have been occasionally mentioned.'

'It was, Bryan.'

'In what terms?'

He paused for a reply, but my mother held her tongue.

'Be frank and candid with me, Emma; it will not hurt me. What you
heard was not to my credit?'

He was determined that the subject should not be evaded; and my mother
was wise enough not to thwart him.

'It was said that you had a violent temper.'

'It was doubtless true; but,' said uncle Bryan somewhat grimly, 'time
must have softened it. No one now can accuse me justly--if there is
such a thing as justice in the world--of showing violence, in the
ordinary meaning of the word.'

'I can bear witness to that, Bryan.'

'Go on; there was more.'

'And that it was impossible to agree with you, or your opinions.'

'My opinions! That is one of the things I wanted to arrive at.
Remember, Emma, that after I left home, I held no communication with
my parents; that I was as one dead to them. What was said of my
opinions? Nay, nay; you hurt me more by your silence than you can
possibly do by anything you can say.'

'I heard that, as a boy, you associated yourself with a society of
Freethinkers, who openly boasted of their infidelity.'

'I can guess the rest; I was wanting in respect to my elders, and in
obedience and duty. They did not spare me, evidently. When I left home
I was seventeen years of age; I ran away--no, I walked away, in fact,
for they did not care to stop me--as much displeased with the
narrow-minded views of those who were nearest to me in blood, as they
were doubtless with my violent temper and my independent expression of
opinion. A free exercise of the reasoning powers with which we are
endowed was, in their eyes, a sacrilege. Still, when I was fairly
gone, they might have let me rest. Of my after career they had no
knowledge.'

These last words he did not put as a question, but as a satisfactory
reflection. The simplest assent from my mother would have contented
him; but she was too truthful to give utterance to it, and all his
suspicions were aroused by her silence.

'I repeat--of my after career, they had no knowledge.'

She would have spared him, but he would not allow her to do so.

'They had!' he exclaimed, his rapid breathing showing how deeply he
was moved.' What did they know?'

'The rumour was very vague, Bryan----'

'But discreditable. To what effect?'

'I really cannot explain, nor could they have done so, I believe.' My
mother was much distressed. 'If Chris were not here----'

'Say no more.' I could not see his face, but his tone indicated that
he had recovered his composure. 'I can fill up the blanks. Chris is
older than I was when I threw myself upon the world, and it will be
best for him to hear the story I shall relate.'

'Whatever impression I might have gained,' said my mother
solicitously, 'from the vague rumours I heard has been entirely
obliterated since I have known you. Believe me that this is so, dear
Bryan.'

'Thank you for saying so much. But I doubt whether my parents would
ever have believed that I was not the blackest of black sheep. They
were hard and intolerant to me from the first, and I have no
pleasurable recollections of even my earliest days. I do not know if
it was the same when you were first introduced into it as it is in my
remembrance, but the home in which I was born and reared was ruled by
cold and formal laws, and by a cold and formal master. How it came
about is a mystery I have never tried to solve, but it is a plain fact
that I was not a favourite with my parents. My brother--your
husband--was; he was much younger than I, but I saw it clearly. His
nature was a more pliable one than mine; he could be easily led, not
because he was weak, but because he was sympathetic and amiable. I was
neither. Perhaps I imbibed some drops of gall with my mother's milk;
but I don't pretend to account for my cross grain. My parents might
have loved me after their fashion, but their mode of showing their
love deprived it of all tenderness. It is a blessing to a man to be
able to think of his mother with affection and veneration when she has
passed away from him. Such a feeling, and the roads he must have
trodden to acquire it, are a counterfoil to much that may be bad in
his own nature; but this feeling is not mine. My mother was a
weak-minded woman, entirely dominated by the strong mind of her
husband. She had no will of her own; she followed the current of his
likes and dislikes, of his opinions, of his commands, without question
and without inquiry, as a spaniel follows its master. Many persons
would see a kind of virtue in this submission; I do not. My father was
dogmatic and stern; I could have forgiven him that, if he had been
honest-minded. But he was a hypocrite, and I knew it, and he knew that
I knew it. With great appearance of candour, he, when conversing with
acquaintances in the presence of my mother and myself, would give
expression to sentiments in which he did not believe; then, when we
were alone, he would take off his mask of dissimulation, and go over
the ground again according to his own conviction, and justify his
deceit. If my mother ever thought of these things, she must have been
bewildered; I did think of him, and I was indignant. Most especially
was he a hypocrite in religious matters; his prayers and his practice
were utterly at variance. I could not respect one who professed to
believe that charity was a good thing, and who declined to practise
it. He was intolerant to a degree; his was the only right way--all
others were wrong. It was my evil fortune--I suppose I must call it
so--to possess a mind which led me to sift things for myself; I
_could_ not accept established doctrines, and this, in my father's
eyes, was not only a great presumption but a great crime. It is not
necessary for me to state how, little by little, I became estranged
from such parental affection as might have been bestowed upon me had I
been docile and obedient--as might have been mine if I had tried to
win it. I sought for congenial companionship away from the social
circle in which my parents moved; it is true that I found associates
among men who, doubtless with more reason than myself, were
dissatisfied with things as they were, and that I identified
myself--being, as a youth, proud of the connection--with a body of
so-called Freethinkers, whose chief crime was that they were groping
to find truth by the light of reason. My father, hearing of this
connection, sternly commanded me to relinquish it, and when I refused,
threatened me. He declared he would drive the evil spirit out of me,
and he tried to do so by blows; but he hurt only my body--my spirit he
strengthened. About this time a circumstance occurred which for ever
destroyed all chance of peace between us. We had a servant at home, a
poor half-witted creature--an orphan without a friend in the world.
One would have supposed that my father, being so fond of his prayers,
would have been kind to this servant because of her utterly dependent
condition, and because she performed her work as well and as
faithfully as her dull wits allowed her. Had this been so, I think I
might have been inclined to waver in my estimate of him; but the
contrary was the case. My father, through his unvarying harshness
towards the poor girl, made her life a torture to her. I constituted
myself her champion, and stepped between her and his blows many a
time. Boy as I was, he chose to place misconstruction upon my
championship, and each became more embittered against the other. I fed
my bitterness by contemplation of the girl's misery, and the unhappy
war went on until it was terminated by a tragic circumstance. One day
the servant was missing; the next, the body was found in the river.
The idea fixed itself firmly in my mind that my father was accountable
for her death; I even hinted as much to him when my blood was boiling
with a new injustice inflicted upon myself. What passed between us
after that, it will be as well not to recall; the result was that I
left my home, and no hand was held out to stay me. I never saw my
parents from that day, nor have I ever mentioned them until this
evening. Whether I have done them injustice cannot now be decided; but
I have no doubt, if the world were to judge between us, the verdict
would be against me.

'I retained my name because, in my opinion, I had done nothing to
disgrace it, and because I abhor deceit. I was neither elated nor
depressed at the step I had taken. It is said that the springtime of
life is bright with sunshine. The springtime of my life was joyless
and gloomy. I had no hope in anything, no belief in anything, no faith
in anything. I had no special ambition and no desire to become rich;
all that I desired was to earn a decent living by the labour of my
hands and the exercise of my abilities. I determined to make no
friendships, and to live only in myself and by myself. Although I had
no thought of it at the time, I can see now that the rules I laid down
for myself were just the rules, with fair opportunities, to lead to
success in life.

'In my determination to sever myself entirely from my family, I
wandered away from my native place until I was distant from it
hundreds of miles. Then, a stranger among strangers, I applied myself
to the task of obtaining a situation. I could read, I could write, and
I was a fair bookkeeper; but these qualifications did not avail me,
and I was driven to hard shifts. Had I been shipwrecked on a lonely
land I should have fared better. I did nothing dishonest, nor would I
have done it to save my life; but I shrunk from nothing to earn a few
pence. I accepted employment in whatever shape it was offered; no toil
was too low for me, so long as it would buy me bread. The hardships
which the world dealt out to me did not dishearten me, did not humble
me; I bore them with pride, and in my bitter frame of mind I found a
certain pleasure even in misery. My unmerited sufferings were
arguments to convince me that I was right in my estimate of things.
Look where I would, I could nowhere find morality and humanity
exercised in their larger sense; where charity was most due, it was
least given; virtue and goodness were terms; all over the civilised
world religious precepts were being preached; all over the civilised
world religious precepts were being violated; what was good in the
Bible was turned to bad account--its power was so used as to teach
people to fear, not to love. During these days I used to creep into
the churches and laugh at the moralities there laid down. It was a
hard bitterly-sweet time; I did not repine; in my pride I exulted in
my condition. Many a night did I walk the streets homeless and hungry,
laughing at my sufferings. Life had no attractions for me, and I did
not desire to live. But I was part of a scheme--I recognised that,
although I could not solve the problem--and I would do nothing to
myself; I would simply wait. From men and women in as miserable a
position as myself I rejected all overtures of friendship; I had
nothing in common with them. But on a starless night I met one to whom
was drawn by humanity, if you like to call it by that name. A woman
this, a girl indeed, homeless as I was, friendless as I was. Nay, you
may listen, Emma. I became like a brother to her, and she like a
sister to me. Neither knew how the other lived, neither asked; and
when we were specially unfortunate we wandered by instinct to a
certain street, and met by premeditated chance. Then we would talk
together for hours, or sit in silence in the shadow of a friendly
refuge. She told me her story--a pitiful story, but common: it
hardened me the more. I never saw her face by daylight; a dark shadow
encompassed her and her history. "I am so tired of life!" she said to
me; "these stones must be happier than I, for they cannot feel. Would
it be wrong to die?" I drove the thought from her mind. "Be brave, and
play your part," I said aloud, and added mentally, "It will not be for
long." I can hear now the faint echo of her dreary laugh at my words,
and the strangely-pitiful tone in which she repeated, "Be brave, and
play my part!" I knew she would not live long; a desperate cold had
settled on her lungs, and her cough, as we walked the desolate streets
or sat in them after midnight, was a sound to cause the stars to weep.
She died in my arms during one of these wanderings. I had no special
foreboding of her death, nor had she, I believe; she was seized with a
violent fit of coughing, and she clung to me, as she had often done,
for support, then suddenly she fell to the ground, and I saw blood
coming from her mouth. "Don't leave me," she sighed, almost with her
last breath; "you can do me no good. Thank God it is over!" An inquest
was held, and I gave evidence. Necessarily some particulars concerning
my own mode of life came out, and after the inquest a man offered me
money. I rejected it; I had resolved never to accept charity. The man
was surprised; questioned me; and learning that I was willing to work,
offered me employment. I remained with him long enough to clothe
myself decently and to save a little money, and then I turned my back
upon a place which had become hateful to me. It must have been a
rumour of my connection with the poor girl who died in my arms that
was twisted to my discredit in my native town, and it was your mention
of it that has caused me to drift into details which, when I
commenced, I had no intention of relating.'



CHAPTER XIX.
STRANGE REVELATIONS IN UNCLE BRYAN'S LIFE.


So, without a friend in the world, I wandered still further away from
the town in which I was born. I tarried here and tarried there, and
found no rest for the sole of my foot until I reached a city where,
before my means were exhausted, I obtained employment in the office of
an accountant. It was by the merest chance that I obtained the
situation, for there were many applicants; but I was quick at figures,
and that quality served me. The position was not a distinguished one;
I was not destined to occupy it long, however, for being coldly
interested in my work--simply because it enabled me to live--I
performed the tasks set for me to do, not only expeditiously, but with
the exactitude of a machine. This was precisely what was required of
me, and I rose into favour with my employer. Some of the clients who
came to us for advice in their difficulties were afflicted with a kind
of moral disease, which for their credits' sake it was necessary
should not be exposed to the world. It was not the business of our
office to be nice as to our clients' honesty and integrity, and it did
not trouble me to see rogues walking about in broadcloth. It was of a
piece with the rest. Many delicate matters of figures were intrusted
to me; my lonely habits, my reserved manner, and the circumstance of
my having no connections or friends, were high recommendations, and I
heard my employer say, more than once, to his clients, 'Mr. Carey is
as secret as the grave; you may confide anything to him.' No wonder,
therefore, that in the course of years I became manager of the
business. I began to save money, simply because I was earning more
than I required for my necessities. I had no extravagances, I never
went into society, and I did not see that any pleasure was to be
derived from following the ordinary pursuits of men of my own age. I
set down a rigid course of life for myself, and I spent my leisure in
solitude; walked and read and lived entirely in myself. One fancy
alone I indulged in; I loved flowers, and I made them my companions.
An occupation of some kind for my leisure was forced upon me, I
suppose, by natural necessity; the mind, if its balance is to be
maintained, must have something to feed upon, and I tended my flowers
and watched them through their various stages with much interest; I
had, and have a real affection for them. Every year that passed fixed
my habits more firmly, and I had no desire to change them. Apart from
my mute and beautiful friends, life was tasteless for me; there was no
sweetness in it that I could see. It consisted of dull plodding day
after day, of growing older day after day. I reflected upon it with
scornful curiosity, and made myself, as it were, a text for
speculative commentary. I knew what would be the end of it: in the
natural order of things I should live until I grew old, when, in the
natural order of things, I should die and pass away, fading into
absolute nothingness--that was all. It seemed to me a poor affair, so
far as it was presented to me in the different aspects with which I
had been made familiar. I often thought of the poor girl who had been
the only friend I had ever had in the world, and in that remembrance
was comprised all the tenderness I had ever felt towards my species.

I hope I do not distress you by my words; but it has come upon me in
some odd way to give you as exact a portrait of myself, as I was at
that time, as I can produce; perhaps for the reason that I wish you to
understand the wonderful change that took place in me not long
afterwards. Years ago I buried as in a grave all the records of my
life, with the intention of never speaking of them, of never thinking
of them if I could help it. But man proposes, chance disposes. Even
to-night I intended to pluck out only one remembrance, but I have been
overpowered.

When I was thirty years of age I was taken into partnership, and five
years afterwards my partner died, and I was sole master. Before I was
taken into partnership I had been a machine, paid to perform certain
duties; but when I was a partner I considered myself responsible for
the nature of the business we undertook, and I purified the office,
sending all clients away who came with a dishonest intent. This change
resulted, strangely enough, to my advantage, and the business
increased. I conducted it steadily, without in any respect changing my
mode of life. The money I was making was in every way valueless to me.
I had no one to whom I cared to leave it, and no pet scheme which I
wished to be carried out after my death. I remember thinking that it
would be a fine thing to fling the money into the sea before I died.

I come now to the most eventful page in the history of my life. If I
could blot out the record, and could stamp it into oblivion, I would
gladly do so; but it is out of my power, and I can only look upon it
with wonder, and upon myself with contempt for the part I played in
it.

It was a cold day in November, and a miserable sleet was falling. I
was sitting alone in my private office, looking over some papers, when
my clerk announced a Mr. Richard Glaive, who had written that he
wished to consult me upon his affairs. He entered--a tall sleek man,
well fed, well dressed, about fifty years of age--a man, I judged, who
had seen but little of the troubles of the world. But there was
trouble in his face on the occasion of my first introduction to him.
With the air of one who was suffering from a deep injustice, he
explained to me the nature of his inheritance. I learnt that he was,
as I had supposed, a man who had never worked, who had never done
anything useful, and who had lived all his life upon a moderate income
which he had inherited. Wishing to increase his income, for the
purpose, as I understood, of being able the better to enjoy
life--'surely an innocent and laudable desire,' he said--he had been
tempted to take a large number of shares in a company which had been
established with a great flourish of promises--had been tempted to
become a director for the sake of the fees; 'nothing to do, my dear
sir,' he explained to me, and so much a year for it; the very thing to
suit a gentleman.' His money hitherto had yielded five per cent,
invested in safe securities; the new company promised from twenty to
thirty. The temptation was too great to be resisted, and, blinded by
his cupidity, he had walked into the pit. As was to be expected, the
company was a bubble, the crash came, and the gulls were swooped upon
by the creditors. Lawyers' letters were pouring in upon him, and
actions were about to be taken against him. There were other
complications, also, in the shape of long-standing debts upon which he
had been paying interest, but a full settlement of which was now
demanded. There was a manifest sense of injury in his tone as he spoke
of these debts--'youthful follies,' he called them; adding
immediately, with an easy smile, 'youth must have its fling;'
conveying the idea that he did not consider himself responsible for
them, for the reason that they had been so long standing. Altogether
the case was a common one enough, and when he had concluded the
catalogue of his embarrassments, I said that the first thing to be
done was to prepare a statement of his affairs from his papers, so
that he might really see how he stood with the world. He thanked me
effusively, as though I had suggested something which would not have
occurred to an ordinary mind, and said that he had been advised to
consult me, as I should most certainly be able to steer him safely
through his difficulties. I replied that I would do the best I could,
and on the following day he brought to the office a mass of papers,
letters, and accounts. He had received other threatening letters since
our first interview, and he was in a fever of perplexity. 'I depend
entirely upon you, my dear sir,' he said. I suggested that I should
write to his creditors to the effect that he had placed his affairs in
my hands, and that in a short time he would be able to make a proposal
to them, asking them to be patient in the mean while. He assented,
saying, in words which sounded queerly in my ears, that all he wanted
was to be relieved of his liabilities, and to be allowed to go on
enjoying life in his old way; and before he left he asked me not to
intrust the business to the hands of my clerks, but to undertake it
personally myself. I promised that I would do so, and in a week I had
the statement prepared--a statement which showed his affairs to be in
the worst possible condition. He was insolvent to the extent of not
being able to pay one quarter of what he owed. I was surprised at this
result, for I had expected something very different from his manner
and statements. On the morning of the day on which it had been
arranged that Mr. Glaive should call, I received a note from him,
saying that he was very unwell, and that he would regard it as a
favour if I would come to his house and explain matters to him. In the
ordinary course of business I should have sent a clerk with the
statement; but I could not do so in this instance, as it was necessary
I should tell him what course he had best pursue. At seven o'clock in
the evening I was at his house, a pretty little villa in the suburbs
embedded in a garden. I was shown at once into what Mr. Glaive called
his study, where he sat expecting me. He glanced carelessly down the
columns of figures in the statement.

'I don't understand figures,' he said; 'will you please explain them
to me?'

I commenced an explanation of the statement, line by line, when he
interrupted me, saying,

'Pray forgive me, but I can't keep these details in my head. Tell me
the result.'

I told him in one word--ruin. Hitherto his manner had been so
indifferent that one might have supposed we were speaking of business
which did not concern him, but on mention of the word 'ruin,' a
deathly paleness came into his face. Before he had time to speak the
door opened, and a young man entered the room with the air of one who
was privileged in the house.

'Uncle,' he said, 'Fanny told me--'

'Don't you see that I'm engaged, Ralph?' cried Mr. Glaive. 'I can't be
disturbed. Go and wish Fanny good-night.'

The young man muttered a word or two of laughing apology, and retired.
I saw him no more on that night, but, in the brief glance I cast at
him, I saw that he was singularly handsome.

'Now tell me,' said Mr. Glaive, breathing quickly, 'what is your
meaning?'

'My meaning is clear enough,' I answered. 'If these claims against you
are pressed--and they will be--your entire property will not be
sufficient to pay one-fourth of them.'

'But why should the claims be pressed?' he asked, with a helpless
look.

I almost laughed in his face.

'You owe the money,' I said; 'that should be a sufficient
explanation.'

'Do you mean to tell me,' he asked, 'that they would turn me out of
house and home?' And he looked around his comfortably-furnished room.

'It is more than probable,' I replied. 'I know the lawyers with whom
you have to deal. This house is your own freehold, and its value is
included in the statement.'

He clasped his hands despairingly; I was silent, despising his
weakness.

'Can't you advise me?' he cried. 'If ruin came to you, what would you
do?'

'Bear it,' I replied. I was growing weary of him.

'Have you any children?' he asked.

'No,' I replied.

'Nor wife perhaps?' he continued.

'Nor wife, nor child, nor friend,' I said, rising.

'What are you going to do?' he cried. 'For God's sake, don't leave me!
You have undertaken the conduct of my affairs, and you will surely not
desert me when your services are most needed?'

The observation was a just one, and I resumed my seat. I should not
have attempted to leave so abruptly had it not been that his manner of
addressing me had irritated me. He had spoken to me as though our
positions were not equal, almost as though I were a dependent, and it
was because of this that I had answered him roughly. His manner was
now changed; it became almost servile. He implored me to suggest a
plan by which he could be released from his liabilities, and he
revealed sufficient of his true nature to convince me that he would
have shrunk from no meanness to accomplish his desire. Perhaps,
however, I do him injustice; perhaps I should rather say that he
convinced me he had no sense of moral responsibility in the matter. I
resolved to come to the point at once, and I told him that I saw
absolutely no way but one in which he could free himself from his
liabilities, and that even that way, supposing his creditors were
hard, would be difficult and harassing. It was by offering to give up
the whole of his property on the condition of obtaining a clear
release.

'But then I shall be beggared,' he exclaimed, pressing his hand to his
heart. 'It is cruel--merciless!'

'It is just,' I said sternly. 'Your creditors have more right to
complain than you. 'There is another plan, certainly, by which you
might be enabled to keep possession of your house.'

He asked me eagerly what it was, and I said that if he had a friend
who would come forward and advance the necessary sum, his creditors
would almost certainly accept it; but he informed me that he had no
such friend, and that he and his daughter were alone in the world.
Upon mention of his daughter, as if he had conjured her up, she
entered the room. I do not know how to describe the effect of her
appearance upon me. It was like the breaking of the sun upon one who
had lived in the dark all his life. Mr. Glaive, clutching my arm, drew
me close to him, and whispered to me that _that_ was the reason he
could not contemplate the ruin before him with a calm mind.


(Uncle Bryan paused. Hitherto he had spoken in a cold and measured
tone; when he resumed his story his voice was no longer passionless,
and he did not seek to hold it in restraint.)


As Mr. Glaive introduced me to his daughter I rose to go, and bowing
to her and saying that I would see him again, was about to take my
departure, when Miss Glaive said she hoped she had not frightened me
away. Not her words, nor the effect of her appearance upon me, but her
voice, arrested my steps; it was so exactly like the voice of the poor
girl of whose last agony I had been the only witness, that I turned
and looked steadily at her. There was no resemblance between them--my
lost friend was dark, Miss Glaive was fair.

'You look at me,' said Miss Glaive, 'as if you knew me.'

I managed to say that her voice reminded me of a dear friend.

'Dear!' Miss Glaive exclaimed archly; 'very dear?'

'Very dear,' I said gravely.

'A lady friend?' she asked, with smiles.

'She of whom I speak,' I said, 'was a woman.'

'Was!' echoed Miss Glaive.

'She is dead,' I explained.

'I am sorry,' said Miss Glaive very gently; 'I beg your pardon.'

I was strangely stirred by her sympathising words. There was a little
pause, and I moved again, towards the door, not wishing to leave, but
finding no cause to stay. Again her voice arrested me.

'If you go now,' she said, 'I shall be quite sure that I _have_
frightened you away. Papa declares that no one makes tea like me; I
tell him he knows nothing about it. Do you drink tea, Mr. Carey? You
shall be the judge.'

'And after tea,' added Mr. Glaive with an observant look at me--he had
grown calmer while his daughter and I were speaking--'Fanny will give
us some music.'

Miss Glaive did not ask for my verdict upon her tea-making, and soon
sat down to the piano and played. In this quiet way an hour must have
passed without a word being spoken. It was a new experience to me, and
it took me out of myself as it were. The peaceful room, the presence
of this graceful girl, and the sweet melodies she played, softly and
dreamily, seemed to me to belong to another and a better world than
that in which I was accustomed to move. It was strangely unreal and
strangely beautiful. The music ceased, and Miss Glaive came to my
side.

'Papa is asleep,' she whispered; 'we must be very quiet now.'

There were books on the table, and I turned the leaves of one without
any consciousness of what I was gazing upon. It did not occur to me
that this was the proper time for me to leave; I was as a man
enthralled. A movement made by the sleeping man (did he sleep? I have
sometimes wondered in my jealous analysis of these small details)
aroused me from my dream, and I wished Miss Glaive good-night. She
accompanied me to the street-door.

'Papa is in trouble,' she said; are you going to assist him?'

'He has asked for my advice,' I replied.

'We must not talk now,' she said, 'for fear he should wake up and miss
me; he is irritable, and has heart-disease. May I call and see you
to-morrow? I know where your office is. I wrote the notes you received
from papa.'

'I shall be glad to see you,' I said.

'At three o'clock, then,' were her last words, and we shook hands and
parted.

A heavy rain had set in during my visit, but I was scarcely conscious
of it as I walked into the town. Late as it was, I went to my office.
For what purpose do you think? To get the notes which I had received
from Mr. Glaive--the notes which now were precious to me because she
had written them. I took them home with me and read them, and studied
the delicate writing with senseless infatuation, and then placed them
under my pillow for a charm, as a schoolgirl might have done. At the
office the next morning I made another and a closer examination of Mr.
Glaive's affairs, with the same result as I had previously obtained.
Ruin was before him--before her. Punctually at three o'clock Miss
Glaive arrived. I met her at the door, and conducted her to my private
room. My impressions of the previous night were deepened by her
appearance; she was the most beautiful girl I had ever seen, and her
charm of manner was perfect. It would be useless for me to attempt to
describe the feelings with which she inspired me; I have often
endeavoured to account for them and understand them, and have never
succeeded.

'Papa is very ill to-day,' she said; 'the doctor has been to see him,
and says that he is suffering from mental disorder, which may prove
dangerous. I have come to you to ask you the nature of his trouble.'

'Do you not think,' I asked, 'that he would be angry if he knew I had
made any disclosure of his private affairs?'

'But he need not know,' she replied; 'I shall not tell him. Let it
be a confidence between us. I saw some papers which you brought last
night, but I do not understand them any more than papa does.'

I could not resist her pleading, and I told her, awkwardly and
hesitatingly, what I had told her father.

'And all this trouble is about money,' she said with smiles; 'I was
afraid it was something worse.'

I told her that it could not well be worse, unless she knew where
money was to be obtained. She answered that she did not know, but that
she supposed it would be got somewhere.

'You don't understand these matters of business,' I said; 'it is
perhaps better for you.'

'That can't be,' she exclaimed; 'if I knew anything of business I
should know where to get the money from, and I would get it That is
what business men are for, is it not?'

Charmed as I was by her simplicity--a simplicity which was utterly new
to me, and which it was delightful to hear from her lips--I deemed it
my duty to explain matters clearly to her. Steeling my heart, I did so
in plain terms, and showed her the position in which her father would
be placed within a very few days.

'You frighten me!' she cried, as my words forced conviction upon her;
and overcome by the news or by my manner of telling it, she fainted.
If she had been fair before, how much fairer was she now as she lay
before me? Her childlike ways, her beauty, her helplessness, made a
slave of me. I feared at first that I had killed her, and I reproached
myself bitterly. Timidly I bathed her forehead with water, and when
she opened her eyes, and looked at me in innocent wonder, a feeling
that might have been heaven-born--to use a phrase--so fraught was it
with thankful happiness, took possession of me. I explained to her
what had occurred, and she lowered her veil to hide her tears. As I
witnessed her grief, it seemed to me as if I were the cause of her
father's misfortunes.

'And there is absolutely no hope for us?' she sobbed.

'There is only the hope,' I replied, 'as I explained to your father,
that some friend will come forward and serve him in this strait.'

'Papa has no such friend that I know of,' she said.

I thought of the young man whom I had seen at Mr. Glaive's house on
the previous night, and I mentioned him.

'Ralph,' she said, 'my cousin. No, he is very poor.' She turned to me.
'I had a fancy last night that you were our friend.'

I answered in a constrained voice: 'I never saw Mr. Glaive until a
fortnight ago; he called upon me only in the way of business.'

'Forgive me,' she murmured; 'I was wrong to come, perhaps--but I did
not know.'

'If I could serve you--' I said, and paused. The words came to my lips
and were uttered almost without the exercise of my will; not that I
repented of them. She threw up her veil, and moved towards me.

'_If!_' she echoed. 'You could if you pleased, could you not? _You_ are
rich?'

'I am not a poor man,' I said.

'Help us,' she pleaded, holding out her hands to me. 'Be my friend.'

I murmured something--I did not know what--and she clasped my hand;
the warm pressure of her fingers upon mine thrilled my pulses. The
next minute I was alone. I strove to concentrate my thoughts upon
certain matters of business which claimed my attention, but I found it
impossible to do so. I could not dispossess myself of the image of
Frances Glaive. In an idle humour I wrote her name, Frances Glaive,
over and over again; if I had been a boy, with all a boy's enthusiasm,
instead of a man hardened and embittered by cruel experience, I could
not have behaved more in accordance with established precedent. I saw
Frances Glaive sitting in the vacant chair at my table; I heard her
sweet voice; I gazed upon her face as it lay, insensible and
beautiful, before me. 'Be my friend,' she had said. I could serve her;
it was in my power to make her happy. I took out my bank-book and the
private ledger in which I kept the record of my worldly progress; I
was rich enough to pay all Mr. Glaive's liabilities, and still have a
considerable sum left; but I need not pay them in full. I knew that I
could easily settle with his creditors for a trifle over the value of
his estate. I did not value money, and yet I decided upon nothing; I
could not think calmly upon the matter; I thought only of Frances
Glaive, knowing full well that she, by a word, by a look, by a smile,
could make me do any wild or extravagant thing against all reason and
conviction. I craved to see her again, and so strong was this craving
that in the evening I found myself walking in the direction of Mr.
Glaive's house. I can recall the manner of that walk; I can recall
how, governed by an impulse stronger than reason, I still was
conscious of a curious mental conflict which was being waged within
me, independent of my own will as it seemed, and the most powerful
forces of which strove to pull me back, while I was really walking
along without hesitation. I _did_ hesitate when I stood before Mr.
Glaive's house, but only for a very few moments. Frances Glaive came
into the passage to receive me.

'I thought you would come,' she said, her face lighting up.

'And you are glad?' I could not help asking.

'Very, very glad. Papa is in the study; he is dreadfully weak and ill,
and I have been counting the minutes. May I tell him that I have
brought him a friend?'

'Yes,' I answered; 'a friend of yours.'

All this while she had not relinquished my hand; and I too willingly
retained hers in mine. Well, well--at that time I would have thought
no price too heavy to pay for such precious moments.

I will not prolong my story more than I can help; already it has far
exceeded the limits I proposed to myself; but when the floodgates are
opened, the tide rushes in. You can guess what followed; you can guess
that I served Mr. Glaive for the sake of his daughter. In a short time
he was a free man, and I was his only creditor. I grew to love Frances
Glaive most passionately, and her father saw and encouraged my
passion. My character underwent a wonderful change. Love transformed
all things. Through Frances Glaive's innocence and artlessness the
world became purified; through her beauty the world became beautiful
to me. By simple contact with her nature all the bitterness in my
nature was dissolved. The scales fell from my eyes, and I saw good
even in things I had most despised. The days were brighter; the nights
were sweeter. Life was worth having. Say that a man who had been born
blind, and who had no knowledge of the beauties of nature, is suddenly
blessed with vision; a new world is open to him, and he appreciates,
with the most exquisite enjoyment and sensibility, the light and
colour and graceful shapes by which for the first time he sees
himself surrounded. The spring buds, the bright sunshine of summer,
the russet tints of autumn, the pure snow with its myriad wonders, as
it lies on the hills, as it floats in the air, as it fringes the bare
branches--not alone these, but the tiniest insect, the smallest
flower, are revelations to him. It was thus with me, and all the fresh
feelings of youth came to me when I was a middle-aged man.



CHAPTER XX.
UNCLE BRYAN CONCLUDES HIS STORY.


I became a frequent visitor at Mr. Glaive's house. Three or four times
every week I spent my evenings there, and I was always welcomed with
smiles and good words. Mr. Glaive and his daughter had never mingled
in the gaieties of the city; neither had I. One night we were speaking
of a concert that was to be given at the largest public hall in the
city; a royal prince had promised his patronage, and Frances Glaive
was eager to see him.

'I should like to go so much,' she said; 'I think I would give
anything to go.'

'I would take you with pleasure,' said her father; 'but there are two
obstacles. One is the expense--that could be got over, I daresay; but
the other is insurmountable. The excitement would be too much for my
heart.'

His heart was a favourite theme with him; he was not to be troubled or
irritated or excited because of it; he was to be petted and humoured
because of it. It enabled him to live the life he loved best--a life
of perfect indolence.

The next time I visited them, I presented Frances Glaive with tickets
for the concert. It required courage on my part, for it was the first
step in a new direction.

'What am I to do with them?' she asked. 'You are very good, but I have
no one to take me.'

'I was going to ask Mr. Glaive,' I said, 'if he would intrust you to
my care.'

Mr. Glaive replied in his heartiest manner, and his daughter was wild
with delight. If anything had been needed to complete the spell,
Frances Glaive's appearance on that night would have supplied it. For
beauty, for grace, for freshness, there was not a lady in the hall who
could compare with her. I experienced a new feeling of happiness as I
witnessed the admiring glances of the assembly, and Frances Glaive
herself was no less happy in the admiration she excited. From that
night we drifted into the gaieties of the city, and I became her
constant companion--necessarily, because I supplied the means.

I must mention here that her cousin Ralph was also a constant visitor
at the house; but although he was on terms of affectionate intimacy
with Frances--which I set down, not without jealous feeling, to their
cousinship and to their having been much together during their
childhood--Mr. Glaive did not seem to care for his presence at that
time. I heard Ralph say to Frances at one time, when she spoke of an
entertainment to which we were going,

'I would take you if I had money.'

'Get rich, then,' she replied, 'like Mr. Carey; but you are too idle
to work.'

I believed this to be pretty near the truth, although he chose to put
another construction upon his indolence by saying that it was his
misfortune to have been born a gentleman. He was barely twenty-two
years of age at the time, but he had learnt that fine lesson
perfectly. I came upon them then, and Frances Glaive said that she had
just told her cousin that he was too idle to work, and that he had
pleaded as an excuse that he had been born a gentleman. How I loved
her for her frankness and truthfulness! Ralph turned very red, and
said that he would work if he could obtain anything suitable. A little
while after this conversation, at the intercession of his cousin, I
obtained a situation for him, but he did not keep it many weeks. He
was altogether too fine for work. As I have said, I had a jealous
feeling towards him with reference to Frances Glaive; his youth, his
comeliness, his gayer manners made me uneasy sometimes, and my intense
love often magnified this feeling until it became torture. Was not
this pearl of womanhood too precious for me to hope to win? On one
side there was light; on the other, darkness. There was no medium.
Without her love, it was blackest night; with her love, it was
brightest day. I determined to know my fate, and soon; but before I
had mustered sufficient courage to speak, Mr. Glaive anticipated me.
My attentions to his daughter, he said, were becoming conspicuous; as
her only protector--a poor and helpless one, he added, with his
heart-complaint, which prevented his guarding her and watching over
her as he should--he was naturally anxious as to her future. I took
advantage of a pause to ask nervously if my attentions were
displeasing to him. Not at all, he answered eagerly; but as a father
he was bound to ask the precise meaning that was to be attached to
them. If ever I had a child of my own, I should be able to understand
his anxiety. He put his handkerchief to his eyes, and waited for me to
speak. A thrill of unspeakable happiness set my pulses quivering with
sweet music. A child of my own--of hers! If such a solemn charge were
given into my hands, how sacredly, how tenderly would I guard it! I
replied to Mr. Glaive, that my attentions could have but one meaning,
and that it was my dearest hope to make Frances Glaive my wife. Then
ensued a business conversation as to my means, as to how he himself
was to live, and other details. My answers must have satisfied him,
for he told me that the day on which I became his son-in-law would be
the happiest day in his life.

'Take an early opportunity,' he said, 'of seeing Frances, and speak
for yourself.'

'I would have spoken to her at once; but he told me that she was not
at home, and that he had designed this interview while she was out
lest we should be disturbed, or lest he had misunderstood the
attention I had paid to her. I appreciated the delicacy of his design,
and I waited until the following day. I was not destined to be
disappointed; Frances Glaive accepted me for her husband. I scarcely
dared to ask her if she loved me, but when she placed her hand in
mine, was it not sufficient? I bought the house which pleased her
best, and left her to furnish it according to her taste. It delighted
me to humour her in all her whims; nothing that she did, nothing that
she said, could be wrong. I changed my mode of life to please her; I
dressed to please her. What was right in her eyes was right in mine.
There was no questioning on my part. I had found my teacher, and I was
supremely satisfied to be led by her who had brought sunshine into my
life. She furnished the house with, exquisite taste; it cost three
times the money I had anticipated, but she said,

'What does it matter? You are rich.'

What _did_ it matter? What consideration of money could influence me
when I would have given her my heart's blood had she asked for it?

Well, we were married. On the wedding-day I gave Mr. Glaive a full
release of what he owed me.

'My father-in-law must not be my creditor,' I said.

For a time I was very, very happy, and Frances herself seemed to be
so. If indulgence in every whim, in every desire, can produce
happiness, she must have been in possession of it, for I grudged her
nothing. It was very sweet to be led, and I did not count the cost.
Ralph, her cousin, lived almost entirely at our house. I found it
difficult to enter thoroughly into my wife's enjoyments, although I
strove honestly to do so. She was fond of society, fond of dress, fond
of being admired; if, now and then, a thought intruded itself that
there was frivolousness in her fancies, I crushed it down. What right
had I to judge? My life had been until now a life of misery, because
of my belief in my own convictions, because I had judged everything by
hard stern rules; and now, when happiness was in my possession, and I
had discovered the folly and the error of my ways, I would not allow
myself to relapse into my old beliefs. We were living at a rate that
outstripped my means, but it did not trouble me much. Money would make
no difference in our feelings: if we grew poor, it would be a good
test for our affection. I happened to mention casually to Mr. Glaive
that we were living at a high rate.

'You surely do not mean to retrench!' he exclaimed.

'I certainly have no such intention,' I replied, smiling, 'unless
Frances wishes it. She knows my position, and I am entirely satisfied
to be led by her.'

'Quite right,' said my father-in-law, regarding me somewhat
thoughtfully I fancied; 'women know best about these matters--though
Frances after all is a mere girl, twenty years your junior at least,
eh?'

'That is so,' I said, angry with myself for feeling uneasy at the
remark.

'Yes, yes,' he continued; 'it would break her heart to give up any of
her little whims--she is like a child. The dear girl _must_ enjoy
life--now is her only time. By and by, when she becomes a mother,
perhaps--'

I turned from him; it was my dearest hope, but it was fated not to be
gratified.

'I tell you what it is, Bryan,' he said, 'you do not make a proper use
of your opportunities; were I in your position, I would treble my
income.'

'By what means?' I asked.

'By speculating, my dear Bryan; by speculating judiciously, as with
your abilities you would be sure to do. Think of the additional
pleasures you could offer my dear girl, and of the thousand ways in
which you could add to her enjoyment of life.'

Money had never presented itself to me in this light before; Mr.
Glaive was right; it was a thing to be desired for what it would
purchase. I took heed of his counsels, and became a speculator. The
words he had spoken to me bore other fruit besides--bitter fruit, from
the distress they caused me. I was twenty-five--not twenty--years
older than Frances, and gray hairs were multiplying fast on my head.
The thought that in a very few years my hair might be quite white,
while Frances would be still a girl, gave me unutterable pain; but I
strove to banish it from my mind. We had been married nearly six
months, and with the exception of my own self-torturings, no cloud had
appeared to darken our lives, when a circumstance occurred. As
I was going home one evening, a woman stopped me--a poor ragged
creature--and addressing me by name, begged me to assist her. During
those few months I never paused to inquire into the merits of an
appeal for charity--my own happiness pleaded for the applicants, and I
gave without question. I gave this woman a shilling, and she accepted
it thankfully enough, but with the mournful remark that it would be
gone to-morrow. That, and the circumstance of her addressing me by
name--I having no knowledge of her--interested me, and I questioned
her. She was a stranger, she said, and had but newly arrived, having
walked many weary miles. Where did she come from? I asked; and she
mentioned the town where I had first tarried and suffered after
leaving my home. She told me that she saw my name over my place of
business, and had recognised it as belonging to one who had been most
kind to a young friend she knew years and years ago, and then she
mentioned the name of the girl who had died in my arms.

'What were you?' I asked. 'I have no remembrance of you.'

'Don't ask me what I was or what I am,' she faltered; 'but if you can
assist me to lead an honest life, do so for pity's sake.'

In memory of the poor girl whom she had known, I determined to assist
this unfortunate creature--at this time a middle-aged woman--and I
obtained a respectable lodging for her at once. I told her that we
would never refer to the past, but that she should commence a new and
better life at once. And she did; and honestly fulfilled its duties.

Everything seemed to be going on well and happily at home, and I was
in the full enjoyment of my fool's paradise, when I received a shock
which almost turned the current of my blood. It took place on a day
when I had been occasioned much annoyance by the circumstance of my
father-in-law drawing upon me, without my permission, for a sum of
money which was of consequence to me. It was not the first time he had
done this, and I had paid his drafts with but slight reluctance, for
they were for small amounts. But the amount of the present bill was
serious, and it came at an inconvenient time. I was so much annoyed
that, knowing Mr. Glaive to be at my house spending the evening, I
determined not to go home until late, for fear that angry words might
pass between us in the presence of Frances. So I sent a note to my
wife, saying that business detained me at the office; and I idled away
the time until ten o'clock, when I walked slowly home. My wife was not
in the usual room in which we sat of an evening, and I went to a
little room of which she was very fond, and which she called her
sanctuary. I heard voices there, hers and her cousin Ralph's, and the
words that he was addressing to her arrested my steps. I was guilty
then of the first mean action in my life--I listened. What I heard I
cannot here repeat, but I heard enough to know that I had been cheated
and cajoled. I did not wait for the end, but I stole away with a
desolate heart. My dream was over, and I was awake again, with a
desolate heart, and with all my old opinions and old convictions at
work within me in stronger force than ever.

I said nothing; certain as I was of the ugly bitter truth, I resolved
to be still more certain of it, not from my own impressions, but from
outward evidence. I discovered to my astonishment that my wife's
vanity, her fondness for display, her love of the admiration of men,
her frivolity, her flirtations with her cousin Ralph, and my own
ridiculous infatuation and blindness were matters of common
conversation. Fool that I was to believe in goodness! I cast aside all
weakness, and resolved never to be deceived again. My heart was like a
withered leaf; and all the foolish tenderness of my nature died an
unredeemable death. Towards one person, and one alone, did I entertain
any feeling of kindness; that was the woman who had solicited my help,
and who had known the poor lost girl-friend of my younger days. I was
sick almost to death of my home; the sight of my wife's fair face was
unutterably painful to me; I was sick of the place in which I had been
worldly prosperous. I yearned to fly from it, and to find myself again
among strangers. The events that brought about the accomplishment of
this desire came quickly. Some of the speculations I had entered into
turned out badly; I could have saved myself from loss had I exercised
my usual forethought; but I was reckless and despairing, and it was
almost with a feeling of joy that I found, upon a careful examination
of my affairs, that I had barely enough to settle with my creditors. I
called them together secretly, letting neither my wife nor Mr. Glaive
know of my position. I enjoined secrecy upon those to whom I was
indebted, and made over to them everything I possessed in the world.
Upon that very day Mr. Glaive took me to task for my treatment of his
daughter, for my neglect of her. I listened to him calmly, and told
him I had good and sufficient reasons for my conduct. It was an angry
interview, and I ended it abruptly upon his saying that his daughter's
happiness would have been more assured if he had given her to one who
was more suitable to her. That same night a meeting of another
description took place between Ralph and myself. He was talking of his
pretty cousin in public, and of me in offensive terms. I have always
regretted that I took notice of him on that occasion, for he was in
liquor; but I was not master of myself. I left him after hot words had
passed between us, and went to my office. He sought me there, and
continued the quarrel, and boasted to my face that my wife loved him,
and would have married him but for my stepping between them.

'You fool,' he said scornfully; you bought her!'

It was a bitter truth. Had I been a poor man, Frances Glaive would
never have become my wife. But when he said that it was a bargain
between me and her father, I thrust him from the office, and shut the
door in his face. Everything was clear to me now, and I looked with
shame and mortification upon my childish folly; but I was justly
punished for it. I made my arrangements for departure, for I resolved
never to live with my wife again, never even to see her, for fear that
her fair false face should turn my senses again. The news of my
failure must soon become known, and I did not intend to remain a day
after its announcement. I wrote a letter to my wife, telling her that
I had discovered all, and that I could no longer live with her. I told
her that I was ruined, and that I was going to London to bury myself
in a locality where there was the least possibility of my becoming
known, and that it was useless her seeking me or sending to me, after
the shame and disgrace she had brought upon me. 'If,' I concluded, 'I
could make you a free woman, so that you might marry the man you love,
I would willingly lay down my life; but it cannot be done. The only
and best reparation I can offer is to promise, as I do now most
faithfully, to wipe you out of my heart, so that you may be free from
me for ever.' I had some small store of money by me, half of which I
enclosed in the letter. I knew that she was in no fear of want, and
that she would find a home if she wanted it in her father's house.
Before I left the town I went to see the woman I had befriended, and
to bid her farewell; she was earning her living by needlework. I gave
her some of the money I had left, and I might have been tempted to
believe, if I could have believed in anything good, that she at least
was grateful to me for the assistance I had rendered her. When I came
out of the house in which she lived, I saw Mr. Glaive and Ralph,
arm-in-arm, on the opposite side of the way. I avoided them, and the
next morning I shook the dust from my feet, and started for London. I
never saw them again. I came to this part of London, where there was
the least chance of my being discovered; shortly afterwards I learnt
that this business was for sale, and I found I had just sufficient
money to purchase it. You know now, thus far, the leading incidents of
my life, and that its crowning sorrow and bitterness arose from my
senseless worship of a vain, frivolous, and beautiful woman. I have
only a few words to add, and they refer to Jessie.

I had no knowledge whatever of her, but on the first night of her
arrival something in her face, something in her ways, reminded me of
my wife. On the following morning she gave me a letter. It was from my
wife, and was dated six years ago. How she discovered my address I
cannot tell. It was to the effect that I should read it when she was
dead, and it asked me simply to give a home to the friendless child
who presented it. You can understand the effect it had upon me;
questioning Jessie privately, I learned from her that she was indeed
friendless and an orphan. I ascertained the place she came from, and
was relieved to know that it was not the town in which I had been
married. She had been stopping at an ordinary lodging-house, and I
wrote to the address she gave me, but received no answer. In the mean
time I feared that the quiet routine of the life I had led, and which
suited me, was likely to be interrupted by the introduction into the
house of another inmate. I resolved to take Jessie back to the friends
she had been stopping with before she came here, and to arrange for
her residence with them, undertaking to pay the expenses of her
living, although, as you are aware, I could ill afford it. On the
morning I took Jessie away, I gave her to understand that she would
not return; but when I reached the place I found that her friends had
left; I was told they had emigrated, and I made sure of the fact. It
does not come within the scope of what I intended to relate to you to
state why I was absent from home longer than I anticipated, nor what
consideration influenced me in bringing Jessie back with me. But it is
pertinent to say that I see in her the same qualities, the same
frivolities and vanities which I know existed in my wife, and which
entailed upon me the most bitter sorrow it has ever fallen to the lot
of man to suffer. She is here, however, for good or for ill; if it
turn out for good, it will be due to but one influence.

I have nothing more to add except to exact from you the condition that
not one word of what I have said shall ever be told to Jessie.



CHAPTER XXI.
I RECEIVE AN INVITATION.


Thus abruptly uncle Bryan concluded his story. Some parts of it had
moved me very deeply with sympathy for him; but the latter part, where
he spoke of Jessie in such a strangely unjust and inexplicable manner,
filled me with indignation. I had no time, however, to think about it,
for almost immediately upon the conclusion of his story, Jessie came
home, flushed and radiant, from her visit to the Wests. Our grave
faces checked her exuberant spirits, and, looking from one to another,
she sought for an explanation.

'Are you angry with me for going out?' she asked, divining that she
was the cause of all this seriousness.

'No, my dear,' replied my mother; 'no one is, I am sure. I hope you
enjoyed yourself.'

'I always do,' said Jessie, her face clouding, when I go to the Wests.
Has anything disagreeable occurred?'

'No, Jessie, nothing.'

Jessie had a habit of shaking her head at herself when she was not
satisfied with things; it was the slightest motion in the world, but
there was much meaning in it. On the present occasion it expressed to
me very plainly, 'I know that you have been talking of me, and that I
have done something wrong which I am not to be told of.' My mother
understood it also, for with expressive tenderness she assisted Jessie
to take off her bonnet and mantle, and smoothed Jessie's hair in fond
admiration. I could have embraced my mother for those marks of
affection towards Jessie; they were an answer to uncle Bryan's unjust
words.

'I think,' said Jessie, looking into my mother's face, that _you_ are
fond of me.'

'My dear,' responded my mother, kissing her, 'I regard you almost as
my daughter.'

'I like to be loved,' murmured Jessie, almost wistfully, with tender
looks at my mother, and keeping close to her as if for shelter from
unkindness.

'Which would you rather have, Jessie,' I asked most suddenly, 'love or
money?'

Heaven only knows how the words came to my tongue! They certainly were
not the result of deliberate thought. Perhaps it was because of some
unconscious connection between the words Jessie had just spoken and
those which she had spoken to me a little time before: 'Chris, I think
I would do anything in the world for money.' The words were often in
my mind, or perhaps they were prompted by an episode in the story I
had just heard. Uncle Bryan's keen eyes were turned upon Jessie
immediately the question passed my lips, and his scrutiny did not
escape Jessie's observation.

'Ask me again, Chris,' she said, with a sudden colour in her cheeks.

'I said, which would you rather have--love or money?'

'How much money--a great deal?'

'Yes, a great deal.'

'What a question to ask! What does uncle Bryan say to it?'

'Uncle Bryan is too old for such follies,' he replied roughly.

'That is a crooked way of getting out of an argument,' she said
defiantly, as if being provoked herself, she wished to provoke him.
'Money is not a folly, and money can buy anything. So, Chris, I think
I would rather have money; for then,' she continued, with a disdainful
laugh, 'I could buy new dresses and new bonnets, and everything else
in the world that's worth having.'

I listened ruefully, hoping she did not mean what she said, for she
spoke mockingly. My mother, seeing that the conversation was taking an
unfortunate direction, turned it by speaking of the West family, and
Jessie entertained us with lively descriptions of her friends,
throwing at the same time an air of mystery over them, which
considerably enhanced my curiosity concerning them. Soon afterwards
all in the house had retired to rest.

But I knew that my mother would come down for a few minutes' quiet
chat, and that we should have something to say to each other about
uncle Bryan's wonderful story. It was in every way wonderful to me. I
had always imagined that he had led a quiet uneventful life, and
suddenly he had become a hero; but I could not associate the uncle
Bryan I knew with the man who had fallen in love with Frances Glaive,
and so I told my mother as we sat together half an hour later in my
quiet little bedroom.

'His life has been a life of great suffering,' my mother said, 'and we
can never feel too kindly towards him. He has shown us his heart
to-night; and yet, my dear, I think I understand him better than you
do.'

'I daresay, mother; that's because you _are_ better than I am.'

'No, no, my dear,' she replied. 'Who can be better than my darling
boy? It is because I have more experience of the world. Chris, my
heart melted to him to-night more than it has ever done. I had a
curious fancy once when he was speaking. I wished that he had been a
boy like you instead of an old man, for I yearned to take him in my
arms and comfort him.'

'But what person in the world,' I thought, 'would she not wish to
comfort if she knew that they needed it?' And I said aloud: 'If he had
had a mother like mine, it would have been different with him.' (Such
words as these were the natural outcome of my affection for this
dearest of women, and I did not know then, although I believe I have
learnt since, how sweet they were to her.) 'But, mother, I can't think
of him as you do, when I remember what he said about Jessie. And tell
me--would you like me to look on things as uncle Bryan does?'

'God forbid, child!' she exclaimed warmly. 'It would take the
sweetness out of your life; but I pray that you may never be tried as
he has been. All that I want to impress upon you is to be tolerant to
him and kind, because of his great trials and troubles. And now, my
dear, I have something to tell you that you will be glad to hear.
Jessie, before she went to sleep, asked me not to believe what she had
said about money. "I couldn't help saying it," she said; "but I would
rather be loved than have all the money there is in the world." Jessie
puzzles me sometimes, my darling; but I have seen nothing in her
nature that is not good.'

And with these sweet words of comfort my mother left me to my rest.

The battle between Jessie and me with respect to the Wests still
continued. Jessie, standing upon her dignity, as she had declared she
would, did not ask me again to call for her when she visited them, and
as her visits were growing more frequent, my sufferings were
proportionately intensified. I felt that I could not hold out much
longer, and I was on the point of giving way and sacrificing my
manliness, when the difficulty was resolved for me by the following
note, which my mother placed in my hands with a smile:

'Miss West presents her compliments to Mr. Christopher Carey, and will
be happy to see him at nine o'clock to-night.'

I was greatly delighted, and I congratulated myself upon my powers of
endurance, thinking, naturally enough, that I had Jessie to thank for
the invitation. In obedience to the summons, and feeling really very
curious about the Wests--and most anxious also, I must confess, to be
where Jessie was--I presented myself at the house at the hour named to
the minute. There was no need to knock at the street-door, for it was
open. I tapped on the wall of the dark passage, and waited for an
answer. There was a great deal of laughter below, and my soft tapping
was not heard, so I advanced two or three steps, and knocked more
loudly.

'Who's there?' a voice cried, and the laughter ceased.

'It's me,' I answered; and I was about to announce myself more
explicitly, when my words were taken up mockingly.

'Oh, it's Me, is it? Well, come downstairs, Mr. Me. Flora child, open
the door. Take care! Mind your head!'

The warning came too late. I knocked my head smartly against a beam in
the ceiling, and stumbling down the stairs, entered the kitchen--the
door of which was opened, by Flora I presume, just in time to receive
me--in a very undignified manner. Screams of laughter greeted me as I
picked myself up, very hot and red at my loss of dignity.

'Be quiet, children!' cried the voice which I had first heard. 'I hope
you haven't hurt yourself, Mr. Me! Come along and shake hands. Very
glad to see you. "And Jack fell down and broke his crown."'--This
quotation because I was rubbing my head, which I had bumped severely.

'I am not hurt much, thank you,' I said, as I walked towards the
speaker, who was either a girl or a woman, or both in one, for I could
not guess her age within ten years. She was sitting on a bench before
a table; and as I gave her my hand, she placed her fingers to her
lips, and glanced expressively towards a curtain, made of two
patchwork quilts, which partitioned off a part of the kitchen. There
was something going on behind this curtain, for there was a shuffling
of feet there, and I heard low voices.

'Don't speak loud,' said my hostess, as I guessed her to be. 'I'm Miss
West. Jessie's behind there; you'll see her presently. Don't let her
know you're here.'

'Why, doesn't she know?' I exclaimed, in a maze of bewilderment.

'Bless your heart, no! _I_ sent you the note without her knowing
anything of it. I thought you'd be glad.' As Miss West made this
remark she gave me a sharp look.

'I _am_ glad,' I said.

'I knew you would be. Rubbing your head again! Well, you _have_ raised
a bump! Shall I brown-paper-and-vinegar you?'

'No, thank you,' I said, laughing; and then I looked round in wonder
upon the strange scene.



CHAPTER XXII.
I AM INTRODUCED TO A THEATRICAL FAMILY.


I think if I had been suddenly plunged into Aladdin's cave, I should
not have been more amazed. There I should have expected to see the
rich treasures of gold and precious stones and the magic fruit growing
on magic trees with which that cave is filled, but for the strange
wonders by which I was here surrounded I was totally unprepared. These
loomed upon me only gradually, for the two tallow candles which threw
light upon the scene were but a dim illumination. The kitchen, which
comprised nearly the whole of the basement, was irregularly shaped,
and so large that the distant corners were almost completely in shade.
Lurking, as it were, in one of these distant corners was a man
strangely accoutred, whom I expected would presently step forward and
join our party, but not a motion did the figure make. I subsequently
discovered that it was a dummy man, in chain armour, which had once
played a famous part (the armour, not the man) in a famous drama of
the middle ages. Hanging upon the walls were numberless articles of
male and female attire, some mentionable, some un-ditto; but with rare
exceptions the dresses were not such as I was accustomed to rub
against in my daily walks. These that I saw hanging around the room,
covering every inch of available space from ceiling to floor, were
theatrical dresses of different fashions and degrees; many were of
silk and satin, very much faded, for persons of quality, and some were
of commoner stuff for commoner folks--which latter, from their
appearance, seemed to have worn better. Here the dress of a noble
Roman fraternised with the kilts of a canny Scotchman, and here the
satin cloak and trunks of a fashionable melodramatic nobleman
contemplated (doubtless with sinister designs) the modest bodice which
covered the breast of female virtue. High life and low life, in every
description of ancient, mediæval, and modern fashion, were here
represented, and to an eye more practised and fanciful than mine, the
room might have been supposed to be furnished with all the cardinal
vices and virtues in allegory. Here were long boots whose character
could not be mistaken--they represented villainy of the very deepest
dye, and they frowned upon the heavy hobnails of a model peasantry.
Here were the woollen garments and broad-buckled belt which had played
their parts in a hundred smuggling adventures; and here the breeches,
stockings, and natty shoes which had danced hundreds of jigs amidst
uproarious applause. Here was a harlequin's dress ready to flash into
life and play strange antics at the mere waving of the wand which hung
above the mask; and clinging to it on either side, as if in fond
memory of old triumphs, were the short skirts of dainty columbines.
Here was the dress of Wah-no-tee, feathers, bald scalp, moccasins, and
hatchet, all complete, side by side with the fripperies of my Lord
Foppington. Among the pots and pans on the dresser were polished
breastplates and gauntlets and shields of various patterns. There were
other dresses, very much bespangled and be-jewelled, and pasteboard
helmets and crowns of priceless value, and masks that had had a hard
life of it, being dented here and bulged there and puffed up and
bunged up in tender places, worse than any prizefighter's face after
the severest encounter. A donkey's head and shoulders hung immediately
above me, and by its side the plaster cast of a face without the
slightest expression in it, and which is popularly supposed to
represent an important branch of the histrionic art. Whichever way I
turned, these and a hundred other strange articles most incongruously
mixed together met my gaze.

'Well, what do you think of us?' asked Miss West. 'We're a queer
bunch, ain't we?'

'It's a strange place,' I said, thinking it best to avoid
personalities. 'I never saw anything like it.'

'We're a theatrical family, my dear,' said Miss West complacently,
'born in the profession every one of us. Are you fond of theatres?'

As a matter of fact, I had only been twice to a theatre, but it was a
place of enchantment to me, and I said as much to Miss West.

'Ah!' she mused. 'It looks so from the front, I daresay; and a good
job for us that it does. But it is bright, and it _does_ carry you
away.'

A familiar voice behind the curtain caused a diversion, and I turned
eagerly in that direction. Miss West gave me another of her sharp
looks.

'Don't you wish you had eyes in your ears?' she said. 'You're one of
the bashful ones, I can see. Could you play the part of the Bashful
Lover do you think?' (This question was accompanied by a significant
dig in the ribs and a merry laugh.)

'I don't think,' I stammered, very red and confused, 'that I should
ever be able to act.'

'Not _that_ part!' exclaimed my good-natured tormentor. 'Well, then,
you _could_ play "The Good-for-nothing."'

Which was an allusion I did not at all understand. Miss West
proceeded:

'All you've got to do, my dear, is to stick to nature. Turk gets mad
with me when I tell him that. "Stick to nature!" he cries. "Why, then
every fool could act." I say to him, every fool _could_ act if he
stuck to nature. Then he rolls his eyes and glares, does Turk.'

'Why does he do that?' I inquire.

'He plays the heavy villains, my dear, at the Royal Columbia Theatre;
and what's a heavy villain without his glare? You should see him in
_The Will and the Way!_ It's a sight.'

'I should like to see him; but you haven't told me who Turk is.'

'Turk is my brother.'

'He is not here?' I ask, with another glance at the curtain.

'Oh, no; he is playing a new part to-night Poor Turk! the new school
of acting depresses him. Say, O.'

'O,' I said, with a smile.

'Ah, you should hear Turk say it! It would fill a large page. Do you
remember when you first learnt to write?'

'Yes.'

'And how, with your left arm sprawling over the table, and your left
ear listening for something you never heard, and your eyes as staring
wide open as ever they could be, and your tongue half out of your
mouth, you dug your pen into the copy-book to produce your first O,
which took about five minutes in the making, and then came out
squabbled? That's the way Gus says his O's. He takes a long time over
them. Now Brinsley's different.'

'Brinsley?'

'My brother. He's sensible. He plays walking gentlemen in the new
style, and rattles off what he has to say quite in the elegant way--as
if he didn't care a bit for it, you know. Turk sneers at him
(dramatically, my dear), and says that the new school of acting is the
ruin of the profession. But to come back to the Bashful Lover. You
shall play it, my dear. Gus shall write the piece.'

'Gus?'

'One of my brothers. Gus can write anything--tragedies, melodramas,
farces--and he shall write _The Bashful Lover_, after the style of
_The Conjugal Lesson_. One scene, and only two performers--you and
Jessie. That would be nice, as Jessie says. You shall quarrel, of
course, and make it up, and quarrel again, and snub each other, and
sulk, and say spiteful things (Gus will see to all that), but--don't
look so glum!--it shall all come right in the end. You shall drop into
each other's arms and kiss, and while you are folding her to your
heart (that's the style nowadays, my dear), the curtain shall fall.
We'll have a select audience--none of the boys, for that would spoil
it, eh? but Gus--he must be present as the author. There'll be me, and
Florry, and Matty, and Rosy, and Nelly, and Sophy, and we'll all
applaud at the right places, you may be sure.'

Miss West counted the names on her fingers as she went over them; the
young ladies who bore them were all seated round the table and about
the room, engaged in various ways. One was cutting-out stars of paper
tinsel, and gluing them on to a gauze dress; another was making
dancing shoes; another was amusing herself with a cardboard stage and
cardboard characters, which she drew on and off by means of tin
slides. Miss West, who also had an article of female attire, in an
unfinished state, in her lap, which she worked upon in the intervals
of her conversation, called these young ladies by name, one by one,
and desired each to perform a magnificent curtsy to me, which the
little misses, the eldest of whom could not have been more than
fourteen years of age, did in grand style, worthy of the finest ladies
in the land. I was somewhat bewildered at the extent of Miss West's
family, and I asked if there were any more of them.

'Heaps, my dear,' she complacently replied; 'there are nineteen of us
altogether--eleven boys and eight girls, and all straight made, with
the exception of me. I'm crooked. My legs are wrong. But I've been on
the stage too. I played an old witch for an entire season, and got
great applause. People in the house wondered how I could keep doubled
up almost for such a long time together; I was on in one scene for
twenty minutes; they didn't know I was doubled up naturally.'

In proof of her words Miss West rose, and hobbled to the end of the
kitchen as if in search of something, and hobbled back, the most
genial and good-humoured of old witches. She was barely four feet in
height, and was a queer little figure indeed, but her face was bright,
and her eyes were bright I could not help liking the little woman, and
I told her so.

'That's right, Master Christopher. We'll be friends, you and me. Well,
but to come back.' (This was evidently one of her favourite figures of
speech.) got two pound five a week for playing the old witch; it
lasted for twenty-two weeks, and it was almost the death of me. I had
to do it though.'

'Why?'

Her voice grew quieter and she spoke in subdued tones, so that the
little misses should not hear.

'Mother and father died within a month of each other, and there were
the doctor's bills and the funeral expenses to be provided for. Then
there's a large family of us, Master Christopher, and taking us
altogether in a lump, we're no joke. The boys wouldn't hear of my
going on the stage again, and I don't see myself how I could do it
regularly, for there's a deal of business to look after indoors,
letting alone the household affairs. Though I like it! If
anybody--that is, anybody who's somebody--would write me a strong
one-part piece, I could make a big hit with my figure. 'Tisn't every
day you see such a figure as mine; it's worth a mint of money on the
stage if it was properly worked. They're all on the stage but me;
little Sophy there--she's the youngest, four years--spoke two lines in
the pantomime last year to rounds of applause. The people love to see
a clever child on the stage, though the papers write against it. But
what are the papers? as Turk says, with a glare.'

'Of course,' I repeated, with a foolish air of wisdom, 'what are the
papers?'

'Turk says, if they were what they ought to be, somebody that he knows
(that's himself, my dear) would be at the top of the tree.'

'Turk is very clever, then?'

He's the best murderer to slow music that _I've_ ever seen. But Gus is
the genius of the family. In the matter of that, we're all geniuses.
But blighted, my dear, blighted!'

She gave me the merriest look, as little like a blighted being as can
well be imagined.

'We're all of us very conceited, my dear, and very vain. What was that
thing in the fable that tried to blow itself out, and came to grief?'

'The frog.'

'We're all of us frogs, my dear. If people would only give us as much
room as we think we ought to have, the world wouldn't be big enough
for a quarter of us. And of all the conceited creatures in this
topsy-turvy world, actors and actresses are the worst. We're good
enough in our way, but we _do_ think such a deal of ourselves.'

'Is Mr. Gus a good actor?'

'Plays leading business; he's out of an engagement just now, He's
behind the curtain with Jessie.'

I was burning to ask what they were doing there, but the words hung on
my tongue, and an inquiry of another description came forth. It was
concerning the wonderful collection of dresses and theatrical
properties with which the kitchen was filled. I wanted to know if they
were used solely for the adornment of the persons of the Wests.

'Bless your heart, my dear, no,' was the reply. This is the
'stock-in-trade of our theatrical wardrobe business. We lend them out
for private theatricals and bal masques. It was a good business once,
but it has fallen off dreadfully. When bal masques were in fashion,
mother used to lend as many as twenty and thirty dresses a night
sometimes. If ever you want a dress for a bal masque--though there's
scarcely one a year now, worse luck!--come to me, and make you a
nobleman, or a chimney sweep, or a brigand, or the Emperor of
Russia, in the twinkling of a bedpost, and all for the small charge
of--nothing, to you. But to come back. You wanted to ask just now what
Gus and Jessie are doing behind that curtain. They're rehearsing a
scene, my dear, out of _As You Like It_. Not that she wants teaching;
Jessie's a born actress, and if she were on the stage, she'd make a
fortune with her face and voice. And as for her laugh--there, listen!
I never _did_ hear Mrs. Nesbit laugh--I'm not old enough to have seen
her act, my dear--but if her laugh was as sweet and musical as
Jessie's, I'll eat my stock-in-trade down to the last feather. And
there's another reason, Master Christopher--Gus is in love with her.
Bless my soul! how the boy changes colour! Why, they're all in love
with her. Turk is mad about her, and Brinsley is pining away before
our eyes. He doesn't mind it so much, because a slim figure suits his
line of acting. It wouldn't do for a walking gentleman to be fat.'
Miss West placed her hand upon mine, and said, with sagacious nods,
'My dear, if Jessie was on the stage, she would have ten thousand
lovers. Hark! there's the bell. They're going to play the scene. Are
you ready, Jessie?'

'Yes,' cried Jessie, 'but we want some one for Celia; she only speaks
twice.'

'Florry will do Celia,' replied Miss West. 'Go behind, Florry; we'll
commence the scene properly, and I'll read Jacques. Now, then. Act
four, scene one: The Forest of Arden. Up with the curtain.'

The curtain was drawn aside, and disclosed a roughly constructed
stage, and absolutely an old scene representing a wood.

'We have three scenes,' whispered Miss West: 'a chamber scene, a
street scene, and a wood. You'll see how beautifully Gus will play
Orlando. He'll be dressed for the part. Enter Rosalind, Celia, and
Jacques. Look over the book with me. Florry knows her part. I
commence: "I prithee, pretty youth--"'

I looked up, and saw Jessie and Florry on the stage. Jessie, looking
towards us, did not appear to recognise me; her face was flushed, and
her eyes were brilliant with excitement.

Miss West (as Jacques): 'I prithee, pretty youth, let me be better
acquainted with thee.'

Jessie (as Rosalind): 'They say you are a very melancholy fellow.'

Miss West: 'I am so; I do love it better than laughing.'

Jessie: 'Those that are in extremity of either are abominable fellows,
and betray themselves to every modern censure worse than drunkards.'

Miss West: 'Why, 'tis good to be sad and say nothing.'

Jessie: 'Why, then, 'tis good to be a post!'

The raillery of the tone was perfect, and I was aglow with admiration.
I had never in my life heard anything more exquisitely intoned, and
this was but a foretaste of what was to follow.

Jessie (to Miss West): 'A traveller! By my faith, you have great
reason to be sad: I fear you have sold your own lands to see other
men's; then, to have seen much, and to have nothing, is to have rich
eyes and poor hands.'

Miss West: 'Yes, I have gained my experience.'

Jessie: 'And your experience makes you sad: I had rather have a fool
to make me merry than experience to make me sad; and to travel for it,
too!'

Here Gus West entered, dressed as Orlando. Very noble and handsome he
looked, and in the love scene that followed between him and Jessie, he
played much too well for my peace of mind. When Jessie said, 'Ask me
what you will, I will grant it;' and he answered, 'Then love me,
Rosalind,' he spoke in so natural a tone, and with so much eagerness,
that I could not believe he was acting, especially with Miss West's
words in my mind that he really was in love with her. I was heartily
glad when the scene was at an end. But I was somewhat comforted at
Jessie's unfeigned delight that I had at last found my way to the
Wests'.

'I thought at first that I had you to thank for being here,' I said;
'but Miss West sent me an invitation without you knowing anything of
it, it seems.'

'Miss West is a meddlesome--dear delightful creature! She's as good as
gold! And I'm a little bit glad that it has happened so; it was manly
in you not to give in, and I had a good mind to commence coaxing you
again to come.'

'And I was beginning to be so miserable,' I said, adding my confession
to hers, 'at not being able to be where you were, that I was on the
point of giving way myself, and asking you if I might come without an
invitation.'

'So the best thing you can do,' cried Miss West, who had overheard us,
'is to kiss and make friends.'

Jessie laughed, and said, 'I didn't see you while I was acting, Chris.
I was so excited that I couldn't see a face in the room.'

Not even Orlando's?' I suggested, with a furtive look at Jessie.

'Oh, yes; his of course, but then we were acting to each other.'

'Only acting, Jessie?' I inquired, with much anxiety.

'Only acting, Jessie!' mimicked Miss West, whose sharp ears lost
not a word. 'Why, what else _should_ it be? Or else she's married to
Gus--Scotch fashion, my dear. "I take thee, Rosalind (meaning Jessie),
for wife," says Gus. "I do take thee, Orlando (meaning Gus), for my
husband," says Jessie. But she'd say that to any man who played
Orlando as well as Gus does--wouldn't you, Jessie?'

'Of course I would,' replied Jessie, entering into her friend's
humour.

'Why, my dear, I knew a young lady who was married a dozen times a
week (in two pieces every night) for more than six months. And her
sweetheart was the stage carpenter, and saw it all from the
wings--imagine his sufferings, my dear! Ah, but such marriages are
often a good deal happier than real ones; there's more fun in them,
certainly. Jessie, there's ten o'clock striking; it's time for you to
go. Now mind,' concluded Miss West, addressing me, 'no more standing
on ceremony; you're welcome to come and go when you like; we shall
look on you as we look on Jessie, as one of the family.'

I promised to come very often, and Miss West said I could not come too
often. There was no mistaking the hearty sincerity of the invitation.
Jessie and I walked very slowly home, and she listened delightedly to
my praises of her acting.

'I don't want them at home to know about it, Chris,' she said; 'at
least, not till I tell them.'

'Very well, Jessie;' and we entered the little parlour together in a
very happy mood.



CHAPTER XXIII.
THE SUNDAY-NIGHT SUPPERS AT THE WESTS'.


In due time I was introduced to other members of the West family, and
grew so much attached to them, and so enamoured of their ways, that I
spent nearly all my leisure in their company. Uncle Bryan seemed to
resent this, growling that 'new brooms swept clean,' and asking me
sarcastically if I intended to adopt the fashion through life of
throwing over old friends for new ones. Jessie stepped in to defend
me, and said boldly that uncle Bryan was not so fond of our society as
to have reasonable cause to grumble at our absence.

'How do you know that?' asked uncle Bryan sharply. 'You want people to
be like peacocks or jackdaws, always showing their feathers or
chattering about themselves.'

The cause of this little disturbance was that we often stayed at the
Wests' until eleven or past eleven o'clock at night.

Now that I have you to take care of me, Chris,' said Jessie, we need
not be so particular.'

'You had better live with your new friends altogether,' observed uncle
Bryan.

'I will, if you wish me to,' replied Jessie indignantly; 'I know that
I'm a burden to you.'

'No, no, my dear,' interposed my mother; 'uncle Bryan does not mean
what he says.'

And indeed uncle Bryan was silent, and retired from the contest. These
little quarrels were always smoothed over by my mother, and Jessie
herself not unfrequently played the penitent, and atoned indirectly to
uncle Bryan for the sharp words she used. It is needless to say that I
took sides with Jessie in the sometimes noisy, but more often quiet
warfare, which existed between her and uncle Bryan. As I grew older, I
recognised the helplessness of her position in uncle Bryan's house,
and I found bitter fault with him for his manner towards her. It was
wanting not only in tenderness, but in chivalry, and were it not for
the respect and consideration he showed for my mother, I have no doubt
I should have quarrelled with him openly. As it was, I looked forward
to the time when I should be able to offer my mother a home of my own,
where she and Jessie and I could live together in harmony. With the
Wests I became a great favourite. My talent as an artist contributed
to this result, and I drew innumerable sketches of them in their
various capacities. Miss West's Christian name was Josey (short for
Josephine), and by that familiar title she insisted that I should
address her. So it was Jessie and Josey, and Turk and Brinsley and
Chris, with us in a very short time, as though we had been on the most
intimate terms for years. The walls of all the rooms in the house,
with the exception of the kitchen, were soon adorned with portraits
and character sketches, with the artist's initials, C. C., in the
corner. The portrait of Josey West, as the Witch of the Blasted Heath,
as played by her &c. &c.; the portrait of little Sophy West, as
Celandine, in the _Fairy Dell_, as played by her &c. &c.; the portrait
of Augustus West, as Claude Melnotte (I would not take him as
Orlando), as played by him &c. &c.; the portrait of Brinsley West, as
Tom Shuffleton, as played by him &c. &c.; the portrait of Turk West,
as The Thug, as played by him &c. &c.; and numberless others, were
shown to admiring visitors, and contemplated by the admiring
originals, to the glory of 'the eminent young artist,' as Miss West
called me. It is necessary to add that in most of the superscriptions
at the foot of the pictures the word 'eminent' did good service. It
was the eminent tragedian, the eminent comedian, the eminent character
actor; and so on. Certainly the name of the West family was legion.
Three of them were married, and seemed from appearances to be
emulative of the example of their parents in the matter of children.
Sometimes on a Sunday evening the entire family would be assembled in
the one house, and as the married folk brought their broods with
them--the youngest three of which invariably were babies in arms--the
total number of brothers and sisters and uncles and aunts was
something alarming. The house was overrun with them.

'If we go on like this for a hundred years,' Miss West said to me, in
confidence, 'we shall become an institution. Sheridan has seven
already, and his wife is quite a young woman; J. H. has five, and
Clarance four--and more coming, my dear!'

That was the chronic condition of the wives. There were always more
coming. Sheridan, J. H., and Clarance were the eldest of Josey West's
brothers, and were well known to the British theatrical public in our
quarter of London. In the commencement of our intimacy the constant
introduction of members of the family, of whose existence I had been
previously ignorant, was very confusing to me, especially as Miss
West, without preliminary explanation, spoke of all her relatives by
their Christian names, and placed me on a footing of personal intimacy
with them. I used to write lists of the names, with descriptions
appended, and privately study them, so that I might not make mistakes
in addressing them, but some of them were always in a tangle in my
mind. The Sunday-night suppers were things to remember; every
available article of crockery in the house was pressed into service,
and as even the youngest members of the family were accustomed to late
hours and late suppers, the result may be imagined. Those for whom
there was no room at the table had their supper on chairs, on stools,
or on their laps as they sat on the ground. It was very rough and
undignified, but it was delightfully enjoyable. The chatter, the
laughter, the ringing voices of one and another trying to make
themselves heard, the good humour, the free-handed and free-hearted
hospitality of those merry meetings are present to me, as I recall the
reminiscence. There was always plenty to talk about, and plenty of
words spoken that were worth listening to. A theatre in which one of
the family was engaged was doing a bad business, and the actors were
compelled to work on half salaries; one or two others were going on a
provincial tour; another was out of an engagement; a manager had
failed and the theatre was closed; and so on, and so on.

'There's always something,' said Miss West. Directly one saves
a bit of money--it's precious little one has the opportunity of
saving--something happens that sucks it up. But, bless your heart!
what else can be expected with such swarms of children as we've got in
the family!'

'If a legitimate actor,' said Turk moodily, 'could be certain of a
regular engagement, it would be all right; but the public taste is
vitiated--vitiated! They want novelty; they're not satisfied with
legitimate business. Why, if any one of us had happened to be born
covered from head to foot with red pimples, with a green sprout
sticking in the middle of each of them, he could command his fifty
pound a week, while a man of sterling talent is compelled to vegetate
on a paltry fifty bob!'

This sally was received with screams of laughter, and cries of Bravo,
Turk!'

'I've got an idea,' cried Josey West; 'why don't we start a theatre
ourselves, on the sharing principle? Here we are, all ready-made:
leading man, walking gentleman, low comedy, genteel comedy, new style
of acting, old style of acting, old men and women, heavy villain' (a
general laugh at Turk, who joined in it readily), 'chambermaids, and
ballet, all complete.'

'It's all very well,' interposed Gus West, but where's the theatre?'

'It's all very well,' added Turk, but where's the capitalist?'

'Advertise for one,' said Miss West. '"Wanted, a capitalist with five
thousand pounds to undertake the management" (tickle him with that,
eh, Turk?)--"to undertake the management of a highly talented
theatrical family, nearly forty in number (and more on the road), who
can play tragedy, comedy, melodrama, farce, ballet, burlesque,
and pantomime in an unrivalled manner. They are furnished with
well-stocked wardrobes, including wigs, and they will be happy to give
private exhibition of their abilities, in proof of their competency.
Included in their number is a dramatic author, who will be willing to
supply new pieces, if desired, to suit the capacity of the company. As
a proof that they are not pretenders, they have all been born in the
profession" (listen to that, Turk)--"they have all been born in the
profession. No objection to travel. In India and Australia they would
astonish the natives, and would be sure to create an immense
sensation. A certain fortune. Competition invited and defied." There!
would that catch a capitalist?'

'And what should I do,' asked Jessie, laughing, if the capitalist were
to come and carry you all away?'

'Come out with us as leading lady, to be sure,' replied Josey West
promptly; 'and Chris can come as scene-painter, and there we are, all
complete. Quite a happy family, my dear!'

We made very merry over the fancy, and extracted many amusing pictures
from it. I was sorry when Josey West called to us that it was late and
time for us to go. It was a fine night, very quiet and very still, and
Jessie and I lingered and talked of the Wests and their merry
light-hearted ways.

'They have plenty of trouble, though,' said Jessie; 'all that glitters
isn't gold.'

'I have never seen any one happier than they are,' I said. 'Suppose
they had all the money in the world, could they have spent a merrier
evening?'

'What makes you mention money, Chris?'

'I don't know exactly, except that it came into my head to-night, that
if everybody had just a little more, everything would be right. But
then I suppose when they had just that little more, they would want
just a little more?'

'That is in uncle Bryan's style. Chris, I think you are clever!'

'I don't know, Jessie; Mr. Eden is pleased with me, and says I shall
get along very well. I would like to; I would like to be rich.'

She mimicked uncle Bryan: 'You would like to be rich! You would like
the moon! Open your mouth, and what you would like will drop into it.'

I laughed at the imitation, which was perfect, and said, 'Well, I
suppose it is all nonsense--wishing, wishing! Uncle Bryan would be
right if he said that, Jessie, and it's just what he _would_ say, if
he had the opportunity. Most of the great men I've read about had to
work and wait for success. The other night, when uncle Bryan was in
one of his amiable moods, he said that success was like the robbers'
cavern in _The Forty Thieves_, and that there was one magic key which
would always open it. When I asked him what that key was, he said,
Earnestness.'

'That's one of the things that uncle Bryan would never give me credit
for.'

'Uncle Bryan is very unjust and very unkind. Let us turn back and walk
a little. The night is so beautiful and I feel so happy at this minute
that I should like it to last for ever.' Jessie's hand stole into
mine, and I held it close; the silence that followed was broken by
Jessie.

'Why would you like to be rich, Chris?'

'For your sake, Jessie, more than for my own. If I could give you all
that you desired, I shouldn't wish for anything more.'

'You are very good to me, Chris. Why?'

'Because I love you, Jessie,' I replied.

'Really and truly?' she exclaimed, half tenderly, half tantalisingly.

'With all my heart and soul,' I said, in a low passionate tone.

'When one loves like that' (she was speaking seriously now), 'what
does it really mean?'

'I can only speak of myself, and I know that there is no sacrifice I
would not make for you. I am sure there is nothing you could ask me to
do that I would not do; if I could die to make you happy, I would do
so gladly, Jessie.'

'But I don't want you to die, Chris; what should I do without you?
Then when one loves really and truly, and with one's heart and soul,
there is no selfishness in it? One doesn't think of oneself?'

'I think of nothing but you, Jessie. I should like to be successful,
for your sake; I should like to be rich, for your sake. Now do you
understand?'

She did not reply, and when presently I ventured to look into her
face, I saw that there were tears in her eyes.

'You are not angry with me, Jessie?'

'I should be an ungrateful girl indeed, if I were. No, Chris. I love
to hear you speak to me as you have done. I was only thinking that I
wished others were like you.'

'You mean uncle Bryan,' I said, with a quick apprehension of the
direction of her thoughts. 'But he takes pains to make people dislike
him. Besides, he is at war with everything--he is, Jessie! He never
goes to church; he never opens a Bible. I believe,' I added, my voice
sinking to a whisper, 'that he is an atheist.' (And I said to myself
mentally, as I gazed into Jessie's sweet face, If he does not believe
in God, it is less strange that he does not believe in you.')

I had given no thought to time, and now, when the church bells struck
one o'clock, I was startled at the lateness of the hour. With a guilty
look at each other, Jessie and I hurried home; before I could knock at
the street-door, it was opened for us by my mother. She put her finger
to her lips.

'I heard your steps, my dear,' she said, with anxious tenderness;
'hush, don't make a noise. You might wake your uncle.'

'We had no idea of the time, mother,' I said; 'it isn't Jessie's
fault. I kept her talking, and really thought it was no more than
eleven o'clock. I am so sorry we have kept you up! See what a lovely
night it is.'

We stood at the door for a little while, my mother in the centre,
with her arms round our waists. When she kissed me and wished me
good-night, I saw that she had been crying; but her pale face
brightened as I put my arms about her neck, and held her to me for a
few moments. When I released her, I found that we were alone; Jessie
must have stepped upstairs very quietly, for I did not hear her leave
the room.



CHAPTER XXIV.
TURK, THE FIRST VILLAIN.


Of all the male members of the West family, Turk was the one I liked
best. Our intimacy soon ripened into friendship, and he made me the
confidant of his woes, and as I was a good listener, we got on
admirably together. It seemed that he had never had 'a chance,' as he
termed it, and that he had been condemned by fate to act a line of
business which he declared was distasteful to him--although I must
confess that my after experience of him convinced me that it was
exactly suited to him, and he to it--and in theatres where the
intellectual discernment of the audiences was proverbially of a low
standard.

'Perhaps you will tell me,' he said to me, in one of our private
conferences, 'what there is in my appearance that I should have been
selected to play the first villain almost from my birth--from my
birth, sir, Chris, my boy. Do I look like a murderer? Do I look like a
man who had passed through a career of the deepest-dyed ruffianism,
and was eager to go on with it? Speak your mind--it won't hurt me; I'm
used to criticism, and I know what value to place upon it.'

Turk was really a slight-made man, and as I had not seen him act at
the time of these utterances, I could not understand his sister's
praises of him as the best murderer to slow music that she had ever
seen. His appearance in private life was, to say the best of it,
insignificant, and as utterly opposed to that of a deeply-dyed ruffian
as can well be imagined. The only likeness to the description Josey
West had given of him that I could see was his 'glare,' and he
certainly did roll his eyes as he spoke, with an effect which was
nothing less than tremendous. I mentioned to him that I had heard the
greatest praises of his acting, and that he played the villain's part
to the life.

'And what does that prove?' he asked, with an oratorical flourish.
'Does it prove that I am fit for nothing better, or that I am a
conscientious actor? When I have a part to play, I play it; I don't
play Turk West every night. See me play the Thug, and I defy you to
recognise me; see me as the First Murderer in _Macbeth_, and I defy
you to recognise the Thug. When I first played the Thug, my own mother
didn't know me; "That's something like acting," she said; and she
ought to have known, rest her soul! for she played a baby in arms
before she was out of long clothes, and spoke lines on the stage when
she was three years old. Why, sir, my struggle with old Martin, in
_The Will and the Way_, was said to be the most realistic thing ever
seen on the stage--and do I look as if I would murder a man? It was
art, sir, pure art. I am a conscientious actor--a conscientious actor,
sir, Chris, my boy--and what I have to play, I play. Give me a strong
leading part in a good piece, in a good theatre in the West-end--in
the West-end, sir, Chris, my boy, not in this heaven-forsaken
quarter--and then see what I can do! Why, sir, there are men occupying
leading positions in our best theatres who can't hold a candle to Turk
West--I'm not a vain man, and I say they can't hold a candle to Turk
West! There are men--whose names I'll not mention, for I'm not envious
and I only speak in the interests of art--men on the boards on the
other side of Temple Bar--where I've never been seen--who are drawing
large screws, and who have as much idea of acting as a barn-door fowl.
What do they play? They play _themselves_, never mind what characters
they represent. Dress doesn't make a character--it's the voice, and
the manner, and the bearing. Why, look at----never mind; I said I
wouldn't mention names. Directly he comes on the stage--whether he
plays a young man or a middle-aged man or an old man, a man of
this century or a man of the last century, or farther back if you
please--everybody says, "Ah, there's old So-and-so!" And he uses the
same action and the same leer and the same walk, as if the hundreds of
characters he has played in his time were written to represent _him_,
not as if, having taken to the stage, it was his duty to represent
_them_. Call that acting! It's death and destruction to art, that's
what it is. And the public stand it--stand it, sir, Chris, my
boy--being led by the nose, as asses are, by critics who have reasons
of their own for not putting their thumbs down on such incompetency.
That's the word, sir, Chris, my boy, that's the word--incompetency.
But wait-till I come out; wait till an author that I have in my eye--
yes, sir, I have him; I know him, and he believes in me, and I believe
in him; we fight a common cause--wait till he has finished the piece
he is writing for me, a piece representing two passions; one is not
enough for Turk West. When that piece is performed at one of the
West-end theatres, with Turk West in the leading character, you may
mark a new era in the history of the stage. But mum, Chris, my boy,
mum! Not a word of this to any of my relations.'

My acquiescent rejoinders were very pleasing to him, and he expressed
a high opinion of my judgment.

'You shall come and see me play to-morrow night,' he said, 'at the
Royal Columbia. I'm engaged there for the heavy business. Can you get
away from work at half-past five o'clock? I'll come for you, if you
like, and we'll walk together to the shop' (thus irreverently
designating the Temple of Thespis).

I said I thought I could get away, and he promised to call for me.

'You will see, sir, Chris, my boy, the most villainous and
incomprehensible blood-and-thunder melodrama that ever was presented
on the stage--it is called _The Knight of the Sable Plume, or The
Bloodstained Banner_. Isn't the very title enough to drive intelligent
persons from the doors? But, sir, Chris, my boy, we play to a twopenny
gallery, and the twopenny gallery will have blood for its money, and
plenty of it. _The Bloodstained Banner_ is a vile hash put together
for a "star"--an arrant impostor, sir--who plays the leading part.
I'll say nothing of him--you shall see and judge for yourself. I play
Plantagenet the Ruthless; I don't slur my part because it's
impossible, absurd, and ridiculous--you'll find no shirking in Turk
West; he knows what duty is, and he does it. If I have lines given me
to speak in which there isn't an atom of sense, it isn't my fault; I
speak them because I'm paid to speak them, and I do my best to
illuminate--that's the word, sir, Chris, my boy--to illuminate a
character which is an insult to my intelligence. Necessity knows no
law, and if I'm compelled to knuckle-down to fate to-day, I live in
hopes that the sun will shine to-morrow.'

I said that I sincerely hoped the sun would shine to-morrow, and that
it _would_ shine brightly for him; and Turk West wrung my hand, and
said that he wished the audiences he had to play to were as
intellectually gifted as I was, adding that then there would be hope
for the drama.

I obtained permission to leave on the following evening at the time
mentioned by Turk, who was as good as his word in coming for me, and
we walked together to the Royal Columbia Theatre.

'Prepare yourself, my boy,' he said, in the tone of one who was about
to initiate a novice in solemn mysteries; 'I am going to take you
behind the scenes.'

I was duly impressed by the great privilege in store for me, and I
walked by the side of Turk West, glorified in a measure by his
importance. The theatre was not yet open, and a large number of
persons was waiting for admittance, some of whom, as regular
frequenters, recognised Turk and pointed him out to their companions,
who regarded him with looks of awe and wonder; others, unaware of the
great presence, were kicking vigorously at the doors. After lingering
a little and looking about him with an unconscious air (really, I now
believe, to enjoy the small tribute of fame which was descending upon
him; but I did not suspect this at the time), Turk preceded me down an
unobtrusive narrow passage, the existence of which could have been
known only to the initiated. This led to the stage-door, which to my
astonishment was the meanest, shabbiest, and most battered door within
my experience. We plunged at once into the dark recesses of the
theatre; and after bumping my head very severely against jutting
beams, and nearly breaking my neck by falling up and down unexpected
steps, which were nothing more nor less than traps for the unwary, I
found myself in a long barn-like room, full of draughts (which latter
feature, indeed, seems to be the chronic complaint of all theatres,
before and behind the curtain), and with a very low ceiling, which
Turk informed me was the principal dressing-room for the gentlemen of
the company. Therein were congregated seven or eight individuals,
making-up for the first piece; some were rubbing themselves dry with
dirty towels, some were dressing, some undressing, some painting their
faces. One, whom I afterwards discovered was the low-comedy man, was
sticking pieces of pluffy wool upon his nose and cheeks, and dabbing
them with rouge, with which he was also painting his eyebrows, so that
they might match his close-cropped, carroty-haired wig. Turk was
familiarly and merrily greeted by all these brothers-in-arms, who all
addressed him as 'Cully;' and as he returned the compliment and
'cullied' them, I presumed it was a family name which they all
enjoyed. Turk proceeded at once to disrobe himself, and I, filled with
wonder at the mysteries of which I was, for the first time, a
privileged observer, turned my attention to the other members of the
company. The room adjoining was also occupied, by the ladies of the
company, to judge from their voices; they were in the merriest of
spirits, and a smart rattle of jokes and saucy sayings passed from one
room to another. Turk was evidently a favourite with the ladies, who
called out 'Turk, my dear' this, and 'Turk, my dear' that, he
returning their 'dears' with 'darlings,' as became a man of gallantry.
When, after the lapse of a few minutes, I looked towards the place
where Turk was, I discovered in his stead an imposing individual with
a pair of magnificent moustaches on his lips, and such a development
of calf to his legs as I certainly never should have given Turk credit
for without ocular proof. I gazed at him in doubt as to whether it
really was Turk I saw before me, and his voice presently convinced me
that it was Turk, and no other. Over his herculean calves he drew a
pair of doubtfully-white cotton tights, and over these a pair of
yellow-satin breeches, rather the worse for wear; around his waist (no
longer slim, but bulky, as became the 'heavy man') he drew a flaming
red-silk sash, with enormous fringes, and a broad black belt, in which
were ominously displayed two great knives and three great pistols.
Then came a ballet shirt which had seen better days (or nights), then
a blue-velvet jacket, with slashed sleeves and large brass buttons,
and he completed his attire by throwing carelessly upon his head--
which was framed in a wig of black ringlets--a peaked black hat, with
a stained red feather drooping over (I feel that I ought to say o'er')
his brow.

'This is the regulation kind of thing, Chris,' he said to me in a low
voice--'this is the stuff that draws the twopenny gallery.'

And he turned, with much affability, and accepted a pewter-pot offered
to him by a brother with a 'Here, Cully!' and drank a deep draught.
Then he took me into the passage, and asked some person in authority
to pass me into the theatre. The people were pouring in at all the
entrances, and in a short time the house was completely filled. They
were fully bent upon enjoying themselves, and began to kick and
applaud directly they were seated. When the lights were turned up and
a bright blaze broke upon the living sea of faces, there was a roar of
delight; and as the musicians straggled into the orchestra, they were
greeted with applause and exclamations of familiarity, which fell upon
ears supremely indifferent. I was placed in a good position, where I
had a capital view of the stage, and having purchased a playbill, I
began to study it. The programme was an imposing one, and the
occupants of the twopenny gallery could certainly not complain that
they did not have enough for their money. First, there was the
romantic melodrama of _The Knight of the Sable Plume_, in which that
distinguished actor, Mr. Horace Saint Herbert Fitzherbert (pronounced
by the entire press to be superior to the elder Kean, and to surpass
Garrick), would sustain the principal character. To be followed by the
thrilling drama of _The Lonely Murder at the Wayside Inn_. After
which, a comic song by Sam Jacobs, entitled the 'Jolly Drunken
Cobbler,' and the clog hornpipe, by Mr. Dicksey. The whole to conclude
with the stirring domestic drama of _The Trials and Vicissitudes of a
Servant-Girl_; winding up with a grand allegorical tableau in coloured
fires. The appetite that could have found fault with the quantity must
surely have been unappeasable. In due time the music ceases, a bell
rings, there is a moment's breathless expectation in the house, and
the curtain rises on _The Knight of the Sable Plume_. Scene the first:
A wood. In the distance, the battlemented castle of Plantagenet the
Ruthless. (So says the programme, but I cannot see the battlemented
castle, although I strain my eyes to discern it, being interested in
it as the family residence of my friend Turk.) Enter two ruffians in
leather jerkins and buff gloves. Times are very bad with them. They
want gold, they want blood, and--ahr! they want revenge (with a
redundancy of _r_'s). They roll their eyes, they gnash their teeth.
Yonder is the castle of Plantagenet. There sits the lordly tyrant who
grinds his vassals to the dust. Shall he be allowed to go on in his
ruthless course unchecked? No! Hark! a thousand echoes reiterate the
declaration. (I fancy the echoes.) No no! no! They kneel, and swear
revenge in dumb show. Who comes here? As they live, it is the lovely
Edith, the heiress to those baronial halls. The Fates are propitious.
They'll tear her from the domestic hearth, and bear her senseless form
to mountains wild. Exit ruffians elaborately. Enter Edith pensively.
She is pretty, and she receives a round of applause from all parts of
the house. She bows, and tells the audience that she has just
dismounted from her snow-white palfrey outside. This accounts for her
coming in without a hat, and with her hair hanging down her back over
a white-muslin frock. The sparkling foliage of the trees tempted her
to stroll along the mossy sward. She sighs. Who is the stranger she
met nine days ago upon this very spot? She did not speak to him, she
did not see his face, but the beating of her heart, the clouds athwart
the sky, the dew upon the grass, the whisper of the breeze, the
beauteous birds that warble delicious notes to scented flowers, all,
all whisper to her that she loves him. Ah, yes, she loves him! Could
she but see once more his manly form, she'd die content. Cue to the
musicians, with whose assistance Edith sings a plaintive song
expressive of her wish To quit the sordid world, And with her love be
whirled To other lands. On sorrow bent (she sings), I'd die content If
he were by my side. Oh, take me, love, To realms above, And let me be
thy bride. The ruffians enter at the back of the stage, and roam about
with stealthy steps. They draw their knives, and breathe upon them.
Expectation is in every eye. The ruffians advance. The high-born
maiden continues her song. The ruffians retreat. The high-born
concludes her song with a tra-la-la. The ruffians, having just made up
their minds at that point, advance again, with a quick sliding
movement. Seize her! Oh, spare me, spare me she cries. Spare you,
daughter of Plantagenet the Ruthless! spare you! Never! Did thy gory
sire spare my white-haired parent when, with his bloody sword, he
clove him from head to foot, and laid him writhing in the dust? Spare
you! Not if lightnings flashed and thunders rolled, not if all the
powers of earth and air interpose their forms protecting, shall you be
spared! Revenge! The music is worked up terrifically during the scene.
The ruffians drag the maiden this way and that, evidently undecided as
to which road they shall take to their mountains wild. They seem bent
upon rending her lovely form into small pieces and running off the
opposite sides of the stage with the fragments. Help, oh, help me! she
cries. A sudden tumult is heard without. Make way there, make way! is
heard, at least two yards from the spot. She shrieks more loudly. I
hear his lovèd step without! she cries. And the next moment a figure
clad in armour rushes in, and with one blow lays the two ruffians dead
upon the stage. His visor is down, and towering in his helmet is a
sable plume. It is he, the Knight of the Sable Plume! He supports
Edith on one arm; he raises the other aloft to the skies, and the
curtain drops upon the picture amidst the admiring plaudits of the
audience. Vociferous cries for Fitz! Fitz! bring that hero to the
front of the curtain, where he gracefully bows, and wipes his brow
languidly with a cambric handkerchief The second act introduces my
friend Turk West, in the character of Plantagenet. I am glad to find
that he is a favourite with the audience, who clap their hands, and
two or three profane ones cry out, 'Bravo, Turk! Go in and win!' I am
not aware whether this is a stimulant to him, but he certainly 'goes
in' with vigour. The scene in which he appears is described as the
grand hall in the castle, and its appointments are two chairs and a
brown wooden table of modern manufacture. Very ruthless and very
fierce indeed does Turk look, and he is accompanied by the pair of
dead ruffians, who now appear as retainers: I recognise them by their
buff boots. It is in vain that I endeavour to unravel the plot; the
threads slip from me directly I attempt to gather them together. From
a lengthy soliloquy indulged in by Plantagenet, I learn that he is not
the rightful owner of the battlemented castle. Seventeen years ago he
killed a noble prince in cold blood (which popular phrase cannot be a
correct one), and murdered his beautiful child, the last, last scion
of a noble race. (Here Turk grows magnificent, and 'goes in' with a
will.) Oh, agony! He beholds once more their mangled corpses, he sees
the death-sweat br-reaking on their brows! The demon of remorse is
tearing at his vitals. Oh, would he could recall the past, and restore
the two wooden chairs and the table to their rightful owner! During
the applause that follows, Turk winks at me, and I am delighted. The
low-comedy man and a waiting-maid in short petticoats and wearing an
embroidered apron, as was the fashion with waiting-maids in the days
of chivalry, play important comic parts in the piece, and send the
audience into convulsions of laughter. But the plot has quite baffled
me, and I have given up all hope of unravelling it. The Knight of the
Sable Plume has been thrown into prison by Plantagenet, after a
desperate fight with eight retainers (in slippers), and is released by
the hand of the lovely Edith, to whom he swears eternal fealty. The
last scene is the same as the first--a wood, with the (invisible)
battlemented castle in the distance. Plantagenet the Ruthless enters.
He is mad with rage. His prisoner has escaped. He gnashes his teeth.
He'll search the wide world through but he will find him. Usurper! ye
search not long. Behold him here! He enters, the Knight of the Sable
Plume. At length we stand front to front! Back to thy teeth thy lying
words! Villain! Defend thyself! They fight to music. One, two, up;
one, two, down; one, two, three, four, sideways. They turn round, and
when they are face to face, they clash their swords terrifically. They
lock their arms together, and fight that way. The gallant knight is
getting the worst of it. He is forced first upon one knee, then upon
the other. He fights round the stage in this position. By a herculean
effort he gains his feet. The swords flash fire. Ah, the usurper
yields! He stumbles. He lies prostrate on the ground. Over him glares
the knight. Recreant, beg thy miserable life! Never! Die, then,
remorseless tyrant! With a piercing shriek Edith rushes in, and cries,
Spare him, oh, spare him; he is my father! The Knight of the Sable
Plume is softened; his sword drops from his grasp. He kneels, and
supports the head of the Ruthless. It is too late; Death has marked me
for his own, says Turk. The knight raises his visor. Ah! what is that
scar upon thy brow? cries Turk. Avenging heaven! it is _his_ child.
These possessions are thine. Take them. Take my daughter. Her love
will compensate for her father's hate. He joins their hands, and
turning up the whites of his eyes (which elicits from the gallery
cries of 'Bravo, Turk!') and saying, 'I die hap-pappy!' proceeds to do
so in the most approved corkscrew style. Thus ended _The Knight of the
Sable Plume_, by far the most incomprehensible piece of romance it had
been my good fortune to witness. Mr. Horace Saint Herbert Fitzherbert
was called before the curtain at the end of the drama, and appeared;
there were calls also for Turk, but he did not appear. He gloomily
informed me, when the performance was over, that Fitzherbert was on a
'starring' engagement, and that it was in the agreement that in his
own pieces nobody should be allowed to appear before the curtain but
himself. On reference to the playbill, I found that in _The Lonely
Murder at the Wayside Inn_ Turk was the murderer, and I am afraid to
say how many times he deserved to be hanged for the dreadful crimes he
performed in _The Trials and Vicissitudes of a Servant-Girl_. In the
last piece the allegorical tableau in coloured fires may have conveyed
a good moral, but the smell was suggestive of the lower regions, where
good morals are not fashionable.

Following out the instructions given to me by Turk, I made my way,
when the curtain fell for the last time, to the dressing-room at the
back of the stage, and whispered my praises of my friend's acting.
Before we went home, he and a number of his professional brethren
'looked in' at a neighbouring bar, where pewter pots were freely
handed about. There was no lack of animated conversation, and the
subject of course was the drama. One man, who had played a small
character in _The Knight of the Sable Plume_, and played it well, was
holding forth to two or three unprofessional friends on the peculiar
hardship of his case. As he had not played in the last piece, I
inferred from his condition that he had been regaling himself at the
bar for some time before we entered. He was an elderly man, and Turk
whispered to me that he had once been leading man in the theatre, but
that he had come down in the world. Those who addressed him by name
called him Mac.

'Ah, Turk, my boy,' he said, giving Turk a left-handed grasp; his
right hand held his glass of whisky-toddy--'ah, my sons, come in to
drink? That's right. Drown dull care.'

'You've tried to do that for a pretty considerable time, Mac,' said
Turk good-humouredly. 'Take a pull at the pewter, Chris.'

'I have, my boy, I have,' returned Mac; I'm an old stager now, but,
dammee! there's life in the old boy yet. I'll play Claude Melnotte
with the youngest of you. I'm ready to commence all over again. Show
me a more juvenile man than I am on the boards, and dammee! I'll stand
glasses round I will--and pay for them if I can borrow the money!'

A volley of laughter greeted this sally, in which Mac joined most
heartily.

'Drown dull care!' he continued. 'I've tried to do it for a
pretty considerable time, as Turk says--dammee, my sons! I've
it all my life, and I'd advise you to do the same. Care killed a
cat, so beware. Before you came in, my sons, I was speaking to these
gentlemen'--indicating his unprofessional friends--'who kindly asked
me to take a glass with them--thank you, I don't mind; my glass _is_
empty; another whisky-toddy--The cry is still they come! eh, my
sons?--I was speaking to these gentlemen, whose names I have not the
pleasure of knowing, but who take an interest in the profession. I was
speaking to them of myself, in connection with the noble art. I was
saying that I act for my bread----'

'And sack,' interrupted a member of the company. 'And sack. Mac.'

'Hang it, no, my son!' exclaimed the old actor, with a capital mixture
of humour and dignity. 'I act for my bread; I let my friends pay for
the sack. I may, or I may not, be an ornament to my profession; that
is a matter of public opinion and public taste; but whether I am or am
not, I am not ashamed to say I act for my bread. I was speaking to
these gentlemen also--your healths, gentlemen--of the decadence of the
drama. In the halcyon days of youth, in the days of the great Kemble
(I made him my model; I trust I do not tarnish his fair fame), the
drama was worth something. But now, when a fellow like this
Fitzherbert--a man who has been pitchforked, so to speak, into the
profession--comes in and takes all the fat of the piece, and when he
is puffed and posted and advertised into a successful engagement, and
when every other worthy member of the company is pushed into a corner,
and compelled, so to speak, to hold a variety of lighted candies to
show off his spurious brightness, it's an infernal hard thing to each
of us as individuals, and a degradation to the drama as an art.'

'Bravo, Mac!' said one and another, some in sincerity, some to humour
the old actor.

'You are certainly right, sir,' said one of the strangers, speaking
with the deference due to so eminent an authority. Your glass is
empty; will you fill again?'

'Ay, till the crack of doom,' was the ready reply. 'Right, sir! of
course I'm right.'

'But,' said another of the strangers, not quite so deferential as the
former speaker, some one must play second fiddle.'

'Second fiddle, sir! Yes, I admit it, sir. Some one _must_ play second
fiddle--and third fiddle too, if you like. But let the man who plays
second fiddle _be_ a second fiddle, and not a first fiddle.'

'Who is to blame for all this?' asked the deferential stranger.

'Who's to blame, sir! The public, sir--the public. But what
consolation is that to me? I must live, sir, I suppose. I must feed my
family, or answer for it to the beak. Here am I, who will place my
Macbeth in comparison with any man's--who can play Hamlet, Lear,
Othello, Brutus, in a masterly manner--I don't say it _of_ myself; it
has been said of me--here am I compelled to knuckle-under to a man
young enough to be my son, and with not a tenth part of my brains or
experience. And what's the consequence? I haven't had a call for six
months, while he gets called on three times a night. Why, sir, I
remember the time when a discriminating audience called me on six
times in one piece! I've had a dozen bouquets thrown to me in one
night! And now, sir, these things are forgotten, and old Mac is
shelved, sir, shelved!'

'The public ought to be ashamed of themselves,' said the deferential
stranger.

But the public's not all to blame.. It's the managers, who allow
themselves to be led, like tame sheep, into the trap; they haven't the
moral courage to stand up against it. And what's a man, or a manager,
without moral courage? I wouldn't mind it so much, but what's the
consequence? A star is engaged upon shares, at an enormous screw, and
to make this up, all _our_ screws are reduced. That's where it comes
hard. I pledge you my dramatic word, my screw isn't so much by
seven-and-sixpence a week as it was six months ago. Who gets my
seven-and-six? Why, who but the star? And my poor children must starve
and perish, or go on the parish, if they hadn't a self-denying parent,
who would pawn his shirt before they should come to want. I'll take
another glass of whisky-toddy--my last, sir, my last to-night. Old Mac
knows when he's had enough. Turk, my son, a word in your ear.'

Turk went aside with him, and I heard the jingling of coin.

'He's a rum old fellow,' said Turk to me, as we walked home; 'a good
actor too, and might have got on well if he hadn't been so much
engaged all his life in drowning care.'

'You gave him some money?' I said.

'Lent it to him, Chris; only fourpence halfpenny. The old fellow never
borrows even money; it's always an exact sum for an exact purpose that
he wants--fourteenpence, or eightpence halfpenny, or sevenpence, or
some other odd amount. He was never known to borrow a shilling or a
half-crown. There's a good deal of truth in what he says, Chris.'

'I am sorry for his wife and children,' I said.

'The best of it is,' replied Turk, laughing, 'that the old fellow has
only two sons, and the youngest is thirty-four years of age, and in a
very good way. But it pleases old Mac to talk like that, and he has
talked like it so long, that I've no doubt he really believes that he
_has_ a destitute family somewhere, who would starve if he couldn't
borrow his fourpence-halfpennies and his sevenpences now and then.
It's one of the best things I know.'

Altogether this night's entertainment was a most enjoyable one to me,
and gave me much food for reflection.



CHAPTER XXV.
HOLDING THE WORD OF PROMISE TO THE EAR.


So far as I could judge from outward appearances, the coldness between
uncle Bryan and Jessie increased with time, rather than lessened.
Their natures seemed to be in direct antagonism, and every effort to
make things pleasant between them completely failed. My mother often
made such efforts in her quiet loving way; Jessie herself wooed him,
after her fashion, when the humour was on her; but he was implacable,
except on one occasion to which I shall presently refer.

'He ought,' said Jessie to me, 'to be at the head of a monastery of
monks; he thinks it is a crime even to laugh. What sort of a young man
was he, I wonder?'

I could have told her, but the seal of secrecy was on my tongue. I
need scarcely say that all my sympathies were with Jessie. I was an
attentive observer of the state of things at home, and I had many
confidential conversations with my mother concerning matters. Loving
Jessie as I did, I could not, in my heart, be tolerant and kind to
uncle Bryan, as she begged me to be; the hard and stern rules which he
had set down for himself, the following out of which by us might
possibly have won his favour, would have made life a burden. I applied
these rules to himself, and his own life was his own condemnation.
There was no question in my mind as to whether he was right or wrong.
But I could not win my mother to my way of thinking; nor did I
endeavour after a little while, for I saw that it gave her pain. Never
did a hard word pass her lips concerning him; she had affectionate
excuses for him in every fresh difference between him and Jessie. I
thought she was wrong, but I did not tell her so, nor did I distress
her by endeavouring to explain to her that her own conduct was a
contradiction to her words. That she never missed an opportunity to be
tender and gentle to Jessie was a sufficiently strong argument against
uncle Bryan. In her love for my mother Jessie never wavered; it seemed
to me to grow stronger every day. Sometimes when we were at home
together--it was not a very frequent occurrence now, for Jessie and I
were generally out of an evening at the Wests', or at a theatre for
which orders had been given to us--I observed Jessie watching us; but
when she saw my eyes upon her, she would turn hers away thoughtfully.
One night we had come home late; uncle Bryan was abed; my mother had
prepared supper for us. We sat down, and after supper fell into
silence; I do not know what I was thinking of, but we remained silent
for many minutes. Happening to look in the direction of my mother, I
saw her wistful eyes upon me, and at the same moment Jessie rose, and,
kneeling before my mother, drew her face down, and kissed it. I was by
their side in an instant, and the three of us were clasped in one
embrace; but Jessie quickly released herself, and left me and my
mother together.

Time went on and there was no change, except that we were growing
older, and that Jessie was growing more and more beautiful. I was
getting along well, and as I was earning fair wages, I contributed,
with pride, a fair sum towards the expenses of the house. I was
enabled to make my mother and Jessie many little presents now, and I
sometimes coaxed my mother to buy Jessie a new dress or a new hat, and
not to let her know that they came from me. On the anniversary of my
twenty-first birthday we had a party at home, the four of us, and were
happier and more comfortable in each other's society than we had been
for a long time. Even uncle Bryan softened--not only towards me, but
towards Jessie.

'Your boyhood is over,' said uncle Bryan; 'you are now a man, with a
man's responsibility, and a man's work to do in life. Do it well.'

'I will try to, uncle,' I replied.

'To perform one's duties,' continued uncle Bryan, 'taxes a man's
judgment very severely, and as a man's judgment is generally the slave
of his inclination, it is seldom that he can look back upon his life
with satisfaction.'

'I don't quite understand that,' I observed; 'if a man's inclinations
are good----'

Uncle Bryan interrupted me, for I had paused. He took up my words.
'Inclination is an idle selfish imp. Life is full of temptations, and
inclination leads us to them; we follow only too readily.'

'All that we can do,' said my mother, caressing me fondly, 'is to do
our best; we are often the slave of circumstances, Bryan.'

'In many cases,' he replied, 'not in all, a man can rise above them.
We do not exercise our reason sufficiently. We cry and fret like
children because things are not exactly as we wish.'

'Do you?' asked Jessie quickly. He answered her evasively. 'I have my
sorrows.'

'I am glad of that,' said Jessie, in a low tone.

'There is more wisdom in your remark,' he said, with a thoughtful
observance of her, 'than you probably imagine. I give you credit for
using it in the best and kindest sense.'

'I meant it in that sense,' said Jessie gently, drawing a little
nearer to him.

'Will you tell me why you are glad that I should have sorrows?'

'For one reason----'

'Well?'

'It does not remove you so far from us,' said Jessie, with less
confidence than she usually exhibited.

'I try to do that?' he asked. 'I try to remove myself from you?'

'I think so,' she answered. 'You are not angry with me?'

'No, child,' he said, and the gentleness of his tone surprised me.

'But for sorrow and trouble,' mused my mother, the tenderest qualities
of our nature would never be shown. God is very good to us, in our
hardest trials. Dear Bryan! I am thinking of the time when Chris and I
were in London without a friend. As I look upon my darling boy now,
and think of the happy future there is before him----' She did not
complete her sentence, but she went towards uncle Bryan, and stooped
and kissed him.

'Say no more, Emma,' he said huskily; you do not know how vastly the
balance is in your favour.'

'Notwithstanding your sorrows? questioned Jessie.

'Yes,' he replied, with an approving nod, notwithstanding my sorrows.
You are sharp-witted, Jessie.'

'Thank you, uncle,' she said merrily.

It was almost like the commencement of a new and more harmonious era
in our relations with one another.

'How old are you, Jessie?' I asked.

'I shall be eighteen in a little more than three months. A girl
becomes a woman at eighteen, I am told. I shall expect to be treated
with dignity then, Chris.'

The greatest wonder of the evening was reserved for its close. Uncle
Bryan was the first to rise and wish us good-night. He grasped my hand
warmly, and kissed my mother. He did not offer to shake hands with
Jessie, but wished her good-night, and lingered at the door, waiting
for her response; but it did not come. He turned to go, but before he
could leave the room, she was by his side.

'Why are you so kind to others,' she asked, and so cold to me?' He
stood silent, looking upon the ground. I want to love you if you will
let me; I want you to love me. Say "Good-night, dear Jessie," and kiss
me.'

He did exactly as she desired. 'Good-night, dear Jessie,' he said, and
they kissed each other. He drew his arm round her, and I saw a tender
light flash into his face, and rob it of its habitual sternness of
expression. But it was gone in a moment, and he with it.



CHAPTER XXVI.
WE ENJOY A DECEITFUL CALM.


The harmonious relations between uncle Bryan and Jessie which my
birthday seemed to have inaugurated continued for more than a
fortnight, a result entirely due to Jessie's untiring efforts to
conciliate him, and to 'keep him good,' as she expressed it. On the
day following that on which I came of age, he showed symptoms of
irritability at the tenderness into which he had been betrayed--for
that undoubtedly was the light in which he viewed it; he had a
suspicion that he had been played upon, and he was annoyed with
himself for his weakness. Having, I doubt not, thought the matter well
over during the night, and having quite made up his mind to vindicate
himself, he came down in the morning more than usually morose and
reserved, and received Jessie's affectionate advances in his coldest
and most repellent manner. But Jessie would not permit him to relapse
into his old cross humour; she charmed it out of him by a display of
wonderful submission and tenderness, and by answering his snappish
words with gentleness. In this way she disarmed him, and he, after
some resistance, and with a singular mixture of pleasure and
ungraciousness in his manner, allowed himself to be beguiled by her.
The truth of the proverb that 'a soft answer turneth away wrath' was
never better exemplified. If, when she had wooed him into a kinder
mood, she had shown any signs of triumph, her influence over him would
have come to an end immediately; he watched furtively for some such
sign, and detecting none, resigned himself to this new and pleasant
beguilement. Whether Jessie's conduct sprang from impulse or reason,
she could not have behaved more wisely.

My mother was greatly rejoiced, and told me from day to day all that
passed between these opposite natures. That the links of home love
which bound us together were being strengthened was a source of
exceeding delight to her.

'And it is all Jessie's doings, mother.'

'It is, my dear. I scarcely believed her capable of so much gentleness
and submission.' (Here I thought to myself, 'I believe no one but I
knows of what Jessie is capable.') 'When your uncle is most
trying----'

'As he often is,' I interrupted, 'and without cause.'

'Well, my dear, if you will have it so. When he is most trying, she is
most gentle, and she wins him to her side almost despite himself. And,
Chris, I really think he likes it.'

'Who would not,' I exclaimed, 'when wooed by Jessie?'

'It is in her power,' said my mother, with a sweet smile of
acquiescence, 'to make a great change in him. There is an undercurrent
of deep tenderness in your uncle's nature, and Jessie is reaching it
by the most delicate means. If she will only have patience! for it
will take time, my dear.'

But these fair appearances were treacherous. Neither my mother nor I
saw the clouds that were gathering, and when the storm burst I was
impressed by the unhappy conviction that I, and I alone, was the
cause. How little do we know of the power of light words lightly
spoken! But for certain inconsiderate words which I had used, there
would certainly have been sunshine in our house for a much longer
time. As it was, this better aspect of things was destined soon to
come to an end, and to come to an end in a way which introduced not
only a more bitter discord between Jessie and uncle Bryan, but imbued
us insidiously with a want of faith in one another. The storm broke
suddenly, and without forewarning to uncle Bryan and my mother. But in
the mean time the harmony was almost perfect. Jessie, when she went to
bed, no longer parted from uncle Bryan with a careless 'Good-night,'
but kissed him regularly every morning and every night, and he
submitted to the caress without, however, inviting it by look or word.
But even that wonder took place on a certain evening when Jessie, with
a touch of her old ways upon her, wished us all good-night in a
careless tone, and without kissing uncle Bryan. She opened and closed
the door, but did not leave the room, and placed her fingers on her
lips with a bright eager look in our direction, warning us not to
betray her. Uncle Bryan's back was towards us, and he made no motion
at first. Jessie stole quietly behind his chair, and stood there in
silence. Presently, uncle Bryan turned his head slowly to the door,
with something of a yearning look of regret in his face, and at the
same instant Jessie's arms were round his neck, and her lips were
pressed to his.

'Don't be angry with me,' she said.

'Angry, Jessie! I thought you had forgotten me. But you are as full of
tricks as Puck was.'

'I can't help it, uncle Bryan. Good-night!'

'Good-night, my dear.'

And Jessie went to bed with a very light heart, and left light hearts
behind her. It was apparent that these enchanting ways were pleasant
to uncle Bryan, and I told Jessie so.

'It softens him, Jessie.'

'It takes a long time to soften a rock,' she observed, with a
thoughtful smile.

'If anybody can do it, you can, Jessie.'

'You think nothing but good of me, Chris.'

'I only say what I feel. And you really want uncle Bryan to love you?'

'Yes--more than I can say--and I can scarcely tell why.'

'Except,' I said, with a foolish hesitation, 'that you like to be
loved by everybody.'

'Perhaps it is because of that, Chris. I _do_ like everybody to love
me. It is much nicer so.'

If I wanted any consolation I supplied it by observing: 'To be sure,
there are different kinds of love.'

'Indeed!' exclaimed Jessie tantalisingly. 'Is it like uncle Bryan's
sugar, of different shades and different degrees of sweetness? Some of
it tastes very sandy, Chris.'

'Ah, now you are joking, Jessie!'

'I am not in a joking humour. I want to speak seriously. Chris, I have
sometimes wondered that you have never asked me questions about
myself.'

'In what way, Jessie?'

'About myself, before I came here. When one likes any one very much,
one is naturally curious to know all about one.'

'I had my reasons, Jessie. When you first came, mother wished me not
to ask you any questions. She said it would be like an attempt to
steal into uncle Bryan's confidence. He might have secrets, she said,
which he would not wish us to know.'

'Secrets!' she mused. 'What can I have to do with them? And yet, it is
strange, now I think about it.'

'I should like you to tell me all about yourself,' I said; 'it doesn't
matter now that you have spoken of it first yourself.'

'I was thinking of a secret that I have, Chris.'

I composed myself to receive her confidence.

'But I don't know what it is myself, yet. It is in a letter;
perhaps----'

'Well, Jessie?'

'Perhaps nothing. It is only a letter that I am not to open until I am
eighteen years of age. That will not be long, Chris. We will wait
until then, and then I will tell you all I know. Let us blow it away
till that time comes.' She blew a light breath. 'I wanted to make you
a present on your birthday, but I did not have money enough then.
Shall I give it to you now?' I held out my hand eagerly, and Jessie
took from her pocket a small card-box. 'It is in this. What do you
think it is?' I made a great many guesses, but she shook her head
merrily at all of them. 'I went to look at it every day in the
shop-window, afraid that some one might buy it before I had saved up
money enough.'

I opened the box, and took from it a small silver locket,
heart-shaped, with the words engraven on it, 'To Chris, with Jessie's
love.' Unspeakable happiness dwelt in my heart as I gazed upon the
emblem. As I held it in my hand tenderly, it seemed to me a living
link between Jessie and me--an undying assurance of her love. Nothing
so precious had ever been mine. My looks satisfied Jessie, and she
clapped her hands in delight.

'So you like it, Chris?'

'I will never, never part with it, Jessie. But I want a piece of
ribbon; may I have that piece round your neck?

'Take it off yourself, Chris.'

What a bungler I was, and how long it took me to remove the piece of
simple ribbon, need not here be described. I know that while my
trembling fingers were about her neck, Jessie, in reply to a look,
said, 'Yes, you may, Chris;' and that I kissed her.

'And now, Chris,' she said, 'I want to speak to you about something
that is troubling me very much. When you said the other night that
uncle Bryan was an atheist, were you in earnest?'

'I said what I believed,' I answered with an uneasy feeling.

'And he _is_ an atheist?'

'I am afraid he is, Jessie.'

'Has he ever told you so?'

'Oh, no; there are some things that one scarcely dares to speak of.'

'That is if one is weak and a coward. I am not that, and I don't think
you are, Chris. Then I suppose you have never spoken to uncle Bryan
about religion?'

'Not a word has ever passed between us upon religious matters.'

'An atheist is a person who does not believe in God, is he not,
Chris?'

I was sensible that the discussion of so solemn a subject might lead
to grave results, and I wished to discontinue it; but Jessie said:

'Don't be weak, Chris; I think I ought to know these things, and if we
can't speak together in confidence, no two persons in the world can.
Of course I can easily find out what I want to know; Gus West will
tell me everything; but I came to you because we are nearer to each
other.'

'Nearer and dearer, Jessie.'

'Yes, Chris; and now tell me what you know.'

I told her all that I knew concerning atheism, and all that I knew
concerning uncle Bryan in connection with it. 'When I was a boy,
Jessie, scarcely a week after we came to live with uncle Bryan, I
heard him say that life was tasteless to him, and that he believed in
nothing. I thought of it often afterwards.'

'Life was tasteless to him _because_ he did not believe in anything;
that is the proper view to take of it. If a person does not believe in
anything, he cannot love anything. Can you imagine anything more
dreary than the life of a person who does not love anybody, and who
has nobody to love him? I can't. A person might as well be a stick or
a stone--better to be that, for then he couldn't feel. But the words
that uncle Bryan used may not have meant what you suppose, Chris.'

'They came in this way, Jessie. On the first Sunday we were here,
mother asked uncle Bryan if he was going to church. He said that he
never went to church. Mother was very sorry, I saw, but she did not
say anything more. On that same night, uncle Bryan was reading a book,
and he read aloud some passages from it. Mother asked him what was the
name of the book, and he answered, _The Age of Reason_. When he laid
the book aside, mother took it up, and looked at it; and then she sent
me upstairs for the Bible. That was all; but I didn't quite know what
was the real meaning of it until a long time afterwards, when I found
out what kind of a book _The Age of Reason_ is.'

'Tell me what it is.'

'It is a book written by an atheist for atheists; it might almost be
called the Atheist's Bible, Jessie.'

'And did you never speak to your mother about uncle Bryan's religion?

'I have tried to, but mother is like me; there are some things she
does not like to speak of.'

'And this is one of them,' said Jessie, following out her train of
thought; 'and out of your love for her, when she said, "Let us talk of
something else, my dear," you have talked of something else.'

'That is so, Jessie. It is almost as if you overheard what we said.'

'It is easy to see into your mother's heart, Chris. She did not like
to speak about uncle Bryan's religion, because she loves him, and
because she wants you to love him. Now, if it had been anything that
would have made uncle Bryan stand out in a good light, she would have
encouraged you to speak about it.'

'That is true enough, Jessie.'

'Chris, your mother is all heart.'

'She is everything that is good, if you mean that?'

'I do mean that; she is the best, the sweetest, the dearest woman in
the world. Ah, if I were like her! But I am very, very different. What
I say and what I think comes more often out of my head than out of my
heart. Chris, it is impossible for an atheist to be a good man!'

I saw the pit we were walking into, but I had not the skill to lead
Jessie away from it.

'A man who does not believe in God,' she exclaimed, 'cannot believe in
anything good. No wonder that he is what he is. I am not satisfied--I
am not satisfied! It is shocking--shocking to think of!' She shook her
head at herself, and I listened to her words in no pleasant frame of
mind. She was showing me an entirely new phase in her character. It
was Jessie reasoning, and reasoning on the most solemn of subjects.
'Why,' she continued, 'God made everything that's good, and if uncle
Bryan is an atheist, he is a bad man. And yet your mother loves him.'

'That she does, Jessie, with all her heart.'

'She couldn't love anything that's bad. If you were an atheist, Chris,
I should hate you.'

'Thank God, I am not, Jessie; even if I were, you could make me
different. But I don't like to hear you speak like this,' I said,
reproaching myself bitterly for having been the cause of this
conversation; for when I had told Jessie that uncle Bryan was an
atheist I had spoken with a full measure of dislike towards him.
'Mother does not reason as you do. After all, I may be mistaken,
Jessie, and we maybe doing him a great injustice. I know so much that
is good of him--more than you possibly imagine.'

And then I told her what, from a false feeling of shame, I had
hitherto withheld from her--the story of my mother's hard battle with
the world when we came to London, and of uncle Bryan's noble behaviour
to us when we were sunk in the bitterest poverty.

'All the time I have known him, Jessie, I have never known him to be
guilty of an unjust action. He is as upright and honest a man as ever
lived. Can such a man be a bad man?'

'Upright, honest, and just!' she repeated my words in a musing tone.
'It is an enigma.'

'He would die,' I continued warmly, 'rather than be guilty of a mean
action. Now that we are speaking of him in this way, I am ashamed of
myself for ever thinking ill of him. Mother was right, from the very
first--she was right about him, as she always is about everything. If
he were not so hard----But you don't know what trials he has gone
through in his life.'

'Do you?'

'I know some of them, but I am pledged not to speak of them to any
one--not even to you. One thing happened to him--never hint, for my
sake, Jessie, that you even suspect it--one thing happened to him so
terrible and so dreadful that it is no wonder he is hard and cold and
morose. Many and many a time mother has entreated me to be kind and
charitable in my thoughts towards him, and instead of doing so I have
repaid all his kindness by the basest of ingratitude.'

'How have you done that, Chris?'

'By saying anything to you to cause you to dislike him. Ah, you may
shake your head, but it is so, Jessie. If he were in my place, and I
in his, he would come to me and ask me to forgive him; but I haven't
the courage and fearless heart that he has, and I shouldn't  know how
to do it without giving him pain.'

I was really very remorseful, and sincerely so; but Jessie said
nothing to comfort me.

'Have I had no reason of my own, until the last few days, to dislike
him? Has he behaved quite kindly to me? Chris, is it possible that I
am wrong in nearly everything that I have done? How many times have I
tried to conciliate him, and how many times has he answered me with
unkind words! There is some reason for it--there is some reason for
it.'

'And yet remember, Jessie,' I said, without thinking, 'that he
has given you a home, as he gave one to us, never asking for a
return--never expecting one.'

Her face turned scarlet.

'Would _he_ have said that?' she asked, and left me without another
word.



CHAPTER XXVII.
THE STORM BREAKS.


Jessie's moods were sufficiently variable and perplexing to cause me
serious uneasiness, but I had no suspicion of what was in her mind
when she spoke of uncle Bryan and his religious opinions, or I should
have used my strongest efforts to avert the storm. Even when she made
her first open move, which she did on the evening of the same day on
which we had the conversation just recorded, I did not suspect her;
truth to tell, my mind at that time was almost completely occupied by
one theme--the locket which Jessie had given me, and its significance.
As a charm, it was most potent in its power of bringing happiness to
the wearer; I felt that while this locket was in my possession, it
would be impossible for a cloud to shadow my life. But clouds came all
too quickly.

We were sitting together in the evening, in the most amicable of
moods. Suddenly Jessie addressed uncle Bryan.

'Uncle Bryan, who teaches the young?'

He looked inquiringly at her.

'Well,' she continued, understanding that an explanation was expected
of her, 'one has to learn things; knowledge doesn't come of itself.'

'Assuredly not,' he said, with evident pleasure and curiosity; 'even
parent birds teach their brood the use of their wings, and how to
build their nests.'

'I did not know that; but it is of men and women I am speaking. They
are higher than birds and beasts.'

'Yes,' he said, in a reflective tone; 'it is so.'

'If the world were filled with nothing but old people, I wonder what
sort of a world it would be!'

'It would soon be no world at all,' he said; and added, with
good-humoured depreciation, 'and while it lasted it would be a very
disagreeable world, if the inhabitants in any way resembled me.'

'Never mind that, uncle Bryan; perhaps some people try to make
themselves out a great deal worse than they are. So, then, there
_must_ be young people; that is a necessity.'

'As much a necessity as the seasons; it is the law of nature.'

'A good law?'

'Undoubtedly, young philosopher.' His manner was almost blithe.

'Well, then, to come back, as a friend of mine says. The young do not
know what is right and wrong, and knowledge does not come of itself.
Who teaches them?'

'The old,' he replied readily.

'Because they are more likely to know what is right and wrong.'

'For that reason, I should say. They have had more time to learn, and
they have had more experience of the world.'

'Of course,' she said, 'and experience means wisdom. The old _must_
know better than the young.'

'Naturally.'

'And young people should be guided by old people?'

'It would be better if that were more generally done.'

'That is all I wanted to know.'

Before many days were over, Jessie made her meaning apparent. She
always accompanied my mother and me to church, and on the Sunday
following this conversation she unmasked her battery.

'Uncle Bryan,' she said, while we were at breakfast, 'I want you to
come to church with us this morning.'

A startled look flashed into my mother's eyes; uncle Bryan stared at
Jessie, and bit his lips. He did not reply immediately.

'Young ladies have many wants,' he said.

'But this is a good want,' she pleaded. There was nothing saucy or
defiant in her tone or manner; both were very gentle. 'But this is a
good want. You will come with us?'

'I will not come with you,' he replied sternly.

'Do you never go to church?

'Never.'

'Why?'

'That is my affair.' The corners of his lips began to twitch.

'Is it not good to go to church?' she asked, still in a gentle tone,
her colour beginning to rise. I noted with consternation these
familiar signs of the coming battle. The shock was the more bitter
because, to all outward appearance, everything had been fair between
them until this moment. Only the night before we had stopped up half
an hour later than usual, because the time was passing very pleasantly
to all of us.

'My dear,' said my mother, with a sweet smile, taking Jessie's hand in
hers; 'my dear, you forget!'

'Forget what, mother?' asked Jessie; she sometimes addressed my mother
thus. 'Am I doing anything wrong?'

Even I could not help acknowledging to myself that Jessie, by a
literal acceptation of my mother's words, was wilfully misinterpreting
the nature and intent of her remonstrance; but I found justification
for her.

'Uncle Bryan is the best judge,' said my mother.

'I know he is,' said Jessie.

'Let her go on,' cried uncle Bryan.

The old stern look was in his face, and his voice was very harsh. I
was the more unhappy, because I alone held the key of the situation.
Jessie repeated the question, addressing herself to uncle Bryan.

'Is it not good to go to church?'

'I do not say that,' was his reply.

'But I want you to say one way or the other. It _must_ be either good
or bad. You will come with us!'

'I will not come with you.'

The high tone in which he spoke put a stop to the discussion, and we
finished the breakfast in the midst of an unhappy silence. Indeed, we
all seemed too frightened to speak. At the proper time my mother and I
were ready for church, and were waiting downstairs for Jessie, whom
my mother had left in their room dressing. But Jessie was somewhat
more dilatory than usual. My mother went to the stairs, and softly
called out,

'Now, my child, be quick, or we shall be late!'

It was the first time I had ever heard my mother call Jessie her
child, and I pressed her hand fondly for it. She returned the
pressure, almost convulsively, and presently Jessie came slowly
downstairs. She was dressed with unusual care in a pretty new soft
dress, concerning the making of which there had been great excitement;
but her head was uncovered.

'Get on your hat quickly, my dear,' said my mother; 'we shall have to
walk fast.'

'I am not going to church,' said Jessie, in a low tone, in which
I--and I alone, I believe--detected a tremor.

'Jessie!' cried my mother, in a tone of suffering; 'Jessie, my dear
child!'

She stepped to Jessie's side, trembling from agitation. Jessie stood
quite quietly by the table, and repeated, in a tone which she strove
in vain to make steady,

'I am not going to church this morning.'

Uncle Bryan was in the room, but spoke not a word.

'Are you not well, my dear?' asked my mother.

'I am quite well.'

'Then why will you not come with us?'

'I am not sure that it is right to go to church.'

'My dear, if I tell you that it is'

'Uncle Bryan is older than you--twenty years older--and has had more
experience of the world; therefore he must know better than you. If it
were right to go to church, he would go, for I am sure he is an
upright and just man.'

At this direct reference to him uncle Bryan raised his head, and gazed
fixedly at Jessie, and at her latter words something like a sneer
passed into his face. My mother looked helplessly from one to another.

'I know,' said Jessie, 'that I am the cause of this trouble, and I
wish--oh, I wish!--that I had never come into the house! No, I don't
wish it, for then I should never have known you!' She stood very
humbly before my mother. 'I feel how ungrateful I am: to uncle Bryan
for giving me a home'--(how these words stung me!)--'and to you for
giving me a love of which I am so undeserving.'

The tears came into her eyes, and I went towards her, but she moved a
step from me; and thus apart from each other we four stood for a few
moments in perfect silence--a house pulsing with love and tenderness,
but divided against itself. Then Jessie said suddenly:

'Uncle Bryan, if I go to church this morning, will you come with us
some time during the year?'

'No,' he replied sternly and firmly.

'I have asked you in the wrong way, perhaps,' she said; 'but that
would not alter the thing itself.'

'Whichever way you asked me, my answer would have been the same, young
lady.'

'If you tell me to go now, I will go.'

'I will tell you nothing. You are your own mistress.'

'How are the young to be taught, then, if the old will not teach
them?'

In the presence of my mother's distress he had no answer to make, and
I felt that it was out of consideration for her, and not from any
desire to spare himself, that he went into the shop and left us to
ourselves.

Then Jessie to my mother:

'I hope you will forgive me, but if I knew I should have died for it I
could not have helped doing what I've done. Don't be grieved for me; I
am not worth it. I am going to spend the morning with Miss West.'

My mother and I went to church by ourselves; but I fear that my mood
was not a very devout one. My mind was filled with what had taken
place at home, and its probable consequences.



CHAPTER XXVIII.
COLOUR-BLIND.


The consequences were more serious than any one of us could possibly
have imagined, with the single exception of uncle Bryan; where we
hoped, he reasoned, and reasoned with bitterness against himself.
There are in the world a sort of men with whom you are for ever at a
disadvantage--men who from various motives are strangely, and ofttimes
cruelly, reticent as regards themselves, their thoughts, and their
actions. These men receive your confidences, but do not confide in you
in return; they listen to your schemes, your hopes, your fears, but
say not a word concerning their own. You wear your heart upon your
sleeve; they lock up theirs jealously, and place upon them an
impenetrable seal, which perhaps once or twice in a lifetime they
remove--perhaps never. Uncle Bryan was one of these men. Scarcely by a
look had he ever shown us his heart, and it required a nature not only
more noble and generous, but more self-sacrificing, than mine not to
misjudge him--to be even tolerant of him.

All our hopes of a more harmonious feeling between him and Jessie were
utterly shattered, and my birthday, instead of being the commencement
of a brighter and better era in our home relations, inaugurated an era
of much unhappiness and discomfort. In the most unfortunate, and yet,
as it seemed to me, in the most natural way, we were placed in a
painfully-delicate position of antagonism. Who was to blame for this?
I found the answer to this question without difficulty. Who but uncle
Bryan was to blame? The part which Jessie had taken in the
conversations between them was dictated by the best of feelings--was
good and tender--and I admired her, not only for her courage, but for
the affection she had displayed towards him, and for her efforts to
wean him from his moroseness and infidelity. That she had failed was
no fault of hers. The fault lay entirely in himself, and in his
insensibility to softening influences. That, if she had succeeded, the
result would have been both good and beautiful, was incontrovertible.
I argued the matter very closely in my mind, for, notwithstanding my
love for Jessie, I was anxious not to do uncle Bryan an injustice, and
I could come but to one conclusion. What home could be happy with a
master who possessed such a nature as his? He was like a dark shadow
moving among us, and turning our joy into gloom.

These were partly the result of my reflections. Other considerations
also arose. We were all bound to one another by ties of affection.
That was a certainty, in the first blush of my reflections; but
afterwards a doubt occurred to my mind. By what tie of affection was
Jessie bound to uncle Bryan? He himself, when he told my mother and me
the story of his life, had confessed it: by none. The charge of Jessie
had almost been forced upon him, and his sense of duty had compelled
him to accept it. It was not humanity that had impelled him to give
Jessie a home. And if, after she came among us, she had failed to win
his love, it was because his heart was hard and cold, and incapable of
tenderness. I recalled a hundred little ways in which she had wooed
him, and every one of them was an argument against him. Then I thought
of her helpless dependent position, and my love for her and my anger
against him grew stronger. That he was hard to her was an additional
reason why I should show her openly, and without false weakness, that
in me she had a champion and a friend who would be true to her until
death. Even if I did not love her, I argued, this championship of one
who was cast as a stranger amongst us would have been demanded of my
manliness.

All these things were settled in my mind before my mother and I
returned home from church on that memorable Sabbath, but not a word
passed between us on the subject. I was silent out of consideration
for my mother; she was silent out of the exquisite tenderness of her
nature. Over and over again had she played the part of the Peacemaker
between uncle Bryan and Jessie; but knowing uncle Bryan as she did,
she felt that in this crisis she was powerless. The day passed quietly
and unhappily. Jessie joined us as we passed the house of the Wests,
and walked home with us; but during the whole of the day neither uncle
Bryan nor she addressed each other, nor made any conciliatory movement
towards each other. Once or twice she looked towards him, and the
slightest look of kindness from him would, I knew, have brought her to
his side. But although he was conscious of her gaze, he carefully
avoided meeting it, and she, instinctively aware of his intention,
looked towards him no more. It had been arranged that we should go to
the Wests on this night; our visits there during the past fortnight
had not been so frequent as usual; but as the time drew near, Jessie
whispered to me that she intended to stop at home.

'I will run round,' she said, 'and tell Josey that I can't come; but
you can go.'

'I shall do as you do, Jessie,' I said.

I thought afterwards that it was a great pity we stopped at home, for
we were anything but lively company. Uncle Bryan might have been made
of stone, so silent was he; Jessie rejected all my sympathising
advances towards her; and even my mother was at a loss for words. I
was curious about the 'good-night' between uncle Bryan and Jessie when
bedtime was near; it occupied Jessie's thoughts also; but he settled
it by lighting his candle and going to bed without bidding any one of
us good-night. It was evident from this and from uncle Bryan's
behaviour during the week that followed that all harmonious relations
between him and Jessie were at an end. On the next Sunday Jessie came
to church with us as usual.

I fully expected that she would take an opportunity of speaking to me
on the subject of her difference with uncle Bryan; but as the time
passed, and she did not speak of it, I approached the subject myself.
I told her my opinion, and praised her for her courage.

'You are speaking against uncle Bryan,' she said.

'I can't help it, Jessie; 'he brings it on himself by his tyranny.'

'Tyranny!' she exclaimed. 'Do you forget what you said, and what I
believe--that he is upright, honest, and just?'

'In other things he is; but not in this. He is like a man who can see,
and who is colour-blind.'

'That is,' she said, with a deprecatory shake of the head, 'that he is
Jessie-blind. Ah, Chris, if he is blind to what there is good in me,
are you not blind to what there is bad?' I was about to expostulate,
but she stopped me: 'I am not quite satisfied with myself; I don't
know that it would not have been better for me to have held my tongue.
And another thing, Chris: I am not sure whether I am glad that you
think I was right.'

'Why, Jessie, what things you are saying!'

'I must say them, Chris, for I know what is in my mind. Answer me this
question. Supposing you were not fond of me, as I know you are--I
don't mind saying it now, for I am speaking very seriously--would you
think then that I was right? Do you side with me out of your head or
out of your heart?'

'My reason approves of what you did,' I said earnestly; 'I want you to
believe that, Jessie. Say that you do believe it.'

'I do, Chris.'

'Then you must be glad to know that I am certain you are not to
blame.'

She shook her head again, and said:

'Perhaps it would have been better if all of you had been against me.'

'But who _is_ against you, Jessie?' I persisted. 'Mother is not, and I
am not.'

'Never mind that now, Chris. I can see things that you can't see,
because----'and she took my hand, and looked straight into my eye.'

'Because what, Jessie?'

'Because you are colour-blind, my dear,' she replied, half gravely,
half sportively, in unconscious imitation of Josey West.

From this time her visits to the Wests grew even more frequent than
they used to be. She was there not only in the evening--on which
occasions I was always with her--but very often also in the day. My
mother spoke of this to me regretfully, and said she was afraid that
Jessie mistrusted her.

'Mistrust the sweetest woman in the world!' said Jessie. 'No, indeed,
indeed I do not! But can't you see, Chris, that I am better away?'

'No, I can't see it, Jessie--not that I have any objection to the
Wests; you know that I am very fond of them.'

'Still colour-blind, Chris? you still can't see what I can see?'

'You seem to be putting riddles to me, Jessie,' I said.

'Well, you must find the answers without my assistance; and as to my
going to the Wests so often in the daytime, what comfort do you think
I find at home?'

None, I was compelled reluctantly to confess.

'Have you heard uncle Bryan complain of my absence?' continued Jessie.
'Does he say that I am too often away?'

'No, Jessie, he has said nothing, to my knowledge.'

'Because he sees nothing to regret in it.'

'But mother does, Jessie.'

'Chris,' said Jessie, with tearful earnestness, 'if I had a mother
like yours I should thank God for her morning, noon, and night; and if
I ever wavered in my love for her, in my faith in her, if I ever did
anything to give her pain, I should pray to die!'

'You speak out of _my_ heart, Jessie, as well as out of your own.'

She gazed at me sadly and affectionately, and with something of wonder
too.

'Well, well, Chris,' she said, 'I have my plans; let me go my way.'

I was content that she should, having settled in my mind that her way
was my way, and that her way was right. I had my plans also, which I
did not disclose to Jessie. I was improving my position rapidly, and I
knew that the day was not far distant when I should be able to support
a home by my own labour--nay, I was at the present time almost in a
position to do so. But there were things to be seen to and provided
for--furniture and that like; and I was saving money for them
secretly. I looked forward with eagerness to the accomplishment
of my scheme, and I worked hard to hasten its ripening. The sweet
pictures of home-happiness which I conjured up were sufficient
incentives--pictures from which neither Jessie nor my mother was ever
absent. 'Then,' I thought, 'Jessie will not be a dependent upon one
who is filled with unkind and uncharitable feelings towards her.' It
was on my tongue a dozen times to tell Jessie how I was progressing in
my scheme, but I restrained myself. 'No,' I said, 'I will not say
anything to her about it until I am quite ready. Then I will speak
openly to her. She knows that I love her, and that I am working for
her.'

But I could not keep my plans entirely to myself. I unfolded them to
my mother, who sat silent for a little while after I had finished.
Then she said:

'Have you not forgotten something, my dear?'

'No, mother, not that I know of.'

'Or some one, I should rather say--your uncle Bryan.'

I returned a disingenuous answer. Uncle Bryan would never leave his
shop. What would he find to do in a place where there were no
customers to serve, and no business to look after?' (I added mentally,
and where he was not master and tyrant?')

'Chris, my dear child,' said my mother humbly and imploringly, 'do not
hide your heart from me!'

'Mother!' I cried, shocked at myself.

'Dear child, forgive me! It was forgetfulness on your part, I know,
and unkind of me to put such a construction upon it. My boy could not
be ungrateful. He knows how I love him, how proud I am of him. How
well I remember his promise to me one night--in the old times, my
darling, when I used to take in needlework for a living--that he would
try to grow into a good man; and how grateful I am to the Lord to see
him after all these years a good and clever man, the best, the dearest
son that mother was ever blessed with!'

The old times came vividly before me, and a strangely-penitent feeling
stirred my heart as I looked into my mother's face, with its
expression of yearning love, and thought of the road I had traversed
from boyhood to manhood. Bright and beautiful was this road with
flowers of sweet affection; a heart whose tenderness time nor trouble
could not weaken had cheered me on the way, and unselfish hands had
made it smooth for me. The faithful mother who had strewn these
flowers was by my side now, shedding the light of her sacred love upon
me. She was unchanged and unchangeable, but I---- Ah, me! Let me not
think of it. Let me kneel, as I used to kneel with my head in her lap
when I was a boy, and when we were all in all to each other. Let me
kneel and think of the long, long nights during which my mother used
to work for bread for me; the trials, the disappointments, and the
cheerful spirit bearing up through all, because a life that was dearer
than her own was dependent upon her. The intervening years melted like
a dream, and for a little while I was a boy again, and my heart was
overflowing with tenderness for this dearest, best of women.

'I remember that night too, mother,' I said, raising my head from her
lap; 'I have been looking at it again. I lay awake for a long time
watching you; you were sighing softly to yourself, and did not know
that I was awake.'

My mother smiled, and sang, as softly now as then, and as sweetly, the
very words she had sung on that night.

'You forget nothing, mother.'

'Nothing that is so near to my heart, my dear. Nor would I have you
forget Chris, to whom it is we owe our release from the dreadful
difficulties that once threatened to overwhelm us; for I was getting
very ill, you recollect, when your uncle's letter came to us, and I
felt that my strength was failing me. We owe all to him, my dear;
wherever our home is he must share it. We must never leave him--never;
the mere contemplation of it, after all these years, makes me very
unhappy.'

Delicate as was the manner in which my mother had set my duty before
me, she had made it quite clear to my mind; but love and duty were at
war with each other. All my visions of home-happiness were darkened
now by the shadow of uncle Bryan. Whichever way I turned his image
seemed to stand, barring my way to the realisation of my dearest
hopes.



CHAPTER XXIX.
PREPARATIONS FOR AN IMPORTANT EVENT.

The coldness between uncle Bryan and Jessie did not diminish with
time. As a matter of necessity they were compelled to speak to each
other occasionally, but they did so with coldness and reluctance, and
a distinct avoidance of the subject which had broken the bond between
them. I say that they were compelled to speak to each other as a
matter of necessity, but I may be mistaken; they may have spoken not
out of consideration for themselves, but for my mother. Thinking over
the matter since that time, I have understood how those two, if they
had been alone, might have lived in the same house for years, and
might have performed their separate duties conscientiously, without a
word passing between them. For the sake of peace Jessie would have
yielded, but uncle Bryan would have remained implacable. Results
proved this. In vain did my mother strive to bring them together in a
more amiable spirit; in vain did she speak separately to each of the
other's good qualities, magnifying their merits, ignoring their
faults. Her labour upon uncle Bryan was entirely lost; but it was
different with Jessie, not because she thought she was wrong, nor for
uncle Bryan's sake, but out of her love for my mother.

'You are a child, my dear,' said my mother to her, 'and he is an old
man. If for that reason alone, you should yield.'

'It would be useless,' was Jessie's rejoinder; 'I have known him for a
much shorter time than you, but I know his nature better than you do.
I judge of it by my own.'

'You do both him and yourself injustice, my dear,' pleaded the
peacemaker; 'if he were all wrong and you were all right, it would be
your duty to give in.'

'Love and duty do not always go together,' said Jessie obstinately.

'But we must make sacrifices, my child; what a miserable thing this
life would be if some of us did not yield!'

'If I thought,' said Jessie, softening, 'that I should not be insulted
I would do as you wish willingly, most willingly--not for my sake, but
for yours.'

'Try, then, for my sake.'

'I will; and you will see what will come of it.'

And Jessie tried, in her best manner and in good faith, with the
result for which she was prepared.

'Can you not see now how it is?' she asked, with tears in her eyes. 'I
have brought trouble into this house. How much better would it have
been for you if I had never entered it! But it wasn't my fault. Ah, if
I were a man I wouldn't stop in it for another hour! But I have no
friends; and if it were not that I love to live, I might wish that I
had never been born.'

'Then you do not regard me as a friend, my dear child?'

But Jessie, with cruel determination, refused to respond to the tender
appeal, and turned rebelliously away. All this I learnt from my
mother, who hid nothing from me, and it did not tend to make me
happier.

'Be patient, my darling,' my mother said; 'all will come right in the
end.'

'Did anything ever come right with uncle Bryan?' I fretfully asked.
'Think of the story he told us! I remember too well what you said when
I asked if you would have me look on things as he does. You said it
would take all the sweetness out of my life; and you were right. He
has taken the sweetness out of it already.'

I did not consider that it was the very refinement of cruelty to bring
her own words in judgment against herself. On such occasions she would
tremble from sheer helplessness; but with unwearied patience she would
strengthen her soul, and strive, and strive, for ever with the same
result. So wrapt was I in my own unhappiness, that it was only by fits
and starts I gave a thought to hers; even that she was growing thinner
and more sad, with this inward conflict of her affections, escaped me.
Others saw it, but at that time the selfishness of my own grief made
me blind.

But there were bright spots in my life during these days, even in the
midst of these unhappy differences, in every one of which Jessie was
the central figure. All that seemed to me worth living for was centred
in Jessie; and she was never absent from my mind. She passed nearly
the whole of her time with the Wests now--naturally enough, finding so
little comfort at home--and as I was not happy out of her society, all
my leisure was spent with her. This circumstance was introduced
unpremeditatedly one evening when Jessie and I were preparing to go
out. My mother, to tempt us to stop at home, had promised some little
delicacies for supper, and mentioned it incidentally, when Jessie said
that she should not want any supper when she came home.

'I am sure to have supper with Josey West,' she said.

'You go there a great deal, Jessie,' remarked my mother, with an
anxious look.

'I am happy there,' was Jessie's terse reply; 'but I don't want to
take Chris away.'

'You don't want the sunflower to turn to the sun,' sneered uncle
Bryan, with his usual amiability.

'I will not thank you for the compliment,' said Jessie, 'for it isn't
meant for one. Chris,' she exclaimed, turning suddenly to me, 'is the
sun the only bright thing in the heavens? Is not the moon as lovely,
and are not the stars the loveliest of all?'

Uncle Bryan took up the theme, continuing it to her disadvantage.

'But one loses sight of these loveliest things of all when the glare
of the sun is in his eyes.'

Jessie bit her lips.

'Am I to blame for going where my best friends are?' she asked.

'You go where your wishes take you. We are certainly not good enough
for such a young lady as you.'

'Perhaps not,' said Jessie defiantly, as she left the room.

This was her custom, after all her attempts at conciliation had
failed. Sometimes she would be silent; at others she would answer
pithily and bitterly, and without thought, perhaps; but she always
retired when she was becoming the subject of conversation. The old
days of light skirmishing were at an end. Short and bitter battles of
words, in which there was much gall, were now the fashion.

I was aware that for some time preparations were being made for an
important evening at the Wests'. I was very curious about it, but
Jessie would not allay my curiosity.

'You shall know all at the proper time,' she said; 'in the mean time
you can help me if you like.'

'Of course I will. What is that paper in your hand?'

'This is one of my characters, Chris. See here. Pauline--I'm to play
Pauline. And here's another--Mrs. Letitia Lullaby--that's me again. I
must learn every word of the parts, and you can help me in them.'

'I know what you want, Jessie; I've heard Turk go through some of his
parts.'

Thus it fell to my lot to hear Jessie repeat from memory all that
Pauline and Mrs. Letitia Lullaby have to say, giving her the cues, and
correcting her until she was, as she said, 'letter perfect.' But as
she continued to tease me, and would not let me into the secret of all
this preparation, I applied to Josey West for information. The
good-natured creature seldom refused me anything.

'We are going to have a grand dress performance, my dear,' she said,
'and Jessie will play the principal characters in two pieces.'

'In dress?' I asked, in some amazement.

'In dress, my dear. The pieces are _Delicate Ground_, and _A Conjugal
Lesson_; three characters in the first, and two in the second. Gus
will play Mr. Simon Lullaby, Jessie's husband, in one piece, and
Citizen Sangfroid, Jessie's husband, in the other. Brinsley, who is
out of an engagement, has condescended--that is the word, my
dear--condescended to play Alphonse de Grandier in _Delicate Ground_
for one night only, by special request of a lady.'

'Jessie?' I said.

'She is the lady referred to; the part is far beneath him, of
course--these parts always are, my dear, unless they are the principal
parts--but he'll play it very well; I shouldn't wonder if he doesn't
try to cut Gus out, so that we are sure to have some good acting.
Between the pieces there will be some dancing by Sophy, and Florry,
and Matty, and Rosy, and Nelly--it's good practice for them--and as
there's a change of performance at the Royal Columbia, Turk hopes to
be able to get away in time to see the last piece, and to recite "The
Dream of Eugene Aram." He wished very much to recite another piece, as
he was sick of committing murders, he said; but he does Eugene Aram
also by special request of a lady. He does it very finely too; one
night at a benefit two ladies went into hysterics in the middle of it,
and had to be carried out of the theatre. There was a paragraph in the
_Era_ about it, and it was put in some country papers as well. Turk is
very proud of that; he often speaks of it as a triumph of art. I ought
to play something as well, oughtn't I, my dear, on Jessie's night? But
I shall have enough to do as acting-manager.'

'Why do you call it Jessie's night?'

'Because it's the first time she ever dressed to act. Why, Turk has
got some bills printed!--he's a good-natured fellow, is Turk, the best
in the whole bunch, my dear! Here's one; but you mustn't say you've
seen it. Jessie doesn't know anything about it yet.' And Josey West
produced a printed bill, which read as follows:


Theatre Royal, Paradise Row.
Lessee: Miss Josey West.

****

_ENORMOUS ATTRACTION FOR
THIS NIGHT ONLY_.

FULL DRESS REHEARSAL,
FOR THE BENEFIT OF
MISS JESSIE TRIM,
Who will make her First Appearance on any stage,
Supported by those eminent Tragedians and Comedians,
MR. AUGUSTUS WEST
AND
MR. BRINSLEY WEST.

****

On this occasion will be presented the comic drama of

Citizen Sangfroid              Mr. AUGUSTUS WEST.
Alphonse de Grandier           Mr. BRINSLEY WEST
Pauline                        Miss JESSIE TRIM.

_To be followed by a_
GRAND BALLET
AND
TERPSICHOREAN REVEL,
In which Mdlles. Sophy, Florry, Matty,
Rosy, and Nelly will appear.

_After which_ (_by special request_).

The Eminent Mr. Turk West (the Original Thug)
will give his celebrated Recitation of
THE DREAM OF EUGENE ARAM.

_The whole to conclude with the comedietta
entitled_,
A CONJUGAL LESSON.
Mr. Simon Lullaby       Mr. Augustus West.
Mrs. Simon Lullaby      Miss Jessie Trim.
Stage Manager, Mr. Augustus West.
Acting Manager, Miss Josey West.
_Free List suspended. Press excepted_.

******


In consequence of the great attraction, the
entire Theatre has been converted into
Stalls, the price of which will be One Guinea,
or by special order, to be obtained of the
Acting Manager. On this occasion babies
in arms will be admitted, on the condition
that their mothers accompany them, and
that the baby-bottles are fully charged.


Josey West drew my particular attention to various parts of the
programme, such as the price of the stalls. 'In a fashionable theatre,
my dear, such as this is,' she said, with a whimsical look,' you
can't make the stalls too high;' and the notice about babies in
arms--'You know what a famous family we are for babies, my dear;'
especially to the words, 'Free list suspended, press excepted.'

'But you don't expect the press,' I said.

'Not exactly the press; but somebody of as much importance as a critic
may honour us with his company. But never mind him just now. Isn't the
programme splendid? It was Turk's idea, and he drew it up, and had it
printed, all out of his own pocket. No one knows anything of it but
you and me and him, so you must keep it quiet--we want to surprise
Jessie with it when the night comes. Turk says that when Jessie is a
famous actress this playbill will be a great curiosity.'

'When Jessie becomes a famous actress!' I repeated, with a sinking
heart.

'Yes, my dear; and she will be if she likes. Do you know, Chris, that
if I were you--I really think if I were you'--and she paused, and
looked at me kindly and shrewdly--'that I would buy two of the nicest
bouquets I can see to throw to Jessie when she is called on at the end
of the pieces. We'll manage between us, you and me, that no one shall
see them until the proper moment; you buy them, and give them to me on
the sly before the audience arrives, and I'll place them under your
seat, so that no one shall know. And now, my dear, I want you to tell
me something. If you don't like to, don't; and if I am asking any
thing that I oughtn't to ask, all you've got to do is to tell me of
it, and I'll drop it at once. Is Jessie comfortable at home? Ah, you
hesitate and turn colour; if you speak, you'll stammer. Don't say a
word; I'll drop the subject.'

'No, why should you?' I said. 'You are a good friend, and you have a
reason for asking.'

'I am as good a friend, my dear, to you and Jessie as you'll find in
all your knockings about in the world. Mind that! Don't you forget it,
or you'll hurt my feelings, as the Kinchin says. You've only got one
better friend, and that's that dear mother of yours, that I'd like to
throw my arms round the neck of this minute, and hug.'

'Why, you've never spoken to her, Josey!'

'What of that? I've heard of her, and that's enough for Josey West.
And a good mother makes a good son. I like you first for yourself, and
I like you second for your mother (_not_ out of a riddlebook, my dear,
though it sounds like it)! As for my reasons, why, yes, I have my
reasons for asking, or I shouldn't ask.'

'Jessie does not make a confidant of any one but you, I suppose,
Josey.'

'Of no one but me, my dear, and I know what I know, and suspect a
great deal more.'

'If Jessie confides in you, I may. She is not so happy at home as she
might be and as she deserves to be.'

'Thank you, my dear; I only wanted to make sure. Now we'll drop the
subject.' She went through some comical pantomime, as though she were
sewing up her lips. 'Stop and see the girls go through their ballet.
Come along, Sophy and Florry and all of you; the bell has rung for the
curtain.' And she began to sing, first, however, whispering to me that
we should have real music on _the_ night. 'No expense, my dear; it's
all ready to hand in the family.'

Then the children arranged their figures and positions to Josey West's
singing, and rehearsed the ballet with the seriousness of grown-up
people.

Neither uncle Bryan nor my mother knew anything of Jessie's passion
for acting. Jessie held me to my promise of not saying anything about
it at home; and on occasions when I urged her to let my mother know of
it, she refused in the most decided manner, and said she had her
reasons for keeping it a secret.

As for myself, I found myself in a labyrinth. So conflicting were the
influences around me, that I scarcely dared to think of the plans I
had cherished but a little while since, and hoped to see fulfilled. I
could only hope and wait.



CHAPTER XXX.
JESSIE'S TRIUMPH.


The eventful evening arrived. It had been a difficult matter with me
to keep the knowledge of the affair to myself, for I was in a state of
great excitement, and my mother noticed it; but she did not seek my
confidence except by kind looks of interest and curiosity. During the
day, in accordance with Josey West's advice, I bought two handsome
bouquets, which I conveyed to Josey secretly, and which she hid under
my seat in the kitchen. Great pains had been taken with the room,
which, with benches and chairs properly arranged, and the stage
curtain, and a row of stagelights with green shades to them, really
presented the appearance of a miniature theatre. It was rather gloomy,
certainly, for all the candles were required for the stage, but that
was a small matter. The room was filled chiefly by the West family, of
whom every available member was present, down to the youngest baby in
arms, and among the audience were a few persons with whom I was not
acquainted, but whose appearance, with one exception, clearly denoted
that they belonged to the dramatic profession. Two male and two
female Wests, of tender age, comprised the band; the girls played
the violin, and one of the boys played the flute, and the other the
cornopean--which latter instrument ran short occasionally in the
matter of wind. Everybody was very excited and very merry, and Josey
West's queer little figure was continually darting before and behind
the curtain.

'Would you like to see her?' the good-natured creature whispered to
me. 'Of course you would. Come along, then. She's dressed for
Pauline.'

I went with Josey behind the scenes to Jessie's dressing-room, which
had been built for the occasion with shop-shutters, and blankets, and
odds and ends. Jessie looked wonderfully fascinating and beautiful in
her fine dress, and a painful feeling of inferiority came upon me in
the presence of so much grace and loveliness.

'And how do I look, Chris?' she asked, as she stood before me, with
flushed cheeks and sparkling eyes.

I sighed as I told her that I had never seen any one look more lovely.

'_She'll_ never want a wig, my dear!' said Josey West admiringly, as
she ran her fingers through Jessie's beautiful hair. 'Did you ever see
such hair and such a complexion? All her own, my dear--scarcely a
touch of the hare's foot. But, bless the boy! he looks as if he was
sorry instead of pleased. That's not the way to make her act well.
There! kiss her, and go back to your seat. The music's beginning.'

My cheeks were as red as Jessie's as Josey West pushed me towards
Jessie, and turned her back; but my arm was round Jessie's waist
nevertheless, and Jessie, moved by a sudden impulse, kissed me very
affectionately. It was the first time our lips had ever met.

'Done?' cried Josey West. 'There! I'm sure you feel more comfortable
now. Now run away, or I shall have you turned out of the house.'

In a very happy frame of mind I took my seat among the audience, whose
enthusiasm was unbounded. The stage management was simply perfect;
there was not a hitch in the entire performance. Directly the music
ceased, amidst a general clapping of hands and stamping of feet--our
satisfaction was so complete that we wanted everything done over
again--a bell tinkled for the curtain, which was promptly drawn aside,
and the comic drama of _Delicate Ground_ commenced. General interest
of course centred round Jessie, who at first was slightly nervous, but
she grew more confident as the scene progressed. To say that she
played well is to say little; her acting on that night is fixed in my
mind as the most perfect and beautiful I have ever seen. It was not
only my opinion, it was the opinion of all, and the applause that was
bestowed upon her was astonishing in its genuineness and heartiness.
'By heavens, sir!' I heard one of the visitors with whom I was not
acquainted say to another--'by heavens, sir, she's peerless--peerless!
She'll make a sensation when she comes out.' There was an entire
absence of envy in the praise that was given to her; and the women, as
well as the men, were extravagantly enthusiastic in their
demonstrations. I heard remarks also passed from one to another, to
the effect that Gus and Brinsley never acted better in their lives;
they certainly, after the fashion of Turk, 'went in' with a will, and
it was difficult to say which of them deserved the palm of victory. I
liked Brinsley best, because he did not play the part of Jessie's
husband, but this view I kept to myself. Had it not been for the kiss
Jessie had given me, the memory of which made me triumphantly happy
during the whole of the night, I might have been rendered uneasy by
the passion which Gus West threw into the last lines of his part: 'You
_have_ no rival. You have been, and are, sole mistress of this my
heart. You have been, and will be, sole mistress of this my house.'
But even these words, and the passion with which they were spoken, did
not disturb me, and when the curtain fell upon the scene, my only
feeling was one of pride in Jessie's triumph. There were loud calls
for Pauline; and Turk, who came in just as the curtain fell, joined
vehemently in the applause, although he had seen nothing of the piece.
He was accompanied by the old actor, whom I knew as Mac, and whose
acquaintance I had made on the memorable night I spent at the Royal
Columbia. When Jessie, led on by Gus and Brinsley West, came before
the curtain and curtsied her acknowledgments, and when I threw my
bouquet at her feet, the cheers were redoubled again and again; and
all acknowledged that there could not have been a greater success.
Then there was a merry interval, which was occupied by gossip and
refreshments; and then the ballet and terpsichorean revel by Josey
West's sisters, towards whom the audience were disposed to be more
critical. The young misses acquitted themselves admirably, and were
followed by Turk West, whose 'Dream of Eugene Aram' was a most
tremendous elocutionary effort. To me it was terribly grand, and the
intense earnestness of Turk made a deep impression upon me. He was
rewarded by unanimous cries of 'Bravo, Turk!' 'Well done, old fellow!'
and a call before the curtain, which he acknowledged in his best
manner. Jessie's appearance in _The Conjugal Lesson_, as Mrs. Simon
Lullaby, was, if possible, more successful than her Pauline; but Turk,
who found a seat next to me, was somewhat sarcastic on his brother
Gus. Perhaps he was jealous too; at all events, he whispered to me
that he wished _he_ had had the opportunity of playing Mr. Simon
Lullaby; 'then you would have seen a piece of acting, Chris, my boy,
which you would not easily have forgotten.' It was late when the
performances were over. Jessie was of course called on again, and
received my second bouquet, and then the company prepared to depart.
But Josey West cried out from behind the curtain that they were all to
stop to supper, and in a short time these male and female Bohemians,
the merriest and best-hearted crew in the world, were regaling
themselves on bread-and-cheese and pickles and beer, amid such a din
of joviality that you could scarcely hear your own words. I went
behind to Jessie's room, and waited until she was dressed; Josey West
heard me walking restlessly about, and called to me when Jessie was
ready.

'And what do you think of us now?' she asked.

I did not stint my measure of admiration, and I told them what
I had heard one of the visitors say, that Jessie's acting was
peerless--peerless.

'And so it was,' said Josey West. 'Which one was it, my dear, who said
that--a tall thin man, with a sandy moustache?'

'No; but he was sitting near, and I saw him nodding his head, and
clapping, as though he was very pleased.'

'That's a good sign; he's a fine judge of acting. He'll want to be
introduced to you, Jessie; so will they all. I shouldn't wonder----'

'What?' I asked.

'Nothing, my dear, unless you can make something out of the
circumstance that that gentleman's name is Rackstraw, and that he
prepares young ladies for the stage. That was a good thought of yours,
my dear, bringing these bouquets. Such beautiful ones, too! I wish I
had such a prince!'

Jessie laughingly bade Josey West hold her tongue, and I saw with
delight that she had placed in her bosom a flower from one of the
bouquets.

'It was very kind of you, Chris,' said Jessie, giving me her hand,
which was burning with excitement.

'You must be tired, Jessie.'

'I could go all through it again,' she replied.

'That's the way with us excitable creatures,' observed Josey West
complacently; 'we're like thoroughbred race-horses, we can go on till
we drop. Now, Jessie, come along and be praised.'

The praises she received were sufficient to turn any one's head; she
was surrounded and kissed by all the women, and the men could not find
words sufficiently strong to express their gratification. Mr.
Rackstraw, the gentleman who prepared young ladies for the stage, was
very eulogistic and very inquisitive, asking personal questions with a
freedom which did not please me. But neither Josey West nor Jessie
shared my feeling in this respect--Josey especially taking great
interest in what he said.

'And you think she would succeed?' said Josey West.

'I am sure of it, Josey,' he answered.

He addressed all in the room by their Christian names, and was
evidently regarded as a man of importance.

'But there is a great deal to be learnt?' asked Jessie; 'is there
not?'

'Yes, assuredly, my dear.' (Another sign of familiarity which
displeased me. I did not mind it from the members of the West family;
there was a homely and honest ring of affection in the term as they
used it, but it sounded quite differently from Mr. Rackstraw's lips.)
'A great deal.'

'And it would cost money?'

'Well, yes,' he said promptly, 'it would cost money--but not much, not
much. Josey, I took the liberty of bringing a friend with me--Mr.
Glover.'

Mr. Glover, the best-dressed man in the room, tall and dark, and
between forty and fifty years of age, was the gentleman I had noticed
who, alone among the audience, did not appear to belong to the
dramatic profession. I had not paid any attention to him during the
evening, but upon this direct reference I turned towards him, and saw
at a glance, in my closer observance of him, that his station in life
was higher than ours. Being introduced to Jessie, he thanked her for a
most pleasant evening.

'I am not a frequenter of theatres,' he said, 'but if you were upon
the stage, I think I should be tempted to come very often to see you.'
He spoke well and slowly, and with the manner of a person who was
accustomed to reflect upon each word before it passed his lips. When
he and his friend were gone, Josey West informed us that Mr. Rackstraw
was a person of the greatest influence. Not only did he prepare young
ladies for the stage, she said, but he was in connection with a
theatrical agency, where important engagements were effected. Gus's
name was down upon the books of this agency, and having in this way
made Mr. Rackstraw's personal acquaintance, he had induced him to come
down and see Jessie act. Josey was in high spirits because everything
had gone off so well.

'It is a real, complete, and splendid success,' she said, 'and ought
to be repeated every evening until further notice. Hark--old Mac's
going to speak!'

The old actor had risen, glass in hand, and had expressed his wish to
address a few words to the company--an intimation which was received
with vociferous and lengthened applause.

'Brothers and sisters in the noblest of all noble professions,' he
said, 'this reception is not only cheering, but, coming upon me when I
am in the sere and yellow----'(Here there were cries of 'No, no, old
fellow; you've a good twenty years before you yet!')--'I use the
language of those base and envious detractors who say it is time the
old actor was laid on the shelf. Using their words, then, which Avon's
Swan never thought would be so misapplied, this reception coming upon
me when I am in the sere and yellow, is not only cheering but
affecting. It recalls the memory of times when the humble individual
before you never stepped upon the boards without one, and when old
Mac's place--his proper and legitimate place in the ranks, won by the
force of genius and hard study----'(Cries of 'Bravo, Mac! Go it!')--'I
mean to--when his legitimate place, won, as I have said, by the force
of hard study and genius, was not occupied by pretenders. But tempora
mutantur, nos et mutamur in illis----' (The applause here lasted for
full a minute) 'O yes, old Mac can show these pretenders the way to
go! Tempora mutantur, et cetera, my sons, and may you never find it
out in the same way as the humble individual who stands before you
has! But it was not to speak of myself that I rose--the old actor
never cares to thrust himself forward'--(general and good-humoured
laughter)--'knowing as he does that the subject is weary, stale, and
unprofitable. He knows that he is  but "a poor player, that struts and
frets his hour upon the stage, and then is heard no more!" But damme,
my sons, the poor player is happy to know that in his old age he has
honour, love, and, if not obedience, troops of friends.' ('So you
have, old boy! Go on!') 'I intend to. I drink to you. Give me the cup.
Nay, I have it'--(with a humorous look)--'not sparkling to the brim,
but 'twill serve. "Let the kettle to the trumpet speak. The trumpet to
the cannoneer without. The cannons to the heavens, the heavens to
earth." Old Mac drinks to those he loves!' (As the speaker drained his
glass, the youngster who played the cornopean performed a flourish
upon the instrument, and the other members of the company did their
best to produce an appropriate demonstration.) 'But to the point. We
have witnessed to-night a most remarkable performance by a young lady,
who I am informed has never appeared upon the boards--a young lady who
is destined to occupy a distinguished position--mark me, a
distinguished position--and may old Mac live to see it! She has youth,
she has grace, she has beauty, she has genius. In her presence I say
it, my sons. The old actor knows a pretender when he sees him, and he
knows genius when he sees it; he sees it here. In proposing the toast
of this young lady's health' (Mac placed his glass upon the table, and
waited until it was refilled), 'and in wishing her the success that
always should, but sometimes doesn't, wait on merit, old Mac knows
that he is performing a task which every one of you would like to have
performed in his place. But damme, my sons, while old Mac lives, the
old school of gallantry will never die out.'

How the toast was received, and with what enthusiasm it was drunk; how
they all surrounded Jessie and petted her and complimented her; how
she blushed and trembled at the praises which were showered upon her;
and how these honours seemed to remove her farther and farther from
me,--I have not the power to describe. It was two o'clock in the
morning before the company broke up, and Jessie and I walked home. My
heart was full almost to bursting, and I could not trust myself to
speak. Not a word passed between us, but with Jessie's arm closely
entwined in mine, and with her hand clasped in mine, I felt that
without her I would not wish to live. When we reached home, I knocked
softly at the street-door, but no answer came. I knocked more loudly,
but still there was no answer. Surprised that my mother was not
waiting up for us, I tried the handle of the door, and found that it
was unlocked. I closed the street-door, and we entered the
sitting-room, where a candle was burning. My mother was there, sitting
by the table, with her head on her arm. I approached her in some
alarm, and saw that she was asleep; her dreams must have been
distressing ones, for she was sobbing bitterly.



CHAPTER XXXI.
MY MOTHER EXPRESSES HER FEARS CONCERNING JESSIE.


One evening, as I was smartening myself up in my room, preparatory to
going to the Wests', my mother entered, and said, almost humbly,

'My dear, can you spare me a few minutes?'

'Certainly,'I replied. 'Jessie is at the Wests', isn't she?'

'Yes, my dear. I'll not keep you long. I want to speak to you about
her.'

'Go on, mother,' I said, in a tone of satisfaction, for that was the
subject I loved best to converse upon.

'How you have grown, my darling! You are the image of your father, who
was a fine handsome man. How proud I am of my son!'

I looked in the glass, without any feeling of vanity. I always took
pains with my appearance when I was about to present myself to Jessie,
but I had no high opinion of myself, and I was never quite satisfied
with the result.

'You do your best to spoil me, mother,' I said, submitting myself to
my mother, whose fond fingers were about my neck. 'Go on, about
Jessie.'

'You are in her confidence, my dear?'

The words were used in the form of a question; and I was immediately
conscious that they were the prelude to something of importance, for
there was trouble in my mother's face. I also was troubled; a new
sorrow had entered into my life, a sorrow with which of course Jessie
was connected. All that there was for me of joy and pain in the world
was associated with her.

I hesitated in my answer. Jessie had pledged me to secrecy with
reference to the peculiar nature of her intimacy with the Wests and to
her passion for acting, and I would not betray her, not even to my
mother. There were confidences between Jessie and me which even she
could not share. My mother and I had but few opportunities for
conversation during this time, for very little of my time was spent at
home. Wherever Jessie went I was bound to follow. It did not
matter--except in the sorrow that it caused me--that she gave me less
encouragement than formerly; it did not matter that certain
undefinable signs from her, which I had hitherto treasured in my heart
of hearts as proofs of her love, came rarely and more rarely; the
rarer they were the more precious they were. I found excuses for her:
in my own inferiority, which hourly and daily impressed itself more
painfully upon me; in my being poor; in her being so beautiful and so
far above me. I could not see, I dared not think, how it was to end;
but I followed her blindly, clung to her blindly.

My mother observed my hesitation, and divined the cause.

'Nay, my dear,' she said, in a sad and gentle tone, 'I do not ask you
to tell me anything you think you ought to keep to yourself. I have
not forfeited _your_ confidence, have I, my darling?'

Before I could reply, she placed her hand to her heart, and uttered an
exclamation of pain.

'Mother!' I cried.

'It is nothing, dear child,' she said; 'it is only a pain in my side
that has come once or twice lately. Put your arms round my neck, my
darling; it will pass away directly.'

She rested her head upon my shoulder and closed her eyes, holding me
tightly to her.

'I am better now, dear child,' she said presently, with a sweet smile.

Could I see nothing in her face but physical pain? No, nothing. The
old patient look was there, the old tender love was there. What more
_could_ I have seen, had I not been blind?

'You ought to get advice, mother. Promise me.'

'I will, my dear; but it is nothing. I am not growing younger, Chris.'

'You were speaking of Jessie, mother.'

'Yes, my dear. I was about to say that Jessie has no one to look after
her but me.'

'And me,' I added proudly.

'And you, my dear. I know what your feelings are towards her, but you
are away at your work all the day, and then the duty devolves upon me
alone.'

'Well, mother?'

'Jessie is a little different to me from what she was; I am beginning
to think--sorely against my will, dear child--that she mistrusts me. I
know that she is not happy, but I could comfort her if she would let
me. It might be better for all of us if she would confide in me.'

'I am sure it would be, mother.'

'She does not repulse me, Chris; she avoids me. When I have it in my
mind to speak to her seriously, she seems to know what I am about to
say--she is very bright and clever, my dear--and she obstinately
refuses to listen; runs away, or turns me from my purpose by some
means. I am very anxious about her.'

'Jessie can take care of herself,' I said, assuming an easiness I did
not feel; she is not happy at home, as we know; but we know, also, who
is to blame for that. I suppose she refuses to listen to you because
she feels that the subject you wish to speak to her upon is a painful
one. I should do the same in her place.'

'I don't blame her, my dear; don't think that I blame her. But I must
not forget my duty. She has no mother; do not I stand in that relation
to her?'

I kissed my mother for these words.

'Then, knowing that I wish her nothing but good, why does she avoid me
so steadily? O Chris, my child! greater unhappiness than all may come
from her distrust of me.'

A tremor ran through my frame. Not love alone, but pity, was expressed
in my mother's face and tone.

'I don't quite understand you, mother,' I said.

'Where does Jessie go to in the day, my dear?'

'Where does Jessie go to in the day!' I repeated. 'Does she go
anywhere?'

'Then you do not know, my dear; she hides it from you as well. For the
last fortnight she has gone out every morning at eleven 'o'clock, and
has not returned until four. I have put her dinner by for her every
day, but she will not eat it, and she refuses to say where she has
been.'

I considered for a few moments, and soon arrived at a satisfactory
conclusion.

'It is very simple. She goes to Miss West's, and she does not eat her
dinner because she knows she is not welcome to it. It is uncle Bryan's
dinner, and this is uncle Bryan's house. Jessie is very proud.'

My mother shook her head. 'She does not go to Miss West's. I have not
watched her, because I know that she would discover me, and that it
would turn her more against me. But three mornings ago I saw her get
into an omnibus which goes to the West-end. What friends can she have
there, Chris? And if she has friends, should we not know who they
are?'

'If she has friends!' I exclaimed, putting a brave face on the
disclosure, although I was inexpressibly hurt at the knowledge that
Jessie was keeping a secret from me. 'Do you suspect she has?'

'She must have, Chris.'

I looked at my mother; there was more in her tone than her words
implied.

'Go on, mother. You have something more to tell me.'

'It is best you should know, my darling,' said my mother in a tone of
inexpressible tenderness, encircling my waist with her arm; it is best
you should know, for you are in Jessie's confidence, and she will
listen to you when she would not heed me. Yesterday afternoon, as I
was walking home--I had been out on an errand for your uncle--a cab
passed me, with two persons in it. One was a gentleman, the other was
Jessie. Nay, my dear, don't shrink. There is no harm in that; the harm
is in keeping it from us, her dearest friends, and in making a secret
of it.'

I controlled my agitation, foolishly believing that I could deceive
this fondest of mothers.

'Did the cab come to our door?' I asked.

'No, my dear; it did not come down the street. It stopped a few yards
in front of me, and the gentleman assisted Jessie out----'

'Don't hide anything from me, mother; of course I shall speak to
Jessie about it. Tell me exactly what you saw and heard.'

'I heard nothing; I shrank away, so that Jessie should, not see me.
The gentleman said something to her, but she shook her head, and then
he bade her good-bye and drove away. That is all.'

It was enough to make me most unhappy, but still I strove to conceal
my feelings. I endeavoured to make light of the circumstance, and I
asked my mother in a careless tone whether she was sure it _was_ a
gentleman who accompanied Jessie. She said she was sure of it.

'What was he like?'

'Tall and dark, and very well dressed.'

'Young?' I asked.

'No,' she answered, and I could not help feeling relieved at the
information; nearer fifty than forty, I should say.'

I could not at the moment call to mind any person whom the description
fitted, and I promised my mother that I would speak to Jessie about
it.

'Ask her to confide in me, my dear,' my mother said.

'I will, mother.'

As I walked towards the Wests', my mind was filled with what my mother
had told me. I held the clue which would have led me to the truth, but
I juggled with myself, and rejected it because the result was
displeasing to me. I had never yet mustered sufficient courage to
speak to Jessie plainly concerning her passion for acting, and what it
was likely to lead to. Many and many a time had I thought of Josey
West's words, 'when Jessie becomes a famous actress,' and of old Mac's
remark that Jessie was destined to occupy a distinguished position on
the boards. These utterances, coupled with the conversation that took
place between Mr. Rackstraw and Jessie on the night of the
performance, were surely sufficient to convince me that Jessie's
visits to the West-end had something to do with her desire to become
an actress; but I would not be convinced, simply because I did not
wish to believe it. Say that Jessie did appear upon the public stage,
and became famous--as I was sure she would become--she would be
farther than ever from me. I caught at one little straw that lay in
the way of the result I dreaded. Mr. Rackstraw had said that there was
a great deal to be learnt, and that it would cost money. Well, Jessie
did not have any money. I magnified this straw into an insurmountable
obstacle which it was impossible for Jessie to get over, and so I
played the fool with my reason.

I found the Wests busy as usual. Jessie was there, learning some
dancing steps from one of the young misses; she blushed as I entered,
and the lesson was discontinued. I had intended to speak privately to
Josey West about Jessie, but within a few minutes of my arrival, Gus
West came in, and I had not the tact to make the opportunity. Josey
informing Gus that Jessie had been taking a dancing lesson, he
proposed that they should go through a minuet; and he and Jessie and
two of the girls performed the old-fashioned dance most gracefully,
Josey West humming the minuet de la cour, while I sat in the corner,
the only serious person in the room. When the minuet was finished,
Josey West called me to her, and addressing me quietly as Mr. Glum,
said she was afraid I was of a sulky disposition. I said I did not
think I was sulky, but that I was very unhappy.

'About her?' questioned Josey, with a sharp look in the direction of
Jessie; but before I could answer, Jessie came towards us, and said
she was ready to go home.

'I did not wish to go,' she said to me, on our way, 'but I saw that
you had something to say to me.'

I answered, yes; that I did wish to speak to her.

'And about something unpleasant, I can see,' she said; 'make it as
short as you can, Chris.'

She was toying with a flower which Gus West had worn in his coat when
he came in. I did not see him give it to her, but that she had it, and
seemed to value it, was like a dagger in my heart.

'Jessie,' I said disconsolately, 'you know how I love you!'

'If any person on the stage,' she answered lightly, 'spoke of love in
that tone, the whole house would laugh at him.'

'That is the only thing that runs in your thoughts now,' I said
gloomily.

'What?' she exclaimed. 'Love? I meant the stage. You think of nothing
but acting.'

'Well--perhaps! What else have I to think of that brings any happiness
to me?'

'I thought you loved me, Jessie.'

'So I do, Chris,' she said in careless fashion, still toying with the
flower.

'And others, too,' I added.

'Well, yes--if you please. There are always more than two persons in
the world.'

'Jessie!' I implored. 'It hurts me to hear you speak in that careless
way. I cannot believe that it is in your nature to think and speak so
lightly of what is most precious.'

'Why cannot you believe so?' she asked, somewhat more seriously. 'Am I
the only one who lightly regards a precious gift--am I the only one
who does not know the value of love?'

'I at least know the value of it, Jessie. Ah, you would believe me if
you knew what I would do for you.'

'I think you love me, Chris.'

'With all my heart, Jessie; with all my soul!'

She trembled a little at the passion of my words.

'Tell me,' she said, averting her head, 'what would you do for me?'

I answered that there was no sacrifice that I would not willingly,
cheerfully make for her sake; that I thought of none but her, that I
loved none but her; that if all the world were on one side, and she
alone on the other, I would fly to her, and deem myself blessed to
live only for her. This, and much more that has been said a myriad
times before, and will be said a myriad times again, I said
passionately and fervently. She listened in silence, and then, after a
pause, told me she believed I had spoken the true feelings of my
heart, and that she was sure I had meant every word I had uttered. And
then she pinned Gus West's flower to the bosom of her dress, and asked
me if it did not look well there. Miserably, I answered Yes, and felt
as though all the brightness were dying out of the world.

'But you have something else to say to me,' Jessie presently remarked;
'what you have already said is very pleasant to me. Now for the
unpleasant thing.'

The conversation with my mother, which in the heat of my declaration
had slipped out of my mind, now recurred to me, and I told Jessie that
my mother was very anxious about her.

'In what way?' she asked.

'Where do you go to every day, Jessie? Mother tells me that you go out
regularly at eleven o'clock every morning, and that you do not return
until four in the afternoon, and that you don't spend that time at the
Wests'.'

'Has she been watching me?'

'No, Jessie.'

'Have you?'

'No,' I replied, very hurt at the question; 'you don't think I would
play the spy upon you!'

'Oh, I don't know,' she said, with a toss of her head; 'persons do
strange things when they are in love.'

'You seem to know a great deal, Jessie.'

She appeared to be both pleased and discontented at this remark.

'When girls get together, Chris, they _will_ talk; and Josey West and
I don't sit in the corner, mumchance, with our mouths shut, as you sat
to-night. Have you anything else to tell me?'

'Yes,' I said, 'and I wouldn't speak of it if I hadn't promised mother
that I would do so. Yesterday she saw you riding in a cab with a
gentleman.'

'That is quite true,' said Jessie simply, before I could proceed
farther; 'but why didn't she speak to me about it?'

'Rather say, Jessie, why did you not speak to her. But mother is
afraid that you mistrust her; she says that you avoid her when she has
it in her mind to speak seriously to you.'

'She told you that?'

'Yes, Jessie.'

'She is not wrong, Chris,' said Jessie, with a sigh; 'but we all seem
to be playing at cross purposes, and not one of us seems to understand
the other.'

'I think I understand you, Jessie.'

'Do you, Chris?' she asked, in a tenderer tone.

'If others mistrust you, I don't. I know that everything you do is
right.' She shook her head gently. 'No, you shall not make me think
otherwise, Jessie. You and I will stand together, come what will.'

'Against all the rest of the world,' she said, quoting my words.

'Yes, against all the rest of the world, Jessie,' I replied eagerly.

'It will never be, Chris; I would not accept such a service from you
if the whole happiness of my life depended upon it. Ah me! Often and
often I think what an unhappy day that was for all of us when I came
among you.'

'You said so on the Sunday morning that you asked uncle Bryan to come
to church with us; but you repented immediately afterwards, if you
remember, and said you were not sorry, for if it had happened so, you
would not have known mother.'

'I have learnt something from her, Chris--something good, I hope.'

'You could learn nothing from her that was not sweet and good,' I
said.

These last words were spoken on the threshold of our home.



CHAPTER XXXII.
JESSIE MAKES AN EXPLANATION.


Jessie walked straight into the parlour, where both uncle Bryan and my
mother were sitting.

'You are anxious to know,' she said, addressing my mother, 'where I go
to of a morning.'

'Yes, my dear,' answered my mother.

I saw that uncle Bryan was listening, and I saw also by the expression
in his face that the matter was new to him; my mother had not
complained to him of Jessie.

'Chris has been speaking to me about it,' said Jessie, 'and I thought
it best to tell you myself. I go to Mr. Rackstraw's.'

'Who is he, my dear?' asked my mother.

'He is a gentleman who teaches young ladies--I beg your pardon'--(with
the slightest possible glance at uncle Bryan)--'young women how to
act; he educates them for the stage.'

'But surely, my dear,' remonstrated my mother, 'you have no intention
of becoming an actress.'

'Why not? I am not wise, I know, and I am very wilful, and passionate,
and unreasonable.' She resolutely moved a step from my mother, who was
approaching her tenderly. 'But I have sense enough to think of my
future, and I do not see what I could do better. I have been acting
for a long time at Miss West's; we have often had little private
performances there--Chris has seen them.' There was grief, but no
reproach, in my mother's eyes as she looked at me. 'When I first
commenced to act, I did it purely out of fun, and I had no serious
intention of taking to the stage; but when I grew so unhappy here as
to know that I was bringing discord among those who loved each other,
and to whom I was in a certain sense a stranger, and when day after
day the feeling grew stronger that I was not welcome in this house, I
thought of what was before me in the future. It must be very sweet, I
think, to be dependent upon those who love you; it is very bitter, I
know, to be dependent upon those who hate you.'

'Stop!' cried uncle Bryan, in an agitated tone. 'I say nothing as to
whether you are right or wrong in your construction of the feelings
entertained towards you here. You are a woman in your ideas, although
almost a child in years, and you have evidently settled with yourself
that you will not be led----'

'Who is to lead me?' said Jessie, pale and trembling. 'I have asked to
be led, and _you_ know the result. Not quite out of hard-heartedness,
but with some shadow of good feeling--though perhaps you will not give
me credit for being capable of anything of the sort--I have asked to
be shown what is right and what is wrong; and if I, somewhat wilfully,
preferred to be shown by example and not by words, was I so very much
to blame, after all?'

'You are clever enough,' he said, 'to twist things into the shape you
like best----'

'No,' she exclaimed, interrupting him again; 'be just. You know what I
refer to, and you know I have spoken exactly the truth. Do not say I
have misrepresented it.'

'I beg your pardon,' he said, in a manly tone, and with a frankness
which compelled admiration. I was wrong. You have stated exactly the
truth, and in a truthful way. But if you really wished to be taught,
what better teacher could you have than the one before you?'--with a
motion of his hand towards my mother--'if you had doubts, where could
you find a better counsellor?'

'You are master,' said Jessie, firmly and gently; 'you gave me shelter
and protection. Chris reminded me of that a little while ago when we
were speaking of you, and I was angry with him for it--unreasonably
angry. It is not to be wondered at that I should look to you for
counsel.'

'If there were two roads before you,' he said, 'one, dark and bleak
and bare'--he touched his breast'--the other, fair and bright and
sweetened by most unselfish tenderness'--he laid his hand upon the
hand of my mother--'which would you choose?'

'I cannot answer you; you are wiser than I am, but I do not think you
can see my heart.'

'I see,' he said, with a glance at my mother's white face, 'things
which you do not seem to comprehend.'

'The time may come,' she retorted, 'when you will be more just towards
me, and I must wait until then.'

'Well, well,' he said, with a sigh; 'you say it is bitter to be
dependent upon those who hate you. Leave me out of the question. My
sister loves you; Chris loves you. Can you not be content with this,
and let me go my way?'

'No; for I have been dependent upon you, not upon them.'

'Have I ever said a word which led you to believe I begrudged you
shelter here?'

'Never; but we do not judge always by words.'

She seemed to have caught uncle Bryan's talent for short crisp
sentences, in which there was much truth.

'Go on with your explanation,' he said.

She turned to my mother.

'You saw me yesterday in a cab with a gentleman. His name is Mr.
Glover, and he is a friend of Mr. Rackstraw. He offered to see me
home, and wanted to come to the door with me, but I thought uncle
Bryan would not approve of it.'

'I should not have approved of it,' said uncle Bryan, 'and I do not
approve of any person seeing you home in a clandestine way.'

'And, my dear child,' added my mother, 'he is a stranger to us, and
must be almost a stranger to you.'

'He is a gentleman,' said Jessie.

'A gentleman!' repeated uncle Bryan scornfully.

'That is nothing against him. I like gentlemen. Mr. Rackstraw tells me
that Mr. Glover can help me to get an engagement on the stage, and I
must consider that. He treats me with the greatest respect.'

'Who pays this Mr. Rackstraw,' asked uncle Bryan, 'for the lessons he
gives you? His business is not entirely philanthropic, I presume, and
he does not teach young ladies for nothing.'

'Of course I have no money to pay him; I am to pay him by and by, out
of any money I may earn.'

'You are determined, then, to become an actress?'

'I am determined to get my own living, and I believe I shall do well
on the stage. I cannot continue to live in a state of dependence. If I
had a mother or a father, or if I were happy here, it would be
different.'

'I suppose you can be made happy,' said uncle Bryan, 'by being
indulged in all your whims and caprices, and by being allowed to act
and think exactly as you please, without restraint.'

'No,' replied Jessie tearfully, 'I only want kindness; I cannot live
without it.'

She turned to leave the room, with signs of agitation on her face,
when uncle Bryan desired her to stay.

'There is something more,' he said. 'In the event of this
gentleman--Mr. Glover--seeing you home again, he must not do so
clandestinely. I owe a duty to you which I must perform, however
distasteful it may be to you.'

'It is not distasteful to me,' she replied. 'Mr. Glover would have
seen me to the door yesterday but for my refusal to allow him. I am
truly anxious to do what is right.'

My uneasiness with respect to this discovery would have been
unbearable but for a change in my circumstances which placed the day
more at my own disposal. I had advanced steadily in my trade, and was
by this time a thoroughly good engraver. I think I brought into my
work more than mere mechanical exactness, and some blocks of my
engraving which went out of Mr. Eden's office attracted meritorious
attention. I knew of men who were earning good wages--far higher than
I was receiving--by taking work from master engravers, and executing
it at home. Why could I not do the same? I should not then be so tied
down as not to have an hour or two in the middle of the day to myself;
and in the event of my availing myself of the opportunity, I could
easily make up for lost time by working an hour or two later in the
night. I mentioned this to Jessie, and said that then I could come to
Mr. Rackstraw's, and bring her home of an afternoon--instead of Mr.
Glover, I added.

'I would sooner,' said Jessie, 'that you saw me home than Mr. Glover.
I believe you are jealous of him, you foolish boy! You have no
occasion to be.'

Such a crumb of comfort as this would console me for days.

'And then I shall be my own master,' I said to myself proudly.

My employer anticipated my wish; he was a generous conscientious man,
and I had earned his respect. He called me into his office, and,
almost in the exact words I have set down, proposed that I should do
as I wished.

'You will not only be able to earn more money,' he said, but in a few
years you may be able yourself to set up as a master, and take
apprentices of your own. I shall be able to give you plenty of work,
and you will find that your time will be as fully occupied as you can
desire it to be. Let me give you one piece of advice: never promise
what you cannot perform; if you say you will deliver a block at a
certain time, keep your word, if you have to sit up all night to
finish your work. Let it get to be known that you are a man whose word
can be depended upon, and you are sure to be prosperous.'

I thanked him, and commenced almost immediately on the new system,
with my hands full of work. So behold me now, with my bedroom, in
which there was a good light, fitted up with table and bench, working
steadily at home, to my mother's great delight.



CHAPTER XXXIII.
MR. GLOVER.


I soon made the acquaintance of Mr. Glover. In pursuance of my plans,
I presented myself at Mr. Rackstraw's office every day at a certain
hour, for the purpose of seeing Jessie home. I had of course
previously consulted Jessie, and she had acquiesced in the
arrangement. It was a serious encroachment upon my working hours, but
I made up for it in the night, and between sunrise and sunrise I
always performed a fair day's work. On the very first occasion of my
presenting myself at Mr. Rackstraw's office, I found Mr. Glover there.
Having sent in my name to Jessie, I waited in an outer room, the walls
of which were lavishly decorated with paintings and photographs of
actors and actresses, in the proportion of about one of the former to
twenty of the latter. As I was studying these, Jessie made her
appearance, followed by Mr. Glover; she was waving him off lightly,
and saying as she entered,

'No, thank you; I will not trouble you to-day. Chris has come to see
me home.'

'Oh,' he answered, without casting a glance in my direction. 'Chris
has come to see you home! Is Chris your brother?'

'No,' she said, 'I haven't a brother or a sister in the world.'

He condescended to look at me after this, and held out his hand to me
with smiling cordiality. I took it awkwardly, for I felt myself but a
common person by his side.

'Chris and I must become better acquainted,' he said. 'I remember now;
I saw this young gentleman at Miss West's on the night of your
performance there. He threw you two bouquets.' Jessie nodded. 'And
very handsome bouquets they were,' he continued; 'he eclipsed us all
by his gallantry; but I had no idea I was to have the pleasure that
night of making your acquaintance, Jessie, or I might have entered the
field against him. Any friend of yours _must_ be a friend of mine.'

Then he bade us both good-day, without any attempt to press his
attentions upon Jessie. Jessie asked me what I thought of him, and I
could not help answering that he seemed to be a gentleman, but made
some demur to his addressing her by her Christian name.

'Oh, that is the fashion in the profession,' said Jessie carelessly;
there is nothing in that.'

'He is not an actor, is he, Jessie?'

'No; he is something in the City.'

This vague definition of many a man's occupation, common as it is, was
new to me, and I inquired what the 'something' was. Jessie could not
enlighten me. I continued my inquiries by asking her how she knew that
he was something in the City. He himself had told her, Mr. Rackstraw
had told her, and young ladies whose acquaintance she had made at Mr.
Rackstraw's had also told her.

'He is at Mr. Rackstraw's every day, Jessie?' I said.

'Nearly every day, Chris,' she answered, and closed the subject of
conversation by saying that, at all events, Mr. Glover was a perfect
gentleman.

I did not find him to be otherwise; he was uniformly courteous to me,
and I could not make open complaint against him because his courtesy
was of a kind which a superior yields to an inferior. He was a
gentleman, and I was a common workman; I chafed at it inwardly,
nevertheless. I would have avoided him if I could, but he would not
allow me to do so. The second time I walked into Mr. Rackstraw's
office I met him at the door, and he fastened on to me. I had come for
Jessie? Yes. Was I coming every day for Jessie? Yes. I had plenty of
spare time then? Yes. I was fond of Jessie, he supposed? I answered as
briefly as was consistent with bare civility, but I made no reply to
his last question. He was neither surprised nor exacting. As I did not
answer the question, he answered it himself. It was natural that I
should be fond other; we had been brought up together as brother and
sister, he had been given to understand; yes, it was natural that I
should be fond of her in that way--natural, indeed, that we should be
fond of each other in that way. He had been given to understand, also,
that we were not in any way related to one another; but he could see
that in an instant, without being told. Jessie was a lady, evidently;
I might tell her he said that, if I pleased, for he was never ashamed
of what he said or did; Jessie was a lady in her manners, in her
speech, in her ideas; and these things do not come to one by instinct,
or even by education; they must be born in one.

This and much more he said; conveying by implication (what indeed I
knew already) that Jessie was far above me, and (what I could not
doubt) that he was a gentleman, and I was not. He had a trick of
playing with his moustaches, which he continually curled into his
mouth with his fingers as he spoke; and even at that early period of
our acquaintanceship, I, in my instinctive dislike of him, thought
there was something stealthy in the action. Standing before me, with
his fingers to his mouth, Mr. Glover there and then commenced to
expatiate upon a theme of which I heard a great deal afterwards from
his lips: this theme was his good name, of which he was evidently very
proud. There was not a stain upon it, nor upon that of any of his
connections; he had never harboured a thought to tarnish his
character, which was above reproach. He did not express these
sentiments in the words I have used, but these were the pith of them,
and there was a distinct assertion in his utterances that he was much
better than his fellow-creatures. I, listening to him, understood
exactly what he meant to convey to my comprehension: that even if we
twain had been equal in station, his high character and stainless name
would have placed him far above me.

In a week from this time Jessie told me that Mr. Glover had made
closer inquiries about me, and hearing that I was a wood engraver, had
expressed his intention of interesting himself in my career. I was not
pleased at this; I did not wish to be placed under an obligation to
Mr. Glover, and I muttered something to this effect to Jessie. She
seemed surprised, but made no comment upon it. Mr. Glover, however,
was as good as his word. I received a letter from a master engraver,
desiring me to call upon him, with reference to some work he wished to
give me. The hour fixed for the appointment was the hour at which I
was due at Mr. Rackstraw's. I had no choice but to comply; and I made
arrangements that afternoon, not only to engrave some blocks of a
superior description, but to submit sketches of my own, upon wood, for
a Christmas story which was to be published that year. The interview
was a long one, and when I arrived home, I was not pleased to find Mr.
Glover chatting to my mother in our sitting-room. He had seen Jessie
home, and, in compliance with uncle Bryan's desire, had brought her to
the door. An introduction to uncle Bryan and my mother naturally
followed, and thus he was introduced to the house. He asked me
pleasantly whether I had made satisfactory arrangements, and confessed
that he had been the means of introducing this better kind of work to
me. He received my mother's thanks graciously, and it made me mad to
see that she thought it was a stroke of great good fortune to have won
such a patron. What could I do but thank him also for the
introduction? That I did so in an ungracious and even in a sullen
manner did not seem to strike him; Jessie noticed it, however.

'You don't seem pleased, Chris,' she said, following me out of the
room.

'I don't know what my feelings are,' I replied; from any other hands
than his, the work that I have received to-day would have delighted me
beyond measure. But I had better not speak; it will be best for me to
hold my tongue.'

'Why?'

'Because I seem never to dare to say what I think; and I don't like to
play the hypocrite.'

'You don't say what you think,' Jessie said, 'because you are
conscious that your thoughts are unjust.'

'Perhaps it is so; but I can't make myself believe that they are.'

'You haven't a good opinion of Mr. Glover.'

'I am not grateful for his patronage; I don't mind saying that.'

It would have been more truthful in me to have said that the
instinctive aversion with which he had at first inspired me was fast
changing to a feeling of hatred. I hated him for his smooth manner,
and hated him the more for it because it was impossible to find fault
with it; I hated him for his civility to me, and hated him the more
because he refused to notice that my manner towards him, if not the
words I used, plainly showed that I did not desire his friendship or
patronage. But I could have multiplied my reasons, which might have
all been summed up in one cause of dislike--his attentions to Jessie.

'Don't come to the Wests' for me to-night, Chris,' Jessie said, after
a little quiet pondering.

'Why not, Jessie?' I asked, with a sinking heart.

'Because I don't want to be made more unhappy than I am already.
Besides, you must devote your attention more to your work, and less to
me. I am not the most important thing in the world to you.'

'You are,' I said gloomily; 'how often have I told you so! You don't
believe what I have said, then!' I turned from her in sorrowful
passion.

'Chris, Chris,' she said, 'I am not, I must not be, your only
consideration. You have other duties before you, and you must not
forget them or neglect them, as you have hitherto done.'

I thought she referred to my work, and I answered that I did not
neglect it, and that I could perform great things if she were kinder
to me.

'Am I not kind to you?' she exclaimed. 'Is it my fault that you are so
wrapt up in your own feelings that you are regardless of the feelings
of others? If you are blind, I am not. If you are selfish, I am not.
If you forget your duty, I shall not forget mine.'

These were the unkindest words she had ever spoken to me, and they
were a terrible torture to me.

'Do I show myself to be blind and selfish,' I said, 'and do I forget
my duty in loving you as you know I love you, and in wishing to be
where you are?' She did not reply. 'But perhaps,' I added bitterly,
'you have another reason for not wishing me to come to the Wests'
to-night.'

'What other reason?' she asked quietly.

'Perhaps Mr. Glover is to be there;' and the next moment I would have
made any sacrifice to have recalled what I had said. But it was too
late. How often do we plunge daggers into our hearts by inconsiderate
words, rashly spoken, as these were!

Jessie looked at me swiftly, with a fire in her eyes which I had never
seen there before, and with hot blood in her face; but in another
moment she was as white as death.

'Jessie!' I cried repentantly, seizing her hand.

She tore it from me indignantly.

'I will ask him to come!' she said, and left me, ready to kill myself
for my cruel injustice.

That night I watched outside the house of the Wests', and made false
the words I had spoken to Jessie but a short time since, when I asked
her if she thought I would play the spy upon her. I was careful that
she should not see me, for, if she did, I felt that I should never
have been forgiven. If I proved my words false, Jessie proved hers
true. Mr. Glover was at the Wests', and walked home with her. I waited
until she was in the house, and then I followed Mr. Glover at a
distance. I had no distinct intention in my mind; I simply felt that I
_must_ follow him; he seemed to draw me after him. I have no doubt
that, if a clear meaning could have been evolved from my whirling
thoughts, and had been shown to me, I should have been shocked at it.
He walked for a couple of miles, and then hailed a cab; after that I
wandered about miserably, without thinking where I was walking,
without thinking of the time. It was only when I found myself on a
bridge six miles from Paradise-row, and heard the hour strike, that I
awoke to consciousness as it were and walked slowly home. The faithful
mother was sitting up for me.

'My darling child,' she said, with a sob of grief at the misery she
saw in my face, 'where have you been? What has kept you out so late?'

I put her from me in silence, and went into my room, and locked the
door. As I did so, I thought I heard the door of my mother's bedroom
above open and close. But I dismissed the fancy, and went to bed with
a heavy heart.



CHAPTER XXXIV.
TURK WEST'S APPEARANCE AT THE WEST-END THEATRE, AND ITS RESULTS.


Early in the morning I watched for an opportunity to endeavour to make
peace with Jessie. My mother had been in great anxiety about me during
the night, and had come down to my bedroom three or four times,
whispering my name at the door; but I pretended to be asleep, and as
the door was locked, she could not enter the room. I passed a
sleepless night, and tossed about in bed, longing for daylight. When
it came, I rose and commenced to work, and even in the midst of my
great unhappiness I found comfort in it, for I loved it. At seven
o'clock I heard my mother calling to me, and I opened my door.

'At work so soon, my dear!' she said, in a tone of exquisite
tenderness.

I answered that I had a great deal of work in hand, and that it would
not do for me to be idle. She sat by my side, and was saying meekly
that her boy must not work too hard, but must take proper rest, when
she broke down. Looking at her, I saw an expression of such yearning
devotion in her pale face, such sweet and wistful love, that, softened
for a moment, I laid my head on her shoulder, and sobbed quietly. Her
tears flowed with mine.

'Ill could help you, dear child!' she murmured.

You cannot--you cannot,' I murmured in reply. Mother, Jessie must not
go out this morning without my seeing her. I _must_ speak to her
alone.'

Soon after breakfast, when uncle Bryan was in the shop, I heard her
tell Jessie to wait in the parlour for a minute or two, and then I
knew that Jessie was alone. I immediately opened my door, which led
into the parlour, and stepped to Jessie's side. She did not look at
me.

'I have come to ask you to forgive me,' I said.

'What have I to forgive?' she asked.

'You know,' I answered. 'What I said yesterday about Mr. Glover. I did
not mean it, Jessie; I spoke in passion. It was cruel of me. Say that
you forgive me, Jessie.'

'It was unjust as well as cruel,' she said; but I am not the only
person you are cruel to. Do you know what time your mother came to bed
this morning?'

'It was very late,' I said remorsefully.

'Have you any idea what she suffered while she waited up for you,
Chris? Because you and I have quarrelled, is that a reason why you
should be cruel to her?'

'I have been doubly wrong,' I said, 'but I have made my peace with
her.'

'Yes, that is easy with such a nature as hers; mine is harder.'

'Still you forgive me; say that you forgive me, Jessie.'

'Yes, I forgive you,' she said coldly; 'not because you were unkind to
me, for I deserve that, perhaps, but because you were unjust to me.'

I could extract nothing more than this from her, and I was fain to be
satisfied. But I saw clearly enough that she was less cordial towards
me than heretofore. The spirit that animated and sweetened our
intercourse in the dear old days seemed to have fled, never to return.
But I had something in my mind which, when carried out, might, I
thought, be the means of reëstablishing myself in Jessie's favour. Her
birthday was approaching; in a fortnight she would be eighteen years
of age. From the day on which Jessie had given me, as a birthday
present, the silver locket, with the words engraven on it, 'To Chris,
with Jessie's love,' I had had many anxious consultations with myself
as to what kind of gift I should give her on her birthday, and I had
resolved that a gold Geneva watch and chain would be appropriate and
acceptable. I had seen the very thing I wanted in a jeweller's shop,
and the price asked for the pretty ornament--seven pounds--was not
beyond my means, for I had been saving money for some time, and was
now earning more than two pounds a week. On the very day on which
Jessie and I made up our quarrel, I went to the jeweller's and
purchased the birthday gift, and gave instructions that on the inside
of the case should be engraven, From Chris to Jessie, on her
eighteenth birthday. With undying love.' In my state of mind nothing
less fervent would satisfy me. Being attracted by a plain ivory
brooch, in the form of a true lover's knot, I purchased that also, and
felt, as I did so, that that would complete our reconciliation. As I
sat at my work after the transaction of this business, I thought of
what had passed between me and Jessie when she gave me the silver
locket, and I reproached myself very strongly for having uttered a
word to give her pain. Was not the inscription, 'To Chris, with
Jessie's love,' sufficient? I decided that it was, and I resolutely
refused to harbour the words of Mr. Glover which came to my mind, to
the effect that Jessie and I had been brought up as brother and
sister, and that it was natural we should be fond of each other in
that way. How, thought I, could I ever have been so mad as to
entertain a doubt of Jessie? She was better than I, cleverer than I,
and she saw faults in me which she wished to correct, and she was also
naturally hurt at my suspicions of her. Well, I would never again
suspect her; from this moment I would have the fullest faith in her
goodness, her purity, her love. It was in this mood that I presented
myself at Mr. Rackstraw's office, somewhat doubtful of the manner in
which Jessie would receive me, but resolved to show her in every
possible way how truly I loved her and what faith I had in her. Mr.
Glover was there of course, and we all three walked together from the
office. That I abased myself before him is true, and it is quite as
true, notwithstanding the resolution I had formed, that I despised
myself for so doing. Jessie looked at me thoughtfully, and seemed to
be considering within herself whether she approved of my new mood. For
this reason Mr. Glover found her a somewhat inattentive listener to
his confidential utterances, the intervals between which he improved
by talking to and at me on his pet theme--his character and good name.
Before we had walked a mile, Jessie proposed that she and I should
take an ..omnibus home, as she was tired, and Mr. Glover left us. On
our way she told me that Mr. Rackstraw had offered her an engagement
on the stage. Did she intend to accept it? I asked; and she said that
she had deferred her answer until after her birthday.

'I wish with all my heart,' I said, that you were not going on the
stage; not that there is any harm in it, Jessie, nor that there could
be harm in anything you do, but because it seems as if it will take
you away from us.'

'Do you think,' was the reply, 'that a woman has not an ambition as
well as a man? If I have a talent--and I really think I have,
Chris--why should I not turn it to good account? Besides, I have my
plans. I owe money, Chris.'

To Mr. Rackstraw for your lessons. Well, I can pay that, Jessie. All
that I have is yours, and you don't know how rich I am growing.'

'You are too good to me, Chris,' she said, giving me her hand, which I
took and held close in mine beneath her mantle; in that moment all my
trouble vanished, and a feeling of ineffable delight brought peace to
my heart once more. Will nothing cure you?'

'Nothing will ever cure me of loving you,' I said, in a glad whisper.
'You would not wish that.'

She turned the subject.

'I owe other money as well. I owe a great deal to uncle Bryan; he is
poor, and I should like to pay him. But we'll not talk of this any
more just now, Chris; wait till my birthday comes.'

'You will have a secret to tell me then, Jessie.'

'Yes; I have thought a great deal lately of the letter I am to read
for the first time on that day.'

'And you have never had the curiosity to open it, Jessie?'

'Oh yes, I have; but I have never opened it. I can be steadfast and
faithful, Chris, as well as other people. Let us call in together and
see Josey West.'

'Ah,' said that little woman, with a shrewd glance at us as we
entered, so you two lovers have been making it up?'

'Don't be foolish, Josey,' exclaimed Jessie.

'How do you know we ever quarrelled?' I asked, in high spirits.

'How do I know that it will be night to-night, you meant to ask.

Because I'm crooked, you think I can't see things perhaps. Have you
seen Turk?'

'No,' I answered.

'He has gone to your house to tell you something. I dare say he is
waiting there for you. Here is a rose for you.'

I took and dropped it.

'Ah,' said the queer little creature, 'because a rose is pretty and
fresh, and smells sweet, you think it can't prick you! There, get
along with you, Mr. Wiseacre, and mind how you handle your roses for
the future.'

Turk had great news to communicate. His chance had come. By a
fortunate combination of circumstances, an opening had occurred in a
West-end theatre, and he was to make his first appearance there on the
ensuing Saturday night in the new play that had been written for him.

'It's a fluke, Chris, my boy, a fluke,' he said, walking up and down
the room excitedly; 'a sensation piece that the lessee thought would
be a great draw is a most complete failure, as it deserves to be. He
must either fill his house with paper or play to empty benches, so he
withdraws his sensation piece, and gives me a show. We came out
without much of a flourish; but we shall astonish them, Chris, my boy.
The simple announcement of a new play and a new actor at that theatre
is sufficient to draw all the critics, and we shall have a great house
and a great triumph. You shall come, Chris, my boy; you shall come to
witness the effect I shall produce. You shall go into the pit; here is
an order for you. I don't ask you to take a big stick with you--I
scorn to solicit undeserved applause; but at the same time every
friend is a friend, and what's the use of a friend if he isn't
friendly, eh, Chris, my boy?--a word to the wise; you understand;
there's no need of anything more betwixt _us_. The piece will be
wretchedly put upon the stage; there will be no scenery to speak of;
the stock actors who play the other parts will be--well, no better
than they should be, Chris, my boy, and, in addition, they will not be
disposed to regard with favour a man who is an actor, Chris, my boy,
and who comes to break down vicious monopolies and vicious systems.
But what matter these small drawbacks to Turk West? They daunt not
him! Resolved to conquer, he goes in and wins. Turk's sun will rise on
Saturday night, Chris, my boy, and ever after it will blaze--that's the
word, sir, Chris, my boy--blaze refulgent, and all the lesser suns
shall pale before it.'

'But if you should fail,' I suggested.

He glared at me in incredulous astonishment.

'There's no such word in Turk's vocabulary, Chris, my boy. The man who
goes in with an idea that he will fail generally does fail, and
deserves to fail. Is there any want of pluck in Turk West? Is there
any want of stamina in him? No, no. It's no game of chance that he
plays. On Saturday night next he throws double sixes. And after that
he'll be able to serve his friends.'

Did his family know of it? I asked.

'Yes, they know of it,' he replied, and those who can come will be
there--in different parts of the theatre, Chris, my boy, strangers to
each other. And old Mac will be there, with an oak stick; it's an off
night with him. Here are a couple more orders which you may like to
give to _friends_,' with most significant emphasis on the last word.

I fully understood his meaning, and I gave the orders to persons who
promised to applaud Turk on every available opportunity, and who, I
have good reason for believing, basely betrayed their trust; but there
are not more ungrateful persons in the world than those who go to a
theatre without paying. The receipt of an order has a baleful effect
upon them; it deadens their sense of enjoyment, and makes them
miserably hypercritical. On the following Saturday I made my way to
the West-end theatre in a state of great expectation and excitement.
Meeting with a man in the streets who sold walking-sticks, I purchased
the stoutest in his collection, and, thus armed, seated myself in the
front of the pit, half an hour before the curtain rose. The theatre
was quite filled before the performances commenced, and a fashionable
company was assembled in the stalls and private boxes. I recognised
several members of Turk West's family in different parts of the house,
who stared at me stolidly, and made no response to my familiar nods.
Debating with myself upon the reason of this, I came to the conclusion
that they had resolved not to know any person on that night lest they
might be set down as partisans of Turk, and thus tarnish the
genuineness of his triumph. The conclusion was strengthened by the
circumstance which I noted, that they seemed to be perfectly oblivious
of each other's existence; but there was certainly a family likeness
in the sticks they carried. Studying the playbill, I found that a
piece of some importance would be played first, and that Turk would
not make his appearance until past nine o' clock. I paid but little
attention to the drama in which Turk was not; my stick was as
indifferent as myself; and the other sticks witnessed this part of the
performance in mute inglorious ease; nevertheless there was a good
deal of applause when the curtain fell. About this time there
straggled into the stalls and private boxes certain persons whom a
communicative stranger who sat next to me, and who appeared to be a
wonderful authority on all matters connected with the drama, pointed
out as notabilities.

The critics were the most interesting persons in my eyes, and I stared
at them with interest, and with some feeling of disappointment because
they were so like ordinary mortals. I asked my neighbour what he
thought of Mr. Turk West as an actor--when I mentioned the name of my
friend, I consulted my playbill with the air of one to whom he was a
stranger--and I learnt to my mortification that he had never heard of
him. He did not seem to be very sanguine of the success of the new
play or the new actor, and I was mean enough to agree with him. The
title of the play was _Twice Wedded, or Torn Asunder_; and in due time
the curtain rose for its introduction to the audience. I cannot
undertake to describe it, for the reasons that a good deal of it was
not heard, that the actors and actresses were imperfect in their
parts, and that the story was so involved and mysterious as to baffle
description. The heroine, it appeared, had been twice married--once,
many years ago to Turk, who had been torn from his wife, for no
assignable reason, on the wedding-day, and who was supposed to have
died in battle (what battle, and why he went to battle, were not
explained); and afterwards to a person whose identity I was not
successful in discovering. Turk played two characters, an Irish
servant and the first husband, who instead of dying in battle, as he
should have done, had been confined in a madhouse, from which he had
just made his escape. After a comic scene as the Irish servant, which
was mildly tolerated by the audience, Turk came on in a high-peaked
hat, a long cloak, and hessian boots, and hearing that his wife had
married again, behaved in so mad a manner as to fully justify his long
incarceration. Being a very short man, Turk's appearance in this
costume was even in my eyes most ludicrous; no effort of imagination
could have made a hero of him, and as (for the sake of contrast, I
suppose, with his other character) he spoke in the most lugubrious
tone, the audience went through various transitions of feeling. First,
they were, as I have said, mildly tolerant; then they became
impatient, then indignant, and then, there was something so really
comic in the little man's despair, they hooted and laughed at him.
Directly the feeling of derision came into play, even I knew that both
Turk and his new and original drama were, in dramatic parlance,
'damned.' An unfortunate word which Turk used was taken up as a
catchword by the audience, and they flung it at him with merciless
enjoyment. They literally screamed with laughter when he was most
serious, and even the critics threw themselves back in their seats and
showed by their merriment (for critics are rarely merry) that they
were tasting a new sensation. In vain the sticks rapped approval; in
vain did Turk's friends endeavour to stem the current. The knowing man
who sat next to me declared, as he wiped his eyes, that he would not
have missed this first night for anything. It's the richest thing I've
ever seen,' he said; and, like a coward as I was, I flung away Turk's
colours, and basely murmured that it was the richest thing _I_ had
ever seen. I was very sorry for poor Turk, and more so because he was
so brave all through. He did not exhibit the slightest sign of
discomposure at this miscarriage of his ambition, but faithfully spoke
every word of his part, until the curtain finally fell amidst peals of
laughter; and then the stage-manager came forward and stated that the
new drama would _not_ be played again.

When I was out of the theatre, I was almost inclined to run away, for
I felt that the verdict was a just one, and I was afraid that Turk
might wish me to declare otherwise; but I liked him too well to desert
him. I waited for him near the stage-door, and so did a few other of
his friends, who seemed to regard their big sticks, as I did mine,
with gloomy disgust. Turk soon made his appearance, and, to my
surprise, with a cheerful countenance. Not a word was said about his
failure. We adjourned to a neighbouring tap, and talked of anything
but the drama. Old Mac was there, enjoying his toddy, but he did not
at first join in the conversation. Turk, also, was silent. Suddenly
old Mac burst out:

'Hang it, my sons, let's speak! Turk, you acted bravely. I was never
prouder of my profession than I was to-night when I saw you go
manfully and artistically through your part in defiance of the
senseless howlings of the envious crew. If I could have broken all
their heads with one blow of my stick--did you hear it going, Turk? I
stuck to you, my son; I stuck to you like a man--I'd have done it!
Dammee, I'd have done it, to see where the brains were. I'd have made
a quarry with thousands of these quartered slaves as high as I could
pick my lance! Thank you; I will. Another glass of whisky-toddy,
miss--as before. As before!' Here old Mac drew the back of his left
hand across his eyes, and holding out his right sympathisingly, said:
'Turk, my boy, drown dull care! A small piece of lemon, if you please,
miss. Here's confusion to the rabble!'

'Now what's the use of beating about the bush?' demanded Turk, a
little huskily. 'I'm not such an ass as not to see that I've made a
failure. Is Turk West going to bury his head in the sand, like an
ostrich, and refuse to see it? Not he! Well, I'm not the first, and
sha'n't be the last. Pass me the pewter, Chris. It served me right. I
ought to have taken more time; I ought to have gone on by degrees; I
ought to have stuck to my last. I've had my lesson, and I mean to
profit by it. Mac, old boy, you and I will never meet again at
Philippi. I've had my dream, and it's over.'

'The cloud-capped towers, the gorgeous palaces!' murmured old Mac.

'It was all the fault of the piece,' said one. 'What audience could be
expected to stand such a hash?'

'It wasn't all the fault of the piece,' retorted Turk manfully. 'We
were both to blame. It isn't a first-rate piece. I can see that now;
but there's merit in it, merit, my boy, although the subject is an
unfortunate one. I've brought desolation upon more than one breast
to-night.' He beat his own, and the action would have been ludicrous,
but for the genuine tone in which he spoke. 'The author had set his
all upon the hazard of the die, and I saw him rush from the side-wings,
with the salt tears running down his face. What did I say I'd
throw to-night, Chris, my boy? Double sixes? Well, I threw for both,
and threw double blank. A nice bungler I am I! My mind's made up.
Othello's occupation's gone! Turk West acts no more.'

'Nonsense, old fellow, nonsense!' his friends remonstrated. 'You'll
think better of it.'

'I've said it,' cried Turk, with stern resolve. 'I act no more.'

'In that case,' said old Mac, in a tone of gloomy desperation, 'I'll
take another glass of whisky-toddy. Little does the English stage know
what it has lost this night!'



CHAPTER XXXV.
JESSIE'S BIRTHDAY.


The morning of Jessie's birthday rose bright and clear. How well I
remember it, and every trivial feature connected with it, which,
apparently but little noted at the time, impressed itself indelibly
upon my mind! Often afterwards, in thinking of that day--and how many,
many times have my thoughts dwelt upon it I--a rift of light has
pierced the black cloud which overshadowed it, and I have seen myself,
as I stepped into the street soon after sunrise, stooping to pick up a
pin which lay on the pavement. I have awoke in the night, sobbing in
bitterest grief, and this smallest and most uneventful of incidents
has been the clearest thing I have seen in connection with that day.
Other incidents as trivial are clear to me--a costermonger wheeling
his barrow, loaded with fruit; a policeman standing by a lamp-post
chewing a piece of straw; a woman who brushed past me humming a line
of a song. I see the exact arrangement of the fruit in the
costermonger's barrow; the face of the policeman is as familiar to me
as if he had been an intimate friend; I hear the few words the woman
hummed, with the precise and delicate intonations she gave to them.
And yet, had these incidents occurred at the North Pole, they could
not have been more utterly disconnected from the great and sorrowful
event which made the day memorable to me.

My mother had not been well during the past week, and for a day or two
had been compelled to keep her room. On one of these days I had gone
to Mr. Rackstraw's office for Jessie, and had learned that she had
left an hour before my arrival. Hastening home, I found her by my
mother's bedside, nursing my mother. Hearing my step on the stairs,
Jessie had come to the bedroom door, and had whispered to me
indignantly:

'If I had been in your place I think I should have stopped at home
with my mother, knowing what a comfort my presence was to her, instead
of running after a foolish wilful girl.'

Before I had time for reply, my mother had called out, in her thin
sweet voice:

'Jessie, what are you saying to Chris?'

Then Jessie had left us together, and my mother, drawing my head on
her pillow, told me how kind and gentle Jessie had been to her, and
made my pulses thrill with delight by her praises of the girl whom I
loved with all my soul. Something noticeable had occurred within an
hour after that. Going into the parlour downstairs, I noticed that
Jessie had a pair of new gold earrings in her ears. Now I was sure
that she had not worn them when she met me at the door of my mother's
bedroom. They were of a pretty and graceful pattern, and became her. I
had not given them to her; who had? I looked towards uncle
Bryan----but, no; he was not the giver, for his eyes were fixed upon
them suspiciously and disapprovingly. It hurt me to see them in her
ears, but I would not ask her about them, preferring the pain which
lay in ignorance. Besides, I would show Jessie what confidence I had
in her, by waiting until she chose to tell me of her own accord who
was the giver. But Jessie said not a word on the subject.

On Jessie's birthday my mother was better, although not quite well. We
had arranged between us that there should be a little feast at home in
the evening, in honour of Jessie, and that Jessie should not be told
of it beforehand. I contemplated another surprise for Jessie, and I
consulted my mother concerning it.

'Nothing would please Jessie so much as having one of her friends at
our little party.'

My mother looked doubtfully at me. Since we had lived in uncle Bryan's
house, no stranger had ever sat down at our table.

'I don't think uncle Bryan can possibly object,' I said. 'It is only
Josey West, Jessie's best friend, and one of the kindest-hearted
creatures in the world. Before you knew her five minutes you would
love her, and I believe she would even take uncle Bryan's fancy,
strange as he is.'

'Will you ask him, or shall I, my dear?'

'You had better,' I answered; 'you have more patience with him than I.
If he refused me, I should quarrel with him perhaps. Tell him she's
deformed, and as good as gold.'

A few hours afterwards my mother said,

'Your uncle says we can do as we please. He consents, my dear.'

'Ungraciously, of course,' I added; 'but never mind, so long as Josey
is here. Not a word to Jessie, mother.'

I enjoined secrecy also on Josey West, who was really glad of the
opportunity of making my mother's personal acquaintance.

'I shall throw my arms round her neck,' said Josey, and kiss her the
moment I see her. And as for you,' she added, with a fair disregard of
sequence in her speech, 'you are a wise young man. Now what made you
think of me at all?'

'Because I knew it would please Jessie,' I answered honestly, 'and
because I want to make Jessie's birthday the happiest day in her life
and mine.'

She pinched my cheek merrily, as though she understood my meaning.

I had fully resolved that on that day I would ask Jessie to be my
wife. Tortured almost beyond endurance by the doubts and difficulties
which surrounded me, I had in some way gathered courage to look my
position steadily in the face, and the moment I did so, the way seemed
clear before me. I became strengthened immediately, and the fair
promise which hope held forth appeared realised in anticipation. I set
aside all obstacles for future consideration, and mentally leaped out
of the entanglement of feeling which had brought so much discomfort
into our lives. 'It is for me to speak,' I thought, 'and to speak
plainly and manfully.' I painted the future in the fairest colours. My
prospects of success were growing brighter and brighter; my sketches
for the Christmas story which had been intrusted to me to illustrate
were approved of by the author and the publisher, and I felt I only
wanted opportunity to rise far above the sphere of life which, in the
natural course of things, I could have expected to occupy. 'Jessie's
love for the stage,' I thought, 'and her wish to become an actress,
only arise from her thoughtfulness of her future, and from her state
of dependence on uncle Bryan. Well, I can clear away all doubt; I can
offer her a good home; and I can release her from uncle Bryan, and, if
she wishes, can pay him what she thinks she owes him.' I resolutely
closed the eyes of my mind on my mother's declaration, that wherever
our home was, uncle Bryan must share it. I knew too well that it would
be impossible for Jessie and me to be happy together, with him as a
member of our household. All these things could be considered and
settled by and by, when Jessie had promised to be my wife. I
reproached myself that I had not spoken plainly to her before now; I
had, as it were, driven her by my faint-heartedness to do what she
might not have done, if she had had a protector whom she loved and who
loved her. All this and other reasoning of the same nature I carried
out exactly in the way which best suited my hopes, and at length I lay
in my cloud-built castles at peace with myself; for it was not to be
doubted that my dearest wishes would now be surely realised. I had an
instinctive consciousness that Josey West was thoroughly acquainted
with the position of affairs between Jessie and me, and knowing her to
be my friend, I was convinced that she would have warned me if she had
had any doubt of Jessie's affection for me.

So that it was all clear sailing. What would come, would come, but the
bliss which I should presently taste of, knowing Jessie to be mine and
mine only--the bliss which I was enjoying already in anticipation--was
all sufficient. Outside our own two personalities there was nothing
else to be considered. Nothing else? No one else? No; for this one
greatest of all joys secured, all difficulties which once seemed to
threaten to mar its fulfilment _must_ melt away, as surely as snow
melts before the sun. I pleased myself with this commonplace metaphor,
and utterly overlooked the common sense of things (common sense,
indeed, in this case being the very slave of sentiment)--utterly
overlooked the possibility that the current of others' feelings, of
others' likes and dislikes, of others' ideas of right and wrong, could
run in a different direction from that down which I was sailing with
my hopes realised. It is thus, I suppose, sometimes with other selfish
natures than mine.

I was up and out early in the morning. I could not sleep the night
before, and wishing to give Jessie a bouquet of fresh flowers, I had
determined to walk to Covent-garden to buy them. I had a bouquet made
of the sweetest and loveliest flowers, and I took it to our house by
the back way, and hid it in my workroom. How many times I looked at
it, and how in every delicate leaf I found a sentiment which formed a
connecting link between me and Jessie, it is unnecessary here to
describe. In the afternoon I had to go to the jeweller's for the watch
for Jessie, the inscription on which could not be completed before;
and when I held it in my hand and read the words, 'From Chris to
Jessie, on her eighteenth birthday. With undying love,' I saw Jessie's
beautiful eyes looking into mine, and I uttered an exclamation of
delight which must have satisfied the jeweller that his work was
approved of. Then there was the ivory brooch shaped in the form of a
true lover's knot. Perhaps Jessie would allow me to fasten it in the
bosom of her dress, as she had allowed me to take the ribbon from her
neck, which was now round mine, with the locket she had given me on my
birthday. No one but I had yet seen or knew of these offerings of
love. It was to be a day of delightful surprises.

I was at home with my flowers before breakfast.

'What made you go out so early this morning, Chris?' Jessie inquired
over breakfast.

'That's a secret,' I answered gaily; 'you shall know to-night.'

My mother had already questioned me in private, and I had easily
satisfied her. Something unusual occurred when we had finished
breakfast. Jessie went to uncle Bryan's side, and spoke to him.

'Do you know it's my birthday to-day, uncle Bryan?'

'I have heard so.' Then after a short pause: 'May it be a day of good
remembrance to you!'

Nothing more; not a kiss, not even a hand-shake. And yet she invited
it in the tenderest manner, as she stood before him, bright and
beautiful, in a new light print dress, with a small lilac flower. I
never see a dress with such a pattern without an odd sensation at my
heart. She did not move from the spot until he, after some mental
communing, I think, turned from her and went into the shop. I
experienced a feeling very much like hatred towards him for his
hardness and insensibility.

My mother took Jessie's hand.

'May your life be bright and happy, dear child!'

She hid her face in my mother's bosom for a little while in silence;
then she raised her face, and they kissed each other. Ah, the world
was bright with such a flower in it!

'And you, Chris?' she said presently, holding out her hand to me.

'I shall wish you nothing until to-night,' I said, with an effort of
great self-restraint, 'except in my heart.'

She nodded, and smiled, and then busied herself about the room,
insisting that my mother should sit and rest while she did the work of
the house. But my mother, laughing, said that she could not allow it,
as Jessie would find out all her secrets; then ensued fond coaxing and
teasing, which ended, as I was afraid it would do, in my mother
whispering to Jessie that we were going to have a little feast that
night in her honour, and that Josey West was coming to spend the
evening with us.

'A nice one you are to keep a secret,' I called merrily after them as
they went out of the room with their arms around each other's waist,
like mother and daughter; 'it's a good job I didn't tell you
everything.'

What with my work and other duties, I saw but little of Jessie during
the day; and in the evening I dressed myself in my best, and went for
a walk, with the intention of not coming home until past eight
o'clock, when Josey West would be at our house, and when everything
would be prepared to celebrate Jessie's birthday in a befitting
manner. I carried out my programme faithfully, and entered the parlour
with a beating heart and flushed face. The room was very bright. My
mother had on her best cap and dress, and in the rapid glance I cast
at uncle Bryan, who was behind the counter, as I walked through the
shop, I fancied I detected some change for the better in his
appearance; I fancied also that he expected to see some one with me.
Josey West was in the parlour, and the dear little soul was holding my
mother's hand in hers with tender feeling. They were already the best
of friends. My mother stood on tiptoe to look over my shoulder.

'Whom for, mother?' I asked.

'I was looking for Jessie, my dear. Has she not been out walking with
you?'

'No, mother.'

'Ah,' exclaimed Josey West briskly, 'she'll be in presently. I dare
say she is going to surprise us with something.'

Unable to keep my secret any longer, I said that I had something to
surprise Jessie with when she came in; and I brought the flowers from
my workroom, and placed them on the table. Then I showed them the
brooch and the watch; before I knew it, Josey had opened the case, and
read the inscription, and pointed it out to my mother.

'And is it so, really?' Josey asked tantalisingly.

'Why, you knew it was so,' I answered, very hot and red.

And my mother left Josey, and came and pressed me fondly in her arms.

But where was Jessie? She was nowhere in the house.

'Perhaps she's at mine,' suggested Josey; 'run round, and bring her. I
dare say she's waiting for you there.' This with the wickedest of
laughs.

But Jessie was not at Josey West's house, nor was she at home when I
returned. Our perplexity soon turned to alarm. We looked at each
other, to see whether any one of us held the key of Jessie's absence;
my suspicions lighted on Josey West, but a frank look assured me that
I had no right to suspect her. For an hour I walked about the street
watching for Jessie.

'Can anything have happened to her?' my mother asked.

Uncle Bryan was in the room when my mother spoke. He also, in his own
way, shared our alarm.

'Mother,' I said, inspired by a sudden thought, if Jessie comes while
I am away, do not let her go out again. I shall not be long.'

My thought was to go to Mr. Rackstraw's office to make inquiries,
although I knew full well that the office was closed hours ago. But I
could not remain still. As I turned to go from the room, a boy's voice
in the shop arrested my steps. He was inquiring for Mr. Bryan Carey
and my mother. Uncle Bryan, answering the lad, came in with a letter,
addressed to my mother. I saw that the writing was Jessie's, and I
took the letter from his hand.

'I _must_ open it, mother,' I said. The letter contained these words:


'I have gone away, and shall not return. Forgive me for all the
trouble I have brought among you, but I think I have not been entirely
to blame. Do not be sorry that I have gone; I have caused you too much
pain already. It will be useless, if you find where I am, endeavouring
to prevail upon me to return. I would starve rather than enter the
house again.

'JESSIE.'



CHAPTER XXXVI.
I SPEAK PLAINLY TO UNCLE BRYAN.


The paper which I held in my hand became blurred in my sight, and for a
few moments the only thing that was clear to me was that Jessie was
lost to me, and that all possible happiness had gone out of my life.

There was no mistaking the meaning of Jessie's letter to my mother. It
was intended to snap at once and for ever the bonds which united us.
She had set herself free from her miserable thraldom, and she was not
to be wooed back. 'It will be useless, if you find where I am,
endeavouring to prevail upon me to return. I would starve rather than
enter the house again.' I heard her speak these words in sharp
incisive tones, and I knew too well that she was not to be turned from
her purpose. All was over between us, and this day, which I had fondly
imagined was to be the happiest in our lives, had sealed the
destruction of all my hopes.

Two trivial circumstances recalled me to the realities of the scene.
One was the ticking of the watch which I had intended as a birthday
present for Jessie; the other was a slight rustling of paper. I had
observed, when uncle Bryan entered the room with the letter for my
mother, that he held another paper in his hand, which must have been
addressed to himself. It was the rustling of this paper which now
attracted my attention. Uncle Bryan had opened it, and was reading it.
He could have read but a very few lines when a ghastly pallor
overspread his features, and his hands trembled from excess of
agitation. Every muscle in his face was quivering, and even in the
midst of my own suffering these signs of suffering in him did not
escape me. They did not move me to pity; they stirred me rather to a
more bitter resentment against him. He, and he alone, was the cause of
all my misery; he, and he alone, had brought this blight upon my life.

I did not know, until I attempted to move towards him, that my
mother's arms were round me. I had no distinct intention of raising my
hand against him, but it might have occurred, and my mother feared it
and clung to me convulsively. I released myself from her arms, and I
stood before him, barring the way, for I detected in him a desire to
leave the room unobserved. He gazed at me in a weak uncertain manner;
all his old strength and sternness of character seemed to have
deserted him, and he was suddenly transformed into a weak and worn old
man. That his sorrow-stricken face should have won sympathy from my
mother and Josey West--as I saw clearly it had--I construed into an
additional wrong against myself, committed not by them, but by him. It
inflamed me the more; I felt that my passion must have vent, and that
it was impossible for me to be silent.

'Let me pass.'

I did not hear the words, for his throat was parched, and refused to
give them utterance; but I knew that he had striven to speak them.

'Not till you have heard what I have to say,' was my reply, as I stood
before him.

My mother crept to my side, but I was not to be turned from my
purpose. I could hear and feel the rapid beating of her heart against
my hand, which she had taken in hers and pressed to her bosom, but the
selfish intensity of my own grief made me deaf and blind to everything
else. Uncle Bryan did not answer me; he strove feebly to pass me
again, but I prevented him from doing so. Something in my attitude
caused Josey West to place herself between us.

'I hope you are satisfied,' I said. 'You have driven her from us. What
is the next thing you intend to do?'

I paused for his reply, but he did not speak.

'I intended to ask Jessie to-night to be my wife. I don't know what
her answer would have been, but I think I know what it might have been
but for your systematic cruelty. Will it add to your satisfaction to
know that I had set all my hopes of happiness upon her, and that you
have driven these from my heart, as you have driven her from your
door? I loved her with all my soul. I was not worthy of her; she is
far above me and every one here; but I loved her most truly and
sincerely, and you have stepped between us and parted us for ever.
Does it please you to be assured of this?----Nay, mother, I will
speak. I have been silent until now, out of my love for you, and
because I knew that you had given even him a place in your tender
heart. He has requited you nobly for it. If I had spoken openly before
now, things might have been different, but I held my tongue, like a
coward, and because I had some latent notion that he deserved respect
from me. I think so no longer. On my last birthday,' I continued,
addressing him, 'you gave me certain advice which I believed to be
good; among other things you said that it is seldom a man can look
back upon his life with satisfaction. You drew that from your own
experience. With what kind of satisfaction do you look back upon your
own life? A man with any tenderness for others in his nature would
shrink with horror from the contemplation of such a life as yours. But
perhaps you find it a pleasant task to blight the hopes and happiness
of those who have the misfortune to come in contact with you. Having
no children of your own upon whom you could practise in this way, you
turned your attention to others, and you have succeeded most
thoroughly. You said to me, when I was of age, that I was a man, with
a man's responsibility, and a man's work to do, and you bade me do it
faithfully. I have tried to do it--my mother knows that, and so does
Miss West, I think--in the hope that it would lead to a good result.
But when you addressed those words to me, did you think of yourself,
and the example of your own life? They sounded well, but did you think
of your own responsibility--or did you think that _you_, apart from
all other men in the world, had no responsibility which it behoved you
to look to? You brought Jessie here, a friendless, helpless girl--a
girl whom nobody but you could help loving for the goodness that is in
her. She brought sunshine into this house, which was gloomy enough
without her. She had no mother, no father, no friends, and you were
her only protector. How have you fulfilled your duty towards her?
Shall I answer for you? You have behaved like a tyrant, in whom all
human feeling was deadened. When she strove to love you, you compelled
her, by harsh words and cold looks and repellent acts, to hate you.
She has good cause for her feelings towards you now, for you did your
best to make every hour and every day of her life a misery to her. She
told me herself that she was only happy out of the house; so that you
did your work well. If you saw faults in her which no one else saw,
and which had their birth in your own hard unfeeling nature, what
right had you to torture her in the way you did? She was but a child,
and you are an old man. Why could you not have dealt tenderly and
gently by her? Ask my mother--ask Miss West--ask any of her
friends--if there is anything in her character that might not be
turned to good account? But you could not see it. Lightheartedness and
an innocent flow of spirits are crimes in your eyes. You made her pay
bitterly for the shelter you gave her; you have shown the generosity
of your nature in its fullest light by making her say, after a long
experience of you, that she would starve rather than enter your house
again. When you told us the story of your life, you said you wished me
to hear it because I might learn something from it. I have learnt
something--but not the lesson you wished me to learn. I have learnt
that such a life as yours, such a nature as yours, brings desolation
upon every life and nature within its influence, and that it would be
a happier fate for me to drop down dead this minute than live as you
have lived, a torture to all around you.'

'Chris, Chris!' implored my mother, with streaming eyes, and with a
gesture of entreaty towards uncle Bryan, who sat before me now, with
his head bowed upon his hands. Remember, my dear child, remember!'

'Remember what, mother?' I cried pitilessly. 'That he has robbed me of
all that can make life dear to me--of all that _is_ dear to me? You
should ask me rather to forget when you point to him, whom I would
teach a different lesson if he were not an old man, with one foot in
the grave. Shall I remember that he has no belief in goodness here or
hereafter--that he believes neither in God nor man? Will such
remembrances as these plead in his favour? One thing I will and do
remember--that I owe him money for the food he has given me and you.
But I will pay him to the last farthing, so that nothing may remain
between us but what I owe him for having brought misery into my life.
That is a debt that can never be wiped out. And Jessie will pay him
also; she told me she would. But for that resolve she would not, for a
long time past, have eaten a meal at his expense. Are these the things
you wish me to remember?'

I knew that I was striking him hard with every word I uttered, but I
would not spare him. I ransacked my mind to hurt him.

'And you, mother,' I said pitilessly, do you think you are just to me
in pleading for him, and in disguising the opinion you have of him?
When, knowing that all my hopes were set on Jessie, and that it was
impossible for her and him to live happily in the same house, I
proposed to make a home elsewhere where we could live in happiness
without him, did you show your love for me by saying that we must
never leave him, and that, wherever our home was, he must share it?
When he told us his story, for the purpose, as I now see, of setting
us more and more against Jessie, and I asked you afterwards if you
would like me to look on things as he does, what was your answer? "God
forbid!" you said; "it would take all the sweetness out of your
life."' (Uncle Bryan removed his hand from his eyes at this, and
raised them for one moment to my mother's white face; there was no
reproach in them, but a look of humble grateful affection.) 'In what
was Jessie wrong that she should have been driven from us? In wishing
him to go to church with us? Ask your own heart, mother, for an answer
to that, and remember what occurred on the first Sunday night we were
in this house. If I had known then what I know now, I would have
starved rather than have accepted the shelter of his roof. Remember
how, for days and weeks together, Jessie has been submissive and
tender to him, striving by every means in her power to win his
affection; and remember how her efforts were received and rewarded.
But for him Jessie might have been my wife; you loved her, and she
loved you. How often have you told me that you saw nothing in her but
what was good! I think at one time she would have consented to share
my lot, but that dream is over now. There was an influence strong
enough to turn love into hate, and to poison all our lives. I will
remember that to my dying day, which I hope may not be far off. I have
nothing worth living for. But one thing I am resolved upon--that while
I live, those who love me shall choose between me and him.'

Josey West caught my arm suddenly and sharply.

'Are you mad?' she cried. 'Learn the lesson you want to teach others.
Look at your mother.'

She let go my arm, and stepped swiftly to my mother's side, in time to
save her from falling to the ground. Uncle Bryan made a movement
towards her, but I stood before him, and he shrank back. My mother's
strength had given way, and she had fainted. I supported her in my
arms, while Josey West loosened her dress and bathed her face. She
opened her eyes presently, and, recognising me, pressed me
convulsively to her breast.

'O my child, my child,' she sobbed, 'my heart is almost broken!'

I looked round for uncle Bryan; he was gone.

'What I did,' moaned my mother, 'I did for the best. I prayed and
hoped that time would set all things right. I see now that it was
impossible, and that I was a weak foolish woman. But I loved you, my
darling, and I would shed my heart's blood for you. What sin have I
committed that I should be punished by the loss of my dear child's
love?'

'No, no, mother,' I cried remorsefully, 'you must not say that. You
have not lost it. God forbid that it should ever be so!'

I think she did not hear me, for she slid from my arms and knelt
before me, imploring me with sobs and broken words to forgive her.
Many minutes passed before I succeeded in calming her, and then Josey
West and I assisted her upstairs to her room, to the room which Jessie
had made bright by her innocent devices.

'Jessie will never sleep here again,' I thought, with a choking
sensation in my throat. This was _her_ room, Josey,' I said aloud.

Josey nodded gravely, and whispered to me that my mother must go to
bed, and that she ought to see a doctor. 'I hope she will not have a
fever,' said Josey.

My mother's eyes were wandering around her in a strange way; once or
twice she looked at me as if she did not know me. The simple sound of
my voice, however, recalled her to herself.

'Yes, dear child,' she said, with a smile so sad and sweet as to bring
the tears into my eyes.

'Mother,' I whispered, 'you know what has occurred?'

She considered for a moment or two; I assisted her memory.

'Jessie,' I said.

'I know now,' she replied, with a look of distress. 'Jessie has gone.'

'Will you be strong for my sake, mother?'

'I will do anything you tell me, my darling child,' she said humbly.

'First I will go and send a doctor to you. Then I want to try and find
Jessie.'

'Dear child, do you know where she is?'

'No; and I have no hope of inducing her to return. I know she will
never come back, but I cannot rest without doing something. I shall go
mad if I stop in the house all night and make no effort to discover
her.'

'Go, then, dear child,' she said; and added imploringly, You will come
back, my darling, will you not? You will not desert me after all these
years?'

'How can you think it, mother? I will come back, but it may be late.'

'I will keep awake for you, my darling. Say nothing more to your
uncle. Promise me that, dear child.'

'I will not speak another word to him.'

I turned to Josey West; she divined what I was about to say.

'I'll stop with your mother, if you _must_ go. Run round to my house
first, and say I sha'n't be home to-night. And look here. If Turk's
there, you'd best take him with you. I suppose you are going to Mr.
Rackstraw's?

'That was my intention,' I said.

'Of course you know the office will be closed; but I daresay it will
relieve your feelings to thump at the door.' She spoke fretfully; but
her tone changed when she said, 'Don't think only of yourself. Have
some thought for your mother.'

'One word, Josey. _You_ have no idea where Jessie is?'

'Not the slightest,' she replied. 'And you didn't know she was going
away?'

'I had no more idea of it than you had.'

'That night,' I said hesitatingly, 'when Mr. Glover was at your
house----'

'Oh,' she interrupted in a sharp tone, Mr. Glover! Well, what night?'

'A little while ago, when Jessie was there, and I was not. Did he pay
her great attention?'

'Of course he did.'

'Did he seem fond of her?'

'It wouldn't have been natural otherwise,' she replied, with a
suspicious look at me. 'Of course he seemed fond of her. Anything
more?'

'No,' I said, with a sigh; 'that's all.'

I kissed my mother, and left the room. Her loving eyes followed me to
the door.



CHAPTER XXXVII.
TURK MAKES A CONFESSION.


I found Turk at his sister's house. He jumped up at once on my
proposing that he should take a walk with me.

'I am glad of the opportunity, Chris, my boy,' he said; 'for I want to
talk to you.'

I answered, in as lively a tone as I could command, that I was at his
service.

'Like a true friend as you are. The subject I want to talk about is
spelt with four letters--s-e-l-f. Such a subject needs no overture; up
with the curtain, then. I start with a self-evident proposition. A man
must live. What do you say to that?'

I had nothing to say in contradiction.

'Very well, then. To live, one must have money; to have money (barring
the silver spoon), one must work for it. Granted?'

'Granted,' I assented listlessly. He looked at me in surprise at my
despondent tone.

'Ah,' he said, 'there's more in that than meets the eye.'

'More in what, Turk? In your proposition?'

'No, Chris, my boy. In your face. You are in trouble.'

'I am, Turk; in the deepest, most terrible trouble. I am utterly,
utterly wretched. I have nothing in the world worth living for.'

'It's bad when it comes to that,' he said, with an expression of deep
concern. 'Money?'

'No, Turk.'

'Heart?'

My silence was a sufficient answer.

Is the trouble of such a nature that it may be confided to a
friend--to a friend with a kindred soul, Chris, my boy?'

'I will tell you about it presently, Turk. Go on with your own story
first.'

'In one act, then. Without detail. Since that ever-to-be-remembered
night when a strong verdict was pronounced against me on the other
side of Temple Bar--in which direction, by the bye, I see we are
walking now--and when I determined to relinquish the profession in
which I glory--I do, Chris, I glory in it; and you can hardly have an
idea of the sacrifice I have made in giving it up--I have been looking
about me. Not having been born with that silver spoon in my mouth, I
can't afford to be idle. Well, to be brief, something that will suit
me has come in my way, and I have snatched at the chance. The affair
will be settled to-morrow. Near the theatre in which I made my first
and last appearance in the new and original drama which was played for
the first and last time is a theatrical wig and hair shop, with a
shaving connection attached. To-morrow that shop and that connection
will be mine. That's the head and front of my story. But there's
something more. I have a friend of yours to thank for it all.'

'A friend of mine!'

'Two, I may say--one fair, one dark. I do perceive here a divided
duty. But we'll speak of that anon.'

'No; tell me now. What friends do you mean? I haven't many.'

'You have one who stands for a host. If she were such a friend to me,
I wouldn't call the king my uncle.'

'She!'

'I see you must hear it. Briefly, then, this was the way of it. The
business was for sale, Chris, my boy. Money had to be paid for it--not
much, but too much for a poor actor whose purse has always resembled a
sieve. I had saved a little, but not more than half what was required
for the purchase of the goodwill. I mention this in the presence of
these friends of yours----'

I interrupted him.

'Don't let us have any mystery, Turk. Who are they?'

'Jessie the peerless and Mr. Glover.'

I started. Turk continued:

'I mention this in their presence, and lament my impecuniosity. Jessie
sympathises with me--wishes that she had money, so that she might help
me. She has a heart of gold, Chris, my boy, a heart of gold. Two or
three days afterwards, Mr. Glover sends for me--says he has been
considering the matter, and that he is disposed to assist me. He goes
further than being disposed to do it--he does it. In short, he
provides half the purchase-money, and there we are. It is a matter of
business, Chris, my boy. I asked him to make a matter of business of
it, and he said he intended to do so; and he has. Mr. Glover is a
moneylender, and he lends me the money at ten per cent. But there's
one thing I'm certain of. He wouldn't have done it but for Jessie.'

I reflected with some bitterness on this information.

'Are you certain of that, Turk?'

'Morally certain, that is all. For when I thanked Jessie, she modestly
averred that all that she did was to express a wish that she had a
friend who would assist me. And now, Chris, my boy, unbosom yourself.
What's your trouble?'

'Jessie has left our house, Turk.'

He gave me a look of deep concern. 'What do you mean by that, Chris,
my son?'

'She has left us, never to return--left us suddenly, without
explanation.'

And then I narrated to him, in detail, all that had occurred, omitting
only what had passed between me and uncle Bryan. Still when I
mentioned his name, which was necessary several times in the course of
my narration, I spoke of him with sufficient bitterness to make Turk
aware of the terms upon which we stood to each other.

Turk, growing more and more serious as I proceeded, listened to me
without interruption, and pondered deeply. By the time I had finished
he had become very serious indeed, and there was an air of gloom upon
him which somewhat soothed me.

'There is more in _this_ than meets the eye,' he said; and added,
somewhat unnecessarily as I thought, 'Bear with me a little while,
Chris, my boy,' for I felt that such a request more properly belonged
to me than to him. But he explained his meaning presently.

'You have given me your confidence, Chris, my boy, and you want me to
stand by you.'

'I do, Turk.'

'And I _will_ stand by you, as you have stood by me--I don't forget
the big stick you bought, Chris, to assist me on a certain eventful
night'--(here I was stung reproachfully by the remembrance of my
cowardly behaviour on that night); 'nor other occasions at the Royal
Columbia when you led the applause like a true friend. I'll stand by
you, my boy, but you must first hear my confession.'

I did not wish to hear his confession; I wished to continue talking
only of myself and Jessie, but I was bound to listen.

'As before, Chris, in a very few words. I knew that you loved Jessie,
but I scarcely thought that your passion was as strong as it is--as
powerful, as deep----'

'No words can express its strength and depth, Turk,' I said, in a tone
of gloomy satisfaction.

He nodded, as if he fully understood me, and continued: Well, others
may love as well as you, Chris.' I looked at him in jealous curiosity.
'I shouldn't be true to you nor to myself if I didn't confess it
before we proceed to the consideration of the state of affairs. _I_
love her, also.'

I started, and let go his arm.

'Don't do that, Chris, my boy,' said the honest fellow; 'it's nobody's
fault but my own. I know that I can't stand in comparison with you.
You are ten years younger than I am--you are handsome, clever, bright;
and I--well, I am a failure. That's what I am, Chris; a failure. Even
if you were out of the way, which I don't for one moment wish, curious
as it may sound, I think I should stand but a poor chance with such a
beautiful creature as she is. I am not a hundredth part good enough
for her.'

'No one is, Turk,' I said, somewhat mollified.

'No; I won't say that. I think that some one whom I know _is_ good
enough' (he pressed my arm sympathisingly); 'and besides, you have a
claim upon her. You mustn't be surprised or hurt at my loving her,
Chris; I could mention half a dozen others who are in the same boat.
You see, one can't help loving her, she is so bright and winsome. Why,
if she were mine--which she isn't, and never will be--I think I should
take a pride in knowing it, for it would make her all the more
precious to me. That is how the matter stands with me, Chris, and I
think it's right that you should know it. I give her up, not without a
pang, my boy, but freely; I am used to disappointments, and I shall
bear this as I have borne others.'

'But you never had any hope, Turk,' I said, disposed, after his
magnanimous conduct, to argue the matter with him.

'No, not to speak of,' he replied, with a melancholy sigh. 'If I can't
be Jessie's lover--don't be angry with me for using the word--I can be
her friend, and yours. It rests with you to say the word. If you know
enough of Turk West to trust him, say so, Chris, and he pledges
himself to act faithfully in your interest. He may be of more use to
you than you imagine. Well?'

'I should be an ungrateful brute not to say that I accept your offer
thankfully, Turk.'

'That's settled, then. Shake hands on it. And now, Chris, we'll be
silent for just two minutes, and then we'll go into the matter.'

At the end of that time he resumed.

'I said that there was more in your story than meets the eye, Chris,
my boy; and there is. Jessie disappears on your birthday, suddenly,
without any forewarning. This morning everything was nice and pleasant
with all of you at home.'

'With the exception of uncle Bryan,' I interrupted; 'you mustn't
forget that.'

'I don't forget it, but then he is the same as he usually is, and
there's nothing unusual in that. She is affectionate to you; she is
affectionate to your mother; and I think that she couldn't have
avoided seeing that there was to be a little celebration of her
birthday to-night. Well, it is plain to me that this morning she had
no idea of going away. Now what has occurred since this morning to
cause this sudden change in her? That's the first thing to consider.'

I could not think of anything. Jessie had not been out of our house.

'There's something I have not told you, Turk, but I don't see what it
can have to do with Jessie's going from us. We were talking together
once, when Jessie said that she wondered that I had never asked her
any questions about herself--she meant about herself before she came
to live with us. I answered that mother had desired me not to do so,
because uncle Bryan might not like it.'

'What had he to do with it? asked Turk.

'I don't know, but mother said he might have secrets which he would
not wish us to discover. When I told this to Jessie, she said that she
had a secret, but didn't then know what it was. It was in a letter
which she was not to open until she was eighteen years of age--until
to-day. Then she said she would tell me everything.'

'There's a mystery somewhere,' said Turk, pondering; in that letter
perhaps.'

But I could not agree with him. Eager as I was to receive any
impressions which would divert my suspicions from the current in which
they were running, I could not see the slightest connection between
the circumstance I had just mentioned and Jessie's absence. By this
time we were at Temple Bar.

'Where are we going?' asked Turk.

'To Mr. Rackstraw's,' I answered. 'Jessie has been taking lessons of
him, you know. He may be able to tell us something about her.'

Turk shook his head. 'There are two strong reasons against the
realisation of that expectation, Chris. First, Jessie has not been
there to-day, according to your own statement; second, Mr. Rackstraw's
office closes at five o'clock.'

But we may be able to discover where Mr. Rackstraw lives.'

'Well?'

'Well?' I echoed, irritated at his seeming discouragement of my plan.
'Turk, can't you see that I'm almost mad with misery. I thought you
were a friend----'

'And am I not? That's news to Turk. What good can you do by finding
out Mr. Rackstraw's private address?'

'He may tell me where Mr. Glover lives.'

'And then?' demanded Turk, in a grave and sorrowful tone.

I turned from him petulantly. 'If you do not care to understand me,' I
said, 'I had best go alone.'

I walked swiftly onwards towards Mr. Rackstraw's office, Turk
following me at a distance of a few paces.

Mr. Rackstraw's office was situated in a quiet narrow street in the
rear of Covent-garden. It was closed, as I expected it would be, and
although I rang all the bells on the door for fully ten minutes, I
received no answer. Turk stood quietly near me, without speaking. I
was heartily ashamed of myself for my treatment of him, and I made an
attempt at reconciliation by holding out my hand to him as I turned
disconsolately from Mr. Rackstraw's door. He took my hand with
affectionate eagerness.

'I can't find it in my heart,' he said with rough tenderness, 'to be
angry with you; but I ought to be.'

'I _am_ ashamed of myself for behaving so badly to you, Turk, but I
couldn't help it. I think I am ready to do any mad or foolish thing.'

'Oh, I don't care about myself. I have a stronger reason for being
angry with you. Who of we two should be Jessie's champion? You, I
should say. Yet I am obliged to defend her from your suspicions. If
you were ten years older than you are, I should quarrel with you,
Chris; I would with any other man who dared to say a word against
her.'

'Who has said anything against her?' I demanded hotly.

'You, in coupling her name with Mr. Glover--you, even in the
expression of the idea that Mr. Glover has had anything to do with her
disappearance. I don't want you to be ashamed of yourself for treating
me badly, but you ought to be for your suspicions of her.'

'You don't know what I know, Turk. I am bringing no charge against
Jessie--God forbid that I should; I love her too well, and think of
her too highly. But Mr. Glover has been paying court to her from the
first day he set eyes on her.'

'What if he has? Is that her fault? Aren't you old enough yet to know
that there are hundreds of men always ready to run after a pretty
girl? Now, I daresay it has hurt you to hear that Mr. Glover has
helped me into my new business because Jessie expressed a wish that
she had a friend who would assist me. Why, what was more natural than
that she should say so, out of her kind heart, and what was more
natural than that he should be glad of the opportunity of obliging
her, and of doing a fair stroke of business at the same time? It isn't
a large sum that he advances--a matter of seventy-five pounds only,
and he has a bill of sale, and goodness knows what, all for security.
Now you are better satisfied perhaps. I can't say that I am over-fond
of Mr. Glover, but he is said to be an honourable, straightforward
man. I'll tell you what I'll do, if you must see him----'

'I must,' I said firmly.

'I don't know where he lives, but I'll take you to a theatre that he
often pops into of an evening; he may be there. The acting-manager is
one of my new friends, and will pass us in, I daresay, or will be able
to tell us if Mr. Glover is in the theatre.'



CHAPTER XXXVIII.
MR. GLOVER DECLINES TO SATISFY ME.


The friend to whom Turk referred was, fortunately for us, in the lobby
of the theatre, and as the two were engaged in conversation, the man I
came to seek lounged towards us. He seemed surprised to see me, but
approached me quite affably, and asked what I was doing in _his_ part
of the world so late in the night. I made some sort of awkward,
bungling answer, and then he recognised Turk.

'You, too, Turk,' he said in his slow way; 'but that is natural, for
these are your quarters now. Let me see. You take possession
to-morrow?'

'Yes,' Turk answered, everything was settled, and he went into his new
place of business early in the morning.

'And how is business with you?' asked Mr. Glover, directing his
attention to me again.

I answered that it was very good, and that I had nothing to complain
of in that respect.

'You have nothing to complain of in that respect,' he said, glancing
from me to Turk and from Turk to me, and appearing to be seeking for
some solution of the circumstance that we were in company together.
When he was in any doubt, he had an irritating habit of repeating the
last words spoken by the person he was conversing with, which gave him
time to think of his own words in reply. 'That must be very
satisfactory. I hear good accounts of you. You will get on, I should
say, if you are steady and straightforward, and if you keep a good
name. That is everything in this world. A good name--a good name. But
what brings _you_ out to-night? Have _you_ business in this quarter
too?'

'No,' I said; 'I did not come out for business.'

'You did not come out for business. For pleasure, then. Well, young
men will be young men.'

'To tell you the truth, sir,' I said----

'That's right, always tell the truth,' he interrupted, speaking from a
height, slowly, and coolly, and patronisingly, as though he were
truth's conservator, and was glad to hear that it was being practised.
'Yes, to tell me the truth----'

'I came out partly for the purpose and in the hope of seeing you.'

With his hand playing with his moustache, he looked not at me, but at
Turk, for an explanation. Turk, however, had nothing to say.

'You came out for the purpose and in the hope of seeing me. Yes. Have
you brought me any message?'

'Did you expect one, sir?' I asked quickly.

'Did I expect one? No, I cannot really say that I did; but I should
not have been surprised. Go on,' he said, with gentle encouragement.

There were some persons passing us occasionally, and I moved to a more
retired spot. I saw that he was curious, and I saw that his curiosity
increased at this movement.

'You seem agitated,' he said. 'Turk, our young friend here seems
agitated. Take your time--take your time. If you are going to beg a
favour, I shall be glad to assist you in any way in my power--in any
way in my power.'

'I have not come to beg any favour of you, sir. I only came to
ask----'

But I hesitated here; the justice of Turk's reproach came upon me with
great force, and I was conscious that the words I was about to utter
might be construed into an ungenerous suspicion of Jessie. If they
reached her ears from the lips of one who was not well disposed
towards me, I should sink for ever in her esteem.

'Take time--take time,' said Mr. Glover, outwardly quite at his ease.

Turk came to my rescue here. He divined my thoughts, and the cause of
my hesitation.

'Perhaps, Mr. Glover,' said Turk, 'if you would not mind regarding
what passes as confidential, and not to be mentioned to any one else,
Christopher would be more at his ease.'

I gave Turk a grateful look.

'Christopher would be more at his ease,' repeated Mr. Glover. 'This
really is very mysterious. I don't see any objection. Then you know
what he is going to say?'

'I know the subject he wishes to speak upon--but I was not aware of it
when I first came out with him to-night.'

'Is it such a subject as ought to be spoken of in confidence between
us?'

He totally ignored me, as if my opinion on the point were of the
smallest possible value.

'I think so,' replied Turk, 'if it be spoken of at all.'

'You have your doubts as to the judiciousness of the communication our
young friend is about to make?'

'I have; and I have told him so.'

'Oh, you have told him so.'

He appeared to me to debate within himself whether, under such
circumstances, he should listen any further; but his curiosity
overcame his evident wish to baulk me.

'You may go on,' he said to me, with a condescending wave of his hand.

'It is understood, then,' I said, somewhat more boldly, 'that what we
say to each other is quite private and will not be repeated?'

He stared at me very haughtily, and bent his head, and stood before
me, with his fingers to his lips, waiting for me to speak. A singular
fancy occurred to me at this moment as I gazed at him--a fancy which
need not here be mentioned; it lingered in my mind then and
afterwards, although I strove to dismiss it on this occasion as being
utterly wild and out of all reason. But, in conjunction with another
circumstance, which came to light in the course of time, it led to a
strange discovery.

'I have not come to make any communication,' I said; 'I have only come
to ask a question. I can speak more freely now, as you are a
gentleman, and as what I say will not reach her ears.' (His lips
repeated 'Her ears,' but he did not repeat the words aloud.) 'It is
about Miss Trim'----

'About Jessie,' he said, in a lighter tone. 'Yes; what about her?'

'Do you know where she is?'

His looks were disturbed now, although he strove to be cool.

'Do I know where she is?' he repeated, with a contraction of his eyes.

'That is what I have come to ask.'

'Oh, that is what you have come to ask.'

'There is no need for me to repeat the question, I suppose,' I said,
controlling my desire to strike at him, for his manner was in the last
degree contemptuous, notwithstanding that the interest he took in the
conversation was evidently strengthened.

'No; I understand the English language, and _you_ will be kind enough
to understand that I am not in the habit of being questioned. There is
no need for you to repeat the question, but there is a need for my
asking why it is put to me.'

'Then you do not know?'

He would not give me the satisfaction of a simple answer.

'Let me see,' he said, in a musing tone, 'to-day is her birthday.'

'You do know that.'

'She told me herself; these things are not guessed at.'

'You have not answered my question,' I said, trembling from passion
and from a sense of helplessness.

'You have not answered mine,' he replied. 'I ask you why you put it to
me?'

Turk motioned to me that I ought to tell him, but I could not speak.

'Perhaps I had best explain,' Turk then said. 'This is Jessie's
birthday, as you know, and Christopher and his mother had prepared a
little feast in honour of it.'

'After the manner of such people,' observed Mr. Glover, with a sneer
and a laugh, which set my pulses beating more quickly. Turk took no
notice of the observation.

'My sister Josey was invited, to please Jessie, and Chris had a little
present to give her----'

'Exceedingly pretty and pathetic,' interrupted Mr. Glover. 'It would
make a charming domestic scene in poor life, if it was placed on the
stage. These commonplace circumstances tickle the fancy, and please
sentimental persons, whenever they are presented in an unreal form. In
real life, of course, there is nothing very attractive in them--often
the reverse, I should say. But the picture you have drawn would be a
failure even on the stage, if there was nothing exciting to follow. We
want a "situation," Turk.'

'We have one ready,' responded Turk. 'Without warning, and most
strangely and suddenly, Jessie leaves her home. Her friends suppose
she has gone out for a walk, and are waiting for her with uneasiness,
which grows stronger as the time goes on and Jessie does not return.
While they are waiting, a letter comes----'

'Are you concocting a plot?' asked Mr. Glover.

'I am telling you exactly what has occurred. A letter is received from
Jessie, in which she says that she has gone away, and never intends to
return. Chris, in his anxiety, has come to see you, in the hope--or
the fear--of hearing some news of her.'

I had been watching Mr. Glover's face all the time Turk was speaking,
but it was impossible for me to decide whether he was acting or not.
The only change I observed in him occurred during Turk's last words;
then a little light came into his eyes, which might have been
construed into an expression of triumph.

'And Chris, in his anxiety,' he said, has come to see me in the
hope--or the fear--of hearing some news of her. Which is it?' he
asked, turning to me; 'hope or fear?'

'Fear,' I replied unhesitatingly.

'What do you suspect me of?' he continued politely; 'running away with
her? You don't answer. Afraid to put it into words. But that's the
plain English of it, isn't it? You did a wise thing in stipulating
that what passes between us is to be kept private, or I might have
been tempted to tell the young lady in question something which would
not be pleasant for her to hear. Had you known what is due to a
gentleman from one in your station of life, I might have been induced
to satisfy your inexplicable anxiety concerning her; as it is, I
decline to do so. She would be both amused and angry to learn that you
have set up some sort of a claim upon her, as if there could be any
community of feeling between you. You seem to forget that she is a
lady, and that you--well, that you are not a gentleman. Take this
piece of advice from one who is competent to give it--go home and
stick to your bench, and don't presume to cast your thoughts on what
is not only beyond your reach, but immeasurably above you. Good-night,
Turk.'

And with a contemptuous glance at me, Mr. Glover walked away in a very
leisurely manner.



CHAPTER XXXIX.
A NEW FEAR.


I walked home in the most sorrowful of moods. Turk accompanied me part
of the way, but when he began to speak in Mr. Glover's favour, I said
that I would prefer to walk by myself. The good fellow took the hint,
and would not notice my churlishness.

'I know, I know, old fellow,' he said, shaking hands with me; 'but you
might count me as nobody. Never mind, Chris, my boy, you won't find
many better friends than Turk West; and he's not to be shaken off, let
me tell you.'

I reflected with bitterness that I had not one friend who thought as I
thought. Everybody was against me, and I was distrusted and
misunderstood even by those who should have held to me most closely. I
walked for miles out of my way, almost blindly, seeing nothing,
hearing nothing, feeling nothing, but my own despair and grief. The
streets were very still as I approached our house, and I lingered
about the spots where Jessie and I had lingered and talked in the days
that were gone.

Josey West opened the door for me. Her face was very grave.

'Well?' she said.

'I have heard nothing, Josey. She has not come home?'

'No.'

A peculiar accent in her voice struck me.

'How is mother?' I asked.

She closed her lips firmly, and looked at me seriously and
reproachfully. I rebelled against that look; my heart was full almost
to bursting.

'Why don't you and those who were my friends say what you think of
me?' I demanded bitterly. 'Why don't you say at once that I am to
blame for all that has occurred, and that I, and I only, am the cause
of all this misery?'

'I don't say so,' she replied gently, 'because I don't think so.'

'But you look at me as if it were so,' I said loudly; 'you and all the
others. You have fair words and fair excuses for every one but me----'

She placed her fingers on her lips. 'Hush!' she said; 'don't be cruel
as well as unjust.'

Her hand was on my arm, and I shook it off roughly. 'Who is the just
one? Uncle Bryan? I will talk to you no more. How is mother?'

'Go up and see; but tread softly. You are not the only
sufferer--remember that.'

I went upstairs, and into my mother's room, softly. Josey West
followed me.

'Mother,' I said.

She opened her eyes and looked at me vacantly. She did not know me;
even when I took her hand, and fondled it in mine, she showed no sign
of recognition. Then a feeling of desolation, more terrible than any
pain I had yet suffered, entered my heart, and I fell on my knees by
her side. Was I to lose her next? It seemed so. Her white pitiful
face, her parched restless lips, her mournful eyes gazing on vacancy,
her hot skin, were like so many tongues reproaching me for my
selfishness.

'For God's sake tell me, Josey,' I whispered, 'how long has she been
like this?'

'The change came a little while after the doctor left. She bore up
while he was here, and tried to answer him cheerfully; but when he was
gone, she broke down.'

'Did she speak, Josey.'

'A little at first.'

'What about?'

'Only about you, Chris; but I cannot tell you what she said. They were
only broken words of tenderness----' Josey turned from me, and could
not continue for her tears.

'Did you not go for the doctor again, Josey?'

'I could not leave her, Chris.'

'Uncle Bryan might have gone--'

I knocked at his door, and called him again and again; but I got no
answer.'

I went at once to his room, and knocked, but no answer came. I tried
the handle, and found that the door was unlocked. I entered the room,
and struck a light. Uncle Bryan was not there, and his bed had not
been lain upon. I went downstairs into my own bedroom, and searched
the house swiftly; uncle Bryan was not in it.

Did you see him go out, Josey?'

'No; I have not seen him since you left.'

'I must run for the doctor. Will you stop here?'

'I'll stop, Chris, and do all I can to help you.'

I pressed her hand, and within half an hour the doctor was at my
mother's bedside. I waited below until he came down.

'If you will walk back with me,' he said, will give you some medicine
for your mother.'

'Is she very ill, sir?'

'Very.'

My heart sank as I asked, 'Dangerously?'

'I think so, but we shall know more in a day or two.'

'Then there is no immediate danger, sir?'

'I think not--I think not; but we must be prepared for the worst.' He
said something more than this, but I did not hear him. A mist stole
upon my senses, for his quiet tone portended the worst. 'Bear up, Mr.
Carey,' he said; 'you must not give way. We will do our best. A great
deal will depend upon good nursing. That is a sensible little woman
who is with her now.'

This doctor was a man who was deservedly worshipped by the poor in our
neighbourhood; his life was really one of self-sacrifice, for he was a
capable man, was paid badly, worked hard, and did his duty bravely.

'Can you tell me what she is suffering from, sir?'

'I was about to ask you that question Mr. Carey,' was his reply. 'All
that I know at present is that she is in a high state of fever, that
her blood is thin and poor, and that she is as weak as a human being
dare be who requires strength to battle successfully with disease. It
appears to me that she must have been suffering for some time, for a
very long time probably--but I am in the dark as to that--and that she
has at length given way. If you put upon a beam a pressure greater
than it can bear, the beam must break.'

'But I do not think my mother has worked too hard, sir.'

The mind has acted upon the body. Hard physical work itself seldom, if
ever, kills. In the case of this beam----you follow me?'

'Yes sir.'

'In the case of this beam, there have been secret inroads upon its
power of resistance, and the wood has rotted. I have seen stout planks
cut through, and colonies of little insects bared to the light which
have been steadily and surely eating away its strength. I am speaking
plainly, because I think it is the best course in all these cases, and
when I am speaking to a sensible man.'

'Thank you, sir; I should prefer to hear the truth, terrible though it
be.'

'Outwardly, these planks seem capable of bearing any pressure, but
when a great trial comes, they must give way. There are thousands and
thousands of human beings walking about, in seemingly good health, in
precisely the same condition. Has your mother suffered any great
trouble?'

'A great trouble has come upon us within the last few hours.'

'An unexpected trouble?'

'Totally unexpected, sir.'

'For which you were quite unprepared?'

'Quite, sir.'

'That may be the immediate, but is not the direct, cause of your
mother's illness. She has been enduring a long strain, as I have said,
and has at length broken down under it.' By this time we were in his
shop, and he was preparing the medicine. 'You look ill yourself. Let
me feel your pulse.' He looked me steadily in the face. 'You are your
mother's only child, I believe. Miss West led me to infer as much.'

'She was right, sir.'

'Well, then,' he said, giving me a rough and kindly shake, 'your
mother's ultimate recovery may depend--I only say _may_--upon you.
Think of that, and don't be falling ill yourself.'

'I'll try not to,' I murmured, for I felt sick and faint.

'Drink this,' he said, pouring out a draught for me; it will revive
you. You will try not to? Nay, you must make up your mind not to, for
your mother's sake. We never know what we can do. Why, we can conquer
pain, if we are strong-willed enough. I was explaining about your
mother. She is so delicately and exquisitely susceptible, that to have
those about her whom she loves may contribute more to her recovery
than anything all the doctors in London could do. She is in a state of
delirium at present; under the most favourable circumstances, she is
likely to remain in this state for a week or two, probably for longer.
If, when she recovers her senses, the first face she looks upon and
recognises is a face that she loves, it may not only contribute to her
recovery, it may accomplish it. On the other hand, if she misses a
face that is dear to her, and that she has been accustomed to see
about her, it may cause a relapse, and prove fatal. I have tried to
make myself clear, and to give you a good reason why you must keep
well. Don't mope. If you have any private grief of your own, keep it
under until this peril is past.'

I thanked him, and left him. I told Josey West exactly what the doctor
had said, and she returned the compliment he had paid her of calling
her a sensible little woman by saying that he was a sensible man.

'And now, Chris,' she said, 'you must go to bed.'

I said that I would sit up with my mother, and tried to persuade Josey
to lie down; but she refused, saying rest was more necessary to me
than to her.

'In the first place, you have your work to do; that must not be
neglected for all the Jessie Trims in the world. Oh, yes, my dear. You
may shake your head, but I've been remarkably quiet all through, and I
think I'm entitled to say a few words.'

'I'll not stop to hear anything spoken against her,' I said.

'That's right. Fly up. You think you're fonder of her than I am. That
you can't be. But I'm not satisfied with her, and I sha'n't be until I
get all this explained. There's something behind it that neither you
nor I suspect, or my name isn't Josey West.'

'That's what Turk says,' I interposed.

'I expect you've been leading him a fine life to-night. Poor Turk!
Why, he worships the ground she walks upon. I tell you what it is, my
sweet child,' she said sarcastically, there's more lessons than one
you've got to learn. But to come back. There's some mystery behind all
this; but it might be one thing, and it might be another. I'm in a
whirl, that's what I am, my dear.'

I really think Josey administered these words to me as a kind of
medicine. But she could not deceive me as to the feelings she
entertained for Jessie. If any person had dared in her presence to say
a word against her friend, she would have been the first to defend
her.

'Josey,' I said, 'I shall feel much relieved if you will promise me
one thing.'

'That depends. I'm not going to open my mouth and shut my eyes.'

'If Jessie tells you the reason of her going away----'

'Which she's sure to do. Oh, I shall know all about it.'

'And if the knowledge does not come to me in any other way, will you
tell me?'

'Upon my word! Me tell a secret? Not for all the world, master Chris.'

'But if it's not a secret?'

'Then of course you'll hear it.' We spoke in an undertone, so as not
to disturb my mother, who lay unconscious of what was going on around
her. But here you are stopping up,' continued Josey fretfully, when
every minute's rest is precious to you and all of us. I have only told
you one of my reasons why you _must_ be fresh in the morning--and mind
you sleep, master Chris, when you get to bed. I'll tell you another.
There'll be the shop to look after.'

'That's uncle Bryan's business,' I replied, flushing with anger. The
mere mention of his name aroused all my bitterness against him. 'If
mother could be moved from this house to-morrow with safety, I'd take
her out of his sight without a moment's delay.'

'You'll not see your uncle Bryan again in a hurry,' said Josey. 'You
mark my words--he's gone for good.'

I did not stop to discuss the point, but went to the bedside and
kissed my mother. As I leant over her, I could scarcely hear her
breathing, and but for a light convulsive sob which rose to her throat
every now and then, and which she seemed to make an effort to check,
it would have been difficult to detect any sign of life in her. The
doctor's words dwelt in my mind as I gazed at her beloved face, and
for the first time in my life I appreciated at their proper worth the
sacrifices which this dearest of women had made for one so unworthy as
I. I knelt at her bedside, and prayed that her life might be spared to
me--prayed with humble heart--and my tears flowed freely.

Josey was outside on the landing.

'Good-night, my dear,' she said; 'give me a kiss.'

Mine were not the only tears on my face as I walked downstairs.



CHAPTER XL.
WHAT THE NEIGHBOURS SAID.


Josey West's prediction proved to be right. When I rose the next
morning uncle Bryan had not returned. Josey, looking as fresh as
though she had had a good night's rest, told me that there had been no
change in my mother's condition--that only a few words had passed her
lips, and that those words were about me.

'There's a lot to do,' she said; you've got your work to look after,
the shop must be attended to, and there's your mother to nurse. I
really think, my dear, that if your uncle doesn't make his appearance,
we had best take possession of the place. Two things we must be
careful of--we mustn't let the business be ruined, and we must try to
keep the neighbours from talking of what has occurred. When a lot of
gossiping women get hold of a woman's name, with a story attached to
it, they tear that woman's name to pieces with as much pleasure as
they would eat a good dinner; and as for the story, my dear, when you
hear it the next day you wouldn't know it, they twist and mangle it
so. Stop here while I run round to my house; I sha'n't be gone ten
minutes.'

During Josey's absence the doctor came.

'Your mother is no worse,' he said, after his examination; 'but I am
not satisfied with her condition; it puzzles me. I can say nothing at
present except that rest and freedom from agitation are imperative;
there must be no noise in the house, no voices raised in anger,
nothing that can in any way disturb her. Her life may depend upon it.'

By this I knew that he must have heard something more of what had
taken place than what I had told him. Indeed, the gossips of the
neighbourhood had commenced their work. I have puzzled my head many
times to discover by what means they knew what they knew, but it was
and is a mystery to me. They were familiar with matters which I had
supposed no person outside our little circle could possibly be
acquainted with. They knew that uncle Bryan and I were at daggers
drawn, and that there had been a desperate quarrel between us; they
knew that he had left the house, that Jessie had run away on her
birthday, and that my mother was lying dangerously ill. Being in
possession of these bare bones, they put them together with amazing
ingenuity, and produced the most astounding results. The first thing
they settled was, that uncle Bryan and I had quarrelled not alone with
our tongues, but with our hands; and one of the pictures which grew
out of the story as it was related by one to another represented uncle
Bryan lying on the ground and me standing over him with a knife, while
Josey West was rushing between us to prevent murder being done.
Another picture represented uncle Bryan packing up in a handkerchief
all his treasure in money (for, strange to say, I now learned for the
first time that he bore the reputation of a miser, and that it was
generally supposed he had large sums of money concealed), and stealing
off in the dead of night in fear of his life. Another, and the worst,
picture concerned Jessie and Mr. Glover. Mr. Glover, an enormously
rich gentleman, had fallen desperately in love with Jessie, and she
had consented to elope with him. The gossips gloated over the details.
A carriage with a pair of gray horses was waiting at the corner of a
certain street (name given) about a quarter of a mile away; Mr.
Glover, in a large cloak, was on the watch at the appointed time;
Jessie made her appearance, with a small bundle in her hand wrapped in
a handkerchief; Mr. Glover lifted her into the carriage, jumped in
after her, and away they whirled. Even if they had been inclined to
doubt the truth of this story (which they were not), it was impossible
for them to do so because of the exact and wonderful details which
accompanied its relation. There were a coachman and a footman dressed
in such and such a way, down to their very buttons; the carriage was
painted blue, with edgings of yellow; Mr. Glover wore a smoking-cap,
and his cloak had a fur collar, and two gold tassels attached to it.
This cloak gave an air of mysterious romance to the picture, and added
much to the enjoyment of it. It is worthy of notice that both uncle
Bryan and Jessie left our house with something done up in a
pocket-handkerchief. This occurs to me as an arbitrary feature in the
painting of such pictures; and I have no doubt that, had a dozen
persons been missing, each would have been portrayed as stealing away
with something done up in a pocket-handkerchief in his hand.

Before the day was out, the whole neighbourhood was busy talking over
these stories, and discussing their probable results.

Josey had returned within the ten minutes, and brought with her Matty
and Rosy. The shop was opened, and a more than usually brisk business
was done, in consequence of the gossips dropping in to pick up
information; but I resolutely refused to go behind the counter. I
would have nothing to do with it. I had already saved a little purse
of money, and my earnings were good. I was determined to have no
further connection with uncle Bryan in any shape or way whatever.

'Then I _must_ take possession,' observed Josey, after listening to my
views, which I expressed in most unmistakable terms. It would be a
pity to let such a business go to rack and ruin. If your uncle Bryan
returns, I shall be able to render a proper account.'

She entered upon this as she entered upon everything else, with
intense and thorough earnestness, and the business was carried on, and
the duties of the house performed, as though nothing of importance had
occurred to disturb them. She might have been born a grocer for the
intimate knowledge she displayed of the requirements of the trade.
When I expressed my astonishment, she said philosophically:

'My dear, nothing's difficult. One can do anything if one makes up
one's mind to do it. All one has got to do is to go about it
willingly.'

In the mean time I looked out anxiously for news of Jessie, but on the
first day of her absence I learnt nothing. I went to Mr. Rackstraw's
in the afternoon to make inquiries, but he received me coldly, and
desired me not to call again--in such terms that I was certain Mr.
Glover had made him my enemy. Then I went to Turk's new shop, and
found him very busy, and sanguine of his prospects. But as he had no
news of Jessie I listened to his relation of his plans with small
interest.

'I shall be able to serve you, Chris,' he said, before I went away; 'I
shall keep my eyes open.'

That night I sat up with my mother until three o'clock, when Josey
relieved me. My mother did not know me, and although I strove hard to
make her recognise me, her eyes dwelt on my face as they would have
done on the face of a stranger. What pain and grief this brought to me
I cannot describe.

There was something different in the arrangement of the room, and I
made a remark concerning it to Josey. The room was clearer, lighter.
Josey explained it to me in a sharp tone, as though she desired not to
be questioned.

'The doctor said the room must be made as airy as possible; he doesn't
want a lot of lumber about.'

But the next morning it occurred to me that the box in which Jessie
kept her clothes and nicknacks had been taken out of the room. I
looked about the house for it, but could not find it.

'Where is Jessie's box, Josey?' I asked.

'Gone,' was the short and snappish reply.

'Gone where?'

'Well, I suppose you must be told. While you were away yesterday,
Jessie sent for it.'

'Then you know where she is,' I cried excitedly, jumping to my feet,
and tearing off my working-coat.

'Yes, I know where she is.'

I waited, but Josey did not volunteer further information. I looked at
her reproachfully.

'I'll just tell you as much as I'm compelled to, master Christopher,
and no more. I had a letter from Jessie yesterday---O, no; you'll not
see it! It was meant for my own eyes, and no others. I said that
Jessie would tell me the reason of her going away, and she has done
so; and I know where she is, and I've sent her clothes and all her
things to her. And that's all, master Christopher.'

'No, it isn't all, Josey. You will tell me something more. If I'm not
to know where she is----'

'Which you are not,' Josey interrupted; 'not from me at least.'

'I may know whether she is well.'

'Yes, she is well in health.'

'And happy?'

'I don't know; I can't tell.'

'Did she do right in going away?'

She answered me in precisely the same words.

'I don't know; I can't tell.'

'Is she stopping with friends?'

'Yes, she is stopping with friends.'

'But what friends can she have that we don't know of?'

'Ah,' exclaimed Josey, more snappishly than before, 'what friends, I
wonder?'

'Josey,' I said coaxingly, putting my arm round her waist----

'I tell you what it is, master Christopher. If you ask me many more
questions, I shall run away;' but in spite of her assumed severity,
her tone softened.

'I won't ask you many more, Josey,' I said, and I felt the tears
rising to my eyes, 'but you might have some pity for me.'

'Bless the dear child!' she said, with a motherly air, I _have_ some
pity for you! Why, you stupid boy, I'm as fond of you as though you
were my own brother!'

'Then tell me if it was because of me Jessie went away.'

'You had nothing to do with it.'

It was a relief to me to hear this, for I had in some way got it in my
mind that Jessie had run away to escape the proposal she suspected I
intended to make to her. I approached a more delicate subject.

'You have heard the stories the neighbours are telling each other,
Josey, about Jessie and Mr. Glover.'

'Oh, yes, I've heard them! The scandal-mongers! I'd like to wring
their ears for them.'

That was sufficient for me; a great weight was lifted from my heart.
There was another question that I must ask.

'Did Jessie in her letter say anything about me? Did she send me any
message?'

'She did, and I wasn't to give it to you unless you asked for it.
Perhaps I'd better read it.' She took the letter from her pocket and
read: '"Chris will be sure to miss my box"--you see,' said Josey
interrupting her reading, 'Jessie sent the letter to my house; she
didn't know I was here; and I was to ask your mother to let me have
her box, so that I might send it to Jessie without your knowing.'

'Then there's a message to mother in that letter?'

'There is, but I can't give it to her, poor dear!'

'Go on with what Jessie says about me, Josey.'

'"Chris will be sure to miss my box, and if he asks you if I have sent
him any message, say that I hope he will not try to discover where I
am, and that I hope also he will not think worse of me than I am. If
we meet again----"' here Josey broke off with, 'But that's not for
you, I should say.'

'It _must_ be for me, Josey. You have no right to keep it from me.'

'Well, if you will have it. "If we meet again, it must be at my own
time and in my own way. Whether I am right or wrong in what I have
done and what I intend to do, I have quite made up my mind, and no one
can advise me." Now I hope you are satisfied.'

I was compelled to be. There were both balm and gall in the
letter--balm because the tales that slanderous tongues were
circulating were false, and gall because Jessie had written in such a
manner as to give me but little hope that she reciprocated my love. If
she loved me, she would have confided in me. Is it possible, I
reflected with bitterness, that she could have led me on, knowing my
feelings towards her, and making light of them? But the thought was
transient; I would not entertain it. It would be a shame on my manhood
to doubt her. What if she were not for me--would that prove her
unworthy? But it was bitter to bear, and the scalding tears ran from
my eyes as I laid my head on my mother's pillow. My sobs disturbed
her, and she moved her fingers feebly towards my neck. It was the
first sign of recognition she had displayed since her illness. I
fondled her poor thin hand, and kissed it, and moved close to her
lips, for she was murmuring faint words. But these words were
addressed not to me, but to my father, who had been dead for so many
years. She was speaking to him of their darling boy, and of the
happiness he would be to them when he grew to be a man. I listened
sadly; every soft word she murmured was a dagger in my heart, for I
was beginning to learn the strength of her love and the weakness of
mine. Heavy as was the blow which had fallen upon me, I felt that
there might be comfort and peace even yet for me, if my mother lived
to enjoy the outward evidences of my penitence and love, and that a
curse indeed must fall upon my life if she died without blessing me.



CHAPTER XLI.
JOSEY WEST DECLARES THAT SHE HAS GOT INTO HER PROPER GROOVE.


A week had passed, and there was still no change in my mother's
condition. Every time the doctor visited her, his manner became more
serious. The shadow of death seemed to hang already over the house.

'Her strength will not hold out for another week, I am afraid.' He
spoke these words to Josey West, out of my hearing as he thought.

I followed him from the house.

'I heard what you said to Miss West,' I said to him. 'Is all hope
really gone? Can nothing be done?'

He did not reply immediately, and before he spoke he took my arm
kindly.

'This is one of the cases outside my experience. Your mother has
nothing that a physician can grapple with. She has no organic disease
that I can discover, and although physically she is fearfully weak, it
is mental suffering that is killing her. It is not usual for a doctor
to speak as plainly as I am speaking to you, but it is best to do so.
I have heard so much that is good and noble in your mother's life,
that it would rejoice me exceedingly to see her rise from her bed in
health.'

'No one but I can know how tender and beautiful her life has been,' I
said, with sobs. 'If I could give my life for hers, I would resign it
with cheerfulness.'

'But I suspect,' said the doctor, with a curiously-observant air upon
him, 'that that is just the thing that would be most effectual in
killing her. Come, now, recover yourself: I have something to say to
you. I shall count a hundred, and then I shall go on. . . . When you
first consulted me, and I asked you what your mother was suffering
from, I seriously meant it. I want to cure your mother, or at all
events to show you the way to do it, for I have an idea that you, not
I, must be the doctor. I will make you a present of all my little fees
in this case if I am successful. That ought to assure you of my
earnestness.' He smiled gently as he said this. 'Knowing full well, as
you say, that you would treble them if we happily succeed. I will give
you another proof of my earnestness. I loved my mother. Have I won
your confidence? Well then, I can grapple with physical disease with
fair success; give me the opportunity of grappling with the mental
disease which is killing your mother. I have an hour, perhaps two, to
spare. Tell me, unreservedly, the story of your mother's life, in
which of course yours will be included. Conceal nothing, and be
especially explicit in every incident where the feelings are brought
into play. If you understand me, and are willing to trust me, commence
at once.'

I told him all, freely and without reservation, from my first
remembrance in connection with my mother, to the time--but a few days
past--when I heard her in her delirium speaking to my father about me
and my future. Many times during the recital I was compelled to pause
from emotion, and when I finished his eyes also were suffused with
tears.

'I know now,' he said softly, what will kill your mother if she dies.
It will shock you to hear it, and you must not think me cruel for
telling you. When your mother, in the night she was taken ill, cried
to you that her heart was almost broken, it was no mere phrase that
she uttered--it was a cry from her soul, and the words exactly
represented her condition. If she dies, it will be because her heart
_is_ broken. And you will have broken it. Ay,' he continued gently, as
I started in horror from him, 'and so would your mother start from me
if she had strength and sense to hear and understand. She would think
me the cruelest monster. But what I have said is true nevertheless.
Your mother's life has been bound up in yours. No woman, unsustained
by most perfect and most unselfish love, could have held up against
such trials as hers; where she has had doubts she has thrust them from
her, and her deep affection has given her strength to bear her
sufferings. For a long time there has been raging within her a mental
conflict, the torture of which only those can understand who love as
she loves, and only those can feel whose natures are as delicately
sensitive as hers. Even I, until now a stranger to her and to you, can
see the fire which has been consuming her gentle spirit. And when the
final blow came, and she was made to feel by your words that she had
wrecked your happiness and had lost your love (for she _must_ have
felt then what she had long feared), she sank beneath it. I have,
thank God, through all my life reverenced woman's character, but I
never reverenced it so thoroughly as I do now, after hearing your
story. You ask me if all hope is really gone, and if nothing can be
done? Well, I see a way. What can kill can cure. I warn you that the
chance is a slight one, but it must be tried. Can you afford to go
away from London for a time?'

'Yes, I have money saved; and I think I could arrange to take work
with me, and do it in the country.'

'That is well. If you will take your mother away from London, say to
the scenes with which you were familiar when you were a child, and
attend to her yourself, and make her feel and understand that you love
her as she deserves and yearns to be loved, she may recover. That is
the only chance. She is almost certain to have conscious intervals. If
you have tact enough to be alone with her, as you were in the old
days, when her consciousness first returns, it may prove the
turning-point towards convalescence. I cannot explain myself more
fully; I will give you a simple strengthening medicine with you, and
all necessary directions as to diet. When will you go?'

I arranged to go on the following day, and Josey West said that,
notwithstanding what the doctor had said, it was impossible that I
should go alone. Her sister Florry, who was nearly sixteen years of
age, should accompany us.

'If your mother asks who she is,' said Josey, 'you can say she is the
maid.'

So it was settled, and Florry, a pretty good girl, who was wild with
delight at the idea of going into the country, promised to do her
best.

No news had been heard of uncle Bryan. I cannot say that, after my
anger had cooled, I was not anxious about him. It was impossible for
me to be indifferent as to his fate, and I made inquiries quietly, but
without result. He had disappeared most effectually, and had left no
trace behind. My principal reason for wishing to find him was to let
him know that we were leaving his house, and that we should not
return; I had made up my mind on this point. Josey West and I had a
long conversation about him.

I believe he will never come back, my dear,' said Josey, 'never, under
any circumstances. Of course you have heard what some of the
neighbours say--that he has made away with himself; but that's all
nonsense. He's not a man of that sort. He'll rub on grimly and grumly
to the end. Why, my dear, if it was to happen that he was to starve to
death--which he wouldn't do willingly, and without trying to get
bread--he'd starve quietly and without a murmur. Ah, he's a wicked old
man, I daresay, and I know that you have cause to hate him, but I
can't help liking him a bit for all that. What I shall do about the
shop is this, unless you object. I shall shut up our house--there's no
business doing, my dear; I don't lend out a wardrobe a month--and all
the children shall come round here to live. It will be good fun for
them. I shall keep the accounts as square as I can, although the
figures are getting into a mess already, and I'm beginning to be
bothered with them--but never mind, there's the money, so much paid
out, so much coming in; it'll be simple enough to reckon what's left.
And if I _do_ hear anything of your uncle, I'll be off to him at once,
and bring him back, tied up, if he won't come any other way.'

I could see no better plan than this, and I thanked Josey cordially.

'Where are you going to first?' she asked, interrupting me abruptly.

'To Hertford, where I was born,' I replied.

She nodded, and said she thought it was the best place, and that I
must be sure and keep her informed of my whereabouts, as she would
want to write to me regularly. The next morning we were off.

We reached Hertford by easy stages. Josey was quite right in insisting
that I should take Florry with me. I soon learnt that I could not have
done without some one, and I found Florry to be so quietly and
unobtrusively useful that I grew very fond of the little maid. I took
lodgings in a pleasant suburb, from the windows of which we could see
the river Lea, and the barges gliding indolently along. Florry said it
was heavenly. My mother bore the journey well, and was no worse at the
end than when we started. I was very thankful for that, for I feared
she might not be strong enough to bear it; but we were very careful of
her, and if she had been my sister Florry could not have been more
attentive and affectionate. But my mother knew no one, and saw only
the pictures and figures which her fevered imagination conjured up. I
selected for her bedroom a large room on the first floor, and placed
her bed so that she could see the river from it. I fixed my table for
work so that when she opened her eyes, and looked towards the river,
she could see me also. I had been fortunate enough to obtain
sufficient work to last me for three or four weeks, and I was sure of
more to follow.

On the very first day I observed what I thought was a favourable
change in my mother. Awaking from a restless sleep she opened her
eyes, and saw a white sail passing along the river; she watched it
quietly until it was out of sight, and then closed her eyes and slept
again, but more peacefully than before. She did not seem to see me,
although I turned my face to her and smiled. It was soon evident that
she took pleasure in the prospect of the river, for before two days
had passed I observed her lie and watch it restfully. It appeared to
act like a charm upon her, bringing peace to her troubled heart in
some strange way. In London, during her illness, scarcely an hour had
passed, day and night, without her rest being broken by sobs; but here
in Hertford, after she grew accustomed to the sight of the river, her
days were quiet and peaceful, and it was only in the night that she
was disturbed. During the first week I left her but twice; once to go
to the house in which I was born, and once to visit the old churchyard
in which my father was buried. The house was the same as I remembered
it, and the churchyard had a few new gravestones in it; there was no
other change. All my childish experiences came vividly to my mind, and
I should scarcely have been surprised, as I peeped through the
parlour-window, where I used to sit in my low armchair with my
grandmother, listening to her monotonous heavy breathing, to see her
sitting in state, in her silk dress, with her large fat hands folded
in her lap! I _did_ see a woman who reminded me of Jane Painter, our
servant, and I crossed the road quickly and walked away from her. In
the churchyard, I went to my father's grave, and then to the grave of
Snaggletooth's little daughter. I found it quite easily, but the
inscription upon it was no longer discernible. I remembered so well
every incident of that day that I could see myself carried out of the
churchyard in Snaggletooth's arms, and I closed my eyes as I thought
how I fell asleep there.

These scenes and remembrances soothed and consoled me; I seemed to be
lifted out of a fever of unrest.

Gradually my mother's eyes grew accustomed to see me working always at
my table, and they began to dwell on me, at first unconcernedly, but
presently with a kind of struggling observance in them. I hailed this
change with gladness, and waited and hoped, and prayed humbly night
and morning. Josey West wrote to me regularly, and one day this letter
came:


'My dear Chris,--Don't open the packet enclosed in this until you read
my letter. If you do, I'll haunt you, and you shall never have a
minute's rest again. You told me once that every person in life has a
proper groove. I think it very hard that I should have lived all these
years without, until now, falling into _my_ proper groove; I am in it
at last, but I am ready to slap all the children's faces to think that
so many years have been wasted. I was born to be a grocer, and at last
a grocer I am. If you can find me a better one than I am, show him to
me, and I'll resign. I've been looking over your uncle's books, and,
as true as I'm a living woman, I'm taking more money than ever he
took, if his figures are right. Every day I make a new customer.
There's Mrs. Simpson, the bricklayer's wife, at No. 9. If she's been
in the shop once, she's been in it a dozen times to-day and yesterday:
all the years the old gentleman kept the shop she didn't spend
two-and-twopence in it--that's the sum she mentioned, and as I'm a
woman of figures now, I must be precise. She does so like a gossip,
she says, and she don't mind getting short weight, she says, so long
as she can have a friendly word with her quarter of a pound of moist,
and her two ounces of the best mixture. She tried all she knew to get
the old gentleman to gossip with her, and as he wouldn't, she wouldn't
deal with him. Mrs. Simpson is not the only one. There's Mrs.
Primmins, and Mrs. Sillitoe, the butcher's wife, and Mrs. Macnamara,
who takes snuff. They all like a gossip, and they all come to have it,
and so long as they buy their groceries of me, I shall encourage them.
Why, you'd be surprised to see the old shop sometimes! It's quite an
Institution.

'Well, I've got along very well with everything, from the figs to the
brickdust; but one thing puzzled me. If you have any love for me, my
sweet child, don't betray me, for I'm not at all sure they couldn't
hang me for it; but it pays, my sweet child, and it doesn't do any one
any harm, and I shall go on doing it, and risk the consequences. Well,
it's this. On the first Saturday I was here, the people came in for
uncle Bryan's pills and uncle Bryan's mixture. Well, there was a
supply in the drawers, and I served the customers. If there was one of
them, my dear, there was fifty, and every one spent his penny or
twopence, and a few threepence. Well, during the early part of the
week I ran short of the pills and the mixture, and I was puzzled about
another supply. I knew that the old gentleman made his own medicine,
and I looked about for the prescription, but couldn't find it. Now,
for all I knew, the success of the business might depend upon these
pills and mixtures, which some of the neighbours are ready to swear by
as being able to cure asthma, and consumption, and indigestion, and
bronchitis, and dysentery, and flushings, and palpitation, and wooden
legs, and sprains, and bruises, and pains in the bowels, and headache,
and too much brandy, and low fever, and high fever, and jaundice, and
warts, and scrofula, and coughs, and colds, and the chills, and I
don't know what all besides. And if you knew the trouble I've taken to
put all these things together, you'd cry out, "Bless the little woman!
What a painstaking creature she is!" But to come back. Well, for all I
knew, if the customers couldn't get these wonderful pills at our shop,
they might go elsewhere to buy their tea and sugar, and that would
never do. I was in a pucker, and Turk came in last Tuesday night, and
I told him my trouble. Says Turk, "How many pills and how many bottles
of mixture have you got left?" I counted them. Fourteen bottles of
mixture, and eleven boxes of pills, large and small. "And what do they
cure?" says Turk. I went over all those things that I've written at
the top of this sheet. "I don't feel as if anything particular is the
matter with me," says Turk; "how do you feel, Josey?" I told him that
I felt the same. "Then," says Turk, "it's quite necessary that you and
I should take a bottle of that mixture, and six pills, without one
moment's delay. Else it might prove fatal." And would you believe it,
my dear? Before I knew where I was, Turk had poured one of the bottles
of the mixture down my throat, and another down his own, and made me,
willy nilly, swallow pill for pill with him until we had each
swallowed half a dozen. "And now," said Turk, "if we die, we'll perish
in one another's arms; and I'll come to-morrow night and write our
epitaphs. We'll be buried in one grave, and all the neighbours will
come to the funeral." I didn't like it, I tell you, and I kept awake
all night, fancying I had pains; but I ate a very good breakfast the
next morning, and everything inside of me went on as usual. Turk came
in the evening, and we compared notes, as he said. He said then that
it was a very bad case indeed, and we must take another bottle of
mixture and six more pills each of us. I said I wouldn't; he said I
should, and that he wouldn't die without me; and as I'm a living
woman, he held my head and poured the mixture down my throat. After
that, I thought I might as well take the pills, especially as Turk
said I'd have to. One may as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb, you
know. They didn't have the slightest effect upon us for better or
worse (and the sooner that day comes for me, and the man with the
ring, the better I shall like it, my sweet child, and that's plain
speaking), and Turk said it was the most wonderful cure that ever was
known of the most wonderful complication of diseases that ever was
heard of. Now if you can guess what Turk did next, you're a clever
boy; but as you never _would_ guess, I'll tell you. He set to work
making bread pills by the thousand (we found the board your uncle used
to make them with), and he made a great basin of mixture, that tasted
for all the world like the mixture in your uncle's bottles. You know,
there scarcely _is_ any taste at all in it. He coloured the water, and
then we filled all the empty bottles and pill-boxes, and had stock
enough to last a month. You would have laughed if you had seen us
making the medicine. It was done after the shop was shut and all the
children were in bed. We locked the doors, and put something over all
the windows and keyholes, and every minute or two Turk wriggled to the
door, to slow music, to listen if anybody was outside. We were like
conspirators. We had a great run on the pills and mixture on Saturday
night, and my heart felt as if it was sinking into my shoes every time
I served a box or a bottle; but I was obliged to put a brave face on
it, and I served them over the counter as if they were the "real
grit," as the Yankees say. When I went to bed, I wondered how many
murders I had committed, and how many times I could be hanged. I felt
worse on Monday morning when I stood behind the counter; but as the
day went on, and I didn't hear of any persons in the neighbourhood
dying in convulsions, and as I didn't see any undertaker's men about,
I began to get a bit relieved in my mind. And when Mrs. Huxley came
in--Mr. Huxley is besieged by a regular army of diseases, asthma, and
rackets, and "ketches in the side," as his wife calls them--well, when
she came in, and told me how ill her poor dear man was on Saturday
night before taking the pills and mixture, and how well he was on
Sunday after he'd swallowed two big doses, I began to think better of
them. I plucked up courage to ask one and another how everybody was
who had taken the physic, and would you believe it, my sweet child,
none of them were ever better in their lives. And a story has got
about that your uncle Bryan has gone to some place to make the pills
and mixture in secret, so that no one shall find out what is in them.
_I_ say nothing, except "Oh," and "Ah," and "Indeed," very
mysteriously, and as if I didn't know anything about it (as how should
I?), and the effect of these "Ohs" and "Ahs" and "Indeeds" is so
extraordinary, that if I stood in a wagon, and talked by the hour
together, with music playing all about me, and all the young ones
dancing and posing, the thing couldn't work better. People are
beginning to do what they never did before--they are buying the
medicine in the middle of the week; and two strangers have already
come in from a long distance for two boxes of the wonderful pills, one
to cure palpitation and the other for the jaundice.

'Turk is getting along famously. He is a real good fellow, and
everybody likes him. He is making heaps of new friends, and is doing a
fine business. He sends his love to you, and says he will have plenty
to tell you when you come home.

'Gus is going to India and Australia with a company; he plays leading
business, and has a three years' engagement at twelve pounds a week,
and all his travelling expenses paid. Not so bad for Gus; but then
he's a genius, my dear.

'I hope Florry is behaving herself; but I am only joking when I say
that. Don't you let her fall in love with you, and then break her
heart; I'm joking again. When you come to think or us altogether,
master Christopher, don't you think we're a _re-_markable family? If
you don't, I do. You'd find it hard to beat us. You should read the
letters Florry writes to us; they are perfect gems. Where we all got
our cleverness from is a perfect puzzle; but it runs in some families.
I'm glad Florry is with your mother; it will do her good. Ah, my dear,
do you know I pray every night that you may bring your dear good
mother home to us strong and well? I do, my dear, and it does me good.

'The letters that are in the enclosed packet came to the shop this
morning. One of them is very heavy. I know your uncle's writing from
the account-books he left behind him, and I see that it is his writing
on the envelope. If there's any address inside, let me know, and I'll
go and drag him home, although it will be the ruin of a fine business
I see looming in the future in bread pills and the famous mixture made
of coloured water.

'And now, my dear, I must leave off. This is the longest letter I ever
wrote in my life, and if anybody had told me that I could have written
it, I shouldn't have believed him. All the children send their love
and kisses, and I send mine, and six kisses for your mother. When you
give them to her, whisper that they're from a queer little woman in
Paradise-row who loves both of you very much. Now don't you run away
with the idea that _I'm_ going to break my heart over you.

'Oh, I almost forgot to say that the doctor was here to-day. He hasn't
time to write, but he says he has read your letter carefully, and he
thinks that your mother is going along well. He expects a change very
soon for the better. He gave me another prescription for you, which I
send in this.

'I never thought much of it till lately, my dear, but really there are
a great many good people in the world--But there! if I don't stop at
once, I shall go rambling on all night, and there's some one tapping
at the door. Come in! Only think, I've written it instead of saying
it--Your affectionate friend,

   'Josey.'


I untied the packet which Josey had enclosed, and found two letters in
it--one, very bulky, in uncle Bryan's handwriting, the other written
by Jessie. How my heart beat as I gazed at the latter! Both were
addressed to my mother.

It was a fine clear night, and a sweet soft air was stirring--so sweet
and soft that I was sitting at my work-table with the window open.
Florry had gone to bed; my mother was asleep. I had always opened my
mother's letters, and I reflected whether I was justified in opening
these. After a little while I decided to read uncle Bryan's letter,
for the reason that it would probably inform me where he was staying;
in which case I should be able to rid myself of the responsibility of
his business. Jessie's letter I would not read--at least for the
present; she may have written in it what she might not wish me to see.
I laid it aside, and unfastened the envelope of uncle Bryan's letter.
It contained many sheets of manuscript, methodically arranged, some in
uncle Bryan's handwriting, some in a writing which was strange to me.
I give them in their order. The first was from uncle Bryan to my
mother:


'Dear Emma,--I will not speak of my reasons for leaving you. Perhaps
you may be able to guess them. I did it for the best. My absence may
bring peace and happiness into your home, for it is yours. I
relinquish all claim to it. When I tell you that I shall never return,
you will know that I shall not set foot inside the shop again. I
cannot have many years longer to live, and I shall do well enough, so
do not give yourself any anxiety about me. I shall always be able to
get my bread, and I shall wait patiently for death, and shall be
grateful when it comes, but I shall do nothing to hasten it. Life has
been a weary load to me, and I shall be glad to shake it off. This
impatience would change to resignation and to gratitude, not for
death, but for life, if it were possible for one thing to happen; but
it is utterly, utterly impossible, and it is just and right that it
should be out of my reach.

'I have a distinct purpose in writing to you, apart from any selfish
words which fall from my pen. It is this: In telling you and my nephew
the story of my life I threw blame upon my dead wife. I did worse than
this--I slandered her memory. That I spoke what I believed is no
excuse for me. I created for myself, out of my blindness and fatal
imperiousness of self, a delusion and a lie which have embittered my
life. I could bear this with calmness if the consequences had fallen
only on myself; but I see now, when it is too late, how I have made
others suffer. The bitterest punishment that could fall upon me would
not serve to expiate my deadly sin. I do suffer bitterly, keenly, and
my soul writhes from pain and shame.

'Can I speak more strongly? And yet these words are weak. Too late I
see my folly and my crime. Many things that Christopher said to me
were true. I humbly ask his forgiveness, and I humbly pray that the
happiness he said I did my best to destroy may yet fall to his lot. If
he will picture me an old man with a bleeding heart into whose life
few rays of sunshine have passed, pleading to him, he may soften
towards me. Perhaps he may believe that I loved him; if he does
believe it, he will believe the truth.

'The letter I send with this is from my dead wife; it will explain
itself. I received it at the same time the letter came to you from
Jessie. Merely looking at her name upon paper, now that I have written
it, deepens my anguish, my shame, and my remorse. It will never fall
to my lot to ask her forgiveness, as I ask yours and your son's. I put
myself in her place, and I know what her feelings are.

'Let Christopher read this and my wife's letter.

'Good-bye, Emma. For your unwavering kindness and gentleness to me,
who have repaid you so badly, receive the humble heartfelt thanks of
   Bryan Carey.'


Then followed the letter from his wife.



CHAPTER XLII.
FROM FRANCES TO HER HUSBAND, BRYAN CAREY.


I address you from the grave, and I pray that what I write may never
reach your hands. If, unhappily, you are fated to read these words,
they will bring their own punishment with them.

Do I hope, then, that you may be dead on the day that this letter
shall be opened or destroyed, unread? No. But rather than you should
receive it, it would be better that the earth covered you, as it has
covered me these many years. You will understand my meaning before you
have finished reading. I write in no vindictive spirit. All bitter
feeling has left me; although even yourself may acknowledge that I
have good cause for feeling bitterly towards you. But I am resolved
that you shall not blight another life as you blighted mine. Another
life so dear to me! that should be so dear to you! Another life that
has been some comfort to me in the midst of my sorrow and affliction;
and that I hope may be long spared for happiness.

It is not a giddy girl who is writing to you. It is a woman who has
learned to look upon things with fair judgment, notwithstanding that
she has suffered deeply from a cruel wrong inflicted upon her.

When you first came to me I was a child almost in years. I had had no
opportunity of knowing the world, or of gaining that experience which
is necessary to those who move in its busy quarters. I had never known
trouble or sorrow, and, until my father fell into misfortune, I had
lived very happily with him. He had his faults, I do not doubt, as we
all have; but he was a good father to the last, and I loved him to the
last. You judged him harshly, I know, and made no excuses for him--but
it is in your nature to judge harshly. Weak as he was to some extent,
I do not believe that he would have wronged his wife--doubly wronged
her--and then have deserted her: as you wronged and deserted me. I
have some remembrance of my mother, who died when I was very young,
and I know that he was indulgent and good to her.

I fancy I can see a hard look on your face at the word indulgent. But
some natures require indulgence, and are the better and the happier
for it. You were for a time indulgent to me, and it was for this, as
well as for other qualities in you upon which I placed higher value
than you deserved, that I loved you.

Yes, I loved you. I scarcely know whether you ever believed I
did; for, thinking over matters since our separation, I have
arrived--whether rightly or wrongly--at what I believe to be a correct
estimate of your character, at what assuredly is a correct estimate if
you are destined to read it. I see you, hard and intolerant; doubtful
of goodness in others; prone to place the most uncharitable
construction on the actions of others. Lightness of heart is in your
eyes a sign of levity. Surely the moods which were familiar to me in
the first days of our acquaintanceship, and in the first few months of
our wedded life, must have been foreign to your nature.

I see something more in you. I see you false to your wife and to your
marriage vows. I see you, who prided yourself upon your sense of
justice, most unjust and ungenerous to me. Let your heart answer if I
am wrong.

Recall the evening on which we met for the first time, and certain
words which passed between us. You were at my father's house, advising
him upon his business affairs, which had become complicated. You said
that my voice reminded you of a friend--a lady friend, very dear to
you--and that she was dead. The words did not make much impression
upon me at the time; but I had occasion afterwards to remember them. I
liked you that evening. Your grave face, your sensible ways, were
agreeable to me, frivolous girl as you supposed me to be. We kept but
little society; the only regular visitor at my father's house was my
cousin Ralph. I loved him; but not in the way you suspected. We had
been intimate from early childhood, and I had a sincere affection for
him. When I became better acquainted with you, I saw faults in him
which I had not hitherto discerned; there was a want of stability in
his character; he was indolent and deficient in manliness. Even if you
had not entered into my life, and marred it, I think I should never
have had any but a cousinly love for him. So far as I was concerned,
there were no grounds for jealousy on your part, and no grounds for
your base suspicions of me. I do not speak for him; I speak for
myself. And when you wrote to me on the day you deserted me, and
accused me of loving him as a woman should love the man she wishes to
marry, you lied. But you had another purpose to serve, and it suited
you to write the lie.

Of our married life I need say but few words. I was very happy for a
time. You had behaved nobly and generously to my father; you were most
kind and indulgent to me. If, as I afterwards learnt, we were living
beyond our means, I had no suspicion of it. You never gave me the
slightest hint to that effect, and you encouraged what I now know were
extravagances in me. But--believe it or not as you will--I could have
been contented and happy without them. You told me you were rich, and
you could not fail to know that I had no idea of the value of money.
Why could you not have confided in me? Was it honest to keep me, of
your own free will, in such absolute ignorance, and then to blame me
for not having known? I think, if you had trusted me, that you might
have found some good in me--judged even by the light of your own hard
judgment; but it is in your nature to accuse and judge in the same
breath, and to do both unmercifully.

I remember well the last day you were kind to me. You left me in the
morning with smiles; you returned home long after midnight a changed
man. I, also, was changed when you returned. I have other cause to
remember the day; for in the evening my cousin Ralph came to see me,
and stayed with me until nearly eleven o'clock. You had sent me a note
saying that you were detained at your office by important business. I
read the note to my cousin, and he laughed at it, and said that you
had good cause for your absence. His words conveyed a strange meaning
to my ears, and I asked for an explanation. He gave it to me; and I
learnt, to my horror, that you were in the habit of visiting another
woman--a stranger in the town. Before I had recovered from the shock,
I received another. My cousin Ralph, in a mad moment, proved himself
to be what I had not hitherto suspected--a vile bad man. He told me,
in passionate terms, that he loved me, and that he had loved me from
boyhood; that it had been the dream of his life that we should be
married, and that, but for you and your money, his life might have
been a life of happiness. I listened in dismay and astonishment; I
knew that he had an affection for me, but I thought it was such an
affection as one cousin might innocently have entertained for another.
I was so overwhelmed by this discovery, and by his accusations against
you, that I had no power to stay his words. He misinterpreted my
silence, and proceeded in wilder terms to propose flight to me. I
tried to answer him, but my grief, and my terror lest you should
return while he was in the house--for he was at my feet and refused to
stir--made me weak. I implored him for my sake and for his own to
leave me; and presently, when I grew stronger, I addressed him in
words which it was impossible for him to misunderstand. It flashed
upon me then that he had invented the story he had told me about you,
and I taunted him with it. He answered me to the effect that he would
prove it true before many days were over, and that then I might
possibly listen to him more favourably. He left me; and your own
conduct towards me from that day, during the short time we were
together, was almost a sufficient proof. You would have judged upon
that evidence; I was not content with it. I soon tasted the bitterness
that lay in knowledge. A clerk in your office, who had for a
purpose of his own made himself acquainted with the history of this
woman--probably to use against you in some way--and whom you had
employed to convey money and letters to her at different times, told
me more than I wanted to know. On the day that you had the public
quarrel with my cousin Ralph--I heard of it soon afterwards, for it
became matter of common talk--I discovered that this woman came from a
town in which you had formerly resided--that you knew her then--and
that her history was a shameful one. Then there came to me the words
that had passed between us upon your first visit to my father's house,
when you said that my voice reminded you of a woman who was dear to
you, and who was dead. It was easy to supply the blank spaces in the
story to make it complete--shamefully, miserably complete. Your clerk
told me that the life you had lived in that town was not a respectable
one: I did not ask him how he had gained his knowledge, but I was sure
of its truth. You left that town, and came to this place, a complete
stranger, knowing no one, known by none. You refused to speak of your
past life; not a word had ever passed your lips with reference to it.
What other confirmation was needed of the truth of your clerk's
statements? You tried to blot out your past career, knowing that it
would not bear the light, and that the good name and position you had
gained would be sullied and lost if the particulars were made public.
You deserted the woman who had been your companion, and when you were
inadvertently betrayed into remembrance of her by the sound of my
voice, you told me she was dead. You never mentioned her again, nor
did I, for I had forgotten her. But see how hard it is to lead a life
of hypocrisy, as you have done! Shame never dies, nor can it ever be
completely wiped away. After years of sojourn here, when you had
gained money, position and a good name--when you had position, a
simple, ignorant, and innocently-vain girl to your heart, and had
sworn to cherish and protect her--this woman tracks you, finds you,
and appeals to you by the remembrance of old times, and perhaps by
other arguments more powerful, of which I am ignorant. On the very
evening she meets you, you take her to a house in the town, and
provide lodgings for her, and from that time your visits are frequent.
Is this part of your story complete, and need I add to it by saying
that you mentioned not a word concerning the woman to the wife you
professed to love? If there was no shame in the relations that existed
between you and her, why should you have taken such pains to conceal
them? On the day you deserted me, you told me you were ruined, and you
adopted the miserable subterfuge of saying that you had discovered
all, and that you could no longer live with me. Your meaning was plain
enough. You implied that I was false to you and to the vows I had
taken on the day we were married. A more wicked lie never poisoned the
heart of man or woman. I had brought shame and disgrace upon you, you
said, and that it was useless my sending after you. I have read this
letter often--it is destroyed now; I burnt it lest one who is dearer
to me than my heart's blood should see it--and I have wondered at my
folly and credulity in ever, for one moment, believing you to be a
good and just man. For I did believe you to be this. There was a time
in my life when I set you up as a model of honour and integrity and
truth. The last words of your letter are burnt into my heart. Do you
remember them? 'If I could make you a free woman, so that you might
marry the man you love, I would willingly lay down my life; but it
cannot be done. The only and best reparation I can offer is to
promise, as I do now most faithfully, to wipe you out of my heart,
so that you may be free from me for ever.' How fair those words
sound--how self-sacrificing--how manly! What a noble nature do they
display! Would it be believed that while this letter was on its way to
the wife whom he was about to desert--to the wife whom he had most
cruelly wronged, and most shamefully betrayed--the man who wrote it
was entering the house where the woman lived who had been his
companion in former years? The next morning you left. Two days
afterwards, the woman followed you to London.

Is anything more wanted to complete the shameful story? Had I brought
disgrace upon you, or had you brought it upon me? A noble reparation,
indeed, did you make to me!

You may ask how it was that I discovered your visit to the woman. My
father and my cousin saw you coming from the house, where doubtless
you had completed all your arrangements, and left your final
instructions. My cousin it was who told me. 'Now,' he said, 'do you
believe that he is false?' 'Yes,' I answered; 'I am convinced of it'
What followed? Remember it is your dead wife who is speaking to you,
and do not dare, for your soul's sake, to add to your cruelty by
doubting what she says. My cousin Ralph then began to speak again of
his own selfish passion, and I bade him never to presume to address me
again. From that day I never saw him; some little while afterwards my
father told me he had gone abroad, but we never heard from him.

We remained--my father and I--for a few weeks after your departure,
and then my father's health suddenly broke down. In one thing you had
most completely succeeded; you had blackened my name as well as your
own. Innocent as I was, wronged as I was, I think no one in my native
place pitied me. Persons who had once respected me avoided me, or
slighted me. Day by day the torture of living in this atmosphere of
injustice grew until it was unbearable; and when my father broke down,
I took him with me into a strange place, where neither of us was
known, and where I hoped by carefully husbanding our small means, and
by employing some hours of the day in needlework, to be enabled to
live quietly, if not in peace. There was another reason why I was
anxious to leave--a reason which you will now learn for a certainty
for the first time. I was about to become a mother.

I kept this secret from you. Often and often had I listened to the
expression of your wishes--the dearest wish of your heart, you
said--that our union might be blessed with children. Your wish was
that our first child might be a girl, and I used to hang with delight
upon your words--believing in them in my credulous faith--when you
described how you would educate and rear her into a good woman. I kept
the secret, intending to joyfully surprise you later on; but it was
fated that you should never learn it from my lips. When my time drew
near, I was among strangers. I prayed that I might be blessed with a
boy, who would be able to fight against the world's cruelties--with a
boy who might one day--if you lived--be able to tell you to your face
that you had slandered his mother. I had those thoughts at that time,
and I set them down so that you may know exactly the state of my mind
towards you. I prayed most fervently that the child might not be a
girl, whose fate it might be to be treated by a man as her unhappy
mother was treated by you. But my prayers were not heard. The child I
clasped to my breast--your child--was a girl.

I hardly dared to look into her face at first, for I feared that it
might resemble you, and that I should be compelled to hate her. I
thanked God when I saw that there was but little resemblance to you.
Think when you read this what my feelings towards you must have been.

My darling's was the sweetest, most beautiful face that I had ever
gazed upon. I had never conceived it possible that a human heart could
throb with such ineffable delight as mine did even in the midst of my
bitter sorrow and shame, when I looked into my darling's face and
eyes. I offered up grateful prayers that I lived and was a mother, and
I offered up prayers of thankfulness also that it was out of your
power to rob me of my treasure. That you would have done it had you
known, I entertained no doubt.

The first few months of my child's life I was as happy as it was
possible for a wronged and betrayed woman to be. Intending in these
lines to hide nothing, I will not disguise from you that I shed many
bitter tears because she was deprived of a father's love; but she did
not lack love and attention. She was my one comfort and joy; I soon
had no one else to love but her.

My father died. The doctor who had attended him in his illness warned
me that, unless I was careful of myself, my life might be short. The
thought that my darling might be left, helpless and dependent, among
strangers, frightened me, and I did not know which way to turn for
counsel and advice. I had not a friend in the world capable of helping
me by a kindly, sensible word. To this condition you had brought me.

But my cup of sorrow was not yet full. The doctor I have mentioned was
an unmarried man. He believed me to be a widow, as I had given out. I
had no other resource than to speak this untruth. It was impossible
for me to say that I was a helpless, unhappy woman, who had been
deserted by her husband. To such a creature strangers show no mercy;
they put their own construction on the story and judge accordingly--as
you would judge, harshly, unfeelingly. I think I should not have cared
so much for myself, but I had my darling to look to.

The doctor flattered me by saying that he saw I was a lady, and, in
most respectful terms, he invited my confidence. He was most delicate
and considerate, but I could not confide in him or any one; my cruel
story and my cruel wrongs must be for ever locked in my breast. He did
not press me when he saw that I was pained by his inquiries, but he
paid me great attention, and by his kindness lightened my load. I did
not place any serious construction upon his intentions, nor indeed did
I think of them, for I was entirely wrapt up in my love for my darling
child, who was growing every day more beautiful and more engaging. But
when he asked me to be his wife, my eyes were opened. If I had been a
free woman I would have accepted him, if only for the sake of
providing a comfortable home for my child. As I was in chains, I
refused him. He said he was a patient man, that he loved me very
sincerely, and that he would wait. In the heavy catalogue of my sins
that you have against me, place this new one--that this good man loved
me. He continued his attentions, and they brought me into fresh
disgrace. In the place I was living there were single ladies, and
mothers who had daughters to marry, who entertained a hope that the
doctor would choose from among them, and they were angry when they saw
that I stood in their way. I do not know whom I have to thank for what
followed, but gradually rumours got about to my discredit. I was not a
widow; I was not a married woman; the name I went by was not my own.
Women shrugged their shoulders when they met me; men stared at me
insolently and familiarly. What had occurred in my native town when
you deserted me was repeated here. I had no alternative but to fly
from the place.

At that time my darling was nearly three years old, and the unkind
creatures had attempted to drop poison even into her young and
innocent mind. One day she asked me, in her pretty way, where her
father was. 'You have none, my darling,' I said; 'he is dead.'

In the new place I found refuge in I made friends with a kind family,
who grew very fond of my child--as none indeed could help doing. Her
bright ways, her innocence, her artlessness, would win any heart not
dead to human affection. If anything should happen to me, these
friends will take care of my darling as long as they are able. I think
it is likely that I shall not live long, and I have thought anxiously
over the future of my darling until she arrives at an age when she may
be able to protect and provide for herself. I have consulted with my
new friends, and I have arranged everything to the best of my ability
and judgment. I shall place in their hands a small box, which, in the
event of my death and of their being unable to maintain my child (for
they are poor people), is to be given to her with plain instructions.
These instructions it will be necessary for me here to explain, first
saying, however, that should these good friends be able to look after
my child until she arrives at womanhood, there will be no necessity to
give them to her. In that event, also, the box and its contents will
be burnt. They have promised me faithfully, and I know they will keep
their word.

If I am gone, and they are too poor to help my child, she will be, as
I have been, without a friend. These good people have some idea of
emigrating, if they can save sufficient money, and then my darling
will be indeed helpless. They might take her with them, it may be
said; but they may not have sufficient means. And then, again, it
inflicts the most bitter pain upon me to think that my darling child
should be taken thousands of miles from the spot where her mother's
ashes are laid. She will be helpless, as I have said; but there is one
upon whom she has a just claim--yourself. I wished her never to see
you; I wished that you might never look upon her beautiful face, nor
feel the charm of her presence. But I see no other way to secure a
home for her. Should she be left without friends, she will come to
you, a stranger, with a letter from me, who will even then be dead,
asking you to give a home to a friendless child. She will bear a
strange name, and will know you only as a stranger. Neither will you
know her; it may be that you will see in her face some slight
resemblance to the wife whose happiness you have destroyed, and it may
be that you may place that resemblance to your dead wife's discredit.
Do so, and bring another shame upon your soul.

How do I know where you live in London? It has been discovered for me,
by means of a clue which my father obtained soon after your flight.
When a mother is working for her child, she can do much. I have never
seen London, but I know your address; and on the day that the friends
I have made for my child find they can no longer provide for her, she
will present herself at your door. Hard and unfeeling, cruel and
unjust, as you are, I think you will not turn her from it.

In the small box which my friends will give to my darling child are
three letters, numbered first, second, third. On the first letter is
written, 'To be opened first, on your eighteenth birthday, before the
other letters are touched. This is the sacred wish of your dead
mother.' I copy this letter in this place, so that you may clearly
understand what I have done:


'My darling Child,--I wish you to regard these written words as though
they are spoken to you with my dying breath, and to obey them. If Mr.
Bryan Carey has made your life happy, and if you are in the enjoyment
of a happy home, destroy the second letter by fire, and hand him the
third. If it is otherwise with you, and your life with him has been in
any way unhappy, destroy the third letter by fire, as you would have
done the second. Then seek some quiet place and read the second
letter, and when you have read it, send it to Mr. Carey, and act as
you think best for your welfare and happiness. That God will for ever
bless and protect my darling is the prayer of your mother,

   'Frances.'


The third letter contains a short account of my life since you left
me, and the statement that Jessie is your daughter. It leaves it to
your judgment to make the relationship known to her, or to let it
remain a secret.

The second letter you are now reading.

If it fall into your hands, Jessie will have read it first, and will
know how basely you behaved to me. She will know that your conduct
towards me was such that a woman never can forgive, and she will
understand that a man had better kill his wife than inflict upon her
such shame and misery and humiliation as you inflicted upon me, a
guiltless woman, as God is my Judge. She will know that you deserted
me for another woman, and left me, a simple inexperienced girl, to
battle alone with the pitiless world. Ah, how pitiless it is, how
uncharitable, how cruel! How many nights have I passed shedding what
might have been tears of blood, for they were wrung from a bruised and
bleeding heart! She, who has lived with me many happy years in her
childhood's life, will, when she reads this, be able to look back with
the eyes of a woman upon the life I led while we were together, and
she will know whether it was without stain and without reproach. She
will have had experience both of you and myself, and of both our
natures and minds, and she will have sense and intelligence enough to
judge fairly between us. I repeat here, with all the strength of my
soul, what I have declared before--that when you accused me of loving
my cousin Ralph and of being false to you, you lied most foully.

I believe that I decided rightly when I decided to write these things.
As you have acted towards your daughter, so shall be your reward.
Whether it be for good or ill, you have earned it.

   Your unhappy wife,

      Frances.


After the last sheet of this letter, there were a few words in uncle
Bryan's handwriting, evidently intended for my mother: 'If you see her
whom I scarcely dare call my daughter for the shame which overwhelms
me, tell her but one thing from me--that her mother's suspicions
concerning the woman I befriended are unfounded. She will believe
this, perhaps; it is the truth.'



CHAPTER XLIII.
A HAPPY RECOVERY.


The perusal of this letter affected me powerfully. There was something
solemn in the mere handling of a confession written by a woman long
since dead--a woman who had been so cruelly wronged and had so cruelly
suffered. It was like a voice from the tomb, and it was impossible to
resist the conviction that forced itself upon my mind that it was the
solemn, bitter truth.

I had never suspected that Jessie was in any way related to uncle
Bryan, but it did not surprise me to learn it. The fact that she was
my cousin brought with it no sense of pleasure; it gave me no claim on
her affection. Rather would she be inclined to look with feelings of
repugnance upon all who were connected with her by blood, for by the
nearest of these her mother had been brought to misery and shame, and
her own life had been made most unhappy; and it was not to be doubted
that all her soul would rise in vindication of her mother's honour.

It was past midnight, and everything about me was very still. My
mother was sleeping more peacefully than she had yet done through her
illness, and I remarked with thankfulness that the distressed
expression on her face was wearing away, and that she was beginning to
look something like her old sweet self. Insensibly in her sleep her
arm stole round my neck. I let it rest there for many minutes, and
when I rose from her side and kissed her fingers, there was a soft
smile upon her lips--the first unclouded smile I had seen there for
many a day. It gave me hope and gladdened my heart.

I was in no humour for sleep, having had some rest during the day, and
I had told Florry that I would sit up with my mother until the
morning. I placed the letter I had been reading in my desk, and then,
arranging the screen in such a manner that the light by which I worked
should not fall upon my mother's face, and also in such a manner that
when she opened her eyes they must rest upon me, I sat at my table and
worked and thought. My work was noiseless, and I could do it without
disturbing the stillness. I was thankful for that. I do not know in
what way it came into my mind that there are numberless small things
in life which we ought to be grateful for, but the thought came.
Presently, while my hand and eyes were busy on delicate manipulations
in the wood, my mind reverted to uncle Bryan and Jessie, and the
strange, strange letter I had read. Could Jessie ever forgive her
father? Never, I thought. The unkindnesses inflicted upon herself she
might have been eager to forgive when she made the discovery that she
had a father living, but the wrong inflicted upon her mother was past
forgiveness. Truly, the dead wife had punished the living husband with
a cunning hand. But it was a just blow that she had struck. She had
shown no vindictiveness; for had he behaved kindly to the girl to whom
he had given the shelter of his home, Jessie would never have been
made acquainted with her mother's wrongs. Yes, it was just, but it was
terrible.

Terrible indeed. To find a father only to hate him. To find a father,
and in the discovery to gain the knowledge that his conduct to her
mother might have brought lasting shame and disgrace upon her own good
name.

And he? How did he feel it? The words he addressed to me in his letter
to my mother were very clear in my mind. Too late I see my folly and
my crime. Many things that Christopher said to me were true. I humbly
ask his forgiveness, and I humbly pray that the happiness he said I
did my best to destroy may yet fall to his lot. If he will picture me,
an old man with a bleeding heart, into whose life but few rays of
sunshine have passed, pleading to him, he may soften towards me.
Perhaps he may believe that I loved him; if he does believe it, he
will believe the truth.'

I did believe it; I felt that it was true. I asked myself whether all
the fault was his, whether he was entirely to blame because it was not
in his nature to show love in its sweetest way. I recalled the words
he had used when he described to me and my mother the home in which he
spent his childhood's days. I raised up a picture of his mother, a
weak-minded woman, ruled as with a rod of iron by her husband, ruled
even in her affections by a man whom his own son could not respect,
knowing him to be a hypocrite. The son must have learned bad lessons
in such a home. Was it not to the son's credit that he refused to be
moulded by such influences? But if the son had had such a mother as
mine----

Ah, if an influence so sweet had sweetened his life--if an affection
so pure had purified his mind--how different it might have been with
him! The cobwebs of scepticism and bitter distrust might have been
swept from his soul. He might have grown into a good and noble man.
For I recognised qualities in uncle Bryan's nature far higher than
those with which the men I was acquainted with were gifted. My blind
unreasoning anger against him was gone, and I felt only pity for the
desolate old man. I pictured him, as he had desired me to do, an old
man with a bleeding heart, into whose life but few rays of sunshine
had passed--an old man who in his youth had been soured, misdirected,
misjudged, his rare qualities and gifts turned against himself; and I
pitied him with a full heart, and most freely forgave him.

At this point I recalled everything in his character that spoke in his
favour--his love of flowers, his love of justice, which had something
heroic in it, his contempt for meanness and roguery, his gentle
behaviour towards my mother, by whom alone he was properly understood.
He would have been astonished had he known my thoughts.

In this better mood I continued my work. Tick, tick, tick, went the
little clock on the mantelpiece, and the sound seemed to add to the
stillness instead of disturbing it. Once, upon raising my eyes to my
mother's bed, I fancied that she was awake and was observing me. I
stole towards the bed, but her eyes were closed; I kissed her softly,
and resumed my work. The wood-block I was engaged upon represented a
woman standing by a field after the corn had been cut and gathered. It
was sunset, and the woman, who was between forty and fifty years of
age, was gazing sadly and mournfully at the setting sun and the bare
field, with only the stubble left on it. I knew the story which the
picture was intended to illustrate. The woman had been parted from her
son, who was in a distant land, many thousands of miles across the
sea, and the last news she had received from him represented him as
being beset by misfortune and sickness. She was standing now, thinking
mournfully of the times when she and he were together; and the sun,
setting among sad clouds, and the cornfield, shorn of its golden
glory, were in fit keeping with her thoughts. Another picture drawn on
the wood, and which I had not yet commenced to engrave, lay before me.
The scene was the same, and the figure of the woman was there, but the
time and circumstances were different from the last. It was morning in
the opening of summer; the corn was ripening, and lying on the ground
at the mother's feet was the son, restored to her in health.
Insensibly, as I proceeded with my work, my thoughts reverted to a
certain time in my childhood when my mother toiled during the day and
sat up late in the night working for me. How many a night had I seen
her sitting at the table in our poorly-furnished one room, stitching
until daylight dawned to earn bread for her child! The songs she used
to sing softly to herself came to my lips, and I murmured them almost
unconsciously, while the tears ran from my eyes. My heart was
throbbing with exquisite tenderness towards my mother, and I thought
that never in all my reading had I met with a woman so thoroughly good
and pure and true. I covered my eyes with my hand to shut out the
aching fear that, with the force of a visible presence, was creeping
upon me and whispering that the priceless blessing of her love was
lost to me for ever; but the action brought a deeper darkness to my
soul. It lasted but a moment, thank God! for suddenly my name was
uttered in a soft clear tone.

'Chris!'

My heart almost ceased to beat as the sound of my mother's voice, with
its old sweet cadence, fell upon my ear; but I remembered the caution
which the doctor had given me, and I quietly proceeded with my work.

'Yes, mother.'

'What are you doing, dear child?'

'Working, mother.'

I scarcely dared to raise my eyes, and I waited anxiously for her to
speak again.

'It is late, my child.'

'Not very, mother. The night was so beautiful, and I had such a long
rest this morning, that I thought I would work for an hour or two upon
some pictures I have to get done quickly.' I spoke calmly and softly
and cheerfully. 'I thought you were asleep, mother.'

'I have lain for some time watching you, my darling, and wondering
whether this was not all a dream.'

'A dream, mother!' I said, and I went to her side, and passed my arm
under her neck. 'No, it is not a dream.' She gazed at me long and
earnestly.

'Where are we, dear child?'

'In the country, at Hertford. You were not very well, and I brought
you down here to nurse you into health again.'

She pondered over these words. 'You were singing my songs, my dearest'

'I hope they did not disturb you, mother.'

'What sweeter music could I hear, dear child? But what made you sing
them?'

'I was thinking of the old times, mother, when you and I were
together, and when you used to work late in the night for me. There
was a prayer in my heart while I was singing.'

'What prayer, my dearest?'

'That I might be able to repay you by my love for the love you have
given me all my life. That God would be merciful to me, and would give
me the power to show you that I love you with all my heart and soul,
and to prove that as no son ever had a more loving mother than you
have been to me, so no mother ever had a son who was filled with a
deeper love than I have for you.'

'Dear child! darling child!' she said, with deep-drawn sighs of
happiness, what can I say to you for your goodness to me? I do not
deserve it! I do not deserve it!' She folded me in her arms, and I lay
by her side with my face pressed close to hers.

'If you say that, mother, I shall think you do not believe me.'

'No, no, dear child, I do believe it. These are tears of joy that I am
shedding. And we two are alone, darling!'

'Yes, mother, and I only want one thing to make me quite happy.'

'Tell it me, child?' she asked, a little anxiously.

'To see you well again, mother, that is all. Then I shall go on with
my work, and we shall get along famously together. But you mustn't
talk any longer; you must go to sleep. Shall I sing you to sleep as
you used to do to me? Do you remember that dear old song? Well, but
_I_ must not talk any longer. I am going to lie here; first let me put
out the light.' When I returned to the fond prison of her loving arms,
I said softly, 'I shall only say two or three words more. First,
mother, you must promise me to get quite well. Promise, now, for my
sake.'

'I will try to, dear child; I think I shall; I feel strong already.'

'Then you must tell me that you are happy, dear mother.'

'Ah, my darling, there is not a happier mother in the world. Blessed
with such a son, I should be ungrateful to God if I were not.'

'And now, mother, not another word----'

'But draw the counterpane round you, darling; you will take cold
else.'

'There, it is done; feel: and I'm quite warm. Good-night, mother. One
kiss--two--three; and before you can count three more I shall be
asleep.'

I pretended to be, but I remained awake, listening to her sighs of
happiness. Every now and then she passed her fingers over my face, and
over my eyes, to learn if they were closed. After a time she fell
asleep herself, and her composed peaceful breathing seemed in itself
an assurance of returning health.



CHAPTER XLIV.
AT REHEARSAL.


As the curtain falls upon a scene in a drama, and when it rises again
so many years are supposed to have elapsed, so between the closing of
the last chapter and the opening of this six months must be supposed
to have passed. We are again in London. My mother, thank God, is well,
and I have within me the happy assurance that I have nursed her into
health; the doctor has told me so, my mother herself has repeated it a
hundred times, and I believe it and am humbly grateful.

We are living near to Paradise-row, but not in uncle Bryan's shop. My
mother, knowing all that occurred on Jessie's birthday, showed no
surprise when, on returning to London, I took her to some comfortable
rooms I had engaged, and said that these were to be our home. She made
only one remark--she hoped I would not have any objection to her going
to the shop occasionally to see Josey West. I told her I should be
glad if she went, and that I intended to go there myself very often.

We are as happy as we can reasonably expect to be. That we have
sorrows is certain; but we refrain from speaking of them. We are as
silent concerning our hopes, if we have any.

Nothing has been heard of uncle Bryan; Josey West conducts the
business as though she had been born to it, and it is really
prospering under her management. She is such a favourite with all the
neighbours, that her customers increase every week, and the takings
are nearly doubled.

'I think we shall be able to set up a plate window soon,' says Josey
West, with a grand air. 'The sale of the pills is astonishing, my
dear, astonishing! Do you know, Chris, I feel quite like a respectable
member of society! I shall soon begin to turn up my nose at
play-actors, who are nothing but vagrants, my dear, nothing but
vagrants. And they're bad paymasters, Chris; I've two of them on my
books already.'

When I ask her about Jessie, Josey says that she's all right, and that
I have no occasion to bother myself about _her_. I can extract nothing
more from her than this, and if I endeavour to press the subject
further, she turns snappish.

My mother and I have had many conversations about uncle Bryan, and I
think one great cause of her contentment is the altered state of my
feelings towards him, which I do not disguise from her. I am
prospering in a worldly sense, and when I feel most despondent I work
the hardest; it is a relief to me. My name has appeared in print,
connected with words of praise, and I often wonder whether Jessie has
seen it. As for my mother, when I brought home the paper containing
the two lines in which my work was spoken of favourably, I thought she
would have gone wild with joy. I am afraid to say how many times she
must have read the few ordinary words, but, knowing what a delight
they are to her, I am glad that I have earned them for her sake.

In this way the months roll on. With reference to my feelings towards
Jessie, I shall be almost as silent now as I was at home during that
time. Sufficient to say that I never forgot her, and that I never
loved her less; but her name is rarely mentioned at home.

There is one person, however, to whom I speak of Jessie freely--to
Turk West. Turk is getting along capitally in his shop, and has
already paid off more than half his debt to Mr. Glover. I see this
gentleman occasionally in Turk's shop; Turk shaves him, and dresses
his hair for him two or three times a week; whenever I go into the
shop and see him there, I retire immediately. I have no wish to injure
Turk's business, and when I reason calmly over matters I cannot see
what tangible ground of complaint I have against Mr. Glover--which
does not lessen my detestation of him.

'He is a good customer,' says Turk to me, 'and it will be best for
more reasons than one not to offend him. I can't say that I like
him--although I try to, Chris, my boy, let me tell you--but I know
that he is the soul of honour.'

'How _do_ you know it?' I ask.

Turk scratches his head. 'Well, _he_ says it, Chris, my boy, and
everybody says it who knows him. He comes from a highly-respectable
family.'

I can say nothing in opposition, knowing nothing of his family.

'And it is something to be proud of, Chris?' says Turk.

'What _is_, Turk?'

'To be so respectably connected.'

'I suppose so,' I answer indifferently.

Old Mac is a constant visitor at Turk's shop; indeed, it appears to me
that he spends most of his time there, for whenever I go westward and
open Turk's door, his is the first familiar face I see. He keeps
guard, as it were.

'Turk is inside,' he says; or 'Turk is upstairs, crimping a lady's
hair.' For Turk has lady as well as gentleman customer's, and has
become very skilful in the business. His flow of conversation and
anecdote is of great assistance to him; he has always something to
say, and, not having been born a barber and hairdresser, he seldom
commences about the weather--which is a relief.

On a windy day in April, I visited Turk, and, as usual, found old Mac
there. Turk, very busy over some theatrical wigs, looked up from his
work, and asked me if I wanted to speak to him. No, I answered; I had
merely dropped in as I passed. I had as little excuse for the visit as
I had for many others; I only went in the vague hope of hearing
something of Jessie. Turk understood this, without being told.

'Business good, Turk?' I inquired.

'First-class,' said Turk. 'I shall have to get an assistant, I expect.
By the bye---- O, never mind!'

He suddenly interrupted himself, in a confused manner.

'By the bye, what, Turk?'

'Nothing,' he replied, bending over his work.

Old Mac looked at me somewhat significantly, and, rising, said he
should take a stroll in Covent-garden Market.

'It does one good to walk up and down that arcade,' he said. 'One
smells the country lanes there. How would it do to have it on the
stage, Turk, with real hothouse fruit and flowers fresh from the
market gardens every night? I daresay it will come to that, in time.
The stage is not what it was, my sons.'

Winking at me, old Mac went out, and I, regarding the wink as an
invitation to follow him, wished Turk good-morning.

'This is not the way to Covent Garden,' I said, as I joined him. 'Have
you had your morning drain, Mac?'

'No, my son, no,' he replied cheerfully; 'and I know a place.'

Without more words he conducted me to the 'place,' where I paid for
his morning drain twice over.

'You took my hint, my son,' he said, when he had drained his glass,
and eaten his lemon; he always ate the slice of lemon after he
finished his glass, saying humorously that it was a preparation for
the next. 'You took my hint.'

'You wanted to speak to me I thought, Mac.'

'Well, not exactly wanted, my son; but I have something to communicate
which may be interesting to you. I know what the tender passion is,
and how it burns. I've had my day, and, faith! I'd like to have it
over again! It wasn't all sugar, my son. There was one--ah, there was
one, I do remember me, in my hot youth!--


   "Her lips to mine how often did she join.
     Between each kiss her oaths of true love swearing!
    How many tales to please me did she coin.
     Dreading my love, the loss thereof still fearing!
    Yet in the midst of all her pure protesting.
     Her faith, her oaths, her tears, and all were jesting."


But what cared I? I whistled her off, and took another, for they're as
thick as mulberries, my son. And I'd like to have my time over again,
pleasures, pains, and all. But this is not to the point, and yet it
is, although the lines will not apply--that is to say, I hope not.'

I listened in anxiety; I was well acquainted with old Mac's character
by this time, and I knew it would be useless to interrupt him and ask
him to come to the point at once; he must come to it his own way.

'Old Mac can tell a hawk from a handsaw with half an eye,' he
continued, 'and he has two good ones at his command. Old Mac says to
himself, seeing a certain talented young friend whom he esteems--your
health, my son. Ah, I forgot, my glass is empty'--(I was obliged to
fill it again; I had no fear of Mac's getting tipsy on three glasses;
he was too well seasoned)--'Old Mac says to himself, what does this
talented young friend of his mean by coming so often to Turk West's
establishment? Well, there would be nothing in that, but he comes in
unseasonable hours--that is to say, in the hours during which he is
supposed to be working for the public. What does that mean? says old
Mac, in confidence to himself. Your health, my son. It can mean but
one thing. Old Mac knows the signs. And that's why he winked at you to
follow him. _Do_ you follow me?'

'Not exactly,' I was obliged to confess, notwithstanding that I had a
dim glimmering of what was coming.

Old Mac laughed.

'Well, not to beat about the bush--but I thought I'd lead up to it by
easy stages--a certain fair friend of ours is at a certain place this
morning, and I fancied you might like to see her.'

My heart beat violently; I knew that he referred to Jessie.

'Did she tell you to come for me?'

He dashed my hopes to the ground by hurriedly replying, 'No, no, my
son; she knows nothing of it, and had best not know, perhaps. The fact
is, our fair friend is about to make her first appearance on the
boards, and she is now rehearsing her part. I know the box-keeper, and
he will let us into the dress circle, where you can see her without
her seeing you.'

I thanked him cordially, and we walked together to the theatre, and
were admitted to the dress circle, which was in complete darkness.
Certainly no one on the stage could distinguish us, but in the dim
light I could see all the actors and actresses engaged in the
rehearsal. Jessie was among them.

Eight months had passed since I last saw her, and I gazed on her with
aching eagerness. It was a cold day, and she was warmly dressed; and
the only change I could discern in her was that she appeared to have
grown more beautiful. What pain and pleasure I felt as I heard her
voice once more, fresh and sweet as ever, and saw the old familiar
action of her hands, I cannot describe.

'Steady, my son, steady,' whispered old Mac warningly.

I controlled myself, without being aware what I had done to excite
this remonstrance.

'When does she appear?' I asked in the same low tone.

'Next Monday week.'

'In her own name?'

'No; she has taken the name of Mathews. You will see the announcements
outside the theatre. There's a good deal of curiosity excited about
her already, for she plays an ambitious character; she commences at
the top instead of at the bottom of the ladder. I should have liked
her to begin a little lower down, or to have appeared in the provinces
first. There's one great thing in her favour, though. She plays in a
new piece, and can't be compared to other and more experienced
actresses in the same character. There's somebody you know.'

He referred to Mr. Glover, whom I had seen before he had, and who,
standing at the side wings, appeared to be on familiar terms with all
the company; but I knew the lodestone which had drawn him there. When
I first caught sight of him Jessie was engaged in a scene; presently
she was free for a time, and then he approached her, and they talked
together.

'Mac,' I said, in a whisper, 'I think you are a friend of mine.'

'I am proud to hear you say so, my son. I _am_ your friend.'

'What does that mean?' And I pointed to Jessie and Mr. Glover.

He looked at my agitated face, and then at the two persons I was
interested in; but he did not answer me.

'Why don't you speak, Mac? Why don't you answer me?'

'Because I don't quite understand you, my son.'

'When a person in Mr. Glover's position,' I said, 'pays attention to
an actress commencing the world as Jessie is, what does it mean?'

'Speak a little lower, my son. It means that he is interested in her.
There's nothing unusual in that.'

'But it _may_ mean something more; it may mean that he is fond of
her.'

'It may; and there would be nothing unusual in that. But it does not
follow that she is fond of him. Beware of the green-eyed monster, my
son. Good heaven, the souls of all my tribe defend from  jealousy!
Take a lesson from an old stager.' (But what the lesson was he did not
state.) 'Why don't you ask Turk about it?'

'I have my reasons; I would rather Turk should not know anything of
this.'

'Well, I'll find out for you, quietly between ourselves. Old Mac knows
the signs. He has seen a few things, old Mac has. Only don't you run
away with the idea that there's anything wrong in a gentleman speaking
to an actress. I daresay it's through him that my fair friend has got
this chance. Well, why shouldn't she speak to him, then? I know what
you feel, my son. I've felt the same myself, and wouldn't mind feeling
so again. It comes in the regular course of things.'

I went outside the theatre with him, and made an excuse to get rid of
him. Then I waited, in the hope of seeing Jessie; and bearing in mind
Jessie's words, 'If we meet again it must be at my own time, and in my
own way,' I resolved not to show myself to her. She came out in the
course of half an hour, accompanied by Mr. Glover. I walked behind
them at some distance on the opposite side of the road, making many
shifts and pretences of looking in shop-windows, so that they should
not see me. But Mr. Glover, happening to turn his head in my
direction, caught sight of me. I saw the flash of recognition in his
eyes. He must have uttered an exclamation, for Jessie turned, and also
saw me. I hesitated for one moment; should I retrace my steps, or walk
boldly on? Jessie decided the question for me, by running towards me.
Her face was scarlet, but that might have been caused by her running
too quickly, for her breath came fast.

'O Chris!' she cried, in the first excitement of the moment. 'How glad
I am to see you! What brings you this way?'

She held out her hand eagerly, and I took it, and would have retained
it, but that the appearance of Mr. Glover, who paused quite close to
us, caused me to relinquish it.

'What brings him this way?' echoed Mr. Glover. Not accident, I'll be
bound.'

'I came on purpose to see you, Jessie,' I said; 'I heard through a
friend that you were rehearsing this morning, and I gained admission
to the dress circle, and sat there for some time.'

'Was it Turk who told you?' she asked.

'No, not Turk. I think he would not tell me anything that you did not
wish me to know.'

It was not without intention that I let this arrow fly. Jessie made no
comment upon it, but said:

'And then you waited outside to see me, Chris?'

'Yes; I had no other purpose. But I did not intend that you should see
me.'

No? But we'll not quarrel now that we _have_ met. How is mother,
Chris?'

'She is well, Jessie. You know that we were very nearly losing her.'

'I know; and you took her into the country, and nursed her.'

'Thank God, she is well now.'

If Mr. Glover had not been present, I should have spoken in a very
different manner, but I could not show my heart while he stood by,
with a look of cold contempt in his eyes.

'And you?--you are looking thinner, I think, Chris; but you are well
and happy.'

'Yes,' I answered mechanically, 'I am well and happy, Jessie.'
Although I strove to speak in an indifferent tone, it must have
miserably belied my words.

'And you are getting along famously,' continued Jessie hurriedly; I
read your name in the papers, and it made me very proud.'

'We shall read your name in the papers soon, Jessie.'

'I suppose so; if I have strength and courage to go through with it. I
hope you will not come on the first night, Chris.'

I was silent, and she was generous enough not to exact the promise.

'At all events, then, if you do come I shall have one friend there,'
she said.

'Not more than one, Jessie?' asked Mr. Glover, in a tone which made my
heart throb violently.

Jessie, looking first at me and then at Mr. Glover, said that she must
wish us good-morning, and with her parasol hailed an omnibus that was
passing.

'Good-bye, Chris. Will you give my love to mother?'

'Yes, Jessie.'

She drew me aside, out of the hearing of Mr. Glover, and whispered,
'Don't quarrel with him, Chris.'

'I will not, Jessie. One moment. Are you happy?'

She cast a swift glance at me, and then turned her eyes to the ground.
'I think so, Chris; I am not sure.' With this singular answer, she
pressed my hand, and left me. I watched her get into the omnibus, and
when it was out of sight I turned homewards, without noticing Mr.
Glover. But he was at my heels, speaking to me.

'How did you gain admission into the theatre, young man?' he said.
'Did you sneak in, or did you tell the doorkeeper a lie?'

'That is my business,' I replied calmly; for I was determined to keep
my promise to Jessie.

'Especially your business, I should say--sneaking and lying. But
unless you wish to find yourself in an unpleasant position, I should
advise you not to make the attempt again. For Jessie's sake, who might
not like to hear of your getting into trouble, I will look over the
trespass this once.'

'_You_ will overlook it!' I retorted, without any outward exhibition
of anger. 'Is the theatre yours, then?'

'In your own words, that is my business. But I have authority there,
believe me; so you must be careful. I should, if I were you, give over
the spying business; you will gain nothing by it. Perhaps, however,
you have not the manliness to see that the young lady has chosen for
herself, and that, as she has removed herself from you and your common
surroundings, there is distinct cowardice in your thrusting yourself
upon her. Only a gentleman can entertain these proper sentiments----'

'Such a gentleman as yourself,' I interrupted.

'Yes, such a gentleman as I,' he said, with a frown; and not only
that, but one who knows how to resent impertinence and blackguardly
interference.'

I left him suddenly; if I had not done so he would have fastened a
quarrel upon me. I saw clearly that this was his desire; but I
disappointed him.



CHAPTER XLV.
OLD MAC EXPRESSES HIS OPINION OF MR. GLOVER.


The only person to whom I spoke of my interview with Jessie was my
mother, and even to her I did not relate all that had passed.

'Is she coming to see us, my dear?' my mother asked.

I answered that she had given no hint of any such intention.

'Perhaps,' said my mother, 'Mr. Glover being by restrained her.'

'Perhaps,' I replied curtly.

As the tone in which I spoke denoted that I did not wish to continue
the conversation, my mother said nothing more. Not that she had grown
indifferent to the subject upon which we were conversing, but that she
studied my moods more closely than ever. Her heart had never been
stirred by such tender love for me as during this time; it showed
itself in a thousand little undemonstrative ways, and with a delicate
cunning which I am sure has never been excelled, she said and did
precisely the things which were most comforting to me. I have only her
to thank that my sorrow did not make a cynic of me.

My thoughts ran so much upon Mr. Glover, that I dreamt of him
frequently in connection with some singular fancies. The principal
persons who played parts in these dreams were we two and Jessie. In
one of my dreams he was standing on a height, with his fingers to his
mouth, curling his moustache into it as usual; I stood below, at a
great distance from him; and Jessie was midway between us. He was
beckoning to Jessie, saying in a boastful tone that he was a gentleman
and a man of honour, and Jessie was walking towards him. In another of
my dreams he was standing over me, preaching the same text. In
another, Turk was very seriously impressing upon me the fact that Mr.
Glover came from a highly-respectable family, and that it _was_ a
thing to be proud of. This was the leading idea of all my dreams.

I did not go again to see Jessie at the rehearsals. I knew I had no
right to be in the theatre on those occasions, and I did not intend to
give Mr. Glover a chance of placing me in an unpleasant position. I
had scarcely a hope of seeing Jessie at our house; my mother thought
differently, saying that in certain things she was seldom mistaken,
and this was one of them. It was known to me that she had never ceased
making inquiries for uncle Bryan, and that she had taken many and many
a journey about London in the hope of finding him. I did not question
her as to the result of these inquiries, and she herself was silent on
the subject.

'Oh,' said Josey West to me, a couple of days after I had seen Jessie,
'so you've seen her.'

'Yes, Josey,' I replied, 'I have seen her.'

'And never told me!' she exclaimed.

'Why should I tell you, Josey? You have kept things from me which I
think you might have told me, without doing any great harm.'

'Do you, my sweet child? How wise we are, to be sure! But I don't
blame you. What's sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. I tell
you what, Chris! On the first night that Jessie plays, you and I will
go arm-in-arm to the theatre.'

'No, we will not.'

'Why, my sweet child?' she inquired, not in the least disturbed by my
abrupt tone.

'Because I have not made up my mind whether I shall be there.'

'Oh, indeed!' she said, with a little laugh.

I was not ingenuous in my reply, for I had quite resolved to go, and
to go early. During the days that intervened between my meeting with
Jessie and her announced first appearance I was very busy with
important work. This kept me close to my bench, and I did not have
time even to visit Turk, but it did not prevent me from thinking
constantly of Jessie. What would be the result if she made a great
success? Would she grow into a fine lady, and would her picture be in
all the shop-windows? What was the nature of the connection between
her and Mr. Glover? What were her feelings now towards her father? I
found a hundred different answers to these questions, not one of which
brought any satisfaction or consolation to me. But I could not
relinquish the consideration of them, and, in the usual way, I
extracted from them as much unhappiness as they would fairly yield.

'My mother knew where I was going when I prepared myself on the
evening that Jessie was to make her first appearance before the
public, and as she kissed me she said she did not expect me home very
early. I nodded, and left her. I could not trust myself to speak, for
I felt as though my own fate were about to be definitely decided by
the issue of this night's events. I arrived at the theatre before the
time announced for the opening of the doors, and to my surprise,
instead of finding, as I expected, a great mass of people pressing
towards the entrances, I found a few scores of persons standing
loosely about the closed doors, grumbling and wondering at notices
which were pasted on the walls to the effect that in consequence of
the indisposition of the new actress the opening of the theatre was
postponed. The disappointment to those assembled was the greater
because the play in which Jessie was to appear was the first dramatic
work of a new author, who, although his name was not given on the
bills, it was said was a nobleman well known in fashionable circles.
While I was reading the notice, and tormenting myself with the idea
that Jessie must be seriously ill, Turk accosted me.

'Hallo, Chris,' he said, hooking his arm in mine; 'this is a surprise,
isn't it?'

'Is Jessie very ill, Turk?' I asked anxiously.

He looked at me inquiringly, seemingly in doubt as to whether I was in
earnest in asking the question. I repeated it.

'I do not think so,' he replied.

'Have you seen her lately, Turk?'

'Not since Saturday, Chris; then she appeared to be well. That notice
is only put up as an excuse. There's a hitch with the author, or the
lessee, or the man who advances the money, I expect.'

'I should like to know if Jessie is really well,' I said.

'Go round to my shop, then; here's the key. I'll make inquiries and
come to you soon.'

I went to the shop, and unlocked the door, and as it was dark inside,
I lit the gas. I had not been in the place many minutes before old Mac
poked in his head.

'I saw a light,' he said, entering, and closing the door behind him.

'Ah, Chris, my son; it's you, is it? This is a rum go, isn't it?
Where's Turk?'

'He'll be here presently. You mean about the theatre, don't you?'

'I do, my son. So our fair friend doesn't make her appearance after
all. Well, the loss is the public's. The stage is going to the dogs.
Going! Gone, I should say. Not conducted on straight principles, my
son. Elements introduced into the management of theatrical matters
which have no business there at all. Where's your school for acting
nowadays, I should like to know. How do men and women come to be
actors and actresses? Where's the education for the profession? Once
upon a time--ah, well, no matter. Drown dull care. Anything to drink
about?' He looked around for the desired bottle. I could not assist
him in his search, and did not desire to do so, for it seemed to me
that he had already had a glass too much. 'Closed through the
indisposition of the new actress!' he continued. 'That's the way the
public is gulled. There are more things in heaven and earth than are
dreamt of in their philosophy. Look here, my son. A word in your ear.'

This word in my ear was a whispered request for a trifling loan of two
shillings and sevenpence. He always asked for loans in a whisper, even
when there was no third person near. It was not the first time I had
lent old Mac small sums of money, and I pulled three shillings from my
pocket, not having the coins for the exact sum. He gravely gave me
fivepence change.

'Thank you, my son,' he said, 'and now, a word to the wise. On a
certain morning you and I went to the Rialto--no, to a rehearsal in
which our fair friend took part.'

'Yes.'

'You confided your woes to me, not in words perhaps, but in look,
accent, manner. Old Mac knows the signs. The liquid eye, the tremulous
tone, the sighs that come unbidden. I saw them all, my son, and my
sympathising breast received them as a sacred deposit. You remember
the lines I quoted: "Her lips to mine how often did she join!" But I
see that you are impatient, my son. You said to me then that you
believed that I was your friend. I answered in suitable terms. The
word to the action, the action to the word. Shake hands, my son.' By
this time I had fully made up my mind that old Mac was tipsy, although
he was as steady as a rock; it was only his voice that betrayed him.
'To continue. You drew my attention to two persons who shall be
nameless, one of whom was paying attentions to the other, and you
asked what it meant. I replied in general terms, and after warning you
to beware of the green-eyed monster, I said that I would find out, in
a quiet way, what those intentions meant, and that I would let you
know, in a quiet way. Am I correct, and do you follow me?'

I said that he was quite correct, and that I was following his words.

'I placed myself at once in communication with our fair friend----'

I was surprised into an exclamation by this information. In no way
disturbed, old Mac went on.

'I did. I placed myself at once in communication with our fair
friend----'

'You did not mention my name, I hope,' I could not help saying.

'Was I born yesterday, do you think, my son, or the day before? I had
some slight acquaintance with our fair friend, as you know, and I
threw myself in her way. That is what I mean when I say I placed
myself in communication with her. I read her part for her, and gave
her a hint or two, which she received and thanked me for in a manner
very different from some lady stars I could mention, who think
themselves above tuition because they have pretty faces, and because
they happen to have made a third- or a fourth-rate success. They come
to grief in the long-run, my son, these clever ladies. They shine for
a little while, with much outside pushing and puffing, and then, Out,
out, brief candle! Our fair friend is a different kind of creature.
She is amiability, sweetness, and modesty combined, and when the old
actor ventured to throw out a hint or two as to emphasis in certain
places, as to appropriate action, as to where and how a point could be
made, she received them with gratitude and deference. Damme, my son!
the old actor could not help wishing he was a thirty years younger
man; and then again he was glad he wasn't, because it might have
interfered with the chances of a young friend of his, whom he sees
before him now. But if I don't hurry on with my story, you will be
applying to me Hamlet's words to Polonius, "These tedious old fools!"
The old actor doesn't mind giving himself a rub, you see. Well, having
fairly established himself in the sweet graces of the young lady, old
Mac, from his point of observation, kept one eye steadily fixed upon a
certain gentleman whose name commences with G, and who seems to have a
habit of biting his nails--a sign of ill-temper, my son. Old Mac was
on the watch, my son--"On the Watch," a fine title for a drama, and I
wish I had time to write it. This gentleman whose name commences with
G did not appear to relish the observation of the old actor, which was
not, for that reason, relaxed, depend upon it. And now, old Mac has
but few words to add. If, having reason to suspect the honesty of the
intentions of this gentleman whose name commences with a G, the old
actor sounded him artfully, and learnt enough to convince him that his
suspicions were correct, and if, being thus satisfied or dissatisfied,
the old actor gradually and delicately opened a certain young lady's
eyes to the true state of affairs, you may depend that he did it
partly out of the friendship he entertains for a fine young
fellow--shake hands, my son--partly out of his contempt for a certain
person whose fingers are always playing with his moustache, but
chiefly out of his admiration for a young lady whose beauty, grace,
virtue, and modesty are unparalleled in the experience of an old
fellow who has seen the world, and knows the stuff that men and women
are made of.'

Ambiguous as this speech was--and old Mac seemed to make it purposely
mysterious, and to enjoy it--I thoroughly understood it, and I thanked
the speaker cordially. My heart felt lighter after it, and when Turk
returned--old Mac being gone--I met him with a smile on my face.

'Has any one been here, Chris?' he asked, as he entered.

'Only old Mac; it is scarcely two minutes since he left.'

'No one else?'

'No, Turk. Have you found out about Jessie?'

'I have reason to believe she is quite well,' replied Turk, and that
the notice is only a blind. I thought Mr. Glover might have called.'

'No; he has not been here. Did you expect to see him?'

Turk, without replying to my question, commenced to walk up and down
his shop, which unusual proceeding on his part caused me to observe
him more closely. A strange expression of trouble and perplexity was
on his face, and I questioned him concerning it.

'I asked you once,' he said, somewhat awkwardly, 'if you were in
trouble. You will remember it--on the anniversary of Jessie's
birthday.'

'I remember, Turk.'

'Yours, you said, was not a money trouble.'

'But yours is, Turk?'

'Yes; chiefly. Partly my own, partly another person's. Chris, if I
speak vaguely, it is because I am on my parole; I mustn't break my
word. Now we can trust one another, I think?'

'I am sure I can trust you, Turk.'

'And that is just what I want,' he said, with a perplexed look.

'What is?

'Trust. It is a tremendous misfortune, sometimes, to be a poor hard-up
devil, not to be able to lay one's hand on a five-pound note.
Generally, it doesn't matter; as a rule, I am happy enough with half a
crown in my pocket, and owing no man anything. Chris, I want a large
sum of money. Can you tell me where to borrow it on my word of
honour?'

'How much, Turk?'

'Eighty pounds.'

I had more than that saved out of my earnings.

'I can lend it to you, Turk,' I said quite gladly.

'You, Chris! Your own money?'

'My own money--money that I have saved.'

'And you will lend it to me on _that_ security?'

'What better do I want from you, Turk?'

He resumed his walk, and was silent for a few moments. When he paused
before me, there was a soft bright light in his eyes.

'It's good to have a friend. But, first, let me tell you. Only twenty
pounds of the eighty are for myself. I want that sum to pay off my
debt to Mr. Glover. The other sixty is for another person; and I shall
be quite twelve months in paying you back.'

'I am satisfied, and more so, because you will be free, and out of Mr.
Glover's clutches. I can give you the money to-night. Mother has it.'

'Is it all you have saved, Chris?'

'No; I shall have a little left.'

'Then, when I've paid Mr. Glover, I can give you a bill of sale over
my stock.' He looked round upon his wigs and other theatrical
property. 'It is worth the money.'

'I can't lend to you upon that security, Turk. The first you mentioned
is the only security I can accept.'

He laughed a little huskily.

'All right, Chris, my boy. I'll borrow the money on those terms. This
may be a good night's work for all of us. I never thought that Turk
West's word would be good for eighty pounds. But stranger things than
that might occur, eh, Chris?'

I acquiesced, although I had not the slightest idea of his meaning.

'If you knew,' he continued, 'the relief it will be to me to get out
of Mr. Glover's clutches, as you called it, you would be surprised.'

I was sufficiently surprised at the change that was apparent in his
tone concerning Mr. Glover, whom he had hitherto extolled so highly.

'Curse all professional moneylenders, I say!' he exclaimed excitedly.
'And if ever I believe again in a man with a handle on the top of his
head, my name's not Turk West.'

I could not help laughing at these singular words.

'Ah, you may laugh, Chris; but when he sat in that chair--the very one
you are sitting in now, Chris, my boy--for the first time last week,
and asked me to shampoo him, and I felt the knob, it made me curious.
I thought he had been fighting, or had knocked his head against
something, but he told me he was born with it. That sort of thing runs
in families, I should say. If he had it, his father must have had it
before him. Look here, Chris; you are good at figures--I never was.
See how I stand with him.'

He produced some papers and receipts, all of which bore reference to
the account he had with Mr. Glover. I examined them, and found that he
had paid Mr. Glover a large interest for the money he had borrowed. He
had already paid the full sum of seventy-five pounds advanced, and
there were still, as he himself had calculated, twenty pounds odd to
be paid before he could call himself free. I made out a clear
statement, and gave it to Turk.

'Mr. Glover has managed to make a large profit out of you, Turk.'

'Yes, and I don't know how it has been done. I was to pay ten
per cent for the money, I understood; but what with one thing and
another--lawyer's charges, drawing up of deeds that were not required,
I am sure, signing of printed papers, inquiry fees, and a dozen other
things--it has come to a deal more.'

'I see that you only received sixty-five pounds,' I said, busy over
another calculation.

'That is all.'

'So that,' I continued, having finished my calculation' which I handed
to Turk, when you pay the balance to-morrow, Mr. Glover will have
received at the rate of at least sixty per cent per annum for the
loan. Not much of a friend in that, Turk?'

'No, I should say not; I have only rightly understood this, and other
things in connection with Mr. Glover as well, within the last week.'

'Perhaps,' I ventured to say, 'you do not now think me so unreasonable
in the dislike I took to him.'

'It is I who was wrong, Chris, my boy. I see that now.'

'Do you know, Turk, it pleases me in some way to be convinced that he
is not the soul of honour, as you tried to make me believe.'

'There, there, Chris--let's say no more about him.'

'We'll be done with him presently. I don't know how it was, but I
suspected and disliked him from the first. That trick of his of
curling his moustache into his mouth--old Mac told me he bites his
nails----'

'I cannot tell what it was that made me pause suddenly here, but pause
I did, and the sentence was not concluded.

'Do you know where Jessie lives, Turk?'

'Yes, Chris, but you mustn't ask me to tell you. I am on my parole.'
He repeated this statement with a certain air of enjoyment.

'Very well,' I said. But can you tell me when Jessie is likely to make
her appearance----'

He interrupted me, and asked me as a favour to change the subject; and
as I saw that I made him uneasy by my questions, I discontinued them.
He walked home with me, and I gave him the money.

'I wonder,' he said, as he pocketed it, 'that you haven't asked me
what I wanted the other sixty pounds for.'

'I have been going to ask half a dozen times,' I replied, 'but I
thought it might be another of your secrets.'

'It is a secret,' he said with a smile. 'And if you had asked, I
shouldn't have told you.'

Certainly, Turk was playing a most mysterious part; but I trusted him
thoroughly, knowing what a good fellow he was.

My mother was surprised to see me home so early, and more so when she
heard what had taken place.

'I have a presentiment, my dear,' she said, 'that this is going to
turn out a fortunate night for us.'

We went to the shop in the course of the night, and there was Josey
West behind the counter, as busy as a bee, serving the customers, and
chattering away like any magpie. Uncle Bryan would scarcely have known
the shop. Josey had had it cleaned and painted, and the scales and
counter, and nests of drawers in which the spices and more valuable
commodities were kept, had been so smartened up that they looked like
new. You could see your face in every bit of brass about the place.
During a lull in the business, Josey came into the little parlour
where we were sitting.

It's wonderful,' she said; 'we've taken eleven shillings already for
pills and mixture. I'm beginning to get frightened. If an inspector of
something or other were to come in and analyse us, I should drop down
in a fit. Turk says there's nothing to be afraid of, but I'm not so
sure of that.' Presently, however, she derived consolation from the
reflection that, after all, the medicine could not possibly do any one
any harm.

'Have you been to the theatre, Josey?' I asked.

'If you ask no questions, my sweet child,' was her reply, 'you'll be
told no stories. Theatres! As if I haven't something a thousand times
more important to attend to!'

For all that, she found time to have a quiet chat with Turk, and when
he went away she called me into the shop, and saying she had something
very particular to whisper to me, kissed me instead of making any
communication; by which sign I knew that Turk had told her of the
money I had lent him. She shut up the shop earlier than usual, and we
had supper together. I had not had a meal in the little parlour for
many months, and my mind was filled with the memorable incidents in my
life with which the room was connected. It was just such a night as
that on which Jessie had tapped at the door, years ago, when uncle
Bryan was asleep, and my mother and I were sitting quietly together. I
remembered the story I was reading, _Picciola_, and during a silence I
raised my head to the door, with something of expectation in my mind.
I dismissed the fancy instantly, but it was not unpleasant to me to
think of what had occurred on that night--the conversation in the shop
between Jessie and my mother, the awaking of uncle Bryan, and the
first passage-at-arms between the child and the old man. My mother
must have divined the current in which my thoughts were running, for
she took my hand under the table, and held it fondly in hers.

'I can't help liking the little room after all, mother,' I said.



CHAPTER XLVI.
A STRANGE DREAM.


My mother and I stopped up talking until very late on this night. The
future was not mentioned; all our talk was of the past. My mother
recalled the reminiscences of her younger days, and dwelt upon them
with affection. She drew pictures of her home when she was a girl, and
told me a great deal concerning her parents, and especially concerning
my grandmother, of whom my own impressions were so vivid. As though
she were living her life over again, she travelled from those days
gradually to the day upon which she first saw my father, and in tender
tones related many incidents of their courtship which I had never
before heard. She required a great deal of coaxing before she would
speak of her courting days, but I led her on artfully from one thing
to another, and listened to her with delight. On such occasions as
this my mother seemed to grow twenty years younger; her face grew
fresher, rounder, and in her eyes the soft light of youth lived again.
Then came the description of her wedding-day, and she laughed or grew
pensive as she recalled the names of those who were present, stopping
occasionally, until I said, 'Yes, mother, and then,'--upon which she
took up my words, saying, 'And then, my dear,'--and proceeded with her
descriptions. When, in the course of her narration, I came into the
world, I was able to take a larger share in the conversation, and I
added my experience to hers. We were by turns grave and merry,
according to the nature of our reminiscences. My grandmother's
peculiarities, her death, the search for the long stocking, and the
picture of Snaggletooth ripping open the beds and the armchairs, and
sitting on the floor with his hair full of feathers; then on to my
father's burial, and my illness, and the removal farther and farther
away from our native town until we found ourselves in London--scarcely
anything, except what was painful, was left unspoken of.

'And there's an end to it all, mother,' I said, when we had brought
the reminiscences up to the very night upon which we were conversing.

'No, my dear,' she replied, with a tender shake of her head, not an
end; there are brighter pages to come in my darling's life.'

'Do you know, mother,' I said, as I stood by her side at the door of
her bedroom, 'I have often thought of grandmother's long stocking, and
fancied that one day we should find a treasure somewhere.'

My mother laughed.

'Why, my dear, where on earth would you look for it? We have not a
thing left that belonged to your grandmother.'

'Yes, we have; you don't forget that brown monkey-man that used to
stand on the mantelshelf and wag its head at us?'

'I remember it perfectly, dear child; you don't mean to say you have
kept it all this time?'

'It is in my box now; I shall take it out to-night, and have a look at
it.'

'You don't suppose the treasure is in that?' said my mother, laughing.

'No; though Jessie and I did think one day that we had made a
discovery. Good-night, mother.'

'Good-night, dear child, and God bless you. Remember, my dear, there
are brighter days to come, and your mother will live to see them.'

That, before she went to sleep, she prayed for those brighter days, I
was certain, but I scarcely dared to hope that what she so fondly
desired would ever take place.

Before I went to bed I took from my box the stone image of the brown
monkey-man; it was at the very bottom of my box, which I had not
opened for many months, for the reason that it contained all the
sketches I had made of Jessie, and which I had put away when I lost
her. But for these, and the tender thought which they excited, I
should have given more attention to the stone image which looked
uglier and more repulsive than ever. How such a hideous thing could be
considered an ornament it puzzled me to think; but it occurred to me
that there were more flagrant violations of art than this. On the
previous day I had seen a ghastly death's-head pin in the cravat of a
coxcomb, who seemed very proud of it. I set the image of the
monkey-man on the mantelshelf, and slowly replaced the sketches in my
box, lingering over them with fond regret.

Among them I found a sketch with the name of 'Anthony Bullpit' at the
foot, and I remembered that it was a fancy drawing I had made of my
grandmother's lover, after reading the account of his arrest by the
detective Vinnicombe, elsewhere narrated; a sneaking figure was
Anthony Bullpit, as I had represented him, with his hang-dog look and
hypocritical face, gnawing at his finger-nails. I pushed it out of
sight, and turned again to the contemplation of my sketches of Jessie,
over which I spent a sad and tender quarter of an hour. Then, with a
sigh, I closed the box and locked it, and went to bed. It was my habit
of a night to lie awake for a few minutes with the candle alight on a
chair close to my bed. Generally I passed these minutes in reading,
but on this night 'I lay a-thynkinge,' and did not open my book.
Directly opposite the head of my bed was the mantelshelf, with the
smoke-dried monkey of a man in stone on it, and this was the last
thing that presented itself to my sight before I blew out the light.
Restless as I was with the events of the evening, and with the
conversation which had taken place between my mother and myself, I was
tired enough to fall asleep within a very few moments. But I was not
too tired to dream; my body was asleep, but my imagination was never
more active. To me, the most wonderful feature in the physiology of
dreams has always been the fact that Time, the dominant and inexorable
tyrant which rules and guides our course, and regulates the passions
and emotions of life, is in our sleep utterly set at naught; a
lifetime is compressed in a moment, as it were, and between waking and
sleeping a hundred years of history are played out. I think I must
have dreamt of every important event in my life, and of many in the
lives of others; they presented themselves to me without coherence or
sequence, and there was but one consistent feature in my fancies--the
figure of the monkey-man, which was never absent. I dreamt of
Snaggletooth and Snaggletooth's wife. She was relating the stories of
the Cock-lane Ghost and Old Mother Shipton, as she had related them in
the kitchen on the night my father lay dying upstairs, but in my
dream she was not speaking to me, but to the monkey-image, which
gravely wagged its head at her as she proceeded; Snaggletooth was
running up and down the stairs, and poking in the oddest corners, in
his search for the long stocking, and the monkey-man was assisting him
frantically, running at his heels, and tearing things open with
fiendish haste; I was in the mourning coach, following my father's
body to the churchyard, and the monkey-man was sitting opposite to me,
grinning at me; Snaggletooth was carrying me out of the churchyard,
and as I opened my eyes, the monkey-man, squatting on Snaggletooth's
shoulder, squinted at me. In the same way the image presented itself
in every incident connected with Jessie and my mother and uncle Bryan;
and when I lay trembling in bed, and Jane Painter stood in my bedroom
in the dark telling me stories of blood and murder, the monkey-man
prowled about the floor, and dropped from the ceiling, and crept from
under my bed, and sat on my pillow with its ugly face illumined. When
Jessie knocked at the shop-door, as she had done years ago for the
first time, and my mother opened it, the monkey-man entered first, and
jumped on to the table; and on the night of the amateur performance at
Josey West's the monkey-man was among the audience, seated in a place
of honour. Suddenly all this chaos of persons and circumstances came
to an end, and there were only my grandmother, and I, and the
monkey-figure sitting together. I was in my little low chair, my
grandmother, very stately and grand, was in her armchair, and the
monkey-man was on the mantelshelf. Said my grandmother in my dream, in
a very distinct tone, 'He had a knob on the top of his head, and was
always eating his nails.' I looked at the monkey-man for confirmation
of her words, and it said, in a stony voice, 'He had a knob on the top
of his head, and was always eating his nails.' After this
confirmation, my grandmother continued, 'And the last time I set eyes
on him was on my wedding-day.' Again I looked at the monkey-man, and
again it confirmed my grandmother's statement, but with a slight
difference this time, 'And the last time we set eyes on him was on our
wedding-day.' Which inference on the part of the monkey-man of being
my grandfather somewhat disturbed me. Now, at this point of my
fancies, what on earth brought old Mac, the actor, into the scene?
There he was, however, face to face with the monkey-man, who
questioned him as a lawyer would have done. 'What do you say his name
commences with?' asked the monkey-man? 'It commences with a G,'
replied old Mac. 'And what is that habit of his that you say is a sign
of ill-temper?' asked the monkey-man. 'Biting his nails,' replied old
Mac; 'he is always at it.' By this time my dream has resolved itself
into a court of inquiry; the monkey-man is dressed in a wig and gown,
which do not hide his ugliness; my grandmother, very broad and portly,
sits as judge, and I, it seems, am in some way the criminal whose case
is being tried, for my grandmother nods her head at me continually,
and says, 'Perhaps you will believe me now; all these things happened
on my wedding-day.' Old Mac fades away, and is replaced by Turk West.
'Curse all professional moneylenders, I say,' he cries; 'and if ever
I believe again in a man with a handle on the top of his head, my
name's not Turk West' 'Hold your tongue,' calls out the monkey-man;
'who wants to know what your name is? We'll come to names presently.
'When did you first discover the handle?' It isn't a handle,' says
Turk, in correction, 'it's a knob.' My grandmother nods in
confirmation. 'He had a knob on the top of his head,' she says, 'and
he was always biting his nails.' 'I don't know about that,' says Turk,
'but his fingers are always at his moustache, and he is the soul of
honour and comes from a highly-respectable family.' 'That he does,'
adds my grandmother. 'Poor Anthony! He proposed and wished to run away
with me, but my family stepped in and prevented him.' 'Very wrong,'
says Turk gravely; 'wasn't his family respectable enough for them? The
soul of honour!' 'Quite so,' says my grandmother. 'He told me, after I
had accepted this child's grandfather' (at this point of my dream I
become suddenly a child, in a pinafore), 'that life was valueless to
him without me, and that as he had lost me, he would be sure to go to
the devil.' 'Did he go?' asks the monkey-man. 'I always found him a
man of his word,' replies my grandmother. 'Now attend to me, sir,'
cries the monkey-man, in a bullying tone, turning suddenly upon Turk;
'when did you say you first discovered this knob?' 'Last week,'
replies Turk, 'when he sat in that chair' (the chair comes into the
dream) 'and told me to shampoo him.' 'You were surprised when you felt
it?' asks the monkey-man. 'I was,' says Turk, 'and I asked him if he
had knocked his head against something. He said, no, that he was born
with it.' 'And what was the remark,' continues the monkey-man,
levelling a threatening finger at me, 'you made to the prisoner at the
bar?' 'I said,' says Turk, 'that that sort of thing runs in families,
and that if he had it, his father must have had it before him.'
Suddenly, and as if it were quite in the natural order of things, we
are all listening to the statement of a new witness who has risen in
Turk's place. 'I am an officer in the detective force, and my name is
Vinnicombe. From information received, I went to Liverpool, and
tracked Anthony Bullpit on board the Prairie Bird, bound for America.
"It's no use making a noise about it," I says to him, as I slipped the
handcuffs on him; "I want you, Anthony Bullpit. You sha'n't be done
out of a voyage across the sea, but Botany Bay's the place as'll suit
you best, I should think." Here my grandmother brindles up, 'You're an
infamous designing creature,' she screams. 'He is no more guilty than
I am.' 'He pleads guilty at all events,' is the detective's reply.
'That is to spite me,' says my grandmother, 'and to prove that he's a
man of his word.' Then, by quite an easy transition, the court and the
crowd fade away, and my grandmother, I, and the monkey-figure are
again in the little parlour, and she is saying to me, 'Your
grandfather has much to answer for, child. Mr. Bullpit was transported
for twenty-one years. Some wicked people said it was a mercy he wasn't
hanged. If he had been, I should never have survived it. Poor
Anthony!' 'You would like to have a peep at him, I daresay,' says the
monkey-man to me, my grandmother having disappeared; 'come along, I'll
show him to you.' And in the same moment we are peeping through the
keyhole of Turk West's shop-door at the figure of Mr. Glover, who sits
in the chair with his fingers at his lips. Here a sudden movement or
noise partially awakes me.

With all the details of this strange dream in my mind I lay for a few
moments half asleep and half awake, endeavouring to bring the confused
particulars into some kind of order; but the only thing that was clear
to me was the connection that had been created between Anthony Bullpit
and Mr. Glover. As I gradually returned to full consciousness, this
connection seemed to become something more than a fancy. That the knob
on Anthony Bullpit's head, of which I heard so much from my
grandmother's lips in my young days, was reproduced, according to Turk
West's testimony, on the head of Mr. Glover, was certainly no fancy;
Anthony Bullpit bit his nails; Mr. Glover had the same objectionable
habit. Stranger discoveries were made every day than the discovery
that Mr. Glover was Anthony Bullpit's son. If this were so, what
became of Mr. Glover's boast that there was not a stain upon his good
name, and that his character and the character of all his family were
above reproach? It occurred to me here that his ardent desire to make
people believe this sprang from the fact that he had something
disreputable to conceal. What made me so anxious in the matter was,
that if there were a solid foundation to the suspicion, and if I could
prove a connection between Mr. Glover and Anthony Bullpit the convict,
then I had a lever in my hands which I could use to good effect
against Mr. Glover--a lever which I believed would cause him at once
to cease his attentions to Jessie. That he had laid her under an
obligation to him was evident, and he might be inclined to persecute
her in consequence. The lever I speak of was the printed account by
Vinnicombe, the detective, of the arrest and conviction of Anthony
Bullpit for the robbery from the bank.

I rose and lit the candle, and taking the mouldy old paper from the
hollow of the stone monkey-figure, I read it carefully. I was
particularly struck in the reading by the description given by the
detective of the peculiarity in Anthony Bullpit's teeth. If that
peculiarity existed in the teeth of Mr. Glover, it would be almost
impossible to resist the conviction that he was Anthony Bullpit's son.
I set to work at once, and made a fair copy of the 'Remarkable
Discovery of a Forger by the Celebrated Detective, Mr. Vinnicombe.' At
nine o'clock in the morning I was in Turk West's shop, with the
manuscript in my pocket.



CHAPTER XLVII.
EXIT MR. GLOVER.


Turk regarded me with surprise.

'An early visitor, Chris,' he said.

'Yes,' I answered; 'I have come on some very particular business. When
do you pay the balance of your debt to Mr. Glover?'

'I expect him here at twelve o'clock. I shall pay him then.'

'Can you give me half an hour or so of your undivided attention,
Turk?'

'Certainly I can: a couple of hours, if you want them.'

'Then sit down, and read this quietly,' I said, handing him the
Remarkable Confession, 'and don't make a remark upon it until you have
finished.'

He read it attentively, and returned it to me with a thoughtful look.

'It is cut from an old newspaper, printed a good many years ago, Turk.
Do you find anything singular in it?'

'I do; something very singular indeed; but how on earth did you come
across it, Chris?'

'I will tell you another time. First, I want to know what it is that
strikes you as singular in the account.'

'Well, Chris, there's the knob in this Bullpit's head----'

'Yes, Turk.'

'Mr. Glover has one precisely similar on his head.'

I could scarcely restrain the expression of my satisfaction at this
proof that, without prompting, his thoughts were taking the same
direction as mine.

'Yes, you told me so, Turk; and that sort of thing runs in families,
you said.'

'I did say so, and I think so.'

'Mr. Glover said he was born with it.'

'Yes, he told me so distinctly,' said Turk, with a puzzled look.

'That's all right, then. What else do you find singular in it, Turk?'

'Well, there's that habit of Anthony Bullpit's of biting his nails.
Mr. Glover does the same.'

'Yes; anything else?' I asked eagerly.

'Well, Chris, the teeth. Mr. Glover's two middle teeth in his top jaw
have just the kind of slit between them that caused the detective to
discover Anthony Bullpit, for all his disguise.'

I uttered an exclamation of triumph.


'Now, what do you make of all this, Turk? Do you think it possible
that such remarkable peculiarities can exist in two men without there
being a relationship between them? Turk, as sure as I stand here, Mr.
Glover is Anthony Bullpit's son. Don't interrupt me. If he is a
convict's son, what becomes of his good character and his unblemished
name, of which he is always preaching, as you know? He trades upon it,
Turk--he trades upon it; and if it were made public that his father
was a forger and a convicted thief, it would be the greatest blow he
could receive. This man is a scoundrel, Turk; a scoundrel and a
hypocrite.'

I believe he is, Chris,' said Turk, carried away probably by my hot
words; but what good can come of exposure--what good to you, I mean?

'Why, Turk, are you blind? Can't you see that I can make the best use
in the world of this strange discovery?'

I told him rapidly what had passed between old Mac and me, and the
opinion which the old actor entertained of Mr. Glover, and then I
developed my own plan of action.

'It is very simple, Turk. I want Mr. Glover immediately to cease his
attentions to Jessie, whose eyes, according to old Mac's account, have
only lately been opened to his real character. Jessie, I have no
doubt, is under obligations to him; and he may take advantage of this
to persecute her. If he does this, I shall expose him; but I shall
first give him a chance of withdrawing himself voluntarily. I think
there will be no reason to fear that he will prove an active enemy;
the proof that I hold will take the sting out of him----'

'But,' interposed Turk, 'what if these personal marks should be mere
coincidences, and no relationship exists between Anthony Bullpit and
Mr. Glover?'

'We shall learn that very soon,' I replied. 'I shall send him this
copy of the Remarkable Discovery with a few words of my own. If he is
quiet after their receipt, we may be sure that our suspicions are
correct. I know that he is a scoundrel--I have been convinced of that
all along, Turk, notwithstanding your defence of him--and I believe
him to be a coward. We shall see. Will you let me be present while you
are paying him the balance you owe him?'

'I have no objection, Chris.'

'And if I happen to say something to him--something to the
point--you'll not mind, perhaps.'

'Say whatever you like, Chris, my boy.'

'I want a promise from you, Turk. Not a word of all this to Jessie.'

'All right, Chris.'

Exactly at twelve o'clock Mr. Glover entered the shop. I was in the
back-room, and I listened quietly to the few words that passed, in the
course of which Turk told Mr. Glover that he was enabled to pay him
the balance of the account between them. Mr. Glover said that it might
stand, if Turk wished, but Turk insisted on paying him, and produced
the money. As Mr. Glover was signing the receipt to the bond, Turk
threw open the door of the room in which I was sitting, and said,

'Chris, perhaps you would not mind witnessing Mr. Glover's signature.'

Mr. Glover looked up with anger in his face, and our eyes met. I
quietly placed my name on the paper as a witness, and then, with a
glance at Mr. Glover's signature, I handed the paper to Turk.

'So now, Turk,' I said, with a smile, 'I am your creditor instead of
Mr. Glover.'

I saw that Turk did not understand why I made this apparently
unnecessary statement.

'Oh,' said Mr. Glover, with a sneer, 'it is your money, then, with
which Turk West has paid his debt!'

'Yes,' I replied. 'Turk is safer in my hands than in the hands of a
moneylender who charges sixty per cent. What was it you said
yesterday, Turk? Curse all professional moneylenders, wasn't it? So
say I.'

Mr. Glover glanced from me to Turk, and from Turk to me, while his
face grew dark with passion.

'I have been thinking, Turk,' I continued, regarding Mr. Glover
steadily, what would be the value of a receipt for money paid,
supposing the name of the person at the foot of the paper is not his
own. How would it stand in law, Mr. Glover? Supposing a person whose
real name was Bullpit----'

I saw instantly that the shot had taken effect The dark shade of
passion disappeared from Mr. Glover's face, which was now quite white.
Added to this, the startled exclamation which escaped him was a
sufficient confirmation.

'You shall hear from me,' he said, in a thick voice, as he turned to
leave the shop.

'You shall hear from me first,' I replied; within two hours I will
leave a letter for you at your house.'

I wrote my letter at once in Turk's shop. The substance of it was that
I enclosed a copy of an account of the arrest and conviction of a
criminal well known in Hertford many years ago; that this criminal had
on his person peculiar marks which were almost certain to be
transmitted to his children; that the history of this criminal was
known only to me and Turk West; that the secret of it would be
faithfully kept if the person to whom my letter was addressed would
immediately cease to honour with his attentions any of the lady
friends of the writer; and that if this condition were not accepted
and carried out in its full letter and spirit, means would be
immediately adopted for making public the Remarkable Discovery, and
the subsequent history of the forger and thief. I did not mention any
names, but Turk West said that Mr. Glover would understand my meaning.
I left the letter with its enclosure at Mr. Glover's house, and
received no answer. Three days afterwards Turk came to tell me that
Mr. Glover had left on a tour to Germany.

'I have other news for you as well,' he said; the theatre in which
Jessie was to have appeared is let to a French Company for three
months.'

I asked Turk no questions, remembering what he had said as to his
being on his parole, but I worked that day with a heart less sad than
it had been for many a long month past.



CHAPTER XLVIII.
JOSEY WEST LAMENTS HER CROOKED LEGS.


Exactly three weeks had passed since Mr. Glover's departure, and I
here take the opportunity of mentioning that, although I have seen the
gentleman subsequently on two or three occasions, we have avoided each
other by mutual consent--a state of things with which I am perfectly
contented. The connection between him and Turk West is also completely
severed, so that he has, as it were, dropped out of our lives. During
the above-mentioned interval, nothing of importance transpired; my
mind was busy with possibilities, but I saw no clear way of playing an
active part in their development. My mother during this time, and
especially during the past week, had been out a great deal. I guessed
that she was still searching for uncle Bryan, and I should have been
happy to learn from her lips that she had been successful in finding
him. Within a few days of the time of which I am writing, I
entertained a suspicion that she had found a clue, for when she came
home her eyes were bright, and there was an expression of great
happiness in her face; but I said nothing to her. I knew that I should
soon hear good news if she had any to tell. The special direction of
my thoughts may easily be understood by an observation I made to my
mother one afternoon at the end of the three weeks.

'Mother,' I said, 'I think you ought to go and see Jessie.'

She looked up with glad eyes.

'Some feeling with regard to myself,' I continued, 'may prevent Jessie
from coming to you here, and I think it would be a good thing for you
to go to her. I know she loves you and would be glad to see you, and
you may be able to counsel and advise her. Turk West knows where she
lives, and, although he would not tell me if I asked him, I believe he
would tell you readily.'

'Do you think so, dear child?' she asked. 'Then I will go to him, and
tell him what you say.'

The voice is a great tell-tale, and I knew by the tune in which my
mother spoke that my suggestion had given her pleasure.

'There is no time like the present,' I said.

My mother rose immediately, and put on her bonnet.

'I shall leave off work at eight o'clock,' I said, so that she might
understand I did not wish her to hurry back, and then I shall go round
to Josey West for an hour.'

She nodded, and stood looking over my shoulder as I worked.

'If I see Jessie,' she said, and paused.

'Yes, mother, if you see her---- I hope you will see her.'

'I hope so too, dear child. Shall I give her any message from you?'

'Not unless she asks after me, mother; then you may give her my love.'

There was the merest trembling in my voice as I said this, but it was
sufficient to agitate my mother's soul. I laid my graver aside, and
said,

'You see how it is, mother; I cannot do or act otherwise. Jessie could
not know more about me and my feelings if I stood at her door all day
long. I never loved her more than I do now, and I believe I shall
never love her less; it would not be true if I said I was happy, but I
am far happier than I deserve to be. My mother is still left to me,
thank God!'

'Dear child! dear child!' she murmured, with tender caresses.

'And you must not think it strange, mother, if I don't ask you
questions when you come back. You will tell me whatever is worth
telling. Now, one other word, and then you must run away, for I have
work to finish. Should you meet with uncle Bryan----'

'Would you wish me to, my dear?' she asked wistfully.

'Yes,' I answered; I should like you to find him. If you do, give him
my love also, and say that I should like to come to see him, if he
will not come to us. And, remember, mother, if he wants for anything,
all that I have is his; but for him I should not have been in my
present position. As for the past, let bygones be bygones. As
Americans would say, I should be truly happy to shake hands with him
on that platform.'

My mother kissed me, and went out of the room. I thought she had
started on her errand, but she returned in a quarter of an hour, with
a bunch of wallflowers in her hand.

'I only came in to show you these, my dear,' she said; 'smell
them--they are very sweet. You have not studied the language of
flowers, have you, my dear?'

'No, mother.'

'Then you don't know what wallflowers stand for,' she said, with a
bright smile. 'Now this is for you, my dear; it is the first rose I
have seen;' and placing on my table a small rose embedded in moss, she
left the room again. I watched her from the window as she walked down
the street; she walked almost like a girl.

On my way to Josey West in the evening, I passed the house in which I
had first made her acquaintance. The door being opened, I entered, and
found the place in an unusual bustle. Florry and her younger sisters
were dusting and cleaning up, and putting the rooms in order. In
explanation, Florry told me that their eldest brother, Sheridan, was
coming to live there with his wife and children.

'They come in next week,' said Florry; and I daresay Clarance and his
family will follow them; they have always lived together, and they
won't like to be parted now. There's plenty of room for them all.'

'The place will look like its old self again,' I said to Josey West, a
few minutes later on; and I added, with a sigh, 'and you'll be having
the jolly old times over again, I shouldn't wonder.'

'I shouldn't wonder, either,' replied the little woman briskly. 'Do
you know, Chris, there's one thing I do miss--the Sunday evenings we
used to have in the old house. Now that Sheridan is coming, we'll
revive the Sunday-night suppers. You'll come, won't you, and bring
your dear mother. She's never been to one of our parties. Upon my
word, I feel quite happy only in thinking of them. There's Sheridan
and his seven youngsters, and Clarance with his five--another one
added, Chris, a fortnight ago--the sweetest little thing! Well, I do
love to have a lot of children about me. When I die, an old woman--I
shall be the queerest little old woman _you_ ever set eyes on,
Chris!--well, when I die, an old, old woman, I should like to see
heaps of children round me, so that I might take the memory of their
bright little faces away with me. It isn't often that I talk
seriously, but I've got that fancy.'

'You ought to have children of your own, Josey.'

Josey was stitching and mending some of the youngsters' clothes, and,
at my remark, she paused and looked at me pensively; but the next
moment she gave such a vicious dig with her needle that she broke it,
and cried,

'Ought to have! Ought to have! Me, with my crooked legs! No, my dear,
never, never, never! Little witches don't have children. Never, never,
never!' And for the first time in my experience of her, Josey West
burst out crying. Her passion did not last long; she conquered it
within a couple of minutes, and, as she wiped her eyes, exclaimed,

'There! A nice little fool you'll think me now, Chris!'

I gave her a kiss, and in a little while she was herself again,
rattling away as usual.

'I'm going to sleep in the old house every night,' she said, until
Sheridan takes possession; and Turk is coming here to sleep, and to
mind the shop, if I want to get away a bit earlier. I wish Turk would
marry. I should like to take care of his children. He's a real good
sterling fellow is Turk, and deserves a happy home. Your mother was
here this afternoon, Chris. She told me all that you said to her.'

'You guess, I daresay, what my reason is in wishing her to see
Jessie.'

Josey West laughed. 'I guess, you daresay! Well, yes, I can guess,
although I am not in love.'

I shook my head. 'I don't think you have guessed, Josey. It is not for
myself that I want mother and Jessie to come together again.'

'What other reason can you have, my sweet sensitive child?'

'Oh, I don't mind your bantering me, Josey. Do you remember sending me
a letter from uncle Bryan addressed to mother, when we were away at
Hertford?'

'Yes; and I wondered at the time what such a thick letter could be all
about.'

'It contained a great secret, Josey, and a very wonderful story
concerning Jessie.'

'Indeed!' said Josey, with a cautious look at me.

'I think there is no harm in telling you, especially as you'll not
speak of it.'

'Oh, you may trust me, Master Chris.'

'It is a story concerning Jessie and her father.'

'Indeed! So Jessie has a father.'

'You would never guess who her father is, Josey.'

'Then I won't break my head over it; but I shall know if you tell me.'

Uncle Bryan is her father; so that you see Jessie and I are cousins.'

Josey did not express the surprise I expected she would; an expression
of thoughtfulness was in her face.

'Go on, Chris; I am waiting to hear more.'

'Well, neither Jessie nor uncle Bryan knew of the relationship
existing between them until the day that Jessie went away from this
house, and then it came upon them both like a thunderbolt. It was
because Jessie discovered that uncle Bryan was her father that she ran
away from him.'

'That sounds very dreadful, Chris.'

'There is a dreadful story attached to it--which I mustn't tell you
nor anybody, Josey. They are both very much to be pitied; but I am not
sure that I don't pity uncle Bryan more than I do Jessie. However,
there it is; they are father and daughter, and they are separated.
Never mind what has passed, I ask you is this right--is it natural?
Uncle Bryan is an old man, and cannot have many years to live. That he
repents many things he has been unconsciously guilty of in the past, I
am certain.'

'That's a curious phrase,' interrupted Josey, with her thoughtful
manner still upon her. 'Unconsciously guilty.'

'It is a correct one. His has not been conscious guilt; what was bad
in his character was stamped in him, and was almost forced to take
root by the unfortunate circumstances in his early life; what was good
never had a chance. We all have good and bad in us, Josey, and
surrounding circumstances have much to do in making one or the other
predominate in our characters. What is that thought that crossed your
eyes just now, Josey?'

'I was thinking that you have grown into a perfect philosopher, Chris.
Go on.'

'Say that uncle Bryan had been blessed with such a mother as my mother
is--he would have been a different man; he couldn't have helped being
a better man. He would have believed in God, in goodness; he would not
have grown into a misanthrope. Josey, if there is anything good in
me--and I hope I am not all bad--I have mother only to thank for it.
It makes me tremble to think that I was so nearly losing her, and that
her love for me was very nearly her death; and I know, to my sorrow,
that for a long time I repaid her affection with indifference. Well,
but that is all over now, thank God. If uncle Bryan had had a good,
tender, considerate mother, many unhappy things would not have
occurred to him, and it might have been better for Jessie also. As I
said, it is dreadful to think of father and daughter being separated
as they are, and to think that uncle Bryan might die without a word of
affection passing between them. Well, that was the thought in my mind
when I said to mother to-day that she ought to go to Jessie; for if
mother finds uncle Bryan--and I have an idea that she will--no one but
she can bring him and Jessie together.'

'But you didn't tell your mother this, Chris?'

'No; mother did not need telling. She knew my meaning well enough.
Words are not required between us now, Josey, to make us understand
one another.'

'And so, and so, and so,' said Josey, with tender gaiety, when I
had concluded, 'everything having been made right, they lived happily
together for ever afterwards.'

It was with sadness I remembered that those were the very words which
Jessie had spoken to me in the little parlour in which Josey and I
were now conversing.

'Now I'm a witch,' cried Josey, 'and I'll give you three wishes. What
are they?'

I looked at her reproachfully, but she did not heed me. She hobbled
about as witches are in the habit of doing on the stage, and waved the
poker over my head, and conducted herself generally in a ridiculous
manner.

'Halo!' cried Turk, poking his head in at the door. 'What are you
about with your pokers? What a pity I didn't come in a minute later!
There's an account I could have written for the papers! "The first
thing that met Our Correspondent's view was the distended"--distended
is good, Chris, my boy; I've seen it used so--"was the distended form
of the unfortunate victim on the ground, winking his last gasp. Over
him stood the infuriated figure of a woman, who, with glistening eyes
and rage in her countenance, was brandishing the murderous weapon--an
enormous crowbar, weighing fifty-three pounds--preparatory to giving a
last fell stroke to the prostrate form at her feet." That's the style,
Chris; a penny a line. Spin it out--_must_ have at least two columns.
"Upon inquiry among the neighbours, who stood in clusters about the
building in which the murderous deed was perpetrated, Our
Correspondent learned that jealousy was the cause of the fatal
assault. It appears that thirteen years ago there lived in a certain
street, called et cetera, et cetera, et cetera." Now, after that,
Chris, if you start an illustrated paper, and don't employ me as
Special Correspondent, I shall have a bad opinion of your judgment.'

I was relieved by this diversion, and upon Turk proposing that we
should pay a visit to the Royal Columbia Theatre, in which he had
played the first villain for so long a time, I gladly assented.

I left a message for my mother, desiring her to wait with Josey until
I returned, and Turk and I strolled to the theatre. I found not the
slightest alteration either in the theatre, the audience, or the
performance; they were all the same--the same atmosphere, the same
fashions, the same pieces with different names. The very dresses were
the same; but I was bound to confess that the First Villain was vastly
inferior to Turk, who, I learned, had left a reputation behind him
which would last while the walls held together. We did not stay longer
than an hour, and then, as we had done on the occasion of my first
visit to the Royal Columbia, we visited a neighbouring bar, and over
our pewter pots listened and took part in a precisely similar
conversation to that which I had listened to with such respectful
admiration and attention after the performance of the thrilling drama
of _The Knight of the Sable Plume_. The decadence of the drama, the
low ebb of dramatic literature, the glorious days of Garrick and
Kemble, the inferior parts which men and women of genius were
compelled to play upon the mimic stage, the false positions which
pretenders were puffed into by venal critics who ignored real
talent--these were the themes touched upon; and I began to reflect
whether this state of things was chronic in the profession, and
whether, when the golden age of the drama is in its full meridian, the
decadence of the drama will not be spoken of as mournfully as it is in
the present day.

My mother was waiting for me when I returned; but although she was
exceptionally bright and happy, and although there was a tenderly
joyous significance in her words and manner towards me, she said
nothing of the result of her visit to Jessie.



CHAPTER XLIX.
UNCLE BRYAN AGAIN.


'Chris,' says my mother to me, on the following day, can you leave off
work an hour earlier this evening?'

'Yes, mother,' I replied; 'at six o'clock if you like.'

'Then at six o'clock,' she says gaily, 'I shall take possession of
you.'

As the hour strikes, she comes to my side, dressed for walking. 'No
tea, mother?' I ask.

'We are going out to tea, my dear,' she answers.

I keep her waiting but a very few minutes, and presently we are in the
streets. I know that something of importance is about to be disclosed
to me, and that it will please my mother to be allowed to disclose it
in her own way; therefore I hazard no conjectures, and we talk on
indifferent subjects. But this does not prevent me from working
myself into a state of agitation as to the precise nature of our
errand. We take the omnibus to Holborn, and from there we walk towards
Bedford-square. My mother leads the way down a clean narrow street,
and we pause before a small three-storied house.

'Somebody lives here that we know,' says my mother, as she knocks at
the door.

'Can it be Jessie?' I ask of myself, as I glance upwards. There are
flowers on the window-sills of the first and third floor; those on the
first floor are especially fine, and almost entirely cover the
windows. It is on the third floor we stop when we enter the house.

'Remember what you said to me, my dear,' my mother whispers as we
enter the room. There is no one to receive us, but my Mother goes into
an inner room, and comes out of it presently, and motions me with a
tender smile to go in. I enter alone; an old man with white hair is
standing by the window, looking towards the door. A grave expression
is on his face, which is deeply lined; I recognise uncle Bryan
immediately, although he is much changed. I had had in my mind a
lingering hope that my mother was taking me to see Jessie; but in the
pleasure of seeing uncle Bryan I lose sight for a few moments of my
disappointment.

'Uncle,' I say, as I advance towards him with outstretched hand. He
meets me half-way, and clasps my hand eagerly in his, and then turns
aside with quivering lips, still holding my hand. I know that he has
noticed both my pleasure and my disappointment, and I hope it is not
the latter that causes him to turn aside.

I have said that he is changed, but I find it difficult to explain
in what way he is different from what he was. It is not that his
hair has grown quite white during the months that we have been parted,
it is not that his form is bowed, or that his features are more
deeply-lined; the same shrewd thoughtful expression is there, but in
some undefinable way it is softened, and although the old look of
self-reliance is in his eyes, it is less hard than it was. As I
silently note these changes, I am reminded of a passage I read a few
days before this meeting, in which a man is said to have had in his
face an expression which might have been brought there by the touch of
angel fingers on his eyelids while he slept.

'I received your message yesterday, my dear boy,' he says presently.
'Your mother brought it straight to me. It gladdened my heart
inexpressibly.'

Then I know that my mother must have been in the habit of visiting him
for some time; it does not surprise me to learn this; every day of her
life brings me fresh proofs of her goodness.

'How long ago was it, uncle,' I ask, 'since mother discovered where
you were living?'

'Quite a month, my dear boy,' he replies, and adds quickly, 'it was my
wish that she should say nothing to you until I gave her permission.'

I smile softly at this defence of her.

'She can do nothing wrong,' I say. 'I think I know the spirit that
lives in the hearts of angels.'

My mother, who is preparing tea for us, peeps in here.

'Do you forgive me, my dear?' she says. 'You never thought your mother
would deceive you, I daresay.'

'I shall have to consider very seriously,' I say, kissing her, 'before
I can pronounce an opinion on your conduct. There are some things that
take a long time in learning.'

She stands between us, embracing us, glancing with tearful eyes from
one to the other.

'But I must make haste, and get tea ready,' she cries, running away
from us; 'there! the kettle's boiling over.'

'Which is the better kind of wisdom, uncle,' I say; 'that which comes
from the head or the heart?'

He answers: 'That which touches us most deeply, which makes us kinder,
more tender and tolerant, less harsh and dogmatic, more charitable and
merciful, must be the better kind of teaching. All this springs from
the heart. You said to your mother just now that some things take a
long time in learning. I have been all my life learning a lesson, and
have but now, when I am near my grave, mastered it. In plays, in
poems, in stories, in songs, those words and sentiments which appeal
to the heart are invariably most effective. You see, my dear boy, my
views are changed.'

After this he asks me about myself, and I tell him what has passed,
and he listens with pleasure and patience, as though he had not
already heard it all from my mother's lips--but I do not think of this
at the time.

'You have not mentioned Jessie's name,' he says, 'thinking perhaps it
would pain me; but I can speak of her without grief, if not without
sadness. I have only one wish in life now, my dear lad.'

Believing that he refers to a reconciliation between himself and
Jessie, and having full faith in my mother's power to bring this
about, I say that I earnestly hope it will be fulfilled, and that I
believe it will be. He gazes at me with a soft light in his eyes.

'You know in what relation she stands to me, Chris?'

'Yes, uncle.'

If I could give her to you, my dear boy----'

But I stop him here, and beg him in scarcely distinct words not to
continue the subject.

'But one word, Chris,' he says; 'you love her still?'

'With all my heart, uncle, and shall all my life. But it hurts me to
speak of her; I can bear it better in silence.'

My mother calls out that tea is ready, and once more we three sit down
together.

'I miss the little parlour,' my mother says; 'how many happy years we
lived there!'

She forgets all the sorrow and pain we experienced there, and recalls
only the tenderest reminiscences. Occasionally a flash of uncle
Bryan's old humour gives piquancy to the conversation, but there is
now no bitterness or cynicism in what he says. At eight o'clock my
mother puts on her bonnet; I am surprised that we are going so early,
but she says it is a fine night and that she feels inclined for a
walk.

'Uncle Bryan will walk with us,' I say.

My mother shakes her head, smilingly, and says she does not want him.
I look towards uncle Bryan; he does not seem in the least disturbed.

'We shall see each other again soon,' he says, as he shakes hands with
me on the doorstep of his house.

'You will come to us, then,' I say eagerly. 'I want to show you my
work.'

'Yes, I will come very soon; but your mother will see to everything,
Chris.'

'There is one thing I want particularly to ask you, uncle, if you'll
not mind.'

'Say it, my dear boy.'

'Living here, all alone, as you are doing,' I say, and I pause
somewhat awkwardly.

He assists me.

'Yes, my dear boy--living here all alone, as I am doing----'

'I was thinking it must be very lonely for you, uncle.'

'It is a lonely life, Chris, living by oneself.'

'And without any friends near you.'

'Yes, my dear boy.'

'I want you to give up these rooms, uncle, and come and live with us,
or if you wouldn't like to do that, to go back to your shop.'

His eyes brighten; my mother's eyes also are beaming.

'It would be a pity to take the shop away from that good little woman,
Josey West. And you would really like me to come and live with you
again?'

'It would make us very happy--mother especially. Look at her face.'

'With all my eccentricities and oddities, you would still wish me to
come?'

'Ah, but you are altered now.' He makes a grimace. 'Well, even if you
were not, I should be very, very glad if you will come. You can give
me lessons in flower-growing.'

I glance up to the windows in which the flowers were blooming. His
eyes follow mine.

'Which do you think the best, Chris; those on the first or those on
the third floor?'

'On the first floor certainly, and I am surprised at it. I thought no
one could beat you. Mother was never so successful as you were. Your
flowers were always the finest.'

He rubs his hand, and says,

'Well, we shall see, we shall see.' And then, more earnestly, 'I am
glad you have asked me, Chris; I was wishing for it. Good-night now;
we'll talk of it by and by.'

As he seems evidently wishful to get rid of us, and as my mother seems
no less anxious to go, I take my leave. On our way home we pass a
theatre, and my mother expresses a wish to enter; we go into the pit,
and witness a French comic opera done into English. The performance is
a good one, but is spoilt by the unnecessary introduction of some
foreign dancers, whose coarse vulgarity and outrageous disregard for
decency shock my mother. It is seldom that my mother goes to a
theatre, and she says, as we come out,

'If that is to become the fashion in theatres, I am more than glad
that Jessie is not going on the stage.'

'Then she is not going?' I ask eagerly.

'Well, my dear,' replies my mother, with sudden reserve, 'it almost
looks as if she had given up the idea.'

At home I find a letter on the table. I open it and read:


'Miss West presents her compliments to Mr. Christopher Carey, and will
be happy to see him and his mother at nine o'clock to-morrow evening,
at the Old House at Home.'


'Why, mother,' I say, 'this is exactly like the note Josey sent to me
when I first went to her place. I suppose she wants to have an evening
in the old house before her brother Sheridan takes possession. I
wonder if the kitchen is the same. I shall never forget my feelings
when I saw it for the first time. You must come, mother, is a
wonderful sight.'

My mother smiles an assent.

'I am glad you asked your uncle to come and live with us,' she says,
as she wishes me good-night.



CHAPTER L.
JOSEY WEST DISTURBS US IN THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT.


'Well, Master Chris,' said Josey West, as my mother and I entered the
kitchen on the following night, here are the old times come over
again. Now, children, bustle about! Florry, take mother's shawl and
bonnet.' (They all called her mother.) 'Ah, you're looking about you,
my dear; they're a queer lot of things; but they belong to a queer lot
of people. The first night Chris came here he bumped his head. I heard
some one tumbling about in the passage, and I called out to know who
was there. "It's Me," Master Chris answered, as if all the world knew
who Me was. "Come downstairs, Mr. Me," I called; and down he came
head over heels, and fell sprawling right in the middle of the
kitchen. Ah, that was a night! Do you remember the scene from _As You
Like It_, Master Chris, and how mad you were when Jessie said, "Ask me
what you will, I will grant it;" and Gus said, "Then love me,
Rosalind?" You thought no one knew what was going on inside that head
of yours, but I saw it all as clear as clear can be. I'm a witch, my
dear. Did you ever hear'--(she was addressing my mother now)--'that I
played an old witch for an entire season? I did, and played it well; I
could show you the notices I got in the papers on the day they
contained all about the pantomimes, but you would think me vain if I
did. What a big little woman I thought myself, to be sure! I thought
all the world must know me as I walked along, and I cocked up my head,
I can tell you. How we do puff ourselves out, we frogs! That's what I
asked you that night, Master Chris, the name of that thing in the
fable that puffed itself out and came to grief; and I remember saying
that of all the conceited creatures in this topsy-turvy world actors
and actresses are the worst; though I think I know some who are almost
as bad. But to come back about Gus, my dear. You've no cause to be
jealous of him; he's engaged, my dear--engaged! Here's her picture--a
pretty little thing, isn't she? But Gus never would make love to a
girl unless she was pretty, and he was always a bit of a flirt. He'll
have to settle down now; his ogling days are over; this little bit of
a thing has got hold of him as tight as a fish. They'll all be getting
married directly--all of them except me and Turk perhaps--and he's the
one I want to see married most of all. There's Florry there--what are
you listening to, Florry?--you should see how the men are beginning to
stare at her! and that sets a girl thinking, you know. As for Chris,
he must be blind; I only know if I was a young man--But there! I'll
say no more, or you'll be calling me as bad a gossip as Mrs. Simpson.
Perhaps some one else would like to say a word or two?'

And here Josey paused to take breath. I knew that she had only
chattered on in this way for the purpose of giving me time to recover
myself upon entering the kitchen; for as I looked around upon the old
familiar walls, a flood of tender reminiscences had rushed upon my
mind, and my eyes had filled with tears. Whether by design or
accident, the kitchen presented exactly the same appearance as on the
first night I had seen it. The old theatrical dresses and properties
were on the walls; the dummy man in chain armour that had once played
a famous part in a famous drama was lurking in a corner; the curtain
of patchwork was hung on its line, dividing the stage from the
auditorium; and Matty and Rosy and Nelly and Sophy were busy at work
on stage dresses and adornments. My mother was delighted with all she
saw, and caressed the children, who all doted on her, and pulled out
of her pocket a packet of sweetmeats for them. Her brain could never
have been idle; when she went on the simplest errand, she must have
thought of it beforehand, and her affectionate thoughtful nature
invariably made that errand pleasant to some one. Her wonderful
thoughtfulness, wedded as it was to affection and unselfishness, was
one of her greatest charms; it strewed her course through life with
flowers which sprang up in barren places, and gladdened many a sad
heart. I know that, between ourselves, every wish I formed was
anticipated before I expressed it, and while the words explaining it
were on my lips, she was scheming how it could be gratified. This
charming and most beautiful quality--which in a home breeds love, and
keeps it always sweet and fresh--was exhibited even on such an
occasion as our present visit to Josey, in the pleasantest of ways. As
my mother chatted with Josey, she handed one child the thread, another
the wax, another something which the little one's eyes were seeking
for; and all these things were done in the most natural manner, and
without in the least disturbing her conversation with Josey. Trivial
as these matters are, they are deserving of mention; happy must be
that home which has such a spirit moving in its midst.

'The youngsters are all at work, I see,' I said to Josey, when I had
mastered my agitation; 'to fill up the time, I suppose.'

'Not a bit of it, Master Chris,' replied Josey. 'Sophy and Rosy and
Matty have an engagement to play in a new burlesque; they play the
Three Graces--very little ones they will be, but it's a burlesque, you
know--and very well they'll look. Now then, up with you, and go
through the first scene.'

The children jumped from their chairs, and went through the scene,
speaking with pretty emphasis the few words intrusted to them, and
dancing with infinite grace. It was amusing to witness the gravity
with which they tucked up their dresses so as to show their
petticoats, which looked more like ballet clothes than their brown
frocks. We all applauded heartily.

'Bravo! bravo!' cried Turk, who had entered during the scene. 'If the
author isn't satisfied with that performance, then nothing will
satisfy him. But nothing less than a hundred nights' run ever does
satisfy an author--How are you, mother? How do you do, Chris, my boy?
Well, Josey, old girl! No, nothing less than that ever does satisfy an
author, who invariably says, when a piece is a failure, that the
actors are muffs and don't know their business. But they get as good
as they give; let actors alone for reckoning up an author. They know
how much of the credit belongs to them, and how much to him.'

Josey laughed merrily at this.

'It almost always all belongs to the actor, Turk,' she said.

'Of course it does, and very properly too. The audience say, when an
actor makes a point, What a clever fellow the author is! They should
read the stuff: they'd form a different opinion. Josey, do you know it
is nearly ten o'clock?'

A look of some meaning passed between Turk and Josey, and Josey
desired the children to put away their work. Presently they all went
to bed, my mother going with them at their express desire. Only Turk,
Josey, and I were now in the kitchen. We talked on various subjects,
not in the most natural way, as it appeared to me; I said little, not
being inclined for conversation. Turk was somewhat thoughtful, and
more than usually observant of me, but Josey was in the wildest of
spirits, and laughed without apparent cause, and said the most absurd
things.

'I knew a lady,' she said, 'who played a character-part in a
successful piece, which had an immense run; it was played for more
than two hundred nights. She hadn't a great deal to say, but every
time she spoke she either commenced or ended with "Bless my soul!"
Now, if you will believe me, her "Bless my soul!" made the piece.
Every time she said it the audience roared with laughter, and you
could hear them as they went away from the theatre of a night saying,
"Bless my soul!" to one another, and laughing, as if there was really
something wonderfully comic in the words. It was a great misfortune to
her, for her mind so ran upon it, that morning, noon, and night she
was continually saying nothing but "Bless my soul!" until her friends
got so wearied of it that they wished she hadn't a soul to bless. I
slept with her one night, and all through her sleep she was talking to
herself, and blessing her soul. It was the ruin of her as an actress;
for always afterwards the people in the theatre called out, "Hallo!
here conies Bless-my-soul!" and of course that spoilt the effect of a
good many of her characters.'

'But that's not as bad,' said Turk, 'as me when I played The Thug for
seven months. Do you remember, Josey?'

'Do I remember it?' Josey repeated, with a look of comic horror.
'Haven't I cause to remember it? You see, Chris, he had to strangle
people in the piece. How many every night, Turk?'

'Seventeen,' he replied in a tone of great satisfaction.

'He had to strangle seventeen people every night for seven months, my
dear. Well, that made an impression upon him, and I daresay he began
to look upon himself as a lawful strangler. I must say, that when he
strangled the people on the stage, he did it in such a manner that no
one could help believing that he enjoyed it.'

'It was realistic acting, Josey,' said Turk complacently; 'that's what
it was.'

'It was a little too realistic for me,' observed Josey. 'For what do
you think he did one night, Chris, my dear? He was living in this
house at the time, and we all went to bed quite comfortably, after a
heavy supper. Turk had had a great triumph that night, and the
audience were so delighted with the way in which he strangled his
victims, that they called him before the curtain more than once. We
talked of it a great deal after supper. Well, in the middle of the
night I woke up with a curious sensation upon me. Something seemed to
be crawling towards me very stealthily. I listened in a terrible
fright, and sure enough I heard something crawling in the room. I
lit a candle quickly, you may be sure; and there I saw Turk in his
nightshirt, as I'm a living woman, creeping about on the floor, as he
was in the habit every night of creeping about on the stage in the
character of The Thug. He was fast asleep, my dear. "Turk! Turk!" I
cried, and I was about to jump out of bed and give him a good shaking,
when he shouted, "Ha! ha! I have you! Die! die!" and he ran up to me.
My dear, if I hadn't jumped out on the other side of the bed, and
poured a jug of cold water down his back, I believe he would have
strangled me. It woke him up, and a nice state he was in. Every night
after that, until the run of the piece was over, and he was playing
other characters, I locked him in his bedroom, and took away the key.
I wasn't going to have the children strangled in their sleep, and Turk
hanged for it. I used to go to the door of his room in the dead of
night, and more than once I heard him crawling about on the floor,
strangling imaginary people, with his "Ha! ha! Die! die!" He never
knew anything of it, my dear, and used to come down to breakfast
looking as innocent as a lamb.'

Turk seemed to take pride in this narration.

'It shows that I was in earnest,' he said. 'There's ten o'clock
striking.'

We listened in silence, and did not speak until the last echo had
quite died away. Then I raised my head and saw that Josey was looking
at me very earnestly.

'Chris, my dear,' she said, somewhat nervously, 'you have good cause
to remember the first night you came into this house.'

'Indeed I have, Josey,' I replied.

'I'm going to give you better cause to remember to-night. I'm a little
witch, you know.' She hobbled about the kitchen, and, after going
through some absurd pantomime, came and stood close behind me. I
should have been inclined to laugh, but that Turk's serious face made
me serious. 'Now, then,' she continued, placing her arms round my
neck, and her hands upon my eyes, 'ever since I played that witch,
I've had the idea that I could do magic things if I tried. I'm going
to try now; shut your eyes, and wish.' She placed her lips close to my
ear, and I thought she was about to whisper something, but she kissed
me instead. I humoured her, and did not make an effort to free myself
from her embrace. We must have remained in this position for fully two
minutes, during which time I heard the door open and shut. When Josey
removed her hands, I saw my mother sitting on one side, and uncle
Bryan on the other. I held out my hand gladly to him; Josey clapped
hers in delight.

'It was a whim of this good little woman's,' said uncle Bryan, looking
at Josey affectionately. 'And we were compelled to let her have her
way. We owe her too much to refuse her anything.'

'But you don't look as surprised as I thought you would, Master
Chris,' exclaimed Josey, in a tone of assumed disappointment.

'Well, the truth is, Josey,' I said, 'I saw uncle Bryan yesterday; so
it is not so much of a surprise as you thought it would be.'

'Oh, indeed!' she said.

'And then again,' I said, taking her hand, 'do you think that anything
kind from you can surprise me? No, indeed, Josey; we all have cause to
know the goodness of your heart. I couldn't love a sister better than
I love you.'

'Did anybody ever hear the like of that!' she exclaimed, laughing and
crying at one time. 'As if a  single girl wanted to be loved like a
sister! Never mind, Chris, my dear, don't mind what I say; you know
what I mean. But, as the first act of my piece is not as successful as
I thought it would be, I shall have nothing to do with the second. Oh,
yes, it's in two acts, Chris!'

Before I could speak, uncle Bryan took up her words.

'It is another of this good little woman's whims, my dear boy,' he
said, that we should all sleep in the old shop to-night, as we used to
do, your mother, you, and I. It will only be for this one night,
Chris, notwithstanding Josey's persuasion, for if all goes well, I
shall regularly make over the business to her; and to-morrow morning
she will take possession again.'

'You have decided to come and live with us,' I said; 'that is good,
isn't it, mother?'

'We shall have time to talk over that to-night, my dear boy.'

'Then the best thing you can do,' said Josey briskly, 'is to run away
at once and settle it. I sha'n't be able to close my eyes until I know
how it is all settled. There! Away with you!' And she fairly bustled
us out of the house.

'Let us walk slowly,' said uncle Bryan, 'it is a fine night, and I
have something to say to you. Nay, Emma, don't walk away; I should
like you to hear me. Chris, the words you addressed to me the last
night we were together in the old shop have never left my mind. Do not
interrupt me, my dear boy--I think I know what you wish to say. You
would say that you spoke too strongly, and that you painted all that
had passed in colours too vivid; let that be as it may, you spoke the
truth. I recognised it then; I recognise and acknowledge it now. But
the pain which I suffered--and I did suffer most keenly, my dear
boy--was not so much for myself as for your dear mother, for I saw
that every word you spoke wounded her tender heart. Had you seen this,
you would have held your tongue, and I should have been spared a just
punishment. Chris, I did not ask you yesterday, although it was in my
mind to do so; I ask you now: have you forgiven me?'

I was humbled by the humbleness of his tone and manner. It might have
been a child who was pleading to me. I found it impossible to speak,
but I threw my arms round his neck, and kissed him.

'That is well, that is well,' he said; 'I have but one wish now--to
repair the wrong I have done. You said that I had driven all hope of
happiness from your heart; what kind of happiness should I experience
if I could restore what I have robbed you of! Repentance is good;
atonement is better!'

I knew by his agitated tone how strong was his wish, and I pressed his
hand. Silence was best at such a time.

Shortly afterwards we arrived at the shop, and I saw a light gleaming
through the shutters. To my surprise, uncle Bryan, instead of
unlocking the door, knocked at it, and I found myself wondering who
was inside; all the members of Josey West's family were at home in
their old house. As uncle Bryan knocked, my mother grasped my hand
tightly; I looked into her face, and saw in it an expression of love,
so sweet and pure, and yet withal so wistful and yearning, that a wild
unreasoning hope entered my heart. I could not have defined it, but it
seemed to me that something good was about to occur. The door was
opened from within, and uncle Bryan stood for a moment on the
threshold. Before I could follow him my mother pulled my face down to
hers, and kissed me more than once with great tenderness.

'You are crying, mother,' I said; and then I thought that joy on
entering the old shop, and sleeping again beneath its roof, had caused
her tears.

'God bless you, my darling!' she sobbed; 'God bless you!'

We entered the shop; uncle Bryan was standing there alone; a light was
in the little parlour.

'Go in, Chris,' he said.

'I went in, and there sat Jessie, working at the table. She looked
towards me, with a smile that was tender and arch upon her lips. I
passed my hands across my eyes, scarcely believing the evidence of my
senses.

'It is true, Chris,' she said, rising; 'are you not glad to see me?'

I looked round for uncle Bryan and my mother; they were not in the
room, and the door was closed behind me. Then I understood it all.

'Have you come back for good, Jessie?' I asked.

'I can't hear you,' she replied, 'you are so far away!'

I stepped close to her side, and my arm stole round her waist; she
sighed happily.

'Have I come back for good?' she repeated. 'That is for you to decide,
Chris.'

'You are in earnest with me, Jessie?'

She smiled. 'I saw you yesterday,' she said.

'Where?'

'When you came to see your uncle Bryan; I have been living in the same
house, on the first floor, Chris, where the finest flowers are. Do you
begin to understand?'

'Tell me more, Jessie. Did mother know you were living there?'

'Yes, and Josey West, and Turk also. Nearly all that money Turk
borrowed of you was for me to pay what Mr. Rackstraw said I owed him.
Would you have lent it to him if you had known?'

'You must answer that question for me, Jessie,' I said, still
uncertain of the happiness that was in store for me.

We were standing by the mantelshelf, on which lay a little packet in
brown paper. Jessie took it in her hand.

'Mother told me to give you this, Chris. Stay, though; what is that
round your neck?'

'The ribbon you gave me, Jessie.'

'And the locket, where is that?'

'It is here, Jessie.' I showed it to her; the earnest look that was
struggling to her eyes came into them fully.

'You did not cast me quite away, then? Have you always worn it,
Chris?'

'Always, Jessie.'

'I am glad, I am glad,' she murmured, and presently said, 'Here is
your packet, Chris.'

I opened it, and found the watch and the ivory brooch I had intended
to give Jessie on her birthday.

'Do you know what is in this packet, Jessie?'

'No, Chris.'

I took the trinkets out of the paper:

'I bought them as a birthday present for you, Jessie. Look at what is
engraved inside the watch, and if you can accept it, you will make me
very happy.'

She opened the case and read: 'From Chris to Jessie, on her eighteenth
birthday. With undying love.' Her eyes were fixed upon the inscription
for a much longer time than was necessary for the reading and
understanding of the words. When she raised them, tears were
glistening in them.

'Will you fasten it for me, Chris?' she said, in a low soft tone.

With an ineffable feeling of happiness I placed the slender chain
about her neck, and while my arms were round her, she raised her face
to mine, and I kissed her.


A few minutes later, while we were still alone, Jessie said,

'You know why I left home on my birthday, Chris?'

'I know all, Jessie.'

'And yet not quite all, I think. I shall have no secrets from you,
Chris, not one. I believe I should have left soon afterwards, even if
it had not been for my mother's letter, and for the discovery that
uncle Bryan was my father.'

'For what reason, Jessie?'

'You do not suspect, then?'

'I have a dim suspicion, dear, but I would prefer you to tell me.'

'Chris,' she said, very seriously, 'you loved me too much.'

'That could not be, Jessie.'

'It could and can be. In your love for me you forgot some one else, a
thousand million times better than I am, Chris.'

'My mother?'

'Your mother. I reproached myself every day and every night for being
the cause of it. I was afraid that your attachment to that dearest
angel on earth was growing weaker and weaker, and I knew that I was
the cause of it. I saw the pain, the unutterable pain, my dear, that
your neglect of your mother was causing her tender heart, and I was
continually striving to discover in what way you could be 'brought to
learn how much more pure and beautiful and sacred her love was than
mine. If things had gone on in the same way, I should have run away as
it was, Chris, so that you might have been forced to seek for comfort
in the shelter of her love. Do you understand me, my dear? Your love
for me made you colour-blind.'

How much dearer this confession made Jessie to me I need not describe.

'I see things in a better light now, my darling,' I said humbly; 'I am
not colour-blind now.'

Uncle Bryan and my mother would not have disturbed us all the night if
we had not called to them to come in and share our happiness.

Those who understand the strength and purity of love can understand by
what links of tender feeling we were henceforward bound to one
another--sacred links which death itself will be powerless to sever.

Jessie sat on a stool at her father's feet; my mother and I sat close
to them, my hand on Jessie's  neck, clasped in one of hers.

It must have been two o'clock in the morning, and we were still
talking, unconscious of the hour, when a great thumping was heard at
the street-door. I jumped to my feet, and opened the door, and Josey
West ran in.

'I couldn't help it, my dears,' she cried; 'I know I have no business
here, but I should have done something desperate if I hadn't run round
to see how you were all getting on. I went to bed, but as I'm a living
woman I couldn't sleep a wink; so I got out of bed and dressed myself,
and thought, I'll just see if there's a light in the shop. And when I
came and saw the light, how could I help knocking? Well, Chris, how do
you like the second act? Better than the first? I do believe, as the
speechmakers say, this is the happiest day of my life.'

And the queer good little woman fell to crying and kissing us.

I am afraid you would scarcely believe me if I were to tell you at
what time we went to bed that morning.



CHAPTER  LI.
MY MOTHER'S BIBLE.


I resume my pen after an interval of two years.

Within a few weeks after the events described in the last chapter
Jessie and I were married. There were six bridesmaids, Josey and
Florry West, and their four little sisters. On that day my mother gave
uncle Bryan a Bible.

Josey is sole proprietor of the grocer's shop, and the business has
wonderfully improved. She is really making and saving money. This of
course is known, and has attracted the attention of more than one
young man; I say more than one, for there is one in particular who
seems to consider that if he were a grocer he would be in his proper
groove. His chance, however, of getting into that groove does not
appear to be a good one.

'I know what he's casting sheep's eyes at,' says Josey, tossing her
head; I see him reckoning up the stock every time he comes into the
shop.'

She does not openly discourage him; she makes him spend all his
pocket-money in candied lemon-peel and uncle Bryan's medicines, which
are having an immense sale.

'You are injuring that young man's constitution, Josey,' I say.

'All the better,' she replies; 'with his present constitution, he'll
never suit Josey West.'

'Don't you ever intend to marry, Josey?'

'I haven't quite made up my mind, Chris; but if I don't die an old
maid I shall be very much surprised.'

Turk is doing well, but I have lately discerned in him an itching to
go on the stage again. He has purchased a splendid wardrobe that
belonged to a famous First Villain, and he is reading a manuscript
play by a new author with a character in it which he says would take
all London by storm.

'No one can play that character but Turk West,' says old Mac, who is
egging him on.

'It would be a thousand pities,' says Turk, 'not to play the piece.
It's a work of genius--original, Chris, my boy, original.' And then he
adds musingly, 'I've a good mind to; I've a good mind to. The
situations are tremendous. New blood, Chris, that's what's wanted--new
blood.'

Florry is just married. Her husband is a very elegant young man, and
plays walking gentlemen. Every year babies are being introduced into
the world by the married Wests. The number of children in that family
is something amazing, and aunt Josey is idolised by all of them.

Uncle Bryan lives with us. I am prospering, and our home is a very
happy one. How could it be otherwise with two such women as my mother
and Jessie to brighten and bless it! A great grief, however, came to
us lately.

Our union was blessed by a child--a sweet beautiful little girl, whose
presence was a new happiness to us. I have not the power to describe
the emotion which filled my heart when this treasure was placed in my
arms; Jessie's joy and my mother's may be imagined, but it would be
difficult to realise the depth of uncle Bryan's feelings towards the
darling. We named her Frances, after Jessie's mother; it was uncle
Bryan's wish. His love for the dear little creature became a worship;
he was restless and unhappy if a waking hour passed without his seeing
her. He nursed her, and prattled to her, and rocked her cradle, and
would sit for hours by her side while she was sleeping. She grew to
love him, and her beautiful eyes would dilate, and she would wave her
dimpled arms when he held out his to her. When she was ten months old,
and just when she began to lisp the word so dear to a mother's ear,
she was taken from us.

'Ah, how well I remember the sad days that followed! This may sound
strange, when you know that a very few months have passed since our
bereavement, but it expresses my feeling. Our darling seemed, as it
were, to sink into the past, and I saw her ever afterwards, as one in
a deep pit looks upwards in the daylight to the heavens and sees a
star there. When I am an old man, the memory of this dear child will
shine with a clear light among a forest of unremembered days. On the
night before she was buried, I walked to the room where she lay in her
coffin. I opened the door softly, and saw uncle Bryan on his knees by
the coffin's side; his hands were clasped, and on the body of our
darling lay an open book from which he was reading. It was the Bible
which my mother had given him on our wedding-day.

Farewell.



END OF VOL. XV.
LONDON: ROBSON AND SONS, PRINTERS, PANCRAS ROAD, N.W.





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