MISS GRANTLEY'S GIRLS,
The Stories She Told Them.
Author of "Little Tottie," "Wayfe Summers," "Madame Prudence," "Strange Work," "A Fool's Paradise," &c.
London: Blackie & Son, 49 & 50 Old Bailey, E.C.; Glasgow, Edinburgh, and Dublin. 1886.
I. OUR GOVERNESS, 7
II. MONDAY:—THE SILVER GOBLET, 20
III. TUESDAY:—A BABY'S HAND, 61
IV. WEDNESDAY:—A STRANGER FROM LONDON, 87
V. THURSDAY:—THE STORY OF A BOOKWORM, 109
VI. FRIDAY:—I HAVE LIVED AND LOVED, 128
VII. SATURDAY:—MISS GRANTLEY'S BROTHER, 145
MISS GRANTLEY'S GIRLS,
AND THE STORIES SHE TOLD THEM.
THERE was nothing romantic in Miss Grantley's appearance, and yet she was the sort of person that you could not help looking at again and again if you once saw her. She was not very young, nor was she middle-aged—about thirty, perhaps. She was certainly not what is called a beauty, but she was not in the least plain. She was what some people would call "superior looking" or "rather remarkable," and yet they would not be able to say why she attracted attention. She was very little taller than Marion Cooper, who was the tallest of the girls in our first class; but yet she gave one the impression of being rather above the middle height, because she walked so well and moved in that easy graceful manner which belongs to a person who, as the old housekeeper at the school used to say, "was born and bred a lady." There is no way of describing her; though Annie Bowers, who could draw beautifully, made several pencil sketches that were wonderful likenesses. Her hair, fine, soft, and wavy, was dark chestnut, with that warm brown tinge that looks so well with a rather pale creamy complexion; her features were regular, her eyes of that strange gray that looks dark at night and steel-blue in the sunshine—eyes that seemed to see into one's thoughts, and would have been severe except for the smile that flitted about her clear well-cut mouth whenever anything humorous happened, or a pleasant thought was passing through her mind. She always looked well-dressed, though she wore silver-gray alpaca or dark brown merino in school, and rather plain black or gray silk when she went visiting. But there was mostly a rose or some other flower in her silver brooch, and the lace that she sometimes wore at her neck and wrists was so fine and elegant that Mrs. Durand, who was the widow of a general officer and had been educated at a convent, declared it was very valuable indeed, and never was made in England. Somebody, speaking once of Miss Grantley's appearance, compared her to fine old china; and she had just that clear unsullied nice look that reminded you of an old china figure, though there was nothing particularly old-fashioned about her. She had some very pretty old-fashioned things, though—quaint ivory carvings and porcelain bowls, and a delightful old tea-set, and some old plate of that dark-looking silver that always seems to have a deep shadow lying under its smooth shining surface. She was something like that silver, too; for though she was bright and pleasant and with a constant liking for fun, there was a great deal of gravity beneath her smile. No one could have treated her with familiar levity, though she was gentle and sweet-tempered; for no one who had seen her very rare expression of deep displeasure would care to provoke it. Of course I am chiefly speaking now of our girls, but I think other people—grown-up and important people—thought much the same as we did of Miss Grantley. The truth was, nobody thought of her except with kindly feelings, because everybody liked her. She had gone through much trouble. Her father, who had been a wealthy squire, lost all his money in buying shares in mines, or something of that sort, and died a poor man. His wife had been dead for years, so that Miss Grantley was left an orphan and with few relations except one brother, who had gone abroad to seek his fortune, but without finding it, I suppose, since Miss Grantley, after passing examinations and being a teacher in a great school in London, came down to Barton Vale to be our governess.
Barton Vale is a pretty, quiet, secluded place. It is not exactly a village, but is a suburb of a large town, only the town is nearly two miles away, so that the Barton Vale people heard very little of the factory people, and didn't smell the smoke from the tanneries and the alkali works at Barton-on-the-Lees. In fact most of the principal people of the town had come to live about the vale. The vicar, and the principal manufacturers, the Jorrings, who were county people, and Mr. Belfort the banker, and Mrs. Durand, and the Selways, and old Dr. Speight, and the Norburys, had handsome houses and kept their carriages. Even the Barton doctor, Mr. Torridge, was more in the vale than in the town; and the solicitor had a pretty little villa next door to the old-fashioned house that Miss Grantley had taken to open a school in.
Most of these folks knew Miss Grantley; and many of them loved her as much as her girls did, for some of the girls belonged to the families I have mentioned. They came to her school as daily pupils instead of being sent to the cathedral town to live away from home; and that was one reason that she got on so well, for the dear old vicar and his wife had known her parents, and would have liked her to make the vicarage her home. The banker's married daughter, Mrs. Norbury, had been a schoolfellow of Miss Grantley, and called her "dear Bessie" when they met, and wanted to take lessons of her in French and German; because Miss Grantley had studied abroad, and spoke both these languages very well.
It was because so many people there and in the town and in London, knew her, that she was able to take the old house which was once the maltster's, and have it done up nicely, and the great long room that had been the front office and sample-room turned into a school-room, and the pretty little parlour fitted with French windows, that it might open to the garden full of rose-bushes and standard apple-trees, and with its red brick walls covered with plums and jessamine. She began with nine young girls whom she brought with her as boarders, and five more soon came, so that she had fourteen in the house, and three more little ones as day-boarders (two Selways and one Jorring), and eight of us seniors, who went for lessons from ten to one, an hour for lunch, and then home at four to late dinner.
It was of course a good thing for Miss Grantley that she had her own old nurse there for cook and housekeeper, with a strong girl to do the housework, and a woman from one of the cottages at Vale Farm to help twice a week. The solicitor's villa had a large garden, and the gardener and his wife lived in the cottage which had once belonged to the maltster's foreman at the end of the orchard and close to the old kiln, so they were always ready to help too; and our governess had very little to pay for gardening except a few shillings for a labourer now and then. You may very well believe, then, that Lindley House School was a very pleasant place. Miss Grantley called it Lindley House because, she said, old-fashioned people always connected the idea of education with Lindley Murray's Grammar—not that she taught grammar from Lindley Murray's book, for she declared the way of teaching was quite different now, and that there were a good many queer rules in the old grammar which could only be accounted for by the fact that the old gentleman who wrote it lived for many years chiefly on boiled mutton and turnips!
When Miss Grantley said things of this kind Mrs. Parmigan used to cry out, "My dear—pray, now—do consider." And Miss Grantley used to smile at her, and then the old lady would laugh till she shook the room. That was the way with our governess; she seemed able to make some people laugh by only smiling at them; and she could make people cry too by looking at them with quite a different sort of grave smile and the strange light in her earnest gray eyes.
Oh!—I have forgotten about Mrs. Parmigan! She was a dear old thing; had actually been nursery governess to Miss Grantley; and, having married and been left a widow, had heard of her former pupil and young mistress being left fatherless and motherless, and now brought her small annuity to Barton Vale, and helped to teach in the school and to be a sort of mother to Miss Grantley, without wanting any wages, and only just her board and lodging, beside which she could afford to pay for a good many things towards the housekeeping.
She used to teach the juniors, and taught them well too, though some of them were occasionally spoiled; and as it was very often somebody's birthday, seed-cake and gingerbread and lemon toffee were more common than they are in most schools. Even the senior girls came in for some of the goodies, and used to say that, as they lived in a world where somebody was born every minute, it would be hard if they couldn't keep a birthday once a week.
But this saying reminds me that we might go on gossiping about our governess for the hour together, and yet not get to the stories that she used to tell us. It was one of her delightful plans to devote an afternoon in each week to fancy needlework; and we used to take our work with us on that day, and instead of going home to dinner we had luncheon and stayed as her guests to tea, with cake or home-made bread and butter, jam, or in summer, ripe plums and apples from the garden, or plates of strawberries and cream from Ivory Farm.
It was then that we read in turns from some of the best books of fiction; for Miss Grantley said, "Girls are sure to read novels, and the imagination needs to be cultivated as well as the intellect and the memory." So we read stories, and sometimes poems by Tennyson and Browning and other modern writers, as well as Shakspeare, Dante, Schiller, and Goethe. Our governess would explain the passages to us, and we used to talk about them afterwards; but very often the conversation took a good deal more time than the reading, for it was then we found out that Miss Grantley had travelled in Germany, France, and Italy, and that she had been a student not only of subjects that she might have to teach, but of people and their ways.
We found out too that she could tell stories of her own; and now and then we used to persuade her to "spin a yarn," as Bella Dornton, whose father had been a naval officer, used to say.
One summer there were to be great doings at Barton-on-the-Lees. A grand fancy fair was to be held in the town-hall for the benefit of the infirmary, and we had all promised to work for it; so that nobody was offended when Miss Grantley made known that she intended to give a half-holiday every day for a week, that we seniors might be her guests from two o'clock to eight, and all work together in the garden parlour, or out in the orchard beneath the apple-trees.
It was then that we made a compact with her, after a great deal of trouble, that she should tell or read a story every day after tea, and in return we each promised to make some specially pretty article for her stall—for our governess had been persuaded to take a stall by some of the people who subscribed to the infirmary, and her old school-fellow Mrs. Norbury was to share it with her.
I don't suppose that any of us will ever forget Miss Grantley's pretty parlour. It was a pattern of neatness and freshness, with its green silk curtains just shading the French window which was opened to the soft July air bearing the scent of the roses and jessamine; its low easy-chairs, of various patterns, its oval table with a cover of white and gold, its neat cabinet piano, the pretty dainty chimney ornaments, the few cool light sketches in water-colour that adorned the walls, the small book-case with a few charmingly bound volumes which filled up one recess by the fireplace, and the china closet that occupied the other. The contents of this china closet were always interesting to us, for they consisted of some rare specimens of porcelain, old Chelsea, and other exquisite ware, including the delicate tea-service which was brought out on high days and holidays, and was in daily use during the memorable week that we had devoted to the fancy fair.
One might go on gossiping about some of the "belongings" of this room, and the old china and the quaint handsome tea equipage, but that this is only a kind of introduction to our governess, or rather to the stories she told us out of school during that working holiday. It was on the Monday evening, after we had come in from the orchard and had finished tea, one toothsome accompaniment to which was some delectable apricot jam upon crisp toast, that Annie Bowers, who had been so quiet that she might have been asleep, said in her usual deliberate way: "Miss Grantley, that lovely silver cup (or shall I call it a vase?) fascinates me more every time I look at it, and I shall never be contented till you let me make a sketch of it; but the worst of it is there is no way of making a drawing that will show all the gleam and shadow that plays upon old silver."
"Dear me, how very poetical we are!" said Sarah Jorring interrupting.
"Not at all," said Annie in the same sleepy voice. "Anybody with an eye can see how beautiful that is. There is something regal in the ornament of it. The slender stem seems to grow as it expands into the bowl, the chasing is so simple and yet so firm and grand, the handles are like curves of the lip of the cup itself, as though they were a part of the whole design, and not as though they were stuck on as they would be in modern works. I could fancy it the wine-cup of a king or an emperor."
We had none of us seen this handsome goblet before, as it was usually locked up with other silver in a chest that stood in a wardrobe closet in Miss Grantley's bed-room. The fact is, we were all looking at it with some curiosity, for it had been brought down with the tea-spoons and sugar-tongs, and now stood on the table filled with pounded sugar for the strawberries that were to be eaten by and by.
"Is it an heirloom, Miss Grantley?" asked Marian Cooper. "Has it always belonged to you, and did some ancestor leave you the history of it?"
"Well, it has been in our family—in my mother's family—for perhaps two centuries," replied our governess with her grave gentle smile.
"You know that my mother, or at all events my great grandmother, belonged to the Huguenots, those French Protestants, many of whom escaped from the persecutions in France and came to England, where they worked at many trades. A number of these emigres, as they were called, settled in a neighbourhood close to the city of London; a place called Saint Mary Spital. The part that they lived in was named the Spital Fields, and there they set up in business as weavers of silk. This cup came to my dear mother as a part of the old property that belonged to her grandmother, and it had been brought from the south of France, from the district where the persecution was carried on longest till the French revolution changed everything. The 'Reign of Terror,' as it was called, brought a terrible punishment to those who had themselves shown no mercy; and another kind of persecution to those who, rather than deny their religion, had endured the cruelties of a fierce soldiery. They had seen houses burned, even women and children tortured and killed, property destroyed, and existence made so hard and sorrowful that they ceased to fear death, and fought on with desperate courage, or abandoned the country that their tyrants had turned into a desert, and carried their arts and manufactures to other lands where they might meet and pray in peace."
"Miss Grantley," said Sarah Jorring when tea was over, and our governess had "washed up" the dainty cups and saucers, "we don't want you to read to us to-night, I think. You are to tell us a story instead, you know, and it seems that there ought to be a history belonging to the Silver Goblet."
"Yes, yes," we all cried out, "surely you know ever so much about it, and if it's not a family secret, or if you don't wish to tell us"—
"Well," replied our governess laughing, as we all hurried to our work-baskets and drew round the table which had been moved nearer to the window, "as I can work and recite at the same time I may try to tell you the only story I ever heard about this Huguenot Goblet; but mind it isn't very romantic, and it isn't very cheerful. There is a love story in it, though, and as girls are always supposed to prefer something of that kind—though I have always found that girls are more interested in the stories provided for their brothers than in their own books—I will say on as well as I can."
THE SILVER GOBLET.
THERE was a time when, on rare occasions, it flushed with the glow of rare old wine spiced with fragrant spices; or, better still, held the essence of odorous flowers distilled into subtle perfume. Need I say that this goblet is "old silver?" It was in France that it held a place of honour in the house. That house was one of note in Languedoc, not that its owner was noble by birth, but he was of the great Protestant families—the old Huguenots—whose undaunted spirit Louis the Fourteenth could not quell, even with the fortresses that he built to frown them into submission, or with the help of a fierce soldiery.
They were troublous times even long afterwards, when Anton Dormeur, owner of looms and manufacturer of velvet, went about with a serious face, and trusted few of his neighbours. Anton Dormeur was a man who kept his own counsel, and, when the persecutions had for a time been stayed, he saved money, hoping to rebuild the fortunes of his house for those two daughters, who were but children when his wife died and left a vacant place that never could be filled.
They were lovely—these girls—each in a different fashion. The elder, tall, slender, dark-haired, haughty, with the complexion of a peach; the younger, soft and fair, with locks that hung like silken skeins upon a neck of snow, and eyes of that dark changeful sheen that is either gray, or black, or blue, as you seek to look into their depths.
Hers were the plump white fingers that pulled the delicate rose-leaves with which this cup was filled, till the air of that gloomy room was fresh with the odours of a garden after evening rain.
Mathilde, her dark, proud sister, loved lilies best, and set them in a jewelled vase. That vase perished in the great calamity that fell upon the house, and the silver cup was among the few relics that were saved. Alas! the beautiful, imperious Mathilde perished also in those evil times.
Yes, this beautiful creature, whose coming seemed to lighten the dim room in the old chateau with its hangings of amber damask, its gilded panels framed with long slips of looking-glass; its satin chairs, its quaint carved cabinets, filled with rare knick-knacks of ivory carvings, jade-stones, jewelled daggers, boxes of filligree, and rare cups of porcelain, like great opals, gleaming with strange lights that paled the pearls with which their rims were set. There were tables and tripods too, bearing bronzes and Oriental jars filled with scented woods and spices; but it was over this silver cup that the sweet glowing face of Sara Dormeur bent, as she stood watching for her lover's fluttering signal amidst the trees that belted the sloping parterre, beyond the broad stone balcony on which the windows opened.
For the father, Anton Dormeur, was averse to young Dufarge, who though he belonged to a Protestant family among the tanners of Alais, was a man of the people, without that connection with the old nobility which the Huguenots cherished, even though they suffered continually by the laws that king and nobles put in force against them.
The Protestants were loyal to the caste which yet refused to own them, though they were of the best blood in France, or owned them secretly and in fear, lest to be identified with the heretics might bring fire and sword upon themselves.
Thus old Dormeur forbade Sara to have any more to say to Dufarge, but encouraged the lover of his eldest girl, a man of twice her age, the grim and saturnine Bartholde, by birth seigneur of an estate near Lozere, where, however, he lived only on sufferance, for the title had been abated after the persecutions following the Edict of Nantes, and though Bartholde was rich, he had abandoned both title and the display that belonged to it.
His was just such an alliance as the stately reserved manufacturer might have been supposed to choose for his eldest daughter, and, indeed, after they were married he would go and stay for days together at his son-in-law's house—a place less gloomy for him now that the light had gone out of his own; for Sara, having pleaded in vain, fled with her lover to the north and there they were married. After this they hoped and believed that the old man would relent. He never relented, or at least never to their knowledge. As his sweet fair daughter knelt to him, her golden hair streaming about her, her hands held up in supplication, he denounced her in words taken from Holy Scripture, and would have struck her but that the young husband stood with earnest eyes and folded arms, he having knelt in vain, or, as he said, bent his pride to his love for his sweet wife's sake.
So Sara Dufarge went out cursed, undowered, and an orphan, from the old house, and Pere Dormeur was left desolate indeed.
Yet amidst the gloom that settled on his life, and the hard unyielding determination which resisted any attempts on the part of her sister to bring him to receive his disowned daughter again, the manufacturer had frequent struggles with his pride and obstinacy. They were scarcely acknowledged even to himself. He thought he could trample the suggestions of nature under foot, and he succeeded in so far as to suffer in silence, and to make no sign of yielding, nor of admitting the possibility of foregoing his resentful purpose.
He had much to occupy his thoughts at that time, for there were rumours of renewed persecutions of the Protestants by command of bishops and clergy. Not contented with refusing them the legal registration of marriage and the certificate of death, it was said that a general confiscation of property was ordered, and that recantation or death by fire and sword might once more be the doom of the sectaries. Anton Dormeur was frequently at Alais with Bartholde, and the people there whispered that it would go hard with the manufacturer when the dragoons came. He had already made some preparations, however. Always in communication with the refugees who had settled in Spitalfields and Coventry, he held money in England. This was pretty well understood; but what few people knew was, that for weeks before the blow fell he had had a ship ready, and that some of his most valuable effects and merchandise were stowed among the cargo. This very cup was hidden away in a case, surrounded by silk brocade and velvet, clothes, and lace. For days the vessel swung with the tide, waiting for Anton Dormeur, who sought to bring his daughter Mathilde and her husband, with their child, to be his companions in flight. But Bartholde delayed, loath to part from the farms and land that were his birthright. He and his little boy—the first and only child—were on a visit to the old lonely house and its grave master, when a messenger, his horse covered with blood and foam, came thundering at the door, with the fearful intelligence that the alarm was ringing at Alais, and that the persecutions of the Protestants had begun.
Bartholde was in the saddle in a minute.
"Stay for nothing, but bring my daughter. Come on straight for your lives to Saint Jean," cried the old man. "There will be post-horses there, and I will order relays along the road where the people know me. Meantime I will take the boy; he will be safe with me."
They never met again in this world. Bartholde died fighting on his own threshold; his wife, the beautiful Mathilde, perished, perhaps, in the flames. At all events, a wild figure was seen at an upper window just before the great leaden roof of the chateau curled and fell. Fire and sword spread in a widening circle round that district; the house of Anton Dormeur was sacked. Achille Dufarge and his wife, the lovely Sara, were in Paris, where no word reached them till long after, and then only by a stranger, an old workman of the factory in Languedoc; so the months went by, and then came the awful revolution that put an end to the royal family, and enthroned the guillotine. Then the revolution passed out of the hands of men, and the destinies of France seemed to be in the keeping of murderers like Robespierre and Couthon. By that time the old man and his grandson were in England; the boy having grown to be a tall and handsome youth.
* * * * *
On the door-posts of a tall gaunt-looking house in a street of that strange part of London lying between Spitalfields and Norton Folgate, and known as "The Liberty of the Old Artillery Ground," might be seen the words "A. Dormeur, Silk Manufacturer."
It was a dim-looking place enough, where the yellow blinds were nearly always drawn over the front windows, and the summer's dust collected in the corners of the high flight of steps, and was blown round and round in little eddies, along with bits of string and snippings of patterns or shreds of silk and cotton. The front door stood open every day from ten till five, to give buyers access to the warehouse, in which Anton Dormeur—old, withered, slightly bent, and with a set look upon his face which even his rare smile failed to disturb—unrolled pieces of silk, made bargains, examined with a critical eye and with the aid of a magnifying glass the fabrics brought in by the weavers, and in fact carried on his trade as though he had for ever been separated from the tragedy which befel him in Languedoc nearly fourteen years before.
And yet that heavy affliction darkened his mind as he rolled and unrolled his silks, or carefully matched the skeins that came from the dyers. The sun was shining through the windows, the lower panes of which were dulled in order to obtain a clear high light; but the cloud upon his puckered brow was not lifted. Hour by hour the warehouse clock ticked away the afternoon. Customers departed; the sound of the scale and the clatter of reels and bobbins, in another warehouse beyond the long passage, had ceased since midday.
Presently some passing thought too bitter for absolute self-control, crossed the old man's mind, and he bowed down his gray head for a moment upon his folded hands; but the next instant glanced round with the half-startled look of a man who fears he has betrayed himself. He was busy over his patterns again as he noted that a young man at the other end of the room was regarding him with a wistful, pitying look.
"Come, Antoine," he said, "you have had a long day's work, and we dined early; it is time you had finished your ledger for the day. Come and help me put up these pieces, and then get you into the fresh air. Would that I could make the old house more cheerful for thee, boy; but remember it is all thine own one day, and do not add to the sorrows of the past, anxiety for the future!"
The young man had come to his side—a slender, handsome fellow, with an olive cheek, curling hair, and a dark eye both frank and fearless.
"And you, grandpere," he said, touching the old man's hand; "why will not you go out and seek some change from your dull life? What sorrow is it that seems to press so hard on you to-day, and why do you think it necessary to give me words of warning? What shadow has come between us?"
"What shadow!" echoed the old man, peering at him from under his bent brows. "None of my throwing, boy; but do you forget what day it is? A dark anniversary for me, if not for you; and I scarcely thought you would have let it pass without a thought. Nay, I need not wish its darkness to lie on you for ever either; but, Antoine, remember you are all I have left. In my silent, lonely life, and this dull house—and I always a reserved and seeming loveless man—you may well pine for something more, some lighter, gayer time, and ever brood over the means to find it. But remember, my son, that you are by birth above the paltry pleasures of the herd; that you can come to me and ask for money if you covet some pastime that befits you; that you need conceal nothing from me—have no friend that I may not know also."
Antoine's face flushed for a moment. It was seldom, indeed, that his grandfather spoke in a voice so tender and so yearning. Almost insensibly his arm stole round the old man's neck.
"What is it?" he said again. "What have I done?"
"I accuse you of nothing, lad," replied his grandfather, gently disengaging himself. "I thought perhaps your tastes may have needed more money. You do not gamble, Antoine; you are never out late, for I can hear you come in, and the sound of your violin penetrates to my room, so that I know when you are at home. I don't expect you to be always with me; I would not have it so; but when you want money—"
"Grandfather," said the young man hastily, "I know not what you mean. Have I ever asked for more than the allowance you make me? Do I complain? Except for the two or three bills that you have paid for me of your own free-will, do I exceed your bounty?"
"Talk not of bounty, boy," said the elder, flushing in his turn. "Antoine, could you read my heart you would see that all I desire is to show to you the love that the world would give me no credit for, that my own children even, thy—thy mother, Antoine, and—and Sara—ah! leave me just now, my dear; I am surely growing old and childish, but I have still enough of the old manhood left not to wish even my grandson to witness my weakness. Leave me, boy, and let us meet at supper in my room. I shall go out presently to see old Pierre, and, if I can, to bring him home with me. Poor old faithful Pierre!"
The young man slowly left the warehouse and ascended the stairs into the house, when he shut himself in his own room, and flung himself into a chair, in profound dejection.
He had scarcely done so when a man came from the upper warehouse, a room whence silk—both warp and woof—was given out to the workpeople to be wound on bobbins or spread into the web before it was fixed in the loom. After every such operation this silk was brought back to be reweighed, and only when the piece was finished in a woven fabric did it find its way into the lower warehouse, there to be measured and inspected. Access was gained to this upper warehouse by a door in a back street, inscribed with the words "A. Dormeur. Weavers' Entrance." And thence the workpeople, of whom there were many each day waiting their turn, went across a paved yard and into a passage terminating in a kind of square lobby, at the bottom of the deep well which lighted the gloomy staircase by a glazed window from the roof of the house.
Close to this lobby was a sliding panel, opening on a counter where the great scales hung for weighing the silk; and here weavers and winders gave in or took out their work from the "scale-foreman," whose name was Bashley—one of those bad men who, with a bullying pretence of candour and honesty, contrive to impose even on the victims over whom they tyrannize, and at the same time, as it were, wrest from their superiors the acknowledgment that they are "rough diamonds."
By a horrible fiction it is often thought that such a man is "just fit to deal with workpeople." The same opinion prevailed then, and thus Bashley was able to get a character which obtained for him a place in the warehouse of Anton Dormeur. He had been there for some twelve months, in place of old Pierre Dobree—a faithful fellow who had joined his old master in London after the calamities which drove them both from France. Pierre had been in Paris, and had escaped to bring to his master the awful intelligence that the daughter he had denounced was now beyond his relentless anger; but the old man, having grown old and feeble, had retired with a pension to the French Hospital which then stood in St. Luke's, and was called La Providence: a refuge founded to receive poor Protestant emigres, mostly aged men and women, who had their little rooms quaintly furnished with their own poor household goods; and who walked daily in the quadrangle, laid out in beds and borders.
Bashley had been only fifteen months in Dormeur's service, and yet he had come between the grandfather and Antoine, suggesting suspicions of the young man's probity, but so artfully that while he only seemed to hint at small blemishes, which he pointed out for the sake of the lad's future welfare, he left so much to be inferred that the old man had already a new trouble added to his load.
Bashley's insinuations, when analysed, came in effect to charging Antoine with small peculations in order to increase the amount of his allowance—to taking beforehand what he, of course, might consider would be his own some day, as the scoundrel would have put it. Not only this, but he hinted at low companions—at a secret love affair with a girl far beneath him in station—of this he would, if necessary, furnish proof.
It was with a troubled heart that Anton Dormeur, having at last escaped from a whispered conference with Bashley, locked up the warehouse, and went slowly out towards Shoreditch on his way to the "Providence." Old Pierre had been the early guide, philosopher, and friend of the little orphan boy; and the keen-faced, pippin-skinned old Frenchman had the courage of his convictions, and roundly swore many innocent French oaths that afternoon, when his old employer, and present patron and friend, paced with him along the path of the old quadrangle and told him his suspicions.
"So, that man of blague, that Bashley, is at the bottom of this also," he said presently. "Why did you send me away, and take that liar, that—that—ventrebleu—that hyena?"
"But what should it be true, Pierre? My heart is very heavy."
"I tell you it is not true."
"But about the girl? He said he could prove it. And yet the boy came and rested his hand upon my shoulder to-day as if he were candour itself."
"Let him prove it."
"He swears he will."
"What then! Do you, too, think it is possible, Dobree?"
"I think it is quite possible that Antoine may be in love, and in love with one who is poor, but not ignoble—no, never—not ignoble."
There was a strange light in the old foreman's eyes, a strange look in his face, as he said this, so that Anton Dormeur stopped him suddenly.
"Pierre, you know something of this," he cried. "You shall tell me—what does it mean?"
"I am not sure that I can tell you," replied the old man thoughtfully. "Still, you invite me to sup with you to-night. Antoine will be there?"
"Ah! there again. This man Bashley told me, as one proof of his knowledge, that even to-night—this night that I have bidden him to meet me—Antoine will not be at home; that he may stay away altogether to avoid my questioning; that he will certainly disappoint me for the sake of this girl with whom he has an engagement. How then?"
Pierre was silent for a moment; a troubled look puckered his face, then a keen sudden gleam of surprise and intelligence seemed to shoot across it. "You said supper at nine, did you not?" he said quietly.
"Yes—the nights are dark."
"Make it ten, nevertheless."
"Agreed, but why? and what is there working in your brain, Dobree?"
"Never mind, monsieur, but lend me one, two, three sovereigns."
"Pierre, you are extravagant. What can you want with them? There will be no company; your dress is good enough."
"There will be Master Antoine, perhaps a lady, but that I cannot tell; there may even be two ladies."
"Pierre, it is ill-jesting," said Dormeur, turning pale and with an angry glance; "do you remember what day it is?"
"Good Heaven! Master, forgive me. I had quite another thought than of the day; pardon me a thousand times—pardon me. I could cut out my thoughtless tongue; and yet, believe me, I meant—never mind what I meant."
They had reached the passage leading to Dobree's queer little oak-panelled room, and as the door was open, both the old men entered; Dormeur walking up to the mantel-piece, and fiddling about there with some old china cups, and other little ornaments with which it was adorned. Turned with its face to the wall was a small trumpery frame, containing as it seemed some common-looking picture; and quite absently, and as though he scarcely knew what he was doing, the old man placed his fingers on it to turn it face outwards. Anton Dormeur gave a low cry, and placed his hand upon his companion's arm.
"Where did you get this?" he said slowly, looking his old foreman in the face. "It is not old, it cannot have been painted more than a year; and yet, as a mere likeness from memory, it is wonderful. Who could have done it?—not you, Pierre, that is impossible."
Dobree had recovered himself. "You know that I came from Paris," he said, with his eyes cast down; "you know, too, how a picture may be retouched and made to look like new."
"But you are deceiving me; this is no retouching; it is clumsy—coarse; and, except in the evidence that the face itself must have been beautiful, not a good likeness. You wonder I can talk so calmly of this, a poor resemblance of the bright fair girl—of my Sara—mine although—Dobree, tell me how you came by this."
"I will tell you to-night," muttered the old man; "I swear to you that I will tell you to-night."
"And to-night I will show you a portrait on ivory, one that will make you think you see her as you once knew her, Pierre: a picture I keep among some relics, and look at often—oftener than you think, or anyone in the world could guess. Good-bye—or rather till nine—no, ten to-night, au revoir."
When his grandfather had left the house, Antoine, who was restless, unhappy, and full of vague surmises, sat for some time with his head in his hands, and at last only roused himself with an effort. It was growing dusk already, for autumn had given place to winter, and the days were short. There was still light enough, however, for him to see to write a letter, and in a few lines he told his grandfather that he should be with him at nine o'clock, and would then ask him to give him back the confidence that once existed between them, or to charge him with the fault that he had committed. He felt how vague this was, and almost hesitated; but he carried the letter to the sitting-room, nevertheless, and opening the door gently advanced towards the table.
It was a large barely furnished room, and yet not without evidence of luxury, or at all events of ornament. The great carved chimney-piece was surmounted by an old mirror with sconces containing candles; a leathern chair was drawn up to the hearth; on the table itself was a silver standish with writing materials, and a tall goblet of Venetian glass, while some rare china stood on a cabinet near the window.
Antoine so rarely entered this room except at night, and to bear his grandfather company for an hour or two before bed-time, that he involuntarily glanced round it now in the fast-fading twilight. In that moment he remarked that the door of the cabinet was unlocked—a circumstance so unusual that he went towards it and looked inside to note what might be the reason of such carelessness. Then seeing this silver cup on the shelf, he carried it to the window, and looked curiously at its contents. There was some reason for his doing so. In that dim silent room—where only its master came daily, and the one domestic who, with an old housekeeper, attended to the wants of Dormeur and his grandson, and did a little dusting once a week—the silver cup had become the receptacle of small trinkets, of coins, and quaint pieces of jewellery.
It was a common custom for the old man to take it out of the cabinet when his eyes were tired with reading, and to turn over these tarnished treasures, some of which were in small morocco cases. To one of the latter Antoine's attention was directed, for it lay open as though it had been hastily placed there, and covered with a piece of torn point-lace. Removing this the young man saw a portrait, the picture of a face so sweet, and eyes so penetrating, that he uttered an involuntary cry. It was a deeper feeling than mere surprise or admiration that prompted it, however. His hand trembled as he replaced the miniature, after gazing at it with an expression of mingled wonder and terror. At that instant the watchman passed crying the first hour after dark; and, carefully replacing the cup, he turned the key in the cabinet door and hurried from the room.
Now all of my story that remains to tell took place in the next three hours, after Antoine left the house with a strange sense of wonder and confusion in his mind; so I must explain a little the situation of the young man—the enmity of Bashley.
It had happened, then, some months before, that Bashley being away for a day's holiday, Antoine took his place at the scale; for it was a slack time, and few workpeople were there to be served. He believed he had given out the last skein of silk, and had weighed the last bobbin, so shutting the slide, and putting up the bar, he unlocked an inner door, and went into the house and up the stairs. Pausing on the first landing, as he frequently did, to look thoughtfully over the balustrade and down the well-staircase, he became aware that one person yet remained quietly seated on the bench below. As he uttered some slight exclamation at his own negligence, a face was turned upward towards his own—a face of such sweet, pure, girlish beauty that he held his breath lest it should be bent from his searching gaze—as indeed it was, but not before the plain straw bonnet had fallen backward and left a wealth of sunny hair glowing beneath the light that shone down upon it. A confused sense of some picture of an angel upon Jacob's ladder that he had seen in an old family Bible came into Antoine's thoughts as he stood and looked; but in another moment the girl had replaced her bonnet, and with her face bent down sat waiting as before.
In a minute he was beside her.
"Pardon me," he said, with an involuntary bow; "I thought everyone had gone. What is it that I can do for you?"
There was no embarrassment except that of modesty as she curtseyed before him. She might have been a young duchess by the frankness with which she met his look.
"I come from Marie Rondeau," she said, "who has sprained her foot and cannot walk. Mr. Bashley said she might send for the money due to her if she was still lame."
"Your name then is—" he inquired, pausing for her to fill up the question by her answer.
"Sara Rondeau," she said simply; "it is for my aunt that I come. I live with my aunt."
"And Bashley, does he—did he—has he visited you to bring you money?" Already the lad felt a short jealous pang, but knew not what it was.
"He has been to measure our work, but not to bring money. My aunt comes here herself."
But Bashley had been there, and the image of this young girl had roused his sordid fancy. Is it a wonder that he soon began to hate his young master?
Antoine felt the warm blood in his face as he wrapped in a paper the few shillings that were due.
"Do not come again on such an errand," he said. "I will call and see if your aunt is better, and will, if necessary, bring some more money myself."
There is little need to say that Antoine kept his promise; that merry bustling little Marie Rondeau (how unlike her niece she was, to be sure!) was in a constant tremor when the little wicket-gate of her garden clicked, and she, looking through the leaden casement of the upper room, saw the young master coming along the little path, with its two rows of oyster-shells dividing it from the gay plots of gilliflowers, double-stocks, and sweet-williams. She trembled too for the peace of the fair girl, who had too soon learned to know his footstep, and to flush with pleasure at his approach.
Already trouble seemed to threaten them, for Bashley had warned her, and in a coarse insolent way had said he meant to be Sara's sweetheart himself—or they might seek work elsewhere.
One night, when Antoine entered the garden, he was surprised to find old Pierre Dobree there.
"You must come no more yet, if you would spare this child from sorrow," he said, after talking long and earnestly. "Your new foreman watches you, and already hints to your grandfather that you are engaged in some mean intrigue. You bring evil where I would have you do good, Master Antoine. Come no more, I entreat you."
"And Sara—does she wish that also?" said the young fellow, reddening. "I have never spoken a word to her that could not be said before her aunt. Why do you interpose, Peter Dobree?"
"Excuse me. The aunt is my cousin, the child my ward, and I know your grandfather well. For a month you must not come, but trust me and give me your word, and all may yet go well."
So it was a month since Antoine had been to the little house in Bethnal Green—and in all that slack time neither Sara nor her aunt had been to the warehouse for work or money.
But on that night, when Antoine was to sup with his grandfather, the month's probation was at an end. Even had it not been, he would have felt that he must break his promise, for on that very morning as he stood at the door after the warehouse had been opened, a boy ran up and placed a note in his hand—a mere slip of paper, on which was scrawled—
"Will you never come again?—S. R."
His sensitive nature was shocked at such a summons, and for the first time he had a sharp pang of doubt whether he was not to be awakened from a foolish dream. It was with a heavy heart that he bent his steps along the narrow tangle of streets that lay between his house and the edge of a great piece of waste ground known as Hare Street Fields, and even had he been less preoccupied he might not have noticed that he was followed by two men, who kept close to him in the shadows of the houses, and walked as noiselessly as cats, and with the same stealthy tread.
Mrs. Rondeau was sitting in her lower room, sewing by the light of a weaver's oil-lamp which hung from a string fastened to the mantel-piece. The place was very bare. Few of the little ornaments that usually decorate even a poor home remained, and the good woman's eyes were red with recent crying. The loom in the upper part of the house was empty, and so was the cupboard, or very nearly so.
"There goes the quarter," she said, as she heard the chiming of a distant clock. "I wish I'd gone myself instead of sending the poor child. What would Peter say if he knew—ah! and what would that old flinty-hearted wretch say if he knew! How I wish she would come, even if she came back without the money!"
The night had set in gloomily enough, as Sara Rondeau went quickly through the now almost deserted streets on her way to a dim shop, where three golden balls hung to an iron bracket at the door, to show that a pawnbroker's business was carried on within. It was not the first visit she had made to this establishment, for the poor little household ornaments, the loss of which had left her home so bleak and bare, were now in the safekeeping of the proprietor; but still she shrank back as she approached a dim side entrance in a narrow street, and drawing her bonnet closer over her face, pushed open a baize door, and entered a dark passage divided on one side into a row of narrow cells, separated from each other by wooden partitions.
She made so little noise, and still kept so far back in the pervading gloom, that her presence was unnoticed by a shabby-looking man, who was just then engaged in earnest conversation with somebody in the next box. Before she had spoken, and while she was yet in the shadow of the partition, she thought she recognized the voice of the person who was speaking as that of Bashley, and held her breath to listen, for a name was mentioned which sent the blood back to her heart and made her feel sick and faint.
"Well, as long as everything's safe," said the pawnbroker's assistant, who leaned his elbows on the counter, so that his head was close to the partition; "but we've got a good deal here now, you know, and if the thing should be found out—."
"Yah! who's to find it out?" retorted Bashley; "I tell you everything's ready, and the risk's mine. Old Dormeur's half childish; and as to the young one, I tell you he's safe enough for a week, if I like to keep him so. He'd an appointment to supper with the old man to-night, and he won't keep it. If he's not on his way now to see the girl, he's tied up neck and heels, by this time, and in a safe place out of harm's way. I tell you I can be back here in an hour or two. You're too deep in now to draw back; and besides, who can swear to raw silk? I shall go first, and look after the girl; then I mean to call on the old man, and send him out on a wild-goose chase. The rest's easy, for I've a key, and a light cart at the back of the warehouse will bring the silk here in no time. The game's in my hands now, and I shall play to win."
"But when the young one tells his version of the story?"
"How can he? He comes out without knowing where from; and if ever he did, he's been in an empty house. A pretty story! No, no; if the old man believes it, he won't face the disgrace, for he more than half suspects his grandson as it is. Come now, will you or won't you?"
Sara Rondeau, crouching by the door, hears this with an undefined fear which paralyses her for a moment, but leaves one thought in her troubled mind.
Some foul plot is hatching against Antoine, and she is powerless to hinder it. No—one thing she can do, if only she can creep back unnoticed. She will use all her strength to reach Mr. Dormeur's house, and tell him what she has heard.
It is a question of minutes. Walking backward and pressing slowly against the noiseless door, she slips out again, and, like one pursued, begins to run at her utmost speed through the darkened streets.
* * * * *
Anton Dormeur sits alone in the grim old house. Cook and housekeeper have gone to market for the means of providing supper. Not a footfall sounds in the street; only the wailing voice of the watchman calling the hour at a distance breaks the dead silence, amidst which the old man can hear the ticking of the gold repeater in his pocket, the tinkle of the ashes that stir in the old wide grate, where a fire has been lighted, and the gnawing of a mouse behind the wainscot. He sits with the silver goblet beside him on the table, his knees towards the fire, his furrowed face quivering as he bends it down over the miniature he has taken from its case, the miniature of his younger daughter, dead and—no, not unforgiven—dead and mourned for now, with a silent grief that speaks of years of desolation and remorse.
The light of the shaded lamp falling on the picture in his hands seems to expand its lineaments; the tears that gather in his eyes almost give quivering motion to the face before him. A strange emotion masters him. His temples seem to throb, his hands to shake. The sudden sound of a light single knock at the street door sets his nerves ajar; the quiet click of the lock—a pause of deadest silence—and then the light tread of an uncertain foot upon the stairs make him tremble; yet he knows not why—does not even ask himself the reason. There is a lamp outside upon the landing, he knows—the light of it shines down into the hall—and yet he cannot stir towards it. What superstition holds him? Even at the moment that he starts up from his chair, the portrait still in his hand, his highly-strung senses enable him to hear a rustle that sounds quite close, and is followed by a low knocking at the door of the room itself.
In a voice of hope, of dread, of fear, he knows not what or which, he hoarsely cries, "Come in."
In the mirror above his head he sees the room-door partly open, and then—yes, then—either to his waking vision or in disordered fancy, the living original of the picture stands with pale and earnest face in the upright bar of light that streams in from the landing.
His daughter—not as he had last seen her, but with a difference unaccountable if he had had time to think or strength to reason. His daughter, with the past years rolled back to show her in her youth, and yet with poor and scanty dress, and long fair hair tossed in confusion on her shoulders, whence a battered bonnet hung.
He had no time to note all this at first. He only knew that his heart seemed to be going out in some dumb movement towards this apparition—that he sank again into his chair—that he felt a living hand upon his shoulder—saw a frightened face looking into his. Then his senses came back, and he heard the voice speak rapidly, and in French.
* * * * *
With swift steps, but without picking his way, taking the nearest road rather by habit than with any observation, Antoine Dormeur traversed the narrow streets leading to his destination. There were so few people abroad that the way was clear enough, and yet there were some apprentices or worklads on their way home; while in that neighbourhood, just on the edge of Spitalfields, a lower colony of petty thieves and receivers kept up the trade of two or three disreputable taverns, where dogs, birds, and pigeons were exchanged or betted on. It may have been in consequence of this taste for pigeon-flying that the whole neighbourhood resounded with whistles and bird-calls. Men and boys gave each other this shrill greeting as they passed, or warned each other by it, or used it to express reproach or pleasure, hilarity or dismay, varying its peculiar note to suit each emotion. The Hare Street whistle was as well-known an institution there as the joedel is to the Tyrolese peasant.
It scarcely surprised Antoine, therefore, when, as he reached a beer-shop (the last lighted house before the straggling street opened into a dirty lane leading to the open fields), a man who was just emerging from the place gave a low whistle as he turned in the opposite direction and crossed the road. Had he given the matter a thought, he might have hesitated for a moment before plunging into the gloom of the muddy lane, or at least might have grasped his walking-cane more firmly and looked about him, in which case it is just possible he would have seen two shadows that moved in the darkness of the wall some fifty yards behind. As it was, he did neither. The course of his gloomy thoughts was unbroken by so trivial an interruption, and continued to be so till he approached a corner where a high ragged fence turned off on the edge of a footpath.
Only a sudden scuffle, a muttered oath, and the grasp of two powerful arms that pinioned his elbows to his side awakened him.
Three men had leaped out from the projecting corner of the fence, where a light cart was drawn up, and were upon him before he could raise a hand; but he was quick and active, so that by a sudden turn and trip he bore to the ground the fellow who held him, and fell upon him heavily.
"Give it him, and quick there with the sack!" cried this worthy, as they rolled on the path together. Another ruffian seized Antoine by the throat. A weapon gleamed before his eyes; but in that moment a quick patter of feet sounded in the roadway, followed by two reports like the sudden breaking of a cocoa-nut. Crack! crack! and the ruffian's body fell heavily against the fence, as two shadows—the two shadows that had been following Antoine so long—danced in the footway, whence they had just struck a second of the ruffians through a jagged hole in the fence, and left him sticking there till he recovered his senses. In a moment the young man felt his arms released, and struggled to his feet, his late antagonist escaping by a plunge through the fence and a desperate run across the fields, where he was followed by a flash and the report of a pistol, which failed to stop him.
"Who fired?" said one of the shadows, now visible—a light active fellow, armed with a knotted cudgel.
"I did, Mat," replied a voice that Antoine knew, as a thin spare old man came from the open space beyond.
"Are you hurt, my boy?" he asked tenderly, approaching Antoine, who stared from one to another in amazement.
"Pierre—Pierre Dobree!" exclaimed the young man; "you here—and these—how is all this?"
"I will tell you presently," said the old pensioner, for it was he indeed. "I expected a trap, and had you followed by two lads that I could trust.—Gave him a body-guard of a couple of weaver-lads, eh?" he said, turning to the rescuers. "You've done your work well, boys."
"Why, we haven't been three years at sea and learnt the knack of the press-gang for nothing, daddy," replied one of them grinning; "but we must be off; we ain't constables, you know, and there may be trouble about."
"Antoine, you sha'n't be disappointed of your ride in the cart," said Peter; "we must hasten, or your grandfather will be waiting supper. He will have to excuse me, though. Come, in with you."
The two shadows leaped lightly up, and one of them took the reins.
"Stop, though," he said suddenly; "this isn't our cart. This will be brought in stealing. It might be a hanging matter, daddy."
"I'm going to take it to the owner if I'm not much mistaken," said Peter, as he and Antoine scrambled in at the back.
"But, Pierre Dobree, what of Sara? what of your niece? I must know. If she is in danger, and through me, I will brave my grandfather's displeasure, lose my hope of the fortune for which I care so little. I will, I must find her!"
"You can no more find her than I," said the old man. "One word with your grandfather, and then I go to seek her."
"What! She has left home then?"
"Only this evening, and for an hour or two; but if my hopes do not play me false we shall overtake the scoundrel who detains her, and he shall answer for it with my hand at his throat but I will have her back."
Pierre Dobree was ordinarily a calm, rather rosy, cheerful, high-dried old Frenchman, quite small and thin, and with a very perceptible stoop; but Antoine said afterwards that there was a very terrible look in his face just then—such a look as may have been born, perhaps, in the days of Terror, when he stood in the crowd beneath the guillotine and saw the head of Achille Dufarge fall into the sack.
* * * * *
It was many minutes before old Anton Dormeur could clear his mental vision or recover his senses sufficiently to determine that the girl who stood beside him touching his shoulder was real flesh and blood; but at last, with a strong effort, he roused himself to listen; and only half comprehending her hurried story, rose from the chair into which he had fallen.
"And you, little one, who are you? what are you?" he asked presently, without taking his eyes from her face. "Your name is Sara? it must be—shall be," he exclaimed almost passionately.
"It is," said the girl—"Sara Rondeau."
"Rondeau, Rondeau! where have I heard that?"
"It is my aunt—she is a weaver; we work for you, monsieur. See you not that this Monsieur Bashley, having a spite against us, and against monsieur your grandson——"
"Who and what are you?" again said the old man; "you talk as one of us—speaking of monsieur my grandson. Has he seen you? do you know him? Your mother never saw him? she was—— Mon Dieu! what am I saying?" he added wildly.
"Pray, pray delay not!" said the girl, clasping her hands.
"No, no, I come—first to the watch-house, and then to your house, did you say?" And with a great effort, but almost without taking his eyes from the child's face, Dormeur strode to a closet beside the window, and took down a sword, which he drew quickly from the scabbard.
Sara feared him, and retreated to the door.
"What!" he said; "dost think I'd harm thee, little one? Come, take my hand. Tell me, how did you get in?"
"I found the street-door unfastened, and knocked, but could make no one hear; then I came in and listened, and there was a light up here, and so I came and knocked, not knowing what to do; but there is some one there now—hark!"
"'Tis the servants come back, child," said Anton; but he trod softly for all that, and, turning about, traversed noiselessly the long winding passage that led towards the back of the house.
At the end of that passage the well stair-case sent a cold gray gleam from the skylight in the roof, but down at the basement, where the lobby opened in the yard, there was a stronger light—the light of a lantern, by which a man stood impatiently examining a key, and picking it with a penknife, as though it had been clogged.
"I wanted to unlock that closet too," he muttered, "for I would swear he keeps gold there, but the cart will be here directly. It's rare luck that he should be out, and the women too as I verily believe, for not a soul is stirring in the kitchen. Fancy leaving the house alone! I was a fool not to take the chance before."
The sound of wheels aroused him, and Bashley—for it was he—gave a half-frightened glance behind him, for he had suddenly become conscious that he was talking to himself. He looked upwards also, as though by some strange instinct; and there, leaning over the wooden balustrade of the "well," their faces lighted in the gleam of his lantern, were Anton Dormeur and Sara Rondeau, looking down upon him.
He made a dash at the door leading to the yard, then suddenly turned and, with a desperate oath, drew a pistol and fired it from the stairs; but his aim was uncertain, and the ball went straight upward crashing through the skylight. Another moment, and a door clanged open, a torrent of air rushed up the well, and amidst shouts and cries, and the sound of falling glass, Bashley was smitten down, and handcuffed between two officers, who had been posted in the street, according to the instructions they had received from Peter Dobree. The old weaver had not counted on such a success, but he had actually driven Antoine home in the very cart which was to have carried away the plunder, after having conveyed the young man to some place of imprisonment, where he might have died before aid could reach him.
The first thing that Antoine saw clearly, when they had all got into the house again, was his grandfather carrying a woman in his arms. The old man had darted down the stairs at the moment Bashley fired his pistol; but Sara had fainted. Poor child, she had been long without food, and her strength gave way amidst that awful scene.
Arrived at the door of the room, the second thing Antoine saw was that this was the very girl whom he had gone out to seek. As she lay there in the great leathern chair, with a wan face and closed eyes, a keen anguish wrung the lad's heart—anguish not unmingled with utter amazement, for there, bending over her and kissing her hands, which he held gently to his breast, was the proud old man, who had so rarely displayed emotion.
Antoine covered his face with his hands, for his head began to reel. So Peter Dobree found him standing outside the half-open door, when he came panting up.
"Why, what's the matter, boy? you're not wounded surely—say?" asked the old foreman anxiously.
Antoine pointed to the scene within the room, and Peter stooped down and peered in—well he might. Anton Dormeur was on his knees beside the child, moistening her lips with brandy from a teaspoon (it was a spoon that had fallen from her dress, but he knew nothing of that, for he found it on the floor without thinking how it came there). He spoke encouraging words to her, talked to her as men talk to babies; touched her forehead with his fingers, and took up one of her long fair tresses to press it to his lips.
Presently she sighed heavily, and opened her great eyes upon him, then flushed, drew herself further back in the chair, and began to cry.
"Pierre—Pierre Dobree!" shouted the old man, striding to the door, "he should be here; where is he?"
"Here am I," said Peter, suddenly confronting him, and drawing Antoine into the room, all grimed and torn, and smirched with mud, as he was.
"What is the meaning of that?" said old Dormeur, glaring into Peter's eyes, and laying a grip upon his shoulder that must have left a bruise there.
"The meaning of that is," said Peter steadily, and looking back with an eye as fierce as his master's—"the meaning of that is, that when nearly nineteen years ago I stood under St. Guillotine and vowed a vow, I meant to keep it. That when Sara Dufarge—once Sara Dormeur—my loved and lovely mistress, joined her husband—not by the guillotine, but by a broken heart in a little country lodging at Nogent—she left her child—that child—to the nurse who had been faithful to her—to my own good sister Nancy, who, bringing her to England when she and her husband came to escape the troubles, found here another sister, the widow Rondeau—childless—to whom came as a legacy that same little orphaned one who lies now in her grandsire's chair."
Anton Dormeur stood and glared for a moment at the undaunted little old man, who had thus kept a secret for eighteen years, though he had been here in his service; but even in his bitter anger there came to him the recollection of the stern relentless temper with which he had blotted out his daughter's name from the family record; and, with a drooping head and tears that fell fast on his furrowed cheeks, he went again and knelt beside the girl, who now sat looking at them all with wide and wondering eyes.
"Peter Dobree," he said presently, "go or send for your sister Rondeau.—Antoine, dear lad, go you into the kitchen and see if any one has come in; for we will have supper through all, and Sara, Sara, my child, my little one, you must never leave me more."
"What! and are you, monsieur, truly my grandfather, and Monsieur Antoine truly your grandson? Then he is—no, not my brother; what then?—But I may kiss him?" said the wondering girl, as she stood the centre of a talking group, apart from which stood the lad, who still looked at her wistfully enough.
They broke into a laugh, at which she turned red as a rose, and with a sudden gesture, which shot a pain to the old man's heart, for it was that of her mother once again, turned away.
"Yes, but you may kiss him," said Anton gently, and leading her to where Antoine stood—"a cousin's kiss, you know—have you learned what that is?"
"No, I never had a cousin—at least, Antoine never kissed me," she said simply, and held up her sweet face to the young man, who bent and touched it with his lips.
"I do not think I need say any more; but that is the story of the Silver Goblet," said our governess as she rang the bell for the strawberries and cream.
On the following evening the weather was so close and lowering that we had to remain indoors. It was one of those heavy days which sometimes occur in the summer months, when the whole atmosphere appears to be one low-hanging cloud, enveloping everything in a kind of dark-gray mist, that is only now and then pierced with red rays, and droops upon the distant fields in a straw-coloured vapour—the effect of the sunlight behind the atmosphere of mist.
"What a dim, uninviting evening!" said Miss Grantley as we stood at the window looking out at the garden, where the roses seemed to droop heavy-headed in the moisture-laden air, and the song of the birds was hushed, or only an occasional chirp was heard as one or two thrushes flashed from amidst the plum-trees, or a martin twittered beneath the eaves. "What a dim evening! It almost reminds one of a London fog—not a black fog, but a yellow one, such as one sees in the city sometimes on a late autumn afternoon or an evening in February."
"Oh! do tell us a story about London, Miss Grantley. You must know ever so much of the streets and places there, or how could you have learned so easily about Spitalfields and all that? Beside, you've lived in London, haven't you?"
"Well, yes. I was in London for more than two years, and near the city too, and I think I must have spent too much time in wandering about some of the quaint old streets and lanes, where there are rare old churches, and halls belonging to city companies, and ancient houses that once belonged to noblemen of the court of King James and King Charles, but are now used for counting-houses and warehouses, such of them as are not pulled down at least. I made some odd acquaintances too; and a kind old couple, who were caretakers at one of the smaller city halls, used to ask me to take tea with them, for the old gentleman had known my great-uncle Joseph, who was an East India merchant, and belonged to the company that used to meet in the hall. I think the old gentleman said he had been the 'master;' but at any rate his portrait was on the wall along with many others, and he was so like my dear father that I stood and cried, and often wished I could take the portrait itself away, but that of course was impossible."
Here Miss Grantley became silent, and we could see tears shining in her eyes, till Annie Bowers, who was standing near her, gently took her in her arms and kissed her on the cheek, and without saying a word held her round the waist.
"Well," resumed our governess, smiling, and pressing Annie's hand, "I was going to say that the old gentleman had kept a kind of diary or great memorandum-book, in which he had written—oh, in such a neat, stiff, stalky kind of hand!—all kinds of things that had happened among his friends and acquaintances for many years. He used to read it to me sometimes; and once, when I had to stay there in the little cozy parlour for a whole winter evening because of a downpour of rain, he asked me if I should mind his reading to me a little story that he had written about a very strange occurrence to an old friend of his who lived in just such another lane, near just such another old hall in the city. He said that he felt like Robinson Crusoe sometimes, except that his wife was there with him in that quiet island of bricks and mortar; and, like Robinson Crusoe, he had learned to put his narratives upon paper in quite a remarkable way, so that if I didn't mind listening he would read me a bit of a romance that was as true as anything I should be likely to get out of the circulating libraries.
"I said of course that I should like it very much; and so, while his wife sat on one side the fire knitting, and I was half lost in a great leather easy-chair on the other side, the old gentleman took a bundle of papers out of a drawer in the bookcase and read me the story that I am now going to read to you; for as I was very much interested in it he was so pleased that he made me a low bow, and handed me the paper neatly folded and tied with a bit of red tape. He said it would be something to remember him by when I went away from London."
A BABY'S HAND.
PEOPLE who know the city of London, and like to wander up and down the streets, soon learn to leave the broad and more modern thoroughfares and to plunge into the silence and seclusion of the queer by-ways which lie away from the great roaring sea of traffic, like the caves and shallows that skirt some great ocean bay.
Amongst these retired spots none are more suggestive than the old churchyards all blurred and dim with London smoke, but yet in which a few trees yearly put forth green leaves of little promise, and a choir of sooty sparrows chirp around the queer old steeples or perch impudently upon the leaden ornaments which adorn the sacred porch. In these places—which even in summer are well-like in their cool impenetrable shade—there is no little business going on, however, for all round the rusty iron railing which incloses the weed-entangled graveyard the houses of city merchants seem to crowd and hustle for space; and, if they had any time for it, the clerks behind those dust-blinded windows might spend an hour not unprofitably in looking down upon the decaying monuments of departed citizens and meditating at once on the uncertainty of human affairs and the benefits of life assurance.
Amongst the dozen or so of such places illustrating the brick-and-mortar history of the city none are more suggestive than the church and yard of St. Simon Swynherde, which, lying in the circumbendibus of a lane named after the same saint, forms, as it were, a sort of outlying island, upon whose quiet shores the incautious wayfarer, being sometimes lost or cast away, can hear the humming surges of the great sea as they boom in the thoroughfares beyond. There is no alteration in this place from year to year, except such differences as are brought about by the change of seasons; no civic improvement troubles its sedate gloom—no adventurous speculator regards it as a promising site for building blocks of offices—no railway company casts an evil eye upon its seclusion within the area formed by the church and the tall dim houses which have mouldered into uniform neutrality of colour.
Even the march of time seems to have been arrested amidst the decay of the place, since the bell of the church clock rusted from its bearings and the index of the old sun-dial fell a prey to accumulated canker. The spring brings a few green buds and feeble leaves upon the grimy trees; the summer serves to accumulate the store of dust and torn paper and shreds of light rubbish which the autumn wind swirls into neglected corners on the dim evenings when the rain weeps on the blackened windows and the mist creeps up to the steeple in long ghostly shapes. The winter brings a frozen cyclone which whistles round and round or gently covers the graveyard with snow, the unbroken whiteness of which is gradually spotted and interlaced with sooty flakes, as though the genius of the place resented the intrusion and would make no further compromise than half mourning.
The dimmest, darkest, and dirtiest of all the houses round the yard was that of Richard Dryce & Co., factors and general merchants. It was never known who was the Co., for Richard Dryce managed his own business, and lived in the house, in one of the back rooms of which overlooking a square paved courtyard he had been born. The business belonged to his father before him, and he himself had married into the business of another factor and general merchant. His wife had died some twenty years before the period of this story—died in giving birth to a boy, who was sometimes mistaken for the Co., but who at present occupied no better position than that of a superior clerk, with the questionable advantage of living with his father in the dull old house, where he had to go through the warehouse amidst innumerable bales and crates and packages to reach the staircase that conducted him to the gloomy rooms, the old-fashioned furniture of which suited his father, but was sorely against his own taste.
How he should have come to have any opinion of his own is perhaps a mystery, for he resembled his mother, who was a simple creature, easily influenced, and with all her tastes apparently moulded on the pattern set before her by her husband. Still, however it may have been, though he was born in the gloomy house, and was subject to the same influences, the younger Dryce—whose name was Robert—never took kindly to the dull routine to which his father's habits doomed him. He was too dutiful and too mild in disposition—in fact, too unlike his own father—to offer any direct opposition to it, or to complain very often of its exactions; but he felt that at twenty he was kept with too tight a hand, and that there were worlds beyond Saint Simon Swynherde, which might be harmlessly explored.
Richard Dryce was, however, not a bad man, not a cruel or a hard man in his inmost heart; but he had been himself devoted from early life to one condition of things, which were in some strange way in accordance with his natural constitution, or with which he had become identified till they grew into a necessary part of his existence. He was a self-contained man—an undemonstrative man, whose mind was attuned to respectable solitude, and who, without being a misanthrope, regarded his fellow creatures through a ground-glass medium, which made them seem shadowy and unapproachable. A few business acquaintances he had, with whom he would sometimes take his chop and glass of old port at a city tavern of an evening; he would even, on rare occasions, go the length of smoking a cigar in company with one or two of his less distant companions; but his laugh was like the harsh echo of a disused violin, and he seldom or never invited anybody to see him at home.
One of the people whom he disliked most said that he was "a buttoned-up man," and Richard Dryce could never forgive him—the description was so true.
One of his most intimate friends, an alderman, of congenial temperament, who had greatly distinguished himself by quarrelling and exchanging vituperative epithets with another alderman on the magisterial bench, seriously advised him to become a candidate for civic honours; but he strenuously refused, although he ultimately permitted his son Robert to achieve something like independence by becoming a liveryman of the Worshipful Company of Twidlers, whose hall stood within the precincts of Saint Simon Swynherde. It was only on the occasion of one of their dinners that Robert was allowed to be out after ten o'clock; but that restriction did not prevent his spending the larger number of his evenings between eight o'clock and ten at the Twidlers' Hall, which mouldy old structure, with its great, cold, lonely dining-room and awkward polygonal ante-rooms decorated with portraits of deceased dignitaries, held an attraction not to be found elsewhere, in the person of pretty Agnes Raincliffe, the only daughter of the company's beadle.
For six months they had been under the sweet illusion that disinterested affection must eventually win for itself a way to union; but old Mr. Raincliffe had spoken seriously to them, and altogether forbade their further meeting until Robert had spoken to his father. He went home that very night, and, nerved to a sort of desperation, did speak to his father, ending with the usual declarations that his choice was unalterable. Perhaps it was; but, whether or not, Richard Dryce went the very way to make it so when he laughed that discordant laugh, and, with a taunt against his son's weakness of purpose and his dependent position, told him to dismiss such a scheming little hussey from his thoughts, for he was to marry when he had permission, which would never be granted to such a match as the beadle wanted to bring about.
Robert left his father's presence without a word; but in a week from that date he had followed Agnes down into the country, whither she had been sent out of the way. When he returned he wrote a letter to his father, to say that they were married. It is easy to guess what followed. When he called for an answer to his communication, he received a brief note, saying that he was discarded from that hour, need never trouble himself to enter the doors of the old house again, and that henceforth he must look to his own exertions for the means of living. This letter was sent by the hand of a sort of managing clerk, one Jaggers, who was at the same time commissioned to tell Robert that he could, if he chose, obtain a situation in a house at Liverpool, where his father's interest was sufficient to secure him a clerkship at a very moderate salary. Now it so happened that Jaggers had always appeared to be the best friend young Robert ever had; he had sympathized with him on the subject of his father's harshness; had applauded his noble sentiments when he had imparted the secret of his engagement to Agnes; had wished that he was master of the establishment in St. Simon's Yard, that justice might be done to disinterested virtue, and had generally assumed the part of guide, philosopher, and friend, tempered by humble deference, to the young man. It was arranged between them, therefore, that, after a time, during which Robert should accept the situation at Liverpool, a more successful appeal might be made to Dryce senior, and that a letter addressed to him should be sent under cover to Jaggers, who would lay it on his table.
Robert and his young wife went away, leaving this good-natured fellow to watch their interests. A year passed, and the letter had been written, but remained unanswered; indeed, according to Jaggers's showing, Richard Dryce was more inveterate than ever, and was unapproachable on the subject of his undutiful son, in pleading whose cause he, Jaggers, had very nearly obtained his own dismissal. The firm in which Robert was a clerk became bankrupt in the commercial crisis, and he was thrown out of employment. Again he wrote to his father, saying that he had an appointment offered him in Australia, and only wanted the money to pay his passage. He received no reply, but some people who knew him in Liverpool made up the sum, and his wife came to London to live with her father (who was now superannuated in favour of a new beadle), and to wait for his return, or for the remittance that was to come by the first mail, that she might join him there.
Their first child, a girl, had been a poor sickly little creature, and was dead; but Agnes was likely again to become a mother, and waited anxiously for the money which would enable her to prepare for such an event. Anxiously as she waited, it never came, and Jaggers, to whom it was to have been directed, advanced her a sovereign, as he said, "out of his small means," and then lost sight of her, for she and her father had moved into other lodgings, where the managing clerk could scarcely trouble himself to go, unless he had good news to take with him. Indeed, he had so much to occupy his attention, that some months had elapsed since he had seen Agnes; once only he had written a short reply to a note imploring him to say whether any remittance had arrived; but how could he spare time to attend to such matters when Mr. Dryce was every week taking a less active part in the business, and the Christmas quarter was stealing on with the balance-sheet not even thought of in the press of country orders. Mr. Richard Dryce was still hale and active; but those who knew him best, thought that he was breaking. His voice was less harsh, his hair had turned from iron-gray to white, and in his face there was an anxious look as of one who waits for something that does not come. Once or twice old acquaintances ventured to ask after his son, but he shook his head, and said that he knew nothing of him; he had written to his last address, but had received no reply.
It was cold dull wintry weather, and the old man looked so solitary, that one or two tried to rally him, and even asked him to come and dine or spend the evening with them, to which he responded by his old harsh laugh, and putting on his worsted gloves, trudged home through the snow.
One morning he awoke early, almost before daylight had penetrated the dull rooms where he lived, and had a sudden fancy to walk into the church. It was already daylight in the streets, but the interior of St. Simon Swynherde was dim with mist and with the obscurity of the high windows. He could only just see the pillars and the organ, where his own name had been painted in gilt letters since the time that he had been churchwarden and helped to restore it. Even as he looked up at it, the notes of the Christmas hymn came trembling into the chill morning air, for the organist had come there to practise, and expected the parish school children to come in to sing at a morning service. To most people there might have been nothing in the place or its associations to evoke much gentle feeling; but as the tones of the organ swelled and the music grew louder, old Richard Dryce sat down in the corner of his own pew and leaned his head upon the book-board, with his hands clasped before his face. Not till the warm tears had trickled from between his fingers did he raise his head, and then it was to look round him to the cushion at the other end of the pew, for from some place near him he thought he had heard a sound that was out of all harmony with the organ, but not altogether apart from the associations of the Christmas hymn—the wailing of a child. Another moment and he was bending over a bundle seemingly composed of a coarse blue cloak, but from which there presently came out a baby hand and, the covering once pulled aside, a little round rosy face in which a pair of large blue eyes were wide awake in utter astonishment. Who can tell what had been the thoughts busy in old Dryce's mind? Was it prayer? Was it that yearning which finds no words of entreaty, but yet ardently and dumbly implores—all vaguely—that the crooked paths of former error may be made straight at last—that the rough places of a mistaken course may become divinely plain? He could not tell; and yet in some way he accepted this child as a visible answer to a petition that he had meant to frame. When the organist and the sextoness came down presently, and with indignant virtue advised the removal of the child to the workhouse, he regarded their suggestion as little less than impious, and expressed his determination of taking the little one home with him.
His old housekeeper and the younger servants were not a little surprised to see the merchant come home with such a companion; but Mr. Dryce was master in his own house, and the little guest was fed. Then Doctor Banks was sent for, and he declared that it would be necessary to provide a nurse, while, as luck would have it, he had that very morning been sent for to see a casual applicant for relief at the Union workhouse—a woman who had just lost a child. Temporarily she might do well enough, and Doctor Banks wanted to get home to dinner; so away went the housekeeper in a cab with a letter from the doctor, and in two hours came back bringing with her a pale pretty young woman whose name was Jane Harris, and who, her husband having gone abroad and left her with a child which she had just lost, was reduced to apply at the workhouse. She was so timid, and had at first such a scared look, that Mr. Dryce had much trouble to induce her to stay; but it was quite wonderful the way in which the child took to her, and so a room was got ready for them both, and she was comfortably settled, almost, as the housekeeper said, "as if she was a lady, though for the matter of that, Doctor Banks knew more about her than he said." At any rate Doctor Banks said the next day, after he had had a little conversation with the new nurse, that she was thoroughly trustworthy, and that he himself had known her father, who once held a very respectable position in the city. So Mrs. Harris became an inmate at the dim old house, and her charge throve under her care.