The Secret Drawer I.

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THE SECRET DRAWER.
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CHAPTER I.

OUR NEW LODGERS.


WE lived in a very quiet square in Westminster.  It was a peculiar square, with a quaint church in the middle,—and two sides of it consisted of very small ruinous structures, chiefly used as stables or storehouses.  But the other side had rows of somewhat stately buildings, which must have been built for wealthy people; for many of them had wide halls, with rooms at either side.  They were dear old houses,—I love their memory, for the sake of the particular one in which we dwelt, my widowed mother, my brother Harry and I.

    My mother was left in what are called "narrow circumstances,"—that is to say, she had enough to live upon within certain humble limits.  My father had been cashier in a City warehouse, and his savings, with one or two bequests, made up our little property.  One of these bequests was the old house in Brown Square, which had belonged to my mother's maiden godmother.  It had not been ours in my father's lifetime,—of which period I could remember little, except that we lived in a narrow City lane, over the counting-house where my father worked,—but it came to my mother's hands very soon after his death, together with divers old-fashioned furniture standing in its wide chambers.  And there we lived comfortably enough, only that our moderate fires never seemed to thaw the chill of the great rooms, and the long, heavily framed windows appeared constantly demanding richer hangings than our plain holland blinds.  The place was much too large for us, so we let the second floor—"unfurnished"—to a law stationer and his wife, very decent people, with no faults except those incident to humanity, such as grumbling, fault-finding, nervous headaches at awkward times, &c.  But still the first floor remained cold, stately, and proper, with its faded carpet on the uneven floor, and its black, thin-legged chairs drawn up against the painted wall.  These apartments boasted several pieces of china, some needlework, pictures, and two family portraits—whose features, I am thankful to say, have not descended to either Harry or me.  My mother could never behold these articles without much admiration.  In girlhood she had been taught to regard them with wondering awe, and the sensation had never worn away.  Still we were not rich enough to keep rooms to look at; so these magnificent chambers were let furnished—that is to say, they were always "to be let," but were seldom occupied more than three months out of each year—the only lodgers who would conform to my mother's household regulations being simple country people, who had cause for a short stay in the metropolis.

    Harry and I were always glad when the rooms were "taken," firstly, because the house was livelier; secondly, because we hated the bill in the parlour window; and thirdly, because this rent, being a sort of surplus revenue, procured us many little indulgences which we generally went without, and therefore our private regrets were very numerous when, one severe winter nearly twenty years ago, day after day went by, and no one even inquired after the "apartments."

    "Nobody comes into the square," said Harry, ruefully, as we peered over the wire blind one frosty afternoon.  "I wish mother would advertise; but she always says, 'No, I'll not send good money to look for what it may never find; a penny saved is a penny gained, Harry;' and I suppose she's right, but my proverb is—'Nothing venture, nothing have.'"

    "Yes, when you bought the ticket for the twelfth-cake raffle," I remarked, mischievously.

    "Here come some people!" exclaimed Harry, not heeding me, "and I declare they're looking about as if they wanted something,—I hope it's lodgings!"

    "The people" were two,—a tall gentleman wrapped in a long cloak with a velvet collar, who walked with some difficulty, supported by an ebony stick and the shoulder of his companion, a small, slight girl about sixteen.  The girl was dressed in sable garments, of quaint outlandish form, which suggested that touching description, "makeshift mourning," and her small dark-eyed face was pale and thin to the extreme.  In her arms she carried a rather large parcel done up in brown paper, and her whole manner was that of a person who, although sufficiently weary, was prepared to struggle on as long as necessity required.



    "They do want lodgings," whispered Harry and I to each other, drawing back out of sight, for the pair paused in front of the bill, and seemed to hold a whispered consultation.  Presently the gentleman stepped to the door and knocked.

    Our mother herself admitted them, and as the parlour door was ajar we could hear the conversation in the hall.  They were plainly foreigners,—the gentleman used many words we could not understand at all, and his daughter interpreted, speaking English with a pretty foreign accent.  Our mother had strong British prejudices, but as the parley proceeded, we noticed her voice grew less constrained and more genial, and at last she led the way up-stairs.  They all stayed there more than half-an-hour, and the law stationer's wife, who always managed to know perfectly well all that went on in the house, hovered curiously about the staircase and hall.  Presently my mother came out alone, and she and Mrs. Simms entered the parlour together.

    "I wonder if I've done right said my mother, going up to the fireplace.

    "Dear me!" sighed Mrs. Simms, expectantly, "any friendly counsel I can give, you know you may always depend on, Mrs. Blake."

    "I have taken them in," said my mother suddenly, as if it was a truth which must come out sooner or later.

    "What! those foreigners that I heard parley vooing here awhile ago, when I was in the back yard getting snow-water for my poor chilblain?  Mrs. Blake, may I be allowed to ask in a friendly way, have you got good references with 'em?"

    "Where can they get good references?" said my mother, defending her supposed folly with the courage of desperation.  "They've only been in London two days, lodging at a coffee-house.  They've just come from Italy.  They seem quite respectable people."

    "Ah, Mrs. Blake, but one must be very knowing not to be deceived!  They mayn't be foreigners at all, or if they be, so much the worse.  When do we, or other decent people, go gadding about the world, leaving all our connections behind us?  It is not likely.  Those who have anything worth sticking to, stick to it."

    "There is some truth in what you say, Mrs. Simms," replied my mother, meekly, "but can we hope to hear Christ say, 'I was a stranger, and ye took me in,' if we always fear to give unsuspicious hospitality when God sends us a chance?"

    "Ah, it's all very fine, Mrs. Blake, but the world is the world, and so I must take care and keep Mr. Simm's door locked just now;" and Mrs. Simms retreated to her own dominions.

    "Yes, I've taken them in," repeated my mother, turning to us.  "They are poor refugees from Italy.  The gentleman is still lame from a wound he received in that terrible war, and the daughter looks just worn out.  Their name is Silvani.  The young lady says her mother was a Swiss, and had been a governess in England, and that is how she knows the language so well."

    "What are they?" asked Harry.

    "The Signor says he was a professor of the dead languages, and that he thinks he shall soon get employment here, and his daughter says she can earn money too, poor child! "

    "When are their things coming?" I asked.

    "There is nothing to come," answered my mother.

    "They escaped with nothing but the clothes which they wear, and that parcel, which is a curious inlaid desk."

    "Escaped?" questioned Harry, eagerly.  "Did they tell you about it?"

    "Not much; only they lived under a very hateful, unjust Government, and when there was an effort to change this for a good free rule, the Signor with many others joined in it, and as it has proved unsuccessful, and the old Grand Duke, or whatever they called him, has returned to his throne, as many as could hid, or disguised themselves, and got away secretly."

    "And what became of those who couldn't?" asked Harry.

    "Some were executed," said my mother, with a sigh, "and others put into prisons so dreadful that they are sure to die a lingering death.  We've had it in all the newspapers, Harry,—but I'm afraid we think very little of what we read till something brings it home to us."

    "Where is the gentleman's wife?" I asked.

    "They say she died years ago," returned my mother, "but now I must go and see about their tea.  And I should like you, Mary, help Jane take it up.  It may make the young lady feel more at home to see another of her own age."

    And so I carried in the bread and butter.  The Signor rose and saluted me with the grave courtesy of his nation, and his daughter smiled and thanked me in her pretty voice.  They seemed quite settled.  The inlaid desk was placed upon the sideboard, evidently relieved of some of its contents, for I saw two strange portraits standing at either end of the mantel-shelf.  That on the right hand represented a lad with golden hair and blue eyes, and a smiling face bright with delicate bloom.  The other depicted a young man, apparently just above twenty, with crisp brown curls pushed off a broad noble brow.  The eyes were dark, and they and the mouth were full of intense energy.  The figure was draped in a scarlet shirt.  The first picture was a miniature, carefully finished and well-framed; the second was without a frame, and seemed the dashed-off work of a gifted artist, who had no time, nor perhaps trained skill, to perfect his "study."  It attracted me wonderfully; as I answered the Signor's laborious questions my eyes turned to it, and I fear the young lady observed this, for she looked earnestly at me and then at it, and suddenly starting away, burst into tears.  Her father smoothed her hair gently with his thin brown hand, and spoke to her in their own melodious tongue, calling her "Christine."  Then he drew her chair near his, and opened a small dingy book which lay on the table.  From its close print and well-worn look I guessed it some religious manual; for I had jumped to the conclusion that they were sure to be Roman Catholics.

    And so I took the opportunity to steal out of the room, with my mind filled with that vague consciousness of mystery which is so charming to romantic young people.


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CHAPTER II.

THE DEATH OF SIGNOR SILVANI.


SIGNOR SILVANI and his daughter seemed everything one could desire in lodgers.  They went out once or twice together, but the weather continued severe, and the Signor's wound was so painful, that his daughter was generally obliged to go alone.  She made no secret of her errands, she went to "seek pupils," as she thought she could teach music and Italian, and even drawing,—"at least to very little children," she added humbly, and my mother advised her as to one or two quarters where she might get introductions.

    One evening, just at dusk, she returned from one of these expeditions, and we noticed that she closed the door, and ran up-stairs with unusual energy.  We three were sitting idle by the firelight, very likely half asleep.

    "Listen!" exclaimed my mother.

    For we were startled by a sudden burst of melody, such as I, at least, had never heard before.  For a minute we silently wondered "what was it?"  Then Harry whispered,—"It is the young lady singing, and playing on great-aunt's old piano."  After that we were hushed, unwilling to miss a single note.

    The first tune was quick, energetic, buoyant,—like an eager captain hurrying on his soldiers "to conquer or to die;" the second was a most pathetic wail, like the sobs of the women when the battle is over.  I always disown any "taste for music," could never learn a note, and cannot recognise a tune except, sometimes, by its associations.  Therefore I know I did not understand the wonderful beauty of those melodies, but I felt it, and since then I can comprehend how people are sometimes moved to tears by an eloquent discourse in an unknown tongue.

    The music ceased, and some minutes went by, yet we neither stirred nor spoke, till there was a soft rap on the door.  It was Christine Silvani herself.

    "Can you be greatly kind to us, madame," she said, addressing my mother, "and permit us to have our tea as soon as possible, for my poor papa is very unwell?"

    "It is such trying weather," said my mother.  "But what a treat you have just given us, mademoiselle."

    "Could you hear me?" she asked, startled, "oh, I fear I shall disturb—be troublesome."

    "You can't disturb us with that, miss," said Harry.

    "For thanks to your goodness, madame," continued the foreigner, with a smile for my brother, "I have got one little appointment.  I am to go to the—what you call—'Daily School' in the next street, and teach music."

    "I hope Miss Withers gives you good terms," remarked my mother, for we knew that lady to be something of what Harry irreverently called "a screw."

    "Yes, very good for me," she answered.  "I am to have half-a-guinea a quarter for every pupil; and she says there are never less than six."

    "And she gets a guinea a quarter," interposed Harry, "and she'll put down 'Signora Silvani' on her prospectus, and make herself out ever so grand."

    Christine looked amused.

    "But the lady has the piano, and the nice room, and the good name in the neighbourhood, monsieur," she said.  "Oh, I am well content.  Will you take my thanks, madame? and now I must go back to my poor papa."

    They had their tea sent up directly.  But when our servant Jane went to remove it, she brought down such a tale of the Signor's manifold sufferings, and his daughter's hidden tears, that my mother herself proceeded to their room.  She was not too soon.  She had not seen much of sickness or death, but she felt sure the Signor was sinking fast, and Harry was at once despatched for our good old doctor, who returned with him.

    "It is too late, ma'am," said he, conferring with my mother in the parlour, after he had seen his patient.  "The poor man's case must have been hopeless when he entered this house.  I don't suppose he knew it.  His mind, his energies, were so tried that his physical sufferings were deadened, and so death has come on unawares.  Do you know anything of them, ma'am?  Have they any friends?"

    My mother told all she knew, which was little enough.  And then she and the doctor returned to the sick-room.

    "What is your own opinion of yourself, Signor?" he asked.

    "That exile is ended in Heaven!" said the sick man, speaking in English.  "But oh! Christine, mia cara, what will become of you!"

    "Have you any friends here?" questioned the doctor.

    "There is one who knows my name," answered the invalid, "but I cannot send any one to him but Christine, and she must not leave me now.  She will go directly I am gone."

    "And have you no directions, sir, respecting your daughter?"

    "Do not trouble my father about me, monsieur," said Christine, with trembling lips; "you are very kind, but I know all."

    After that there was a long silence.

    "Bring me the portrait, Christine," moaned the sufferer, in Italian.  "Not that—not that"—as she went towards the miniature—"I shall see him again before midnight—but the other!"

    She brought the little painting, and held it before the death-stricken face.  The glazing eyes rested on it with passionate affection.

    "Oh, Marco, Marco, my boy!" he moaned, and turned away.

    "Perhaps you will see him too, my father," cried Christine, kneeling beside the couch.  "Perhaps only I remain."

    "I feel not so, cara mia," said her father, stroking her bowed head.  "But why does God will that I leave you alone?  The waiting is so hard!  Give Marco his father's dying love and last blessing, my daughter."

    Christine only sobbed.

    "I know you will.  And never forget 'The Secret Drawer.'  What God forbids may not be.  But you must never forget it,—answer me this time, Christine."

    "I never will," she replied, almost calmly.

    Nobody but Christine heard him speak again.  To her he murmured once or twice, but only one or two words, and in a few moments they all knew he would never speak more.

    My mother and the doctor offered their consolations to the lonely orphan.  For a moment, hiding her face in her father's pillow, she did not heed them.  Then suddenly rising, she swiftly passed them, saying with an imploring wave of her hands, "Let me be by myself, you are very kind, but only God can comfort me," and so passed from the room.

    My mother and the medical man came down-stairs, and it was in our parlour that we heard these details of the Signor's deathbed,—which, but for the presence of the doctor, who understood Italian, must have remained unknown to us.  As it was, the little we learned only increased the romantic mystery which hung over our lodgers, and our Irish servant, Jane, who brought in the supper during the conversation, lingered in the room when the doctor departed, and narrated sundry little incidents she had observed in her attendance up-stairs, and was neither tardy nor cold in her maledictions against "thim tyrantious princes and Popes (for Jane was a Protestant), whose thumb-screwing and police-spies had driven such a rale gintleman to die in a stranger's house."

    Poor Christine Silvani!  Early next morning she went out alone, and after a long absence, returned with an elderly, long-bearded countryman of her own, who could not speak a word of English, but who she introduced to the parlour to lay a little roll of notes upon the table, while she explained that he had known "her poor papa, and was kind enough to trust that her father's daughter (how proudly she said it!) would repay his kindness when she could, and would madame kindly make arrangements for a very simple funeral in a very simple grave, it did not matter where,—'for it cannot be in Italy!'" she said, in her sweet, wailing voice.

    My mother said she would do her best,—and she made this answer so gently that the swarthy Italian's eyes gleamed with eloquence, and he uttered a few emphatic words.

    "My friend says," explained Christine in faltering tones, "that God rewards kindness which is too great for man to repay."

    The orphan girl took her meals with us while her father's corpse remained in the house.  She was very quiet, keeping her grief in wonderful control, and rejecting all our suggestions respecting mourning, simply saying that she would wear what she had; the money in her possession—that which remained above the funeral expenses—was not her own, and must not be wasted; "if the angels in Heaven can see us," she said, "papa will say, 'Christine is doing right.'"

    I remember one evening, while the whole house was in the shadow of drawn blinds, I left her alone in the parlour, diligently engaged in making as much as possible of the black ribbons on her bonnet, together with a little crape my mother had produced from her stores, and which Christine accepted with a tearful kiss.  I went down-stairs to the kitchen,—Jane was out, but Mrs. Simms was there, performing some little domestic office.

    "Well, Miss Mary," said she, in a marked tone.

    "Well! Mrs. Simms," said I.

    "And so the funeral is to be to-morrow," she remarked, in a whisper.  "La! what a world it is."

    I did not perceive that I was required to answer, so I went about my business, which I remember was to get some hot water from the boiler.

    "Now, as a friend, Miss Mary," she went on, "does your dear mother really know nothing about these people?"

    "Jane knows as much as we do, Mrs. Simms," I replied, "and I daresay she has told you all about it."

    "I don't like mysteries," said Mrs. Simms, decidedly, "and this affair is all mystery.  The monsieur spoke of some one being waited for, Jane said."

    I answered not, for I recoiled to hear the dead man's sorrows spoken of in such sharp contemptuous tones.

    "Mr. Simms is always for law and order," she continued, "and so am I,—and these people abroad seem to have been making a disturbance—so serves 'em right they didn't succeed.  I don't deny one reads dreadful things about prisons and cruelties, but la! these foreigners need 'em!  They can't expect to make their outlandish governments like our free British Constitution."



    "Still, let them try, Mrs. Simms," said I, rather mischievously, and with no idea of the solemnity of the topic, "and let them 'try, try, try again!' Mrs. Simms."

    "Don't make fun," she answered, shortly.  "I don't like people about the house who may be hatching plots, or keeping an infernal machine.  And I don't like not to know who's who,—having a little miss about whom one naturally treats as nobody,—and yet may prove to be a Duchess of Something, and serve one out for not making much of her when she was down,—which, mind you, I would be above doing for the sake of my expectations, for I'm not mercenary, Miss Mary."

    "Then what does it matter who she is?" I said, as I thought of sweet Christine sitting solitary at her sad work, and accordingly prepared to return to her.

    "Ah, you may profess to be very unconcerned," sneered Mrs. Simms, "but I'll be bound you'd dearly like to know what is in the Secret Drawer, wherever it may be."


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CHAPTER III.

CHRISTINE'S NARRATIVE.


THE day of the funeral came and passed.  The sad procession was touching in its simple lowliness, with the bare, undecked hearse, and the solitary mourning coach, wherein rode Christine and her only friend.  Harry and I followed far behind, for town burials had not then ceased, and the destined grave was not distant.

    I could not tell whether Christine fully entered into the beautiful service; she stood perfectly still and scarcely cried.  It occurred to me then that the Silvani family could not be Romanists, or the last rites would have been performed by a priest of that church.  When all was over, and the sexton was filling in the sods, the orphan girl suddenly bent forward and uttered a few earnest words in Italian, then hastily gathering some blades of half-yellow grass which grew on the margin of the grave, she rejoined her companion, and allowed him to lead her back to the coach; and neither Harry nor I saw her again that night.

    Early the next morning she had a long interview with our mother, which ended in an arrangement that, at least for the present, she should remain in our house, giving up the first floor, and occupying a small room next to my bedroom, and taking her meals with us.  When my mother acquainted us with this plan, I think she had a dread of the Simms' opinion in her mind, for she added, with a little sigh,—

    "I hope it is a wise scheme."

    "Why, mother," cried Harry, "it is jolly!"

    Further comment was interrupted by the entrance of Christine herself, ready equipped for her first "attendance" at Miss Withers' "ladies' school."  My mother told her that as she and Harry were going to spend the later part of the day with a friend in the City, there would be only "Mary" to receive her when she came back.  Whereupon Christine remarked, that would be a very good opportunity for us to improve our acquaintance, adding, with a pretty complimentary air, "that she hoped mademoiselle would not find it dull."  And then she gathered up some music she had bought, and went off.

    "Mrs. Simms says she considers she takes her father's death very coolly," remarked my mother, in a doleful way.

    "Mrs. Simms is a simpleton!" ejaculated Harry; "why, that girl is a perfect hero (of course he should have said heroine).  She's got lots of tears in her, but she keeps them behind her eyes."

    I remembered that remark when in the afternoon Christine returned, and came into the parlour, where I remained alone.  I never beheld a sadder sight than her white, calm face.  It seemed as if the tears "behind her eyes" were frozen there.  I took away her bonnet and mantle, and put her into the easy chair.  She only said "thank you," and then leaned back, gazing into the fire, with glassy eyes and clenched lips.  I could not endure it.  I went up to her, and laid a hand on each shoulder, and said, "You are very tired, dear, you should not have gone out to-day,—mamma said so."

    She turned and looked at me, and the frozen tears thawed instantly.  I sat down beside her, and put my arm round her neck, and there was a long silence.

    "You must not speak kindly to me," she said.  "I cannot be brave when I hear a gentle voice,—and yet I so love to hear one!  But I must be brave.  I've got to face the world,—and the world is selfish, and does not like to see tears.  You must leave me alone,—only don't think me hard-hearted."

    "I shall not leave you alone," I answered, warmly, "and you must not make yourself feel a stranger.  I care very much for you already."

    She put her arm round me and kissed me, saying, "Then always call me 'Christine,' and let me call you 'Marie;' and sometimes, when I want very much to cry a little, will you let me cry, without thinking I am making you miserable with sorrows which are nothing to do with you?"

    "I shall think no such thing," I replied.

    We did not speak again till she rose, and proposed we should go up-stairs and remove her little possessions from the first floor.  "I shall carry my desk to my bedroom," she said; "I shall like to feel it near me in the night.  And I must take the portraits there too. [A little sigh.]  I shall see them every morning."

    "Bring them down-stairs to the parlour," I suggested.  "Let them stand at each side of the looking-glass."

    "But your mamma will not care to see them.  They are but strange faces to her."

    "Are they very dear to you?" I asked.

    "They are my brothers," she replied,—"those are all that remain of two dear brothers."

    We sat down side by side; I almost cried to see the silent sorrow on her face, for she was quite tearless now.

    "Will you tell me about it?" I whispered, timidly; for since her father's death she had seemed to grow so wise and womanly that I had quite a reverence for her.

    "Yes, if you like to hear it," she answered, dreamily, "but I don't know where to begin."

    "Where did you live in Italy?" I asked.

    "In Rome," she replied, with a flash in her eyes—"grand, beautiful, wasted Rome!  One of my earliest recollections is of a Popish procession;—some of these processions are pretty, but they are all foolish, and many are wicked."



    "Then you are a Protestant?" I queried.

    "Scarcely that," she answered, with a faint smile.

    "I was brought up in my mother's church, which my dear papa joined; it is the church of the Waldenses, which has never been reformed, because it resisted the very entrance of corruption."

    "Yes, I had often heard of them," I said.

    "We kept that faith in Rome," Christine proceeded, "but it was very hard.  There was no church to attend, and we had to hide our Bible.  There were other Waldensians there, and sometimes we had little meetings for prayer and praise, especially when any good foreigner brought us glad news from happier lands; but it was always hidden, for there are many priests in Rome, and those people who do not attend mass and confession are much suspected and watched.  Sometimes a Waldensian was seized and put in prison, and his Bible taken from him and destroyed.

    "My dear mother died when we were all little.  She had never been quite well since the birth of my youngest brother Angelo,"—she pointed to the miniature of the fair-haired lad,—"who was just one year older than I.  Angelo was a very delicate child, with blue eyes and yellow hair, like my mother's, and so he was papa's pet, and Marco and I were left to each other.  Marco was eldest: he was just twenty when that picture was painted at the beginning of last year.  Oh, Marco was so handsome, noble, and good!  Oh, Marco, my brother, my darling!" she wailed; and her voice died away in a desolate sob.

    "On the whole, we were a happy family,—never rich, often very poor," she resumed.  "But there's a, strange pleasure in struggling to make both ends meet, and a wonderful excitement when they do just meet, with nothing over.  Papa took great pains with us.  We had all learned English from our mother, who had lived long in England in her youth, and he made us keep it up, though he could not speak it himself.  I almost think he wished us to live in England when we grew up.  Angelo was a great student, and wrote poetry;—he was a genius, my poor little brother, but he was so very weak and frail that he could not be much with Marco and me.  I knew all Marco's secrets.  He was strong, and brave, and clever, and had many friends, but there was no companion he loved better than his little sister; and it was from him I heard that troubled times were coining, while as yet they were far off,—a 'cloud no larger than a man's hand.'

    "The Italians were weary of their rulers.  Our dear land is ridden by a score of tyrants, who slay and torture and imprison every one who crosses their wicked will.  But suddenly the people rose (Christine sprang up as she said it); and when the people rose, the wicked kings and grand dukes fled, and left their subjects to do as they liked.  The Pope fled,—the poor Pope," said Christine, "who would have been a good man if he had not been a Pope,—and there was a new Government in our glorious City of Rome.

    "Of course there was much confusion, Marie, for a new Government cannot guide things like an old one.  It was hard for a whole city to leave the bad old ways, and get into good new ones.  The new Government was not always wise,—dear papa said that,—though Marco would never hear anything against it; but one thing know, there was no more need to conceal the Bible;—nay, it was openly sold in the streets and shops! and when we wished to worship God we no longer met together in the night.

    "But it all came to an end," said Christine, leaning back in her chair as if she was weary, "for the French army came to restore the Pope, and instead of peace and thanksgiving there was war and misery.  Rome was fortified, with General Garibaldi to defend it, and Marco, and papa, and even poor Angelo took arms under him.  We left our old home, which was in the suburbs, and took a lodging in a great crowded house in the very heart of the city, where I used to remain alone whilst they all three went out to fight.

    "Well, the French kept on winning and winning, and they had almost got a footing inside the city, when papa was wounded.  The worst night of all was when they did get inside the walls.  Papa was very ill, and in great pain, and when the doctor came he gave him something which made him sleep through his sufferings, and through the noise of the firing.  I was alone, and I knew my brothers were both in the thick of the fight.  I think I can hear the shots now;" and she shuddered.

    "In the morning they brought Angelo home—not dead, but fast dying, with a fearful wound in his neck.  Nothing could be done for him—the doctor could spare no time for a hopeless case,—and all that remained was to give him water and bathe his forehead.  He was in fearful pain at first, but so patient, my poor Angelo!  After a while, that passed, and he was quite easy, and then be died!

    "Marco never saw him again alive, for he could not get home until just before Angelo was buried.  Then he only came for a moment.  Rome had surrendered to the French, but Garibaldi would not surrender, and he and part of his army intended to leave the city by night.  Marco only came to ask my father's permission to join them.  He got it.  He kissed poor Angelo, and he kissed me, and bade me look out for him when the troops went by.  If it was so dark that I could not see his face, he promised to tie a handkerchief to his musket.  He was not with us more than ten minutes.

    "At twilight that day Angelo was buried, and a cross was put up over his grave—just two rough sticks, with 'Angelo' carved on one.  I hope that grave will be kept sacred, Marie, and perhaps some day I shall go back and see it.

    "Just at midnight the troops passed our house on their way to the gate.  My father was able to sit at the window and watch them.  I told him of Marco's signal, and we both saw it.  We watched it, passing—passing—passing away,—and that was the last I have ever seen of my brother!"

    "Did you not hear whether he was wounded?" I inquired.

    "No," she replied: "we had to leave our lodgings and hide—anywhere, anyhow—for papa would have been imprisoned if he had been discovered.  We lost everything except the desk which you know.  After a while we got to Piedmont, where we were a little safer, and there papa met some one who had seen Marco after he left Rome.  He was with Garibaldi when scarcely one hundred others remained faithful.  These, Marco among them, tried to escape with their General in some fishing-boats, but they were fired on by an Austrian vessel, and forced to return and take shelter in the woods.  No one saw Marco after that.  He may be dead, he may be a prisoner, he may be in safe hiding, he may actually be in England (Christine sprang up and paced the room), but where he is I cannot tell!  Oh, it is dreadful, Marie.  It is so different with papa and Angelo; I know where their bodies rest—one under the cross at Rome, and the other in the English graveyard; I know their souls are with God!  But Marco may be pining in a dungeon,—Marco may be ill,—dying with no one to be kind to him!  I sometimes almost wish I knew him to be dead—and safe!  But papa fancied he still lived,—papa said so just before he died.  Oh, Marco, Marco!" she wailed,—"Marco; my darling! the moon still shines on the Campagna, but you and I walk there no more!"

    "How can you bear it?" I asked, impetuously.

    "I do not know," she answered, with a sweet thrill in her voice, "I do not know—but God does."

    Then we parted—she up-stairs, I down—and when my agitation calmed away, I remembered her story had shed no light into the Secret Drawer.


――――♦――――

 
CHAPTER IV.

MRS. SIMMS' CURIOSITY.


DAYS and weeks passed on. Christine kept up her attendances at Miss Withers' school, and procured other engagements elsewhere, and very soon her mornings were fully occupied. It was not surprising, for her terms seemed terribly moderate compared with her talents; but Christine had a humble estimate of herself, constantly lamenting her "want of training," and spending every spare moment in the improvement of one or other of her accomplishments.  Besides her teaching she managed to get some translating and foreign copying, at which she worked during the evening; and, in truth, our little lodger's only rest seemed change of occupation.

    Her early success in independence enabled her to return some of her countryman's loan untouched.  At the end of August she told us that the rest of her little debt was discharged.  From that time she was never out except on business, or for a walk.

    One lovely autumn evening she and I went to the West End, and found plenty of amusement in the brilliant shops, which we did not often see.  Suddenly Christine said, in a voice strangely grave for the words,—

    "I suppose I must have a new dress."

    "Of course you must," I answered, promptly.  "I can't think how you have made yours last so long,—and you should not begrudge yourself now when you must be getting quite rich."

    She did not answer, but I remember her dark eyes turned an earnest glance towards me.

    "Buy a black bombazine," I went on, eagerly; "you really should have a nice dress at last, after wearing such a shabby thing so long."

    "Oh, Marie, Marie," she said, in a sweet, thrilling voice, "it may be shabby in your eyes, but it is the last attire in which they knew me!"

    I was a little touched, and was silent.  Presently she drew me to a draper's window, and asked my opinion on the wares therein.

    "Don't look there," I said, "it is such a cheap shop!"

    "I thought that," she answered; "there can be nothing cheaper than that," pointing to a coarse fabric of mingled black and grey.  "Look! only fivepence a yard; and I need but ten yards,—how much is that?  I am so slow at your English money!"

    "Four-and-twopence," I replied, with great contempt.  "Why, it would not be more than five-and-sixpence, lining and all!  Ridiculous!"

    "I shall buy it," she said, calmly.

    And so she did.

    I felt angry at the purchase, and during the process of making the dress I would not offer a single opinion or suggestion.  I do not know whether Christine observed this; she took no notice, and was as sweet and gentle as ever.  Yet something seemed to have come between us, a


"First slight swerving of the heart,"


which did not heal as days went on.  I cannot explain my feelings.  If I thought her stingy, I need not have felt injured, since she only grudged herself.  Perhaps I thought she set a bad precedent in dress expenses.  Perhaps I did not like her for looking neat and ladylike in the despised garment.  Perhaps my resentment sprung from a mixture of all these feelings.

    There came a particularly hot, sultry day.  Most of Christine's pupils were out of town, and she was almost idle.  She looked pale and preoccupied.  At last she said, with sudden energy, that she must go out, and went upstairs for her bonnet and mantle.  I followed, but only to the second floor, for I had been making a few little purchases for Mrs. Simms.

    I found that lady sitting by the open window, quite "prostrated" by the weather.  I displayed my wares (I remember they were blonds and gauzes), and whilst we were commenting upon them our street-door shut, and Mrs. Simms popped her head out of the window to see who had made an exit.

    "Ill-bred woman!" thought I.

    "There now!" she exclaimed, clutching my dress, but not drawing in her head.  "Look with your own eyes, my dear, for perhaps you won't believe me."

    And out went my head in a twinkling!

    All I saw was a small dark figure, running off as fast as legs could carry it.  It turned the corner of the square, and was lost to sight.  Then we both brought our heads back inside the room.

    "What do you think of that?" asked Mrs. Simms.

    "What was it?" I asked, perplexed.

    "Just your Mademoiselle Silvani," said the law-stationer's wife; "and is that the pace of a young lady who hasn't a place to go to outside this house, nor a single kith nor kin in all London?  Do you or I hurry when we're going nowhere?  There's something not right about her, Miss Mary."

    Somehow the coarse-minded gossip did not irritate me now; I even asked Mrs. Simms what made her say so.

    "There's more than meets the eye in most things, my dear," she went on, picking imaginary ends from the carpet.

    "But Christine shows herself such a good girl," I said; for I believed I still loved her and was her sincere champion.  Our hearts change before we are aware.

    "Mark my words," said Mrs. Simms, with oracular emphasis: "she's come from some beginning we don't guess, and she's living for some aim we don't know!"

    "But you must have a reason for saying this," I persisted, with more curiosity than indignation.

    "Be sure I don't speak without a reason," she said.

    "And if you have a good reason you can tell it, for I know how you dislike mysteries, ma'am," I remarked, shrewdly bringing her own words to bear upon her.

    "Well, where there's a secret," she began, after a pause, "I think it's fair to try which is cleverest, the one who wants to keep it or the other who tries to find it out."

    At another time I should have said that a person's secret was as much his own property as his watch, but I felt this was only an apology for some mean trick about to be disclosed, and I was not averse to profit by the shabby action of another; so I made a sign which I wished Mrs. Simms to consider encouraging; and she proceeded in a whisper,—

    "I could never forget what Jane told me about the Secret Drawer.  It's quite haunted me of a night to know that young creature was in the room above me, with some mystery—no one knows how awful a-resting on her soul.  Mr. Simms has heard me talking of secret drawers in my dreams, and he's wondered what I meant; for you know I never talk to Simms, my dear; he's as simple as a child; and if he knew I was wondering about anything, he'd just say, 'Ask the young lady herself, and put your mind at rest.'  That's Simms' wisdom, Miss Mary.

    "Well, one night I heard her go up to bed at the same time as you; but long after you were asleep as sound as a top, like a dear blessed innocent angel, she was fidgeting about as if there was something in her wouldn't let her rest.  Simms was out, it was busy time, and he was working four-and-twenty hours on a stretch.  So I slipped on my carpet shoes and put a shawl round me, and crept up-stairs to her door.  Sure enough the candle was burning, and I'm telling you in confidence, my dear,"—and she laid her skinny hand on my shoulder,—"I just looked through the key-hole, and there she was, sitting at the table, with that odd-looking desk before her, and a drawer open, somehow out of its side,—a thorough secret drawer, Miss Mary,—I couldn't find it again if I had the chalice to try,—and a lot of papers in it, and spread all over the table.  And she took one of them, and looked over it, as if it was an account.  Then she took two or three gold pieces out of her purse—I could not tell whether they were sovereigns or halves,—and folded them up in it, and put it in a corner of the drawer,—and took a blank piece of paper, and wrote something on it, and then laid her head on her hands, and cried as if her heart would break.  And then she started up, and I thought she might have heard a creaking, so I made off as quickly as I could."

    "It's certainly very strange," I remarked; "she told me a great deal of her history, but nothing about this."

    "Of course you'll not mention it to her, Miss Mary," said Mrs. Simms, "nor to your mother either, only be upon your guard."  And so we parted.

    About six o'clock Harry returned, and rushed into the parlour shouting, "Christine Christine! where's Christine?  I've got some news!"

    "Gently, gently," said my mother, "Christine is out."

    "Where is she gone?" he asked.

    "We do not know," I answered, with an emphasis.

    Harry threw himself into a chair.  "There's a lot of Italian refugees just landed," he said—"some of them escaped from prison; they only came yesterday, and they're awfully bad off."

    "Poor things!" said my mother; "I wonder if Christine will know any of them?"

    "Not very likely.  I think they come from the very toe and heel of the leg of Europe," said my learned brother.  "But there's a subscription opened for them, and I know she'll like to give something."



    "We shall see," I remarked, significantly.

    At that moment she entered, looking jaded and dusty.  Harry eagerly imparted his news.

    "Yes, I've heard of the poor refugees," she said, a little dreamily, leaning against the wall.

    "And have you heard of the subscription for them?" asked Harry, not so enthusiastically.

    "No," she said, turning towards him.  "Is there one?"

    "Yes," the boy went on, excited again, "and my chum Dick Thornton is collecting, and I told him you would be sure to send a trifle."

    "I am sorry you said so, Harry," she replied, gently, "for I cannot do it."

    "You shouldn't have been so rash, my boy," said my mother.

    I think Harry had made a boast of Christine's patriotism and certain liberality, for he was keenly disappointed, and I provoked him further by a laugh.

    "Well, all have a right to do as they like," he said, bitterly, "but when one's heard a lot of fine talk about a 'dear country and brave compatriots' (he actually mimicked Christine's tone and words), one naturally sets them down as worth a shilling or half-a-crown."

    "Harry!  I'm ashamed of you," said our mother, as he swung out of the room.  "Harry, come back and apologise."

    But he wouldn't, and she went after him.

    Christine still stood in front of the picture, and I think she murmured, "Oh, Marco! Marco!"  Her face was very pale.

    "You must not mind Harry," I remarked (not, God forgive me! with a good intention); "he only made a very natural blunder."

    "I know it," she said.

    "People that keep secrets cannot expect to be understood," I added, stitching vigorously.

    She looked earnestly at me, and a slight flush passed over her paleness.  "What makes you name 'secret?'" she asked, with firmness.

    My plight was a little awkward.  I dare not allude to Mrs. Simms' narrative, so I was obliged to be unfeeling, and refer to her father's death-bed.  "The doctor told us there was something about a Secret Drawer," I said, folding my work and leaving the room.

    She followed me to the door and held me a moment.  "Oh, Marie," she said, "when you cannot be sure, why not hope good as well as suspect evil?"

    I saw her no more that night.


――――♦――――

 
CHAPTER V.

CHRISTINE'S VISIT TO THE REFUGEES.


AFTER that little "tiff" on the sultry evening, Harry showed no more temper, but was decidedly reserved, and made no friendly advances to Christine, who seemed wearied and depressed.  There was a constraint upon us.  More than once, I was inclined to tell her Mrs. Simms' story, but I had made a promise of secrecy.  Besides, I was conscious that my own part in the interview had been mean and unworthy.  At the same time I found it quite impossible to put aside the knowledge I had so shabbily obtained, and whenever I felt impelled to behave warmly towards Christine, the memory of her jealously guarded secret chilled the impulse.

    Harry had left school in the spring, and about this time he got a situation as messenger in some office in Parliament Street.  He was a handsome boy, tall for his age, rather fastidious in dress, and very impressible,—altogether, everything which "the only son of a widow" had better not be.  Of course, he was rather spoiled in our female household at Brown Square.  He and I got on pretty well in a scrambling way, quarrelling one hour, and very loving the next.

    But Christine always behaved wisely towards him, not because least burdened by affection, for I believe her bereaved heart quite received him in place of the fair-haired Angelo sleeping under the wooden cross at Rome.  She never "nagged" at him.  She expostulated sometimes, but generally her silence had more effect than my volleys of reproof.  She had once or twice spoken very firmly to him, and though he had gone off offended, he had always returned, convinced that she was right, and desiring to regain her good graces, which she never withheld.  Therefore, I believe, Christine deeply felt his continued coolness.

    Winter came, and found her busily employed with lessons and translating.  As I recalled her arrival at our house, I felt she had changed during the year.  She looked much older, and her face was worn, and had a touching expression of patient endurance.  She often uttered bright and lively things, and yet sometimes, when making an ordinary remark, there was a sound in her voice which made me look to see if she were crying.  I never noticed this in conversation, it was only in unguarded moments, generally when she had just come in from the street.

    Not long before Christmas, my mother went out to tea, leaving us in charge of the house.  Just after she had gone, the postman brought a letter for "Mademoiselle Silvani."  It was the first she had ever received, for it had happened her business had gone on without need of correspondence.  She laid it on her knee, with the superscription turned down.  She sat so several minutes, and I saw her face was very white then she cut it open, read it, and burst into tears.

    "Is it bad news, Christine?" I whispered; "you will tell me, will you not?"

    "It is good news," she sobbed, "it is from a gentleman who wishes me to copy a great heap of Italian papers for him.  He says he will give me quite five pounds for doing it."

    "Then why do you cry?" I said, caressing her.

    "Because I am disappointed," she sobbed.

    Presently she dropped her handkerchief, and said, a little calmly, "You are very kind to have patience with me.  I do my best not to trouble you often, only I am so tired!"

    "You work too hard,—I always say so," I remarked, feeling inclined to add, "and what on earth you do with all your money, I cannot tell!"

    "I don't mean that," she said, "I'm never tired of work,—it's my best blessing."

    "What tires you then?" I asked.

    "Waiting—waiting for Marco," she murmured, wearily laying her head on my shoulder.

    "No one can tell what it is, till they feel it," she went on presently.  "Every time I take up a newspaper I half fancy I may see his name.  Sometimes I think he may come to England, and I look for him as I go along the street.  I've sometimes gone out expressly to do so.  I can hardly keep from peeping into the foreign restaurants to see if he is there.  I thought this letter might be from him or about him.  Then often, when I'm in the middle of teaching or talking, it comes into my mind, 'What is Marco doing now—at this minute and that is such sharp pain, Marie!"



    "How we notice and sympathise with what we know," she added.  "Since I lost Marco, I have noticed how many are in like sorrow.  All the friends of those who go out in ships that are never 'heard of;' all the friends of Sir John Franklin's men; all the people who belong to those who are advertised as 'Missing.'"

    "But they have generally ran away," I said, "so that is their own fault."

    "None the better for those they leave behind them," she answered.  "Oh how very cruel they are,—those people who run away!"

    Somehow, at that moment, Harry came into my mind.

    "You recollect the Italian refugees we talked about last summer?" she said, in a constrained voice, as if she did not wish to allude to the whole of the subject.

    "Yes, I remember," I answered, turning eagerly towards her.

    "I heard about them first," she said, "and though they came from a part where Marco was little likely to be, I could not help running off to see if he were among them."

    "Where were they?" I asked.

    "In a little street off Leicester Square, in a Café de Liberté," she said, with a pitiful smile; "when I got there, I could not tell how to hear what I wanted.  But I took courage, and asked a waitress to tell the principal gentleman of the party, that an Italian girl wanted to speak to him about something very important to her.  Presently an old man came downstairs to me,—a venerable man with long white hair, and when I told my name, he had heard it before; he knew a Marco Silvani who fought among the defenders of Rome!  But when I told what I wanted, he could give no help, though he spoke very kindly, and told me how his own hair had grown grey in prison, and how his cell had become so like home, that he often yearned for it.  'But the loneliness, Signor,' I said.  'Nay, my daughter,' he answered, 'there is no loneliness like being alone out in the world.'  Fancy, Marie, if Marco should live to say that!"

    "That is Harry's ring," she exclaimed, starting up; "I will go away until I am calm.  When I come back, don't look at me, Marie, don't speak too kindly to me, and then I shall not break down!"

    Harry came in and threw himself on a sofa.  He looked annoyed, and seemed absent when I spoke.  Presently Christine glided in, and took a seat in a shady corner, occupying her fingers with some simple knitting, for which she did not require light.

    "I am going out again," said Harry, moodily.

    "Not for long, I hope," I remarked; "you'll be home before mother comes back, I suppose?"

    "I don't know that," he responded.

    "You've been out every evening this week," I said; "do you call that a good habit?"

    "I don't care, and it's nothing to do with you," he answered again.

    Whilst I was planning some bitter retort, Christine stepped to the piano.  Presently she began to play.  Her music had great charms for Harry,—indeed, in former months, he had taken lessons from her, but that custom had dropped off as his habits grew less domestic.  My angry words were checked, and I sat in silence, occasionally glancing at my brother on the sofa.  Somehow, I recalled the story of Saul with his evil spirit listening to the sweet melodies of the youthful David.  Certainly, poor Harry looked fretted and unhappy, and a little excited.  But gradually the fierce, rebellious expression faded, and more than once I heard a little quick sigh.  Christine still played,—now a march, then a dirge, next a vineyard song.  Presently Harry turned his face towards the wall.  At last my mother came home, and supper was brought in, but Harry said no more about going out.

    I went up-stairs to my room as usual, and happened to look out upon the street.  The square was empty, with the exception of one man, who lingered at the corner and then turned back.  I closed the shutter, and proceeded to my toilet.

    At that moment Christine entered.  She had already unfastened her hair, and it hung in rich locks about her shoulders.  Her face looked wild and white.  She laid a very cold hand on mine, and whispered,—

    "Marie, something is wrong; this house is watched."

    "Nonsense," I said; "you will work yourself up until you become crazy, Christine."

    "Ah! very likely!" she answered.  "But that does not alter this.  Every night for a week a man has watched this house.  I know not when he comes, but he does not depart until long after midnight.  He is there now!"

    I bustled to the window, she following.  True enough the man I had seen was still there, sauntering about as no wayfarer does on such a night.

    "Is it always the same man?" I asked.

    "Yes, as far as I can see," she replied.  "Oh, Marie, Marie, what is it?  What can it be?"

    "Perhaps it is an unlucky sweetheart of Jane's, who finds a little consolation in seeing her candle in the attic window."

    "How can you laugh!" she exclaimed, piteously.  "Marie, the shadow of evil is creeping over this house; I can feel it; it is no stranger to me."

    "Hush, darling," I said, putting my arm about her neck, "you are so tired, and you endure so much, I don't wonder you get nervous."

    "I can't keep them down," she moaned, "I can only pray, 'Lord, pity me, pity me.'  But, Marie," and she suddenly sprang up with renewed energy, "can we do anything?  Shall I tell your mother? and if she pleases I will go out and ask the man why he is there."

    "You little knight-errant said I, "don't forget that you are in a free country.  The man may stand there as long as he likes."

    "Well, I suppose he must," she answered, drawing a long breath, "but it is very horrible to be watched, it is like sitting still and seeing a thief plunder one's goods."

    I felt my cheeks burn as she said these words; then with an exhortation not to worry herself, I kissed her, and we parted.

    My old regard for her seemed to have blossomed into new life during that day.  I can never altogether explain my feelings towards Christine—they were a mingling of pity for her loneliness in the stranger's land, and yet reverence because I felt her life was higher than mine.  Each little mystery of her story, when cleared up—like that of her lonely walk on that unhappy sultry day—only displayed more of the sweetness of her character.  And yet it was strange how ready she was to dispel all mysteries except that ONE, about which she would take no hint.  And why was she so terrified at that watcher outside?  Was it possible that Christine was really the unwilling keeper of a miserable secret.  Whatever this thing was which lurked in the chamber next to mine, her father had known it, had expressly committed it to her charge.  Was her natural longing for her brother Marco mingled with another longing for him as one with whom she could share her hidden burden, so that it should no longer lay between herself and the dead man in yonder dreary graveyard?  And did she fear lest this mysterious watcher knew more than he should?  I actually rose from my bed to see if he were still there.  The moon was as bright as ever—a million stars were shining—but the square was quite empty,—the man was gone.  At that moment I thought our street door closed.  Stealthily I opened the window and looked out, but the pathway by our house lay in darkness, and I could see nothing.


――――♦―――


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