The Secret Drawer II.

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CHAPTER VI.

HARRY'S DISAPPEARANCE.


NEXT morning I was the first astir.  I had not passed a good night.  It seemed a relief to enter the brown familiar parlour, and take up one's household tasks.  I settled to some plain needlework, and I remember I wished Harry would come down and break the hush by his rattling, boyish ways.  It was quite time he had risen, and I resolved to go and call him.  I recollected how uneasy he had been the evening before, and I was sorry I had not spoken kindly to him, and tried to win that perfect confidence which he had once been so ready to give.  "Never mind," I thought, "we shall get a little talk this morning before the others come down, and then we shall make things all right, and I shall feel at ease while he is away, which I never do when we have fallen out."

    So I ran up-stairs, singing to myself, and determined to keep my temper, even if Harry should be a little provoking.  Then I knocked at his door, once —twice.

    "How tiresome he is!" I thought, getting pettish; "he guesses who it is, and won't answer."  So I knocked again, sharply.

    There was no movement in the room, and somehow at that instant my petulance faded away, and I called his name quite beseechingly—a tone I knew Harry would certainly answer—if he could.

    Oh that ghastly moment when I stood with my hand upon the lock, gathering courage to open the door!  A prayer—I scarcely knew for what—flew up to heaven.  Then I entered.

    The chamber was EMPTY.

    The little blue-draped bed had not been slept in, but the quilt was disturbed—as though some one had laid down across the couch,—and in one or two places it seemed to have been grasped and crumpled in clenched, agonised hands.  Nothing about the room was out of place.  On the little toilet-table the comb stood in the brush, according to Harry's wont, and a pretty blue silk neck-tie lay exactly as I had seen it the day before.  I don't know how I noticed these trifles, but I did.

    As I stood by the bedside, gazing forlornly round, I saw an open book lying on the top of the drawers.  It was a small prayer-book which generally stood there beside Harry's Bible.  I moved to look at it, but did not touch it;—it had suddenly grown a sacred thing.  It was open at the fly-leaf, on which was some writing, evidently done laboriously with a badly-pointed pencil.  The paper was blurred and warped with tears, and it was with difficulty I read,—

    "Don't believe all they'll say, Mary; but it's bad enough.  Don't trouble after me, and don't let mother fret: I'm not worth it."

    Oh, Harry, Harry!

    I crept to Christine's room.  She was up and dressed, sitting on the window-sill with a book upon her knee.  I cannot remember how I told my sad story.  The first thing I recollect is half lying on the floor, while she stood before me, saying, "Marie, be calm now, for it may not be too late: something must be done."

    I moaned, "Mother must be told."

    "Ah, but other things beside.  Whereabouts is Harry's office?  I have never exactly known."

    "In that street north of Whitehall;—but nobody will be there till half-past nine, and it is not eight yet."

    "The concierge—the keeper of the chambers—will be there, Marie, and there I will go.  I will return as soon as I can, but do not wonder if I be long."

    "What do you expect? what shall you do?" I asked, as she proceeded to get out her bonnet and cloak.

    "Make no hindrance, Marie, mine own," she said, gravely.  "Shall I stop to make plans?  The Lord will provide.  Do not let your mother fear much yet."

    And so she went out into the clear morning streets, and I stole down-stairs to shut the door behind her.  Jane was just setting the breakfast-things, and there was a comfortable smell of toast and coffee, which no one would ever touch.  I told Jane all the tale, for the good creature had put her whole soul into our family interests, but over and over again I entreated her "not to tell Mrs. Simms—not to let Mrs. Simms know anything about it."

    "The mistress must be told," said Jane,—"and she sitting up-stairs at this minute as happy and innocent as she can be!  It may all come right again, Miss darling, most like it will,—for young birds are generally glad to get back to the old nest;—but it'll give your mother's heart a wrench that will last her lifetime, be it long or be it short."

    So my mother was told, and she went with us to the deserted chamber, and gently fingered the little blue tie, and softly asked, "Where is Harry's Bible?"

    "He has—taken it," I sobbed.

    She sighed, and Jane broke out in wild efforts at consolation.  "Ay, he's thinking he'll make his fortune like Whittington, he is, poor dear; but by- and-bye he'll get hungry, and want his dinner, and before evening he'll be back with his feathers ruffled like a moulting bird; and unless you've both half killed yourself with fretting, there'll be no harm done, and we'll all be just where we have been!"

    "O Jane, don't—don't!" said my mother, putting her hand on Jane's shoulder; and then the kind-hearted girl threw her apron over her head and burst into tears.

    How wearily that morning passed!  It was quite noon before a cab drove up to our door, and Christine and a gentleman got out.  It was Harry's employer, Mr. Wilmot.

    He came up to my mother respectfully, and made her return to the chair from which she had risen.  "I wish to spare you all the pain I can," said he.  I noticed Christine had a fierce, determined look, like that of a hunted animal at bay.

    "The future may always retrieve a youthful error," said the gentleman.

    "What do you mean?" asked my mother; then she wailed, "Oh, Harry, Harry, what have you done?"

    "Nothing—or very little," said Christine, sharply.

    "Hush! hush!" whispered the gentleman, "it must be told.  Your poor boy robbed me."

    "Robbed!" screamed my mother,—"my Harry, my darling—a thief—"

    "I don't believe it!" put in Christine.

    "No more don't I!" said Jane from the half-open door, where she was eavesdropping.

    "Nearly a fortnight ago I lost thirty pounds from my cash-box," continued Mr. Wilmot.  "Be calm, dear madam, be calm,"—for my mother started up, "I did not suspect your son.  He had been careless sometimes, but I thought him a good lad.  Yet in the course of a day or two I heard things which justified suspicion, still I would not believe them until I knew; and I desired to ascertain the truth,—not to bring the boy to justice, only to check him on the road to ruin."

    "But still you only suspect; you do not know—you cannot prove," said my mother.

    "I do know," replied Mr. Wilmot.  "I cannot prove, simply because the culprit is fled.  I know that Harry had a large sum in his possession, for which his salary cannot account.  Had he any from you?"

    "No," faltered my mother.

    "I know that for the last week he has frequented a gaming saloon, and that he has always been unlucky in his play."

    "Oh, Harry, Harry!" sobbed my mother.

    "So you had him watched, sir?" said Christine, suddenly, in a strange clear voice.

    "I did," replied Mr. Wilmot.  Of course it had been only in the way of business, and yet I am sure the gentleman did not like making the confession, and he proceeded to defend himself.  "I did not wish to make a groundless charge."

    "Then did you set on the watch before you had ground for suspicion?" Christine asked again.

    "I had grounds—from information received."

    "Will you tell us what that information was?" queried Christine.  "Have pity for the poor mother, sir."

    "I do—I do sincerely," he answered, "but it was given me in confidence; I cannot betray it."

    "I suppose, sir, the informer made that stipulation," said Christine.

    "Just so," replied Mr. Wilmot, reluctantly.

    "Yes," she exclaimed, bitterly; "that is a safe armour in which to tell lies!"

    "I honour your feelings, young lady," said Mr. Wilmot, rising, "but in justice to myself let me say that I received this information from two individuals, each unknown to the other.  Doubtless my presence only increases your grief, but if in the course of events I can render any assistance, remember I am at command."  And so he departed.

    I have but a confused recollection of the days which followed.  I know many people came and went,—an attorney, and some policemen in private clothes.  Amongst them all I only recall one face.  It belonged to a young man who was in Mr. Wilmot's office.  Directed by the housekeeper at "the chambers," Christine had gone to his lodgings to obtain his master's private address, and this youth called several times at our house, each time with a different suggestion as to Harry's whereabouts.  He was an elegant-looking man fully twenty years of age, quiet in manner, and with nothing objectionable about him, except a somewhat furtive glance.  Yet Christine took a demonstrative dislike to him, and at last caused Jane to deny him entrance.

    She was the ruling spirit during that time.  She went to the hospitals—ay, and to the dead-houses; she paid personal visits to the Docks; she advertised; she made acquaintance with many queer specimens of humanity.  My mother knew little of this.  She sank under the weight of suspense, and could no longer enter into details.  But I understood it all.  Sometimes I murmured that I could not endure that one with such sorrows of her own should bear so much for strangers, but each time she replied almost in the same words,—

    "What is the use of suffering unless it teach us how to act?  Have no fears for me, Marie.  I had to pass through the streets of besieged Rome at midnight, and there was no harm.  God guards the path of duty."  And then she would kiss me, and tie on her little brown bonnet and set off on some new quest, which always ended—in vain.

    Sunday came.  My mother remained in her chamber, but Christine and I found ourselves in Harry's room.  It had not been touched yet.  Most of the things remained exactly as he left them.  It was Christine's turn to comfort.

    "But your sorrow is not like our sorrow," I cried, passionately, "your brother is lost in honour, and poor Harry is called a —" I could not say what.

    "Never mind what he is called, Marie.  See!" and she took up the little prayer-book he says, 'Don't believe all they'll say.'"

    "He wouldn't have written that unless he knew they could say something," I sobbed.

    "Ay, doubtless he is in fault, but not as they think.  Why, Marie, you don't know how differently a story looks from opposite sides!"

    "What was the use of his putting 'not to fret?'" I moaned, leaning on her shoulder.  "He might know we must.  He may know we are miserable at this very moment; why doesn't he come back?  Oh, Christine, where may he be?—what may he be doing?"

    "He cannot run away from God," she said, sweetly; "and God loves him even better than his mother does.  Let us remember, Marie, God is both with Harry and with Marco!"

    "But oh! I fear Harry must have forgotten God," I wailed; "and oh! I wish I had him even for one moment, just to speak kindly to him once more."

    "Marie," she said, "Harry took his Bible with him.  Let us hope he is looking into it at this very moment."  And we both stood in reverent silence, as we should if we had really seen him so doing.


――――♦――――

 
CHAPTER VII.

THE VISIT TO THE EXHIBITION.


THAT was a sorrowful spring-tide.  My mother tried to fix her mind on her domestic duties, and outwardly she succeeded, but as I gazed at her worn face and whitening hair, I felt that Jane's prophecy was true.

    Of course Mrs. Simms knew that Harry was gone.  I did not see her for some weeks: Christine received her rent and gave her a receipt.  But I encountered her at last, and how I shrank from her cutting hints! how well I knew that she greedily believed the worst! and of course there was a due amount of gossip in the neighbourhood.  What comfort it was that Christine was loyal and staunch in heart and act, hoping even more than I did, and repelling every attempt to invade the sanctuary of our sorrow!

    In the outer world that year 1851 was a glorious time.  Once or twice Christine and I wandered to Hyde Park, and gazed at a fairy palace, wherein the many Babel-sundered nations of the earth were to mix as "friends and brethren."  "The Great Exhibition of Industry" was the one topic everywhere,—in pulpits, in society, and at home.

    One Sunday evening a strange clergyman preached at our church.  He was a famous man, who had wrought many good works both in England and abroad.  His quick imagination was fired by the great enterprise rising before him, and I shall never forget his impassioned tone as he urged us to give thanks that our lot was cast when the reign of Peace was to begin—when there should be no more "battles of the warrior, with confused noise and garments rolled in blood;" but "swords should be beaten into ploughshares, and spears into pruning-hooks."

    His enthusiasm awakened mine; and when next evening I went with Christine to the park, and saw the grand old trees in their transparent prison, I was somewhat chilled by her grave face and simple remark,―

    "Do you think so?"

    "Oh, Christine, only realise what it is to have no more war,—that means no more exile, no more――"

    "No, it does not," she answered, looking at me with a smile.  "By your account the reign of Peace is even now commenced; yet I am here, and Marco is doubtless in prison.  I should not like the world to stay as it is, nor would half the people in it."

    "Then you do not believe war will ever cease?" I asked, in a disappointed tone.

    "Yes, I do," she replied, earnestly; "it will cease in God's good time, but I fear that will not be in our days, my Marie."

    "What is the use of all this, then?" I said, gazing at the great "hall of glass."

    "It is a step to the temple of Peace," she answered, smiling.  "The better nations know each other, the less they will fight.  Wars are like quarrels, they spring from misunderstandings and suspicions.  Don't think me over-wise, Marie, I only repeat what my dear father said."

    That allusion to her father called our thoughts from the great bustling world to the very lonely house in Brown Square, and we walked home rather silently, though at supper we both talked of all we had seen, while my poor fading mother "made believe" to take great interest therein.

    Alas! how often since, while looking over the newspaper, Christine has turned to me, and asked, "Marie, is this the reign of Peace?"

    Then came that sunny First of May, when the great ones of every land gathered in the "Crystal Palace," while a good-humoured, happy, sturdy crowd thronged the parks around.  Early that morning there had been unwonted stir even in our quiet square, and later in the day we heard the guns.

    Christine was out, fulfilling some engagement and mother and I were alone.  Oh, how those booming cannons echoed through the forlorn, deserted home!  Ever since then, at every day of national rejoicing, I have remembered the stricken ones who hide in their houses.

    A little further on in the year, among the early "shilling days," Christine and I paid one solitary visit to the world's fair.  My mother never went.  The green trees and the crystal fountains did not smile for her.  She said she "could not" go, but she persisted in sending us.

    I have forgotten nearly all the details of that marvellous show.  I can only remember a few comparatively insignificant items,—the models of a lighthouse and a breakwater, two groups of statuary, representing a great dog saving a child from a serpent, the Queen of Spain's jewels, some beautiful silver work, and the priceless KOH-I-NOOR.  These have lingered in my memory, while better things have departed.  But the greatest sight was the Exhibition itself, and the crowd which thronged it.  It was wonderful to stand in the gallery—with fresh green leaves waving in one's face,—and watch the tide of humanity flowing past below.  Christine and I stood so for a long time; then at last she said, "Let us rest awhile, Marie."

    We found a little nook among some machines, where we might have imagined ourselves alone in building, but that we could see the denizens of the opposite gallery.  We had frugally brought some biscuits with us, and here we proposed to enjoy them.  "Enjoy!"  I had not known the meaning of that word since the morning when I stood in Harry's deserted room.

    Yet we smiled and chatted, and I dare say the sturdy farmers who now and then came to examine the agricultural implements thought us two merry London girls,—a little frivolous perhaps, and not likely to know much about the useful arts of dairy and poultry-yard.  I remember I envied them—they seemed so jovial and free from care,—especially one family, consisting of father, mother, and children, from grown-up sons to a wee toddler, who had all come together other to enjoy the world's wonder.  All?  Yet, for aught I can tell, there was one missing.  We cannot see the blanks in our neighbour's heart.  Well, God can, and He is the best comforter.

    Suddenly Christine sprang up; so suddenly that I quite started.  "It is he! it is Marco!" she exclaimed, "there—in the gallery opposite!" and away she flew to the nearest bridge—I following.  There we paused.

    "Was he coming this way?" I asked.

    "Yes," she gasped, straining her eyes along the passage.

    "Then let us wait here," I suggested; "we are likely to miss him among those tall cases, and in this clear space cannot fail to see him."

    In truth, she was trembling so, that she could scarcely move.  There we stayed, eagerly watching the passing crowd.  Presently she whispered, "I can hardly see, Marie, I think I am losing my senses.  He had a dark purple cloak over his shoulder.  Do not let him pass!"



    But that figure with the purple cloak never came.  After a time we went along the gallery, going round each counter, but in vain.  Presently we came upon a staircase leading below.  Evidently, that was how we had lost him.  We went down, and wandered about among the crowd—looking—looking.  On and on we went, among the glories of the foreign courts, to which we could not spare a glance.  At last it was time to return home.

    "This has been dreadful, Marie," whispered Christine, when we found ourselves in a comparatively quiet part of Hyde Park; "it is like standing on a beach and seeing a wave bear up a dear face, and wash it away again!"

    "But, after all, perhaps it was only fancy," I urged.  "You could not have seen very distinctly across that distance."

    "No," she answered, meekly, "I could not.  It may have been fancy.  I have had such fancies before.  It seems such a hopeless separation.  While I am looking for Marco, perhaps he is searching for me, and yet neither of us able to find the other!"

    "Ah, Christine," I whispered, "it is harder when the lost well knows where to find one, and yet does not come!"

    "I'm afraid I am selfish," she said presently, pressing my arm.  "I should not trouble you with my miseries, for you have more to bear.  But, Marie, look who is coming along that walk."

    It was Mrs. Simms and Harry's fellow-clerk, Mr. John Nelson, the handsome young man with the furtive glance.

    We exchanged greetings, and then all four walked in a row,—Mrs. Simms and I in the middle, Christine and Mr. Nelson at either end.

    "I did not know Mr. Nelson was an acquaintance of yours," said Christine, addressing the law stationer's wife.

    "Oh dear, yes!" she answered, nervously.  "I've known John since he was a baby,—and he was apprenticed to Mr. Simms, and lived with us before we came to Brown Square."

    "How very nice!" said Christine, in a tone which I thought rather peculiar; "and of course Mr. Simms can always easily get his apprentices into offices if they wish."

    "Of course, of course," replied Mrs. Simms.

    "He did not introduce me to Mr. Wilmot," said young Nelson.

    "Mr. Wilmot is a very nice gentleman," remarked Christine.

    "Do you think so?" said Mr. Nelson; "well, so he is: but he has notions of his own."

    "And I dare say they are wrong—sometimes," said Christine, with an emphatic nod.

    "I wonder you never visit Mrs. Simms, when she is such an old friend," she said, after a few minutes silence.

    "Well, I must tell you," answered Mrs. Simms, in a great flutter, "that my husband and he had a few words together, and Simms had a stubborn temper, and will never make it up.  The whole truth is, John is my husband's nephew, and I don't like to see a young relation altogether cast off, Miss Silvani.  I often say to Simms, 'If you don't choose to be friendly, still you might be civil, and keep up acquaintance, just for appearance sake.'"

    "Ah, if one does not keep up acquaintances, one knows nothing that is going on," said Christine, in the same strange tone.  "But as Mr. Simms works for Mr. Wilmot, he and his nephew can meet in the office without visiting at home.  I wonder our poor Harry [I thought her cruel to name him] never told us about it."

    "But that's just where I find fault with Simms," returned his wife, excitedly.  "He won't recognise John to the extent of throwing him a 'good morning,' as one does to a common stranger.  Nobody guesses they're related."

    "Dear me!" said Christine; "and Mr. Simms seems such a kind man: I should not have thought he would act so without good reason."

    By this time we had emerged into Piccadilly, and no further conversation was possible, nor did Christine and I exchange a word until we reached home.

    "How you stare, Marie!" said she, as she took off her bonnet.

    "You have seemed so mysterious all the way home," I said.  "I think you frightened poor Mrs. Simms."

    "My Marie," she replied, taking my hand, "I was only cross-examining the two witnesses who gave secret information!  I thought they were those two from the first, but this link between them makes it much more likely.  Not quite so 'independent' as Mr. Wilmot thinks!  But I must learn a great deal more."

    "How shall you do it?" I asked.

    "When there is a secret one has a right to find out," she said, "always attack the people who keep it: it is the honourable way, and prevents mischief."

    "What kind of secret do you think one has a right to find out?" I inquired.

    "That which concerns one's self or one's friends," she answered, promptly.  There was a short silence, for I suddenly remembered the Secret Drawer,—and I soon heard where her thoughts were, for presently she sighed,—

    "Oh that man in the purple cloak!"


――――♦――――

 
CHAPTER VIII.

TIDINGS OF HARRY.


NOT many Saturdays after our visit to the Exhibition, Mrs. Simms gave "notice" that she intended to leave on that day month.  She found Brown Square dull, she said, Mr. Simms was so much from home, that she must go to a house where she could have some "companionableness."

    "I never noticed it dull until lately," she went on, in a drony, gossiping voice, watching my mother's face, but not sparing its patient sorrow.  "Of course there are troubles and troubles in the world, but there needn't be mysteries, and there needn't be suspicions.  She didn't wish to offer her sympathy where it was not wanted, oh no! but still, after living in one house so long, she felt it—she did feel it."

    "Oh, if you only knew," wailed my mother.

    "I know that folks seldom keep creditable things secret," said Mrs. Simms, with a quick glance at Christine, who sat sewing.  "And I know that some—who like their own affairs shut up close enough, and might tell us a pretty history if they choose—pounce upon others like a sheriff's officer.  And I know that Master Harry—"

    "Stop, Madam," exclaimed Christine, in a tone which made us all start,—"stop! only regret you did not leave this house months ago!"

    "And why, Miss?" asked Mrs. Simms; but instead of the blaze which I expected, her manner' was almost cowed.

    "Because you say no creditable things are kept secret, and yet you have secrets yourself.  Your own words judge you, Madam.  You maintain a secret communication with a secret relation" (poor Christine was excited, and picked up her words with difficulty), "and you and that relation give secret information, Madam."

    "How dare you say all this, Miss?"

    "Will you deny it, Madam?" asked Christine.

    Mrs. Simms fairly burst into tears.  "To think that misguided young upstart will even make mischief out of my motherly feelings for poor John," she sobbed.  "And Mr. Simms' obstinacy is at the bottom of it all," she added.

    "Mr. Simms must have good reasons," said Christine, curtly.  "May I ask what they are?"

    "Our family matters don't concern you, Miss."

    "Yes, they do," said our champion, firmly.  "Mr. Nelson was one of the secret informers."  (There was a world of Italian bitterness in her tone, as she uttered the words which she had heard coupled with every horror in her own land.)  "As his character, so the worth of his testimony: and perhaps Mr. Simms knows a different side from Mr. Wilmot."

    "Oh dear, dear, is bygones never to be bygones?" sobbed the law stationer's wife; "and where's the good of being zealous for an employer if he can't keep from betraying one?"

    "Mr. Wilmot did not betray you," said Christine, with a composure that seemed to freeze Mrs. Simms.  I saw she now read the riddle, and knew that she had only been convicted by circumstantial evidence, and would not have scrupled to deny everything, had she not feared the direct testimony of some other person.  But denial was now too late.

    "Well, for old acquaintance sake I'm sorry there's bitter words among us," said she, "so I'll wish you good morning; and it's a pity there isn't another person in the house as quick in finding out secrets as Miss Silvani there."

    I was struck by my mother's want of interest in the scene.  She listened, as a deaf person listens, who catches a word here and there, but cannot keep the thread of the discourse around: and when Mrs. Simms had departed, she went to her room without saying a word.

    "Shall you ask Mr. Simms about his nephew?" I inquired of Christine.

    "I don't think so," she answered.  "But I shall go to Mr. Wilmot, and tell him that I have discovered who his informers are, and how they are connected."

    She went to Mr. Wilmot, and her interview resulted in nothing; but that very day a new shadow fell on our household.  My mother was found lying on her bed paralyzed; and though she lived for some weeks, she was never again conscious.

    I will not dwell on the dull pain of those days when I knew only that frail, fast fading form remained betwixt me and utter loneliness; for though I had relations, they were all strangers.  Still less will I linger over that solemnly splendid autumn evening when the nurse told me that "all was over," and drew me from the bed.  I have known no anguish like that anguish, for God gives us only one mother.  And as I turned from the hushed chamber I saw the little prayer-book in which Harry had bidden us "not to fret."  It ended in this, nevertheless!

    I don't remember the funeral, for I was ill and in bed; I was very ill,—once or twice I half hoped I was about to follow my mother.  But it must take a great deal to break a heart, or mine would have broken then.

    I gradually grew better, and Christine used to sit in my room, and work, and talk to me.  She wore mourning for my mother,—almost as deep as mine, for we looked upon each other as sisters; and when I grew strong enough, we discussed our plans for the future.  I had a little property, and my uncle had suggested to Christine that we had better consider whether we could conduct a small school.  He knew of one which might suit us.

    "And I'll go with you," said Jane, who was once in the room when we mentioned it; "you can just give me what wages you can, till you look about you, Miss.  Not that I'm thinking ye won't be able to afford it, only ready money is often scarce at first.  And sure I'm ould and ugly" (she was about eight-and-twenty, and Mrs. Simms had once insinuated that the butcher stayed at the area gate twice as long as he need), "and I'll be able to purtect ye, the two young darlints!"

    So after a little delay the matter was settled, and we went to survey our new home.  It was a small, compact cottage, containing six rooms, five of them very small.  But it was a pleasant suburban lane, on the Chelsea side of the Fulham Road.  We saw the lady who was about to abdicate, and were introduced to five-and-twenty youngsters, our future pupils.  I did not like the change from the great roomy house in Brown Square—that dear old place which had a wealth of sweet memories no new home could ever have.  But I thought I should be as happy here as anywhere, and there was one great advantage, it was within a short walk of my mother's grave in the beautiful West London Cemetery.

    So we packed up as much furniture as we wanted, for those tiny rooms would not hold a great deal; but we did not leave behind one relic of Harry, not a book, nor a garment, nor even an old toy.  It was sad work, that packing up, and our journey to Chelsea was a sad journey.  Our last task in Brown Square was to fix up a placard announcing that "inquiries" would be answered at our new residence.  Would any inquiry be made?  Our hearts were both full of that thought.



    We settled down to our school duties in Primrose Terrace.  Two girls, neither quite twenty years old, were rather young housekeepers, but Jane's sense and experience made up for our shortcomings, and we soon grew to love the peaceful monotony of our lives.

    One incident, and only one, broke the even tenor of our way for many years, and it occurred when we had been in Primrose Terrace rather more than eighteen months.

    It was Wednesday half-holiday, and I had been to pay my weekly visit to my mother's grave.  During my absence the weather grew very rough and wild, and I hastened home, longing for the joys of our fire-side.  It was dark when I entered the terrace, our parlour blind was drawn, and the lamp lit.  As I drew nearer I saw upon the blind the shadow of a man's head!

    How my hand trembled on the knocker! which Jane quickly answered, whispering as she let me in, "Who d'ye think is in the parlour, Miss?  No other than John Nelson!"

    I went in.  Christine was standing on the rug, with a pale face, bearing an intense expression.  Between the light and the window sat Mr. Nelson.  I don't think I should have known him, he was so thin, and pale, and altered.

    We exchanged a few ordinary greetings, and I threw off my bonnet and shawl.  Then came an awkward silence, which Christine broke by saying softly, "Mr. Nelson is very ill, Marie."

    "Yes," he joined in, "I have been very ill for a long time, but to-day the doctor tells me I must make up my mind to die!"

    "It's rather a bad night for you to be out," I remarked, scarcely knowing what to say.

    "I have to come down here for medicine and advice," he said; "I am an out-patient at the Consumption Hospital."

    "But you have something to tell Marie, Monsieur," said Christine, gently.

    "Is it about Harry?" I asked.

    "Yes," he replied, moving restlessly.  "He was quite innocent of—of—what was said."

    By Christine's silence I concluded he had already told her the history.

    "It's a pity he was in the same office with me," he said, bitterly.  "He was a nice boy, only simple enough to think it would be grand to see a little fast life.  So I took him to billiard-rooms and betting-places, and I lent him money.  Then the thirty pounds were stolen.  He had nothing to do with that,—I did—" and again the restless movements, and a pause.  "I think Mr. Wilmot suspected me," he went on.  "I thought so by his manner, and I knew if he once got on the right track he might easily find it out.  So I told him about Harry, and the places he went to, and the money he had been seen with.  I thought Wilmot was still suspicious, so I told Mrs. Simms to get my uncle to drop a hint about your brother's late hours; and my uncle did, not guessing who the suggestion came from.  Then the detective was put on; and I was never seen with Harry after that, but I lent him a larger sum than before,—and he lost it."

    "Harry did not know where it came from?" I asked, eagerly.

    He shook his head.

    "Did Harry know about the detective?"

    "Yes," he answered, "because I told him the day before he went away.  And when I heard I must die in a few days, I thought this was the best thing I could do.  You needn't doubt about Harry any more."

    "Did Mrs. Simms know much of this?" asked Christine.

    "At first she only liked meddling and making mischief," he answered, wearily; "but when she guessed the truth, she wasn't the woman to try and undo the harm she'd done."

    "Do you see her now?" I inquired.

    "No," he said, "she never wanted to see me after I once left Wilmot's—a year ago.  I've been a bad fellow all through, and now I must die alone, like a wild beast."

    Christine went up to him and spoke a few words, so softly that I could not hear them, but I saw she laid her hand on his shoulder, and the hard look died on his white face, and he bowed his head and wept.

    She gave him tea and made him rest awhile by the fire; and when I saw how near the end was, my heart softened to my brother's enemy, and I let him see that I forgave him.

    We both shook hands with him when he went away, and when he was gone Christine said,—

    "How beautiful it is to know that God can take everything into consideration!  If we had lived in such a home as he told me his had been, we might have all been like him!"

    Next week a scrawled letter from his landlady told us that John Nelson died on Sunday evening.  "Just before he went, he desired me to write this," she added in a postscript.


――――♦――――

 
CHAPTER IX.

THE VISIT TO ITALY.


AFTER that, time slipped quietly away.  One year—five years—seven years.  It is wonderful how little there is to remember about those seven years,—each was so like the other.  Of course there were changes, but they were gradual and commonplace.  We had a new servant in Jane's place, for when we were fairly settled, and growing accomplished in housewifery, the Westminster butcher became impatient, and Jane deserted us.  Also, we got on.  Our school increased in numbers and importance, and towards the end of that quiet seven years, I noticed that Christine grew less thrifty in her private expenditure.  She actually bought a black silk dress.  Of course the SECRET DRAWER was still in the house; the inlaid desk stood on Christine's dressing table, but I had lost all curiosity on the subject.  If she wished to tell me, I should like to hear, but if not—well, it did not matter!

    "I shall try to go to Italy this year," Christine often said, as she unfolded the newspaper at breakfast, for it was at the time of Italy's resurrection, 1860.  Men, of whom she had last heard as prisoners and exiles, were coming forward again to arouse their chained, sleeping mother-country.

    "Two foreign letters, Miss," said our servant, peeping in one morning, as Christine uttered these words,—"and there's postage to pay, please."

    Christine caught the letters, and they dropped from her hands.  I knew it had come at last.  "It is he! it is he!" she exclaimed, and snatching up the packets, she fled away, to drink in the great draught of joy where none but God could see her.

    I went out and paid the postman, and returned to the deserted breakfast table.  There were bitter tears in my eyes.  Would no letter ever come for me?  "Oh, Harry, Harry," I mused, "what must you have thought of us, that you can so little trust our love!"

    Christine returned sooner than I expected, and she brought both letters in her hands.  She came up to me and kissed me, and I kissed her fervently, but still I turned away my face, for I wished to hide my tears.  She caught me in her arms, and turned me round.  By this time my eyes were streaming

    "Can you bear great, good news, Marie?" she asked.  "God is so good, Marie, when we have mourned together so long, why should one be comforted and not the other?"

    "I do rejoice with you, truly, Christine," I sobbed.

    "Rejoice for yourself," she answered, solemnly; "God pays those debts which no gratitude can pay.  Marco is found—but Harry is found also!"

    There we sat, clasped in each other's arms, crying, laughing, murmuring thanksgivings.  Christine was the first to grow calm, and to give the explanation which I was too excited to seek.

    "This letter came first," she said, holding up the shorter one, "but it was delayed on the way, so the one which followed has arrived with it.  I will read them both to you, Marie, and then you will know all about it."  So she began, and her voice sounded younger than it had even when I first heard it ten years ago.  The letters were in Italian, but she translated as she read:—


Melazzo, July, 1860.


    "My CHRISTINE,—Only an hour ago I learned you were still on earth, that you alone remained, that my father is at rest!  Darling sister, I cannot come to you because I am in Garibaldi's army, and I must not desert.  Can you come to me?  Can you go to Naples?  I may see you there very soon, and you will be safe among the English visitors there.  I cannot write much, because I shall be on duty in a few minutes.  I must take my chances of an answer, but now you know where you can inquire about me, if you shouldn't be able to send a letter.  Cara mia, it's no use trying to write what I feel!

    "Thank God, you have found kind friends.  I must tell how I found you.  This afternoon a young Englishman among our volunteers heard my name, and asked if I had a sister Christine, and said she was staying with his sister, at the address where I now write.  Poor fellow, I have not been able to say much to him, but he regards himself as an outcast.  You must tell about this, and speak a good word for him.  I am summoned now, but will write a long letter next opportunity.

"Your loving brother,
                           "MARCO.


    "Here is the other," said Christine, unfolding it, and beginning


    "DEAR SISTER,—Another dispatch from the lost ones.  I must leave the details of my story till we meet.  I have been in prison, then in England, then in America, now in Italy, with my General Garibaldi.  What a good, great man he is, but how changed since '48!  Ah, then he had his wife, Christine!  And every day now he changes more, for it is a terrible thing to overthrow thrones, but I think he is God's instrument.

    "I have had a long talk with Henry.  The best return I can make for the kindness shown to my sister is to tell his story.  I can guess how it will be received, though he will not hope.  He was led astray into sin, but not into crime, tell them that, Christine.  A terrible doom seemed coming to him, and he ran away to save his family from the shame of having a thief among them.  He was not a thief, but his follies had woven such a web around him that he could not save himself from being called one.

    "He knows his mother is dead.  Some, years ago he went to the old house, and read the notice of the present address.  He went there and saw both you and his sister.  Neither of you saw him.  Once he ventured into church behind you [Oh, Harry, Harry!] and he says he even heard his sister's voice, but he kept out of her sight.  He was much moved when he told me this.  He thinks he was wrong not to trust more to his sister's love, but he says now he has been so long away, her grief must have died out, and he is better forgotten.  If it is not so, he sends his love; and then he broke down, Christine, and couldn't say any more.

    "We had a fierce battle a few days ago,—and he was wounded, but not dangerously.  I keep him with me, he is beside me now, is asleep, for he is very weak.  Tell his sister he's a fine young man; she must expect a great difference between sixteen and five-and-twenty, but I don't think there can be a change for the worse.  From what I hear, I fancy he has had a hard time of it, but 'roughing' does not seem to have hurt him much.  He is a great favourite with us all, though he is very quiet and shy.

    "Oh, Christine, if this English lady feels towards her brother as I think she will, what a sweet return she receives for her kindness to you, when you were a poor little foreign stranger.  When I think of your life during these past years, I cannot thank God enough that He placed you among good people.  But how you must have suffered at first, cara mia!  Never mind, it is all over now; I shall look forward to a meeting in Naples.  Will not your sweet friend come with you?  Her brother will need a nurse for some time to come.  If you once take courage to start on the journey, you will be taken care of, for, from every land, Italians are swarming home, and you are almost certain to find some who will be proud to recognise Silvani's daughter.  I hope there will be no more need for writing.  Let me see you, Christine.


"Your loving brother,
                                "MARCO."


    "Let us go at once, as soon as we can," said she.  "I know who will advise our arrangements—that dear old gentleman whom I saw in the coffee-house at Leicester Square.  What a kind friend he has been to me ever since!"

    I was so stupified with gratitude, that I was quite neutral, and Christine took the control of everything, and I was glad to be ordered about, and what to do, and what not to do.  I did some packing, but we took as little encumbrance as possible; not a superfluous article except one, which I thought such.  It was the inlaid desk.

    We had a very pleasant journey.  Signor Silvani's prophecy proved true, and we found plenty of agreeable company in returning exiles—full of hope and eagerness.  I hope some one admired the beautiful scenery we passed through.  I can't recall it.  My thoughts were only of a wounded Garibaldian suffering among strangers—kindly enough, but still strangers.

    I never understood how we got into Naples: we reached there on the fourth of September.  There was a large party of us together, and we were bandied about among several officials, who did not seem to want us in, but did not appear to know how to keep us out.  I fear some of the gentlemen of our number said cutting things to those poor officials, but the officials only laughed.  As we walked to the hotel amid the clatter of the unknown tongues around, I could distinguish the oft-repeated name of Garibaldi.

    "They say he will be in Naples before the eighth," whispered Christine.

    In the evening of the next day we took a walk along the eminence overlooking the royal palace and the beautiful bay.  We knew that was probably the doomed king's last night in the home of his ancestors.  Many of his subjects were hanging about, with that thought written in their faces; and here and there, we caught sight of strange, wild figures, which told stories of cruel griefs outside the common lot.  One old man we particularly noticed.  His tall and grand form was clad in miserable rags, and his white hair and beard were floating in the soft sea breeze.  In his right hand he carried a rude staff, and ever and anon be shook his hand at the palace and muttered inaudible curses.  One of our friends had seen him before, and knew his story.  He was a learnèd man, and had been a professor of the ancient languages, and had a wife and three noble sons.  As they grew up, they all learned the dread lesson, that if they loved Italy and freedom they must become the enemies of their ruler—the father of the young King of Naples.  They joined in some unsuccessful revolt, and in one day the two eldest were beheaded.  Their mother died while they stood on the scaffold.  The youngest son was thrown into prison, into a dreadful dungeon said to be below the level of that sunny bay.  Many have been imprisoned since then, and many have been set free, but the old father has never again seen his son, and never will in this world.



    "Well, the Bourbon's turn is come at last," said one of our party.  "They will know what exile is, at least, though I wish our general would let us visit better vengeance on their heads."

    "No, no, let us leave vengeance to God," whispered Christine, "for He knows everything, and can take all things into consideration.  We should often be cruel, while we thought ourselves just."

    So we lingered a little while in the fading twilight, and watched the lamps lit inside the gloomy palace; and at least one gentle heart amongst us—and yet one which tyranny had sorely bruised—had pitying thoughts for the poor misguided youth, who at that very moment may have been taking his last farewell of the stately rooms which had been the scene of his childhood.  Then we returned home; and when Christine and I prayed together in our room, she besought God for "the speedy arrival and success of His servant, the Deliverer," but she added, "guard and comfort King Francis in his hour of tribulation.

    By that time next evening the King was gone.


――――♦――――

 
CHAPTER X.

CONCLUSION.


THE seventh of September, 1860!  What did those words mean that day in Naples?

    They meant that the reign of fear was over,—that men might utter their opinions without dread of prison or scaffold.  They meant a cheerful bustle—a waving of flags—a shouting of vivas—such as the despot-governed city had scarcely known before.  They meant a great, eager, wonderful crowd,—on the pathways, in the windows, on the housetops,—with faces all turned one way, to watch for the first glimpse of Italy's deliverer—Giuseppe Garibaldi.

    We sat on the balcony of our hotel—I and Christine,—just a little apart from the rest of our party, whose spirits were sometimes rather too buoyant for our mood of patient expectation.  Christine was very pale, looking all the paler for her black attire, unrelieved by any colour except one rose-tinted ribbon about her hat; but I envied her calmness, for I was frightfully restless, filled with a thousand fears about Harry's safety and general well-being, though I quite appreciated Christine's general remonstrance,—

    "When God has taken good care of him for ten years, can you not trust His goodness for a few hours more, my Marie?"

    At last! a stir in the crowd, a burst of shouts, and weeping, and wild laughter,—the sound of a city gone wild with joy, and there came an open carriage, drawn by rudely harnessed horses, and surrounded by red-shirted men, with unkempt beards and dusty hair.  Three more red-shirted men sat in the carriage, but we only saw one,—a middle-aged man, with a seamed, freckled face, and chestnut hair streaked with grey, with eyes neither dark nor striking, yet wonderful with a depth of kindliness and good-will.  The rough face smiled a little, and yet it was unspeakably sad.  It was Garibaldi's triumph, but it was not enjoyed by the faithful wife who had shared his defeats.  He was the idol of the time, but I am sure he did not forget that the fate of idols is to be broken and thrown aside.  In that hour, when the task of his life was nearly accomplished, he remembered how much happiness it had cost him, and yet I am certain he did not grudge the sacrifice.



    Some of our party threw down some roses.  They fell at his feet, and he looked up and smiled; and then the carriage passed on, and new shouts burst forth, and another thousand greeted that way-worn, gentle face.  I felt a movement at the window behind us, but did not take my gaze from the crowds below until I heard Christine give a cry of joy, and then I turned.

    I did not need to be told that it was Marco Silvani upon whose shoulder she was weeping.  Still a young man—barely thirty,—he had not much changed from that old beloved portrait, except that his face bore a likeness to his father's, which the picture did not.  I turned again, and made believe to watch the crowd.  It was not for me to intrude on such a meeting.

    But Christine very soon fetched me in from the balcony.  And I remember the Signor said many things which I did not deserve, and I told him candidly that his sister owed me nothing, but I owed her a great deal.  And then I asked for Harry.

    He was in a villa just outside the town, the Signor said, and he would take us to him directly the streets were a little clear.  They had both got leave of absence,—indeed, it was thought there would be very little more fighting at present, for the volunteers at least.  He would leave us with Harry, for he had business in the town with some of "the general's" staff; but he would return to the villa at nightfall, and we should stay there together for some days.

    The villa was a very small one, standing in a pleasant garden overlooking the bay.  Marco and Christine lingered on the terrace, and I entered alone.

    I shall not tell anything about my first hour in that house.  What interest is there in a wounded "red-shirt" lying on a chintz sofa, with a little plain woman kneeling on the floor beside him, and both of them crying?  And what was said?  Well, my first words were, "Oh, Harry, Harry, why did you—?"  And he sat up and cried out, "Polly, Polly, don't!" and hugged me so vehemently that all my back hair came undone, and hung down about my shoulders.  Ah, it was a thrilling page in our lives, but I'm afraid it would not make a very imposing picture!

    Marco returned to the town without entering the villa, but Christine came in presently, and Harry rose as well as he could, and they met as brother and sister might.  But I noticed that Christine's cheeks seemed unusually pink; and in the course of the evening it struck me that their positions were strangely reversed.  She was the elder by two years, and when in Brown Square she had appeared a woman while he was yet a boy, but now she looked younger than her age, and he looked fully his.  I wonder if I shall be thought uncommonly foolish if I confess that on that very evening I wove a romance about those two.

    At nine o'clock Marco returned, full of enthusiasm concerning the delight of the people, and the grand thrilling words that Garibaldi had spoken, reminding the crowd of that great Deliverer who had given His own life to save them from the worst tyranny of all—the tyranny of sin.  "And seven thousand Bibles have been sold in the streets to-day," added Signor Silvani.

    Oh, what a blessed, blessed evening that was!  Harry and I sat side by side on the sofa, hand clasped in hand, stirring the fire of sweet old memories.  Somehow I did not even wish that mother was alive that night.  Do the dead know what passes among those they love?  I think so.  I feel almost sure mother knew about us two sitting there.  But in that case, as she had been in heaven many years, all that time she had known that her boy was not "lost" in the worst sense.  A day or two after, when I was looking over his store of shirts and stockings, I found the little Bible which he took away from home, and it was so worn that it would scarcely hold together.  Did his mother's angel never bend over him as he read that holy book?  I think it did.

    Marco and Christine were pacing the balcony together, and as we within subsided into happy silence,—I heard him say,—

    "I never dreamed of this, Christine! [A pause.]  Well, cara mia, half of all I have is yours, but you shall have the happiness and honour you deserve so well."

    "Let us go inside," she answered, softly, "and I will show you the papers."

    They came in, and Christine brought forward a certain black portmanteau which she had not forgotten to bring from the hotel to the villa.  It contained the inlaid desk.

    She sat it on the table and unlocked it, and then touching a spring, displayed the Secret Drawer.  It contained a few written papers, and a small roll of bank-notes.  Of course Harry and I looked on with considerable interest.

"I only got it all a few months ago," she said, "and even then I did not know how to send it safely."

    "Ah, no," remarked Marco, "things must go by very sure hands if they are to get safely into Rome; but my friend will start to-morrow, and before we leave here he will be back with the receipts."

    There was a short silence.

    "Did these things greatly trouble my father?" asked Marco, softly touching the papers.

    "He thought of them," answered Christine, "but he knew it was not his own fault.  He bade me remember them, if it were God's will I should sufficiently succeed."

    "He could scarcely hope that then," said Marco it seemed a sad fortune to leave you, my Christine.

    "I don't know," she answered, smiling brightly; after all, it gave me an object in life."

    "Seventy pounds!" said Marco, musingly, lifting the bank-notes, and fingering them tenderly.  "I know what these signify, cara mia,—self-denial, toil, humiliation—"

    "And a world of happiness!" she exclaimed, eagerly; "why, the work was all play, and the self-denial was quite self-indulgence!  But I knew other people would not think so, and I could not bear to be pitied for my duty and my pleasure, so I kept it a close secret."

    "Surely not from you?" queried Marco, addressing us.

    "Yes, at this very moment all your words are riddles," I replied.

    "Then let me tell you," said the Signor, rising and speaking earnestly, "that my poor father was compelled to leave some unpaid debts at Rome, and that Christine did not forget it was our duty to pay them.  I did not know they existed.  And in a week's time Christine will have their receipts, and no one will be a whit the poorer for trusting our father."

    I crossed the room and kissed Christine fervently.  I know she understood what that kiss meant—a confession of old injustice and suspicion laid to rest,—thank God, long before destroyed by actual proof.  Then Marco took the bills and notes into his possession, and the empty Secret Drawer was restored to its place.


                      *                      *                      *                      *                      *


    Well, seven more years have passed since that blissful, dream-like evening.  These have not been quite so uneventful as that other seven spent in the Fulham Road.  Not only have Christine and I changed our names, but we have exchanged them.  I have been "Signora Silvani" for five years, and three years ago she married Harry, which makes a very comfortable conclusion to my story; only I wish that Marco and I could see our dear brother and sister a little oftener, for it is a long way from their prim cottage at Brompton to our airy villa overlooking that lovely Bay of Naples.  But Marco's duties keep him in Italy, and so a black-eyed little daughter is standing beside me now, prattling in a musical language, which will never be quite so familiar to her mother's ears as the dear old English.

    Marco has taken me to see the prison where he was confined when he was captured in 1849.  It made me shudder to know he had once been shut in that dismal place without any light or air except from one small grating.  I said very many bitter things about the Government that put him there.  Marco did not; he never does, he only says,—

    "Most of us have the spirit which imprisons, and tortures, and kills,—though, thank God, we have not the power.  We cry out at injustice towards ourselves, and yet we are unjust to others.  None but the All-seeing can be really just, so let us keep to charity."

    And then I feel I need not be a judge of others, for I remember my old suspicion about



"THE SECRET DRAWER."

――――♦――――




UNWIN BROTHERS, PRINTERS, BUCKLERSBURY, LONDON.

 


 

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