Sarah De Berenger (1)

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CHAPTER I.


“THEN where is that woman now, Mrs. Snep?” asked the curate.

    “Well, sir, half-way to the town by this time, I should judge.”

    Mrs. Snep had a very large wash-tub before her, and was using it with energy in the very small kitchen of a whitewashed cottage.  Such a pretty little one-storied abode, so rural, so smothered in greenery.  Too much so, indeed, for it stood with its back to a great hop-garden, and the long lines of hop-poles terminating against its wall rose as high as the thatch of the roof, so that all the view obtained out of the kitchen casement was down one long over-arched lane of hop-bines, under which the softened light appeared to be endowed with both colour and quietness, it was so strangely green and still.

    The curate glanced rather helplessly into that shadowy lane.  He wished he was a good way down it.

    There was something trenchant, capable, and rather defiant about the words and fashions of the cottager’s wife.  The curate was afraid of her.

    Young curates often are afraid, and blush under the eyes of such women.  We do not half enough consider their difficulties and their fears, specially that fear of making themselves ridiculous, which, perhaps, under the circumstances, this particular young curate felt just then with all the reason in the world.

    However, he made up his mind to do his duty.  To that end he said, “Considering how weak she was when I saw her yesterday, poor thing, and how very young her infant is” (“Eleven days old come nine o’clock this evening,” Mrs. Snep put in as a parenthesis), “I think her getting as far as the town to-day,” he went on, “must be quite impossible.”

    Mrs. Snep, as he spoke, moved towards the fire.  “You’ll excuse me, sir“—meaning, “You’ll please to get up.”

    “Oh, certainly,” he exclaimed, rising, for the place was so small that unless he made way she could not pass and she took a large iron pot of boiling water from the fire and emptied it over her cooling suds, before she addressed herself to the task of making him any direct answer.

    Then, having set the iron pot on her stone threshold, as if on purpose that in his exit he might knock it over, she ensconced herself behind the mounting clouds of steam, and while energetically rubbing and wringing, said with an air of calm superiority,—“It ain’t to be expected, sir, as you should know much about these here things.  Not at present.  But if you was to ask your ma, she would tell you that poor folks can no ways afford to cocker themselves up as lying-in ladies do.  When my oldest was eleven days old I took him on one arm and his father’s basket of dinner on t’other, and off to the field with ‘em, thinking it no hardship neither.  But your knowing the ways of poor folk, let alone the ways of tramps such as she, is not, as I said, at all to be expected.”

    The curate felt annihilated.  She had got the better of him not so much by pointing out his inexperience, as by the use of those words “your ma.”

    He was young enough to feel keenly ashamed of his youth.  She made him feel ignominiously young just then.  He actually envied her superior age; and the fullness of her knowledge raised in his mind something like a wholesome fear.

    She had, however, intended to express civility.  That a man so young should have been placed over her head as a spiritual guide, when he knew no more about sickness than he did about washing, or, indeed, about many of the other most important and familiar experiences of her life, was a thing at once ridiculous and aggravating; but not the less would she acknowledge that he was a gentleman.  Common men had mothers, and were thankful for them, but the delicate-handed woman who had brought him up was worthy of a finer name, so she gave it (as she thought), and politely called her “your ma.”

    “She’s a tramp, sir,” proceeded Mrs. Snep; “and in my opinion no better than she should be, though some folks (kind-hearted, if I say it) took pity on her in her trouble, and brought her in.”

    “And were paid for it, I suppose,” observed the curate; for the trodden worm will turn; and she had made him smart, and knew it.

    “Yes, sir,” she answered, with a solemnity most impressive.  “I should hope I know better than to throw money into the dirt, away from my own poor husband and children.  She paid me, but little enough it were; and glad I were to see the back of her when she went away of her own free will—of her own free will—at ten o’clock this blessed morning.”

    “Did you show her the path to the road, the road to G?” inquired the young man.

    Mrs. Snep gave an energetic wrench to a much-twisted swathe of linen, then shook a snowy drift of foam from her hand with a contemptuous action, as if she was thinking of her late lodger, and made answer.

    “No, we’d had words, and I took not to say any particular notice on her when she walked herself off.  But she did say, ‘Mrs. Snep, you’ve been a good friend to me, and I ask your pardon if I’ve offended you, for,’ she says, ‘I didn’t ought to have said it.  I’ve counted over my things now, and I’ll allow you’re as honest as the day.’”

    “As honest as the day,” she presently repeated, for she saw that this speech, which was entirely of her own invention, had impressed the curate very much.

    But not as she had intended.  “I always thought you were robbing that poor thing,” was his mental comment on it, “and now I am sure.”

    “Well, good morning, Mrs. Snep,” he exclaimed, forming a sudden resolution.  Between his zeal and his discomfiture, he failed to notice the iron pot, which, dashing through the door, he overturned upon a fresh clump of white pinks, blacking them and his own legs, and being obliged to submit to the loan of a duster to wipe them.  “I always have to leave that woman with an apology,” he exclaimed, as he began to stride along the path towards the town.

    He did not find the woman—naturally he did not—though he walked all the way to the town, for he had been right in his belief, and Mrs. Snep wilfully wrong.  The woman could only walk a very little way.  It was a sultry morning.  She was very weak; a little child not two years old dragged upon her gown; she had her infant on her arm, and from it depended a bundle.  She had been excited and angry, so that she trembled, and her little strength soon giving way, she turned off the dusty road to court the shade of the hop-garden, skirting it till she reached the end, and intending to enter the road again.

    And so it came about that when the curate passed, this woman was still in the hop-garden, within fifty yards of him.  Instead of turning to the left and regaining the road, she had taken the path to the right, and after wistfully gazing up some of the narrow bowers of fragrant bines, had crept into the shelter of one of them, all cool and shaded and still; there, propped up by the hop-poles, she wept, at first with a sick heart, but presently she found admittance to the enchanted valley of slumber; and if, instead of that, it had been the lost Eden, secret since our first mother’s fault, she could hardly have shown a face of more supreme content.


Oh, how common, but oh, how sweet is sleep!


    She was tall, dark-haired, and thin.  One hand, which was rather pale than white, touched with protective care the head of her little two-years-old girl, who, curled up on the skirts of her gown, slept more soundly than herself; the other was spread over her young infant, whose meaningless blue eyes stared up from its mother’s lap into the space of sky overhead.

    Her possessions were but the clothes she wore—a cotton gown, a flimsy shawl, her small bundle, a little paper parcel of bacon and bread, an almost empty purse, these two infants over whom her heart yearned with unutterable love and despair, and nothing else at all except the wedding ring—that was conspicuous enough on her honest, labour-hardened hand, and was the symbol of as bad a bargain as ever was made.

    She had not lost a good husband by death, but had to mourn a bad one yet in life—a mean and cruel fellow, who from the moment she married him had let her see his contempt for the foolish passion that, spite of warnings, had dared to waste itself on him.  She was free of him now for a while, free from this object of her once impassioned love, and now of her fear and shame.  He had been arrested for a robbery with violence, convicted, and sentenced to penal servitude for fourteen years.  She had been very foolish, but to know that was no element of consolation.

    Her story in brief was this.  She had in her early days been employed by a young invalid lady as reader, and when old enough had entered her service.  The lady had taken some pains to improve her; the books, also, that she read had enriched her mind; insensibly she had become different, softened.  She had a natural love of beauty and harmony; her light tasks and delicate surroundings fostered it.

    The rough children she had played with, and her vulgar relatives, became daily more unlike her; their ways, not themselves, became distasteful to her.  She envied not so much the rich as the refined.

    Oh, to be a lady!

    Her old mother in the tripe-shop was still dear to her, though she shrank from her petty dishonesties and sordid aims—still more from the boast she made of these things in the bosom of her family.  She hated the meanness, the meagreness, the smallness of life in the lanes, and the “smoots” and the “wynds.”  She had an ardent, yearning nature, always looking out for something more, something higher; she wanted expansion—bright, soft air, decent living, truth and honesty, and also clean and becoming clothes.

    She did not care for the footman’s jokes, or even for the butler’s gracious smile; courtship from those of her own class did not move her; she had left her world behind, and cared for nothing in it—with one sad, one fatal exception.

    Among her better surroundings this one exception had fast hold of her still: a lad with a beautiful face, very pathetic and fair.  He was extremely lame of one foot, but contrived to do more mischief than most can though they be swift runners.  He could sing, oh, so sweetly; and sometimes when he would pass, while in the dark, with blinds drawn up and the street lamps shining in, she sat watching her sick lady, she could hear him—two or three wild soft notes as he went by—and hear the tap of his weighted shoe, and her whole heart would cry after him.  She longed to be walking beside him, in the soft night air, on that wet pavement, walking by him and weeping, asking, could he care for her if she gave him herself and all she had, praying him to be a better lad for her sake.

    But it was only her heart that went out to him; she never spoke.  He did not love her, nor know how she loved him.

    She saw his possibilities, but of course he was not on the way to attain, he never would attain, them; they had being only in her thought.  For this woman was a poet in her degree, which means that she was a partaker of nature’s boundless hope.  She was made welcome to a hint of nature’s wishes.

    She was not one of those poets who write verses—very few are; none but such as are poets through and through should ever do that.  Verse is only words, the garment that makes the spirit of poetry visible to others; and poets who have but little of the spirit often fritter that little away in the effort to have it seen.  But she was a poet in this, that the elemental passions of our nature were strong in her, and she bowed to them with childlike singleness of soul.

    Her love was so fresh, it might no more be withstood than the moss can withstand the dew that drenches it, and makes it sparkle in the morning.  Her wonder was more unsated forever, her hope was more nearly possession than ours.  If sorrow came up, it was a dark amazement.  Would it not soon be over?  There are many days of sunshine for one thunderstorm.

    The youth, by name Uzziah Dill, was a journeyman shoemaker; might have done well enough but for his love of drink and bad companions, and for occasional fits of idleness, during which he would sit and brood.  Sometimes she would pass him then, and wonder at him—was he in pain? was he wishing to do better?  Once, as he sat under a little bridge, hidden to the waist in tall rushes, she went by, and their eyes met; for she had not been able to forbear stopping to say a few civil words to him.  His beautiful face was clouded and dissatisfied, but a gleam of surprise lighted it up when he looked at hers.  Her fate was sealed.  She passed on, her cheek hot with blushes; but he came to see her.  She had saved forty pounds, and was then three and twenty.  She was easily persuaded that he meant to be a different man.  She married him, and in spite of his evil ways, her love died hard, and almost broke her heart.  It was not till he had spent all her money, and brought her and their little child into the deepest poverty, that he cured her of it.  He had always neglected her,—he now went off with another woman; and jealousy did in one day what coldness and evil living of all other sorts could not have worn out in years.

    It was almost noon.  The curate had not found her; none had come to help.  She slept on, and the least little movement in the air lifted a corner of the old newspaper in which was wrapped her food.  It was shaken loose and rustled, showing its name—the Suffolk Chronicle, a provincial newspaper.  What was it doing there?  The woman, sitting on the slope of a long hill, had her back toward the Worcestershire beacon, and was looking to the south, over a lovely expanse of country.  A small red-roofed city, with its cathedral peaks, folded into the hollow of a hill; a shining reach of river, with a bridge over it; walnut woods, hop-gardens, and remote points of rocky blue cliffs; and then another town, with spires piercing through the haze-like smoke in which it slept, and to which the sun had given a golden show of glory, that made it seem to hang low, roofing the place like yellow thatch, or a suspended crown.

    The Suffolk Chronicle had come a long way—had been sent, in fact, to the vicar’s wife, who was a Suffolk woman; from her the curate had begged some tea and sugar for his poor protégé, and she had given them wrapped in it.  It was now doing duty again as a wrapper, but though the air had in part loosened it, there were creases and folds so that the news (if any had been awake to read it) was only visible here and there.  A certain fishmonger, whose name was hidden, advertised his ware.  The parishioners of St. Matthew’s had presented their vicar with—what did not appear.

    After that came a notice.

    “If this should meet the eye of Hannah Dill—”

    As these words were set free, a little portion of the bread became visible also, and a robin, emboldened by long silence, sprang upon the paper and weighed it down.  He only stole one crumb, and flew off, when up floated the paper again.  “If this should meet the eye“—then a fuller waft of air shook the crumpled lines, and if any one had looked, it would have been at this—“If this should meet the eye of Hannah Dill . . . hear of something to her advantage.  This is the fourth time of advertising”

    It did not meet the eye of any one.  But just then, with a sudden start and tremor, the baby turned and cried, and the exhausted mother woke, ravenous with hunger and cramped with the long restraint of her attitude.

    It was high noon, and very hot.  While she suckled her infant, she began with hollow eyes to open her parcel, and divide its contents with her elder child, who, rosy and smiling, now sat up, and held out dimpled hands, expectant of a share.

    The child had never felt the gnawings of hunger; the mother had been familiar with them of late.  She took as much for herself as she dared, then folded up the small remainder, and thrust it under some dock-leaves out of sight, lest she should be tempted to eat more, and leave nothing for the supper that she knew not where to procure.

    She did not feel rested; a sense of her position seemed to fall upon her like a blow.  Where should she go? what should she do?  She had been on her way down to Plymouth when her trouble had come upon her.  There had been some wild fancy in her mind that she and the other poor mothers and wives of convicts would stand on the shore as they embarked, and take leave of them and see them sail.

    She was not so free, in truth, of this wretched husband as she seemed; she had indulged strange notions as to her duty towards him.  He would think it hard if she did not come, and bring him such comforts as she could beg or buy for him.  Some despairing questions asked of such women as knew of these matters had let her know that the police would not suffer this, that the government would not hear of that.  Yet what he might be thinking of her was frequently in her thoughts.  He had deserted her and not let her know of his whereabouts for some time, but no sooner had he got himself into serious trouble, than he had contrived to have her informed of it.  It must have hurt him, surely, never to have seen her anxious face in the court during his trial.  Did he think she would not appear because she was ashamed of him?

    A step coming on, and presently the curate standing before her.

    She had her baby at her breast, and as she gently drew the flimsy shawl over its little head, he lifted his hat and made her a bow.  It was not the sort of greeting a very poor mother, a probable tramp, might have expected, but she understood it; she knew it as the instinctive reverence of his young manhood for her occupation.  There was something in the gentlemanhood and sympathy of this curate that was inexpressibly comforting to her, but now the contrast between him and her wretched husband forced itself on her with miserable force, and the tears fell fast over her thin hands.

    She could not speak, or at first think, but shortly she recovered herself and dried her eyes, and saw the curate seated on the grass before the opening of the tent-like bower.  He was perfectly silent, not looking towards her, and he showed no wish to speak.

    Oh, what a sigh!  She herself could not have sighed more deeply.  Then, but not without hesitation, he began to talk—to tell her, with all gentleness, that since she had so little in this world, he was the more fain to see her endowed with a sacred hope; and shortly, to her great surprise, though he spoke with such consideration—it might almost be said with such respect —she perceived that he took for granted she was not a married woman.

    She lifted up her head, startled.  “Yes, sir, I know we’re all sinners,” she exclaimed a little proudly; “we none of us have anything to boast of.”

    “And as you said, sir, ‘our sins do find us out.’  But, sir—”

    “Yes, my poor friend.”

    “I do thank my God for his divine gift of a Saviour (you put it beautiful).  I’ve often thought of it, since I sank so low.  But, sir“—spreading forth her left hand to his view—“a true church parson like you put on that ring.  I have a husband, and if I didn’t fear God I should say, worse luck.”

    “My poor friend, I earnestly beg your pardon.”

    “For I can never get free.  I was warned—oh, I was warned.  It’s not a sin, sir, that weighs me down; it’s a mistake I made—my great mistake.”

    “Indeed!” he answered, in a tone of the deepest sympathy.

    “Oh, my poor husband!  My mistake!  I must bear it; there’s nothing can rid me of it—nothing.”

    "No," answered the curate; and he sighed again.  “Divine love came down to take on itself our sins, but there is no Saviour to do the like for our mistakes.”

    She looked up.  It must have been a sharp pang of pity that could have imparted such a tone to his voice.  It could not be all pity, she thought.  No, he too must have made a mistake.

    So seldom is true fellow-feeling found, that when it is really present, it almost always deceives.  It had done so then.  Her first thought was never forgotten, and it influenced her so long as that conversation remained engraven in her mind.

    Perhaps in her fine, though homely face, he saw the sudden change of expression which answered to this thought; he may have even perceived what it meant.  But what need to explain himself to this stranger, this almost beggar!  He turned away his face instead, and she noticed again what she had seen before, that, young as he was, he had one lock of perfectly white hair among the brown.

    He stood a moment silent, then he took occasion to bring the conversation round to a point from whence he could draw his moral.  Experts in teaching easily do this sort of thing, and the poor commonly expect it of them.

    “If our sins were forgiven, our mistakes need not break our hearts.  Nature was hard upon us, for their sake.  She did not forgive them, and she could not forget.  God did not interfere with her.  But to us he would give a heart that should be the better for her discipline; even they should be among the ‘all things’ that shall work together for our good.”


 
CHAPTER II.


“IF this should meet the eye of Hannah Dill, whose maiden name was Goodrich, and who was born in the parish of St. Peter, Ipswich, she is desired to apply (by letter only) to H. G., Blank Court, High Holborn (she knows the number), and she will hear of something to her advantage.  This advertisement appears to-day for the fourth time.”

    The curate gone; the woman silent in her bower, with wide-open eyes full of amazement and fear.

    The Suffolk Chronicle had done its work at last.

    She had sunk very low; that, alas! is common enough.  The uncommon thing is the rising again.

    “I fare to feel as if I must eat another piece,” the poor nursing mother had said, for she was hungry again; and she looked wistfully at her parcel under the roofing dock-leaves.

    The curate had left her with the gift of a shilling; moreover, he had promised to arrange with a carrier, who was to pass by the hop-garden about three o’clock, to take her and her babes as far as the town, in his cart.  For in that scattered hamlet, as he explained, he knew of no one who could lodge her.

    What a slender hold she had on the care and thought of the world!  None at all on its heart.  She heard what little kindness it held for her only from the mouth of this one man.  The pledge of it with which his hand had met hers was that one bit of silver, and the sigh with which he had murmured that he wished it was more.

    She could not thank him, for little as he was to her, he was all; and he was sending her away.

    She meant to go: what else could she do?  She could not walk far; she could not stay all night in the hop-garden.  She possessed little more than the cost of two nights’ lodging.  When should she be strong enough to earn a maintenance for herself and her infants?

    “I fare so hungry,” she repeated.  She drew her parcel from under the leaves, and there was her own name, staring her in the face.  If this should meet the eye of Hannah Dill.

    She had been so long unused to good fortune, that at first she could see no promise in this.  Suspicions had been cast upon her.  The magistrates had said her husband must have had accomplices.  Could this be a trap?  But why, if so, should they advertise for her in Ipswich?  No, this advertisement was put in by her uncle the pawnbroker, the great man of the family, known to be “well to do,” said to be rich.  He had long cast off her mother, and all his relations, because they plagued him so for money.  He had been fond of her in her childhood, but when she married had gone out of his way to let her know that he meant to have no more to do with her.  It was only when she heard this that she supposed he might have hitherto intended some kindness to her.

    She had not been to Ipswich for several years.  Her uncle did not know it; and the date of the newspaper was earlier than that of her husband’s trial.

    This was no trap, this was real.  She read again and again—took courage; but still wary, still unused to joy, weighed it and weighed it, between hope and fear, till hope suddenly got the upper hand, and she acted upon it at once.  She opened wide her parcel, and with a little help from her baby-girl, ate up all that remained in it, then and there.

    A daring venture! but when she began to waver again and doubt, the sight of that empty paper was an evidence to her of how sure she had felt when she made it.

    It helped the joy of certainty to recur, and she felt so much the better for this and for the good meal, that when the carrier saw her seated on the step of the stile, and her little one playing by her with some flowers, he could hardly believe she was the poor creature whom he had been told to look out for.

    Oh! the bliss of lying in a golden shade, under the tawny tilt of that wagon, as it slowly moved along; of hearing the carrier’s whistle while he trudged beside it; of conning the leaf of the newspaper, with oft-repeated scrutiny; then looking out over the long blue hills, while they melted softly into air, and feeling as if all the world, with herself, was conscious of some great reprieve.

    Soon they halted at a little wayside inn, half smothered in walnut-trees, and while the carrier’s horse leaned over a long water-trough, she bought some milk, and the hostess came out to look at her baby, and compare its age and weight with her own.  “It thrives,” she observed.

    “Yes, thank God,” answered the Ipswich mother, “that do.”

    “And so you’re going on to the town?”

    “And further!  I am going to a relation that have written for me from London.”

    “My way lies toward London,” observed the old carrier, when they had started again.

    Hannah Dill found that she should be twelve miles nearer to London if she went with the carrier to his destination, than if she stopped at the town.  She agreed to pay the small sum he asked, in addition to what her kind friend the curate had already given him, and, after stopping at a little hostelry outside the town to have her tea, set off again in the cool of the evening, and went on with the old man and a market-woman.

    Up and down the long hills they moved till the crescent moon rose, and then till it grew dark and the great horn-lantern was lighted, and the old man carried it, sometimes flashing its light on his horse, sometimes on the green hedges, and into fields, whose crops they could guess only by the smell of clover, or fresh-cut hay, or beans that loaded the warm night air; anon, on whitewashed cottages, whose inhabitants had long been asleep, and again upon the faces of great cliff-like rocks, where cuttings had been made for the road into the steep hills, and where strange curly ammonites and peaked shells and ancient bones high up showed themselves for an instant in the moving disk of light that rose and sank as the lantern swayed in the carrier’s hand.

    Strange sights these; and curious now and then to see it flash on the bronzed face of some wayfaring man, passing from the dark into the dark, with the customary “Good night.”

    It was eleven o’clock when they reached the hostelry, and Mrs. Dill got down with her two sleeping infants.  She felt that this had been a strangely long day, but that she was refreshed by food and hope and rest.

    In the mean time the old man who had advertised for her had long given her up.  He had soon taken to a sick-bed, and for a while had asked if Hannah had written—if Hannah was come.  Then he ceased to ask, but sometimes bemoaned her absence; and then he forgot her, and all the concerns of this life, and asked no more.

    The morning after her arrival at the hostelry, Mrs. Dill wrote to her uncle, and as soon as possible afterwards received the money needful for her journey.  The letter was not in her uncle’s handwriting, and said nothing about him.  It was curt, and, without any kind words, desired her to be as quick as she could.

    Between twenty and thirty years ago there were not so many railways in the west of England that one could count on getting to London in one day.  Mrs. Dill was thirty miles from the nearest railway station.  She reached it by the aid of another carrier’s cart, and stood at her uncle’s door about five o’clock the following afternoon.

    She had never been in London before.  The glaring white pavements and close heat oppressed her, while the swarms of people and of vehicles, the noise and hurry, made her tremble with a sense of danger for herself and her children.  But she had not a shilling left, find her uncle she must; and she still asked her way and pressed on, till at last she reached a shabby house in a dusky court, and, overcome with fatigue and excitement, rang the bell.  A woman, dressed in new mourning, presently came to the door, and seeing her shabby, woe-begone appearance, and her two children, took her for a beggar, and made this remarkable announcement, “No, we never give anything away in charity,” and was proceeding to shut the door in her face, when she exclaimed, “Wait a minute; I am come to see Mr. Goodrich.  I’m his niece; you’ll show me in, if you please.”

    “Bless my heart!” exclaimed the woman, with an irrepressible smile, “if here ain’t another on ‘em;” and then she became suddenly grave again, and answered coldly, “You’re too late, young woman.  You may come in, if you choose, and see all the others, but you will not see Mr. Goodrich; he was buried yesterday.”

    A sharp sense of misery and disaster, a sudden cry to the woman, “Oh, my babe! don’t let that fall,” then an eddy of blackness swirling over all things, and Hannah Dill fainted away.

    After that, her first sensation was that her little girl was crying, and next that several other voices made a din about her—voices that long ago she seemed to have known, voices that made her think of Ipswich.  In the midst of it all, and while still she could not move or open her eyes, a commanding voice quelled the others.  “Either be silent and stand back, or at once leave the room.”

    With a sharp sigh she presently got her eyes open, and saw dimly several people, but before them stood a gentleman, who spoke at once.  “You are better.  No need to raise your head.  Your name?”

    “Mrs. Dill.”

    The assembly received this announcement with an audible groan.

    “There was an advertisement,” she proceeded faintly, “in the Suffolk Chronicle,” and she tried to fumble for the paper.

    “Thank you.  We know all about that.  There are several copies of the Suffolk Chronicle here.”

    Something scornful in the voice helped her to rouse herself; and at the same time a murmur of congratulation floated round the room.  Somebody ventured to congratulate Mr. Bartlett.  “You’re not the gentleman, sir, to be so easy taken in.  Hannah Dill, indeed!  Is it likely?”

    “Not at all likely,” answered the commanding voice; “but let her alone for the present.”

    “Where’s my babe? where’s my child?” she exclaimed, trying again to raise herself, and failing.

    “Close at hand,” answered the same voice, and a glass of wine was held to her lips; after drinking which she sat up, and observed that she was in a small wainscoted parlour, accommodated on a horsehair sofa.  Several people were in the room; for a moment they seemed to float before her; but presently she gathered strength, and then, as they settled down into their places, her attention was attracted almost at once by a little stout old woman, with eyes like black beads, a long nose, and a curled “front” of brown hair.  She was dressed in neat mourning, and no sooner met the full gaze of the tall, gaunt young woman, then she slipped into the background; whereupon the gentleman whom they had called Mr. Bartlett looked surprised, and requested her to come forward, which she did, looking both irate and abashed.

    Still Mrs. Dill looked at her.  “You’ll excuse me, ma’am.  It’s many years since I saw my aunt Maria—Mrs. Storer; and folks alter strangely.  I don’t wonder, either, that any one should forget me, not expecting to see me dressed so as I am.  You are the very moral of what my dear mother was before she died.  Why, dear me, ma’am, you are my aunt Maria!  I’m your sister Susan’s daughter, aunt.  I’m Hannah Goodrich.”

    “Tcha!” said the old lady, “it’s no such thing; you’re not a bit like her.  What did you expect you were going to do here, deceiving of us?”

    “It don’t much signify what I expected,” she answered, bursting into tears; but she had looked round the room first, and was quick to perceive at once how unwelcome she was there.  “It don’t much signify what I expected; I shall not have it now.  He’s gone that meant to be a good friend to me!  You have no call to be so envious.  He’s past doing me any kindness; and I was more in need of it than you are.”

    Here followed a scene which the one silent spectator looked on at with equal surprise, interest, and attention; a scene of excitement, rage, and recrimination, during which all the old heart burnings and delinquencies of the Goodrich family were raked up, and argued over again.  Two aunts and two uncles were challenged by Hannah Dill, in whose teeth it was forthwith flung that her husband was a convict, and that this was already known all over Ipswich, and that if the dear departed had only known it too, he never would have suffered her to enter his door; and who, in a passion of tears, replied by upbraidings of their unkindness in suffering their own sister, in spite of her humble entreaties for help, to die in receipt of parish pay, and be buried with a pauper’s funeral; and then, after this short outbreak of indignation and outraged feeling, partly at their refusal to recognize her, and then, when they did, at their cruel mention of her wretched husband, being completely quelled by numbers, and cured of her faintness by passionate excitement, snatched up her baby in her trembling arms, and seizing her other child by the hand, turned her back on them all, and, without any words of farewell, moved hastily towards the door.

    But that gentleman, still looking on, was standing before it, leaning against the lintel.  “Where are you going, Mrs. Dill?” he now asked, with slow composure.

    “I don’t know,” she answered, with a choking sob.  “I have nowhere to go to.  I’ve come to-day and yesterday all the way from beyond Glastonbury, to see my poor uncle.  But I’m not wanted; it’s no use my stopping now."

    “Oh! the person I wrote to, then?  I think you are rather in a hurry,” he answered, with his calm, slow smile.

    Here the two aunts said it was a shame, and they had never been used to convicts’ wives in the family.  She quivered all over, and, with entreating eyes, appealed to him to let her be gone.  But he, taking no notice, proceeded calmly.

    “Your uncle, you know, might have left you something; you don’t seem to think of that, Mrs. Dill.”

    To this speech, still trembling with excitement and passion, she made a remarkable answer.

    “It’s no use at all what he might have said I was to have; they would divide it amongst themselves just the same—I know they would!  They are that grasping and contemptuous, that they would never let me touch a thing!"

    In the mean time, the aunts and uncles were all appealing to Mr. Bartlett, and saying it was a shame.

    “So it may be,” he answered coldly, “for anything I care.  There is no doubt, then, that this is Hannah Dill.  You had better sit down, Mrs. Dill.”  Mrs. Dill, having received this command, wept, but obeyed; and, observing the silence that had fallen on the company, felt her excitement suddenly give way to shame at the passionate language into which she had been betrayed.  Here she was obliged to face everybody, and all eyes were upon her.

    “I’m sure I humbly beg your pardon, uncles and aunts,” she cried, drying her eyes with another sob.

    “Mrs. Dill,” continued the lawyer, “have I your attention?”

    "Sir?”

    “I am the lawyer who made your uncle’s will.  This being the day succeeding his funeral, I have just been reading it here, according to his directions.”

    “Indeed, sir."

    “There it lies upon the table.  You will please to make yourself at home here.  Everything is yours.”

    “Mine?” with a sharp cry of amazement.

    “Yours.”

    To say that on the instant Mrs. Dill was pleased or proud, would be quite a mistake.  Compunction and confusion strove in her mind, with doubt as to whether the family would let her take what had been given her, and utter abasement at her position as a convict’s wife tied her tongue.  She gazed helplessly at the lawyer, who, having taken a pair of new gloves from his pocket and deliberately put them on, was now buttoning them one after the other, as if they were of more consequence than her inheritance.

    So they were to him.

    It may have been, perhaps, that he saw her bewilderment as she gazed at them, that he put his hands behind him and said, with slow composure, “Mrs. Dill, I have some advice to give you, in the presence of these good people.”

    Having said this, he presently took up the will and put it in his pocket.

    “Yes, sir,” she answered, the sense of his words reaching her at last; and she gathered her first feelings of possession from the deep silence around her, and from his speaking to her only.

    “I advise you to make no promises whatever, and, in fact, utterly to decline any sort of discussion on business matters, till after you have seen me tomorrow morning.”

    Hannah Dill gazed at him, and the room seemed to be full of sighs; there was not a person present that had not heaved one.

    When they reached the lawyer’s ears, he said, with rather more sharpness in his tone than he had used before, “I may hope, I suppose, that I have your attention, Mrs. Dill?“

    “Yes, sir,” she replied.

    “And that you will attend to my advice, and make no promises till after you have seen me to-morrow morning”

    The room was full of sighs again.

    “You promise?”

    “Yes, sir,” she repeated, “I do.”

    Thereupon, having done his duty, he promptly retired, but, as if struck by an after-thought, had scarcely closed the door when he opened it again, and beckoned her out with his finger.

    “Have you any money?” he whispered kindly.

    “Only a few halfpence, sir.”

    “You would like to borrow this, then,” he said, and he put two sovereigns in her hand; whereupon, feeling more relieved every instant, she returned, and, as is often the case on a great occasion, her first words were very simple and commonplace.

    She looked round; no eyes met hers.  It was evident that she was mistress of the situation.  “Aunts and uncles,” she said, in a deprecating tone, and after an awkward pause, “if you’re agreeable to it, let’s have our tea.”  By this time the aunt who had not hitherto spoken had got the baby in her arms.  The other, seeing that the matter was inevitable, constituted herself spokeswoman for the party, and said, in a way half grumbling, half ashamed,—“Well, Hannah, I for one am willing to forgive and forget; and there’s a gel down-stairs you might send out for anything you wanted—muffins, a relish, or what not.”

    “Or spirits,” put in one of the uncles; “or, in short, anything as you might think well to hev.”

    Mrs. Dill sent out for new bread, fresh butter, plenty of muffins, green tea, loaf sugar, sausages, ham to fry, a bottle of gin, and a quart of milk.

    When the meal was ready, the “gel” was trusted with the baby, and took it down-stairs, while they all sat down and did it full justice; but to nobody were the steaming sausages and delightful cups of hot strong tea so welcome as to Hannah Dill herself, for she had eaten nothing that day but a dry crust of bread, which her little girl, after a sufficient meal, had daintily declined, so short had she been of money till those two sovereigns, the first pledges of prosperity, touched her honest hand.  She did not preside, would not have presumed to do so.  One aunt served the ham and sausages, another poured out the tea, her uncles kept the bottle of gin under their special superintendence, and all was silent satisfaction, if not harmony, till the company could eat and drink no more.


 
CHAPTER III.


TIME, ten o’clock in the morning after this tea-drinking.

    Scene, the parlour before mentioned, and Mrs. Dill seated in it quite alone.  Her baby, once more in charge of the "gel" was down in the kitchen, staring just as contentedly at its dingy ceiling as she had done some days before at the celestial azure that showed between the leaves of the hop-bines.  Her little girl, having found a dead black-beetle, was putting it to bed in a duster, with just as much pleasure as she had received before-time from the flowers.

    Mrs. Dill had borrowed a black gown, and a very large flat black brooch, from the taller of her two aunts, and was awaiting the lawyer’s visit.

    A lanky sunbeam, having got down between two opposite chimneys, seemed to be pointing out to her country eyes how dirty London was, what nests of dust there were in the corners of the windowpanes, and how, wherever there was a crack in the plaster or the wainscot, blacks were attracted towards it, and marked its course by a winding line, that reminded her, as it has done so many other people, of a river traced upon a map.  There was a garniture of pipes round the small looking-glass; ill-matched tumblers, standing on a card-table, flanked the now almost empty bottle of gin.  But yet this was a parlour, and her sensations towards it, though made restless by suspense, were on the whole pleasure and pride.

    And now Mr. Bartlett appeared, and took the will from his pocket, which he read to her with all gravity, while she sat in state opposite.

    It treated of certain shares in the Brighton Railway, of a particular messuage or tenement, of two fields bought of Richard Prosper, the butcher of Stoke, near Ipswich, and then, in the midst of a good deal of jargon concerning property real and personal, came the name of Hannah Dill, whose maiden name was Goodrich, and who was to have and to hold this same messuage or tenement, with other his said property real and personal, during the term of her natural life, and if she survived her husband, to have power to will it away.

    Here followed a codicil.

    When Mr. Bartlett had read the will and the codicil from beginning to end, he got up and stood on the rug.  She then rose also.  How could she think of sitting unless he did?

    He perceived this, and also that she was very little the wiser for what she had heard.

    “The name of the executor, you perceive, is Gordon.  He is a very respectable tradesman, but he is ill just now—not able to appear."

    Still silence.

    “I dare say the codicil puzzles you.  Mr. Goodrich added that himself.  His real property having proved troublesome and a losing concern to him, the executor is at liberty to sell it, provided it is forthwith reinvested, or laid out prudently.  He also expressly permits that a portion be laid out in buying a business or in stocking a shop.”

    Then he sat down again, and so did she, and gathered courage to ask a question.  “Might she take the liberty to inquire how much a week the things he had been good enough to read about would bring in?”

    “How much a week—how much—a—week?” he repeated slowly, as he took out a pencil.  “The income you should derive from this property,” he said, adding the various items together, “is as near as may be one hundred and eighty pounds a year; that is about three pounds a week, you know.”

    Though she had been in such poverty, and this was riches to her, she betrayed no vulgar elation.

    “Indeed, sir.  Thank you.  Is that money mine, to do as I like with?”

    “Well, yes; for though you are a married woman, your husband cannot interfere with you at present.”

    “No, sir,” she answered faintly.  “He was sentenced, poor fellow, for fourteen years, and I know now that he is in the convict prison at Dartmoor.  He is most likely not to leave the country, as I had thought; he is to work there at his trade.”

    “You know, of course, that if he behaves well, he will be allowed to come out in eleven or twelve years with a ticket of leave.”

    “Yes, sir; and that he will be allowed to write to me, and I to him, twice a year.  I heard so from his brother, Jacob Dill, who felt sure that, in time, I should hear of that advertisement, and come.  So he wrote here accordingly.  They gave me the letter last night.  I suppose, sir, that, when my poor husband comes out, he will have just as much right to the money, and to his children and to me, as if he had never got himself into trouble?”

    “Certainly he will; nothing but a sentence for life can dissolve the marriage contract.  You took him for worse as well as for better.”

    “I know, sir.  Am I responsible to him then, do you think, for what I do with the money while he is under his sentence?"

    “No, Mrs. Dill; it cannot be said that you are."

    Here, being a restless man, Mr. Bartlett forgot himself, rose, and stood on the rug again.  Mrs. Dill took occasion to rise also.

    “About those relations of yours?  I suppose you took my advice?”

    “I did as well as I could,” she answered, with apologetic respect.

    Here he gravely seated himself, and she followed suit.

    “As well as you could?” he repeated.

    “Sir, they made the remark so many times, that it seemed very hard and very unnatural— in short, they were that low about the will—“

    “Well, Mrs. Dill?”

    “That at last I said, if you were quite agreeable, I would endeavour to come to some sort of agreement with them.  If you were quite agreeable, sir,” she repeated, seeing him knit his brow.  “On consideration of which,” she went on, “they all promised faithfully that they would go away.  And they thought it would be as well that they should be out of the house till dinner-time, that I might be wholly free to talk it over with you.”

    “Your object in coming to an agreement, as you call it, would simply be in order to get rid of them.”

    “Well ―― yes, sir.”

    “Mrs. Dill, if once you begin to pay your relations to go, they will return and return, to be paid again.  I should send them all to the rightabout, if I were you.  They have enough.  They all get a decent living.”

    “Oh, you simpleton!” was his thought; “you will be fleeced of every shilling before you are a year older.”

    “You must think of your young children,” he remarked, “and their almost worse than fatherless state.  They have no one but yourself to look to.”

    “Yes, I feel that, sir.”

    “And, then, something surely is due to your uncle’s wish, the old man’s wish who earned this property, and has deliberately chosen to leave it to you.”

    “And I thought of that too.  But it’s mine now, and I fare to feel hurt by their reproaches.  If it was only a trifle, my eldest uncle said; and so did his son, my cousin.  I said perhaps Mr. Bartlett would not allow me to

    “To give any of the income away?” he asked, when she hesitated.  “I could not prevent it, nor Mr. Gordon either.”

    “So they said, sir,” she replied, with an ingenuous sigh of regret.  “They said, ‘Hannah, if you chose to take and chuck it all in the Thames, they could not prevent it.’”

    "Quite true.”

    Then she tried to explain to him her distress at having to do anything mean.  She thought the old man had left his property to her more to spite his brothers and sisters than out of any love to herself.  She could not bear to hear those nearer to him speak so hardly of the dead; she would buy his memory into better repute by making some sacrifice of his goods.

    She had, as he observed, notions of honour and right not common in her class, but also she was simple in some other matters to a degree not common in any class.  She had that temperament which, with one touch more of the divine in it than others, has also one touch more of the child.  The child in her nature was destined never to grow up, as the yearning idea was too high ever to be satisfied.

    “You seem very much afraid of your aunts and uncles,” he said.  “But let me tell you one thing for your comfort: the law will not permit you to make away with any of the principal; you can only deal with the income.”

    “That was what they made me promise to ask; they seemed to be afraid it was the case.“

    “As long as your husband is living you can only touch the income."

    “Still, for the next ten or eleven years I could give them what I pleased out of the income."

    “What they pleased, I think you mean!  You could.  Did they name any particular sum that would satisfy them?”

    “Why, sir, there are five of them.  If I kept half for myself till such time as poor Dill came home, the other half wouldn’t be much divided among them; but I reckoned, by what they let fall, it would satisfy them if it was paid regular.”

    Here Mr. Bartlett got up once more, and stood cogitating by the window.  She was a fool; but he did not despise, for he understood her.

    He remained a few minutes turning over in his mind, between pity and amusement, what to do for her.  It was no business of his, as he assured himself, but yet he meant to take it in hand.  A sudden thought seemed to strike him just as a cab passed the window.  He tapped and stopped it.

    “These harpies are gone out, you say.  Where are your children?”

    "Down-stairs, sir."

    “I have a note to write.  Suppose you fetch them up, and come back to me with your bonnet on.”

    Her bonnet was so shabby!  She knew not whether to think most of it, or of Mr. Samuel Weller, who went to Doctors’ Common to prove a will.  Was Mr. Bartlett going to take her there?

    Mr. Bartlett was in the passage when she appeared with her children.  He had a note in his hand, the ink of which was not dry.  He had already opened the street door; he moved to her to enter the cab, and straightway shut her in.  “I have told the man where to drive,” he said.  “The direction is on the note, also;” and before she had recovered from her astonishment, she had left her late uncle's  house, never to enter it again.

    It may be as well to draw a veil over the scene that ensued, when her aunts and uncles having returned, and waited dinner for her a reasonable time, began to suspect that she had escaped them.  To obtain the half of everything, was the very least they had counted on.  Some of them remained within, in case she should return; others went to Mr. Bartlett’s office.  Mr. Bartlett, they were informed, was engaged, and could not possibly see them, but they learned from his clerk that no person resembling Hannah Dill had called there that day.

    The note that Mr. Bartlett had put into Mrs. Dill’s hand was addressed, “Mrs. George Bartlett.”  Its contents may as well be given here.


    “DEAR LOVE,You remember the scene I was describing to you last night? This is the heroine of it!

    “Her relations have arranged a plan for chousing her out of her money; and she is so chousable, that if left with them another day, she will be committed to it irretrievably.  So, unknown to herself, I have caused her to run away from them.  Tell her so, and tell her I say, that in justice to herself and her children, she must not decide to give anything to these people while under the constant pressure of their importunity.

    “I suppose, love, she can dine in the nursery?  And then I want you, as soon as possible after, to let nurse take her in the omnibus up the new road to old Mrs. Prentice, who can lodge her, or recommend her to somebody who can.  Tell her to keep herself perfectly quiet till she hears from us.

“Thine,                                G. B.”


    Mrs. Dill had been driven to Mr. Bartlett’s house, and, in a high state of astonishment and perplexity, was waiting in a handsome dining-room, and keeping her children quiet with some difficulty, when a plump, pleasant-looking young woman came in, with the note open in her hand, and a face full of amusement and curiosity.

    Mrs. Dill exclaimed that she hoped there was no mistake.  And the lady answered cordially, “No mistake at all.  I am Mrs. George Bartlett.  I could not come down sooner; I was nursing my baby.  Yours looks very young.”

    “Only sixteen days, ma’am; and I believe that’s hungry.”

    “Poor little lamb!” said the other mother, and paused an instant, as if she hardly knew how to go on; then glancing at the note again, and catching an idea from it, she said, with a smile of amusement, “Well, suppose you come up to the nursery, and nurse it there, and see my baby.  But he is a great big fellow, eight months old.  Come, I will lead your little girl.”

    The baby by this time was so fractious, that Mrs. Dill, in spite of her surprise, was very glad of any proposal which promised to allow of her satisfying its little requirements.

    “The children are gone out for their walk,” observed Mrs. Bartlett, as they entered a light, roomy nursery.  “Take their rocking-chair, and make yourself at home.”

    Then, as soon as the baby was quiet and happy, and little Miss Dill had been propitiated with a sponge rusk and a rag doll, Mrs.Bartlett said, “And so my husband has made you run away from your relations?”

    “Ma’am!” exclaimed Mrs. Dill, “I do assure you I shouldn’t think of such a thing.”

    “He says so,” repeated Mrs. Bartlett, much enjoying her task.

    “I never thought of such a thing!“ the other exclaimed again.

    “What did you think you were doing, then, when you got into the cab?  Why did you do it?”

    “Why, ma’am, because Mr. Bartlett told me.”

    Mrs. Bartlett now, at some length, explained the true state of the case, and soon observed that to know she was freed from these relations, and had got her future in her own hands, was a most welcome thought to Mrs. Dill.  Her gratitude was fervent, but she could not help smiling while she answered the questions of her hostess as to what had passed.

    “I wonder you did not at least ask Mr. Bartlett where you were going.”

    “Oh, ma’am, Mr. Bartlett is such a commanding gentleman!  I couldn’t take the liberty.”

    Mrs. Bartlett laughed.  On reflection she laughed again.  “Well, I suppose George has rather a commanding manner with strangers,” was her thought.  “But, dear me! who would expect him to be obeyed and no questions asked!”

    Mr. Bartlett was his wife’s humble servant.  He was what is sometimes called an “out-sized man,” large-handed, heavy-footed, imposing in appearance, commanding in voice and gesture; a great, dark, plain, downright, upright, kind-hearted personage.

    It is said that in a thoroughly strong and good government the weight of the governing hand is least felt.  Mr. Bartlett was ruled with such utter ease and skill that he thought he was free.

    In two hours’ time Mrs. Dill had entered her lodgings at Pentonville, and was divesting herself of her aunt’s gown and brooch, which, to prevent discovery, were to be returned by the Parcels Delivery Company.

    Having no gown, she was obliged to stay indoors till a dressmaker could finish one for her.  The shop-windows were not then, as now, full of “costumes” ready-made.  Mrs. Dill and the nurse did some shopping on their way, and then left alone with her babes, after the latter had withdrawn, she sat down to think over the astonishing events of the last twenty-four hours.

    And the long journey, and the excitement she had since gone through, began to tell upon her, and for several days she was glad to lie quietly on her bed, finding it enough to wonder at and be thankful for that she could procure whatever she wanted, and civility too.  For, as the landlady would sometimes remark to her, “A fat trouble, ma’am, is much better than a lean trouble; and however bad you feel, you know you’ve only to put your hand in your pocket, and send me out to buy the dinner.”

    Mrs. Dill soon constituted herself Mr. Bartlett’s client, and taking, by his advice, or rather by his orders, several days to think the matter over, conveyed to him her deliberate wish that he would keep for her one hundred and fifty pounds a year, and divide the remainder of the income, with the furniture and clothes left by her deceased uncle, equally among his brothers and sisters.

    Mr. Bartlett and the executor grumbled over this decision, but they carried it out, and of their own accord obtained from each of the recipients a written promise, never again to molest Hannah Dill in the possession of her property, and never at any future time to apply to the said Hannah Dill for money, on any pretence whatever.

    They were all satisfied, especially Hannah Dill, who read the signed paper, and heard that all her relations were gone back to Suffolk, with almost incredulous joy.

    Poor woman, she was now safe for a while from the unkindness of her husband.  She began to try hard to forgive him, being helped by the consciousness that he could not now be offending against her.  Her natural jealousy as a wife was appeased; she pitied him.  He would surely now become a better man.  In about five months he would have leave to communicate by letter with her.  He should hear of her good fortune, and for the sake of this promise of secured future comforts, if not for her sake, surely he would reform.

    She dreaded him sorely; but what hope was there for her, excepting in thus hoping the best for him?  This crime had been hateful to her, for the house he had robbed was that of her own dear lady, and there could be no doubt that he had obtained the knowledge which made this easy during the time when he had come courting there to her.

    She had been somewhat of a wanderer.  Born at Ipswich, she had moved with the family of her lady to Bristol; but Uzziah Dill belonged to Chester, and soon after her marriage with him, he had returned there on a promise of work, and there they had lived till he went off with the woman for whose sake he had for some time neglected her.

    She was very weak and ill all that winter; she had gone through so much misery, that she could not soon recover.  But she had the solace of her children, and having plenty of money and time, she employed herself mainly in making an abundant supply of comfortable and handsome clothing for them.

    She went now and then to see Mrs. Bartlett, and observed how her children were dressed.  “Mine have a right to the best,” was her thought; “and, bless them, they shall have it, and the best of wholesome eating too.”

    Hannah Dill was a tall young woman, with a large frame, and dark hair and eyes.  Her children were two delicate little fairies, flaxen-haired and blue-eyed, with all the pensive beauty of their father, but with little promise of strength and vigour.

    When she knew that it was almost time for her husband to write to her, she wrote to his brother, Jacob Dill, and gave him her address.  She little thought this would bring the whole tribe of the Dills upon her; she knew that they had not money enough to come, and they had been so unfriendly to her, that she supposed they would be ashamed to apply to her for money, even by letter.

    She was quite mistaken, and soon found herself worse off with them than she had been with the Goodriches.

    On the evening of the third day old Mrs. Dill appeared and established herself in Hannah Dill’s lodgings, having borrowed the money for her journey, and expecting her daughter-in-law to return it forthwith.  She brought her youngest girl with her, and said she would be very handy for taking care of the children.

    Hannah Dill was at that time so restless with expectation, that she was even less able than usual to cope with these encroaching spirits.  Everything seemed to depend on her husband’s first letter.  Was he penitent? was he hardened?  How would he write, and what should she reply?

    It is probable that she would have succumbed, and perhaps have even agreed to receive Izziah’s drunken old father, but for a blow that she was not prepared for, and that hurt her more sorely than all that had gone before.

    Jacob Dill wrote, for he said he was ashamed to show her his face.  He was the only one of the Dills that had a spark of spirit or good feeling.  It was better she should know it, he wrote.  Uzziah had written, had written the first day that he was allowed.  Of course he had not heard, when he did it, of his wife’s having got the money.  “You see, Hannah, they are only allowed to write to their wives, or their families if they have no wife.  He told the governor he had a wife; and I am sorry to let it out to you, for I know you’ll be hurt, but he wrote to her.  Why, she was with him at his trial, and called Mrs. Dill and all; and he told her how he wanted to hear on her, and asked if her baby were born, and she were to write back as though she was his wife.  It was not at all sure as he should be long at Dartmoor; he might get sent over the sea.  And, oh! would she write off directly?  It was a shame, but he never mentioned you at all."

    What people have been taught how to do, they should be able to do.  Hannah Dill ran away again.

    Old Mrs. Dill had, now she had come to London, two ambitions.  She wanted to see the Crystal Palace, and also to see Smithfield.

    She accomplished the last while her daughter-in-law, cold as a stone after this blow, sat shivering in silence by the fire.  She accomplished the second a few days after, and took her daughter.  When the poor wife heard the door shut after her, and knew that she would be away for hours, she lifted up her face, that was full of moody and brooding thought, asked the landlady to watch her children, and went out.  She came back in a cab, with three large boxes; and, some hours after, then left the house again, with those same boxes and her children, and a hearty hug from the landlady, whose claims she more than satisfied.

    When old Mrs. Dill came back, she found, instead of her daughter-in-law, certain articles of clothing laid out for her acceptance — a brown paper parcel, containing money enough to take her and her daughter home, and a letter, setting forth that her daughter-in-law had left London for good, and she would hear from her and see her no more.


 
CHAPTER IV.


GREAT schemes may be reasoned out, and great sacrifices already made in thought.  While leaning her face on her hand, a heart-sick woman sits brooding, with her feet on the fender.

    Uzziah’s Dill’s wife had tried hard to forgive him, and, while at peace in present freedom, had persuaded herself that she need not tremble, thinking of the day that would bring her into his presence and under his dominion again.

    Uzziah Dill’s wife now gave him up for good and all.  She suffered in so doing from no sense of wrong, any more than of unkindness towards him.  Clearly he did not want her, and he had sinned against her in that one only way which made her, by all law, divine and human, free to depart and be loosed from him forever.

    But then she wanted to save her children, not only from the disadvantage and disgrace of knowing that they had a convict for their father, but from that acquaintance with wickedness, evil living, and shame that they could not escape if she went into court so soon as he was free, and laid all her wrongs open in order to obtain a divorce.

    How could she save these that were her all — these, so much dearer to her than herself — the costly and consoling fruit of her great mistake?  For their sake, in spite of the sorrow and fear it had wrought her, she always found it impossible to wish the past undone.

    If she was, indeed, never to retrieve the mistake, could she not still so act as to take all its weight upon herself?  She longed, as true love must, to shield her children from the cruel robbery of affection that she had proved — from exposure to contaminating examples, from want and blame.

    To this end, she effaced herself utterly, and left her name behind her.  When she was again seen by one who knew her, she showed herself that she might learn how to deprive the vicious father of his children, to secure which she was willing to rob herself of them also.

    At first, restless and wretched, she could not mature her plan, but journeyed from one little seaside place to another, never calling herself by her husband’s name, but using any other, indifferently, that came into her head.

    Mr. Bartlett, during those three or four months, heard frequently from Hannah Dill, and forwarded money to her as she required it.  Before he got rid of the whining old mother-in-law, and the helpless young girl, he had wished in any times that he had never taught her to run away.

    And then there was a drunken father-in-law, who tormented him for more money, and said it was on his conscience that Hannah ought to be advertised for, and made to come back to her own husband’s relations, that were so willing to look after her and the children.

    Mr. Bartlett said they might advertise if they liked, and make her come back if they could.  He added, in such a convincing way, that he did not care what they did, that in the end they believed him, and gave him up, as the “wrong-headedest” and “hard-heartedest “gentleman they had ever met with.  They then departed.

    At last, but not for some time after this, Mrs. Dill appeared one morning at Mr. Bartlett’s office, sent up a note, and was straightway admitted to an interview.  It was evident that she had gone through great trouble; her eyes were hollow, and her features thin.  Her children had both been ill, she told him, but she acknowledged nothing else afflictive, and after a few commonplaces of condolence from him, she broke in with—“I came to ask your opinion, sir, about some things I don’t fairly understand.”

    “Well, Mrs. Dill, I am at your service.”

    “I wish, sir, to know how people came first by their surnames.  I have made out, by a book of history, that we did not always have such.”

    “Certainly not.”

    “People took them, I fare to think, mainly for convenience.”

    “Quite true.”

    He then went over familiar ground with her — described how some names grew out of the trades of those first called by them, others came from the father’s Christian name, others, again, from localities.

    “But you do not need that I should tell you this,” he broke off to say; “you have studied the subject, I find.”

    “Yes, sir,” she answered.  “Then what they took for convenience, I should say they may change for convenience.”

    “They very commonly do — for the sake of some property, for instance, left on that condition.”

    “I know it, sir.  Well, it would hurt my conscience to live in a lie.  If I call myself by another name than poor Dill’s, do I lie?  Mayn’t I take a name for myself, as my fore-ancestors did?”

    “That depends, I should say, partly on the motive.  If you meant, by such an act, to prevent your husband from claiming you and his children when he gets free, and also to keep from him, if you can, the money that you have inherited, and to which he will have a clear right —“

    Mrs. Dill’s silence appeared to show that she did so intend.

    “It would be every way wrong,” he presently added.  “It would deprive him of his wife, while, being unable to prove your death, he could not marry again.”

    “No, but that would be no worse for him than for me.  I could never marry again, either.”

    “You propose to interfere with your husband’s clear legal rights.”

    “Sir, sir “she interrupted.  “Of course a man must be expected to take the man’s side.  I don’t resent that; so it is, and always will be, just as sure as that a woman will take against a woman.  But if he has behaved to me so bad and so base, that no laws — not God’s, nor even man’s—would give me back to him—”

    “Mrs. Dill, you must tell me something more.”

    Mrs. Dill did tell more.  For the first and last time she unfolded her many wrongs, and told all.  This was not a common case, and the husband had not cared to conceal either his unfaithfulness or his cruelty.  She ended, with many heart-sick tears, “I never will live with him again.  He may claim me, but he shall never get me.  Rather than that, I’ll spend every shilling of my money to get free.”  (“Your money!” thought Mr. Bartlett.)  “I must and will save his children and mine.  And that’s why I want to have another name, sir; and you, having treated me almost as if I was a friend —“

    “You want a friend’s opinion?”

    “I want to know, first, if I can be punished for doing it.”

    “Why, my good woman, of course not, unless you are found out.”

    “And would you tell me, as a friend, am I living in a lie?  Is it a moral wrong to take a new name?”

    “I answer, as a friend, decidedly not.  But it is a great risk; for your husband will be able to get your money, though it will prevent him from you “

    “Yes, I’ve been to Mr. Gordon, and he said so.”

    “The money is, in fact, now lying in my hands.  The executor did wish to sell the property, and it is to be reinvested.”

    “You will not let me have even half of it?”

    “No, because you cannot give me a receipt that would not still leave me liable to have your husband come upon me.  Mr. Gordon cannot give it to you either.”

    “No, sir.  Mr. Gordon was saying, though, that the money might be invested in a way not generally allowed — laid out, I mean, in stocking a shop.”

    Mr. Bartlett here looked steadily into Hannah Dill’s clear, honest eyes.  “I half expected this,” he thought.  “Well, Mrs. Dill?”

    “He said, if I could keep a shop “

    “Yes, if you could keep a shop.”

    “But I said I was afraid; and if I lost the money, Dill would be so angry.”

    “It was to be kept under your own — I mean your husband’s name.”

    “I never mentioned to him about going by another.”

    “Humph!”

    “He said my husband could not object nor come on you or him afterwards, even if any money was lost; on the other hand, I might make money by trade, and that surely would not belong to Dill?“

    “What did you answer?”

    “I did not take to the notion, and I was thinking about changing my name.”

    “Oh, that was all.  Well, now, as regards Mr. Gordon’s remarks, you tell him from me that he had better look out.”

    “But I did say that I was afraid to keep a shop.”

    “No matter; tell him I say he had better look out.  But as to changing your name, I believe I should change mine under like circumstances.”

    “Oh, thank you, sir, for saying it; now, indeed, I fare to see it cannot be wrong.”

    “But you must remember, Mrs. ―― “  He paused half an instant, wondering what name she would take.

    “Sir, my name is Snaith,” she exclaimed.  So quick to take the advice she had longed for, so afraid some one should enter and hear her old name.

    A clerk at that instant did enter.

    “But you must remember, Mrs. Snaith,” he repeated, slowly and steadily; then paused to receive and return a message, and when his clerk had shut the door, went on, “You must remember, Mrs. Snaith, that you have many years yet of freedom before your husband can come and take the income.”

    “But I have to hide all from his children, and I want to begin from the first.”

    “Then begin by taking leave of me.”

    “Sir, sir, I mean to do it, though you have been the best and kindest friend I have had for a long time.”

    He then explained to her how she could receive her income at a distance from the place where she lived.

    She went away, and the next afternoon Mr. Gordon desired to speak with him.

    (“Oh, my prophetic soul!“)  “Well, show him up,” said Mr. Bartlett.

    Mr. Gordon explained that he had come about Mrs. Dill’s affairs.

    “Where is Mrs. Dill?”

    “She is gone back to the seaside, sir, with fifty pounds in her pocket as I drew for her.”

    “You seem to have had some conversation with her, Mr. Gordon.”

    “Well, I have, sir.  But Goodrich’s niece is that soft and that straightforward, that she’s hardly to be trusted with her own interests.”

    Mr. Bartlett repeated to the executor that he had better “look out.”

    The other replied that he had looked out, he had been looking out for some time; and as to the matter of the reinvestment, he had a great wish to spend a portion of the money in buying the good-will of a business that he had heard of, and in the stock of a man about to retire —“a friend of mine, at Bristol,” he began — “a very honest man.”

    “At Bristol?“

    “Ay, sir.  A long way off, but a very honest man.”

    “Hannah Dill has no wish to keep a shop.”

    “She have altered her mind, sir.  She have taken into consideration that I, being an old friend and fellow-townsman of Goodrich’s, and, as I have said to her, I know he would wish it —“

    “Now, what might you mean in this case by an honest man?”

    “Well, I might have said to an old friend, ‘Jem Gravison, I am in a fix with poor Goodrich’s niece that have married a convict, and have been ill used by him in a shameful way.  Poor Goodrich,’ I might have said, ‘have made me his executor, to take care of his money, and he left word that it might be laid out in buying the stock and the good-will of a business, shoe-trade preferred.’  I might have said, ‘Jem Gravison, have you such to sell?’ and being a right-down honest man, he might have made answer, ‘Old boy, I have not.”’

    At this unexpected conclusion of the sentence, Mr. Bartlett looked up, surprised.

    “But yet, you see, it’s a fine thing to carry out the blessed laws of the land, and the provisions of poor Goodrich’s will; and when me and him had corresponded together, he might have said, ‘It’s true I did mean to sell, as witness my advertisement in the paper;’ and if as well as that he had said — which he may have done that if he sold to a worse than widow for more than orphans he would take no advantage — me knowing that well enough before — I should call him an honest man.”

    “And you really mean to tell me,” said Mr. Bartlett, with a stolid face, “that you think this man’s shop and trade and stock will be a good investment?”

    “I do, sir.  And I mean to have everything properly gone into — the books, the vally of the goods, bad debts, and what not.”

    “You had better take a little time to consider this.”

    “Yes, sir; and I shall want it done in the most legal way.  Nothing like fencing yourself round with the law, sir.  The will says a part of the property.  It never specifies what part.”

    "No."

    “It may be anything short of the whole, then.”

    Mr. Bartlett, being a little out of temper, answered shortly that it might.

    His client took some days to consider, some more to decide how to act, but in the end the stock in trade, shop, and good-will of a certain shoe-trade, lately the property of James Gravison, were duly bought and paid for by the executor of the late H. Goodrich, on behalf of his niece and her husband, the said niece to keep the shop.

    Mr. Bartlett did not much like the affair, he therefore took the more care to conduct it with all legal formality; and when all was arranged, it seemed to him to be rather a suspicious circumstance that the executor had left that precise portion of property in his hands which paid what must be called hush-money to the Goodrich family, and which, as Mr. Bartlett remarked, would of course be claimed by the convict husband when he came forth, the wife’s resolution not binding him at all to dispose of it thus.

    “I have not mentioned that to Goodrich’s niece yet, sir,” said Mr. Gordon.

    Mr. Bartlett said nothing; he had noticed the peculiar emphasis on the word yet.

    Mr. Gordon informed him, with a certain open cheerfulness of manner, that he had caused Hannah Dill’s name to be painted up on the shop; he also pulled out a Bristol paper, wherein Hannah Dill advertised herself as having bought the stock of the late Thomas Gravison, of his brother James Gravison, of the United States of America, and Hannah Dill hoped, by unremitting attention to business, to merit the patronage of the public.

    “That advertisement goes into unnecessary details,” said Mr. Bartlett.  “Did Mrs. Dill indite it?”

    “Well, no, sir; she have not that turn for business that I could wish.  At present she do not intend to serve in the shop herself, the children being still so sadly.”  So saying, Mr. Gordon gravely folded up the paper and put it in his pocket.

    In the mean time Mrs. Snaith, as she must now be called, quite unaware of the various manoeuvres being carried out for her benefit, Mrs. Snaith went back to her children with fifty pounds in her pocket, besides the money she had obtained by the sale of all her best and handsomest clothes.  She bought for the two little ones some very handsome frocks, ribbons, and toys, spent two or three days in picking every mark from their clothes and her own, then packed all up in boxes, with the name of Mrs. Snaith on them, and departed, not leaving even at her lodgings any address, or account of what she might be going to do.

    The children were too young to imperil the success of her scheme; neither could talk.  They did not know their own names, nor where they had come from.

    In a short time the convict husband’s day came for writing again.  He knew now, through his brother, of his wife’s good fortune, therefore, of course, his letter this time was to her.

    It had been such an astonishing piece of news that it had wrought in him a certain change.  He had a profound contempt for his wife mainly on account of the love which had induced her to throw herself away upon him.  He believed he had only to flatter her to have back her heart.

    He wanted her to believe that he was a reformed character.  His letter, therefore, besides being affectionate in language, was full of cant, such cant as is commonly learned in a prison.  He meant, when he had a chance, to show what a changed character he was; he even gave her religious and moral advice, as one already in such matters her superior.  Then, after lamenting that this money had not come in time to prevent him from throwing himself away, he proceeded to assure his wife that he would make her a happy woman yet, and with unparalleled impudence he continued, that he knew it was hard on her to be away from him so long, but that she was not the woman, he knew, to go out of the paths of virtue, and she must take care of the money, and keep herself respectable for his sake.

    Uzziah Dill sent this letter through his brother, as he had done the first.  He hoped to write to each of the women once a year, and to keep it secret from both that this was the case.  So, not knowing his wife’s address, he trusted to his brother, directing to him and asking him to read the letter before sending it on, that his dear parents might know how he was.

    Jacob Dill saw the game his brother was trying to play, and felt what a bad fellow be was; but he justified what Hannah Dill had said.  He took the man’s side, being swayed also by the desire to pacify and conciliate the woman who had brought money into the Dill family.

    Jacob Dill sent the letter to Mr. Gordon, asking him to let Hannah have it.  Mr. Gordon, who exhibited great fearlessness in acting for others, returned it, informing him that he did not know where Mrs. Dill was, and that they need not trouble themselves to send any more letters to him, as she had means of drawing money without letting him know where she lived.

    This was very bad news for the Dills.  That Mr. Gordon could not send on the letter was possible, that he would not was evident.  In fact, so bad was the news considered, that the drunken old father was sobered by it for the time being, and shaking his head over this “dispensation of providence,” actually went to work at his trade again.

    Mr. Gordon did not inform them that he had copied the letter; he did, however, muttering to himself as he folded it and put it in his desk, “For Goodrich’s niece is that soft, that she may relent towards the convict after all.  This’ll help to keep her straight towards doing what’s right by her uncle.”



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