Sarah De Berenger (2)

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CHAPTER V.


IT was now the middle of July; the inhabitants of a beautiful little seaside place in the south-west of England were cleaning their windows, hanging up their fresh white curtains, and putting out placards of the lodgings they had to let.

    There was a smell of paint and tar about; the pleasure-boats had just been put into first-rate order, and run up on the beach in a tempting phalanx, while the sentimental or patriotic names on their little pennons hung almost unmoved in the sunny air.  The landladies grumbled, as they always did every year, said “how short their season was, and that the visitors were long of coming.”

    The prettiest little terrace boasted as yet of but one lodger, and she, her land-lady said, was but a servant — a nurse with some children.  “However,“ continued the good woman, “those that sent her must have sent good money with her, for she pays like her betters, I will say.  But she keeps herself mighty close, and has no notion of being asked any questions.”  This she said to her next-door neighbour, as the two stood to gossip on their respective door-steps.  “And so particular about the children’s eating!  She’s almost worse than a lady at that.”

    In about a week matters mended.  The neighbour let her drawing-room floor, several families appeared on the beach, flower-girls began to pervade it, a band played in the evening, and more bathing-machines were pushed down.  Soon there were many groups of children dotted about in cheerful proximity to one another, some with nurses, some with mothers, and they all pleased themselves with the same time-honoured toys, buckets, and wooden spades.

    A very respectable-looking and plainly-dressed nurse was sitting one morning on the beach a little apart from any of these groups.  She was at work, just beyond high-water mark, and two lovely little children were playing beside her.   One, scarcely a year old, seated on the nurse’s gown, was complacently patting the shingle with a wooden spade; the other had a small cart, and had attained to such a degree of intelligence as enabled her to fill it with shells and seaweed, and drag it on a little way, when it generally turned over, and the same operation had to be performed again.

    These children were fair, of very refined appearance; rather delicate, with pure complexions, deep-blue eyes, and black lashes.

    Some ladies who lodged next door had several times noticed them and their nurse.  They evidently had no one else with them.  She always kept them delicately clean in their dress.  In the morning they wore flapping white sun-bonnets, but in the evening, after their early tea, she used to dress them up in broidered frocks, and take them forth upon the little parade, in all their infantine bravery of pink or blue sashes and ostrich-feathers.

    “That woman looks as proud of the children as if they were her own,” observed one of the ladies; “their parents may well trust her with them.”

    “And how very plainly and neatly she dresses,” replied the other.  “I wish any one of our servants was like her.  A clean print gown in the morning, a neat coburg in the evening.  The children’s dress looks twice as handsome, hers being so unpretending.  I wonder whose children they are.”

    The nurse, Mrs. Snaith, not at all aware of the notice and approval she had attracted, seated herself the following morning nearly in her previous place, while, in a profound calm, the tide was softly coming up.

    She looked almost happy, for she was beginning to feel safe, and accustomed to her new name.  Her position as nurse to the children had been taken for granted the moment she appeared; she had already overheard remarks made on their lovely and refined appearance, and her own evident respectability.

    This pleased her.  She liked also to observe the beauty of the shore, and went on leisurely working, and watching the water and the two graceful little creatures beside her.

    No air stirred but such as was set in motion by the slight action of the oncoming wave; and presently, in the perfect calm of the morning, a sea mist began to rise, and as she looked, the somewhat distant bathing-machines were already in it.

    Presently she herself was in it, and all the fishing craft hanging about in the harbour looked as faint as grey ghosts; but each boat, being clearly reflected in the water, seemed to stand up an unnatural height, it was hard to distinguish from its image.  The mist did not reach very high; all above was blue and full of light.  She put down her work to look, and, half unconsciously, to listen.  A crier was pacing up and down the little terrace behind her, with his bell.  “Oh yes! oh yes! a bracelet was lost on the beach — a gold bracelet in the form of a snake.”  The nurse turned, and, as a flat, neutral-tinted outline, could just discern the figure of the crier, as he passed out of hearing.  “Oh yes! oh yes!” she heard him begin again, and then his voice became faint in the distance, and gave way to other sounds.  There was a strange kind of creaking and a flapping over the water, but nothing could be seen; the fishing-boats were quite invisible.

    It interested her inquiring mind to notice now how all outlines were melting away into the mist.  What could that creaking be?  There was nothing to make it.  Why, yes, there was!  An enormous high pole, all aslant, was pushing on right towards her, and two vast sheets hung aloft behind it.  Why, this was a ship.  She could see the two gaunt masts now, and the ropes, some hanging slack, and the mainsail flapping and coming down.  Sailors were swarming about up there, and now the beachmen came running on to meet the vessel.

    The tide was almost at the height, and this must be the coal-brig that had been expected, coming up to be beached.

    The tall bowsprit appeared to be nearly hanging over her, before the beachmen got up to the brig’s bows; and then there was shouting and splashing in the shingle, and she rose and moved backward with the children, for the almost formless wave was washing up close to her feet.

    “Oh yes! oh yes!” repeated the crier, now become audible again.  “Oh yes! a gold bracelet was lost — a bracelet in the form of a snake, with pearls for eyes.  Whoever would bring the same to the hotel on the east cliff, should receive two guineas reward.”

    She sat down higher up on the shingle, and hearkened as the crier’s message waxed loud, and then faint again; and she watched how the heavy rope from the brig was made fast to a clumsy wooden windlass, and how, with stamping and chanting, the beachmen began to turn this round.  All was new and fresh to her, and the mist, which generally turns with the tide, had already fallen back a little, dropping behind the nearest fishing-vessels and giving them and their shadows back to the sunshine before she tired of gazing; and chancing to look round, noticed on her right, and almost close at hand, one of the ladies next door, who, seated also, was smiling on the elder child and trying to attract her.

    “She is not shy, ma’am,” said Mrs. Snaith; “she will come to you.  Shake hands with the lady, missy.”

    Steps were now heard behind, crashing through the shingle.

    “Mrs. Snaith,” cried a young girl, “mother says she can get no milk this morning; and what is she to make instead of the pudding, for your little ladies?”

    “Dear me!” exclaimed the nurse, “no milk?  And so fanciful as the dears are!  You must tell your mother to boil them each an egg, and to mind they are as fresh as fresh.”

    “They are delicate?” asked the lady.

    “Yes, ma’am, bless them; very delicate.”

    In the mean time, the elder child had broken loose from the stranger’s caresses.

    “Pretty dears!” said the lady.  “What is their name?”

    “That one’s name is Amabel.”

    “Oh, I meant their surname."

    A sudden bound at the nurse’s heart; for an instant a pause.  Then, recovering herself, “Missy, missy!” she cried, starting up, “don’t go too near the edge; you’ll wet your precious feet.  Now, to think of that question coming so soon, and me not ready for it!” she muttered; and she hastened along the shingle with the younger child in her arms; and, setting her down, took up the elder, who, by various acts of infantile rebellion, did what she could to continue the fascinating play of slopping the water with a long banner of dulse.

    In the mean time the little one filled both her hands with what she could find, and the two were shortly carried up by Mrs. Snaith, one under each arm.

    “I must take them in at once, ma'am" she remarked, as she hastily passed the lady.  “Missy is so wet.”

    Her face was flushed, and when she got to a safe distance from her questioner, she sat down to take a short rest.

    The mist had almost melted away.  How grand the brig looked!  She thought she had never seen anything more beautiful than the shape of her bows, with reflections of the receding water wavering all over them.

    Something nearer than the wave was sparkling.  The baby had something fast in her dimpled fist, and was recklessly striking the stones with it, uttering little cries of pleasure when she saw it flash as she knocked it about.

    A costly toy!  The gold bracelet, the snake with pearls for eyes!

    That same evening, when Mrs. Snaith had put her two little nurslings to bed, she left them in charge of her landlady’s daughter, and, dressed in her neatest and plainest habiliments, set forth to find the hotel on the east cliff, and return the bracelet to its owner.

    There was never seen a better embodiment of all that a servant ought to be (from the mistress’s point of view), than she appeared on that occasion.  She was very desirous to have certain things taken for granted, that she might be asked no questions.  “Are these your children?” would have been an awkward inquiry.  She had made it a very unlikely one.  She was so unassuming, so quiet, so respectable in her manner, so unfashionable and economical in her attire, that the position in which she stood toward them had appeared to be evident to every one; but during the whole of this evening walk, even to the moment when she found herself sitting in the hall of the hotel, while a waiter went up-stairs to announce her errand, she kept revolving in her mind the question of the morning, and wishing she could decide on a name for the children.

    For, as has before been said, this woman in somewhat humble life, and used to common fashions, had thoughts not common, not humble.  She had indulged a high ambition.  A form of self-sacrifice that most mothers would shrink from as intolerable, had fully shaped itself in her mind, and become a fixed intention.  She had deliberately planned to wait on her own children as their nurse, as such to bring them up, and never let them know that they were hers.

    For the next eleven years at least she could bring them up in comfort, and educate them well; after that, she had every hope that their wretched father would not be able to find her.  But, lest such should be the case, she meant to give them a name different from her own, almost at once; to begin to earn money, so that before there was a chance of a ticket of leave for her husband, she could put them to a good school, and having found a guardian for them, leave money enough in his hands to last till they were of an age to go out themselves as governesses.  Having made this arrangement, she intended to leave them, deliberately deciding to hear of them and to see them no more.

    She would then, indeed, have lost her children.  If she were unhappy enough to be found by their wretched father, she would tell him so.

    With her mind full of all this, she sat in the hall of the hotel, and her only half-attentive eyes rested on some boxes, with a name painted on them —“Captain de Berenger, Madras, N. I.”

    The owner was evidently on his way to the East, and the name of the ship he was to sail in was painted on them also.

    Presently a lady and gentleman came down, and began to excuse themselves for having kept her waiting, on the ground that they were in a hurry — just off.

    They seemed to be a newly married couple, and while the lady expressed her pleasure at getting the bracelet back, the gentleman was evidently fumbling in his purse for the reward.

    “It seemed so hard to lose it,” said the lady, clasping the trinket on slowly, as if to give her husband time.  “I had quite given it up, for we are off almost directly by the express for Southampton.  We cannot wait. — Tom!”

    Tom was still not ready.  “What did we say?“ he whispered. “Two, or three?”

    “Sir,” cried Mrs. Snaith, now perceiving the state of affairs, “indeed I could not think of such a thing.”

    “Oh, but we offered a reward!” exclaimed the lady.  “Captain de Berenger offered a reward.  Pray take it.”

    “No, ma’am; I don’t need it.  Indeed, you are kindly welcome.”

    “Well, at least shake hands, then, and thank you very much indeed;” and all their boxes being already placed on a fly, the lady and gentleman drove off in a hurry, nodding and repeating their thanks till the fly turned a corner.

    “De Berenger,” thought Mrs. Snaith; “now, that name seems as if it really would do.  It has a kind of a foreign sound.  It’s uncommon.  I fare to take to it, and it’s not too uncommon neither.  There’s De Berenger, the baker, at Bristol, and there’s a shop at Pentonville with that name on the door.  These people, too, are off to India; they’ll never know I borrowed their name from their boxes.  I shall not forget how it was spelt, nor how it goes.  And I must be quick, for to-morrow the man will come round again to print the visitors’ names in the paper.  Mine must not go in again ‘Mrs. Snaith and two children.’”

    So that evening Mrs. Snaith overhauled the children’s toys.  On one little wooden spade she printed in clear letters, “Amabel de Berenger;” on the other, “Delia de Berenger.”

    Her eldest child she had named after the young lady whose maid and reader she had been, and had always called her “Missy,” as she had called her namesake.  Her younger child she had named Delia, partly in remembrance of a tender little song that her husband had sung during the few kind days that had followed their marriage, partly because she had a natural ear for pleasant sounds; and she felt that this now disregarded name was a very beautiful one.  Their baptismal names, therefore, the children retained, and received the new surname of De Berenger.

    The remainder of the evening she spent in marking some of their pinafores and other clothing; and this done, without any assertion of their name, she let things take their course.

    It was only a very few days after this that Mrs. Snaith was startled by an elderly man, who, stopping short in front of her, accosted her with, “Well, and how are you, ma’am?  Finely, I hope.  You look so.’,

    “Mr. Gordon!“

    “Don’t be startled,” he continued; “there’s not a soul within earshot — not even my friend that came with me.  I wouldn’t go to your lodgings.  We have been about on the beach looking for you.  Nobody in life“— seeing her look disturbed —“nobody in life know your address but me only.  I said in life, for we have no reason to think that H. Goodrich knows what I am about to do — I wish he did — and thereby you may be sure it’s all right and straight.”

    Mrs. Snaith said she was sure of that and he sat down beside her on the shingle, admired the children, one of whom was asleep, and the other eating some luncheon, and then went on.

    “Now, look here, H. Goodrich’s niece.  I told you the will would allow of my buying a stock in trade on your behalf, and I sent you the document here to be signed as legal as could be.  It cost twenty pound, that transaction did.  I bought the stock.  ‘Twill cost you seven pound ten more, for I had to go to Bristol on your affairs and come here this day, which I cannot afford on my own costs as H. Goodrich was well aware.”

    “I’ll pay it, sir, and thank you too.”

    “Well, having bought this stock in trade for you, I have nothing more to do with that part of the trust money (as I hope), the part that bring in one hundred and fifty pound a year.  But a party that knew your uncle, and have come down here —and let me say would on no hand wrong the widow and the orphan — he have something to say to you.  You know what payable to bearer means?”

    “Yes, I believe I do.”

    “Such things you know of, as foreign bonds.  Say United States bonds.  Those are very good securities, and are made payable to bearer.  They’ll pass from hand to hand like a bank-note; you just show ‘em and you take your money.  That would be the best thing for you to have.”

    “Better than the stock in trade?”

    “Better by half.”

    “But, bless you, sir, why did you buy the stock in trade for me, then; and make out it was such a fine thing to do?”

    “Why did I?  That’s where it is.  That’s where it is, H. Goodrich’s niece.  And this I call you, seeing you want to keep your name to yourself.  You couldn’t get at your money, you perceive, before I did that.”

    “No.  But can I now?”

    “I should calculate you bought the stock in trade, meaning, in the way of trade, to sell it again.  Retail or wholesale — or wholesale,” he repeated presently, when she remained silent.

    “Well, sir, I was afraid the person you put in to sell would be a great expense to me.  Then you think, if I gain ever so little, I ought to sell wholesale if I get a chance?”

    “You won’t gain anything at all.  A document being wanted, you’ll lose several pound.  And I’ve no advice to give you, H. Goodrich’s niece.”  The twinkle in his eyes seemed to show joy and triumph.  He beckoned to a man near at hand.  “There he is.  If you want to have what you paid for the stock in trade (all but what I specified) in your own hand, payable to bearer, United States bonds, there’s the man that will buy your shoes of you, and that have a document in his pocket, and a ink-bottle and pen, that you may sign handy.  All I need add is, I wish H. Goodrich was here to see his money rescued from the grasp of a convict.”

    “Are you sure it’s legal, and won’t get you into any trouble?“exclaimed H. Goodrich’s niece, when the other man had come up, and from a bundle of papers was sorting out one for her to sign.

    “Well, so far as we can make out, it is.  He “pointing out his friend — “he have no call to quake, and I expect the thing will hold.  All I shall ask is, H. Goodrich’s niece, that you keep your distance, and never let me know anything about you.  I can get into no trouble for eleven year at the least.  If I should then (and not likely), you’ll promise me you’ll always, wherever you be, take the Suffolk Chronicle; and if I’m in life then, and you see an advertisement in it letting you know I’ve got into trouble, then you’ll have to write to me.  But I’m not afraid.  There’s a pretty little income — over thirty pounds a year — left in my hands, and if a certain party made himself unpleasant and wanted the rest of it, he could be threatened with a suit in the Divorce Court, and I think he’ll be glad enough to let things be.”

    “The purchase was legal, ma’am,” observed the stranger; “your executor has the papers to prove it.”

    “And when our friend is going to take the boots and shoes is neither here nor there,” proceeded Mr. Gordon.

    “You’ll take notice, though,” continued the stranger, “that bonds and what not, made payable to bearer, are in one sense very ticklish property to keep.  If they get burnt you’ve no remedy, if you lose them you've no remedy, or lose one, and whoever finds it holds it and gets the money.  And I don’t mean to say as you can always reckon on the same sum for them, not to a shilling or even a pound, because the dollar varies slightly in value, you know.”

    “I’ll sign the paper,” said Hannah Dill at last.  “I fare to understand that I’m a free woman for good and all, and I’m deeply obliged to you both.”


 
CHAPTER VI.


AND now the document which sold her stock in trade to J. Gravison having been duly signed by Hannah Dill (who for many a long day never used that name again), a large, awkward-shaped bundle of papers having been consigned to her, and Mr. Gordon having again remarked “that where those boots and shoes were going, and where the purchaser might be going, was neither here nor there,” the two friends made as if they would withdraw, but this did not at all suit the notions of the convict’s wife.

    She longed to give them at least a dinner, and after a little pressing they agreed that she should; and she left them on the beach, while she hastened to her lodgings with her children and the papers, where, having secured the latter, and taken out money for her executor’s expenses, she got her landlady to take charge for a few hours of the former.

    ”Certain,” quoth the landlady, “I’ll see to your little ladies, ma’am, with the greatest pleasure; don’t you worrit about them.”

    So Mrs. Dill came forth again, and conducted the two friends to a respectable public-house, much frequented by sea-captains and farming people.

    Here, while they sat in a green bower out-of-doors and smoked, she ordered and assisted to produce such a dinner as might be a credit to her taste and her generosity, and a thing to be remembered ever after.

    It was not ready till half past three, the two guests having been more than ready for some time.

    First appeared dishes for which the place was famous — soused mackerel at one end, and at the other hot lobsters, served whole, with brown bread and butter and bottled porter.

    After this came a rumpsteak pie with fresh young onions, also a green goose, and abundance of peas and kidney potatoes.  With this course the company drank beer.  One of the guests observed with conviction that even a Guildhall dinner could not beat this, and the other remarked that it was what he called “a square meal.”

    Next came an apricot pudding with a jug of cream, and a dish of mince pies, blue with the spiral flame of the lighted rum they were served in.

    All this took time, but at every fresh call on their efforts the guests fell to again, nothing daunted; there was no flagging but in the conversation.

    With the cheese and dessert appeared port, and the affair concluded with more pipes in the arbour, and some gin and water.

    It was a great success.

    In the cool of the evening they said they must depart, and each giving an arm to H. Goodrich’s niece, they walked in high good humour, and very steadily on the whole, to the railway station, she seeing them off, with many thanks on her part for their kindness, and on theirs for her hospitality.

    Mrs. Snaith then hastened to her lodgings.  Already her peculiar position had made her cautious and reserved.  She seldom began a conversation, or volunteered any information, however trifling, which gave others an opening for asking questions.

    She found the children asleep and well, thanked her landlady, and, seeing her weekly bill on the table, paid it, and said she should stay on.

    The landlady retired.  She began to understand her lodger; she found her a just woman to reckon with, though not one to waste words.

    “Why, if she bought her words by the dozen,” thought the good woman, “and was always considering how to use them to the best advantage, and make them go as far as they would, she could not any way be more mean with them.”

    Mrs. Snaith, asking no questions, did not hear how much “the little ladies” had been admired that day, nor how much curiosity they had excited.

    For the small place being very full of visitors, the landlady and her young daughter had amused themselves during their lodger’s absence by sitting in the open window of her pleasant parlour, which was down-stairs, and watching “the company,” while little Miss Amabel and Miss Delia played about the room with their toys.

    It was a pride and joy to them to see the place so crowded and to observe the new-comers looking about for lodgings.

    Little Amabel in the mean time was setting out a row of wooden tea-things on the sill of the window, and the baby Delia, who could but just walk alone, trotted up to her to admire, and presently began to toss some of them out on to the pavement below.

    This was a fine thing to have done, and the little creatures looked on with deep interest, while the landlady’s daughter, called ‘Ria, went down the steps of the street door, and fetched them in again.

    Little Delia, having tasted the joy of this small piece of mischief, now threw out her shore-spade, while Amabel, not to be outdone, filled a toy wooden bucket with the animals from a Noah’s ark, and one by one sent them after it, the long-suffering ‘Ria going out with unwise patience, to collect and bring them back, as if the vagaries of children were no more under human control than are the rising of the wind or the changes of the moon.

    “How tiresome gentlefolk’s children are, mother!” she said at last, when, to the amusement of the ladies next door, who were reading novels on a bench, she came forth for the eleventh time and picked up two elephants and a canary; “why, they give ten times the trouble that we do when we’re little.”

    “Ay,” answered the mother, with a sage air of conviction, “it’s all very well to say they’re the same flesh and blood as we are; there’s that difference, anyhow.  You won’t easy deceive me; I’d undertake to tell a gentleman’s child by it anywhere.  They’ve no responsibility in ‘em either.  Why, a big child five year old will run away from her nurse, and her nurse just has to run after her, while at that age you took the baby as then was on the beach, and had Tom to take care of with you.”

    “But they’re minded,” said the girl; “that’s why they can’t seem to grow any responsibility of their own."

    “There!” said one of the ladies to the other, “that girl is putting away the Noah’s ark and giving the child a doll to play with.  I wonder she did not think of doing so before.  Look! there comes the spade again.”

    Two lovely little faces looked out as before, and some infantile babble was heard, but no landlady’s daughter came forth to bring it in; so, lest it should be lost to its small possessor, one of the ladies, before she went indoors, picked it up, intending to bring it to the window.

    “Annebel de Berenger!“ she exclaimed, reading the name.  “Why, Mary, these children are De Berengers!  I wonder which branch of the family they belong to?”

    “Not to the old baronet’s,” observed the other.  “His sons are unmarried; at least, Tom de Berenger was only married a few weeks ago, and was here till lately on his wedding-tour.”

    “They may be strangers from another neighbourhood,” observed the first.  “The name is not so very uncommon; “and she came to the outside of the window, giving the spade to its dimpled owner, remarking to the landlady that she was intimate with one family of De Berengers, and asking where these children came from.

    The landlady did not know, and little miss was backward with her tongue, as delicate children often were.  They only had a nurse with them, she said, and she looked at the spade with just a little touch of curiosity.

    “Dear me!“ said the lady.  “I should like to see that nurse again; but, unfortunately, we go away this evening.  Perhaps these are Mr. Richard de Berenger’s children, and their parents may be coming.”

    “I think not, ma’am,” replied the landlady.  “I have not heard of it.”

    Thereupon, having kissed the children, this lady departed, and the landlady said to her daughter, “Well, ‘Ria, my girl, only think how I have wished to ask Mrs. Snaith who the children were, and didn’t seem to think she would like it, she being so close, and yet all the time here was their name as plain as print for anybody that liked to looked at it!”

    “You didn’t know their name, mother?” cried the girl.

    “No; I say I didn’t.  Did you?”

    “Well, I don’t know as I gave it a thought that she hadn’t mentioned it, till one night (last week I think it was) I noticed it on some pinafores that she sent to the wash.”

    “It just shows what fancies folks take in their heads,” observed the landlady.  “I felt as sure as could be she didn’t want to tell who they were, and so I never asked her; and now look!”  She held up the spade and laughed.

    “They might be that parson’s children,” said the girl; “him that was here three summers ago, mother, in our house, with his boy brother and his aunt.”

    “Hardly,” answered the mother; “he was not a married man then, I know.”

    “My!“ cried the girl, “how those two used to tease that aunt, the lady that would always be talking of her will.  I was so little then, they used to go on while I was waiting, and not mind me.  Well, to be sure, what a silly old thing she was!“

    “And you were always as handy as could be.  To see you, wait, so little as you were, has made many a lodger laugh,” observed the mother, with pleasant pride in her offspring.

    Here the conversation ended, Mrs. Snaith never hearing of the questions that had been asked concerning the children, nor of the reminiscences of ‘Ria and her mother.  The half of either, if duly reported, would have changed her plans entirely, and changed her children’s destiny and her own.

    Mrs. Snaith quickly found that she was living very much beyond her income, so she very soon went away from that little seaside place; but her delicate children had improved during their stay so much, that she proposed to come back again when the season was quite over, and rooms might be had for an almost nominal rent, to give them again the benefit of the fine air.

    She thus betrayed to the landlady her expectation that these children would be some time under her sole charge and control.  The good woman was all the more deferential to her in consequence, and finding her more reticent day by day, took care to let her depart without asking her a single question.

    Mrs. Snaith thought what a nice, hard-working woman she was — one who minded her own business, and had no idle curiosity in her — and she was perhaps beguiled by this opinion into the only piece of confidence she offered, namely, that she had brought these children from London.

    She established herself about twelve miles inland, in a small village, where she found a decent little cottage to let.  She wanted to save money, that she might send her darlings, when they were old enough, to a good school; but, meanwhile, she dressed them well and waited on them with the devoted love of a mother, combined with her assumed position of nurse.

    It was enough to satisfy and make happy and cheerful a mind constituted as hers.  She grew stout, looked well and serene, and month by month her darlings became fresher and fatter; only little Delia, as she fancied, sometimes limped a little on her right foot, and this made her anxious, considering the child’s parentage.

    There were no mothers in the village whom she could consult excepting the wives of two small farmers, and they both recommended that little miss should be taken to the shore to paddle in the salt water.  They were sure that was what the father would approve.

    It had come to be thought there — a thought which had grown out of the remarks of the villagers one to another—that the children’s father was abroad: that they had lost their mother seemed to be evident.

    Mrs. Snaith —her security in that obscure place having been so complete — did not think of stepping forth again into the inquisitive world without a pang.  She had taken up her new name and position in a far more confident spirit than she now felt in carrying them on.  Month by month she became more afraid of ultimate detection, not so much by the wretched father, as by the children themselves.

    She had lived in her tiny cottage two years, and their infantile intelligence was equal already to the perception (a false one, but not the less tenaciously held) that there was a difference of rank between them and their dear nurse.  They could by no means have expressed this, but every one about them helped it to unconscious growth.

    Amabel was six years old.  In her sweet humility the mother considered herself not equal to teaching even so much as the alphabet to a child destined to be herself a teacher.

    She had tried hard to divest herself of her provincial expressions, some of which her dear lady had pointed out to her.  In many cases she had succeeded, but her grammar was faulty, and certain peculiarities of language clung yet to her daily English.  She wanted little Amabel to speak well from the first, and she went to a poor, but well-educated old lady — the late clergyman’s sister, who boarded in a farmhouse near her cottage — and proposed to her to teach the child for two or three hours a day.  Miss Price said she should be delighted to teach little Miss de Berenger, and she instilled into her mind, while so doing, various notions not out of place considering the position she supposed her to hold.  She must remember that she was a young lady.  She must never talk in a sing-song tone, as her good nurse did; that was provincial.  Her dear papa would be much vexed if she used such and such expressions.  No doubt she often thought about her dear papa, and wished that he should be pleased with her on his return.

    Little Amabel was a docile child: she did begin to wish to please this dear papa.  In her infantile fashion she felt a strange attraction toward him, and set him in her mind far above the tender woman whose care and pride she was, while, like most other children who have a governess and a nurse, she gave her kisses to the nurse, and talked like the governess.

    But little Delia, in case her ankle was really weak, must have every advantage, whatever happened.  So Mrs. Snaith wrote to her former landlady, asking the price of rooms, and was told that if she could come at a particular time mentioned, between two other “lets,” she should have some cheap.  She felt, when she appeared at the door with the children, that she had not gained courage, though she had been on the whole very happy; she knew the day must come when she would be confronted by awkward questions.  She had often rehearsed in her mind the words she would use in reply.  They were to be very few and simple, and long reflection had made her aware that her danger of self-betrayal would lie most in the way she met matters that were taken for granted.

    The landlady thought her more “close” than ever.  “I did not expect to see your little ladies so much grown and so rosy,” she remarked.  “I thought, ma’am, you said Miss Delia was not well.”

    “It was only that I thought her ankle was weak,” said Mrs. Snaith anxiously.  “I fared to think she turned one of her feet in more than the other when she walked.”

    This conversation took place while the landlady cleared away breakfast the day after Mrs. Snaith’s arrival.  “Many children do that,” quoth the good woman, impelled, spite of her own interest, to make a suggestive observation.  “Why, dear me, ma’am, their father will be a strange gentleman if he is not satisfied, when he returns, that you have done the best anybody could for them.”

    She was rewarded for once.  Mrs. Snaith coloured all over her honest, homely face; concealment did not come easily to her.  She answered that she had no reason at all to think he would not be satisfied, and her reply, considering the character of this said father, seemed to herself almost ridiculous; she knew well that he cared for their welfare not a straw.  And the landlady, not having been contradicted, supposed herself to know that the children’s father was abroad.

    Mrs. Snaith fell easily into her old habit of sitting at work on the beach while she watched the children playing at the edge of the wave.  They were very much grown.  Both were lovely, and in all respects unlike herself.  She instinctively kept apart from the other nurses and children.  Her quiet life went on in a great silence, yet she was happy; love and service contented her.  She was safe for a long while to come from the husband whose drunken brawls had made life a misery, and whose crimes had kept her in constant fear.  She was freed from want, and that alone was enough to make her wake every morning in a conscious state of thankfulness.

    The fortnight she had meant to stay at the seaside had almost come to an end, and she was watching Delia one afternoon, and feeling almost contented with her pretty little white ankles.  That slight something, whatever it had been, habit or weakness, had almost disappeared, and, lovely and rosy, the little creature was paddling in the water with her sister, when clear through the still air rang a voice that she recognized, as its owner came up briskly to her side.

    “Why, there’s that nurse again, the person I told you of!  And the children with her.  There they all are, I declare."

    Mrs. Snaith turned slowly and saw the lady who had asked the children’s name two years ago.  She had never forgotten her, nor that her landlady had called her Miss Thimbleby.  They hurried up.

    “You have forgotten me, perhaps?“

    “No, ma’am.”

    They sat down near her.  “I saw the children’s name on their spades,” said Miss Thimbleby.  “This “— pointing out the other lady with an air, as if she was giving some intelligence that must be most welcome — “this is Miss de Berenger.”

    “Indeed, ma’am,” said Mrs. Snaith, with slow and quiet caution; and she lifted attentive eyes to the stranger, who nodded and smiled.

    “Yes, I am Miss de Berenger.  You have heard him speak of me, no doubt?”

    "Him?"

    “He was always my favourite,” continued the lady, who seemed both glad and excited, “and of course he must have mentioned me.  Indeed, I am sure of it.”

    This was rather a startling speech.

    “I don’t understand you, ma’am,” said Mrs. Snaith slowly.  She looked again at Miss de Berenger.  It did not require much penetration to see that she was not a wise woman; her style of dress alone might have suggested this thought, if there had been nothing else about her to do it.

    “And I have looked for you repeatedly, and told my nephew Felix all about you; but we never could find you, either of us.”

    “Looked for us!  Indeed, ma’am, may I ask why?”

    “Why? why?” exclaimed Miss Thimbleby, with reproachful astonishment.  “Do I really hear you asking why?”

    A little useful resentment here rising in Mrs. Snaith’s breast enabled her to answer rather sharply, “Yes, you do.”  And she looked again at the lady who had been mentioned as Miss de Berenger.

    She was a slender, upright little woman of between fifty and sixty, nearer to the latter age.  Her hair, not precisely red, was yet too near that colour to pass for golden.  It was abundant for her time of life, free from grey, and dressed in long loose curls, so light and “fluffy,” that they blew about with the slightest movement in the air.  Her dress was of that reddish purple which makes orange look more conspicuous.  She had a green parasol, wore a good deal of jewellery, had a jaunty air, and might have passed for little more than forty — so brisk and youthful was she — but that her cheeks were streaked with the peculiar red of an apple that has been kept into the winter—a bright, fixed hue, which early in life is scarcely even seen.

    The other lady was very plainly dressed, and seemed to be under thirty.  She started up on hearing Mrs. Snaith’s last word, and going to the edge of the wave, brought back with her the two children, who, a little surprised by Miss de Berenger’s gay appearance, stood gazing at her for a moment, their shining bare feet gleaming white on the sand, and their rosy mouths pouting with just the least little impatience at being taken away from the water.

    “The very image of him!” exclaimed Miss de Berenger, shaking back her curls and clasping her hands.  “Come and kiss me, my pretty ones.”

    The children, with infantile indifference, gave the required kisses, looked at the lady, looked at Mrs. Snaith; but the one was drying her eyes, the other watchful, to discover what this might mean.  She turned cold, but did not look at her darlings, so they took the opportunity to slip away and run back to the water.

    “Where is their father now?” asked Miss de Berenger.  “Ah, I was very fond of him.  If he had only stopped at home, I should have left him everything.”  A twinkling in her eyes seemed to promise tears.  She wiped them again, though these proofs of feeling had not come.  “Where is he?”

    “I don’t know, ma’am,” said Mrs. Snaith, who now laid down her work, to hide the trembling of her hands.

    “He is abroad, of course?”

    “Ma’am, I am not sure.”

    Both answers perfectly true.

    The reluctance to speak was evident; it seemed to astonish Miss de Berenger, even to the point of making her silent.

    “Why, surely,” exclaimed the other lady, with a certain air of severity, as if by the weight of her disapproval she hoped to oppress Mrs. Snaith into giving her testimony —“ surely you can have no objection to answer a few questions — such natural questions as these, nurse!”

    “Perhaps she has had her orders,” murmured Miss de Berenger.

    Mrs. Snaith for the moment was much surprised at this question.  Under whose orders could they think she was?

    “Unless that is the case,” said Miss Thimbleby, with uncivil directness, “I cannot understand what reason you can have for concealing anything from Miss de Berenger — what good reason.”

    Again indignation came to the aid of Mrs. Snaith.  She rose on hearing this, took up the children’s shoes and socks, and turning her back on the two ladies, went down to the water’s edge, and called her little barefooted treasures to come to her.


 
CHAPTER VII.


MRS. SNAITH had no sooner got away from the two ladies, than she began to wonder why she had been so much alarmed.  She had hardly understood at first that Miss de Berenger claimed the children as relations.  “And why,” she thought, “should this have frightened me?  I have no presence of mind at all.  I should have told her she was mistaken, and there would have been an end.  Folks cannot take them from me; and if I make it seem to everybody that I am their nurse, and allow that their father is living, it’s natural — I fare to see now — that people should think I must be under his orders.”

    She turned while seated on the sand, fitting on little boots.  Miss de Berenger was behind her.

    “We did not mean to offend you,” she exclaimed, shaking back her curls.  “I am sure, nurse, you are doing your duty by the darlings, but—”

    “I am not offended with you, ma’am,” answered Mrs. Snaith, when she stopped short.  “Anybody can see that you are quite the lady, and had no thought of being rude.”

    “Then I wish you would be a little more open, nurse.  You say you do not know where their father is, but you might at least tell me how long it is since you heard from him.”

    Mrs. Snaith pondered, then gave the truth.  “Two years and three months, ma’am.  But will you sit down a minute?  Run on, my pretty ones.”

    The children, nothing loath, obeyed. Miss de Berenger sat down.

    “Ma’am, you make it plain that you think these children must be related to you.’’

    “Of course; I am sure of it.”

    “Well, ma’am, then it is my duty to tell you that they are not.  You don’t owe them any kindness, I do assure you.  They are not related to you at all.”

    “Not that you know of,” said Miss de Berenger, in correction.  “But,” she continued, “there might be family reasons, you must allow — very important family reasons — for not telling about them.”

    She was perfectly polite in her manner, but this pertinacity alarmed Mrs. Snaith again.  What should she say next?  She had not decided, when Miss de Berenger went on.

    “Did he tell you to bring them here?  Because, if he did, it must have been on purpose that I or some of us might find them out, and acknowledge them.”

    Here was at least a suggestion which could be met and denied.

    “Nobody told me to bring them here, ma’am.  I do assure you I did it wholly to please myself, and out of my own head.”

    “Well, well, Felix must be told of this,” said Miss de Berenger, not at all convinced.  She twisted one of her curls over rather a bony finger.  “I shall consult Felix, and he will soon get to the root of the matter.”

    “I don’t think Felix will” thought Mrs. Snaith, and a furtive smile, in spite of herself, gleamed in her eyes.

    “But, surely,” continued the good lady, you can have no motive for being more reticent with me than with the person in whose lodgings you are.  She knows that you brought the children first from London, that their father is away, and that they have lost their mother, for she told us so.”

    “Did she, ma’am?” said Mrs. Snaith: and pondering the matter in her mind, she felt sure she had never said they had lost their mother.

    “You are entrusted with the entire charge of them,” was the next question; “is it not so?“

    “Yes; they have no one to look after them but me."

    “They are very like the family, and so my friend remarked, when she saw them here some time ago.”

    “Do you mean that person who was with you just now?” quoth Mrs. Snaith.  She was still offended with her.

    “She is quite a lady,” exclaimed Miss de Berenger instantly, losing sight of the matter in hand to defend this person.  “It is true that she has married Mr. de Berenger’s fellow-curate, which was a most imprudent thing to do (and everybody said so), particularly as he had been plucked at college till he had hardly a feather left on him; but she would have him, and they were married, and had twin children with lightning rapidity.  She is come here with me to get cured, if possible, of a bad cough that she has had ever since some months before their birth.  But, indeed, what could she expect, going out as she did when the roads were blocked up with snow, and the thermometer below zero?”

    The lady in question now made herself audible, as she came pounding down through the shingle to join them.  It was evident to her keen observation that no fresh information had been obtained.  Mrs. Snaith rose, and, preparing to follow the children, made a bow to Miss de Berenger, where upon the mother of twins said coldly, —

    “Miss de Berenger is very much hurt, and very much surprised too — that I can plainly see — by the way in which you have repelled her kind advances.  The children’s true interests are evidently very far from your thoughts.  You can only think of your own.”

    “Good afternoon, ladies,” said the nurse, tossing her head rather haughtily; and she passed on, half frightened again.  There was a self-satisfied air of authority in the speaker, and something threatening in her tone, which, under the circumstances, was very ridiculous, and yet a certain effect was produced on her who knew those circumstances best.

    Not even a mother could seriously believe that any one wanted to steal her children.  Mrs. Snaith had not reached that point of folly; but she felt uneasy and insecure, as if, having ceased to admit her maternity, she had lost power over them.

    Her boxes were already packed, she having always intended to go away by that evening’s train; and she was truly glad that the little chaise was at the door and the two children in it, when Miss de Berenger coming up with her friend, she noticed the puzzled look of the one and the displeasure of the other.

    She had bid her landlady good-bye, and had directed her driver to the station, when the voice of the late Miss Thimbleby struck on her ear. “Why, the woman’s actually running away!”

    “Drive on,” said Mrs Snaith.

    “Running away, ma’am!” cried the landlady, looking after the chaise as it bore off her late lodgers.  “Quite the contrary, I do assure you.  Mrs. Snaith would have been very thankful to stay, if I could have kept her.  As it is, I’ve let her stop on till I’m very hard drove to clean up for my next ‘let.’  Nobody ever ‘runs away’ from this place; and goodness knows there’s little need, so healthy and bracing as it is.”

    Miss de Berenger hastened to say something complimentary concerning the place, and, in return, the landlady obliged her with the address of her late lodger.

    About ten days after this, while Mrs. Snaith, already calmed by a sense of remoteness from observation, was pleasing herself with the certainty that her little Delia walked now as well as other children, Miss de Berenger took an opportunity to open her mind to her nephew, and fill him with a vague sense of responsibility towards these children.

    Felix de Berenger was seven and twenty, a bachelor.  He had lately been presented to a living, a very small one in point of income, but having a good-sized and comfortable house attached to it; a most excellent garden, two fields, an orchard, and a poultry yard.

    To this place he had thankfully removed what little furniture he possessed, together with his books and his two brothers; also the nurse who had brought up the younger of these, and now, with a village girl to help her, did all the work of the parsonage, including the care of a cow and a pig.

    His circumstances were peculiar.  While he was yet almost in infancy, his father’s regiment had been ordered to India, and he had been left behind.  Several children, born to his parents during the next few years, had died in early childhood, and they had returned to England for the year’s leave with one only, a boy just eight years younger than Felix.

    The mother made great lamentation over the loss of her children, from the hot climate not suiting them.  She left the second son behind also, and returning to India with her husband, the same misfortune overtook her again—her infants died; and it was not till after her final return to her native country that the youngest of her surviving children was born.  He was now between seven and eight years old — a delicate little fellow, childlike in appearance, fully nineteen years younger than his eldest brother, and, being already orphaned, wholly dependent on the said brother both for maintenance and affection.

    Miss de Berenger, a woman of good fortune, had come to stay with her dear nephew Felix, and, in her own opinion, to help him.  She loved to scheme for other people, but out of her ample means she afforded them nothing but schemes.

    Yet she was not accounted mean, for she was perfectly consistent.  If people render help to those near to them at intervals which are felt to be remote, or if their frequent presents are considered to be inadequate, they are thought ungenerous; but if they never give anything at all, they often escape from such an imputation.  The minds of others are at rest concerning them, the looking out for needed assistance not being connected with them.

    The late Mrs. de Berenger had considered her husband’s only brother to be extremely mean; and this was mainly because once, when her little Dick was a baby, he had caused his wife, with profuse expressions of good-will from him, to bring the child a handsome little merino coat.

    Miss de Berenger, having come to stay with her dear nephew Felix, was waiting in his pleasant dining-room till he should appear to breakfast.

    He had been away from home when she arrived; sitting up with a sick parishioner, whose bedside he had not left till late in the night.  She had not, therefore, seen him, and was now occupied in looking about her.

    There were only six chairs in the room; these were of a very light description.  “Four-and-sixpence each, I should think,” she reflected; “certainly not more.”  Then there were two large, solid bookcases, which were so disposed as to make the most of themselves.  A square of carpet was spread in the middle of the room, and on this stood the table; all uncovered parts of the floor being stained brown.  This scanty furnishing made the large room look larger.  It looked, also, rather empty—for it was rather empty.

    She walked to one of the windows, and, gazing out, saw what pleased her better.  On the right, but a good way off, was a very high and thick yew-tree hedge, with a square place in front of it paved with small coggle-stones.  In this grew two fine walnut-trees.  Nearer to her, and only divided from the paved yard by a line of artificial rock-work scarcely a foot high, was a large, beautiful garden, which, close to the house, was planted with rose-bushes, lilies, tree-peonies, and many lovely, old-fashioned plants, called by modern gardeners “herbaceous rubbish.”  Those pernicious weeds, the scarlet geranium and the yellow calceolaria had not found their way into it.  As this garden sloped away from the house, large fruit trees of fine growth appeared among the flower borders; climbing clematis, white or purple, was folded round the trunks of some.  Further off still, but not divided by any hedge from the flowers, excellent crops of various vegetables might be seen.

    A second window in the dining-room showed her a mossy old lawn, in which grew two immense fir-trees, and between them was visible the broad, low tower of a village church.

    Felix came down, his young brother Amias followed; a few words of welcome were said, then the bell was rung for prayers, and in came the two servants, the little brother Dick, and Miss de Berenger’s maid.

    If Felix had not been thinking of his sick parishioner, he must have noticed the restlessness of his aunt.  As it was, he proceeded, after prayers, to help her to her breakfast, with nothing to break the force of his surprise, when, after little Dick had shut the door behind him, she flung back her curls and exclaimed, with an air of triumph, —

    “Yes!  Well, now, Felix, well, now Amias, what do you think?  I’ve discovered the most astonishing family mystery that you ever heard of.  It’s enough to make your hair stand on end.”

    They were both well used to their aunt’s sensational speeches: to do her justice, it was their habit of insisting on not being astonished at what she had to say, which mainly led to her constantly making her statements more and more startling.

    Amias continued to cut the bread quite calmly, but Felix paused with his fork in the bacon.  His aunt’s bright red cheeks had taken a clearer dye than usual; she was evidently excited herself, not merely trying to excite them.

    “I told you,” she exclaimed, tossing back her curls to cool her face —“I told you I believed I was on the track of John’s children.  Poor John!  Yes, I’ve found them, Felix.  And their nurse, being alarmed at something (what, I don’t know), positively stood me out, and declared that they were no relations of ours.  Poor little waifs, they are the very image of him; and unless we show a parent’s heart towards them, Felix, I really do not know what is to become of them.”

    Felix, unequal to the task of cutting the bacon, left the fork sticking upright in it.

    “John’s children!“ he exclaimed.  “Why, John’s not married; at least, I never had a hint that he was, much less that he had a family.”

    “Nor had I, Felix; but I always suspected that, when he quarrelled with his father and went away, he did marry that young person.  And I have no doubt, whatever the nurse may say, that he sent her to D―― on purpose that I might fall in with the children.  Her conduct was most peculiar; she no sooner found out that they were relations of mine, than she rushed off with them.  But she had better mind what she is about.  I am going to write to her, for I have her address, and I shall tell her that if I go to law with her, it will certainly be brought in ‘abduction of an heiress.’

    “An heiress!” exclaimed Felix.  “She cannot be John’s child then.”

    “She is a very lovely little girl; and if I make a will in her favour, she will turn out to be an heiress.  And then, as I said, that nurse had better look out, or she will get herself transported for carrying her off as she has done.”

    At this point the two brothers seemed to lose their interest in the matter, and to find their wonder subside, so that they could begin to eat their breakfast.

    She then gave an account of what had passed, but at the same time taking so much for granted, and so piecing together what she had been told, what she thought, and what the landlady had thought, that Felix, in spite of himself, could not help believing that these children must be John de Berenger’s daughters.

    John de Berenger was the third son of old Sir Samuel de Berenger, who, having married late in life, was the father of a family very little older than Felix de Berenger, the son of his nephew.

    The baronet’s eldest son, for whom he had never cared much, was a confirmed invalid, spending most of his time at Algiers or in Italy.  He was a married man, but childless.  The second son, Tom, had just married, and gone to join his regiment in India.  The third, John, who was not without certain endearing qualities, was no credit to any one belonging to him.  He was reckless of opinion, extravagant, and so hopelessly in debt, that he would certainly have been outlawed, but that there was only one healthy life between him and the baronetcy; and his father, moreover, was both rich and old.  So that it seemed to his creditors wise to wait, on the chance of his inheriting at least enough to pay his debts, provided they did not make his father aware how great these were.

    “I cannot bear to hear poor John called the reprobate of the family,” exclaimed Miss de Berenger, “and threatened with outlawry, dear fellow!”

    It was partly on account of the word “outlaw” that Miss de Berenger took a romantic interest in John.  No halo hangs about vulgar debt, but outlawry brings to mind the Lincoln green, bows and arrows, and a silver horn to blow upon under the greenwood tree.

    “I wish you would not tease the old man about these children,” said Amias.  “Hasn’t he enough to think of just now?  I’m the reprobate of the family.  I repudiate John; he’s an impostor.”

    “Yes, indeed, Amias,” cried Miss de Berenger instantly, remembering that she ought to bear her testimony against the youth’s behaviour.  “Yes, very sad.  I’ve heard of your conduct. Sir Sam wrote to me in a rage.  I hear you’ve turned teetotaller as well, on purpose to insult him; and I’m informed that you said brewing was not a proper trade for a gentleman.”

    “I said drunkenness was the cause of almost all the misery in the country.  I said there was hardly a judge on the bench who had not declared that it had to do with nine-tenths of the crime that came before him.  I said—”

    “Now, look here,” exclaimed Felix suddenly rousing up, “I can stand a good deal, but I can’t and won’t stand a temperance lecture on the top of John’s children!“  Then thinking, perhaps, that he had been a little too vehement, he added and half laughed, “It’s all right, my boy.”

    “The old man has a great deal to worry him just now,” said Amias, excusing his brother’s sudden heat to his aunt.

    “And after he had been so kind — I mean, Sir Sam had been so kind — and proposed to take you into the concern, and in time give you an interest in it!  Yes, it is very sad.”

    “Well, you would not have had me be such a sneak, I suppose, as not to tell Uncle Sam what I’d done?  Everybody else knew.  I’d been bursting with rage some time to think how we were actually the ruin of people.  But that was not why I did it, I can tell you; I did it for fun.  When that temperance fellow came into the village, and stood on a kitchen chair ranting, a lot of people soon got round him, and some of them cheered and some jeered me as I came calmly by and stopped to listen.”

    “Ah! stopped to listen, Amias.  That shows what comes of tampering with evil.  Well?”

    “Well, presently two drunken men came reeling up, and insisted on shaking hands with me.  And the people hauled out another chair from a cottage, and declared that I must mount it and answer him.  I had not known at first what it was that he was ranting about, with ‘dear brethren,’ and ‘dear sisters,’ and ’dear fellow-sinners.’  By the time I did know they would not let me off; they stamped and cheered, and said it was election time, and I must and should speak up for the old concern.”

    “Well, Amias, well.”

    “Why, the tide turned against the temperance man; they hooted him down.  And (I was excited at first, you know, it seemed such fun) so I got on the chair and imitated the man, his cockney talk and cant.  I did him capitally; I ranted till they all shrieked with laughter.  And then I stopped, for I knew I was doing the devil’s work.  I stopped, I tell you, and I told them the temperance man was quite right, and asked them if they didn’t know it, and all that; and then Felix coming up, I felt that I was stumped, and I jumped down and ran off.  I could hear every step I took on the grass, the people were so still; I suppose it was with astonishment.”

    “Very sad,” said Miss de Berenger again.  Felix smiled.

    “So,” continued the boy, “I thought the next day I had better go and tell it all to Uncle Sam.  The old man thought so too; so I went and did for myself, for, of course, he sent me packing.  And here I am.”

    “Well,” said Miss de Berenger, with some bitterness, and what was meant for irony, “then I hope the old man made you welcome.”

    “Yes,” said Felix calmly, “I did.”

    “You needn’t shake your head, aunt,” proceeded the boy.  “I’m glad I did it.”

    Miss de Berenger had sense enough to see that what she might say on this subject could have no effect.  She returned to her former theme; she did not see how poor John’s children were to be educated.

    “The proper person to tell this to is old Sam himself,” observed Felix.

    “Oh, I have written to him, my dear Felix.  I have laid the whole matter before him, and—”

     “And what?“

    “And he repudiates them utterly!  But if he could see them, beautiful little creatures, and such a respectable nurse, I’m sure it would soften his heart.”

    “How can John afford a nurse?  His father allows him very little to live on.”

    “Very little.  I thought it so touching to see them handsomely dressed when John must be almost in want.  It shows his heart is in the right place.  And then, no doubt, he had them thrown in our way, hoping we should take them up.”

    “If that is the case, why, in the name of common sense, did their nurse carry them off?“

    “Why, my dear, she might not know his motive, or she was afraid, perhaps, that my penetration, or some unexpected question of mine, might lead her to betray what she is probably aware must not be told — that is, where John’s abode is.”

    “It sounds queer,” said Felix.

    Miss de Berenger took no notice of this remark, but dashed into what seemed a perfectly different subject.

    “And what about poor little Dick?  He has had no lessons at all since you came here.  Yes, he ought to have a governess, for he is far too delicate to go to school.”

    “Aunt, you know very well that I cannot afford a governess just yet.”

    “But, Felix, I have matured a scheme.  Yes, I have thought it out.  I wish I was more thankful for this talent committed to me of planning for others.  You know dear Cecilia’s sister, Ann Thimbleby, of course?

    “Of course,” said Felix, without any enthusiasm.

    “Dear Cecilia would like so much to have her near at hand.  But then, you know, Ann has to educate her little sister, and she finds it extremely difficult to meet with any one who will take a governess and a ten-years-old sister with her.”

    “I should think so

    “Ann Thimbleby asks forty pounds a year salary.”

     “Oh.”

    “Felix, do listen.”

    “Ann Thimbleby asks forty pounds a year salary, you said.”

    “Yes, Felix; but she and the child are vegetarians.  Just think of your garden.  It would cost you a mere nothing to feed them, with the eggs, too, that you have from the poultry yard, and the milk from your cow.  You would still (when your family was supplied) have fruit and vegetables to exchange for groceries, as I explained to you was commonly done.  If you would give her little sister board and lodging, and let Ann teach her with Dick, Ann would take ten pounds a year and be thankful.  I know she would, for she has twenty pounds a year of her own.”

    “I could not afford even that.  I should still he out of pocket.”

    “Yes, you would — perhaps almost as much as twenty pounds a year.  Yes.  But, then, there are these little De Berengers.  I have ascertained that their nurse pays a certain Miss Price twenty pounds for teaching them.  Now, Felix, if that woman would come and live in the village, you could agree with Ann to teach the four children together, and you, receiving the twenty pounds, would get Dick educated for nothing.  You would keep a kind of cooperative store for the benefit of all parties, the goods being children.”

    Felix was struck with surprise.

    “You actually propose to me to encumber myself with a governess, a girl, and two children, in order to get little Dick taught his lessons?”

    “Well, Felix, can you think of a better plan?  It would be bringing these darlings close to their own family, and getting Dick looked after and taught for nothing.  I do not mean to say that Mary Thimbleby is a nice child — far be it from me to deceive you.  She is a stupid, uncomfortable girl, and how their mother, who was the sweetest woman — so managing, too — contrived to have such an uncomfortable child, I cannot think.  It is something quite new in that family to produce a variety of the sort.  But these subjects,” continued Miss de Berenger, pushing back her loose curls, and putting on an air of wisdom and cogitation —“these subjects are as intricate as all others on the origin of species.”

    A gleam of joy shot across the dark face of Felix, but he remained silent, and his aunt continued.

    “And as for Cecilia’s marrying Carlos Tanner, of course that was very imprudent; but I cannot help taking an interest in him, considering, my dears, that I ought to have been his mother, and that, but for the fickleness of mankind, I should have been.”

    This was an old story.

    “Never mind, Aunt Sarah,” said Amias.  “His father’s wife lost all her fortune after he married her, and everybody said that served him right.”

    “And she had been a widow twice before he took her,” observed Felix.

    “Yes,” said Aunt Sarah, much consoled; “and she was married in a brown gown — actually, my dears, in a brown gown.  If he had married me, I should have had a white one.”

    “Well, then, I hope the wedding cake, instead of white, was done with brown sugar,” continued Felix.

    “For consistency’s sake it should have been,” answered Sarah; “but, my dears, we cannot expect consistency in this world!  Yes!”


 
CHAPTER VIII.


THIS plan of Miss de Berenger’s appeared to her nephew so preposterous, that he gave it no better reception than a somewhat ironical smile; then he finished his breakfast, and what more his aunt had to say he heard without receiving the sense.  Yet, in less than one month, he was glad to carry out the whole scheme, almost to the letter.

    In about a week he found that he was living precisely up to his income, and had nothing to spare for such contingencies as illness, nor anything to spend on Dick’s education.  At the same time, Miss de Berenger having said vaguely that no doubt little Dick would soon have a governess, a widow lady, a friend of hers, who lived half a mile off, came and proposed advantageous terms, if her son might come as a day pupil, and take his lessons with Dick.  Her boy, she said, was lonely; he was delicate; he was her only child.  Might he ride over on his pony?  She was sure they should agree about terms.

    On this hint Miss de Berenger spoke again, and got leave from Felix to write to Mrs. Snaith; which she did, proposing to the poor woman to come and live in a little cottage then vacant, and pay twenty pounds a year for the education of the two children.

    Mrs. Snaith did not often laugh, but she laughed heartily when she got that letter; felt as if she had been politely invited to step into the lion’s den, and put it aside, taking nearly a fortnight for considering the precise terms in which she could decline it.

    But lo, at the end of that term scarlet fever broke out in the farmhouse where Miss Price the governess lived, and she felt at once a longing desire to get away from the place.  She only took her little cottage by the week; she could hire a cart to carry away her furniture to the station.  She had spent a good deal of money on her late trip to the shore, and could not possibly afford another.  How cheap this plan was — how easy!  And, after all, no one but her herself had any power over the children; no one could possibly prevent her taking them away again from these De Berengers whenever she chose.

    She drew out the letter again.  There was no time to be lost; one more day brought her news of another case of fever, and without loss of an hour she wrote a respectful letter to Miss de Berenger, setting forth that she would appear with the children the very next evening, and what little furniture she had should come with her.

    Miss de Berenger had seldom been happier.  She rushed to accept the widow’s proposition, then she flew to arrange matters with Miss Thimbleby, which she did in such a satisfactory fashion, that this young lady was to receive a small salary for her services, together with vegetarian board, lodging, and leave to educate the little sister; Felix, on his part, taking the remainder of what Mrs. Snaith and the widow lady were to pay, so as to reimburse himself for his outlay, and pay also for the small quantity of cheap furniture that had to be bought, his main advantage being that he was to get his little brother taught and looked after for nothing.

    It was an anxious and trying day for Mrs. Snaith that took her, her children, and her goods, to the new home.  Several times during the course of it imagination transported her among the people she was going to.  How would they receive her?  What questions would they ask?  She thought of them as excited also, as busy about her affairs, for Miss de Berenger had assured her that the little cottage should be swept down for her, and that she should find a comfortable supper ready there for herself and her little charge.

    There was a certain amount of bustle, and some excitement also, that day at the parsonage; not in the minds of Felix or his brother, for they were gone out for the day; and not concerning Mrs. Snaith.  If she could have known what it was that effaced her from their thoughts, it would have helped her, as such things always do, to realize how small the place was that she filled in creation.

    It is hard, sometimes, when one had thought that one’s self and one’s affairs were filling the minds of others, to find that one has been utterly forgotten; but it is positively humbling to discover, as is sometimes our lot, what a small, what an utterly worthless thing it was that blotted us out.

    However, in this case, it cannot be said to have been a small thing—quite the contrary.  It was a very large thing; there was the oddness of the matter.  And how so large a thing could possibly be lost, missing, or mislaid, in such a scantily furnished house, was the whole mystery.  The thing, in short, for sake of which Mrs. Snaith passed out of mind, was a clothes-basket.

    Jolliffe, the servant, had looked all over for it, and was out of breath.  A girl who had been blamed, and had wept in consequence, was now helping the others to express the common astonishment, and counting off on her fingers, as Jolliffe enumerated them, all the places, likely and unlikely, that had been looked into in vain.

    A large bundle of clothes, ready tied up to be put into this basket, was lying in the mean time on the clean kitchen floor, and the washerwoman sat in judgment upon it, deciding that it was too heavy to be carried as it was, even with the help of her little boy, who, with his legs hanging down, sat regarding it with a sheepish and shame-faced air, as one so used to be accused, when any sort of mischief had been perpetrated, that he was expecting every moment to hear the loss of the basket confidently laid at his door.

    Just then a youth, who had been hired to weed, came clattering across the paved yard in his hobnailed boots.

    “I forgot the loft,” said Jolliffe; and she put her head out at the casement window.  “Andrew, you go and look in the loft over the stable if the big clothes-basket is there.”

    “I know it can’t be there, mem,” answered the boy.

    “I didn’t ask you what you knew,” said Mrs. Jolliffe, with the dignity of full conviction.  “If it’s not in a likely place, it stands to reason that it must be in an unlikely.  You go and do as I bid you.”

    “Yes, mem,” said the boy; and he burst into a chuckling laugh, and instantly was grave again.

    “That boy Andrew is the awkwardest in the parish,” continued Mrs. Jolliffe; “but when I say the basket couldn’t have gone without hands, I don’t mean but what his hands are clean, in a manner of speaking.”

    “It ain’t there,” said Andrew, returning, and chuckling again.  Whereupon he was reproved by all parties for things in general; including his having been frequently seen to laugh even at his work, as if nothing was of any account; which, they observed, had very probably emboldened some tramp to carry off the missing article.  He was then made to fetch the lightest wheelbarrow from the potato garden, and in that the clothes for the wash were solemnly wheeled away.

    The soft shadows of evening were coming on, and everything about the parsonage was very still, when Miss de Berenger came bustling up to the kitchen door, calling for Dick.

    “I cannot find him anywhere, Jolliffe.  I want him to come this minute, and see his little cousins.  They have just arrived at the cottage with their nurse, and I told them they should see him.”

    Jolliffe had been leaning out at the dairy window, talking to a market gardener, who also kept a shop in the neighbouring town, in which he sold both fruit and grocery, and with whom Felix, under Miss de Berenger’s advice, had made an agreement to exchange some of his superfluous fruit for tea and other groceries.  She now started forth, suddenly remembering that she had not seen Dick for a long time, the gardener following.

    “Wherever can the dear child be!” she exclaimed.  “I should have looked after him before, if I hadn’t had those lettices on my mind.  They’ve all come to their hearts at once; the dairy floor is all over green things that master cut for fear their heads should spread.”

    “That comes of the vegetable ladies,” observed the gardener.  “I’m sure I don’t grudge anything its growth, — not but what I shall lose by all those apricots being ripe together.”

    “Wherever can the dear child be!“ repeated Jolliffe.  “Master Dick!“ she shouted, “where are you?  Come, it’s supper time, and your aunt wants you, lovey.”

    A childish whoop answered, and was echoed from the old church tower, which was close to the garden.

    “I can’t tell where he is,” she observed; “the sound seemed to come from all round.”  Then she turned to the east, and exclaimed, “Why, goodness! why, good gracious me, if ever I saw anything so strange in my life, Mr. Bolton!  There’s ever so many stars shining in the chestnut-tree.”

    Mr. Bolton looked.  There stood the great horse-chestnut tree, in all the splendour of its rich, deep foliage, and there certainly was a light shining between the leaves.  Not the moon, for she hung a yellow crescent, that yielded no light at all; not Venus, for she, of all stars, was the only one out; but a warm orange, steady light that illuminated the whole centre of the tree, and shone through the leaves as well as between them.

    The soft veil of the gloaming came on, and made this light every moment brighter; while such a silence seemed to gather and rise from under the trees, that Jolliffe and her companion, as they slowly and cautiously approached, did not care to speak.  Then the woman hung back, the light looked so strange; and the man went under, looked up, and came back with a smile.

    “I’ll give you two guesses regarding what’s up in that tree!” he exclaimed.

    “Can’t I see that it’s a light? “ cried Mrs. Jolliffe, with much impatience.  “I don’t see, though you have bought the fruit off the very walls, that I’ve any call to pick out answers for your riddles in master’s own garden, at this time o’ night.”

    “Of course it’s a light,” replied Mr. Bolton, “but what’s the light in?  Well, if you don’t like to come any nigher, in regard of it’s being so close to the old churchyard, I’ll tell you.  It’s in the old clothes-basket.”

    Jolliffe’s surprise made her good-tempered.  Again she came under the tree, and looked up.  “This must be one of the dear child’s antics,” she observed; “but however in the world did he get it up there?  Must be fifteen feet high.  What a horrid dangerous trick!”

    “I don’t see that,” answered Mr. Bolton.  “He can climb like a cat.  What he’s done is this: he’s drawn it up, do you see, by that long dangle of clothes-line to the fork where those three branches spread out, and there as he stood above, he’s managed to land it pretty steady, and he’s tied it with the rope in and out among the boughs, and then he’s fetched the stable lantern.”

    “And that boy Andrew helped him, I’ll be bound!” exclaimed Mrs. Jolliffe.  “I shouldn’t wonder if he’s in it now.  Master Dicky dear, you’ll speak to your own Jolly, won’t you?”

    A good deal of creaking was now heard in the wicker-work of the basket, but there was no answer.

    “Oh, well, Mr. Bolton,” remarked Mrs. Jolliffe, in a high-raised voice, “it’s a clear case that he ain’t here; I’d better go in and tell his brother that he’s lost.”

    A good deal more creaking, and something like a chuckle, was now heard in the basket, and presently over the edge peered the face of a great owl, a favourite companion of the child’s.

    It was dusk now under the tree, and the creature’s eyes glared in the light of the lantern.  Mrs. Jolliffe, being startled, called him a beast; but he looked far more like the graven image of a cherub on a tomb, for nothing of him could be seen but his widespread wings and his face, while he looked down and appeared to think the visit of these two persons intrusive and unseasonable.

    “Well, old goggle-eyes,” quoth Mr. Bolton, “so you’re there too, are you?  If you know where your master is, which appears likely — for you’re as cunning as many Christians, and full as ugly — you’d better tell him that, as sure as fate, we’re going to fetch his brother out if he doesn’t come down.”

    “Ay, that we are,” added Mrs. Jolliffe.  “Why, it’ll he dark presently, and how is he to get down in the dark?”

    The round, rosy face of little Dick was now reared up beside the face of the owl.  He looked like a cherub too, but with a difference.

    Mr. Bolton shook his head, and said rather gruffly, “Now, what are we to think of this here behaviour?  What with getting yourself lifted off your legs, a-ringing the church bells, and what with setting yourself fast in the chimney, climbing after jackdaws’ nests, and what with sailing in the washtub, and what with getting yourself mixed up with the weights of the parish clock, you’re a handful to your family, I do declare, and a caution to parties about to marry."

    Instead of looking at all penitent, the little urchin only said, “But you won’t tell, Jolly dear — you won’t really tell?”

    “Yes,” answered Mrs. Jolliffe, stolidly, “I shall tell; so now you know.  And how anybody that’s only to eat lettices and green meat generally is ever to conquer you! Of course I shall tell.”

    “Well, then, just throw up the cord,” said the little fellow, “and I’ll be down in a minute.”

    “I shouldn’t wonder if that boy Andrew has been helping you,” observed Mrs. Jolliffe.  “If he has, it may be as much as his place is worth."

    It was never worth more than ninepence a day; but the discussion was just then cut short by the sound of voices.  Felix and his brother came down the grass walk.

    “What’s all this?” said Felix; but before Mrs. Jolliffe and Mr. Bolton had explained, he had taken in the whole matter, and what was more, he evidently thought nothing of it.

    Amias brought a fruit-ladder, Felix called the little fellow down from his wicker nest, and when he was upon it and conveniently near, gave him a not unfriendly slap on his chubby person.  “You had better look out, you little monkey,” he remarked, in a casual and general sort of way.  Little Dick said he would, and Felix, mounting the ladder, looked into the basket, saw the owl and the lantern, and a quantity of mown grass; also two books of fairy tales which Dick had been reading.  He brought these last down and put out the light.  “The basket is a good-for-nothing old thing,” he observed to Jolliffe as he descended; “the child may as well be allowed to keep it.”

    Mrs. Jolliffe almost held up her hands.  “Is that the way to bring up a child?” was her mental answer.  “Well, after this week we shall wash at home, so it does not so much signify.”

    Felix was not half so fond of his little brother as a parent would have been, but he was, on the whole, nearly as indulgent.  Dick, while he slowly retreated, heard permission given for him to keep the clothes-basket, but a ready instinct assured him that he would do well to retire from observation.  He had other pieces of mischief on his mind beside the building of that child-nest in the tree, so he evaded his aunt when he heard her calling him, and creeping up to his little room, tumbled into bed and went to sleep as fast as possible.

    He slept sweetly.  So did not Mrs. Snaith, though she was much fatigued; a foreboding thought of impending questions haunted her.  And as between ten and eleven o’clock the next morning she came forth from her tiny cottage to bring her little girls to the vicarage, her senses seemed to be sharpened both by the new scene and the leisure given her for remarking it.

    Miss de Berenger had asked her to bring the children.  As well then, she thought, as at some future time.  The little creatures, exquisitely neat and clean, with sunny locks flowing under their limp white hats, walked on before her, while she, very plainly clad, came after, all in sober brown.  She entered the parsonage gate, and there stood the vicar in his white gown; he had just been marrying a rustic couple at the church, and was leisurely divesting himself of this long, white garment, which was so clean, that between the two great dark fir-trees on the lawn, it seemed almost to shine.

    Felix came up when he saw the children, met them just as they reached the front door, and gave a hand to each; then addressed the nurse pleasantly.  But, hardly noticing her answer, he seated himself on the outside of the dining-room window and cast attentive glances at his two little guests, who, unabashed and calm, looked at him with wide-open eyes of the sweetest blue-grey, and found it interesting to notice how the clerk was folding up that long, white gown, and how a tame jackdaw had come hopping up to Felix, and was perching herself on his knee.  Sometimes the children answered when Felix spoke, sometimes the nurse, but an inward trembling shook her.  She had thought the shy anxieties of those few moments would soon be over; but no — far otherwise.  She looked earnestly at the clergyman, at this Mr. Felix de Berenger, and she saw in his face no recognition, but a growing conviction made her more aware that she did not see him for the first time.  A dark, thin man of middle height, a pleasant face — though rather an anxious one — thin features.  And the hair?  Well, what of the hair?  Felix took off his hat presently, for the morning was warm; then rising, he turned the other side of his head towards her, as he called up at an open window, “Dick, Dick!  Come down, you little monkey.  Come; I want you.”  Yes, there it was, visible enough — one lock narrow, and perfectly white, among the otherwise umber waves of thick dark hair.

    The nurse felt for the moment as if her heart stood still, and all was up with her.  The curate!  It was the curate who had been kind to her in her worst adversity, who had given her a shilling in the hop-garden.

    He showed no signs of recognition.  How, indeed, should he know her again, or she fail to know him again?  He was not altered, in the least, and had, as she instantly remembered, seen many and many a poor creature since such as she had been.  But she — her lean, gaunt figure was changed by several years of peace, comfort, and good living.  She was inclined, for her age, to be rather stout now.  She was very neatly and becomingly dressed, for in place of that flimsy faded clothing, she wore plain dark colours, and her shining hair was disposed in two close bands down her face.

    She looked well into his eyes, impelled by her very fear to seek the worst at once.  He did not know her.  And now a lovely little boy in a pinafore was coming up; a dimpled creature as brown as a berry — hair and eyes, and face — excepting where the clear crimson of the cheek showed through a little.

    He was inclined to be very shamefaced.  Amabel was not.  She came up to him and gave him the usual greeting of infancy, a kiss.  Then Delia slipped off Mr. de Berenger’s knee, and after inspecting Dick for an instant, she also kissed him; and then the children smiled at one another all over their little faces, and, taking hands, walked off among the trees chattering.

    Pretty little Dick!  He was supremely happy that morning.  The joy of their presence was as if two little child angels had come to play with him.  He made them welcome to all his best things; he also took them up the fruit-ladder to his nest.  For more than four years after this, those beautiful nestlings spent their happiest hours in it.

    But on this first climb into it they were aided by Andrew, who had originally helped Dick to tie the basket safely, and was now very impressive with all the children.  “They were on no account to go up, nor down neither, without his help; they were to promise solemnly that they never would — to promise as sure as death.  So they did, knowing and caring about death nothing at all.  But they knew they were happy — Dick especially — and he fell easily and at once under the influence of their sex, and never so long as he lived escaped from it any more.

    The leaves were very thick underneath them, so that they could not be seen from below.  But they could see the great shining face of the church clock, the rooks leading off their second brood, the white road winding on through the heathery common, and far beyond a little hill in old Sir Sam’s park, on the slope of which does and fawns were lying half hidden by the bracken.

    In the mean time Mrs. Snaith, little aware what they were about, had been introduced by Jolliffe to the clean kitchen, and there, after a good deal of polite haggling, as, “Well, ma’am, I’m sure it’s a shame,” and “Well, ma’am, I couldn’t bear myself sitting with my hands before me,” had been accommodated with an apron, and allowed to make herself useful by stringing and slicing beans.  The party had been invited to an early dinner at the parsonage, and there were rabbits and parsley sauce to prepare, and there were late red currants to strip from the stalks for a fruit pudding.  Aided by the circumstance that they had something to do, the ladies soon became friendly, and talked of such subjects as really interested them.

    “Well, it is a very small cottage, ma’am; there you’re right.”

    “And in lodgings you’re saved a vast of trouble, so that if it wasn’t for the dripping―"

    “Ah, indeed; you may well mention that, ma’am.  Why, not one in ten of those landladies is to be depended on.”

    Mrs. Snaith assented.

    “And to sit in your parlour,” she continued, “and know as well as can be that they’re making their own crusts with you’re dripping, and that you mayn’t go down to see it, is enough to spoil the best of tempers and the least particular.”

    They were rather a large party at dinner, for the new governess and her young sister had arrived, and Felix, as he sat at the head of the table, had only just marshalled them, said grace, and begun to wonder how the one young servant of the establishment would wait upon them all, when Mrs. Snaith appeared, carrying in the first dish, which she set before him and uncovered, as if she was performing some ordinary and looked-for duty.

    “Mrs. Snaith!” he exclaimed.

    “I should wish it, if you please, sir, whenever my young ladies is here,” she replied calmly.

    A very convenient wish, and she began to carry it out with a quiet and homely dignity that he much admired, every now and then giving the gentlest motherly admonition to the children, including little Dick.  Felix had a certain fear of a lady; womanhood was sufficiently alarming to him without fine clothes, accomplishments, and a polished and self-possessed manner.  He found himself most attracted by a good woman who was without these extraneous advantages; this homely dignity and unruffled humility pleased him, and commanded his respect.  He let Mrs. Snaith alone, and under her auspices the dinner went on pleasantly to its conclusion.

    Little Amabel and her sister won great approval by their sweet looks and pretty behaviour at that dinner.  They had been well taught, and could conduct themselves perfectly well at table.

    Felix regarded them with attention; they were graceful, they were fair, but he saw no special likeness to old Sir Sam’s family.

    The children had, in fact, been helped, by their mother’s intense sympathy, to the inheritance of a certain pensive wistfulness that was in their father’s soul and countenance; the reflection of it was in their faces — only in their faces — and even there it appeared more as the expression of a sentiment than of a passion, that abiding passion of regret for his lameness that the bad, beautiful youth was always brooding over.  When their lovely little faces were at rest, and no smiles rippled over them, their mother could often see that look, a witness to their father’s sorrow and their mother’s pity; it gave a strange, and to her a very touching, interest to both the children.  There was an unusual contrast between the still deeps in their lucid, grave blue eyes, and the rosy lips, so dimpled and waggish, so ready to soften and smile, and show a mouthful of pearls.

    “Well, Felix, well, Amias,” said Miss de Berenger, when this dinner was over, and she was left alone with her two nephews, “I suppose you will both admit that I have brought a treasure into the family.  Yes!  How well that woman waits!  What a sight the great heaps of potatoes must have been for her, and the cabbages and the buttered beans that Ann and Mary consumed!  I call to mind now your dear father asking me if I remembered a dinner we were at once, at their mother’s.  ‘Remember it!’ I exclaimed.  ‘Ay, thou poor ghost of a meal, while memory holds her place in an empty stomach.’  I was inspired to say it, just as Shakespeare was at first, though in general I am not at all poetical.  And then the tipsy cake she gave us in the evening!  It was a tremendous falsehood to call it by such a name.  Tipsy, indeed!  How was a whole cake to get tipsy on one glass of South African wine?  You need not look so wise, Amias; a degrading thing, I suppose you’ll say, to make fun of even a dumb cake, when it’s drunk,” proceeded Miss de Berenger, after a pause.  “As if there could be real fun in the inebriation of anything whatever.  Yes!  Why, how very ridiculous you two are!  I never saw such risible fellows in my life.  And you a clergyman, too, Felix!  What can you be laughing at now?”

    While this conversation took place in the garden, and while the children played together, and the vegetarians, walking between thick hedges of peas and beans, and ridges of new potatoes, felt that they had come into a land of fatness and plenty, Mrs. Snaith, helping to wash the glass in the neat kitchen, was made welcome to a good deal of information that no amount of questioning would have procured for those in a different station of life to her informers.

    These were Mr. Bolton, who had just stepped up to gather some early summer jennetings, but out of delicacy forbore to take them under the eyes of Felix, and so waited till he should come in; and Mrs. Jolliffe, who in dismissing the washer-woman, after counting out the clean clothes she had brought home, took occasion, with patronizing suavity, to recommend her to the new-comer as a very honest woman, and a good hand at getting up children's' clothes.

    Mrs. Snaith said she would employ her, and the grateful and respectful thanks that she and Jolliffe both received opened the heart of the latter still further, so that as the little woman retreated across the yard her praises followed her.

    “An honest little woman, and industrious too, Mrs. Snaith; and has lately got the laundry work of the clerks at the brewery.  Still, as she said to me, ‘Mrs. Jollife,’ said she, ‘there’s no sweet without its bitter, and most of those gentlemen air such extra large sizes, that I feel it hard I should hev to do justice to their shirts, at twopence-halfpenny apiece, when I should hev hed the same money if they’d been smaller.’“

    “Her present husband is not to complain of for his size,” observed Mr. Bolton.

    “No, but that was a conveniency,” quoth Mrs. Jolliffe; “and, for aught I know, the conveniency helped to decide her, as such things very frequently do, and no harm neither.”

    Mrs. Jolliffe spoke with such a meaning smile, that Mrs. Snaith testified some curiosity. whereupon she continued.

    “For, as I said, a prudent little woman she was.  Her first husband’s Sunday coat was laid by as good as new; so she took and cut it smaller for her second to be married in, and very respectable he looked in it, and it saved money.  And why not Mr. Bolton?” she inquired, with a certain sharpness of reproof in her voice.

    “Why not, indeed!” answered Mr. Bolton, hastening to agree, though at first his face had assumed a slightly sarcastic expression.  Then, on reflection, he veered round to his first thought.  “But it don’t seem a feeling thing to do, neither.”

    “Feeling!” quoth Mrs. Jolliffe, in the tone of one who makes a telling retort.  “You and I can’t talk together about feelings, and hope to agree, at all.  Some folks have most feeling for that that can hold up its head and stop at home, which is my case.  I don’t pretend to understand them whose feeling is for that that must run away."

    Here both Mrs. Jolliffe and Mr. Bolton laughed, and Mrs. Snaith was appealed to in words that confused and startled her, for they seemed to hint at her wretched husband’s condition, as if the speaker knew all about it.

    “When the law has got hold of a man, that man is not, therefore, to be cried down by me, and never shall be.  No, nor by you neither, ma’am, as your actions make evident.”

    Mrs. Snaith flushed and trembled, but said nothing, and with what relief and what gratitude for it, she heard the rest of the conversation, neither of those who marked her rising colour could have the least idea.

    “Now, my feelings go across the water.  What’s old Sam to me?”

    “That you should talk of him so disrespectful, almost at his own gates!”

    “Why not?” replied Mr. Bolton.  “Do I owe him for a single drop of his beer, either given to me or sold to me?”

    “Right well you know that he’d have lost his seat if he’d given any away at the last election.”

    “Right well I do know it.  For all that, old Sam, as I was saying, never gives a pleasant word to his neighbours.  And never was a freer, friendlier man than Mr. John, and free and friendly is he treated now by me and by others.  Does he find any difficulty in getting intelligence of all he wants to know?  I should say not.  Why, Mrs. Snaith, Mr. John has more than one correspondent here, that knows as much about him as maybe I do, and maybe you do.”

    “Mr. John?” exclaimed Mrs. Snaith, now breathing freely.  “Oh, Mr. John de Berenger it were that you spoke of?”

    “Why, yes,” said Mr. Bolton, looking at her with some admiration for what he considered an excellently feigned surprise.  “Mr. John de Berenger, of course.  Who else?“



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