OLD Sir Sam, as people called him, otherwise Sir
Samuel Simcox de Berenger, was in some respects a particularly agreeable
man. He had some undesirable qualities, but from the first he had
been so strangely dealt with by circumstances, by nature, and by
providence, so drawn on through the natural openings made by other men’s
mistakes, that if he had been any better, he would have been a hero; and
that he certainly was not.
Most people thought he was a great deal richer than he ought
to have been, and yet he had never taken a shilling but what the laws of
his country accorded to him.
His own father, having two sons, had taken him, the elder,
into partnership, and given him a share in his great brewery business.
The younger had gone into the army, obtaining the father’s consent, though
it was very reluctantly given.
This second son had married very young, and left three
children, one of whom was the father of Felix, and another his aunt, Sarah
de Berenger. To her the old grandfather had given a handsome fortune
during his lifetime — had, in short, settled upon her a small estate,
which had come into the family by the female side, so that she was much
better off than her two brothers; for when, after his younger son’s death,
the old man also died, it was found that, owing to some fatal informality
in the will, the representatives of the younger branch could not possess
themselves of that interest in his business and his property which he had
always expressed himself as intending to leave them.
Sir Samuel, without a lawsuit, was evidently master of all.
He took immense pains to get the best legal opinions, and confidently
expected that his two nephews would try the case. Being a pugnacious
man, he looked forward to a fair fight, not without a certain amount of
pleasure and excitement.
Perhaps the two nephews took counsel’s opinion also; but
however that might be they never gave him a chance of fighting.
Instead of going to law they took themselves off, left him to swallow up
all, and maintained themselves independently of him and his business.
There is little doubt that he would have been, to a great
extent, the conqueror, if there had been a suit. In such a case, he
would have held his head high, and also have done something for his late
brother’s family; but when he found that he was left master of the
situation without a suit, and also without a reconciliation, he felt it.
To win in open fight is never so necessary to the comfort and pride of the
winner, if he is right, as if he is wrong.
While Sir Samuel was considering that, though these nephews
could make good no claim at law, yet they ought to have something,
one of them chanced to die without a will, and he chose to consider
himself the young man’s heir-at-law. That is to say, he reflected
that the dead nephew, having been the elder of the two, ought to have had,
if he had lived, a double share; he would certainly have given him a
double share. So he divided off that portion of his possessions as
having been destined for his nephew, and he always called it “what I came
in for, in consequence of poor Tom’s premature death.” Thus that
claim settled itself.
The other nephew, the father of Felix, never quarrelled with
him, but rather seemed to set him at nought. Yet he felt that he
must do his duty by him. To that end, he informed him that he should
take his second son, then an infant, into the business; which in due time
he did, with what results has already been explained.
He never had any thanks from the father of the baby, who went
to India before the future brewer could run alone; but he occasionally
called the child “Small-beer,” by which he made it evident that Sir Samuel
had leave to carry out his noble intention if he pleased. Sir Samuel
felt that too; for though he retained all the material advantage that had
come of the unlucky will, he none the less fretted under a sense of the
contempt that he knew his nephew held him in, and was always particularly
cautious what he said, lest he should provoke an answer.
So he lived in the exercise of a certain self-control,
feeling it, in general, politic to be bland and obliging to his nephew;
and this, to a man of his choleric nature, was galling. At the same
time, he took all opportunities of being affectionate and useful to his
niece Sarah, who, being herself very well off, felt her brother’s poverty
the less keenly, and was often inclined to identify herself with the rich
side of the family, as finding riches a great thing to have in common.
Sarah lost both her brothers in their comparative youth. As for
Felix, her nephew, his was a grievance once removed — an old story.
His great-uncle, for a time, had been very kind to Amias — had, in fact,
shown a decided affection for him; it was as well now to let the old
great-grandfather’s will be forgotten.
Felix was helped in his wish to let it pass into the
background, by his liking for old Sir Samuel’s sons, the youngest of whom
was only one year his own senior; for Sir Samuel had married somewhat late
in life, so that his sons and his great-nephews were contemporaries.
And now two little girls had appeared upon the scene, to Sir
Samuel’s great surprise and very natural annoyance. His great-nephew
had been the cause of their coming; and Miss de Berenger had told him
pointedly that they were his grandchildren.
He was secretly enraged with Felix — would like to have had
an encounter with him about it; the more so as he felt inclined to believe
it was so.
No one knew so well as himself how utterly in the wrong his
favourite son had always been in his quarrels with him. In fact, his
affection for the scapegrace had enabled him to endure a vast deal that
any father would have found hard, and in hope of winning, and then
retaining him, to be almost subservient and long-indulgent.
But the favourite had got into debt many times after being
brought home and freed. Finally, the father had been obliged to send
him from home on an allowance, and John had actually gambled away a great
part of his interest even in that.
His father knew he had somehow deeply entangled himself, but
knew not all. Sometimes he got a hint from Felix, to whom, at rare
intervals, John still wrote, for as boys the two had been friends.
When Sir Samuel found that Felix was arranging for the education of these
little De Berengers, he felt how hard it was that his son should confide
in a cousin rather than in himself, and he waited a week, in confident
expectation that Felix would lay a case before him, declare that these
were his grandchildren, and make some demand on him for money; he intended
to dispute every inch of the ground, not give a shilling, unless the fact
was fully proved, and even then beat Felix down to the lowest sum he could
possibly be induced to accept. But the week came to an end, and
Felix said not a word.
Everybody declared that these two little girls were the image
of John. He felt a devouring anxiety to see them, for he was an
affectionate old fellow. He had vowed to himself that they were none
of his, and that, as John had acknowledged no marriage, it could be no
duty of his to take upon him the great expense of their maintenance; but
here they were at his gates, and he longed to see them.
He asked Felix whether they had asked after him.
“How should they, uncle,” exclaimed Felix, “when they never
heard of your existence?”
“Why — why,” stuttered Sir Samuel, “don’t they know anything
at all about — the family?”
“Evidently not. One of them can talk plainly, and she
seems, so far as I can judge, to know nothing about any of us.”
“I would have done well by them, John,” muttered the old man,
as he drove home with an aching heart; “but you never had any bowels
towards your old father. Why, look here; he flings his children at
me, without so much as asking me for my blessing on them!”
The next day, about one o’clock, little Amabel and little
Delia were seated on two high chairs at the table, in their tiny cottage,
and waiting for their dinner, when an old gentleman looked in at the open
door, smiled, nodded to them, and then came inside, taking off his hat and
putting it on the window-sill among the flower-pots. A nice old
gentleman, with white hair and white eyebrows. The little girls
returned his nod and smiles, then the elder lifted up her small, high
voice, and called through the open door that led to the little back
kitchen, “Mrs. Naif, Mrs. Naif!” A cheery voice answered, and then
the younger child tried her skill as a summons. “Mrs. Naif, dear!
Make haste, Mrs. Naif! Company’s come to dinner.”
Mrs. Snaith presently appeared with a good-sized rice
pudding, and set it on the table, which was graced with a clean cloth.
Sir Samuel greeted her when she curtsied. “Good
morning, ma’am. You are the nurse here, I presume?“
“Yes, sir, I am.”
“Will you be seated, and allow me just to look on awhile.”
Mrs. Snaith sat down, and helped the little ones to their
pudding. The elder was inclined to be slightly shy, the younger,
pulling Mrs. Snaith by the sleeve, pointed at Sir Samuel with her spoon,
and whispered some loving confidences in her ear.
“What does she say?” asked Sir Samuel.
The nurse smiled. “She says, sir, ‘Give the company
“Does she, pretty lamb?” exclaimed the old baronet, with a
sudden access of fervour; then recollecting himself, and noticing that the
nurse was startled, and coloured slightly, he said, by way of continuing
his sentence, “I didn’t exactly catch your name, I think?”
“Mrs. Snaith, sir.”
“Yes, her name’s Mrs. Naith every day,” said the little
Amabel, “but when she’s very good we call her Mamsey.”
“Her name’s Mamsey when she gives us strawberries and milk,”
the other child explained. “But she hasn’t got a black face,
company,” she continued, addressing him earnestly, as if it behoved him to
testify to the truth of her words.
“A black face!” exclaimed the puzzled guest.
Mrs. Snaith explained. “There were some American
children with a black nurse, sir, at the seaside where we’ve been.
They called her Mamsey, and so these little dears imitated them.”
By this time it was evident that the nurse was ill at ease;
she perceived the deep interest with which her unbidden guest watched the
children’s words and ways. Her pride as a mother was not deceived
with any thought that this was a tribute to their beauty or infantile
sweetness; she knew this must be the rich man, the great man of the place,
who was held in that peculiar respect which merit and benevolence can
never command. People say of Eastern nations, that those who would
hold sway over them must needs make themselves feared, and they do not
enough consider that this is almost as true at their own doors as it is at
the ends of the earth. When the villagers had nodded and whispered
in her presence, mysteriously hinting that anybody at a glance could see
who these children were, though she would not answer any questions, she
had inwardly felt that the great and proud man whom they had in their
thoughts would know better, that he would write to his son, who would at
once reply that he knew nothing about these children, and there would be
But here sat Sir Samuel, gazing at Amabel and Delia with a
scrutiny sometimes keen, sometimes almost tender. He was making them
prattle; he was at last actually drawing his wooden chair to the table,
and, at their desire, partaking of the new potatoes which concluded their
He took so little notice of her that she had no need to
speak; and that homely dignity which was natural to her coming to her aid,
she rose and began to wait on the children and their guest, moving in and
out between the little front room where they were dining and the tiny
kitchen behind; marking all the old man’s efforts to please the small
coquettes, and how easily they were won, and how engaging they were; and
how noisy the canary was, bustling about in his cage, and singing every
time they laughed, as if he longed for some attention too; how the pale,
overblown roses outside let their dropping leaves float in and drift over
For the first time in her life, as she stood in the back
kitchen, with hands pressed in one another, listening, she felt a jealous
pang, not of her darlings themselves, but of the refined grace and
delicate beauty which had so played into her hands as to make the part she
had chosen for herself easy.
It was easy to play the part of their nurse — she had elected
to play it — and yet her mother’s heart resented its being always taken
for granted that she could be nothing more.
“I fare almost afraid they’ll despise me when they get a bit
older,” she thought, “if they do, dear lambs, I must take them away from
these gentlefolks before it’s too late.”
Sir Samuel calling her, she came in and found Amabel on his
knee. The brown face of little Dick was seen; he was leaning in at
the casement, and Delia, leaning out, was kissing him.
Beautiful little Dick was as happy about that time as
anything that breathes can be. When they saw him Sir Samuel lost the
attention of the other children.
They must have their sun-bonnets on. Mamsey must reach
“Did they love him? Would they like to see him again?”
Oh, yes, they liked him, they liked him very much, but they
wanted to go now with Dick; and presently they all three set forth
together down the quiet road to the vicarage, leaving Sir Samuel and Mrs.
He was sitting in the Windsor chair, lost in thought, and
looking after the children as well as the clustering rose-branches would
She stood a moment expecting him to speak, but he did not;
and, unable to bear inaction, she fetched in a tray, and when he looked
round, she was quietly clearing the table, placing the remains of the
simple dinner upon it.
He got up and she paused.
“You have behaved with great discretion,” he said with
energy; “and the reticence which I hear you have displayed — the refusing,
I mean, to answer people’s idle questions — has my entire approval, — I
may say, commands my respect.” Mrs. Snaith was silent.
“I am quite aware,” he continued, “of all that passed between
you and Miss de Berenger. I do not see that even she had a right to
expect a full account of matters from you; but — but “— here he paused,
baffled by the nurse’s grave silence — “but the excellent care with which
you fulfil your trust deserves my thanks, and, as I said before, your
refusal to answer idle questions commands my respect.”
“Thank you, sir. It is my wish to keep quiet, and I
don’t fare to think I have any call to answer questions.”
“But if I asked you some,” he answered, a little startled,
“of course it would be different.”
“I beg your pardon. Not at all different, sir.”
“I am Sir Samuel de Berenger, Mr. John de Berenger’s father.
Now what do you say?”
“Nothing, Sir Samuel.”
“Nothing! You’re ordered to keep silence, even to me?”
“Sir, I never said I were under orders. I am not.”
“And I ask your pardon, sir; but if you know all I said to
Miss de Berenger, you know all I ever shall say.”
“Why, you foolish woman, you are enough to provoke a saint!
You quite mistake your employer’s meaning. What are you afraid of?
What do you mean? Do you think you are to deny to me whose and what
these children are? It’s contrary to all reason — contrary to my
son’s obvious meaning; clean against their interest. Why, it’s — I
never met with such folly in my life!"
Here Sir Samuel launched into certain violent denunciations
against folly in general, and this fool in particular; but as she did not
further enrage him by making any reply, but helplessly gazed at him while
he stormed at her, on the other side of the table, he soon managed to calm
himself sufficiently to recur to the matter in hand.
“And whatever may be your motive, I tell you, there’s no more
use than there is reason in your present line of conduct. It’s no
use your denying to me that these are my grandchildren, I can see it in
their faces. It’s no use your denying to me that they were thrown in
my niece’s way on purpose that I might hear of them. No, don’t
speak, woman — it’s my turn to speak now. I tell you all that stuff
is of no use; I am not to be deceived.”
In the energy of his indignation he leaned over the table and
shook his fist at her, and reddened to the roots of his snowy hair; while
she, pale and doubtful, continued to find safety only in silence.
Every moment for thought seemed to be something won; but she won many, and
he had checked himself, and sat down again in his Windsor chair, and was
fuming there in more quiet fashion, while, still standing with her hand
upon the tray, she was searching for some reply.
At last he said with a sigh, as if something in his own mind
had checked him as much as her behaviour, “Perhaps the poor lambs were not
born in wedlock.”
“Oh, yes, they were,” she answered, sharply and decidedly;
“that’s a question I’d answer to anybody, let him be who he would.”
“You can prove your words?”
“I could, if there was any need, Sir Samuel.”
“Makes nothing of me — cares nothing what I think. But
you never did, John. If there was any need!”
“You have a son, sir, by what I can make out,” said
the nurse, finishing her sentence with a certain emphasis.
“Oh yes — a son; his conduct looks like a son. You know
well enough that I have a son. What of him?”
“If you’ll give me leave to advise you, sir —
“Well, sir, though I don’t know the gentleman, I fare to
think that if you wrote to him he would answer like a gentleman, and tell
you — “
“Tell me what?”
“What would get the mistake out of your head, sir.”
“I don’t know where to find him.”
“Indeed, sir,” she answered slowly; “then worse luck for me!
And yet,” she continued, as if in deep cogitation, “there are those not
very far off that do know.”
Sir Samuel did not at all doubt her word, but he answered
with the surprise he really felt at her making such an admission.
“You don’t say so!”
“Yes, sir, I do.”
“If I write a letter to my son and bring it to you, will you
promise to direct it to him?” exclaimed the old baronet.
He regarded this admission as tantamount to a confession of
all, and she, considering, on the contrary, that the letter would be so
answered as to put an end to all, gave her consent.
"I’m not that certain about it, sir, that I can promise, but
I will do my best.”
He sat a few minutes longer, thinking and calming himself,
then rose and put on his gloves, looking at her, meanwhile, almost with a
smile in his eyes. “You are a remarkably inconsistent woman,” he
observed, but not at all rudely.
“I said, Mrs. Snaith — But, pooh! what is the good of
arguing? Do you want any money?” he added sharply, and at the same
time pulling out his purse.
“No, sir,” she answered, colouring and drawing back.
“Well, if you should, you’ll know whom to come to; and I’ll
send you down the letter to-morrow. Good morning.”
“Good morning, Sir Samuel,” said Mrs. Snaith. And even
to those simple words she seemed to impart an air of thoughtfulness and
He went away without the shadow of a doubt in his mind that
these little girls were his grandchildren; and he did not consider, what
was not the less perfectly certain, that if their nurse had made a claim
on him, and come to the village demanding that he should acknowledge and
assist them, he would have required ample proof of their rights in him,
and perhaps not have been at all cordial to them at first, though this had
As to the likeness. His son was a small, fair man.
Absence and love had done a good work for his face in his father’s
recollection. These small, fair creatures were like what he had been
in complexion as a child, but their dimpled features and dark eyelashes
were far different. Yet Sir Samuel, reflecting on their sweet little
faces, absolutely felt, not only that they recalled his son’s childhood,
but that he had almost forgotten, till he saw them, what a pretty and
engaging little fellow his son had been as a child.
THE next morning Sir Samuel’s carriage stopped again
at the door of the tiny cottage. A footman got down, went in, and
soon came back to his master, with “The nurse’s respects, Sir Samuel, and
I was to say, if you wished to see the young ladies, they are up at the
vicarage doing their lessons.”
“I should like to see her.”
“She hopes you’ll excuse her, Sir Samuel; she is making
bread, and has her hands in the dough.”
Sir Samuel alighted, with the smallest of brown paper parcels
in his hand, and sought Mrs. Snaith in her little clean back kitchen.
“I thought, Mrs. Snaith, I need not trouble you to go all the way — a mile
or more — to the post with this. I can post it for you.”
“Oh, sir, it will be no trouble, thank you kindly; I have to
walk over to the shop.”
“If you’ll give me pen and ink, I’ll direct it, then.”
He looked about, but saw nothing excepting the copper before which Mrs.
Snaith was standing, with both hands plunged into the bread-pan.
Mrs. Snaith, blushing, said she had no pen and ink, but, if
he would leave the letter, it would go all right. “It’s not often I
have to write anything,” she continued, as if excusing herself; “and my
little ladies do their copies at Mr. de Berenger’s.”
He half smiled, perceiving that his device for obtaining the
direction had for the present failed.
“I’ll see that it go all right, sir,’ she repeated.
He was too proud to sue for what he wanted.
“So be it, then,” he answered; took a letter from the brown
paper covering and laid it on the clean edge of the copper. “I shall
be much obliged to you,” he said, as he retired. “You’ll let me pay
for the stamp, of course?”
"How simple she is!“ he thought. “She might just as
well have told me my poor boy’s address, considering how easy it will be
for me to find it out at the post office.”
But it did not prove so easy. In less than a quarter of
an hour, Mr. Bolton passed, with a light cart full of vegetables that he
had brought from the parsonage, and Mrs. Snaith, coming out to him, asked
him if he would oblige a neighbour by getting that letter sent to Mr. John
Mr. Bolton turned the letter over and over several times, and
looked critically at the paper and curiously at Mrs. Snaith.
“I’ll never breathe a word to any soul, if you will, Mr.
Bolton, how it was, or who it was that got it done for me,” she pleaded.
Still Mr. Bolton paused and seemed to cogitate.
So she urged him further. “I’ve been that annoyed
lately about him, that I can’t bear myself till I get things explained.”
“Well, you’ll observe,” answered Mr. Bolton, answering what
he supposed to be her thought, but in fact only his own false supposition—
“you’ll observe that there’s no post-office in nature equal to ours for
sureness; and likewise, if you want a letter to be forwarded, you must
write that in their foreign words; also you should never put ‘esquire’ on
a letter that’s to go abroad — they’re apt to mistake the word for a man’s
name. And you’ve always got to prepay a foreign letter.”
Mrs. Snaith produced a shilling, and to her surprise received
only sixpence change, but she was too polite to make any remark; and,
having given Mr. Bolton the letter, hastened to escape from a subject
almost sure to lead to questioning.
“And how is your good lady, Mr. Bolton? I saw her on
Saturday in the shop, looking as fresh as a rose.”
“Fresh she is!“ answered Mr. Bolton with enthusiasm. He
had lately married a wife many years younger than himself. “Fresh
she is, and always pleased. What her father said has come true.
‘Cornelius,’ says the old gentleman (he’s in the shoe line), ‘Cornelius,
you’ll find her a rare one to make you laugh; her cheerful temper is as
good as a daily blow out.’”
Mrs. Snaith, considering this a vulgar compliment,
instinctively drew herself up; but the proud husband was spared any
observation of her silent disapproval, for at that instant the horse,
perhaps thinking he had waited long enough in the sun, suddenly started
down the road at a good pace, and Mr. Bolton, after calling to him in vain
to stop, had to run after him. Mrs. Snaith only remained outside
till he was seated and had the reins in his hand, then went in, glad to
have got the letter forwarded, but with a lowered opinion of Mr. Bolton,
as rather countrified and common, considering what a good shop he had, and
that he kept the post-office.
Sir Samuel, who was not at all in the habit of shopping, went
into Mr. Bolton’s shop the next day, feigning to want some melon-seed, of
which he ordered a ridiculously large quantity, and then asked Mrs. Bolton
what foreign letters had been posted that day, or the day before.
It appeared that no foreign letters whatever had been posted
for more than a fortnight.
Sir Samuel brought himself to say, “I have lost my son’s (Mr.
John de Berenger’s) address; if one directed to him should be posted, will
you kindly copy the address for me?“
“I will, Sir Samuel,” said young Mrs. Bolton; and when her
husband came in, she related to him what had passed.
“Lost the address, have the old gentleman?” quoth Mr. Bolton,
calmly. “Well, now, his gardener won’t put those melon seeds in, I
know, but they must be sent. Only think of old Sam’s losing the
“It’s a pity but what he was more careful,” observed Mrs.
Bolton; and so few letters passed through her hand, that it gave her no
trouble to keep this request in mind.
Four days passed. “John’s not in England,” thought Sir
Samuel, “or I should have had an answer before now.” Two more days
passed. “John’s not in France,” thought Sir Samuel. A
fortnight. “John’s not in Italy, nor in Germany either.” Six
weeks. “John’s not in the States — at least, anywhere near the
seaboard — nor in Canada.”
Three more months, and a letter from Ceylon, in John’s
handwriting, was lying on his table. It was dated from a small place
up the country, among the coffee plantations; was a very satisfactory
letter on the whole, but the father soon saw, both by the date and the
contents, that his son had not yet received the important letter.
With a certain moderation of compunction which, however, satisfied Sir
Samuel, he expressed his regret that his family, and his father in
particular, had no better reason to be proud of him. He hoped to do
better; had got employment that maintained him, and should write from time
to time. This was a very hot place — steaming hot; in fact, he had
to have a black boy standing beside him while he shaved, to wipe the dew
that every few minutes gathered and clouded the looking-glass. The
boots he took off at night were covered in the morning with mould.
But there was plenty of alligator shooting; he and some other fellows had
shot two the week before. This was on the third page. His
father went on to the end, which, with a description of how the other
fellows who were newly come out “funked” when they saw a serpent, ended
rather abruptly, “Your affectionate son, JOHN DE BERENGER.”
Sir Samuel’s heart was appeased; both his pride and his
affection soothed themselves over this letter. “The boy has not
forgotten me; and he means to do better. Well, well, he has sown his
wild oats. He will make me proud of him after all. Been in
Ceylon six weeks after stopping at Heidelberg all the winter. Ah!"
In the mean time Ann Thimbleby fulfilled her task of
education as well as she knew how; she was lucky enough to take sufficient
interest in it to induce her to make experiments, and when one failed she
tried another. At that time her inquisitive mind was much exercised
on the subject of etymology, but the pains she took to instil some liking
for it into the minds of her two elder pupils, bore no fruit, excepting to
make them like playing with words, while the little ones became familiar
with a few uncommon expressions, which they used glibly in their childish
“He’s a greedy, nefarious boy,” said Amabel to Sir
Samuel, speaking of Dick; “and we’re not friends with him.”
Sir Samuel had come to see the children; he was seated in a
chair on the parsonage lawn when she said this, and a slight stirring five
feet from the ground, in the great fir-tree, made him cast up an inquiring
glance, and observe Dick looking out, shamefaced and red.
“What has he been about?” asked the old man, more to make the
fair little creature talk than with any interest in Dick’s delinquency.
“Coz gave each of us a sugared almond,” said Amabel, pouting.
“I said, ‘Dick, you may take a bite of mine,’ and he — Oh, Dick, you
in-principled boy, you gobbled it all up — and now,” she continued,
with deep melancholy, ”I can never get it back.”
Dick felt at that moment as much shame as mortals can feel
for any delinquency whatever, shame being born with us full grown, and
beginning, as a rule, to wax feeble before we have the truest cause to
feel it. He wondered how it could have come to pass that he had done
an action so utterly to be despised — wondered whether it would be
forgotten by the time he was grown up — and felt, though he was not equal
to the expression of such a thing, that his future prospects were blasted,
and his young life nipped as by a spring blight. How could he ever
show his face again!
He moved uneasily on his branch, hiding himself among the
thick greenery, and with dreary compunction listened to the conversation
below, which was very friendly and confiding. But could he believe
his ears? In spite of what had unfortunately occurred, the old uncle
in a very few minutes was actually calling to him.
“Come down, you little scaramouch; come here, I say. Do
you see what this is?”
A whole shilling! Not a new one, it is true, but good
for buying things with. Evidently for him! There was a
reprieve. He descended, blushing with beautiful confusion, took it,
darted out of the gate with it to a cottage below Mrs. Snaith’s, and
returned, almost able to hold up his head, with a goodly quantity of
“bull’s-eyes” screwed up in paper.
These articles of commerce have almost disappeared from any
but village shops. They are round lumps of sugar, flavoured with
peppermint, and marked across with blue and red bands.
Dick squatted down beside Amabel, and opened the screw of
paper. Sir Samuel was just thinking that she was a far lovelier
child than her father had ever been.
“No,” said the little creature, declining this
peace-offering, “I don’t like them, Dick; when I open my mouf they make my
tongue feel so cold.”
She turned away her face — but “how useful it is to have
“You’re cross,” said Dick. “I’m very sorry. Do
kiss me this once and make it up.”
“I don’t want to kiss you,” said Amabel.
"Do," pleaded Dick. “Well, if you will, I’ll give
you the other sixpence!“
There was the sixpence in his hand. Amabel looked at it
— paused, relented. “If you’ll go with me to the shop to spend it,”
she said, “I will.”
Thereupon the two children kissed each other, and being now
good friends again, left the bull’s-eyes on the grass and ran off together
through the vicarage gate; while the giver of the shilling was left to
amuse himself with little dimpled Delia, who, seated on his knee, answered
his questions about the seaside, and her lessons and Mamsey, as well as
she knew how.
A certain tenderness towards the children softened his heart,
and made him feel younger again. The love of money gave way before
it to a sufficient degree for the decision which he had formed, that they
should never want for anything. Little Delia’s lisping tongue
reminded him of the infantile talk of his own sons in their childhood.
He had taken no interest in, and made few observations on, other children,
therefore, when the behaviour of Amabel and Delia stirred in him
slumbering recollections of his own nursery, he regarded this as a proof
of likeness to his family, and did not know that such were the common ways
and wiles, and this was the ordinary English of childhood in general.
“But the motive,” thought Sir Samuel, when, having mounted
his horse, he went slowly along the shady road that led from the vicarage
past the nurse’s, and past two or three other cottages, towards his own
gate —“the motive. No human being acts without a motive, and I
cannot see the motive, however mistaken, that induces this woman to deny
that these are John’s children. Why, they’re as like him as they can
stare; and I could declare, when I see their little ways and hear them
lisp, that it’s my own boy’s over again.” He paused, then went on
slowly. “He might, to be sure, have threatened her that, if she
told, he would stop the supplies — for, of course, he was always in
imminent danger of being arrested whenever he came to see them; but he
sailed about the time that she brought them here, no doubt by his orders.
Well, I must wait. It is still just possible they may not be
his, after all (pooh it’s not possible, though). However, he will
not be long in letting me know. And considering that I’ve offered to
take the whole charge of them, and provide for them too, if they are —
Here comes Felix, looking as if he had the weight of the world on his
shoulders. — Well, nephew parson, how are you?”
Felix observed a certain familiar way in the greeting, a
cordiality that he was not accustomed to. Not to be outdone, he
shook hands with his uncle when the old man stopped his horse, and asked
where he could have been riding during the hottest hours of such a hot
Sir Samuel told him; went a little from the subject to
remarks in a casual way, that one of the little girls looked pale, and
then said abruptly, “I suppose I shall have to send her to the sea.”
Now, Felix knew that John de Berenger had written to his
father. “Has John acknowledged them, then?” he exclaimed with
Sir Samuel admitted that he had not "though, putting this
thing and that thing together, nephew parson,” he continued, “I no more
doubt the fact than you do.”
Felix paused; his conduct certainly appeared to show that he
did not doubt it. His aunt Sarah had taught the children to call him
coz, and he had not forbidden it. While he was considering what
answer to make, Sir Samuel repeated his former argument with himself.
“But, then, no human being acts without a motive, Felix.”
“What motive can that woman have, nephew parson, in declaring
that these children are none of mine?”
“I do not see that a motive is very far to seek,” observed
Felix, “if that is what you want.”
“Nephew parson, that precise thing is what I do want.”
“She is all-powerful while she receives whatever John allows
the children, and spends it as she pleases.”
“True — true.”
“She has an excellent situation, and an almost independent
one. I have a good opinion of her. I think it probable she
does not know the children are anything to you. John may have chosen
her through an agent; through an agent he may correspond with her.
If you take them up, you make her place a sinecure, perhaps in the end
dismiss her. How natural she should be hard to persuade that you
have any right to them.”
“But she knows that John is my son — and — and the fact is,
she undertook, before I had his address, to get a letter sent to him.”
“She did!” exclaimed Felix.
Sir Samuel nodded. Mrs. Snaith, in the opinion of
Felix, forthwith went down; he was rather sorry.
“Now, as you are good at motives,” continued the old man,
“find me a motive for John’s behaviour, nephew parson; there is that to
think of also.”
“Very true,” said Felix, and he went on slowly. “John’s
motive, I should say, is transparent enough. It is evident that he
has no claim, unless these are the children of a marriage.”
Sir Samuel seemed to wince a little here. “The only
marriage I ever heard of that John wanted to make was one that you most
“I always shall oppose it,” cried Sir Samuel, very red in the
face. “I always will oppose it, to the last breath I can draw.
Why — why, the fools had nothing to live upon — nothing at all.”
“No,” said Felix, rather coldly; “and yet it may have taken
place, and these may be the offspring of it.”
“A Dissenting minister’s daughter!”
“Yes. Well, all that supposed, one may suppose also
that John thinks these children have a better chance of pleasing you, if
he does not force them on your notice, than if he does; but it is quite a
work of supererogation to make out motives either for him or the nurse.
The wisest course, I should say, is to regard everything as absolutely
uncertain till next mail day, when all will be set at rest.”
“Extraordinary!” he thought, when the two had parted, and
were going different ways. “So proud as old Sam is, that he should
have demeaned himself to communicate with his own son, through the favour
“The fools had nothing to live on. Of course
not. He brought up John to no profession, and made him no regular
and proper allowance; now he smarts for it, and perhaps for preventing
that marriage as well. He might have maintained John married, for
half what he has cost him single. As far as I know, John never went
wrong till the quarrel about that poor girl.
“I have never believed there was any instinctive drawing in
the heart of a parent towards a stranger child. Is it possible that
I see it here? He will have it so. He is determined to believe
that these little creatures are his grandchildren.
“They are no trouble about the place, but I feel, and I
suppose I shall feel, that their probably being something to him makes me
no better inclined to regard them as something to me.”
Felix spoke with a touch of bitterness. Sir Samuel had
never so much as asked after Amias, the young nephew whose boyish escapade
had deprived him of an excellent opening and future provision.
Felix, being absolutely honest with himself, admitted mentally that, if
the boy had settled to the brewery business, it would not have hurt his
own conscience: people must have beer, just as they must have money; the
abuse of either, or both, is their own affair. But now that the
youth had broken away from his uncle, had given such reasons for the rash
act, and was taking the consequences, on the whole, well and humbly, Felix
would have denied himself every comfort in life rather than have
interfered with his conscience.
“So you met Uncle Sam?” observed Amias that evening. “I
am glad I did not.”
“Because you say he was cordial, and that aggravates me.
I don’t like to think he is happy and jolly, helping everybody to get
drunk; and I am not happy because ―"
“Well?” said Felix, with a smile.
“You, at least, may wish him well,” said Felix; “he has never
shown anything but kindness to you.”
“But I hope it will stick in his conscience,” observed Amias,
“how all the judges talk against publicans and public houses. Why, I
was reading only this morning, that in some of the great towns, two-thirds
of the public houses are brewers’ property, and that they buy up the
rubbishing old tenements and let them out at a low rent, on condition that
all the stuff sold in them shall be of their own brewing. I hate the
“That’s a fine Christian sentiment. Do you think
there’s no such thing as intemperance excepting in the case of strong
drink; or can you really think that nobody is to blame for the drunkenness
that degrades the country excepting the distillers, the brewers, and the
“Why, what do you think, Felix?”
“I think they are no worse than other people, excepting when
they make direct efforts to keep up the present state of things, after
having had the misery of it pointed out to them. We are all to
blame, we and our fathers.”
“No worse?— the publicans no worse?"
“Unless they adulterate.”
“But they do. We know they put aquafortis in. And
do you call oils of juniper, and cocculus indicus, and photophosphate of
iron proper things to drink? Did you never hear of these drugs?
And are you not aware that at many public-houses you can hardly get such a
thing as unadulterated beer, and that they put salt in it on purpose to
make people thirsty?”
“Your voice is a little cracked at present, which makes me
think you may be rather young just yet to lecture with good effect, on
this or any other subject.”
“You are always so abominably calm, Felix. Well,
anyhow, what I don’t know yet about temperance, I shall find in my copy of
‘The Publican’s Mixing and Reducing Book.’ I shall learn it all by
heart, with its vile receipts for purifying tainted gin, etc. But
you have no zeal; you are always making game of a fellow.”
“On the contrary, your enthusiastic desire to do some good,
and your ardent indignation against evil practices, are the qualities I
like most in you. What I find ridiculous is that you are so
“I certainly do wish that most of the breweries and
distilleries had accidentally got blown up; and I wish most of the public
houses were forcibly shut up — prohibited.”
“But not all?“
“No, there must be some.”
“How the ‘some’ would thrive! Many people, however, see
great danger in legal restraints. That a thing should be dangerous
and wrong, gives it often attraction enough; that it should also be
forbidden, so far as is possible, might give it an extra charm.”
“But that is not your view?”
“Perhaps not. Others reason thus. The French are
a very sober people; every man of them may make his own wine, any man may
sell it anywhere. What we should try for, rather than restriction,
“I never thought of that.”
“But you should think; and you should learn all that can be
known on all points beforehand. And you must give up wholesale
charges and exaggerations. There is also a certain thing that you
would do well to settle forthwith, which is, whether it would give you
most delight to reclaim two or three drunkards, or to make old Sam
ridiculous in his own neighbourhood, and to know that everybody blamed
him, and talked of the feud between you.”
“Two or three, Felix! You might at least allow a fellow
two or three dozen. Am I to give up riches and independence, and
perhaps a seat in Parliament, for two or three?“
“You may be fairly said to have given these things up for
nothing, for no principle whatever — merely for a ridiculous joke.”
“Well, it was rather hard upon you, old man; I know that.”
“And it seems to me that you live upon the hope that you
shall one day justify that joke.”
“So I do.”
“I consider that a low motive — anything but heroic, anything
“Well, I cannot be such a prig as to pretend that I think of
nothing but philanthropy. ‘There’s a mixter, sir,’ as Bolton said;
‘you can’t expect to find no tares at all in the best bag of seed-corn.’
But perhaps you think the ‘mixter’ consists of a few grains of corn in a
bag of tares?”
“I wish you to go away, not thinking of yourself as a martyr
to principle, but simply as having made a joke and paid for it, and having
now got to earn a living, if possible, in a manly, commonplace fashion.
As for your zeal in the cause of temperance, I shall think something of it
when you propose to begin to work for it in London, and nothing at all, so
long as the joy of it depends on some great commotion made in our little
town, just at our old uncle’s gates. As I said to you just now, we
are all — that is, all this nation which calls itself Christian — to blame
for the present state of things; it is the selfishness of the whole
community — the crowding up of the poor in foul air, where they crave
stimulus, because they have not enough oxygen. It is the sordid way
in which we have let them live, without any sort of culture, without
ennobling amusements, without enough of anything — enough variety of food,
enough light, enough warmth, enough joy, enough kindly fellowship with
those that are better off,— it is our whole attitude toward them which has
helped, not to make them a drunken people — for that they always were —
but to keep them one. Our fathers drank deeply; we have, during the
last three generations, been slowly struggling upward toward sobriety.
We had every help; we only give them one help — the pledge. Do you
think that if every drop of whisky, gin, and ale could be sunk into the
sea, and the trade in liquor be stopped, it would make people sober?
No. It might, with every other aid that could possibly be thought
of, put an end to half the drunkenness; but it is a natural instinct in
man to long for stimulus when he is overworked, or weary, or sick, or sad,
or when he has been used to have it; and the other half would all turn
brewers and distillers on their own account. You cannot undo the
evil work of many generations with a few rough and ready schemes; you must
be patient and painstaking, and you must not, above all, try to shove off
the blame on other men’s shoulders.”
“All right, old man,” said Amias, almost humbly.
He was to go away to London the next morning, at a very
inconveniently early hour, by a third-class train, Felix having, after
great efforts, at last got him into a government office, at a salary on
which it was hardly possible for him to be wholly maintained. He was
to take with him rather a large hamper of potatoes and other roots, with a
few green vegetables also, so as to eke out his first attempt at providing
for himself in his lodgings. Felix was to send him fruit and
vegetables now and then. This was by their aunt Sarah’s advice, and
was worth while, as she explained to the brothers, because the lodgings
Amias was to occupy were close to the railway station. “You can give
your landlady a vegetable marrow or two,” she observed; “but, whether or
not, you will probably, for reasons of her own, find her always willing to
send for your hamper. The children might have gathered you more
currants if Ann had superintended properly, but, if you’ll believe me, I
found her among the cabbages, telling them that those tiresome white
butterflies were considered by the Greeks to be emblems of your soul, and
hunting out with dictionaries the derivations of a slug.
SO Amias was gone. And Sir Samuel, when he
quite by chance discovered this, felt somewhat aggrieved. It was
manifest that he ought to have been told, and if the matter had been laid
before him in a proper spirit, he should have given Amias something
towards the needful expenses. He said so to his niece Sarah.
“But I am not asked,” he continued, with bitterness, “not consulted at
all. Oh dear, no; that family is much too proud to take any help
“Why doesn’t he give it without being asked? Why
doesn’t he send Amias a cheque now?” thought the good lady. “He
always reminds me of an onion (for we all, as it is said, resemble in some
degree one or other of the inferior animals). His conscience is
wrapped round with as many layers to cover it from the light, as the heart
of an onion. The outside layer is avarice. Yes; very thick.
Peel that off, you come to a layer of self-conceit; peel again, you come
to his scruples — a sort of mock conscience. He must not do anything
so wrong as to help Felix unless Amias first humbles himself.”
It never occurred to Miss de Berenger for a moment that she
ought to help her nephew Felix herself. And as he had been used to
her all his life, and been accustomed to accept her at her own valuation
of herself, it never occurred to him either. One duty was strongly
impressed on her mind; this was the duty of paying her bills. She
generally incurred debts, to the full amount of her income. Her
course was plain; she must pay them.
But she frequently came and stayed with Felix, kept his house
for the time, and paid her exact proportion of the expenses, besides
almost always suggesting some plan by which he saved something or gained
She was always welcome. He found her inconsequent
speeches and simple shrewdness in action decidedly attractive and
refreshing. Family affection is so far from following in the wake of
esteem, that merely to be sure of it and depend on it, is often to have
it. Those who are loved, not for any special qualities in
themselves, but just because they are human beings, and stand near to us,
are almost sure to retain affection; for they always will be human beings,
and the longer they stand near to us the more at ease we shall feel with
them. What so comfortable, what so delightful, as perfect ease?
Nothing in the world can surpass it but perfect love, and that we cannot
When Felix, the very first time he entered his empty rectory
house, found his aunt there before him, inspecting the cupboards and
having one cleaned out, he did not interfere with her, did not even ask
her a question; in a man’s indolent way, he thought she knew what she was
“Yes,” she presently observed, “you’ve got dozens of empty
pickle-bottles and empty marmalade-pots over at your lodgings. I shall
have those beer bottles saved too, and put in here till we want them.”
Felix was surprised, but he let her alone, and she locked the
closet and took away the key.
A good while after this she drove up in her pony-carriage,
saying she had come to stay a week, and producing a great parcel of sugar,
for which Felix was to pay. “Bolton will not buy the common
gooseberries and cherries at all; they are so cheap this year.” And
she forthwith bustled into the garden and set everybody, excepting the
rector, to work to gather fruit. “I shall have a quantity of jam
made of the gooseberries,” she observed to her nephew; “it will scarcely
cost you threepence a pot. And the gooseberries could not be
bottled, because the beer-bottles have such narrow necks; they would stick
in them. I shall bottle the red currants. There are sixty
bottles; I counted them. I shall save out one dozen for mulberry
syrup.” Thereupon she produced the big key of the cupboard, and
before the week was over, there was a fine store of jam and excellent
bottled fruit in the house.
Felix, of course, was glad; he knew enough about his own
affairs to be sure that this would be a saving in his house-keeping, and
also make his table more various. But he did not thank his aunt; he
was just as well aware that it was a great joy to her to intermeddle in
his matters, as she was that she might avail herself of the privilege, and
yet count on his belief that all her intermeddling was for the best.
But to return to Sir Samuel and his important letter.
The mails had now gone by, and there was no answer. He wrote again,
and in case the first should have miscarried, he entered on all the
particulars once more in a second letter.
Then it occurred to him that Mrs. Snaith might, in all good
faith, have sent the first letter to Heidelburg, not being aware of his
son’s change of address. He wrote, and after complying with certain
forms, got it back from the poste-restante. He hardly knew
whether to be most annoyed or relieved — so much time lost. But,
then, his son had not received a letter from him that he had neglected to
It was now Christmas; he knew that he must wait till March,
and felt that he must not make himself ridiculous meanwhile by having the
two little girls to his house, or by in any other way seeming to
acknowledge them before the time.
But he accepted and returned nods and smiles, even at the
church doors; sometimes the parties exchanged kisses in less public
places. The children liked to see his white head. Once Amabel
climbed upon the seat of the pew at church, when the sermon was long, and
looked over the high back, as if to ascertain whether he was in his place.
Miss Thimbleby, who was in charge of her and the other two children,
quietly took her down, but the entire congregation saw the pretty smile
with which she had greeted the old man, and his involuntary answer to it.
Felix wrote constantly to his brother, and gave him all
manner of good counsel, which Amias was assisted to follow by his very
straitened circumstances. He said as little as he possibly could in
answer concerning this want of money, but the discipline of life was very
strict upon him that winter and spring. He was poorer than any of
the young fellows with whom he was associated. During the first week
of his sojourn his story came out, and he passed for a kind of hero among
them; though almost all thought him a fool for his pains, and would have
thought him a prig too, but for the open and boyish sincerity with which
he made his love of temperance depend on his anger against his old uncle.
Many and many a temperance lecture was rehearsed in the presence of those
choice spirits, his companions, without the faintest thought of
influencing their habits in regard to strong drink, but simply to delight
them by reproducing the ridiculous action and uncultivated language of
certain zealots whom he now and then went to hear. He was a
water-drinker, but escaped ridicule, because it was felt that this was not
from high principle, but from indignation against his uncle for
repudiating him. In the mean while it came in his way for no better
reason than has been given — to accumulate a vast amount of information
concerning the misery and crime arising from drunkenness, the almost
incredible sums paid by the poor for the drinks that are their ruin, and
the constant temptations set before them on all sides. These facts,
when he had time to think them over, sometimes impressed him a good deal.
Early in April a letter from Felix let him know that old Sam
was in great affliction; the news had just reached him that his son John
had died of fever in Ceylon, and he could not hold up his head at all.
“Poor old boy!” thought the inconsequent youth. “Well,
after all, malt liquor (if only it could be got good and pure) is very
wholesome; it’s the public houses that want doing away with.” So he
schooled his mind for a little while into less intemperate thoughts upon
John de Berenger, in fact, never read his father’s important
letter. The news of his death was communicated by a friend, a young
man who was staying with him when his short illness came on, and who wrote
of him very kindly, assuring his father that everything had been done for
his comfort. Also, the letter was returned. The stranger
apologized for having opened and read it, as a means of discovering to
whom he should send the sad news. In consequence of the questions
asked in it, he had collected every scrap of writing and every letter that
he could find among John de Berenger’s effects, and now forwarded them.
He had not read them, but thought it right to tell Sir Samuel that, though
the sick man had talked freely of his past life during the earlier stages
of his illness, he had uttered no word that seemed to bear at all on such
a matter as his father’s letter unfolded.
Sir Samuel mourned for his son, and said to himself, “In a
very short time I shall know all. The news of poor John’s death will
fall on that woman like a thunderbolt. Has she received it yet?
Evidently not. I am left to tell it to whomsoever it may concern.”
He searched the few letters that had been sent through and
through; most of them contained pressing requests for payment of certain
debts. There was not one that could possibly have come from Mrs.
Snaith, or that seemed to concern the two little girls in any way
“But I have the whip-hand of her now,” thought Sir Samuel.
“She will see his death in the paper, even if the whole village is not
eager to tell it to her beforehand. As he has left absolutely
nothing behind him, no more supplies can reach her. She will be glad
enough soon to come to me and tell the whole truth. I shall not make
the first move.”
Mrs. Snaith knew what ample time had passed since the sending
of her letter for an answer to reach Sir Samuel from any part of the
world. He had not told her that he had received one—in fact, he had
not spoken to her since she had taken the letter from his hand. She
had often met him in the road, but had never accosted him. If he was
quite satisfied now that he had made a ridiculous mistake, there was no
need to make him own it, and thus, perhaps, bring on herself the dreaded
question, “These children, not being my son’s,
why are they here? Whose are they?”
She always took refuge in silence, and tried to efface
herself as much as possible from the thoughts of others. Sometimes
she thought she would steal away from her cottage, and again take the
children among strangers; but then careful reflection seemed to assure her
that where she now was people had got used to her, and had ceased to
wonder at her. There had seemed to be a mystery, but all the
villagers considered that they had solved it, and all the same way; there
was no difference of opinion. What talk there still was, chiefly
concerned what old Sam would do, and why the family, who doubtless knew
all, were so silent about it. Besides, the children were well,
happy, receiving a very good education, and were already too familiar with
these De Berengers ever to forget them. Moreover, if she fled, it
would not only rouse curiosity to the utmost, but Miss de Berenger would
be almost certain to start in pursuit, and in all probability would
eventually find her.
The foolish have us far more in their power than the wise.
If it had not been for Sarah de Berenger, Mrs. Snaith felt that she could
have confided the whole truth to Felix, got him to keep it absolutely
secret, and also help her to get away; but nothing could possibly be
confided to Sarah, or it would come out; and if it was not confided, she
would search for the children, meanwhile raising such a commotion, that
the matter was sure to get into the newspapers as a strange and romantic
story. Sarah would, perhaps, be silly enough to publish descriptions
of the children, with their Christian names; these alone would be
sufficient to rouse the suspicions of any person whatever among her old
friends. Finally, some hint of it would reach the Dills, and,
through them, the dreaded convict husband.
Sarah was away from her home when the news of John’s death
reached her. She came back and flew to Mrs. Snaith, asking where the
“At the vicarage, ma’am, doing their lessons.”
“And their mourning — is that ordered? Sir Samuel will,
of course, expect to see them in proper mourning.”
It was no use pretending to misunderstand, but Mrs. Snaith
felt confident of her ground, and was determined to hold it. “No,
ma’am,” she answered. “You have no call to trouble yourself any
further about that mistake. I take leave to tell you that Sir Samuel
expects nothing of the kind.”
That was on a Tuesday. Miss. de Berenger considered
that there would be plenty of time to get mourning read by Sunday, and she
wrote to Sir Samuel about it.
“The woman wants money already,” he thought; “let her come
and ask for it.” And he wrote to his niece more curtly than kindly,
desiring her not to interfere.
Mrs. Snaith did not apply for money, and at the end of the
week Sir Samuel went to London, feeling that this was only a question of
In the mean while, knowing that whatever she did would make
fresh talk, Mrs. Snaith dressed the children on Sunday in clean white
frocks and white hats as usual, and sent them up to the vicarage, but had
not courage to attend the morning service herself.
When the children came home to dinner, each had a black sash
on. Cousin Sarah had sent them, they said, in answer to her
questions, and Miss Thimbleby had put them on.
Mrs. Snaith shed a few quiet tears of vexation then.
Sarah’s folly had mastered her again.
To be in London a full year before he could hope for a
holiday! This was the lot of Amias, and what a long, slow, dark, and
dirty year it seemed.
Occasionally, towards the end of it, he began to dream of the
old church tower, and the rooks floating high above it in the clear,
elastic air, and to dream of scarlet strawberries ripening on their beds,
and meadows full of buttercups, and hay being cut in the clear heat of
noon, and of other common country sights and sounds which had never
impressed him at all while he lived among them. Also of Felix and of
that little monkey Dick. Like those of many another boy, his
affections had slumbered a good deal since his childhood. They were
waking. He found that he was rather attached to his elder brother;
and when Dick sent him letters of wholly intolerable badness, as regarded
both the writing and the orthography, he read them over with a certain
keenness of pleasure, recalled the beautiful little brown face, imagined
that he had always been very fond of Dick, and wondered whether the little
fellow was grown.
April, May, and June went by. Sir Samuel, still in
London, received no application from Mrs. Snaith, “but,” he argued, “she
may have been paid a quarter’s allowance for the children just before my
poor son’s death."
He wrote to Felix, requesting him not to lend her any money.
“She may think,” he considered, “that poor John has left
money in the hands of his agent, and that through him she shall receive
it. She cannot know as I do that he left nothing whatever behind him
but his debts, and that I have his papers in my hands, which prove it
fully. I wish I knew my dear boy’s motive, though”
So he deluded himself. The human mind is always
inexorable in demanding a motive for all human actions. It is only
himself that each man permits to act without one, and avails himself of
the privilege with astonishing frequency; sometimes letting a momentary
caprice push itself in and snatch a reasonable motive out of his hand;
sometimes, from mere indolence or inattention, failing to make out what he
means to do till the thing does itself, and he, still hesitating, looks on
and lets it alone.
Sir Samuel kept hesitating, and failing to make out what he
wanted in this particular instance. The children were receiving an
excellent education, were taken very great care of by their nurse, and —
he was not asked for a shilling. He did not distinctly put this and
that together, but waited on occasion and let things drift. When he
thought of future expense, he hardly knew what he believed concerning
these little girls; when he thought of his dear dead son, he did know.
But his asking questions would not make them any more his grandchildren,
if such they were, while it would, as he thought, bring him their bills to
pay. No, it would be dangerous to investigate. He should now
not encourage that woman to talk. He elected to leave things alone,
and he had to take the consequences.
Thus the days and weeks went by, till that happy time arrived
when Amias was to go home for his destined holiday.
A slow, third-class train was alone within his means, and the
nearest station being seven miles from his brother’s house, he was not to
be met, but to send his box on by a carrier, and walk over himself.
It was about eight o’clock in the evening of a very hot day
when he stepped forth for his walk, first across a good many fields, then
over the end of a great common, next through Sir Samuel de Berenger’s
wood, and finally along the winding country lane that went past his
He was still half a mile from it. The slow dusk had
begun to gather; large flowers of the bindweed, trailing over the low
wayside hedge, were mere specks of milky whiteness; he could but just
distinguish between them and the dog roses, could hardly detect the
honeysuckle but for its fragrance.
"Delightful!“ he thought, as he strode on. “The smell
of things in this lane is worth all the sights in London put together.
Whew! what’s that?“
He stopped. No cottage within a hundred yards, and yet
a pungent, powerful whiff of something worse than London fog or smoke came
past him, and lost itself among the honeysuckle. A smell of burning.
He wondered — strode on — admitted to himself, almost with fear, that it
was odd no one had come even thus far to meet him. Then, all on a
sudden, behold, a great gap! Some slight thing fell with hardly a
sound, and up mounted a shower of sparks. He ran on, shouting out in
the dusk, — “Why — why, there’s something wrong! What’s up?
What can be the matter? Mrs. Snaith’s cottage is gone!"
Mrs. Snaith’s cottage was gone indeed — its place was vacant;
it was burnt to the ground. A few singed hollyhocks leaned forlornly
forward to the road, two elms, with all their leaves shrivelled up, held
out bare and ghastly arms, a puff of smoke came now and then from a dark
heap of ashes, and a few sparks would mount when fanned by evening air.
Amias rushed on, dashed through a scattered group of people
who seemed to be watching the rectory gates, and, encountering his aunt in
the hall, demanded vehemently to be assured that Felix was all right.
“Yes, yes,” quoth Sarah, “he’s in his room, changing his
singed clothes. You needn’t bang at his door like a burglar,” she
panted, for she had pursued him upstairs.
“I knew he would be in the scrimmage,” cried Amias, as Felix,
opening his door a little way, let his brother in. “And where’s
Dick?” shouted Amias through the keyhole, having satisfied himself at once
that his brother was none the worse. He opened the door about an
inch to receive her answer.
“He never was near the fire,” quoth Miss de Berenger.
“As soon as I heard of it I ran into the garden, and there I found him,
enjoying the prowl of innocence, his cat and his owl after him. He’s
safe in bed now, very sulky to think what fun there has been and he not in
“Anybody hurt?” asked Amias, as he was proceeding down a
passage to look at Dick.
“Yes; Mrs. Snaith a little, foolish woman. And old
Nanny Fothergill was frightened almost into a fit, seeing the flames
through her window.”
“Oh, she’s alive yet?”
“Yes,” quoth Miss de Berenger. “She’s not at all an
irreligious woman, though she has lived to be ninety-four. I
don’t know how she reconciles that with ‘the days of our life,’ you know,
‘are threescore years and ten.’ At the same time time,” she
continued, falling into thought, “I am quite clear that it would not be
right of her to hasten matters.”
THE return of Amias had, indeed, followed closely on
the conclusion of an exciting occurrence.
It was Thursday evening; Felix always had a full service
then, and a sermon.
This was the favourite religious occasion of the week, and
(except during the harvest) very well attended. A time-honoured
institution; the ringers ushered it in with a cheerful peal. Then,
when days were long, the outlying hamlets, and not unfrequently the
adjacent parishes, contributed their worshippers; and even some people
from the little town (former parishioners of Felix) would walk over to
join, and see how he fared. Then every old woman, as she came
clattering up the brick aisle, felt some harmless pride in herself; she
knew she must be welcome, helping to swell the congregation. She
looked at Felix, as he stood gravely waiting in the desk, and he looked at
Then were given out long-winded hymns, dear to all the
people. Then the rustic choir broke out into manifold quavers, and
sang with a will. Then shrill, sweet voices of children answered,
and farmers’ wives put in like quavers (but more genteelly), while the
farmers themselves, and the farmers’ men, did their share with a gruff
heartiness, not untuneful. Then, also, the “Methody folk,” having no
“Bethel” of their own, came to church, and expressed their assent to the
more penitential prayers by an audible sigh and an occasional groan.
They said of Felix that he was a gracious young man, and knew how to hit
hard; which two qualities they considered to be strictly harmonious.
But his own people gave him a good word as well. He had
inherited this service from his predecessor, and finding it at a
convenient hour and popular, kept it up with loyal and dutiful care.
They said of him that “he had no pride; he didn’t mind shouting for
a poor man. Preached just as loud and just as long, he did, in bad
weather, when he had nobbut a few old creeturs and poor Simon Graves the
cripple for congregation, as when the most chiefest draper and his lady
walked over from the town to attend, as well as Mr. Pritchard the retired
druggist, that kept his own gig, and was said to be worth some thousands
It is hardly needful to record that Felix did not find the
singing ridiculous. It was far from perfect praise, but he supposed
it must be more acceptable than city music led by an organ, and sung by a
There is something very pathetic in the worship of the poor
and rustic. They often think they oblige the clergyman by coming to
church. And the old have a touching humbleness about them; they feel
a sincere sense of how worthless they are in this world, which they could
hardly have attained unless the young had helped them to it. The
rich mix the world with their prayers, so do the poor; thus — they feel
that they come and say them with their betters.
So this was a Thursday evening. Felix felt the solemn
sweetness of the hour. It was a clear, hot time of year, and all the
doors and windows were open. He had an unusually large congregation,
and had just mounted into the pulpit and given out his text, when, to the
astonishment of the people, instead of beginning to preach, he stood bolt
upright for an instant; then his eyes, as it seemed involuntarily, fell on
Mrs. Snaith (who sat just facing him), with a look of such significance,
that she instantly started up and rushed out at the chancel door.
She thought of the little girls, naturally; what had she in
life but them?
The amazed congregation gaped at him. He turned to the
schoolmistress, and saying, “Keep all those children in their places,”
closed his Bible and exclaimed to the people generally, “My friends,
remember that there are fire-buckets under the tower, and that the nearest
water is in my pond. Mrs. Snaith’s cottage is on fire.”
The red light from it was already flaring high, and making
pink the whitewashed walls and his gown. It had passed for a sunset
flush, till from his height he saw what it meant; and saw the two little
girls running hand in hand down the dusty lane, with loose hair flying.
They were making their way, clad only in their white nightgowns, towards
the church, for there they doubtless knew that Mamsey was.
Thanks to the way in which he had arranged his sentence, the
mass of the people, as they rushed out of church, ran round to the, tower,
and when he himself descended, he met the two little girls, neither hurt
nor frightened, running up to the door. Each had a great doll — her
best doll — under one arm; but when they saw him, with childish modesty
they sat down on a grassy grave, and tucked their little feet into their
gowns. It was such a very hot night, that there was no risk of their
taking harm from their evening excursion. Not that any one thought
of that, or thought much about them, excepting Felix, who, fearing that
Mrs. Snaith might not have seen them, and might risk her life for their
sake, followed on after her at the told of his speed, leaving them behind
with his aunt Sarah.
“Yes!” exclaimed Sarah, when describing the scene afterwards
to Amias. “There are occasions when decorum and dignity are
forgotten. If you had seen what Felix looked like, rushing down the
lane with his surplice flying! An exaggerated owl suggested itself,
or a ghost pursued by its creditors. These are the things that give
Dissenters such a hold when they cry out for Disestablishment.
However, by the time he overtook the clerk, he had got it off; he flung it
over the old man’s arm, who folded it up, and laid it on the grass under a
Felix on this occasion found little scope for the exercise of
courage, and no opportunity of giving aid. The dry thatch was
sending out an even breadth of flame to the very middle of the road; there
was (as he supposed) no approaching. There was great shouting; men
as well as women were eagerly handing on fire-buckets, while he searched
the crowd for Mrs. Snaith, and was told, to his amazement, that she was
inside the blazing premises. He had scarcely heard it when she
emerged from them, with a box under her arm. He and Mr. Bolton
advanced to help her forward. Her gown was smoking, and some buckets
of water were thrown all over them without ceremony, as their bearers,
running up with them from the pond, saw the state of the case. Mr.
Bolton, dripping as he was, could not forbear to moralize. “Now,
didn’t I tell you, ma’am, ‘twas too late? Your things were all
alight. This is one of the occasions when folks may be glad their
goods ain’t worth much, ‘stead of risking their precious lives to save
them. Sit down, there’s a good creature,” he continued, as he and
Felix conducted her to a grassy bank.
Mrs. Snaith put a small box into the hands of Felix, then sat
down and wiped her face.
“Your gown’s no better than tinder,” continued Mr. Bolton,
taking a mean advantage of her inability to answer. “Choked a’most,
I can see. And you’ve got me a good suit of clothes spoilt very
near, and the water, that’s black as ink, running over me and Mr. de
Berenger, and right into our shoes, just because you must needs save your
Sunday bonnet. There’s nothing better in that box, I’ll be bound.
And I did tell you your Windsor chairs were safe outside, before even we
got out of church, and your eight-day clock, and your best fender and
fire-irons.” Here he gave himself a shake, and a pool of water
enlarged itself at his feet.
“Let her alone,” said Felix, compassionately. “She
thought the children were inside.
“No, sir,” said Mrs. Snaith recovering her voice, ”I didn’t.”
Having thus dissipated his sympathy, she got back her box
from him, and he also felt for the first time how wet he was. He,
too, felt inclined to moralize.
A good many buckets of water had by this time been flung at
the fire, but it seemed to send all out in steam again, and before ever a
straw of the thatch was wet and just as the sunset flush faded, all that
had once been a habitation had gone up or gone down. It was not.
A thick black cloud of pungent smoke brooded still among the trees, and a
soft, wet heap of ashes was lying in the garden. The shouting and
excitement were over. It had been a very old cottage, and built of
wood and plaster; dry weather had made the thatch ready for a spark, which
had come from the chimney. Well, it had been a strange thing to see
how fast it had melted down, or with what a rage of haste the flame and
smoke of it had ascended; but, after all, the people considered it had not
been what any one could call a tragical sight: nobody was injured, and
there was hardly any property in it worth mentioning.
Felix was a little hoarse the next morning, after his
wetting, when Mrs. Snaith knocked at his study door, and asked if she
might speak with him.
She and her children had slept at the rectory; her eight-day
clock had been accommodated in the kitchen, and was diligently ticking and
striking against the clock of the house. Her Windsor chairs, also
her fender and fire-irons, some bedding, and a few toys, were disposed
about a large, empty room. No need to apologize for their presence
in it; they made it look more habitable.
These things had been saved by the first man who discovered
the fire, and who had carried the two little girls down-stairs before he
gave the alarm.
Mrs. Snaith, over and above a sort of contrition for the
trouble her goods had caused in their burning — or saving, as the case
might be — was much vexed at the drenching Mr. de Berenger had got, and
the cold it had evidently given him.
Felix had fortunately been only arrayed at the time in a
rusty old camlet cassock; it was still in course of being slowly dried at
the kitchen fire. Joliffe said it could take no damage; it was past
that. This was a secret source of comfort to Mrs. Snaith. But
she longed to explain matters, and she wanted to know what had been done
with her box. As Felix opened the door to let her enter, she felt a
certain hint of disapproval in his voice, hoarse though it was.
“If you please, sir,” she began, ”might I see if the things
in my box are safe?”
“Oh, your box,” he answered, looking about him. “What
did I do with it? There it is — just inside the fender. You
risked a great deal for that box, Mrs. Snaith.”
He was sitting now at his writing-table, and, pointing with
his pen at the scorched and smoky article, was surprised to see the
eagerness with which she darted upon it, as she replied, “Well, yes, sir;
but what else could I do? If I’d lost that, I should never have
forgave myself. I didn’t ought to have kept it in the copper, but I
thought it was a safe place, too.”
She set it on the table before him.
“This is a sort of thing that people call a bandbox, is it
not?“ he inquired. “You surely kept nothing valuable in it?”
“Yes, sir, I did. I thought, in case of thieves, they
would never think of looking in a bandbox for what I’d got. It’s
full of papers and things, sir. All I have for maintaining the
children, and schooling them, and that.”
Felix was struck with astonishment when she opened it, and
began to lay its contents before him.
“Why, this is property,” he exclaimed, taking up a paper.
“This is a United States bond, payable to bearer. If this had been
burnt, the money it brings in would have been lost, forfeited, and, as far
as I know, irreclaimable.”
“Yes, I know, sir. I was fully warned.”
Mrs. Snaith was not to be caught; she made an evident pause
here, choosing her words.
“By him that gave them over to me, sir. He advised me
to turn them into another kind of property so soon as I could. But I
never could exactly make out how. And I was afraid it might be found
She stopped and coloured, as if vexed with herself, when she
had said these last words. He made as if he had not heard them; and
she had such trust in him, and in his gentle manhood, that observing this,
she felt safe again, as if she had not made that little slip of the
“Where is the list? You have a list of the papers, of
course,” continued Felix; and he had scarcely any doubt that he should be
shown his cousin John de Berenger’s handwriting.
“I have no list, sir."
Felix, full of surprise, paused again. He had set a
chair for her opposite to himself, and as she took out paper after paper,
and handed them to him across the narrow table, he received each and
scanned it with curiosity and interest.
“Would you like me to make a list for you?” he said at last.
“I should be much obliged to you, sir. Most of them
have numbers — I’ve noticed that; and I have some of the numbers in my
“Do I understand that no list, even of the numbers, was given
“No, sir,” she replied, as if apologizing for the donor.
“It were rather a hasty thing, and a legal document cost money.”
“A legal document! Well, Mrs. Snaith” — here he paused;
he would not mention a name, she having so carefully and pointedly
refrained from doing so — “Well, Mrs. Snaith, he showed great confidence
in you that gave these papers over to your charge.”
“He hadn’t any choice, sir,” she put in, but rather faintly.
(“I’ll be bound he hadn’t!” thought Felix.) And she continued her
sentence, “And it was no more than my due to have them.”
“Still, as I said, it was a great mark of confidence,”
continued Felix, “and far be it from me to show less. But I may say,
and I do, that it was a strange act of imprudence in you to keep this
property by you in such a form, specially though (as you admit) you were
expressly warned not to do so. Since you lived here you have, as I
remember, taken a journey several times. Did you carry this box with
“Yes, sir; I went to get what they call the dividends paid.
I fared to think I ought not to trouble you about this, but now you have
come to know――“
“Well, Mrs. Snaith?”
“Perhaps you wouldn’t mind the trouble of letting me
understand how to turn them into something safer — invest them over again.
You see, sir, if I were to die, it would be very awkward.”
“Very, indeed,” said Felix, gravely; “because, for anything
that appears to the contrary, this property is absolutely yours; so that,
if you died, not a shilling of it could be claimed for the children.
I say,” he continued, seeing her look amazed, “that the two children,
being no relation to you, could not, in case of your death, claim to
possess what is only payable to Hannah Snaith. Your own relations
might claim it, you see, and the children would actually be cut out.”
Mrs. Snaith, on hearing this, turned extremely pale.
She saw that she herself was, in case she died, so acting as to cut her
children out of the money which she only cared to have for their sake.
What had she not sacrificed already for them? How should she learn
to do anything more?
“But surely there is a will,” continued Felix, the
strangeness of John’s supposed conduct growing on him. “No doubt,
though you may not be aware of it, some other person, some other guardian,
must have been appointed to meet such a case.”
Mrs. Snaith, still very pale, was silent. If she had
only said so much as “I do not know,” he would have been better satisfied.
“I take for granted that the person, whoever he was, that
made over this property to you, did so in full confidence that it would be
faithfully spent on and for these children.”
To this appeal she still made no reply. She had for
some time seen no cause to fear that her wretched husband would ever find
her; she had left behind her, at present divided among her own relations,
so much of the income as she felt it her duty to let him take, and she
meant the children to inherit the remainder. “I may die any day,”
was the thought now pressing on her, “and so sure as I die, they would
advertise for my relations, let them have it, and, unless they found out
the truth, which would be still worse, my dears would be left penniless.”
”Sir,” she said at last, “if it please the Lord, I hope I
shall live to see my —dear—young ladies grow up.”
The slight, the undefinable air of disapproval, daunted her.
She was so much puzzled, so much agitated by the perception of how nearly
she had lost everything, and by his remark as to the children not being
related to her, that she had no intelligence at liberty for noticing that
disapproval was an odd sensation for a man to exhibit concerning a matter
that was no affair of his. Still less did she think of Sir Samuel’s
former notion, as perhaps shared by Felix. She never doubted that
the old man had received a letter from his son, which had set the matter
at rest. She often thought he had gone away because he was proudly
angry that he ever should have been so deceived, and should have demeaned
himself to come and question her.
There was Sarah, to be sure — the children were still allowed
to call her coz —but Sarah was so inconsequent, so wrong-headed, that she
and her doings hardly seemed to count.
“I have been very foolish, I own, sir," she said at last in a
tone of apology, for, as has just been explained, the reason of his
disapproval was hidden from her. “What do you think it would be best
for me to do now?”
“I am not a very good man of business,” Felix answered, “but
I think this property could not be invested in the names of the two
children — only by guardians or trustees, for their benefit.” Then
he paused to think. “I am the more likely to be right in this
notion, because it has not been done already; but I can easily ascertain.
If you consent to its being invested for them,” he continued, “I will
agree to be one of the guardians you being the other.”
Amazing kindness! remarkable condescension! Mrs. Snaith
could not hear it and keep her seat. She rose and curtsied.
“Sir, you are very kind; I am deeply obliged to you,” she answered very
highly flattered, and also very much flustered. “I never could have
hoped for such goodness; but it’s just like you, sir.“
Why was it “like” in Mrs. Snaith’s opinion? Because
Felix stood godfather to half the children baptized in his parish; because
he let himself be called, at all untimely hours, to comfort the sick;
because he had housed her goods, and helped to carry them in as a matter
of course; because she had more than once seen him carry the market-basket
of a poor, rheumatic old woman, and lend her the aid of his arm as well to
help her home — these were some of the reasons why it was “like him“ to
propose being guardian to her little treasures.
Felix looked up when, again seating herself, she pushed the
papers towards him, as if giving them over to his charge for good and all.
The shadow of a smile crossed his face. He did not see
that it was so very kind; but the tinge of disapproval vanished.
“You consent, then?”
“Yes, sir, I consent, and thank you kindly; but I am that
circumstanced, as I can only say I consent unless he should interfere that
may be able to interfere.”
“Now what does she mean by that?” thought Felix, still strong
in the notion that he was to be guardian to John de Berenger’s children.
“Can she mean old Sam? I suppose she does.”
But though his face was full of cogitation, the sunshine of
approval had come back to it — he was even feeling that he had wronged
her; and when she said would he lock the papers up in some safe place, and
do as he pleased about investments, he felt suddenly that he did not want
such perfect liberty as that. “I shall do nothing without consulting
a lawyer,” he said, “and you will be so good as to take care of the list I
“Hadn’t you better keep it, sir?” she answered, in her
simplicity; “it would save you the trouble of making another.”
“No, Mrs. Snaith,” he answered, and laughed and held out his
hand, as he generally did to his parishioners. So she shook hands
with him and left the room, feeling as if she should like to serve him all
When she had retired, Felix again looked over the papers.
“All made payable to bearer — that bearer, Hannah Snaith.” Now, if
John de Berenger had made that money over to her during his lifetime, it
must have been to protect it, so that it could not be recognized as his,
and claimed by his creditors. He must have trusted her; and she had
proved worthy of his trust as regarded her honesty. As regarded her
prudence — no!
Felix leaned his chin on one hand, and turning over those
papers with the other, began to puzzle himself with a problem which he
stated wrongly, and which, consequently, could have no right answer.
The problem was this.
“As John de Berenger had died deeply in debt, could this
money (invested in the name of Hannah Snaith) be considered in fairness to
belong to his children; was it not the property of his creditors?
Had he not proved, by the course he had taken, in order to conceal or
protect it from them, that it was in justice theirs?
“That depends,” Felix presently thought, “on how John got the
money. Wait a minute. This woman, Hannah Snaith, has
repeatedly declared that she knew nothing about John. After all, why
may not this be true? Why may not the money have come through his
wife, whoever she was?
“No, that won’t do. ‘By him that made them over to me,’
she said. Well, why should it not have been the wife’s father?
“Let me think this out. If John did marry, as I suppose
is certain (at least, one of the few things Hannah Snaith has positively
declared, is that these children were born in wedlock, and that she could
easily prove it if necessary) — as he did marry, I will therefore say he
must be supposed to have married that poor, pretty young creature, the
Baptist minister’s daughter, whom he harped upon to me for years, fell in
love with when she was only fifteen, as he saw her passing to and from
school — Fanny Tindale (neither child is called Fanny, by-the-by).
Well, let us say that after her father moved away to somewhere in
Lincolnshire, I think it was, John went and married Fanny Tindale. I
know she died some time ago. Suppose her father, a vulgar old
fellow, but not particularly poor that I am aware of, saved, or at any
rate died possessed of, what I now see before me — I am sure I have heard
that he too is dead — of course his care would be to prevent John from
ever touching his money; but if he died before his daughter, he may have
feared lest somehow it might be got hold of by the creditors, and may have
chosen to trust it to a person whom he knew, and no relation, in the faith
of her honesty. Her being more of his class in life than of John’s,
is much in favour of the theory. And this is in favour of it too,
that by all I know of her — and I know her now pretty well — I seem to be
assured that she is not a person who would lend herself to any scheme that
she knew to be dishonest.“
Felix de Berenger, having thus stated his problem, thought
the better of himself for finding an answer to it so convincing and so
“I wonder I never thought of this before,” he observed, as
with a satisfied air he locked up Hannah Snaith’s papers. “Poor
little waifs ! Yes, I see it all.”
An uncomfortable reflection sometimes presses on us, to the
effect that the world is full of people who think they have an answer to
most of the problems of life, or at least to such as more especially
concern their own lives. Who think so — but we are sure they are
mistaken. And is it not possible — just possible — though to the
last degree improbable, that we, we ourselves, may be? No, that
flash of intelligence crossing the shady chambers of thought, is soon put
out; of such reflections the human mind is always impatient.
Yet a great many of us know no more of the answers to such
problems as lie close about us, and most concern us, than did the Reverend
Felix de Berenger in this recorded instance, and nevertheless we, perhaps,
as he did, bring a great deal of good out of the mistaken circumstances.