Don John (1)

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CHAPTER I.


IT may be doubted whether in all London there is, considering its width and the size of its houses, a more gloomy street than Upper Harley Street.

    The houses in this fine street are too deep to be lighted well within; and so high as to give it on a dull day very much the effect of an exceedingly long railway cutting between two high hills.

    Some years ago, a very young woman in a widow's cap was furtively peeping out from an upper window in the front of one of these houses, and as she gazed down towards Cavendish Square and up towards Harley Place she made the above comparison in her mind.

    It was rather a dull day in the beginning of April, but she did not find the gloom of a London spring at all depressing, for she was sometimes allowed to take the baby, now lying in a frilled bassinet behind her, into Oxford Street, where she could feast her eyes on the splendid contents of the shop windows, or she might stroll into the Soho bazaar, or she would be taken for a drive in the park with her charge by the baby's mother, for she was wet-nurse to the said baby, and thus found herself for the first time in her life a personage of great importance, whose tastes were to be consulted, whose dinner was by no means to be delayed, and whose comfort and even pleasure were considered to be of consequence.

    To do her justice, she gave herself fewer airs than most of her class, and did her best for the baby, who was the child of a lawyer in excellent practice.

    His name, the very same as that of his son, was Donald Johnstone; he was of Scotch extraction, but his family had been for two generations settled in the South.

    Maria Jane Aird, such was the name of the nurse, had been highly recommended to her present place; and, in order to take it, had left her own young infant under the charge of her mother.  But that she fretted after him now and then, she would have been thoroughly content; she had not much loved the young husband whom, to please her mother, she had married.  She was consoled now, for he had been already dead six months; the main regret she still felt was that during his long illness (he was a carpenter) all his savings had been spent, so that she had nothing whereon to begin life again, and had even become familiar before the birth of her child with both want and cold.

    She was a sweet-tempered young creature, had never done any particular good in the world; but then what opportunity had she found? for the same reason possibly she had never done any particular harm.

    She had one habit which Mrs. Johnstone, the baby's mother, did not like; she was constantly reading books from a circulating library.  Some of these were dirty, and smelt of tobacco; Mrs. Johnstone had remarked more than once that she did not approve of books of that kind in the same room with the baby.

    He was her only son, and a very precious infant; everything that love and money could do was to be lavished on him.  His three little sisters were in the country under the charge of an old servant, and just as Mrs. Aird withdrew her head and cautiously shut down the window, a boy with a telegram in his hand came up the street, containing a very important message concerning them.  They were expected home that very afternoon, and their father was gone to fetch them.

    Mrs. Aird, as she turned, looked about the wide chamber, with that kind of exaltation which comes of a fresh and advantageous change.

    It was before the date when the browns we use on our wall-papers began to be reverently studied from Thames mud, and the greens and yellows from mouldy cheese.  No one as yet toned down tender dirty drab within to match the formless smoky drab without; no one adored rhubarb tints, or admired the colour resulting from mixtures of cocoa and milk.

    The walls here were all one flush of comely cabbage roses making the most of themselves in quantities enough if they could have been gathered to fill several clothes' baskets.  They sprawled quite innocent of artistic propriety over a paper satin-soft, and glossy, and in hue of a delicate dove-colour.  There was gilding about certain picture-frames, and pink flutings and embroidered muslin draped the dressing-table.  The baby, as a little god of love, was half smothered in lace frillings, his little quilt was edged with swan's-down, and all his surroundings were enriched with fine needlework.  All was gay and fresh and clean.

    Mrs. Aird, hearing a step on the stairs, thrust away her novel, took up a piece of needlework, and at the same moment Mrs. Johnstone came in, looking very much flushed and agitated.

    The nurse set a chair for her, but she was too restless to sit down.  She had a telegram in her hand.

    "This has just come from Mr. Johnstone," she said; "it is about the little girls, nurse."

    "Indeed, ma'am."

    "Mr. Johnstone telegraphed from Reading Station."

    "Indeed, ma'am," repeated the nurse; "I hope there 's nothing wrong?"

    "I don't know, I hope not; but he says my eldest little girl has a slight rash on her neck."

    "Dear, ma'am!" exclaimed the nurse, "don't flurry yourself so; consider how ill you have been.  I dare say it 's nothing; might I see the message?"

    With a trembling hand Mrs. Johnstone held out the telegram.  It ran thus:

    "Have only just observed that Irene has a slight rash on her neck; seems unwell, and is cross.  Send baby into lodgings before we arrive.  I hope nothing of consequence.  If doctor says so, can have him back to-morrow."

    Upwards of twenty words; how these gentle-folks throw away their money!  This was the nurse's first thought; after it crowded in others that nearly took her breath away.

    "I understand, I am told, Mrs. Aird, that your mother lives at Dartford, and has the care of your baby."

    "Yes, ma'am; it is a very nice clean place."

    "Oh, I have of course no thought of sending you there for only one night."

    Mrs. Aird showed no disappointment in her face; she only said,

    "This handsome street and these squares about here never have any card up to show they let lodgings."

    "Oh, no, no; and there is so little time; what can I do?"

    "There 's Kew; is that far off, ma'am?"

    "Kew, yes, of course it is; but why?"

    "I have a friend there, close to Kew Green, a very respectable woman that comes from the same place in Oxfordshire that my poor husband did, and she told me this very morning that an artist gentleman had just left her, and she wished she could hear of another let."

    "I hope it would be only for a night," mused the mother.

    "She is the cleanest woman that ever was," urged the nurse, "and I am sure she would not charge much."

    "It would be sure to be for two nights," thought Mrs. Aird.  "I can telegraph as well as other people, and I might get a sight of my blessed baby."

    "Ma'am, I would not deceive you for the world," she cried, the clear colour at a thought of this possibility flushing up all over her face and throat.

    "You mean that this person is really clean and respectable?"

    "Yes, ma'am."

    "And no other lodgers taken?"

    "Oh no, ma'am, the house is too small for that."

    "It is a healthy place?"

    "Oh yes, close to the gardens."

    "And in half an hour they will be here; ring the bell, Mrs. Aird."

    "The baby is ready dressed to go out," proceeded the nurse as she rose.

    "And the carriage," sighed the mother, "is already at the door."

    It had been ordered in fact to take Mrs. Johnstone out.

    "If I trust you for this one night," she pleaded, "you will not leave my dear baby for a moment?"

    "No, ma'am, it cuts me to the heart to see you so trembling.  I would not, I assure you, as I am a Christian.  But I'll be bound there's very little the matter with little miss; perhaps it's scarlatina she's got coming on, and all children must have that; the baby could not have it at a better time."

    The sight of Mrs. Johnstone's nervous anxiety and changing colour wrung these words from the nurse almost in spite of herself, and though she longed to go; but the bell was soon answered by a housemaid who was told to help Mrs. Aird at once in packing the baby's clothes.

    Mrs. Aird observed with excitement and joy that though the baby was to come back to-morrow, enough clothes were put up to last him at least a week.  She herself was told to take a box of clothes with her, and in a very few minutes all was ready.

    "I shall hope to drive over for you to-morrow," said Mrs. Johnstone, and in the meanwhile she gave her twelve postage cards and three pounds, in case she should not be able to come, charged her not to return without further orders, and took leave of her baby, with floods of passionate tears.

    In the comfortable closed carriage the nurse was driven through the streets' in a state of exultation scarcely to be described; here at least was absolute freedom for twenty-four hours, and if it proved that there really was any danger of infection, she might be left there some days, and manage to send her mother money to Dartford to buy a third-class ticket with, so that she might be willing to bring over the baby.

    This would be a costly pleasure certainly, but her circumstances as she understood them were so comfortable that she could afford it well.

    That very afternoon, having taken a friendly leave of the coachman and footman, and established herself in all state in the clean tidy lodgings which were everything she had described, Mrs. Aird wrote to her mother to relate these circumstances, dwelt on her longing to see her child, and expressed a naive, and perhaps not unnatural, hope that the rash might turn out to be scarlatina, in which case she was likely, as she thought, to have her time to herself for at least a week, and she should take it hard if her mother did not spare a day to bring the baby.

    The next day passed and no notice was taken of Mrs. Aird; Mrs. Johnstone did not appear, and a card was posted to her according to her directions.

    The following day Mrs. Aird's spirits were put into a flutter by the arrival of a telegram, in which she was informed that the little Miss Johnstone really had got scarlatina, that Mrs. Johnstone's doctor would pay her a visit that day at four o'clock, and that he would give her any directions which she might need.

    Mrs. Aird was ready to receive the doctor, she was so fresh, clean, cosy, and cheerful, that she looked a very ideal nurse, and the baby only six weeks old (her own being one fortnight older), looked already the better for her ministrations.

    The little lodgings were so neat, the house so detached in its pretty little garden, the air so pleasant, that altogether the doctor was very well satisfied.  "You may be here a week yet," he observed, knowing that if she was found to be doing her duty she would be there much longer.  "Of course it is perfectly understood that you are never to go into London."

    "Oh, yes, sir, and I have no such wish, I am sure.  I have not a single friend there."

    "Nor are you to go into any houses here."

    "Sir, I have not a single acquaintance anywhere near."

    "Of course you are to have no communication with Mr. Johnstone's servants, not even by letter."

    "You have not been there, then, sir?"

    It was taking a great liberty in the nurse to say that.

    "Certainly I have," he answered a little sternly; "that is another thing, doctors understand these matters, doctors never convey infection."

    "No, sir," answered Mrs. Aird, as an echo of his words, but not as conveying any opinion of her own; "I hope the little girl is not very ill?" she continued.

    "Oh, no, quite an ordinary case."

    The doctor then stepped out into the road.

    "You are in a position of great trust, Mrs. Aird.  Prove yourself worthy of it for your own sake.  Mr. and Mrs. Johnstone are both rich and kind.  By-the-bye, I may be expected to drop in any day."

    "Yes, sir, at what time?"

    "At anytime."

    "Then I had better never take the baby out of sight of the house."

    "I don't say that, I will always send a telegram an hour or so before I come, and if you take care never to be away more than an hour I shall be sure to find you."

    He thus effectually prevented her from doing more than take the baby for a walk, but she by her absolutely contented face when he spoke, prevented his thinking it needful to come!  She evidently did not mind the restraint at all, and he left her without having the remotest intention of going near her any more.  The baby was thriving, the nurse was well, the lodgings were all that he could wish, the young woman had no friend, and believed herself liable to frequent supervision.

    But why was the nurse so well contented to stay at home?  Because she had got an answer to her letter from her mother, and it set forth, to her great joy and surprise, that this frugal and respectable woman, having made up her mind to leave her lodgings at Dartford, where she got as "Maria well knew such a poor living out of the washing," was coming up with the baby to her old quarters at the back of Kensington Square, and to-morrow might be expected to drop in to an early dinner, and, if it was not an ill conveniency, could enjoy a pork chop or two and a green gooseberry pudding.

    Mrs. Aird could hardly believe her good fortune.  She saw at once a reason, though not the reason, for this sudden resolution.  She was herself to have every comfort; if more pork chops were eaten than could have been expected, no questions would be asked provided the baby was well and flourishing.  Her mother intended, of course, to come and share in some of the good things.  The friend in the lodgings would never tell that she might now and then have cooked for two instead of for one.  Moreover the mother had hinted already that she might as well constitute herself the baby's washerwoman as allow any other woman to have that post.  Mrs. Aird was rather late the next morning, and was about to dress the baby, who, having only just been washed, was sprawling on her knee, a little red, limp, crying creature, when, to her delight, her mother with her own baby came in.

    "Oh, mother, mother, take this one," she cried, "and give me mine!"

    The exchange was instantly effected, and Mrs. Aird began to devour her own baby with kisses.  Her mother laid the little Johnstone down on the bed, and let him comfort himself as well as he could with his own tiny fist, while she carefully took off and folded her own best shawl, and put on an apron.

    "A nice little fellow," she then said, looking at him critically.  "A fine boy I call him, for he's as big as yours already, and a fortnight younger.  A nice fresh skin," she continued, taking him up and turning him over on her competent motherly arm, "not a spot nornornor, a mark about him.  Yes, he's as near as may be the same weight as yours."

    The young mother, absorbed in her child, took no notice of these remarks, but tenderly cuddling her own baby against her neck, said sighing,

    "And to think he's weaned!  Oh, how much more interesting he does look than that other woman's child."

    "La!" cried her mother, "how can you say so, Maria!  I call that real, real foolish.  Interesting indeed, one's just as interesting asas the other, same size, same blue eyes, and what little down there is on their heads, just the same colour."

    "Well, mother, you were all for my having a nurse-child, so you're bound to make out it's for the best."

    "And I hope it'll prove for the best, mymy girl," said the mother, with a slow, quiet impressiveness.  "Well, if this child ain't gone off to sleep!  I'll just wrap him inin the nursing apron and put him in his cot.  I've brought you a bundle, Maria," she continued, cautiously lifting the child.  "A bundle with your two old print gowns in it, no need for you to go tramping up andand down these dull roads in your good new clothes.  Did you manage toto get those library books returned?  I should be loath for you to get into trouble, through their being sent for to the house, such a lot as you had too by what you wrote."

    "Yes, mother, I got them back; I had to send them from here by the carrier, and send the ninepence too in stamps for the reading of them."

    "See how you waste your money," answered her mother, cautiously laying the baby in his cot, "read, read, for ever read; that's what came ofof my settling at Kensington, and your going to S'Mary Abbots' schools.  What a man the old vicar is, to be sure!  If all the S'Mary Abbots' scholars can't read thethe smallest print andand write the longest word as soon as look at them, it's not for want of his worritting after them.  Little he cares, I'll be bound, what your mother had to pay in that very High Street for novels for you to read by candle-light in bed (all along of his being so keen after the learning).  It's a wonder you did not burn the house down!"

    "Mother," said Mrs. Aird, "I don't want Mrs. Johnstone to know I was brought up at Kensington; she's not aware but what we've lived at Dartford all our lives, instead of only while poor Lancey was with us."

    "Of course not," answered her mother, with gentle deliberation, which derived emphasis from a very slight impediment in her speech.  "And she never need, Ma Maria."

    She showed this imperfection of speech very little unless she was excited or agitated, and this is the exact contrary of what happens in most cases.

    "She hates the notion of my so much as looking at poor people, as if the very air of them could foul her child," said the daughter.

    "Most of 'em do."

    "And as to your coming all the way from Dartford through me wanting to set my eyes on my own just for an hour, she 'd never believe it."

    "Just like 'em again, but most of us is even with 'em, MaMaria.  And it does seeseem a good deal to act out forfor an hour or two, it does in―deed Maria."

    "Ay," continued the mother, Mrs. Pearson by name, with her gentle, slow hesitation, "and don't you go hiring your rubbishing no―novels here.  It might be found out.  Andandand I've―I've lit on two or three first first-rate ones, that I brought with me, shilling ones, I got halfhalf priceMaMaria."

    "Why should mother be so put out about the novels?" thought Mrs. Aird; "I've not heard her talk so badly I don't know when."

    "What are you doing, mother?"

    "Well, I'm not fond of washing frocks constant! you're crumpling the child's robe, and hehepoor little fellow! hashas but one.  I'll lay it by till wewe go home.  And how's Mrs. Leach, MaMaria?" (Mrs. Leach was the landlady.)

    "She's well, and full of joy; got work for nine days to come, morning till night, charing.  I'm to have my dinner cooked at the bake-house, and I shall oblige her by making my bed, and that."

    Master Lancelot Aird, having been divested of his best frock, was now laid in his mother's bed, with his bottle, over which he also fell asleep.  Mrs. Aird let her mother know that now she could do as she liked, she dined at twelve, and then she could enjoy her tea at four o'clock, and eat a good supper by half-past eight.

    "I wonder how you'll do when you've weaned this child?" observed the mother, her capricious impediment quite gone; "you'll find a difference then, my girl."

    "Don't talk of that, mother; I hope that won't be for six months at least."

    "It'll be no trouble," replied the mother, "be it sooner or latersooner or later. Ma Maria.  For by what you told me, he has been used to have the bottle once a day from his birth.  I had no trouble withwith yours, my―mymy girl.  And and if their being as like asas two peas is anyany rule, you'll have none withwith him."

    "There she goes again," thought Mrs. Aird, quite impressed by the uncommon degree of discomfort that her mother was suffering.

    Then it all went off again, the dinner was carried into the tiny parlour, the two babes slept in peace, and the two women, leaving the door open, sat down to enjoy themselves, a pot of porter, and some new bread, and other luxuries being set on the table.

    "Mrs. Leach doesn't so much as know I brought your child," said Mrs. Pearson, the young widow's mother.

    "Why should she, mother?" answered Mrs. Aird sharply, "she might take it into her head to tell Mrs. Johnstone."

    The mother nodded with an air of wisdom and triumph.  "The children have all got the scarlatina now,  my girl, and one of them is very ill."

    "How do you know, mother."

    "I went and inquired.  Said I to the cook, she was cleaning the steps, 'Mrs. Thompson's love, and has heard the little Johnstones are ill, and I was to inquire.'  She told me all I wanted to know.  Mrs. Johnstone's very unwell herself, and the servants say she'll certainly fret herself sick, so ill as she has just been, and she won't leave the children a minute.  'Well,' said I, 'you won't forget to give Mrs. Thompson's love to your lady;' and I left.  You've some days to yourself, my girl, yet."

    "So I think, mother."

    "Then―thenthen doyour best."

    "Yes, mother, why not?" answered Mrs. Aird carelessly, when at last her mother had managed to utter these words.  Mrs. Aird now went into the little kitchen and fetched in the pudding, she was by no means too proud to wait on herself when her friend and landlady was busy.

    And now that this comfortable meal was over, Mrs. Pearson, to her daughter's great surprise, expressed a strong wish to see Kew Gardens.  "But as you've never dressed the baby, Maria," she continued, "along of his being asleep, you have no call to come too, you can see them any day.  There he is awake, I hear him stirring, and yours'll wake too directly."  She stepped out into the road, and before her daughter had recovered from the surprise of feeling that there was something unusual about her mother, she was gone.  "I'llI'llI'll be in by tea-time, mymy girl," she said; "undo the bundle and put in anyanything you have for the wash, and I'll take it with me."


 
CHAPTER II.


MRS. PEARSON had no sooner departed than the Johnstone baby began to cry lustily.  His nurse took him up, and while she sat on the side of the bed, satisfying his little wants, she gazed at her own child with tender love.

   Two or three tears rolled down her comely cheeks, while the alien baby made himself at home at her breast, and half choked his greedy little self, over the nourishment she had sold away from her own.

    As she held her nurseling with one hand, she drew towards her the bundle her mother had brought, with the other, untied the knots, shook out her two gowns, and three shabby little volumes fell away from them on to the bed.  She lifted one, and a sudden touch of self-consciousness made her feel how odd it was that her mother should have accidentally lighted on such a story; but she put it aside without another thought, for she had read it before, and it was not interesting.  Then she took up the next, and when she saw that it was on the same subject—a very common and favourite subject with writers of fiction—she no longer thought there was any accident in the matter.  Her mother, she perceived, had brought these books to her on purpose to suggest what she did not dare to say.  She took up the third book—one very dirty volume from an old-fashioned story called "The Changeling."

    She turned very pale; her first thought was one of almost unreasonable anger against her mother.  If she had been minded to do this thing, as she now perceived, she could not have done it without an accomplice, without doubling therefore the slender chance of escape from detection.  She felt that a longing that such a thing could have been done had already existed deep down in her heart.  She accused her mother as alone having given it form and possibility.  The little nurseling, now fed to the full, was awake and quiet in her arms; but temptation was too new to be acted on.  She put on his fine and ample clothes all but his robe, and laying him down beside the other babe, began to recall the things her mother had said.  They had the same coloured eyes, the same coloured down on their heads, they were about the same size but as to bringing the remote romances of a by-gone age into families that lived in Harley Street and seen a baby with his nurse to Kew—now, at this very present time—it was a thing too arduous for thought, too wicked for every-day life.  An Irish castle—tumble-down, haunted by ghosts, and full of retainers —had been the scene of one of these stories.  A fugitive family hundreds of years ago had stolen away the heir of the house, in another; and had left their child in its stead.

   In the third, children were also changed at nurse—but there was a gipsy in the case, and there were lawful midnight incantations, and the nurse was conjured into the crypt of a ruined chapel, far among the Scotch mountains; and there the baby was charmed away from her, and an elf-child left in her arms.

    She mocked at her mother, and was sore against her in her heart.  She was holding up the broidered robe of her nurseling; did it look like anything that her child could wear upon his pretty low-born limbs without detection?  Yes!  There was nothing to choose.  He was the finer child of the two; at least, if there was anything to choose between them.

    It was time he had his bottle.  She would warm its contents for him.  She did so, and her tears fell fast, as she leaned over the little kitchen fire.

    When he had finished this meal—each child being full dressed, excepting that it had its frock off—she thought she should like to see how her child would look in the beautiful robe.  She put it on; and to her fond eyes he seemed to become it far better than the other did.  To change them!  Oh, that such a thing could be!  But she was not unreasonable; she knew as well as possible that it could not; but, for the moment—only for the moment—her child should look like the gentleman's son.  Nature was not unfair at the first; the carpenter's baby as he had come from her hand was as fair, as refined, as innocent in aspect as he could be.  It would only be when art stepped in and educated him, that he would be, however he might dress, all the cockney and all the carpenter.

    His mother (over the Johnstone baby's robe) put on the delicate blue cashmere cloak, enriched with swan's-down, and the pretty satin hood, with its lace cockade.  And sat handing over him with a yearning sense of envy against the other baby and a rapture of pride in him.

    She did not care whether her mother came in or not.  She would by no means do this thing.  In fact, it could not be done with the least chance of success—but not the less, her mother should know she perceived she had been tempted—not the less—A sudden qualm at the nurse's heart.  A noise of wheels!  A dust rising up!  A carriage!—oh misfortune, a carriage,—and both the children in the house; she herself, sitting in the little bedroom, which was on the ground floor and led out of the sitting-room, must have been plainly seen by its one occupant—a lady; and this lady was now descending.  It was Mr. Johnstone's mother.  Something must be done, and done instantly.  But nothing could ever make things come right if it were discovered that two babies were in the house and one of them her own.  She had but one instant to decide! the lady was coming up the tiny garden.  The little Johnstone was lying contentedly on the bed—no time to dress him, no time to undress the other.  She kept her own baby on her arm, and in sheer desperation opened the bedroom door, and shutting it behind her, came to meet her guest with a curtsey and a welcome.  Something sadly like a prayer was on her trembling lips—her situation was terrible—and for the first few moments while the supposed grandmother—a fine capable woman little more than fifty, and who had just come up from Scotland—lifted the baby's lace veil, kissed him, chirped to him, and asked how he was, she trembled so as to attract attention—he was lying flat on his mother's arm staring at the nodding feathers in the visitor's bonnet.

    "You look very pale, nurse!" exclaimed the grandmother.

    "Oh, ma'am," answered Mrs. Aird, the ready lie rising to her lips.  "I was afraid you might be come to say the children were worse."

    "The children are worse, I am sorry to say," was the answer.  "I have not seen them, of course, that would not be prudent—but Mr. Johnstone writes me word that Miss Irene causes them a good deal of anxiety.

    "You may put your bonnet on, nurse.  The darling is dressed—you shall take him out with me for a little airing in the carriage."

    What! and leave the other baby all alone on the bed?  Mrs. Aird felt as if her heart stood still.

    "Oh, ma'am," she exclaimed, lying again, "I am so sorry, but the person of the house is gone out for an hour or so, just to do a little shopping, and I promised to see to the house while she was away—and she has locked the back-door and given me the key."

    "Oh, well, another time, then," said the lady slowly, and as if Mrs. Aird's manner surprised her.

    "You are quite well?" she inquired.

    "Oh, yes, as well as can be, ma'am," and all her soul was in her ears.  What if the Johnstone baby should cry!

    "Pretty little man," said the grandmother, again caressing the baby, but not taking him from the nurse; "I hope he is thriving."  She had not seen her grandson before.

    "Oh, ma'am, he is as good-tempered and as contented as he can be."  The nurse had now recovered her colour, every moment that the other baby remained quiet was a great gain, she was beginning to pluck up courage, and was trying to look cheerful.

    "Well, well," said the lady, smiling kindly, "I confess I do not see much virtue in a baby's contentment, when he has as good cause for it as I hear you give this one."

    "Thank you, ma'am, I am sure I try to give satisfaction."

    "I am very well satisfied," answered the grandmother graciously, "I shall write to my daughter that I am."

    A few more commonplaces, a few more adverse chances to be overlived, a few more flutterings of the heart on the part of the nurse, and then her visitor got up and took her leave and went back to the carriage, followed by the nurse with her own child in her arms.  It seemed to her that she had never listened and never looked before.

    That baby on the bed, how her ears were open to him!  That velvet mantle she was following, how she noted every fold and every "frog" upon it!

    But now her curtsey was made and the carriage was gone.

    She ran back into the house, laid her child on the bed, and burst into tears; for the first time in her life she knew what bitterness there is in the fear of detection.  "The wages of sin are hard."  Her ruin as regarded this situation and the character she hoped to have from it would have been irretrievable if anything had been found out.

    Even if she had meant really to do the thing, and keep to it, such an interview would have been more than she could have borne.  What if Mrs. Leach had walked in and it had come out that she had not left the house at all!  What if the other baby had begun to cry!  And yet how sweet that one of her own had looked when the strange visitor had nodded and chirped to him, and he had twisted his tiny mouth into the promise of a smile!

    It was not worth while to go through so much.

    No, that was not exactly it.  She loved herself as well as her baby.  She had not expected to be so frightened.  The least questioning would have betrayed all.  She never could so much as act such a thing again, and she pulled down the broidered robe, even tearing it in her hurry, and threw it aside from her own child.  Then she took up her nurseling, dressed him in all his bravery, and waited her mother's arrival with an easier heart.  She had not known herself before.  She was aware now what shame and dread had come of the mere prophecy of a crime in her heart.

    What, then, would experience be!  Well, it might be a pity, perhaps it was; but she was not one of those who could stand such a thing.  It was not her conscience that was awake, but her reason; even if she could do such a thing successfully, she should suffer constant fear of detection; she would not do it.

    Master Johnstone had enjoyed his supper, and was in his cot, and Master Aird had enjoyed his bottle before Mrs. Pearson came in.

    She entered slowly, and as if she would not startle her daughter.  Mrs. Aird had one of the babies on her knee.  Mrs. Pearson never cast her eyes on him.

    "La, Maria, my girl," were her first words; "such queer things as I have seen!"

    "No, have you, mother?" answered Mrs. Aird, with a keen consciousness that her mother cared about the said things nothing in the world.

    "If some of those cactus things wasn't just like an—an old man's head all over white hairs, my name's not Fanny Pearson," said the mother, without any signs of hesitation.  "There was a—a glass-house full of such.  The last time I saw them was the first bank holiday Parliament made.  The shops all shut up, and yet the Punches going, and barrows of fruit cried all about the streets, it was just like—like a wicked Sunday, that had got sorted wrong and come in the middle of the—the week."

    Her daughter, with a baby on her knee, remained silent.

    "And so tea's ready, Maria, my girl, and very acceptable, I say."  She glanced at her daughter, and noticed the signs of tears upon her face.  "I'm always glad of—of my tea," she continued; "how quiet the dear children are!" she added, as she drew her chair to the table.

    "One of them has been crying pretty hard," replied the daughter, without specifying which.

    She had a little white pinafore in her hand, and seemed to be giving her attention to the sleeve which she was folding back with a button.

    Her mother glanced keenly at her, but did not dare to look at the face of the child she had on her knee.

    Tea was now poured out.  Mrs. Pearson had begun to feel the silence rather awkward, when at last her daughter said, "Those three novels you brought me, mother, I wonder you should have thought I hadn't read them, they're old things every one of them."

    "Well," answered the mother, with obliging suavity, "if you don't mean to read them again, I'll take them back, Ma—Maria."

    "No, I don't," said Mrs. Aird.  She knew she was making her mother uncomfortable, but a certain slight perversity of temper afflicted her just then.  "I saw you'd looked them over before you chose them," she continued.

    Her mother reddened, she was not at all sure that the thing suggested had not been done.  "Maria's so deep," she reflected, "that she's quite capable of playing at innocence with me.  Still 'Least said is soonest mended,' and I wish she would hold her tongue."

    "I'll take them back," she managed to say, with many breaks and repetitions through the return of her impediment, and she rose and tied them up in a blue handkerchief, and returned almost meekly to the tea-table; she was quite at her daughter's mercy now; she could not articulate tolerably.  The least little smile hovered about Mrs. Aird's lips, such a subtle small smile as justified at once her mother's assertion that she was "deep."

    "I should burn them, mother, if I was you," she observed calmly, "not that they signify."

    Her mother answered nothing.

    "I've read dozens such—dozens," continued the daughter.  "I've not forgot one of them.  They're enough to dishearten the willingest sinner that ever breathed."

    "I don't know what you mean, Maria," the mother burst out, anger overcoming her hesitation.  She hardly knew whether she was most angry with her daughter for "giving words" to the matter at all when perfect silence would have been most prudent, or for thus leaving her in some doubt what she had done or meant to do, or for (as it really seemed) not being perfectly certain whether she dared trust her own mother.

    "Don't know what I mean, mother?" rejoined the daughter, that small smile hovering over her upper lip; "well, I call them disheartening because after they've (whoever they may be), after they've done it so beautiful, you know, they're always found out."  The mother looked very red and irate.  "No," she continued, appearing to cogitate, "I don't remember one but what's found out, nor one but what's brought to shame for it."

    And what was the effect of this speech on the mother?  She caught the subtle smile as it went an it never rose higher than the lip or warmed the eye, and she was in doubt.  Something had put Maria out she thought; perhaps though she meant to do the thing that had been hinted at, the peril of it mixed as wormwood with the sweetness of her hope.

    "They're always found out," repeated the daughter,

    The mother recovered speech.  "No, they're not," she replied angrily, "I know better than that."

    The significance of her manner was inexpressible.  Mrs. Aird gave a great start, and with frightened eyes gazed at the woman who had claimed for herself such awful experience.  But having said so much, the mother either could not or would not say more.  She poured out some tea, cut her daughter more bread and butter, and still not looking at the baby, scarce looking in his direction, left her words to work their due effect.

    What she had to do was finished.  She had made a certain suggestion, and her daughter surely was aware that she might count on her help to carry it out.

    There was silence; then Mrs. Leach, the landlady, came in.  She had a promise of several days' charing, wanted for many days to be away till eight o'clock at night, was very anxious to propitiate.  Did Mrs. Aird think she should mind answering the door herself if anybody came to see the baby?  Mrs. Aird was sure she should not, and also was quite willing to have a baked dinner for the next few days.

    Mrs. Leach had not seen the second baby who had made his appearance on the scene, neither the mother nor the daughter cared to mention him.  He was lying on his mother's bed with his bottle.  The little Johnstone, taking it into his head to be very fractious, Mrs. Aird carried him into the bedroom, and there, shutting herself in, comforted him and contemplated her heir.  The mother and Mrs. Leach meanwhile (tea being over) proceeded into the back of the house together, to inspect a new copper, and were a long while away, so that Mrs. Aird had plenty of time for thought.

    It was nearly three quarters of an hour before Mrs. Pearson returned and saw her daughter sitting by the window with a baby on her lap.  He was dressed in the robe that had been folded up so carefully in the morning, had on the neat little grey cloak and hood familiar to Mrs. Pearson's eyes, he had also a fine handkerchief trimmed with imitation lace lightly laid over his face.  A bundle of clothes to be washed was lying beside her.  The nurse explained that the omnibus her mother had wished to go back by was very nearly due, and that she had dressed the baby ready.  The grandmother did not look either at her or at the child with anything but a hasty glance.

    She took the child upon her arm and advanced to the open door, but the omnibus was not yet visible.  She could not stand waiting, she felt too much excited, and she proposed, as well as her impediment permitted, to go on and let it overtake her.  She was just stepping out when, as if by an irresistible impulse the daughter exclaimed, "Oh, I must have another kiss of him."  She flung back the handkerchief, and, behold, it was the same baby that had been brought, it was the carpenter's child! the grandmother could not doubt it, and anger reddened her face and filled her soul.

    Then Maria had not done it after all—after the trouble she had taken to come and live at Kensington—after the day's work she had given up in order to bring the child to Kew.  She was so wrath that she would have liked to box Maria's ears.  So irate in fact when Maria burst into a little chuckling laugh that she trembled all over till she was fain to step inside again and sit down, setting her bundle beside her on the floor.  Mrs. Aird, after that small laugh darted into the bedroom and appeared with the other baby in her arms and an air of simple innocence.  The omnibus went by and neither of them noticed it till too late.  The mother was trying hard to calm herself, and the irate hue of her face was fading; the daughter had the subtle smile about her lips when their eyes met, but it gave way to a gleam of surprise when her mother spoke as pleasantly as if nothing had happened.

    "I wish you could have managed to take him off my hands for two days while I look about me, Ma—Maria, he is a great handful."

    "Why, mother, it would be found out, you know it would."

    "Mrs. Leach don't know he's here; you couldn't help your own crying now and then in the night, but there's no ne—eed they should ever bo—oth cry together, for the other you can always stop.  They'd only—only seem to be one."

    "So I could, mother; how I should love to have him till you bring the clothes back!"

    "The doctor is to send a telegram if ever he comes.  There's a girl in the cottage round by the green that would take him out at what's calling time for ladies, Ma—Ma—ria."

    "To be sure," answered the daughter; "they never lunch till nearly two, they cannot possibly get here till three at earliest; I might send the blessed babe out at that time of day.  The girl need never see my nurse-child.  Well, mother—"

    "Well, you'll take him off—off—my hands then, till the clothes are—are—are ready."

    Mrs. Aird took him, that is, she got her mother to lay him in the cot, for her own arms were full, and she agreed with her mother to send on the girl who had been mentioned to speak to her.  The temptation, as she herself looked upon it, was over, she had not yielded.  She now thought she could enjoy the sweet for that little time without the bitter.  She he could have her own baby to sleep in her arms for those two nights, and send him away during the afternoon, so that she could no more suffer as she had done during the grandmother's visit.  She was glad at heart.  It was only safety she wanted.  Not to do the right, but to be safe in doing wrong.  So the baby was left, and Mrs. Pearson departed with a light step and considerable confidence in her mind as to what would be the end of it.  There never was such a chance, as she told herself as she went home—babies altered from week to week, who could challenge them?  The mother who could at this moment tell her child out of a hundred was sure not to come near him for fear of infection; and though she might in her jealous love and care send a friend almost every day to look that he was happy, clean, and cared for, the visit would be of no use as regarded the child's real danger, the only danger that threatened him.

    Mrs. Johnstone did indeed send almost every day, and was consoled by letters from various friends who came at her desire.  They always found a charming, fresh, healthy young nurse, a clean room and a fat baby.  They never found any one with the nurse.  She seemed glad to see them, and always expressed much sympathy with Mrs. Johnstone.


 
CHAPTER III.


AT about ten o'clock on the morning of the appointed day, Mrs. Pearson entered the cottage at Kew with the baby Johnstone's clean clothes.

    Mrs. Aired looked tired and flushed.  "Such a night as I have had, mother, you wouldn't believe!" she exclaimed; "as fast as one was quiet the other set off crying, and it's been nothing but cry, cry, one or the other, all the time I've been washing and dressing them.  They're both just fed, and I hope they'll take a spell of sleep now, for I'm about tired out."

    The clothes from the wash were then spread on the table, and Maria proceeded to pay her mother for doing them.

    "And now, mother, sit down," she proceeded.  "You are the washerwoman, you see, sit down, but in case anybody should come in, leave the money and the clothes on the table to look natural."

    "Nobody will come to-day," answered the mother, rather seriously.

    "Why not?"

    "That—that little girl that was first taken ill—she's dead, Maria."

    "Mother!"

"Yes, I inquired, and—and the cook told me;" she gave a little gasp here, as if making a supreme effort to overtake and run down her words, then went on quite easily.  She said, "They've just sent the death to the Times, and—and you'll see it to-morrow, 'Irene, beloved child of Donald Johnstone, aged three years and three months.'"

    "Yes, she was their eldest child.  Poor Mrs. Johnstone!  I wonder how the others are, mother?"

    "Very ill by what I hear; the cook said Mrs. Johnstone was very ill too, and the master was so knocked down by that, and his trouble at the child's death that it was a pity to see him."

    "He is very fond of her; I wonder whether she is going to have the fever."

    "Nobody will know that yet, with grown-up people it seldom shows before the fourteenth day.  But—but —but, dear me, my girl, you do look tired out."

    "I am tired.  I'm sorry at my heart for the Johnstones.  Mother, I've done a deal of thinking since we parted."

    "Thinking about what, Ma—Maria?"

    "Well, partly about you, mother, and what you let out the other day."

    "I suppose, whatever you may have thought all your—all your life, you—you—you never thought your mother was a fool?"

    "No, I never did; but I have thought there might be things"

    "Things as you'd have a right to hear when you was older.  Well, there might be, or again there might—might—might not be, Ma-Maria."

    "But if you go on like this, mother, I shall know as clear as can be that you're not easy in your mind about trusting me, and don't seem to like it; if so, I'd as lief [Ed.— gladly] not hear anything."

    "I've no call to be uneasy, Ma—Maria, what I had a hand in is done constant—constant, Maria."

    "Mother!"

    "And if I tell it you now, it's—it's for your good."

    "Yes, mother, what else should it be for?" but the daughter blushed, and the mother looked anywhere rather than at her face.

    "Before I married your father, when I was in service—nursemaid to Mrs. Plumstead—we were in Italy, and the baby died."

    "Yes, I've heard you say so."

    "But she kept me, Ma—Maria, for there was another expected very soon, and the master was going so fast in con—consumption, that she was glad enough of me to help to nurse him."

    She lifted the edge of a Paisley shawl she had on.  "She was very free-spoken.  This very shawl, such a good one it was, she gave it me the first par—particular talk we had.  She said she knew he (she—she always called him he, and whispered as if she was cautious about being overheard)—she knew he couldn't live long, and she did so wish for a boy.  Once when—when we talked she said, 'If—if I have a girl, I shall be a nobody; but if it's a boy, he will inherit the estate, and I shall have a handsome allowance for—for bringing of him up.'  She said, 'Fanny Slade, my husband is very dark, as—as dark as most Italians.  It's likely his son should be dark.  Don't you think,' she said, very soft and gentle, 'Don't you think I can manage to have a boy?'  I knew a—a good many of her thoughts by that time, I said, 'You wouldn't be so cruel, ma'am.  What! and—and leave your own child, if it's a girl, with these nuns and people."

    "She laughed me to scorn at that.  'Leave my own, if it's a girl,' she said; 'for shame of you, to think of such a thing, but why—why—why shouldn't I have twins, Fanny Slade?"

    "She had a curious smile, Ma—Maria.  Many an hour I sat and thought on it after I left her.  A little smile like—like yours.  She was so deep that I could never make out more of her than—than she liked to explain.  Yet she seemed so free-spoken.  I often wondered over her.  She would sit and look up in the bare sky, not a bit afraid of it."

    "Why should she have been afraid of it?"

    "Why—why, wait till—till you see it, everything wiped clean away betwixt you and heaven; seems as—as if they must see down so awful clear—everything you're doing, and that for—for weeks and weeks together.  When—when I came to have things on my mind I hated that sky, and there seemed to be nothing worth breathing, it was so clear.  All the time before you were born, I—I often sat and thought how she would paint her flowers, and smile when he wasn't looking at her.  He—he was very fond of her.  She had a dove-coloured quilted satin gown, and she would be dressed in it for him to admire her, and then when he fell asleep she would smile.

    "She said, 'Why shouldn't I have twins, Fanny Slade?' and she looked at—at—at me so quiet.  She would be often painting, and—and she would send me out under the olive-trees to—to gather flowers for her.  I didn't like it.  You—you may think your mother soft, Ma—Maria, but I often cried over that work, II assure you."

    "Why, mother?"

    "They were so mortal beautiful; they stood so thick together, white, and crimson, and blue, in the shadow among the green wheat, all scent and glory.  I was afraid of them, for—for—for I knew the Lord would never have made them like that, and not often be coming down to look at them."

    All this time the daughter listened wide-eyed, and the mother whispered, "We had been all the winter in that little island I told you of, they call it Capri; and now we was journeying—we—we was journeying slowly home, Ma—Maria.  The orange-trees were full of blossom, and what with their scent and the sun I —I—I used to feel quite giddy.

    "We stopped once at a little—little village inn, for the master was very faint; he went indoors, and he laid himself down on the bed to rest a couple of hours.  We sat down on a bench under a vine.  As we sat we saw a young girl with a very young baby on—on her arm.  Down there they fix them out straight.  Mrs. Plumstead called her, and began to whisper to her, and she sat—sat down almost at her feet.  She could speak Italian quite well, but the master could not, at—at all, no, nor understand it.

    "Such a pretty young girl she was, and by—by what Mrs. Plumstead told me, she had no father for her babe.

    "Well, I went in to see how the master was, and —and we dined there; after that they sent for me, and when I came she said, 'Fanny Slade, Mr. Plumstead has—has just noticed that my diamond ring is not on my finger, and he is sure I had it this—this morning.'  'Sure,' said he.  She looked at me so—so calm and gentle.  Said he, 'I seem to recall the sound of some small thing that I heard roll on the floor before dinner,' and he thought it had rolled under the skirting.  Well, I searched, and when it was not found, if he didn't have all the flooring up! she encouraging him.  But my thought was that she had given it to the girl.  Well, we—we slept there, and—and—and the next day he was better.  We went on and then stopped (because she said she was tired), in the marketplace of a little small town, and there to—to—to my wonder, I saw that same girl forty miles from her home, looking out for us. I—I looked at missis.  She said, so gentle and sweet, 'Love, I wish you were not so short-sighted,' she said, 'there is such a pretty cos—costume down there,' that was said to him, but it was meant for me, he—he could not see the girl.  We had a vast deal of talk that afternoon, she and I.  Then we went on and—and again, in a little village by an inn door was the girl, she had gone on before us, Mrs.—Mrs. Plumstead saying what—what inn she should drive to.  We did not move any more.  That—that night Mrs. Plumstead was taken ill, and about dawn her baby was born, and—and, Ma—ria, it was a girl.

    "As soon as the doctor was gone I knocked at—at Mr. Plumstead's door.  Well, it—it was shocking to hear him thank God for my lie.  I told him he had twin children born, a son and a daughter."

    She gave a little gasp here in this the crisis of her story, and as if her words could not be commanded, went back to an easier part of it.

    "Mrs. Plumstead had said to me, 'I mean to have that girl for a wet nurse, and I have told her also to—to wash her baby and bring him to me to—to look at.'  I could see in the dawn light how—how wan Mr. Plumstead looked; but he gave thanks as—as well as he could like a Christian; and—and said he, 'It's a sin—singular thing, Fanny Slade, that Mrs. Plumstead has more than once expressed to me a sort of pre—sentiment, that she should have twins.'

    "I was obliged to leave him, ill as—as he seemed.  When I went to him again he seemed to rally a bit, but little as I knew then about sickness and death, I knew that death was nigh.

    "And—and he would send me out for flowers.  There never were such people for flowers.  They were easy enough to get, the olive-yards were choked up with them, spread-out anemones, and tulips, and Jacob's ladder.  I pulled an armful, but I was frightened, for—for there was a sign in the sky."

    "Mother what sign?"

    "I had—had seen too many pictures of angels not to know what sign.  It was a vast way off.  It was an angel, you could not make out the form of its—its body, but his two long pointed wings just like a gauze cloud were titled towards the world as—as if he was flying down.  I saw the—the faint shadow of them, it fell just where I stood."

    "You saw only the white wings?"

    "Yes, I tell you only the wings.  The sky being so clear there, you can see things, Maria, that—that here are invisible.  It was the Angel of Death passing—passing down and going to stop.

    "I ran in.  He was propped up with pillows, writing to his father, to express the birth of the twins.  He—he directed the letter and sent me to his wife with his dear love, and how did she feel herself?  When I got back, dying he was with the letter in his hand.  I could see his face change as I gave him the—the message.  He expressed he was pleased, but he soon began to ramble in his talk, and just at noon that day he died in my arms, as softly as could be.

    "We kept the—the girl about us, and when Mrs. Plumstead was able to travel, we took her and the—the boy-baby too, for it was made out that the poor lady was—was too delicate by half to nurse her child.

    "When we got well away, Mrs. Plumstead had to give the—the girl a very heavy bribe, to leave her child.  She was a thief and a good-for-nothing little—little hussy; but she loved her baby, and at last Mrs. Plumstead got out her jewel-case and sat smiling at her, and showed her—her two diamond earrings; and she sat staring as—as if she would eat them.  Then Mrs. Plumstead put them in her ears, and gave her a little hand-glass to look at herself; but she kept sulking and pouting.  Then Mrs. Plumstead gave her a pink coral brooch, and she began to talk and smile and show her pretty white teeth; and—and at last Mrs. Plumstead shook out a long gold chain, and looked at her and smiled, and put it round her neck, and—and the girl started up and gave a great cry, and ran out of the room, never looking back, and took herself off, and—and we saw her no more.

    "That's all about it, Maria, it was very easy done.  We soon hired a wet nurse for the boy, and came out of Italy to a place they—they call Mentone.

    "But nothing seemed to go right, for here the little girl baby died, and Mrs. Plumstead took on most most fearful, and made out that I'd encouraged her to do the thing, and the death of the baby was sent to punish her.  She fretted and used to put herself quite in a rage over the letters she got from her relations.  She must be—be thankful, they all said, she'd got her dear boy left.

    "She was all brown, her cheeks were soft and brown, and her eyes like—like brown velvet.  The baby was not as brown as she.  Well, Maria, in a few months we came to England, and there I did a—a foolish thing—"

    The daughter, all eyes, sat listening; tears were on the mother's cheeks.

    "A foolish thing, and lost my hold over her.  I married your father.  He came to see me, and vowed he would not wait any longer.  And I married him."

    "Well, mother, many's the time you said he made you a good husband, and he never drank."

    "No, my girl; but she had promised me two hundred pounds, and she—she said she could not get at it before I married, for—for she must not part with any more of her jewels.  Afterwards she was engaged to be married again, and I—I heard it.  I was bent on having that money.  I thought if she put me off any more, I would threaten her that I would speak; and as soon as I got well, after you were born, I took you on my arm and went to her house.  Oh, Ma—Maria! it cuts me to the heart to think on it.  I'd done my level best to serve her, and nothing was to come of it.

    "'You cannot speak with Mrs. Plumstead to-day,' said the butler, 'she's distracted with—with grief; we've lost Master Geoffry.'  I did see her, though; she was hiding herself in her dressing-room.  She did not wish it to be seen that she had no tears to shed.  But oh! she was vexed.  He had died of croup.  I saw it was a bad chance for me; she—she put me off with promises and promises."

    "Then why didn't you say you would speak of it?" asked the daughter eagerly.

    "Where would have been the use, my girl?  And—and she promised me so fair.  Who could I tell it to either—nobody cared?  He was out of the way of the next heir, and—and—and the girl could never come and seek her own; she did not so much as know our names.  But, Maria, it—it seemed hard."

    "Mother, didn't I say that those stories never end well?  They are alike for that."

    "I got but ten pounds of her, Maria, and when I was put out she smiled—yes, she did; she—she looked at me and smiled!"

    "It was a shame."

    "Ay, and she soon went to Scotland with her new husband, and had five fine boys, one after the other but—but she never gave me aught but their old clothe for mine, and paid the carriage of the parcels—I will say that: she—she paid the carriage."

    "You've no writing for the two hundred?" asked the daughter.

    "No—and there's nothing to be done.  I—I—I can't punish her without ac—accusing myself"

    "If you think so, mother—"

    "I know it, my girl, and it seems to hold me back; and me only five and forty and a widow, to think of my missing such a payment after—after, as you may say, it was fairly won!"

    "I'm sorry I vexed you the other day, mother," said the daughter with absurd compunction.

    "Ay, Ma—Maria, my girl, it was not dutiful of you."  The daughter kissed her, and the mother wiped away some tears.  Then there was a long silence.

    "You'll stop and dine, mother?  We could both dine in the kitchen; and, if anybody called, I could leave you and baby there," said Mrs. Aird at last.

    "No, I'd best not; but if you could keep him another day or so—"

    "To be sure, mother.  Why, I find nobody ever comes except between three and six.  As to Mrs. Leach, she'll not have a day at home for the next fortnight, so she'll never see him.  Leave him, mother, and, when I want you to come for him, I'll drop you a post-card."

    So Mrs. Pearson departed, not having stayed more than an hour or seen either of the children.

    Mr. Johnstone's mother drove over again that afternoon, and wept as she told the story of the little Irene's death, and the father's distress.  Her daughter-in-law, she said, was causing great anxiety to them all by the way that she appeared to be sinking under this trial.  Maria Aird won golden opinions for herself by the tears she also shed when she heard this.

    One baby was gone out for a walk, in charge of the girl; the other was lying on her knee: which was it?  If it was not the same that Mrs. Johnstone's mother had seen two or three days before, she certainly did not notice any such fact.

    Maria Aird, after that, expected at least one visitor every day, and never failed to have one.  The day following the grandmother's visit came a telegram from the doctor.  She was in every way ready for him; the house very clean, the baby fast asleep (she said she had just nursed him), the other baby away.

    "I shall not be able to come again," he said as he departed.  "Mrs. Johnstone's mother will now see that you have what you want.  At the same time, if anything should ail the child, you will of course telegraph to me; for in such a case, you understand, I certainly should come."

    So he took his leave, having done mischief which, when it disclosed itself, he was truly sorry for.  But what are doctors to do?  He had changed his coat after his morning visit to Harley Street, and, as we all know, doctors never convey infection.

    Mrs. Pearson had agreed with her daughter that a card should be posted to her when the baby was to be fetched, but she was very much surprised when a fortnight within one day had elapsed, and the expected card had not arrived. "But Maria is very deep," she reflected, "and, if she is going to do her duty by her own child, she'll yet be wishful that I should not know it—know it, for certain.  Very like I may go on to the end of my days and never hear the real truth from her own mouth; but I shall feel sure about what it is for all that; and she thinks the child may alter a good bit in a fortnight.  Besides, she'll have weaned the other."

    The same evening a letter arrived:


        "DEAREST MOTHER,
    "I feel myself very ill.  Come as soon as ever you can to-morrow morning and fetch away Lancey.  They are both so very fractious, I don't know where to turn. ["Both so fractious, are they? I expected it of one of them," mused the grandmother.]  I shall get up as early as I can, and have mine ready.  I do so want you to take him; I cannot do with them both ["That looks well!"], for my head aches so, night and day, and his fretting makes me feel worse.  Mother, don't fail to come.

 "Your dutiful daughter,

"MARIA JANE AIRD."


    At nine o'clock the next morning, Mrs. Pearson walked in.  Her daughter Maria, who seemed to be sitting up with difficulty, was dressing one baby; the other—presumably her own—was already in cloak and hood.

    The mother's keen glance made her at once aware of something more the matter than she had anticipated.  The daughter acknowledged no discomforts but headache and sore throat, and was presently so giddy that her mother made her go into the chamber and lie down on her bed.

    And now, as is often the case, the daughter found herself more than commonly under the dominion of her natural qualities of mind, just, as it seemed, because it was more than commonly needful to success that she should escape from them.

    She preserved an open innocence of manner, and said nothing at all to her mother, who knew, or thought, at once that no confidence would be reposed in her, and that all depended on her own keenness of observation.  So she left her on her bed, and, taking her time to examine the children, to cogitate, and to make her arrangements, sent, in about an hour, by a passing child, to fetch the girl always trusted to carry out one of the children, put him into her arms in the little grey cloak and veil, and, having already despatched a telegram for the doctor, sat nursing the other child till his carriage appeared, and out he bustled.  Mrs. Pearson met him.

    "My daughter wrote me word, sir, last night, that she felt herself ill, and I have just come over to see her."

    "What is the matter?"

    "I hope, sir, considering that—that she has done her best," the mother began, following him into the little chamber.

    "Take the baby out of the room," were almost his first words.

    "I feel so confused, sir, and my throat so sore," said the poor young creature.

    Mrs. Aird felt more confused as the day wore on, but she knew her mother was sometimes present, and that both the babies were gone.

    She was quite able also to take pleasure in the knowledge that she was to be nursed at the charges of the Johnstones, and she did not forget that, when her mother said to the doctor that she knew very well how her daughter had caught the infection which had deprived her of her situation, he looked concerned, said not a word, but put his, hand in his pocket and gave her a sovereign.

    She was skilfully and carefully nursed, and was never seriously ill—scarcely in bed more than a fortnight.

    Then began her education.

    She sat up, thin, white-handed, and with eyes full of brooding thought and doubtful cogitation.  She was to remain in the little lodgings at Kew for a full month, and then to have change, that the Johnstones might not have it on their consciences that anything was left undone for her good, or to prevent the further spread of infection.

    Mr. Johnstone's mother had fetched away the baby, and happily he did not have the fever.  The other child took it, and, of course, was nursed in the little lodgings at the back of Kensington Square.

    Always in doubt, turning things over in her mind, Maria Aird would sit out in Kew Gardens, pondering over what she had done.  "Was it worth while to have done this thing?  No, but it was now not worth while to go through the far worse misery of undoing it.  But was it done, after all?  That depended entirely on what had been her mother's opinion of matters when she had been left alone with the children.  But, oh, to be well again!" thought the young woman, "and see the baby again.  I shall know whether it's my own or not.  If it is, after all I've gone through, I think I shall be glad, though it may seem hard, when I'd got it done, to have it undone.  Yet if it is not—oh! I do think I must confess it, come what will!"

    But all sense of the possibility of such a thing as confession and restitution was soon over, and every day she got more used to the dull brooding pain that had worn itself a home in her breast.  She knew and felt that she had done a criminal action, but she did not, strange to say, by any means think of herself as a criminal.

    A criminal seemed to be some one whose crime was a part of himself, some one with whom crime was ingrain, and she felt, in spite of all Bible teaching and school teaching, as if her fault was external to herself—something into which she had been tricked by circumstances.

    And yet she knew it was wrong to dislike, as she did, the notion of having to work for, and bring up, and act mother to, the Johnstone baby.  Very soon, almost all her sense of wrong-doing attached itself to this dislike.

    She longed to go to service again, though she should have to pay her mother half the money she got to take care of this child and bring him up.  And how soon could she make interest for his being got into some orphan school?  Then she could go abroad and see him no more.  Better by half never to set her eyes upon her own son again than have that other woman's son always beside her!



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