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
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
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
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."
"Mr. Johnstone telegraphed from Reading Station."
"Indeed, ma'am," repeated the nurse; "I hope there 's nothing
"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
"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
"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
"She is the cleanest woman that ever was," urged
the nurse, "and I am sure she would not charge
"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
"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
"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
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
"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?"
"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
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 nor―nor―nor, 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 as―as 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, my―my girl,"
said the mother, with a slow, quiet impressiveness. "Well, if this child ain't gone off to sleep! I'll just
wrap him in―in 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 and―and down these dull roads in your good
new clothes. Did you manage to―to 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 of―of 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 the―the
smallest print and―and 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,
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, Ma―Maria. And it does see―seem a good deal to
act out for―for 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. And―and―and I've―I've lit on two or
three first first-rate ones, that I brought with me,
shilling ones, I got half―half price―Ma―Maria."
"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 he―he―poor
little fellow! has―has but one. I'll lay it by till we―we go home. And how's Mrs. Leach, Ma―Maria?" (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 later―sooner 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 with―with yours, my―my―my girl. And and if their
being as like as―as two peas is any―any
have none with―with 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
"Why should she, mother?" answered Mrs. Aird
sharply, "she might take it into her head to tell Mrs.
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―then―then do―your 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
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'll―I'll―I'll be in by tea-time, my―my girl," she said;
"undo the bundle and put in any―anything you have
for the wash, and I'll take it with me."
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
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
"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
"You may put your bonnet on, nurse. The darling is
dressed—you shall take him out with me for a little airing in the
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
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
"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
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
"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
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
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
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
"That—that little girl that was first taken ill—she's dead,
"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
"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
"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,
"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
"I've no call to be uneasy, Ma—Maria, what I had a hand in is
done constant—constant, Maria."
"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
"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
"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
"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, I―I
"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
"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
"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
The daughter, all eyes, sat listening; tears were on the
"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
"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
"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:―
"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,
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
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
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
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
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
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