IT was nearly the
end of July when Maria Jane Aird, getting out of an omnibus, passed
through Kensington Square to her mother's lodgings.
She was expected. Her sister, a girl of fourteen, ran
and snatched up the baby, and, thrusting him almost into her face,
expatiated on his good temper, and demanded her eulogies in the same
breath. "Ain't he grown?" she exclaimed, giving him a sounding
The mother, having greeted her daughter, turned again at once
to the ironing-board and looked away, while Mrs. Aird, without
taking the child, gazed at him with earnest, anxious attention.
"What ails you?" asked her sister.
"He's so changed," she murmured.
The thing sat boldly up, and stared at her—she stared at him.
Though it was a hot night, she began to shiver; she
remembered so well the two babes she had parted from, and all the
small but unmistakable particulars of feature and countenance in
which they differed; but this differed from both.
This little fellow had a certain small amount of speculation
in his bead-like blue eyes; he was more than five months old.
He clutched the little sister's hair, and tried to suck it; when she
tossed him up, he uttered an ecstatic squeal to express approval; he
turned his head when he heard the click of the iron as it was set
down; when she took him in her arms he cried, for his dawning
intelligence seemed to assure him that she was a stranger.
She had thought incessantly on the two children ever since
they had been taken from her. This child was not the least
like her faithful recollection of either.
"By my not knowing him," she reflected, "I am sure he is not
mine; mine I shall certainly know, and I shall never rest till I've
"He kicks ever so when he wants me to put him down," observed
the zealous little sister; "he likes to lie on the floor on the
Mrs. Pearson then came forward to show off some of his
accomplishments; he took a great deal of notice, it appeared.
"Toss him up and make him laugh, 'Lizabeth." No sooner
said than done. The baby crowed and cooed, and showed his
toothless gums, and, at the sight of this reality, her remembrance
She took him and pressed him to her bosom with a sort of
yearning, for he might be hers; but she soon put him down again,
for—oh, strange uncertainty, might not!
The baby, the two sisters, and their mother, all slept in one
room that night; there was but one other—the living-room, which also
served for a kitchen. There was scant opportunity for such
conversation as the young widow might have been supposed to long for
with her mother; but it was characteristic of both the women that,
so far from wishing to talk, they dreaded to be alone together.
The mother, having for so many years kept her own secret, felt a
kind of resentment against her favourite child for having been so
tardy, so unwilling to take a hint as to have at last forced it from
her; the daughter feared to ask a direct question, lest her mother
should prevaricate in her answer, and so make her feel doubtful
evermore in spite of any protestations that might come after.
No, she should certainly find her own child less altered; she should
know him easily enough. She would wait, and in the meantime
try to be good to this one.
Some weeks after this the Johnstones came back to London for
a short time preparatory to an autumnal sojourn at the seaside, and
Mrs. Johnstone received a letter, which she thought a very nice one.
She was quite well herself, and her little girls were well, so was
the baby—indeed, he had never been otherwise. "Madam," ran the
"I have long been perfectly recovered, and hope never
to forget how good you have been to me. I came home some time
ago and found my baby very well under mother's charge.
"Madam, I feel such a great wish to see your dear babe; might
I take the liberty to come some morning to set my eyes upon him?
I hope he was none the worse for my being ill so suddenly.
Hoping to hear from you, madam, I am,
"Your humble servant,
"Kindly creature!" said Mrs. Johnstone, handing over the
letter to her husband. "Many women feel a great love for their
foster-children. I shall be pleased to show baby to her."
So one morning, about the end of September, Mrs. Aird was
shown up into the nursery at Upper Harley Street. She was to
dine there and spend the day. Mrs. Johnstone brought her up
herself. The boy was asleep in his cradle; he was a great,
fat, heavy child, almost half as big again as the active, lean
little fellow she had left at home. She had all but made up
her mind—the want of maternal yearning towards the baby at home
having persuaded her most of all—yet she longed to recognize this
child, and so be sure for ever. She fully looked for
certainty, but this child also was so much changed, that, as she
stood looking at him, she could not help shedding tears. He
awoke, rosy and cross, and would not come to her, and she knew she
must now tell all to her mother, and get the real truth from her, or
else for ever be uncertain which was which. She looked round
at the pretty little sisters; there was no special likeness between
him and them; just so she had recalled all her own and her husband's
relatives as far as she had known them in childhood, and she found
no decisive likeness to either child there. The children were
both fair, both blue eyed; this was a fine fat baby, but then he had
never been ill. The other had had an attack of scarlatina, had
been pulled down by it, and was not fat; that was all.
Maria Aird did not get out of the omnibus which brought her
to Kensington High Street till about seven o'clock in the evening;
the day had been hot and the street was more shady than dusk, though
the weather was remarkably overcast.
As she walked on, she saw a stretcher preceding her. It
was borne on the shoulders of four policemen, who were pacing
carefully along. At first she knew not what was upon it—it was
something brown. Then suddenly it revealed itself plainly to
her—a woman's gown. Yes, poor creature, it was a woman.
Bandages were swathed round and round her and the stretcher,
but she did not move or show any sign of life. Mrs. Aird could
make out her figure, and, as she went on, still the stretcher
preceded her up a street, through the square, then down another
street, then to the little court where she lived, and there—oh,
terror! it stopped at her mother's door.
A cry from within echoed her agonized voice without, "Oh,
The dull misery of the day was as nothing, now this more
acute agony absorbed all her thoughts.
The poor patient was carried to her bed, and her daughters
were told of her having been run over in one of the narrow streets
near, and from the first, having been insensible, showing in her
face no expression of pain.
A kindly neighbour proposed to take charge of the baby for
the night. The young widow let him go, scarcely looking at
him; she remembered every few minutes, with a flash of fear, that
she might now perhaps never be able to ask the question on which so
much depended. She loved her mother, and between this love and
this fear it seemed as if nothing could exhaust her. That
night and the next day, and through the next night, her untiring
eyes kept watch; her unwearied hands were busy about the silent
Sometimes a little better, there would seem to be
intelligence in her mother's eyes, then again there would be a
wandering and aimless gaze.
The daughters were told to hope, and hope assisted in
sustaining them; but as yet no communication was possible. At
last Maria Jane Aird felt that she could do no more, and left her
place by the bedside to her sister.
Another weary day and night passed, still they were told to
hope; then, just at dawn, the tired sister crept to Maria's bed and
woke her with, "Mother has spoken quite sensibly several times;" and
she got up, and came to take her turn at the nursing. The red
flush and solemn light of sunrise was on the ceiling, and seemed to
be cast down on her mother's pallid and wasted features. She
saw at once an improvement of a certain kind, but the face was no
longer calm; she laid her hand gently on her mother's, saying, in a
soothing tone, "You must be quite still, mother dear, and not fuss
yourself about anything—there's no occasion."
Such a commonplace reply,—"Me not fuss, and your silk gown
gone to the pawnbroker's?"
"Don't trouble about that, dear mother."
"And your watch—I heard you both express that you'd do it
when you did not think I noticed."
"Well, mother dear, I can get them out when you're better,"
said the daughter soothingly.
"I—I never loved to see the dawn, I told him—told
him that lie, just at the dawn."
"It did no harm in the ending of it, mother dear," she
answered, understanding her instantly.
"Then it—it don't signify, Maria, my girl?"
"No, nothing signifies but your getting well."
"And where's the child?"
"I paid fourpence to have him taken care of for
"Ay, my girl."
"The child—we were talking of the child. Is he mine?"
She leaned down with a face full of earnest entreaty and
anguish; the mother gasped, and seemed to make an effort to speak.
"Is he mine?" murmured the daughter. "Did you change
him, mother? Say yes, or say no."
And yet neither could be said. There seemed to be some
effort first to speak, then some effort to bear in mind the matter
that should be spoken of, and after that the little glimpse of sense
and reason was gone. The daughter thought she whispered, "Some
other time;" then her eyes closed, and the fallacious hope of
recovery was over.
It was about a month after this that Mrs. Johnstone got
another letter from Mrs. Aird, and was touched by the simple filial
love and grief that breathed through it. Her dear mother, the
best of parents, had been knocked down by a cab in the street on the
very day that the writer had spent in Upper Harley Street, and had
met with injuries to her head. The last sentence Mrs.
Johnstone read without any thought of the anguish which had wrung it
from the writer, or of how much it concerned herself.
"She died, and, O madam! there were words I longed above all
things to hear from her poor lips, and she could not say them."
"Poor thing!" said Mrs. Johnstone, quietly laying the letter
aside, "I like that young woman; there's something so open and
sincere about her.
"But I rather think this is meant for a begging letter, my
dear," observed Mr. Johnstone; "this is rather a telling sentence as
to her not being able to maintain herself in service again on
account of the burden of her young child."
He had a newspaper in his hand, and, as he spoke, he looked
down and aside from it at the little Donald, who was now seven
months old, and was crowing and kicking on the rug—a puppy nestling
close to him, and receiving meekly various soft infantile thumps
from his fat little fist. A red setter, the mother of the
puppy, looked on with a somewhat dejected air, as if she knew her
offspring was honoured by the notice of this child of the favoured
race, but yet could have wished those dimpled hands would respect
her treasure's eyes. Mr. Johnstone, from looking at his heir,
got to whistling to him. "You're a burden—a very sore burden,"
he said, smiling, to him; "did you know that?"
The baby stared at him, understanding the goodwill in his
pleasant face, but nothing more. He was old enough already to
answer the paternal expression, and presently he smiled all over his
As long as only the puppy had been procurable as a playmate,
he had been contented with it, now, conceiving hope of a more
desirable slave, he made vigorous efforts to turn himself over, and,
clutching his father's foot, soon got himself taken up, and began
forthwith to amuse himself and make himself agreeable according to
his lights, dashing his hand into his father's breakfast-cup, and,
when this had been withdrawn and dried, seizing various envelopes,
dropping them on the floor, and beginning to crow and screech with
the peculiar ecstasy of a baby in full action, while he worked his
arms and legs about, reckless of the trouble it was to prevent him
from wriggling off. Meanwhile Mrs. Johnstone smiled with some
quiet enjoyment, and carefully removed all the knives and all the
crockery out of his reach.
"Well, love," she said at last, "have you had enough of it?"
Thereupon Mr. Johnstone called to the dog, "Die, ring the bell;" and
the setter walked forth from under the table, and, grasping the
bell-handle in both paws, pulled it down, while his master, still
struggling with the baby, exclaimed, "This boy has more life in him
than all the girls put together. I defy any fellow to hold
him, and take care of him without giving his whole mind to it and to
"There goes the milk!" said the mother; "I did not think he
could have reached it. Look, my baby, dear! does baby know
what he has done?"
"He looks as if he did; the sapient air he gives himself is
something wonderful. It is evident that a man-child from the
first is different from girl babies. What shall I do with you,
my son, when you are older?"
"Don't afflict thyself, love," said his wife, caressing his
hand; "he is just like the others; but you know you were never in
the habit of having them downstairs at breakfast time, nor of
otherwise troubling yourself with the charge of them."
The nurse now appeared, and had no sooner carried off Master
Donald Johnstone, and shut the door behind her, than Die the setter
started up with several little yaps of satisfaction, and, seizing
her puppy by the neck, deposited it in Mrs. Johnstone's lap.
The setter knew very well that her puppy was a thing of no account
when the baby was present, and she sometimes testified her
dissatisfaction, and her sensation of dulness in his society, and
the neglect it brought her, by uttering a loud and somewhat
impertinent yawn. Now she was happy, and probably thought
things were as they should be; her puppy had curled himself up in
the upstart baby's place, and she was watching him, with her chin
upon her master's foot.
Mr. Johnstone was a man about thirty-four years of age; he
was about the middle height; in complexion he inclined to fairness;
he was neither handsome nor plain; he walked much more like a
soldier than a civilian, and he had one remarkably agreeable
feature—his eyes, which were of a bright light hazel, had a charming
power of expressing affection and frankness. He was a man whom
everybody liked, and most of all those who had the most to do with
him. People who made his acquaintance often found themselves
attached to him before they had discovered why.
Mrs. Johnstone, on the other hand, was much above the middle
height; she had not one good feature, and yet she was exceedingly
admired by the other sex, and had been won, with great difficulty,
by her husband from several other suitors who sighed for her.
She had that hair which, of all the varieties called red, is alone
beautiful. It was so light and bright that it crowned her like
a glory, and she had blue eyes and thick light eyelashes.
An easy, cordial manner, and that observant tact which always
characterize a much-admired woman, were in her case mingled with
real sweetness of nature and wish to do kindness. These good
qualities, however, by no means accounted for the love which had
been lavished on her. That must be indeed an unamiable woman
whose lovers can find no good quality to quote in excuse, or perhaps
as a reason (!) for the extravagance of their love. Mr.
Johnston had never raved about her virtues; that was, perhaps,
because he had taken them all for granted; and when, after some
months of marriage, he discovered her charm was an abiding one, and
that she was just as sensible, just as devoted, and no more
extravagant than other men's wives, he could hardly believe his own
good fortune. He also showed himself a sensible man. Of
course she was lovely—most men thought so—but he never had her
photographed. Photographs deal with facts, and when the photograph
showed him rather a long upper lip, eyes by no means lustrous, and a
nose neither Roman nor Grecian, he destroyed it, all but one copy,
which he intended to keep carefully hidden for himself, and begged
her never to be photographed again.
Then she laughed, but not without a certain tenderness, and
said, "Oh, Donald, what a goose you are!"
"Do you think so, my dear?" he answered, still looking at the
portrait rather ruefully, and then at her as she sat by him on a
"Of course," she answered, looking him straight in the face,
as if lost in contemplation.
"Well?" he asked.
"And yet I always did—and I suppose I always, shall—think you
the only man worth mentioning."
But that little scene had been long over at the time when Die
the setter put her puppy into Mrs. Donald Johnstone's lap. A
discussion took place which concerned Mrs. Aird, and which ended in
a handsome present of money being sent her by post-office order,
with a letter from Mrs. Johnstone, who told her that, if ever she
did go to service again, she might depend on a good character from
her as an honest, sober, cleanly, and thoroughly trustworthy person.
Having written this kind letter, and shown herself just as
able as most of us judge of character—that is, just as unable to
divide manner from conduct, to make allowance for overwhelming
circumstance, and bridge over the wide gap, in her thoughts, which
rends apart the interests of the rich from those of the poor—Mrs.
Johnstone almost forgot Maria Aird. She had a letter of thanks
from her, but she was never asked for the "character;" the very
dangerous illness which had caused her to want this young woman's
services, and the loss of her little girl, began alike to recede
into the background of her thoughts. She could think of her
precious little Irene without tears. Her two little girls were
healthy and happy, her boy was growing fast, and she was shortly
hoping to add another boy to her little tribe. Of course it
was to be a boy; her husband's great desire for sons always made her
feel as if her girls were failures. He was fond of them, and
imagined that he made no difference between one and another of his
children; but his little daughters, though by no means able to
express a contrary opinion, not only held it, but would certainly
have justified it, if they had known how; they shared their father's
views, and considered that their "boy-baby" enhance their own
It was about the longest day; Mr. Johnstone, coming home to
dinner, was advancing along Upper Harley Street on foot, when a
young man, who seemed to be loitering along, looking out for some
one, met him and suddenly stopped short without addressing him.
Mr. Johnstone for the moment stopped short also.
"Sir," said the man, turning as he went on, and walking
beside him, "I am aware that I am speaking to Mr. Johnstone."
"Certainly you are: what do you want with me?
He paused, for he had reached his own steps. He had
spoken with the brusque manner that an officer uses in addressing a
soldier. He now looked the young man straight in the face, and
saw, to his surprise, the signs of great and varying emotion, and a
strange flush of anger or shame. "Not drunk," thought Mr.
Johnstone. The man looked at him, and at that instant the
footman answered his master's knock.
"Well?" said Mr. Johnstone.
"I can't say it," exclaimed the young fellow; and turning
round, he almost ran away.
"Queer!" thought the lawyer, and he entered his own house,
pondering on the matter; but he soon forgot it, for Mrs. Johnstone
was not at all well.
In the course of a few hours there was another infantile
failure in Upper Harley Street.
The father, intensely grateful for his endeared wife's
safety, went to bed in broad daylight; but, first putting his head
out of the open window to inhale the early air, he saw, looking
up—but it flitted away almost at once—a female figure that seemed
familiar to him. Surely that was the nurse—the young widow,
Mrs. Aird? Odd of her to be gazing up at his window at three
o'clock in the morning—and with her was (or he was very much
mistaken) the identical young man who had accosted him in the
street, and then so suddenly taken himself off!
Mr. Johnstone closed the window, and very soon asleep, looked
down upon by hundreds of cabbage roses—for this was the same room
where Mrs. Aird had been sitting with his boy-baby when the telegram
came in that sent them out of the house.
A few days had passed, Mrs. Johnstone was said to be "as well
as could be expected," when one evening, just as he had dined, her
husband was told that a young man wanted to speak with him.
The young man had been shown into a library at the back of
the house, the light was already going, but Mr. Johnstone recognized
"You accosted me in the street the other day?"
The clear hazel eyes looked straight at him; his next speech
seemed to be in answer to them,—"I am not come here to deceive you,
JOHNSON rang the bell,
and a shaded lamp was brought in. The young man did not speak
till the servant had shut the door; then, looking at Mr. Johnstone
as he stood on the rug, "I should wish to prevent mistakes," he
"You had better sit down," was the answer.
The young man sat down. "I am not come ask your
professional aid, sir," he continued; "I know this ain't the place
to do it in, and I know you've nothing to do with criminal cases
either. But, sir, it is a crime that I'm come to speak of.
Well—no, I don't know what it is, and nobody else does."
Here Mr. Johnstone naturally felt some astonishment, and his
clear, keen eyes held the young man so completely under their
control that he seemed to find nothing to say, but to repeat his
"I am not come here to deceive you, sir—why should I? I
might have kept away and never said a word. But, oh, it's hard
upon me that I should have it to do!"
"It seems to me that you have to accuse some one else, then?"
said his host, intending to help him.
"By the way you express yourself, I gather that the crime,
whatever it may be, is not committed yet? It might be a
burglary, for instance, projected but not accomplished?"
"Oh, no, sir, no—they were both as honest as the day, poor
"Well, man, speak out!"
"Speak out!" repeated the young man passionately; speak out!
when it's my own wife, that I haven't been married to three weeks,
and when I don't know what you'll do to her? Speak out!
If you'd ever loved a woman as I love her, you'd—you'd be more
Excited as the young man was, he perceived at once that this
exclamation was, in the ears of his listener, absolutely absurd.
Donald Johnstone had, as if involuntarily, lifted his eyes; they
rested on the wall, behind where the young husband had been ordered
to sit. He saw for a moment, in their clear depth, not the
assertion, but the evidence, of a passionate love which, even in the
first freshness of his own, brought his thoughts to a pause.
Then there was something deliberate in their withdrawal which
checked the young man's desire to glance behind him. Something
like a flash of displeasure met his gaze. He perceived that he
was supposed to have taken a liberty. There was no answer to
his speech; he must begin again as well as he could.
"It's my wife and her mother," he said in a low voice, "that
I've come to speak of—what one of them did, as we are afraid (for,
mark you, sir, we are not sure)—what one of them did, and the other
let to be done—what one of them did, and then died, and we think
wanted to speak of first, but could not find the words."
"Your wife and her mother?" repeated Mr. Johnstone with a
weighty calm; "and you feel that you must lay it before some one?
You want advice—is that it?"
"No, sir, not advice; my wife wants forgiveness, if you could
Mr. Johnstone looked surprised, but not at alarmed.
The young man wiped his forehead. "I fell in love with
her when she had her widow's cap on a full year ago," he said; "but,
when I offered to her, she would not have me. I was so fond of
her; I said, 'I ain't capable of taking a denial without a reason.'
Then she says, 'Have the reason: I've something on my mind.'
Her name was Maria Jane Aird."
Mr. Johnstone was not surprised―he
remembered how he had seen this young woman when he looked out of
the window in the night. Pity for the husband arose in his
"She was in a situation of trust," he said, "and I am afraid
you mean that she abused it?"
"Yes, sir—alas! she did. But at that time she would not
tell me what her fault was. 'You, may be, would not hold to
your wish to take me,' was all she said, 'if you knew what I have on
my mind;' but I did hold to it—I could not help it—and she never did
speak, though, in the end, she married me."
His distress was such that Mr. Johnstone tried to help him
"And then she probably told you that she had unfortunately
taken something of value out of this house—some jewel, perhaps?
If so, you are come to return it? Well, I pity you, and I
"Bless you, sir!" exclaimed the young man, quite impatient at
his calm; "I told you they were honest. Sir, don't make it
harder for me and yourself too. You will have it that this
thing is nothing to you. It is; I think, if you would sit
down, I could speak better; won't you, sir? There, that's it!
I'm talking of my wife, Maria; she was wet-nurse here."
"And you sent her away from the house with your baby?"
Now, at last, something like fear began to show itself in
Donald Johnstone's face, but it was vague fear.
"You never ought to have done it, sir."
"He was quite well," answered the father, amazed and pale,
"quite well all the time; he cannot have met with any injury?
She must have done her duty by him."
"You should not have done it," repeated the young man.
"As I make out, you were so afraid of an illness you had in the
house that you never came near him or set your eyes on him for two
or three months; and how were you to judge, when you had a child
back, whether it was the same? Sir, sit down; don't look like
that! There! it's quite possible the children were not
"Changed!" exclaimed the father, shuddering.
"I'm sure I don't know how to tell it you, but my poor wife,
all on a sudden, was taken very ill, and sent for her mother, who
came with the baby—Maria's baby. Maria did not see either of
the children again, being so ill. I don't know how to tell it
you, but I'm afraid that woman, wishing her own grandchild in a
better position—I am afraid those children were changed."
No need now to tell the father to take this thing seriously;
he trembled from head to foot and could not speak.
"But we shall never know," proceeded the young man. "'Is
the other child living?' I seem to think you would ask.
Yes, sir, and as well as can be."
"It's impossible your wife should be in any doubt," exclaimed
the other, recovering his voice and starting up, white to the lips.
"Impossible she should not know! She must know, she does know,
whether this wicked, base, cruel crime was perpetrated or not.
And what makes her even suspect such a thing?" he added, sinking
back faint between his passion and his despair.
"Her mother many times tempted her to do it, sir, and was
angry with her because she would not," said the young man in a
deprecating tone. "They had words, and Maria was angry with
her mother too."
"No, that story won't do. Angry with her, and then send
for her, and leave her alone with all opportunity to do her worst?"
"It seems bad, sir," continued the young man with studied
gentleness and patience. "And it's only a fancy of Maria's
that she might have done it. We haven't the least proof, Mr.
"If she connived at it, she is a wretch, as lost to all
justice and mercy as her mother."
"And that's what lies so heavy on her mind," said the
husband, still in a low, deprecatory voice.
"How did she tell it you? Let me know the worst—for
heaven's sake let me hear it all!"
"We had but been married three days, and it was Sunday.
Maria was putting the little chap's coat on. I says, 'He's a
credit to you, Maria.' 'He'll be my punishment before he's
done,' she makes answer; 'for, David, this child is what I have
on my mind.' She was kneeling on the ground; she put on
her things, but you may think we did not go to church that morning.
I carried the child into Richmond park (I live and have my trade at
Richmond). There we sat down, and I said, 'Maria, my dear,
it's now time to speak. I've often seen you fret—and so it's
concerning your child?' 'Yes,' she makes answer again, 'for I
give you my plain word for it—and what I say I mean, David—I don't
know whether he's mine or not."'
It will be observed that this version of the story was not
the true one, for Maria Aird did change the children. All her
doubt was as to what her mother had done, otherwise she would have
known well enough that the child her second husband was so willing
to be good to was not hers. The young man, however, did his
best to make the thing plain; he gave the version he had received.
His wife's sorrow and repentance were genuine—this he had perceived
at once; and that she was capable of fretting over her fault, and
yet misrepresenting it, never entered his head. She screened
herself at the expense of the dead. He never supposed that her
misery, in the sense of this uncertainty, was half owing to her
doubt as to whether or not she had secured a better lot in life for
her child in return for her own distress of mind. If she had
been sure this was the case, she would have felt herself repaid; but
to have lost her own child utterly, and yet to have no reward—to be
unable to love the one she had in her arms, and yet not be sure that
she did not owe him a mother's love—was more than her half-awakened
conscience could bear. She had turned herself out of the
paradise of innocence; she had gathered the apple and not tasted its
sweetness: how was she to know what a common experience this is?
How could she suppose that the promised good in evil was all a
cheat, and that she should find nothing but bitterness in it from
the very first?
The everlasting lie had been uttered to her also.
There was silence now, and the young man did not dare to
break it. His heart was beating more freely, for the dreaded
words had been said. He felt a strange consciousness of the
picture that he knew was hanging behind him; but, though Donald
Johnstone's head was bowed into his hands, it seemed impossible to
turn and look at it. But this poor gentleman was thinking of
her whom it represented. "Oh, my wife!" the young man heard him
murmur. The words gave him a lump in his throat; he longed to
be dismissed; he thought of rising, and proposing to take his leave,
but did not see his way to this. How long would Mr. Johnstone
sit with his face in hands?
Mr. Johnstone lifted it up at last, and the young man had
never been so astonished in his life as he was at the tone and
manner, at the most unexpected words, and the most keen expression
of countenance with which he accosted him.
"What is your name, Mr. David―?"
"My name is David Collingwood, sir."
"And what is your calling, Mr. David Collingwood?"
"I'm a carpenter, sir, the same as Maria's first husband
"Oh! Have you any thought of going abroad—of
"Yes, sir!" exclaimed the young man, very mulch astonished;
"that's what I think of doing as soon as ever I can. I'm
saving money for it."
"I thought so!"
"A child would be a great burden to you on a voyage."
"So Maria has always said, sir."
"She has, has she? Mr. David Collingwood?"
"You know nothing of me?"
"No, I don't."
"For instance, as to whether I am a man of my word or no?"
Mr. David Collingwood here began to look a little alarmed;
involuntarily he glanced towards the window.
His host was looking straight at him.
"Don't be frightened," he said again, coming close to Mr.
David Collingwood's thought. "I have no intention of throwing
you out of that!"
David Collingwood rose quietly,—"Sir, I've said what I had to
"Yes, but you have not heard what I have to say!"
"No, sir, but I can't make out what you should have to say as
I need be afraid of!"
"Why are you afraid, then?"
"I'm not!" said the carpenter, but he trembled.
"Do I look like a man who may be expected to keep to what I
"Yes, you do."
"Well, I say, then, if you will confess to me that all you
have said to-night is a lie—"
"A lie!" shouted the man.
"Yes, a lie, and that you—not unnaturally feeling what a
burden this child will be to. you, and hoping to get rid of him,
have persuaded your wife—"
"A lie!" shouted the man again, almost in a rage.
"Have persuaded your wife to bear you out in this story, I
will give you, David Collingwood, two hundred pounds, and no man out
of this room shall ever hear a word of the matter."
"Why, what good would that do?" cried the carpenter, so much
astonished that it almost overcame his anger.
Mr. Johnstone was silent. There was a long pause.
"It wouldn't help me to get rid of the child," reasoned David
Collingwood at last, almost remonstrating with him, "because,
anyhow, one of them must be my wife's, and thereby one of them must
be on my hands to bring up."
"You don't think so?"
"Don't I, sir?" said the carpenter, almost helplessly, and
with an air of puzzlement indescribable.
"No, you are just as well aware as I am that, rather than let
you two take over to Australia—(you a step-father, as you are, and
she a worse than step-mother, as she must be, whether her tale is
true or false, and whether the boy is hers or not)—rather than let
you two carry away for ever a child who may be my child, I shall
take him off your hands—do you hear me?—take him off your hands and
bring him up myself. Do you mean to tell me you have not
thought of this and counted on it?"
David Collingwood trembled visibly.
"I may have gone so far as to think—" he began.
"To think what?"
"That maybe I should do so if I was you, sir, and one of the
children was mine."
"And what did your wife say when she and you talked it over
"We never did talk it over together."
"You never said to her, then, that if you two stuck to this
tale, the child was secure of a good bringing up?"
"No, I didn't."
"She never wept over the boy, and said it would be a sore
distress to her to part with him?"
"No, she didn't; she has not a mother's feelings for him,
because of her doubt."
"Well, David Collingwood, I offer you two hundred pounds to
confess that this is all a lie, and a plot between you and your wife
to get rid of her child."
David Collingwood was silent.
"I should only add one condition—that is, that you would stay
here, in this room, till after I have seen your wife, and seen her
alone. I should tell her of your confession, and then you have
my word for silence ever after."
"My wife would be frightened out of her senses!"
"She thinks, and I was afeard, you would have the law of
her—take her up and prosecute her for what she's done."
"But she did not do it."
David Collingwood was sitting down with arms folded; he had
looked very much puzzled, and sat long silent. At last he
lifted his face, and when Mr. Johnstone saw its expression, he
"I've had mean thoughts in my mind, like other men," he
began. "Sir, you may go to my wife, if you have a mind, for I
think you have a right so to do. In short, come what may, I
don't see, now I've once spoken, what I've got it in my power to do
for her. Yes, you may go, of course, to her; it ain't in my
power to prevent it. I seem to observe now what you mean, sir.
If I would own to a lie, it would what you lawyer gentlemen call
discredit me as a witness, and then you could get alone with my
wife, and perhaps make her tell you a different tale, and so you'd
buy your own son, and be sure you'd got him. But I say—"
"Yes, David Collingwood."
"I say, be hanged to your two hundred pounds! If my
poor wife has done you the base wrong she says she has—(well, I mean
the wrong she owns to have let her mother do, wishing and hoping it
was done)—that money ain't of any use. It is only of use in
case she has told you and me a lie. I may have had a mean
thought as well as another man, but I'm not a villain. You
want, by means of that money, to bring out the falseness of the
tale. It cuts me very sharp to say it to you—the tale's not
false; worse luck! it's true."
No answer to this. Donald Johnstone, looking straight
before him, very pale, but not convinced, was searching over his
recollections. David Collingwood went on,—
"She never told me this that was on her mind through any
thought that I should up and tell it to you. It slipped out
along of her feeling how fond I was of her, and to relieve her own
mind. She cannot keep a secret. And when I broke to her
that it must be told to you, she fell into a great faint, and said
you would take her up and she should be imprisoned. Through
that I went to a lawyer."
"Oh! you did?"
"Well, I did, sir, and told him all except the names and the
places. If he had said you could and would prosecute, you
would never have heard a word from me. He said, 'The weak
place is'—but you know what it is, sir."
"What is the woman afraid of?' he said; 'there is no
witness—not one! The person is dead that is accused of having
probably done this thing.' 'I was afraid she might be
prosecuted for a conspiracy,' said I. 'No,' said he, 'there
was no conspiracy.' 'It's her opinion,' said I, 'that it's
more than likely the thing was done.' 'But,' said he, 'she
cannot be prosecuted for an opinion, and one that, if she is
frightened, she is not obliged to stick to. If there had been
any evidence whatever, but what is to come out of her own mouth—if
she had ever breathed a word of this, or if the other woman had—'"
Here he paused.
"Then the supposed father might have brought and action in
hope of obtaining more evidence—more witnesses—was that it?
How do you know that I shall not do so even now?"
"Well, I satisfied him fully, and had to pay for it. I
satisfied him that the thing—the whole of it—was in my wife's mind
and nowhere else."
"And then you went home and told her you believed it?
What was the lawyer's name?"
"Oh, sir, you'll excuse me."
"You paid for his information—I am willing to pay for mine."
"I couldn't tell you, sir."
"If he was a respectable man, he told you, first, that he
would have nothing to do with the case; and, secondly, that he
believed it was a got-up story intended to extort money from an
unfortunate father. He advised you to drop it, and said you
were playing with edge-tools."
David Collingwood's look of astonishment and intense dismay
seemed to show that something very like this had actually been said
to him, he sat silent and became angry. Donald Johnstone never
took his eyes off him, but, with a pang not to be described, he saw
the astonishment subside, the anger fade away, and the young man
said meeting his gaze with tolerable firmness.
"And what do you think yourself, sir? Do you think it
is a got-up story?"
"I don't know what to think."
"No, sir; and as to your wanting to turn it against me,
you've met with such a cruel wrong that I should be a brute if I
couldn't take it patiently—only—I've met with a wrong too, sir."
"This concerns my own son—my only son. By what you say,
I am never to know—never can know—whether the child I am bringing up
is my child or not."
"And you've tried one way and another to find out whether
I've lied, and you have a right—I know it cuts—but it doesn't cut
"No, I am truly sorry for you, David Collingwood. If
this his true—"
"For she's not what I thought she was, and I've only been
married to her three weeks."
He broke down here, and shed tears, but the other had no
tears; he was extremely pale, and he trembled as he sat looking at
the portrait on the wall with unspeakable love and almost despair.
David Collingwood sat some time trying in vain to recover
himself. Not a word was spoken, his host knew neither what to
say nor what to do. How should he tell this beloved wife, who
had almost died to give him birth, that he knew not whether their
one son was theirs or not? how should he bear it himself?
Suddenly a bright hope came into his mind. The other child
might prove to have no likeness whatever to himself or to his other
children; he might prove to be specially unlike them. At least
there would be comfort in this if he did.
David Collingwood spoke while he was deep in this flattering
hope. He rose and said sullenly, "What do you want me to do,
sir? It's late—my wife—"
"Your wife will be uneasy?"
"I am afraid that on this one occasion you cannot consider
"What am I to do, then?"
"I am going to Richmond. It is essential that I should
see her before you do."
"I never said she was at Richmond; she is in the street,
waiting for me."
"And the child with her?"
"No, sir, she's alone."
"Then you stay in this room and I will call her in."
"You may turn the lock on me, sir, if you please."
Donald Johnstone put on his hat, left the young husband, and,
opening the front door, looked keenly right and left. There
was not far to look: a woman in black, near at hand, was dejectedly
pacing on. As she came absolutely to the foot of his
door-steps, he descended and looked straight into her eyes.
She stood and gazed as if fascinated, the colour fading out of her
face, and her hands clenching themselves.
"You―you won't prosecute
me?" she entreated helplessly, and stammering as her mother had
"No, you base woman," he answered, "because it would be
useless. Come here!"
"Must I—oh, sir!—must I come in?"
She entered. He was even then mindful of his invalid
upstairs, and shut the door most deliberately and gently behind him;
then he entered the dining-room, locked the door, put up the gas,
and turned. She had followed him but a little way into the
room, and was already on her knees; her terror was far from
simulated, and his quickness of observation showed him in an instant
that no probable fault of her dead mother's could ever have brought
that ashen pallor and deadly fright into her face.
"Maria Collingwood," he began, almost in a whisper, as he
stood leaning slightly towards her and looking straight down into
her eyes, "you have told lies to your husband—do you hear me?—lies!"
Her white lips murmured something, but it hardly seemed to be
a denial. She was kneeling upright, and with folded hands.
"But you may look for all mercy that is possible from me, if
you will now speak the truth."
This was far from the way in which he had intended to begin.
Her own face had brought his accusation upon her. She
stammered out, "He―he would hate
me; he—he would cast me off, if—if I did. Oh, have mercy!"
Then she had deceived her husband; there was no plot, the man
was her dupe.
"I will have mercy if you tell me all the truth."
"And he shall not know?" she moaned.
"I'll give you no time for meditation, and for the inventing
of fresh lies; unless you speak, and instantly, he shall know what
you have already said; but if you speak, and I feel that you speak
the truth, he shall not."
And then, at a sign from him, she rose, took the chair he
pointed to, and told all her miserable story in few words.
Donald Johnstone ground his teeth together in the agonizing
desire to keep himself silent, lest he should frighten back the
truth, and never have a chance of hearing it more. He allowed
all to be told—her temptation, her yielding, her illness, her
intention of sending away the wrong child, and then her doubt as to
what her mother had done. All, he perceived, depended on what
had been the mother's opinion. She had no conscience.
"And you incline to think this second villainy was
"Mother couldn't look at me, sir, when I got home."
"And, on the other hand?"
"On the other hand, when I saw the baby here, I seemed to
think he was the most like what I remembered of mine."
THAT was a
miserable night for Donald Johnstone. It was twelve o'clock
before the guilty woman and her husband were sent away—David
Collingwood almost with kindness, and his wife without one word.
The possible father had got what he wanted—two distinct tales,
differing from one another, but, as he listened to the details of
the second, he shared in the unsolvable doubt.
He ordered David Collingwood to bring the child the next
morning, and, having dismissed the pair, he sat till daylight
filtered in between the leaves of the shutters, and could not decide
what to do further.
It was the doubt that mastered him and confused his mind.
And what father in real life, or in any true history, had gone
through such an experience as would be a guide to him? He was
the victim of an unknown crime—as truly unknown in life as well
known in the penny theatres. His distracted thoughts dragged
him through all the phases of feeling, even to scornful laughter
that left a lump in his throat. "Have you a mole on your left
arm?" asks the supposed father in Punch. "No!"
"Then come to my arms, my long-lost son!"
He laughed bitterly, and could not help it; then he moaned
over his wife. How would she bear it, and how and when could
he tell it to her?
There was tragedy indeed here, and yet what a hateful,
enraging smack of the ridiculous too! He perceived that he
could not possibly let such a story come out; all London would ring
with it. When the children were taken out with their nurses,
people would collect at his door on purpose to look at them!
No, not a soul must hear of it. How, then, could he do his
duty, and satisfy his love towards his son?
He was in his room only three hours or so. When he came
down to breakfast, he said to the footman, "I have told Mrs. Aird to
bring Master Donald's foster-brother here. When they come,
show them in." He had a head-ache, and sighed bitterly as he
sat down; the hand trembled that poured out the coffee. The
moment after, there was a modest knock at the door, and the little
child who perhaps had so vast a claim on him was perhaps
come to his rightful home.
He looked up; David Collingwood and Maria Collingwood were
standing stock still within the door. Maria did not lift up
her eyes, she was mute and pale, and she held a lovely little boy in
"Put that child down," was all Mr. Johnstone could say; and
he did not rise from his place at the table. But, lo! the
small visitor, not troubled with any doubts or fears as to his
welcome, no sooner found himself on the floor than he began to trot
towards the rug, on which was lying the old setter, with a puppy as
usual. This one was about two months old. She seized him
as the baby advanced, and slunk under the table. Then the
pretty little fellow laughed, and showed a mouthful of pearls,
pointing with his finger under the table.
"Boy did see doggy," he said, fearlessly addressing the
strange gentleman; then, coming straight up to him, he laid his
dimpled hand on Mr. Johnstone's knee, and stooped the better to see
"Up, up!" he next said in an entreating tone. Mr,
Johnstone took him up on his knee with perfect gravity and
gentleness, and looked at the man and woman who were standing
motionless within the door. The man was trembling; the woman,
white and frightened, held herself absolutely still. "You may
go," he said,
"One—for—Lancey," lisped the child, pointing to some
strawberries on a plate.
"You may go," repeated Mr. Johnstone; he could not trust
himself to say more.
"Yes, sir; when is she to come back for him?"
"One—for—Lancey," repeated the child with sweet entreaty.
The possible father put one into his little hand.
"I mean, sir, what are we to do—when is she to take him
"I know what you mean: I answer, never!"
The young man whispered to his wife, and she, without once
looking at the child, turned to the door. "I wish You good
morning, sir," he said, and in another moment they were gone.
David Collingwood had caused his wife to spend money of his
in dressing the little Lancey. The child was healthy and rosy,
clean, well arrayed, and without the least shyness. He was a
more beautiful little fellow than the treasure upstairs, but not
quite so big. He talked rather better; his hair was a shade
browner than that of the two little girls in the nursery.
Little Donald's, on the contrary, was a shade lighter; and there
seemed to be no special likeness, in either child, to himself or to
Left alone with the little Lancey, all the pathos of the
situation seemed to show itself to him. He could endure it
well enough, he thought, for himself; but, like many another
sympathetic and affectionate man, he had already begun to suffer for
his wife; her supposed future feeling was worse to him than his own
present distress. If he could be sure that she could bear it,
he thought he could bear it very well.
Of course the child's face did not help him. At such an
early age, children rarely show strong family likeness, unless the
appearance of the parents is peculiar indeed.
When we see family likeness, which we constantly do, we think
how natural it is; but when we see family unlikeness, which we also
constantly do, it never costs us a moment's surprise, a moment's
thought. In life nobody is ever surprised if, or because, a
brother ands sister are diverse in feature, complexion, or
character, and yet we all have a theory concerning family likeness,
and generally it is an exaggerated one.
A fresh series of observations, if theory could be set aside,
would perhaps show that strong likeness is almost always founded on
A man of average height, with no exaggerated feature, with
somewhat light hair, grey or hazel eyes, and a certain freshness of
complexion (neither pale nor ruddy), together with a figure rather
firmly built, though not stout,—this description would suit many
thousands of Englishmen; add a shade of auburn to the beard, and it
would suit many thousands of Scotchmen; add a shade of blue to the
eyes, and it would suit many thousands of Irishmen. These are
the men who transmit national likeness.
But here and there you may meet a man with a nose like an
eagle's beak, stalking about his fields with his young brood after
him. In all probability, a like nose is in course of erection
on their youthful faces. Or you fall in with a man who has a
preposterously deep bass voice—too deep for ordinary life—much
deeper, in fact, than he is himself—his children, more likely than
not, echo that voice, sons and daughters both. Or you see a
man, lanky, and so tall that, when he has done getting up, you think
how conveniently he might be folded together like a yard
measure, his children rise and step after him like storks. Ten
to one his very baby is taller than it ought to be. Such men
as these transmit family likeness.
The little Lancey soon slipped off Mr. Johnstone's knee, and
began to talk and scold at the puppy, because he would not come and
be friendly—in other words, to be tormented.
The old mother knew better than to leave him to the tender
mercies of a baby-boy. She rose, and, taking him in her mouth,
walked slowly away round and round the table, the child following,
and just not overtaking her. This game was going on when Mr.
Johnstone caught sight of a parcel lying on a chair close to the
door. He had told David Collingwood to ask his wife whether
she had any photograph in her possession of her first husband—if so,
to bring it.
He now cut open the little package, but there were no
photographs in it, only two letters—one from a lady, giving an
excellent character to Maria Jane Pearson as a housemaid,
setting forth that she was honest, sober, and steady. It
seemed to have been preserved as a gratifying testimony of approval,
but did not bear on the present case. The other letter was
from David Collingwood, and was as follows:—
it ain't in my power to say what I meant to say when I see
you, along of my feeling so badly about this matter, I write this to
inform you that my wife has no portraits of her first husband, for
he was very badly marked with small-pox, and never would be taken,
and she says he had no brothers nor sisters, and his parents are not
living. Herewith you will find her marriage lines. She
has always kept herself respectable, and do assure me she never did
wrong in her life but in the one thing you know of. And she
humbly begs your pardon.
"I am, your obedient humble servant,
A baby hand was on his knee again. He looked down;
tears were on the little flushed cheeks; the long slow chase had
"Boy did want doggy," he sobbed. Mr. Johnstone felt a
sudden yearning, and a catch in his throat that almost overcame him.
He took up the child, and pressed him to his breast. For a
moment or two the child and the man wept together. He soon
recovered himself; it was a waste of emotion to suffer it to get the
mastery now; there would come a day when he and his wife would weep
together―that was the time to
dread. He must save his courage, all his powers of consoling,
flattering, encouraging, for that; the present was only his own
distress—it was nothing.
There was rejoicing in the nursery upstairs that morning; the
baby Aird, as he was called, had come to spend the day. He
made himself perfectly at home; the little Johnstones produced all
their toys for him. "What a credit he is to his mother!" said
the nurse. "His clothes quite new, and almost as handsome as
David Collingwood, as he led his wife to the omnibus which
was to take them home, could hardly believe his own good fortune.
The child, "the encumbrance" that he had perforce taken with her,
and had meant to do his duty by, had, contrary to all sober hope,
been received into another man's house, and there he had been told
to leave him. His wife, though confused and frightened, did
not seem to feel any distress at parting with him.
"Is this all?" he repeated many times to himself as they went
on. "Is this over?" "Is she truly going to get off
If so, the sooner he took her away the better. At the
other side of the world he felt that he should have more chance of
forgetting that which, while he remembered it, made his love for his
young wife more bitter than sweet to him.
"Is it over?" No, it was not quite over. They got
out of the omnibus at their own cottage door. A hansom cab
stood there, and Mr. Johnstone was paying the cabman. He
followed them in. Maria Collingwood sank into a chair.
Mr. Johnstone, not unnaturally, declined one; he stood with a
note-book in his hand. "If you've—you've altered your mind,"
Maria began, "I'm willing, as is my duty, to take back the child."
David Collingwood darted an indignant look at her, but Mr.
Johnstone took no notice of the speech. Various questions were
asked her, and answered; the husband weighed the effect of her
answers as each was given: "He can make nothing of that;" "He can
make little of that;" "He sees she speaks the truth there;" "He'll
not give the boy back for that!"
He was mean, as he had said, but not base.
The little sister—Mr. Johnstone wanted her address. She
was in a place: the address was given.
"Where was she when your mother came home with the child?"
"She was in a place then, and till a month after."
"Can you prove that?"
The matter was gone into. Donald Johnstone hoped then
for a few moments, and David Coilingwood feared; but their
respective feelings were soon reversed, for Maria did prove it.
The sister was in a place as kitchen-girl at a school, and did not
come home till it broke up for the holidays; consequently, she never
saw the child till after her mother had brought him home to
"Where did Mrs. Leach live?" Her address given.
It was asserted that she had never known there was more than one
child under her roof; consequently, that she could not have
harboured any sort of suspicion bearing on the case. "Where
was the girl who had carried one of the children out?" David
Collingwood had ascertained that she was dead. Mr. Johnstone
stood long pondering on this matter; finally he took David
Collingwood with him to the cottage of Mrs. Leach, and asked a few
questions, which abundantly proved the truth of what Mrs. Aird had
declared. He therefore said nothing to excite her
astonishment; but gave her a present of money and withdrew.
Donald Johnstone came back to London in the course of the
morning, and found the nurse who had lived in his family when the
little Donald was born. She was very comfortably married, and
he agreed with her to take Master Donald's foster-brother under her
charge for a little while. Mrs. Aird, he informed her, had
married again, and he intended to be good to the child. Less
could hardly be said; and what his own servants might think of this
story, he considered it best to leave to themselves.
In the course of time, Mrs. Johnstone perfectly recovered,
the London season was just over, and the quietest time of year was
The worst, though he did not know it, had already been
endured. His anxiety as to its effect on her had so wrought on
him that she had discovered it, and a heavy portion of it was
already weighing on her own heart. It was necessary that she
should now be told, and she was so fully conscious that a certain'
something—she knew not what—was the matter, that when he said she
had something to hear which would disturb her, she was quite
relieved to find that he now thought her strong enough to know the
She soon brought him to the point. It was not his
health; it was nothing in his profession; it was no pecuniary loss:
but when she saw his distress, she was sure that more than half of
it was for her, and she did her very best to bear it well for his
sake. And yet, when the blow fell, it was almost too much for
her. She had all a woman's horror of doubt. Let her have
anything to endure but doubt; yet doubt had come into her house,
and, perhaps, for ever was to reign over her. She, however,
took the misfortune very sweetly and bravely. In general, the
woman bears the small misfortunes and continued disappointments of
life best, and the man bears best the great ones. Here the
case was reversed: the woman bore it best, but that was mainly
because of the supreme comfort of her husband's love and sympathy.
If we consider women whose lot it is to inspire deep
affection, we shall sometimes find them, not those who can most
generously bestow, but those who can most graciously receive.
All is offered; they accept all without haggling about its possible
endurance; their trust in affection helps to make it lasting, and
their own comfort in it is so evident as to call it forth and make
it show itself at its best.
Donald Johnstone's wife had a disposition that longed to
repose itself on another. Her peculiar and almost unconscious
tact made her seem generally in harmony with her surroundings.
All she said and did, and wore, appeared to be a part of
herself; there was a sweet directness, a placid oneness about her,
which inspired belief and caused contentment.
"Why am I so calm, so satisfied, so well pleased with myself
in this woman's presence?" men might have asked themselves; but they
seldom did, perhaps because her loving, placid nature was seasoned
in a very small degree with the love of admiration. She had a
gracious insight into the feelings of others, and used it not to
show off her own beauties, but to console them for defects in
Many people show us our deficiencies by the light of their
own advantages, but Donald Johnstone's wife showed rather how
insignificant those deficiencies must be since she who was so
complete had never noticed them.
A sincere and admired woman, her firm and open preference for
her own made her own for ever satisfied; yet she always gave others
a notion that she felt she had reason to trust them, sense to
acknowledge their fine qualities, and leisure to delight in them.
Reverent in mind, and, on the whole, submissive, she yet was
in the somewhat unusual position of a wife who knows that her
husband's religious life is more developed and more satisfying than
Master Donald's foster-brother was now sent for to dine in
the nursery again, and delighted the nurse and her subordinate by
the way in which he made himself at home, tyrannizing over the
little Donald, picking the grapes out of his fat little hand and
trotting off with them while he sat on the floor and helplessly
gazed at his nurse.
"Run after the little boy, then, Master Donny, cried the
nursery-maid; "why, he ain't near so big as you are!" But the
little Donald placidly smiled, either he had not sense for
contention; and, in the meantime, the little Lancey took from him
and collected for himself most of the toys, specially the animals
from a Noah's ark, which he carried off in his frock, retiring into
a corner to examine them at his leisure.
Mr. Johnstone came upstairs soon after the nursery-dinner,
and said the little Lancey might come with him and see Mrs.
Johnstone; so the child's pinafore was taken off, and, with
characteristic fearlessness, put his hand in "gentleman's" hand and
was taken down.
Mrs. Johnstone was in the dressing-room; her husband, having
considered the matter, had decided to spare her all waiting for the
child, all expectation. He opened the door quietly; she did
not know this little guest was in the house; she should guess his
name, or he should tell it her.
She had just sent the nurse down to her dinner, and was lying
on a couch asleep—the baby in her bassinet beside her.
Fast asleep as it seemed; yet, the moment her husband came in
with the child in his arms, she started as if the thought in his
mind had power over her, and, opening her eyes, she looked at them
with quiet, untroubled gaze. The time she had been waiting for
was manifestly come. She rose, and slowly, as if drawn on,
came to meet her husband, with her eyes on the little child, who was
occupied with the toys which he still held in his hand.
Neither the husband nor the wife spoke; she came close, laid her
hand on the child's little bright head, and her cheek against his.
"Lady did kiss Lancey," said the child; then, looking
attentively at her, and perhaps approvingly, he pursed up his rosy
mouth and proffered a kiss in his turn.
"Lady must not cry," he next said, almost with indifference;
then, as if to account for her tears, he continued, "Lady dot a
mummy gone in ship—gone all away."
"Does Lancey cry for his mummy?" she asked the child, who was
still embraced between them.
He shook his head.
"Why not?—I feel easier, love, now I have seen him," she
murmured; "our children are not like him,—Why not, sweet baby-boy?"
"'Cause boy dot a horse and two doggy." He opened his
hand and displayed this property. Nothing more likely than
that this infantile account of himself was true. The animals
from the ark had driven all the mother he knew of clean out of his
"He talks remarkably well for two years and a quarter," she
said, and that was almost an assertion of her opinion, for the
little Donald had only reached the age of two years, two months and
a fortnight. Mr. Johnstone heard it almost with dismay; his
own opinion was drifting in the other direction.
She dried her eyes and held out her arms. "Will Lancey
come to lady?" Of course he would; she took him, and sat down
with him in her lap on the couch.
"I know how this will end," she exclaimed, holding him to her
bosom with yearning unutterable. Then she hurt into a passion
of tears, kissing the little hands and face, and bemoaning herself
and him with uncontrollable grief. "O Donald! how shall I bear
She was bearing it much better than he could leave expected.
He was almost overcome himself, thinking how cruelly she had been
treated, but he had nothing to say. He could only be near,
standing at the end of the couch, leaning over her, to feel with
her, and for her.
Then the child spoke, putting his arms round her neck—"Lancey
loves lady." He seemed to have some intention of comforting
her in his little mind.
"Estelle!" remonstrated her husband.
"But I shall know," she exclaimed, "I shall know in the end.
You are making all possible inquiry?"
"My bright, particular star!" was all he answered; the tone
was full of pity.
"And is nothing found out, Donald, nothing?"
"It is early days yet. If anything more can be done, I
am on the look-out to do it."
"And you find nothing to do at present?"
"I know how this will end," she repeated. "I never will
love my own less; he is so dear to every fibre of my heart."
"He is most dear to us both."
"But this one has come so near to me already, and the
nearness is such a bitter pain—such pain. (Oh, you poor little
one!) I know it will end in my so loving him, from anxiety and
doubt, that I shall not be able to bear him long out of my sight."
"All shall be as you wish, my Stella," said the husband; but
he thought, "You are far happier than I, for it will end—I know it
will—in your loving both the boys as if they were your own; whilst I
feel already that, if the shadow of a doubt remains, I shall not
deeply love either."