Benjamin Farjeon.

Miser Farebrother: A Novel (vol. 2 of 3)



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"A poor friend in the village sent them to me." Knowing that her father was incensed against Tom Barley, she did not dare to mention his name.

"And the roses, Ph?be?"

"Mr. Cornwall gave them to me," said Ph?be, timidly.

"Can you spare me one?"

She gave it to him gladly, and he stuck it in his coat. Ph?be's heart beat quick. Every sign that came to her was in harmony with its throbbing.

"I am sorry for your sake, Ph?be, that I am not younger and stronger."

"Dear father! I grieve that you suffer so! If I only knew what to do to make you well!"

"That is spoken like a dutiful child. All that you can do is not to worry me – not to give me pain."

"Indeed, indeed, father," said Ph?be, earnestly, "I will never do that!"

"You are a good girl. It is strange that it was only the other day I suddenly discovered you were a woman. The change brings other changes; and I, your father, must not be blind to the fact. Why, Ph?be," he said, gaily, "it is more than likely that one day you will marry!" Ph?be hung her head. "You blush! – as your dear mother used to blush when she and I were talking of love. I did my best to make her happy. She died too soon for you and me!" He sighed, and paused a moment. "And now, Ph?be, I am both mother and father to you."

"Yes, dear father."

"I have only one wish in life, Ph?be – your happiness: and we must bring it about. It has happened sometimes that you have not seen me in a right light; I have said things which may have laid me open to misconstruction. They have not really come from my heart; I have been so tortured with pain that I scarcely knew what I was saying. Will you forgive me, Ph?be?"

"Dear father, I love you!"

"You are my own child, your sainted mother's child! Before she died she spoke to me of the time when you would be a woman, and when changes were before you. The duty you owed to her, you owe also to me."

"I shall never be wanting in it, father."

"You will marry – of course you will marry. You will ask for my consent, like a dutiful, loving child?"

"I could not be happy without it, father," said Ph?be, in a low tone. His voice was so benevolent, so imbued with concern for her happiness, that her heart went out to him.

"That is a promise, my dear child?"

"Yes, dear father, it is a promise."

"That you will not marry without my consent. Ph?be, this loving conversation is doing me good; it is better than all the doctors in the world: I am feeling almost well." He folded her in his arms and kissed her. "Why, what is this? A Prayer-book. Your mother's, my dear, which we read together when we went to church. She is looking down upon us now; she will guard you in your dreams to-night. Kiss this sacred book, my child, and repeat what you have promised – that you will not marry without my consent."

Without hesitation Ph?be took the book in her hand and kissed it, saying, as she did so, "Dear father, I will never marry without your consent." She laid the book upon the table, and burst into a flood of happy tears.

"Good child, good child!" said Miser Farebrother – "your sainted mother's child.

Now go; I am exhausted. Good-night, Ph?be. May you have happy dreams."

Ph?be tenderly embraced him, and went to her room, the happiest of happy girls. While Miser Farebrother rubbed his hands, and muttered gleefully, "Mr. Cornwall, my cunning lawyer, and my dear sister and brother-in-law, I think I have scotched your little scheme." He went to bed in a perfectly happy frame of mind. He had done a good night's work.

On a little table by Ph?be's bed were Fred Cornwall's and Tom Barley's flowers. She kissed Fred's flowers before she blew out the light, and even in the dark she drew them to her lips, and so fell asleep with the roses at her breast.

CHAPTER V
TOM BARLEY COMMENCES A NEW LIFE

"It's going to be performed to-morrow night, and master and missis and all the family 'll be there. I 'eerd it read. It was beautiful. It give me the creeps, and it made me laugh just as if I was being tickled to death!"

The speaker was 'Melia Jane; the person she was addressing was Tom Barley; the place was the kitchen of Mrs. Lethbridge's house in Camden Town; and the subject of 'Melia Jane's remarks was Mr. Linton's comedy-drama A Heart of Gold, the first representation of which was to take place on the following evening at the Star Theatre. The whole house was in a flutter of excitement about it; the cousins were in the sitting-room above, busy over their frocks; Fred Cornwall was there, and was to accompany them to the theatre; the ticket for the stage-box was placed in a conspicuous position on the mantel-shelf, so that it should not escape the attention of any chance visitor; the conversation was animated, and full of hopeful anticipations of a great success for the poor dramatic author; and what was perhaps of greater importance than all else, Bob was in the cast. He had taken the fatal plunge, and through Kiss's influence had obtained an engagement for the run of A Heart of Gold. The "screw," as he called it, was small – ten shillings a week – but so were the parts for which, to his great disgust, he was cast. The more distinguished of the two characters he was to enact was a footman, who had to make three announcements of visitors of two words each – "Mrs. Portarlington" (a long name, that was lucky; almost as good as two or three words rolled into one), "Mr. Praxis," "Lord Fouracres." That was the extent of his part. He was greatly disappointed, having had an idea that he would be called upon to play one of the leading characters; but he was taken to task for his presumption by Kiss, who told him he might think himself lucky at being allowed to open his mouth on the stage for the first twelve months. The other character was a "guest," in which he was restricted to dumb-show, and very little of that. He unfortunately took it into his head to ask the stage-manager how he should play this dumb guest, and the answer he received, to the effect that he was to "look as little like an idiot as possible," somewhat dashed his budding aspirations. However, Kiss gave him some very good advice, and he took heart of grace, and rehearsed his six words on the stage, and also at home in the bosom of his family. Twenty times in the course of the night he would arrange the scene in which he was to appear and speak his lines, and when all was ready, would throw open the door and call "Mrs. Portarlington," upon which Fanny, as the audience, would burst into applause, which she kept up until Bob acknowledged the reception by a bow. It was perhaps fortunate that Kiss, breaking in upon the family rehearsal one evening, took the nonsense out of Bob by showing him how the thing should be done. "Make the announcements quite quietly, my lad," said Kiss; "and don't attempt to spoil the picture by thrusting yourself forward. Time enough for that when you have something to do. Remember that 'modesty is young ambition's ladder.'" "Of course I shall do as he tells me," said Bob, in confidence to Ph?be; "but did you ever know a profession in which there was so much jealousy?" Kiss found an opportunity to speak privately to the Lethbridges upon the subject of giving Bob a reception when he appeared. "For Heaven's sake," he said, "don't attempt it. Don't so much as wag your head. You don't know what a first-night audience is. Injudicious applause has ruined many a promising piece." Aunt Leth, sweet-natured as she was, was a little inclined to agree with Bob as to the dreadful amount of jealousy in the dramatic calling.

Tom Barley had not yet achieved his ambition of becoming a policeman, but he had great hopes that in a short time he would be pacing a beat, and in the vicinity of Camden Town, too. Uncle Leth was much respected, and had some influence, which he was exerting on Tom's behalf. It was 'Melia Jane who had put the idea into Tom's head. Between these two humble persons a confidence had been long since established. There was no idea of love-making – it had not entered either of their heads – but when Tom had been in attendance on Ph?be in London, he naturally found his way to the kitchen. 'Melia Jane "took to him," as she said; and he "took to her," and a mutual liking sprang up. When Tom left Miser Farebrother's service and Parksides, he came to London and asked advice of Mr. and Mrs. Lethbridge, and they succeeded in obtaining for him a few hours' employment a day in a friend's garden. The remuneration was small; but Tom managed to rub along, and was always welcome to a meal in the kitchen with 'Melia Jane. This worthy creature, the invariable cleanliness and brightness of whose kitchen crowned her with glory, rather looked upon Tom as a kind of son, whom it was her pleasure to protect, to advise, and occasionally to scold. It mattered not that she was rather younger than he, and that intellectually she was in no way his superior. It was her pleasure to adopt him, and she adopted him accordingly; it was a pleasure to him to be adopted, and he submitted with complete satisfaction. It came to be a custom with him to spend his evenings with 'Melia Jane, and he gave a good return for the hospitality extended to him. He proved himself a perfect marvel in all practical matters relating to a house. If a window were broken, no need for a glazier; Tom took the measure of the glass, purchased it for a trifle, and the repair was made in less than no time. No need either for locksmiths so long as Tom Barley was about; he put locks and handles to rights in a trice. Did a drain want looking to, there was Tom; a tile off the roof, there was Tom; a ceiling to whitewash, there was Tom; a bit of painting to do, there was Tom. Indeed, with respect to painting, he made it his special business that the house should be bright and clean inside and out: all the neighbours remarked what a deal the Lethbridges were doing to their house, and how nice and fresh it looked. Then there was the garden; Tom worked a miracle. A little care and pains, the expenditure of a few pence now and then, and a large amount of zeal and earnestness, converted the hitherto rather shabby patches of ground in the front and rear of the house into a perfect paradise. It was impossible that such a handy, grateful, willing fellow should be otherwise than welcome. "Upon my word, my dear," said Uncle Leth to his wife, "that Tom Barley is a wonder. There is nothing he cannot do." A few bits of deal, which would have been chopped up for fire-wood had not Tom put them to a better use, a few nails, a pound of paint, and half a pint of varnish, and there, presto! were flower boxes for all the windows, looking as sweet and fresh as the best in Mayfair. He had a knack of making friends and of getting himself liked. There was the greengrocer, the proud possessor of a pony and cart. Tom so ingratiated himself into the favour of this tradesman by his cheerful ways, and by doing for him, also, an odd job or two, very neatly and expeditiously, that early one morning, there was Tom rattling away with the pony and trap into the country, making for some ripe woods of his acquaintance, wherefrom he unlawfully plucked roots and rich soil to beautify the garden of his friends; bringing back, of course, some acceptable offerings to the greengrocer, to insure the loan of the pony and trap the next time he required them. For one who aspired to be a policeman a transaction so nefarious cannot well be defended; but, after all, no one was the worse for the innocent abstraction. 'Melia Jane, be sure, was not forgotten. He helped her to brighten her pots and pans; the little bit of electro-plate the Lethbridges possessed twinkled with light as it lay upon the table-cloth; the carving-knives, for sharpness, were a treat to handle; and for polishing boots and shoes there was not Tom's equal in the city of London. Heaven only knows where he got the sweetness of his nature from; its quality was so fine and prompt, doing the exact thing that was required to be done at exactly the right moment (which adds enormously to the value of a service), that it could not fail to win friends for him wherever kind hearts were to be found. And these, as my experience goes, are beating multitudinously whichever way you turn your face.

He had led a rough and happy life, but he had never been so happy as at this time. The few clothes he possessed were kept in order by 'Melia Jane, who washed and mended for him, and who, upon Sundays, made him so resplendent that he was almost ashamed to be seen. A smile or a friendly nod or greeting was always ready for him from the Lethbridges and their friends, with whom Tom was quite an institution, and Aunt Leth grew into the habit of consulting him and asking his advice when anything inside or outside of the house was required to be done. Sweetest of all was Ph?be's greeting upon her visits to her aunt. "Well, Tom, how are you?" "Getting along splendidly, miss." Simple words, but pearls of price, nevertheless, to Tom, who went about his work more blithely the whole day afterward. Of girls in her own station in life 'Melia Jane might have been jealous had Tom championed them, but she entirely approved of his devotion to Fanny and his worship of Ph?be.

"She's a angel, Tom," said 'Melia Jane.

"She is, 'Melia Jane," responded Tom; "and I'd lay down my life for her."

He was not neglected either in the way of education. Ambitious as he was to become a public official, Mr. Lethbridge knew how important it was that he should be able to read and write fairly. He provided Tom with copy-books, and made the young man go through a regular course of pot-hooks and hangers; and Aunt Leth gave him reading lessons three times a week; so that he made capital progress, and was "gitting quite a scholard," according to 'Melia Jane.

This young lady attended to his education in other ways. She was great in superstitions, which were to her a kind of religion; and instead of pious exordiums in frames to remind her of her duty, she had scraps of card-board hanging in sacred corners in her bedroom and kitchen, upon which were written extracts from fortune-telling and dream books, which, if they did not form for her the whole duty of woman, went a long way towards it. She had an apt pupil in Tom, whom she inoculated with her precautions to woo good fortune and avert disaster.

As to cutting your nails, now. From her bedroom 'Melia Jane brought into the kitchen the written magic formula, which Tom soon learnt by heart:

 
"Cut your nails on Monday, cut them for wealth.
Cut them on Tuesday, cut them for health.
Cut them on Wednesday, cut them for news.
Cut them on Thursday, a new pair of shoes.
Cut them on Friday, cut them for sorrow.
Cut them on Saturday, see sweetheart to-morrow.
Cut them on Sunday, cut them for evil:
The whole of the week you'll be ruled by the – "
 

What could be simpler and more direct? And in the matter of nails, Tom abided by it.

"Wot day in the week was you born?" asked 'Melia Jane.

"Blessed if I know," answered Tom.

"'Ow could you be so careless," said 'Melia Jane, severely, "as not to get to know? Then we could settle it?"

"Settle what, 'Melia Jane?"

"Why, don't you know?" she replied.

 
"'Monday's child is fair of face.
Tuesday's child is full of grace.
Wednesday's child is loving and giving.
Thursday's child works hard for a living.
Friday's child is full of woe.
Saturday's child has far to go.
But the child that is born on Sabbath-day
Is bonnie and happy, and wise and gay.'"
 

"I say Thursday," said Tom, good-humouredly. "That's the most likely day for me."

"I say Sabbath-day," said 'Melia Jane.

"That won't fit," said Tom. "Happy? Yes. And gay, sometimes. But wise? No, no, 'Melia Jane; not a bit of it."

But in argument Tom was a child in the hands of 'Melia Jane, and she generally succeeded in compelling him to subscribe to her views. She had a very effective method of punishment if he persisted in holding out. She was, in Tom's eyes, a very wonderful fortune-teller with the cards, and to have his fortune told half a dozen times a week became a perfect passion with him. Nothing pleased 'Melia Jane more than the opportunity of laying out the cards; but she could successfully resist the temptation when Tom was obstinate. It was in vain for him to implore; she was adamant. At length he would say, "I give in, 'Melia Jane; I give in." And out would come a very old and terribly thumbed pack, and with a solemn face Tom settled down to the onerous task of cutting the cards again and again, in accordance with 'Melia Jane's complicated instructions. It was not at all material that last night's fortune was diametrically opposite to the fortune of to-night; nor that last night it was a fair woman, and to-night a dark one; nor that last night Tom was to be greeted by a coffin, and to-night by a baby. The point was that the fortune was to be told, and that being done, no reference was made to inconsistencies and contradictions. 'Melia Jane and Tom would sit staring, open-mouthed, at the finger of fate, whose smudgy impress was to be found on every card in the pack. She was telling his fortune now, on the night before the production of A Heart of Gold.

"The four of clubs, Tom. A strange bed."

"Ah," said Tom. "I wonder where?"

"The eight of spades. That's trouble, Tom."

He pulled a long face.

"And there's that dark woman, agin. Who can she be?"

"I wonder, now!" said Tom, turning over in his mind every dark woman whom he could call to remembrance.

"Well!" cried 'Melia Jane. "Did you ever? Jest look, Tom. The ten of 'earts and the four of 'earts next door to each other. A wedding and a marriage bed. And if there ain't the seven and the six of spades! A doctor and a birth!"

"Never!" exclaimed Tom, aghast.

"Here it is. There's no going agin it. Oh, Tom! here's tears; and here's disappointment and sickness. Take care of that dark woman; she's up to no good."

"Ain't she?" cried Tom, energetically. "I'll keep a sharp eye on her."

The fortune being ended, the cards were put away in a drawer in the dresser, and 'Melia Jane proceeded to discuss lighter and less important matters.

CHAPTER VI
THE FIRST NIGHT OF "A HEART OF GOLD."

Three-quarters of an hour before it was time to start for the Star Theatre, Fred Cornwall with a cab was at the Lethbridges' door. There was no one but 'Melia Jane to receive him. Everybody was dressing, and 'Melia Jane, with a jug of hot water in her hand, informed Fred Cornwall that "Miss Ph?be, sir, she do look most lovely," for which she received a sixpenny bit.

"Take these flowers up to the ladies, 'Melia Jane," said Fred, "and be careful you don't mix them. These are for Mrs. Lethbridge; these are for Miss Lethbridge; these for Miss Farebrother; and ask them how long they will be."

"Lor', sir!" exclaimed 'Melia Jane, "now you're 'ere they'll be down in no time."

"That foolish boy," observed Fanny, when the flowers were brought into the girls' bedroom, "will ruin himself. You will have to check him, Ph?be. But what taste he has! Did you ever see anything more exquisite? I knew he would bring us flowers. And of course he has the cab at the door, waiting; he hasn't the least idea of the value of money. I shall have to give him a good talking to, the foolish, extravagant boy!"

This was a new fashion of Fanny's – to put on matronly airs and to talk of Fred Cornwall as a foolish boy. He was greatly amused by it, and he listened to her lectures with a mock-penitential air, which caused her to deliver her counsels with greater severity.

"You are a model of punctuality," he said, as Fanny sailed into the room.

"And you're a modeller," retorted Fanny gaily. "How do I look?" turning slowly round.

"Beautiful!" exclaimed Fred, advancing eagerly as Ph?be entered.

"Oh, of course," cried Fanny. "Come here, Ph?be," taking her cousin's hand. "He sha'n't admire one without the other."

With looks and words of genuine admiration, Fred scanned and criticised the girls, who, truly, for loveliness, would take the palm presently in the Star Theatre.

"That's very sweet of you," said Fanny, when he came to the end of an eloquent speech, "and you may kiss my hand. But don't come too near me; I mustn't be crushed; and Ph?be mustn't, either. Oh, my dear, beautiful mother!" And the light-hearted girl ran to her mother, who at this moment entered the room.

Aunt Leth was the picture of a refined, gentle-hearted sweet-mannered lady. She had her best gown on, of course; and so cleverly had she managed that it looked, if not quite new, at least almost as good as new. She gazed with wistful tenderness at her daughter and niece, and kissed them affectionately; then she greeted Fred, and thanked him for the flowers.

Ph?be and Fanny had already thanked him, and when he gave Uncle Leth a rose for his coat (he himself wearing one), Fanny whispered to Ph?be that she had not a fault to find with him.

"What I like especially about Fred," said Fanny, "is that when he does a thing he does it thoroughly. Did you notice how pleased dear mamma was when he gave papa the rose? He could not have delighted her more. You lucky girl!"



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