Friends I Have Madeñêà÷àòü êíèãó áåñïëàòíî
“‘No, dear,’ she said, ‘he did not love a beautiful princess, but a poor simple girl who loved him too, with all her heart, and they were so, so happy. When the flowers blossomed they seemed to blossom only for them, and the birds sang their sweetest songs for them in the bright sunshiny days.’
“‘Yes, and they were married, and lived happy ever after,’ cried Cissy. ‘Go on.’
“There was once more that piteous look upon cousin Kate’s face, seen only by me; but it passed off, and she went on.
“‘No, Cissy, they were not, for the poor, handsome young prince had enemies – cruel, bitter enemies – who slandered him, and said that he had made false keys, and opened the treasure-chests of a great man, and stolen away his gold and precious stones.’
“‘Oh!’ whispered Cissy, now deeply interested.
“‘And,’ continued Kate, ‘they took the poor prince, and there was a great trial, and though he declared he was innocent, the wicked people who slandered him and bare false witness against him prevailed; and the great judge said that he was to be cast into prison, and wear heavy chains, and be kept there for long and weary years.’
“‘Oh!’ cried Lil.
“‘Yes,’ said Cissy, ‘I know, and then the simple young girl, who loved him, went and unlocked the prison gates, and struck off his chains and set him free.’
“‘No – no,’ cried cousin Kate, and her voice altered terribly, so that I was alarmed, though I could do nothing but gaze up in the wild face before me, for now a change came over it. ‘No,’ she cried, ‘the poor girl could do nothing but sit and weep, and feel her broken heart beat – beat – beat, in its own prison, wearing itself out till – till she died, and – Oh, Frank! Frank! what have we done that we should suffer this?’
“I leaped up to throw my arms round her, while my sisters shrank away alarmed; for cousin Kate turned from us with a bitter wail, buried her face in her hands, and threw herself half over the arm of the old garden-seat, sobbing in a wild hysterical way, such as I had never seen before. ‘Kate, dear cousin Kate,’ I sobbed; but even as I spoke there was a hasty step on the gravel, the bushes were dashed aside, and the shadow of a tall man was cast over us.
“‘Kate – darling!’ he cried, catching her in his arms, as I was thrust rudely aside, ‘I am innocent and free.’
“She did not hear him, for she gave a faint gasp and sank back insensible.
“We three girls were almost stunned; but we saw the tall, thin, pale-looking stranger hastily lift poor Kate from the seat, and literally run with her to the house, while we followed more slowly.
“As we reached the porch it was to meet papa running out, and in a very short time he returned with the doctor. But this doctor was the wrong one; the right one had come to us at the garden-seat, and it was his words that brought dear cousin Kate back to life, and in the course of a few months to health.
“For Frank Roberts was reinstated in the Government offices from which he fell – in a higher post, one which gave him the confidence of the chief officials; while the man through whose treachery poor Frank had suffered a year and a half before, died confessing that he had been the guilty party alone.
“Oh! those happy days when the roses were coming back day by day into cousin Kate’s cheek, and when Frank, who was down at the old place every Saturday to stay till Monday, used to be sent to play and romp with us girls.
I can hardly believe that twenty years have glided by since then, but so it is; and to this day we call dear old grey-whiskered Frank, ‘Kate’s Prince.’”
“You never told me, Mary,” I said, “how it was that you came to be with Madame.”
“Did I not?” she said. “Oh, it was the old story – misfortunes at home, and the determination to go out into the world and try to earn my own living, so as to cease to be a burden upon my parents. It is a good thing that efforts are being made to find work for women.”
“Yes,” I said, “it has been a vexed question for years, and it comes very hard upon us, that there are so few openings. Still matters are improving year by year, and I think we may venture to hope for better things ere long.”
Chapter Twenty One.
Remembering as you will my unhappy lot, you will not feel surprised that I should take a deep interest in what people call the love affairs of the young, but which I look upon as something too great and holy to be spoken of with anything but reverence and respect. For that attraction that draws youth to youth in the bright spring-time of their lives, what is it but a heaven-implanted instinct that leads the stronger to take the weaker under his protection, and joins two hearts in a compact of love for life, giving to each a true counsellor, a tender companion, and a shield of strength to bear the troubles of this world?
It has been in no busy, old-maidish, envious spirit that I have watched these affairs. I have never been one to hurry into a church to see a wedding, for I was never present at one in my life; but I have felt a kind of joy that I cannot express when I have seen some fine manly young fellow grow softened in his manner, and gradually become chivalrous and attentive to some sweet maiden, for it has revived old memories of the past, and set me dreaming of what might have been had it not been otherwise willed.
One thing has often struck me, and that is the natural selfishness that is brought out in a father, and the feeling of half-dislike with which he looks upon the man who comes, as it were, to rob him of the soft sweet maiden whom he has had growing closer and closer round his heart. I have often tried to put myself in his place, and when I have so done I have easily felt how painful it must be to draw the line between the two natural affections there are in the girl’s heart – the love of her father and that for the man who seeks to make her his wife.
The selfish feeling is but natural, and the father must feel heart-wrung as he fancies that his child’s love is going from him fast, and he trembles with dread at the thought that his little ewe lamb is about to be taken away from the fold, to be plunged into endless trouble and care; to encounter storms from which he has shielded her heretofore; and he wonders how she would bear such troubles as have fallen to his and her mother’s lot, forgetting that every life must inevitably be one of storm and calm.
“I noted all this particularly in the case of a friend of the Smiths, a Mr Burrows, with whom and his family I became very intimate. He was a successful City man, who had engaged with great shrewdness in trade, and amassed a considerable amount of money. He and Mr Smith were great friends, and were wont to advise each other, Mr Burrows placing great faith in the sturdy sewing-machine dealer in most things; but there had been a great deal of difference in the two men, the selfishness of which I have spoken and jealousy about his daughter being the predominant points in Mr Burrows, who was lavish with his money, while Smith, who had had a far harder struggle to get on, always seemed to have an intense affection for his banking account.
“It was long after the change had taken place in Mr Burrows that I came to know so much as I did, and it was during one or other of my pleasant little runs down to his home in Sussex, where he passes all the time that he can persuade himself to steal from the City.
“Come, Miss Stoneleigh,” he used to say, “have a run down amongst the buttercups and daisies. I’m going to steal three days. Come down with me.”
“Steal!” I said smiling, “I wonder you don’t give up business and live altogether in the country.”
“Why?” he said wonderingly.
“Report says that you are very wealthy.”
“Report’s a stupid old woman!” he said sharply; “and I suppose, if the truth was known, Report was that money-grubbing, tight-fisted old screw – Smith. Confess now: wasn’t it?”
“Well, yes; I’ve heard Mr Smith say so, among others,” I replied.
“Yes, of course,” he said sturdily. “But look here, Miss Stoneleigh, you don’t think I’m scraping and saving – ”
“I never said you scrape and save, Mr Burrows,” I said; “I always thought you generous to a fault. Why, look at the money you’ve given me for my poor peo – ”
“Stuff – nonsense – hosh!” he exclaimed. “There, if you say another word, I’ll button up my cheque-book tight, and never give you a farthing again.”
“I am Silence personified,” I exclaimed.
“I don’t want to go to the City,” he exclaimed, taking hold of my sleeve and speaking very earnestly, in his desire that I should not think him mercenary; “but suppose I didn’t go on making money, and anything happened to Grantly – how then?”
“My dear Mr Burrows,” I said, “never let us try to meet troubles half-way.”
“Yes,” he said, “that’s all very well, but then look at the ants and bees, you know. You must make preparations for the worst. Grantly’s a fine fellow, and makes a lot of money by his pictures; but he don’t save, and I’ve got to think of those two little ones. I say,” he cried, the hard look going out of his face to give way to one of bright genuine pleasure, “you must come down. You never saw such a pair of young tyrants in your life. I can’t get rid of them. They hang on to me all day long. I have to go up and kiss them in bed, or else they won’t go; and I’m woke up every morning by one or the other of them climbing into mine. I tell Cobweb I shall stop away.”
“And she will not believe it,” I said smiling.
“Humph! No: I suppose she won’t. But, I say; little Cobweb got her tiny arms round my neck the other morning, and her soft little cheek rested up against my rough old phiz, and she says, in her little silvery voice – ‘Oh! granpa, dear, I do yove oo so!’ and then little Frank kicked and screamed to get to me to tell me he loved me too, ever so much. They pretty nearly tear me to pieces.”
“Poor man!” I said, as I looked at his softened face and kind nature breaking through the hard City crust.
“That’s right,” he said, “laugh at me. Regular old gander ain’t I. Never mind: you come down and see if the two young tyrants don’t soon take you about in chains.”
“Daisy chains?” I said, laughing.
“Yes, if you like,” he said; “but they are chains you can’t break. Ah!” he continued, as he thoughtfully stirred the cup of tea I had had made for him, “it only seems but yesterday that I went home and said to Cobweb, ‘I’ve found the place, my dear.’
“‘You have papa?’ she said.
“‘Not a dreadful detached villa or cottage orn?e, papa?’
“‘With admirably planned kitchen and flower gardens?’
“‘No,’ said I, laughing.
“‘With an extensive view of the Surrey Hills?’
“‘Why, any one would think you were a house agent, Cobweb,’ I said, smiling.
“‘No wonder, papa, when I’ve been reading so many advertisements. But do tell me; have you really found the place at last?’
“‘I have really, my dear – at least, I think so.’
“‘Is it a real, old-fashioned country house?’
“‘Smothered in clematis and roses and honeysuckle?’
“‘Yes, and swarming with birds’ nests and insects.’
“‘And with a regular great wilderness of a garden?’
“‘In which you can lose yourself?’
“‘Yes, and in the wood too.’
“‘What! is there a wood?’
“‘Acres of it.’
“‘And plenty of fruit and flowers?’
“‘Plenty to make you ill and to litter the house.’
“‘And purply plums, and ruddy apples, and soft downy peaches, and great rich Morello cherries?’
“‘Yes, yes, yes, and cabbages, and turnips, and ’tatoes, and beans, and brockylo enough to supply a greengrocer’s shop,’ I cried testily.
“‘And it doesn’t look new, and stiff, and bricky; and isn’t overlooked by the neighbours, who hang out washing; and there are no organs, nor cabs, nor street-singers?’
“‘No, no, no, no, child. It’s just what you asked me to get – old, and rugged, and picturesque, and inconvenient, and damp, and littered with leaves, and four miles from any railway-station; and now I hope you’re happy.’
“‘Oh, I am, dear, dear, dear father!’ she cried, seating herself on my knee, and nestling her head on my shoulder.
“‘There, hold up your head,’ I said, ‘and look at me. Now tell me frankly, did you ever see such a weak, stupid old man in your life?’
“‘I like weak, stupid old men,’ she said archly; and her eyes twinkled with merriment, and then softened with the tears that stole into them.
“‘Yes,’ I said, ‘because you can tyrannise over them, and do what you please with them, and make them your slaves like you do me. A pretty rig I’ve been running this last two months to find a place you like – just as if Bryanston Square wouldn’t do. I tell you what, my lady, you’ll have to take pains to make me comfortable down there, for I shall be as dull and as heavy as lead.’
“‘No, you will not, pa dear,’ she said, laughing, and then laying her cheek to mine. ‘I am so glad. You’ve made me so happy, for I was very tired of London.’
“I did not answer, but sat looking down on the smooth peachy cheek that one of my hands would keep stroking, and at the long yellow hair that hung down over the shoulders in waves, and, in spite of myself, a sigh escaped my lips.
“Ruth – Cobweb, as I always called her, because she was so soft and downy – started up, gazing earnestly in my face, and then kissed me very, very fondly.
“‘Don’t think about the past, dear father,’ she said softly – she always called me father when she was serious.
“‘Can’t help it, child,’ I said mournfully; and then, seeing the tears gather in her eyes, I tried to be cheerful, and smiled as I added, ‘I have the future as well as the past to make me sad, my dear.’
“She looked at me wonderingly, but did not speak, and I sat there holding her little hand to my heart as I thought of the past, and how ten years before, just as business was beginning to prosper with me, I was left alone with a little fair-haired girl of eight, who found it so hard to believe that her mother had been taken away never to return, only to live in our memories. And I thought, too, of how the years had fled away, and I had become a wealthy man, whose sole thought had been of the child I had seen grow up to maidenhood, making a very idol of her, yielding to her every whim, and doing the most I could to spoil one who never would be spoiled. For, with all the accomplishments I had lavished upon her, Ruth had grown up to be a notable little housewife, who disgusted our cooks by insisting upon going down into the kitchen and making my favourite puddings and tarts with her own hands, and generally behaving in what the servants called an unladylike way.
“And then I thought of my other sorrow – the future – and pictured, with an agony I cannot describe, the day when I should have to resign my claims to another, and be left alone, a desolate, broken old man.
“I am naturally a very common, hard, and businesslike fellow, and terribly selfish. Cobweb had woven herself so round my heart, that in my peevish, irritable way, I was never happy when home from the City without she was waiting on me – filling my pipe, mixing my one nightly glass of grog, upon which the butler frowned – in fact, he had once suggested to me that his late master of an evening always took port.
“Cobweb was very quiet as she glided down from my knee to her hassock at my feet, and was evidently thinking as much as I; and at last I brightened up, for a thought had come to me with a selfish kind of comfort.
“‘She’ll be quite away from all temptations to leave me, there, anyhow,’ I said to myself, as I thought of the ‘at-homes’ and halls to which she was so often receiving invitations.
“This set me talking – fishing, as I called it in my great cunning – to see if there were one of the rocks ahead of which I was in dread.
“‘How shall you be able to leave all your fine friends – parties – and set-outs?’ I said.
“‘Oh, I’m tired of them all!’ she said clapping her hands.
“‘And gay cavaliers, with dandy airs and moustaches, and programmes.’
“‘Ha, ha, ha!’ she laughed merrily; and then, as it seemed to me in my jealous watchfulness, turning the subject, she began to talk about the country place I had taken.
“A fortnight later and we were settled down; and really, spite of all my London notions, I began to find the calm and repose of the country delicious. Cobweb was delighted, and constantly dragging me somewhere or another into the grounds of the pretty old place, where she arranged garden-seats in the snuggest, shadiest spots for my especial behoof.
“As I have said, there was a wilderness of a wood adjoining the garden, which the former possessor had left in a state of nature, saving that he had had the old footpaths and tracks widened in their old winding ways, carefully turfed, and dotted with a chair here and there.
“This was Cobweb’s favourite place, and if I missed her out in the garden, I knew I should find her here, with the sun raining a shower of silver beams through the network of leaves overhead, to dance and flash among the waving tresses of her long golden hair.
“One day I found her leaning on a dead bough which crossed an opening in the wood, where all seemed of a delicate twilight green. She was listening intently to the song of a bird overhead, and as I stopped short, gazing at the picture before me, I said to myself with a sigh —
“‘All that’s bright must fade! My darling, I wish I had your likeness as you stand. Time flies.’ I muttered, ‘and the winter comes at last, with bare trees to the woods – grey hairs and wrinkles to the old.’
“She caught sight of me directly, and the scene was changed, for I was listening the next moment to her merry, happy voice.
“A day or two later I was in the City, where I always went twice a week – for I could not give up business, it was part of my life – when old Smith dropped in, and in the course of conversation he said —
“‘By the way, Burrows, why don’t you have your portrait painted?’
“‘Bah! stuff! What for?’ I said.
“‘Well,’ he said, laughing, ‘I don’t know, only that it would give a poor artist of my acquaintance a job; and, poor fellow, he wants it badly enough.’
“‘Bah! I’m handsome enough without being painted,’ I said gruffly. Then as a thought flashed through my mind – for I saw again the picture in the wood with Cobweb leaning on the branch – ‘Stop a minute. Can he paint well?’
“‘And is terribly hard up?’
“‘Horribly, poor fellow.’
“‘Don’t know. He’s poor and proud, and the world has dealt very hardly with him. It isn’t so smooth with every one, Jack, as it is with us.’
“‘True, Tom, old fellow,’ I said, ‘true. Well, look here: I’ll give him a job. Would he come down and stay at my place?’
“‘Oh, yes, if you treat him well; but, as I tell you, he’s poor and proud, and quite a gentleman.’
“‘Well, I’m not,’ I said testily. ‘I’ll give him enough to eat, and a good bed to sleep on; and he’ll have to put up with me dropping my “h’s.” But,’ I added, slapping my pocket, ‘I can pay him like a gentleman.’
“‘Get out, you purse-proud old humbug!’ said Smith, laughing, as he clapped me on the shoulder. ‘But there, I’m obliged to you. Have him down, and I’ll thank you. He’s a gentleman, and a man of honour.’
“‘Oh, I’m not afraid he’ll steal the spoons,’ I said, laughing.
“‘No,’ he said dryly, ‘no fear of that. But you’ll make a good picture.’
“‘Stuff!’ I said. ‘Do you think I’m going to be painted?’
“‘Why, what are you going to do, then?’ he asked in an astonished way.
“‘Let him paint little Cobweb,’ I said, chuckling, and rubbing my hands.
“Smith gave a long whistle, and his fingers twitched as if he were mending a sewing machine, and after a few more words he left.
“It did not strike me then, but I remarked afterwards that he seemed disposed to draw back from his proposal; but I was now so wrapped up in my plans that I could think of nothing but the picture in the wood, and I went home full of it, meaning it for a surprise.
“Two days later one of the servants announced a Mr Grantly on business, and, on his being shown in, I found myself face to face with a handsome, grave-looking man of about thirty. He was rather shabbily dressed, and looked pale and ill as he bowed to Cobweb and myself, ending by staring at my child, as I thought, in rather a peculiar way.
“This annoyed me – a stout, choleric, elderly man – for no one had a right to look at my Cobweb but me and I spoke rather testily as I said —
“‘Now, sir, when you please, I am at your service.’
“‘I beg your pardon,’ he said, in a low voice. ‘Miss Burrows, I presume. One moment, please – don’t move.’
“Cobweb was sitting in the bay-window, and, to my utter astonishment, he quickly drew one of the curtains, and then half closed another, so that the light fell strongly upon her hair.
“I could not speak for the passion bubbling up in my throat, and as I stood gasping, he came and took my arm, led me aside, and then, pointing to where Cobweb sat, as astounded as myself, he said —
“‘That would be admirable, sir. We could not improve that natural pose.’
“‘What the dickens – Are you mad, sir? What do you mean?’
“‘I beg your pardon,’ he said, flushing, and speaking hastily. ‘I am so wrapped up in my profession. I thought you understood. Mr Smith said you wished me to paint this young lady’s portrait. Am I mistaken?’ñêà÷àòü êíèãó áåñïëàòíî
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