George Fenn.

Friends I Have Made





Chapter Seven.
A Great Trouble

In my strange, reticent way I had a great objection to making friends unless they were people who needed my aid; then I seemed drawn to them, and an intimacy was sure to follow. There was one family, though, whom I came to know through Ruth Smith and her husband Luke, and from the very first they interested me more, though, from the troubles through which they had passed than anything else.

Mr Hendrick was a clerk in some great firm, and as our intimacy increased, and he saw the interest I took in his daughters, each of whom was a well educated young girl, just of an impressionable age, he used to speak very plainly of their future.

I shall not be sorry, he said, to see them the wives of good earnest men, I dont want them to make wealthy matches; but money is useful, of course.

They have never been from home? I said.

Oh, yes, both of them. But governesses, poor children, have not a happy time. Of course there are houses where there is a good sensible woman at the head, and the governess finds a home; but in too many cases she does not fare any too well.

Yours have had some unpleasant experiences, then?

Oh, yes, he said, smiling. Ah, that was a hard time. It was just after my long illness, when I was laid by for six months.

Of course, it was not reasonable to expect different treatment from the great firm with whom I had been for so many years; but it came like a sharp pang when one morning at breakfast, just as I had made up my mind to go up to town and try again, the postman left a letter.

It was very kindly written, and enclosed a cheque for fifty pounds; but that did not seem to balance the intimation that the heads of the City place had filled up my post by promoting one of their employ?s; for they said that it was quite evident I should not be in a condition to do active business for some months to come, and they advocated perfect rest and a sojourn at the sea side.

I could not complain, for twice over I had been back, telling myself I was strong enough to go on, but each time I had broken down, and on the last occasion had to be sent home in a fly.

The disease, you see, had left me so dreadfully nervous; and directly I had attempted to think and direct, and plunge generally into the regular bustle of business, I had become confused and flurried, ending by sitting down miserably helpless, and obliged to confess myself beaten.

This is the worst cut of all, I said with a groan, as I let the envelope and its enclosures fall to the ground; God help us! what is to become of us?

Oh, come, come! exclaimed my wife bless her for a dear little woman who always thinks a looking-glass has two bright sides! come, come! we shall manage right enough, dear, only wait and grow strong.

Seven of us, and no income nothing to look forward to in this weary, weary world, I groaned; and I sank back and covered my face with my hands.

And as I did so I felt my little woman rest her forehead on my hands, and in a whisper she repeated those lines of Longfellows

Be still, sad heart! and cease repining; Behind the clouds is the sun still shining; Thy fate is the common fate of all: Into each life some rain must fall, Some days must be dark and dreary.

I knew the truth of the words very favourite ones of mine, which I had often quoted about other peoples sorrows but now I could only moan in my weakness, and think of the future as a cloudy, rainy time, which no sunshine could ever pierce.

What was to become of our two girls, Hetty and Marie, of whom we had been so proud, and whom we had educated and trained with such care that while domestic in every way, they were ladies in the truest sense of the word girls of eighteen and twenty? What was to become of the little ones?

For with my large family I had never been able to put much aside, but had trusted to insurance.

What little I had saved had been swept away by the expenses of my long illness; and now I had fifty pounds, a few debts, the insurance-money to keep up, my health was shattered, and no prospective income.

I can scarcely think about it all now without a strange swelling coming in my throat, for events followed one another pretty quickly then. Of course, I know that I had no business to repine; but I was in so weak and helpless a state that I did and said things very different to the thoughts and acts of a man in robust health.

The next morning my eldest boy, a lad of fourteen then, sat perfectly still after breakfast, and looked preternaturally solemn. I did not see it then, but there was evidently a conspiracy afloat.

Time you had gone to school, my boy, I said.

Not going to-day, father, was the answer; and then it came out that the schoolmasters brother had undertaken to receive the boy into his office, without premium he was a land agent and surveyor, and the boy was to reside with him.

I was stunned almost. I knew it was a blessing in disguise one hearty boy well provided for but I was too full of repining to see it then.

Dick went the next day; and this seemed a new trouble.

Four days later Marie came to tell me that she was going to be nursery governess at the rectory; and though she was only going to be a mile away, that was another bitter pang; and I fear that I did no little towards sending the poor girl to her new home low-spirited and dejected.

Our homes being broken up now, dear, I said to my wife the evening after Marie had gone; and she gave such a sigh, and began to sob so violently, that I knew there was something being kept back, and taxed her with it.

Tell me this instant, I said excitedly. What is it?

Pray, pray dont be excited, she cried tenderly; you know how it depresses you afterwards.

Then tell me all about what has been done. Oh! its cruel, cruel, cruel, while I am prostrate here, to be deceiving me as you all are.

Harry, darling, my poor little wife sobbed, indeed, indeed we have been doing all for the best, and to help you in our difficulties.

Yes, yes; I know, I know, I said, laying my hand upon her head as she knelt there by my bedside; it is I who am so pitifully mean and weak with my illness. Tell me all, dear; I can bear it now.

And I did try so hard; though the weak tears would come rolling from beneath my closed eyelids as she told me that Hetty, my darling, the flower of the flock, with her sweet earnest grey eyes, fair face, and golden-brown hair, had nobly determined, too, to obtain a situation as governess; had, unknown even to her mother, advertised; had received an answer, and obtained an appointment in a merchants family at a salary of eight pounds per annum.

Yes; and isnt it lucky, father? exclaimed her bright, cheerful, young voice; for she had been standing at the door.

Oh, my darling! I cant part with you, I groaned.

Only for a little while, father dear, she said nestling to me. And eight pounds a year; that will be two pounds for me for dress must dress well, dear and six for you and mamma. That will nearly half pay one quarters rent, you know; and think! there will be three less to keep, and I do eat so heartily.

I tried very hard to follow in the same spirit of gaiety; but in those days I was such a wet blanket that I soon led the way, and it ended in our all sobbing together at the thought of the coming separation.

This may sound very simple to some people; but by those who have lived in the circle of a united family, happy in their own modest way, I dare say it will be understood.

The day of parting came so quickly, and my wife took my place, going up to town with Hetty, and seeing her safely installed, while I lay tossing feverishly on my bed, bemoaning my inability to act, and looking with envy through the open window at the labourer toiling in the hot sun with his pickaxe, mending the road.

Its not much I ask! I groaned, in an agony of supplication, as I lay there, and stretched out my thin and trembling hands; only that I may have strength strength to work. I care not how hard, how humble it may be, only give me back my strength.

Perhaps it was from exhaustion, but I felt and thought differently after that; for it seemed to me then, as I lay there, that my prayer was heard, and a sweet restful sleep fell upon me, from which I awakened at last to find it was quite sunset, while, on looking round, there sat my wife watching by the bedside.

Back, I said, so soon?

Soon, dear? she said; I have been sitting here an hour. It is seven oclock, and they say you fell asleep before twelve. It was so sweet and sound a sleep that I would not wake you.

I lay there quite still for a few minutes, holding her hand in mine, and then I said quite calmly

Lizzie, Im going to get strong now.

Yes, yes; of course, dear, she said; and I saw the hopeless tears gathering in her eyes.

I smiled. She told me afterwards that I had not smiled with such a calm contented look on my countenance for many, many months, and it frightened her; for she thought it might be the precursor of a terrible change.

Yes, I said, get strong; and I patted the little transparent hand that had grown with anxiety and watching as thin as my own. Yes, I repeated again, get strong. I can feel it now. What is to-morrow?

Friday, she said; and her eyes dilated with fear.

Then get a few things ready, and on Saturday we will go down to one of those little villages near Dover for a month. The sea-air will give me the strength I want, and then to work once more. Thank God the worst is past!

Harry, Harry, dear Harry! she sobbed, flinging her arms wildly round me, and drawing my head to her bosom. Oh, speak to me speak again! You are worse much worse. No, no; let go, let go, she cried frantically, as she struggled to get away, let me ring.

What for? what for, little woman? I said, holding her more tightly to my breast.

To get help to send for the doctor, she cried wildly.

Hush, hush! I said. Look at me look in my eyes do I seem worse?

N-no, she faltered, gazing at me with her poor face all drawn and haggard; but but

Lay your head on my arm, darling, and listen, I said calmly. There, there, I tell you calmly and sanely that I am better. I know I am better. The old weary feeling has gone; and I believe yes, I believe that my prayer has been heard.

Poor little weary heart, that had been so tortured for my sake! It was long enough before I could calm her to the same belief as mine; but at last she sat there with her head resting on the pillow nearest mine, and she answered my questions about her journey to town with Hetty.

A nice house? I said.

Yes; a large pretentious place in a new square.

And the people?

I only saw the mistress and children.

Nice?

Ye-es.

Wife a little pompous, perhaps?

Yes; I could not help thinking so, she faltered.

And the children rude and disagreeable? I said, smiling.

Im Im afraid so, she faltered.

Never mind, never mind, I said cheerfully. It shant be for long, little woman. I shall never rest till I have a comfortable home for our darlings once again; and Hetty, God bless her! she has a way and disposition that must make every one love her. Mistress, children, servants, they will all love and respect her; so we must be patient for a while only be patient.

These words frightened my poor wife again, but my calm quiet smiles reassured her; and that evening I eat up and had tea with those who were left the two little ones by the open window of my bedroom, and a sweet sense of calmness and content was over me, such as I had not known for many weary months.

I was down in the garden the next morning before the sun was hot. I had always loved my bit of garden, and by the help of a hoe walked all round it, feeling a little sad to see how it had gone to ruin, but already making plans for the future.

Ah, Mr Hendrick! said a cheery voice, and I recognised a neighbour with whom I had often ridden up to business of a morning; glad to see you so much better.

Thank you, I am much better, I said, catching the extended hand, and feeling a warm glow at my heart in the friendly grasp.

By the way dont be offended, he said, but are you going to leave your house?

I am thinking of doing so, I said sadly.

I dont mean that, he said hastily. I mean for a month or six weeks. An old friend of mine, a country lawyer, wants a furnished residence for self and family for a time, handy to town, where he has a big railway case on. I thought, perhaps if you were going to the sea side for a bit you know hes well off ask stiff rent, and that sort of thing eh? think it over.

I I will, I said, gasping for breath; for this new piece of good fortune was almost too much for me.

Suffice it that I promised to send him word, and the result was that, though it delayed my going for a few days, before the next week was over I was down in a pleasant cottage by the sea side, with not only enough for current expenses, but a good surplus coming from the rent of our own house, for my neighbour had secured for me a far higher sum than I should have asked; and there was no occasion to touch the fifty pounds, with which I cleared off all my debts.

That was a calm and delicious time, when with the sweet sense of returning strength I lay upon the sands, drawing in the iodine-laden sea-breeze, and seeming to feel a change day by day. We had the most cheerful letters from the girls and our boy, telling us of their success, and Hettys were above all long and affectionate.

But I was not satisfied; there seemed to me to be a forced gaiety about Hettys letters that troubled me, and I could not think them real, for it seemed to me as if she wrote these notes solely for the sake of making me cheerful, and they had the opposite result. In fact, I would at that time far rather have heard that she was uncomfortable, and longing for the time when she might return home.

Meanwhile, as the weeks slipped by, I grew so well that I felt almost like my former self; and had anything been wanting to complete my cure, it was a visit from a former partner of the firm I had served. He had left them years before to commence business for himself, and had thriven so that his establishment was as large as that from which he had split.

We had always been on civil terms, but I never thought he had noticed me. Now, however, on finding out that I was disengaged, he came to me with a most brilliant offer at least it seemed so to me then.

I always longed to have your clear head to depend on, he said, but, of course, honour forbade any negotiations while you were with the old firm. Now you are free, I shall be very glad if you will join me.

Im afraid my clear head has gone for ever, I said sadly.

Pooh, nonsense, man! he said, laughing. Youve had a nasty attack, but thats all gone, and youll be your own man in another week. Come, say the word, youll join me, and I wont make promises, but come to me and let me feel that Ive always somebody at the house that I can trust and depend on while Im away, and perhaps some day well talk about a junior partnership.

I could not thank him, but I gave him my hand, and he left me, evidently congratulating himself on having done a good stroke of business; while I I felt as if I could never atone for my repinings under affliction.

But my great trouble was to come.

We were sitting at breakfast the next morning, talking about how it would be quite unnecessary now to give up the house, when a letter came.

It was a strange hand, from London, and somehow with a sense of impending evil I began slowly turning it over, and telling my wife that it had been down to the old house, and re-directed here, so that it was over a day old.

At last I opened it, read it, and it dropped from my hands.

I caught it up again though, the next moment, and read it out to my wife. It was as follows:

50, Woodmount Square.

Wednesday.

Sir, It is an unpleasant task, but as I have had your daughter living beneath my roof, I feel it to be my duty to inform you that two days ago she left here in a clandestine manner, and has not thought proper to return. It is, of course, a very painful admission to make, especially to her father, but as it is a duty, I do not shrink therefrom. Your daughters conduct has given Mrs Saint Ray great cause for anxiety from the first, as it has been flighty, and not at all lady-like. We should very shortly have dismissed her, as we do not approve of gentlemen visiting the instructress of our children. As she has, however, taken this step, I have no more to say, and feeling that I have done my duty,

I am,

Your obedient Servant,

Alexander Saint Ray.

Mr Hendrick.

If I had any remnant of my old weakness hanging about before, it was all cleared away now, as I stood tearing the letter to fragments.

Its a lie a wicked, atrocious lie! I exclaimed, stamping on the pieces. Our darling has been driven away, or there is something wrong. She would never act like this.

Never, Harry, exclaimed my wife, who stood there flushed and angry one moment, pale as ashes the next. But stop! what are you going to do?

Going to do? I roared, going to seek for our child.

But you are not strong enough the agitation

Strong! agitation! I exclaimed, catching her so tightly by the arm that she winced. Look at me, Lizzy; I never felt stronger in my life.

In less than an hour I was being whirled up to town by the train, and on reaching the station, the cab that took me on to Woodmount Square seemed to crawl.

I thundered so at the knocker, and dragged so fiercely at the visitors bell, that the footman in a tawdry livery stared at me aghast as he opened the door, and I strode in.

Tell your master I want to see him, I said hastily.

Aint at home, sir, he said, recovering himself.

Your mistress, then, I cried fiercely.

She aint

Confound you! I roared, catching him by the collar, to the disarrangement of his white cravat; tell her there, there! I said, cooling down and slipping a couple of florins in the mans hand. Here, show me in directly to either of them; I am Miss Hendricks father.

The mans frightened, angry face changed on the instant, and he showed me at once into a garish drawing-room, where a coarse, florid woman was lying back on a lounge, fanning herself.

Mrs Saint Ray, I said hastily, my name is Hendrick. I have come up in answer to your husbands letter.

You must see him, my good man, she exclaimed angrily. I told Thomas not to admit any one.

But this is life or death to me, madam my childs honour. Tell me, I beg of you, all you know.

You people should bring your children up better, was the reply. Its very dreadful very shocking! and my poor darlings have had a most narrow escape.

Did it never occur to you, madam, that other people have darlings whom they love? I exclaimed, unable to control my anger. But there, tell me, what steps have you taken to find out where she went?

Steps! I take steps? Absurd! My good man, you must be mad.

I shall be soon, I muttered, then aloud

But you have done something, madam, surely?

I desired Mr Saint Ray to write to you, and of course you are the proper person to take steps, as you term it, said the lady contemptuously.

Tell me when she left and how. Give me some information, I beg of you, I exclaimed.

My good man, I cannot touch the subject at all. It is too painful too dreadful. See Mr Saint Ray. When I think of having harboured so dreadfully shameless a creature, I feel faint it turns me sick.

I dared not speak I dared not give utterance to the rage still struggling in my breast, for this was only a woman, and such a woman, that I dashed out of the room, and the door banged heavily behind me.

As I left the room I nearly fell over the footman, who had evidently been listening, and I caught a glimpse of two female heads disappearing at a doorway as I hurried down the stairs.

Here, my man, I said, tell me all you know, and I thrust my hand once more into my meagrely filled pocket.

Oh, its all right, sir, I dont want paying, said the footman hastily. Its my belief she drove poor Miss Hendrick away with her temper. Shes a wunner, he continued in a whisper, reglar tiger-cat, and the young ones is reglar tiger-kittens beasts, he added, half savagely.

Tell me when she went.

Well, sir, it was the night afore the night afore last as she went out, and didnt come back. Im going, too, and sos two of the maids.

Did she take her box?

Lor, no, sir, nothing at all; and when she didnt come back, we down in the servants all said as she had been driven away, and gone home.

But, I said, and I felt the blood come into my face as I asked the question about my own child, but did she go alone?





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