Friends I Have Madeñêà÷àòü êíèãó áåñïëàòíî
“‘Oh, yes, I think so, sir.’
“‘And,’ – I was choking as I asked the question – ‘what gentlemen came to see her?’
“‘Gentlemen – to see her?’
“‘Yes; your master said so in his letter.’
“‘Why, what a whopper!’ exclaimed the man indignantly. ‘Nobody never came to see her once. Stop! yes, they did.’
“My heart seemed to stand still at his words.
“‘Yes, there was an old gentleman called one afternoon – grey-headed old gentleman – a parson, of course – so there was. It was while I was out with the carriage. Hann let him in, and fetched Miss Hendrick down, and she saw him in the dining-room. I remember Hann told me all about it. To be sure; and that little cat, Miss Celia, kicked up a row because Hann wouldn’t let her go into the dining-room while the gentleman was here, and she said she’d tell her mar. Miss Hendrick ain’t been home, then, sir?’
“‘No, my man, no.’
“‘Then I should go bang to the pleece station, sir. They’d find out.’
“I took the man’s advice, and went to the nearest station, where I saw a sergeant, and stated my case, while he made notes in a book.
“‘Lady young?’ he said.
“I saw the man tighten his lips.
“‘Very pretty,’ I said, emphatically.
“The man’s lips tightened still more, and I saw a faint smile as he spoke again.
“‘We’ll do our best, sir, but this is a detective case. I should go to Scotland Yard if I was you. Young ladies will do these sort of things. Gets led away, you know.’
“‘What is it, Thomson?’ said an officer whom I saw to be an inspector; and his coming stopped an indignant exclamation on my lips.
“‘Young lady missing,’ said the sergeant.
“‘What description?’ said the inspector, going to the desk.
“I repeated it hastily, and the inspector turned sharply round to his subordinate and spoke to him in a low tone. He then turned to me.
“‘I’m very sorry, sir,’ he said kindly. ‘Just take a seat. Any relative?’
“‘Daughter,’ I panted; and then I read that in the man’s eyes which made the whitewashed office seem to swim round; a deathly sickness overcame me, and all was blank.
“The next thing I remember is feeling cold water splashing my face, and a kindly voice saying —
“‘Come, come! hold up, sir. It’s not so bad as that. There, drink some of this.’
“I drank some of the water the inspector held to my lips, and two constables who had been supporting me drew back.
“‘I’ve been very ill,’ I stammered, ‘and I am weak; but tell me, pray tell me the worst.’
“‘Well, sir, the worst is that the young lady’s getting better, I hope. That was the last report, if it’s the same. She was knocked down by a van on the fifteenth; concussion of the brain; small bone of arm broken; no means of identification; taken to Saint George’s Hospital; last news, still insensible, but doctors hopeful.’
“This principally read to me from a book which the inspector consulted.
“‘A cab, please, quick!’ I faltered.
“‘Cab directly, Thomson,’ said the inspector. – ‘There, I’ll go with you.’
“That inspector holds a place in my heart amongst those to whom I owe gratitude, for he was very kind.
He took me, trembling and agitated, to the hospital, and there, after a short delay, we were taken to a bedside in a small, beautifully clean, and airy ward, where a doctor was sitting by my darling, who lay there very feeble, but with the light of reason beginning to shine once more from her gentle eyes.
“She recognised me, but her voice was quite a whisper, and I could see that she was confused and puzzled as to her presence there.
“I need not tell you of her rapid strides back to convalescence, nor more of her accident than that all she recollected was a warning cry as she crossed the road, and then seeming to wake in the hospital with me standing at her side.
“Our sojourn by the sea lasted another month for her sake, but by then I was busy once again, and working easily and well.
“Need I say that my darlings were both soon back in their old home, never to leave us again?”
“I could not refrain from smiling.
“‘Why do you laugh?’ he said.
“‘I was only thinking,’ I said, sadly, as I could not help comparing the young happy maidenhood of the two girls with my own. I did not know that I smiled.
“Oh, I see your meaning,” he said, laughing. “Well, yes, perhaps you are right: young birds will make nests elsewhere, and there may be fresh partings; for the son of our old clergyman, who called upon Hetty in Woodmount Square, spends a great deal of his spare time here.”
“Yes,” I said, “and I thought Marie blushed very vividly the other day when I saw her here with that lad Edwards.”
“Ah, yes,” he said, nodding his head thoughtfully. “I knew John Edwards’ father at school. He’s a good young fellow, and as you say, or rather as you think, we may lose our darlings after all.”
“And that was your great trouble?” I said.
“Yes,” he replied, “sunshine and rain. I had both, though I could not see clearly through the storm.”
“Your failing was that of many,” I said sadly; “and it is so, that whatever rain falls into each life, God sends his sunshine to dry those tears.”
As Companion to a Lady
The governess question was discussed more than once at the Hendricks – the position of governesses and companions, Mrs Hendrick and her daughters agreeing with me that some poor girls suffered a martyrdom at the hands of their employers, especially where there was a family of spoilt children, but at the same time we acknowledged that there was often a want of tact on the part of the young people who undertook the duties of governesses.
On the last occasion it was in the presence of a quiet subdued lady, who seemed to be about four or five-and-thirty, who had formed a friendship for Hetty while she was at Mrs Saint Ray’s, and had continued the acquaintance since. There was something about her that attracted me at the first occasion of our meeting, and by degrees our friendly feeling strengthened, but it was not until after the evening when she spoke that my heart truly warmed to her, for there was a similarity in her career to mine that seemed to act as a bond.
On the evening in question Agnes Laurie had been listening quietly to the conversation, and at last said: —
“I believe, of course, that there is a great deal of ill-treatment of governesses, but my experience has been as companion to a lady, and I have found nothing but kindness. It is many years ago, now over ten, since I came from the country, and I can recall, only too well, the morning when my landlady came into the room upon a very unpleasant errand.
“‘I’m very sorry Miss,’ she exclaimed, ‘and I’m very sorry you’re not well off; but I’m only a poor woman myself, and if you can’t pay the rent of this room, I don’t see as you can afford the rent of the one upstairs.’
“Here my landlady rubbed her nose viciously upon her apron, and stared straight out of the very dirty window.
“As this was evidently a challenge to me to reply, I said, as firmly as I could, a few words which brought out the reason for the woman’s visit that morning.
“‘Am I to understand, then, that you wish me to leave.’
“‘If you please, miss, at the end of the week, for there’s the gent on the first floor would like to have this bedroom.’
“‘Very well, Mrs Ruddock,’ I said, ‘I will find a room elsewhere.’
“‘Thanky, miss,’ she said sharply; and giving her nose another vicious rub, she left me to my thoughts – and my tears.
“For I was weak, faint, and heart-sick, and the coins in my purse had dwindled down, so that if I did not succeed in obtaining an engagement in a very few days, I had no resource but to creep back to the country and avow my failure.
“Just three months since, and we were all so happy in the little country vicarage; and then, in visiting one of his people, my poor father caught a dangerous fever, while in tending him my dear mother was stricken with the same complaint, and ere three weeks had passed Minna and I sat in the little study alone, in deep black; for the struggle had been brief, and those we loved lay together in the green churchyard, and we were only intruders now in the vicarage that had been our home.
“We were nearly penniless, too, but a brother clergyman of my father’s, quite as poor, came forward and offered us a temporary home till, as he said, some opening should occur for us.
“I gladly accepted it for Minna; but, for myself, I was determined to try great London and, unaided, fight my way. In two years John Murray was to come back from Australia to fetch me for his wife, and till then I would be independent. So the day came at last when, with many tears, we two girls had to separate, and with aching heart I left the old Lincolnshire home, and reached the great dreary void of London early one afternoon.
“I was not long in finding a place where I could stay in the shape of a second-floor front room in one of those heart-aching streets near the Foundling – streets that echo from morning to night with mournful cries uttered by vendors whose goods it is impossible to surmise, and with the dismal echoing tones of the various organs. So painful were these last to me, that often of an evening, when I have returned from a weary, disheartening search for an engagement, and sat alone and hungry, fearing to spend my money in anything beyond the tea and bread-and-butter upon which I existed, these doleful strains – cheering, perhaps, to some – have had such an effect upon me that I have sat and sobbed till, utterly worn out, I have fallen asleep, to wake, perhaps hours after, to find it very late, and crawl shivering off to bed.
“As the weeks passed on, and my advertisements and fees paid to the various registry offices had been without effect, I used to crawl back to my room, growing more and more disheartened. I was always a plain sallow-looking girl, and now in my fast-wearing black I began to feel that I was day by day growing more shabby and weary-looking, and that my feeble chances of obtaining a post were growing less and less.
“I used to sit and ask myself whether I had tried hard, and I knew I had; but there was only one result. Whether I advertised for a situation as governess, or went from a registry office to offer myself as companion to a lady, it was always the same; I noticed a look of disappointment as soon as I entered the room, for I was neither pretty nor bright-looking, and my mournful black helped to sadden my aspect. It was, I say, always the same – the lady did not think I should suit her; and in blank despair I had to go away.
“And now it had come to this: that my landlady had grown as tired of me as the people at the registry offices, where I had more than once been rudely told that I was not likely to get a place as governess or companion, but had better look lower in the scale. That afternoon, evidently suspicious of my ability to pay, and perhaps disgusted with my miserable way of living, and afraid that I should be left an invalid upon her hands, she had – rudely, it seemed to me – requested me to leave.
“In my present circumstances I was utterly prostrated by the news, for I dared not take lodgings elsewhere; and I could see no prospect now but to sell a portion of my scanty wardrobe, and go back to beg for assistance from my father’s friend.
“What a change! and how soon had my hopes of independent action been blighted! I was heartsore as I felt how that in that great city there was wealth being squandered and luxury around me while I was literally starving; for my poor living was telling upon me fast. What should I do? What should I do?
“It was with weary iteration I had said those words, and wept till tears came no more, and a dull, stolid feeling of despair had come upon me. I had almost shrunk away in the streets from the bright-faced, happy girls I passed; and at times I found myself asking what was my sin that I should be punished as I had been.
“I lay awake that night for many hours watching the light from the street lamp playing upon my ceiling, and at last, towards morning, the remembrance of words I had often heard came to me with a calm sense of repose, trust, and restfulness, and I believe I fell asleep at last with a smile upon my lips, repeating a portion of that comforting sentence ending, ‘Are ye not much better than they?’
“It was a bright, sunshiny morning when I awoke, to hear some one knocking at my door; and hurrying on a few things, I answered.
“‘Ah! I was just a-going to take ’em down again,’ said my landlady harshly. ‘Some folks can afford to lie in bed all day; I can’t. Here’s two letters for you. And mind this. Miss Laurie: I never bargained to come tramping up to the top of the house with letters and messages for you.’
“‘I’m very much obliged, Mrs Ruddock,’ I said gently, as I took the letters with trembling hands, while, muttering and complaining, their bearer went down stairs. It seemed very hard then, but I believe it was the woman’s habit, and that she was not bad at heart, but warped and cankered by poverty, hard work, and ill-usage from a drunken husband, whom she entirely kept.
“One letter I saw at a glance was from Minna, the other was in a strange crabbed hand; and I longed to read them; but exercising my self-denial, I dressed, lit my fire, and prepared my very frugal breakfast before sitting down and devouring Minna’s news.
“What right had I to murmur as I did last night? I asked myself, when she was evidently so happy and contented; and then I opened, with fluttering hand, the other letter, and was puzzled by it at first; but at last I recalled the fact that three weeks before I had answered an advertisement in the Times where a lady wanted a companion.
“The note was very brief and curt, and ran as follows: —
“If Miss Laurie is not engaged, she can call upon Mrs Langton Porter, 47, Morton Street, Park Village South, at eleven o’clock to-morrow – Thursday.”
“‘At last!’ I said to myself, joyfully; and with beating heart I prepared myself for my journey, for the appointment was for that morning.
“Just as I had pretty well timed myself for my walk, a sudden squall came on, the sky was darkened, snow fell heavily, and in place of a morning in spring we seemed to have gone back into winter, for in a very short time the snow lay thickly, and the branches of the trees were whitened in the squares.
“Weak as I was, this disheartened me, but I fought my way bravely on, and just at eleven rang timidly at the door of an important-looking house, and was superciliously shown, by a stout tall footman in drab livery, into a handsomely-furnished room. Everything in the place I noticed was rich and good: heavy curtains hung by window and door; skins and Eastern rugs lay on the polished wood floor; a tremendous fire blazed in a great brass fire place, and the flames danced and were reflected from the encaustic tiles with which it was surrounded.
“‘I’ll take your note in,’ said the footman, as I handed it. ‘You can sit down.’
“I preferred to stand, and as soon as I was alone I shivered with fear and cold, as I caught a glance of my pale, sallow face in a great mirror. Every moment I expected to see the owner of the place, but I remained standing wearily for an hour, and then I sighed and turned wistfully to look at the door, wondering whether the footman had taken in the note which I had given him as my passport.
“I started, for close behind me, having entered unheard, was a rather plump tall lady in black. She was dressed as if for going out, and well wrapped in furs.
“‘Oh! you are waiting,’ she said harshly; and a shade of displeasure crossed her face, as she looked full at me till my eyes dropped. ‘There, Miss – Miss – Miss!’
“‘Laurie,’ I suggested.
“‘Yes, yes; I know,’ she said sharply; ‘it is in my note. Pray, why in the name of common sense did you not sit down? Take that chair. Now then, have you been companion to a lady before?’
“‘No, ma’am,’ I replied; and then, in answer to her questions, all very sharply given, I told her so much as was necessary of my story.
“‘I don’t think you will suit me,’ she said; ‘I’ve had misery enough, and I want some one cheerful and agreeable, a lady whom I can trust, and who will be a pleasant companion. There, I’m sure there is not such a body in London, for the way I’ve been imposed upon is dreadful! I’ve had six in six months, and the number of applications I have had nearly drove me out of my senses. I’ve had one since you wrote to me – a creature whose sole idea was herself. I want one who will make me her first consideration. I don’t mind what I pay, but I want some one tall and lady-like, and you are not pretty, you know.’
“I shook my head sadly.
“‘Humph! Well,’ she went on, ‘you won’t be so giddy, and be always thinking of getting married. There, you need not blush like that; it’s what all the companions I have had seem to think about. You don’t I suppose?’
“‘I am engaged to be married,’ I said, hanging down my head, ‘in a couple of years.’
“‘Ho! Well, he mustn’t come here, for I’m a very selfish pragmatical old woman; and if I engaged you – which I don’t think I shall do – I should want you all to myself. What is he?’
“‘A surgeon – abroad,’ I faltered.
“‘Ho! That’s better; and perhaps he’ll settle there altogether without you.’
“I looked at her indignantly, and she laughed.
“‘Ah! I know, my good girl. I haven’t lived to eight-and-forty for nothing. How old are you?’
“‘Twenty,’ I said, shivering, for her rough way repelled me, and I longed to bring the interview to an end.
“‘Why, the girl’s cold,’ she said roughly. ‘H’m, twenty! Here, go up to the fire, and have a good warm; it’s dreadful weather. There, pull off your bonnet and jacket. Put them on that chair, and go closer to the fire; I’ve a deal to say to you yet, for I’m not going to engage another young person and have to change directly.’
“I obeyed her, trembling the while, for I was very weak; and she went on asking me questions and making comments.
“‘I don’t like your appearance at all: you look pale and unhealthy. Not a bit like a girl from the country.’
“‘I’m very sorry,’ I said; ‘but indeed, ma’am, I have excellent health.’
“‘Then your face tells stories about you. You play, of course?’
“‘You’re warm now. Go and play something. Can you sing?’
“‘Then sing too; and look here, Miss – Miss – Miss – ’
“I was about to tell her my name, but remembering the last rebuff, I was silent.
“‘Now, look here, my good young lady, how am I to remember your dreadful name? What is it?’
“‘Laurie, ma’am,’ I replied.
“‘Of course it is: I remember it quite well. Now go and play and sing something; and mind, I don’t want my ears deafened with fireworks, and the drums split with parrot-shriek bravuras. Sing something sweet and simple and old-fashioned – if you can,’ she added, ungraciously.
“I crossed the room and sat down to the magnificent piano, and for the next five minutes I seemed to be far away, down in the old home, as I forgot where I was, in singing my poor dead father’s favourite old ballad, ‘Robin Adair;’ while, as I finished, I had hard work to keep back the tears.
“‘Ro – bin A – dair,’ she sang, as I rose, in a not unpleasing voice. ‘Now let me hear you read. I always make my companion read to me a great deal; and mind this, I hate to hear any one drone like a school-girl. Go over there into the corner of the window, and stand there. Take that book; you’ll find the mark left in where Miss Belleville – bah! I believe her name was Stubbs, and her father a greengrocer – left off. Now then, begin!’
She pushed a lounge-chair close up to the window, and sat down with her hands in her muff, while I stood there, feeling like a school-girl, and ready to drone, as I began to read with faltering voice what happened to be Thackeray’s most beautiful chapter – The Death of poor old Colonel Newcome. I know my voice trembled at times, and a strange sense of choking came upon me as I went on, battling – oh! so hard – to read those piteous heart-stirring lines; but I was weak and suffering, I was faint with hunger and exertion, sick with that despair of hope deferred, and at last the room, with its costly furniture, seemed to swim round before me, a cold perspiration bathed my face, and with a weary sigh I caught feebly at the curtains, and then fell heavily upon the polished floor.
“I have some faint memory of being lifted, and wheeled in a chair whose castors I heard chirrup, to the front of the fire, and then, as my senses began to return, I seemed to feel arms round me, and a pleasant voice saying, half aloud:
“And she just lost her poor father too – to set her to read such a thing as that! I declare I’m about the wickedest, most thoughtless, and unfeeling old woman under the sun.”
“Then there was the refreshing odour of a vinaigrette, and the sick feeling began to pass away.
“‘I – I beg pardon,’ I faltered, trying to rise.
“‘I beg yours, my dear,’ she said, tenderly. ‘Sit still, sit still. Now then, try and drink that.’
“Some sherry was held to my lips, and then I was almost forced to eat a biscuit. They, however, rapidly revived me, and I found Mrs Porter had torn off her bonnet and mantle, and was kneeling by my side.ñêà÷àòü êíèãó áåñïëàòíî
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