Clara Vaughan. Volume 3 of 3
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And please, Miss, when we brings home the money, I be to go to Miss Bowden's, in Boutport Street, and our Jack to be put to a day-school not more than six miles away, and then I hope he know himself, and look higher than that minx of a Tabby Badcock. What do you think, Miss Clara, you would never believe it I know, but only a week ago last Tuesday I come sudden round the corner, and catched her a kissing of our Jack in the shed there by the shoot. And after all you taught her, Miss! Jack he ran away, as red as mangawazzle, but that brazen slut, there she stand with her legs out, as innocent as a picture. Never a word I said, but with no more to do I put her head in the calves' stommick as we makes the cheese with, in a bucket handy. It would have done you good to see her Miss, she did cry so hard, and she smell of it for a week, and it cure our Jack, up to Sunday anyhow. Mother come out at the noise, but her see that she deserve it, and the runnet was no account, except for the pigs, because it were gone by. I hope she know her manners now and her spear in life with her sheep's eyes, and not come trying to catch any of my family.
Well, Miss Clara please, father want mother to go; but no, say she, "with all they" – she ought to have said "them" Miss, now hadn't she ought? – "with all they young pigs, and the brown cow expecting every day, and Suke no head at all, and all the chillers and little Clara" – she call her "Clara" now, Miss, – "why farmer what be thinking of?" Then father rub the nose of him, you know the way he do it, Miss, and he say, "I must have some one. London be such a wicked place." Mother look up very sharp at that, and say quite peart, "take your daughter, farmer Huxtable, if you wants to be kept respectable." So I be to go Miss; and go I wouldn't without Jack and leave him along of that sly cat Tabby, and her got sweet again now; besides I want him to choose a knife I promised him, same as he saw to Coom one time, if he wouldn't let Tabby kiss him with seven blades and a corkscrew, and I'll give eighteen pence for it, that I will. And Beany Dawe must go to show us the way about, and see as they doesn't cheat us, because his father was once to London town, and told him a power about it.
If you please, Miss Clara, father be put in training as they call it in these parts, all the same as a horse. He run up and down Breakneck hill, with the best bed on his back, nine times every day, and he don't drink no cider, no nor beer, nor gin and water, and mother hardly know him, he be come so clear in the skin; but he say his hand shake still from the time I taught him to write, and please, Miss, what do you think of the way he is going to sign this? I can't get him to put his thumb right, no nor his middle finger, and he stick his elbow out every bit as bad as Tabby, and he say he like the pot-hooks over the fire best, but for all that I believe I shall make a scholard of him, particular when he give up wrestling, which he have sworn to do if he throw this Cumberland chap, and stick to his Bible and Prayer-book.
Please, Miss, not to be offended, but excuse us asking if you like to see the great wrestling.Father say no, it would not be fitty, and that be the worst of being a gentlefolk; but mother say what harm, and she be sure the farmer do it twice as well with you there, and you shall have the best seat in the place next to the two judges, and such a pretty handkerchief they sent down all spotted the same as a Guernsey cow, how the people in church did stare at me, and you shall have two of the best, Miss, but I am afraid it be making too bold; but you never see any wrestling, Miss, and I am sure you would enjoy it so. It take place in the copandhagen fields, next Saturday week. Do come, Miss Clara dear, it will do you so much good, and you see father, and me, and Jack, and Beany Dawe."
I need recount no more of poor Sally's soft persuasions. The other letter was of a different vein: -
"HONOURED Miss, – Balak and me after a deal of trouble and labouring night and day and throwing up our vacation has at last succeeded in finding you knows who. Personal interview will oblige, earliest inconvenience. No more at present not being safe on paper, from your most obedient servants and suitors
BALAAM AND BALAK-you knows who. -
Poscrip. – Balak says a sharp young lady quite sure to know what is right, but for fear of accidents please a little of the ready will oblige, large families both of us has and it do take a deal of beer more than our proper vacation no one would guess unless they was to try and bad beer too a deal of it. For self and partner. – BALAAM."
When my Uncle saw that letter, he declared that he would go to London with me. No power on earth should prevent him. Not even his self-willed Clara. It was not revenge he wanted: even though it were for his innocent brother, whose wrongs he could not pardon. No, if the small-minded wretch who had spent his life in destroying a fellow-creature's, if that contemptible miscreant lay at his feet to-morrow, he would not plant foot upon him; but forgive him heartily, if he had the grace to desire it. But for his children, – for them he must go to London. Only let him see them once before he died. No torpid limbs for him. Who said he was old-and he only forty-seven?
One thing seemed rather strange to me. He longed, yearned I should say, to look upon his little Lily even more than on the child he knew, his son, his first-born Harry. "Why, Clara," he used to say, "she is nearly as old as you, and you are a full-grown girl. On the 21st of this month" – it was now July-"she will be eighteen; I can hardly believe it. I wonder what she is like. Most likely she takes after her lovely mother. No doubt of it, I should say. Don't you think so, Clara?"
"Of course, Uncle," I would reply, knowing nothing at all about it, "of course she does. How I should like to see her."
Perhaps fifty times a day, he would ask for my opinion, and I would deliver it firmly, perhaps in the very same words and without a shade of misgiving; and though of no value whatever, it seemed to comfort him every time. But the prolonged excitement, and the stress of imagination exerted on Lily junior, told upon him rapidly in his worn and weak condition. Longing for his company, assistance, and advice, I waited from day to day, even at the risk of leaving Balaam and Balak without good beer. All this time, my imagination was busy with weak surmises, faint suspicions, and tangled recollections.
At last, I could delay no longer. Tuesday was the latest day I could consent to wait for, and on the Monday my Uncle was more nervous and weak than ever. It was too plain that he must not attempt the journey, and that the long suspense was impairing his feeble health. So for once I showed some decision-which seemed to have failed me of late-without telling him any more about it, I got everything ready, and appeared at his bedroom door, only to say "Good bye." Annie Franks, who was going with me, for a short visit to her father, hung back in some amazement, doubting whether she had any right to be there, and dragged off her legs by the coil of my strong will. My poor Uncle seemed quite taken aback; but as it could not be helped, he speedily made up his mind to it. "The carriage was at the door;" which announcement to English minds precludes all further argument.
"Good bye, Uncle dear," I cried, as cheerily as I could, "I shall be back by the end of the week and bring your Lily with me. Give me a good kiss for her, and now another for myself."
He was sitting up in the bed, with a Cashmere dressing-gown on, and poring over some relics of olden time.
"Good bye, my darling, and don't be long away. They have robbed me enough already."
After giving Judy the strictest orders, I hurried off in fear and hope, doubtful whether I ought to go. Annie lingered and gave him a kiss, for she was very fond of him. He whispered something about me, which I did not stop to hear, for I wanted to leave him in good spirits.
After a rapid journey, I saw dear Annie safe in the arms of her father and mother, and found Mrs. Shelfer at home, and in capital spirits, all the birds, &c. well, and no distress in the house. Charley was doing wonders, wonders, my good friend, sticking to his work, yes, yes, and not inside the public house for the best part of the week. Leastways so he said, and it would not do to contradict him. And she really did believe there were only three bills over-due!
My little rooms were snug and quiet, and the dust not more than half an inch thick. Mrs. Shelfer used to say that dusting furniture was the worst thing in the world to wear it out. According to her theory, the dust excluded the air, especially from the joints, and prevented the fly-blows coming. However, I made her come up and furbish, while I went out to post a letter for Messrs. Balaam and Balak, requesting them to visit me in the morning.
When things were set to rights a little, and air, which Mrs. Shelfer hated, flowed in from either balcony, I bought a fine crab and some Sally Lunns, and begged for the pleasure of my landlady's company at tea. This she gladly gave me, for the little woman loved nothing better than sucking the hairy legs of a crab. But she was so overcome by the rumours of my wealth, that she even feared to eject the pieces in her ordinary manner, and the front rail of her chair was like the beam of a balance. Infinitely rather would I be poor myself, than have people ceremonious to me because I am not poor; and to tell the honest truth, I believe there is a vein of very low blood in me, which blushes at the sense of riches and position. Why should I have every luxury, that is if I choose to have it, while men and women of a thousand times my mind, and soul, and heart, spend their precious lives in earning the value of their coffins?
This thought has wearied many a mind of pure aerial flight, compared whereto my weak departures are but the hops of a flea; so I lose the imago, but catch the larva, upon the nettle, practice. Mrs. Shelfer is soon at ease; and we talk of the price of cat's meat, and how dear sausages are, and laugh-myself with sorrow-over the bygone days, when dripping played the role of butter, and Judy would not take a bone because he thought I wanted it.
Then we talk over the news. Miss Idols had been there, bless her sweet face, yes, ever so many times, to look for letters, or to hear tidings of me. But she was not one bit like herself. She never teased the poor little woman now; the poor little woman wished very much she would. Oh, I should hardly know her. She did not know which bird it was that had the wooden leg, and had forgotten the difference between a meal-worm and a lob. And she did not care which way she rubbed the ears of the marmoset. Mrs. Shelfer believed, but for the world it must not be told again, that Isola was deeply in love, unrequited love, perhaps one of the weteranarian gents. They did say they had some stuff as would lead a girl like a horse. But whatever it was, Mrs. Shelfer only knew that she could not get at the rights of it. Girls had grown so cunning now-a-days, what with the great supernatural exhibition, and the hats they had taken to wear flat on the tops of their heads, not at all what they used to be when she and Charley were young. Then a young woman was not afraid of showing what her neck was like; now she tucked it in cotton wool like a canary's egg. And what were they the better, sly minxes? She saw enough of it in the Square garden, and them showing their little sisters' legs for patterns of their own, oh fie!"
"Come, Mrs. Shelfer, no scandal, if you please. What news of your Uncle John?"
"Ah, Miss, you must ask the sharks, and the lobsters, and the big sea-serpent. They do say, down at Wapping, that the ship was cast away among the cannibal islands, and the people ate a policeman, and he upon his promotion. What a pity, what a pity! And his coat four and sixpence a yard, ready shrunk! But them natives is outrageous."
"Nonsense, Patty, I don't believe a word of it. Sailors are dreadful story-tellers, ever since the days of Sindbad. Has any one besides Miss Isola, Mrs. Elton, or any one, been here to ask for me?"
"No, Miss, Mr. Conrad never come after the day you served him so dreadful; and Miss Idols say he went back and spoiled 300*l.* worth of work; but that great lady with the red plush breeches, and the pink silk stockings, and the baker's shop in their hair, she been here twice last week, and left a letter for you. And Balaam been here several times, and Balak along of him; but I banged the door on them both, now I hear they be out of the business, and a nice young man set up who don't bother about the gun."
"Lady Cranberry's letter may lie there, and go back the next time Ann Maples comes. But the bailiffs I must see. If they come to-morrow, let them in immediately. And how are all my friends at the Mews?"
Her reply would fill a chapter, so I will not enter upon it, but go to bed and miss the sound of dear Judy's tail at the door. In the first course of my dreams, Mr. Shelfer passed on his bedward road, having politely taken his shoes off at the bottom of the stairs; in doing which he made at least three times the noise his shodden feet would have inflicted.
In the morning I took my old walk round the Square, and then sat down and tried to be patient until the bailiffs should come. Of course I did not mean to go to my darling Isola, nor even to let her know that I was so near at hand, although my heart was burning to see her sweet face again. I even kept away from the window, though I wanted to watch for the bailiffs, and strictly ordered Mrs. Shelfer not to tell her, if she should call, a word about my being there. However, it was all in vain. Mr. Shelfer went out after breakfast to his play-work in the Square, and the smell of his pipe invaded my little room. I think he must have left the front door open; at any rate I heard, all of a sudden, a quick patter of running feet, and such a crying and sobbing, and Mrs. Shelfer hurrying out to meet it.
"You can't, Miss, you can't indeed-not for a thousand pounds. The rooms are let, I tell you, and you can't go up. Oh dear, oh dear, whatever am I to do?"
"Patty, I will go up. I don't care who's there. My heart is breaking, and I will die on my darling's bed. If you stand there, I'll push you. Out of the way, I tell you." And up flew Idols, in a perfect mess of tears. What could I do but fly to meet her, and hug my only pet? What with her passion of grief, and sudden joy, at seeing me, she fainted away in my arms. I got her somehow to the sofa, and kissed her into her senses again. When she came to herself, and felt sure it was not a dream, she nestled into my bosom, as if I had been her husband, and stole long glances at me to see whether I was offended. Her pretty cloak lay on the floor, and her hat beneath the table. For a long time she sobbed and trembled so that she could not say a word, while I kept on whispering such vain words as these:
"Never mind, my pet. There, you have cried enough. Tell your own dear Clara who has dared to vex you."
To see that sweet child's misery, I felt in such a rage, I could have boxed her enemy's ears. But I never thought that it was more than a child's vexation. At last, after drinking a tumblerful of water, and giving room to her palpitating heart, she contrived to tell me her trouble.
"Why, dear, you know my pappy-pappy I used to call him-he is not my papa at all, he says himself he is not; and that is not the worst of it, for I could do well enough without him, he is always so dreadfully cross, and doesn't care for me one bit. I could do without him very well, if I had a proper papa, or if my father was dead and had loved me before he died; but now I have no father at all, and never had any in the world; I am only an outcast, an abandoned– Oh, Clara, will you promise to forgive me, and love me all the same?"
"To be sure I will, my dearest. I am sure, you have done no harm. And even if you have been led astray-"
She looked at me with quick pride flashing through her abasement, and she took her arm off my shoulder.
"No, you have quite mistaken me. Do you think I would sit here and kiss you, if I were a wicked girl? But who am I to be indignant at anything now? He told me-are you sure the door is shut? – he told me, with a sneer, that I was a base-born child, and he used a worse word than that."
She fell away from me, her cheeks all crimson with shame, and her long eyelashes drooping heavily on them. I caught her to my heart: poor wronged one, was she a whit less pure? I seemed to love her the better, for her great misfortune. Of course, I had guessed it long ago, from what her brother told me.
"And who is your father, my pretty? Any father must be a fool who would not be proud of you."
"Oh, Clara, the worst of it is that I have not the least idea. But from something that hard man said, I believe he was an Englishman. I think I could have got everything from him, he was so beside himself; but when he told me that dreadful thing, and said that my father had lied to my mother and ruined her, I felt so sick that I could not speak, till he turned me out of the house, and struck me as I went."
"Yes, he turned me out of the house, and gave me the blow of disgrace, and said I should never look on his face again. He had won his revenge-I cannot tell what he meant, for I never harmed him-and now I might follow my mother, and take to-I can't repeat it, but it was worse than death. No fear of my starving, he said, with this poor face of mine. And so I was going to Conny, dear Conny; I think he knew it all long ago, but could not bear to tell me. And I sat on some steps in a lonely place, for I did not know how to walk, and I prayed to see you and die: then old Cora came after me, and even she was crying, and she gave me all her money, and a morsel of the true cross, and told me to come here first, for Conny was out of town, and she would come to see me at dark; and perhaps the Professor would take me back when his rage was over. Do you think I would ever go? And after what he told me to do!"
Such depth of loathing and scorn in those gentle violet eyes, and her playful face for the moment so haughtily wild and implacable-Clara Vaughan, in her stately rancour, seemed an iceberg by a volcano.
I saw that it was the moment for learning all that she knew; and the time for scruples was past.
"Isola, tell me all you have heard, about this dastard bully?"
"I know very little; he has taken good care of that. I only know that he did most horrible things to unfortunate cats and dogs. It made me shudder to touch him at one time. But he gave that up I believe. But there is some dark and fearful mystery, which my brother has found out; that is if he be my brother. How can I tell even that? Whatever the discovery was, it made such a change in him, that he cared for nothing afterwards, until he saw you, Clara. I am not very sharp, you know, though I have learned so much, that perhaps you think I am."
"My darling, I never thought such a thing for a moment."
"Oh, I am very glad. At any rate I like to talk as if I was clever. And some people say I am. But, clever or stupid, I am almost certain that Conny found out only half the secret; and then on the day when he came of age, that man told him the rest, either for his own purposes, or holy Madonna knows why."
"When was your brother of age?"
"Last Christmas Eve. Don't you remember what I told you at the school of design that day?"
"And when is your birthday, Isola?"
"I am sure I don't know, but somewhere about Midsummer. They never told Conny when his was, but he knew it somehow. Come, he is clever now, Clara, though you don't think I am. Isn't he now? Tell the truth."
"I am thinking of far more important matters than your rude brother's ability. Whence did you come to England and when?"
This was quite a shot in the dark. But I had long suspected that they were of Southern race.
"I am sure I don't know. I was quite a child at the time, and the subject has been interdicted; but I think we came from Italy, and at least ten years ago."
"And your brother speaks Italian more readily than English. Can you tell me anything more?"
"Nothing. Only I know that old Cora is a Corsican: she boasts of it every night, when she comes to see me in bed, although she has been forbidden. But what does she care-she asks-for this dirty little English island? And she sits by my bed, and sings droning songs, which I hardly understand; but she says they are beautiful nannas."
How my heart was beating, at every simple sentence. None of this had I heard before, because she durst not tell it.
"Any other questions, Donna?" She was recovering her spirits, as girls always do by talking. "Why, my darling, you ought to have a wig. You beat all the senior sophists."
"Yes. Now come and kiss me. Kiss me for a pledge that you will never leave me. I am rich again now: you can't tell how rich I am, and nothing to do with my money, and nobody likely to share it. If you were my own sister, I could not love you more; and most likely I should not love you a quarter as much. And my Uncle longs to see you so. You shall come and live with me, and we'll be two old maids together. Now promise, darling, promise. Kiss me, and seal the bargain."
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