Oldalképek
PDF
ePub

the outskirts of our towns. All classes of inhabitants are domiciled within them, from the old maid living comfortably upon an annuity of sixty pounds per annum to the clerk in the Midland. shire Banking Company, who finds the somewhat scanty accommodation all suficient for his comfort and his means. Many a little bride haa been brought home to these dolls' houses, here to legin in miniature her first experience of the terrible ordeal of housekeeping. There are families here too-noisy boys and growing girls-cramped within the small recesses that harily deserve the name of rooms, and weary nerves jarred by the constant turmoil that here there is no escape from ; for the sound of a voice, only slightly elevated above the usual pitch, is heard through erery slender partition, hardly to be named in the same breath with the substantial divisions our forefathers called walls, and the echo of the neighbours' doings has to be endured also. It makes one's head and one's heart too ache to think how large a class of the homes of Merrie England is no better than what I have described; but quantity, not quality, is the fashion of all our supplies now, let the philosopher say whether or not it be the demand that has created such.

In the little front parlour of the end house of a terrace on the outskirts of a rural little market town in Midlandshire were seated a lady and gentleman.

The furniture of the room had not the newness and sparsity of the bricks and mortar, and lath and plaster, and its aspect was at war generally with the fittings up of the small space within the four square walls. The paper upon those walls had a small pattern traced upon a milky white ground, and was of the cheapest quality, but it was hidden as much as possible with engravings in handsomely gilt frames. The mantelpiece was of wood painted in imitation of marble, but above it was a glass that filled the whole space between it and the ceiling. The carpet had once been a good one, though now a close observer would have noticed that it was patched; that the best pieces had been picked out of one that had fitted a larger room, and joined together to cover the floor of this. The table, chairs, work-stand, and piano all partook of the same character that distinguished the pictures and the few ornaments. It was not difficult to account for this. There had been a wreck of a goodly vessel, and the articles stranded were secured for this little ark of safety.

The lady, seated in the Elizabethan chair, with a white cambric handkerchief pressed to her eyes, wears sable garments and a widow's cap. Death has been the instrument of the wreck.

The gentleman is evidently the ordained pastor of the parish, for, besides the black coat and white neck-cloth, there is something in his bland, sympathetic face that bespeaks the professional comforter.

He has a newspaper in his hands, which slightly flutters as he speaks.

“ My dear Mrs. Goldering, do not be over-persuaded by me unless you feel equal to the sacrifice. I should not advise it without strict inquiry being made first of all. But if, as I presume, the advertisement turn out to be a bond-fide affair, many mothers with such a family to provide for as you have, and such small means wherewith to do it, would not permit their own feelings to hinder what might be for the child's life-long advantage.”

“Say no more," said the widow, resolutely drying her tears, “I will do as you advise ; I will go to London to the address given in the advertisement. I will see the lady who advertises and judge for myself.”

“And if,” said the reverend gentleman, “it be all you can require, shall you be prepared then to relinquish your child to the hands of strangers ?”

For an instant the lady averted her head; when she spoke it was with a calmness forced to the surface through depths of pain.

“You think I should not undertake this journey and incur the expense unless I am resolved to fulfil the utmost demands its events may entail ? "

"I do."

“ And I answer, if I find assurance that my darling's interests will be advanced and her well-being cared for as I would care for it, God will give me strength to yield my right over her to others.”

“And will bless the sacrifice, I doubt not,” said the clergyman ; but he said no more by way of comfort, for he rightly judged the wound to be too deep to probe at present; by-and-bye he might be able to pour in healing balm that should be welcome and acceptable.

A few preliminaries were arranged between them, the advertisement was copied from the Times into Mrs. Goldering's pocket-book, with sundry particulars as to trains, cabs, &c., and then the Rev. James Paston, than whom a more warm-hearted, conscientious minister of God's holy Word never existed, furnished the funds for her journey out of his own private purse.

These arrangements were hardly concluded when the front door was opened and the sound of little feet was heard trooping into the hall.

The widow turned pale and trembled visibly.

The parlour door was thrown back, and the intruders came immediately upon the scene of action.

Three fatherless girls in their new mourning, aged respectively two years, eight, and twelve. It was the wee thing of two years about whom this consultation had been held, the youngest of the widow's family, and one trebly endeared to the mother's heart, and loved beyond the measure even meted out to such pets generally, on account of her birth being preceded by the deaths of three babes; so that between this little one and the sister above her was a gap of six years filled only with the sad memory of those little nameless graves.

Very closely was the mother's heart united to this wee darling, and because she loved her so fondly she imagined she could give her up. But there was another reason buried in the throbbing recesses of her heart's core—a reason that was the central spring of her resolution, that nerved her to conceive, and would give her strength to carry out her determination.

As firmly as she believed in anything, in those days Mrs. Goldering believed that the date of her own death was fixed at no very distant period. The blow of her husband's sudden death, the cruel awakening from the stupor of grief that followed his loss, to the knowledge forced upon her that when his affairs were wound up she would be penniless and compelled by some labour of her hands or brain to earn the very bread her children must eat, fell heavily enough upon a constitution already weakened by disease that could only be eradicated by her submission at some future time to the knife of the operator. She looked forward to that inevitable operation with undefinable terror, instinctively feeling that it would be the means of hastening the end that for the sake of her helpless children she so much dreaded. For her own sake she did not fear death; it would heal her own sorrow and bring about the reunion beyond the grave that alone she had now to look forward to. To provide for her children as well as it lay within her power to do was now her sole aim within the time allotted to her on earth. God in His infinite mercy knew what was best for her and for them; if He permitted her to stay until this purpose was accomplished it would be well; if not, why still His will must be best for all.

The inhabitants of the little town of Hartford had deeply sympathised with her in her sudden and heavy bereavement. Dr. Goldering had been highly esteemed as a townsman, and had commanded the respect of every one by his own individual integrity, and by his position, which it had been believed was based upon a foundation both substantial and sure. He had been looked upon as a moneyed man, as one well able to retire from his profession, and live independently any day of his life; it was confidently asserted in several quarters that he was only waiting until he had a son old enough to succeed him in his profession, that the practice was too sound and too lucrative to be relinquished when there were boys growing up to be provided for. A few more years added to the good doctor's life might have made a difference to the position in which his family was left at his death; but God ordered it otherwise.

His sudden death was felt as a violent shock; but the knowledge speedily following it of the confused and totally ruinous state of his affairs was infinitely more astounding to the public as represented by the inhabitants of Hartford. Then it became evident that the doctor had died in merciful ignorance of the involved state of his affairs, that no blame attached to him, that his memory was more to be pitied than reproached.

Up to a certain point he had been rich and well to do, then he had accepted a trust, received money, and placed it out at interest in the hands of a friend. That friend proved false, improvident; he stood upon the verge of ruin at Dr. Goldering's death, and that death precipitated it. Not one farthing of the trust money remained, and the interest of it for several years had been allowed to fall into arrears. The wonder was how the doctor, in most cases a shrewd and far-seeing man, could have allowed himself to be so imposed upon; but is it not the most upright and single-hearted men who are most generally the victims of such imposition ? The doctor's executors were compelled to refund the trust money out of the deceased gentleman's estate ; and when that was done, and all other liabilities were disposed of, not a penny remained for the widow and her children. It was a hard case, people said and felt, and their sympathy for the widow in her misfortune was shown substantially. A collection was made in the town and neighbourhood, and a purse of two hundred pounds was placed in her hands, and this, besides the exertions they and she might make, was all she and her children had to depend upon for support through the coming years. The Vicar of Hartford took that small house for her in the Terrace on the Luffenham Road, and other friends bought in the furniture from the sale of Dr. Goldering's effects. When the first sad weeks of her bereavement should be past, she was to open a school, educating her own girls with the pupils the vicar would be able to recommend to her.

The gentleman who succeeded to Dr. Goldering's practice, and in the handsome house vacated in the High-street, took the eldest boy, Willie, into his surgery; and the second, a grave, thoughtful lad, who was to have gone to college and taken holy orders had his father lived, was apprenticed to a draper in the town. Sorely the lads felt the great change in their circumstances, but they concealed their sorest pain from their mother, and strove to be brave for her sake.

There was another boy, Charley, who ranked between Annie and Jane; he declared his intention of being a sailor, and nothing else. In vain Mrs. Goldering represented to him the unpleasantness he must undergo—how he must go through, as it were, the very dregs of that profession if he entered it now when she could do nothing to further his rise. The sea fever is a very strong one, and all paramount while it lasts ; a sailor Charley would be, and nothing but a sailor. Of course he would have preferred the navy, but then he assured his mother there were as good and true men in the merchant-service as any whose privilege it was to fight for Her Most Gracious Majesty and the mighty realm of England.

“ Yes,” said Mrs. Goldering, with a sigh, “but it would cost much more money than I can afford to procure your admission even into one of the merchant-services.”

Charley's eyes filled with tears of disappointment as he turned away, for he feared that, for a time at least, he must relinquish his heart's desire, and turn to some less congenial occupation, that his mother might be at least partly relieved from the burden of his support. But only for a time: Charley was certain he never could really settle down to be a mere “land lubber.”

“Only once let me get on board some ship or other, and then see if I don't work my way. If I only rise to be captain of one of the Channel steamboats it will be something."

Having made the reader so far conversant with Hester Goldering's troubles, he can hardly wonder that when, upon the afternoon upon which my story opens, the Vicar of Hartford entered the little parlour, with a newspaper in his hand, and pointed the following adrertisement out to her notice, the project therein propounded forced itself upon her consideration :

« WANTED, by the Advertiser, a CHILD to ADOPT as a Companion to her own, who feels the bereavement of a little sister's death most acutely. The child must be of the female sex, not more than three years of age, and of respectable parentage. Great advantages will be secured to the little one, and every kindness shown.-Application to be made personally, by the parents or guardians of the child, at 56, Brook-street, Hanoversquare.”

Mr. Paston thought it no mere catch-penny advertisement, but that it read as though prompted by the want expressed. It might prove a most merciful provision for her child, and any way was an opportunity that should not be set aside unquestioned.

As the child ran to her mother's knee, as the soft, clinging arms were twined around the bended neck, the mother embraced her darling convulsively. For one moment she thought that no power on earth could tempt her to relinquish her, even though it were to strew all her future pathway with flowers. The next came sharp reminders of the death she believed so imminent, in severe and agonising pain. Her head drooped lower over the curly one at her

« ElőzőTovább »