« ZurückWeiter »
“ And mine," and Arthur laid his hand on the fair head between his knees, looking up to him with rather wondering eyes, "yes,'ours,' poor bairns ! too young to know their real loss, all three under five even now."
Their real loss—really real gain Miss Erle could not but think, and her eyes grew misty at the sight of her once pet nephew amid his present surroundings, not so much with pain at their outward sordid incongruity with all his previous life and taste, as with a pain and yet pleasure at this entire casting in of his lot with the Potticarys.
“And yourself, Arthur ?—for I have not much time—are you well ?" “ Never better in my
life!” “ And—”
"Happy ? yes, Aunt Elizabeth, happy too. I know a good woman when I see her, and, thank God, did not let class prejudices and humbugging conventionalities stand in the way of securing her. I know how my father is picturing us as living, like pigs in a sty, and not a very clean sty. I think you can reassure him on that point, at any rate.”
But Miss Erle glanced round doubtfully, pitifully. How small and uninteresting this square, one-windowed little room whence the bebolder only looked across to a row of exactly similar windows and houses. She remembered Arthur's college rooms, his old oak, his blue china, his choice engravings, his flowers, his flute, his piano ; but she felt he was following her glance, and she turned her gaze back to him to find an amused, not angry, smile upon his face. “Love the magician," he said lightly, "and
'If you had seen these roads before they were made
You would bless the name of General Wade.' Anglicè, if you had seen this room before your nephew had re-papered and painted it, my dear madam, instead of pitying you would congratulate me. Imagine pink and blue roses meandering all over the walls, and of the vilest three farthings a yard sort. Ah, it did set one's teeth on edge !” “And
blue china ?” “ Went to the Jews. One must live, and it's rather hard to do so, even in Stepney, on only £100 a year certain,-but not quite all,—and I have a little study behind this. I don't know how Queenie managed
it, but she was determined I should have a room to myself. No, don't come with us, Ludo, I want to see Aunt Elizabeth alone for a few minutes,” and they passed out and into the little back room, and there, on the mean mantlepiece, stood a pair of old blue vases, her own present to her boy in his very first term; and through the mean little window might have been visible a strip of garden, but for the rows of little—and not all little-garments futtering in the wind.
“Oh, Arthur!” and Miss Erle turned to her nephew with a little shiver, and put her arms round his tall neck and laid her face against his bearded breast with overflowing heart," and you gave up Brayscombe Rectory for this ?”
“No, Aunt Elizabeth ; to keep clean hands and a pure heart,” he answered a little sternly; but sternness was very foreign to his nature, most of all with women, “and for love,” he answered, laying his hand
upon her head, “omnia vincit amor,'' love makes labour light,' &c., &c.; you know all the old proverbs, but I know their truth.” If your
father could see“My father,” repeated Arthur rather roughly, " let him be content with having spoilt one life in his fear lest his children should not make good enough matches. I never meant he should spoil mine, I can tell him; but Dulcie, I won't ask why she doesn't write, I don't suppose he would let her, and—well, I've been too proud to be the first to attempt to break the silence he imposed on me with regard even to my writing to himself, unless I had good news and worth telling' to write about. I don't know whether he would consider my news' good. It is not of the Prodigal Son sort he intended." “She does not even know where you are. By Jove! I wrote and told her of our marriage."
Yes, but oh! Arthur, there is another side than that of your successful love, and if you went to Brayscombe you would see it.”
“ Thank you. I don't ever mean to see it, or to see even Brayscombe again till my wife is asked there with me, and also wishes to go. They've done nothing to make her care an iota for any one of them at present, but we won't spend our precious time in squabbling, you"
No, I want to know about yourself. This £100 a year—
“Comes from my mother's mother, -happy special bequest to me, -ah, yes, I see you remember it. Well, I insured my life in a
lump with part and settled the rest on Queenie, so don't let my father be uneasy. I can't make away with it. Then I write, and sometimes get paid for it. I also am helping revise a friend's proof sheets of a-luckily for me-very big book on the ‘ Dissipation of Energy,' and I have taken my part on the Beaumont Institution platform as a paid musician before now; never mind, Sims Reeves, a far greater man, has stood there thus many a time before me; and now this will
I help the household in other ways than bread-winning with my brains. Ah, but I told you, in bread and labour saving by my hands. Can turn a mangle as well as any old woman."
“Oh, Arthur! don't.”
“Well, we should live in a pigsty if I hadn't learnt to be a pretty good charwoman in many ways. Winchester's fagging's proving a good deal more useful to me than all its Latin and Greek at present ; Queenie says she never tasted such coffee as of my making, -and I believe her ; 'New' said the same five years ago, and never had cause to change its opinion! Ah, I hear her coming at last! She isn't very strong, and Gwenny gave her such a bad night,—what, you can't get the child to sleep?” as the young wife appeared with the child of two years old in her arms; "here, let me take her,—what ails you, little woman? My wife, -Aunt Elizabeth.”
Aunt Elizabeth smiled kindly and held out her hand. She did not, could not kiss John Moggs' daughter, Albert Potticary's widow, even though she were now Arthur's petted wife, and did not look unworthy of being such, at least amid such simple surroundings. "I am so sorry to be such an early visitor, but I am only in London for one night.”
“I have heard Arthur speak of you, it was very kind of you to come; I am so sorry not to have come down before, but Gwenny is still very poorly. Arthur, I almost wish you would go for the doctor.”
“Do you, Queenie? well, I am sure you have done your part for her, and look pale as a 'rathe primrose,'—if Aunt Elizabeth will excuse me,-I shall not be long."
“And I must not stay a minute longer, it seemed to take hours getting from Kensington, and I promised to be back by two-the old Meyrick dinner-hour. I am going down to Eastbourne with an invalid friend by the evening express," she turned explanatorily to Mrs. Arthur Erle ; " I must come and see you again in the autumn when I bring her back to town again, I do hope your little girl will soon be better. Good-bye."
Good-bye,—but if you have come all that way will you not have some luncheon ?"
My dear Queenie, she's a teetotaller, and what? anti-flesh-eater? besides—
“A glass of water ?-I-I am afraid we do want all the milk for the children.”
No, thank you, dear.” How naturally the word slipped out,how tenderly Arthur's eyes shone on his aunt that moment that her eyes were resting so kindly on his wife. “You do look over-tired, you must take care of yourself.”
Yes, I shall send you to bed, and take charge of the youngsters when the doctor's once told me what to do with them all. Now then, Aunt Elizabeth, I'll just see you to Stepney Station—"
“Not that dreadful underground ?"
“No, tout au contraire, up in the air. But I see Queenie's in a fever to get little Dr. Bell here. I must just get my coat though, and should like to wash my hands, if you could wait two minutes, Aunt Elizabeth? London creepers will bear London smuts as well as flowers.”
He was scarcely so long,—in less than five minutes all farewells had been said ; Ludovico's offer of companionship declined, evidently to his surprise as well as disappointment. “Poor little lad, he does generally trot after me or beside me as poor old Max the second before or behind me; yes, Max, you may come, old fellow !” said Arthur, as they turned back to see the blue eyes watching them from the window; “but I can't have you every day,—this is a very unsophisticated place, put your arm through mine, Aunt Elizabeth, and tell me all you know about the old folks at home.”
They walked on, talking of Brayscombe, past the station, and on to the doctor's; after all, Dr. Bell had started on his daily round, and only a message could be left for him. “What do you think is the matter with them ?” asked Arthur abruptly as they turned away.
“I? I've had such little experience about children—"
“Oh! I thought women understood all about children by instinct," he interrupted a little impatiently; “I think it is measles. I studied the symptoms in an old medical book of old Potticary's last night —after Queenie was gone to bed, not to alarm her, - I did not like Gwenny's looks all day.”
“Measles ! my dear Arthur, have you had them yourself ?”
“Some twenty times probably. Don't you know it was a kind of proverb at home that Dulcie and I always caught whatever was going, however often the same thing came round, with all the young fry following us. Measles—"
“But it is so dangerous for grown-up people, -often leaves such bad effects.”
Just what I learnt last night,—and Queenie, if she catches itthem—which ever is it? will be worn out with nursing already—"
“You have some maid ?” asked Miss Erle, but by no means with
“Yes, at present,—a poor little drab of a girl, not much use I'm afraid, but I could not let her come upon the streets when her old drunken mother died,—father had skedaddled before my time. There is some work I can still do for my-fellow man.”
“Of what kind ?” asked Miss Erle, after a little pause.
“Kind of charwoman work. I'm an ardent teetotaller for one thing, —and because I don't touch beer or spirits, Queenie, with delightful feminine logic, won't also. I look up cases for the Charity Organisation, and don't always drop them because they do,-not quite such good right to be afraid of the touch of pitch as some of those good folks ; then I've a night class twice a week,- I don't know but that I shall have to give that up, for I have some hope of getting an assistant mastership at the 'Stebonheath Classical Academy,' and then I can't spare evenings as well as days from home.”
Oh, Arthur, why did you come here ? why did you make such a wreck of your life? At the West End, where we were known, you might have got suitable pupils."
“Some questions even of yours I am not going to answer, Miss Erle. Now here is the station. I wish I could stop and see you off,' and also back to Kensington, but Queenie would be in such a fever and will be so disappointed, even when I do get back, that Bell isn't with me. Remember me very kindly to Miss Meyrick,-love to Dulcie, if you are allowed to pass it on, and tell her I understand—she is not allowed to write. Whenever she dies—which I presume will be with or without her earthly father's permission—I trust she will at least then be recorded as a 'dutiful,' if deluded, “daughter.' What are you trying to do? Give me your gloves as I have none on ? but I have one very decent pair at home.”