Изображения страниц
PDF
EPUB

at those hours out of cleanliness, "not to mucky my kitchen," as his wife explained.

They had no children, and I never saw that it mattered, for they had my brother and me instead; and, besides, they had their niece, 'Liza, who walked heavily, breathed heavily, and fell down the back stairs heavily -on the kitten (whom I preferred); and she never got over it, I mean the kitten didn't. 'Liza took it coolly, and insinuated that there "were plenty more o' kittenses where that came from "; which, indeed, proved to be the case-five, I think in the next instalment. Personally I was inconsolable for the loss of Sooty (so christened by my brother in a slop-bowl, with milk, which she was allowed to drink after the ceremony), and wept profusely over her shallow grave; and hearing subsequently of someone who had been buried in a trance, I exhumed her, when I had every reason to be satisfied of the undoubted reality of her demise.

'Liza used to tell me stories, of an evening, while she was making rush-candles, and I remember some of them now, especially one about an "Oger" (she made it rhyme with so'ger) who resided in an adjacent mountain, and lived entirely on male infants who wouldn't

keep hold of their nurse's hands while out walking. I respected his somewhat partial rectitude, though hinting to 'Liza my opinion that there was some negligence on the part of the local police, whose business it would seem to have been to restrain the Oger's zeal within more legal bounds.

At right angles to our house, and also facing the garden, was a much smaller one, where another Mr. and Mrs. Roberts lived; that Mrs. Roberts was a sister as well as a sister-in-law to our Mrs. Roberts, but had married the younger brother and accepted cheerfully a slightly inferior position. To distinguish her from our Mrs. Roberts, Fernando called her " Mrs. Lobbits the Door," which meant "of the next door." of the next door." The letter R was his only enemy, and it was only by ceaseless repetition that he learned to say at last "Robin gave Richard a rap on the wrist for roasting the rabbits too raw." Long afterwards he had a friend whose father, an Honourable and Reverend Canon of Windsor (Fernando's senior by some seventy years) could not manage the letter L, but said instead, "Nord, now nettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace."

Mrs. Roberts the Door had two advantages

over her sister (though it was our Mrs. Roberts who owned the two houses and the malt-kilns)—she made potato-cakes for tea, of an incredible butteriness; and she had a little daughter, Grissy, who was a lovely child, and never did anything to grieve anybody but once. Eh, dear! how well I remember that once; they took me to see her, for the last time, in her tiny white and silver coffin, and our Mrs. Roberts said she would only play with the little angels now; and she looked very fit for them.

I do not know if our mother had given leave beforehand for that visit; but afterwards she could hardly have disapproved of it, for it could not be bad for anyone that his first idea of death should be so sweet and lovely.

Fernando's little playmate scarcely seemed to be even sleeping, but rather listening with softly closed eyes to a music he could only guess from the smiling radiant reverence of her face.

Opposite our garden, beyond the deep river Dee, rose a queer-shaped, lowish mountain, all by itself, with higher mountains behind and a ruined castle on its top. All castles, I thought, were built in ruins, and perfectly

delightful; when confronted (before I was six) with Chirk Castle, its air of complete prosperity and repair struck me as painfully stupid and irregular.

Not far outside the village, at our end of it, on a bluff over the Dee, lived, in adjacent white cottages with pretty gardens, two sets of people whom we knew. One was Mrs. Smith O'Brien and her tiny daughter; their husband and father, Mr. William Smith O'Brien, was the famous Irish patriot, who had been condemned to death for high treason, which sentence was commuted to transportation for life. I believe, but am not sure, that he was undergoing his punishment in one of our penal colonies at the time when we knew his wife and little daughter. Anyway, he finally received a free pardon. I only remember Mrs. O'Brien as a sad-faced, very gentle lady, of whom people said that she would be called The Honourable Mrs. Smith O'Brien but for her husband's treason," and that they always spoke of him as a very noble if misguided gentleman. In the other cottage lived a widow, also with a small daughter, and I recollect that the latter was photographed in a white Madeira muslin frock with a real basket in her hand and arti

[ocr errors]

ficial flowers in it. The lady's brother, a melancholy, grievous-looking young man, lived or stayed with them; and about him there was a tragic story. He had been in the Army, and out in India with his regiment, during the Mutiny, and a terrible duty had fallen to him at the end of it (it had only been suppressed three or four years when we knew him). In some place where he was stationed he chanced, by evil fortune, to be, I suppose, the senior officer; at all events it fell to him to stand by and give the word of command when some wretched ringleader among the mutineers had to be blown from the gun. He performed his ghastly duty, but had to be taken from the parade ground raving mad. When we knew him he had recovered sufficiently to be allowed to live at large with his sister, and he was a harmless, gentle creature, but always shuddering under the heavy cloud of a grim and brooding memory. He had but obeyed a terrible order, but he thought that all who met him must hold him for a murderer, and to himself he seemed to grope always in a red mist of blood.

Once our mother, going to visit his sister, found him in the little hall, and, without noticing that he had half held out a timid hand,

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »