Изображения страниц

of his long body and legs. His clothes were black, but rusty, and he wore a stock and voluminous white neck-cloth-always spotlessly clean. As he walked he never looked about him, but seemed to be carefully noting the paving stones as though each of them carried an inscription-say in Hebrew, or the cuneiform character. If you gave him "Good day" he would stop, remove his hat with a very fine bow, and make some remark about the weather with a kind of urbane distinction, as if it were the result of considerable research-to which you were graciously welcome. His smile was singularly amiable, but somehow it conveyed the impression that the old gentleman had not been as successful in life as his talents had led him to expect.

He was in fact a clergyman with a very meagre benefice-what is called a Perpetual Curacy and his church was far out in the country, and in his parish there was no parsonage or any house in which he and his family could lodge. So they lived in a smallish house on St. John's Hill in Gracechurch, and all his journeys to and from his parish were made on foot. He regularly passed our house, and if it were raining or snowing

he carried a large cotton umbrella of no particular colour, like a gig umbrella. Twenty paces behind-never by his side-walked his younger daughter, Hessy. She was a pretty girl and dressed herself too picturesquely to satisfy Gracechurchian ideas of propriety; for in mid-Victorian days, Gracechurch regarded any attempt at a picturesque attire as "theatrical" and of dubious propriety. As no ladies connected with the theatre had even been seen in Gracechurch it was quite free to make up its mind as to the peculiarities of theatrical dress without any tiresome correction of them by actual observation.

Hessy Thrush, I think, rather enjoyed the sensation of shocking her neighbours; but it is fair to say that she never did anything to shock them beyond dressing herself to her own taste. She was, however, it was considered, of too independent a spirit, and she had a way of laughing when no one had intended to make a joke; also she quoted books with French titles, and it was commonly supposed at Gracechurch that French books were not adapted to female perusal."

There was another Miss Thrush, who was seldom at home, being a governess in a wealthy family somewhere, so that Hessy had sole

[ocr errors]

charge of her parents, to whom she was thoroughly devoted. The old lady was delicate, and hardly ever went out, but sat in some state in the small but pretty drawingroom, exquisitely neat, as carefully dressed as if she had a clever and attentive lady's maid to look after her. Hessy was the lady's maid. It was she who made her mother's quaint and very becoming caps, close-fitting, of fine white muslin, and tied under the chin with dove-coloured satin ribbons. Old Mrs. Thrush was very handsome, with fine features and a wonderful clear unwrinkled complexion; her singularly bright dark eyes, abundant white hair, and coal-black eyebrows, gave her a striking appearance. Her gown of well saved black silk, and the soft gray Indian shawl embroidered with white silk, never varied.

She sat always in the same arm-chair, and never did anything; but her talk was trenchant and amusing, and her hard, rather ruthless, laugh gave a sarcastic twang to it.

Old Mr. Thrush sat downstairs, when indoors, and rarely appeared to visitors; but he was generally out, either at his parish or working in a sort of allotment-garden he rented near the town. You would often


meet him coming home from this latter place, carrying a large bag full of cabbages, onions, or carrots; and on such occasions his bow was even more courtly, and his manner more than ever grandly urbane.

Once, thus burdened, with an armful of radishes and cress, he stopped to greet Mrs. Burscough, and when the speaking trumpet was adjusted he said:

"These are for the consumption of my family. Personally I cannot digest crude esculents."

The radishes and cress seemed, thus named, to share to some extent in the old gentleman's stateliness.

One summer Hessy Thrush gave a large tea-party, and as the drawing-room was anything but large-though as dainty as an old carved ivory box-and her father's study much smaller, she had tea laid out on the big kitchen table in the cool and roomy kitchen. There was no fire, and she had filled the quaint fireplace with great boughs of beech and copper beech, and huge fronds of Osmunda fern. She had almost panelled the walls with other boughs, and there were big, loosely arranged nosegays of sweet flowers everywhere. The room looked very

pretty and smelled delicious, and there was room for all Hessy's guests to sit down comfortably without crowding. To have chosen the one large room in the small house, and given it its gala look, was really an instance of the girl's cleverness; but I doubt if Gracechurch quite approved-it was too original. Old Mr. Thrush did not sit down, but handed cups and plates, and when he offered lettuce or radishes he confessed again that personally he could not digest crude esculents.

That was the last time Fernando ever saw him; when he came home for the Christmas holidays the old gentleman was dead. Fernando spent, from time to time, many pleasant quiet hours in Mrs. Thrush's drawingroom, reading aloud to her and Hessy while the girl plied her clever and industrious needle.


Mamma," she said one day, "shall I make him read one of my Abbot's books?


And the old lady laughed one of her low, dry laughs and said: "Hessy gets letters from an Abbot, Fernando. What do you think of that?"

Fernando wished that he did; but he did not say so.

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »