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Erema; or, My Father's Sin.
O far, then, there was
nobody found to go into my case, and to think with me, and to give me friendly countenance, with the exception of Firm Gundry. And I feared that he tried to think with me because of his faithful and manly love, more than from balance of evidence. The Sawyer, of course, held my father guiltless, through his own fidelity and simple ways; but he could not enter into my set thought of a stern duty laid upon me, be
cause to his mind the opinion of the world mattered nothing so long as a man did aright. For wisdom like this, if wisdom it is, I was a great deal too young and ardent; and to me fair fame was of almost equal value with clear conscience. And therefore, wise or foolish, rich or poor, beloved or unloved, I must be listless about other things, and restless in all, until I should establish truth and justice.
However, I did my best to be neither ungrateful nor stupidly obstinate, and, beginning more and more to allow for honest though hateful opinions, I yielded to dear Mrs. Hockin's wish that I should not do anything out of keeping with English ideas and habits. In a word, I accepted the Major's kind offer to see me quite safe in good hands in London, or else bring me straightway back again. And I took only just things enough for a day or two, meaning to come back by the end of the week. And I kissed Mrs. Hockin just enough for that. It would not be a new thing for me to say that “we never know
what is going to happen,” but new or stale it was true enough, as old common sayings of common sense (though spurned when not wanted) show themselves. At first, indeed, it seemed as if I were come for nothing, at least as concerned what I thought the chief business of my journey. The Major had wished to go first to the bank, and appeared to think nothing of anything else ; but I, on the other hand, did not want him there, preferring to keep him out of my money matters, and so he was obliged to let me have my way.
I always am sorry when I have been perverse, and it seemed to serve me right for wilfulness when no Betsy Bowen could be discovered either at the place which we tried first, or that to which we were sent thence. Major Hockin looked at me till I could have cried, as much as to hint that the whole of my story was all of a piece, all a wild-goose chase. And being more curious than ever now to go to the bank and ransack, he actually called out to the cabman to drive without delay to Messrs. Shovelin, Wayte, and Shovelin. But I begged him to allow me just one minute while I spoke to the servant-maid alone. Then I showed her a sovereign, at which she opened her mouth in more ways than one, for she told me that "though she had faithfully promised to say nothing about it, because of a dreadful quarrel between her mistress and Mrs. Strouss that was now, and a jealousy between them that was quite beyond belief, she could not refuse such a nice young lady, if I would promise faithfully not to tell.” This promise I gave with fidelity, and, returning to the cabman, directed him to drive not to Messrs. Shovelin, Wayte, and Shovelin just yet, but to No. 17, European Square, St. Katharine's.
From a maze of streets and rugged corners, and ins and outs nearly as crooked as those of a narrow human nature, we turned at last into European Square, which was no square at all, but an oblong opening pitched with rough granite, and distinguished with a pump. There were great thoroughfares within a hundred yards, but the place itself seemed unnaturally quiet upon turning suddenly into it, only murmurous with distant London din, as the spires of a shell hold the heavings of the
After driving three or four times round the pump, for the houses were numbered anyhow, we found No. 17, and I jumped out.
“Now don't be in such a fierce hurry, Miss Wood,” cried the Major, who was now a little crusty ; “ English ladies allow themselves to be handed out, without hurrying the gentlemen who have the honour."
“But I wanted to save you the honour," I said; “I will come back immediately, if you will kindly wait.” And with this I ran up the old steps, and rang and knocked, while several bearded faces came and gazed through dingy windows.
“Can I see Mrs. Strouss ? "I asked, when a queer old man in faded brown livery came to the door with a candle in his hand, though the sun was shining.
“I am the Meesther Strouss; when you see me you behold the good Meeses Strouss also.”
“ Thank you, but that will not do," I replied ; “my business is with Mrs. Strouss alone."
He did not seem to like this at first sight, but politely put the chainbolt on che door while he retired to take advice; and the Major looked out of the cab and laughed.
“ You had better come back while you can,” he said, "though they seem in no hurry to swallow you."
This was intended to vex me, and I did not even turn my head to him. The house looked very respectable, and there were railings to the area.
“ The house is very respectable," continued Major Hockin, who always seemed to know what I was thinking of, and now in his quick manner ran up the steps; "just look, the scraper is clean. You never see that, or at least not often, except with respectable people, Erema."
Pray, what would my scraper be? and who is Erema ?” cried a strong clear voice, as the chain of the door was set free, and a stout tall woman with a flush in her cheeks confronted us. “I never knew more than one Erema-good mercy ! ”
My eyes met hers, and she turned as pale as death, and fell back into a lobby-chair. She knew me by my likeness to my father, falling on the memories started by my name; and, strong as she was, the surpriso overcame her, at the sound of which up rushed the small Herr Strouss. “ Vhat are you doing dere, all of you ? vhat havo you enterprised with
? my frau ? Explain, Vilhelmina, or I call de policemans, vhat I should say de peelers.”
“Stop!” cried the Major, and he stopped at once, not for the word, which would have had no power, although I knew nothing about it then, but because he had received a sign which assured him that here was a brother mason. In a moment the infuriated husband vanished into the rational and docile brother.
“ Ladies and gentlemans, valk in, if you please,” he said to my great astonishment; “ Vilhelmina and my good self make you velcome to our poor house. Vilhelmina, arise and say so."
“Go to the back kitchen, Hans,” replied Wilhelmina, whose name was “ Betsy,” “and don't come out until I tell you. You will find work to do there, and remember to pump up. I wish to hear things that you are not to hear, mind you. Shut yourself in, and if you soap the door to deceive me I shall know it.”
“ Vere goot, vere goot,” said the philosophical German; “I never meddle with nothing, Vilhelmina, no more than vhat I do for de money and de house."
Betsy, however, was not quite 80 sure of that. With no more ceremony she locked him in, and then came back to us, who could not make things out.
“My husband is the bravest of the brave," she told us, while she put down his key on the table, " and a nobler man never lived, I am