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Now, after I have told you all this, Miss Erema, you know very nearly as much as I do. To tell how the grief was broken to your mother, and what her state of mind was, and how she sat up on the pillows and cried, while things went on from bad to worse, and a verdict of 'wilful murder' was brought against your father by the crowner's men, and you come headlong, without so much as the birds in the ivy to chirp about you, right into the thick of the worst of it. I do assure you, Miss Erema, when I look at your bright eyes and clear figure, the Lord in heaven, who has made many cripples, must have looked down special, to have brought you as you are. For trouble upon trouble fell in heaps, faster than I can wipe my eyes to think. To begin with, all the servants but myself, and gardener Jacob, ran away. They said that the old lord haunted the house, and walked with his band in the middle of his heart, pulling out a bullet, if he met anybody, and sighing murder' three times, till every hair was crawling. I took it on myself to fetch the Vicar of the parish, to lay the evil spirit, as they do in Wales. A nice kind gentleman he was as you could see, and wore a velvet skull-cap, and waited with his legs up. But whether he felt that the power was not in him, or whether his old lordship was frightened of the Church, they never made any opportunity between them, to meet and have it out, Miss.
“Then it seemed as if Heaven, to avenge his lordship, rained down pestilence upon that house. A horrible disease, the worst I ever met, broke out upon the little harmless dears, the pride of my heart and of everybody's eyes, for lovelier or better ones never came from heaven. They was all gone to heaven in a fortnight and three days, and laid in the churchyard at one another's side, with little beds of mould to the measure of their stature, and their little carts and drums, as they made me promise, ready for the judgment-day. Oh, my heart was broken, Miss, my heart was broken; I cried so, I thought I could never cry
"But when your dear mother, who knew nothing of all this (for we put all their illness, by the doctor's orders, away at the further end of the house), when she was a little better of grievous pain and misery (for being so upset, her time was hard), when she sat up on the pillow, looking like a bride almost, except that she had what brides hasn't, a little red thing in white flannel at her side, then she says to me, 'I am ready, Betsy; it is high time for all of them to see their little sister. They always love the baby so, whenever there is a new one. And they are such men and women to it. They have been so good this time, that I have never heard them once. And I am sure that I can trust them, Betsy, not to make the baby cry. I do so long to see the darlings. Now do not even whisper to them not to make a noise. They are too good to require it; and it would hurt their little feelings.'
"I had better have been shot, my dear, according as the old lord was, than have the pain that went through all my heart, to see the
mother so. She sat up, leaning on one arm, with the hand of the other round your little head, and her beautiful hair was come out of its loops, and the colour in her cheeks was like a shell. Past the fringe of the curtain, and behind it too, her soft bright eyes were a-looking here and there, for the first to come in of her children. The Lord only knows what lies I told her, so as to be satisfied without them. First I said they were all gone for a walk; and then that the doctor had ordered them away; and then that they had got the measles. That last she believed, because it was worse than what I had said before of them; and she begged to see Dr. Diggory about it, and I promised that she should, as soon as he had done his dinner. And then, with a little sigh, being very weak, she went down into her nest again, with only you to keep her company.
"Well, that was bad enough, as any mortal sufferer might have said; enough for one day at any rate. But there was almost worse to come. For when I was having a little sit downstairs, with my supper, and halfpint of ale (that comes like drawing a long breath to us, when spared out of sick-rooms, Miss), and having no nursery now on my mind, was thinking of all the sad business, with only a little girl in the backkitchen, come in to muck up the dishes, there appeared a good knock at the garden-door, and I knew it for the thumb of the Captain. I locked the young girl up, by knowing what their tongues are, and then I let your father in, and the candle sight of him made my heart go low.
"He had come out of prison; and although not being tried, his clothes were still in decency, they had great holes in them, and the gloss all gone to a smell of mere hedges and ditches. The hat on his head was quite out of the fashion, even if it could be called a hat at all, and his beautiful beard had no sign of a comb, and he looked as old again as he had looked a month ago.
"I know all about it. You need not be afraid,' he said, as I took him to the breakfast-room, where no one upstairs could hear us. 'I know that my children are all dead and buried, except the one that was not born yet. Ill news flies quick. I know all about it. George, Henrietta, Jack, Alf., little Vi, and Tiny. I have seen their graves and counted them, while the fool of a policeman beat his gloves through the hedge, within a rod of me. Oh yes, I have much to be thankful for. My life is in my own hand now.'
"Oh, master; oh, captain; oh, my lord!' I cried; for the sake of God in heaven, don't talk like that. Think of your sweet wife, your dear lady.'
"Betsy,' be answered, with his eyes full frightful to look at; 'I am come to see my wife. it, according to your own discretion.'
upon me, noble, yet Go and let her know
"My discretion would have been not to let him see her, but go on and write to her from foreign countries, with the salt sea between them; but I give you my word that I had no discretion, but from pity and
majesty obeyed him. I knew that he must have broken prison, and by good rights ought to be starving. But I could no more offer him the cold ham and pullet, than take him by his beard and shake him.
"Is he come, at last, at last?' my poor mistress said, whose wits were wandering after her children. At last, at last! then he will find
Yes, ma'am, at last, at the last he will,' I answered, while I thought of the burial service, which I had heard three times in a week, for the little ones went to their graves in pairs to save ceremony; likewise of the Epistle of Saint Paul, which is not like our Lord's way of talking at all, but arguing instead of comforting; and not to catch her up in that weak state, I said, 'He will find every one of them, ma'am !'
666 Oh, but I want him for himself, for himself, as much as all the rest put together,' my dear lady said, without listening to me, but putting her hand to her ear to hearken for even so much as a mouse on the stairs; 'do bring him, Betsy; only bring him Betsy, and then let me where my children are!'
"I was surprised at her manner of speaking, which I would not have allowed to her, but more than all about her children, which she could only have been dreaming yet, for nobody else came nigh her except only me, Miss, and you, Miss, and for you to breathe words was impossible. All you did was to lie very quiet, tucked up into your mother's side, and as regular as the timepiece went, wide came your eyes and your mouth to be fed. If your nature had been cross or squally baby's coffin No. 7' would have come after all the other six, which the thief of a carpenter put down on his bill, as if it was so many shavings.
"Well now, to tell you the downright truth, I have a lot of work to do to-morrow, Miss, with three basketfuls of washing coming home, and a man about a tap that leaks and floods the inside of the fender; and if I were to try to put before you the way that those two for the last time of their lives went on to one another, the one like a man and the other like a woman, full of sobs and choking-my eyes would be in such a state to-morrow that the whole of them would pity and cheat me. And I ought to think of you as well, Miss, who has been sadly harrowed listening when you was not born yet. And to hear what went on, full of weeping, when yourself was in the world, and able to cry for yourself, and all done over your own little self, would leave you red eyes and no spirit for the night, and no appetite in the morning; and so I will pass it all over, if you please, and let him go out of the back door again.
"This he was obliged to do quick, and no mistake, glad as he might have been to say more words, because the fellows who call themselves officers, without any commission, were after him. False it was to say, as was said, that he got out of Winchester gaol through money. That story was quite of a piece with the rest. His own strength and skill it was that brought him out triumphantly, as the scratches on his hands and cheeks might show. He did it for the sake of his wife no doubt.
When he heard that the children were all in their graves, and their mother in the way to follow them, madness was better than his state of mind, as the officers told me when they could not catch him, and sorry they would have been to do it, I believe.
"To overhear my betters is the thing of all things most against my nature, and my poor lady being unfit to get up, there was nothing said on the landing, which is the weakest part of gentlefolks. They must have said 'Good-bye' to one another quite in silence, and the Captain, as firm a man as ever lived, had lines on his face that were waiting for tears, if nature should overcome bringing up. Then I heard the words, 'for my sake,' and the other said, ' for your sake,' a pledge that passed between them, making breath more long than life is. But when your poor father was by the back door, going out towards the woods and coppices, he turned sharp round and he said, 'Betsy Bowen!' and I answered, 'Yes, at your service, Sir!' 'You have been the best woman in the world,' he said, 'the bravest, best, and kindest. I leave my wife and my last child to you. The Lord has been hard on me, but he will spare me those two; I do hope, and believe, He will.'
"We heard a noise of horses in the valley, and the clank of swords; no doubt the mounted police from Winchester a-crossing of the Moonstock Bridge to search our house for the runaway. And the Captain took my hand and said, 'I trust them to you! Hide the clothes I took off, that they may not know I have been here. I trust my wife and little babe to you, and may God bless you, Betsy.'
"He had changed all his clothes, and he looked very nice, but a sadder face was never seen. As he slipped through the hollyhocks I said to myself, 'There goes a broken-hearted man, and he leaves a broken heart behind.' And your dear mother died on the Saturday night. my! Oh, my! How sad it was!"