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of another servant. It was just about a month before you were born, when the trouble began to break on us. And when once it began, it never stopped until all that were left ran away from it. I have read in the newspapers many and many sad things coming over whole families, such as they call 'shocking tragedies;' but none of them, to my mind, could be more galling than what I had to see with my very own eyes.
"It must have been close upon the middle of September when old Lord Castlewood came himself to see his son's house and family at Shoxford. We heard that he came down a little on the sudden, to see to the truth of some rumours which had reached him about our style of living. It was the first time he had ever been there; for, although he had very often been invited, he could not bear to be under the roof of the daughter, as he said, of his enemy. The Captain, just happening to come home on leave for his autumn holiday, met his father quite at his own door-the very last place to expect him. He afterwards acknowledged that he was not pleased for his father to come like a thief in the night.' However, they took him in and made him welcome, and covered up their feelings nicely, as the high-bred people do.
"What passed among them was unknown to any but themselves, except so far as now I tell you. A better dinner than usual for two was ready, to celebrate the master's return and the beginning of his holiday; and the old lord, having travelled far that day, was persuaded to sit down with them. The five eldest children (making all except the baby, for you was not born, Miss, if you please) they were to have sat up at table, as pretty as could be-three with their high-cushioned stools, and two in their arm-chairs screwed on mahogany, stuffed with horsehair, and with rods in front, that the little dears might not tumble out in feeding, which they did, it was a sight to see them! And how they would give to one another, with their fingers wet and shining, and saying, 'Oo, dat for oo.' Oh dear, Miss Erema, you were never born to see it! What a blessing for you! All those six dear darlings laid in their little graves within six weeks, with their mother planted under them; and the only wonder is that you yourself was not upon her breast.
"Pay you no heed to me, Miss Eremia, when you see me a-whimpering in and out while I am about it. It makes my chest go easy, Miss, I do assure you, though not at the time of life to understand it. All they children was to have sat up for the sake of their dear father, as I said just now; but because of their grandfather all was ordered back. And back they come, as good as gold, with Master George at the head of them, and asked me what milk-teeth was. Grandpa had said that a dinner was no dinner, if milk-teeth were allowed at it.' The hard old man, with his own teeth false! He deserved to sit down to no other dinner-and he never did, Miss.
"You may be sure that I had enough to do to manage all the little ones and answer all their questions; but never having seen a live lord
before, and wanting to know if the children would be like him before so very long, I went quietly downstairs, and the biggest of my dears peeped after me. And then, by favour of the parlour-maid-for they kept neither butler nor footman now-I saw the Lord Castlewood, sitting at his ease, with a glass of port wine before him, and my sweet mistress (the Captain's wife, and your mother, if you understand, Miss) doing her very best, thinking of her children, to please him and make the polite to him. To me he seemed very much to be thawing to her—if you can understand, Miss, what my meaning is-and the Captain was looking at them with a smile, as if it were just what he had hoped for. From my own eyesight I can contradict the lies put about by nobody knows who, that the father and the son were at hot words even then.
"And I even heard my master, when they went out at the door, vainly persuading his father to take such a bed as they could offer him. And good enough it would have been for ten lords; for I saw nothing wonderful in him, nor fit to compare any way with the Captain. But he would not have it, for no other reason of ill-will or temper, but only because he had ordered his bed at the Moonstock Inn, where his coachand-four were resting.
"I expect you to call me in the morning, George,' I heard him say, as clear as could be, while his son was helping his coat on. 'I am glad I have seen you. There are worse than you. And when the times get better, I will see what I can do.'
"With him this meant more than it might have done; for he was not a man of much promises, as you might tell by his face almost, with his nose so stern, and his mouth screwed down, and the wrinkles the wrong way for smiling. I could not tell what the Captain answered, for the door banged on them, and it woke the baby, who was dreaming, perhaps, about his lordship's face, and his little teeth gave him the wind. on his chest, and his lungs was like bellows-bless him!
"Well, that stopped me, Miss Erema, from being truly accurate in my testimony. What with walking the floor, and thumping his back, and rattling of the rings to please him-when they put me on the testament, cruel as they did, with the lawyers' eyes eating into me, and both my ears buzzing with sorrow and fright, I may have gone too far, with my heart in my mouth, for my mind to keep out of contradiction, wishful as I was to tell the whole truth in a manner to hurt nobody. And without any single lie or glaze of mine, I do assure you, Miss, that I did more harm than good; everybody in the room-a court they called it, and no bigger than my best parlour-one and all they were convinced that I would swear black was white, to save my master and mistress! And certainly I would have done so, and the Lord in heaven thought the better of me, for the sake of all they children, if I could have made it stick together, as they do with practice."
At thought of the little good she had done, and perhaps the great mischief, through excess of zeal, Mrs. Strouss was obliged to stop, and
put her hand to her side, and sigh. And eager as I was for every word of this miserable tale, no selfish eagerness could deny her need of refreshment, and even of rest; for her round cheeks were white, and her full breast trembled. And now she was beginning to make snatches at my hand, as if she saw things she could only tell thus.
"I AM only astonished, my dear," said my nurse, as soon as she had had some tea and toast, and scarcely the soft roe of a red herring, "that you can put up so well, and abide with my instincts in the way you do. None of your family could have done it, to my knowledge of their dispositions, much less the baby that was next above you. But it often comes about to go in turns like that; 'one, three, five, and seven is sweet, while two, four, and six is a-squalling with their feet.' But the Lord forgive me for an ill word of them, with their precious little bodies washed, and laying in their patterns till the judgment-day.
"But putting by the words I said in the dirty little room they pleased to call a 'court,' and the Testament so filthy that no lips could have a hold of it, my meaning is to tell you, Miss, the very things that happened, so that you may fairly judge of them. The captain came back from going with his father, I am sure in less than twenty minutes, and smoking a cigar in his elegant way, quite happy and contented, for I saw him down the staircase. As for sign of any haste about him, or wiping of his forehead, or fumbling with his handkerchief, or being in a stew in any sort of way-as the stupid cook who let him in declared, by reason of her own having been at the beer-barrel-solemnly, Miss, as I hope to go to heaven-there was nothing of the sort about him.
"He went into the dining-room, and mistress, who had been upstairs to see about the baby, went down to him; and there I heard them talking as pleasant and as natural as they always were together. Not one of them had the smallest sense of trouble hanging over them; and they put away both the decanters and cruets, and came up to bed in their proper order, the master stopping down just to finish his cigar and see to the doors, and the bringing up the silver, because there was no man-servant now. And I heard him laughing at some little joke he made as he went into the bed-room. A happier household never went to bed, nor one with better hopes of a happy time to come. And the baby slept beside his parents in his little cot, as his mother liked to have him, with his blessed mouth wide open.
Now, we three (cook, and Susan, and myself) were accustomed to have a good time of it whenever the master first came home and the
mistress was taken up with him. We used to count half an hour more in bed, without any of that wicked bell-clack, and then to go on to things according to their order, without anybody to say anything. Accordingly we were all snug in bed, and turning over for another tuck of sleep, when there came a most vicious ringing of the outer bell. 'You get up, Susan,' I heard the cook say, for there only was a door between us; and Susan said, 'Blest if I will! Only Tuesday you put me down about it when the baker came.' Not a peg would either of them stir, no more than to call names on one another; so I slipped on my things, with the bell going clatter all the while, like the day of judgment. I felt it to be hard upon me, and I went down cross a little-just enough to give it well to a body I were not afraid of.
"But the Lord in his mercy remember me, Miss. When I opened the door I had no blood left. There stood two men, with a hurdle on their shoulders, and on the hurdle a body, with the head hanging down, and the front of it slouching, like a sack that has been stolen from. And behind it there was an authority with two buttons on his back, and he waited for me to say something; but to do so was beyond me. Not a bit of caution or of fear about my sham dress-up, as the bad folk put it afterward; the whole of such thoughts was beyond me outright, and no thought of anything came inside me, only to wait and wonder.
"This corpse belongeth here, as I am informed,' said the man, who seemed to be the master of it, and was proud to be so. Young woman, don't you please to stand like that, or every duffer in the parish will be here, and the boys that come hankering after it. You be off!' he cried out to a boy who was calling some more round the corner. Now, young woman, we must come in if you please, and the least said the soonest mended.'
"Oh! but my mistress, my mistress!' I cried, and her time up, as nigh as may be, any day or night before new moon! Oh, Mr. Constable, Mr. Rural Polishman, take it to the tool-shed, if you ever had a wife, Sir.' Now even this was turned against us as if I had expected it. They said that I must have known who it was, and to a certain length so I did, Miss; but only by the dress and the manner of the corpse, and lying with an attitude there was no contradicting.
"I cannot tell you now, my dear, exactly how things followed. My mind was gone all hollow with the sudden shock upon it. However, I had thought enough to make no noise immediate, nor tell the other foolish girls, who would have set up bellowing. Having years to deal with little ones brings knowledge of the rest to us. I think that I must have gone to master's door, where Susan's orders were to put his shaving water in a tin, and fetched him out, with no disturbance, only in his dressinggown. And when I told him what it was, his rosy colour turned like sheets, and he just said 'Hush!' and nothing more. And, guessing what he meant, I ran and put my things on properly.
'But having time to think, the shock began to work upon me; and I
was fit for nothing when I saw the children smiling up with their tongues out for their bread and milk, as they used to begin the day with. And I do assure you, Miss Erema, my bitterest thought was of your coming, though unknown whether male or female, but both most inconvenient then, with things in such a state of things. You have much to answer for, Miss, about it; but how was you to help it though?
"The tool-shed door was too narrow to let the hurdle and the body in, and finding some large seakale pots standing out of use against the door, the two men (who were tired with the weight and fright, I dare say) set down their burden upon these, under a row of hollyhocks, at the end of the row of beehives. And here they wiped their foreheads with some rags they had for handkerchiefs, or one of them with his own sleeve, I should say, and, gaining their breath, they began to talk with the boldness of the sunrise over them. But Mr. Rural Polishman, as he was called in those parts, was walking up and down on guard, and despising of their foolish words.
"My master, the Captain, your father, Miss, came out of a window and down the cross walk, while I was at the green door peeping, for I thought that I might be wanted, if only to take orders what was to be done inside. The constable stiffly touched his hat, and marched to the head of the hurdle, and said
"Do you know this gentleman?'
"Your father took no more notice of him than if he had been a stiff hollyhock, which he might have resembled if he had been good-looking. The Captain thought highly of discipline always, and no kinder gentleman could there be to those who gave his dues to him. But that man's voice had a low and dirty impertinent sort of a twang with it. Nothing could have been more unlucky. Everything depended on that fellow in an ignorant neighbourhood like that; and his lordship, for such he was now of course, would not even deign to answer him. He stood over his head in his upright way by a good foot, and ordered him here and there, as the fellow had been expecting, I do believe, to order his lordship. And that made the bitterest enemy of him, being newly sent into these parts, and puffed up with authority. And the two miller's men could not help grinning, for he had waved them about like a pair of dogs.
"But to suppose that my master' was unmoved, and took it brutally' (as that wretch of a fellow swore afterwards), only shows what a stuck-up dolt he was. For when my master had examined his father, and made his poor body be brought in and spread on the couch in the dining-room, and sent me hot-foot for old Dr. Diggory down at the bottom of Shoxford, Susan peeped in through the crack of the door, with the cook to hold her hand behind, and there she saw the captain on his knees at the side of his father's corpse, not saying a word, only with his head down. And when the doctor came back with me, with his night-gown positive under his coat, the first thing he said was, 'My dear Sir-my Lord, I mean— don't take on so; such things will always happen in this world;' which shows that my master was no brute.