B. L. (Benjamin Leopold) Farjeon.

The Shield of Love online

. (page 1 of 14)
Online LibraryB. L. (Benjamin Leopold) FarjeonThe Shield of Love → online text (page 1 of 14)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


Produced by Charles Bowen from page scans provided by
Google Books (the New York Public Library)

Transcriber's Notes:
1. Page scan source: Google Books
(the New York Public Library)

- - - - - - - - - - -






I. In which some particulars are given of the Fox-Cordery
II. Poor Cinderella.
III. A family discussion.
IV. Wherein Cinderella asserts herself.
V. In which John Dixon informs Mr. Fox-Cordery
that he has seen a ghost.
VI. In which we make the acquaintance of Rathbeal.
VII. Billy turns the corner.
VIII. The gambler's confession.
IX. Mr. Fox-Cordery is not easy in his mind.
X. In which Mr. Fox-Cordery meets with a repulse.
XI. Little Prue.
XIII. In which Rathbeal makes a winning move.
XIV. Do you remember Billy's last prayer?
XV. Friends in Council.
XVI. Mr. Fox-Cordery's master-stroke.
XVII. Retribution.


In which some particulars are given of the Fox-Cordery Family.

This is not exactly a story of Cinderella, although a modern
Cinderella - of whom there are a great many more in our social life
than people wot of - plays her modest part therein; and the allusion to
one of the world's prettiest fairy-tales is apposite enough because
her Prince, an ordinary English gentleman prosaically named John
Dixon, was first drawn to her by the pity which stirs every honest
heart when innocence and helplessness are imposed upon. Pity became
presently sweetened by affection, and subsequently glorified by love,
which, at the opening of our story, awaited its little plot of
fresh-smelling earth to put forth its leaves, the healthy flourishing
of which has raised to the dignity of a heavenly poem that most
beautiful of all words, Home.

Her Christian name was Charlotte, her surname Fox-Cordery, and she had
a mother and a brother. These, from the time her likeness to
Cinderella commenced, comprised the household.

Had it occurred to a stranger who gazed for the first time upon Mr.
and Miss Fox-Cordery, as they sat in the living-room of the
Fox-Cordery establishment, that for some private reason the brother
and sister had dressed in each other's clothes, he might well have
been excused the fancy. It was not that the lady was so much like a
gentleman, but that the gentleman was so much like a lady; and a
closer inspection would certainly have caused the stranger to do
justice at least to Miss Fox-Cordery. She was the taller and stouter
of the twain, and yet not too tall or stout for grace and beauty of an
attractive kind. There was some color in her face, his was perfectly
pallid, bearing the peculiar hue observable in waxwork figures; her
eyes were black, his blue; her hair was brown, his sandy; and the
waxwork suggestion was strengthened by his whiskers and mustache,
which had a ludicrous air of having been stuck on. There was a
cheerful energy in her movements which was conspicuously absent in
his, and her voice had a musical ring in it, while his was languid and
deliberate. She was his junior by a good ten years, her age being
twenty-eight, but had he proclaimed himself no more than thirty, only
those who were better informed would have disputed the statement. When
men and women reach middle age the desire to appear younger than they
are is a pardonable weakness, and it was to the advantage of Mr.
Fox-Cordery that it was less difficult for him than for most of us to
maintain the harmless fiction.

This was not the only bubble which Mr. Fox-Cordery was ready to
encourage in order to deceive the world. His infantile face, his
appealing blue eyes, his smooth voice, were traps which brought many
unwary persons to grief. Nature plays numberless astonishing tricks,
but few more astonishing than that which rendered the contrast between
the outer and inner Mr. Fox-Cordery even more startling than that
which existed in the physical characteristics of this brother and

There were other contrasts which it may be as well to mention. As
brother and sister they were of equal social rank, but the equality
was not exhibited in their attire. Mr. Fox-Cordery would have been
judged to be a man of wealth, rich enough to afford himself all the
luxuries of life; Charlotte would have been judged a young woman who
had to struggle hard for a living, which, indeed, was not far from the
truth, for she was made to earn her bread and butter, if ever woman
was. Her clothing was common and coarse, and barely sufficient, the
length of her frock being more suitable to a girl of fifteen than to a
woman of twenty-eight. This was not altogether a drawback, for
Charlotte had shapely feet and ankles, but they would have been seen
to better advantage in neat boots or shoes than in the worn-out,
down-at-heels slippers she wore. Depend upon it she did not wear them
from choice, for every right-minded woman takes a proper pride in her
boots and shoes, and in her stockings, gloves, and hats. The slippers
worn at the present moment by Charlotte were the only available
coverings for her feet she had. True, there was a pair of boots in the
house which would fit no other feet than hers, but they were locked up
in her mother's wardrobe. Then her stockings. Those she had on were of
an exceedingly rusty black, and had been darned and darned till
scarcely a vestige of their original self remained. Another and a
better pair she ought to have had the right to call her own, and these
were in the house, keeping company with her boots. In her poorly
furnished bedroom you would have searched in vain for hat or gloves;
these were likewise under lock and key, with a decent frock and mantle
she was allowed to wear on special occasions, at the will of her
taskmasters. So that she was considerably worse off in these respects
than many a poor woman who lives with her husband and children in a

But for all this Charlotte was a pleasant picture to gaze upon, albeit
just now her features wore rather a grave expression. She had not an
ornament on her person, not a brooch or a ring, but her hair was
luxuriant and abundant, and was carefully brushed and coiled; her neck
was white, and her figure graceful; and though in a couple of years
she would be in her thirties, there was a youthfulness in her
appearance which can only be accounted for by her fortunate
inheritance of a cheerful spirit, of which, drudge as she was, her
mother and her brother could not rob her.

This precious inheritance she derived from her father, who had
transmitted to her all that was spiritually best in his nature: and
nothing else. It was not because he did not love his daughter that she
was left unendowed, but because of a fatal delay in the disposition of
his world's goods. Procrastination may be likened to an air-gun
carrying a deadly bullet. Mr. Fox-Cordery, the younger, "took" after
his mother. Occasionally in life these discrepant characteristics are
found grouped together in one family, the founders of which, by some
strange chance, have become united, instead of flying from each other,
as do certain violently antagonistic chemicals when an attempt is made
to unite them in a friendly partnership. The human repulsion occurs
afterward, when it is too late to repair the evil. If marriages are
made in heaven, as some foolish people are in the habit of asserting,
heaven owes poor mortality a debt it can never repay.

Far different from Charlotte's was Mr. Fox-Cordery's appearance. As to
attire it was resplendent and magnificent, if these terms may be
applied to a mortal of such small proportions. He was excruciatingly
careful in the combing and brushing of his hair, but in the effect
produced he could not reach her point of excellence, and this drawback
he inwardly construed into a wrong inflicted upon him by her. He often
struck a mental balance after this fashion, and brought unsuspecting
persons in his debt. Moreover, he would have liked to change skins
with her, and give her his waxy hue for her pearly whiteness. Could
the exchange have been effected by force he would have had it done. At
an early stage of manhood he had been at great pains to impart an
upward curly twist to his little mustache, in the hope of acquiring a
military air, but the attempt was not successful, and his barber,
after long travail, had given it up in despair, and had advised him to
train his mustache in the way it was inclined to go.

"Let it droop, sir," said the barber, "it will look beautiful so.
There's a sentiment in a drooping mustache that always attracts the

The argument was irresistible, and Mr. Fox-Cordery's little mustache
was allowed to droop and to grow long; and it certainly did impart to
his countenance a dreaminess of expression which its wearer regarded
as a partial compensation for the disappointment of his young
ambition. No man in the world ever bestowed more attention upon his
person, or took greater pains to make himself pleasing in the sight of
his fellow-creatures, than did Mr. Fox-Cordery; and this labor of love
was undertaken partly from vanity, partly from cunning. A good
appearance deceived the world; it put people off their guard; if you
wished to gain a point it was half the battle. He spent hours every
week with his tailor, the best in London, discussing fits and
fashions, trying on coats, vests, and trousers, ripping and unripping
to conquer a crease, and suggesting a little more padding here, and a
trifle less there. His hats and boots were marvels of polish, his
shirts and handkerchiefs of the finest texture, his neckties marvels,
his silk socks and underwear dainty and elegant, and his pins and,
rings would have passed muster with the most censorious of fashion's
votaries. He was spick and span from the crown of his head to the
soles of his feet. As he walked along the streets, picking his way
carefully, or sat in his chair with his small legs crossed, he was a
perfect little model of a man, in animated pallid waxwork. He
preferred to sit instead of stand; being long-waisted it gave
beholders a false impression of his height.

From his cradle he had been his mother's idol and his father's terror.
Mrs. Fox-Cordery ruled the roost, and her husband, preferring peace to
constant warfare, gave the reins into her hands, and allowed her to do
exactly as she pleased. This meant doing everything that would give
pleasure to the Fox-Cordery heir, who soon discovered his power and
made use of it to his own advantage. What a tyrant in the domestic
circle was the little mannikin! The choicest tidbits at meals, the
food he liked best, the coolest place in summer, and warmest in
winter, all were conceded to him. He tortured birds and cats openly,
and pinched servants on the sly. The good-tempered, cheerful-hearted
father used to gaze in wonder at his son, and speculate ruefully upon
the kind of man he was likely to grow into.

When young Fox-Cordery was near his eleventh birthday Charlotte was
born, and as the mother held the son to her heart, so did the father
hold the daughter to his. They became comrades, father and daughter on
one side, mother and son on the other, with no sympathies in common.
Mr. Fox-Cordery took his little daughter for long rides and walks,
told her fairy stories, and gave her country feasts; and it is hard to
say who enjoyed them most.

The introduction of Charlotte into young Fox-Cordery's life afforded
him new sources of delight. He pinched her on the sly as he pinched
the servants, he pulled her ears, he slapped her face, and the wonder
of it was that Charlotte never complained. Her patience and submission
did not soften him; he tyrannized over her the more. Hearing his
father say that Charlotte ought to have a doll, he said that he would
buy her one, and the father was pleased at this prompting of
affection. Obtaining a sum of money from his mother, young Fox-Cordery
put half of it into his pocket, and expended the other half in the
purchase of a doll with a woebegone visage, dressed in deep mourning.
Presenting it to his sister he explained that the doll had lost
everybody belonging to her, and was the most wretched and miserable
doll in existence.

"She will die soon," he said, "and then I will give you a coffin."

But the young villain's purpose was foiled by Charlotte's sweet
disposition. The poor doll, being alone in the world, needed sympathy
and consolation, and Charlotte wept over her, and kissed and fondled
her, and did everything in her power to make her forget her sorrows.
Eventually Charlotte's father suggested that the doll had been in
mourning long enough and he had her dressed like a bride, and restored
to joy and society; but this so enraged young Fox-Cordery that he got
up in the night and tore the bridal dress to shreds, and chopped the
doll into little pieces.

The fond companionship between Mr. Fox-Cordery and his daughter did
not last very long. Before Charlotte was seven years old her father
died. On his deathbed the thought occurred to him that his daughter
was unprovided for.

His will, made shortly after his marriage, when he was still in
ignorance of his wife's true character, left everything unreservedly
to her; and now, when he was passing into the valley of the Shadow of
Death, he trembled for his darling Charlotte's future. The illness by
which he was stricken down had been sudden and unexpected, and he had
not troubled to alter his will, being confident that many years of
life were before him. And now there was little time left. But he lived
still; he could repair the error; he yet could make provision for his
little girl. Lying helpless, almost speechless, on his bed, he
motioned to his wife, and made her understand that he wished to see
his lawyer. She understood more; she divined his purpose. She had read
the will, by which she would become the sole inheritor of his
fortune - she and her son, for all she had would be his. Should she
allow her beloved Fox to be robbed, and should she assist in
despoiling him? Her mind was quickly made up.

"I will send for the lawyer," she said to her husband.

"At once, at once!"

"Yes, at once."

A day passed.

"Has the lawyer come?" whispered the dying man to his wife.

"He was in the country when I wrote yesterday," she replied. "He
returns to-morrow morning, and will be here then."

"There must be no delay," said he.

His wife nodded, and bade him be easy in his mind.

"Excitement is bad for you," she said. "The lawyer is sure to come."

He knew that it would be dangerous for him to agitate himself, and he
fell asleep, holding the hand of his darling child. In the night he
awoke, and prayed for a few days of life, and that his senses would
not forsake him before the end came. His wife, awake in the adjoining
room, prayed also, but it will be charitable to draw a veil over her
during those silent hours.

Another day passed, and again he asked for his lawyer.

"He called," said his wife, "but you were asleep, and I would not have
you disturbed."

It was false; she had not written to the lawyer.

That night the dying man knew that his minutes were numbered, and that
he would not see another sunrise in this world. Speech had deserted
him; he was helpless, powerless. He looked piteously at his wife, who
would not admit any person into the room but herself, with the
exception of her children and the doctor. She answered his look with a
smile, and with false tenderness smoothed his pillow. The following
morning the doctor called again, and as he stood by the patient's
bedside observed him making some feeble signs which he could not
understand. Appealing to Mrs. Fox-Cordery, she interpreted the signs
to him.

"He wishes to know the worse," she said.

The doctor beckoned her out of the room, and told her she must prepare
for it.

"Soon?" she inquired, with her handkerchief to her dry eyes.

"Before midnight," he said gravely, and left her to her grief.

She did not deprive her husband of his last sad comfort; she brought
their daughter to him, and placed her by his side. Mrs. Fox-Cordery
remained in the room, watching the clock. "Before midnight, before
midnight," she whispered to herself a score of times.

The prince of the house, soon to be king, came to wish his father
farewell. There was not speck or spot upon the young man, who had been
from home all day, and had just returned. During this fatal illness he
had been very little with his father.

"What is the use of my sitting mum chance by his bedside?" he said to
his mother. "I can't do him any good; and I don't think he cares for
me much. All he thinks of is that brat."

Charlotte was the brat, and she gazed with large solemn eyes upon her
brother as he now entered the chamber of death. He was dressed in the
height of fashion, and he did not remove his gloves as he pressed his
father's clammy hand, and brushed with careless lips the forehead upon
which the dews of death were gathering. Then he wiped his mouth with
his perfumed handkerchief, and longed to get out of the room to smoke.
The father turned his dim eyes upon the fashionably attired young man,
standing there so neat and trim and fresh, as if newly turned out of a
bandbox, and from him to Charlotte in an old cotton dress, her hair in
disorder, and her face stained with tears. Maybe a premonition of his
little girl's future darkened his last moments, but he was too feeble
to express it. Needless to dwell upon the scene, pregnant and
suggestive as it was. The doctor's prediction was verified; when the
bells tolled the midnight hour Mr. Fox-Cordery had gone to his rest,
and Charlotte was friendless in her mother's house.

Poor Cinderella.

Then commenced a new life for the girl; she became a drudge, and was
made to do servants' work, and to feel that there was no love for her
beneath the roof that sheltered her. She accepted the position
unmurmuringly, and slaved and toiled with a willing spirit. Early in
the morning, while her tyrants were snug abed, she was up and doing,
and though she never succeeded in pleasing them and was conscious that
she had done her best, she bore their scolding and fault-finding
without a word of remonstrance. They gave her no schooling, and yet
she learned to read and write, and to speak good English. There were
hidden forces in the girl which caused her to supply, by unwearying
industry, the deficiencies of her education. Hard as was her life she
had compensations, which sprang from the sweetness of her nature.

Her early acquaintance with errand boys and tradesmen's apprentices
led her into the path strewn with lowly flowers. She became familiar
with the struggles of the poor, and, sympathizing with them, she
performed many acts of kindness which brought happiness to her young
heart; and though from those who should have shown her affection she
received constant rebuffs, she was not soured by them.

The treatment she and her brother met with in the home in which they
each had an equal right, and should have had an equal share, was of a
painfully distinctive character. Nothing was good enough for him;
anything was good enough for her. Very well; she ministered to him
without repining. He and his mother took their pleasures together, and
Charlotte was never invited to join them, and never asked to be
invited. There was no interchange of confidences between them. They
had secrets which they kept from her; she had secrets which she kept
from them. Those shared by Mr. Fox-Cordery and his mother savored of
meanness and trickery; Charlotte's were sweet and charitable. They did
not open their hearts to her because of the fear that she might rebel
against the injustice which was being inflicted upon her; she did not
open her heart to them because she felt that they would not sympathize
with her. They would have turned up their noses at the poor flowers
she cherished, and would have striven to pluck them from her - and,
indeed, the attempt was made, fortunately without success.

Charlotte's practical acquaintance with kitchen work, and the
economical spirit in which she was enjoined by her mother to carry out
her duties, taught her the value of scraps of food, a proper
understanding of which would do a great many worthy people no harm.
Recognizing that the smallest morsels could be turned to good account,
she allowed nothing to be thrown away or wasted. Even the crumbs would
furnish meals for birds, and they were garnered with affectionate
care. She was well repaid in winter and early spring for her kindness
to the feathered creatures, some of which she believed really grew to
know her, and it is a fact that none were frightened of her. Many
pretty little episodes grew out of this association which was the
cause of genuine pleasure to Charlotte, and she discovered in these
lowly ways of life treasures which such lofty people as her mother and
brother never dreamed of. If she had authority nowhere else in her
home she had some in the kitchen, so every scrap of food was looked
after, collected, and given to pensioners who were truly grateful for
them. These pensioners were all small children, waifs of the gutters,
of whom there are shoals in every great city. Thus it will be seen
that the position assigned to Charlotte by her mother and brother
ennobled and enriched her spiritually; it brought into play her best
and sweetest qualities.

Her charities were dispensed with forethought and wisdom, and Mr.
Fox-Cordery took no greater pains in the adornment of his person than
Charlotte did to make her scraps of food palatable to the stomachs of
her little pensioners. With half an onion, nicely shredded, and the
end of a stray carrot, she produced of these scraps a stew which did
her infinite credit as a cook of odds and ends; and it was a sight
worth seeing to watch her preparing such a savory meal for the
bare-footed youngsters who came at nightfall to the kitchen entrance
of her home.

When these proceedings were discovered by her mother she was ordered
to discontinue them, but in this one instance she showed a spirit of
rebellion, and maintained her right to give away the leavings instead
of throwing them into the dustbin. That she was allowed to have her
way was perhaps the only concession made to her in her servitude.

For an offense of another kind, however, she was made to pay dearly.

She obtained permission one evening to go out for a walk, an hour to
the minute being allowed her. On these occasions, which were rare, she
always chose the poorer thoroughfares for her rambles, and as she now
strolled through a narrow street she came upon a woman, with a baby in
her arms, sitting on a doorstep. Pity for the wan face, of which she
caught just one glance, caused Charlotte to stop and speak to the
woman. The poor creature was in the last stage of want and
destitution, and Charlotte's heart bled as she listened to the tale of
woe. The wail of the hungry babe sent a shiver through the
sympathizing girl. She could not bear to leave the sufferers, and yet
what good could be done by remaining? She had not a penny to give
them. Charlotte never had any money of her own, it being part of the
system by which her life was ruled to keep her absolutely penniless.
She learned from the poor woman that every article of clothing she
possessed that could with decency be dispensed with had found its way
to the pawn-shop.

"See," said the wretched creature, raising her ragged frock.

It was all there was on her body.

The pitiful revelation inspired Charlotte. She had on a flannel and a
cotton petticoat. Stepping aside into the shadow of an open door she
loosened the strings of her petticoats, and they slipped to the

"Take these," said the young girl, and ran home as fast as she could.

She was a few minutes behind her time, and her mother was on the watch
for her. Upon Charlotte making her appearance she was informed that
she would never be allowed out again, and she stood quietly by without
uttering a word of expostulation. The scene ended by Charlotte being
ordered instantly to bed, and to secure obedience Mrs. Fox-Cordery
accompanied her daughter to her bedroom. There, on undressing, the

1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14

Online LibraryB. L. (Benjamin Leopold) FarjeonThe Shield of Love → online text (page 1 of 14)