of which their object only too soon wearied. And now, in
his solitude, he opened his cage and let forth his bird, but
its lure failed with Miss Effie and Miss Flora. Kind they
were to him, considerate, the best of hostesses; but day
after day Miss Flora passed him, light-footed, with her
absurd air of antique youth, telling him that she was go-
ing for a walk, and he would not see her for hours, when
she would come bounding across the green to the gate
without the least sign of fatigue.
While her sister was away, Miss EfBe usually brought
her sewing Miss Effie sewed for the poor, in the relent-
less ways of other days, utilitarian garments that Robert
would shudder at and for a short half-hour would sit
by him, bolt upright in a wooden-seated chair. And as
she sewed, her needle being, he was sure, much noisier than
other needles, she would discuss with him her plans for
the education of the child.
Cuckoo, with her dark, forbidding aspect, would be
either playing at some solitary little game in the sunniest
spot she could find, or in the kitchen with Esther Oughten-
shaw, whose society she, without shame, preferred to that
of her aunts.
Neither Miss Effie, nor Miss Flora, nor Blundell him-
self, had ever referred to the subject of their two conver-
sations on the evening of his arrival. His mind was quiet
on the subject; he knew the two women and trusted them
as they deserved, and they trusted him as he would not
THE BAG OF SAFFRON
have deserved but for the fact that in this particular
case it was to his own interest to keep silent.
Cuckoo was to begin reading as soon as she had learned
English. Miss Flora was to teach her writing, because
Miss Effie had a great admiration for her sister's delicate,
slanting, so-called Italian hand. The use of the globes
and history were also to lie in Miss Effie's province. Miss
Flora would teach her to play the piano.
Blundell's gravity was a thing to be admired when Miss
Flora's musical accomplishments were under discussion.
He had heard Miss Flora play.
Embroidery the child was to learn by her father's spe-
"I'd like her to do flowers as Flora does," he said once,
"not those dreadful scratchy things you make, Effie."
And Miss Effie agreed, but further than such skirtings of
the subject, they never approached to their pact and
Blundell knew that the matter was settled once and for
His talks with Miss Flora were of the same kind, and
it had come naturally to pass that Miss Flora should
have more to do with the young Nicoleta than her sister,
for the young Nicoleta, nearly as grim and silent as her
aunt Effie, in a miniature way, had taken a violent dislike
to that lady and showed what was to Miss Flora an al-
most sinfully gratifying preference for la jolie tante.
They never dared ask what the child privately called Miss
Effie and for the most part she referred to her as
"she" "elle," as she said in her strange, deep, husky
One afternoon both sisters, a very unusual thing, were
sitting under the great ash that stood in the southeast
corner of the garden, in coming to which from the gate
one passed Miss Flora's garden.
The winter had been a severe one, and the spring cor-
THE BAG OF SAFFRON
respondingly slow in coming, so that even yet the may-
tree by the wall was in full flower. From the Green Bench,
Miss Flora had just told Blundell, it looked like an im-
Blundell lay stretched out in his chair, a long figure
in a suit secretly considered by both sisters to be not
quite the thing of shantung silk, and on two of the
purgatorial old wheel-backed chairs from the dining-room,
Miss Effie and Miss Flora sat sewing. Near them stood
a fourth chair, a Chippendale with a cushion in it, from
that deserted haunt, the study.
Both ladies showed in their apparel signs of an im-
pending guest, for Miss Flora, whose mauve-and-white-
flowered frock was obviously just from the tub and the
iron, had on all her rings, and Miss Effie wore what Blun-
dell, in his sympathetic reprobate bones, felt, though he
had never seen it before, to be her Best. It was a gray
poplin painfully ill-adapted to Miss Effie's sallow and
weather-burned skin. Moreover, Blundell's skilled eyes
told him that the cut of the thing was of all cuts the most
unpropitious to Miss Effie's square and heavily-built body.
There was no drapery to hide the angles, nothing to soften
the flatness of the hips or the prominence of the shoulder-
blades. A fichu would do it, Blundell thought pityingly,
some nice, soft stuff over the shoulders, and crossed in
front nevertheless, Miss Effie was en grande tenue, for
her little flat collar, so useless as an aid to beauty, was
of valuable old lace and it was fastened by a brooch, a
large and beautiful topaz set in chased gold.
"Effie," Miss Flora said suddenly, looking up from the
great strip of delicate lawn on which she was embroider-
ing fuchsias in their natural colors, "you really will have
to speak to her, she is singing again "
Round the corner of the kitchen came Esther Oughten-
shaw's voice raised in praise of her Maker.
THE BAG OF SAFFRON
"Why stop her, Flora?" Blundell asked lazily; "it is
really beautiful "
"Flora knows that, Robert we know about Esther's
voice. She sings in the choir at Warcop and everyone
admires it. It is Marcia she is thinking of."
Miss Effie finished the hideous little garment she was
working on and, taking off her thimble, folded her work.
"Flora is afraid of shocking Marcia with our country
ways," she said.
Miss Flora looked up hastily, her eyes flashing.
Blundell saw that for some reason Miss Effie's remark
had hurt her, but she said nothing and a few moments later
she rose, folded her really beautiful embroidery, and lay-
ing it in the deep-green baize drawer of the sewing-table,
went into the house.
"Tell Esther to be careful with the tea-cakes," Miss
Effie called after her.
"It strikes me you are afraid of the tea-cakes shocking
Marcia," the invalid said idly, watching her with half-
"Marcia is very particular and she has every right to
be; she is used to the best of everything, living in Lon-
don," returned Miss Effie grimly.
"I know she is, but what a bad argument ! To my mind
it is people who have had the worst of everything who
have the right to be particular "
Miss Effie did not answer, and this, her unconscious
North-country way of meeting an incontrovertible or
even a merely troublesome argument, made him ill at ease.
"Cuckoo," he called out to end the situation, "Cuckoo,
where are you?"
But it was Esther Oughtenshaw who, her head thrust
out of the dining-room window, gave Blundell the infor-
mation that the child had been digging in the kitchen-
garden and that Miss Flora was at that moment en-
THE BAG OF SAFFRON
gaged in removing from her the signs of her labors. Miss
"I must go and watch for the carriage from the blue-
room window," she said. "I can see it when it gets to the
turning by the big may-tree and that is just time to mash
the tea "
Left alone, Blundell whistled softly to himself; the
prospect of Lady Fabricius' visit annoyed and bored
him, for he knew that it meant the end of his lazy and
happy time. She could not force him to walk, or even
to sit upright, for that would be practically murdering
him, but he would have to speak loud, instead of mur-
muring as he liked to do for she was a little deaf and
no one was allowed to know it and she would expect
him to be grateful to her for coming all this way to see
He was not uncommon in feeling gratitude an impos-
sible achievement when it was demanded of him, fsnd in
ordinary circumstances he would have run away at the
first news of her impending visit, but he was dying, and
he must put his house in order so far as he could and
Lady Fabricius would help him. At this point in his very
unusual meditations, he smiled and corrected the phrase.
"No, it is putting the poor Flora's and the poor Effie's
house in order! It is they who will have all the trouble.
The two hundred pounds a year won't hurt old Marcia
she will never miss it and they, Heaven help 'em, will
have Cuckoo." For a moment he reflected on this point,
half sorry, half amused, and then, still smiling, and very
slowly, he rose.
Lady Fabricius' reception was as majestic as his own
progress as, leaning on her maid's arm, she came across
the little common to the gate.
At the gate stood Miss Effie and Miss Flora and Blun-
, dell, whose irrepressible theater-sense had induced him to
THE BAG OF SAFFRON
make an effort. Indeed, he was amply rewarded for his
pains, for not only did he, with his incorrigible inward eye,
clearly see the impression his gaunt and moribund person
must make, side by side with the gracile Miss Flora and
the grim and solid Miss Effie, but Lady Fabricius at once
expressed her satisfaction with his tribute to the effect
of her arrival, by telling him that she was delighted to see
him looking so well !
This remark was so characteristic of the speaker that
he had the unusual joy of catching a hasty, shame-faced
glance between Miss Effie and Miss Flora, a glance whose
grandmother, so to speak, he remembered on the
occasion of his marriage festivities, seven years
"I brought Charlotte, you see," Lady Fabricius ex-
plained, a trifle unnecessarily, as she was at that moment
being supported to the little colony of chairs under the
ash-tree by Charlotte herself, "I thought my French wo-
man might frighten Esther."
"Nothing would frighten Esther," Blundell heard him-
self saying; "not even the Almighty."
It was Marcia who protested, though he knew with in-
stant regret that his profanity must have hurt Miss Effie
and Miss Flora, whereas Lady Fabricius' exclamation
was a ready-made one and meant nothing. Esther, when
she brought tea the next moment, appeared to verify his
unfortunately-expressed belief, for setting down the tray
she turned to Lady Fabricius, and shaking hands with
her, said unabashed and heartily: "Aye, a'm glad to see
yer, Miss Marcia my lady and yer looking fine for yer
yeers, and fa,t an' all "
Her ladyship, who was indeed very fat with the kind
of fat which seems to engulf the personality, had turned
her back on the old servant who was yet younger than
THE BAG OF SAFFRON
she. References to her bulk were as unwelcome to her as
they are to most people.
This was an exquisite moment for Blundell, and put
out of his mind for a while the worrying thought of
Cuckoo. Cuckoo, he knew, was a dreadful child, and
he realized how much more dreadful her dreadfulness
would appear to Lady Fabricius than it did to her sisters.
Flora's odd, old youthfulness would, he was sure, event-
ually arrive at winning the child's admiration, for Cuckoo
admired or disliked, as yet; she had not begun to show a
disposition to love. Although the dark imp obviously
did not admire her Aunt Effie, she had already manifested
certain minute signs of a wholesome awe of that lady, as
well as of a slight softening of demeanor towards Miss
Flora, la jolie tante.
About Lady Fabricius, who in a way was the most
important of the three, Blundell had grave fears. Many
years ago, before he had met her, Marcia Plues had been
a beauty, but now her young and middle-aged beauties
had gone for ever; gone to be replaced by that ugliest
and most pitiful of travesties, a travesty of the beauty
Cuckoo was only four, yet her father felt, as he lay
back in his chair watching Lady Fabricius satisfying her
hunger and thirst with a voracity that was rather un-
pleasant, that those sloe-black eyes of his daughter's
could detect as quickly as his own had detected them, the
meretricious attempts at red-brown hair, the patina of
white and pink that vainly tried to hide the sagging and
the wrinkles of her eldest aunt's sixty-year-old skin. "You
cannot put new wine into old bottles," he mused, hiding
his unmanageable mouth with one hand, "neither can you
put old faces into new skins." But he could hold his
tongue and Cuckoo very probably could not, or would
not. Luckily she knew very little English.
THE BAG OF SAFFRON
While the maiden sisters were asking, with the politest
hunger for detail, about Sir Adolph Fabricius, Blundell
slowly rose, and as slowly went into the house by the
drawing-room window. He found Cuckoo sitting in the
middle of the kitchen table on a small three-legged stool.
"What are you doing, Cuckoo?" he asked in French.
"I am going to see my beautiful auntie," she returned
slowly, but with a marked distinctness.
Blundell was puzzled and sat down, wondering what
he had better do. He had seen very little of his daughter,
for during the first year of her life she had been kept
away from his wife, who was dying. He had adored his
wife in his unsatisfactory way, and had hardly left her
from the beginning of her illness, near the bridge where,
according to the old song, "On danse, on danse."
The day after the funeral he and Anne Rose Ponchaus,
the child's nounou and subsequent bonne, had started on
an endless series of little journeys, from town to town,
from the sea to the mountains, vainly seeking that health
which he was destined never to find.
The child, a delicate, querulous little thing, far from
being a comfort to him, had been in his nerve-racked con-
dition a perfect nuisance, and Anne Rose, realizing this,
had kept her out of her father's sight as much as pos-
Twice during their travels, Blundell had broken down
and been ill for months, during which time he rarely
so much as set eyes on Cuckoo ; and when, finally, a nice
old doctor, met in a train, told him that his only chance
was to live for a year in Switzerland, high up among the
snows, Anne Rose Ponchaux had taken the eighteen-
months-old baby to her father's farm near Orange, whence
she had come two years ago, when she had done that most
unusual thing among French peasants, married a for-
eigner, i.e., a man from another part of France. Thus
THE BAG OF SAFFRON
Blundell had seen very little of his motherless child, and
until two or three weeks before their arrival at Roseroofs,
he had not seen her at all since the day he went to Switzer-
So there in the shady old kitchen, with its stone floor
covered with black and red rugs made with short ends of
cloth; its long stove with its polished steel and brass;
its fine old oak table; its wheel-backed chairs and its
slippery black sofa, sat that afternoon Robert Blundell
and his practically unknown daughter, studying each oth-
er's faces with a gravity that, but for the man's obviously
desperate ill-health, would have been ludicrous.
In her stiffly-starched white frock a frock made in
far-off Orange in clumsy imitation of the Sunday frocks
of the children of the local bourgeoisie the child sat on
her stool, her brown hands, thin and flexile like a monkey's,
folded on her knees. She wore scarlet morocco strap-over
shoes, the gift of her father, and a string of coral beads
hung round her dark neck. Her thick black hair had
been crudely cropped by Anne Rose, and hung in an un-
even line across her brow, on which showed a fine,
murderous frown, fit for a Borgia. Her eyes really were
like sloes, for in their unfathomable darkness was a bluish
shade; they were not large eyes, and their lashes were
short, and straight, and thick. Her nose was no particu-
lar shape and her mouth was drawn into a thin, cramped
line. It struck her father for the first time that she was
like her Aunt Effie.
"What are you doing?" he asked her at length. She
looked down, and he could see her eyeballs quiver under
their thick, dusky lids.
"I am waiting," she said, after a pause, in a deep,
growling voice, "to see my beautiful Ant." (Esther
Oughtenshaw, he knew, said "Ant.")
"I see." They regarded each other steadily for a
THE BAG OF SAFFRON
moment and he felt at a loss with her, just as he would
have felt with some grown person. He must provide
against her offending her aunt, but how should he do it?
He rose and went into the scullery, shutting the door be-
"Esther," he said, "you have been telling her tales
about her Aunt Marcia!"
Esther regarded him squarely as she went on with her
work of polishing forks with a yellow powder and a tooth-
"Ah hov not," she said.
"But somebody must have told her that her Aunt
Marcia is beautiful."
"And so she was, sir, in her young days ; well I remem-
"Yes, I know all that, but ' he struggled with a
laugh and then gave way to it. "Yes, that may all be,
but her ladyship is not beautiful now, and Cuckoo will
know it." Whimsically he wriggled his black eyebrows
at the old servant, who looked at him with unbroken grav-
"Aye, she will, the little bairn. She's sharp
"You see," he went on, "that what I am afraid of is
she is only just four and if she sees that this beautiful
aunt is not beautiful well, she might say so. Her lady-
ship wouldn't like that !"
"No-o her ladyship would not, Mr. Bloondell."
Having finished the dry-scouring of her forks and
spoons, Esther Oughtenshaw took a deep pan and filled
it with hot water from the brass tap in the stove. Cuckoo
was still sitting on the table, staring before her in her
"Are you a good girl?" Esther asked, as she passed on
her way back to the scullery, and Blundell was amused
THE BAG OF SAFFRON
to catch the impeccable Yorkshire in which the tiny crea-
"Aye, Esther Oughtenshaw a'm a good girl, an' all."
Blundell lifted her down and took her on his lap by the.
window which, in spite of the warmth of the afternoon,
was tightly closed.
"Cuckoo," he said in French, "I am going to take you
to see your new aunt ; she is very kind and is going to be
very good to you."
The child interrupted him. "What is she going to give
me?" she asked.
The solemn eagerness of her small face was very funny,
but even the irrepressible Blundell did not quite laugh.
"You must not think," he informed her, with ridicu-
lously keen appreciation of the similarity of his own view-
point and his daughter's, "you must not think that she is
going to give you something. Poor Auntie, she has no
little girl, you must be kind and good to her." His voice
faltered as he hid his face in her soft hair, which felt
like the fur of some small animal and smelt of rosemary.
"She is a dear old lady, you know" ("How furious she
would be!" he broke off to himself) "and you must not
say anything about her hair or or anything. It is rude
to speak of people's looks, you know."
"I know, Father."
He sighed with relief. "Of course you do, such a big
girl as you. I want to be proud of my little girl," he went
on, envisaging himself, in all his pathos, as the Wifeless
Man with His Child.
After a moment he added, "You are the only little girl
I have, you know," and the young Cuckoo Blundell, after
licking a button of her father's coat, looked up into his
face and returned with unblemished gravity:
"And you are the only father I have."
CONTRARY to his apprehensions, Blundell had the
satisfaction of beholding his babe play into his
hands regarding her latest aunt, in a way that
would have done her credit, or discredit, years later on
in her career. Silent as her almost Englishless condition
forced her to be except with Esther, with whom she chat-
tered by the hour, the Yorko-Frankish dialogue appar-
ently giving both of them satisfaction Cuckoo's habit
of planting herself in front of Lady Fabricius and gazing
at her in ardent contemplation, was, tactfully interpreted
by her father, a custom endearing rather than otherwise
to her august relation.
Lady Fabricius never told, and Cuckoo could not tell
to anyone but her father, of an awful event that took place
one morning at an hour when every one of the house-
hold was supposed to be safely out of the way, and the old
lady, in a loose dressing-gown, was rolling comfortably
towards the bath-room. Most of her hair was on her
dressing-table, and her face, as the French so expressively
put it, was not yet "made."
Just as she reached the bathroom-door, Cuckoo ap-
peared from downstairs, and Aunt Marcia, who had the
previous evening been put into an excellent state of mind
about the child by her fascinated gaze, now stooped to
"Good morning, my love," she said graciously, adding
in the French, when all is said and done, of most old
English ladies, "Bong jour" then, "Venney ici, give me
THE BAG OF SAFFRON
a kiss," and leaning down, she bent her large, flaccid,
and alas! early-morning face towards the little maid in
the blue overall.
"Donney-mwaw wn bay say," she added graciously.
Disaster followed. Cuckoo's odd, quick black eyes gazed
at her for one moment distended as if they were about
to crack, and then, with a really horrid shriek, the child
fled down the kitchen stairs as if the "dowl" were after
her. She was so terrified, poor little thing, that she did
something almost unknown in their short mutual career;
she fled to her father for comfort. In broken, baby French
she sobbed that a dreadful old man upstairs had wanted
to kiss her, and she knew it was le Pere Ga?'ou a local
bugbear dear to Anne Rose Ponchaux le Pere Garou,
who bit the fingers of bad children and sucked their blood
till they died.
"But you were not bad," her embarrassed parent told
her, afraid, in view of future revelations on her part, to
avow the truth. The child shook her head.
"Oh, voui," she declared in her peasant French, "elle
en est une elle est sale dosse, sale dosse," and she was
inconsolable until Esther Oughtenshaw came to the
rescue and carried her off to feed the chickens in the pad-
dock behind the kitchen garden. The fact that his child
had been called a "sale gosse" did not at all afflict Mr.
Blundell. Anne Rose, though rough, had been an excellent
nurse and a clean, decent body, and what she had called
his child was only what she would have called her own
if it had lived ; but it would be dreadful if Lady Fabricius
ever found out the interpretation put by the child she
was meant to befriend, on her unadorned matutinal ap-
pearance. However, the old lady never referred to the
matter again, and when, at lunch-time, she appeared with
a slight touch of brown in her make-up (a delicate tribute
to the strength of the Wiskedale sun), Cuckoo kissed
THE BAG OF SAFFRON
her obediently, without recognizing in her aunt the hor-
rible vieillard whom she had met outside the bathroom-
Lady Fabricius had come, she invariably expressed it,
all that way on purpose to see Robert Blundell, and after
about a week's rest which, to the invalid's huge joy, she
declared ought to work wonders for her complexion, she
announced at last that a family council must be held re-
garding the matter about which her advice had been
The council was held that afternoon under the elm-
tree, for the wind had changed and the west side of the
garden was too warm.
Lady Fabricius, with a demeanor that betrayed her
being thoroughly used to serving on committees, installed
herself with her back to the trunk of the tree, a table in
front of her. She had also seen to it that the chairs of the
others faced her across the table. Miss Effie and Miss
Flora had been sewing, but their sister bade them lay
aside their work to enable them to give their whole mind
to the matter in hand. They obeyed her in silence, and
then, when their hands were quietly folded in their laps,
and Blundell, whose cough was very troublesome that
day, had swallowed some soothing draught, Lady
"I was very sorry to hear three weeks ago that your
health was in such an unsatisfactory state, Robert. You
doubtless exaggerate the gravity of your condition
"Perhaps," he interrupted, quietly looking towards the
west where, under a heavy, hot, blue sky, Laverock lay
spread out as if basking in the heat, "but it is a nuisance
having a bit of your lung gone so that your heart is un-
"Robert I" It was Miss Flora who uttered the soft
THE BAG OF SAFFRON
ejaculation of horror; Miss Effie continued to stare at
her brown, bony hands.
"Sorry, Flora, but it is true. I am, in fact, rather
vain of being able to go on living with practically no lung
left at all. However, Marcia may be right, and it may
not matter. Go on, Marcia."
Lady Fabricius, her oily black eyebrows drawn down
over her eyes in displeasure at the interruption, went on.