Blundell, as he watched her, knew that he would not
forget the picture that she made. From where he sat,
propped by his pillows, but still very low, his eldest sister-
in-law quite hid the trunk of the fine old elm under which
they sat, with the result that it seemed to spring from her
broad, gray silk shoulders.
" And I am sure Sir Adolph would agree with me,"
the old lady was saying as he arrived at this point in his
reflections. He nodded. "I am sure he would," he re-
turned in a voice of noble and disinterested conviction,
In his own mind, "Poor old devil, he simply has to
and if the tree grows out of her shoulders, its roots must
be oh, damn it I must stop or I shall laugh!" and
he turned his eyes to the sky, of which it struck him there
was unusually much in Wiskedale.
" My son Bertie, of course, is our heir. If my poor
daughter Vera had lived, she was to have had five thou-
sand a year for life, but then" the speaker, whose voice
had sunk to a level of melancholy in spite of the noble
sum mentioned, assumed a livelier air, as of a brave soul
overcoming her grief to do justice to minor matters,
"she did not; therefore Bertie, at our deaths, will have
it all, except," she added impressively, regarding her sis-
ters, "one or two small very small legacies that / shall
make. Sir Adolph will make no legacies. Sir Adolph
has no relatives."
THE BAG OF SAFFRON
Blundell, bored nearly to tears, fixed his eyes on a
narrow ribbon of road up Laverock. Once he had walked
there, yes, by Jove ! and he had kissed a pretty girl at a
farm half-way up ! A wave of self-pity nearly submerged
him for a moment.
" And as Sir Adolph said to me, there is no reason
why he should provide for your child, Robert."
"Don't bother about my half of her," Robert said,
sitting up with a jerk, and breaking into a fit of coughing,
"let my half starve so long as you save May's
Lady Fabricius regarded him with disfavor. "That,"
she said shortly, "is a remark I consider in very bad taste,
Robert. I have come all this way to settle things with
you, and I expect to be treated with respect."
Miss Flora rose, and pouring out a glass of water, gave
it to her brother-in-law, who was now fighting for his
"Robert didn't mean any disrespect, dear Marcia, did
"No, no," he gasped, "of course no?. It is only ah
well, go on, Marcia."
Miss Erne regarded him stonily while Miss Flora shook
up his pillows, laid him back on them, and put some
lavender-water on his handkerchief; and such was the
nature of the poor wretch that it even then hurt his vanity
to feel that Effie liked him no better than she had done
years ago, when she had so bitterly resented his marrying
her youngest sister.
"I will go on," Lady Fabricius continued, "if you will
allow me to do so. I was saying that I am willing to help
poor May's daughter poor May."
Her abominable old mask of a face quivered for a
moment and her eyes, once large and bright, now so lustre-
less and fat-embedded, gleamed with the scant tears of
THE BAG OF SAFFRON
old age. "She did not marry you with her eyes shut,
but nevertheless I always pitied her."
"You never were a good man, Robert." He gave a
little peculiar laugh, his pointed shoulders hunched for-
ward in an attempt at a shrug, and she continued "I
never saw how "
"Oh, I remember your cleverness in finding out all my
sins and telling them to May. I doubt your wisdom
in doing so no doubt you meant well and you never
reflected that I might not have been altogether to
The old lady looked at him doubtfully. "Why were
you not to blame?"
A glimmer of amusement came to his eyes.
"Of course we are discussing one particular fault of
mine? Well, you remember what Shakespeare said about
men like me? I forget the exact text, but it was some-
thing about 'his multitudinous heart incarnadine',"
Miss Effie shook her head. "You are wrong, Robert;
that is what he said about the sea."
"What," Miss Flora asked gently, "has Shakespeare,
great though he was, to do with Cuckoo?"
They got on better after that, and with much almost
unbearable assumption of generosity on Lady Fabricius'
part and a certain amount of only half-concealed anger
on Blundell's, matters were settled and the council came
to an end.
The two Misses Plues were to bring up and educate the
young Cuckoo Blundell in consideration of a hundred
pounds a year paid to them by Lady Fabricius. Further-
more, when the child was eighteen or nineteen she was,
if she proved satisfactory, to be brought out in London
society by Lady Fabricius, with a view to finding a
husband, and when she was twenty-one the sum of two
THE BAG OF SAFFRON
hundred pounds a year was to be settled on her for life,
irrespective of her marrying or not marrying. One of
the father's stipulations was an odd one. Barring condi-
tions of health which might make such a step imperative,
Cuckoo was not to leave the dale; she was to be brought
up entirely at Roseroofs.
"I want to wear out if I if you can," he declared,
"the roving drop which is in her blood. It has been the
ruin of me, and I fear she will have it. Restlessness, not
money, is the root of all evil."
Lady Fabricius agreed with the sentiment and said so.
"You are wiser than I thought, Robert," she returned.
"You were a bad husband, but if you were spared, you
might perhaps, after all, be a good father."
He laughed as he rose. "I am tired and will go and
lie down if you will excuse me. I am very grateful to
you, Marcia. I am very grateful to you all," he added
impressively. "As to my badness as a husband, perhaps
if you had seen my wife at the end of her life she would
have disagreed with you on that point more than you
now think possible."
He stood on the edge of the pool of shade in which
the three women sat, and in the bright sunshine his skull-
like face looked, with its black hollows and lines, like a
fire-gutted house. There was a short pause, during which
each of the sisters silently told herself that he was dying.
Lady Fabricius went home a few days later, leaving
little hope that she would come again before seven more
years passed. The journey to London had few horrors
for her, but the coming all the way to Wiskedale would,
she indicated, hardly bear contemplation. Out of the
confused chatter that composed what she believed to be
her really delightful conversation, had shone one glimmer
of reason. "The child," she said, as she made her adieux
THE BAG OF SAFFRON
to the child's father, expressing the hope that, in spite of
his exaggerated despondency, he soon might be better,
"the child had better be told nothing about the money
or that she is ever to come to London. It might unsettle
And after her departure-, the two ladies and Blundell
decided to accept this pearl of prudence at its real value,
disregarding, as Blundell for his part minutely expressed
it, its preposterous source. Cuckoo should not be told.
Having done his best for his poor little daughter in
thus securing her a home and a fixed competence, Blun-
dell's strange, shifting mind was at rest. That may have
been one reason why he seemed to grow better as July
The days were quiet days, full of sunshine. Blundell
amused himself by reading, by his periodical battles with
old Brigworthy, and his unfeigned interest in the country-
side news. His memory for names was very remarkable,
and as the bits of gossip and items of interest he
stowed away in his brain were never forgotten, he often
surprised the sisters by the really intimate knowledge
he showed of the history of the neighbouring villages and
farmers. "He didn't marry a Brigworthy," he would
say, "he married a Christie; the other sister married a
Cavage from Bellanside," or, "Watlass' girl from the mill
is going to marry young Skelton, I tell you ; old Skelton's
boy whose mother was a Raw," and he was always right.
Much of this lore he gathered from Benjie, who was an
incorrigible gossip of the worst male type, and a real dyed-
in-the-wool male gossip is, as most intelligent people know,
far more virulent a specimen than any mere female.
He liked Benjie Brigworthy, who looked older than
anyone nowadays could possibly be, and who, though he
could make himself perfectly clear if he chose, spoke on
THE BAG OF SAFFRON
occasion what was Choctaw to Blundell; and presently
it transpired that the old rascal was sedulously imparting
some of his most incomprehensible words to Cuckoo. The
child for some reason or other was enraptured with the
bandy-legged, cross-grained old fellow, whose long work-
ing in the earth seemed in a way to have caused the earth
to take him to herself before his time. He looked, in his
ancient brown clothes and his always muddy, leathern
gaiters, as if he lived, like potatoes, under the ground,
though unlike potatoes, he spent most of his time on the
There was a legend that once, when Benjie was a young
thing of forty, the doctor, rash and ill-advised, had, in
some minor illness, ordered him a bath. At Benjie's
protest the doctor, young and full of the foolishness that
comes out of cities, insisted, whereupon Benjie, bowing
to the inevitable, took the bath in his kitchen, by the
fire, in a wash-tub and proved the doctor's folly and his
own wisdom by nearly dying of "pewmonia." Three
nights did the wretched doctor sit by him and had Benjie
died he must have left the dale, but in Benjie's feverish
eyes the doctor always declared he read triumph and
pleasure, even in the midst of undoubtedly great suffer-
ing; he finally made up his mind to relent and live, and
the young man from Leeds, now old Dr. Dawes, was
nearly as thoroughly associated with the dale as Benjie
Mondays and Fridays were Benjie's days at Rose-
roofs, and these days Miss Blundell set aside for complete
devotion to the object of her admiration. It was never
noticeable to her father that Benjie showed any par-
tiality to the child; the boot was entirely on the other
leg, and Cuckoo showered favors on the old man. She
gave him gooseberry turnovers to which she had herself
no legal right; she gave him a long piece of blue satin
THE BAG OF SAFFRON
ribbon. With fervor she would kiss his earthy hands,
and she would sit literally for hours at a time on an
upturned flower-pot, watching him as he dawdled about
at his work.
"It is a pity, Robert," Miss Effie said once, "that
Cuckoo insists on being so much with Benjie Brigworthy.
He is an up-dale man and his language is quite un-
"She seems to like it."
"That makes it worse." Miss Effie's mouth set tightly,
as she spread a tea-cake. "She is beginning to pretend
to have forgotten French. She called the ivy on the wall
'hvvan,' this morning, and when I told her 'ivy' or 'lierre,'
which is the French, she flatly refused to use either
Blundell laughed. "She will stop when she has had
enough," he said. "Why she likes Benjie, the Lord only
knows. I don't like having him come 'twixt the wind and
my nobility, but apparently she enjoys his savor. She's
an odd imp."
There was a pause, during which Benjie was heard
to make a long and quite incomprehensible remark, to
which the child replied, obviously understanding it all,
with a singsong "Aye, Benjie."
Blundell burst out laughing at Miss Effie's frown of
disgust, but later, when he was alone with Miss Flora,
he reverted to the subject.
"I say, Flora," he began as she threaded her needle
with silk and took up her work.
"Do you mind Cuckoo's talking like old Ben?"
"Oh, yes, indeed I do. It is a very ugly dialect, anii
not at all fitted for a little lady-girl."
"I see. Well, look here, if you really care about it
and want her to stop, you must bribe her. I dare not
THE BAG OF SAFFRON
tell Effie, but that is the truth; if you want her to stop,
you must bribe her."
Miss Flora's horror-filled eyes half amused, half
"Yes, my dear, say you will give her something if she
will learn proper English."
"But that is a very bad precedent to establish,
Robert," spoke the ex-governess in Miss Flora.
"I know, but you will find it is the only way. It
always was she is not an ordinary child, Flora, and not
an easy one to manage."
"Then so much more must we strive,"
"Strive as much as you like, but when she has set
her mind on anything as it is set on speaking like Benjie,
you will find the only way to detach her is to give her
something she likes even more than the thing itself."
"It's dreadful, Robert."
"Possibly, but it is true. Shall we prove it?" Miss
Flora gazed at him in visible distress, but said nothing.
"Cuckoo," he called in French, "come here a minute."
Then he added, "Have you that smelling thing, that
carbolic ball in the tartan box with you?"
Miss Flora produced the little oblong box in shining
Stuart plaid. It opened by a spring, and a little sponge,
dark with age and strongly impregnated with carbolic,
bobbed out at the end of a short cord. When Cuckoo
appeared, dragging a spade over the flagstones with a
hard, grating noise, her eyes at once fell on it and glowed
with the lust of possession.
"Donne" she said, holding out an earthy paw.
"Non, non," her father intervened, continuing in
Miss Flora could not follow what he said, but at the
end of it, the child turned on her and demanded fiercely
in Benjie's best accent, "Is yon a lee?"
THE BAG OF SAFFRON
"Your papa does not tell lies," poor Miss Flora ex-
claimed, blushing afterwards at the "lee" she herself
had told, "of course it is true. What was it, Robert?"
He laughed. "Poor Flora! I told her that if she
would learn to speak English nicely and not use old Ben-
jie's language she did not even know it was supposed
to be English you would give her the carbolic ball."
"C*est v'aiy c'est v'ai, ma tante?" the child urged, her
eyes glued to the box.
Miss Flora nodded solemnly.
Cuckoo took the little box, pressed the spring, and
watched the bounce of the ball with a look of concentra-
tion unusual in one so young. Then, her eyes fixed on
Miss Flora, she raised the sponge to her nose and sniffed
it with ecstasy.
"Oo-ah!" she cried, crumpling her face and expelling
her breath in an audible sigh of rapture, "c'est bon."
The promise was then extracted from her to avoid
Benjie for a few days and try to learn proper English
from her aunts, to the end that she might come into pos-
session of the supreme treasure, as soon as it was seen
that she was really learning.
Miss Flora, the child's hand in hers, explained the
situation to the gardener, who spat on his palms, thereby
producing small bogs in them, and listened grimly.
"You know, Benjie," Miss Flora wound up, "you can
speak very nicely." His old face did not change; flat-
tery was without effect on Benjie Brigworthy and he
happened for no specific reason to dislike Miss Flora,
whom, one is regretful to state, he privately called what
is equivalent to an "old fool." "She is very little as
you know, Benjie," pursued Miss Flora, "and she must
learn English and I am sure you will help her by speaking
good English with her."
"Aw will not," the old man very unexpectedly re-
THE BAG OF SAFFRON
turned. "If she cooms, aw'll soon scare her away, making
faces at her," and by way of proving the possibility of
frightening the renegade in whose coat, so to speak, he
had not failed to see the metaphorical ribbon, he made
such a hideous grimace that Cuckoo gave a wild yell
and fled like a flash into the house.
Miss Flora stood indignant, too nonplussed to say more
to the villain of the piece, and went back to her chair,
where she found Blundell convulsed with laughter.
"I never knew him," she declared, "to do such a thing
before. And in my presence!" she exclaimed.
Meantime Cuckoo, in the kitchen, was partaking of an
illicit and solitary meal of stewed gooseberries, bread
and butter, and cream, the carbolic ball on the table
beside her. This heavy bribe was removed from her
by her Aunt Flora a little later and put on the mantel-
piece in the drawing-room, where it could be seen but
not reached by its admirer; and from that hour Cuckoo
Blundell began to learn English.
It was the old vicar, Dr. Loxley, who subsequently
discovered the source of the child's love for the old gar-
"I understand," the old gentleman said, as they all
sat at tea the day after his return from one of his book-
hunting expeditions to Edinburgh, "that the nurse who
took care of her was a peasant."
"Yes, she came from Vaubin, near Orange ; an excellent
"I see. Then, my idear Mr. Blundell, it is clear that
the child has in her intercourse with Benjie Brigworthy
the equivalent of the nurse's language to which she was
accustomed in France."
"But surely, dear Dr. Loxley," Miss Flora put in flut-
teringly, "Benjie does not speak in the least like a French
THE BAG OP SAFFRON
"No, Flora, no; oh, no, no! No, not at all; but the
French woman spoke a homely dialect that no doubt
smacked of the earth, and you cannot deny that Benjie's
jargon also smacks of the earth,"
"Benjie smacks of several things besides the earth," put
in Blundell lazily.
The vicar laughed. "Quite so, and even that might
be a comfort to a homesick child used to living among
peasants. It seems to me quite clear that the very rough-
ness and simplicity of Benjie's ugly dialect has been more
homelike to the little girl than, let us say, Miss Effie's
Miss Erne's dark face took on an uncomfortable brick-
red as she bent over her knitting at this allusion to her
linguistic gift. Her belief in her French was one of the
dearest possessions of the lonely, oldening woman; an
illusion of her lost youth. She had been told in the old
days by the Binghams that her then newly-achieved
French was excellent as indeed it was compared with that
of the Binghams and she had believed it then and she
believed it still.
It gratified her to have this accomplishment praised
by Dr. Loxley, and as the talk went on, Miss Effie's mind
went back as it often did to the three years she had spent
in Angouleme, where she was La Meess to the children
of a rich wine merchant. How polite they had all been!
Adele, the little Blaise, with his soft cropped hair
like a mole's, and Anastasie, only three years old when La
Meess arrived. How kind they had all been to her, with
their supreme offering of carefully-boiled tea, and their
unsuccessfully-veiled relief at the smallness and unob-
trusiveness of her teeth !
That rainy afternoon while the Vicar held forth, his
tea-cup pushed back so as to make more room on the
table for his fat, dimpled, white hands, Miss Effie was
THE BAG OF SAFFRON
back in Angouleme. How well she remembered it all!
How clearly she could see the streets, how distinctly she
could hear the voices of the children who were now mid-
dle-aged men and women ! She recalled one day that, as
less acute memories dimmed with time as dims an old
mirror, had for some reason, though not itself an impor-
tant day, kept all the keen edges of its first impression.
It had been a hot, drowsy August day and the streets
of the little city were as deserted, as somnolent, as only
the streets of southern cities can be. In the Rue St.
Gerome Miss Effie, then a quickly moving Miss Effie with
a voluminous green-and-white frock and a soup-plate hat,
apparently glued to her head so miraculous was its angle,
sat in the cool courtyard of her wine merchant's house,
talking to the concierge, Mere Michel her to whom
Blaise and Anastasie to the Meess's bewilderment invari-
ably referred as having lost her cat. Mere Michel with
her dark, wrinkled face and her thready old throat was,
had La Meess but known it, a kind of awful foreshadow-
ing of what she herself, then so self-confident in the
strength of her twenties, was one (lay to become. As
Mere Michel was that day in the sixties, to-day at the
end of the eighties was La Meess. But La Meess had
not known as she sat in the shade, while Mere Michel in
her rush-bottomed chair knitted in the flashing, clicking
way of French women. She whose day was just begin-
ning looked pityingly at her whose day was done.
"II est ires beau," La Meess declared, pressing her
engraved gold bracelet over the scalloped edge of one
of her short, green gloves, a Parisian gift from Madam
Duroy, "je vais prendre une promenade"
Mere Michel regarded her for a moment and then
dropped her bead-like old eyes on her knitting.
"Meess fait du progres" she declared, untruthfully
but with benevolent intention. So la Meess, very pleased,
THE BAG OF SAFFRON
went to "prendre her promenade." How hot it was!
The heat was indeed a delicately visible thing, hovering
in filmy mists over the baking cobble-stones; all the win-
dows were closed and striped awnings were lowered over
the shop fronts. Miss Effie loved the great heat, although
M. Duroy himself had condescended to warn her that it
was an act of the foolish folly to venture out in the
middle of the day. The ladies of France, he assured her,
in answer to her funny little Anglo-Frank protest,
allowed themeselves at that time two hours' retirement
"C'est I'heure croquer les bonbons" the good man
La Meess failed to see why the middle hours of the day
should be wholly dedicated to bonbons, but she said, as
in those days she always did say in return for remarks
she did not quite understand, "Out, oui, je vois" and went
On that particular day, a day that out of so many for-
gotten ones had remained in her memory, so clear, so
unblurred, she had gone to the PlUce to change her book
at the Library and rested a few minutes in the warm old
shop that smelt of books and cheese, for the reason that
its neighbor on one side was a cheesemonger's. Then she
went to the Horloger's for Madam Duroy's watch, which
had undergone a minor operation there, and after post-
ing her home letter La Meess stopped at Chaquard's, and
sitting at a little marble table under the striped awning,
partook of a pineapple-ice. This was her passion, pine-
apple-ices served as only Chaquard served them, in little
colored glass cups.
Miss Effie was the only customer at that unusual time
of day and sat very stiff, very shy in the wilderness of
little green iron chairs and marble-topped tables, wishing
the two sleepy-looking waiters would not stare so.
Poor Antoine, poor Hegesippe ! Of course they stared,
drowsy and warm as they were, at the singular Miss who
partook of ices at such an unheard-of hour.
That was in Miss EffiVs first summer at Angouleme.
She stayed on for three years and she learned French in a
way, for she set herself to learn it and her diligence was,
of course, rewarded. (The invariability of its reward is
indeed the only excuse for diligence, a very lazy man
once said to her, a remark of which she quite properly
And during her three years in the pleasant, character-
istic old city, some delightful, a few painful, and one very
wonderful thing happened to her; this last actually a
proposal of marriage from Mr. Duroy's partner. But
when, as now, she could sit, her silence covered by the
chatter of other people, and undisturbed and unobserved
go back across the plain of her uneventful years, it was
that August day when she had eaten a pineapple-ice all
alone among the tables at Chaquard's, which seemed to
incorporate her experience in France.
Sometimes it had rained in Angouleme, and then all
the windows were shut and no one went out. A noisy
summer rain was pelting against the window of the dining-
room as Miss Effie reached this point of her little excur-
sion into the past, and through the west window near
which she sat, came the sound of the great ash tossing
its boughs in the wind.
"So he is coming home to-morrow." The Vicar was
filling his pipe as La Meess melted away and Miss Effie
"Who is coming, Vicar?" she asked with great brisk-
ness ; "the tree is so noisy, I did not quite hear."
"George." The old man smiled at her as he struck a
match. "Of course he ought to have stayed on till the
THE BAG OF SAFFRON
first, but after all, one can get measles twice,"
"Of course one can." Miss Effie rose, putting her
knitting into her work-bag. "Well, I'm glad he is com-
ing; I like George and I do not believe he is any too
strong. Why you sent him south I never could see, you
know, Vicar, when there were such good schools at home.