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[Illustration: Cover art]






ZOE




BY THE AUTHOR OF

'LADDIE,' 'DON,' 'POMONA,' 'BELLE,' 'PHOEBE'S HERO,' 'MISS TOOSEY'S
MISSION,' 'TIP CAT,' ETC.



[Transcriber's note: The British Library Integrated Catalogue cites
Evelyn Whitaker as the author of this book.]




LONDON: 38 Soho Square. W.1

W. & R. CHAMBERS, LIMITED

EDINBURGH: 339 High Street


1890




[Transcriber's note: The source book had varying page headers. They
have been collected at the start of each chapter as an introductory
paragraph, and here as the Table of Contents.]


CONTENTS


CHAPTER I.

The Christening - An Outlandish Name - The Organist's
Mistake - Farm-work - Tom and Bill - The Baby - Baby and All


CHAPTER II.

Mr Robins - Village Choirs - Edith - An Elopement - A Father's Sorrow - An
Unhappy Pair - The Wanderer's Return - Father! - A Daughter's
Entreater - No Favourable Answer - A Sleepless Pillow


CHAPTER III.

Something on the Doorstep - Bill Gray - Is That a Cat? - She's Like
Mother - A Baby's Shoe - Jane Restless


CHAPTER IV.

Village Evidence - 'Gray' on the Brain - Too Well He Knew - Mr Robins and
the Baby - He Had Not Done Badly


CHAPTER V.

Jane Hard at Work - Clothes for the Baby - Jane Returns - Jane Singing
over her Work - Jane's Selfish Absorption - For a Poor Person's
Child - The Organist in Church


CHAPTER VI.

The Good Baby - Mr Robins Comes and Goes - A Secret Power - Mr Robins
Happy - A Naughty Tiresome Gal! - The Gypsy Child


CHAPTER VII.

Gray Taken to the Hospital - Bill and the Baby - Mrs Gray Home
Again - Edith, Come Home!


CHAPTER VIII.

Preparation - The Room Furnished - Mrs Gray at Work - The Baby Gone - The
Gypsy Mother - The Gypsy's Story - A Foolish Fancy - Something Has
Happened - The Real Baby




ZOE.

CHAPTER I.

The Christening - An Outlandish Name - The Organist's
Mistake - Farm-work - Tom and Bill - The Baby - Baby and All


'Hath this child been already baptised, or no?'

'No, she ain't; leastwise we don't know as how she 've been or no, so
we thought as we 'd best have her done.'

The clergyman who was taking Mr Clifford's duty at Downside for that
Sunday, thought that this might be the usual undecided way of answering
among the natives, and proceeded with the service. There were two
other babies also brought that afternoon, one of which was crying
lustily, so that it was not easy to hear what the sponsors answered;
and, moreover, the officiating clergyman was a young man, and the
prospect of holding that screaming, red-faced, little object made him
too nervous and anxious to get done with it to stop and make further
inquiries.

The woman who returned this undecided answer was an elderly woman, with
a kind, sunburnt, honest face, very much heated just now, and
embarrassed too; for the baby in her arms prevented her getting at her
pocket handkerchief to wipe the perspiration from her brow and pulling
her bonnet on to its proper position on her head. The man beside her
was also greatly embarrassed, and kept shuffling his large hob-nailed
shoes together, and turning his hat round and round in his fingers.

I think that really that hat was the chief cause of his discomfort, for
he was so accustomed to have it on his head that he could not feel
quite himself without it; and, indeed, his wife could hardly recognise
him, as she had been accustomed to see him wearing it indoors and out
during the twenty years of their married life; pushed back for meals or
smoking, but always on his head, except in bed, and even there, report
says, on cold winter nights, he had recourse to it to keep off the
draught from that cracked pane in the window. His face, like his
wife's, was weatherbeaten, and of the same broad, flat type as hers,
with small, surprised, dazzled-looking, pale blue eyes, and a tangle of
grizzled light hair under his chin. He was noticeable for the green
smock-frock he wore, a garment which is so rapidly disappearing before
the march of civilisation, and giving place to the ill-cut, ill-made
coat of shoddy cloth, which is fondly thought to resemble the squire's.

The christening party was completed by a hobbledehoy lad of about
sixteen, who tried to cover his invincible shyness by a grin, and to
keep his foolish eyes from the row of farm boys in the aisle, whose
critical glances he felt in every pore. He was so like both father and
mother, that there was no mistaking his parentage; but when Mrs Gray
took off the shepherd's-plaid shawl in which the baby was wrapped, such
a little dark head and swarthy face were exposed to view as might have
made intelligent spectators (if there were any in Downside church that
afternoon, which I doubt) reflect on the laws of heredity and reversion
to original types.

'Name this child!'

The clergyman had got successfully through his business with the
roaring George Augustus and the whimpering Alberta Florence, and had
now the little, quiet, brown-faced baby in his arms. Even a young and
unmarried man was fain to confess that it was an unusually pretty
little face that lay against his surplice, with a pointed chin, and
more eyebrows and lashes than most young babies possess, and with dark
eyes that looked up at him with a certain intelligence, recognisable
even to an unprejudiced observer.

'Name this child!'

Mrs Gray had taken advantage of this opportunity to mop her forehead
with her blue and white pocket handkerchief, and wrestle with her
bonnet's unconquerable tendency to slip off behind, and the clergyman
passed the question on to her husband, who fixed his eye on a
bluebottle buzzing in one of the windows, and jerked out what sounded
like 'Joe.'

'I thought it was a girl,' whispered the clergyman. 'Joe, did you say?'

'No, it ain't that 'zactly. Here, 'Liza, can't you tell the gentleman?
You knows best what it be.'

The next attempt sounded like 'Sue,' and the clergyman suggested Susan
as the name, but that would not do.

'Zola' seemed to him, though not a reader of French novels, unsuitable,
and 'Zero,' too, he could not quite appreciate.

'I can't make it out, an outlandish sorter name!' said Gray, with a
terrible inclination to put on his hat in the excitement of the moment,
only checked by a timely nudge from his wife's elbow; 'here, ain't you
got it wrote down somewheres? Can't you show it up?'

And after a lengthened rummage in a voluminous pocket, and the
production of several articles irrelevant to the occasion - a thimble, a
bit of ginger, and part of a tract - Mrs Gray brought to light a piece
of paper, on which was written the name 'Zoe.'

'Zoe, I baptise thee' - -

A sudden crash on the organ-pedals followed these words. Mr Robins,
the organist, had, perhaps, been asleep and let his foot slip on to the
pedals, or, perhaps, he had thought there was no wind in the instrument
and that he could put his foot down with impunity. He was plainly very
much ashamed of himself for what had happened, and it was only right
that he should be, for, of course, it made all the school children
giggle, and a good many of their elders too, who should have known
better.

The boy who blew the organ declared that he turned quite red and bent
his head over the keys as if he were examining something on them, and
he was evidently nervous and upset, for he made ever so many mistakes
in the concluding parts of the service, and, to the great surprise and
to the satisfaction of the blower, cut the voluntary at the end
unusually short, ending it in an abrupt and discordant way, which, I am
sorry to say, the blower described as 'a 'owl,' though any shock that
the boy's musical taste sustained was compensated for by the feeling
that he would be at home at least ten minutes earlier than usual to tea.

Now it so happened that Mr Robins was in the vestry when the
christening party came in to give the particulars about the babies to
be entered in the register. He had come to fetch a music-book, which,
however, it appeared after all had been left at home; but the clergyman
was glad of his help in making out the story of the little Zoe who had
just been baptised.

I have spoken before of intelligent observers noticing and drawing
arguments from the entire want of likeness between Zoe and her parents;
but all the observers on this occasion whether intelligent or not, with
the exception of the officiating clergyman, were quite aware that Zoe
was not the Grays' baby, but was a foundling child picked up one night
by Gray in his garden.

Of her antecedents nothing was known, and, of course, any sensible
people would have sent her to the workhouse - every one agreed on this
point and told the Grays so; and yet, I think, half the women who were
so positive and severe on Mrs Gray's folly would have done just the
same.

We do not half of us know how kind-hearted we are till we are tried, or
perhaps it is our foolishness that we do not realise.

Gray was only a labourer with twelve shillings a week and a couple of
pounds more at harvest; and, of course, in bad weather there was no
work and no wages, which is the rule among the agricultural labourers
about Downside, as in many other parts, so did not present itself as a
grievance to Gray's mind, though, to be sure, in winter or wet seasons
it was a hard matter to get along. But it was neighbours' fare, and
none of them felt hardly used, for Farmer Benson, what with bad seasons
and cattle plague, was not much better off than they were, and the men
knew it.

But out of these wages it was hardly to be expected of the most
provident of people that anything could be laid by for old age or a
rainy day; indeed, there seemed so many rainy days in the present that
it was not easy to give much thought to those in the future. Of course
too the local provident club had come to utter and hopeless grief. Is
there any country place where this has not been the case? Gray had
paid into it regularly for years and had gone every Whitmonday to its
dinner, his one voluntary holiday during the year, on which occasion he
took too much beer as a sort of solemn duty connected with his
membership. When it collapsed he was too old to join another club, and
so was left stranded. He bore it very philosophically; indeed, I think
it was only on Whitmonday that he felt it at all, as it seemed strange
and unnatural to go to bed quite sober on that day, as he did on all
other days of the year.

On all other occasions he was a thoroughly sober man, perhaps, however,
more from necessity than choice, as the beer supplied by Farmer Benson
in the hayfield was of a quality on which, as the men said, you got 'no
forrarder' if you drank a hogshead, and Gray had no money to spare from
the necessaries of life to spend on luxury, even the luxury of getting
drunk.

He was in one way better off than his neighbours from a worldly point
of view, in that he had not a large family as most of them were blessed
with; for children are a blessing, a gift and heritage that cometh of
the Lord, even when they cluster round a cold hearth and a scanty
board. But Gray had only two sons, the elder of whom, Tom, we have
seen at Zoe's christening, and who had been at work four years, having
managed at twelve to scramble into the fifth standard, and at once left
school triumphantly, and now can neither read nor write, having clean
forgotten everything drummed into his head, but earns three shillings
and sixpence a week going along with Farmer Benson's horses, from five
o'clock in the morning till six in the evening, the long wet furrows
and heavy ploughed land having made havoc of his legs, as such work
does with most plough-boys.

The younger boy, Bill, is six years younger and still at school, and
having been a delicate child, or as his mother puts it, 'enjoying bad
health,' is not promising for farm-work, and, being fond of his book
and a favourite at school, his mother cherishes hopes of his becoming a
school-teacher in days to come.

But such is the perversity of human nature, that though many a Downside
mother with a family of little steps envied Mrs Gray her compact family
and the small amount of washing attached to it, that ungrateful woman
yearned after an occupant for the old wooden cradle, and treasured up
the bits of baby things that had belonged to Tom and Bill, and nursed
up any young thing that came to hand and wanted care, bringing up a
motherless blind kitten with assiduous care and patience, as if the
supply of that commodity was not always largely in excess of the
demand, and lavishing more care on a sick lamb or a superfluous young
pig than most of the neighbours' babies received.

So when one evening in May, Gray came in holding a bundle in his arms
and poked it into her lap as she sat darning the holes in Tom's
stockings (she was not good at needlework, but she managed, as she
said, to 'goblify' the holes), he knew pretty well that it was into no
unwilling arms that he gave the baby.

'And a mercy it was as the darning-needle didn't run right into the
little angel,' Mrs Gray always said in recounting the story.

He had been down to the village to fetch some tobacco, for the Grays'
cottage was right away from the village, up a lane leading on to the
hillside, and there were no other cottages near. Tom was in bed,
though it was not eight yet - but he was generally ready for bed when he
had had his tea; and Bill was up on the hill, a favourite resort of
his, and especially when it was growing dark and the great indigo sky
spread over him, with the glory of the stars coming out.

'He never were like other lads,' his mother used to say with a mixture
of pride and irritation; 'always mooning about by himself on them old
hills.'

The cottage door stood open as it always did, and Mrs Gray sat there,
plainly to be seen from the lane, with Tom's gray stocking and her eyes
and the tallow candle as near together as possible. She did not hear a
sound, though she was listening for Bill's return, and, even though
Tom's snores penetrated the numerous crevices in the floor above, they
were hardly enough to drown other sounds.

So there was no knowing when the bundle was laid just inside the
cottage gate, not quite in the middle of the brick path, but on one
side against the box edging, where a clump of daffodils nodded their
graceful heads over the dark velvet polyanthus in the border. Gray
nearly stepped upon the bundle, having large feet, and the way of
walking which covers a good deal of ground to right and left, a way
which plough-driving teaches.

Mrs Gray heard an exclamation.

And then Gray came in, and, as I have said, did his best to impale the
bundle, baby and all, on the top of his wife's darning-needle.




CHAPTER II.

Mr Robins - Village Choirs - Edith - An Elopement - A Father's Sorrow - An
Unhappy Pair - The Wanderer's Return - Father! - A Daughter's
Entreater - No Favourable Answer - A Sleepless Pillow


The organist of Downside, Mr Robins, lived in a little house close to
the church.

Mr Clifford the vicar was accounted very lucky by the neighbouring
clergy for having such a man, and not being exposed to all the vagaries
of a young schoolmaster, or, perhaps, still worse, schoolmistress, with
all the latest musical fancies of the training colleges. Neither had
he to grapple with the tyranny of the leading bass nor the conceit and
touchiness that seems inseparable from the tenor voice, since Mr Robins
kept a firm and sensible hand on the reins, and drove that generally
unmanageable team, a village choir, with the greatest discretion.

But when Mr Clifford was complimented by his friends on the possession
of such a treasure, he accepted their remarks a little doubtfully,
being sometimes inclined to think that he would almost rather have had
a less excellent choir and have had some slight voice in the matter
himself.

Mr Robins imported a certain solemnity into the musical matters of
Downside, which of course was very desirable as far as the church
services were concerned; but when it came to penny-readings and village
concerts, Mr Clifford and some of the parishioners were disposed to
envy the pleasant ease of such festivities in other parishes, where,
though the music was very inferior, the enjoyment of both performers
and audience was far greater.

Mr Robins, for one thing, set his face steadily against comic songs;
and Mr Clifford in his inmost heart had an ungratified ambition to sing
a certain song, called 'The Three Little Pigs,' with which Mr Wilson in
the next parish simply brought down the house on several occasions;
though Mr Clifford felt he by no means did full justice to it,
especially in the part where the old mother 'waddled about, saying
"Umph! umph! umph!" while the little ones said "Wee! wee!"' To be sure
Mr Wilson suffered for months after these performances from outbursts
of grunting among his youthful parishioners at sight of him, and even
at the Sunday-school one audacious boy had given vent on one occasion
to an 'umph!' very true indeed to nature, but not conducive to good
behaviour in his class. But Mr Clifford did not know the after effects
of Mr Wilson's vocal success.

Likewise Mr Robins selected very simple music, and yet exacted an
amount of practising unheard of at Bilton or Stokeley, where, after one
or two attempts, they felt competent to face a crowded schoolroom, and
yell or growl out such choruses as 'The Heavens are telling' or 'The
Hallelujah Chorus,' with a lofty indifference to tune or time, and with
their respective schoolmasters banging away at the accompaniment,
within a bar or two of the singers, all feeling quite satisfied if they
finished up altogether on the concluding chord or thereabouts, flushed
and triumphant, with perspiration standing on their foreheads, and an
expression of honest pride on their faces, as much as to say, 'There's
for you. What do you think of that?'

If success is to be measured by applause, there is no doubt these
performances were most successful, far more so than the accurately
rendered 'Hardy Norseman' or 'Men of Harlech' at Downside, in which
lights and shades, _pianos_ and _fortes_ were carefully observed, and
any attempt on anyone's part, even the tenors, to distinguish
themselves above the others was instantly suppressed. The result, from
a musical point of view, was no doubt satisfactory; but the applause
was of a very moderate character, and never accompanied by those
vociferous 'angcores,' which are so truly gratifying to the soul of
musical artistes.

Mr Robins was a middle-aged man, looking older than he really was, as
his hair was quite white. He had some small independent means of his
own, which he supplemented by his small salary as organist, and by
giving a few music lessons in the neighbourhood. He had been in his
earlier years a vicar-choral at one of the cathedrals, and had come to
Downside twenty years ago, after the death of his wife, bringing with
him his little girl, in whom he was entirely wrapt up.

He spoilt her so persistently, and his housekeeper, Mrs Sands, was so
gentle and meek-spirited, that the effect on a naturally self-willed
child can easily be imagined; and, as she grew up, she became more and
more uncontrollable. She was a pretty, gypsy-looking girl, inheriting
her sweet looks from her mother, and her voice and musical taste from
her father. There was more than one young farmer in the neighbourhood
who cast admiring glances towards the corner of the church near the
organ, where the organist's pretty daughter sat, and slackened the pace
of his horse as he passed the clipped yew-hedge by the church, to catch
a glimpse of her in the bright little patch of garden, or to hear her
clear sweet voice singing over her work.

But people said Mr Robins thought no one good enough for her, and
though he himself had come of humble parentage, and in no way regarded
himself, nor expected to be regarded as a gentleman, it was generally
understood that no suitor except a gentleman would be acceptable for
Edith.

And so it took every one by surprise, and no one more so than her
father, when the girl took up with Martin Blake, the son of the
blacksmith in the next village, who might be seen most days with a
smutty face and leathern apron hammering away at the glowing red metal
on the anvil. It would have been well for him if he had only been seen
thus, with the marks of honest toil about him; but Martin Blake was too
often to be seen at the 'Crown,' and often in a state that anyone who
loved him would have grieved to see; and he was always to be found at
any race meetings and steeplechases and fairs in the neighbourhood,
and, report said, was by no means choice in his company.

To be sure he was good-looking and pleasant-mannered, and had a sort of
rollicking, light-hearted way with him, which was very attractive; but
still it seemed little short of infatuation on the part of Edith Robins
to take up with a man whose character was so well known, and who was in
every way her inferior in position and education.

No doubt Mr Robins was very injudicious in his treatment of her when he
found out what was going on, and as this was the first time in her life
that Edith's wishes had been crossed, it was not likely that she would
yield without a struggle. The mere fact of opposition seemed to deepen
what was at first merely an ordinary liking into an absorbing passion.
It was perfectly useless to reason with her; she disbelieved all the
stories to his discredit, which were abundant, and treated those who
repeated them as prejudiced and ill-natured.

It was in vain that Mr Robins by turns entreated and commanded her to
give him up, her father's distress or anger alike seemed indifferent to
her; and when he forbade Martin to come near the place, and kept her as
much as possible under his eye to prevent meetings between them, it
only roused in her a more obstinate determination to have her own way
in spite of him. She was missing one morning from the little bedroom
which Mrs Sands loved to keep as dainty and pretty as a lady's, and
from the garden where the roses and geraniums did such credit to her
care, and from her place in the little church where her prayer-book
still lay on the desk as she had left it the day before.

She had gone off with Martin Blake to London, without a word of sorrow
or farewell to the father who had been so foolishly fond of her, or to
the home where her happy petted childhood had passed. It nearly broke
her father's heart; it made an old man of him and turned his hair
white, and it seemed to freeze or petrify all his kindliness and human
sympathy.

He was a proud, reserved man, and could not bear the pity that every
one felt for him, or endure the well-meant but injudicious condolences,
mixed with 'I told you so,' and 'I 've thought for a long time,' which
the neighbours were so liberal with. Even Mr Clifford's attempts at
consolation he could hardly bring himself to listen to courteously, and
Jane Sands' tearful eyes and quivering voice irritated him beyond all
endurance. If there had been anyone to whom he could have talked
unrestrainedly and let out all the pent-up disappointment and wounded
love and tortured pride that surged and boiled within him, he might
have got through it better, or rather it might have raised him, as
rightly borne troubles do, above his poor, little, pitiful self, and
nearer to God; but this was just what he could not do.

He came nearest it sometimes in those long evenings of organ playing,
of the length of which poor little Jack Davis, the blower, so bitterly
complained, when the long sad notes wailed and sobbed through the
little church like the voice of a weary, sick soul making its
complaint. But even so he could not tell it all to God, though he had
been given that power of expression in music, which must make it easier
to those so gifted to cry unto the Lord.

But the music wailed itself into silence, and Jack in his corner by the
bellows waited terror-struck at the 'unked' sounds and the darkening
church, till he ventured at last to ask: 'Be I to blow, mister? I 'm
kinder skeered like.'

So the organist's trouble turned him bitter and hard, and changed his
love for his daughter into cold resentment; he would not have her name
mentioned in his presence, and he refused to open a letter she sent him
a few weeks after her marriage, and bid Jane Sands send it back if she
knew the address of the person who sent it.

On her side, Edith was quite as obstinate and resentful. She had no
idea of humbling herself and asking pardon. She thought she had quite


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