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Fifty pounds for a wife online

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Hrrowsmftb's 3/6 Series



Chap. Page






























21 Singular Bargain.

(IRDIE, Birdie! where is the little brat? Here,
child, are you deaf ? The boss wants you on the

The r speaker, a much be-touzled be-rouged
young woman, dressed in shabby finery, stood on
the lowest steps of a caravan, sending her sharp eyes and
sharper voice into its dim recesses.

A splendid sunset glow was lighting the sky, flaming in
the muddy pools of the fairfield, glancing like fire from the
windows of the neighbouring town, and lingering in a path-
way of golden glory over the quiet waters of the distant sea.
It was already twilight in the caravan, and dazzled by the
outside radiance, the young woman failed to discover the
occupation of the little figure kneeling on the floor beside an
open chest. At the sound of her voice the child started,
closed the chest, and wiping her eyes, rose hastily to her feet.
As she heard the message, however, she paused, hesitated for
a moment, and stooping, again lifted the lid of the chest,
stroking with a caressing touch of her tiny fingers a thin worn
shawl and woman's bonnet which lay at the top, and diving
into a corner, brought out a little book which she pressed to
her lips and thrust into the bosom of her frock. Then, again
closing the chest, she moved to the entrance of the caravan.

Fifty Pounds for a Wife.

" Look sharp ! what are you fiddling over in there ? Why,
dang it, the child looks scared to death. Don't tell me you
have seen a ghost in broad daylight." And the woman gazed,
half mockingly, half curiously, at the child's form standing
above her in the open doorway.

It was strangely white in the sunset glory, that pinched,
sad little face looking paler still in contrast to the dusky
masses of soft dark hair shading the temples, and the wistful
brown eyes all too large for the sunken cheeks. There was
no sparkle of childish fun, no ripple of joy or brightness ; only
a weary, hopeless expression, sad to see in the face of a man
or woman, but infinitely pathetic in the face of a child of nine
years old. Yet there was something more than sadness in it
this evening something that struck the not very observant
eyes of the actress, as she stood, in her tawdry finery, at the
foot of the ladder looking up at the little figure, in its rusty
black frock,' bathed in the golden light. The brown eyes
were gleaming with positive terror, even the lips were colour-
less, and the whole frame was trembling so that the tiny fingers
were put out to grasp the doorway for support.

"Are you mum, Birdie?" she demanded impatiently.
" Speak up, child, what ails you ? "

" Nothing ails me," said the child gently. " Please, Miss
Violet, may I pass ? I must go to father at once."

" Humph, always the way, never knew such a little
shut-up chit. Yes, you had better be off; the boss is in
a precious wax bullied us brutally at rehearsal ; you had
better mind what you are after, or you'll catch it, I can tell

With a toss of her head the young woman turned away,
leaving the child to descend the ladder, and move, with the
quick light steps which had gained her in the company the
nick-name she bore, over the trampled, miry ground to the
booth-theatre which was now sharing the Aylsmouth fairfield

Fifty Pounds for a Wife.

with a steam-worked merry-go-round and a troupe of per-
forming dogs. Entering by a door at the back, the little girl
groped her way to the small stage, lighted only by a flickering
oil-lamp, apparently struggling for life in the vitiated atmo-
sphere. There had been performances all the afternoon, and
the company had just departed after prolonged rehearsal of a
new piece, to be added to their scanty repertoire. No fresh air
had yet penetrated into the low ill-ventilated erection, and
the closeness was only diversified by a strong odour of tobacco
and gin. The auditorium looked grey and dismal in the
twilight, with its ranks of empty chairs ; and, at a first glance,
the whole place seemed deserted. A second, however, revealed,
seated at a small table in the wings, a man with a pipe in his
mouth and a bottle and glass at his elbow. The light from
the lamp fell on a dark, scowling face, heavy knitted brows,
and yellow prominent teeth, over which the thin lips failing
to meet, gave a wolfish expression to an otherwise unprepos-
sessing countenance. Being closely shaved, the hard lines
about the mouth, the length of the upper-lip, and the square,
obstinate chin were fully displayed to view ; and the broad
powerful figure, not tall but unusually muscular, gave Mr.
Flowers something the air of a pugilist, and armed him with
an authority, not altogether needless, over the wild spirits of
his company, recruited from the very scum and dregs of the
theatrical profession.

He must have heard the child's light steps come down the
stage, but he remained motionless, gazing abstractedly at the
roof, tilted back on his chair, his arms folded and his legs
crossed before him. She stood in the centre of the stage
silently awaiting his pleasure, her eyes fixed upon him with
the helpless terror of a fascinated bird regarding a snake ; a
quaint pitiful little figure, her innate air of refinement, in
spite of her shabby clothes, contrasting oddly with her sordid
surroundings. At length Mr. Flowers condescended to lower

Fifty Pounds for a Wife.

his gaze, and knocking the ashes out of his pipe, uncrossed
his legs and rose with an air that evidently meant business.

" Now," he said, " I will hear you your lines, though I
should like to know what the blazes you meant by not learning
them before. You need not think to play off your dashed
laziness on me. I had enough with your mother, and I am
not going to stand it from you. You will have no sup-
per to-night for your pains. Begin ! " With the playbook
in his hand, he moved under the lamp, and turned over
the leaves to find the part for which the child was cast.
" I should like to see her do it." " That 's your cue, now

A quiver passed over the child's face ; she clasped her
hands and trembled from head to foot.

" Father " she murmured timidly, when Flowers cut

her short.

"Is the girl crazy?" he said with an oath. " You don't
dare to tell me you have not learned your part now ? "

" It is not that," she burst out desperately. " I have
learned it, but I cannot play it unless it is altered. I promised
mother before she died you heard me, father that I would
never use bad language, and my part is swearing from begin-
ning to end."

Flowers looked at her in amazement. He had only once
before known his daughter venture to dispute his wishes, and
that was when she had implored him, on her knees, to send
for a doctor for his dying wife.

" When your mother was alive, did she ever set herself
up against me ? " he demanded, with a threatening scowl.
41 No. Then you may take your oath she won't do it
now she is dead. If I choose you to swear, you shall
swear, or I will know the reason why. Begin this
moment ! "

There was silence, broken only by the distant sound of

Fifty Pounds for a Wife.

voices and laughter from the merry-go-round, and the strains
of the "Sweetheart" waltz to which it turned unceasingly :

" Oh ! love for a year, a week, a day,
But alas for the love which loves alway."

The child's heart was beating almost to suffocation with
dread and terror, but she neither moved nor spoke. She was
resolved to die sooner than break the promise made to her
dead mother a promise rendered doubly sacred by the love
she bore her ; yet she would rather have thrown herself under
an express train than thus have faced her father and refused
to obey his will.

He took a step forward, fixing his dark, scowling eyes
upon her face.

"Did you hear me, Winifred?" he said in an ominous
tone. " I shall not speak to you again, begin !"

Still there was silence in the darkened theatre. The
''Sweetheart" waltz ground on outside, and the children's
laughter floated on the evening air. Flowers waited ; he
was so accustomed to inspiring fear and submission, it seemed
to him incredible that the child should dare to disobey him
a little slip of a thing that he could knock down with one of
his fingers. He positively could not believe it, and thought
her too frightened to speak, until through the terror he read
the quiet steadfastness of her face which set him and his com-
mands at nought.

With a furious oath he turned on his heel and hurried from
the theatre, leaving the child, sick and faint with dread, cling-
ing for support to the woodwork of the wings. She believed
that he would kill her for her disobedience, and it seemed an
eternity as she waited for his return, while the " Sweetheart "
waltz continued, and the voices of those happy, careless
children were borne to her ears upon the evening breeze.
Life was so bright to them, out under the golden sunset ; while

io Fifty Pounds for a Wife.

to her alone in the dreary theatre, her only hope was to die
and join her mother the mother for whose love and loss
Winifred had been crying her heart out these three long bitter
months. Where was her mother now ? Would she be watch-
ing for her child ? Did she know what her promise was
costing her ; suppose they missed each other in the wide
pathless heavens ? And then from the dreamy reverie into
which she was drifting, Winifred woke with a throb of mental
agony to the dread consciousness of the present. Death was
not terrible to her, for she had seen her mother die ; but from
what she must be called upon to suffer before death came to
her release, every fibre of the child's sensitive nature recoiled
with shuddering horror and dismay. She was too well ac-
quainted with her father's fierce tyrannical nature to look for
any mercy at his hands.

" Oh, mother help me ! " she cried in a very abandonment
of misery, pressing her hands over the little book in her
bosom as if some mystic comfort could be derived from the
touch. Then she drew in her breath with a quick sobbing
gasp, and her little fingers locked together as in a vice, for
she heard the sound of heavy returning footsteps, and knew
that the moment of retribution had come.

Looking more like a demon than a man, Flowers advanced
out of the gloom of the background, a red gleam in his eyes,
his black brows knitted in a savage scowl, and his lips drawn
back until the yellow teeth seemed to grin in ghastly mockery.
In his hand he carried a heavy riding- whip with a long supple

Without a word, he caught Winifred by her hair and drew
her unresistingly to the centre of the stage.

" Now," he exclaimed with an oath, " I '11 teach you to
disobey your father, you impudent little hussy ! "

Raising his arm, the lash hissed through the air, and fell
with cruel force upon the child's shoulders. ' ,he winced

Fifty Pounds for a Wife. li

painfully under the blow, and drew in her breath with a little
shuddering sob, but she uttered no cry nor appeal for mercy.
Experience had taught her the uselessness of the latter ; and
long ago she had schooled herself to endure her father's
punishments in silence, that the sound of her cries might not
add to her mother's distress. There was no mother now to
suffer with her pain, and weep hot tears of helpless pity over,
her child ; but habit was strong, and Winifred's nature had a
touch of pride which made her instinctively try to hide her

Again and again the lash descended, and the tears, which
she could not keep back, streamed silently down the child's
cheeks. Flowers was furious with his daughter's disobedience,
and determined to read her a lesson which she should not
soon forget ; but at length he paused, and sweeping back the
hair from her brow, bent to look into the little face drawn and
flushed with pain.

" Have you had enough ? " he demanded with a sneer.
" I have paid you out for your cheek. Now you can begin
your lines ; and if you miss one single word, so much the worse
for you."

" I can't, I can't," she murmured in a trembling voice ;
"only let me off the swearing, father, and I will learn any-
thing you like."

Flowers was astounded, he could hardly believe his ears.
This unexpected contumacy took him completely by surprise ;
the child must be mad to defy him after the punishment she
had received.

''So you have not had enough !" he exclaimed with an
angry snarl that made him look more like a wolf than ever.
"We will see which tires first, my girl, you or I. You con-
founded little fool, do you think you are going to get the better
of me ? "

He raised the whip again, and a rain of blows fell on the

12 Fifty Pounds for a Wife.

helpless child. He was too angry to consider the difference
between her frail little form, and the hulking stable-boys for
whom that whip was usually reserved ; and when he paused
at last, Winifred was deathly pale and shivering, and only
kept from falling by his grasp on her arm.

" Will you obey me ? " he demanded through his clenched

Her strength was failing, and the torture of the lash was
almost more than she could bear ; but she thought of her
mother, and summoned all her resolution to reply :

" I can't break my promise."

"Then I'll kill you;" and, beside himself with rage,
Flowers would most probably have proceeded to carry his
threat into execution, when an unexpected interruption

Several moments previously the call-boy had opened the
stage-door and advanced a few steps into the building before,
discovering what was going on, he beat a very prompt

" Reckon you must wait a bit, sir," he said with a grin to
someone outside. " Flowers is a leathering the gal, and I
dursn't interrupt him for my life ! "

" What ?" said the person addressed, with an astonished
air ; and, without waiting for an answer, he pushed open
the door, and unceremoniously groped his way on to the

W He came in sight of the two occupants just as Flowers,
having delivered a particularly vicious blow, paused to put
the question to his daughter. The intruder stopped, listened
to the child's reply and the threat which followed it ; then, as
Flowers again raised the whip, he sprang forward and caught
him by the arm.

" You brute ! strike her again if you dare ! "

Flowers dropped his hand in amazement. Before him stood

Fifty Pounds for a Wife. 13

a stranger a tall, fair-haired young fellow of one or two and
twenty, regarding the manager with a perfect blaze of indig-
nation in his bright grey eyes. Rapping out an oath, the first
articulate exclamation which rose to his lips, Flowers was
about to furiously demand the other's business, when the
stranger stooped, coolly threw off the grasp which Flowers
still retained on Winifred's shoulder, and put his arm tenderly
round the child.

" Poor little thing ! he has half killed you as it is. I wish
to heaven I had got in before. Don't tremble so, little one ;
he shall not touch you again."

" Who the devil are you ? " demanded Flowers furiously.

" My name is Gerald Daubeny, and I came here to buy
tickets for this evening's performance. Who does this child
belong to ? "

" To me," snarled the manager, divided between his
business instinct of civility to a patron and his anger at the
unceremonious interruption.

"You are not her father?" and the young man glanced
incredulously from the manager's coarse, brutal countenance
to the delicate little face resting against his arm.

" I am ; and I will trouble you to leave her alone, Mr.
Daubeny. Business is business. I will give you the tickets
if you will do me the honour of stepping outside."

" What ! and leave you to come back and murder the
child at your leisure ? Not exactly." And lifting Winifred
gently in his arms, the stranger placed her in the chair by
the table. "It is my business to see that you are, at least,
bound over to keep the peace," he continued, calmly turning
to Flowers; "although, if the magistrate does his duty, my
friend, it strikes me you will spend the next three months at
the treadmill."

Mr. Daubeny's perfect coolness, the stinging contempt of
his tone, and the scornful smile which accompanied the

14 Fifty Pounds for a Wife.

words, goaded the manager, little accustomed to opposition,
into complete disregard of consequences. Swearing violently,
he sprang upon the speaker, aiming a savage blow at his
head with the butt-end of his whip. The next moment the
whip was wrested from his hand, and Flowers found himself
pinned in the grasp of an athlete decidedly his superior in
strength and height. The manager was in bad condition,
and having failed in his first attack, would gladly have
retreated ; but his struggles were powerless to release him,
and he struck out wildly at his opponent, who continued with
absolute coolness to act solely on the defensive. Not until
Mr. Flowers was breathless and exhausted by his fruitless
efforts did the other free his right hand, which held the whip,
and shifting his grasp to the manager's collar, proceed to
administer a sound thrashing to his vanquished assailant.

Winifred looked on with breathless dismay. Her father
was tyrant supreme over the only world she knew, and that
anyone should dare to treat him in this fashion rendered her
fairly speechless with bewilderment and fear. Slipping off
the chair, she approached her champion with imploring face
and stretched-out hands.

" Oh, please, please stop ! He will be so angry when you
are gone."

The young man stayed his hand, and looked down at the
child with a kindly smile.

" Never you fear, little one. Run away, and leave him to
me. This will do him a world of good ; and I '11 not let him
out of sight till he is locked up in the station."

" Let me off, and I will swear not to lay a finger on the
child again," blubbered Flowers, thoroughly subdued, for, like
all bullies, he was a coward at heart. " If you thrash me, and
send for the police, she shall pay for it when^I am free."

" I can't trust your word. Look here, little one, have you
no mother, nor anyone to take your part ? "

Fifty Pounds for a Wife. 15

" Mother is dead," said Winifred, with quivering lips,
" and I have no one in the world but father."

There was something so pathetic in the wistful brown
eyes, the sad, patient little face, that a sudden moisture
clouded the bright eyes looking down upon it.

"You are a nice sort of fellow to have the keeping of a
delicate child," he said, with strong disgust, eyeing the broad
figure now powerless in his iron grasp. " I suppose her life is
insured, and the sooner you are rid of her the better."

" She is not worth the bread she eats," muttered Flowers
sullenly. " I would be rid of her any day for ^"50."

"Done with you. Give me a pen, and the bargain's

The same moment Flowers found himself released, and
staggering back, he gazed in amazement at his vanquisher.

" You will give me ^"50 for Winifred ? "

He could hardly believe it a bond fide offer. To be relieved
of a troublesome, almost useless, encumbrance, and receive
^"50, a sum sufficient to free him from the embarrassments
which at that moment were pressing somewhat heavily upon
the manager's shoulders ! It seemed too good to be true.

" I will, and let you off further punishment into the
bargain. If you ever dare to reclaim her, we'll square
accounts, so you know what to expect;" and unbuttoning
his coat as he spoke, Mr. Daubeny took a cheque-book out of
his pocket.

He seemed to take the transaction so entirely as a matter
of course, that Flowers watched his proceedings in stupid
wonder, only wishing that he had said 100 instead of 50.

Striking a match to discover the whereabouts of the door
by which he had entered, the young man walked towards it ;
and the call-boy, whose ear had been hitherto glued to the
post, was retreating with marvellous promptitude, when an
authoritative voice called after him :

16 Fifty Pounds for a Wife.

" Hi, boy ! where are you bolting to ? Fetch me ink and
paper, and ask two gentlemen of the company to be so good
as to come and witness Mr. Flowers' signature."

The surprising news that a stranger had been found to
fight the manager in his den had already spread amongst the
caravans, and two "gentlemen " in shirt-sleeves were prompt
in presenting themselves upon the scene of action, where the
sight of their dreaded task-master, cowering sullenly under
the eye of his tall aristocratic-looking conqueror, proved a
panacea to their down-trodden souls for many a day to

Mr. Daubeny greeted them courteously, and explained
that he had ventured to request the honour of their presence
as witnesses to a small transaction between Mr. Flowers and
himself. Whilst he spoke, he had taken his seat at the table,
and rapidly writing some words at the head of a sheet of
paper, took a postage stamp from his pocket and stuck it on

"Now, you will sign this," he said, rising and fixing his
clear eyes on the manager's face, which fell under his gaze ;
and the man dropped sullenly into the vacant chair.

On the paper he read the words : " Received of Gerald
Daubeny the sum of ^"50 for my daughter Winifred, which
sum I engage to refund if at any future time I remove her
from his charge."

" Make it 100, and I will sign it," he said eagerly.

" You will sign what I have written," returned Mr. Daubeny
with decision ; " or I shall refer the matter to the police.
Whichever you prefer."

Flowers yielded ; his blustering nature was no match for
his opponent's coolness, and the singular document was duly
signed and witnessed. Mr. Daubeny folded and placed it in
his pocket-book, handing the manager in exchange his cheque
for "0.

Fifty Pounds for a Wife. 17

"How am I to know this will be honoured?" growled
Flowers dubiously.

" Go into the town and enquire. I can wait till you come
back ; I am in no particular hurry. Good-evening, gentle-
men ; " and bowing to the departing witnesses, the young
man seated himself in the manager's chair, and looked round
for the child.

His easy manner reassured Flowers, who considered that
the sooner he was quit of such an awkward customer the

" All right, I '11 trust you," he said gruffly. " Can't have
you sitting there on my stage ; it 's wanted."

" I hope the next play will be as interesting to the audience
as the scene in which I have just taken part," returned Mr.
Daubeny with a curl of his handsome lip. " Come, little
one, where are you ? Do you know," he added, with a
gentleness in curious contrast to his manner to Flowers, as
the child came tremblingly out of the shadow " do you
know you belong to me now? Shall you be afraid to go
away with me ? "

Winifred started, glancing with trembling apprehension
at heV father. In her bewilderment she had comprehended
nothing of the singular bargain by which she had been sold
by Flowers and bought by a stranger for the sum of ^"50 ;
he met the look by an angry scowl.

" I am rid of you, little fool ! Go to your new master. I
wish him joy of your cursed cheek, that 's all ; " and turning
on his heel, the manager strode out of the theatre.

"It is true, little one; I could not leave you with that
brute," said the young man gently. " You are not afraid of
me, child, are you ? "

And Winifred, looking straight into the kind eyes bent
upon her, began to realise the amazing truth that she
was delivered from the tyranny which from babyhood had

1 8 Fifty Pounds for a Wife.

Online LibraryAnna L GlynFifty pounds for a wife → online text (page 1 of 28)