B. L. (Benjamin Leopold) Farjeon.

The Duchess of Rosemary Lane online

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nothink to do with you."

"By which," added Seth Dumbrick, as a strong endorsement, "_I_ should
understand, if I was in your place, that my room would be better than
my company."

"You little viper!" exclaimed Ned Chester wrathfully, addressing his
sister, and would have continued but that Seth interrupted him with:

"Stop, stop; this young lady's under my protection. If she doesn't
want to say anything to you, you shan't make her. Go down, Sally, if
you don't care to stop."

Sally, glad to escape, was about to obey, when the Duchess, who had
not moved from Sally's side during the conversation, plucked Seth
Dumbrick's shirt-sleeve. Seth peered inquisitively at her.

"Don't hurt him," lisped the child.

A gleam of satisfaction came into Ned Chester's eyes.

"No, no, Duchess," said Seth good-humouredly, "I'll not hurt him.
Nobody wants to do anything to him one way or the another. Go down
with Sally."

But before the Duchess obeyed, she held out her hand to Ned.

"Goodbye," she said.

Ned seized her hand and kissed it.

"Goodbye," he said, with a triumphant glance at Seth; "there's one at
all events with a heart in her bosom."

The whining tone in which he spoke was so distasteful to Seth Dumbrick
that he averted his eyes from the lovely lad, and presently, when he
looked up, he saw that he was alone. At the same time he observed that
a pair of boots which he had newly mended was missing. For a moment he
thought of pursuing the thief, but he relinquished his intention, and
continued his work, with a frown on his face.

"Sally," he said, that night, when the shutters were up, "that brother
of yours is a bad lot."

Sally nodded an emphatic assent.

"You're not over-fond of him."

"I've got nothink to be fond on him for," was Sally's rejoinder. "But
mother she jist worships him, she does."

"It would make her sorry to hear that he'd got into any trouble - eh,

"It'd jist worrit the life out of her - and I'd be sorry, too."

"Seen Pharaoh lately?"

"No, Daddy," replied Sally nervously.

"Pharaoh never said anything to you about your brother, did he?"

"No, Daddy Dumbrick, never."

"Ah!" proceeded Seth, getting down the Bible from which he was
teaching Sally to read. "If Pharaoh was to come to you in a trance,
and was to tell you that Ned Chester was going away, and was never
coming back again, it'd be as welcome to me as the best week's work
I've ever done in my life."

But Sally was too shrewd to risk her reputation upon a chance so
remote, and with reference to this subject she did not introduce
Pharaoh into the conversation for many weeks. During this interval,
the Duchess behaved herself in a manner which occasioned her guardian
and Sally much anxiety. Sally, running home one day, after having been
out with the Duchess for two or three hours, rushed down the cellar,
and up again, in terror and distress.

"Oh, oh!" she cried beating her hands together. "The Duchess! The

"What about her?" cried Seth, starting up in alarm.

"She's lost - she's lost! she's been kidnapped by the gipsies! I can't
find her nowhere."

Seth ran at once into the streets, and Sally ran after him, with the
tears running down her dirty face; but although they hunted high and
low, and inquired at the police-station for a lost child, they could
discover no trace of the Duchess. In a very despondent state of mind,
Seth retraced his steps to his stall, Sally walking heart-broken by
his side.

"It's as bad," he murmured ruefully, "as being a father in reality.
Sally, if the Duchess is lost, and we can't find her, we'll emigrate."

This offered no consolation to Sally, whose tears flowed more freely
at the melancholy tone in which Seth spoke.

"I'll spend every penny I've got - it ain't much, Sal - to find her,"
said Seth.

"Perhaps," whispered Sally, with her heart palpitating wildly.
"Perhaps she's drownded."

The suggestion made Seth shiver, and he and Sally proceeded home in

"I'll work no more to-day," he said when he reached the stall; "I'll
not sleep to-night without finding her, if she is to be found. Here,
take these things downstairs."

But as with feverish haste he gathered together his tools, he heard
Sally, who by that time had entered the cellar, scream loudly and

"Save my soul!" he exclaimed, as he scrambled down the stairs; "that's
to say, if I've got a soul to be saved, - what's the matter now?"

He was not long in doubt. Sitting very contentedly on the ground, with
two half-eaten apples and some very sticky sweetstuff in her lap, was
the cause of all their anxiety, and Sally was crying and laughing over
her. The Duchess's face and mouth was smeared with sweet particles,
and she bore the surfeited appearance of having much indulged. She
laughed at Seth as he entered, and would have clapped her hands but
that they held portions of the banquet of which she had been so freely
partaking. Seth heaved a great sigh of relief. When love, after a life
which has been barren of it, comes for the first time to a man as old
as Seth - whether it be love for a child or for a woman - it is strong
and abiding. Seth's heart, which was as heavy as lead, grew as light
as the proverbial feather, and a glad smile came to his lips.

"You little runaway! you little truant!" he said, lifting the Duchess
to his lap, and kissing her sticky lips; "where have you been hiding

It would have been hard to tell which of the three was the most
delighted - he, or Sally, or the Duchess of Rosemary Lane. They all
laughed and crowed together. Presently Seth comported himself more

"Come, my beauty," he said in a serious tone, "where have you been

The Duchess became as grave and serious as her interrogator.

"I mustn't tell," she answered.

"Ah, but you must," persisted Seth; "we want to know, so that the next
time it happens we may be able to find you."

"No, no," laughingly crowed the child; "I mustn't tell - I mustn't

And that was all they could extract from her, with all their
questioning and coaxing. Where had she been to? She mustn't tell. Who
had given her the fruit and sweets? She mustn't tell. The only
satisfaction they obtained from her was upon their asking if she had
been told not to tell, and she answered, with a sly laugh, Yes. With
this they were fain to rest content.

But when she was abed and asleep, Seth and Sally interchanged a grave
confidence, to the effect that the Duchess must be carefully looked
after. Sally needed no prompting. She had fully made up her mind to
watch her precious charge with increased care and vigilance. Sharp as
she was, however, the Duchess outwitted her. Within a week she was
missing again. But Sally was more fortunate in her inquiries on this
occasion. Meeting Betsy Newbiggin, she purchased from that industrious
trader, for five pins and a farthing, the information that the
Duchess of Rosemary Lane and Sally's brother were seen walking along
hand-in-hand a quarter of an hour ago, in the direction of Ned
Chester's lodging. Sally knew where her brother lived, and she ran
swiftly to the place. The room occupied by her brother was at the top
of the house; and when Sally reached the landing, she found the door
closed upon her. Peeping through the keyhole, she saw the Duchess
sitting on the bed, and Ned Chester sitting by her feeding her with
sweetstuff. Sally was too frightened to go in; she knew the
disposition of her brother, and she was fearful of driving him to the
extreme measure of running away altogether with the Duchess - for that
dreaded contingency was in her mind. What passed between the child and
the man consisted chiefly of repetitions of the lovely lad's
misfortunes, of his hard fate, and of the cruel way in which people
oppressed him. He said, also, that he hated Seth Dumbrick; he hated
Sally; he hated everything. When Sally heard his expressions of
unmeaning hatred towards herself and her protector, she listened in an
agony of agitation for some vindication from the Duchess: none reached
her ears; but upon placing her eye to the keyhole, it brought a sense
of satisfaction to her to observe that a mournful expression was
clouding the child's bright face.

"But never mind them," said Ned Chester; "you love me, don't you?"

"Yes, yes," replied the Duchess; "I love you."

"And I love you. Kiss me, Duchess. There won't be many prettier faces
than yours when you grow up, and I'll love you more then than I do
now. And you will love me more, won't you?"

"Yes, if you give me apples and sweetstuff. I love _them_."

"You shall have everything you ask for, Duchess; mind
that - everything. I'm not rich now, but I shall be then; and you shall
have carriages and horses - - "

"Yes, yes," cried the Duchess, clapping her hands; "I'll love
you - I'll love you!"

"And when you are old enough, you will be my little wife?"

"Yes, yes, I will."

"So we'll kiss on it, and it's a bargain."

After the embrace, a movement on the part of her brother, which
indicated that he was about to leave the room, caused Sally to beat a
rapid retreat downstairs, where, in the street, she waited for the
Duchess to come out. The child came, holding Ned Chester by the hand,
and Sally followed them unobserved until her brother left the Duchess
with some playmates. Sally did not acquaint Seth Dumbrick with her
discovery; but she, within an hour, introduced the subject in a manner
familiar to them both.

"I want to tell you. Daddy Dumbrick, Pharer come again."

"I thought he would, Sal. Pharaoh's rising as a spirit. Get straight
to what he said."

"He said, said Pharer, 'the Duchess has been playing truant.'"

"Wide-awake old king! Go on, Sal."

"But 'taint her fault, said Pharer; she's been seducted away."

"She's been what?"

"Seducted away. Now, said Pharer, you'll miss her agin soon."


"Pharer didn't say. You'll miss her agin soon, he said. There's
somebody as is fond on her, and as hates you and Daddy Dumbrick, and
everybody but the Duchess. So look out."

"We will. That wasn't all, Sal."

"No. Said Pharer, the next time you miss her, tell Daddy Dumbrick to
go to No. 8, Lemon Street, to the top of the house on the third floor,
and there he'll find her."

Seth stared at Sally. "That's all?"

"That's all."

"Did Pharaoh say who lives there?"


"And," said Seth, placing his hand kindly on Sally's head, "you don't
want to tell."

"No; for if anythink happened to him through me, mother would never
speak to me agin."

"All right, Sal. I can guess what you don't want to tell. The next
time you can't find the Duchess, you come to me; I'll soon settle

The opportunity occurred very soon, and was brought about probably by
Sally, who relaxed her watch so that Seth could make the discovery for
himself. Taking Sally with him, Seth proceeded to the house, and found
Ned Chester entertaining the child, to whom he had taken so strange a
liking. He was charming the Duchess's soul with his tin whistle; and
Seth, pausing on the stairs, listened in wonder to the melodious
sounds produced by the drunken vagrant. He was ignorant of Ned
Chester's accomplishments in the musical way, and was only made
acquainted with Ned's possession of so rare a talent by Sally

"There he is!"

"That's never your brother, Sal," observed Seth.

"Yes, it is; that's how he gets his living. Don't he play

Seth, without replying, entered the room, and opened the battle at

"Take her home," he said, passing the Duchess to Sally; "your brother
and I are going to talk a bit. Don't be afraid, Sal; we sha'n't
fight - at least I sha'n't, and I don't think he's got pluck enough.
Now," he continued, when the children were gone, "let's make short
work of this. What do you mean by tricking my child away day after day
in this fashion?"

"Your child!" sneered Ned. "She's as much mine as yours; I love her as

"I'll not question that. If you love her for her good, it's a bit of
light in you that I'm not sorry to see. But the child's mine, so far
as the poor little castaway who's been thrown on the world in the way
she's been can be said to be anybody's. And I mean to keep her, and
put a stop to any nonsense on your part. Understand that."

".I'm not good enough for the little beauty, I shouldn't wonder to
hear you say. Perhaps you can prove that you're better company than

"I can. In the first place, you are a drunken sot, which I am not. In
the second place, you are a thief, which I am not."

"And in no place at all," cried Ned Chester, both fearful and furious,
"you are a liar, which I am not."

"I can prove what I say, and will, to the magistrates, if you want me
to. When you came to my stall a little while ago you stole a pair of

"That's well trumped up. To be true, you must have found it out at the
time. It's not a good move of yours."

"I did find it out at the time; and I went two days afterwards to the
pawnbroker's where you pledged them, and made certain. The
pawnbroker'll swear to you; I'll swear to the boots. It's a Botany Bay
job, as clear as sunlight. You're fiddling with your fingers in your
waistcoat pocket. You've got the ticket there. What do you say to that
now, for a move?"

"Why," stammered Ned, growing very white about the lips, "can't a man
buy a pawn-ticket, and - and - - "

"It will be best for me to do the talking, Ned Chester. I shall get
along better than you. The reason that I didn't come straight after
you at the time was that I thought of the mother who loves you. That's
why I spared you then; for your mother's sake, not for your own. I
suspect it's out of spite against me that you are trying to trick the
little Duchess from me and Sally - - "

"No," interrupted Ned Chester, the colour coming into his face again;
"it's chiefly out of love for her. Look here," he cried, bursting into
tears, "I can't tell you what it is that makes me so fond of her, but
I'm a different man when she's with me than when she's not. I've spent
my last penny on her this very day, and I don't know what to do for a
drink. She's got a face like an angel, and - and - - "

But his voice trailed off here, and he paused, as much amazed himself
at his involuntary outburst as was Seth Dumbrick, who had listened to
it without interruption.

"You're not the only man," said Seth, after a pause, "who's got that
sort of feeling towards the child. Now, mind. I'm speaking to you calm
and reasonable, first for your mother's sake, next for Sally's; I'm
old enough to be your father, and it's for their sakes, not for your
own, that I tell you you're on the wrong track. You go on drinking for
another two or three years as you've been doing the last two or three,
and, if I'm any judge of appearances, you'll wake up one fine morning
and find yourself in a madhouse - which wouldn't matter a bit so long
as your mother didn't know, for you're nothing as you are but a lump
o' mischief. Well, I love that child in a way that makes me surprised
at myself, and I mean to stand by her through life, and I don't mean
to see her wronged. Feeling like that towards her, it isn't likely
that I'm going to let you step in between us, and poison her against
me and Sally. You've opened your mind to me, and I've opened mine to
you. I'll open it farther. You trick my child away again, and I'll
have you sent across the water for stealing the boots from my stall.
If I don't, may I be struck down dead where I stand! There - that's the
first strong oath I've taken since I was a young man, when I used to
swear a bit."

Stupefied by fear, and entirely dominated by the strong will of Seth
Dumbrick, Ned Chester waited in impotent rage for what was to follow.

"Now for my proposition. You've got a lucky mole on your forehead - - "

Ned Chester with a bewildered air raised his hand to the hitherto
luckless possession.

" - And that mole's going to lead you to fortune, your mother's told
me. What if I show you the way?" He took a piece of a newspaper from
his pocket. "Here's an account of gold, in great lumps, being found in
Australia. If you were there, with your mole, you'd be the luckiest
man in the mines."

Ned Chester jumped up in excitement.

"Of course I should. If I was there! But how to get there! A poor
beggar like me!" He pulled out the lining of his empty pockets with a
distracted air.

"There are ships going away from the docks every week for the mines.
Go and get shipped as a sailor. If not as a sailor, as something else.
There's the gold waiting for you to pick it up. If a matter of three
pound'll get you off, I've got that much saved, and you shall have it.
I'll give it to get rid of you, and for the sake of your mother and
Sally - - "

"And the Duchess," added Ned, somewhat maliciously.

"And the Duchess; you're right; so that you shan't worry the life out
of us. I don't intend to say another word but this. When you come to
me and say you're going, I'll give you the three pound the day the
ship sails out of the Docks. And if you are not gone in less than a
fortnight - well, just you imagine that I'm taking that oath over
again - I'll have the handcuffs put on you and make an end of you."

Before the fortnight had passed, Seth Dumbrick, bidding Sally keep at
home with the Duchess, and not stir out till he returned, went away in
the early morning, and did not make his appearance till the evening.
He was in high spirits. With the Duchess on his lap, he said in a
cheerful voice to Sally:

"Sally, if you had a trance to-night, and Pharaoh came to you and said
that your brother had gone over the water and was never coming back,
it would be the truest thing he ever said since the time he was done
up in a bundle, and became a spirit. It's true, Sal. The Duchess is
all ours now."


It was to Seth Dumbrick a pleasure, as well as a matter of
conscientious duty, to play the part of schoolmaster to the children
with faithfulness and regularity. Scarcely an evening passed but
instruction was given to Sally, who, quick in this as in other things,
proved herself the aptest of scholars. Before she had been two years
in her new home Sally could read tolerably well, and could write,
after a fashion; and it was about this time that the education of the
Duchess of Rosemary Lane was commenced. Commencing with Sally at the
very beginning of things - the Creation - Seth travelled with her
through Genesis, and so confounded her with the unpronounceable names
of the generations of men, that she timidly entered a protest against
them, saying they hurt her mouth; which, being taken in good part by
her schoolmaster, induced him of an evening to open the Bible at
random, and impart instruction from any chapter he chanced to light
upon. But the Biblical knowledge they thus gained was not allowed to
sink into their minds in its undefiled state. Seth adulterated it with
his comments and opinions, as other dogmatists would have done with
such an opportunity before them. Treating the stories as though they
were stories in an ordinary book, he robbed the Bible of its spiritual
halo. This was wise; that was pretty; nothing was inspired. Seth's
nature was tender and compassionate in a human way, but his religious
principles would have shocked the orthodox church-goer. Sally, aware
that he derived pleasure in hearing himself speak, was the more
attentive listener of the two, and frequently simulated an interest
which she did not feel; often, indeed, while he dilated upon ancient
prophets and Jewish kings, her thoughts were running upon patched
frocks and pinafores, and holes in stockings, and the thousand-and-one
other domestic worries with which her young life was constantly

She would have been content to have gone on in this way all the years
of her life; not so the Duchess. Her nature was one which yearned for
excitement; and she was happier in the streets than in the home Seth
Dumbrick had given her. As she grew, her beauty ripened, and, with
every penny which Sally could beg or borrow or earn spent upon her
personal adornment, she moved among the usually sad streets and their
residents like a bright flower; and as she grew and bloomed, those
among whom she spent her days became prouder and prouder of her. Even
the grown-up people petted and flattered her, and spread her fame into
other streets and other neighbourhoods which could not boast of a
Duchess. She was no trouble to her guardian, except that she developed
the propensity of wandering away, and absenting herself for hours, to
the distress and misery of Sally, who was never happy when her idol
was out of her sight. It never occurred to Seth that there was a
dangerous want in the child's life, the want of womanly companionship
and womanly counsel and tenderness. The child had Sally, and Sally in
Seth's eyes was worth a thousand women; and besides, the lonely life
he himself had led precluded the possibility of such a thought causing
him disturbance.

So things went on until the Duchess of Rosemary Lane was seven years
of age, when an event occurred which brought sorrow into Seth
Dumbrick's household. The child suddenly sickened and fell ill.

It was Sally's custom to rise early, immediately after Seth himself
had risen and had left the cellar, dressing herself quietly, so as not
to disturb her darling, who was generally asleep. Sally, after gently
and tenderly kissing the Duchess's pretty face, busied herself with
putting the place in order, lighting the fire and preparing the
breakfast. Then she would wake the Duchess, assist her to dress, and,
breakfast being over, would proceed cheerfully with her household
duties. Going to the child's bedside on this morning, Sally found her
languid and weak, and disinclined to rise. Sally ran in alarm to her

"I think the Duchess is ill," she said, with quivering lips.

Seth immediately accompanied her to the child's bedside.

"Aren't you well, Duchess?" he inquired.

The Duchess opened her eyes, looked vacantly at him, and turned on her

"Best let her keep abed," said Seth, placing his hand on the
Duchess's forehead, which was hot and dry; "she's caught cold maybe;
she'll be all right to-morrow."

Among the Duchess's acquaintances in Rosemary Lane was a cousin of
Betsy Newbiggin, the vendor of liquorice-water. He was a lad of about
the same age as the Duchess, and between the two a friendship warmer
than ordinary had sprung up. A week before the indisposition of the
Duchess, Betsy Newbiggin, hailing her, informed her that Cousin Bob
was "took bad," and could not get out of bed; and the following day
Betsy Newbiggin said that Cousin Bob was "took worse, and would the
Duchess go and see him?" Apart from the circumstance that the Duchess
was fond of Bob, the opportunity of going to see somebody who was ill
abed was too alluring to be neglected, and the Duchess and Betsy went
to Bob's house, and were admitted to the sick chamber.

"Hush!" said the mother to the Duchess. "Don't make a noise. He's been
a-talking of you all night."

"In his sleep?" inquired the Duchess, not displeased at this mark of
attention on Bob's part.

"Half-asleep and half-awake I think he's been," replied Bob's mother.
"I can't make it out. If he ain't better to-morrow I'll have to call
Dr. Lyon in."

"Shall I go for him now?" asked Betsy Newbiggin, whose sympathies were
not entirely confined to her trade in liquorice-water.

"No," said Bob's mother, "I must speak to father first. If Dr. Lyon
comes he'll have to be paid."

The Duchess looked about the room. Bob was in bed, seemingly asleep.
By the side of the bed was a hen canary in a cage so hung that when
Bob opened his eyes (supposing he did not turn round) they would light
upon the bird. The Duchess, standing by the bed, leant over Bob; and
Bob, waking at that moment, said, as though he had just been indulging
in a long conversation on an interesting subject and this was the
outcome of it:

"Mother, if I die, give the Duchess my bird."

These words produced a shock. Betsy Newbiggin began to tremble, and
the Duchess's heart beat more quickly.

"What nonsense is the boy chattering about!" exclaimed Bob's mother,
patting the pillow and smoothing the bedclothes, and striving in this
way to hide the agitation produced by the boy's request.

Bob appeared not to hear his mother's remark, and proceeded:

"You'll take care of the bird, Duchess, and think of Bob sometimes?"

"Oh, yes, Bob," said the Duchess.

"Then I don't mind. I'll think of you sometimes too, Duchess."

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Online LibraryB. L. (Benjamin Leopold) FarjeonThe Duchess of Rosemary Lane → online text (page 10 of 24)