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B. L. (Benjamin Leopold) Farjeon.

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The Duchess pondered and presently asked, "How will you do that, Bob?"

"Do what, Duchess?"

"Think of me when you're dead."

"I'll be able to. Mother told me so. I shall be up there."

"Oh," said the Duchess, following the direction of Bob's eyes,
unconscious of his meaning.

"There now, get along with you," said Bob's mother to the two girls,
"or the boy'll never have done with his nonsense."

"You'll come and see me to-morrow, Duchess?" said Bob, as the girls
were leaving the room.

"Yes," promised the Duchess, with a backward glance at the bird, which
was now an object of more than ordinary interest to her.

For four days the Duchess paid a visit to Bob, upon whom Dr. Lyon was
then attending. The doctor met her on the fifth day, and forbade her
to come again, saying something about fever, which the Duchess did not
understand. Two days after that she herself was taken ill. Sally did
not leave her; the Duchess lay quiet until the afternoon, when she
suddenly asked Sally how Bob was.

"Oh, my!" cried Sally, clasping her hands. "Bob's got the fever. You
ain't been to see him, have you?"

But the Duchess had already forgotten her inquiry, and seemed to fall
asleep before Sally's reply could reach her understanding. Seth
Dumbrick came down every half-hour to look at his child, and grew so
uneasy about her that he went for Dr. Lyon. This was in the evening,
and Sally peered anxiously into the doctor's face as he felt the
Duchess's pulse.

"I was afraid of it," said the doctor to Seth, "when I saw her at the
boy's house. She's caught the fever. This is not the best place for a
child to fight through an illness. We might manage to get her into the
hospital."

"No, oh, no!" cried Sally; "don't let her be took there!"

"We can take care of her here," said Seth. "I shouldn't like to lose
sight of the child."

"Very well. And are you going to nurse her, Sally?"

"Yes, sir; oh, yes, sir," said Sally, whose face had suddenly assumed
a pinched expression. "I'll stop up with her day and night. I won't
take my clothes off till she's better."

Dr. Lyon gave her a kind look and a kiss, and, promising to send in
some medicine, took his departure. Then commenced an anxious time. The
fever assumed a dangerous form, and for days the Duchess's life was in
danger. Never till now had Seth Dumbrick realised how deeply he loved
this child of his adoption. He wandered in and out of the cellar a
hundred times a day, meek but fretful, with gentleness, but not with
resignation. He and Sally had changed places; she was the strong,
reliant soul in their humble home, and the old man looked to the child
for support and consolation.

"If our angel dies, Sally," he said, "I shall never know happiness
again."

Sally averted her face from him to check the weakness that threatened
to overcome her. She knew full well that she needed all her strength
for the work she was performing; the instinct of devoted love - which
needs no teaching to bring it into flower - had instilled wisdom into
the child's heart.

"Some kinds of knowledge come to a man late in life," he continued
softly; "since you and our darling have been with me I've learnt
something that I was ignorant of. I'd read of it, not quite in an
unbelieving way, but with the sort of doubt upon me that a story writ
to amuse a child might bring. Since then I've known what happiness
is."

"Did you never know before?" asked Sally wistfully.

"Never before, my child," he answered, huskily.

"Daddy," said Sally solemnly, "you mustn't make me cry. I ain't got
time for it. There's the beef-tea to git ready, and the arrerroot - - "

"You must compel that child to take rest," said Dr. Lyon to Seth later
in the day, "or she'll break down. Human nature's limited, as a
certain friend of mine used to say."

"I tried to persuade her," said Seth, "last night to go to bed, but
she wouldn't; she cried and said it'd be easier for her to die than to
sleep."

"She must be made to sleep," said the doctor. "If you come round to my
place Ill give you something that will conquer her. She's a pearl, and
must not be allowed to kill herself."

In accordance with the doctor's instructions Seth at midnight desired
Sally to lie down on his bed; but Sally stoutly refused. Finding that
his arguments were not strong enough to convince her that rest was
necessary, he produced a paper written by Dr. Lyon to the effect that
unless Sally Chester slept for four hours that night he would not come
to see the Duchess again.

"So you see," said Seth, "you will hurt the Duchess by being
obstinate."

"But you can tell Dr. Lyon that I've been asleep," persisted Sally.

"When you haven't?" interrupted Seth, with a touch of his old humour.
"O, Sally, Sally! would you teach me to tell lies at my time of life?
Come now, my dear, be good and reasonable. I'll watch by our treasure
till you wake up; I know you wouldn't trust her with anybody else."

"No, that I wouldn't; and if she asks for me you'll call me at once?"

"Yes, you may trust me, Sally."

With that Sally yielded, and, with small persuasion, drank the draught
prepared for her.

"I'll go in five minutes," she said, sitting on a stool by the
bedside, and gazed lovingly on the sleeping Duchess.

"All right," said Seth, who was sitting on a chair close to her; "rest
your head on my knee, dear child."

With a grateful sigh, Sally obeyed, and clasped Seth's hand, which was
lying with light touch on her neck.

Thus, with tired eyes watching the Duchess's face, she remained for
two or three minutes, when the narcotic she had taken overpowered her,
and she sank to sleep. Seth raised her softly in his arms, and placed
her in his bed, covering her up warm, and kissing her before he
resumed his seat at the Duchess's bedside. The child had been
peculiarly restless all the evening, but was now in a calmer state.
For an hour Seth kept his watch faithfully, and without moving from
his seat; but some anxiety with reference to Sally caused him to step
softly to her side.

Sally was in a deep sleep; her fingers were tightly interlaced, and
her face wore an anxious expression, but she was at rest. The
strangeness of the situation the silence which at such a time so
powerfully asserts itself, and the eloquent lesson of love and
devotion he saw before him had their due effect upon Seth Dumbrick's
mind, and he held his hand before his half-closed eyelids with the air
of a man to whom new and strange aspects of life had unexpectedly
presented themselves. He was not long thus occupied; he was startled
from his musing by a word uttered with singular clearness - a sacred
word never before heard in that dim dwelling-place. "Mamma! mamma!"
cried the Duchess; and hurrying to her, Seth saw her sitting up in
bed, with her white arms stretched forth, and the loving word hanging
on her lips. It was like a cry to heaven from a heart whose tenderest
pulse had only now found a voice. There was yearning, there was a
plaintive reproach in the cry. The Duchess's cheeks were red and hot,
her lips were made eloquent by her plaintive appeal to an invisible
presence, and her eyes were wide open, seeing nothing that was
actually before her. Seth, with great timidity, but with infinite
tenderness, placed his arm about the neck of the Duchess, and drew her
face to his breast. She submitted unresistingly, and closing her eyes,
relapsed into slumber. Seth, then with wrinkled forehead, rasped his
chin with his hard hand, and marvelled by what mysterious means the
Duchess's thoughts had been driven back to her infant days, when a
mother's love undoubtedly encompassed her. There was no difficulty in
arriving at the conclusion that the mother's love was pure and good;
the tone in which the child had uttered the cry proclaimed it. "What
dream or fancy," mused Seth, "could have brought to the memory of the
child a mother of whom she had such brief experience?" And then his
mind reverted to the mystery which surrounded the Duchess's
introduction to Rosemary Lane, gaining no light, however, from what
had just occurred. "If," he continued, "there are such things as
spirits, perhaps the Duchess saw her mother's when she called to her."
For although he had settled his convictions with respect to the Bible,
he had by no means made up his mind generally on spiritual matters.
The night passed without further interruption, and in the early
morning Seth very quietly performed Sally's duties of lighting the
fire and preparing the breakfast. Sally still slept soundly, and Seth
would not disturb her. It was nine o'clock before she opened her eyes,
and then she jumped up briskly, bright and fresh, and ready to resume
her labour of love.

"The Duchess has been very good, Sally," said Seth; "and how do you
feel?"

"I can go on now," replied Sally, whose first steps were directed to
the bedside of her idol. "I can go on now without sleep till she gits
quite better."

Upon going up to his stall, Seth saw Betsy Newbiggin and a number of
other children standing in the road.

"Please, Mr. Dumbrick," said Betsy, "I mustn't come any nearer to you
'cause mother said I'd ketch the fever and if I did she'd wollop me.
We wants to know how the Duchess is."

"Very ill, Betsy," said Seth gravely.

"She ain't a-goin' to die, Mr. Dumbrick?" asked Betsy apprehensively.

"I hope not," said Seth softly, with a slight shiver. "You don't want
her to die do you?"

"How can you go and arks us such a thing?" exclaimed Betsy
indignantly. "We want her to git up and come and play. We're too fond
on her to wish anything like that. Ain't we?"

All the little heads - most of them uncombed, and nearly all with dirty
faces - were nodded solemnly and emphatically in response.

"And please," said Betsy, "here's a orange as Jimmy Platt arksed me to
give the Duchess. Jimmy's gone out with his father and a barrer; and
here's a gingerbread-man as this little gal bought with a ha'-penny as
she sold a bit of lead for, and here's a bottle of liquorish-water
as'll cure the Duchess if you'll give her two teaspoonfuls every
quarter of an hour. It's sure to. I made it myself; and it's as strong
as strong can be."

Betsy laid these love-offerings in a row on the kerbstone, and Seth
contemplated them and her with grim tenderness.

"And here," continued Betsy, producing from under her frock a birdcage
with a canary in it, "here's poor Bob's bird, and it's got to be give
to the Duchess, and she's got to take great care on it. Them's Bob's
words. She's got to take great care on it."

Betsy would have proceeded, for she was glib of tongue, but Seth
incautiously moved a step towards her, and she and her companions
scampered off in great haste, with the fear of fever in their hearts.

"Well, well," muttered Seth, who at any other time would have derived
much amusement from the interview and its termination, "human nature's
not such a bad thing after all."

Bob's bird was hung by the Duchess's bed, but when during the day the
child, in a lucid interval, said tearfully as she looked at it, "Bob's
dead, then; I must think of him," Seth, who did not know of the lad's
death, regarded the bird as a bird of ill omen. But it puzzled him to
discover how, by merely gazing at the bird, the Duchess knew of Bob's
death. "She saw her mother last night," he muttered; "are there really
spirits? and can she see things?"

With unwearying patience and devotion Sally performed her task of
nursing the child whose life was dearer to her than her own, and the
most ineffable delight she had ever experienced was on the day that
Dr. Lyon told her that the Duchess was out of danger. All her sadness
vanished on the instant, and she stepped about humming softly to
herself, to many different airs, "She'll soon git well; she'll soon
git well!" That was also the happiest day in Seth's life; and out of
pure gratefulness of heart, he took a walk in the fields, and gazed on
the evidences of Nature with feelings of reverence and thankfulness.

When he returned home, a surprise awaited him. There was Sally's
mother, who, having learnt by letter of the Duchess's illness, had
obtained a short holiday for the sole purpose of coming to Rosemary
Lane to kiss Sally, and help her nurse the child for a few hours.
Sally's face was wreathed with smiles, and her step was lighter and
her manner more cheerful than they had ever been before. Harmony and
affection sweetened the air, and made the common room as bright as a
palace.

"I have been growing very old lately," said Seth to Mrs. Chester, as
he stopped and kissed the Duchess, who languidly returned the caress,
"but from this day I intend to grow young again. We've had a hard
time, but the lesson, when it ends as this one's happily doing, is a
good un, I think, and makes people better instead of worse."

He spoke with tender gaiety, and was for the moment an entirely
different Seth Dumbrick from the Seth Dumbrick whom Mrs. Chester knew
in former years. But he relapsed into his older self very shortly
afterwards, and now that the danger was over, the old manner
reasserted itself.

Mrs. Chester was compelled to return to her duties early in the
morning, and Seth accompanied her to the coach. She had not forgotten
her old neighbours, and had found time on the previous evening to run
round and shake hands and exchange friendly greetings with this one
and that one, especially with Dr. Lyon, who had proved himself her
true friend when most she needed one. On their way to the yard from
which the coach was to start, Seth related to her the incident of the
Duchess calling out to her mother in the dead of night, and the
impression it made upon him.

"One would have thought," said Seth, "coming to you as young as she
did, that she could have no remembrance of such things."

"What!" exclaimed Mrs. Chester; "no remembrance of the mother who
nursed and suckled her! When children forget that, it's time that the
world should come to an end."

"I judge from myself," said Seth. "If I'd have lost my mother, and
been taken from her when I was two years old, I should have had no
knowledge or remembrance of her."

"Knowledge and remembrance aren't close relations," observed Mrs.
Chester with a wise shake of her head. "I can remember some things of
which I've no knowledge. I can remember an orange I had given me when
I was a little one and was dying as they supposed. I can see myself
eating that orange, but I don't know how it came into my hands, or who
give it to me, and nothing else about it except that I was eating it."
Mrs. Chester looked with an air of triumph at Seth, as though she had,
unexpectedly to herself - as was the case - established a difficult
proposition somewhat neatly. "But that's not the way with everybody,
perhaps. You and the Duchess - - I do believe she grows prettier than
ever! I thought she was the most lovely babe I'd ever set eyes on, and
I don't mind telling you now that I felt bad when I saw how beautiful
she was, and how different my dear Sally looked. But Sally's
improving, Mr. Dumbrick."

"That she is, Mrs. Chester. I shouldn't wonder if she grows up quite
pretty. She only wants filling out, but she's that active she doesn't
give time for the flesh to settle on her bones. I'll tell you when she
looked so beautiful in my eyes that I felt she couldn't be improved
upon. It was when I used to come down into the cellar softly without
her knowing, and saw her with her arms round the Duchess's neck,
feeding her, maybe, or singing to her - she's got a nice voice, has
Sally. I don't want ever to see a face prettier-or better than Sally's
face looked then."

This was very sweet in Mrs. Chester's ears, and she said as she
pressed his hand:

"I'm a fortunate woman, with all my troubles."

"We are all of us fortunate," said Seth philosophically, "in spite of
worry and vexation, if we'd only look on it in the right light. But
for all that, the world's wrong."

"In what way, Mr. Dumbrick?"

"We haven't time to talk of it," replied Seth, skilfully evading the
knotty points involved in his assertion; "it'd take me a week. You
were saying a little while ago about me and the Duchess, when you
broke off, or rather you were going to say something about the Duchess
remembering and me not remembering."

"Only that we're not all alike. You're a man as has seen trouble - - "

"Not a great deal," interrupted Seth. "I've a notion that those that
have ties of affection enjoy more and suffer more than those that
haven't. Now, I've been a selfish creature all my life, and it's only
lately that I may say I've had ties that have made me care for much
outside myself. Put it another way. Say that I'm a hedgehog, and the
Duchess is an angel. Here's the coach. Goodbye, and good luck to you."

"You've heard nothing of my poor boy Ned, I suppose?"

"Nothing."

"No more have I," said Mrs. Chester' with a sigh. "My poor boy! My
poor boy!" And the mother's heart went out across the seas to the
reprobate. As she was stepping into the coach she said, "When the
Duchess gets better it'd be a fine thing if you could take her into
the country for a day, and perhaps Sally could go along with her.
You've no idea what good a mouthful of free air can do, especially to
children who get but little of it."

"Seth Dumbrick," said Seth to himself, as he walked home, "you're
coming to something. You go on like this, and in time you won't know
yourself. To think that you, who never had a sweetheart, should be
taken in as you're being taken in by a parcel of women and children
who are no more bone of your bone or flesh of your flesh than that
donkey is. Stop a bit though. Some wiseacres have set it down in black
and white that men and donkeys are shoots off one tree. Perhaps that
accounts for it."

Now that the Duchess was in a fair way of recovery, and could do
nothing to amuse herself, she drew upon Seth's resources for the
agreeable passing away of the idle hours, and he, with his Bible on
his knee, would relate to her in a familiar way such stories as he
thought would best please her. Deeming Solomon a tempting theme, he
related the history of that wise king with a curious mingling of fact
and fancy and shrewd observation. The story of Solomon's life and
deeds seemed to possess a peculiar fascination for the Duchess, and
she bound Seth to it for three consecutive nights.

"That was a grand place King Solomon built," said the Duchess. "Where
is it?"

"Nowhere; it was destroyed, and I'm told the Jews go into mourning
every year because of its destruction."

"Does that do any good?" said the Duchess.

"Not a bit."

"What came of all the gold?"

"Don't know; dare say the Jews got a lot of it on the sly."

"It was all gold, wasn't it? It says so there."

"Yes," said Seth, reading from parts, "'So Solomon overlaid the house
within with pure gold;' then again - 'The whole house he overlaid with
gold until he had finished all the house; and the whole altar that was
by the oracle he overlaid with gold.' Why, the candlesticks, and the
spoons, and the snuffers to snuff the candles, and the very hinges of
the doors - everything was gold. And besides, there was such heaps of
precious stones that they hardly knew where to stick 'em."

"There couldn't have been any poor people there," said Sally.

"I'm not so sure, Sal. In the middle of it all there's talk of famine,
and pestilence, and blasting. It's pretty much of a muddle, it seems
to me."

"I want to know," said the Duchess later in the night. "In that
temple, wasn't there a garden?"

"I don't find mention of any. I should say not, or if there was, it
wasn't worth mentioning."

"No flowers?"

"Not that I know of."

"Wasn't there no birds?" asked Sally.

"Yes, gold ones, and there's flowers of gold and cherubims of gold.
All gold and silver and precious stones."

"Was Solomon a good man?" asked Sally.

"He's said to be the wisest king that ever was known. He had a
thousand wives."

"Oh, my!" cried Sally, and would have continued the theme, but that
Seth deemed it prudent to change the subject.




CHAPTER XV.


Mrs. Chester's recommendation to Seth Dumbrick to give the Duchess and
Sally a day in the country was weighing heavily upon his mind. That it
would do the Duchess good there could not be a shadow of doubt, and it
was certain that she required a change of some sort; for although she
was now better and moving about, her steps were languid, and there
were no signs of a return to her old elasticity of spirits. Day after
day Seth watched in vain for symptoms of vigour in the Duchess, and
the more he watched, the more he was troubled.

"She's well," he said to the doctor, "but she doesn't get strong."

"She wants iron," said the doctor; and he gave her iron, but it did
not improve her. Then the doctor said that the child wanted fresh air.

"Can I get it in bottles?" asked Seth, with melancholy humour.

The doctor smiled and walked away.

Seth Dumbrick was afraid to mention the matter to the Duchess, for he
knew that she would leap for joy at the prospect, and that the hope
deferred would make her worse both in body and spirits. The truth was,
he was too poor for the luxury. The Duchess's illness had exhausted
every penny of his savings. He confided in Sally, who entered at once
upon the consideration of the difficulty, but her suggestions were not
of a practical character.

"If we had some o' them cherubims o' gold," she mused, "or some o'
them gold flowers out of the Temple - - "

"They might lead us," added Seth, "to the real flowers we want to see
growing."

Sally was ready with another suggestion, in the shape of a
subscription among the Duchess's playmates.

"They're so fond on her that they'll do anythink for her. They'll all
give. Betsy Newbiggin, and Jane Preedy - - " but she was stopped by the
look of suppressed merriment on Seth's face.

"Pins and spoonfuls of liquorice-water won't take us into the country,
Sally. No, we must think of something else. Perhaps I shall have a bit
of good luck" - adding, under his breath - "if I do, and there's money
in it, it'll be the first bit of good luck that has ever fell to Seth
Dumbrick's lot."

There seemed no way out of the difficulty, and the Duchess remained in
the same languid state. But the bit of good luck that Seth had not the
slightest expectation of meeting with did occur, and in a strange way.

The duties of the postman in Rosemary Lane were light, and there were
persons in the neighbourhood who had never arrived at the dignity of
receiving a letter. Certainly no child had ever received one. General
astonishment was therefore created when it became known that the
postman, stopping to deliver a communication at the Royal George, the
celebrated gin-palace of the locality, had produced a letter,
addressed to "The Duchess of Rosemary Lane," and, with an air which
proclaimed that he looked upon the matter as a joke, had asked the
proprietor of the gin-palace if he knew any person answering to that
description. Regarding the matter in a more serious light when he was
informed that there really was such a person in existence, the postman
proceeded to Seth Dumbrick's stall, and delivered the letter in the
presence of a dozen or so curiousmongers, who had became aware of the
circumstance, and considered it sufficiently interesting to warrant an
inquiry. The postman, with a stern sense of duty, did not part with
the letter too easily. It was a Government affair, he said, and he
might be called over the coals for it. Indeed, under any
circumstances, he declared his intention of making a special
memorandum with reference to it, for his own satisfaction and that of
the head of his department. The idea of a duchess in Rosemary Lane was
something almost too astounding for credibility.

"Nevertheless it is a fact," said Seth Dumbrick, looking at the letter
with much inward astonishment; not knowing what the letter might
contain, he deemed it prudent to conceal any exhibition of this
feeling. "She lives with me."

"If you're her father, I suppose you call yourself a duke."

"I'm her guardian, and I call myself a cobbler."

The postman was aware that such a conversation was outside the scope
of his duties, but he was fond of gossip and banter.

"I'd like to see this Duchess."

"Duchess!" called Seth, down the stairs.

Up came the Duchess, accompanied by Sally.

"What's your name?" asked the postman.

"The Duchess of Rosemary Lane," replied the Duchess.

"And upon my word," remarked the postman, "she looks like a little
lady." He could not help admiring her; he had a little girl of his own


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Online LibraryB. L. (Benjamin Leopold) FarjeonThe Duchess of Rosemary Lane → online text (page 11 of 24)