B. L. (Benjamin Leopold) Farjeon.

The Duchess of Rosemary Lane online

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at home.

"She is one," said Sally, promptly.

The postman having departed, Seth, with the letter on his leather
apron, fell into a brown study. It had suddenly occurred to him that
it might contain unwelcome intelligence; perhaps it came from some
person who claimed the child. In that case, would it not be better for
him to destroy it without reading it? Sally, aware from the expression
on Seth's face - a book in which she was by this time deeply read - that
he was revolving an important consideration with reference to the
letter, was in a fever of excitement. So, in a less degree, were the
neighbours surrounding the stall.

"Open it, Mr. Dumbrick," said Mrs. Preedy, who was always one in a
Rosemary Lane crowd. There are in every neighbourhood two or three
women ordained to fulfil this special mission. "Open it, and let's
know what's inside."

Seth, recalled to himself by this polite request, looked up with
shrewd twinkles, and replied:

"Sorry to disappoint you, Mrs. Preedy, but this is a private matter
between the Duchess and the Queen, and to let _you_ into the secret'd
be more than my head's worth. Let's go downstairs, Duchess, and see
what her Majesty has to say to you."

"He's the selfishest man," said Mrs. Preedy, "is that Mr. Dumbrick, as
ever I clapped eyes on - keeping things to hisself in that way! It's a
good job he ain't married; he'd torment the soul out of a poor woman."

Meanwhile, this selfishest of men was sitting in his cellar, with the
Duchess on his knee.

"Duchess," he said, in a tone which denoted that he wished to engage
her serious attention, "this is a most unexpected and mysterious
occurrence. Since I've been in Rosemary Lane, I've received altogether
three letters - about one every ten years - and here you are at your age
beginning to bother the Post Office. You're commencing early,

The Duchess nodded languidly. The letter, not being something nice to
eat, was of no interest to her.

"The question is," continued Seth, who seemed to have lost for the
time his decision of character, "what is in this letter, and who sent
it? It's a good handwriting, and there can't be any mistake about its
being for you."

"Open it, Daddy," said Sally.

"There's no hurry, Sally. Don't let us meet trouble halfway. Duchess,
do you love Daddy Dumbrick?"

"Oh, yes," sighed the Duchess, closing her eyes, and leaning back in
Seth's arms.

"You don't want to leave him?"

"No," murmured the Duchess.

"Because you see, Sally, the world'd seem a different place to me, not
half so good as it was, if anything was to occur as'd take the Duchess
away from us."

"No one shall," cried Sally, beginning to share Seth's fears, "no one

"I don't know that," said Seth, with an apprehensive observance of the
letter; "they sha'n't if I can help it. If I had plenty of money,
which I haven't, you, me, and the Duchess'd steal away one night from
Rosemary Lane, and'd go and live in the country, where nobody'd know
us, and where we could see green fields and flowers, and breathe the
fresh air from morning to night. For that's what our precious wants.
Green fields and fresh air'd soon pull her round, and we'd live there
happily all our lives."

"Like gipsies, Daddy."

"Yes, Sal, like gipsies."

"That _would_ be nice," said Sally; adding wistfully, "but it can't
be, Daddy, can it?"

"No, it can't be, unless a shower of gold was to come down through the
ceiling - and that's not likely. Let's see what's in the letter."

Had he suspected it to contain gunpowder he could not have broken the
seal more timidly. It was a letter without an envelope, folded in the
old-fashioned way, and when it was opened, a thin paper enclosure
fluttered to the ground. In his anxiety Seth did not notice what had
escaped, and he turned the letter this way and that, without meeting
with any writing but the address. Singular as it was, he experienced a
feeling of relief at this dispersal of his fears.

"Here's something dropped, Daddy," said Sally, in a tone made almost
gay by the change of expression in Seth's countenance.

Seth took the enclosure from Sally's hands. It was a Bank of England
note for ten pounds.

"Why, it's money!" he exclaimed.

"Money!" cried Sally.

"Yes, Sally, money." He glanced up at the ceiling with an air of
comical wonder. "We're in Tom Tiddler's ground, Sally."

"No, no," cried Sally, clapping her hands in glee, "it didn't drop
from there. It dropped out of the letter."

"That's more wonderful, then, than all the rest put together. Out of
the letter! There's not a letter in the letter, Sal - not one, from A
to Z." He laughed aloud, and Sally laughed in sympathy. "I don't care
where this comes from, nor why it has come. What I know is, it's the
brightest bit of good luck that ever happened to a man. This piece of
paper's a looking-glass, my child. Look at it - what do you see in it?"

Literal Sally, looking at the bank-note, as Seth held it open before
her, began at the beginning.

"There's a picture of a lady with a wand in her hand - - "

"Britannia ruling the waves. Is that all you can see in it?"

"No; there's - what funny letters, Daddy! I never saw any like 'em
before. There's B-a-n-k, Bank - - "

Seth took up the word, and read the note from beginning to end, and
then repeated his question, "Is that a l you can see in it?"

"That's all, Daddy."

"Sally, I'm cleverer than you. I take the note, and put it before me
like this - - Stop a minute." The Duchess had fallen asleep in his
arms, and he placed her gently on the bed. "Now we can get along. I
look at the note like this, and I see - yes, I see a coach, with you
and me and the Duchess sitting on the top of it."

"O Daddy!"

"Here we go, driving into the country. Such a ride, Sally! I see green
fields and flowers and fresh air for our darling in it - - "

It was with difficulty that Sally kept herself still to hear the rest.

"I see two weeks of green fields and fresh air for our darling in it.
And I'm not quite sure that I don't see the sea. Do I see the waves
creeping up, Sally?"

"I don't know - oh, _do_ you see 'em, Daddy, do you?"

"It's got a little bit cloudy about here" - tracing an imaginary line
with his finger - "but it'll clear up soon. And, Sally, I see something
still better in it. I see roses for our Duchess's cheeks in it,
sparkles for her eyes, lightness for her foot. Kiss the note, Sally. I
never thought I should come to worship Mammon, but I do worship him
now, with all my heart."

"Daddy," said Sally, struck with a sudden fear, "is it a good un?"

The alarming suggestion caused Seth to run out of the place, as though
he were running for his life, and this display of excitement on his
part was so novel that the neighbours who were still waiting in the
street for news concerning the letter came, first to the usual
conclusion that the house was on fire, and next to the more appetising
one that Seth Dumbrick had suddenly gone mad. He was a long time
absent, for it was no easy matter to get a ten-pound note changed in
Rosemary Lane. There were hundreds who had never seen such a thing,
and to whom a sight of it would have been an eighth wonder of the
world. At the end of an hour Seth returned in a calmer mood, with a
fistful of gold, which he let fall, piece by piece, on the table,
before Sally's wondering eyes. She, who never experienced a pleasure,
new or old, without desiring that her idol should share it, caught up
the Duchess, crying: "Look, Duchess, look!" The Duchess stretched
forth her hand with eager delight, and the children sat close to the
table, playing gleefully with the bright pieces, Seth standing at
their back, looking at them and at the gold, with one hand resting on
the Duchess's shoulder, and the other rasping his chin. His
declaration that he did not care where the money came from was not
ingenious. If he had wished, he could not have banished so singular an
adventure from his mind, and the more he thought of it the more it
puzzled him. He had no friend who was likely or able to commit an
action so quixotic; neither had Sally. Turning his attention to the
letter again, he held it up to the light and peered closely at it, in
the endeavour to discover a clue. Then it came into his mind that
there was a kind of colourless ink with which persons wishing to
communicate secretly could write, and which heat alone would render
visible, and he placed the paper to the fire without arriving at any
satisfactory result. He could not detect even the scratch of a pen. It
was the most unsolvable of riddles. "I am afraid I must give it up,"
he said to himself, but he could not give it up. With the subject
still in his mind, he ascended to his stall to finish some work he had
in hand before he started on the contemplated holiday. During his
work, a hundred ingenious theories started up, all to be dismissed but
one, which took strong possession of him. "Some rich person," he
thought, "perhaps a lady who once had a pretty child, that she was
ashamed to call her own, has seen the Duchess by chance, and has
fallen in love with her beautiful face, because it reminds her of old
days. Then she finds out the Duchess's name; then she discovers that
the Duchess has been ill; and then she sends a present of money in
this mysterious way." The sentiment attaching to this fanciful
speculation rendered it peculiarly attractive to Seth. "We'll put it
down to that," he mused; "stranger things have happened in the world."
So he put it down to "that," and produced some pleasant mental
pictures out of the fancy.

When the midday meal was over, he said, "Duchess, this money's for
you. It's been sent because you've got a pretty face, and pretty
hands, and bright eyes. And it's going to take us into the country,
where the flowers are all a-growing and a-blowing, and where you'll
get strong and lively again."

"Then it _will_ come true," cried Sally, "what you saw in the
ten-pound note!"

"It will come true, Sally, if we're alive to-morrow." An ecstatic
silence followed, broken by Sally.

"Then you know who sent the money, Daddy!"

"It was sent by a lady - as handsome a lady as ever you clapped eyes
on, Sally."

"And you've seen her?"

"Well - hum! - yes, I've seen her." And here Seth rubbed his forehead,
denoting that he meant he had seen her in his mind's eye - a salve to
his conscience.

"Where does she live?" asked Sally, whom it was difficult to stop,
when she commenced to make inquiries on an interesting theme.

"She lives in - hum! - in Fairyland."

"Oh, where's that?"

"Don't ask any more questions. You'll see a bit of it to-morrow."


The following day a sensation was created in Rosemary Lane by the
circumstance of Seth Dumbrick's stall being closed, and by a written
notice pasted outside, to the effect that he might be expected to
return in the course of two or three weeks.

"From the day as Seth Dumbrick give that party to the children,"
said Mrs. Preedy, holding forth in front of the cellar to a knot of
eager listeners, "down in that cellar" - with finger ominously
pointing - "from that day I begun to suspect him, and to feel sure as
there was something wrong I says to him on that very day, Strange
things is often done down in cellars,' says I; and then I told him
that I wouldn't let my Jane go to his party unless I were invited, no,
not if he filled my apron with diamings. 'Perhaps,' says I, with mind
full of misbegivings, 'perhaps you've got ghosts and skiletons down in
your cellar, Mr. Dumbrick;' and as true as I'm a living woman, he says
to me upon that, 'My cellar _is_ full of ghosts, Mrs. Preedy,' says
he; 'my cellar _is_ full of ghosts,' he says."

This narrative imparted a more intense interest to the position of
affairs, and imagination ran riot on the contents of the cellar,
which became gradually filled with the bones and limbs of murdered
persons - Seth Dumbrick's victims, who had been artfully decoyed down
the steps and made away with.

"And it shows the wickedness of mankind," said one woman, especially
disposed to the horrible, "to think of the way he's kept it secret all
this time."

Other imaginative phases relating to Sally and the Duchess, who were
pictured as being either murdered or chained to the wall and left to
starve, soon became popular; and ears were pressed to the shutters to
catch the groans of the children.

"I can hear something!" cried Mrs. Preedy; which instantly caused the
knot of women to declare that, for humanity's sake, the cellar should
be broken into and the children rescued. Whether they would have
proceeded to this extremity is not certain, and perhaps it was
fortunate that the form of Dr. Lyon was at that moment seen
approaching them.

"O doctor! O doctor!" cried Mrs. Preedy; and stood before him,
pressing her sides, and gasping for breath in her agitation.

"What's the matter, Mrs. Preedy?" asked the doctor. "Spasms?"

"No, sir; oh! no, sir," she replied, still palpitating. "The children!
the children!"

"What children?"

"Our beautiful Duchess, sir, and Sally, that we're all so fond on!"


"Down there, sir! Murdered! I heard a groan jest as you come up."

"Which proves," said the doctor, realising the position of affairs,
"that they can't be murdered. Mrs. Preedy, do you read your Bible?"

"I hope so, sir, I'm sure," answered Mrs. Preedy in a tone of virtuous

"I hope so too. Do you forget what it says? 'Do unto others as you
would others should do unto you.' Seth Dumbrick has gone into the
country with the children, for the sake of the Duchess, who needs
fresh air to bring her back to health. And here's the key of his
place, which he left with me early this morning. Let me give you a
piece of advice, Mrs. Preedy."

"I shall be very grateful, sir, I'm sure," murmured Mrs. Preedy,
trembling, not knowing what trouble she might have brought upon

"Go home, then," said the doctor in a grave tone, "and for the future
attend more to your own affairs and less to other people's. In plainer
words, mind your own business."

"Well, I'm sure!" gasped Mrs. Preedy, as Dr. Lyon stalked away. But
she obtained no sympathy from her neighbours, who were only too ready
to lay the blame on some one, and who, with justice - for she was the
most zealous scandalmonger in Rosemary Lane - laid it upon Mrs.
Preedy's shoulders. So that for once the right scapegoat suffered.
Mrs. Preedy went home in an oppressed state of mind, a sadder if not a
wiser woman; and the neighbours generally, to show how guiltless they
were, became enthusiastic in their praises of Seth Dumbrick; though it
must be confessed they bore him in their hearts a little grudge for
having disappointed them of a grand and awful sensation.

In the meantime, unconscious of the excitement he had created, Seth
Dumbrick, with the Duchess and Sally by his side, was sitting on the
top of an empty wagon returning to the country, with the driver of
which he had bargained for the ride.

It was a fine day, and the delight of the children was unbounded. The
fresh air, the clear atmosphere, the dreamy clouds, the beautiful
fields, were revelations to them. Occasionally they passed an estate,
stone-walled from vulgar eyes, over which, being seated at such an
elevation, they could see into the carefully-tended gardens and
orchards; and more frequently they passed the prettiest of gardens
belonging to humbler folk, the colour and beauty of which were as
lovely and charming as Nature could produce, to gladden heart and eye.
The driver of the wagon was in no hurry; he had some sixty miles to
go, and he worked for no hard taskmaster; he was an old man, and
merciful to his cattle, having a love for them, as could easily be
seen - all of which circumstances were as precious as gold to the
holiday-seekers, for it gave them leisure to see and enjoy. The wagon
was a new wagon, of which Seth made joyous capital, saying it had been
built especially for them to ride in on this brightest of all bright
days. Overhearing the remark, the driver said that that was a likely
thing, too, for things happened pretty much as they were ordained to
happen - leastways, that was his experience; and said it as though he
had high authority for the doctrine. The bells on the harness supplied
the music, varying most delightfully according to the pace; for, to
please the children, the old driver occasionally smartened the horses
into a trot, which they appeared to enjoy as much as they enjoyed the
leisurely amble with which they traversed the greater part of the
road. He was a kindly old fellow, with a face like a ribstone pippin,
and with hands as hard and brown as knotted oak - hands which could be
soft and gentle, also, and were, when he pinched the cheek of the
Duchess. She, always susceptible to fondling and caressing, looked
into the old man's face and smiled, so winsomely as to make him

"Yours?" he inquired of Seth Dumbrick.

"No," replied Seth, in a low tone, so that the children should not
hear; "not exactly. I've adopted her. An orphan."

"Ah!" said the driver; "then _she's_ yours;" glancing at Sally.

"No, I've no children of my own."

"Never been married?"

"No. _You're_ a family man, I can see."

"Thirteen of 'em;" adding, in response to the look of astonishment on
Seth's face, "Not too many, not one too many."

"Are they all at home?" asked Seth.

"No; they're here and there;" with a wave of his hands cloudwards,
sufficiently comprehensive to denote that his brood were scattered
over the face of the earth. "We're a travelling family, you see. I've
been a wagoner ever since I was a lad. My youngsters took after me,
and travelled further - two to America, one to China, one to Australia;
and another" - this with a wistful look into the clouds, yearningly
eager to fix the spot - "God knows where. But," he added, with a
brighter air, "they're all doing well, most of 'em. I've no occasion
to work, but I couldn't live without a whip. I'd like to die with one
in my hand. Then, I love the English roads. You're fond of 'em, too, I
can see."

"They are very beautiful," said Seth, "to us especially, who see but
little of 'em. I haven't been out of London for fifteen years. And
this little girl" - with a kindly pressure of Sally's arm - "has never
in her life seen the country till now."

Sally's eyes sparkled a rapturous confirmation. This holiday was,
indeed, a revelation to her soul; she saw beauty of which she had
hitherto had no knowledge or comprehension; and as she sat on the
wagon, with one arm fondly caressing the Duchess, whose head was lying
on her bosom, she wished that she and those she loved could go jogging
along in this way for ever and ever.


It was nearly noon when the driver said:

"I'm about as peckish as a man - especially a wagoner - can afford to
be. Come up, Daisy! Do your best, Cornflower!"

Thus urged, Daisy and Cornflower, regarding the smack of the whip in
the air as the merriest of jokes, broke into their smartest trot, and
did their best, smelling hay and water in the near distance. The bells
jingled gaily, and Sally and the Duchess looked eagerly ahead. So
smart was the pace that within a few moments they saw a house of
accommodation for man and beast, at the door of which a number of men
and women were gathered to welcome them. The driver was evidently well
known, and a favourite, and when he pulled up, willing hands assisted
him to take the harness from the horses.

"An hour's spell here," he said to Seth Dumbrick, as he lifted the
children to the ground, tossing them in the air, after the manner of a
man accustomed to children. "If you're going to eat, you'd best take
the little girls to the back of the house, and enjoy it regular
country fashion. To think," he added, pinching Sally's happy face, "of
never seeing the country till now!"

With a jug of beer and some cold meat and bread, Seth and his girls
made their way to the garden at the back of the inn, where, sitting in
a natural bower, upon seats built round the trunk of an apple-tree,
they enjoyed the most delicious meal of their lives.

"We're getting our roses again," said Seth Dumbrick, gazing with
unalloyed pleasure on the beautiful face of the Duchess. "Now, what
we've got to do is to wish that the minutes won't fly away."

But fly away they did, and in less than no time the old wagoner
summoned them to the road.

"Unless," he said jocosely, "you want to be left behind."

"I'd like to be," sighed Sally.

In front of the inn, where the horses stood ready for their work, the
landlady met them, with flowers and kisses and kind words for the
children; and when they were lifted into the wagon, they found
that a quantity of sweet hay had been thrown in by the thoughtful
wagoner - kind marks of attention which met with grateful and
full-hearted acknowledgments. On they went again, gazing wistfully at
the inn and the pleasant people standing about it, until they were out
of sight. On they went, in a state of dreamy happiness, through the
new world of peace and beauty, into which surely trouble could never
enter. Every turn of the road disclosed fresh wonders, and a mighty
interest was attached to the smallest incidents; - every queerly-shaped
tree, every garden, every cottage, every mansion, that came into view;
cows drinking from a distant pool; a mother with her baby in her arms,
standing at a window framed in ivy; old men and women hobbling about
the grounds of a charitable institution; two truant school-boys racing
and shouting with wild delight, with no thought of the terrors to come
when their fault was discovered; a man asleep under a hedge, and a
woman sitting patiently by his side; a lady beautifully dressed, who
paused to look at the children; a group of gipsies; a groom riding
towards London at full speed; - one and all formed enduring and
interesting pictures, and added to the pleasures of the ride.

"Where do we stop?" asked Seth Dumbrick of the wagoner.

"At The World's End," replied the wagoner; "we'll make it at five
o'clock, I reckon."

He was a shrewd calculator. As a church clock chimed five, he pointed
with his whip to an old-fashioned inn, lying off from the roadside
some hundred yards away, saying that was The World's End, and that
they would put up there for the night, and start again early in the
morning. As he spoke, they were nearing a pair of massive iron gates,
through the open work of which could be seen a curved carriage-drive,
lined with great elms. Straight and tall and stately, they presented
the appearance of a giant regiment drawn up in lines to do honour to
those who passed between.

"That's a grand place," observed Seth.

"It's the finest estate for many a mile round," said the wagoner.

"It has got a name."

"Oh, yes. Springfield it's called."

Seth Dumbrick listened. The estate was so built round with walls and
trees that the carriage-drive was the only part open to the gaze of
the passer-by. A faint sound of laughter - the laughter of the
young - floated to his ears.

"It isn't so solemn as it looks," said Seth.

"There's a lot of company at Springfield," rejoined the wagoner.
"They're spending a fine time, I reckon."

"The master must be a rich man. Is he a lord?"

"He'll be one some day they say. He's a great lawyer."

In another moment the horses stopped at The World's End, and showed by
a merry jingle of their bells that they knew the day's work was done.
It was still broad daylight, and Seth set so much store upon the
children being as much as they could in the open air, that, after
arranging for the night's accommodation at The World's End, he and
Sally and the Duchess started for a walk through the country lanes.
There was sufficient beauty within the immediate vicinity of The
World's End to engage their attention and admiration, and Seth,
fearful of over-fatiguing the Duchess, so directed his steps as to
keep Springfield always in view - whereby he was sure that he was never
very far from the inn in which they were to pass the night. It thus
happened that they frequently skirted the immediate boundaries of the
estate - here formed by a close-knit hedge through which a hare could
not have made its way, here by a natural creek, with stalwart trees on
the Springfield side, here by a stone wall, in lieu of a more natural
defence against encroachment. It was a quiet and peaceful evening, and
after a couple of hours of almost restful sauntering, so little of
labour was there in their mode of going about, they came suddenly upon
a narrow lane, bounded by a broken hedge. The prospect was so pretty,

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Online LibraryB. L. (Benjamin Leopold) FarjeonThe Duchess of Rosemary Lane → online text (page 12 of 24)