B. L. (Benjamin Leopold) Farjeon.

The Duchess of Rosemary Lane online

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and the glimpse of green trees forming an archway some twenty yards
distant was so inviting, that Seth, without a thought of trespass,
lifted the Duchess and Sally over the hedge, and followed them. A
gipsy woman, sitting within the shadow of the arch of trees, would
probably have called for no special attention, had not the
Duchess - upon whom the flashing eyes, the dark sunburnt face,
stern and sombre in its aspect, the shining black hair but slightly
covered with the usual red handkerchief, and the generally bold air
which pervaded the woman, produced an effect little less than
terrifying - clasped Seth's hand in fear, and strove to pull him back.

"Don't be frightened, Duchess," said Seth, soothing; "it's only a

None but the closest observer, and one, too, on the watch for signs,
could have detected the slightest variation of expression on the
woman's face. To all appearance, she was entirely unconscious of the
presence of the holiday party; but her quick ears had caught very
distinctly every word uttered by Seth, and her quick sense, sharpened
from her birth to certain ends conducive to the earning of sixpences
in an unlawful way, had already placed a construction upon them which
might lead to profit. Without raising her eyes, she noted the
composition of the party, and waited for the course of events to bring
her into action. Seth's soothing tone quieted the Duchess's fears, and
his words excited Sally to a most wonderful degree. She had never seen
a real gipsy; she had heard of them and of their occult powers of
divination, and now one was before her, endowed with the mysterious
and awful power of prophecy and of seeing into the future. The
opportunity was too precious to be lost. She clasped her hands, and
with a beseeching look at Seth, cried:

"O Daddy! ask her to tell the Duchess's fortune."

"Nonsense, Sally," said Seth. "She can no more tell fortunes than you
or I can. Why, one of your trances is a hundred times better than
anything she can tell us. Besides, what is to be is to be."

He spoke in a low tone, and the gipsy lost not a word of his speech.

Sally was not given to dispute with her guardian. She loved and
respected him too well, believing that he knew better than anybody
else in the world what was good for everybody; but she had to struggle
with herself for strength to bear the disappointment. The next few
steps brought them to the side of the gipsy, who rose and confronted

"Let me tell your fortune, pretty lady."

Sally's heart beat quickly as the gipsy took her hand and held it with
light, firm grasp.

"We have no time for fortune-telling," said Seth, adding gently, "and
no money."

"Sixpence won't harm you, kind gentleman," said the gipsy, sitting on
a hillock, so that her face and Sally's were on a level. "You haven't
come all the way from London to spoil the pleasure of these little
ladies for sixpence."

"Oh, oh!" cried Sally, palpitating. "She knows we come from London!"

"The gipsy woman knows everything, and sees everything, pretty lady."

The circumstance of being called pretty lady in so winsome a voice was
honey to Sally's soul.

Seeing no way but one out of the difficulty, Seth gave the woman a
sixpenny-piece, which she, suspicious of the tricks of Londoners of a
common grade, placed between her teeth to test. Sally meanwhile,
having an arm disengaged, clasped the Duchess's waist, and drew her
close to her side. The gipsy cast a rapid glance upon the two
children, noting the tenderness expressed in the action, and then fell
to examining Sally's hand.

"You see the usual things in it, of course," said Seth, with but small
respect in his tone for the woman's art. "What usual things?" asked
the gipsy.

"Sickness, sorrow, sweethearts, riches."

"I see no riches; here is trouble."

"Not in the present," said Seth, somewhat repentant of his rashness in
angering the woman, as he saw Sally turn pale.

"No, not in the present. Trouble in the past, trouble in the future."

"Easy to predict. Trouble comes to all of us."

"Look here, master. Are you reading the signs or me?"

"You; and you read them in the usual way."

"Is it reading them in the usual way to tell you that you are not this
little lady's father?"

"Our faces teach you that."

"Is it reading them in the usual way to tell you that this little
lady's trouble in the future will come from love?"

"A dark or fair man?" asked Seth, still bantering, for the purpose of
inspiring Sally with courage.

"From no man, dark or fair. From love of a woman."

"Of a woman!" exclaimed Seth, biting his lip.

"Ay, of a woman, when this little lady herself is a woman." A curtsey
from the gipsy caused Seth to turn his head, and he saw that other
persons had joined the party: a gentleman of middle age and a lady
richly dressed.

"Come," said the gentleman, with a careless attempt to draw the lady
from the group.

"No," protested the lady, "no, Mr. Temple; I must positively stop. I
dote on fortune-telling; I've had mine told a hundred times."

"It's a bright fortune, my lady," said the gipsy, still retaining
Sally's hand, "as bright as this summer's day."

"It is evening now," observed the gentleman addressed as Mr. Temple.
"Better not stop. The grey shadows are coming."

"There are no grey shadows for my lady," quickly answered the gipsy.

"Rose-coloured shall all your days be," said the gentleman, with an
amused glance at his companion, "if - - " and paused.

"Yes - if - - " prompted the lady.

"If," continued the gentleman, "you cross the poor gipsy's hand with
silver. Isn't that so?" addressing the gipsy.

The woman smiled deferentially, and held out her hand to receive the
silver which the lady took from her purse.

"And it's enough to provoke even a gentleman's curiosity," said the
lady, "to hear that trouble is to come to this sweet girl through the
love of a woman instead of that of a man."

"All troubles through love come from love of a woman," observed the
gentleman oracularly.

"Does _your_ experience teach you that?" inquired the lady, peering
laughingly into his eyes.

"What my experience teaches me," he replied, with a shadow gathering
on his face, "I reserve."

"After a lawyer's fashion," said the lady, again taking up his words.
"You are self-convicted, Mr. Temple."

"In what way?"

"If you saw your face in a glass, you would receive your answer."

"Psha!" he exclaimed, directing his attention to the gipsy. "You have
told this little girl that a woman will bring her trouble. Beyond your
skill to say what woman."

"A woman younger than herself; more beautiful than herself; that she
loves, and loves dearly. Show yourself, my beauty."

With no unkindly hand, knowing that it would not be tolerated, she
raised the Duchess's chin with her fingers, so that the lady and
gentleman could see her face. At the same moment Seth Dumbrick plucked
the Duchess from the gipsy, and pressed her to his side, with a steady
eye upon the gentleman.

"What a lovely child!" cried the lady, stooping, and placing her hand
on the Duchess's shoulder. "Look, Mr. Temple. Did you ever in your
life see so beautiful a face?"

He paused before he replied, and then the words came slowly from his

"Once I saw a face as beautiful."

"When? Where?" eagerly asked the lady.

"In a dream."

"A dream!" exclaimed the gipsy, tracing a line on Sally's hand. "There
are dreams mixed up with this little lady's fortune."

"Oh, yes, yes!" cried Sally. "I have 'em! I have 'em!"

The gipsy turned to Seth.

"Do I read the signs in the usual way?"

"You have hit enough nails on the head," said Seth, "and you have
earned your money. It is time for us to go."

"Not yet, oh, not yet," interposed the lady. "We want this lovely
child's fortune told." She drew the Duchess from Seth; the child,
fascinated by her pretty face and soft silk dress, went willingly
enough, and Sally and Seth looked on with jealous, uneasy eyes. "You
need not be frightened, my good man. I shall not harm your daughter."

"Bless your ladyship's heart," said the gipsy, "he's not her father."

"How does she know?" inquired the lady. "Is it true?"

For a moment a falsehood rested on Seth's lips, but he refused to
utter it. "She's not my child," he said. "I have adopted her."

"Mr. Temple," said the lady excitedly, "does the law permit children
to be bought and sold? I should like to buy this child."

Seth looked frowningly at the lady, but all her attention being
bestowed on the Duchess, she did not observe this evidence of his
displeasure. The frown, however, was met by another and a sterner from
the gentleman, who thus stood forward as the lady's champion. Seth did
not lower his eyes, and the assumption of superiority in the
gentleman's demeanour brought an expression of contempt and defiance
into his own. It was not likely, after the fixed gaze with which they
regarded each other, that either would forget the other's face. Seth
observed more than the face of the man who confronted him. Every
detail of dress, bearing, and manner photographed itself upon his
mind, and an instinctive dislike for the fine gentleman took
possession of him.

"Did you hear what I said?" cried the lady, addressing the gentleman,
and smoothing the silky hair of the Duchess. "I should like to buy
this child? What has the law to say to the bargain?"

"I am afraid that the law would not support you," said the gentleman.

"I am sure that nature would not," said Seth sternly. "Why, my good
man, you have confessed that you are not the child's father."

"Confessed, did I? Well, if you will have it so. But between me and
this child there is a bond of love - a strong point. And even if the
law did support you, I have nine other strong points in my favour - all
expressed in one small word."

"Will it be troubling you too much," asked the gentleman, with
irritating insolence, "to ask you to name that word?"

"Not at all. As a lawyer - as I understand from this lady's remarks you
are - you will appreciate its worth. Possession."

The discordant chord between these men had been struck very

"You are acquainted with the law," observed the gentleman, implying
what it was impossible to misunderstand - to wit, that Seth Dumbrick
was acquainted with the law in a way not creditable to himself.

"I know nothing of it from experience."

"Yet you know something of the machinery."

"From observation and general reading."

"Indeed! You set up for a scholar!"

"I do not."

"Would possession hold good," inquired the lady, with careless
condescension, "against a rightful owner?"

"It has," replied Seth, not unwilling to use the arrow placed in his
hands, "in many instances - thanks to the law."

The lady looked at the gentleman for information.

"Such things have been," he said, "but not where flesh and blood are

"And here it _is_ concerned," she exclaimed, with vivacity.

"Nonsense. What whim of yours shall I have to fight against next?"

"Of course, when I say I would like to buy the child, I am aware I am
talking nonsense; but perhaps it is not in your legal mind to make
allowances. I am singularly curious to learn what I can of the pretty
creature's history - if she has one."

"The commonest of us has a history worth reading - but not, I doubt,
until the actor begins to play a conscious part in the drama of life."

"Now you are speaking in a way I like. Let me, then, have my way, and
ask the gipsy to tell the child's fortune."

"Come," he said to the gipsy, "earn your money. We have already
lingered too long."

Seth Dumbrick, who had been listening with impatience to this
dialogue, stepped between the gipsy and the Duchess.

"We have had enough fooling," he said sternly. "Let the woman earn her
money in some other way than this."

He would have retired with the children at once, had not the gentleman
stepped quickly before him, barring his progress.

"You are disposed to be insolent," he said, with a slight quivering of
the lips. "Do you not know how to pay respect to a lady?"

"I know what is due to myself," replied Seth quietly. "I simply wish
not to be molested."

"You are a stranger about here?"

"I am here by chance; I have no knowledge of the place."

"Nor of me?"

"Nor of you - and," he added, his temper mastering his judgment, "I
wish to have none. You are a gentleman, and I - - "

"Am not."

"You have answered for me. I see no reason to repine at the difference
in our positions."

Seth did not intend his meaning to be mistaken, and his tone added
force to his words. The gentleman's manner was so overbearing, that
the commoner man's independent spirit was roused.

"I am the master of this place. This is a private road; you have
committed a trespass."

"Then the sooner I repair an error unintentionally committed, the
better for myself. If I had known this road was private I should not
have entered it."

"The notice-board is large, and the words plain. You have been good
enough to inform me that you can read."

He pointed to a board at the beginning of the road which had escaped
Seth's notice, on which was painted in bold letters, "Trespassers will
be prosecuted." Seth bit his lip as he saw the trap into which he had

"The hedge which protects the road," continued the gentleman, "has
been newly broken."

"Not by me," said Seth, somewhat uneasy for the children's sake.

"It is not to be expected that you would admit it. But for your
insolence towards the lady and myself, I should be disposed to
overlook the trespass; as it is I am in doubt. Where do you come

"From London."

"A London tramp - a vagrant."

"No tramp or vagrant," said Seth indignantly; "an honest man bringing
his children into the country in search of health."

"I understand they are not your children."

"They are mine by adoption."

"Are their parents living?"

"This child's mother - don't be frightened, Sally - lives in the
country, and is unable to offer her a home. So I take care of her."

"A modern Quixote," said the gentleman, with a sneer. "And this
child" - once more he looked at the Duchess, whose eyes were raised to
his - "and this child - - " The imploring gaze of the Duchess appeared
to disconcert him, and the sentence remained unfinished.

A singular silence followed, during which they all looked at the
gentleman, whose self-possession had suddenly deserted him. Aroused to
the fact that general attention was fixed upon him, he broke the
silence, with curious pauses between his words.

"I was asking whether these children are sisters?"

"They are not," replied Seth.

"In any way related?"

"Not to my knowledge."

"Are her parents living?"

For the second time during the interview a falsehood rested on Seth's
lips, and for the second time he refused to utter it.

"I do not know," he replied.

"What is it you say?"

"I do not know whether her parents are living."

"A born lady," muttered the gipsy, seeing her chance; "a born
lady - fit to be a Duchess - _is_ one, or I can't read the stars."

Seth turned a startled look upon the gipsy, saying, "You are a clever
witch, wherever you have got your information." Then to the gentleman,
"Have you anything more to ask me?"

"Nothing," was the reply, with a contradiction almost in the same
breath: "In what part of London did you say you live?" as though the
question had been already asked and answered.

"In the east."

"And you rest to-night?"

"At The World's End, hard by here."

"Very well; I shall call upon you to-morrow early. You can go."

But early the next morning, before ordinary folks were stirring, Seth
and the children were again on the road. The wagon started at six
o'clock, and Seth experienced a feeling of relief when he caught the
last glimpse of Springfield.

"No more ladies and gentlemen for us," he said almost gaily, with the
air of a man who has escaped a great danger; "we have had enough of

"I like ladies and gentlemen," said the Duchess - a remark which drove
Seth into a moody fit for at least an hour.


The second day's journey was as delightful as the first. The weather
continued fine, and Seth Dumbrick, recovering his spirits, did his
best to entertain the children, to whom the ride itself would have
been a sufficiently satisfying enjoyment. During the day Seth confided
his plans to the good-natured wagoner, and his desire to obtain cheap
lodgings for a few days for himself and the children at some modest
cottage in the country.

"Would near the seaside suit you?" asked the wagoner.

"Capitally," replied Seth; "but your place lies inland."

"I have time to go a little out of my way, and will take you to a
cottage near the sea belonging to a friend of mine, who'll be able to
lodge you reasonable."

"Nothing could be better," said Seth, thankfully.

"It's obliging her and you, and won't trouble me much. Come up, Daisy!
Now then, Cornflower! Four mile more for you, and plenty of time to do
it in."

If Daisy and Cornflower understood that an additional task was imposed
upon them they did not take it sadly, but shook their bells briskly
and trotted out of their regular track with a willing spirit.

"Round this bend," said the wagoner, "and a fine stretch of the sea'll
be before us."

It appeared almost incredible, for the trees and hedges in the path
they were riding along were so thick and the path itself so winding as
to obscure the view.

"The children have never seen the sea," said Seth.

"You don't say so! Well, I wouldn't be a Londoner, bound to live there
all my days, for the best fifty houses you could offer me. And never
seen a ship sailing, I'll be bound!"


"It will be something for them to remember, then. Now, shut your eyes,
my little lasses, and don't open them till I say 'Presto!'"

Sally and the Duchess shut their eyes tight, their hearts throbbing
with eager expectation.

"Up then, Daisy! Up, Cornflower! Round the bend we go. Presto!"

The Duchess and Sally opened their eyes and uttered exclamations of
delight. The glorious sea lay before them, with large ships in the
distance and fishing boats in the foreground. In one part the sun,
playing on the water, transformed it into an island of flashing
jewels. It was a veritable wonderland to the children - a dream of
beauty never to be forgotten.

"Do I see the waves creeping up, Sally?" asked Seth, gaily.

Sally raised her face to his and kissed him.

"It's all through that money that was sent to the Duchess, Daddy."

"All through that, Sally."

"Then I love money, Daddy," said Sally; "and I'd like to be a lady, so
that the Duchess and me might live always by the sea. How far does it
stretch? More than we can see?"

"Thousands, and thousands, and thousands of miles more. Away into
other countries, where it's night at the present moment while it's
daylight here."

"I don't understand it," said Sally, with a sigh of ecstasy, "and I
don't want to. Oh, we're going away from it!"

"We're going to the cottage I spoke of my little woman," said the
wagoner; "it's not three hundred yards off - just down this lane."

Down the lane they drove, and drew up at a small house with a garden
before and behind. The front of the cottage was covered with ivy, and
the windows in their framework of glossy leaves looked wonderfully

"This is nice, too," said Sally, disposed to enjoy everything.

"There's beauty everywhere, Sally," said Seth, with a touch of his old
philosophy, "if we'll only look out for it."

"This comes without looking out for it," replied Sally; "and that's
why I like it. Ain't it better than anything ever was, Duchess?"

The Duchess nodded an assent, and in another moment the whole party
were in the little parlour, and Seth and the wagoner were talking to
the mistress of the house. The bargain was soon struck, the terms
asked for board and lodging being much less than Seth had ventured to
hope they would be. They were to have the two rooms on the first floor
for sleeping apartments, one looking over the front the other over the
back of the house.

"Daddy must have this," said Sally, as they stood in the front room;
"it's the best."

"That's the reason why you and the Duchess shall sleep in it. I came
into the country for your sakes, children, not for my own."

Everything in the place was sweet and fresh; and the garden at the
back of the house contained apple and pear trees and currant-bushes,
as well as flowers.

"My good man," said the mistress, "will be glad to have two such
pretty children in the house for a little while. We've none of our
own. It'll brighten us up a bit."

The woman was sad-looking and spoke in a sad tone; and Sally wondered
how it was possible that one who lived in the fairy-house, with
flowers and fruit trees and the sea within a stone's throw of them,
should need brightening up. She was sure if such a paradise were hers,
that there would never be a dull hour in it. While the woman was
attending to the children upstairs, assisting them to wash after their
long day's ride, and showing them all the wonders of the fairy house,
Seth and the wagoner had a conversation in the room below. It was a
friendly one, resulting from the wagoner's refusal to accept payment
for the ride.

"It'll be a pleasure to me," said the wagoner, "not to take the money.
I don't want it, having enough and to spare, as I've already told you.
I don't mean to say I do it for your sake - - "

"Not likely," said Seth, good-humouredly.

" - But for the sake of the pretty little one you call the Duchess. And
that's puzzled me. I'd take it as a favour if you'd tell me, why

"Well, it was a fancy of Sally's," said Seth, "who worships the
Duchess - - "

"It's plain enough that she thinks a mighty deal more of her than she
does of herself."

"That she does. Well, the Duchess came to me in a strange way that'll
take too long to explain here. The child was left in our neighbourhood
in a most mysterious manner - brought in mysteriously, deserted
mysteriously. She and Sally were thrown together, and Sally adopted
her, if one helpless mite can be said to adopt another helpless mite.
Sally's mother fell into misfortune, and the children happened to drop
in my way. Sally had a name - the other one didn't - and one night we
had a curious little party of children in my cellar - - "

"In your cellar?"

"I live in a cellar in Rosemary Lane - and Sally, quite seriously, put
the fancy in my head of calling the child the Duchess of our quarter.
All the neighbours take to it kindly, and everyone that knows her
loves her. Look there. Who could help being attracted to her?"

The wagoner looked up at the window of the children's room, and saw
the Duchess standing within a framework of dark-green ivy leaves. The
light was shining full upon her beautiful face, and touched, also, the
darker face of Sally, who stood at the back of the Duchess, looking
over her shoulder.

"It's a picture one don't often see," said the wagoner, with a
thoughtful air; "but if I had my choice of the two girls for a
daughter, I reckon I'd choose the dark-skinned one."

It did not displease Seth to hear this, for Sally and the Duchess
really occupied an equal place in his heart. If the beauty of the
Duchess awoke the tenderness of his nature, the devotion,
unselfishness, and many rare qualities displayed by Sally were no less
powerful in their effect upon his sympathies. Bearing in mind the
scene that had occurred at Springfield on the preceding evening, he
asked the wagoner, if any inquiries were made of him, not to divulge
where he and the children were rusticating.

"I've brought them into the country," he said, "as much for peace and
quietness as for fresh air."

There was to the wagoner's mind something suspicious both in the words
and the nervous manner in which Seth made the request. He showed in
his countenance the impression he received, and Seth, wishing to stand
well with him, gave an account of the incident which had so disturbed

"When I heard the lady say she would like to buy my child," he said,
in conclusion, "it seemed to me that she had so much faith in the
power of money, and so little in the power of love, that I could not
keep my temper. I spoke hotly, and with reason, I think."

"It would have roused my blood," responded the wagoner; "you never saw
any of the gentlefolk before?"

"Never, and I never wish to see them again. I said as much to the
master of Springfield, if I'm not mistaken."

"From what I've heard of him, he's not a man either to forget or

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Online LibraryB. L. (Benjamin Leopold) FarjeonThe Duchess of Rosemary Lane → online text (page 13 of 24)