B. L. (Benjamin Leopold) Farjeon.

The Duchess of Rosemary Lane online

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"You'll promise me, then, for the sake of the children, not to set any
one on our track?"

He spoke anxiously, his fears exaggerating a danger which, in all
likelihood was wholly imaginary.

"Yes," replied the wagoner, "there's no harm in promising. They've no
right to worry you, as far as I can see, and they sha'n't get me to
put them in the way of it. How long are you going to stop here?"

"We can live here so cheaply," said Seth, with a lightened heart,
"that my purse will hold out for two or three weeks; we'll stay that
time, I dare say."

"I'll be going up to London about then, mayhap," said the wagoner; "if
so, I'll be glad to give the little lasses a lift; and mayhap I may be
passing this way in a few days with the wagon. A ride through the
lanes will do them no harm."

Seth expressed his thanks to the kind-hearted old fellow, and they
shook hands and parted, the wagoner smiling goodbye to the children,
who stood at the window watching him until he was out of sight.

Then commenced a happy time. The children were in a new world, and the
little cottage, with its bit of garden back and front, was a very
heaven to them. Everything was so new and bright, the air was so
sweet, the trees and flowers so beautiful, that Sally could scarcely
believe it was all real. On the first night, when they were abed,
listening to the strange sound of the waves beating on the shore,
Sally whispered to the Duchess:

"Isn't it lovely, Duchess?"

"Yes, oh, yes," sighed the Duchess; and this precise form of words was
used at least a dozen times, each time with the belief that it
embodied an observation of an especially original nature. Once Sally,
creeping out of bed, drew aside the snowy white curtains from the
window and looked out.

"Oh, come, Duchess, come!" she cried, and the Duchess scrambled after
her. It was full moon, and the glorious light shining on the trees and
hedges was a vision of beauty to them.

"That's a different moon from the one we've got in Rosemary Lane,"
said Sally; "I wish we could take it back with us."

"Are we going back?" asked the Duchess regretfully.

Sally did not reply. The prospect was too distressing. But she was
happily so constituted as to be grateful for present joys and
pleasures, and she dismissed Rosemary Lane from her thoughts. Her one
fear was that she would wake up.

"Do you like the noise the sea makes?" she inquires of her idol, when
they were in bed again.

"It's beautiful," said the Duchess. "Are the ships there?"

Sally never hesitated to impart information on subjects of which she
was ignorant.

"They're there," she said, "but they don't move till daylight comes."

"I'm sleepy," said the Duchess, with a yawn.

"I'm frightened to go to sleep," said Sally, battling with fatigue; "I
want to be like this always. I hope it ain't a dream - oh, I hope it
ain't a dream!"

Before she had finished, the Duchess was asleep.

"I'll pinch myself hard," thought Sally, "as hard as I can, and if
there's a black-and-blue mark on my arm to-morrow morning, I shall know
it's real."

Sally did pinch herself - so hard that she could not help crying out
with the pain, but she obtained her reward on the following morning,
when she saw the black-and-blue marks. The joy of the day, however,
was so great that as she sat on the pebbly beach, watching the waves
creep up and the ships and fishing-boats floating away into
wonderland, she found it hard to convince herself that she was not
dreaming. At the end of the week she said to Seth:

"Daddy, every night I go to bed, I am frightened that I shall wake up
and find myself in Rosemary Lane."

Thereupon he read her and the Duchess a lecture on contentment and
gratitude, not so much needed by Sally as by the Duchess.

"I know you're right," said Sally; "it will always be a pleasure to
think of, but I shall be awful sorry too, that it didn't last for
ever. It can't, Daddy, can it?"

"No, my dear, it can't."

"I wish I was rich," sighed Sally.

"Supposing you had lived a hundred years ago," suggested Seth, with
grave humour; and paused.

"Well, Daddy. Supposing I did?"

"It would be all the same to you whether you had a hundred boxes full
of gold or whether you had twopence-halfpenny."

Sally was shrewd enough to understand this without having to ask for
an explanation.

"What do you say to it all?" asked Sally of the Duchess.

"I don't care for a hundred years ago," said the Duchess; "I don't
know what it means. I care for Now." And she echoed Sally's words, "I
wish I was rich."

This set Seth pondering, and in his endeavour to extract honey out of
unpromising material and to improve the occasion, it is to be feared
that he soared above the understanding of his children. In this way:

"Did I ever tell you, Sally" - he always appealed to Sally at such
times, although he addressed both her and the Duchess - "of a man I
once knew called Billy Spike?"

"No, Daddy."

"He was a friend of mine a good many years ago. Older than me by
thirty years was Billy Spike - and he was always Billy, never William,
to the day of his death. Nearly everybody who knew him thought he was


"Because of one thing he was never tired of saying, 'What I don't get
is profit.' That's what sweetened the world for Billy Spike. 'What I
don't get is profit,' was always on his lips."

"Was _he_ a rich man, Daddy?"

"I doubt if Billy Spike ever had twenty shillings in his pocket at one
time. I doubt if ever he had a new suit of clothes to his back. I
doubt if he ever had quite as much to eat as he could have taken in.
He was as poor as a church-mouse."

"Why is a church-mouse poor?" asked practical Sally.

"It's no use my trying to explain that, Sally. It's a saying, and a
true one I dare say. But about Billy Spike. He was the poorest and the
happiest man in the world, and all the philosophy of life was
contained in his saying, 'What I don't get is profit.' 'Billy,' I said
to him, 'what do you mean by it?' He looked at me with his eyes
twinkling. 'Seth Dumbrick,' said he, 'you're a man of sense. Look at
me. Here I am.' And he stood up straight before me, showing large
holes in his coat, under his arms, and being generally a picture of
rags. 'If,' said I, 'all the profit you make comes from what you've
got, and not from what you haven't got, your returns must be small.'
'I've got a pair of arms, Seth Dumbrick,' said Billy. 'Thank you for
nothing,' said I. 'You call that nothing!' cried Billy. 'Wait a bit.
My limbs are all sound, my eyesight's good. I never had a headache or
a toothache in my life, and I sleep like a top. Now, tell me who's
that crossing the road?' It was a sailor we knew who hopped through
life on a wooden leg. Me and Billy and the wooden-legged sailor went
and had a glass together, and Billy drew the sailor out to tell us all
about the miseries of having only one leg - what shootings he had in
the one that was chopped off - yes, he said that, Sally, though it does
sound funny - and how he couldn't walk where he wanted to walk, and
couldn't do what he wanted to do, all through having a wooden leg. It
was plain enough that his wooden leg made him real unhappy and
miserable. When he was gone Billy Spike said to me, with a wink, 'What
I don't get is profit: I don't get wooden legs.' Just then we saw a
woman that we knew; her face was twice its proper size, and she had a
bandage round it. 'What's the matter, mother?' asked Billy Spike. 'I'm
almost dead with the pain, Billy,' she said. 'I've been and had two of
my teeth out at the hospital and the doctor's almost broke my jaw.
It's enough to drive a poor woman mad.' 'The toothache is,' said
Billy. 'Yes, the toothache,' said she; 'I've had it on and off for the
last twenty years, and I'm pretty well crazed with it.' Billy Spike
winked at me again. 'What I don't get is profit. I don't get
toothaches.' Then we came across a blind man, and Billy drew _him_
out, and a pretty bad case it was. 'I'd sooner be dead than alive,'
said he. He couldn't see the wink that Billy gave. What I don't get is
profit,' said Billy. 'I don't get blind.' And so Billy would have gone
on all the day, I don't doubt, if I hadn't already caught his

In which respect Seth had the advantage of those to whom he was
relating, as a possibly useful lesson, this story of Billy Spike's
philosophy. Sally's face denoted that she did not see the application,
and the Duchess said again, "I wish I was rich." So Seth resolved to
throw aside philosophy as not suitable for the occasion, and to devote
himself entirely to pleasure. It was none the less sweet because it
was taken in a modest humble way, and because it cost but little
money. Country walks, rides in carts and wagons, generally given for
nothing - for the beauty of the Duchess soon attracted admirers even in
this out-of-the-way spot - frolics in hayfields, rambles by the
seaside, fully occupied their hours, and did not afford opportunity
for a moment's weariness. And one day a travelling photographer passed
their road and offered to "take" the Duchess for a song, as the saying
is. Being an artist he saw the value of Seth's suggestion that she
should be taken standing in a framework of ivy leaves, and the
prettiest of pictures was produced. The photographer, falling in love
with his work, and seeing future profit in it, took negatives of the
Duchess in various attitudes, she falling into them so naturally as to
excite his wonder and admiration. In truth it was a task which pleased
and delighted her. Seth, shrewd as he always was, and careful of his
pocket as he was compelled to be, made a good bargain with the artist,
and for a very small sum obtained copies of all their portraits: the
Duchess in three different positions, Sally in one, Sally and the
Duchess together, and lastly, himself with the children on either side
of him. The day following this excitement another pleasure came. The
old wagoner who had driven them from London arrived early in the
morning with Daisy and Cornflower, and after giving them the most
beautiful ride in their holiday, took them to his own cottage where he
had lived from boyhood. There his old wife awaited them, and feasted
the party to their hearts' content, and a peaceful ride back in the
peaceful night was the fitting ending to the happy day. So the time
passed on until one morning Seth said to Sally.

"Home to-morrow, Sally."

She sighed with grateful regret.

"Our little girl is better than ever she was," he continued, with a
fond look at the Duchess, "and we'll endeavour to keep her so. Such
roses as these" - caressing the Duchess's cheek - "will be something for
the Rosemary Lane folk to stare at. They've never seen such bright
ones before. We've had a happy time, haven't we?"

"Yes, yes," they both replied, nestling to him.

"Let us be thankful, then - - "

"For what we haven't had?" asked Sally, with a sly look.

"No," he said with a laugh, "for what we have enjoyed;" adding in a
graver tone, "I never thought the world was so good as it is."

On the second evening from this they returned to Rosemary Lane, and
were received with smiles and hearty welcome by all.


Sally, brimming over with delightful memories of the happy days passed
in the cottage by the sea, was not slow to communicate her experiences
to her young friends and playmates in Rosemary Lane. The wonderful
stories she had to tell, and the wonderful way in which she related
them, caused the children's eyes to dilate and their breasts to throb.
Sally was an artist, and, in a more effective manner than would have
been adopted by a more polished narrator, she painted her pictures in
exactly those colours which made them alluring to an audience not
over-gifted with learning and intelligence. In all these pictures, the
Duchess was the central figure. She was the princess for whom the
flowers bloomed and the sea whispered musically. The happy rides, the
pleasant meals, the delicious idling, the soft murmurs of woodland
life, were all for the Duchess, and, but for her, would not have been.
Sally's tongue was never idle when there was an opportunity to glorify
her idol, and the devoted child had never been so rich in opportunity
as at the present time. Among other stories related by her, was, of
course, the story of the Duchess's portrait being taken surrounded by
flowers, which Sally declared was "out and out the most beautiful
thing as ever was seen;" and public curiosity being excited, Seth
Dumbrick was besieged by applicants eager to see the pictures. These
visits were the means of his ingratiating himself into the more
favourable opinion of his neighbours, who said to one another that
Seth Dumbrick was becoming quite an agreeable man. Even to Mrs. Preedy
he was gracious, and for fully three weeks that inveterate gossip had
not a word to say to his disparagement.

So, being once more settled down quietly in his stall, with sufficient
work for the hours, Seth hammered and patched away from morning till
night, and but for certain fears connected with the Duchess, would
have been a perfectly happy man. One of these fears related to the
fortune-telling incident; he was unreasonably apprehensive that by
some means or other the Duchess would be tracked and spirited away by
the gentleman with whom he had had high words at Springfield; he did
not stop to reason upon the motive which would lead to such an act.
His other fear related to the bank-note, so strangely forwarded to the
Duchess, which had paid for their holiday. If he had known where to
seek for a clue to the discovery of the sender of the money, it is
doubtful whether he would have availed himself of it; his earnest wish
was that the matter should rest where it was, and that he and the
Duchess and Sally should be allowed to live their quiet, uneventful
life unmolested. If he saw the postman coming along the street, he
watched his progress nervously, dreading that another letter for the
Duchess might arrive, and when the man passed without look or word,
the cheerful hammering upon the leather, or the more vigorous plying
of the awl, denoted how greatly he was relieved.

Weeks and months passing in this way brought repose to his mind, and
he sometimes smiled at himself for the uneasy fancies, born of love
and fear, which had so tormented him. His love for the Duchess
increased with time; she was for ever in his thoughts; over his bed,
in a frame and protected by a glass, hung her picture, which was to
him as beautiful as the most beautiful Madonna in the eyes of a devout
woman; there was not speck or flaw on her, materially or spiritually;
she was the queen of his life and household. Would the Duchess like
this? Would the Duchess like that? What can we do for her? How can we
serve her? - everything was done by Seth and Sally that could
contribute to the easy and pleasant passing of her days. Their old
clothes were darned and patched, and darned and patched again and
again, so that the Duchess might have pretty things to wear. They were
continually buying flowers and bits of ribbons for her, and casting
about for ways and means to bring new pleasures into her days. In this
twelve months passed, and the summer came round again. Sitting at
their midday meal, Sally remarked that this time last year they were
going into the country. Seth referred to a small memorandum book, the
recipient of a singular medley of notes and observations.

"To-morrow morning's exactly a year," he said, "since we started."

Sally sighed, and Seth saw with pain a look of regret in the Duchess's
eyes. It was not a calm regret; there was nothing of resignation in
it. It expressed a struggle to be free from the thraldom of poverty, a
rebellious repining at the hardship of Fate. As Seth was considering
whether any ingenious twisting of Billy Spike's philosophy would
afford consolation, a double knock at the stall above was heard. He
mounted the steps, and confronted the postman.

"A letter for the Duchess of Rosemary Lane."

Seth received it with a sinking heart, and putting it hastily into his
pocket, descended to the living-room.

"Who was it, Daddy?" asked Sally.

"Mrs. Simpson sent for the child's boot," replied Seth, with a guilty
palpitation; "it ain't done yet."

He finished his dinner in silence, listening to reminiscences of last
year's delightful holiday, called up by Sally and the Duchess. He did
not take the letter from his pocket until late in the night, when he
was alone. He gazed at it for a few moments, believing it contained a
realization of his fears, and that it might be the means of parting
him and the Duchess. If he had not been a just man, he would have
destroyed the letter, but he was restrained by the reflection that it
might be of importance to the future of the child he loved. With
reluctant fingers he unfastened the envelope, and found in it a
bank-note for five pounds. As with the letter received last year, it
did not contain a single word that would furnish a clue. He had
carefully preserved the first envelope, and comparing the writing on
the two, he judged it to be from one hand.

"Who is it that sends the money?" he mused. "A man or a woman? That's
the first point. There's a difference in handwriting, I've heard. I
must find a way to make sure of that. I suppose the note's as good as
the one sent last year."

Before the afternoon of the following day, he had thought over a lame
little scheme, which he put into execution without delay. He walked to
the shop of a tradesman, of whom he was in the habit of buying tools
and leather, and having made some small purchases, he offered the note
in payment. It was taken, and change given, without remark. "Is your
wife at home?" then asked Seth.

"Yes," replied the tradesman.

"I'd like to see her," said Seth; "I want to ask her about something
that a woman knows better than a man."

The tradesman called his wife, and Seth had a quiet talk with her. He
commenced in a roundabout way.

"It's about a friend of mine," he said, "an unmarried man like myself,
but more likely to marry, being younger. He's received a letter
without a signature, and he's mighty anxious to find out whether it
comes from a man or a woman. It's a delicate matter you see."

The tradesman's wife did not see, but she waited patiently for further

"The fact is," continued Seth, "there's a girl he knows and has a
fancy for, that another man knows and has a fancy for."

"It's a love letter, then," interrupted the tradesman's wife, with a

"Yes," said Seth, gladly accepting the suggestion, "and he naturally
wishes to know who wrote it."


"Now the first thing to discover is whether it's a man's or a woman's

"How can I help you to discover that?"

"If you will be good enough to write just a couple of words - say,
Rosemary Lane - on a bit of paper, it might assist us."

The woman wrote down the words, and wrote them without a curve; every
letter had in it as many angles as it could conveniently accommodate.
After this, Seth asked the woman if her daughters would write the same
words on separate pieces of paper, and then he obtained a specimen of
writing from the tradesman himself. He paid visits to many places that
afternoon, with the same purpose in view, and by the evening he had in
his pocket between twenty and thirty different specimens of
calligraphy. When the children were asleep he continued his
examination, and discovered that, without an exception, all the women
wrote in angles and all the men in curves. Comparing the writing with
that on the envelopes, he came to the conclusion that the addresses
were written and the money sent by a woman.

He derived an odd kind of satisfaction from this result There was less
danger to be feared from a woman than from a man, and, without
difficulty, Seth invented a dozen different sets of circumstances to
fit the case, in all of which the woman who was in this way kind to
the Duchess was never to make herself known. The money clearly
belonged to the Duchess, and the conscientious man decided that it
must be spent on the Duchess, and on the Duchess alone. The child had
had her ears pierced, and wore in them a pair of rough glass earrings
bought by Sally for a few pence on the anniversary of her idol's

No one knew how old the Duchess exactly was, or on what day she was
born; but a birthday was such a happy occasion for love-gifts, and the
Duchess so fit a person to give them to, that a natal day was fixed
for her. Of course a suitable one. "March winds and April showers
bring forth May flowers." Sally knew the rhyme, and settled that the
Duchess was born when the flowers were born, on the 1st of May. On the
Duchess's last birthday Sally had presented the glass earrings, and
the pleasure derived from the giving and the receiving was as great as
if the bits of glass had been diamonds. The Duchess never tired of
admiring herself in the little tin-framed mirror fixed by the side of
the bed, and shook her head to make the crystals sparkle, and played
at hide and peep with them, hiding them in her hair and shaking them
free again. A fair meed of admiration was also passed upon them by her
playmates, and the Duchess thought them the loveliest things in the
world until one unhappy day she heard an ill-natured woman call them
"bits of trumpery glass." From that moment they became less precious
in the Duchess's eyes, and a secret longing crept into her mind for
something more valuable to show off her pretty ears. About this time
Mrs. Preedy, having occasion to go westward, invited the Duchess to
accompany her, to see the carriages and fine folks in the Park.
Without asking for permission from her guardian, the Duchess accepted
the invitation joyfully, and as she walked along by the side of Mrs.
Preedy, her quick eye took in everything of note that passed her; but
most of all did she notice the gold ornaments worn by the ladies, and
yearned for them in her heart of hearts.

"Such heaps of rich people, Duchess," observed Mrs. Preedy. "It's like
a show."

"There's nothing in the world like being rich," observed the Duchess.

"No, that there's not," replied the woman heartily. "Why," presently
continued the Duchess, "are some people rich and other people poor?"

"Oh, _I_ don't know," said Mrs. Preedy peevishly; "it's all in the way
we're born. Ladies and gentlemen ain't born in Rosemary Lane."

"I wasn't born in Rosemary Lane," mused the Duchess, in a tone which
was in itself an assertion of superiority over her companion.

"Do you know where you _was_ born?" asked Mrs. Preedy.

"No," was the reply, "but not in Rosemary Lane."

"What do you remember before you came to Rosemary Lane?" continued
Mrs. Preedy, growing interested in the conversation.

"I don't remember coming to Rosemary Lane," said the Duchess; "I had a
mamma once."


"I don't know; in a garden, I think."

"Like anybody you see?"

"Like her," said the Duchess, pointing to a lady who was stepping from
a carriage. In the lady's face dwelt an expression of much sadness and
sweetness, which seemed to be the natural outcome of a sad and sweet
nature. The Duchess's observance of the lady drew her attention to the
child, and she stopped and spoke, and asked Mrs. Preedy if the pretty
creature was her daughter.

"No, indeed, ma'am," said Mrs. Preedy, with a curtsey; "she has no
mother, poor dear, and she was just saying that you were like her

"Her mamma!" exclaimed the lady, with a look of surprise; "where do
you come from, then?"

"From Rosemary Lane, if you please," said the obsequious Mrs. Preedy,
who was always deferential to those above her.

"And where may that be?"

"In the east, if you please," with another curtsey.

The lady, with languid humour, suggested "Jerusalem?" and then asked
the Duchess if she would like a cake. They were standing in front of a
confectioner's shop, and the child, with as much self-possession (as
Mrs. Preedy afterwards remarked when she related the adventure) as if
she had been a born lady, withdrew her hand from Mrs. Preedy, and held
it out to the lady, who smilingly led her into the shop, and feasted
her and Mrs. Preedy to their heart's content. They had cakes and
jellies, and strawberries and cream, and the lady chatted with the
Duchess, and praised her beauty, in the most gracious and affable
manner. Altogether, it was a very pleasant time, and formed quite an
event in Mrs. Preedy's life, who for months and months gave most vivid
descriptions of the entertainment, never forgetting to add that when

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Online LibraryB. L. (Benjamin Leopold) FarjeonThe Duchess of Rosemary Lane → online text (page 14 of 24)