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B. L. (Benjamin Leopold) Farjeon.

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they went into the Park later in the day they met the lady driving in
her carriage there, and that she nodded and smiled in recognition of
them.

Seth Dumbrick also went westwards in search of a present for the
Duchess, to be paid for out of the money which was hers, and staring
in the shop-windows, was greatly bewildered by the attractive articles
there displayed. Silk sashes and neckerchiefs, natty kid boots and
fascinating hats, distracted him with their claims. Had he been a
well-to-do man, there is no knowing what extravagance he might have
committed. At length he stationed himself before a jeweller's window,
and gazed upon the beautiful articles exhibited in it, now deciding
upon this, now upon that; and, in the end, upon a pair of gold
earrings, tastefully designed to represent shells. He had no idea of
the value of such articles, and it was with something of trepidation
he entered the shop, where his appearance was viewed with suspicion by
the salesman, who saw no fitness between the unshaven chin and grimy
fingers of the workman and the graceful devices in gold and silver
displayed for sale. A bargain, however, was soon concluded, and Seth
became possessor of the earrings on payment of half the money he held
in trust for the Duchess. Then he went to a milliner's shop, where he
seemed even more out of place than in the jeweller's, and for twenty
shillings bought one of the prettiest hats in all the stock. Enjoying
in anticipation the delight of the Duchess, he walked home very
contentedly, and artfully turned the conversation upon last year's
holiday, saying in a melancholy tone:

"No holiday this year, Duchess."

Sally shook her head mournfully.

"Can't afford it, eh, Sally? Now, what's the next best thing to the
holiday we can't afford? What do you say to a present - something
pretty for - who do you think?"

"For the Duchess!" cried Sally.

The Duchess looked up eagerly.

"Yes, for the Duchess. These, for instance."

He carefully untied the little packet wrapt in silver tissue-paper,
carefully opened the leather case, and pointed triumphantly to the
earrings nestling softly in their blue-velvet couches. Sally clapped
her hands, and jumped up; the Duchess gazed on the pretty ornaments
with parted lips and eyes aglow with admiration.

"For me!" she exclaimed, almost under her breath. "For me!"

"For you, Duchess," said Seth. "What do you think of 'em?"

She threw her arms round his neck, and kissed him, with perhaps more
affection than she had ever shown towards him, and then turned hastily
to the earrings, in fear lest they might have vanished from the table.
The glittering ornaments fitted her nature most thoroughly and
completely. They seemed to say, "We are yours. You are ours. We belong
to each other. You have no business to wear bits of trumpery glass. We
are what you have a right to possess." There was absolute harmony
between her and the pretty things, and she experienced a new and
singularly entrancing pleasure in merely gazing upon them.

"Is one kiss all you will give me for them?" asked Seth.

"No, no," she replied; "I will give you a thousand thousand."

She smothered him with kisses, murmuring: "I love you for them, I love
you for them."

"They are real gold," said Seth, more than satisfied with his bargain.
"What will Rosemary Lane say to that?"

With trembling fingers the Duchess lifted the earrings from the case.
Had they been imbued with feeling she could not have felt more tender
towards them.

"May I put them in?"

"Surely, my dear; I bought them for you to wear."

The Duchess hastily unhooked Sally's birthday gift from her ears, and
threw it on the table, replacing it with the more valuable and
therefore more precious offering. A pang shot through Sally's breast
as she witnessed the action. The bits of trumpery glass, albeit they
cost but a few pence, had not been easily obtained by her; they were
the result of many weeks' saving of farthings and halfpence, and to
pay for them she had put down with a strong spirit a number of small
cravings. Not that the saving and scraping was not in itself a delight
to her; to deny herself in order that the Duchess might be gratified
was one of her sweetest pleasures. The common glass earrings were her
love-gift, and she had dreamt of them long before and after they were
presented; and to see them now so carelessly thrust aside brought the
tears to her eyes. She brushed them instantly away. The Duchess, with
a piece of broken looking-glass in her hand, was walking up and down
the cellar, gazing at the reflection of the new earrings, with eyes so
sparkling that they outshone the glittering baubles. As she turned
this way and that, now bending forward, now leaning back, in
enchanting attitudes, holding the glass so that the ornaments were
always in view, a thousand graces and charms were depicted in her of
which for the time she was unconscious. Sally, despite her sorrow at
the despisal of her love-gift, could not help admiring the beautiful
picture, and when the Duchess came close to her, she drew her idol to
her breast, and kissed her passionately.

"Don't!" said the Duchess, with a little struggle to be free; "you
hurt me, Sally!"

Sally's arms relaxed, and she turned aside with quivering lips; for a
moment, everything swam before her eyes, and she felt quite faint.

"And that's not all," said Seth; "I have something else for our
Duchess."

"Oh, what is it, what is it?" cried the Duchess, springing to his
side.

"See," he said, holding up the hat, "what will Rosemary Lane say to
this? Sally, fit it on, and let us see how our princess looks in it."

Sally kept her sobs back with a vicious pinch of her own arm which
almost made her scream, and placed the hat on the Duchess's head, to
the best advantage be sure. There was no meanness in Sally's soul. She
could suffer and be strong. Nothing would satisfy the Duchess that
afternoon but to dress herself in her best clothes, and go out and
show herself. It was done; and in her blue-merino dress, her boots
made for her in the most dainty fashion by Seth's loving hands, her
hat and her gold earrings, she walked about Rosemary Lane, with Sally
by her side, the envy and admiration of all beholders. In the eyes of
the Rosemary Lane folk Sally was a most complete foil to the beautiful
Duchess. Her hands were dirty, and her clothes had many a hole in
them; but there was a soft light in her eyes, and an expression of
deep, almost suffering devotion in her face, which might have
attracted the attention of close observers - and not entirely to
Sally's disadvantage. The Duchess had an afternoon of rare enjoyment;
even those who envied her paid court to her, and her train included
all the young radicals in Rosemary Lane who had hitherto held aloof
from her, but who now, fairly conquered by the splendour of her
personal adornment, fell down and worshipped. It was the story of the
golden calf over again - the old story which to-day is being enacted
with so much fervour by beggar and millionaire, from Whitechapel to
Belgravia. Late at night, when the Duchess was asleep with her gold
earrings in her ears, and her new hat hanging by the side of her bed,
so that she might see it the moment she awoke in the morning, Sally,
with tears in her eyes, wrapt the bits of trumpery glass in paper, and
placed them carefully away. "She'll be hunting about for 'em soon,"
thought Sally, "and then I'll give 'em to her." But the Duchess never
sought, never asked for the common love-gift; it was worthless in her
eyes, being worthless in itself; she had gold earrings now, and
perhaps by-and-by - who could tell? - she would have earrings with
sparkling stones in them, worth a handful of money. For in the
Duchess's soul was growing a most intense hankering after fine things.
She would wander by herself away from Sally and Seth and Rosemary Lane
into the thoroughfares frequented by ladies and gentlemen, and watch
them and their dress and ways with an eager, strange, and restless
spirit. She saw children beautifully dressed riding in carriages; and,
yearning to be like them, would shed rebellious tears at the fate
which bound her to Rosemary Lane. It is not to be supposed that she
considered this matter as clearly as it is here briefly expressed; she
was not yet old enough to give it clear expression; but she felt it;
the seed of discontent was implanted within her, and grew for lack of
material and intellectual light. Intellectual light Seth Dumbrick
certainly did give the Duchess, but it was light of a kind which dazed
and confused her mental vision. The experiences of the man who mingles
freely with men, who shares their pleasures and sorrows, and even
their follies and foibles, are of infinitely higher value than those
of a solitary liver. Such an existence narrows the sympathies, and it
narrowed Seth's. The exercise of all the better feelings of his nature
was confined to the small circle which included only Sally and the
Duchess, and what of good he saw outside that boundary was evoked by
his love for these children of his adoption. Surrounded by these
influences the Duchess grew in years. Seth bestowed upon her the
fullest measure of affection, and he let her go her way. He placed no
restraint upon her; he demanded no sacrifice from her. He never
attended a place of worship, nor did she; he had his hard-and-fast
opinions upon religious matters, which, viewed in the light (or
darkness) of dogmatic belief, constituted him a materialist - an
accusation which, with a proper understanding of the term, he would
have indignantly denied. Thus, from month to month, and year to year,
Rosemary Lane passed through a routine of daily tasks and duties, so
dull as to weigh sorely and heavily upon the soul of the Duchess.
Colour was necessary to her existence, and she sought for it and
obtained it in other places. Stronger and stronger grew her passion
for wandering from the narrow to the wider spaces, where the life was
more in harmony with her desires, and so frequently and for so long a
time was she now absent that, on one occasion when she was missing
from morning till night, Seth took her to task for her truant
propensities.

"Do you want me to keep always in Rosemary Lane?" she inquired, with
her lovely blue eyes fixed full upon him.

"It would be best," was his reply.

"It doesn't matter to you," she said, "whether I stop at home or not;
there is nothing for me to do, and I sometimes feel that - that - - "

Her eyes wandered round the cellar in dull discontent, and with
something of self-reproach, also, for the feeling which she strove but
could not find words to express.

"Well, my dear?" said Seth, patiently waiting for an explanation.

"Only this, guardian," she rejoined, "that I must go away when I like,
and that you mustn't stop me. If you do" - with a little laugh which
might mean anything or nothing - "I might run away altogether."

"Then there are other places," said Seth, after a short pause; he
found it necessary very often when conversing with the Duchess to
consider his words before he uttered them; "and other people that you
love better than us."

"Other places, not other people. I don't know any other people."

"You don't love Rosemary Lane, my dear," he said wistfully.

"What is there to love in it?" she replied, evading the question. "I
might love it less if I were not free to go from it when the fit
seizes me - - "

"But you go always alone, my dear," he said, with a sigh, "and I am
afraid you might get into mischief."

"What mischief?" she asked, with innocent wonder in her face. "No one
would hurt me. Everybody is kind to me. But as you seem to care for
it, I'll take Sally with me now and then. So here's a kiss, guardian,
and we'll say no more about it."

Time ripened, but did not beautify Sally. Her figure was awkward and
ungainly, and her limbs had not the roundness or the grace of those of
the Duchess. Her face was at once too young and too old for her age;
you saw in it both the innocence and simplicity of the child and the
wary look of the woman of the world who knows that snares abound. Her
skin was as brown as a berry, and her form appeared lank and thin,
although she and the Duchess were of the same height. Undressing one
night, they stood, with bare shoulders, side by side, looking into the
glass. The contrast was very striking, and both saw and felt it, the
Duchess with a joyous palpitation because of her beauty, and Sally
with no repining because of her lack of it. The contrast was striking
even in the quality and fashion of their linen, Sally's being coarse,
and brown as the skin it covered, and the Duchess's being white and
fine, with delicate edgings about it.

"I don't believe," said Sally, with tender admiration, her brown arm
embracing the Duchess's white shoulder, "that there's another girl in
the world with such a skin, and such eyes, and altogether as pretty as
you are, Duchess."

"Do you really mean it, Sally?" asked the Duchess, as though the
observation were made for the first instead of the thousandth time.

"You know I do."

"I think you do," said the Duchess, showing her teeth of pearl. "But
if I were to say the same of myself, you'd say I was the vainest
instead of the prettiest girl that breathes."

"A girl can't help knowing she's pretty," said Sally philosophically;
she had imbibed much of the spirit and some of the peculiarities of
Seth's utterances, "if she is pretty; and can't help being glad of it.
As you are, of course, Duchess."

"Yes, I _am_ glad, Sally; I can't tell you how glad. I should be a
miserable girl if I were like - - "

She paused suddenly, with a guilty blush, being about to say, "if I
were like you, Sally."

Sally smiled. "I don't doubt I should be glad if I had a skin as
white, and eyes as blue, and lips as red as yours; but for all that, I
don't seem to be sorry because I am ugly. For I _am_ very ugly!"

She gazed at the reflection of herself in the glass with eyes that
were almost merry, and despite her self-depreciation there was
something very attractive in her appearance. The grace of youth was
hers, and the kindliness and unselfishness of her nature imparted a
charm to her face which mere beauty of feature could not supply.

"You are not so very ugly," observed the Duchess.

"No?" questioned Sally.

"No. You are as good-looking as most of the girls in Rosemary Lane - - "

"Leaving you out," interrupted Sally quickly.

"Yes," said the Duchess complacently, "leaving me out. Your
teeth are not white, but they are regular, and I like your mouth,
Sally" - kissing it - "though it is a little bit too large. Your hair
isn't as silky as mine - - "

"Oh, no, Duchess, how could it be?"

"But it is longer and stronger; and as for your eyes, you have no idea
how they sparkle. They are full of fire."

"If a fairy was to come to me to-night," said Sally, delighted at the
Duchess's praises, "and give me wishes, I don't think I would have
myself changed."

"I know what I would wish for."

"What?"

"Silk dresses and furs and kid gloves and gold watches and chains and
bracelets; carriages and footmen and white dogs; flowers and fans and
lace pocket-handkerchiefs and - - "

"Oh, my!" exclaimed Sally. "We shouldn't have room for them all.
Goodnight. I'm so sleepy."

The Duchess dreamt that all the things she wished for were hers, and
that she was a fine lady, driving in her carriage through Rosemary
Lane, with all the neighbours cheering and bowing to her.

In this way, and with this kind of teaching, the Duchess grew from
child to woman. And here for a time we drop the curtain. The silent
years, fraught with smiles and tears, roll on; for some the buds are
blossoming; for some the leaves are falling; the young look forward to
the sunny land they shall never reach; the old look back with sighs
upon days made happy by regret. And midst the triumph and the anguish,
the hope and fear, the joy and sorrow, Time, with passionless finger,
marks the record, and pushes us gently on towards the grave.





Part the Second.
THE WOMAN.




CHAPTER XX.


Certain pictures here present themselves in the shape of a medallion.

In the centre is the portrait of a beautiful girl-woman, as tall to
many a man with an eye for beauty as Rosalind was to Orlando; with
limbs perfectly moulded; with white and shapely hands; with flaxen
wavy hair and blue eyes tempered by a shade of silver grey; with teeth
that are almost transparent in their pearliness, and in whose fair
face youth's roses are blooming. This is the Duchess of Rosemary
Lane, in the springtime of her life.

Around the portrait of this girl-woman are certain others, associated
with her by sympathetic links, not all of which are in active play or
in harmony with her being.

The picture of one in whose cheeks, although she is but little over
twenty years of age, no roses are blooming. Her cheeks are sallow, and
wanting in flesh, her limbs are thin and ungraceful, her long black
hair has not a wave in it, her hands are large and coarse from too
much work. But her eyes are beautiful, and have in them the almost
pathetic light which is frequently seen in the eyes of a faithful dog.
This is Sally, grown to womanhood.

The picture of a working man, with large features, overhanging
forehead, and great grey eyes, all out of harmony with one another.
His hands are hard and horny, his chin is unshaven, and his hair is
almost white. This is Seth Dumbrick, going down the hill of life.

The picture of a woman, working in an attic in a poor neighbourhood,
within a mile of Rosemary Lane. Her fingers are long and supple,
streaks of silver are in her hair, and she has "quite a genteel
figure," according to the dictum of her neighbours, who are led to
that opinion by the circumstance of the woman being thin and graceful.
She is cunning with the needle, as the saying is, but not so cunning
as to be able by its aid to butter her bread at every meal; therefore,
very often she eats it dry. She is not contented; she is not resigned;
but she does not openly repine. She is merely passive. The fire and
enthusiasm of life are not dead within her soul, but by the exercise
of a hidden force, she keeps all traces of it from the eye of man; she
has dreams, but no human being shares them with her, or knows of them.
She speaks in a calm even tone, and her voice is low and sweet, but if
it expresses feeling or passion, the expression springs from a quality
belonging to itself, and not from the revealed emotions of the
speaker. She works hard from morning till night in a dull, listless
fashion, performing her task conscientiously, and receiving at the end
of the week, without thanks or murmurs, the pitiful payment for so
many thousands of yards of stitches from the hands of a man who lives
in a great house in Lancaster Gate and keeps a score of servants, and
a dozen horses in his town stables. This man is a contractor, and he
fattens on misery. He will undertake to clothe twenty thousand men in
a month, and patient, weak-eyed women who can scarcely get shoes to
their feet are working for him, upon starvation wages, through the
weary watches of the night. From their poverty and misery comes the
wherewithal to pay for his wine and his horses and his fine linen. He
was not born to riches; in his earlier years he experienced severe
hardships, and frequently had to live on a crust. Those times are
gone, never to return, and, strange to say, he has, in his present
high state, no feeling of compassion for his once comrades who are
suffering as he suffered, and who cannot escape from their bondage.
Then he was glad to eat his bread and meat, when he could get it, with
the help of a pocket-knife and his fingers; now he can dine off gold
plate if he chooses. There is a well-known saying that there is a tide
in the affairs of man, which taken at the flood, leads on to fortune.
It is a popular fallacy. Such a tide, with such a golden prize in its
flood, comes to not one man in a thousand, but it came to the
contractor for whom this woman works, and he took it at its flood. He
worked his way from small contracts to large, from large to larger.
Having been ground down himself when he was a young man, his sole aim
in the execution of his contracts was to grind others down, so that
his margin of profit would be broader. It was the truest political
economy. Buy in the cheapest market. And if you can by any means in
your power, - by any system of grinding-down, by any exercise of
terrorism over helpless people who, being unable without your aid to
obtain half a loaf in payment for their labour, snatch at the quarter
of a loaf you hold out to them (being from necessity compelled to keep
some life in their bodies) - if you can by any of these means cheapen
still further the cheapest market, do so. Success will attend you, and
the world, worshipping success, will look on and approve. An article
is only worth what it will fetch in the market, and labour is worth no
more than it receives. Such, for instance, as the labour of this
needlewoman, who works for sixteen hours out of the twenty-four, and
cannot get butter for her bread. Meantime, while she, the type of a
class, labours and starves, the contractor, out of her weary stitches,
shall die worth a plum, and a costly tombstone shall record his
virtues. He pays regularly, to be sure, but you must not defraud him
of a stitch. He gives the women constant employment, for in addition
to being a Government contractor, he is a large exporter of ready-made
clothing. She has worked for him for twelve years. Presenting herself
one morning in answer to an advertisement for needlewomen, in company
with a hundred other females who had labour to sell and no bread to
eat, he happened to pass through the office when her turn came to be
called. Although she had been one of the earliest arrivals among the
crowd of anxious applicants, she was the last of them all. Not having
the strength to push her way to the front, she had been hustled to the
rear, and bore the unfair treatment without a murmur. It was the way
of the world. The weakest to the wall.

"Name?" said the clerk.

"Mrs. Lenoir."

The contractor paused at the desk by the side of his clerk, and
looked at the applicant in a careless way, perhaps attracted to her
because her voice was softer than he was accustomed to hear from his
workpeople.

"French?" inquired the clerk.

"Yes, it is a French name."

"Yourself, I mean," said the clerk testily. "Are you French?"

"I am an English lady."

"Eh?" cried the contractor, in a harsh tone.

"I beg your pardon. I am an English woman."

"O," said the contractor, somewhat mollified.

"Married?" pursued the clerk, glancing at Mrs. Lenoir's left hand.

"My husband - " pausing, and gazing around uneasily.

"Your husband - " prompted the clerk.

"Is dead."

"Children?"

A quivering of the lips, which grew suddenly white. This, however, was
not apparent to the clerk, for Mrs. Lenoir wore a veil, and did not
raise it.

"Children?" repeated the clerk.

"I have none."

"References?"

She paused before she replied, and then slowly said:

"I was not aware that references were necessary."

To the clerk's surprise the contractor took up the burden
of the inquiry.

"We are very particular," he said, with a frown, "about the character
of the persons we employ, and references, therefore, _are_ necessary."

"I did not know," said Mrs. Lenoir, in so low a tone that the words
scarcely reached their ears; and turned to depart.

"Stop a moment," said the contractor; "what did you come here for?"

"For work," with a motion of the hands, deprecating the question as
unnecessary.

"You want it?"

"Else I should not be here."

It by no means displeased the contractor that this woman, suing to him
for work, should unconsciously have adopted in her last reply an air
of haughtiness.

"You want work badly, I infer?"

"I want it badly."

"You have applied elsewhere?"

"I have."

"Unsuccessfully?"

"Unsuccessfully."

"From what cause?"

"I do not know."

"You have no other means of support?"

"None."

"If you are unsuccessful in this application, what will you do?"

Mrs. Lenoir did not reply to this question. Had the contractor known
what was in the woman's mind, he would have been startled out of his
propriety. She had been in London for nearly six months, and although
she had been indefatigable in her endeavours, had not succeeded in
obtaining a day's work. All her resources were exhausted, and she saw
nothing but starvation before her. She was wearied and sick with


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Online LibraryB. L. (Benjamin Leopold) FarjeonThe Duchess of Rosemary Lane → online text (page 15 of 24)