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B. L. (Benjamin Leopold) Farjeon.

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presently fill all the landscape, and cover them with delicious shade.
Not a variation of colour in the sky, not a bird's note, not a whisper
of the leaves, that the fond mother does not convert into a symbol of
happiness for her heart's treasure. And as he sleeps, she sits by his
side, until the tree fades and becomes the cottage again, where they
are all clustered round the tea-table, eating the sweetest
bread-and-butter and the freshest radishes that love can produce.

Then the moon comes out and pierces the ceiling, which changes into
night-clouds and solemnly-silent roads, through and over which they
are riding peacefully home. A river, of which they had a glimpse when
the sun's rays were playing on it, changes now into a white road, over
which the cart is slowly passing; now into a field of waving corn,
through which they are calmly wending their way without breaking a
stalk; now into the stairs of her own cosy home-nest, up which she is
walking, with her darling, very sleepy, in her arms. And when she has
softly sung a few words of a familiar cradle-song, she points to the
stars, not deeming it strange that they are shining all around her,
and tells her child that heaven is there!

An amazing transformation takes place. She is alone, with blackness
all around her. The rain pours down like a deluge, and a terrific
explosion occurs, which shakes the earth to its foundations.


Aroused by the violent banging of the street door, Mrs. Chester starts
from the bed. The rain is softly pattering in the street, and she
hears the sound of uncertain footsteps groping up the stairs.

"It is the new lodger," she murmurs. "He might have made less noise
with the door." Then, rubbing her eyes, she calls, "Sally, are you
awake?"

Sally hears her mother's voice through a mist of softly falling rain,
and murmuring some indistinct words in reply, cuddles closer to her
treasure-baby, and the next moment is asleep again.

"The brute!" exclaims Mrs. Chester. "Waking the children with his row!
I'll talk to him to-morrow."

Standing in the dark, she listens. The person who is ascending the
stairs to the bedroom in the upper part of the house staggers and
stumbles on his way. Thus much Mrs. Chester is conscious of, but she
does not hear his low moans, nor see him shake and tremble, as he
drags his feet along in fear and dread. When he reaches his room, he
falls, dressed, upon the bed, and claws at the air, and picks at the
bedclothes in ceaseless unrest, being beset by demons of every shape
and form, presenting themselves in a thousand monstrously-grotesque
disguises.

Mrs. Chester has heard sufficient to cause her to form a just
conclusion.

"Drunk of course," she murmurs; "and Dick'll be as bad when he comes
home."

Then she lights a candle, and patiently resumes her task of stitching
and patching.




CHAPTER VI.
SALLY ALSO HAS A DREAM.


Sounds of music in the air; strange and fantastic shapes and forms;
blooming flowers, and grass of rarest shades of green; glittering
water, for white swans and paper ships to sail on; waving branches
laden with dew-diamonds; birds flying on silver threads that reach
from heaven to earth; and standing in the midst of all these wonders,
little Sally Chester herself, in her ragged clothes. Comes a
procession from the skies, heralded by a glittering white star, which
widens into an avenue of light, through which the actors move. Comes a
small drummer-boy in the British army, with a drum slung round his
shoulders; behind him trots a donkey, familiar to the neighbourhood,
who smiles grotesquely at Sally, and asks her when she is going to
faint dead away again. The entire contents of a toy and cake shop
follow the eccentric donkey. First appear the royal beefeaters,
represented by men cut out of rich brown gingerbread, with features
formed of Dutch metal, their legs and arms also being magnificently
slashed with strips of the same; their features are diabolical, but
this does not lessen their attractiveness. Then come a legion of
wooden dolls, with not a vestige of clothing on their bodies, their
staring expressionless features testifying to their shamelessness and
their indifference to public opinion; then the animals from Noah's
arks, so indiscriminately coupled as to betray a disgraceful
Scriptural ignorance; then tin soldiers on slides, their outstretched
swords proclaiming that they are on the straight road to glory;
concluding with an army of wooden grenadiers with fixed bayonets, who
march without bending a joint. All these move through the avenue of
light, and the drummer-boy appears arm-in-arm with a little girl with
whom, until she died twelve months ago, Sally used to play at grocers'
shops in dark kitchens and on back-window sills. With a grand
fanfaronade of trumpets, on marches a gay troop of soldiers, followed
by men carrying huge flags, the devices in which are quick with life.
Upon the waving folds of silk, fish are swimming, horses are prancing,
artizans are following their trades, and the lion and the unicorn are
fighting for the crown. These precede more soldiers and carriages and
flags, until the shouts that rend the air proclaim the approach of the
principal figure in the procession. This proves to be a gilt coach of
antique shape, with coachmen and footmen blazing with gold lace, and
Sally jumps up and down in frantic excitement as she recognises the
inmate of the coach, who is staring in wonder out of the window at the
people huzzaing and waving their hats in her honour. It is her own
baby-treasure, with flushed and beautiful face, and with eyes bluer
and more beautiful than the brightest and bluest clouds. In the midst
of this triumphant display a man suddenly appears, and with sinister
looks, stands by the coach in which the child is sitting. It is the
new tenant who has taken the bedroom in her mother's house, and his
menacing attitude proclaims that he is bent on mischief. The child
looks imploringly towards Sally for protection, and instantaneously
Sally is on the donkey's back, riding full tilt at their common enemy,
who goes down in great confusion before her. Upon this the crowd and
the entire pageant melt away like vapour from a glass, and Sally, with
her baby-treasure safe in her arms, is walking along a dark street,
the houses in which are so tall that they shut out the sky. The night
is cold, the rain is falling, and they are alone, walking for many
hours through the dreary thoroughfares, until from an archway a shadow
steals and strives to seize the child. It is the new tenant again.
Sally, terror-stricken, flies from him as fast as her little legs will
allow her - and flies so swiftly, and through so many streets, for
seemingly-interminable hours, that her breath fails, and life is
leaving her: and all through this terrible flight the pursuer is at
her heels, with flashing eyes and with death in his face. Sally knows
that this is expressed in him, and that he is bent on destruction,
although her back is towards him. She feels his hot breath on her
neck; she hears a hissing sound from remorseless lips; closer and
closer he comes, and his arms are about to close around her, when she
falls over a precipice, down, down, into the spreading branches of a
tree, where she places her baby safely in a cradle of flowers, and
watches the form of their enemy flash, like a glance of light, into
the abyss, the yawning mouth of which closes upon him with a snap. As
the light of the child's golden hair falls on the green branches, they
become magically transformed into the likeness of Sally's playmates
and acquaintances round and about Rosemary Lane. There is Jane Preedy
without any boots, and Ann Taylor without any stockings, and Jimmy
Platt with the hair of his head falling over his weak eyes and
sticking through the peak of his cap, and Young Stumpy with bits of
his shirt thrusting themselves forward from unwarrantable places, and
Betsy Newbiggin selling liquorice-water for pins; and there, besides,
is the sailor-beggar without legs, who lives next door to the
Chesters, comfortably strapped to his little wooden platform on
wheels. Then the actors in the Lord Mayor's procession loom out on
other branches, conspicuous among them being the drummer-boy, standing
on his head on the donkey's back, and valiantly playing the drum in
that position. The cradle of flowers fades, and its place is occupied
by a square piece of carpet, upon which Sally's baby-treasure is
dancing. The child is now dressed in the oddest fashion, her garments
being composed of stray bits of silk and ribbon, which hang about her
incongruously, but with picturesque effect. As she dances, the
drummer-boy, who is now, in addition to his drum, supplied with
pandean pipes, beats and pipes to the admiration of the audience.
Carried away by the applause, he, in an inadvertent moment, bangs
so loudly on his drum that he bangs the entire assemblage into air,
and Sally is again alone, sitting in the tree by the side of the
empty flower cradle. As she looks disconsolately around for her
baby-treasure, comes a vision in the clouds. Thousands of angels, with
bright wings and faces of lustrous beauty, are clustered about a
cobbler, a friend of Sally's, who occupies a stall in Rosemary Lane,
and who for the nonce transferred to a heavenly sphere, now plies his
awl on Olympian heights. Very busy is he, with his shirt-sleeves
tucked up to his shoulders, mending shoes for the angels, who are
flying to him from every bright cloud in the heavens, with old shoes
and slippers in their hands. And presently all the lustrous shapes are
gazing tenderly on Sally's baby-treasure, upon whose tiny feet the
cobbler is fitting a pair of shining slippers. A sudden clap of
thunder inspires multitudinous images of beauty, all of which
presently merge into the sound of falling water, and the air is filled
with a myriad slender lines of flashing light. Fainter and fainter
they grow, and Sally awakes from her dream.

She hears the rain falling softly in the streets, and hears her mother
ask her if she is awake. Almost unconscious, she murmurs she knows not
what in reply, and pressing the baby closer to her, is in a moment
asleep again; but her sleep now is dreamless.




CHAPTER VII.


The handle of the street door of Mr. Chester's house could be so
worked from without by any person initiated into the secret that it
yielded easily to practised fingers. This was Mr. Chester's ingenious
invention. Early in his married life he had found it not agreeable to
his sensitive feelings that, after a night's carouse, the door should
be opened for him by his wife. Hence the device.

At one o'clock on this morning he opened his street door and entered
his house. Mrs. Chester was still up, mending Sally's clothes. On a
corner of the table at which she was working, his supper of
bread-and-cheese was laid. As he entered, his wife glanced at him, and
then bent her eyes to her work, without uttering a word. Receiving no
favourable response to his weak smile, he fell-to upon his supper.

By the time Mr. Chester had finished, the silence had become
intolerable to him. His wife, having mended Sally's clothes, was now
gathering them together. He made another conciliatory step.

"How is Sally?" he asked.

Mrs. Chester's lip curled. "Sally's asleep," she answered.

"Did you get her any - any strengthening things?"

"No. All the shops were shut - except the public-houses."

"Ah, yes, I forgot. But you might have asked her if she fancied
anything."

"I said to her last week," replied the mother, with a dark, fierce
flash into her husband's face, "when she came out of one of her
faints, 'Sally, what would you like?' 'I'd like some gin, mother,' she
answered. I was afraid she might give me the same answer again."

He quailed before the look, and the strong reproach conveyed in the
mother's words.

"Don't let's have any more quarrelling to-night, old woman," he said.

"I don't want any quarrelling: I'm not a match for you, Dick."

"That's as it should be, old woman," he said, recovering his spirits.
"Man's the master."

"You're good at words, Dick."

"That's so," he chuckled vainfully.

"But better at something else."

"At what, old woman?"

With a scornful glance she laid before him the strap with which he was
in the habit of striking her.

"There's no arguing with a woman," he said, with rare discretion.
"Come, it's time to get to bed. I suppose the new lodger is in."

"He came in an hour ago."

"And the little girl?"

"She's asleep with Sally."

Mr. Chester, who had risen, stood silent for a few moments, drumming
gently with his fingers on the table.

"Did you see him when he came home?"

Mrs. Chester's anger was spent, and her husband's kinder tone now met
with a kindred response.

"No, Dick."

"Ah, then, there's no use asking. But you might have heard something,
Loo."

"What might I have heard, Dick?" she asked, approaching close to his
side. He passed his arms around her.

"Something that would have reminded you - - " He broke off abruptly
with, "No matter."

"But tell me, Dick."

"When I was at the Royal George I fancied I heard a man playing on a
tin whistle."

Mrs. Chester's lips quivered, and a shudder ran through her frame.

"The new tenant," pursued Mr. Chester, "hang him! he's got into my
head like a black fog! - the new tenant had just gone away, and good
riddance to him, when I heard the music, as I thought, and I went to
the door to look. I saw nobody, and a man in the Royal George said
that our new lodger had something in his pocket that looked like a
whistle or a flute. As he came straight home, I thought you might have
heard him play it."

"I was asleep, Dick, when he came home; the slamming of the street
door woke me." She paused and played nervously with a button of her
husband's coat. "Dick, I dreamt of our Ned to-night."

"Ay, Loo," he answered softly.

"What can have become of him? Where is he now, the dear lad?"

"Best for us not to know, perhaps," replied Mr. Chester gloomily.

"I've thought of him a good deal lately," said Mrs. Chester; "more
than I've done for a long time past. And my dreaming of him to-night
is a good sign. Dick, I've got it into my head that he'll open the
door one day, as handsome as ever, and rich too, and that he'll make
it up to us - - "

Mr. Chester interrupted her with a bitter laugh.

"If my head doesn't ache till then - - There! Stop talking of him, and
let's get to bed."

They went into the bedroom together, and Mrs. Chester held the candle
over the sleeping children, turning the coverlid down, so that their
faces could be seen. They were both fast asleep: the baby's head was
lying on Sally's bare shoulder, and their lips almost touched.

It was not upon Sally's face that Mr. Chester's eyes rested. He gazed
intently upon the child sleeping in Sally's arms, much as though he
were striving to find the solution of some perplexing problem.

"What's bothering you, Dick?" asked Mrs. Chester.

"The difference between this new child and the man upstairs," he
replied. "There's our Sally now. She's dark, and skinny, and
queer-looking all round; but anybody can see with half an eye that
she's our child. It's the same with Ned; he was about the handsomest
lad that you could see in a mile's walk - - "

"Ay, that he was, Dick," said the fond mother.

" - Not a bit like Sal, and not much like us to speak of, in a general
way. And yet nobody could doubt that they were brother and sister, and
that he was our boy. Nature works out these things in her own way.
Very well, then. In what way has Nature worked out a likeness between
this new baby and the man sleeping upstairs?"

"In no way that I can see," replied Mrs. Chester, receiving with
favour this evidence against a man to whom she had taken a dislike at
first sight.

"There ain't a feature in their faces alike - not one. Nature doesn't
tell lies as a rule; but she has told a whopper if that man is this
young un's father. Do you mean to tell me that a father would behave
to his own flesh and blood as that fellow behaved to this little one
to-night? Look here, old woman. I go wrong more often than I go right.
I might be a better man to you, I dare say, and a better father to
Sal; but things have gone too far for me to alter. But for all that, I
think I've got the feelings of a father towards our lass, and I
wouldn't part with her for her weight in gold."

Which speech, uttered with rough, genuine feeling, was a recompense to
Mrs. Chester for months of neglect and unfair usage.

"Well, Dick," she said, "don't bother any more about it now. We've got
two weeks' rent in advance, at any rate."

And this practical commentary Mrs. Chester considered a satisfactory
termination to the conversation - at least, for the present.

Mr. Chester was a heavy sleeper. Being an earnest man, he was as
earnest in his sleep as in other matters, and his wife had often
observed that it would take the house on fire to rouse him. It was
singular, therefore, that on this night he should wake up within an
hour of his closing his eyes, with an idea in his mind which had not
before presented itself in an intelligible shape.

"I say, old woman," he mumbled, "are you awake?" The instinct of habit
caused Mrs. Chester to answer drowsily, "Yes, Dick," and to instantly
fall asleep again.

"Rouse yourself." (Assisting her by a push.) "What time was it you
told me the new lodger came in?"

Under the impression that the question had been put to her many hours
since, and therefore not quite clear as to its purport, Mrs. Chester
said,

"Eh, Dick?"

"Eh, Dick! and eh, Dick!" retorted Mr. Chester. "Now, then, are you
listening?"

"Of course I am," she said reproachfully, throwing upon him the onus
of evading the question. "Go on."

"I'm going on. Slow." (With a pause between each word.) "What - time
- did - you - tell - me - that - the - new - lodger - came - in - to-night?"

"He came home about an hour before you."

"And you were asleep?"

"Yes, and I'm almost asleep now. That's enough for to-night, Dick."

"Not half enough, old woman," he said, shaking her without mercy. "If
you were asleep, how do you know what time he came in?"

"He woke me up," replied Mrs. Chester, goaded to desperation, "with
the way he slammed the door. I'll give him a bit of my mind in the
morning. There's other lodgers in the house besides him, and I ain't
going to have them disturbed in that way. I shouldn't wonder if some
of 'em don't give us warning to-morrow. For the Lord's sake, don't
talk to me any more! I've got to be up at six o'clock."

He proceeded, without paying the slightest regard to her appeal:

"When the new lodger comes home a couple of hours ago, you are asleep.
He wakes you up with the way he bangs the door. He comes into the
house, and goes upstairs to his room. That's it, isn't it?"

"That's it, Dick," replied Mrs. Chester listlessly.

"And you don't set your eyes on him?"

"No, and don't want to."

"Now, old woman, just keep your mind on what I'm saying - " but here
Mr. Chester interrupted himself by exclaiming, "What's that row
upstairs? It comes from his room."

The noise proceeded undoubtedly from the room let to the new lodger,
and, as well as she could judge, was caused by the stealthy moving
about of furniture. It did not last long and presently all was quiet
again.

"I shall have to go up to him," said Mr. Chester, shaking his head at
himself in the dark, "if he gives us any more of that fun. He's a
stranger in the neighbourhood. Not a soul in the Royal George ever set
eyes on him before to-night. He comes here with a child - a mere
baby - that don't seem as if it had any right to be here at all. He
takes the room and pays a fortnight in advance, without ever asking
for a receipt, and without ever saying his name is George, or Jim, or
Jo or whatever else it might be. He pulls out a handful of money, too.
Does this sound suspicious, or doesn't it?"

"It _does_, as you put it," acquiesced Mrs. Chester, now awake.

"And, by Jove! there's something more suspicious behind. Who showed
him his bedroom?"

"I didn't."

"And _I_ didn't. Who showed him how to open the street-door without a
key?"

"I didn't."

"And _I_ didn't. Then how the devil _does_ he open it without being
shown how it is done? and how the devil does he find his way, without
a light, to a room he's never seen? I'm going to look into this, Loo,
before I close my eyes again."

Mr. Chester jumped out of bed energetically, with the intention of
putting his purpose into execution. But if his determination of
looking into the matter had not been formed by his own reasoning, it
would have been forced upon him by what took place immediately his
feet touched the floor. The moving of furniture in the new lodger's
room recommenced - not stealthily now, but with great violence, and
much as though it were being thrown about with the wilful intention of
breaking it to pieces. The noise had aroused the other lodgers in the
house, and a knocking at Mr. Chester's door, followed by a pathetic
inquiry about that disturbance upstairs, and an entreaty that it
should be stopped at once, as the speaker's old man had a racking
headache and the row was driving him out of his mind, quickened Mr.
Chester to speedier action.

"All right, Mrs. Midge," Mr. Chester called out, "I'm going upstairs
this minute. It's only a new lodger we've taken in to-night. If he
don't stop his row, I'll bundle him neck and crop into the street."

With the handle of the open door in his hand, he turned to his wife,
and telling her not to be frightened, groped his way to the upper part
of the house.

Mrs. Chester, disregarding her husband's injunction sat up in bed, and
listened to the noise, which so increased in violence every moment
that she got out of bed before Mr. Chester was halfway upstairs, and
stood ready to fly to his assistance.

The person who was causing this commotion had, when he entered the
bedroom, fallen upon the bed in a stupor. He had had no rest for a
week, and was utterly exhausted. For days he had been haunted and
pursued by horrible phantoms, which had driven him almost mad. When
the fit first seized him, he was in the country, fifty miles from
Rosemary Lane, and the thought occurred to him that there was but one
house in all the wide world in which he could find refuge from his
enemies. To this refuge he slowly made his way, eating nothing, but
drinking whenever the opportunity for doing so presented itself. It
gave him for the time a fictitious strength, and enabled him at length
to reach Mr. Chester's house.

The room was in total darkness, and for two hours he lay helpless and
supine, unaware that even in his stupor he was ceaselessly picking
unearthly reptiles from the blanket upon which he had fallen. For two
hours he lay thus, and then consciousness returned to him.

It slowly dawned upon his fevered imagination that he was no longer
alone. The frightful shapes which had pursued him for a week had
discovered his sanctuary, and were stealing upon him. They were subtle
and powerful enough to force their way through stone walls, through
closed doors, and they had done so now. Perhaps, thought he - if it can
be said that he thought at all - if I keep my eyes closed, they will
not discover me. It is dark, and I shall evade them. They will not
think of searching too closely for me here.

He lay still and quiet, as he believed, with loudly-beating heart; but
all the time he struck at the air with his hands, helpless, impotent,
terror-bound. Soon, encouraged by the silence, he ventured to open his
eyes, and a spasm of despair escaped him as he discovered how he had
been juggled. Creeping towards him stealthily was a huge shapeless
shadow. Form it had none, its face and eyes were veiled, but he could
see huge limbs moving within dark folds. The window and door were fast
closed, and it could only have entered the room by way of the chimney
and fireplace. If he could thrust it back to that aperture, and block
it up, he would be safe. He rose from the bed, shaking and trembling
like a leaf in a strong wind, and moved the common washstand between
himself and the shadow. Pushing it before him, he whispered
triumphantly to himself as he perceived his enemy retreat. Cunningly
he drove it towards the fireplace and compelled it into that niche,
where it passed away like the passing of a cloud. Thank God! it was
gone. And so that it should not again find entrance, he placed against
the fireplace all the available furniture in the room. That being



Online LibraryB. L. (Benjamin Leopold) FarjeonThe Duchess of Rosemary Lane → online text (page 5 of 24)