B. L. (Benjamin Leopold) Farjeon.

The Duchess of Rosemary Lane online

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once. That could hardly be - though we don't quite know what happens in

"No, we don't, do we? It wasn't light and dark together. First it was
dark, and then it was light. I couldn't see a wision in the dark,
could I?"

"I should say not, Sal; but I never was in a trance, you know. I'm not
one o' the prophesying sort."

"So it _must_ ha' been light when it come. There was all sorts o'
things flying about - birds, and angels, and spirits. It was splendid.
Then all of a sudden a king comes to me done up in a bundle."

"Pharaoh," suggested Seth, in the midst of a quiet fit of laughter.

"Yes, Pharer, it was," said Sally, eagerly adopting the suggestion.

"Because that's the only old king you ever heard of."

"Yes. Well, Pharer come - - "

"Stop a minute, Sal. What was he like?"

"Didn't you never see him?"

"I never set eyes on the old gentleman."

A deeper puckering of Sally's eyebrows, and a tighter interlacing of
her little fingers.

"He was done up in a bundle, you know, and I didn't see much of him."

"Was he like the doll outside old Adam's rag and bone shop?"

"A little bit."

"Only he didn't have a black face,"

"No," said Sally, following the cues with heaving bosom.

"But his face _was_ painted."

"In course it was."

"In stripes. Red, and yellow, and green."

"Yes, he looked so rum! And he had a big gold crown on his head."

"Ah," said Seth, in a tone of sly satisfaction, "now I can say I've
seen Pharaoh if anybody asks me. Go on, Sal."

"Well, he come, and said - - "

"Ho! ho! Sally! he spoke to you, did he?"

"Yes, he said a lot."

"Now," mused Seth, hugging himself in great enjoyment, "how did he

"With his tongue," replied Sally, with precocious sharpness.

"Yes, yes, with his tongue, of course. But in what language? It
couldn't be Hebrew, because he hated the Jews, and wouldn't have
lowered himself to it. Besides if he had, you wouldn't have understood

"Not in a trance?" asked Sally in a cunning tone.

"I should say," replied Seth very gravely, "not even in a trance."

"Why, then, he spoke what I'm speaking to you, and what you're
speaking to me - jist the same. 'Git up, Sally,' he says, 'and come
along o' me; I'm going to show you somethink.' I got up and went along
of him."

"The people must have stared, Sal, to see you and Pharaoh walking

"We didn't mind that. We walks straight to the horspital, and there's
father laying in bed. 'Shall I ever git better?' says father to
Pharer. 'No,' says Pharer, 'you'll never git better. Do you hear, Sal?
Father'll never git better.' Then we goes out of the horspital, me
and Pharer, and walks miles and miles into the country, and we come to
a big, big place with stone walls. 'Mother's in there, Sal,' says
Pharer; and I peeps through and sees poor mother working and working."

"Was it a prison, then, that mother was in?"

"No, it was a workus. 'If you was to go to her,' says Pharer, she'd be
turned away. She's got eighteen pound a year.' Is that a lot?" asked
Sally, suddenly breaking off.

"It's a lot taken in a lump," replied Seth, upon whose face a more
thoughtful expression was gathering, "and a year's a lot, too, Sally."

"Is three-and-sixpence a week a lot for a gal's keep?" asked Sally,
pursuing her inquiries.

"What sort of a girl? One who would make herself handy?"

"Oh, yes; and do anythink, never mind what. Clean and scrub, and git
up early and light the fire and go of errands - - " Thus Sally
breathlessly ran on.

"But this girl's so small - not strong enough to do all that."

"She'd git bigger, and stronger, and older, every day. And you don't
know, oh, you don't know what she wouldn't do, if you wanted her to!
And she'd be as good as gold."

"Then this girl's liable to fainting dead away, without notice - - "

"She wouldn't do it!" cried Sally, beating her hands together and
creeping closer to Seth; "she wouldn't do it, if you didn't want her

" - And of falling into trances - "

"She'd never do so agin, this gal wouldn't, if you didn't want her

"Three-and-sixpence wouldn't go far, Sal, but it's something. What
next did Pharaoh say?"

"'She's got eighteen pound a year,' says Pharer, 'and she's been
obliged to go away from you 'cause she's so poor, and couldn't git
nothink to eat; but she's giving somebody three-and-sixpence a week
for your keep.'"

"Ah, ah, Sally, now we're coming to it."

"After that, Pharer looks at baby - - "

"Saying anything about _her_ keep, Sal?"

"Oh, no; there's no need to. _I_ keep _her_, you know; _I_ take care
of _her_. I nurse her, and wash her, and dress her, and put her to
bed, and she's no trouble to nobody."

"Not even to you, Sal, I suppose."

"Not to me - oh, no, not to me, 'cause I love her, and she's the
beautifullest baby there ever was! Pharer looks at her, and says,
'When baby grows up, she'll be a lady, and 'll have fine clothes,
and 'll give everybody money who's been good to her.' That's sure
to come true, that is."

"Pharaoh says?"

"No, _I_ say. It's sure to come true. You mind, now! Whoever's good to
baby'll be done good to."

"A good Christian sentiment, Sal. And then?"

"Then," said Sally abruptly, "Pharer goes away."

"Walks away?"

"No, flies away, and is swallowed up like. That's all of it."

And with her heart beating as fast as if she were in a high state of
fever, Sally, whose hand was resting on Seth's knee, waited in the
deepest anxiety to learn her fate. Seth put his hand down, and it
touched Sally's face. He gave a start as he touched her cheek, which
was wet with her tears, fast and silently flowing.

"Sally," he said, "you've got a brother."

"I'll tell you somethink," rejoined Sally quietly and solemnly; "but
you mustn't tell him, or he'd beat me."

"I won't tell him, my child."

"I don't think," sobbed Sally, "as he's any good."


"It was him as made father ill, and him as made mother poor. And last
night, when I was abed, pretending to be asleep, I sor him eating up
all the bread and drinking up all the tea. And when he went away,
mother cried and cried."

Many moments passed in silence. Then Seth rose, and lit a candle,
Sally following his movements with undisguised anxiety.

"Look about you, Sal."

Sally gazed with longing, admiring eyes at the treasures of the
cellar, which was a veritable Aladdin's cave in her sight. It was with
difficulty she removed her eyes from the aquarium, which was something
so entirely outside her experience as to make it a marvel indeed.

"Here's my bed, Sally; and here's my cupboard; and here's my
frying-pan and saucepan and kettle, all clean and tidy." As he seemed
to expect an answer, Sally nodded. "Now here," he continued, lifting a
blanket which, hung on a line, divided off a portion of the cellar,
"is a place where two children might sleep, supposing such an out and
out-of-the-way circumstance should ever occur to Seth Dumbrick as
taking two ready-made, mischievous girls - - "

"Oh, no," interrupted Sally positively, "not mischievous. Good."

"You're not fit to judge. Supposing, I say, such an extraordinary and
ridiculous circumstance were to occur to Seth Dumbrick as his taking
two girls, one of 'em a baby - - "

"Such a beauty!" again interrupted the irrepressible Sally. "Kiss him,

She put baby's face to his, and, utterly confounded and unable to
resist, Seth Dumbrick kissed a pair of lips for the first time for
Heaven knows how many years.

"If I believed in the Bible," he muttered, "which I don't, it'd be
almost like kissing that. Sally, will you stop here, quiet, while I go
out a bit?"

"Yes," replied Sally joyfully.

"You won't move, you won't touch a thing?"

"No, I won't - I won't!"

"And you won't mind sitting in the dark?"

"N - no," said Sally, with a little shiver.

"One soon gets used to it."

"_I_ would," said Sally, becoming suddenly brave.

"I can't afford to burn candles all day long. You won't touch the
aquarium, or put your fingers in the water?"

"No - no; I'll never!"

"Because _my_ fish bite, Sally."

"I won't move from here, Mr. Dumbrick," protested Sally, grouping
mentally for some strong affirmation. "I hope I may never move at all
if I do!"

"Very well; I sha'n't be gone long."

Seth Dumbrick went straight towards Mrs. Chester's lodgings. He met
that good woman on his way, inquiring anxiously of her neighbours
whether they had seen anything of her child.

"She's at my place," said Seth, "with her baby, and has been there
ever so long."

"You've lifted a weight off my heart," said Mrs. Chester.

"I was afraid Sally was run over. I'll give it her when she comes

"Home!" echoed Seth.

"Yes, home," repeated Mrs. Chester.

"For how long," asked Seth, "will it be a home for her?"

Mrs. Chester turned very white, and looked at Seth Dumbrick for an

"Mrs. Chester," he said with a curious hesitation, "what sort of a man
do you consider me to be?"

"I don't know any harm of you, Mr. Dumbrick."

"That's neither one thing nor the other. It don't matter, though. I'd
like to hear the rights of the story about Sally's baby, if you've no

Mrs. Chester related what she knew, and Seth Dumbrick listened
thoughtfully and attentively.

"And you've never since set eyes on the man who brought the child to
your house?"

"Never before or since, Mr. Dumbrick."

"There's a mystery in it," mused Seth, "and I'm partial to mystery.
Here we are at your place. May I come up?"

Without waiting for permission, he pushed his way upstairs, and
entered Mrs. Chester's room. In the first glance he saw the state of
poverty to which she was reduced. Unceremoniously he went to the
cupboard and opened it; there was no food on the shelves. Then he
turned to Mrs. Chester, and fixed his great grey eyes on her so
piercingly that she began to grow frightened.

"You're a married woman. Where's your wedding-ring?"

She placed her left hand quickly behind her.

"I don't mean any harm. Where is it?"

"In pawn?"

"That's always the last thing to go, Mrs. Chester."

Weak and sick, she sank, panting, into a chair.

"Your husband's in the hospital?"

"Yes," she sighed.

"And you're going to take a situation in a workhouse?"

"Who told you?" cried Mrs. Chester, her tears beginning to flow.

"Some distance from here it is, and you'll get eighteen pound a year.
And you don't mind giving three-and-sixpence a week to anyone who'll
take care of Sally."

"I don't know where you found out all this," sobbed Mrs. Chester,
"but it's true. I've been trying all the morning to get a place for
Sally - she's a handy little thing, Mr. Dumbrick - but can't find one.
Everybody's full enough of trouble as it is, without wishing for more.
I don't blame 'em, I'm sure, but I feel that desperate that I'm fit to
make away with myself. Do you think I'd part with my child if I could
possibly help it?"

"I never had one," replied Seth gravely, "so I'm no judge. Mrs.
Chester, I'm a lonely man, and have lived a lonely life. You know me
and what I am. I'm never out of work, and I never intend to be, if I
can help it. I don't set myself up as a good man, but I dare say I'd
pass in a crowd. Do you see what I'm driving at?"

"Not exactly, Mr. Dumbrick."

"I've felt sometimes lately, when I've been alone in my cellar, as if
I'd like some one to talk to, some creature like myself about me to
look at. I'd as soon set fire to my place as take a woman in it, and a
boy'd plague the life out of me. But a little girl, or a little girl
and a baby, I wouldn't so much mind. She could make herself handy, and
might grow into my ways. Now do you see what I'm driving at?"

"You mean that you'd take Sally, and keep her, if I paid you
three-and-sixpence a week."

"Partly right and partly wrong. I mean that I've no objections to take
Sally and the little creature as seems to be cast upon the world
without a friend, and give 'em both their meals and a bed. So far
you're right. But you're not as to the three-and-sixpence a week."

"Would you want more, Mr. Dumbrick?" asked Mrs. Chester imploringly.

"I've been reckoning up as I came along how much a year
three-and-sixpence a week is, and I make it out to be more than nine
pound. That's a big hole in eighteen pound. You wouldn't be able to
save a shilling out of it."

"I don't want to; I only want to live. God help us! Poor people _must_
live as well as rich."

"They've as much right to, certainly, but that's not to the point.
This is. I'm not willing to take three-and-sixpence a week. I'll take

"God bless you, Mr. Dumbrick! How shall I ever thank you?"

Seth made a wry face at the blessing.

"But I've got a bargain of another kind to make. There's Sally's baby.
She comes too, of course, and we don't reckon her. She's thrown in, as
a body might say - a kind of make-weight. Now Sally is your child, and
I reckon you are fond of her."

Mrs. Chester sighed an eloquent assent.

"One of these fine days," continued Seth, "you might make your fortune
sudden." (Mrs. Chester thought of her lovely lad and his lucky mole,
and listened with greater interest.) "You might pick up a purse of
money, or an old pauper might die, and when you ripped up her clothes
you might find 'em stuffed with bank-notes. In that case you'd come to
me and take Sally away."

"It ain't likely any of them things'll happen, Mr. Dumbrick."

"I've heard of stranger things. Now I go on again. I should by that
time have got used to Sally, perhaps, and shouldn't like to part with
her. That wouldn't matter to you. You'd take her. But there's the
other. _She's_ not your child, and you've no claim on her."

"No more than you have."

"Very well, then. Now I make this bargain with you, Mrs. Chester. If
ever anything should happen as'd make you want to take Sally away,
you wouldn't take the baby away as well. She'd be mine, and you'd have
no right to her. You understand?"

"Perfectly, and I'm quite agreeable. A mother's got enough to do with
her own children, without being saddled with strange ones. Though this
little one is a beautiful child, Mr. Dumbrick, and my heart warmed to
her so that if I could afford it I'd be glad to keep her. God help
those who've deserted her so cruelly!"

"Then it's a bargain, and I'll go and send Sally to you. You'd best
keep the children with you till you go away. Then you can bring 'em to
me, and make 'em over."

"You'll be kind to Sally, Mr. Dumbrick."

Seth rasped his chin with his horny hand. "As kind as it's in my
nature to be; I can't promise more than that."

"And you won't mind her fainting away now and then; she'll get over it
as she grows, I hope."

"I've had a sample, and I don't mind it much. To tell you the truth,"
he added grimly, "it amuses me."

Mrs. Chester looked doubtful; Sally's fainting dead away had not been
an amusement to her, and she was fearful that Seth was disposed to
make light of her child's misfortune; but the quaint smile which came
to Seth's lips after his remark had so much of kindness in it that she
was reassured.

"I can trust you, I think, Mr. Dumbrick."

"If I wasn't sure you could, I wouldn't have come to you," was his
reply, and then he paused for a moment or two. "Mrs. Chester, I can
spare you two shillings if you're in need of it."

This was sufficient evidence, and Mrs. Chester gratefully pressed his
hand. Seth placed two shillings on the table, and walked off quickly.

That night everything was settled; Dr. Lyon advised Mrs. Chester not
to delay, and she agreed to go to her situation on the following day.
He spoke well of Seth Dumbrick also.

"He has a rough outside," said the sensible doctor, "but it covers a
kernel of goodness, if I don't mistake. The strawberry, you know, Mrs.
Chester, grows underneath the nettle."

"Yes, sir," replied Mrs. Chester, seeing but vaguely the application.

Mrs. Chester had no heart to bid farewell to her neighbours. She left
Rosemary Lane almost by stealth, going first to Seth Dumbrick with the
two children.

"You'd like to see my place, perhaps," said Seth, and led the way to
his cellar.

Mrs. Chester was dismayed somewhat by the gloomy look of the

"It is very dark, Mr. Dumbrick."

"Not when one's accustomed to it," was the reply; "besides there's a
bit o' light behind the cloud."

He went to the back, and opened a door which disclosed a flight of
steps, leading up to a yard in the rear of the house. The sun happened
to be shining brightly, and the light struggling in gave the cellar a
more habitable appearance.

"I've sometimes thought of having a window let in," said Seth;
"perhaps I'll do it after a bit. And there's nothing to be said
against it at night."

In fact there _was_ an undiscovered window in the back wall, hidden by
shutters. Seth seemed to wish not to make the bargain an attractive
one in Mrs. Chester's eyes. She knelt before Sally, and kissed her and
cried over her. "You're sorry I'm going to leave you, my pet - say
you're sorry."

Sally required no prompting. She loved her mother, but her practical
little wits had gauged the situation, and she had done the best she
could in the circumstances. Seth, with delicate forethought, left the
mother and the children alone, and mounted to his stall, where he
continued his work of soling and heeling and patching. Presently, Mrs.
Chester stood by his side. He walked with her down the street.

"Don't take on," he said; "I'll look after Sally, and you can always
write to me here, if you've anything to say. I'm settled in Rosemary
Lane for life. Goodbye; I wish you better days."

He left her in the company of her lovely lad, Ned, the cause of all
her trouble. She was to take coach to the country, and her son
accompanied her to the yard it started from, grumbling all the way at
his hard lot; for now his mother was leaving him, he had no loving
nature to impose upon.

"If ever you're in trouble, my dear boy," sobbed Mrs. Chester, "don't
keep it from me."

"I won't," he replied, with much sincerity.

"And if ever you grow rich, Ned - - "

The contemplation of this happy certainty in the future lightened her
heart, and with kisses and tears she bade farewell to him and to the
neighbourhood endeared to her in many ways, notwithstanding the hard
fortune she had experienced there.

In the meantime Seth Dumbrick retraced his way to his stall, somewhat
unsettled in his mind as to the wisdom of the step he had taken. In
his cellar he found Sally very industriously washing up some dirty
plates; comfortably propped on a chair was the treasure-baby. Seth
glanced suspiciously round to note if anything which should not have
been disturbed was out of its place; Sally's eyes followed his with
sly satisfaction. She had finished washing the crockery, and was now
ostentatiously wiping her bare arms, like a little old woman of sixty.

"I keep my eyes wide open," said Sally, "as wide as wide can be, and
the things come out of the darkness to meet me. Jist look; I can walk
all about, without touching a thing."

Sally brought this to proof by winding her way quickly about the dark
room, round the table, in and out of the chairs, round the aquarium,
and all with such precision and anxious desire to please as could not
fail to elicit approval.

"You're a cunning little sinner," said Seth, "and I don't doubt that
we shall get along pretty well together."


"Sally," said Seth Dumbrick, a fortnight afterwards; "I'm beginning to
be bothered in my mind."

It was night. Seth was playing "patience" with a very old and very
greasy pack of cards. Sally was doing her best to mend her baby's
clothes; she was as yet but an indifferent workgirl with the needle.
It was not an unpleasant sight to see her taking her stitches, with
knitted brow, and pursed-up lips, as though the fate of an empire was
in the balance every time she dug her needle in and drew it out again.
She had commenced the battle of life very early, but she had put on
her armour with great cheerfulness and contentment, and was perhaps at
the present moment the happiest little girl in Rosemary Lane. Her baby
was asleep on the ground, comfortably covered over.

"I'm beginning to be bothered in my mind," said Seth.

Sally, ready for the bestowal of sympathy, looked up from her work.

"About what?" she asked.

"Many things. That trance of yours, to begin with. It didn't go far
enough. Now, I ask you, as a prophetess - do you consider it an
out-and-out prophecy?"

The grave air he assumed would have deceived a much riper intellect
than Sally's. She prepared to discuss the matter seriously.

"It all come true, Mr. Dumbrick."

"No doubt of that - here you are in proof of it, and there's your
father in the hospital, and there's your mother managing the workhouse
in the country. It was good enough as far as it went, but it has come
to an end already, and there's no more to look forward to. That's what
I call not satisfactory."

"No, Mr. Dumbrick?"

"No, Sally Chester. The spirits that came to Joanna when she went off
that way beat Pharaoh hollow. He couldn't hold a candle to 'em."

Much distressed by this depreciatory criticism, Sally said:

"It was Pharer's first go, Mr. Dumbrick. Perhaps he wasn't quite up to
the business."

For the life of him Seth could not repress a laugh.

"There's something in that, Sally. Practice makes perfect, sure. Now,
you couldn't sole and heel a pair o' boots the first time of asking;
but you'd manage it in a year or two, with plenty of teaching. But
about those spirits of Joanna's; they told all sorts o' things about
the future, and they were always at it. And Joanna lived to be an old
woman, and to the last day of her life she kept trancing away. Now,
you've only had one trance, Sally."

"Yes, Mr. Dumbrick," assented Sally, with a troubled mind, "only one."

"And it doesn't seem likely that you'll have another."

"Yes, it does - yes, it does. I've felt it coming on more than once."

"How _does_ it feel, Sally?" inquired Seth, with an open chuckle.

"A kind o' creepy like, and everything going round."

"That sounds well."

"What is it you want to know, Mr. Dumbrick?"

"Well, there's baby, Sally. She won't be a baby all her life. She'll
grow up to be a woman - so will you."

Sally nodded, and listened with all her soul in her ears.

"She has no name except Baby, and it stands to reason that that won't
do all along. We must find something else to call her by; it won't be
fair to her otherwise, and she wouldn't thank us for it when she grows
up. It'd never do to have her grow up ungrateful, and to fly at us for
not giving her what everybody else has got."

"Oh! no - never, never! But she'll love us always - you'll see if she

"Don't you set your mind too much on it. Perhaps our baby'll see
somebody by-and-by that she'll love better than you or me, and then we
shall go to the wall. We're like fiddles, Sally, and Nature's the
fiddler, and plays on us."

Open-eyed, and mentally as well as physically wide awake, Sally
listened without exactly understanding, but dimly conscious that
something very fine was being propounded to her.

"There are not many strings in us, Sally, but, Lord! the number o'
tunes that Nature plays on us! And we go through life dancing to 'em,
or hobbling to 'em, as the case may be. As this little picture'll do,
according to the kind of music that comes to her. As for what takes
place when Nature's played her last tune on us, that's beyond you and
me, Sally."

"Yes, Mr. Dumbrick," assented Sally, feeling it incumbent upon her to
say something, but groping now in such dark depths that she saw no way
out of them.

Seth's next utterances, however, brought a little light to her.

"In all that, there are certain things - not many - that we may fairly
take credit for. You've got a big heart in a little body. I'd wager my
cobbler's stall that I'm going to sit on in the clouds when your dream
comes true - I'd wager that to a brass thimble that if you had only one
bit o' bread, and you was hungry as you could be, you'd give it to
baby, if she cried for it."

Two or three bright tears glistened in Sally's eyes, which Seth
accepted as confirmation.

"Take credit for that, Sally."

"Thank you, Mr. Dumbrick," said Sally gratefully, satisfied with this
reward of good words for good intentions.

"I'm going to take credit, too, Sally. I'm going to teach you and baby
to read and write."

"O! Mr. Dumbrick!"

"That's as much as a real father could do. Reading's a grand thing,
Sally. We've much to be thankful for. Be thankful, Sally."

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