B. L. (Benjamin Leopold) Farjeon.

The Duchess of Rosemary Lane online

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"I am, Mr. Dumbrick, I am, oh, so much!"

"I don't like that mister, Sally."

"No?" questioned Sally, for ever on the alert to discover her
guardian's likes or dislikes.

"It's too much like company manners. Now that we're comfortably
settled we ought to be more sociable. Call me Dad, or Daddy, or Daddy
Dumbrick. Your tongue'll soon get used to it."

"Yes, Mr. - Dad-dy Dumbrick."

Sally's tongue tripped so comically over the new terms that she
laughed, and Seth grimly joined in the merriment.

"We soon get used to things, Sally. Once on a time we usedn't to live
in houses."

"In what, then, Daddy Dumbrick?"

"In tents and forests and fields and that like."

"As the gipsies do," cried Sally. "I've seed 'em. Mother took me to a
fair once."

"Now we live in garrets and cellars, and sweet-smelling habitations."

Sally looked dubious. Many of the houses round about Rosemary Lane
were far from sweet-smelling, and she could not realise the advantage
of the present over the past of which Seth was evidently boasting. To
live in a tent in forest or field was a dream of Elysium to her, with
flowers growing around her home and green grass waving. Too good for

"Once on a time," continued Seth, "we couldn't read; now we can. Once
on a time we weren't civilised; now we are. We've much more to be
thankful for than we know of. This is the age of enlightenment, Sally,
and the best thing I can do is to give you your first lesson."

Sally hastily put aside her work, and kneeling by baby's side stooped
and kissed her. Seth, who had risen in search of a book, looked down
upon the children.

"Don't you forget, Sally, what I said about you're going off in a
trance. No, no, Sally!" he cried, putting his hand to his side to
restrain his merriment; "not now. Don't you go fainting dead away now;
we've got something else to do."

"I wasn't going to, Daddy," said Sally timorously, and with something
like a blush on her thin, sallow face.

"Bravo, Sally; there's some lessons you know without being able to
read - to tell the truth when it's necessary, and to tell the other
thing when it's necessary. You little sinner, you! You've the gumption
of twenty grown-up women in that little carcase of yours. Here's a
book with large print. It belonged to my mother."

He brought forward a great heavy quarto with old broken clasps, and
opened it.

"I shall read out loud the first few words and then you shall learn
the letters one by one. Keep your eyes and your mind open and come

So saying, Seth, taking the forefinger of Sally's right hand as a
marker, read slowly the words, "In the beginning God created the
heaven and the earth."


Seth Dumbrick never raised his eyes from his work the next morning
when Sally Chester, who had been standing silently by his side for
full five minutes, suddenly said:

"Pharer come agin last night, Daddy."

"I thought he would, Sally."

"'Baby must have a name given to her,' says Pharer, and it's got to be
done proper.' 'What name?' says I. 'I don't know,' says Pharer - - "

"Not much of a spirit," murmured Seth; "not by any means what I should
call a tiptop spirit."

"'There's only one man,' says Pharer," continued Sally, somewhat
discomposed, "'as can give baby a proper name, and that man's Daddy

"Oh, oh!" exclaimed Seth. "He knows my new title already."

"Spirits know everythink," observed Sally oracularly. "Then Pharer
takes me downstairs. And it's night, and there's more than one candle
alight; and the fish in the quarian is swimming about, wide awake,
salamanders and all; and there's a party."

Seth gave a long, soft whistle. "That's a mistake, Sally. There
couldn't be a party."

"There was," said Sally positively.

"Men and women?"

"No; boys and gals."

"Ah, ah! That's bad enough, but it's better than t'other."

"There was Jane Preedy, and Betsy Newbiggin, and Ann Taylor, and Jimmy
Platt, and a lot more, all dressed out; and there was baby dressed out
splendider than all of 'em put together, and there was me, and you."

"What was I doing?"

"You was giving baby a name. 'And mind,' says Pharer, baby's a little
lady, and she's got to have a grand name, better than mine, or your'n,
or anybody else's.'"

"When was this party given, Sally?"

"The party was given next Monday," replied Sally in utter defiance of
all natural rules and laws, "next Monday as ever was."

"It must be done, I suppose," said Seth, with a sigh of comical
resignation, "or Pharaoh'll never come to you again."

"Never," declared Sally.

"Then there's no help for it. You can ask all the little ragamuffins
in the neighbourhood to the christening."

"O, Daddy, you are good - you are good!" and out of the depth of her
gratitude Sally put her arms round Seth's neck, and kissed him
half-a-dozen times without meeting with any opposition.

In good truth Seth was enjoying this new state of things, and would
not have liked, now that he had tasted the sweets of companionship, to
be compelled to relapse into his old ways. There was nothing to regret
in his past life; he had never loved, and therefore had no melancholy
remembrance to make the present bitter. He had contracted neither
violent friendships nor violent enmities. He had never been
wronged - which frequently leads a generous nature to misanthropy; he
had never wronged - which often leads to meanness many a nature capable
of higher development. Thus, having escaped rocks upon which other men
are wrecked, or soured, or embittered for life, he found himself a
middle-aged man, the tenderest chords of whose nature had never till
now been touched.

Sally's kisses thrilled him tenderly. He did not return them, nor did
he exhibit any feeling, but every pulse of his being responded to this
mark of affection.

"Daddy," said Sally.

"Yes, Sal."

"You're sure?"

"About next Monday? Oh, yes. We'll have the christening."

"I want to tell you somethink."

"Out with it."

"I've got two shillings."

"Saved up in my frock. Feel 'em."

Seth felt them.

"Mother give 'em to me before she went away. I may spend 'em, mayn't

"For the christening?"

"For baby."

"Well, no; I should say not. Here's two shillings more; spend _them_,
and keep yours."

"But I want to - I want to! It's my money, and I want to spend it on

"You're an obstinate little sinner," said Seth, after some
consideration, "but it appears to me that you've generally a reason
for what you do. So do it. You can take my money as well, and spend it
all if you like."

"We'll have a regular feast," said Sally gleefully.

Issuing forth the next morning, Sally commenced operations. The first
acquaintance she met was Betsy Newbiggin. Betsy was pursuing her usual
avocation of selling liquorice-water, at the rate of two teaspoonfuls
for one pin. This industrious trader was a genius in her way, and
displayed unusual qualifications for driving a good bargain. The bosom
of her frock was half full of pins, and she trotted about with her
breastplate as proud as an Indian of his trophy of scalps.

Not often did Betsy Newbiggin meet with her match in the way of trade,
but she met with it this morning, in Sally. Our little sallow-faced
mother had the natural cravings of a daughter of Eve for sweet things,
and she cast a longing glance at Betsy's bottle of liquorice-water.
Betsy observing the glance, scented a customer, and she carelessly
shook the bottle two or three times, and removing the paper cork
applied it to her tongue with an air of great enjoyment.

"Is it nice, Betsy?" inquired Sally anxiously.

"I should rather think it was," replied Betsy, placing the bottle
close to Sally's nose; "smell it. How many pins have yer got?"

Sally passed her hand over the bosom of her frock, and found never a

"Trust us," pleaded Sally.

Betsy laughed scornfully, and made a feint of moving away to more
profitable pastures.

"Stop a bit, Betsy," cried Sally, "I want to tell you somethink. I
live at Mr. Dumbrick's, you know - me and my baby. And, oh! it's such a
place! There never was nothink like it. It's full of the most
beautifullest things as ever was, and there's a large glass river with
all sorts of fish a swimming about - wouldn't you like to see it?"

"I'd like to," said Betsy.

"It's better than a show, and Mr. Dumbrick he tells such
stories - wouldn't you like to hear 'em?"

"I'd like to," repeated Betsy.

"Well, now," said Sally in unconscious imitation of Seth Dumbrick's
manner of speaking, "I don't know. Perhaps I'll let you - perhaps I
won't. Will you trust us two pins'orth?"

"Yes, I will, I will," exclaimed Betsy eagerly, and measured out four
teaspoonfuls of the precious beverage, and gave full measure, mainly
in consequence of Sally's watchful eyes being upon her. Long parleying
took place thereafter between the cunning and wily Sally and the
shrewd but in this instance over-reached Betsy, for before they
parted, Sally had emptied every drop of liquorice-water in the bottle,
and had besides wheedled Betsy out of twelve pins, to be returned at
some remote and convenient period. But Betsy had her reward, in
perspective, for she received the first invitation to the feast on
Monday evening, in Seth's cellar, and she departed in a glow of
triumph to boast of the invitation to her acquaintance. There is no
person in the world, however insignificant or humble, who does not
build for himself a dunghill upon which he delights to crow, to the
exaltment of himself and the depreciation of his neighbours.

By noon all Sally's invitations were issued by word of mouth; and the
news spreading with amazing rapidity, the excitement among the
juvenile population of Rosemary Lane became most intense. Those who
were invited walked about with pride and superiority in their bearing,
and those who were not were proportionately humbled and vexed. The
circumstance that Seth Dumbrick, the hermit, the crab, had consented
to receive in his cave a certain number of children, and to give them
a feast, was really an event in the neighbourhood, and even some of
the grown-up people said they would like to go to the party.

The eventful evening arrived, and Seth, sitting in his stall, received
his guests, and passed them down to Sally. The first to arrive was
Betsy Newbiggin; then followed Ann Taylor, Jimmy Platt, Jane Preedy,
Young Stumpy, and others, making in all a round dozen.

The cellar presented a splendid appearance. Everything was polished
up, the hearth was whitened, the stove was blackened. There was not a
speck on the glass of the aquarium; but this latter attraction was
covered with a blanket. Seth, who, during the day, had refused to come
into the dwelling-room, knowing that Sally was busy, and wished to
give him a surprise, gazed around with satisfaction. His eyes meeting
Sally's, which were watching him anxiously, he patted her approvingly
on the shoulder, which caused her to colour with pleasure. When Seth
made his appearance among his guests, they were all demurely seated on
two benches which Sally had found in the back yard, and cleaned for
the occasion. They were a very respectable party indeed, and behaved
themselves quite genteelly. They were in holiday attire too, for, duly
impressed with the importance of the event, they had taken pains to
personally adorn themselves with any little oddment they could lay
their hands on. True, that in some instances the will had to be taken
for the deed; as in the case of Young Stumpy, the rents in whose
garments would not admit of the entire concealment of his shirt, which
peeped out in unwarrantable places, and who was much distressed by his
companions slyly pulling at it, and further exposing him; and in the
case of Jane Preedy, one of whose feet was buried in a very large old
shoe, and the other squeezed into a boot too small to admit of lacing
up. But for the matter of that, Sally Chester, if brought before a
jury, would have been found guilty of rents, tatters, and
incongruities in her attire; so busy had she been that - without
inquiring as to whether she had the means - she had no time to make
herself smart. On the table were displayed threepennyworth of oranges
cut into very small pieces, threepennyworth of whitey-brown seedcakes,
threepennyworth of the delectable cake known as the jumble, and
threepennyworth of expressionless men and women and blatant cocks and
hens fashioned out of the native gingerbread of the neighbourhood.
Upon this splendid feast the eyes of the company were eagerly fixed,
wandering occasionally away to the dark corners of the cellar and to
the blanket which concealed the fish in the aquarium.

"Where's baby, Sally?" asked Seth.

"Not yet, please," said Sally imploringly. "May we commence, Daddy?"


The entertainment was opened by the drawing up of the curtain, or
rather by the withdrawal of the blanket from the aquarium, and the
sudden and brilliant display of fish swimming about caused a chorus of
Oh's! of all shapes and sizes to issue from the throats of the
delighted guests. Entering at once into the humour of the affair, Seth
Dumbrick constituted himself showman, and proceeded to point out the
different fish to the audience, who thronged around the lecturer, and
listened open-mouthed to the wonderful things he told them. He took
advantage, it must be confessed, of the limited knowledge of his
hearers, and imposed upon them as the veriest mountebank would have
done. Marvellous were the qualities of the water-beetles; dreadful
were the stories he told of the voracious silver pike, saying how
fortunate it was that there was not room for them to grow in the
aquarium, or there was no telling what would occur; the gold and
silver fish were real gold and silver - "Do you think I'd keep sham
ones?" he asked, receiving vociferous vindication of his genuineness
in the answers: "In course not, Mr. Dumbrick;" "Not you, Mr.
Dumbrick;" - and as for the salamanders, which they gazed upon with a
kind of horrible fascination, he explained how that fire wouldn't burn
them, and expressed his opinion - with downward pointing finger - that
they come from the place where wicked boys and girls went to, unless
they saw the error of their ways, and repented in good time. So
impressed with gloomy forebodings were the guests - all of whom,
according to the oft-repeated testimony of their nearest relations,
were as bad as bad could be - at this peroration to Seth Dumbrick's
discourse, that it was found necessary to revive their sinking
spirits. This was successfully accomplished by a circulation of the
oranges and cakes, after discussing a portion of which they became the
most defiant of young sinners, and figuratively snapped their fingers
at fate. Then the principal feature of the evening was heralded by
Sally, who, retiring into the recess which had been partitioned off
for her sleeping apartment, returned in triumph with baby.

Holding Sally by the hand, she walked in like a little queen.

Of Sally's four shillings, one had been spent on the pleasures of the
table; the remaining three had been expended on the child's dress.
Heaven only knows what had influenced Sally in her whim, but from the
moment she had obtained Seth Dumbrick's permission to hold the feast,
she had run about from shop to shop, and street to street, hunting up
cheap little bits of finery with which to deck her treasure for the
important occasion. Small remnants of silk, bits of ribbon, faded
artificial flowers, whatever her eye lighted on in rag and second-hand
clothes' shops in the way of colour, Sally had purchased, cheapening
and bargaining for them with the zeal and tact of a grown-up woman.
The result was a great heap of odds and ends, which Sally had washed,
and ironed, and pieced, and patched, with so much industry and
ingenuity that her treasure-baby looked like a May-day Queen or an
oddly-assorted rainbow. There was no harmony of design in the
fashioning or arrangement of the dress, but the general effect was so
pretty and unexpected, and the child's face, flushed with pleasure and
excitement, was so beautiful, that her appearance in the cellar was
like the revelation of a bright cloud, and Seth Dumbrick held his
breath for a moment or two in wonder and admiration. The guests
clapped their hands in unrestrained delight, and the child, standing
in the midst of her admiring audience, received their applause with
perfect grace - as though she was used to this sort of thing, and it
was naturally her due. There was a rosy glow in her fair cheeks, her
flaxen hair hung upon her shoulders like golden silk, her blue eyes
sparkled with beauty. Sally stood by her side, like a little sallow
gipsy. Seth drew the two children aside, and lifted them on his knees.

"Sally," he said, "you're a little wonder."

"No, no," protested Sally; "she is. I ain't nobody. That's the way I
saw her in my dream. You've got to give her a name, you know."

"It's a puzzle, Sally. There's no name I'm acquainted with that would
match her."

"But you've got to do it."

"Didn't Pharer say anything about it?"

Sally considered.

"Pharer's a king. She's good enough to be a queen."

"We've got one Queen, Sal, and those that have seen her say she's
pretty, too. There's princesses and duchesses - - "

"A duchess, a duchess!" cried Sally, clapping her hands. "If she can't
be a queen, make her a duchess!"

"So be it, Sally. We'll call her a duchess. The Duchess of Rosemary

Sally slid off his knees, and brought a cup of water. "You must
sprinkle her, you know. That's the way. Now no one can't call her
nothink else."

"Ladies and gentlemen," said Seth, addressing the company with mock
dignity, "allow me to present to you the Duchess of Rosemary Lane."


Thus, after having unconsciously passed through peril and danger, the
heroine of this story may be said to have found a place in the world.
Lowly indeed was her home - as low as a grave; but as from the grave,
where the lifeless clay rots and moulders, the spirit rises to purer
space, so doubtless will the Duchess of Rosemary Lane find means to
rise in her mortal state, to a higher rung in the ladder of life than
the humble cellar of Seth Dumbrick. At present she is helpless,
dependent on strangers for food and shelter - thrown into the arms of
charity, and saved from early suffering by the cunning and devotion of
a child but two or three years older than herself.

From the evening of Seth's party his fame increased, and that of the
Duchess of Rosemary Lane was firmly established. The gossips were
firmly convinced that a thrilling mystery was connected with the
child's birth, and the title of Duchess was willingly admitted. It
conferred distinction upon the neighbourhood, and, apart from that
consideration, it was pretty and fantastic, and took the fancy of the
humble folk. Her position as the aristocratic head of Rosemary Lane
being, therefore, indisputably recognised, the Duchess at once assumed
her proper position in society.

She held her court in the narrow byways and thoroughfares of the
district, and no monarch ever had a more devoted and admiring
following. All the children in and about Rosemary Lane walked in her
train, and wherever she sat and made her throne, in mud-gutter or on
windowsill, she was surrounded by flatterers, aping their betters in a
short-sighted, wrong-headed fashion; for from this little queen of the
humble streets, nothing was to be gained but smiles and thanks. Which
renders apparent the fact that, although, as has been demonstrated,
these children were to some extent worldly, they were not yet
sufficiently wise to know that the heart is a good-enough mint in its
way, but that its coinage is scarcely available for material uses.

It was by her beauty, and the pride which her worshipper, Sally
Chester, took in her, that her position was chiefly maintained. Sally
was scarcely ever seen with a clean face; the Duchess of Rosemary Lane
was scarcely ever seen with a dirty one. Sally was never without rents
in her clothes and holes in her stockings; the Duchess was invariably
a picture of neatness. Sally's hair hung always in wild disorder about
her thin, sallow face; the Duchess's was always carefully combed and
smoothed. "A duchess!" exclaimed many a woman; "upon my word, she
looks like one!" It was the fashion with many of the youngsters to
bite their nails; she never did. Her little plump fingers were
generally white and clean, and her nails were seldom, if ever, in
mourning. And Seth Dumbrick took care of her feet. It became his whim
to make for his new charge the prettiest boots and shoes, which were
at once the envy and admiration of her playmates. She received all the
court paid to her, all the flatteries of her worshippers, all the
adoration which Sally poured upon her, with queenly composure. There
are natures with a wondrous capacity for bestowing love, and whose
sweetest pleasure it is to lavish affection on an endeared object.
Such a nature Sally possessed, and it had found its idol.

But had not the Duchess of Rosemary Lane been distinguished and made
conspicuous by circumstances not dependent upon herself, she would
have claimed attention from certain qualities peculiarly her own. In
conjunction with her beauty, she had, when she was puzzled or pleased,
quaint tricks of expression indescribably winning, and when no actual
passion or emotion lighted up her features and they were in repose,
she looked so sweet and pure that all hearts were instinctively
attracted towards her.

Seth Dumbrick, when he adopted the girls, had done so with a full
intention to perform his duty by them. There was more than one
difficulty, however, for which he was utterly unprepared, and the
first of these presented itself in the person of Mrs. Chester's
"lovely lad," Ned.

Upon his mother's departure to her new sphere of duties, this
estimable young gentleman found himself without a home; whereupon he
began, after the usual custom of such natures, to repine bitterly at
fate because of his unfortunate lot. But fate is an insensible
antagonist, and, repine at it as you will, you cannot make it feel.
Ned Chester cast about for some more vulnerable foe, and by a curious
process of reasoning, he selected Seth Dumbrick. His sister Sally and
the Duchess of Rosemary Lane played important parts in the belief, and
it led him to the opinion that, in adopting them, Seth Dumbrick had
inflicted a distinct injury upon him. With this injury rankling in his
mind, he, some three months after his mother's departure, presented
himself at Seth Dumbrick's stall. Seth Dumbrick was not the first to
speak. He saw that Ned Chester was not sober, and he had no desire to
quarrel with him.

"Well, you Dumbrick!" exclaimed Ned.

Seth Dumbrick merely smiled; the most irritating answer he could have

"You Dumbrick, do you hear?" demanded Ned.

"Oh, yes, I hear," quietly replied Seth. "What do you want?"

"My sister."

"Sally!" called Seth Dumbrick. "Here's your brother wants to see you."

Sally came up from the cellar, accompanied by the Duchess. They stood
by Seth's side, who proceeded with his work in silence. Ned Chester
gave Sally a wrathful look, and made as though he would clutch her.
Seth, an attentive observer of every look and movement, interposed his

"What's that for?" cried Ned Chester, fancying that he saw his

Seth Dumbrick looked at his bare arm contemplatively, as though that
was the subject upon which Ned Chester desired information. His shirt
sleeves were tucked up to his shoulders, and his muscles made no mean

"What's that for?" he echoed, holding out his arm, and straightening
it, so that his clenched fist almost touched the young man's face.

Ned Chester started back with an exclamation of alarm; he was not a
brave man.

"Are you going to hit me?" he cried.

"No," said Seth Dumbrick; "there's no call to hit you, I take it. I
thought you asked what my arm was for. Well, it's for work. Yours is
for play, I suppose. But as my arm _has_ come into the conversation,
let me tell you that it's an arm that can take its own part, though
it's many a year ago since it struck anything more sensible than

The hint was too plain to be mistaken. Ned Chester turned to Sally.

"Sally," he whined, "haven't you got something to say to your poor

Sally considered for a moment, and made up her mind once and for all,
if the tone in which she spoke could be taken as an indication.

"No," she said, "I ain't got nothink to say, and I don t want to have

Online LibraryB. L. (Benjamin Leopold) FarjeonThe Duchess of Rosemary Lane → online text (page 9 of 24)