B. L. (Benjamin Leopold) Farjeon.

Toilers of Babylon: A Novel online

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Produced by Charles Bowen from page scans provided by
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1. Page scan source:
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(Harvard University)

2. The diphthong oe is represented by [oe].


A Novel





_For life the prologue is to death
And love its sweetest flower
And death is as the spring of life
And love its richest dower_



* * *

AN ISLAND PEARL. Illustrated. 8vo, Paper, 30 cents.
AUNT PARLER. 4to, Paper, 20 cents.
CHRISTMAS ANGEL. 12mo, Paper, 25 cents.
GOLDEN GRAIN. Illustrated. 8vo, Paper, 35 cents.
GREAT PORTER SQUARE. 4to, Paper, 20 cents.
JESSIE TRIM. 8vo, Paper, 35 cents.
JOSHUA MARVEL. 8vo, Paper, 40 cents.
LOVE'S HARVEST. 4to, Paper, 20 cents.
LOVE'S VICTORY. 8vo, Paper, 20 cents.
MISER FAREBROTHER. Illustrated. 4to, Paper, 25 cents.
SELF-DOOMED. 12mo, Paper, 25 cts.
SHADOWS ON THE SNOW. Illustrated. 8vo, Paper, 30 cents.
THE BELLS OF PENRAVEN. 4to, Paper, 10 cents.
THE BRIGHT STAR OF LIFE. 12mo, Paper, 25 cents.
THE DUCHESS OF ROSEMARY LANE. 8vo, Paper, 35 cents.
THE KING OF NO-LAND. Illustrated. 8vo, Paper, 25 cents.
THE NINE OF HEARTS. 12mo, Paper, 25 cents.
THE PERIL OF RICHARD PARDON. Ill'd. 8vo, Paper, 30 cents.
THE SACRED NUGGET. 12mo, Paper, 25 cents.
TOILERS OF BABYLON. 8vo, Paper, 40 cents.

* * * *
Published By HARPER & BROTHERS, New York.

==>_Any of the above works will be sent by mail, postage prepaid, to
any part of the United States, Canada, or Mexico, on receipt of the


* * * * * *


The horse was very old, the caravan very dilapidated. As it was
dragged slowly along the country roads it shook and creaked and
wheezed, protesting, as it were, that it had performed its duty in
life and that its long labors justly entitled it to permanent repose.
The horse, with its burden behind it, had long ago given over
complaining, and, although its plight was no less woful, was
demonstrative only through physical compulsion. With drooping head,
lustreless eyes, and laboring breath, it plodded on, with many a
longing look at tempting morsels out of its reach.

At the present moment it was at rest, released from the shafts, and
partaking of a spare meal, humanly provided, eking it out with sweet
tid-bits, not too abundant, munched from the fragrant earth. Sitting
on the ground at the back of the caravan was a man with a book in his
hand, which sometimes he read with the air of one who was in the
company of an old and beloved friend; at other times he gazed around
with pensive delight upon the beauties of nature, which in no part of
the world find more exquisite representation than in the county of
Surrey. In the rear of the caravan were lovely stretches of woodland,
through vistas of which visions of cathedral aisles could be seen by
the poetical eye. Across the narrow road was a scene which brought to
the man's mind some lines in the book he held. Turning over its pages,
he called out, in a voice not strong, but clear:

"William Browne might have camped on this very spot, Nansie, and drawn
its picture. The resemblance is wonderful." Then he read from the

"'Here the curious cutting of a hedge,
There, by a pond, the trimming of the sedge;
Here the fine setting of well-shading trees,
The walks there mounting up by small degrees;
The gravel and the green so equal lie,
They, with the rest, drawing on your lingering eye.
Here the sweet smells that do perfume the air,
Arising from the infinite repair
Of odoriferous buds; and herbs of price,
As if it were another paradise,
So please the smelling sense that you are fain,
Where you last walked, to turn and walk again.
There the small birds with their harmonious notes
Sing to a spring that smileth as it floats.'"

A practical flight of wooden steps at the back of the caravan afforded
means of getting in and out, and when the man began to speak aloud a
young woman issued from the interior of the conveyance, and stood upon
the top of the little ladder, listening to his words.

"It is very beautiful, father," she said. "To think that it was
written nearly three hundred years ago!"

"Yes, Nansie, in the days of Shakespeare; and it might be to-day. That
is the marvel of it."

He fell to his book again, and Nansie, who held a teapot in her hand,
beat a retreat and resumed her domestic duties.

A peculiar feature of the caravan was that it was commercially empty.
In times gone by it had been used for trading and speculative
purposes, by gypsies, by enterprising travellers, by venders of
basketware, by dealers in birds. It had served as mart and
dwelling-house, and had played its part in numberless fairs when they
were in fashion. Now it contained nothing marketable, and bore about
it no sign to denote that its denizens were travelling for profit; but
that, even in its old age, it was being put to pleasant use was proved
by the smoke curling from the little chimney projecting through the

In due time Nansie reappeared, bearing two loose boards which she laid
upon a pair of low trestles, spreading over them a white cloth. Upon
this improvised table she set a smoking teapot, milk and sugar, and a
plate of bread-and-butter, cut reasonably thick.

"Tea is ready, father."

She ate with an appetite. Her father ate more daintily. Before putting
the food into his mouth he cut it into devices of fish and bird, which
he then proceeded to slice and carve, evidently adding thereby to his
enjoyment of the humble fare. And yet through all, whether he ate or
read or mused, there was about him a conspicuous air of melancholy.

It was the evening hour, and the season was spring. It was a warmer
spring than usual; there was a taste of summer in the air. They ate in
silence, until the man remarked:

"You did not hear the nightingale last night?"

"No, father."

"It sang for hours, Nansie."

She nodded, and said: "I wish you could sleep as soundly as I do,

"I used to in my young days, and must be content. I am glad you sleep
well. You have other wishes."

"Yes," said Nansie, calmly.

"You have a fine trick of composure, Nansie. What stirs within does
not always find outward expression."

"I take after you, father," said Nansie, in an affectionate tone. "I
have you to thank for all that is good in me."

"It is a pleasant hearing, but it cuts both ways. Do not your other
wishes trouble you?"

"A little; but everything will come right."

"A comfortable philosophy, my dear child; but womanly."

"It was mother's," said Nansie. "I caught it from her."

"I know; and I could never make the dear mother understand that it was
inadequate for the practical purposes of life. Eventually we may be
satisfied that everything will come right, but before the end is
reached there are many turnings. The mischief of it is" - and there was
now in his face as he turned it more fully towards her an expression
both whimsical and sad - "that we carpet the turning we wish to take
with flowers of fancy which, as we proceed, fade utterly away. That is
a human experience."

"I am human," said Nansie, and she pressed her young face to his.

"I could laugh and I could weep," he said, responding fondly to her
caress. "In truth, my dear child, you perplex me."

"Or," suggested Nansie, "is it you who are perplexing yourself?"

He shrugged his shoulders affectionately, and did not reply.

The young woman was fair and beautiful. Though cast in a delicate
mould, she was strong and redolent of health. Her face was slightly
browned, and harmonized with her brown hair and brown eyes, the light
in which was bright and tender. The man looked old, but was barely
forty-five, and on his face were signs of suffering, patiently borne.
They were dressed like persons in humble life, but with a certain
refinement, observable more in the woman than in the man. For five
evenings they had tarried on this spot. Each morning they had
harnessed the horse to the caravan, and had journeyed slowly and
aimlessly onward till noon, and then had turned back towards their
camping-ground, which lay in the shadow of the beautiful Surrey woods,
at a sufficient distance from the narrow road to escape casual
observation. The right of doing so probably did not belong to the
wayfarers, and this had disturbed the man somewhat, but he had fixed
upon the spot for a particular purpose, and up to this evening had not
been interfered with.

"At what hour last night," said Nansie, presently, "did you hear the

"It must have been near midnight," replied her father. "At the same
time to-night it will sing again. Have you finished your tea?"

"Yes, father."

"Then go again to the post-office, and see if there is a letter for
me. I am growing anxious at not receiving one. You need not stop to
clear these things; I will put them away."

She rose and stood for a moment with her hand resting lightly on his
shoulder. He drew her face down to his, and kissed her. With a bright
nod she left him, carrying with her a written order authorizing the
delivery of any letters which might be lying in the post-office for
her father.

Godalming, the town for which she was bound, was within a mile, and
she stepped out briskly. But when she was about midway, and no one was
in sight, she made a little detour into the woods, and drew from her
bosom a picture. It was the portrait of a young man, and she gazed
fondly at it, and kissed it as fondly. Then she drew forth a letter,
and read it and pressed it to her lips; after which she replaced the
letter and the portrait, and proceeded on her errand. Her thoughts may
be thus fashioned into words:

"I wrote to him yesterday, and I sent him a telegram in the evening,
knowing we should be here to-day. He may be absent. I hope not; I hope
he has received both. Will he write, or will he come? Will he be angry
that I have accompanied my father? At all events he knows, and he is
never unjust. Ah! if he were here with us, how happy I should be! I
love him, I love him, I love him!"

She blew a kiss into the air.

In less than half an hour she was in the Godalming post-office, making
her inquiry.

"Mr. James Loveday," said the female clerk, looking at the order
handed to her by Nansie - she was familiar with it, having seen it on
each of the three previous days. "Yes, there is, I think."

She sorted some letters and handed one to Nansie, who, after
hesitating a little, asked:

"Is there a letter for Miss Loveday?

"Are you Miss Loveday?"


"No, there are none."

"Or for Miss Nansie Loveday? N-a-n-s-i-e."

"That's a curious way to spell Nancy," said the clerk. "No, there
are none."

Nansie lingered.

"Or for Manners?" she asked, with singular timidity and bashfulness.

"Mrs. or Miss?" inquired the clerk.

Nansie's face and neck were scarlet as she replied: "Mrs."

"None for that name," said the clerk.

She lingered still, and said, with a kind of pathetic imploring:
"Would a telegram be received here if addressed to the post-office
till called for?"


"I sent one yesterday, and expected an answer. Is there any for either


"Thank you," said Nansie, and walked out of the office, and set her
face towards the caravan.

The female clerk looked after her sympathizingly. There was a love
note in her voice, and the post-office girl had a little sweethearting
of her own on hand.


Nansie walked on, turning the letter in her hand, and glancing at it
occasionally. The writing was strange to her, and on the envelope was
the London post-mark. When, at the end of twenty minutes, she stood by
her father's side, he was asleep.

"Father!" she said, bending over him.

He opened his eyes instantly, and smiled at her.

"Ah, Nansie, it is you. I drop off constantly now, on the smallest
provocation from silence or solitude. But it can scarcely be called
sleep; I am conscious of all that is going on around me." He observed
the letter in her hand, and he said, eagerly, "You have one!" and took
it from her. "Yes, it is from my brother Joseph; I was beginning to
fear that he was dead."

He opened the letter and read it, and then remained a little while in
thought. Presently he resumed the conversation.

"You saw your uncle once, Nansie. Have you a recollection of him?"

"Hardly any, father. How old could I have been when mother took me to
see him? Not more than four or five, I think. I had a white dress and
a blue sash, and I took him a bunch of flowers. He gave me some
sweetmeats, I remember, and a shilling. But I have no recollection of
his face. He lived in London, in a street off Whitechapel; that I

"He lives there now. Your mother never spoke to you of him?"


"You should be made acquainted with the story, Nansie, while I am here
to relate it."

She stopped the current of his speech.

"Father, these last three or four weeks you have dropped hints which
make me very anxious; they weigh heavily upon me. I know you are not
well, but you harp upon it as if it were a serious illness. Tell me,

They were sitting side by side now, and he was smoothing her hair with
his hand.

"I am far from well, Nansie."

She interrupted him again, and now spoke with tremulous impetuosity.

"You should take advice, father. You should go to a doctor."

"There are reasons why I do not do so. First, Nansie, I have no money.
Figuratively speaking, twopence ha'penny is all my fortune. To be
exact, twenty-three shillings represents my worldly wealth. I am
afraid I have been unwise, and yet I do not see what else I could have
done. This Quixotic wandering of ours - I own it, it _is_ Quixotic - was
in a certain measure forced upon me. Poor old Fleming, who owed me
money, bequeathed his horse and caravan to me, his only creditor, and
then he died. Had he left behind him wife or child I should have
transferred to them this delightfully awkward property. Satisfying
myself that it was legally and morally mine, the idea entered my head
that a wandering tour through our lovely country lanes would
invigorate me, would put new life into me. And for a companion, who
more sweet than my own dear Nansie!"

"There was another reason, father," said Nansie, gravely.

"There was another reason," said Mr. Loveday, apprehensively. "I am
coming to it. It would have been useless to consult physicians. I have
consulted them again and again, and the result was always the same. A
fever? Yes, there would be a fair chance of curing it. A toothache,
a cold in the head, a chill? Yes, they could prescribe for those
ills - but not for mine. It is my old heart-complaint, of which I have
been repeatedly warned. When I was a lad it was thought I should not
grow to manhood, but I did, as you see, and married your mother, and
have by my side a dear child to cheer and comfort me. It is well to be
prepared - Why, Nansie, crying?"

"I cannot help it, father, you speak so solemnly." She conquered her
agitation and said: "That is not the reason I mean. There is another."

"Concerning myself, Nansie?"

"Concerning me, father."

"You wish me to speak of it?"

"It will be best."

"So be it. I have not been always with you, Nansie, to guide and
counsel you. Worldly circumstances would not permit me. I have cause
to reproach myself. Had I been a carpenter or a bootmaker I might have
been better able to fulfil my duties."

"No one can reproach you, father; and I, who love you with my heart
and soul, less than any in the world."

"I thank you, child, and am grateful. At all events, something was
done; I fitted you for the sphere of a private governess, and you
obtained a situation. From time to time I came to see you, and you
seemed to be happy."

"I was happy, father."

"You filled the situation two years, and then the sudden removal to
another country of the family in which you were employed deprived you
of it, and threw you upon the world. You did not inform me of this at
the time, Nansie."

"You had troubles and struggles of your own, father, and I did not
wish to harass you."

"Your endeavors to obtain another situation were unsuccessful; the
gentleman who engaged you as governess to his children went away in
your debt; you were almost at the end of your resources. Of all this I
was ignorant until a few weeks since when I came to see you. Then and
then only did I learn what had occurred; then and then only did I
realize the dangerous position in which you were placed; then and then
only did I discover that your affections were engaged to a gentleman
whose father is a man of great wealth. My duty was clear; I had come
into possession of this legacy, and it seemed to afford a favorable
opportunity for the distraction of an unhealthy fancy - You place your
hand on my arm; you wish to speak."

"No, father, no," said Nansie, struggling with her feelings; in the
gathering dusk her father could not see the play of emotion in her
features; and, indeed, during this latter recital she kept her face
averted from him; "I am not yet at liberty to do so. Go on."

"For the distraction of an unhealthy fancy," he resumed, "which might
grow into a disease - which might wreck the happiness of a life most
dear to me, I called upon you by the tie which binds and unites us - I
am not wrong, dear child, in saying it unites us?"

"No, my dear father, it unites us now and ever."

"My child!' I called upon you to accompany me in my wanderings, and
you consented. I think I have stated it fairly Nansie?"

"Quite fairly, father."

"Have you anything new to say about it?"

"Nothing, except" - and a delicious smile played upon her lips - "except
that I love Kingsley."

"That is not new," he said, in a tone of whimsical reproach; "it is
old. You have told me that before."

"It is always new to me, father. And there is something else I _must_

"Say it, Nansie."

"Kingsley loves me."

"Neither is that new. Apart from this I sometimes have an odd idea
that you have a secret which you are keeping from me."

"If I said I had, it would be half revealing it. Father, time will

"That is a wiser philosophy than that 'Everything will come right.'
Time does and will show. Shall I now relate the story of your uncle?"

"If you please, father."

"It will not take me long. Your mother, my dear Nansie, had two ardent
lovers, your father and your uncle."

"That was sad."

"These are strokes of fate not to be avoided, and love, which unites,
sometimes severs. It severed me and my brother, and neither he nor I,
nor your mother, Nansie, was to blame for it. In youth we had a great
affection for each other, although our characters were dissimilar. Our
father was a poor gentleman - our family boat never floated into a
golden stream - and he gave us as good an education as we could have
gained in schools And colleges. He had a taste for books, and he
cultivated the taste in us, his only children. He had ideas, too, and
to be in his company was an entertainment. When he died he left each
of us a little money, not more than a hundred pounds apiece, with
which we were to seek our fortunes. We remained together, and in this
association we became acquainted with your mother. By that time I had
grown into a dreamer, and, I am afraid, a vagrant; your uncle was a
dreamer also, but his visions were not entirely Utopian, and he was
less of a Bohemian than I. He loved your mother passionately, and by
force of fate we were rivals. We both tried our fortunes with her; it
was not a case of one supplanting the other, but fair play on both
sides; he failed and I succeeded. Your mother was a sweet and
beautiful lady, and how I won her I know not."

"Father," whispered Nansie, "you have a silver tongue and the heart of
a man. That is how you won my mother."

"Well, well, child, I should be past these flatteries, but as you said
of yourself a while ago, I am human. My brother, learning that he had
lost what he would have given the world to gain, cut himself adrift
from us. He would not listen to reason, and I do not wonder at it.
When was love really reasonable? What he did he did with
determination, and all my implorings could not move him. He vowed that
he and I should evermore be strangers, and so departed, and from that
day we have not met. After my marriage I wrote to him from time to
time, but he never replied to one of my letters. It was only when you
and your mother returned from the visit you paid him that I learned he
kept a bookshop in the East of London. I see his handwriting now for
the first time in twenty years. Your mother and I constantly spoke
about him; he possessed many admirable qualities; but, were I pushed
to it, I should find it very difficult to say into what kind of a man
he would grow, except that he would be constant and steadfast in his
opinions. It was in the hope that he would soften towards me that,
when you were a child, I sent you with your mother to see him. I see
you now as you recalled yourself, in your little, white dress and blue
sash, with the bunch of flowers you were to present to him. These are
a part of a woman's innocently cunning ways, and I know it was in your
dear mother's heart that, through you, your uncle should be won over
to us. But the hopes in which we indulged were not realized. Your
uncle was true to his word. It used to be said of him as a boy that he
would die rather than break it - in which, when it becomes fixed in an
earnest nature, there is sometimes a touch of folly or injustice - and
I can recall many small incidents as a proof of his possession of this

"But he has written to you at last, father?"

"Yes, Nansie."

"In a kindly spirit?"

"Yes, I am thankful to say."

"This is good. Is my uncle married?"

"No. In our last interview he vowed that he would never marry, and I
doubt whether he would ever have yielded to the sentiment of love had
his heart been again that way inclined. I deeply regret it. Life
without love is at best a barren affair."

With a sweet look Nansie raised her dewy eyes to his. He divined what,
in the darkness, he could not clearly see.

"It must be an honorable, honest, earnest love, child. You understand

"I understand it, father."

"We will renew the subject another time. I am tired, and night has
fallen. It is almost like summer - the sweetest spring in my
remembrance. There is a fascination in shadows - spiritual suggestions
and possibilities which cannot occur to the mind in sunlight. The
night is dark and beautiful:

"'And silence girt the wood. No warbling tongue
Talked to the echo,
And all the upper world lay in a trance.'

"Life is a dream, dear child. May yours be a happy one!"

Then they did not speak for many minutes, and then it was Nansie's
voice that was first heard.

"What did you say to my uncle in the letter you wrote to him, father?"

"I spoke to him of my illness, and of you. When your mother died I
wrote informing him; but he took no notice of my letter. This time I
appealed to him. I said, if anything happened to me you would be
without a home. His answer is that you can find a home with him. My
mind is greatly relieved. Now, my dear child, we will retire."

"I will see to the beds, father. I shall not be long."

She ascended the little flight of wooden steps, and the next moment
a light from within the caravan was shining through one of the
windows. This delightfully primitive dwelling-house contained three
rooms or compartments. One was the kitchen, where the meals were

Online LibraryB. L. (Benjamin Leopold) FarjeonToilers of Babylon: A Novel → online text (page 1 of 27)