Elizabeth Rundle Charles.

Winifred Bertram and the world she lived in online

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Received October,
Accessions No. 5^/332 . Class No. ^




#y /A<? Author of



New York:







"The Author of the 'Schonberg-Cotta Family'
wishes it to be generally known among the readers of her
books in America, that the American Editions issued by
Mr. M. W. Dodd, of New York, alone have the Author's




one of the pleasantest outskirts of Lon-
don stood, or stands, a pleasant ram-
bling old house, built of red brick, toned
"by the rains and suns of a hundred and
fifty years to a quaint variety of tints. There were
bow-windows in it, and balconies, and verandahs,
and projections, and recesses, which threw all kinds
of irregular shadows, and made you feel attracted
at once to the old house which some of its owners
had evidently taken such pleasure in : which, in its
small way, had grown up, like an old Gothic church,
out of the tastes and needs of people who delighted
in it. Its eccentricities, moreover, were veiled by
climbing roses and jasmine and magnolias, inter-
weaving the balconies with intricate tracery, fes-
1* (6)


tooning the verandahs, clustering round the

In the drawing-room of this house one warm day
in August three people were collected Mrs.
O'Brien, its mistress ; her nephew Maurice Bertram,
a young clergyman ; and his little sister, Winifred.
A soft spell of repose, a kind of dreamy charm hung
about that room. No color, no form, no perfume
predominated in it. Nothing was old, so as to give
the slightest indication of coming to an end ; nothing
was new, so as to give the slightest clue to its hav-
ing had a beginning.

That carpet on which the foot sank noiselessly
as on the softest mossy turf, those soft draperies
and languishing chairs and sofas, those bronze stat-
uettes and quaint vases, what imagination could
ever dive so far as to trace them back to factories
and warehouses, to the hammering and screwing
and planing and stitching of working men and
women? No! they must have floated into their
places like the furniture of Aladdin's palace, like the
stones at the voice of Orpheus, at the call of a genie,
to the sound of fairy music.

Did not the breath of enchantment linger around
them still ? What else was that elegant aromatic
perfume which stole over your senses ? Why else
did every sound enter there softened and har-
monized, so that the voices from tile houses in the
valley below voices of eager women, and crying
babies, and shouting school-boys sounded there
soff, and dreamy as the hum of the bees about the
flowers outside ; just as the sorrows and crimes of


the world came to Mrs. O'Brien's heart, artistically
made musical and harmonious through the pages
of the novel she was reading.

There were three drawing-rooms, one within
another, like the recesses in an Indian cabinet,
each smaller and choicer than the last.

In the outer of these, Maurice Bertram sat writ-
ing by an open window, looking over the sloping
lawns and shrubberies of the house, and a rich land-
scape of meadow and woodland, to a distance of
blue hills.

A pleasant fresh breeze now and then breathed
in at this window. It was the only place in the
room which led your thoughts from the little en-
chanted world within to the world outside, and by
.the rapidity with which Maurice was writing,
and the clear steady light in his eyes when, from
time to time, he looked up, it was plain that the
drowsy spell of the place had not fallen upon him.

In the next room his little sister Winifred lay
curled up in the depths of an easy-chair, divided
between a story-book and a sleepy kitten.

In the innermost room Mrs. O'Brien was resting
on a sofa, languidly turning over the pages of a new

Winifred's interest in her book seemed to have
been becoming more and more feeble, until at length
she let it fall from her hand on the cushions among
which she herself sank back,, in an attitude of the
profoundest weariness. She was soon, however, as
weary of repose as she had been of reading, and her
half-closed eyes wandered dreamily from Maurice to


her aunt, as if looking for some one or something it
would be worth while to disturb, so as to extract a
little excitement.

At last she deposited pussy on the cushions, and
slipping from the chair wandered across the room
to Mrs. O'Brien, and, throwing herself on a rug by
the sofa, drew her aunt's arm around her.

After remaining quiet thus a few moments, she
suddenly looked up and said :

"Auntie, what did uncle mean by calling Mr.
Vernon blase yesterday ? I looked in the French
dictionary, and it said, * burnt up, consumed,' but
that must be a mistake. What did uncle mean ?"

"Little girls should not always want to know
what grown-up people mean," said Mrs. O'Brien,
rather bewildered by this sudden call on her facul-
ties, and anxious to prevent further precocious
researches into French dictionaries. "I suppose
your uncle meant that Mr. Vernon seemed rather
tired and discontented looked, indeed, as if he
had come to the end of everything, and cared for

" I knew the dictionary was absurd," said Win-
nie, who looked on the dictionary in the light of a
natural enemy, without which she should have
learned French with as little difficulty as English.
" Well, auntie, if that is what blase means, that is
exactly what I am. I am tired of everything. I
have come to the end r of everything. I was at five
parties last week, and every one was duller than the
last. I knew beforehand just what would be said
and done. And now, this new story-book. It is


exactly like the last, only a little altered and done
up fresh, as Rosalie alters my wreaths and dresses.
I can't think, auntie, how people go on saying and
doing the same things all their lives long. It is
always round and round, the same over and over
again, and nothing in it. I think the world is dread-
fully small and old, aunt. If that is what blase
means, that must be just what Mr. Vernon and I
are. We've got to the end of everything, and don't
care for anything only, of course, auntie, it's
much worse for me than for him, because I'm so
much nearer the beginning."

Mrs. O'Brien laughed as she patted Winnie's
round fair cheek, and mentally compared it with
Mr. Yernon's sallow hollow face, and thought how
amused Mr. O'Brien would be with the child's

But Maurice who had an inconvenient habit of
taking in whatever was going on, however busy
he seemed to be with something else, at this point
interposed, and said quietly, " Winnie, I think
your French dictionary was right." Winnie, thus
challenged to controversy, marched briskly to
Maurice, and planted herself on a footstool at his

" If," Maurice continued, " you had been given
a long twist of wax taper to light up your Christ-
mas tree for a whole evening, and you chose to
burn it up in a few minutes, whose fault would it be
that you had come to the end of everything, and
what right would you have to complain ?"

" It would be principally Rosalie's fault for giv-


ing it to me," said Winnie, perceiving the aim of
her brother's shafts much too plainly not to avoid
them. But I should nt>t think of complaining. I
should have enjoyed myself in my own way. And
I should lie down for the rest of the time, and go to
sleep. And that is just what I should like to do
altogether now ; and I dare say so would Mr. Ver-
non," she concluded, " only we can't, and that's the
unpleasant part of it. We've come to the end of
all the things, and we have to go on as if we

" Ah," rejoined Maurice, " I see you never heard
of the Contracting Chamber. It is rather strange,
considering how extensive your reading has been."

At first Winnie did not seem to heed, she played
with a rose, pulling it very elaborately to pieces, as
if she did not care for anything else. But as Mau-
rice was rising to go into the garden, her curiosity
got the better of her, and she vouchsafed to say :

" What is the Contracting Chamber, Maurice ?
I dare say it is only one of your Ragged School sto-
ries, and I always know what you're at in them
after the first few sentences."

" So do the ragged boys sometimes, I am afraid,"
said Maurice laughing. " You see I am not so
clever as you and the ragged children. But that is
only natural since you have come so close to the
end of things, and they have come a little nearer
than you, 1 am afraid, while I have not come to the
end of one world yet, or of anything in it, to say
nothing of the five other worlds."

"Five other worlds!" said Winnie, "what are


they ? I hope they are not all the same as this.
But, Maurice, this once I will be your ragged class."

" At a time not very long ago," began Maurice,
" and in a country not very far off, there was a
palace built on very peculiar principles. Indeed,
some people said it was not built at all, but grew.
The queen of this palace was very amiable and
benevolent, and did what she could to make every
one around her happy. She expected that all her
courtiers should do the same. All her court-ladies,
therefore, while they were provided with the most
beautiful suites of apartments in the palace (the
furniture and situation of each being exactly suited
to the tastes of the occupants), were expected to
make these apartments in some way workrooms
for the good of their country. That country had
been sadly misgoverned by the preceding dynasty,
and there was a great deal in it to be set right.

"All the apartments of the cburt-ladies, there-
fore, were also offices for some work of charity.
The title of each was written on the door under
the name of the occupant, so that there could be no
mistake about it for applicants or inmates. One,
for instance, was the office for the blind, another
for the deaf and dumb, another for sick children "

"And another for Ragged Schools, no doubt,"
interrupted Winnie.

" N"o doubt," said Maurice. " The singular thing,
however, about these apartments was that if the
possessor did not attend to the benevolent work
assigned to her, but used them only for herself and
her own pleasure, the whole suite gradually con-


tracted until they became so narrow as slowly to
stifle the inmate, and finally to crush her into dust ;
when from beautiful homes they became narrow,
crumbling mausoleums."

" If many of. the ladies made a bad use of their
apartments, the palace must have had a very forlorn
look," observed Winnie.

" Not in the least," Maurice replied. " The
instant the unfaithful occupant had been crushed
and buried, the mausoleum also crumbled into dust,
and a new dwelling rose on the site."

" Very uncomfortable," said Winnie, "for the new
ladies to be living on the graves of the old ones."

"Not at all," said Maurice. "They knew no-
thing about it. Every one everywhere is always
living over graves of somebody or something, and
very few think of it."

" I think nothing of the amiability and benevo-
lence of that queen," resumed Winnie, with con-
siderable vehemence. "I think she was a hard-
hearted wretch."

"Not at all," said Maurice. "The queen had
nothing to do with it. The apartments, as I told
you, were self-acting. It was their nature to do as
they did. No one could help it. They contracted
in this way by the same kind of law which makes
the earth go round, and the tides ebb and flow."

" But," rejoined Winne, " those court-ladies must
have been exceedingly foolish. When they saw the
apartments contracting, if they did not like to do
their work, why did they not escape in time ?"

" They never did see the apartments contracting,"


said Maurice. " They saw their neighbors' apart-
ments contracting sometimes from the outside, but
never their own ; and for this reason : The rooms
were full of mirrors and paintings on glass, arranged
in such a way as to cause a strange optical delusion.
As window after window was slowly and silently
crushed out it was replaced by a mirror, which
made the wretched occupant think that, whatever
was happening outside, all was right within. The
world was growing narrower and narrower, she
thought, but inside all was spacious and beautiful
as ever. And so she went on admiring herself more
and more in the mirrors, as window after window
into the outer world vanished, until at last the
stifling air of the poor narrow chamber overpow-
ered her, and she fainted away and was crushed,
and never heard of more."

Winnie's eyes had been cast down, and her face
had been growing very grave and earnest during
the last part of Maurice's story. When he paused,
for a minute she said nothing, but looked wistfully
out through the window, until, glancing up, and
seeing Maurice's eyes fixed on her, she colored, and
said, laughing :

" That is a very dismal story, Maurice, and I
would rather hear nothing more about it. Auntie
says it is not of the least use to make one's self
miserable about miserable things that never hap-
pened after all."

" But suppose they did happen, and are happen-
ing," said Maurice, " and we could do something to
stop their happening any more."


" There ! now I have caught you," she retorted.
" You have tried to cheat me with a story which is,
after all, only an allegory. And I hate allegories.
I can't think why people cannot be honest, and
speak out what they want to say at once."

Nevertheless Winnie could not get Maurice's
story out of her head.

It haunted her. She could not help wondering
if she had got into the Contracting Chamber. But
she would on no account betray this to Maurice.
She went with him that afternoon to the little gate
which led out of the rock garden, and took leave of
him in a light and easy manner, as if his words had
not made the slightest impression on her. Then
she returned to her favorite nook, the grotto in the
rock-garden, with the little spring bubbling up in
the middle of it and then oozing through a little
wilderness of ferns and mosses and cool large-leaved
plants to the stone basin in the centre of the garden,
with the stone-seat beside it. On that seat Winnie
placed herself, watching the little stream as it
trickled into the basin, and made little eddies and
bubbles, which rocked the water-lilies as they
floated, while the forget-me-nots swayed hither and
thither in the current of air, and wondering about
the Contracting Chamber, and whether any one had
ever got out of it. She was planning how to ob-
tain further information on the subject from Mau-
rice, without betraying too personal an interest in
it, when she was startled by a little feeble, childish
voice quite near her.

Listening attentively, she heard the words :


" Please give me a flower, lady. Please give me
a flower !" repeated in a monotonous, plaintive
strain, as if it were a kind of chant.

Climbing up on the seat and leaning over, Win-
nie saw at the garden-gate a little face peeping in.

Her first impulse was to run for safety to the
house. She had always been very seriously warned
about the wickedness of beggars, and their mys-
terious connection with wicked old women who de-
lighted to steal rich people's children, especially
naughty children, and make them miserable (partly
from the pleasure of it and partly as instruments of
divine vengeance) ; stories that, as Winnie's con-
science was never absolutely clear, left in her mind
a confused dread of beggars and of Providence.

There was something, however, in that little,
feeble childish voice which attracted her irresistibly.
So, after looking towards the house to see that there
were no signs of Mademoiselle Rosalie, and over the
gate out beyond the garden to assure herself that
no dangerous old woman was lurking near, Winnie
went to the gate and spoke to the child through
the bars.

" What do you want little girl ?" she said.

" Please give me a flower, lady," repeated the lit-
tle plaintive voice. " Please do give me a flower."

"Winnie's interest was aroused, and gathering
several scarlet geraniums and blue lobelias, she
gave them through the bars into the little eager
outstretched hand.

How thin the little hand was, how wan and wiz-
zened the little face *i-


The flowers were eagerly clutched, hut "Winnie's
sense of politeness was sorely outraged hy not a
word of thanks "being returned.

Still further was she repelled when, after smelling
the flowers, the stranger held them back with a dis-
appointed air, and the petition began again, this
time more boldly than before :

"Please, lady, give me a flower. Them has no
smell. And it's for Dan poor brother Dan."

Winnie felt perplexed. The little girl had evi-
dently not at all good manners. But then neither
had she any bonnet nor shoes, which might be an
extenuating circumstance. When one has no shoes,
Winnie thought, one's manners perhaps necessarily
deteriorate; although, in the stories about chari-
table children, she was quite sure there was not one
instance of a gift being received in such a free and
easy way. The little children in the moral tales,
especially the French ones, always went into such
raptures at the beneficence of the charitable young
ladies, and with streaming eyes invoked every
blessing on their fair young heads.

However, she felt very sorry for the ragged
little girl, and she also felt anxious to know who
" Dan " was.

Accordingly, yielding to her kindly impulses, she
said, although with much dignity, that the little
beggar child might feel the great gulf between
good manners and none at all :

" You may come into the garden, little girl, and
choose for yourself; only you ought always to say,
thank you."


The little girl stared in equal bewilderment at
the permission and the exhortation.

But when the gate was opened she did not hesi-
tate a moment what to choose. Paradise that the
garden was to her, she was nevertheless in no
way perplexed among its treasures. She walked
straight to a moss-rose bush, and gathered from it
one rose and one rose-bud.

"That is what Dan wanted," she said. "Dan
will be so pleased, lady. It will make him smile,
this will, and he hasn't smiled these days."

And though she did not say thank you, Winnie
concluded that was her way of expressing the
same, and modified her opinion as to her guest's

" What is your name ?" she asked. " And who
is Dan ?"

" Dan's my brother," was the reply, " and they
call me Fan, at least aunt does when she ain't
cross, and uncle does when he ain't been drinking,
and knows one of us from the t'other. And Dan
does always. Leastways he calls me little Fan,
and so used mother."

" Doesn't your mother call you Fan now ?" asked
Winnie ; " what does she call you then ?"

" She don't never call me," said Fan ; " she don't
never call neither Dan nor me now ; and Dan says
she never won't."

" Where is she gone then ?" asked Winnie, grow-
ing confidential. ** My mamma, too, is a long way
off in India."

"Mother ain't a long way off," said the child.


" They only took her down into the country.
'Twasn't far, they said. But she hasn't never
come back. Aunt said one day when she was
cross and beat me, and I was crying for mother,
that they'd been and put her in a box under
ground. But aunt don't mean half she says when
she's cross. Dan says she's in heaven, and he
says heaven ain't far off, for folks goes there all in
a minute. He learned the hymn about it at the
school. Dan did."

" Does Dan say hymns ?" Winnie asked.

" He sings one hymn," said the little girl.

" What hymn is that ?" said Winnie.

"About the children in heaven, and glory,"
replied the child. " But I can't say it. I'm two-
years younger than Dan, come Christmas. And
I never went to school. I've got to mind aunt's

"Where -did Dan learn his hymn?" Winnie

"At the school at the end of our court," Fan

" Why did he not learn any more, Fan ?"

"He did learn more," said Fan; "he learned
Our Father chartneaven."

" What is that ?" said Winnie, bewildered.

"It's what Dan says mornings and evenings.
I don't rightly know what it means ; but it is
good words, Dan says, and it seems to make him

" Why does not Dan keep on going to the school,
if he likes it so much ?" Winnie resumed.


" He couldn't go no more, since he broke his
leg," said Fan.

" Did Dan break his leg ?" Winnie exclaimed ;
" how dreadful ! How did he do that ?" .

" Going up the chimney with the sweeps' brush
for uncle," said the child.

" Was that long since ?"

"I don't know," Fan replied; "it seems very
long. And he don't get no better. The doctor
said he could walk, but he hasn't no strength.
There isn't always much to eat, and Dan can't
always eat what there is. Dan don't hardly ever
smile now," she continued; "only after he says
Pur Father or the hymn, and when the lady oppo-
site, who keeps the grocer's shop, brought him a
flower from the country. So I came out to look
for a flower like that all pink and curled up, and
wrapped up in bits of green, and smelling sweet.
And now," she concluded, "I must go home to
Dan. He'll be watching for me from his bed at
the garret window, and wondering what's come
to me."

By this time Winnie's heart was quite won to
the poor little girl with the sharp, thin face, and
she said :

" Take some more roses, little Fan. See, I will
gather them for you."

But Fan shook her head.

" Don't pick 'em, lady," she said, " they look so
happy like among the bits of green. It'll be nice
to think of 'em and tell Dan about 'em, and one
will make Dan smile as well as hundreds. Be-


sides," she added, carefully concealing her treas-
ures in her little ragged apron, and lowering her
voice, " there's the boys in our court. If they see
them, they'll snatch 'em from me, and I can't hide
any more."

" Where is your court ?" asked Winnie, full of
projects. " Is it a long way off ?"

" It seemed pretty far," said the child, " for my
feet got sore ; and it was so long before I got away
from the houses. But I shall soon be back."

And as the little creature limped away, Winnie
saw that her little bare feet were blistered, and she
exclaimed :

" Oh wait, little Fan ! Wait ! and I will run
and tell auntie. Or, if you must go, tell me ex-
actly where you live, that I may come and see you.
Where do you live ?"

" In our court," said the child.

" What is it called ?" asked Winnie.

" I don't know," said the little girl. " It's our
court where we always lived. The Ragged School
is at one end, and the other opens into the street
with the apple-stalls close to the church with the
large doors and the tall tower, where the people
who have good clothes go on Sundays."

Winnie was on the point of pressing for a more
minute direction, when a shrill voice echoed through
the garden, and thrilled through her with a vague
sense that she was doing something she ought not
to do.

" Mademoiselle Vini ! Mademoiselle Yini ! "
screamed Mademoiselle Rosalie, in the purest Paris-


ian accent ; " what voyages your eccentric habits
cause me, what solicitudes, what fatigue !" Then
pausing, in horror, with uplifted hands, as she
beheld into what company Winnie had sunk, she
appealed to Heaven to witness the impossibility of
any human care ensuring the safety of that terrible
child. Then with slow, distinct utterance, hissing
out the words between her teeth, she chased " that
monster " little Fan from the garden. Whilst Fan
fled in speechless terror in one direction, Made-
moiselle Rosalie drew Winnie after her in the
other, in anything but speechless indignation, by
the threat of telling all to madame.

" Madame 1" she exclaimed, when she entered
Mrs. O'Brien's presence, "it is scarcely half an
hour since I miss mademoiselle. Distracted, I seek
her in every corner of your domain. At length I
catch a glimpse of her dress. I quicken my steps.
I arrive. Picture to yourself my feelings, madame,

Online LibraryElizabeth Rundle CharlesWinifred Bertram and the world she lived in → online text (page 1 of 29)