James Payn.

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glad face of her who had been my own true
wife for near a quarter of a century, and
which, if not so fair, was ten times as dear
to me as on the day on which I had beheld
it first. The battle of life had been a hard
one for me, and in my secret heart I be-
lieve I should have lost it had she not stood
by my side ; for in that warfare the non-
combatants count for much.

Good wives are the music that puts man
in heart, as the martial band inspires the
soldier ; only in their case it plays right on
throughout the fight, now soft, now loud,
but ever heard till death comes to us or
them. They are the hospital staff, who bind
up our wounds and nurse us tenderly, when
the battle has gone sore against us ; and
they are the chaplains also, who, taking


advantage of our weakness, would lead us
— God bless them ! — to the skies, of which
we have lost sight in all that smoke and
turmoil. I would not have said this to my
Nelly for a kingdom — for these angels are
human, after all — but such was the thought
that I entertained about her as the express
flew throuo^h the falling: snow, which had
clothed all objects with its dazzling robe, as
thoug^h it were attiring^ earth as a bride for

As the day drew on — for my journey was
a long one — and the sunbeams faded, those
bridal garments become those of death, and
the look of the vast snow-shroud made me
shiver. What would life become, thought I,
if my sunbeam were to cease, and I should
be left alone, without even that reflection of
it to comfort me such as the widower sees,
or thinks he sees, in the eyes of his children ?
A selfish thought indeed, but are not all our
thoughts selfish, even when they are busied
with those who are far dearer to us than self


itself? If she did die, would the religion
which I professed prove indeed a solace ?
Would there be any actual consolation in
the belief that we should meet again where
there is neither marrying nor giving in
marriage, and where all the conditions of
our existence must needs be wholly changed ?
I am not a sentimental man — far from it ;
I plume myself, with reason, upon my prac-
tical character. " Will it Wash ? " is the
vulgar but expressive phrase — borrowed from
a connection of many years with a certain
Manchester warehouse — which I am accus-
tomed to apply to matters in general. To
many a plain man of mature years and of
the middle class, who has no pretensions to
be considered a philosopher, such thoughts,
or others like them, have doubtless sometimes
come for a brief space, to be dissipated by
the first material incident. The carriage
passing over the points at the terminus,
and shaking us all up a little, cut the thread
of my slender speculations, and set me won-


dering, as our long train banged and clattered
into the station, whether there would be a
sufficiency of cabs to supply our needs. I
had not much luggage, but there was a box
containing a certain Christmas present for
my Nelly about which I was solicitous, and
I repaired at once to the luggage -van to
look after it. '*' Of course, it is the last box,"
was upon the tip of my impatient tongue, as
trunks, imperials, and hat-boxes were poured
out upon the platform, and ever and anon
the " By yom^ leave " of the porter with
his iron-wheeled barrow made my keen sense
of the rights of property succumb to the
care of life and limb ; but as it happened,
I had this time underrated the malice of
destiny ; the box was not there at all. The
luggage-van yawned before me with nothing
in it ; and with my heart full of bitterness
and thoughts of action at law for loss of
goods in transit, I turned upon my heel,
and almost overset a little woman of five
years old or so, with a look of wistfulness


in her tear-wet eyes of blue that would
have melted Herod.

'' What is it, my dear ? '' inquired I^
stooping my ear to the level of her rose-
bud of a mouth.

''Gibbinth," said she, laying her small
hand upon my arm.

" Give you what, my darling ? " It was
plain she was not a beggar ; indeed, I should
have used the phrase of a "lady's child"
in describing her, had not her woful little
face put all ideas of her social rank out of
my mind. She was well and warmly clad,
as suited with the snowy night, and had a
seal-skin muff hanging round her neck, into
which, so soon as she found she had at-
tracted my attention, she replaced her little

'' You are Gibbinth ? " continued she,
looking at me anxiously from top to toe,
as though to discover for herself some dis-
tinctive mark of the Gibbins family.

" No, my dear/' said I ; "I am not." It


was impossible to be angry mth such a tiny
creature, but I certainly did not feel flattered
at being taken for any such person. If it
had been Montmorenci or Howard, the mis-
take might have been intelligible enough :
but Gibbins !

"If you are not Gibbinth, where can
Gibbinth be ? " continued the little maiden ;
^* the Dutchman has been in my eyes for
ever so long."

I had never heard the metaphor about
the Dutchman (who, by-the-by, turned out
to be the Dustman), but it was evident
that the poor little thing was sleepy and
tired. The passengers had by this time all
departed, and, besides the officials, there was
no one visible beneath the roof of that
ghastly station save myself, this little one,
and a single cabman, who was making inter-
mittent signs to me with his whip — as though
he were moved by clock-work — that he was
waiting there for my convenience, and that
he hoped any longer delay would be con-


sidered in the fare. A feeling began to
creep over me that I had done some wrong
to this poor little scrap in not being Gibbins,
as she had expected, and that she had some
sort of claim upon me in consequence. In
vain I said to myself that that "wouldn't
wash," and called up all the precepts of a
long and successful commercial career to
justify the great principle of non-interference.
The most that they could do for me was
to suggest my shifting the responsibility
upon somebody else, and referring the matter
to the railway officials.

As I moved away to where " Inspector's
Office '' was inscribed over a doorway, my
small acquaintance again laid her little hand
upon my wrist, not as a grown-up lady
takes a gentleman's arm, but with a certain
sense of assured dependence, that it was
impossible to ignore or to resist.

If I was not Gibbins, that tiny pressure
.seemed to say I was in Gibbins's place, and
the future conduct of affairs, so far as she


was concerned, was no longer in her hands,
but mine.

" Mr. Inspector," said I, when I had
found that officer, ''what is the meaning
of this little lady being all alone here ? "

"Well, sir, I was in hopes that you
could have told us that." He took off his
cap, which had a gold band round it, not
in my honour, as I supposed, but for my
small companion to admire and handle (it
had been, as I afterwards discovered, her
plaything for the last six hours, in the in-
tervals of his official business). " We all
thouorht that vou were Gibbins come at

" I am nothing of the sort," said I
testily. " I never saw this " — here she looked
up from the cap with such an astonished
gaze, caused by my harsh tones, that I felt
quite ashamed of myself — " I say I never
before set eyes upon this little lady in all
my life."

" I am sorry for it, sir," answered the


inspector, "for she don't seem to have any
other friend. She has been here for half
the day, and more, in the waiting-room
yonder ; and whenever a train comes in, out
she trots, and asks for Gibbins. It's an in-
famous shame of those who have sent a
child like that up on a Christmas Eve, with
nobody to meet her, at a great station like
this ; and I should like to have the whippin
of 'em."

" What's her name ? " inquired I, in a

'^ Well, you had better ask her, sir ; for
none of us can make head or tail of it our-

Then I stooped down, and put the first
question in the Church Catechism to this
poor little waif and stray.

"What is your name?"

"I'm Osey," replied she, looking up in
surprise that such an obvious fact should not
be abeady known to me.

"She means Eosey," explained the in-


spector ; ''such a cliild as that can never pro-
nounce her hars, bless you. It's plain to
me that you ain't a family man, sir.''

I had once, however, been within a very
little of being so, and that was, in truth,
the chief reason why I did not at once offer
this delicate human waif the shelter of our

Some years ago, I had met, within a
few streets of my own door, an ayah, an
Indian nurse, with perhaps the fattest child
in her arms which England has yet produced,
and who had lost her way ; she could un-
derstand a little English, but could speak
no more of it than informed me that her
master's name was " Jone," evidently Bengalee
for Jones. As to where he lived, she had
no notion, except that it was in the direction
of the setting: sun, which for London is a
somewhat vague address.

She had a robe of white, which contrasted
strikingly with her black and shining face ;
she had a ring through her nose, of more


splendour, I should say, tliaii value ; and
a pair of very lavishly embroidered slippers
turned up at the toes.

Altogether, she was not a desirable
person for a gentleman in my line of busi-
ness to be seen o^oino: about with, between
six and seven in the afternoon, when his
friends and neighbours are all returning from
the City.

I felt at the time that she " wouldn't
wash," and indeed it would have been of no
use if she did ; yet I could scarcely leave
her to wander about all' night with that
enormous child ; she was very tired already,
it was evident, although not hungry ; people
had offered her buns, it seemed, in great
profusion, and one woman had nearly killed
her with a bottle of ginger-beer (an article
I believe forbidden by the Hindu faith) ;
and of the use and value of money she was
utterly ignorant ; in short, I was obliged to
bring her home, which I did, accompanied
by a mob of about forty street-boys, and


a policeman in the distance ; I had told
him of her calamity, and he could suggest
no remedy beyond the station-house, but
the situation interested him.

By the skilful cross-examination of my
wife, it was elicited from the ayah that
she had orone out for a walk that mornins:

o o

with the child, and had been walking ever
since, probably in a circle.

"But Jones must be the greatest idiot
in Great Britain," said I, ''to send a nurse
out with his child who can't speak English,
and who doesn't know her way."

" Perhaps he didn't want to see either
of them again," observed my wife, with dis-
mal sagacity.

Then I perceived what a very unwashable
material this article I had become responsible
for might turn out to be : to have a strange
child on one's hands for life was bad enough,
but to adopt a black woman with a ring
through her nose and turn-up slippers ! It
might be that we were about to entertain


an angel unawares, but I am bound to say
she didn't look like it.

" I suppose she must have sheets to her
bed ?" said my wife doubtfully, when discussing
the arrangements for the night.

" Yes, yes ; her colour is fast enough,"
returned I gloomily ; " she is not an Ethi-
opian serenader."

Not a syllable indeed did she sing or say,
beyond " Yes " or " No," and " Jone," while
she remained under our roof, which was only
for twelve hours ; nor did the fat child open
its mouth except for food, which it devoured

After breakfast the next morning came
Jones (of India), whom the police had in-
formed of the asylum which his offspring
had received. He swore in Hindustanee
^t the ayah, boxed the child's ears for being
frightened at his father's violence, and then
expressed his thanks to my wife (for I was
gone to the City) for her " injudicious hospi-
tality." " I am sure your husband meant


well/' lie was good enough to say, '' but I
should have had much less trouble if he
had left matters to the police."

It was the remembrance of this Jiasco
that made me even more practical than
usual on the present occasion, and caused
me to hesitate in constituting myself
*'Eosey's" temporary guardian.

" You have told me your Christian-
name, my pretty child, but what is your
surname ? "

" My turname ? " It was plain that I
might as well have asked her the explanation
of the Schleswig-Holstein difficulty, at that
time at its acme of complexity.

"What is your papa's name?"

She shook her head till the golden curls
feU over her sweet face as the summer wind
scatters the laburnum.

" And mamma's ?"

*' Mamma ? Me no mamma," answered
she quietly, as she buttoned and unbuttoned
the chin-strap of the inspector's cap ; an in-



difference far more pathetic to behold than
any tears.

''But where is your home, Rosey?"
" Home ?" Even that word had no
meaning for her, it seemed ; and yet her
dress and manner showed that she had
experienced dutiful, if not kindly minis-
trations. Her unsusjDccting trust and con-
fidence told also the same tale.

"Are you at school, then, darling?"
"Et!" — here she brightened up, well
pleased to find her questioner at last intelli-
gible — ''me at tool."

"And where is your school, Eosey ?"
Here she became a laburnum aocain ;
names and places were evidently not her
strong point ; she might have dropped from
the skies themselves for all she knew of
whence she came or whither she was going.
The station she had come from, the
inspector said, was Crewe — a large manu-
facturing town and junction — so m.uch was
told by her ticket, and by the company's


luggage label upon a large box that had
come with her, but which had other\yise no

" AYliat is to be done with her, Mr.
Inspector ? "

" Well, the woman in charge of the
waiting-rooms will look after her for the
night, I daresay. I would take her home
myself, if I had not a house too full of brats
already, though, Heaven knows, I don't want
to lose any of 'em. Every lady as has seen
the child took notice of her, and gave her
tarts and things in the refreshment-room ;
but when it comes to taking her home with
them — why, that is quite another matter.
It's so few wives, and still fewer husbands,
as dares to do it, you see."

" WeU, this is my card," said I ; " and
I will take her to my wife as a Christmas
present. I suppose Mr. Gibbins ^Ylll turn
up to-morrow morning at latest."

" Well, if the worst comes to the worst,
you can but send her to the work'us, you

H 2


know — poor little innocent soul;" and witli
that he kissed her.

If I had not been of so practical a nature,
and if the regulations of the company had
not forbidden it, I could have almost given
that inspector fiye shillings ; as it was, I left
that amount with him for incidental expenses
— giving me early news of Gibbins, or what
not — and then I called a cab.

'' Eosey, my dear, I shall take you home
with me," said I : " you must want rest and

'' But Tosey must turn too," said

" By all means." I thought Tosey was
some doll that she had left in the waiting-
room, and accompanied her thither to get
it, while her box was being lifted on to the

In one of those vast and cheerless apart-
ments, with which railway travellers who
arrive too soon, or too late, are so well
acquainted, I found the woman in charge


pacing up and down the place witli a large
bundle in her arms.

''Hullo, missey ! " said she: "so you
have found your friend at last. I must say,
sir," added she, addressing herself to me,
" that you have given me a great deal of
trouble — though I don't grudge it, poor little
fellow — in minding this boy for the whole
afternoon. He's as o^ood as opold for one of
his years, but of course he's dog-tired,
and ought to have been in his cot hours

" Why, what boy is that ? " inquired I,
with a vague sense of apprehension.

" Dat my itty brodder Tosey," ex-
plained my small companion. '' Now,
Tosey, tum alon' ; the coachey-poachey is

There were two of them ! Xo one who
has not had twins unexpectedly presented
to them, can picture to themselves my feel-
ings at that moment. There was, however,
nothing for it but to say with the pincushion


— nay, Avitli two pincushions — " Welcome,
little strangers."

At tlie word " coacliey-poacliey," as though
it had been an open sesame to his young
affections, Tosey held out his arms to me,
with a wild chuckle, at the same time kick-
ing his little legs like one learning to swim.
It was a terrible moment, for I did not
know how to handle so delicate an article ;
it was as though a parlour-maid who has
never been " out " before should begin with
washing up a service of eggshell china ;
though Tosey did not look so much like
the outside of the egg as the inside, poached.
So white — for the poor little soul was wan
and weary — so soft, so dimpled, so wabbly,
and so warm he was, it seemed as though
the touch of a finger would have broken

He was a fair-complexioned child, like
his sister ; but his eyes were a soft brown,
whereas Kosey's were as blue as the skies in
June ; and though, I suppose, a year younger


than she, he had a look of thought and
gravity (with ^^inkles, too, everywhere)
which mio;ht have become his own orand-
father. I have since had some reason to
believe that, in another state of existence,
Tosey had been king of the fairies, and that
the cares of his tiny kingdom still "weighed
upon him ; but this is mere conjecture. . He
permitted himself great excitements, but,
having expressed his feelings, sank always
into a state of philosophic reflection, as
though to examine whether or no they had
been justified. Thus, on catching sight of
the cab-horse, he cried " Jee-jee," and jerked
himself so violently in my arms that I
thought for the moment we had both fallen
backwards ; then immediately afterwards he
became stolid, silent, and statuesque. I
seized upon this opportunity to place him
on the back-seat of the vehicle, where I
could have my eye on him, and where, being-
wedged in by his sister and her multitudinous
wraps, I thought he would keep his equi-


librium. This, however — although through-
out the catastrophe he preserved his gravity
— was by no means the case, for no sooner
did the wheels begin to move, than both of
the children fell forward, knocking my open
purse out of my hand, from which I had
just been paying the waiting-woman, and
scattering its contents upon the floor of the
cab, which, as usual, had as many holes as
a cullender. What was the precise extent
of my pecuniary loss, I never ventured ta
calculate, but certainly I did something to
realise the dream of Dick Whittington in
paving the neighbourhood of Euston Square
with gold.

Property, however (except in the eye of
the law), is of less consequence than life,
and all my energies were directed to pre-
serve my fellow-travellers. Fortunately,
they were so wrapped in clothing, that they
could scarcely have been hurt — unless they
had fallen on their faces, which they did
not, but quite the reverse — had they dropped


from the top of St. Paul's ; but for the
rest of the journey I placed one on one of
my knees, and one on the other, and held
them each with one arm as well. There is
a famous picture (not the least like me,
however) called the First Cradle, which
accurately represents my position in the
four-wheeler; nor did I dare to chancre it
even by a hair-breadth, for in a second or
two both of my little friends had fallen
asleep, and it was clear by their sweet faces
that it would have been a crime to wake

Eosey was away in Paradise, where
the only idolatry is baby-worship — the Peris
were handing her about from one to the
other, and she had a smile for everj^ one.
Tosey was back in Elflancl, recounting his
adventures among mortals, accompanied by
philosophic reflections. Not a sigh escaped
them, not a movement stirred their tender
limbs : the snow, that was fallino: more
thickly than ever, could not have come


from the skies more innocent and pure than
thej were.

I had not the least doubt of the nature
of their reception from my Nelly ; my appre-
hensions were solely upon my own account.
That ayah business, though it had happened
long ago, still rankled in her memory. If
she had been in my place, she would, I
knew, have done exactly as I had done, and
I should have expostulated with her upon
acting upon impulse, and giving way to
sentiment upon Christmas Eve. It is so
different being philanthropic one's-self, and
bearing the inconvenience of the philanthropy
of other people.

The astonishment of our parlour-maid
upon perceiving her master return with these
unexpected guests, was such that she actually
forbore to remark upon them, as I carried
them into the house.

'' Is that you, George ? " cried my wife's
delighted voice from the drawing-room


" I am not quite sure, my dear/' was
my reply ; for indeed I had by this time
begun to entertain suspicions of my own
identity : " you had better come down and


'' Ah ! you nice old darling, that is to
look at the Christmas present you wrote
about, / know.^'

" Well, no," said I ; '•' that is gone astray"
(I had U23 to then forgotten all about that
unhappy box) ; '' but I have brought }'ou
two others instead."

" You dear, delightful, generous ■

Oh, my goodness, whose children have you
got there V


For the moment that answer proved
sufficient, for Eosey and Tosey had both
opened those masked batteries, their wonder-
ing eyes, and silenced by their unexpected
fire, my wife could only gasp, and gaze from
one to the other.

'' Mum — mum — mum — mum," ejaculated


Tosey very rapidly, with the air of a dis-

"Why, he takes me for his mamma, I
do declare 1" continued Nellie, with enforced
admiration, as she folded him in her arms.
"And are you his sister, my pretty dear?"

"Et." This monosyllable was elongated
and dwelt upon with conscious pride. " Me
and Tosey is sitter and brudder."

" But where on earth are their parents ?
Where did you pick them up, and why did
you bring them home ? "

'' They were left at the station, and
never called for," explained I ; " and since
there was no sleeping accommodation for
them in the waiting-room — which must, more-
over, be rather a lonely place for a nursery
after business hours, beside which it was
snowing hard ; and being Christmas Eve,
when, above all times, little children should
be had in remembrance "

"Jane, bring some tea and cake as soon
as you can get it," interrupted my wife;


*'ancl tell Elizabeth to get tlie spare room
ready. She had better sleep with the poor
little dears, for they are too young to be
left alone, and, of course, it will only be
for one night."

'^Of course not," said I cheerfully; ''Gib-
bins is certain to turn up in the morning,
just as Mr. Jones did."

My object was to draw a deduction from
experience that might inspire confidence in
these young persons being taken off our
hands, of which in reality I by no means
felt assured ; but I had made a mistake
in mentioninof Jones of Beno^al.

'' We shall doubtless get no thanks for
whatever we do," remarked my wife tartly,
at the same time taking off Eosey's multi-
tudinous wraps with tender solicitude. " I
have no patience with T\Tetches who leave
their little children alone and friendless in
the great waste of London. I wonder where
they expect to go to ?"

" Yes, and where they expect their chil-


dren to go to," rejoincLl I. " However, it
isn't Rosey's fault, nor Tosey's."

If tlie children liad looked beautiful in
their furs and wraps, they appeared still
more attractive now that they w^ere in their
under-garments, which showed their grace

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Online LibraryJames PaynHalves, a novel (Volume 3) → online text (page 4 of 10)