James Payn.

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of movement. Rosey's limbs were very
slender, but she climbed actively enough
into the chair that had been set for her at
the tea-table, though not before she had
seen Tosey's more plump proportions already
seated in his. It was plain that she still
considered him under her charge and con-
duct. When my wife cut her a slice of
cake, she passed it on to her brother, and
broke it into small pieces for him, as one
breaks bread to feed the birds; nor, while
attending to his physical comforts, did she
neglect his manners.- ''What does Tosey
say ? " inquired she, '' to the lady who gives
him cake ? "

Tosey stared at her in shocked surprise.
Could she not see that he was eating ? — ■


indulging in the only occupation in wliicli
(as she must be aware) he took at present
any satisfaction ? Nay, even upon the lowest
ground, who could be expected to reply to
al)stract questions, who has his mouth quite
full of currant cake ? Again she appealed
to his sense of politeness, and this time he
transferred his eyes from her fair face to
the central ornament of the ceiling, at which
he stared, and continued to stare (though
eating all the time) Avitli an intensity that
riveted our own attention also.

" Xow what does Tosey say when he is
dood, and has had his cake ? " repeated
the other, more persuasively even than

^'Moa" (more).

At this my wife burst out laughing, and
threw her arms about his neck. '' Did you
ever hear such a sensible child," cried she,
" to say More instead of Ta ? Why, it's
Imman nature in a nut-shell." It was one
form of human nature, no doubt ; but it


was another — though, alas ! one not so much
dwelt upon by the theologians — to see
Eosey's unselfish solicitude for Tosey's com-
fort, as thou(yh a ni2:htino^ale should take a
wren under its wing, and tend it. And
the wren acknowledged her loving service.
Tosey declined the offer of my wife's assist-
ance to descend from his chair, with a
certain austere calmness. "You mean well,
I have no doubt, mv erood woman/' his
manner seemed to say ; " but this honour
is reserved for another : it pleases her, and
I am disposed to please her, when there is
no temptation to do otherwise." So Rosey's
outstretched arms received him, after his
rejDast ; and in their loving hold he instantly
fell asleep, like a despot gorged with wine
and meat, in the embrace of some favoured
slave. My wife carried him to bed herself;
while Elizabeth carried Rosey, a burden
scarcely heavier than he — her blue eyes
heavy with sleep, her golden hair streaming
behind her like a sheaf of stars. The painter


who drew Jacob's Ladder with the angels
ascending it, must have seen some such spec-
tacle as that, I think, on his own stairs at

VOL. m.


When my wife came down that niglit, after
seeing the children put to bed, I was, of
course, prepared to tell all that happened
at the railway station ; but, to my surprise,
she did not pay much attention to the
matter. When I ventured, however, to
suggest that the careless Gibbins might not
even turn up on the morrow to claim his
own, she evinced considerable interest.

*' What ! George ; do you really think
it possible that the man may neglect his
children to that extent ? Why, if he doesn't
come to-morrow, there would be no more
reason why he should come the next day,


nor, for that matter, why he should come
at all."

"Even that, of course, is possible, my
dear," said I. ''The poor little things will,
in that case, keep Christmas with us, I sup-
pose ; one would hardly like to send them
to the workhouse on Christmas Day."

" The workhouse ! Who said a word
about the workhouse ? ''

For the moment, I thought a piece of
my nose was gone ; I had never been so
*' snapped up " by my little wife before. " I
was only hinting, my dear, that the law
did not compel us to maintain other people s
children; and if the worst came to the
worst, that we could get rid of these two
little people."

" Get rid of them ! " echoed my wife, with

the clash and sharpness of a pair of shears.

*' Who wants to get rid of them ? Why, if

a black kitten strays into the house, we keep

it, because it is said to bring a blessing ;

and are not two such heavenly children as



those up yonder a blessing in themselves !

George ! " continued she, dropping her
voice all of a sudden, and speaking quite
soft and low, " I know you don't mean to
be hard with 'em ; you would not have
brought 'em home at all, had you meant
that ; but if you had seen those two, as I
have just seen them, you could never have
said a harsh word concerning them, even in
jest. When Elizabeth and I had taken that
wee creature's clothes off by the fire, and he
was but in his little shift (for we had no
nightgown to give him — though I shall take
care he has plenty to-morrow, if I cut up
my own), he suddenly woke up, and as we
were putting him to bed, cried out : ' Where's
Osey?' In an instant that sweet girl was at
his side, and with her little arm round his
neck. ' Pairs ! ' said he. For the moment,

1 really thought the child had asked for
fruit ; and I felt quite ashamed that good
thoughts had been so much farther from me
than from him, when I saw those little ones


kneel down together by the bed-side and
pray. Rosey said the Lord's Prayer aloud
— such a mess as she made of some of the
words 1 and yet they were more touching to
listen to than any I had ever heard from a
reading-desk — and Tosey repeated it after
her. It seemed to me as thouo-h all the
angels in heaven must have stopped their
music to listen to 'em. Then they kissed
one another — it was better than o-oino; to
church to see them do it — and as we laid
them do^^Ti side by side, they dropped asleep
in each other's arms."

" But, my dear Nelly," remonstrated I,
" there is nothing to cry about, surely, in
all that ; it only shows they have been well
brought up."

" But they've got no mother. Think of
that ! " sobbed my wife, who had b}^ this
time broken down altogether. "Little dots
like that to be motherless, and to have a
father like this Gi<2: — Gio- — Gibbins, who
cares nothing about them ! "


^' I don't know that Mr. Gibbins is tbeir
father, my dear ; and how, may I ask, did
you find out that they had no mother ? "

" Why, because they did not mention her
in their little prayers. Do you suppose
they would not have done so, had she been
in existence ? ' Dod bless us both and make
us dood ; ' that was all they said besides
the Lord's Prayer."

'' And quite enough too, my dear," said
I, softly; for somehow — I suppose it was
because the little creatures had taken to me
so trustfully — I was more moved than I
chose to own.

" Oh, quite enough indeed," assented my
wife, "especially since He has made them
good — as good as gold."

The use of that familiar metaphor —
though it was not a little incongruous in
its application — brought me back to the
realities of life. '^ Fortunately, my dear/'
said I, "we have plenty of money to sup-
port these little ones, whom Fate has thus


thrown upon our hands, in case they have
really been deserted."

"There is no chance of that," answered
my wife dolorously, as though the desertion
of small children was too delightful an idea
to be realised. " Gibbins is sure to come
to-morrow, with his heartlessness and insolence
(just as Jones did), to carry away his pro-
perty — just as if they were so much luggage.
If he does not, we are bound to advertise
all about them. Moreover, there is their
box : of course, if we don't hear from him
soon, we must open that, and it is sure to
contain something that will identify them,
and oblige us to restore them to their be-
longings. George, dear George, what a
wrench it will be to me ! "

Then I began to understand that my
poor childless wife had suffered that passionate
affection for small children, which abides in
all who are worthy of the name of woman,
to twine itself about our new-comers, as
creeping flowers upon dainty trellis-work


will twine and grow till both are one ; and
for the moment I almost repented that I
had opened my doors to those unexpected
guests. '' My darling," said I softly, " though
Heaven has denied us children, it has given
us another blessing — wealth ; and if it
would be any pleasure to you to adopt a
child "

" No, no," interrupted she, sobbing ; "I
should not care for that; but in this case
it seems as if Heaven itself had sent us
these little ones — all on a Christmas Eve too
— and that sweet darling actually said
'Mum — mum/ and put his arms about me,
as though I ivas his mother — and then you
see he had never known his real one."

This was a true womanly touch, with
jealousy as well as love in it, which I felt
did not admit of reply. If Heaven had
sent the children to us indeed, I might well
have argued. Heaven would probably permit
us to keep them in spite of Gibbins ; but
women draw no consolation from logic ;


indeed, it is my experience that, in connec-
tion with the decrees of Providence, they
even resent it.

I dreamt that night that I was the master
of a national school, and that my wife was
a baby-farmer, and I was wakened in the
morning by the most singular noise imagin-
able ; it sounded like the chuckling of hens,
the crowing of some infinitesimal bantam
cock, and the splashing of something in

" Why, good gracious, my dear, there
are poultry and ducks in the house ! "

There was no reply ; my consort was
not by my side, but the crowing and chuck-
ling continued, mingled with shouts of
merriment, proceeding from the apartment
above my head. When I hear laughter, I
wish to be acquainted with the joke that
has produced it, just as when one hears a
cork dra^\Ti, one is inquisitive about the wine
in the bottle, and I put on my dressing-
gown at once, and went quietly upstairs.


The siglit that greeted me in the spare
room, hitherto solely dedicated to bachelor
adults, was very remarkable. I had come
upon a party engaged in a rite of baby-
worship. My wife and Elizabeth were putting
Tosey in his bath before the fire ; while
Rosey, in a flannel dressing-gown ten sizes
too large for her, was sitting on the rug in
a rapture of appreciation. Tosey was stand-
ing up in the warm water, holding on to
the edge of the bath, and apparently ad-
dressing some constituency in the most
humorous manner and at the top of his
voice. Every now and then, a joke so
tickled him that he cast himself backward,
and was picked up pink and palpitating,
only just in time, as it seemed to me, to
save his life. The applause that succeeded
each performance of this feat, evidently gave
him unbounded satisfaction ; he had thrown
off all his philosophy with his clothes, and
was merely bent upon experiments with
respect to the displacement of water, in


which, to judge by the puddles on the floor,
he had been very successful. He acknow-
ledged the accession to his audience in my
arrival by a shout of laughter so shrill and
small, and at the same time so full of
triumph, that no musician on earth could
— for expression at least — have competed
with him ; and then he said : " Hullo ! all
ight," and fell backwards under water. It
was perfectly ridiculous that three grown
persons and a half should have been so
moved by so insignificant an object ■ — yet
we were all laughing as heartily as he. The
little naked boy, called Cupid, could hardly
have shown himself more powerful than this
his latest rival.

Presently, Christmas chimes began to peal
from some bell-ringing steeple, and Tosey,
standing in the water, and steadying him-
self by clinging to the side with one hand,
held the other up — one tiny finger project-
ing from the rest — for silence. It was the
prettiest "pictur'," as EHzabeth observed.


one could conceive ; or rather, it was a piece
of living sculpture such as Nature, K.A.
(Eeal Artist), could alone have executed.
At the same time, I felt my dressing-gown
gently pulled, and looking down, I saw
Eosey's sweet fair face turned upwards to-
wards mine with parted lips. ''A merry
Kismas to you," said she, in a tone that had
a music in it beyond that of any song, and
with a look such as the angels use when
wishing the like to one another.

" Only listen to the child ! " cried my
wife, delighted. " That was just because
she heard the bells, you may depend on

"Why, Kosey, who taught you to say
that, my darling ? " said I, stooping to kiss


" And who is Dodo ? "

Here all was blank again. Neither Eosey
nor Tosey could give us any information
upon that point. Dodo was Dodo, whom


not to know aroaied ourselves most io-norant.
It was certainly not the bird wlio is the
despair of natural-historians ; but beyond
that, nothing certain could be discovered —
until Gibbins turned up, or the box was

The enactment that makes a holiday at
the Post-office on Christmas Day had my
hearty concurrence that morning, for at least
no tidings could come by letter which should
demand a parting ^ith our little guests.
Every ring at the door, however, my wife
informed me, made her ''heart go," for fear
it might be the herald of Gibbins; and it
was not without some opposition on her
part that I ^\T:ote out an advertisement for
the Times, stating that two young children,
answering to the names of Rosey and Tosey,
were at present lodged beneath our roof,
awaiting removal by their proprietor.

In leaving my address at the railway
station, I had done, she urged, all that was
reasonably to be expected of me; it was


there, if anywhere, that Gibbins would apply
for the ^ goods consigned to him ; and to jog
his memory, or to awaken his remorse for
his neglect, was to fly in the face of Provi-
dence, and run an uncalled-for risk of losing
the blessings it had vouchsafed us. If my
wife showed herself somewhat lax in principle
under this great temptation, she, on the other
hand, exhibited a keen sense of moral re-
sponsibility as regarded the children them-
selves. She sent in to our neighbour, Mrs.
Quiverful, for some Sunday toys — a message
which produced a Noah's Ark and a Mosaic
puzzle — and decided upon supplementing their
elevating effect by taking Eosey to church
with us. The occasion was evidently a
novelty to her, and so far a treat ; but she
was very loath to leave her brother, whose
tender years put his attendance at public
worship out of the question. The promise
of hearing the organ, however, and (I regret
to say) the unauthorised prospect of its
having waltzing figures upon it, which was


held out by Elizabeth, overcame her scruples,
and, to the astonishment of the parish, our
pew was for the first time embellished by
the presence of a child. That many an eye
was turned towards Kosey, as she sat with
her little hand in mine, with admiring
curiosity, was no reproach to our vicar's
eloquence ; no sculptured angel there, with
hair blown back, and wings crosswise, no
seraph painted on the pane, looked half so
heavenly as she. Eager-eyed, she watched
and listened, while the parson read, and the
music rose and fell, but hushed as a mute
bird. Once only did she break silence —
when our doctor (according to his invariable
custom) was called out from his conspicuous
pew by his foot -page, when she observed :
*' Look, look ; there's a man broke loose,'' —
a remark that shook my gravity to its

In the afternoon, I went down to the
railway station under pretence of making
inquiry about my luggage, but in reality to


find out if there was any news of Gibbins.
Those children were growing upon me so,
that I felt it necessary to do my duty to
their belongings — if belongings they really
had — while the moral courage to do so still
remained to me. My friend the inspector
shook his head, and pronounced the whole
affair to be "a plant " to get rid of the two
children. '' They will be on your hands,
sir, it's my opinion, until you think proper
to send them to the workhouse."

" You really think that, Mr. Inspector ? "

" I am pretty sure, of it, sir," replied he
despondently. ''It is not the first time
that such a thing has happened, to my own
knowledge. Well, I am sure, sir, you are
very kind.''

'' Don't mention it," said I, " it's Christ-
mas Day, you know, and you have had a
great deal of trouble about that luggage.
Good morning to you."

''But you are going away without it,
sir!" And so I was. I felt, in fact, but


little interest, comparatively speaking, in the
article in question, wliich, as it happened,
had arrived safe enouo'h : and the sovereion I
had given the man was for his '' oj)inion," just
as one gives a doctor or a laAvyer one pound
one for theirs — which are not generally so
pleasant. Would it be possible, I Avondered,
to retain our little treasures by giving a
pound or two to Gibbins himself? Was
there any law against child-selling, as well
as wife-selling, and if not, would Gibbins be
authorised to treat ? The loss of Tosey
would, I knew, be to my wife a very serious
blow, and however unreasonable it was in
her so to feel it, it was only my duty to
avert, by all lawful means, such a catas-
trophe. As to Eosey, I confess the dear
child had taken such root in my heart, that
I could not bear to think of parting with
her, and especially to persons who had
shown themselves so careless of their re-
sponsibilities. I knew that my position both
in law and morals was untenable — I was



painfully aware tliat the whole transaction
''would not wash," — but something must
surely be conceded to the feelings of a
parent ; and was not I in loco parentis —
which is the same thing as a parent — to
that heavenly child. Tosey, too, had dis-
tinctly — or as distinctly as he could — claimed
my wife as his mamma, so that the chain
of relationship might be said to be com-

Nelly received my little Christmas present
with gratitude, but without enthusiasm ; a
fact which, considering it was a new bonnet,
will give the measure, to any of her own
sex, of the extreme preoccupation of her

''A. thousand thanks, my dear," said
she. " But was there any news of Gib-

Then I thought it was really time to
-gximinister to her a lecture upon the vanity
of human wishes, and on the great im-
probability of their being gratified on the


present occasion. I observed, how wrong
it was of her, from every point of view, to
nourish such vain and unprincipled expecta-
tions : in fact, I used every argument which
I had deliberately rejected myself, and, in
the end, had the satisfaction of perceiving
that we should never be divorced upon the
fashionable ground of " incompatibihty " of
character, inasmuch as they had precisely
the same effect upon her as they had had
on me.

'• Mum-mum will never part from her
Tosey, will she ? " inquired she (I must say
very foolishly) of the child himself, who was
playing at her knee. " Say, never, my own
darling." He looked up with preternatural
gravity, and delivered (in the character of
a dignitary of the Court of Chancery) his
decree against any such separation : " Nedder.*'
At the same moment, Eosey stole her little
hand in mine, and whispered : '' Me tay

If Gibbins had turned up just then, in

K 2


tlie imperative mood, I believe I should
have put him in the water-butt and pur-
chased a filter.

" But, my dear Nelly," sighed I, '' there
is their box."

" I wish it had been lost, like the bonnet,"
answered she, bitterly.

" Still, since it is here, we are bound to
open it, and thereby discover to whom these
little o'uests of ours belono\ We had better
get it over at once, since every day will
make it more difficult for you to part with

So, on that Christmas night, when the
children were fast asleep in each other's
arms — a sio-ht as full of Christmas thouo^hts
as any sermon — my wife and I had the box
brought into the parlour. It had no lock,
so I had only to cut the ropes with my
penknife, to know our fate ; for, indeed, it
had come to that : with such unconscious
magic had those little ones bewitched us in
a day and night, that to part with them


would have not only been a "wTench," but
a catastrophe. Perhaps it was the blessed
Christmas-tide — wherein, above all seasons,
little children assert their power — that had
so worked with us ; but so it was. A mother
whose task it is to look over the clothes, or
toys, or other '"' fond records " of some lost
darling, must be one of the most pitiable of
God's creatures ; but to her at least the
worst has come ; the parting is over —
whereas, to us, this little box might be
the cradle or the grave of Hope. I felt
that it was mucli more likely to prove the
latter ; it was to the last degree improbable
that Kosey and Tosey should remain as
such — mere fairy-folk with fairy names —
and nothing more, when we had made ex-
amination of its contents. Miss Eose Gibbins
and Master Thomas Gibbins, of some semi-
nary for young persons near Crewe, would
presently be revealed to us in the most
commonplace fashion, and demand to be
given up to their " friends." Nothing


occurs, however, as the paradoxical French-
man tells us, except the Unlooked-for. Not
a scrap of writing, whether on paper or
linen, informed us of the personal identity
of our little guests. Their Lilliputian gar-
ments, layer after layer of which we found
arranged with the utmost neatness and order,
were indeed all marked, but it was only
with those names wdiich Love, and not their
god-fathers and god-mothers, had bestowed
upon them — Eosey and Tosey. In some
cases, it w^as worked upon \X\(d tiny linen in

" They had a mother tlien,'^ whispered
my wife significantly ; and though no mother
herself, I thought her judgment just upon
that point. Moreover, the handwriting, where
the names were written, was fine and deli-
cate, like a lady's hand, and not a servant's ;
though, to my fancy (for this could be only
guess-work), it lacked the firmness of health.
I could not help building up the theory that
the mother had been failing and fading.


without the streno;th to do much more than
this slio'ht lovino; service ; and Nelly thouo-ht
the idea a probable one.

"In that case," remarked I, '''the careful
packing and disposal of the clothes must
have been done by another/'

''Of course," returned my wife: "after
her death, poor soul."

" And yet we have not come upon a
sing^le article of mournino'/'

"The woman who took the mother's
place was poor," answered Nelly softly.

It was like enough. The mother had been
poor herself, for though all the garments
were in good repair, they had seen much
service, and had darns and patches in them ;
the latter, as my wife pointed out, let in
with elaborate skill and care. The last layer
was made up of baby-clothes, most ex-
quisitely worked by hand.

"Good Heavens!" cried I, "is there,
then, a third ? "

" No, no 1 these were Tosey's before he


was sliort-coated. How nice he must have
looked in them, dear little fellow ! "

The tears of my childless wife were
falling fast upon the lengthy robe of state
that had once enveloped Tosey's limbs.

" My darling," said I, " you ought to
be pleased, rather than cast down ; for nothing-
has come to light as yet which demands
our parting with the children. If Gibbins
would only "

'' Look, look ! " interrupted my wife, with
a sharp cry. Below the last layer of clothes,
and pasted on the bottom of the box, was
a sheet of white paper, around which a
clumsy attempt had been made with ink
to rule a mourning border. In the centre
of it was written, in a hand evidently unused
to penmanship, the words, "Pity the mother-

" These children, then, have been be-
queathed to us, my dear," said I, after a
pause. My wife was greatly affected, and I

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Online LibraryJames PaynHalves, a novel (Volume 3) → online text (page 5 of 10)