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was just a little taken aback myself. " When


you are quite calm and collected, Nelly, we
must consider wlietlier we shall accept the

I had for my own part cpiite made up
my mind to '• administer," as the lawyers
call it ; but I thought the expression of
doubt would rouse her, and do her good.

"Dear George," said she, without taking
the least notice of my remark, but still poring
over those appealing words, " I think this
is Dodo's writing. She is some faithful nurse,
who, finding herself unable to support these
orphaned darlings, has sent them forth,
trusting in God's providence to find them
home and friends — and they have found them.
How happy, how thankful I feel ! They will
now be our own for ever."

" My dear Nelly," said I gravely, " do
not too much encourage a hope which, if
it one day prove fallacious, will be bitter
in your mouth indeed. These children are
not orphans, or Dodo would have stated as
much. " Pity the motherless," she says ;


that is (I fear), those little ones who have
no mother, but worse than no father — wha
have a father that has deserted them."

'^ But lue will not desert them."

" By no means ; only this man may turn
up at any time, remember, and demand his
own. Will you still accept them on such
conditions ? "

"I will," replied she, firmly. "I look
on them as Heaven's own gift, and I believe
that we shall be permitted to retain them."

" Very good, my dear ; so be it," said
I ; but I had still my doubts, and grave


Whex I wrote tliat I had my »doubts about
the adoption of Eosev and Tosey as our
own children, it must not l)e imderstood
that I entertained any idea of parting with
them unless I should be compelled to do
80 ; I ouQ^ht rather to have written that I
had mv fears. It seemed too g;ood to be
true that these little darlings should have
come to us so unexpectedly, like a Christmas-
box, and that we were to keep them for
our own for ever.

The advertisement of their arrival had
been already sent to the newspapers, and
would doubtless elicit some reply, if not from
their father, at least from those who had a


better claim to tlieir custody than ourselves.
As to Gibbins, I was inclined to disbelieve
in liim as an entity altogether. Dodo had
probably stretched her imagination to its
utmost limits in inventing him. She was
compelled to tell the children that somebody
would meet them at the end of their aim-
less journey, and she had called him Gibbins,
a name which had at least the merit of
being easily pronounceable. It was from
their father that I chiefly feared molestation.
I pictured him to myself as a selfish mis-
creant, who, without any natural afiection
for his offspring, might nevertheless resent
their adoption by other people ; or, if he
found that we were really fond of them,
might make use of his relationship to extort
money by threats of demanding their custody.
This would be a state of affairs which indeed
" would never wash," and yet avc should
be powerless to avert it.

However, as time went on, and the adver-
tisement remained unanswered, and no one


put in their claim for Eosey and Tosey, we
began to have an unmitigated enjoyment
in the possession of them. Being an idle
man, and also because I had been hitherto
a childless one, I gave myself up to them
more than grown men generally do ; I deny
that I spoilt them — indeed, whoever yet con-
fessed to such a charge ? People did say
indeed that I indulged them considerably ;
l)ut, in return, they indulged me in many
ways, and especially with ungrudged oppor-
tunities of observation of their manners and
habits, thoughts and small-talk, logic and
feelings. These formed the prettiest study
conceivable ; all Lilliput life was laid before
me, with its springs and wires, and I am
bound to say that I suffered no disenchant-
ment by being admitted " behind the scenes."
If the actors had been two boys, or two
girls, it might have been otherwise, but
with these two there were no jealousies, no
jars, no quarrels. They were avoided in
this manner ; Tosey had everything his own


way, and Eosey ministered to his pleasure.
Her self-abnegation was complete : it was
not " ask and have/' because she anticipated
his wants : her greatest trouble was when
she was compelled to refuse him anything
upon the ground that it would disagree
with him ; for all his desires were fixed on
something to eat, and it was generally un-
wholesome. Not for a moment would I have
it imagined that Tosey was a glutton —

" But Knowledge to his eyes its ample page,
Rich with the spoils of Time, had not unrolled."

Science, Literature, and Art, were for the
present dead to him, and what had he to
do but to eat ? Many a discreet old gentle-
man who has retired from active life makes
the same excuse with less reason ; and as
to selfishness, one does not consider a king
to be selfish (and far less do we call him
so), because he takes everything he wants
without inquiring into the miserable details
of how it is procured : it is enough that he


is graciously pleased to accept it from liis
devoted suLjects. Moreover, it was by right
divine — tlie genuine majesty of Love — tliat
Prince Tosey ruled us. His nature was
affectionate to an extreme degree, and his
temper was flawless ; some detractors said,
indeed, that this last was never tried — that
we pronounced it perfect, as one might
praise a bridge that has never been crossed ;
but my wife and I despised such remarks.
The dear child had a desire for having his
own way which was far superior to caprice :
it rose to genius. I happened to be present
on a certain occasion when he said his
nightly prayers, as usual at the dictation of
his sister ; when she got to '' Thy will be
done," he declined to repeat that sentence,
and moved an amendment. '^Xo," lisped
he ; *^ ony will be done, not thy will : it is
Tosey s choose this time.'' A revelation of
human nature to its very dej)ths ! How
many of us, who are ten times his age, echo
his infant thouofht, thousfh not in words !


It took all Eosey's eloquence and theology
to convince liim that this matter was not
one of alternation and equality.

As for her, no such audacious ideas had
ever intruded into her sweet thoughts ; she
was the most humble and reverent of human
creatures, and while entertaining the quickest
sense of injustice as respected others, never
ima^ned that to be a wrono; which interfered
with her own wishes. As a teacher of religion
and morals, she was, in fact, without peer.
But she would doubtless have failed as a
certificated schoolmistress — her grammar was
original, infinitely superior, in my opinion,
to that of the most well-informed persons,
but it rejected the rules of syntax. Her
sentences — probably from her entire freedom
from egotism — began with '^me" instead
of " I," and her pronunciation w^as far from
distinct. A curious result of this latter
peculiarity of his teacher came out in Tosey.
When he had grown many months older,
and was kneeling at Mum-mum's knees (she


was ahvays " Mum-mum "' now with him,
and I was " Da-da," just as it should be),
she detected in his devotions a certain roll
in the word "Hallowed." What he did say,
was, in fact, Harold — " Harold be thy name."
"But, my dear child, what does that mean ?"
" I don t know," rejDlied Tosey, frankly, " but
I thought that made it more sense." A
Lesson for Fathers (and Mothers) much more
significant, I ventm^e to think, and worthy
of parental attention, than is contained in
Wordsworth's poem of the Gilded Vane.

In spite of the early touch of heterodoxy
to which I have alluded, Tosey was singu-
larly devotional in his habits ; he was by
no means a goody-goody child, being full
of humour and naturalness ; Ijut when there
was a doubt of matters beincr arranpjed
wholly to his satisfaction on this earthly
ball, he would at once invoke Heaven to
his assistance. He was once found upon
his knees on the landing of the stairs, on
his way down to dessert, and being subse-



quently interrogated on the matter, explained
it thus : "I was praying," he said, " that
there might be apples — and," added he
triumphantly, as though he had annihilated
a sceptic, " there were apples." As he got
on in months, a taste for books — or rather
for the pictures he found in them — deve-
loped itself; he became acquainted with all
the leading events in Biblical history, and
applied them to our own time with a facility
that I have rarely heard equalled in the
pulpit. Upon my wife being taken ill on
one occasion, the ailment, however, being, as
it happened, not very serious, nothing could
exceed Tosey's concern and sympathy ; " Sup-
posing I had died," said she to him, when
she was getting better, '' Tosey would have
been very sorry, would he not ? "

" Mum-mum will never die," answered
he confidently.

" Nay, but we must all do that, my

*' All but Mum-mum : she will he taken


up to heaven in a chariot of fiver And
then he proceeded to describe the details
of that incident, which was to take place
from the back-garden, as being the locality,
I suppose, most convenient for the start.

The philosophy of Tosey's character, dis-
cernible on our first acquaintance, became
so marked as often to be embarrassing. He
would pass hours in silent speculation, and
evolve therein theories of the most startling
character, and which struck at the root of
everything. Indeed, some of them were so
natural, as well as tremendous, that they
were utterly unanswerable. It took all I
knew, and more, to evade his inquiries. He
would lay his tiny finger upon the anomalies
of the scheme of creation with the most
ruthless accuracy, though, it must be acknow-
ledged, that, like some objectors of a larger
growth, his propositions for amendment and
reform were crude enough. He was cross-
examining me upon one occasion on the
nature of conscience, which (perhaps from

L 2


its inquisitive character) lie assumed to be
of the feminine gender.

" She knows everything, Da-da, does

" Yes, Tosey." I always confined myself
as much as possible to generalities, for if
Tosey once drove you into a corner, it was
all over with you.

" And she is everywhere, is she ? "

'^Well, yes; she is everywhere, Tosey."

'' Then she's in this ink-bottle, and Fve
corked her up — so we'll have no more of
Miss Conscience."

It was impossible to explain to him that
that very desirable consummation is not so
easily effected ; though I am sure, if Con-
science ever troubled Tosey, she must have
done it out of revenge for this attempt to
limit her sphere of action, and not in the
way of duty.

The most touching speech (save f^ne) that
I can call to mind from this child's tongue
was on the occasion of his nurse, Elizabeth,


leaving our service to better herself (as she
sanguinely expected) by matrimony. It was
arranged beforehand that no actual '' Good-
bye " should take place, lest it should harrow
the child's feelings, and the attendant that
was to succeed her had for some time been
living in the house, in order to accommodate
herself to the children's ways. But when
the evening arrived on which his Elizabeth
was not to return, an explanation of some
sort became unavoidable. It was broken to
him that for that night the new hand was
to put him to bed. "What!" said Tosey,
*'that strange 'ooman ? Nedder, nedder!"

In vain it was urged that the arrange-
ment should be only temporary. Tosey was
quite unappeasable, and I received a request
to come upstairs in person to the nursery.
There I found him, arrayed in his tiny
great-coat, and his little hat, evidently bent
■on a night-journey. It was about the time
in winter that he had first come to us, and
ii thick fog reigned out of doors, yet he was


determined to find his Elizabeth. "Da-da/^
said he, "I must go to my dear Lizzy.
Only tell me this : shall I turn to the right
hand, or shall I turn to the left, when I get
out at the door ? "

Conceive the determination of that small
child, and picture him, in the wild waste
of wintry London, looking for his lost friend,
whom he only knew by her Christian-name,
shortened for love and euphony. I confess
the spectacle almost upset me (as for my
wife, she was crying worse than he was)^
and if I could have inveigled Elizabeth
from the arms of her bridegroom, I am
afraid I should have done it. As it was,
Eosey's tender eloquence, combined with a
judicious application of " pigs " of oranges,
persuaded him to retire to rest ; and ten
days afterwards, when his liizzy came to
see him, she was half broken-hearted to see
how easily he had transferred his affections
to her substitute. "I love all peepy"


(people) was Tosey's boast, "and all i^eepy
loves me."

And certainly everybody did love liim
who had the privilege of his intimate ac-
quaintance : his very foibles assumed such a
pleasant guise, that they were attractive ;
and even his childish selfishness had a
humour about it which half redeemed the
fault. It was necessary to impress upon him
that he was always to give way to ladies,
and so he did (for he was obedience itself),
but it went against the grain ; with Eosey
especially, who was for giving way to him
in everything, he found it difficult to practise
these Chesterfield manners. On one occasion,
the two children amused themselves by
changing clothes : Eosey became a shy,
retiring boy of heavenly loveliness ; and
Tosey, a brilliant girl, not without a dash
of that *' beaute du diahle^ which is ascribed
to some of the softer sex. They hurried
into our room to admire themselves in the


pier-glass, and Tosey pushed Eosey aside
with this remark : " Ladies first, if you
please, dear." He was at that time, so far
as we could calculate, about five years old ;
as clever as John Stuart Mill at the same
age, if not so learned, and with fifty times
the fun of that philosopher at any period
of his unnatural life.

Eosey was not quite so intelligent,
though full of practical good sense, guided
by an exquisite tenderness. "I do not
understand — I love," might have been her
motto. In all those questions of theology
and philosophy which Tosey tackled as
readily as a navvy a wheel -barrow, her
curiosity was tempered with humility. It
was but rarely, and only when we two were
quite alone, that she would ask to have a
doubt resolved.

" God could put my head on again, if it
tumbled off, could he not, Da-da ? "

" Certainly, my dear," said I ; then added,
by way of reluike for her absurdity, ''though


that might not be done probably in the way
you imagine."

"Ah, I see. He could do it with blood,
I suppose, while man could only do it with

On one occasion, when we were about
to be driven out of our London house by
the painters and cleansers, and there had
been, as usual, much domestic debate about
our seaside plans, Kosey inquired confi-
dentially : " Where do the people in heaven
go to. Da-da, when that is being white-
washed ? "

Sometimes the child would administer
an unconscious reproof. " I heard you say.
Da-da, that Mr. Jones was a brute, the
other day ; how could that be, when he is
a man ? "

Eosey's conversations and remarks were
of course very ridiculous, but to me at least
I confess they were infinitely better than
amusing. To Eosey and Tosey I was the
interpreter of nature, and the high-priest


of the mysteries of life, and they came to
me to unravel all the tangled skein. The
position was embarrassing and full of respon-
sibility, but my occupation of it endeared
them to me more than words can tell. To
feel that they were dependent upon me for
everything, and so confident of the best
being done for them that could be done
by word and deed, was to strengthen the
claim they had upon my love by fifty-fold.
They had changed all the ways of home
for my wife and me, and given it light
and colour. The patter of their little feet
above our heads, their childish glee and
chatter, made music where before had been
a brooding silence. They made the cheerful
morning brighter by their presence ; the
livelong day more teemed with life because
of them ; the evening, when we had seen
them in their beds and kissed their eyelids,
was more full of calm content. To have
said we were rewarded for having taken
pity upon them in their friendliness and


desertion, would have been to say little
indeed. They had taken pity npon us,
rather; enlivened our solitude, and dowered
us with undreamt-of joys.

After a few months, the fear of their
father coming to claim his own faded clean
away from our fond hearts, and left them
free for those two children's names ; ' and
they will be found engraved there when we
are dead.

Only at times, as a secret writing^ is
brought out on a sudden by the fire, the
terror of such a blow would be evoked for
a brief space, to fade away again like the
eflfects of a nightmare.

It was just three years after the children
had come to us, that Tosey began to exhibit
certain signs of delicacy ; there was nothing
very wrong with him, nor could the ailment
be identified with any particular disease,
but the doctor said he ''wanted care."
Heaven knows, care was taken of him, but
yet he didn't seem to mend. We kept him


close indoors that winter weather, but sorely
against his will ; he was up at the window
half the day, looking out upon the falling
snow and the white world that lay all
around us. One day some men came by
with the usual cry : " We are all froze
out/' and Tosey was lavish with his pence
as usual. " It must be worse to be frozen
out" he observed, '' than to be frozen m,
as I am ; " and then, after a long pause :
^^ If the men can't dig because the ground
is so hard, how will they dig my grave,
Mum-mum, when I come to die ? "

His words, I could see, went through my
poor wife's heart, and her only answer was to
strain him to her bosom, as though death itself
were already about to snatch him from her.
At the same moment, the door was softly
opened, and Kosey slipped out of the room.
I followed her, but paused at her chamber
door, for I could hear her crying as though her
little heart would break, and, alas ! I had no
comfort for her ! It was evident that she


had mshecl not to distress us by tlie sight
of that grief, of which Tosey's simple speech
had opened the flood-gates. The fear of
losing him had been, I felt sure, in her in-
most thoughts for weeks, as it had also been
in ours, though we had not dared to speak
of it ; but it had been intermittent ; hence-
forth the shadow was upon us from that
hour. Not that Tosey grew greatly worse,
or that the doctor took a more serious view
of his case ; l)ut our presentiment of woe
was stronger than our faith in science. As
the chdd's streno'th and spirits failed him

O -I.

— which they did very gradually, though
to our loving eyes not imperceptibly — his
affections appeared to grow stronger for us
all ; but they concentrated themselves upon
his beloved Rosey.

" It almost seems," whis^Dcred my wife,
*' as though he feels that he is about to leave
her, and grudges every moment they spend

Perhaps it was so ; Heaven only knew ;


but in my lieart was a terror too great for
utterance ; a fear that those two might not
be parted, but that Eosey's gentle spirit
mio^ht take its flio^ht with his. It seemed
to me that the girl could never outlive her
brother — that they were flowers upon a
single stem. The doctor, to whom I secretly
communicated this apprehension, treated it
with scorn : the girl was delicate, he said,
but there was no organic disease, such as
he had by this time begun to suspect in the
boy's case. The affections of children, how-
ever powerful, were evanescent ;* and I should
one day give Eosey away with my own
hands as the bride of some honest young
fellow. Heaven knows that I tried hard to
believe him.

It was spring-time, and Tosey was still
with us, and could even go out of doors in
an open carriage ; but he had to be lifted in
and out — a burden that grew lighter every
day. It was piteous to see him failing and
fading, when every tree was putting forth its


leaf, and every plant its blossom. I never
smell the May-flowers now, nor see their
snowy masses, without recalling Tosey'.s
delight in them upon that day — the last
in which he ever saw them. Once, as
he passed a field so thick with buttercups
that it looked like a veritable Field of
the Cloth of Gold, he asked to get out
and go among them ; and when we re-
minded him of his weakness, he answered
contentedly : " All right " — and what a soft
and tender phrase he made of that " All
right ! " "It wouldn't be much good, for,
you see, I should he afraid to 'put my foot
upon tliemJ' Tosey did not know that the
poet had written —

A lover Tvonld not tread

A cowslip on the head,

Though he should dance from eve to peep of day,

but spoke from a heart all gentleness and
pity. It could be said of him, as it can be
said of few children, "He never hurt a fly;"


and yet what a pang he. gave us, more sharp,
and bitter, and lasting than any sword-thrust,
when he whispered that night, as we laid him
in his cot : " I don't think I shall ever play
about in my little nursery again."

He never did ; he left us within that week,
and he took Eosey with him. It was not
to be expected — I never did expect it — that
she who had come from heaven to be his
guardian angel upon earth, should remain
here when her mission had been accomplished.
We had been up all night with him, but
towards morning he had fallen asleep, and
we had left him with his nurse and Eosey.
If he moved, if he sighed, if he breathed
a deeper breath than usual, that child would
spring noiselessly out of bed, and be at his side
in an instant. The nurse was watchful too,
after her kind, but it is Love alone that has
the fine ear. What gentle shock dissolved
soul from body, we know not — perhaps he
did but lisp his sister's name ; but Eosey
heard it. We found them in the early


moming locked in one another's arms, botli
dead. Theii^ Father had come for them at

So ended the one romance of our un-
romantic home ; Ijiit the memory of it abides
with us both, and will ever do so. It was
never cleared up in any way. Who Dodo
was, or where those darlings came from, we
still know not. We only know — and for
certain — where they are gone to. We do
not regret that our Christmas-box (as Xelly
used to call them) was given to us, only
to be taken away again so soon ; we have
the comfort of it even now. Moreover, we
dare to think that we shall one day see
them a^ain. There will be chanp^e in us,
but surely not in them. My Eosey's face
will have the Light from the Presence upon
it, but it will be the same face ; for it was
always that of an angel.




M 2


" Whex the ladies leave us and go to tlie
drawing-room, what is it they talk about ? "
is a question that, in one form or another,
has been asked of me by gentlemen friends
pretty often. I need not say in vain. There
was once a woman who shut herself up in a
cupboard to attend a Freemasons' meeting,
but never yet has a man ventured to dis-
cover what takes place upstairs after the
lady of the house has bowed to the first
female guest, and the last petticoat has
brushed through the dining-room doorway.
The secret has been religiously kept for
four thousand years and more {much more,


the geologists say, I believe), and yet it is
said that a woman cannot keep such a
thing. Hobbledehoys — neither men nor
boys — have been dismissed from the dessert-
table, and come up to us, it is true, while
we have been at our mysteries, but I flatter
myself they have not learned much of them.
We have met them, as a flock of sheep op-

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Online LibraryJames PaynHalves, a novel (Volume 3) → online text (page 6 of 10)