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THE CURTAIN RISES
In a court-yard in the City of London, which was No Thoroughfare either
for vehicles or foot-passengers; a court-yard diverging from a steep, a
slippery, and a winding street connecting Tower Street with the Middlesex
shore of the Thames; stood the place of business of Wilding & Co., Wine
Merchants. Probably as a jocose acknowledgment of the obstructive
character of this main approach, the point nearest to its base at which
one could take the river (if so inodorously minded) bore the appellation
Break-Neck-Stairs. The court-yard itself had likewise been descriptively
entitled in old time, Cripple Corner.
Years before the year one thousand eight hundred and sixty-one, people
had left off taking boat at Break-Neck-Stairs, and watermen had ceased to
ply there. The slimy little causeway had dropped into the river by a
slow process of suicide, and two or three stumps of piles and a rusty
iron mooring-ring were all that remained of the departed Break-Neck
glories. Sometimes, indeed, a laden coal barge would bump itself into
the place, and certain laborious heavers, seemingly mud-engendered, would
arise, deliver the cargo in the neighbourhood, shove off, and vanish; but
at most times the only commerce of Break-Neck-Stairs arose out of the
conveyance of casks and bottles, both full and empty, both to and from
the cellars of Wilding & Co., Wine Merchants. Even that commerce was but
occasional, and through three-fourths of its rising tides the dirty
indecorous drab of a river would come solitarily oozing and lapping at
the rusty ring, as if it had heard of the Doge and the Adriatic, and
wanted to be married to the great conserver of its filthiness, the Right
Honourable the Lord Mayor.
Some two hundred and fifty yards on the right, up the opposite hill
(approaching it from the low ground of Break-Neck-Stairs) was Cripple
Corner. There was a pump in Cripple Corner, there was a tree in Cripple
Corner. All Cripple Corner belonged to Wilding and Co., Wine Merchants.
Their cellars burrowed under it, their mansion towered over it. It
really had been a mansion in the days when merchants inhabited the City,
and had a ceremonious shelter to the doorway without visible support,
like the sounding-board over an old pulpit. It had also a number of long
narrow strips of window, so disposed in its grave brick front as to
render it symmetrically ugly. It had also, on its roof, a cupola with a
bell in it.
"When a man at five-and-twenty can put his hat on, and can say 'this hat
covers the owner of this property and of the business which is transacted
on this property,' I consider, Mr. Bintrey, that, without being boastful,
he may be allowed to be deeply thankful. I don't know how it may appear
to you, but so it appears to me."
Thus Mr. Walter Wilding to his man of law, in his own counting-house;
taking his hat down from its peg to suit the action to the word, and
hanging it up again when he had done so, not to overstep the modesty of
An innocent, open-speaking, unused-looking man, Mr. Walter Wilding, with
a remarkably pink and white complexion, and a figure much too bulky for
so young a man, though of a good stature. With crispy curling brown
hair, and amiable bright blue eyes. An extremely communicative man: a
man with whom loquacity was the irrestrainable outpouring of contentment
and gratitude. Mr. Bintrey, on the other hand, a cautious man, with
twinkling beads of eyes in a large overhanging bald head, who inwardly
but intensely enjoyed the comicality of openness of speech, or hand, or
"Yes," said Mr. Bintrey. "Yes. Ha, ha!"
A decanter, two wine-glasses, and a plate of biscuits, stood on the desk.
"You like this forty-five year old port-wine?" said Mr. Wilding.
"Like it?" repeated Mr. Bintrey. "Rather, sir!"
"It's from the best corner of our best forty-five year old bin," said Mr.
"Thank you, sir," said Mr. Bintrey. "It's most excellent."
He laughed again, as he held up his glass and ogled it, at the highly
ludicrous idea of giving away such wine.
"And now," said Wilding, with a childish enjoyment in the discussion of
affairs, "I think we have got everything straight, Mr. Bintrey."
"Everything straight," said Bintrey.
"A partner secured--"
"Partner secured," said Bintrey.
"A housekeeper advertised for--"
"Housekeeper advertised for," said Bintrey, "'apply personally at Cripple
Corner, Great Tower Street, from ten to twelve'--to-morrow, by the bye."
"My late dear mother's affairs wound up--"
"Wound up," said Bintrey.
"And all charges paid."
"And all charges paid," said Bintrey, with a chuckle: probably occasioned
by the droll circumstance that they had been paid without a haggle.
"The mention of my late dear mother," Mr. Wilding continued, his eyes
filling with tears and his pocket-handkerchief drying them, "unmans me
still, Mr. Bintrey. You know how I loved her; you (her lawyer) know how
she loved me. The utmost love of mother and child was cherished between
us, and we never experienced one moment's division or unhappiness from
the time when she took me under her care. Thirteen years in all!
Thirteen years under my late dear mother's care, Mr. Bintrey, and eight
of them her confidentially acknowledged son! You know the story, Mr.
Bintrey, who but you, sir!" Mr. Wilding sobbed and dried his eyes,
without attempt at concealment, during these remarks.
Mr. Bintrey enjoyed his comical port, and said, after rolling it in his
mouth: "I know the story."
"My late dear mother, Mr. Bintrey," pursued the wine-merchant, "had been
deeply deceived, and had cruelly suffered. But on that subject my late
dear mother's lips were for ever sealed. By whom deceived, or under what
circumstances, Heaven only knows. My late dear mother never betrayed her
"She had made up her mind," said Mr. Bintrey, again turning his wine on
his palate, "and she could hold her peace." An amused twinkle in his
eyes pretty plainly added--"A devilish deal better than _you_ ever will!"
"'Honour,'" said Mr. Wilding, sobbing as he quoted from the Commandments,
"'thy father and thy mother, that thy days may be long in the land.' When
I was in the Foundling, Mr. Bintrey, I was at such a loss how to do it,
that I apprehended my days would be short in the land. But I afterwards
came to honour my mother deeply, profoundly. And I honour and revere her
memory. For seven happy years, Mr. Bintrey," pursued Wilding, still with
the same innocent catching in his breath, and the same unabashed tears,
"did my excellent mother article me to my predecessors in this business,
Pebbleson Nephew. Her affectionate forethought likewise apprenticed me
to the Vintners' Company, and made me in time a free Vintner,
and--and--everything else that the best of mothers could desire. When I
came of age, she bestowed her inherited share in this business upon me;
it was her money that afterwards bought out Pebbleson Nephew, and painted
in Wilding and Co.; it was she who left me everything she possessed, but
the mourning ring you wear. And yet, Mr. Bintrey," with a fresh burst of
honest affection, "she is no more. It is little over half a year since
she came into the Corner to read on that door-post with her own eyes,
WILDING AND CO., WINE MERCHANTS. And yet she is no more!"
"Sad. But the common lot, Mr. Wilding," observed Bintrey. "At some time
or other we must all be no more." He placed the forty-five year old port-
wine in the universal condition, with a relishing sigh.
"So now, Mr. Bintrey," pursued Wilding, putting away his
pocket-handkerchief, and smoothing his eyelids with his fingers, "now
that I can no longer show my love and honour for the dear parent to whom
my heart was mysteriously turned by Nature when she first spoke to me, a
strange lady, I sitting at our Sunday dinner-table in the Foundling, I
can at least show that I am not ashamed of having been a Foundling, and
that I, who never knew a father of my own, wish to be a father to all in
my employment. Therefore," continued Wilding, becoming enthusiastic in
his loquacity, "therefore, I want a thoroughly good housekeeper to
undertake this dwelling-house of Wilding and Co., Wine Merchants, Cripple
Corner, so that I may restore in it some of the old relations betwixt
employer and employed! So that I may live in it on the spot where my
money is made! So that I may daily sit at the head of the table at which
the people in my employment eat together, and may eat of the same roast
and boiled, and drink of the same beer! So that the people in my
employment may lodge under the same roof with me! So that we may one and
all--I beg your pardon, Mr. Bintrey, but that old singing in my head has
suddenly come on, and I shall feel obliged if you will lead me to the
Alarmed by the excessive pinkness of his client, Mr. Bintrey lost not a
moment in leading him forth into the court-yard. It was easily done; for
the counting-house in which they talked together opened on to it, at one
side of the dwelling-house. There the attorney pumped with a will,
obedient to a sign from the client, and the client laved his head and
face with both hands, and took a hearty drink. After these remedies, he
declared himself much better.
"Don't let your good feelings excite you," said Bintrey, as they returned
to the counting-house, and Mr. Wilding dried himself on a jack-towel
behind an inner door.
"No, no. I won't," he returned, looking out of the towel. "I won't. I
have not been confused, have I?"
"Not at all. Perfectly clear."
"Where did I leave off, Mr. Bintrey?"
"Well, you left off--but I wouldn't excite myself, if I was you, by
taking it up again just yet."
"I'll take care. I'll take care. The singing in my head came on at
where, Mr. Bintrey?"
"At roast, and boiled, and beer," answered the lawyer,--"prompting
lodging under the same roof--and one and all--"
"Ah! And one and all singing in the head together--"
"Do you know, I really _would not_ let my good feelings excite me, if I
was you," hinted the lawyer again, anxiously. "Try some more pump."
"No occasion, no occasion. All right, Mr. Bintrey. And one and all
forming a kind of family! You see, Mr. Bintrey, I was not used in my
childhood to that sort of individual existence which most individuals
have led, more or less, in their childhood. After that time I became
absorbed in my late dear mother. Having lost her, I find that I am more
fit for being one of a body than one by myself one. To be that, and at
the same time to do my duty to those dependent on me, and attach them to
me, has a patriarchal and pleasant air about it. I don't know how it may
appear to you, Mr Bintrey, but so it appears to me."
"It is not I who am all-important in the case, but you," returned
Bintrey. "Consequently, how it may appear to me is of very small
"It appears to me," said Mr. Wilding, in a glow, "hopeful, useful,
"Do you know," hinted the lawyer again, "I really would not ex--"
"I am not going to. Then there's Handel."
"There's who?" asked Bintrey.
"Handel, Mozart, Haydn, Kent, Purcell, Doctor Arne, Greene, Mendelssohn.
I know the choruses to those anthems by heart. Foundling Chapel
Collection. Why shouldn't we learn them together?"
"Who learn them together?" asked the lawyer, rather shortly.
"Employer and employed."
"Ay, ay," returned Bintrey, mollified; as if he had half expected the
answer to be, Lawyer and client. "That's another thing."
"Not another thing, Mr. Bintrey! The same thing. A part of the bond
among us. We will form a Choir in some quiet church near the Corner
here, and, having sung together of a Sunday with a relish, we will come
home and take an early dinner together with a relish. The object that I
have at heart now is, to get this system well in action without delay, so
that my new partner may find it founded when he enters on his
"All good be with it!" exclaimed Bintrey, rising. "May it prosper! Is
Joey Ladle to take a share in Handel, Mozart, Haydn, Kent, Purcell,
Doctor Arne, Greene, and Mendelssohn?
"I hope so."
"I wish them all well out of it," returned Bintrey, with much heartiness.
They shook hands and parted. Then (first knocking with his knuckles for
leave) entered to Mr. Wilding from a door of communication between his
private counting-house and that in which his clerks sat, the Head
Cellarman of the cellars of Wilding and Co., Wine Merchants, and erst
Head Cellarman of the cellars of Pebbleson Nephew. The Joey Ladle in
question. A slow and ponderous man, of the drayman order of human
architecture, dressed in a corrugated suit and bibbed apron, apparently a
composite of door-mat and rhinoceros-hide.
"Respecting this same boarding and lodging, Young Master Wilding," said
"Speaking for myself, Young Master Wilding--and I never did speak and I
never do speak for no one else--_I_ don't want no boarding nor yet no
lodging. But if you wish to board me and to lodge me, take me. I can
peck as well as most men. Where I peck ain't so high a object with me as
What I peck. Nor even so high a object with me as How Much I peck. Is
all to live in the house, Young Master Wilding? The two other cellarmen,
the three porters, the two 'prentices, and the odd men?"
"Yes. I hope we shall all be an united family, Joey."
"Ah!" said Joey. "I hope they may be."
"They? Rather say we, Joey."
Joey Ladle shook his held. "Don't look to me to make we on it, Young
Master Wilding, not at my time of life and under the circumstances which
has formed my disposition. I have said to Pebbleson Nephew many a time,
when they have said to me, 'Put a livelier face upon it, Joey'--I have
said to them, 'Gentlemen, it is all wery well for you that has been
accustomed to take your wine into your systems by the conwivial channel
of your throttles, to put a lively face upon it; but,' I says, 'I have
been accustomed to take _my_ wine in at the pores of the skin, and, took
that way, it acts different. It acts depressing. It's one thing,
gentlemen,' I says to Pebbleson Nephew, 'to charge your glasses in a
dining-room with a Hip Hurrah and a Jolly Companions Every One, and it's
another thing to be charged yourself, through the pores, in a low dark
cellar and a mouldy atmosphere. It makes all the difference betwixt
bubbles and wapours,' I tells Pebbleson Nephew. And so it do. I've been
a cellarman my life through, with my mind fully given to the business.
What's the consequence? I'm as muddled a man as lives--you won't find a
muddleder man than me--nor yet you won't find my equal in molloncolly.
Sing of Filling the bumper fair, Every drop you sprinkle, O'er the brow
of care, Smooths away a wrinkle? Yes. P'raps so. But try filling
yourself through the pores, underground, when you don't want to it!"
"I am sorry to hear this, Joey. I had even thought that you might join a
singing-class in the house."
"Me, sir? No, no, Young Master Wilding, you won't catch Joey Ladle
muddling the Armony. A pecking-machine, sir, is all that I am capable of
proving myself, out of my cellars; but that you're welcome to, if you
think it is worth your while to keep such a thing on your premises."
"I do, Joey."
"Say no more, sir. The Business's word is my law. And you're a going to
take Young Master George Vendale partner into the old Business?"
"I am, Joey."
"More changes, you see! But don't change the name of the Firm again.
Don't do it, Young Master Wilding. It was bad luck enough to make it
Yourself and Co. Better by far have left it Pebbleson Nephew that good
luck always stuck to. You should never change luck when it's good, sir."
"At all events, I have no intention of changing the name of the House
"Glad to hear it, and wish you good-day, Young Master Wilding. But you
had better by half," muttered Joey Ladle inaudibly, as he closed the door
and shook his head, "have let the name alone from the first. You had
better by half have followed the luck instead of crossing it."
ENTER THE HOUSEKEEPER
The wine merchant sat in his dining-room next morning, to receive the
personal applicants for the vacant post in his establishment. It was an
old-fashioned wainscoted room; the panels ornamented with festoons of
flowers carved in wood; with an oaken floor, a well-worn Turkey carpet,
and dark mahogany furniture, all of which had seen service and polish
under Pebbleson Nephew. The great sideboard had assisted at many
business-dinners given by Pebbleson Nephew to their connection, on the
principle of throwing sprats overboard to catch whales; and Pebbleson
Nephew's comprehensive three-sided plate-warmer, made to fit the whole
front of the large fireplace, kept watch beneath it over a sarcophagus-
shaped cellaret that had in its time held many a dozen of Pebbleson
Nephew's wine. But the little rubicund old bachelor with a pigtail,
whose portrait was over the sideboard (and who could easily be identified
as decidedly Pebbleson and decidedly not Nephew), had retired into
another sarcophagus, and the plate-warmer had grown as cold as he. So,
the golden and black griffins that supported the candelabra, with black
balls in their mouths at the end of gilded chains, looked as if in their
old age they had lost all heart for playing at ball, and were dolefully
exhibiting their chains in the Missionary line of inquiry, whether they
had not earned emancipation by this time, and were not griffins and
Such a Columbus of a morning was the summer morning, that it discovered
Cripple Corner. The light and warmth pierced in at the open windows, and
irradiated the picture of a lady hanging over the chimney-piece, the only
other decoration of the walls.
"My mother at five-and-twenty," said Mr. Wilding to himself, as his eyes
enthusiastically followed the light to the portrait's face, "I hang up
here, in order that visitors may admire my mother in the bloom of her
youth and beauty. My mother at fifty I hang in the seclusion of my own
chamber, as a remembrance sacred to me. O! It's you, Jarvis!"
These latter words he addressed to a clerk who had tapped at the door,
and now looked in.
"Yes, sir. I merely wished to mention that it's gone ten, sir, and that
there are several females in the Counting-house."
"Dear me!" said the wine-merchant, deepening in the pink of his
complexion and whitening in the white, "are there several? So many as
several? I had better begin before there are more. I'll see them one by
one, Jarvis, in the order of their arrival."
Hastily entrenching himself in his easy-chair at the table behind a great
inkstand, having first placed a chair on the other side of the table
opposite his own seat, Mr. Wilding entered on his task with considerable
He ran the gauntlet that must be run on any such occasion. There were
the usual species of profoundly unsympathetic women, and the usual
species of much too sympathetic women. There were buccaneering widows
who came to seize him, and who griped umbrellas under their arms, as if
each umbrella were he, and each griper had got him. There were towering
maiden ladies who had seen better days, and who came armed with clerical
testimonials to their theology, as if he were Saint Peter with his keys.
There were gentle maiden ladies who came to marry him. There were
professional housekeepers, like non-commissioned officers, who put him
through his domestic exercise, instead of submitting themselves to
catechism. There were languid invalids, to whom salary was not so much
an object as the comforts of a private hospital. There were sensitive
creatures who burst into tears on being addressed, and had to be restored
with glasses of cold water. There were some respondents who came two
together, a highly promising one and a wholly unpromising one: of whom
the promising one answered all questions charmingly, until it would at
last appear that she was not a candidate at all, but only the friend of
the unpromising one, who had glowered in absolute silence and apparent
At last, when the good wine-merchant's simple heart was failing him,
there entered an applicant quite different from all the rest. A woman,
perhaps fifty, but looking younger, with a face remarkable for placid
cheerfulness, and a manner no less remarkable for its quiet expression of
equability of temper. Nothing in her dress could have been changed to
her advantage. Nothing in the noiseless self-possession of her manner
could have been changed to her advantage. Nothing could have been in
better unison with both, than her voice when she answered the question:
"What name shall I have the pleasure of noting down?" with the words, "My
name is Sarah Goldstraw. Mrs. Goldstraw. My husband has been dead many
years, and we had no family."
Half-a-dozen questions had scarcely extracted as much to the purpose from
any one else. The voice dwelt so agreeably on Mr. Wilding's ear as he
made his note, that he was rather long about it. When he looked up
again, Mrs. Goldstraw's glance had naturally gone round the room, and now
returned to him from the chimney-piece. Its expression was one of frank
readiness to be questioned, and to answer straight.
"You will excuse my asking you a few questions?" said the modest wine-
"O, surely, sir. Or I should have no business here."
"Have you filled the station of housekeeper before?"
"Only once. I have lived with the same widow lady for twelve years. Ever
since I lost my husband. She was an invalid, and is lately dead: which
is the occasion of my now wearing black."
"I do not doubt that she has left you the best credentials?" said Mr.
"I hope I may say, the very best. I thought it would save trouble, sir,
if I wrote down the name and address of her representatives, and brought
it with me." Laying a card on the table.
"You singularly remind me, Mrs. Goldstraw," said Wilding, taking the card
beside him, "of a manner and tone of voice that I was once acquainted
with. Not of an individual--I feel sure of that, though I cannot recall
what it is I have in my mind--but of a general bearing. I ought to add,
it was a kind and pleasant one."
She smiled, as she rejoined: "At least, I am very glad of that, sir."
"Yes," said the wine-merchant, thoughtfully repeating his last phrase,
with a momentary glance at his future housekeeper, "it was a kind and
pleasant one. But that is the most I can make of it. Memory is
sometimes like a half-forgotten dream. I don't know how it may appear to
you, Mrs. Goldstraw, but so it appears to me."
Probably it appeared to Mrs. Goldstraw in a similar light, for she
quietly assented to the proposition. Mr. Wilding then offered to put
himself at once in communication with the gentlemen named upon the card:
a firm of proctors in Doctors' Commons. To this, Mrs. Goldstraw
thankfully assented. Doctors' Commons not being far off, Mr. Wilding
suggested the feasibility of Mrs. Goldstraw's looking in again, say in
three hours' time. Mrs. Goldstraw readily undertook to do so. In fine,
the result of Mr. Wilding's inquiries being eminently satisfactory, Mrs.
Goldstraw was that afternoon engaged (on her own perfectly fair terms) to
come to-morrow and set up her rest as housekeeper in Cripple Corner.
THE HOUSEKEEPER SPEAKS
On the next day Mrs. Goldstraw arrived, to enter on her domestic duties.
Having settled herself in her own room, without troubling the servants,
and without wasting time, the new housekeeper announced herself as
waiting to be favoured with any instructions which her master might wish
to give her. The wine-merchant received Mrs. Goldstraw in the dining-
room, in which he had seen her on the previous day; and, the usual
preliminary civilities having passed on either side, the two sat down to
take counsel together on the affairs of the house.
"About the meals, sir?" said Mrs. Goldstraw. "Have I a large, or a
small, number to provide for?"
"If I can carry out a certain old-fashioned plan of mine," replied Mr.
Wilding, "you will have a large number to provide for. I am a lonely
single man, Mrs. Goldstraw; and I hope to live with all the persons in my
employment as if they were members of my family. Until that time comes,
you will only have me, and the new partner whom I expect immediately, to
provide for. What my partner's habits may be, I cannot yet say. But I
may describe myself as a man of regular hours, with an invariable
appetite that you may depend upon to an ounce."
"About breakfast, sir?" asked Mrs. Goldstraw. "Is there anything
She hesitated, and left the sentence unfinished. Her eyes turned slowly
away from her master, and looked towards the chimney-piece. If she had
been a less excellent and experienced housekeeper, Mr. Wilding might have
fancied that her attention was beginning to wander at the very outset of
"Eight o'clock is my breakfast-hour," he resumed. "It is one of my
virtues to be never tired of broiled bacon, and it is one of my vices to
be habitually suspicious of the freshness of eggs." Mrs. Goldstraw
looked back at him, still a little divided between her master's chimney-
piece and her master. "I take tea," Mr. Wilding went on; "and I am
perhaps rather nervous and fidgety about drinking it, within a certain
time after it is made. If my tea stands too long--"
He hesitated, on his side, and left the sentence unfinished. If he had
not been engaged in discussing a subject of such paramount interest to
himself as his breakfast, Mrs. Goldstraw might have fancied that his
attention was beginning to wander at the very outset of the interview.
"If your tea stands too long, sir--?" said the housekeeper, politely
taking up her master's lost thread.
"If my tea stands too long," repeated the wine-merchant mechanically, his
mind getting farther and farther away from his breakfast, and his eyes
fixing themselves more and more inquiringly on his housekeeper's face.
"If my tea--Dear, dear me, Mrs. Goldstraw! what _is_ the manner and tone
of voice that you remind me of? It strikes me even more strongly to-day,
than it did when I saw you yesterday. What can it be?"
"What can it be?" repeated Mrs. Goldstraw.
She said the words, evidently thinking while she spoke them of something
else. The wine-merchant, still looking at her inquiringly, observed that
her eyes wandered towards the chimney-piece once more. They fixed on the
portrait of his mother, which hung there, and looked at it with that
slight contraction of the brow which accompanies a scarcely conscious
effort of memory. Mr. Wilding remarked.
"My late dear mother, when she was five-and-twenty."
Mrs. Goldstraw thanked him with a movement of the head for being at the
pains to explain the picture, and said, with a cleared brow, that it was
the portrait of a very beautiful lady.
Mr. Wilding, falling back into his former perplexity, tried once more to
recover that lost recollection, associated so closely, and yet so
undiscoverably, with his new housekeeper's voice and manner.
"Excuse my asking you a question which has nothing to do with me or my
breakfast," he said. "May I inquire if you have ever occupied any other
situation than the situation of housekeeper?"
"O yes, sir. I began life as one of the nurses at the Foundling."
"Why, that's it!" cried the wine-merchant, pushing back his chair. "By
heaven! Their manner is the manner you remind me of!"
In an astonished look at him, Mrs. Goldstraw changed colour, checked
herself, turned her eyes upon the ground, and sat still and silent.
"What is the matter?" asked Mr. Wilding.
"Do I understand that you were in the Foundling, sir?"
"Certainly. I am not ashamed to own it."
"Under the name you now bear?"
"Under the name of Walter Wilding."
"And the lady--?" Mrs. Goldstraw stopped short with a look at the
portrait which was now unmistakably a look of alarm.
"You mean my mother," interrupted Mr. Wilding.
"Your--mother," repeated the housekeeper, a little constrainedly,
"removed you from the Foundling? At what age, sir?"
"At between eleven and twelve years old. It's quite a romantic
adventure, Mrs. Goldstraw."
He told the story of the lady having spoken to him, while he sat at
dinner with the other boys in the Foundling, and of all that had followed
in his innocently communicative way. "My poor mother could never have
discovered me," he added, "if she had not met with one of the matrons who
pitied her. The matron consented to touch the boy whose name was 'Walter
Wilding' as she went round the dinner-tables--and so my mother discovered
me again, after having parted from me as an infant at the Foundling
At those words Mrs. Goldstraw's hand, resting on the table, dropped
helplessly into her lap. She sat, looking at her new master, with a face
that had turned deadly pale, and with eyes that expressed an unutterable
"What does this mean?" asked the wine-merchant. "Stop!" he cried. "Is
there something else in the past time which I ought to associate with
you? I remember my mother telling me of another person at the Foundling,
to whose kindness she owed a debt of gratitude. When she first parted
with me, as an infant, one of the nurses informed her of the name that
had been given to me in the institution. You were that nurse?"
"God forgive me, sir--I was that nurse!"
"God forgive you?"
"We had better get back, sir (if I may make so bold as to say so), to my
duties in the house," said Mrs. Goldstraw. "Your breakfast-hour is
eight. Do you lunch, or dine, in the middle of the day?"
The excessive pinkness which Mr. Bintrey had noticed in his client's face
began to appear there once more. Mr. Wilding put his hand to his head,
and mastered some momentary confusion in that quarter, before he spoke
"Mrs. Goldstraw," he said, "you are concealing something from me!"
The housekeeper obstinately repeated, "Please to favour me, sir, by
saying whether you lunch, or dine, in the middle of the day?"
"I don't know what I do in the middle of the day. I can't enter into my
household affairs, Mrs. Goldstraw, till I know why you regret an act of
kindness to my mother, which she always spoke of gratefully to the end of
her life. You are not doing me a service by your silence. You are
agitating me, you are alarming me, you are bringing on the singing in my
His hand went up to his head again, and the pink in his face deepened by
a shade or two.
"It's hard, sir, on just entering your service," said the housekeeper,
"to say what may cost me the loss of your good will. Please to remember,
end how it may, that I only speak because you have insisted on my
speaking, and because I see that I am alarming you by my silence. When I
told the poor lady, whose portrait you have got there, the name by which
her infant was christened in the Foundling, I allowed myself to forget my
duty, and dreadful consequences, I am afraid, have followed from it. I'll
tell you the truth, as plainly as I can. A few months from the time when
I had informed the lady of her baby's name, there came to our institution
in the country another lady (a stranger), whose object was to adopt one
of our children. She brought the needful permission with her, and after
looking at a great many of the children, without being able to make up
her mind, she took a sudden fancy to one of the babies--a boy--under my
care. Try, pray try, to compose yourself, sir! It's no use disguising
it any longer. The child the stranger took away was the child of that
lady whose portrait hangs there!"
Mr. Wilding started to his feet. "Impossible!" he cried out, vehemently.
"What are you talking about? What absurd story are you telling me now?
There's her portrait! Haven't I told you so already? The portrait of my
"When that unhappy lady removed you from the Foundling, in after years,"
said Mrs. Goldstraw, gently, "she was the victim, and you were the
victim, sir, of a dreadful mistake."
He dropped back into his chair. "The room goes round with me," he said.
"My head! my head!" The housekeeper rose in alarm, and opened the
windows. Before she could get to the door to call for help, a sudden
burst of tears relieved the oppression which had at first almost appeared
to threaten his life. He signed entreatingly to Mrs. Goldstraw not to
leave him. She waited until the paroxysm of weeping had worn itself out.
He raised his head as he recovered himself, and looked at her with the
angry unreasoning suspicion of a weak man.
"Mistake?" he said, wildly repeating her last word. "How do I know you
are not mistaken yourself?"
"There is no hope that I am mistaken, sir. I will tell you why, when you
are better fit to hear it."
The tone in which he spoke warned Mrs. Goldstraw that it would be cruel
kindness to let him comfort himself a moment longer with the vain hope
that she might be wrong. A few words more would end it, and those few
words she determined to speak.
"I have told you," she said, "that the child of the lady whose portrait
hangs there, was adopted in its infancy, and taken away by a stranger. I
am as certain of what I say as that I am now sitting here, obliged to
distress you, sir, sorely against my will. Please to carry your mind on,
now, to about three months after that time. I was then at the Foundling,
in London, waiting to take some children to our institution in the
country. There was a question that day about naming an infant--a boy--who
had just been received. We generally named them out of the Directory. On
this occasion, one of the gentlemen who managed the Hospital happened to
be looking over the Register. He noticed that the name of the baby who
had been adopted ('Walter Wilding') was scratched out--for the reason, of
course, that the child had been removed for good from our care. 'Here's
a name to let,' he said. 'Give it to the new foundling who has been
received to-day.' The name was given, and the child was christened. You,
sir, were that child."
The wine-merchant's head dropped on his breast. "I was that child!" he
said to himself, trying helplessly to fix the idea in his mind. "I was
"Not very long after you had been received into the Institution, sir,"
pursued Mrs. Goldstraw, "I left my situation there, to be married. If
you will remember that, and if you can give your mind to it, you will see
for yourself how the mistake happened. Between eleven and twelve years
passed before the lady, whom you have believed to be your mother,
returned to the Foundling, to find her son, and to remove him to her own
home. The lady only knew that her infant had been called 'Walter
Wilding.' The matron who took pity on her, could but point out the only
'Walter Wilding' known in the Institution. I, who might have set the
matter right, was far away from the Foundling and all that belonged to
it. There was nothing--there was really nothing that could prevent this
terrible mistake from taking place. I feel for you--I do indeed, sir!
You must think--and with reason--that it was in an evil hour that I came
here (innocently enough, I'm sure), to apply for your housekeeper's
place. I feel as if I was to blame--I feel as if I ought to have had
more self-command. If I had only been able to keep my face from showing
you what that portrait and what your own words put into my mind, you need
never, to your dying day, have known what you know now."
Mr. Wilding looked up suddenly. The inbred honesty of the man rose in
protest against the housekeeper's last words. His mind seemed to steady
itself, for the moment, under the shock that had fallen on it.
"Do you mean to say that you would have concealed this from me if you
could?" he exclaimed.
"I hope I should always tell the truth, sir, if I was asked," said Mrs.
Goldstraw. "And I know it is better for _me_ that I should not have a
secret of this sort weighing on my mind. But is it better for _you_?
What use can it serve now--?"
"What use? Why, good Lord! if your story is true--"
"Should I have told it, sir, as I am now situated, if it had not been
"I beg your pardon," said the wine-merchant. "You must make allowance
for me. This dreadful discovery is something I can't realise even yet.
We loved each other so dearly--I felt so fondly that I was her son. She
died, Mrs. Goldstraw, in my arms--she died blessing me as only a mother
_could_ have blessed me. And now, after all these years, to be told she
was _not_ my mother! O me, O me! I don't know what I am saying!" he
cried, as the impulse of self-control under which he had spoken a moment
since, flickered, and died out. "It was not this dreadful grief--it was
something else that I had it in my mind to speak of. Yes, yes. You
surprised me--you wounded me just now. You talked as if you would have
hidden this from me, if you could. Don't talk in that way again. It
would have been a crime to have hidden it. You mean well, I know. I
don't want to distress you--you are a kind-hearted woman. But you don't
remember what my position is. She left me all that I possess, in the
firm persuasion that I was her son. I am not her son. I have taken the
place, I have innocently got the inheritance of another man. He must be
found! How do I know he is not at this moment in misery, without bread
to eat? He must be found! My only hope of bearing up against the shock
that has fallen on me, is the hope of doing something which _she_ would
have approved. You must know more, Mrs. Goldstraw, than you have told me
yet. Who was the stranger who adopted the child? You must have heard
the lady's name?"
"I never heard it, sir. I have never seen her, or heard of her, since."
"Did she say nothing when she took the child away? Search your memory.
She must have said something."
"Only one thing, sir, that I can remember. It was a miserably bad
season, that year; and many of the children were suffering from it. When
she took the baby away, the lady said to me, laughing, 'Don't be alarmed
about his health. He will be brought up in a better climate than this--I
am going to take him to Switzerland.'"
"To Switzerland? What part of Switzerland?"
"She didn't say, sir."
"Only that faint clue!" said Mr. Wilding. "And a quarter of a century
has passed since the child was taken away! What am I to do?"
"I hope you won't take offence at my freedom, sir," said Mrs. Goldstraw;
"but why should you distress yourself about what is to be done? He may
not be alive now, for anything you know. And, if he is alive, it's not
likely he can be in any distress. The, lady who adopted him was a bred
and born lady--it was easy to see that. And she must have satisfied them
at the Foundling that she could provide for the child, or they would
never have let her take him away. If I was in your place, sir--please to
excuse my saying so--I should comfort myself with remembering that I had
loved that poor lady whose portrait you have got there--truly loved her
as my mother, and that she had truly loved me as her son. All she gave
to you, she gave for the sake of that love. It never altered while she
lived; and it won't alter, I'm sure, as long as _you_ live. How can you
have a better right, sir, to keep what you have got than that?"
Mr. Wilding's immovable honesty saw the fallacy in his housekeeper's
point of view at a glance.
"You don't understand me," he said. "It's _because_ I loved her that I
feel it a duty--a sacred duty--to do justice to her son. If he is a
living man, I must find him: for my own sake, as well as for his. I
shall break down under this dreadful trial, unless I employ
myself--actively, instantly employ myself--in doing what my conscience
tells me ought to be done. I must speak to my lawyer; I must set my
lawyer at work before I sleep to-night." He approached a tube in the
wall of the room, and called down through it to the office below. "Leave
me for a little, Mrs. Goldstraw," he resumed; "I shall be more composed,
I shall be better able to speak to you later in the day. We shall get on
well--I hope we shall get on well together--in spite of what has
happened. It isn't your fault; I know it isn't your fault. There!
there! shake hands; and--and do the best you can in the house--I can't
talk about it now."
The door opened as Mrs. Goldstraw advanced towards it; and Mr. Jarvis
"Send for Mr. Bintrey," said the wine-merchant. "Say I want to see him
The clerk unconsciously suspended the execution of the order, by
announcing "Mr. Vendale," and showing in the new partner in the firm of
Wilding and Co.
"Pray excuse me for one moment, George Vendale," said Wilding. "I have a
word to say to Jarvis. Send for Mr. Bintrey," he repeated--"send at
Mr. Jarvis laid a letter on the table before he left the room.
"From our correspondents at Neuchatel, I think, sir. The letter has got
the Swiss postmark."
NEW CHARACTERS ON THE SCENE
The words, "The Swiss Postmark," following so soon upon the housekeeper's
reference to Switzerland, wrought Mr. Wilding's agitation to such a
remarkable height, that his new partner could not decently make a
pretence of letting it pass unnoticed.
"Wilding," he asked hurriedly, and yet stopping short and glancing around
as if for some visible cause of his state of mind: "what is the matter?"
"My good George Vendale," returned the wine-merchant, giving his hand
with an appealing look, rather as if he wanted help to get over some
obstacle, than as if he gave it in welcome or salutation: "my good George
Vendale, so much is the matter, that I shall never be myself again. It
is impossible that I can ever be myself again. For, in fact, I am not
The new partner, a brown-cheeked handsome fellow, of about his own age,
with a quick determined eye and an impulsive manner, retorted with
natural astonishment: "Not yourself?"
"Not what I supposed myself to be," said Wilding.
"What, in the name of wonder, _did_ you suppose yourself to be that you
are not?" was the rejoinder, delivered with a cheerful frankness,
inviting confidence from a more reticent man. "I may ask without
impertinence, now that we are partners."
"There again!" cried Wilding, leaning back in his chair, with a lost look
at the other. "Partners! I had no right to come into this business. It
was never meant for me. My mother never meant it should be mine. I
mean, his mother meant it should be his--if I mean anything--or if I am
"Come, come," urged his partner, after a moment's pause, and taking
possession of him with that calm confidence which inspires a strong
nature when it honestly desires to aid a weak one. "Whatever has gone
wrong, has gone wrong through no fault of yours, I am very sure. I was
not in this counting-house with you, under the old _regime_, for three
years, to doubt you, Wilding. We were not younger men than we are,
together, for that. Let me begin our partnership by being a serviceable
partner, and setting right whatever is wrong. Has that letter anything
to do with it?"
"Hah!" said Wilding, with his hand to his temple. "There again! My
head! I was forgetting the coincidence. The Swiss postmark."
"At a second glance I see that the letter is unopened, so it is not very
likely to have much to do with the matter," said Vendale, with comforting
composure. "Is it for you, or for us?"
"For us," said Wilding.
"Suppose I open it and read it aloud, to get it out of our way?"
"Thank you, thank you."
"The letter is only from our champagne-making friends, the house at
Neuchatel. 'Dear Sir. We are in receipt of yours of the 28th ult.,
informing us that you have taken your Mr. Vendale into partnership,
whereon we beg you to receive the assurance of our felicitations. Permit
us to embrace the occasion of specially commanding to you M. Jules
Wilding looked up in quick apprehension, and cried, "Eh?"
"Impossible sort of name," returned his partner, slightly--"Obenreizer.
'--Of specially commanding to you M. Jules Obenreizer, of Soho Square,
London (north side), henceforth fully accredited as our agent, and who
has already had the honour of making the acquaintance of your Mr.
Vendale, in his (said M. Obenreizer's) native country, Switzerland.' To
be sure! pooh pooh, what have I been thinking of! I remember now; 'when
travelling with his niece.'"
"With his--?" Vendale had so slurred the last word, that Wilding had not
"When travelling with his Niece. Obenreizer's Niece," said Vendale, in a
somewhat superfluously lucid manner. "Niece of Obenreizer. (I met them
in my first Swiss tour, travelled a little with them, and lost them for
two years; met them again, my Swiss tour before last, and have lost them
ever since.) Obenreizer. Niece of Obenreizer. To be sure! Possible
sort of name, after all! 'M. Obenreizer is in possession of our absolute
confidence, and we do not doubt you will esteem his merits.' Duly signed
by the House, 'Defresnier et Cie.' Very well. I undertake to see M.
Obenreizer presently, and clear him out of the way. That clears the
Swiss postmark out of the way. So now, my dear Wilding, tell me what I
can clear out of _your_ way, and I'll find a way to clear it."
More than ready and grateful to be thus taken charge of, the honest wine-
merchant wrung his partner's hand, and, beginning his tale by
pathetically declaring himself an Impostor, told it.
"It was on this matter, no doubt, that you were sending for Bintrey when
I came in?" said his partner, after reflecting.
"He has experience and a shrewd head; I shall be anxious to know his
opinion. It is bold and hazardous in me to give you mine before I know
his, but I am not good at holding back. Plainly, then, I do not see
these circumstances as you see them. I do not see your position as you
see it. As to your being an Impostor, my dear Wilding, that is simply
absurd, because no man can be that without being a consenting party to an
imposition. Clearly you never were so. As to your enrichment by the
lady who believed you to be her son, and whom you were forced to believe,
on her showing, to be your mother, consider whether that did not arise
out of the personal relations between you. You gradually became much
attached to her; she gradually became much attached to you. It was on
you, personally you, as I see the case, that she conferred these worldly
advantages; it was from her, personally her, that you took them."
"She supposed me," objected Wilding, shaking his head, "to have a natural
claim upon her, which I had not."
"I must admit that," replied his partner, "to be true. But if she had
made the discovery that you have made, six months before she died, do you
think it would have cancelled the years you were together, and the
tenderness that each of you had conceived for the other, each on
increasing knowledge of the other?"
"What I think," said Wilding, simply but stoutly holding to the bare
fact, "can no more change the truth than it can bring down the sky. The
truth is that I stand possessed of what was meant for another man."
"He may be dead," said Vendale.
"He may be alive," said Wilding. "And if he is alive, have I
not--innocently, I grant you innocently--robbed him of enough? Have I
not robbed him of all the happy time that I enjoyed in his stead? Have I
not robbed him of the exquisite delight that filled my soul when that
dear lady," stretching his hand towards the picture, "told me she was my
mother? Have I not robbed him of all the care she lavished on me? Have
I not even robbed him of all the devotion and duty that I so proudly gave
to her? Therefore it is that I ask myself, George Vendale, and I ask
you, where is he? What has become of him?"
"Who can tell!"
"I must try to find out who can tell. I must institute inquiries. I
must never desist from prosecuting inquiries. I will live upon the
interest of my share--I ought to say his share--in this business, and
will lay up the rest for him. When I find him, I may perhaps throw
myself upon his generosity; but I will yield up all to him. I will, I
swear. As I loved and honoured her," said Wilding, reverently kissing
his hand towards the picture, and then covering his eyes with it. "As I
loved and honoured her, and have a world of reasons to be grateful to
her!" And so broke down again.
His partner rose from the chair he had occupied, and stood beside him
with a hand softly laid upon his shoulder. "Walter, I knew you before to-
day to be an upright man, with a pure conscience and a fine heart. It is
very fortunate for me that I have the privilege to travel on in life so
near to so trustworthy a man. I am thankful for it. Use me as your
right hand, and rely upon me to the death. Don't think the worse of me
if I protest to you that my uppermost feeling at present is a confused,
you may call it an unreasonable, one. I feel far more pity for the lady
and for you, because you did not stand in your supposed relations, than I
can feel for the unknown man (if he ever became a man), because he was
unconsciously displaced. You have done well in sending for Mr. Bintrey.
What I think will be a part of his advice, I know is the whole of mine.
Do not move a step in this serious matter precipitately. The secret must
be kept among us with great strictness, for to part with it lightly would
be to invite fraudulent claims, to encourage a host of knaves, to let
loose a flood of perjury and plotting. I have no more to say now,
Walter, than to remind you that you sold me a share in your business,
expressly to save yourself from more work than your present health is fit
for, and that I bought it expressly to do work, and mean to do it."
With these words, and a parting grip of his partner's shoulder that gave
them the best emphasis they could have had, George Vendale betook himself
presently to the counting-house, and presently afterwards to the address
of M. Jules Obenreizer.
As he turned into Soho Square, and directed his steps towards its north
side, a deepened colour shot across his sun-browned face, which Wilding,
if he had been a better observer, or had been less occupied with his own
trouble, might have noticed when his partner read aloud a certain passage
in their Swiss correspondent's letter, which he had not read so
distinctly as the rest.
A curious colony of mountaineers has long been enclosed within that small
flat London district of Soho. Swiss watchmakers, Swiss silver-chasers,
Swiss jewellers, Swiss importers of Swiss musical boxes and Swiss toys of
various kinds, draw close together there. Swiss professors of music,
painting, and languages; Swiss artificers in steady work; Swiss couriers,
and other Swiss servants chronically out of place; industrious Swiss
laundresses and clear-starchers; mysteriously existing Swiss of both
sexes; Swiss creditable and Swiss discreditable; Swiss to be trusted by
all means, and Swiss to be trusted by no means; these diverse Swiss
particles are attracted to a centre in the district of Soho. Shabby
Swiss eating-houses, coffee-houses, and lodging-houses, Swiss drinks and
dishes, Swiss service for Sundays, and Swiss schools for week-days, are
all to be found there. Even the native-born English taverns drive a sort
of broken-English trade; announcing in their windows Swiss whets and
drams, and sheltering in their bars Swiss skirmishes of love and
animosity on most nights in the year.
When the new partner in Wilding and Co. rang the bell of a door bearing
the blunt inscription OBENREIZER on a brass plate--the inner door of a
substantial house, whose ground story was devoted to the sale of Swiss
clocks--he passed at once into domestic Switzerland. A white-tiled stove
for winter-time filled the fireplace of the room into which he was shown,
the room's bare floor was laid together in a neat pattern of several
ordinary woods, the room had a prevalent air of surface bareness and much
scrubbing; and the little square of flowery carpet by the sofa, and the
velvet chimney-board with its capacious clock and vases of artificial
flowers, contended with that tone, as if, in bringing out the whole
effect, a Parisian had adapted a dairy to domestic purposes.
Mimic water was dropping off a mill-wheel under the clock. The visitor
had not stood before it, following it with his eyes, a minute, when M.
Obenreizer, at his elbow, startled him by saying, in very good English,
very slightly clipped: "How do you do? So glad!"
"I beg your pardon. I didn't hear you come in."
"Not at all! Sit, please."
Releasing his visitor's two arms, which he had lightly pinioned at the
elbows by way of embrace, M. Obenreizer also sat, remarking, with a
smile: "You are well? So glad!" and touching his elbows again.
"I don't know," said Vendale, after exchange of salutations, "whether you
may yet have heard of me from your House at Neuchatel?"
"In connection with Wilding and Co.?"
"Is it not odd that I should come to you, in London here, as one of the
Firm of Wilding and Co., to pay the Firm's respects?"
"Not at all! What did I always observe when we were on the mountains? We
call them vast; but the world is so little. So little is the world, that
one cannot keep away from persons. There are so few persons in the
world, that they continually cross and re-cross. So very little is the
world, that one cannot get rid of a person. Not," touching his elbows
again, with an ingratiatory smile, "that one would desire to get rid of
"I hope not, M. Obenreizer."
"Please call me, in your country, Mr. I call myself so, for I love your
country. If I _could_ be English! But I am born. And you? Though
descended from so fine a family, you have had the condescension to come
into trade? Stop though. Wines? Is it trade in England or profession?
Not fine art?"
"Mr. Obenreizer," returned Vendale, somewhat out of countenance, "I was
but a silly young fellow, just of age, when I first had the pleasure of
travelling with you, and when you and I and Mademoiselle your niece--who
"Thank you. Who is well."
"--Shared some slight glacier dangers together. If, with a boy's vanity,
I rather vaunted my family, I hope I did so as a kind of introduction of
myself. It was very weak, and in very bad taste; but perhaps you know
our English proverb, 'Live and Learn.'"
"You make too much of it," returned the Swiss. "And what the devil!
After all, yours _was_ a fine family."
George Vendale's laugh betrayed a little vexation as he rejoined: "Well!
I was strongly attached to my parents, and when we first travelled
together, Mr. Obenreizer, I was in the first flush of coming into what my
father and mother left me. So I hope it may have been, after all, more
youthful openness of speech and heart than boastfulness."
"All openness of speech and heart! No boastfulness!" cried Obenreizer.
"You tax yourself too heavily. You tax yourself, my faith! as if you was
your Government taxing you! Besides, it commenced with me. I remember,
that evening in the boat upon the lake, floating among the reflections of
the mountains and valleys, the crags and pine woods, which were my
earliest remembrance, I drew a word-picture of my sordid childhood. Of
our poor hut, by the waterfall which my mother showed to travellers; of
the cow-shed where I slept with the cow; of my idiot half-brother always
sitting at the door, or limping down the Pass to beg; of my half-sister
always spinning, and resting her enormous goitre on a great stone; of my
being a famished naked little wretch of two or three years, when they
were men and women with hard hands to beat me, I, the only child of my
father's second marriage--if it even was a marriage. What more natural
than for you to compare notes with me, and say, 'We are as one by age; at
that same time I sat upon my mother's lap in my father's carriage,
rolling through the rich English streets, all luxury surrounding me, all
squalid poverty kept far from me. Such is _my_ earliest remembrance as
opposed to yours!'"
Mr. Obenreizer was a black-haired young man of a dark complexion, through
whose swarthy skin no red glow ever shone. When colour would have come
into another cheek, a hardly discernible beat would come into his, as if
the machinery for bringing up the ardent blood were there, but the
machinery were dry. He was robustly made, well proportioned, and had
handsome features. Many would have perceived that some surface change in
him would have set them more at their ease with him, without being able
to define what change. If his lips could have been made much thicker,
and his neck much thinner, they would have found their want supplied.
But the great Obenreizer peculiarity was, that a certain nameless film
would come over his eyes--apparently by the action of his own will--which
would impenetrably veil, not only from those tellers of tales, but from
his face at large, every expression save one of attention. It by no
means followed that his attention should be wholly given to the person
with whom he spoke, or even wholly bestowed on present sounds and
objects. Rather, it was a comprehensive watchfulness of everything he
had in his own mind, and everything that he knew to be, or suspected to
be, in the minds of other men.
At this stage of the conversation, Mr. Obenreizer's film came over him.
"The object of my present visit," said Vendale, "is, I need hardly say,
to assure you of the friendliness of Wilding and Co., and of the goodness
of your credit with us, and of our desire to be of service to you. We
hope shortly to offer you our hospitality. Things are not quite in train
with us yet, for my partner, Mr. Wilding, is reorganising the domestic
part of our establishment, and is interrupted by some private affairs.
You don't know Mr. Wilding, I believe?"
Mr. Obenreizer did not.
"You must come together soon. He will be glad to have made your
acquaintance, and I think I may predict that you will be glad to have
made his. You have not been long established in London, I suppose, Mr.
"It is only now that I have undertaken this agency."
"Mademoiselle your niece--is--not married?"
George Vendale glanced about him, as if for any tokens of her.
"She has been in London?"
"She _is_ in London."
"When, and where, might I have the honour of recalling myself to her
Mr. Obenreizer, discarding his film and touching his visitor's elbows as
before, said lightly: "Come up-stairs."
Fluttered enough by the suddenness with which the interview he had sought
was coming upon him after all, George Vendale followed up-stairs. In a
room over the chamber he had just quitted--a room also Swiss-appointed--a
young lady sat near one of three windows, working at an embroidery-frame;
and an older lady sat with her face turned close to another white-tiled
stove (though it was summer, and the stove was not lighted), cleaning
gloves. The young lady wore an unusual quantity of fair bright hair,
very prettily braided about a rather rounder white forehead than the
average English type, and so her face might have been a shade--or say a
light--rounder than the average English face, and her figure slightly
rounder than the figure of the average English girl at nineteen. A
remarkable indication of freedom and grace of limb, in her quiet
attitude, and a wonderful purity and freshness of colour in her dimpled
face and bright gray eyes, seemed fraught with mountain air. Switzerland
too, though the general fashion of her dress was English, peeped out of
the fanciful bodice she wore, and lurked in the curious clocked red
stocking, and in its little silver-buckled shoe. As to the elder lady,
sitting with her feet apart upon the lower brass ledge of the stove,
supporting a lap-full of gloves while she cleaned one stretched on her
left hand, she was a true Swiss impersonation of another kind; from the
breadth of her cushion-like back, and the ponderosity of her respectable
legs (if the word be admissible), to the black velvet band tied tightly
round her throat for the repression of a rising tendency to goitre; or,
higher still, to her great copper-coloured gold ear-rings; or, higher
still, to her head-dress of black gauze stretched on wire.
"Miss Marguerite," said Obenreizer to the young lady, "do you recollect
"I think," she answered, rising from her seat, surprised and a little
confused: "it is Mr. Vendale?"
"I think it is," said Obenreizer, dryly. "Permit me, Mr. Vendale. Madame
The elder lady by the stove, with the glove stretched on her left hand,
like a glover's sign, half got up, half looked over her broad shoulder,
and wholly plumped down again and rubbed away.
"Madame Dor," said Obenreizer, smiling, "is so kind as to keep me free
from stain or tear. Madame Dor humours my weakness for being always
neat, and devotes her time to removing every one of my specks and spots."
Madame Dor, with the stretched glove in the air, and her eyes closely
scrutinizing its palm, discovered a tough spot in Mr. Obenreizer at that
instant, and rubbed hard at him. George Vendale took his seat by the
embroidery-frame (having first taken the fair right hand that his
entrance had checked), and glanced at the gold cross that dipped into the
bodice, with something of the devotion of a pilgrim who had reached his
shrine at last. Obenreizer stood in the middle of the room with his
thumbs in his waistcoat-pockets, and became filmy.
"He was saying down-stairs, Miss Obenreizer," observed Vendale, "that the
world is so small a place, that people cannot escape one another. I have
found it much too large for me since I saw you last."
"Have you travelled so far, then?" she inquired.
"Not so far, for I have only gone back to Switzerland each year; but I
could have wished--and indeed I have wished very often--that the little
world did not afford such opportunities for long escapes as it does. If
it had been less, I might have found my follow-travellers sooner, you
The pretty Marguerite coloured, and very slightly glanced in the
direction of Madame Dor.
"You find us at length, Mr. Vendale. Perhaps you may lose us again."
"I trust not. The curious coincidence that has enabled me to find you,
encourages me to hope not."
"What is that coincidence, sir, if you please?" A dainty little native
touch in this turn of speech, and in its tone, made it perfectly
captivating, thought George Vendale, when again he noticed an
instantaneous glance towards Madame Dor. A caution seemed to be conveyed
in it, rapid flash though it was; so he quietly took heed of Madame Dor
from that time forth.
"It is that I happen to have become a partner in a House of business in
London, to which Mr. Obenreizer happens this very day to be expressly
recommended: and that, too, by another house of business in Switzerland,
in which (as it turns out) we both have a commercial interest. He has
not told you?"
"Ah!" cried Obenreizer, striking in, filmless. "No. I had not told Miss
Marguerite. The world is so small and so monotonous that a surprise is
worth having in such a little jog-trot place. It is as he tells you,
Miss Marguerite. He, of so fine a family, and so proudly bred, has
condescended to trade. To trade! Like us poor peasants who have risen
A cloud crept over the fair brow, and she cast down her eyes.
"Why, it is good for trade!" pursued Obenreizer, enthusiastically. "It
ennobles trade! It is the misfortune of trade, it is its vulgarity, that
any low people--for example, we poor peasants--may take to it and climb
by it. See you, my dear Vendale!" He spoke with great energy. "The
father of Miss Marguerite, my eldest half-brother, more than two times
your age or mine, if living now, wandered without shoes, almost without
rags, from that wretched Pass--wandered--wandered--got to be fed with the
mules and dogs at an Inn in the main valley far away--got to be Boy
there--got to be Ostler--got to be Waiter--got to be Cook--got to be
Landlord. As Landlord, he took me (could he take the idiot beggar his
brother, or the spinning monstrosity his sister?) to put as pupil to the
famous watchmaker, his neighbour and friend. His wife dies when Miss
Marguerite is born. What is his will, and what are his words to me, when
he dies, she being between girl and woman? 'All for Marguerite, except
so much by the year for you. You are young, but I make her your ward,
for you were of the obscurest and the poorest peasantry, and so was I,
and so was her mother; we were abject peasants all, and you will remember
it.' The thing is equally true of most of my countrymen, now in trade in
this your London quarter of Soho. Peasants once; low-born drudging Swiss
Peasants. Then how good and great for trade:" here, from having been
warm, he became playfully jubilant, and touched the young wine-merchant's
elbows again with his light embrace: "to be exalted by gentlemen."
"I do not think so," said Marguerite, with a flushed cheek, and a look
away from the visitor, that was almost defiant. "I think it is as much
exalted by us peasants."
"Fie, fie, Miss Marguerite," said Obenreizer. "You speak in proud
"I speak in proud earnest," she answered, quietly resuming her work, "and
I am not English, but a Swiss peasant's daughter."
There was a dismissal of the subject in her words, which Vendale could
not contend against. He only said in an earnest manner, "I most heartily
agree with you, Miss Obenreizer, and I have already said so, as Mr.
Obenreizer will bear witness," which he by no means did, "in this house."
Now, Vendale's eyes were quick eyes, and sharply watching Madame Dor by
times, noted something in the broad back view of that lady. There was
considerable pantomimic expression in her glove-cleaning. It had been
very softly done when he spoke with Marguerite, or it had altogether
stopped, like the action of a listener. When Obenreizer's peasant-speech
came to an end, she rubbed most vigorously, as if applauding it. And
once or twice, as the glove (which she always held before her a little
above her face) turned in the air, or as this finger went down, or that
went up, he even fancied that it made some telegraphic communication to
Obenreizer: whose back was certainly never turned upon it, though he did
not seem at all to heed it.
Vendale observed too, that in Marguerite's dismissal of the subject twice
forced upon him to his misrepresentation, there was an indignant
treatment of her guardian which she tried to cheek: as though she would
have flamed out against him, but for the influence of fear. He also
observed--though this was not much--that he never advanced within the
distance of her at which he first placed himself: as though there were
limits fixed between them. Neither had he ever spoken of her without the
prefix "Miss," though whenever he uttered it, it was with the faintest
trace of an air of mockery. And now it occurred to Vendale for the first
time that something curious in the man, which he had never before been
able to define, was definable as a certain subtle essence of mockery that
eluded touch or analysis. He felt convinced that Marguerite was in some
sort a prisoner as to her freewill--though she held her own against those
two combined, by the force of her character, which was nevertheless
inadequate to her release. To feel convinced of this, was not to feel
less disposed to love her than he had always been. In a word, he was
desperately in love with her, and thoroughly determined to pursue the
opportunity which had opened at last.
For the present, he merely touched upon the pleasure that Wilding and Co.
would soon have in entreating Miss Obenreizer to honour their
establishment with her presence--a curious old place, though a bachelor
house withal--and so did not protract his visit beyond such a visit's
ordinary length. Going down-stairs, conducted by his host, he found the
Obenreizer counting-house at the back of the entrance-hall, and several
shabby men in outlandish garments hanging about, whom Obenreizer put
aside that he might pass, with a few words in _patois_.
"Countrymen," he explained, as he attended Vendale to the door. "Poor
compatriots. Grateful and attached, like dogs! Good-bye. To meet
again. So glad!"
Two more light touches on his elbows dismissed him into the street.
Sweet Marguerite at her frame, and Madame Dor's broad back at her
telegraph, floated before him to Cripple Corner. On his arrival there,
Wilding was closeted with Bintrey. The cellar doors happening to be
open, Vendale lighted a candle in a cleft stick, and went down for a
cellarous stroll. Graceful Marguerite floated before him faithfully, but
Madame Dor's broad back remained outside.
The vaults were very spacious, and very old. There had been a stone
crypt down there, when bygones were not bygones; some said, part of a
monkish refectory; some said, of a chapel; some said, of a Pagan temple.
It was all one now. Let who would make what he liked of a crumbled
pillar and a broken arch or so. Old Time had made what _he_ liked of it,
and was quite indifferent to contradiction.
The close air, the musty smell, and the thunderous rumbling in the
streets above, as being, out of the routine of ordinary life, went well
enough with the picture of pretty Marguerite holding her own against
those two. So Vendale went on until, at a turning in the vaults, he saw
a light like the light he carried.
"O! You are here, are you, Joey?"
"Oughtn't it rather to go, 'O! _You're_ here, are you, Master George?'
For it's my business to be here. But it ain't yourn."
"Don't grumble, Joey."
"O! _I_ don't grumble," returned the Cellarman. "If anything grumbles,
it's what I've took in through the pores; it ain't me. Have a care as
something in you don't begin a grumbling, Master George. Stop here long
enough for the wapours to work, and they'll be at it."
His present occupation consisted of poking his head into the bins, making
measurements and mental calculations, and entering them in a rhinoceros-
hide-looking note-book, like a piece of himself.
"They'll be at it," he resumed, laying the wooden rod that he measured
with across two casks, entering his last calculation, and straightening
his back, "trust 'em! And so you've regularly come into the business,
"Regularly. I hope you don't object, Joey?"
"_I_ don't, bless you. But Wapours objects that you're too young. You're
both on you too young."
"We shall got over that objection day by day, Joey."
"Ay, Master George; but I shall day by day get over the objection that
I'm too old, and so I shan't be capable of seeing much improvement in
The retort so tickled Joey Ladle that he grunted forth a laugh and
delivered it again, grunting forth another laugh after the second edition
of "improvement in you."
"But what's no laughing matter, Master George," he resumed, straightening
his back once more, "is, that young Master Wilding has gone and changed
the luck. Mark my words. He has changed the luck, and he'll find it
out. _I_ ain't been down here all my life for nothing! _I_ know by what
I notices down here, when it's a-going to rain, when it's a-going to hold
up, when it's a-going to blow, when it's a-going to be calm. _I_ know,
by what I notices down here, when the luck's changed, quite as well."
"Has this growth on the roof anything to do with your divination?" asked
Vendale, holding his light towards a gloomy ragged growth of dark fungus,
pendent from the arches with a very disagreeable and repellent effect.
"We are famous for this growth in this vault, aren't we?"
"We are Master George," replied Joey Ladle, moving a step or two away,
"and if you'll be advised by me, you'll let it alone."
Taking up the rod just now laid across the two casks, and faintly moving
the languid fungus with it, Vendale asked, "Ay, indeed? Why so?"
"Why, not so much because it rises from the casks of wine, and may leave
you to judge what sort of stuff a Cellarman takes into himself when he
walks in the same all the days of his life, nor yet so much because at a
stage of its growth it's maggots, and you'll fetch 'em down upon you,"
returned Joey Ladle, still keeping away, "as for another reason, Master
"What other reason?"
"(I wouldn't keep on touchin' it, if I was you, sir.) I'll tell you if
you'll come out of the place. First, take a look at its colour, Master
"I am doing so."
"Done, sir. Now, come out of the place."
He moved away with his light, and Vendale followed with his. When
Vendale came up with him, and they were going back together, Vendale,
eyeing him as they walked through the arches, said: "Well, Joey? The
"Is it like clotted blood, Master George?"
"Like enough, perhaps."
"More than enough, I think," muttered Joey Ladle, shaking his head
"Well, say it is like; say it is exactly like. What then?"
"Master George, they do say--"
"How should I know who?" rejoined the Cellarman, apparently much
exasperated by the unreasonable nature of the question. "Them! Them as
says pretty well everything, you know. How should I know who They are,
if you don't?"
"True. Go on."
"They do say that the man that gets by any accident a piece of that dark
growth right upon his breast, will, for sure and certain, die by murder."
As Vendale laughingly stopped to meet the Cellarman's eyes, which he had
fastened on his light while dreamily saying those words, he suddenly
became conscious of being struck upon his own breast by a heavy hand.
Instantly following with his eyes the action of the hand that struck
him--which was his companion's--he saw that it had beaten off his breast
a web or clot of the fungus even then floating to the ground.
For a moment he turned upon the Cellarman almost as scared a look as the
Cellarman turned upon him. But in another moment they had reached the
daylight at the foot of the cellar-steps, and before he cheerfully sprang
up them, he blew out his candle and the superstition together.
On the morning of the next day, Wilding went out alone, after leaving a
message with his clerk. "If Mr. Vendale should ask for me," he said, "or
if Mr. Bintrey should call, tell them I am gone to the Foundling." All
that his partner had said to him, all that his lawyer, following on the
same side, could urge, had left him persisting unshaken in his own point
of view. To find the lost man, whose place he had usurped, was now the
paramount interest of his life, and to inquire at the Foundling was
plainly to take the first step in the direction of discovery. To the
Foundling, accordingly, the wine-merchant now went.
The once familiar aspect of the building was altered to him, as the look
of the portrait over the chimney-piece was altered to him. His one
dearest association with the place which had sheltered his childhood had
been broken away from it for ever. A strange reluctance possessed him,
when he stated his business at the door. His heart ached as he sat alone
in the waiting-room while the Treasurer of the institution was being sent
for to see him. When the interview began, it was only by a painful
effort that he could compose himself sufficiently to mention the nature
of his errand.
The Treasurer listened with a face which promised all needful attention,
and promised nothing more.
"We are obliged to be cautious," he said, when it came to his turn to
speak, "about all inquiries which are made by strangers."
"You can hardly consider me a stranger," answered Wilding, simply. "I
was one of your poor lost children here, in the bygone time."
The Treasurer politely rejoined that this circumstance inspired him with
a special interest in his visitor. But he pressed, nevertheless for that
visitor's motive in making his inquiry. Without further preface, Wilding
told him his motive, suppressing nothing. The Treasurer rose, and led
the way into the room in which the registers of the institution were
kept. "All the information which our books can give is heartily at your
service," he said. "After the time that has elapsed, I am afraid it is
the only information we have to offer you."
The books were consulted, and the entry was found expressed as follows:
"3d March, 1836. Adopted, and removed from the Foundling Hospital, a
male infant, named Walter Wilding. Name and condition of the person
adopting the child--Mrs. Jane Ann Miller, widow. Address--Lime-Tree
Lodge, Groombridge Wells. References--the Reverend John Harker,
Groombridge Wells; and Messrs. Giles, Jeremie, and Giles, bankers,
"Is that all?" asked the wine-merchant. "Had you no after-communication
with Mrs. Miller?"
"None--or some reference to it must have appeared in this book."
"May I take a copy of the entry?"
"Certainly! You are a little agitated. Let me make a copy for you."
"My only chance, I suppose," said Wilding, looking sadly at the copy, "is
to inquire at Mrs. Miller's residence, and to try if her references can
"That is the only chance I see at present," answered the Treasurer. "I
heartily wish I could have been of some further assistance to you."
With those farewell words to comfort him Wilding set forth on the journey
of investigation which began from the Foundling doors. The first stage
to make for, was plainly the house of business of the bankers in Lombard
Street. Two of the partners in the firm were inaccessible to
chance-visitors when he asked for them. The third, after raising certain
inevitable difficulties, consented to let a clerk examine the ledger
marked with the initial letter "M." The account of Mrs. Miller, widow,
of Groombridge Wells, was found. Two long lines, in faded ink, were
drawn across it; and at the bottom of the page there appeared this note:
"Account closed, September 30th, 1837."
So the first stage of the journey was reached--and so it ended in No
Thoroughfare! After sending a note to Cripple Corner to inform his
partner that his absence might be prolonged for some hours, Wilding took
his place in the train, and started for the second stage on the
journey--Mrs. Miller's residence at Groombridge Wells.
Mothers and children travelled with him; mothers and children met each
other at the station; mothers and children were in the shops when he
entered them to inquire for Lime-Tree Lodge. Everywhere, the nearest and
dearest of human relations showed itself happily in the happy light of
day. Everywhere, he was reminded of the treasured delusion from which he
had been awakened so cruelly--of the lost memory which had passed from
him like a reflection from a glass.
Inquiring here, inquiring there, he could hear of no such place as Lime-
Tree Lodge. Passing a house-agent's office, he went in wearily, and put
the question for the last time. The house-agent pointed across the
street to a dreary mansion of many windows, which might have been a
manufactory, but which was an hotel. "That's where Lime-Tree Lodge
stood, sir," said the man, "ten years ago."
The second stage reached, and No Thoroughfare again!
But one chance was left. The clerical reference, Mr. Harker, still
remained to be found. Customers coming in at the moment to occupy the
house-agent's attention, Wilding went down the street, and entering a
bookseller's shop, asked if he could be informed of the Reverend John
Harker's present address.
The bookseller looked unaffectedly shocked and astonished, and made no
Wilding repeated his question.
The bookseller took up from his counter a prim little volume in a binding
of sober gray. He handed it to his visitor, open at the title-page.
"The martyrdom of the Reverend John Harker in New Zealand. Related by a
former member of his flock."
Wilding put the book down on the counter. "I beg your pardon," he said
thinking a little, perhaps, of his own present martyrdom while he spoke.
The silent bookseller acknowledged the apology by a bow. Wilding went
Third and last stage, and No Thoroughfare for the third and last time.
There was nothing more to be done; there was absolutely no choice but to
go back to London, defeated at all points. From time to time on the
return journey, the wine-merchant looked at his copy of the entry in the
Foundling Register. There is one among the many forms of despair--perhaps
the most pitiable of all--which persists in disguising itself as Hope.
Wilding checked himself in the act of throwing the useless morsel of
paper out of the carriage window. "It may lead to something yet," he
thought. "While I live, I won't part with it. When I die, my executors
shall find it sealed up with my will."
Now, the mention of his will set the good wine-merchant on a new track of
thought, without diverting his mind from its engrossing subject. He must
make his will immediately.
The application of the phrase No Thoroughfare to the case had originated
with Mr. Bintrey. In their first long conference following the
discovery, that sagacious personage had a hundred times repeated, with an
obstructive shake of the head, "No Thoroughfare, Sir, No Thoroughfare. My
belief is that there is no way out of this at this time of day, and my
advice is, make yourself comfortable where you are."
In the course of the protracted consultation, a magnum of the forty-five
year old port-wine had been produced for the wetting of Mr. Bintrey's
legal whistle; but the more clearly he saw his way through the wine, the
more emphatically he did not see his way through the case; repeating as
often as he set his glass down empty. "Mr. Wilding, No Thoroughfare.
Rest and be thankful."
It is certain that the honest wine-merchant's anxiety to make a will
originated in profound conscientiousness; though it is possible (and
quite consistent with his rectitude) that he may unconsciously have
derived some feeling of relief from the prospect of delegating his own
difficulty to two other men who were to come after him. Be that as it
may, he pursued his new track of thought with great ardour, and lost no
time in begging George Vendale and Mr. Bintrey to meet him in Cripple
Corner and share his confidence.
"Being all three assembled with closed doors," said Mr. Bintrey,
addressing the new partner on the occasion, "I wish to observe, before
our friend (and my client) entrusts us with his further views, that I
have endorsed what I understand from him to have been your advice, Mr.
Vendale, and what would be the advice of every sensible man. I have told
him that he positively must keep his secret. I have spoken with Mrs.
Goldstraw, both in his presence and in his absence; and if anybody is to
be trusted (which is a very large IF), I think she is to be trusted to
that extent. I have pointed out to our friend (and my client), that to
set on foot random inquiries would not only be to raise the Devil, in the
likeness of all the swindlers in the kingdom, but would also be to waste
the estate. Now, you see, Mr. Vendale, our friend (and my client) does
not desire to waste the estate, but, on the contrary, desires to husband
it for what he considers--but I can't say I do--the rightful owner, if
such rightful owner should ever be found. I am very much mistaken if he
ever will be, but never mind that. Mr. Wilding and I are, at least,
agreed that the estate is not to be wasted. Now, I have yielded to Mr.
Wilding's desire to keep an advertisement at intervals flowing through
the newspapers, cautiously inviting any person who may know anything
about that adopted infant, taken from the Foundling Hospital, to come to
my office; and I have pledged myself that such advertisement shall
regularly appear. I have gathered from our friend (and my client) that I
meet you here to-day to take his instructions, not to give him advice. I
am prepared to receive his instructions, and to respect his wishes; but
you will please observe that this does not imply my approval of either as
a matter of professional opinion."
Thus Mr. Bintrey; talking quite is much _at_ Wilding as _to_ Vendale. And
yet, in spite of his care for his client, he was so amused by his
client's Quixotic conduct, as to eye him from time to time with twinkling
eyes, in the light of a highly comical curiosity.
"Nothing," observed Wilding, "can be clearer. I only wish my head were
as clear as yours, Mr. Bintrey."
"If you feel that singing in it coming on," hinted the lawyer, with an
alarmed glance, "put it off.--I mean the interview."
"Not at all, I thank you," said Wilding. "What was I going to--"
"Don't excite yourself, Mr. Wilding," urged the lawyer.
"No; I _wasn't_ going to," said the wine-merchant. "Mr. Bintrey and
George Vendale, would you have any hesitation or objection to become my
joint trustees and executors, or can you at once consent?"
"_I_ consent," replied George Vendale, readily.
"_I_ consent," said Bintrey, not so readily.
"Thank you both. Mr. Bintrey, my instructions for my last will and
testament are short and plain. Perhaps you will now have the goodness to
take them down. I leave the whole of my real and personal estate,
without any exception or reservation whatsoever, to you two, my joint
trustees and executors, in trust to pay over the whole to the true Walter
Wilding, if he shall be found and identified within two years after the
day of my death. Failing that, in trust to you two to pay over the whole
as a benefaction and legacy to the Foundling Hospital."
"Those are all your instructions, are they, Mr. Wilding?" demanded
Bintrey, after a blank silence, during which nobody had looked at
"And as to those instructions, you have absolutely made up your mind, Mr.
"Absolutely, decidedly, finally."
"It only remains," said the lawyer, with one shrug of his shoulders, "to
get them into technical and binding form, and to execute and attest. Now,
does that press? Is there any hurry about it? You are not going to die
"Mr. Bintrey," answered Wilding, gravely, "when I am going to die is
within other knowledge than yours or mine. I shall be glad to have this
matter off my mind, if you please."
"We are lawyer and client again," rejoined Bintrey, who, for the nonce,
had become almost sympathetic. "If this day week--here, at the same
hour--will suit Mr. Vendale and yourself, I will enter in my Diary that I
attend you accordingly."
The appointment was made, and in due sequence, kept. The will was
formally signed, sealed, delivered, and witnessed, and was carried off by
Mr. Bintrey for safe storage among the papers of his clients, ranged in
their respective iron boxes, with their respective owners' names outside,
on iron tiers in his consulting-room, as if that legal sanctuary were a
condensed Family Vault of Clients.
With more heart than he had lately had for former subjects of interest,
Wilding then set about completing his patriarchal establishment, being
much assisted not only by Mrs. Goldstraw but by Vendale too: who,
perhaps, had in his mind the giving of an Obenreizer dinner as soon as
possible. Anyhow, the establishment being reported in sound working
order, the Obenreizers, Guardian and Ward, were asked to dinner, and
Madame Dor was included in the invitation. If Vendale had been over head
and ears in love before--a phrase not to be taken as implying the
faintest doubt about it--this dinner plunged him down in love ten
thousand fathoms deep. Yet, for the life of him, he could not get one
word alone with charming Marguerite. So surely as a blessed moment
seemed to come, Obenreizer, in his filmy state, would stand at Vendale's
elbow, or the broad back of Madame Dor would appear before his eyes. That
speechless matron was never seen in a front view, from the moment of her
arrival to that of her departure--except at dinner. And from the instant
of her retirement to the drawing-room, after a hearty participation in
that meal, she turned her face to the wall again.
Yet, through four or five delightful though distracting hours, Marguerite
was to be seen, Marguerite was to be heard, Marguerite was to be
occasionally touched. When they made the round of the old dark cellars,
Vendale led her by the hand; when she sang to him in the lighted room at
night, Vendale, standing by her, held her relinquished gloves, and would
have bartered against them every drop of the forty-five year old, though
it had been forty-five times forty-five years old, and its nett price
forty-five times forty-five pounds per dozen. And still, when she was
gone, and a great gap of an extinguisher was clapped on Cripple Corner,
he tormented himself by wondering, Did she think that he admired her! Did
she think that he adored her! Did she suspect that she had won him,
heart and soul! Did she care to think at all about it! And so, Did she
and Didn't she, up and down the gamut, and above the line and below the
line, dear, dear! Poor restless heart of humanity! To think that the
men who were mummies thousands of years ago, did the same, and ever found
the secret how to be quiet after it!
"What do you think, George," Wilding asked him next day, "of Mr.
Obenreizer? (I won't ask you what you think of Miss Obenreizer.)"
"I don't know," said Vendale, "and I never did know, what to think of
"He is well informed and clever," said Wilding.
"A good musician." (He had played very well, and sung very well,
"Unquestionably a good musician."
"And talks well."
"Yes," said George Vendale, ruminating, "and talks well. Do you know,
Wilding, it oddly occurs to me, as I think about him, that he doesn't
keep silence well!"
"How do you mean? He is not obtrusively talkative."
"No, and I don't mean that. But when he is silent, you can hardly help
vaguely, though perhaps most unjustly, mistrusting him. Take people whom
you know and like. Take any one you know and like."
"Soon done, my good fellow," said Wilding. "I take you."
"I didn't bargain for that, or foresee it," returned Vendale, laughing.
"However, take me. Reflect for a moment. Is your approving knowledge of
my interesting face mainly founded (however various the momentary
expressions it may include) on my face when I am silent?"
"I think it is," said Wilding.
"I think so too. Now, you see, when Obenreizer speaks--in other words,
when he is allowed to explain himself away--he comes out right enough;
but when he has not the opportunity of explaining himself away, he comes
out rather wrong. Therefore it is, that I say he does not keep silence
well. And passing hastily in review such faces as I know, and don't
trust, I am inclined to think, now I give my mind to it, that none of
them keep silence well."
This proposition in Physiognomy being new to Wilding, he was at first
slow to admit it, until asking himself the question whether Mrs.
Goldstraw kept silence well, and remembering that her face in repose
decidedly invited trustfulness, he was as glad as men usually are to
believe what they desire to believe.
But, as he was very slow to regain his spirits or his health, his
partner, as another means of setting him up--and perhaps also with
contingent Obenreizer views--reminded him of those musical schemes of his
in connection with his family, and how a singing-class was to be formed
in the house, and a Choir in a neighbouring church. The class was
established speedily, and, two or three of the people having already some
musical knowledge, and singing tolerably, the Choir soon followed. The
latter was led, and chiefly taught, by Wilding himself: who had hopes of
converting his dependents into so many Foundlings, in respect of their
capacity to sing sacred choruses.
Now, the Obenreizers being skilled musicians, it was easily brought to
pass that they should be asked to join these musical unions. Guardian
and Ward consenting, or Guardian consenting for both, it was necessarily
brought to pass that Vendale's life became a life of absolute thraldom
and enchantment. For, in the mouldy Christopher-Wren church on Sundays,
with its dearly beloved brethren assembled and met together, five-and-
twenty strong, was not that Her voice that shot like light into the
darkest places, thrilling the walls and pillars as though they were
pieces of his heart! What time, too, Madame Dor in a corner of the high
pew, turning her back upon everybody and everything, could not fail to be
Ritualistically right at some moment of the service; like the man whom
the doctors recommended to get drunk once a month, and who, that he might
not overlook it, got drunk every day.
But, even those seraphic Sundays were surpassed by the Wednesday concerts
established for the patriarchal family. At those concerts she would sit
down to the piano and sing them, in her own tongue, songs of her own
land, songs calling from the mountain-tops to Vendale, "Rise above the
grovelling level country; come far away from the crowd; pursue me as I
mount higher; higher, higher, melting into the azure distance; rise to my
supremest height of all, and love me here!" Then would the pretty
bodice, the clocked stocking, and the silver-buckled shoe be, like the
broad forehead and the bright eyes, fraught with the spring of a very
chamois, until the strain was over.
Not even over Vendale himself did these songs of hers cast a more potent
spell than over Joey Ladle in his different way. Steadily refusing to
muddle the harmony by taking any share in it, and evincing the supremest
contempt for scales and such-like rudiments of music--which, indeed,
seldom captivate mere listeners--Joey did at first give up the whole
business for a bad job, and the whole of the performers for a set of
howling Dervishes. But, descrying traces of unmuddled harmony in a part-
song one day, he gave his two under cellarmen faint hopes of getting on
towards something in course of time. An anthem of Handel's led to
further encouragement from him: though he objected that that great
musician must have been down in some of them foreign cellars pretty much,
for to go and say the same thing so many times over; which, took it in
how you might, he considered a certain sign of your having took it in
somehow. On a third occasion, the public appearance of Mr. Jarvis with a
flute, and of an odd man with a violin, and the performance of a duet by
the two, did so astonish him that, solely of his own impulse and motion,
he became inspired with the words, "Ann Koar!" repeatedly pronouncing
them as if calling in a familiar manner for some lady who had
distinguished herself in the orchestra. But this was his final testimony
to the merits of his mates, for, the instrumental duet being performed at
the first Wednesday concert, and being presently followed by the voice of
Marguerite Obenreizer, he sat with his mouth wide open, entranced, until
she had finished; when, rising in his place with much solemnity, and
prefacing what he was about to say with a bow that specially included Mr.
Wilding in it, he delivered himself of the gratifying sentiment: "Arter
that, ye may all on ye get to bed!" And ever afterwards declined to
render homage in any other words to the musical powers of the family.
Thus began a separate personal acquaintance between Marguerite Obenreizer
and Joey Ladle. She laughed so heartily at his compliment, and yet was
so abashed by it, that Joey made bold to say to her, after the concert
was over, he hoped he wasn't so muddled in his head as to have took a
liberty? She made him a gracious reply, and Joey ducked in return.
"You'll change the luck time about, Miss," said Joey, ducking again.
"It's such as you in the place that can bring round the luck of the
"Can I? Round the luck?" she answered, in her pretty English, and with a
pretty wonder. "I fear I do not understand. I am so stupid."
"Young Master Wilding, Miss," Joey explained confidentially, though not
much to her enlightenment, "changed the luck, afore he took in young
Master George. So I say, and so they'll find. Lord! Only come into the
place and sing over the luck a few times, Miss, and it won't be able to
With this, and with a whole brood of ducks, Joey backed out of the
presence. But Joey being a privileged person, and even an involuntary
conquest being pleasant to youth and beauty, Marguerite merrily looked
out for him next time.
"Where is my Mr. Joey, please?" she asked Vendale.
So Joey was produced, and shaken hands with, and that became an
Another Institution arose in this wise. Joey was a little hard of
hearing. He himself said it was "Wapours," and perhaps it might have
been; but whatever the cause of the effect, there the effect was, upon
him. On this first occasion he had been seen to sidle along the wall,
with his left hand to his left ear, until he had sidled himself into a
seat pretty near the singer, in which place and position he had remained,
until addressing to his friends the amateurs the compliment before
mentioned. It was observed on the following Wednesday that Joey's action
as a Pecking Machine was impaired at dinner, and it was rumoured about
the table that this was explainable by his high-strung expectations of
Miss Obenreizer's singing, and his fears of not getting a place where he
could hear every note and syllable. The rumour reaching Wilding's ears,
he in his good nature called Joey to the front at night before Marguerite
began. Thus the Institution came into being that on succeeding nights,
Marguerite, running her hands over the keys before singing, always said
to Vendale, "Where is my Mr. Joey, please?" and that Vendale always
brought him forth, and stationed him near by. That he should then, when
all eyes were upon him, express in his face the utmost contempt for the
exertions of his friends and confidence in Marguerite alone, whom he
would stand contemplating, not unlike the rhinocerous out of the spelling-
book, tamed and on his hind legs, was a part of the Institution. Also
that when he remained after the singing in his most ecstatic state, some
bold spirit from the back should say, "What do you think of it, Joey?"
and he should be goaded to reply, as having that instant conceived the
retort, "Arter that ye may all on ye get to bed!" These were other parts
of the Institution.
But, the simple pleasures and small jests of Cripple Corner were not
destined to have a long life. Underlying them from the first was a
serious matter, which every member of the patriarchal family knew of, but
which, by tacit agreement, all forbore to speak of. Mr. Wilding's health
was in a bad way.
He might have overcome the shock he had sustained in the one great
affection of his life, or he might have overcome his consciousness of
being in the enjoyment of another man's property; but the two together
were too much for him. A man haunted by twin ghosts, he became deeply
depressed. The inseparable spectres sat at the board with him, ate from
his platter, drank from his cup, and stood by his bedside at night. When
he recalled his supposed mother's love, he felt as though he had stolen
it. When he rallied a little under the respect and attachment of his
dependants, he felt as though he were even fraudulent in making them
happy, for that should have been the unknown man's duty and
Gradually, under the pressure of his brooding mind, his body stooped, his
step lost its elasticity, his eyes were seldom lifted from the ground. He
knew he could not help the deplorable mistake that had been made, but he
knew he could not mend it; for the days and weeks went by, and no one
claimed his name or his possessions. And now there began to creep over
him a cloudy consciousness of often-recurring confusion in his head. He
would unaccountably lose, sometimes whole hours, sometimes a whole day
and night. Once, his remembrance stopped as he sat at the head of the
dinner-table, and was blank until daybreak. Another time, it stopped as
he was beating time to their singing, and went on again when he and his
partner were walking in the court-yard by the light of the moon, half the
night later. He asked Vendale (always full of consideration, work, and
help) how this was? Vendale only replied, "You have not been quite well;
that's all." He looked for explanation into the faces of his people. But
they would put it off with "Glad to see you looking so much better, sir;"
or "Hope you're doing nicely now, sir;" in which was no information at
At length, when the partnership was but five months old, Walter Wilding
took to his bed, and his housekeeper became his nurse.
"Lying here, perhaps you will not mind my calling you Sally, Mrs.
Goldstraw?" said the poor wine-merchant.
"It sounds more natural to me, sir, than any other name, and I like it
"Thank you, Sally. I think, Sally, I must of late have been subject to
fits. Is that so, Sally? Don't mind telling me now."
"It has happened, sir."
"Ah! That is the explanation!" he quietly remarked. "Mr. Obenreizer,
Sally, talks of the world being so small that it is not strange how often
the same people come together, and come together at various places, and
in various stages of life. But it does seem strange, Sally, that I
should, as I may say, come round to the Foundling to die."
He extended his hand to her, and she gently took it.
"You are not going to die, dear Mr. Wilding."
"So Mr. Bintrey said, but I think he was wrong. The old child-feeling is
coming back upon me, Sally. The old hush and rest, as I used to fall
After an interval he said, in a placid voice, "Please kiss me, Nurse,"
and, it was evident, believed himself to be lying in the old Dormitory.
As she had been used to bend over the fatherless and motherless children,
Sally bent over the fatherless and motherless man, and put her lips to
his forehead, murmuring:
"God bless you!"
"God bless you!" he replied, in the same tone.
After another interval, he opened his eyes in his own character, and
said: "Don't move me, Sally, because of what I am going to say; I lie
quite easily. I think my time is come, I don't know how it may appear to
you, Sally, but--"
Insensibility fell upon him for a few minutes; he emerged from it once
"--I don't know how it may appear to you, Sally, but so it appears to
When he had thus conscientiously finished his favourite sentence, his
time came, and he died.
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