and the Beast
by Anne Isabella Thackeray Ritchie
FAIRY times, gifts, music, and dances are said
to be over; or, as it has been said, they come to us disguised and made
familiar by habit that they do not seem to us strange. H. and I, on either
side of the hearth, these long past winter evenings could sit without
fear of fiery dwarfs skipping out of the ashes, of black puddings coming
down the chimney to molest us. The clock ticked, the window-pane rattled.
It was only the wind. The hearth-brush remained motionless on its hook.
Pussy, dozing on the hearth, with her claws quietly opening to the warmth
of the blaze, purred on and never once startled us out of our usual placidity
by addressing us in human tones. The children sleeping peacefully upstairs
were not suddenly whisked away and changelings deposited in their cribs.
If H. or I opened our mouths pearls and diamonds did not drop out of them;
but neither did frogs and tadpoles fall from between our lips. The looking-glass,
tranquilly reflecting the comfort able little sitting-room, and the stiff
ends of H.'s cap-ribbons, spared us visions of wreathing clouds parting
to reveal distant scenes of horror and treachery. Poor H.! I am not sure
but that she would have gladly looked in a mirror in which she could have
sometimes seen the images of those she loved; but our chimney-glass, with
its gilt moulding and bright polished surface, reflects only such homely
scenes as two old women at work by the fire, some little Indian children
at play upon the rug, the door opening and Susan bringing in the tea-things.
As for wishing-cloths and little boiling pots, and such like, we have
discovered that instead of rubbing lamps, or spreading magic table-cloths
upon the floor, we have but to ring an invisible bell (which is even less
trouble), and a smiling genius in a white cap and apron brings in anything
we happen to fancy. When the clock strikes twelve, H. puts up her work
and lights her candle; she has not yet been transformed into a beautiful
princess all twinkling with jewels, neither does a scullion ever stand
before me in rags; she does not murmur farewell forever and melt through
the key-hole, but "Good-night," as she closes the door. One
night at twelve o'clock, just after she had left me, there was indeed
a loud orthodox ring at the bell, which startled us both a little. H.
came running down again without her cap; Susan appeared in great alarm
from the kitchen. "It is the back-door bell, ma'am," said the
girl, who had been sitting up over her new Sunday gown, but who was too
frightened to see who was ringing.
I may as well explain that our little house is in a street,
but that our back windows have the advantage of overlooking the grounds
of the villa belonging to our good neighbor and friend Mr. Griffiths,
in Castle Gardens, and that a door opens out of our little back garden
into his big one, of which we are allowed to keep the key. This door had
been a postern gate once upon a time, for a bit of the old wall of the
park is still standing, against which our succeeding bricks have been
piled. It was a fortunate chance for us when our old ivy-tree died and
we found the quaint little doorway behind it. Old Mr. Griffiths was alive
then, and when I told him of my discovery he good- naturedly cleared the
way on his side, and so the oak turned once more upon its rusty hinges
to let the children pass through, and the nurse-maid, instead of pages
and secret emissaries and men-at-arms; and about three times a year young
Mr. Griffiths stoops under the arch on his way to call upon us. I say
young Mr. Griffiths, but I suppose he is over thirty now, for it is more
than ten years since his father died.
When I opened the door, in a burst of wind and wet, I
found that it was Guy Griffiths who stood outside bareheaded in the rain,
ringing the bell that winter night. "Are you up?" he said. "For
heaven's sake come to my mother; she's fainted; her maid is away; the
doctor doesn't come. I thought you might know what to do." And then
he led the way through the dark garden, hurrying along before me.
Poor lady! when I saw her I knew that it was no fainting-fit,
but a paralytic stroke, from which she might perhaps recover in time;
I could not tell. For the present there was little to be done. The maids
were young and frightened; poor Guy wanted some word of sympathy and encouragement.
So far I was able to be of use. We got her to bed and took off her finery,
-she had been out at a dinner-party, and had been stricken on her return
home, - Guy had discovered her speechless in the library. The poor fellow,
frightened and overcome, waited about, trying to be of help, but he was
so nervous that he tumbled over us all, and knocked over the chairs and
bottles in his anxiety, and was of worse than no use. His kind old shaggy
face looked pale, and his brown eyes ringed with anxiousness. I was touched
by the young fellow's concern, for Mrs. Griffiths had not been a tender
mother to him. How she had snapped and laughed at him, and frightened
him with her quick, sarcastic tongue and hard, unmotherlike ways! I wondered
if she thought of this as she lay there cold, rigid, watching us with
glassy, sense less eyes.
The payments and debts and returns of affection are at
all times hard to reckon. Some people pay a whole treasury of love in
return for a stone; others deal out their affection at interest; others
again take everything, to the uttermost farthing, and cast into the ditch
and go their way and leave their benefactor penniless and a beggar. Guy
himself, hard-headed as he was, and keen over his ledgers in Moorgate
Street, could not have calculated such sums as these. All that she had
to give, all the best part of her shallow store, poor Julia Griffiths
had paid to her husband, who did not love her; to her second son, whose
whole life was a sorrow to his parents. When he died she could never forgive
poor Guy for living still, for being his father's friend and right hand,
and sole successor. She had been a real mother to Hugh, who was gone;
to Guy, who was alive still and patiently waiting to do her bidding, she
had shown herself only a step dame; and yet I am sure no life-devoted
mother could have been more anxiously watched and tended by her son. Perhaps,
-how shall I say what I mean? -if he had loved her more and been more
entirely one with her now, his dismay would have been less, his power
greater to bear her pain, to look on at her struggling agony of impotence.
Even pain does not come between the love of people who really love.
The doctor came and went, leaving some comfort behind
him. Guy sat up all that night burning logs on the fire in the dressing-room,
out of the bedroom in which Mrs. Griffiths was lying. Every now and then
I went in to him and found him sitting over the hearth shaking his great
shaggy head, as he had a way of doing, and biting his fingers, and muttering,
"Poor soul! poor mother!" Sometimes he would come in creaking
on tiptoe; but his presence seemed to agitate the poor woman, and I was
obliged to motion him back again. Once, when I went in and sat down for
a few minutes in an arm chair beside him, he suddenly began to tell me
that there had been trouble between them that morning. "It made it
very hard to bear," he said.
I asked him what the trouble had been.
"I told her I thought I should like to marry,"
Guy confessed, with a rueful face.
Even then I could hardly help smiling.
"Selfish beast that I am! I upset her, poor soul!
I behaved like a brute."
His distress was so great that it was almost impossible
to console him, and it was in vain to assure him that the attack had been
produced by physical causes.
"Do you want to marry any one in particular?"
I asked, at last, to divert his thoughts, if I could, from the present.
"No," said he; "at least, -of course she
is out of the question, -only I thought perhaps some day I should have
liked to have a wife and children and a home of my own. Why, the counting-house
is not so dreary as this place sometimes seems to me."
And then, though it was indeed no time for love-confidences,
I could not help asking him who it was that was out of the question.
Guy Griffiths shrugged his great round shoulders impatiently,
and gave something between a groan and sigh, and a smile, dark and sulky
as he looked at times, a smile brightened up his grim face very pleasantly.
"She don't even know my name," he said. "I
saw her one night at the play, and then in a lane in the country a little
time after. I found out who she was. She's a daughter of old Barly the
stockbroker. Belinda, they call her; - Miss Belinda. It's rather a silly
name, isn't it?" (This, of course, I politely denied.) "I'm
sure I don't know what there is about her," he went on, in a gentle
voice. "All the fellows down there were head over ears in love with
her. I asked, -in fact I went down to Farmborough in hopes of meeting
her again. I never saw such a sweet young creature, never. I never spoke
to her in my life."
"But you know her father?" I asked.
"Old Barly? Yes," said Guy. "His wife was
my father's cousin, and we are each other's trustees for some money which
was divided between me and Mrs. Barly. My parents never kept up with them
much, but I was named trustee in my father's place when he died. I didn't
like to refuse. I had never seen Belinda then. Do you like sweet, sleepy
eyes that wake up now and then? Was that my mother calling?" For
a minute he had forgotten the dreary present. It all came rushing back
again. The bed creaked, the patient had moved a little on her pillow,
and there was a gleam of some intelligence in her pinched face. The clock
struck four in quick, tinkling tones; the rain seemed to have ceased,
and the clouds to be parting; the rooms turned suddenly chill, though
the fires were burning.
When I went home, about five o'clock, all the stars had
come out and were shooting brilliantly overhead. The garden seemed full
of a sudden freshness and of secret life stirring in the darkness; the
sick woman's light was burning faintly, and in my own window the little
bright lamp was flickering which H.'s kind fingers had trimmed and put
there ready for me when I should return. When we reached the little gate
Guy opened it and let me pass under some dripping green creeper which
had been blown loose from the wall. He took my cold hand in both his big
ones, and began to say some thing that ended in a sort of inarticulate
sound, as he turned away and trudged back to his post again. I thought
of the many meetings and partings at this little postern gate, and last
words and protestations. Some may have been more sentimental, perhaps,
than this one, but Guy's grunt of gratitude was more affecting to me than
many a long string of words. I felt very sorry for him, poor old fellow,
as I barred the door and climbed upstairs to my room. He sat up watching
till the morning. But I was tired and soon went to sleep.
Some people do very well for a time. Chances are propitious;
the way lies straight before them up a gentle inclined plane, with a pleasant
prospect on either side. They go rolling straight on, they don't exactly
know how, and take it for granted that it is their own prudence and good
driving and deserts which have brought them prosperously so far upon their
journey. And then one day they come to a turnpike and destiny pops out
of its little box and demands a toll, or prudence trips, or good sense
shies at a scarecrow put up by the wayside, -or nobody knows why, but
the whole machine breaks down on the road and can't be set going again.
And then other vehicles go past it, hand-trucks, perambulators, cabs,
omnibuses, and great, prosperous barouches, and the people who were sitting
in the broken-down equipage get out and walk away on foot.
On that celebrated and melancholy Black Monday of which
we have all heard, poor John Barly and his three daughters came down the
carpeted Steps of their comfortable sociable for the last time, and disappeared
at the Wicket of a little suburban cottage, -disappeared out of the prosperous,
Pompous, highly respectable circle in which they had gyrated, dragged
about by two fat bay horses, in the greatest decorum and respectability;
dining out, receiving their friends, returning their civilities. Miss
Barlys had left large cards with their names engraved upon them in return
for other large cards upon which were inscribed equally respectable names,
and the ad dresses of other equally commodious family mansions. A mansion-so
the house-agents tell us-is a house like another with the addition of
a back staircase. The Barlys and all their friends had back staircases
to their houses and to their daily life as well. They only wished to contemplate
the broad, swept, carpeted drawing-room flights. Indeed, to Anna and Fanny
Barly, this making the best of things, card-leaving and visiting, seemed
a business of vital importance. The youngest of the girls, who had been
christened by the pretty silly name of Belinda, had only lately come home
from school, and did not value these splendors and proprieties so highly
as her sisters did. She had no great love for the life they led. Sometimes
looking over the balusters of their great house in Capulet Square, she
had yawned out loud from very weariness, and then she would hear the sound
echoing all the way up to the skylight and reverberating down from baluster
to baluster. If she went into the drawing-room, instead of the yawning
echoes the shrill voices of Anna and of Fanny were vibrating monotonously
as they complimented Lady Ogden upon her new barouche, until Belinda could
bear it no longer, and would jump up and run away to her bedroom to escape
it all. She had a handsome bedroom, draped in green damask, becarpeted,
four-posted, with an enormous mahogany wardrobe, of which poor Belle was
dreadfully afraid, for the doors would fly open of their own accord in
the dead of night, revealing dark abysses and depths unknown, with black
ghosts hovering suspended or motionless and biding their time. There were
other horrors: shrouds waving in the blackness, feet stirring, and low
creaking of garroters, which she did not dare to dwell upon, as she hastily
locked the doors and pushed the writing-table against them.
It must, therefore, be confessed, that to Belinda the
days had been long and oppressive sometimes in this handsomely appointed
Tyburnean palace. Anna, the eldest sister, was queen-regnant; she had
both ability and inclination to take the lead. She was short, broad, and
dignified, and some years older than either of her sisters. Her father
respected her business-like mind, admired her ambition, regretted sometimes
secretly that she had never been able to make up her mind to accept any
of the eligible young junior partners, the doctor, the curate, who had
severally proposed to her. But then, of course, as Anna often said, they
could not possibly have got on without her at home. She had been in no
hurry to leave the comfortable kingdom where she reigned in undisputed
authority, ratifying the decisions of the ministry downstairs, appealed
to by the butler; respectfully dreaded by both the housemaids. Who was
there to go against her? Mr. Barly was in town all day and left everything
to her; Fanny, the second sister; was her faithful ally. Fanny was sprightly,
twenty-one, with black eyes, and a curl that was much admired. She was
fond of fashion, flirting, and finery; inquisitive, talkative, feeble-minded,
and entirely devoted to Anna. As for Belle, she had only come back from
school the other day. Anna could not quite understand her at times. Fanny
was of age and content to do as she was bid; here was Belle, at eighteen,
asserting herself very strangely. Anna and Fanny seemed to pair off somehow,
and Belle always had to hold her own without assistance, unless, indeed,
her father was present. He had a great tenderness and affection for his
youngest child, and the happiest hour of the day to Belinda was when she
heard him come home and call for her in his cheerful, quavering voice.
By degrees it seemed to her, as she listened, that the cheerfulness seemed
to be dying out of his voice, and only the quaver remained; but that may
have been fancy and because she had taken a childish dislike to the echoes
in the house.
At dinner-time Anna used to ask her father how things
were going in the City, and whether shirtings had risen any higher; and
at what premium the Tre Rosas shares were held in the market. These were
some shares in a Cornish mine company of which Mr. Barly was a director.
Anna thought so highly of the whole concern that she had been anxious
to invest a portion of her own and her sister Fanny's money in it. They
had some small inheritance from their mother; of part of which they had
the control when they came of age; the rest was invested in the Funds
in Mr. Griffiths' name, and could not be touched. Poor Belle, being a
minor; had to be content with sixty pounds a year for her pin-money, which
was all she could get for her two thousand pounds.
When Anna talked business Mr. Barly used to be quite dazzled
by her practical clear-headedness, her calm foresight, and powers of rapid
calculation. Fanny used to prick up her ears and ask, shaking her curls
playfully, how much girls must have to be heiresses, and did Anna think
they should ever be heiresses? Anna would smile and nod her head, in a
calm and chastened sort of way, at this childish impatience. "You
should be very thankful, Frances, for all you have to look to, and for
your excellent prospects. Emily Ogden, with all her fine airs, would not
be sorry to be in your place."
At which Fanny blushed up bright red, and Belinda jumped
impatiently upon her chair, blinking her white eyelids impatiently over
her clear gray eyes, as she had a way of doing. "I can't bear talking
about money," said she; "anything is better. . . ." Then
she too stopped short and blushed.
"Papa," interrupted Fanny, playfully, "when
will you escort us to the pantomime again? The Ogdens are all going next
Tuesday, and you have been most naughty, and not taken us anywhere for
such a long time."
Mr. Barly, who rarely refused anything anybody asked him,
pushed his chair away from the table and answered, with strange impatience
for him, - "My dear, I have had no time lately for plays and amusements
of any sort. After working from morning to night for you all, I am tired,
and want a little peace of an evening. I have neither spirits nor-"
"Dear papa," said Belinda, eagerly, "come
up into the drawing-room and sit in the easy-chair, and let me play you
As she spoke, Belinda smiled a delightful fresh, sweet,
tender smile, like sunshine falling on a fair landscape. No wonder the
little stockbroker was fond of his youngest daughter. Frances was pouting.
Anna frowned slightly as she locked up the wine and turned over in her
mind whether she might not write to the Ogdens and ask them to let Frances
join their party. As for Belinda, playing Mozart to her father in the
dim drawing-room upstairs, she was struck by the worn and harassed look
in his face as he slept, snoring gently in accompaniment to her music.
It was the last time Belle ever played upon the old piano. Three or four
days after, the crash came. The great Tre Rosas Mining Company (Limited)
had failed, and the old-established house of Barly & Co. unexpectedly
If poor Mr. Barly had done it on purpose, his ruin could
not have been more complete and ingenious. When his affairs came to be
looked into, and his liabilities had been met, it was found that an immense
fortune had been muddled away, and that scarcely anything would be left
but a small furnished cottage, which had been given for her life to an
old aunt just deceased, and which reverted to Fanny, her godchild, and
the small sum which still remained in the three per cents., of which mention
has been made, and which could not be touched until Belle, the youngest
of three daughters, should come of age.
After two or three miserable days of confusion, -during
which the ma chine which had been set going with so much trouble still
revolved once or twice with the force of its own impetus, the butler answering
the bell, the footman bringing up the coals, the cook sending up the dinner
as usual, - suddenly everything collapsed, and the great mass of furniture,
servants, human creatures, animals, carriages, business and pleasure engagements,
seemed overthrown together in a great struggling mass, panting and bewildered
and trying to get free from the confusion of particles that no longer
belonged to one another.
First the cook packed up her things and some nice damask
table-cloths and napkins, a pair of sheets, and Miss Barly's umbrella,
which happened to be hanging in the hall; then the three ladies drove
off with their father to the cottage, where it was decided they should
go to be out of the way of any unpleasantness. He had no heart to begin
again, and was determined to give up the battle. Belle sat with her father
on the back seat of the carriage, looking up into his haggard face a little
wistfully, and trying to be as miserable as the others. She could not
help it, -a cottage in the country, ruin, roses, novelty, clean chintzes
instead of damask, a little room with mignonette, cocks crowing, had a
wicked, morbid attraction for her which she could not overcome. She had
longed for such a life when she had gone down to stay with the Ogdens
at Farmborough last month, and had seen several hay stacks and lovely
little thatched cottages, where she had felt she would have liked to spend
the rest of her days; one in particular had taken her fancy, with dear
little latticed windows and a pigeon-cote, and two rosy little babies
with a kitten toddling out from the ivy porch; but a great rough-looking
man had come up in a slouched wide-awake and frightened Emily Ogden so
much that she had pulled Belinda away in a hurry. . . but here a sob from
Fanny brought Belle back to her place in the barouche.
Anna felt that she must bear up, and nerved herself to
the effort. Upon her the blow fell more heavily than upon any of the others.
Indignant, injured, angry with her father, furious with the managers,
the directors, the shareholders, the secretary, the unfortunate company,
with the Bankruptcy Court, the Ogdens, the laws of fate, the world in
general, with Fanny for sobbing, and with Belle for looking placid, she
sat blankly staring out of the window as they drove past the houses where
they had visited, and where she had been entertained an honored guest;
and now-she put the hateful thought away-bankrupt, disgraced! Her bonnet
was crushed in; she did not say a word; but her face looked quite fierce
and old, and frightened Fanny into fresh lamentations. These hysterics
had been first brought on by the sight of Emily Ogden driving by in the
new barouche. This was quite too much for her poor friend's fortitude.
"Emily will drop us, I know she will," sobbed Fanny. "O
Anna! will they ever come and ask us to their Thursday luncheon-parties
"My children," said Mr. Barly, with a placid
groan, pulling up the window, "we are disgraced; we can only hide
our heads away from the world. Do not expect that any one will ever come
near us again." At which announcement Fanny went off into new tears
and bewailings. As for the kind, bewildered, weak-headed, soft-hearted
little man, he had been so utterly worn out, harassed, worried, and wearied
of late, that it was almost a relief to him to think that this was indeed
the case. He sat holding Belle's hand in his, stroking and patting it,
and wondering that people so near London did not keep the roads in better
repair. "We must be getting near our new abode," said he at
last almost cheerfully.
"You speak as if you were glad of our shame, papa,"
said Anna, suddenly, turning round upon him.
"Oh, hush!" cried Belle, indignantly. Fortunately
the coachman stopped at this moment on a spot a very long way off from
Capulet Square; and, leaning from his box, asked if it was that there
little box across the common.
"Oh, what a sweet little place!" cried Belinda.
But her heart rather sank as she told this dreadful story.
Myrtle Cottage was a melancholy little tumbledown place,
looking over Dumbleton Common, which they had been crossing all this time.
It was covered with stucco, cracked and stained and mouldy. There was
a stained- glass window, which was broken. The veranda wanted painting.
From out side it was evident that the white muslin curtains were not so
fresh as they might have been. There was a little garden in front, planted
with durable materials. Even out of doors, in the gardens in the suburbs,
the box-edges, the laurel-bushes, and the fusty old jessamines are apt
to look shabby in time, if they are never renewed. A certain amount of
time and money might, perhaps, have made Myrtle Cottage into a pleasant
little habitation; but (judging from appearances) its last inhabitants
seemed to have been in some want of both these commodities. Its helpless
new occupants were not likely to have much of either to spare. A little
dining-room, with glass drop candle sticks and a rickety table, and a
print of a church and a dissenting minister on the wall. A little drawing-room,
with a great horse-hair sofa, a huge round table in the middle of the
room, and more glass drop candlesticks, also a small work-table of glass
over faded worsted embroidery. Four little bed rooms, mousey, musty, snuffy
with four-posts as terrific as any they had left behind, and a small,
black dungeon for a maid-servant. This was the little paradise which Belle
had been picturing to herself all along the road, and at which she looked
round half-sighing, half-dismayed. Their bundles, baskets, blankets were
handed in, and a cart full of boxes had arrived. Fanny's parrot was shrieking
at the top of its voice on the narrow landing.
"What fun!" cried Belinda, sturdily, instantly
setting to work to get things into some order while Fanny lay exhausted
upon the horse-hair sofa; and Anna, in her haughtiest tones, desired the
coachman to drive home, and stood watching the receding carriage until
it had dwindled away into the distance, -coachman, hammer-cloth, bay horses,
respectability, and all. When she re-entered the house, the parrot was
screeching still, and Martha, the under-housemaid-now transformed into
a sort of extract of butler, foot man, ladies'-maid, and cook, -was frying
some sausages, of which the vulgar smell pervaded the place.
Belle exclaimed, but it required all her courage and natural
brightness of spirit to go on looking at the bright side of things, praising
the cottage, working in the garden, giving secret assistance to the two
bewildered maids who waited on the reduced little family, cheering her
father smiling, and putting the best face on things, as her sisters used
to do at home. If it had been all front stairs in Capulet Square, it was
all back staircase at the cottage. Rural roses, calm sunsets, long shadows
across the common are all very well; but when puffs of smoke come out
of the chimney and fill the little place; when, if the window is opened,
a rush of wind and dust-worse than smoke- comes eddying into the room,
and careers round the four narrow walls; when poor little Fanny coughs
and shudders, and wraps her shawl more closely round her with a groan;
when the smell of the kitchen frying-pan perfumes the house, and a mouse
scampers out of the cupboard, and black beetles lie struggling in the
milk-jugs, and the pump runs dry, and spiders crawl out of the tea-caddy,
and so forth; then, indeed, Belle deserves some credit for being cheerful
under difficulties. She could not pretend to very high spirits, but she
was brisk and willing, and ready to smile at her father's little occasional
puns and feeble attempts at jocularity. Anna, who had been so admirable
as a general, broke down under the fatigue of the actual labor in the
trenches which belonged to their new life. A great many people can order
others about very brilliantly and satisfactorily, who fail when they have
to do the work themselves.
Some of the neighbors called upon them, but the Ogdens
never appeared. Poor little Fanny used to take her lace-work, and sit
stitching and looping her thread at the window which overlooked the common
and its broad roads, crossing and recrossing the plain; carriages came
rolling along, people came walking, children ran past the windows of the
little cottage; but the Ogdens never. Once Fanny thought she recognized
the barouche, - Lady Ogden and Emily sitting in front, Matthew Ogden on
the back seat; surely, yes, surely it was him. But the carriage rolled
off in a cloud of dust, and disappeared behind the wall of the neighboring
park; and Frances finished the loop, and passed her needle in and out
of the muslin, feeling as if it was through her poor little heart that
she was piercing and sticking; she pulled out a long thread, and it seemed
to her as if the sunset stained it red like blood.
In the meanwhile, Belle's voice had been singing away
overhead, and Fanny, going upstairs presently, found her, with one of
the maids, clearing out one of the upper rooms. The window was open, the
furniture was piled up in the middle. Belle, with her sleeves tucked up,
and her dress carefully pinned out of the dust, was standing on a chair,
hammer in hand, and fixing up some dimity curtains against the window.
Table-cloths, brooms, pails and brushes were lying about, and everything
looked in perfect confusion. As Fanny stood looking and exclaiming, Anna
also came to the door from her own room, where she had been taking a melancholy
"What a mess you are making here!" cried the
elder sister, very angrily. "How can you take up Martha's time, Belinda?
And oh! how can you forget yourself to this degree? You seem to exult
in your father's disgrace." Belinda flushed up.
"Really, Anna, I do not know what you mean,"
said she, turning round, vexed for a minute, and clasping a long curtain
in both arms. "I could not bear to see my father's room looking so
shabby and neglected; there is no disgrace in attending to his comfort.
See, we have taken down those dusty curtains, and we are going to put
up some others," said the girl, springing down from the chair and
exhibiting her treasures.
"And pray where is the money to come from,"
said Anna, "to pay for these wonderful changes?"
"They cost no money," said Belinda, laughing.
"I made them myself with my own two hands. Don't you remember my
old white dress that you never liked, Anna? Look how I have pricked my
finger. Now, go down," said the girl, in her pretty, imperative way,
"and don't come up again till I call you."
Go down at Belle's bidding
Anna went off fuming, and immediately set to work also,
but in a different fashion. She unfortunately found that her father had
returned, and was sit ting in the little sitting-room down below by himself,
with a limp paper of the day before him open upon his knees. He was not
reading. He seemed out of spirits, and was gazing in a melancholy way
at the smouldering fire, and rubbing his bald head in a perplexed and
troubled manner. Seeing this, the silly woman, by way of cheering and
comforting the poor old man, began to exclaim at Belinda's behavior, to
irritate him, and overwhelm him with allusions and reproaches.
"Scrubbing and slaving with her own hands,"
said Anna. "Forgetting her self; bringing us down lower indeed than
we are already sunk. Papa, she will not listen to me. You should tell
her that you forbid her to put us all to shame by her behavior."
When Belle, panting, weary, triumphant, and with a blackened
nose and rosy cheek, opened the door of the room presently, and called
her father exultingly, she did not notice, as she ran upstairs before
him, how wearily he followed her. A flood of light came from the dreary
little room overhead. It had been transformed into a bower of white dimity,
bright windows, clean muslin blinds. The fusty old carpet was gone, and
a clean crumb-cloth had been put down, with a comfortable rug before the
fireplace. A nosegay of jessamine stood on the chimney, and at each corner
of the four-post bed, the absurd young decorator had stuck a smart bow,
made out of some of her own blue ribbons, in place of the terrible plumes
and tassels which had waved there in dust and darkness before. One of
the two armchairs which blocked up the wall of the dining-room had been
also covered out of some of Belinda's stores, and stood comfortably near
the open window. The sun was setting over the great common outside, behind
the mill and the distant fringe of elm-trees. Martha, standing all illuminated
by the sunshine, with her mop in her hand, was grinning from ear to ear,
and Belle turned and rushed into her father's arms. But Mr. Barly was
"My child," he said, "why do you trouble
yourself so much for me? Your sister has told me all. I don't deserve
it. I cannot bear that you should be brought to this. My Belle working
and slaving with your own hands through my fault, -through my fault."
The old man sat down on the side of the bed by which he
had been standing, and laid his face in his hands, in a perfect agony
of remorse and regret. Belinda was dismayed by the result of her labors.
In vain she tried to cheer him and comfort him. The sweeter she seemed
in his eyes, the more miserable the poor father grew at the condition
to which he had brought her.
For many days after he went about in a sort of despair
thinking what he could do to retrieve his ruined fortunes, and if Belinda
still rose betimes to see to his comfort and the better ordering of the
confused little household, she took care not to let it be known. Anna
came down at nine, Fanny at ten. Anna would then spend several hours regretting
her former dignities, reading the newspaper and the fashionable intelligence,
while the dismal strains of Fanny's piano (there was a jangling piano
in the little drawing-room) streamed across the common. To a stormy spring,
with wind flying, and dust dashing against the window-panes, and gray
clouds swiftly bearing across the wide, open country, had succeeded a
warm and brilliant summer; with sunshine flooding and spreading over the
country. Anna and Fanny were able to get out a little now, but they were
soon tired, and would sit down under a tree and remark to one another
how greatly they missed their accustomed drives. Belinda, who had sometimes
at first disappeared now and then to cry mysteriously a little bit by
herself over her troubles, now discovered that at eighteen, with good
health and plenty to do, happiness is possible, even without a carriage.
One day Mr. Barly, who still went into the city from habit,
came home with some news which had greatly excited him. Wheal Tre Rosas,
of which he still held a great many shares, which he had never been able
to dispose of, had been giving some signs of life. A fresh call was to
be made: some capitalist, with more money than he evidently knew what
to do with, had been buying up a great deal of the stock. The works were
to be resumed. Mr. Barly had always been satisfied that the concern was
a good one. He would give everything he had, he told Anna that evening,
to be able to raise enough money now to buy up more of the shares. His
fortune was made if he could do so; his children replaced in their proper
position, and his name restored. Anna was in a state of greater flutter,
if possible, than her father himself. Belle sighed; she could not help
feeling doubtful, but she did not like to say much on the subject.
"Papa, this Wheal has proved a very treacherous wheel
of fortune to us," she hazarded, blushing, and bending over her sewing;
"we are very, very happy as we are."
"Happy?" said Anna, with a sneer.
"Really, Belinda, you are too romantic," said
Fanny, with a titter; while Mr. Barly cried out, in an excited way, "that
she should be happier yet, and all her goodness and dutifulness should
be rewarded in time." A sort of presentiment of evil came over Belinda,
and her eyes filled up with tears; but she stitched them away and said
Unfortunately the only money Mr. Barly could think of
to lay his hands upon was that sum in the three per cents upon which they
were now living; and even if he chose he could not touch any of it, until
Belinda came of age; unless, indeed, young Mr. Griffiths would give him
permission to do so.
"Go to him, papa," cried Anna, enthusiastically.
"Go to him; entreat, insist upon it, if necessary."
All that evening Anna and Frances talked over their brilliant
"I should like to see the Ogdens again," said
poor little Fanny.
"Perhaps we can if we go back to Capulet Square."
"Certainly, certainly," said Anna.
"I have heard that this Mr. Griffiths is a most uncouth
and uncivilized person to deal with," continued Miss Barly, with
her finger on her chin. "Papa, wouldn't it be better for me to go
to Mr. Griffiths instead of you?" This, however; Mr. Barly would
not consent to.
Anna could hardly contain her vexation and spite when
he came back next day dispirited, crestfallen, and utterly wretched and
disappointed. Mr. Griffiths would have nothing to say to it.
"What's the good of a trustee," said he to Mr.
Barly, "if he were to let you invest your money in such a speculative
chance as that? Take my advice, and sell out your shares now, if you can,
for anything you can get."
"A surly, disagreeable fellow," said poor old
Mr. Barly. "I heartily wish he had nothing to do with our affairs."
Anna fairly stamped with rage. "What insolence, when
it is our own! Papa, you have no spirit to allow such interference."
Mr. Barly looked at her gravely, and said he should not
allow it. Anna did not know what he meant.
Belinda was not easy about her father all this time. He
came and went in an odd, excited sort of way, stopping short sometimes
as he was walking across the room, and standing absorbed in thought. One
day he went into the city unexpectedly about the middle of the day, and
came back looking quite odd, pale, with curious eyes; something was wrong,
she could not tell what. In the mean time Wheal Tre Rosas seemed, spite
of Mr. Griffiths' prophecies, to be steadily rising in the world. More
business had been done; the shares were a trifle higher. A meeting of
directors was convened, and actually a small dividend was declared at
midsummer. It really seemed as if there was some chance after all that
Anna should be reinstated in the barouche, in Capulet Square, and her
place in society. She and Fanny were half wild with delight. "When
we leave,"-was the beginning of every sentence they uttered. Fanny
wrote the good news to her friend Miss Ogden, and, under these circumstances,
to Fanny's unfeigned delight, Emily Ogden thought herself justified in
driving over to the village one fine afternoon and affably partaking of
a cracked cupful of five o'clock tea. It was slightly smoked, and the
milk was turned. Belinda had gone out for a walk and was not there to
see to it all; I am afraid she did not quite forgive Emily the part she
had played, and could not make up her mind to meet her.
One morning Anna was much excited by the arrival of a
letter directed to Mr. Barly in great round handwriting, and with a huge
seal, all over bears and griffins. Her father was forever expecting news
of his beloved Tre Rosas, and he broke the seal with some curiosity. But
this was only an invitation to dine and sleep at Castle Gardens from Mr.
Griffiths, who said he had an offer to make Mr. Barly, and concluded by
saying that he hoped Mr. Barly forgave him for the ungracious part he
had been obliged to play the other day, and that, in like circumstances,
he would do the same by him.
"I shan't go," said Mr. Barly, a little doggedly,
putting the letter down.
"Not go, papa! Why you may be able to talk him over
if you get him quietly to yourself. Certainly you must go, papa,"
said Anna. "Oh! I'm sure he means to relent. How nice!" said
Fanny. Even Belinda thought it was a pity he should not accept the invitation,
and Mr. Barly gave way as usual. He asked them if they had any commands
for him in town.
"Oh, thank you, papa," said Frances. "If
you are going shopping, I wish you would bring me back a blue alpaca,
and a white grenadine, and a pink sou-poult, and a-"
"My dear Fanny, that will be quite sufficient for
the short time you remain here," interrupted Anna, who went on to
give her father several commissions of her own, -some writing-paper stamped
with Barly Lodge and their crest in one corner; a jacket with buttons
for the knife-boy they had lately engaged upon the strength of their coming
good fortune; a new umbrella, house-agent's list of mansions in the neighborhood
of Capulet Square, the Journal des Modes, and the New Court Guide. "Let
me see, there was some thing else," said Anna.
"Belle," said Mr. Barly, "how comes it
you ask for nothing? What can I bring you, my child?"
Belle looked up with one of her bright, melancholy smiles,
and replied, "If you should see any roses, papa, I think I should
like a bunch of roses. We have none in the garden."
"Roses!" cried Fanny, laughing. "I didn't
know you cared for anything but what was useful, Belle."
"I quite expected you would ask for a saucepan, or
a mustard-pot," said Anna, with a sneer.
Belle sighed again, and then the three went and stood
at the garden-gate to see their father off. It made a pretty little group
for the geese on the common to contemplate, -the two young sisters at
the wicket, the elder under the shade of the veranda, Belle upright, smiling,
waving her slim d; she was above the middle height, she had fair hair
and dark eyebrows and gray eyes, over which she had a peculiar way of
blinking her smooth white eyelids; -and all about, the birds, the soft
winds, the great green common with its gorgeous furze-blossom blazing
against the low bank of clouds in the horizon. Close at hand a white pony
was tranquilly cropping the grass, and two little village children were
standing outside the railings, gazing up open-mouthed at the pretty ladies
who lived at the cottage.
The clouds which had been gathering all the afternoon
broke shortly before Mr. Barly reached his entertainer's house. He had
tried to get there through Kensington Gardens, but could not make out
the way, and went wandering round and round in some perplexity under the
great trees with their creaking branches. The storm did not last long,
and the clouds dispersed at sun set. When Mr. Barly rang at the gate of
the villa in Castle Gardens at last that evening he was weary wet through,
and far less triumphant than he had been when he left home in the morning.
The butler who let him in gave the bag which he had been carrying to the
footman and showed him the way upstairs immediately, to the comfortable
room which had been made ready for him. Upholsterers had done the work
on the whole better than Belle with all her loving labor. The chairs were
softer than her print-covered horse-hair cushions. The waxlights were
burning although it was broad day light. Mr. Barly went to the bay-window.
The garden outside was a sight to see: smooth lawns, arches, roses in
profusion and abundance, hanging and climbing and clustering everywhere,
a distant gleam of a fountain, of a golden sky, a chirruping and rustling
in the bushes and trellises after the storm. The sunset which was lighting
up the fern on the rain-sprinkled common was twinkling through the rose-petals
here, bringing out odors and aromas and whiffs of delicious scent. Mr.
Barly thought of Belle, and how he should like to see her flitting about
in the garden and picking roses to her heart's content. As he stood there
he thought too with a pang of his wife whom he had lost, and sighed in
a sort of despair at the troubles which had fallen upon him of late. What
would he not give to undo the work of the last few months, he thought-nay,
of the last few days? He had once come to this very house with his wife
in their early days of marriage. He remembered it now, although he had
not thought of it before.
Sometimes it happens to us all that things which happened
ever so long ago seem to make a start out of their proper places in the
course of time, and come after us, until they catch us up, as it were,
and surround us, so that one can hear the voices, and see the faces and
colors, and feel the old sensations and thrills as keenly as at the time
they occurred, -all so curiously and strangely vivid that one can scarcely
conceive it possible that years and years perhaps have passed since it
all happened, and that their present shock proceeds from ancient and almost
forgotten impulse. And so, as Mr. Barly looked and remembered and thought
of the past, a sudden remorse and shame came over him. He seemed to see
his wife standing in the garden, holding the roses up over her head, looking
like Belle, -like, yet unlike. Why it should have been so, at the thought
of his wife among the flowers, I cannot tell; but as he remembered her
he began to think of what he had done, -that he was there in the house
of the man he had defrauded, -he began to ask himself how could he face
him? how could he sit down beside him at table, and break his bread? The
poor old fellow fell back with a groan in one of the comfortable armchairs.
Could he confess? Oh, no-no, that would be the most terrible of all!
What he had done is simply told. When Guy Griffiths refused
to let Mr. Barly lay hands on any of the money which he had in trust for
his daughters, the foolish and angry old man had sold out a portion of
the sum belonging to Mr. Griffiths which still remained in his own name.
It had not seemed like dishonesty at the time, but now he would have gladly-oh,
how gladly! - awakened to find it all a dream. He dressed mechanically,
turning over every possible chance in his own mind. Let Wheal Tre Rosas
go on and prosper, the first money should go to repay his loan, and no
one should be the wiser. He went down into the library again when he was
ready. It was empty still, and, to his relief, the master of the house
had not yet come back. He waited a very long time, looking at the clock,
at the reviews on the table, at the picture of Mrs. Griffiths, whom he
could remember in her youth, upon the wall. The butler came in again to
say that his master had not yet returned. Some message had come by a boy,
which was not very intelligible, -he had been detained in the city. Mrs.
Griffiths was not well enough to leave her room, but she hoped Mr. Barly
would order dinner,-anything he required, -and that her son would shortly
It was very late. There was nothing else to be done. Mr.
Barly found a fire lighted in the great dining-room, dinner laid, one
plate and one knife and fork, at the end of the long table. The dinner
was excellent, -so was the wine. The butler uncorked a bottle of champagne,
the cook sent up chickens and all sorts of good things. Mr. Barly almost
felt as if he, by some strange metempsychosis, had been converted into
the owner of this handsome dwelling, and all that belonged to it. At twelve
o'clock Mr. Griffiths had not yet returned, and his guest, after a somewhat
perplexed and solitary meal, retired to rest.
Mr. Barly breakfasted by himself again next morning. Mr.
Griffiths had not returned all night. In his secret heart Mr. Griffiths'
guest was almost relieved by the absence of his entertainer; it seemed
like a respite. Perhaps, after all, everything would go well, and the
confession, which he had contemplated with such terror the night before,
need never be made. For the present, it was clearly no use to wait any
longer at the house. Mr. Barly asked for a cab to take him to the station,
left his compliments and regrets and a small sum of money behind him,
and then, as the cab delayed, strolled out into the front garden to wait
Even in the front court the roses were all abloom; a great
snow-cluster was growing over the doorway, a pretty tea-rose was hanging
its head over the scraper; against the outer railing which separated the
house from the road rose-trees had been planted. The beautiful pink fragrant
heads were pushing through the iron railings, and a delicious little rose-wind
came blowing in the poor old fellow's face. He began to think-no wonder-of
Belle and her fancy for roses, and mechanically, without much reflecting
upon what he was about, he stopped and inhaled the ravishing sweet smell
of the great dewy flowers, and then put out his hand and gathered one;
and as he gathered it a sharp thorn ran into his finger, and a heavy grasp
was laid upon his shoulder
"So it is you, is it, who sneak in and steal my roses?"
said an angry voice. "Now that I know who it is, I shall give you
Mr. Barly looked round greatly startled. He met the fierce
glare of two dark-brown eyes under shaggy brows that were frowning very
fiercely. A broad, thick-set, round-shouldered young man of forbidding
aspect had laid hold of him. The young man let go his grasp when he saw
the mistake he had made, but did not cease frowning.
"Oh! it is you, Mr. Barly," he said.
"I was just going," said the stockbroker meekly.
"I am glad you have returned in time for me to see you, Mr. Griffiths.
I am sorry I took your rose. My youngest daughter is fond of them, and
I thought I might, out of all this gardenful, -you would not-she had asked-"
There was something so stern and unforgiving in Mr. Griffiths'
face that the merchant stumbled in his words, and stopped short, surprised,
in the midst of his explanations.
"The roses were not yours, not if there were ten
gardens full. I won't have my roses broken off," said Griffiths;
"they should be cut with a knife. Come back with me; I want to have
a little talk with you, Mr. Barly."
Somehow the old fellow's heart began to beat, and he felt
himself turn rather sick.
"I was detained last night by some trouble in my
office. One of my clerks in whom I thought I could have trusted, absconded
yesterday afternoon. I have been all the way to Liverpool in pursuit of
him. What do you think should be done with him?" And Mr. Griffiths,
from under his thick eyebrows, gave a quick glance at his present victim,
and seemed to expect some sort of answer.
"You prosperous men cannot realize what it is to
be greatly tempted," said Mr. Barly, with a faint smile.
"Do you know that Wheal Tre Rosas has come to grief
a second time?" said young Mr. Griffiths, abruptly, holding out the
morning's Times, as they walked along. "I am not a prosperous man;
I had a great many shares in that unlucky concern."
Poor Barly stopped short and turned quite pale, and began
to shake so that he had to put his hand out and lean against the wall.
Failed! Was he doomed to misfortune? Then there was never any chance for
him, -never. No hope! No hope of paying back the debt which weighed upon
his con science. He could not realize it. Failed! The rose had fallen
to the ground; the poor unlucky man stood still, staring blankly in the
other's grim, unrelenting face. "I am ruined," he said.
"You are ruined! Is that the worst you have to tell
me?" said Mr. Griffiths, still looking piercingly at him. Then the
other felt that he knew all.
"I have been very unfortunate-and very much to blame,"
said Mr. Barly, still trembling; -"terribly to blame, Mr. Griffiths.
I can only throw myself upon your clemency."
"My clemency! my mercy! lam no philanthropist,"
said Guy, savagely. "I am a man of business, and you have defrauded
"Sir," said the stockbroker, finding some odd
comfort in braving the worst, "you refused to let me take what was
my own; I have sold out some of your money to invest in this fatal concern.
Heaven knows it was not for myself, but for the sake of-of-others; and
I thought to repay you ere long. You can repay yourself now. You need
not reproach me any more. You can send me to prison if you like. I-I-don't
much care what happens. My Belle, my poor Belle, -my poor girls!"
All this time Guy said never a word. He motioned Mr. Barly
to follow him into the library. Mr. Barly obeyed, and stood meekly waiting
for the coming onslaught. He stood in the full glare of the morning sun,
which was pouring through the unblinded window. His poor old scanty head
was bent, and his hair stood on end in the sunshine.
His eyes, avoiding the glare, went vacantly travelling
along the scroll- work on the fender, and so to the coal-scuttle and to
the skirting on the wall, and back again. Dishonored, -yes. Bankrupt,
-yes. Three-score years had brought him to this, -to shame, to trouble.
It was a hard world for unlucky people; but Mr. Barly was too much broken,
too weary and indifferent, to feel very bitterly even against the world.
Meanwhile, Guy was going on with his reflections, and like those amongst
us who are still young and strong, he could put more life and energy into
his condemnation and judgment of actions done, than the unlucky perpetrators
had to give to the very deeds themselves. Some folks do wrong as well
as right, with scarcely more than half a mind to it.
"How could you do such a thing?" cried the young
man, indignantly, be ginning to rush up and down the room in his hasty,
clumsy way, knocking against tables and chairs as he went along. "How
could you do it?" he repeated. "I learned it yesterday, by chance.
What can I say to you that your own conscience should not have told you
already? How could you do it?"
Guy had reached the great end window, and stamped with
vexation and a mixture of anger and sorrow. For all his fierceness and
gruffness, he was sorry for the poor feeble old man, whose fate he held
in his hand. There was the garden outside, and its treasure and glory
of roses; there was the rose, lying on the ground, that old Barly had
taken. It was lying broken and shining upon the gravel, -one rose out
of the hundreds that were bursting, and blooming, and fainting and falling
on their spreading stems. It was like the wrong old Barly had done his
kinsman, -one little wrong Guy thought, one little handful out of all
his abundance. He looked back, and by chance caught sight of their two
figures reflected in the glass at the other end of the room, -his own
image, the strong, round-backed, broad-shouldered young man, with gleaming
white teeth and black bristling hair; the feeble and un certain culprit,
with his broken, wandering looks, waiting his sentence. It was not Guy
who delivered it. It came, -no very terrible one after all, - Prompted
by some unaccountable secret voice and impulse. Have we not all of us
sometimes suddenly felt ashamed in our lives in the face of misfortune
and sorrow? Are we Pharisees, standing in the marketplace, with our phylacteries
displayed to the world? We ask ourselves, in dismay, does this man go
home justified rather than we? Guy was not the less worthy of his Belinda,
poor fellow, because a thought of her crossed his mind, and because he
blushed up, and a gentle look came into his eyes, and a shame into his
heart, -a shame of his strength and prosperousness, of his probity and
high honor. When had he been tempted? What was it but a chance that he
had been born what he was? And yet old Barly, in all his troubles, had
a treasure in his possession for which Guy felt he would give all his
good for tune and good repute, his roses,-red, white, and golden,-his
best heart's devotion, which he secretly felt to be worth all the rest.
Now was the time, the young man thought, to make that proposition which
he had in his mind.
"Look here," said Guy, hanging his great shaggy
head, and speaking quickly and thickly, as if he was the culprit instead
of the accuser. "You imply it was for your daughter's sake that you
cheated me. I cannot consent to act as you would have me do, and take
your daughter's money to pay myself back. But if one of them, -Miss Belinda,
since she likes roses, -chooses to come here and work the debt off, she
can do so. My mother is in bad health, and wants a companion; she will
engage her at-let me see-a hundred guineas a year, and in this way, by
degrees, the debt will be cleared off."
"In twenty years!" said Mr. Barly, bewildered,
"Yes, in twenty years," said Guy, as if that
was the most natural thing in the world. "Go home and consult her
and come back and give me the answer."
And as he spoke, the butler came in to say that the hansom
was at the door.
Poor old Barly bent his worn, meek head and went out.
He was shaken and utterly puzzled. If Guy had told him to climb up the
chimney he would have obeyed. He could only do as he was bid. As it was,
he clambered with difficulty into the hansom, told the man to go to the
station for Dumbleton, and he was driving off gladly when some one called
after the cab. The old man peered out anxiously. Had Griffiths changed
his mind? Was his heart hardened like Pharaoh's at the eleventh hour?
It was certainly Guy who came hastily after the cab, looking
more awkward and sulky than ever. "Hoy! Stop! You have forgotten
the roses for your daughter," said he, thrusting in a great bunch
of sweet foam and freshness. As the cab drove along, people passing by
looked up and envied the man who was carrying such loveliness through
the black and dreary London streets. Could they have seen the face looking
out behind the roses they might have ceased to envy.
Belle was on the watch for her father at the garden-gate
and exclaimed with delight, as she saw him toiling up the hill from the
station with his huge bunch of flowers. She came running to meet him with
fluttering skirts and outstretched hands, and sweet smiles gladdening
her face. "O papa, how lovely! Have you had a pleasant time?"
Her father hardly responded. "Take the roses, Belle," he said.
"I have paid for them dearly enough." He went into the house
wearily, and sat down in the shabby arm-chair. And then he turned and
called Belinda to him wistfully and put his trembling arm round about
her. Poor old Barly was no mighty Jephthah; but his feeble old head bent
with some such pathetic longing and remorse over his Belle as he drew
her to him, and told her, in a few simple, broken words, all the story
of what had befallen him in those few hours since he went away. He could
not part from her. "I can't, I can't," he said, as the girl
put her tender arms round his neck
Guy came to see me a few days after his interview with
old Mr. Barly, and told me that his mother had surprised him by her willing
acquiescence in the scheme. I could have explained matters to him a little,
but I thought it best to say nothing. Mrs. Griffiths had overheard and
understood a word or two of what he had said to me that night, when she
was taken ill. Was it some sudden remorse for the past? Was it a new-born
mother's tenderness stirring in her cold heart, which made her question
and cross-question me the next time that I was alone with her? There had
often been a talk of some companion or better sort of attendant. When
the news came of poor old Barly's failure, it was Mrs. Griffiths herself
who first vaguely alluded again to this scheme.
"I might engage one of those girls-the-the-Belinda,
I think you called her?"
I was touched, and took her cold hand and kissed it.
"I am sure she would be an immense comfort to you,"
I said. "You would never regret your kindness."
The sick woman sighed and turned away impatiently, and
the result was the invitation to dinner, which turned out so disastrously.
When Mr. Barly came down to breakfast, the morning after
his return, he found another of those great, square, official-looking
letters upon the table. There was a check in it for 1001. "You will
have to meet heavy expenses," the young man wrote. "I am not
sorry to have an opportunity of proving to you that it was not the money
which you have taken from me I grudged, but the manner in which you took
it. The only reparation you can make me is by keeping the enclosed for
your present necessity."
In truth the family prospects were not very brilliant.
Myrtle Cottage was resplendent with clean windows and well-scrubbed door-steps,
but the furniture wanted repairing, the larder refilling. Belle could
not darn up the bro ken flap of the dining-room table, nor conjure legs
of mutton out of bare bones, though she got up ever so early; sweeping
would not mend the hole in the carpet, nor could she dust the mildew-stains
off the walls, the cracks out of the looking-glass.
Anna was morose, helpless, and jealous of the younger
girl's influence over her father. Fanny was delicate; one gleam of happiness,
however, streaked her horizon; Emily Ogden had written to invite her to
spend a few days there. When Mr. Barly and his daughter had talked over
Mr. Griffiths' proposition, Belle's own good sense told her that it would
be folly to throw away this good chance. Let Mrs. Griffiths be ever so
trying and difficult to deal with, and her son a thousand times sterner
and ruder than he had al ready shown himself, she was determined to bear
it all. Belinda knew her own powers, and felt as if she could endure anything,
and that she should never forget the generosity and forbearance he had
shown her poor father. Anna was delighted that her sister should go; she
threw off the shawl in which she had muffled herself up ever since their
reverses, brightened up wonderfully, talked mysteriously of Fanny's prospects
as she helped both the girls to pack, made believe to shed a few tears
as Belinda set off, and bustled back into the house with renewed importance.
Belinda looked back and waved her hand, but Anna's back was already turned
Poor Belinda! For all her courage and cheerfulness her
heart sank a little as they reached the great bronze gates in Castle Gardens.
She would have been more unhappy still if she had not had to keep up her
father's spirits. It was almost dinner-time, and Mrs. Griffiths' maid
came down with a message. Her mistress was tired, and just going to bed,
and would see her in the morning; Mr. Griffiths was dining in town; Miss
Williamson would call upon Miss Barly that evening.
Dinner had been laid as usual in the great dining-room,
with its marble columns and draperies, and Dutch pictures of game and
of birds and flowers. Three servants were in waiting, a great silver chandelier
lighted the dismal meal, huge dish-covers were upheaved, decanters of
wine were handed round, all the entrées and delicacies came over
again. Belle tried to eat to keep her father in company. She even made
little jokes, and whispered to him that they evidently meant to fatten
her up. The poor old fellow cheered up by degrees; the good claret warmed
his feeble pulse; the good fare com forted and strengthened him. "I
wish Martha would make us ice puddings," said Belle, helping him
to a glittering mass of pale-colored cream, with nut meg and vanilla,
and all sorts of delicious spices. He had just finished the last mouthful
when the butler started and rushed out of the room, a door banged, a bell
rang violently, a loud scraping was heard in the hall, and an echoing
voice said, "Are they come? Are they in the dining-room?" And
the crimson curtain was lifted up, and the master of the house entered
the room carrying a bag and a great-coat over his arm. As he passed the
sideboard the button of the coat caught in the fringe of a cloth which
was spread upon it, and in a minute the cloth and all the glasses and
plates which had been left there came to the ground with a wild crash,
which would have made Belle laugh, if she had not been too nervous even
Guy merely told the servants to pick it all up, and put
down the things he was carrying and walked straight across the room to
the two frightened people at the end of the table. Poor fellow! After
shaking hands with old Barly and giving his daughter an abrupt little
nod, all he could find to say was,-
"I hope you came of your own free will, Miss Barly?"
and as he spoke he gave a shy scowl and eyed her all over.
"Yes," Belle answered, blinking her soft eyes
to see him more clearly.
"Then I'm very much obliged to you," said Guy.
This was such an astonishingly civil answer that Belinda's
Poor Belinda's heart failed her again when Griffiths,
still in an agony of shyness, then turned to her father, and in his roughest
voice said, -
"You leave early in the morning, but I hope we shall
keep your daughter for a very long time."
Poor fellow! he meant no harm and only intended this by
way of conversation. Belle in her secret heart said to herself that he
was a cruel brute; and poor Guy, having made this impression, broken a
dozen wine-glasses, and gone through untold struggles of shyness, now
wished them both good night.
"Good-night, Mr. Barly; good-night, Miss Belle,"
said he. Something in his voice caused Belle to relent a little.
"Good-night, Mr. Griffiths," said the girl,
standing up, a slight, graceful figure, simple and nymph-like, amidst
all this pomp of circumstance. As Griffiths shuffled out of the room he
saw her still; all night he saw her in his dreams. That bright, winsome
young creature dressed in white, soft folds, with all the gorgeous gildings
and draperies, and the lights burning, and the pictures and gold cups
glimmering round about her. They were his, and as many more of them as
he chose; the inanimate, costly, sickening pomps and possessions; but
a pure spirit like that, to be a bright, living companion for him? Ah,
no! that was not to be, -not for him, not for such as him. Guy, for the
first time in his life, as he went downstairs next morning, stopped and
looked at himself attentively in the great glass on the staircase. He
saw a great loutish, round-backed fellow, with a shaggy head and brown
glittering eyes, and little strong, white teeth like a dog's; he gave
an uncouth sudden caper of rage and regret at his own appearance. "To
think that happiness and life itself and love eternal depend upon tailors
and hair-oil," groaned poor Guy, as he went down to his room to write
Mrs. Griffiths had not seen Belle the night before; she
was always nervously averse to seeing strangers, but she had sent for
me that evening, and as I was leaving she asked me to go down and speak
to Miss Barly before I went. Belinda was already in her room, but I ventured
to knock at the door. She came to meet me with a bright, puzzled face
and all her pretty hair falling loose about her face. She had not a notion
who I was, but begged me to come in. When I had explained things a little
she pulled out a chair for me to sit down.
"This house seems to me so mysterious and unlike
anything else I have ever known," said she, "that I'm very grateful
to any one who will tell me what I'm to do here. Please sit down a little
I told her that she would have to write notes, to add
up bills, to read to Mrs. Griffiths, and to come to me whenever she wanted
any help or com fort. "You were quite right to come," said I.
"They are excellent people. Guy is the kindest, best fellow in the
whole world, and I have long heard of you, Miss Barly, and I'm sure such
a good daughter as you have been will be rewarded some day."
Belle looked puzzled, grateful, a little proud, and very
charming. She told me afterwards that it had been a great comfort to her
father to hear of my little visit to her and that she had succeeded in
getting him away without any very painful scene.
Poor Belle! I wonder how many tears she shed that day
after her father was gone? While she was waiting to be let in to Mrs.
Griffiths she amused herself by wandering about the house, dropping a
little tear here and there as she went along, and trying to think that
it amused her to see so many yards of damask and stair-carpeting, all
exactly alike, so many acres of chintz of the same pattern.
"Mr. Griffiths desired me to say that this tower
room was to be made ready for you to sit in, ma'am," said the respectful
butler meeting her and opening a door. "It has not been used before."
And he gave her the key, to which a label was affixed, with "MISS
BARLY'S ROOM" written upon it, in the house-keeper's scrawling handwriting.
Belle gave a little shriek of admiration. It was a square
room, with four windows, overlooking the gardens, the distant park, and
the broad, cheerful road which ran past the house. An ivy screen had been
trained over one of the windows, roses were clustering in garlands round
the deep, sill casements. There was an Indian carpet, and pretty silk
curtains, and comfortable chintz chairs and sofas, upon which beautiful
birds were flying and lilies wreathing. There was an old-fashioned-looking
piano, too, and a great book case filled with books and music. "They
certainly treat me in the most magnificent way," thought Belle, sinking
down upon the sofa in the window which overlooked the rose-garden, and
inhaling a delicious breath of fragrant air. "They can't mean to
be very unkind." Belle, who was a little curious, it must be confessed,
looked at everything, made secret notes in her mind, read the titles of
the books, examined the china, discovered a balcony in her turret. There
was a little writing-table, too, with paper and pens and inks of various
colors, which especially pleased her. A glass cup of cut roses had been
placed upon it, and two dear little green books, in one of which some
one had left a paper-cutter.
The first was a book of fairy tales, from which I hope
the good fairy editress will forgive me for stealing a sentence or two.
The other little green book was called the Golden Treasury;
and when Belle took it up, it opened where the paper-cutter had been left,
at the seventh page, and some one had scored the sonnet there. Belle read
it, and somehow, as she read, the tears in her eyes started afresh.
"Being your slave, what should I do but tend
Upon the hours and times of your desire?"
it began. "To-' had been scrawled underneath; and
then the letter following the "To" erased. Belle blinked her
eyes over it, but could make nothing out. A little further on she found
another scoring, -
"Oh, my love's like a red, red rose
That's newly sprung in June!
Oh, my love's like the melody
That's sweetly played in tune!"
and this was signed with a G.
"Love! That is not for me; but I wish I had a slave,"
thought poor Belle, hanging her head over the book as it lay open in her
lap, "and that he was clever enough to tell me what my father is
doing at this minute." She could imagine it for herself, alas! without
any magic interference. She could see the dreary little cottage, her poor
old father wearily returning alone. She nearly broke down at the thought,
but some one knocked at the door at that instant, and she forced herself
to be calm as one of the servants came in with a telegram. Belinda tore
open her telegram in some alarm and trembling terror of bad news from
home; and then smiled a sweet, loving smile of relief. The telegram came
from Guy. It was dated from his office. "Your father desires me to
send word that he is safe home. He sends his love. I have been to D. on
business, and travelled down with him."
Belinda could not help saying to herself that Mr. Griffiths
was very kind to have thought of her. His kindness gave her courage to
meet his mother.
It was not very much that she had to do; but whatever
it was she accomplished well and thoroughly, as was her way. Whatever
the girl put her hand to she put her whole heart to at the same time.
Her energy, sweetness, and good spirits cheered the sick woman and did
her infinite good. Mrs. Griffiths took a great fancy to her, and liked
to have her about her. Belle lunched with her the first day. She had better
dine down below, Mrs. Griffiths said; and when dinner-time came the girl
dressed herself, smoothed her yellow curls, and went shyly down the great
staircase into the dining-room. It must be confessed that she glanced
a little curiously at the table, wondering whether she was to dine alone
or in company. This problem was soon solved; a side- door burst open,
and Guy made his appearance, looking shy and ashamed of it as he came
up and shook hands with her.
"Miss Belinda," said he, "will you allow
me to dine with you?"
"You must do as you like," said Belinda, quickly,
"Not at all," said Mr. Griffiths. "It is
entirely as you shall decide. If you don't like my company, you need only
say so. I shall not be offended. Well, shall we dine together?"
"Oh, certainly," laughed Belinda, confused in
So the two sat down to dine together. For the first time
in his life Guy thought the great room light enough and bright and comfortable.
The gold and silver plate didn't seem to crush him, nor the draperies
to suffocate, nor the great columns ready to fall upon him. There was
Belinda picking her grapes and playing with the sugar-plums. He could
hardly believe it possible. His poor old heart gave great wistful thumps
(if such a thing is possible) at the sound of her voice. She had lost
much of her shyness, and they were talking of anything that came into
their heads. She had been telling him about Myrtle Cottage, and the spiders
there, and looking up, laughing, she was surprised to see him staring
at her very sadly and kindly. He turned away abruptly, and began to help
himself to all sorts of things out of the silver dishes.
"It's very good of you," Guy said, looking away,
"to come and brighten this dismal house, and to stay with a poor
suffering woman and a great un couth fellow like myself."
"But you are both so very kind," said Belinda,
simply. "I shall never for get-"
"Kind!" cried Guy, very roughly. "I behaved
like a brute to you and your father yesterday. I am not used to ladies'
society. I am stupid and shy and awkward."
"If you were very stupid," said Belle, smiling,
"you would not have said that, Mr. Griffiths. Stupid people always
think themselves charming."
When Guy said good-night immediately after dinner, as
usual, he sighed again, and looked at her with such kind and melancholy
eyes that Belle felt an odd affection and compassion for him. "I
never should have thought it possible to like him so much," thought
the girl, as she slowly went along the passage to Mrs. Griffiths' door.
It was an odd life this young creature led in the great
silent, stifling house, with uncouth Guy for her playfellow, the sick
woman's complaints and fancies for her duty in life. The silence of it
all, its very comfort and splendidness, Oppressed Belinda more at times
than a simpler and more busy life. But the garden was an endless pleasure
and refreshment, and she used to stroll about, skim over the terraces
and walks, smell the roses, feed the birds and the goldfishes. Sometimes
I have stood at my window, watching the active figure flitting by in and
out under the trellis, fifteen times round the pond, thirty-two times
along the terrace walk. Belle was obliged to set herself tasks, or she
would have got tired sometimes of wandering about by herself. All this
time she never thought of Guy except as a curious sort of companion; any
thought of sentiment had never once occurred to her.
One day that Belle had been in the garden longer than
usual, she remembered a note for Mrs. Griffiths that she had forgotten
to write, and springing up the steps into the hall, on the way, with some
roses in her apron, she suddenly almost ran up against Guy, who had come
home earlier than usual. The girl stood blushing and looking more charming
that ever. The young fellow stood quite still, too, looking with such
expressive and admiring glances that Belinda blushed deeper still, and
made haste to escape to her room. Presently the gong sounded, and there
was no help for it, and she had to go down again. Guy was in the dining-room
as polite and as shy as usual, and Belinda gradually forgot the passing
impression. The butler put the dessert on the table and left them, and
when she had finished her fruit Belinda got up to say good-by. As she
was leaving the room she heard Guy's footsteps following. She stopped
short. He came up to her. He looked very pale, and said suddenly, in a
quick, husky voice, -
"Belle, will you marry me?"
Poor Belinda opened her gray eyes full in his face. She
could hardly believe she had heard aright. She was startled, taken aback,
but she followed her impulse of the moment, and answered gravely, -
He wasn't angry or surprised. He had known it all along,
poor fellow, and expected nothing else. He only sighed, looked at her
once again, and then went away out of the room.
Poor Belle! she stood there where he had left her; -the
lights burned, the great table glittered, the curtains waved. It was like
a strange dream. She clasped her hands together, and then suddenly ran
and fled away up to her own room, -frightened, utterly puzzled, bewildered,
not knowing what to do or to whom to speak. It was a comfort to be summoned
as usual to read to Mrs. Griffiths. She longed to pour out her story to
the poor lady, but she dreaded agitating her. She read as she was bid.
Once she stopped short, but her mistress impatiently motioned her to go
on. She obeyed, stumbling and tumbling over the words before her, until
there came a knock at the door, and, contrary to his custom, Guy entered
the room. He looked very pale, poor fellow, and sad and subdued.
"I wanted to see you, Miss Belinda," he said
aloud, "and to tell you that I hope this will make no difference,
and that you will remain with us as if nothing had happened. You warned
me, mamma, but I could not help myself. It's my own fault. Good-night.
That is all I had to say."
Belle turned wistfully to Mrs. Griffiths. The thin hand
was impatiently twisting the coverlet.
"Of course, -who would have anything to say to him?
Foolish fellow!" she muttered, in her indistinct way. "Go on,
"Oh, but tell me first, ought Ito remain here?"
Belle asked, imploringly.
"Certainly, unless you are unhappy with us,"
the sick woman answered, peevishly.
Mrs. Griffiths never made any other allusion to what had
happened. I think the truth was that she did not care very much for anything
outside the doors of her sickroom. Perhaps she thought her son had been
over-hasty, and that in time Belinda might change her mind. To people
lying on their last sick-beds, the terrors, anxieties, longings of life
seem very curious and strange. They seem to forget that they were once
anxious, hopeful, eager themselves, as they lie gazing at the awful veil
which will so soon be with drawn from before their fading eyes.
A sort of constraint came between Guy and Belinda at first,
but it wore away by degrees. He often alluded to his proposal, but in
so hopeless and gentle a way that she could not be angry; still she was
disquieted and un happy. She felt that it was a false and awkward position.
She could not bear to see him looking ill and sad, as he did at times,
with great black rings under his dark eyes. It was worse still when she
saw him brighten up with happiness at some chance word she let fall now
and then, -speaking inadvertently of home, as he did, or of the roses
next year. He must not mistake her. She could not bear to pain him by
hard words, and yet sometimes she felt it was her duty to speak them.
One day she met him in the street, on her way back to the house. The roll
of the passing carriage-wheels gave Guy confidence, and, walking by her
side, he began to say, -
"Now I never know what delightful surprise may not
be waiting for me at every street corner. Ah, Miss Belle, my whole life
might be one long dream of wonder and happiness, if "
"Don't speak like this ever again; I shall go away,"
said Belle, interrupting, and crossing the road, in her agitation, under
the very noses of two omnibus horses. "I wish I could like you enough
to marry you. I shall always love you enough to be your friend; please
don't talk of anything else."
Belle said this in a bright, brisk, imploring, decided
way, and hoped to have put an end to the matter. That day she came to
me and told her little story. There were almost as many reasons for her
staying as for her leaving, the poor child thought. I could not advise
her to go, for the assistance that she was able to send home was very
valuable. Guy laughed, and utterly refused to accept a sixpence of her
salary. Mrs. Griffiths evidently wanted her; Guy, poor fellow, would have
given all he had to keep her, as we all knew too well.
Circumstance orders events sometimes, when people themselves,
with all their powers and knowledge of good and of evil, are but passive
instruments in the hands of fate. News came that Mr. Barly was ill, and
little Belinda, with an anxious face, and a note in her trembling hand,
came into Mrs. Griffiths' room one day to say she must go to him directly.
"Your father is ill," wrote Anna. "Circumstances
demand your immediate return to him."
Guy happened to be present, and, when Belle left the room,
he followed her out into the passage.
"You are going!" he said.
"I don't know what Anna means by circumstances, but
papa is ill, and wants me," said Belinda, almost crying.
"And I want you," said Guy; "but that don't
matter, of course. Go, -go, since you wish it."
After all, perhaps it was well she was going, thought
Belle, as she went to pack up her boxes. Poor Guy's sad face haunted her.
She seemed to carry it away in her box with her other possessions.
It would be difficult to describe what he felt, poor fellow,
when he came upon the luggage standing ready corded in the hall, and he
found that Belle had taken him at his word. He was so silent a man, so
self-contained, so diffident of his own strength to win her love in time,
so unused to the ways of the world and of women, that he could be judged
by no ordinary rule. His utter despair and bewilderment would have been
laughable almost, if they had not been so genuine. He paced about the
garden with hasty, uncertain footsteps, muttering to himself as he went
along, and angrily cutting at the rose-hedges. "Of course she must
go, since she wished it; of course she must-of course, of course. What
would the house be like when she was gone?" For an instant a vision
of a great dull vault without warmth, or light, or color, or possible
comfort anywhere, rose before him. He tried to imagine what his life would
be if she never came back into it; but as he stood still, trying to seize
the picture, it seemed to him that it was a thing not to be imagined or
thought of. Wherever he looked he saw her, everywhere and in everything.
He had imagined himself unhappy; now he discovered that for the last few
weeks, since little Belinda had come, he had basked in the summer she
had brought, and found new life in the sunshine of her presence. Of an
evening he had come home eagerly from his daily toil looking to find her.
When he left early in the morning, he would look up with kind eyes at
her windows as he drove away. Once, early one morning, he had passed her
near the lodge-gate, standing in the shadow of the great aspen-tree, and
making way for the horses to go by. Belle was holding back the clean,
stiff folds of her pink muslin dress; she looked up with that peculiar
blink of her gray eyes, smiled and nodded her bright head, and shrunk
away from the horses. Every morning Guy used to look under the tree after
that to see if she were there by chance, even if he had parted from her
but a minute before. Good, stupid old fellow! he used to smile to himself
at his own foolishness. One of his fancies about her was that Belinda
was a bird who would fly away some day, and perch up in the branches of
one of the great trees, far, far beyond his reach. And now was this fancy
coming true? was she going-leaving him-flying away where he could not
follow her? He gave an inarticulate sound of mingled anger and sorrow
and tenderness, which relieved his heart, but which puzzled Belle herself,
who was coming down the garden-walk to meet him.
"I was looking for you, Mr. Griffiths," said
Belle. "Your mother wants to speak to you. I, too, wanted to ask
you something," the girl went on, blushing. "She is kind enough
to wish me to come back. . . . But-"
Belle stopped short, blushed up, and began pulling at
the leaves sprouting on either side of the narrow alley. When she looked
up after a minute, with one of her quick, short-sighted glances, she found
that Guy's two little brown eyes were fixed upon her steadily.
"Don't be afraid that I shall trouble you,"
he said, reddening. "If you knew-if you had the smallest conception
what your presence is to me, you would come back. I think you would."
Miss Barly didn't answer but blushed up again and walked
on in silence, hanging her head to conceal the two bright tears which
had come into her eyes. She was sorry, so very sorry. But what could she
do? Guy had walked on to the end of the rose-garden, and Belle had followed.
Now, instead of turning towards the house, he had come out into the bright-looking
kitchen- garden, with its red brick walls hung with their various draperies
of lichen and mosses, and garlands of clambering fruit. Four little paths
led up to the turf-carpet which had been laid down in the center of the
garden. Here a fountain plashed with a tranquil fall of waters upon water;
all sorts of sweet kitchen-herbs, mint and thyme and parsley, were growing
along the straight- cut beds. Birds were pecking at the nets along the
walls; one little sparrow that had been drinking at the fountain flew
away as they approached. The few bright-colored straggling flowers caught
the sunlight and reflected it in sparks like the water.
The master of this pleasant place put out his great, clumsy
hand, and took hold of Belle's soft, reluctant fingers.
"Ah, Belle," he said, "is there no hope
for me? Will there never be any chance?"
"I wish with all my heart there was a chance,"
said poor Belle, pulling away her hand impatiently. "Why do you wound
and pain me by speaking again and again of what is far best forgotten?
Dear Mr. Griffiths, I will marry you to-morrow, if you desire it,"
said the girl, with a sudden impulse, turning pale and remembering all
that she owed to his forbearance and gentleness; "but please, please
don't ask it." She looked so frightened and desperate that poor Guy
felt that this was worse than anything, and sadly shook his head.
"Don't be afraid," he said. "I don't want
to marry you against your will, or keep you here. Yes, you shall go home,
and I will stop here alone, and cut my throat if I find I cannot bear
the place without you. I am only joking. I dare say I shall do very well,"
said Griffiths, with a sigh; and he turned away and began stamping off
in his clumsy way.
Then he suddenly stopped and looked back. Belle was standing
in the sunshine with her face hidden in her hands. She was so puzzled,
and sorry, and hopeless, and mournful. The only thing she could do was
to cry, poor child, -and by some instinct Griffiths guessed that she was
crying; he knew it, -his heart melted with pity. The poor fellow came
back trembling. "My dearest," he said, "don't cry. What
a brute I am to make you cry! Tell me anything in the whole world I can
do to make you happy."
"If I could only do anything for you," said
Belle, "that would make me happier."
"Then come back, my dear," said Guy, "and
don't fly away yet forever, as you threatened just now. Come back and
cheer up my mother, and make tea and a little sunshine for me, until-until
some confounded fellow comes and carries you off," said poor Griffiths.
"Oh, that will never be. Yes, I'll come," said
Belle, earnestly. "I'll go home for a week and come back; indeed
"Only let me know," said Mr. Griffiths, "and
my mother will send the carriage for you. Shall we say a week?" he
added, anxious to drive a hard bargain.
"Yes," said Belinda, smiling; "I'll write
and tell you the day."
Nothing would induce Griffiths to order the carriage until
after dinner, and it was quite late at night when Belle got home.
Poor little Myrtle Cottage looked very small and shabby
as she drove up in the darkness to the door. A brilliant illumination
streamed from all the windows. Martha rubbed her elbows at the sight of
the gorgeous equipage. Fanny came to the door surprised, laughing, giggling,
mysterious. Every thing looked much as usual, except that a large and
pompous-looking gentle man was sitting on the drawing-room sofa, and beside
him Anna, with a huge ring on her fourth finger, attempting to blush as
Belle came into the room. Belle saw that she was not wanted, and ran upstairs
to her father, who was better, and sitting in the arm-chair by his bedside.
The poor old man nearly cried with delight and surprise, held out both
his shaking hands to her, and clung tenderly to the bright young daughter.
Belle sat beside him, holding his hand, asking him a hundred questions,
kissing his wrinkled face and cheeks, and telling him all that had happened.
Mr. Barly, too, had news to give. The fat gentleman downstairs, he told
Belle, was no other than Anna's old admirer, the doctor, of whom mention
has been made. He had re proposed the day before, and was now sitting
on the sofa on probation. Fanny's prospects, too, seemed satisfactory.
"She assures me," said Mr. Barly, "that young Ogden is
on the point of coming forward. An old man like me, my dear, is naturally
anxious to see his children settled in life and comfort ably provided
for. I don't know who would be good enough for my Belinda. Not that awkward
lout of a Griffiths. No, no; we must look out better than that."
"O papa, if you knew how good and how kind he is!"
said Belle, with a sudden revulsion of feeling; but she broke off abruptly,
and spoke of some thing else.
The other maid, who had already gone to bed the night
before when Belle arrived at the cottage, gave a loud shriek when she
went into the room next morning and found some one asleep in the bed.
Belle awoke, laughed and explained, and asked her to bring up her things.
"Bring'em hup?" said the girl. "What all
them 'ampers that's come by the cart? No, miss, that's more than me and
Martha have the strength for. I should crick my back if I were to attempt
for to do such a thing."
"Hampers, -what hampers?" Belle asked; but when
she went down she found the little passage piled with cases, flowers,
and game and preserves, and some fine old port for Mr. Barly, and some
roses for Belle. As Belinda came downstairs, in her fresh morning dress,
Anna, who had been poking about and examining the various packages, looked
up with offended dignity.
"I think, considering that I am mistress here,"
said she, "these hampers should have been directed to me, instead
of to you, Belinda. Mr. Griffiths strangely forgets. Indeed, I fear that
you too are wanting in any great sense of ladylike propriety."
"Prunes, prism, propriety," said Belle, gayly.
"Never mind, dear Anna; he's sent the things for all of us. Mr. Griffiths
certainly never meant me to drink two dozen bottles of port wine in a
"You are evading the question," said Anna, "I
have been wishing to talk to you for some time past, -come into the dining-room,
if you please."
It seems almost impossible to believe, and yet I cannot
help fearing that out of sheer spite and envy Anna Barly had even then
determined that if she could prevent it, Belinda should never go back
to Castle Gardens again, but remain in the cottage. The sight of the pretty
things which had been given her there, all the evidences which told of
the esteem and love in which she was held, maddened the foolish woman.
I can give no other reason for the way in which she opposed Belinda's
return to Mrs. Griffiths. "Her duty is at home," said Anna.
"I myself shall be greatly engaged with Thomas, "-so she had
already learnt to call Dr. Robinson. "Fanny also is preoccupied;
Belinda must remain."
When Belle demurred and said that for the next few weeks
she would like to return as she had promised, and stay until Mrs. Griffiths
was suited with another companion, Anna's indignation rose and overpowered
her dignity. Was it her sister who was so oblivious of the laws of society,
propriety, modesty? Anna feared that Belinda had not reflected upon the
strange appearance her conduct must have to others, to the Ogdens, to
them all. What was the secret attraction which took her back? Anna said
she had rather not inquire, and went on with her oration. "Unmaidenly,-not
to be thought of, -the advice of those whose experience might be trusted"-does
one not know the rigmarole by heart? When even the father, who had been
pre viously talked to, sided with his eldest daughter, when Thomas, who
was also called into the family conclave, nodded his head in an ominous
manner poor little Belinda, frightened, shaken, undecided, almost promised
that she would do as they desired; and as she promised, the thought of
poor Guy's grief and wistful, haggard face came before her and her poor
little heart ached and sank at the thought. But not even Belinda, with
all her courage, could resist the decision of so much experience, or Anna's
hints and innuendoes, or, more insurmountable than all the rest, a sudden
shyness and consciousness which had come over the poor little maiden,
who turned crimson with shame and annoyance.
Belinda had decided as she was told, -had done as her
conscience bid her, -and yet there was but little satisfaction in this
duty accomplished. For about half an hour she went about feeling like
a heroine, and then without any reason or occasion, it seemed to her that
the mask had come off her face, that she had discovered herself to be
a traitoress, that she had betrayed and abandoned her kindest friends;
she called herself a selfish, un grateful wretch, she wondered what Guy
would think of her; she was out of temper, out of spirits, out of patience
with herself, and the click of the blind swinging in the draft was unendurable.
The complacent expression of Anna's handsome face put her teeth on edge.
When Fanny tumbled over the footstool with a playful shriek, to everybody's
surprise Belinda burst out crying.
Those few days were endless, slow, dull, unbearable,-every
second brought its pang of regret and discomfort and remorse. It seemed
to Belinda that her ears listened, her mouth talked, her eyes looked at
the four walls of the cottage, at the furze on the common, at the faces
of her sisters, with a sort of mechanical effort. As if she were acting
her daily life, not living it naturally and without effort. Only when
she was with her father did she feel unconstrained; but even then there
was an unexpressed reproach in her heart like a dull pain that she could
not quiet. And so the long days lagged. Although Dr. Robinson enlivened
them with his presence, and the Ogdens drove up to carry Fanny off to
the happy regions of Capulet Square (E. for Elysium Anna I think would
have docketed the district), to Belinda those days seemed slow, and dark,
and dim, and almost hopeless at times.
On the day on which Belinda was to have returned, there
came a letter to me telling her story plainly enough. "I must not
come back, my dearest Miss Williamson," she wrote. "I am going
to write to Mrs. Griffiths and dear kind Mr. Guy to-morrow to tell them
so. Anna does not think it is right. Papa clings to me and wants me, now
that both my sisters are going to leave him. How often I shall think of
you all, -of all your goodness to me, of the beautiful roses, and my dear
little room! Do you think Mr. Guy would let me take one or two books as
a remembrance-Hume's History of England, Porteous's Sermons, and Essays
on Reform? I should like to have something to remind me of you all, and
to look at sometimes, since they say I am not to see you all again. Good-by,
and thank you and Mrs. H. a thousand, thou sand times. Your ever, ever
affectionate BELINDA. P. S. Might I also ask for that little green volume
of the Golden Treasury which is up in the tower-room?"
This was what Guy had feared all along. Once she was gone,
he knew by instinct she would never come back. I hardly know how it fared
with the poor fellow all this time. He kept out of our way, and would
try to escape me; but once by chance I met him, and I was shocked by the
change which had come over him. I had my own opinion, as we all have at
times. H. and I had talked it over, -for old women are good for something,
after all, and can sometimes play a sentimental part in life as well as
young ones. It seemed to us impossible that Belinda should not relent
to so much goodness and unselfishness, and come back again some day, never
to go any more. We knew enough of Anna Barly to guess the part she had
played, nor did we despair of seeing Belinda among us once more. But some
one must help her; she could not reach us unassisted; and so I told Mrs.
Griffiths, who had remarked upon her son's distress and altered looks.
"If you will lend us the carriage," I said,
"either H. or I will go over to Dumbleton to-morrow, and I doubt
not that we shall bring her."
H. went. She told me about it afterwards. Anna was fortunately
absent. Mr. Barly was downstairs, and H. was able to talk to him a little
bit before Belinda came down. The poor old man always thought as he was
told to think, and since his illness he was more uncertain and broken
than ever. He was dismayed when H. told him in her decided way that he
was probably sacrificing two people's happiness for life by his ill-timed
interference. When at last Belinda came down, she looked almost as ill
as Griffiths himself. She rushed into H.'s arms with a scream of delight,
and eagerly asked a hundred questions. "How were they all-what were
they all doing?"
H. was very decided. Everybody was very ill and wanted
Belinda back. "Your father says he can spare you very well,"
said she. "Why not come back with me this afternoon, if only for
a time? It is your duty," H. continued, in her dry way. "You
should not leave them in this uncertainty."
"Go my child; pray go," urged Mr. Barly.
And at last Belinda consented shyly, nothing loth.
H. began to question her when she had got her safe in
the carriage. Belinda said she had not been well. She could not sleep,
she said. She had had bad dreams. She blushed and confessed that she had
dreamed of Guy lying dead in the kitchen-garden. She had gone about the
house trying-indeed she had tried-to be cheerful and busy as usual, but
she felt unhappy, ungrateful. "Oh, what a foolish girl I am!"
All the lights were burning in the little town, the west
was glowing and reflected in the river, the boats trembled and shot through
the shiny waters, and the people were out upon the banks, as they crossed
the bridge again on their way from Dumbleton. Belle was happier, certainly,
but crying from agitation.
"Have I made him miserable, poor fellow? Oh, I think
I shall blame myself all my life," said she, covering her face with
her hands. "O H.! H.! what shall I do?"
H. dryly replied that she must be guided by circumstances,
and, when they reached Castle Gardens, kissed her and set her down at
the great gate, while she herself went home in the carriage.
It was all twilight by this time among the roses. Belinda
met the gate keeper, who touched his hat and told her his master was in
the garden; and so, instead of going into the house, she flitted away
towards the garden, crossed the lawns, and went in and out among the bowers
and trellises looking for him, -frightened by her own temerity at first,
gaining courage by degrees. It was so still, so sweet, so dark; the stars
were coming out in the evening sky, a meteor went flashing from east to
west, a bat flew across her path; all the scent hung heavy in the air.
Twice Belinda called out timidly, "Mr. Griffiths, Mr. Griffiths!"
but no one answered. Then she remembered her dream in sudden terror and
hurried into the kitchen-garden to the fountain where they had parted.
What had happened? Some one was lying on the grass. Was
this her dream? was it Guy? was he dead? had she killed him? Belinda ran
up to him, seized his hand, and called him Guy-dear Guy; and Guy, who
had fallen asleep from very weariness and sadness of heart, opened his
eyes to hear himself called by the voice he loved best in the world; while
the sweetest eyes, full of tender tears, were gazing anxiously into his
ugly face. Ugly? Fairy tales have told us this at least, that ugliness
and dulness do not exist for those who truly love. Had she ever thought
him rough, uncouth, unlovable? Ah! she had been blind in those days; she
knew better now. As they walked back through the twilight garden that
night, Guy said humbly, -
"I shan't do you any credit, Belinda; I can only
She didn't finish her sentence; but he understood very
well what she meant.
Ritchie, Anne Isabella. "Beauty and the Beast." The Cornhill Magazine. Jun 1867.
Also available with wonderful notes and commentary in:
Ritchie, Anne Thackeray. "Beauty and the Beast."Forbidden
Journeys: Fairy Tales and Fantasies by Victorian Women Writers. Nina
Auerbach & U. C. Knoepflmacher, editors. Chicago: University of Chicago
Press, 1992. Amazon.com: Buy the book in paperback.