Charles Dickens and Wilkie Collins
Part 1 out of 3
This etext was prepared from the 1894 Chapman and Hall "Christmas
Stories" edition by David Price, email email@example.com
Day of the month and year, November the thirtieth, one thousand
eight hundred and thirty-five. London Time by the great clock of
Saint Paul's, ten at night. All the lesser London churches strain
their metallic throats. Some, flippantly begin before the heavy
bell of the great cathedral; some, tardily begin three, four, half a
dozen, strokes behind it; all are in sufficiently near accord, to
leave a resonance in the air, as if the winged father who devours
his children, had made a sounding sweep with his gigantic scythe in
flying over the city.
What is this clock lower than most of the rest, and nearer to the
ear, that lags so far behind to-night as to strike into the
vibration alone? This is the clock of the Hospital for Foundling
Children. Time was, when the Foundlings were received without
question in a cradle at the gate. Time is, when inquiries are made
respecting them, and they are taken as by favour from the mothers
who relinquish all natural knowledge of them and claim to them for
The moon is at the full, and the night is fair with light clouds.
The day has been otherwise than fair, for slush and mud, thickened
with the droppings of heavy fog, lie black in the streets. The
veiled lady who flutters up and down near the postern-gate of the
Hospital for Foundling Children has need to be well shod to-night.
She flutters to and fro, avoiding the stand of hackney-coaches, and
often pausing in the shadow of the western end of the great
quadrangle wall, with her face turned towards the gate. As above
her there is the purity of the moonlit sky, and below her there are
the defilements of the pavement, so may she, haply, be divided in
her mind between two vistas of reflection or experience. As her
footprints crossing and recrossing one another have made a labyrinth
in the mire, so may her track in life have involved itself in an
intricate and unravellable tangle.
The postern-gate of the Hospital for Foundling Children opens, and a
young woman comes out. The lady stands aside, observes closely,
sees that the gate is quietly closed again from within, and follows
the young woman.
Two or three streets have been traversed in silence before she,
following close behind the object of her attention, stretches out
her hand and touches her. Then the young woman stops and looks
"You touched me last night, and, when I turned my head, you would
not speak. Why do you follow me like a silent ghost?"
"It was not," returned the lady, in a low voice, "that I would not
speak, but that I could not when I tried."
"What do you want of me? I have never done you any harm?"
"Do I know you?"
"Then what can you want of me?"
"Here are two guineas in this paper. Take my poor little present,
and I will tell you."
Into the young woman's face, which is honest and comely, comes a
flush as she replies: "There is neither grown person nor child in
all the large establishment that I belong to, who hasn't a good word
for Sally. I am Sally. Could I be so well thought of, if I was to
"I do not mean to buy you; I mean only to reward you very slightly."
Sally firmly, but not ungently, closes and puts back the offering
hand. "If there is anything I can do for you, ma'am, that I will
not do for its own sake, you are much mistaken in me if you think
that I will do it for money. What is it you want?"
"You are one of the nurses or attendants at the Hospital; I saw you
leave to-night and last night."
"Yes, I am. I am Sally."
"There is a pleasant patience in your face which makes me believe
that very young children would take readily to you."
"God bless 'em! So they do."
The lady lifts her veil, and shows a face no older than the nurse's.
A face far more refined and capable than hers, but wild and worn
"I am the miserable mother of a baby lately received under your
care. I have a prayer to make to you."
Instinctively respecting the confidence which has drawn aside the
veil, Sally--whose ways are all ways of simplicity and spontaneity--
replaces it, and begins to cry.
"You will listen to my prayer?" the lady urges. "You will not be
deaf to the agonised entreaty of such a broken suppliant as I am?"
"O dear, dear, dear!" cries Sally. "What shall I say, or can say!
Don't talk of prayers. Prayers are to be put up to the Good Father
of All, and not to nurses and such. And there! I am only to hold
my place for half a year longer, till another young woman can be
trained up to it. I am going to be married. I shouldn't have been
out last night, and I shouldn't have been out to-night, but that my
Dick (he is the young man I am going to be married to) lies ill, and
I help his mother and sister to watch him. Don't take on so, don't
take on so!"
"O good Sally, dear Sally," moans the lady, catching at her dress
entreatingly. "As you are hopeful, and I am hopeless; as a fair way
in life is before you, which can never, never, be before me; as you
can aspire to become a respected wife, and as you can aspire to
become a proud mother, as you are a living loving woman, and must
die; for GOD'S sake hear my distracted petition!"
"Deary, deary, deary ME!" cries Sally, her desperation culminating
in the pronoun, "what am I ever to do? And there! See how you turn
my own words back upon me. I tell you I am going to be married, on
purpose to make it clearer to you that I am going to leave, and
therefore couldn't help you if I would, Poor Thing, and you make it
seem to my own self as if I was cruel in going to be married and not
helping you. It ain't kind. Now, is it kind, Poor Thing?"
"Sally! Hear me, my dear. My entreaty is for no help in the
future. It applies to what is past. It is only to be told in two
"There! This is worse and worse," cries Sally, "supposing that I
understand what two words you mean."
"You do understand. What are the names they have given my poor
baby? I ask no more than that. I have read of the customs of the
place. He has been christened in the chapel, and registered by some
surname in the book. He was received last Monday evening. What
have they called him?"
Down upon her knees in the foul mud of the by-way into which they
have strayed--an empty street without a thoroughfare giving on the
dark gardens of the Hospital--the lady would drop in her passionate
entreaty, but that Sally prevents her.
"Don't! Don't! You make me feel as if I was setting myself up to
be good. Let me look in your pretty face again. Put your two hands
in mine. Now, promise. You will never ask me anything more than
the two words?"
"You will never put them to a bad use, if I say them?"
The lady lays her face upon the nurse's breast, draws her close in
her embrace with both arms, murmurs a blessing and the words, "Kiss
him for me!" and is gone.
Day of the month and year, the first Sunday in October, one thousand
eight hundred and forty-seven. London Time by the great clock of
Saint Paul's, half-past one in the afternoon. The clock of the
Hospital for Foundling Children is well up with the Cathedral to-
day. Service in the chapel is over, and the Foundling children are
There are numerous lookers-on at the dinner, as the custom is.
There are two or three governors, whole families from the
congregation, smaller groups of both sexes, individual stragglers of
various degrees. The bright autumnal sun strikes freshly into the
wards; and the heavy-framed windows through which it shines, and the
panelled walls on which it strikes, are such windows and such walls
as pervade Hogarth's pictures. The girls' refectory (including that
of the younger children) is the principal attraction. Neat
attendants silently glide about the orderly and silent tables; the
lookers-on move or stop as the fancy takes them; comments in
whispers on face such a number from such a window are not
unfrequent; many of the faces are of a character to fix attention.
Some of the visitors from the outside public are accustomed
visitors. They have established a speaking acquaintance with the
occupants of particular seats at the tables, and halt at those
points to bend down and say a word or two. It is no disparagement
to their kindness that those points are generally points where
personal attractions are. The monotony of the long spacious rooms
and the double lines of faces is agreeably relieved by these
incidents, although so slight.
A veiled lady, who has no companion, goes among the company. It
would seem that curiosity and opportunity have never brought her
there before. She has the air of being a little troubled by the
sight, and, as she goes the length of the tables, it is with a
hesitating step and an uneasy manner. At length she comes to the
refectory of the boys. They are so much less popular than the girls
that it is bare of visitors when she looks in at the doorway.
But just within the doorway, chances to stand, inspecting, an
elderly female attendant: some order of matron or housekeeper. To
whom the lady addresses natural questions: As, how many boys? At
what age are they usually put out in life? Do they often take a
fancy to the sea? So, lower and lower in tone until the lady puts
the question: "Which is Walter Wilding?"
Attendant's head shaken. Against the rules.
"You know which is Walter Wilding?"
So keenly does the attendant feel the closeness with which the
lady's eyes examine her face, that she keeps her own eyes fast upon
the floor, lest by wandering in the right direction they should
"I know which is Walter Wilding, but it is not my place, ma'am, to
tell names to visitors."
"But you can show me without telling me."
The lady's hand moves quietly to the attendant's hand. Pause and
"I am going to pass round the tables," says the lady's interlocutor,
without seeming to address her. "Follow me with your eyes. The boy
that I stop at and speak to, will not matter to you. But the boy
that I touch, will be Walter Wilding. Say nothing more to me, and
move a little away."
Quickly acting on the hint, the lady passes on into the room, and
looks about her. After a few moments, the attendant, in a staid
official way, walks down outside the line of tables commencing on
her left hand. She goes the whole length of the line, turns, and
comes back on the inside. Very slightly glancing in the lady's
direction, she stops, bends forward, and speaks. The boy whom she
addresses, lifts his head and replies. Good humouredly and easily,
as she listens to what he says, she lays her hand upon the shoulder
of the next boy on his right. That the action may be well noted,
she keeps her hand on the shoulder while speaking in return, and
pats it twice or thrice before moving away. She completes her tour
of the tables, touching no one else, and passes out by a door at the
opposite end of the long room.
Dinner is done, and the lady, too, walks down outside the line of
tables commencing on her left hand, goes the whole length of the
line, turns, and comes back on the inside. Other people have
strolled in, fortunately for her, and stand sprinkled about. She
lifts her veil, and, stopping at the touched boy, asks how old he
"I am twelve, ma'am," he answers, with his bright eyes fixed on
"Are you well and happy?"
"May you take these sweetmeats from my hand?"
"If you please to give them to me."
In stooping low for the purpose, the lady touches the boy's face
with her forehead and with her hair. Then, lowering her veil again,
she passes on, and passes out without looking back.
ACT I--THE CURTAIN RISES
In a court-yard in the City of London, which was No Thoroughfare
either for vehicles or foot-passengers; a court-yard diverging from
a steep, a slippery, and a winding street connecting Tower Street
with the Middlesex shore of the Thames; stood the place of business
of Wilding & Co., Wine Merchants. Probably as a jocose
acknowledgment of the obstructive character of this main approach,
the point nearest to its base at which one could take the river (if
so inodorously minded) bore the appellation Break-Neck-Stairs. The
court-yard itself had likewise been descriptively entitled in old
time, Cripple Corner.
Years before the year one thousand eight hundred and sixty-one,
people had left off taking boat at Break-Neck-Stairs, and watermen
had ceased to ply there. The slimy little causeway had dropped into
the river by a slow process of suicide, and two or three stumps of
piles and a rusty iron mooring-ring were all that remained of the
departed Break-Neck glories. Sometimes, indeed, a laden coal barge
would bump itself into the place, and certain laborious heavers,
seemingly mud-engendered, would arise, deliver the cargo in the
neighbourhood, shove off, and vanish; but at most times the only
commerce of Break-Neck-Stairs arose out of the conveyance of casks
and bottles, both full and empty, both to and from the cellars of
Wilding & Co., Wine Merchants. Even that commerce was but
occasional, and through three-fourths of its rising tides the dirty
indecorous drab of a river would come solitarily oozing and lapping
at the rusty ring, as if it had heard of the Doge and the Adriatic,
and wanted to be married to the great conserver of its filthiness,
the Right Honourable the Lord Mayor.
Some two hundred and fifty yards on the right, up the opposite hill
(approaching it from the low ground of Break-Neck-Stairs) was
Cripple Corner. There was a pump in Cripple Corner, there was a
tree in Cripple Corner. All Cripple Corner belonged to Wilding and
Co., Wine Merchants. Their cellars burrowed under it, their mansion
towered over it. It really had been a mansion in the days when
merchants inhabited the City, and had a ceremonious shelter to the
doorway without visible support, like the sounding-board over an old
pulpit. It had also a number of long narrow strips of window, so
disposed in its grave brick front as to render it symmetrically
ugly. It had also, on its roof, a cupola with a bell in it.
"When a man at five-and-twenty can put his hat on, and can say 'this
hat covers the owner of this property and of the business which is
transacted on this property,' I consider, Mr. Bintrey, that, without
being boastful, he may be allowed to be deeply thankful. I don't
know how it may appear to you, but so it appears to me."
Thus Mr. Walter Wilding to his man of law, in his own counting-
house; taking his hat down from its peg to suit the action to the
word, and hanging it up again when he had done so, not to overstep
the modesty of nature.
An innocent, open-speaking, unused-looking man, Mr. Walter Wilding,
with a remarkably pink and white complexion, and a figure much too
bulky for so young a man, though of a good stature. With crispy
curling brown hair, and amiable bright blue eyes. An extremely
communicative man: a man with whom loquacity was the irrestrainable
outpouring of contentment and gratitude. Mr. Bintrey, on the other
hand, a cautious man, with twinkling beads of eyes in a large
overhanging bald head, who inwardly but intensely enjoyed the
comicality of openness of speech, or hand, or heart.
"Yes," said Mr. Bintrey. "Yes. Ha, ha!"
A decanter, two wine-glasses, and a plate of biscuits, stood on the
"You like this forty-five year old port-wine?" said Mr. Wilding.
"Like it?" repeated Mr. Bintrey. "Rather, sir!"
"It's from the best corner of our best forty-five year old bin,"
said Mr. Wilding.
"Thank you, sir," said Mr. Bintrey. "It's most excellent."
He laughed again, as he held up his glass and ogled it, at the
highly ludicrous idea of giving away such wine.
"And now," said Wilding, with a childish enjoyment in the discussion
of affairs, "I think we have got everything straight, Mr. Bintrey."
"Everything straight," said Bintrey.
"A partner secured--"
"Partner secured," said Bintrey.
"A housekeeper advertised for--"
"Housekeeper advertised for," said Bintrey, "'apply personally at
Cripple Corner, Great Tower Street, from ten to twelve'--to-morrow,
by the bye."
"My late dear mother's affairs wound up--"
"Wound up," said Bintrey.
"And all charges paid."
"And all charges paid," said Bintrey, with a chuckle: probably
occasioned by the droll circumstance that they had been paid without
"The mention of my late dear mother," Mr. Wilding continued, his
eyes filling with tears and his pocket-handkerchief drying them,
"unmans me still, Mr. Bintrey. You know how I loved her; you (her
lawyer) know how she loved me. The utmost love of mother and child
was cherished between us, and we never experienced one moment's
division or unhappiness from the time when she took me under her
care. Thirteen years in all! Thirteen years under my late dear
mother's care, Mr. Bintrey, and eight of them her confidentially
acknowledged son! You know the story, Mr. Bintrey, who but you,
sir!" Mr. Wilding sobbed and dried his eyes, without attempt at
concealment, during these remarks.
Mr. Bintrey enjoyed his comical port, and said, after rolling it in
his mouth: "I know the story."
"My late dear mother, Mr. Bintrey," pursued the wine-merchant, "had
been deeply deceived, and had cruelly suffered. But on that subject
my late dear mother's lips were for ever sealed. By whom deceived,
or under what circumstances, Heaven only knows. My late dear mother
never betrayed her betrayer."
"She had made up her mind," said Mr. Bintrey, again turning his wine
on his palate, "and she could hold her peace." An amused twinkle in
his eyes pretty plainly added--"A devilish deal better than YOU ever
"'Honour,'" said Mr. Wilding, sobbing as he quoted from the
Commandments, "'thy father and thy mother, that thy days may be long
in the land.' When I was in the Foundling, Mr. Bintrey, I was at
such a loss how to do it, that I apprehended my days would be short
in the land. But I afterwards came to honour my mother deeply,
profoundly. And I honour and revere her memory. For seven happy
years, Mr. Bintrey," pursued Wilding, still with the same innocent
catching in his breath, and the same unabashed tears, "did my
excellent mother article me to my predecessors in this business,
Pebbleson Nephew. Her affectionate forethought likewise apprenticed
me to the Vintners' Company, and made me in time a free Vintner,
and--and--everything else that the best of mothers could desire.
When I came of age, she bestowed her inherited share in this
business upon me; it was her money that afterwards bought out
Pebbleson Nephew, and painted in Wilding and Co.; it was she who
left me everything she possessed, but the mourning ring you wear.
And yet, Mr. Bintrey," with a fresh burst of honest affection, "she
is no more. It is little over half a year since she came into the
Corner to read on that door-post with her own eyes, WILDING AND CO.,
WINE MERCHANTS. And yet she is no more!"
"Sad. But the common lot, Mr. Wilding," observed Bintrey. "At some
time or other we must all be no more." He placed the forty-five
year old port-wine in the universal condition, with a relishing
"So now, Mr. Bintrey," pursued Wilding, putting away his pocket-
handkerchief, and smoothing his eyelids with his fingers, "now that
I can no longer show my love and honour for the dear parent to whom
my heart was mysteriously turned by Nature when she first spoke to
me, a strange lady, I sitting at our Sunday dinner-table in the
Foundling, I can at least show that I am not ashamed of having been
a Foundling, and that I, who never knew a father of my own, wish to
be a father to all in my employment. Therefore," continued Wilding,
becoming enthusiastic in his loquacity, "therefore, I want a
thoroughly good housekeeper to undertake this dwelling-house of
Wilding and Co., Wine Merchants, Cripple Corner, so that I may
restore in it some of the old relations betwixt employer and
employed! So that I may live in it on the spot where my money is
made! So that I may daily sit at the head of the table at which the
people in my employment eat together, and may eat of the same roast
and boiled, and drink of the same beer! So that the people in my
employment may lodge under the same roof with me! So that we may
one and all--I beg your pardon, Mr. Bintrey, but that old singing in
my head has suddenly come on, and I shall feel obliged if you will
lead me to the pump."
Alarmed by the excessive pinkness of his client, Mr. Bintrey lost
not a moment in leading him forth into the court-yard. It was
easily done; for the counting-house in which they talked together
opened on to it, at one side of the dwelling-house. There the
attorney pumped with a will, obedient to a sign from the client, and
the client laved his head and face with both hands, and took a
hearty drink. After these remedies, he declared himself much
"Don't let your good feelings excite you," said Bintrey, as they
returned to the counting-house, and Mr. Wilding dried himself on a
jack-towel behind an inner door.
"No, no. I won't," he returned, looking out of the towel. "I
won't. I have not been confused, have I?"
"Not at all. Perfectly clear."
"Where did I leave off, Mr. Bintrey?"
"Well, you left off--but I wouldn't excite myself, if I was you, by
taking it up again just yet."
"I'll take care. I'll take care. The singing in my head came on at
where, Mr. Bintrey?"
"At roast, and boiled, and beer," answered the lawyer,--"prompting
lodging under the same roof--and one and all--"
"Ah! And one and all singing in the head together--"
"Do you know, I really WOULD NOT let my good feelings excite me, if
I was you," hinted the lawyer again, anxiously. "Try some more
"No occasion, no occasion. All right, Mr. Bintrey. And one and all
forming a kind of family! You see, Mr. Bintrey, I was not used in
my childhood to that sort of individual existence which most
individuals have led, more or less, in their childhood. After that
time I became absorbed in my late dear mother. Having lost her, I
find that I am more fit for being one of a body than one by myself
one. To be that, and at the same time to do my duty to those
dependent on me, and attach them to me, has a patriarchal and
pleasant air about it. I don't know how it may appear to you, Mr
Bintrey, but so it appears to me."
"It is not I who am all-important in the case, but you," returned
Bintrey. "Consequently, how it may appear to me is of very small
"It appears to me," said Mr. Wilding, in a glow, "hopeful, useful,
"Do you know," hinted the lawyer again, "I really would not ex- "
"I am not going to. Then there's Handel."
"There's who?" asked Bintrey.
"Handel, Mozart, Haydn, Kent, Purcell, Doctor Arne, Greene,
Mendelssohn. I know the choruses to those anthems by heart.
Foundling Chapel Collection. Why shouldn't we learn them together?"
"Who learn them together?" asked the lawyer, rather shortly.
"Employer and employed."
"Ay, ay," returned Bintrey, mollified; as if he had half expected
the answer to be, Lawyer and client. "That's another thing."
"Not another thing, Mr. Bintrey! The same thing. A part of the
bond among us. We will form a Choir in some quiet church near the
Corner here, and, having sung together of a Sunday with a relish, we
will come home and take an early dinner together with a relish. The
object that I have at heart now is, to get this system well in
action without delay, so that my new partner may find it founded
when he enters on his partnership."
"All good be with it!" exclaimed Bintrey, rising. "May it prosper!
Is Joey Ladle to take a share in Handel, Mozart, Haydn, Kent,
Purcell, Doctor Arne, Greene, and Mendelssohn?
"I hope so."
"I wish them all well out of it," returned Bintrey, with much
heartiness. "Good-bye, sir."
They shook hands and parted. Then (first knocking with his knuckles
for leave) entered to Mr. Wilding from a door of communication
between his private counting-house and that in which his clerks sat,
the Head Cellarman of the cellars of Wilding and Co., Wine
Merchants, and erst Head Cellarman of the cellars of Pebbleson
Nephew. The Joey Ladle in question. A slow and ponderous man, of
the drayman order of human architecture, dressed in a corrugated
suit and bibbed apron, apparently a composite of door-mat and
"Respecting this same boarding and lodging, Young Master Wilding,"
"Speaking for myself, Young Master Wilding--and I never did speak
and I never do speak for no one else--I don't want no boarding nor
yet no lodging. But if you wish to board me and to lodge me, take
me. I can peck as well as most men. Where I peck ain't so high a
object with me as What I peck. Nor even so high a object with me as
How Much I peck. Is all to live in the house, Young Master Wilding?
The two other cellarmen, the three porters, the two 'prentices, and
the odd men?"
"Yes. I hope we shall all be an united family, Joey."
"Ah!" said Joey. "I hope they may be."
"They? Rather say we, Joey."
Joey Ladle shook his held. "Don't look to me to make we on it,
Young Master Wilding, not at my time of life and under the
circumstances which has formed my disposition. I have said to
Pebbleson Nephew many a time, when they have said to me, 'Put a
livelier face upon it, Joey'--I have said to them, 'Gentlemen, it is
all wery well for you that has been accustomed to take your wine
into your systems by the conwivial channel of your throttles, to put
a lively face upon it; but,' I says, 'I have been accustomed to take
MY wine in at the pores of the skin, and, took that way, it acts
different. It acts depressing. It's one thing, gentlemen,' I says
to Pebbleson Nephew, 'to charge your glasses in a dining-room with a
Hip Hurrah and a Jolly Companions Every One, and it's another thing
to be charged yourself, through the pores, in a low dark cellar and
a mouldy atmosphere. It makes all the difference betwixt bubbles
and wapours,' I tells Pebbleson Nephew. And so it do. I've been a
cellarman my life through, with my mind fully given to the business.
What's the consequence? I'm as muddled a man as lives--you won't
find a muddleder man than me--nor yet you won't find my equal in
molloncolly. Sing of Filling the bumper fair, Every drop you
sprinkle, O'er the brow of care, Smooths away a wrinkle? Yes.
P'raps so. But try filling yourself through the pores, underground,
when you don't want to it!"
"I am sorry to hear this, Joey. I had even thought that you might
join a singing-class in the house."
"Me, sir? No, no, Young Master Wilding, you won't catch Joey Ladle
muddling the Armony. A pecking-machine, sir, is all that I am
capable of proving myself, out of my cellars; but that you're
welcome to, if you think it is worth your while to keep such a thing
on your premises."
"I do, Joey."
"Say no more, sir. The Business's word is my law. And you're a
going to take Young Master George Vendale partner into the old
"I am, Joey."
"More changes, you see! But don't change the name of the Firm
again. Don't do it, Young Master Wilding. It was bad luck enough
to make it Yourself and Co. Better by far have left it Pebbleson
Nephew that good luck always stuck to. You should never change luck
when it's good, sir."
"At all events, I have no intention of changing the name of the
House again, Joey."
"Glad to hear it, and wish you good-day, Young Master Wilding. But
you had better by half," muttered Joey Ladle inaudibly, as he closed
the door and shook his head, "have let the name alone from the
first. You had better by half have followed the luck instead of
ENTER THE HOUSEKEEPER
The wine merchant sat in his dining-room next morning, to receive
the personal applicants for the vacant post in his establishment.
It was an old-fashioned wainscoted room; the panels ornamented with
festoons of flowers carved in wood; with an oaken floor, a well-worn
Turkey carpet, and dark mahogany furniture, all of which had seen
service and polish under Pebbleson Nephew. The great sideboard had
assisted at many business-dinners given by Pebbleson Nephew to their
connection, on the principle of throwing sprats overboard to catch
whales; and Pebbleson Nephew's comprehensive three-sided plate-
warmer, made to fit the whole front of the large fireplace, kept
watch beneath it over a sarcophagus-shaped cellaret that had in its
time held many a dozen of Pebbleson Nephew's wine. But the little
rubicund old bachelor with a pigtail, whose portrait was over the
sideboard (and who could easily be identified as decidedly Pebbleson
and decidedly not Nephew), had retired into another sarcophagus, and
the plate-warmer had grown as cold as he. So, the golden and black
griffins that supported the candelabra, with black balls in their
mouths at the end of gilded chains, looked as if in their old age
they had lost all heart for playing at ball, and were dolefully
exhibiting their chains in the Missionary line of inquiry, whether
they had not earned emancipation by this time, and were not griffins
Such a Columbus of a morning was the summer morning, that it
discovered Cripple Corner. The light and warmth pierced in at the
open windows, and irradiated the picture of a lady hanging over the
chimney-piece, the only other decoration of the walls.
"My mother at five-and-twenty," said Mr. Wilding to himself, as his
eyes enthusiastically followed the light to the portrait's face, "I
hang up here, in order that visitors may admire my mother in the
bloom of her youth and beauty. My mother at fifty I hang in the
seclusion of my own chamber, as a remembrance sacred to me. O!
It's you, Jarvis!"
These latter words he addressed to a clerk who had tapped at the
door, and now looked in.
"Yes, sir. I merely wished to mention that it's gone ten, sir, and
that there are several females in the Counting-house."
"Dear me!" said the wine-merchant, deepening in the pink of his
complexion and whitening in the white, "are there several? So many
as several? I had better begin before there are more. I'll see
them one by one, Jarvis, in the order of their arrival."
Hastily entrenching himself in his easy-chair at the table behind a
great inkstand, having first placed a chair on the other side of the
table opposite his own seat, Mr. Wilding entered on his task with
He ran the gauntlet that must be run on any such occasion. There
were the usual species of profoundly unsympathetic women, and the
usual species of much too sympathetic women. There were
buccaneering widows who came to seize him, and who griped umbrellas
under their arms, as if each umbrella were he, and each griper had
got him. There were towering maiden ladies who had seen better
days, and who came armed with clerical testimonials to their
theology, as if he were Saint Peter with his keys. There were
gentle maiden ladies who came to marry him. There were professional
housekeepers, like non-commissioned officers, who put him through
his domestic exercise, instead of submitting themselves to
catechism. There were languid invalids, to whom salary was not so
much an object as the comforts of a private hospital. There were
sensitive creatures who burst into tears on being addressed, and had
to be restored with glasses of cold water. There were some
respondents who came two together, a highly promising one and a
wholly unpromising one: of whom the promising one answered all
questions charmingly, until it would at last appear that she was not
a candidate at all, but only the friend of the unpromising one, who
had glowered in absolute silence and apparent injury.
At last, when the good wine-merchant's simple heart was failing him,
there entered an applicant quite different from all the rest. A
woman, perhaps fifty, but looking younger, with a face remarkable
for placid cheerfulness, and a manner no less remarkable for its
quiet expression of equability of temper. Nothing in her dress
could have been changed to her advantage. Nothing in the noiseless
self-possession of her manner could have been changed to her
advantage. Nothing could have been in better unison with both, than
her voice when she answered the question: "What name shall I have
the pleasure of noting down?" with the words, "My name is Sarah
Goldstraw. Mrs. Goldstraw. My husband has been dead many years,
and we had no family."
Half-a-dozen questions had scarcely extracted as much to the purpose
from any one else. The voice dwelt so agreeably on Mr. Wilding's
ear as he made his note, that he was rather long about it. When he
looked up again, Mrs. Goldstraw's glance had naturally gone round
the room, and now returned to him from the chimney-piece. Its
expression was one of frank readiness to be questioned, and to
"You will excuse my asking you a few questions?" said the modest
"O, surely, sir. Or I should have no business here."
"Have you filled the station of housekeeper before?"
"Only once. I have lived with the same widow lady for twelve years.
Ever since I lost my husband. She was an invalid, and is lately
dead: which is the occasion of my now wearing black."
"I do not doubt that she has left you the best credentials?" said
"I hope I may say, the very best. I thought it would save trouble,
sir, if I wrote down the name and address of her representatives,
and brought it with me." Laying a card on the table.
"You singularly remind me, Mrs. Goldstraw," said Wilding, taking the
card beside him, "of a manner and tone of voice that I was once
acquainted with. Not of an individual--I feel sure of that, though
I cannot recall what it is I have in my mind--but of a general
bearing. I ought to add, it was a kind and pleasant one."
She smiled, as she rejoined: "At least, I am very glad of that,
"Yes," said the wine-merchant, thoughtfully repeating his last
phrase, with a momentary glance at his future housekeeper, "it was a
kind and pleasant one. But that is the most I can make of it.
Memory is sometimes like a half-forgotten dream. I don't know how
it may appear to you, Mrs. Goldstraw, but so it appears to me."
Probably it appeared to Mrs. Goldstraw in a similar light, for she
quietly assented to the proposition. Mr. Wilding then offered to
put himself at once in communication with the gentlemen named upon
the card: a firm of proctors in Doctors' Commons. To this, Mrs.
Goldstraw thankfully assented. Doctors' Commons not being far off,
Mr. Wilding suggested the feasibility of Mrs. Goldstraw's looking in
again, say in three hours' time. Mrs. Goldstraw readily undertook
to do so. In fine, the result of Mr. Wilding's inquiries being
eminently satisfactory, Mrs. Goldstraw was that afternoon engaged
(on her own perfectly fair terms) to come to-morrow and set up her
rest as housekeeper in Cripple Corner.
THE HOUSEKEEPER SPEAKS
On the next day Mrs. Goldstraw arrived, to enter on her domestic
Having settled herself in her own room, without troubling the
servants, and without wasting time, the new housekeeper announced
herself as waiting to be favoured with any instructions which her
master might wish to give her. The wine-merchant received Mrs.
Goldstraw in the dining-room, in which he had seen her on the
previous day; and, the usual preliminary civilities having passed on
either side, the two sat down to take counsel together on the
affairs of the house.
"About the meals, sir?" said Mrs. Goldstraw. "Have I a large, or a
small, number to provide for?"
"If I can carry out a certain old-fashioned plan of mine," replied
Mr. Wilding, "you will have a large number to provide for. I am a
lonely single man, Mrs. Goldstraw; and I hope to live with all the
persons in my employment as if they were members of my family.
Until that time comes, you will only have me, and the new partner
whom I expect immediately, to provide for. What my partner's habits
may be, I cannot yet say. But I may describe myself as a man of
regular hours, with an invariable appetite that you may depend upon
to an ounce."
"About breakfast, sir?" asked Mrs. Goldstraw. "Is there anything
She hesitated, and left the sentence unfinished. Her eyes turned
slowly away from her master, and looked towards the chimney-piece.
If she had been a less excellent and experienced housekeeper, Mr.
Wilding might have fancied that her attention was beginning to
wander at the very outset of the interview.
"Eight o'clock is my breakfast-hour," he resumed. "It is one of my
virtues to be never tired of broiled bacon, and it is one of my
vices to be habitually suspicious of the freshness of eggs." Mrs.
Goldstraw looked back at him, still a little divided between her
master's chimney-piece and her master. "I take tea," Mr. Wilding
went on; "and I am perhaps rather nervous and fidgety about drinking
it, within a certain time after it is made. If my tea stands too
He hesitated, on his side, and left the sentence unfinished. If he
had not been engaged in discussing a subject of such paramount
interest to himself as his breakfast, Mrs. Goldstraw might have
fancied that his attention was beginning to wander at the very
outset of the interview.
"If your tea stands too long, sir--?" said the housekeeper, politely
taking up her master's lost thread.
"If my tea stands too long," repeated the wine-merchant
mechanically, his mind getting farther and farther away from his
breakfast, and his eyes fixing themselves more and more inquiringly
on his housekeeper's face. "If my tea--Dear, dear me, Mrs.
Goldstraw! what IS the manner and tone of voice that you remind me
of? It strikes me even more strongly to-day, than it did when I saw
you yesterday. What can it be?"
"What can it be?" repeated Mrs. Goldstraw.
She said the words, evidently thinking while she spoke them of
something else. The wine-merchant, still looking at her
inquiringly, observed that her eyes wandered towards the chimney-
piece once more. They fixed on the portrait of his mother, which
hung there, and looked at it with that slight contraction of the
brow which accompanies a scarcely conscious effort of memory. Mr.
"My late dear mother, when she was five-and-twenty."
Mrs. Goldstraw thanked him with a movement of the head for being at
the pains to explain the picture, and said, with a cleared brow,
that it was the portrait of a very beautiful lady.
Mr. Wilding, falling back into his former perplexity, tried once
more to recover that lost recollection, associated so closely, and
yet so undiscoverably, with his new housekeeper's voice and manner.
"Excuse my asking you a question which has nothing to do with me or
my breakfast," he said. "May I inquire if you have ever occupied
any other situation than the situation of housekeeper?"
"O yes, sir. I began life as one of the nurses at the Foundling."
"Why, that's it!" cried the wine-merchant, pushing back his chair.
"By heaven! Their manner is the manner you remind me of!"
In an astonished look at him, Mrs. Goldstraw changed colour, checked
herself, turned her eyes upon the ground, and sat still and silent.
"What is the matter?" asked Mr. Wilding.
"Do I understand that you were in the Foundling, sir?"
"Certainly. I am not ashamed to own it."
"Under the name you now bear?"
"Under the name of Walter Wilding."
"And the lady--?" Mrs. Goldstraw stopped short with a look at the
portrait which was now unmistakably a look of alarm.
"You mean my mother," interrupted Mr. Wilding.
"Your--mother," repeated the housekeeper, a little constrainedly,
"removed you from the Foundling? At what age, sir?"
"At between eleven and twelve years old. It's quite a romantic
adventure, Mrs. Goldstraw."
He told the story of the lady having spoken to him, while he sat at
dinner with the other boys in the Foundling, and of all that had
followed in his innocently communicative way. "My poor mother could
never have discovered me," he added, "if she had not met with one of
the matrons who pitied her. The matron consented to touch the boy
whose name was 'Walter Wilding' as she went round the dinner-tables-
-and so my mother discovered me again, after having parted from me
as an infant at the Foundling doors."
At those words Mrs. Goldstraw's hand, resting on the table, dropped
helplessly into her lap. She sat, looking at her new master, with a
face that had turned deadly pale, and with eyes that expressed an
"What does this mean?" asked the wine-merchant. "Stop!" he cried.
"Is there something else in the past time which I ought to associate
with you? I remember my mother telling me of another person at the
Foundling, to whose kindness she owed a debt of gratitude. When she
first parted with me, as an infant, one of the nurses informed her
of the name that had been given to me in the institution. You were
"God forgive me, sir--I was that nurse!"
"God forgive you?"
"We had better get back, sir (if I may make so bold as to say so),
to my duties in the house," said Mrs. Goldstraw. "Your breakfast-
hour is eight. Do you lunch, or dine, in the middle of the day?"
The excessive pinkness which Mr. Bintrey had noticed in his client's
face began to appear there once more. Mr. Wilding put his hand to
his head, and mastered some momentary confusion in that quarter,
before he spoke again.
"Mrs. Goldstraw," he said, "you are concealing something from me!"
The housekeeper obstinately repeated, "Please to favour me, sir, by
saying whether you lunch, or dine, in the middle of the day?"
"I don't know what I do in the middle of the day. I can't enter
into my household affairs, Mrs. Goldstraw, till I know why you
regret an act of kindness to my mother, which she always spoke of
gratefully to the end of her life. You are not doing me a service
by your silence. You are agitating me, you are alarming me, you are
bringing on the singing in my head."
His hand went up to his head again, and the pink in his face
deepened by a shade or two.
"It's hard, sir, on just entering your service," said the
housekeeper, "to say what may cost me the loss of your good will.
Please to remember, end how it may, that I only speak because you
have insisted on my speaking, and because I see that I am alarming
you by my silence. When I told the poor lady, whose portrait you
have got there, the name by which her infant was christened in the
Foundling, I allowed myself to forget my duty, and dreadful
consequences, I am afraid, have followed from it. I'll tell you the
truth, as plainly as I can. A few months from the time when I had
informed the lady of her baby's name, there came to our institution
in the country another lady (a stranger), whose object was to adopt
one of our children. She brought the needful permission with her,
and after looking at a great many of the children, without being
able to make up her mind, she took a sudden fancy to one of the
babies--a boy--under my care. Try, pray try, to compose yourself,
sir! It's no use disguising it any longer. The child the stranger
took away was the child of that lady whose portrait hangs there!"
Mr. Wilding started to his feet. "Impossible!" he cried out,
vehemently. "What are you talking about? What absurd story are you
telling me now? There's her portrait! Haven't I told you so
already? The portrait of my mother!"
"When that unhappy lady removed you from the Foundling, in after
years," said Mrs. Goldstraw, gently, "she was the victim, and you
were the victim, sir, of a dreadful mistake."
He dropped back into his chair. "The room goes round with me," he
said. "My head! my head!" The housekeeper rose in alarm, and
opened the windows. Before she could get to the door to call for
help, a sudden burst of tears relieved the oppression which had at
first almost appeared to threaten his life. He signed entreatingly
to Mrs. Goldstraw not to leave him. She waited until the paroxysm
of weeping had worn itself out. He raised his head as he recovered
himself, and looked at her with the angry unreasoning suspicion of a
"Mistake?" he said, wildly repeating her last word. "How do I know
you are not mistaken yourself?"
"There is no hope that I am mistaken, sir. I will tell you why,
when you are better fit to hear it."
The tone in which he spoke warned Mrs. Goldstraw that it would be
cruel kindness to let him comfort himself a moment longer with the
vain hope that she might be wrong. A few words more would end it,
and those few words she determined to speak.
"I have told you," she said, "that the child of the lady whose
portrait hangs there, was adopted in its infancy, and taken away by
a stranger. I am as certain of what I say as that I am now sitting
here, obliged to distress you, sir, sorely against my will. Please
to carry your mind on, now, to about three months after that time.
I was then at the Foundling, in London, waiting to take some
children to our institution in the country. There was a question
that day about naming an infant--a boy--who had just been received.
We generally named them out of the Directory. On this occasion, one
of the gentlemen who managed the Hospital happened to be looking
over the Register. He noticed that the name of the baby who had
been adopted ('Walter Wilding') was scratched out--for the reason,
of course, that the child had been removed for good from our care.
'Here's a name to let,' he said. 'Give it to the new foundling who
has been received to-day.' The name was given, and the child was
christened. You, sir, were that child."
The wine-merchant's head dropped on his breast. "I was that child!"
he said to himself, trying helplessly to fix the idea in his mind.
"I was that child!"
"Not very long after you had been received into the Institution,
sir," pursued Mrs. Goldstraw, "I left my situation there, to be
married. If you will remember that, and if you can give your mind
to it, you will see for yourself how the mistake happened. Between
eleven and twelve years passed before the lady, whom you have
believed to be your mother, returned to the Foundling, to find her
son, and to remove him to her own home. The lady only knew that her
infant had been called 'Walter Wilding.' The matron who took pity
on her, could but point out the only 'Walter Wilding' known in the
Institution. I, who might have set the matter right, was far away
from the Foundling and all that belonged to it. There was nothing--
there was really nothing that could prevent this terrible mistake
from taking place. I feel for you--I do indeed, sir! You must
think--and with reason--that it was in an evil hour that I came here
(innocently enough, I'm sure), to apply for your housekeeper's
place. I feel as if I was to blame--I feel as if I ought to have
had more self-command. If I had only been able to keep my face from
showing you what that portrait and what your own words put into my
mind, you need never, to your dying day, have known what you know
Mr. Wilding looked up suddenly. The inbred honesty of the man rose
in protest against the housekeeper's last words. His mind seemed to
steady itself, for the moment, under the shock that had fallen on
"Do you mean to say that you would have concealed this from me if
you could?" he exclaimed.
"I hope I should always tell the truth, sir, if I was asked," said
Mrs. Goldstraw. "And I know it is better for ME that I should not
have a secret of this sort weighing on my mind. But is it better
for YOU? What use can it serve now -?"
"What use? Why, good Lord! if your story is true--"
"Should I have told it, sir, as I am now situated, if it had not
"I beg your pardon," said the wine-merchant. "You must make
allowance for me. This dreadful discovery is something I can't
realise even yet. We loved each other so dearly--I felt so fondly
that I was her son. She died, Mrs. Goldstraw, in my arms--she died
blessing me as only a mother COULD have blessed me. And now, after
all these years, to be told she was NOT my mother! O me, O me! I
don't know what I am saying!" he cried, as the impulse of self-
control under which he had spoken a moment since, flickered, and
died out. "It was not this dreadful grief--it was something else
that I had it in my mind to speak of. Yes, yes. You surprised me--
you wounded me just now. You talked as if you would have hidden
this from me, if you could. Don't talk in that way again. It would
have been a crime to have hidden it. You mean well, I know. I
don't want to distress you--you are a kind-hearted woman. But you
don't remember what my position is. She left me all that I possess,
in the firm persuasion that I was her son. I am not her son. I
have taken the place, I have innocently got the inheritance of
another man. He must be found! How do I know he is not at this
moment in misery, without bread to eat? He must be found! My only
hope of bearing up against the shock that has fallen on me, is the
hope of doing something which SHE would have approved. You must
know more, Mrs. Goldstraw, than you have told me yet. Who was the
stranger who adopted the child? You must have heard the lady's
"I never heard it, sir. I have never seen her, or heard of her,
"Did she say nothing when she took the child away? Search your
memory. She must have said something."
"Only one thing, sir, that I can remember. It was a miserably bad
season, that year; and many of the children were suffering from it.
When she took the baby away, the lady said to me, laughing, "Don't
be alarmed about his health. He will be brought up in a better
climate than this--I am going to take him to Switzerland."
"To Switzerland? What part of Switzerland?"
"She didn't say, sir."
"Only that faint clue!" said Mr. Wilding. "And a quarter of a
century has passed since the child was taken away! What am I to
"I hope you won't take offence at my freedom, sir," said Mrs.
Goldstraw; "but why should you distress yourself about what is to be
done? He may not be alive now, for anything you know. And, if he
is alive, it's not likely he can be in any distress. The, lady who
adopted him was a bred and born lady--it was easy to see that. And
she must have satisfied them at the Foundling that she could provide
for the child, or they would never have let her take him away. If I
was in your place, sir--please to excuse my saying so--I should
comfort myself with remembering that I had loved that poor lady
whose portrait you have got there--truly loved her as my mother, and
that she had truly loved me as her son. All she gave to you, she
gave for the sake of that love. It never altered while she lived;
and it won't alter, I'm sure, as long as YOU live. How can you have
a better right, sir, to keep what you have got than that?"
Mr. Wilding's immovable honesty saw the fallacy in his house-
keeper's point of view at a glance.
"You don't understand me," he said. "It's BECAUSE I loved her that
I feel it a duty--a sacred duty--to do justice to her son. If he is
a living man, I must find him: for my own sake, as well as for his.
I shall break down under this dreadful trial, unless I employ
myself--actively, instantly employ myself--in doing what my
conscience tells me ought to be done. I must speak to my lawyer; I
must set my lawyer at work before I sleep to-night." He approached
a tube in the wall of the room, and called down through it to the
office below. "Leave me for a little, Mrs. Goldstraw," he resumed;
"I shall be more composed, I shall be better able to speak to you
later in the day. We shall get on well--I hope we shall get on well
together--in spite of what has happened. It isn't your fault; I
know it isn't your fault. There! there! shake hands; and--and do
the best you can in the house--I can't talk about it now."
The door opened as Mrs. Goldstraw advanced towards it; and Mr.
"Send for Mr. Bintrey," said the wine-merchant. "Say I want to see
The clerk unconsciously suspended the execution of the order, by
announcing "Mr. Vendale," and showing in the new partner in the firm
of Wilding and Co.
"Pray excuse me for one moment, George Vendale," said Wilding. "I
have a word to say to Jarvis. Send for Mr. Bintrey," he repeated--
"send at once."
Mr. Jarvis laid a letter on the table before he left the room.
"From our correspondents at Neuchatel, I think, sir. The letter has
got the Swiss postmark."
NEW CHARACTERS ON THE SCENE
The words, "The Swiss Postmark," following so soon upon the
housekeeper's reference to Switzerland, wrought Mr. Wilding's
agitation to such a remarkable height, that his new partner could
not decently make a pretence of letting it pass unnoticed.
"Wilding," he asked hurriedly, and yet stopping short and glancing
around as if for some visible cause of his state of mind: "what is
"My good George Vendale," returned the wine-merchant, giving his
hand with an appealing look, rather as if he wanted help to get over
some obstacle, than as if he gave it in welcome or salutation: "my
good George Vendale, so much is the matter, that I shall never be
myself again. It is impossible that I can ever be myself again.
For, in fact, I am not myself."
The new partner, a brown-cheeked handsome fellow, of about his own
age, with a quick determined eye and an impulsive manner, retorted
with natural astonishment: "Not yourself?"
"Not what I supposed myself to be," said Wilding.
"What, in the name of wonder, DID you suppose yourself to be that
you are not?" was the rejoinder, delivered with a cheerful
frankness, inviting confidence from a more reticent man. "I may ask
without impertinence, now that we are partners."
"There again!" cried Wilding, leaning back in his chair, with a lost
look at the other. "Partners! I had no right to come into this
business. It was never meant for me. My mother never meant it
should be mine. I mean, his mother meant it should be his--if I
mean anything--or if I am anybody."
"Come, come," urged his partner, after a moment's pause, and taking
possession of him with that calm confidence which inspires a strong
nature when it honestly desires to aid a weak one. "Whatever has
gone wrong, has gone wrong through no fault of yours, I am very
sure. I was not in this counting-house with you, under the old
regime, for three years, to doubt you, Wilding. We were not younger
men than we are, together, for that. Let me begin our partnership
by being a serviceable partner, and setting right whatever is wrong.
Has that letter anything to do with it?"
"Hah!" said Wilding, with his hand to his temple. "There again! My
head! I was forgetting the coincidence. The Swiss postmark."
"At a second glance I see that the letter is unopened, so it is not
very likely to have much to do with the matter," said Vendale, with
comforting composure. "Is it for you, or for us?"
"For us," said Wilding.
"Suppose I open it and read it aloud, to get it out of our way?"
"Thank you, thank you."
"The letter is only from our champagne-making friends, the house at
Neuchatel. 'Dear Sir. We are in receipt of yours of the 28th ult.,
informing us that you have taken your Mr. Vendale into partnership,
whereon we beg you to receive the assurance of our felicitations.
Permit us to embrace the occasion of specially commanding to you M.
Jules Obenreizer.' Impossible!"
Wilding looked up in quick apprehension, and cried, "Eh?"
"Impossible sort of name," returned his partner, slightly--
"Obenreizer. '--Of specially commanding to you M. Jules Obenreizer,
of Soho Square, London (north side), henceforth fully accredited as
our agent, and who has already had the honour of making the
acquaintance of your Mr. Vendale, in his (said M. Obenreizer's)
native country, Switzerland.' To be sure! pooh pooh, what have I
been thinking of! I remember now; 'when travelling with his
"With his--?" Vendale had so slurred the last word, that Wilding
had not heard it.
"When travelling with his Niece. Obenreizer's Niece," said Vendale,
in a somewhat superfluously lucid manner. "Niece of Obenreizer. (I
met them in my first Swiss tour, travelled a little with them, and
lost them for two years; met them again, my Swiss tour before last,
and have lost them ever since.) Obenreizer. Niece of Obenreizer.
To be sure! Possible sort of name, after all! 'M. Obenreizer is in
possession of our absolute confidence, and we do not doubt you will
esteem his merits.' Duly signed by the House, 'Defresnier et Cie.'
Very well. I undertake to see M. Obenreizer presently, and clear
him out of the way. That clears the Swiss postmark out of the way.
So now, my dear Wilding, tell me what I can clear out of YOUR way,
and I'll find a way to clear it."
More than ready and grateful to be thus taken charge of, the honest
wine-merchant wrung his partner's hand, and, beginning his tale by
pathetically declaring himself an Impostor, told it.
"It was on this matter, no doubt, that you were sending for Bintrey
when I came in?" said his partner, after reflecting.
"He has experience and a shrewd head; I shall be anxious to know his
opinion. It is bold and hazardous in me to give you mine before I
know his, but I am not good at holding back. Plainly, then, I do
not see these circumstances as you see them. I do not see your
position as you see it. As to your being an Impostor, my dear
Wilding, that is simply absurd, because no man can be that without
being a consenting party to an imposition. Clearly you never were
so. As to your enrichment by the lady who believed you to be her
son, and whom you were forced to believe, on her showing, to be your
mother, consider whether that did not arise out of the personal
relations between you. You gradually became much attached to her;
she gradually became much attached to you. It was on you,
personally you, as I see the case, that she conferred these worldly
advantages; it was from her, personally her, that you took them."
"She supposed me," objected Wilding, shaking his head, "to have a
natural claim upon her, which I had not."
"I must admit that," replied his partner, "to be true. But if she
had made the discovery that you have made, six months before she
died, do you think it would have cancelled the years you were
together, and the tenderness that each of you had conceived for the
other, each on increasing knowledge of the other?"
"What I think," said Wilding, simply but stoutly holding to the bare
fact, "can no more change the truth than it can bring down the sky.
The truth is that I stand possessed of what was meant for another
"He may be dead," said Vendale.
"He may be alive," said Wilding. "And if he is alive, have I not--
innocently, I grant you innocently--robbed him of enough? Have I
not robbed him of all the happy time that I enjoyed in his stead?
Have I not robbed him of the exquisite delight that filled my soul
when that dear lady," stretching his hand towards the picture, "told
me she was my mother? Have I not robbed him of all the care she
lavished on me? Have I not even robbed him of all the devotion and
duty that I so proudly gave to her? Therefore it is that I ask
myself, George Vendale, and I ask you, where is he? What has become
"Who can tell!"
"I must try to find out who can tell. I must institute inquiries.
I must never desist from prosecuting inquiries. I will live upon
the interest of my share--I ought to say his share--in this
business, and will lay up the rest for him. When I find him, I may
perhaps throw myself upon his generosity; but I will yield up all to
him. I will, I swear. As I loved and honoured her," said Wilding,
reverently kissing his hand towards the picture, and then covering
his eyes with it. "As I loved and honoured her, and have a world of
reasons to be grateful to her!" And so broke down again.
His partner rose from the chair he had occupied, and stood beside
him with a hand softly laid upon his shoulder. "Walter, I knew you
before to-day to be an upright man, with a pure conscience and a
fine heart. It is very fortunate for me that I have the privilege
to travel on in life so near to so trustworthy a man. I am thankful
for it. Use me as your right hand, and rely upon me to the death.
Don't think the worse of me if I protest to you that my uppermost
feeling at present is a confused, you may call it an unreasonable,
one. I feel far more pity for the lady and for you, because you did
not stand in your supposed relations, than I can feel for the
unknown man (if he ever became a man), because he was unconsciously
displaced. You have done well in sending for Mr. Bintrey. What I
think will be a part of his advice, I know is the whole of mine. Do
not move a step in this serious matter precipitately. The secret
must be kept among us with great strictness, for to part with it
lightly would be to invite fraudulent claims, to encourage a host of
knaves, to let loose a flood of perjury and plotting. I have no
more to say now, Walter, than to remind you that you sold me a share
in your business, expressly to save yourself from more work than
your present health is fit for, and that I bought it expressly to do
work, and mean to do it."
With these words, and a parting grip of his partner's shoulder that
gave them the best emphasis they could have had, George Vendale
betook himself presently to the counting-house, and presently
afterwards to the address of M. Jules Obenreizer.
As he turned into Soho Square, and directed his steps towards its
north side, a deepened colour shot across his sun-browned face,
which Wilding, if he had been a better observer, or had been less
occupied with his own trouble, might have noticed when his partner
read aloud a certain passage in their Swiss correspondent's letter,
which he had not read so distinctly as the rest.
A curious colony of mountaineers has long been enclosed within that
small flat London district of Soho. Swiss watchmakers, Swiss
silver-chasers, Swiss jewellers, Swiss importers of Swiss musical
boxes and Swiss toys of various kinds, draw close together there.
Swiss professors of music, painting, and languages; Swiss artificers
in steady work; Swiss couriers, and other Swiss servants chronically
out of place; industrious Swiss laundresses and clear-starchers;
mysteriously existing Swiss of both sexes; Swiss creditable and
Swiss discreditable; Swiss to be trusted by all means, and Swiss to
be trusted by no means; these diverse Swiss particles are attracted
to a centre in the district of Soho. Shabby Swiss eating-houses,
coffee-houses, and lodging-houses, Swiss drinks and dishes, Swiss
service for Sundays, and Swiss schools for week-days, are all to be
found there. Even the native-born English taverns drive a sort of
broken-English trade; announcing in their windows Swiss whets and
drams, and sheltering in their bars Swiss skirmishes of love and
animosity on most nights in the year.
When the new partner in Wilding and Co. rang the bell of a door
bearing the blunt inscription OBENREIZER on a brass plate--the inner
door of a substantial house, whose ground story was devoted to the
sale of Swiss clocks--he passed at once into domestic Switzerland.
A white-tiled stove for winter-time filled the fireplace of the room
into which he was shown, the room's bare floor was laid together in
a neat pattern of several ordinary woods, the room had a prevalent
air of surface bareness and much scrubbing; and the little square of
flowery carpet by the sofa, and the velvet chimney-board with its
capacious clock and vases of artificial flowers, contended with that
tone, as if, in bringing out the whole effect, a Parisian had
adapted a dairy to domestic purposes.
Mimic water was dropping off a mill-wheel under the clock. The
visitor had not stood before it, following it with his eyes, a
minute, when M. Obenreizer, at his elbow, startled him by saying, in
very good English, very slightly clipped: "How do you do? So
"I beg your pardon. I didn't hear you come in."
"Not at all! Sit, please."
Releasing his visitor's two arms, which he had lightly pinioned at
the elbows by way of embrace, M. Obenreizer also sat, remarking,
with a smile: "You are well? So glad!" and touching his elbows
"I don't know," said Vendale, after exchange of salutations,
"whether you may yet have heard of me from your House at Neuchatel?"
"In connection with Wilding and Co.?"
"Is it not odd that I should come to you, in London here, as one of
the Firm of Wilding and Co., to pay the Firm's respects?"
"Not at all! What did I always observe when we were on the
mountains? We call them vast; but the world is so little. So
little is the world, that one cannot keep away from persons. There
are so few persons in the world, that they continually cross and re-
cross. So very little is the world, that one cannot get rid of a
person. Not," touching his elbows again, with an ingratiatory
smile, "that one would desire to get rid of you."
"I hope not, M. Obenreizer."
"Please call me, in your country, Mr. I call myself so, for I love
your country. If I COULD be English! But I am born. And you?
Though descended from so fine a family, you have had the
condescension to come into trade? Stop though. Wines? Is it trade
in England or profession? Not fine art?"
"Mr. Obenreizer," returned Vendale, somewhat out of countenance, "I
was but a silly young fellow, just of age, when I first had the
pleasure of travelling with you, and when you and I and Mademoiselle
your niece--who is well?"
"Thank you. Who is well."
"--Shared some slight glacier dangers together. If, with a boy's
vanity, I rather vaunted my family, I hope I did so as a kind of
introduction of myself. It was very weak, and in very bad taste;
but perhaps you know our English proverb, 'Live and Learn.'"
"You make too much of it," returned the Swiss. "And what the devil!
After all, yours WAS a fine family."
George Vendale's laugh betrayed a little vexation as he rejoined:
"Well! I was strongly attached to my parents, and when we first
travelled together, Mr. Obenreizer, I was in the first flush of
coming into what my father and mother left me. So I hope it may
have been, after all, more youthful openness of speech and heart
"All openness of speech and heart! No boastfulness!" cried
Obenreizer. "You tax yourself too heavily. You tax yourself, my
faith! as if you was your Government taxing you! Besides, it
commenced with me. I remember, that evening in the boat upon the
lake, floating among the reflections of the mountains and valleys,
the crags and pine woods, which were my earliest remembrance, I drew
a word-picture of my sordid childhood. Of our poor hut, by the
waterfall which my mother showed to travellers; of the cow-shed
where I slept with the cow; of my idiot half-brother always sitting
at the door, or limping down the Pass to beg; of my half-sister
always spinning, and resting her enormous goitre on a great stone;
of my being a famished naked little wretch of two or three years,
when they were men and women with hard hands to beat me, I, the only
child of my father's second marriage--if it even was a marriage.
What more natural than for you to compare notes with me, and say,
'We are as one by age; at that same time I sat upon my mother's lap
in my father's carriage, rolling through the rich English streets,
all luxury surrounding me, all squalid poverty kept far from me.
Such is MY earliest remembrance as opposed to yours!'"
Mr. Obenreizer was a black-haired young man of a dark complexion,
through whose swarthy skin no red glow ever shone. When colour
would have come into another cheek, a hardly discernible beat would
come into his, as if the machinery for bringing up the ardent blood
were there, but the machinery were dry. He was robustly made, well
proportioned, and had handsome features. Many would have perceived
that some surface change in him would have set them more at their
ease with him, without being able to define what change. If his
lips could have been made much thicker, and his neck much thinner,
they would have found their want supplied.
But the great Obenreizer peculiarity was, that a certain nameless
film would come over his eyes--apparently by the action of his own
will--which would impenetrably veil, not only from those tellers of
tales, but from his face at large, every expression save one of
attention. It by no means followed that his attention should be
wholly given to the person with whom he spoke, or even wholly
bestowed on present sounds and objects. Rather, it was a
comprehensive watchfulness of everything he had in his own mind, and
everything that he knew to be, or suspected to be, in the minds of
At this stage of the conversation, Mr. Obenreizer's film came over
"The object of my present visit," said Vendale, "is, I need hardly
say, to assure you of the friendliness of Wilding and Co., and of
the goodness of your credit with us, and of our desire to be of
service to you. We hope shortly to offer you our hospitality.
Things are not quite in train with us yet, for my partner, Mr.
Wilding, is reorganising the domestic part of our establishment, and
is interrupted by some private affairs. You don't know Mr. Wilding,
Mr. Obenreizer did not.
"You must come together soon. He will be glad to have made your
acquaintance, and I think I may predict that you will be glad to
have made his. You have not been long established in London, I
suppose, Mr. Obenreizer?"
"It is only now that I have undertaken this agency."
"Mademoiselle your niece--is--not married?"
George Vendale glanced about him, as if for any tokens of her.
"She has been in London?"
"She IS in London."
"When, and where, might I have the honour of recalling myself to her
Mr. Obenreizer, discarding his film and touching his visitor's
elbows as before, said lightly: "Come up-stairs."
Fluttered enough by the suddenness with which the interview he had
sought was coming upon him after all, George Vendale followed up-
stairs. In a room over the chamber he had just quitted--a room also
Swiss-appointed--a young lady sat near one of three windows, working
at an embroidery-frame; and an older lady sat with her face turned
close to another white-tiled stove (though it was summer, and the
stove was not lighted), cleaning gloves. The young lady wore an
unusual quantity of fair bright hair, very prettily braided about a
rather rounder white forehead than the average English type, and so
her face might have been a shade--or say a light--rounder than the
average English face, and her figure slightly rounder than the
figure of the average English girl at nineteen. A remarkable
indication of freedom and grace of limb, in her quiet attitude, and
a wonderful purity and freshness of colour in her dimpled face and
bright gray eyes, seemed fraught with mountain air. Switzerland
too, though the general fashion of her dress was English, peeped out
of the fanciful bodice she wore, and lurked in the curious clocked
red stocking, and in its little silver-buckled shoe. As to the
elder lady, sitting with her feet apart upon the lower brass ledge
of the stove, supporting a lap-full of gloves while she cleaned one
stretched on her left hand, she was a true Swiss impersonation of
another kind; from the breadth of her cushion-like back, and the
ponderosity of her respectable legs (if the word be admissible), to
the black velvet band tied tightly round her throat for the
repression of a rising tendency to goitre; or, higher still, to her
great copper-coloured gold ear-rings; or, higher still, to her head-
dress of black gauze stretched on wire.
"Miss Marguerite," said Obenreizer to the young lady, "do you
recollect this gentleman?"
"I think," she answered, rising from her seat, surprised and a
little confused: "it is Mr. Vendale?"
"I think it is," said Obenreizer, dryly. "Permit me, Mr. Vendale.
The elder lady by the stove, with the glove stretched on her left
hand, like a glover's sign, half got up, half looked over her broad
shoulder, and wholly plumped down again and rubbed away.
"Madame Dor," said Obenreizer, smiling, "is so kind as to keep me
free from stain or tear. Madame Dor humours my weakness for being
always neat, and devotes her time to removing every one of my specks
Madame Dor, with the stretched glove in the air, and her eyes
closely scrutinizing its palm, discovered a tough spot in Mr.
Obenreizer at that instant, and rubbed hard at him. George Vendale
took his seat by the embroidery-frame (having first taken the fair
right hand that his entrance had checked), and glanced at the gold
cross that dipped into the bodice, with something of the devotion of
a pilgrim who had reached his shrine at last. Obenreizer stood in
the middle of the room with his thumbs in his waistcoat-pockets, and
"He was saying down-stairs, Miss Obenreizer," observed Vendale,
"that the world is so small a place, that people cannot escape one
another. I have found it much too large for me since I saw you
"Have you travelled so far, then?" she inquired.
"Not so far, for I have only gone back to Switzerland each year; but
I could have wished--and indeed I have wished very often--that the
little world did not afford such opportunities for long escapes as
it does. If it had been less, I might have found my follow-
travellers sooner, you know."
The pretty Marguerite coloured, and very slightly glanced in the
direction of Madame Dor.
"You find us at length, Mr. Vendale. Perhaps you may lose us
"I trust not. The curious coincidence that has enabled me to find
you, encourages me to hope not."
"What is that coincidence, sir, if you please?" A dainty little
native touch in this turn of speech, and in its tone, made it
perfectly captivating, thought George Vendale, when again he noticed
an instantaneous glance towards Madame Dor. A caution seemed to be
conveyed in it, rapid flash though it was; so he quietly took heed
of Madame Dor from that time forth.
"It is that I happen to have become a partner in a House of business
in London, to which Mr. Obenreizer happens this very day to be
expressly recommended: and that, too, by another house of business
in Switzerland, in which (as it turns out) we both have a commercial
interest. He has not told you?"
"Ah!" cried Obenreizer, striking in, filmless. "No. I had not told
Miss Marguerite. The world is so small and so monotonous that a
surprise is worth having in such a little jog-trot place. It is as
he tells you, Miss Marguerite. He, of so fine a family, and so
proudly bred, has condescended to trade. To trade! Like us poor
peasants who have risen from ditches!"
A cloud crept over the fair brow, and she cast down her eyes.
"Why, it is good for trade!" pursued Obenreizer, enthusiastically.
"It ennobles trade! It is the misfortune of trade, it is its
vulgarity, that any low people--for example, we poor peasants--may
take to it and climb by it. See you, my dear Vendale!" He spoke
with great energy. "The father of Miss Marguerite, my eldest half-
brother, more than two times your age or mine, if living now,
wandered without shoes, almost without rags, from that wretched
Pass--wandered--wandered--got to be fed with the mules and dogs at
an Inn in the main valley far away--got to be Boy there--got to be
Ostler--got to be Waiter--got to be Cook--got to be Landlord. As
Landlord, he took me (could he take the idiot beggar his brother, or
the spinning monstrosity his sister?) to put as pupil to the famous
watchmaker, his neighbour and friend. His wife dies when Miss
Marguerite is born. What is his will, and what are his words to me,
when he dies, she being between girl and woman? 'All for
Marguerite, except so much by the year for you. You are young, but
I make her your ward, for you were of the obscurest and the poorest
peasantry, and so was I, and so was her mother; we were abject
peasants all, and you will remember it.' The thing is equally true
of most of my countrymen, now in trade in this your London quarter
of Soho. Peasants once; low-born drudging Swiss Peasants. Then how
good and great for trade:" here, from having been warm, he became
playfully jubilant, and touched the young wine-merchant's elbows
again with his light embrace: "to be exalted by gentlemen."
"I do not think so," said Marguerite, with a flushed cheek, and a
look away from the visitor, that was almost defiant. "I think it is
as much exalted by us peasants."
"Fie, fie, Miss Marguerite," said Obenreizer. "You speak in proud
"I speak in proud earnest," she answered, quietly resuming her work,
"and I am not English, but a Swiss peasant's daughter."
There was a dismissal of the subject in her words, which Vendale
could not contend against. He only said in an earnest manner, "I
most heartily agree with you, Miss Obenreizer, and I have already
said so, as Mr. Obenreizer will bear witness," which he by no means
did, "in this house."
Now, Vendale's eyes were quick eyes, and sharply watching Madame Dor
by times, noted something in the broad back view of that lady.
There was considerable pantomimic expression in her glove-cleaning.
It had been very softly done when he spoke with Marguerite, or it
had altogether stopped, like the action of a listener. When
Obenreizer's peasant-speech came to an end, she rubbed most
vigorously, as if applauding it. And once or twice, as the glove
(which she always held before her a little above her face) turned in
the air, or as this finger went down, or that went up, he even
fancied that it made some telegraphic communication to Obenreizer:
whose back was certainly never turned upon it, though he did not
seem at all to heed it.
Vendale observed too, that in Marguerite's dismissal of the subject
twice forced upon him to his misrepresentation, there was an
indignant treatment of her guardian which she tried to cheek: as
though she would have flamed out against him, but for the influence
of fear. He also observed--though this was not much--that he never
advanced within the distance of her at which he first placed
himself: as though there were limits fixed between them. Neither
had he ever spoken of her without the prefix "Miss," though whenever
he uttered it, it was with the faintest trace of an air of mockery.
And now it occurred to Vendale for the first time that something
curious in the man, which he had never before been able to define,
was definable as a certain subtle essence of mockery that eluded
touch or analysis. He felt convinced that Marguerite was in some
sort a prisoner as to her freewill--though she held her own against
those two combined, by the force of her character, which was
nevertheless inadequate to her release. To feel convinced of this,
was not to feel less disposed to love her than he had always been.
In a word, he was desperately in love with her, and thoroughly
determined to pursue the opportunity which had opened at last.
For the present, he merely touched upon the pleasure that Wilding
and Co. would soon have in entreating Miss Obenreizer to honour
their establishment with her presence--a curious old place, though a
bachelor house withal--and so did not protract his visit beyond such
a visit's ordinary length. Going down-stairs, conducted by his
host, he found the Obenreizer counting-house at the back of the
entrance-hall, and several shabby men in outlandish garments hanging
about, whom Obenreizer put aside that he might pass, with a few
words in patois.
"Countrymen," he explained, as he attended Vendale to the door.
"Poor compatriots. Grateful and attached, like dogs! Good-bye. To
meet again. So glad!"
Two more light touches on his elbows dismissed him into the street.
Sweet Marguerite at her frame, and Madame Dor's broad back at her
telegraph, floated before him to Cripple Corner. On his arrival
there, Wilding was closeted with Bintrey. The cellar doors
happening to be open, Vendale lighted a candle in a cleft stick, and
went down for a cellarous stroll. Graceful Marguerite floated
before him faithfully, but Madame Dor's broad back remained outside.
The vaults were very spacious, and very old. There had been a stone
crypt down there, when bygones were not bygones; some said, part of
a monkish refectory; some said, of a chapel; some said, of a Pagan
temple. It was all one now. Let who would make what he liked of a
crumbled pillar and a broken arch or so. Old Time had made what HE
liked of it, and was quite indifferent to contradiction.
The close air, the musty smell, and the thunderous rumbling in the
streets above, as being, out of the routine of ordinary life, went
well enough with the picture of pretty Marguerite holding her own
against those two. So Vendale went on until, at a turning in the
vaults, he saw a light like the light he carried.
"O! You are here, are you, Joey?"
"Oughtn't it rather to go, 'O! YOU'RE here, are you, Master
George?' For it's my business to be here. But it ain't yourn."
"Don't grumble, Joey."
"O! I don't grumble," returned the Cellarman. "If anything
grumbles, it's what I've took in through the pores; it ain't me.
Have a care as something in you don't begin a grumbling, Master
George. Stop here long enough for the wapours to work, and they'll
be at it."
His present occupation consisted of poking his head into the bins,
making measurements and mental calculations, and entering them in a
rhinoceros-hide-looking note-book, like a piece of himself.
"They'll be at it," he resumed, laying the wooden rod that he
measured with across two casks, entering his last calculation, and
straightening his back, "trust 'em! And so you've regularly come
into the business, Master George?"
"Regularly. I hope you don't object, Joey?"
"I don't, bless you. But Wapours objects that you're too young.
You're both on you too young."
"We shall got over that objection day by day, Joey."
"Ay, Master George; but I shall day by day get over the objection
that I'm too old, and so I shan't be capable of seeing much
improvement in you."
The retort so tickled Joey Ladle that he grunted forth a laugh and
delivered it again, grunting forth another laugh after the second
edition of "improvement in you."
"But what's no laughing matter, Master George," he resumed,
straightening his back once more, "is, that young Master Wilding has
gone and changed the luck. Mark my words. He has changed the luck,
and he'll find it out. I ain't been down here all my life for
nothing! I know by what I notices down here, when it's a-going to
rain, when it's a-going to hold up, when it's a-going to blow, when
it's a-going to be calm. I know, by what I notices down here, when
the luck's changed, quite as well."
"Has this growth on the roof anything to do with your divination?"
asked Vendale, holding his light towards a gloomy ragged growth of
dark fungus, pendent from the arches with a very disagreeable and
repellent effect. "We are famous for this growth in this vault,
"We are Master George," replied Joey Ladle, moving a step or two
away, "and if you'll be advised by me, you'll let it alone."
Taking up the rod just now laid across the two casks, and faintly
moving the languid fungus with it, Vendale asked, "Ay, indeed? Why
"Why, not so much because it rises from the casks of wine, and may
leave you to judge what sort of stuff a Cellarman takes into himself
when he walks in the same all the days of his life, nor yet so much
because at a stage of its growth it's maggots, and you'll fetch 'em
down upon you," returned Joey Ladle, still keeping away, "as for
another reason, Master George."
"What other reason?"
"(I wouldn't keep on touchin' it, if I was you, sir.) I'll tell you
if you'll come out of the place. First, take a look at its colour,
"I am doing so."
"Done, sir. Now, come out of the place."
He moved away with his light, and Vendale followed with his. When
Vendale came up with him, and they were going back together,
Vendale, eyeing him as they walked through the arches, said: "Well,
Joey? The colour."
"Is it like clotted blood, Master George?"
"Like enough, perhaps."
"More than enough, I think," muttered Joey Ladle, shaking his head
"Well, say it is like; say it is exactly like. What then?"
"Master George, they do say--"
"How should I know who?" rejoined the Cellarman, apparently much
exasperated by the unreasonable nature of the question. "Them!
Them as says pretty well everything, you know. How should I know
who They are, if you don't?"
"True. Go on."
"They do say that the man that gets by any accident a piece of that
dark growth right upon his breast, will, for sure and certain, die
As Vendale laughingly stopped to meet the Cellarman's eyes, which he
had fastened on his light while dreamily saying those words, he
suddenly became conscious of being struck upon his own breast by a
heavy hand. Instantly following with his eyes the action of the
hand that struck him--which was his companion's--he saw that it had
beaten off his breast a web or clot of the fungus even then floating
to the ground.
For a moment he turned upon the Cellarman almost as scared a look as
the Cellarman turned upon him. But in another moment they had
reached the daylight at the foot of the cellar-steps, and before he
cheerfully sprang up them, he blew out his candle and the
On the morning of the next day, Wilding went out alone, after
leaving a message with his clerk. "If Mr. Vendale should ask for
me," he said, "or if Mr. Bintrey should call, tell them I am gone to
the Foundling." All that his partner had said to him, all that his
lawyer, following on the same side, could urge, had left him
persisting unshaken in his own point of view. To find the lost man,
whose place he had usurped, was now the paramount interest of his
life, and to inquire at the Foundling was plainly to take the first
step in the direction of discovery. To the Foundling, accordingly,
the wine-merchant now went.
The once familiar aspect of the building was altered to him, as the
look of the portrait over the chimney-piece was altered to him. His
one dearest association with the place which had sheltered his
childhood had been broken away from it for ever. A strange
reluctance possessed him, when he stated his business at the door.
His heart ached as he sat alone in the waiting-room while the
Treasurer of the institution was being sent for to see him. When
the interview began, it was only by a painful effort that he could
compose himself sufficiently to mention the nature of his errand.
The Treasurer listened with a face which promised all needful
attention, and promised nothing more.
"We are obliged to be cautious," he said, when it came to his turn
to speak, "about all inquiries which are made by strangers."
"You can hardly consider me a stranger," answered Wilding, simply.
"I was one of your poor lost children here, in the bygone time."
The Treasurer politely rejoined that this circumstance inspired him
with a special interest in his visitor. But he pressed,
nevertheless for that visitor's motive in making his inquiry.
Without further preface, Wilding told him his motive, suppressing
nothing. The Treasurer rose, and led the way into the room in which
the registers of the institution were kept. "All the information
which our books can give is heartily at your service," he said.
"After the time that has elapsed, I am afraid it is the only
information we have to offer you."
The books were consulted, and the entry was found expressed as
"3d March, 1836. Adopted, and removed from the Foundling Hospital,
a male infant, named Walter Wilding. Name and condition of the
person adopting the child--Mrs. Jane Ann Miller, widow. Address--
Lime-Tree Lodge, Groombridge Wells. References--the Reverend John
Harker, Groombridge Wells; and Messrs. Giles, Jeremie, and Giles,
bankers, Lombard Street."
"Is that all?" asked the wine-merchant. "Had you no after-
communication with Mrs. Miller?"
"None--or some reference to it must have appeared in this book."
"May I take a copy of the entry?"
"Certainly! You are a little agitated. Let me make a copy for
"My only chance, I suppose," said Wilding, looking sadly at the
copy, "is to inquire at Mrs. Miller's residence, and to try if her
references can help me?"
"That is the only chance I see at present," answered the Treasurer.
"I heartily wish I could have been of some further assistance to
With those farewell words to comfort him Wilding set forth on the
journey of investigation which began from the Foundling doors. The
first stage to make for, was plainly the house of business of the
bankers in Lombard Street. Two of the partners in the firm were
inaccessible to chance-visitors when he asked for them. The third,
after raising certain inevitable difficulties, consented to let a
clerk examine the ledger marked with the initial letter "M." The
account of Mrs. Miller, widow, of Groombridge Wells, was found. Two
long lines, in faded ink, were drawn across it; and at the bottom of
the page there appeared this note Account closed, September 30th,
So the first stage of the journey was reached--and so it ended in No
Thoroughfare! After sending a note to Cripple Corner to inform his
partner that his absence might be prolonged for some hours, Wilding
took his place in the train, and started for the second stage on the
journey--Mrs. Miller's residence at Groombridge Wells.
Mothers and children travelled with him; mothers and children met
each other at the station; mothers and children were in the shops
when he entered them to inquire for Lime-Tree Lodge. Everywhere,
the nearest and dearest of human relations showed itself happily in
the happy light of day. Everywhere, he was reminded of the
treasured delusion from which he had been awakened so cruelly--of
the lost memory which had passed from him like a reflection from a
Inquiring here, inquiring there, he could hear of no such place as
Lime-Tree Lodge. Passing a house-agent's office, he went in
wearily, and put the question for the last time. The house-agent
pointed across the street to a dreary mansion of many windows, which
might have been a manufactory, but which was an hotel. "That's
where Lime-Tree Lodge stood, sir," said the man, "ten years ago."
The second stage reached, and No Thoroughfare again!
But one chance was left. The clerical reference, Mr. Harker, still
remained to be found. Customers coming in at the moment to occupy
the house-agent's attention, Wilding went down the street, and
entering a bookseller's shop, asked if he could be informed of the
Reverend John Harker's present address.
The bookseller looked unaffectedly shocked and astonished, and made
Wilding repeated his question.
The bookseller took up from his counter a prim little volume in a
binding of sober gray. He handed it to his visitor, open at the
title-page. Wilding read:
"The martyrdom of the Reverend John Harker in New Zealand. Related
by a former member of his flock."
Wilding put the book down on the counter. "I beg your pardon," he
said thinking a little, perhaps, of his own present martyrdom while
he spoke. The silent bookseller acknowledged the apology by a bow.
Wilding went out.
Third and last stage, and No Thoroughfare for the third and last
There was nothing more to be done; there was absolutely no choice
but to go back to London, defeated at all points. From time to time
on the return journey, the wine-merchant looked at his copy of the
entry in the Foundling Register. There is one among the many forms
of despair--perhaps the most pitiable of all--which persists in
disguising itself as Hope. Wilding checked himself in the act of
throwing the useless morsel of paper out of the carriage window.
"It may lead to something yet," he thought. "While I live, I won't
part with it. When I die, my executors shall find it sealed up with
Now, the mention of his will set the good wine-merchant on a new
track of thought, without diverting his mind from its engrossing
subject. He must make his will immediately.
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