or Red Riding-Hood Over Again
by Harriet Louisa Childe-Pemberton
I THINK THE STORY of Red Riding-Hood is one of
the stupidest of all the nursery tales," was the criticism which
I caught the eldest of my nieces announcing one evening as I unexpectedly
walked into the schoolroom.
"Why, Margery?" said I.
Margery, who had evidently just been reading the story
in question aloud to one of the little ones, looked up surprised at my
unexpected entrance and still more unexpected question. Young people do
not often like to be called upon to give an account of their opinions-particularly
young people at the shy and awkward age of fifteen, who think more than
they care to confess, and are apt to form judgments, more or less hard
and fast, without quite knowing why they do so. And so I was not surprised
that Margery gave me no answer till I had repeated the question-
"Why do you think Red Riding-Hood the stupidest of
all the nursery tales? I used to like it when I was a little girl."
"Oh, so did I when I was a little girl; and so do
the children now," replied Margery. "But that's just it. It
can't possibly interest any one but children. Now some of the others can.
But Red Riding-Hood is altogether too unlikely for anything! We don't
meet with wolves now, you see, and if we did, we couldn't talk to them.
And besides, it's all so exaggerated. Red Riding-Hood was only heedless
and silly to talk so, but to be eaten up for that was much too severe
Margery paused, expecting me to say something in reply.
But I sat silent, not a little amused in drawing out this new state of
my niece's mind. She was beginning to put away childish things-at least
she thought she was-unless they could square somehow with her thoughts
upon things that were not childish. She was going through a matter-of-fact
stage, she was beginning to see the meanings of things, she was learning
to set great store by whys and wherefores, causes and effects. Well, it
was no wonder, I thought, as I glanced round the schoolroom, and realised
that mathematics, and natural philosophy, and political economy played
a prominent part in the weekly programme of Margery's education. This
glance set me wondering whether, if I had any children to educate, I should
have pursued precisely the same plan as found favour in the eyes of my
sister-in-law; but I had never had much chance of putting my ideas into
practice. They had remained ideas-explained at great length very often
to certain of my friends not going much further. These reflections had
carried me far enough away from Red Riding-Hood, but I was recalled to
the subject under discussion by Margery's voice-
"And really and truly, auntie, I never quite like
reading that story to the children, because it can't possibly be explained
to be true in any kind of way, you see! Mamma always says that I ought
to be able to show the little ones that there is a true meaning, even
in their nursery tales; but how can I, when I know in my heart that people
don't get put to death themselves or cause the deaths of others simply
by being heedless and silly?"
My niece Margery interests me very much. I don't greatly
mind at present, as her father does, that her arms and legs are long and
awkward, and that she is very careless about brushing her hair and keeping
her collars clean, nor am I in a fever of anxiety, like her poor mother,
lest she may not know quite as much as other girls of her age. But I like
her earnestness and her sincerity, and for the sake of these I can pardon
her dogmatic tone, which is only the early outcome of her dawning ideas,
and will soften down in time.
And, to tell the truth, Margery is never dogmatic with
me. When I begin to talk and tell her things out of my own experience-as
I often do, for it has been a varied one always listens in rapt attention,
and often answers me quite doubtfully and humbly, which surprises me sometimes,
I confess, for I have never learnt half the things she is being taught,
and know very little about mathematics and political economy.
"There is something in what you say, Margery dear,"
said I; "yet I am not at all so sure as you are, that it cannot possibly
be explained to be true in any kind of way."
Margery was sitting on the arm of my chair, so I could
not see her face, but I knew that it was frowning with perplexity and
with the inward dissent which she did not quite like to express aloud.
"Shall I tell you what I think?" I continued.
"I think the story of Red Riding-Hood is not intended for the children
only, by any means; and as for the meaning, you mustn't expect the little
ones to find that out. That is certainly over their heads at present.
And if you think the story the stupidest of all the nursery tales, I suspect
the meaning must still be a little over your head too."
I felt my niece slip off the arm of my chair, and in another
minute she was kneeling before me with her elbows on my lap, looking up
at me with just the puzzled sort of look I had expected.
"But is there any sensible meaning in it?" she
"You think people don't come by their deaths themselves
nor cause the deaths of others by being only heedless and silly?"
said I, stroking Margery's rough, untidy hair. "Ah! I wish I could
think it never had been so!"
Margery looked up at me again, her puzzled gaze having
something awestruck in it.
"Why?" she asked, after a pause, "did you
really know some one to whom it happened?"
Aye, thought I, I did know, all too well, some one to
whom it had really happened-or something very like it-some one whose heedlessness
and folly had well-nigh ended, indeed, in death and disaster! But what
I said to Margery was-
"Shall I tell you a story? Then you can judge for
yourself if it is possible to read a meaning in the tale of Red Riding-Hood."
"Oh, yes! please do," said my niece, "your
stories are always nice."
"It is a true story," said I, "for it happened
"Oh, auntie!" cried Margery, "you could
never have been silly like that!"
"Couldn't I, Margery?" I replied. "Ah,
dear, you don't know what sharp teaching it sometimes takes to make people
By this time the younger children had all left the room,
some for bed, and some to play elsewhere, all except Margery's next sister,
Eva, a merry, rosy-checked, laughing maiden, her father's pet and plaything,
and as thoughtless a little piece of goods as ever I came across! When
she heard me speak of a story, she too came and sat down at my feet; and
if it sometimes strikes me as strange that Margery shows herself more
teachable with me than with any one else, it strikes me as even more so
that lively little Eva should be attracted, as she always is, by my sober
My story, said I, is of more than twenty years ago, at
a time when the fashions in dress were just the reverse of what they are
now, when crinolines could hardly be worn large enough, when the pork-pie
hat was the rage, and when, instead of the sage-greens, the peacock-blues,
and rhubarb-reds of the present day, bright scarlet, crude violet, and
two new colours called mauve and magenta, found favour in the eyes of
those who pretended to taste in the matter of dress.
Amongst these I, who had just grown up, took my place,
of course. I wore red stockings, and a violet dress, and a scarlet cloak,
and nobody ever thought, as they would now, of calling my taste vulgar.
What I must have looked like you can very well imagine, if you can fancy
my cheeks a good deal plumper than they are now, my eyes brighter (I had
shed very few tears then), and my hair without any streaks of grey. Fortunately,
I was not very tall, otherwise the bright colours which took my fancy
so would have sat worse upon me than they perhaps did.
That scarlet cloak in particular was my great pride. Cloaks
at that time were made in a particular shape, a sort of double cloak,
the upper one being shorter than the under, and drawn in at the waist
with a rosette-Connemara cloaks I think they were called; and though I
am quite ready to admit that the fashions of that date were for the most
part hideous and tasteless, the Connemara cloaks were by no means ugly
They were made in all colours, and when my old bachelor
uncle sent me the present he always did on my birthday, I instantly made
up my mind to spend it on a Connemara cloak, and a scarlet one. Trotting
about in this cloak, with a pair of red stockings, just showing above
laced hoots, the smallest of small black hats on my head, and my hair
drawn back into a chenille net-such was the monstrous fashion of the moment-
must have looked not very unlike Red Riding-Hood herself, I think, and
I fancy people took me to be younger than I was.
However, I had plenty to do besides give my attention
to dress. You see I was only one among ten brothers and sisters, and a
noisy, busy, scrambling family we were. Some large families may be brought
up quite carefully and demurely, without any noise or fuss, hut it was
not so with us. I have heard people remark that we were never brought
up at all; and if such people mean by bringing up, doing things at stated
times, then certainly we were not brought up. We never did anything at
stated times. My father never sat down from morning till night. He took
his simple meals standing, like the hatter in "Alice in Wonderland,"
his tea-cup in one hand and his slice of bread and butter in the other.
And as for my mother, I think she spent her life in walking up and down
stairs. Nobody looked after us children very regularly, nobody had the
leisure to do it; we had governesses at one time, but we didn't get on
with any of them, and they didn't much like our scrambling ways, and so
after a while they ceased.
After that came a season of anarchy, in which we elder
ones were supposed to teach the younger; and you may guess what that amounted
to. Then when the boys were being drafted off to school things became
a little more manageable; and so we went on till I was grown up. The only
person who ever attempted living by any sort of rule was my eldest brother-your
father-and a hard time he had of it, with so many against him. I was worse
than useless in keeping any kind of order. I liked going my own way, and
the easiest way of doing this is generally to let others go theirs. I
got into foolish scrapes more than once, but I got out of them again,
and no harm came. So I fell into the habit of believing that no harm ever
would come, and of thinking that heedlessness and randomness answered
just as well as any more careful line of conduct.
Your father used to give me very good advice, if I had
only been wise enough to follow it, or even to lay it to heart.
"If you would only try to remember, Pussy,"
he would say earnestly, "you would find it saved such a lot of time;
and if you would think sometimes before you speak, or rush into doing
things, it would be so much better."
"What would you have me think about?" I asked.
"Why, the consequences," he replied.
"Oh, bother consequences," I answered flippantly.
"Small things don't have any consequences; and if they do, one can't
be always stopping to think about them. There isn't time in this house."
Well, one morning as I came down to breakfast late, as
was my custom, I met my mother as usual going upstairs. She did not stop,
except to give me a hurried kiss, but she just said as she went her way-
"Pussy, your father wants to speak to you."
"What about?" I asked, in some surprise, for
nobody ever wanted to speak to anybody at this time in the morning. But
by this time my mother was up on the landing.
"Something about a letter from your grandmother,"
she called out hastily, and before I could inquire further she had vanished
down the passage. I went on into the dining-room, where I found my father
hearing one of the children say the multiplication table, eating his breakfast
rapidly the while, and scanning the morning paper into the bargain. He
took hardly any notice of me, but when he had swallowed his last cup of
tea, rushed out of the room into the hall, where I heard him wriggling
himself into his greatcoat. I followed him.
"What's this about a letter from grandmamma?"
"Letter from grandmamma?" he repeated. "Oh,
yes, to be sure. Wait till I come back; I'm only going to a meeting. Shan't
be long." And he, too, vanished.
At this moment my eldest sister came flying down the stairs,
her cloak and hat on. She had been up and about for hours, down to the
school, into the church, half over the parish for all I knew. I waylaid
"What's this about a letter from grandmamma?"
"Letter from grandmamma?" she repeated in a
bewildered tone. "Oh, I know, something about you, I believe."
"But what about me?" I asked impatiently.
"I don't know. Let me pass. I'm in a hurry."
Everybody was always in a hurry, and nobody ever attended
to any one else. That was the conclusion I arrived at that morning. What
was the use of my brother preaching to me about remembering and stopping
to think? Nobody here ever remembered, or ever stopped to think; but it
all did very well so far as I could see.
So I, like the rest, hurried off on my own devices, quite
forgetting that my father had told me to wait for his return. The consequence
was, that when he came in, I was far enough away, and only returned to
find him cramming a sandwich into his mouth, while his dog-cart was waiting
to drive him some eight miles into the country.
If my grandmother expected a prompt answer to her letter,
I am afraid she must have been disappointed; for it was some three or
four days before there was time found to acquaint me with its contents.
It was a pouring wet day, and! think some of us must have got bad colds,
probably caught in the reckless rushing about at all moments of the day
and night. Nothing less, I am sure, would have found some four or five
of us all sitting still in one room together.
"Oh, by the way, we've never answered grandmamma's
letter!" said my father, who was sorting a packet he held in his
"No," said I, feeling rather aggrieved, "and
you've never told me what was in it either."
"There it is," said my father, who had the most
beautiful temper I ever knew, and took the hurry and scramble of his busy
life and his large family in the most good-humoured way in the world,
never fretting and never putting himself out. "There it is; read
it for yourself, Pussy, as it concerns you, and give us the benefit of
I took the letter and read it. It contained a proposal
from my grandmother, that I should go and live with her. Of course I might
see my family as often as they pleased, but my home was to be with her.
The reason of the offer was candidly stated-there was a lot of us, and
there might be some advantages for one in having a home elsewhere. My
grandmother was a fresh, lively old lady, living in a good house in a
nice neighbourhood, and she would much like the society of a young thing
about her. To be sure she had her dear daughter Rosa, but we all knew,
though she did not express this in so many words, that Aunt Rosa's company
was sometimes found a little irksome.
My father, in giving me the letter to read, evidently
intended the case in all its bearings to be placed before me at once.
We had no secrets in our family; everybody told everybody everything-when
there was time-except my eldest brother; he sometimes kept things to himself,
and had earned the character of loving a mystery. So I took in the situation
at a glance-the advantages of being rid of all the children and the scramble,
and of living with grandmamma, who had carriages and horses, and entertained
her friends in a nice house, and would make me presents of new dresses
and hats. And I balanced them all, very rapidly, against Aunt Rosa, of
whom I stood rather in awe. The advantages carried the day. After all,
if Aunt Rosa bored me beyond endurance, or if I found it more lonely and
dull than I expected, I could come home again, of course.
"Well, Pussy," said my father, "how is
it to be?"
"I don't think I should mind going to stay with grandmamma,"
"Anything for a change, Madcap, I suppose,"
said my father, chucking me under the chin. "What does everybody
else think about it? Grandmamma must be written to to-morrow."
"If Pussy thinks she would like it, I don't see why
she shouldn't try," said my mother. "She ought to see a little
of life, and go to a few good parties, and really I haven't the time to
take her out."
This was perfectly true. No one in their senses could
have expected my poor mother, after her long busy days, to sit up till
late, while I was amusing myself.
I forget exactly what my brother and sister said; but
it left on my mind the impression that the one thought I should derive
some benefit to my character from the change, while the other was relieved
at the idea of there being one less in our small house to tumble over
and get in the way of all the others!
So this change in my life, like everything else, was settled
in a hurry, scrambled through without any further debate or consideration.
Somebody wrote to my grandmother the next day, and I was to have a fortnight
to prepare for my long visit.
These preparations were mainly left to my own care, and
resulted in a good many shopping expeditions, and if I remember rightly,
the result of one was the scarlet Connemara cloak of which I was so proud.
As soon as my leaving home had been settled, my family seemed to forget
all about it; it was swallowed up in a score of other interests and occupations,
and if it was kept before them at all it was only by passing allusions
on my part. The consequence was, that when my last day at home arrived,
they were all taken by surprise.
Then suddenly it dawned upon my elder sister that our
long companionship was about to be broken up; it had never been very close,
perhaps, but still, after a fashion it had been companionship. At a parting
it is generally the one left behind with the old work, and the old ways,
and the constant associations, who feels the sadder; and when I saw how
sad she looked, I was touched and not a little ashamed. I reflected of
what very little use or comfort I had been to her, how busy I had always
been with my own foolish interests, how slight was the sympathy I had
ever shown for the things she cared for!
True, she was always busy and preoccupied, and hurried
too; but then, what she did was certainly much better worth being busy
about than what I did.
"I shall miss you, Pus she said sadly.
"I don't think you can," said I, penitently.
"I have never been of any use to you-never!"
"Never mind," she replied, stroking my hair,
"it isn't always for the exact amount of use people have been to
us that we miss them."
My sister was older than I by a year or two, and in a
vague kind of way I looked up to her, and cared for what she thought;
and when she confessed to missing me, I was pleased, though a little puzzled.
"I wish I could take you with me," I said, for
the first time beginning to feel somewhat frightened at the prospect of
being cut away from all my old moorings, and sent by myself to a strange
place, even though it was only to my own grandmother.
"And papa and mamma, and all the children, Pussy?"
she asked. "I daresay you think so just now when the parting is so
near; but if you could, you know, it wouldn't be the change you're looking
My father and mother, too, suddenly awoke to the fact
that I was going away the next day to a new home and a new life, and that
there were some last words which it might be well to speak. Though we
all did pretty much as we liked at home, and took care of ourselves, and
received less than most the counsels and admonitions which parents generally
think it wise to bestow, still home was home, and my father and mother
imagined, of course, that they kept their eyes on us all a great deal
more than they did.
It was very late that night before my mother wished me
good night. She told me some very plain truths, and added many sensible
cautions, and a great deal of good advice. The only pity was, that it
should have been all left till so late. Such cautions and such advice
require to be heard more than once-over and over again, in fact, so that
they may soak well in, if they are to produce any effect upon such thoughtless,
callous characters as mine. But I had never heard anything of the kind
before in my home; there were so many of us, and so much had to be done,
and everybody was always in such a hurry; there never was any time to
talk to one of us seriously and separately. So I am sorry to say, between
being quite unprepared for her admonitory tone, and very sleepy during
the lecture, my mother's good counsel went in one ear and out at the other.
What was the good counsel, you want to know? Well, it
was mostly a caution against being so heedless and careless, a warning
to think sometimes of the possible consequences to myself or to others
of my words and deeds. She said a great deal about being discreet and
trustworthy, and of trying to be of use to the people I lived with, and
of not caring too much about my dress and my amusements. Above all, she
advised me to be very careful how I talked to strangers, and not to he
too hasty in forming friendships. Though I paid so little attention to
it at the time, it has come back to me since, for if my mother had been
a prophet she couldn't have spoken words better suited to the circumstances
in which I was to be placed.
But I was impatient of it all at the time. I was even
more impatient when just before leaving, my brother took me aside, and
spoke a few words that were almost an echo of those I had heard on the
previous evening. I didn't want to be lectured just then. I wanted to
be petted, and told how much I should be missed, and made a fuss over.
Perhaps I was impatient because I did not get quite so much of this regret
as I had expected; but young people who are always occupied with their
own affairs, and never find time to do anything for anybody else, have
no right to expect to be keenly missed. Anyhow, I shrugged up my shoulders
at my brother, and told him rather pertly that I had no doubt his advice
was all very well-meant, but it was a pity he hadn't said it all long
ago; there wasn't any time to attend to it now.
"I don't want you to attend to it now, so much as
when you are gone," he said kindly. "Think a little of what
I have said then, Pussy, will you?"
I forget what I answered, but I escaped from him as soon
as I could, and rejoined the rest of the party. And if my family did not
express so much regret as I should have liked, it was saying a good deal
for the interest they took in what was about to befall me, that they all
suspended their own occupations to wish me good-bye, and see me off. My
father even went so far as to insist on accompanying me to the station,
and as he had only just rushed in from a meeting in the chapter-house
(for, as you know, he was a canon, and we lived in a cathedral town),
we were ten minutes late in starting, and after making the flyman drive
like Jehu, I was barely in time to catch the train. My father flew to
get my ticket, while I wrangled with a slow porter. Then I was hurried
from platform to platform, hustled into a carriage, gave my father a breathless
kiss, and was steaming out from the station before I knew whether I had
even got my hand-bag and umbrella safe. If the whole incident had not
been completely a piece with the usual circumstances of my daily life,
I should have regretted more than I did that I and my father had not had
a last word together. Even as it was, for once in my life I felt it a
pity that there had not been time to pause!
The journey on which I had thus started by myself was
not very long or very formidable. It was to last about two hours and a
half, and there would be no changes. My father had seen me off at one
end, and my grandmother had promised to send some one to meet me at the
other. When I had recovered my breath and began to look around me, I perceived
that I was alone in the carriage, except for the company of one lady in
the furthest corner by the opposite window. She was rather an austere-looking
person, neither young nor old, dressed in more sombre colours than were
the fashion at that time, with a brown straw bonnet and a black silk handkerchief
round her neck, that when she turned her head left a space of yellow skin
visible between the handkerchief and her collar. Why I noticed these little
things about her, or why they should dwell so in my mind even now, I do
not know, for I thought her a lady of most unprepossessing appearance;
I do not think we exchanged two words, and it was a very long time before
she even looked my way.
When she did, it was less to look at me than to notice
a stranger who was getting in. It was a man, and I thought she seemed
rather to resent his presence as an intrusion. That was more than I did,
however; I was tired of reading my novel, tired of looking out of the
window; I wanted something to vary the monotony of the journey, and I
welcomed my new fellow-traveller as a variety.
He was a small man, rather unusually small, and of an
age that it was impossible to guess at; he might have been anything from
thirty to five-and- forty, or even fifty, for he had that sort of fair
hair that, if it has any gray in it, blends both together till the gray
becomes indistinguishable, and he had light invisible eyebrows and a very
light moustache and "imperial," that imparted a certain indefiniteness
to his whole physiognomy. Then he had a habit of screwing up his eyes
till it was impossible to guess whether the lines at their corners were
due to advancing age or were merely the result of trick. If you ask me
now, I should say that he was probably nearer fifty than forty, but I
did not think so then. He was a very dapper little man, too; he was dressed
in a neat grey overcoat, and carried a plaid rug, which he spread over
his knees when he had settled himself in the carriage. Altogether, I rather
liked his looks, and certainly I have had many travelling companions since
sitting on the seat opposite me whose aspect was not nearly so pleasant
nor their manners so good. I was particularly struck with his manners.
They were not forward, not in the least obtrusive; but when he put his
bag in the net over my head he apologised for disturbing me, and when
I was fumbling with the window he offered to let it down for me. I couldn't
understand why the austere female at the other end of the carriage cast
such severe and suspicious glances at him; and for the very reason that
she looked so glum I felt a perverse inclination to return his good manners
with what I thought good manners on my part; never reflecting, of course,
that since the net above his own head had nothing in it, there was no
need to put his bag above me and to apologise for so doing!
At the next station we came to the austere lady got out.
I felt an indescribable satisfaction in seeing her go. Her hard gaze troubled
me, and I was annoyed by the black silk handkerchief and the gap of neck
visible below it. Yet it might have made all the difference in the world
to me, perhaps, if she had remained my travelling companion to the end
of my journey. As it was, however, I was pleased to see her go, and I
even made some little flippant remark to my opposite neighbour on her
very grim appearance.
This broke the ice a little, and when after a while he
bought some newspapers, he was polite enough to offer them to me. I did
not like to appear ungracious, and so I took them; but with the exception
of "Punch" they were not much to my taste. I pretended to read
them, and then returned them with a little bow and a "thank you."
So far not much had passed between us, and such as it
was it had been very gradual. It had created just enough variety, however,
to make me feel how much less dull the journey had appeared during the
last half hour than it had before. I found myself wondering whether he
would remain my travelling companion to my journey's end, or whether I
should again be left to my novel and my own thoughts.
Presently the ticket-collector came for our tickets, and
as I gave him mine (taking it from my purse, which I carried in my pocket
and not in my hand-bag, for greater safety as I thought), I mentioned,
as one often does, the station for which I was bound.
"Ah!" said my companion, repeating the name
I had just mentioned, "what a beautiful country it is all round about
there, is it not?"
"I don't know much about it," said I. "My
home is in the Midlands, and I hardly know the Western counties at all-though
they are not very far apart. I'm going on a visit, but I'm so glad to
hear it is a nice country."
"Oh, charming charming!" he repeated, screwing
up his eyes as if he were dwelling on something that he appreciated very
much indeed. "Such lovely ups and downs, such exquisite bits of colouring,
such picturesque little villages hidden away where one least expects to
"Do you know it very well?" I asked.
"Oh, very well indeed," he replied, almost as
if there were something laughable in the idea of his not knowing it well.
"I suppose no one knows it better! It is quite the country for an
artist; such a number of ancient churches, and no end of picturesque old
Do you draw?" was my next question.
"After a fashion," he replied. "I am passionately
fond of it, but am nothing better than an amateur."
"Do you know a village called Cherrybridge?"
"Cherrybridge," he repeated dubiously; "I
seem to have heard something in connection with it, but don't think I
have ever actually been there."
"Perhaps you have heard of Wyre Hall," said
I. "It is a very fine old house, I believe."
"Oh, to be sure! to be sure!" he replied quickly.
"Of course I have very fine old house, so I've been told. I believe
the carving over the chimney-piece in the hall is something quite famous,
and there's a ceiling, a moulded ceiling, that is very handsome, I believe."
"That is where I am going, to stay with my grandmother,
Mrs Brownlow," said I, feeling that such a statement must invest
me with some importance in his eyes.
"Are you indeed?" he replied with evident interest.
"How I envy you a sight of that old chimney-piece and that splendid
ceiling!" Then after a short pause, he added, "I think Mrs Brownlow
has only taken the place in the last six months, has she?"
This was perfectly true, and I admitted it was so, but
I was surprised that he should be so accurately informed, and wondered
if my grandmother knew him.
"Do you know my grandmother, Mrs Brownlow?"
"I have not that pleasure," he replied politely,
"but I used to know old Colonel Malpas, who had the place till he
died last summer. He was a very great friend of mind- the poor old colonel-and
I have been more than once on the point of staying with him; but somehow
the visit never came off. And now I don't suppose I shall ever have the
satisfaction of seeing that carving or that fine ceiling." And he
gazed a moment out of the window, his eyes opened a little wider than
usual, and full of an expression that struck me as rather sad. I supposed
he was thinking of the poor old colonel, and of what he had lost by not
paying his visit betimes.
I felt a very strong inclination to ask him his name,
but, scatter-brained madcap though I was, I did just reflect sufficiently
to decide that this would not quite do. If he had been a friend of my
grandmother's, it might have been different; but he had distinctly told
me he had not the pleasure of her acquaintance.
I do not clearly remember what else we talked about, but
I think we carried on the conversation for some time longer; by which
you will see that my mother's excellent advice of the previous evening
had already been quite forgotten.
As we at last neared the station for which we were both
bound, I recollected that my umbrella and a band-box containing my best
hat were up in the net above my head, where my travelling companion had
also placed his bag. I got up from my seat, and turning my back towards
him, made an effort to lift my own things down. Not being tall, however,
it was an effort, and I could not reach easily.
"Pray let me do that for you," said my companion,
and I felt that he was already standing up, close behind me, his left
arm almost touching my right one. I remember feeling what I thought was
a very slight jolt, and observing that it was impossible to stand steady
in a train that was in motion, I sat down again, and in another moment
he had lifted down both my things and his own. Then I drew on my scarlet
cloak, which I had laid aside, finding it too warm in the railway carriage,
and shortly after the train stopped.
"Can I do anything for you?" said my companion
as he helped me out of the carriage. "Can I see to your luggage?"
"Oh no, thank you," said I, "my luggage
must be all right, it was labelled." He raised his hat very politely,
and vanished. When I looked round to see where he was gone I could not
trace him anywhere.
And when I came to look for my luggage I found it was
anything but all right! The van was ransacked, but my familiar black box
was not forthcoming. A second van was ransacked, and still no black box
was there! Clearly the slow porter had neglected to put my luggage into
the train, and my father, in the hurry of seeing after me, had forgotten
to see after the box. No doubt it was still reposing idly on the platform
of the station from whence I had started.
The train from which I had just alighted was very long,
the station very large, and the platform crowded with people scurrying
this way and that. I felt very lonely and bewildered. The porter to whom
I had appealed suggested that I should telegraph, and the box would come
all right by the next train. This was obviously the thing to do, and instinctively
I put my hand in my pocket for my purse.
But there was no purse there! I turned my pocket inside
out. There was nothing whatever in it hut my pocket-handkerchief and a
pencil-case, yet I distinctly remembered having put my purse back in my
pocket after I had shown my ticket. In the crowd of rough-looking people
through which I had been hurrying up and down the platform in search of
my luggage, my pocket must have been picked!
The porter was very civil and very sympathetic, but it
was not much consolation to he told "that it was market-day, and
that there were generally a sight of pockets picked on market-day."
How was I to pay for the telegram? Still worse, how was I to pass out
of the station without any ticket to show?
I was almost in tears, for there was no sign of any one
having been sent to meet me, and I did not know what to do. Suddenly I
heard some one say close beside me-
"Can I be of any use?"
I turned and saw my travelling companion. His courteous
tone was an instant relief. I felt that here was some one who would probably
know the best way of getting me out of the difficulty.
"My luggage has been left behind," said I, "and
my pocket has been picked, and my ticket was in my purse, and I don't
know how to telegraph without any money."
"Your pocket picked? Dear me! such a rough crowd
as there is about," he replied, adding as he turned to the porter,
"I daresay it's common enough on a market-day."
"Oh, bless you, there's a sight o' pockets picked
of a Saturday afternoon always," replied the porter, as if it was
so much a matter of course it was no use troubling.
"Was there much in the purse?" the stranger
asked very kindly.
"Four sovereigns and some silver, and a five pound
note, and my ticket!" said I.
It was very foolish of me, you will say, to carry so much
money in my purse in my pocket. No doubt it was; but no one had ever thought
to advise me to put it away elsewhere, and perhaps if they had I should
have thought I knew best.
"Dear me!" he said again, "that's a bad
business. We must speak to the police. But about your luggage and the
telegram; I will see to that, if you tell me what to say."
What could I do but thank him very cordially, and intrust
him with the message I had to send. He went away to the telegraph office,
and I waited for him to return, that I might thank him again. I knew I
owed him a shilling, but that was not a sum that would ruin him, and I
felt he would rather I accepted his kind assistance making no allusion
to this small debt. In a few minutes he returned with a beaming countenance,
holding up something between his thumb and fore-finger.
"See what I've picked up," he said; "your
ticket, or I'm very much mistaken. The rascal who picked your pocket has
evidently torn it in two and thrown it away as not worth keeping."
Never did I bless any one as I blessed that little man
as he gave me back the torn fragments of my ticket. It was bad enough
to have been robbed of so much money, but at any rate I should not be
kept a prisoner at the station, as I had begun to fear.
"I should advise you to call at the police-station,"
said my benefactor, "and describe your loss. I would go with you
with pleasure, but the train I am going on by is just starting. I am very
glad to have been able to render you some slight assistance; I hope you
will get your luggage all right by the next train, and get your purse
back." So saying he made me a bow, and before I could thank him again
he had hurried away to catch his train.
I passed out of the station, and found the brougham which
my grandmother had sent to meet me waiting outside, and the coachman wondering
what could have happened to me. I explained my disaster, and told him
to stop at the police-station, which he did. There I made a statement
of my loss, and having received a promise that every inquiry should be
made, I went on my way to Wyre Hall.
My box arrived all in due time, and my father, on hearing
of my misfortune, very kindly sent me another five-pound note, with a
caution to take care of it, and not travel with so much more money in
my purse than I could possibly want at one time. And I actually took his
advice to heart, and remembered it. But before I go on with my story,
I may as well mention that I never saw my purse or its contents again!
And now, of course, you expect me to tell you how I liked
my new life with grandmamma and Aunt Rosa. Well, on the whole I liked
it very much; there was something about it which contrasted strongly with
the sort of life I had led at home, and for awhile the contrast was agreeable.
Then I found just what I had expected, a large house, plenty of servants,
carriages and horses, a good deal going on in the neighbourhood, and an
indulgent grandmamma very ready and willing to make me pretty presents.
She was a large, handsome, good-natured woman, who liked
everything about her to be handsome and on a large scale; she habitually
wore good silk dresses, and had her rooms filled with choice flowers;
her cook was good, and her carriage and horses always smartly turned out.
She wore handsome rings, and had her pocket-handkerchief scented with
the best eau-de-Cologne. Yet she was hardly to be called an epicure, was
my grandmother; she only liked to be comfortable and have nice things
about her; and no one was more anxious that others should be comfortable
too, and take their share of nice things.
How my grandmother, with her indulgent, take-it-easy ways
came to have children so unlike herself on every point, has always been
a puzzle to me. That they should not have inherited her height and beauty
was nothing strange; but that they should never have found out the advantages
of leading a placid, contented, good-humoured existence, and should prefer
bustle and worry and hurry, was to me a strange riddle. I have already
told you what sort of a man was my father, and except for his beautiful
temper, you will have realised that there was little likeness between
him and my grandmother. And with Aunt Rosa the unlikeness was even more
marked. She bustled about, and fidgeted, and worried from morning till
night; hut, unlike my father, she had no sweet temper to help her to bear
the burden of her worries, and, moreover, she had nothing really to worry
about. Her activity, in fact, showed itself in quite a different way to
the activity to which I had been accustomed. She had been brought up by
force to comfort and leisure, because these things grandmamma would have.
It would have driven her crazy to see any one take his meals standing,
and as for walking up and down-stairs, she would as soon have thought
of flying as take the trouble to fetch anything or find anybody if by
ringing a hell or sending a message she could get what she wanted done
for her. So Aunt Rosa's activity took the form of worrying, and fretting,
and hustling about the comforts of the house. Sometimes it would be about
"Mamma dear, do try a little of this new pudding.
I have written to Mrs So- and-so for the recipe, and such a correspondence
as I've had to get the right one; and I've shown the cook exactly how
to make it. I've been at it all the morning, till I'm quite worn out!"
"Thank you, my dear," grandmamma would say placidly,
"but I think I would rather have some of the maraschino jelly."
Of course, dear old soul, she greatly preferred what she knew the cook
made exceedingly well to a recipe from Mrs So-and-so that Aunt Rosa had
been trying her skill upon. Another time it would be-
"Mamma dear, I've been having a new kind of chair
made for you, a wicker one, so light that it can he moved from one part
of the room to another, so much nicer than the heavy old furniture. I've
had it made by a protégé of mine in the village, who has
lost both his legs, and I've been down every day for the last fortnight
to see how he was getting on. I wish you would try it; I'm sure you would
find it very comfortable."
And grandmamma would reply-
"Thank you, dear Rosa, hut I am very comfortable
where I am." As if it was likely that she would exchange the venerable
velvet armchair, which had been her delight for twenty years, for wicker-work,
at her time of life! It used to amuse me at first to notice the persistent
way in which grandmamma quietly declined to be made the victim of Aunt
Rosa's restless energy; but after a while it became rather tiresome to
see Aunt Rosa affecting the grievance of a martyr, and going about with
an expression of stern resignation, that seemed to say it was hard to
try and do one's daily duty and never get so much as a word of thanks!
I used to long to tell her to leave off trying to do things for people
who didn't want to have anything done for them; and once when she had
been putting me about sadly by her attempts to make me comfortable, I
think I did tell her so, or something very like it.
"If everybody was as careless and as heedless as
you, Pussy," Aunt Rosa replied severely, "it's very little comfort
any one would enjoy, I'm afraid. If you could he brought to care less
for your own amusements, and to try and do something useful for others
sometimes, it would be very much better for you, I can assure you."
Aunt Rosa's words reminded me of something of the same
kind which my mother had said to me the night before I left home, something
about caring less for my own amusements, and trying to be of use to others;
but if Aunt Rosa were to point the moral of my mother's advice, if Aunt
Rosa were a specimen of trying to he of use to others, "then,"
thought I, "I would rather go on as lam." True, my family had
not seemed much to regret my going away from home; but would grandmamma,
I wondered, regret Aunt Rosa? I greatly doubted it. Altogether, I was
rather puzzled how to make what I was told square with my present experiences.
So much, then, for the people with whom I actually lived.
As for the house, it was just what you would have expected my grandmother
to select-large, handsome, and comfortable. There were plenty of rooms,
so that we were not obliged to sit all together if we did not like; and
there was ample space for the pictures and mirrors and china that my grandmother
loved to collect around her as pleasant things to look at.
And sure enough, as my unknown travelling companion had
informed me, there was the carved oak chimney-piece in the hall. I noticed
that almost as soon as I set foot in the house. As for the moulded ceiling,
of which he had also spoken, I did not discover that for a day or two.
Then I learnt that it was the ceiling of my grandmother's own particular
sitting-room and was upstairs off the first landing.
I was not much of a judge of these things then, yet even
I could see that it was an unusually handsome ceiling; and when I found,
as I very soon did, that the beauty of the house attracted a good many
visitors, I, in my turn, began to value 0 oak, and to appreciate good
moulding. My grandmother was fond of seeing her friends, and when in inviting
them she apologised for being "an old woman living in a dull, 0 place,"
as she invariably did, she used to throw in something about "artistic
beauties." And then when her friends came (and they never seemed
to want pressing), she always pretended they came to see the house, and
not to see her. Not that this was true in the least, but it was her joke.
Dear old Soul! sitting in the velvet chair, with her stiff
silk spread out, and her plump, white hands lazily pulling an ivory crochet-needle
in and out of magenta wool! I was very fond of her in my way, and I really
took the trouble of learning all about the chimney-piece and the ceiling,
so as to play the part of show-woman to her guests.
"Here's my grand knows all about it," she would
say, as pleased as Punch. "I never can remember whether the date
is 570 or 1750; but they tell me it makes a great deal of difference,
and Pussy knows all about it."
And besides the people who came to stay in the house,
we had plenty of pleasant neighbours. One family in particular who lived
only half a mile distant, at a place called the Red House, were very kind,
and we saw a great deal of them. There were two girls of my own age, who
were inclined to be friendly; and their brother I soon suspected was inclined
to be more than friendly. When they joined me for a walk, Herbert frequently
came too, and if he could find an excuse for running over from the Red
House with a message, or a book, or a piece of music (always from his
sisters, of course), he never seemed to lose the opportunity. He was a
tall, good-looking young man, in the army, and home from India on leave.
I did not at all mind the pleasure he seemed to take in my society, and
his being a very great favourite with my grandmother made it very easy
for him to come and see her, or me, as often as he pleased.
Yes, he was very nice, was Herbert, rather quiet perhaps
but gentle and courteous and sensible. He had seen and gone through a
great deal, and would talk about it in a quiet unobtrusive manner that
I liked to listen to; I found myself growing to care a good deal for what
he said and what he thought about things and people, and I think I must
have thought him pleasanter than at the time I chose to admit.
By-and-by I noticed that grandmamma lost no opportunity
of singing his praises to me, and she would contrive little plans for
leaving us alone together, plans which lam bound to add Aunt Rosa as often
crossed by some contrivance of her own for making matters more comfortable
still. As for me, I was sometimes amiable and sometimes perverse, sometimes
I was kind to Herbert, and sometimes I was cross. But I know now that
if my dear grandmother could have ordered things exactly as she wished,
Herbert would have become my husband; and perhaps, perverse though I was,
my wishes would not have run counter to hers.
Altogether, my life with grandmamma and Aunt Rosa was
a happy one, and by the time I had been with them about three months,
I had quite got to look upon Wyre Hall as my home. So much, in fact, was
I reckoned at home there, that when it became a question of my grandmother
and Aunt Rosa going, as they did every year, for a fortnight to Brighton,
they suggested leaving me by myself. To have taken me with them would
have been, in some measure, to put out their usual arrangements, and indeed
I did not think the change would he very amusing to me. I was given the
choice of going to my own people for the fortnight, but on the whole I
preferred remaining in my present home. I was exceedingly comfortable
there, and, like grandmamma, I appreciated comfort; besides, my friends
at the Red House would be very kind to me, and I should see Herbert and
his sisters every day. I had no fear of being dull or lonely, there were
trustworthy servants, too, to look after the house, and I thought it would
be rather fun to play at being mistress for a fortnight.
Well, grandmamma and Aunt Rosa had been gone about ten
days, and so far, things had turned out very much as I had expected. I
had seen Herbert or his sisters, and generally all three, every day; I
had been to luncheon at their house, and had had them to tea with me.
I enjoyed being hostess on my own account, and flattered myself that I
did the honours very nicely indeed. I half wished that my elder brother
and sister could have seen me in my new capacity, presiding over the teapot,
and ordering more buttered toast, saying what time I wished the carriage
to come round, and offering to drive my young friends home. I thought
they would have decided "that Pussy had come on a good deal."
But, as you will soon see, Pussy had not yet "come on" to much
One morning I went out for a stroll by myself. I knew
there was not much prospect of my seeing my friends that day, as they
were away on a visit-the two sisters and their mother were, at least--and
I did not think it very likely that Herbert would come and see me quite
alone. So I began the day by wondering how I should get through it-a bad
beginning-and whether anything would turn up to make matters livelier.
Meanwhile, I rambled through the shrubbery feeling rather doleful.
Just outside the shrubbery was a rising sweep of ground,
and when I tell you that the country-folks described it as "a gorsty
piece," you will have a pretty good idea of what it was like. In
other words, however, it was a patch of wild common, with fern and furze
bushes dotted all over it, and a few sheep grazing. It was a picturesque
hit of land, and made a very pretty foreground to the view that lay beyond
a view with our shrubbery trees and the Hall on one hand, and the church
tower and a line of blue landscape on the other.
So some one else besides myself seemed to think that morning,
for as I strolled over the common, I saw a man seated on a camp-st0oI,
sketching the landscape There was no doubt that he was sketching. I would
see his large white block, and the paint-box stuck upon his left thumb,
and his head bobbing up and down.
Now this "gorsty piece" was part of our private
grounds, though it had the appearance of a common; and therefore this
stranger, this artist, or whatever he might be, had no business to come
there without first asking grandmamma's leave. I felt very important as
I remembered this, and a little bit frightened as I recollected that in
my present capacity it was my place to inform him that he was trespassing.
But the importance carried the day, and I went boldly towards him, making
as much noise as I could in walking over the rough ground, so as to warn
him that some one was coming.
Apparently he did hear me, for as I approached he looked
round, then got up from the camp-stool, and with a very polite bow, advanced
a step or two towards me. Judge of my surprise when I found myself face
to face with my travelling companion of two months hack!
We both started on recognising each other, and I did not
quite know whether to consider him in the light of an acquaintance, or
as a stranger, and I was rather relieved when he spoke first.
"I hope I am not trespassing here?" he asked
rather anxiously. "I thought there was a right-of-way when I came
through the gate, and it was not till I noticed these palings and the
shrubbery close by, that I began to wonder if I was on private ground
"It is private ground," said I; "there
is no right-of-way through here."
"Then I must apologise most humbly for being where
I ought not to be," he said, closing his paint-box. "But I could
hardly resist making this sketch; it is so charming, and I may never have
I remembered how he had come to my rescue at a moment
of great difficulty; how, too, I was still a shilling in his debt for
the telegram I had sent about my luggage, and I could not find it in my
heart to be so ungrateful as to tell him he must go with his sketch only
"Oh, pray don't leave off," I said. "I
am sure my grandmother, Mrs Brownlow, would be very sorry that you should."
"You are very kind," he said, with another bow,
"but the lights are changing, and I have already done enough for
my purpose." He paused a moment, looking at the house through the
trees, a slight smile on his lips, and his eyes screwed up very tightly.
Then he added, "What a charming old house it is! Such a perfect specimen
of its style!"
"This is Wyre Hall, you know," said I; "the
house with the fine oak chimney-piece and the moulded ceiling."
"Ah! do I not know it!" he said, shaking his
head. "A house that I have been asked to many a time in poor old
Colonel Malpas' time!"
A hurried thought rushed through my mind that since he
seemed such a genuine lover of artistic beauties, as my grandmother called
them, it would be a pity that he should go away without a sight of the
carving and the mouldings here, of which he had heard so much; it seemed
almost unkind to see him so near, and yet to send him away unsatisfied.
Besides, that shilling I owed him was rankling in my conscience. I did
not like to allude to it, and yet I felt as if I ought to oblige him in
return for what he had done for me.
"Perhaps you would like to come up to the house and
have a look at the carved chimney-piece in the hall?" I said. "Mrs
Brownlow is not at home just now, but I am sure she would be very pleased
if you would."
This I said in perfect simplicity and good faith. It seemed
to me that people nearly as complete strangers as this artist had been
allowed to look at the carving before now, and I honestly thought that
my grandmother was willing that any one should be granted that privilege
who desired it.
"Oh, you are very much too kind, but I should like
it of all things!" he replied enthusiastically.
The offer had been made and accepted; I could not go back
from it now. I turned and led the way across the common and through the
shrubbery, and he followed, carrying his camp-stool in one hand and his
sketching-bag in the other. J did not quite know how to keep up the conversation,
and he evidently thought it was hardly his place to begin. So our little
walk was rather a silent one. As we neared the house, however, he said
"Excuse my asking, but I hope you got your purse
back all right?"
"No, indeed!" said I, sadly. "I stopped
at the police-station as you advised me, and I believe they made every
inquiry; but nothing came of it!"
"How very annoying!" he said. "But I suppose
when a thing is taken in a crowd like that, it is very hard to trace."
By this time we had reached the house. The front door
was usually locked, and as I did not want to ring the bell, I took my
companion in by the garden entrance, which led through the conservatory
into a passage. This passage communicated directly with the back stairs,
and by a door through which we passed it opened into the hail.
No sooner had my companion set eyes on the carving than
he seemed struck dumb with admiration. He had expected something beautiful,
no doubt, but nothing so beautiful as this! I told him all I had been
taught about it, and which I had repeated to so many people, and felt
not a little important at doing it all on my own account this time, not
at grandmamma's request.
"I wonder if I might be allowed to make a little
sketch of it?" he said suddenly, with a look of enthusiasm. I had
known other people make little sketches of it, so it never occurred to
me that this man being a perfect stranger was any reason why he should
not do as much.
"Oh, certainly, if you like," said I, very graciously.
And with many thanks on his part, out came his pencil and sketch-book
I could not guess how long he would be at this work, and
I had an idea that artists did not like to he watched while drawing. So
I went into the drawing- room, and pretended to be engaged arranging flowers.
Once or twice I fancied I heard him move across the hall, but I supposed
he was looking for the best point of view, and thought nothing more about
it. Presently, when I thought he had finished, I rejoined him; as I approached
he was just closing his sketch-book and slipping his pencil into its case.
"I thank you so very much," he said. "I
have just been able to get an idea of the design. And the moulded ceiling?
I suppose that is in the drawing-room?"
"No," I replied, "you can look into the
drawing-room if you like, but I don't think there is anything there to
And full of my importance as the hostess, I led the way
into the drawing- room. He looked all round the room two or three times.
"Plenty to interest any one who is an artist!"
he said, pointing to the walls. "Charming pictures!"
"The ceiling of which you have heard so much,"
said I, "is upstairs in Mrs Brownlow's own sitting-room."
"Oh, ah!" he replied, evidently disappointed,
"but of course, in Mrs Brownlow's absence, it is out of the question
"Oh no," said I, "if you would like to
come up, I am sure she would not mind. It is just on the first landing,
opposite the stairs."
So upstairs to grandmamma's sitting-room we went, and
he stared at the ceiling with much enthusiasm, and stalked about so as
to get a view of the mouldings in every possible position. Like the drawing-room
downstairs, this apartment was full of choice and pretty things, and through
again was grandmamma's bedroom, containing more valuable things. The door
between the one and the other was open, and anybody in the one room could
gain an idea of what the other was like.
We did not stay here long; my companion thanked me many
times, apologising for the trouble he had given, and I murmured something
about one good turn deserving another. Then I let him out by the front
door, telling him he might go down the drive if he liked and out by the
lodge. Whether he did so or not I cannot tell, for the road made a curve,
and he was very soon lost to sight beyond the trees.
By the time he was gone it was nearly the luncheon hour.
I had contrived to get through the morning more entertainingly than I
could have expected, and I was rather pleased with myself than otherwise.
It was strange, I thought, that I should have met my travelling companion
again-and so near home-but strange things often did happen.
He had hardly been gone half an hour, when I received
a telegram from Aunt Rosa, telling me to expect her and my grandmother
home again that same day. Like telegrams generally, it was brief, and
added no explanation. I had no clue to this sudden change in their plans,
but since they were coming home that evening I had something to do and
think about through the rest of the afternoon.
Late towards evening they arrived, and then I learnt that
the reason of the change was my grandmother's health. She had not been
so well as usual at Brighton she had taken a fancy that the air there
no longer agreed with her and had suddenly expressed a wish to be taken
home, where, if she should become ill, she would at least have all her
comforts about her and a doctor she knew to attend her.
I can't say I found her much different to usual. She was
tired after her journey and went to bed at once, but the next day she
was downstairs sitting in the velvet arm-chair, and playing with her crochet-needle
and magenta wool. In the course of the morning I happened to mention that
Herbert was alone at the Red House, his mother and sisters being away.
I am not sure that I did not add I had not seen him for two days. Anyhow,
she insisted at once that Herbert should be asked to dine and sleep at
"Poor boy!" she exclaimed, "left all alone! I'm so glad
you told me, Pussy. The idea of his having his dinner by himself! and
spending his evening by himself! Poor Herbert! Write and tell him to come
I did write to him, and he came. He drove over from the
Red House about tea-time, and I remember we took a little walk together
round the shrubbery. I remember that I had on my scarlet cloak, for it
was rather chilly, and he said something about liking the bright colour.
I remember, too, that after we had picked some flowers, we strolled through
the shrubbery and over the "gorsty piece." The evening shadows
were creeping up over the landscape, and a long yellow gleam from a rather
stormy sunset lay athwart the middle distance. If I had thought it a fit
subject for a sketch on yesterday morning, I thought it doubly so now.
"It is a pretty view, certainly," said I. "I
almost wonder more people don't come trespassing here to draw it?"
"Do people ever come trespassing here?" asked
"Sometimes," said I; "there was a gentleman
"How very unpleasant for you!" said Herbert.
"Oh, not at all," I replied, laughing. "He
didn't know he was trespassing, of course; but he was very civil, and
wanted to go as soon as he found out his mistake."
"Naturally," Herbert observed, a little drily
"Oh, but," I continued, "I told him there
was no need. I hoped he would finish his sketch, for I was sure grandmamma
would wish it."
"Was he a professional artist, do you suppose?"
Herbert asked after a pause.
"Oh, no," said I, "he is not a professional
only an amateur."
"It was somebody you knew, then?" he said. Something
in his tone annoyed me a little. It seemed to assume that unless I had
had an acquaintance with this man I should not, of course, have entered
into conversation with him.
"I had met him before," said I. And I said it
with a little air as much as to express that it was no business of his
whether the man in question was somebody I knew or not.
"What time of day was it?" he asked.
"In the morning."
"Earlv-quite early, I suppose?"
"No, not so very early; about twelve o'clock, I should
"A very odd time for an artist to choose," said
"Why?" I asked, not a little puzzled that he
should persist in harping on the stranger who had trespassed on our ground.
What was it to him? Was he jealous that any one should speak to me?
"Because at mid-day the sun is just over one's head,"
he replied, "and there are no lights or shadows. No true artist would
ever choose such a time for making a picture."
"But he was only an amateur," said I.
"Ah-perhaps that might account for it," Herbert
replied doubtfully. Then he added, "We always make it a rule never
to let trespassers stay on our premises, even though they may only be
artists. It is safer, you know."
I laughed outright at him now.
"Why, what do you suppose would happen?" I cried.
What would he say, I wondered, if he knew that I had allowed this stranger
to come up to the house and look at the carved chimney-piece and the moulded
ceiling? But for some reason-I know not why exactly-I kept this to myself.
"One never can tell; it is always best to be on the
safe side," he answered very quietly, very gently and courteously,
in fact, as he always did; nevertheless, I fancied that my flippant laughter
at what he had said pained him somewhat. We did not say much more after
this, and presently we regained the house.
We parted in the hall, and I went upstairs to sit awhile
with grandmamma in her sitting-room, as I usually did before dinner. She
was lying on the sofa, and I took off my red cloak, flung it on a chair,
and sat down by her side on a low stool. Presently she began to talk about
"I'm so glad we asked him to come over this evening,"
she said, "he always seems so happy to be here."
"Yes, Granny," said I, demurely, "he is
very fond of you."
"And of some one else too, I suspect," said
grandmamma, patting my cheek. "Don't you think you could care for
him a little bit in return, Pussy?"
I don't think that at that moment I realised how far I
did care for Herbert. So long as I could have him coming to see me continually,
so long as I could know for certain how he followed me, and watched me,
and waited for my words, and cared greatly whether I was kind or cold,
I did not want to ask more or to seek further.
"I like Herbert, Granny," said I, much in the
same tone as I might have said I "liked dancing," or I "liked
sweetmeats," and not so enthusiastically perhaps. It needed something
beyond the happy, placid, untried life I was then leading to show me whether
I loved or not!
"I'm glad of that, Pussy," said my grandmother,
"and if in time you could learn to give him more than mere liking,
my dear, it would please your poor old granny very much."
"Would it really, Granny?" I said. And in a
lazy kind of a way, provided she did not demand too much of me, I felt
as if I should like to please her.
So we talked on a little longer about Herbert, about his
position and his profession about his mother and his sisters, till it
seemed to me that I had suddenly acquired a new importance in my own eyes.
From what grandmamma told me it was clear I could have Herbert at my feet
by the mere stretching out of a finger. Well, I would think about it,
I thought, and perhaps one of these days I might stretch out the finger.
It would be rather amusing to send a letter home to my unsuspecting family,
with the announcement that I was engaged to be married!
Full of these ideas, I went away to dress for dinner,
quite forgetting to take my red cloak with me. When I got upstairs to
my own room, I recollected where I had left it; but it would be all right
there, I knew. I often left my things in grandmamma's sitting-room, and
she was much too indulgent and good- natured ever to rebuke me for untidiness
When I met Herbert again at dinner, any slight feeling
of pain which my laughing at him might have caused had passed away. He
was cheerful and chatty as usual, very attentive to grandmamma scrupulously
courteous to Aunt Rosa, and something more than either to me.
By degrees his conversation took a turn which startled
me. He began talking of one or two extraordinary trials which had lately
been held, and from these he went on to relate certain well-known experiences
in housebreaking. He described the tricks and dodges of the "swell
mob," as they had been revealed by the evidence in these trials,
how they imposed on unsuspecting persons, and took in even those who ought
to have been on their guard. I was a good deal interested and amused by
what he told us, much as I should have been had I been reading some exciting
story of adventures and perils and escapes. All of a sudden, however,
I felt myself turning hot and cold, and an uneasy sensation seemed to
creep all over me from head to foot.
"I'm told there is a gang of these sort of people
going about this part of the country," Herbert was saying, "and
that they've all sorts of ingenious dodges for getting a look at the insides
of houses. So if any strangers come to the house, Mrs Brownlow, I should
advise you to caution the servants how they let them in, or leave them
Not one word did he mention of the artist whom I had found
sketching just outside the shrubbery, not once did he even look significantly
at me. Yet, with the best intentions of sparing me any annoyance, he had
contrived to make me far more uncomfortable than if he had openly taxed
me with imprudence!
Grandmamma was not easily alarmed by reports; she could
not be wrought up to the point of making herself miserable over what after
all only might happen.
"Fear," she would say, "spoils one's digestion
and deprives one of sleep."
So she chuckled over Herbert's stories of accomplice butlers
and bamboozled parlour-maids, and treated them just as stories-nothing
more. Aunt Rosa, on the other hand, was bristling with belief in the gang
all at once, devising busy schemes for baffling rogues and making safety
safer. She was for having a policeman to patrol the garden, she was for
moving all the plate from the pantry to a cupboard at the top of the house,
she was for displacing everybody and everything, so that the robbers might
find nothing as they had been led to expect it.
"Indeed, Mamma dear, I think you had better sleep
in the blue-room for a night or two, just till the panic has subsided,
you know. They'd be sure to go straight to your room, and it would be
enough to give you a fit, it would indeed!"
"Thank you, dear Rosa," said grandmamma, in
her usual placid way, "but the blue-room hasn't had a fire in it
for three weeks, and it looks to the north. If I am to have a fit, I'd
rather have it in a bed I'm accustomed to, thank you."
Perhaps, if grandmamma had not treated the whole matter
as a jest, and if Aunt Rosa had not taken it up with such intense seriousness,
I might have found courage to relate the little episode of my meeting
with my former travelling companion, to confess that I had shown him over
part of the house, and to ask if they supposed he could possibly prove
to be one of the gang. But I felt grandmamma would laugh at me, and that
I should only have Aunt Rosa to back me up, with whose fears I had no
sympathy. So I held my peace, and joined in the laugh against Aunt Rosa.
Even Herbert was laughing now.
"Oh, your servants have been with you a long while,
haven't they?" he said, "and they are trustworthy probably.
These sort of things only happen when some one inside is an accomplice,
or has been hoodwinked."
He could not have meant this remark to apply to me, I
knew, for he was ignorant of the extent to which I had carried heedlessness;
he only thought I had allowed a stranger to trespass on the "gorsty
piece." Nevertheless, the word hoodwinked distressed me somewhat.
Could that quiet, gentlemanlike, artistic person have been one of a gang?
Could-oh, could he, with his polite manners and his ready help, have actually
picked my pocket himself? Impossible, was the reply I returned. Burglars
and pickpockets were low ruffians, of course. What had they to do with
travelling first-class, and making water-colour sketches, and raving about
oak carving and moulded ceilings? Besides, had not my travelling acquaintance
been an intimate friend of old Colonel Malpas? My fears were quieted,
and my conscience went to sleep at once.
Well, the evening passed pleasantly enough, and we talked
no more of burglars. Herbert and I had some music together, and at half-past
ten we all went to bed as usual. My head had hardly been on the pillow
five minutes before I was fast asleep.
From this heavy sleep, the sound sleep of a young thing
in perfect health, I was suddenly awakened by a long, loud scream. I started
up in bed, and almost simultaneously with the scream a bell pealed violently.
It was the bell of my grandmother's room, which was situated just below
mine! In another moment I had sprung out of bed, and had hurried on to
Then I was aware of two figures men, rushing frantically
down the passage which led past my grandmother's room to the back stairs.
There was not much light except from the candle which I held in my hand,
but I could see sufficiently to be sure that the hindermost of the two
was my travelling companion!
As I was hurrying down the stairs, Herbert dashed past
me along the passage, calling out as he went, so as to wake the butler,
who slept below. I heard his steps follow those of the burglars, I heard
him go through the conservatory and out into the garden, as I rushed on
into grandmamma's sitting-room. On the threshold I caught my foot in something
which nearly gave me a fall. Stooping down to disentangle myself, I saw
it was my own scarlet cloak. I hastily threw it on one side, and ran into
the next room.
There I found Aunt Rosa. She alone amongst us had not allowed her fears
or her watchfulness to slumber.
My grandmother was sitting up in bed, clutching convulsively
at the coverlet, and staring about her with terror-stricken eyes. She
was changed as I had never seen her before. Plump and placid as she usually
looked, her face seemed now to have suddenly become thin and pinched and
drawn. She kept repeating something over and over again, and as I drew
nearer I heard her say
"I thought it was Pussy! I thought it was Pussy!"
"Oh, Aunt Rosa!" I exclaimed, "what has
"Just what I knew would happen," said Aunt Rosa
grimly. "Don't stand there gaping, all of you!" she added, turning
to a flock of frightened servants who came crowding into the room. "Somebody
go for the doctor."
Then she turned again to grandmamma, who was still murmuring-
"I thought it was Pussy! I thought it was Pussy!"
"You must have been dreaming, dear," said Aunt
Rosa, soothingly. "You've not been sleeping so well lately, you know,
and it must have been all a dream. Why, see, here is Pussy."
"Yes, Granny," said I, "here I am. Did
you dream I was in your room? Why, I've been in bed and fast asleep."
"But the scarlet cloak! the scarlet cloak!"
she repeated, beating the counterpane with her trembling hands, "and
the dreadful face under the hood-the dreadful face-the face of a murderer-the
face of a murderer!"
Aunt Rosa looked at me, and I looked at her. She had begun
by fearing that grandmamma's mind had been unhinged by fright, but it
now suddenly struck us both that, terrified though she was, she was trying
to tell us what really had occurred.
"I left my cloak in the sitting-room," I said
to Aunt Rosa.
"Pussy's cloak-Pussy's cloak," my grandmother
repeated, "I saw it in there, and I thought it was Pussy moving about.
I had been asleep; and then it came in here, it went up to the table,
to my watch and rings; and I saw the face under the hood-the dreadful
face-the face of a murderer!" She sank back on her pillow, repeating
the last words over and over again.
"Go for the doctor, somebody," said Aunt Rosa
again; hut nobody would move, they all seemed too terrified to understand,
and stood as if fascinated by the sad sight before them, whispering and
chattering the while. "Go and chatter somewhere else," said
Aunt Rosa, losing patience. "Where's Mr Herbert? He's the only person
with any sense."
Curiously enough in our anxiety about grandmamma's condition,
we had almost forgotten the burglars, but just as Aunt Rosa asked the
question, "Where's Mr Herbert?" a sound reached our ears which
made our hearts stand still, and our blood run cold! It was a pistol shot.
Sharp, short, clear, it rang out into the silent night, from the lower
end of the garden it seemed to come right up to the window-bars. Nothing
followed, at least, nothing that we could hear---no shout, no cry for
help, no shot fired in return.
I rushed into the next room and flung the window open.
All was perfectly still, a beautiful starlight night, with the moon well
up in the heavens. I remember it now more distinctly than any night in
my whole life, the intense stillness in earth and sky, save for the echo
of that one awful sound that had hardly vet died away.
I felt Aunt Rosa's hand laid on my shoulder, and heard
her say, "What can it be?"
I turned towards her with a wild, despairing look.
"Oh, Aunt Rosa!" I cried, "he went after
them-I saw him-I heard him go down the stairs into the garden. There were
two men; they must have shot at him. Oh! do you think they can have killed
him? There is no sound. Don't you hear it's all still. Oh, Aunt Rosa!"
I hardly knew what I was saying, but Aunt Rosa's calm,
decided manner quieted me and helped me somewhat.
"I will go down and see what has happened,"
she said. "You stay here and attend to your grandmother, and get
some of these gaping idiots to go for the doctor if you can. Try to be
of some use, Pussy; I shall not be longer than I can help."
Even at this terrible moment I could not help being struck
by the change in Aunt Rosa's manner. All its small needless fussiness
had vanished, and her real strength, good sense, and energy, which were
wasted every day in meaningless endeavour, rose to the occasion now. I
have seen her since active over nothing and busy about trifles, but I
have never forgotten her self-possession and courage, and the confidence
she inspired at a moment when these were so sorely needed.
I felt just then as if I would gladly be of some use,
sol went at once, as she bade me, back to my grandmother's room. Aunt
Rosa had sat up all night, convinced when we all went to bed that something
was about to happen, so she was dressed for an emergency, and a few minutes
later I heard her go down the stairs and hurry across the garden, from
whence the sound of the shot had come. Then I remember, after having persuaded
one of the servants to go for the doctor, sitting by my grandmother's
bedside, and marvelling at Aunt Rosa's courage.
It was not much that I could do for grandmamma; but she
had grown somewhat calmer, and lay back on her pillow quite still. I put
my hand into hers, which was very cold, and she seemed to like my grasp,
clinging to it as if she found strength and protection therein. So she
lay, and so I sat, wondering when the doctor would come, and when Aunt
Rosa would return to tell me if Herbert were still alive.
Then it was I knew how I loved him, then it was I realised
how desolate would be my life, how terrible would be the blank, if Herbert
really was dead! I never asked myself what it was I should miss, or why
I should miss him; but I knew that, with Herbert dead, life could never
again be to me what it had been. It was as much as I could do to keep
myself from bursting into sobs, and it was only for fear of alarming my
grandmother that I restrained myself.
Then it was, too, sitting in that half-darkened room with
my grandmother stricken I knew not how sorely, and Aunt Rosa gone out
to face I knew not what awful catastrophe, I realised how the blame of
it all lay primarily at my door. I it was who had heedlessly introduced
the plausible stranger into the house. I it was who had blindly allowed
him to make a plan of the rooms under pretence of sketching the oak. Without
me he would have known nothing of the entrance through the conservatory,
of the passage and the back staircase, nothing of grandmamma's sitting-room,
and her bed-room opening out of it. If only I had attended to my mother's
advice to be cautious how I got into conversation with strangers! If only
I had taken my brother's words to heart, about stopping to think of consequences
before I spoke or rushed into doing things! Now that it was too late I
could see it all so clearly!
"Little things don't have consequences," I had
flippantly said to my brother, and nothing but a lesson, sharp and hard
as the one I learnt that terrible night, could have taught me that the
littlest things may be fraught with the biggest consequences.
I do not know how long I sat in the stillness and the
half-darkness, praying frightened prayers that grandmamma and Herbert
might be saved, and breathing vehement resolves never again to be so deaf
to all kind advice, so obstinate in my own heedlessness; probably the
time seemed longer than it actually was, but the first sound that at last
broke the silence was the sound of footsteps crunching the gravel of the
garden-paths out in the garden below the window. It seemed to me that
there were several feet tramping by. Something told me it was Herbert
being brought home, and a shiver shook my whole frame, as with a beating
heart I waited to know if they brought a corpse!
I heard them come up the back stairs, and through the
door, and along the passage, two men treading heavily, as between a burden,
and a lighter footstep following, which I recognised as Aunt Rosa's. I
heard her in a low tone indicate the room Herbert had been occupying that
night, and the men and their burden passed on there. Grandmamma was holding
my hand so tight, clinging to it with nervous shakings as she heard the
approach of strange steps, that I could not withdraw it to make my escape
for a moment. I still had to sit and wait.
Before long, however, I heard Aunt Rosa in the passage;
then followed whisperings and hurryings to and fro. The servants, who
had partially recovered their presence of mind, were being sent hither
and thither. This gave me a little hope. All was not over with Herbert;
there was at least something to be done.
Presently I heard Aunt Rosa calling me from the next room;
I gently extricated my hand from grandmamma's grasp, which had loosened
its frightened pressure on hearing Aunt Rosa's voice, and hurried to hear
what had happened. I could not speak, but I think my wild eyes must have
told what I dreaded plainly enough. Oh! the relief it was to hear the
tone in which Aunt Rosa spoke!
"It's a bad enough business, but it might have been
much worse," she said; "he has been shot in the leg, poor fellow.
The wretches were evidently afraid of being identified, for he got very
near to them, so the hinder one pulled out a pistol and let fly."
I hardly heard Aunt Rosa's last words in the revulsion of thankfulness
that Herbert had only been "shot in the leg." He would not die
of that. He would suffer, and I should never forgive myself for having
been the cause of his suffering; hut in time he would recover, and all
would be as it had been before!
"Have you sent for the doctor?" asked Aunt Rosa.
"Oh, yes, ever so long ago," I replied. "He
ought to be here soon."
"That's right," said Aunt Rosa, and then she
went back to grandmamma. She did not tell me what further I could do to
be of use; hut I felt that the place at grandmamma's bedside was no longer
mine to fill. And now, after the long restraint I had put upon my feelings,
the reaction set in, and I began to cry. I could not go back to bed, and
I did not know what to do, so I sat where Aunt Rosa had left me, sobbing
quietly and longing for the doctor to come.
At last he came, and even then I had to wait. I heard
him come, I heard his voice, and I heard his step, but I was shut out
from the rooms where he was interviewing the two victims of this night's
housebreaking. I questioned the servants, but they only answered out of
their own terrified imaginations. I could not catch Aunt Rosa, for she
was hurrying from one patient to the other, and when she was not moving
about, she was giving orders. At last I determined to waylay the doctor,
and I did. He was a kindly man, and looked on my misery with pity.
"A nasty case-a nasty case," he said, "but
no serious danger to the young gentleman- -luckily the villain aimed so
"And my grandmother?" I asked breathlessly.
"Ah! Mrs Brownlow's case is the more anxious one
of the two, from her advanced age, you see-great shock to the nervous
system; but still, I have hopes that she may get over it."
So it was as bad as that! He only had "hopes"
that she might get over it. My poor old granny might die, might be the
outcome of my silly, heedless conduct! As I thought on this my sobs burst
"Come, come," said the doctor, kindly, "there's
every reason to hope for the best; everything is in her favour, all her
home comforts about her, and such an excellent nurse as Miss Brownlow.
Quiet is the great thing disturbance, no excitement of any kind, nothing
to distress her, you know. By the way," he added suddenly, as if
with the view of distracting my thoughts a moment, "do you happen
to know if the rascals succeeded in taking anything?"
"I hardly know," I replied; "I've not had
time to think."
Strangely enough I had been so occupied with my fears
for my grandmother and Herbert, so miserable at the thought of the lives
and the love that haply might be lost to me, that I had hardly paused
to reflect on the lesser loss, the loss of property, which was at the
bottom of the whole catastrophe.
"Ah, well," said the doctor, "it would
be as well to find out as soon as possible, and let the police know. They're
on the track already, I hope, and a man can identify a thief just as well
with a broken leg as with a sound one, you know."
The doctor's words put new energy into me. I was satisfied
that nothing very serious had happened to Herbert. I was con tent to leave
grandmamma to Aunt Rosa's good nursing, taking care to put a restraint
on my own feelings, so as to avoid alarming or distressing the invalid
unnecessarily. But from that moment I resolved that it should be my business
to collect every scrap of evidence I could against the burglars, more
particularly against the one who had once been my travelling companion.
I felt almost fierce as I made this resolve. After all, he, and he only,
was the real cause of my grandmother's illness and Herbert's wound. If
she died, or if he was lamed for life, the wrong would lie at that man's
door. I had been thoughtless and imprudent and unsuspecting, no doubt,
but he had traded on my thoughtlessness and had taken advantage of my
innocence. He was a thief, he was all but a murderer, he was a liar and
a hypocritical villain! If I could bring him to justice I would, and not
for this night's work only, hunt for my stolen purse three months ago.
For that he had stolen it I was now unalterably convinced, my conviction
being all the stronger that I had hitherto been so slow to open my eyes.
People will more readily forgive a direct injury than they will forgive
being hoodwinked and deceived and bamboozled; and what lent such a very
decided fierceness to my feelings against this man was, not only that
he had tried to steal, and done his best to take life, but that he had
made a tool of me, that he had inspired me with confidence and belief
in his perfect honesty, that he had contrived out of my very simplicity
to make me the accomplice of his crimes!
Supposing my evidence should bring him to trial, what
sort of a figure should I cut in a court of justice? He might be convicted
and get penal servitude for life, and I hoped he would; but everybody
would be calling me a little goose and a simpleton for my pains.
Was I perfectly certain, you ask, that the one of the
two men who had rushed past me down the passage was the same whom two
days before I had let into the house to look at the carving? Oh, yes,
perfectly certain. Even in that instant's sight of him, I had recognised
the small, slight figure, the colourless hair and eyebrows, the peculiar
expression of the half-closed eyes. I should have known that man in ten
thousand, his face had stamped itself in my memory with an impress never
to be effaced.
So with my new resolve fresh and strong within me, I went
back to the sitting-room and carefully searched for any missing property.
The first thing I noticed was that the lock of a small cabinet had been
picked, and two diamond snuff-boxes and some other valuable curiosities
had been abstracted; but Aunt Rosa's sudden and unexpected appearance
on the scene had evidently prevented the robbers from taking more. I searched
and searched, but nothing further was missing, except my grandmother's
gold watch and chain, and the valuable rings she always wore, and which
she had left on her dressing-table when she went to bed, where they had
been seized by the more audacious of the two men, who, enveloped in my
scarlet cloak, had actually penetrated into the room where grandmamma
I think I was rather surprised not to find the robbery
had been on a more extensive scale, though there was no doubt much more
of value in the shape of snuff-boxes, coins, cameos, etc., would have
been taken but for grandmamma's scream and Aunt Rosa's appearance. When,
however, I had quite satisfied myself on this point, I went downstairs
to examine exactly how the burglars had entered the house. It was very
simple, almost ridiculously so. The glass door of the conservatory, which
opened into the garden, and which was always locked at night, had had
a pane taken out. Once inside the conservatory, the rest was easy enough,
for the door out of there into the passage was not locked. I believe no
one had ever thought of locking it, or at any rate of inquiring whether
it were usually locked or not. Furthermore, I reflected with compunction
that one of these burglars knew only too well that this particular passage
communicated with the back stairs and opened into the hall.
There was no doubt that the robbery had been systematically
planned by the gang of which Herbert had spoken, and planned for this
particular night, when it was believed that both my grandmother and Aunt
Rosa were away in Brighton. Whether the gang was apprised of their return
three or four days sooner than they were expected, but having laid its
plans, was determined to commit the burglary at all risks, or whether
the discovery of grandmamma's presence in her bed was only made at the
time of the robbery itself was never completely cleared up. One thing,
however, was pretty evident, both from grandmamma's persistent account
of what she saw, and from the position in which I found my scarlet cloak:
one of the robbers (probably the one who remembered to have seen me wearing
that cloak in the train) had slipped it on and drawn the hood over his
head, the better to delude my grandmother as to the real person moving
about her room. And the audacious dodge seemed to have succeeded admirably,
until, having penetrated into the bedroom, the man incautiously allowed
too much of his face under the hood to be seen!
Well, we never got the snuff-boxes back again; or the
watch, or the rings; they had been passed on to others in the gang, no
doubt, without delay, and changed beyond all recognition. The robbers,
however, were taken, you will be glad to hear; and there was a long trial
at the next assizes, which caused a good deal of interest, for the case
had been rendered additionally exciting by the attempt on Herbert's life.
I had to appear in court, of course, an ordeal to which I sincerely hope
I may never be subjected again, and had to bear witness to my own simplicity
and thoughtlessness, and to hear some rather unpleasant remarks passed
upon my conduct. But at any rate, I as well as Herbert had the satisfaction
of identifying one of the prisoners; he swore to that being the man who
had fired the shot, while I swore to his being the same who had rushed
past me down the passage, the same whom I had found sketching on the "gorsty
piece," the same who had travelled in the railway carriage with me
on the day when my pocket was picked. Oh, yes, you may be sure I didn't
omit to mention that, and I remember so well as I made the statement there
was quite a sensation throughout the court!
It came out in the course of the trial that this man,
who had so imposed upon me with his gentlemanlike appearance, his pleasant
manners, his agreeable conversation, and his refined tastes, was a well-known
leader of a housebreaking gang. He had half-a-dozen different names, and
under one or other of them he had come before under the notice of the
police. Hitherto, however, he had escaped the punishment of his misdeeds
for want of sufficient evidence against him; but his time had come at
last, and the shot he had fired at Herbert cost him a sentence of penal
servitude for life.
That is the end of my story so far as the robbery is concerned,
but that is not quite the end of it so far as it concerns me and those
who had suffered by my heedless folly.
Between the terrible night and the trial which followed,
there was a long and painful period in which my grandmother's life hung
on a thread. On her return from Brighton she had not been quite in her
usual health, and the violent shock which her nerves had sustained went
very near to cost her her life. And the shock was due not so much to the
fact that her house had been broken into by thieves, as to the sudden
apparition of a man's countenance under the hood which she knew to be
mine. This was evident from the manner in which she dwelt upon the incident,
hardly opening her lips for days, except to reiterate the same phrases-
"I thought it was Pussy! I thought it was Pussy!
The dreadful face under the hood! The face of a murderer! The face of
She made no mention of unexpected footsteps; she never
once asked if any of her property had been stolen; she seemed, indeed,
hardly to realise that the presence of that man meant robbery; it was
connected in her mind, she knew not why, and we never knew exactly why,
with an attempt to murder. For my own part, I am inclined to think that
when the burglars first effected their entrance, she must have been fast
asleep; and that when she did awake, the first thing she saw was the figure
in the red cloak, which she mistook to be me. And what gave her such a
terrible fright was not the suspicion that robbers were stealing her things,
but the discovery that the figure in the cloak was not me! Anyhow, for
days and weeks she lay prostrated by the shock. Had the doctor not been
a clever man, and had Aunt Rosa not proved herself an indefatigable nurse,
I doubt if she would ever have recovered. But by degrees, however, she
did slowly begin to mend. When she had taken a slight turn for the better,
and had asked for me, I was allowed to go into her room for the first
time since the night of the catastrophe; and if anything had been needed
to make me feel more acutely than I did the full extent of what in my
thoughtlessness I had wrought, it was the sight of my poor old granny
lying helpless and listless, white and aged and shrunken, on the same
pillow where I had been so often accustomed to kiss her plump cheeks,
and to see her smile at me with her bright eyes. Those cheeks were wasted
now, and those eyes dulled, all her comeliness was gone, and from having
looked hardly more than middle-aged, she had suddenly withered into an
I was not allowed to talk to her, and indeed she seemed
to have little energy to speak herself, or even to listen. But as on the
first night, so now, I sat by her bedside, with my hand inside hers. She
seemed to like this, and thus I used to sit for hours.
And in all those hours, you may suppose, I had a little
time to think over my past, and make some resolves for a wiser future.
So, perhaps, it was just as well I was forced to sit quite still and silent
with my grandmother changed and suffering before me. Willingly would I
have undertaken any task, if so be I might have raised her up again to
her former health. But this was never to be, Margery. True that in time
she left her bed, and even came downstairs; true, too, that she lived
for twelve years, and was really quite an old woman when she died, but
she never was anything but an invalid. A drive in a carriage, or a turn
round the garden in a Bath-chair, was the utmost limit of the exercise
she took, and that only on fine, warm days. Perhaps you will say that
this was as much as any old woman could expect, but if you had known my
grandmother as she was up to the time of the night I have been describing,
you would understand how it need not have been so. Even the velvet chair
fell into disuse, for she almost habitually lay on her sofa.
Nevertheless, it was much to me that she lived, and if
I had been the means of bringing her to this, I am at least thankful to
think that I had the opportunity of making some amends by the love and
the care which I afterwards gave her.
And it was not the least part of what I had to endure
as the consequence of my folly, that it was a long time before I might
venture to explain it all to grandmamma. In the first recognition of how
much I was to blame, and the first flood of my repentance, I felt as if
I could have no peace and no comfort until I had confessed the truth.
But I had to put up with unrest and remorse for some while. I told my
foolish tale to Aunt Rosa, of course, at the first opportunity, but this
was not the same thing as telling it to grandmamma.
But one day, at last, when she was strong enough to talk
about it, and indeed was beginning to take an interest in the details
of the trial that was then about to come on, I told her everything. And
when she had heard it all she only laughed; she chuckled over my simplicity
with the comfortable chuckle that reminded me of the days of her health.
"Never mind, Pussy," she said, patting my cheek,
"it's just what I should have done myself. When I was a girl I believed
everybody told the truth, and listened to what every one said."
But the whole thing was too serious for me to treat it
as a jest.
"No, Granny," I said vehemently, "you wouldn't
have done anything so silly as I did. You might have been taken in, perhaps,
and perhaps it was no wonder I was; but I shouldn't have ended by being
taken in if hadn't begun by talking to a stranger-just what mother advised
me not to do, without thinking twice about it, or troubling about consequences."
But grandmamma would persist in laughing about it, perhaps
because she really understood how terribly serious those consequences
might have been.
"Well, Pussy," she said, "everything that's
worth having must be paid for, and there's nothing more valuable in its
way than experience, though it almost always costs one dear. You'll never
forget to trouble about consequences in the future, I'll undertake to
"No, Granny, I hope I shan't," said I. And I
verily believe I kept my word; I verily believe that I grew more prone
to look before and after even than Aunt Rosa herself.
And Herbert, what of him? He must have got well, you think,
as he appeared in court to identify the prisoners. Oh, yes, he got well-well
enough for that, at any rate, and as well as he ever would be. But I know
a man, Margery, a fine soldier-like fellow, who loved his profession and
was getting on in it, who for twenty years has limped on a wooden leg-and
that man is Herbert.
That he is hopelessly lame for life was my doing, that
his professional prospects were ruined was my doing. Some people, I daresay,
imagine he was wounded in war, others have heard something vaguely of
the courage he showed face to face with detected burglars, but I know
that but for the heedless folly of one silly girl, he need never have
been exposed to the peril which cost him a limb and his chosen profession!
We guessed nothing of this at first; while my grandmother
was lying so ill we had hardly any thoughts but for her. Herbert had been
removed to the Red House, and under the care of his mother and sisters
we were told that the wound in his leg was progressing satisfactorily.
Then one day a change was spoken of, and then came the terrible news that
two London surgeons had been in consultation, and that the leg was to
I think no part of my misery and remorse was so overwhelming
as on hearing this. After the first moment of horrible suspense when Aunt
Rosa went out that night to see what had happened to Herbert, I had never
thought that anything very dreadful had befallen him. True, it was no
thanks to me that he had not been killed, his death lay on my conscience
almost the same as if he were actually dead. But at any rate he would
live to tell me he forgave, and to assure me all trace of the injury had
And now they told me he would be a cripple for the rest
of his days! The loss of a limb was only one degree less terrible than
the loss of life. He would carry to his grave the mark of the injury my
heedlessness had wrought! He could never forgive me now! He a soldier;
he bright and healthy, and fond of active out-door life---oh, it was dreadful!
And I could do nothing-absolutely nothing. I wrote to
him, humbly confessing all the truth, as I had confessed it to my grandmother,
but the lowliest contrition could not make him whole again, the bitterest
tears could not give him back what he had lost. For at seven-and-twenty
the loss of a limb implies a great, great deal more than the loss of the
I could not even be of use in doing anything to amuse
or relieve the tedium of his recovery; I had not even the opportunity
of marking my sense of the irreparable injury I had wrought, by dedicating
any portion of my time to him, which I would willingly, oh! so willingly,
have done. They had removed him from the Red House to London, that he
might he under the treatment of the best surgeons, and shortly after we
heard that his family did not mean to return to the Red House, hut would
make their home in London.
And the hopes that had been so bright in his heart, and
the dream which my grandmother had cherished-aye, and the love which I
now knew I felt-were never, never to find their fulfilment! Never since
the day when the surgeon's knife did its fatal work, never again did my
name cross Herbert's lips; those about him forbore to mention me when
they saw the pain that it gave him, and it was years before I met him
Yet it was not that he could not forgive-oh no! he was
too good and too generous for that. I know he forgave, for I have it under
his own hand in a precious letter which has been in my keeping for twenty
years. Nor was it that he was disappointed, and had recalled his love
as a thing that was woefully misplaced, though well might he have done
so! But he was a cripple, and a cripple, he said, had no right to ask
any woman to chain her love by a sofa-side! I do not know if he realised
how willingly I would have chained mine by his sofa; but if he did he
was far too proud ever to ask me to do it!
So that was the end of it all. Twenty years have come
and gone since then, and Herbert is still a lame old bachelor and I am
a lonely old maid!
Thus you see it is sometimes possible to be so heedless
and silly as to cause the deaths of other people, and that there may be
more in the story of Red Riding-Hood than is to be seen at first sight.
For though my grandmother and Herbert neither of them actually died, it
was a very near thing with both of them. Ah! you fancy, perhaps, as I
did, that little things have no consequences. Never think it! The slightest
word has an echo far beyond what you can hear; the smallest deed casts
a shadow broader than you can see.
And of all sad words, none so sad as the wail, Too late!
Of all bitter memories, none so bitter as the thought, It never need have
Childe-Pemberton, Harriet Louisa. "All my Doing;
or Red Riding-Hood Over Again." The Fairy Tales of Every Day.
London: Christian Knowledge Society, 1882.