Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 7/Verner's Pride - Part 15
BY THE AUTHORESS OF “EAST LYNNE.”
CHAPTER XXIX. A SPECIAL VISION TOUCHING MRS. PECKABY.
Not until summer, when the days were long and the nights short, did the marriage of Lionel Verner take place. Lady Verner declined to be present at it: Decima and Lucy were. It was a grand ceremony, of course: that is, it would have been grand, but for an ignominious interruption which occurred to mar it. At the very moment they were at the altar, Lionel placing the ring on his bride’s finger, and all around wrapt in breathless silence, in a transport of enthusiasm, the bridesmaids uncertain whether they must go off in hysterics or not, there tore into the church Master Dan Duff, in a state of extreme terror and ragged shirt sleeves, fighting his way against those who would have impeded him, and shouting out at the top of his voice: “Mother was took with the cholic, and she’d die right off if Mr. Jan didn’t make haste to her.” Upon which Jan, who had positively no more sense of what was due to society than Dan Duff himself had, went flying away there and then, muttering something about “those poisonous mushrooms.” And so, they were made man and wife; Lionel, in his heart of hearts, doubting if he did not best love Lucy Tempest.
A breakfast at Dr. West’s: Miss Deborah and Miss Amilly not in the least knowing (as they said afterwards) how they comported themselves at it: and then Lionel and his bride departed. He was taking her to Paris, which Sibylla had never seen.
Leaving them to enjoy its attractions—and Sibylla, at any rate, would not fail to do so—we must give another word to that zealous missionary, Brother Jarrum.
The seed, scattered broadcast by Brother Jarrum, had had time to fructify. He had left the glowing promises of all that awaited them, did they decide to voyage out to New Jerusalem, to take root in the imaginations of his listeners, and absented himself for a time from Deerham. This may have been crafty policy on Brother Jarrum’s part; or may have resulted from necessity. It was hardly likely that so talented and enlightened an apostle as Brother Jarrum, should confine his labours to the limited sphere of Deerham: in all probability, they had to be put in requisition elsewhere. However it may have been, for several weeks towards the end of spring, Brother Jarrum was away from Deerham. Mr. Bitterworth, and one or two more influential people, of whom Lionel was one, had very strongly objected to Brother Jarrum’s presence in it at all; and, again, this may have been the reason of his quitting it. However it was, he did quit it; though not without establishing a secret understanding with the more faithful of his converts. With the exception of these converts, Deerham thought he had left it for good; that it was, as they not at all politely expressed it, “shut of him.” In this, Deerham was mistaken.
On the very day of Lionel Verner’s marriage, Brother Jarrum reappeared in the place. He took up his abode, as before, in Mrs. Peckaby’s spare room. Peckaby, this time, held out against it. However welcome the four shillings rent, weekly, was from Brother Jarrum, Peckaby assumed a lordly indifference to it, and protested he’d rather starve, nor have pison like him in the house. Peckaby, however, possessed a wife, who on occasion wore, metaphorically speaking, his nether garments, and it was her will and pleasure to countenance the expectant guest. Brother Jarrum, therefore, was received and welcomed.
He did not hold forth this time in Peckaby’s shop. He did not in public urge the delights of New Jerusalem, or the expediency of departure for it. He kept himself quiet and retired, receiving visits in the privacy of his chamber. After dark, especially, friends would drop in; admitted without noise or bustle by Mrs. Peckaby; parties of ones, of twos, of threes, until there would be quite an assembly collected up-stairs: why should not Brother Jarrum hold his levees as well as his betters?
That something unusual was in the wind, was very evident; some scheme, or project, which it appeared expedient to keep a secret. Had Peckaby been a little less fond of the seductions of the Plough and Harrow, he would not have failed to have had his suspicions aroused. Unfortunately Peckaby yielded unremittingly to the temptation, and spent every evening there, leaving full sway to his wife and Brother Jarrum.
About a month thus passed on, and Lionel Verner and his wife were expected home, when Deerham woke up one morning to a commotion. A flitting had taken place from it in the night. Brother Jarrum had departed, conveying with him a train of followers.
One of the first to hear of it was Jan Verner: and, curious to say, he heard it from Mrs. Baynton, the lady at Chalk Cottage. Jan, who, let him be called abroad in the night as he would, was always up with the sun, stood one morning in his surgery, between seven and eight o’clock, when he was surprised by the entrance of Mrs. Baynton; a little woman, with a meek, pinched face, and grey hair. Since Dr. West’s departure, Jan had attended the sickly daughter, therefore he knew Mrs. Baynton, but he had never seen her abroad in his life. Her bonnet looked ten years old. Her daughters were named—at least, they were called—Flore and Kitty; Kitty being the sickly one. To see Mrs. Baynton arrive thus, Jan jumped to the conclusion that Kitty must be dying.
“Is she ill again?” he hastily asked, with his usual absence of ceremony.
“She’s gone,” gasped Mrs. Baynton.
“Gone—dead?” asked Jan, with wondering eyes.
“She’s gone off with the Mormons.”
Jan stood upright against the counter, and stared at the old lady. He could not understand. “Who is gone off with the Mormons?” was his rejoinder.
“Kitty is. Oh, Mr. Jan, think of her sufferings! A journey, like that, before her! All the way to that dreadful place! I have heard that even strong women die on the road of the hardships.”
Jan had stood with open mouth. “Is she mad?” he questioned.
“She has not been much better than mad since—since—But I don’t wish to go into family troubles. Can you give me Dr. West’s address? She might come back for him.”
Now Jan had received positive commands from that wandering physician not to give his address to chance applicants: the inmates of Chalk Cottage having come in for a special interdiction. Therefore Jan could only decline.
“He is moving about from one place to another,” said Jan. “To-day in Switzerland, to-morrow in France; the next day in the moon, for what we can tell. You can give me a letter, and I’ll try and get it conveyed to him, somehow.”
Mrs. Baynton shook her head.
“It would be too late. I thought if I could telegraph to him, he might have got to Liverpool in time to stop Kitty. There’s a large migration of Mormons to take place in a day or two, and they are collecting at Liverpool.”
“Go and stop her yourself,” said Jan, sensibly.
“She’d not come back for me,” replied Mrs. Baynton, in a depressed tone. “What with her delicate health, and what with her wilfulness, I have always had trouble with her. Dr. West was the only one—but I can’t refer to those matters. Flore is broken-hearted. Poor Flore! she has never given me an hour’s grief in her life. Kitty has given me little else. And now to go off with the Mormons!”
“Who has she gone with?”
“With the rest from Deerham. They have gone off in the night. That Brother Jarrum and a company of about fifteen, they say.”
Jan could scarcely keep from exploding into laughter. Part of Deerham gone off to join the Mormons!
“Is it a fact?” cried he.
“It is a fact that they are gone,” replied Mrs. Baynton. “She has been out several times in an evening to hear that Brother Jarrum, and had got infected with the Mormon doctrine. In spite of what I or Flore could say, she would go to listen to the man, and she grew to believe the foolish things he uttered. And you can’t give me Dr. West’s address?”
“No, I can’t,” replied Jan. “And I see no good that it would be to you, if I could. He could not get to Liverpool in time, from wherever he may be, if the flight is to take place in a day or two.”
“Perhaps not,” sighed Mrs. Baynton. “I was unwilling to come, but it seemed like a forlorn hope.”
She let down her old crape veil as she went out at the door; and Jan, all curious for particulars, went abroad to see what he could learn.
About fifteen had gone off, not including children. Grind’s lot, as it was called, meaning Grind, his wife, and their young ones; Davies had gone, Mary Green had gone, Nancy from Verner’s Pride had gone, and sundry others whom it is not necessary to enumerate. It was said that Dinah Roy made preparations to go, but her heart failed her at the last. Other accounts ran that she did start, but was summarily brought up by the appearance of her husband, who went after her. At his sight she turned without a word, and walked home again, meekly submitting to the correction he saw fit to inflict. Jan did not believe this. His private opinion was, that had Dinah Roy started, her husband would have deemed it a red-letter day, and never have sought to bring her back more.
Last, but not least, Mrs. Peckaby had not gone. No: for Brother Jarrum had stolen a march upon her. What his motive, in doing this might be, was best known to himself. Of all the converts, none had been so eager for the emigration, so fondly anticipative of the promised delights, as Susan Peckaby; and she had made her own private arrangements to steal off secretly, leaving her unbelieving husband to his solitary fate. As it turned out, however, she was herself left: the happy company stole off, and abandoned her.
Brother Jarrum so contrived it, that the night fixed for the exodus was kept secret from Mrs. Peckaby. She did not know that he had even gone out of the house, until she got up in the morning and found him absent. Brother Jarrum’s personal luggage was not of an extensive character. It was contained in a blue bag, and this bag was likewise missing. Not, even then, did a shadow of the cruel treachery played her, darken the spirit of Mrs. Peckaby. Her faith in Brother Jarrum was of an unlimited extent: she would as soon have thought of deceiving her own self, as that he could deceive. The rumour that the migration had taken place, the company off, awoke her from her happy security to a state of raving torture. Peckaby dodged out of her way, afraid. There is no knowing but Peckaby himself may have been the stumbling block in the mind of Brother Jarrum. A man so dead against the Latter Day Saints as Peckaby had shown himself, might be a difficult customer to deal with. He might be capable of following them and upsetting the minds of all the Deerham converts, did his wife start with them for New Jerusalem.
All this information was gathered by Jan. Jan had heard nothing for many a day that so tickled his fancy. He bent his steps to Peckaby’s, and went in. Jan, you know, was troubled neither with pride nor ceremony: nobody less so in all Deerham. Where inclination took him, there went Jan.
Peckaby, all black, with a bar of iron in his hand, a leather apron on, and a broad grin upon his countenance, was coming out of the door as Jan entered. The affair seemed to tickle Peckaby’s fancy as much as it tickled Jan’s. He touched his hair. “Please, sir, couldn’t you give her a dose of jalap, or something comforting o’ that sort, to bring her to?” asked he, pointing with his thumb indoors, as he stamped across the road to the forge.
Mrs. Peckaby had calmed down from the rampant state to one of prostration. She sat in her kitchen behind the shop, nursing her knees, and moaning. Mrs. Duff, who, by Jan’s help, had survived the threatened death from “cholic,” and was herself again, stood near the sufferer, in company with one or two more cronies. All the particulars, Susan Peckaby’s contemplated journey, with the deceitful trick played her, had got wind; and the Deerham ladies were in consequence flocking in.
“You didn’t mean going, did you?” began Jan.
“Not mean going!” sobbed Susan Peckaby, rocking herself to and fro. “I did mean going, sir, and I’m not ashamed on it. If folks is in the luck to be offered a chance of Paradise, I dun know many as ud say they wouldn’t catch at it.”
“Paradise, was it?” said Jan. “What was it chiefly to consist of?”
“Of everything,” moaned Susan Peckaby. “There isn’t a thing you could wish for under the sun, but what’s to be had in plenty in New Jerusalem. Dinners and teas, and your own cows, and big houses and parlours, and gardens loaded with fruit, and garden stuff as decays for want o’ cutting, and veils when you go out, and evening dances, like the grand folks here has, and new caps perpetual! And I have lost it! They be gone and have left me!—oh, o-o-o-h!”
“And husbands, besides; one for everybody!” spoke up a girl. “You forgot that, Mrs. Peckaby.”
“Husbands besides,” acquiesced Susan Peckaby, aroused from her moaning. “Every woman’s sure to be chose by a saint as soon as she gets out. There’s not such a thing as a old maid there, and there needn’t be no widders.”
Mrs. Duff turned up her nose, speaking wrathfully at the girl.
“If they call husbands their paradise, keep me away from ’em, say I. You girls be like young bears—all your troubles have got to come. You just try a husband, Bess Dawson; whether he’s a saint, or whether he’s a sinner, let him be of a cranky temper, thwarting you at every trick and turn, and you’ll see what sort of a paradise marriage is! Don’t you think I’m right, sir?”
Jan’s mouth was extended from ear to ear, laughing.
“I never tried it,” said he. “Were you to have been espoused by Brother Jarrum?” he asked, of Susan Peckaby.
“No, sir, I was not,” she answered, in much anger. “I did not favour Brother Jarrum. I’d prefer to pick and choose when I got there. But I had a great amount of respect for Brother Jarrum, sir, which I’m proud to own. And I don’t believe that he has served me this shameful trick of his own knowledge,” she added, with emphasis. “I believe there has been some unfortinate mistake, and that when he finds I’m not among the company he’ll come back for me. I’d go after them, only that Peckaby’s on the watch. I never see such a altered man as Peckaby: it had used to be as I could just turn him round my little finger, but he won’t be turned now.”
She finished up with a storm of sobs. Jan, in an ecstacy of mirth yet, offered to send her some cordials from the surgery, by way of consolation: not, however, the precise one suggested by Peckaby. But cordials had no charm in that unhappy moment for Mrs. Peckaby’s ear.
Jan departed. In quitting the door he encountered a stranger, who inquired if that was Peckaby’s shop. Jan fancied the man looked something the cut of Brother Jarrum, and sent him in. His coat and boots were white with dust. Looking round on the assembled women when he reached the kitchen, the stranger asked which was Mrs. Peckaby. Mrs. Peckaby looked up, and signified that she was.
“I have a message from the saint and elder, Brother Jarrum,” he mysteriously whispered in her ear. “It must be give to you in private.”
Mrs. Peckaby, in a tremble of delight, led the stranger to a small shed in the yard, which she used for washing purposes, and called the back’us. It was the most private place she could think of, in her fluster. The stranger, propping himself against a broken tub, proceeded, with some circumlocution and not remarkable perspicuity of speech, to deliver the message with which he was charged. It was to the effect that a vision had revealed to Brother Jarrum the startling fact, that Susan Peckaby was not to go out with the crowd at present on the wing. A higher destiny awaited her. She would be sent for in a different manner—in a more important form; sent for special, on a quadruped. That is to say, on a white donkey.
“On a white donkey?” echoed the trembling and joyful woman.
“On a white donkey,” gravely repeated the brother—for that he was another brother of the community, there could be little doubt. “What the special honour intended for you may be, me and Brother Jarrum don’t pertend to guess at. It’s above us. May be you are fated to be chose by our great prophet hisself. Any how, it’s something at the top of the tree.”
“When shall I be sent for, sir?” eagerly asked Mrs. Peckaby.
“That ain’t revealed neither. It may be next week—it mayn’t be for a year; you must always be on the look-out. One of these days or nights, you’ll see a white donkey a-standing at your door. It’ll be the messenger for you from New Jerusalem. You mount him without a minute’s loss of time, and come off.”
But that Mrs. Peckaby’s senses were exalted, just now, far above the level of ordinary mortals’, it might have occurred to her to inquire whether the donkey would be endowed with the miraculous power of bearing her over the sea. No such common question presented itself. She asked another.
“Why couldn’t Brother Jarrum have told me this hisself, sir? I have been a’most mad this morning, ever since I found as they had gone.”
The brother—this brother—turned up the whites of his eyes.
“When unknown things is revealed to us, and mysterious orders give, they never come to us a minute afore the time,” he replied. “Not till Brother Jarrum was fixing the night of departure, did the vision come to him. It was commanded him that it should be kept from you till the rest were off, and then he were to send back to tell you—and many a mile I’ve come! Brother Jarrum and me has no doubt that it is meant as a trial of your faith.”
Nothing could be more satisfactory to the mind of Mrs. Peckaby, than this explanation. Had any mysterious vision appeared to herself, showing her that it was false, commanding her to disbelieve it, it could not have shaken her faith. If the white donkey arrived at her door that very night, she would be sure to mount him.
“Do you think it ’ll be very long, sir, that I shall have to wait?” she resumed, feverishly listening for the answer.
“My impression is, that it ’ll be very short,” was the reply. “And it’s Brother Jarrum’s also. Any way, you be on the look-out—always prepared. Have a best robe at hand, continual, ready to clap on, the instant the quadruped appears, and come right away to New Jerusalem.”
In the openness of her heart, Mrs. Peckaby offered refreshment to the brother. The best her house afforded: which was not much. Peckaby should be condemned to go foodless for a week, rather than that he should depart fasting. The brother, however, declined: he appeared to be in a hurry to leave Deerham behind him.
“I’d not disclose this to anybody if I was you,” was his parting salutation. “Leastways, not for a day or two. Let the ruck of ’em embark first at Liverpool. If it gets wind, some of them may be for turning crusty, because they are not favoured with special animals, too.”
Had the brother recommended Susan Peckaby to fill the tub with water, and stand head downwards in it for a day or two, she was in the mood to obey him. Accordingly, when questioned by Mrs. Duff, and the other curious ones, what had been the business of the stranger, she made a great mystery over it, and declined to answer.
“It’s good news, by the signs of your face,” remarked Mrs. Duff.
“Good news!” rapturously repeated Susan Peckaby, “it’s heaven. I say, Mother Duff, I want a new gownd: something of the very best. I’ll pay for it by degrees. There ain’t no time to be lost, neither; so I’ll come down at once and choose it.”
“What has happened?” was the wondering rejoinder of Mother Duff.
“Never you mind, just yet. I’ll tell you about it afore the week’s out.”
And accordingly, before the week was out, all Deerham was regaled with the news; full particulars. And Susan Peckaby, a robe of purple of the stuff called lustre, laid up in state, to be donned when the occasion came, passed her time, night and day, at her door and windows, looking out for the white donkey that was to bear her in triumph to New Jerusalem.
CHAPTER XXX. A SURPRISE FOR MRS. TYNN.
In the commodious dressing-room at Verner’s Pride, appropriated to its new mistress, Mrs. Verner, stood the housekeeper, Tynn, lifting her hands and her eyes. You once saw the chamber of John Massingbird, in this same house, in a tolerable litter: but that was as nothing, compared with the litter in this dressing-room, piles and piles of it, one heap by the side of another. Mary Tynn stood screwed against the wainscoting of the wall: she had got in, but to get out was another matter: there was not a free place where she could put her foot. Strictly speaking, perhaps, it could not be called litter, and Mrs. Verner and her French maid would have been alike indignant at hearing it so classed. Robes of rich and rare texture; silks standing on end with magnificence; dinner attire, than which nothing could be more exquisite; ball dresses in all sorts of gossamer fabrics; under-skirts, glistening with their soft lustre; morning costumes, pure and costly; shawls of Cashmere and other recherché stuffs, enough to stock a shop; mantles of every known make; bonnets that would send an English milliner crazy; veils charming to look upon; laces that might rival Lady Verner’s embroideries, whose price was fabulous; handkerchiefs that surely never were made for use; dozens of delicately-tinted gloves, cased in ornamental boxes, costing as much as they did; every description of expensive chaussure; and trinkets, the drawn cheques for which must have caused Lionel Verner’s sober bankers to stare. Tynn might well heave her hands and eyes in dismay. On the chairs, on the tables, on the drawers, on the floor, on every conceivable place and space they lay, a goodly mass of vanity, just unpacked from their cases.
Flitting about amidst them, was a damsel of coquettish appearance, with a fair skin, light hair, and her nose a turn-up. Her grey gown was flounced to the waist, her small cap of lace, its pink strings flying, was lodged on the back of her head. It was Mademoiselle Benoite, Mrs. Verner’s French maid, one she had picked up in Paris. Whatever other qualities the damsel might lack, she had enough of confidence. Not many hours yet in the house, and she was assuming more authority in it than her mistress did.
Mr. and Mrs. Verner had returned the night before, Mademoiselle Benoite and her packages making part of their train. A whole fourgon could not have been sufficient to convey these packages from the French capital to the frontier. Phœby, the simple country maid whom Sibylla had taken to Paris with her, found her place a sinecure since the engagement of Mademoiselle Benoite. She stood now on the opposite side of the room to Tynn, humbly waiting Mademoiselle Benoite’s imperious commands.
“Where on earth will you stow ’em away?” cried Tynn, in her wonder. “You’ll want a length of rooms to do it in.”
“Where I stow ’em away!” retorted Mademoiselle Benoite, in her fluent speech, but broken English. “I stow ’em where I please. Note you that, Madame Teen. Par exemple! The château is grand enough.”
“What has its grandeur got to do with it?” was Mary Tynn’s answer. She knew but little of French phrases.
“Now, then, what for you stand there, with your eyes staring and your hands idle?” demanded Mademoiselle Benoite sharply, turning her attack on Phœby.
“If you’ll tell me what to do, I’ll do it,” replied the girl. “I could help to put the things up, if you’d tell me where to begin.”
“I like to see you dare to put a finger on one of these things!” returned Mademoiselle Benoite. “You can confine your services to sewing, and to waiting upon me; but not you dare to interfere with my lady’s toilette. Tiens, I am capable, I hope! I’d give up the best service to-morrow where I had not sole power! Go you down to the of-fice, and order me a cup of chocolate, and wait you and bring it up to me. That maudite drogue, that coffee, this morning, has made me as thirsty as a panthère.”
Phœby, glancing across at Mrs. Tynn, turned somewhat hesitatingly to pick her way out of the room. The housekeeper, though not half understanding, contrived to make out that the morning coffee was not approved of. The French mademoiselle had breakfasted with her, and, in Mrs. Tynn’s opinion, the coffee had been perfect, fit for the table of her betters.
“Is it the coffee that you are abusing?” asked she. “What was the matter with it?”
“Ciel! You ask what the matter with it!” returned Mademoiselle Benoite, in her rapid tongue. “It was everything the matter with it. It was all bad. It was drogue, I say; médecine. There!”
“Well, I’m sure!” resentfully returned the housekeeper. “Now, I happened to make that coffee myself this morning—Tynn, he’s particular in his coffee, he is—and I put in—”
“I not care if you put in the whole canastre,” vehemently interrupted Mademoiselle Benoite. “You English know not to make coffee. All the two years I lived in London with Madame la Duchesse, I never got one cup of coffee that was not enough to choke me. And they used pounds of it in the house, where they might have used ounces. Bah! You can make tea, I not say no; but you cannot make coffee. Now, then! I want a great number sheets of silk paper.”
“Silk paper?” repeated Tynn, whom the item puzzled. “What’s that?”
“You know not what silk paper is!” angrily returned Mademoiselle Benoite. “Quelle ignorante!” she apostrophised, not caring whether she was understood or not. “Ellé ne connait pas ce que c’est, papier-de-soie! I must have it, and a great deal of it, do you hear? It is as common as anything—silk-paper.”
“Things common in France mayn’t be common with us,” retorted Mrs. Tynn. “What is it for?”
“It is for some of these articles. If I put them by without the paper-silk round them in the cartons, they’ll not keep their colour.”
“Perhaps you mean silver-paper,” said Mary Tynn. “Tissue-paper, I have heard my Lady Verner call it. There’s none in the house, Madmisel Bennot.”
“Madmisel Bennot” stamped her foot. “A house without silk-paper in it! When you knew my lady was coming home!”
“I didn’t know she’d bring—a host of things with her that she has brought,” was the answering shaft lanced by Mrs. Tynn.
“Don’t you see that I am waiting? Will you send out for some?”
“It’s not to be had in Deerham,” said Mrs. Tynn. “If it must be had, one of the men must go to Heartburg. Why won’t the paper do that was over ’em before?”
“There not enough of that. And I choose to have fresh, I do.”
“Well, you had better give your own orders about it,” said Mary Tynn. “And then if there’s any mistake, it’ll be nobody’s fault, you know.”
Mademoiselle Benoite did not on the instant reply. She had her hands full just then. In reaching over for a particular bonnet, she managed to turn a dozen or two on to the floor. Tynn watched the picking-up process, and listened to the various ejaculations that accompanied it, in much grimness.
“What a sight of money those things must have cost!” cried she.
“What that matter?” returned the lady’s-maid. “The purse of a milor Anglais can stand anything.”
“What did she buy them for?” went on Tynn. “For what purpose?”
“Bon!” ejaculated Mademoiselle. “She buy them to wear. What else you suppose she buy them for?”
“Why! she would never wear out the half of them in all her whole life !” uttered Tynn, speaking the true sentiments of her heart. “She could not.”
“Much you know of things, Madame Teen!” was the answer, delivered in undisguised contempt for Tynn’s primitive ignorance. “They’ll not last her six months.”
“Six months!” shrieked Tynn. “She couldn’t come to an end of them dresses in six months, if she wore three a day, and never put on a dress a second time!”
“She want to wear more than three different a day sometimes. And it not the mode now to put on a robe more than once,” returned Mademoiselle Benoite, carelessly.
Tynn could only open her mouth. “If they are to be put on but once, what becomes of ’em afterwards?” questioned she, when she could find breath to speak.
“Oh, they good for jupons—petticoats, you call it. Some may be worn a second time; they can be changed by other trimmings to look like new. And the rest will be good for me: Madame la Duchesse gave me a great deal. ‘Tenez ma fille,’ she would say, ‘regardez dans ma garde-robe, et prenez autant que vous voudrez.’ She always spoke to me in French.”
Tynn wished there had been no French invented, so far as her comprehension was concerned. While she stood, undecided what reply to make, wishing very much to express her decided opinion upon the extravagance she saw around her, yet deterred from it by remembering that Mrs. Verner was now her mistress, Phœby entered with the chocolate. The girl put it down on the mantelpiece: there was no other place: and then made a sign to Mrs. Tynn that she wished to speak with her. They both left the room.
“Am I to be at the beck and call of that French madmizel?” she resentfully asked. “I was not engaged for that, Mrs. Tynn.”
“It seems we are all to be at her beck and call, to hear her go on,” was Mrs. Tynn’s wrathful rejoinder. “Of course it can’t be tolerated. We shall see in a day or two. Phœby, girl, what could possess Mrs. Verner to buy all them cart-loads of finery? She must have spent the money like water.”
“So she did,” acquiesced Phœby. “She did nothing all day long but drive about from one place to another and choose pretty things. You should see the china that’s coming over!”
“I wonder Mr. Lionel let her,” was the thoughtlessly-spoken reply of Tynn. And she tried, when too late, to cough it down.
“He helped her, I think,” answered Phœby. “I know he bought some of that beautiful jewellery for her himself, and brought it home. I saw him kiss her, through the doorway, as he clasped that pink necklace on her neck.”
“Oh well, I don’t want to hear about that rubbish,” tartly rejoined Tynn. “If you take to peep through doorways, girl, you won’t suit Verner’s Pride.”
Phœby did not like the rebuff. She turned one way, and Mrs. Tynn went off another.
In the breakfast-room below, in her charming French morning costume, tasty and elegant, sat Sibylla Verner. With French dresses, she seemed to be acquiring French habits. Late as the hour was, the breakfast remained on the table. Sibylla might have sent the things away an hour ago: but she kept a little chocolate in her cup, and toyed with it. She had never tasted chocolate for breakfast in all her life, previous to this visit to Paris: now she protested she could take nothing else. Possibly she may have caught the taste for it from Mademoiselle Benoite. Her husband sat opposite to her: his chair drawn from the table, and turned to face the room. A perfectly satisfied, happy expression pervaded his face: he appeared to be fully contented with his lot and with his bride. Just now he was laughing immoderately.
Perched upon the arm of a sofa, having there come to an anchor, his legs hanging down and swaying about in their favourite fashion, was Jan Verner. Jan had come in to pay them a visit and congratulate them on their return. That is speaking somewhat figuratively, however; for Jan possessed no notion of congratulating anybody. As Lady Verner sometimes resentfully said, Jan had no more social politeness in him than a bear. Upon entering, Sibylla asked him to take some breakfast. Breakfast! echoed Jan, did she call that breakfast? He thought it was lunch: it was getting on for his dinner-time. Jan was giving Lionel a history of the moonlight flitting, and of Susan Peckaby’s expected expedition to New Jerusalem on a white donkey.
“It ought to have been stopped,” said Lionel, when his laughter had subsided. “They are going out to misery, and to nothing else, poor deluded creatures!”
“Who was to stop it?” asked Jan.
“Some one might have told them the truth. If this Brother Jarrum represented things in rose-coloured hues, could nobody open to their view the other side of the picture? I should have endeavoured to do it, had I been here. If they chose to risk the venture after that, it would have been their own fault.”
“You’d have done no good,” said Jan. “Once let ’em get the Mormon fever upon ’em, and it must run its course. It’s like the Gold fever: nothing will convince folks they are mistaken as to that, except the going out to Australia to the Diggings. That will.”
A faint tinge of brighter colour rose to Sibylla’s cheeks at this allusion, and Lionel knit his brow. He would have avoided for ever any chain of thought that led his memory to Frederick Massingbird: he could not bear to think that his young bride had been another’s before she was his. Jan, happily ignorant, continued.
“There’s Susan Peckaby. She has got it in her head that she’s going straight off to Paradise, once she is in the Salt Lake City. Well, now, Lionel, if you, and all the world to help you, set yourselves on to convince her that she’s mistaken, you couldn’t do it. They must go out, and find the level of things for themselves: there’s no help for it.”
“Jan, it is not likely that Susan Peckaby really expects a white donkey to be sent for her!” cried Sibylla.
“She as fully expects the white donkey, as I expect that I shall go from here presently, and drop in on Paynton, on my way home,” earnestly said Jan. “He has had a kick from a horse on his shin, and a nasty place it is,” added Jan in a parenthesis. “Nothing on earth would convince Susan Peckaby that the donkey’s a myth, or will be a myth; and she wastes all her time looking out for it. If you were opposite their place now, you’d see her head somewhere: poked out at the door, or peeping from the up-stairs window.”
“I wish I could get them all back again—those who have gone from here!” warmly spoke Lionel.
“I wish sometimes I had got four legs, that I might get over double ground, when patients are wanting me on all sides,” returned Jan. “The one wish is just as possible as the other, Lionel. The lot sailed from Liverpool yesterday, in the ship American Star. And I’ll be bound, what with the sea-sickness, and the other discomforts, they are wishing themselves out of it already! I say, Sibylla, what did you think of Paris?”
“Oh, Jan, it’s charming! And I have brought the most enchanting things home. You can come upstairs and see them, if you like. Benoite is unpacking them.”
“Well, I don’t know,” mused Jan. “I don’t suppose they are what I should care to see. What are the things?”
“Dresses, and bonnets, and mantles, and lace, and coiffures,” returned Sibylla. “I can’t tell you half the beautiful things. One of my cache-peignes is of filigrane silver-work, with drops falling from it, real diamonds.”
“What d’ye call a cache-peigne?” asked Jan.
“Don’t you know? An ornament for the hair, that you put on to hide the comb behind. Combs are coming into fashion. Will you come up and see the things, Jan?”
“Not I! What do I care for lace and bonnets?” ungallantly answered Jan. “I didn’t know but Lionel might have brought me some anatomical studies over. They’d be in my line.”
Sibylla shrieked—a pretty little shriek of affectation. “Lionel, why do you let him say such things to me? He means amputated arms and legs.”
“I’m sure I didn’t,” said Jan. “I meant models. They’d not let the other things pass the customs. Have you brought a dress a-piece for Deb and Amilly?”
“No,” said Sibylla, looking up in some consternation. “I never thought about it.”
“Won’t they be disappointed, then! They have counted upon it, I can tell you. They can’t afford to buy themselves much, you know: the doctor keeps them so short,” added Jan.
“I would have brought them something, if I had thought of it; I would, indeed!” exclaimed Sibylla, in an accent of contrition. “Is it not a pity, Lionel?”
“I wish you had,” replied Lionel. “Can you give them nothing of what you have brought?”
“Well—I—must—consider,” hesitated Sibylla, who was essentially selfish. “The things are so beautiful; so expensive: they are scarcely suited to Deborah and Amilly.”
“Why not?” questioned Jan.
“You have not a bit of sense, Jan,” grumbled Sibylla. “Things chosen to suit me, won’t suit them.”
“Why not?” repeated Jan, obstinately.
“There never was any one like you, Jan, for stupidity,” was Sibylla’s retort. “I am young and pretty, and a bride; and they are two faded old maids.”
“Dress ’em up young, and they’ll look young,” answered Jan, with composure. “Give ’em a bit of pleasure for once, Sibylla.”
“I’ll see,” impatiently answered Sibylla. “Jan, how came Nancy to go off with the Mormons? Tynn says she packed up her things in secret, and started.”
“How came the rest to go?” was Jan’s answer. “She caught the fever too, I suppose.”
“What Nancy are you talking of?” demanded Lionel. “Not Nancy from here!”
“Oh Lionel, yes! I forgot to tell you,” said Sibylla. “She is gone indeed. Mrs. Tynn is so indignant. She says the girl must be a fool!”
“Little short of it,” returned Lionel. “To give up a good home here for the Salt Lake! She will repent it.”
“Let ’em all alone for that,” nodded Jan. “I’d like to pay an hour’s visit to ’em, when they have been a month in the place—if they ever get to it.”
“Tynn says she remembers, when that Brother Jarrum was here in the spring, that Nancy made frequent excuses for going to Deerham in the evening,” resumed Sibylla. “She thinks it must have been to frequent those meetings in Peckaby’s shop.”
“I thought the man, Jarrum, had gone off, leaving the mischief to die away,” observed Lionel.
“So did everybody else,” said Jan. “He came back the day that you were married. Nancy’s betters got lured into Peckaby’s, as well as Nancy,” he added. “That sickly daughter at Chalk Cottage, she’s gone.”
Lionel looked very much astonished.
“No!” he uttered.
“Fact,” said Jan. “The mother came to me the morning after the flitting, and said she had been seduced away. She wanted to telegraph to Dr. West—”
Jan stopped dead, remembering that Sibylla was present, as well as Lionel. He leaped off the sofa.
“Ah, we shall see them all back some day, if they can only contrive to elude the vigilance of the Mormons. I’m off, Lionel; old Paynton will think I am not coming to-day. Good-bye, Sibylla.”
Jan hastened from the room. Lionel stood at the window, and watched him away. Sibylla glided up to her husband, nestling against him.
“Lionel, tell me. Jan never would, though I nearly teased his life out; and Deborah and Amilly persisted that they knew nothing. You tell me.”
“Tell you what, my dearest?”
“After I came home in the winter, there were strange whispers about papa and that Chalk Cottage. People were mysterious over it, and I never could get a word of explanation. Jan was the worst: he was coolly tantalising, and it used to put me in a passion. What was the tale told?”
An involuntary darkening of Lionel’s brow. He cleared it instantly, and looked down on his wife with a smile.
“I know of no tale worth telling you, Sibylla.”
“But there was a tale told?”
“Jan—who, being in closer proximity to Dr. West than any one, may be supposed to know best of his private affairs—tells a tale of Dr. West’s having set a chimney on fire at Chalk Cottage, thereby arousing the ire of its inmates.”
“Don’t you repeat such nonsense to me, Lionel; you are not Jan,” she returned, in a half peevish tone. “I fear papa may have borrowed money from the ladies, and did not repay them,” she added, her voice sinking to a whisper. “But I would not say it to any one but you. What do you think?”
“If my wife will allow me to tell her what I think, I should say that it is her duty—and mine now—not to seek to penetrate into any affairs belonging to Dr. West which he may wish to keep to himself. Is it not so, Sibylla mine?”
Sibylla smiled, and held up her face to be kissed.
“Yes, you are right, Lionel.”
Swayed by impulse, more than by anything else, she thought of her treasures upstairs, in the process of disinterment from their cases by Benoite, and ran from him to inspect them. Lionel put on his hat, and strolled out of doors.
A thought came over him that he would go and pay a visit to his mother. He knew how exacting of attention from him she was, how jealous, so to speak, of Sibylla’s having taken him from her. Lionel hoped by degrees to reduce the breach narrower and narrower. Nothing should be wanting on his part to effect it: he trusted that nothing would be wanting on Sibylla’s. He really wished to see his mother after his month’s absence: and he knew she would be pleased at his going there on this, the first morning of his return. As he turned into the high road, he met the vicar of Deerham, the Reverend James Bourne.
They shook hands. And the conversation led, not unnaturally, on the Mormon flight. As they were talking of it, Roy, the ex-bailiff, was observed crossing the opposite field.
“My brother tells me the report runs that Mrs. Roy contemplated being of the company, but was overtaken by her husband and brought back,” remarked Lionel.
“How it may have been, about his bringing her back, or whether she actually started, I don’t know,” replied Mr. Bourne, who was a man with a large pale face and iron-grey hair. “That she intended to go, I have reason to believe.”
He spoke the last words significantly, lowering his voice. Lionel looked at him.
“She paid me a mysterious visit at the vicarage the night before the start,” continued the clergyman. “A very mysterious visit, indeed, taken in conjunction with her words. I was in my study, reading by candle-light, when somebody came tapping at the glass door, and stole in. It was Mrs. Roy. She was in state of tremor, like I have heard it said she appeared the night the inquiry was held at Verner’s Pride, touching the death of Rachel Frost. She spoke to me in ambiguous terms of a journey she was about to take—that she should probably be away for her whole life—and then she proceeded to speak of that night.”
“The night of the inquiry?” echoed Lionel.
“The night of the inquiry—that is, the night of the accident,” returned Mr. Bourne. “She said she wished to confide a secret to me, which she had not liked to touch upon before, but which she could not leave the place without confiding to some one responsible, who might use it in case of need. The secret she proceeded to tell me was—that it was Frederick Massingbird who had been quarrelling with Rachel that night by the willow pool. She could swear it to me, she said, if necessary.”
“But—if that were true—why did she not say it at the time?” asked Lionel, after a pause.
“It was all she said. And she would not be questioned. ‘In case o’ need, sir, in case anybody else should ever be brought up for it, tell ’em that Dinah Roy asserted to you with her last breath in Deerham, that Mr. Fred Massingbird was the one that was with Rachel.’ Those were the words she used to me: I dotted them down after she left. As I tell you, she would not be questioned, and glided out again almost immediately.”
“Was she wandering in her mind?”
“I think not. She spoke with an air of truth. When I heard of the flight of the converts the next morning, I could only conclude that Mrs. Roy had intended to be amongst them. But now, understand me, Mr. Verner, although I have told you this, I have not mentioned it to another living soul. Neither do I intend to do so. It can do no good to reap up the sad tale: whether Frederick Massingbird was or was not with Rachel that night; whether he was in any way guilty, or was purely innocent, it boots not to inquire now.”
“It does not,” warmly replied Lionel. “You have done well. Let us bury Mrs. Roy’s story between us: and forget it, so far as we can.”
They parted. Lionel took his way to Deerham Court, absorbed in thought. His own strong impression had been, that Mr. Fred Massingbird was the black sheep, with regard to Rachel.
- A fact.