Part 3 out of 3
Whatever there had hitherto been in the circumstances connected with
Morton, that had roused the interest and excited the romance of Eugenie
de Merville, her fancy was yet more attracted by the tone of the letter
she now read. For though Morton, more accustomed to speak than to write
French, expressed himself with less precision, and a less euphuistic
selection of phrase, than the authors and _elegans_ who formed her usual
correspondents; there was an innate and rough nobleness--a strong and
profound feeling in every line of his letter, which increased her
surprise and admiration.
"All that surrounds him--all that belongs to him, is strangeness and
mystery!" murmured she; and she sat down to reply.
When Madame Dufour departed with that letter, Eugenie remained silent and
thoughtful for more than an hour, Morton's letter before her; and sweet,
in their indistinctness, were the recollections and the images that
crowded on her mind.
Morton, satisfied by the earnest and solemn assurances of Eugenie that
she was not the unknown donor of the sum she reinclosed, after puzzling
himself in vain to form any new conjectures as to the quarter whence it
came, felt that under his present circumstances it would be an absurd
Quixotism to refuse to apply what the very Providence to whom he had anew
consigned himself seemed to have sent to his aid. And it placed him,
too, beyond the offer of all pecuniary assistance from one from whom he
could least have brooked to receive it. He consented, therefore, to all
that the loquacious tailor proposed to him. And it would have been
difficult to have recognised the wild and frenzied fugitive in the
stately form, with its young beauty and air of well-born pride, which the
next day sat by the side of Eugenie. And that day he told his sad and
troubled story, and Eugenie wept: and from that day he came daily; and
two weeks--happy, dreamlike, intoxicating to both--passed by; and as
their last sun set, he was kneeling at her feet, and breathing to one to
whom the homage of wit, and genius, and complacent wealth had hitherto
been vainly proffered, the impetuous, agitated, delicious secrets of the
First Love. He spoke, and rose to depart for ever--when the look and
sigh detained him.
The next day, after a sleepless night, Eugenie de Merville sent for the
Vicomte de Vaudemont.
"A silver river small
In sweet accents
Its music vents;
The warbling virginal
To which the merry birds do sing,
Timed with stops of gold the silver string."
_Sir Richard Fanshawe_.
One evening, several weeks after the events just commemorated, a
stranger, leading in his hand, a young child, entered the churchyard of
H----. The sun had not long set, and the short twilight of deepening
summer reigned in the tranquil skies; you might still hear from the trees
above the graves the chirp of some joyous bird;--what cared he, the
denizen of the skies, for the dead that slept below?--what did he value
save the greenness and repose of the spot,--to him alike the garden or
the grave! As the man and the child passed, the robin, scarcely scared
by their tread from the long grass beside one of the mounds, looked at
them with its bright, blithe eye. It was a famous plot for the robin--
the old churchyard! That domestic bird--"the friend of man," as it has
been called by the poets--found a jolly supper among the worms!
The stranger, on reaching the middle of the sacred ground, paused and
looked round him wistfully. He then approached, slowly and hesitatingly,
an oblong tablet, on which were graven, in letters yet fresh and new,
MEMORY OF ONE CALUMNIATED AND WRONGED
THIS BURIAL-STONE IS DEDICATED
BY HER SON.
Such, with the addition of the dates of birth and death, was the tablet
which Philip Morton had directed to be placed over his mother's bones;
and around it was set a simple palisade, which defended it from the tread
of the children, who sometimes, in defiance of the beadle, played over
the dust of the former race.
"Thy son!" muttered the stranger, while the child stood quietly by his
side, pleased by the trees, the grass, the song of the birds, and reeking
not of grief or death,--"thy son!--but not thy favoured son--thy darling
--thy youngest born; on what spot of earth do thine eyes look down on
him? Surely in heaven thy love has preserved the one whom on earth thou
didst most cherish, from the sufferings and the trials that have visited
the less-favoured outcast. Oh, mother--mother!--it was not his crime--
not Philip's--that he did not fulfil to the last the trust bequeathed to
him! Happier, perhaps, as it is! And, oh, if thy memory be graven as
deeply in my brother's heart as my own, how often will it warn and save
him! That memory!--it has been to me the angel of my life! To thee--to
thee, even in death, I owe it, if, though erring, I am not criminal,--if
I have lived with the lepers, and am still undefiled!" His lips then
were silent--not his heart!
After a few minutes thus consumed he turned to the child, and said,
gently and in a tremulous voice, "Fanny, you have been taught to pray--
you will live near this spot,--will you come sometimes here and pray that
you may grow up good and innocent, and become a blessing to those who
"Will papa ever come to hear me pray?"
That sad and unconscious question went to the heart of Morton. The child
could not comprehend death. He had sought to explain it, but she had
been accustomed to consider her protector dead when he was absent from
her, and she still insisted that he must come again to life. And that
man of turbulence and crime, who had passed unrepentant, unabsolved, from
sin to judgment: it was an awful question, "If he should hear her pray?"
"Yes!" said he, after a pause,--"yes, Fanny, there is a Father who will
hear you pray; and pray to Him to be merciful to those who have been kind
to you. Fanny, you and I may never meet again!"
"Are you going to die too? _Mechant_, every one dies to Fanny!" and,
clinging to him endearingly, she put up her lips to kiss him. He took
her in his arms: and, as a tear fell upon her rosy cheek, she said,
"Don't cry, brother, for I love you."
"Do you, dear Fanny? Then, for my sake, when you come to this place, if
any one will give you a few flowers, scatter them on that stone. And now
we will go to one whom you must love also, and to whom, as I have told
you, _he_ sends you; he who--Come!"
As he thus spoke, and placed Fanny again on the ground, he was startled
to see: precisely on the spot where he had seen before the like
apparition--on the same spot where the father had cursed the son, the
motionless form of an old man. Morton recognised, as if by an instinct
rather than by an effort of the memory, the person to whom he was bound.
He walked slowly towards him; but Fanny abruptly left his side, lured by
a moth that flitted duskily over the graves.
"Your name, sir, I think, is Simon Gawtrey?" said Morton. "I have came
to England in quest of you."
"Of me?" said the old man, half rising, and his eyes, now completely
blind, rolled vacantly over Morton's person--"Of me?--for what?--Who are
you?--I don't know your voice!"
"I come to you from your son!"
"My son!" exclaimed the old man, with great vehemence,--"the reprobate!--
the dishonoured!--the infamous!--the accursed--"
"Hush! you revile the dead!"
"Dead!" muttered the wretched father, tottering back to the seat he had
quitted,--"dead!" and the sound of his voice was so full of anguish, that
the dog at his feet, which Morton had not hitherto perceived, echoed it
with a dismal cry, that recalled to Philip the awful day in which he had
seen the son quit the father for the last time on earth.
The sound brought Fanny to the spot; and, with a laugh of delight, which
made to it a strange contrast, she threw herself on the grass beside the
dog and sought to entice it to play. So there, in that place of death,
were knit together the four links in the Great Chain;--lusty and blooming
life--desolate and doting age--infancy, yet scarce conscious of a soul--
and the dumb brute, that has no warrant of a Hereafter!
"Dead!--dead!" repeated the old man, covering his sightless balls with
his withered hands. "Poor William!"
"He remembered you to the last. He bade me seek you out--he bade me
replace the guilty son with a thing pure and innocent, as he had been had
he died in his cradle--a child to comfort your old age! Kneel, Fanny, I
have found you a father who will cherish you--(oh! you will, sir, will
you not?)--as he whom you may see no more!"
There was something in Morton's voice so solemn, that it awed and touched
both the old man and the infant; and Fanny, creeping to the protector
thus assigned to her, and putting her little hands confidingly on his
"Fanny will love you if papa wished it. Kiss Fanny."
"Is it his child--his?" said the blind man, sobbing. "Come to my heart;
here--here! O God, forgive me!" Morton did not think it right at that
moment to undeceive him with regard to the poor child's true connexion
with the deceased: and he waited in silence till Simon, after a burst of
passionate grief and tenderness, rose, and still clasping the child to
his breast, said--
"Sir, forgive me!--I am a very weak old man--I have many thanks to give--
I have much, too, to learn. My poor son! he did not die in want,--did
The particulars of Gawtrey's fate, with his real name and the various
aliases he had assumed, had appeared in the French journals, had been
partially copied into the English; and Morton had expected to have been
saved the painful narrative of that fearful death; but the utter
seclusion of the old man, his infirmity, and his estranged habits, had
shut him out from the intelligence that it now devolved on Philip to
communicate. Morton hesitated a little before he answered:
"It is late now; you are not yet prepared to receive this poor infant at
your home, nor to hear the details I have to state. I arrived in England
but to-day. I shall lodge in the neighbourhood, for it is dear to me.
If I may feel sure, then, that you will receive and treasure this sacred
and last deposit bequeathed to you by your unhappy son, I will bring my
charge to you to-morrow, and we will then, more calmly than we can now,
talk over the past."
"You do not answer my question," said Simon, passionately; "answer that,
and I will wait for the rest. They call me a miser! Did I send out my
only child to starve? Answer that!"
"Be comforted. He did not die in want; and he has even left some little
fortune for Fanny, which I was to place in your hands."
"And he thought to bribe the old miser to be human! Well--well--well--I
will go home."
"Lean on me!"
The dog leapt playfully on his master as the latter rose, and Fanny slid
from Simon's arms to caress and talk to the animal in her own way. As
they slowly passed through the churchyard Simon muttered incoherently to
himself for several paces, and Morton would not disturb, since he could
not comfort, him.
At last he said abruptly, "Did my son repent?"
"I hoped," answered Morton, evasively, "that, had his life been spared,
he would have amended!"
"Tush, sir!--I am past seventy; we repent!--we never amend!" And Simon
again sunk into his own dim and disconnected reveries.
At length they arrived at the blind man's house. The door was opened to
them by an old woman of disagreeable and sinister aspect, dressed out
much too gaily for the station of a servant, though such was her reputed
capacity; but the miser's affliction saved her from the chance of his
comment on her extravagance. As she stood in the doorway with a candle
in her hand, she scanned curiously, and with no welcoming eye, her
"Mrs. Boxer, my son is dead!" said Simon, in a hollow voice.
"And a good thing it is, then, sir!"
"For shame, woman!" said Morton, indignantly. "Hey-dey! sir! whom have
we got here?"
"One," said Simon, sternly, "whom you will treat with respect. He brings
me a blessing to lighten my loss. One harsh word to this child, and you
quit my house!"
The woman looked perfectly thunderstruck; but, recovering herself, she
"I! a harsh word to anything my dear, kind master cares for. And, Lord,
what a sweet pretty creature it is! Come here, my dear!"
But Fanny shrunk back, and would not let go Philip's hand.
"To-morrow, then," said Morton; and he was turning away, when a sudden
thought seemed to cross the old man,--
"Stay, sir--stay! I--I--did my son say I was rich? I am very, very
poor--nothing in the house, or I should have been robbed long ago!"
"Your son told me to bring money, not to ask for it!"
"Ask for it! No; but," added the old man, and a gleam of cunning
intelligence shot over his face,--"but he had got into a bad set. Ask!--
No!--Put up the door-chain, Mrs. Boxer!"
It was with doubt and misgivings that Morton, the next day, consigned the
child, who had already nestled herself into the warmest core of his
heart, to the care of Simon. Nothing short of that superstitious
respect, which all men owe to the wishes of the dead, would have made him
select for her that asylum; for Fate had now, in brightening his own
prospects, given him an alternative in the benevolence of Madame de
Merville. But Gawtrey had been so earnest on the subject, that he felt
as if he had no right to hesitate. And was it not a sort of atonement to
any faults the son might have committed against the parent, to place by
the old man's hearth so sweet a charge?
The strange and peculiar mind and character of Fanny made him, however,
yet more anxious than otherwise he might have been. She certainly
deserved not the harsh name of imbecile or idiot, but she was different
from all other children; she felt more acutely than most of her age, but
she could not be taught to reason. There was something either oblique or
deficient in her intellect, which justified the most melancholy
apprehensions; yet often, when some disordered, incoherent, inexplicable
train of ideas most saddened the listener, it would be followed by
fancies so exquisite in their strangeness, or feelings so endearing in
their tenderness, that suddenly she seemed as much above, as before she
seemed below, the ordinary measure of infant comprehension. She was like
a creature to which Nature, in some cruel but bright caprice, has given
all that belongs to poetry, but denied all that belongs to the common
understanding necessary to mankind; or, as a fairy changeling, not,
indeed, according to the vulgar superstition, malignant and deformed, but
lovelier than the children of men, and haunted by dim and struggling
associations of a gentler and fairer being, yet wholly incapable to learn
the dry and hard elements which make up the knowledge of actual life.
Morton, as well as he could, sought to explain to Simon the peculiarities
in Fanny's mental constitution. He urged on him the necessity of
providing for her careful instruction, and Simon promised to send her to
the best school the neighbourhood could afford; but, as the old man
spoke, he dwelt so much on the supposed fact that Fanny was William's
daughter, and with his remorse, or affection, there ran so interwoven a
thread of selfishness and avarice, that Morton thought it would be
dangerous to his interest in the child to undeceive his error. He,
therefore,--perhaps excusably enough--remained silent on that subject.
Gawtrey had placed with the superior of the convent, together with an
order to give up the child to any one who should demand her in his true
name, which he confided to the superior, a sum of nearly L300., which he
solemnly swore had been honestly obtained, and which, in all his shifts
and adversities, he had never allowed himself to touch. This sum, with
the trifling deduction made for arrears due to the convent, Morton now
placed in Simon's hands. The old man clutched the money, which was for
the most in French gold, with a convulsive gripe: and then, as if ashamed
of the impulse, said--
"But you, sir--will any sum--that is, any reasonable sum--be of use to
"No! and if it were, it is neither yours nor mine--it is hers. Save it
for her, and add to it what you can."
While this conversation took place, Fanny had been consigned to the care
of Mrs. Boxer, and Philip now rose to see and bid her farewell before he
"I may come again to visit you, Mr. Gawtrey; and I pray Heaven to find
that you and Fanny have been a mutual blessing to each other. Oh,
remember how your son loved her!"
"He had a good heart, in spite of all his sins. Poor William!" said
Philip Morton heard, and his lip curled with a sad and a just disdain.
If when, at the age of nineteen, William Gawtrey had quitted his father's
roof, the father had then remembered that the son's heart was good,--the
son had been alive still, an honest and a happy man. Do ye not laugh, O
ye all-listening Fiends! when men praise those dead whose virtues they
discovered not when alive? It takes much marble to build the sepulchre--
how little of lath and plaster would have repaired the garret!
On turning into a small room adjoining the parlour in which Gawtrey sat,
Morton found Fanny standing gloomily by a dull, soot-grimed window, which
looked out on the dead walls of a small yard. Mrs. Boxer, seated by a
table, was employed in trimming a cap, and putting questions to Fanny in
that falsetto voice of endearment in which people not used to children
are apt to address them.
"And so, my dear, they've never taught you to read or write? You've been
sadly neglected, poor thing!"
"We must do our best to supply the deficiency," said Morton, as he
"Bless me, sir, is that you?" and the gouvernante bustled up and dropped
a low courtesy; for Morton, dressed then in the garb of a gentleman, was
of a mien and person calculated to strike the gaze of the vulgar.
"Ah, brother!" cried Fanny, for by that name he had taught her to call
him; and she flew to his side. "Come away--it's ugly there--it makes me
"My child, I told you you must stay; but I shall hope to see you again
some day. Will you not be kind to this poor creature, ma'am? Forgive
me, if I offended you last night, and favour me by accepting this, to
show that we are friends." As he spoke, he slid his purse into the
woman's hand. "I shall feel ever grateful for whatever you can do for
"Fanny wants nothing from any one else; Fanny wants her brother."
"Sweet child! I fear she don't take to me. Will you like me, Miss
"No! get along!"
"Fie, Fanny--you remember you did not take to me at first. But she is so
affectionate, ma'am; she never forgets a kindness."
"I will do all I can to please her, sir. And so she is really master's
grandchild?" The woman fixed her eyes, as she spoke, so intently on
Morton, that he felt embarrassed, and busied himself, without answering,
in caressing and soothing Fanny, who now seemed to awake to the
affliction about to visit her; for though she did not weep--she very
rarely wept--her slight frame trembled--her eyes closed--her cheeks, even
her lips, were white--and her delicate hands were clasped tightly round
the neck of the one about to abandon her to strange breasts.
Morton was greatly moved. "One kiss, Fanny! and do not forget me when we
The child pressed her lips to his cheek, but the lips were cold. He put
her down gently; she stood mute and passive.
"Remember that he wished me to leave you here," whispered Morton, using
an argument that never failed. "We must obey him; and so-God bless you,
He rose and retreated to the door; the child unclosed her eyes, and gazed
at him with a strained, painful, imploring gaze; her lips moved, but she
did not speak. Morton could not bear that silent woe. He sought to
smile on her consolingly; but the smile would not come. He closed the
door, and hurried from the house.
From that day Fanny settled into a kind of dreary, inanimate stupor,
which resembled that of the somnambulist whom the magnetiser forgets to
waken. Hitherto, with all the eccentricities or deficiencies of her
mind, had mingled a wild and airy gaiety. That was vanished. She spoke
little--she never played--no toys could lure her--even the poor dog
failed to win her notice. If she was told to do anything she stared
vacantly and stirred not. She evinced, however, a kind of dumb regard to
the old blind man; she would creep to his knees and sit there for hours,
seldom answering when he addressed her, but uneasy, anxious, and
restless, if he left her.
"Will you die too?" she asked once; the old man understood her not, and
she did not try to explain. Early one morning, some days after Morton
was gone, they missed her: she was not in the house, nor the dull yard
where she was sometimes dismissed and told to play--told in vain. In
great alarm the old man accused Mrs. Boxer of having spirited her away,
and threatened and stormed so loudly that the woman, against her will,
went forth to the search. At last she found the child in the churchyard,
standing wistfully beside a tomb.
"What do you here, you little plague?" said Mrs. Boxer, rudely seizing
her by the arm.
"This is the way they will both come back some day! I dreamt so!"
"If ever I catch you here again!" said the housekeeper, and, wiping her
brow with one hand, she struck the child with the other. Fanny had never
been struck before. She recoiled in terror and amazement, and, for the
first time since her arrival, burst into tears.
"Come--come, no crying! and if you tell master I'll beat you within an
inch of your life!" So saying, she caught Fanny in her arms, and,
walking about, scolding and menacing, till she had frightened back the
child's tears, she returned triumphantly to the house, and bursting into
the parlour, exclaimed, "Here's the little darling, sir!"
When old Simon learned where the child had been found he was glad; for it
was his constant habit, whenever the evening was fine, to glide out to
that churchyard--his dog his guide--and sit on his one favourite spot
opposite the setting sun. This, not so much for the sanctity of the
place, or the meditations it might inspire, as because it was the
nearest, the safest, and the loneliest spot in the neighbourhood of his
home, where the blind man could inhale the air and bask in the light of
heaven. Hitherto, thinking it sad for the child, he had never taken her
with him; indeed, at the hour of his monotonous excursion she had
generally been banished to bed. Now she was permitted to accompany him;
and the old man and the infant would sit there side by side, as Age and
Infancy rested side by side in the graves below. The first symptom of
childlike interest and curiosity that Fanny betrayed was awakened by the
affliction of her protector. One evening, as they thus sat, she made him
explain what the desolation of blindness is. She seemed to comprehend
him, though he did not seek to adapt his complaints to her understanding.
"Fanny knows," said she, touchingly; "for she, too, is blind here;" and
she pressed her hands to her temples. Notwithstanding her silence and
strange ways, and although he could not see the exquisite loveliness
which Nature, as in remorseful pity, had lavished on her outward form,
Simon soon learned to love her better than he had ever loved yet: for
they most cold to the child are often dotards to the grandchild. For her
even his avarice slept. Dainties, never before known at his sparing
board, were ordered to tempt her appetite, toy-shops ransacked to amuse
her indolence. He was long, however, before he could prevail on himself
to fulfil his promise to Morton, and rob himself of her presence. At
length, however, wearied with Mrs. Boxer's lamentations at her ignorance,
and alarmed himself at some evidences of helplessness, which made him
dread to think what her future might be when left alone in life, he
placed her at a day-school in the suburb. Here Fanny, for a considerable
time, justified the harshest assertions of her stupidity. She could not
even keep her eyes two minutes together on the page from which she was to
learn the mysteries of reading; months passed before she mastered the
alphabet, and, a month after, she had again forgot it, and the labour was
renewed. The only thing in which she showed ability, if so it might be
called, was in the use of the needle. The sisters of the convent had
already taught her many pretty devices in this art; and when she found
that at the school they were admired--that she was praised instead of
blamed--her vanity was pleased, and she learned so readily all that they
could teach in this not unprofitable accomplishment, that Mrs. Boxer
slyly and secretly turned her tasks to account and made a weekly
perquisite of the poor pupil's industry. Another faculty she possessed,
in common with persons usually deficient, and with the lower species--
viz., a most accurate and faithful recollection of places. At first Mrs.
Boxer had been duly sent, morning, noon, and evening, to take her to, or
bring her from, the school; but this was so great a grievance to Simon's
solitary superintendent, and Fanny coaxed the old man so endearingly to
allow her to go and return alone, that the attendance, unwelcome to both,
was waived. Fanny exulted in this liberty; and she never, in going or in
returning, missed passing through the burial-ground, and gazing wistfully
at the tomb from which she yet believed Morton would one day reappear.
With his memory she cherished also that of her earlier and more guilty
protector; but they were separate feelings, which she distinguished in
her own way.
"Papa had given her up. She knew that he would not have sent her away,
far--far over the great water, if he had meant to see Fanny again; but
her brother was forced to leave her--he would come to life one day, and
then they should live together!"
One day, towards the end of autumn, as her schoolmistress, a good woman
on the whole, but who had not yet had the wit to discover by what chords
to tune the instrument, over which so wearily she drew her unskilful
hand--one day, we say, the schoolmistress happened to be dressed for a
christening party to which she was invited in the suburb; and,
accordingly, after the morning lessons, the pupils were to be dismissed
to a holiday. As Fanny now came last, with the hopeless spelling-book,
she stopped suddenly short, and her eyes rested with avidity upon a large
bouquet of exotic flowers, with which the good lady had enlivened the
centre of the parted kerchief, whose yellow gauze modestly veiled that
tender section of female beauty which poets have likened to hills of
snow--a chilling simile! It was then autumn; and field, and even garden
flowers were growing rare.
"Will you give me one of those flowers?" said Fanny, dropping her book.
"One of these flowers, child! why?"
Fanny did not answer; but one of the elder and cleverer girls said--
"Oh! she comes from France, you know, ma'am, and the Roman Catholics put
flowers, and ribands, and things, over the graves; you recollect, ma'am,
we were reading yesterday about Pere-la-Chaise?"
"Well! what then?"
"And Miss Fanny will do any kind of work for us if we will give her
"My brother told me where to put them;--but these pretty flowers, I never
had any like them; they may bring him back again! I'll be so good if
you'll give me one, only one!"
"Will you learn your lesson if I do, Fanny?"
"Oh! yes! Wait a moment!"
And Fanny stole back to her desk, put the hateful book resolutely before
her, pressed both hands tightly on her temples,--Eureka! the chord was
touched; and Fanny marched in triumph through half a column of hostile
From that day the schoolmistress knew how to stimulate her, and Fanny
learned to read: her path to knowledge thus literally strewn with
flowers! Catherine, thy children were far off, and thy grave looked gay!
It naturally happened that those short and simple rhymes, often sacred,
which are repeated in schools as helps to memory, made a part of her
studies; and no sooner had the sound of verse struck upon her fancy than
it seemed to confuse and agitate anew all her senses. It was like the
music of some breeze, to which dance and tremble all the young leaves of
a wild plant. Even when at the convent she had been fond of repeating
the infant rhymes with which they had sought to lull or to amuse her,
but now the taste was more strongly developed. She confounded, however,
in meaningless and motley disorder, the various snatches of song that
came to her ear, weaving them together in some form which she understood,
but which was jargon to all others; and often, as she went alone through
the green lanes or the bustling streets, the passenger would turn in pity
and fear to hear her half chant--half murmur--ditties that seemed to suit
only a wandering and unsettled imagination. And as Mrs. Boxer, in her
visits to the various shops in the suburb, took care to bemoan her hard
fate in attending to a creature so evidently moon-stricken, it was no
wonder that the manner and habits of the child, coupled with that strange
predilection to haunt the burial-ground, which is not uncommon with
persons of weak and disordered intellect; confirmed the character thus
given to her.
So, as she tripped gaily and lightly along the thoroughfares, the
children would draw aside from her path, and whisper with superstitious
fear mingled with contempt, "It's the idiot girl!"--Idiot--how much more
of heaven's light was there in that cloud than in the rushlights that,
flickering in sordid chambers, shed on dull things the dull ray--esteeming
themselves as stars!
Months-years passed--Fanny was thirteen, when there dawned a new era to
her existence. Mrs. Boxer had never got over her first grudge to Fanny.
Her treatment of the poor girl was always harsh, and sometimes cruel.
But Fanny did not complain, and as Mrs. Boxer's manner to her before
Simon was invariably cringing and caressing, the old man never guessed
the hardships his supposed grandchild underwent. There had been scandal
some years back in the suburb about the relative connexion of the master
and the housekeeper; and the flaunting dress of the latter, something
bold in her regard, and certain whispers that her youth had not been
vowed to Vesta, confirmed the suspicion. The only reason why we do not
feel sure that the rumour was false is this,--Simon Gawtrey had been so
hard on the early follies of his son! Certainly, at all events, the
woman had exercised great influence over the miser before the arrival of
Fanny, and she had done much to steel his selfishness against the ill-
fated William. And, as certainly, she had fully calculated on succeeding
to the savings, whatever they might be, of the miser, whenever Providence
should be pleased to terminate his days. She knew that Simon had, many
years back, made his will in her favour; she knew that he had not altered
that will: she believed, therefore, that in spite of all his love for
Fanny, he loved his gold so much more, that be could not accustom himself
to the thought of bequeathing it to hands too helpless to guard the
treasure. This had in some measure reconciled the housekeeper to the
intruder; whom, nevertheless, she hated as a dog hates another dog, not
only for taking his bone, but for looking at it.
But suddenly Simon fell ill. His age made it probable he would die. He
took to his bed--his breathing grew fainter and fainter--he seemed dead.
Fanny, all unconscious, sat by his bedside as usual, holding her breath
not to waken him. Mrs. Boxer flew to the bureau--she unlocked it--she
could not find the will; but she found three bags of bright gold guineas:
the sight charmed her. She tumbled them forth on the distained green
cloth of the bureau--she began to count them; and at that moment, the old
man, as if there were a secret magnetism between himself and the guineas,
woke from his trance. His blindness saved him the pain that might have
been fatal, of seeing the unhallowed profanation; but he heard the chink
of the metal. The very sound restored his strength. But the infirm are
always cunning--he breathed not a suspicion. "Mrs. Boxer," said he,
faintly, "I think I could take some broth." Mrs. Boxer rose in great
dismay, gently re-closed the bureau, and ran down-stairs for the broth.
Simon took the occasion to question Fanny; and no sooner had he learnt
the operation of the heir-expectant, than he bade the girl first lock the
bureau and bring him the key, and next run to a lawyer (whose address he
gave her), and fetch him instantly.
With a malignant smile the old man took the broth from his handmaid,--
"Poor Boxer, you are a disinterested creature," said he, feebly; "I
think you will grieve when I go."
Mrs. Boxer sobbed, and before she had recovered, the lawyer entered.
That day a new will was made; and the lawyer politely informed Mrs. Boxer
that her services would be dispensed with the next morning, when he
should bring a nurse to the house. Mrs. Boxer heard, and took her
resolution. As soon as Simon again fell asleep, she crept into the room-
led away Fanny--locked her up in her own chamber--returned--searched for
the key of the bureau, which she found at last under Simon's pillow--
possessed herself of all she could lay her hands on--and the next morning
she had disappeared forever! Simon's loss was greater than might have
been supposed; for, except a trifling sum in the savings bank, he, like
many other misers, kept all he had, in notes or specie, under his own
lock and key. His whole fortune, indeed, was far less than was supposed:
for money does not make money unless it is put out to interest,--and the
miser cheated himself. Such portion as was in bank-notes Mrs. Boxer
probably had the prudence to destroy; for those numbers which Simon could
remember were never traced; the gold, who could swear to? Except the
pittance in the savings bank, and whatever might be the paltry worth of
the house he rented, the father who had enriched the menial to exile the
son was a beggar in his dotage. This news, however, was carefully
concealed from him by the advice of the doctor, whom, on his own
responsibility, the lawyer introduced, till he had recovered sufficiently
to bear the shock without danger; and the delay naturally favoured Mrs.
Simon remained for some moments perfectly stunned and speechless when the
news was broken to him. Fanny, in alarm at his increasing paleness,
sprang to his breast. He pushed her away,--"Go--go--go, child," he
said; "I can't feed you now. Leave me to starve."
"To starve!" said Fanny, wonderingly; and she stole away, and sat
herself down as if in deep thought. She then crept up to the lawyer as
he was about to leave the room, after exhausting his stock of commonplace
consolation; and putting her hand in his, whispered, "I want to talk to
you--this way:"--She led him through the passage into the open air.
"Tell me," she said, "when poor people try not to starve, don't they
"My dear, yes."
"For rich people buy poor people's work?"
"Certainly, my dear; to be sure."
"Very well. Mrs. Boxer used to sell my work. Fanny will feed grandpapa!
Go and tell him never to say 'starve' again."
The good-natured lawyer was moved. "Can you work, indeed, my poor girl?
Well, put on your bonnet, and come and talk to my wife."
And that was the new era in Fanny's existence! Her schooling was
stopped. But now life schooled her. Necessity ripened her intellect.
And many a hard eye moistened,--as, seeing her glide with her little
basket of fancy work along the streets, still murmuring her happy and
bird-like snatches of unconnected song--men and children alike said with
respect, in which there was now no contempt, "It's the idiot girl who
supports her blind grandfather!" They called her idiot still!