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A MADDENING BLOW.
BY MRS. ALEXANDER FRASER, AUTHOR OF 'GUARDIAN AND LOVER,' HER PLIGHTED TROTH,' 'ONLY A FACE,'
DENISON'S WIFE,' 'FAITHLESS,' ETC.
A WOMAN WITH A HISTORY. A DILAPIDATED lodging-house, situ- something deeper yet, and sharpated in a purlieu of Liverpool. ened with wild apprehension. Squalor and rags and pallid cheeks, ' Janet,' the voice whispered flaunting vice, tinsel tawdry, and hoarsely, 'mind, I am out if it's for painted faces without; fierce wrest- me-have moved from here-gone lings with fortune, hard battles with miles and miles away—or dead ! wolfish hunger, a crushing burden Better that-better that! O God, of human misery within-a place if it were but true ! to which not even God's blessed The girl Janet did not hear the sunshine seemed to lend a gleam last words, for they died out in a of brightness.
sort of faint dreary wail; but she A sharp peal came at the bell — was evidently familiar with the mysone of those sharp startling pealsterious signals over the bannisters, that make the human heart leap for she assumed a 'stupid-knowing' up with a vague dread of ill,—so look, and put a coarse plump red sharp and so loud that the sound finger to her nether lip before she brought at once a large indolent opened the door. girl-whose supine indifference it The woman up-stairs darted required a good deal to ruffle-into meanwhile back into her own room, the narrow passage that served for succumbing to an impulse that a hall. She was the best-recog- bade her hide like a criminal or a nised type we have of that hope- thief-to cower out of reach of the lessly-aggravating mixture of sulki- cruel myrmidons of the law that ness, stubbornness, and uncleanli- she supposed to be hunting her ness yclept 'maid-of-all-work.' down; but anxiety to learn the * Janet! Janet !
worst was keener even than the The creature gave a sluggish miserable heart - sickening dread. glance over a ponderous shoulder, So back she stole on tiptoe to the and saw a face looking over the head of the rickety stairs, and bent crazy bannister—the haggard anxi- over, listening with bated breath. ous face of a woman past middle The door was wide open. A age, and furrowed with care, if not cart stood before it, and a surly,
visaged bull-headed man was bring- Jehu eyed her, then the money, ing some heavy object up the stairs. grimly.
* Janet ! Janet ! tell the man to I have no small change about bring it up here,' cried the woman, me--nothing under a five-pound with a curious tremolo of pleasure note,' she said, in a low nervous running through her thin voice; 'I voice, flushing crimson at the falseknow it is for me.'
hood, and dropping her purse into 'It's for you, sure enough, mum.
her pocket. It's written here, “Mrs. Keane, The man muttered something 15 Beacon Street," in a child's under his breath; then, turning on round hand. Now, man, it isn't his heel, walked off, leaving the so remarkable heavy for a big fourpenny-bit and a villanous odour strong fellow like you. Take it of cheap tobacco behind him. up-stairs.'
Mrs. Keane crept to the window “How far is it going ?'
and watched him drive away, as if Right up to the very top of the she could not feel thoroughly safe house.
until he was fairly out of sight. The man puffed, panted, and Then she ran to her door, and, grunted. Then up he went, his carefully bolting it, took out of an heavy footfall resounding on the old deal box a shabby leathern carpetless stairs as he followed the letter-case. With a pair of scissors owner of the chair up, up into an she hastily unripped one side of attic.
this, and pulling out a thick sheet Here, after depositing his bur- of paper, scanned the printed conden, and wiping his moist forehead, tents with eager eyes. he waited, twirling his greasy cap
Dark-brown hair, fair skin,' she round and round in his brawny
muttered half aloud. “No, no; hand, and casting several con- they wouldn't recognise them now. temptuous looks on his surround- Thank God, thank God!' And ings, including the pale meek-faced she peered into a dim mirror. woman standing before him, in her “These gray hairs and sallow lustreless well-worn garments, and wrinkled face are my best friends with an unmistakably tawdry cap after all.' crowning the iron-gray bands of With shaking fingers she put back her still luxuriant hair.
the paper into its hiding - place, The lady—for she was a lady by stitched up the leather case, flung birth and education, notwithstand- it into the old deal box, and, turning plenty of marks of ill-usage re- ing towards the newly-arrived chair, ceived on the arena of life-hesi- fell upon her knees beside it. tated; then she took out a small She laid her white cheek tenderly portemonnaie, and, half turning her against the faded cushion, as if it back on the man, peeped furtively were a living thing, and moaned into it.
the while piteously, like a poor You have not been paid the wounded beast that had dragged carriage of that?' she questioned itself back to some secure thicket with a falter.
which it had never hoped to reach 'Yes, mum; I have been paid again. for bringing it here; but they didn't It was but an old mean-looking count them steep stairs.'
bit of furniture after all, fit, in its She drew a deep breath of satis- utter worthlessness of appearance, faction; then, taking a fourpenny for a lumber-room; but it was piece from her meagre purse, held broad and comfortable, notwithit out.
standing that the rich amber silk that had once rendered it a re- ""Oh, little things bring back to me splendent affair was frayed and
The thoughts of bygone hours,
The lowing kine upon the lea, stained beyond redemption.
The murmur of the mountain bee, One castor too was gone, and
The scent of hawthorn flowers ! the chair leaned sideways as Mrs.
Could those days but come again,
With their thorns and flowers, Keane pressed her cheek down I would give the hopes of years upon it, as though it were trying
For those bygone hours." hard to edge away from her, just And I would, I would! But they'll as all the friends of prosperous never come again-never, so long days had done.
as I live! So better if I were dead, After a while she raised her as the world thinks me. O God, head, and, still kneeling on the if it were but true!' attic-floor, surveyed her possession While she worked, with the tears with a ghost of a smile.
streaming down her face, the girl So this, of all I had, has come Janet had descended to the kitchen, back to me!' she murmured. 'I where her mistress was busy superinnever expected the poor folkswould tending and cleaning. have returned it, for gratitude is a “Who was that who came ?' she rare thing in this weary world. asked, pausing in her labours. Suppose it had been a bill, or the ‘Only a cart with a chair for police!'
Mrs. Keane.' She turned whiter even yet, then A chair! I wish a cart would laughed out a little bitter laugh as bring her money to pay her rent the thought came to her. She had with!' ejaculated the angry lodgingbeen so hunted down, with her house keeper, giving a violent and wild apprehensions and with hungry vicious tug to the blind she was creditors, that at last the chase had dusting. Mrs. Keane has been become a torturing interest even to paying me with fine promises long its victim, just as all the wily cun- enough, and promises don't keep ning and energy of the fox are put folk in clover. There's some one forth when the merciless whelping fiddling at the area-gate.' hounds press to the death.
Janet ascended the steps at a She arose at length, and stoop- snail's pace, and undid the latch ing over, fell to examining the arm- with a petulant gesture, her blowsy chair with compassionate eyes. hair scattered by the wind in rugged
'Poor thing, poor thing! It has odds and ends, her physiognomy had very hard usage too--like me. shining up unpleasantly from the I wish the castor had not been lost. effects of soft-soap and unwonted It looks like a wretched helpless locomotion. cripple without it.'
A tiny blue-eyed child, who did She went to a cupboard, and not appear to be more than ten fetching a basket, melancholy in its years of age, but who was in reality past splendour of beads and floss- past thirteen, tripped gently by her silk, reseated herself on the floor, with a basket on her arm-a rough and commenced darning the frayed wicker-basket, that was quite an amber cover, smoothing it gently omnium gatherum of utility-pins, with her palm, and touching it needles, tapes, and bobbins. caressingly, as fond mothers caress "We don't want none,' remarked the heads of their children ; and Janet tartly. as she patiently darned the yawn. 'Oh, yes, but you do. Where's ing rents, the pallid harassed-look- your missus ?' ing woman crooned, rather than And on she ran ahead, as blithe sang, in a low sad voice,
and bright as a bird-a sweet little,
fair-haired, winsome girl that talked Theatre to take him back after he like a grown-up woman.
-a-well—no matter about that. 'I know you want something, Shema'am. She said you didn't; but I ‘How did you know she was know better. It is over a fortnight here?' since I was here. How many 'I went up-stairs one day to the papers of pins ?
lodgers to ask if they had any old I never saw such a pushing dresses for sale, and through a chink little creature as you are, Nell Wes- of the door I saw Mrs. Keane sitton. We have plenty of pins left.' ting there.'
• But I shall not come again for "Yes, I daresay. No cat in the ever so long. There, I think three street makes so familiar with a papers will do. And a hand like house as you do, Nell.' a doll's was held out for payment. “Why not, ma'am? You all know
The lodging-housekeeper looked me round here-everybody knows at her in comical surprise ; but the me. No one shuts the door upon child refused to understand it. me, or hides away the silver when
‘Oh, you can have more if you I come in.' like,' she said—'lots of them left.' Have you sold things to Mrs.
'I don't want more,' Mrs. Wil- Keane? cox answered, laughing; 'I only 'Sold, no! I would like to give take these to get rid of you.' her everything ; but she wouldn't "Yes, I know—twopence more,
take it. She is a real lady, every if you please, ma'am. What is that inch of her.' ' shining on the floor? Oh, I know; Well, I wish she was lady it's the little brass wheel that's fallen enough to pay what she owes out of my basket, and belongs to the lady up-stairs.'
The child set down her basket, What lady up-stairs ?'
and going quite close up to the Why, Mrs. Keane, to be sure- woman, peered into her hard face a real, real lady—that was so good with wide - open startled eyes of and kind to my mother. I have curiosity and interest. told you about that, haven't I?' “How much does she owe you, • Not you.'
ma'am-how much ? "Well, then, I will—no, I won't, What's that to you? Somefor there's no use in chattering, where about five pounds or so.' ma'am ; but that lady is an angel- Nell recoiled visibly, while her good as gold; and anybody might face fell. She took up her basket, be proud in having her in the and went towards the door; then house.'
she returned, and said suddenly, ' And how came you to know with a sort of panic in her voice, anything about her ?
Five pounds! Did you really How? She came to our place mean that, ma'am ?' when nobody else troubled about “Yes, I did; and I mean someus. The old pastor told her about thing else too!' us. She sent that nice cosy
chair * What's that?' for
my sick mother, and never To have my money, to be sure asked for it again, nor told us where every blessed farthing of it. Real to send it; and it is two years ladies are no better than sham ones agone. She
gave father money to when they don't pay their honest buy a violin—a real Cremona, that debts. Where are you off to ?' speaks like a live creature; and *Up-stairs, to give Mrs. Keane she got the manager of the Prince's her little wheel.'
'Mind, not a word of what I voice, when the child laid her hand have said.'
on the chair, and looked up into "Of course not, ma'am.'
Mrs. Keane's face with such earnest Mrs. Keane was still singing in wistful gratitude. her low sad tone, and leaning over 'I am glad, very glad, if anyher armchair, drawing her needle thing I did made your poor sick in and out of the broken silk, when mother more comfortable; but it a gentle knock sounded at the was very little.' door.
*Very little, was it, ma'am? Didn't Gentle as that knock was, it you give her everything? Didn't fairly drove a quick grayish pallor you get father's place back after across the poor thin cheeks, and the manager had turned him off, made the busy hands fall nerve- and give him money to buy the lessly down. For a moment or two violin he loved so well, after it the door remained closed and had gone clean out of his hands? bolted. At last it opened slowly, Didn't you, oh, didn't you buy the just a few inches.
prettiest shadiest corner for her 'I have brought the little wheel, to sleep in? O ma'am, I wish I ma'am ; it will make it stand could die for you—I would! I straighter,' said Nell, in a quiet would ! humble voice.
Mrs. Keane looked at her for a Mrs. Keane gave a start, and moment in surprise. Then a great the blood came flying back to her quiver of disturbed feeling swept face.
over her features. Nell! Nell Weston ! is it you? Don't cry, little Nell; it makes Come in. How is your father get- me feel like a child again ; and I ting on? What have you got there am growing old-old ! Don't make -something to sell ?"
a baby of yourself—about nothing 'Nothing fit for you, lady,' Nell too ! answered, hastily drawing a corner * Please to excuse me, ma'am,' of her little shawl over her basket. sobbed Nell, wiping her eyes
"Oh, yes, I must take something.' violently with her white apron. And Mrs. Keane, from simple habit, 'I don't cry very often ; ask father drew out her purse; but she grew
if I do. Haven't made such a scarlet as she remembered how baby of myself since she said empty that purse was.
“Good-bye, my little Nell;" and Then you won't sell me any- now I have gone and done it for thing? Very well; next time I you. Please just let me wipe my will not let your basket pass,' she eyes, and forgive me.' said nervously, lowering her lids She dried her tears vigorously; beneath the keen anxious look then she lifted the corner of her that spoke volumes in the childish apron to Mrs. Keane's cheek, and
tenderly brushed away one or two 'I hope—oh, I hope the chair drops that glittered there. was not much spoilt, ma'am! We The action seemed to touch the tried hard to keep it nice; but she poor woman to the heart; and was so long sick, and loved to sit throwing her arms over the head in it all the time. I can see her in of the armchair she bowed down it now, ma'am, with her poor white her face upon them, and burst into face leaning against the silk-just a passion of weeping that fairly here !
frightened the child. There were tears in the soft blue *O Heaven! Of all that I have eyes, and tears in the little broken helped, of all that I have cared for,