Page images



was, but his was the ill-luck not of circumstance, but of character, the most fatal of any.

With secret irritation and discontent, he now read those sheets of foolscap, pregnant with golden promises, none of which could be fulfilled for him. “ Even if I had the money, something would come to cross it all,” was his bitter thought; “ and I have not got it; and that fool, who cannot know this thing will answer—or he would not have come to me-will reap all the benefit.'

“Well,” anxiously said Captain George, who had been sucking the head of his cane for the last five minutes.

“ Well,” said Mr. Ford, pushing away the papers with an impatient sigh, “it looks well, but I will have nothing to do with it."

Captain George's face fell.

“ Then you don't think well of it,” he said, taking up the papers.

“Oh! yes, I do; but just leave me these for a day or som I had better look at them again.”

Captain George obeyed with great alacrity ; then, suddenly looking uneasy,

“ I say, Ford, fair play ; don't invest, and not tell me: fair play-eh?» • If you

talk of fair play, I shall begin and suspect something,” said Mr. Ford, sharply ; "I have already told you I shall not invest.”

Captain George poured himself out a glass of rum, shook his head, rose, and walked out. Mr. Ford saw him to the door. On the last step, Captain George turned round, and nodding with what looked very like drunken solemnity, he said, with much emphasis :

“Deep, Ford, deep-devilishly deep," and walked away.



MR. FORD closed the door on his visitor; then going to the head of the kitchen stairs, he asked, in a subdued tone,

“ Susan, are the boys ready to go and see their mother ?”

The boys ha' been and adone all sorts of mischief, sir," shortly answered Susan, appearing on the stairs, and speaking in the same key; “ whilst I opened the door to the strange gentleman, one ate the tart, and the other the pigeon, that was for

[ocr errors]

missus's dinner. They're worse than cats, them boys——they are!"

Mr. Ford had a pimple on his forehead, which he always scratched in cases of difficulty. He now recurred to it with a look more perplexed than indignant.

“I am afraid the poor fellows are often hungry,” sighed Mr. Ford : "you must get something else, Susan.”

“ I told missus the cat had done it. God forgive me all the stories I do tell in this house. And she said 'never mind.''

"Well, that is all right; is it not ? ”

“Why, no, sir, it ain't. The cat made me bring in Mary Ann, and what do you think missus is up to now? Why, she wants Mary Ann


stairs." Now Mary Ann was a fiction, the myth of the household, and this was a most inconvenient wish, as Mr. Ford's lengthened face expressed. “I put it off

, saying Mary Ann was ill in bed,” pursued Susan; “ but that is not all, missus wishes for fruit. Now, sir, Covent-garden is not far off: but I put it to you, sir, can I get cherries at this time of the year ?”

Perhaps hot-house grapes would do," suggested Mr. Ford, looking deeply perplexed.

Perhaps they will,” doubtfully said Susan ; "and perhaps they will not; but that ain't all. Missus wants an organ.”

"A harmonium, you mean; well--perhaps I can get one on hire.”

But when Mr. Ford looked round his wretched home, when he remembered his debts and his downhill name, he wondered who would be so fool-hardy as to trust him with an instrument.

“ Perhaps an accordion would do,” said Susan, looking sagacious; “organs are only fit for churches."

But Mr. Ford shook his head. His wife had been an accomplished musician, and none but a first-rate instrument would answer her.

“ God help me!” he exclaimed, distractedly; “it will be all out if she does not get that harmonium, and it will break her heart, Susan, it will break her heart, not for herself, but for the boys and me."

Tears stood in his eyes, and Susan looked sorely troubled, but the accordion had exhausted her short stores of comfort.

“Well,” said Mr. Ford, with a deep sigh," I must put her

[ocr errors]

off for a while; and say I am promised one. Tell the boys to dress, and come to me, Susan, and then I'll see.”

Alas! “ I'll see,” was an old phrase, and Susan knew it but too well. “I'll see " had often paid Susan's wages, and been the final settlement of many a bill; but “I'll see” had never wrought any substantial good. “ And if she counts on “I'll see, for her organ,” thought Susan, as she went up-stairs, “she'll wait long enough.'

Poor Mr. Ford remained absorbed in perplexing meditations. Froin whom could he borrow ?—what could he sell to get that harmonium for his wife?

“Decidedly she is getting better," he thought; “for once she could bear no noise, and now she wants to make a noise that will fill the house. She is getting better, that is one comfort."

“ The boys are ready, sir,” whispered Susan, on the stair



“Have they got on their shoes, Susan ?”

They have, sir.”

“ Mind you stay outside, and make them take their things off at once, Susan.”

“ No fear of it, sir.”

And, Susan, tell Robert to give them a talking about the tart and the pigeon. They mind him more than they do me.

Susan nodded grimly, and Mr. Ford softly went up the staircase. The three boys were standing on the landing. Their faces were washed; their hair was brushed ; their attire was neat and clean. Their father gave them a scrutinizing glance, then opening the drawing-room door, he signed them to enter. They obeyed, in silence. He followed them on tiptoe, and closed the door with so much care, that it made not the least noise.

The drawing-room of Mr. Ford's house offered a very striking contrast to the squalid parlour below. Here time had stood still; the seven years during which the lower regions had lost the rule of the mistress of the house and gone to chaos, had left no trace of their passage up-stairs. Mrs. Ford's drawingroom looked as quiet, as decorous as when it had been closed on visitors and guests seven years before. Like its tenant, it was melancholy and faded, a token of better times, when life was young and hope had her day; but the furniture, if not as fresh, was as good as new; a carpet that would still wear many years --for who ever trod on it-spread its faded roses on the floor.

The dark velvet curtains seemed to have been just hung by the upholsterer, in their heavy, precise folds on either side of the yellow blinds that were kept rigidly closed; for the invalid could not bear even the mild light of Queen Square. Everything had the same fixed and subdued aspect. The tables were set exactly in their places; the chairs seemed to belong to the walls, where they had grown old-fashioned, unused. The pictures, mere family portraits, were shrouded in thick coverings, from the weary gaze of the sick lady; the very looking-glass over the cold and dreary fireplace was veiled with a half-transparent tissue, through which it reflected, in dim outlines, the gloomy furniture, but gave back no distinct image to the look of Mrs. Ford. Books, woman's work, graceful trifles were absent from this melancholy apartment, where all spoke of a painful stillness—of a life suddenly and prematurely checked in its flow, and nothing more so than the calm motionless figure of Mrs. Ford herself, as she sat in her chair-with closed eyes

and clasped hands, her head bent, her figure wrapped in a long, loose dark robe, like a monastic garment.

Mrs. Ford was one of those fair women with chiselled features full of repose, who even in the inevitable decay of health and youth, suggest great past beauty. Nature had given her the smooth Grecian forehead, the straight nose, and exquisite lips of the Venus of Milo. She had also bestowed on her the noble neck, the stately figure of that immortal image of woman's majestic loveliness; and though time and disease had done their work, though pain had contracted the brow, though the large blue eyes had grown cold and vacant, though the lips were pale and the cheeks colourless, and the wasted figure had learned to stoop, that subtle part of beauty which survives the bloom and the full outlines of youth still lingered over all.

For the last seven years, ever since the birth of her youngest child, Mrs. Ford had not left the first floor, where we now find her. Visitors—few though they were were never admitted to her presence. She had no near relatives in England; and her complaint, a nervous one, required absolute rest. Her children saw her rarely, and then in silence. Susan and Mr. Ford alone spoke to her.

Mr. Ford considered his wife's long and mysterious illness one of the many sorrows of his lot, and not without cause. She had been, though he knew it not, the good genius of his life; and it was since her withdrawal from its concerns that it had sunk into the slough of Despond. Since then the furniture had got broken, and Mr. Ford's coat greasy and shabby ; since then he had deserted his chambers, and muddled over grog at home; since then the children had grown up lawless, and bills had accumulated ; and nothing had

gone well from the day when the firm though gentle mind which had ruled the household and influenced its master, had been conquered by insidious disease.

“My dear!” whispered Mr. Ford ; " the children!”

Mrs. Ford looked up. A faded smile passed across her lips. She gazed at the three boys; she embraced the youngest first, then William, then Robert. Then she looked at them again.

“Do they study well ?" she asked of her husband.

“ Admirably ; indeed," coolly continued Mr. Ford, who had kept his children at home for a week through his own inability to pay for their schooling, and the schoolmaster's decided reluctance to trust him any longer—"indeed I am looking out for a tutor for them, and I think- .." What other invention Mr. Ford was going to indulge in, we cannot say; but it suddenly occurred to him that this school of deceit might not be the best for his children to listen to, and he abruptly added, “Have they not been long enough here, my dear?"

Mrs. Ford nodded assent, and the three boys left the room, to Mr. Ford's infinite relief. He was always on thorns lest they should“ let out something,” to use his own words. He closed 'the door upon them, and came back to his wife; he sat down by her side. She shut her eyes. She could look at her children, but the sight of any other face was distasteful to her, especially so was that of her husband.

Theirs had been a love-match. At twenty-three Alicia Nor ton was what men call “a splendid creature,” and women correctively " a very fine girl.” She had ten thousand pounds, and suitors for her hand abounded. Some were titled, many prosperous-John Ford, a poor struggling lawyer, was preferred. He was then a handsome man of twenty-seven, but his weak nether lip, his vacillating look, and the irritable cast of his features, would have warned away a wiser woman. Alicia saw the kindness of his glance and smile and took it for goodness. She heard the confident assertions, the resentful protests of a vain man, and she took them for the aspirations and susceptibility of a man of ambition and strong character. Mr. Ford was neither; he had talent, honesty, and buoyant hopes, but little more. One of his first acts was to invest his wife's ten thousand pounds in a speculation that promised well, but from which wise men soon withdrew. Mr. Ford disregarded, or received with complacent

« PreviousContinue »