HOLIDAYS AT THE SEA-SIDE.
IT was very
evident to us all how much Frances felt the interference of Caroline
with the affection of her little favourite. The more so this was
felt, no doubt, because its motives were not understood by her,
though she knew that Mrs. Merton was coming home, and that she was a
friend of Caroline's friends. She had not been present at the
conversation in which Caroline had shown very plainly (as I thought)
that her neglect of the little child might have unpleasant
consequences; and that Mrs. Merton, instead of supposing that she
had shown any neglect, imagined that she had devoted herself to May
with more than necessary kindness.
But Caroline was now steadily advancing in little May's good graces,
and a coolness had gradually come on between Frances and herself,
which she was far from wishing to ascribe to the real cause; on the
contrary, she affected to believe that she felt a natural resentment
against Frances for having made a caricature of her, in which she
had represented her as an old bathing woman; and for having
encouraged little May to call her Miss 'Quarius, which she sometimes
did still, that being her version of 'Aquarius.' Now there was
no question that it was the 'mental improver' who had taught little
May this refined piece of wit; and as they always laughed at her
when she said it, the child naturally thought herself very clever,
and often applied it to Caroline, laughing exceedingly at the same
time, as if she had understood her joke, which unquestionably she
did not. But it happened occasionally that little May, when
she was in a saucy humour, would apply this name to Frances; and
once when she did so, Frances looked annoyed, and said to us, 'I
wish you would not teach the child these nicknames; I don't think
you have any right to make her apply them to me I never "throw cold
water" on your pleasures.'
'Why, Frances,' said one of us, whom I will not name, for
a reason I have (as an Irishman would say), that name was never
meant for you: how can you affect to think it was?'
'For whom, then, was it meant?' asked Frances, composedly.
'For Caroline, of course,' was the surprised reply; 'but we
thought that you, of all persons, knew for whom it was meant; we
always thought that you made that caricature.'
'I!' exclaimed Frances, amazed; 'so far from making it, I did
not even see it. You never showed it to me, and as there
seemed to be always some laughing and whispering about it whenever I
asked any questions, I always thought it must be a caricature of
Here was a new light thrown on the subject. 'I was
always surprised when I considered that you had done it,' I
observed, 'because it seemed so unlike you: but who did it, then?
No one in the house besides can draw so well as that face of
Caroline is done; and indeed no one else in the house can make
'Let me look at it,' said Frances. The drawing was
produced; and Frances, after looking at it attentively, said, with
evident surprise: 'This head of Caroline is unquestionably my doing.
I remember now she was sitting at her French exercise when I drew
it, and I missed it, for I had intended to add the figure; but when
I looked over my folio the next day, it was not there.' Here,
then, was a deepening of the mystery; and what school-girl does not
love a mystery? 'The remainder of the drawing,' continued
Frances, 'has been added by another hand a person who draws in a
better and bolder style than I do, and who has used quite a
different kind of pencil.'
'But none of us can draw in a better and bolder style than
you do,' observed one of our number; 'and besides, here are the four
'I can hardly call them likenesses,' said Frances 'they are
drawings of four extremely pretty girls, about the ages of you four,
and one of them is smaller than the others, and has very large dark
eyes; that one is meant for Sophia.' She went on with her
examination: 'One of them has long curly hair, and wears a watch;
that one is meant to indicate Belle; but the features bear no
resemblance to her whatever.'
Belle looked disappointed; we had flattered ourselves that
these faces did bear some resemblance to us, and it was mortifying
that a judge of drawing should pronounce otherwise.
'I do not believe this drawing was made in the house at all,'
proceeded Frances; 'there is no one here who could do it, excepting
one of the masters, and that is not to be thought of.'
'Where was it done then?' said Belle.
'Indeed, I cannot say,' replied Frances; 'but it has
evidently been folded, just as it might have been if it had been
sent somewhere in a letter: some people in the house write a great
Now there was no one in the room but ourselves and Miss Ward;
and she was sitting with her back to us, writing a letter. She
was the most impassive and tranquil of mortals; she was going to
leave us in a fortnight; and she seldom mixed in any of our
amusements or conversations. She now, however, was heard to
laugh; and when Frances said, 'Some people write a great many
letters,' she replied, 'Some people have married sisters.'
'Yes, I know,' said Frances, laughing, and thinking she was
only accounting for the number of letters she wrote. But when
she added, 'Some people have brothers-in-law, who can draw in a
better and bolder style than Miss Black does,' we all looked at one
'It would be a very great satisfaction to us to know
something about this said drawing,' observed Belle. 'It would,
particularly to Frances, because Caroline makes her supposed
authorship of it an excuse for quarrelling with her; at least, she
'Yes, I am sorry to hear that,' replied Miss Ward, who was
still writing; 'I thought that drawing had been quite forgotten, not
having heard it mentioned for weeks till to-day.''
'Well, as I said before,' continued Frances, 'it would be a
great satisfaction to know something about it.'
Miss Ward laid down her pen and wiped it, and put it in its
place, and composedly shut her desk, and then she turned half round
on her chair, and said, 'So it would be, no doubt, Frances; but only
think what a pretty little mystery it would spoil utterly spoil
a mystery that has amused and excited these girls for a quarter of a
year at least.'
She laughed, and her usually pale face had a slight glow, as
she continued: 'I have been treated with great neglect in the
affair. Not one of you even asked me if I had anything to do
with it; I was the only girl in the house that you passed over.'
'How could we possibly guess that you knew anything of it?'
Miss Ward laughed again, and said, 'Very complimentary that
speech; however, you will admit that the caricature has accomplished
its mission; you have endured scarcely any petty persecution, since
I pinned that paper on Caroline's curtain.' And
while we all stood looking at her in breathless surprise, she
continued: 'Now hear your mystery pulled to pieces: I found that
drawing of Caroline's head on the floor, and thinking it was thrown
there as rubbish to be swept away, I adopted it. I write a
good many letters, as you have said, and I often amuse my sister
with accounts of what goes on here. One day I wrote a
particular description of your amusing, and I must say, absurd
society; and Tom, my brother-in-law, asked me what Caroline was
like, as I described her as the chief persecutor. So I sent
him the drawing, and a few days after came that caricature, which he
only sent as a joke, and which I pinned on Caroline's curtain.
But now I find it is doing harm; so I shall certainly tell Caroline
the whole affair the first opportunity.' She had scarcely done
speaking when Caroline came in, and Miss Ward, turning to her, said,
'I understand, Carry, that you do not feel friendly with Frances,
because you believe she made this drawing.'
Caroline coloured, and said, 'No; she could not but think it
was not kind of Frances to have done it, and in consequence of that
she never could love her.'
'You have no other reason for not being friendly with her?'
asked Miss Ward, composedly.
'None whatever,' replied Caroline, incautiously.'
'Then,' said Miss Ward, 'I hope to see you reconciled.
Frances did not make that drawing my brother Tom did, and I pinned
it on your curtain so please to transfer your resentment to me,
Now Miss Ward was taking the matter so very coolly, that it
seemed no use to quarrel with her, and the very angry colour that
mounted to Caroline's temples, and the mortification expressed in
every line of her speaking features, seemed less to result from the
discovery that Miss Ward was the guilty person, than that Frances
was not; for when the girls exclaimed that after this striking dιnouement,
it was quite essential that there should be a scene, and that the
parties ought to fall into one another's arms and be reconciled,
weeping and vowing eternal friendship, and when they seized upon
Caroline, and pushed her towards Frances, the latter made a step or
two forward, evidently intending to kiss her; but Caroline attempted
to disengage herself, and reddening with confusion and annoyance,
said there had never been any quarrel between her and Frances, and,
therefore, there could be no need of a reconciliation, especially a
public one. Upon this, Frances hastily drew back; she seemed
to feel it almost an insult that Caroline should show such evident
dislike to the simple kiss she proffered; and when Miss Ward, coming
up to her, said, 'I hope you will kiss me instead, Frances, for I
have unintentionally caused you a great deal of discomfort,' she did
as requested, and then, turning hastily, went out of the schoolroom,
and ran up-stairs in a great hurry.
Miss Ward, who, with all her matter-of-fact quietude, was by
no means destitute of knowledge of character, looked unutterable
things as she observed Caroline walking about the room fanning
herself, and trying to be cool, and to subdue the outward expression
of her annoyance; but the younger pupils coming in, and beginning to
set out the drawings and easels in preparation for our
drawing-master, she did not say anything.
'Frances has not finished her drawing,' said one of them, as
she put out the folio which contained Miss Black's beautiful heads:
'May, go up and tell Miss Christiana that it only wants ten minutes
to Mr. W.'s time, and ask her if she remembers that she is not
Little May had just entered the school-room when this was
said, and she shook her head, and laying a doll's apron upon the
floor, began carefully to fold it up, saying, as she did so, 'My
Miss Chris-tiana Frances sent me down, and said she did not wish to
be disturved.' When the small garment was neatly
pressed into a very tight little square between May's hands, she
looked up and said, simply, 'I shan't ask my Miss Chris-tiana
Frances to cut me out my doll's cap now I shall ask Massey,
because my Miss Chris-tiana Frances is crying.'
'But she must come down in ten minutes,' said Miss Ward; 'do
run to her, Sophia; remind her of the lesson, and take her my
rose-water for her eyes.' I accordingly ran up and knocked at
Frances's door; she certainly was shedding tears, and how much I
regretted my promise to Caroline that I would not mention anything
that had passed between us on the day of our quarrel, when Frances
said to me: 'If I could understand Caroline, I should not be so much
vexed. I had, of course, observed her feelings towards me, and
her trying to deprive me of little May; and now that I seem to have
arrived at a motive for this dislike, and she is shown that it is
utterly unjust, she shrinks from me with absolute repugnance; it is
evident that her thinking me the contriver of that drawing is not
the real reason of her dislike to me; I often think she must
consider me a kind of rival; but I certainly have no wish to rival
her in anything.'
I could only answer to all this: 'Talk to Miss Ward, dearest
Frances; I think she understands Caroline better than any of us;'
and then the lesson-bell ringing, we both went down into the
It then wanted about a fortnight to the holidays, but I was
not looking forward to them with so much pleasure as usual, because
my parents being abroad, I was to be left with Madame. So many
of my school-fellows were in the same case, that there would be no
want of companionship, and, on the whole, we expected to enjoy
ourselves very well, for Madame, with her family, was going to stay
at the seaside, and we, of course, were to accompany her. We,
therefore, did not make a grief of the necessity of thus remaining
away from home, though, as I said before, we looked forward to the
holidays with less enthusiasm than usual.
Those of us who were to remain with Madame were Miss
1'Estrange and Belle, Caroline, Frances, little May, myself, and the
school-fellow whom I have before mentioned, without divulging her
name; also Madame's two little girls, and two little French girls,
cousins of theirs.
I have often thought, since leaving school, when reflecting
on the many excellent qualities of Madame, that she was the most
superior woman on the whole that I have ever been privileged to meet
with. It was not only her remarkable uprightness and openness
in little things that made us so comfortable with her, it was not
only her wonderful insight into character that was such a safeguard
to us, making us so sure that in the long-run she would certainly
understand us and do us justice, but she was so completely above
those little arts which some of her craft condescend to. She
had such a genial disposition, and so sincerely loved to make her
young people happy, that we trusted to her more implicitly and felt
more at ease (when we had nothing to conceal) under her scrutinizing
eyes, than we could have done with many a person with a more tender
heart, and who would have ruled us with a slacker hand. She
never, in the least, shrank from her position as a school-mistress,
and would often say: 'This is my school, and you are my
scholars; you are at school, ladies, and you are not to respect me
merely as a gentlewoman, but as your mistress.' I need not say
that this was a strikingly different speech to what many ladies in
her position would have uttered. 'I have been so many years at
school,' we were taught to say, instead of, 'I have been so many
years at Madame's,' or, 'so many years at the Willows.'
But Madame had another quality for which we were all
grateful: a parent or friend of certain pupils sometimes came to
stay a few days; and when this was the case, those particular pupils
were never extolled at the expense of the others, nor made out to be
particularly interesting to Madame, nor at all more kindly treated
than usual. No new-comer had to complain, that after her
mother or guardian was gone, Madame did not make so much of her, or
allow her so much liberty as at first. The consequence was,
that we all thoroughly respected our 'Mistress;' and when she said
to us at the commencement of the holidays: 'Now, young ladies, you
who remain with me may consider yourselves not as my pupils, but
during the next six weeks as my guests,' we so thoroughly believed
her at her word, that we felt like guests, and could talk to her
with a freedom that at other times we never should have ventured to
assume for a moment.
The holidays came: we saw the other girls drive away, and
were a little sorry at first; but then there was the sea-side to
look forward to, and there were the stories of Miss l'Estrange and
Belle to listen to respecting bygone holidays, for they had spent
many at school, and declared that they had been delightful.
We got up the morning after the other pupils had left with a
curious sense of freedom. In Madame's own parlour the
breakfast cloth was spread, and there being no teachers, Madame
herself made tea, and after breakfast she asked if some of us would
like to go over to the town in the pony carriage, and make some
purchases for her. Of course some of us did like, and she
requested the others to come into the green-house and help her
there; so we had a very sociable and delightful morning, Madame
telling us amusing stories of French society, and the school she had
herself attended when a little girl.
Dear, good woman, how kind she was to us! and how we did
enjoy ourselves during the packing, at which we all assisted; and
then set off in two post-chaises for the sea-side, enjoying the
thoughts of this change the more because we had been told that the
place we were going to was not a town nor even a village, but a
solitary hotel, standing alone by the sea, with no other house
within half a mile; so that we could dress as we liked, and delight
in the rustic country round with a freedom that one cannot feel at a
The chaise in which I travelled contained Madame's little
girls in the rumble [Ed. ―
archaic use: 'A seat for servants behind the body of a carriage'],
and Caroline, Frances, and little May inside. I should have
liked the journey very much but for Caroline's unfriendly conduct to
Frances; for to the latter Madame had specially intrusted May; and
Caroline, seeming to be jealous, appeared determined to tempt and
incite the child to such behaviour as should do no credit to
Frances's utmost care. Now she would offer her fruit, and when
Frances reminded her that it was a forbidden luxury, she argued that
a little would not hurt her; and when the child, seeing it all the
time, naturally begged for it, Caroline seemed to yield, and said,
'Yes, she should have it, if Frances would let her.' Frances
said no, and the child having been allowed to see it, and hope for
it, not unnaturally began to cry. Caroline, upon this, ought
to have abstained from it herself, that the little creature might
not see it; on the contrary, she not only ate the apricots that she
had brought with her, but, at the first market-town we came to,
bought some tempting green-gages, and again renewed the subject by
asking if a few ripe plums could 'possibly hurt the poor child.'
The poor child, upon thus hearing her claims so pathetically
set forth, listened with eager interest to a second dialogue between
Frances and Caroline as to the propriety of her having any; and when
it was decided against her, she was very cross, cried again, and
said Frances was a cross lady, and she would not sit on her knee.
Thereupon Caroline took her; and of course Frances could not be
pleased, particularly as by her injudicious comforting and
condoling, she made the child extremely troublesome, and entirely
took away the pleasure of our drive.
It was six o'clock in the evening when we first caught sight
of the sea; we were coming towards it through a perfectly level
pastoral country; the rich fields were filled with white flocks and
herds, with spreading and particularly formidable-looking horns.
There were few hedges; the land being very damp, was drained by deep
ditches, which served to enclose the wide open pastures, and thus we
had two vast plains within our view that of the land and that of
the water, the one diversified here and there by a white sail, the
other by a brown steeple. Now this prospect does not sound
beautiful, yet it certainly possessed a solemn and peculiar grandeur
of its own: over sea and land alike we could see the shadows of the
clouds chasing each other, and the desert greenness of the latter
was here and there enlivened and spotted by flocks, just as the
uniform purple of the other was by whirling sea-birds. A bank,
about ten feet high, divided the two elements; the landward side was
riddled with rabbit-holes, and gay with heather and broom; against
the seaward side shoals of shells had been flung by the waves, and a
reach of soft sand stretched out to the edges of the curling water.
We stopped at the door of the large solitary house, and
forgot our discomforts for the moment. Madame ordered tea, and
we were all too hungry not to wish to enjoy it. We stood at
the bay window of the upper parlour, where we were to take this
meal, delighting in the view of the sea; and I remember, though I
did not pay much attention to it at the time, that I heard a
conversation going on between the civil landlady and Madame, by
which it appeared that for that night the house was so extremely
full that we could not have the bed-rooms ordered for us; and in
fact, as we had come a day earlier than we were expected, this was
no real hardship. Madame said she supposed they would
accommodate us as well as possible, and the landlady withdrew, with
many curtseys. We then drank tea. Massey came in, and
said that unless some of the young ladies slept on sofas in the
sitting-rooms, she did not see how all were to be accommodated; she
also spoke of beds on the floor. Madame seemed annoyed, and
said she must go and inspect the rooms; at the same time, she gave
us all leave to go out on to the shore, which we did in high glee,
and I have a vivid recollection now of that walk, though, for
awhile, I almost forgot it in the exciting recollections of the
events that followed it.
THE TREASURE IN DANGER.
IN consequence of
the crowded state of the house, our boxes had all been taken for the
night into a small parlour on the ground and here we assembled to
dress for the shore, while Massey, after the manner of confidential
servants, grumbled about the crowd in the house, and at the notion
that any of her young ladies should come to this.
'Coming to this' meant, sleeping for that night on beds made
up on the floors of dressing-rooms; beds having no curtains, and not
being decked with the blue or pink rosettes that so lavishly adorned
our pretty couches at the Willows. I must do us the justice to
say, that we were very indifferent to the matter, and were glad to
get out on the shore: Madame having given the little girls into the
care of the elder ones, and sent us alone, to that safest of safe
places, a level sea-shore on a calm and fine day.
How delightfully fresh was the feeling of that evening!
The water was within a few feet of the steps of the house: a very
high tide, we were told, for it was the full of the moon. We
walked on the broad sand-bank, watching the gambols of the rabbits,
and picking up shells. The children were in the highest
possible spirits. As usual, little May had been enticed away
from Frances, with whom she was walking, by Caroline, and I
accordingly took her place; Frances and I walking on before the
others, for their somewhat boisterous merriment destroyed to our
minds the delightful peacefulness of the scene.
The girls descended the bank, and began to collect a little
heap of shells on the sand. Frances and I sat down on the
bank, through which a few bluish heads of grasses thrust themselves
up. The sun, now about to set, gave a ruddy edge to the tiny
waves, and to the sails of one solitary vessel, whose slow progress
we were watching. Frances was evidently pleased with this
singular prospect, for the level country on the landward side lay
stretched before us, and all the splendour of sea-thrift, salt
lavender, broom, heath, and rest-harrow pressing up the bank to our
We were silently enjoying the scene, when little May's voice,
in its naughtiest tone, arrested our attention. 'Let me alone,
Miss Baker; I won't I won't.'
Frances turned quickly. Caroline had hold of May's arm,
and was trying to hold her back; May was fighting, struggling, and
crying, in the most passionate manner. When Caroline saw that
we were observing her, she let go of May, who, darting to Frances,
flung herself on to her lap, sobbing, and sullenly exclaiming, 'That
she wanted to come to her Miss Chris-tiana Frances.'
'And who wants to prevent you, you tiresome child?' said
Caroline, coming up. 'I am sure it is no sinecure to have to
watch you: it is quite impossible to keep you out of mischief.'
'You are not good,' said Frances to May; 'how came you to be
'She will not keep away from the water's edge,' said
Caroline; 'and the consequence is, a wave came over her feet.
I told her several times that it would be the case.'
'You should not have let go her hand,' said Frances in
French, 'if you have no control over her.'
May sobbed and pouted her pretty little sulky mouth, making
an impatient gesture, as if resenting Caroline's anger.
'You often said on other days that you wouldn't tell,' she
exclaimed to Caroline; 'you said if I was naughty, my Miss Chris-tiana
Frances shouldn't know.'
Caroline was very anxious to stop this communication, but was
not in time. Lest any more should be said, she now began to
make friends again with little May, and produced some sugar-plums
that seemed to be favourably received.
'We must go home,' said Frances; 'the child's feet are so
'I don't want to go home,' replied the little girl; 'I want
to get some more shells.'
'Oh! sea-water never gives cold,' replied Caroline; and while
Frances continued to advocate a return to the house, Caroline kept
coaxing little May towards herself with many sweet looks and loving
gestures, till at last the child slipped from Frances, and Caroline
ran off with her, and left us alone once more.
'Now what must we think of Caroline?' said Frances to me.
'Is it not wrong of her to do all she can to make that child
naughty? She has stolen May away from me, not that she may
possess her, but that I may not. I do love that little
creature; it is very painful to me to be deprived of her, and to see
her deteriorate so greatly under Caroline's rule.'
'If you ask what I think,' I answered, with some heat, 'I
think Caroline is a thief, and I have said so to her more than
'Well,' sighed Frances, 'I could part with my little treasure
with less pain, if it was for her own good that she was enticed
And now even Caroline said it was time to go in, and we set
off for the house, reaching it just after sunset. I do not
remember the arrangements made about the sleeping apartments further
than this, that either Frances or Caroline was to sleep in a
farmhouse about half a mile inland; Massey being also accommodated
'Very well, then,' said Caroline; 'I will keep May to-night,
and Frances shall go to the farm-house; Madame, it appears, has left
this open to us.' Madame was then upstairs with her own little
Upon this a civil dispute took place between Caroline and
Frances, both wishing to have May, and the former also wishing to
escape the farmhouse.
Massey observed that Miss May ought, of course, to remain
behind, and she would take the liberty of putting her to bed at
once. This could not be gainsaid; so the matter rested between
the two disputants only. At last Caroline, as usual,
triumphed. She asked little May, already sleepy and laid on
her pillow, which of them should sleep with her; and she, overcome
by the coaxing voice, and dazzled by the prospect of a change, said,
Poor little May, and poor Caroline!
So Frances set off to the farm-house with Massey, and very
shortly we all went to bed.
Now I have before mentioned a little parlour on the
ground-floor where all our boxes were standing. That was the
bedroom appointed for Miss l'Estrange and me; a press-bed had been
introduced, and Madame, having seen us both comfortably ensconced
therein, left the room; but presently opened the door again, and
desired me to get out of bed, lock the door inside, and take out the
key. I did so, laying the key on the dressing-table, and
peeping out for a moment at the beautiful calm sea, lying still
under the broad moon. Her beams had made a wide, gleaming,
silvery path across the sea, and in it nothing was visible but the
vessel that we had seen during our walk: she had cast anchor, and
her spars and rigging were all lighted up by the moon.
I got into bed again. I noticed that the curtain did
not quite hang straight, for we could see the water as we lay awake;
but we did not trouble ourselves about that, for we were both
sleepy, and in a very little time we were in the land of dreams.
I do not know how long I had been asleep, when dreamt that a
very small black snake was sitting on the bed, and that every now
and then she opened her mouth and hissed. It was a soft noise:
Hissshisss; but it was so much more distinct than most
noises heard in dreams, that at last I woke, and was quite relieved
to find that the little black snake was not there.
I felt frightened still, and feverish, and in order to
reassure myself after this disturbing dream, I sat up in bed, and,
drawing the curtain still more aside, looked out upon the quiet sea.
But such a sight met my astonished gaze, that I at once forgot the
hissing snake, and all my soul was in my eyes. The moon was
gone down; but across the water lay a long path of light, precisely,
as it seemed to me, such a path as she had made, only that this path
was not silver, but of a rosy hue. Beautiful, beautiful sight!
I lay looking at it like one enchanted: every moment, as it seemed
to me, that rosy path became wider and ruddier. What could it
be? There were no northern lights in the sky to cast that
vivid reflection, and the vessel that lay in its midst at anchor
could have nothing to do with it: it seemed to come from behind the
house. Certainly it was behind me; and as its fitful splendour
widened and quickened on the edges of the breaking waves, I was just
about to wake Miss l'Estrange to look at it, when, louder, clearer,
and more terrific by far than the noise that had awoke me from my
dream, I heard the little black snake again:
Hissshissshisss, and at the same instant, a light puff
of white smoke came warm against my cheek, and I sprang from the bed
screaming, 'Wake up, Miss l'Estrange, wake, wake; the house is on
She presently woke, and for a few bewildering seconds we ran
helplessly about the room, then tried the lock, which, thanks to
Madame's care, which perhaps saved our lives, we could not open.
We then rushed to the window, to find the key; but air was
indispensable, for the smoke sifted in fast. We flung open the
French window, and ran out across the narrow pavement on to the
sand, that we might breathe freely, and then we fell on our knees,
and looked up at the house, crying aloud, to think of those that
were within it. There we saw the cause of the great reflection
on the water; a high chimney at the back of the house was on fire;
it had, doubtless, already set fire to the beams. The roaring
of the wind that fed it was like thunder, and the dancing, joyous,
exultant shoots of flame that it sent up, reached so high that they
seemed as if they would scorch the very stars. It was hot even
at that distance; so hot, that we wondered what it must be inside;
and like the troubled remembrance of a fever dream, I remember our
rushing about, flinging stones at the doors and windows, and crying
to Madame and to our schoolfellows by their names.
It could not have been many seconds that we did this. A
shout came from the water behind us, and turning, we beheld a boat
full of sailors; they were rowing straight along that fearful but
splendid pathway; they had come from the vessel, and were within an
oar's length of the beach. They pushed the boat ashore, the
sea was almost as calm as a lake, and forming two abreast, six
resolute-looking men, they marched up to the burning house.
During the moment that this was passing, how much that house was
changed! Every window was open; men, women, and children,
awake and frantic, were rushing up and down in the verandahs, to
find some means of descending, and were crying and stretching out
their arms, imploring help, and declaring that the staircase was on
It was a very high building, and the two upper storeys were
constructed of wood; each had a long verandah, but the upper one had
no communication with the lower, and neither with the ground.
I remember that these sailors had each a coil of rope on his arm,
and that as they walked up to the house, they cheered.
I remained, as if frozen with terror, to see what would
follow; and Miss l'Estrange sat down on the sand, covered her face
with her hands, and sobbed out her sister's name. A long low
wing ran out from one side of the house; two of the sailors were on
its roof in a very little time, and they were trying to fling up a
rope to the people above. I saw this rope fall down five
times, and I heard the fire roaring at the back, and the sparks
crackling downs in cataracts. At length it was caught by a
child, securely tied to the verandah, and then, oh frightful sight!
I saw a sailor climbing up it.
Up that giddy height, sometimes touching a projection with
his foot, sometimes swinging in mid air, from the length of the rope
and the impossibility of its being held stretched by his comrades,
but at last he was up and climbing over the wooden railings.
Another sailor was upon the rope; the first had dashed into the
house, which was all illuminated from within, and so hot that the
papers were shrinking and peeling off the walls, and the noise and
the smoke, and the showers of burning papers, woven fabrics, and
other light materials, were covering us and the whole shore, and
hissing in the water behind.
I saw that first sailor come out, and in his arms a large
basket; it seemed to be a clothes-basket; he and another sailor were
tying ropes to this basket, while the unfortunate people were
clinging to one another, moaning and lamenting. Then I saw a
sailor seize upon a little child, and begin to tie it into this
basket and I thought the frightful sight of all my school-fellows,
and the other people, sent from such a height in such a manner, I
could scarcely look at and live. I turned sick with fear;
there was a dreadful impossibility of standing still, or of looking.
Where could I hide? Nowhere but in the room that we had left,
and rather than see that terrific sight, I rushed into it.
It was glowing hot, but there were no flames, and the smoke
of the burning part of the house seemed drawn up by the draught of
the great flames, so that this storey was quite clear. It was
the great chimney that had set the place on fire above, and all the
upper rooms were now burning, having been set alight by the
cataracts of sparks that had poured down the chimneys.
I stood there an instant, relieved of my terror, and then my
eyes fell on the boxes. Any kind of action at such a moment
would be a great relief: I thought I would push them out of the
room, and tumble them on to the sand; for I remembered that the
sufferers above were only clothed in their night garments. So
I began with frantic eagerness to move out the lightest of these
boxes, and my recollection is very confused of what followed, though
I have an impression that a sailor and a woman came and helped me;
also, that more sailors had landed from the vessel, and that
children with bare feet were running about on the sand. I can
then remember being again on the shore, possessed with a frantic
terror of seeing that basket, but always occupied; sometimes tearing
the clothing and the shoes from these boxes, and tumbling them
farther from the house; sometimes catching a screaming child as it
ran past me, and forcibly clothing it, fitting shoes on to all sorts
of feet, and dealing out shawls, gowns, and railway wrappers, to the
ladies. Many things passed before me like changes in some
frightful vision, lighted up by a fire so bright that it seemed to
shine not only upon us, but through us; Caroline was by me, cut and
bleeding about the face, while some people were going to carry her
away; a great log was burning at my feet; some sailors were by me;
and while I was tying shawls on many shoulders, they were wildly
cheering that every living soul was saved. Madame was by me,
frantic about her numerous charge, madly beating her breast, and
crying after her children; and as for me, I had become cold as a
stone, and a strange persuasion began to get the better of me that
the whole scene was unreal.
Upon this I said to myself that I would venture to look at
the house again; and what a sight it was when I did! The whole
upper storeys were burning away, blowing away, and melting away.
Rafters white as snow were breaking off, and noiselessly falling in
flakes all among us and over us. The sea, the sand, and the
air were filled and covered with light morsels of charred wood,
paper, chintz, and canvas: burning brands were jerked out to the
water's edge; some still alight were floating out to sea; and though
not a breath of air stirred, excepting round the house, the draught
of the flames was so great that the light sand blew along towards it
as it does in a high wind.
Presently there was a cry that the front would shortly fall,
and all the people, but our own party, rushed away towards a
boat-house, that lay some roods to the left.
Two or three sailors were persuading Madame to follow, but
she would not: she still cried that her children were not all found.
I was uneasy, for I had not seen little May; but when I asked about
her, Madame herself assured me that she was safe.
I do not know what was the matter with the girls but their
excitement was so great that they could not remain quiet; one or two
were almost always missing among other groups, and some remained
wildly running up and down without any apparent object.
I heard the sailors saying, that if they could not get the
children counted over, they could not be sure that all were there;
and then I heard them state, that they would put us into their boat
and push off, so that we could not get away.
I was, no less than my companions, in a curious state of
mind, and I remember laughing aloud, as I saw the sailors running
after them, catching them one after the other, and putting them into
the said boat, which they had left under the charge of one of their
number, who kept it, with its gradually increasing freight, a few
yards from the shore; it approached to receive the passengers.
When we were all in, it became evident to Madame that none were
missing, excepting poor Caroline, who was hurt, and had been taken
to the farm-house inland. So she thankfully followed, and we
sat staring at the burning house, not now more than half its former
We were partly distracted from watching it, by a strange
circumstance in the boat: it was that the great light attracted
innumerable shrimps, and all kinds of small fish, and they kept
leaping into the boat, and covering us with showers of salt water.
We were engaged in throwing these unwelcome companions back into the
water, when a great crash arrested us: the front walls fell flat on
to the sand, and a long burning beam came crashing down upon the
roof of the wing before-mentioned, and which had hitherto escaped
the fire. At the same instant, a female figure was seen flying
towards us, rushing over glowing brands, and leaping across blazing
rafters; the figure never stopped but to ask some question of the
sailors, and guided by them she sped towards us, fleet as the wind.
Several voices cried out that it was Frances; and Frances, indeed,
it was. She was breathless and faint with running, and she
dropped upon her knees, stretching out her arms toward the boat, and
crying out with the energy of despair: 'I want my child; where's my
child? give me my child, my child!'
The horror, the confusion that followed, it is hopeless to
attempt describing. All the girls and Madame had thought that
May, as usual, was with Frances: she was not. She was still,
then, under the burning beam in the wing; and when I recovered my
scattered senses, after hearing this, I saw Frances stand with her
arms held out, and her hands clenched, and I heard her say, 'Oh,
oh!' and then she turned round, and fled with a fleetness that
nothing but desperation could have given her, straight over the sand
towards the burning and tottering house.
THE TREASURE IS SAVED.
THE remark is
common, that there are some moments which gather into themselves the
feelings and the consequences that in ordinary times are scattered
over weeks and years: such were the moments that followed, while the
burning house sent up its volumes of smoke and flame; while the
still water, just then at its lowest, washed softly against the
brink of that now broad reach of sand, and yet glowed with that
superb but terrible pathway; while we sat mute with terror and
amaze; and while Frances fled fleetly away from us among the
It had cost our sailor but little effort hitherto to keep his
boat almost stationary; for there was no air, and no sea on.
He now, as well as ourselves, sat gazing with stunned and helpless
wonder while Frances rushed away on her perilous errand; but
suddenly starting, when, as I suppose, he found the tide had turned,
and that we were drifting in, he gave a few vigorous strokes with
his oars as he began to feel the pebbles grating under us.
'Now, ladies,' he said, in an excited tone, 'I see what the poor
young thing is going to do. Mind yourselves; for run after I
must and will.' And so saying, he sprang ashore, and flew
after Frances with a vehemence and vigour that, far as he was
behind, almost made me hope that he would catch her.
But now came again, that 'confusion worse confounded.'
The boat-load was once more loose on the sand, and I alone was still
sitting in it; the French girls were all running about wringing
their hands; the English girls were helplessly crying, and clinging
about Madame, now calling on her to get Frances back, and now to
save May; Madame herself was bewildered under this great misfortune,
not doing and not attempting to do anything; for what, indeed, could
she do but lift up her trembling hands to heaven and pray, and
think, with distracted brain and agonized heart, of the great danger
of one pupil and the almost hopeless danger of the other?
And I, as I sat alone in the boat, which was gently rocked
against the beach with every return of the wave, saw the sailor's
deep footmarks on the sand, and that every footmark was full of
sea-water, and every drop of that water roseate with the bloom of
fire-light, either from the ruin or from the sky. In accounts
of all events that greatly excite people, we find that their own
feelings and impressions are mixed with the narrative: mine must be
also, for they seemed more real to me than external things; and, in
spite of my despair, I did look down into those tiny pools, and I
did observe the rosy tinges of the breaking waves and the rosy drops
that fell from the now drifting oars, and I did say to myself, how
very beautiful they were! But there is also in my mind a vivid
picture of the scene. I was ordered by Madame to get out of
the boat, and I managed to obey her. I see her still standing
passive and stunned the girls rushing, and hysterically crying
around her the sailors and people about the burning house,
flinging water as well as they could on the low roof of the wing,
which was rapidly catching fire, and every moment forcing them back
and back and Frances, unnoticed by any of them, flying on to
almost certain death, and, if possible, urged to still greater
swiftness by the sound of the sailor's footsteps behind her.
She was near she was nearer; I cried out, as if my one
childish voice could be heard so far away, beseeching the people to
see her, to know what she was about to do, and to arrest her
reckless steps. My heart sank I shut my eyes for a moment
then I opened them, and saw her at the end of the wing, running up
an outer staircase that connected its verandah with the sands.
A great wreath of smoke came down over her and hid her.
The sailor was close at her heels. She emerged from the smoke,
and still pressed on; she reached a window, and such was the
vividness of the light, that even at that distance I distinctly saw
her fling her shawl over her hand, and then dash it through the
glass. That was the last thing I did see: another great volume
of steam from the water that they were sending up from below spread
swiftly over her, and, when it melted away into the glowing air, she
and the sailor had disappeared.
Next I saw a great confusion among the people below, and
there was fast shouting, screaming, and rushing up and down.
Several more people were upon the verandah, and, owing to a
momentary stoppage in casting water up, the flames were covering the
roof, and sweeping and swooping down almost to the ground. The
place was, in short, enveloped in the flames, and the people were
forced back. The wind caused by the fire tossed up the blue
and red spires with a dancing, exulting motion; the very walls
seemed to be shaken, and to rock as the fiery serpents hissed and
sang. There was a noise again of rending and splitting; the
wind tossed and whirled out the blazing curtains and the burning
papers, and flung on to the sands rafters that scattered millions of
sparks as they fell, and covered the sands like a nation of
fireflies. And now we all, as by one impulse, began to run
nearer; and my mind, as I remember, was so completely overwrought,
and so much off its balance, that I was unable to think what might
be going on within that burning ruin; but was only occupied with
watching and following the footprints that Frances had left in the
sand, and with observing the streaks of yellow that began to appear
in the east. That Frances and little May were both dead I did
not doubt; and in my bewildered thoughts I wondered whether their
souls were then going up across the ridges of those clouds in the
But we also had drawn near, and the flush of that great heat
was on our faces, shining in our eyes, and the wind of it was
wafting our garments, and the thunder of it was stunning our ears,
and shaking the ground under our feet. I cannot say that I
remember it all, though I have impressions of some things which
followed impressions which detach themselves by reflection from
the terror, and the shouting, and storming, and warning cries, and
heavy footsteps, and frantic flinging up of water by the men about
First, I remember that I strained my eyes; but smoke and
flame so obscured the wooden wing, that I distinguished but little;
the fire was fringing the edges of every overlapping board; but,
after helplessly gazing (as it seemed) a long time, I had a
momentary vision of a roof, and it was braking in, and tiles were
falling thick and fast upon a bed inside; for some of the walls were
gone, and there was a black gap behind, and the bed for an instant
seemed to be seized and shaken by the fire, and in less than a
minute it was burnt and shrivelled up with all its ample curtains,
and the floor had given way, and the bed had gone down. That
bed had been decked with curtains covered with drooping poppies.
Little May had been coaxed to sleep in it, partly on the plea that
they were so pretty. Where was she now?
I did not move, but kept staring up at the devouring flames,
as they flung themselves at the cool pale sky with a wild mad kind
Ages and ages seemed to follow, then the people said that all
was over; but at length a shout rose from the crowd there was a
rushing to the old black ruin of the centre: then came sudden
silence, followed by a long audible groan. I turned my face
from the red fire, and found myself left behind, and I dragged my
unwilling limbs onward, talking all the time aloud to myself, till I
came in front of the central ruin, and there, climbing down the
outside of a stack of chimneys by a few projecting spars, I saw the
sailor, and he was alone.
I say the sailor, because we knew that it could be none other
than he; but he was so completely blackened by smoke as to be quite
undistinguishable by dress or feature. I said to myself that I
had known, when he came out, he must be alone, and though I stood in
the throng I cannot recollect the actions of those about me, during
the wretched quarter of an hour, while he slowly clambered down.
I have only an impression that now and then the people cheered in
order to encourage him, and I suppose all were too much excited to
remember what followed, for I have never been able to get an account
of it from any one.
But the next thing that I do remember distinctly is, that it
was quite light, and the sailor was standing among us, and the
flames had suddenly died down. I also noticed that many of the
men, whose figures had been seen about all night, were countrymen,
who had come, doubtless, from the villages round. These all
had gathered about the sailor, who, faint, weak, and panting, was
moistening his burnt lips with something in a cup. 'Now, then,
speak to the Madame, speak to the Madame,' I heard one of the
sailors saying; and instead of eagerly wondering what the man would
reply, a forlorn reflection strayed into my mind, that I had heard
them address her as 'the Madame' before.
But the man's speech, when he found breath to reply, cleared
away the cloud that obscured my brain, and I awoke at once to life
'I tell'e, marm,' he said hoarsely and faintly, 'the young
lady be alive now, and I expect the little one may come to her
senses again; but how they are to be got down alive from the place
where they are, God only knows.'
'Then where were they?' cried the crowd.
The sailor looked up to where a solitary pile of chimneys
reared its blackened outline. There was an immediate and
simultaneous rush round the ruins of the house; and far up on a
projecting platform, only a few feet wide, and apparently forty feet
high, sat Frances, with something in her arms. This little
platform seemed to be the remains of some floor, which had been
burnt not quite up to the chimneys; but how long it would stand was
the question, and how long it would be before those crumbling
chimneys came down?
It was now probably about two hours since the fire had first
broken out, and it might be somewhat past four o'clock. No
engines had arrived, which was not wonderful, as the nearest were
twelve miles off; but the sailors (who had been hitherto the saving
of every person in the house), though their exertions had manifestly
tired them greatly, and some were bruised and scorched, no sooner
perceived Frances sitting on the projecting height, than they
gathered together, and gave a deep hearty cheer by way of reassuring
her, and then ran here and there in search of ropes and beams,
intending to attempt a rescue.
As I was eagerly watching their efforts at making a scaffold,
somebody cried out that 'the Madame had fainted,' and the attention
of the unoccupied persons being thus attracted to her and to us,
they carried Madame into an outhouse, which had been used as an
extra carriage-house. There they obliged us all to follow, and
then shut us in, bringing us wine and bread, and positively keeping
sentry at the door. I cannot wonder that they did this, for
the whole precincts of the house were highly dangerous; red-hot
tiles strewed the neighbourhood of the wing, and though the fire had
burnt itself out, the sand and the remaining walls flung fierce heat
against us, and the water lying in pools as it had come down after
being tossed in buckets on the fire, was quite hot, and still
steamed. The sun was just rising as we were shut into the
carriage-house, and we were very miserable through suspense; but we
had not long to wait for tidings of our school-fellows. Madame
had not recovered many minutes from her fainting fit, and began to
sit up and collect her thoughts, when we heard tremendous and
repeated cheers, then a rushing of many feet towards our asylum; and
at last the door was violently flung open, and in ran Frances with
May in her arms.
WE all started up
at sight of the rescued ones, and rushed round Frances; a sort of
silent rapture held our lips sealed; for a while we could not
believe she was uninjured, and we pressed closely about her,
touching her singed and tinder-like gown, her disordered hair, her
flushed hot feverish cheeks, and her delicate hands, that grasped
May so closely. As for her, she said not a word, but held out
the child; and a long low laugh of rapturous relief burst from her
lips, but she neither shed tears nor stirred till Madame took May
from her, and kissed her, exclaiming, in her native language, 'O my
God, I do thank thee.' Here Frances laughed again and cried a
little, but still she did not speak.
Poor little May, how piteously she was crying, and how her
tiny limbs trembled and shivered! Her small hands were a
little scorched, and her nightdress in some places burnt brown; she
did not seem to be seriously injured, but her terror was still
In spite of the anguish and anxiety that we had suffered
about Frances, our demonstrations of joy at sight of her were, after
the first moment of her entrance, by no means violent or noisy.
We were all beginning to feel the peevish exhaustion of excessive
fatigue. Some of the young girls crept into the empty
carriages that stood in this asylum of ours, and dozed upon the
seats; others lay down upon a heap of clean shavings; a carpet was
brought in for May and Frances one of the few things that had been
saved; and those noble, kind-hearted sailors went about from one of
us to the other, giving us wine (almost like mulled wine, it was so
hot) from black bottles, and serving it in a little tin cup.
After this acceptable refreshment, Madame herself very soon fell
asleep, and most of her pupils with her. I could not sleep at
first, as the sound of the crackling fire still sung in my ears.
It was now broad daylight, and the watery, white sky was
distinctly visible through a small dirty window, excepting when a
sailor, leaning his weary arms upon the sill, would indulge in a
contemplation of the people whom he had helped to save. Many
sailors appeared in this way, one after the other, and seemed
specially to derive satisfaction from staring at Frances and her
tiny charge; and it sometimes pains me, even to this day, to think
that we never had an opportunity of thanking them; for when we awoke
at last, and inquired about them, the vessel was gone. The
sailors, we were told, had said they could not stay, for a breeze
had sprung up, and 'The Lively Sall' must proceed on her voyage.
'The Lively Sall!' What a name! Some of the girls
were quite shocked, and in writing to their friends called the
vessel 'The Lively Sarah.' A very handsome present was made to
these brave men by the parents of those whom they had rescued; but I
am often sorry to think that they had not our thanks also.
This, however, is anticipating.
About nine o'clock in the morning we all awoke, very much
refreshed; some water was brought us; and from the contents of the
trunks, which still strewed the sand, we were all made, with
Massey's aid, exceedingly neat and clean. Frances seemed
scarcely more fatigued than ourselves; but if any question was asked
her about the rescue, would answer with a shudder, 'Oh! don't speak
to me about that; it makes my head swim to think of it.'
We now issued from the carriage-house. The fire was
nearly out only smouldering. The hotel was almost level with
the ground, and none but its disconsolate owners lingered about it.
Engines had arrived, and had deluged the place when the flames were
already dying down. But we did not stay to look about us.
Madame was naturally anxious to see Caroline, who had been taken to
the farm-house, where Frances had, earlier in the evening, been sent
We hoped also to find breakfast there, and were told that all
the other people, who had been sleeping at the hotel when it took
fire, had left the hospitable farm already, in different
conveyances, having been received there in the night, and treated
with the greatest kindness and consideration.
We walked across the fields to this place; and the smiling
mistress met us at her door, all fresh, and clean, and cheerful,
though she had been up nearly all night. She had set out
breakfast for us in her large kitchen, and she now invited us in, at
the same time assuring us that the young lady upstairs was not very
much hurt. Of course, Madame went up instantly to the chamber,
and there her own maid was waiting on Caroline.
Her injury was a long, severe cut across the brow, reaching
from the parting of the hair to the corner of the right eyebrow.
It was by no means dangerous; but, alas! it was most evident that it
must leave a mark for life.
Several of us I among them crept up the stairs after
Madame; and though forbidden to enter the room, listened to what
might be going on inside.
Caroline was in a highly excited state; a surgeon had been
sent for to attend her, and had ordered her to lie quietly in bed.
The moment Madame entered, she at once declared that she was sure
her face would be marked. Madame had all the sweetly
compassionate manner of an amiable Frenchwoman, and she soothed
Caroline with hopes to the contrary, asked if she would like one of
her school-fellows to come and sit with her, and told her that we
were all safe; in fact, the great blessings of life and safety for
all her large party did somewhat make it impossible, for the
present, that she could feel much for Caroline's misfortunes.
Not a question had been asked, and so little interest shown by
Caroline, that we all thought, judging by this, and by the tone of
her voice, that she was probably a little delirious.
'Yes,' she said when Madame again asked if she would like one
of her school-fellows to sit beside her. 'Yes; she should like
one of them, but not Sophia Sophia would say she deserved it.'
'No,' said Madame, soothingly, 'they are all extremely sorry,
my child very much grieved indeed, my dear' and Madame showed a
good deal of alarm at the speech, for, in fact, not understanding
it, she thought Caroline quite light-headed.
'Not Sophia,' repeated Caroline, tossing on her pillow; 'I
know I DID steal little May; I know I am
branded for a thief, and she will think so.'
On hearing this I fled down the stairs, wringing my hands and
crying with a sort of hysterical violence, no doubt partly owing to
my late excitement: it was some time before I recovered my senses:
when I did so I found that the woman of the house was holding me on
her knees, in a pleasant arbour out of doors, and that an old
gentleman, with a most pleasant face, was standing before her.
'Why, here's the Vicar, little Miss,' said my good nurse.
'Ay, ay,' said the old gentleman, 'don't cry, my pretty
little bird here are some nice gilly-flowers to smell, and here is
some cold water to drink. What! not one hurt in the fire! what
a good God is ours; and how thankful you should be for such a
He looked so very old, and so venerable, that I gazed at him
with pleasure and curiosity, sobbing out, 'I do feel thankful, sir
indeed I do.' His house was about four miles from the sea,
close to the church, for it was a very large thinly-populated
parish, partly warren, and partly salt marshes.
'Please to sit down, sir,' said the woman, wiping the seat of
the arbour with my handkerchief, and still holding me in her arms;
'and I hope you'll have some breakfast afore you go.'
'Ay, ay,' the old clergyman replied, sitting down beside us.
'I'm a great age now, Mrs. Peel almost past my work my Master's
'O no, sir! not yet,' replied the woman.
'Not quite yet. I must talk with these clear children
before I go; and I shall hope to pray with them and the French
'Yes, sir; that's what they want; you'll make 'em feel
quieter like; for now they are all of a tremble.'
I felt better, and we went into the house; but I was not
allowed to stay down stairs, and hear the delightful conversation
and devout prayers of the agθd
clergyman. I was taken up stairs and put to bed. Some
breakfast was given me while there, and I soon fell into a deep,
dreamless sleep, from which I did not awake for hours.
When at last I did open my eyes, they fell upon a bed, for
there were two in the room. Frances and May were lying asleep
in this bed, and beside it stood a tall and most elegant lady a
lady in a rich, rustling silk dress, and with a long Indian chain
round her neck, which rested on the quilt as she bent over little
May. She stood with her back to me; but a round, old-fashioned
mirror hung on the white-washed wall before her, and in it I saw her
face, and recognised it, though now it was changed, and illuminated
by a kind of unbelieving joy, and though her eyes were overflowing
with happy tears.
It was little May's mamma.
Every now and then she would venture to lift up the child's
hand and touch it with her lips, but she seemed very much afraid of
waking her and Frances; and, but for this little action, stood
motionless beside them for some time.
I knew that for several days she had been constantly
expected, and that she possessed Madame's intended address at the
sea-side, and I thought what a happy thing it was she had not
arrived a few hours sooner.
At last the mother's kisses becoming unconsciously more
fervent, little May awoke; upon which, forgetting her caution, she
threw her arms upon the bed, and stooping over the child, exclaimed,
with a laugh of exulting joy, 'Who am I, May; tell me?'
'Mamma!' exclaimed the child, after a momentary pause, and
continued to gaze at her with a sort of ecstasy, softly repeating to
herself, 'Mamma, Mamma!' But when her mother tried to take her
up, she said, in a confidential tone, 'Mamma, you mustn't wake my
Miss Christiana Frances.'
On hearing the little silvery voice repeating this already
beloved name, and bringing so vividly to her recollection the peril
that her child had just encountered, the mother burst into a sudden
passion of tears, which woke Frances, who started up in a fright,
uttering some confused words about the smoke, and the sea, and
Finding herself kissed, blessed, and wept over by this
beautiful stranger, was not likely to reassure her, and she did not
recover from her bewilderment, till May cried out, 'Mamma, mamma,
you don't know what a great hole was burnt in my bed last night !'
On hearing this, Frances instantly perceived who it was that
was embracing her with such fervent expressions of gratitude and
love, and she gave May to her mother, for on first awakening she had
snatched her up in her arms.
May, who before being laid in the bed had evidently been
carefully washed and dressed in a clean embroidered frock, looked
particularly pretty, though her tiny hands were still very red from
the heat of the flames. Frances herself was also seen under
favourable circumstances; she was dressed in a delicate lilac muslin
gown, and her fair hair was nicely braided. I was glad that
Lady Merton had not seen them during their former sleep in the
carriage-house, for then they had looked like two sweeps. I
was also glad that I was neatly dressed myself, for in a very few
minutes May's tall, stately father stalked in, snatched the child,
and bestowed on her a storm off kisses that resounded through the
room. He then turned to Frances, who, with his wife's arm
still round her, was sitting up or, the bed, as on a dais. She
had thrown back the quilt, and was gazing at him, half pleased and
half surprised. Lady Merton took her hand, and putting it into
her husband's, he kissed it, and straightway began to make a
vehement incoherent speech about his gratitude, his thankfulness,
what he should have done if coming home he had found his little one
burnt to death, what his wife would have felt, etc. etc. But
at a certain point in it, appearing to feel rather a choking
sensation, he marched to the window, and then having sobbed two or
three times, and called himself a fool quite audibly, he blew his
nose violently, and came back as well as ever.
After this, to my relief, they all left the room.
And now I must go back in my narrative, and explain some
circumstances, which did not come to my knowledge for some time
It appears that some minutes before I awoke, and saw that
strange light on the sea, Caroline was also startled by a peculiar
noise, and being frightened, jumped out of bed, put on her
dressing-gown and slippers, and looked out into the passage.
As I have before said, she was in the wing of the house with little
May; but May, it appears, in her hurry and confusion, she did not
According to her own account, she saw nothing, but thinks
that she returned to her own room, and then beheld that ruby light
gleaming between the curtains on the water; and ran out of the room,
wishing to find Madame, for she was sure something was the matter.
She ran to the great staircase of the house, and saw lights glowing
under the boards puffs of smoke seemed to pursue her; and being
frightened, she fled before them up to the very top of the house,
trying the locked doors, and crying, Madame, Madame!' Then,
too much alarmed to know what she did, she tried to run down again;
but fire was now visible below. She set her foot upon a board
in her rapid descent; it gave way; flames spurted up, and the end of
the board struck her on the brow, and she fell down a short flight
of stairs. Recovering almost instantly, she sprung down
stairs, and found herself among a crowd of people, all rushing to
the great front drawing-room, and in her fright, confusion, danger,
and pain, she never thought of the child.
She was saved like the other people, and did not know how
much she was hurt, till she found herself safe on the sands.
She was taken to the farm, and there Frances, already roused and
dressed, met her, frantic to know what had become of May, and she
said she did not know.
Little May's account was, that she woke in the night, and
found the room full of smoke that almost choked her; that Miss Baker
was not there, and then she cried as loudly as she could, and called
her Miss Christiana Frances a great many times; and she heard 'some
wicked men shouting outside;' so she got up and crept under the bed
to hide herself a thing she was in the habit of doing when it
thundered, or she was otherwise frightened. This providential
habit saved her life. She was almost suffocated when Frances
rescued her, finding out her hiding-place by the gasping noise she
Frances and the sailor, dragging May between them, crept on
their hands and knees along the passage to the house, for the flames
pursued them, and prevented their return to the now burning
verandah. Then they attained a room which had a servant's
ladder-stair in it, and were compelled still to ascend, the fire
seeming to force them up, and closing behind. They got up on a
higher floor, of which little was left but the platform before
mentioned, and they had not stood there long, recovering strength
and breath, when the stairs and the room they had come through fell
in, and in that dim light of grey morning, though now sitting in the
open air, they were not observed from below, the noises being still
so great, that they vainly tried to make themselves heard.
The sailor then finding that in that distraction of fear,
that confusion of voices, and crackling of flames, his signals and
shouting were of no avail, and seeing that they were not likely to
be looked for in the right place, resolved to attempt a descent.
How he accomplished it we never heard. I suppose it must have
been dreadful to see him doing it, for Frances never could be
induced to describe it but once, and then she burst into tears, and
turned so faint and sick that Madame desired she never might be
questioned about it again.
A bewildering day or two followed in the old farmhouse.
Caroline was still poorly; but her cut was healing satisfactorily,
and I, of course, after hearing what she had said of me in her half
delirium, was particularly anxious to be attentive and kind to her.
Accordingly, I was generally in her room, and she was better pleased
to have me than any one else, partly because I was nearest of all
the pupils to her own age, partly because she perceived how truly
sorry I was for her, and did not know its cause.
Poor Caroline! she was told that May was going away with her
parents and with Frances, and she nerved herself to see May.
The little girl was led in by me, and clung to me. I could
feel her little heart beat.
'May, you are not afraid of me?' said Caroline, in a
The little girl stammered out, 'No!'
'Kiss me, then, my dear little May; I am glad you are safe,
though it is through no care of mine.'
I do not know what baby fancies were working in the breast of
May, but she appeared to think that by this kiss, she should express
some kind of reproach of her best friend. She turned away her
little face as I lifted her up, burst into tears, and sobbed out, 'I
do love my Miss Christiana Frances.'
Caroline, on hearing this, lay down on her couch again and
wept. She did not say a word; but as May still sobbed, I said
to her, 'Caroline wishes you always to love your Miss Frances.'
Upon this the little creature rubbed away her tears with her
pretty hands, and pursing up her rosy lips, gave Caroline the kiss.
Then Caroline said, 'Take her away!' but I had scarcely turned to do
so, when the door was opened, and Frances came in. She was in
her travelling dress, and evidently, though she had sought this
meeting, she was in a great fright, while she affected to feel at
'Oh, it is you, Frances!' said Caroline.
Frances could not say a word.
'You are going away very soon, I hear,' proceeded Caroline.
Still Frances stood mute, and had turned quite pale with
I wondered at Caroline's calmness. 'I dressy,' she
said, 'you are sorry to see me so disfigured, thoughthough'
'What will she say next?' I thought, in terror; and I dashed
into the conversation, by informing Caroline that the travelling
party was to start in half an hour. May, in the meantime, had
gone down stairs, and Frances, with her cold hand, was holding me to
prevent my following her.
'Frances,' said Caroline, still the only speaker, 'I did
think I would not see you before you went; but now I am not sorry I
did, for I see how much you pity me.'
Frances burst into tears.
'It is very evident though,' added Caroline bitterly, 'that
you think this this bruise a punishment on me. Your distress
shows it;' and she went on; 'but I suppose you have forgiven me for
stealing your child, since she is yours again now, and bound to you
There was something so regretful and so painfully calm in
Caroline's way of speaking, that it only made Frances cry more and
more bitterly, till at last I said, in desperation, 'Frances, if you
do not say something, I shall drag you out of the room; you are
making Caroline worse.'
This seemed to rouse her, and she rose up quite pale with
emotion, and knelt beside Caroline's couch, taking her in her arms,
and kissing her many times.
Her passion of tears and excessive emotion, so far from
distressing Caroline, seemed to soothe her. She returned the
embrace of Frances, and when the latter, still utterly unable to
command her voice, rose up and hurriedly fled out of the chamber,
she really seemed comforted, and lying back on her couch, said to
me, with tears, 'Oh, Frances is far better far more generous, and
more forgiving than I am!'
So May's parents, and Frances, and her little treasure drove
away. Caroline got rapidly better, and we all returned to the
Willows; but the fair face was always marked with a long narrow
scar, which disfigured the brow, and altered the expression of those
beautiful eyes; but whether it proved a permanent memento to her,
and whether the providential lesson it should have conveyed was duly
learned, I cannot now tell to you, my reader, though at some future
period I may take up the thread of Caroline's history again.
We returned, as I said, to the Willows, and I believe the
scenes we had passed through had solemnized our minds, and been made
instrumental in leading our thoughts to deeper and more serious
More than one of us felt desirous to dedicate to the service
of our merciful God those lives which he had so graciously
preserved; and though our shortcomings have been many, both in
remaining childhood and in giddy youth, I still believe that for
more than one the perils and terrors of that night of awe had a
salutary message, and were not suffered in vain.