Studies for Stories (6)

Home Up Poems Story of Doom Monitions Old Days Poetical Works Allerton and Dreux Allerton and Dreux Off the Skelligs Fated to be Free Sarah De Berenger Don John John Jerome A Moto Changed Stories Told to a Child A Sister's Bye-Hours Mopsa the Fairy Wonder Box Tales Sheet Music Sheet Music Reviews, etc. Main Index Site Search


 

[Previous Page]


CHAPTER VII.

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 me.'

    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 likenesses.'

    '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 other likenesses.'

    '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 many letters.'

    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 another surprised.

    '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 resents it.'

    '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?' exclaimed Belle.

    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, Carry.'

    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 ready.'

    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 schoolroom.

    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 fashionable watering-place.

    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.


 
CHAPTER VIII.

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 feet.

    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 so troublesome?'

    '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 wet.'

    '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 once.'

    'Well,' sighed Frances, 'I could part with my little treasure with less pain, if it was for her own good that she was enticed away.'

    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 there.

    '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 girls.

    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, 'Caroline.'

    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: His—s—s—his—s—s; 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: His—s—s—his—s—s—his—s—s, 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 fire!'

    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 fire.

    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 height.

    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.


 
CHAPTER IX.

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 smouldering brands.

    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 golden dawn.

    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 the flames.

    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 of frolic.

    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 and consciousness.

    '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.


 
CHAPTER X.

CONCLUSION.


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 extreme.

    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 to sleep.

    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 merciful preservation!'

    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 work.'

    '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 lady.'

    '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 little May.

    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 afterwards.

    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 think of.

    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 made.

    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 regretful tone.

    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 her ease.

    '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 agitation.

    I wondered at Caroline's calmness.  'I dressy,' she said, 'you are sorry to see me so disfigured, though—though—'

    '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 for ever?'

    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 subjects.

    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.



[Next Page]

 


[Home] [Up] [Poems] [Story of Doom] [Monitions] [Old Days] [Poetical Works] [Allerton and Dreux] [Allerton and Dreux] [Off the Skelligs] [Fated to be Free] [Sarah De Berenger] [Don John] [John Jerome] [A Moto Changed] [Stories Told to a Child] [A Sister's Bye-Hours] [Mopsa the Fairy] [Wonder Box Tales] [Sheet Music] [Sheet Music] [Reviews, etc.] [Main Index] [Site Search]

 

Correspondence should be sent to Webmaster@Gerald-Massey.org.uk