The familiar appearance of Mrs. Molesworth's gift of delight awakens grateful anticipations which are rarely, if ever, disappointed. The literary work in A Christmas Posy is intrinsically characteristic, and the same must be acknowledged with respect to Mr. Crane's illustrations. Still the stories, a group of six, are variable in conception. Thus their young readers will be pleased to read them, though the modern parental tendency leans towards a quicker brightness than appeals in the opening story.
Ebooka przeczytasz w aplikacjach Legimi na:
Liczba stron: 225
Odsłuch ebooka (TTS) dostepny w abonamencie „ebooki+audiobooki bez limitu” w aplikacjach Legimi na:
A Christmas Posy
Grandmother Dear's Old Watch
My Pink Pet
An Honest Little Man
The Six Poor Little Princesses
The Missing Bon-Bons
The Blue Dwarfs:
"Those never loved Who dream that they 'loved once.'"—E. B. Browning.
"You won't be long any way, dear Auntie?" said Sylvia with a little sigh. "I don't half like your going. Couldn't you wait till the day after to-morrow?"
"Or at least take me with you," said Molly, Sylvia's younger sister, eagerly.
Auntie hesitated—she glanced up at as much of the sky as could be seen through the lace-shrouded windows of their pretty Paris salon—it was already beginning to grow dusky, for though only half-past three, it was the thirty-first of December, and a dull day—and then turned with decision towards the door.
"No, dears," she said; "I shall go more quickly alone. Sylvia's cold would be none the better for going out so late, and I would rather you, Molly, stayed with her. So good-bye, darlings; I shall not be long."
"I should not like to think of poor Sylvia sitting alone in the gloaming, to-day of all days," said Auntie to herself as she made her way down the three flights of handsome marble stairs which led to their appartement. "I can see she is very sad—remembering how different it was this day last year. And dear Molly's good spirits are an inestimable blessing. Ah, my darlings, I may do my best, I will do my best, but I cannot make up to you for grandmother;" and with the tears in her eyes, and many a tender thought in her heart, Auntie made her way along the street.
The two girls were watching her, though she did not know it. There was a tiny balcony outside the window on to which Molly stepped almost as soon as the door had closed on Auntie.
"Come out here for a moment, Sylvia," she called to her sister; "we can see her as far as the corner"—for the street was one of the wide handsome avenues in the new part of Paris, and there were few passers-by. "As far as the corner," therefore, it was easy to distinguish Auntie's figure in its deep mourning dress—not quite so erect or active as it used to be, for Auntie was no longer young, and this year, so nearly ended now, had brought her the greatest sorrow of her life—as she quickly made her way.
"Dear Auntie," said Sylvia; "I wish she were back again. I am sure we could have done without money for a day."
"Two days it would have been," corrected Molly; "the bank will be closed to-morrow, you know."
"Of course I know that," said Sylvia, a little testily.
"And there are some people coming to be paid, and Auntie never likes to keep any one waiting," continued Molly imperturbably. "If Auntie had only taken me with her——"
"How absurd you are!" said Sylvia. "You speak as if Auntie were a baby, or as if no one could take care of her but you—no, dear," she broke off hastily, "I should not speak like that. I don't mean to be cross—but oh, Molly, how we do miss grandmother," and the quickly rising tears in the pretty eyes raised to her sister's face at once subdued any resentment Molly may have felt. She bent her tall figure—for, though nearly two years younger, she was taller than her sister—and enveloped Sylvia in a loving hug.
"My darling," she said—the mass of fair hair, which, even at eighteen, she found it no easy matter to keep in order, mingling with Sylvia's soft clustering chestnut locks; "my darling—of course we do—but, Sylvia, we must try to be happy. Think how she always said so. And next year—next year may be happier. Papa and Ralph are almost sure to be with us again by this time next year."
"This year has certainly only brought us sorrow," said Sylvia mournfully; "I wish Auntie had not gone out. I have a presentiment something will go wrong."
"Don't be fanciful, dear; Auntie will soon be back. Come in and let us get ready a cosy tea for her, and finish the old year as cheerfully as we can. And oh, Sylvia—your cold!—and you've been out on the balcony without even a shawl."
No wonder these girls loved their aunt. Since their infancy their grandmother and she had replaced to them the mother they had never known—and the father who was but seldom able to be with them. And now the grief, the inexpressible grief of having lost that dearest of grandmothers had deepened and strengthened the affection of the three for each other. Their life was somewhat lonely at present. Grandmother had died in the south, at the pretty villa which, after so many years passed in it, had come to seem "home." But she had wished her grandchildren to return to England, their real home; there, before long, to be rejoined by their father and elder brother at present in the East. And they were spending this winter in Paris—"on the way," as it were—for the benefit of Sylvia's drawing and Molly's music; and partly, too, perhaps, because the old home in the south, without "grandmother dear," would have seemed too unbearably desolate.
The curtains were drawn, the fire blazed brightly, the lamp on the console at the side of the room threw a soft pleasant glow on the dainty table set out temptingly for "afternoon tea," which, notwithstanding their long residence in France, Auntie and her nieces were very fond of. And with the little exertion of making all as bright and pretty as they could, the girls' spirits had come back.
"It does look nice," said Molly approvingly, as she stepped back towards the door to judge of the general effect. "How I do wish dear grandmother were here to see how neat and nice it looks. I really do think, Sylvia, that I am getting to be very 'handy,' and to have a good deal of taste in nice little ways—just what grandmother used to wish for me;" and the candour and honesty in her fair face as she innocently expressed her little bit of self-approval made Sylvia turn away so that Molly should not see the smile of amusement it was impossible altogether to repress. For Molly's open satisfaction with herself when it seemed to her that she deserved a little encouragement, was one of the funniest things about her still.
"Yes, dear, it does look very nice," said Sylvia. "And——Can that be Auntie's ring already?" she broke off. "How very quick she has been."
And almost before she had finished the words the door was thrown hastily open, and Auntie was beside them. But what an Auntie! Pale, looking older by ten years than when she had left them, breathless, her lips for a moment trembling so that she could not speak. The girls' warm words of welcome died away as they gazed at her in terror.
"Auntie, Auntie dearest, what is it; oh, what is it?" they exclaimed, while visions of every possible and impossible misfortune—a telegram with bad news of papa or Ralph taking front place as the worst of all—rushed before their imaginations with the inconceivable rapidity with which such speculations picture themselves at such times of excitement. Auntie struggled for self-control.
"No, no—not bad news," she whispered at last, in answer to some all but inaudible breath which had perhaps escaped the poor children's lips. "You must—oh, you must forgive me. It was all my own fault. I should not have gone."
"Oh Auntie, Auntie," cried Molly, by this time in sobs, "what is it then? Have you been run over?"
"How could Auntie be here if she had been?" said Sylvia, hardly able to help smiling, even in the midst of her fright, at the Molly-like question. "But oh, Auntie, do try to tell us."
Auntie was a little calmer by now. She looked up with a piteous expression in her still white face.
"My dears, my dears," she said, "you must not be vexed with me, and yet I feel that you have a right to be so. I have had such a misfortune—I have lost—just now, on my way to or from the bank, I don't know which—I have lost dearest mother's—your grandmother's old watch! And with it the locket that was always attached to it, you know—the one with her great-grandfather's and his daughter's hair."
"I know," said Molly, "gray hair on one side and bright brown like Sylvia's on the other. Oh, Auntie, Auntie—poor Auntie."
And Sylvia flung herself down beside poor Auntie and burst into tears of sympathy. It was sweet to Aunt Laura, even in the midst of her acute distress, to feel that their first thought was not for the loss itself—much as it could not but touch them—but of sorrow for her.
"Grandmother's old watch—grandmother dear's old watch," repeated the two girls, as if they could not believe it. The old watch they remembered all their lives, whose face was almost as familiar to them as that of grandmother herself—the watch and locket which seemed almost a part of her—it was terrible, it was too bad to be true!
"How did it happen?" said Sylvia, trying to choke down her tears. "Tell us more, Auntie. Can nothing be done? You don't think it was stolen?"
"No—I feel sure I dropped it. I remember now that it was not securely fastened. That is what vexes me so terribly—to think it was my own fault! Oh, Sylvia—oh, Molly, when I saw it was gone I felt as if I should go out of my mind! It was just as I came out of the bank that I missed it, but it may have dropped some minutes before. I was hesitating as to whether I should have time to walk home, or if I should take a coupé so as to get back to you quicker, my dears——"
"And we had made all so cosy for you—such a dear little tea—just look, Auntie;" and herself casting a glance round at their pretty preparations, Molly's tears flowed afresh.
"I had a presentiment," said Sylvia. "But go on, Auntie."
"And I looked at my watch—I mean, I was going to do so," continued Auntie, "and found it was gone. Of course I ran back to the bank, but it was not there. I rushed up and down the street and asked everybody I saw—I even went into some of the shops—I am afraid I must have seemed quite dazed. Then my only idea was to get back to you, so I called a coupé and——" here poor Auntie broke down again.
"And is there nothing to be done?" repeated Sylvia.
"The coachman," said Auntie, "the coachman advised me to go to the 'commissaire de police' nearest to where I lost it. I have the name of the street. So now that I have seen you, I will go there at once," and she rose as she spoke. "Take my bag, Molly dear," she added, handing it to her. "The money is in it."
"It is a good thing it wasn't lost too," said Molly, whose spirits were already beginning to reassert themselves. "But, Auntie, you must have some tea before you go. It is quite ready."
Auntie, whose hand was already on the door, was beginning to refuse when Sylvia interrupted. "Yes, Auntie dear, you must," she said. "And while you are taking it, it will give me time to get ready."
"You, my child! I will not let you come—with your cold too."
"My cold is very little, Auntie dearest; I must come—I should come," she added pleadingly. "You can't go about by yourself, so upset as you are too. Grandmother told me I was to take care of you. Yes, Molly dear, I know you would go, but I am a year and nine months older," continued Sylvia, rising to the dignity of her nineteen years. "It is right I should go."
She gained the day, and so did Molly, to the extent of persuading her aunt to swallow a cup of tea,—what a different tea-taking to that they had been looking forward to!—and in five minutes Auntie and Sylvia were driving along the streets which the former had but so lately passed through.
"Poor Molly," said Auntie.
"She will be getting up her hopes and expecting us to bring back good news," said Sylvia. "Well, we may find it, Auntie. They say honest people sometimes take things at once to the nearest police-office."
But this small grain of hope was quickly crushed. The "commissaire de police" was civil, but not encouraging. The ladies would do better to wait a day or two and then apply to the "Préfecture de Police," in other words, the central office, where waifs and strays of private property, should they chance to fall into honest hands, were pretty sure to be eventually deposited.
"A day or two," repeated Auntie, appalled. "Can I do nothing at once?"
He shrugged his shoulders. "That was as Madame chose. It would do no harm to write at once, describing the lost articles and giving her address. But as for hearing of them at once, that was more than improbable. It was the eve of the New Year—the worst day of all the year on which to have such a misfortune; everybody respectable was busy with their own affairs; and yet there were lots of beggars and such like about the streets. If—even supposing," as if the supposition were of the wildest—"that the watch had fallen into honest hands, a week or ten days would probably pass before Madame would have news of it."
"And if it were deposited here," said Auntie timidly—"that does sometimes happen, I suppose?"
"If it were deposited here, it would be as if it were not here," said the commissaire sententiously. "That is to say we should send it on to the Préfecture. I have not even the right to tell you if it is at this moment here or not, though to give you pleasure," he proceeded with unconscious sarcasm, "I will declare to you that it is not."
"Then there is no use my returning here again to inquire?"
"Not the least—write to the Préfecture making your statement, and call there four or five days hence—no use going sooner," said the commissaire with a wave of his hand in token of dismissal. So Auntie and Sylvia, with sinking hearts, turned sadly away.
"Little does he understand what four or five days of suspense seem to me," said Auntie.
"To us too, dear Auntie," said Sylvia, squeezing Auntie's arm under her cloak as they made their way home through the now dark streets, Auntie preferring to walk now that there was plainly no more to be done that called for haste.
"That is the worst of it—I have made this New Year time still sadder than it need have been for you two, my darlings."
It was hard to go in with no good news for Molly, whose spirits, as Sylvia had foreseen, had already risen to the point of feeling sure her aunt and sister would return triumphant, treasure-retrove in hand! But even now she was not disconcerted. "A week or ten days," she repeated, when she had heard all there was to tell; "ah, that shows, Auntie dear, we need not give up hope for ever so long."
She had need of her good spirits for herself, and the others too, during the days that followed. It would be impossible and wearisome to relate all that Auntie did and tried to do. The letters to "all in authority" in such matters, the visits to the Préfecture de Police, to the company who took charge of printing and posting handbills promising rewards for the restoring to their owners of lost objects, to the famous "Montde Piété," the great central pawnbroker's of Paris, even——For a week and more Auntie and the two girls, so far as it was possible for them to help her, did little else than exhaust themselves in such efforts, seizing every suggestion held out by sympathising friends, from the concierge to their old friend the white-haired Duchesse de St. Gervais, who related to them a long and interesting but slightly irrelevant story of how a diamond ring of her great-grandmother's had been found by the cook in the heart of a cauliflower just as she was about to boil it for dinner!
"I really think," said Auntie weariedly, as she threw herself down on the sofa after an expedition to the office of the most widely read Paris daily paper, where she had spent a small fortune in advertisements, "I really think quite half the world is constantly employed in finding, or rather searching for, the things that the other half is as constantly employed in losing. I could fill a three-volumed novel with all I have seen in the last few days—the strange scenes, the real tragedies of feeling—the truly wonderful mechanism of all this world of functionaries and offices and regulations. And some of these people have been really so kind and sympathising—it is astonishing—one would think they would be too sick of it all to have any feeling left."
"I am sure anybody would be sorry if they understood that it was dear, dear grandmother's watch—and even if they knew nothing, any one would be sorry if they saw your poor dear sweet little unhappy face," said Molly consolingly.
But though her words called forth a rather wintry smile from Auntie and Sylvia, it was with sad hearts that all three went to bed on the night of the ninth day since the loss.
Up ever so many pairs of steep winding stairs, somewhat later that same evening, in a small barely furnished little room in one of the busiest and most thickly inhabited parts of Paris, a young woman with a baby on her knees was seated in front of a small fire. It was cold—for, alas, in the dwellings of the poor want of fresh air and ventilation does not mean warmth—and now and then she stirred the embers, though carefully, as if anxious to extract what warmth she could without exhausting its source.
"I must keep a little fire together for Bernard," she said to herself. "He is late this evening. Perhaps I had better put the little one to bed—still it is cold for her, for it would not yet be prudent to lay her beside Paul, though he is so much better. What a blessing he is so much better, my poor little boy! One should not complain, even though it is hard to think of what this fortnight's illness has cost, fifty francs at least, and my work in arrears. And to think of that watch lying there useless all this time! Not that I would have Bernard sell it, even if we dared. But still I can understand the temptation were it a thing one could sell, to many even poorer than we. To-morrow, if there is still no advertisement in any of the papers, I really think I will no longer oppose Bernard's taking it to the police, and giving up all hopes of any reward, and even of the satisfaction of knowing its real owner has got it. For they say lost objects sometimes lie at the Préfecture for years, and it does not look as if the person it belongs to was very eager to get it back, otherwise it would have been advertised or placarded. Perhaps it is some one very rich, who has many watches; and yet—that old locket with the date of more than a hundred years ago, so simple too, evidently preserved as a family relic, and the watch too, old, though still so good, as the watchmaker next door assured Bernard, worth quite two or three hundred francs. Perhaps the owner is very distressed about it, but still three or four hundred francs could not possibly be to him or her what they would be to us just now! Why, even one hundred would get us nicely round the corner again!"
For Madame Bernard was a sensible little woman with no exaggeration about her. But it is growing colder, and still her husband does not return. She must gather the remnants of the fire together, and baby at all costs must go to bed, and if Bernard does not soon come she herself must go too. She cannot risk catching a bad cold herself just as Paul is recovering from an attack of bronchitis. And she is turning to open a door leading into the one bedroom of their appartement, when the well-known sound of a latch-key in the door of the tiny vestibule arrests her.
"Bernard, at last!" she exclaimed with a sigh of relief.
A man, young still, though older than she, entered. He was thin and pale and poorly clad. But his face was intelligent and pleasant, and he had an undoubted air of respectability. And to his wife's accustomed eye, late as it was and tired as he should have been, his face had a flush of excitement on it which half prepared her for news of some kind.
"At last," he repeated. "Yes, I am very late, but I will not grumble as I did this evening when we were told we must work overhours, for it is thanks to the lateness that I have—prepare yourself, my girl—I have found the owner of the watch!"
"The owner of the watch!" repeated his wife. "How? where? But you had not the watch with you? You have not given it back? Not without——" and the little woman hesitated; her husband seemed so pleased, so excited. "If possibly it is a poor person," she reflected, "Bernard is quite capable of giving it back with delight for nothing but a word of thanks! Yet what would not forty, nay, even fifty francs be to us just now." Still she did not like to say anything to damp his pleasure. But he read her misgiving—he had perhaps a little enjoyed teasing her!
"Calm yourself, my child," he said, though Madame Bernard was certainly much less excited than he; "it is all right. When I said I had found the owner, I meant to say I know where to find him, or her. Twenty minutes ago I knew as little as you do at this moment. But coming along the Boulevart, suddenly the light of a gas-lamp flaring up a little fell on a yellow paper on the wall—had it been in the daytime I should never have seen it, it was so badly placed—'fifty francs reward.' I scarcely thought I would stop to read it at first; how many yellow posters have I not read these last few days! But in an instant 'watch' caught my eyes. Here is the description;" and he drew out a shabby pocket-book in which he had copied it word for word. "You see it is our old friend, and no other—'English watch, locket, souvenir de famille, etc. Owner to be found at 99 Avenue Malmaison.' So off I go to No. 99 to-morrow morning as early as I possibly can."
"And you will be very careful, Bernard," said his wife. "Give it up to no one but the owner himself."
"And make sure of the reward, eh, my girl?" said he, laughing. "Yes, yes—you may trust me. I know fifty francs will not fall to us badly just now. And if it is a rich person I shall take it with a clear conscience, for I really have worked to find the owner."
And in very much better spirits than they had been since the beginning of little Paul's illness, the poor young-couple betook themselves to their night's rest.
One person at No. 99 Avenue Malmaison had not known what a good night's rest was for some time. Poor Auntie! she was beginning to feel that she must make an effort to resign herself, and to throw off the excessive depression which the loss of "grandmother's" watch was causing her. It was not fair, she argued, to make Sylvia and Molly suffer for what she and she alone deserved to be blamed for. So she tried to look more cheerful than she felt. I don't think her efforts deceived the two pairs of sympathising young eyes, but the sisters nevertheless understood and appreciated them, and felt that they too must put on a braver face than came quite easy. So to all outward appearance the trio had recovered their usual bearing. And Sylvia and Molly, as was only natural, went to bed and slept soundly, though never without a last waking thought of "Poor Auntie! oh, if the watch could but be found!" while the watch's owner tossed about in wakeful distress. The more she tried to look bright in the day, the more impossible it seemed to forget her troubles in the temporary oblivion of a sound sleep. "It is really wrong of me to fret so about the loss of any thing," she would say to herself. "I seem more overwhelmed than even during the first few terrible days after mother's death. Though after all, were those first few days terrible? Just at the first when the door seems still as it were half-open, and we feel almost as if we could see a little way in, where our dear ones have gone—no, those first days are not the worst."
And somehow, as she said so to herself, there seemed to fall over Auntie a feeling of calm and peacefulness such as she had known little of for long. Then came before her the remembrance of "grandmother dear's" sweet, quiet face as she had seen it the last time, in the beautiful calm of holy death. "It is wrong to fret so, my child," the well-known voice seemed to say. And listening to it Auntie fell into a quiet and profound sleep.
It was curious—a sort of coincidence, I suppose, one would call it—that this peaceful sleep came to poor Auntie just at the moment at which Bernard, on his way home, espied by the light of the flaring gas-lamp the yellow poster with its "fifty francs reward" in big black letters!
When Auntie woke she saw at once by the light that it was much later than her usual time. But she felt so quiet and peaceful and rested—almost as one does on waking from the first real sleep after an illness—that she tried to fancy she was still half-dreaming, and that it could not yet be time to get up. A slight noise—a very
Tysiące ebooków i audiobooków
Ich liczba ciągle rośnie, a Ty masz gwarancję niezmiennej ceny.
Napisali o nas:
Nowy sposób na e-księgarnię
Czytelnicy nie wierzą
Legimi idzie na całość
Projekt Legimi wielkim wydarzeniem
Spotify for ebooks