Arminell, a social romance/Chapter 49
TWO ORLEIGH GIRLS.
Mrs. Welsh burst in on Arminell one evening just before dinner with a face of dismay, and both her hands uplifted.
"Mercy on us! What do you think?"
Arminell stood up. "What has happened, Mrs. Welsh?" she asked in some alarm.
"My dear! You might have knocked me down with a feather. I thought that the girl would be sure to know how to do boiled rabbit with onion sauce."
"Does she not?"
"And there was to be a Swiss pudding."
"That, probably, she would not know how to make, but she can read, and has Mrs. Warne to fly to for light."
"I put out the currant jelly for the pudding, and she has spread it over the rabbit on top of the onion sauce."
Arminell was unable to restrain a laugh.
"I went down to see her dish up, and that is what she has done. Poured the onion sauce over the rabbit, and heaped the currant jelly a top of that. Whatever shall we do? The last cook was bad enough, but she did not spoil good food."
"What induced her to do this?"
"She says that she has been told to put currant jelly with hare, and so she has put it with rabbit, as she saw the jelly-pot set out on the the kitchen table for the pudding."
"And the pudding?"
"Is without anything. We cannot eat the rabbit. That is spoiled; and the pudding is nothing without red currant jelly. Whatever will Mr. Welsh do for his dinner?"
"But the girl had Mrs. Warne's Cookery Book on the table for reference."
"Yes, but she also had a sensational novel."
Arminell laughed again. "I am afraid the education she has received has garnished her head much in the same fashion as she has garnished the rabbit, several good things jumbled together, making an unpalatable whole. I will go and see what can be done."
"I have given the girl notice."
"Surely not, Mrs. Welsh. She has but just come to town."
"I spoke sharply to her, and girls now-a-days will not bear a word. She flew out at me and said she would not remain another hour in the house. Girls give themselves such airs. She knows my extremity, how long I have been without a cook."
Arminell descended to the kitchen, but Thomasine was not there. The boiled rabbit stood on the table crowned with onion sauce and crimson jelly. Near it lay, wide open, a book, not so thick as Mrs. Warne's Cookery Manual, and Arminell stooped to look at it. The book was Gaboriau's 'Gilded Clique,' much stained and cockled, as if it had been wet through, and then dried. Arminell turned it over; it was her own copy, which she had flung from her when in the Owl's Nest, to arouse and arrest the attention of Captain Saltren. She could not doubt that it was the identical book, for her name was pencilled on it, and the water had not effaced the pencil scrawl. She did not know, what was the fact, that the book had undergone two immersions, and had twice been recovered by Patience, and that on the last occasion she had passed it on to her daughter.
Arminell stood turning over the disfigured volume, speculating on how it had come into Thomasine's hands, and thinking of the occasion when she had last read it; and so thinking, for a moment she forgot the rabbit with its incongruous garnishment, and why she had descended to the kitchen. She was roused from her reverie by the maid-of-all-work coming in excitedly.
"Oh my, miss! What do you think? Thomasine has flown out at missus, and packed up her things in a bundle, and gone."
"Lawk, miss! She wouldn't stand no nonsense, she said; and if the missus didn't like her cooking she might cook for herself. She wouldn't stay. Thomasine had a flaming temper; it's the way of them red-headed girls."
"Gone in a tantrum, her cheeks as red as her head. I can't think what folks find to admire in her hair. It is thick and red. I don't fancy carrots."
"But whither is she gone? She is a stranger in London, and has no friends."
"I don't suppose, miss, she knows herself."
"Has she gone back to Mrs. Saltren?"
"I don't fancy so. She was in such a rage, she thought of nothing but going, and never even asked for her wage."
"Do you know in which direction she went?"
"No, I was not on the look-out. She came flaring on me to give me good-bye, and away she went. She said that as the missus had insulted her, go she would to where she would be valued."
"Have you no idea where she is gone?"
"I don't know." The girl hesitated, then said, "Thomasine said as how there was a gentleman at the hotel where Mrs. Saltren first was who admired her and said she ought never to demean herself to go into service—I can't say, she has spoken of him once or twice, and I fancy he came to look for her when she was at the lodgings with Mrs. Saltren—she may have gone to ask his advice what to do and where to go."
"That is enough," said Arminell, and ran upstairs, put on her bonnet, and hastened into the street. She was doubtful in which direction to turn, but seeing the postman coming with the letters, she asked him if he had observed a girl with red hair.
"What, the new cook at Mrs. Welsh's, miss? Oh, yes, she has gone by with a bundle. Very 'ansome girl, that."
Arminell went down the Avenue, and at the corner encountered a policeman on duty. She asked him the same question. He also had noticed Thomasine. Indeed he knew her. Her splendid build, her profusion of glowing hair, and beautiful complexion were a phenomenon in Shepherd's Bush, and all the milkmen, butchers' boys, postmen, police, knew and admired her, though she had been in the house of Mrs. Welsh but a fortnight.
"Yes, miss, she's gone down that way—has a bundle in her hand. I asked her whither she was going and she said she was leaving her situation because her mistress was impudent to her. Wery 'ansome gall, that."
Arminell went on to a cabstand; she was near the Hammersmith Station. As a disengaged flyman hailed her, she asked him if he had seen a young woman go by carrying a bundle.
"A 'ansome gal with red hair? To be sure. 'Ailed her, but she said she'd take a 'bus."
Take a 'bus!—she had gone on to that great centre of radiating streets and roads a few steps ahead. Arminell quickened her pace, almost ran, and reached the main artery of traffic between the City and Hammersmith through Kensington. She had a sharp eye, and in a moment saw Thomasine, who was mounting an omnibus. She ran, as the horses started—ran, regardless of what any one might think, but could not overtake the 'bus. She signed to the driver of a passing empty cab.
"Keep up with the Hammersmith omnibus," she said, panting. "When it stops, set me down. Here is a shilling." She sprang in, and speedily caught up the scarlet-bodied conveyance, descended from the cab, entered the omnibus, and seated herself beside Thomasine.
She was out of breath, the perspiration ran off her brow, and her heart beat fast. She could not speak, but she laid her hand on that of the girl which rested on the bundle, and the action said, "I have taken you in charge."
She was beside Thomasine, and could not see her face; she did not attempt to look at her, but kept her hand where she had laid it, till the omnibus halted at Broad Walk in front of Kensington Palace; by this time she had recovered her breath sufficiently to bid the conductor let her out. She rose hastily, still holding Thomasine, who did not stir.
"Come," said Arminell, "come with me," and looked the girl straight in the eyes.
Thomasine's hand quivered under that of Arminell, and her face flushed. She dropped her eyes and rose. In another moment they were together on the pavement.
"We will walk together," said Miss Inglett, "up the broad avenue. I want to speak to you. I want to know why you are running away, and whither you are going?"
"Please, miss," answered the girl, "I ain't going to be spoken to by Mrs. Welsh. Her's nothing, nor old Welsh neither. He is the brother of Marianne Saltren, and no better than me or my mother. They may set up to be gentlefolk and give themselves airs, but they are only common people like myself."
"You have made a mistake, Thomasine. You should not have put the currant jelly over the boiled rabbit. Those who make mistakes must have them corrected. How would you like to have your pretty velvet bonnet spoiled by Mrs. Welsh spilling ink over it?"
"I should be angry."
"Well, it is the same case. You have spoiled the nice dinner she had provided for Mr. Welsh."
"Welsh is nothing. His father was an old Methody shopkeeper who ran away, having cheated a lot of folk out of their money. I know all about the Welshes. I'm not going to stand cheek from them."
"But you will listen to a word from me."
"Oh, miss, you are different. I wouldn't be impudent to you for anything. But it is other with them stuck-ups as are no better than myself."
"You will not try to twist yourself away from me?"
"I want you to tell me, Thomasine, whither you were running? Were you going to Mrs. Saltren?"
"Mrs. Saltren!" scoffed the girl. "She is nothing. Marianne Saltren, the daughter of the canting old cheat, and widow of a mining captain. I won't be servant to her. Not I."
"Whither were you going, then?"
Thomasine was silent.
Arminell walked at her side; she had let go the girl's hand.
"I ran after you," said Arminell.
"Was that what made you so hot and out of breath, miss?"
"Yes, I was frightened when I heard that you had gone away."
"What was there to frighten you? I had not taken any spoons."
"I never supposed that for a moment. I was alarmed about yourself."
"I can take care of myself. I am old enough."
"I am not sure that you can take care of yourself. Thomasine, you and I come from the same place, dear Orleigh, and it is such a pleasure to me to see you, and hear you talk. When I found that you were gone, I thought what shall I do without my dear Tamsine to talk with about the old place I love so much?"
"Why don't you go back to it, miss, if you like it?" asked the girl.
"Because I cannot. Come closer to me." Arminell caught the girl's hand again. "I also ran away. I ran away, as you are running away now. That has brought upon me great sorrow and bitter self-reproach, and I would save you from doing the same thing that I have done, and from the repentance that comes too late."
"They said at Orleigh, miss, that you were dead."
"I am dead to Orleigh and all I love there. Why did you come to town with Mrs. Saltren, if you do not care to be with her?"
"Because I wanted to see the world, but I had no intention of remaining with her."
"Then what did you intend?"
Thomasine shrugged her shoulders. "I wanted to see life, and have some fun, and know what London was like. I don't want to slave here as I slaved in a farm."
"You came to town restless and discontented, so did I; and now I would give everything I have, to be set back where I was. You came in the same spirit, and I have stopped you on the threshold of a grave disaster, and perhaps saved you from unutterable misery. Thomasine, dear Thomasine, tell me the truth. Were you going to that hotel where some one flattered your vanity and held out to you prospects of idleness? You were leaving hard work and the duties that fell to your lot where God placed you, because impatient of restraint. You had learned the one lesson that is taught in all schools to boys and girls alike—hatred of honest work. Tamsine, you must return with me."
The girl pouted. Arminell, looking round, saw the curl in her lip.
"I don't care to be under the Welshes," said the girl; "nor Marianne Saltren, neither. They ain't better than me, and why shouldn't I be as stylish as they?"
"If you resent being with them, be with me. Be my maid. I am not going to remain in Shepherd's Bush. I intend to take a house somewhere in the country—somewhere where I can be useful, and, Tamsine, find work, hard work that I can do for others. That is what I seek now for myself. Will you come with me? Then we two Orleigh girls will be together, that will be charming."
Thomasine turned and looked wonderingly at Miss Inglett. We two Orleigh girls! We—the baron's daughter and the wise woman's bastard.
"I'd like my frolic first," said Thomasine.
"After that—I could not receive you," answered Arminell gravely.
"I don't see," said Thomasine, still pouting, but uneasy and undecided, with the colour flying in flakes over her face and showing through the transparent complexion. "I don't see why we are to be always kept at work, and not be allowed to amuse ourselves. We aren't young for long."
"Tamsine," said Arminell, "poor Arkie Tubb sat by you when your mother's cottage was being pulled down, and when you thought that she was in danger, and you could not run to her aid yourself, because you had turned your ankle, you sent him. You sent him to his death. The chimney fell and buried him. If he had considered himself he would not have risked his life for your mother. We all honour him for what he did. He never was clever and sharp in life, he failed in everything he undertook, he even failed then, for he did not bring your mother out of the ruin, he was buried in it himself. But he was a hero in his death because he sacrificed himself for others—for you, because he loved you, and for your mother."
Thomasine said nothing, but her hand twitched in that of Arminell.
"You must be worthy of him, remain worthy of him. Thomasine, if you follow your own self-will and passion for pleasure, people will say it was well that Arkie Tubb died, she was not deserving of him."
They had reached the head of the Broad Walk, and issued from Kensington Park into Uxbridge Road. The stream of traffic flowed east and west, east to the City, west to Shepherd's Bush, past them, and they stood watching the two currents. Thomasine withdrew her hand.
Arminell was certain that this was a critical moment in the girl's heart. She said nothing more. She had said enough, she waited. Thomasine turned her face east, and took a step in that direction with a red flush in her cheek. Then the red flush rose to her brow and deserted her cheek, and she turned back.
Presently she said, "May I take your hand again, miss?"
Arminell readily gave it.
Then Thomasine strode to the west, holding Arminell. She seemed fearful of herself if left to herself, but confident whilst holding the hand of Arminell. The good angel had conquered, and that good angel was the thought of poor, blundering, kindly, stupid Arkie Tubb.
Is ever a life utterly thrown away? It had seemed so when the stones crushed the soul out of that lad. A profitless life had ended unprofitably. But see! Here at the end of Broad Walk, Kensington, that cast-away life was the saving of the girl whom he had loved unprofitably.