Grandmother Dear Part 13


GRANDMOTHER'S STORY----(_continued_).

"O while you live, tell truth."

HENRY IV., Part 1.

So in a few minutes they were all settled again, and grandmother went on.

"We were walking through a very narrow street, I was telling you--was I not? when I caught sight of something that suddenly changed my ideas.

'What was this something?' you are all asking, I see. It was a china cup in a shop window we were passing, a perfect match it seemed to me of the unfortunate one still lamenting its fate by rattling its bits in my pocket! It was a shabby little old shop, of which there were a good many in the town, filled with all sorts of curiosities, and quite in the front of the window, as conspicuous as if placed there on purpose, stood the cup. I darted forward to beg my father to let me wait a moment, but just then, curiously enough, he had met a friend and was standing talking to him, and when I touched his arm, he turned rather hastily, for, as I told you, he had not been pleased with my way of replying about my grandmother. And he said to me I must not be so impatient, but wait till he had finished speaking to Mr. Lennox. I asked him if I might look in at the shop window, and he said 'Yes, of course I might,' so I flew back, the bits rattle-rattling in my pocket, and stood gazing at the twin-cup.

I must tell you that I happened to have in my possession an unusual amount of money just then--ten shillings, actually ten whole shillings, which my father had given me on my birthday, and as I always brought my purse with me when I came into the town, there it was all ready! I looked and looked at the cup till I was satisfied it was a perfect match, then glancing up the street and seeing my father still talking to his friend, I crept timidly into the shop, and asked the price of the pink cup and saucer in the window.

"The old man in the shop was a German; afterwards my grandmother told me he was a Jew, and well accustomed to having his prices beaten down. He looked at me curiously and said to me,

"'Ach! too moch for leetle young lady like you. Zwanzig--twenty schelling, that cup. Old lady bought von, vill come again buy anoder.

Zwanzig--twenty schelling.'

"I grew more and more eager. The old lady he spoke of must be my grandmother; I had often heard my father laugh at her for poking about old shops; I felt perfectly certain the cups were exactly alike. I begged the old man to let me have it, and opened my purse to show him all I had--the ten shilling piece, two sixpences and a fourpenny, and a few coppers. That was all, and the old man shook his head. It was too little, 'twenty schelling,' he repeated, or at the very least, to oblige the 'young lady,' fifteen. I said to him I had not got fifteen--eleven and nine-pence was everything I possessed, and at last, in my eagerness, I nearly burst into tears. I really do not know if the old man was sorry for me, or if he only thought of getting my money; however that may have been, he took my purse out of my hand and slowly counted out the money.

I meanwhile, nearly dancing with impatience, while he repeated 'nine-pence, von schelling, zehn schelling ach vell, most be, most be,'

and to my great delight he handed me the precious cup and saucer, first wrapping them up in a dirty bit of newspaper.


"Then he took the ten-shilling piece out of my purse, and handed it back to me, leaving me in possession of my two sixpences, my fourpenny bit, and my five coppers.

"I flew out of the shop, thanking the old man effusively, and rushed up the street clutching my treasure, while rattle-rattle went the bones of its companion in my pocket. My father was just shaking hands with Mr.

Lennox and turning round to look for me, when I ran up. Mr. Lennox, it appeared, was the gentleman who was to have driven home with us, but something had occurred to detain him in the town, and he was on his way to explain this to my father when we met him.

"My father was rather silent and grave on the way home; he seemed to have forgotten that I had said anything to vex him; some magistrates' business had worried him, and it was that that he had been talking about to Mr.

Lennox. He said to me that he was half afraid he would have to drive into the town again the next day, adding, 'It is a pity Lennox did not know in time. By staying a little later, we might have got all done.'

"To his astonishment I replied by begging him to let me come with him again the next day. He said to me, 'Why, Nelly, you were just now saying you did not care for going to see your grandmother, that it was dull, and tired you. What queer creatures children are.'

"I felt my cheeks grow hot, but I replied that I was sorry I had said that, and that I did want very much to go to see my grandmother again. Of course you will understand, children, that I was thinking about the best chance of putting back the cup, or rather its substitute, but my dear father thought I was sorry for having vexed him, and that I wanted to please him by asking to go again, so he readily granted my request. But I felt far from happy that evening at home, when something was said about my wanting to go again, and one of my brothers remarking that I must surely have enjoyed myself very greatly at my grandmother's, my father and mother looked at me kindly and said that their little Nelly liked to please others as well as herself. Oh how guilty I felt! I hated having anything to conceal, for I was by nature very frank. And oh, what a torment the poor cup and saucer were! I got rid of the bits by throwing them behind a hedge, but I could not tell where to hide my purchase, and I was so terribly afraid of breaking it. It was a relief to my mind the next morning when it suddenly struck me that I need not take the saucer too, the cup was enough, as the original saucer was there intact, and the cup was much easier to carry by itself.

"When we got to the town my father let me down at my grandmother's without coming in himself at all, and went off at once to his business.

The door was open, and I saw no one about. I made my way up to the drawing-room as quickly and quietly as possible; to my great satisfaction there was no one there. I stole across the room to the china cupboard, drew forward a chair and climbed upon it, and, in mortal fear and trembling, placed the cup on the saucer waiting for it. They seemed to match exactly, but I could not wait to see any more--the sound of some one coming along the ante-room reached my ears--I had only just time to close the door of the cupboard, jump down and try to look as if nothing were the matter, when my grandmother entered the room. She came up to me with both her hands out-stretched in welcome, and a look on her face that I did not understand. She kissed me fondly, exclaiming,

"'My own dear little Nelly. I thought you would come. I knew you would not be happy till you had----.' But she stopped suddenly. I had drawn a little back from her, and again I felt my face get red. Why would people praise me when I did not deserve it? My grandmother, I supposed, thought I had come again because I had felt conscious of having been not particularly gracious the day before--whereas I knew my motive to have been nothing of the kind.

"'Papa was coming again, and he said I might come. I have nothing to do at home just now. It's holidays,' I said abruptly, my very honesty _now_ leading me into misrepresentations, as is constantly the case once one has quitted the quite straight path of candour.

"My grandmother looked pained and disappointed, but said nothing. But _never_ had she been kinder. It was past dinner time, but she ordered tea for me an hour earlier than her usual time, and sent down word that the cook was to bake some girdle-cakes, as she knew I was fond of them. And what a nice tea we might have had but for the uncomfortable little voice that kept whispering to me that I did not deserve all this kindness, that I was deceiving my grandmother, which was far worse than breaking twenty cups. I felt quite provoked with myself for feeling so uneasy. I had thought I should have felt quite comfortable and happy once the cup was restored. I had spent all, or very nearly all, my money on it. I said to myself, Who could have done more? And I determined not to be so silly and to think no more about it--but it was no good. Every time my grandmother looked at me, every time she spoke to me--worst of all when the time came for me to go and she kissed me, somehow so much more tenderly than usual, and murmured some words I could not catch, but which sounded like a little prayer, as she stroked my head in farewell--it was dreadfully hard not to burst into tears and tell her all, and beg her to forgive me. But I went away without doing so.

"Half way home a strange thought came suddenly into my mind. It seemed to express the unhappiness I was feeling. Supposing my grandmother were to die, supposing I were never to see her again, would I _then_ feel satisfied with my behaviour to her, and would I still say to myself that I had done all for the best in spending my money on a new cup? Would I not then rather feel that it would have been less grievous to my grandmother to know of my breaking twenty cups, than to discover the concealment and want of candour into which my cowardliness had led me?

"'If grandmother were _dead_, I suppose she would know all about it,' I said to myself. 'I would not like to think of that. I would rather have told her myself.'

"And I startled my father by turning to him suddenly and asking if grandmother was very old. He replied, 'Not so very. Of course she is not _young_, but we may hope to have her among us many a day yet if God wills it, my little woman.'

"I gave a sigh of relief. 'I know she is very strong,' I said. 'She is very seldom ill, and she can take quite long walks still.'

"Thank God for it,' said my father, evidently pleased with my interest in my grandmother. And although it was true that already I was beginning to love her much more than formerly, still my father's manner gave me again the miserable feeling that I was gaining credit which I did not deserve.

"More than a week passed after this without my seeing my grandmother. It was not a happy week for me. I felt quite unlike my old light-hearted self. And constantly--just as when one has a tender spot anywhere, a sore finger for instance, everything seems to rub against it--constantly little allusions were made which appeared to have some reference to my concealment. Something would be said about my birthday present, and my brothers would ask me if I had made up my mind what I should buy with it, or they would tease me about my sudden fancy for spending two days together with my grandmother, and ask me if I was not in a hurry to go to see her again. I grew irritable and suspicious, and more and more unhappy, and before long those about me began to notice the change. My father and mother feared I was ill--'Nelly is so unlike herself,' I heard them say. My brothers openly declared 'there was no fun in playing with me now, I had grown so cross.' I felt that it was true--indeed both opinions were true, for I really _was_ getting ill with the weight on my mind, which never, night or day, seemed to leave it.

"At last one day my father told me that he was going to drive into the little town where my grandmother lived, the next day, and that I was to go with him to see her. I noticed that he did not ask me, as usual, if I would like to go; he just said I must be ready by a certain hour, and gave me no choice in the matter. I did not want to go, but I was afraid of making any objection for fear of their asking my reasons, so I said nothing, but silently, and to all appearance I fear, sulkily, got ready as my father desired. We had a very quiet drive; my father made no remarks about my dullness and silence, and I began to be afraid that something had been found out, and that he was taking me to my grandmother's to be 'scolded,' as I called it in my silly little mind.

I glanced up at his face as I sat beside him. No, he did not look severe, only grave and rather anxious. Dear father! Afterwards I found that he and my mother had been really _very_ anxious about me, and that he was taking me to my grandmother, by her express wish, to see what she thought of the state of matters, before consulting a doctor or trying change of air, or anything of that kind. And my grandmother had particularly asked him to say nothing more to myself about my own unsatisfactory condition, and had promised him to do her utmost to put things right.

"Well--we got to my grandmother's--my father lifted me out of the carriage, and I followed him upstairs--my grandmother was sitting in the drawing-room, evidently expecting us. She came forward with a bright kind smile on her face, and kissed me fondly. Then she said to my father she was so glad he had brought me, and she hoped I would have a happy day.

And my father looked at me as he went away with a sort of wistful anxiety that made me again have that horrible feeling of not deserving his care and affection. And oh, how I wished the long day alone with my grandmother were over! I could not bear being in the drawing-room, I was afraid of seeming to glance in the direction of the china cupboard; I felt miserable whenever my grandmother spoke kindly to me.

"And how kind she was that day! If ever a little girl _should_ have been happy, that little girl was I. Grandmother let me look over the drawers where she kept her beautiful scraps of silk and velvet, ever so many of which she gave me--lovely pieces to make a costume such as I had fancied for Lady Rosabelle, but which I had never had the heart to see about.

She let me 'tidy' her best work-box--a _wonderful_ box, full of every conceivable treasure and curiosity--and then, when I was a little tired with all my exertions, she made me sit down on a footstool at her feet and talked to me so nicely--all about when _she_ was a little girl--fancy that, Molly, your great-great-grandmother ever having been a little girl!--and about the queer legends and fairy tales that in those days were firmly believed in in the far-away Scotch country place where her childhood was spent. For the first time for all these unhappy ten days, I began to feel like myself again. Sitting there at my grandmother's feet listening to her I actually forgot my troubles, though I was in the very drawing-room I had learnt so to dread, within a few yards of the cupboard I dared not even glance at.

"There came a little pause in the conversation; I leaned my head against my grandmother's knee.

"'I wish there were fairies now,' I said. 'Don't you, grandmother?'

"Grandmother said 'no, on the whole she preferred things being as they were.' There were _some_ fairies certainly she would be sorry to lose, Princess Sweet-temper, and Lady Make-the-best-of-it, and old Madame Tidy, and, most of all perhaps, the beautiful fairy _Candour_. I laughed at her funny way of saying things, but yet something in her last words made the uneasy feeling come back again. Then my grandmother went on talking in a different tone.

"'Do you know, Nelly,' she said, 'queer things happen sometimes that one would be half inclined to put down to fairies if one did not know better?'

"I pricked up my ears.

"'Do tell me what sort of things, grandmother,' I said eagerly.

"'Well'--she went on, speaking rather slowly and gravely, and very distinctly--'the other day an extraordinary thing happened among my china cups in that cupboard over there. I had one pink cup, on the side of which was--or is--the picture of a shepherdess curtseying to a shepherd.

Now this shepherdess when I bought the cup, which was only a few days ago, was dressed--I am _perfectly_ certain of it, for her dress was just the same as one I have upstairs in my collection--in a pale pink or salmon-coloured skirt, looped up over a pea-green slip--the picture of the shepherdess is repeated again on the saucer, and there it still is as I tell you. But the strangest metamorphosis has taken place in the cup. I left it one morning as I describe, for you know I always dust my best china myself. Two days after, when I looked at it again, the shepherdess's attire was changed--she had on no longer the pea-green dress over the salmon, but a _salmon_ dress over a _pea-green_ slip. Did you ever hear anything so strange, Nelly?'

"I turned away my head, children; I dared not look at my grandmother.

What should I say? This was the end of my concealment. It had done _no_ good--grandmother must know it all now, I could hide it no longer, and she would be far, far more angry than if at the first I had bravely confessed my disobedience and its consequences. I tried to speak, but I could not. I burst into tears and hid my face.

"Grandmother's arm was round me in a moment, and her kind voice saying, 'Why, what is the matter, my little Nelly?'

"I drew myself away from her, and threw myself on the floor, crying out to grandmother not to speak kindly to me.

"'You won't love me when you know,' I said. 'You will never love me again. It was _me_, oh grandmother! It was me that changed the cup.

I got another for you not to know. I spent all my money. I broke it, grandmother. When you told me not to open the cupboard, I did open it, and I took out the cup, and it fell and was broken, and then I saw another in a shop window, and I thought it was just the same, and I bought it. It cost ten shillings, but I never knew it wasn't quite the same, only now it doesn't matter. You will never love me again, and nobody will. Oh dear, oh dear, what _shall_ I do?'

"'Never love you again, my poor dear faithless little girl,' said grandmother. 'Oh, Nelly, my child, how little you know me! But oh, I am so glad you have told me all about it yourself. That was what I was longing for. I did so want my little girl to be true to her own honest heart.'

"And then she went on to explain that she had known it all from the first. She had not been asleep the day that I disobediently opened the cupboard, at least she had wakened up in time to see what had happened, and she had earnestly hoped that I would make up my mind to tell it frankly. That was what had so disappointed her the next day when she had quite thought I had come on purpose to tell it all. Then when my father had come to consult her about the queer state I seemed to be in, she had not felt surprised. She had quite understood it all, though she had not said so to him, and she had resolved to try to win my confidence. She told me too that she had found out from the old German about my buying the cup, whose reappearance she could not at first explain.

Chapter end

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