Imágenes de páginas

step to the other. This chamber ras filled with such fossils as were then known, for the great landslip at Charmouth had not then laid bare the geological treasures of the place. Still it was rich in specimens of petrifactions of various kinds, in glittering spars, in precious-looking ores, in curious shells and gigantic sea-weeds; some the cherished products of my own discoveries, and some broken for me by my father's little hammer from portions of rock that lay beneath the cliffs, under which almost every fine day we used to ramble hand in hand.

Sometimes we would go towards Charmouth, with its sweeping bay passing under the church and churchyard, perched so high above us, and already undermined by the tide ; at another, we bent our steps to the Pinny cliffs on the other side of the harbour, those dark beetling cliffs from whose lofty tops little streams of fresh water fell in slender cascades, finding their narrow way across the sands to the sea; the beautiful Pinny cliffs, where, about a mile and a half from the town, an old landslip had deposited a farmhouse, with its out-buildings, its garden, and its orchard, tossed half way down amongst the rocks, contrasting so strangely its rich and blossoming vegetation, its look of home and of comfort, with the dark rugged masses above, below, "and around. Sometimes, at high water, we paced the old pier called the Cob, to which Miss Austen has since given such an interest. And sometimes we turned inland, and ascended the hill to Up-Lyme, with its tufted orchards and its pretty streamlets. I used to disdain those streamlets in those days with such scorn as a small damsel fresh from the Thames and the Kennett thinks

[ocr errors]

herself privileged to display. “They call that a river here, papa ! Can't you jump me over it ? quoth I, in my sauciness.

About a month ago, I heard a young lady from New York talking in some such strain of Father Thames. “It's a pretty little stream,” said she, “but to call it a river !" and I half expected to hear a complete reproduction of my own impertinence, and a request to be jumped from one end to the other of Caversham bridge.

Once, too, from the highest story of our own house, I saw that fine and awful spectacle, a great storm. My

her took me from my bed at midnight that I might see the grandeur and the glory of the tempest, the spray rising to the very tops of the cliffs, pale and ghastly in the lighning, and hear the roar of the sea, the moaning of the wind, the roll of the thunder, and, amongst them all, the fearful sound of the minute guns, telling of death and danger on that iron-bound coast.

This was the one exception to the general brightness of that lovely bay, and it passed by me like a dream. For the most part, all was beauty on every side; the sunshine seemed reflected from the rich valleys and the glorious sea; and the people of the little port, the thriving peasantry, and the bustling seamen, had a peculiar air of cheerfulness and comfort. It was a strange place to be sad in.

And yet sad I was. Nobody told me, but I felt, I knew, I had an interior conviction, for which I could not have accounted, that in the midst of all this natural beauty and apparent happiness, in spite of the company, in spite of the gaiety, something was wrong. It was such a foreshowing as makes the quicksilver in the barometer sink whilst the weather is still bright and clear.

And at last the change came. My father went again to London ; and lost-I think, I have always thought so—more money : all, perhaps, except that positively settled upon my mother, and a legacy of rather smaller amount left to me by the maiden sister of the angry cousin. Then, one by one, our visitors departed; and my father, who had returned in haste again, in equal haste left home, after short interviews with landlords, and lawyers, and auctioneers; and I knew I can't tell how, but I did know—that everything was to be parted with, and everybody paid.

That same night two or three large chests were carried away through the garden by George and another old servant, and a day or two after my mother and myself with Mrs. Mosse, the good housekeeper, who lived with my gradfather before his marriage, and one other maid-servant, left Lyme in a hack chaise. We were to travel post. But in the general trouble nobody had remembered that some camp was breaking up between Bridport and Dorchester, so that when we reached the latter town we found to our consternation that there was neither room for us in any inn, nor chaise, nor horses to pursue our journey. All that could be done for us, after searching through the place, was a conveyance in a vehicle which was going seven or eight miles our way, and from whence there was a prospect of our getting on in the morning. This machine turned out to be a sort of tilted cart without springs, and the jolting upon the Dorsetshire roads fifty-five years ago was doubtless something sufficiently uncomfortable. The discipline of travel teaches people to think little of temporary inconveniences now-a-days, and doubtless many a fine lady would laugh at such a shift. But it was not as a temporary discomfort that it came upon my poor mother. It was her first touch of poverty. It seemed like a final parting from all the elegances and all the accommodations to which she had been used. I never shall forget her heart-broken look when she took her little girl upon her lap in that jolting caravan (so for the more grace they called the vehicle), nor how the tears stood in her


when we were turned altogether into our miserable bed-room when we reached the road-side alehouse where we were to pass the night, and found ourselves, instead of the tea we so much needed, condemned to sup on stale bread and dirty cheese, as people who arrive in tilted carts have been and will be to the end of the world.

The next day we resumed our journey, and reached a dingy comfortless lodging in one of the suburbs beyond Westminster Bridge. father's plans were I do not exactly know; probably to gather together what disposable money still remained after paying all debts from the sale of books, plate and furniture at Lyme, and thence to proceed (backed up by his greatly lessened income) to practise in some distant town. At all events London was the best starting-place, and he could consult his old fellow-pupil and life-long friend, Dr. Babington, then one of the physicians to Guy's Hospital, and refresh his medical studies with

in what place to bestow himself.

What my

experiments and lectures, whilst determinin

[ocr errors]

In the meanwhile his spirits returned as buoyant as ever, and so, now that fear had changed into certainty, did mine. In the intervals of his professional pursuits he walked about London with his little girl in his hand; and one day (it was my birth-day, and I was ten years old) he took me into a not very tempting-looking place, which was, as I speedily found, a lottery office. An Irish lottery was upon the point of being drawn, and he desired me to choose one out of several bits of printed paper (I did not then know their significance) that lay upon the counter:

“ Choose which number you like best,” said the dear papa,

" and that shall be your birth-day present.”

I immediately selected one, and put it into his hand : No. 2,224.

“Ah,” said my father, examining it, “ you must choose again. I want to buy a whole ticket; and

; this is only a quarter. Choose again, my pet.”

“No, dear papa, I like this one best.'

“ Here is the next number,” interposed the lottery office keeper, “ No. 2,223."

Ay,” said my father, " that will do just as well. Will it not, Mary? We'll take that.” “No!” returned I, obstinately; " that won't do.

!I This is my birth-day you know, papa, and I am ten years old. Cast up my number, and you'll find that makes ten. The other is only nine.”

My father, superstitious like all speculators, struck with my pertinacity, and with the reason I gave, which he liked none the less because the ground of preference was tolerably unreasonable, resisted the

[ocr errors]


« AnteriorContinuar »