Cuddio Rhestr Erthyglau

19 erthygl ar y dudalen hon


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[ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.] AMBITION'S LADDER. By the Author of Atherstone Grangef* A Life for a Love," cfc. CHAPTER II. A TOUCH OF NATUHB; Poor, wretcl ed wanderer! Want written lepib'y on her win faoe; What sin, what madness, or what sndden tolly, Has brought, her to such d re straits of misery? AWAY out of the crowded streets, down the narrow lane on the other side of the viaduct that spans the well-lit, busily-thronged road, the raw night air piercing through her thin shawl, which she every now and then drew closer round her shoulders, in ,the vain endeavour to obtain more warmth, a poorly-clad woman stood beneath one of the brick arches of the railway, looking wretchedly forlorn and ill, as she leant against the wall, her gaze fixed intently upon the living stream that passed along the Westminster Bridge-road, as though she was wat hing for some one, her arms crossed tightly over her breast, her lips firmly compressed as if to choke back the convu'sivs sobs that must else have escaped her. Poverty-stricken, With want and privation show- ing themselves in every line of her face, every fold of the scanty garments that were so ill-calculated to protect her from the inclemency of the weather, she was strangely beautiful, in spite of her evident Ttisery and rags, and bore herself with an air that spoke of happier, more refined surroundings having been hers at some time, than those among which she now stood, eagerly watching the living tide that passed so near to her that every figure was plainly discernible; some -alas, how mMty P—poor and wretched as herself, others with prosperous, well-fed looks and comfortable clothing, more suit- able for the damp, bleak air; more, again, lost, vicious blots upon humanity of her own sex, who flaunted their tawdrv finerv and filled the air with the (sound of their bold, loud laughter. But very few eyes turned in the direction of that solitary figure. Misery in tatters is not a sight so uncommon as to attract much notice. And it is better so," muttered the woman, with a hard, bitter look-" much better. A single word of kindness, a touch of rei] friendliness, even now might turn me from the end I have in view. Yet there is no other way, nor should I care, but for the thought of what will become of him. My child !-my poor child And the sad, despairing face looked even more 'despondent, till it suddenly brightened into tender- ness at the sound of a childish voice closn to her eide. Mamma," il said, "why don't 'oo come ^me ?" She turned with' a wistful smile, and stooped down "to embrace the speaker, a fine-featured, delicate boy of four or five years of age, whose hand was held by a good-humoured if somewhat coarse- feature 1 elderly woman, also poorly dressed, but with more appearance of comfort. I didn't like leaving your little boy at home by himself, Mr-s. Grant, and Alick- drat him-ain't nowhere to be found off to the Wictoria again, I expect. Drat them playhouses, say I; he'll never ,come to no good along o' them," said the new comer v, lubly. "So, as I was telling you, I brought little Louis out & she* ping with n e. But, bless my soul! what are you standing here for in 4.he cold, and such a drizzle coming down, too. With such a Cough as you've got! It's quite enough to give you your death, my dear, that it is." The woman smiled again, but drearily, this time. "I'm not afraid of that, Mrs. Wood," she answered in a reckless tone. "The poor and miserable—such as I— are too well used to wet and cold to be affected by them. Poverty is proof against all such evils, I have found." "Just what my old man says, ma'am," returned Mrs." Wood, nodding her head wisely He's always a arguing that poor people 'as the best of things that way, because, he says, they ain't got no time to lay up, while rich folks go to bed and send for the doctor if only their little finger aches, and makes themselves ill with coddling and taking (are of themselves. But I don't say that he's right, you know; and I'm sure of one thing, that you ain't 'ardy enough to stand such weather as this, so come along 'orne wi' me and little Louis, there's a gapd soul, or you'll be getting the rheumatics, and that's no ioke, lean tell you, as have suffered tortures unbeknownst that way, and my joints as stiff as a poker." There is no occasion for fear as far as my health !S concerned," replied the woman addressed as Mrs. Grant. Nothing can harm me now." Still, you'd be better at home, my dear, than wandering about in the cold and wet." Perhaps. But I am here with an object, and one that must be carried out before I seek rest. So if you will take the child home again, and put him to bed for me, I shall be very much obliged to you." "That I will, and welcome, my dear, and give him some supper first as well," heartily returned Mrs. Wood. But I do hope—and you won't mind me spea' ing p'a:n, as is old enough to be your mother, and has known my own troubles, and plenty of 'em.. I do hope and trust, my dear, that the object you mean is a good one, that you won't forget the little man here," and the worthy woman drew closer to the other's side—" that you won't forget he's got no other friend in the world, only you." Tears stood in her kindly eyes as she finished speaking, an:l Gertrude Grant turned away from her anxious, enquiring glance. "No other friend but me!" she repeated, with despairing bitterness. "Ah! how can you think that ? I have been his cruellest enemy, if you knew all." You!" "Yes. It seems strange to you, no doubt, who are a good woman and love your children, that a mother can make such a confession. But it is true, nevertheless. The innocent have often to suffer for bthers' wrong-doing in this world. You cannot understand me, I daresay, now, but you will soon— very soon." ti I hope so, indeed, for I can't abear to see you so down, my dear. It makes my heart ache to hear you talk so." Take my advice, Mi s. Wood, and don't 'bother yourself with troubles belonging to other people; you have enough of your own." Maybe so but for all that I can't help feeling for those who saem to be worse off. 41 You are a good, kind woman, Mrs. Wood," re- turned her companion, touched in spite of herself by the tears of sympathy. I can never make you any return for it, but some day, perhaps, my boy may have the power I lack. Some day, when I am gone." Mrs. Wood grew very nervous as she saw the solemn, unfathomable look that came into Gertrude f-rant's eyes, and again attempted to persuade her to ohorne. It would be the best place for you, I am S^x-e," tshe urged, and this poor little fellow too." Mv boy !—my darling 1" And'the mother stooped to take him in her arms -and press her lips to his in one long, lingering kiss, ■then put him from her on e again and repeated her refusal. "It cannot be," she said; "I have something to "do first. Take him away, please. He is shivering with cold." "And you?" I have an appointment I must keep, then I shall go home, straight home," was the answer, spoken in low, saddened accents. You will, you promise me ?" "Yes." Then come along, little man, and let us see whether there ain't something nice and hot in* the saucepan by the fire I humbly beg your pardon. I'm sure, sir. Come along, laddie. Mammy won't be long." With which she walked away, the child rather reluctantly allowing himself to be parted from his mother, while the gentlemm to whom rs. Wood had apologised for lJn inadvertent jostle looked after -them a little curiously. He was the same person already described, and the reason for his visit to a neighbourhood so evi- dently foreign to his usual haunts now became apparent, for-only wait'ng till her late companion and the boy were out of sight—Gertrude Grant addressed the new comer. 0 I had almost given you up," she said. 0 Id am^sorr^° have kept you waiting, but I really No matter," she said, cutting him short with an impatient gesture. You saw that child ? He nodded his head shortly. 'di" You guess who he is, of course ? she went on. Ycur son, I presuiae ? "Yes." I supposed so. But was it altogether necessary that I should he brought to tM3~ahythi»g DSI savoury locality to be told so much ? "Perhaps not. But I had another fesLu vox wishing to see you, and such a spot as this is the most unlikely for you to be encountered by any of voujr acquaintances." I'm not quite so sure of that. I heard some fellows at my club talking of looking into some con- founded music hall, which is, I understand, close by. However, I came, as you requested, and am ready to hear what you have to say; but 11 hope you will make the interview as brief as possible." You might speak to me a little more kindly, George, if only in memory of the days when aa children the same roof sheltered us." I think it would be better to let the past alone," answered the young man, coldly. Tell me what you want with me. If it is assistance, as I suppose, I shall be very willing to give it to you, though a letter would have answered the purpose quite as well." Gertrude Grant regarded him fixedly for a few moments, and then replied bitterly- Selfish, unfeeling as ever. Perhaps I should have remembered that before, and not trusted to your good offices." Upon my word, Mrs. ——" Silence!" exclaimed Gertrude, with a look of fierce abhorrence. Do not speak the name that is upon your lips. Address me only by that you used when we were children ifcgether. I have renounced that other for ever." As you please. Only, pray come to the point without any more delay. What do you require ?" "Not much. Nothing for myself, but-for my child-I am going to-leave him." To leave him and the gentleman elevated his eyebrows a little. When ?" "Soon. I am going far away from him and all who know me. No, I do not want that," she went on, seeing him take out his purse. I am poor enough, miserably poor, Heaven knows, but I will accept no charity from you, George Sartoris, in the shape of money." Then what do you want with me ?" 1 will tell you," she answered quietly, but very earnestly. I have said that I am going far away, very far, and never to return. Will you see that my boy is restored to—his father-with this letter- when I am gone, or in case you should hear of my death." Death! What has put such a thought as that into your mind ? You are not ill, are you ?" "Who knows," she replied, dreamily. "Perhaps it may be that I have some foolish presentiment that, young as I am, my end is not far distant. In any case I only ask if you will do as I wish." He hesitated for a moment, and then assented. I'll do what I can," he said. For the sake of those old times you just now spoke of." You promise that, faithfully ?" Upon my honour." She looked intently at him, as though to assure herself of his sincerity. Apparently she was satisfied, or else knew that it was useless to hope for any more binding pledge, and drew from her pocket a letter and a small bundle of letters, securely tied and sealed, which she handed to him. The former Mr. Sartoris examined, and found ad- dressed to himself. You need not try to read it now," said Gertrude Grant. It contains only such instructions as will be necessary to find the child and return him to his place in the world when I am gone." $" But why not let me take him now? Mr. well, I won't mention his name, if you object-his father would be only too glad to recover him, and I don't know, upon my soul, whether I ought not to let him know Not before I give you permission, George, eagerly broke in the woman. "You promised me, remember that." Very foolishly. I should have known better. But I must not break my word, I suppose, though for the poor little beggar's sake it would be the best thing to do. However, you may trust me so far to do my utmost for the youngster should occasion arise-if he is to be found, that is, after so indefi- nite a period as you have named." "Have no misgiving on that score, George," re- turned Gertrude Grant. "And now all that re- mains is to say good-bye. If you like to take my hand once more, before we say farewell for ever, do so with this assurance from your old playmate's lips: I have never sinned in the manner you all believe. I am innocent, so help me Heaven, in this my last extremity! I am innocent of that crime of which I was suspected, and for which I am outcast from home and friends. Can you not believe me ?" And as the pale, haggard woman extended her hand, George Sartoris involuntarily took it in both his. Cold, hard, and cynical as he was, incredulous as to the assertion he had just heard made—an asser- tion which he believed to be nearly the last desperate effort of a guilty woman to extort his sympathy— there was yet enough of human feeling in him to render it impossible that he should listen quite un- moved to the sad, pleading tones of the forlorn creature before him. I wish you would let me help you for yourself, Gertrude," he sa:d, gently. I am not rich, as you know, but at least I could provide you with the means of living." It is too late," she cried, wildly. Don't try to tempt me. My mind is quite made up. Re- member what you have promised, and now—good- bye." "Till when?" Ah! who shall say P Upon this earth, at least, we can meet no more. Good-bye." Before he could stop her she was gone, lost in the hurrying crowd that filled the street, and George Sartoris, whose transient mood of softness- had vanished almost as rapidly as it was con- ceived, carelessly shrugged his shoulders and turned to go. She's as high-flown as ever," he muttered. Words and reasoning are wasted on her. It's an awful bore to be mixed up in such a matter, but as to the sentimental rubbish she talks about eternal partings—bah it's all bosh." And with this he signalled a passing hansom, and was soon being wheeled rapidly across Westminster- bridge to the more fashionable regions in which he was at home. But not without something having occurred in the meantime which, when he discovered it next morn- ing, quite put it out of his power to fulfil the promise he had made to Gertrude Grant, who had hardly disappeared from his side before the slight figure of Alick Wood, concealed Dehind the arch- way, but close to them, during the whole of their interview, glided stealthily out and, while Mr. Sartoris was watching the woman's receding figure plucked the packet and letter from the overcoat pocket in which they had been carelessly thrust and darted off with his prize, the value of which he had yet to learn. (2'» be continued),







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