A BEGGAR'S PALACE.
That I had said something, in the act of waking, I felt sure: the
hoarse stifled cry was still ringing in my ears, even if the startled
look of my fellow-traveler had not been evidence enough: but what could
I possibly say by way of apology?
"I hope I didn't frighten you?" I stammered out at last.
"I have no idea what I said. I was dreaming."
"You said 'Uggug indeed!'" the young lady replied, with quivering lips
that would curve themselves into a smile, in spite of all her efforts
to look grave. "At least--you didn't say it--you shouted it!"
"I'm very sorry," was all I could say, feeling very penitent and
helpless. "She has Sylvie's eyes!" I thought to myself, half-doubting
whether, even now, I were fairly awake. "And that sweet look of
innocent wonder is all Sylvie's too. But Sylvie hasn't got that calm
resolute mouth nor that far-away look of dreamy sadness, like one that
has had some deep sorrow, very long ago--" And the thick-coming
fancies almost prevented my hearing the lady's next words.
"If you had had a 'Shilling Dreadful' in your hand," she proceeded,
"something about Ghosts or Dynamite or Midnight Murder--one could
understand it: those things aren't worth the shilling, unless they give
one a Nightmare. But really--with only a medical treatise,
you know--" and she glanced, with a pretty shrug of contempt,
at the book over which I had fallen asleep.
Her friendliness, and utter unreserve, took me aback for a moment;
yet there was no touch of forwardness, or boldness, about the child for
child, almost, she seemed to be: I guessed her at scarcely over
twenty--all was the innocent frankness of some angelic visitant,
new to the ways of earth and the conventionalisms or, if you will,
the barbarisms--of Society. "Even so," I mused, "will Sylvie look and
speak, in another ten years."
"You don't care for Ghosts, then," I ventured to suggest, unless they
are really terrifying?"
"Quite so," the lady assented. "The regular Railway-Ghosts--I mean
the Ghosts of ordinary Railway-literature--are very poor affairs.
I feel inclined to say, with Alexander Selkirk, 'Their tameness is
shocking to me'! And they never do any Midnight Murders.
They couldn't 'welter in gore,' to save their lives!"
"'Weltering in gore' is a very expressive phrase, certainly.
Can it be done in any fluid, I wonder?"
"I think not," the lady readily replied--quite as if she had thought
it out, long ago. "It has to be something thick. For instance, you
might welter in bread-sauce. That, being white, would be more suitable
for a Ghost, supposing it wished to welter!"
"You have a real good terrifying Ghost in that book?" I hinted.
"How could you guess?" she exclaimed with the most engaging frankness,
and placed the volume in my hands. I opened it eagerly, with a not
unpleasant thrill like what a good ghost-story gives one) at the
'uncanny' coincidence of my having so unexpectedly divined the subject
of her studies.
It was a book of Domestic Cookery, open at the article Bread Sauce.'
I returned the book, looking, I suppose, a little blank, as the lady
laughed merrily at my discomfiture. "It's far more exciting than some
of the modern ghosts, I assure you! Now there was a Ghost last
month--I don't mean a real Ghost in in Supernature--but in a
Magazine. It was a perfectly flavourless Ghost. It wouldn't have
frightened a mouse! It wasn't a Ghost that one would even offer a chair
"Three score years and ten, baldness, and spectacles, have their
advantages after all!", I said to myself. "Instead of a bashful youth
and maiden, gasping out monosyllables at awful intervals, here we have
an old man and a child, quite at their ease, talking as if they had
known each other for years! Then you think," I continued aloud,
"that we ought sometimes to ask a Ghost to sit down? But have we any
authority for it? In Shakespeare, for instance--there are plenty of
ghosts there--does Shakespeare ever give the stage-direction 'hands
chair to Ghost'?"
The lady looked puzzled and thoughtful for a moment: then she almost
clapped her hands. "Yes, yes, he does!" she cried.
"He makes Hamlet say 'Rest, rest, perturbed Spirit!"'
"And that, I suppose, means an easy-chair?"
"An American rocking-chair, I think--"
"Fayfield Junction, my Lady, change for Elveston!" the guard announced,
flinging open the door of the carriage: and we soon found ourselves,
with all our portable property around us, on the platform.
The accommodation, provided for passengers waiting at this Junction,
was distinctly inadequate--a single wooden bench, apparently intended
for three sitters only: and even this was already partially occupied by
a very old man, in a smock frock, who sat, with rounded shoulders and
drooping head, and with hands clasped on the top of his stick so as to
make a sort of pillow for that wrinkled face with its look of patient
"Come, you be off!" the Station-master roughly accosted the poor old
man. "You be off, and make way for your betters! This way, my Lady!"
he added in a perfectly different tone. "If your Ladyship will take a
seat, the train will be up in a few minutes." The cringing servility of
his manner was due, no doubt, to the address legible on the pile of
luggage, which announced their owner to be "Lady Muriel Orme, passenger
to Elveston, via Fayfield Junction."
As I watched the old man slowly rise to his feet, and hobble a few
paces down the platform, the lines came to my lips:-
"From sackcloth couch the Monk arose,
With toil his stiffen'd limbs he rear'd;
A hundred years had flung their snows
On his thin locks and floating beard."
But the lady scarcely noticed the little incident. After one
glance at the 'banished man,' who stood tremulously leaning on his
stick, she turned to me. "This is not an American rocking-chair, by any
means! Yet may I say," slightly changing her place, so as to make room
for me beside her, "may I say, in Hamlet's words, 'Rest, rest--'"
she broke off with a silvery laugh.
"--perturbed Spirit!"' I finished the sentence for her. "Yes, that
describes a railway-traveler exactly! And here is an instance of it,"
I added, as the tiny local train drew up alongside the platform,
and the porters bustled about, opening carriage-doors--one of them
helping the poor old man to hoist himself into a third-class carriage,
while another of them obsequiously conducted the lady and myself into a
She paused, before following him, to watch the progress of the other
passenger. "Poor old man!" she said. "How weak and ill he looks!
It was a shame to let him be turned away like that. I'm very sorry--"
At this moment it dawned on me that these words were not addressed to me,
but that she was unconsciously thinking aloud. I moved away a few
steps, and waited to follow her into the carriage, where I resumed the
"Shakespeare must have traveled by rail, if only in a dream:
'perturbed Spirit' is such a happy phrase."
"'Perturbed' referring, no doubt," she rejoined, "to the sensational
booklets peculiar to the Rail. If Steam has done nothing else, it has
at least added a whole new Species to English Literature!"
"No doubt of it," I echoed. "The true origin of all our medical
books--and all our cookery-books--"
"No, no!" she broke in merrily. "I didn't mean our Literature!
We are quite abnormal. But the booklets--the little thrilling romances,
where the Murder comes at page fifteen, and the Wedding at page forty
--surely they are due to Steam?"
"And when we travel by Electricity if I may venture to develop your
theory we shall have leaflets instead of booklets, and the Murder and
the Wedding will come on the same page."
"A development worthy of Darwin!", the lady exclaimed enthusiastically.
"Only you reverse his theory. Instead of developing a mouse into an
elephant, you would develop an elephant into a mouse!" But here we
plunged into a tunnel, and I leaned back and closed my eyes for a
moment, trying to recall a few of the incidents of my recent dream.
"I thought I saw--" I murmured sleepily: and then the phrase insisted
on conjugating itself, and ran into "you thought you saw--he thought
he saw--" and then it suddenly went off into a song:--
"He thought he saw an Elephant,
That practised on a fife:
He looked again, and found it was
A letter from his wife.
'At length I realise,' he said,
"The bitterness of Life!'"
And what a wild being it was who sang these wild words! A Gardener he
seemed to be yet surely a mad one, by the way he brandished his
rake--madder, by the way he broke, ever and anon, into a frantic
jig--maddest of all, by the shriek in which he brought out the last
words of the stanza!
It was so far a description of himself that he had the feet of
an Elephant: but the rest of him was skin and bone: and the wisps of
loose straw, that bristled all about him, suggested that he had been
originally stuffed with it, and that nearly all the stuffing had come
Sylvie and Bruno waited patiently till the end of the first verse.
Then Sylvie advanced alone (Bruno having suddenly turned shy)
and timidly introduced herself with the words "Please, I'm Sylvie!"
"And who's that other thing?', said the Gardener.
"What thing?" said Sylvie, looking round. "Oh, that's Bruno.
He's my brother."
"Was he your brother yesterday?" the Gardener anxiously enquired.
"Course I were!" cried Bruno, who had gradually crept nearer,
and didn't at all like being talked about without having his share in
"Ah, well!" the Gardener said with a kind of groan. "Things change so,
here. Whenever I look again, it's sure to be something different!
Yet I does my duty! I gets up wriggle-early at five--"
"If I was oo," said Bruno, "I wouldn't wriggle so early. It's as bad as
being a worm!" he added, in an undertone to Sylvie.
"But you shouldn't be lazy in the morning, Bruno," said Sylvie.
"Remember, it's the early bird that picks up the worm!"
"It may, if it likes!" Bruno said with a slight yawn. "I don't like
eating worms, one bit. I always stop in bed till the early bird has
picked them up!"
"I wonder you've the face to tell me such fibs!" cried the Gardener.
To which Bruno wisely replied "Oo don't want a face to tell fibs
wiz--only a mouf."
Sylvie discreetly changed the subject. "And did you plant all these
flowers?" she said.
"What a lovely garden you've made! Do you know, I'd like to live here
"In the winter-nights--" the Gardener was beginning.
"But I'd nearly forgotten what we came about!" Sylvie interrupted.
"Would you please let us through into the road? There's a poor old
beggar just gone out--and he's very hungry--and Bruno wants to give
him his cake, you know!"
"It's as much as my place is worth!', the Gardener muttered, taking a
key from his pocket, and beginning to unlock a door in the garden-wall.
"How much are it wurf? "Bruno innocently enquired.
But the Gardener only grinned. "That's a secret!" he said. "Mind you
come back quick!" he called after the children, as they passed out into
the road. I had just time to follow them, before he shut the door
We hurried down the road, and very soon caught sight of the old Beggar,
about a quarter of a mile ahead of us, and the children at once set off
running to overtake him.
Lightly and swiftly they skimmed over the ground, and I could not in
the least understand how it was I kept up with them so easily. But the
unsolved problem did not worry me so much as at another time it might
have done, there were so many other things to attend to.
The old Beggar must have been very deaf, as he paid no attention
whatever to Bruno's eager shouting, but trudged wearily on, never
pausing until the child got in front of him and held up the slice of
cake. The poor little fellow was quite out of breath, and could only
utter the one word "Cake!" not with the gloomy decision with which Her
Excellency had so lately pronounced it, but with a sweet childish
timidity, looking up into the old man's face with eyes that loved
'all things both great and small.'
The old man snatched it from him, and devoured it greedily, as some
hungry wild beast might have done, but never a word of thanks did he
give his little benefactor--only growled "More, more!" and glared at
the half-frightened children.
"There is no more!", Sylvie said with tears in her eyes.
"I'd eaten mine. It was a shame to let you be turned away like that.
I'm very sorry--"
I lost the rest of the sentence, for my mind had recurred, with a great
shock of surprise, to Lady Muriel Orme, who had so lately uttered these
very words of Sylvie's--yes, and in Sylvie's own voice, and with
Sylvie's gentle pleading eyes!
"Follow me!" were the next words I heard, as the old man waved his
hand, with a dignified grace that ill suited his ragged dress, over a
bush, that stood by the road side, which began instantly to sink into
the earth. At another time I might have doubted the evidence of my
eyes, or at least have felt some astonishment: but, in this strange
scene, my whole being seemed absorbed in strong curiosity as to what
would happen next.
When the bush had sunk quite out of our sight, marble steps were seen,
leading downwards into darkness. The old man led the way, and we
The staircase was so dark, at first, that I could only just see the
forms of the children, as, hand-in-hand, they groped their way down
after their guide: but it got lighter every moment, with a strange
silvery brightness, that seemed to exist in the air, as there were no
lamps visible; and, when at last we reached a level floor, the room,
in which we found ourselves, was almost as light as day.
It was eight-sided, having in each angle a slender pillar, round which
silken draperies were twined. The wall between the pillars was entirely
covered, to the height of six or seven feet, with creepers, from which
hung quantities of ripe fruit and of brilliant flowers, that almost hid
the leaves. In another place, perchance, I might have wondered to see
fruit and flowers growing together: here, my chief wonder was that
neither fruit nor flowers were such as I had ever seen before.
Higher up, each wall contained a circular window of coloured glass;
and over all was an arched roof, that seemed to be spangled all over
With hardly less wonder, I turned this way and that, trying to make out
how in the world we had come in: for there was no door: and all the
walls were thickly covered with the lovely creepers.
"We are safe here, my darlings!" said the old man, laying a hand on
Sylvie's shoulder, and bending down to kiss her. Sylvie drew back
hastily, with an offended air: but in another moment, with a glad cry
of "Why, it's Father!", she had run into his arms.
"Father! Father!" Bruno repeated: and, while the happy children
were being hugged and kissed, I could but rub my eyes and say
"Where, then, are the rags gone to?"; for the old man was now dressed
in royal robes that glittered with jewels and gold embroidery,
and wore a circlet of gold around his head.