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The Fruits of Disobedience by E. V. Lucas

or, The Kidnapped Child

In a beautiful villa, on the banks of the Medway resided a gentleman whose name was Darnley, who had, during the early part of life, filled a post of some importance about the Court, and even in its decline preserved that elegance of manners which so peculiarly marks a finished gentleman.

The loss of a beloved wife had given a pensive cast to his features, and a seriousness to his deportment, which many people imagined proceeded from haughtiness of disposition, yet nothing could be further from Mr. Darnley's character, for he was affable, gentle, benevolent, and humane.

His family consisted of an only sister, who, like himself, had lost the object of her tenderest affection, but who, in dividing her attention between her brother and his amiable children, endeavoured to forget her own misfortunes.

Mr. Darnley's fortune was sufficiently great to enable him to place his daughters in the first school in London, but he preferred having them under his immediate instruction, and as Mrs. Collier offered to assist him in their education he resolved for some years not to engage a governess, as Nurse Chapman was one of those worthy creatures to whose care he could securely trust them.

An old friend of Mr. Darnley's had recently bought a house at Rochester, and that gentleman and his sister were invited to pass a few days there, and as Emily grew rather too big for the nurse's management Mrs. Collier resolved to make her of the party, leaving Sophia, Amanda, and Eliza under that good woman's protection.

It was Mr. Darnley's wish that the young folks should rise early and take a long walk every morning before breakfast, but they were strictly ordered never to go beyond their own grounds unless their aunt or father accompanied them. This order they had frequently endeavoured to persuade Nurse Chapman to disregard, but, faithful to the trust reposed in her, she always resisted their urgent entreaties.

The morning after Mr. Darnley went to Rochester the poor woman found herself thoroughly indisposed, and wholly incapable of rising at the accustomed hour. The children, however, were dressed for walking, and the nursemaid charged not to go beyond the shrubbery, and they all sallied out in high good humour.

'Now, Susan,' said Sophia, as soon as they entered the garden, 'this is the only opportunity you may ever have of obliging us. Do let us walk to the village, and then you know you can see your father and mother.'

'La, missy!' replied the girl, 'why, you know 'tis as much as my place is worth if Nurse Chapman should find out.'

'Find it out indeed,' said Amanda; 'how do you think she is to find it out? Come, do let us go, there's a dear good creature.'

'Yes, dear, dear Susan, do let us go,' said Eliza, skipping on before them, 'and I'll show you the way, for I walked there last summer with father.'

Whether it was the wish of obliging the young ladies, or the desire of seeing her parents, I cannot pretend to say, but in a luckless hour Susan yielded, and the party soon reached the village.

Susan's mother was delighted at seeing her, and highly honoured by the young ladies' presence.

'Oh, sweet, dear creatures!' said the old woman, 'I must get something for them to eat after their long walk, and my oven's quite hot, and I can bake them a little cake in a quarter of an hour, and I'll milk Jenny in ten minutes.'

The temptation of her hot cake and new milk was not to be withstood, and Susan began taking down some smart china cups, which were arranged in form upon the mantelpiece, and carefully dusted them for the young ladies' use.

Eliza followed the old woman into the cowhouse, and began asking a thousand questions, when her attention was suddenly attracted by the appearance of a tame lamb, who went up bleating to its mistress with a view of asking its accustomed breakfast.

'You must wait a little, Billy,' said the woman, 'and let your betters be served before you. Don't you see that we have got gentlefolks to breakfast with us this morning?'

Eliza was so delighted with the beauty of the little animal that she wanted to kiss it, and attempted to restrain it for that purpose, whilst Billy, ungrateful for her intended kindness, gave a sudden spring and frisked away.

Eliza followed in hopes of being able to catch him, but he ran baaing along into the high road.

A woman whose appearance was descriptive of poverty but whose smiling countenance indicated good nature, at that moment happened to pass, and, accosting Eliza in a tone of familiarity, said: 'That's not half such a pretty lamb, miss, as I have got at home, and not a quarter so tame, for if you did but say, Bob, he'd follow you from one end of the town to the other, and then he'll fetch and carry like a dog, stand up on his hind legs, when my husband says “Up” for the thing, and play more tricks than a young kitten.'

'Oh, the pretty creature,' replied Eliza, 'how I should like to see it!'

'Well, come along with me, miss,' said the woman, 'for I only lives just across the next field, but you must run as hard as you can, because my husband is going to work, and he generally takes Bob with him.'

'Well, make haste, then,' said Eliza.

'Give me your hand, miss,' replied the woman; 'for we can run faster together. But there goes my husband, I declare; and there's Bob, as usual, skipping on before.'

'Where? where?' exclaimed Eliza, stretching her little neck as far as she possibly could, to see if she could discern the lamb.

'You are not tall enough,' said the artful creature; 'but let me lift you up, miss, and then I dare say you will see them;' and, instantly catching her up, she cried out: 'Look directly towards the steeple, miss; but I'll run with you in my arms, and I warrant we'll soon overtake them.'

Eliza looked, but looked in vain, and, perceiving the woman had soon carried her out of sight of the cottage, begged she would set her down, as she dare not go any farther.

The vile creature was absolutely incapable of replying, for her breath was nearly exhausted by the rapidity of the motion, and Eliza continued entreating her to stop, and struggled violently to elude her grasp.

At length, after a quarter of an hour's exertion, the woman found herself incapable of proceeding, and stopped suddenly, sat down on a bank, keeping tight hold of Eliza's arms, who cried dreadfully, and besought her to let her go.

'Let you go!' she replied; 'what, after all the plague I've had to knap you? No, no, you don't catch me at that, I promise you; but be a good girl, and don't cry, and then you may see Bob by-and-by, perhaps.'

'Oh, my sisters! my sisters! Let me go to my sisters!' cried the child.

'I'll find plenty of sisters for you in a few days,' said the vile creature; 'but they won't know you in them there fine clothes; so let's pull them off in a minute, and then we'll have another run after Bob.'

So saying, she stripped off the white frock, hat, and tippet. The rest of the things shared the same fate, and she was compelled to put on some old rags which the inhuman creature took out of a bag she carried under her petticoat; then, taking a bottle of liquid from the same place, she instantly began washing Eliza's face with it, and, notwithstanding all her remonstrances, cut her beautiful hair close to her head.

Thus metamorphosed, it would have been impossible even for Mr. Darnley to have known his child, and they proceeded onward until her little legs would carry her no farther. At this period they were overtaken by the Canterbury waggon, and for a mere trifle the driver consented to let them ride to London. Eliza's tears continued to flow, but she dared not utter a complaint, as her inhuman companion protested she would break every bone in her skin if she ventured to make the least noise.

[Illustration: Cut her beautiful hair close to her head.—Page 102.]

When they arrived in town, she was dragged (for to walk she was unable) to a miserable hole down several steps, where they gave her some bread and butter to eat, and then desired her to go to bed.

The bed, if such it might be called, was little else than a bundle of rags thrown into a corner of the room, with a dirty blanket spread across it; and there she was left by her inhuman kidnapper to mourn her misfortunes and lament having disregarded her father's injunctions.

The next morning she was forced to rise the moment it was light, and to walk as far as her little legs would carry her before they stopped anywhere to take refreshment. The second night was passed in a barn, and about five o'clock the third afternoon they knocked at the door of a neat-looking cottage, where nine or ten children were sitting in a little room making lace.

'Why, Peggy,' said the woman, as she opened the door, 'I thought you never would have come again! However, I see you have got me a hand at last, and God knows I'm enough in want of her; for two of my brats have thought proper to fall sick, and I have more to do than ever I had in my life.'

On the following day Eliza's filthy rags were all taken off, and she was dressed in a tidy, brown stuff gown, a nice clean round-eared cap, and a little coloured bib and apron; and she was ordered, if any person asked her name, to say it was Biddy Bullen, and that she was niece to the woman who employed her.

The severity with which all this wretch's commands were enforced wholly prevented any of the helpless victims who were under her protection from daring to disobey them; and though most of them were placed under her care by the same vile agent who had decoyed Eliza, yet they were all tutored to relate similar untruths.

But I now think it is high time to carry my little readers back to the cottage scene, where Susan was arranging things in order for breakfast, and Sophia and her sister were anxiously watching the moment when the cake was pronounced completely ready.

The old woman soon returned with the milk-pail on her arm, and Susan eagerly demanded: 'Where's Miss Eliza?'

'Oh, the pretty creature!' replied her mother, 'she'll be here in a minute, I warrant her; but she has gone skipping after our Billy, and the two sweet innocents they are together.'

She then went to the oven, produced the cake, and began buttering it with all expedition, whilst Sophia joyously ran to the door of the cowhouse, and began loudly calling her sister Eliza.

No answer being returned, Susan began to feel alarmed, but the young ladies told her not to be frightened, as they knew it was only one of Eliza's pranks. But, alas! too soon were they convinced it was no joke, but some dreadful misfortune must have happened.

'Miss Eliza! Miss Eliza!' was vociferated through the village, not only by Susan and her mother, but by all the neighbours who had heard of the calamity, whilst her sisters ran about frantic with grief, crying, 'Eliza, my love! my darling! Oh, if you are hid, for pity's sake speak!'

Nurse Chapman got up about half-past nine, and, hearing the children were not returned from their walk, sent the housemaid directly after them.

The garden, the shrubbery, and the lawn were all searched without success; and just as Betty was returning to inform the nurse they were not to be found, she perceived Susan and the two children enter a little green gate at the bottom of the shrubbery.

'Where's Miss Eliza?' called Betty, in a voice as loud as she could articulate.

'God knows! God knows!' replied the careless girl, sobbing so loud she could scarcely speak.

'How! where! when!' said the others. 'Why, poor nurse will go stark, staring mad!'

By that time the poor woman had quitted her room, and walked into the garden to see what had become of her little charges; and, not directly missing Eliza from the group, which was then fast approaching towards the house, she called out:

'Come, my dear children—come along! I thought you would never have returned again.' And, observing Eliza was not with them, she continued: 'But, Susan, what's become of my sweet bird? Where's my little darling, Miss Eliza?'

'Oh, nurse! nurse!' said Sophia, 'my sister's lost! indeed she's lost!'

'Lost!' exclaimed the poor old woman—'lost! What do you tell me? What do I hear? Oh, my master! my dear master! never shall I bear to see his face again!'

Susan then repeated every circumstance just as has been related, and with sighs and tears bewailed her own folly in suffering herself to be over-persuaded. And the children declared they dare not encounter their father's displeasure.

The menservants were instantly summoned, and sent on horseback different ways. That she had been stolen admitted of no doubt, as there was no water near the cottage; and had any accident happened, they must have found her, as they had searched every part of the village before they ventured to return home.

One servant was sent to Rochester, another towards London, and a third and fourth across the country roads; but no intelligence could be obtained, or the slightest information gathered, by which the unfortunate child could be found, or her wicked decoyer's footsteps traced.

When Mr. Darnley was apprised of the calamitous event, the agitation of his mind may be easily conceived, but can never be described.

Handbills were instantly circulated all over the country, the child's person described, and a reward of five hundred guineas offered for her restoration.

Sophia and Amanda were inconsolable, and Susan was ordered to be discharged before Mr. Darnley returned home, which he did not for more than a month after the melancholy circumstance happened, as he was not satisfied with sending messengers in pursuit of his lost treasure, but went himself to all those wretched parts of London where poverty and vice are known to dwell, in the hope of meeting the object of his solicitude, and at length gave up the interesting pursuit, because he found his health rendered him incapable of continuing it.

Nine tedious months passed away without any intelligence of the lost Eliza; and time, which is a general remedy for all misfortunes, had not softened the severity of their affliction. Mrs. Collier had engaged a lady to be governess to her nieces, as her attention had been wholly devoted to her unfortunate brother, whose agitated state of mind had produced a bodily complaint which demanded her unremitting care and tenderness.

Although Emily loved Eliza with the fondest affection, yet her grief was much less poignant than either of her sisters', as she could not accuse herself with being accessory to her loss.

'Never, never shall I forgive myself,' Sophia would often say, 'for having deviated from my dear father's command! Oh, so good and indulgent as he is to us, how wicked it was to transgress his will! I was the eldest, and ought to have known better, and my poor Eliza is the sufferer for my crime!'

Thus would she bewail her folly and imprudence, until, agonized by the torture of her own reflections, she would sink down in a chair quite exhausted, and burst into a flood of tears.

While the family at Darnley Hall were thus a prey to unavailing sorrow, the lovely little girl who had occasioned it was beginning to grow more reconciled to the cruelty of her destiny, and to support her different mode of life with resignation and composure. She had acquired such a degree of skill in the art of lacemaking (which was the business her employer followed) as generally to be able to perform the tasks which were allotted her; and if it so happened she was incapable of doing it, Sally Butchell, a child almost two years older than herself, of whom she was very fond, was always kind enough to complete it for her.

The cottage in which the vile Mrs. Bullen resided was situated about a quarter of a mile from High Wycombe; and whenever she was obliged to go to that place, either to purchase or to dispose of her goods, she always went either before her family were up, or after they had retired to rest, locking the door constantly after her, and putting the key in her pocket, so that the poor little souls had no opportunity of telling their misfortunes to any human creature.

One intense hot afternoon, in the month of August, as the children were sitting hard at work with the door open for the sake of air, an elderly lady and gentleman walked up to it, and begged to be accommodated with a seat, informing Mrs. Bullen their carriage had broke down a mile distant, and they had been obliged to walk in the heat of the sun.

The appearance of so many children, all industriously employed, was a sight particularly pleasing to the liberal-minded Mrs. Montague, and she immediately began asking the woman several questions about them; but there was something of confusion in her manner of replying that called forth Mrs. Montague's surprise and astonishment.

'They really are lovely children, my dear,' said she, turning to Mr. Montague, who had stood at the door watching the approach of the carriage, which he perceived coming forward; 'and as to that little creature with the mole under her left eye, I declare I think it is a perfect beauty.'

Mr. Montague turned his head, and regarded Eliza with a look that at once proved that his sentiments corresponded with those of his lady.

'What is your name, my love?' said he, in a tone of kindness which poor Eliza had long been a stranger to.

The child coloured like scarlet, and looked immediately at her inhuman employer, who, catching the contagion, replied with evident marks of confusion:

'Her name is Biddy Bullen, sir; she's my niece; but 'tis a poor timid little fool, and is always in a fright when gentlefolks happen to speak to her. Go, Biddy,' she continued—'go up into my bedroom, and mind that thread which you'll find upon the reel.'

'You should try to conquer that timidity,' said Mr. Montague, 'by making her answer every stranger who speaks to her; but by taking that office upon yourself, you absolutely encourage the shyness you complain of. Come hither, my little girl,' continued he, observing she was retiring upstairs, 'and tell the lady what your name is.'

Encouraged by the kindness of Mr. Montague's address, the agitated child obeyed the summons, although Mrs. Bullen attempted to force her into resistance.

'Well,' continued the old gentleman, patting her on the cheek, 'and where did you get that pretty mole?'

'My mother gave it me, sir,' replied the blushing child; 'but I did not see her do it, because Nurse Chapman told me she went to heaven as soon as I was born.'

'Your mother! And what was your mother's name?' said Mr. Montague.

'Darnley, sir,' said the child, and suddenly recollecting the lesson that had been taught her; 'but my name is Biddy Bullen, and that is my aunt.'

'Darnley!' exclaimed Mrs. Montague—'the very child that has been for these twelve months past advertised in all the papers'—then turning to convince herself of the fact—'and the very mole confirms it.'

Mr. Montague immediately attempted to secure the woman, but her activity eluded his grasp, and darting out at the back door she was out of sight in a few moments.

'Is she really gone? Is she gone?' all the little voices at once demanded, and upon Mr. Montague's assuring them she was really gone for ever, their joy broke out in a thousand different ways—some cried, some laughed, and others jumped. In short, there never was a scene more completely calculated to interest the feelings of a benevolent heart.

Mr. Montague's carriage at this period arrived, and the footman was desired to fetch a magistrate from Wycombe, whilst the worthy clergyman resolved to remain there until his arrival, and began questioning all the children. Two had been there from so early a period that they could give no account of their name or origin, but all the rest were so clear in their description that the benevolent Mr. Montague had no doubt of being able to restore them to their afflicted parents.

The magistrate soon arrived, attended by the worthy rector of the place, who, hearing from Mr. Montague's servant that a child had been stolen came with the intent of offering his services.

All but Eliza were immediately put under his protection, but Mrs. Montague was so anxious she should be their earliest care that she begged her husband to order a post-chaise directly, and set off immediately for town. This request was willingly complied with, and by three o'clock the next afternoon the party arrived at Darnley Hall.

Mrs. Collier was standing at the window when the carriage stopped, and looking earnestly at her niece suddenly exclaimed in a tone of rapture: 'My child! My child! My lost Eliza!'

Mr. Darnley, who was reading, sprang from his seat, and flew to the door in an ecstasy of joy. In less than a minute he returned folding his Eliza to his throbbing heart. The joyful intelligence ran through the house, and the other children impatiently flew to this scene of transport.

To describe their feelings or express their felicity would require the aid of the most descriptive pen, and even then would be but faintly told, and therefore had much better be passed over.

From that moment the children all unanimously agreed strictly to attend to their father's orders, and never in the slightest instance act in opposition to his will.

Mr. and Mrs. Montague were laden with caresses, and earnestly entreated to remain Mr. Darnley's guests. The hospitable invitation would have been gladly accepted had not the thoughts of the poor children who were still at Wycombe seemed to claim his immediate attention, and so great was the philanthropy of Mr. Montague's character that he could never rest satisfied if a single duty remained unfulfilled.

 
 
 

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