Read an Excerpt
At no time during the twenty-four hours was the Bull and Mouth Inn a place of quiet or repose, and by ten o'clock in the morning, when the stage-coach from Wisbech, turning top-heavily out of Aldersgate, lumbered into its yard, it seemed, to one weary and downcast passenger at least, to be crowded with vehicles of every description, from a yellow-bodied post-chaise to a wagon, with its shafts cocked up and the various packages and bundles it carried strewn over the yard. All was bustle and confusion; and for a few minutes Miss Malvern, climbing down from the coach, was bewildered by it, and stood looking round her rather helplessly. Until the guard dumped at her feet the small corded trunk which contained her worldly possessions and advised her to look sharp to it, no one paid the least attention to her, except an ostler leading out two horses, and adjuring her to get out of the way, and one of the inevitable street-vendors who haunted busy inn-yards, begging her to buy some gingerbread. The guard, assailed by demands from several anxious travellers to have their bags and bandboxes restored to them immediately, had little time to spare, but Miss Malvern's flower-like countenance, and her air of youthful innocence, impelled him to ask her if anyone was meeting her. When she shook her head, he clicked his tongue disapprovingly, and expressed a hope that she might at least know where she was a-going to.
A gleam of amusement lightened the shadows in Miss Malvern's large gray eyes; she replied, with a tiny chuckle: ‘Oh, yes! I do know that!'
‘What you want, missy, is a hack!' said the guard.
‘No, I don't: I want a porter!' said Miss Malvern, speaking with unexpected decision.
The guard seemed to be inclined to argue this point, but as a stout lady was tugging at his coat-tails, shrilly demanding to know what he had done with a basket of fish consigned to his care, he was obliged to abandon Miss Malvern to her fate, merely shouting in stentorian accents for a porter to carry the young lady's trunk.
This summons was responded to by a burly individual in a frieze coat, who undertook, for the sum of sixpence, to carry Miss Malvern's trunk to the warehouse of Josiah Nidd & Son, Carriers. Since this establishment was situated a bare quarter of a mile from the Bull and Mouth, Miss Malvern had a shrewd suspicion that she was being grossly overcharged; but although an adventurous youth spent in following the drum had accustomed her to haggling with Portuguese farmers and Spanish muleteers, she did not feel inclined to embark on argument in a crowded London inn-yard, so she agreed the price, and desired the porter to lead her to the warehouse.
The premises acquired some years earlier by Mr Nidd and his son had originally been an inn, of neither the size nor the quality of the Bull and Mouth, but, like it, provided with a galleried yard, and a number of stables and coach-houses. Occupying a large part of the yard was an enormous wagon mounted on nine-inch cylindrical wheels, and covered by a spreading tilt. Three brawny lads were engaged in loading this vehicle with a collection of goods ranging from pack-cases to farm-implements, their activities being directed, and shrilly criticized, by an aged gentleman, who was seated on the balcony on one side of the yard. Beneath this balcony a glass door had once invited entrance to the coffee-room, but this had been replaced by a green-painted wooden door, flanked by tubs filled with geraniums, and furnished with a bright brass knocker, indicating that the erstwhile hostelry had become a private residence. Picking her way between the piles of packages, and directing the porter to follow her, Miss Malvern went to it, lifting its latch without ceremony, and stepping into a narrow passage, from which a door gave access into the old coffee-room, and a flight of uneven stairs rose to the upper floors. The trunk set down, and the porter dismissed, Miss Malvern heaved a sigh of relief, as of one who had accomplished an enterprise fraught with peril, and called: ‘Sarah?'
No immediate response being forthcoming, she called again, more loudly, and moved to the foot of the stairs. But even as she set her foot on the bottom step, a door at the end of the passage burst open, and a lady in a flowered print dress, with an old-fashioned tucker round her ample bosom, and a starched muslin cap tied in a bow beneath her chin, stood as though stunned on the threshold, and gasped: ‘Miss Kate! It's never you! Oh, my dearie, my precious lambkin!'
She started forward, holding out her plump arms, and Miss Malvern, laughing and crying, tumbled into them, hugging her, and uttering disjointedly: ‘Oh, Sarah, oh, Sarah! To be with you again! I've been thinking of nothing else, all the way! Oh, Sarah, I'm so tired, and dispirited, and there was nowhere else for me to go, but indeed I don't mean to impose on you, or on poor Mr Nidd! Only until I can find another situation!'
Several teardrops stood on Mrs Nidd's cheeks, but she said in a scolding voice: ‘Now, that's no way to talk, Miss Kate, and well you know it! And where else should you go, I should like to know? Now, you come into the kitchen, like a good girl, while I pop the kettle on, and cut some bread-and-butter!'
Miss Malvern dried her eyes, and sighed: ‘Oh, dear, would you have believed I could be so ticklish? It was such a horrid journey six of us inside! and no time to swallow more than a sip of coffee when we stopped for breakfast.'
Mrs Nidd, leading her into the kitchen, and thrusting her into a chair, demanded: ‘Are you telling me you came on the common stage, Miss Kate?'
‘Yes, of course I did. Well, you couldn't expect them to have sent me by post, could you? And if you're thinking of the Mail, I am excessively glad they didn't send me by that either, because it reached London just after four o'clock in the morning! What should I have done?'
‘You'd have come round here straight! For goodness' sake, dearie, what's happened to bring you back in such a bang, with never a word to me, so as I could have met you?'
‘There was no time,' explained Kate. ‘Besides, I couldn't have got a frank, and why should you be obliged to pay for a letter when you were going to see me immediately? I've been turned off, Sarah.'
‘Turned off?' repeated Mrs Nidd terribly.
‘Yes, but not without a character,' said Kate, with an irrepressible twinkle. ‘At least, Mrs Grittleton wouldn't have given me one, but Mr Astley assured me his wife would, and was very sorry to lose me. Which, indeed, I expect she is, because we dealt very well together, and I did make the children mind me.'
‘And who, pray, may this Mrs Grittleton be?' said Mrs Nidd, pausing in the act of measuring tea-leaves into a large pot.
‘A griffin,' replied Kate.
‘I'd griffin her! But who is she, love? And what had she to say to anything?'
‘She is Mrs Astley's mother. She had everything to say, I promise you! She took me in dislike the moment she saw me. She said I was too young to have charge of her grandchildren, and she told poor Mrs Astley that I had insinuating manners! Oh, yes, and that I was sly, and designing! That was because her detestable son tried to kiss me, and I slapped his face. Though why she should have thought that was being designing I can't conceive! Oh, Sarah, you never saw such a moon-calf! He is as silly as his sister, and not by half as agreeable! She may be a wet-goose which, indeed, she is! but the most amiable creature! And as for my being too young to have the charge of the children, she was a great deal too young to have three children! Why, she's no more than three years older than I am, Sarah, and such a featherhead! And now she has miscarried of a fourth child, and Mrs Grittleton set it at my door! And, I must say, I thought it pretty poor-spirited of Mr Astley not to have turned her out of the house, because he told me she never came to stay with them but to make trouble, and as for young Grittleton ' She broke off, with a gurgle of laughter. ‘The things he said about him, Sarah! I couldn't but laugh! And the odious creature's intentions were most honourable! He made me an offer! That, of course, was what threw Mrs Grittleton into such a pelter, for, try as I would, I couldn't make her believe that nothing could prevail upon me to marry her detestable son. She ranted like an archwife, and scolded poor Mrs Astley into such a pucker that she fell into strong convulsions, and miscarried. So Mr Astley saw nothing for it but to send me away. I own, he behaved very handsomely, for he paid me for the whole year not merely the six months I had truly earned! and sent me to the coach-stop in his own carriage; but, considering he told me himself that he held me blameless, I can't but think it was very poor-spirited of him not to have sent Mrs Grittleton packing instead of me!'
‘Poor-spirited?' ejaculated Mrs Nidd, removing the lid from one of the pots on the fire, and viciously stirring its contents, ‘ay, and so you may, and so they are all of 'em! Anything for peace and quiet, that's men!' She replaced the lid on the pot, and turned to look down at her nursling, trouble in her face. ‘I'm not saying you should have accepted that young Grittleton's offer, but oh, dearie me, what's to be done now?'
‘I must find myself another situation, of course,' responded Kate. ‘I mean to visit the registry office this very day. Only ' She paused, eyeing Mrs Nidd uncertainly.
‘Only what?' demanded that lady.
‘Well, I have been thinking, Sarah, and, although I know you won't agree with me, I believe I should be very well advised to seek a situation in in a domestic capacity.'
‘In a Never while I'm alive!' said Mrs Nidd. ‘The lord knows it went against the pluck with me when you hired yourself out as a governess, but at least it was genteel! But if you're thinking of going out as a cook-maid, or '
‘I shouldn't think anyone who wasn't all about in her head would hire me!' interrupted Kate, laughing. ‘You know I can't bake an egg without burning it! No, I believe I might do very well or, at any rate, tolerably well! as an abigail! In fact, I daresay I could rise to be a dresser! Then, you know, I should be a person of huge consequence, besides making my fortune. Mrs Astley's housekeeper has a cousin who is dresser to a lady of fashion, and you wouldn't believe how plump in the pocket she is!'
‘No, I wouldn't!' retorted Mrs Nidd. ‘And even if I did '
‘But it is perfectly true!' insisted Kate. ‘For one thing, a first-rate dresser commands a far bigger wage than a mere governess besides being a person of very much more consequence! Unless, of course, the governess should be excessively well-educated, and able to instruct her charges in all the genteel accomplishments. And even then, you know, nobody slides sovereigns or bills into her hand to win her favour!'
‘Well, upon my word !' uttered Mrs Nidd explosively.
Kate's eyes danced. ‘Yes, isn't it shocking? But beggars can't be choosers, and I've made up my mind to it that to make my fortune or, at any rate, to win an independence! is of more importance than to preserve my gentility. No, no, listen, Sarah! You must know that I have no accomplishments. I can't speak Italian, or play the piano far less the harp! and even if people wished their children to be instructed in Spanish, which they don't, I don't think they would wish them to learn soldiers' Spanish, which is all I know! On the other hand, I can sew, and make, and dress a head to admiration! I did so once for Mrs Astley, when she was going to a ball, and her woman had made a perfect botch of her hair. So '
‘No!' said Mrs Nidd, in a tone which brooked no argument. ‘Now, you drink your tea, and eat your nice bread-and-butter, and no more nonsense! If ever I listened to such a pack of skimble-skamble stuff ! And I don't want to hear any more about imposing on me and Nidd, for there's no question of that, and I take it unkindly of you to say such a thing, Miss Kate!'
Kate caught her hand, and nursed it to her cheek. ‘No, no, Sarah! You know better! How infamous it would be if I were to foist myself on to you! When I think of all you have to do, with old Mr Nidd living here, and all those grandsons of his to feed, and house, I feel it's quite shameless of me to come to you even for a short visit! I couldn't stay here for ever, dear, dearest Sarah! You must own I could not!'
‘No, you couldn't,' acknowledged Mrs Nidd. ‘It wouldn't be fitting. Not but what there's only three grandsons, and one of them lives with his ma that's Joe's sister Maggie, and the most gormless creature you ever did see! Still, there's no harm in her, and I'm bound to say she's always ready to come and lend me a bit of help if help you can call it! But a carrier's yard is no place for you, dearie, and well do I know it! We'll think of something, never you fear!'
‘I have thought of something!' murmured Kate wickedly.
‘No, you haven't, Miss Kate. You're puckered, with that nasty stage-coach, and all the uproar that was kicked up by that Mrs Brimstone, or whatever she calls herself, and you'll feel different when I've got you tucked into bed, which I'm going to do the minute you've drunk up your tea. You'll have your sleep out, and when you wake up you shall have your dinner in the parlour upstairs, and we'll see what's to be done.'
Kate sighed. ‘I am very tired,' she confessed, ‘but I shall be happy to eat my dinner downstairs, with the rest of you. I don't wish '
‘An ox-cheek, with dumplings!' interrupted Mrs Nidd. ‘I daresay! But it ain't what I wish, Miss Kate, and nor it isn't what Nidd or the boys would wish neither, for to be sitting down to their dinner in company with a young lady like yourself would put them into such a stew, minding their manners and that, as would turn them clean against their vittles! So you'll just do as Sarah tells you, dearie, and '
‘Believe that Sarah knows best!' supplied Kate, submitting.
‘Which you can be bound I do!' said Mrs Nidd.
Miss Malvern was neither so young nor so guileless as her flower-like countenance frequently led strangers to suppose. She was four-and-twenty years old, and her life had not been passed in a sheltered schoolroom. The sole offspring of a clandestine marriage between the charming but sadly unsatisfactory scion of a distinguished family and a romantic girl of great beauty but somewhat inferior lineage, she was born in a garrison-town, and reared in a succession of lodgings and billets. The runaway bride whom Captain Malvern had captivated disappointed her scandalized relations by suffering no regret whatsoever at being repudiated by them; and falsified their expectations by remaining so ridiculously besotted that neither the discomforts of following the drum, nor the aberrations of her volatile spouse abated her love, or daunted her spirits. She brought Kate up in the belief that Papa was the personification of every virtue (the embarrassing situations in which from time to time he found himself arising not from any obliquity but from an excess of amiability), and that it was the duty of his wife and daughter to cherish him. She died, in Portugal, when Kate was twelve years old, almost with her last breath adjuring Kate to take good care of Papa, and, to the best of her ability, Kate had done so, aided and abetted by her redoubtable nurse. Sarah cherished no illusions, but, like nearly all who were acquainted with him, she was a victim of his compelling charm. ‘Poor dear gentleman!' Sarah had said, after his funeral. ‘He had his faults, like the best of us not that I'm saying he was the best, because telling faradiddles is what I don't hold with, and there's few knows better than me that you couldn't depend on him, not for a moment, while as for the way he wasted his money, it used to put me into such a tweak that there were times when I didn't know how to keep my tongue between my teeth! He never took thought to the morrow, and nor did my poor dear mistress neither. You never knew where you was, for there wouldn't be enough money to buy one scraggy chicken in the market one day, and the next he'd come in singing out that the dibs was in tune, and not a thought in his head or my mistress's but how to spend it quickest. Well, he told me once that it was no use ringing a peal over him for going to low gaming-houses, because he was born with a spring in his elbow, and there was no sport in playing cards and such in the regiment, for nearly all the officers was living on their pay, same as he was himself. But this I will say for him! There was never a sweeter-tempered nor a kinder-hearted man alive!'
‘Ay,' had agreed Mr Nidd, rather doubtfully. ‘Though it don't seem to me as he behaved very kind to Miss Kate, leaving her like he done with a lot of debts to pay, and nobbut his prize-money to do it with what was left of it, which, by what you told me, wasn't so very much neither.'
‘He always thought he'd win a fortune! And how was he to know he was going to meet his end like he has? Oh, Joe, I wish he'd been killed at Waterloo, for this is worse than anything! When I think of him that was always so gay, and up to the knocker, no matter whether he was plump in the pocket or regularly in the basket, being knocked down by a common tax-cart, well, it makes me thankful my poor mistress ain't alive to see it, which is a thing I never thought to be! And my lamb left alone, without a sixpence to scratch with, and she so devoted to her pa! I never ought to have married you, Joe, and it weighs on me that I let you wheedle me into it, for if ever Miss Kate needed me she needs me now!'
‘I need you too, Sarey,' had said Mr Nidd, with difficulty.
Observing the look of anxiety on his face, Sarah had mopped her eyes, and implanted a smacking kiss on his cheek, saying: ‘And a good, kind husband you are, Joe, and if there was more as faithful as what you proved yourself to be the world would be a better place!'
Colouring darkly, Mr Nidd had uttered an inarticulate protest, but this rare tribute from his sharp-tongued spouse had been well-earned. Falling deeply in love with a much younger Sarah, who had been on the eve of accompanying her mistress and her nursling to Portugal, and had rejected his offer, he had indeed remained faithful. Seven years later (‘Just like Jacob!' had said Kate, urging her nurse to the altar), when Sarah had come back to England with her widowed master and his daughter, he had renewed his suit, and his constancy had been rewarded: Miss Sarah Publow had changed her name to Nidd, and had lost no time at all in assuming the control of her husband's family, and vastly improving their fortunes. Within a year, she had bullied and cajoled her aged father-in-law into spending his jealously hoarded savings on the acquisition of the inn which now provided the firm with spacious headquarters, and had transformed it from a single carrier into an establishment which, if it did not yet rival Pickford's, was in a fair way to providing Pickford's with some healthy competition. Her husband adored her; his father, while losing no opportunity to get the better of her, had been known to inform his cronies at the Cock, when mellowed by a sufficient quantity of what he inelegantly termed belly-juice, that she was a sure card; his sisters wavered between ineffective resentment of her managing disposition, and a comfortable dependence on her willingness to assist them in any difficulty; and his nephews, all as inarticulate as he was himself, said simply that you wouldn't get a more bang-up dinner anywhere than what Aunt Sarey would give you.
Even Miss Malvern, for all her four-and-twenty years, turned instinctively to her in times of trouble, and was insensibly reassured by her air of competence. Tucked now into bed, told that there was no need to get into high fidgets, and adjured to go to sleep, she thought, snuggling into the feathered softness, that perhaps she had allowed herself to become too despondent, and that Sarah really did know best.
But Sarah, stumping downstairs again to the kitchen, was feeling far from competent; and although the dinner she presently set before her husband, her father-in-law, one of her nephews, and two of the lads employed in the stables, in no way betrayed her inward perturbation, she ate very little of her own portion, and was a trifle short in her responses to the remarks addressed to her. This circumstance did not escape the notice of Mr Nidd Senior, or of Mr Nidd Junior, but when the younger Nidd, a simple-minded soul, began anxiously to ask if anything were amiss, his more astute sire cut him short, adjuring him not to be a jobbernoll, and enquiring affably of Sarah if it wasn't Miss Kate he'd seen crossing the yard a while back. ‘Which I hopes it was,' he said, mopping up the gravy on his plate with a large lump of bread, ‘for she's been first-oars with me from the moment I clapped eyes on her, and she's heartily welcome. A prettier gal I never did see, and nothing niffy-naffy about her! Sweet as a nut, she is, but for all she don't hold up her nose at folks like us she's a proper lady, and don't you forget it, young Ted!' he concluded, rounding suddenly on his grandson with such ferocity that the hapless youth dropped his knife. ‘If you was to behave disrespectful to her, I'd lay your back open!'
Such was the awe in which his descendants held him that Young Ted, a brawny giant, saw nothing absurd in this threat, but informed him, in stammering haste, that nothing was further from his intentions than to treat Miss Kate with disrespect. He accepted this assurance, but caused the two hirelings to quake by saying: ‘And as for you, you'll keep out of her way! Couple of clod-crushers!'
At this point, Sarah intervened, telling her father-in-law that there was no call for him to rake the poor lads down, and providing them with generous portions of apple-pie. She spoke sharply, but she was not unappreciative of the tribute he had paid her darling; and when the younger members of the party had withdrawn, and Mr Nidd had bade her empty her budget, she said in a much milder tone: ‘Well, I don't mean to fall into the dismals, but I am in a worry, Father: that I can't deny.'
‘Ah!' said Mr Nidd. ‘On account of Miss Kate. I suspicioned as much. What brought her back to Lunnon in such a crack? Not but what you don't have to tell me, because I ain't a cod's head! Someone's tried to give her a slip on the shoulder, which is what I thought would happen, for it stands to reason a spanking beauty like she is, which is allowed by them as should have known better to go jauntering round the country unbefriended, is bound to find herself in the briars.'
‘Yes! And well I know it!' cried Sarah, stung by this palpable dig at herself. ‘But what could I do, when her mind was made up, and she was as poor as a Church rat? I thought she'd be safe with that Mrs Astley!'
‘That's where you was a woolly-crown, my girl,' said Mr Nidd, with a certain amount of satisfaction. ‘Because if Mrs Astley's husband is a rabshackle '
‘It wasn't him!' interrupted Sarah, very much flushed. ‘He behaved very proper to Miss Kate! It was Mrs Astley's brother! And he don't seem to have been a rabshackle, though he'd no business to go trying to kiss Miss Kate! He made her an offer!'
‘Now, that,' said Mr Nidd, ‘is something like! What Miss Kate wants is a husband!'
‘You needn't think I don't know that, Father! If this young Grittleton had taken her fancy I'd have thanked God on my knees, for all she'd have been demeaning herself, she being above the Astleys' cut, but she didn't. A moon-calf is what she says he is.'
‘Well, such ain't a particle of use to her,' said Mr Nidd, abandoning interest in young Grittleton. ‘What is she meaning to do now, Sarey?'
‘Hire herself out as a common abigail!' replied Sarah bitterly.
At this disclosure, the younger Mr Nidd looked very much shocked, and said that she must not be allowed to do it. He added diffidently: ‘If she'd lower herself to live here, with you to take care of her, we'd be proud to have her, wouldn't we, Father?'
‘It's no matter what we'd be: it wouldn't fit!' responded Mr Nidd unhesitatingly. ‘If you'd ever had any wits I'd be wondering where they'd gone a-begging! How I come to have a son that was no better than a chawbacon is something I'll never know, not if I live to be a hundred!'
‘No! Nor I'll never know how you came to have a son with such a good heart!' snapped Sarah, rising instantly to Joe's defence. A mumbled remonstrance from him caused her to pat his hand, and to say in a mollified tone: ‘I'm sure I don't want to offend you, Father, but I won't have you miscalling Joe. Not but what he's right, Joe: it wouldn't fit! But how to stop her doing what's beneath her I don't know! Perhaps your father does, so long-headed as he is!'
‘You can lay your life I do!' said Mr Nidd, a gleam of triumph in his eye. ‘To think I've a longer head than you, Sarey! What Miss Kate's got to have is a home with her own kin.'
‘Ay! she did ought to have that!' agreed his son, much struck by this display of wisdom.
‘I said it when the Major took and died, and I'll say it again,' pursued Mr Nidd. ‘Her relations ought to be wrote to. And don't you pitch me any gammon about her not having none, like you did afore, Sarey, because it's hornswoggle! We all got kin of some sort.'
‘Yes,' said Sarah slowly. ‘But there's none left on my mistress's side but her sister, and if she'd lift a finger to help Miss Kate she's mightily changed since I knew her! What's more, Miss Kate wouldn't have anything to say to that set, nor I wouldn't wish her to, the way they behaved to her mama! I don't say she hasn't maybe got some cousins, but I don't know who they are, or where they live, or anything about them. And as for the Major, I never heard tell of any relations other than his half-sister, and he paid no more heed to her than she did to him. She married a titled gentleman that had a place called Staplewood, which made the Major laugh out when he read about it, telling my mistress that there was never anyone more ambitious than his sister, and the only thing that surprised him was that she was content with a baronet, instead of having set her cap at a Duke, or a Marquis, or some such. Still, I fancy he must be a high-up baronet, because the Major said: "Well done, Minerva! Broome of Staplewood, no less!" And my mistress told me that it was a very old family, that had lived at this Staplewood since I don't know when, and all as proud as peacocks. But I don't know where it may be, nor it wouldn't signify if I did, for the Major said his sister had risen quite beyond his touch now, and if he got more than a common bow from her, if ever they was to meet again, he'd have nothing more to do than bless himself for his good fortune, supposing he didn't suffer a palsy-stroke!' Her eyes filled. She wiped away the sudden tears, saying: ‘He was always so full of fun and gig, poor dear gentleman! Whenever I think of the way But it's no manner of use thinking of what's done, and can't be undone! The thing is that it isn't to be expected that she'd do anything to help Miss Kate, when she'd got to be too proud to behave civil to her own brother. Besides, I don't know where she lives!'
‘That don't signify,' said Mr Nidd impatiently. ‘There's books as will tell you where the nobles and the landed gentry lives! Ah, and there's directories, too! What I'm thinking is that a starched-up lady wouldn't wish for her niece to be hiring herself out like Miss Kate means to Now, what's the matter with you, Joe?'
The younger Mr Nidd, who had been sitting with his brow furrowed in painful cogitation, opening his mouth as if to speak, and shutting it again, gulped, and answered diffidently that he rather thought he did know.
‘Know what?' demanded his progenitor irascibly.
‘Staplewood,' produced Joe. ‘Ay, that was it! Market Harborough! Leastways, it ain't there, but nearby, seemingly. Because the orders was to set the pack-case down at the Angel. Likely they would ha' sent in a cart, or a farm-wagon, maybe, to fetch it. I dis-remember what it was, but I got it in my head it was a big pack-case, such as you could put a pianny into though I don't know it was a pianny, mind!'
‘No, and it don't make any odds if it was a kitchen stove!' said Mr Nidd. ‘All we want to know '
‘You've hit it, Dad!' uttered Joe, his frown banished by a broad grin. ‘If you aren't a one!' he said, in affectionate admiration. ‘A Bodley Range, tha's what it was! It come back to me the moment you said stove!'
Mr Nidd cast his eyes upwards in entreaty. ‘Don't heed him, Sarey!' he begged. ‘He always was a knock-in-the-cradle, and he always will be! What you got to do is to write a letter to Miss Kate's aunt, telling her as how Miss Kate's left properly in the basket, and meaning to get herself hired as a housemaid, or a shopwoman, very likely. You want to tell her who you are, and how the Major was took off sudden, which she maybe don't know, but mind you don't run on like a fiddlestick! If you was to cross your lines, it's ten to one she wouldn't be able to read 'em; and if you was to take a second sheet she'd have to pay for it, which is a thing that might get up her back, same as it would anyone's.'
‘But, Father!' protested Sarah. ‘I don't know if it would do any good!'
‘No, and no more I don't neither,' conceded Mr Nidd graciously. ‘There's no saying, howsever, but what it might, and if it don't it won't do no harm. You do like I tell you, my girl, and don't start in to argufy! I'll allow you got more rumgumption than most females, but you ain't got so much in your nous-box as what I have, and don't you think it!'