My sister virginia is at last placed in a situation which is satisfactory to my mother as well as to herself.
I remained very quietly in the coffee-room of the hotel, in case I should be sent for; which I presumed I should be before the day was over. In the afternoon a waiter came to say that Sir James O'Connor wished to speak to me, and I was ushered into his room, where I found Mrs. St. Felix on the sofa.
As soon as the door was closed, Sir James took me by the hand, and led me up, saying, "Allow me to introduce your old friend as Lady O'Connor."
"My dear Tom," said she, taking me by the hand, "I am and ever shall be Mrs. St. Felix with you. Come, now, and sit down. You will again have to take charge of me, for I am to return to Greenwich, and leave it in a respectable manner. I daresay they have already reported that I have run away from my creditors. Sir James thinks I must go back as if nothing had happened, give out that I had some property left me by a relation, and then settle everything, and sell the goodwill of my shop. It certainly will be better than to give grounds for the surmises and reports which may take place at my sudden disappearance—not that I am very likely to fall in with my old acquaintances at Greenwich."
"Don't you think so, Tom?—for Tom I must call you, in earnest of our future friendship," said Sir James.
"I do think it will be the best plan, sir."
"Well, then, you must convey her ladyship to Greenwich again this evening, and to-morrow the report must be spread, and the next day you will be able to re-escort her here. I hope you feel the compliment that I pay you in trusting you with my new-found treasure. Now let us sit down to dinner. Pray don't look at your dress, Tom; at all events, it's quite as respectable as her ladyship's."
After dinner a chaise was ordered, and Lady O'Connor and I returned to Greenwich, arriving there after dark. "We walked down to her house. I then left her and hastened to my mother's.
"Well, mother," said I, after the first salutations were over, "have you heard the news about Mrs. St. Felix?"
"No, what has she done now?"
"Oh, she has done nothing, but a relation in Ireland has left her a lot of money, and she is going over there immediately. Whether she will come back again nobody knows."
"Well, we can do without her," replied my mother, with pique. "I'm very glad that she's going, for I have always protested at Virginia's being so intimate with her—a tobacco shop is not a place for a young lady."
"Mother," replied Virginia, "when we lived in Fisher's Alley Mrs. St. Felix was above us in situation."
"I have desired you very often, Virginia, not to refer to Fisher's Alley; you know I do not like it—the very best families have had their reverses."
"I cannot help thinking that such has been the case with Mrs. St. Felix," replied Virginia.
"If you please, Miss Saunders, we'll drop the subject," replied my mother, haughtily.
The news soon spread; indeed, I walked to several places where I knew it would be circulated, and before morning all Greenwich knew that Mrs. St. Felix had been left a fortune: some said ten thousand pounds, others had magnified it to ten thousand a year. When I called upon her the next day, I found that she had made arrangements for carrying on her business during her absence, not having stated that she quitted forever, but that she would write and let them know as soon as she arrived in Ireland what her decision would be, as she was not aware what might be the property left her. The doctor, who had undertaken to conduct her affairs during her absence, looked very woebegone indeed, and I pitied him; he had become so used to her company that he felt miserable at the idea of her departure, although all hopes of ever marrying her had long been dismissed from his mind. Mrs. St. Felix told me that she would be ready that evening, and I returned home and found Virginia in tears; her mother had again assailed her on account of her feelings toward Mrs. St. Felix; and Virginia told me that she was crying at the idea of Mrs. St. Felix going away much more than at what her mother had said; and she requested me to walk with her to Mrs. St. Felix that she might wish her farewell.
When we arrived Mrs. St. Felix embraced Virginia warmly, and took her into the little back parlor. Virginia burst into tears. "You are the only friend in the town that I dearly love," said she, "and now you are going."
"My dear girl, I am more sorry to part with you and Tom than I can well express—our pain is mutual, but we shall meet again."
"I see no chance of that," said Virginia, mournfully.
"But I do; and what is more, I have thought about it since I have had the news. Tom, your sister, of course, only knows the common report?"
"Of course she knows no more than anybody else."
"Well, you do, at all events; and I give you leave, as I know she is to be trusted, to confide my secret to her. And, Virginia dear, when I tell you that I shall want you to come and stay with me, and shall arrange accordingly, after you have heard what your brother has to tell you you will understand that we may meet again. Good-by, and God bless you, dearest; go away now, for I have much to do."
When I told Virginia what the reader is well acquainted with, her joy was excessive. "Yes," said she, "I see now. My mother is so anxious that I should be taken into some grand family as a companion; and when Lady O'Connor agrees to receive me, she will never have an idea that it is Mrs. St. Felix. If she had, nothing would induce her to let me go, that I am sure of; for she has taken an aversion to her for reasons known only to herself."
I returned to Mrs. St. Felix's house as soon as I had escorted Virginia home, leaving her very happy. The doctor was there, mute and melancholy; and I was thinking that we should have some difficulty in getting rid of him, when Tom made his appearance.
"If you please, sir," said he, "Mrs. Fallover wants you immediately; she's taken very bad."
"I can't help it."
"Indeed, but you must help it, doctor," said Mrs. St. Felix; "the poor woman is, as you know, in her first confinement, and you must not neglect her, so let's say good-by at once, and a happy return. I asked Tom to come down that I might call upon his sister and one or two other people before I go; so you see, doctor, as you can't go with me, you may just as well go and attend to the poor woman; so good-by, Dr. Tadpole, I will write to you as soon as I know what I'm to do."
The doctor took her hand, and after a pause said, "Mrs. St. Felix, Eheu, me infelix!" and hastened out of the shop.
"Poor fellow!" said she, "he'll miss me, and that's the truth. Good-by, Jane; mind you look after everything till I come back, and take care of the dog and cat. Come, Tom, we'll go now."
I threw her trunk on my shoulders, and followed her till we came to the post-house. The chaise was ordered out, and we set off.
"Tom," said Lady O'Connor, as I again call her, now that she is clear of Greenwich, "there is one portion of my history which you do not know—a very trifling part indeed. When I saw in the newspapers that my husband had, as I supposed, been executed, I am ashamed to say that I first thought of suicide; but my better feelings prevailed, and I then resolved to change my name and to let people suppose that I was dead. It was for that reason that I left my bonnet by the river-side and all my apparel in the house, only taking away a few trinkets and valuables, to dispose of for my future subsistence. I obtained a passage in a transport bound to Woolwich, on the plea of my husband having arrived from abroad; and, by mere accident, I found the goodwill of the tobacconist's shop to be sold. It suited me—and there is the whole of my history which you do not know.
"And now, as to Virginia, I intend to have her with me very soon. Your mother is anxious that she should get into a high family, trusting that her beauty will captivate some of the members—a bad kind of speculation. I will advertise for a companion, and so arrange that your mother shall not see me; and when your sister does come to me, it shall not be as a companion, but as a child of my own. I owe you much, Tom—indeed, almost everything; and it is the only way in which I can repay you. I have already spoken to Sir James on the subject. He is equally ready to pay the debt of gratitude, and therefore in future Virginia is our adopted child."
"You are more than repaying me, Lady O'Connor," replied I, "and you are obliging me in the quarter where I feel the obligation the greatest."
"That I believe, Tom; so now say no more about it."
I may as well here inform the reader that I remained a week at Chatham, and that during that time Lady O'Connor put an advertisement in the county paper, such as we knew would be a bait to my mother. This paper I forwarded to Virginia, marking the advertisement. My mother immediately replied to it, and Sir James O'Connor went up to Greenwich and had an interview with my mother and Virginia, at apartments he had taken at the hotel; appeared pleased with my sister, and said that as soon as Lady O'Connor was sufficiently recovered she would send for her to Chatham. This took place in two days afterward; my mother escorted Virginia there. Sir James stated that her ladyship was too unwell to see anybody, but that she would speak a few words to Virginia and leave Sir James to settle the rest with my mother. Virginia came down to her mother, declared that Lady O'Connor was a very ladylike, elegant person, and that she should wish to take the situation. The terms were handsome, and my mother, although she regretted not seeing her ladyship, was satisfied, and Virginia was to come in two days afterward, which she did. Thus was my sister comfortably settled, and after remaining two days I took my leave of Sir James and Lady O'Connor, intending to return to Deal, when I received a letter from Peter Anderson, informing me that old Nanny had been suddenly taken very ill, and that Dr. Tadpole did not think it possible that she would survive more than twenty-four hours; that she was very anxious to see me, and that he hoped I would come up immediately.
I showed the letter to Lady O'Connor, who said, "You will go, of course, Tom."
"Immediately," replied I, "and the more so as this letter is dated three days back; how it has been delayed I do not know. Farewell, Lady O'Connor; and farewell, dearest Virginia. Old Nanny, as you both know, has many claims upon my gratitude."