Dickory Dock - Part 3

Part 3

'My good sir, this is no time for ceremony--the wailing infant up-stairs and the two children of the house have been stolen since the morning. Mrs Franklin is almost out of her mind with grief, and suspicion points to you.'

'Good gracious, madam, what _do_ you mean?' said poor Mr Martin in a limp voice. He sank down on the nearest chair, spreading out his hands on his knees. 'What do you mean?' he continued. 'The children stolen! Who stole them?'

'Perhaps _you_ can answer that question. Who was it made such an indecent fuss this morning because a poor fatherless and motherless babe cried? Who threatened to leave if that same poor babe wasn't sent to the workhouse? Answer me that, Mr Martin, and then tell me if you know nothing of the fate of the hapless innocents.'

Mr Martin looked cautiously round at the door, which was slightly ajar.

He got up softly and shut it. Then he advanced gently across the room and came up close to Mrs Potts.

'Answer _me_ this,' he said. 'Did you like it, yourself?'

'Did I like what? Good gracious, the man frightens me.'

'Did you like the wailing sounds of the fatherless and motherless baby?

You were nearer to it than I was. If you heard it last night, and felt all the pity you now express, you had a good opportunity of putting it to the test by going up-stairs and lulling the unfortunate babe to rest. A woman's mission, too, I have always understood.'

Mrs Potts turned scarlet.

'I! I do what you describe!' she said. 'You forget yourself, Mr Martin.'

'I fail to see that I do, Mrs Potts. It strikes me that it is rather the other way. Perhaps you will do me the kindness to let me have my room in peace.'

Mrs Potts made a sweeping curtsey and vanished, and Mr Martin stood for some time in his deserted parlour feeling far more uncomfortable than he liked to confess. He was methodical and fussy, but he was by no means an ill-natured man. He thought Mrs Potts most impertinent, but her news distressed him. After reflecting for a few moments, he went across to the fireplace, and pulled his bell sharply. After a short pause the kitchen slavey answered his summons: her eyes were red with weeping, and her nose very s.m.u.tty. Mr Martin hated dirty servants. He turned his back to her as he spoke.

'Jane, is your mistress in?'

'Yes, sir. Please sir, we're all distraught with grief. You have heard of the--the--'

'I have heard of the calamity, through Mrs Potts. Can I speak to your mistress?'

'I'll inquire, please sir. Missus is having her fourth hysteric fit just now.'

'Then I beg'--Mr Martin's face grew quite white--'I beg you won't disturb her until she is equal to seeing me.' ('How awful if the fifth comes on in this room,' he mentally thought. 'I've a good mind to tell her not to disturb herself.')

But Jane had vanished.

In about a quarter of an hour Mrs Franklin appeared. She was pale, but her grief was temperate.

'Yes,' she said, 'I am in very great distress. The children, Peter and Flossy, have evidently run away with that poor baby. Flossy was in the room when you spoke to me this morning, Mr Martin, and she must have taken fright at your words. The children took the opportunity to leave the house when I was out marketing. Your steak is being cooked, Mr Martin. I must apologise for the delay.'

'Madam, I beg you won't mention it. I am deeply grieved that this should have happened, and that I am the cause. I am more grieved than I can possibly express. I would rather lie awake all night listening to those yells of that miserable infant than that this--this--should have happened. The alarm, the upsetting of the household routine, the inroad into my sanctum of that awful female--h'm--of your drawing-room lodger--and last but not least, the danger to three innocent human creatures. I am overpowered with remorse at the sorry part I have played myself.'

'Don't mention it, Mr Martin. I always said there'd be trouble when the baby was brought. It can't be helped now. Of course we must keep it, but I'm sorry to lose a valuable and considerate lodger like yourself, sir.'

'H'm! Are any steps being taken to recover the children?'

'My husband has gone to the nearest police-station, sir. Poor mites, and Flossy's not so strong in her chest. They're safe to be back by to-night, Mr Martin. And perhaps you'd like some one to help you with your packing, sir?'

'H'm! I'll consider it,' said Mr Martin. 'I'm--I'm not such a young man as I was, Mrs Franklin.'

'Oh, I'm sure, sir. Well, we're none of us that, are we? I should take you, sir, begging your pardon, to be but a very little way on the wrong side of forty.'

Mr Martin chuckled, and then grew grave.

'On the wrong side of sixty,' he said. 'Now, now, no humbugging, I beg.'

'Well, sir, about the packing. My head is all in a muddle, it is true, but any help that I can give'--

'What do you say to a baize door?' replied Mr Martin, rather irrelevantly.

'I--I beg your pardon, sir?'

'And a very thick curtain inside my room door? It is true I have heard it remarked that the wails of an infant when teething will penetrate through any obstacles. Still, a baize door inside your nursery door, and thick curtains inside mine would soften the disturbance--yes, would soften it. I was going to say that I would provide them.'

'Then you will stay after all, sir?'

'Well, well, do you agree with me? do you think my plan will make matters easier?'

'Oh, won't they just!' said Mrs Franklin, tears now br.i.m.m.i.n.g over in her eyes. 'You're a good man, Mr Martin, and G.o.d will bless you, sir.'

'Mother,' said Flossy, when at last she got home, 'it's all right about d.i.c.kory. We took her to the lady what cried.'

Mrs Franklin had Flossy in her arms when she made this remark. Now she pressed her close with one arm, and with the other drew Peter to her side.

'Tell me the whole story, my darlings,' she said.

Which they did, Mr Martin himself coming into the kitchen and listening to them.

'Why, I know Mrs Ross,' he said suddenly. 'It's a splendid chance for the infant, a splendid chance. Miles better than a baize door and thick curtains. Only you won't forget that I made you the offer, Mrs Franklin?'

'No, sir. I'm never likely to forget that.'

'It's a splendid chance,' repeated Mr Martin. 'The Rosses are wealthy, and she's just that eccentric, generous, impulsive creature who would be sure to take to a child brought to her so. I consider you a very clever little girl, Flossy Franklin.'

But Peter put his head down upon the table, and began to cry, for his heart was very sore for d.i.c.kory.

However, in the end even Peter was comforted. When next the children saw d.i.c.kory she was beautifully dressed, she had a grand nurse all to herself, and two splendid nurseries entirely at her own disposal. The grand nurse said that she was a most refined baby, that she must have very good blood in her veins, for she had such a 'haristocratic way.'

The grand nurse felt rather inclined to look down upon Peter and Flossy Franklin, but not so d.i.c.kory herself. Out went her baby arms, dimples came into her baby face, and with a crow of rapture she nestled up into Peter's embrace.

'Eh, but she's a 'cute young 'un,' he said with his slow smile.

And somehow after that he was comforted. He felt that it would have been wrong of him to stand in the way of such a brilliant lot for his darling.

Flossy and he went back to the attic, which was no longer at all a cheerful apartment. They did not, however, spend so much of their time there as formerly, for Mr Martin had taken a fancy to the children, and they often now spent their evenings with him.