Reference > Fiction > Nonfiction > Warner, et al., eds. > The Library

C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
Dutch Tiles
By Anne Thackeray Ritchie (1837–1919)
From ‘Old Kensington’

THERE are many disconnected pictures in Dorothea Vanborough’s gallery, drifting and following each other like the images of a dissolving view. There are voices and faces changing; people whom she hardly knows to be the same, appearing and disappearing. Looking back nowadays through a score or two of years, Dorothea can see many lights crossing and reflecting one another, many strange places and persons in juxtaposition. She can hear, as we all can, a great clamor of words and of laughter, cries of pain and of sorrow and anger, through all of which sound the sacred voices that will utter to her through life—and beyond life, she humbly prays.  1
  Dorothea’s pictures are but mist and fancy-work; not made of paint and canvas, as is that one which hangs over the fireplace in the wainscot dining-room at Church House in Kensington, where my heroine passed so much of her life. It is supposed by some to be a Van der Heist. It represents a golden-brown grandmother, with a coiffe and a ruffle and a grand chain round her neck, and a ring on her forefinger, and a double-winged house in the background. This placid-faced Dutchwoman, existing two centuries ago, has some looks still living in the face of the Dorothea Vanborough of these days. Her descendants have changed their name and their dress, cast away their ruffles, forgotten the story of their early origin; but there is still a something that tells of it,—in Dolly’s slow quaint grace and crumpled bronze hair, in her brother George’s black brows, in their aunt Lady Sarah Francis’s round brown eyes and big ears, to say nothing of her store of blue Dutch china. Tall blue pots, with dragon handles, are ranged in rows upon the chimney-board under the picture. On either side of the flame below are blue tiles, that Lady Sarah’s husband brought over from The Hague the year before he died. Abraham, Jonah, Noah, Balaam tumbling off his blue ass,—the whole sacred history is there, lighted up by the flaring flame of the logs.  2
  When first George and Dolly came to live in the old house, then it was the pictures came to life. The ass began to call out “Balaam! Balaam!” the animals to walk two by two (all blue) into the ark. Jonah’s whale swallowed and disgorged him night after night, as George and Dolly sat at their aunt’s knee listening to her stories in the dusk of the “children’s hour”; and the vivid life that childhood strikes even into inanimate things awakened the widow’s dull heart and the silent house in the old by-lane in Kensington.  3
  The lady over the fireplace had married in King Charles’s reign: she was Dorothea Vanborough, and the first Countess of Churchtown. Other countesses followed in due course, of whom one or two were engraved in the passage overhead; the last was a miniature in Lady Sarah’s own room, her mother and my heroine’s grandmother,—a beautiful person, who had grievously offended by taking a second husband soon after her lord’s demise in 1806. This second husband was himself a member of the Vanborough family,—a certain Colonel Stanham Vanborough, a descendant of the lady over the chimney-piece. He was afterward killed in the Peninsula. Lady Sarah bitterly resented her mother’s marriage, and once said she would never forgive it. It was herself that she never forgave for her own unforgiveness. She was a generous-hearted woman; fantastic, impressionable, reserved. When her mother died soon after Colonel Vanborough, it was to her own home that Lady Sarah brought her little half-brother, now left friendless, and justly ignored by the ‘Peerage,’ where the elder sister’s own life was concisely detailed as “dau. John Vanborough, last Earl of Churchtown, b. 1790, m. 1807, to Darby Francis, Esq. of Church House, Kensington.”  4
  Young Stanham Vanborough found but a cold welcome from Mr. Francis; but much faithful care and affection, lavished, not without remorse, by the sister who had been so long estranged. The boy grew up in time, and went out into the world, and became a soldier as his father had been. He was a simple, straightforward youth, very fond of his sister and loath to leave her, but very glad to be his own master at last. He married in India the daughter of a Yorkshire baronet; a pretty young lady, who had come out to keep her brother’s house. Her name was Philippa Henley, and her fortune consisted chiefly in golden hair and two pearly rows of teeth. The marriage was not so happy as it might have been: trouble came, children died; the poor parents, in fear and trembling, sent their one little boy home to Lady Sarah to save his life. And then, some three years later, their little daughter Dolly was making her way, a young traveler by land and by sea, coming from the distant Indian station where she had been born, to the shelter of the old house in the old by-lane in Kensington. The children found the door open wide, and the lonely woman on her threshold looking out for them. Mr. Francis was dead, and it was an empty house by this time, out of which a whole home had passed away. Lady Sarah’s troubles were over, leaving little behind; the silence of mid-life had succeeded to the loving turmoils and jealousies and anxieties of earlier days; only some memories remained, of which the very tears and words seemed wanting now and then,—although other people may have thought that if words failed the widow, the silent deeds were there that should belong to all past affection.  5
  One of the first things Dolly remembers is a landing-place one bitter east-winded morning, with the white blast blowing dry and fierce from the land, and swirling out to sea through the leafless forest of shipping; the squalid houses fast closed and double-locked upon their sleeping inmates; the sudden storms of dust and wind; the distant clanking of some awakening peal; and the bewildered ayah, in her rings and bangles, squatting on the ground and veiling her face in white muslin.  6
  By the side of the ayah stands my heroine, a little puppy-like girl, staring as Indian children stare, at the strange dismal shores upon which they are cast; staring at the lady in the gray cloak who had come on board, with her papa’s face, and caught her in her arms, and who is her Aunt Sarah; at the big boy of seven in the red mittens, whose photograph her papa had shown her in the veranda, and who is her brother George; at the luggage as it comes bumping and stumbling off the big ship; at the passengers departing. The stout little gentleman who used to take her to see the chickens, pats Dolly on the head, and says he shall come and see her; the friendly sailor who carried her on shore shakes hands, and then the clouds close in, and the sounds and the faces disappear….  7
  Presently into Dolly’s gallery come pleasanter visions of the old house at Kensington, to which Lady Sarah took her straight away; with its brick wall and ivy creepers and many-paned windows, and the stone balls at either side of the door,—on one of which a little dark-eyed girl is sitting, expecting them.  8
  “Who is dat?” says little three-year-old Dolly, running up and pulling the child’s pinafore, to make sure that she is real.  9
  Children believe in many things: in fairies, and sudden disappearances; they would not think it very strange if they were to see people turn to fountains and dragons in the course of conversation.  10
  “That is a nice little girl like you,” said Lady Sarah kindly.  11
  “A nice little girl lite me?” said Dolly.  12
  “Go away,” says the little strange girl, hiding her face in her hands.  13
  “Have you come to play wiss me? My name is Dolliciavanble,” continues Dolly, who is not shy, and quite used to the world, having traveled so far.  14
  “Is that your name? What a funny name!” says the little girl, looking up. “My name is Rhoda, but they call me Dody at our house. I’s four years old.”  15
  Dolly was three years old, but she could not speak quite plain. She took the little girl’s hand and stood by the ayah, watching the people passing and repassing, the carriage being unpacked, Lady Sarah directing and giving people money, George stumping about in everybody’s way, and then, somehow, everything and everybody seem going up and down stairs, and in confusion; she is very tired and sleepy, and forgets all the rest.  16
  Next day Dolly wakes up crying for her mamma. It is not the ship any more. Everything is quite still, and her crib does not rock up and down. “I sought she would be here,” said poor little Dolly, in a croaking, waking voice, sitting up with crumpled curls and bright warm cheeks. It is not her mamma, but Aunt Sarah, who takes her up and kisses her, and tries to comfort her; while the ayah, Nun Comee, who has been lying on the floor, jumps up and dances in her flowing white garment, and snaps her black fingers; and George brings three tops to spin all at once. Dolly is interested, and ceases crying; and begins to smile and to show all her little white teeth.  17
  Lady Sarah rarely smiled. She used to frown so as not to show what she felt. But Dolly from the first day had seemed to understand her; she was never afraid of her, and she used to jump on her knee and make her welcome to the nursery.  18
  “Is you very pretty?” said little Dolly one day, looking at the grim face with the long nose and pinched lips. “I think you is a very ugly aunt.” And she smiled up in the ugly aunt’s face.  19
  “O Dolly! how naughty!” said Rhoda, who happened to be in Dolly’s nursery.  20
  Rhoda was a little waif protégée of Lady Sarah’s. She came from the curate’s home close by, and was often sent in to play with Dolly, who would be lonely, her aunt thought, without a companion of her own age. Rhoda was Mr. Morgan’s niece, and a timid little thing: she was very much afraid at first of Dolly; so she was of the ayah, with her brown face and ear-rings and monkey hands: but soon the ayah went back to India with silver pins in her ears, taking back many messages to the poor child-bereft parents, and a pair of Dolly’s shoes as a remembrance, and a couple of dolls for herself as a token of good-will from her young mistress. They were for her brothers, Nun Comee said; but it was supposed that she intended to worship them on her return to her native land.  21
  The ayah being gone, little Rhoda soon ceased to be afraid of Dolly; the kind, merry, helpful little playmate, who remained behind, frisking along the passages and up and down the landing-places of Church House. She was much nicer, Rhoda thought, than her own real cousins, the Morgans in Old Street.  22
  As days go by, Dolly’s pictures warm and brighten from early spring into summer-time. By degrees they reach above the table, and over and beyond the garden-roller. They are chiefly of the old garden, whose brick walls seem to inclose sunshine and gaudy flowers all the summer through; of the great Kensington parks, where in due season chestnuts are to be found shining among the leaves and dry grasses; of the pond where the ducks are flapping and diving; of the house which was little Rhoda’s home. This was the great bare house in Old Street, with plenty of noise, dried herbs, content, children without end, and thick bread-and-butter. There was also cold stalled ox on Sundays at one.  23
  In those days life was a simple matter to the children: their days and their legs lengthened together; they loved, they learned, and they looked for a time that was never to be,—when their father and mother should come home and live with them again, and everybody was to be happy. As yet the children thought they were only expecting happiness.  24
  George went to school at Frant, near Tunbridge Wells, and came home for the holidays. Dolly had a governess too; and she used to do her lessons with little Rhoda in the slanting school-room at the top of Church House. The little girls did a great many sums, and learned some French, and read ‘Little Arthur’s History of England’ to everybody’s satisfaction.  25
  Kind Lady Sarah wrote careful records of the children’s progress to her brother, who had sent them to the faithful old sister at home. He heard of the two growing up with good care and much love in the sunshine that streamed upon the old garden; playing together on the terrace that he remembered so well; pulling up the crocuses and the violets that grew in the shade of the white holly-tree. George was a quaint, clever boy, Sarah wrote; Dolly was not so quick, but happy and obedient, and growing up like a little spring flower among the silent old bricks.  26
  Lady Sarah also kept up a desultory correspondence with Philippa, her sister-in-law. Mrs. Vanborough sent many minute directions about the children: Dolly was to dine off cold meat for her complexion’s sake, and she wished her to have her hair crimped; and George was to wear kid gloves and write a better hand; and she hoped they were very good, and that they sometimes saw their cousin Robert, and wrote to their uncle, Sir Thomas Henley, Henley Court, Smokethwaite, Yorkshire; and she and dear papa often and often longed for their darlings. Then came presents: a spangled dress for Lady Sarah, and silver ornaments for Dolly, and an Indian sword for George with which he nearly cut off Rhoda’s head.  27

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