A Family Secret
How sweet and calm the village looked the next morning, when Rosalie woke and looked out at it. She was quite sorry to leave it, but there was no rest for these poor wanderers; they must move onwards towards the town where they were next to perform. And as they traveled on, Rosalie’s mother went on with her sad story.
“I told you, darling, that my mother took a house in town, and that we all moved there, that my brother Gerald might take possession of our old home. We were getting to be quite big girls now, and my mother sent Miss Manders away, and left us to our own devices.
“My sister Lucy had been very different since our father died. She was so quiet and still, that I often wondered what was the matter with her. She spent nearly all her time reading her Bible in a little attic chamber. I did not know why she went there, till one day I went upstairs to get something out of a box, and found Lucy sitting in the windowseat reading her little black Bible. I asked her what she read it for.
“ ‘Oh, Norah,’ she said, ‘it makes me so happy! won’t you come and read it with me?’
“But I tossed my head, and said I had too much to do to waste my time like that. And I ran downstairs, and tried to forget what I had seen; for I knew that my sister was right and I was wrong. Oh, Rosalie darling, I’ve often thought if I had listened to my sister Lucy that day, what a different life I might have led!
“Well, I must go on. I’m coming to the saddest part of my story, and I had better get over it as quickly as I can.
“As I got older, I took to reading novels. Our house was full of them, for my mother spent her days in devouring them. I read them and read them till I lived in them, and was never happy unless I was fancying myself one of the heroines of whom I read. My own life seemed dull and monotonous. I wanted to see more of the world, and to have something romantic happen to me. Oh, Rosalie, I got so restless and discontented! I used to wake in the night, and wonder what my fortunes would be; and then I used to light the candle, and go on with the exciting novel I had been reading the night before. Often I used to read half the night, for I could not sleep again till I knew the end of the story. I quite left off saying my prayers, for I could not think of anything of that sort when I was in the middle of a novel.
“It was just about this time that I became acquainted with a family of the name of Roehunter. They were rich people, friends of my mother. Miss Georgina and Miss Laura Roehunter were very worldly, dashing girls. They took a great fancy to me, and we were always together. They were passionately fond of the theater, and they took me to it night after night.
“I could think of nothing else, Rosalie. I dreamt of it every night. It took even more hold of me than the novels had done, for it seemed to me like a living novel. I admired the scenery, I admired the actors, I admired everything that I saw. I thought if I was only on the stage I should be perfectly happy. There was nothing in the world that I wanted so much; it seemed to me such a free, happy, romantic life. When an actress was greeted with bursts of applause, I quite envied her. How wearisome my life seemed when compared with hers!
“I kept a diary then, Rosalie darling, in which I wrote all that I did every day, and I used to write again and again, ‘No change yet; my life wants variety. It is the same over and over again.’
“I determined that, as soon as possible, I would have a change, cost what it might.
“Soon after this the Roehunters told me that they were going to have some private theatricals, and that I must come and help them. It was just what I wanted. Now, I thought, I could fancy myself an actress.
“They engaged some of the professional actors at the theater to teach us our parts, to arrange the scenery, and to help us to do everything in the best possible manner. I had to go up to the Roehunters’ again and again to learn my part of the performance. And there it was, Rosalie dear, that I met your father. He was one of the actors whom they employed.
“You can guess what came next, my darling. Your father saw how well I could act, and how passionately fond I was of it; and by degrees he found out how much I should like to do it always, instead of leading my humdrum life at home. So he used to meet me in the street, and talk to me about it, and he told me that if I would only come with him, I should have a life of pleasure and excitement, and never know what care was. And he arranged that the day after these private theatricals we should run away and be married.
“Oh, darling, I shall never forget that day! I arrived home late at night, or rather early in the morning, worn out with the evening’s entertainment. I had been much praised for the way I had performed my part, and some of the company had declared I should make a first-rate actress, and I thought to myself that they little knew how soon I was to become one. As I drove home, I felt in a perfect whirl of excitement. The day had come at last. Was I glad? I hardly knew—I tried to think I was; but somehow I felt sick at heart. I could not shake that feeling off, and as I walked upstairs, I felt perfectly miserable.
“My mother had gone to bed; and I never saw her again! Lucy was fast asleep, lying with her hand under her cheek, sleeping peacefully. I stood a minute or two looking at her. Her little Bible was lying beside her, for she had been reading it the last thing before she went to sleep. Oh, Rosalie, I would have given anything to change places with Lucy then! But it was too late now; Augustus was to meet me outside the house, and we were to be married at a church in the town that very morning. Our names had been posted up in the register office some weeks before.
“I turned away from Lucy, and began putting some things together to take with me, and I hid them under the bed, lest Lucy should wake and see them. It was no use going to bed, for I had not got home from the theatricals till three o’clock, and in two hours Augustus would come. So I scribbled a little note to my mother, telling her that when she received it I should be married, and that I would call and see her in a few days. Then I put out the light, lest it should wake my sister, and sat waiting in the dark. And, Rosie dear, that star—the same star that I had seen that night when I was a little girl, and had told that lie—that same star came and looked in at the window. And again it seemed to me like the eye of God.
“I felt so frightened, that once I thought I would not go. I almost determined to write Augustus a note giving it up. But I thought that he would laugh at me for being such a coward, and I tried to picture to myself once more how fine it would be to be a real actress, and be always praised as I had been last night.
“Then I got up, and drew down the blind, that I might hide the star from sight. I was so glad to see it beginning to get light, for I knew that the star would fade away, and that Augustus would soon come.
“At last the church clock struck five, so I took my traveling bag from under the bed, wrapped myself up in a warm shawl, and, leaving my note on the dressing-table, prepared to go downstairs. But I turned back when I got to the door, to look once more at my sister Lucy. And, Rosalie darling, as I looked, I felt as if my tears would choke me. I wiped them hastily away, however, and crept downstairs. Every creaking board made me jump and tremble lest I should be discovered, and at every turning I expected to see someone watching me. But no one appeared. I got down safely, and, cautiously unbolting the hall door, I stole quietly out into the street, and soon found Augustus, who carried my bag under his arm, and that morning we were married.
“And then my troubles began. It was not half as pleasant being an actress as I had thought it would be. I knew nothing then of the life behind the scenes. I did not know how tired I should be, nor what a comfortless life I should lead.
“Oh, Rosalie, I was soon sick of it. I would have given worlds to be back in my old home. I would have given worlds to lead that quiet, peaceful life again. I was much praised and applauded in the theater; but after a time I cared very little for it. And as for the acting itself, I became thoroughly sick of it. Oh, Rosalie dear, I have often and often fallen asleep, unable to undress myself from weariness, after acting in the play. And again and again I have wished that I had never seen the inside of a theater, and never known anything of the wretched life of an actress!
“We stayed for some time in the town where my mother lived, for Augustus had an engagement in a theater there, and he procured one for me. We had miserable lodgings, and often were very badly off. I called at home a few days after I was married, but the servant shut the door in my face, saying that my mother never wished to see me again, or to hear my name mentioned. I used to walk up and down outside, trying to catch a glimpse of my sister Lucy, but she was never allowed to go out alone, and I could not get an opportunity of speaking to her. All my old friends passed me in the street—even the Roehunters would take no notice of me whatever.
“And then your father lost his engagement at the theater—I need not tell you why, Rosalie darling—and we left the town. And then I began to know what poverty meant. We traveled from place to place, sometimes getting occasional jobs at small town theaters, sometimes stopping at a town for a few months, and then being dismissed, and traveling on for weeks without hearing of any employment.
“And then it was that your little brother was born. Such a pretty baby he was, and I named him Arthur after my father. I was very, very poor when he was born, and I could hardly get clothes for him to wear, but, oh, Rosalie darling, I loved him very much! I wrote to my mother to tell her about it, and that baby was to be christened after my father. But she sent back my letter unread, and I never wrote to her again. And one day, when I took up a newspaper, I saw my mother’s death in it. And I heard afterwards that she said on her dying bed that I was not to be told of her death till she was put under the ground, for I had been a disgrace and a shame to the family. And that, they said, was the only time that she mentioned me, after the week that I ran away.
“My sister Lucy wrote me a very kind letter after my mother died, and sent me some presents. But I was sorry for it afterwards, for your father kept writing to her for money, and telling her long tales about the distress I was in, to make her send us more.
“She often sent us money; but I felt as if I could not bear to take it. And she used to write me such beautiful letters—to beg me to come to Jesus, and to remember what my father had said to us when he died. She said Jesus had made her happy, and would make me happy, too. I often think now of what she said, Rosalie.
“Well, after a time I heard that Lucy was married to a minister, and your father heard it, too, and he kept writing to her and asking her for money again and again. And at last came a letter from her husband, in which he said that he was very sorry to be obliged to tell us that his wife could do no more for us. And he requested that no more letters on the same subject might be addressed to her, as they would receive no reply.
“Your father wrote again, but they did not answer it, and since then they have left the town where they were living, and he lost all clue to them. And, Rosalie darling, I hope he will never find them again. I cannot bear to be an annoyance to my sister Lucy—my dear little sister Lucy.
“As for Gerald, he has taken no notice of us at all. Your father has written to him from time to time, but his letters have always been returned to him.
“Well, so we went on, getting poorer and poorer. Once your father took a situation as a postmaster in a small country village, and there was a lady there who was very kind to me. She used to come and see my little Arthur. He was very delicate, and at last he took a dreadful cold, and it settled on his chest, and my poor little lamb died. And, Rosalie darling, when I buried him under a little willow tree in that country churchyard, I felt as if I had nothing left to live for.
“We did not stay in that village long. Neither of us were used to keeping accounts, and we got them in a complete muddle. So I had to leave behind my little grave, and the only home we ever had.
“Then your father fell in with a strolling actor, who was in the habit of frequenting fairs, and between them, by selling their furniture, and almost everything they possessed, they bought some scenery and a caravan, and started a traveling theater. And when the man died, Rosalie, he left his share of it to your father.
“So the last twelve years, my darling, I’ve been moving about from place to place, just as we are doing now. And in this caravan, my little girl, you were born. I was very ill a long time after that, and could not take my place in the theater, and, for many reasons, that was the most miserable part of my miserable life.
“And now, little woman, I’ve told you all I need tell you at present; perhaps someday I can give you more particulars. But you will have some idea now why I am so utterly wretched.
“Yes, utterly wretched!” said the poor woman, “no hope for this world, and no hope for the next.”
“Poor, poor Mummy!” said little Rosalie, stroking her hand very gently and tenderly—“poor Mummy dear!”
“It’s all my own fault, child,” said her mother. “I’ve brought it all upon my self, and I’ve no one but myself to blame.”
“Poor, poor Mummy!” said Rosalie again.
Then the sick woman seemed quite exhausted, and lay upon her bed for some time without speaking or moving. Rosalie sat by the door of the caravan, and sang softly to herself—
“Jesus, I Thy face am seeking,
Early will I come to Thee.”
“Oh, Rosalie,” said her mother, looking around, “I didn’t come to Him early—oh, if I only had! Mind you do, Rosie; it’s so much easier for you now than when you get to be old and wicked like me.”
“Is that what ‘In the sunshine of the morning’ means, in the next verse, Mummy dear?”
“Yes, Rosalie,” said her mother; “it means when you’re young and happy. Oh, dear, dear! if I’d only come to Him then!”
“Why don’t you come now, Mummy dear?”
“I don’t know; I don’t expect He would take me now; oh, I have been such a sinner! There are other things, child, I have not told you about, and they are all coming back to my mind now. I don’t know how it is, Rosalie, I never thought so much of them before.”
“Perhaps the Good Shepherd is beginning to find you, Mummy.”
“I don’t know, Rosalie; I wish I could think that. Anyhow, they are all rising up as clear as if I saw them all. Some of them are things I did years and years ago, even when I was a little girl in that old home in the country. They are all coming back to me now, and oh, I am so very, very miserable!”
“Rosalie,” said her father’s voice, at the door of the caravan, “come into the next wagon. We’ve a new play on at this town, and you have your part to learn. Come along!”
So Rosalie had to leave her poor mother. And instead of singing the soothing words of the hymn, she had to repeat again and again the foolish and senseless words which had fallen to her share in the new play which her father was getting up. Over and over again she repeated them, till she was weary of their very sound, her father scolding her if she made a mistake, or failed to give each word its proper emphasis. And when she was released, it was time to get tea ready. And then they halted for the night at a small market-town, just eight miles from Lesborough, where they were next to perform, and which they were to enter the next morning, as the fair began on Monday.