I have often wondered if the world ever thinks of what becomes of the children of great criminals who expiate their crime on the scaffold. Are they taken away and brought up somewhere in ignorance of who or what they are? Does some kind relative step forward always bring them up under another name?
There is great criminal trial, and we hear that the man condemned to death leaves two daughters and a son—what becomes of them can any one living say? Who meets them in after life? Has any young man ever been pointed out to you as the son of Mr. So-and-so, the murderer? Has any young woman been pointed out to you as his daughter?
It is not long since all England was interested in the trial of a so-called gentleman for murder. He was found guilty, condemned and executed. At the time of the trial all the papers spoke of his little son—a fair-haired little lad, who was as unconscious of all that happened as a little babe. I have often wondered what became of him. Does he hear his father’s name? Do those with whom he lives know him for a murderer’s son? If he goes wooing any fair-faced girl, will she be afraid of marrying him lest, in the coming years, she may suffer the same fate his mother did? Does that same son, when he reads of criminals and scaffolds, wince, and shudder, and grow sick at heart?
And the daughters, do they grow old and die before their time? Do they hide themselves under false names in silent places, dreading lest the world should know them? Does any man ever woo them? Are they ever happy wives and mothers?
I have thought much on this subject, because I, who write this story, seem to the world one of the most commonplace people in it, and yet I have lived, from the time I was a child, in the midst of a tragedy dark as any that ever saddened this fair land.
No one knows it, no one guesses it. People talk of troubles, of romances, of sad stories and painful histories before me, but no one ever guessed that I have known perhaps the saddest of all. My heart learned to ache as the first lesson it learned in life.
When I think of those unhappy children who go about the world with so dark a secret locked in their hearts, I think of myself, and what I hold locked in my heart.
Read for yourself, dear reader, and tell me if you think there have been many fates in this world harder than mine.
My Name is Laura Tayne, and my home Tayne Abbey, in the grand old County of Kent. The Taynes were of good family, not very ancient—the baronetcy is quite a modern one, dating from George the First—but Tayne Abbey is one of the grandest old buildings in England. Whenever I looked at it I thought of those beautiful, picturesque, haunted houses that one sees in Christmas annuals, with Christmas lights shining from the great windows. I am sorry to say that I know very little of architecture. I could not describe Tayne Abbey; it was a dark, picturesque, massive building; the tall towers were covered with ivy, the large windows were wreathed with flowers of every hue. In some parts of sweet, sunny Kent the flowers grow as though they were in a huge hothouse; they did so at Tayne Abbey, for the front stood to the west, and there were years when it seemed to be nothing but summer.
The great oriel windows—the deep bay windows, large as small rooms—the carved oaken panels, the finely painted ceilings, the broad corridors, the beautiful suites of rooms—all so bright, light and lofty—the old-fashioned porch and the entrance hall, the grand sweep of terraces one after another, the gardens, the grounds, the park, were all perfection in their way. To make the picture quite complete, close to us—joined, indeed, by a subterranean passage, for the existence of which no one could account—stood the ruins of what had once been the real Abbey of Tayne—a fine old abbey that, in the time of “bluff King Hal,” had been inhabited by the monks of St. Benedict. They were driven away, and the abbey and lands were given to the family of De Montford. The De Montfords did not prosper; after some generations the abbey fell into ruins, and then they sold the abbey to the Taynes, who had long wished for it on account of the similarity of names. Our ancestors built the present mansion called Tayne Abbey; each succeeding Tayne had done something to beautify it—one had built the magnificent picture gallery, and had made a magnificent collection of pictures, so magnificent, indeed, as to rob the Taynes for many years afterward of some part of their revenue. There they stood still, a fortune in themselves. Another Tayne had devoted himself to collecting gold and silver plate; in no other house in England was there such a collection of valuable plate as in ours. A third Tayne had thought of nothing but his gardens, devoting his time, thoughts and money to them until they were wonderful to behold. There were no square and round beds of different flowers, arranged with mathematical precision; the white lilies stood in great white sheaves, the eucharis lilies grew tall and stately, the grand arum lily reared its deep chalice, the lovely lily of the valley shot its white bells; there were every variety of carnation, of sweet williams, of sweet peas, of the old-fashioned southernwood and pansy; there grew crocus, snowdrop and daffadowndilly; great lilac trees, and the white auricula were there in abundance; there, too, stood a sun-dial and a fine fountain. It was a garden to please a poet and a painter; but I have to tell the story of the lives of human beings, and not of flowers.
The first memory that comes to me is of my beautiful young mother; the mention of her name brings me the vision of a fair face with hair of bright gold, and deep, large, blue eyes; of soft silken dresses, from the folds of which came the sweetest perfume; of fine trailing laces, fine as the intricate work of a spider’s web; of white hands, always warm and soft, and covered with sparkly rings; of a sweet, low voice, that was like the cooing of a dove. All these things come back to me as I write the word “mother.” My father, Sir Roland Tayne, was a hearty, handsome, pleasure-loving man. No one ever saw him dull, or cross, or angry; he was liberal, generous, and beloved.
He worships my beautiful young mother, and he worshiped me. Every one said I was the very image of mama. I had the same golden hair and deep-blue eyes; the same shaped face and hands. I remember that my mother—that sweet young mother—never walked steadily when she was out with me. It was as though she could not help dancing like a child.
“Come along, baby darling,” she would say to me, “let us get away from them all, and have a race.”
She called me “baby” until I was nearly six—for no other came to take my place. I heard the servants speak of me, and say what a great heiress I would be in the years to come, if my father had no sons; but I hardly understood, and cared still less.
As I grew older I worshipped my beautiful mother, she was so very kind to me. I always felt that she was so pleased to see me. She never gave me the impression that I was tiresome, or intruded on her. Sometimes her toilet would be finished before the dinner-bell rang, then she would come to the nursery and ask for me. We walked up and down the long picture gallery, where the dead, and gone Ladies Tayne looked at us from the walls. No face there was so fair as my mother’s. She was more beautiful than a picture, with her golden hair and fair face, her sweeping dresses and trailing laces.
The tears rise even now, hot and bitter, to my eyes when I think of those happy hours—my intense pride in and devoted love for my mother. How lightly I held her hand, how I kissed her lovely trailing laces.
“Mamma,” I said to her, one day, “it is just like coming to heaven when you call me to walk with you.”
“You will know a better heaven some day,” she said, laughingly; “but I have not known it yet.”
What was there she did not do? She sang until the music seemed to float round the room; she drew and painted, and she danced. I have seen no one like her. They said she was like an angel in the house; so young, so fair, so sweet—so young, yet, in her wise, sweet way, a mother and friend to the whole household. Even the maids, when they had done anything wrong and feared the housekeeper, would ask my mother to intercede for them.
If she saw a servant who had been crying, she did not rest until she knew the cause of the tears. If it were a sick mother, then money and wine would be dispatched. I have heard since that even if their love affairs went wrong, it was always “my lady” who set them right, and many a happy marriage took place from Tayne Abbey.
It was just the same with the poor on the estate; she was a friend to each one, man, woman or child. Her face was like a sunbeam in the cottages, yet she was by no means unwise or indiscriminate in her charities. When the people had employment she gave nothing but kind words; where they were industrious, and could not get work, she helped them liberally; where they were idle, and would not work, “my lady” lectured with grave sweetness that was enough to convert the most hardened sinner.
Every one sought her in distress, her loving sweetness of disposition was so well known. Great ladies came from London sometimes, looking world-worn and weary, longing for comfort and sympathy. She gave it so sweetly, no wonder they had desired it.
It was the same thing on our own estate. If husband and wife quarreled, it was to my mother they appealed—if a child seemed inclined to go wrong, the mother at once came to her for advice.
Was it any wonder that I, her only child, loved her so passionately when every one else found her so sweet, beautiful and good?
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