Chapter 20

THOSE in front had spread the news before us. We found the servants in a state of panic. As we passed my lady's door, it was thrown open violently from the inner side. My mistress came out among us (with Mr. Franklin following, and trying vainly to compose her), quite beside herself with the horror of the thing.

`You are answerable for this!' she cried out, threatening the Sergeant wildly with her hand. `Gabriel! give that wretch his money--and release me from the sight of him!'

The Sergeant was the only one among us who was fit to cope with her -- being the only one among us who was in possession of himself.

`I am no more answerable for this distressing calamity, my lady, than you are,' he said. `If, in half an hour from this, you still insist on my leaving the house, I will accept your ladyship's dismissal, but not your ladyship's money.'

It was spoken very respectfully, but very firmly at the same time -- and it had its effect on my mistress as well as on me. She suffered Mr. Franklin to lead her back into the room. As the door closed on the two, the Sergeant, looking about among the women-servants in his observant way, noticed that while all the rest were merely frightened, Penelope was in tears. `When your father has changed his wet clothes,' he said to her, `come and speak to us, in your father's room.'

Before the half-hour was out, I had got my dry clothes on, and had lent Sergeant Cuff such change of dress as he required. Penelope came in to us to hear what the Sergeant wanted with her. I don't think I ever felt what a good dutiful daughter I had, so strongly as I felt it at that moment. I took her and sat her on my knee -- and I prayed God bless her. She hid her head on my bosom, and put her arms round my neck -- and we waited a little while in silence. The poor dead girl must have been at the bottom of it, I think, with my daughter and with me. The Sergeant went to the window, and stood there looking out. I thought it right to thank him for considering us both in this way -- and I did.

People in high life have all the luxuries to themselves -- among others, the luxury of indulging their feelings. People in low life have no such privilege. Necessity, which spares our betters, has no pity on us. We learn to put our feelings back into ourselves, and to jog on with our duties as patiently as may be. I don't complain of this -- I only notice it. Penelope and I were ready for the Sergeant, as soon as the Sergeant was ready on his side. Asked if she knew what had led her fellow-servant to destroy herself, my daughter answered (as you will foresee) that it was for love of Mr. Franklin Blake. Asked next, if she had mentioned this notion of hers to any other person, Penelope answered, `I have not mentioned it, for Rosanna's sake.' I felt it necessary to add a word to this. I said, `And for Mr. Franklin's sake, my dear, as well. If Rosanna has died for love of him, it is not with his knowledge or by his fault. Let him leave the house to-day, if he does leave it, without the useless pain of knowing the truth.' Sergeant Cuff said, `Quite right,' and fell silent again; comparing Penelope's notion (as it seemed to me) with some other notion of his own which he kept to himself.

At the end of the half-hour, my mistress's bell rang.

On my way to answer it, I met Mr. Franklin coming out of his aunt's sitting-room. He mentioned that her ladyship was ready to see Sergeant Cuff -- in my presence as before -- and he added that he himself wanted to say two words to the Sergeant first. On our way back to my room, he stopped, and looked at the railway time-table in the hall.

`Are you really going to leave us, sir?' I asked. `Miss Rachel will surely come right again, if you only give her time?'

`She will come right again,' answered Mr. Franklin, `when she hears that I have gone away, and that she will see me no more.'

  By PanEris using Melati.

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