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"are full of talent, but empty of invention. The moment you are ruined or that sort of thing, it is, _go_ for a governess, _go_ for a companion, _go_ here, _go_ there, in search of what? Independence? No; dependence. Besides all this _going_ is bosh. Families are strong if they stick together, and if they go to pieces they are weak. I learned one bit of sense out of that mass of folly they call antiquity; and that was the story of the old bloke with his twelve sons, and fagot to match. 'Break 'em apart,' he said, and each son broke his stick as easy as shelling peas. 'Now break the twelve all tied together:' devil a bit could the duffers break it then. Now we are not twelve, we are but three: easy to break one or two of us apart, but not the lot together. No; nothing but death shall break this fagot, for nothing less shall part us three."
He stood like a colossus, and held out his hand to them; they clung round his neck in a moment, as if to illustrate his words; clung tight, and blessed him for standing so firm and forbidding them to part.
Mrs. Dodd sighed, after the first burst of enthusiastic affection, and said: "If he would only go a step further and tell us what to do in company."
"Ay, there it is," said Julia. "Begin with me. What can I do?"
"What, to sell? Oh dear, my daubs are not good enough for that."
"Stuff! Nothing is too bad to _sell._"
"I really think you might," said Mrs. Dodd, "and I will help you."
"No, no, mamma, I want you for something better than the fine arts. You must go in one of the great grooves: Female vanity: you must be a dressmaker; you are a genius at it."
"My mamma a dressmaker," cried Julia; "oh Edward, how can you. How dare you. Poor, poor mamma!"
"Do not be so impetuous, dear. I think he is right: yes, it is all I am fit for. If ever there was a Heaven-born dressmaker, it's me."
"As for myself," said Edward, "I shall look out for some business in which physical strength goes further than intellectual attainments. Luckily there are plenty such. Breaking stones is one. But I shall try a few others first."
It is easy to settle on a business, hard to get a footing in one. Edward convinced that the dressmaking was their best card, searched that mine of various knowledge, the _'Tiser,_ for an opening: but none came. At last one of those great miscellaneous houses in the City advertised for a lady to cut cloaks. He proposed to his mother to go with him. She shrank from encountering strangers. No, she would go to a fashionable dressmaker she had employed some years, and ask her advice. Perhaps Madame Blanch would find her something to do. "I have more faith in the _'Tiser,_" said Edward, clinging to his idol.
Mrs. Dodd found Madame Blanch occupied in trying to suit one of those heart-breaking idiots, to whom dress is the one great thing, and all things else, sin included, the little ones. She had tried on a scarf three times; and it discontented her when on, and spoilt all else when off. Mrs. Dodd saw, and said obligingly, "Perhaps were I to put it on, you could better judge." Mrs. Dodd, you must know, had an admirable art of putting on a shawl or scarf. With apparent _nonchalance_ she settled the scarf on her shapely shoulders so happily that the fish bit, and the scarf went into its carriage; forty guineas, or so. Madame cast a rapid but ardent glance of gratitude Dodd-wards. The customer began to go, and after fidgeting to the door and back for twenty minutes actually went somehow. Then madame turned round, and said, "I'm sure, ma'am, I am much obliged to you; you sold me the scarf: and it is a pity we couldn't put her on your bust and shoulders, ma'am, then perhaps a scarf might please her. What can I do for you, ma'am?"
Mrs. Dodd blushed, and with subdued agitation told Madame Blanch that this time she was come not to purchase but to ask a favour. Misfortune was heavy on her; and, though not penniless, she was so reduced by her husband's illness and the loss of L. 14,000 by shipwreck, that she must employ what little talents she had to support her family.
The woman explored her from head to foot to find the change of fortune in some corner of her raiment: but her customer was as well, though plainly dressed as ever, and still looked an easy-going duchess.
"Could Madame Blanch find her employment in her own line? What talent I have," said Mrs. Dodd humbly, "lies in that way. I could not cut as well as yourself, of course; but I think I can as well as some of your people."
"That I'll be bound you can," said Madame Blanch drily. "But dear, dear, to think of your having come down so. Have a glass of wine to cheer you a bit; do now, that is a good soul."
"Oh no, madam. I thank you; but wine cannot cheer me: a little bit of good news to take back to my anxious children, that would cheer me, madam. _Will_ you be so good?"
The dressmaker coloured and hesitated; she felt the fascination of Dignity donning Humility, and speaking Music: but she resisted. "It won't do, at least here. I shouldn't be mistress in my own place. I couldn't drive you like I am forced to do the rest; and, then, I should be sure to favour you, being a real lady, which is my taste, and you always will be, rich or poor; and then all my ladies would be on the bile with jealousy."
"Ah, madam," sighed Mrs. Dodd, "you treat me like a child; you give me sweetmeats, and refuse me food for my family."
"No, no," said the woman hastily, "I don't say I mightn't send you out some work to do at home."
"Oh, thank you, madam." _N.B._ The dressmaker had dropped the Madam, so the lady used it now at every word.
"Now stop a bit," said Madame Blanch. "I know a firm that's in want. Theirs is easy work by mine, and they cut up a piece of stuff every two or three days." She then wrote on one of her own cards, Messrs. Cross, Fitchett, Copland, and Tylee, 11, 12, 13, and 14, Primrose Lane, City. "Say, I recommend you. To tell the truth, an old hand of my own was to come here this very morning about it, but she hasn't kept her time; so this will learn her business doesn't stand still for lie-a-beds to catch it."
Mrs. Dodd put the card in her bosom and pressed the hand extended to her by Madame Zaire Blanch; whose name was Sally White, spinster. She went back to her children and showed them the card, and sank gracefully into a chair, exhausted as much by the agitation of asking favours as by the walk. "Cross, Fitchett, Copland? Why they were in the _'Tiser_ yesterday," said Edward: "look at this; a day lost by being wiser than the _'Tiser._"
"I'll waste no more then," said Mrs. Dodd, rising quietly from the chair. They begged her to rest herself first. No, she would not. "I saw this lost by half an hour," said she. "Succeed or fail, I will have no remissness to reproach myself with." And she glided off in her quiet way, to encounter Cross, Fitchett, Copland and Tylee, in the lane where a primrose was caught growing--six hundred years ago. She declined Edward's company rather peremptorily. "Stay and comfort your sister," said she. But that was a blind; the truth was, she could not bear her children to mingle in what she was doing. No, her ambition was to ply the scissors and thimble vigorously, and so enable them to be ladies and gentlemen at large. She being gone, Julia made a parcel of water-colour drawings, and sallied forth all on fire to sell them. But, while she was dressing, Edward started on a cruise in search of employment. He failed entirely. They met in the evening, Mrs. Dodd resigned, Edward dogged, Julia rather excited. "Now, let us tell our adventures, she said. "As for me, shop after shop declined my poor sketches. They all wanted something about as good, only a little different: nobody complained of the grand fault, and that is, their utter badness. At last, one old gentleman examined them, and oh! he was so fat; there, round. And he twisted his mouth so" (imitating him) "and squinted into them so. Then I was full of hope; and said to myself; 'Dear mamma and Edward!' And so, when he ended by saying, 'No,' like all the rest, I burst out crying like a goose.
"My poor girl," cried Mrs. Dodd, with tears in her own eyes, "why expose yourself to these cruel rebuffs?"
"Oh, don't waste your pity, mamma; those great babyish tears were a happy thought of mine. He bought two directly to pacify me; and there's the money. Thirty shillings!" And she laid it proudly on the table.
"The old cheat," said Edward; "they were worth two guineas apiece, I know."
"Not they; or why would not anybody else give twopence for them?"
"Because pictures are a drug."
He added that even talent was not saleable unless it got into the Great Grooves; and then looked at Mrs. Dodd, she replied that unfortunately those Grooves were not always accessible. The City firm had received her stiffly, and inquired for whom she had worked. "Children, my heart fell at that question. I was obliged to own myself an amateur and beg a trial. However, I gave Madame Blanch's card: but Mr.--I don't know which partner it was--said he was not acquainted with her: then he looked a little embarrassed, I thought, and said the Firm did not care to send its stuff to ladies not in the business. I might cut it to waste, or--he said no more; but I do really think he meant I might purloin it."
"Why wasn't I there to look him into the earth? Oh, mamma, that you should be subjected to all this!"
"Be quiet, child; I had only to put on my armour; and do you know what my armour is? Thinking of my children. So I put on my armour, and said quietly, we were not so poor but we could pay for a piece of cloth should I be so unfortunate as to spoil it; and I offered in plain terms to deposit the price as security. But he turned as stiff at that as his yard measure; 'that was not Cross and Co.'s way of doing business,' he said. But it is unreasonable to be dejected at a repulse or two; and I am not out of spirits; not much:" with this her gentle mouth smiled; and her patient eyes were moist.
The next day, just after breakfast, was announced a gentleman from the City. He made his bow and produced a parcel, which proved to be a pattern cloak. "Order, ladies," said he briskly, "from Cross, Fitchett, and Co., Primrose Lane. Porter outside with the piece. You can come in, sir." Porter entered with a bale. "Please sign this, ma'am." Mrs. Dodd signed a receipt for the stuff, with an undertaking to deliver it in cloaks, at 11 Primrose Lane, in such a time. Porter retreated. The other said, "Our Mr. Fitchett wishes you to observe this fall in the pattern. It is new."
"I will, sir. Am I to trouble you with any money--by way of deposit, sir?"
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