Mrs. Mainwaring had been by no means a tidy or careful person—she hated locks, and seemed to have a regular aversion to neatly-kept drawers or wardrobes, but this one little cabinet, which had belonged to the girls’ father, was a remarkable exception to the general rule.
Mrs. Mainwaring never, even to Primrose, parted with the key of this cabinet. Whenever the girls were present it was locked—even Daisy could not coax mother to show her the contents of any of those tempting little drawers—“only mementoes, darling—only mementoes,” the lady would say, but the girls knew that mother herself often in the dead of night looked into the locked drawers, and they generally noticed that the next day she was weaker and sadder than usual.
On the top of the cabinet a miniature painting of Captain Mainwaring was always to be found, and the girls used to love to keep a vase of the choicest flowers close to father’s picture.
When Mrs. Mainwaring died, Jasmine cried nearly the whole of one night at the thought of the little old-fashioned cabinet—for now she felt quite sure that no one would ever dare to open it, “and I don’t like to think of the mementoes being never seen again,” she sobbed: “It seems cruel to them.”
Then Primrose promised to undertake this dreaded task, and here was her opportunity.
Primrose was not at all a nervous girl, and with the soft summer air filling the chamber, and driving out all the ghosts of solitude and gloom, she commenced her task. She determined to look through the contents of the little cabinet with method, and she resolved to begin with the large centre drawer. She pulled it open, and was surprised to find that it was nearly empty.
A few papers, on which verses and quotations from Books of Sermons were copied in her mother’s hand-writing, lay about; these, and one parcel which was carefully wrapped up in soft white tissue-paper, were the sole contents of the centre drawer. Primrose pulled the parcel from where it lay half-hidden at the back of the drawer. She felt self-possessed, but her fingers trembled slightly as she touched it. It was folded up most carefully—the wrappings were kept in their place by white satin ribbon, and on a slip of white paper which had been placed on the top of the parcel, and secured by the ribbon, Primrose read a few words:
“Arthur’s little desk—for Primrose now.”
She felt her color coming high, and her heart beating. Who was Arthur?—she had never heard of him—her father’s name had been John. Who was the unknown Arthur, whose desk was now given to her?
She untied the parcel slowly, but with shaking fingers.
The little desk was a battered one, ink-stained, and of a slight and cheap construction. Inside it contained one treasure, a thick letter, with the words “For Primrose” written in her mother’s writing on the envelope.
An unexpected message from those who are dead will set the strongest nerves quivering. At sight of this letter Primrose laid her pretty yellow head down on the little old cabinet, and sobbed long and bitterly.