Sidebilder
PDF
ePub

“ But Somebody likes her.”

To this Mattie returned no answer, but stood thoughtful. The blood withdrew from her face to its fountain, and she went back to the daisies once more.

The following day she began to gather flowers as other children do, even to search for them as for hidden treasures. And if she did not learn their meaning with her understanding, she must have learned it with her heart, for she would gaze at some of them in a way that showed plainly enough that she felt their beauty; and in the beauty, the individual loveliness of such things, lies the dim lesson with which they faintly tincture our being. No man can be quite the same he was after having loved a new flower.

Thus, by degrees, Mattie's thought and feeling were drawn outwards. Her health improved. Body and mind reacted on each other. She grew younger and humbler. Every day her eyes were opened to some fresh beauty on the earth, some new shadowing of the sea, some passing loveliness in the heavens. She had hitherto refused the world as a thing she had not proved; now she began to feel herself at home in it, that is, to find that it was not a strange world to which she had come, but a home; not, indeed, the innermost, sacredest room of the house where the Father sat, but still a home, full of his presence, his thoughts, his designs. Is it any wonder that a child should prosper better in such a world than in a catacomb filled with the coffined remains of thinking men ?-I mean her father's bookshop. Here, God was ever before her in the living forms of his thought, a power and a blessing. Every wind that blew was his breath, and the type of his inner breathing upon the human soul. Every morning was filled with his light, and the type of the growing of that light which lighteth every man that cometh into the world. And there are no natural types that do not dimly work their own spiritual reality upon the open heart of the human being.

Before she left Hastings, Mattie was almost a child.

CHAPTER XXXII.

POPPIE IN TOWN.

BETWEEN Mr. Spelt's roost and the house called No. 1 of Guild Court, there stood a narrow house, as tall as the rest, which showed, by the several bell-pulls ranged along the side of the door, that it was occupied by different households. Mr. Spelt had for some time had his eye upon it, in the hope of a vacancy occurring in its top chambers, occupying which he would be nearer bis work, and have a more convenient home in case he should some day succeed in taming and capturing Poppie. Things had been going well in

every way with the little tailor. He had had a good many more private customers for the last few months, began in consequence to look down from a growing height upon slop-work, though he was too prudent to drop it all at once, and had three or four pounds in the post-office savings-bank. Likewise his fishing had prospered. Poppie came for her sweets as regularly as a robin for his crumbs in winter. Spelt, however, did not now confine his bait to sweets; a fresh roll, a currant bun, sometimes—when his longing for his daughter had been especially strong the night before, even a Bath bun-would hang suspended by a string from the aerial threshold, so that Poppie could easily reach it, and yet it should be under the protection of the tailor from chance marauders. And every morning as she took it, she sent a sweet smile of thanks to the upper regions whence came her aid. Though not very capable of conversation, she would occasionally answer a few questions about facts-as, for instance, where she had slept the last night, to which the answer would commonly be, “Mother Flanaghan's ; but once, to the tailor's no small discomposure, was “The Jug." She did not seem to know exactly, however, how it was that she got incarcerated : there had been a crowd, and somebody had prigged something, and there was a scurry and a running, and she scudded as usual, and got took up. Mr. Spelt was more anxious than ever to take her home after this. But sometimes, the moment he began to talk to her she would run away, without the smallest appearance of rudeness, only of inexplicable oddity ; and Mr. Spelt would fancy then that he was not a single step nearer to the desired result than when he first baited his hook. He re. garded it as a good omen, however, when, by the death of an old woman and the removal of her daughter, the topmost floor of the house, consisting of two small rooms, became vacant, and he secured them at a weekly rental quite within the reach of his improved

He did not imagine how soon he would be able to put them to the use he most desired.

One evening, just as the light was fading, and he proceeded to light a candle to enable him to go on with his work, he heard the patter of her bare feet on the slabs, for his ear was very keen for this most pleasant of sounds, and looking down saw the child coming towards him, holding the bottom of her ragged frock up to her head. He had scarcely time to be alarmed before she stopped at the foot of his shop, looked up pale as death, with a dark streak of blood running through the paleness, and burst into a wail. The little man was down in a moment, but before his feet reached the ground Poppie had fallen upon it in a faint. He lifted the child in his arms with a strange mixture of pity and horror in his big heart, and sped up the three stairs to his own dwelling. There he laid her on his bed, struck a light, and proceeded to examine her. He found a large and deep cut in her head, from

means.

which the blood was still flowing. He rushed down again, and fortunately found Dolman on the point of leaving. Him he sent for a doctor, and returned like an arrow to his treasure. Having done all he could, with the aid of his best Sunday-shirt, to stop the bleeding, he waited impatiently for the doctor's arrival, which seemed long delayed. Before he came the child began to revive ; and, taught by the motion of her lips, he got some water and held it to them. Poppie drank and opened her eyes. When she saw who was bending over her, the faintest ghost of a smile glimmered about her mouth, and she closed her eyes again, murmuring something about Mother Flanaghan.

As far as he could gather from piecing together what the child said afterwards, Mr. Spelt came to the conclusion that Mrs. Flanaghan had come hoine a little the worse for “cream of the valley," and wanted more. Poppie happened to be alone in her room when she came, for we have seen that she sometimes forgot to lock the door, if, indeed, there was a lock on it. She had nothing to care for, however, but her gin-bottle; and that she thought she hid safely enough. Whether she had left it empty or not, I do not know, but she found it empty when she neither desired nor expected to find it so; and coming to the hasty and stupid conclusion that poor Poppie was the thief-just as an ill-trained child expends the rage of a hurt upon the first person within his reachshe broke the vile vessel upon Poppie's head, with the result we have seen. But the child had forgotten everything between that and her waking upon Mr. Spelt's bed.

The doctor came and dressed her wound, and gave directions for her treatment.

And now Mr. Spelt was in the seventh heaven of delight : he had a little woman of his own to take care of. He was thirty-nine years of age; and now, for the first time in his life, saw a prospect of happiness opening before him. No: once before, when he led the splendid Mrs. Spelt home from church, he had looked into a rosy future ; but the next morning the prospect closed, and had never opened again till now. He did not lie down all that night, but hovered about her bed, as if she had been a creature that might any moment spread out great wings and fly away from him for

Sometimes he had to soothe her with kind words, for she wandered a good deal, and would occasionally start up with wild looks, as if to fly once more from Mother Flanaghan with the ginbottle bludgeon uplifted in her hand; then the sound of Mr. Spelt's voice would instantly soothe her, and she would lie down again and sleep. But she scarcely spoke; for at no time was Poppie given to much speech.

When the light came, he hurried downstairs to his shop, got his work and all his implements out, carried them up, and sat with them on the floor where he could see Poppie's face. There he

ever.

worked away busily at a pair of cords for a groom, every now and then lifting his eyes from his seam to look down into the court, and finding them always met by the floor. Then his look would go up to the bed, seeking Poppie's pale face. He found he could not get on so fast as usual. Still he made progress; and it was a comfort to think that by working thus early was saving me for nursing his little white Poppie.

When at length she woke, she seemed a little better ; but she soon grew more feverish, and he found that he must constantly watch her, for she was ready to spring out of bed any moment. The father-heart grew dreadfully anxious before the doctor came ; and all that day and the next he got very little work done, for the poor child was really in danger. Indeed it was more than a week before he began to feel a little easy about her; and ten days yet passed before she was at all able to leave her bed.

And herein lay the greatest blessing both for Spelt and Poppie, I doubt if anything else could have given him a reasonable chance, as we say, of taming the wild animal. Her illness compelled her into such a continuance of dependent association with him, that the idea of him had time to grow into her heart; while all her scudding propensities, which prevented her from making a quiet and thorough acquaintance with anybody, were not merely thwarted, but utterly gone while she remained weak. The humanity of the child had therefore an opportunity of developing itself; obstruct. tions removed, the well of love belonging to her nature began to pulse and to flow, and she was, as it were, compelled to love Mr. Spelt ; so that, by the time old impulses returned with returning health, he had a chance against them.

CHAPTER XXXIII.

MR. FULLER IN HIS CHURCH.

MR. FULLER'S main bent of practical thought was how to make his position in the church as far as possible from a sinecure. If the church was a reality at all, if it represented a vital body, every portion of it ought to be instinct with life. Yet here was one of its cells, to speak physiologically, all but inactive-a huge building of no use all the ek, and on Sundays filled with organ sounds, a few responses from a sprinkling of most indifferent worshippers, and his own voice reading prayers, and trying--“ with sick assay" sometimes--to move those few to be better men and women than they were. Now so far it was a centre of life, and as such well worthy of any amount of outlay of mere money. But even money itself is a holy thing ; and from the money point alone, low as that

[ocr errors][ocr errors]

is, it might well be argued that this church was making no adequate return for the amount expended upon it. Not that one thought of honest comfort to a human soul is to be measured against millions of expense : but that what the money did, might weil be measured against what the money might do. To the commercial mind such a church suggests immense futility, a judgment correct in so far as it falls short of its possibilities. To tell the truth, and a good truth it is to tell, Mr. Fulier was ashamed of St. Amos's, and was thinking day and night how to retrieve the character of his church.

And he reasoned thus with himself, in the way mostly of question and answer :

“What is Sunday?” he asked, answering himself-“A quiet hollow scooped out of the windy hill of the week.”

“ Must a man then go for six days shelterless ere he comes to the repose of the seventh? Are there to be no great rocks to shadow him between?-no hiding-places from the wind to let him take breath and heart for the next struggle? And if there ought to be, where are they to be found if not in our churches ?-scattered like little hollows of sacred silence scooped out of the roar and bustle of our cities, dumb to the questions-What shall we eat? what shall we drink? and wherewithal shall we be clothed ?-but, alas! equally dumb to the question-Where shall I find rest, for I am weary and heavy-laden? These churches stand absolute caverns of silence amidst the thunder of the busy city-with a silence which does not remind men of the eternal silence of truth, but of the carelessness of heart wherewith men regard that silence. Their work is nowhere till Sunday comes, and nowhere after that till the next Sunday or the next saint's day. How is this? Why should they not lift up the voice of silence against the tumult of care? against the dissonance of Comus and his crew? How is it that they do not standing with their glittering silent cocks and their golden unopening keys high uplifted in sunny air? Why is it that their cocks do not crow, and their keys do not open ? Because their cocks are busy about how the wind blows, and their keys do not fit their own doors. They may be caverns of peace, but they are caverns without entrance-sealed fountainsma mockery of the thirst and confusion of men." “But men do not want entrance ; what is the use of opening the doors of our churches so long as men do not care to go in? Times are changed now. “But does not the very word Revelation imply a something coming from heaven-not certainly before men were ready for it, for God cannot be precipitate

- but before they had begun to pray for it?” Mr. Fuller remem. bered how his own father used always to compel his children to eat one mouthful of any dish he heard them say at table that they did not like-whereupon they generally chose to go on with it. “But they won't come in.” « How can you tell till you try, till

« ForrigeFortsett »