Sidebilder
PDF

CHAPTER XIV.
MATTIE FOR POPPIE.

ONE bright morning, when the flags in the passage were hot to her feet, and the shoes she had lost in the snowstorm had not the smallest chance of recurring to the memory of Poppie, in this life at least, Mattie was seated with Mr. Spelt in his workshop, which seemed to the passer-by to be supported, like the roof of a chapterhouse, upon the single pillar of Mr. Dolman, with his head for a capital—which did not, however, branch out in a great many directions. She was not dressing a doll now, for Lucy had set her to work upon some garments for the poor, Lucy's relation with whom I will explain by-and-by. “I’ve been thinking, mother,” she said—to Mr. Spelt, of course— “that I wonder how ever God made me. Did he cut me out of something else, and join me up, do you think? If he did, where did he get the stuff? And if he didn't, how did he do it?” “Well, my dear, it would puzzle a wiser head than mine to answer that question,” said Mr. Spelt, who plainly judged ignorance a safer refuge from Mattie than any knowledge he possessed upon the subject. Her question, however, occasioned the return, somehow or other, of an old suspicion which he had not by any means cherished, but which would force itself upon him now and then, that the splendid woman, Mrs. Spelt, “had once ought” to have had a baby, and, somehow, he never knew what had come of it. She got all right again, and the baby was nowhere. “I wish I had thought to watch while God was making of me, and then I should have remembered how he did it,” Mattie resumed. “Ah! but I couldn’t,” she added, checking herself, “for I wasn’t made till I was finished, and so I couldn't remember.” This was rather too profound for Mr. Spelt to respond to in any way. Not that he had not a glimmering of Mattie's meaning, but that is a very different thing from knowing what to answer. So he said nothing, except what something might be comprised in a bare assent. Mattie, however, seemed bent on forcing conversation, and, finding him silent, presently tried another vein. “Do you remember a conversation we had, in this very place” —that was not wonderful, anyhow—“some time ago—before my last birthday—about God being kinder to some people than to other people f" she asked. “Yes, I do,” answered Mr. Spelt, who had been thinking about the matter a good deal since. “Are you of the same mind still, Mattie P” “Well, yes, and no,” answered Mattie. “I think now there may be something in it I can't quite get at the bottom of. Do you know, mother, I remembered all at once the other day, that when I was a little girl, I used to envy Poppie. Now, where ever was there a child that had more of the blessings of childhood than me P” “What made you envy Poppie, then, Mattie P” “Well, you see my father's shop was rather an awful place, sometimes. I never told you, mother, what gained me the pleasure of your acquaintance. Ever since I can remember—and that is a very long time ago now—I used now and then to grow frightened at father's books. Sometimes, you know, they were all quiet enough : you would generally expect books to be quiet, now wouldn't you? But other times—well, they wouldn't be quiet. At least, they kept thinking all about me, till my poor head i." bear it any longer. That always was my weak point, you OW. Mr. Spelt looked with some anxiety at the pale face and great forehead of the old little woman, and said, “Yes, yes, Mattie. But we've got over all that, I think, pretty well by now.” “Well, do you know, Mr. Spelt, I have not even yet got over my fancies about the books. Very often, as I am falling asleep, I hear them all thinking ;—they can hardly help it, you know, with so much to think about inside them. I don’t hear them exactly, you know, for the one thinks into the other's thinks—somehow, I can't tell—and they blot each other out like, and there is nothing but a confused kind of a jumble in my head till I fall asleep. Well, it was one day, very like this day—it was a hot summer forenoon, wasn’t it, mother ?—I was standing at that window over there. And Poppie was playing down in the court. And I thought what a happy little girl she was, to go where she pleased in the sunshine, and not need to put on any shoes. Father wouldn't let me go where I liked. And there was nothing but books everywhere. That was my nursery then. It was all round with books. And some of them had dreadful pictures in them. All at once the books began taking so loud as I had never heard them talk before. And I thought with myself: ‘I won't stand this any longer, I will go away with Poppie.’ So I ran downstairs, but because I couldn't open the door into the court, I had to watch and dodge father amongst the bookshelves. And when I got out, Poppie was gone —and then, what next, mother ?” “Then my thread knotted, and that always puts me out of temper, because it stops my work. And I always look down into the court when I stop. Somehow that's the way my eyes do of themselves. And there I saw a tiny little maiden staring all about her as if she had lost somebody, and her face looked as if she was iust going to cry. And I knew who she was, for I had seen her in the shop before. And so I called to her, and she came. And I asked her what was the matter.” I ...well, and I said, ‘It’s the books that will keep talking :' didn't

P

“Yes. And I took you up beside me. But you was very ill after that, and it was long before you came back again after that first time.”

This story had been gone over and over again between the pair; but every time that Mattie wanted to rehearse the one adventure of her life, she treated it as a memory that had just returned upon her. How much of it was an original impression and how much a re-writing by the tailor upon the blotted tablets of her memory, I cannot tell.

“Well, where was I ?” said Mattie, after a pause, laying her hands on her lap and looking up at the tailor with eyes of inquiry.

“I’m sure I don't know, Mattie,” answered Mr. Spelt.

“I was thinking, you know, that perhaps Poppie has her share of what's going, after all.”

“And don't you think,” suggested her friend, “that perhaps God doesn't want to keep all the good-doing to himself, but leaves room for us to have a share in it It's very nice work that you're at now—isn't it, Mattie f"

“Well, it is.”

“As good as dressing dolls f"

“Well, it's no end of better.”

“why?”

“Because the dolls don't feel a bit better for it, you know.”

“And them that'll wear that flannel petticoat will feel better for it, won't they r"

“That they will, I know.”

“But suppose everybody in the world was as well off as you and me, Mattie—you with your good father, and—”

“Well, my father ain't none so good, just. He swears sometimes.”

“He’s good to you though, ain't he ”

“I don't know that either, mother: he spoils me,” answered Mattie, who seemed to be in a more than usually contradictory humour this morning.

“Supposing, though, that everybody had a father that spoiled them, you wouldn't have any such clothes to make, you know.”

“But they wouldn't want them.”

“And you would be forced to go back to your dolls as have no father or mother, and come across the sea in boxes.”

“I see. I see, mother. Well, I suppose I must allow that it is good of God to give us a share in making people comfortable. You see he could do it himself, only he likes to give us a share. That's it, ain't it, mother ?”

*That's what I mean, Mattie.” “Well, but you'll allow it does seem rather hard that I should have this to do now, and there's Poppie hasn't either the clothes to wear or to make.” “Can't you do something for Poppie, then f" “Well, I'll think about it, and see what I can do.” Here Mattie laid aside her work, crept on all fours to the door, and peeped over into the passage below. “Well, Poppie,” she began, in the intellectually condescending tone which most grown people use to children, irritating some of them by it considerably,–"Well, Poppie, and how do you do P” Poppie heard the voice and looked all round, but not seeing where it came from, turned and scudded away under the arch. Though Mattie knew Poppie, Poppie did not know Mattie, did not know her voice at least. It was not that Poppie was frightened exactly—she hardly ever was frightened at anything, not even at a policeman, but she was given to scudding ; and when anything happened she did not precisely know what to do with, she scudded; at least if there was no open drain or damaged hoarding at hand. But she did not run far this time. As soon as she got under the shelter of the arch, she turned behind a sort of buttress that leaned against the bookseller's house, and peeped back towards the court. At that moment Lucy came out of the house. She came down the passage, and as Mattie was still leaning over the door, or the threshold rather, of the workshop, she saw her, and stopped. Thereupon Poppie came out of her “coign of vantage,” and slowly approached, just like a bird or a tame rabbit—only she was not by any means so tame as the latter. “Are you getting on with that petticoat, Mattie P” said Lucy. “Yes, miss, I am. Only not being used to anything but boys' clothes, I am afraid you won’t like the tailor's stitch, miss.” “Never mind that. It will be a curiosity, that's all. But what do you think, Mattie! The kind lady who gives us this work to do for the poor people, has invited all of us to go and spend a day with her.” Mattie did not answer. Lucy thought she did not care to go. But she was such an oddity that she wanted very much to take her. “She has such a beautiful garden, Mattie And she's so kind.” Still Mattie made no reply. Lucy would try again. “And it's such a beautiful house, too, Mattie ' I'm sure you would like to see it. And,” she added, almost reduced to her last resource, “she would give us such a nice dinner, I know !” This at length burst the silence, but not as Lucy had expected. “Now that's just what I'm determined I will not stand,” said the little maid.

“What do you mean, Mattie f * exclaimed Lucy, surprised and bewildered. “I’ll tell you what I mean, and that soon enough,” said Mattie. “It’s all very kind of Mrs. Morgingturn to ask you and me, what are well-to-do people, and in comfortable circumstances, as people say, to go and spend this day or that with her. And do you know, Mr. Spelt”—here Mattie drew herself in and turned her face right round from Lucy to the tailor, for the side of her mouth which she used for speech was the left, and the furthest from Spelt—“it just comes into my head that this kind lady who gives me petticoats to make instead of doll's trousers, is doing the very thing you read about last night out of the New Testament before I went in to bed. It's so nice now there's light enough to read a little before we part for the night !—ain't it, mother?” “I know, I know,” said the tailor in a low voice, not wishing to intrude himself into the conversation. “What did Mr. Spelt read to you, Mattie’” asked Lucy. “He read about somebody—” It was very remarkable how Mattie would use the name of God, never certainly with irreverence, but with a freedom that seemed to indicate that to her he was chiefly if not solely an object of metaphysical speculation or, possibly, of investigation; while she hardly ever uttered the name of the Saviour, but spoke of him as Somebody. And I find that I must yet further interrupt the child herself to tell an anecdote about her which will perhaps help my reader to account for the fact I am about to finish telling. She was not three years old when she asked her mother, a sweet, thoughtful woman, in many ways superior to her husband, though not intellectually his equal, who made the tree in Wood Street 2 Her mother answered of course, “God made it, my pet;” for, by instinct, she never spoke of her God without using some term of endearment to her child. Mattie answered : “I would like it better if a man made it.”—a cry after the humanity of God—a longing in the heart of the three years' child for the Messiah of God. Her mother did not know well enough to tell her that a man, yes, the man did make them—“for by Him all things were made ;”—but Mattie may have had some undefined glimmering of the fact, for, as I have said, she always substituted Somebody for any name of the Lord. I cannot help wishing that certain religious people of my acquaintance would, I do not say follow queer little Mattie's example, but take a lesson from queer little Mattie. “He read about somebody saying you shouldn't ask your friends and neighbours who could do the same for you again, but you should ask them that couldn’t, because they hadn't a house to ask you to, like Poppie there.” Lucy looked round and saw the most tattered little scarecrow— useless even as such in the streets of London, where there are

« ForrigeFortsett »