The instant she lost sight of them so suddenly, Poppie started in pursuit, lost one of her great shoes, and instead of turning to pick it up, kicked the other after it—no great loss—and scampered at full bare-footed speed over the snow, which was here well trodden. They could hardly have more than disappeared at the further end when she arrived at the entrance.

Poppie never thought about might or might not, but only about could or could not. So the way being open, and she happening to have no mind that morning to part with her company before she was compelled, she darted in to see whether she could not get another peep of the couple. Not only was the red cloak a fountain of warmth to Poppie's imagination, but the two seemed so happy together that she felt in most desirable society.

Thomas was in the act of paying for admission at the turnstile, when she caught sight of them again. The same moment that he admitted them the man turned away from his post. In an instant Poppie had crept through underneath. She dodged the man, and followed them, taking care, however, not to let them see her, for she had not the smallest desire of coming to speech with them.

The gorgeousness about her did not produce much effect upon Poppie's imagination. What it might have produced was counteracted by a strange fancy that rose at once under the matted covering of that sun-burnt hair. She had seen more than one dead man carried home upon a stretcher. She had seen the miserable funerals of the poor, and the desolate coffin put in the earth. But she knew that of human beings there were at least two very different breeds, of one of which she knew something of the habits and customs, while of the other she knew nothing, except that they lived in great houses, from which they were carried away in splendid black carriages, drawn by ever so many horses with great black feathers growing out of their heads. What became of them after that she had not the smallest idea, for no doubt they would be disposed of in a manner very different from the funerals she had been allowed to be present at. When she entered the wax-work exhibition the question was solved. This was one of the places to which they carried the grand people after they were dead. Here they set them up dressed in their very best, to stand there till—ah ! till when, Poppie ? That question she made no attempt to answer. She did not much like the appearance of the dead people. She thought it a better way to put them in the earth and have done with them, for they had a queer look as if they did not altogether like the affair themselves. And when one of them stared at her, she dodged its eyes, and had enough to do between them all and the showman ; for though Poppie was not afraid of anybody, she had an instinctive knowledge that it was better to keep out of some people's way. She followed the sight of her friend, however, till the couple went into “the chamber of horrors," as if there was not horror enough in seeing humanity imitated so abominably in the outer room.

Yes, I am sorry to say it, Lucy went into that place, but she did not know what she was doing, and it was weeks before she recovered her selfrespect after it. However, as Thomas seemed interested, she contrived to endure it for a little while—to endure, I do not mean the horror, for that was not very great—but the vulgarity of it all. Poppie lingered, not daring to follow them, and at length, seeing a large party arrive, began to look about for some place of refuge. In the art of vanishing she was an adept, with an extraordinary proclivity towards holes and corners. In fact, she could hardly see a hole big enough to admit her without darting into it at once to see if it would do—for what she could not have specified—but for general purposes of refuge. She considered all such places handy, and she found one handy now.

Close to the entrance, in a recess, was a couch, and on this couch lay a man. He did not look like the rest of the dead people, for his eyes were closed. Then the dead people went to bed sometimes, and to sleep. Happy dead people—in a bed like this! For there was a black velvet cover thrown over the sleeping dead man, so that nothing but his face was visible; and to the eyes of Poppie this pall looked so soft, so comfortable, so enticing! It was a place to dream in. And could there be any better hiding-place than this ? If the man was both dead and sleeping, he would hardly object to having her for a companion. But as she sent one parting peep round the corner of William Pitt or Dick Turpin, after her friends, ere she forsook them to lie down with the dead, one of the attendants caught sight of her, and advanced to expel the dangerous intruder. Poppie turned and fled, sprang into the recess, crept under the cover like a hunted mouse, and lay still, the bedfellow of no less illustrious a personage than the Duke of Wellington, and cold as he must have been, Poppie found him warmer than her own legs. The man never thought of following her in that direction, and supposed that she had escaped as she had managed to intrude.

Poppie found the place so comfortable, that she had no inclination to change her quarters in

« ForrigeFortsett »