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“I mean your father, of course, when I say
“ Yes, but I have a mother too."
Lucy let her have her way, for she did not quite understand her. Only she knew that the child's mother had died two or three years ago.
Well,” resumed the child, “my father is quite well, thank God; and so is my mother. There he is, looking down at us.”
“ Who do you mean, Mattie ?” asked Lucy, now bewildered.
Well, my mother," answered the child, with a still odder half-smile.
Lucy looked up, and saw—but a little description is necessary. They were standing, as I have said already, in the flagged passage which led to, and post-officially considered, formed part of Guild Court. The archway from Bagot-street into this passage was
as it were tunnelled through a house facing the street, and from this house a wall, stretching inwards to the first house in the court proper, formed one side of the passage.
About the middle this wall broke into two workshops, the smallest and strangest ever seen out of the east. There was no roof visible—that lay behind the curtain-wall; but from top to bottom of the wall, a height of about nine feet, there was glass, divided in the middle so as to form two windows, one above the other. So likewise on the right-hand side of the glass were two doors, or hatches, one above the other. The tenement looked as if the smallest of rooms had been divided into two horizontally by a floor in the middle, thus forming two cells, which could not have been more than five feet by four, and four feet in height. In the lower, however, a little height had been gained by sinking the floor, to which a single step led down. In this under cell a cobbler sat, hammering away his lapstone-a little man, else he could hardly have sat there, or even got in without discomfort. Every now and then he glanced up at the girl and the child, but never omitted a blow in consequence. Over his head, on the thin floor between, sat a still smaller man, cross-legged like a
Turk, busily “plying his needle and thread.” His hair, which standing straight up gave a look of terror to his thin pale countenance, almost touched the roof. It was the only luxuriance about him. As plants run to seed, he seemed to have run to hair. A calm keen eye underneath its towering forest, revealed observation and peacefulness. He, too, occasionally looked from his work, but only in the act of drawing the horizontal thread, when his eyes had momentary furlough, moving in alternate oscillation with his hand. But at the moment when the child said so, he was looking down in a pause in which he seemed to have forgotten his work in in his interest in the pair below. He might be forty, or fifty, or sixty-no one could tell which.
Lucy looked up and said, “That is Mr. Spelt; that is not your mother.”
Well, but I call him my mother. I can't have two fathers, you know. So I call Mr. Spelt my mother; and so he is."
Here she looked up and smiled knowingly to the little tailor, who, leaning forward to the
window, through which, reaching from roof to floor of his cage, his whole form was visible, nodded friendlily to the little girl in acknowledgment of her greeting. But it was now time for Lucy to go.
As soon as she had disappeared beyond the archway, Mattie turned towards the workshops. Mr. Spelt saw her coming, and before she had reached them, the upper half of the door was open, and he was stretching down his arms to lift her across the shoemaking region, into his own more celestial realm of tailoring. In a moment she was sitting in the furthest and snuggest corner, not cross-legged, but with her feet invisible in a heap of cuttings, from which
she was choosing what she would always with · reference to Mr. Spelt-for the dressing of a boy-doll which he had given her.
This was a very usual proceeding—so much so that Mattie and the tailor sat for nearly an hour without a word passing between them beyond what sprung from the constructive exigencies of the child. Neither of them was given to much utterance, though each had something of the peculiar gift of the Ancient Mariner, namely, “strange power of speech.” They would sit together sometimes for half a day without saying a word; and then again there would be an oasis of the strangest conversation in the desert of their silence—a bad simile, for their silence must have been a thoughtful one to blossom into such speech. But the first words Mattie uttered on this occasion were of a somewhat mundane character. She heard a footstep pass below. She was too far back in the cell to see who it was, and she did not lift her eyes from her work.
“When the cat's away the mice will play,” she said.
“ What are you thinking about, Mattie ?" asked the tailor.
“Well, wasn't that Mr. Worboise that passed ? Mr. Boxall must be out. But he needn't go there, for Miss Burton's always out this time o day.”
“ What do you mean, Mattie ?” again asked the tailor.