Sidebilder
PDF
ePub

laid such a claim to her; and he would therefore scheme as if their nearest common relations were “the grand old gardener and his wife," and with the care which the shy startling nature of Poppie, to use a Chaucerian word, rendered necessary. Tailors have time to think about things; and no circumstances are more favourable to true thought than those of any work which, employing the hands, leaves the head free. Before another day had passed Mr. Spelt had devised his bait.

The next morning came-a lovely morning for such fishing as he contemplated Poppie appeared in the court, prowling as usual in the hope of seeing Lucy. But the tailor appeared to take no notice of her. Poppie's keen eyes went roving about as usual, wide awake to the chance of finding something. Suddenly she darted at a small object lying near the gutter, picked it up, put it in her mouth, and sucked it with evident pleasure. The tailor was as one who seeing sees not. Only he plied his needle and thread more busily, casting down sidelong glances in the drawing of the same. And there was no little triumph, for it was the triumph of confidence for the future, as well as of success for the present, in each of those glances. Suddenly Poppie ran away.

The morning after she was there again. Half involuntarily, I suppose, her eyes returned to the spot where she had found the bulls-eye. There, to the astonishment even of Poppie, who was very seldom astonished at anything, lay another-a larger one, as she saw at a glance, than the one she had found yesterday. It was in her mouth in a moment. But she gave a hurried glance round the court, and scudded at once. Like the cherub that sat aloft and saw what was going to come of it all, the little tailor drew his shortening thread, and smiled somewhere inside his impassive face, as he watched the little human butterfly, with its torn wings, lighting and flitting as in one and the same motion.

The next morning there again sat Mr. Spelt at his work-watching and watching. With the queerest look of inquiry and doubtful expectation, Poppie appeared from under the archway, with her head already turned towards El Dorado_namely, the flagstone upon which the gifts of Providence had been set forth on other mornings. There-could she, might she believe her eyes ?-lay a splendid polyhedral lump of rock, white as snow, and veined with lovely red. It was not quartz and porphyry, reader, but the most melting compound of sugar and lemon juice that the sweet-inventing Genius-why should she not have the name of a tenth muse?Polyhedia, let us call her— had ever hatched in her brooiling brain, as she bent over melting sugar or dark treacle,“ in linked sweetness long drawn out." This time Poppie hesitated a little, and glanced up and around. She saw nobody but the tailor, and he was too cunning even for her. Busy as a bee, he toiled away lightly and earnestly. Then, as if the sweetmeat had been a bird

for which she was laying snares, as her would-be father was laying them for her, she took two steps nearer on tip-toe, then stopped and gazed again. It was not that she thought of stealing, any more than the birds who take what they find in the fields and on the bedges ; it was only from a sort of fear that it was too good fortune for her, and that there must be something evanescent about it-wings somewhere. Or perhaps she vaguely fancied there must be some unfathomable design in it, awful and inscrutable, and therefore glanced around her once more—this time all but surprising the tailor, with uplifted head and the eager eyes of a fowler. But the temptation soon overcame any suspicion she might have. She made one bound upon the prize, and scudded as she had never scudded before. Mr. Spelt ran his needle in under the nail of his left thumb, and so overcame his delight in time to save his senses.

And now came a part of the design which Mr. Spelt regarded as a very triumph of cunning invention. That evening he drove two tiny staples of wire-one into Mr. Dolman's door-post close to the ground; the other into his own. The next morning, as soon as he arrived, he chose a thread as near the colour of the flagstones that paved the passage as he could find, fastened one end with a plug of toffee into a hole he bored with his scissors in another splendour of rock, laid the bait in the usual place, drew the long thread through the two eyes of the staples, and sat down in his lair with the end attached to the little finger of his left hand.

The time arrived about which Poppie usually appeared. Mr. Spelt got anxious-nervously anxious. She was later than usual, and he almost despaired; but at length, there she was, peeping cautiously round the corner towards the trap. She saw the baitwas now so accustomed to it, that she saw it almost without surprise. She had begun to regard it as most people regard the operations of nature-namely, as that which always was so and always will be so, and therefore has no reason in it at all. But this time a variety in the phenomenon shook the couch of habitude upon which her mind was settling itself in regard to the saccharine boulders; for just as she stooped to snatch it to herself and make it her own, away it went as if in terror of her approaching fingersbut only to the distance of half a yard or so. Eager as the tailor was—far more eager to catch Poppie than Poppie was to catch the lollypop-he could scarcely keep his countenance when he saw the blank astonishment that came over Poppie's pretty brown face. Certainly she had never seen a living lollypop, yet motion is a chief sign of life, and the lollypop certainly moved. Perhaps it would have been wiser to doubt her senses first, but Poppie had never yet found her senses in the wrong, and therefore had not learned to doubt them. Had she been a child of weak nerves, she might have recoiled for a moment from a second attempt, but instead of that she pounced upon it again so suddenly that the Archimago of

the plot was unprepared. He gave his string a tug only just as she seized it, and fortunately, the string came out of the plugged hole. Poppie held the bait, and the fisherman drew in his line as fast as possible, that his fish might not see it.

The motions of Poppie's mind were as impossible to analyze as those of a field-mouse or hedge-sparrow. This time she began at once to gnaw the sugar, staring about her as she did so, and apparently in no hurry to go. Possibly she was mentally stunned by the marvel of the phenomenon, but I do not think so. Poppie never could be much surprised at anything. Why should anything be surprising ? To such a child everything was interesting—nothing overwhelming. She seemed constantly shielded by the divine buckler of her own exposure and helplessness. You could have thought that God had said to her as to his people of old, “Fear not thou, O Poppie," and therefore Poppie did not fear, and found it answer. It is a terrible doctrine that would confine the tender care of the Father to those that know and acknowledge it. He carries the lambs in his bosom, and who shall say when they cease to be innocent lambs and become naughty sheep? Even then he goes into the mountains, and searches till he finds.

Not yet would the father aspirant show his craft. When he saw her stand there gnawing his innocent bait, he was sorely tempted to call, in the gentlest voice, “Poppie, dear ;” but like a fearful and wise lover, who dreads startling the maiden he loves, he must yet dig his parallels and approach with guile. He would even refine upon his own cunning. The next morning his bait had only a moral hook inside, that is, there was no string attached. But now that happened which he had all along feared. A child of the court-in which there were not more than two, I think—whom Mr. Spelt regarded, of course, as a stray interloper, for had she not enough of the good things already ?-spied the sweetmeat, and, following the impulses of her depraved humanity, gobbled it up without ever saying, like heathen Cassius, “ By your leave, gods." Presently after, Poppie appeared, looked, stared-actually astonished now-and, with fallen face, turned and went away. Whether she or her cunning enemy overhead was the more disappointed, I will not venture to determine, but Mr. Spelt could almost have cried. Four-and-twenty long tedious hours of needle and thread must pass before another chance would arrive-and the water so favourable, with the wind from the right quarter just clouding its surface, and the fly so taking !--it was hard to bear. He comforted himself, however, by falling back upon a kind of divine fatalism with which God had endowed him, saying to himself, “ Well, it's all for the best,”-a phrase not by any means uncommon amongst people devoutly inclined ; only there was this difference between most of us and Mr. Spelt, that we follow the special aphorism with a sigh, while he invariably smiled and brightened

up for the next thing he had to do. To say things are all right and yet gloom does seem rather illogical, in you and me, reader, does it not ? Logical or illogical, it was not Spelt's way, anyhow. He began to whistle, which he never did save upon such occasions when the faithful part of him set itself to conquer the faithless.

But he would try the bait without the line once more. Am I wearying my reader with the process ? I would not willingly do so, of course. But I fancy he would listen to this much about a salmon any day, so I will go on with my child. Poppie came the next morning, notwithstanding her last disappointment, found the bull's. eye, for such I think it was this time, took it, and sucked it to nothing upon the spot-did it leisurely, and kept looking about let us hope for Lucy, and that Poppie considered a kiss a lovelier thing still than a lollypop.

The next morning Mr. Spelt tried the string again, watched it better, and by a succession of jerks, not slow movements, lest, notwithstanding the cunning of the colour, she should see the string, drew her step by step in the eagerness of wonder, as well as of that appetite which is neither hunger nor thirst, and yet concerned with the same organs, but for which we have, as far as I am aware, no word, I mean the love of sweets, to the very foot of his eyrie. When she laid hold of the object desired at the door-post, he released it by a final tug against the eye of the staple. Before she could look up from securing it, another lump of rock fell at her feet. Then she did look up, and saw the smiling face of the tailor looking out (once more like an angel over a cloudy beam) over the threshold, if threshold it could properly be called, of his elevated and stairless door. She gave back a genuine whole-face smile, and turned and scudded. The tailor's right hand shuttled with increased vigour all the rest of that day.

CHAPTER XXVIII.

MR. FULLER.

ONE evening Lucy was sitting as usual with Mattie, for the child had no friends but her and grannie : her only near relative was a widowed sister of her father, whom she did not like. She was scarcely so well as she had been for the last few days, and had therefore gone early to bed, and Lucy sat beside her to comfort her. By this time she had got the room quite transformed in appearance -all the books out of it, a nice clean paper upon the walls, a few coloured prints from the Illustrated London News here and there, and, in fact, the whole made fit for the abode of a delicate and sensitive child. “What shall I read to-night, Mattie?” she asked. For Mattie

L

must always have something read to her out of the New Testament before she went to sleep : Mr. Spelt had inaugurated the custom.

“Oh, read about the man that sat in his Sunday clothes,” said Mattie.

“I don't know that story," returned Lucy.

“ I wish dear mother was here,” said Mattie, with the pettishness of an invalid. “He would know what story I mean that he

would.”

“Would you like to see Mr. Spelt ? " suggested Lucy. “He was asking about you not an hour ago.”

“Why didn't he come up, then? I wonder he never comes to see me."

“I was afraid you weren't strong enough for it, Mattie. But I will run and fetch him now, if he's not gone."

“Oh, yes ; do, please. I know he's not gone, for I have not heard his step yet. I always watch him out of the court when I'm in bed. He goes right under me.”

Lucy went, and Mr. Spelt came gladly.

“Well, mother," said Mattie, holding out a worn little cloud of a hand, “how do you do ?”

Mr. Spelt could hardly answer for emotion. He took the little hand in his, and it seemed to melt away in his grasp, till he could hardly feel it.

“ Don't cry, mother. I am very happy. I do believe I've seen the last of old Syne. I feel just like the man that had got his Sunday clothes on, you know. You see what a pretty room Miss Burton has made, instead of all those ugly books that Syne was so fond of: well, my poor head feels just like this room, and I'm ready to listen to anything about Somebody. Read about the man in his Sunday clothes.”

But Mr. Spelt, no less than Lucy, was puzzled as to what the child meant.

“I wish that good clergyman that talked about Somebody's burden being easy to carry, would come to see me," she said. “I know he would tell me the story. He knows all about Somebody."

“Shall I ask Mr. Potter to come and see you ?” said Spelt, who had never heard of Mr. Fuller by name, or indeed anything about him but what Mattie had told him before she was taken ill.

“I don't mean Mr. Potter-you know well enough. He's always pottering," said the child, with a laugh.

She had not yet learned to give honour where honour is not due; or, rather, she had never been young enough to take seeming for being, or place for character. The consequence was that her manners and her modesty had suffered-not her reverence or her heart.

“I want to see the gentleman that really thinks it's all about

« ForrigeFortsett »