Sidebilder
PDF
ePub

the treat she was giving to certain poor people of her acquaintance. By any person but Mattie, Mrs. Morgenstern would have been supposed to be literally fulfilling the will of our Lord in asking only those who could not return her invitation.

CHAPTER XVII.

THE JEWESS AND HER NEIGHBOURS.

the hothouse plants, arranging them in the hall, on the stairs, and in the drawing-rooms. She judged, and judged rightly, that one ought to be more anxious to show honour to poor neighbours by putting on her best attire, than to ordinary guests of her own rank. Therefore, although it was the morning, she had put on a dress of green silk, trimmed with brown silk and rows of garnet buttons, which set off her dark complexion and her rich black hair, plainly braided down her face, and loosely gathered behind. She was half a head taller than Lucy, who was by no means short. The two formed a beautiful contrast. Lucy was dark-haired and dark. eyed as well as Mrs. Morgenstern, but had a smaller face and features, regular to a rare degree. Her high close-fitting dress of black silk, with a plain linen collar and cuffs, left her loveliness all to itself. Lucy was neither strikingly beautiful nor remarkably intellectual : when one came to understand what it was that attracted him so much, he found that it was the wonderful harmony in her. As Wordsworth prophesied for his Lucy that“ beauty born of murmuring sound 'should pass into her face," so it seemed as if the harmonies which flowed from her father's fingers had moulded her form and face, her motions and thoughts, after their own fashion, even to a harmony which soothed before one knew that he was receiving it, and when he had discovered its source made him ready to quote the words of Sir Philip Sidney :

Just accord all music makes ;
In the just accord excelleth,
Where each part in such peace dwelleth,

Each of other beauty takes. I have often wondered how it was that Lucy was capable of so much ; how it was, for instance, that, in the dispensing of Mrs. Morgenstern's bounty, she dared to make her way into places where no one but herself thought it could be safe for her to go, but where not even a rude word was ever directed against her or used with regard to her. If she had been as religious as she afterwards became, I should not have wondered thus ; for some who do not believe that God is anywhere in these dens of what looks to them all misery, will dare everything to rescue their fellowcreatures from impending fate. But Lucy had no theories to spur or to support her. She never taught them any religion : she was only, without knowing it, a religion to their eyes. I conclude, therefore, that at this time it was just the harmony of which I have spoken that led her, protected her, and, combined with a dim conscious. ness that she must be doing right in following out the loving im. pulses of her nature, supported her in the disagreeable circum. stances into which she was sometimes brought.

While they were thus busy with the flowers, Miriam joined them. She had cast her neutral tints, and appeared in a frock of dark red, with a band of gold in her dusky hair, sombrely rich. She was a strange-looking child, one of those whose coming beauty promises all the more that it has as yet reached only the stage of interesting ugliness. Splendid eyes, olive complexion, rounded cheeks, were accompanied by a very unfinished nose, and a large mouth, with thick though finely-modelled lips. She would be a glory some day. She fitted into the room, and flew from flower to flower like one of those black and red butterflies that Scotch children call witches. The sight of her brought to Lucy's mind by contrast the pale face and troubled brow of Mattie, and she told Mrs. Morgenstern about her endeavour to persuade the child to come, and how and why she had failed. Mrs. Morgenstern did not laugh much at the story, but she very nearly did something else.

“Oh ! do go and bring little Mattie,” said Miriam. “I will be very kind to her. I will give her my doll's-house ; for I shall be too big for it next year."

“But I left her taking care of my grandmother,” said Lucy, to the truth of whose character it belonged to make no concealment oi the simplicity of the household conditions of herself and her grandmother. “And,” she added, “ if she were to come I must stay at home; and besides, she could not come without me.”

“But I'll tell you what-couldn't you bring the other—the little Poppie she talks about ? I should like to show Mattie that we're not quite so bad as she thinks us. Do you know this Poppie ? " said Mrs. Morgenstern.

Then Lucy told her what she knew about Poppie. She had been making inquiries in the neighbourhood, and though she had not traced the child to head-quarters anywhere, everybody in the poor places in which she had sought information knew something about her, though all they knew put together did not come to much. She slept at the top of a stair here, in the bottom of a cupboard there, coiling herself up in spaces of incredible smallness; but no one could say where her home was, or indeed if she had any home. Nor, if she wanted to find her, was it of much consequence whether she knew her home or not, for that would certainly be the last place where Poppie would be found.

" But,” she concluded, "if you would really like to have her, I will go and try if I can find her. I could be back in an hour and a half or so."

“ You shall have the brougham."

“No, no," interrupted Lucy. “To go in a brougham to look for Poppie would be like putting salt on a bird's tail. Besides, I should not like the probable consequences of seating her in your carriage. But I should like to see how that wild little savage would do in such a place as this.”

“Oh, do go,” cried Miriam, clapping her hands. “It will be such fun.”

Lucy ran for her bonnet, with great doubts of success, yet willing to do her best to find the child. She did not know that Poppie had followed her almost to Mrs. Morgenstern's door that very morning.

Now what made Lucy sufficiently hopeful of finding Poppie to start in pursuit of her, was the fact that she had of late seen the child so often between Guild Court and a certain other court in the neighbourhood of Shoreditch. But Lucy did not know that it was because she was there that Poppie was there. She had not for some time, as I have said, paid her usual visits at Mrs. Morgenstern's because of her grandmother's illness; and when she did go out she had gone only to the place I have just mentioned, where the chief part of her work amongst the poor lay. Poppie haunting her as she did, where Lucy was there she saw Poppie. And, indeed, if Poppie had any ties to one place more than a hundred others, that place happened to be Staines Court.

When Lucy came out of Mrs. Morgenstern's, if she had only gone the other way, she would have met Poppie coming round the next corner. After Lucy had vanished Poppie had found a penny in the gutter, had bought a fresh roll with it, and given the half of it to a child younger than herself, whom she met at the back of the Marylebone police station, and after contemplating the neighbouring churchyard through the railings while they ate their roll together, and comparing this resting place of the dead with the grand Baker Street Cemetery, she had judged it time to scamper back to the neighbourhood of Wyvil Place, that she might have a chance of seeing the beautiful lady as she came out again. As she turned the corner she saw her walking away towards the station, and after following her till she entered it, scudded off for the city, and arrived in the neighbourhood of Guild Court before the third train reached Farringdon Street, to which point only was the railway then available.

Lucy just looked in on her grandmother, and then set off for Staines Court, where she was glad of the opportunity of doing some loving-kindness while seeking Poppie. The first house she entered was in a dreadful condition of neglect. There were hardly more balusters in the stairs than served to kecp the filthy hand-rail in its place; and doubtless they would by-and-by follow the fate of the rest, and vanish as fire-wood. One or two of the stairs even were torn to pieces for the same purpose, and the cupboard-doors of the room into which Lucy entered had vanished, with half the skirting-board and some of the flooring, revealing the joists, and the ceiling of the room below. All this dilapidation did not matter much in summer weather, but how would it be in the winter-except the police condemned the building before then, and because the wretched people who lived in it could get no better, decreed that so far they should have no shelter at all? Well, when the winter came, they would just go on making larger and larger holes to let in the wind, and fight the cold by burning their protection against it.

In this room there was nobody. Something shining in a dingy sunbeam that fell upon one of the holes in the foor caught Lucy's eye. She stooped, and putting in her hand, drew out a bottle. At the same moment she let it fall back into the hole, and started with a sense of theft.

“Don't touch Mrs. Flanaghan's gin-bottle, lady. She's a good 'un to swear, as you'd be frightened to hear her. She gives me the creepers sometimes, and I'ın used to her. She says it's all she's got in the world, and she's ready to die for the 'ould bottle.'»

It was Poppie's pretty dirty face and wild black eyes that looked round the door-post.

Lucy felt considerably relieved. She replaced the bottle carefully, saying as she rose,

“I didn't mean to steal it, Poppie. I only saw it shining, and wanted to know what it was. Suppose I push it a little farther in that the sun mayn't be able to see it."

Poppie thought this was fun, and showed her white teeth.

“But it was you I was looking for—not in that hole, you know," added Lucy, laughing

“I think I could get into it, if I was to put my clothes off,” said Poppie.

Lucy thought it would be a tight fit indeed if her clothes made any difference.

“Will you come with me?” she said. “I want you.”

“Yes, lady," answered Poppie, looking though as if she would bolt in a moment.

" Come, then," said Lucy, approaching her where she still stood in the doorway.

But before she reached her, Poppie scudded, and was at the bottom of the stair before Lucy recovered from the surprise of her sudden flight. She saw at once that it would not do to make persistent advances, or show the least desire to get a hold of her.

When she got to the last landing-place on the way down, there was Poppie's face waiting for her in the door below. Careful as one who fears to startle a half-tamed creature with wings, Lucy again approached her ; but she vanished again, and she saw no more of her till she was at the mouth of the court. There was Poppie once more, to vanish yet again. In some unaccountable way she seemed to divine where Lucy was going, and with endless evanishments still reappeared in front of her, till she reached the railway station. And there was no Poppie.

For a moment Lucy was dreadfully disappointed. She had not yet had a chance of trying her powers of persuasion upon the child : she had not been within arm's length of her. And she stood at the station-door, hot, tired, and disappointed with all the holiday-feeling gone out of her.

Poppie had left her, because she had no magic word by which to gain access to the subterranean regions of the guarded railway. She thought Lucy was going back to the great house in Wyvil Place ; but whether Poppie left her to perform the same journey on foot I do not know. She had scarcely lost sight of Lucy, however, before she caught sight of Thomas Worboise turning the corner of a street a hundred yards off. She darted after him, and caught him by the tail of his coat. He turned on her angrily, and shook her off.

“ The lady,” gasped Poppie ; but Thomas would not listen, and went on his way. Poppie in her turn was disappointed, and stood “like one forbid.” But at that very moment her eye fell on something in the kennel. She was always finding things, though they were generally the veriest trifles. The penny of that morning was something almost awful in its importance. This time it was a bit of red glass. Now Poppie had quite as much delight in coloured glass as Lord Bacon had, who advised that hedges in great gardens should be adorned on the top here and there “ with broad plates of round coloured glass gilt, for the sun to play upon," only as she had less of the ways and means of procuring what she valued, she valued what she could lay her hands upon so much the more. She darted at the red shine, wiped it on her frock, sucked it clean in her mouth, as clean as her bright ivories, and polished it up with her hands, scudding all the time, in the hope that Lucy might be at the station still. Poppie did not seek to analyze her feelings in doing as she did ; but what she wanted was to give Lucy her treasure trove. She never doubted that what was valuable to her would be valuable to a beautiful lady. As little did she imagine how much value, as the gift of a ragged little personage like herself, that which was all but worthless would acquire in the eyes of a lady beautiful as Lucy was beautiful with the beauty of a tender human heart.

Lucy was sitting in the open waiting-room, so weary and disappointed that little would have made her cry. She had let one train go on the vague chance that the erratic little maiden might yet show herself, but her last hope was almost gone when, to her

« ForrigeFortsett »