« ForrigeFortsett »
great delight, once more she spied the odd creature peeping round the side of the door. She had presence of mind enough not to rise, lest she should startle the human lapwing, and made her a sign instead to come to her. This being just what Puppie wished at the moment, she obeyed. She darted up to Lucy, put the piece of red glass into her hand, and would have been off again like a lowflying swallow, had not Lucy caught her by the arm. Once caught, Poppie never attempted to struggle. On this occasion she only showed her teeth in a rather constrained smile, and stood still. Lucy, however, did not take her hand from her arm, for she felt that the little phenomenon would disappear at once if she did.
Poppie,” she said, “I want you to come with me.” Poppie only grinned again. So Lucy rose, still holding her by the arm, and went to the ticket-window and got two second-class tickets. Poppie went on grinning, and accompanied her down the stairs without one obstructive motion.
When they were fairly seated in the carriage, and there was no longer any danger of her prisoner endeavouring to escape, Lucy thought of the something Poppie had given her, at which she had not even looked, so anxious was she to secure her bird. When she saw it, she comprehended it at once--the sign of love, the appeal of a half-savage sister to one of her own kind, in whom she dimly recognized her far-off ideal, even then not seeking love from the higher, only tendering the richest human gift, simple love, unsought, unbought. Thus a fragment dropped by some glazier as he went to mend the glass door leading into a garden, and picked out of the gutter by a beggar girl, who had never yet thought whether she had had a father or a mother, became in that same girl's hands a something which the Lord Himself, however some of His interpreters might be shocked at the statement, would have recognized as partaking of the character of His own eucharist And as such, though without thinking of it after that fashion, it was received by the beautiful lady. The tears came into her eyes. Poppie thought she had offended or disappointed her, and looked very grave. Lucy saw she had misunderstood her. There was no one in the carriage with them. She stooped and kissed her. Then the same tears came, almost for the first time since she had been an infant, into Poppie's eyes. But just then the train moved off, and although the child by no remark and no motion evinced astonishment any more than fear, she watched everything with the intensity of an animal which in new circumstances cannot afford to lose one moment of circumspection, seeing a true knowledge of the whole may be indispensable to the preservation of its liberty; and before they reached King's Cross, her eyes were clear, and only a channel on each cheek ending in a little mudbank, showed that just two tears had flowed halfway down her cheeks and dried there undisturbed in the absorption of her interest.
Before they reached Baker Street station, Lucy had begun to be anxious as to how she should get her charge through the streets. But no sooner were they upon the stairs, than Lucy perceived by the way in which Poppie walked, and the way in which she now and then looked up at her, that there was no longer any likelihood that she would run away from her. When they reached the top, she took her by the hand, and without showing the slightest inclination to bolt, Poppie trotted alongside of her to Mrs. Morgenstern's door. Having gained her purpose, Lucy's weariness had quite left her, and her eyes shone with triumph. They made a strange couple, that graceful lady and that ragged, bizarre child, who would, however, have shown herself lovely to any eyes keen enough to see through the dirt which came and went according to laws as unknown to Poppy as if it had been a London fog.
Lucy knocked at the door. It was opened by a huge porter in a rich livery, and shoulder-knots like the cords of a coffin, as if he were about to be lowered into his grave standing. He stared at the sight of the little city-Bedouin, but stood aside to let them enter, with all the respect which, like the rest of his class, he ever condescended to show to those who, like Miss Burton, came to instruct Miss Morgenstern, and gave him, so much their superior, the trouble of opening i he door to them. The pride of the proudest nobleman or parvenu-millionaire is entirely cast in the shade by the pride of his servants, justifying the representation of Spenser, that although Orgoglio is the son of Terra by Æolus, he cannot be raised to his full giantship without the aid of his foster-father Ignaro. Lucy, however, cared as little for this form of contempt as impervious little Poppie by her side, who trotted as unconcerned over the black and white lozenges of the marble floor as over the ordinary siabs of Guild Court, or the round stones of Staines Court, and looked up the splendid staircase which rose from the middle of the round hall till it reached its side, and then branched into two that ran circling and ascending the wall to the floor above, its handrails and balusters shining with gold, and its steps covered with a carpet two yards wide, in which the foot sank as if in grass, with as much indifference as if it were the break-neck staircase I have already described as leading to the abode of Mistress Flanaghan. But her little bare feet were not destined to press such a luxurious support ; better things awaited them, namely, the grass itself; for the resplendent creature whose head and legs were equally indebted to the skill of the cunning workman, strode on before them, and through a glass door at the back, to a lawn behind, such as few London dwellings have to show. They might have thought that they had been transported by enchantment to some country palace, so skilfully were the neighbouring houses hidden by the trees that encircled the garden. Mrs. Morgenstern, with a little company of her friends, was standing in the middle of the lawn,
while many of her poorer neighbours were wandering about the place enjoying the Aowers, and what to them was indeed fresh air, when Lucy came out with the dirty bare-legged child in her hand. All eyes turned upon her, and a lovelier girl doing lovelier deed would have taken more than that summer morning to discover.
But Lucy had the bit of red glass in her mind, and, without heeding hostess or friends for the moment, led Poppie straight towards a lovely rose-tree that stood in full blossom on one side of the lawn. How cool that kindly humble grass must have felt to the hot feet of the darling, but she had no time to think about it, for as she drew near the rose-tree, her gaze became more and more fixed upon it, and when at length she stood before it, and beheld it in all its glory, she burst into a very passion of weeping. The eyes of the daughter of man became rivers and her head a fountain of waters, filled and glorified by the presence of a rose-tree.
All that were near gathered about, till Lucy, Poppie, and the rose-tree were the centre of a group. Lucy made no attempt to stay the flow of Poppie's tears, for her own heart swelled and swelled at the sight of the child's feelings. Surely it was the presence of God that so moved her : if ever bush burned with fire and was not consumed, that rose-bush burned with the presence of God. Poppie had no handkerchief ; nor was there continuity of space enough in her garments to hold a pocket : she generally carried things in her mouth when they were small enough to go in. But she did not even put her hands to her face to hide her emotion. She let her tears run down her stained cheeks, and let sob follow sob unchecked, gazing ever through the storm of her little world at the marvel in front of her. She had seen a rose before, but had never seen a rose-tree full of roses. At last Lucy drew her handkerchief from her pocket, and for the first time in her life Poppie had tears wiped from her face by a loving hand.
There was one man, and only one in the company—Mr. Sargent, a young barrister.
He was the first to speak. He drew near to Lucy and said, in a half-whisper,
“Where did you find the little creature, Miss Burton ?
“That would be hard to say," answered Lucy, with a smile. “Isn't she a darling?"
“You are a darling, anyhow,” said Mr. Sargent, but neither to Lucy nor to any one but himself
. He had been like one of the family for many years, for his father and Mr. Morgenstern had been intimate, and he had admired Lucy ever since she went first to the house ; but he had never seen her look so lovely as she looked that morning
Certain harmonious circumstances are always necessary to bring out the peculiar beauty both of persons and things-a truth recognized by Emerson in his lovely poem called “Each and All," but recognized imperfectly, inasmuch as he seems to represent the beauty of each as dependent on the whole not merely for its full manifestation, but for its actual being; a truth likewise recognized by Shakspeare, but by him with absolute truth of vision :
The nightingale, if she should sing by day,
To their right praise and true perfection ! It was to the praise of Lucy's beauty that in this group she should thus look more beautiful. The rose-tree and the splendour of Mrs. Morgenstern did not eclipse her, because her beauty was of another sort which made a lovely harmony of difference with theirs. Or perhaps, after all, it was the ragged child in her hand that gave a tender glow to her presence unseen before.
Little Miriam pulled at her mamma's skirt. She stooped to the child.
“Somebody has lost that one,” said Miriam, pointing shyly to Poppie. She looks like it.”
Perhaps,” said her mother. But the answer did not satisfy Miriam.
“You told me you had lost a little girl once,” she said.
Mrs. Morgenstern had never yet uttered the word death in her hearing. As to the little dead daughter, she had to the sister said only that she had lost her. Miriam had to interpret the phrase for herself.
“Yes, dear child," answered her mother, not yet seeing what she was driving at.
“Don't you think, mamma,” pursued Miriam, with the tears rising in her great black eyes, “ that that's her? I do. I am sure it is my little sister.”
Mrs. Morgenstern had the tenderest memories of her lost darling, and turned away to hide her feelings. Meantime a little conversation had arisen in the group. Lucy had let go her hold of Poppie, whose tears had now ceased. Miriam drew near shyly and pos. sessed herself of the hand of the vagrant. Her mother turned and saw her, and motherhood spoke aloud in her heart. How did it manifest itself? In drawing her child away from the dirt that divided their hands? That might have proved her a dam, but would have gone far to disprove her motherhood.
“ What shall we do with her, Miriam ?” she said.
“ Ask nurse to wash her in the bath, and put one of my frocks on her."
Poppie snatched her hand from Miriam's, and began to look about her with wild-eyed search after a hole to run into. Mrs. Morgenstern saw that she was frightened, and turned away to Lucy, who was on the other side of the rose-tree, talking to Mr. Sargent.
“Couldn't we do something to make the child tidy, Lucy ?" she said.
Lucy gave her shoulders a little shrug, as much as to say she feared it would not be of much use. She was wrong there, for if the child should never be clean again in her life, no one could tell how the growth of moral feeling might be aided in her by her once knowing what it was to have a clean skin and clean garments. It might serve hereafter, in her consciousness, as a type of something better still than personal cleanliness, might work in aid of her conscience as a vague reminder of ideal purity-not altogether pleasant to her ignorant fancy, and yet to be-faintly and fearingly-desired. But although Lucy did not see much use in washing her, she could not help wondering what she would look like if she were clean. And she proceeded to carry out her friend's wishes.
Poppie was getting bored already with the unrealized world of grandeur around her. The magic of the roses was all gone, and she was only looking out for a chance of scudding. Yet when Lucy spoke to her she willingly yielded her hand, perhaps in the hope that she was, like Peter's angel, about to open the prison-doors and lead her out of her prison.
Lucy gave an amusing account of how Poppie looked askance, with a mingling of terror and repugnance, at the great bath half full of water, into which she was about to be plunged. But the door was shut, and there was not even a chimney for her to run up, and she submitted. She looked even pleased when she was at length in the midst of the water. But Lucy found that she had undertaken a far more difficult task than she had expectedespecially when she came to her hair. It was nearly two hours, notwithstanding repeated messages from Mrs. Morgenstern and tappings at the door of the bath-room by Miriam, before she was able to reproduce the little savage on whom she had been bestowing this baptism of love.
When she came down at last, the company, consisting of some of Mrs. Morgenstern's more intimate friends, and a goodly number of clients if not exactly dependents, was seated at luncheon in the large dining-room. Poppie attracted all eyes once more. She was dressed in a last year's summer frock of Miriam's, and her hair was reduced to order ; but she had begun to cry so piteously when Lucy began to put stockings upon her, that she gave it up at once, and her legs were still bare. I presume she saw the last remnants of her freedom vanishing in those gyves and fetters. But nice and clean as she looked, she certainly had lost something by her decent garments. Poppie must have been made for rags and rags for Poppie-they went so admirably together. And there is nothing wicked in rags or in poverty. It is possible to go in rags and keep the ten Commandments, and it is possible to ride in purple and fine