The storm of that night beat furiously against poor Mattie’s window,
and made a dreadful tumult in her big head. When her father went into
her little room, as was his custom every morning when she did not first
appear in his, he found her lying awake, with wide eyes, seemingly
unaware of what was before them. Her head and her hand were both hot;
and when her father at length succeeded in gaining some notice from
her, the words she spoke, although in themselves intelligible enough,
had reference to what she had been going through in the night, in
regions far withdrawn, and conveyed to him no understanding of her
condition further than that she was wandering. In great alarm he sent
the charwoman (whose morning visits were Mattie’s sole assistance
in the house, for they always had their dinner from a neighboring
cook-shop) to fetch the doctor, while he went up the court to ask Lucy
to come and see her.
Lucy was tossing in a troubled dream when she woke to hear the knock at
the door. Possibly the whole dream passed between the first and second
summons of the bookseller, who was too anxious and eager to shrink
from rousing the little household. She thought she was one of the ten
virgins; but whether one of the wise or foolish she did not know. She
had knocked at a door, and as it opened, her lamp went out in the wind
it made. But a hand laid hold of hers in the dark, and would have drawn
her into the house. Then she knew that she was holding another hand,
which at first she took to be that of one of her sisters, but found to
be Thomas’s. She clung to it, and would have drawn him into the house
with her, but she could not move him. And still the other hand kept
drawing her in. She woke in an agony just as she was losing her hold of
Thomas, and heard Mr. Kitely’s knock. She was out of bed in a moment,
put on her dressing-gown and her shoes, and ran down stairs.
On learning what was the matter she made haste to dress, and in a few
minutes stood by Mattie’s bedside. But the child did not know her.
When the doctor came, he shook his head, though he was one of the most
undemonstrative of his profession; and after prescribing for her,
said she must be watched with the greatest care, and gave Lucy urgent
directions about her treatment. Lucy resolved that she would not leave
her, and began at once to make what preparations were necessary for
carrying out the doctor’s instructions. Mattie took the medicine he
sent; and in a little while the big eyes began to close, sunk and
opened again, half closed and then started wide open, to settle their
long lashes at last, after many slow flutterings, upon the pale cheek
below them. Then Lucy wrote a note to Mrs. Morgenstern, and left her
patient to run across to her grandmother to consult with her how she
should send it. But when she opened the door into the court, there was
Poppie, who of course flitted the moment she saw her, but only a little
way off, like a bold bird.
“Poppie, dear Poppie!” cried Lucy, earnestly, “do come here. I want
“Blowed if I go there again, lady!” said Poppie, without moving in
“Come here, Poppie. I won’t touch you–I promise you. I wouldn’t tell
you a lie, Poppie,” she added, seeing that she made no impression on
To judge by the way Poppie came a yard nearer, she did not seem at all
satisfied by the assurance.
“Look here, Poppie. There’s a little girl–you know her–Mattie–she’s
lying very ill here, and I can’t leave her. Will you take this letter
for me–to that big house in Wyvil Place–to tell them I can’t come
“They’ll wash me,” said Poppie, decisively.
“Oh, no, they won’t again, Poppie. They know now that you don’t like
“They’ll be giving me something I don’t want, then. I know the sort of
“You needn’t go into the house at all. Just ring the bell, and give the
letter to the servant.”
Poppie came close up to Lucy.
“I’ll tell you what, lady: I’m not afraid of _him_. _He_ won’t touch me
again. If he do, I’ll bite worser next time. But I won’t run errands
for nothink. Nobody does, miss. You ain’t forgotten what you guv me
last time? Do it again, and I’m off.”
“A good wash, Poppie–that’s what I gave you last time.”
“No, miss,” returned the child, looking up in her face beseechingly.
“You know as well as me.” And she held up her pretty grimy mouth, so
that her meaning could not be mistaken. “Old Mother Flanaghan gave me
a kiss once. You remember her gin-bottle, don’t you, miss?” she added,
still holding up her mouth.
For a moment Lucy did hesitate, but from no yielding to the repugnance
she naturally felt at dirt. She hesitated, thinking to make a
stipulation on her side, for the child’s good.
“I tell you what, Poppie,” she said; “I will kiss you every time you
come to me with a clean face, as often as you like.”
Poppie’s dirty face fell. She put out her hand, took the letter,
turned, and went away slowly.
Lucy could not bear it. She darted after her, caught her, and kissed
her. The child, without looking round, instantly scudded.
Lucy could hardly believe her eyes, when, going down at Mr. Kitely’s
call, some time after, she found Poppie in the shop.
“She says she wants to see you, miss,” said Kitely. “I don’t know what
she wants. Begging, I suppose.”
And so she was. But all her begging lay in the cleanness and brightness
of her countenance. She might have been a little saint but for the
fact that her aureole was all in her face, and around it lay a border
of darkness that might be felt.
“Back already!” said Lucy, in astonishment.
“Yes, lady. I didn’t bite him. I throwed the letter at him, and he
throwed it out again; and says I, pickin’ of it up, ‘You’ll hear
o’ this to-morrow, Plush.’ And says he, ‘Give me that letter, you
wagabones.’ And I throwed it at him again, and he took it up and looked
at it, and took it in. And here I am, lady,” added Poppie, making a
display of her clean face.
Lucy kissed her once more, and she was gone in a moment.
While Mattie was asleep Lucy did all she could to change the aspect of
“She shan’t think of Syne the first thing when she comes to herself,”
With the bookseller’s concurrence, who saw the reason for it the moment
she uttered it, she removed all the old black volumes within sight of
her bed, and replaced them with the brightest bindings to be found in
the shop. She would rather have got rid of the books altogether; but
there was no time for that now. Then she ventured, finding her sleep
still endure, to take down the dingy old chintz curtains from her tent
bed, and replace them with her own white dimity. These she then drew
close round the bed, and set about cleaning the window, inside and
out. Her fair hands were perfectly fit for such work, or any other
labor that love chose to require of them. “Entire affection hateth
nicer hands,” is one of the profoundest lines in all Spenser’s profound
allegory. But she soon found that the light would be far too much for
her little patient, especially as she had now only white curtains to
screen her. So the next thing was to get a green blind for the window.
Not before that was up did Mattie awake, and then only to stare about
her, take her medicine, and fall asleep again; or, at least, into some
state resembling sleep.
She was suffering from congestion of the brain. For a week she
continued in nearly the same condition, during which time Lucy scarcely
left her bedside. And it was a great help to her in her own trouble to
have such a charge to fulfill.
At length one morning, when the sun was shining clear and dewy through
a gap between the houses of the court, and Lucy was rising early
according to her custom–she lay on a sofa in Mattie’s room–the child
opened her eyes and saw. Then she closed them again, and Lucy heard her
murmuring to herself:
“Yes, I thought so. I’m dead. And it is so nice; I’ve got white clouds
to my bed. And there’s Syne cutting away with all his men–just like a
black cloud–away out of the world. Ah! I see you, Syne; you ought to
be ashamed of yourself for worrying me as you’ve been doing all this
time. You see it’s no use. You ought really to give it up. He’s too
much for you, anyhow.”
This she said brokenly and at intervals. The whole week had been
filled with visions of conflict with the enemy, and the Son of Man
had been with her in those visions. The spiritual struggles of them
that are whole are the same in kind as those of this brain-sick child.
They are tempted and driven to faithlessness, to self-indulgence, to
denial of God and of his Christ, to give in–for the sake of peace,
as they think. And I, believing that the very hairs of our heads are
all numbered, and that not a sparrow can fall to the ground without
our Father, believe that the Lord Christ–I know not how, because such
knowledge is too wonderful for me–is present in the soul of such a
child, as certainly as in his Church, or in the spirit of a saint
who, in his name, stands against the whole world. There are two ways
in which He can be present in the Church, one in the ordering of the
confluence and working of men’s deeds, the other in judgment: but he
can be present in the weakest child’s heart, in the heart of any of his
disciples, in an infinitely deeper way than those, and without this
deeper presence, he would not care for the outside presence of the
other modes. It is in the individual soul that the Spirit works, and
out of which he sends forth fresh influences. And I believe that the
good fight may be fought amid the wildest visions of a St. Anthony,
or even in the hardest confinement of Bedlam. It was such a fight,
perhaps, that brought the maniacs of old time to the feet of the
Saviour, who gave them back their right mind. Let those be thankful
who have it to fight amid their brothers and sisters, who can return
look for look and word for word, and not among the awful visions of a
“As thick and numberless
As the gay motes that people the sunbeams.”
Lucy did not venture to show herself for a little while, but at length
she peeped within the curtain, and saw the child praying with folded
hands. Ere she could withdraw, she opened her eyes and saw her.
“I thought I was in heaven!” she said; “but I don’t mind, if you’re
there, miss. I’ve been seeing you all through it. But it’s all over
now,” she added, with a sigh of relief.
“You must be very still, dear Mattie,” said Lucy. “You are not well
enough to talk yet.”
“I am quite well, miss; only sleepy, I think.” And before Lucy could
answer, she was indeed asleep once more.
It was quite another fortnight before Lucy ventured to give up her
place to her grandmother. During this time, she saw very little of
Thomas–only for a few minutes every evening as he left the place–and
somehow she found it a relief not to see more of him.
All the time of Mattie’s illness, Mr. Spelt kept coming to inquire
after her. He was in great concern about her, but he never asked to
see her. He had a great gift in waiting, the little man. Possibly he
fared the better, like Zaccheus, who wanted only to see, and _was
seen_. But perhaps his quietness might be partly attributed to another
cause–namely, that since Mattie’s illness he had brooded more upon
the suspicion that his wife had had a child. I cannot in the least
determine whether this suspicion was a mere fancy or not; but I know
that the tailor thought he had good grounds for it; and it does not
require a very lawless imagination to presume the thing possible.
Every day of those three weeks, most days more than once or twice even,
Poppie was to be seen at one hour or other in Guild Court, prowling
about–with a clean face, the only part of her, I am all but certain,
that was clean–for the chance of seeing Lucy. From what I know of
Poppie, I cannot think that it was anxiety about Mattie that brought
her there. I do not doubt that she was selfish–prowling about after a
kiss from Lucy. And as often as Lucy saw her she had what she wanted.
But if Lucy did not see her sometimes, at least there was one who
always did see her from his nest in the–rock, I was going to say,
but it was only the wall. I mean, of course, Mr. Spelt. He saw her,
and watched her, until at length, as he plied his needle, the fancy
which already occupied his brain began to develop itself, and he
wondered whether that Poppie might not be his very lost child. Nor had
the supposition lasted more than five minutes before he passionately
believed, or at least passionately desired to believe it, and began to
devise how to prove it, or at least to act upon it.
Mr. Spelt sat in his watch-tower, over the head of patiently cobbling
Mr. Dolman, reflecting. He too was trying to cobble–things in general,
in that active head of his beneath its covering of heathery hair.
But he did not confine his efforts to things in general–one very
particular thing had its share in the motions of his spirit–how to
prove that Poppie was indeed his own child. He had missed his little
Mattie much, and his child-like spirit was longing greatly after some
child-like companionship. This, in Mattie’s case, he had found did him
good, cleared his inward sight, helped him to cobble things even when
her questions showed him the need of fresh patching in many a place
where he had not before perceived the rent or the thin-worn threads of
the common argument or belief. And the thought had come to him that
perhaps Mattie was taken away from him to teach him that he ought
not, as Mattie had said with regard to Mrs. Morgenstern, to cultivate
friendship only where he got good from it. The very possibility that he
had a child somewhere in London seemed at length to make it his first
duty to rescue some child or other from the abyss around him, and they
were not a few swimming in the vast vortex.
Having found out that Mrs. Flanaghan knew more about Poppie than anyone
else, and that she crept oftener into the bottom of an empty cupboard
in her room than anywhere else, he went one morning to see whether he
could not learn something from the old Irishwoman. The place looked
very different then from the appearance it presented to Lucy the day
she found it inhabited by nobody, and furnished with nothing but the
When the tailor opened the door, he found the room swarming with
children. Though it was hot summer weather, a brisk fire burned in
the grate; and the place smelt strongly of _reesty_ bacon. There were
three different groups of children in three of the corners: one of them
laying out the dead body of a terribly mutilated doll; another, the
tangle-haired members of which had certainly had no share in the bacon
but the smell of it, sitting listlessly on the floor, leaning their
backs against the wall, apparently without hope and without God in the
world; one of the third group searching for possible crumbs where she
had just had her breakfast, the other two lying ill of the measles on
a heap of rags. Mrs. Flanaghan was in the act of pouring a little gin
into her tea. The tailor was quick-eyed, and took in the most of this
at a glance. But he thought he saw something more, namely, the sharp
eyes of Poppie peeping through the crack of the cupboard. He therefore
thought of nothing more but a hasty retreat, for Poppie must not know
he came after her.
“Good-morning to you, Mrs. Flanaghan,” he said, with almost Irish
politeness. Then, at a loss for anything more, he ventured to
add–“Don’t you think, ma’am, you’ll have too much on your hands if
all them children takes after the two in the corner? They’ve got the
measles, ain’t they, ma’am?”
“True for you, sir,” returned Mrs. Flanaghan, whom the gin had soothed
after the night’s abstinence. “But we’ll soon get rid o’ the varmint,”
she said, rising from her seat. “Praise God the Father! we’ll soon
get rid o’ them. Get out wid ye!” she went on, stamping with her
foot on the broken floor. “Get out! What are ye doin’ i’ the house
when ye ought to be enjoyin’ yerselves in the fresh air? Glory be to
God!–there they go, as I tould you. And now what’ll I do for yerself
this blessed marnin’?”
By this time the tailor had made up his mind to inquire after a certain
Irishman, for whom he had made a garment of fustian, but who had
never appeared to claim it. He did not expect her to know anything
of the man, for he was considerably above Mrs. Flanaghan’s level,
but it afforded a decent pretext. Mrs. Flanaghan, however, claimed
acquaintance with him, and begged that the garment in question might
be delivered into her hands in order to reach him, which the tailor,
having respect both to his word and his work, took care not to promise.
But as he went to his workshop, he thought what a gulf he had escaped.
For suppose that Mrs. Flanaghan had been communicative, and had proved
to his dissatisfaction that the girl was none of his! Why, the whole
remaining romance of his life would have been gone. It was far better
to think that she was or might be his child, than to know that she
was not. And, after all, what did it matter whether she was or was
not?–thus the process of thinking went on in the tailor’s brain–was
she not a child? What matter whether his own or someone else’s? God
must have made her all the same. And if he were to find his own child
at last, neglected and ignorant and vicious, could he not pray better
for her if he had helped the one he could help? Might he not then say,
“O Lord, they took her from me, and I had no chance with _her_, but I
did what I could–I caught a wild thing, and I tried to make something
of her, and she’s none the worse for it–do Thou help my poor child,
for I could not, and Thou canst. I give thee back thine, help mine.”
Before he had reached his perch, he had resolved that he would make no
further inquiry whatever about Poppie, but try to get a hold of her,
and do for her what he could. For whether he was her father or not,
neither case could alter the facts, that she was worth helping, and
that it would be very hard to get a hold of her. All that Poppie could
know of fathers would only make her more unwilling to be caught if she
had a suspicion that Mr. Spelt 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
favorable 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 bull’s-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
The next morning there again sat Mr. Spelt at his work–working and
watching. With the queerest look of inquiry and doubtful expectation,
Poppie appeared from under the archway, with her head already turned
toward El Dorado–namely, the flag-stone 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 brooding 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 tiptoe, 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 hedges; 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 color of the flag-stones 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 splendor 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 toward the trap. She saw the bait–was 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 bowlders; 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
fingers–but 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 favorable, 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
among 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 color, 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, so 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-faced
smile, and turned and scudded. The tailor’s right hand shuttled with
increased vigor all the rest of that day.
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 up on the walls, a few colored 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 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
“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
“I wish that good clergyman that talked about Somebody’s burden being
easy to carry, would come and 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 honor where honor 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.
[Illustration: “THE LITTLE TAILOR WAS VERY SHY OF READING BEFORE LUCY.”]
“I want to see the gentleman that really thinks it’s all about
something,” she resumed. “Do you know where he lives, Miss Burton?”
“No,” answered Lucy, “but I will find out to-morrow, and ask him to
come and see you.”
“Well, that will be nice,” returned Mattie. “Read to me, Mr.
Spelt–anything you like.”
The little tailor was very shy of reading before Lucy, but Mattie would
hear of nothing else, for she would neither allow Lucy to read, nor yet
to go away.
“Don’t mind me, Mr. Spelt,” said Lucy, beseechingly. “We are all
friends, you know. If we belong to the Somebody Mattie speaks about we
needn’t be shy of each other.”
Thus encouraged, Mr. Spelt could refuse no longer. He read about the
daughter of Jairus being made alive again.
“Oh, dear me!” said Mattie. “And if I had gone dead when Syne was
tormenting of me, He could have come into the room, and taken me by
the hand and said, ‘Daughter, get up.’ How strange it would be if He
said, ‘Daughter’ to me, for then He would be my father, you know.
And they say He’s a king. I wonder if that’s why Mr. Kitely calls me
_princess_. To have Mr. Kitely and Somebody,” she went on musingly,
“both for fathers is more than I can understand. There’s something
about godfathers and godmothers in the Catechism, ain’t there, Miss
Burton?” Then, without, waiting for a reply, she went on, “I wish my
father would go and hear what that nice gentleman–not Mr. Potter–has
got to say about it. Miss Burton, read the hymn about blind Bartimeus,
and that’ll do mother good, and then I’ll go to sleep.”
The next day, after she came from the Morgensterns’, Lucy went to
find Mr. Fuller. She had been to the week-evening service twice since
Mattie began to recover, but she had no idea where Mr. Fuller lived,
and the only way she could think of for finding him was to ask at the
warehouses about the church. She tried one after another, but nobody
even knew that there was any service there–not to say where the
evening preacher lived. With its closed, tomb-like doors, and the utter
ignorance of its concerns manifested by the people of the neighborhood,
the great ugly building stood like some mausoleum built in honor of a
custom buried beneath it, a monument of the time when men could buy and
sell and worship God. So Lucy put off further inquiry till the next
week-evening service, for she had found already that Mr. Fuller had
nothing to do with the Sunday services in that church.
How she wished that she could take Thomas with her the next time she
went to receive Mr. Fuller’s teaching! She had seen very little of
Thomas, as I have said, and had been so much occupied with Mattie,
that she did not even know whether he had fulfilled his promise about
telling his father. I suspect, however, that she had been afraid to ask
him, foreboding the truth that he had in fact let his promise lapse in
time, and was yet no nearer toward its half redemption in act, which
was all that remained possible now. And, alas! what likelihood was
there of the good seed taking good root in a heart where there was so
Finding Mr. Kitely in his shop door, Lucy stopped to ask after Mattie,
for she had not seen her that morning. And then she told him what she
had been about, and her want of success.
“What does the child want a clergyman for?” asked Mr. Kitely, with some
tone of dissatisfaction. “I’m sure you’re better than the whole lot of
them, miss. Now I could listen to you–”
“How do you know that?” retorted Lucy, smiling; for she wanted to stop
the eulogium upon herself.
“Because I’ve listened to you outside the door, Miss Burton, when you
was a-talking to Mattie inside.”
“That wasn’t fair, Mr. Kitely.”
“No more it wasn’t, but it’s done me no harm, nor you neither. But for
them parsons!–they’re neither men nor women. I beg their pardons–they
_are_ old wives.”
“But are you sure that you know quite what you are talking about? I
think there must be all sorts of them as well as of other people. I
wish you would come and hear Mr. Fuller some evening with Mattie and me
when she’s better. You would allow that he talks sense, anyhow.”
“I ain’t over hopeful, miss. And to tell the truth, I don’t much care.
I don’t think there can be much in it. It’s all an affair of the
priests. To get the upper hand of people they work on their fears and
their superstitions. But I don’t doubt some of them may succeed in
taking themselves in, and so go on like the fox that had lost his tail,
trying to make others cut off theirs too.”
Lucy, did not reply, because she had nothing at hand to say. The
bookseller feared he had hurt her.
“And so you couldn’t find this Mr. Fuller? Well, you leave it to me.
I’ll find him, and let you know in the afternoon.”
“Thank you, Mr. Kitely. Just tell Mattie, will you? I must run home
now, but I’ll come in in the afternoon to hear how you have succeeded.”
About six o’clock, Lucy reëntered Mr. Kitely’s shop, received the
necessary directions to find the “parson,” ran up to tell Mattie that
she was going, for the child had not come down stairs, and then set out.
To succeed she had to attend to Mr. Kitely’s rather minute
instructions; for although the parsonage lay upon the bank of one of
the main torrents of city traffic, it was withdrawn and hidden behind
shops and among offices, taverns, and warehouses. After missing the
most direct way, she arrived at last, through lanes and courts, much
to her surprise, at the border of a green lawn on the opposite side of
which rose a tree that spread fair branches across a blue sky filled
with pearly light, and blotted here and there with spongy clouds that
had filled themselves as full of light as they could hold. The other
half of the branches of the same tree spread themselves across the
inside of a gable, all that remained of a tavern that was being pulled
down. The gable was variegated with the incongruous papers of many
small rooms, and marked with the courses of stairs and the holes for
the joints of the floors; and this dreariness was the background for
the leaves of the solitary tree. On the same side was the parsonage,
a long, rather low, and country-looking house, from the door of which
Lucy would not have been surprised to see a troop of children burst
with shouts and laughter, to tumble each other about upon the lawn, as
smooth, at least, if not as green, as any of the most velvety of its
kind. One side of the square was formed by a vague, commonplace mass of
dirty and expressionless London houses–what they might be used for no
one could tell–one of them, probably, an eating-house–mere walls with
holes to let in the little light that was to be had. The other side was
of much the same character, only a little better; and the remaining
side was formed by the long barn-like wall of the church, broken at
regular intervals by the ugly windows, with their straight sides
filled with parallelograms, and their half-circle heads filled with
trapeziums–the ugliest window that can be made, except it be redeemed
with stained glass, the window that makes the whole grand stretch of
St. Paul’s absolutely a pain. The church was built of brick, nearly
black below, but retaining in the upper part of the square tower
something of its original red. All this Lucy took in at a glance as she
went up to the door of the parsonage.
She was shown into a small study, where Mr. Fuller sat. She told him
her name, that she had been to his week-evening service with Mattie,
and that the child was ill and wanted to see him.
“Thank you very much,” said Mr. Fuller. “Some of the city clergymen
have so little opportunity of being useful! I am truly grateful to you
for coming to me. A child in my parish is quite a godsend to me–I do
not use the word irreverently–I mean it. You lighten my labor by the
news. Perhaps I ought to say I am sorry she is ill. I dare say I shall
be sorry when I see her. But meantime, I am very glad to be useful.”
He promised to call the next day; and, after a little more talk, Lucy
took her leave.
Mr. Fuller was a middle-aged man, who all his conscious years had been
trying to get nearer to his brethren, moved thereto by the love he bore
to the Father. The more anxious he was to come near to God, the more
he felt that the high-road to God lay through the forest of humanity.
And he had learned that love is not a feeling to be called up at will
in the heart, but the reward as the result of an active exercise of the
privileges of a neighbor.
Like the poor parson loved of Chaucer, “he waited after no pomp ne
reverence;” and there was no chance of preferment coming in search of
him. He was only a curate still. But the incumbent of St. Amos, an
old man, with a grown-up family, almost unfit for duty, and greatly
preferring his little estate in Kent to the city parsonage, left
everything to him, with much the same confidence he would have had
if Mr. Fuller had been exactly the opposite of what he was, paying
him enough to live upon–indeed, paying him well for a curate. It was
not enough to marry upon, as the phrase is, but Mr. Fuller did not
mind that, for the only lady he had loved, or ever would love in that
way, was dead; and all his thoughts for this life were bent upon such
realizing of divine theory about human beings, and their relation to
God and to each other, as might make life a truth and a gladness.
It was therefore painful to him to think that he was but a _city_
curate, a being whose thirst after the relations of his calling among
his fellows reminded himself of that of the becalmed mariner, with
“water, water everywhere, but water none to drink.” He seemed to have
nothing to do with them, nor they with him. Perhaps not one individual
of the crowds that passed his church every hour in the week would be
within miles of it on the Sunday; for even of those few who resided
near it, most forsook the place on the day of rest, especially in the
summer; and few indeed were the souls to whom he could offer the bread
of life. He seemed to himself to be greatly overpaid for the work he
had it in his power to do–in his own parish, that is. He had not even
any poor to minister to. He made up for this by doing his best to help
the clergyman of a neighboring parish, who had none but poor; but his
heart at times burned within him to speak the words he loved best to
speak to such as he could hope had the ears to hear them; for among
the twelve people–a congregation he did not always have–that he said
he preferred to the thousand, he could sometimes hardly believe that
there was one who heard and understood. More of his reflections and
resolutions, in regard to this state of affairs, we shall fall in with
by and by. Meantime, my reader will believe that this visit of Lucy
gave him pleasure and hope of usefulness. The next morning he was in
Mr. Kitely’s shop as early as he thought the little invalid would be
able to see him.
“Good-morning, sir,” said Mr. Kitely, brusquely. “What can I do for you
If Mr. Fuller had begun looking at his books, Kitely would have taken
no notice of him. He might have stayed hours, and the bookseller would
never have even put a book in his way; but he looked as if he wanted
something in particular, and therefore Mr. Kitely spoke.
“You have a little girl that’s not well, haven’t you?” returned Mr.
“Oh! you’re the gentleman she wanted to see. She’s been asking ever so
often whether you wasn’t come yet. She’s quite impatient to see you,
While he spoke, Kitely had drawn nearer to the curate, regarding him
with projecting and slightly flushed face, and eyes that had even
something of eagerness in them.
“I would have come earlier, only I thought it would be better not,”
said Mr. Fuller.
Mr. Kitely drew yet a step nearer, with the same expression on his face.
“You won’t put any nonsense into her head, will you, sir?” he said,
“Not if I know it,” answered Mr. Fuller, with a smile of kind humor. “I
would rather take some out of it.”
“For you see,” Kitely went on, “that child never committed a sin in her
life. It’s all nonsense; and I won’t have her talked to as if she was a
“But you see we must go partly by what she thinks herself; and I
suspect she won’t say she never did anything wrong. I don’t think I
ever knew a child that would. But, after all, suppose you are right,
and she never did anything, wrong–”
“I don’t exactly say that, you know,” interposed Mr. Kitely, in a tone
of mingled candor and defense. “I only said she hadn’t committed any
“And where’s the difference?” asked Mr. Fuller, quietly.
“Oh! you know quite well. Doing wrong, you know–why, we all do wrong
sometimes. But to commit a sin, you know–I suppose that’s something
serious. That comes in the way of the Ten Commandments.”
“I don’t think your little girl would know the difference.”
“But what’s the use of referring to her always?”
“Just because I think she’s very likely to know best. Children are wise
in the affairs of their own kingdom.”
“Well, I believe you’re right; for she is the strangest child I ever
saw. She knows more than any one would think for. Walk this way, sir.
You’ll find her in the back room.”
“Won’t you come, too, and see that I don’t put any nonsense into her
“I must mind the shop, sir,” objected Kitely, seeming a little ashamed
of what he had said.
Mr. Fuller nodded content, and was passing on, when he bethought
himself, and stopped.
“Oh, Mr. Kitely,” he said, “there was just one thing I was going to
say, but omitted. It was only this: that suppose you were right about
your little girl, or suppose even that she had never done anything
wrong at all, she would want God all the same. And we must help each
other to find Him.”
If Mr. Kitely had any reply ready for this remark, which I doubt, Mr.
Fuller did not give him time to make it, for he walked at once into
the room, and found Mattie sitting alone in a half twilight, for the
day was cloudy. Even the birds were oppressed, for not one of them was
singing. A thrush hopped drearily about under his load of speckles, and
a rose-ringed paroquet, with a very red nose, looked ashamed of the
quantity of port-wine he had drunk. The child was reading the same
little old book mentioned before. She laid it down, and rose from the
window-sill to meet Mr. Fuller.
“Well, how do you do, sir?” she said. “I am glad you are come.”
Any other child of her age Mr. Fuller would have kissed, but there was
something about Mattie that made him feel it an unfit proceeding. He
shook hands with her and offered her a white camellia.
“Thank you, sir,” said Mattie, and laid the little transfiguration upon
“Don’t you like flowers?” asked Mr. Fuller, somewhat disappointed.
“Isn’t it beautiful now?”
“Well, where’s the good?” answered and asked Mattie, as if she had been
a Scotchwoman. “It will be ugly before to-morrow.”
“Oh, no; not if you put it in water directly.”
“Will it live forever, then?” asked Mattie.
“No, only a few days.”
“Well, where’s the odds, then? To-morrow or next week–where’s the
difference? It _looks_ dead now when you know it’s dying.”
“Ah!” thought Mr. Fuller, “I’ve got something here worth looking into.”
What he said was, “You dear child!”
“You don’t know me yet,” returned Mattie. “I’m not dear at all. I’m
cross and ill-natured. And I won’t be petted.”
“You like the birds, though, don’t you?” said Mr. Fuller.
“Well, yes. Mr. Kitely likes them, and I always like what he likes. But
they are not quite comfortable, you know. They won’t last forever, you
know. One of them is dead since I was taken ill. And father meant it
for Miss Burton.”
“Do you like Miss Burton, then?”
“Yes, I _do_. But she’ll live forever, you know. I’ll tell you
something else I like.”
“What is that, my child?”
“Oh, I’m no such a child! But I’ll tell you what I like. There.”
And she held out the aged little volume, open at the hymn about blind
“Will this live forever, then?” he asked, turning the volume over in
his hand, so that its withered condition suggested itself at once to
“Now you puzzle me,” answered Mattie. “But let me think. You know it’s
not the book I mean; it’s the poem. Now I have it. If I know that poem
by heart, and I live forever, then the poem will live forever. There!”
“Then the book’s the body, and the poem the soul,” said Mr. Fuller.
“One of the souls; for some things have many souls. I have two, at
Mr. Fuller felt instinctively, with the big forehead and the tiny body
of the child before him, that they were getting on rather dangerous
ground. But he must answer.
“Two souls! That must be something like what King David felt, when he
asked God to join his heart into one. But do you like this poem?” he
hastened to add. “May I read it to you?”
“Oh, yes; please do. I am never tired of hearing it. It will sound
quite new if you read it.”
So Mr. Fuller read slowly–“As Jesus went into Jericho town.” And from
the way Mattie listened, he knew what he must bring her next–not a
camellia, but a poem. Still, how sad it was that a little child should
not love flowers!
“When were you in the country last, Miss Kitely?”
“I never was in the country that I know of. My name is Mattie.”
“Wouldn’t you like to go, Mattie?”
“No I shouldn’t–not at all.”
“Well, because–because it’s not in my way, you see.”
“But surely you have some reason for not liking the country.”
“Well, now, I will tell you. The country, by all I can hear, is full
of things that die, and I don’t like that. And I think people can’t be
nice that like the country.”
Mr. Fuller resolved in his heart that he would make Mattie like the
country before he had done with her. But he would say no more now,
because he was not sure whether Mattie as yet regarded him with a
friendly eye; and he must be a friend before he could speak about
religion. He rose, therefore, and held out his hand.
Mattie looked at him with dismay.
“But I wanted you to tell me about the man that sat at Somebody’s feet
in his Sunday clothes.”
Happily for his further influence with her, Mr. Fuller guessed at once
whom she meant, and taking a New Testament from his pocket, read to her
about the demoniac, who sat at the feet of Jesus, clothed, and in his
right mind. He had not known her long before he discovered that all
these stories of possession had an especial attraction for Mattie–she
evidently associated them with her own visions of Syne and his men.
“Well, I was wrong. It wasn’t his Sunday clothes,” she said. “Or,
perhaps, it was, and he had torn the rest all to pieces.”
“Yes; I think that’s very likely,” responded Mr. Fuller.
“I know–it was Syne that told him, and he did it. But he wouldn’t do
it any more, would he, after he saw Somebody?”
“I don’t think he would,” answered Mr. Fuller, understanding her just
enough to know the right answer to make. “But I will come and see you
again to-morrow,” he added, “and try whether I can’t bring something
with me that you will like.”
“Thank you,” answered the old-fashioned creature. “But don’t be putting
yourself to any expense about it, for I am not easy to please.” And
she lifted her hand to her head and gave a deep sigh, as if it was a
very sad fact indeed. “I wish I was easier to please,” she added, to
herself; but Mr. Fuller heard her as he left the room.
“She’s a very remarkable child that, Mr. Kitely–too much so, I fear,”
he said, reëntering the shop.
“I know that,” returned the bookseller, curtly, almost angrily. “I wish
“I beg your pardon. I only wanted–”
“No occasion at all,” interrupted Mr. Kitely.
“I only wanted,” Mr. Fuller persisted, “to ask you whether you do not
think she had better go out of town for a while.”
“I dare say. But how am I to send her? The child has not a relation but
me–and an aunt that she can’t a-bear; and that wouldn’t do–would it,
sir? She would fret herself to death without someone she cared about.”
“Certainly it wouldn’t do. But mightn’t Miss–I forget her name–”
“Miss Burton, I dare say you mean.”
“I mean Miss Burton. Couldn’t she help you? Is she any relation of
“None whatever. Nor she’s not like it. I believe she’s a stray, myself.”
“What _do_ you mean, Mr. Kitely?” asked Mr. Fuller, quite bewildered
“Well, sir, I mean that she’s a stray angel,” answered Mr. Kitely,
smiling; “for she ain’t like anyone else I know of but that child’s
mother, and she’s gone back to where she came from–many’s the long
“I don’t wonder at your thinking that of her if she’s as good as she
looks,” returned Mr. Fuller. And bidding the bookseller good-morning,
he left the shop and walked home, cogitating how the child could be got
into the country.
Next morning he called–earlier, and saw Lucy leaving the court just as
he was going into the shop. He turned and spoke to her.
“Fancy a child, Miss Burton,” he said, “that does not care about
flowers–and her heart full of religion too! How is she to consider the
lilies of the field? She knows only birds in cages; she has no idea of
the birds of the air. The poor child has to lift everything out of that
deep soul of hers, and the buckets of her brain can’t stand such hard
“I know, I know,” answered Lucy. “But what can I do?”
“Besides,” Mr. Fuller continued, “what notion of the simple grandeur of
God can she have when she never had more than a peep of the sky from
between these wretched houses? How can the heavens declare the glory
of God to her? You don’t suppose David understood astronomy, and that
it was from a scientific point of view that he spoke, when he said
that the firmament showed his handiwork? That was all he could say
about it, for the Jewish nation was not yet able to produce a Ruskin.
But it was, nevertheless, the spiritual power of the sky upon his
soul–not the stars in their courses, but the stars up there in their
reposeful depth of blue, their ‘shining nest’–which, whatever theory
of their construction he might have, yet impressed him with an awe, an
infinitude, a shrinking and yet aspiring–made his heart swell within
him, and sent him down on his knees. This little darling knows nothing
of such an experience. We must get her into the open. She must love
the wind that bloweth where it listeth, and the clouds that change and
pass. She can’t even like anything that does not last forever; and the
mind needs a perishing bread sometimes as well as the body–though it
never perishes when once made use of, as Mattie told me yesterday. But
I beg your pardon; I am preaching a sermon, I think. What a thing it is
to have the faults of a profession in addition to those of humanity! It
all comes to this–you must get that child, with her big head and her
big conscience, out of London, and give her heart a chance.”
“Indeed, I wish I could,” answered Lucy. “I will do what I can, and
let you know. Are you going to see her now, Mr. Fuller?”
“Yes, I am. I took her a flower yesterday, but I have brought her a
poem to-day. I am afraid, however, that it is not quite the thing for
her. I thought I could easily find her one till I began to try, and
then I found it very difficult indeed.”
They parted–Lucy to Mrs. Morgenstern’s, Mr. Fuller to Mattie.
I will give the hymn–for the sake, in part, of what Mattie said, and
then I will close the chapter.
“Come unto me,” the Master says.
But how? I am not good;
No thankful song my heart will raise,
Nor even wish it could.
I am not sorry for the past,
Nor able not to sin;
The weary strife would ever last
If once I should begin.
Hast thou no burden then to bear?
No action to repent?
Is all around so very fair?
Is thy heart quite content?
Hast thou no sickness in thy soul?
No labor to endure?
Then go in peace, for thou art whole,
Thou needest not His cure.
Ah! mock me not. Sometimes I sigh;
I have a nameless grief,
A faint, sad pain–but such that I
Can look for no relief.
Come then to Him who made thy heart;
Come in thyself distrest;
To come to Jesus is thy part,
His part to give thee rest.
New grief, new hope He will bestow,
Thy grief and pain to quell;
Into thy heart Himself will go,
And that will make thee well.
When Mr. Fuller had finished the hymn, he closed the book and looked
toward Mattie. She responded–with a sigh–
“Well, I think I know what it means. You see I have such a big head,
and so many things come and go just as they please, that if it weren’t
for Somebody I don’t know what I should do with them all. But as soon
as I think about Him, they grow quieter and behave better. But I don’t
know all that it means. Will you lend me the book, Mr. Fuller?”
All the child’s thoughts took shapes, and so she talked like a lunatic.
Still, as all the forms to which she gave an objective existence were
the embodiments of spiritual realities, she could not be said to have
yet passed the narrow line that divides the poet from the maniac. But
it was high time that the subjects of her thoughts should be supplied
from without, and that the generating power should lie dormant for a
while. And the opportunity for this arrived sooner than her friends had
Lucy was so full of Mattie and what Mr. Fuller had said that she told
Mrs. Morgenstern all about it before Miriam had her lesson. After the
lesson was over, Mrs. Morgenstern, who had, contrary to her custom,
remained in the room all the time, said:
“Well, Lucy, I have been thinking about it, and I think I have arranged
it all very nicely. It’s clear to me that the child will go out of her
mind if she goes on as she’s doing. Now, I don’t think Miriam has been
quite so well as usual, and she has not been out of London since last
August. Couldn’t you take her down to St. Leonard’s–or I dare say you
would like Hastings better? You can go on with your lessons there all
the same, and take little Mattie with you.”
“But what will become of my grandmother?” said Lucy.
“She can go with you, can’t she? I could ask her to go and take care
of you. It would be much better for you to have her, and it makes very
little difference to me, you know.”
“Thank you very much,” returned Lucy, “but I fear my grandmother will
not consent to it. I will try her, however, and see what can be done.
Thank you a thousand times, dear Mrs. Morgenstern. Wouldn’t you like
to go to Hastings, Miriam?”
Miriam was delighted at the thought of it, and Lucy was not without
hopes that if her grandmother would not consent to go herself, she
would at least wish her to go. Leaving Mattie out of view, she would
be glad to be away from Thomas for a while, for, until he had done
as he ought, she could not feel happy in his presence; and she made
up her mind that she would write to him very plainly when she was
away–perhaps tell him positively that if he would not end it, she
must. I say _perhaps_, for ever as she approached the resolution,
the idea of the poor lad’s helpless desertion arose before her, and
she recoiled from abandoning him. Nothing more could be determined,
however, until she saw her grandmother.
But as she was going out she met Mr. Sargent in the hall. He had come
to see her.
This very morning the last breath of the crew and passengers of the
_Ningpo_ had bubbled up in the newspapers; and all the world who
cared to know it knew the fact, that the vessel had been dashed to
pieces upon a rock of the Cape Verde Islands; all hands and passengers
supposed to be lost. This the underwriters knew but a few hours
before. Now it was known to Mr. Stopper and Mr. Worboise, both of whom
it concerned even more than the underwriters. Mr. Stopper’s first
feeling was one of dismay, for the articles of partnership had not
been completed before Mr. Boxall sailed. Still, as he was the only
person who understood the business, he trusted in any case to make his
position good, especially if he was right in imagining that old Mrs.
Boxall must now be heir-at-law–a supposition which he scarcely allowed
himself to doubt. Here, however, occurred the thought of Thomas. He had
influence there, and that influence would be against him, for had he
not insulted him? This he could not help yet. He would wait for what
might turn up.
What Mr. Worboise’s feelings were when first he read the paragraph in
the paper I do not know, nor whether he had not an emotion of justice,
and an inclination to share the property with Mrs. Boxall. But I doubt
whether he very clearly recognized the existence of his friend’s
mother. In his mind, probably, her subjective being was thinned by age,
little regard, and dependence, into a thing of no account–a shadow
of the non-Elysian sort, living only in the waste places of human
disregard. He certainly knew nothing of her right to any property in
the possession of her son. Of one of his feelings only am I sure: he
became more ambitious for his son, in whom he had a considerable amount
of the pride of paternity.
Mrs. Boxall was the last to hear anything of the matter. She did not
read the newspapers, and, accustomed to have sons at sea, had not even
begun to look for news of the _Ningpo_.
“Ah, Miss Burton,” said Mr. Sargent, “I am just in time. I thought
perhaps you would not be gone yet. Will you come into the garden with
me for a few minutes? I won’t keep you long.”
Lucy hesitated. Mr. Sargent had of late, on several occasions, been
more confidential in his manner than was quite pleasant to her,
because, with the keenest dislike to raise appearances, she yet could
not take his attentions for granted, and tell him she was engaged to
Thomas. He saw her hesitation, and hastened to remove it.
“I only want to ask you about a matter of business,” he said. “I assure
you I won’t detain you.”
Mr. Sargent knew something of Mr. Wither, who had very “good
connections,” and was indeed a favorite in several professional
circles; and from him he had learned all about Lucy’s relations,
without even alluding to Lucy herself, and that her uncle and whole
family had sailed in the _Ningpo_. Anxious to do what he could for
her, and fearful lest, in their unprotected condition, some advantage
should be taken of the two women, he had made haste to offer his
services to Lucy, not without a vague feeling that he ran great risk
of putting himself in the false position of a fortune-hunter by doing
so, and heartily abusing himself for not having made more definite
advances before there was any danger of her becoming an heiress;
for although a fortune was a most desirable thing in Mr. Sargent’s
position, especially if he wished to marry, he was above marrying for
money alone, and, in the case of Lucy, with whom he had fallen in
love–just within his depth, it must be confessed–while she was as
poor as himself, he was especially jealous of being unjustly supposed
to be in pursuit of her prospects. Possibly the consciousness of what
a help the fortune would be to him made him even more sensitive than
he would otherwise have been. Still he would not omit the opportunity
of being useful to the girl, trusting that his honesty would, despite
of appearances, manifest itself sufficiently to be believed in by so
honest a nature as Lucy Burton.
“Have you heard the sad news?” he said, as soon as they were in the
“No,” answered Lucy, without much concern; for she did not expect to
hear anything about Thomas.
“I thought not. It is very sad. The _Ningpo_ is lost.”
Lucy was perplexed. She knew the name of her uncle’s vessel; but for a
moment she did not associate the thing. In a moment, however, something
of the horror of the fact reached her. She did not cry, for her
affections had no great part in anyone on board of the vessel, but she
turned very pale. And not a thought of the possible interest she might
have in the matter crossed her mind. She had never associated good to
herself with her uncle or any of his family.
“How dreadful!” she murmured. “My poor cousins! What they must all have
gone through! Are they come home?”
“They are gone home,” said Mr. Sargent, significantly. “There can be
but little doubt of that, I fear.”
“You don’t mean they’re drowned?” she said, turning her white face on
him, and opening her eyes wide.
“It is not absolutely certain; but there can be little doubt about it.”
He did not show her the paragraph in the _Times_, though the paper was
in his pocket: the particulars were too dreadful.
“Are there any other relations but your grandmother and yourself?” he
asked, for Lucy remained silent.
“I don’t know of any,” she answered.
“Then you must come in for the property.”
“Oh, no. He would never leave it to us. He didn’t like me, for one
thing. But that was my fault, perhaps. He was not over-kind to my
mother, and so I never liked him.”
And here at length she burst into tears. She wept very quietly,
however, and Mr. Sargent went on.
“But you must be his heirs-at-law. Will you allow me to make
inquiry–to do anything that may be necessary, for you? Don’t
misunderstand me,” he added, pleadingly. “It is only as a friend–what
I have been for a long time now, Lucy.”
Lucy scarcely hesitated before she answered, with a restraint that
appeared like coldness:
“Thank you, Mr. Sargent. The business cannot in any case be mine. It is
my grandmother’s, and I can, and will, take no hand in it.”
“Will you say to your grandmother that I am at her service?”
“If it were a business matter, there is no one I would more
willingly–ask to help us; but as you say it is a matter of friendship,
I must refuse your kindness.”
Mr. Sargent was vexed with himself, and disappointed with her. He
supposed that she misinterpreted his motives. Between the two, he was
driven to a sudden, unresolved action of appeal.
“Miss Burton,” he said, “for God’s sake, do not misunderstand me, and
attribute to mercenary motives the offer I make only in the confidence
that you will not do me such an injustice.”
Lucy was greatly distressed. Her color went and came for a few moments,
and then she spoke.
“Mr. Sargent, I am just as anxious that you should understand me; but I
am in a great difficulty and have to throw myself on your generosity.”
She paused again, astonished to find herself making a speech. But she
did not pause long.
“I refuse your kindness,” she said, “only because I am not free to lay
myself under such obligation to you. Do not ask me to say more,” she
added, finding that he made no reply.
But if she had looked in his face, she would have seen that he
understood her perfectly. Honest disappointment and manly suffering
were visible enough on his countenance. But he did not grow ashy pale,
as some lovers would at such an utterance. He would never have made,
under any circumstances, a passionate lover, though an honest and true
one; for he was one of those balanced natures which are never all in
one thing at once. Hence the very moment he received a shock, was the
moment in which he began to struggle for victory. Something called to
him, as Una to the Red-Cross Knight when face to face with the serpent
“Strangle her, else she sure will strangle thee.”
Before Lucy’s eyes and his met, he had mastered his countenance at last.
“I understand you, Miss Burton,” he said, in a calm voice, which
only trembled a little–and it was then that Lucy ventured to look
at him–“and I thank you. Please to remember that if ever you need a
friend, I am at your service.”
Without another word, he lifted his hat and went away.
Lucy hastened home full of distress at the thought of her grandmother’s
grief, and thinking all the way how she could convey the news with
least of a shock; but when she entered the room, she found her already
in tears, and Mr. Stopper seated by her side comforting her with