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´╗┐Title: Little Meg's Children
Author: Stretton, Hesba, 1832-1911
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Little Meg's Children" ***

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[Illustration: Cover art]



[Frontispiece: Looking out for Father]



Little Meg's Children


BY HESBA STRETTON


  Author of 'Jessica's First Prayer,'
  'Alone in London,' 'Pilgrim Street,'
  'No Place Like Home,' etc.



WITH A FRONTISPIECE BY HAROLD COPPING

And other Illustrations



LONDON

THE RELIGIOUS TRACT SOCIETY

56 PATERNOSTER ROW AND 65 ST. PAUL'S CHURCHYARD

1905



Contents


CHAP.

    I. MOTHERLESS
   II. LITTLE MEG AS A MOURNER
  III. LITTLE MEG'S CLEANING DAY
   IV. LITTLE MEG'S TREAT TO HER CHILDREN
    V. LITTLE MEG'S NEIGHBOUR
   VI. LITTLE MEG'S LAST MONEY
  VII. LITTLE MEG'S DISAPPOINTMENT
 VIII. LITTLE MEG'S RED FROCK IN PAWN
   IX. LITTLE MEG'S FRIENDS IN NEED
    X. LITTLE MEG AS CHARWOMAN
   XI. LITTLE MEG'S BABY
  XII. THE END OF LITTLE MEG'S TROUBLE
 XIII. LITTLE MEG'S FATHER
  XIV. LITTLE MEG'S FAREWELL



Little Meg's Children


CHAPTER I

Motherless

In the East End of London, more than a mile from St Paul's Cathedral,
and lying near to the docks, there is a tangled knot of narrow streets
and lanes, crossing and running into one another, with blind alleys and
courts leading out of them, and low arched passages, and dark gullies,
and unsuspected slums, hiding away at the back of the narrowest
streets; forming altogether such a labyrinth of roads and dwellings,
that one needs a guide to thread a way among them, as upon pathless
solitudes or deserts of shifting sands.  In the wider streets it is
possible for two conveyances to pass each other; for in some of them,
towards the middle of their length, a sweeping curve is taken out of
the causeway on either side to allow of this being done; but in the
smaller and closer streets there is room spared only for the passage to
and fro of single carts, while here and there may be found an alley so
narrow that the neighbours can shake hands, if they would, from
opposite windows.  Many of the houses are of three or four stories,
with walls, inside and out, dingy and grimed with smoke, and with
windows that scarcely admit even the gloomy light which finds a way
through the thick atmosphere, and down between the high, close
buildings.

A few years ago in one of these dismal streets there stood a still more
dismal yard, bearing the name of Angel Court, as if there yet lingered
among those grimy homes and their squalid occupants some memories of a
brighter place and of happier creatures.  Angel Court was about nine
feet wide, and contained ten or twelve houses on each side, with one
dwelling at the further end, blocking up the thoroughfare, and
commanding a view down the close, stone-paved yard, with its
interlacing rows of clothes-lines stretched from window to window, upon
which hung the yellow, half-washed rags of the inhabitants.  This end
house was three stories high, without counting a raised roof of red
tiles, forming two attics; the number of rooms in all being eight, each
one of which was held by a separate family, as were most of the other
rooms in the court.  To possess two apartments was almost an
undreamed-of luxury.

There was certainly an advantage in living in the attics of the end
house in Angel Court, for the air was a trifle purer there and the
light clearer than in the stories below.  From the small windows might
be seen the prospect, not only of the narrow court, but of a vast
extent of roofs, with a church spire here and there, and the glow of
the sky behind them, when the sun was setting in a thick purplish cloud
of smoke and fog.  There was greater quiet also, and more privacy up in
the attics than beneath, where all day long people were trampling up
and down the stairs, and past the doors of their neighbours' rooms.
The steep staircase ended in a steeper ladder leading up to the attics,
and very few cared to climb up and down it.  It was perhaps for these
reasons that the wife of a sailor, who had gone to sea eight months
before, had chosen to leave a room lower down, for which he had paid
the rent in advance, in order to mount into higher and quieter quarters
with her three children.

Whatever may have been her reason, it is certain that the sailor's
wife, who had been ailing before her husband's departure, had, for some
weeks past, been unable to descend the steep ladder into the maze of
busy streets, to buy the articles necessary for her little household,
and that she had steadily refused all aid from her neighbours, who soon
left off pressing it upon her.  The only nurse she had, and the only
person to whom she would entrust her errands, was her eldest child, a
small, spare, stunted girl of London growth, whose age could not be
more than ten years, though she wore the shrewd, anxious air of a woman
upon her face, with deep lines wrinkling her forehead and puckering
about her keen eyes.  Her small bony hands were hard with work; and
when she trod to and fro about the crowded room, from the bedside to
the fireplace, or from the crazy window to the creaking door, which let
the cold draughts blow in upon the ailing mother, her step was slow and
silent, less like that of a child than of a woman who was already weary
with much labour.  The room itself was not large enough to cause a
great deal of work; but little Meg had had many nights of watching
lately, and her eyes were heavy for want of sleep, with the dark
circles underneath them growing darker every day.

The evening had drawn in, but Meg's mother, her head propped up with
anything that could be made into a pillow, had watched the last glow of
the light behind the chimneys and the church spires, and then she
turned herself feebly towards the glimmer of a handful of coals burning
in the grate, beside which her little daughter was undressing a baby
twelve months old, and hushing it to sleep in her arms.  Another child
had been put to bed already, upon a rude mattress in a corner of the
room, where she could not see him; but she watched Meg intently, with a
strange light in her dim eyes.  When the baby was asleep at last, and
laid down on the mattress upon the floor, the girl went softly back to
the fire, and stood for a minute or two looking thoughtfully at the red
embers.

'Little Meg!' said her mother, in a low, yet shrill voice.

Meg stole across with a quiet step to the bedside, and fastened her
eyes earnestly upon her mother's face.

'Do you know I'm going to die soon?' asked the mother.

'Yes,' said Meg, and said no more.

'Father'll be home soon,' continued her mother, 'and I want you to take
care of the children till he comes.  I've settled with Mr Grigg
downstairs as nobody shall meddle with you till father comes back.
But, Meg, you've got to take care of that your own self.  You've
nothing to do with nobody, and let nobody have nothing to do with you.
They're a bad crew downstairs, a very bad crew.  Don't you ever let any
one of 'em come across the door-step.  Meg, could you keep a secret?'

'Yes, I could,' said Meg.

'I think you could,' answered her mother, 'and I'll tell you why you
mustn't have nothing to do with the crew downstairs.  Meg, pull the big
box from under the bed.'

The box lay far back, where it was well hidden by the bed; but by dint
of hard pulling Meg dragged it out, and the sailor's wife gave her the
key from under her pillow.  When the lid was open, the eyes of the
dying woman rested with interest and longing upon the faded finery it
contained--the bright-coloured shawl, and showy dress, and velvet
bonnet, which she used to put on when she went to meet her husband on
his return from sea.  Meg lifted them out carefully one by one, and
laid them on the bed, smoothing out the creases fondly.  There were her
own best clothes, too, and the children's; the baby's nankeen coat, and
Robin's blue cap, which never saw the light except when father was at
home.  She had nearly emptied the box, when she came upon a small but
heavy packet.

'That's the secret, Meg,' said her mother in a cautious whisper.
'That's forty gold sovereigns, as doesn't belong to me, nor father
neither, but to one of his mates as left it with him for safety.  I
couldn't die easy if I thought it wouldn't be safe.  They'd go rooting
about everywhere; but, Meg, you must never, never, never let anybody
come into the room till father's at home.'

'I never will, mother,' said little Meg.

'That's partly why I moved up here,' she continued.  'Why, they'd
murder you all if they couldn't get the money without.  Always keep the
door locked, whether you're in or out; and, Meg dear, I've made you a
little bag to wear round your neck, to keep the key of the box in, and
all the money I've got left; it'll be enough till father comes.  And if
anybody meddles, and asks you when he's coming, be sure say you expect
him home to-day or to-morrow.  He'll be here in four weeks, on Robin's
birthday, may be.  Do you know all you've got to do, little Meg?'

'Yes,' she answered.  'I'm to take care of the children, and the money
as belongs to one of father's mates; and I must wear the little bag
round my neck, and always keep the door locked, and tell folks I expect
father home to-day or to-morrow, and never let nobody come into our
room.'

'That's right,' murmured the dying woman.  'Meg, I've settled all about
my burial with the undertaker and Mr Grigg downstairs; and you'll have
nothing to do but stay here till they take me away.  If you like, you
and Robin and baby may walk after me; but be sure see everybody out,
and lock the door safe afore you start.'

She lay silent for some minutes, touching one after another the clothes
spread upon the bed as Meg replaced them in the box, and then, locking
it, put the key into the bag, and hung it round her neck.

'Little Meg,' said her mother, 'do you remember one Sunday evening us
hearing a sermon preached in the streets?'

'Yes, mother,' answered Meg promptly.

'What was it he said so often?' she whispered.  'You learnt the verse
once at school.'

'I know it still,' said Meg.  '"If ye then, being evil, know how to
give good gifts unto your children: how much more shall your Father
which is in heaven give good things to them that ask Him?"'

'Ay, that's it,' she said faintly; 'and he said we needn't wait to be
God's children, but we were to ask Him for good things at once, because
He had sent His own Son to be our Saviour, and to die for us.  "Them
that ask Him, them that ask Him"; he said it over and over again.  Eh!
but I've asked Him a hundred times to let me live till father comes
home, or to let me take baby along with me.'

'May be that isn't a good thing,' said Meg.  'God knows what are good
things.'

The dying mother pondered over these words for some time, until a
feeble smile played upon her wan face.

'It 'ud be a good thing anyhow,' she said, 'to ask Him to forgive me my
sins, and take me to heaven when I die--wouldn't it, Meg?'

Yes, that's sure to be a good thing,' answered Meg thoughtfully.

'Then I'll ask Him for that all night,' said her mother, 'and to be
sure take care of you all till father comes back.  That 'ud be another
good thing.'

She turned her face round to the wall with a deep sigh, and closed her
eyelids, but her lips kept moving silently from time to time.  Meg
cried softly to herself in her chair before the fire, but presently she
dozed a little for very heaviness of heart, and dreamed that her
father's ship was come into dock, and she, and her mother, and the
children were going down the dingy streets to meet him.  She awoke with
a start; and creeping gently to her mother's side, laid her warm little
hand upon hers.  It was deadly cold, with a chill such as little Meg
had never before felt; and when her mother neither moved nor spoke in
answer to her repeated cries, she knew that she was dead.



CHAPTER II

Little Meg as a Mourner

For the next day, and the night following, the corpse of the mother lay
silent and motionless in the room where her three children were living.
Meg cried bitterly at first; but there was Robin to be comforted, and
the baby to be played with when it laughed and crowed in her face.
Robin was nearly six years old, and had gained a vague, dim knowledge
of death by having followed, with a troop of other curious children,
many a funeral that had gone out from the dense and dirty dwellings to
the distant cemetery, where he had crept forward to the edge of the
grave, and peeped down into what seemed to him a very dark and dreadful
depth.  When little Meg told him mother was dead, and lifted him up to
kneel on the bedside and kiss her icy lips for the last time, his
childish heart was filled with an awe which almost made him shrink from
the sight of that familiar face, scarcely whiter or more sunken now
than it had been for many a day past.  But the baby stroked the quiet
cheeks, whilst chuckling and kicking in Meg's arms, and shouted, 'Mam!
mam! mam!' until she caught it away, and pressing it tightly to her
bosom, sat down on the floor by the bed, weeping.

'You've got no mam but me now, baby,' cried little Meg.  She sat still
for a while, with Robin lying on the ground beside her, his face hidden
in her ragged frock; but the baby set up a pitiful little wail, and she
put aside her own grief to soothe it.

'Hush! hush!' sang Meg, getting up, and walking with baby about the
room.  'Hush, hush, my baby dear!  By-by, my baby, by-by!'

Meg's sorrowful voice sank into a low, soft, sleepy tone, and presently
the baby fell fast asleep, when she laid it upon Robin's little
mattress, and covered it up gently with an old shawl.  Robin was
standing at the foot of the bed, gazing at his mother with wide-open,
tearless eyes; and little Meg softly drew the sheet again over the pale
and rigid face.

'Robbie,' she said, 'let's sit in the window a bit.'

They had to climb up to the narrow window-sill by a broken chair which
stood under it; but when they were there, and Meg had her arm round
Robin, to hold him safe, they could see down into Angel Court, and into
the street beyond, with its swarms of busy and squalid people.  Upon
the stone pavement far below them a number of children of every age and
size, but all ill-clothed and ill-fed, were crawling about, in and out
of the houses, and their cries and shrieks came up to them in their
lofty seat; but of late their mother had not let them run out to play
in the streets, and they were mostly strangers to them except by sight.
Now and then Meg and Robin cast a glance inwards at the quiet and still
form of their mother, lying as if silently watching them with her
half-closed eyes, and when they spoke to one another they spoke in
whispers.

'Mother is going to live with the angels,' said Meg.

'What are angels?' asked Robin, his glittering black eyes glancing at
the bed where she lay in her deep sleep.

'Oh, I'm not quite sure,' answered Meg.  'Only they're beautiful
people, who are always white and clean, and shining, like that big
white cloud up in the sky.  They live somewhere up in the sky, where
it's always sunny, and bright, and blue.'

'How 'll mother get up there?' inquired Robin.

'Well, I suppose,' replied Meg, after some reflection, 'after they've
put her in the ground, the angels 'll come and take her away.  I read
once of a poor beggar, oh such a poor beggar! full of sores, and he
died, and the angels carried him away somewhere.  I thought, may be,
they'd come for mother in the night; but I suppose they let people be
buried first now, and fetch 'em away after.'

'I should like to see some angels,' said Robin.

They were silent again after that, looking down upon the quarrelling
children, and the drunken men and women staggering about the yard
below.  Now and then a sharper scream rang through the court, as some
angry mother darted out to cuff one or another of the brawling groups,
or to yell some shrill reproach at the drunken men.  No sound came to
the ears of the listening children except the din and jarring tumult of
the crowded city; but they could see the white clouds floating slowly
across the sky over their heads, which seemed to little Meg like the
wings of the waiting angels, hovering over the place where her mother
lay dead.

'Meg,' said Robin, 'why do they call this Angel Court?  Did the angels
use to live here?'

'I don't think they ever could,' she answered sadly, 'or it must have
been a long, long time ago.  Perhaps they can't come here now, so
they're waiting for mother to be taken out to the burying-ground afore
they can carry her up to the sky.  May be that's it.'

'Meg,' whispered Robin, pressing closer to her side, 'what's the devil?'

'Oh, I don't know,' cried Meg; 'only he's dreadfully, dreadfully
wicked.'

'As wicked as father is when he's drunk?' asked Robin.

'Oh, a hundred million times wickeder,' answered Meg eagerly.  'Father
doesn't get drunk often; and you mustn't be a naughty boy and talk
about it.'

It was already a point of honour with little Meg to throw a cloak over
her father's faults; and she spoke so earnestly that Robin was strongly
impressed by it.  He asked no more questions for some time.

'Meg,' he said at last, 'does the devil ever come here?'

'I don't think he does,' answered Meg, with a shrewd shake of her small
head; 'I never see him, never.  Folks are bad enough without him, I
guess.  No, no; you needn't be frightened of seeing him, Robbie.'

'I wish there wasn't any devil,' said Robin.

'I wish everybody in London was good,' said Meg.

They sat a while longer on the window-sill, watching the sparrows, all
fluffy and black, fluttering and chattering upon the house-tops, and
the night fog rising from the unseen river, and hiding the tall masts,
which towered above the buildings.  It was dark already in the court
below; and here and there a candle had been lit and placed in a window,
casting a faint twinkle of light upon the gloom.  The baby stirred, and
cried a little; and Meg lifted Robin down from his dangerous seat, and
put two or three small bits of coal upon the fire, to boil up the
kettle for their tea.  She had done it often before, at the bidding of
her mother; but it seemed different now.  Mother's voice was silent,
and Meg had to think of everything herself.  Soon after tea was over
she undressed Robin and the baby, who soon fell asleep again; and when
all her work was over, and the fire put out, little Meg crept in beside
them on the scanty mattress, with her face turned towards the bed, that
she might see the angels if they came to carry her mother away.  But
before long her eyelids drooped over her drowsy eyes, and, with her arm
stretched lightly across both her children, she slept soundly till
daybreak.

No angels had come in the night; but early in the morning a
neighbouring undertaker, with two other men, and Mr Grigg, the
landlord, who lived on the ground-floor, carried away the light burden
of the coffin which contained Meg's mother.  She waited until all were
gone, and then she locked the door carefully, and with baby in her
arms, and Robin holding by her frock, she followed the funeral at a
distance, and with difficulty, through the busy streets.  The brief
burial service was ended before they reached the cemetery, but Meg was
in time to show Robin the plate upon the coffin before the grave-digger
shovelled down great spadefuls of earth upon it.  They stood watching,
with sad but childish curiosity, till all was finished; and then Meg,
with a heavy and troubled heart, took them home again to their lonely
attic in Angel Court.



CHAPTER III

Little Meg's Cleaning Day

For a few days Meg kept up closely in her solitary attic, playing with
Robin and tending baby; only leaving them for a few necessary minutes,
to run to the nearest shop for bread or oatmeal.  Two or three of the
neighbours took the trouble to climb the ladder, and try the latch of
the door, but they always found it locked; and if Meg answered at all,
she did so only with the door between them, saying she was getting on
very well, and she expected father home to-day or to-morrow.  When she
went in and out on her errands, Mr Grigg, a gruff, surly man, who kept
everybody about him in terror, did not break his promise to her mother,
that he would let no one meddle with her; and very quickly the brief
interest of Angel Court in the three motherless children of the absent
sailor died away into complete indifference, unmingled with curiosity:
for everybody knew the full extent of their neighbours' possessions;
and the poor furniture of Meg's room, where the box lay well hidden and
unsuspected under the bedstead, excited no covetous desires.  The
tenant of the back attic, a girl whom Meg herself had seen no oftener
than once or twice, was away on a visit of six weeks, having been
committed to a House of Correction for being drunk and disorderly in
the streets; so that by the close of the week in which the sailor's
wife died no foot ascended or descended the ladder, except that of
little Meg.

There were two things Meg set her heart upon doing before father came
home: to teach Robin his letters, and baby to walk alone.  Robin was a
quick, bright boy, and was soon filled with the desire to surprise his
father by his new accomplishment; and Meg and he laboured diligently
together over the Testament, which had been given to her at a night
school, where she had herself learned to read a little.  But with the
baby it was quite another thing.  There were babies in the court, not
to be compared with Meg's baby in other respects, who, though no older,
could already crawl about the dirty pavement and down into the gutter,
and who could even toddle unsteadily, upon their little bare feet, over
the stone flags.  Meg felt it as a sort of reproach upon her, as a
nurse, to have her baby so backward.  But the utmost she could prevail
upon it to do was to hold hard and fast by a chair, or by Robin's fist,
and gaze across the great gulf which separated her from Meg and the
piece of bread and treacle stretched out temptingly towards her.  It
was a wan, sickly baby with an old face, closely resembling Meg's own,
and meagre limbs, which looked as though they would never gain strength
enough to bear the weight of the puny body; but from time to time a
smile kindled suddenly upon the thin face, and shone out of the serious
eyes--a smile so sweet, and unexpected, and fleeting, that Meg could
only rush at her, and catch her in her arms, thinking there was not
such another baby in the world.  This was the general conclusion to
Meg's efforts to teach her to walk, but none the less she put her
through the same course of training a dozen times a day.

Sometimes, when her two children were asleep, little Meg climbed up to
the window-sill and sat there alone, watching the stars come out in
that sky where her mother was gone to live.  There were nights when the
fog was too thick for her to see either them or the many glittering
specks made by the lamps in the maze of streets around her; and then
she seemed to herself to be dwelling quite alone with Robin and baby,
in some place cut off both from the sky above and the earth beneath.
But by-and-by, as she taught Robin out of the Testament, and read in it
herself two or three times a day, new thoughts of God and His life came
to her mind, upon which she pondered, after her childish fashion, as
she sat in the dark, looking out over the great vast city with its
myriads of fellow-beings all about her, none of whom had any knowledge
of her loneliness, or any sympathy with her difficulties.

After a week was past, Meg and her children made a daily expedition
down to the docks, lingering about in any out-of-the-way corner till
they could catch sight of some good-natured face, which threatened no
unkind rebuff, and then Meg asked when her father's ship would come in.
Very often she could get no satisfactory answer, but whenever she came
across any one who knew the Ocean King, she heard that it would most
likely be in dock by the end of October.  Robin's birthday was the last
day in October, so her mother's reckoning had been correct.  Father
would be home on Robbie's birthday; yet none the less was Meg's anxious
face to be seen day after day about the docks, seeking someone to tell
her over again the good news.

The last day but one arrived, and Meg set about the scrubbing and the
cleaning of the room heartily, as she had seen her mother do before her
father's return.  Robin was set upon the highest chair, with baby on
his lap, to look on at Meg's exertions, out of the way of the wet
flooring, upon which she bestowed so much water that the occupant of
the room below burst out upon the landing, with such a storm of threats
and curses as made her light heart beat with terror.  When the cleaning
of the room was done, she trotted up and down the three flights of
stairs with a small can, until she had filled, as full as it would
hold, a broken tub, which was to serve as a bath for Robin and baby.
It was late in the evening when all was accomplished, and Meg looked
around her with a glow of triumph on the clean room and the fresh faces
of the children.  Very weary she felt, but she opened her Testament, in
which she had not had time to give Robin a lesson that day, and she
read a verse half aloud to herself.

'Come unto Me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give
you rest.'

'I wish I could go to Jesus,' sighed little Meg, 'for I've worked very
hard all day; and He says He'd give me rest.  Only I don't know where
to go.'

She laid her head down on the pillow beside the baby's slumbering face,
and almost before it rested there a deep sleep had come.  Perhaps Meg's
sigh had gone to Jesus, and it was He who gave her rest; 'for so He
giveth His beloved sleep.'



CHAPTER IV

Little Meg's Treat to Her Children

Robin's birthday dawned brightly, even into the dark deep shadows of
Angel Court, and Meg was awakened by the baby's two hands beating upon
her still drowsy face, and trying to lift up her closed eyelids with
its tiny fingers.  She sprang up with a light heart, for father was
coming home to-day.  For the first time since her mother's death she
dragged the box from under the bed, and with eager hands unlocked the
lid.  She knew that she dare not cross the court, she and the children,
arrayed in the festive finery, without her father to take care of them;
for she had seen other children stripped of all their new and showy
clothes before they could reach the shelter of the larger streets.

But Meg was resolved that Robin and baby at least should not meet their
father in rags.  She took out the baby's coat and hood, too small now
even for the little head it was to cover, and Robin's blue cap and
brown holland pinafore.  These things she made up into a bundle,
looking longingly at her own red frock, and her bonnet with green
ribbons: but Meg shook her head at herself admonishingly.  It never
would do to risk an appearance in such gorgeous attire.  The very
utmost she could venture upon was to put some half-worn shoes on her
own feet and Robin's; for shoes were not in fashion for the children of
Angel Court, and the unusual sound of their tread would attract quite
as much attention as little Meg dare risk.  She dressed her children
and set them on the bed, while she put her own rough hair as smooth as
she could by a little glass in the lid of the trunk.  Her bonnet, which
had originally belonged to her mother, had been once of black silk, but
it was now brown with years, and the old shawl she pinned over the
ragged bodice of her frock was very thin and torn at the edges; but
Meg's heart was full of hope, and nothing could drive away the smile
from her careworn face this morning.  With the baby in her arms she
carefully descended the ladder, having put the door-key into the bag
round her neck along with the key of the box and her last half-crown.
Then with stealthy steps she stole along under the houses, hushing
Robin, who was inclined to make an unnecessary clatter in his shoes;
but fortunately the inhabitants of Angel Court were not early risers,
and Meg was off in good time, so they reached the outer streets safely,
without notice or attack.  Before going down to the docks Meg drew
Robin into an empty archway, and there exchanged his ragged cap and
pinafore for those she had put up into her bundle.  Having dressed the
baby also, she sat and looked at them both for a minute in mute
admiration and delight.  There could not be a prettier boy than Robin
in all London, she was sure, with his bright black eyes and curly hair,
that twisted so tightly round her fingers.  As for the baby with her
shrewd old-womanish face, and the sweet smile which spoke a good deal
plainer than words, Meg could scarcely keep from kissing her all the
time.  How pleased and proud father would be!  But when she remembered
how she should have to tell him that mother was dead and buried, and
none of them would ever see her again, Meg's eyes were blinded with
tears, and hiding her face in the baby's neck, she cried, whether for
joy or sorrow she could hardly tell; until Robin broke out into a loud
wail of distress and terror, which echoed noisily under the low vault
of the archway.

Little Meg roused herself at the sound of Robin's cry, and taking his
hand in hers, with the baby upon her arm, she loitered about the
entrance to the dockyard, till a good-tempered looking burly man came
near to them.  Meg planted herself bravely in his way, and looked up
wistfully into his red face.

'Please, sir,' she said, 'could you tell me if father's ship's come in
yet?'

'Father's ship!' repeated the man in a kindly voice.  'Why, what's the
name of father's ship?'

'The Ocean King,' said Meg, trembling.

'It's in the river, my little lass,' he said, 'but it won't be in dock
till night.  Father can't be at home afore to-morrow morning at the
soonest.'

'Thank you kindly, sir,' answered Meg, her voice faltering with her
great joy.  Her task was ended, then.  To-morrow she would give up the
key of the box with its secret treasure, which she hardly dared to
think about, and then she could feel like a child once more.  She did
feel almost as gay as Robin who was pattering and stamping proudly
along in his shoes, and in the consciousness that it was his birthday.
Nobody else had such a thing as a birthday, so far as he knew;
certainly none of his acquaintances in Angel Court, not even Meg
herself, for Meg's birthday was lost in the depth of the ten years
which had passed over her head.  He scarcely knew what it was, for he
could neither see it nor touch it; but he had it, for Meg told him so,
and it made him feel glad and proud.  It was a bright, warm, sunny
autumn day, with enough freshness in the breeze coming off the unseen
river to make the air sweet and reviving; for Meg was skirting about
the more open streets, without venturing to pass through the closer and
dirtier alleys.

'Robbie,' she said after a time, when they had come to a halt upon the
steps of a dwelling-house, 'Robbie, I'll give you a treat to-day,
because it's your birthday.  We'll not go home till it's dark; and I'll
take you to see Temple Gardens.'

'What are Temple Gardens?' demanded Robin, his eyes eager for an answer.

'Oh, you'll see,' said Meg, not quite able to explain herself.  'I went
there once, ever so many years ago, when I was a little girl.  You'll
like 'em ever so!'

'Do we know the road?' asked Robin doubtfully.

'I should think so!' replied Meg; 'and if we didn't, there's the
police.  What's the police good for, if they couldn't tell a person
like me the road to Temple Gardens?  We'll have such a nice day!'

The children trotted along briskly till they reached the broad
thoroughfares and handsome shops of the main streets which traverse
London, where a constant rush of foot passengers upon the pavement, and
of conveyances in the roadway, hurry to and fro from morning to
midnight.  Poor little Meg stood for a few minutes aghast and stunned,
almost fearful of committing herself and her children to the mighty
stream; but Robin pulled her on impatiently.  He had been once as far
as the Mansion House, before the time when their mother's long illness
had made them almost prisoners in their lonely attic; and Meg herself
had wandered several times as far as the great church of St Paul.
After the first dread was over, she found a trembling, anxious
enjoyment in the sight of the shops, and of the well-dressed people in
the streets.  At one of the windows she was arrested by a full-size
vision of herself, and Robin, and the baby, reflected in a great glass,
a hundred times larger than the little square in the box-lid at home.
She could not quite keep down a sigh after her own red frock and best
bonnet; but she comforted herself quickly with the thought that people
would look upon her as the nurse of Robin and baby, sent out to take
them a walk.

They did not make very rapid progress, for they stopped to look in at
many shop windows, especially where there were baby-clothes for sale,
or where there were waxen figures of little boys, life-size, dressed in
the newest fashions, with large eyes of glass beads, not unlike Robin's
own black ones.  The passage of the crossings was also long and
perilous.  Meg ran first with the baby, and put her down safely on the
other side in some corner of a doorway; then with a sinking and
troubled heart, least any evil person should pick her up, and run away
with her as a priceless treasure, she returned for Robin.  In this way
she got over several crossings, until they reached the bottom of
Ludgate Hill, where she stood shivering and doubting for a long time,
till she fairly made up her mind to speak to the majestic policeman
looking on calmly at the tumult about him.

'Oh, if you please, Mr Police,' said Meg, in a plaintive voice, 'I want
to get these two little children over to the other side, and I don't
know how to do it, except you'd please to hold baby while I take Robbie
across.'

The policeman looked down from his great height, without bending his
stiff neck, upon the childish creature who spoke to him, and Meg's
spirit sank with the fear of being ordered back again.  But he picked
up Robin under his arm, and bidding her keep close beside him, he
threaded his way through the throng of carriages.  This was the last
danger; and now with restored gaiety Meg travelled on with her two
children.

[Illustration: The policeman picked up Robin under his arm, and
threaded his way through the throng of carriages.]

By-and-by they turned from the busy Fleet Street under a low archway,
and in a minute they were out of the thunder of the streets which had
almost drowned their voices, and found themselves in a place so quiet
and so calm, with a sort of grave hush in the very air, that Robin
pressed close to Meg's side, with something of the silent and subdued
awe with which he might have entered a church.  There were houses here,
and courts, but not houses and courts like those from which they had
come.  Here and there they came upon a long corridor, where the sun
shone between the shadows of the pillars supporting the roof; and they
looked along them with wondering eyes, not knowing where they could
lead to, and too timid to try to find out.  It was not a deserted
place, but the number of people passing to and fro were few enough to
make it seem almost a solitude to these poor children, who had
travelled hither from the over-crowded slums of the East End.  They
could hear their own voices, when they spoke, ring out in such clear,
echoing tones, that Meg hushed Robin, lest some of the grave, stern,
thoughtful gentlemen who passed them should bid them begone, and leave
the Temple to its usual stillness.  The houses seemed to them so large
and grand, that Meg, who had heard once of the Queen, and had a dim
notion of her as a lady of extraordinary greatness and grandeur,
whispered to Robin confidentially that she thought the Queen must live
here.

They came upon a fountain in the centre of a small plot of grass and
flowers, enclosed within high railings; and Robin uttered a shrill cry
of delight, which rang noisily through the quiet court where its waters
played in the sunshine.  But at last they discovered, with hearts as
eagerly throbbing as those of the explorers of some new country, the
gardens, the real Temple Gardens!  The chrysanthemums were in full
blossom, with all their varied tints, delicate and rich, glowing under
the brightness of the noontide sun; and Robin and Meg stood still,
transfixed and silent, too full of an excess of happiness to speak.

'Oh, Meg, what is it? what is it?' cried Robin at last, with
outstretched hands, as if he would fain gather them all into his arms.
'Is it gardens, Meg?  Is this Temple Gardens?'

Meg could not answer at first, but she held Robin back from the
flowers.  She did not feel quite at home in this strange, sweet, sunny
place; and she peeped in cautiously through the half-open iron gate
before entering.  There were a few other children there, with their
nursemaids, but she felt there was some untold difference between her
and them.  But Robin's delight had given him courage, and he rushed in
tumultuously, running along the smooth walks in an ecstasy of joy; and
Meg could do nothing else but follow.  Presently, as nobody took any
notice of her, she gave herself up to the gladness of the hour, and
toiled up and down, under the weight of the baby, wherever Robin wished
to go, until he consented to rest a little while upon a seat which
faced the river, where they could see the boats pass by.  This was the
happiest moment to Meg.  She thought of her father's ship coming up the
river, bringing him home to her and the children; and she had almost
lost the recollection of where she was, when Robin, who had been very
quiet for some time, pulled her by the shawl.

'Look, Meg,' he whispered.

He pointed to a seat not far from them, where sat a lady, in a bright
silk dress, and a velvet bonnet with a long rich feather across it.
There were two children with her, a girl of Meg's age, and a boy about
as big as Robin, dressed like a little Highlander, with a kilt of many
colours, and a silver-mounted pouch, and a dirk, which he was
brandishing about before his mother, who looked on, laughing fondly and
proudly at her boy.  Meg gazed, too, until she heard Robin sob, and
turning quickly to him, she saw the tears rolling quickly down his
sorrowful face.  'Nobody laughs to me, Meg,' said Robin.

'Oh yes, Robbie, I laugh to you,' cried Meg; 'and father 'll laugh when
he comes home to-morrow; and maybe God laughs to us, only we can't see
His face.'

'I'd like to go home,' sobbed Robin; and Meg took her baby upon her
tired arm, and turned her steps eastward once more.  As they left
Temple Gardens, languid and weary, Meg saw the friendly man who had
spoken kindly to them that morning at the docks passing by in an empty
dray, and meeting her wistful eyes, he pulled up for a minute.

'Hullo, little woman!' he shouted.  'Are you going my way?'

He pointed his whip towards St Paul's, and Meg nodded, for her voice
could not have reached him through the din.

'Hoist them children up here, that's a good fellow,' he said to a man
who was standing by idle; and in a few seconds more they were riding
triumphantly along Fleet Street in such a thrill and flutter of delight
as Meg's heart had never felt before, while Robin forgot his sorrows,
and cheered on the horses with all the power of his shrill voice.  The
dray put them down at about half a mile from Angel Court, while it was
still broad daylight, and Robin was no longer tired.  Meg changed her
last half-crown, and spent sixpence of it lavishly in the purchase of
some meat pies, upon which they feasted sumptuously, in the shelter of
a doorway leading to the back of a house.



CHAPTER V

Little Meg's Neighbour

When their feast was over, the children sauntered on slowly, not
wishing to enter Angel Court till it was dark enough for Robin's and
baby's finery to pass by unseen; but as soon as it was dark they turned
out of the main thoroughfare into the dingy streets more familiar to
them.  As they entered the house Meg heard the deep gruff voice of Mr
Grigg calling to her, and she went into his room, trembling, and
holding the baby very tightly in her arms.  It was a small room, the
same size as their own attic, and the litter and confusion throughout
made it impossible to go in more than a step or two.  Mr Grigg was
seated at a stained wooden table, upon which stood two large cups and a
black bottle of gin, with a letter lying near to Mr Grigg's large and
shaking hand.  Coming in from the fresh air of the night, Meg coughed a
little with the mingled fumes of gin and tobacco; but she coughed
softly for fear of giving offence.

'Here's a letter come for your mother, little Meg,' said Mr Grigg,
seizing it eagerly, 'I'll read it to you if you like.'

'Oh no, thank you, sir,' answered Meg quickly; 'father's coming home,
and he'll read it to-morrow morning.  His ship's in the river, and
it'll be in dock to-night for certain.  So he'll be home to-morrow.'

Upon hearing this news Mr Grigg thought it best to deliver up the
letter to Meg, but he did it so reluctantly that she hurried away lest
he should reclaim it.  Robin was already halfway upstairs, but she soon
overtook him, and a minute afterwards reached their own door.  She was
about to put the baby down to take out the key, when, almost without
believing her own eyes, she saw that it was in the lock, and that a
gleam of firelight shone through the chinks of the door.  Meg lifted
the latch with a beating heart, and looked in before venturing to
enter.  The fire was lighted, but there seemed to be no other
disturbance or change in the attic since the morning, except that in
her mother's low chair upon the hearth there sat a thin slight woman,
like her mother, with the head bowed down, and the face hidden in the
hands.  Meg paused, wonder-stricken and speechless, on the door-sill;
but Robin ran forward quickly, with a glad shout of 'Mother! mother!'

At the sound of Robin's step and cry the woman lifted up her face.  It
was a white, thin face, but younger than their mother's, though the
eyes were red and sunken, as if with many tears, and there was a gloom
upon it, as if it had never smiled a happy smile.  Meg knew it in an
instant as the face of the tenant of the back attic, who had been in
jail for six weeks, and her eye searched anxiously the dark corner
under the bed, where the box was hidden.  It seemed quite safe and
untouched, but still Meg's voice was troubled as she spoke.

'I thought I'd locked up all right,' she said, stepping into the room,
while Robin took refuge behind her, and regarded the stranger closely
from his place of safety.

'Ay, it was all right,' answered the girl, 'only you see my key 'd
unlock it; and I felt cold and low coming out of jail to-day; and I'd
no coal, nor bread, nor nothing.  So I came in here, and made myself
comfortable.  Don't you be crusty, little Meg.  You'd be the same if
you'd been locked up for six weeks.  I wish I were dead, I do.'

The girl spoke sadly, and dropped her head again upon her hands, while
Meg stood in the middle of the floor, not knowing what to do or say.
She sat down after a while upon the bedstead, and began taking off the
baby's things, pondering deeply all the time what course of action she
ought to follow.  She could place herself so as to conceal completely
the box under the bed; but if the girl's key would unlock her attic
door, how was she ever to leave it for a moment in safety?  Then the
thought flashed across her that father would be at home to-morrow, and
she would no longer have to take care of the hidden treasure.  In the
meantime Robin had stolen up to the stranger's side, and after closely
considering her for some moments, he stroked her hand with his own
small fingers.

'I thought you were mother, I did,' he said.  'It's my birthday to-day.'

For one instant the girl looked at him with a smile in her sunken eyes,
and then she lifted him on to her lap, and laid her face upon his curly
head, sobbing bitterly.

'Little Meg,' she said, 'your mother spoke kind to me once, and now
she's dead and gone.  I wonder why I wasn't took instead o' her?'

Meg's tender heart closed itself no longer against the stranger.  She
got up from her seat, and crossing the floor to the fireside, she put
the baby down by Robin on her lap.

'You didn't ought to go into a person's room without asking leave,' she
said; 'but if you'll hold baby for me, I'll soon get tea.  I've got a
little real tea left, and father 'll buy some more to-morrow.  You mind
the children till it's ready.'

It was soon ready, and they drank and ate together, with few words.
Meg was intent upon getting her weary children to bed as soon as
possible, and after it was over she undressed them at once.  Before
Robin got into bed she addressed the girl hesitatingly.

'Robbie always says his prayers aloud to me,' she said; 'you won't
mind, will you?'

'Go on,' answered the girl, with a sob.

'Robbie,' said Meg, as he knelt at her knee, with his hands held up
between both her hands, 'Robbie, it's your birthday to-day; and if I
was you I'd ask God for something more than other days.  I'd ask Him to
bless everybody as well as us if I was you.  If everybody was good,
it'd be so nice.'

'Yes, Meg,' replied Robin promptly, closing his black eyes before he
began his prayer.  'Pray God, bless father on the big sea, and bless
me, and Meg, and baby, and take care of us all.  Pray God, bless
everybody, 'cept the devil.  Amen.'

But Robin did not get up from his knees.  He dropped his head upon
Meg's lap, and when she moved he cried, 'Stop a minute!'  Meg waited
patiently until he lifted up his face again, and shutting his eyes very
tightly, said, 'Pray God, bless everybody, and the devil, and make him
a good man.  Amen.'

'Robbie,' said Meg mournfully, 'I don't think the devil can be made
good.  He doesn't want to be good.  If anybody wants to be good, God
can make 'em good, anybody in all the world; but He won't if they don't
want to.'

Robin was already half asleep, and gave little heed to Meg's words.
She tucked him snugly into his place beside baby, and stooping over
them, kissed both their drowsy faces with a loving and lingering
tenderness.  Then she turned to the fire, and saw the strange girl
there upon her knees before her mother's chair, weeping again in a
passion of tears.



CHAPTER VI

Little Meg's Last Money

'What's the matter with you?' asked Meg, laying her small rough hand
upon the girl's head.

'Oh, Meg, Meg!' she cried, 'I do want to be good, and I can't.  You
don't know how wicked I am; but once I was a good little girl like you.
And now I can never, never be good again.'

'Yes, you can,' answered little Meg, 'if you ask God.'

'You don't know anything about it,' she said, pushing away Meg's hand.

'I don't know much,' replied Meg meekly; 'but Jesus says in the Bible,
that if our fathers 'll give us good things, God 'll much more give
good things to anybody as asks for 'em.'

'But I'm too bad to ask Him,' said the girl.

'I don't know what's to be done, then,' answered Meg.  'The Bible says,
"Those that ask Him"; and if you are too bad to ask Him, I suppose He
won't give you any good things.'

The girl made no reply, but crouching down upon the hearth at Meg's
feet, she sat looking into the fire with the expression of one who is
thinking deeply.  Meg too was silent for a time, smiling now and then
as she recollected that father would be at home to-morrow.

'I don't know what you're called,' said Meg, after a very long silence.

'Oh, they call me Kitty, and Puss, and Madcap, and all sorts o' names,'
answered the girl, with a deep sigh.

'But that's not your christen name?' said Meg.

'No,' she replied.

'What does your mother call you?' asked Meg.

For a moment little Meg was terrified, for the girl seized her hands in
a strong and painful grasp, and her red eyes flamed with anger; but she
loosed her hold gradually, and then, in a choking voice, she said,
'Don't you never speak to me about my mother!'

'Have you got any money, Kitty?' inquired Meg, by way of turning the
conversation.

'Not a rap,' said Kitty, laughing hoarsely.

'I've got two shillings left,' continued Meg, 'and I'll give you one;
only, if you please, you mustn't come into my room again, at least till
father's at home.  I promised mother not to let anybody at all come
here.  You'll not be angry, will you?'

'No, I'm not angry,' said Kitty gently, 'and you must always do what
your mother told you, little Meg.  She spoke kind to me once, she did.
So I'll go away now, dear, and never come in again: but you wouldn't
mind me listening at the door when Robbie's saying his prayers
sometimes?'

'No,' answered Meg; 'and you may listen when I read up loud, if you
like.  I always read something afore I go to bed, and I'll speak up
loud enough for you to hear.'

'I'll listen,' said Kitty, standing up to go to her own dark, cold
attic, and looking round sadly at Meg's tidy room, all ready as it was
for her father's arrival.  'I suppose you'd not mind me kissing the
children afore I go?'

'Oh no,' said Meg, going with her to the bedside, and looking down
fondly upon the children's sleeping faces.  The baby's pale small face
wore a smile upon it, as did Robin's also, for he was dreaming of the
gardens he had visited on his birthday.  The girl bent over them, but
she drew back without kissing them, and with a sharp painful tone in
her voice she said, 'I wish I was dead, I do.'



CHAPTER VII

Little Meg's Disappointment

If Meg had been up early on Robin's birthday, she was out of bed and
about her preparations still earlier the next morning.  She had time to
go over again most of her brushing and rubbing of the scanty furniture
before the children awoke.  She reached out all their best clothes, and
her own as well, for she did not intend to go down to the docks to meet
her father, but thought it would be best to wait at home for his
arrival.  Her hands were full, and her thoughts also, for some time;
and it was not till the nearest clock struck eleven that she could
consider all her preparations completed.

When all her work was done, Meg helped Robin up to the window-sill, and
climbed after him herself to the perilous seat, with the baby held fast
upon her lap.  It was the first time the baby had been allowed to
occupy this dangerous place, and for the first few minutes Meg was not
without her fears; but it was weary and languid this morning, and sat
quite still upon her lap, with its little head resting upon her
shoulder, and its grave eyes looking out inquiringly upon the strange
world in which it found itself.  Meg and Robin watched every man who
entered the court; and every now and then Robin would clap his hands,
and shout loudly, 'Father, father!' making Meg's arms tremble, and her
heart beat fast with expectation.  But it was nine months since he had
gone away, and Robin had almost forgotten him, so that it always proved
not to be her father.  Hour after hour passed by, and Meg cut up the
last piece of bread for the children and herself, and yet he never
came; though they stayed faithfully at their post, and would not give
up looking for him as long as the daylight lasted.  But the night drew
near at last, an early night, for it was the first day in November, and
London fogs grow thick then; and Meg kindled the fire again, and sat
down by it, unwilling to undress the children before he came.  So she
sat watching and waiting, until the baby fell into a broken, sobbing
slumber on her lap, and Robin lay upon the floor fast asleep.

At length Meg resolved to lay the children in bed, dressed as they
were, and steal down herself to the docks, under the shelter of the
fog, to see if she could learn any news of the Ocean King.  She drew
the old shawl over her head, which well covered her red frock, and
taking off her shoes and stockings--for father would not miss them in
the night--she crept unseen and unheard down the dark staircase, and
across the swarming, noisy court.  The fog was growing thicker every
minute, yet she was at no loss to find her way, so familiar it was to
her.  But when she reached the docks, the darkness of the night, as
well as that of the fog, hid from her the presence of her good-natured
friend, if indeed he was there.  There were strange noises and rough
voices to be heard, and from time to time the huge figure of some tall
man appeared to her for an instant in the gloom, and vanished again
before little Meg could find courage to speak to him.  She drew back
into a corner, and peered eagerly, with wistful eyes, into the thick
yellow mist which hid everything from them, while she listened to the
clank of iron cables, and the loud sing-song of the invisible sailors
as they righted their vessels.  If she could only hear her father's
voice among them!  She felt sure she should know it among a hundred
others, and she was ready to cry aloud the moment it reached her
ears--to call 'Father!' and he would be with her in an instant, and she
in his arms, with her own clasped fast about his neck.  Oh, if he would
but speak out of the darkness!  Meg's keen eyes grew dim with tears,
and her ears seemed to become dull of hearing, from the very longing to
see and hear more clearly.  But she rubbed away the tears with her
shawl, and pushed the tangled hair away behind her small ears, and with
her hands pressed against her heart, to deaden its throbbing, she
leaned forward to pierce, if possible, through the thick dark veil
which separated her from her father.

She had been there a long time when the thought crossed her, that
perhaps after all he had been knocking at the door at home, and trying
to open it; waking up the children, and making them cry and scream with
terror at finding themselves quite alone.  She started up to hurry
away; but at that moment a man came close by, and in the extremity of
her anxiety Meg stopped him.

'Please,' she said earnestly, 'is the Ocean King come in yet?'

'Ay,' was the answer.  'Came in last night, all right and tight.'

'Father must be come home, then,' thought Meg, speeding away swiftly
and noiselessly with her bare feet along the streets to Angel Court.
She glanced up anxiously to her attic window, which was all in
darkness, while the lower windows glimmered with a faint light from
within.  The landlord's room was full of a clamorous, quarrelling crew
of drunkards; and Meg's spirit sank as she thought--suppose father had
been up to their attic, and finding it impossible to get in at once,
had come down, and begun to drink with them!  She climbed the stairs
quickly, but all was quiet there; and she descended again to hang about
the door, and listen, and wait; either to discover if he was there, or
to prevent him turning in when he did come.  Little Meg's heart was
full of a woman's heaviest care and anxiety, as she kept watch in the
damp and the gloom of the November night, till even the noisy party
within broke up, and went their way, leaving Angel Court to a brief
season of quietness.

Meg slept late in the morning, but she was not disturbed by any knock
at the door.  Robin had crept out of bed and climbed up alone to the
window-sill, where fortunately the window was shut and fastened; and
the first thing Meg's eyes opened upon was Robin sitting there, in the
tumbled clothes in which he had slept all night.  The morning passed
slowly away in mingled hope and fear; but no step came up the ladder to
their door, and Kitty had gone out early in the morning, before Meg was
awake.  She spent her last shilling in buying some coal and oatmeal;
and then, because it was raining heavily, she stationed herself on the
topmost step of the stairs, with Robin and baby, waiting with
ever-growing dread for the long-delayed coming of her father.

It was growing dark again before any footstep came further than the
landing below, and then it was a soft, stealthy, slipshod step, not
like the strong and measured tread of a man.  It was a woman who
climbed the steep ladder, and Meg knew it could be no one else but
Kitty.  The girl sat down on the top step beside them, and took Robin
upon her lap.

'What are you all doing out here, little Meg?' she said, in a low,
gentle voice, which Meg could scarcely believe to be the same as that
which had sometimes frightened her by its shrill shrieks of drunken
merriment.

'We're looking for father,' she answered weariedly.  'He's never come
yet, and I've spent all my money, and we've got no candles.'

'Meg,' said Kitty, 'I can pay you back the shilling you gave me on
Tuesday night.'

'But you mustn't come into our room, if you do,' answered Meg.

'No, no, I'll not come in,' said she, pressing a shilling into Meg's
hand.  'But why hasn't father come home?'

'I don't know,' sobbed Meg.  'His ship came in the night of Robbie's
birthday, that's two days ago; and he's never come yet.'

'The ship come in!' repeated Kitty, in a tone of surprise.  'What's the
name o' the ship, Meg?'

'Father's ship's the Ocean King,' said Robin proudly.

'I'll hunt him up,' cried Kitty, rising in haste.  'I'll find him, if
he's anywhere in London.  I know their ways, and where they go to, when
they come ashore, little Meg.  Oh!  I'll hunt him out.  You put the
children to bed, dear; and then you sit up till I come back, if it's
past twelve o'clock, I'll bring him home, alive or dead.  Don't cry no
more, little Meg.'

She called softly up the stairs to say these last words, for she had
started off immediately.  Meg did as she had told her, and then waited
with renewed hope for her return.  It was past midnight before Kitty
tapped quietly at the door, and she went out to her on the landing.
But Kitty was alone, and Meg could hardly stand for the trembling which
came upon her.

'Haven't you found father?' she asked.

'I've found out where he is,' answered Kitty.  'He's at the other end
of the world, in hospital.  He was took bad a-coming home--so bad, they
was forced to leave him behind them; and he'll work his way back when
he's well enough, so Jack says, one of his mates.  He says he may come
back soon, or come back late, and that's all he knows about him.  What
shall you do, little Meg?'

'Mother said I was to be sure to take care of the children till father
comes home,' she answered, steadying her voice; 'and I'll do it, please
God.  I can ask Him to help me, and He will.  He'll take care of us.'

'He hasn't took care o' me,' said Kitty bitterly.

'May be you haven't asked Him,' said Meg.

Kitty was silent for a minute, and then she spoke in a voice half
choked with sobs.

'It's too late now,' she said, 'but He'll take care of you, never fear;
and oh!  I wish He'd let me help Him.  I wish I could do something for
you, little Meg; for your mother spoke kind to me once, and made me
think of my own mother.  There, just leave me alone, will you?  I'm off
to bed now, and you go to bed too.  I'll help you all I can.'

She pushed Meg back gently into her attic, and closed the door upon
her; but Meg heard her crying and moaning aloud in her own room, until
she herself fell asleep.



CHAPTER VIII

Little Meg's Red Frock in Pawn

Meg felt very forlorn when she opened her heavy eyelids the next
morning.  It was certain now that her father could not be home for some
time, it might be a long time; and how was she to buy bread for her
children and herself?  She took down her mother's letter from the end
of a shelf which supplied the place of a chimney-piece, and looked at
it anxiously; but she dared not ask anybody to read it for her, lest it
should contain some mention of the money hidden in the box; and that
must be taken care of in every way, because it did not belong to her,
or father even, but to one of his mates.  She had no friend to go to in
all the great city.  Once she might have gone to the teacher at the
school where she had learned to read a little; but that had been in
quite a different part of London, on the other side of the river, and
they had moved from it before her father had started on his last
voyage.  Meg sat thinking and pondering sadly enough, until suddenly,
how she did not know, her fears were all taken away, and her childish
heart lightened.  She called Robin, and bade him kneel down beside her,
and folding baby's hands together, she closed her own eyes, and bowed
her head, while she asked God for the help He had promised to give.

'Pray God,' said little Meg, 'You've let mother die, and father be took
bad at the other side of the world, and there's nobody to take care of
us 'cept You, and Jesus says, if we ask You, You'll give us bread and
everything we want, just like father and mother.  Pray God, do!  I'm
not a grown-up person yet, and Robin's a very little boy, and baby
can't talk or walk at all; but there's nobody else to do anythink for
us, and we'll try as hard as we can to be good.  Pray God, bless father
at the other side of the world, and Robbie, and baby, and me; and bless
everybody, for Jesus Christ's sake.  Amen.'

Meg rose from her knees joyfully, feeling sure that her prayer was
heard and would be answered.  She went out with her children to lay out
the shilling Kitty had returned to her the day before; and when they
come in she and Robin sat down to a lesson in reading.  The baby was
making a pilgrimage of the room from chair to chair, and along the
bedstead; but all of a sudden she balanced herself steadily upon her
tiny feet, and with a scream of mingled dread and delight, which made
Meg and Robin look up quickly, she tottered across the open floor to
the place where they were sitting, and hid her face in Meg's lap,
quivering with joy and wonder.  Meg's gladness was full, except that
there was a little feeling of sorrow that neither father nor mother was
there to see it.

'Did God see baby walk?' inquired Robin.

'I should think He did!' said Meg confidently; and her slight sorrow
fled away.  God could not help loving baby, she felt sure of that, nor
Robin; and if He loved them, would He not take care of them Himself,
and show her how to take care of them, till father was at home?  The
day passed almost as happily as Robin's birthday; though the rain came
down in torrents, and pattered through the roof, falling splash, splash
into the broken tub, with a sound something like the fountain in Temple
Gardens.

But when Kitty's shilling was gone to the last farthing, and not a
spoonful of meal remained in the bag, it was not easy to be happy.
Robin and baby were both crying for food; and there was no coal to make
a fire, nor any candle to give them light during the long dark evenings
of November.  Kitty was out all day now, and did not get home till
late, so Meg had not seen her since the night she had brought the news
about her father.  But a bright thought came to her, and she wondered
at herself for not having thought of it before.  She must pawn her best
clothes; her red frock and bonnet with green ribbons.  There was a
natural pang at parting with them, even for a time; but she comforted
herself with the idea that father would get them back for her as soon
as he returned.  She reached them out of the box, feeling carefully
lest she should take any of Robin's or the baby's by mistake in the
dark; and then she set off with her valuable bundle, wondering how many
shillings she would get for them, and whether she could make the money
last till her father came.  The pawnbroker's shop was a small, dingy
place in Rosemary Lane; and it, and the rooms above it, were as full as
they could be with bundles such as poor Meg carried under her old
shawl.  A single gas-light was flaring away in the window, and a
hard-featured, sharp-eyed man was reading a newspaper behind the
counter.  Meg laid down her bundle timidly, and waited till he had
finished reading his paragraph; after which he opened it, spread out
the half-worn frock, and held up the bonnet on his fist, regarding them
both with a critical and contemptuous eye.  Some one else had entered
the shop, but Meg was too absorbed and too anxious to take any heed of
it  The pawnbroker rolled the frock up scornfully, and gave it a push
towards her.

[Illustration: The pawnbroker spread out the half-worn frock, and held
up the bonnet on his fist.]

'Tenpence for the two,' he said, looking back at his newspaper.

'Oh! if you please,' cried little Meg, in an agony of distress, 'you
must give me more than tenpence.  I've got two little children, and no
bread, nor coals, nor candles.  I couldn't buy scarcely anythink with
only tenpence.  Indeed, indeed, my red frock's worth a great deal more;
it's worth I don't know how many shillings.'

'You go home, little Meg,' said Kitty's voice behind her, 'and I'll
bring you three shillings for the frock, and one for the bonnet; four
for the two.  Mr Sloman's an old friend o' mine, he is; and he'll
oblige you for my sake.  There, you run away, and I'll manage this
little bit o' business for you.'

Meg ran away as she was told, glad enough to leave her business with
Kitty.  By-and-by she heard her coming upstairs, and went out to meet
her.  Kitty placed four shillings in her hand.

'Meg,' she said, 'you let me do that sort o' work for you always.
They'll cheat you ever so; but I wouldn't, not to save my life, if
you'll only trust me.  You ask me another time.  Is that the way God
takes care of you?'

'He does take care of me,' answered Meg, with a smile; 'or may be you
wouldn't have come into the shop just now, and I should have got only
tenpence.  I suppose that's taking care of me, isn't it?'

'I don't know,' said Kitty.  'Only let me do that for you when you want
it done again.'

It was not very long before it wanted to be done again; and then Meg by
daylight went through the contents of the box, choosing out those
things which could best be spared, but leaving Robin's and baby's fine
clothes to the last.  She clung to these with a strong desire to save
them, lest it should happen that her father came home too poor to
redeem them.  The packet of money, tied up and sealed, fell at last to
the bottom of the almost empty box, and rolled noisily about whenever
it was moved, but no thought of taking any of it entered into Meg's
head.  She was almost afraid of looking at it herself, lest the secret
of it being there should get known in Angel Court; and whenever she
mentioned it in her prayers, which she did every night, asking God to
take care of it, she did not even whisper the words, much less speak
them aloud, as she did her other requests, but she spoke inwardly only,
for fear lest the very walls themselves should hear her.  No one came
near her attic, except Kitty, and she kept her promise faithfully.
Since the four bearers had carried away her mother's coffin, and since
the night Kitty came out of jail, the night of Robin's birthday, no
stranger's foot had crossed the door-sill.

But November passed, and part of December, and Meg's stock of clothes,
such as were of any value at the pawn-shop, was almost exhausted.  At
the end of the year the term for which her father had paid rent in
advance would be over, and Mr Grigg might turn her and her children out
into the streets.  What was to be done?  How was she to take care of
Robin, and baby, and the money belonging to one of father's mates?



CHAPTER IX

Little Meg's Friends in Need

These were hard times for little Meg.  The weather was not severely
cold yet, or the children would have been bitterly starved up in their
cold attic, where Meg was obliged to be very careful of the coal.  All
her mother's clothes were in pledge now, as well as her own and
Robin's; and it seemed as if it would soon come to pawning their poor
bed and their scanty furniture.  Yet Meg kept up a brave spirit, and,
as often as the day was fine enough, took her children out into the
streets, loitering about the cook-shops, where the heat from the cellar
kitchens lent a soothing warmth to their shivering bodies.

About the middle of December the first sharp frost set in, and Meg felt
herself driven back from this last relief.  She had taken the children
out as usual, but she had no shoes to put on their feet, and nothing
but their thin old rags to clothe them with.  Robin's feet were red and
blue with cold, like her own; but Meg could not see her own, and did
not feel the cold as much for them as for Robin's.  His face had lost a
little of its roundness and freshness, and his black eyes some of their
brightness since his birthday; and poor Meg's heart bled at the sight
of him as he trudged along the icy pavement of the streets at her side.
There was one cook-shop from which warm air and pleasant odours came up
through an iron grating, and Meg hurried on to it to feel its grateful
warmth; but the shutters of the shop were not taken down, and the
cellar window was unclosed.  Little Meg turned away sadly, and bent her
bare and aching feet homewards again, hushing baby, who wailed a
pitiful low wail in her ears.  Robin, too, dragged himself painfully
along, for he had struck his numbed foot against a piece of iron, and
the wound was bleeding a little.  They had turned down a short street
which they had often passed through before, at the end of which was a
small shop, displaying in its window a few loaves of bread, and some
bottles containing different kinds of sweetmeats, such as they had
indulged in sometimes in the palmy days when father was at home.  The
door was divided in the middle, and the lower half was closed, while
the upper stood open, giving a full view of the shop within.  Meg's old
brown bonnet just rose above the top of the closed half, and her
wistful face turned for a moment towards the tempting sight of a whole
shelf full of loaves; but she was going on slowly, when a kindly voice
hailed her from the dark interior.

'Hollo, little woman!' it shouted, 'I haven't set eyes on you this many
a day.  How's Robbie and baby.'

'They're here, sir, thank you,' answered Meg, in a more womanly way
than ever, for she felt very low to-day.  'We're only doing middling,
thank you, sir.'

'Why, father's ship's come in,' said her good-natured friend from the
docks, coming forward and wiping his lips, as if he had just finished a
good meal.  'What makes you be doing only middling?'

'Father didn't come home in the ship,' replied Meg, her voice faltering
a little.

'Come in and tell us all about it,' he said.  'Hollo, Mrs Blossom! just
step this way, if you please.'

There was a little kitchen at the back of the shop, from which came a
very savoury smell of cooking, as the door opened, and a round, fat,
rosy-cheeked woman, of about fifty years of age, looked out
inquiringly.  She came a step or two nearer the door, as Meg's friend
beckoned to her with a clasp-knife he held in his hand.

'These little 'uns look cold and hungry, don't they, Mrs Blossom?' he
said.  'You smell something as smells uncommon good, don't you?' he
asked of Meg, who had sniffed a little, unconsciously.

'Yes, please, sir,' answered Meg.

'I've ate as much as ever I can eat for to-day,' said her friend, 'so
you give 'em the rest, Mrs Blossom, and I'll be off.  Only just tell me
why father's not come home in his ship.'

'He was took bad on the other side of the world,' replied Meg, looking
up tearfully into his good-tempered face, 'and they was forced to leave
him behind in a hospital.  That's why.'

'And what's mother doing?' he asked.

'Mother's dead,' she answered.

'Dead!' echoed her friend.  'And who's taking care of you young 'uns?'

'There's nobody to take care of us but God,' said Meg, simply and
softly.

'Well, I never!' cried Mrs Blossom, seizing the baby out of Meg's, and
clasping it in her own arms.  'I never heard anything like that.'

'Nor me,' said the man, catching up Robin, and bearing him off into the
warm little kitchen, where a saucepan of hot tripe was simmering on the
hob, and a round table, with two plates upon it, was drawn up close to
the fire.  He put Robin down on Mrs Blossom's seat, and lifted Meg into
a large arm-chair he had just quitted.

'I guess you could eat a morsel of tripe,' he said, ladling it out in
overflowing spoonfuls upon the plates.  'Mrs Blossom, some potatoes, if
you please, and some bread; and do you feed the baby whilst the little
woman gets her dinner.  Now, I'm off.  Mrs Blossom, you settle about
'em coming here again.'

He was off, as he said, in an instant.  Meg sat in her large arm-chair,
grasping a big knife and fork in her small hands, but she could not
swallow a morsel at first for watching Robin and the baby, who was
sucking in greedily spoonfuls of potatoes, soaked in the gravy.  Mrs
Blossom urged her to fall to, and she tried to obey; but her pale face
quivered all over, and letting fall her knife and fork, she hid it in
her trembling hands.

'If you please, ma'am, I'm only so glad,' said little Meg as soon as
she could command her voice.  'Robbie and baby were so hungry, and I
hadn't got anythink to give 'em.'

'I suppose you aint hungry yourself neither,' observed Mrs Blossom, a
tear rolling down a little channel between her round cheeks and her
nose.

'Oh, but ain't I!' said Meg, recovering herself still more.  'I've had
nothink since last night, and then it were only a crust as Kitty give
me.'

'Well, dear, fall to, and welcome,' answered Mrs Blossom.  'And who's
Kitty?'

'It's a grown-up person as lives in the back attic,' answered Meg,
after eating her first mouthful.  'She helps me all she can.  She's
took all my things to the pawn-shop for me, because she can get more
money than me.  She's as good as can be to us.'

'Are all your things gone to pawn?' inquired Mrs Blossom.

'I've got baby's cloak and hood left,' she replied mournfully.  'He
wouldn't give more than a shilling for 'em, and I thought it wasn't
worth while parting with 'em for that.  I tried to keep Robbie's cap
and pinafore, that were as good as new, but I were forced to let 'em
go.  And our shoes, ma'am,' added Meg, taking Robin's bare and bleeding
foot into her hand: 'see what poor Robbie's done to himself.'

'Poor little dear!' said Mrs Blossom pityingly.  'I'll wash his poor
little feet for him when he's finished his dinner.  You get on with
yours likewise, my love.'

Meg was silent for some minutes, busily feasting on the hot tripe, and
basking in the agreeable warmth of the cosy room.  It was a wonderfully
bright little spot for that quarter of London, but the brightness was
all inside.  Outside, at about three feet from the window, rose a wall
so high as to shut out every glimpse of the sky; but within everything
was so clean and shining, even to the quarried floor, that it was
difficult to believe in the mud and dirt of the streets without.  Mrs
Blossom herself looked fresh and comely, like a countrywoman; but there
was a sad expression on her round face, plain enough to be seen when
she was not talking.

'My dear,' she said when Meg laid down her knife and fork, and assured
her earnestly that she could eat no more, 'what may you be thinking of
doing?'

'I don't hardly know,' she answered.  'I expect father home every day.
If I could only get enough for the children, and a crust or two for me,
we could get along.  But we can't do nothink more, I know.'

'You'll be forced to go into the house,' said Mrs Blossom.

'Oh, no, no, no!' cried little Meg, drawing Robin to her, and with a
great effort lifting him on to her lap, where he almost eclipsed her.
'I couldn't ever do that.  We'll get along somehow till father comes
home.'

'Where is it you live?' inquired Mrs Blossom.

'Oh, it's not a nice place at all,' said Meg, who dreaded having any
visitor.  'It's along Rosemary Lane, and down a street, and then down
another smaller street, and up a court.  That's where it is.'

Mrs Blossom sat meditating a few minutes, with the baby on her lap,
stretching itself lazily and contentedly before the fire; while Meg,
from behind Robin, watched her new friend's face anxiously.

'Well,' she said, 'you come here again to-morrow, and I'll ask Mr
George what's to be done.  That was Mr George as was here, and he's my
lodger.  He took you in, and maybe he'll agree to do something.'

'Thank you, ma'am,' said Meg gratefully.  'Please, have you any little
children of your own?'

The tears ran faster now down Mrs Blossom's cheeks, and she was obliged
to wipe them away before she could answer.

'I'd a little girl like you,' she said, 'ten years ago.  Such a pretty
little girl, so rosy, and bright, and merry, as all the folks round
took notice of.  She was like the apple of my eye, she was.'

'What was she called?' asked Meg, with an eager interest.

'Why, the neighbours called her Posy because her name was Blossom,'
said Mrs Blossom, smiling amidst her tears.  'We lived out in the
country, and I'd a little shop, and a garden, and kept fowls, and pigs,
and eggs; fresh eggs, such as the like are never seen in this part o'
London.  Posy they called her, and a real posy she was.'

Mrs Blossom paused, and looked sadly down upon the happy baby, shaking
her head as if she was sorely grieved at heart.

'And Posy died?' said Meg softly.

'No, no!' cried Mrs Blossom.  'It 'ud been a hundred times better if
she'd died.  She grew up bad.  I hope you'll never live to grow up bad,
little girl.  And she ran away from home; and I lost her, her own
mother that had nursed her when she was a little baby like this.  I'd
ha' been thankful to ha' seen her lying dead afore my eyes in her
coffin.'

'That's bad,' said little Meg, in a tone of trouble and tender pity.

'It's nigh upon three years ago,' continued Mrs Blossom, looking down
still upon the baby, as if she were telling her; 'and I gave up my shop
to my son's wife, and come here, thinking maybe she'd step in some day
or other to buy a loaf of bread or something, because I knew she'd come
up to London.  But she's never so much as passed by the
window--leastways when I've been watching, and I'm always watching.  I
can't do my duty by Mr George for staring out o' the window.'

'Watching for Posy?' said little Meg.

'Ay, watching for Posy,' repeated Mrs Blossom, 'and she never goes by.'

'Have you asked God to let her go by?' asked Meg.

'Ay, my dear,' said Mrs Blossom.  'I ask Him every blessed day o' my
life.'

'Then she's sure to come some day,' said Meg joyfully.  'There's no
mistake about that, because Jesus says it in the Bible, and He knows
all about God.  You've asked Him, and He'll do it.  It's like father
coming.  I don't know whether he'll come to-day or to-morrow, or when
it'll be; but he will come.'

'God bless and love you!' cried Mrs Blossom, suddenly putting baby down
in Meg's lap, and clasping all three of them in her arms.  'I'll
believe it, I will.  He's sent you to give me more heart.  God love you
all!'

It was some while before Mrs Blossom regained her composure; but when
she did, and it was time for Meg and the children to go home before it
was quite dark, she bound up Robin's foot in some rags, and gave Meg a
loaf to carry home with her, bidding her be sure to come again the next
day.  Meg looked back to the shop many times before turning the corner
of the street, and saw Mrs Blossom's round face, with its white cap
border, still leaning over the door, looking after them, and nodding
pleasantly each time she caught Meg's backward glance.  At the corner
they all three turned round, Meg holding up baby as high as her arms
could reach, and after this last farewell they lost sight of their new
friend.



CHAPTER X

Little Meg as Charwoman

Meg and her children did not fail to make their appearance the next
morning at Mrs Blossom's shop, where she welcomed them heartily, and
made them comfortable again by the kitchen fire.  When they were well
warmed, and had finished some bread, and some coffee which had been
kept hot for them, Mrs Blossom put on a serious business air.

'Mr George and me have talked you over,' she said, 'and he's agreed to
something.  I can't do my duty by him as I should wish, you know why;
and I want a little maid to help me.'

'Oh, if you please,' faltered little Meg, 'I couldn't leave our attic.
I promised mother I wouldn't go away till father comes home.  Don't be
angry, please.'

'I'm not angry, child,' continued Mrs Blossom.  'I only want a little
maid to come mornings, and go away nights, like a char-woman.'

'Mother used to go charing sometimes,' remarked Meg.

'I'm not a rich woman,' resumed Mrs Blossom, 'and Mr George has his old
father to keep, as lives down in my own village, and I know him well;
so we can't give great wages.  I'd give you a half-quartern loaf a day,
and Mr George threepence for the present, while it's winter.  Would
that suit your views?'

'What could I do with Robbie and baby?' asked Meg, with an air of
perplexed thought.

'Couldn't you leave 'em with a neighbour?' suggested Mrs Blossom.

Meg pondered deeply for a while.  Kitty had told her the night before
that she had got some sailors' shirts to sew, and would stay at home to
make them.  She could trust Robin and the baby with Kitty, and instead
of lighting a fire in her own attic she could give her the coals, and
so save her fuel, as part payment for taking charge of the children.
Yet Meg felt a little sad at the idea of leaving them for so long a
time, and seeing so little of them each day, and she knew they would
miss her sorely.  But nothing else could be done, and she accepted Mrs
Blossom's offer thankfully.

'You needn't be here afore nine o' the morning,' said Mrs Blossom;
'it's too early for Posy to be passing by; and you can go away again as
soon as it's dark in the evening.  You mustn't get any breakfast, you
know, because that's in our bargain; and I'd never grudge you a meal's
meat for the children either, bless 'em!  They shall come and have a
good tea with us sometimes, they shall--specially on Sundays, when Mr
George is at home; and if you'd only got your clothes out o' pawn, we'd
all go to church together.  But we'll see, we'll see.'

Meg entered upon her new duties the next morning, after committing the
children, with many lingering kisses and last good-byes, into Kitty's
charge, who promised faithfully to be as kind to them as Meg herself.
If it had not been for her anxiety with regard to them, she would have
enjoyed nothing better than being Mrs Blossom's little maid.  The good
woman was so kindly and motherly that she won Meg's whole heart; and to
see her sit by the shop window, knitting a very large long stocking for
Mr George, but with her eyes scanning every woman's face that went by,
made her feel full of an intense and childish interest.  She began
herself to watch for Posy, as her mother described her; and whenever
the form of a grown-up girl darkened the doorway, she held her breath
to listen if Mrs Blossom called her by that pet name.  Mr George also
was very good to Meg in his bluff way, and bought her a pair of nearly
new shoes with his first week's wages, over and above the threepence a
day which he paid her.  With Mrs Blossom she held many a conversation
about the lost girl, who had grown up wicked, and was therefore worse
than dead; and before long Mr George observed that Meg had done her a
world of good.

Christmas Day was a great treat to Meg; for though Mr George went down
into the country to see his old father, Mrs Blossom invited her and the
children to come to dinner, and to stay with her till it was the little
ones' bedtime.  When they sat round the fire in the afternoon she told
them wonderful stories about the country--of its fields, and gardens,
and lanes.

'I like gardens,' said Robin, 'but I don't like lanes.'

'Why don't you like lanes?' asked Mrs Blossom.

'I know lots of lanes,' he answered.  'There's Rosemary Lane, and it's
not nice, nor none of 'em.  They ain't nice like Temple Gardens.'

'Rosemary Lane!' repeated Mrs Blossom.  'Why, the lanes in the country
are nothing like the lanes in London.  They're beautiful roads, with
tall trees growing all along 'em, and meeting one another overhead; and
there are roses and honeysuckles all about the hedges, and birds
singing, and the sun shining.  Only you don't know anything about
roses, and honeysuckles, and birds.'

'Are there any angels there?' asked Robin, fastening his glistening
eyes upon her intently.

'Well, no,' said Mrs Blossom, 'not as I know of.'

'Is the devil in the country?' pursued Robin.

'Yes,' answered Mrs Blossom, 'I suppose he's there pretty much the same
as here.  Folks can be wicked anywhere, or else my Posy wouldn't have
grown up bad.'

Robin asked no more questions, and Mrs Blossom was glad to talk of
something else.  It was a very happy day altogether, but it came too
quickly to an end.  Meg wrapped up her children well before turning out
into the cold streets, and Mrs Blossom gave them a farewell kiss each,
with two to Meg because she was such a comfort to her.

When they reached their own attic they heard Kitty call to them, and
Meg opened her door.  She was sitting without any fire, stitching away
as for her life at a coarse striped shirt, lighted only by a small
farthing candle; but she laid down her task for a minute, and raised
her thin pale face, and her eyes half blinded with tears and hard work.

'Where have you been all day, little Meg?' she asked.

'Me and the children have been at Mrs Blossom's, answered Meg, 'because
it's Christmas Day: and I wish you'd been there as well, Kitty.  We'd
such a good dinner and tea.  She gave me a bit of cake to bring home,
and you shall have some of it.'

'No, no,' said Kitty, 'it 'ud choke me.'

'Oh, it couldn't; it's as nice as nice can be,' said Meg.  'You must
just have a taste of it.'

'Did you go talking about that Posy again?' asked Kitty, bending
diligently over her work.

'We always talk about her,' answered Meg, 'every day.  Mrs Blossom's
watching for her to go by all day long, you know.'

'She'll never go by,' said Kitty shortly.

'Oh, she's certain sure to go by some day,' cried Meg.  'Mrs Blossom
asks God to let her go by, every day of her life; and He's positive to
do it.'

'If she's grown up so wicked,' argued Kitty, 'she didn't ought to go
back to her mother, and her such a good woman.  God won't send her back
to her mother, you'll see.'

'But if God sent her back, her mother 'ud never think of her being
wicked, she loves her so,' said little Meg.  'If Robbie were ever so
naughty, I'd keep on loving him till he was good again.'

'Well, Posy'll never go home no more,' said Kitty; and hot tears fell
fast upon her work.

'She will, she will,' cried Meg.  'I expect her every day, like father.
Perhaps they'll both come home to-morrow.  I wish you'd ask God to let
Posy and father come home to-morrow.'

'I'm too bad to ask God for anything,' sobbed Kitty.

'Well, I don't know,' said Meg sorrowfully.  'You're not bad to me or
the children.  But I must go to bed now.  Let us kiss you afore we go.
Mrs Blossom kissed me twice, and said I was a comfort to her.'

Kitty threw down her work, and clasped Meg strongly in her arms,
pressing down Meg's head upon her breast, and crying, 'Oh, my dear
little Meg!  My good little Meg!'  Then she put them all three gently
out of her room, and bade them good-night and God bless them, in a
husky and tremulous voice.



CHAPTER XI

Little Meg's Baby

The new year came, but Meg's father had not arrived.  Kitty was having
a mad outburst, as if she had so long controlled herself that now it
was necessary to break out into extra wickedness.  She came home late
every night, very drunk, and shouting loud snatches of songs, which
wakened up the inmates of the lower stories, and drew upon her a storm
of oaths.  But she continued always good-natured and kind to Meg, and
insisted upon having the daily charge of Robin and the baby, though Meg
left them in her care with a very troubled and anxious spirit.  Things
were looking very dark to the poor little woman; but she kept up as
brave a heart as she could, waiting from day to day for that
long-deferred coming of her father, in which she believed so firmly.

It was a little later than usual one evening, for the days were
creeping out since the new year, when Meg climbed wearily upstairs to
Kitty's attic, in search of her children, but found that they were not
there.  Mr Grigg told her that he had seen Kitty take them out with her
in the afternoon; and even while he was speaking, Meg saw her
staggering and rolling into the court, with the baby fast asleep in her
drunken arms.  Meg took it from her without a word, and led Robin away
upstairs.  Robin's face was flushed, and his hand was very hot; but the
baby lay in her arms heavily, without any movement or sign of life,
except that the breath came through her parted lips, and her eyelids
stirred a little.  Meg locked the door of her attic, and laid her baby
on the bed, while she lighted the fire and got their tea ready.  Robin
looked strange, but he chattered away without ceasing, while he watched
her set the things in readiness.  But the baby would not awake.  It lay
quite still on Meg's lap, and she poured a little warm tea into its
mouth, but it did not swallow it, only slept there with heavy eyelids,
and moving neither finger nor foot, in a strange, profound slumber.  It
was smaller and thinner than when mother died, thought Meg; and she
lifted up the lifeless little hand to her lips, half hoping that its
eyes would unclose a little more, and that sweet, loving smile, with
which it always welcomed her return, would brighten its languid face.
But baby was too soundly asleep to smile.

Little Meg sat up all night, with the baby lying on her lap, moaning a
little now and then as its slumbers grew more broken, but never lifting
up its eyelids to look into her face and know it.  When the morning
dawned it was still the same.  Could the baby be ill? asked Meg of
herself.  It did not seem to be in any pain; yet she carried it to the
door, and called softly for Kitty to come and look at it; but there was
no reply, only from below came up harsh sounds of children screaming
and angry women quarrelling.  Oaths and threats and shrieks were all
the answer Meg's feeble cry received.  She sat down again on her
mother's low chair before the fire, and made the baby comfortable on
her lap; while Robin stood at her knee, looking down pitifully at the
tiny, haggard, sleeping face, which Meg's little hand could almost
cover.  What was she to do?  There was no one in Angel Court whom she
dare call to her help.  Baby might even die, like the greater number of
the babies born in that place, whose brief lives ended quickly, as if
existence was too terrible a thing in the midst of such din and
squalor.  At the thought that perhaps baby was going to die, two or
three tears of extreme anguish rolled down little Meg's cheeks, and
fell upon baby's face; but she could not cry aloud, or weep many tears.
She felt herself falling into a stupor of grief and despair, when Robin
laid his hand upon her arm.

'Why don't you ask God to waken baby?' he asked.

'I don't know whether it 'ud be a good thing,' she answered.  'Mother
said she'd ask Him over and over again to let her take baby along with
her, and that 'ud be better than staying here.  I wish we could all go
to heaven; only I don't know whatever father 'ud do if he come home and
found us all dead.'

'Maybe God'll take me and baby,' said Robbie thoughtfully, 'and leave
you to watch for father.'

'I only wish baby had called me Meg once afore she went,' cried little
Meg.

The baby stirred a little upon her knees, and stretched out its feeble
limbs, opening its blue eyes wide and looking up into her face with its
sweet smile of welcome.  Then the eyelids closed again slowly, and the
small features put on a look of heavenly calm and rest.  Meg and Robin
gazed at the change wonderingly without speaking; but when after a few
minutes Meg laid her hand gently upon the smooth little forehead, the
same chill struck to her heart as when she had touched her mother's
dead face.

It did not seem possible to little Meg that baby could really be dead.
She chafed its puny limbs, as she had seen her mother do, and walked up
and down the room singing to it, now loudly, now softly; but no change
came upon it, no warmth returned to its death-cold frame, no life to
its calm face.  She laid it down at length upon the bed, and crossed
its thin wee arms upon its breast, and then stretching herself beside
it, with her face hidden from the light, little Meg gave herself up to
a passion of sorrow.

'If I'd only asked God, for Christ's sake,' she cried to herself,
'maybe He'd have let baby wake, though I don't know whether it's a good
thing.  But now she's gone to mother, and father'll come home, and
he'll find nobody but me and Robbie, and the money safe.  Oh!  I wish
I'd asked God.'

'Meg,' said Robin, after she had worn herself out with sobs and tears,
and was lying silently beside baby, 'I'm very poorly.  I think I'll go
to live with the angels, where mother and baby are gone.'

Meg started up, and gazed anxiously at Robin.  His bright eyes were
dimmed, and his face was flushed and heavy; he was stretched on the
floor near the fire, in a listless attitude, and did not care to move,
when she knelt down beside him, and put her arm under his head.  It
ached, he said; and it felt burning hot to her touch.  Meg's heart
stood still for a moment, and then she dropped her tear-stained
sorrowful face upon her hands.

'Pray God,' she cried, 'don't take Robbie away as well as baby.  Maybe
it wasn't a good thing for baby to stay, now mother's dead, though I've
done everythink I could, and there's been nobody to take care of us but
You.  But, pray God, do let Robbie stay with me till father comes home;
for Jesus Christ's sake.  Amen.'

Meg rose from her knees, and lifted up Robin as gently as she could,
soothing him, and talking fondly to him as she took off his clothes.
When that was finished she laid him on the same bed where the baby was
sleeping its last long sleep, with its tiny face still wearing an
unspeakable calm; for Robin's little mattress had been sold some time
ago.  The day was just at an end, that sorrowful day, and a lingering
light from the west entered through the attic window, and lit up the
white, peaceful features with the flushed and drowsy face of Robin
beside it.  Meg felt as if her heart would surely break as she stooped
over them, and kissed them both, her lips growing cold as they touched
baby's smiling mouth.  Then drawing her old shawl over her head, she
locked the attic door securely behind her, and ran as fast as her feet
could carry her to Mrs Blossom's house.

'Robbie's very ill,' gasped Meg, breathlessly, as she burst into the
shop, the shutters of which were already put up, though it was still
early in the night, 'and I want a doctor for him.  Where shall I find a
doctor?'

Mrs Blossom had her bonnet and cloak on, and looked very pale and
flurried.  When she answered Meg she kept her hand pressed against her
heart.

'I'm just a-going to one,' she said, 'the best at this end o' London,
Dr Christie, and you'd better come along with me.  He knows me well.
Meg, I've seen somebody go by to-day as was like Posy, only pale and
thin; but when I ran out, she was gone like a shadow.  I'm a-going to
tell Dr Christie; he knows all about Posy and me.'

But Meg scarcely heard what Mrs Blossom said.  All her thoughts and
interest centred in Robin, and she felt impatient of the slow progress
of her companion.  They seemed to her to be going a long, long way,
until they came to better streets and larger houses; and by-and-by they
saw a carriage standing before a door, and a gentleman came out and got
into it hurriedly.

'Why, bless me!' exclaimed Mrs Blossom, 'there's Dr Christie.  Stop
him, Meg, stop him!'

Meg needed no urging, but rushed blindly across the street.  There was
all at once a strange confusion about her, a trampling of horses' feet,
and a rattling of wheels, with a sudden terror and pain in herself; and
then she knew no more.  All was as nothing to her--baby and Robin alone
in the attic, and Mrs Blossom and Posy--all were gone out of her mind
and memory.  She had thrown herself before the horses' heads, and they
had trampled her down under their feet.

When little Meg came to herself again it was broad daylight, and she
was lying in a room so bright and cheerful that she could neither
imagine where she was nor how she came there.  There was a good fire
crackling noisily in the low grate, with a brass guard before it, and
over the chimney-piece was a pretty picture of angels flying upwards
with a child in their arms.  All round the walls there hung other
pictures of birds and flowers, coloured gaily, and glittering in gilded
frames.  Another little bed like the one she lay in stood in the
opposite corner, but there was nobody in it, and the place was very
quiet.  She lay quite still, with a dreamy thought that she was somehow
in heaven, until she heard a pleasant voice speaking in the next room,
the door of which was open, so that the words came readily to her ears.

'I only wish we knew where the poor little thing comes from,' said the
voice.

'I'm vexed I don't,' answered Mrs Blossom.  'I've asked her more than
once, and she's always said it's down a street off Rosemary Lane, and
along another street, and up a court.  But there's a girl called Kitty
living in the back attic, as takes care of the children when Meg's
away.  She's sure to be taking care o' them now.'

In an instant memory came back to little Meg.  She recollected bending
over Robin and the baby to kiss them before she came away, and locking
the door safely upon them.  Oh! what had become of Robbie in the night?
She raised herself up in bed, and uttered a very bitter cry, which
brought to her quickly Mrs Blossom and a strange lady.

'I want Robbie,' she cried.  'I must get up and go to him directly.
It's my Robbie that's ill, and baby's dead.  I'm not ill, but Robbie's
ill, if he isn't dead, like baby, afore now.  Please to let me get up.'

'Tell me all about it,' said Mrs Blossom, sitting down on the bed and
taking Meg into her arms.  'We're in Dr Christie's house, and he'll go
and see Robbie in a minute, he says.'

'Baby died yesterday morning,' answered Meg, with tearless eyes, for
her trouble was too great for tears; 'and then Robbie was took ill, and
I put them both in bed, and kissed them, and locked the door, and came
away for a doctor, and there's been nobody to take care of 'em all
night, only God.'

Meg's eyes burned no longer, but filled with tears as she thought of
God, and she laid her head upon Mrs Blossom's shoulder, and wept aloud.

'God has taken care of them,' said Mrs Christie, but she could say no
more.

'Where is it you live, deary?' asked Mrs Blossom.

'It's at Angel Court,' answered Meg.  'But there mustn't nobody go
without me.  Please to let me get up.  I'm not ill.'

'You're very much bruised and hurt, my poor child,' said Mrs Christie.

'I must go,' pleaded Meg urgently, 'I must get up, I promised mother
I'd never let anybody go into our room, and they mustn't go without me.
They're my children, please.  If your little children were ill, you'd
go to 'em wouldn't you?  Let me get up this minute.'

It was impossible to withstand little Meg's earnestness.  Mrs Blossom
dressed her tenderly, though Meg could not quite keep back the groan
which rose to her quivering lips when her bruised arm was moved.  A cab
was called, and then Mrs Blossom and Meg, with Dr Christie, got into
it, and drove away quickly to Angel Court.



CHAPTER XII

The End of Little Meg's Trouble

It was early in the evening after Meg had gone in search of a doctor,
that Kitty came home, more sober than she had been for several nights,
and very much ashamed of her last outbreak.  She sat down on the top of
the stairs, listening for little Meg to read aloud, but she heard only
the sobs and moanings of Robin, who called incessantly for Meg, without
getting any answer.  Kitty waited for some time, hearkening for her
voice, but after a while she knocked gently at the door.  There was no
reply, but after knocking again and again she heard Robin call out in a
frightened tone.

'What's that?' he cried.

'It's me, your own Kitty,' she said; 'where's little Meg?'

'I don't know,' said Robin, 'she's gone away, and there's nobody but me
and baby; and baby's asleep, and so cold.'

'What are you crying for, Robbie?' asked Kitty.

'I'm crying for everything,' said Robin.

'Don't you be frightened, Robbie,' she said soothingly; 'Kitty'll stay
outside the door, and sing pretty songs to you, till Meg comes home.'

She waited a long time, till the clocks struck twelve, and still Meg
did not come.  From time to time Kitty spoke some reassuring words to
Robin, or sang him some little songs she remembered from her own
childhood; but his cries grew more and more distressing, and at length
Kitty resolved to break her promise, and unlock Meg's door once again
to move the children into her own attic.

She lit a candle, and entered the dark room.  The fire was gone out,
and Robin sat up on the pillow, his face wet with tears and his black
eyes large with terror.  The baby, which lay beside him, seemed very
still, with its wasted puny hands crossed upon its breast; so quiet and
still that Kitty looked more closely, and held the light nearer to its
slumbering face.  What could ail it?  What had brought that awful smile
upon its tiny face?  Kitty touched it fearfully with the tip of her
finger; and then she stood dumb and motionless before the terrible
little corpse.

She partly knew, and partly guessed, what had done this thing.  She
recollected, but vaguely enough, that one of her companions, who had
grown weary of the little creature's pitiful cry, had promised to quiet
it for her, and how speedily it had fallen off into a profound,
unbroken slumber.  And there it lay, in the same slumber perhaps.  She
touched it again; but no, the sleep it slept now was even deeper than
that--a sleep so sound that its eyelids would never open again to this
world's light, nor its sealed lips ever utter a word of this world's
speech.  Kitty could scarcely believe it; but she could not bear to
stay in that mute, gentle, uncomplaining presence; and she lifted up
Robin to carry him into her own room.  Oh that God had but called her
away when she was an innocent baby like that!

Robin's feverishness was almost gone; and now, wrapped in Kitty's gown
and rocked to sleep on her lap, he lay contented and restful, while she
sat thinking in the dark, for the candle soon burned itself out, until
the solemn grey light of the morning dawned slowly in the east.  She
had made up her mind now what she would do.  There was only one more
sin lying before her.  She had grown up bad, and broken her mother's
heart, and now she had brought this great overwhelming sorrow upon poor
little Meg.  There was but one end to a sinful life like hers, and the
sooner it came the better.  She would wait till Meg came home and give
up Robin to her, for she would not hurry on to that last crime before
Meg was there to take care of him.  Then she saw herself stealing along
the streets, down to an old pier she knew of, where boats had ceased to
ply, and where no policeman would be near to hinder her, or any one
about to rescue her; and then she would fling herself, worthless and
wretched as she was, into the rapid river, which had borne so many
worthless wretches like her upon its strong current into the land of
darkness and death, of which she did not dare to think.  That was what
she would do, saying nothing to any one; and if she could ask anything
of God, it would be that her mother might never find out what had
become of her.

So Kitty sat with her dark thoughts long after Angel Court had awakened
to its ordinary life, its groans, and curses, and sobs; until the sun
looked in cheerily upon her and Robin, as it did upon Meg in Mrs
Christie's nursery.  She did not care to put him down, for he looked
very pretty, and happy, and peaceful in his soft sleep, and whenever
she moved he stirred a little, and pouted his lips as if to reproach
her.  Besides, it was the last time she would hold a child in her arms;
and though they ached somewhat, they folded round him fondly.  At last
she heard a man's step upon the ladder mounting to the attics, and
Meg's voice speaking faintly.  Could it be that her father was come
home at last?  Oh! what would their eyes see when they opened that
door?  Kitty held her breath to listen for the first sound of anguish
and amazement; but it was poor little Meg's voice which reached her
before any other.

'Robbie! oh, Robbie!' she cried, in a tone of piercing terror, 'what
has become of my little Robbie?'

'He's safe, he's here, Meg,' answered Kitty, starting to her feet, and
rushing with him to Meg's attic.

It was no rough, weather-beaten seaman, who was just placing Meg on a
chair, as if he had carried her upstairs; but some strange, well-clad
gentleman, and behind him stood an elderly woman, who turned sharply
round as she heard Kitty's voice.

'Posy!' cried Mrs Blossom.

No one but her own mother could have known again the bright, merry,
rosy girl, whom the neighbours called Posy, in the thin, withered,
pallid woman who stood motionless in the middle of the room.  Even Meg
forgot for a moment her fears for Robin.  Dr Christie had only time to
catch him from her failing arms, before she fell down senseless upon
the floor at her mother's feet.

'Let me do everything for her,' exclaimed Mrs Blossom, pushing away Dr
Christie; 'she's my Posy, I tell you.  You wouldn't know her again, but
I know her.  I'll do everything for her; she's my girl, my little one;
she's the apple of my eye.'

But it was a very long time before Mrs Blossom, with Dr Christie's
help, could bring Posy to life again; and then they lifted her into her
poor bed, and Dr Christie left her mother alone with her, and went back
to Meg.  Robin was ailing very little, he said: but the baby?  Yes, the
baby must have died even if little Meg had fetched him at once.
Nothing could have saved it, and it had suffered no pain, he added
tenderly.

'I think I must take you two away from this place,' said Dr Christie.

'Oh, no, no,' answered Meg earnestly; 'I must stay till father comes,
and I expect him to-day or to-morrow.  Please, sir, leave me and Robbie
here till he comes.'

'Then you must have somebody to take care of you,' said Dr Christie.

'No, please, sir,' answered Meg, in a low and cautious voice, 'mother
gave me a secret to keep that I can't tell to nobody, and I promised
her I'd never let nobody come into my room till father comes home.  I
couldn't help you, and Mrs Blossom, and Kitty coming in this time; but
nobody mustn't come in again.'

'My little girl,' said Dr Christie kindly, 'I dare say your mother
never thought of her secret becoming a great trouble to you.  Could you
not tell it to me?'

'No,' replied Meg, 'it's a very great secret; and please, when baby's
buried like mother, me and Robbie must go on living here alone till
father comes.'

'Poor child!' said Dr Christie, rubbing his eyes, 'did you know baby
was quite dead?'

'Yes,' she answered, 'but I didn't ask God to let baby live, because
mother said she'd like to take her with her.  But I did ask Him to make
Robin well, and bring back Posy; and now there's nothing for Him to do
but let father come home.  I knew it was all true; it's in the Bible,
and if I'm not one of God's own children, it says, "Them that ask Him."
So I asked Him.'

Meg's voice sank, and her head dropped; for now that she was at home
again, and Robin was found to be all right, her spirit failed her.  Dr
Christie went out upon the landing, and held a consultation with Mrs
Blossom, in which they agreed that for the present, until Meg was well
enough to take care of herself, she should be nursed in Kitty's attic,
with her own door kept locked, and the key left in her possession.  So
Dr Christie carried Meg into the back attic, and laid her upon Kitty's
mattress.  Kitty was cowering down on the hearth, with her face buried
on her knees, and did not look up once through all the noise of Meg's
removal; though when her mother told her what they were doing she made
a gesture of assent to it.  Dr Christie went away; and Mrs Blossom, who
wanted to buy many things which were sorely needed in the poor attic,
put her arm fondly round Kitty's neck.

'Posy,' she said, 'you wouldn't think to go and leave little Meg alone
if I went out to buy some things, and took Robin with me?'

'No, I'll stop,' said Kitty, but without lifting her head.  When they
were alone together, Meg raised herself as well as she could on the arm
that was not hurt, and looked wistfully at Kitty's bowed-down head and
crouching form.

'Are you really Posy?' she asked.

'I used to be Posy,' answered Kitty, in a mournful voice.

'Didn't I tell you God would let your mother find you?' said Meg; 'it's
all come true, every bit of it.'

'But God hasn't let baby live,' muttered Kitty.

'I never asked Him for that,' she said falteringly; 'I didn't know as
baby was near going to die, and maybe it's a better thing for her to go
to mother and God.  Angel Court ain't a nice place to live in, and she
might have growed up bad.  But if people do grow up bad,' added Meg, in
a very tender tone, 'God can make 'em good again if they'd only ask
Him.'

As little Meg spoke, and during the silence which followed, strange
memories began to stir in the poor girl's heart, recalled there by some
mysterious and Divine power.  Words and scenes, forgotten since
childhood, came back with wonderful freshness and force.  She thought
of a poor, guilty, outcast woman, reviled and despised by all save One,
who had compassion even for her, forgave all her sins, stilled the
clamour of her accusers, and said, 'Thy faith hath saved thee; go in
peace.'  She remembered the time when the records of His infinite love
had been repeated by her innocent young lips and pondered in her maiden
heart.  Like some echo from the distant past she seemed to hear the
words, 'By Thine agony and bloody sweat; by Thy cross and passion; by
Thy precious death and burial, good Lord deliver us.  O Lamb of God,
that takest away the sins of the world, have mercy upon us.'

'Oh!  Meg!  Meg!' cried Kitty, almost crawling to the corner where she
lay, and falling down beside her on the floor, with her poor pale face
still hidden from sight, 'ask God for me to be made good again.'

Little Meg stretched out her unbruised arm, and laid her hand upon
Kitty's bended head.

'You must ask Him for yourself,' she said, after thinking for a minute
or two: 'I don't know as it 'ud do for me to ask God, if you didn't as
well.'

'What shall I say, Meg?' asked Kitty.

'If I was you,' said Meg, 'and had grow'd up wicked, and run away from
mother, I'd say, "Pray God, make me a good girl again, and let me be a
comfort to mother till she dies; for Jesus Christ's sake.  Amen."'

There was a dead silence in the back attic, except for the near noise
and distant din which came from the court below, and the great
labyrinth of streets around.  Little Meg's eyes shone lovingly and
pityingly upon Kitty, who looked up for an instant, and caught their
light.  Then she dropped her head down upon the mattress, and gave way
to a storm of tears and sobs.

'O God,' she cried, 'do have mercy upon me, and make me good again, if
it's possible.  Help me to be a good girl to mother.  God forgive me
for Jesus Christ's sake!'

She sobbed out this prayer over and over again, until her voice fell
into a low whisper which even Meg could not hear; and so she lay upon
the floor beside the mattress until her mother came back.  Mrs
Blossom's face was pale, but radiant with gladness, and Posy looked at
it for the first time fully.  Then she gave a great cry of mingled joy
and sorrow, and running to her threw her arms round her neck, and laid
her face upon her shoulder.

'God'll hear me and have mercy upon me,' she cried.  'I'm going to be
your Posy again, mother!'



CHAPTER XIII

Little Meg's Father

The baby was buried the next morning, after Meg had looked upon it for
the last time lying very peacefully and smilingly in its little coffin,
and had shed some tears that were full of sorrow yet had no bitterness
upon its dead face.  Mrs Blossom took Robin to follow it to the grave,
leaving Kitty in charge of little Meg.  The front attic door was
locked, and the key was under Meg's pillow, not to be used again until
she was well enough to turn it herself in the lock.  The bag containing
the small key of the box, with the unopened letter which had come for
her mother, hung always round her neck, and her hand often clasped it
tightly as she slept.

Meg was lying very still, with her face turned from the light,
following in her thoughts the little coffin that was being carried in
turns by Mrs Blossom and another woman whom she knew, through the noisy
streets, when Kitty heard the tread of a man's foot coming up the
ladder.  It could be no one else but Dr Christie, she thought; but why
then did he stop at the front attic door, and rattle the latch in
trying to open it?  Kitty looked out and saw a seafaring man, in worn
and shabby sailor's clothing, as if he had just come off a long voyage.
His face was brown and weather-beaten; and his eyes, black and bright,
were set deep in his head, and looked as if they were used to take
long, keen surveys over the glittering sea.  He turned sharply round as
Kitty opened her door.

'Young woman,' he said, 'do you know aught of my wife, Peggy Fleming,
and her children, who used to live here?  Peggy wrote me word she'd
moved into the front attic.'

'It's father,' called little Meg from her mattress on the floor; 'I'm
here, father!  Robin and me's left; but mother's dead, and baby.  Oh!
father, father!  You've come home at last!'

Meg's father brushed past Kitty into the room where Meg sat up in bed,
her face quivering, and her poor bruised arms stretched out to welcome
him.  He sat down on the mattress and took her in his own strong arms,
while for a minute or two Meg lay still in them, almost like one dead.

'Oh!' she said at last, with a sigh as if her heart had well-nigh
broken, 'I've took care of Robin and the money, and they're safe.  Only
baby's dead.  But don't you mind much, father; it wasn't a nice place
for baby to grow up in.'

'Tell me all about it,' said Robert Fleming, looking at Kitty, but
still holding his little daughter in his arms; and Kitty told him all
she knew of her lonely life and troubles up in the solitary attic,
which no one had been allowed to enter; and from time to time Meg's
father groaned aloud, and kissed Meg's pale and wrinkled forehead
fondly.  But he asked how it was she never let any of the neighbours,
Kitty herself, for instance, stay with her, and help her sometimes.

'I promised mother,' whispered Meg in his ear, 'never to let nobody
come in, for fear they'd find out the box under the bed, and get into
it somehow.  We was afraid for the money, you know, but it's all safe
for your mate, father; and here's the key, and a letter as came for
mother after she was dead.'

'But this letter's from me to Peggy,' said her father, turning it over
and over; 'leastways it was wrote by the chaplain at the hospital, to
tell her what she must do.  The money in the box was mine, Meg, no
mate's; and I sent her word to take some of it for herself and the
children.'

'Mother thought it belonged to a mate of yours,' said Meg, 'and we was
the more afeared of it being stole.'

'It's my fault,' replied Robert Fleming.  'I told that to mother for
fear she'd waste it if she knew it were mine.  But if I'd only
known----'

He could not finish his sentence, but stroked Meg's hair with his large
hand, and she felt some hot tears fall from his eyes upon her forehead.

'Don't cry, father,' she said, lifting her small feeble hand to his
face.  'God took care of us, and baby too, though she's dead.  There's
nothink now that He hasn't done.  He's done everythink I asked Him.'

'Did you ask Him to make me a good father?' said Fleming.

'Why, you're always good to us, father,' answered Meg, in a tone of
loving surprise.  'You never beat us much when you get drunk.  But
Robin and me always say, "Pray God, bless father."  I don't quite know
what bless means, but it's something good.'

'Ah!' said Fleming, with a deep sigh, 'He has blessed me.  When I was
ill He showed me what a poor sinner I was, and how Jesus Christ came
into the world to save sinners, "of whom I am chief."  Sure I can say
that if anybody can.  But it says in the Bible, "He loved me, and gave
Himself for me."  Yes, little Meg, He died to save me.  I felt it.  I
believed it.  I came to see that I'd nobody to fly to but Jesus if I
wanted to be aught else but a poor, wicked, lost rascal, as got drunk,
and was no better than a brute.  And so I turned it over and over in my
mind, lying abed; and now, please God, I'm a bit more like being a
Christian than I was.  I reckon that's what bless means, little Meg.'

As he spoke the door opened, and Mrs Blossom came in with Robin.  It
was twelve months since Robin had seen his father, and now he was shy,
and hung back a little behind Mrs Blossom; but Meg called to him in a
joyful voice.

'Come here, little Robbie,' she said; 'it's father, as we've watched
for so long.--He's a little bit afeared at first, father, but you'll
love him ever so when he knows you.'

It was not long before Robin knew his father sufficiently to accept of
a seat on his knee, when Meg was put back into bed at Mrs Blossom's
entreaties.  Fleming nursed his boy in silence for some time, while now
and then a tear glistened in his deep eyes as he thought over the
history of little Meg's sorrows.

'I'm thinking,' said Mrs Blossom cheerfully, 'as this isn't the sort o'
place for a widow man and his children to stop in.  I'm just frightened
to death o' going up and down the court.  I suppose you're not thinking
o' settling here, Mr Fleming?'

'No, no,' said Fleming, shaking his head: 'a decent man couldn't stop
here, let alone a Christian.'

'Well, then, come home to us till you can turn yourself round,'
continued Mrs Blossom heartily; 'me and Mr George have talked it over,
and he says, "When little Meg's father do come, let 'em all come here:
Posy, and the little 'uns, and all.  You'll have Posy and the little
'uns in your room, and I'll have him in mine.  We'll give him some sort
o' a shakedown, and sailors don't use to lie soft." So if you've no
objections to raise, it's settled; and if you have, please to raise 'em
at once.'

Robert Fleming had no objections to raise, but he accepted the cordial
invitation thankfully, for he was in haste to get out of the miserable
life of Angel Court.  He brought the hidden box into the back attic,
and opened it before little Meg, taking out of it the packet of forty
pounds, and a number of pawn-tickets, which he looked at very
sorrowfully.  After securing these he locked up the attic again, and
carrying Meg in his arms, he led the way down the stairs, and through
the court, followed closely by Mrs Blossom, Posy, and Robin.  The sound
of brawling and quarrelling was loud as usual, and the children
crawling about the pavement were dirty and squalid as ever; they
gathered about Meg and her father, forming themselves into a dirty and
ragged procession to accompany them down to the street.  Little Meg
looked up to the high window of the attic, where she had watched so
often and so long for her father's coming; and then she looked round,
with eyes full of pity, upon the wretched group about her; and closing
her eyelids, her lips moving a little, but without any words which even
her father could hear, she said in her heart, 'Pray God, bless
everybody, and make them good.'



CHAPTER XIV

Little Meg's Farewell

About a month after Robert Fleming's return Dr Christie paid a visit to
Mrs Blossom's little house.  He had been there before, but this was a
special visit; and it was evident some important plan had to be decided
upon.  Dr Christie came to hear what Mrs Blossom had to say about it.

'Well, sir,' said Mrs Blossom, 'a woman of my years, as always lived in
one village all her life till I came to London, it do seem a great move
to go across the sea.  But as you all think as it 'ud be a good thing
for Posy, and as Mr Fleming do wish little Meg and Robin to go along
with us, which are like my own children, and as he's to be in the same
ship, I'm not the woman to say No.  I'm a good hand at washing and
ironing, and sewing, and keeping a little shop, or anything else as
turns up; and there's ten years' good work in me yet; by which time
little Meg'll be a stout, grown-up young woman; to say nothing of Posy,
who's old enough to get her own living now.  I can't say as I like the
sea, quite the contrairy; but I can put up with it; and Mr Fleming'll
be there to see as the ship goes all right, and doesn't lose hisself.
So I'll be ready by the time the ship's ready.'

They were all ready in time as Mrs Blossom had promised, for there were
not many preparations to be made.  Little Meg's red frock was taken out
of pawn, with all the other things, and Mrs Blossom went down to her
native village to visit it for the last time; but Posy shrank from
being seen there by the neighbours again.  She, and Meg, and Robin went
once more for a farewell look at Temple Gardens.  It was the first time
she had been in the streets since she had gone back to her mother, and
she seemed ashamed and alarmed at every eye that met hers.  When they
stood looking at the river, with its swift, cruel current, Posy
shivered and trembled until she was obliged to turn away and sit down
on a bench.  She was glad, she said, to get home again, and she would
go out no more till the day came when Mr George drove them all down to
the docks, with the few boxes which contained their worldly goods.

Dr Christie and his wife were down at the ship to see them off, and
they kissed Meg tenderly as they bade her farewell.  When the last
minute was nearly come, Mr George took little Meg's small hand in his
large one, and laid the other upon her head.

'Little woman, tell us that verse again,' he said, 'that verse as
you've always gone and believed in, and acted on.'

'That as mother and me heard preached from the streets?' asked Meg.

Mr George nodded silently.

'It's quite true,' said little Meg, in a tone of perfect confidence,
'because it's in the Bible, and Jesus said it.  Besides, God did
everythink I asked Him.  "If ye then, being evil, know how to give good
gifts unto your children: how much more shall your Father which is in
heaven give good things to them that ask Him?"'



THE END



TURNBULL AND SPEARS, PRINTERS, EDINBURGH.



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