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Title: Blade-O'-Grass. Golden Grain. and Bread and Cheese and Kisses.
Author: Farjeon, B. L. (Benjamin Leopold), 1833-1903
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.

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Transcriber's Notes:

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     2. The diphthong ae is represented by [ae].

     3. Table of Contents added by Transcriber.



CONTENTS.


BLADE-O'-GRASS.

INTRODUCTION.

   STONEY-ALLEY.



PART I.

   A STRANGE EVENT OCCURS IN STONEY-ALLEY.

   HOW SHE ACQUIRED THE NAME OF BLADE-O'-GRASS.

   THE LEGEND OF THE TIGER.

   THE BATTLE OF LIFE.

   MR. MERRYWHISTLE RELIEVES HIMSELF ON THE SUBJECT OF
      INDISCRIMINATE CHARITY.

   MRS. SILVER'S HOME.

   MR. MERRYWHISTLE MEETS THE QUEER LITTLE OLD MAN.

   JIMMY VIRTUE INTRODUCES MR. MERRYWHISTLE TO HIS PLACE
      OF BUSINESS.

   THE STRANGE IDEA OF HALLELUJAH ENTERTAINED BY BLADE-O'-GRASS.

   THE INTERLUDE.



PART II.

   THE PRISON WALL.

   ONE OF MANY HAPPY NIGHTS.

   FACE TO FACE--SO LIKE, YET SO UNLIKE.

   ROBERT TRUEFIT ALLOWS HIS FEELINGS TO MASTER HIM.

   TOO LATE.

   HELP THE POOR.



GOLDEN GRAIN.


      I. THROUGH COUNTRY ROADS TO SOME GREEN PLEASANT SPOT.

     II. THANK GOD FOR A GOOD BREAKFAST!

    III. THEY LISTENED WITH ALMOST BREATHLESS ATTENTION TO EVERY WORD
           THAT FELL FROM HER LIPS.

    IV. FOR MERCY'S SAKE, TELL ME! WHOSE VOICE WAS IT I HEARD JUST NOW?

     V. YOU'RE A PARSON, SIR, AND I PUT IT TO YOU. WHAT DO _YOU_ SAY TO
          PARTING MOTHER AND CHILD?

    VI. FOR THESE AND SUCH AS THESE.

   VII. HEALTHY BODY MAKES HEALTHY MIND.

  VIII. THIS 'ERE FREE AND 'LIGHTENED COUNTRY OF OUR'N'S CRAMMED FULL
          O' TEMPLES O' LIBERTY.

   IX. OPEN YOUR EYES, BABY! SPEAK TO ME! LOOK AT MOTHER, MY LIFE!

    X. NO, NO! BORN IN LOVE! IN LOVE!

   XI. ONCE UPON A TIME THERE LIVED ON AN ISLAND----

  XII. IN THE DIM TWILIGHT OF THAT HOLY DAY.

 XIII. HIS SOUL IS IN YOUR HANDS TO SAVE AND PURIFY!

  XIV. IT IS SUNRISE. A GOLDEN MIST IS RISING FROM THE WATERS.

  XV. FAIRHAVEN.



BREAD AND CHEESE AND KISSES.

Introduction.

PART I.

   COME AND SHOW YOUR FACE, LIKE A MAN!

   AND SO THE LAD GOES ON WITH HIS BESSIE AND HIS BESSIE, UNTIL ONE
     WOULD THINK HE HAS NEVER A MOTHER IN THE WORLD.

   YOU WORE ROSES THEN, MOTHER.

   IF I DID NOT LOVE HER, I WOULD NOT GO AWAY.

   WITH THE DAWNING OF A NEW YEAR, BEGIN A NEW LIFE.

   DEAR LOVE, GOOD-BYE.

   TOTTIE IS READY TO TEAR OLD BEN SPARROW LIMB FROM LIMB.

   HERE AND THERE ARE FORGET-ME-NOTS.

   BATTLEDOOR AND SHUTTLECOCK.

   TOTTIE'S DREAM.

   I CAN SEE YOU NOW, KISSING HER LITTLE TOES.

   ONE KISS FOR HOPE, ONE FOR FAITH, AND ONE FOR LOVE.

   YOU ALONE, AND MY MOTHER, ARE TRUE; ALL THE REST OF THE
     WORLD IS FALSE.



PART II.

   THEY SAW, UPON ONE OF THE NEAREST PEAKS, A MAN STANDING, WITH
     SUNSET COLOURS ALL AROUND HIM.

   MORE PRECIOUS THAN GOLD, PURER THAN DIAMONDS, ARE THESE SWEET
     AND DELICATE WAYS.


PART III.

   I HAVE COME TO RETURN YOU SOMETHING.

   WELL, MOTHER, DO YOU WANT ANY WASHING DONE?

   THE MAN IN POSSESSION.

   SOFTLY, SWEETLY, PROCEEDS THE HYMN OF HOME.



[Frontispiece: "She grew to love these emerald leaves."]



                         _CHRISTMAS STORIES_.

                          *   *   *   *   *


                    BLADE-O'-GRASS. GOLDEN GRAIN.

                                 AND

                     BREAD AND CHEESE AND KISSES.

                                  BY

                            B. L. FARJEON,
                              AUTHOR OF
            "GRIF," "JOSHUA MARVEL," AND "LONDON'S HEART."

                          *   *   *   *   *



                               LONDON:
            TINSLEY BROTHERS, 8, CATHERINE STREET, STRAND.
                                1874.
                       [_All Rights reserved_.]



                           BLADE-O'-GRASS.

                          By B. L. FARJEON,
                AUTHOR OF 'GRIF' and 'JOSHUA MARVEL.'


[Illustration]


                            INTRODUCTION.

                            STONEY-ALLEY.



[Illustration]


In the heart of a very maze of courts and lanes Stoney-alley proclaims
itself. It is one of  multitude of deformed thoroughfares, which are
huddled together--by whim, or caprice, or in mockery--in a populous
part of the City, in utter defiance of all architectural rules. It is
regarded as an incontrovertible law, that everything must have a
beginning; and Stoney-alley could not have been an exception to this
law. It is certain that the alley and its surrounding courts and lanes
must once upon a time have been a space where houses were not; where,
perhaps, trees grew, and grass, and flowers. But it is difficult to
imagine; more difficult still to imagine how they were commenced, and
by what gradual means one wretched thoroughfare was added to another,
until they presented themselves to the world in the shapes and forms
they now bear; resembling an ungainly body with numerous limbs, every
one of which is twisted and deformed. Easier to fancy that they and
all the life they bear sprang up suddenly and secretly one dark night,
when Nature was in a sullen mood; and that being where they are,
firmly rooted, they have remained, unchangeable and unchanging, from
generation to generation. Records exist of fair islands rising from
the sea, clothed with verdure and replete with animal fife; but this
is the bright aspect of phenomena which are regarded as delusions by
many sober persons. Putting imagination aside, therefore, as a thing
of small account in these days (if only for the purpose of satisfying
unbelievers), and coming to plain matter of fact, it is not to be
doubted that Stoney-alley and its fellows grew upon earth's surface,
and did sot spring up, ready-made, from below--although, truth to
tell, it was worthy of such a creation. In the natural course of
things, the neighbourhood must have had architects and builders; but
no record of them is extant, and none is necessary for the purposes of
this story. Sufficient that Stoney-alley rears its ugly body--though
lowly withal--in the very heart of London, and that it may be seen any
day in the week in its worst aspect. It has no other: it is always at
its worst.

Out of it crawl, from sunrise until midnight, men and women, who, when
they emerge into the wide thoroughfare which may be regarded as its
parent, not uncommonly pause for a few moments, or shade their eyes
with their hands, or look about them strangely, as if they have
received a surprise, or as if the different world in which they find
themselves requires consideration. Into it crawl, from sunrise until
midnight, the same men and women, who, it may be observed, draw their
breath more freely when they are away from the wide thoroughfares, and
who plunge into Stoney-alley as dusty, heat-worn travellers might
plunge into a refreshing bath, where the cool waters bring relief to
the parched skin. What special comfort these men and women find there,
would be matter for amazement to hundreds of thousands of other men
and women whose ways of life, happily, lie in pleasanter places. But
Stoney-alley, to these crawlers, is Home.

Its houses could never have been bright; its pavements and roads--for
it has those, though rough specimens, like their treaders--could never
have been fresh. Worn-out stones and bricks, having served their time
elsewhere and been cashiered, were probably brought into requisition
here to commence a new and unclean life. No cart had ever been seen in
Stoney-alley: it was too narrow for one. A horse had once lived
there--a spare sad blind horse belonging to a costermonger, who worked
his patient servant sixteen hours a-day, and fed it upon Heaven knows
what. It was a poor patient creature; and as it trudged along, with
its head down, it seemed by its demeanour to express an understanding
of its meanness. That it was blind may have been a merciful
dispensation; for, inasmuch as we do not know for certain whether such
beasts can draw comparisons as well as carts, it may have been spared
the pangs of envy and bitterness, which it might have experienced at
the sight of the well-fed horses that passed it on the road. It was as
thin as a live horse well could be--so thin, that a cat might have
been forgiven for looking at it with contempt, as being likely to
serve no useful purpose after its worldly trudgings were ended. Its
mane was the raggedest mane that ever was seen; and it had no tail.
What of its hair had not been appropriated by its master the
costermonger, had been plucked out ruthlessly, from time to time, by
sundry boys and girls in Stoney-alley--being incited thereto by an
ingenious youth, who plaited the horsehair into watchguards, and who
paid his young thieves in weak liquorice-water, at the rate of a
teaspoonful for every dozen hairs--long ones--from the unfortunate
horse's tail. For years had this poor beast been wont to stumble over
the stones in Stoney-alley when its day's work was over, and wait like
a human being before its master's house for the door to open--rubbing
its nose gently up and down the panels when a longer delay than usual
occurred. The door being opened, it used to enter the narrow passage,
and fill the house with thunderous sound as it walked into a little
dirty yard, where a few charred boards (filched from a fire) had been
tacked together in the form of a shed, which offered large hospitality
to wind and rain. In this shed the wretched beast took its ease and
enjoyed its leisure, and died one night so quietly and unexpectedly,
that the costermonger, when he learnt the fact in the morning, cursed
it for an ungrateful 'warmint,' and declared that if his dumb servant
had yesterday shown any stronger symptoms of dying than it had usually
exhibited, he would have sold it for 'two-pun-ten to Jimmy the
Tinman.' So deeply was he impressed by the ingratitude of the animal,
that he swore he would have nothing more to do with the breed; and he
bought a donkey--a donkey with such a vicious temper, and such an
obstinate disposition, that the costermonger, in his endeavours to
render it submissive, became as fond of it as if it were one of his
own kindred, and soon grew to treat it in exactly the same manner as
he treated his wife. It would have been difficult, indeed, to decide
which was the more important creature of the two--the wife or the
donkey; for on two distinct occasions the costermonger was summoned
before magistrate--once for ill-treating his wife, and once for
ill-treating his donkey--and the sentence pronounced on each occasion
was precisely the same. It may be noted as a curious contrast
(affording no useful lesson that I am aware of), that when the
costermonger came out of prison for ill-treating his wife, he went
home and beat the poor creature unmercifully, who sat sobbing her
heart out in a corner the while; and that when he came out of prison
for ill-treating his donkey, he went into the rickety shed in his
back-yard and belaboured the obstinate brute with a heavy stick. But
the donkey, cunning after its kind, watched its opportunity, and gave
the costermonger such a spiteful kick, that he walked lame for three
months afterwards.

It would be unfair to the costermonger not to state, that he was not
the only husband in those thoroughfares who was in the habit of
beating his wife. He was but one of a very numerous Brute family, in
whose breasts mercy finds no dwelling-place, and who marry and bring
up children in their own form and likeness, morally as well as
physically. It is to be lamented that, when the inhumanity of the
members of this prolific family is brought before the majesty of the
law for judgment--as is done every day of our lives--the punishment
meted out is generally light and insignificant as compared to the
offence. Yet it may be answered, that these wife-beaters and general
Brutes were children once; and the question may be asked, Whether,
taking into consideration that no opportunity was offered to them of
acquiring a knowledge of a better condition of things, they are fully
responsible for their actions now that they are men? We wage war
against savage beasts for our own protection. But how about savage
men, who might have been taught better--who might have been humanised?
We press our thumb upon them, and make laws to punish the exercise of
their lawless passions. But have they no case against us? Is all the
right on our side, and all the wrong on theirs? That the problem is an
old one, is the more to be lamented; every year, nay, every hour, its
roots are striking deeper and deeper into the social stratum. The
proverb, 'when things are quiet, let them be quiet,' is a bad proverb,
like many others which are accepted as wisdom's essence. Not by a
man's quiet face, but by his busy brain and heart, do we judge him. If
there be benevolence in statesmanship, the problem should be
considered in its entirety, without delay. By and by it may be too
late.



                               PART I.



               A STRANGE EVENT OCCURS IN STONEY-ALLEY.


Delicate feather-flakes of snow were floating gently down over all the
City. In some parts the snow fell white and pure, and so remained for
many hours. In other parts, no sooner did it reach the ground than it
was converted into slush--losing its purity, and becoming instantly
defiled. This was its fate in Stoney-alley; yet even there, as it
rested upon the roofs and eaves, it was fresh and beautiful for a
time. In which contrasted aspects a possible suggestion might arise of
the capability of certain things for grace and holiness, if they are
not trodden into the mire.

An event had just occurred in Stoney-alley which was the occasion of
much excitement. This was nothing more or less than the birth of
twin-girls in one of the meanest houses in the alley. The mother, a
poor sickly woman, whose husband had deserted her, was so weakened and
prostrated by her confinement, and by the want of nourishing food,
that she lived but a dozen days after the birth of her babes. No one
knew where the father was; he and his wife had not lived long in the
neighbourhood, and what was known of him was not to his credit,
although with a certain class he was not unpopular. He was lazy, surly
fellow, who passed his waking hours in snarling at the better
condition of things by which he was surrounded. The sight of carriage
made his blood boil with envy; notwithstanding which he took delight
in walking in the better thoroughfares of the City, and feeding his
soul with the bitter sight of well-dressed people and smiling faces.
Then he would come back to his proper home, and snarl at society to
pot-house audiences, and in his own humble room would make his unhappy
wife unhappier by his reviling and discontent He called himself
working-man, but had as much right to the title as the vagabond-beggar
who, dressed in broadcloth, is wheeled about in an easy-chair, in the
West-end of London, and who (keeping a sharp look-out for the police
the while) exhibits placard proclaiming himself to be a respectable
commercial traveller, who has lost the use of his limbs. He traded
upon the title, however, and made some little money out of it, hoping
by and by to make more, when he had become sufficiently notorious as a
public agitator. In the mean time, he (perhaps out of revenge upon
society) deserted his wife when she was near her confinement, and left
her to the mercy of strangers. She could not very well have fared
worse than she did in that tender charge. She bore two babes, and died
without a sign.

The mother was buried the day before Christmas, and the babes were
left to chance charity. There were many women lodgers in the house in
which the twin-girls had been born; but not one of them was rich
enough to take upon herself the encumbrance of two such serious
responsibilities. The station-house was spoken of, the Foundling, the
workhouse; but not a soul was daring enough to carry out one of the
suggestions. This arose from a fear of consequences--in the shape
perhaps of an acknowledged personal responsibility, which might prove
troublesome in the event of the station-house, the workhouse, or the
Foundling refusing to take charge of the infants. Moses in the
bulrushes was not in a worse plight than these unfortunate babes in
Stoney-alley.

What on earth was to be done with them? Every person in the house
might get into trouble, if they were left to die. The house, small as
it was, accommodated five or six distinct families--each occupying
room--in addition to two bachelors--one a vagrant, the other hawker in
cheap glassware. These last could not be expected to assume the
slightest shadow of responsibility. At length, a bright idea struck a
charitable woman in the house. Armed only with calico apron with a
large bib and an immense pocket in front (like stomacher), the
charitable soul went about to solicit contributions in aid of the
infants. As she walked round and about the narrow alleys and courts,
soliciting from everybody, she made quite a stir in the neighbourhood
by the vigorous manner in which she rattled the coppers in her
capacious pocket. A great many gave, farthings and halfpence being in
the ascendant--the largest contribution being given by the bachelor
vagrant above mentioned, who gave twopence with the air of a
gentleman--better still, with the true spirit of one; for he gave more
than he could afford, and took no glory to himself for the action.
Attracted by the rattle of the coppers, a singular-looking little man,
with a shrivelled face, came to the door of his shop, and was
instantly accosted by the kindhearted soul.

'_You'll_ give a copper or two, I know, Mr. Virtue,' said the woman.

'Then you know more than I do,' replied the man. 'I don't give. I
lend.'

'What'll you lend on 'em, then?' asked the woman good-humouredly.

'Lend on what?'

'On the poor little twins that was born in our house a fortnight ago?'

'O, that's what you're up to,' exclaimed the man, whose eyes were the
most extraordinary pair that ever were seen in human face--for one was
as mild as London milk, and the other glared like  fury. 'That's what
you're up to. Collectin' for them brats afore they learn to tell lies
for theirselves.'

'They're as sweet a pair as ever you see,' said the woman. 'Just give
it a thought, Mr. Virtue; you're a man o' sense----'

'Yah!' from the man, in the most contemptuous of tones, and with the
fiercest of glares from his furious eye.

'There they are, without  mother, as 'elpless as 'elpless can be,'
persisted the woman, with  wonderful display of cheerfulness. 'Come,
now, you'll give a copper although you _do_ look so grumpy.'

The cynic turned into his dark shop at this last appeal, but as he
turned a penny dropped from his pocket. The woman picked it up with a
pleasant laugh, and adding it to her store proceeded on her charitable
mission. But industrious and assiduous as she was, the sum-total
collected was very small; about sufficient to keep the infants for
half a week. The kindhearted woman took the babes, and nursed them
_pro tem_. She had a family of dirty children of her own, who were
bringing themselves up in the gutters; for she could not attend to
them, so fully was her time occupied in other ways. She could not,
therefore, be expected to take permanent charge of the motherless
babes. And so her husband told her, grumblingly, when he came home
from his work on Christmas-eve. All that she said was, 'Poor little
things!' and fell to--rough as she was--detecting imaginary beauties
in the babies' faces--a common trick of mothers, which no man can
afford to be cross with, especially in his own wife, and the woman who
has borne him children.

'Can't put 'em out in the cold, the pretty dears!' said the woman
tenderly.

'We've got enough of our own,' responded her husband not unkindly, and
yet with a certain firmness; 'and there's more coming--worse luck!'
But these last two words he said beneath his breath, and his wife did
not hear them.

'All the more reason for being kind to these,' said the woman.
'They'll be handsome girls when they grow up. Look'ee here, Sam, this
one's got a dimple, just like--like----' Her voice trailed off softly,
and her husband knew that she was thinking of their first-born, that
had lived but a few weeks.

I am aware that it is the fashion with a large class to regard the
portrayal of sentiment among very common people as fanciful and untrue
to nature. I differ from this class, I am glad to say. True love for
women, and true tenderness for children, are common to all of us,
whether high or low. Cynics cannot alter what is natural--in others.

The man felt kindly towards his wife and the babes, but he was not at
all inclined to saddle himself with a couple of ready-made infants. He
saw, however, that his wife was in a foolishly tender mood, and he let
the subject drop for the present.

It may have been eight o'clock in the white night, and the bright snow
was still falling like feathers from angels' wings, when at the door
of the house in which the twins had been born and the mother had died,
a lady and gentleman stopped, and, obtaining entrance, asked for the
landlady. Unmistakably lady and gentleman, though plainly dressed. Not
highly born, but as truly lady and gentleman as the best in the land.
They were strangers to the landlady of the house; but she rose the
instant they entered her apartment, and remained standing during the
interview.

'We have to apologise for this intrusion,' commenced the lady, in a
gentle voice; 'but although we are strangers to you, we are not here
out of rudeness.'

'I'm sure of that, ma'am,' replied the landlady, dusting two chairs
with her apron. 'Will you and the gentleman take a seat?'

'This is my husband,' said the lady, seating herself. 'Every year, on
the anniversary of this evening, with the exception of last year, we
have been in the habit of coming to some such place as this, where
only poor people live----'

'Ah, you may say that, ma'am! The poorest!'

----'It is so, unfortunately. God help them! Every year until the last
we have been in the habit of coming to some such place in furtherance
of a scheme--a whim, perhaps, you'll call it--the development of which
gives us the chief pleasure of our lives. We have no family of our
own, no children that can properly call me mother and my husband
father; so every year we adopt one and bring it up. We have six now,
as many as we have been able to keep; for last year we lost part of
our means through unwise speculation, for which I and my husband were
equally to blame----'

'I'm sorry to hear that, ma'am,' interposed the landlady
sympathisingly, standing in an attentive attitude, with the corner of
her apron between her fingers.

'And having as many little responsibilities on us as our means would
enable us to take proper care of, we were unable to add another to our
family of little ones. But this year a fortunate thing has occurred to
us. A kind friend has placed a small sum at our disposal, which will
enable us to take a seventh child, and rear it in comfort and
respectability.'

'And a lucky child that seventh 'ull be,' remarked the landlady. 'I'm
a seventh child myself, and so was my mother before me, and we was
both born on a 7th.'

The lady smiled, and continued,

'Every child we have is an orphan, without father or mother, which we
believe to be necessary for the proper furtherance of our scheme. We
feed them and nourish them properly--indeed, as if they were really
our own--and when they are old enough, they will be put to some
respectable occupation, which will render them independent of the
world. Among the many poor children round about here, do you know of
one who, having no natural protectors, would be bettered by coming
under our charge? These letters will satisfy you of our fitness for
the task, and that we are in earnest.'

'Lord bless me!' exclaimed the landlady, impelled to that exclamation
by sudden thought of the twins upstairs, and not casting a glance at
the papers which were placed in her hands. 'You don't mean what you
say?'

'Indeed, we do. You will be kind enough to understand that we do not
desire to take a child who has parents living, but one whom hard
circumstance has placed in the world friendless and alone. These poor
courts and alleys abound in children----'

'Ah, that they do; and a nice pest they are, a many on 'em. They're as
thick as fleas.'

----'And at this season it is good to think of them, and to try to do
some little thing in their behalf. It is but little that we can
do--very, very little. Do you know of such a child as we seek for
now?'

'A girl?

'A girl or boy.'

'God Almighty bless you, ma'am!' cried the landlady. 'Stop here
minute, and I'll let you know.'


[Illustration]


She ran in haste upstairs to where her kind-hearted lodger was nursing
the twins.

'I beg you a thousand pardons, Mrs. Manning,' she said, panting, 'and
you too, Mr. Manning, and I wish you a merry Christmas, and many on
'em! I'm that out of breath and that astonished, that I don't know if
I'm on my head or my heels. Stay a minute, my good souls; I'll be back
in a jiffey.'

With that, she ran out of the room and downstairs, to assure herself
that her visitors had not flown, or that she had not been dreaming.
Having satisfied herself she ran upstairs again, and sat down, in
more panting state than before.

'I thought I was dreaming, and that they was apparitions.' she gasped.

Mr. Manning, being one of those Englishmen who look upon their
habitations as their castles, was inclined to resent these intrusions.
Unconsciously throwing a large amount of aggressiveness in his tone
and manner, he asked his landlady if he owed her any rent, and
received for answer, No, that he didn't, and the expression of a wish
that everybody was like him in this respect.

'Very well, then,' said Mr. Manning, not at all mollified by the
landlady's compliment, and speaking so surlily that (as the landlady
afterwards said, in relating the circumstance) if it had not been for
her being out of breath and for thinking of those two precious babes,
he would have 'put her back up' there and then; 'if I don't owe you
anything, what do you mean by coming bouncing into my room in this
manner?'

'I asks your pardon,' said the landlady, with dignity; but instantly
softening as she thought of her visitors down-stairs; 'but you've got
a 'art in your bosom, and you've got the feelings of a father. The
long and the short of it is'----and here she proceeded to explain the
visit she had had, and the object of her visitors. 'Ah, Mr. Manning,'
she continued, following the direction of his eyes towards the two
babes lying in his wife's lap, 'you've got the same idea as I had in
coming up here. Here's these two blessed babes, with no mother, and no
father to speak of; for I don't believe he'll ever turn up. What's to
become of 'em? Who's to take care of 'em? I'm sure you can't.'

'No, that I can't; and don't intend to.'

'And no one expects you, sir. You've got a big-enough family of your
own. Well, here's this lady and gentleman setting downstairs this
blessed minute as wants a child, and as'll do what's right and proper
by it.'

'But there's a pair of 'em. Won't they take the two?'

'One they said, and one they mean. They can't hardly afford that, they
said. And I'm as certain as I am that I'm setting here, that if they
knew there was two of 'em, they wouldn't part 'em for the world. No,
they'd go somewhere else; and the chance 'd be lost.'

'But they want a child that ain't got no father nor mother. Now, these
young uns have a father; and that you know.'

'No, I don't; I don't know nothing of the kind. 'Taint the first story
I've told by a many,' said the landlady, in answer to Mr. Manning's
look of astonishment; 'and I don't mind telling this one to do a
little baby good.'

'What's to become of the other? 'We'll look after her between us.

One'll take her one day, and one another. Lord bless you, Mr.
Manning, we shall be able to manage.'

'And if the father comes back?'

'I'll get the lady's address, and give it to him; and then he can do
as he likes.'

'It's the best thing that can be done; said Mr. Manning; 'though I've
nothing to do with it, mind you; it's none of my business. I've got
troubles enough of my own. But it ain't every young un that gets such
a chance.'

'No, that it ain't;' and the landlady pulled her chair close to that
of Mrs. Manning. 'Which shall it be, my dear?'

This proved to be a very difficult question to answer. First they
decided that it was to be this one, then that; then soft-hearted Mrs.
Manning began to cry, and said it was a sin to part them. And the
babes lay sleeping unconsciously the while this momentous point was
being discussed, the decision of which might condemn one to want and
dirt and misery--to crime perhaps--and the other to a career where
good opportunity might produce a happy and virtuous life. At length it
was decided, and one was chosen; but when the landlady prepared to
take the child, she found that the fingers of the babes were tightly
interlaced; so she left them in Mrs. Manning's lap, with instructions
to get the chosen one ready, and went down to her visitors.

'Poor child!' said the lady, at the conclusion of the landlady's
recital; 'and the mother was only buried yesterday!'

'Only yesterday, ma'am,' responded the landlady; 'and the dear little
thing is left without a friend. There's not one of us that wouldn't be
glad to take care of it; but we're too poor, ma'am; and that's the
fact.'

'The child's younger than we could have wished,' mused the lady, with
a glance at her husband; 'but it would seem like a cruel desertion,
now that we have heard its sad story.'

Her husband nodded, and the landlady, keenly watchful, said eagerly:

'I'll bring it down to you, ma'am. One of the lodgers is nursing it;
but her husband's grumbling at her, and making her miserable about it
He says he's got enough of his own; and so he has.'

By this time Mrs. Manning had the baby ready--she had dressed the
child in some old baby-clothes of her own--and before she let it go
out of her arms, she said, as if the little thing could understand:

'Kiss sister, baby. You'll never see her again, perhaps; and if you
do, you won't know her.'

She placed their lips close together; and at that moment they opened
their eyes, and smiled prettily on one another. The man and the two
women stood by, gazing earnestly at the babes. Tears were in Mrs.
Manning's eyes, as she witnessed the strange parting; the landlady was
silent and pensive; and the man, with his hands behind him, seemed to
be suddenly engrossed in the consideration of some social problem,
which he found too perplexing for him. His wife raised the fortunate
babe to his face.

'A happy New-year to you, little un,' said the not unkindly man, as he
kissed the child.

'Suppose they were our'n, Sam,' said his wife, softly and tearfully;
'we shouldn't like this to happen.'

'But they're not our'n,' replied her husband; 'and that makes all the
difference.'

And yet there was a wistful expression on his face, as the landlady
took the baby out of the room.

'I've kept the prettiest one,' his wife whispered to him--'the one
with the dimple.'


The lady and gentleman--she with her new charge wrapped in her warm
shawl, and pressed closely to her bosom--walked briskly through the
cold air towards their home, which lay in a square, about a mile
from Stoney-alley. In the centre of the square was a garden, the
wood-growth in which, though bare of leaves, looked as beautiful in
their white mantle as ever they had done in their brightest summer.
The snow-lined trees stood out boldly, yet gracefully, and their every
branch, fringed in purest white, was an emblem of loveliness. They
gleamed grandly in the moon's light, mute witnesses of the greatness
of Him whose lightest work is an evidence of perfect wisdom and
goodness.



             HOW SHE ACQUIRED THE NAME OF BLADE-O'-GRASS.


Thus, whilst one little babe was tended and watched by benevolent
hands and eyes, the fate of the other--the prettier one, she with the
unfortunate dimple--was intrusted to the shapeless hands of chance. To
such tender care as had happily fallen to its lot, the fortunate one
may be left for a time. Turn we to the other, and watch its strange
bringing-up.

Proverbially, too many cooks spoil the broth; and this forlorn babe
was left to the care of too many cooks, who, however, in this
instance, did not spoil the broth by meddling with it, but by almost
utterly neglecting it. The landlady's declaration that 'We'll look
after her between us; one'll take her one day, and one another,'
although uttered in all sincerity, turned out badly in its
application. What is everybody's business is nobody's business, and
for the most part the babe was left to take care of herself. For a
little while Mrs. Manning was the child's only friend; but in the
course of a couple of months she fulfilled her husband's apprehension,
and added another bantling to his already overstocked quiver. This new
arrival (which, it must be confessed, was not received with gratitude
by its father) was so fractious, and so besieged by a complication of
infantile disorders, that all Mrs. Manning's spare moments were fully
occupied, and she had none to devote to other people's children. The
motherless child threatened to fare badly indeed. But now and again a
mother who had lost her offspring came to the little stranger and
suckled her; so that she drew life from many bosoms, and may be said
to have had at least a score of wet-nurses. And thus she grew up
almost literally in the gutters, no one owning her, no one really
caring for her; and yet she throve, as weeds thrive--while her sister,
not a mile away, throve, in the care of kind friends, as flowers
thrive. Born in equality, with the same instincts for good and evil,
with the same capacity for good and evil, equally likely to turn out
good or bad, should it have been left entirely to chance that one
might live to prove a blessing, and the other a curse, to society? But
so it was.

One of the most curious circumstances connected with the little
outcast was, that she was not known by any settled name. It grew to be
a fashion to call her by all sorts of names--now Polly, now Sally, now
Young Hussy, now Little Slut, and by a dozen others, not one of which
remained to her for any length of time. But when she was three years
of age, an event occurred which played the part of godmothers and
godfathers to her, and which caused her to receive a title by which
she was always afterwards known.

There was not a garden in Stoney-alley. Not within the memory of
living man had a flower been known to bloom there. There were many
poor patches of ground, crowded as the neighbourhood was, which might
have been devoted to the cultivation of a few bright petals; but they
were allowed to lie fallow, festering in the sun. Thought of graceful
form and colour had never found expression there. Strange, therefore,
that one year, when Summer was treading close upon the heel of Spring,
sending warm sweet winds to herald her coming, there should spring up,
in one of the dirtiest of all the backyards in Stoney-alley, two or
three Blades of Grass. How they came there, was a mystery. No human
hand was accountable for their presence. It may be that a bird, flying
over the place, had mercifully dropped a seed; or that a kind wind had
borne it to the spot. But however they came, there they were, these
Blades of Grass, peeping up from the ground shyly and wonderingly, and
giving promise of bright colour, even in the midst of the unwholesome
surroundings. Our little castaway--she was no better--now three years
of age, was sprawling in this dirty backyard with a few other
children, all of them regular students of Dirt College. Attracted by
the little bit of colour, she crawled to the spot where it shone in
the light, and straightway fell to watching it and inhaling, quite
unconsciously, whatever of grace it possessed. Once or twice she
touched the tender blades, and seemed to be pleased to find them soft
and pliant. The other children, delighted at having the monopoly of a
gutter, that ran through the yard, did not disturb her; and so she
remained during the day, watching and wondering; and fell asleep by
the side of the Blades of Grass, and dreamed perhaps of brighter
colours and more graceful forms than had ever yet found place in her
young imagination. The next day she made her way again to the spot,
and seeing that the blades had grown a little, wondered and wondered,
and unconsciously exercised that innate sense of worship of the
beautiful which is implanted in every nature, and which causes the
merest babes to rejoice at light, and shapes of beauty, and harmony of
sound. What is more wonderful, in the eyes of a babe, than vivid
colour or light, however kindled? what more sweet to its senses than
that perfect harmony of sound which falls upon its ears as the mother
sings softly and lulls her darling to sleep? This latter blessing had
never fallen to the lot of our child; but colour and light were given
to her, and she was grateful for them. She grew to love these emerald
leaves, and watched them day after day, until the women round about
observed and commented upon her strange infatuation. But one evening,
when the leaves were at their brightest and strongest, a man, running
hastily through the yard, crushed the blades of grass beneath his
heel, and tore them from the earth. The grief of the child was
intense. She cast a passionate yet bewildered look at the man, and
picking up the torn soiled blades, put them in the breast of her
ragged frock, in the belief that warmth would bring them back to life.
She went to bed with the mangled leaves in her hot hand, and when she
looked at them the next morning, they bore no resemblance to the
bright leaves which had been such a delight to her. She went to the
spot where they had grown, and cried without knowing why; and the man
who had destroyed the leaves happening to pass at the time, she struck
at him with her little fists. He pushed her aside rather roughly with
his foot, and Mrs. Manning, seeing this, and having also seen the
destruction of the leaves, and the child's worship of them, blew him
up for his unkindness. He merely laughed, and said he wouldn't have
done it if he had looked where he was going, and that it was a good
job for the child that she wasn't a Blade-o'-Grass herself, or she
might have been trodden down with the others. The story got about the
alley, and one and another, at first in fun or derision, began to call
the child Little Blade-o'-Grass, until, in course of time, it came to
be recognised as her regular name, and she was known by it all over
the neighbourhood. So, being thus strangely christened, Little
Blade-o'-Grass grew in years and in ignorance, and became a worthy
member of Dirt College, in which school she was matriculated for the
battle of life.



                       THE LEGEND OF THE TIGER.


At a very early age indeed was Blade-o'-Grass compelled to begin the
battle of life. Her greatest misfortune was that, as she grew in
years, she grew strong. Had she been a weakly little thing, some one
might have taken pity on her, and assumed the responsibility of
maintaining her. The contingency was a remote one; but all chance of
benefiting by it was utterly destroyed, because she was strong and
hardy. She may be said to have had some sort of a home up to the time
that she attained the age of nine years; for a corner for her to sleep
in was always found in the house in which she was born. But about that
time certain important changes took place, which materially affected
her, although she had no hand in them. The landlady gave up the house,
and some one else took it, and turned it into a shop. The lodgers all
received notice to leave, and went elsewhere to live. A great slice of
luck fell to the share of Mr. Manning. An uncle whom he had never seen
died in a distant land, and left his money to his relatives; and a
shrewd lawyer made good pickings by hunting up nephews and nieces of
the deceased. Among the rest, he hunted up Mr. Manning, and one day he
handed his client a small sum of money. Mr. Manning put his suddenly
acquired wealth to a good purpose--he got passage in a government
emigrant ship, and with his wife and large family, bade good-bye for
ever to Stoney-alley. He left the country, as hundreds and thousands
of others have done, with a bitter feeling in his heart because he was
not able to stop in it, and earn a decent livelihood; but, as hundreds
and thousands of others have done, he lived this feeling down, and in
his new home, with better prospects and better surroundings, talked of
his native land--meaning Stoney-alley--as the 'old country,' in terms
of affection and as if he had been treated well in it. It will be
easily understood that when Blade-o'-Grass lost Mrs. Manning, she lost
her best friend.

To say that she passed an easy life up to this point of her career
would be to state what is false. The child was in continual disgrace,
and scarcely a day passed that was not watered with her tears. Blows,
smacks, and harsh words were administered to her freely, until she
grew accustomed to them, and they lost their moral force. She deserved
them, for she was the very reverse of a good little girl. In a great
measure her necessities made her what she was, and no counteracting
influence for good approached her. If she were sent for beer, she
would stop at corners, and taste and sip, and bring home short
measure. There was something fearful in her enjoyment; but she had no
power nor desire to resist the temptation. No tragedy queen, before
the consummation of the final horror, ever looked round with more
watchful, wary, fearsome gaze than did Blade-o'-Grass, when, having
nerved her soul to take a sip of beer, she stopped at a convenient
corner, or in the shadow of a dark doorway, to put her desire into
execution. And then she was always breaking things. The mugs she let
fall would have paved Stoney-alley. But there was a greater temptation
than beer: Bread. If she were sent for a half-quartern loaf, she
would not fail to dig out with liberal fingers the soft portions
between the crusts, and eagerly devour them. Even if she had not been
hungry--which would have been a white-letter day in her existence--she
would have done from habit what she almost invariably was urged to do
by the cravings of her stomach. And about that unfortunate stomach of
hers, calumnies were circulated and believed in. So persistent an
eater was Blade-o'-Grass, so conscientious a devourer of anything
that, legitimately or otherwise, came in her way--quality being not of
the slightest object--that a story got about that she had 'something'
in her inside, some living creature of a ravenous nature, that waited
for the food as she swallowed it, and instantly devoured it for its
own sustenance. Such things had been known of. At some remote period a
girl in the neighbourhood--whose personality was never traced, but
whom everybody believed in--had had such an animal--a few called it a
'wolf,' but the majority insisted that it was a 'tiger'--growing
inside of her, and this animal, so the story went, grew and grew, and
fed upon the girl's life till it killed her. The 'tiger' had been
found alive after the girl's death, and having been purchased of some
one for a fabulous price, was embalmed in a bottle in a great museum,
of which nobody knew the name or the whereabouts. As an allegory, this
'tiger' might have served to illustrate the mournful story of the
lives of Blade-o'-Grass and thousands of her comrades--it might have
served, indeed, to point a bitter moral; but there was nothing
allegorical about the inhabitants of Stoney-alley. They only dealt in
hard matter-of-fact, and the mythical story was fully believed in; and
being applied to the case of Blade-o'-Grass, became a great terror to
her. Many persons found delight in tormenting the helpless child about
her 'tiger,' and for a long time the slightest allusion to it was
sufficient to cause her the most exquisite anguish, in consequence of
certain malevolent declarations, that she ought to be cut open
and have the tiger taken out of her. Indeed, one miserable old
fellow, who kept a rag-shop, and who had in his window two or three
dust-coated bottles containing common-place reptiles preserved in
spirits-of-wine, took a malicious pleasure in declaring that the
operation ought to be really performed upon Blade-o'-Grass, and that,
in the interests of science, she ought not to be allowed to live. It
was the cruelest of sport thus to torture the poor child; for the
simple fact was, that Blade-o'-Grass was nearly always hungry. It was
nature tugging at her stomach--not a tiger.

The very first night of Mrs. Manning's departure, Blade-o'-Grass found
herself without a bed. With a weary wretched sense of desolation upon
her, she lingered about the old spot where she used to sleep, and even
ventured to enter at the back of the house, when the sharp 'Come, get
out o' this!' of the new proprietor sent her flying away. She belonged
to nobody, and nobody cared for her; so she wandered and lingered
about until all the lights in the shops and houses were out. She had
gleaned some small pleasure in watching these lights; she had found
comfort in them; and when they were all extinguished and she was in
darkness, she trembled under the impulse of a vague terror. She did
not cry; it was not often now that she called upon the well of tender
feeling where tears lay; but she was terrified. There was not a star
in the sky to comfort her. She was in deep darkness, body and soul.
How many others are there at this present moment in the same terrible
condition?


[Illustration]


Too full of fear to stand upright, she crept along the ground slowly,
feeling her way by the walls, stopping every now and then to gather
fresh courage, at which time she tried to shut out her fears by
cowering close to the flagstones and hiding her face in her ragged
frock. She had a purpose in view. She had thought of a refuge where
she would find some relief from the terrible shadows. Towards that
refuge she was creeping now. It was a long, long time before she
reached her haven--a crazy old lamp-post, the dim light of which was
in keeping with the general poverty of its surroundings. At the foot
of this lamp-post, clasping it as if it were the symbol of a sacred
refuge, Blade-o'-Grass looked up at the light in agony of speechless
gratitude, and then, wearied almost to a state of unconsciousness,
coiled herself up into a ball, like a hedgehog, and soon was fast
asleep.



                       THE BATTLE OF LIFE.


What followed? Remorseless Time pursued his way, and the minutes,
light to some, heavy to some, leaving in their track a train of woe
and joy, and grief and happiness; the leaden minutes, the golden
minutes, flew by until daylight came and woke the sleeping child.
Unwashed--but that was her chronic condition, and did not affect
her--forlorn, uncared-for, Blade-o'-Grass looked round upon her world,
and rubbed her eyes, and yawned; then, after a time, rose to her feet,
and cast quick eager glances about her. The tiger in her stomach was
awake and stirring, and Blade-o'-Grass had no food to give it to
satisfy its cravings. She prowled up and down, and round and about the
dirty courts, in search of something to eat; anything would have more
than contented her--mouldy crust, refuse food; but the stones of
Stoney-alley and its fellows were merciless, and no manna fell from
heaven to bless the famished child. She would have puzzled the wisest
philosopher in social problems, if he were not utterly blinded by
theory; for, looking at her from every aspect, and taking into
account, not only that she was endowed with mental, moral, and
physical faculties, but that she was a human being with a soul 'to be
saved,' he could have produced but one result from her--a yearning for
food. He could have struck no other kind of fire from out of this
piece of flint. What resemblance did Blade-o'-Grass bear to that
poetical image which declared her to be noble in reason, infinite in
faculty, express and admirable in form and bearing; like an angel in
action; like a god in apprehension? The beauty of the world! the
paragon of animals! Perhaps it will be best for us not to examine too
curiously, for there is shame in the picture of this child-girl
prowling about for food. Poor Blade-o'-Grass! with every minute the
tiger in her stomach grew more rabid, and tore at her vitals
tigerishly. In the afternoon she found a rotten apple in the gutter,
and she stooped and picked it up, joy glistening in her eyes. It was a
large apple, fortunately, and she devoured it eagerly, and afterwards
chewed the stalk. That was all the food she got that day; and when
night came, and she had watched the lights out, she coiled herself up
into a ball by the side of her lamp-post again and slept, and awoke in
the morning, sick with craving. Yesterday's experience whispered to
her not to look about for food in Stoney-alley; and she walked, with
painful steps into the wider thoroughfare, and stopped for a few
minutes to recover herself from her astonishment at the vast world in
which she found herself. She would have been content to stop there all
the day, but that the tiger cried for food, and she cried for food in
sympathy with the tiger. Keeping her eyes fixed upon the ground, and
never once raising her pitiful face to the faces that flashed past
her, hither and thither, she faltered onwards for a hundred yards or
so, and then, in a frightened manner, retraced her steps, so that she
should not lose herself. 'Give me food!' cried the tiger, and 'Give me
food!' cried Blade-o'-Grass from the innermost depths of her soul. At
about ten o'clock in the morning, her cry was answered; she saw a
cats'-meat man with a basket full of skewered meat hanging upon his
arm. Instinctively she followed him, and watched the cats running to
the doors at the sound of his voice, and waiting with arched backs and
dilating eyes for his approach. Blade-o'-Grass wished with all her
heart and soul that _she_ were a cat, so that she might receive her
portion upon a skewer; but no such happiness was hers. She followed
the man wistfully and hungeringly, until he stopped at the door of a
house where there were evidently arrears of account to be settled. He
placed his basket upon the doorstep, and went into the passage to give
some change to the woman of the house. Here was an opportunity for
Blade-o'-Grass. She crept stealthily and fearfully towards the basket,
and snatching up two portions of cats'-meat, ran for her life, with
her stolen food hidden in her tattered frock--ran until she reached
Stoney-alley, where she sank to the ground with her heart leaping at
her throat, and where, after recovering her breath, she devoured her
ill-gotten meat with unbounded satisfaction. She had no idea that she
had done a wrong thing. She was hungry, and had simply taken food when
the opportunity presented itself. The fear by which she had been
impressed had not sprung from any moral sense, but partly from the
thought that the man would hurt her if he caught her taking his
property, and partly from the thought (more agonising than the other)
that she might be prevented from carrying out her design. The next day
she watched for and followed the cats'-meat man again, and again was
successful in obtaining a meal; and so on for a day or two afterwards.
But the food was not over nice, and the tiger whispered to her that a
change would be agreeable. Success made her bold, and she looked about
her for other prey. Her first venture, after the cats'-meat man lost
her patronage, was an old woman who kept an apple-stall, and who went
to sleep as regularly as clockwork every afternoon at three o'clock
and woke at five. But even in her sleep this old apple-woman seemed to
be wary, and now and then would mumble out with drowsy energy, 'Ah,
would yer? I sees yer!' as if the knowledge that she was surrounded by
suspicious characters whose mouths watered for her fruit had eaten
into her soul. But as these exclamations to terrify poachers were
mumbled out when the old woman really was in an unconscious state, she
fell an easy victim to Blade-o'-Grass. She was a great treasure to the
little girl, for she dealt in nuts and oranges as well as apples. Then
there was a woman who sold a kind of cake designated 'jumbles,'--a
wonderful luxury, price four a penny. She also fell a victim, and
between one and another Blade-o'-Grass managed to pick up a precarious
living, and in a few months became as nimble and expert a little thief
as the sharpest policeman would wish to make an example of. She was
found out, of course, sometimes, and was cuffed and beaten; but she
was never given in charge. The persons from whom she stole seemed to
be aware of the hapless condition of the child, and had mercy upon
her; indeed, many of them had at one time or another of their lives
known what it was to suffer the pangs of hunger.

Incredible as it may sound, Blade-o'-Grass still had one friend
left. His name was Tom Beadle. He was some five years older than
Blade-o'-Grass, but looked so delicate and sickly, and was of such
small proportions, that they might have been taken for pretty nearly
the same age. Delicate and sickly as he looked, he was as sharp as a
weasel. He had a mother and a father, who, when they were not in
prison, lived in Stoney-alley, but they--being a drunken and dissolute
pair--did not trouble themselves about their son. So he had to shift
for himself, and in course of time became cunningest of the cunning.
Between him and Blade-o'-Grass there had grown a closer intimacy than
she had contracted with any other of her associates, and whenever they
met they stopped to have a chat Blade-o'-Grass had a genuine affection
for him, for he had often given her a copper, and quite as often had
shared his meal with her.

A few months after the change for the worse in the prospects of
Blade-o'-Grass, Tom Beadle, lounging about in an idle humour, saw
her sitting on the kerb-stone with her eyes fixed upon the old
apple-woman, who had begun to nod. There was something in the gaze of
Blade-o'-Grass that attracted Tom Beadle's attention, and he set
himself to watch. Presently the girl shifted a little nearer to the
fruit-stall--a little nearer--nearer, until she was quite close. Her
hand stole slowly towards the fruit, and a pear was taken, then
another. Tom Beadle laughed; but looked serious immediately
afterwards, for Blade-o'-Grass was running away as fast as her legs
could carry her. Assuring himself that there was no cause for alarm,
Tom Beadle ran after her, and placed his hand heavily on her shoulder.
She had heard the step behind her, and her heart almost leaped out of
her throat; but when she felt the hand upon her shoulder, she threw
away the stolen fruit, and fell to the ground in an agony of fear.

'Git up, you little fool,' exclaimed Tom Beadle. 'What are you
frightened at?' Before he said this, however, he picked up the pears
and put them in his pocket.

'O, Tom!' cried Blade-o'-Grass, the familiar tones falling upon her
ears like sweetest music; 'I thought it was somebody after me.'

Then Tom told her that he ran after her to stop _her_ running, and
instructed her that it was the very worst of policy, after she had
'prigged' anything, to run away when nobody was looking. And this was
the first practical lesson in morals that Blade-o'-Grass had received.

'But, I say, Bladergrass,' observed Tom, 'I didn't know as you'd taken
to prig.'

'I can't help it, Tom. The tiger's always at me.'

Tom implicitly believed in the tiger story.

'Well, that's all right,' said Tom; 'only take care--and don't you run
away agin when nobody's a-lookin'.'

Months passed, and Blade-o'-Grass lived literally from hand to mouth.
But times grew very dull; her hunting-ground was nearly worked out,
and she was more often hungry than not. One day she hadn't been able
to pick up a morsel of food, and had had insufficient for many
previous days. The day before she had had but one scanty meal, so that
it is not difficult to imagine her miserable condition. Her guardian
angel, Tom Beadle, discovered her crouching against a wall, with fear
and despair in her face and eyes. He knew well enough what was the
matter, but he asked her for form's sake, and she returned him the
usual answer, while the large tears rolled down her cheeks into her
mouth.

It so happened that Tom Beadle had been out of luck that day. He
hadn't a copper in his pocket. He felt about for one, nevertheless,
and finding none, whistled--curiously enough, the 'Rogues'
March'--more in perplexity than from surprise.

'Ain't yer had _any_think to eat, Bladergrass?'

'Not a blessed bite,' was the answer.

It was about five o'clock in the evening; there were at least a couple
of hours to sunset. An inspiration fell upon Tom Beadle, and his
countenance brightened.

'Come along o' me,' he said.

Blade-o'-Grass placed her hand unhesitatingly in his, and they walked
towards the wealthier part of the City, until they came to a large
space surrounded by great stone buildings. In the centre of the space
was a statue. Blade-o'-Grass had never been so far from her native
place as this. The crowds of people hurrying hither and thither, as if
a moment's hesitation would produce, a fatal result; the apparently
interminable strings of carts and cabs and wagons and omnibuses
issuing from half-a-dozen thoroughfares, and so filling the roads with
moving lines and curves and angles, that it seemed to be nothing less
than miraculous how a general and disastrous crash was avoided,
utterly bewildered little Blade-o'-Grass, and caused her for a moment
to be oblivious of the cravings of the tiger in her stomach.

'Now, look 'ere, Bladergrass,' whispered Tom Beadle: 'you keep tight
'old of my 'and; if anybody arks yer, I'm yer brother a-dyin' of
consumption. I'm a-dyin' by inches, I am.'

Forthwith he called into his face such an expression of utter,
helpless woe and misery, that Blade-o'-Grass cried out in terror,

'O, what's up, Tom? O, don't, Tom, don't!' really believing that her
companion had been suddenly stricken.

'Don't be stoopid!' remonstrated Tom, smiling at her to reassure her,
and then resuming his wobegone expression; 'I'm only a-shammin'.'

With that he sank upon the bottom of a grand flight of stone steps,
dragging Blade-o'-Grass down beside him. There they remained, silent,
for a few moments, and perhaps one in a hundred of the eager bustling
throng turned to give the strange pair a second glance; but before
sympathy had time to assume practical expression, a policeman came up
to them, and bade them move on. Tom rose to his feet, wearily and
painfully, and slowly moved away: a snail in its last minutes of life
could scarcely have moved more slowly, if it had moved at all. He took
good care to keep tight hold of the hand of Blade-o'-Grass, lest she
should be pushed from him and be lost in the crowd. A notable contrast
were these two outcasts--she, notwithstanding her fright and the pangs
of hunger by which she was tormented, strong-limbed and sturdy for her
age; and he drooping, tottering, with a death-look upon his face, as
if every moment would be his last. You would have supposed that his
mind was a blank to all but despair, and that he was praying for
death; but the cunning and hypocrisy of Tom Beadle were not to be
measured by an ordinary standard. He was as wide awake as a weasel,
and although his eyes were to the ground, he saw everything that
surged around him, and was as ready to take advantage of an
opportunity as the sharpest rascal in London. As he and his companion
made their way through the busy throng, they attracted the attention
of two men--both of them elderly men, of some sixty years of age; one,
well-dressed, with a bright eye and a benevolent face; the other,
poorly but not shabbily dressed, and with a face out of which every
drop of the milk of human kindness seemed to have been squeezed when
he was a young man. When he looked at you, it appeared as if you were
undergoing the scrutiny of two men; for one of his eyes had a
dreadfully fixed and glassy stare in it, and the other might have been
on fire, it was so fiercely watchful.

Now, overpowered as Tom Beadle might have been supposed to be in his
own special ills and cares, he saw both these men, as he saw
everything else about him, and a sly gleam of recognition passed from
his eyes to the face of the odd-looking and poorly-dressed stranger;
it met with no response, however. The next moment Tom raised his white
imploring face to that of the better-dressed man, whose tender heart
was stirred by pity at the mute appeal. He put his hand in his pocket,
but seemed to be restrained from giving; some impulse within him
whispered, 'Don't!' while his heart prompted him to give. But the
struggle was not of long duration. The words, 'Indiscriminate charity
again,' fell from his lips, and looking round cautiously as if he were
about to commit a felony, he hastily approached close to the two
children, and, with an air of guilt, slipped a shilling in Tom
Beadle's hand. After which desperate deed, he turned to fly from the
spot, when he saw something in the face of the odd-looking man (who
had been watching the comedy with curious interest) which made him
first doubtful, then angry. Although they were strangers, he was
impelled to speak, and his kind nature made him speak in a polite
tone.

'Dreadful sight, sir, dreadful sight,' he said, pointing to the
creeping forms of Tom Beadle and Blade-o'-Grass. 'A penny can't be
thrown away there, eh?'

The odd-looking man shrugged his shoulders. The shrug conveyed to the
benevolent stranger this meaning: 'You are an imbecile; you are an old
fool; you are not fit to be trusted alone.' It was the most expressive
of shrugs.

'I suppose you mean to say I've been imposed upon,' exclaimed the
benevolent stranger hotly.

The odd-looking man chuckled enjoyably, and perked up his head at the
questioner in curiosity, as a magpie with its eye in a blaze might
have done. But he said nothing. His silence exasperated the benevolent
almsgiver, who exclaimed, 'You've no humanity, sir; no humanity;' and
turned on his heel. But turned round again immediately and said, 'I've
no right to say that, sir--no right, and I beg your pardon. But d'ye
mean to tell me that that lad is an impostor, sir? If you do, I deny
it, sir, I deny it! D'ye mean to say that I've been taken in, and that
those two children are not--not HUNGRY, sir?'

Some words seemed to be rising to the odd-looking man's lips, but he
restrained the utterance of them, and closed his lips with a snap. He
touched his shabby cap with an air of amusement, and turned away,
chuckling quietly; and the next minute the two men were struggling in
different directions with the human tide that spread itself over all
the City.

In the mean time, Tom Beadle, keeping up the fiction of 'dyin' by
inches,' crept slowly away. He had not seen the coin which had been
slipped into his hand, but he knew well enough by the feel that it was
a shilling. 'A regular slice o' luck,' he muttered to himself, beneath
his breath. When they had crept on some fifty yards, he quickened his
steps, and Blade-o'-Grass tried to keep up with him. But all at once
her hands grew quite cold, and a strong trembling took possession of
her.

'Come along, Bladergrass,' urged Tom, in his anxiety to get safely
away; ''ow you creep!'

The child made another effort, but, as if by magic, the streets and
the roar in them vanished from her sight and hearing, and she would
have fallen to the ground, but for Tom's arm thrown promptly round her
poor fainting form.

Near to them was a quiet court--so still and peaceful that it might
have hidden in a country-place where Nature was queen--and Tom Beadle,
who knew every inch of the ground, bore her thither. His heart grew
cold as he gazed upon her white face.

'I wish I may die,' he muttered to himself, in a troubled voice, 'if
she don't look as if she was dead. Bladergrass! Bladergrass!' he
called.'

She did not answer him. Not a soul was near them. Had it not been that
he liked the child, and that, little villain as he was, he had some
humanity in him--for her at least--he would have run away. He stood
quiet for a few moments, debating within himself what he had best do.
He knelt over her, and put his lips to hers, and whispered coaxingly,
'Come along, Bladergrass. Don't be a little fool. Open your eyes, and
call Tom.'

The warmth of his face and lips restored her to consciousness. She
murmured, 'Don't--don't! Let me be!'

'What's the matter, Bladergrass?' he whispered. 'It's me--Tom! Don't
you know me?'

'O, let me be, Tom!' implored Blade-o'-Grass. 'Let me be! The tiger's
a-eatin' the inside out o' me, and I'm a-dyin'.'

She closed her eyes again, and the sense of infinite peace that stole
upon her, as she lay in this quiet court, was like heaven to her,
after the wild roar of steps and sounds in which a little while since
she had been engulfed. Had she died at that moment, it would have been
happier for her; but at whose door could her death have been laid?

Tom Beadle, whispering hurriedly and anxiously, and certainly quite
superfluously, 'Lay still, Bladergrass! I'll be back in a minute,' ran
off to buy food, and soon returned with it. He had a little difficulty
in rousing her, but when she began to taste the food, and, opening her
eyes, saw the store which Tom had brought, she tore at it almost
deliriously, crying out of thankfulness, as she ate. Tom was
sufficiently rewarded by seeing the colour return to her cheeks;
before long, Blade-o'-Grass was herself again, and was laughing with
Tom.

'But I thought you _was_ a-dyin', Bladergrass,' said Tom, somewhat
solemnly, in the midst of the merriment.

'No, it was you that was a-dyin', Tom!' exclaimed Blade-o'-Grass,
clapping her hands. 'A-dyin' by inches, you know!'

Gratified vanity gleamed in Tom Beadle's eyes, and when Blade-o'-Grass
added, 'But, O Tom, how you frightened me at first!' his triumph was
complete, and he enjoyed an artist's sweetest pleasure. Then he
gloated over the imposition he had practised upon the benevolent
stranger, and cried in glee,

'Wasn't he green, Bladergrass? _He_ thought I was dyin' by inches, as
well as you. O, O, O!' and laughed and danced, to the admiration of
Blade-o'-Grass, without feeling a particle of gratitude for the
benevolent instinct which had saved his companion from starvation.


[Illustration]


After this fashion did Blade-o'-Grass learn life's lessons, and learn
to fight its battles. Deprived of wholesome teaching and wholesome
example; believing, from very necessity, that bad was good; without
any knowledge of God and His infinite goodness, she, almost a
baby-child, went out into the world, in obedience to the law of
nature, in search of food. A slice of bread-and-butter was more to her
than all the virtues, the exercise of which, as we are taught, bestows
the light of eternal happiness. And yet, if earnest men are to be
believed, and if there be truth in newspaper columns, the vast
machinery around her was quick with sympathy for her, as one of a
class whom it is man's duty to lift from the dust. Such struggles for
the amelioration (fine word!) of the human race were being made by
earnest natures, that it was among the most awful mysteries of the
time, how Blade-o'-Grass was allowed to grow up in the ignorance which
deprives crime of responsibility; how she was forced to be dead to the
knowledge of virtue; how she was compelled to earn the condemnation of
men, and to make sorrowful the heart of the Supreme!



         MR. MERRYWHISTLE RELIEVES HIMSELF ON THE SUBJECT OF
                       INDISCRIMINATE CHARITY.


The name of the man who gave Tom Beadle the shilling was Merrywhistle.
He was a bachelor, and he lived in the eastern part of the City, in
Buttercup-square, next door to his best friends, the Silvers. Although
Buttercup-square was in the east of the City, where the greatest
poverty is to be found, and where people crowd upon each other
unhealthfully, it was as pretty and comfortable a square as could be
found anywhere; and you might live in any house in it and fancy
yourself in the country, when you looked out of window. The trees in
the square were full of birds' nests, and the singing of the birds of
a summer morning was very sweet to the ear.

Mr. Merrywhistle had no trade or profession. When the last census was
taken, and the paper was given to him to fill-in, he set himself down
as 'Nothing Particular,' and this eccentric definition of himself
coming under the eyes of his landlady--who, like every other landlady,
was mighty curious about the age, religion, and occupation of her
lodgers, and whether they were single, widowed, or divorced men--was
retailed by her to her friends. As a necessary consequence, _her_
friends retailed the information to _their_ friends; and for some
little time afterwards, they used to ask of the landlady and of each
other, jocosely, how Nothing Particular was getting along, and whether
he had lately done Anything Particular; and so on. But this mildest of
jokes soon died out, and never reached Mr. Merrywhistle's ears. He had
an income more than sufficient for his personal wants; but at the
year's end not a shilling remained of his year's income. A pale face,
a look of distress, a poor woman with a baby in arms, a person looking
hungrily in a cook-shop window--any one of these sights was sufficient
to melt his benevolent heart, and to draw copper or silver from
his pocket. It was said of him that his hands were always in his
pockets--a saying which was the occasion of a piece of sarcasm, which
grew into a kind of proverb. A lady-resident of Buttercup-square,
whose husband was of the parsimonious breed, when speaking of Mr.
Merrywhistle's benevolence, said, with a sigh, 'My husband is just
like Mr. Merrywhistle; his hands are always in his pockets.' 'Yes,
ma'am,' said an ill-natured friend, 'but there the similarity ends.
Your husband's hands _never come out_.' Which produced a lifelong
breach between the parties.

Mr. Merrywhistle was in a very disturbed mood this evening. He was
haunted by the face of the old man who had been amused, because he had
given a poor child, a shilling. The thought of this old man proved the
most obstinate of tenants to Mr. Merrywhistle; having got into his
mind, it refused to be dislodged. He had never seen this man before,
and here, in the most unaccountable manner, he being haunted and
distressed by a face which presented itself to his imagination with a
mocking expression upon it, because he had been guilty of a charitable
act. 'I should like to meet him again,' said Mr. Merrywhistle to
himself; 'I'd talk to him!' Which mild determination, hotly expressed,
was intended to convey an exceedingly severe meaning. As he could not
dislodge the thought of the man from his mind, Mr. Merrywhistle
resolved to go to his friends next door, the Silvers, and take tea
with them. He went in, and found them, as he expected, just sitting
down to tea. Only two of them, husband and wife.

'I am glad you have come in,' said Mrs. Silver to him. Her voice might
surely have suggested her name, it was so mild and gentle. But
everything about her was the same. Her dress, her quiet manner, her
delicate face, her hands, her eyes, where purity dwelt, breathed peace
and goodness. She and her sisters (and there are many, thank God!) are
the human pearls of the world which is so often called 'erring.'

'How are the youngsters?' asked Mr. Merrywhistle, stirring his tea.

'All well,' answered Mr. Silver; 'you'll stay and see them?'

Mr. Merrywhistle nodded, and proceeded with his tea. The meal being
nearly over, Mrs. Silver said, 'Now, friend, tell us your trouble.'

'You see it in my face,' responded Mr. Merrywhistle.

'Yes; I saw it when you entered.'

'You have the gift of divination.'

'Say, the gift of sympathy for those I love.'

Mr. Merrywhistle held out his hand, and she grasped it cordially. Then
he told them of the occurrence that took place on the Royal Exchange,
and of the singular manner in which he was haunted by the mocking face
of the old man who had watched him.

'You have an instinct, perhaps,' said Mrs. Silver, 'that he was one of
the men who might have preached at you, if he had had the opportunity,
against indiscriminate charity?'

'No, I don't know, I don't know, I really don't know,' replied Mr.
Merrywhistle excitedly. 'I think he rather enjoyed it; he seemed to
look upon it as an amusing exhibition, for he was almost convulsed by
laughter. Laughter! It wasn't laughter. It was a series of demoniac
chuckles, that's what it was--demoniac chuckles. But I can't exactly
describe what it was that set my blood boiling. It wasn't his demoniac
chuckling alone, it was everything about him; his manner, his
expression, his extraordinary eyes; one of which looked like the eye
of an infuriated bull, as if it were half inclined to fly out of
its head at you, and the other as if it were the rightful property
of the meekest and mildest of baa-lambs. Then his eye-brows--lapping
over as if they were precipices, and as thick as blacking-brushes.
Then his face, like a little sour and withered apple. Your
pro-indiscriminate-charity men would not have behaved as he did. They
would have asked me. How dare I--how dare I?--yes, that is what they
would have said--How dare I encourage pauperism by giving money to
little boys and girls and ragged men and women, whom I have never seen
in my life before, whom I have never heard of in my life before? This
fellow wasn't one of _them_. No, no--no, I say, he wasn't one of
_them_. I wouldn't swear that he wasn't drunk--no, I won't say that;
tipsy, perhaps--no, nor that either. Uncharitable of me--very. Don't
laugh at me. You wouldn't have laughed at the poor little boy if you
had seen him.'

'I am sure we should not.'

'That's like me again,' cried the impetuous old bachelor remorsefully;
'throwing in the teeth of my best friends an accusation of
inhumanity--yes, inhumanity--positive inhumanity. Forgive me--I am
truly sorry. But that indiscriminate-charity question cropped up again
to-day, and that, as well as this affair, has set my nerves in a
jingle. A gentleman called upon me this morning, and asked me for a
subscription towards the funds of an institution--a worthy
institution, as I believe. I hadn't much to spare--I am so
selfishly extravagant that my purse is always low--and I gave him
half-a-sovereign. He took it, and looked at it and at me
reproachfully. "I was given to understand," he said in the meekest of
voices, so meek, indeed, that I could hot possibly take offence--"I
was given to understand that from Mr. Merrywhistle, and in aid of
_such_ an institution as ours, I should have received a much larger
contribution."'

'That savoured of impertinence,' observed Mr. Silver.

'I daresay, Silver, I daresay. Another man might have thought
so; but I couldn't possibly be angry with him, his manner was so
humble--reproachfully humble. I explained to him that at present I
couldn't afford more, and that, somehow or other, my money melted away
most surprisingly. "I hope, sir," he then said, "that what I was told
of you is not true, and that you are not in the habit of giving away
money indiscriminately." I could not deny it--no, indeed, I could not
deny it--and I commenced to say, hesitatingly (feeling very guilty),
that now and then---- But he interrupted me with, "Now and then,
sir!--now and then! You will pardon my saying so, Mr. Merrywhistle,
but it may not have struck you before that those persons who give away
money indiscriminately are making criminals for us--are filling our
prisons--are blowing a cold blast on manly self-endeavour--are
crippling industry--are paying premiums to idleness, which is the
offspring of the----hem!" And continued in this strain for more than
five minutes. When he went away, my hair stood on end, and I felt as
if sentence ought to be pronounced upon me at once. And here, this
very afternoon, am I caught again by a pitiful face--you should
have seen it! I thought the poor boy would have died as I looked at
him--and I give away a shilling, indiscriminately. Then comes this
strange old fellow staring at me--sneering at me, shrugging
his shoulders at me, and walking away with the unmistakable
declaration--though he didn't declare it in words--that I wasn't fit
to be trusted alone. As perhaps I'm not,--as perhaps I'm not!' And Mr.
Merrywhistle blew his nose violently.

His friends knew him too well to interrupt him. The tea-things had
been quietly cleared away, while he was relieving his feelings. He had
by this time got rid of a great portion of his excitement; and now, in
his cooler mood, he looked round and smiled. At that moment a lad of
about fifteen years of age entered the room. All their countenances
brightened, as also did his, as he entered.

'Well, Charley,' said Mr. Merrywhistle, as the lad, with frank face,
stood before him, 'been knocking anything into "pie" to-day?'

'No, sir,' replied Charley. 'I'm past that now; I'm getting along
handsomely, the overseer said.'

'That's right, my boy; that's right. You'll be overseer yourself, some
day.'

Charley blushed; his ambition had not yet reached that height of
desire, and it seemed almost presumption to him to look so far ahead.
The overseer in the printing-office where Charley was apprenticed was
a great man in Charley's eyes; his word was law to fifty men and boys.
The lad turned to Mr. Silver, and said in a pleased tone:

'A new apprentice came in today, and swept out the office instead of
me.'

'So you are no longer knight of the broom?

'No, sir, and I'm not sorry for it; and there's something else. Dick
Trueman, you know, sir--'

'You told us, Charley; he was out of his time last week, and they gave
him a frame as a regular journeyman.'

'Yes, sir; and he earnt thirty-four shillings last week--full wages.
And what do you think he did today, sir?' And Charley's bright eyes
sparkled more brightly. These small items of office-news were of vast
importance to Charley--almost as important as veritable history. 'But
you couldn't guess,' he continued, in an eager tone. 'He asked for
three hours' holiday--from eleven till two--and he went out and got
married!'

'Bless my soul!' exclaimed Mr. Merrywhistle, 'he can't be much more
than twenty-one years of age.'

'Only a few weeks more, sir. But he's a man now. Well, he came back at
two o'clock, in a new suit of clothes, and a flower in his coat. All
the men knew, directly they saw him, that he had asked for the
three hours' holiday to get married in. And they set up such a
clattering--rattling on their cases with their sticks, and on the
stone with the mallets and planers--that you couldn't hear your own
voice for five minutes; for every one of us likes Dick Trueman. You
should have seen Dick blush, when he heard the salute! He tried to
make them believe that he didn't know what all the clattering was
about. But they kept it up so long, that he was obliged to come to the
stone and bob his head at us. It makes me laugh only to think of it.
And then the overseer shook hands with him, and Dick sent for three
cans of beer, and all the men drank his health and good luck to him.'
Charley paused to take breath. The simple story, as he told it in his
eager way, was a pleasant story to hear. Now came the most important
part of it Charley's eyes grew larger as he said, with much
importance, 'I saw her.'

'Who?' they asked.

'Dick's wife; she was waiting at the corner of the street for him--and
O, she's Beautiful!'

'Quite a day of excitement, Charley,' said Mr. Silver.

'There's something more, sir.'

'What is it, Charley?'

'Our wayz-goose comes off next week, sir.'

'Yes, Charley.'

'Only two of the apprentices are asked, and I'm one of them,' said
Charley, with a ring of pardonable pride in his voice. 'May I go?

'Certainly, my boy,' said Mr. Silver. And Mrs. Silver smiled
approvingly, and told Charley to run and wash himself and have tea;
and Charley gave them all a bright look, and went out of the room as
happy a boy as any in all London.

Then said Mr. Merrywhistle:

'Charley's a good lad.'

'He's our first and eldest,' said Mrs. Silver, bringing forward a
basket filled with socks and stockings wanting repair; 'he will be a
bright man.'

Mr. Merrywhistle nodded, and they talked of various subjects until the
sound of children's happy voices interrupted them. 'Here are our
youngsters,' he said, rubbing his hands joyously; and as he spoke a
troop of children came into the room.



                         MRS. SILVER'S HOME.


There were five of them, as follows:

The eldest, Charles, the printer's apprentice, fifteen years of
age--with a good honest face and a bright manner. The picture of a
happy boy.

Then Mary, fourteen years. She looked older than Charley, and, young
as she was, seemed to have assumed a kind of matronship over the
younger branches. That the position was a pleasing one to her and all
of them was evident by the trustful looks that passed between them.

Then Richard, twelve years; with dancing eyes, open mouth, and quick,
impetuous, sparkling manner--filled with electricity--never still for
a moment together; hands, eyes, and every limb imbued with
restlessness.

Then Rachel, eleven years; with pale face and eyes--so strangely
watchful of every sound, that it might almost have been supposed she
listened with them. She was blind, and unless her attention were
aroused, stood like a statue waiting for the spark of life.

Lastly, Ruth. A full-faced, round-eyed child, the prettiest of the
group. Slightly wilful, but of a most affectionate disposition.

Rachel inclined her head.

'There's some one here,' she said.

'Who, my dear?' asked Mrs. Silver, holding up a warning finger to Mr.
Merrywhistle, so that he should not speak.

Rachel heard his light breathing.

'Mr. Merrywhistle,' she said, and went near to him. He kissed her, and
she went back to her station by the side of Ruth.

They were a pleasant bunch of human flowers to gaze at, and so Mr. and
Mrs. Silver and Mr. Merrywhistle thought, for their eyes glistened at
the healthful sight. Ruth and Rachel stood hand in hand, and it was
easily to be seen that they were necessary to each other. But pleasant
as the children were to the sight, a stranger would have been struck
with amazement at their unlikeness to one another. Brothers and
sisters they surely could not be, although their presence there and
their bearing to each other betokened no less close a relationship.
They were not indeed related by blood, neither to one another, nor to
Mr. and Mrs. Silver. They were Mrs. Silver's foundlings--children of
her love, whom she had taken, one by one, to rear as her own, whom she
had snatched from the lap of Destitution.

Her marriage was one of purest affection, but she was barren; and
after a time, no children coming, she felt a want in her home. Her
husband was secretary in a sound assurance office, and they possessed
means to rear a family. Before their marriage, they had both dwelt in
thought upon the delight and pure pleasure in store for them, and
after their marriage she saw baby-faces in her dreams. She mused: 'My
husband's son will be a good man, like his father, and we shall train
him well, and he will be a pride to us.' And he: 'In my baby daughter
I shall see my wife from her infancy, and I shall watch her grow to
girlhood, to pure womanhood, and shall take delight in her, for that
she is ours, the offspring of our love.' But these were dreams. No
children came; and his wife still dreamt of her shadow-baby, and
yearned to clasp it to her bosom. Years went on--they had married when
they were young--and her yearning was unsatisfied. Pain entered into
her life; a dull envy tormented her, when she thought of homes made
happy by children's prattle, and her tears flowed easily at the sight
of children. Her husband, engrossed all the day in the duties and
anxieties of his business, had less time to brood over the
deprivation, although he mourned it in his leisure hours; but she,
being always at home, and having no stern labour to divert her
thoughts from the sad channel in which they seemed quite naturally to
run, mourned with so intense a grief, that it took possession of her
soul and threatened to make her life utterly unhappy. One day he awoke
to this, and quietly watched her; saw the wistful looks she cast about
her, unaware that she was being observed; felt tears flowing from her
eyes at night. He questioned her, and learnt that her grief and
disappointment were eating into her heart; that, strive as she would,
her life was unhappy in its loneliness while he was away, and that the
sweetest light of home was wanting.

'I see baby-faces in my dreams,' she said to him one night, 'and hear
baby-voices--so sweet, O, so sweet!' She pressed him in her arms, and
laid his head upon her breast. 'And when I wake, I grieve.'

'Dear love,' he said, all the tenderness of his nature going out in
his words, 'God wills it so.'

'I know, I know, my love,' she answered, her tears still flowing.

'How can I fill up the void in her life?' he thought, and gave
expression to his thought.

Then she reproached herself, and asked his forgiveness, and cried, in
remorse, 'How could she, how could she grieve him with her sorrow?'

'I have a right to it,' he answered. 'It is not all yours, my dear.
Promise me, you in whom all my life's cares and joys are bound, never
to conceal another of your griefs from me.'

She promised, and was somewhat comforted. This was within a couple of
months of Christmas. A few nights before Christmas, as he was walking
home, having been detained later than usual at his office, he came
upon a throng of people talking eagerly with one another, and crowding
round something that was hidden from his sight. It was bitterly cold,
and the snow lay deep. He knew that nothing of less import than a
human cause could have drawn that concourse together, and could have
kept them bound together on such a night, and while the snow was
falling heavily. He pushed his way through the crowd to the front, and
saw a policeman gazing stupidly upon two forms lying on the ground.
One was a man--dead; the other a baby--alive in the dead man's arms.
He had them--the living and the dead--conveyed to the station-house;
inquiries were set afoot; an inquest was held. Nothing was learnt of
the man; no one knew anything of him; no one remembered having ever
seen him before; and the mystery of his life was sealed by his death.
He told his wife the sad story, and kept her informed of the progress,
or rather the non-progress, of the inquiry. The man was buried, and
was forgotten by all but the Silvers. Only one person attended the
parish funeral as mourner, and that was Mr. Silver, who was urged to
the act by a feeling of humanity.

'The poor baby? said Mrs. Silver, when he came from the funeral--'what
will become of it?'

In the middle of the night she told her husband that she had dreamt of
the baby. 'It stretched out its little arms to me.'

Her husband made no reply; but a few nights afterwards, having
arranged with the parish authorities, he brought home the child, and
placed it in his wife's arms. Her heart warmed to it immediately. A
new delight took possession of her; the maternal instinct, though not
fully satisfied, was brought into play. During the evening she said,
'How many helpless orphans are there round about us, and we are
childless!' And then again, looking up tenderly from the babe in her
lap to her husband's face, 'Perhaps this is the reason why God has
given us no children.'


[Illustration]


From this incident sprang the idea of helping the helpless; and year
after year an orphan child was adopted, until they had six, when their
means were lessened, and they found they could take no more. Then Mr.
Merrywhistle stepped in, and gave sufficient to lift another babe from
Desolation's lap. This last was twin-sister to Blade-o'-Grass, and
they named her Ruth. From this brief record we pass to the present
evening, when all the children are assembled in Mrs. Silver's house in
Buttercup-square.

Some little time is spent in merry chat--much questioning of the
children by Mr. Merrywhistle, who is a great favourite with them, and
to whom such moments as these are the sweetest in his life. Charley
tells over again the stirring incidents of the day, and they nod their
heads, and laugh, and clap their hands, and cluster round him. Charley
is their king.

'Come, children, sit down,' presently says Mr. Silver.

They sit round the table, Charley at the head, next to Mrs. Silver;
then come Ruth and Rachel, with hands clasped beneath the tablecloth;
then Mary and Richard. Mr. Silver produces a book; they hold their
breaths. The blind girl knows that the book is on the table, and her
fingers tighten upon Ruth's, and all her ears are in her eyes. It is a
study to watch the varying shades of expression upon her face. As Mr.
Silver opens the book you might hear a pin drop. Ruth nestles closer
to Rachel, and Charley rises in his excitement. Mr. Merrywhistle sits
in the armchair, and as he looks round upon the happy group, is as
happy as the happiest among them. It is the custom every evening
(unless pressing duties intervene) to read a chapter of a good work of
fiction, and the reading-hour is looked forward to with eager delight
by all the children. Last week they finished the _Vicar of Wakefield_,
and this week they are introduced to the tender romance of _Paul and
Virginia_. The selection of proper books is a grave task, and is
always left to Mrs. Silver, who sometimes herself reads aloud.

'Where did we leave off last night, children?' asks Mr. Silver.

'Where Madame de la Tour receives a letter from her aunt,' answers
Mary.

'Yes, from her spiteful old aunt,' adds Richard, 'and where Paul
stamps his feet and wants to know who it is that has made Virginia's
mother unhappy.'

A 'Hush-sh-sh!' runs round the table; and Mr. Silver commences the
beautiful chapter where Virginia gives food to the poor slave woman,
and induces her master to pardon her. With what eagerness do the
children listen to how Paul and Virginia are lost in the woods! They
gather cresses with the young lovers, and they help Paul set fire to
the palm-tree, and they see the Three Peaks in the distance. Then they
come to the famous part where Paul and Virginia stand by the banks of
a river, the waters of which roll foaming over a bed of rocks. 'The
noise of the water frightened Virginia, and she durst not wade through
the stream; Paul therefore took her up in his arms, and went thus
loaded over the slippery rocks, which formed the bed of the river,
careless of the tumultuous noise of its waters.' [Thinks Richard, 'O,
how I wish that I were Paul, carrying Virginia over the river!'] '"Do
not be afraid," cried Paul to Virginia; "I feel very strong with you.
If the inhabitant of the Black River had refused you the pardon of his
slave, I would have fought with him."' ['And so would I,' thinks
Richard, clenching his fists.] Night comes, and the lovers are almost
despairing. Profound silence reigns in the awful solitudes. Will they
escape? Can they escape? Paul climbs to the top of a tree, and cries,
'Come, come to the help of Virginia!' But only the echoes answer him,
and the faint sound of 'Virginia, Virginia!' wanders through the
forest. Despairing, they try to comfort each other, and seek for
solace in prayer. Hark! they hear the barking of a dog. 'Surely,' says
Virginia, 'it is Fidèle, our own dog. Yes, I know his voice. Are we,
then, so near home? At the foot of our own mountain?' So they are
rescued, and this night's reading ends happily. The delight of the
children, the intense interest with which they hang upon every word,
cannot be described. Their attention is so thoroughly engrossed, that
the figures of the young lovers might be living and moving before
them. When Mr. Silver shuts the book, a sigh comes from the youthful
audience. A pause ensues, and then the children talk unreservedly
about the story, and what the end will be--all but Ruth, who is too
young yet to form opinions. It is of course this and of course that
with them all, and not one of them guesses the truth, or has any idea
of the tragic ending of the story.

'Charley,' says little Ruth, 'you are like Paul.'

They all clap their hands in acquiescence.

'But where's my Virginia?' asks Charley.

'_I'll_ be Virginia,' cries Ruth somewhat precociously; 'and you can
carry me about where you like.'

They all laugh at this, and Ruth is quite proud, believing that she
has distinguished herself. It is strange to hear the blind girl say,
'I can see Paul with Virginia in his arms.' And no doubt she can,
better than the others who are blessed with sight. The three grown-up
persons listen and talk among themselves, and now and then join in the
conversation. The clock strikes--nine. It is a cuckoo-clock, and the
children listen to the measured 'Cuckoo! Cuck-oo!' until the soulless
bird, having, with an egregious excess of vanity, asserted itself nine
times as the great 'I am' of all the birds in town or country, retires
into its nest, and sleeps for an hour. Then a chapter from the Bible
and prayers, and in the prayers a few words to the memory of two--a
brother and a sister--who have gone from among them. For last year
they were seven; now they are five. Their faces grow sad as the memory
of their dear brother and sister comes upon them in their prayers, and
'Poor Archie!' 'Poor Lizzie!' hang upon their lips. The night's
pleasures and duties being ended, the three youngest children go to
bed, the last kind nod and smile being given to Ruth, sister to poor
Blade-o'-Grass, who lingers a moment behind the others, and with her
arm round Rachel's neck, cries 'Cuck-oo! Cuck-oo!' as her final
good-night. But the proud bird in the clock takes no notice, and
preserves a disdainful silence, although Ruth, as her custom is, waits
a moment or two, and listens for the reply that does not come. Charley
and Mary stop up an hour later than the others, reading; but before
that hour expires, Mr. Merrywhistle bids his friends good-night, and
retires.



           MR. MERRYWHISTLE MEETS THE QUEER LITTLE OLD MAN.


But not to his bed. He was restless, and, the night being a fine one,
he strolled out of Buttercup-square into the quiet streets. It was a
favourite custom of his to walk along the streets of a night with no
companions but his thoughts. Almost invariably he chose the quiet
streets, for there are streets in London--north and south and east and
west--which never sleep; streets which are healthy with traffic in the
day, and diseased with traffic in the night.

Mr. Merrywhistle walked along and mused, in no unhappy frame of mind.
A visit to the Silvers always soothed and comforted him; and on this
occasion the sweet face of Mrs. Silver, and the happy faces and voices
of the children, rested upon him like a peaceful cloud. So engrossed
was he, that he did not heed the pattering of a small urchin at his
side, and it was many moments before he awoke from his walking dream,
and became conscious of the importunate intruder.

'If you please, sir!' said the small urchin, for the twentieth time,
in a voice of weak pleading.

Mr. Merrywhistle looked down, and saw a face that he fancied he had
seen before. But the memory of the happy group in Buttercup-square
still lingered upon him. What he really saw as he looked down was a
little boy without a cap, large-eyed, white-faced, and bare-footed. No
other than Tom Beadle in fact, making hay, or trying to make it, not
while the sun, but while the moon shone.

'If you please, sir!' repeated the boy, 'will you give me a copper to
buy a bit o' bread?'

Then the dawn of faint suspicion loomed upon Mr. Merrywhistle. He
placed his hand lightly upon Tom Beadle's shoulder, and said in a
troubled voice, 'My boy, haven't I seen you before to-day?'

'No, sir,' boldly answered Tom Beadle, having no suspicion of the
truth; for when the shilling was slipped into his hand, his eyes were
towards the ground, and he did not see Mr. Merrywhistle's face.

'Were you not on the Royal Exchange with a little girl, and didn't I
give you a--a shilling?'

For a moment Tom Beadle winced, and he had it in his mind to twist his
shoulder from Mr. Merrywhistle's grasp and run away. For a moment
only: natural cunning and his inclination kept him where he was. To
tell the honest truth, a lie was a sweet morsel to Tom Beadle, and he
absolutely gloried in 'taking people in.' So, on this occasion, he
sent one sharp glance at Mr. Merrywhistle--which, rapid as it was, had
all the effect of a sun-picture upon him--and whined piteously, 'Me
'ave a shillin' guv to me! Never 'ad sich a bit o' luck in all my born
days. It was some other boy, sir, some cove who didn't want it. They
allus gits the luck of it. And as for a little gal and the Royal
Igschange, I wish I may die if I've been near the place for a week!'

'And you are hungry?' questioned Mr. Merrywhistle, fighting with his
doubts.

''Aven't 'ad a ounce o' bread in my mouth this blessed day;' and two
large tears gathered in Tom Beadle's eyes. He took care that Mr.
Merrywhistle should see them.

Mr. Merrywhistle sighed, and with a feeling of positive pain gave
twopence to Tom Beadle, who slipped his shoulder from Mr.
Merrywhistle's hand with the facility of an eel, and scudded away in
an exultant frame of mind.

Mr. Merrywhistle walked a few steps, hesitated, and then turned in the
direction that Tom Beadle had taken.

'Now, I wonder,' he thought, 'whether the collector was right this
morning, and whether I have been assisting in making criminals today.'

Truly this proved to be a night of coincidences to Mr. Merrywhistle;
for he had not walked a mile before he came upon the queer little old
man, whom he had met on the Royal Exchange. The old fellow was leaning
against a lamp-post, smoking a pipe, and seemed to be as much at home
in the wide street as he would have been in his own parlour. He looked
surly and ill-grained, and his eyebrows were very precipitous. His
mild eye was towards Mr. Merrywhistle, as that gentleman approached
him, and when Mr. Merrywhistle slowly passed him, his fierce eye came
in view and lighted upon the stroller. Before he had left the old man
three yards behind him, Mr. Merrywhistle fancied he heard a chuckle.
He would have dearly liked to turn back and accost the old man, but a
feeling of awkwardness was upon him, and he could not muster
sufficient courage. Chance, however, brought about an interview. Not
far from him was a building that might have been a palace, it was so
grand and light. It was a triumph of architecture, with its beautiful
pillars, and its elaborate stonework. Great windows, higher than a
man's height, gilt framed, and blazing with a light that threw
everything around them in the shade, tempted the passer-by to stop and
admire. There were three pictures in the windows, and these pictures
were so cunningly surrounded by jets of light, that they could not
fail to attract the eye. Awful satires were these pictures. Two of
them represented the figure of a man under different aspects. On the
left, this man was represented with a miserably-attenuated face, every
line in which expressed woe and destitution; his clothes were so
ragged that his flesh peeped through; his cheeks were thin, his lips
were drawn in, his eyes were sunken; his lean hands seemed to tremble
beneath a weight of misery: at the foot of this picture was an
inscription, to the effect that it was the portrait of a man who did
_not_ drink So-and-so's gin and So-and-so's stout, both of which
life's elixirs were to be obtained within. On the right, this same man
was represented with full-fleshed face, with jovial eyes, with
handsome mouth and teeth, with plump cheeks, with fat hands--his
clothes and everything about him betokening worldly prosperity and
happiness: at the foot of this picture was an inscription, to the
effect that it was the portrait of the same man who (having, it is to
be presumed, seen the error of his ways) _did_ drink So-and-so's gin
and So-and-so's stout. A glance inside this palace, crowded with
Misery, would have been sufficient to show what a bitter satire these
pictures were. But the centre picture, in addition to being a bitter
satire, was awfully suggestive. It was this:


[Illustration]


Whether to the artist or to the manufacturer was due the credit of
ingeniously parading 'Old Tom' in a coffin, cannot (through the
ignorance of the writer) here be recorded. But there it shone--an
ominous advertisement. As Mr. Merrywhistle halted for a moment before
these pictures, there issued from the Laboratory of Crime and Disease
a man and a woman: he, blotched and bloated; she, worn-eyed and
weary--both of them in rags. The woman, clinging to his arm, was
begging him to come home--for his sake; for hers; for the children's;
for God's! With his disengaged hand he struck at her, and she fell to
the ground, bleeding. She rose, however, and wiped her face with her
apron, and implored him again and again to come home--and again he
struck at her: this time with cruel effect, for she lay in the dust,
helpless for a while. A crowd gathered quickly, and a hubbub ensued.
In the midst of the Babel of voices, Mr. Merrywhistle, looking down
saw the strange old man standing by his side. The same surly, sneering
expression was on the old man's countenance, and Mr. Merrywhistle felt
half inclined to quarrel with him for it. But before he had time to
speak, the old man took the pipe out of his mouth, and pointing the
stem in the direction of the chief actors in the scene, said, 'I knew
them two when they was youngsters.'

'Indeed,' replied Mr. Merrywhistle, interested immediately, and
delighted at the opportunity of opening up the conversation.

'She was a han'some gal; you'd scarce believe it to look at her now.
She 'ad eyes like sloes; though whether sloes is bird, beast, or fish,
I couldn't tell ye, but I've heard the sayin' a 'undred times.
Anyways, she 'ad bright black eyes, and was a good gal too; but she
fell in love'--(in a tone of intense scorn)--with that feller, and
married him, the fool!'

'What has brought them to this?'

'Gin!' said the old man, expelling the word as if it were a bullet,
and bringing his fierce eye to bear with all its force upon Mr.
Merrywhistle.

Short as was the time occupied by this dialogue, it was long enough to
put an end to the scene before them. The woman was raised to her feet
by other women, many of whom urged her to 'Give him in charge, the
brute!' but she shook her head, and staggered away in pain. Very
quickly after her disappearance the crowd dissolved, by far the
greater part of it finding its way through the swing-doors of the
gin-palace, to talk of the event over So-and-so's gin and So-and-so's
stout. Not that there was anything new or novel in the occurrence. It
was but a scene in a drama of real life that had been played many
hundred times in that locality. Presently the street was quite clear,
and Mr. Merrywhistle and the old man were standing side by side,
alone. A handy lamp-post served as a resting-place for the old man,
who continued to smoke his pipe, and to chuckle between whiles, as if
he knew that Mr. Merrywhistle wanted to get up a conversation, and did
not know how to commence. As he saw that the old man was determined
not to assist him, and as every moment added to the awkwardness of the
situation, Mr. Merrywhistle made a desperate plunge.

'When I was on the Royal Exchange to-day----' he commenced.

The old man took his pipe out of his mouth, and expelled a cloud and a
chuckle at the same moment.

'I thought you was a-comin' to that,' he said. 'You owe me a bob.'

'What for?'

'I made a bet with you--_to_ myself--that the first thing you'd speak
about was the Royal Exchange. I bet you a bob--_to_ myself--and I won
it.'

Without hesitation Mr. Merrywhistle took a shilling from his pocket,
and offered it to the old man, who eyed it with his fierce eye for a
moment, doubtingly and with curiosity, and then calmly took possession
of it, and put it in his waistcoat-pocket.

'When you was, on the Royal Exchange to-day,' he said, repeating Mr.
Merrywhistle's words, 'you sor a boy and a girl a-beggin'.'

'No,' exclaimed Mr. Merrywhistle warmly; 'they were _not_ begging.'

'_You_ may call it what you like,' said the old man; 'but _I_ call it
beggin'; and so would that identical boy, if I was to ask him. He
wouldn't tell _you_ so, though. The boy he looked as if he was goin'
to die, and you give him a copper or a bit of silver; and you wasn't
pleased because I laughed at you for it. Now, then, fire away.'

'Was that boy starving? Was he as ill as he looked? Was I----'

'Took in?' added the old man, as Mr. Merrywhistle hesitated to express
the doubt 'Why? D'ye want your money back? Lord! he's a smart little
chap, is Tom Beadle!'

'You know him, then?'

'Know him!' replied the old man, with a contemptuous snort; 'I'd like
to be told who it is about 'ere I don't know. And I'd like to know who
_you_ are. I'm almost as fond of askin' questions as I am of answering
'em. What's sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. If you expect
Jimmy Wirtue to answer your questions, you must make up your mind to
answer his'n.'

'You're Mr. Virtue, then?'

'You're at it agin. No, I'm not Mr. Virtue' (he had to struggle with
the 'V' before it would pass his lips), 'but Jimmy Wirtue--and that's
not Jimmy Wice. What's your'n?'

'Merrywhistle,' replied that gentleman shortly.

Jimmy Virtue was pleased at the quick answer.

'Merrywhistle!' he exclaimed. 'That's a rum name--rummer than mine.
What more would you like to know? What am I? I keep a leavin'-shop.
Where do I live? In Stoney-alley. Now, what are you; and where do
_you_ live? Are you a Methody parson, or a penny-a-liner, or a
detective, or a cove that goes about studyin' human nater, or a
feelanthrofist. We've lots o' _them_ knockin' about 'ere.'

Mr. Merrywhistle was constrained to reply, but found himself
unexpectedly in a quandary.

'I'm a--a--O, I'm Nothing Particular,' blurting it out almost in
desperation.

'You look like it,' chuckled Jimmy Virtue, so tickled by his smart
retort as to be satisfied with Mr. Merrywhistle's vague definition
of his calling. 'We've lots of _your_ sort, too, knockin' about
here--more than the feelanthrofists, I shouldn't wonder. But I don't
think there's any 'arm in you. Jimmy Wirtue's not a bad judge of a
face; and he can tell you every one of your organs. 'Ere's
Benevolence--you've got that large; 'ere's Ideality--not much o' that;
'ere's Language--shut your eyes; 'ere's Causality--no, it ain't; you
'aven't got it. I can't see your back bumps, nor the bumps atop o'
your 'ead; but I could ferret out every one of 'em, if I 'ad my
fingers there.'

At this moment an individual approached them who would have attracted
the attention of the most unobservant. Mr. Merrywhistle did not see
his face; but the gait of the man was so singular, that his eyes
wandered immediately in the direction of the man. At every three steps
the singular figure paused, and puffed, as if he were a steam-engine,
and was blowing off steam. One--two--three; puff. One--two--three;
puff. One--two--three; puff.

'What on earth is the matter with the man?' exclaimed Mr. Merrywhistle
to Jimmy Virtue.

'Nothing that I knows of,' replied Jimmy Virtue; 'he's been goin' on
that way for the last twenty year. If you're lookin' out for
characters, you'll get plenty of 'em 'ere. Perhaps you're a artist for
one of the rubbishy picter-papers--one of the fellers who sees a
murder done in a Whitechapel court one day, and takes a picter of it
on the spot from nater; and who sees a shipwreck in the Atlantic the
next day, and takes a picter of _that_ on the spot from nater. That
there man's worth his ten 'undred golden sovereigns a-year, if he's
worth a penny; and he lives on tuppence a-day. The girls and boys
about here calls him Three-Steps-and-a-Puff. If you was to go and
offer him a ha'penny, he'd take it.'

By the time that Three-Steps-and-a-Puff was out of sight, the tobacco
in Jimmy Virtue's pipe had turned to dust and smoke, and he prepared
to depart also. But seeing that Mr. Merrywhistle was inclined for
further conversation, he said:


[Illustration]


'Perhaps you'd like to come down and see my place?'

Mr. Merrywhistle said that he _would_ very much like to come down and
see Jimmy Virtue's place.

'Come along, then,' said Jimmy Virtue, but paused, and said, 'Stop a
bit; perhaps you wouldn't mind buyin' a penn'orth o' baked taters
first.'

A baked-potato can, with a man attached to it, being near them, Mr.
Merrywhistle invested a penny, thinking that Jimmy Virtue intended the
potatoes for supper.

'Did you ever consider,' said the eccentric old man, as they turned
down the narrowest of lanes, 'that a big city was like a theaytre?'

'No, it never struck me.'

'It is, though I there's stalls, and dress-circle, and pit, and
gallery, in a big city like London. The west, that's the stalls and
private boxes; the north, that's the dress-circle; the south, that's
the pit; the east, that's the gallery. This is the penny-gallery of
the theaytre; 'taint a nice place to lay in.'

He stopped before the forms of two children--a boy and a girl--who,
huddled in each other's arms, were fast asleep in a gateway. He
stirred them gently with his foot; and the boy started to his feet
instantaneously, wide awake, and on the alert for his natural enemies,
the police. Mr. Merrywhistle was standing in the abutment of the
gateway, and the boy couldn't see his face; but the well-known form of
Jimmy Virtue was instantly recognised; and as the boy sank to the
ground, he muttered:

'What's the good of waking us up just as we was a-gettin' warm? You
wouldn't like it yourself, Mr. Wirtue, you wouldn't.'

Then he crept closer to his companion, and said sleepily:

'Come along, Bladergrass; let's turn in agin.'

The girl, who had been regarding the two dark shadows with a
half-frightened, half-imploring look, as if she dreaded that they were
about to turn her out of her miserable shelter, nestled in the lad's
arms, and the next minute they were asleep again. All blessings were
not denied to them.

'I know that lad,' said Mr. Merrywhistle.

'You ought to; it's Tom Beadle.'

'And he was at the Royal Exchange to-day with that poor little girl?'

'Yes, that was him. You thought he was dyin'. What do you think now?

Jimmy Virtue seemed to take positive pleasure in putting the affair in
the worst light.

Mr. Merrywhistle did not answer the question, but said, in a sad tone,
'He begged of me again to-night.'

'Did he, though!' exclaimed Jimmy Virtue admiringly.

'And when I asked him if any one had given him a--a shilling on the
Royal Exchange to-day, he took an oath that he hadn't been near the
Royal Exchange for a month, and that he had never had a shilling given
to him in all his life.'

'And did you believe him, and give him anythin'?'

'Yes' (hesitatingly), 'I gave him a trifle.'

Jimmy Virtue stopped by a post, and held his sides. When he had had
his laugh out, he said:

'Tom's a smart little thief. But you're not the first gent he's taken
in twice in one day. Come, now, he's taken you in twice with your eyes
shut; let him take you in once more with your eyes open.'

'I don't understand.'

'Them baked taters--'

'Well?'

'It wouldn't be a bad thing--like returnin' good for evil, as the
preachers say--if you was to go and put them taters in the little
girl's lap.'

'No--no--no!' exclaimed Mr. Merrywhistle, a little violently, and
pausing between each negative, 'it'll be paying a premium for
dishonesty and lies.'

The good fellow's heart was filled with pain as he uttered these
words, which, hotly spoken, served as fuel to flame; for Jimmy Virtue
turned upon him almost savagely, and snarled:

'You're a nice article, you are, a-givin' and repentin'! I've been
took in by you, I 'ave. If I 'ad my fingers on the back o' your 'ead,
I'd find something that would do away with your bumps o' benevolence.
Dishonesty and lies! What'd you want, you and the likes? The boy's got
to live, ain't he? The boy's got to eat, ain't he? If he can't work
and don't beg, what's he to do? Steal? Yah! D'you think he's got money
in the bank? D'you think, if he 'ad his pockets full, he'd sleep in
the open air, in a gateway?'

'Stop, stop, my good friend!' implored Mr. Merrywhistle, overcome by
remorse at his hard-heartedness. He ran quickly to where the children
were lying, and deposited the baked potatoes, and a few coppers as
well, in the girl's lap and hands. When he came back to where Jimmy
Virtue was standing, he found that worthy only half mollified.

'A-givin' and repentin',' muttered the old man, as he walked towards
Stoney-alley, 'that's a nice kind o' charity!' Impelled by a sudden
thought, he turned back to the gateway, and kneeling by the side of
Blade-o'-Grass, opened her hot hand in which the pence were.

'He's not a bad chap, after all,' he murmured, as he retraced his
steps, 'but it's enough to rile a feller and put a feller's back up,
when a man gives and repents.'



        JIMMY VIRTUE INTRODUCES MR. MERRYWHISTLE TO HIS PLACE
                             OF BUSINESS.


The moment Mr. Merrywhistle entered the habitation of Jimmy Virtue he
felt as if he were mildewed, and an impression stole upon him that he
had been lying on a musty shelf for a dozen years at least, and had
not been washed during the whole of the time. The place was dark when
they entered, and as Mr. Merrywhistle advanced cautiously, he came in
contact with soft bundles, from which a mouldy smell proceeded, and
which so encompassed him on all sides, that he was frightened at every
step he moved, lest he should bring confusion on himself. When Jimmy
Virtue lighted two melancholy wicks--tallow twelves--Mr. Merrywhistle
looked about him in wonder. It was the queerest and the dirtiest of
shops, and was filled with bundles of rags. Pocket-handkerchiefs,
trousers, coats, waistcoats, and underclothing of every description
met his eye whichever way he turned; faded dresses and dirty
petticoats (many with mud still on them, as if they had been taken off
in the streets in bad weather) so choked the shelves, that some of
them were in danger of bursting out; old boots hung from the ceiling;
old crinolines loomed upon him from the unlikeliest of places, and, as
he looked timorously up at them, yawned to ingulf him. One, hanging
behind the parlour-door, in the gloomiest corner, was so disposed,
that Mr. Merrywhistle's disturbed fancy added the lines of a woman's
form hanging in it; and the fancy grew so strong upon him, that
although he turned his back to the spot immediately, he could not
dismiss the figure of the hanging woman from his imagination. There
was an apartment behind the shop which Jimmy Virtue called his
parlour; but that was almost as full of rubbish as the shop. Neither
in shop or parlour was there fairly room to turn round in; if you
wanted to perform that movement, you had to tack for it.

'And this is your dwelling,' Observed Mr. Merrywhistle, feeling it
incumbent upon him to speak, as Jimmy Virtue led the way into the
parlour, and motioned him to a seat.

'I don't call it by that name myself,' replied Jimmy Virtue, in a not
over-polite tone. 'It's where I live and gets my livin', and I don't
give you more than a quarter of an hour.'

By which Mr. Merrywhistle understood, that beyond a quarter of an hour
it would not be politeness for him to stay.

'Ever been in a leavin'-shop before?' asked the old man.

'No,' replied Mr. Merrywhistle; 'not that I am aware of. May I ask you
what a leaving-shop is?'

'This is,' said Jimmy. 'All them things you see in the shop and in the
parlour--all them crinolines and peddicuts, and boots and dresses--
belongs to poor people round about 'ere. I lend 'em a trifle on 'em,
and takes care of 'em; and charges 'em a trifle when they take 'em
out.'

'They don't seem worth much,' observed Mr. Merrywhistle reflectively.

'Perhaps not--to you. But they're worth a deal to them they belongs
to. There's a many o' them crinolines and peddicuts that comes in and
out like a Jack-in-a-box. Their movements are as regular as clockwork.
Monday afternoon in, Sunday mornin' out.'

Here, to Mr. Merrywhistle's consternation, Jimmy Virtue took out his
mild eye--it being a glass one--and with the laconic remark, 'A damp
night makes it clammy,' wiped it calmly, and put it in again. The
effect of this upon Mr. Merrywhistle was appalling. To see that mild
eye--knowing that it was a glass one, and that a damp night made it
clammy--side by side with that fierce eye which, as he had described,
seemed inclined to fly out of its owner's head at you, was almost too
much for human endurance. And as Mr. Merrywhistle looked at them--he
could not help doing so, there was such a fascination in them--_both_
eyes seemed to glare at him, and the glare of the glass was more
dreadful and overpowering than the glare of the flesh. Jimmy Virtue,
whose one organ of sight was as potent as if he were Argus-eyed,
remarked Mr. Merrywhistle's perturbation, and quietly enjoyed it; he
did not refer to the subject, however, but considerately treated Mr.
Merrywhistle to as much of his glass eye as he could conveniently
bestow upon him.

'Speakin' of crinolines and peddicuts,' observed Jimmy, recurring to
his stock, 'they're not the only women's things that's left. We're in
the fashion down 'ere, I can tell you. In that box that you're
a-settin' on, there's a matter of seven chinons, that I takes care of
regularly a week-days--real 'air three of 'em are; them as belongs to
'em I do believe would sooner go without their stockin's a Sundays
than without their chinons. And now, jumpin' from one thing to
another, I should like to know whether you've got over your repentin'
fit, and whether you think Tom Beadle ought to be put in quod for
takin' your shillin' to-day.'

'No; I've no doubt he did it out of necessity. But I wish he hadn't
told me----'

'Lies. Don't stop at the word. Out of necessity! Ay, I should think
he did, the clever little thief. And necessity's the mother of
invention--consequently, necessity's the mother o' lies. You want a
friend o' mine to talk to you. He'd argue with you; but I fly into a
passion, and ain't got the patience that he's got. He'd talk to you
about Tom Beadle and little Blade-o'-Grass, and put things in a way
that ud stun you to 'ear.'

'Little what?'

'Blade-o'-Grass--the little girl that's sleepin' with Tom Beadle in
the gateway.'

'What a singular name!--has she a mother and father?'

'No mother; I can't say about father. I remember _him_ before the
young uns was born. He lived in this alley, and used to come into the
shop and leave his wife's things, and talk about the rights of man.
The rights of man! I tell you what he thought of them: a little while
before his wife was brought to bed, he cut away and left her. She was
brought to bed with twins--girls--and after that, she died.'

'Then Blade-o'-Grass has a sister?'

'Who said she 'as? I didn't. No, she ain't got a sister. I don't know
what came o' the other; but that don't matter to Blade-o'-Grass. Here
_she_ is, poor little devil, and that's enough for her, and more than
enough, I'll take my davy on. Time's up.'

This was an intimation that it was time for Mr. Merrywhistle
to take his departure. Wishing to stand well in the eyes of Jimmy
Virtue--notwithstanding the dreadful effect the glass eye had upon
him--he rose, and said that he hoped they would meet again; to which
Jimmy Virtue said, that _he_ had no objection.

'What do you say, now,' suggested Mr. Merrywhistle, 'to you and your
friend that you would like to talk to me coming to take a cup of tea
or a bit of dinner with me?'

'Which?' asked Jimmy Virtue. 'Tea I don't care for.'

'Dinner, then.'

'A good dinner?'

'Yes.'

'Wine?'

'Yes.'

Something very like a twinkle shone in the old man's fierce eye. He
rubbed his hand over his chin, and said,

'It's worth considerin' on.--When?'

'Next Saturday; any time in the afternoon you like to name.'

'That ud suit my friend,' said Jimmy Virtue, evidently impressed by
the prospect of a good dinner; 'he leaves off work a Saturdays at two
o'clock----'

'Then we'll consider it settled,' said Mr. Merrywhistle eagerly.

'----But I don't know that it ud suit _me_,' continued Jimmy, the
twinkle vanishing, and a calculating look taking its place. 'There's
the shop. I'd 'ave to shut it up--and then what would the customers
do? To be sure, I could put up a notice sayin' that it ud be open at
nine o'clock. I keep open till twelve Saturday night.'

'Very well; manage it that way.'

'I think you told me that you was Nothink Particular when I asked you
what you was, and bein' Nothink Particular, time's no account to you.
Now it _is_ some account to me--it's money.' Here he turned his blind
eye to Mr. Merrywhistle. 'If you want me to shut up my shop for six
hours, say, you must make it up to me. If you want Jimmy Wirtue's
company, you must pay for Jimmy Wirtue's time.'

'That's fair enough,' said Mr. Merrywhistle readily, scarcely hearing
the suppressed chuckle to which Jimmy Virtue gave vent at the answer.
'What do you value your time at?

'Sixpence an hour--three shillings for the six hours. Then there's the
disappointment to the customers, and the injury to the business; but
I'll throw them in.'

Without a word, Mr. Merrywhistle took three shillings from his pocket
and placed them on the table. Still keeping his blind side to Mr.
Merrywhistle, Jimmy Virtue tried the coins with his teeth, and said,
'Done!'

Whether he meant that he had 'done' Mr. Merrywhistle, or that the word
referred to the binding of the invitation to dinner, he did not stop
to explain, but asked,

'Where?'

'At the Three Jolly Butcher Boys, Cannon-street,' replied Mr.
Merrywhistle, not being confident that the resources of his
establishment in Buttercup-square would be sufficient to satisfy his
new and eccentric acquaintance.

'That's settled, then,' said Jimmy, 'and I'll bring my friend at four
o'clock. And now, if you don't mind takin' a bit of advice, take
this--never you go talkin' to strangers agin at such a time o' night
as this, and never you accept another invitation to visit a man you
don't know nothin' of.'

'But I knew I could trust you,' said Mr. Merrywhistle, smiling.

'Did you!' exclaimed Jimmy. 'Then I wouldn't give the snuff of a
candle for your judgment. I'll see you out of this, if you please.'

So saying, he led his visitor out of the shop. Mr. Merrywhistle could
not, for the life of him, help casting a hurried glance over his
shoulder in the direction of the special crinoline which had so
distressed him; and again the fancy came upon him, that he saw a woman
hanging behind the door. When he was in the open, however, this fancy
vanished, and he breathed more freely. They stopped to look at the
sleeping forms of Tom Beadle and Blade-o'-Grass in the gateway. The
children were fast locked in each other's arms, and were sleeping
soundly.

In the wider thoroughfare, Jimmy Virtue bade Mr. Merrywhistle
'good-night,' and as he walked back to his shop in Stoney-alley, amused
himself by polishing his glass eye with a dirty pocket-handkerchief, and
chuckling over the remembrances of the night.

In the mean time, Mr. Merrywhistle made his way to Buttercup-square,
not ill pleased with his adventure. But in the night he was tormented
by singular dreams, the most striking one of which contained the
horrible incident of Jimmy Virtue glaring at him with his glass eye,
and swallowing at one gulp a huge baked potato, with Tom Beadle and
Blade-o'-Grass sticking in the middle of it.



    THE STRANGE IDEA OF HALLELUJAH ENTERTAINED BY BLADE-O'-GRASS.


Punctually at four o'clock oh Saturday, Jimmy Virtue, accompanied by
his friend, presented himself to Mr. Merrywhistle at the Three Jolly
Butcher Boys. It might reasonably have been expected, that Jimmy would
have made some change for the better in his appearance, in honour of
the occasion; but Mr. Merrywhistle fancied that, out of defiance,
Jimmy had allowed the accumulated dust of days to lie thick upon his
clothes, and that he had purposely neglected to brush them. Indeed, he
almost asserted as much by his manner: You saw what I was, and you
forced yourself upon me; you invited me and my friend to dinner, and
you must take the consequences. His only eye, as it blazed at Mr.
Merrywhistle from under its precipice of bushy hair, seemed to be
asking of that gentleman how he liked its owner's appearance: and it
softened somewhat in the kindly glances from Mr. Merrywhistle, whose
countenance was beaming with amiability and good-nature.

'This is my friend that I spoke of,' said Jimmy Virtue; 'his name is
Truefit, Robert Truefit. Truefit by name, and Truefit by nature. This
is Mr. Merrywhistle, who sometimes gives and repents.'

Robert Truefit came forward, with a manly bow, and, when Mr.
Merrywhistle offered his hand, shook it cordially.

'My friend, Mr. Virtue, here--' he said, and was about to proceed,
when the old man struck in with,

'Now, I won't have it. Bob; I won't have it. None of your misters
because we're before company. It's Jimmy Wirtue when we are alone, and
it's Jimmy Wirtue now; and if you're a-goin' to say anythin' in
apology for me, don't. I don't want apologies made for me, and I won't
'ave 'em.'

Robert Truefit laughed, and said, 'We must let old Jimmy have his way,
sir, so I won't say what I was going to say.' Robert Truefit was about
thirty years of age, and was a stonemason by trade. He had a shrewd
intelligent face and clear brown eyes, which, young as he was, already
showed the signs of much thought. He was as manly a fellow as you
would wish to look upon, and in his speech and manner there was a
straightforwardness which at once won for him the good opinion of
those with whom he came in contact. So conspicuous was this
straightforwardness of speech and manner, that he was often called
Straightforward Bob by his comrades and those who knew him intimately.
Directly you set eyes upon him, you received the impression, not only
that he was a man to be depended upon, but that he was one who was apt
to form his own opinions, and would stand by them through thick and
thin, unless absolutely convinced, through his reason, that they were
wrong. He had a wife who adored him, and children who looked up to him
in love and respect, as to a king. He was a true type of English
manhood and English shrewd common sense.

By the time the few words were exchanged, dinner was on the table, and
Mr. Merrywhistle motioned his guests to be seated. But Jimmy Virtue,
turning his blind eye to his host, said, with an odd smile, 'I've got
two more friends outside. May I bring them in?'

Without waiting for Mr. Merrywhistle's consent, he went to the door
and brought forward Tom Beadle and Blade-o'-Grass. Presenting them to
Mr. Merrywhistle, he went through a kind of mock introduction. Mr.
Thomas Beadle, Miss Blade-o'-Grass, Mr. Merrywhistle.

Tom Beadle made an awkward bow, and Blade-o'-Grass made a still more
awkward curtsey. Blade-o'-Grass was the only one of the four guests
who had thought fit to do honour to the occasion in the matter of
dress. Jimmy Virtue, as you have seen, had made himself shabbier than
usual; Robert Truefit was in his working clothes; and it would have
been simply impossible for Tom Beadle to have made any change in his
garments, unless he had stolen them, or had had them given to him. But
Blade-o'-Grass, who, like Tom Beadle, possessed no other clothes than
those she stood upright in--and those were as ragged as clothes could
be--had by some strange means acquired a bonnet, and it was on her
head now. Such a bonnet! If it had been gifted with a tongue, it could
doubtless have told a strange story of its career. For although now it
was only fit for a dunghill, it had been a fine bonnet once, and, torn
and soiled as it was, the semblance of a once fashionable shape was
still dimly recognisable. But Blade-o'-Grass was proud of it, wrecked
and fallen as it was from its high estate.

Now it may as well be confessed at once, that Tom Beadle was not at
his ease. When he had made his awkward bow, he raised his eyes to the
face of Mr. Merrywhistle, and recognised him. He did not know where he
was going to when Jimmy Virtue had asked him if he would like to have
a good dinner; and when he recognised Mr. Merrywhistle, he sent a
reproachful look at Jimmy Virtue, and involuntarily squared his arms
and elbows to ward off the knock on the head he expected to receive.
But as Jimmy Virtue only chuckled (knowing the fear that possessed Tom
Beadle), and as Mr. Merrywhistle was gentleness itself, the lad, after
a time, became reassured--though he still kept his elbows ready.


[Illustration]


'You sit down in the corner,' said Jimmy Virtue to the children, 'and
when we've finished dinner, you may eat what's left.'

'Nay,' said Mr. Merrywhistle, chiming in with the humour of his guest;
'there is more than enough for all. Let them eat with us.' And he
placed the children at the table, where they sat watching the filling
of their plates with gloating wonderment.

'Stop a minute, young uns,' said Jimmy Virtue, arresting their
uplifted forks, which they were clumsily handling, 'Grace before meat.
Repeat after me: For this bit o' luck----'

'For this bit o'luck,' they repeated.

'Let us say----' he.

'Let us say----' they.

'Hallelujah!'

'Alleloojah.'

'Now, you can fire away.'

And fire away they did, eating as hungry children only can eat--never
lifting their heads once from their plates until they had cleaned them
out; then they looked up for more.

Jimmy Virtue was quite as busily employed as the children, and ate and
drank with an air of intense enjoyment. Robert Truefit had more
leisure. He ate very little, having had his dinner at one o'clock.
Scarcely any conversation took place until dinner was over. Tom Beadle
and Blade-o'-Grass had eaten their fill, but they still held their
knives and forks in their hands, and looked eagerly at the remains of
the meal. Jimmy Virtue's face had a purplish tinge on it, and his
fierce eye had a mellow light in it, as he saw the children looking
eagerly at the food.

'What was it you found in your' lap the other mornin'?' he asked of
Blade-o'-Grass.

'Nothin',' was the reply.

'Not baked taters?

'No; we didn't 'ave 'em in the mornin'. Tom and me woke up in the
middle o' the night, and eat 'em.'

'Wasn't you astonished to find baked taters in your lap when you woke
up?'

'No; we was pleased.'

'Do you know who put 'em there?'

'The baked-tater man?' asked Blade-o'-Grass, after a little
consideration.

'No; it wasn't him. Guess agin.'

Blade-o'-Grass considered, and shook her head; but suddenly a gleam
lighted up her face. She pulled Tom Beadle to her, and whispered in
his ear.

'She ses, if yer please,' said Tom, 'that p'r'aps it was Alleloojah.'

At this suggestion, Jimmy Virtue was seized with one of his fits of
noiseless laughter; but both Mr. Merrywhistle and Robert Truefit
looked grave. Blade-o'-Grass and Tom Beadle saw nothing either grave
or ludicrous in the suggestion, for their attention was fully occupied
in the contemplation of the food that was on the table. Mr.
Merrywhistle, who was observing their rapt contemplation of the
remains of the feast, observed also Jimmy Virtue's fiery eye regarding
him.

'It's your'n? questioned the old man of his host.

'Yes, I suppose so.'

'You pay for it, whether it's eat or not?'

'Yes.'

'Give it to the young uns.'

'How win they take it away?'

'In a newspaper.'

Sharp Tom Beadle followed every word of the dialogue, and his lynx
eyes were the first that saw a newspaper on a sofa in the room. He
jumped from his seat, and brought forward the paper, his eyes
glistening with hope. Mr. Merrywhistle and Jimmy Virtue wrapped up
what remained of the joint of meat in the newspaper.

'Food for mind and body,' said Robert Truefit, as the parcel was given
to Tom.

Tom ducked his head, without in the least knowing what Robert Truefit
meant--and not caring either. His great anxiety was, to get away now
that he had as much as was likely to be given to him. Blade-o'-Grass
shared his anxiety. The gift of the food was such a splendid
one--there really was a large quantity of meat left on the joint--that
she feared it was only given to them 'out of a lark,' as she would
have expressed it, and that it would be taken from them presently. A
premonition was upon her, that she would be hungry to-morrow.

The children stood in painful suspense before the grown-up persons.
Their anxiety to be dismissed was so great, that they threw restless
glances around them, and shuffled uneasily with their feet. But Mr.
Merrywhistle had something to say first. He had great difficulty in
commencing, however. He coughed, and hesitated, and almost blushed,
and looked at Jimmy Virtue in a shame-faced kind of way.

'The other day,' at length he commenced, addressing himself to Tom
Beadle, 'when I saw you and Blade-o'-Grass on the Royal Exchange----'

Tom, in the most unblushing manner, was about to asseverate, upon his
soul and body, that he was not near the Royal Exchange, when Jimmy
Virtue's warning finger, and Jimmy Virtue's ominous eye, stopped the
lie on his lips.

'----On the Royal Exchange,' continued Mr. Merrywhistle, 'and gave
you--a--a shilling, were you really ill, as you seemed to me to be?'

A look of triumphant delight flashed into Tom Beadle's eyes. 'Did I.
do it well, sir? he cried, nudging Blade-o'-Grass. 'Did I look as if I
was a-dyin' by inches?'

Mr. Merrywhistle winced, as if he had received a blow.

'O, Tom, Tom!' he exclaimed gently, 'are you not ashamed of yourself?'

'No,' answered Tom, without hesitation, his manner instantly changing.

Blade-o'-Grass perceiving, with her quick instinct, that something was
wrong, and that Tom was likely to get into disgrace because he had
made the gentleman believe that he was dying by inches, stepped
forward chivalrously to the rescue.

'If you please, sir,' she said, 'you mus'n't blame Tom. It was all
along o' me he did it.'

Thereupon the following colloquy took place:

ROBERT TRUEFIT. Bravo, Blade-o'-Grass!

Mr. MERRYWHISTLE [_only too ready to receive justification_]. Come
here, child. How was it all along of you?

TOM BEADLE [_taking moral shelter behind Blade-o'-Grass_]. Tell the
gent the truth, Bladergrass; he won't 'urt you. Tell him about the
tiger.

Mr. MERRYWHISTLE [_in amazement_]. The tiger!

BLADE-O'-GRASS [_gravely_]. Yes, sir; I got a tiger in my inside.

Mr. MERRYWHISTLE. Who on earth put such a monstrous idea into the
child's head?

BLADE-O'-GRASS. Mr. Wirtue knows all about it, and so does all the
others in Stoney-alley.

JIMMY VIRTUE [_nodding gravely in confirmation_]. Yes, she's got a
tiger. Tell the gentleman what it does to you, Blade-o'-Grass.

BLADE-O'-GRASS. Eats up everythink as goes down my throat, sir;
swallers every blessed bit I puts in my mouth; and when I ain't got
nothink to give it, tears at me like one o'clock. Tom's giv me grub
for it orfen and orfen, sir; I don't know what I should a' done lots
o' times if it 'adn't been for 'im. [_Mr. Merrywhistle sheds a kindly
glance on Tom Beadle, who receives it with an air of injured
innocence_.] Well, sir, last Monday the tiger was a'-goin' on orfle,
and I was so sick that I begins to cry. Then Tom comes up, and arks me
what I'm cryin' for; and I tells 'im that the tiger's a-worryin' the
inside out o' me. Tom feels in 'is pockets, but he ain't got a copper
to giv me, so he ses, 'Come along o' me,' ses Tom; and he ketches 'old
of my 'and, and takes me to the Royal Igschange. Then he ses, ses Tom,
'If anybody arks you, Bladergrass, just you say that I'm your brother,
a-dyin' of consumption. I'm a-dyin' by inches, I am.' And I cries out,
sir, for Tom looked jist as if he _was_ a-dyin' by inches. [_A smile
of triumph wreathes Tom Beadle's lips; he has the proper pride of an
artist_.] But Tom tells me not to be frightened, for he's only
a-shammin'. Then the peeler tells us to move on, and you comes up and
gives Tom a shillin'; and the first thing Tom does is to buy a poloney
for me and a 'unk o' bread for the tiger.

TOM BEADLE. I wish I may die, sir, if she ain't told the truth, the
'ole truth, and nothin' but the truth, so 'elp me Bob!

Blade-o'-Grass gazes at Mr. Merrywhistle eagerly, and with glistening
eyes, and seeing that her vindication of Tom has raised him in the
estimation of their benefactor, nods at her ragged companion two or
three times in satisfaction. Mr. Merrywhistle, in his heart of hearts,
forgives Tom for the deception--nay, finds justification for it; and
the children are allowed to depart with their spoil.

Mr. MERRYWHISTLE. That's a sad sight, and a sad tale.

ROBERT TRUEFIT. England's full of such sights and such tales.

Jimmy Virtue pricked up his ears. He knew when his friend Bob was
'coming out,' and he prepared himself to listen by taking out his
glass eye and contemplating it with his fierce eye, polishing it up
the while.

Mr. MERRYWHISTLE [_gently_]. Not full of such sights, surely?

ROBERT TRUEFIT. Yes, full of them, unfortunately. Take London. There
are thousands and thousands of such children in such positions as Tom
Beadle and Blade-o'-Grass, hanging about the courts and alleys--pushed
out of sight, one might almost say. And as London is, so every other
large English city is. If they haven't shoals of boys and girls
growing up to men and women in one bad way, they have them in another
bad way. I know what old Jimmy got me here for to-day--he wanted me to
talk; he knows I'm fond of it.

JIMMY VIRTUE. Bob ought to be in Parleyment. He'd tell 'em somethin'.

ROBERT TRUEFIT. That's a specimen of old Jimmy's flattery, sir. I
don't see what good I could do in Parliament. I've got to work for my
living, and that takes up all my time; if I were in Parliament, I
should have to get money somehow to support my wife and family, and it
isn't in my blood to become a pensioner. Besides, I should be
contented enough with what's called 'the ruling powers,' if they'd
only turn their attention more to such social questions as this.

Mr. MERRYWHISTLE. Ah, I'm glad of that; I'm glad you're not a
republican.

ROBERT TRUEFIT. Not I, sir--though I don't know what I might become by
and by; for there's no denying that things are unequal, and that
working men are talking of this inequality more and more every year.
You'd be surprised to know what they think about this and that. And
although I don't go so far as some of them do, I can't help agreeing
with them in many things.

Mr. MERRYWHISTLE. But what do they want? Equality? Such a thing is
impossible.

ROBERT TRUEFIT. I know it is. You'd have to do away with brains before
you got that; though there _are_ a many who believe that it is to be
arrived at. Some of them are fools, and some of them are rogues; but
some of them have really worked themselves up into absolute belief.

Mr. MERRYWHISTLE. Discontented people are to be found everywhere, and
under any form of government.

ROBERT TRUEFIT. Ay, that's the way a great many sum up; when they say
that, they think they have found out the cause, and that the matter is
settled. 'Tisn't the sensible way to view it.

Mr. MERRYWHISTLE. What is the reason, then, of this spread of feeling
among working-men?

ROBERT TRUEFIT. That's a large question, and would take too long to
answer. But I think the penny newspaper is partly accountable for it.
They can afford to buy the penny and halfpenny newspaper, and they
read them, and talk more among themselves. You see, things press upon
them. They are arriving at a sort of belief that the laws are made
more for the protection and benefit of property than for the
protection and benefit of flesh and blood; and as _their_ value in the
market doesn't lie in land and money, but in bone and muscle, the idea
isn't pleasant to them.

Mr. MERRYWHISTLE. But surely they are not right in this idea?

ROBERT TRUEFIT. Are they not? Read the newspapers, and you'll find
they are. Why, a man may do anything to flesh and blood, short
of murder, and the law won't be very hard on him. But let him
touch property, ever so little, and down it comes on him like a
sledge-hammer. I'll tell you what I read in the police reports this
morning. A man is had up at the police-court for beating his wife. The
woman is put into the box, with marks on her face and with her head
bandaged; the man doesn't deny that he beat her, and half-a-dozen
witnesses prove that he beat her cruelly; the floor of the room in
which they lived was covered with blood-stains. There is no excuse for
him; no aggravation on her part is set up; a doctor states, that if
one of the blows she received had been a little more on the left
of her head, she would have been killed; and the man gets three
months' hard labour. Afterwards, a man is brought up for stealing
three-and-sixpence. He is miserably dressed, and there is want in his
face. The evidence in this case is quite as clear as in the other. The
prisoner snatched a purse, containing three-and-sixpence, out of a
man's hand, and ran away. Being searched, not a farthing is found upon
him, nor anything of the value of a farthing. The man does not deny
the theft, and says he wanted a meal; the police know nothing of him;
and he gets three months' hard labour. Compare these equal sentences
with the unequal offences, and you will see the relative value of
property and human flesh in the criminal market.

JIMMY VIRTUE. Bob puts it plainly, doesn't he?

Mr. MERRYWHISTLE. But these cases must be rare.

ROBERT TRUEFIT. They are very common; and these two cases that I have
put side by side, are two of the mildest. Listen to this--another
wife-beating case: Husband comes home at noon. What kind of man he is
may be guessed from his first words to his wife: 'I've something to
tell thee, you----! I'm going to murder thee, you----!' He takes off
his jacket, calls his bulldog, and sets it at his wife. As the dog
flies at the woman, her husband hits her in the face; the dog drags
her from the sofa, with its teeth in her flesh (it is almost too
horrible to tell, but it is true, every word of it), and the husband
jumps upon her, and kicks her on the head and shoulders. Imploring him
to have mercy upon her, crying for help, the woman is dragged by the
dog from room to room, tearing flesh out of her. The frightful
struggle continues for some time, until the woman manages to make her
escape from the house. It is dreadful to read the doctor's description
of the state of the woman, and how he feared, for three or four days,
that mortification would set in. The man is sentenced to--what do you
think? Six months' hard labour. About the same time, a very young man
is found guilty of stealing twenty shillings' worth of metal, and he
gets seven years' penal servitude. But I could multiply these
instances. You may say, that such cases as these have nothing to do
with the broad question of misgovernment; but I maintain that they
have. You get your criminal material from such places as Stoney-alley,
where poor Blade-o'-Grass lives; and yet Stoney-alley is as bad
now--ay, and worse than it was fifty years ago. The law knows of its
existence, has its wakeful eye upon it; but what has the law done for
its good, or for the good of those who live there? Take the case of
Blade-o'-Grass. What does the law do for her?--and by the law you must
understand that I mean the governing machinery for keeping society in
order and for dispensing justice to all--out of our police-courts as
well as in them. Think of the story she told, and the way in which she
told it. There is capacity for good, in that child--ay, and in Tom
Beadle, too. Can you doubt that, but for your charity, she might have
died of hunger?

Mr. MERRYWHISTLE [_eagerly_]. Then you don't disapprove of
indiscriminate charity?

ROBERT TRUEFIT. Not I; I don't disapprove of a man putting his
hand into his pocket and exercising a benevolent impulse. Your
lip-philanthropists, who preach against indiscriminate charity--what
would they do for Blade-o'-Grass? What _would_ they do! What _do_ they
do? 'Work,' they say. But they don't? give her work; don't even teach
her how to work, if such a miracle happened to fall in her way. And
all the while the policeman says, 'Move on.' I know something, through
Jimmy here, of Blade-o'-Grass--a hapless waif, an encumbrance, a blot,
serving as a theme for countless meetings and oceans of words. What
business has she in the world? But she came, unfortunately for
herself, and she is so legislated for, that to live is her greatest
affliction.

JIMMY VIRTUE. It's my opinion that a good many of the fellers who
preach agin indiscriminate charity only do so as an excuse for
buttonin' up their pockets.

ROBERT TRUEFIT [_laughing_]. And their hearts as well, Jimmy. You put
me in mind of something I saw last Sunday in Upper-street, Islington.
The people were coming out of church. A couple--evidently man and
wife-were walking before me, talking on religious matters--or, rather,
he was talking, and she was listening. I passed them just as he was
saying, 'If I haven't got the grace of God in my heart, I'd like to
know who _has_ got it?' and at the same moment as forlorn-looking a
woman as ever I set eyes on, intercepted him, and curtseyed, and held
out her hand imploringly. He pushed her aside surlily and with a sour
look on his face; and walked along talking of the grace of God. The
woman may have been an impostor--in other words, a professional
beggar; but I should be sorry to call that Grace-of-God man my friend.
No, sir, I don't think that it is a good thing to crush a kindly
impulse, or that we should treat our best feelings and emotions as so
many figures in a sum. It is not the giver who makes beggars. The
fault is in the system, which opens no road for them at the proper
time of their lives.

Mr. MERRYWHISTLE [_sadly_]. But tell me: do you see no remedy for
these ills?

ROBERT TRUEFIT. The remedy is simple. Commence at the right end. Train
up a child in the way it should go, and when it is old it will not
depart from it. And by the same rule, Train up a child in the way it
shouldn't go, and when it is old it will not depart from it. It is
almost time for me and Jimmy to be off. Jimmy wants to open his shop,
and I want to get home to my wife; but I'll just try to explain what I
mean. Two poor boys, one six and one nine years of age, lost their
mother; a few weeks afterwards they were caught taking some potatoes
from a garden. The presumption is, that they were hungry. The potatoes
were valued at one penny. The boys were sent to prison for fourteen
days, and the State thus commenced their education. I will conclude
with a personal experience. I had occasion to go to Liverpool some
little time ago, and on the day that I was to return to London I saw a
girl standing against a wall, crying bitterly. She was a pretty girl,
of about sixteen years of age. I went and spoke to her, and soon saw
that the poor girl was utterly bewildered. It appeared that she had
landed that morning in Liverpool, having been brought by her sister
from Ireland, and that her sister had deserted her. A more simple,
artless girl I never met, and she hadn't a penny in her pocket, nor a
friend in the Liverpool wilderness. I thought to myself. This girl
will come to harm. Hungry, friendless, pretty---- I went to a
policeman, and told him the story. The policeman scratched his head.
'Is she a bad girl?' he asked. I was shocked at the question, and said
no, I was sure she was not; that she was a simple good girl, almost a
child--and was as complete an outcast as if she were among savages.
The policeman shrugged his shoulders, and said civilly enough that he
couldn't do anything. 'What did you mean by asking if she was a bad
girl?' I asked. 'Well, you see,' he answered, 'if she was a bad girl,
and wanted to be took care of, I could take her somewhere.' 'Where she
_would_ be taken care of?' I asked. 'Yes,' he answered. 'And have food
given to her? 'Yes.' 'But a good girl,' I said, 'homeless, friendless,
and hungry----''Can't interfere with _them_,' said the policeman.
'She'll have to qualify herself for a refuge, then,' I could not help
saying bitterly, as I turned away, leaving the poor girl in her
distress; for I could do nothing, and had only enough money to take me
third-class to London. There, sir! You can draw your own moral from
these things. Many a working man is drawing conclusions from suchlike
circumstances, and the feeling that statesmen are ignoring the most
important problems of the day is gaining strength rapidly. For my own
part, I honestly confess that, without one tinge of socialism or even
republicanism in my veins, I am not satisfied with things as they are.

With these words, spoken very earnestly, Robert Truefit, accompanied
by Jimmy Virtue, took his departure. But Jimmy Virtue found time to
whisper in Mr. Merrywhistle's ear,

'Didn't I tell you Bob 'ud talk to you? It ain't dear at sixpence an
hour, is it?

Mr. Merrywhistle said no; it was not at all dear, and he hoped soon to
see them again.

'All right,' said Jimmy Virtue, with a last flash from his fierce eye;
'when you like;' and so departed.


[Illustration]



                            THE INTERLUDE.


In times gone by, it used to be the sometime fashion in the theatres
to have an interlude between the acts of the melodrama, so that the
mind might find some relief from the thrilling horrors which had just
been enacted, and might prepare itself for the more profound horrors
to come. Usually, there was an interval of time between the acts--in
most cases seven years--during which the performers neither changed
their linen nor grew any older. This was probably owing to the joyous
efforts of those who enacted the interlude, which was invariably
composed of songs and dances. Of such material as these shall part of
this interlude be composed; striking out the songs, however, and
introducing flowers in their stead, as being infinitely more innocent
and graceful than the gross and impure lessons taught by the popular
songs of the day, which unfortunately flow too readily into such
neighbourhoods as that of which Stoney-alley forms a limb. Such
teaching, in its own sad time, will bear bitter fruit--nay, it is
bearing it even now, and the poisoned branches are bending beneath the
weight.

Blade-o'-Grass was very young; but the few years she had lived
contained many imminent crises--any one of which, but for some timely
act of human kindness, might have put an end to her existence. But her
life had not been all shade, although it may appear to you and me to
have been so; there were lights in it, there were times when she
enjoyed. You and I stand in the sun, and contemplate with sadness our
fellow-creatures struggling and living in the dark. But it is not dark
to them, as it is to us; they were born in it, they live in it, they
are used to it. Such sunlight as we enjoy, and are, I hope, thankful
for, might make them drunk.

Said Tom Beadle one day to Blade-o'-Grass,

'I say, Bladergrass, why don't yer do somethin', and make a few
coppers?'

And Blade-o'-Grass very naturally answered,

'What shall I do, Tom?'

Tom was prepared with his answer.

'Lookee 'ere: why don't you be a flower-gal?'

'O, Tom!' exclaimed Blade-o'-Grass, her face flushing, her heart
beating, at the prospect of heaven held out to her. 'A flower-gal,
Tom! A flower-gal! O, don't I wish I could be!'

'You'd 'ave to wash yer face, yer know,' said Tom, regarding the dirty
face of Blade-o'-Grass from a business point of view, 'and put a clean
frock on.'

Down to zero went the hopes of Blade-o'-Grass. A clean face she might
have compassed. But a clean frock! That meant a new frock, of course.
Blade-o'-Grass had never had a new frock in her life. A new frock! She
had never had anything new--not even a new bootlace. Despair was in
her face. Tom saw it, and said,

'Don't be down in the mug, Bladergrass. We'll see if it can't be done
some'ow.'

What a hero Tom was in her eyes!

'O, Tom,' she cried, 'if I could be a flower-gal--if I could! I've
seen 'em at the Royal Igschange'--she was pretty well acquainted with
that locality by this time--'and don't they look prime!' She twined
her fingers together nervously. 'They've all got clean faces and nice
dresses. O, 'ow 'appy they must be!'

'And they make lots o' money,' said Tom.

'Do they! O, don't I wish I was them!'

'And they go to theaytres.'

'Do they! O, don't I wish I could go to the theaytre!'

'There's Poll Buttons. Why, two year ago, Bladergrass, she was
raggeder nor you. And now she comes out--she _does_ come out, I can
tell yer! _She_ sells flowers at the Royal Igschange, and she looks as
'appy--as 'appy'--Tom's figures of speech and similes were invariably
failures--'as 'appy as can be. Why, I see her the other night at the
Standard, and she was in the pit. There was a feller with her
a-suckin' a stick. Didn't she look proud! And I 'eerd Bill Britton say
as how he saw her at 'Ighbury Barn last Sunday with another feller
a-suckin' a stick.'

'Do all the swells suck sticks, Tom?' asked Blade-o'-Grass innocently.

'All the real tip-toppers do,' answered Tom.

'Perhaps there's somethin' nice in the knobs,' suggested
Blade-o'-Grass.

'Perhaps; but I don't think it. You see, it looks swellish,
Bladergrass.'

'If you 'ad a stick, would you suck it, Tom?'

'I think I should,' replied Tom, after a little consideration; 'and
I'd 'ave one with a large knob. They're all the go.' Then Tom came
back to the subject of Poll Buttons. 'She makes a 'eap o' money. Why,
I 'eerd tell as 'ow she sells crocuses and wilets for a tanner a bunch
at first. The swells buy a bunch of wilets, and then she coaxes 'em,
and ses as 'ow wilets and crocuses ought to go together, and she uses
'er eyes and smiles sweet. Stand up, Bladergrass!'

Blade-o'-Grass stood up, and Tom Beadle scrutinised her.

'Poll Buttons is a reg'lar beauty, they say. But I wish I may die if
you won't be a reg'larer beauty when you're as old as Poll is.'

'Shall I, Tom? Shall I?' And the eyes of Blade-o'-Grass sparkled, and
a bright colour came into her cheeks. Even in her ragged frock, and
with her dirty face, she looked pretty. 'Then I shall get a tanner a
bunch for my crocuses and wilets, and when the roses comes in,
I'll--I'll----' But her voice trailed off as she looked at her ragged
frock, and her lips trembled, and the little glimpse of heaven that
lay in the imaginary basket of flowers faded utterly away.

'Don't take on so, Bladergrass,' said Tom Beadle; 'who knows? I may
'ave a bit o' luck. And if I do, I wish I may die if I don't set you
up as a flower-gal! You jist keep up your 'art, and wait a bit.'

And one day Tom Beadle really went to Jimmy Virtue's leaving-shop, and
asked the price of a new cotton frock, which, after much bargaining,
he bought for two shillings and fourpence.

'Who's it for, Tom?' asked Jimmy, testing the coins before he
delivered the frock to Tom. 'Got a new sweet'art?'

'It's for Bladergrass,' replied Tom complacently. 'I'm a-goin' to set
her up as a flower-gal. I promised 'er I would when I 'ad a bit o'
luck.'

'And you've 'ad a bit o' luck?'

'Yes, a reg'lar slice.'

'How was it, Tom?'

'Arks no questions, and I'll tell 'you no lies,' responded Tom
saucily, walking away with his precious purchase.

Neither will we be too curious about how the means were acquired which
enabled Tom to give Blade-o'-Grass an honest start in life.

That first new common cotton dress! What joy and delight stirred the
heart of Blade-o'-Grass as she surveyed it! She devoured it with her
eyes, and was as delicate in handling it as if its texture had been of
the finest silk. All that she could say was, 'O, Tom! O, Tom!' She
threw her arms round Tom's neck, and kissed him a hundred times; and
Tom felt how sweet it is to give. But Tom's goodness did not end here.
He conducted Blade-o'-Grass to a room where she could wash herself and
array herself in her new dress. She came out of that room transformed.
She had smoothed her hair and washed her face, and the dress became
her. She smiled gratefully at Tom when she presented herself to him.

'I'm blessed if Poll Buttons'll be able to 'old a candle to you!'
exclaimed Tom admiringly, and Blade-o'-Grass thrilled with joy.

Thus it came about that Mr. Merrywhistle, walking near the Royal
Exchange one day, saw a clean little girl, with a basket of humble
flowers on her arm, and a bright little face looking earnestly at him.

'Bless my soul!' exclaimed the benevolent gentleman. 'Blade-o'-Grass!'

'Yes, sir, if you please. Tom's set me up as a flower-gal.'

'Tom!'

'Tom Beadle, sir; 'im as you guv a shillin' to once, and as come along
o' me when we 'ad that jolly dinner.'

'Dear me! Dear me!' said Mr. Merrywhistle, honest pleasure beaming in
his eyes. 'And Tom's set you up, eh? And you're getting an honest
living, eh?'

'Yes, sir, if you please, sir. Do you want a flower for your
button'ole, sir? 'Ere's a white rose, sir--a reg'lar beauty; and
'ere's a piece o' mingyonet to show it off', sir, and a bit o' maiden
'air to back it up.'

And before Mr. Merrywhistle knew where he was, he had put the flowers
in his button-hole, and, instructed by Blade-o'-Grass, had fastened
them with a pin she took out of her frock. It was thirty years since
he had worn a flower, the good old fellow! and as he looked upon them
now, there came to him the memory of a few sunny months when he was
young. The crowds of people, the busy streets, the noise and turmoil,
vanished from sight and sense; and for one brief moment--which might
have been an hour, the vision was so distinct--he saw fair fingers
fastening a piece of mignonette in his coat, and a fair head bending
to his breast---- It was gone! But as Mr. Merrywhistle awoke to the
busy hum about him, there was a sweet breath in his nostrils, and a
dim sweet light in his eyes. Most unwisely he gave Blade-o'-Grass a
shilling for the flowers, and patted her head, and walked away; while
Blade-o'-Grass herself, almost fearing that the shilling was a bad
one, bit it with her strong teeth, and being satisfied of its
genuineness, executed a double-shuffle on the kerbstone.

That very afternoon, Blade-o'-Grass, having had a good day, purchased
a walking cane of a street vendor. It was a cane with the largest knob
he had in his stock. This cane she presented to Tom Beadle the same
evening. Tom was immensely delighted with it. To the admiration of
Blade-o'-Grass, he put the knob in his mouth, to the serious danger of
that feature, and comported himself as became a tip-top swell.

'You're a reg'lar little brick,' said Tom; 'and I'm blessed if I don't
take you to the theaytre.'

Blade-o'-Grass jumped for joy and clapped her hands. How she had
longed to go to a theatre! And now the magic hour had come. She had
been rich enough lately to pay twopence a night for a bed, and she
went to the cheap lodging-house she patronised, and washed her face
and combed her hair, and made herself as smart as she could. Tom
Beadle had also smartened himself up, and to the theatre they went,
arm in arm, he with the knob of the stick in his mouth, and she, in
her rags, as proud as any peacock.

In what words can the awe and wonder of Blade-o'-Grass be described?
She had her own ideas of things, and she was surprised to find the
interior of the theatre so different from what she had imagined.
Boxes, pit, and gallery, she knew there were. But she had set down in
her mind that the boxes were veritable boxes, in which the people were
shut, with little eye-holes to peep through; and the pit she had
imagined as a large dark space dug out of the earth, very low down,
where the people were all huddled together, and had to look up to see
what was going on. It was to the pit they went, and for some time
Blade-o'-Grass was too astonished to speak. A very, very large O would
fitly describe her condition. Tom Beadle, on the contrary, was quite
composed; theatres were but ordinary places to him. But used-up as he
was to the pleasures of the town, he derived a new pleasure from the
contemplation of the wonderment of Blade-o'-Grass.

'O, Tom! O, Tom!' she whispered in ecstasy, edging closer to him, when
at last she found courage to use her tongue. It was a large theatre,
with a great deal of gold-leaf about it; and the audience were
evidently bent upon enjoying themselves, and vehemently applauded at
every possible opportunity. Thus, when the lights are turned up, and a
bright blaze breaks out upon the living sea of faces, there is much
clapping of hands, and much stamping of feet, and other marks of
approval. When the musicians straggle into the orchestra, they are
also vehemently applauded; but those 'high and mighty' might have been
by themselves in the Desert of Sahara, for all the heed they pay to
the audience. The occupiers of the gallery are very noisy in their
demonstrations, and issue their commands with stentorian lungs. 'Now,
then; scrape up, cat-gut!' 'Hoo-o-o-o! Scrape up! Up with the rag!'
with cries, and shouts, and whistles, which strike fresh wonderment to
the soul of Blade-o'-Grass. She is not frightened at the noise; for
even Tom Beadle puts his two little fingers to the corners of his
lips, and adds shrill whistles to the general confusion--in the
performance of which duty he stretches his mouth to such an extent
that, as a feature, it becomes a hideous mockery. But at length the
band strikes up with a crash, the sound of which is speedily drowned
in the roar of delight that follows. In due time--but not in time to
satisfy the impatient audience--the music ceases, and a general
shifting and rustling takes place among the audience. A moments
breathless expectation follows; a cracked bell gives the meanest of
tinkles; and Blade-o'-Grass bends a little more forward as that awful
and magic green curtain is drawn upwards by invisible hands. The piece
that is there and then represented to the wondering soul of
Blade-o'-Grass is a 'strong domestic drama,' as the playbill has it,
and Blade-o'-Grass gasps and sobs and catches her breath at the
'striking' situations with which the play is filled. The piece is a
narration of the struggles and vicissitudes of the poorest class of
the community--the class indeed, the lower stratum of which is
occupied by just such persons as Tom Beadle and Blade-o'-Grass; and a
curious commentary is made on it the next day by Blade-o'-Grass, who,
dilating upon its wonders and entrancements, declares that she 'never
seed sich a thing in all her born days.' There are of course in the
piece a painfully-virtuous wife, a desperate villain, to whom murder
is child's play, a delirium-tremens beggar, a Good Young Man, and a
vilified Jew; and as these characters play their parts, Blade-o'-Grass
thrills and quivers with delicious excitement. Tom Beadle also enters
into the excitement of the representation, and stamps and claps his
hands and whistles as vigorously as any one there. But when the
'strong domestic drama' is concluded, and the glories of the burlesque
are unfolded to the ravished senses of Blade-o'-Grass, then, indeed,
is she in heaven. Never has she conceived anything so enchanting as
this. It is the first fairy story that has ever been presented to her.
How she screams over the meaningless songs! How she devours with her
eyes the display of female limbs! 'O, 'ow lovely, Tom!' she whispers.
'O, don't I wish I was them!'

'You'd look as well as any of 'em, Bladergrass,' says Tom, who knows
everything, 'if you was took in 'and, and if you could darnce.'

'O no, Tom--O no!' exclaims Blade-o'-Grass: 'I ain't got sich legs.'

Tom laughs, and whispers confidentially that 'them legs ain't all
their own. He knows a cove who knows a balley-gal, and she pads her
legs like one o'clock.' Blade-o'-Grass, in her heart of hearts, can't
believe it; but she is too much absorbed in the performance to enter
into argument. So the pageant passes before her eyes until all the
songs are sung and all the dances danced; and when the curtain falls
upon the brilliant last scene, she looks solemnly at Tom, and a great
sob escapes her because it is all over. She can scarcely repress her
tears. It is a wondrous night for Blade-o'-Grass, and lives in her
memory for long afterwards. Tom Beadle proposes 'a eel supper,' and
they sit in state, like the best nobles in the land, in a dirty box in
a dirty eel-pie shop; and as they eat their eels off a dirty plate,
with a dirty spoon and fork, Blade-o'-Grass looks up to her companion
as to a god; and Tom, noticing the girl's sparkling eyes and flushed
cheeks, says, with an approving nod, 'I'm blessed if you won't beat
Poll Buttons into fits.' Then they go home, and Blade-o'-Grass dreams
that she is an angel hanging from the flies.

That first night at a theatre filled Blade-o'-Grass with a new
ambition, and her better prospects inspired her with confidence. She
determined to learn to dance.

You will, I am sure, be amazed to hear, that every night in
Stoney-alley, when the weather was in any way propitious, there was a
ball--an open-air ball; the orchestra, an Italian organ-grinder; the
company, nearly all the dirty boys and girls in the neighbourhood. At
a certain hour every evening an Italian organ-grinder, on whose dark
face a fixed expression of stolid gloomy melancholy for ever rested,
made his appearance in Stoney-alley; and, as if he were a lost soul,
and this agony was his penance, ground out of his afflicted organ a
string of waltzes and polkas and quadrilles, so inexpressibly dismal
that the very dogs howled in despair, and fled. But directly the first
note sounded--and that first note always came out with a wail--the
children, from two years old and upwards, began to congregate, and
without any curtseying, or bowing, or engaging of partners, the
strangest ball commenced that ever was seen.

Girls with babies in their arms glided round and round in the
entrancing waltz; children who could scarcely toddle toddled round;
and young ladies without encumbrances clasped each other by the waist,
and spun round in a state of beatific bliss. When the waltz music
ended with a groan, and the polka commenced with a wheeze, the big
children hopped and the toddlers toddled in perfect contentment. Then
came the quadrilles, in which many new figures were introduced, which
Belgravia might have profited by. But the strangest dance of all was a
Scotch reel, which, by some unearthly means, had got into this
decrepit organ, and which, being set to work by the inexorable handle,
came out of its hiding-place spasmodically, and with stitches in its
side. It was a sight to remember to see these ragged children dance
this Scotch reel, with their toes up to their knees, their right arms
elevated above their heads, and their left hands stuck in their sides
as if they grew there. Blade-o'-Grass had never had courage to join in
the revels; she had been too ragged and forlorn to claim equality with
even this ragged and forlorn troop. But now her prospects were
brightening, and her ambition was roused. The very evening following
that on which she visited the theatre she boldly joined the dancers.
And there she hopped and twirled and glided until the music ceased;
and every evening thereafter she made her appearance at the
entertainment as punctually as some people attend their places of
worship, and with more devotion than many. She was looked upon as a
guest of high distinction at the ball, for she was liberal with her
farthings and halfpence. In course of time she became one of the very
best dancers in the alley, and often and often dreamt that she was a
ballet-girl, and was twirling before an admiring audience, in the
shortest of short spangled skirts, and the pinkest of pink legs.

These were the happiest days she had ever known. Now and then the
tiger set up its claims, and was not satisfied; but these occasions
were very rare. She went to the theatre often, and sometimes treated
Tom Beadle, who did not show a stupid pride and independence. She sold
flowers in the season, and lived how she could when there were no
flowers to sell. 'I wish they growed all the yeer round,' she said to
Tom many and many a time. She and Tom were always together, and it was
understood that they had 'taken up with one another.'

This being an interlude, in which the promise set forth has been
faithfully carried out--for dances and flowers have been introduced
in profusion--it will perhaps be considered out of place to mention
that, excepting that she knew how to speak an intelligible language,
Blade-o'-Grass was as ignorant of morals and religion as if she had
been a four-footed animal. But it is necessary to state this, or you
might condemn her unjustly, and look down upon her uncharitably. And
while she grew in deeper and deeper ignorance, how the great world
laboured, in which she lived and moved and had her being! One section
was in agony because a man of science had by his writings thrown doubt
on the grand story of the Creation, and had attempted to prove that
Adam and Eve were not created; and nine-tenths of the people shrunk in
horror from a man who denied the truth of biblical miracles. Yet one
and all believed in a future state--a better one than this, a higher
one than this, a holier one than this--to be earned by living a good
life, and by doing unto others as we would others should do unto us.
And Blade-o'-Grass had never raised her eyes and hands to God; she had
never said a prayer.


[Illustration]



                               PART II.

                           THE PRISON WALL.


Seven years have passed, and the curtain rises upon a high gloomy
stone wall. Grouped about the pavement which skirts the wall are
nearly a score of persons, waiting in a state of painful expectancy.
They are waiting for friends and relatives; and this gloomy stone wall
encloses a prison.

Although it is broad day, the aspect of the scene is inexpressibly
depressing. It is September; but the treacherous month has crept upon
November, and stolen one of its cheerless days, when dull sky and dull
atmosphere conspire to send the spirits down to zero. Not that these
unhappy mortals require any outward influence to render them
miserable; their countenances and attitude show that clearly enough.
There are among them young women, almost children, and they stand
about the prison with pale faces and clasped hands, with eyes cast
down to the earth. They exchange but few words; they have sufficient
special occupation in their thoughts to render them indisposed for
conversation. They are poorly clad, and some of them shiver as the
damp wind steals round the massive wall which shuts out hope.

Near to the prison door are a young and an old woman--one seventeen
years of age on her last birthday, the other seventy. The young woman
has no covering on her head; the old woman wears an ancient bonnet,
which was the fashion once upon a time. Her little wrinkled face is
almost hidden in the bonnet, and her ancient cotton dress falls in
such straight lines about her, that, but for the pale wrinkled face
and the shrivelled hands that peep from out the folds of a faded
shawl, it might reasonably have been supposed it covers the limbs of a
child. The bonnet has moved several times in the direction of the
girl-woman, as if its owner were curious about her companion; but the
girl takes no notice. At length, a piping voice asks, 'Are you waiting
for some one, my dear?'

The girl answers 'Yes,' but does not look at the questioner.

'Who for, my dear?'

No answer.

'You needn't mind me,' pipes the old woman; 'I don't mean any harm;
and it does my old heart good to talk. Perhaps you've got a mother of
your own.'

'Mother!' echoes the girl, somewhat bitterly, and yet with a certain
plaintiveness. 'No, I've got no mother; I never 'ad one as I knows
of.'

'Poor dear, poor dear! Come, my dear, talk kindly to an old woman who
might be your grandmother. Ay, I might, my dear. I'm seventy-one come
the 10th of November, and I'm waiting for my daughter. You've got a
long time before you, my dear, before you come to my age.'

'Seventy-one!' exclaims the girl, '_I_ shall never be seventy-one. I
shouldn't like to be. What's your daughter in for? How old is she? She
must be older than me.'

'She's thirty, my dear, and she's in for begging. What's yours in
for?'

'My what in for?' sharply and sullenly.

'Your friend. You needn't be so sharp with an old woman like me. You
may be a mother yourself one day, poor dear!'

The girl turns with a gasp--it may be of joy or pain--and takes the
old woman's hand and begs her pardon.

_Her_ friend is in for worse than beggin', the girl says, and relapses
into silence, retaining the old woman's hand in hers, however, for a
little while.

Many persons pass this way and that, but few bestow a second glance
upon the group; and even if pity enters the heart of one and another,
it does not take practical shape, and in its passive aspect it is, as
is well known, but cold charity. One man, however, lingers in passing,
walks a few steps, and hesitates. He has caught a glimpse of a face
that he recognises, and it is evident that he is distressed by it. He
turns boldly, and pauses before the forms of the old woman and the
girl.

'Blade-o'-Grass!' he exclaims.

She raises her head, and looks him in the face. No shame, no fear, no
consciousness of degradation, is in her gaze. She drops him a curtsey,
and turns her face towards the prison doors.

Girl as she is, she is a woman, and well-looking. Her dress is of the
poorest, and she is not too tidy; but the grace of youth is upon her.
It is not upon all who are brought up as she has been. But she has
this charm, and good looks as well; and she is grateful for them, for
she likes to be called pretty. Remember that, at that momentous period
in the life of Blade-o'-Grass when her future hung on a chance, Mrs.
Manning 'kept the prettiest one, the one with the dimple.'

What is it that causes the gravest of expressions to pass into the
countenance of Mr. Merrywhistle as Blade-o'-Grass looks up? He does
not say; but the grave expression remains upon his face during the
interview. He has not seen her since the spring. Somehow or other, he
lost sight of her. Years ago, when Tom Beadle 'set her up' as a
flower-girl, he had a strong inclination to do some substantial good
for her--to remove her from the associations by which she was
surrounded, and which dragged her down to the lowest level. But, in
the first place, he could ill afford it; and, in the second, when he
had spoken of his wish to Jimmy Virtue, that worthy had asked him if
he thought he could take all the world's work upon his one pair of
shoulders. 'And after all,' Jimmy Virtue had said, 'isn't the gal
gettin' a honest livin'?'

The old woman peers into Mr. Merrywhistle's face, and as her ancient
bonnet goes up in the air, it seems capacious enough to bury her whole
body in. Mr. Merrywhistle gives her a kind look, and addresses himself
to Blade-o'-Grass.

'This is not a fit place for you--' he is about to add, 'my poor
child,' but her womanly appearance checks him.

'Ain't it?' she replies, with a smile on her lips that is not pleasant
to see. 'What is then?'

He is surprised at her reckless manner. 'Have you business here? Are
you waiting for any one?

'Yes.'

'For whom?'

'Ah, that's what I asked her,' pipes the old woman; 'but she wouldn't
tell me.'

'I'm waitin' for Tom,' she says, answering him.

'Tom Beadle?'

'Yes, Tom Beadle.'

'Is he in prison, then?' he asks, very gently.

'Yes; he's been doin' a month.'

'What for?'

'What does it matter? Priggin'--anythin'.'

Perceiving that Blade-o'-Grass does not wish to pursue the
conversation, Mr. Merrywhistle steps aside, sad at heart; but lingers,
looking pityingly at Blade-o'-Grass. As he does so, a clock strikes
the hour, and the eyes of the expectant group turn eagerly to the
prison door, which presently opens. Six or seven persons walk out. The
women blink their eyes as they come into the light; the men shake
themselves like dogs; some raise their hands to their brows, and look
about them as Gulliver might have done when he found himself in a
strange land. The little old woman hastens to her daughter, a
patient-looking woman, and for a moment two faces are hidden in the
ancient bonnet. One man, who has seven or eight friends waiting for
him, shakes his fist at the prison, and kicks the stone wall savagely.

'That's how I'd like to serve the guvner of that there cussed hole!'
he exclaims. 'Give me something to drink, or I shall choke!'

Another man looks around with a vacant stare: there is no one to meet
him. With something like a sigh his head sinks into his shoulders, and
he slinks away, hugging the wall as he goes.

The last to come out is Tom Beadle. Blade-o'-Grass is by his side in
an instant.

'Come along, Tom,' she says, clinging fondly to his arm, and pulling
his face down to hers and kissing it; 'I've got something nice to eat
at home.'

'You're a good sort, Bladergrass,' says the thief. 'Let's get away
from this place quick, and go home.'

Home! Yes, to Stoney-alley, not twenty yards from where her mother had
died. A room in an attic, which had been thoroughly cleaned and made
tidy for the return of the prodigal. No furniture to speak of; a fire,
and a saucepan on the hob; a mug of beer, a flat bottle with gin in
it; one chair and a stool, and a table; a bed in the corner.

Tom surveys the room with satisfaction beaming in his eyes.
Blade-o'-Grass looks at him, and joy breaks like sunlight over her
face because he is pleased.

'Drink some beer, Tom.'

He takes a deep draught, puts the jug down, heaves a long breath, and
repeats,

'You're a real good sort, Bladergrass. Give us another kiss, old gal!'



                      ONE OF MANY HAPPY NIGHTS.


But that the gray streaks are thickening in Mrs. Silver's hair, and
that her husband is fast growing bald, it might have been but
yesterday that we were sitting with them in the cosy parlour in
Buttercup-square. Everything inanimate is the same as it was seven
years ago, and does not appear to have grown any older or shabbier;
the very cuckoo in the clock retains its youth, and its tones, as it
asserts itself to be the great 'I am,' are as fresh as ever they were.
Hark! it is speaking now, and 'Cuck-oo!' issues six times from its
throat, sparklingly, as if defying time. It is six o'clock. The days
are drawing in, and it is dark enough for lights. But Mr. and Mrs.
Silver sit in the dusk before the fire, talking of the matters nearest
to their hearts. Their married life has been a happy one--with clouds
in it, of course. Natural griefs and sorrows have come to them, as to
others. At first a storm threatened their future, but it did not burst
over them. The exercise of kindly impulse; the wise and good desire to
accept the inevitable, and to make the loneliness of their lives a
means of happiness to others; their dependence on one another, and
mutual love and faith; their recognition, in their every action,
of higher duties of life than are generally acknowledged in
practice,--turned the storm to sunshine, brought happiness to them. If
they were to die now, they would be blessed with the happy assurance
that their lives had been productive of good to others. So might we
all live; so should we all live. The world would be the better for it.
No man or woman is unblessed with the want of continual opportunity
for doing good or being kind.

'Christmas will very soon be here once more,' says Mr. Silver.

'We'll have a merry gathering,' Mrs. Silver answers. 'There will be
changes before the next comes round.'

'Yes; our little children are men and women now.'

'Good men and women, thank God!'

'Wife,' he says, 'I have thought many times of your words when I
brought little Charley home twenty-three years ago. The child was
lying in your lap, and you said, "Perhaps this is the reason why God
has given us no children."'

She looks at him with a tender light in her eyes. Between these two
love does not show itself in words, but in ministering to each other
unselfishly.

'They have been a blessing to us, dear,' she says. 'Our household will
be smaller presently. Charley and Ruth, I think, are fond of each
other. He brings her home now every night.'

'What did Charley earn last week?

'Thirty-eight shillings.'

'Is that sufficient to marry on?'

'Quite sufficient, and to spare; and Charley has money put by to start
with. They must live near us. Charley would like to, I know, and Ruth
too; but it will be time enough to talk of these things by and by.'

'Carry your mind ten years on, my dear.'

'Well, I do so.'

'What do you see?'

'If we live?'

'If we live.'

She muses a little, looking into the fire.

'Ourselves old people; Charley and Ruth happily married, with
children of their own; Mary married also, although her prince
is not yet come, and is a stranger to us. Richard will go abroad:
I can tell, by his reading and conversation, that his heart is set
upon it. And Rachel--poor Rachel!--stopping sometimes with us, and
sometimes--nearly always indeed--with Ruth and Charley. I can see
myself with hair perfectly white, and you with only a fringe of white
hair round your head.'

He laughs softly and pleasantly, and caresses her hand.

'I can see nothing but happiness, dear.'

They sit quietly before the fire, and the darkness grows deeper. The
door opens, and Mr. Merrywhistle enters softly.

'Don't stir,' he says; 'and don't light the gas. I was told you were
here, and I know how fond you are of sitting in the dark.'

It was indeed a favourite habit with them when they were alone. He
sits by them in silence; for a minute or two no word is spoken. Then
Mrs. Silver places her hand lightly on his shoulder.

'I understand, I understand,' he says; 'you are waiting for me to
speak. You always know when I am in trouble.'

'How can I help knowing? Your face I cannot see, but I hear your heart
in your voice.'

'Tell me: is it a good thing to make other persons' troubles ours?'

'What is sympathy for?' she answers in return.

'I have spoken to you now and again of a child--a girl--whom I have
seen occasionally----

'The flower-girl?'

'Yes, the flower-girl; the girl whom I met for the first time in the
company of a boy who deceived me--a boy who told me the most
unblushing l---- stories, and who yet had some humanity in him.'

'That is many years ago. The girl must be almost a woman now.'

'She _is_ a woman, God help her!--more woman than her years warrant I
should think she is about the same age as Ruth. And it comes upon me
again, that fancy, when I speak of Ruth and think of this poor girl.'

'Yes; you have told us there is a singular likeness between them.'

'It is striking--wonderfully striking. But there can be nothing in it;
for Ruth, you have said, was the only child of a poor woman who died a
fortnight after the little thing was born.'

'Yes, my friend.'

'So that it is pure accident; but the fancy remains, for all that I
shall never forget the sad story that this poor Blade-o'-Grass told me
of the tiger that worried her, and clamoured for food. It was hunger,
my dear friends, hunger. I shall never forget her notion that
Hallelujah came to her while she was asleep, and put baked potatoes in
her lap. I shall never forget my pleasure when I first saw her with a
basket of flowers, and bought a flower of her. But I have told you of
these things before, and here I am babbling of them again, like an old
man that has lost his wits.'

'Never mind, friend; go on.'

'I saw poor Blade-o'-Grass this morning. I haven't seen her for many
months. I had occasion to pass by a certain prison early, and I saw
her, with a dozen others, waiting outside. She was waiting for this
boy that was--this man and thief that is. I lingered until the
prison doors were opened, and let him and others out. And when he
came'--there were tears in the old man's voice as he spoke--'and when
he came, this unhappy girl kissed him and clung to him as with less
shame she might have kissed and clung to a better man, had she been
taught something good when she was younger.'

'My dear, dear friend!' says Mrs. Silver, taking his hand in hers.

'I cannot tell you what I feared as I saw her, and spoke to her before
the prison doors were opened. Poor Blade-o'-Grass! poor child! Nay,
let me have my way.'

And this good old man, whose heart is as tender as that of a good
woman, sheds tears and trembles; if a daughter's happiness had been at
stake, he could not have been more moved. Wisely, Mr. and Mrs. Silver
do not disturb him, but talk together of other subjects until Mr.
Merrywhistle exclaims, with something of his usual cheerfulness, 'What
on earth are we sitting in the dark for?' Whereat Mr. Silver smiles,
and lights the gas. As if the light is the means of suddenly waking up
the cuckoo from a nap, it immediately proclaims seven o'clock, and in
another hour the whole of Mrs. Silver's family are assembled in the
parlour. Rachel, the blind girl, has no outdoor occupation, but all
the others have. Charley, as you know, is a printer, and, being out of
his time, is earning good wages; Richard is a watchmaker, still an
apprentice, and making famous progress; and Mary and Ruth are both of
them in the postal telegraph office. For it has been part of Mrs.
Silver's plan to give her family the opportunity of making their way
in the world, and boys and girls have been taught that to work is one
of the chief duties and one of the best blessings of life. Charley and
Ruth come in together. He has grown quite a man since we last saw him,
and Ruth, Blade-o'-Grass's sister, is as bright and cheerful-looking a
lass as one can meet. She is particularly bright just now, and looks
particularly happy, for she and Charley have had a brisk walk; her
cheeks are glowing healthfully, and there is a bright sparkle in her
eyes. Then questions are asked and answered. The events of the day are
narrated, and it is wonderful what interest is manifested in these
trifles. Every few minutes the comfortable parlour in Buttercup-square
is filled with merry laughter.

'Come, come, children,' says Mr. Silver, after nearly an hour has been
spent in this manner; 'are we to have any reading to-night?'

The books are instantly brought forward, and the youngsters are busy
turning over the leaves. When last we were in their company they were
deep in the beautiful story of Paul and Virginia. Since then, they
have had rare nights with their favourite authors, and have laughed
and cried, as hundreds of thousands of others have done, over the
sayings and doings of the men and women and children who play their
parts in the pages of Thackeray and Scott and Dickens and Jerrold, and
authors of long ago. It is not a novel that engages their attention
now; this is one of their 'play' nights, when scenes from Shakespeare
are read. When the rustling of the leaves has ceased, they all with
one accord turn to Rachel, the blind girl. She knows they are looking
at her, and her face flushes as she says, 'Yes, I am ready.' Then says
Richard, in a deep bass voice, laying his finger on the first line of
the fourth act of _The Merchant of Venice_, 'What, is Antonio here?'
And Charley forthwith answers, 'Ready, so please your grace;' and the
play commences. They all take parts, with the exception of Mr.
Merrywhistle, who is the audience, and who applauds as if the house is
packed, and there is not standing room for one. Mr. Silver takes
Shylock (the villain's part generally falls to his share), and Ruth
reads the few lines that Nerissa has to say. But the great wonder of
the reading takes place when Richard, as the Duke, says,


    'You hear the learned Bellario, what he writes:
     And here, I take it, is the doctor come.'
     _Up rises Rachel, the blind girl_.
     'Give me your hand. Come you from old Bellario?'


And Rachel bows, and answers, in a gentle voice, 'I did, my lord.' The
scene proceeds, and Rachel speaks Portia's lines with grace and power,
and does not falter at a word. How they all praise her and cluster
round her when the act is finished, and the books are closed!

But this is only one of very many such nights passed in that happy
home in Buttercup-square.



                FACE TO FACE--SO LIKE, YET SO UNLIKE.


On the following Saturday, Ruth and Charley had a holiday, which, with
the sanction of their kind guardians, they intended to spend at the
International Exhibition. The holiday had been planned a month before
its arrival, and had indeed been the occasion of an innocent
conspiracy between Ruth and Rachel and Charley, and of much mysterious
conversation. Rachel was to accompany them. The day, which had been
looked forward to with such rapturous anticipation as only the young
can experience and enjoy, at length arrived. In a very flutter of
delight, the two girls and their hero--for Charley was Rachel's hero
as well as Ruth's--bade Mrs. Silver good-morning, and went out into
the streets with joy in their hearts. Very tender were they to each
other, and very tender were Ruth and Charley to their blind companion.
No words of love had passed between Ruth and Charley, although their
attachment was known to their kind guardians, as you have read. But,
indeed, no words were required; their looks, their almost
unconsciously-exercised tenderness towards one another, were
sufficient confirmation of mutual affection. These two young persons
were enjoying the purest, happiest dream that life contains. May all
the grown-up people who read these pages have enjoyed such a pure and
happy dream! May all others live to enjoy it!

Ruth and Charley, of course, with the usual blindness of lovers,
believed that no one noticed anything particular in their behaviour;
but in this respect they were as blind as Rachel--more so indeed, if
there be degrees in blindness, for even she guessed their secret In
the course of their rambles through the Exhibition, she sat down and
asked to be left alone for a while, and when Ruth and Charley
demurred, insisted, with a pretty and affectionate wilfulness, on
having her own way.


[Illustration]


'And don't hurry,' she said, turning her face to them and smiling
sweetly. 'You will find me here when you come back. I am tired, and
want a long, long rest.'

And there the blind girl sat, seeing nothing, enjoying everything,
while unsuspecting Ruth and Charley wandered away into fairyland, arm
in arm. Soft strains of music came to Rachel's ears, and she listened
and drank them in, with clasped hands and head inclined, She was as
one inspired; visions of beauty passed before her, and the melodious
notes were imbued with palpable loveliness for her. Many a passer-by
paused to look at her beautiful face, and felt the better for it, and
a great lady came and sat down beside her. When the music ceased, the
lady said, 'My dear, are you here alone?'

'O no,' replied Rachel, 'I have friends; I asked them to let me sit by
myself. I wanted to listen to the music. They will come for me
presently.'

'You love music?'

'Who can help loving it? I can see it'

The lady's voice was soft and sweet, and Rachel _felt_ goodness in her
manner. 'Tell me,' she said, 'what is before me.'

They were sitting opposite a piece of sculpture--a perfect work--and
the lady described it, and described it well, and told the story that
it illustrated.

'Ah,' sighed the blind girl, 'it is beautiful!'

The lady was accompanied by her husband and child.

'Is this your little daughter?' asked Rachel.

'My dear,' exclaimed the lady, 'I thought--thought----'

'That I was quite blind,' said Rachel, smiling. 'So I am. But
see--your little girl's hand is in mine.'

And indeed the child, who was standing by her mother's side, had
placed her hand in Rachel's, beneath the folds of the blind girl's
shawl.

'And without that I think I could tell,' added Rachel.

'Yes, my dear, it is my little girl,' said the lady.

Rachel stooped and kissed the child, whose hand stole round Rachel's
neck, and caressed it. Lips purer and more innocent had never met. So
they sat, talking for a little while longer, until Rachel raised her
face, and smiled a happy greeting to Ruth and Charley, who were
standing before her. The lady and the child bade good-bye to Rachel,
and kissed her; and when they met again, an hour afterwards, the child
gave Rachel a flower.

Like the incense of a breeze that has been wandering among
sweet-smelling plants; like the soft plash of water on a drowsy day;
like the singing of birds, are such small circumstances as these.
Thank God for them!

And what had Ruth and Charley been doing? Dreaming--nothing
more--walking almost in silence among the busy eager bustling crowd,
standing before works of beauty, and enjoying. Everything was
beautiful in their eyes. Perfect harmony encompassed them; the
commonest things were idealised; their souls were filled with a sense
of worship.

How quickly the hours passed! It seemed to them that they had been in
the place but a few minutes, and it was already time for them to go.
They left with many a sigh, and many a parting glance at the wonders
which lined the spaces through which they walked. Ruth's hand was
clasped in Charley's beneath her mantle, and a tender light was
in her eyes as they made their way through the restless throng.
It was still light when the omnibus put them down within a mile of
Buttercup-square. The tramway carriage would have carried them to the
avenue that led to Buttercup-square; but both Ruth and Rachel
expressed a desire to walk, wishful perhaps to prolong the happy time.
Charley, nothing loth, gave an arm to each of the girls, and they
walked slowly onwards, Rachel being nearest to the wall. They were
passing a man and a girl, who were talking together. The girl had just
uttered some words to the man, who was leaving her, when Rachel cried
suddenly in a voice of alarm,

'Ruth, was it you who spoke?'

Her face was deadly pale, and her limbs were trembling.

'No, Rachel,' answered Ruth, surprised at the blind girl's agitation.

As she replied, both she and Charley turned, and saw Blade-o'-Grass.
Thus, for the first time since their infancy, the sisters looked each
other in the face. Each saw, instantaneously, such a resemblance to
herself, that they leant towards each other in sudden bewilderment
Their gaze lasted scarcely as long as one might count three, for
Charley hurried Ruth and Rachel on; he also had seen with amazement
the likeness that Blade-o'-Grass bore to Ruth, and that there
should be any resemblance to his treasure in such a forlorn
disreputable--looking creature as Blade-o'-Grass, smote him with a
sense of pain. Ruth walked along, dazed; but before they had gone a
dozen yards she stopped, and pressed her hand to her heart.

'Ruth! dear Ruth!' exclaimed Charley, placing his arm round her, for
indeed she was almost falling. She released herself, and said in a
faint voice:

'Rachel, why did you ask if it was I who spoke?'

'The tone was so exactly like yours, Ruth,' answered Rachel, 'that the
words slipped out from me unaware. Who was it that spoke?'

'It must have been a poor girl whom we have just passed.'

'What is she like?' Ruth's lips trembled, but she did not answer the
question.

'Why must the words have slipped from you unaware, Rachel?'

'Because, if I had considered an instant, I should not have asked. You
could not have said such a thing.'

'What thing?--Nay, Charley, don't interrupt me,' said Ruth, in such an
imploring tone, that he was mute from fear, for Ruth's eyes were
filled with tears, and her face was very pale. 'What thing, Rachel?'

'Just, then,' answered Rachel slowly and solemnly, 'a voice said, "For
God's sake, Tom, bring home some money, for there's not a bit of bread
in the cupboard!"'

'Charley!' cried Ruth hurriedly, 'stand here with Rachel for a few
moments. Don't follow me; let me go alone.'

She was his queen, and he obeyed her; but his apprehensive looks
followed her, although he did not stir from the spot Ruth hastened to
where Blade-o'-Grass was standing. The poor outcast was very wan and
wretched. Ruth knew part of her own history; for Mrs. Silver, when her
adopted children arrived at a proper age, had told them, gently, as
much of the story of their lives as she deemed it right and necessary
for them to know. The hours in which she unfolded their stories to her
children were quiet and solemn; there was no one present but she and
her adopted one; and she told them their history so gently and with
such sweet words of love, that they were never unhappy when they
learnt the truth. Ruth therefore knew that she was an orphan; and she,
in common with the others, had shed many grateful tears, and had
offered up many grateful prayers, for the merciful heart that had made
life a blessing to her. As she stood before her sister, so like, yet
so unlike--her sister never to be recognised, or acknowledged as of
her blood--the thought came to her, 'But for my dear good mother I
might have been like this--ragged, forlorn, hungry, with not a bit of
bread in the cupboard!'

Blade-o'-Grass, whose wistful eyes had followed the strange likeness
to herself, saw Ruth turn back, and dropped a curtsey as her sister in
her warm soft dress stood before her.

Then said Ruth timidly, 'It _was_ you who said that?' She herself
might have been the suppliant, her voice and manner were so quiet and
humble.

'Said what, miss?'

'That you hadn't a bit of bread in the cupboard.'

'It's true, miss, and to-morrow's Sunday.'

Ruth thought of what a happy day the Sabbath was to her and hers in
Buttercup-square, the goodness of it, the peacefulness of it! And this
forlorn girl before her, the sight of whom had so strangely unnerved
her, had only one thought of that happy Sabbath to-morrow--whether she
would be able to get bread to eat. Tears choked her voice as she
asked, 'Will you tell me your name?'

'Blade-o'-Grass, miss.'

Ruth looked up in surprise. 'Is that your real name?'

'Yes, miss, I ain't got no other.' Ruth's hand had been in her pocket
from the first, with her purse in it; but she could scarcely muster
sufficient courage to give. She judged poor Blade-o'-Grass with the
eyes of her own sensitive soul, and felt that if money were offered to
her, she would sink to the earth in shame.

'Will you pardon me,' she said hesitatingly, the hot blood flushing
her neck and face; 'will you pardon me if I offer you--if I beg of you
to--to----'

The hand of Blade-o'-Grass was held out eagerly, imploringly, and Ruth
emptied her purse into it. Blade-o'-Grass wondered at the munificence
of the gift, and the modesty with which it was given, and her fingers
closed greedily on the silver coins.

'God Almighty bless you, miss!' she exclaimed, taking Ruth's hand and
kissing it 'God Almighty bless you!' The tears were streaming down
both their faces. A warm hand pressure, a last grateful look from
Blade-o'-Grass, and the sisters parted.

'O, Charley! Charley!' sobbed Ruth, as she clasped his arm, 'I might
have been like that!' They walked in silence to their home, and Ruth
whispered to her companions not to say anything to their kind
guardians of what had taken place. 'It might make them sad,' she said.

It was dusk when they went indoors. Rachel went to her room first, and
Ruth and Charley lingered in the passage.

'Ruth!' he whispered.

She laid her head upon his breast with the confidence and innocence of
a child. He stooped and kissed her cheek, still wet with her tears.
She clung to him more closely--hid her face in his neck. A wondering
happiness took possession of them.



          ROBERT TRUEFIT ALLOWS HIS FEELINGS TO MASTER HIM.


The chance acquaintanceship which had so strangely sprung up seven
years ago between Mr. Merrywhistle, Robert Truefit, and Jimmy Virtue
had ripened into intimacy, and it was not unusual for the three to
meet in the old man's leaving-shop in Stoney-alley. The shop and the
stock were, on the whole, less fragrant than on the occasion of Mr.
Merrywhistle's first introduction to them. An additional seven years'
mouldiness lay heavy on the shelves; but familiarity had rendered the
musty vapour less objectionable to the benevolent gentleman. There was
no perceptible change of importance in Jimmy Virtue; his skin
certainly had got tougher and dryer and yellower, but otherwise he did
not seem to be a day older. His eyebrows were as precipitous, and his
glass eye as mild, and his fierce eye as fierce, as ever they were. No
perceptible change either was to be observed in the articles which
filled his shop: the same faded dresses and dirty petticoats were
crammed into inconvenient corners; the same crinolines loomed from
unlikely places; the same old boots hung from the ceiling; and
doubtless the same vanities of vanities were enclosed in the box which
served as a resting-place in Jimmy Virtue's parlour.

It was a dull, miserable November night. A thick fog had lain upon
Stoney-alley during the day, necessitating the use of candles and gas;
towards the evening the fog had cleared away, and a dismal rain had
set in; Stoney-alley and its neighbouring courts and lanes were
overlaid with dirty puddles. It was by a strange chance, therefore,
that Mr. Merrywhistle and Robert Truefit found themselves in Jimmy
Virtue's parlour on this evening; they said as much to each other.
Each of them had some special business which brought them in Jimmy's
neighbourhood, and he expressed his pleasure when he saw them. They
were the only living friends he had; other friends he had, but they
were not human; notwithstanding which some hours would have hung
dreadfully upon Jimmy's hands, if he had been deprived of them. These
friends were aces, deuces, knaves, and the like; in other words, a
pack of cards. Very dirty, very greasy, very much thumbed and
dog's-eared, but very useful. Jimmy spent comfortable hours with these
friends. Sitting in his chair, he would place an imaginary opponent on
the seat opposite to him, and would play blind All-Fours with his
unreal foe for large sums of money. 'Jack' was the name of his
opponent, and Jimmy often talked to him, and called him a fool for
playing, and abused him generally for incapacity. For Jimmy nearly
always won; and many and many a night Jack was dismissed a ruined and
brokenhearted shadow, while Jimmy, after putting up his shutters, let
down his turn-up bedstead, and went to bed a winner of hundreds,
sometimes of thousands of pounds. For Jack's wealth was enormous; he
never refused a bet, never declined 'double or quits.' So reckless a
player was he--being egged on by Jimmy--that it was impossible he
could have come by his money honestly. Be that as it may, his
ill-gotten gains were swept into Jimmy's imaginary coffers, to the old
man's delight and satisfaction. It is a positive fact, that Jimmy had
grown into a sort of belief in Jack's existence, and often imagined
that he saw a shadowy opponent sitting opposite him. There was a very
good reason why Jimmy so invariably won and Jack so invariably lost.
Jimmy cheated. He often slipped into his own cards an ace or a knave
that properly belonged to Jack. When Jimmy did this, his manner was as
wary and cautious as though flesh and blood opposed him. It was a
picture to see this old man playing All-Fours with Jack for ten pounds
a game, or for 'double or quits,' and cheating his helpless adversary.

When Mr. Merrywhistle and Robert Truefit entered Jimmy's parlour--they
had met at the door of the leaving-shop--he was playing greasy
All-Fours with Jack, and had just scored a winning game. Robert
Truefit always had something new to speak of: a trade-union outrage, a
strike, a flagrant instance of justices' justice, a mass meeting and
what was said thereat, and other subjects, of which a new crop springs
up every day in a great country where tens of millions of people live
and have to be legislated for. The late war, of course, was a fruitful
theme with Robert Truefit, who spoke of it as an infamous outrage upon
civilisation. Especially indignant was he at the sacrilege which lay
in one king invoking 'the God of Battles,' and in the other praying to
the Supreme to assist him in bringing desolation and misery to
thousands of homes. But this is no place for the outpourings of
Robert's indignation on those themes. From those lofty heights they
came down, after a time, to Blade-o'-Grass. It was Mr. Merrywhistle
who introduced her name. He asked Jimmy if he had seen her lately. No;
Jimmy hadn't seen her for a month.

'You see,' said Jimmy, 'she's a woman now, and 'as been on 'er own
'ook this many a year. Besides which, once when I spoke to her she
was sarcy, and cheeked me because I wanted to give 'er a bit of
advice--good advice, too. But she was up in the stirrups then.'

'Has she ever been prosperous?' inquired Mr. Merrywhistle.

'Well, not what _you_ would call prosperous, I daresay; but she's 'ad
a shillin' to spare now and agin. And then, agin, she 'asn't, now and
agin. She's 'ad her ups and downs like all the other gals about 'ere;
you couldn't expect anythin' else, you know. And of course you've
'eerd that Tom Beadle and 'er----'

'Tom Beadle and her--what? asked Mr. Merrywhistle, as Jimmy paused.

'O, nothin',' replied Jimmy evasively; 'it's sich a common thing that
it ain't worth mentionin'.'

'I saw her myself about six weeks ago,' said Mr. Merrywhistle; and he
narrated how he had met Blade-o'-Crass outside the prison, and what
had passed between them, and what he had seen. 'Tell me,' he said,
'is she married to Tom Beadle?'

Jimmy Virtue's eye of flesh expressed that Mr. Merrywhistle
outrivalled Simple Simon in simplicity. 'I do believe,' thought Jimmy,
'that he gits greener and greener every time I see him.' Then he said
aloud contemptuously, 'Married to Tom! As much as I am!'

Mr. Merrywhistle twisted his fingers nervously, and otherwise so
comported himself as to show that he was grieved and pained.

'I wouldn't 'ave a 'art as soft as yours,' thought Jimmy, as Mr.
Merrywhistle rested his head upon his hand sadly, 'and as green as
yours--no, not for a 'atful of money.'

'Poor child! poor child!' exclaimed Mr. Merrywhistle. 'I wish I could
do something for her.'

'Too late,' said Jimmy shortly.

'Yes, too late, I'm afraid,' said Robert Truefit. 'Blade-o'-Grass is a
woman now. Her ideas, her principles, her associations, are rooted.
When she was a sapling, good might have been done for her, and she
might have grown up straight. But she had no chance, poor thing! And
Jimmy's tone and your fears point to something worse than hunger. You
fear she is leading a bad life.'

'No, no!' interposed Mr. Merrywhistle earnestly; 'not that--indeed,
not that. But I would give more than I could afford if I knew that she
was married to Tom Beadle.'

'Thief as he is? questioned Robert Truefit.

'Thief as he is,' replied Mr. Merrywhistle.

His grief was contagious: Robert Truefit turned away, with a troubled
look on his face; Jimmy Virtue preserved a stolid silence, as was his
general habit on such occasions. 'What can one good man do?' presently
said Robert Truefit, in a low tone; but his voice was singularly
clear. 'What can a hundred good men do, each working singly, according
to the impulse of his benevolent heart? I honour them for their deeds,
and God forbid that I should harbour a wish to check them! Would that
more money were as well spent, and that their numbers were increased a
hundredfold! They do _some_ good. But is it not cruel to know that
Blade-o'-Grass is but one of thousands of human blades who are cursed,
shunned, ignored, through no fault of theirs, and who, when
circumstances push them into the light, are crushed by System? If they
were lepers, their condition would be better. And they might be so
different! To themselves, and all around them. To the State; to
society. In actual fact, and putting wordy sops in the pan out of the
question, what do statesmen do for such poor places as these? Give
them gin-shops and an extra number of police. No prompt effort made in
the right direction; no clearing away of nest-holes where moral
corruption and physical misery fester and ripen. Where legislation is
most needed, it moves at a snail's pace. So wrapt up are statesmen in
the slow hatching of grand schemes, that they cannot stoop to pour oil
upon these festering social wounds. And what is the result? While they
legislate, Blades-o'-Grass are springing up all around them, and
living poisoned lives. And while they legislate, if there be truth in
what preachers preach, souls are being damned by force of
circumstance. What should be the aim of those who govern? So to govern
as to produce the maximum of human happiness and comfort, and the
minimum of human misery and vice. Not to the few--to the many, to
all.' He paused, and turned to Mr. Merrywhistle. 'Seven years ago,' he
continued, 'we talked of poor Blade-o'-Grass. I told you then--I
remember it well--that England was full of such pictures as that
hungry ignorant child, with the tiger in her stomach, presented. Seven
years before that, it was the same. During that time Blade-o'-Grass
has grown up from a baby to a woman. What a childhood must hers have
been! I wonder if she ever had a toy! And see what she is now: a woman
for whom you fear--what I guess, but will not say. What will she
be--where will she be--in seven years from now? Seventy years is the
fulness of our age. Carry Blade-o'-Grass onwards for seven years more,
and find her an old woman long before she should have reached her
prime. What has been done in the last seven years for such as she?
What will be done in the next--and the next? There are thousands upon
thousands of such babes and girls as she was seven years and twice
seven years ago growing up as I speak; contamination is eating into
their bones, corrupting their blood, poisoning their instincts for
good. What shall be done for them in the next seven years? Pardon me,'
he said, breaking off suddenly; 'I have let my feelings run ahead of
me perhaps; but I'll stick to what I've said, nevertheless.'

With that he wished them goodnight, and took his leave. Mr.
Merrywhistle soon followed him, first ascertaining from Jimmy Virtue
the address of Blade-o'-Grass.


[Illustration]


Jimmy, being left to his own resources, went to the door to see what
sort of a night it was. The rain was still falling drearily. It was
too miserable a night for him to take his usual pipe in the open air,
and too miserable a night for him to expect to do any business in. So
he put up his shutters, and retired to his parlour. Then he took out
his greasy pack of cards, and conjured up Jack for a game of
All-Fours. With his eye on his opponent, he filled his pipe carefully,
lighted it, puffed at it, and cut for deal. He won it, and the first
thing he did after that was to turn up a knave (slipping it from the
bottom of the pack) and score one. He was in a more than usually
reckless and cheating mood. He staked large sums, went double or
quits, and double or quits again, and cheated unblushingly. He won a
fortune of Jack in an hour; and then contemptuously growled, 'I'll try
you at cribbage, old fellow,' The cribbage-board was his table, and he
scored the game with a bit of chalk. Jack fared no better at cribbage
than he had done at All-Fours. Jimmy had all the good cribs, Jack all
the bad ones. By the time that the table was smeared all over with
chalk figures, Jimmy was sleepy. He played one last game for an
enormous stake, and having won it and ruined Jack, he went to bed
contentedly, and slept the sleep of the just.



                              TOO LATE.


Mr. Merrywhistle had no very distinct plan in his mind when he left
Jimmy Virtue's shop to visit Blade-o'-Grass. Sincerely commiserating
her condition, he wished to put her in the way to get an honest and
respectable living, but was deeply perplexed as to the method by which
she was to arrive at this desirable consummation. Some small
assistance in money he might manage to give her; but in what way could
it be applied? by what means was she to be lifted out of that slough
into which she had been allowed to sink? And then he feared that she
was past training. As Robert Truefit had said, Blade-o'-Grass was a
woman now, with a grown-up person's passions and desires firmly rooted
in her nature. And he feared something else, also. But he would see
her and speak to her freely; good might come of it.

The room she occupied was at the extreme end of Stoney-alley, and Mr.
Merrywhistle was soon stumbling along dark passages and up flights of
crippled stairs. When he reached the top of the house, as he thought,
he tapped at a door, and receiving no answer, turned the handle, and
entered. A very old woman, sitting before a very small fire, smiled
and mumbled in reply to his questions; and he soon discovered that she
was deaf and childish, and that he was in the wrong apartment. As he
stumbled into the dark again, a woman, with a child in her' arms, came
on to the landing with a candle in her hand, and showed Mr.
Merrywhistle that there was still another flight of stairs to mount.
Blade-o'-Grass lived up there, the woman said; first door on the right
She didn't know if the girl was at home. And then she asked if he was
a doctor. No, he answered, surprised at the question; he was not a
doctor. The crazy stairs complained audibly as he trod them. He
knocked at the first door on the right, and paused.

'You'd better go in, and see, sir,' called the woman from below;
'perhaps she's asleep.' Mr. Merrywhistle hesitated. What right, he
thought, had he to intrude on the girl's privacy, and at this time of
night? But the knowledge that he was there for no bad purpose made him
bold, and he opened the door. A candle that was burning on the table
threw a dim light around, but the corners of the miserible apartment
were in shade. The woman was right in her conjecture: Blade-o'-Grass
was in the room, asleep. She was lying on the ground, dressed, before
a mockery of a fire; her head was resting on a stool, round which one
arm was thrown. The faintly-flickering flames threw occasional gleams
of light on the girl's face, over which, strange to say, a smile was
playing, as if her dreams were pleasant ones. The benevolent old
gentleman looked round upon the miserable apartment, and sighed. It
was a shelter, nothing more--a shelter for want and destitution. Then
he looked down upon the form of the sleeping girl, clothed in rags.
Child-woman indeed she was. Her pretty face was thin and pale; but
there was a happy expression upon it, and once her arm clasped the
stool with fond motion, as if she were pressing to her breast
something that she loved. Yet, doubtless, there are many stern
moralists, philanthropic theorists, and benevolent word-wasters,
who would have looked coldly upon this sleeping child, and
who--self-elected teachers as they are of what is good and
moral--would only have seen in her and her surroundings a text for
effervescent platitudes. But the school in which they learn their
lessons is as cruel and harsh as the school in which Blade-o'-Grass
learns hers is unwholesome and bitter.

Mr. Merrywhistle was debating with himself whether he should arouse
her, when a slight motion on his part saved him the trouble of
deciding. 'Is that you, Tom?' she asked softly, opening her eyes, and
then, seeing a strange figure before her, scrambled to her feet.

'I have come to see you,' said Mr. Merrywhistle.

Although she curtseyed, she was scarcely awake yet. But presently she
said, 'O, yes, sir; I arks yer pardon. It's Mr. Merrywhistle?

'Yes, child; may I sit down?'

She motioned him to the only chair the room contained. 'It's very
late, ain't it?' she asked. And then anxiously, 'Is anythink up?'

Mr. Merrywhistle was sufficiently versed in vulgar vernacular to
understand her meaning. No, he said, there was nothing the matter. She
gave a sigh of relief as she said, 'I thought you might 'ave come to
tell me somethin' bad.'

'How long have you lived here?'

'O, ever so long.'

'Alone?' he asked, after a slight pause.

But to this question she made no reply.

'Times are hard with you, are they not, my child?' he said,
approaching his subject.

'Very 'ard,' she answered, with a weary shake of the head.

'Have you given up selling flowers?'

''Tain't the season for flowers,' she answered; 'wilets won't be in
for three months.'

He felt the difficulty of the task he had set himself. 'How do you
live when there are no flowers?'

'Any'ow; sometimes I sells matches; I can't tell you 'ow, and that's a
fact.'

'But why don't you work?' he inquired, with a bold plunge.

'Work!' she exclaimed. 'What work? I don't know nothin'. But I've been
arksed that lots of times. A peeler told me that once, and when I
arksed him to get me some work that I could do, he only larfed.'

'Suppose now,' said Mr. Merrywhistle, 'that I were to take you away
from this place, and put you somewhere where you could learn
dressmaking or needlework.'

She gave him a grateful and surprised look. 'I don't think it'd
answer, sir. I knows lots o' gals who tried to git a livin' by
needlework, and couldn't do it. I knows some as set up till two
o'clock in the mornin', and got up agin at eight, and then couldn't
earn enough to git a shoe to their foot. And they couldn't always git
work; they'd go for weeks and couldn't git a stitch.'

'Good heavens!' exclaimed Mr. Merrywhistle, who was as ignorant as a
child in such matters. 'What did they do then?'

Blade-o'-Grass laughed recklessly. 'Do! what do you think? Beg,
or----somethin' else.'

He was pained by her manner, and said, 'My poor child, I have only
come here out of kindness, and to try if I could do some good for
you.'

'I know, sir,' she said gratefully; 'you've always been kind to me as
long as I can remember; I don't forget, sir. But there's some things I
know more about nor you do, sir. A gal can't git a livin' by
needlework--leastways, a good many of 'em can't. There was a woman
livin' in the next room: she worked 'er fingers to the bone, and
couldn't git enough to eat. Last winter was a reg'lar 'ard un; and
then she lost her work, and couldn't git another shop. She took to
beggin', and was 'ad up afore the beak. She was discharged with a
caution, I 'eerd. It _was_ a caution to her: she died o' starvation in
that there room!'

Grieved and shocked, Mr. Merrywhistle was silent for a little while;
but he brightened up presently. He was sincerely desirous to do some
tangible good for Blade-o'-Grass. He thought of the situations held by
Ruth and Mary in the Postal Telegraph Office. Suppose he was to take
Blade-o'-Grass away from the contaminating influences by which she was
surrounded; give her decent clothes, and have her taught the system,
so that she might be an eligible candidate. He could set some
influence at work; Mr. Silver would do his best, and there were others
also whom he could induce to interest themselves. He felt quite
hopeful as he thought. He mooted the idea to Blade-o'-Grass. She
listened in silence, and when she spoke, it was in a low voice, and
with her face turned from him.

I've see'd them gals, and I'd like to be one of 'em; but----'

'But what, Blade-o'-Grass?' he asked kindly, almost tenderly; for
there was a plaintiveness in her voice that deeply affected him.

'They must be able to read, mustn't they?'

'O, yes; they would be useless without that.'

'And they must be able to write, too. Where do you think _I_ learnt to
read and write? I don't know one letter from another.'

Here was another difficulty, and a gigantic one; but it seemed as if
each fresh obstacle only served to expand Mr. Merrywhistle's
benevolent heart.

'Why, then,' he said cheerfully, 'suppose we teach you to read and
write. You'd learn quickly, I'll be bound.'

A sudden rush of tears came to her eyes, and she sat down on the
floor, and sobbed, and rocked herself to and fro.

'It's too late!' she cried. 'Too late!'

Too late! The very words used by Robert Truefit They fell ominously on
Mr. Merrywhistle's ears. He asked for an explanation; but he had to
wait until the girl's grief was spent, before he received an answer.
She wiped her eyes in a manner that showed she was mad with herself
for giving way to such emotion, and turned on her would-be benefactor
almost defiantly.

'Look 'ere,' she said, in a hard cold voice, 'all them gals are what
you call respectable, ain't they?'

'Yes, my child.'

'Don't call me your child; it 'urts me--O, it 'urts me!' She was
almost on the point of giving way again; but she set her teeth close,
and shook herself like an angry dog, and so checked the spasms that
rose to her throat 'They must show that they're respectable, mustn't
they, or they couldn't git the billet?'

'Yes.'

'Well, then, I ain't respectable, as you call it; 'ow can I be? A nice
respectable gal _I'd_ look, comin' out of a orfice! Why, they've got
nice warm clothes, every one of 'em, and muffs and tippets, and all
that I've see'd 'em, lots of times.'

'But you can leave your past life behind you,' urged Mr. Merrywhistle,
overleaping all obstacles; 'you can commence another life, and be like
them.'

'Be like them! I can't be. It's too late, I tell you. And I'll tell
you somethin' more,' she added, slowly and very distinctly: 'I
wouldn't leave Tom Beadle to be the best-dressed gal among 'em.'

'Why?'

'Why!' she echoed, looking into his face with wonder. 'Why! Tom
Beadle's been the best friend I ever 'ad. He's give me grub lots and
lots o' times. When I was a little kid, and didn't know what was what;
when the tiger was a-tearin' my very inside out; Tom Beadle's come and
took pity on me. No one else but 'im did take it. I should 'ave
starved a 'undred times, if it 'adn't been for Tom. Why, it was 'im as
set me up for a flower-gal, and 'im as took me to the theaytre, and
'im as told me I should lick Poll Buttons into fits. And so I did,
when I 'ad a nice dress on; they all said so. And there's another
reason, if you'd care to know. No, I won't tell you. If you arks about
'ere, I daresay you can find out, and if you wait a little while,
you'll find out for yourself. She stood up boldly before him, and said
in a low passionate voice, 'I love Tom, and Tom loves me! I wouldn't
leave 'im for all the world. I'll stick to 'im and be true to 'im till
I die.'

Here was an end to Mr. Merrywhistle's benevolent intentions; he had
nothing more to urge. The difficulties Blade-o'-Grass herself had put
in the way seemed to him to render her social redemption almost
impossible. Blade-o'-Grass saw trouble in his face, and said, as if he
were the one who required pity:

'Don't take on, sir; it can't be 'elped. Next to Tom, no one's been so
good to me as you've been. Perhaps I don't understand things as you
would like me to understand 'em. But I can't 'elp it, sir.'

Mr. Merrywhistle rose to go. He took out his purse, and was about to
offer Blade-o'-Grass money, when she said, in an imploring tone:

'No, sir, not to-night; it'll do me more good, if you don't give me
nothin' to-night I shall be sorry to myself afterwards, if I take it.
And don't believe, sir, that I ain't grateful! Don't believe it!'

'I won't, my poor girl,' said Mr. Merrywhistle huskily, putting his
purse in his pocket. 'I am sorry for all this. But, at all events, you
can promise me that if you want a friend, you'll come to me. You know
where I live.'

'Yes, sir; and I'll promise you. When I don't know which way to turn,
I'll come to you.'

He held out his hand, and she kissed it; and went down-stairs with him
with the candle, to show him the way. He walked home with a very heavy
feeling at his heart. 'There's something wrong somewhere,' was his
refrain. He was conscious that a great social problem was before him,
but he could find no solution for it. Indeed, it could not be expected
of him. He was ready enough (too ready, many said) with his sixpences
and shillings when his heart was stirred, but he was not a politician.

When Blade-o'-Grass reëntered her cheerless room, she set the candle
on the table, and began to cry. Her heart was very sore, and she was
deeply moved at Mr. Merrywhistle's goodness. She started to her feet,
however, when she heard the sounds of a well-known step on the stairs.
Wiping her eyes hastily, she hurried into the passage with the candle.
Tom Beadle smiled as he saw the light He was a blackguard and a thief,
but he loved Blade-o'-Grass.

'I've got some trotters, old gal,' he said, when they were in their
room, 'and 'arf-a-pint o' gin. Why, I'm blessed if you 'aven't been
turnin' on the waterworks agin.'

Her eyes glistened at the sight of the food.

'Look 'ere, old woman,' said Tom Beadle, with his arm round her waist
''Ere's a slice o' luck, eh?' And he took out a purse, and emptied it
on the table. A half-sovereign and about a dozen shillings rolled out.
She handled the coins eagerly, but she did not ask him how he came by
them.


Half an hour later, Tom Beadle and Blade-o'-Grass, having finished
their supper, were sitting before the fire, on which the girl had
thrown the last shovelful of coals. In the earlier part of the night,
she had been sparing of them; but when Tom came home rich, she made a
bright blaze, and enjoyed the comforting warmth. Tom sat on the only
chair, and she on the ground, with her arm thrown over his knee. She
was happy and comfortable, having had a good supper, and seeing the
certainty of being able to buy food for many days to come. Then she
told him of Mr. Merrywhistle's visit, but did not succeed in raising
in him any grateful feeling. All that he saw was an attempt on the
part of Mr. Merrywhistle to take Blade-o'-Grass away from him, and he
was proportionately grateful to that gentleman.

'I'd 'ave punched 'is 'ead, if I'd been 'ere,' was Tom's commentary.

'No, Tom, you wouldn't,' said Blade-o'-Grass earnestly. 'He only come
to try to do me some good, and he's give me money lots o' times.'

'He didn't give you any to-night,' grumbled Tom.

'He wanted to, but I wouldn't take it; I couldn't take it'

'Blessed if I don't think you're growin' soft, old woman! Wouldn't
take his tin!'

'Somethin' come over me, Tom; I don't know what. But he'll make it up
to me another time.'

There was a soft dreaminess in her tone, as she lay looking into the
fire with her head upon Tom's knee, that disarmed him. He took a good
drink of gin-and-water, and caressed her face with his hand. Just then
the candle went out. Blade-o'-Grass placed her warm cheek upon Tom's
hand. They sat so in silence for some time. Tender fancies were in the
fire even for Blade-o'-Grass. As she gazed she smiled happily, as she
had done in her sleep. What did she see there? Good God! a baby's
face! So like herself, yet so much brighter, purer, that thrills of
ineffable happiness and exquisite pain quivered through her. Eyes that
looked at hers in wonder; laughing mouth waiting to be kissed. It
raised its little hands to her, and held out its pretty arms; and she
made a yearning movement towards it, and pressed her lips to Tom's
fingers, and kissed them softly, again and again, while the tears ran
down her face.

'O, Tom!' she whispered, ''ow I love you!'

What a rock for her to lean upon! What a harbour for her to take
shelter in!

She fell into a doze presently, and woke in terror.

'What's the matter, old gal?' asked Tom, himself nodding.

And then she gasped, between her sobs, that she dreamt it was born
with a tiger in its inside!


Hark! What was that? Heavy steps coming up-stairs. No shuffling;
measured, slow, and certain, as though they were bullets being lifted
from stair to stair. Tom started to his feet. Nearer and nearer came
the sounds.

'Give me the money, Bladergrass; give me the money, or you might get
into trouble too!' He tore the money out of her pocket; when he came
in he had given it to her to keep house with. Then he cried, 'The
purse! Where's the purse? Throw it out on the tiles--put it on the
fire!'

'I 'aven't got it, Tom,' answered Blade-o'-Grass hurriedly, her knees
knocking together with fright. 'What's up?'

'The peelers! Don't you 'ear 'em? Curse the light! why did it go out?
If they see the purse, I'm done for!'

They groped about in the dark, but could not find it For a moment the
steps halted outside the door. Then it opened, and the strong light
from the policemen's bull's-eye lamps was thrown upon the crouching
forms of Tom Beadle and Blade-o'-Grass.

'You're up late, Tom,' said one of the policemen.

'Yes,' said Tom doggedly, and with a pale face; 'I was jist goin' to
bed.' The policeman nodded carelessly, and kept his eye upon Tom,
while his comrade searched about the room.

'Got any money, Tom?'

'What's that to you?'

'Come, come; take it easy, my lad. You haven't been long out, you
know.'

'And what o' that?' exclaimed Tom, beginning to gather courage, for
the policeman's search was almost at an end, and nothing was found.
'You can't take me up for not bein' long out.'

'But we can for this,' said the second policeman, lifting a purse from
the mantelshelf. 'Is this yours, sir?'

A man, who had been lingering by the door, came forward and looked at
the purse by the light of the lamp. 'Yes, it is mine.'

'And is this the party?'--throwing the light full upon Tom Beadle's
face. He bore it boldly; he knew well enough that the game was up.

'I can't say; the purse was snatched out of my hand suddenly, and I
didn't see the face of the thief. I followed him, as I told you, and
saw him run down this alley.'

'And a nice hunt we've had! Been in a dozen houses, and only came to
the right one at last. How much was in the purse, sir, did you say?'

'Twenty-three shillings--a half-sovereign, and the rest in silver.'

'Now, Tom, turn out your pockets.'

Tom did so without hesitation. A half-sovereign and twelve shillings
were placed on the table.

'Just the money, with a shilling short. What have you been having for
supper, Tom?'

'Trotters.'

'Ay; and what was in the bottle?'

'Gin, of course.'

'Trotters, fourpence; gin, eightpence. That's how the other shilling's
gone, sir. Come along, Tom; this'll be a longer job than the last.'

As Tom nodded sullenly, Blade-o'-Grass, who had listened to the
conversation with a face like the face of death, sank to the ground in
a swoon. The policemen's hands were on Tom, and he struggled to get
from them.

'Come, come, my lad,' said one, shaking him roughly; 'that's no good,
you know. Best go quietly.'

'I want to go quietly,' cried Tom, with a great swelling in his throat
that almost choked his words; 'but don't you see she's fainted? Let me
go to her for a minute. I hope I may drop down dead if I try to
escape!'

They loosened their hold, and he knelt by Blade-o'-Grass, and
sprinkled her face with water. She opened her eyes, and threw her arms
round his neck.

'O, Tom!' she cried; 'I thought--thought----'

'Now, my girl,' said the policeman, raising her to her feet in a not
unkindly manner; 'it's no use making a bother. Tom's got to go, you
know. It isn't his first job.'


[Illustration]


'Good-bye, old gal,' said Tom tenderly; 'they can't prove anythin'.
They can't lag me for pickin' up a empty purse in the street; and as
for the money, you know 'ow long I've 'ad that, don't you?'

She nodded vacantly.

'That's well trumped-up, Tom,' said the policeman; 'but I don't think
it'll wash.'

Tom kissed Blade-o'-Grass, and marched out with his captors. When
their steps had died away, Blade-o'-Grass shivered, and sank down
before the fire, but saw no pictures in it now to bring happy smiles
to her face.



                            HELP THE POOR.


Merry peals of bells herald the advent of a bright and happy day. Care
is sent to the right-about by those upon whom it does not press too
heavily; and strangers, as they pass each other in the streets, are
occasionally seen to smile amiably and cheerfully--a circumstance
sufficiently rare in anxious suspicious London to be recorded and made
a note of. But the great city would be filled with churls indeed, if,
on one day during the year, the heart was not allowed to have free
play. The atmosphere is brisk and dear, and the sun shines through a
white and frosty sky. Although the glories of spring and summer are
slumbering in the earth, nature is at its best; and, best thing of all
to be able to say, human nature is more at its best than at any other
time of the year. The houses are sweet and fresh, and smiles are on
the faces and in the hearts of the dwellers therein. Men shake hands
more heartily than is their usual custom, and voices have a merry ring
in them, which it does one good to hear. It is an absolute fact, that
many men and women today present themselves to each other unmasked.
Natural kindliness is in the enjoyment of a pretty fair monopoly, and
charity and goodwill are preached in all the churches. One minister
ends an eloquent exordium with 'God help the poor!' and the majority
of his congregation whisper devoutly, 'Be it so!'--otherwise, 'Amen!'

In the church where this is said are certain friends of ours whom, I
hope, we have grown to respect: Mr. and Mrs. Silver with their flock,
and Robert Truefit with his. Mr. Merrywhistle has brought Robert
Truefit and the Silvers together, to their mutual satisfaction; and
Robert has agreed to spend Christmas-day in Buttercup-square with his
family--wife and four young ones. Thus it is that they are all in
church together. They make a large party--fourteen in all, for Mr.
Merrywhistle is with them--and there is not a sad heart among them.

'If I had been the minister preaching,' says Robert Truefit to Mrs.
Silver, as they come out of church, 'I should not have ended my sermon
with "God help the poor!"'

'With what then?'

'With "Man, help the poor!"' answers Robert Truefit gravely.

Here Charley and Ruth come forward with a petition. They want
permission to take a walk by themselves; they will be home within an
hour.

'Very well, my dears,' says Mrs. Silver; 'don't be longer, if you can
help it.'

It is Ruth who has suggested the walk, and she has a purpose in view
which Charley does not know of as yet. But Charley is happy enough in
his ignorance; a walk on such a day with his heart's best treasure by
his side is heaven to him. He is inclined to walk eastward, where
glimpses of the country may be seen; but she says, 'No, Charley,
please; you must come my way.' Perfectly contented is he to go her
way, and they walk towards the City.

'You remember the day we went to the Exhibition, Charley?'

What a question to ask him! As if it has not been in his thoughts ever
since, as if they have not talked of it, and lingered lovingly over
the smallest incidents, dozens and dozens of times! But he answers
simply, 'Yes, Ruth.'

'And what occurred when we came back, Charley?'

'The poor girl do you mean, Ruth?'

'Yes, the poor girl--so much like me!'

'I remember.'

'I have never forgotten her, Charley dear! I want to pass by the spot
where we met her, and if I see her, I want to give her something. I
should dearly like to do so, to-day! Do you remember, Charley?--when
we saw her, she had not a bit of bread in the cupboard. Perhaps she
has none today.'

'Take my purse, Ruth, and let us share together.'

'I shall tell her, Charley, that it is half from you.'

'Yes, my dear.'

But though they walk past the spot, and, retracing their steps, walk
past it again and again, and although Ruth looks wistfully about her,
she sees nothing of Blade-o'-Grass. They walk homewards, Charley very
thoughtful, Ruth very sad.

'Come, Ruth,' says Charley presently, 'we must not be unhappy to-day.
Let us hope that the poor girl is provided for; indeed, it is most
reasonable to believe so.'

'I hope so, Charley, with all my heart.'

'What you hope with all your heart, dear Ruth, is sure to be good and
true. Is there anything else you hope with all your heart?'

There is a tender significance in his tone, and she glances at him
shyly and modestly, but does not answer.

'You can make this happy day even happier than it is, Ruth; you can
make it the happiest remembrance of my life if you will say Yes to
something!'

Her voice trembles slightly as she asks, 'To what, Charley?'

'Let me tell our dear parents how I love you. Let me ask them to give
you to me. Is it Yes, Ruth dear?'

'Yes, dear Charley.' But so softly, so tenderly whispered, that only
ears attuned as his were could have heard the words.

Presently,

'And do you love me with all your heart, Ruth?'

'With all my heart, Charley.'

O, happiest of happy days! Ring out, sweet bells! A tenderer music is
in your notes than they have ever yet been charged with!


It is twilight, and all the elderly people are in the parlour in
Buttercup-square. The children are in another room, engaged in
mysterious preparation.

'I think we shall have snow soon,' says Mr. Merrywhistle.

'I'm glad of it,' says Robert Truefit. 'Something seems to me wanting
in Christmas, when there is no snow. When it snows, the atmosphere
between heaven and earth is bridged by the purity of the happy time.'

Mrs. Silver is pleased by the remark; the firelight's soft glow is on
her face. Charley enters, and bends over her chair.

'My dear mother,' he whispers.

She knows in an instant by the tremor in his voice what he is about to
say. She draws him to her, so that the firelight falls on his face as
well as on hers.

'Is it about Ruth?' she asks softly.

'Yes, yes,' he answers in a tone of eager wonder. 'How did you know?'

She smiles sweetly on him.

'I have known it for a long time, Charley. Have you spoken to her?'

'Yes; and this is the happiest day I have ever known. O, mother, she
loves me! She gave me permission to ask you for her.'

Mrs. Silver calls her husband to her side.

'Charley has come to ask for Ruth, my dear.'

'I am glad of it. Where is Ruth?'

'I will bring her,' says Charley, trembling with happiness.

'Did I not tell you, my dear?' Mrs. Silver asks of her husband.

'It is a happy Christmas, indeed,' he answers.

Ruth is glad that it is dark when she enters the room. Mrs. Silver
folds the girl in her arms.

'My darling child! And this wonderful news is really true?'

'Yes, my dearest mother,' kissing Mrs. Silver's neck, and crying.

'What are you people conspiring together about?' asks Mr.
Merrywhistle, from the window.

'Come here, and join the conspirators,' says Mrs. Silver. 'Our plots
will fail, without your assistance and consent.'

Mr. Merrywhistle joins the party by the fire, and Robert Truefit
steals quietly out of the room.

'It is eighteen years this Christmas,' says Mrs. Silver, 'since Ruth
was given to us. She has been a comfort and a blessing to us, and will
continue to be, I am sure.' Ruth sinks on her knees, and hides her
face in Mrs. Silver's lap. This true woman lays her hand on Ruth's
head, and continues: 'It is time that Ruth should know who is her real
benefactor.'

'Nay, my dear madam,' expostulates Mr. Merrywhistle, blushing like a
girl.

'My dear friend,' says Mrs. Silver, 'it is necessary. A great change
will soon take place in Ruth's life, and your sanction must be
given.--Ruth, my dear, look up. Before you were born, this
friend--whom we all love and honour--came to me, and asked to be
allowed to contribute out of his means towards the support of our next
child. You can understand with what joy his offer was accepted.
Shortly afterwards, my dear--eighteen years ago this day--you came to
us, and completed our happy circle. You see before you your
benefactor--your father--to whom you owe everything; for all the
expense of your training and education has been borne by him. It is
right that you and Charley should know this. And, Charley, as--but for
this our dearest friend--the happiness which has fallen upon you could
not have been yours, it is of him you must ask for Ruth.'

'Sir--'says Charley, advancing towards Mr. Merrywhistle.

'Not another word,' cries Mr. Merrywhistle, with Ruth in his arms;
'not another word about me, or I'll go and spend my Christmas-eve
elsewhere. If, as Mrs. Silver says, my consent is necessary, I give
you Ruth with all my heart.'--He kisses Ruth, and says: 'A happy
future is before you, children. No need for me to tell you where your
chief love and duty lie--no need for me to remind you to whose
parental care and good example you owe all your happiness. To me, an
old man, without kith or kin, their friendship and love have been
priceless; they have brightened my life. It comes upon me now to say,
my dear girl and boy, that once--ah, how many years ago!--such a prize
as the love which animates you seemed to be within my reach; but it
slipped from me, and I am an old man now, waiting to hear my name
called. Cling to your love, my dears; keep it in your hearts as a
sacred thing; let it show itself daily in your actions towards each
other: it will sweeten your winter when you are as old as I am, and
everything shall be as bright and fresh to you then as in this your
spring-time, when all the future before you seems carpeted with
flowers. Ruth, my child, God bless you! Charley, I am proud of you!
Let your aim be to live a good life.'

Mrs. Silver kisses the good old man, and they sit round the fire
undisturbed; for it appears to be understood in the house, that the
parlour must not be invaded until permission is given. It is settled
that Charley and Ruth shall wait for twelve months; that Charley shall
be very saving; that Ruth shall leave her situation, and keep house
for the family, so that she shall enter her own home competent to
fulfil the duties of a wife. But, indeed, this last clause is scarcely
necessary; for all Mrs. Silver's girls have been carefully instructed
in those domestic duties, without a knowledge of which no woman can be
a proper helpmate to the man to whom she gives her love.

The shadows thicken, and the snow begins to fall There is peace
without, and love within. Mrs. Silver, as she watches the soft
snowflakes, thinks that it will be just such a night as that on which,
eighteen years ago, she and her husband brought Ruth home from
Stoney-alley. She recalls every circumstance of her interview with the
landlady, and hears again the pitiful story of the motherless babe.
Then she looks down upon the pure happy face of Ruth, and her heart is
filled with gratitude to God.


And Ruth's twin sister, Blade-o'-Grass?

She was sitting in the same miserable attic from which Tom Beadle was
taken to prison. He was not in prison now, having escaped just
punishment by (for him) a lucky chance. When Tom was brought before
the magistrate, he told his trumped-up story glibly: he had picked up
the empty purse in the street, and the money was, the result of
his own earnings. When asked how he had earned it, he declined
to say; and he advanced an artful argument. The policeman had
reckoned up the money which the man who had lost the purse said it
contained--twenty-three shillings. Twenty-two shillings were found in
Tom's pocket, and the other shilling was spent, according to the
policeman's version, in trotters and gin. Not another penny, in
addition to the twenty-two shillings, was discovered in the room. Now,
said Tom, it wasn't likely that he would be without a penny in his
pocket, and the fact that he had just the sum the purse had contained
was simply a coincidence. He argued that it would be much clearer
against him if a few coppers more than the actual money lost had been
found. Of course this defence was received with derision by the
police, and with discredit by the magistrate. But it happened that the
prosecutor was too unwell to attend on the morning that Tom made his
appearance in the police court, and he was remanded for a week. Before
the week passed by, the prosecutor died, and Tom was set free.
Blade-o'-Grass was overjoyed; it was like a reprieve from death to
her. But the police were angry at Tom's escape, and kept so sharp a
watch on him, that he found it more than ever difficult to live. I am
not pleading Tom's cause, nor bespeaking compassion for him; I am
simply relating certain facts in connection with him. When Christmas
came, things were at their very worst. They had no Christmas dinner,
and Tom was prowling about in search of prey.

On the night before Christmas Blade-o'-Grass listened to the merry
bells with somewhat of bitterness in her soul. Everything about her
was so dreary, the prospect of obtaining food was so faint, that the
sound of the bells came to her ears mockingly. What she would have
done but for her one comfort and joy, it is difficult to say.

Her one comfort and joy! Yes, she had a baby now, as pretty a little
thing as ever was seen. All her thought, all her anxiety, was for her
child. Blade-o'-Grass possessed the same tenderness of nature that had
been so developed in Ruth as to make her a pride of womanhood. How
proud Blade-o'-Grass was of her baby! How she wondered, and cried, and
laughed over it! As she uncovered its pretty dimpled face, and gazed
at it in worship, all the bitterness of her soul at the merry sound of
the bells faded away, and for a little while she was happy. She talked
to the babe, and, bidding it listen to the bells, imitated the glad
sound with her voice, until the child's face was rippled with smiles.
But the hard realities of her position were too pressing for her to be
able to forget them for more than a few minutes. Tom had not been home
since the morning, and she had had but little food during the day. Not
for herself did she care; but her baby must be fed. If she did not eat
and drink, how could she give milk to her child? 'I'll go and arks
Jimmy Wirtue for somethin',' she thought; and so that her appeal to
the old man might be fortunate, she cunningly took her baby out with
her. Jimmy was playing All-Fours with Jack, who, having come into
another fortune, was dissipating it recklessly as usual for the
benefit of his remorseless foe.

'What do you want? What's that bundle in your arms?' growled Jimmy, as
Blade-o'-Grass peeped into his parlour.

'Ifs my baby,' said Blade-o'-Grass; 'I've come to show it to you.'

'And what business have you with a babby?' exclaimed Jimmy, in an
excited manner. 'Ain't you ashamed of yourself? Take it away; I don't
want any babbies 'ere.'

But Blade-o'-Grass pleaded her cause so meekly and patiently, and with
so much feeling, that Jimmy was bound to listen and sympathise, hard
as he was.

'Lookee 'ere,' he said harshly, holding up his finger, as she stood
looking at him entreatingly: 'it's now nigh on eighteen year ago since
Mrs. Manning----you remember Mrs. Manning?'

'O, yes,' sighed Blade-o'-Grass.

'It's now nigh on eighteen year ago since she come round a-beggin' for
you; and now _you_ come round a-beggin' for your babby.'

'I can't 'elp it,' said Blade-o'-Grass; 'don't speak to me unkindly; I
am weak and 'ungry.'

'Why, you was only a babby yourself then----what's the matter?'

Blade-o'-Grass was swaying forward, and would have fallen if he had
not caught her. His tone was so harsh, that the poor girl's heart was
fainting within her at the prospect of being sent away empty-handed.
Jimmy assisted her into his chair; and without considering that he was
about to upset Jack, who was sitting on the box, opened it, and
produced a bottle of spirits. He gave her some in a cup, and she
revived. Then, grumblingly, he took a sixpence out of a dirty bag, and
gave it to her, saying:

'There! And don't you come botherin' me agin!'

How grateful she was! She made him kiss baby, and left him with that
soft touch upon his lips. He stood still for a few moments with his
fingers to his lips, wondering somewhat; but he recovered himself very
soon, and glaring at Jack, took swift revenge in All-Fours for his
softness of heart, and ruined that shadowy creation for the hundredth
time.

When Blade-o'-Grass quitted Jimmy's shop, she felt as if she would
have liked to sing, she was so blithe and happy. She spent the whole
sixpence, and treated herself to half a pint of stout. 'This is for
you, pet!' she said to her baby, as she drank. She drank only half of
it; the other half she saved for Tom. But although she waited up, and
listened to the bells--gratefully now--until long past midnight, Tom
did not come home. And when she rose on Christmas morning, he was
still absent. She wandered out to look for him, but could not find
him; and then hurried back, hoping that he might have come in her
absence. As the day wore on, she grew more and more anxious, and
tormented herself with fears and fancies as to what could have
happened to him. So she passed her Christmas-day. In the afternoon she
fell asleep, with her baby in her arms. At first she dreamt of all
kinds of terrors, and lived over again, in her dreams, many of the
miseries of her past life; but after a time her sleep became more
peaceful, and her mind wandered back to the time when, a child of
three years of age, she sat on the stones in the dirty yard, looking
in silent delight at the Blades of Grass springing from the ground.

When she awoke it was dark. She went to the window, shivering; it was
snowing fast. All the food was gone, and she was hungry again. What
should she do? Suddenly a terrible fear smote her. Baby was very
quiet. She looked at the sleeping child's white face by the white
light of the snow, and placed her ears to the pretty mouth. Thank God!
she felt the child's warm breath. But it would wake up presently, and
she had no milk to give. The child's lips and fingers were wandering
now to the mother's bosom. She could not stand this agony of hunger
and darkness and solitude any longer; she must go into the streets.

Out into the streets, where the snow was falling heavily, she went.
She looked wistfully about for Tom, but saw no signs of him. Into the
wider thoroughfares she wandered. How white they were! how pure! how
peaceful! A virgin world had taken the place of the old; a newborn
world seemed to lie before her, with its pure white page ready for the
finger of God to write upon. She wandered on and on, until she came to
a square. She knew it immediately--Buttercup-square. Why, here it was
that Mr. Merrywhistle lived, and he had made her promise that she
would come to him when she wanted a friend. 'When I don't know which
way to turn, I'll come to you,' she had said. Well, she didn't know
which way to turn. She walked slowly towards a house, through the
shutters of which she could see pleasant gleams of light. It was Mrs.
Silver's house, and she paused before it, and thought to herself,
'I'll wait 'ere till I see 'im.' And so, pressing her babe to her
bosom, she waited, and listened to the music of happy voices
that floated from the house into the peaceful square. Did any
heavenly-directed influence impel her steps hitherward? And what shall
follow for poor Blade-o'-Grass? I do not know, for this is Christmas
eighteen hundred and seventy-one, and I cannot see into the future;
but as I prepare to lay down my pen, I seem to hear the words that
Robert Truefit uttered this morning--'Man, help the poor!'



                               THE END.



                          *   *   *   *   *

        LONDON: ROBSON AND SONS, PRINTERS, PANCRAS ROAD, N.W.



[Frontispiece]



                            GOLDEN GRAIN.


                          By B. L. FARJEON,
   AUTHOR OF 'BLADE-O'-GRASS,' 'BREAD-AND-CHEESE AND KISSES,' ETC.



[Illustration]



                                  I.

                       THROUGH COUNTRY ROADS TO
                      SOME GREEN PLEASANT SPOT.


This Christmas I fulfill a purpose which has been in my mind for more
than a year. Until now my days and nights have been so much occupied
that I have not been able to commence my task. But you will see, by
the time you reach the end of these pages--if you have patience to go
through them--that I am enjoying a little leisure. The task that I
have set myself to perform is both sad and pleasant, and no more
fitting time than Christmas could be found for its accomplishment.

Not that it is Christmas at this present moment of writing. But the
good season will be here in a month; and when the mistletoe and holly
are hanging in cot and mansion, and the hearts of men are beating in
harmony, as if one pulse of love and goodwill animated them, I hope,
with God's blessing, that my little book will be completed, ready for
those who care to read what I have written. It may be that certain
persons who appear in these pages will be familiar to some of my
readers. I hope they will not be the less welcome on that account. To
me the story of their lives is fraught with deep and abiding interest.

How sweet the days are!--ay, although it is winter. Happiness comes
from within. Grateful hearts can give light and colour to the
gloomiest hours. But the hours for me are not gloomy, and no effort on
my part is required to make them bright. This is the sweetest part of
my life, both in itself and in the promise that it holds out. Three
days ago I was married. My wife is working in the room in which I am
writing. I call her to me.

'Rachel!'

She comes to my side. I hold her hand in mine. I look into her face,
which is inclined towards me. She cannot see me; she is blind. But she
smiles as I gaze at her. She knows the tender thought which impelled
me to call her to my side.

I am a clergyman, and my name is Andrew Meadow. My duties lie in one
of the most crowded and populous parts of the City, and the stipend I
received (for I no longer receive it) in return for my labours was
small. Far be it from my intention to make a merit of the fact, but it
is necessary that I should mention it. Although I have at times felt
myself cruelly hampered for want of means, my stipend was sufficient
for my personal wants, and I have even been able now and then to spare
a little: but very little. In the clerical, as in many other
professions, the payment to the workers is most unequally apportioned;
it is almost the rule that those who work the hardest receive the
least. So far as I myself am concerned, I have no complaint to make;
but I feel that it is an anomaly that some of those who work in the
Church should receive so much that they leave great fortunes behind
them, while others receive so little as to be scarcely able to
maintain their families. The priests of Him who advised the wealthy to
sell all they had, and give to the poor, should have neither more nor
less than enough. If they do not recognise in their practical life,
and by practical example, that the cause they labour in is the cause
of humanity, they are in a measure unfaithful to their trust.

I have no recollection of my father; but I have learned to honour his
memory. My mother lived until I was eight years of age. She was a
simple good woman--sweetly girlish in her manner to the last--and
although she is dust, I have not lost her. She dwells in my heart.
There is always to my consciousness a strong affinity between good
women; in point of feature, voice, or manner, one reminds you of
another; and' I often see in the face of my wife a likeness to that of
my mother. I read these last words to my wife; her face lights up with
a new happiness, and she says:

'I am glad; very, very glad!'

My wife knows and approves of the task I am engaged upon.

'It will do good, Andrew,' she says; 'I am sure it will.'

In my heart of hearts I hope so. If ever so little good results from
these words of mine, if but a seed is sown, if but a little sympathy
is roused to action which otherwise would have lain dormant, I shall
be amply repaid.

My wife, like myself, is an orphan; unlike myself, she never knew
father or mother. But she had, and has, those who stand to her in that
relation. In the house of these dear souls I first met her.

Their name is Silver. The maternal instinct is implanted in the breast
of every good woman, and it was a great grief to the Silvers that
their union was a barren one; but they turned their sorrow to good
use. Childless themselves, they, to the full extent of their means,
adopted a family of children, and trained them in such a manner as to
make their lives a blessing to them and to those around them. I cannot
hope to give you an idea of the perfect goodness of the lives of these
two dear friends, to whom my present and future happiness is due. I
thank God that I know them, and that they account me their friend.
Could the example which they have set in their small way and with
their small means be followed out on a larger scale, in other places
and localities than those in which I labour, a blessing would fall
upon the land, and humanity itself would be ennobled. These children,
when Mr. and Mrs. Silver adopted them, were babes, unconscious of the
perils which lay before them, and only those were selected who had no
parents. The time chosen for their adoption was within a week or two
of Christmas. They were found in the most miserable courts and alleys
in the metropolis; they were surrounded by ignorance, poverty, dirt,
and crime. God knows into what form of shame they might have
developed, had they been left to grow up in accordance with their
surroundings. But a happier fate is theirs. Under the influence of a
sweet and wise benevolence they have grown into good and useful men
and women, of whom their country may be justly proud.

I made the acquaintance of the Silvers almost as soon as I had entered
upon my duties; but circumstances did not bring us together, and I was
not very intimate with them until some time afterwards. I had heard
much of their goodness, for they are loved in the neighbourhood; every
man and woman has a good word for them.

One memorable day in August, more than four years ago now, I received
a note from Mrs. Silver, who lived in Buttercup-square, asking me as a
great favour to visit her in the evening, if I had the time to spare.
I was glad of the opportunity of seeing something of a household of
which I had heard so much good, and from that evening our actual
friendship commenced. There were present Mr. and Mrs. Silver, and two
of their adopted children, Mary and Rachel. They received me
cordially, and I felt that I was among friends. I saw that Rachel was
blind, and it touched me deeply, at that time and always afterwards,
to witness their tender thoughtfulness for the dear girl's calamity.
Not, I truly believe, that it is a calamity to her. She has been so
wisely trained, and has such strong inherent gratitude for the love
which is shed upon her, for the blessings by which she is surrounded,
that a repining thought never enters her mind. The effect of her
grateful nature is shown in the purity of her face, in the modesty of
her every movement. Were I a sculptor, it would be my earnest wish to
take her face as a model for Purity, and were I talented enough to be
faithful in the reproduction, I am sure that my fame would be made.

'These are only two of our children,' said Mrs. Silver, after I had
shaken hands all round; 'we have three more--Ruth and Charley, who
took into their heads to fall in love with each other, and are
married; and Richard, who is in Canada, and from whom we have received
a letter to-day. Ruth has a baby, and she and her husband will be here
in half-an-hour.'

'Not the baby, mother!' said Mary.

'No, dear, not the baby. She is only three months old, Mr. Meadow.'

'But such a wise little dear!' added Mary. 'I do believe she begins to
understand already.'

Then Mrs. Silver went on to tell me that Mary, the eldest girl--woman
now, indeed, twenty-four years of age--held a responsible position in
a government telegraph-office; that Charley was a compositor; that
Richard was a watchmaker; and that Rachel was as useful as any of
them, for she did all the needlework of the house. Rachel was working
a black-silk watch-guard for Richard, and it surprised me to see how
nimble her fingers were. She was listening intently to every word that
passed, and when I first spoke, she paused in her work to pay
attention to my voice.

'I want you to know exactly all about us,' said Mrs. Silver, 'and to
interest you in us, for I have made up my mind--pray excuse me for
it--that you are necessary to our plans. In a word, I wish to enlist
you.'

Rachel did a singular thing here--something which made a great
impression upon me. She left the room, and returned with a small piece
of bread dipped in salt. She held the plate towards me.

'Pray eat this piece of bread, Mr. Meadow,' she said.

I took the bread, and ate it.

'Now, mother,' said Rachel, with a satisfied expression, 'Mr. Meadow
is enlisted.'

'Yes,' I said, addressing Mrs. Silver; 'I am one of your soldiers.'

'Ah,' rejoined Mrs. Silver; 'but I want you to be my captain.'

At that moment there was a knock at the street-door.

'That's Mr. Merrywhistle,' cried Rachel, running into the passage, and
they all turned their faces to the door to welcome a friend.

'Rachel knows every knock and every step,' observed Mrs. Silver; 'she
will know you by your step the next time you visit us.'

I had heard of Mr. Merrywhistle as a large-hearted charitable man, and
I was pleased to come into closer acquaintanceship with him. He
entered, with his arm around Rachel's waist. An old man with white
hair and a kind eye.

Mrs. Silver was the first to speak. 'We have enlisted our curate, Mr.
Merrywhistle.'

'I knew,' he said, as he shook hands with me, 'that he had
only to be spoken to. I am truly pleased to see you here. Well,
children'--turning to the girls--'what is the news?'

The important news was Richard's letter from Canada. Mr.
Merrywhistle's face brightened when he heard of it. It was not to be
read, however, until Ruth and Charley came in. They arrived earlier
than was expected, both of them in a glow of excitement. It was
evident that they also had important news to communicate. Ruth, after
the first affectionate greetings, went to Rachel's side, and for the
rest of the evening the maid and the wife were never apart. A
special affection seemed to exist between them. Now that the whole
family was assembled, I thought I had never seen a more beautiful
group--especially beautiful because the ties that bound them together
were made fast by love and esteem. I knew to whom this was due, and I
looked towards Mr. and Mrs. Silver with increased respect and
admiration.

The first inquiries were about Ruth's baby. The young mother's
enthusiasm in answering the inquiries, and in detailing the wonderful
doings of her treasure during the last twenty-four hours, warmed my
heart; and when, after a long and almost breathless narration, Ruth
exclaimed, 'And I really think the darling has a tooth coming!' I
thought I had never heard anything more delicious. As for Mr.
Merrywhistle, he rubbed his hands with delight, and took Ruth's hands
in his, and rubbed those also, and exclaimed, 'Wonderful, wonderful!
Really I never did!' a score of times at least. Flushed with pride and
pleasure, Ruth as she spoke nodded at the others, now wisely, now
merrily, now tenderly, with looks which said, 'Of all happy mothers, I
am the happiest!' Never in my life had I seen so exquisite a home
picture.

'And now, Charley,' said Ruth, when she had exhausted her budget,
although she could have gone through the whole of it again with
perfect satisfaction, as if it were something entirely new, 'and now,
Charley, tell them.'

What Charley had to tell was simply that he was to be made overseer of
the printing establishment in which he was employed. There was an
honest ring in his voice as he spoke of his good fortune, and I was
convinced that it had been earned by merit.

'That is good news, indeed,' said Mr. Merrywhistle, with his hand on
Charley's shoulder. 'Charley, by the time you are thirty, you will be
a master printer. Bravo! Bravo!

Mrs. Silver kissed him, without saying a word, and as he drew her face
down to his and returned the kiss, and her gray hair mingled with his
brown curly locks, he whispered something in her ear which brought a
happy sigh from her.

Then came the reading of Richard's letter. Mr. Silver took it from his
pocket and opened it, and there was a general rustle of expectation in
the room and a closer drawing together of chairs. He looked around him
with a wistful air; the movement reminded him of a time when those who
were now men and women grown were children. To this purpose he spoke,
in a soft tone, before he commenced to read Richard's letter:

'You remind me, children, you remind me! It brings many happy evenings
to my mind. Do you remember _Paul and Virginia_ and the _Vicar of
Wakefield?_'

This challenge loosened their tongues, and for five minutes they were
busy recalling refreshing reminiscences. When memories of times that
were sweet and pleasant come to us, they come wrapt in a cloud of
solemn tenderness, and the voices of these children were pensive as
they spoke.

Behind the year whose seasons we are now enjoying is an arch of
overhanging leaves and boughs, receding, as it were, and growing
fainter in colour as old age steals upon us. Within this arch of green
leaves and boughs live the memories of our past. As, with a wistful
yearning to the days that were so sweet, we turn towards the arch,
which spans from heaven to earth, it opens, as by the touch of a magic
wand, and we see the tender trees that made our young lives green.
They are fair and good, and their leaves and branches are dew-laden,
though we of whom they are a part are walking to the grave. Some
sadness is there always in the mind as we recall these memories, but
only to those who believe not in the future, who see no hope in it, do
they bring pain and distress.

'When our children were in jackets and pinafores,' said Mrs. Silver to
me, 'my husband used to read to them every evening, and the hour was
always looked forward to with delight.'

'One night,' said Charley, with a sly look at his wife, 'when we were
in the middle of _Paul and Virginia_, and left off where Paul was
carrying Virginia in his arms, Ruth said, "Charley, you are like
Paul!" "But Where's my Virginia?" I asked. "_I'll_ be Virginia!" Ruth
cried; "and you can carry me about where you like." That's the way it
came about, sir.'

Of course there was much laughter at this reminiscence, to the truth
of which they all vouched, and Ruth, with a saucy toss of her head,
said,

'Ah, but there's no doubt that I was too little then to know my own
mind.'

'I don't know that, Ruth,' exclaimed Mr. Merrywhistle, chuckling; 'I
don't know that. It's my opinion you determined to marry Charley long
before you were out of short clothes.'

After this innocent fashion they made merry.

'Dear me, dear me, children!' cried Mr. Silver, with assumed
petulance. 'How much longer am I to wait with Richard's letter in my
hand?'

'Read it now, father,' said Mrs. Silver; and there was a general hush
of expectancy.

The letter was a long one, and in it were recounted all the writer's
experiences in the land of his adoption. It was written hopefully and
confidently, and yet with modesty, and was filled with expressions of
love for the dear ones at home. 'Everything before me is bright, and I
have no doubt of the future. Not a day passes that I am not assured
that I was right in coming, and the conviction that I have those in
the old country who love me, and whom I love with all my heart and
soul, strengthens me in a wonderful manner. I can see you all as I
write, and my heart overflows towards you. Yes, I was right in coming.
The old country is over-crowded; there are too many people in it, and
every man that goes away gives elbow-room to some one else. When I see
the comfortable way in which poor people live here, and compare it
with the way they live at home--and above all, when I think of the
comfortable future there is before them if they like to be steady--I
find myself wishing that hundreds and hundreds of those I used to see
in rags, selling matches, begging, and going in and out of the
gin-shops, could be sent to this country, where there is room for so
many millions. I daresay some of them would tum out bad; but the
majority of them, when they saw that by a little steadiness they could
make sure of good clothes and good food, would be certain to turn out
good. I am making myself well acquainted with the history of this
wonderful country, and I mean to try hard to get along in it. You
can have no idea what a wonderful place it is; what opportunities
there are in it; what room there is in it. Why, you could put our
right-little tight-little island in an out-of-the-way corner of it,
and the space wouldn't be missed! If I make my fortune here--and I
believe I shall--I shall know how to use it, with the example I have
had before me all my life. I hope to have the opportunity of doing
more good here than I should have been able to do at home, and depend
upon it I will, if I have it in my power, for I want to repay my dear
mother and father for all their goodness to me. Want to repay you! No,
my dearest parents, I do not want to do that; I never could do it, if
I tried ever so hard. O, if I could put my arms now round my dear
mother's neck, and kiss her as I used to do! But I can kiss her
picture and all your pictures. Here's Mary and Ruth and Rachel--I feel
inclined to cry as they pass through my hands--and Charley--How are
you, Charley?--here you are, all of you, with mother and father, lying
before me as I write. Upon my word, I fancy you almost know that I'm
speaking to you. God bless you, my dears!... I've got ideas, and
there's room to work them out in this new country. And one day, when
Mary writes to me that she is going to get married, I shall be able to
say, perhaps, to my dear sister, "Here is a purse from runaway Richard
to help you and your husband along in the battle of life." For it is a
battle, isn't it, dears? And I mean to fight it, and win. Yes, and
win! You'll see if I don't!'

In this way the letter ran on--eagerly, impetuously, lovingly--and
there was not a dry eye in the room when Mr. Silver read the last
words, 'Ever your own faithful and loving Son and Brother, RICHARD.
God bless you all, again and again! Now I shall go to bed, and dream
of you.'

I am particular in narrating this incident of the reading of Richard's
letter, for Richard, although he will not appear in person in these
pages, plays an important part in them on one momentous occasion, as
you will see.

The reading being concluded, eager tongues related anecdotes of
Richard; and, 'Do you remember, mother, when Richard----?' and,
'Do you remember, Rachel, when we were at Hampstead-heath, and
Richard----?' so-and-so and so-and-so. And then, when there was
silence, Ruth said pensively, 'I wish Richard could see baby!'

And thus, in various shapes of love, the thoughts of all travelled
over the waters to the absent one. I can fancy that the very breezes
that waft thitherward, and thence to the mother-land, are sweetened by
the loving thoughts which float upon them from one shore to another.

'Mr. Meadow will forgive us,' said Mrs. Silver, 'for detaining him
with these family details. We are apt to be selfish in our joys.'

I assured her that I regarded it as a privilege to be admitted to
these family confidences, and that I hoped it would not be the last
occasion I should share them.

'I hope not, dear sir,' she replied. 'Mary, give me my desk.'

Mary brought the desk, and took her purse from her pocket.

'I have two contributions, mother. A gentleman came to our office
to-day, and when he read the paper they allowed me to put up, he gave
me five shillings. Jane Plunkett, too, who has only been in the office
three weeks, gave me ninepence.'

'I collected four shillings and twopence,' said Charley, 'among the
men and boys in the office. Some of the boys gave a halfpenny each;
and my master has promised half-a-sovereign.'

'This partly explains our business,' said Mrs. Silver to me; 'and the
reason for my asking you to come this evening. We have been collecting
subscriptions for the purpose of taking a number of the poorest
children in the parish into the country for a day. Richard sent us two
pounds a little while ago to give away, and the idea struck us that it
could not be better devoted than to such a purpose. So we commenced a
fund with his subscription, and we shall write him a full description
of the holiday, telling him that it was he who initiated it. Indeed we
call it Richard's Day. Nothing could please him better. You, who go so
much among the poor, know what numbers of poor children there are who
have never seen the country, and to whom the sight of flowers and
green fields will be like gentle rain to drooping blades of grass.'

I noticed here that Mr. Merrywhistle started; but he offered no
explanation of his sudden movement.

'Whosoever,' I said, 'shall give to drink unto one of these little
ones a cup of cold water only, shall in no wise lose his reward.'

'Thank you, dear sir,' was Mrs. Silver's earnest rejoinder. 'Our
reward will be the brightening faces and the innocent delight of these
poor little waifs. We have been very successful in our collection, and
I think we shall have sufficient money to take a hundred and twenty
children. My idea is, that we shall engage vans, and drive as much as
possible through country roads to some green pleasant spot, where the
children can play, and have dinner and tea. I must tell you that it is
only the poorest of the poor who will be chosen, and that in the
matter of shoes and stockings there may be here and there a
deficiency. But we will endeavour that they shall all have clean
faces. Will you join us, and take the command of our ragged army?'

I consented to join them with pleasure, but said that I must be
regarded more in the light of a soldier than of a captain. 'We can
divide the command,' I said. 'Have you any place where the children
can assemble before starting?'

'That is one of my difficulties,' said Mrs. Silver. 'Some of these
children will be sure to come not over clean, and I want to make them
so before they get into the vans. I have plenty of help in the shape
of hands, but I want the room.'

'I can wash some,' said Mr. Merrywhistle, in perfect sincerity. The
good old man was like a child in his simplicity.

'I think we women will do it better,' replied Mrs. Silver gaily; 'but
we will find you plenty to do.'

'To be sure,' mused Mr. Merrywhistle, 'there are the buns and the
fruit----' And lost himself in the contemplation of these duties.

I then told Mrs. Silver that I could obtain the use of a large
warehouse, which had been for some time unoccupied, and that she might
depend upon my fullest assistance in the arrangement of the details.
Their pleasure was unbounded, and I myself felt happier and more truly
thankful than I had felt for a long time past. I left the house with
Mr. Merrywhistle, and he beguiled the way with stories of the doings
of these his dearest friends. He was in the heart of an enthusiastic
speech when a poor woman, carrying a child, brushed past us; her head
was bent down to the child, and she was murmuring some restful words.

'Dear me!' exclaimed Mr. Merrywhistle, suddenly stopping. 'You will
excuse me, my dear sir. Goodnight! Good-night!'

Without waiting for a reply, he shook hands warmly with me, and
hurried after the woman. They turned the corner of the street almost
at the same moment.


[Illustration]


I walked home by myself, and thought of the pleasant evening I had
spent. The last words I had heard in the house of the Silvers were
from Rachel's lips.

'Good-night,' she had said, with her hand in mine. 'I am so glad you
came!'

But she was not more glad than I.



                                 II.

                   THANK GOD FOR A GOOD BREAKFAST!


It is not necessary, nor is it within the limit of these pages, to
narrate how the details necessary to make the day in the country a
success were got through. Sufficient for my purpose to say that
everything was satisfactorily arranged and completed on the evening
before the appointed day. The number of applications was very great;
ten times as many as we were able to take begged to be allowed to go.
Mothers entreated; children looked imploringly into our faces. There
were many heartaches, I am sure; but none suffered greater pain than
we, the committee, upon whom devolved the duty of making the
selection. But we gave pleasure to many; and for the others---- Would
there were more workers! Each can do a little, with time or purse, and
that little may prove to be so much! Remember what the strongest and
most beautiful trees were, once upon a time. So may a good life be
developed even from such a seedling as this.

There was one anxiety which nature alone could allay, if it were kind:
the weather. Many a heart beat with mingled hope and fear that night
before the day, and many a child's prayer was thought and whispered
that the sun would shine its best in the morning. Nature _was_ kind,
and the sun broke beautifully bright. How we congratulated ourselves,
with smiling faces, as we all assembled at seven o'clock in the large
warehouse I had borrowed for the occasion! The door was to be opened
for the children at half-past seven.

I have mentioned the committee. Let me tell you who they were. All
Mrs. Silver's family, of course. Mary and Charley had obtained a
holiday, and Ruth was there with her baby, whom the fond mother every
now and then consulted with bewitching gravity, and to whom she
whispered, in the delicious tones that only a mother's voice can
convey, all sorts of confidences about the party. I include in Mrs.
Silver's family Mr. Merrywhistle, for he was truly one of them. But
Mr. Merrywhistle was a member of the selecting committee for only one
day; he had been summarily dismissed and deprived of power, because he
found it impossible to say No to a single application. 'My rock ahead,
sir,' he whispered to me confidentially, when we reproached him. 'I
never _can_ get that word out! I _mean_ it often, but there's an imp
in my throat that invariably changes it into Yes. I ought to know
better at my age.' And he shook his head in grave reproof of himself.
As Mrs. Silver had warned him, however, we gave him plenty to do. He
was unanimously elected chief of the commissariat, and he made himself
delightfully busy in the purchase of buns and fruit and lemonade. We
were not aware that he was unfit even for this task, until we
discovered that he had provided twice as many buns as were necessary.
When his blunder was pointed out to him by Mrs. Silver on the ground,
he gazed disconsolately at the heap of uneaten buns. 'Dear me!' he
said mournfully, 'what is to be done with them? I suppose they must be
divided among the children. You see, my dear madam, I am not to be
trusted--not to be trusted!' But I am sure I detected a sly twinkle in
his eye as he condemned his own shortcomings. In addition to the
persons I have mentioned, there were two other members of the
committee--to wit, Mr. Robert Truefit and Mr. James (or Jimmy) Virtue;
as singular a contrast in individuals as can well be imagined. Robert
Truefit I hold in high esteem. He is a fine, and I take pleasure in
thinking a fair, representative of the sterling English working-man,
with a higher intelligence than is possessed by the majority of his
class. He is a married man, with a large and increasing family, and
his earnings will probably average a trifle under two pounds a week.
With these earnings he supports and 'brings up' his family in a manner
which commands admiration. His children are likely to be a credit to
the State; it is such as he who form the sound bone and muscle of a
great nation. Jimmy Virtue is of a lower grade. Outwardly a cynic, one
who sneers at goodness, but who has, to my knowledge, occasionally
been guilty of an act of charity. He kept a leaving-shop in one of the
worst thoroughfares in the locality where my duties lie. Everything
about him outwardly was unprepossessing; the wrinkles in his face
seemed to snarl at you; he had a glass eye, and he was ill-dressed and
ostensibly ill-mannered to those in a better position than himself.

Such was Jimmy Virtue, of whom you will find, as you proceed, some
exciting record. You may reasonably ask. How came such a man on your
committee? Both Robert Truefit and Mr. Merrywhistle were his friends,
and took pleasure in his society. This surprised me at first, but not
afterwards. I found that, to read his character properly, it was
necessary to read between the lines. Having lived amongst
misery-mongers all his life, he was well acquainted with the class
from which our children were to be chosen; and, as it proved, his
services were most useful to us.

A word about Rachel in connection with the selection. Instances
occurred where opinion was divided as to the suitability of
candidates; it was our natural desire to choose those who were most
deserving, and it was impossible to take them haphazard, as they
presented themselves. Here was a mother with two children, pleading,
entreating, imploring that they might be taken. Jimmy Virtue shook his
head. Robert Truefit, with a quiet motion, also gave an adverse vote.
We--the Silvers and I--were in favour of the applicants, but we felt
that, the two dissentients were more fitted to judge than we. It
seemed that there was something worse than usual against the mother,
whose face grew almost wickedly sullen as she observed signs of a
refusal in Truefit and Virtue.

'Let Rachel decide,' said Mrs. Silver.

We all experienced a feeling of relief at this suggestion. The woman
and the children went aside with Rachel, and kept together for fully
twenty minutes, while we continued the business of the hour. I,
furtively watching the group in the corner of the large room, saw
Rachel sit down and take the two miserable children by the hand. Then
the woman went towards Rachel, and gradually the sullen expression in
her face softened; and shortly afterwards she was on her knees by the
side of the blind maid, listening and speaking with tears in her eyes.
Not a word reached me; but when the interview was ended, Rachel rose
and walked towards us with a child on each side of her. Behind her was
the mother, hiding her face, as if ashamed of her tears. As Rachel
stood before us, looking upwards, with her face of purity and
goodness, clasping the ragged children to her, a light seemed to fall
upon her in my eyes--a light which touched with merciful glance the
figure of the wretched mother in the rear.

'I am to decide?' said Rachel, gently and earnestly.

'Yes, my dear.'

'Then we will take these little ones with us. They will be very good.'

'Very well, my dear.'

And their names were put down and instructions given to the weeping
mother. The woman showed no gratitude to us; but as she turned to go,
with a lingering look at Rachel, the blind girl held out her hand. The
woman seized it, kissed it, and muttered, 'God love yer, miss!' We
were all satisfied with Rachel's decision. Even Jimmy Virtue shut his
useful eye and glared out of his glass one, that being, as I
understood the action, the only mode he could find of taking a clear
view of the difficulty.

Among those who were chosen were no fewer than seven children, maimed
and deformed; one could not walk; another used crutches, and proved to
be one of the most active of the whole party, much to our surprise,
for when he applied, he appeared to be very lame indeed. One little
fellow presented himself without a guardian; he was about six years of
age, and had the largest and roundest eyes I ever saw in a child. To
all our questions about his parents he gave no answer; he only stared
at us.

'What is your name?'

He found his tongue. 'Jacky Brown.'

'And what do you want?'

'I wants to 'ave a ride and see a lot o' trees.'

'Who told you to come to us?'

'Old Rookey.'

'And what did Old Rookey tell you to say?'

'Old Rookey ses, he ses. You go, Jacky, and arks 'em to take yer to
'ave a ride and see the trees. And Old Rookey ses, he ses, Don't you
come away, Jacky, till they puts your name down.'

Who Old Rookey was we were unable to discover. Jimmy Virtue recognised
the child, and told us his mother was in prison, and that he didn't
know how the little fellow lived. There was something so interesting
about Jacky, that we promised to take him. We wrote instructions on a
piece of paper, and gave it to him, telling him to give it to Old
Rookey.

'You must come very clean, Jacky.'

'I'll tell Old Rookey,' he said. 'He knows wot's wot.'

Long before half-past seven o'clock on the holiday morning the
children and their friends began to arrive. The committee of selection
had given them to understand that they were to have breakfast before
they came. At the back of the warehouse was a recess screened off by
sacks hung over a line, in which were ample supplies of water, soap,
and towels; and the girls were ready to do the washing, with their
sleeves tucked up and aprons on to save their dresses. The process was
this: we, the men, stood at the door and received the visitors, taking
their names and otherwise identifying them, so that no deceit should
be practised. Each child, as he established his right of entrance, was
passed into the room, where, if he were not clean and tidy, he was
made so, as far as possible, by the women. Some of them, I must admit,
required washing badly; but when the work was done, and the children
stood in lines along the benches, their bright eager faces and
restless limbs formed a picture which dwelt vividly in my mind for a
long time afterwards. Jacky Brown was very punctual, and, contrary to
our expectation, very clean. We looked for some person answering to
the description we had formed of Old Rookey, but we were not
successful in finding him. Jacky had something to say to us.

'Old Rookey ses, he ses, you'll open yer eyes when yer sees me.'

And Jacky pointed to his well-polished face and held out his clean
hands. We thought we would improve the occasion.

'We are very pleased with you, Jacky. It's much nicer to be clean than
dirty, isn't it?'

But Jacky was dubious.

'It gets inter yer eyes, and 'urts,' he said.

Soap was evidently a disagreeable novelty to him.

Mrs. Silver and the girls were putting on their bonnets and getting
ready for the start, when a serious innovation in our programme
occurred. The guilty person was one of the most esteemed members of
our own body.

'Children,' exclaimed Mr. Merrywhistle, suddenly stepping in front of
them, 'have you had breakfast?'

A mighty shout arose of 'No!' but whether those who gave evidence were
witnesses of truth I dare not venture to say.

'Then you shall have some,' cried Mr. Merrywhistle, with a triumphant
look at us; but there was conscious guilt in his gaze.

The 'Hoorays!' that were sent forth in voices shrill and gruff formed
a fine p[ae]an certainly, but scarcely recompensed us at the moment
for the loss of time. But it all turned out splendidly. Mr.
Merrywhistle had planned his artifice skilfully, and, in less than
seven minutes, buns and hot milk in mugs were in the hands of every
member of our ragged crew. The moment we found we were compromised, we
rushed to assist, and (although we were sure we were wrong in
encouraging the traitor) we shook hands heartily with Mr.
Merrywhistle, whose beaming face would have been sufficient excuse for
fifty such innovations. I am not certain that, when the children were
served, Ruth and Rachel did not take the good old fellow behind the
screen of sacks where the washing had been done, and kiss him; for he
came forth from that recess with an arm round the waist of each of the
girls, and with his face beaming more brightly than ever.

In the middle of breakfast the vans rattled up to the door; they were
decorated with bright ribbons and flags, and the drivers had flowers
in their coats; the very horses wore rosettes. There were five vans,
and they presented so gay an appearance that the street was filled
with sight-gazers. Immediately the vans drew up--which they did
smartly, as if they knew what they were about, and that this was a day
of days--the children paused from their eating to give vent to another
cheer, and another, and another. Their faces flushed, their little
hands trembled, their restless limbs shifted and danced, and took part
in the general animation. As for ourselves----Well, we paused also,
and smiled at each other, and Ruth held baby's face to Charley to
kiss.

'A fine sermon this, sir,' said Robert Truefit to me.

'Indeed, indeed,' I assented. 'Better than any that tongue can
preach.'

There was no need to tell the children to hurry with their meal; they
were too eager to be on the road.

'Now, children, have you finished?'

'Yes, sir! Yes, marm! Yes, miss!'

'Then thank God for a good breakfast!'

The simple thanksgiving was uttered by all with earnest meaning. Then
out they trooped to the vans, the sight-gazers in the street waving
their arms and hats at us. The deformed children were placed in
advantageous positions, so that they could see the roads through which
we were to drive, and were given into the charge of other children,
who promised to take care of them; Jacky Brown had a seat on the box;
we took our places on the vans; the drivers looked seriously at their
reins; the horses shook their heads; and all was ready. If I had the
space at my command, and were gifted with the power, what scenes I
could describe here of mothers, sisters, friends, who showed their
gratitude to us in various ways as we prepared to start! Not all of
them as low as by their outward presence you would judge them to be.
Written history--notwithstanding that we pin our faith to it, that we
pride ourselves upon it, that we strive to shape our ends according to
its teaching--is to unwritten history, in its value of example, as a
molehill to a mountain; even the written history of great national
conflicts, which strew the cornfields with dead and dying, upon whom
we throw that sham halo called Glory, as compared with the unwritten
history of courts and alleys, which we push out of sight with cruel
carelessness.



                                 III.

     THEY LISTENED WITH ALMOST BREATHLESS ATTENTION TO EVERY WORD
                       THAT FELL FROM HER LIPS.


And so, with our mud-larks and street arabs, we rode out of the busy
city, away from the squalid walls in the shadow of which the bad
lessons which lead naturally to bad lives are graven on the hearts of
the helpless young. It was the end of August, and the corn was being
cut. The children sniffed the sweet-smelling air, and asked one
another if it wasn't prime. Every turn of the road through which we
gaily trotted opened new wonders to our ragged crew; and we were kept
busy answering the torrent of questions that were poured upon us.
What's that? A field of clover. Three cheers for the clover. Fields of
barley, wheat, oats, all were cheered for lustily. What's them fellers
diggin' up? Potatoes. Hurrah for the taters! Hallo! here's a bank of
lavender, filling the air with fragrance. Most of the children were
noisy in their expressions of delight; but a few sat still, staring
in solemn wonder. The golden corn which the scythe had not yet
touched--how it bowed and waved and whispered in the breeze that
lightly swept across it! How few of the uncultured children could be
made to understand that bread--to them so scarce and precious--was
made from these golden wavelets! A windmill! Another! The huge fans
sailed slowly round. 'Here,' we said, 'the corn is ground to flour.'
'Wonder what makes the flour so white!' whispered a mudlark to his
mate; ''t ought to be yaller.' Now we were driving along a narrow
lane, between hedges; the sounds of music came from our rear. I stood
up and looked. Some twenty or thirty yards behind the last van was a
spring-cart, with a band of musicians in it. What cheers the children
gave for 'the musicianers'! Their cup of happiness was full to the
brim. I caught Mr. Merrywhistle's eye: it fell guiltily beneath my
gaze; but as I smiled with grateful approval at him, he brightened up,
and rubbed his hands joyously. Every popular air that the musicians
played was taken up by a full chorus of voices. Here and there, along
the country roads, housewives and children came out to look at us.
There was a greeting for all of them from our noisy youngsters, and
they greeted us in return. One woman threw a shower of apples into the
vans, and received in return the acknowledgment, 'Bravo, missis!
You're a good sort, you are!' At half-past ten we reached our
destination--a very pretty spot, with a wood adjacent, and a meadow to
play in. Everything had been judiciously arranged, and, marshalling
the children, we acquainted them with the programme. They were free
for two hours to do as they pleased. They might play their games where
they liked in forest or meadow. The band would play in the meadow. But
a promise was to be exacted from them. They were to be kind to every
living creature they came across; they were to kill nothing. Would
they promise? 'Yes, sir; yes, marm; yes, miss! We won't 'urt nothink!'
Very well, then. In two hours the horn would sound, three times. Like
this. Listen. The musician who played the horn gave the signal. When
they heard that again they would know that dinner was ready; they were
not to go too far away, else they would not hear it, and would lose
their dinner. 'No fear, master!' they shouted. 'Let's give three
cheers,' one of them cried. 'And look 'ere! The boys fust, and the
gals arterwards.' So the cheers were given as directed, and the boys
laughed heartily at the girls' piping voices. 'Now, then, you all
understand---- But stop! what is this?' Here was Mr. Merrywhistle
again, with another of his triumphantly-guilty looks, introducing new
features into the programme. Two of the biggest boys were carrying a
trunk towards us, and when it was opened, out came balls, and traps
and bats, and rounder-sticks, and kites, and battledores and
shuttlecocks, and skipping-ropes. The shout that arose as these things
were given out was mightier than any that had preceded it, as the boys
and girls, like wild birds released from prison, rushed off with their
treasures.

'I suppose,' said Mrs. Silver, with the kindest of looks towards Mr.
Merrywhistle, 'there is no reclaiming you.'

'I'm too old, I'm too old,' he replied deprecatingly. 'I hope you
don't mind.'

Mind! Why, he had done just the very things that we had forgotten, and
the very best things too, to keep the youngsters out of mischief. We
had plenty to do. Here and there was a solitary one, who knew nobody
in all that wild band, wandering by himself, and casting wistful
glances at the other children who were playing. Here was a little
fellow who had lost his brother, crying lustily. Here was a shy timid
girl, absolutely without a friend. All these human strays--strays even
among the forlorn crew of youngsters who were tasting a pure enjoyment
for the first time in their lives--we collected together and formed
into bands, instructing them how to play, and taking part in their
games until they were sufficiently familiarised with each other to get
along without help. The children who were unable to run about we
arranged comfortably together in a place where they had a clear view
of the sports. Rachel, by tacit consent, took this group under her
care; and not long afterwards I saw her seated in the midst of them,
and heard her telling them, in admirable language and with admirable
tact, the best of those fairy stories which delight our childhood's
days. Blind as Rachel was, she could see deeper into these children's
hearts than we. They listened with almost breathless attention to
every word that fell from her lips--and every word was sweet--and saw
the scenes she painted, and learnt the lessons she taught. Among all
our children there was no happier group than this over which she
presided; and many whose limbs were straight and strong approached the
deformed group, and listened in delight and wonder. During the whole
of that day I noticed how the most forlorn and friendless of the
children congregated about Rachel. Perhaps they saw in her blindness
something akin to their own condition, and eyes that might have been
mournful grew soft and tender beneath the influence of her
sightlessness and kindly help. One of the most favourite pastimes of
the day was dancing to the music of the band. Such dancing! Girls went
round and round in the waltz with a solemn enjoyment in their faces
most wonderful to witness; boys, more demonstrative, executed amazing
steps, and flung their arms and their legs about in an extraordinary
manner. There were two champion dancers--boys of about twelve years of
age--whose capers and comicalities attracted large audiences. These
boys, by some means had secreted about their persons two immense pairs
of 'nigger' shoes, which were now tied on to their feet. They danced,
they sang, they asked conundrums of each other with amusing
seriousness; and I was privately and gravely informed that they
intended to become negro minstrels, and were saving up to buy a banjo.
Dinner-time came, and the horn was blown. Such a scampering never was
seen, and dull eyes lightened, and bright eyes grew brighter, at the
sight of the well-stocked tables. If it were necessary, I could
vulgarise this description by mention of certain peculiarities--forms
of expression and such-like--which existed among our guests; but it is
not necessary. No one's enjoyment was marred, and every youngster at
our tables was perfectly happy. The children stood while I said grace.
I said but a very few words, and that the brevity of the grace was
appreciated was evidenced by a remark I overheard. 'That's proper! I
thort the parson-chap was goin' to pray for a hour.' The children ate
very heartily, and here and there, with the younger ones, we had to
exercise a salutary check. But the older boys and girls were beyond
our control. 'Tuck away, Sal!' cried one. 'It'll be all over
to-morrer!' When the children--dinner being finished--were, at play
again, we had a little leisure. Mrs. Silver, seated on a bench, looked
around upon her family and friends, and said, with a satisfied smile,

'I really am tired, my dears.'


[Illustration]



                                 IV.

   FOR MERCY'S SAKE, TELL ME! WHOSE VOICE WAS IT I HEARD JUST NOW?


I also was tired. I had been up very late three nights during the
week, and on the night previous to this day I had had only four hours'
sleep. Glad of the opportunity to enjoy a little quietude, I strolled
from where the children and my friends were congregated, and walked
towards the rise of a hill on the other side of which was a wooded
knoll, where I supposed I should be quite alone. There it was my
intention to stretch myself, and rest for fully half an hour by my
watch.

The day had continued gloriously fine, and there was no sign of
change. I had much to think about. An event of great importance in my
private history was soon to take place, and I knew it, and was only
waiting for the time. It made me sad to think that when that time came
I should probably lose a friend--not an ordinary friend, but one to
whom I owed my education and my present position. It will find record
in its proper place, however, and needs no further reference here. I
had mounted the hill, and was descending towards the clump of trees,
when I saw, at a little distance, three persons sitting on the ground.
One of them I knew. It was Mr. Merrywhistle, and he was attending to
the wants of a very poorly-dressed girl, who was eating her dinner,
which it was evident Mr. Merrywhistle had brought to her from the
tables. There was a large quantity of wild flowers by the girl's side,
which I judged she had gathered during the day, and in the midst of
these flowers sat a child between two and three years of age, towards
whom the girl directed many a look of full-hearted love. The face of
the child fixed my attention; it was a dull, pale, mournful face, and
there was an expression of weariness in the eyes which hurt me to see.

To detect Mr. Merrywhistle in an act of kindness did not surprise me;
and yet I wondered how it was that he was here, in a certain sense
clandestinely, with this poor girl, who had the look of the London
streets upon her. Not wishing, however, to disturb the group, I walked
slowly in the opposite direction; the conformation of the hill
favoured me, so that I was very soon hidden from their sight, although
really I was but a very few yards from them. I threw myself upon the
ground, my thoughts dwelling upon the scene of which I had been an
unseen witness. It struck me as strange that Mr. Merrywhistle and this
poor girl were evidently well acquainted with one another; their
familiar bearing convinced me of that. Then by what singular chance
was it, or was it by chance at all, that they had met here in this
sweet spot, so far away from her natural haunts? For there was no
mistaking the type to which this poor girl belonged; it can be seen,
multiplied and multiplying, in all our crowded cities, but not in
country places such as this in which we held our holiday. Could this
be the same girl and child, I asked myself, whom Mr. Merrywhistle
followed when he left me so abruptly on the night we walked together
from Mrs. Silver's house? But presently my thoughts wandered to more
refreshing themes. The many beautiful pictures of sweet charity and
unselfishness I had witnessed this day came before me again, and I
thanked God that my country held such noble specimens of true
womanhood as Mrs. Silver, Mary, Ruth, and Rachel. And then, knowing
full well the history of these girls, I contrasted their present lives
with that of the poor girl in Mr. Merrywhistle's company. In the midst
of my musings, and while I was contemplating the picture (to which my
thoughts had wandered) of Rachel standing before us, as she had stood
three days ago, with a child on each side of her, and the weeping
mother behind--as I was contemplating this picture, and weaving
idealisms about it, the sound of a harsh voice reached me, and
dissolved my fancies. I recognised the voice immediately--it belonged
to Jimmy Virtue, and it came from the direction where Mr. Merrywhistle
and the poor girl were. Not quite trusting Jimmy Virtue, as I did not
at that time, I rose to my feet, and walked towards the group, the
disposition of which was now completely changed. The girl was standing
in a half-frightened, half-defiant attitude, pressing her child to her
breast; in the eager haste with which she had snatched the child from
the ground, she had clutched some wild-flowers, and these were
trailing to her feet; Jimmy Virtue, with head inclined, was holding up
an angry finger; and Mr. Merrywhistle, with an expression of pain and
distress on his features, seemed by his attitude to be mediating
between them. The girl was the first to see me, and she turned to fly,
as if every human face she saw were a new terror to her, or as if in
me she recognised a man to be avoided. I hastened to her side, and
laid my hand on her arm. With a convulsive shiver, but without a word
and without resistance, she bowed her head to her baby's neck, and
cowered to the ground, like a frightened animal. And there she
crouched, a poor forlorn thing, ragged, defiant, panting, fearing,
with the world sitting in judgment upon her.


                          *   *   *   *   *


Bear with me a little while. The memories connected with this poor
girl fill my heart to overflowing. They belong not only to her and her
mournful history; she is but one of many who are allowed to drift as
the careless days glide by. If you do not enter into my feelings, bear
with me, I pray.

And I must not flinch. To be true unto others, you must be true to
yourself. My conscience, no less than my heart, approves of the course
I pursued with reference to certain passages in this girl's career.
Many who hold a high place in the world's esteem will differ from me,
I know; some, who look with self-righteous eyes upon certain bad
features in the lower social life of the people, and whose belief
inclines them to touch not lest they be defiled, will condemn me
because I did not, from the very first, attempt to turn this girl's
heart with prayer, believing themselves in its full efficacy for all
forms of trouble. But let them consider that this girl-woman was
already grown to strength; veined in her veins were hurtful fibres
which once might have been easily removed, but which, by force of
surrounding circumstance, were now so deeply rooted in her nature that
they could only be weakened by patience, forbearance, tender handling,
and some exercise of wise benevolence. Here was a mind to be dealt
with utterly ignorant of those teachings, the following out of which
renders life healthful and pleasant to contemplate; but here at the
same time was a hungry stomach to be dealt with--a hungry stomach
continually crying out, continually craving, which no words of prayer
could satisfy. And I, a clergyman, who preach God's word in full
belief and believe fully in His mercy and goodness, say to those who
condemn for this reason, that words of prayer--otherwise lip-worship,
and outward observances according to set forms--are, alone and
in themselves, valueless and unacceptable in the eyes of God.
Self-accusation, self-abasement, pleadings for mercy, unaccompanied by
good deeds, go for naught. A merciful action, a kindly impulse
practically acted upon--these are the prayers which are acceptable in
His eyes.


                          *   *   *   *   *


I looked around for an explanation.

'Ah,' exclaimed Jimmy Virtue, threateningly, ''ere's the parson! He'll
tell you whether you're right or wrong.'

A proof that I, the parson, had been set up by Jimmy Virtue as a man
to be feared. It was natural that the poor girl should shrink from my
touch. Mr. Merrywhistle drew me aside.

'It is all my fault,' he said, in a tone of great emotion. 'I smuggled
her here.'

'How did she come?' I asked. 'She was not in any of the vans.'

'I smuggled her in the cart that brought the provisions, and I bade
the driver not to come too close to us, for fear poor Blade-o'-Grass
should be discovered and sent back.'

'Poor who?'

'Blade-o'-Grass. That's the only name she has. It came into my mind
the first night I saw you in Mrs. Silver's house. Mrs. Silver, you
remember, was telling you the plan of this holiday, and was saying
that you, who go so much among the poor, knew that there were numbers
of poor children who had never seen the country, and that the sight of
flowers and green fields would be to them like gentle rain to drooping
blades of grass.'

'I remember well.'

'I don't know if Mrs. Silver used the expression purposely, but I
thought immediately of this poor girl, whom everybody round about
Stoney-alley, where she lives, knows as Blade-o'-Grass, and I thought
what a fine thing it would be for her if I could smuggle her here with
her baby, so that she might enjoy a day in the country, which she
never set eyes on until now. She danced for joy, sir--yes, sir, she
did!--when I asked her if she would like to come. And she has enjoyed
herself so much, and has kept out of the way according to my
instructions. See, Mr. Meadow, she has been gathering wildflowers, and
has been talking and singing to her baby in a way it has made me glad
to hear. Poor girl! poor girl! I have known her from a child, and, if
you will forgive me for saying it, I think I almost love her. Although
she has always stood in her own light--always, always! It was wrong of
me to bring her here, but I did it for the best I have been told often
I was doing wrong when I have foolishly thought I was doing good.'

'You have done no wrong,' I said emphatically, 'in bringing that poor
girl here. I honour you for it. And now tell me what has occurred to
spoil her pleasure, and what is the cause of Mr. Virtue's anger.'

'Why, you see, Mr. Meadow, that Jimmy Virtue, of whose rough manners
you must not take any notice--you must not judge harshly of him
because of them--has taken a liking to the girl.'

'Well?'

'He has been kind to her, I feel certain, though you'll never get him
to acknowledge it--indeed, he'll tell you fibs to your face without
ever a blush--and he has been trying for a long time to persuade her
to come and live with him. She has persistently refused, and now he is
angry with her. He is an old man and a lonely man, and he feels it
perhaps; but, anyhow, it is as much for her good as his that he makes
the offer. He says he will look upon her as a daughter, and it would
be better for her than her present lot.'

'Why does she refuse?'

Mr. Merrywhistle hesitated.

'Tell me all,' I said, 'plainly and without disguise.'

'Well, Mr. Meadow, nothing on earth can induce her to leave Tom
Beadle.'

'Who is he? What is he?'

'He is a thief, and the father of her child.'

Mr. Merrywhistle's voice trembled from sadness as he spoke these
words. I understood it all now. To my grief, I knew what would be the
answer to my next question; but it must be asked and answered.

'Is she married?'

'No.'


[Illustration]


We were but a few paces from Jimmy Virtue and Blade-o'-Grass, and our
conversation had been carried on in a low tone. I turned towards them.
Jimmy Virtue, in a heat, was wiping his glass eye. Blade-o'-Grass had
not stirred from her crouching attitude. She might have been carved in
stone, so motionless had she remained, and to discover any signs of
life in her, you would have had to put your head down to her beating
heart So she cowered among the wildflowers, with sweet breezes about
her, with beautiful clouds above her.

'Now, parson,' said Jimmy Virtue, in a menacing tone, 'per'aps you'll
tell that gal whether she's right or wrong!'

'I must first know,' I said, striving to induce gentleness in him by
speaking gently myself, 'what it is I am to give an opinion upon.'

'I know that. Mind you, I ain't overfond o' parsons, as a rule, and I
ain't overfond o' words, unless there's a reason for 'em. You see that
gal there--she's a pretty article to look at, ain't she? Judge for
yourself; you can tell pretty well what she is by 'er clothes and 'er
babby, though she does 'ide 'er face. She's not so bad as you might
make 'er out to be, that I must say; for I ain't a-goin' to take
advantage of 'er. But you may make 'er out precious bad, what
with one thing and another, and not be far wrong arter all. She's got
no 'ome to speak of; she's got no clothes to speak of; she's got no
babby that she's got a right to. Well, I orfer that gal a 'ome in my
leavin'-shop. I say to 'er, You can come and live along o' me, and
I'll look arter you like a daughter; and I would, for I'm a man o' my
word, though my word don't amount to much. Now what does she say, that
gal, as couldn't lay 'er 'and on a 'arf-a-crown as she's got a right
to, if it was to save 'er life--what does she say to my orfer? She
says. No, and says as good as I'll see you further fust! Now, tell 'er
whether she's right or wrong--tell 'er once and for all. You're a
parson, and she'll believe you, per'aps.'

I beckoned him away, for I knew that his harsh tones no less than his
words hurt the girl.

'Our mutual friend, Mr. Merrywhistle,' I said----

'That's right; our muchel friend, Mr. Merrywhistle. Though he's too
soft-'earted, mind you! I've told 'im so a 'underd times.'

----'Has made me acquainted with some part of this poor girl's story.
Don't speak so loudly and so angrily. She hears every word you say.'

'I know that,' he growled. 'She's got the cunnin' of a fox.'

'And, after all, she has a right to choose for herself; you can have
no real claim upon her.'

'She ain't got no right,' he said vehemently, 'to choose for 'erself,
and if I ain't got no claim on 'er, I'd like to know who 'as! I've
knowed 'er from the time as she was a babby. She growed up almost
under my eyes. She's played on my doorstep when she was a little 'un,
and 'as been shoved off it many and many a time. I knowed 'er
mother--I knowed 'er father, the mean thief! as run away afore she was
born. No claim! Ain't that no claim, I'd like to know? And don't I
know what she'll come to if she goes on much longer as she's a-goin'
on now? It's a-comin' to the end, I tell you, and I want to stop it!
Why, Tom Beadle, the man as she's a'----I put my finger to my lips,
out of compassion for the poor girl----'the man as she ain't married
to, was took up this mornin' by the peelers afore my very eyes'---- I
caught his wrist, and pointing to Blade-o'-Grass, stopped his further
speech. A moan came from the girl's lips, a shiver passed over her
form, like a despairing wave. She struggled to her feet, and throwing
her hair from her eyes, looked distractedly about her.

'O, why did I come?' she cried.

'Why did I come? Which is the road to London?'

And she ran a few steps wildly, but I ran after her and stopped her.
She struggled to escape from me.

'Let me go!' she beseeched.

'Let me go! I want to git to London! I must git there at once! O Tom!
Tom!'

'You would not get there tonight,' I said; 'it is eighteen miles away.
You would never be able to walk so far with your baby. You must wait
and go with us; we shall start in an hour.'

She shrank from my grasp and moaned upon the ground, and pressed her
child closer to her bosom, with sighs and sobs and broken words of
desolation.

'O baby! baby! baby! Tom's took up agin! What shall we do? O, what
shall we do?'

Something like a vapour passed over my mind as the wail of this
desolate girl fell upon my ear. I seemed to 'recognise in its tones
something akin to the fond accents of a happier mother than she. I did
not like to think of the resemblance, and I tried to shake off the
impression that had stolen upon me; but it remained with me. It was in
vain that I attempted to console Blade-o'-Grass; she paid no heed to
my words. I was a stranger to her then.

'Your news is true?' I said to Jimmy Virtue.

'As I was comin' to the room this mornin',' he replied, 'I saw Tom
Beadle with the peeler's grip on 'im, and the peeler told me he was
wanted agin.'

'What for?'

'The old thing--pickin' pockets.'

This was a sad episode in our holiday-making. I could not leave
Blade-o'-Grass alone. In her despair, in her belief that the hands
and hearts of all were against her, she would be certain to take the
first opportunity of escaping from us, and would thus bring further
trouble on herself. I looked towards Mr. Merrywhistle; his face
was turned from me. I called to him, and he came. I had a thought
which I resolved to act upon. I desired him to keep by the side of
Blade-o'-Grass until I returned, and I went at once in search of
Rachel. The musicians were doing their best, merrily, and the children
were dancing and playing joyously.

'This is a very happy day,' said Mrs. Silver, as I approached her;
'see how they are enjoying themselves, poor things. It will be a great
remembrance for them.'

Her tone changed when she saw the anxiety in my face; she laid her
hand upon my arm.

'You are in trouble.'

'Yes,' I said; 'but make your mind easy. It is nothing at all
connected with our children. I will tell you about it by and by. Where
is Rachel?'

'There, helping to get tea ready. You must come and have a cup, Mr.
Meadow. 'It will refresh you.'

I said that I would, and I asked if she would spare Rachel for a
little while. Yes, she answered, with a solicitous look. I smiled at
her to reassure her. As I walked towards Rachel, I passed Ruth; she
was suckling her baby. A white kerchief covered her bosom and her
baby's face, and she raised a corner of it to whisper some endearing
words to her treasure. Again the vapour passed over my mind. I
trembled as I detected the resemblance in her voice to the voice of
the hapless mother I had just left. But I was now close to Rachel. She
smiled at me, knowing my step. I remember that that was the first
occasion on which I called her by her Christian name.

'Rachel, I want you to help me. Mrs. Silver says she can spare you.'

Rachel took off her apron, and gave me her hand, and I led her to
where Blade-o'-Grass was lying. As briefly as I could I told her all,
and I asked her to comfort Blade-o'-Grass.

'Indeed, indeed, I will try, Mr. Meadow!' she said earnestly.

'We must not lose her; she must go back to London with us. In her
present state of mind she believes every one to be against her. But
she will trust you, Rachel, because----'

'Because I am blind,' she said sweetly. 'I will strive to do my best.'
She paused a moment, and added, 'Is it not a good thing, Mr. Meadow,
that I cannot see?'

I could not answer her; my emotion stopped my utterance. I left her
with Blade-o'-Grass, and Mr. Merrywhistle and I stood apart from them.

'Give me your hand, my dear,' Rachel said. Blade-o'-Grass made no
movement 'My dear, I am blind!'

Involuntarily, as if the claim were sisterly, and could not be denied,
the hand of Blade-o'-Grass was held out to Rachel, and Rachel clasped
it, and sat down by her side. What passed during the next few moments
I did not hear; but I saw that Rachel was speaking to Blade-o'-Grass,
and presently Blade-o'-Grass's baby was in the blind girl's arms, and
the mother was looking wonderingly into her face. I acknowledged the
wisdom of Rachel's act; by that tie she held Blade-o'-Grass to her.
But up to this time Blade-o'-Grass had not spoken; Rachel had not won
a word from her lips.

'Let us join our friends,' said Mr. Merrywhistle; 'we can leave them
safely together now.'

'One moment,' I answered; 'I am waiting for something.'

What I was waiting for came presently. Rachel was fondling the child's
hand, and holding it to her lips, when Blade-o'-Grass spoke. A look of
terror flashed into Rachel's face. I was by her side in an instant, my
hand in hers. She clung to it, and raised herself to her feet.

'Tell me,' she whispered, in a tone of suffering; 'for mercy's sake,
tell me! Whose voice was it I heard just now?'

'It was Blade-o'-Grass that spoke,' I replied; 'the unhappy girl I
told you of. She is younger than you are, my dear, and you hold her
child in your arms. Comfort her, Rachel; she needs comfort sorely!'

'I have heard her voice before,' said Rachel, with sobs, 'and it
reminds me--O, it reminds me of one I love so dearly, so dearly!'

'The greater reason, my dear, that you should aid her in her
affliction. Her heart is bleeding, Rachel. Do not alarm her
unnecessarily--she suspects everybody but you; she is looking towards
us now, with struggling doubt in her face. Be strong, for pity's
sake!'

She needed no other encouragement; I left them together, and when the
time for our departure to London arrived, they were still sitting side
by side. An expression of solemn pity rested on Rachel's face. She
kissed Blade-o'-Grass and the child before they parted, and asked
Blade-o'-Grass to kiss her. The poor girl did so, with grateful tears.
Then I gave Blade-o'-Grass into the charge of Mr. Merrywhistle, and
led Rachel to her friends. But only to Ruth did she cling; she clasped
her arms round her sister's neck, and sobbed quietly on her shoulder.

'Why, Rachel!' exclaimed Ruth. 'Rachel, my dearest!'

'Let me be, Ruth dear!' sobbed Rachel. 'Let me be! Do not say anything
to me. I shall be better presently.'

It was no easy matter getting our children together. We had to call
them by name, and count them; it was an anxious task, and it occupied
a longer time than we anticipated. And in the end there was one
missing--Jacky Brown. None of the boys or girls could tell us where he
was, and we were fully a quarter of an hour hunting for him. We were
in great trouble, but at length we discovered him, with such a dirty
face! sitting under one of the largest trees in the wood.

'Come, come, Jacky,' Mrs. Silver said, 'this isn't good of you. Didn't
you hear the horn?'

'Yes, I 'eerd the 'orn, but I ain't a-comin',' was his confident
reply.

'O Jacky, Jacky!' she remonstrated.

'I ain't a-goin' 'ome any more. I'm a-goin' to stop under this tree as
long as ever I live, and I don't want to move.'


[Illustration]


We absolutely had to use a little force with him, and while we carried
the little fellow to the vans, he cried again and again that he didn't
want to go home any more. References to Old Rookey had no effect upon
him; he wanted to live among the trees always, and he was passionately
grieved because he could not have his way. The children sang all along
the road to London; and I was glad to see that the majority of them
had bunches of wild-flowers in their hands. And thus the day ended
happily--for all but one.

'We shall sleep well to-night,' said Mrs. Silver, with a satisfied
sigh.

I did not, although I was thoroughly tired out.


                                  V.

   YOU'RE A PARSON, SIR, AND I PUT IT TO YOU. WHAT DO _YOU_ SAY TO
                      PARTING MOTHER AND CHILD?


It was not alone because Mr. Merrywhistle urged me that I took an
interest in Blade-o'-Grass. I was impelled to do so by certain
feelings of my own with reference to the poor girl. I became nervously
desirous to learn her history, and I questioned Mr. Merrywhistle, He
could tell me nothing, however, but the usual tale attached to such
unhappy human waifs--a tale which I had heard, with slightly-varying
forms of detail, many times before. I desired to learn something more
definite--something which I scarcely dared to confess, even to myself,
working as I was in the dark, and with only a vague impression or a
morbid fancy for a basis. But then came the thought that Rachel shared
the impression with me, and I continued my inquiries.

'Jimmy Virtue knows more about Blade-o'-Grass than I do,' said Mr.
Merrywhistle, 'It was through him I first became acquainted with her.'

Jimmy Virtue was not very communicative; it was not in his nature to
take easily to new friends.

'But you yourself,' I urged, 'spoke of her mother and father as if you
knew them intimately.'

'Did I?' he replied. 'Ah! I ain't over-particular what I say
sometimes, so you must put it down to that. You see, they were not
long in this alley afore the father cut away, and the mother--well,
she died! So what should I know of 'em? The mother was buried afore
the kids was three weeks old.'

'The children!' I exclaimed, my heart beating fast at this discovery.
'Then the poor mother had twins?'

'Yes, there was two on 'em; as if one warn't enough, and more than
enough! And then a woman--Mrs. Manning her name was--comes round
a-beggin' for the babbies, and a nice row she kicked up about it.
Arksed me what I'd lend on 'em--as if babbies warn't as cheap as dirt,
and a deal sight more troublesome!'

'These twins, Mr. Virtue--were they both girls?'

'Yes, they was both gals, I 'eerd.'

'What became of the other child?'

I asked eagerly.

'What other?' demanded Jimmy Virtue surlily. 'I didn't know no other.
Blade-o'-Grass was the only one left.'

And this was all the information I could elicit from him. I inquired
of other old residents in Stoney-alley, but not one of them remembered
anything worth hearing. I returned to Mr. Merrywhistle, and after
narrating to him the fruitless result of my inquiries, I asked
abruptly if he knew anything concerning the circumstances attending
the birth of Ruth. The old man changed colour, and his manner became
very nervous.

'I can see your drift,' he said in a troubled voice. 'In your mind,
Ruth and Blade-o'-Grass are associated, as if some undiscovered
tie exists between them. I once shared your suspicion. I saw in
Blade-o'-Grass a likeness to Ruth, and I mentioned it to Mrs.
Silver. But when Mrs. Silver adopted Ruth, the babe was orphaned
indeed. Both father and mother were dead, and Ruth was the only
child. It is impossible, therefore, that the likeness between Ruth and
Blade-o'-Grass can be anything but accidental. Do not say anything of
this to Ruth or Mrs. Silver; it would grieve them. Look at Ruth and
Blade-o'-Grass; see them as they are, and think what a gulf separates
them.'

A gulf indeed! But still I was not satisfied.

I found it much easier to learn the fullest particulars concerning Tom
Beadle. Plainly and simply, he was a thief, and had been in prison a
dozen times at least. The day following our holiday-making he was
brought up at the police-court on a common charge of pickpocketing.
Blade-o'-Grass begged me to intercede for him with the magistrate; but
it was impossible for me to do so, as I knew nothing concerning him
but what was bad. 'He loves me, sir, does Tom,' she pleaded; 'and I
love 'im!' And said it as if it were a sufficient reason for his not
being punished. It was impossible to reason with her on the matter;
all that concerned herself and Tom Beadle she could look at from only
one point of view. Whether he worked or whether he stole, nearly every
farthing he obtained was spent in food. Blade-o'-Grass's standpoint
was that she and Tom and the baby must have bread, and that if they
could not get it one way they must get it another. Tom Beadle did work
sometimes as a costermonger; but the difficulties in his way were very
serious because of his antecedents, and he rebelled against these
difficulties sullenly and savagely, and bruised his soul against them.
He was no casuist, and made no attempt to excuse himself. He was
simply a man at war with society, a man whose keen intellect had been
sharpened and perfected in bad soil. As I write of him now, I can see
him slouching along in his patched clothes, with defiance in his mind.
Watchful eyes have been upon him almost from his birth; they are upon
him now, whichever way he turns, and he knows it, and has grown up in
the knowledge. Respectability turns its back upon him--naturally, for
he is its enemy. Even benevolence shrinks from him, for the spirit of
cunning and ingratitude lurks in his every motion. I paint him as I
knew him, in the plainest of colours. He had one redeeming trait in
his character; he loved Blade-o'-Grass, after his fashion, with as
much sincerity as good men love good women. His love for her had come
to him naturally, as other worse qualities in his nature had come. By
Blade-o'-Grass he was loved, as she had truly said, but with that
deeper love of which only a woman's nature is capable. Hers was
capable of the highest form of gratitude, of the highest form of love.
She was faithful to Tom Beadle, and she loved her child with as
perfect, ay, and as pure a love as can animate the breast of the most
delicate lady in the land. Overshadowing these bright streaks of light
was a darker line. When she was a mere babe, afterwards when she was a
child, afterwards when she was a woman, she frequently suffered the
pangs of hunger; she often knew what it was to want a crust of bread.
From these sufferings came the singular and mournful idea that she had
within her a ravenous creature which she called a tiger, and which,
when she was hungry, tore at her entrails for food. This tiger had
been the terror of her life, and it was with her an agonising belief
that she had endowed her child with the tiger curse: I can find no
other term of expression. From this belief nothing could drive her.
Talk to her of its folly, of its impossibility, and you talked to
stone. Her one unfailing answer was, 'Ah, I know; you can't. I feel
it, and my baby feels it also.' I learnt the story of this tiger from
her own lips. I found her waiting for me one morning at the corner of
the street in which I lived. It was while Tom Beadle was undergoing
his term of imprisonment. I stopped and spoke to her, and she asked
might she say something to me. Yes, I answered, I could spare her a
few minutes; and I led the way to my rooms.

'It was Mr. Wirtue as told me to come to you, sir,' she said; 'he
ain't so 'ard on me as he was.'

'I am glad you are friends again,' I said. 'Will you have some
bread-and-butter?'

'Yes, if you please, sir.'

I cut some bread-and-butter for her and her child, and I dissolved
some preserved milk in warm water for her. She watched with keen
interest the process of making this milk, and when she tasted it said,
with a touch of humour of which she was quite unconscious:

'They won't want no more mothers by and by, sir, what with sich milk
as this, and feedin'-bottles, and p'ramberlaters!'

While she was eating and giving her child to eat, she reverted to
Jimmy Virtue.

'You see, sir, he was mad with me 'cause I wouldn't give up Tom; but I
couldn't do that, sir, arter all we've gone through. We growed up
together, sir. If you knowed all Tom's done for me, you'd wonder 'ow
anybody could 'ave the 'eart to arks me to give 'im up. Tom 'as stuck
to me through thick and thin, and I'll stick to 'im as long as ever I
live! I've 'eerd talk of sich things as 'eart-strings. Well, sir, my
'eartstrings 'd break if I was to lose 'im. Leave Tom! Give 'im up
_now!_ No, sir; it wouldn't be natural, and what ain't natural can't
be good.'

Blade-o'-Grass cut straight into the core of many difficulties with
her unconsciously-uttered truisms. When she and her child had eaten
all I had set before them, she opened the business she had come upon.
Then it was that I heard the history of the tiger.

'It's inside o' me, sir; I was born with it. When I was little, there
was a talk o' cuttin' me open, and takin' the tiger out; but they
didn't do it, sir. Per'aps it'd been better for me if they 'ad.'

I attempted to reason her out of her fancy; but I soon saw how useless
were my arguments. She shook her head with sad determination, and
smiled piteously.

'It don't stand to reason as you can understand it, sir. _You_ ain't
got a tiger in _your_ inside! I 'ave, and it goes a-tearin' up and
down inside o' me, eatin' me up, sir, till I'm fit to drop down dead.
It was beginnin' this mornin', sir, afore I seed you.'

'Did you have any breakfast, my poor girl?'

'Not much, sir; a slice o' bread and some water 'tween me and baby.
You see, sir, Tom's not 'ere, and I've 'ad some bad days lately.'

'You don't feel the tiger now?'

'No, sir; it's gone to sleep.'

I sighed.

'I wish,' she continued, 'I could take somethin' as 'd kill it! I
tried to ketch it once--yes, sir, I did; but it was no go. I 'adn't
'ad nothink to eat for a long time, and it was goin' on awful. Then,
when I got some grub, I thought if I put it down on the table, and set
it afore me with my mouth open, per'aps the tiger 'd see it, and come
up and fetch it. I was almost frightened out o' my life as I waited
for it; for I've never seed it, sir, and I don't know what it's like.
But it wouldn't come; it knows its book, the tiger does! I waited till
I was that faint that I could 'ardly move, and I was forced to send
the grub down to it. I never tried that move agin, sir.'

I told her I was sorry to hear that she had been unfortunate lately.
She nodded her head with an air of weary resignation.

'It can't be 'elped, sir, I s'ppose. A good many societies 'as sprung
up, and they're agin me, I think. O, yes, sir, we know all about 'em.
It warn't very long ago that I was walkin' a long way from 'ome, with
some matches in my 'and; I thort I'd try my luck where nobody knowed
me. A gentleman stopped and spoke to me. "You're beggin'," he said. I
didn't deny it, but I didn't say nothin', for fear o' the peelers.
"It's no use your comin' 'ere," he said; "we've got a society in this
neighbourhood, and we don't give nothink to the poor. Go and work."
Then he went on to tell me--as if I cared to 'eer 'im! but he was one
as liked to 'eer 'isself talk--that it was sich as me as was the cause
of everythink that's bad. Well, sir, that made me open my eyes, and I
couldn't 'elp arksing 'im if it was bad for me to try and git a bit o'
bread for my baby; but he got into sich a passion that I was glad to
git away from 'im. Another gentleman persuaded me to go to a orfice
where they looked arter the likes o' me. I went, and when they 'eerd
me out, they said they'd make inquiries into my case. Well, sir, they
did make inquiries, and it come to the old thing that I've 'eerd over
and over and over agin. They said they'd do somethink for me if I'd
leave Tom; but when they spoke agin 'im I stood up for 'im, and they
got angry, and said as I was no good. Then another party as I went to
said they'd take my child--which I 'ad no business to 'ave, they
said--if I liked, and that they'd give me ten shillin's to set me up
in a stock of somethink to sell for my livin'. Part with my child!'
exclaimed Blade-o'-Grass, snatching the little one to her lap, and
looking around with fierce fear, as if enemies were present ready to
tear her treasure from her. 'Sell my 'eart for ten shillin's! You're a
parson, sir, and I put it to you. What do _you_ say to partin' mother
and child?'

What could I say? I was dumb. It was best to be so upon such
straightforward questions propounded by a girl who, in her position
and with her feelings, could understand and would recognise no logic
but the logic of natural laws; it was best to be silent if I wished to
do good, and I did wish it honestly, sincerely. The more I saw of
Blade-o'-Grass, the more she interested me; the more she interested
me, the more she pained me. I saw before me a problem, hard as a rock,
sensitive as a flower--a problem which no roundabout legislation can
solve in the future, or touch in the present. Other developments will
to a certainty start up in time to come--other developments, and worse
in all likelihood, because a more cultivated intelligence may be
engaged in justifying what now ignorance is held to be some slight
excuse for.

'Then, sir,' continued Blade-o'-Grass, driving her hard nails home,
'if I was one o' them unnatural mothers as don't care for their
children, and took the orfer--'ow about the ten shillin's to set me up
in a stock o' somethin' to sell? What do the peelers say to a gal as
tries to sell anythin' in the streets? Why, there ain't a inch o'
flagstone as she's got a right to set 'er foot on! And as for the
kerb, as don't belong properly to nobody, and's not wanted for them as
walks or them as rides, why, a gal daren't stand on it to save 'er
life! And that's the way it goes, sir; that's the way it goes! But I
beg your pardon, sir. I'm wanderin' away from what I come for, and I'm
a-takin' up your time.'

'Go on, my poor girl,' I said; 'let me know what I can do for you.'

'It ain't for me, sir; it's for my baby.'

'What can I do for her, the poor little thing?' I asked, pinching the
child's cheek, who showed no pleasure, however, at my caress; there
dwelt in her face an expression of mournfulness which was native to
her, and which nothing could remove. 'What can I do for her?'

'Pray for 'er!' implored Blade-o'-Grass, with all her soul in her
eyes, from which the tears were streaming.

I started slightly, and waited for further explanation. Blade-o'-Grass
regarded me earnestly before she spoke again.

'You see, sir, she was born with a tiger inside of 'er, the same as I
was; it ain't 'er fault, the dear, it's mine. It breaks my 'eart to
think as she'll grow up like me, and that the tiger'll never leave
'er. I talked to Mr. Wirtue about it yesterday, and he says to me,
"Why don't you go to the parson, and arks 'im to _pray_ the tiger out
'er?" And so I've come, sir. You'd 'ardly believe what I'd do if it
was set me to do, if I could get the tiger away from my dear. I'd be
chopped up, sir, I would! Mr. Wirtue says prayer'll do anythink, and
that if I didn't believe 'im, I was to arks you if it won't I can't
pray myself; I don't know 'ow to. So I've come to you to arks you to
pray the tiger out of my baby!'

I scarcely remember in what terms I replied. I know, however, that I
sent Blade-o'-Grass away somewhat consoled, saying that she would
teach her baby to bless me every day of her life if my prayers were
successful.



                                 VI.

                     FOR THESE AND SUCH AS THESE.


And now it becomes necessary that I should say something concerning my
private history. I have made mention of a friend to whom I owed my
education and position, and whose friendship it saddened me to think I
should probably soon lose. It is of this friend, in connection with
myself, that I am about to speak.

His name was Fairhaven. He was a great speculator, and his ventures
had been so successful that he had become famous in the stock and
money markets. At this time he was nearly seventy years of age,
unmarried, and he had no family connection in which he took the
slightest interest, none, indeed, which he would recognise. Although I
was indebted to him in the manner I have stated, I did not see him,
and did not even know his name, until I had arrived at manhood and had
chosen my career. All that I knew was that he was very wealthy, and it
was by almost the merest accident that I discovered his name and real
position. I made this discovery at a critical time. A season of great
distress had set in in my parish, and I became acquainted with much
misery, which, for want of means, I was unable to alleviate. I yearned
for money. Where could I obtain it? I thought of Mr. Fairhaven. I said
to myself, 'He has been good to me, and he is a wealthy man, and might
be willing to assist me. Surely he would not miss a little of his
money, and I could do so much good with it!' I must explain that I had
before this time endeavoured to ascertain the name of the gentleman
who had befriended me when I was left an orphan, but I was told by his
agents that it was his wish to remain unknown. I respected that wish,
and did not prosecute my inquiries. Even now that I had accidentally
discovered his name, I should not for my own sake have pressed myself
upon him; but for the sake of those suffering ones whom I was unable
to relieve for want of money, I determined to do so. When I presented
myself to him, he regarded me attentively, and with some symptoms of
agitation. I said I hoped he was not displeased with me for coming to
him. No, he answered, he was not displeased; and he made me so welcome
that I ventured to thank him for his past goodness to me. Then I made
my appeal to him, and after some consideration he placed at my
disposal the sum of a hundred pounds, intimating that the same amount
would be paid to me every year, to spend according to my own
discretion among the poor of my parish. I was overjoyed at this good
result of my courage, and I thanked him cordially for his liberality.
Up to this time I had received the money regularly, and had been
enabled to do much good with it. I visited him occasionally to inform
him how his money was expended, and even in the midst of his vaster
operations, I think he was glad to hear of the good which sprang from
the seed he placed in my hands to sow among my poor. After a time he
asked me to visit him more frequently, saying that he was a lonely
man, and that my visits were an agreeable relief to him. I owed him
too deep a debt of gratitude to refuse, and I saw him as often as the
duties of my position would allow. As our intimacy ripened, I learned,
from chance words which escaped from him now and then, that he was not
satisfied with the groove in which I was working. Knowing that we were
not in the slightest way related to each other, I was naturally
curious to learn why he took so deep an interest in me; but when I
approached the subject he stopped me somewhat sternly, and desired me
to speak of other matters. The impression I had gained that he was
dissatisfied with my career became strengthened in every succeeding
interview. And one night he made me a startling proposition.

I have a clear remembrance of that night and all the details connected
with it. We were conversing in the pleasant garden of his house, which
was situated on the bank of the river Thames. From where we sat we
commanded a clear view of the river. The tide was ebbing, and the
river's water was flowing towards the sea. The heavens were bright,
and the fragrant air was whispering among the leaves. The water was
murmuring with a sweet sibillation as it flowed towards a mightier
power, and the stars were flashing in its depths.

On that night Mr. Fairhaven said that he wished he had known me
earlier in life; he would have chosen for me a different career; but
it was not too late now. 'I am a childless man,' he said, 'and I have
grown to love you.' He proposed that I should resign my office, and
come and live with him as his heir; had I been his son he could not
have expressed himself more affectionately towards me. He took me
entirely into his confidence, and endeavoured to win my sympathy in
his career. He showed me how he had risen to wealth--nay, he showed me
by his books and by other evidence the wealth itself which he had
accumulated. I was amazed at its extent. I had no idea that he was so
rich. As a proof of the sincerity of his offer, he said he would
settle a large sum of money on me immediately, and that the bulk of
his fortune should be mine when he was dead. There were certain
conditions attached to his proposal. I was to bear his name when he
died, and I was to pledge myself on my honour to live fully up to my
means, and to take what he considered to be the proper position in
society of a man who possessed so large a fortune. 'Money has its
duties,' he said--'duties which I perhaps have neglected, but which it
shall be your pleasant task to perform.' In a word, I was to become a
man of fashion, and I was to do whatever was necessary in the world of
fashion to make the name of Fairhaven notable. He laid great stress
upon this latter stipulation, and I understood that his money was not
to be mine to do as I pleased with in any other way.

I listened to his proposal in silence. For a short while I was
overwhelmed by the offer and by the generosity which prompted it. But
even as I listened I felt that I could not accept it. The prospect he
held out to me did not dazzle me. To my mind, the mere possession of a
large amount of money has no attraction, and confers no distinction;
to possess it and to spend it in the way Mr. Fairhaven had set down
appeared to my understanding a dreary task, and was distinctly
inimical to the views I had formed of life and its duties. Besides, I
had grown to love my labours; I was bound by the tenderest links of
love and humanity to the people among whom I moved. Look where I
would, I saw no higher lot in life than that which I had chosen,
and--a selfish reason perhaps--I was happy in my choice.

I answered Mr. Fairhaven to this effect, and was about to refuse his
offer absolutely, when he stopped me. I saw by his face that he
anticipated what I was about to say. He did not want my answer then,
he said; he wished me to take a certain time for reflection--a time
extending over two years, and to expire on the anniversary of my
thirty-third birthday. He asked me to study the matter well during
this interval, and in the consideration of it to throw aside all false
sentiment and eccentricity. He proposed to gain admission for me into
certain circles, where I could see in full operation the machinery of
the life he wished me to adopt; and he added--not as a threat, but
simply as part of a resolution he had formed--that if, at the
expiration of the allotted time, I did not accept his proposal, I must
never expect to receive one shilling of his money. The time passed. At
the expense of my duties I made leisure to move in the society in
which he wished me to move; I studied its machinery; I made myself
acquainted with its inner life, with its aims, desires, ambitions,
results; as far as opportunity served, I probed its depths, and my
resolution to decline Mr. Fairhaven's offer was strengthened. It is
not for me here to state the reasons which led to the conclusion I
formed. They sprang from my heart and my conscience; they were and are
part of myself, which I could no more tear from myself than I could
resist the course of time.

I visited Mr. Fairhaven on the appointed day, and acquainted him with
my decision. I spoke in words and tone as gentle as I could command;
for I bore in mind the great debt I owed him, and the exceeding
generosity of his offer. He looked at me with eyes of doubt and
surprise as I spoke, and turned from me when I finished. When he spoke
it was in a hard cold tone.

'And that is your positive decision?' he said.

'Yes, sir.'

'There is nothing hidden behind it----or stay! Perhaps you have not
had sufficient time for reflection. Let the matter rest for a little
while longer.'

I told him that, if I had twenty years for reflection, my answer would
be the same.

'You are aware,' he said, 'that you are inflicting a great
disappointment upon me?

'I cannot but be aware of it, sir,' I replied, 'and it pains me
exceedingly to know it.'

'You said a little while ago,' he said, referring to words I had used,
'that when I took you into my confidence, I endeavoured to win your
sympathy in my career. Did I win it?'

'No, sir.'

'Why?'

I determined to speak frankly.

'It seemed to me that you had amassed money simply for its own sake,
and not for the sake of the good uses to which it may be applied.
According to my thinking, money is only sweet when it is well-earned
and well-spent.'

I saw that he pondered over these words.

'Your life,' he said, 'must contain special attractions, that you are
so wedded to it. You have made friends, doubtless.'


[Illustration]


'Many, sir, thank God! Friends to whom I am deeply attached.'

'Tell me of them, and let me ascertain for myself the superior
inducements of the life you lead to the life which you reject.'

I considered for a few moments, I thought of Mrs. Silver and her happy
home and family; but connected with them in my mind were the less
wholesome figures of Tom Beadle, Blade-o'-Grass, and Jimmy Virtue. As
a foil to these, however, were the figures of Mr. Merrywhistle and
Robert Truefit and his family. I resolved to show this picture in a
complete form, as presenting a fair variety of those among whom my
life was passed. As I mentioned the names of these persons and
described them, Mr. Fairhaven wrote them on a leaf in his pocket-book.
I laid the greatest stress upon the figures of Mrs. Silver and her
family, and I endeavoured to show this part of the picture in bright
colours. But I was honest throughout, and I spoke plainly of Tom
Beadle, Blade-o'-Grass, and Jimmy Virtue. When the picture was
completed, Mr. Fairhaven read the names aloud, and exclaimed angrily:

'A pretty circle of portraits truly! The principal of them thieves and
gutter children! Andrew Meadow, it is incomprehensible to me. But your
mind is set upon them evidently. Can anything I say move you from your
resolution?'

'Nothing, sir.'

'Then here we part,' he said sternly and bitterly. 'As you cannot be
moved from your resolution, I cannot be moved from mine. Not one
shilling of my money shall you ever receive. I have striven hard for
your good, and you reject me for these and such as these!'

He tapped the list scornfully, and rose. I understood from his action
that I was dismissed. I knew it would be useless to attempt to soften
him; he was a man of inflexible resolution.

'You need not trouble yourself,' he said, 'to call upon me again,
unless I send for you. Goodnight.'

'Before I go, sir,' I said, very sad at heart, 'let me say how truly
grateful I am to you for your past kindness to me. I shall hold you in
my heart and mind with thankfulness and gratitude until my dying day.'

Then I walked sadly out of the peaceful garden towards the City, where
lay my labour of love.


Two matters must be mentioned before I close this chapter.

The first is that before I acquainted Mr. Fairhaven with the decision
I had arrived at, I endeavoured again to ascertain from what motive he
had educated and befriended me when I was left an orphan. He refused
distinctly to give me any explanation.

The next is that the hundred pounds a year he had hitherto given me to
spend among my poor was stopped from that day. This grieved me
exceedingly. I think I had never fully understood the power of money
until then.



                                 VII.

                   HEALTHY BODY MAKES HEALTHY MIND.


It was but natural that the loss of so good a friend as Mr. Fairhaven
should have had an effect upon my spirits, and I felt it the more
deeply because he had parted from me in anger. I did not for one
moment doubt that I had decided rightly, but it would have been a
happiness to me to have retained Mr. Fairhaven's friendship. I found
myself brooding over it and growing melancholy. I sorely felt the need
of sympathy, or at least of that consolation which one derives from
unbosoming himself to his friends. Mrs. Silver saw my distress of
mind, and with delicate tact led me to confide in her. I told her the
story--the temptation, the trial, the result--and I asked her if I had
done right. Only she and Rachel were present when I commenced to tell
my story; and Rachel, divining by my first words that I was about to
impart a confidence to Mrs. Silver, rose to leave the room; but I
desired her to stay, and she resumed her seat and continued her work.

'Have I done right, dear friend?' I asked of Mrs. Silver when I had
concluded.

I saw that she was much affected. 'Between friends such as we had
grown to be but few words were needed. I was bending anxiously towards
her as I asked the question. She took my hand and kissed me.

'I am old enough to be your mother,' she said; 'it gladdens me to know
that we are friends.'

I was inexpressibly consoled and comforted. I looked towards Rachel.
Her bosom was heaving, and a tender radiance was in her face. My heart
leaped up as I saw. Immediately I turned to her she knew that I was
gazing at her, and she rose hurriedly and left the room. Mrs. Silver
looked at me with solemn tenderness and followed her blind child. From
that moment a new tie seemed to be established between us, and I came
and went as one of the family.

As regards private social life, I know of no happier phase of it than
that which allows you to have only a few intimate friends, and which
does not compel you to fritter away your hours among a host of
acquaintances who have no heart-regard for you--paying a cold visit
here, a cold visit there, glad when they are over; receiving these
conventional visits in return, and uttering commonplaces the while
which are devoid of meaning and have no suspicion of earnestness.
Where you have within hail a few friends between whom and yourself a
sincere esteem exists, room is given for earnest feeling to flower;
the true heart-glow is felt, and you give and receive smiles which are
not artificial, and speak and hear words which are good and glad
utterances. In time the ties which bind you and your friends grow as
strong as ties of blood-kindred, and when a face is missed from the
circle, you mourn for it with genuine grief and affection.

Such a phase of social life existed with the Silvers and their
friends, of whom Robert Truefit was not the least esteemed. Wherever
he was, the conversation was always animated. He was a man who thought
for himself, and was not willing to be led unless his reason approved.
Under any circumstances, Robert Truefit would not have been satisfied
with going through the world blindfold. In no sense of the word an
agitator, he was always ready to express his opinion, and you might
depend that that opinion would be the result of a fairly-exercised
judgment. He was contented with his position as an ordinary workman,
but this does not imply that he was without ambition. He simply
recognised that it is folly to knock your head against stones. In a
new country, such as America, Canada, or any of the Australasian
colonies, he would have risen by sheer force of character; but in
England, with the ties that he had gathered about him, the chances
were against him. I am anxious that the character of Robert Truefit
should not be misunderstood. He was in no wise discontented with the
groove in which he laboured. He was a good husband and a good father.
Fond of an argument he certainly was; but he was not that kind of man
who justifies himself by a proverb. He chafed at injustice to others,
and he often expressed indignation at the neglect of public morality
which, he contended, characterised the government of the country.
'They look after the trees,' he said, 'and neglect the flowers. It is
a cant saying that you cannot make people moral by Act of Parliament.
Keep dinning a thing in the people's ears, and, whether it be true or
false, it will come to be believed in as something not to be
controverted. They will believe that a bread pill will prolong life
indefinitely, if it be advertised sufficiently. I say you can make
people moral by Act of Parliament. You can make them clean and you can
compel them to be decent, and those qualities go a very long way
towards morality.'

We were all together one evening, talking of the good prospect that
lay before Charley, who, firmly established as the overseer of a large
printing establishment, was saving money with the view of setting up
for himself in business, 'one of these fine days,' as he said. Ruth
was busy upon something marvellous in the shape of a frock for baby,
and much serious conversation was indulged in by the females on the
subject of trimmings. Said Ruth,

'Charley, when baby grows up she shall write a book, and you shall
print it.'

'Why,' exclaimed Charley, 'you don't want baby to be a bluestocking,
do you, Ruth?

'She will be clever enough for anything,' said Ruth confidently.
'There, mother, don't you think she will look beautiful in this?' And
Ruth held up the frock for inspection.

'I begin to think,' said Charley, 'that I am ambitious. Are you?' he
asked of Robert Truefit.

'I can't afford to be,' answered Robert Truefit, with a smile. 'In my
position, and with my responsibilities, ambition would lead to
discontent--discontent to unhappiness. I have seven pairs of feet to
provide boots and shoes for, and you can guess what that means.'

I had heard and read a great deal of the extravagance and improvidence
of the working-man, and looking upon Robert Truefit as a fair sample
of the better class--better because right-minded and intelligent--I
asked him if he was saving money for a rainy day, as the saying is.

'The only rainy day,' he said, 'for which I have been able to provide
in the shape of money, is the day on which I shall die. Then my wife,
if she is alive and if the company in which my life is insured is not
dishonest, will receive two hundred pounds. Every year I pay the
insurance a weight is taken from my heart; not so much because I am
able to pay it, as because my children are a year nearer to the time
when they will be able to work for their mother and assist her, should
anything happen to me.' He gave me a bright look. 'I am endeavouring
to train my young ones properly, and in that way perhaps I may say
that I am saving up for a rainy day. But I see that you are anxious
for further particulars. If you will give me a hint in what direction
to let my tongue run, I shall be glad to oblige you.'

'Well,' I suggested; 'concerning income and expenditure.'

'I can give you a plain experience on those heads,' he said frankly,
'because I am, after a certain fashion, methodical, much more so than
many of my mates. I put down my earnings every week in a little
memorandum-book, and on the opposite side I put down the way in which
my earnings are spent. This is a good lesson for my youngsters, who
learn the value of system in the practical matters of life. You know,
sir, that I have five children--two girls and three boys. The youngest
is eleven months old, the eldest is ten years of age on his next
birthday. Now, last year, from the first day to the last, I earned
ninety-nine pounds ten shillings, and every farthing of my earnings,
with the exception of thirty-eight shillings, which was spent in
junketing, went in the necessaries of life and in paying my policy.'

'What were your out-door pleasures?'

'Once during the year we took the children to the Crystal Palace. We
went once to the theatre to see a pantomime; and my eldest youngsters
begged so hard to be taken to the Brighton Aquarium on one of the Bank
holidays, that I could not resist them; and really I was glad of the
opportunity of seeing it myself. We had a capital day, and it did the
children good in many ways; it opened the eyes of their minds, I may
say. Our rent makes a big hole. We pay seventeen pounds a year,
including taxes, for our house, which contains three rooms and a small
kitchen or washhouse--quite as little as we can do with. Meat is
another big item. Then, I work three miles away from home, and that's
an item. In examining the figures, which Jane and I did very carefully
when I balanced the account--we have the fear of that rainy day you
have mentioned very strong upon us sometimes, I assure you, sir!--we
could not find one item which was not properly in its place, and which
in our opinion could have been set under the head of extravagance. Yet
I know that there are political economists--I call them by the name
they give themselves--who would not agree with me. The money spent in
amusements I have no doubt they would say I ought to have saved: I
deny it. We have a right--every human being has--to a reasonable share
of healthful pleasure. "Your meat bill ought to have been a little
less," they would also doubtless say: I deny it. We have little enough
as it is; more than half the meat we eat is Australian meat--and we
like it! The children's bodies must be healthfully nourished if they
are to grow into right-minded, reasonable men and women. Healthy body
makes healthy mind. Twenty-two shillings a year spent in reading!
"Monstrous!" the political economists would exclaim. Why, my
newspapers cost me not less than eight shillings a-year, and there's a
weekly publication, and an occasional oddment for the children; and is
my wife, or am I, not to read a work of fiction occasionally--or are
these things not for such as we? It is they who are monstrous who set
up such monstrous cries. So they would go through my book, and prove
that out of my earnings of ninety-nine pounds ten shillings I ought to
have saved a handsome sum. I have observed that it is only among the
ranks of the well-to-do that you find your political economists. They
argue from the wrong end--they themselves, mind you, being seated the
while on a snug and comfortable elevation; they cast up lines of
figures, and judge the life of an individual by means of a monster
called Aggregate--which Aggregate, I take it, is, applied to such a
purpose, the most absurd and unjust standpoint that mind of man could
have invented.'



                                VIII.

    THIS 'ERE FREE AND 'LIGHTENED COUNTRY OF OUR'N'S CRAMMED FULL
                        O' TEMPLES O' LIBERTY.


The withdrawal of Mr. Fairhaven's hundred pounds a year compelled me
to relinquish many plans I had formed. It was a sore blow to me, and I
had to pinch and save in order to carry out promises I had made to
some of my poor people. From the Silvers I received not only sympathy,
but help in the shape of money, without which I am sure I could not
have got along. Between Rachel and myself a confidence of a peculiar
and affectionate nature was gradually established. I spoke to her
freely of my troubles, and confided in her, and asked counsel of her.
By what mysterious means it was that she--blind from her birth, and
with no such knowledge of the world as comes from actual contact with
it--could have gained the wise insight into character which she
possessed, it is beyond my power to say. Perhaps it was because she
did not doubt, and believed in the capacity for goodness in others.

A long time had now passed since the children's holiday in the
country, and yet the incident of Rachel's distress on that day at the
sound of Blade-o'-Grass's voice had never been referred to in any of
our conversations. Truth to tell, I hesitated to open a subject which
had caused so much pain to the blind maid; but I never lost sight of
it. I was often on the verge of speaking about it, but I checked the
impulse. One day, however, I referred to it, almost without thought.

'I knew,' said Rachel, 'that you would speak to me about it at some
time or other, and I have thought it strange that you have not done so
before now. I think it was out of consideration for me.' I did not
answer. 'But you have had it in your mind?'

'Yes, Rachel, I have never forgotten it.'

'Nor I.' She clasped her hands upon her lap, and said quietly, 'Seeing
that you were silent, I should have mentioned it myself, if I could
have mustered sufficient courage; but I was too much afraid. Are we to
speak of it now?'

'As you think fit, Rachel.'

'It will be best, perhaps. Mr. Meadow,' she said earnestly, 'it is not
wrong for two persons to have a secret, If the keeping of it harms no
one, and if the disclosure would bring pain to their friends?'

'Surely not in such a case, Rachel.'

'I am so glad to know it! Will you, then, let what we say to each
other upon this subject remain a secret between us, unless you should
think it will serve a good end one day to refer to it, or disclose
it?'

'Yes, Rachel. This shall be a confidence between us.'

'That is good; it is a confidence between us.' She placed her hand
upon mine for a moment, as if that action sealed the confidence. 'Mr.
Meadow, I told you that I had heard the poor girl's voice before that
day. It was when Ruth and Charley were courting. We had spent a happy
day at the Exhibition with Charley, and we were walking home, when I
heard some one utter words which ring in my ears now. It was Ruth's
voice, but it was not Ruth who spoke. The words were: "For God's sake,
Tom, bring home some money, for there's not a bit of bread in the
cupboard!" Without stopping to think, I cried out to Ruth, and asked
her if it was she who spoke. I told her what I had heard, and that the
voice was like hers; and Ruth went to the poor girl, and gave her
money.'

'It was Blade-o'-Grass you heard, Rachel. The man who finds food for
her is named Tom.'

'I never spoke of it afterwards; I did not dare to, for my thoughts.
Mr. Meadow, what is Blade-o'-Grass like? Describe her to me.'

I described the poor outcast as faithfully as it was possible for me
to do. Rachel was silent for a little while; she was looking at the
portrait.

'What colour is her hair, Mr. Meadow?'

'Dark-brown.'

'The same colour as Ruth's!' she exclaimed, in a tone of distress.
'And her eyes?'

'Dark-brown, also.'

'So are Ruth's.'

She twined her fingers nervously.

'She has a very pretty dimple, Rachel.'

Rachel uttered a sob of thankfulness.

'Ruth has no dimple,' she said gratefully.

I reflected seriously before I spoke. Such implicit faith did I have
in Rachel's instincts that, without a shadow of direct evidence,
indeed with all evidence against it, I was tempted still to believe
that there was kinship between Ruth and Blade-o'-Grass. Yet what good
purpose could possibly be served in tracing it? Would it not be
bringing pain and shame to Ruth's door?----' No, no!' I cried, in my
thoughts, 'pain doubtless, but not shame! Ruth has been too purely
brought up for shame to touch her. She would stretch forth a
sympathising hand to Blade-o'-Grass. With a loving heart and with
loving words she would influence her for good: love would prevail
where friendship failed. Blade-o'-Grass might by that influence be
brought to see in their proper light the relations that existed
between Tom Beadle the thief and herself, and might----'

Ah, me! ah, me! I paused here, in grief, too sorrowful to carry out
the thread of my reflections. I had had but few interviews, with
Blade-o'-Grass; but when, feeling my duty press heavily upon me, I had
approached the subject which most grieved her friends, I had found her
deaf and implacable to my words. She placed her back against the rock
of natural affection, and every argument used against Tom Beadle
struck her with a feather's weight. To break the tie seemed to me to
be impossible. There remained, then, but one right thing to be done.
To sanctify it by the sacrament of marriage, and thus fasten the hold
which the thief had upon her. Let no man come between them then! This
girl, in whom there was so much latent good, would be linked for life
to a thief. His infamous life would be hers, his lot would be hers,
and nothing should separate them but death!

At the date of my present conversation with Rachel, I had not seen
Blade-o'-Grass for many weeks, and I knew that Tom Beadle was out of
prison and at work again in his bad way. I determined to seek her out
that very night. I had promised to visit Jimmy Virtue in company with
Robert Truefit. Jimmy had expressed a wish to see us, and he would
most likely be able to tell me where I could find Blade-o'-Grass.
These thoughts occupied but a very few moments in passing through my
mind; and I turned again to Rachel.

'When I heard poor Blade-o'-Grass,' I said to her, 'speak to her baby,
her voice sounded strangely familiar to me. Yet it seems scarcely
possible that what you and I have in our minds with reference to her
should be more than fancy.'

But Rachel gently shook her head, and we diverged to other subjects.

Robert Truefit and I met by appointment, and walked together to Jimmy
Virtue's leaving-shop. Jimmy Virtue was in his parlour, and upon our
entrance he hastily gathered up an old pack of cards, with which he
had been playing. The deal table was bare of cloth, and was smeared
over with chalk figures representing many thousands of pounds.

'Hallo!' exclaimed Jimmy Virtue; 'there you are! I've been 'avin' a
game of All-fours with Jack.'

I looked around for Jack, but saw no signs of him. There was but one
tallow-candle burning in the room, and that was stuck in a ginger-beer
bottle and was guttering down.

'I'll be with you in a minute,' said Jimmy Virtue; 'I've got a bundle
to tie up in the shop.'

'This is a miserable place to live in,' I said to Robert Truefit when
Jimmy Virtue had left the room. 'Who is Jack?'

'A shadow,' replied Robert Truefit; 'a shadow of Jimmy's creation,
with whom he plays at cards in his loneliness, and cheats out of
fabulous sums--money, Jack, and all being things of air. Look at the
chalk-score on the table; Jimmy has won more than three thousand
pounds of Jack. Is not truth stranger than fiction, Mr. Meadow? Jack
sits there.'

Robert Truefit pointed to a chest upon which the imaginary Jack was
supposed to sit while he was being robbed. So dimly-lighted was the
room that I could easily have fancied a shadow was really sitting on
the chest, gazing with lack-lustre eyes upon another shadow in Jimmy
Virtue's chair, where Jimmy Virtue was not. A mournful picture of a
desolate life, I thought.

Jimmy Virtue appeared to have forgotten us, for Robert Truefit and I
had been ten minutes together, and were not disturbed.

'Is he attending to customers?' I asked.

'There's no customer in the shop,' said Robert Truefit, peeping in.
He went into the shop, and I followed him. Jimmy Virtue was standing
at the street-door, muttering to himself.

'That's the second time I've seed 'im 'ere,' he muttered, 'the second
time this week; but it's been too dark to ketch a good sight of 'is
face. Now, what does he come 'angin' about 'ere for?'

He was watching the figure of a man who was standing in that part of
Stoney-alley where the deepest shadows lay.

'Do you know him, Jimmy?' asked Robert Truefit.

'He's a 'Postle,' replied Jimmy Virtue.

'An Apostle,' explained Robert Truefit to me. I wondered, not knowing
what meaning might be attached to the word.

'He calls 'isself a Delegate, but I calls 'im a 'Postle--a 'Postle o'
Liberty. I'd like to ketch a good sight of that there 'Postle's face.
Pff! What's this a-runnin' in my 'ead?'


[Illustration]


He glared around with his one useful eye, as if shadows were jostling
him on every side; and in a thoughtful mood he accompanied us to the
parlour. There he opened the chest which formed Jack's resting-place,
and diving to the bottom brought up a small wooden box. Without a word
he opened the box, and turned out the contents. 'There's a rum lot o'
things 'ere,' he said, after a long pause, during which he had been
examining the articles, each of which was wrapped in paper, upon which
there was writing. 'All gold and silver things that's never been
called for. I didn't like to part with 'em. 'Ere's a bit o' coral,
'xactly like a foot and leg; this garter round the leg is gold. I lent
fourteenpence on it to a cove as 'ad seen better days--so he told me.
Them better days must ha' been a precious long time afore I set eyes
on 'im! 'Ere's a bit o' jade with a band o' silver on it. That come
from Chiney. 'Ere's a woman's likeness on a broach--enamel, it is a
pretty face! 'tain't so pretty now, I'll be bound! I've 'ad this for
thirty year. 'Ere's a----ah, 'ere it is!' He lighted upon something he
had been seeking for. 'What do you call this, now?' he asked.

'I should call it a wedding-ring,' said Robert Truefit.

'So should I. I ain't 'ad many things like what's in this box brought
to me to lend money on. Peddicuts, and gownds, and old boots is more
in my line.'

He replaced all the things in the wooden box with the exception of the
wedding-ring, which he put in his pocket.

'Now, then, Jimmy,' said Robert Truefit, 'tell us what you wanted to
see us about.'

'Well, you know that place they calls Paul's-buildin's. It's been
empty ever so long, and there's a large 'all in it.'

'I know it, Jimmy.'

'Well, that's what I wanted to talk to you about. The 'all's been
taken for twelve bob a week by some fellers as 'as formed theirselves
into a society called the Workin'-man's League--a society as is goin'
to stick up for workin'man's rights and all that sort o' thing. And
what do you think they've painted on the door. Bob? Why, The Temple o'
Liberty! And this feller as comes 'angin' round 'ere to-night calls
'isself a Delegate. _I_ calls 'im a 'Postle. It sounds better, don't
it? 'Im and 'is mates meets three times a week at the Temple o'
Liberty to take in members at tuppence a 'ead, and to collar
subscriptions. Lord! they'd collar anythink, sich fellers as them!
They do a pretty good stroke o' business altogether, I should say.'

'If Jimmy's not mistaken,' observed Robert Truefit to me, 'these are
some of the men who live by the trade. But what makes you so
interested in this one particular man, Jimmy?'

'I'd rather not say jist now, Bob. But I did ketch jist a glimpse of
'is face, and if I'm right, I've seed it afore. Per'aps I _am_ right;
per'aps I ain't. Any'ow this ain't the time to speak, 'cordin' to my
judgment, till I'm more settled about it. There's a big meetin' next
week at the Temple o' Liberty, and there'll be some tall speechifyin',
I daresay. I'll 'ave a good look at that there 'Postle's face then.
Will you go, Bob? and you, sir? This is a sort o' thing as ought to be
looked into. If I was a workin'-man like Bob, I shouldn't be satisfied
without I 'ad a finger in the pie--though there's nothin' good to be
got out of it, mind you, unless you're a 'Postle! And if I was a
parson, I'd think it my duty to 'eer what they've got to say for
theirselves.'

We promised to accompany Jimmy Virtue to the meeting; and then I asked
him if he knew where Blade-o'-Grass lived. He went into Stoney-alley
with us, closing has shop-door, and pointed out the house.

'She's got a room on the third floor,' he said; 'she went into it last
week. They about like birds, them gals do; it seems as they can't rest
nowhere. But they allus comes back to the old spot! She was born about
'ere, and it's my opinion she'll die about 'ere. What are you goin' to
do, Bob?

'I shall stop here until Mr. Meadow's visit is paid. Nay, sir,' he
said, seeing that I was about to attempt to dissuade him, 'I shall
wait for you. Our roads home are same, and perhaps you will allow me
to walk part of the way with you.'

'I shall go,' said Jimmy Virtue, 'and smoke a pipe outside The True
Briton's Delight. I've got the lonelies on me to-night, and Jack's not
allus the best o' company; gits stupid like, and 's got no go in 'im.
You'll see me there as you pass.'

I walked up the dark stairs until I came to the third floor, and
knocked at the door of the only room in which there was a light.
Blade-o'-Grass came to the door, and opened it. She curtseyed when she
saw me, and asked me to come in. There was some anxiety in her face,
but this was no new phase in her. I asked after the child.

'It's that as troubles me, sir,' she said. 'Come and look at it.'

The child was lying on the bed, with its eyes closed. Blade-o'-Grass
touched her, and she opened her eyes; but there was no sign of
recognition in her face, and no smile or look of gladness as the
mother leaned over her. The expression was one of settled
mournfulness; it appeared to me as if neither pain nor joy could
affect it.

'She's been like this, sir,' whispered Blade-o'-Grass, 'for nigh on a
week, and I don't know what to make of it. She lays there for hours
without movin' and without speakin'. She don't complain a bit; but it
can't be right, can it, sir? Speak to me, my life! Speak to me!'

But the child made no response to these and other endearing words; a
mournful lethargy had fallen upon her, and she lay like one in a
trance.

'She takes her food?'

'Yes, sir, but not much; she don't seem to care for it. She don't arks
for none.'

'Has any doctor been to see her?'

'I've got no money, sir.'

I knew of a doctor of fair repute who was popular among the poor, and
whose charge was eighteenpence a visit, with medicine included. I gave
Blade-o'-Grass three shillings, and told her it would pay for two
visits. She thanked me with tears in her eyes, and said that she would
run for the doctor immediately I was gone.

'I wish to say a few words to you first, my dear; I will not detain
you long.'

She placed a chair for me, and stood before me.

'Where is Tom?' I asked.

'I don't know, sir; I ain't seed 'im all day.'

'It is about him I wish to speak, Blade-o'-Grass.'

She looked distressed; but I was not to be discouraged.

'Is it not possible,' I continued, 'for him to get a living in any
other way than the way he does?'

''Ow do I know, sir? I think Tom 'd do anythink to earn a pound a
week. A pound a week! 'Ow 'appy we should be then! But 'ow's he to do
it, sir? Tell us the way, sir.'

'Nay,' I said, 'he must find the way himself----'

She interrupted me impatiently. 'If I didn't know as you was a good
friend to me, sir, I should think as you was mockin' of me, like the
others. Don't you say it all over agin, sir!' she entreated, with a
nervous movement of the hands. 'It makes me sick and mad-like! I've
'eerd it a 'underd times afore, and every time I arks which way we're
to turn, I'm told that we've got to find out the way for ourselves.'

She looked towards her child, and I saw that she was anxious to go for
the doctor. It would have been cruel to continue the theme then; but I
could not leave her without carrying out my intention. I asked her if
she had ever been to church.

'Once,' she answered.

'Only once!' I said sadly. 'That's all, sir; I never went agin. I
stood near the door while the bells was ringin'. I like to 'eer them
bells; they rest me like, and it was them as drawed me on. A lot o'
fine people was comin' along the streets all round, and goin' in
while I stood there. Some on 'em looked 'appy, 'specially the gals as
was about the same age as me; but some on 'em looked orfle glum,
as if they knowed they was bad uns, and was goin' to be preached
to!--beggin' your pardon, sir. Some of the ladies was dressed
beautiful, and more nor one on 'em 'eld their gownds away from me as
they parsed, for fear I should 'ave spoiled 'em by touchin' 'em. One
lady in lavender silk pulled 'er two little gals away because they was
close to me, and looked at me as much as to say that I'd got no
business to be there. No more I 'ad, sir, I know. I remember them
things, sir. All the people got in, and the bells stopped, and then I
thought 'ow I should like to go in too. It took a deal o' courage to
push open the door, and my 'eart was in my mouth when I did it; but
that was nothin' to what come arterwards. When I was inside, I thort I
should ha' dropped down with fright, a lot on 'em stared at me so
'ard-like; and what with that and the place bein' so grand, I turned
all over like a jelly. Then a big man comes up to me, lookin' very
stern and solemn. I thort he was a-goin' to give me in charge, and I
was goin' to cry out and beg 'im not to, when he clapped 'is 'and on
my mouth, and put me somewhere where I couldn't see nothink, and where
I could only 'eer a drummin' in my ears like a lot o' flies, except
when the people was a-singin'. But I was frightened all the while, and
when the doors was throwed open, I run out as fast as I could, for
fear somethin' 'd be done to me. I never went no more; it seemed to me
as if I'd no right to go.'

'Do you know where my church is, child?'

'No, sir.'

I wrote the address on a piece of paper, and gave it to her.

'I can't read, sir,' she said, with a flush in her cheeks.

I begged her pardon, and told her the name of the church, and the
street it was in. 'If you will come there, my dear, next Sabbath, I
shall be glad to see you. And don't think you have no right there! You
have as much right as the best-dressed lady in the church.'

She thanked me, and said she would come because I had been good to
her.

'And bring Tom,' I said.

She shook her head. 'I don't think Tom'll come, sir.'

'Not for your sake?' I asked.

'Tom'll do almost anythink for me,' she said, tears gathering in her
eyes.

'Do you know,' I said very gently, 'that living as you are living now
with Tom gives great pain to your friends?'

She bit her lips rebelliously, and put on her dogged look.

'And that it is wrong in the sight of God?'

There was no softening of the dogged look; it hardened rather.

'And,' I continued, 'there is so simple and so good a way of atoning
for this wrong--a way that will bring Tom nearer to you, that will
bind him closer to you. If, as you say, Tom will do anything for you,
ask him to marry you.'

The dogged look vanished; joy, wonder, took its place.

'Marry me!' she exclaimed softly. 'O Tom, if you would! if you would,
Tom!'

'Is there any doubt of it?'

'I never arksed 'im, sir! I never arksed 'im!'

'Well, dear child, ask him now, and let me know.'

'Won't it cost money, sir? she asked anxiously.

'But little; and that little I will find.'

She held out her hands to me in thankfulness. She had learned to trust
me.

'I'll arks Tom, sir. Though, mind!' she said, out of the noble
chivalry of her nature; 'nothink that Tom can do can bring me nearer
to 'im, or make 'im stick closer to me! But I'll do it, sir, because
you think it's good, and because I think, too, it might be righter
so.' She turned with a newborn joy in her face, and knelt by the bed,
and as I went out of the room, I heard her whisper to her child,
'Baby! baby! me and Tom's goin' to git married! Ain't you glad, baby?'


Robert Truefit was waiting for me in Stoney-alley.

'I am glad you have come at this moment,' he said, as we walked out of
the alley. 'You see those two men before us? One is Tom Beadle, and
the other is the Delegate who roused Jimmy so strangely to-night.'

'They are not walking together; they do not seem to be acquainted.'

'No; but supposing this one to be an Apostle of Liberty, and that one
a thief, it is well that they should be strangers.'

Their destination, however, was the same. They both paused before the
door of The True Briton's Delight, and both entered the building,
which was a triumph of architecture, with its gay decorations and
pillars. The light that came from this bad palace was dazzling.

'A bright coffin,' observed Robert Truefit, 'for virtue and morality.'

Jimmy Virtue was leaning against one of the lamp-posts opposite the
public-house, smoking his pipe.

'I've been thinkin', Bob,' he said, with reflective puffs, 'as I've
been standin' watchin' the people go in and out, that this 'ere free
and 'lightened country of our'n's crammed full o' Temples o' Liberty.'

'Crammed full of them!' exclaimed Robert Truefit, humouring his
friend. 'Why, what kind of places, Jimmy?'

Jimmy Virtue extended his pipe in the direction of the True Briton's
Delight.

'Them kind o' places,' he said.

Robert Truefit laughed. 'And where on earth, Jimmy, in those temples
is liberty to be found?'

'At the bottom o' pewter pots,' replied Jimmy Virtue, with a flourish
of his pipe. 'And the persevering way the free and 'lightened Briton
searches for it in them pewter pots is a 'stonishing thing. Bob--a
very 'stonishing thing!'



                                 IX.

     OPEN YOUR EYES, BABY! SPEAK TO ME! LOOK AT MOTHER, MY LIFE!


I looked in vain from my pulpit on the following Sabbath for Tom
Beadle and Blade-o'-Grass, but they were not in church. I had
introduced into my discourse on that day certain words applicable to
the beauty and holiness of the marriage tie--words which I had
designed especially for those two humblest members of my congregation,
and which I had hoped they would have understood and appreciated. It
pained me not to see them, and I was sure that some special
circumstance had prevented Blade-o'-Grass at least from attending. I
had promised to take a cup of tea with Ruth and her husband after the
evening service, and if anything could have made me forget for the
time the sorrow which oppressed me, it would have been the peaceful
happiness which pervaded their bright and modest home. But the image
of Blade-o'-Grass was too strongly fixed in my mind to be forgotten,
and in the course of the evening my fancy placed that image by the
side of Ruth, as the latter, with all a mother's love in her face, sat
rocking the cradle with her foot. It was a terrible contrast, and I
strove to banish the fancy; but it refused to leave my mind's eye. Let
me, I thought, strive at all events to give it a more pleasing
colouring. Ruth was dressed in a brown-stuff gown, and she had a piece
of pink ribbon round her neck; she wore dainty white collar and cuffs,
and her hair was done up in a simple knot. Merely to look at her as
she sat rocking the cradle in which her baby was sleeping created that
Home feeling to which all the humanising influences of life are due.
In my fancy now I gave Blade-o'-Grass such a dress and such cuffs and
collar; I placed the piece of ribbon round her neck, and arranged her
hair in similar fashion; and then I placed her by the side of Ruth. It
was wonderful; they were of the same height, and the colour of their
hair and eyes was the same. But the look of peaceful happiness which
dwelt in the face of Ruth was wanting in the face of Blade-o'-Grass. I
gave the poor girl this; I banished the anxiety and sorrow from her
face, and the likeness was perfect. As I gazed upon the picture,
half-real, half-ideal, the sound of Ruth singing softly to her baby
stole upon my ear, and the little tricks and turns of the voice which
Nature varies in her myriad children with such marvellous skill as to
make each distinctive in itself, or assimilative only where ties of
blood exist, brought to me the voice of Blade-o'-Grass speaking to
_her_ child. I started to my feet to dispel the illusion, and bade
Ruth and Charley good-night, for fear I might be tempted to disturb
their happiness by even a mention of my thought.

It was a wintry night, and the snow was falling. I had other visits to
make in pursuance of my duties, and it was quite eleven o'clock by the
time I had completed my rounds. At that hour I was crossing the
wonderful piece of road which connects the Mansion House with the
Royal Exchange, and I bustled along briskly to keep myself warm. I was
in the open space in front of the Royal Exchange, and I was walking
towards Leadenhall-street, when a woman hurriedly approached me from
that direction. She came almost abruptly to my side, and, with a
reckless movement of her body, in which every limb seemed to take its
part, was about to accost me, when, as I turned my face towards hers,
she uttered a suppressed cry of terror, and flew round the corner
which leads to Threadneedle-street. I had not seen the woman's face,
but the cry told me who she was. Shocked and surprised I ran after
her, and, in her endeavour to escape me, the poor wandering soul fell
upon the ground at the foot of the statue of one of America's greatest
philanthropists. Even in that moment of trouble, the coincidence
struck me as singular, and in the fleeting glance of admiration I cast
upon the statue the thought flashed upon me that it would have been
more charitable, and would have shown more true benevolence, had the
vast sums the philanthropist gave to the poor of London been expended
less after the fashion of a commercial speculation. That the merciful
intentions of the testator--whose kind heart must have been filled
with pity for the unmerited sufferings of the poor, and with a desire
to relieve them--have been made to miss their mark by the manner in
which the trust has been administered, there is, in my mind, not a
shadow of a doubt.

'Blade-o'-Grass!' I exclaimed pityingly, and I stooped to raise the
writhing form at my feet.

But she shrank from me and repulsed me with her hands; and bade me, in
a desperate voice, to go, for the Lord's sake! and leave her to
herself.

'Nay, dear child,' I said, 'I cannot leave you. Tell me what brings
you out on such a night as this.'

'Don't arks me!' she cried, with a wild movement of her hands. 'O, my
God! don't arks me. O, if I could die this minute, and take my child
with me! O, if we could die together, the pair on us!'

She looked up to the dreary sky with a face as white as the falling
snow. Never in my life had I witnessed such passion, such utter
prostration of soul, and my heart bled for her--and bled the more as I
observed her scanty clothing and the miserable coverings she wore on
her feet. And then there came to me again the fancies I had raised
concerning Blade-o'-Grass but a couple of hours ago in Ruth's cheerful
room. The reality was before me, in all its naked truth. What a
reality! Stone-deaf, blind, dumb, and utterly senseless to stern
preaching and mild exhortation; to the torrent of words which
comfortably-good creatures listen to from lip-philanthropists who, by
some strange mental jugglery, really believe that they are doing good;
to the raising of voices calling upon the fallen to turn and repent;
to statistics which prove so much and do so little. Only to be
affected, only to be sensibly touched, only to be altered for the
better by the angelic wand of practical benevolence, which sees,
pities, and at once wisely relieves. I knew and recognised that it was
from no fault of hers that this poor girl had fallen so low. _Had_
fallen! no; she was born fallen, and had been kept so. There was no
road open for her to traverse which would lead to pleasanter paths.
Gardens and fair places she had seen, doubtless, and her soul must
have yearned to them with sickening desire, but they were on far-off
hills, and the gates that led to them were shut for such as she. As
she lay before me now, looking upward to the sky, no fair places shone
for her. Every principle of goodness, the exercise of which brings us
present peace and future bliss, seemed to point at her in bitter
mockery. The reward that waits on worthy endeavour--how could she hope
to win it? The blessing that attends on a pure life--how could she
hope to gain it? Despair and desolation surrounded and encompassed
her. What words I used to comfort her, I do not remember; but I know
that two quarters of the hour had chimed from the solemn bells--doubly
solemn in my ears at this momentous time, and in hers also, for when
they struck we both paused to listen--before she grew calmer and could
speak with coherence; and then only was I able to draw from her lips
an explanation of her terrible distress.

Her child was perilously ill. She had spent the money I gave her for
the doctor, as I had directed. She thought her dear was a little
better after the first visit, but the doctor had told her yesterday
the child must have nourishing food, or he could give no hopes for it.
What kind of nourishing food? she had asked. A little port wine,
arrowroot, and jelly, was the answer. She repeated these last words
bitterly. 'Threepence-ha'penny was all that we 'ad in the place, and
there warn't a blessed thing in the room that we could ha' raised
fourpence upon. What was I to do? I went on so about it to Tom that he
said last night, "Keep up your pluck, old gal; I'll go and make a
rise."' Nerved to daring deeds, as I understood, and determined to get
money somehow, Tom Beadle left Blade-o'-Grass with a kiss; 'and I've
never set eyes on 'im since!' There was but one inference--the usual
one--to be drawn from his absence; he had been taken up again by the
police. In the mean time the condition of the child was growing more
perilous every hour. 'She never complained once, sir; if she'd ha'
cried it'd ha' been a relief to me I think, but she never opened 'er
lips, the pretty dear; and there she's been a-layin' all the day, with
'er eyes wide open, _lookin' at somethin' as I couldn't see!_ When it
got dark, sir, I 'adn't a farthin' in my pocket, and there wasn't a
bit o' bread nor a drop o' milk in the cupboard. And all the while I
kep' on thinkin' that my dear was a dyin', and that if I could get 'er
a little jelly or a cup of arrerroot, she would git better. It drove
me a'most mad, sir, but I tried to keep up my 'eart by thinkin' that
Tom per'aps 'd come in directly, and make it all right. I 'ad a little
bit o' candle left, and I lighted it, so that I might watch my dear's
face; but it only lasted about a hour and then it went out. I laid
down by my dear's side, and took 'er in my arms to warm 'er; she never
spoke or moved, sir; 'er 'eart beat, that was all. I felt 'er eyes
with my fingers, and they was still wide open. I began to git
frightened. What was it my dear was a-starin' at, and could she see it
even in the dark? Well, sir, I laid so for a long time, until I fell
asleep. 'Ow long I slep', sir, I can't tell, but when I woke up, my
dear was moanin'--not cryin', sir, but moanin'. I tried to coax 'er to
speak to me, but she didn't seem to know that 'er poor mother was by
'er side, and she never answered a word, but went on moanin'. O, sir!
as I laid there in the dark listenin' to my dear, I thought I should
ha' gone out of my mind! And then 'er poor 'ands--they're nothink but
skin and bone, sir!--begun to wander about, and it seemed to me that
she was searchin' and arksin' for somethin' to eat. What _could_ I do,
sir? what could I do? I run out to Mr. Wirtue's, but 'is place was
shut; per'aps he'd ha' given me somethink, but I couldn't find 'im.
Then I went back to my dear, and stood in the dark, fightin' with
myself, and with sich thoughts comin' over me as made me 'ot and cold.
I daren't tell you what they was, sir--I 'ardly know myself, but I
feel that to be dead's better than them! And in the middle of it all,
my dear's voice changed, and I knew that the tiger was tearin' at 'er.
It was tearin' at me, too, and, with the fear of my dear's death
starin' me in the face, I run out of the 'ouse. I didn't know where I
was goin'. I wanted money--food for my dear! I think I was mad! And
that's the way I met you. It's God truth, sir, every word of it!'

This was the story that, with sobs and gasps and many pauses for
passion which she could not control, Blade-o'-Grass told me. I
breathed a prayer of thankfulness that I was by her side in this awful
crisis of her life. I felt that practical relief must be given at
once. To leave her to her own resources in such a moment of terrible
desperation would have weighed on my soul like a sin which could never
be washed away. I looked around upon the bleak night; not a footfall
was to be heard. The snow was turning to sleet; the streets were
deserted; every door was closed.


[Illustration]


As I was considering what was best to be done, the bells began to
chime again. It was twelve o'clock, and the Sabbath was at an end.
From far and near the iron tongues, in solemn muffled tones,
proclaimed the commencement of a new week's toil. For a few moments
the air was filled with sound, and it would scarcely have surprised me
to feel that the sleeping millions were suddenly aroused--to hear the
din, the roar, the rattle of the roads--to see the anxious faces
flashing all around me, and the streets peopled with the throngs that
struggle this way and that, and contribute to the sum of the busy
world. But with the last faint echo of the bells the fancy vanished;
the night was more lonely and desolate than before, and Blade-o'-Grass
was turning from me in despair.

'Come with me,' I said.

'Let me be!' she cried hoarsely. 'My child's starvin', and I'm goin'
to get food for it--some'ow--or die in the streets!'

'I am going to help you. I am going to get food for you and your
child.'

She grasped my hand with a convulsive movement, and sobs of hysterical
joy escaped from her. But weakness and the revulsion of feeling
overcame her, and she would have fallen to the ground again but for my
support. By good fortune I heard the wheels of a cab.

'Can you keep up for a moment or two?' I whispered to her
hurriedly. 'Take hold of these rails; they will support you. That's
right--that's right! Do not stir till I return. I may be able to stop
that cab, and it will take us to my place, where we can get food.
Think of your child, and gather strength.'

I left her clinging to the rails and I ran after the cab, and hailed
it. The driver drove on, shaking his head. But I ran by the side of
the horse and entreated him so earnestly that he stopped. He said he
was wet to the skin and tired out, and that he wanted to tumble into
bed. But when he heard my rapidly-told story, and that the life of a
little child might be saved or sacrificed by him, he hesitated not a
moment.

Blade-o'-Grass was somewhat better and stronger when I returned to
her, and we drove quickly to my lodgings. There I armed myself with
candles, with what food there was in my cupboard, and with a little
brandy which I fortunately had by me. Back to Stoney-alley we drove
swiftly. On the road I urged Blade-o'-Grass to eat. She could not, she
said; it would choke her if she tried.

'I can't go down this alley, sir,' the driver said, pulling up; 'it's
too narrow.'

We alighted, and I paid the man his fare. He fumbled the money in his
hand; hesitated; looked doubtfully at it.

'I hope you will think it enough,' I said. It was all the money I had
about me.

With a rough tenderness he answered, 'I beg your pardon, sir; but I'd
like to----' and he held sixpence towards Blade-o'-Grass.

'I will give it to her,' I said. 'God bless you!'

I shook hands with him, and he jumped on his box and rattled away,
whistling his loudest.

We walked through the dark alley, unlighted by a single lamp, into the
house, and up the dark stairs. The house contained many inhabitants,
and we heard their breathing as we shuffled quietly along. When we
reached Blade-o'-Grass's room, she paused at the door and listened.

'My dear's not moanin' now,' she whispered gladly. 'Per'aps she's
asleep. We're a-comin', my dear, we're a-comin'! We've got somethin'
nice to eat!'

By the time I lit a candle, I saw that Blade-o'-Grass had crept to the
bed and was bending over her dear. She raised the child tenderly in
her arms. I mixed a little brandy-and-water in a broken cup and
approached them.

''Ad we better wake 'er? asked Blade-o'-Grass. I nodded. 'Baby! baby!'
she cried.

She looked at me for a moment with a struggling fear in her eyes.

'Baby, my dear! 'Ere's somethin' nice for you! We're goin' to send the
tiger to sleep; it sha'n't 'urt you any more. Baby! She don't answer
me! For gracious God's sake, sir, come 'ere! Quick! Baby! my love, my
'eart! Mother's a-callin' to you. Open your eyes! Speak to me! Look at
mother, my life!'

The fear in her eyes grew stronger, spread over her face and turned it
deathly white. With a wild shudder she tore the child from the bed,
and pressing her to her breast, turned to me with a look so agonising
and despairing as blanched my face to the whiteness of hers.

'What's this!' she muttered piteously. 'For the good Lord's sake, tell
me what is this?' She passed her hand over her child with swift and
fierce tenderness, and with a scream that must have made terrible the
dreams of the sleepers, cried, 'The tiger! the tiger! The tiger's
killed my child! O, my 'eart, my life!' and fell to the ground,
clasping her dear closer to her heart, and rocked to and fro in an
agony of passionate ungovernable grief.

Alas! alas! The child, on whose face I had never seen a smile, had
died during the mother's absence, and the tiger that had been the
curse of her life would never more disturb her. Never more! Never
more!



                                  X.

                    NO, NO! BORN IN LOVE! IN LOVE!


I was busy writing on the following morning when Mr. Merrywhistle
called upon me.

'You look tired,' he said.

I told him that I had been up all night with Blade-o'-Grass, and that
her child was dead. He being her nearest and most faithful friend, I
related to him the circumstance of my meeting Blade-o'-Grass on the
previous night, and all that followed. The good old man shed tears,
and was sincerely grieved.

'Can I do anything?' he asked.

'You can do a great deal,' I answered. 'There is the burial of the
child.'

'I will see to that,' he interrupted; 'and the poor child shall be
buried decently.'

This was a weight off my mind, for I knew by his words and his manner
that he intended to defray the charges of the funeral out of his own
purse; mine unfortunately was empty. I pressed his hand.

'Heaven forgive me for saying it,' he said, wiping the tears from his
eyes, 'but it is a happier fate for the poor little thing to die, than
to live as her mother has lived.'

Then, I told him, there was the mother herself to look after.

'I should not have remained with her so long, for I needed rest; but
it was impossible for me to leave her. If she were left to herself and
her thoughts, I am afraid that something bad would happen. Jimmy
Virtue is with her now, and will remain until I send some one to
relieve him, or go myself.'

'Jimmy is a good fellow,' said Mr. Merrywhistle, rising, 'but he's as
poor as a church mouse, and must attend to his business. I will see to
the poor girl, and when I am absent I will get some woman in the house
to look after her. There, there! make your mind easy till tomorrow,
and go to bed early tonight.'

I felt much relieved, and I rose the next morning thoroughly refreshed
in mind and body. As early in the day as I could I walked towards
Stoney-alley. On my way I met Mr. Merrywhistle. I asked him after
Blade-o'-Grass. He shook his head gravely, and said,

'I was anxious to see you about her. It is with her just as you
described. If she were left to herself she would do something
desperate.'

'Has Tom Beadle come home?'

'No, and I have heard nothing of him. His presence might arouse her
from the awful melancholy which has fast hold of her. It is dreadful
to see. She has not spoken a word since you left, and it is with the
greatest difficult that the woman I have employed has induced her to
touch food; I am sure she has not eaten sufficient to keep life in
her. She sits by her dead child, looking at it with a blank look in
her eyes that almost freezes my blood to see. Sometimes she turns her
head, and gazes into one particular corner of the room, with a gaze so
fixed and steadfast that I have half expected--I am very nervous, my
dear sir--to see something start out of the wall.'

'She told me on the night I met her by the Royal Exchange, that her
baby lay all the day with her eyes wide open, staring at something she
couldn't see. She laid great stress on the words. Perhaps she is
trying to discover what it was the poor child was gazing at.'

'I have been thinking, my dear sir----'

'Yes,' I said, gently, for he had paused.

----'That if you were to speak to her, not simply as a friend who is
interested in her bodily welfare, but as a minister----'

'I understand you. Such thought was in my own mind. I have not
forgotten my duty, believe me.'

Upon entering the room where the dead and the living lay, I saw at a
glance that Mr. Merrywhistle had indeed well discharged his duty. It
was cleaner and tidier than I had yet seen it. One or two humble and
necessary pieces of furniture had been added, and on the window there
was a clean white muslin blind, edged with black ribbon. The dead
child was on the bed, with a white sheet over it, and Blade-o'-Grass
was lying on the ground, with her hand beneath the sheet embracing the
body. I motioned the woman in attendance from the room; she went
softly, and I closed the door behind me. As I stood with the handle in
my hand, I heard a knock. I opened the door, and saw one of the
lodgers--a tail, gaunt woman, with a decided moustache--with a yellow
basin in her hand. She dropped a curtsey.

'I've brought a little mutton broth for Blade-o'-Grass,' she said.
'Mind! It's 'ot!'

I thanked her, and taking the basin from her laid it aside. Then
closing the door again, I approached Blade-o'-Grass, and placed my
hand on her shoulder. She gazed at me with no sign of recognition, and
turned her face again towards her child. I bent over the clay
tenderly. The child looked well in death. Never in its life had its
face worn so peaceful an expression. I sat on a chair beside the
hapless mother, and spoke to her of that other and better life into
which her child had entered; I spoke to her of the goodness of the
all-beneficent God, of the comprehensive love which He, who watches
over all His children, bears to the meanest of them. But my words
touched her not; she made no movement in response to them, but sat
motionless, with hopeless eyes fixed upon the child. I did not dare
attempt to arouse her attention by sternness. Every word that came
from my lips seemed to me to be dissolved into gentle utterance by the
intense mother's love, which closed the door upon all outward
sympathy. And still I continued,

'Think,' I said, in my most earnest tones, 'think but for a moment
Cast your thoughts from your own misery and your own unhappiness, and
let them dwell wholly and solely upon your child.'

A gleam that faintly expressed scornful wonder passed into her eyes. I
hailed even that faint sign with gladness.

'The mother's love that dwells so strongly in your breast, is it as
sweet as it should be, is it as perfect as it should be, if it blind
you to the happier lot that lies before your child, and make you
regardless of it? Love in its perfect form is shown in unselfishness.
Are you unselfish in your grief? While your child lived you found your
happiness and your consolation in her. But was she happy? Carry your
thoughts to the many times that you saw her in pain, that she suffered
hunger, that she cried because of the tiger that tormented her----'

A shiver passed over the form of Blade-o'-Grass; her stony gaze
relaxed, and I saw that I had aroused her attention.

'----And think if a happier lot lies before her, as it does, if even
now the power is given to her, by the wisdom and the goodness of God,
to comprehend and be grateful for the love which has filled your heart
from her birth--think but for a moment, if this be so, As It Is!
whether you should not rather rejoice than mourn? By doing this you
would show love in its most perfect form of unselfishness. All her
pain is gone, all her sufferings have passed away, and the tiger is
stilled for ever. Yes, this child, born in sin,'----

'No, no!' cried Blade-o'-Grass, in a piercing tone of anguish,
springing to her feet, and pleading for her lost child in the strong
agony of her soul. 'Born in love! In love--in love!'

'Born in love,' I said sadly, 'and yet in sin'----

'I didn't know,' she sobbed, sinking again to the foot of the bed.
''Ow could I know; and 'ow could baby know? O, don't be 'ard on baby!
O, my 'eart, my life! O, baby, baby!'

The mere utterance of the word so overwhelmed her, that for a time she
was blind and deaf to all around her. Dark clouds encompassed her; she
was conscious of nothing but the overpowering grief which was born of
love; all else was blotted out from her comprehension. She and her
dead baby were alone, distinct from every thing in nature. Divine
sympathy for her touched her not; human love for her touched her not
She did not ask for them; she did not know the good that lay in them.
All that she desired, all that she yearned for, was her baby, and with
that dear soul of her soul and heart of her heart in her arms, she
would be content to wander into the Oblivion where peace was, where no
gnawing hunger was, where no unkind looks were, where no pain was. In
that Oblivion only one thing could live--her love for her baby.

I waited until she was calmer, and could heed my words.

'Your child is purified by its death. In the better life that lies
beyond this, all her troubles, all her unconscious shame, all her
sufferings are washed away and forgotten. Ah, my dear! think of it and
be grateful for the Divine compassion that has brought peace to her
suffering soul. She waits for you in the better land to reward you for
your love; and until the Divine Hand is laid upon you, and calls upon
you to join her there, let it be your consolation to know that she has
been spared the misery that has fallen to your lot.'

She echoed wonderingly, with overflowing eyes,

'The better land that lays beyond this! She waits for me in the better
land! Tell me.'

Then, in words as plain as I could find, I spoke to her of those
Divine truths, of that Divine hope, without a belief in which our
lives would be dark indeed.

'And the tiger!' she cried. 'Is the tiger with her? For the Lord's
sake don't tell me that the tiger is with her there!'

These and other questions I had to answer to her satisfaction, and
gradually, gradually the expression of stony despair left her
features, and into her eyes there stole a softened look of hope and
belief.

'She will see me there!' she sobbed. 'My dear will see me there, and
will smile upon me! I shall 'old 'er in my arms! O, my dear, my dear!'

She knelt with me by the side of the lifeless clay, and repeated after
me her first prayer, dwelling upon the words slowly and wistfully.
Another voice joined ours in the prayer: Mr. Merrywhistle's; and she,
recognising it, stretched out her hand to that faithfullest of
friends. Side by side we knelt in silence when the prayer was done,
and no sound was heard in the room but the quiet sobs of the bereaved
mother. After a time she turned to me, and, in broken, grateful words,
said that I had done her good. Yes, we had comforted her; thank God we
had comforted her! With what fervent gratitude did I bless the
gracious God for giving us the power of comforting that poor bruised
heart!

Other comfort was given to her also. The Silvers had been told of the
death, and Mrs. Silver and Rachel came and sat with Blade-o'-Grass. At
first she shrank from Mrs. Silver, but no person could long resist the
gentle tenderness of that good woman.

'She is truly your friend,' I said.

'I know it, I know it,' whispered Blade-o'-Grass humbly; 'but I'm
not--not good enough.'

I repeated these words to Mrs. Silver, and with a beautiful smile she
embraced the poor girl and kissed her.

'Will you not kiss me, my child?' Mrs. Silver asked.

The sobs that came from Blade-o'-Grass came from a heart overcharged
with gratitude. But she was most at home with Rachel, and the two
girls sat by the bed, while Mrs. Silver busied herself about the room.
She stopped until the evening, and when she and Rachel were preparing
to go, I saw an imploring look in Blade-o'-Grass's eyes. I stepped to
her side.

'What is it you want, my dear?' She made no reply, but she looked at
Rachel most wistfully and yearningly. I saw the thought and the wish
that she was too humble to express.

'Let Rachel stop with her tonight,' I said to Mrs. Silver.

For one moment only did Mrs. Silver hesitate; her child had never
slept away from her home.

'Rachel, my dear,' she said, 'will you stop to-night with
Blade-o'-Grass?'

'O yes!' answered Rachel with cheerful willingness; 'I shall be glad
to stop.'

With a gasp of joy Blade-o'-Grass caught Rachel's hand, and fondled it
and kissed it again and again. Rachel released her hand, and placed
her arm round Blade-o'-Grass's neck. The head of Blade-o'-Grass
drooped to her breast, but Rachel's was lifted in simple trustfulness
and love. We left to Mr. Merrywhistle the task of seeing to Rachel's
comfort for the night.

'I shall be here very early in the morning,' said Mrs. Silver, as she
kissed her child. She kissed Blade-o'-Grass again also, and went out
of the room with Mr. Merrywhistle. I lingered behind for a moment or
two. With Rachel's hand in mine I could not help saying to her,

'You gladden my heart, my dear.'

She flushed slightly, and trembled.

'I am glad you are pleased with me, Mr. Meadow. Good-night.'

'Good-night, my dear.'

We left Mr. Merrywhistle in Stoney-alley; he expressed his intention
of sleeping in the house, and I saw Mrs. Silver home.

'How shall I thank you, dear madam,' I said as I stood with her in
Buttercup-square, 'for the confidence you place in me?'

'Do you know what I have been thinking of as we walked along, Mr.
Meadow?'

'No.'

'That it was a fortunate day for me when I wrote to ask you to assist
us in our children's holiday. If it had pleased God to have given me a
son of my own, I should have wished him to resemble you.'

I cannot resist writing these words here, for they were very pleasant
to me.

The funeral took place on the Thursday. Rachel, Mrs. Silver, and Mr.
Merrywhistle accompanied Blade-o'-Grass to the last resting-place of
her child. The women brought some winter flowers with them. If
anything could have soothed the heart of Blade-o'-Grass on that
occasion, it was the sight of these flowers, as well as the tender
consideration which lay in the act. Before the lid of the coffin was
nailed down, Blade-o'-Grass, with trembling hands and white lips,
placed some of these flowers in her dead child's hands; her tears
rained upon them as she stooped and kissed the lifeless clay. She did
not raise her head for many moments, and I heard her whisper to her
dear to be sure and wait for her in the better land. I led her from
the coffin, and bade her take heart.

'I do, sir, I do!' she sobbed. 'I remember every word you said.

Stoney-alley and the narrow streets through which we wended our way to
the wider thoroughfares were thronged with poor people, and many a
'Lord love you!' came from their lips, and women pressed forward and
asked Rachel, whose arm was round the weeping mother's waist, to shake
hands with them. When we arrived at the churchyard, we found Jimmy
Virtue waiting by the side of the grave. The simple service was soon
ended, and the clay of the poor child was left to peace and God.



                                 XI.

            ONCE UPON A TIME THERE LIVED ON AN ISLAND----


There was a considerable stir in the immediate neighbourhood of the
Temple of Liberty on the night of the great meeting. Paul's-buildings,
now newly christened, was situated in a dimly-lighted narrow street,
and had in its time played many parts. It had been a lecture-hall, a
warehouse for old clothes, a dancing academy, a refuge for 'fat women'
and 'living skeletons,' a home for the tamest of wild beasts; and it
had brought misfortune upon all who had flown to it. It was a moot
point whether the social regenerators who had christened it the Temple
of Liberty would fare better than their predecessors.

On the night in question, little knots of men hung about the portico,
in which dangled a dejected oil-lamp, the despondent light in which
showed the way to liberty. The ostensible purpose for which the
meeting was to be held was to pass resolutions condemnatory of a
miscarriage of justice in one instance, and of a too-violent carrying
out of the law in another; but it was generally understood that other
and more important matters connected with the position of the working
man were to be brought forward. There was no charge for admission, but
before the proceedings commenced, the Secretary--whom we discovered to
be the Delegate or 'Postle' whose appearance in Stoney-alley had
caused so much mental disturbance to Jimmy Virtue--announced that the
smallest subscription in aid of the defrayal of expenses would be
thankfully received. 'Those who cannot afford more,' he said, 'can
give their ha'penny or their penny in aid of the good cause. We know
how the poor man is ground down, and the smallest subscription is in
our eyes equal to the largest. In the same way,' he added, with a
touch of cunning, 'as the poorest man should be equal to the richest
in the eyes of justice!' 'Equaller!' cried an unreasoning demagogue,
smelling strongly of beer, as he handed in a penny with a flourish,
and with the air of one who, with that copper donation, was giving the
deathblow to a bloated aristocracy.

'What's that Secretary 'Postle's name?' muttered Jimmy Virtue as he
looked at a small handbill of the proceedings. 'Mark Mallard! H'm!
Mark Mallard.' And then turned his attention to a study of Mark
Mallard's face, which seemed, indeed, to be the principal reason for
Jimmy Virtue's presence on the occasion.

'You are strangely interested in that secretary, Jimmy,' observed
Robert Truefit.

'You let me alone,' replied Jimmy Virtue; 'I'm a puzzlin' out
somethin'. I've got my considerin' cap on.'

And as he was evidently engaged in an intricate mental process, we did
not disturb him.

The Temple of Liberty held probably nearly two hundred persons, and it
was quite full. We three were among the earliest arrivals, and
occupied the front seat directly facing the platform. I noticed that
there was a large number of decently-clad working men present, some
with earnest faces, who had evidently come with the intention of
arguing matters out in a certain sense fairly. Many members of the new
Working-man's League were also present, and these were prepared to
support their officers through thick and thin. The chief of these
officers and the principal speaker among them was the Secretary, Mark
Mallard, who was voted to the chair. He was a common-looking man
between fifty and sixty years of age, and his face bore strong marks
of a life's discontent of mind; a man, thought I, who would be envious
of his neighbour's ox, but too indolent to work for that which he
envied. The unfavourable opinion I formed of him became strengthened
as I studied the signs in his face: he was evidently an unfit man to
be a leader in any good cause. But he could speak in a fairly-fluent
style and with a certain rough readiness which found favour with many
among his audience. He was not eloquent, but ready-tongued, and from
long practice, as I judged, knew how to make such use of his materials
as would best please the kind of assemblage he was addressing now. He
first proceeded to give a brief account of the establishment in the
neighbourhood of the new Working-man's League, a branch, he said, of a
greater institution which was to set everything right for the working
man--and by the working man he meant the poor man. Throughout the
whole of the proceedings he placed idle poverty and honest labour on
one pedestal, and sought to prove--and did prove to many only too
ready to believe--how the poor man was ground down, oppressed, and
crushed by the 'ruthless' heel of the rich. The Working-man's League
would seek to bring about a different state of things; its aim was to
give the working man the rights which were unlawfully denied to him in
the present condition of things, and to prove that the real power of
the nation lay in labour, and not in capital. This, of course, was
received with cheers. The orator showed no originality either in his
propositions or in his mode of placing them before his hearers; but
they were none the less enthusiastically received on that account.
Fairly sifted and summed up, his utterances amounted to nothing more
than the usual declamation concerning the rich and the poor, and the
atrocious injustice of a state of things which allows one man to have
more money in his purse than another. The old platitudes which cling
to the vexed subject came trippingly off his tongue. If, he said, the
real power of the country lay in labour and not in capital, then
labour should govern the country; but to show the unfairness of
things, and the howl that the moneyocracy raised at the slightest
attempt to set things right, let them bring to mind how, if a working
man tried to get into Parliament, he was hounded down and barked at by
the wealthy classes. Well, if the wealthy classes, and he was sorry to
say the middle classes also, denied justice to the working man, the
time had come for the working man to set up shop for himself. He did
not lose sight of the ostensible purpose for which the meeting was
called. He detailed two instances of the mal-administration of justice
which had gone the round of the papers and had created some noise.


[Illustration]


There is nothing that so impresses a meeting composed of ordinary
minds, such as this was, as the bringing forward of small facts
which have already been commented on among themselves. One instance
of the miscarriage of justice was where a gentleman-farmer had
flogged a labourer to within an inch of his life, and was punished
for the offence by a fine of five pounds inflicted by another
gentleman-farmer, before whom, as a magistrate, the case was brought.
'What was five pounds to him?' asked the speaker. 'What's five pounds
to the man who has thousands in the bank? Five pounds or three months'
imprisonment! Why, the rich farmer pulled out the money with a grin on
his face, and was heard to say afterwards that what he'd done was the
proper thing to do to such scum--meaning the working man--when they
dared to say they were not well enough paid, and couldn't support a
family on twelve shillings a week. Twelve shillings a week! That was
the sum this agricultural labourer had starved upon--him and his wife
and children--for more than twenty years. And he became a union-man,
and spoke up for his rights; and his master marked him, and nigh
killed him for it. Was that five pounds' fine justice, I should like
to know?' The other instance was that of a labouring man who, under
more aggravating circumstances, had thrashed a gentleman and beat him
severely, and who was put in prison for six months for the offence.
'And while he was in prison,' said the speaker, 'how was his wife to
get bread for her children? After this, will any one dare to say that
there's not one law for the rich and another for the poor? And shall
this state of things be allowed to continue?'

The recapitulation of these familiar illustrations accomplished more
than could have been accomplished by volumes of rhetoric, and cries of
'No, no!' came from all parts of the hall.

'The mischief is,' whispered Robert Truefit to me, 'that these
instances are true. See how intent Jimmy is upon our worthy chairman.'

After the passing of resolutions condemning the judicial decisions in
the strongest terms, other and more daring matter was gone into; and
then I saw plainly, what I had hitherto only suspected, that the
Working-man's League was in reality a republican club (in the shell),
the promoters of which were ready with fiery words to inflame the
minds of the ignorant against all recognised authority. One of the
great points that Mark Mallard made was, that he, like themselves, was
a working man.

'Look at my clothes; look at my hands! They are the same as yours, and
I have as little money in my pocket, I daresay, as any of you.'

'Yes,' growled Jimmy Virtue; 'and you're as ready as any on us to be
treated to a pint o' beer.'

'Order, order!' cried some.

'Quite as ready to be treated,' said Mark Mallard, with a frown at
Jimmy Virtue, which Jimmy received with a sneer; 'and as ready,' he
added, brightening up, 'to treat when my turn comes. We're rowing in
the same boat, you and me.' ('I'm 'anged if we are!' growled Jimmy
Virtue under his breath.) But Mark Mallard proceeded: 'I'm not being
rowed; I'm rowing, as all of you are; and we'll all row together, and
show our muscle.'

There was a murmur of approval at this figure of speech; and thus
encouraged, the speaker proceeded. The cunning skill with which he
mingled familiar matters was enough to mislead any but fairly-balanced
minds--royal pensions dating back hundreds of years; manhood suffrage;
attempts to interfere with the poor man's beer; justices' justice; the
price of meat and coals; one man rolling in his carriage while another
starved in rags; bank and other directors who had ruined thousands of
poor families living, after exposure, on the fat of the land; the
starvation price which capital put upon labour, as instanced in the
condition of the agricultural labourers--all these were brought
forward and artfully handled to prove into what a deplorable and
abominable Slough of Despond the Rights of Man had been trodden by
masters and gentlemen.

During the whole time Mark Mallard was speaking, Jimmy Virtue had
scarcely once removed his eyes from the man's face; and he had openly
expressed his disapproval of the false conclusions drawn by the
speaker. At first Mark Mallard had endeavoured to bully Jimmy Virtue
into silence, but Jimmy Virtue was the last man in the world to be so
bullied, and he expressed his dissent in stronger terms every time the
attempt was made. I noticed that Mark Mallard was gradually drawn to
observe the close manner in which he was being watched by Jimmy
Virtue, and I saw that he grew uneasy and nervous beneath the steady
gaze of my eccentric friend. From that time Mark Mallard took no open
notice of Jimmy Virtue, but nevertheless looked at him stealthily
every now and then. He wound up his most lengthy speech with a
peroration in which the Rights of Man and the boast that he, like
themselves, was a working man, were the two most conspicuous features;
and having resumed his seat amid applause, was wiping his forehead,
when Jimmy Virtue rose suddenly, and said in a loud tone that he
wanted to ask the Delegate a question or two.

Cries of 'Hear, hear!' and 'No, no!' responded to this announcement;
and the latter, on a secret sign from Mark Mallard to his immediate
supporters, were swelling into a roar, which would have speedily
silenced those who were curious to hear Jimmy Virtue, when Robert
Truefit leaped upstanding on to the bench, and cried, in a ringing
voice which quelled the tumult,

'Fair play! fair play!'

The appeal, strengthened by the manly manner in which it was made, was
taken up and indorsed in different parts of the room. In the midst of
this counterbalancing excitement, Robert Truefit leaned down to Jimmy
Virtue, and asked hurriedly,

'Jimmy, what is it you are about to do?

'You stick to me. Bob,' replied Jimmy Virtue; 'I know what I'm about
You stick to me, and you'll 'ear somethin' as'll interest you. The
warmint!' His features were working in an extraordinary manner, and
his last two words were intended to apply to Mark Mallard.

'Look here, mates,' cried Robert Truefit, commanding and compelling
silence by his earnest voice and action, 'we've been called
together to-night to discuss certain matters affecting the working
man. How _can_ we discuss these matters, and arrive at a proper
understanding--and from that point to a proper solution--of the
difficulties which surround us, unless we give fair play to those who
wish to speak? ('Hear, hear, hear! Well said, mate; go on.') 'I _am_ a
working man. My name's Robert Truefit, and I'm a working mason in Mr.
Turner's yard. Some of you know me, perhaps; I think I see a face or
two that I've seen before.' ('You do. Bob, you do. Go it, old fellow!
Fair play! fair play!' And a distinct voice from a gray-haired man in
a corner of the room, saying, 'There ain't a man in London that's got
the real interest of the working man more at heart than Robert
Truefit. And he's got a wife and six children as 'd be a credit to the
best man as ever trod shoe-leather.' This statement elicited cheers
for Robert Truefit, and 'Another for the old woman!' and 'Another for
the kids!' which were given heartily. Then a laughable episode
occurred by Robert Truefit saying, in correction, 'No, mate; I've only
five young ones;' and a voice replying, 'Never mind, old man; you can
soon make it up half a dozen!' A great many who had listened
listlessly to Mark Mallard's platitudes now shifted on their seats, as
if the meeting was beginning to be interesting.)

'This man here,' continued Robert Truefit, 'who wants to ask Mr. Mark
Mallard a question or two, is a friend of mine. He's a rum 'un to look
at, but he's sound at bottom.' (Cries of 'Let's see him! Let's have a
look at him!') 'Wait a bit. _I_ don't know what he's going to say any
more than you do; but he has told me that he knows what he's about,
and I believe him, as I'd believe anything else he says.' ('Hurrah for
the rum 'un to look at!') 'And now to those who have made up their
minds beforehand not to hear what he has got to say, all I've got to
do with them is to direct their attention to the name of this hall,
written up over the chairman's head. Look at it. "The Temple of
Liberty!" A big name, mates, for such a little room as this, but it
will do if it prove to be what it professes to be. Great things have
been accomplished in little places before to-night; even now, I've no
doubt, busy hands and busy minds are at work in common garrets and
kitchens, and the world will be the better for their labours by and
by, I hope. Let those who wrote "The Temple of Liberty" at the head of
this hall--Mr. Mark Mallard, I presume, is chiefly responsible for
it--take it down if we are not to have a fair hearing.' ('Bravo, Bob!
You're a sound man, you are!') 'I hope so. I cry "Shame" on those who
would deny us a hearing! Why, if there were masters and gentlemen
among us who wanted to be heard, I hope we are manly enough to listen
to them. _Beg_ for fair play, indeed! Why, it's an Englishman's boast
that he makes a clear ring for all who, believing they have right on
their side, have the pluck to stand up for themselves and their
opinions; and we're not to be told to-night that in this respect we
are a nation of liars. Whatever our opinions, however much we may
differ about this and that, we're Englishmen, and we're proud of it!
Shall we, then, scream out--as we do--for liberty of speech, and deny
it to one of ourselves?'

Robert Truefit had done his work well. From all parts of the room the
cry arose, 'Get on to the platform, mate!' and in obedience to that
request Robert Truefit jumped on to the platform, and assisted Jimmy
Virtue to get up after him. They pulled off their caps, and stood side
by side, facing the meeting. Immediately the people caught sight of
Jimmy Virtue's eccentric face and form, a shout of laughter came from
them, which the cause of it received most good-humouredly. But his
earnestness of purpose was apparent in the midst of the good-humoured
nods with which he responded to the merriment his appearance created.
When silence was restored, Jimmy Virtue said:

'I want to ask the honourable Delegate a question or two as you'll
see the drift on presently. If he'll 'ave the kindness to step
forward----'

'Well, here I am,' said the Chairman, rising; 'and now be quick with
your questions, for there's a deal of business to be got through.'

'Some on us want to be sure,' replied Jimmy Virtue, 'that you're the
proper person to conduct the business; I'm one o' them as wants to be
convinced.' He referred to the handbill. Your name's Mark Mallard.'

'That's my name. What's yours?'

'Jimmy Virtue; and it's the name as I was christened by, and I never
'ad no occasion to take no other. Can the honourable Delegate say as
much as that?'

'What do you mean by this fooling?' blustered Mark Mallard. 'What has
my name to do with the object of this meeting?'

Some of those present were evidently asking this question of
themselves, but when Jimmy Virtue said excitedly, 'You wait a bit, and
you'll 'eer somethin' as'll open your eyes!' their curiosity became a
check to their impatience.

'Now,' continued Jimmy Virtue, 'you've talked a good deal about the
Rights o' Man, and you say you're a workin' man yourself. For my part,
I've got a big respect for the Rights o' Man, and I wish with all my
'eart that every man 'ad his rights; though what the world'd do if it
was all rights and no wrongs, it's beyond me to answer. But about
you're bein' a workin' man, Mr. Delegate. What kind o' workin' man?
What's your trade?--that's what I want to know. What's your trade, and
where do you work?'

Mark Mallard held out his arms to the meeting in remonstrance, and was
about to protest against the introduction of such irrelevant matter,
when Jimmy Virtue stopped him.

'No; I bar that! No shirkin'. No runnin' away from what I'm a-coming
to. If you're a workin'-man you've got a trade, and you're not one o'
the sort this meeting's come to 'eer if you're ashamed of it.' ('Hear,
hear, mate!') 'There's a 'underd men 'ere as 'd be willin', if they
was asked, to say what their trade is and what shop they work for. And
why'd they be ready and willin' to say? Because they ain't got
nothink to be ashamed on--that's why!'

But here Mark Mallard called out authoritatively that it was time this
nonsense was put a stop to. 'We are not here to discuss
personalities,' he said; 'we have higher matters in hand. The
condition of the working man has become too serious to be pushed out
of sight by one who is evidently no friend to the good cause. As
chairman of this meeting----'

'Say Captain,' suggested Robert Truefit quietly.

'Well, as Captain, if it pleases you better----'

'It does,' said Robert Truefit, pushing his way to the front again,
'for it fits the story I'm going to tell.'

'We want no stories,' shouted Mark Mallard; and a few of his followers
took up the cry.

'A story,' continued Robert Truefit, not heeding the interruption,
'which concerns the business for which we have been called together,
and which concerns I won't say all here, but every honest-minded man I
see before me.'

The meeting here was convulsed with laughter. Jimmy Virtue, in his
excitement, had taken out his glass eye, and was polishing it
vigorously with his red cotton handkerchief, perfectly unconscious
that he was doing anything extraordinary.

'Go it, old chap,' cried a number of voices, 'with your one eye!'

'I can see as far,' retorted Jimmy Virtue, 'with my one eye as you can
with two. And look 'ere, mates. This' (holding up the piece of glass)
'is the only sham thing I've got about me.'

This hit told well, and when the laughter had subsided there were
calls for Robert Truefit's story.

'I won't keep you long, mates, and I'll commence after a good
old-fashioned style. Once upon a time there lived on an island a great
number of persons of all stations and degrees. Some were born with
silver spoons in their mouths, some with iron ladles. Some were poor,
some were rich; some idled and lived well; some worked all the working
hours of the day and lived hard. These last were like ourselves,
working men; and whilst they had much to be grateful for, they had
also, no doubt, much to complain of. Many of them were married and had
children; others were courting and on their road to wedlock. The wages
they earned were about the same as we earn--say, from twenty to
forty-five shillings a week--and they found they had as much as they
could do to squeeze out a sufficient and reasonable subsistence for
their families. This pressed heavily upon them, and they began to
murmur at the inequality of things. "We can't enjoy ourselves as we
ought," they said to one another; "we can't afford to eat meat every
day; we can't afford to go to the theatres; we can't afford a holiday;
we can't make any provision for sickness, or for the time when we are
too old to work." These complaints they made, and a hundred others,
many of which were undoubtedly well-founded from their point of
view--and you will agree with me that the point of view which comes
home to their own doors is the only point of view from which nine
hundred and ninety-nine men out of a thousand care to argue, whether
they be rich or poor. Some sensible and straightforward workmen among
them resolved to agitate their grievances in such a manner as to make
things better for their children, if not for themselves. You know, I
daresay, what is the meaning of the Constitution: it is a system of
fundamental principles for the government of rational and social
beings. Well, these men were sensible enough to recognise that the
Constitution by which they were governed, and which was accountable
for the burdens which pressed heavily upon them, was not a creation,
but a growth--a steady gradual growth of many centuries. Let us liken
it to an old and deeply-rooted tree, which by undue favour or by force
of circumstance had grown crooked--but a tree, nevertheless, from
which they drew food and protection. The common sense of these men
told them that desolation and misery would fall upon them if by
violent and sudden means they strove to _force_ the crooked tree
straight. The violent straining of the fibres would weaken them, and
would so destroy the power of reproduction that the tree would not be
able to bear sufficient food for those who lived in the shadow of its
branches. And as to planting another, and expecting it to grow up and
have healthy limbs in a night----well, you know what a foolish
expectation that would have been! "But," they said, "we can sow the
seed for another and a healthier tree, and while it grows we will
wait, and watch, and assist it to the extent of our wisdom, and we'll
work steadily on the while--like men!" There were others who were for
more violent means--with as much reason as would exist in the man who,
having suffered all his life from an internal hereditary disease, goes
abruptly to a physician, and demands a dose of medicine that shall
cure him on the spot. But the sensible men were the most powerful
body, although possibly not the most numerous, and they worked
steadily on, educating their children, and taking advantage of those
aids which their own persistence and the natural advancement of the
times brought to them. In the midst of this, there comes to the island
a ship, and the Captain, convening a meeting of working men, says, "I
am one of yourselves, and I know a means of remedying your grievances.
Sail under my colours, and the oligarchs who monopolise the fat of the
land shall be mown down like chaff. There shall be no waiting! You
shall have as much fresh meat every day as you can eat; you shall have
good clothes always; you sha'n't know what it is to be pinched; you
shall have a man's rights--full measure! And these things shall be
accomplished at once." He spoke confidently and boldly, and his words
were tempting, and made an impression even upon those whose views were
in favour of more temperate action than he advocated. But some among
them asked of themselves, "What is it that we are asked to do?" And
they thought, after all, that there were worse lots than that they had
to bear. Many of their homes were happy, though poor. By their own
firesides they enjoyed the greatest blessings of life. They loved
their wives; they loved their children. They saw these stems of theirs
growing to womanhood and manhood under their loving protection. "If we
stagger," they said to themselves, "they will fall and get hurt." And
we know,' said Robert Truefit, with intense and heartfelt earnestness,
'we who are husbands and fathers--we know how our own hearts bleed
when those who are dear to us suffer! Said these men to themselves, as
they looked around upon other communities and other countries, "Here
is a community that strove to accomplish by force what we are striving
to accomplish by steady and reasonable means. What do we see as the
result? Fire, pillage, murder, civil war; food-fields laid waste,
homes burnt to the ground, families in mourning, lives wrecked! Shall
we bring these things upon ourselves and upon our wives and children?"
But still the captain urged his views. "Well, then," said they,
turning to him'--and Robert Truefit with a startlingly significant
movement turned towards Mark Mallard--'"prove to us at all events that
you are honest--prove to us that you are one of ourselves--that the
name you go by is your own, and has always been your own. Some of us
fear that you have hoisted false colours, and they don't want to sail
under them. Prove to us that our fears are unfounded, and then, when
we are satisfied as to your honesty and integrity, we will give a more
careful attention to the temptations you hold out, and shall be the
better able to judge of their value."'

Robert Truefit paused, and from the hearty cheers that were given as
he retreated a step and laid his hand on Jimmy Virtue's shoulder, it
was evident that his sentiments were indorsed by the better class of
men in the meeting, and that they would not allow him or his friend to
be put down. Mark Mallard saw that there was no escape for him, and
without the slightest suspicion of the shot Jimmy Virtue was about to
fire, said, in a blustering tone,

'Now, then, say what you've got to say, and be done with it.'

'I will,' replied Jimmy Virtue; 'and as you don't seem willin' to say
what's your trade, I won't press you there. I'll just be satisfied
with an answer to two questions, and I'll put 'em both in one breath.'
The "two" men were standing in front of the platform in a line by
themselves, and the eyes of all were upon them. Crooking the
forefinger of his right hand, extending his arm, and bending forward
towards Mark Mallard with an earnestness there was no withstanding,
Jimmy Virtue said, 'Tell this meetin' if you ever lived in a place
they calls Stoney-alley, and then tell 'em what's become of the wife
you left there to starve!'

Mark Mallard staggered as if shot, and a deathly paleness came into
his face.

'I knowed it!' cried Jimmy Virtue. 'Look at 'im, mates, look at 'im! I
never set my eyes on a man but what I'd swear to 'im ag'in if there
was fifty year atween! Look 'ere, mates'--(Jimmy's excitement was
wonderful to witness)--'Look 'ere, mates. This man 'as come 'ere and
starts a Temple o' Liberty 'as got no more right to the name of Mark
Mallard than I've got to the name of Tippitiwitchet. Twenty-two year
ago he lived four doors from where my shop is now in Stoney-alley. All
the while he lives there he never does a stroke o' work, but passes
his time in pot-'ouses, drinkin' the beer as is given to 'im freely
because he's got the gift o' the gab, as we've 'eerd to-night. Don't
think, mates, I'm agin a poor man 'avin 'is beer; I ain't one as 'd
rob 'im of it. I'm _for_ it! though I do believe at the same time
that the poor man makes a sight too much of it--a blessed sight too
much--as if 'is liberty and the whole blessed constitootion depended
on it! Well, this man goes about pot-'ouses talkin' o' the Rights o'
Man and leavin' 'is wife to starve. He pawns every blessed thing of
'er'n he can lay 'is 'ands on--she's 'eavy in the family-way, mind
you!--he pawns 'er weddin' ring, and 'ere it is. I lent 'im money on
it myself. And a week afore 'is wife's confined; he carries out the
Rights o' Man, and makes a end of 'em, so to speak, by cuttin' away,
and leavin' 'er without a loaf o' bread, or as much as 'd buy one!
Nothin' more 's 'eerd of _'im_; 'is wife she's confined with twins,
and dies a week arterwards from sorrer and starvation. And I put it to
you, mates,--I put it to you, whether a mean thief like 'im is the
proper sort o' man to set up a Temple o' Liberty and to come preachin'
to us about the Rights o' Man!'

It is impossible to describe the storm of agitation that ensued; I
know that the men present, stirred to honest indignation, would have
dealt violently with Mark Mallard if they could have laid hand on him;
but by strenuous means we saved him from their anger, and he escaped
safely through a door at the back of the platform. When he was gone,
Robert Truefit said in an agitated tone, 'For heaven's sake, Jimmy,
tell us who that man is.'


[Illustration]


'That man, Bob,' replied Jimmy Virtue, dabbing his face with his
handkerchief, 'is Blade-o'-Grass's father. I knowed 'im agin, the
thief, directly I set eyes on 'im!'

The meeting broke up in confusion; but not before the placard with the
Temple of Liberty written on it had been torn into a thousand pieces.



                                 XII.

                IN THE DIM TWILIGHT OF THAT HOLY DAY.


It was but a little past nine o'clock when the meeting was over, and
the night, though cold, was fine. When we were clear of the Temple of
Liberty, Robert Truefit suggested that we should stroll as far as
London-bridge, and talk over what had occurred. The principal question
that arose in our conversation was what Mark Mallard would do. I was
inclined to believe that he would make inquiries after his children,
but Jimmy Virtue shook his head.

'You'll never 'eer of him agin,' Jimmy said. 'He's got no feelin' and
no 'eart, and it ain't likely as he'd show his face in Stoney-alley.
Sich fellers as 'im ain't got the pluck of a mouse. No, no; we sha'n't
'eer nothin' more o' Mr. Mark Mallard, and a good job too. What'd be
the good of sich a father as 'im to Blade-o'-Grass?'

We agreed not to mention what had occurred to Blade-o'-Grass, as it
could serve no good purpose. Jimmy Virtue and I united in praising
Robert Truefit for the admirable part he had played at the meeting.

'Bob ought to do more o' that sort o' thing,' said Jimmy; 'that's what
I've told 'im over and over agin.'

'And grow into an agitator!' exclaimed Robert Truefit. 'No, Jimmy; I
haven't time for the business. When it comes into my way naturally, as
it has come tonight, well and good. But I have my own little
commonwealth at home to look after; it takes all my time to administer
to that properly.'

We retraced our steps towards Stoney-alley, and found the
neighbourhood in a state of great excitement. In answer to our
inquiries we learned that there had been a fire in Stoney-alley. As we
hurried thither, we were greeted by exclamations of

'Ah, there he is! There's the old un! Wonder bow he'll take it!'

We soon ascertained the meaning of these remarks. Jimmy Virtue's
leaving-shop was a heap of ashes. A house on each side was partially
burnt; but the only building completely destroyed was his shop. How
long ago did it occur? A hundred tongues volunteered information. Not
an hour ago; but, bless your heart! it was all over in twenty minutes.
The place burnt like a piece of tinder; it was nearly all wood, you
see, sir. The old man must have left a candle burning. To the
questions which elicited these and other answers, Jimmy Virtue
listened quietly, taking no part in them. The alley was strewn with
rickety furniture and beds which, in the first alarm, the occupants of
the adjoining houses had brought into the streets for safety; now that
the danger was over, they were carrying their furniture back to their
rooms. When it became buzzed about that Jimmy Virtue had arrived on
the scene of action, there came surging around him a number of girls
and women clamorously demanding their little bits of things, valueless
perhaps in themselves, but a great loss doubtless to the poor people
who had pledged them.

'Where's my Sunday 'at?' demanded one. 'Where's my gal's boots?'
another. 'Where's my flannin-peddicoat?' another. 'Where's my
crinoline?' 'Where's my chignon?' 'Where's my old man's waistcoat?'

These and a hundred other inquiries were literally hurled at Jimmy
Virtue. He simply glared at the women, and told them to look for their
things among the ashes.

'Are you insured, Jimmy?' asked Robert Truefit.

No; he was not insured for a shilling. His clients still continuing to
badger him, he turned savagely upon them, and said he couldn't help
the fire occurring; they were a parcel of fools; and they were welcome
to any odds and ends of rags they could find. Suddenly he darted
forward into the midst of the smouldering ruins, and fished-out an old
greasy pack of cards burnt round the edges.

'Saved them!' he muttered triumphantly. 'I might 'ave lost every game
with a new pack. There's one good thing--Jack's safe. When I'm out,
he's never at 'ome.'

I really think that the saving of that pack of cards with which he
played for great sums with his shadowy victim, Jack, was a perfect
consolation to him for the burning of all the rest; but indeed he did
not seem to be in any way depressed by the misfortune which had
overtaken him.

'Well,' he said, 'it's no good starin' at it any longer. Bob, you'd
better go 'ome. Good-night, Mr. Meadow.'

Robert Truefit and I looked at each other.

'Mr. Virtue,' I said, 'you've no bed to sleep in to-night; and you'll
feel lonely by yourself after what has occurred. Will you come home
with me? I can make you up a rough bed in my room.'

'Thank you, sir,' he replied, with a set expression on his face; 'I
was afraid you or Bob 'd say somethink o' that sort to me. I shouldn't
be surprised, now, if you'd orfer to 'elp me in other ways. How long
'ave you and me known each other. Bob?'

'For more than ten years, old fellow.'

'I'll trouble you, Bob, not to "old-feller" me; it sounds special, and
it don't suit me jist now. More than ten year, eh? So it is, Bob; so
it is. You've found me a pretty obstinate old chap--pig'eaded you
might say, eh?'

'Well, Jimmy, you are rather--'

'Pig-'eaded--that's the word. Now, look 'ere, you two! Pig'eaded I am,
and pig-'eaded I'm goin' to be, to the last. If either o' you--you,
Bob, or you, sir--ever orfers me anythink agin--bed, money, grub, I
don't care what!--you can say good-bye from that blessed minute to
Jimmy Virtue. I must be nigh on seventy year old--I can't speak for
two or three year one way or another, but I must be nigh on seventy if
I'm a day--and I've never took charity yet; and I don't mean to begin
now. I've never pocketed no money as I didn't work for--except Jack's,
and that's a matter 'twixt 'im and me--and I ain't a-going to begin
that game at my time o' life. So I'll thank you to say good-night, and
leave Jimmy Virtue to 'isself.'

'You might as well talk to the Monument,' said Robert Truefit, as we
walked home, 'as talk to Jimmy after what he has said. He'll die
before he'll take a penny-piece. We must humour the old fellow, and
hope for the best.'

The following day I learned that Tom Beadle was undergoing another
term of six months' imprisonment for pickpocketing. I went to him to
tell him of the death of his child, and I took a piece of black crape
with me for his cap. I had never spoken to him before, and I was
wishful to know something of his nature, so that I might judge in what
way I could best impress him to act for the good of the girl who clung
to him with so much devotion. He received me with cunning civility;
his lynx eyes watched every word from my lips, as if in every word
might be concealed a trap. In his mind he classed me with those who
wished Blade-o'-Grass to desert him, and therefore I was his enemy. I
knew, also, that the fact of my being a minister was an additional
argument against me in his eyes. But he must be civil to me, because
Blade-o'-Grass had told him I had been kind to her. His eyes moistened
when he heard of the death of his child, and his grief grew stronger
in the brief pause that ensued. But after a time he said it was the
best thing that could have happened to the little thing. I told him,
also, of the kindness of Mr. Merrywhistle, and that it was he who had
borne the expenses of the funeral.

'Yes,' was Tom Beadle's careless comment, 'the old chap's 'elped
Blade-o'-Grass a good many times, on and off. He's knowed 'er since
she was a kid.'

There was not a trace of gratitude in his voice.

'She has made other friends as well,' I said.

A jealous gleam shot into his eyes.

'What friends? Swells?'

'Friends,' I answered, 'who sympathise deeply with her, and who would
help her if they could.'

'What's to 'inder 'em?'

I did not answer him. I left it to him to gather from my silence that
it was he who barred the way to a better kind of life for the poor
girl; that it was her entire devotion to him that kept her down.

'I know what you're drivin' at; it's me as 'inders 'em,' he said, with
a sneer. 'Well, that's nothink new. Blade-o'-Grass and me's 'eerd that
often enough. The way they'd 'elp 'er is by tellin' 'er to cut away
from me. I don't think the old gal 'd do that. I'd bet a penny
_you've_ been tryin' to persuade 'er.'

'On the contrary; I have begged her to ask you to do something that
will bring her closer to you.'

'Gammon!' he sneered. 'What is it you wanted 'er to ask me?

'That you should marry her.'

He looked at me in blank wonder. 'Marry 'er!' he exclaimed. He was
evidently puzzled, and he ransacked his mind for motives and reasons;
but all his cunning wit could not assist him.

'It's me as 'inders people from 'elpin' Blade-o'-Grass, and yet the
parson wants me to many 'er!'

I saw this expressed in his face, and I saw also a deep suspicion that
some treachery to himself lay behind the proposition.

'I'll think on it,' he said aloud. 'Will you take 'er a letter from
me?'

'Yes; I will write it for you if you like.'

'Thank you for nothink!' he replied with a leer. 'I'll get it done
through the governor. He'll 'ave to read it, you know, before it goes.
Will you take your solemn oath you won't open it?'

'I promise you not to open it.'

'And you won't read it to 'er? You'll give it to the old gal 'erself,
and tell 'er she's got to git some one else to read it?

I made this promise as well; and when I left with the letter, I think
he was half inclined to believe that my words and sympathy were
genuine. I gave an account of this interview to Mrs. Silver.

'I have been thinking all the morning of the poor girl,' she
said. 'My servant is going to leave me to get married. I will take
Blade-o'-Grass in her place, if she will come. It will be a home for
her, and I may be able to do her some good.'

The proposal delighted me, and I went at once to Blade-o'-Grass to
acquaint her with it. She thanked me and Mrs. Silver most gratefully,
but said she could not accept the offer. 'No, sir, not to save my
life.'

'But why?' I asked in grief and annoyance. 'Your refusal is
unreasonable.'

'You don't understand, sir. Read Tom's letter. You'll see what part of
it I mean.'

She gave me the letter I had brought her from Tom Beadle. The words
she referred to were these:

'When I come out, we'll get married. And mind! So long as you are true
to me, I will be true to you. But if you run away from Stoney-alley,
and go with them friends of yours, I shall know what that means.'

'It means, sir,' said Blade-o'-Grass, 'as Tom'll think I've deserted
'im. So you see, sir, I can't go to Mrs. Silver's. Don't you fear for
me, sir; Mr. Wirtue is a real good friend to me now; he's took the
next room to this, and he's always bringin' things to me.'

Since the night of the fire I had not seen Jimmy Virtue; and I went at
once to his room. He did not reply to my knock; and when I opened the
door, I found him playing cribbage with his shadow-companion. He was
so intent upon the game that he did not know I was in the room until I
was close to him.

'Ah, Mr. Meadow, sir, I didn't 'eer yer. Take a chair.'

I noticed that his face was pinched and careworn; and I asked him if
he was not well.

'Well enough,' he replied. 'I can't expect to be too well. My time's
comin'. Yes, I'm near the end on it. I dreamt last night they was
diggin' my grave.' He pushed the cards from him impatiently. 'Look
'ere, Mr. Meadow, take an old man's advice. Don't lead a lonely life;
git somethin' about you to love, and as'll love you; if ever you git a
chance, snap at it, or you'll rue the day! A nice thing for a man to
play a game--it's life as I'm talkin' of--and when he comes to the end
of it, to find out that he's played it all wrong! Do you think it's
worth 'avin'?'

'What?'

'Life. Is it worth 'avin'?'

'Surely, surely. It would be sinful to think otherwise.'

'O, I don't put myself up for anythink good! And don't you think I'm
different to what I was because I've been dropped upon by bad luck.
But what's it worth 'avin' for?'

'For itself; for the good that there is in it; for the good that one
can do; for that it is a preparation for the better life to come.'

'Yes, yes; Blade-o'-Grass 'as been tellin' me. She says 'er baby's
there. Well, it's a good thing for her to look forward to. There's
nobody there for me, though; a good job then for me that I don't
believe. No,' he said, holding up a warning finger; 'don't preach to
me! I won't stand it! I've made my bed, and I've got to lay on it.'

As I wished to divert his mind from gloomy thought, I did not pursue
the subject, but related what had passed concerning Tom Beadle and
Blade-o'-Grass, and asked if he had anything to advise.

'Why not marry 'em at once,' he said, 'if you think sich a lot o' good
is comin' out of it? _I_ think it's about the worst thing as could
'appen to 'er.'

'I have my plan already settled,' I replied, 'and if I can carry it
out, it will be the redemption of both of them. Marry them at once,
you say. But Tom is in prison!'

'Is there any law agin marryin' 'em there? I daresay you could manage
it if you tried.'

I had not thought of that, and I resolved to act at once upon the
suggestion. There were serious difficulties in the way, but I was
fortunate enough to gain the sympathy of the governor and the chaplain
of the prison, who, when they heard the story of Blade-o'-Grass, were
most eager to aid me in carrying out my design. With their assistance,
then, all obstacles were overcome, and the day was fixed for the
ceremony. I decided that the marriage should be consecrated early in
the morning of Christmas-day.

''Ow about the weddin'-ring?' asked Jimmy Virtue.

I said that I would have it ready on the morning of the ceremony.

'You'll 'ave to measure 'er finger,' he said; 'let's do it now.'

We were conversing in his room. He called Blade-o'-Grass, and she
entered.

'We're a-goin' to measure your finger for the weddin'-ring. Hold on,
Mr. Meadow, don't you say a word! Give us your 'and, Blade-o'-Grass.'

The blood mounted to her face as she held out her hand. Jimmy Virtue
took a wedding-ring from his pocket, looked at it curiously, and
placed it on her finger.

'See, Mr. Meadow,' he said, 'it just fits. This is my present,
Blade-o'-Grass.'

She thanked him tearfully, and kissed the ring, and held it to her
lips.

'It's 'er mother's,' whispered Jimmy Virtue to me.


The sun rose bright and clear on Christmas-day. How well I remember
the morning! It is three years since that time, and every incident is
as clear to my mind as if it had occurred but yesterday. Punctually at
half-past eight o'clock Blade-o'-Grass was at my lodgings; she was
nervous and very pale, and had evidently had but little sleep during
the night. I had never seen her so neatly dressed, and I expressed my
pleasure at her appearance.

'Mrs. Silver and Miss Rachel brought the things to me yesterday, sir,'
she said. 'They are too good to me, sir--too good.'

'It gives them pleasure.'

'I don't deserve it, sir.'

'You can deserve it. If you could do something for them in return for
their kindness, you would?'

'That I would, sir, and grateful to be able to.'

'Come, we are going to walk to their house now. It is a bright
Christmas morning, is it not?'

'Yes, sir, I never remember sich a Christmas as this.'

'May it prove the commencement of a happy life for you, my dear!'

She turned from me and sobbed quietly. When she recovered we walked
together to Buttercup-square. Then Blade-o'-Grass told me how one
Christmas night, very soon after her baby was born, she had stood for
more than an hour at the door of Mrs. Silver's house, in the midst of
a heavy fall of snow, with her dear in her arms, waiting for Mr.
Merrywhistle.

'If it 'adn't been for 'im, sir, we should 'ave been found dead in the
snow, baby and me!'

'He is a good man, my dear. He is coming with us this morning. Do not
cry. This is a bright day for all of us. Rachel, also, is coming.'

'O, sir!' she said, with quivering lips. 'What 'ave I done that you
should all be so good to me?'

'It will be in your power to repay us all, my dear.'

'Will you tell me 'ow, sir?'

'By and by, my dear. The time will come.'

We found Rachel with her hat and shawl on, ready to accompany us. She
gave Blade-o'-Grass a little present--a silk neckguard which she had
worked, with a jet cross hanging to it. Mr. Merrywhistle came in
almost at our heels, rubbing his hands, and saying what a fine morning
it was. By a quarter to ten o'clock we four were at the prison gates,
where Jimmy Virtue was waiting for us; he had smartened himself up for
the occasion, but his face looked worn and aged. Time was telling fast
upon him.

The governor of the prison had kindly set apart a private room for us,
and there the ceremony was performed. Tom Beadle, when he first
entered, looked half shamefaced and half defiant; but the solemnity of
the prayers had its effect upon him, and after a time he drew his
breath in short gasps, and the words he had to repeat after me came
tremblingly from his lips. Jimmy Virtue gave Blade-o'-Grass away. So
these two human waifs were joined together according to God's holy
ordinance, and were made man and wife.

The last words were said, and I prepared to go to my church. Tom
Beadle and Blade-o'-Grass were standing a little apart from us; there
was a dazed expression in his face, as if he could not fully realise
what had occurred, but it softened as he gazed into Blade-o'-Grass's
eyes, and saw the look of full-hearted love with which she was
regarding him.

'Are you glad, old woman?' he asked.

'I am very, very 'appy, Tom!' she said.

Then Rachel, as had been arranged between us, asked Tom whether his
wife might spend the day with her. He hesitated a moment or two, but
the better part of his nature had been awakened, and he could not
resist Blade-o'-Grass's pleading look.

'Tom told me,' said Blade-o'-Grass, as we walked to church, 'that he
feels as if he was just born like.'

We wanted Jimmy Virtue to spend the day with the Silvers, but he
refused, saying that he could pass the time well enough with Jack.
'I'm pig-'eaded, you know,' he added; 'that's what I am; and you ain't
goin' to redemption _me!_' And so left us abruptly.

That happy Christmas day was an era indeed in Blade-o'-Grass's life.
It was spent very peacefully; and every one strove in a quiet way to
make Blade-o'-Grass feel that she was in the midst of friends. I
watched her closely during the day, and I saw that new thoughts were
stirring in her mind. In the evening we were sitting together in the
parlour; the candles were not lighted, and the conversation was
carried on in low tones. Blade-o'-Grass had removed to the window,
where she sat, watching the birth of night. I drew a chair close to
her.

'Mr. Meadow,' she whispered, 'I've been thinkin'----'

'Yes, my dear.'

'That if me and Tom 'ad 'ad a 'ome like this we might 'ave been
different to what we are.' She paused, and I did not speak, for I saw
that she was struggling to say something more. 'I'm almost sorry I
came 'ere, sir.'

'Why, my dear?'

'It's ungrateful of me to say it; but seein' what I've seen 'ere
today'll make me miserable to-morrer in Stoney-alley.'

I made no attempt to console her. I strove to prepare her for the end
I had in view.

'This is a happy home, indeed, Blade-o'-Grass, and other homes as
happy have sprung from it.'

I recalled to her mind the circumstance, which Rachel had narrated to
me, of Ruth assisting her one day when she was beseeching Tom Beadle
to bring home some money as there was no bread in the cupboard.

'I remember the young lady well, sir,' said Blade-o'-Grass; 'and I
thought of 'er orfen, though I never set eyes on 'er since then.'

'She will be here presently. She is married, and has a baby.'

Blade-o'-Grass turned from me, trembling, and hid her face in her
hands.

'She and her husband have a very happy home, not far from where we are
sitting. If you had a home like theirs----'

'O, sir! for pity's sake, don't mock me!'

'Listen, my dear. Do you believe that we have your happiness and
well-doing very close to our hearts?'

'If I didn't believe it, sir, I wouldn't be fit to live.'

'Then believe this as well. Such a happy home as Ruth's and this may
be yours, if you have the courage to make a sacrifice. No, not yet!
nor will I tell you what it is until the time comes. But think of it,
and believe in it. Even if you doubted me, and Rachel told you it
would be a good thing to do----'

She looked lovingly at Rachel.

'I think, sir, that whatever she told me to do I would do, though I
was sure to die the next minute.'

'You would be right, Blade-o'-Grass. All that she says and does is
sweet and good.'


                          *   *   *   *   *


Ah, Rachel, my wife, how my heart yearned to you then! How tenderly,
in the dim twilight of that Holy Day, did my thoughts dwell upon you
in purest love! In the solemn pause that ensued I endeavoured to
strengthen my heart by inward prayer. If the priceless gift of your
love were denied to me, I might still hope that your friendship would
sweeten my life.


                          *   *   *   *   *


Blade-o'-Grass laid her hand timidly upon mine, and whispered to me
that the prospect I had held out was like heaven to her.

Soon after this, Charley, and Ruth with her baby, came in quietly, and
I brought Ruth and Blade-o'-Grass together.


                          *   *   *   *   *


I see them standing side by side at the window. I see Ruth showing her
baby to Blade-o'-Grass. I see Blade-o'-Grass's hands tremble and
wander. I see her stretch forth her arms convulsively, and presently I
see her sitting on a low stool, with the baby in her lap, sobbing
quietly over the child, whose fingers caress her face, pityingly as it
seems. Ruth sinks upon her knees by the side of the bereaved mother,
and their arms are round each other's neck. Night's shadows steal upon
them, and wrap them in a peaceful embrace.



                                XIII.

            HIS SOUL IS IN YOUR HANDS TO SAVE AND PURIFY!


I had many opportunities of seeing Tom Beadle during his term of
imprisonment, and I soon became engaged in the contemplation of a
subject which has been studied and pondered over by thousands of
earnest minds, but never, I believe, with greater seriousness than at
the present time. Here was a man, with a man's strength, not unwilling
to do his work in the world, if he knew the way to do it. Of a low
type he certainly was, but he had grown into his condition through no
fault of his own. I penetrated the crust of his character, and I found
behind it much material which could be worked to a good end. Gradually
I won his confidence, and, in answer to certain remarks of mine
affecting his career and character, he answered me in plain terms and
with a rough shrewdness which greatly impressed me in his favour, I
saw that he was helpless; that, in this country, society could do
nothing for him, and that he would be utterly lost if he were left to
himself and his own resources. If he were lost, Blade-o'-Grass would
be lost also.


[Illustration]


'It will be a happy task accomplished,' I thought, 'if I can save
these two from the certain degradation which lies before them--if I
can make their after-life happy in an honourable way, and worthy of
the respect of men.'

Tom Beadle gave me a great proof of his confidence. I asked him to
allow Blade-o'-Grass to visit the Silvers and Ruth, and he consented
with but little pressure. I took care that she was frequently in one
or other of the houses. She liked best to be with Ruth and Ruth's
baby, whom she often begged to be allowed to nurse. I said to her one
day when she was in Ruth's house, having spent a few happy hours
there,

'If you and Tom had such a home as this----'

'It'd be like 'eaven, sir,' she answered. 'Don't speak of it, sir. It
breaks my 'eart to think of it!'

But I knew that the plan I had in view would give them such a home,
after a time, if they were willing to endure a present sacrifice. I
knew it from a letter which I had received from Canada a week after
Christmas. The letter was from Richard. I give it in its entirety:


'My dear Mr. Meadow,--I can now, I think, send you a letter which will
give you satisfaction. My dear mother, and Ruth, and Mary, write so
much about you, that I feel, although I have never seen you, as if I
was talking to an old friend; and I feel very proud, I assure you,
that you should write to me as you have written, and should place so
much confidence in me. I cannot express to you how much I have thought
of the story you have told me. I can see Tom Beadle and Blade-o'-Grass
as plainly as if they stood before me. I can see what they were when
they were children (I saw it often, my dear Mr. Meadow, when I was in
London), and what they are likely to become, if a helping hand is not
stretched forth to save them. You say you place your hopes in me, and
that if it is out of my power to help you, you will not know which way
to turn to accomplish what you desire. My dearly-beloved mother has
written to me also, urging me to try and do something, and I need not
say what an incentive that has been to me.

'Now let me tell you. It has been my good fortune to make the
acquaintance of a farmer, at whose house I spend my day of rest
every week. His name is Gibson. Is it letting you into a secret, when
I tell you that he has a daughter, and that I hope some day, please
God!----Well, dear Mr. Meadow, you must finish the uncompleted
sentence yourself. And yet I must tell you that I do love her, with
all my heart! You are not the first I have told. My dear mother knows
all about it.

'Mr. Gibson has a large farm, and employs eighteen hands, who all
receive fair wages, and have made comfortable homes for themselves.
The Sabbath before last, Mr. Gibson was telling me the history of some
of the men he has employed, and it suddenly flashed upon me that it
was in his power to do what you desire with respect to Tom Beadle.

'Well, dear Mr. Meadow, I told him the story, and I gave him your
letters and my dear mother's letters to read. Annie--that is his
daughter--was present, and I spoke with all my earnestness. When I had
finished, Annie was crying, and I myself was very nearly crying too.
It would take too long for me to tell all that passed, but Mr. Gibson
said he would keep the letters for a week, and that he would consider
whether he could do anything. When I wished Annie good-night, I asked
her if she would help me with her father, and she said she would--and
said, too, how she wished that she knew you and my dear mother and
sisters! You have no idea, Mr. Meadow, what a dear good girl she is.

'I didn't have one good night's rest all the week for thinking of what
Mr. Gibson would say, and last Sabbath I went to his house with a
trembling heart. We go to the same church, and after church we took a
walk. It was a fine cold morning--you should have seen how Annie
looked! Well, but I must not wander from the subject. Then Mr. Gibson
told me he had read all your letters, more than once he said, and that
he had made up his mind. This is what he says. If Tom Beadle will come
out to us, Mr. Gibson will take him into his service, and will give
him fair wages. He will work and live on the farm, and Mr. Gibson will
do all he can for him. But Mr. Gibson made conditions. Tom Beadle must
come out by himself, and must bind himself to work for Mr. Gibson for
five years. "At the end of that time," Mr. Gibson said, "he will, if
he is industrious, have a home of his own and money in his pocket.
Then he can send for his wife, and they will have a good future before
them." Mr. Gibson put it this way. "Tom Beadle," he says, "must do
something to show that he is worthy of the confidence that is to be
placed in him; he has to grow out of old bad ways into new good ones.
Give him something to work for," said Mr. Gibson, "something to look
forward to, and the chances of his turning out right are more in his
favour." Well, dear Mr. Meadow, that is how it stands. If Tom Beadle
will come over, there is a home for him at once, and there is honest
good work, with fair wages, for him to commence at, right away.

'I hope you will be satisfied and pleased with this. I am sure it will
turn out right. _I_ will make a friend of Tom Beadle, and he shall not
go wrong, if we can help it. Annie will help too, I am sure. I do not
write any news about myself; dear mother will tell you all about me. I
am getting along famously. With affectionate esteem, my dear Mr.
Meadow, believe me to be most faithfully yours,

                                  'RICHARD SILVER.'


I deemed it wise not to disclose the contents of this letter to
Blade-o'-Grass until the day before Tom Beadle was to come out of
prison. I had persuaded her to spend a few hours of that day with
Ruth, and when I went to Ruth's house in the evening, I found that
Blade-o'-Grass had gone to her home in Stoney-alley. About nine
o'clock in the night I went to her room, to play the great stake upon
which her future rested, and as I walked through the labyrinth of
narrow thoroughfares which led to Stoney-alley, I prayed fervently
that my mission would be successful. Blade-o'-Grass's room was very
clean and tidy; she had been busy making preparations for the return
of Tom Beadle. When I entered, her work was done, and she was sitting
with her head resting on her hand.

'Don't disturb yourself, my dear,' I said; 'I have come to have a long
chat with you. You have been busy, I see.'

'Yes,' she said; 'Tom's comin' 'ome to-morrer.'

I noticed that there was sadness in her tone.

'You are glad?' I said.

'Yes, sir, of course I'm glad. But I've been thinkin' of a good many
things. I've been thinkin' of baby, and--and----'

She bit her lips, as if that effort were necessary to restrain the
expression of what was in her mind.

'Don't hide anything from me, my dear; tell me what you've been
thinking of.'

'I 'ardly know 'ow to tell it, sir. My thoughts seem as if they was
turnin' agin myself. I see that I must ha' been goin' on wrong all my
life, and that Tom 's been doin' the same. And my 'eart's fit to
break, when I think it can't be altered now!'

'It can be altered, my child.'

She looked at me imploringly.

'You've said somethin' like that afore, sir; but it's all dark to me.
Tom'll come 'ome to-morrer, and things'll go on in the old way, and
per'aps he'll be took up agin before long----'

She could not proceed for her tears.

'You see, my dear, that the life he is leading is wrong.'

'I see it, sir--I see it. It'd be better, arter what you've told me,
if Tom and me was to die to-morrer!'

'Our lives are not in our own hands, my dear. What has been done in
the past has been done in ignorance, and the shame of it can be wiped
away. It _is_ shame, my dear. Place yourself and Tom by the side of
Ruth and _her_ husband.'

She uttered a cry, as if a knife had struck her. But I continued:

'Place your home by the side of theirs. See the happy future that lies
before them, and think of what lies before you, if, as you have said,
things go on with you in the same old way.'

She covered her face with her hands. I was striking her hard, but I
knew it was necessary for the sacrifice I was about to call upon her
to make. I drew a picture of the two homes. I placed children in them,
and contrasted their appearance, their lives, their chances of
happiness. I did not spare her; I spoke with all my strength and
earnestness. Suddenly she interrupted me with wild looks and in a wild
tone.

'What are you tellin' me all this for?'

'Because it is in your power to choose between them,' I replied. 'Not
only for yourself, but for Tom. His future is in your hands to shape
to a good end, if you have the courage to make a sacrifice. Nay, not
only his future in this world--his soul is in your hands to save and
purify!'

She parted the hair from her eyes, and gazed at me as if she were in a
dream.

'Will you do this? Will you save your husband from the net of crime
and shame in which he is entangled?'

'Will I do it?' she cried, in a tone of wonder. 'Can you arks me? Show
me the way!'

I did. I told her the end I had been working for. I read Richard's
letter to her, and dilated upon the prospect it held out.

'There is no chance for Tom here,' I said; 'there is in that new land,
and with such friends as he will have about him. I believe it is in
your power to persuade him to go. He loves you, and would do much for
you. The separation will not be a very long one. Five years will soon
pass, and then you will both be young. While he is working out the
commencement of a good and better life there, you can stop with Mrs.
Silver; she bids me offer you a home. Will you make the sacrifice?--a
sacrifice that in all your after-life you will bless us for persuading
you to make. My dear sister,'--she bowed her head to her breast
convulsively as I thus addressed her--'it will be your salvation, and
his. All our hearts are set upon it for your good and his. I know how
you will suffer in parting from him, but the love's sacrifice that you
will make for him will be a truer test of love than all you have
hitherto done.'

She was silent for a long, long time before she spoke.

'When will he 'ave to go, sir?'

'A ship sails from Liverpool the day after to-morrow.'

'So soon!' she cried, clasping her hands.

'It is best so. Every hour that he passes here after he is out of
prison is an hour of peril to you both. I will myself accompany him to
Liverpool to-morrow. Let him commence his baptism at once, and in the
new land work out his regeneration. He will thank you for it by and
bye. Shall I tell you what I see in a few years from this present
moment, my dear?'

'If you please, sir,' she said, tears streaming down her face.

'I see you and Tom in the new land living happily in your own little
home. I see you standing at the door in the morning looking after him,
as he goes to his work, and he turning round to smile upon you. I see
him, when he is out of your sight, exchanging friendly greetings with
men whose respect he has earned; no longer ashamed to look men in the
face, my dear, but walking with head erect, without fear, as one can
do who earns his bread honestly. I see him coming home at night, when
his day's work is done, and you, perhaps, reading to him----'

'Reading, sir!'

'Yes, my dear, reading. Reading a letter, perhaps, that Mrs. Silver,
or Ruth, or Mr. Merrywhistle has written to you and Tom. It will
come--you will learn while he is away. I see your cupboard well
stocked, your house prettily furnished, yourselves comfortably
clothed. Perhaps Richard--Ruth's brother--and his wife come in to see
you, and you talk together of the dear ones at home, bound to you as
to him, my dear, by links of love. I hear you thank God before you
sleep for all His goodness to you. I see you helping some poor child
who has been left orphaned and helpless as you were left----'

'O, sir!'

'It will come, my dear, if you live, as surely as we are speaking
together at this minute. I see you, perhaps, with a baby in your arms,
like the dear one who has passed away from you----'

She caught my hand hysterically, and I paused. I saw that my work was
done. I will not set down here what she said when she was calmer. When
I left her she was animated by a high resolve, and I knew that she
would not falter.

'What time will you be 'ere in the mornin', sir?' she asked, as she
stood with me at the street-door in Stoney-alley.

'At twelve o'clock, my dear.'

'Tom'll be ready to go with you then, sir. It'll 'urt 'im to leave
me, sir, but he'll do it for my sake. I know 'im, sir!'

'Good-night, my dear; God bless you!'

'And you, sir,' she said, kissing my hand.

I was punctual to my appointment on the following day. Blade-o'-Grass
heard my step on the stairs, and came into the passage to meet me.

'Tom's inside, sir.'

I looked into her face, and saw in the anguish expressed there the
marks of the conflict she had passed through.

'He's ready to go with you, sir.'

Tom Beadle's face bore marks of trouble also, and he evidently had not
made up his mind whether he should receive me as a friend or an enemy.

'I feel as if I was bein' transported,' he said in a dogged manner.

'You will live to thank us, Tom,' I said, as I held out my hand to
him. He hesitated a moment or two before he took it, and then he
gripped it fiercely.

'Look 'ere!' he exclaimed hoarsely. 'Is it all goin' to turn out as
you've told 'er? Take your oath on it! Say, May I drop down dead if it
won't all come right!'

'As surely as I believe in a better life than this, so surely do I
believe that this is your only chance of bestowing happiness upon the
woman who loves you with her whole heart and soul.'

'I wouldn't do it but for 'er!' he said, and turned to Blade-o'-Grass.
She crept into his arms, and clasped him to her faithful heart, and
kissed him again and again. I went into the passage, and I heard her
tell him, in a voice broken by sobs, how she loved him, and would love
him, and him only, till death, and after death, and how she would
count the minutes while he was away, till the blessed time came when
they would be together again. Powerful as was her influence over him,
it would not have been perfect if he had not had some good and tender
qualities in his nature. I felt that the words that were passing
between them in this crisis of their lives were sacred, and I went
downstairs to the street-door. I found Mr. Merrywhistle there.

'I have a cab waiting for you,' he said, 'and a box.'

'A box!'

'With some clothes in it for Tom Beadle, my dear sir. It will make a
good impression upon him. And here are two sovereigns for him.'

'Give them to him yourself, Mr. Merrywhistle,' I said; 'he will be
down presently.'

Tom Beadle joined us in a few minutes.

'Mr. Merrywhistle has brought a box of clothes for you, Tom,' I said;
'and he has something else for you also.'

'It's only a matter of a couple of sovereigns, Tom,' said Mr.
Merrywhistle, stammering as if he were committing an act of meanness
instead of an act of kindness. 'They may come useful to you when you
land in Canada.'

Tom took the money and thanked him; then said that he had forgotten to
say something to Blade-o'-Grass, and ran up-stairs. I learnt
afterwards that he had given her the money, and had insisted, despite
her entreaties, that she should take it.

I did not leave Tom Beadle until the ship sailed. He related to me the
whole story of his life, and asked me once,

'Won't the old devil break out in me when I'm on the other side o' the
water?'

'Not if you are strong, Tom--not if you keep your thoughts on
Blade-o'-Grass, and think of the perfect happiness you can bestow upon
her by keeping in the right path.'

'I'll try to, sir. No man's ever tried 'arder than I mean to.'

When I thought of the friends that were waiting on the other side of
the Atlantic to help him, and encourage him, and keep him straight, I
was satisfied that all would turn out well.

I returned to London with a light heart. It was nearly nine o'clock at
night when I reached home. I lit my lamp, and saw upon my table a
large envelope, addressed to me in a lawyer's handwriting. I opened
the letter, and found that it contained a sealed packet, and the
following note, dated from Chancery-lane:


'Sir,--In accordance with instructions received from our late client,
Mr. James Fairhaven, we forward to you the enclosed packet, seven days
after his death.--We are, sir, your obedient servants,

                        'WILSON, SON, & BAXTER.

'To Andrew Meadow, Esq.'


The news of the death of my benefactor and old friend, Mr. Fairhaven,
shocked and grieved me. It was a sorrowful thought that he had parted
from me in anger. If I had known of his illness, I am sure I should
have gone to him, despite his prohibition. But I did not know; and
even the consolation of following to the grave the last remains of the
man who had so generously befriended me had been denied to me. I
passed a few minutes in sorrowful reflection, and then took up the
sealed packet. It was addressed, in his own handwriting, to Andrew
Meadow, and was very bulky. The manuscript it contained was headed,


                  '_James Fairhaven's last words to
                           Andrew Meadow_.'


It was with a beating heart I prepared to read what he had written.



                                 XIV.

       IT IS SUNRISE. A GOLDEN MIST IS RISING FROM THE WATERS.


On two occasions you have expressed to me your wish to know what it
was that induced me to take an interest in you when you were left an
orphan, friendless, as you might have supposed. As the answer to your
inquiry would have disclosed one of the secrets of my life, I refused
to answer. But tonight, sitting, as I am sitting, alone in this
desolate house, I am impelled to write an answer in my own
way--impelled by the resurrection of certain memories which have
arisen about me during the last hour, and which cling to me now with
terrible tenacity. For the only time in my life that I can remember I
will indulge myself by a free outpouring of what is in my mind,
setting no restraint upon myself, as has hitherto invariably been my
rule. I do this the more readily, as these words will certainly not be
read by you until I am dead, and may never be read by you at all, for
the whim may seize me to destroy them. To this extent I may therefore
think that I am speaking to myself only--making confession to myself
only. I strip myself of all reserve; the mere expression of this
resolution gives me relief.

I am not writing in my study; it was my first intention to do so, but
the room was close and warm, and when the door was shut a stifling
feeling came upon me, as if other forms besides my own were there,
although I was the only living presence in it. Directly the fancy
seized me, it grew to such monstrous proportions that, with a vague
fear, I brought my papers away, and felt when I left the room as if I
had escaped from a prison. I am writing now in the large drawing-room,
by the window which looks out upon the garden and the river, where you
and I have sometimes sat and conversed. The night is dark; the river
and the banks beyond are dark; the garden is filled with shadows. The
only light to be seen is where I am sitting writing by the light of a
reading-lamp. The other portions of the room, and the garden, and the
river, and the river's banks are wrapped in gloom. I open the window;
I can breathe more freely now.

Certain words you spoke to me, during our last interview, have
recurred to me many times, against my wish, for I have endeavoured
vainly to forget them. According to your thinking, you said, money,
was only sweet when it was well-earned and well-spent. Well-earned? I
have worked hard for the money which I have gained. I have toiled and
laboured and schemed for it, and it is mine. Has it not been well
earned? I ask this question of myself, not of you; for I believe your
answer, if you could give it to me, would not please me. Well spent? I
do not know--I never considered. I have gone on accumulating. 'Money
makes money,' I used to hear over and over again. Money _has_ made
money for me. Well, it is mine. The thought intrudes itself, For how
long? This thought hurts me; I am an old man. For how many years
longer will my money be mine? But I go on accumulating and adding; it
is the purpose of my life.

It has been the purpose of my life since I was a young man. Then I was
clerk to a great broker. I became learned in money; I knew all its
values and fractions; it took possession of my mind, and I determined
to become rich. It seemed to me that money was the only thing in life
worth living for; I resolved to live for it, and for it only, and to
obtain it. I have lived for it--I have obtained it--and I sit now in
my grand house, a desolate man, with a weight upon my heart which no
words can express.

How still and quiet everything is around me! I might be in a deserted
land, alone with my wealth, and the end of my life is near! 'Money is
only sweet when it is well-earned and well-spent?' Are you right, or
am I? Has my life been a mistake?

The great broker in whose employ I was, noticed my assiduity and
my earnestness. There were other clerks of the same age as myself
in the office, but I was the most able among them, and I rose above
them. Little by little I became acquainted with the mysteries of
money-making, and it was not long before I commenced to take advantage
of the knowledge I gained. I began to trade upon the plots and schemes
of the money men. Others lost; I gained. Others were ruined; I was
prospering. In time to come, I said, I shall ride in my brougham--like
my master. In time to come, I shall own a fine house--like my master.
I never paused to consider whether he was happy. I knew that he was
rich; I knew that he had a fine wife and a fine daughter, a fine
house and a fine carriage. His wife was a fine lady--a fashionable
lady--who, when I saw her in her carriage, looked as if life were a
weariness to her; her daughter was growing into the likeness of her
mother. I know now that he was an unhappy man, and that his pleasures
were not derived through home associations.

A clerk--Sydney by name--over whose head I had risen, had often
invited me to visit him; I spent one Sunday with him. He lived
half-a-dozen miles from the City, and his salary at the time I visited
him was a hundred and seventy-five pounds a year. I was then making,
with my salary and speculations, at least a thousand. He was a married
man, with a pretty wife and a baby. The house in which they lived was
small, and there was a garden attached to it. After dinner we sat in
the garden and talked; he told his wife what a clever fellow I was,
and how I had risen over all of them. I told him that he could do as
well as I if he chose, although I was inwardly sure he could not, for
his qualities were different from mine. 'You have only to speculate,'
I said. He returned a foolish answer. 'This is my speculation,' he
said, pinching his wife's cheek. 'Is it a good one?' his wife asked
merrily. I do not know what there was in the look he gave her which
caused her to bend towards him and kiss him; I think there were tears
in her eyes too. 'Well,' I said, 'every one to his taste.' 'Just so,'
he replied, with his arm round his wife's waist In the evening, your
mother, then a single girl, came in with her father. They and the
Sydneys were friends.


[Illustration]


Now, to whom am I speaking? To myself or to you? Shall I go on with my
confession, and go on without moral trickery, or shall I tear up these
sheets, and deaden my memory with excess of some kind? It is rather
late in life for me to commence this latter course. I have often been
drunk with excitement, but never with wine. My life has been a steady
one, and it has been my study to keep a guard over myself. Indeed, it
has been necessary for success, and I _have_ succeeded. 'When the wine
is in, the wit is out'--a true proverb. Why am I debating about my
course? I have already decided that I will speak plainly, and will
strip myself of all reserve. When I have finished, I can destroy. I
will not waver; I will go on to the end.

Even if you do read what I write, it will not matter to me. I shall
have gone, and shall not know. Stop, though. You, as a clergyman,
would tell me otherwise, and would doubtless, if you had the
opportunity, enlighten my darkness, to use a common phrase. I have
never considered it before; but I suppose I am a Christian. Is that a
phrase also? To speak without reserve, as I have resolved to do, it is
to me nothing more than a name. If the question, What has been your
religion? were put to me, and I were compelled to answer (again
without moral trickery), I should answer, Money. These reflections
have come to me without foreshadowing, and I set them down. If they
cause you to be sad, think for a moment. How many Christians do you
know? I could argue with you now, if you were here. Christianity, as I
have heard (not as I have seen), cannot mean a set belief in certain
narrow doctrines; it cannot include trickery and false-dealing in
worldly matters. It means, as I have heard and not seen, the practical
adoption of a larger view of humanity than now obtains. Certain
self-sacrifices, certain tolerations, which are not seen except in the
quixotic, are included in this larger view. I repeat my question: How
many Christians do you know?

A bitter mood is upon me; it may divert me from my purpose. I will lay
down my pen, and look into the shadows.

What have I seen after an interval of I do not know how many minutes?
Shadows in the future. Shadows from the past. Shadows all around me as
I sit--in the room, in the garden, in the river. Stay. I see a light
coming into the sky. The waters of the river are trembling. The moon
is rising.

Andrew, I loved your mother. I never told her this, in words; but she
knew it. There was a time, I have sometimes thought, when I might have
won her. But I held back until, so far as she herself was concerned,
it was too late. If she had not met your father--(she had not seen him
when I first knew her)--and if she had not loved him, I should still
have held back. For my design then was to many money, if I married at
all. My master had married money. Other rich men, to whose height I
had hoped to rise, had married money. I would do the same. Love was a
dream to be blotted out. It stopped advancement. I strove to blot out
my love for your mother, but I could not. I did the next best thing; I
strove to conceal it. Even in that attempt, however, I was not
successful. The Sidneys whose house I frequently visited in the hope
of meeting her, saw it, and threw us much together. Mrs. Sydney said
to me once, out of her ignorance, 'See how happy we are! You can be
the same if you please.' I smiled, but did not reply. I could be the
same, if I pleased! Why, I could have bought them up twenty times
over. Sydney himself owed me money, having been duped by a friend, as
foolish persons almost always are. I have never been duped by a friend
in all my long life. I have lost money in the way of business, but I
have never been duped by a friend. Life is an intellectual battle.
Those win whose wits are the sharpest.

Your mother and I grew very intimate. I interested her in my career,
although I never entered into the details of my successes. I told her
only the results. Her father encouraged our intimacy. I had already
lent _him_ money. About this time I saw signs of an approaching panic.
I said to myself, 'This is your chance; there will be precious
pickings in the ruins. Sharpen your wits; now is your time.' I
gathered in my money; I studied the signs, with a cool head. I
mentioned the matter, under the seal of secrecy, to your mother. 'If
all goes well,' I said, 'in six months I shall be worth so-and-so.'
Your mother answered, 'But how about the people with whom all will go
ill?' I said gaily, 'What is one man's meat is another man's poison.
If I don't gather, others will.' The panic came and parsed, and did
not leave me a mourner. England was strewn with wrecks, but I was
safe; I was one of the fortunate wreckers. It was an anxious time;
sharp wits were about, but few sharper than mine; and every man's hand
was against his neighbour. Thousands of weak ones lost their all, and
thousands more were bruised to death in rash attempts to recover what
they had lost I saw them struggling all around me, and I saw here and
there a foolish one holding out a helping hand, and being dragged
into the whirlpool for his pains. When the storm passed, and the sky
became clear, the land was filled with mourning. Among the foolish
ones was Sydney. How could such a man expect to get on in the world?
'Self-preservation is the first law of nature.' What wisdom there is
in many of these proverbs! There were very few smiling faces after the
storm; but mine was one. I had netted thirty thousand pounds. This was
the solid commencement of my fortune.

During this time I had but little leisure, and I saw scarcely anything
of your mother. Now that the struggle was over, I went to her to tell
her of my successes. Then I learned that her father had been ruined in
the panic, and that if it had not been for a friend who sacrificed his
small fortune for them, they would have been turned out of house and
home. This friend was your father. He was a friend also to Sydney; and
it was with his money, I believe, that Sydney discharged his debt to
me; I had other security, but I was glad that there was no need to
enforce it.

I held my passion in full control when I was told that your mother was
engaged to be married. It was bitter to bear, but I argued with myself
that it was best so; I _might_ have done a foolish thing. A coldness
sprang up between the Sydneys and me, and our intimacy weakened. It
was natural, for our positions were very different from what they were
a few months before. I had risen, and he had fallen. We were not upon
an equality.

I never saw your mother after she was married. Engrossed in the
purpose of my life, deeply engaged in schemes involving large
interests, rising and prospering, amassing and accumulating, I lost
sight of her. But I did not forget her. Now and again, in my calmer
moments, when a great venture had been brought to a successful issue
and I had added to my store, or when the fever of a great speculation
was over, I thought of her with a certain tenderness and a certain
regret; but I strove to find happiness in my money. Did I find it? No.

No; I did not find it. Looking back into my life, with all its cares
and anxious struggles, I know that I was never happy. Looking upon
myself now, as I sit in my great house, an old man, writing my
confession, I know that I am an utterly miserable man. Yet are not
most men unhappy? It seems so to me. Then I am no different from
others, and under any other circumstances I should be as I am. Should
I? Supposing I had married, and had children who loved me. There would
be consolation in that, surely. Children, wife, friends, who loved me!
Answer me, Myself. Is there one living being in the world who thinks
of you with affection, who pauses now and then to give you a thought
of love? Answer honestly. Not one!

Is it fancy, and am I working myself into a morbid state of feeling?
From the dense shadows that lurk in the corners of the room, seemed to
come an echo of the unspoken words--Not one! The air seemed to carry
the words to the river--Not one! The river is flowing to the sea--to
the vast unseen waters which in my present mood I liken to the future
into which my life will sink, unremembered, unblessed!

Most men are unhappy, I have said. Well, it is so in my experience.
Yet the Sydneys were happy; I am sure of it. Even after the panic
which enriched me and impoverished him, I have seen him on the top of
an omnibus, after business hours, on his way home, with happiness in
his face. Home! Is this my house a home? I have seen glimpses of
happiness also elsewhere, and always, as I now recognise, in
connection with women and children.

I thought often of your mother; but years passed, and I made no effort
to see her. One day among my letters was one with a black envelope. I
have the letter by me now. Knowing what I was about to write, I
brought it with me from my study. You will recognise your mother's
writing. I place it after these words, so that--should these pages
come to your hands--you may read it in its natural order.

'My dear Sir,--You will be surprised to receive a letter from me, but
not angry, I hope. You will regard it with kindly feelings, perhaps,
when I tell you that when you read it I shall be in my grave. I come
to you a suppliant, and with all the earnestness of my soul I pray
that I may not write in vain. My husband--whom I shall soon see
again--died three years since, leaving me with a child, a boy, in whom
you will see a resemblance to the girl to whom you used to confide
your hopes and plans. He has his father's mouth, but he has my eyes
and hair. I was very very happy with my husband, who was a good man,
but not fortunate in worldly matters. I used sometimes to wish that
you could have visited us, and seen our happy little home. But you
were too far removed from us in station; I often heard of your great
successes in life, and was very very glad to know that you had gained
what you most desired. When my husband died, he left me very poor. Can
you guess now--you who must receive so many applications from the
unfortunate--my purpose in writing to you?

'The doctor tells me I have not many days to live. I may live a month,
he says; I may die tomorrow; and my child will be left quite penniless
and unprovided for. I made up my mind to write before my strength
fails me. Will you befriend my orphan boy? I do not know what words to
use to strengthen my appeal. If you were to ask me what it is I wish
you to do, and I could answer from my grave, I would say. Arm him for
the battle of life; give him some sort of plain and useful education;
and when he is old enough, put him in some way so that he may be able
to work for his living. Will you do this, for the sake of old times,
for the sake of the girl you used to like to chat with, for the sake
of charity? When I write my name to this letter, I will kneel down and
pray to the Almighty that you will not turn a deaf ear to my appeal,
and I will bless you with my dying breath. As you read these words,
think that I am by your side, imploring you to say, "Yes, I will do
this out of pity for the orphan and his dead mother, and for the sake
of old times." God prosper you in all your undertakings!--Your old
friend and suppliant, ISABEL.'

You know now why I interested myself in you. Yes, I think there is one
living being who will remember me with affection when I am gone.

I am thinking of you now, Andrew, and I am considering whether I shall
carry out an idea which has occurred to me with reference to my money.
I have nearly run my span of life. Death may, in the natural order of
things, claim me at any moment. Say it claims me to-morrow, and I die
without a will, what will become of the great fortune I shall leave
behind me? Litigation will ensue. The lawyers will have a banquet You
said once, 'If there were in the world one lawyer where now there are
a hundred, the world would be the better for it, and justice would be
more easily administered.' Well, the law shall not juggle with my
money if I live another week; neither shall you have it for your own
use; no, not one shilling of it. And yet, if I keep in my present
mind, you shall have the entire control of it, and shall have the
power of disposing of it in any way you please--except for your own
benefit. I know that I can trust you thoroughly; there is not another
man in the world whom I would dream of placing such confidence in. It
was my desire that you should take my name after my death, and spend
my money in such a manner as to make the name a great one in society.
As that satisfaction is denied to me, and as you say that 'money is
only sweet when it is well-spent,' use mine in fulfilment of your
sentiment. The more I think of it the more am I disposed to regard my
scheme with favour. To-morrow morning I will go to my lawyer, who will
communicate with you after my death. You may be sure that everything
will be plainly set down, and that you will not be able to appropriate
the money to your own private use. But I must be just. Every labourer
is worthy of his hire. If the administration of the trust occupies the
chief portion of your time, you shall be warranted in drawing from the
funds the sum of one hundred and fifty pounds per annum--to cease
immediately your labours cease.


                          *   *   *   *   *


It is long past midnight. As I look out of window, I see that the moon
has risen, and that the heavens are filled with stars. My garden is
really beautiful now, with the light shining upon it. I have never
seen my property present so fair an aspect as it does at this present
moment. The river is very beautiful also. I will go out and stroll
along the banks, or sit and muse, as the whim seizes me. Shall I wish
you 'Good-night before I go? No, I will wait until I return.


                          *   *   *   *   *


Three hours have passed since I wrote the last words. I have heard no
human voice, and yet it seems to me that I have heard voices. The air
has grown very sweet. Flecks of gold are coming into the sky. I have
watched their faint colour grow strong. It is sunrise. A golden mist
is rising from the waters. I cannot tell you what has passed through
my mind during the last few hours. I cannot tell you what is in it
now. I can scarcely comprehend it myself, but I feel happier than I
have felt for some time. I cannot wish you Good-night, for the night
has passed. Good-morning, Andrew!



                                 XV.

                              FAIRHAVEN.


The perusal of this remarkable document affected me beyond power of
description. My mother's letter to Mr. Fairhaven brought her dear
figure vividly to my mind's eye, and I sobbed from happiness. It was
love that had accomplished this wonderful thing--love, which death
cannot destroy.

I read the latter portion of the document again and again, until I
could almost repeat the words from memory. 'Good-morning, Andrew,'
were Mr. Fairhaven's last words to me. Ah, yes! In the night of his
life the morning had dawned sweetly and holily. I blessed him for his
noble revenge. I prayed for strength, for wisdom, to worthily fulfil
the solemn trust reposed in me.

But in what way to apply it, so that unalloyed good might spring from
its use? My heart cried out, 'Teach me! Show me the way!' An answer
came. Side by side I saw the figures of Ruth and Blade-o'-Grass. 'Look
here and here,' a voice seemed to say to me. 'See this one trodden
into the mire. See this one tended, cared for, raised to purity and
usefulness.' I trembled with mingled fear and happiness. A great
thought loomed upon my mind, like a sunrise to my soul.

I placed my hand upon my heart to still its beating. I was alone, and
I yearned for the presence of friends in whom I could confide. Should
I go to those who were dearest to me--to Rachel and to Mrs. Silver,
and tell them this wonderful news? I started to my feet with the
intention of proceeding at once to Buttercup-square. I placed the
precious document in my breast-pocket, and I buttoned my coat tightly
and securely. But what, after all, if it should prove a mockery? No, I
would wait until I had assured myself. I knew what hopes would be
raised in their breasts, and I would spare them a possible
disappointment.

If it were not mockery--if it were true, clear, incontestable--this
immense fortune was at my disposal to do as I pleased with. Not to
spend upon myself; to spend upon others; to sow and reap the crop.
Golden Grain!

But before it grew to fulness and ripeness, before it waved in perfect
comeliness in the eyes of God and man, to watch the tender green
leaves springing from the beneficent earth, smiling in the face of the
bright sun, with nature's health-giving tears glistening upon them--to
watch them gather sufficient strength to resist the attacks of wind
and storm and adverse circumstances, each Blade of Grass a thing of
beauty---- Ah, Golden Grain! Golden Grain indeed!

I could not sleep on that night I rose many times, and paced the room,
praying for sunrise. And then, when the business of the day had fairly
commenced, I was in the office of Mr. Fairhaven's lawyers. The
principal member of the firm received me. He eyed me with curiosity
through his golden spectacles.

'I expected you would call,' he observed, as he motioned me to a seat.

'Are you acquainted,' I asked, 'with the contents of the packet you
sent to me yesterday?'

He answered me like a lawyer.

'It came to me sealed; my instructions were to forward it.'

I placed it in his hands, and he read it, slowly and attentively.

'I was in doubt,' he said, as he handed it back to me, 'whether you
were a relative of the late Mr. Fairhaven.'

'You see that I am not'

'I see. It is all the more remarkable because of that.'

'The will,' I said, and paused. He took up my words.

'----Is in exact accordance with the terms of the letter.'

He opened his safe, and produced the will. He referred to the date of
the letter.

'I received my instructions,' he said, 'from the late Mr. Fairhaven on
the morning following the day on which he wrote this communication.'

'I should have wished to attend his funeral,' I said, 'if I had but
known! Even without this, it would have been my earnest desire. I owe
much to him.'

'I received no instructions that have not complied with.'

'You saw my dear friend before his death?'

'Frequently. Two days before his death, indeed. You are aware that he
died rather suddenly.'

'I was not aware. I am glad to know that he did not suffer long.'

'Up to the last his intellect was remarkably clear.' He said this with
a half smile.

'You put stress upon that,' I observed.

'Undoubtedly, my dear sir. It is an important point.'

'In what way?'

He gave me an odd look, and said: 'The late Mr. Fairhaven must have
relations. The will he has made is undoubtedly an eccentric one. Has
it occurred to you that its validity may be disputed?'

'No.'

'It will be,' he said dryly; 'and that is the reason why it is
important to be able to prove that his intellect was clear to the
last. You need have no fear, Mr. Meadow. The will cannot be shaken.'

I thanked him for the assurance, and asked him if he was acquainted
with the extent of the property.

'It will probably realise,' he answered, 'not less--yes, I should
certainly say not less--than two hundred and thirty thousand pounds.'

'A vast fortune, indeed,' I said, with a beating heart at this
confirmation of my hopes.

'And made out of nothing,' he added. 'He commenced life as a poor
clerk. I have heard it said of him that whatever he touched turned to
gold.'

I left to the lawyer the management of everything connected with Mr.
Fairhaven's will. As he had predicted, it was disputed, on the ground
of the testator's incapacity. But it was proved, beyond the shadow of
a doubt, that Mr. Fairhaven was in the full possession of his
reasoning faculties not only at the time he made his will, but up to
the very day of his death. The validity of the will was unhesitatingly
upheld by the judges, and the property came into my possession.
Nevertheless the case was not finally settled until after the lapse of
many months, and during this time the newspapers were busy upon Mr.
Fairhaven's eccentricity. 'It remains to be seen,' said an influential
paper, in a leading article, 'and it is a matter of much curiosity,
how the legatee will administer his trust' I found myself quite a
public character, and I was inundated with applications and with
letters of advice. But my resolution was already formed.

I did not disclose this resolution to the Silvers while the matter was
in the law-courts. So great was my anxiety that I feared, even up to
the last moment, that some chance or quibble of the law would deprive
me of the means for carrying it out. Not until everything was settled,
not until the property was declared to be mine incontestably, not
until it was realised, and the money invested in the Funds, did I
consider myself free to open my mind to my dear friends. I had my last
interview with the lawyer; he had acted throughout in the most
straightforward manner, and I thanked him sincerely.

'And yet,' he remarked, 'you said once to Mr. Fairhaven that if there
were in the world one lawyer where now there are a hundred, the world
would be the better for it.'

'I think so still,' I replied.

'Strange,' he said, with a touch of pleasant satire, 'that the world
has never been able to get along without us.'

'Never!' I exclaimed. 'Nay, you must be mistaken.'

'I am not mistaken. I can go as far back as the days of Abraham for
proof. Did not that patriarch buy "the field of Ephron, which was in
Macphelah, which was before Mamre; the field, and the cave which was
therein, and all the trees that were in the field, that were in all
the borders round about?" The very words we read in Genesis. Do you
mean to tell me that any one but a lawyer could have written such a
description? We have our uses, my dear sir!'

I smiled. I was too happy to argue with him, and we parted the best of
friends. In the evening I found myself, as I had designed, in
Buttercup-square. I knocked at Mrs. Silver's door, and she herself
opened it. Only Rachel and she were at home. I had kept her fully
acquainted with the progress of affairs, and she knew that I expected
to have my final interview with the lawyer on this day.

'All is settled,' I said. 'What do you see in my face?'

'Happiness.'

'It is in my heart. This is a supreme moment in my life. I feel that I
am about to commence a great work.' Mrs. Silver did not reply, but
looked earnestly at me. I noticed also that Rachel suspended her
sewing. 'The vast fortune that Mr. Fairhaven left has been safely
invested in Consols. What income, do you think, is derivable from the
money?'

'I am afraid to guess.'

'What would you say to nearly nine thousand pounds a year?'

'As much as that?' asked Mrs. Silver, with an exclamation of
astonishment.

'Quite as much. What is to be done with this great sum, of which I am
the steward?'

'It is a grave question,' she said; 'one not easily answered.'

'Still I have not found it difficult to decide. When I first received
Mr. Fairhaven's letter an inspiration fell upon me, and my resolution
was formed. But I did not dare to consult you upon it, for I feared
that the means of carrying it out would slip from me. Now I am free to
speak. Listen to me in silence, and when I have unfolded my plan, tell
me what you think of it. The inspiration that fell on me on the first
disclosure of this good fortune came, my dearest friend, from you, and
from the history and influence of your happy home. During the interval
that has passed since that eventful day I have thought deeply over my
scheme, and have matured it to some extent in my mind. I have not been
so wrapt up in it as to be regardless of other modes of expending the
money in a good and useful way; but, in the continual contemplation of
it, I have become more and more strengthened in my belief that my
first thoughts are the happiest and the best. I know the solemnity of
the trust reposed in me, and from this moment I consecrate my life to
it, convinced that I shall find true happiness in it. I propose to
establish on a large scale a Home for the poorest orphaned and
friendless children, whom we shall adopt while they are very young,
and educate and rear in such a manner as shall make them good and
useful members of society. We will take them from the gutters, and
rescue them from ignorance and crime; and as they grow up we will
draft them into the ranks of honest bread-winners, either in this or
in other countries, and fill their places with other poor children.
There shall be no distinctive mark of charity upon them; they shall be
so brought up as to be proud of the Home in which they are armed for
the battle of life. There are numerous matters of detail which need
not be discussed and decided upon at present; such as establishing
schools of trade in our Home, so that the children may be usefully
employed until they take their places in the ranks of out-door
workers. I have seen a large building, with ground attached, which
will suit our purpose admirably; the rental is three hundred pounds a
year. I requires a great deal of alteration, which the proprietor is
willing to make if he can let it on a long lease. There is sufficient
available land round the building for playgrounds and gardens. The
children themselves shall learn to be the gardeners. This, in brief,
is my scheme, of which I ask your approval. I see many beautiful
pictures in the future in connection with it, the contemplation of
which makes me supremely happy. I see men and women in whom have been
implanted the seeds of cleanliness, industry, virtue, and religion,
living their useful lives, and some among them rising even to eminence
in this and other lands--men and women who, without this Home, would
be lurking about in rags and want, and filling the public houses and
prisons. I see them marrying, and bringing up _their_ children in the
right path, and holding out a helping hand to others. I see the means
for enlarging our Home coming from some of the prosperous ones, out of
the gratitude of their hearts. And when the time comes for me to
render an account of my stewardship, I trust I shall have earned the
approval of Him from whom all blessings are derived. Tell me, dear
friend, do you think my scheme a good one?'


[Illustration]


Mrs. Silver took my hand in hers, and retained it. She was too
agitated to speak, but I saw perfect approval in her sweet face, and
in the sweet face of Rachel. I continued:

'In his first proposition to me to make me his heir, Mr. Fairhaven
expressed a wish that I should take his name after his death, and
spend his money in such a manner as to make the name a great one in
society. I shall call our Home, Fairhaven; and thus his goodness will
be perpetuated. I look to you, dear madam, to assist me in my scheme,
and I ask you to enlist under my banner, as I once enlisted under
yours.'

She gave me the assurance of her fullest help, and said she had never
hoped such happiness would be hers as to assist in the development of
a scheme which she described as noble and good.

'And now,' I said, in tones which trembled with emotion, for I was
approaching a subject very dear to my heart, 'if I might be permitted
to say a few words privately to you----'

Rachel rose and left the room. I followed her form with wistful eyes,
and when I turned to Mrs. Silver I saw that good woman regarding me
more attentively than she had hitherto done. I paused for awhile
before I resumed.

'I am about to speak of a selfish subject--myself. In Mr. Fairhaven's
letter to me, he states that every labourer is worthy of his hire, and
that if the administration of the trust he has reposed in me occupies
the chief portion of my time, I am warranted in drawing from the funds
an annual salary of one hundred and fifty pounds. As I shall make my
home at Fairhaven, and shall devote all my time to the furtherance of
my scheme, I believe I am fairly entitled to that sum. If I were
possessed of private means I would not accept one shilling of the
money for my own use; I would cheerfully give my labours without fee
and without reward. But it is otherwise with me, and in the annual
statement which I shall draw up and endeavour to get published in the
papers, I shall place the sum of a hundred and fifty pounds as the
fixed salary paid to the general manager of the Home. I _am_ justified
in doing that, am I not?'

'Quite justified.'

'The income I have hitherto received for my labours has been
sufficient for my personal needs, but not more than sufficient. I have
felt this sorely, for with those means I have not dared to indulge in
the contemplation of the dearest wish and hope of my heart. But now
all is clear before me, and I may speak without hesitation.'

My agitation communicated itself to her; I saw the signs of it in her
face.

'Not very long ago you said something to me which was very sweet to my
ear. You said that if it had pleased God to give you a son of your
own, you would have wished him to resemble me. I have thought of these
words very often. Have you sufficient confidence in me to give into my
care one whom I love with all the strength of my heart and soul? Will
you give me Rachel for my wife? Will you let me call you Mother?'

I leant towards her eagerly; she looked at me with solemn affection.

'I _am_ proud of you,' she said, 'and I love you as if you were my
own. But have you well considered? Rachel is blind----'

'Not to me--not to me, Mother! To make her my wife is the dearest hope
of my heart.'

'If I seem to hesitate,' she said tearfully, 'it is because I love
you. I would trust you with the dearest treasure I have.'

'If you hesitate,' I replied, 'I shall think that you begin to doubt
me. You must believe what I say. Rachel's love will crown my life with
perfect happiness.'

I have cause to remember and bless that night. Before I left the house
Rachel and I plighted our troth to each other. The dear girl, while
confessing that she loved me, actually needed persuasion to accept me
as her husband. She was full of doubts of herself, and of her fitness,
being blind, to fulfil a wife's duties. Pure, gentle heart! Her
presence would sweeten and add lustre to a palace. It was decided that
we should not be married until Fairhaven was fairly established, and
this I knew would occupy some considerable time.

So now, with everything fair before me, I set to work upon my scheme.
The house and grounds I had mentioned to Mrs. Silver as being suitable
for the Home, I took on a long lease, in which a purchasing clause was
inserted. The necessary alterations were carefully discussed, and were
commenced as soon as possible. As I had resolved, I made my scheme
public, through the medium of the newspapers, the writers in which
gave me the most generous assistance and encouragement. To my
surprise, not one thought my idea quixotic; and before Fairhaven was
ready to receive inmates, its name became famous not only in this, but
in other countries. Every hour of my time was occupied, and I think
I may fairly say I earned my wages. It would occupy too much space
here to narrate the details of my work; they were numerous and
onerous--more so than I had contemplated; but I did not shrink from
them, and the assistance I received from the Silvers was of
incalculable value to me. Letters poured in upon me, and among them
were some addressed to the Master of Fairhaven. It pleased my friends
to adopt this title for me, and I accepted it with pride and pleasure.

One of the most gratifying features of the movement was that many of
the letters contained subscriptions in money in aid of the Home. These
subscriptions it was necessary to acknowledge, and I thought it would
be a good thing to acknowledge them in the newspapers. I did so; and
the result was astonishing. Stimulated by the example, money was sent
to me from all quarters and from all kinds of people, even from the
poorest. Before many weeks had elapsed I found that the work of
answering these letters was too much for me.

'You want a secretary,' said Mrs. Silver.

'I have been thinking of it,' I said; 'and I have thought of offering
the situation to some one whom you know.'

'To whom?'

'To Mary. The work will be no harder for her than that which she
already accomplishes in the telegraph office.'

Mrs. Silver was delighted with the suggestion, and Mary was offered
and accepted the situation. Thus the work went on harmoniously, and a
fortnight before Christmas the Home was in a sufficiently forward
state to commence operations. I had schemed that the inauguration
should take place on Christmas-day, and I proposed that all my
friends--the Silvers and their children, Mr. Merrywhistle, Jimmy
Virtue, Robert Truefit and his family, and Blade o'-Grass--should
spend the day at Fairhaven. It was thus arranged, and this Christmas
two years, Fairhaven received more than sixty poor orphaned children,
and the good work was actually commenced.

I must mention here that Blade-o'-Grass had lived with Mrs. Silver
from the time of Tom Beadle's departure; and on this, our inauguration
day, I found her assistance with the children peculiarly valuable.

'This is the anniversary of your wedding-day, my dear,' I said to
Blade-o'-Grass.

'Yes, sir,' she answered; 'there are only four years now to wait. Did
you know I had a letter last night from Tom?'

'No, my dear.'

She gave me the letter, and I found that it was written--very badly,
of course--by Tom Beadle himself. He was learning to read as well, he
said in the letter; Richard was his tutor.

'You are getting along also, my dear, with your reading and writing.'

'Yes, sir. It's a good letter, isn't it?

It was a good letter. Everything was turning out as I had hoped. The
different life which Tom was leading was having its effect upon him,
and he was beginning to look forward. From Richard's letters to me I
knew that he had had some trouble with Tom at first; Tom had not taken
too kindly to the restrictions of his time which regular labour
imposes; but this feeling--the natural result of the vagrant life he
had hitherto led--was passing away, and Tom's mind was nearly settled.
In his letter, which I held in my mind, there was a message of
goodwill to all who had been kind to Blade-o'-Grass.

'Now, my dear,' I said, as I returned the letter, 'I have a
proposition to make to you. You have four years to wait before you
wish us good-bye, and sail for your new home in another land. What do
you say to living at Fairhaven until that day comes? You shall be one
of my matrons--I want those about me whom I can depend upon--and I can
afford to pay you twenty pounds a year for your services. You will
have a little purse to give Tom when you see him, and that will be an
agreeable surprise to him. What do you say to my proposition?'

She could not answer me immediately; but when she was sufficiently
recovered to speak, she told me that she had yearned to be allowed to
stop at Fairhaven, but that she should not have been able to muster
courage to ask me--not deeming herself capable enough or good enough.
She accepted the offer gratefully, but begged me not to pay her money.

'Let me work for you for love, sir!' she pleaded.

'No, my dear,' I said firmly, 'not entirely for love. Why! _I_ take
money for my services, and so shall you! It is just and right.'

From that time until this, Blade-o'-Grass has not spent a day away
from Fairhaven, and she is the most valuable assistant I have in the
Home. I shall miss her sorely when she goes. Her influence over the
children is wonderful, and they, as well as we, love her very
sincerely.

The year that followed was even busier than the preceding year. So
much had to be seen to! Rachel and I decided to wait until everything
was settled and in far working order before we were married. We had
another reason for the delay. The rooms in Fairhaven that I had set
aside for ourselves required to be furnished, and the money for the
furniture could not be taken out of the general fund. I had to earn
the money before I could offer Rachel a home which she could call
properly her own. During the year subscriptions continued to flow in
upon us, without any appeal being made. The charitable heart of
England is not hard to touch. And one day, to my intense delight and
joy, a letter came from a Great Lady, containing a cheque for a large
amount. The letter itself is a bright testimonial in favour of the
good work.

I could tarry with pleasure over this portion of my story, but my
time is drawing short. My holiday is nearly at an end--the day after
to-morrow my wife and I return to Fairhaven. We have enjoyed our
honeymoon beyond description, although it is winter. Many a happy walk
have we taken in the crisp cold air; many a happy evening have we
spent by the cheerful fireside, Rachel busy with her needle, and I
reading to her what I have written; breaking off every now and then to
talk of the dear house in Buttercup-square, and of the dear ones in
it; of the children at home in Fairhaven, and of the happy future
there is before us, and we hope before them. The house in which we
have been living during our honeymoon is completely covered with ivy
up to the very chimneys, and the wrens find shelter there, and leave
not a crumb of the bread we scatter for them every morning upon our
windowsill. The holly-bushes are bright with crimson berries;
Christmas will be with us soon; a bunch of Christmas-roses is on my
table now. But one eventful circumstance remains to be narrated.

It was the autumn of last year; I had called into see Mrs. Silver
early in the morning, to consult her on some arrangements for the
Home. She asked after all there, and we fell a-talking, as we often
did, about Blade-o'-Grass, who was very much changed in appearance
from what she was. A stranger, looking upon her now for the first
time, would never have guessed what her previous life had been; her
dress was neat and modest, her hair was done up in a simple knot, hope
and happiness dwelt in her face. Day by day she was strengthening her
hold upon all our hearts; her gentle behaviour to the children, her
gratitude and her love for all around her, her patience, her cheerful
willingness, were very pleasant to behold. Mrs. Silver and I spoke of
one fancy which Blade-o'-Grass indulged in. She seemed to have set
Ruth before her as a model; and in the matter of dress and the fashion
of her hair, she copied Ruth as closely as she could. The subject of
her resemblance to Ruth had never been touched upon by any of us since
my conversation with Rachel, although I am sure it was in the mind of
my friends as it was in my own. But it seemed to be avoided by general
and unexpressed consent. I was telling Mrs. Silver that before I left
Fairhaven, Ruth had come with her child to spend the day there with
Blade-o'-Grass, when the servant entered to say that a visitor wished
to see Mrs. Silver very particularly.

'She says she don't think you know her, ma'am, but that she'll tell
you who she is herself.'

'Let her come in, Emma.'

The visitor proved to be a tidily-dressed woman, of about fifty or
fifty-five years of age; she looked like a farmer's wife. If I wished
to describe her by a word, I should use the word 'comfortable.' In her
dress and general appearance she was eminently a comfortable woman.
She looked at Mrs. Silver very earnestly, and took the chair that was
offered to her. There was something very homely and genial about her;
and although I felt somewhat curious to know her errand, I asked Mrs.
Silver if I should retire.

'Not unless this lady wishes it,' said Mrs. Silver.

'Love your heart!' was the reply, in a pleasant tone; 'I don't wish it
if you don't. And I hope you'll forgive the liberty I've took in
coming here; but I couldn't rest without seeing you, after coming all
these miles.'

'You have come a long way, then,' said Mrs. Silver; 'you must be
tired.'

The visitor laughed. 'I've come sixteen thousand miles over the water,
all the way from Australia, and I'm going back there next month,
please God!'

'You are an Englishwoman?'

'O yes, ma'am; I was born in London. Me and my husband emigrated
eighteen year ago. It was the best day's work we ever done, though I
love the old country, ma'am; but we were driven out of it, in a manner
of speaking. My husband was a carpenter--he's a  builder now, and
we've done well, thank God, and our children are in the way of doing
well too.'

'I am glad to hear it.'

'I'm the mother of fourteen, ma'am--twelve of them living.'

'That's a large family.'

'Not a bit too large out there; too large here for a poor man, but not
there. I've been longing these five or six years past to come and see
the old country once more before I die; and four months ago, my man
said, "Well, mother, if your mind's set on it, we'd best go and get it
over." So we've come, and we sha'n't lose anything by it. He's busy
this morning looking at a steam-plough we're going to take back for
our eldest son, who has a farm--if you'll excuse me for rambling on in
this way, ma'am.'

'It interests me to hear you.'

'When a person comes back to the old spots, after being away for so
many years, all sorts of curious feelings comes over her. It seemed to
me as if I was in a dream when I walked through Stoney-alley this
morning----'

'Stoney-alley!'

'I lived there a long time, ma'am; but I never knew until this morning
what a dreadful place it is. I think I should die if I was compelled
to live there again. There's the old shops there, just the same as
they were eighteen years ago--all except Mr. Virtue's leaving-shop,
which I was told was burnt down. You look as if you knew the place,
sir.'

'I know it well,' I said, 'and Mr. Virtue also.'

'Ah, he was a queer old man! but he had a heart, though he _was_ so
grumpy! But I mustn't ramble. I've come to make a confession to you,
ma'am, and to ask you after some one I nursed in these arms when she
was a baby.'

Mrs. Silver turned pale.

'I've nothing to blame myself for, ma'am; what was done was done for
the best. Do you remember anything that, occurred last Christmas-eve
come twenty-three year ago?'

'Yes, I remember it well; very well,' replied Mrs. Silver, in an
agitated tone. 'I have cause to remember it with gratitude. It was on
that night, Andrew, that Ruth came to us; it was on that night I
visited Stoney-alley, the place where this good woman lived.'

'You came to the very house in which I lived, ma'am, and you took
away--bless your loving heart for it!--one of the sweetest children
that ever breathed. The landlady brought her to you out of these very
arms. Ruth, you say her name is. Tell me, ma'am--tell me--you know
what it is I want to ask.'

'She is well and happy.'

'Thank God for that!'

'But you say the landlady gave me the child out of your arms. You are
not her mother----' Mrs. Silver was unable to proceed.

'Love your dear heart, no! The poor child's mother was dead. But the
landlady only told you half the truth when she told you that. She said
there was only one baby--she didn't tell you that the poor mother was
confined with twin-girls. On the Christmas-eve that you came to
Stoney-alley I had them both on my knees--the sweet little things!
They hadn't a friend, and we were too poor to take care of them. We
had a large family of our own, and our hands were as full as full
can be! As I was nursing the dears, the landlady came into the
room in a flare of excitement, and said that there was a kind lady
downstairs--it was you, ma'am--who wanted to adopt an orphan child,
and who would give it a home and bring it up properly. The landlady
said that if she had told you there was twins left in that way, she
was sure you wouldn't be willing to part them, and that it would be a
good thing, at all events, if one of the poor little ones could be
taken care of. My husband thought so too; and though it cut me to the
heart to part the dears, I felt it was the best thing we could do. We
were a long time choosing between them; they were so much alike that
we could hardly tell which was which; but one of them had a pretty
dimple, and we kept that one, and sent the other down to you. If you
remember, ma'am, you left your name and address with the landlady, and
I never parted with the piece of paper you wrote it on, for I didn't
know what might turn up. That is how I've found you out now.'

Mrs. Silver looked at me in distress.

'There is no need for sorrow here,' I said. 'If what I suspect is
true, it is but a confirmation of what has been in my thoughts and in
Rachel's also for a long time.' I turned to our visitor. 'I should
know your name; Mr. Virtue has told me of you, and of your kindness to
these babes. You collected money for them before they were a fortnight
old.'

'Yes,' she assented with pleasant nods, 'and Mr. Virtue himself gave
me a penny. My name is Mrs. Manning.'

'Tell me. What became of the other child?'

'That's what I want to know. If she's alive now, poor thing! she must
be a woman grown; very different, ma'am, I'm afraid, from the child
that you adopted. But if she wants a friend I'll be that friend. I'll
take her back with me, if she'll come--my man wouldn't mind! She'd
have a chance out there; and what's a mouth more or less at a full
table, as ours is, thank God! a slice off a cut loaf is never missed.'

'You good soul! I said, pressing her hand. 'We want to know all you
can tell us about the other child. Do you remember what name she was
known by?'

'Ah, that I do, and a curious way it was how she came by that name!
You see, ma'am, two or three blades of grass happened to sprout up in
our back-yard, and the child took to watching them, and fell quite in
love with them, poor little dear! This went on for three or four days,
till one morning, when she was sitting by the side of the blades of
grass, a lodger, hurrying along, happened to tread them down. The
child was in a dreadful way, ma'am, and, as children will do, she hit
at the man with her little fists. He pushed her down with his foot,
not intending to hurt her, I do believe; and I ran out, and blew him
up for his unkindness. He laughed, and said it was a fine fuss to kick
up about two or three blades of grass, and that it was a good job for
the child that she wasn't a blade of grass herself, or she might have
been trod down with the others. From that time the child began to be
called little Blade-o'-Grass, and that was the only name I ever knew
her to have.'

'Ruth is at Fairhaven,' I said to Mrs. Silver.

'We will go there at once,' said Mrs. Silver, rising. 'This will be a
joyful day for both of them. You will accompany us,' to Mrs. Manning.
'You would like to see these sisters whom you nursed and were good to
in their helplessness?'

'It's what I've been praying for, ma'am. Many and many a time, over
the water, has my man and me talked of them, and wondered what has
become of them. Fairhaven! It's a pretty name; but are they both
there? and what kind of a place, is Fairhaven?'

'You shall see for yourself,' replied Mrs. Silver, with tearful
smiles. 'And on the way the Master of Fairhaven shall tell you the
story of these sisters' lives.'

How the good creature cried and laughed over the story I need not here
describe. When I came to the end her delight knew no bounds. She shook
hands with me and Mrs. Silver, her honest face beaming with joy, and
said, under her breath, 'Well, this is the happiest day!'

Blade-o'-Grass and Ruth were in the garden. As we approached them
Mrs. Manning raised her hands in astonishment, and whispering to
us that they were as like each other as two peas, asked which was
Blade-o'-Grass and which was Ruth. We told her; and, in her motherly
homely fashion, she held out her arms to them. Blade-o'-Grass passed
her hands over her eyes and gazed earnestly at Mrs. Manning.

'Do you remember me, my dear?' asked the good woman. 'I've come a long
way to see you--sixteen thousand miles--to see both of you, my dears!
I nursed you both on my knees before you were a week old----'

Her motherly heart overflowed towards the girls, and Mrs. Silver and I
stole away and left them together. We did not disturb them for fully
half-an-hour. Then we went softly towards them. Blade-o'-Grass was
kneeling by the side of Ruth, looking into her sister's face with a
look of unutterable love. Ruth's arm was embracing Blade-o'-Grass, and
Mrs. Manning was standing, with clasped hands, contemplating the
sisters with ineffable gladness.

My story is told.


I write these last words at Fairhaven. The morning after our arrival
home, I stood upon the threshold of our little snuggery, which is
built on an elevation, with my arm around my wife's waist, describing
to her the picture which I saw. It was the play-hour of the day, and
the grounds were filled with children, comfortably dressed. We have
nearly three hundred children in our Home. Immediately before me, in
the centre of a group of young ones, who were clustering round her,
was Blade-o'-Grass, strengthened and chastened by the troubles she has
experienced, beautified by the better sphere of life which she now
occupies. The innate goodness of her nature has made her beloved by
all. Of all our sisters she is the dearest.

We are making great preparations for Christmas. May it be as happy a
time to you, dear reader, as, in all human probability, it will be to
us and to the little ones who are in our charge!



                               THE END.



                          *   *   *   *   *
      LONDON: ROBSON AND SONS, PRINTERS, PANCRAS ROAD, N.W.



[Illustration: Saul and David.]



[Illustration: Bread and Cheese and Kisses.
By B. L. Farjeon
AUTHOR OF BLADE OF GRASS  "GRIF" AND JOSHUA MARVEL.]



                            Introduction,
                                which
                         serves in part as a
                              Dedication
                                to the
                         Memory of my Mother.

                              *   *   *


With a sense of infinite thankfulness upon me, I sit down to commence
my Christmas story. This thankfulness is born of overflowing
gratitude. I am grateful that I am spared to write it, and grateful
because of the belief that the Blade of Grass I put forth a year ago
was: out of the goodness of many sympathising hearts: not allowed to
wither and die. It has been pressed upon me, and I have had it in my
mind, to continue the history of the humble Blade of Grass that I left
drooping last year; but the social events that have occurred between
that time and the present would not justify my doing so now. I hope to
continue it before long. By and by, please God, you and I will follow
the Blade of Grass through a summer all the more pleasant because of
the bleak winter in which it sprung, and by which it has hitherto been
surrounded. In the mean time, the tears that I shed over it will keep
it green, I trust. And in the mean time, it gladdens me to see a star
shining upon it, although it stands amid snow and wintry weather.

As I sit in my quiet chamber, and think of the happy season for which
I am writing, I seem to hear the music of its tender influence, and I
wish that the kindly spirit which animates that day would animate not
that day alone, but every day of the three hundred and sixty-five. It
might be so; it could be so. Then, indeed, the Good Time which now is
always coming would be no longer looked forward to.

Not that life should be a holiday: work is its wholesomest food. But
some little more of general kindliness towards one another, of
generous feeling between class and class, as well as between person
and person; some little less consideration of self; some more general
recognition by the high of the human and divine equality which, the
low bear to them; some little more consideration from the poor for the
rich; some little more practical pity from the rich for the poor; some
little less of the hypocrisy of life too commonly practised and too
commonly toadied to; some better meaning in the saying of prayers, and
therefore more true devotion in the bending of knees; some little more
benevolence in statesmanship; some hearty honest practising of doing
unto others even as ye would others should do unto you:--may well be
wished for, more appropriately, perhaps, at this season than at any
other, associated as it is with all that is tender and bright and
good.

Why does the strain in which I am writing bring to me the memory of my
Mother? It is, I suppose, because that memory is the most sacred and
the tenderest that I have, and because what I feel for her is inwoven
in my heart of hearts.

But there is another reason. From her comes the title of my Christmas
story. And this introduction serves in part as a dedication to the
beautiful goodness of her nature.

I think that in this wide world: among the thousands of millions of
human beings who live and have passed away: there is not, and never
was, a woman who lived her life more contentedly, nor one who strove
more heartfully to make the most cheerful use of everything that fell
to her lot--of even adversity, of which she had her full share. She
was beloved by all who knew her. To her sympathising heart were
confided many griefs which others had to bear; and, poor as she was
for a long period of her life, she always, by some wonderful secret of
which I hope she was not the only possessor, contrived to help those
who came to her in need. I remember asking her once how she managed
it. 'My dear,' she answered, with a smile which reminds me of a
peaceful moonlight night; 'my dear, I have a lucky bag.' Where she
kept it, heaven only knows; but she was continually dipping her hand
into it, and something good and sweet always came out. How many hearts
she cheered, how many burdens she lightened, how many crosses she
garlanded with hope, no one can tell. She never did. These things came
to her as among the duties of life, and she took pleasure in
performing them. I am filled with wonder and with worship as I think
how naturally she laid aside her own hard trials to sympathise with
the trials of others.

She was a capital housewife, and made much out of little. She had not
one selfish desire, and being devoted to her children, she made their
home bright for them. There was no sunshine in the house when Mother
was away. She possessed wonderful secrets in cookery, and I would
sooner sit down to one of the dinners she used to prepare for us
(albeit they were very humble) than to the grandest banquet that could
be placed before me. Everything was sweet that came from her hands--as
sweet as was everything that came from her lips.

I would ask her often, being of an inquisitive turn of mind, 'Mother,
what have you got for dinner to-day?' 'Bread-and-Cheese and Kisses,'
she would reply merrily. Then I knew that one of our favourite dishes
was sure to be on the table, and I rejoiced accordingly. Sometimes,
however, she would vary her reply by saying that dinner would consist
of 'Knobs of Chairs and Pump-Handles.' Then would I sit in sackcloth
and ashes, for I knew that the chance of a good dinner was trembling
in the balance.

But Knobs of Chairs and Pump-Handles was the exception.
Bread-and-Cheese and Kisses was the rule. And to this day
Bread-and-Cheese and Kisses bears for me in its simple utterance a
sacred and beautiful meaning. It means contentment; it means
cheerfulness; it means the exercise of sweet words and gentle thought;
it means Home!

Dear and sacred word! Let us get away from the garish light that
distorts it. Let you and I, this Christmas, retire for a while, and
think of it and muse upon it. Let us resolve to cherish it always, and
let us unite in the hope that its influence for inconceivable good may
not be lost in the turmoil of the Great March, to the thunderous steps
of which the world's heart is wildly beating. Home! It is earth's
heaven! The flowers that grow within garret walls prove it; the
wondering ecstasy that fills the mother's breast as she looks upon the
face of her first-born, the quiet ministering to those we love, the
unselfishness, the devotion, the tender word, the act of charity, the
self-sacrifice that finds creation there, prove it; the prayers that
are said as we kneel by the bedside before committing our bodies to
sleep, the little hands folded in worship, the lisping words of praise
and of thanks to God that come from children's lips, the teaching of
those words by the happy mother so that her child may grow up good,
prove it. No lot in life is too lowly for this earth's heaven. No lot
in life is too lowly for the pure enjoyment of Bread-and-Cheese and
Kisses.

I wish you, dear readers and friends, no better lot than this. May
Bread-and-Cheese and Kisses often be your fare, and may it leave as
sweet a taste in your mouth as it has left in mine!



                               PART I.

                 COME AND SHOW YOUR FACE, LIKE A MAN!


[Illustration]


If I were asked to point to a space of ground which, of all other
spaces in the world, most truly represents the good and bad, the high
and low, of humanity, I should unhesitatingly describe a circle of a
mile around Westminster Abbey. Within that space is contained all that
ennobles life, and all that debases it; and within that space, at the
same moment, the lofty aspiration of the statesman pulses in the great
Senate House in unison with the degraded desires of the inhabitant of
Old Pye-street. There St. Giles and St. James elbow each other. There
may be seen, in one swift comprehensive glance, all the beauty and
ugliness of life, all its hope and hopelessness, all its vanity and
modesty, all its knowledge and ignorance, all its piety and profanity,
all its fragrance and foulness. The wisdom of ages, the nobility that
sprung from fortunate circumstance or from brave endeavour, the
sublime lessons that lie in faith and heroism, sanctify the solemn
aisles of the grand old Abbey. Within its sacred cloisters rest the
ashes of the great: outside its walls, brushing them with his ragged
garments, skulks the thief--and worse.

But not with these contrasts, nor with any lesson that they may teach,
have you and I to deal now. Our attention is fixed upon the striking
of eight o'clock by the sonorous tongue of Westminster. And not our
attention alone--for many of the friends with whom we shall presently
shake hands are listening also; so that we find ourselves suddenly
plunged into very various company. Ben Sparrow, the old grocer, who,
just as One tolls, is weighing out a quarter of a pound of brown sugar
for a young urchin without a cap, inclines his head and listens, for
all the world as if he _were_ a sparrow, so birdlike is the movement:
Bessie Sparrow, his granddaughter, who, having put Tottie to bed, is
coming downstairs in the dark (she has left the candle in the
washhand-basin in Tottie's room, for Tottie cannot go to sleep without
a light), stops and counts from One to Eight, and thinks the while,
with eyes that have tears in them, of Somebody who at the same moment
is thinking of her: Tottie, with one acid-drop very nearly at the
point of dissolution in her mouth, and with another perspiring in her
hand, lies in bed and listens and forgets to suck until the sound dies
quite away: a patient-looking woman, pausing in the contemplation of a
great crisis in her life, seeks to find in the tolling of the bell
some assurance of a happy result: James Million, Member of Parliament,
whose name, as he is a very rich man, may be said to be multitudinous,
listens also as he rolls by in his cab; and as his cab passes the end
of the street in which Mrs. Naldret resides, that worthy woman, who is
standing on a chair before an open cupboard, follows the sound, with
the tablecloth in her hand, and mutely counts One, Two, Three, Four,
Five, Six, Seven, Eight, the last number being accompanied by a
resigned sigh, as if Eight were the end of all things.

The room in which Mrs. Naldret is standing is poor and comfortable; a
cheerful fire is burning, and the kettle is making up its mind to
begin to sing. An old black cat is lazily blinking her eyes at the
little jets of gas that thrust their forked tongues from between the
bars of the stove. This cat is lying on a faded hearthrug, in which
once upon a time a rampant lion reigned in brilliant colours; and she
is not at all disturbed by the thought that a cat lying full-length
upon a lion, with his tongue hanging out, is an anomaly in nature and
a parody in art. There is certainly some excuse for her in the
circumstance that the lion is very old, and is almost entirely rubbed
out.

Mrs. Naldret steps from the chair with the tablecloth in her hand, and
in one clever shake, and with as nimble a movement as any wizard could
have made, shakes it open. As it forms a balloon over the table, she
assists it to expel the wind, and to settle down comfortably--being
herself of a comfortable turn of mind--and smoothes the creases with
her palms, until the cloth fits the table like wax. Then she sets the
tea-things, scalds the teapot, and begins to cut the bread and to
butter it. She cuts the bread very thick, and butters it very thin.
Butter is like fine gold to poor people.

'I don't remember,' she says, pausing to make the reflection, with the
knife in the middle of the loaf, 'its being so cold for a long time.
To be sure, we're in December, and it'll be Christmas in three weeks.
Christmas!' she repeats, with a sigh, 'and George'll not be here.
He'll be on the sea--on the stormy ocean. It'll be a heavy Christmas
to us. But, there! perhaps it's all for the best; though how George
got the idea of emigrating into his head, I can't tell; it seemed to
come all of a sudden like. The house won't seem like the same
when he's away.' For comfort, her thoughts turn in another
direction--towards her husband. 'I wish father was home, though it
isn't quite his time--and he's pretty punctual, is father.' She goes
to the window, and peeps at the sky through a chink in the shutters.
'It looks as if it was going to snow. What a bright clear night it is,
but how cold! It's freezing hard!' Turning, she looks at the fire, and
at the cozy room, gratefully. 'Thank God, we've got a fire, and a roof
to cover us! God help those who haven't! There are a many of 'em, poor
creatures, and times are hard.' She turns again to the window, to
takes another peep at the sky through the shutters, and finds the
light shut out. 'There's some one looking into the room!' she
exclaims, retreating hastily out of view. 'It can't be Jim--he's never
done such a thing. He's only too glad to get indoors such nights as
this. And it can't be George. And there's the lock of the street-door
broken--no more use than a teapot with a hole in the bottom.' Being a
woman of courage, Mrs. Naldret runs into the passage, and opens the
street-door. 'Who's there? she cries, looking into the street, and
shivering, as the cold wind blows into her face. 'Who's there? Don't
sneak away like that, but come and show your face, like a man!'

The man pauses at the challenge, stands irresolute for a moment or
two, then walks slowly back to the window, with hanging head.

'Show my face, like a man!' he repeats, sadly, bitterly, and with a
world of self-reproach in his tone. 'There's not much of that stuff
left in me, Mrs. Naldret.'

'Good Lord!' she exclaims, as he stands before her like a criminal.
'It's Saul Fielding!'

'Yes,' he replies. 'It's Saul Fielding, God help him!'

'Why can't Saul Fielding help himself?' she retorts, half angrily,
half pityingly. 'There was stuff enough in him once--at all events I
thought so.'

'Show me the way!' he cries; but lowers his tone instantly, and says
humbly, 'I beg your pardon, Mrs. Naldret, for speaking in that manner.
It's ungrateful of me to speak like that to any of George's friends.
and least of all to his mother, that George loves like the apple of
his eye.'

'So he does, dear lad,' says the grateful woman, 'and it does my heart
good to hear you say so. But you've nothing to be grateful to me for,
Saul. I've never done you any good; it's never been in my power.'

'Yes, you have, and it has been in your power, Mrs. Naldret. Why, it
was only last week that you offered me----'

'What you wouldn't take,' she interrupts hastily; 'so you don't know
if I meant it. Let be! Let be!'

'----That you offered me food,' he continues steadily. 'But it's like
you and yours to make light of it. You've never done me any good! Why,
you're George's mother, and you brought him into the world! And I owe
him more than my life--ay, more than my life!'

'I know the friendship there was between you and George,' she says,
setting the strength of his words to that account, 'and that George
loved you like a brother. More's the pity, because of that, that you
are as you are.'

'It is so,' he assents meekly; 'but the milk's spilt; I can't pick it
up again.'

'Saul, Saul! you talk like a woman!'

'Do I?' he asks tenderly, and looking into her face with respect and
esteem in his eyes. 'Then there's some good left in me. I know one who
is stronger than I am, better, wiser, than a hundred such as I--and I
showed my appreciation of her goodness and her worth by doing her
wrong. Show my face like a man! I ought to hide it, as the moles do,
and show my contempt for myself by flying from the sight of men!'

Filled with compassion, she turns her face from him so that she may
not witness his grief.

'She is the noblest, the best of women!' he continues. 'In the face of
God, I say it. Standing here, with His light shining upon me, with His
keen wind piercing me to my bones (but it is just!), I bow to her,
although I see her not, as the nearest approach to perfect goodness
which it has ever been my happiness and my unhappiness to come in
contact with. Ay; although virtue, as humanly exercised, would turn
its back upon her.'

'Are you blaming the world, Saul Fielding,' she asks, in a tone that
has a touch of sternness in it, 'for a fault which is all your own?'

'No,' he answers; 'I am justifying Jane. _I_ blame the world! a pretty
object I, to turn accuser!'

He appeals to his rags, in scorn of them and of himself.

'Saul Fielding,' she says, after a pause during which she feels
nothing but ruth for his misery, 'you are a bit of a scholar; you have
gifts that others could turn to account, if they had them. Before
you--you----'

'Went wrong,' he adds, as she hesitates, 'I know what you want to say.
Go on, Mrs. Naldret. _Your_ words don't hurt me.'

'Before that time, George used to come home full of admiration for you
and your gifts. He said that you were the best-read man in all the
trade, and I'm sure, to hear you speak is proof enough of that. Well,
let be, Saul; let the past die, and make up your mind, like a man, to
do better in the future.'

'Let the past die!' he repeats, as through the clouds that darken his
mind rifts of human love shine, under the influence of which his voice
grows indescribably soft and tender. 'Let the past die! No, not for a
world of worlds. Though it is filled with shame, I would not let it
go.--What are you looking for?'

'It's Jim's time--my husband's--for coming home,' she says, a little
anxiously, looking up the street. 'He mightn't like----' But again she
hesitates and stumbles over her words.

'To see you talking to me. He shall not My eyes are better than his,
and the moment I see him turn the corner of the street, I will go.'

'What were you looking through the shutters for?'

'I wanted to see if George was at home.'

'And supposing he had been?'

'I should have waited in the street until he came out.'

'Do you think Jim Naldret would like to see his son talking to Saul
Fielding?'

'No, I don't suppose he would,' he replies quietly; 'but for all that,
I shall do George no harm. I would lay down my life to serve him. You
don't know what binds me and George together. And he is going away
soon--how soon, Mrs. Naldret?'

'In a very few days,' she answers, with a sob in her throat.

'God speed him! Ask him to see me before he goes, will you, Mrs.
Naldret?'

'Yes, I will, Saul; and thank you a thousand times for the good
feeling you show to him.'

'Tell him that I have joined the waits, and that he will hear my flute
among them any night this week. I'll manage so that we don't go away
from this neighbourhood till he bids good-bye to it.'

'Joined the waits!' she exclaims. 'Good Lord! Have you come to that?'

'That's pretty low, isn't it?' he says, with a light laugh, and with a
dash of satire in his tone. 'But, then, you know--playing the
flute--is one of my gifts--(I learnt it myself when I was a boy)--and
if s the only thing I can get to do. Is there any tune you're very
fond of, and would like to hear as you lie a-bed? If there is, we'll
play it.'

'If you could play a tune to keep George at home,' says Mrs. Naldret,
'that's the tune I'd like to hear.'

'Your old Gospel of contentment, Mrs. Naldret,' he remarks.

'I like to let well alone,' she replies, with emphatic nods; 'if
you'd been content with that, years ago, instead of trying to stir men
up----'

'I shouldn't be as I am now,' he says, interrupting her; 'you are
right--you are right. Good-night, and God bless you!'

He shuffles off, without waiting for another word, blowing on his
fingers, which are almost frozen. Mrs. Naldret, who is also cold
enough by this time, is glad to get to her fireside, to warm herself.
Her thoughts follow Saul Fielding. 'Poor fellow!' she muses. 'I should
like to have had him by the fire for a while, but Jim would have been
angry. And to be sure it wouldn't be right, with the life he's been
leading. But how well he talks, and how clever he is! What'll be the
end of him, goodness only knows. He's made me feel quite soft. And how
he loves George! That's what makes me like him. "You don't know what
binds me and George together," he said. "I would lay down my life to
serve him," he said. Well, there must be some good in a man who speaks
like that!'



  AND SO THE LAD GOES ON WITH HIS BESSIE AND HIS BESSIE, UNTIL ONE
           WOULD THINK HE HAS NEVER A MOTHER IN THE WORLD.


By an egregious oversight on the part of the architect, designer, or
what not, the door of Mrs. Naldret's room turned into the passage, so
that whenever it was opened the cold wind had free play, and made
itself felt. Mrs. Naldret, bending before the fire to warm herself,
does not hear the softest of raps on the panel, but is immediately
afterwards made sensible that somebody is coming into the room by a
chill on the nape of her neck and down the small of her back, 'enough
to freeze one's marrow,' she says. She knows the soft footfall, and,
without turning, is aware that Bessie Sparrow is in the room.

'Come to the fire, my dear,' she says.


[Illustration]


Bessie kneels by her side, and the two women, matron and maid, look
into the glowing flames, and see pictures there. Their thoughts being
on the same subject, the pictures they see are of the same
character--all relating to George, and ships, and wild seas, and
strange lands.

'I dreamt of you and George last night,' says Mrs. Naldret, taking
Bessie's hand in hers. She likes the soft touch of Bessie's fingers;
her own are hard and full of knuckles. The liking for anything that is
soft is essentially womanly. 'I dreamt that you were happily married,
and we were all sitting by your fireside, as it might be now, and I
was dancing a little one upon my knee.'

'O, mother!' exclaims Bessie, hiding her face on Mrs. Naldret's neck.

'I told father my dream before breakfast this morning, so it's sure to
come true. The little fellow was on my knee as naked as ever it was
born, a-cocking out its little legs and drawing of them up again, like
a young Samson. Many a time I've had George on my knee like that, and
he used to double up his fists as if he wanted to fight all the world
at once. George was the finest babby I ever _did_ see; he walked at
nine months. He's been a good son, and'll make a good husband; and
he's as genuine as salt, though I say it perhaps as shouldn't, being
his mother. Is your grandfather coming into-night, Bess?

'I don't think it. He's busy getting ready a Christmas show for the
window; he wants to make it look very gay, to attract business:
Grandfather's dreadfully worried because business is so bad. People
are not laying out as much money as they used to do.'

'Money don't buy what it used to do, Bess; things are dearer, and
money's the same. Father isn't earning a shilling more to-day than he
earnt ten years ago, and meat's gone up, and rent's gone up, and
plenty of other things have gone up' But we've got to be contented, my
dear, and make the best of things. If George could get enough work at
home to keep him going, do you suppose he'd ever ha' thought of going
to the other end of the world?' She asks this question, with a shrewd,
watchful look into Bessie's face, which the girl does not see, her
eyes being towards the fire; and adds immediately, 'Although he's not
going for long, thank God.'

'It is very, very hard,' sighs Bessie, 'that he should have to go.'

'It would be harder, my dear, for him to remain here doing nothing.
There's nothing that does a man--or a woman either, Bess--so much
mischief as idleness. My old mother used to say that when a man's
idle, he's worshipping the devil. You know very well, Bess, that I'm
all for contentment. One can make a little do if one's mind is made up
for it--just as one can find a great deal not enough if one's mind is
set that way. For my part, I think that life's too short to worrit
your inside out, a-wishing for this, and a-longing for that, and
a-sighing for t'other. When George began to talk of going abroad,
I said to him, "Home's home, George, and you can be happy on
bread-and-cheese and kisses, supposing you can't get better." "Very
well, mother," said George, "I'm satisfied with that. But come," said
he, in his coaxing way--_you_ know, Bessie!--"But come, you say home's
home, and you're right, mammy." (He always calls me mammy when he's
going to get the best of me with his tongue--he knows, the cunning
lad, that it reminds me of the time when he was a babby!) "You're
right, mammy," he said; "but I love Bess, and I want to marry her. I
want to have her all to myself," he said. "I'm not happy when I'm away
from her," he said. "I want to see her a-setting by _my_ fireside," he
said. "I don't want to be standing at the street-door a-saying
goodnight to her"--(what a long time it takes a-saying! don't it,
Bess? Ah, I remember!) "a-saying good-night to her with my arm round
her waist, and my heart so full of love for her that I can hardly
speak"--(his very words, my dear!)--"and then, just as I'm feeling
happy and forgetting everything else in the world, to hear
grandfather's voice piping out from the room behind the shop, 'Don't
you think it's time to go home, George? Don't you think that it's time
for Bessie to be a-bed?' And I don't want," said George, "when I
answer in a shamefaced way, 'All right, grandfather; just five minutes
more!' to hear his voice, in less than a half a minute, waking me out
of a happy dream, calling out, 'Time's up, George! Don't you think you
ought to go home, George? Don't you think Bessie's tired, George?"
"That's all well and good," said I to him; "but what's that to do with
going abroad?" "O, mammy," he said, "when I marry Bessie, don't I want
to give her a decent bed to lie upon? Ain't I bound to get a bit of
furniture together?" Well, well; and so the lad goes on with his
Bessie and his Bessie, until one would think he has never a mother in
the world.'

There is not a spice of jealousy in her tone as she says this,
although she pretends to pout, for the arm that is around Bessie
tightens on the girl's waist, and the mother's lips touch the girl's
face lovingly. All that Mrs. Naldret has said is honey to Bessie, and
the girl drinks it in, and enjoys it, as bright fresh youth only can
enjoy.

'So,' continues Mrs. Naldret, pursuing her story, 'when George comes
home very down in the mouth, as he does a little while ago, and says
that trade's slack, and he don't see how he's to get the bit of
furniture together that he's bound to have when he's married, I knew
what was coming. And as he's got the opportunity--and a passage free,
thanks to Mr. Million'--(here Mrs. Naldret looks again at Bessie in
the same watchful manner as before, and Bessie, in whose eyes the
tears are gathering, and upon whose face the soft glow of the
firelight is reflected, again does not observe it)--'I can't blame
him; though, mind you, my dear, if he could earn what he wants here,
I'd be the last to give him a word of encouragement But he can't earn
it here, he says; times are too bad. He can't get enough work here, he
says; there's too little to do, and too many workmen to do it. So he's
going abroad to get it, and good luck go with him, and come back with
him! Say that, my dear.'

'Good luck go with him,' repeats Bessie, unable to keep back her
tears, 'and come back with him!'

'That's right. And, as George has made up his mind and can't turn back
now, we must put strength into him, whether he's right or whether he's
wrong. So dry your eyes, my girl, and send him away with a light heart
instead of a heavy one. Don't you know that wet things are always
heavier to carry than dry? George has got to fight with the world, you
see; and if a young fellow stands up to fight with the tears running
down his cheeks, he's bound to get the worst of it But if he says,
"Come on!" with a cheerful heart and a smiling face, he stands a good
chance of winning--as George will, you see if he don't!'

'You dear good mother!' and Bessie kisses Mrs. Naldret's neck again
and again.

'Now, then,' says Mrs. Naldret, rising from before the fire, 'go and
wash your eyes with cold water, my dear. Go into George's room. Lord
forgive me!' she soliloquises when Bessie has gone, 'I'd give my
fingers for George not to go. But what's the use of fretting and
worriting one's life away now that he's made up his mind? I shall be
glad when they are married, though I doubt she doesn't love George as
well as George loves her. But it'll come; it'll come. Times are
different now to what they were, and girls are different. A little
more fond of dress and pleasure and fine ways. She was very tender
just now--she feels it now that George is really going. It would be
better for her if he was to stay; but George is right about the times
being hard. Ah, well! it ain't many of us as gets our bread well
buttered in this part of the world! But there! I've tasted sweet bread
without a bit of butter on it many and many a time!'



                     YOU WORE ROSES THEN, MOTHER.


Having made this reflection, Mrs. Naldret thinks of her husband again,
and wonders what makes him so late to-night. But in a few moments she
hears a stamping in the passage. 'That's Jim,' she thinks, with a
light in her eyes. A rough comely man; with no hair on his face but a
bit of English whisker of a light sandy colour in keeping with his
skin, which is of a light sandy colour also. Head well shaped,
slightly bald, especially on one side, where the hair has been worn
away by the friction of his two-foot rule. When Jim Naldret makes a
purse of his lips, and rubs the side of his head with his rule, his
mates know that he is in earnest. And he is very often in earnest.

'It's mortal cold, mother,' he says almost before he enters.

'There's a nice fire, father,' replies Mrs. Naldret cheerfully;
'that'll soon warm you.'

'I don't know about that,' he returns, with the handle of the door in
his hand. 'Now look here,--_did_ you ever see such a door as this?
Opens bang into the passage.'

'You're always grumbling about the door, father.'

'Well, if I like it, it doesn't do any one any harm, does it? The
architect was a born fool, that's what he was.'

To support his assertion that the architect was a born fool, Jim
Naldret thinks it necessary to make a martyr of himself; so he stands
in the draught, and shivers demonstratively as the cold wind blows
upon him.

'Never mind the door, Jim,' says Mrs. Naldret coaxingly. 'Come and
wash your hands.'


[Illustration]


'But I shall mind the door!' exclaims Jim Naldret, who is endowed with
a large organ of combativeness, and never can be induced to shirk an
argument. 'The architect he made this door for warm weather. Then it's
all very well. But in this weather, it's a mistake, that's what it is.
Directly you open it, comes a blast cold enough to freeze one. I ain't
swearing, mother, because I say blast.'

This small pleasantry restores his equanimity, and he repeats it with
approving nods; but it produces little effect upon his wife, who says,

'_Will_ you wash your hands and face, father, instead of maudlin?'

'All right, all right, mother! Bring the basin in here, and I'll soon
sluice myself.'

Mrs. Naldret, going to their bedroom, which is at the back of the
parlour, to get the soap and water, calls out softly from that
sanctuary,

'Bessie's here, father.'

'Ah,' he says, rubbing his knuckles before the fire. 'Where is she?'

'Up-stairs in George's room. She'll be down presently. She's pretty
low in spirits, father.'

'I suppose you've been having a cry together, mother,' By this time
Mrs. Naldret has brought in a basin of water and a towel, which she
places on a wooden chair, 'I daresay George'll pipe his eye a bit
too, when he says good-bye to some of his mates. Ugh! the water is
cold!'

'George pipe his eye! Not him! He's a man is George--not one of your
crying sort.'

'I don't know about that,' gasps Jim Naldret; 'a man may be crying
although you don't see the tears running down his face. Ugh!'

There was something apposite to his own condition in this remark, for
Jim's eyes were smarting and watering in consequence of the soap
getting into them.

'That's true, Jim. Many a one's heart cries when the eyes are dry.'

'I can't get over Mr. Million getting that passage-ticket for George.
I can't get over it, mother. It's bothered me ever so much.'

'Well, it's only steerage, Jim, and you can't say that it wasn't kind
of Mr. Million.'

'I don't know so much about that, mother.'

'Do you know, Jim,' says Mrs. Naldret, after a pause, during which
both seem to be thinking of something that they deem it not prudent or
wise to speak about, 'that I've sometimes fancied----' Here the old
black cat rubs itself against her ankles, and she stoops to fondle it,
which perhaps is the reason why she does not complete the sentence.

'Fancied what, mother?

'That young Mr. Million was fond of Bessie.'

'I shouldn't wonder,' he replies, with a cough. 'Who wouldn't be?'

'Yes; but not in that way.'

'Not in what way, mother?'

'You drive me out of all patience, Jim. As if you couldn't
understand--but you men are _so_ blind!'

'And you women are so knowing!' retorts Jim Naldret, in a tone made
slightly acid because he is groping about for the towel, and cannot
find it. 'Where _is_ the towel, mother? That's Bessie's step, I know.
Come and kiss me, my girl.'

'There!' exclaims Bessie, who has just entered the room, standing
before him with an air of comical remonstrance, with patches of
soapsuds on her nose and face, 'you've made my face all wet.'

'Father never _will_ wash the soap off his skin before he dries it,'
says Mrs. Naldret, wiping Bessie's face with her apron.

'Never mind, Bessie,' says Mr. Naldret, rubbing himself hot; 'your
face'll stand it better than some I've seen. I can't wash the colour
out of your cheeks.'

Bessie laughs, and asks him how does he know? and says there is a sort
of paint that women use that defies water. While Mrs. Naldret tells
him not to be satirical, remarking that all women have their little
weaknesses.

'Weaknesses!' echoes Mr. Naldret, digging into the corners of his eyes
viciously. 'It's imposition, that's what it is!'

'You'll rub all the skin off your face, if you rub like that.'

'It's a playing a man false,' continues Jim Naldret, not to be
diverted from the subject, 'that's what it is. It's a----'

'Is George coming home to tea, do you know, father?' asks Mrs.
Naldret, endeavouring to stem the torrent.

'No; he told me we wasn't to wait for him. It's a trading under false
pretences----'

'Not coming home to tea! And here I've been laying the tablecloth for
him, because I know he enjoys his tea better when there's something
white on the table. Mind you remember that, Bessie. There's nothing
like studying a man's little ways, if you want to live happy with
him.'

'I wondered what the tablecloth was on for,' remarks Jim Naldret; and
then resumes with bulldog tenacity, 'It's a trading under false
pretences, that's what it is! Little weaknesses! Why----'

'Now, father, will you come and have tea?'

'Now, mother, _will_ you learn manners, and not interrupt? But I can
have my tea and talk too.'

Mrs. Naldret makes a great fuss in setting chairs, and a great clatter
with the cups and saucers, but her wiles produce not the slightest
effect on her husband, who seats himself, and says,

'Well, this is my opinion, and I wouldn't mind a-telling of it to the
Queen. What do girls look forward to naturally? Why, matrimony to be
sure----'

'Put another lump of sugar in father's cup, Bessie. He likes it
sweet.'

'Well,' continues the irrepressible Jim, 'looking forward to that,
they ought to be honest and fair to the men, and not try to take them
in by painting themselves up. It's a good many years ago that I fell
in love with you, mother, and a bright-looking girl you was when you
said Yes, to me. You wore roses then, mother! But if, when I married
you, I had found that the roses in your cheek came off with a damp
towel, and that you hadn't any eyebrows to speak of except what you
put on with a brush, and that what I saw of your skin before I married
you was a deal whiter than what I saw of your skin after I married
you,--I'd--I'd----'

'What on earth would you have done, father?' asks Mrs. Naldret,
laughing.

'I'd have had you up before the magistrate,' replies Jim Naldret, with
a look of sly humour. 'I'd have had you fined, as sure as my name's
Jim.'

'That wouldn't have hurt me,' says Mrs. Naldret, entering into the
humour of the idea, and winking at Bessie; 'my husband would have had
to pay the fine.'

Jim Naldret gives a great laugh at this conclusion of the argument, in
appreciation of having been worsted by these last few pithy words, and
says, with an admiring look at his wife,

'Well, let you women alone!'

Then, this subject being disposed of, and Jim Naldret having had his
say, Mrs. Naldret asks if he has brought home the _Ha'penny Trumpet_.

'Yes,' he answers, 'here it is. A great comfort to the poor man
are the ha'penny papers. He gets all the news of the day for a
ha'penny--all the police-courts----'.

'Ah,' interrupts Mrs. Naldret, 'that's the sort of reading I like.
Give me a newspaper with plenty of police-court cases.'

But police-court cases have not the charm for Jim Naldret that they
have for the women, with whom a trial for breach-of promise is perhaps
the most interesting reading in the world.

'There's a strike in the North among the colliers,' says Jim. 'The old
hands are beating the new men, and setting fire to their houses.'

'And turning,' adds Mrs. Naldret, 'the women and children into the
streets, I daresay--the wretches!'

'I don't know so much about that, mother. Men are goaded sometimes,
till they lose their heads. If a man puts my blood up, I hit him.'

'You, father! You hurt any one.'

'I said I'd hit him--I didn't say I'd hurt him. I'd hit him soft,
perhaps; but I'd be bound to hit him if he put my blood up!'

'A strike's a wicked thing, father,' is Mrs. Naldret's commentary.

'I don't know so much about that. There's a good deal to be said on
both sides.'

'There's Saul Fielding,' says Mrs. Naldret; 'getting up a strike was
the ruin of him--and hurt a good many others, hurt 'em badly, as you
know, Jim.'

By this time the tea-things are cleared away, the hearth is swept up,
and the fire is trimmed. The picture that is presented in this humble
room is a very pleasant one; Bessie and Mrs. Naldret are doing
needlework more as a pastime than anything else, and Jim is looking
down the columns of the _Trumpet_.

'Saul Fielding went too far,' says Jim; 'and when he had dragged a lot
of men into a mess, he deserted them, and showed the white feather.
I'm for my rights, and I'll stand up for them, but I'm not for
violence nor unreasonable measures. Saul Fielding's fine speech misled
a many, who swore by him, and would have followed him through thick
and thin. He makes a speech one night that set the men on fire. I
heard it myself, and I was all of a quiver; but when I was in the cold
air by myself I got my reason back, and I saw that Saul Fielding was
putting things in a wrong light. But other men didn't see it. Then,
what does he do? Deserts his colours the very next day, and leaves the
men that he's misled in the lurch.'

'He may have got in the air, as you did, Jim, and thought better of
what he had said. He may have found out afterwards that he was wrong.'

'Not he! He had plenty of time to consider beforehand--seemed as if he
had studied his speeches by heart--never stumbled over a word, as the
others did, who were a deal honester than him--stumbled over 'em as if
words was stones.'

'Well, poor fellow, he's suffered enough. From that day masters and
men have been against him.'

'He's made his bed, and he must lay on it,' says Jim Naldret; 'and you
know, mother, even if he could wipe that part of his life away, he's
not fit company for honest men and women.'

Jim Naldret feels inclined to say a great deal more on another subject
about Saul Fielding, but as the subject which he would have ventilated
is a delicate one, and refers to a woman who is not Saul Fielding's
wife, he refrains, because Bessie is present.

'Let Saul Fielding drop, mother.'

Mrs. Naldret deems it wise to say no more about Saul, and allows a
minute or so to elapse before she speaks again.

'Anything in the paper, Jim, about that working-man that put up for
Parliament?'

'He didn't get in.'

Mrs. Naldret expresses her satisfaction at this result by saying that
'it's a good job for his family, if he's got one.'

'Why shouldn't a working-man be in Parliament, mother?' asks Jim
Naldret.


[Illustration]


'Because he can't be two things at once. If he fuddles away all his
time at Parliament, he can't have time to work; and if he don't work
for his living, he's not a workingman.'

'He'd work with his tongue, mother.'

'He'd better work with his hands,' says Mrs. Naldret emphatically,
'and leave the tongue work to his wife. She'd do it better, I'll be
bound.'

'I've no doubt she would,' says Jim Naldret, with a chuckle. 'But that
working-man in Parliament question is a problem.'

'Well, don't you bother your head about it--that's other people's
business. My old mother used to say that every hen's got enough to do
to look after its own chicks, and it clacks enough over that, goodness
knows.'

'But I'm not a hen, mother,' remonstrates Jim; 'I'm a cock, and I like
to have a crow now and then.'

'Well,' exclaims Mrs. Naldret, stitching viciously, 'crow on your own
dunghill. Don't you go encroaching on other people's premises.'



             IF I DID NOT LOVE HER, I WOULD NOT GO AWAY.


The entrance of George Naldret and young Mr. Million gives a new turn
to the conversation, and to the aspect of affairs. George Naldret
needs but a very few words of introduction. He is like his father was
when his father was a young man. More comely-looking because of the
difference in their ages, but his little bit of English whisker is
after the same model as his father's, and his hair is also of a light
sandy colour. His head is well shaped, and he has contracted his
father's habit of rubbing one side of it with his two-foot rule when
he is in earnest. When he came into the world, his mother declared
that he was as like his father as two peas, which statement, regarded
from a purely grammatical point of view, involved a contradiction of
ideas. But grammar stands for nothing with some. Poor folk who have
received imperfect education are not given to hypercriticism. It is
not what is said, but what is meant. George's father and his father's
father had been carpenters before him, and as he has taken after them,
he may be said to have become a carpenter by hereditary law. Mrs.
Naldret was satisfied. To have a trade at one's finger-ends, as she
would have expressed it, is not a bad inheritance.

Young Mr. Million was named after his father, James, and was therefore
called young Mr. Million to prevent confusion. _His_ father and his
father's father had been brewers, or, more correctly speaking, in the
brewing interest before him, and he was supposed to take after them.
There was this difference, however, between him and George Naldret.
George Naldret was a thoroughly good carpenter, but it cannot be said
that young Mr. Million was a thoroughly good brewer. In point of fact,
he was not a brewer at all, for he knew no more of the trade than I
do. He knew a good glass of beer when he was drinking it, but he did
not know how to make it; as George knew a good piece of carpentering
work when it was before him; but then George could produce a similar
piece of work himself. George took pride in his trade; young Mr.
Million looked down upon his because it _was_ a trade--he thought it
ought to be a profession. Although he and his were the last who should
have thought unkindly of it, for from the profits of the family
brewery a vast fortune had been accumulated. Estates had been bought;
position in society had been bought; a seat in the House had been
bought; perhaps, by and by, a title would be bought: for eminence
deserves recognition. And a man can be eminent in so many different
ways. One maybe an eminent tea-dealer, or an eminent chiropodist, or
an eminent dentist, if one's profits are large enough. The seat in the
House was occupied at the present time by Mr. James Million senior,
whose chief business in the Senate appeared to be to look sharply
after his own interests and those of his class, and to vote as
he was bid upon those indifferent questions of public interest which
did not affect the profits of his brewery, and which were not likely
to lessen his income from it. For Mr. Million's brewery, being an
old-established institution, had become a sacred 'vested interest,'
which it was absolute sacrilege to touch or interfere with. And it is
true that 'vested interests' _are_ ticklish questions to deal with;
but it happens, now and then, in the course of time, that what is a
'vested interest' with the few (being fed and pampered until it has
attained a monstrous growth) becomes a vested wrong to the many. Then
the safety of society demands that something should be done to stop
the monstrous growth from becoming more monstrous still. The name of
Million was well known in the locality in which the Naldrets resided,
for a great many of the beershops and public-houses in the streets
round about were under the family thumb, so to speak, and it was more
than the commercial lives of the proprietors were worth to supply any
liquids but those that Million brewed to the thirsty souls who
patronised them. And nice houses they were for a man to thrive
upon--worthy steps upon the ladder of fame for a man to grow Eminent
by!

Young Mr. Million was a handsome-looking fellow, with the best of
clothes, and with plenty of money in his purse. Having no career
marked out for him pending the time when he would have to step into
his father's shoes, he made one for himself. He became a merchant in
wild oats--a kind of merchandise which is popularly considered to be
rather a creditable thing for young men to speculate in; and it was a
proof of his industry that he was accumulating a large supply of the
corn--having regard probably to its future value in the market. But in
this respect he was emulated by many who deem it almost a point of
honour to have their granaries well supplied with the commodity.

As the young men enter the room, Bessie's eyes brighten. She knows
George's footsteps well, and has not recognised the other. George
enters first, and he has drawn Bessie to him and kissed her, and she
him, before she sees young Mr. Million. When she does see that heir to
the family brewery, she gently releases herself from George's embrace,
and stands a little aside, with a heightened colour in her face. The
action is perfectly natural, and just what a modest girl would do in
the presence of a comparative stranger--as young Mr. Million must have
been, necessarily, he being so high in the social scale, and she so
low. The young gentleman, in the most affable manner, shakes hands all
round, and gives them good evening.

'Meeting George as I was strolling this way,' he says, accepting the
chair which Mrs. Naldret offers him, 'and having something to say to
him, I thought I might take advantage of his offer to step in, and
rest for a minute or so.'

Had he told the exact truth, he would have confessed that he had no
idea of coming into the house until he heard from old Ben Sparrow, at
whose shop he had called, that Bessie was at Mrs. Naldret's, and that,
meeting George afterwards, he had walked with him to the door, and had
accepted a casual invitation to walk in, given out of mere politeness,
and almost as a matter of form.

'You have the _Trumpet_ there, I see,' continues young Mr. Million,
addressing the master of the house; 'is there anything particular in
it?'

'No, sir,' replies Jim, 'nothing but the usual things--strikes,
elections, and that like. There's always plenty stirring to fill a
newspaper.'

'That there is,' says the young brewer; 'I'm sorry to hear of the
strikes spreading. They make things bad in every way.'

'That they do, sir,' chimes in Mrs. Naldret; 'let well alone, I
say.'

Young Mr. Million assents with a motion of his head. Perhaps he would
have spoken if his attention had not been fixed upon Bessie, whom
George has drawn within the circle of his arm.

'Women can't be expected,' says Jim Naldret, with rather less
politeness than he usually shows to his wife in company, 'to
understand the rights and wrongs of this sort of thing. It's only the
horse in the shafts that feels the weight of the pull.'

'Well,' says young Mr. Million in a careless manner, 'I'm no
politician; I leave that to my father. So, without venturing an
opinion in the presence of one who has studied these questions'--with
a condescending nod to Jim Naldret--'I can't do better than side with
Mrs. Naldret, and say with her. Let well alone.' With a graceful bow
to that worthy creature, who receives it without gratitude, for it
does not please her to find herself trapped into taking sides with a
stranger, however much of a gentleman he may be, against her husband.

'Mr. Million came to tell me,' says George during the lull that
follows, clearing his throat, 'that the Queen of the South sails
earlier than was expected. It goes out of the Mersey the day after
to-morrow.'

He does not look at any one of them as he says this, but they all,
with the exception of young Mr. Million, turn their anxious eyes to
George. The Queen of the South is the name of the ship in which George
is to sail for the other end of the world.

'So soon!' exclaims Mrs. Naldret, with a motherly movement towards her
son.

'So soon!' echoes Bessie faintly, clinging closer to her lover.

And 'Why not stop at home?' is on the mother's tongue. 'Even now, why
not stop at home, and be contented? But she knows what George's answer
would be, so she restrains her speech. 'I want my Bessie,' he would
have answered, 'and I want a home to bring her to. If I did not love
her, I would not go away, but I would be content to work here as you
have done all your lives, and live as you have done, from hand to
mouth.'

To cheer them, young Mr. Million tells them the latest best news from
the other side of the world--how cheaply a man could live; how much
larger a workman's earnings were there than here; what a demand there
was for skilled labour; and what chances there were for every man
whose head was screwed on the right way.

'Suppose a man doesn't wish to work at his trade,' he says, 'and takes
it into his head to make a venture for three or four months. There are
the gold-fields. All over New South Wales and New Zealand new
gold-fields are being discovered. They say that the natives of New
Zealand are bringing in great lumps of gold from the north, and that
the ground there has never been turned over, and is full of gold. Once
in the colonies, it takes no time to get to these places; and even if
a man is not fortunate enough to do well, he can come back to his
trade. The experiment that occupies three or four months in making is
not a great slice out of a young man's life, and the prize that's
likely to be gained is worth the venture. Then at these new places,
supposing George does not care to run the risk that lies in
gold-digging, but determines to stick to his trade, what better one
can he have than that of a carpenter? Houses and shops must be built,
and they must be built of wood. Who is to build them? Why, carpenters!
Think of the scope there is for good workmen. Why, a carpenter must be
almost a king in those places! If I hadn't been born into a fortune,'
he concludes, 'I would give three cheers for Captain Cook, and be off
without a day's delay.'

'When he bids them good-night, as he does presently, seeing that
silence falls upon them and that they wish to be left alone, he does
not leave a bad impression behind him. But although he has not
addressed half a dozen words to the girl, he sees with his mind's eye
Bessie's bright face, and no other, as he walks through the cold air.
Now, what on earth could a pretty girl like Bessie have to do with the
stock of wild oats which young Mr. Million was so industriously
collecting?



          WITH THE DAWNING OF A NEW YEAR, BEGIN A NEW LIFE.


When Saul Fielding left Mrs. Naldret he made his way through the
narrow streets, shivering and stamping, until he came to a house,
the lower portion of which was devoted to the sale of plum- and
peas-pudding, and food of that description. The side door which led to
the upper portion of the house was open, and Saul ascended the dark
stairs until there were no more stairs to ascend, and entered a room,
the low roof of which shelved in one part almost to the floor. A
common lamp was alight, the flame being turned very low down, more, it
is to be presumed, for the sake of economy than for safety, for there
was nothing in the room of the slightest value. What little furniture
there was was rickety and broken: two cane chairs, nearly bald; the
few ragged pieces of cane that were left in the frames were tattered
and of various lengths, and mournfully proclaimed, 'See what we have
come to!' while one of the chairs was so completely decrepit, that it
had lost its backbone, and had so little life left in it, that it
wheezed when sat upon; a turn-up bedstead, which made a miserable
pretence of being something else; a deal table, which once could flap
its wings, but could do so no longer; on the table two cups, which
were not of a match, but this was really of the smallest consequence,
for one was chipped and one was without a handle; and a metal teapot,
the surface of which was so battered, that it might be likened to the
face of a worn-out prizefighter who had played second best in a
hundred fierce encounters. But, common and poor as was everything in
the room, everything was as clean and tidy as orderly hands could make
it.

Saul Fielding turned up the light of the lamp, and the lamp spat and
spluttered in the operation with a discontented air of being ill-fed;
this discontent was plainly expressed in the top of the wick, which
was lurid and inflamed. There were signs in the room of a woman's
care, and Saul Fielding sat down upon the wheezy chair, and waited
with his head resting upon his hand. He had not long to wait; the
sound of light steps running up the stairs caused him to rise, and
look towards the door.

'Jane!'

She nodded and kissed him, and asked him if he were hungry.

'No,' he answered; 'where have you been to?'

'Only on a little errand. Come, you _must_ be hungry. You've had no
tea, I know.'

She took the remains of a loaf, and a yellow basin containing a little
dripping, from a cupboard, and cut the bread and spread the dripping
solicitously. Then she pressed him to eat.

'I shall have some with you,' she said.

To please her, he forced himself to eat.

'It's very cold, Jane.'

'Very, Saul.'

She was a woman who once was very fair to look at, who was fair now,
despite her poverty. She was not more than twenty-five years of age,
but she looked older; there was no wedding-ring on her finger, and she
was too poor for adornment of any kind about her person. There was
beauty in her, however; the beauty that lies in resignation. And now,
as Saul Fielding looked at her furtively, he noticed, with evident
inward fear, a certain kind of sad resolution in her manner which
tempered the signs of long suffering that dwelt in her face. He put
his hand timidly upon her once, and said in a troubled voice.

'You have no flannel petticoat on, Jane.'

'No, Saul,' she answered cheerfully; 'I have pledged it.'

An impressive silence followed. As the darkness that fell upon Egypt
could be felt, so the silence that fell upon this room spoke: with
bitter, brazen tongue.

'I have been out all the afternoon,' she said presently. 'First I went
to----you know where.' Her soft voice faltered, and carried the
meaning of the vague words to his sense.

'And saw her?' he asked wistfully.

'Yes; she was playing on the door-step. She looked so beautiful! I--I
kissed her!'

All the love that woman's heart can feel, all the tenderness of which
woman's love is capable, were expressed in the tone in which she
uttered these simple words. She placed her fingers on her lips, and
dwelt upon the memory of the kiss with tearful eyes, with heart that
ached with excess of love.

'Did I tell you that last week I tried again to get work, Saul?'

'No,' he said; 'you failed!' As if he knew for certain with what
result.

'Yes; I failed,' she repeated sadly.

'I ask myself sometimes if I am a man,' exclaimed Saul, in contempt of
himself, spurning himself as it were; 'if I have anything of a man's
spirit left within me. Mrs. Naldret said something of that sort to me
this very night--not unkindly, but with a good purpose. When I think
of myself as I was many years ago, it seems to me that I am
transformed. And the future! Good God! what lies in it for us?'

'I am a tie upon you, Saul.'

'A tie upon me!' he said, in a tone of wonder. 'Jane, you are my
salvation! But for you I should have drifted into God knows what. You
are at once my joy and my remorse.'

He took from the mantelshelf a broken piece of looking-glass, and
gazed at the reflection of his face. A bold and handsome face, but
with deeper lines in it than his years, which were not more than
thirty-two or three, warranted. Strong passion and dissipation had
left striking marks behind them, but his clear blue eyes were as yet
undimmed, and shone with a lustre which denoted that there was vigour
still in him. His mouth was large, and the lips were the most
noticeable features in his face; they were the lips of one to whom
eloquence came as a natural gift, firm, and tremulous when need be.
The change that he saw in himself as he looked back to the time gone
by gave point and bitterness to his next words.

'I was not like this once. When you first saw me, Jane, these marks
and lines were wanting--they have come all too soon. But no one is to
blame but I. I have brought it all on myself. On myself! On you!--you
suffer with me, patiently, uncomplainingly. You have a greater load
than I to bear; and you will not let me lighten it.'

'I will not let you, Saul! I don't understand.'

'Because every time I approach the subject, I try to approach it by a
different road.'

'Ah, I know now,' she said softly.

'Jane, I ask you for the twentieth time.' He held out his hands
supplicatingly to her. 'Let me do what I can to remove the shame from
you. Let me do what I can to atone for my fault. As you love me, Jane,
marry me!'

'As I love you, Saul, I refuse!'

He turned from her, and paced the room; she watched him with steady
loving eyes, and the signs of a sad, fixed resolution deepened in her
face.

'Come and sit by me, Saul.'

He obeyed her, and she drew his head upon her breast and kissed his
lips.

'There's no question--no doubt of the love between us, Saul?'

'None, Jane.'

'If some chance were to part us this night, and I was never to look
upon your face again----'

'Jane!'

--'And I was never to look upon your face again,' she repeated with a
cheerful smile, 'I should, if I lived to be an old woman, and you to
be an old man, never for one moment doubt that you loved me through
all the years.'

'It is like you, Jane; your faith would not be misplaced.'

'I know it, and I know that you would be to me the same--you would
believe that no other man could hold the place in my heart that you
have always held.'

He took her in his arms, and said that she was his anchor; that as
nothing on earth could shake her faith in him, so nothing on earth
could shake his faith in her; after what she had said (although he
knew it before, and would have staked his worthless life on it) could
she still refuse to allow him to make her the only reparation it was
in his power to make?

She waived the question for the present and said,

'We are at the lowest ebb, Saul.'

'Ay,' he answered.

'Then you must not speak of drifting,' she said tenderly; 'we have
drifted low enough. Remember, Saul,' and she took his hand in hers,
and looked into his eyes, 'we have not ourselves alone to think of.
There is another. It only needs resolution. Come--let us talk of it
Here, there is no hope.'

'There seems none, Jane; all heart has left me.'

'Elsewhere things might be better for you.'

'For us,' he said, correcting her. 'What is better for you is better
for me,' she replied. 'I heard today that George Naldret----'

'God bless him!'

'Amen! God bless him! I heard to-day that he was going away sooner
than was expected.'

'I heard so too, Jane; and I went round to Mrs. Naldret's tonight to
see him if I could. But he had not come home.'

'Saul,' she said, hiding her face on his shoulder, and pressing him in
her arms, as one might do who was about to lose what she loved best in
this world, 'we have suffered much together; our love for each other
seems to keep us down.'

'It is I--I only who am to blame. I commenced life badly, and went
from bad to worse.'

She placed her hand upon his lips, and stopped farther
self-accusation.

'It is a blessing for many,' she said, 'that those new lands have been
discovered. A man can commence a new life there without being crushed
by the misfortunes or faults of the past, if he be earnest enough to
acquire strength. It might be a blessing to you.'

'It might,' he assented, 'if you were with me.'

'You, with your gifts, with your talent for many things, might do so
well there. Saul, turn that lamp down; the light glares, and hurts my
eyes.'

He turned down the lamp; the sullen wick flickered, once, twice,
thrice, and the room was in darkness.

'Let it be, Saul; don't light it. I love to talk to you in the dark.
It reminds me of a time----do you remember?'


[Illustration]


Did he remember? There came to him, in the gloom of the mean room, the
memory of the time, years ago, when he first told her that he loved
her. In the few brief moments that followed, after the light had gone
out, the entire scene was presented to him; every word that was
uttered by him and by her came to him. It was in the dark that he had
told her; it was in the dark that he vowed to be faithful to her, and
she to him. It seemed as if it might have been yesterday, for he held
her in his arms now, as he had held her then, and he felt her heart
beating against his. But the misery of the present time was too
pressing to forget for more than a brief space, and he raised his head
from her breast, and faced the gleams of the clear bright cold night,
as they shone through the garret-window.

'If I were to tell you,' she resumed, 'that I have felt no sorrow
because of the position we are in--not as regards money, though that
cannot be worse, but as regards our living together, not being
married--I should tell you what is not true. I have felt bitter,
bitter sorrow--bitter, bitter shame. When friends fell off from me, I
suffered much--when the dearest one I had, a girl of my own age, said,
"Father forbids me to speak to you because you are leading a wrong
life; when you are married, perhaps father will not be so hard upon
you, and we may be friends again,--though never as we were, Jane!
never as we were!" I turned sick, Saul, because I loved her.'

She paused a moment, and he, with a full sense of his own
unworthiness, drew a little away from her. What she was saying now was
all the more bitter because hitherto no word of implied reproach had
passed her lips. She knew his thoughts, and in her tenderness for him,
put forth her hand to draw him closer to her; but withdrew it
immediately without fulfilling her purpose, as though it might make
her waver.

'I said to myself, Saul knows what is right; when he is in a position
he will say to me, Come, Jane; and I pictured to myself our going to
some quiet church one morning, without any one knowing it but
ourselves, and coming back married. But it was not to be; the part you
took in the strike crushed you and kept you down. The masters were
against you naturally; and I knew that as my friends had fallen off
from me, so your friends and fellow workmen had fallen off from you. I
blamed myself for it, for it was my counsel that caused you to desert
the men as you had deserted the masters. I did not see the
consequences when I spoke; I should have held my tongue.'

'Jane,' said Saul gloomily, 'you were right; I had my doubts that very
night, after I had made the speech that inflamed me in the making as
much as it inflamed the men in the hearing. I lost my head; no wonder
they turned against me afterwards. I should have done the same by
them. But in acting as I did, I acted conscientiously. What, then, did
I do, when I began to feel the consequences of my own act? Sought for
consolation in drink, and but for your steady, unwavering faith--but
for your patient endurance, and your untiring efforts to bring me back
to reason--might have found a lower depth even than that. But patient
love prevailed. Death will overtake me, or I will overtake it, when I
break the promise I gave you not long ago!'

'I know it,' she said, with a bright look which he could not see, her
back being towards the light, 'and that is why I can trust you now;
that is why I have courage to say what I am about to say. There is no
fear between us of misapprehension of each other's words, of each
other's acts; and therefore I do not hesitate. Saul, if I have done
my duty by you--and I have striven to do it, with all my heart and
soul--it remains for you to do your duty by me.'

He had no word to say in reply; that he had failed in his duty to her,
that upon her had fallen the greater part of the misery, and all the
shame, of their lot, he was fully conscious. But he had never heard
her speak like this before; her voice was firm, though tender, and he
held his breath, waiting for her next words.

'It remains for you to do your duty by me.' As she repeated these
words it required the strongest effort of her will to keep the beating
of her heart and her inward suffering from affecting her voice. She
was successful in her effort; for knowing what would occur within the
next few hours, the imminence of the coming crisis gave her strength,
and her voice was clear and steady.

'How--in what way?' he asked, in an agitated tone.

'Be sure of one thing, Saul,' she cried, turned aside for an instant
only by the agitation in his voice; 'be sure that I love you, wholly,
heartfully!'

'I _am_ sure of it. Teach me my duty. I will do it.'

She steadied herself again.

'Saul, we cannot go on as we are. We have come low--very low; but
worse is before us, if we are content to let it come, without an
effort to avoid it. Listen. The greatest happiness that can fall to my
lot is to be your wife.'

'I believe it,' he said.

'But not as you are, Saul! Tear yourself from your present
surroundings--tear yourself from this place, where there is no hope
for you nor for me! If we were at opposite ends of the world, there is
a tie that binds us which neither of us can ever forget. If she were
in her grave, her lips would seek my breast, her little hands would
stretch themselves out to you, to caress your face! What kind of
happiness would it be for you to be able to say, Come, Jane; I have a
home for you, for her?'

He repeated, with his lips, 'What kind of happiness!' but uttered no
sound.

'Make the effort!--away from here. If you succeed--never mind how
humble it is, never mind how poor--I will be your wife, loving you no
more than I love you now, and you will repay me for all that I have
suffered. If you fail---- But you will not fail, Saul. I know it! I
feel it! Make the effort; for the sake of my love for you, for the
sake of yours for me. I think, if it were placed before me that you
should make the effort, and, failing, die, or that we should remain as
we are, I should choose to lose you, and never look upon your face
again---- Here! We are near the end of this sad year. Christmas is
coming, Saul. Let it be the turning over of a new leaf for us. Nerve
yourself--I will not say for your own sake, for I know how poor an
incentive that would be to you--but for mine, and with the dawning of
a new year, begin a new life!'

'And this is the duty that remains for me to do, Jane?'

'This is the duty.'

Not from any doubt of her, or of the task she set before him, did he
pause, but because he was for a while overpowered by the goodness of
the woman who had sacrificed all for him--who loved him, believed in
him, and saw still some capacity for good in him. When he had
conquered his emotion, he said in a broken tone,

'And then, should such a happy time ever come, you will let me make
the poor reparation--you will marry me?'

'How gladly!' she exclaimed, 'O, how gladly!'

'No more words are needed than that I promise, Jane?'

'No more, Saul.'

'I promise. With all my strength I will try.'

He knelt before her, and, with his head in her lap, shed tears there,
and prayed for strength, prayed with trustfulness, though the road was
dark before him. Lifting his head, he saw the light of the clear cold
sky shining through the window at her back. With her arms clasped
round his neck, she leant forward and kissed him, and as he folded her
in his embrace, he felt that there were tears also on her face.

'The world would be dark without you, dear woman,' he said.

Again she kissed him, and asked if it was not time for him to go.

He answered. Yes; and yet was loth to go.

'Good-night, Jane.'

'Good-night, dear Saul.'

With the handle of the door in his hand, he turned towards her, and
saw her standing with the light shining upon her.



                         DEAR LOVE, GOOD-BYE.


It was three o'clock in the morning before Saul Fielding came home.
The bell of Westminster proclaimed the hour with deep-sounding tongue.
Saul ascended the stairs quietly. He did not wish to disturb any one
in the house--least of all, Jane, if she were asleep. 'Although,' he
thought, dwelling in love upon her, 'the dear woman wakes at my
lightest footfall.' He crept into the room softly, and paused, with
hand upraised and listening ear. 'She is asleep,' he whispered gladly.
He stepped gently to the bedside and laid his hand lightly upon the
pillow; it was cold. 'Jane!' he cried, with a sudden fear upon him.
His hand travelled over the bed; it was empty. So strong a trembling
took possession of him that he could not stand, and he sank, almost
powerless, on the bed. 'What is this? he asked of himself. 'Why is she
not abed? Jane! Jane! Where are you?' Although he spoke in a tone
scarcely above a whisper, every word he uttered sounded in the dark
room like a knell, and seemed to come back to him charged with
terrible meaning--as though some one else were speaking. 'Let me
think,' he muttered vaguely. 'How did I leave her? She was not
angry with me. Her words were full of hope. She kissed me, and
stood--there!' He looked towards the window, and saw the outlines of
her face in the light--saw her eyes gazing tenderly, lovingly, upon
him. He knew that what he saw was but a trick of the imagination; but
he moved towards the light, and clasped a shadow in his arms. 'The
world is dark without you, dear woman!' he sobbed, with closed eyes,
repeating almost the last words he had said to her. 'The world is dark
without you! Where are you? Have you left me?' The table shook beneath
his hand, as he rested upon it to steady himself. But he could not
control his agitation; it mastered him. With trembling hands he struck
a match and lit the lamp; then saw with certainty that Jane was not in
the room. Mechanically he took from the table a sheet of paper with
writing upon it, which the light disclosed. 'Jane's writing,' he
muttered, and then read:


'Dear Love,--I have left you for your good--for mine. I had this in my
mind when I spoke to you to-night. I have had it in my mind for a long
time. It is the only secret I have ever had which you did not share.
We have been so unfortunate in the past, and so clear a duty remains
before us, that we should be undeserving of better fortune if we did
not strive ourselves to better it. I rely implicitly upon your
promise. Tear yourself away from this place, and begin a new life. As
long as I live, not a day will pass without my praying for a better
fortune for you and for me to Him who sees all things, and who my
heart tells me approves of what I am doing now. Pray to Him also, dear
Love. He will hear you, and pity. Remember what is the greatest
happiness that can fall to my lot, and remember that I shall not be
unhappy--loving you and having you always in my thoughts--while I
think that you are working towards a happier end. I have no fears in
leaving you. I know how you will keep your promise--and you have said
so much to-night to comfort me! I treasure your words. They are balm
to my heart.

I have taken service with a respectable family, who live a long way
from here, and I have adopted an assumed name. The address I enclose
is where you can write to me. You will not, I know, seek to turn me
from my purpose. I shall write to you to the care of Mrs. Naldret; for
the sake of George's friendship for you she will receive the letters.
Tell George.

Pear Love, good-bye! All my prayers are with you. Let them and the
memory of me sustain your heart; as the consciousness of your love for
me, and my faith in God's goodness, will sustain mine.

Till death, and after it,

                             Your own

                                      JANE.'


He read the letter twice, first with only a vague sense of its
meaning, but the second time with a clearer understanding. Sobs came
from his chest, tears came from his eyes, the hand that held the paper
trembled, as he read. He knew that she was right. But it was hard to
bear--bitterly hard to bear. How lonely the room looked--how mean and
miserable and desolate! Faint as he was--for he had been standing in
the cold streets for hours, playing with the waits, and nothing but a
sup of water from a drinking fountain had passed his lips--he had no
consciousness of physical weakness. All his thoughts were of Jane, all
his heart and soul and mind were charged with tenderness for his dear
woman. He looked at the words 'Dear Love,' until he heard her voice
speaking them. He had no thought of following her; her happiness
depended upon his obeying her, and he would obey her. He had resolved
upon that immediately. But, O, if he could hold her in his embrace
once more! If he could hear her dear voice again! If, with her arms
around him, he could tell her that he would be faithful to his
promise! He dashed the tears from his eyes. 'She is thinking of me
now,' he sobbed; 'she is awake and praying for me now! All the
suffering of our parting was hers. She took it all upon herself, dear
soul! She knew, and I did not; and her heart was bleeding while she
shed the light of hope upon mine! What does she say here, dear soul,
to lessen my pain? "You have said so much to-night to comfort me! I
treasure your words. They are balm to my heart." It is like her--it is
like her, to write those words. She knew, dear woman, she knew, dear
heart, that they would comfort _me!_ But I want strength! I want
strength!' His eyes travelled over the letter again, and again he read
the words, 'Pray to Him also, dear Love. He will hear you, and pity.'
Pressing the paper to his lips, Saul Fielding sank upon his knees, and
bowed his head upon the bed.



       TOTTIE IS READY TO TEAR OLD BEN SPARROW LIMB FROM LIMB.


As nearly all the persons with whom this history has to deal are
almost in the same station of life, and live within a stone's throw of
each other, it is not a difficult task for us to transport ourselves
to the little parlour in the rear of old Ben Sparrow's grocer's shop,
where Ben Sparrow himself is at present considering the mechanism of a
curious and complicated piece of work, the separate parts of which are
lying before him. Although the parlour and the shop adjoin each other,
Ben Sparrow looks upon the parlour as being a long way off, like a
country house, as a place where he can obtain repose from the cares of
the counter and shelves. And it really is a snug, cozy retreat.

Ben Sparrow came into the world exactly at midnight of the 21st of
October 1805, a few hours after the battle of Trafalgar was fought and
won; and the doubtful compliment was at once passed on the new arrival
of being the very smallest baby that ever was seen. But then women go
into extremes in these matters, and their statements that this is the
most beautiful baby in the world, and this the smallest, and this the
chubbiest, and this the darlingest, must be taken with very large
pinches of salt. On that occasion the very smallest baby in the world
acted in precisely the same manner as he would have done if he had
been the very largest baby in the world. Looking upon the world as his
own especial dunghill (as we all of us do), he immediately began to
crow, and sounded his trumpet with the weakest of lungs to show that
he had made his appearance upon the stage. The sound of Westminster
bells was ringing in his ears as he gathered up his little toes and
legs and clenched his little fists with an air of saying, Come on! to
his brothers and sisters in the profession; and in after-days he often
declared jocosely that he perfectly well remembered hearing his first
twelve o'clock proclaimed by the tongue of old Westminster. Between
that time and this, Ben Sparrow had grown from a very small baby to a
very small man, and many eventful things had occurred to him. When he
came to man's estate--the only estate he ever came into--he entered
into business as a grocer; married, and lost his wife, who left behind
her one child, a son, who had 'gone wrong,' as the saying is, and
whose place knew him no more. The 'ups and downs' of life are
generally believed to be a very common experience; but they could
scarcely have been so with Ben Sparrow, he had so very many downs and
so very few ups (if any) in the course of his career. Still he managed
to plod on, somehow or other, until the present time, when he and his
granddaughter, Bessie Sparrow, whom you have seen, and Tottie, a child
of whom you have had a glimpse, after she had been put to bed by
Bessie, are living together in the small house of which the grocer's
shop forms part.

This short biography being concluded, we come upon Ben Sparrow,
sitting in his parlour, contemplating the separate parts of the
curious piece of work above referred to. The only other person in the
room is Tottie, who is perched on a high chair, with a rail in front,
to prevent her making an attempt to walk in the air, and whose
attention is divided between the old man and certain sweet things
which are spread upon the table. Such as three large fat
figs--luscious young fellows, new, ripe, and with so tempting an air
about them as to make their destruction appear inevitable. (Tottie is
ready to act as executioner; her eager eyes attest that they would
have short shrift with her.) Such as half-a-dozen or so sticks of
cinnamon, not as fresh-looking as the figs, being indeed rather
wrinkled specimens of spice; but, notwithstanding their snuffy colour,
they have an inviting odour about them, and tickle the nose
tantalisingly. (Tottie would not say them nay, and is ready to devote
them to destruction on the first word of command.) Such as a few dozen
of plump dried currants, of exquisite sweetness. (As Tottie well
knows, from experience of their fellows, not honestly come by; for,
notwithstanding her tender years, Tottie has a vice, as you shall
presently see.) Such as two or three bunches of muscatel raisins,
rich-looking, princes among grapes, with a bloom upon their skins,
which speaks eloquently of luscious juices within. (Tottie's eyes
wander to these, and her mouth waters, and her fingers wait but for
the opportunity. If some kind fairy would but cry 'Shop!' now, and
call for a quarter of a pound of brown sugar, or an ounce of tea--the
best one-and-fourpenny--or a ha'porth of barley-sugar! But business is
slack, as Ben Sparrow will tell you, with a doleful shake of the head,
and there appears no such fairy, in the form of a slattern with shoes
down at heel, or of a bold-faced girl with her baby in her arms, and
with a blue handkerchief tied crosswise over her bosom, or of a
gutter-student, capless, with straggling-hair, or of a man of any age,
weak-eyed with shaking limbs: no such fairy calls 'Shop!' in Tottie's
interest, and taps the counter with the nimble penny.) Such as two
whole halves (the prettiest of paradoxes) of candied lemon-peel,
with such an appetising fragrance oozing out of them, with such
delicious patches, of sugar clinging to their aldermanic insides and
outsides--pearls in mussels are valueless as a comparison--that the
precious things of the world, such as dolls and boxes of wooden
soldiers (would they were all so!), and oyster-shells and pieces of
broken china to play at dinners and teas with, fade in the
contemplation of them. (At least, such are Tottie's feelings, as she
looks and longs. O, for the fairy!) Such, to conclude with, as a few
shreds of mace, and a clove or two--scarcely worth mentioning in the
presence of their superiors.

These delectable joys of life being spread upon the table, immediately
under Tottie's nose, and Tottie's attention being divided between them
and their lawful owner, Ben Sparrow, it will not be difficult to see
which of the two possessed the greater charms for her. A rapid glance
at Ben Sparrow's face, a lingering gaze upon fruit and spice, another
rapid glance (with a slight reproach in it this time) at Ben Sparrow's
face, and, finding no benevolent intention there, a more fixed and
longing gaze upon the treasures of the earth--thus it goes without a
word on either side (the thoughts of each being so intensely
engrossing), and thus it might have continued for goodness knows how
long, but that Ben Sparrow, with a cheery laugh, taps Tottie's cheek
with his forefinger, and cries, in a tone of satisfaction,

'Now, I've got it!'

(Tottie wishes _she_ had.)

'Now, I've got it,' cries the old man again; 'all complete.'

Tottie shifts restlessly in her high chair.

'And Tottie shall see me make it,' says Ben, with beaming face,
rubbing his hands, and shifting the fruit and the spice about much the
same as if they form pieces of a puzzle, and he has found the key to
it. 'Especially,' adds Ben, 'as Tottie will sit still, and won't
touch.'

'No, I never!' exclaims Tottie.

This is Tottie's oath, which she is much given to swearing when her
honour is called into question. Tottie's 'No, I never!' is in her
estimation worth a volume of affidavits, but it is much to be feared
that her sense of moral obligation is not of a high order.

'And as Tottie's a good little girl----'

'Tottie's a dood little girl!'

There is no expression of doubt in the nods of the head with which
Tottie strengthens this declaration.

'And'll sit still, she _shall_ see me make it.'

The good old fellow laughs. He does not seem to realise how difficult
is the task he has set Tottie. To sit still, with these treasures in
view! Here an agonising incident occurs. A small piece of candied
sugar has become detached from one of the halves of lemon-peel, and
Ben Sparrow, with an air of abstraction, picks it up, and puts it--in
his own mouth! Tottie watches him as he moves it about with his
tongue, and her own waters as the sweet dissolves in her imagination.
She knows the process as well as Ben, and appreciates it more, and she
sighs when the candy is finally disposed of.

'You see, Tottie,' says Ben, taking her into his confidence, 'business
is very slack, and Christmas is coming, Tottie.'

Tottie gives a nod of acquiescence.


[Illustration]


'So I think to myself--another nod from Tottie; she also is thinking
to herself--'if I can put some thing in the window that'll make the
people look at the figs----'

Here Tottie introduces an artful piece of diplomacy. 'Tottie can spell
fig,' she says, and proceeds to do it smilingly--'F-I-G, fig.'

But Ben, intent upon his scheme, does not see the point of Tottie's
interruption, and proceeds:

'--Something that'll make 'em look at the figs, and the currants, and
the raisins--something new and spicy'--(Ben laughs at this joke, and
repeats it)--'something new and spicy, perhaps it'll wake 'em up, and
bring 'em in here instead of going to another shop. For they want
waking up, Tottie, they want waking up badly.'

Solemn nods from Tottie proclaim the serious consideration she has
given to the general sleepiness and indifference of Ben Sparrow's
customers.

Ben Sparrow picks up a fat currant and contemplates it with as much
interest as a geologist would contemplate a new fossil. Tottie's eyes
follow his movements; she sits like Patience on a monument, and
another sigh escapes her as Ben Sparrow (again abstractedly) puts the
currant in his mouth, and swallows it. Draw a veil mercifully over
Tottie's feelings.

'It was in the middle of the night,' says Ben Sparrow with all the
impressiveness demanded by the historical fact, 'that I first thought
of making ME, and putting ME in the window to attract custom. I was a
good deal puzzled about my legs, and my stomach got into my head, and
I couldn't get it out; but little by little all my limbs and every
other part of me came to me until the idea was complete. And now we'll
try it--now we'll set to work and make a MAN! And if you're a good
girl, and'll sit still, you shall see ME made.'

Tottie's experience in literature is very limited--extending no
farther, indeed, than b-a-t bat, c-a-t cat, r-a-t rat, d-i-g dig,
f-i-g fig, p-i-g pig--and she knows nothing of the terrible story of
Frankenstein; therefore, she is not at all frightened at the idea of
seeing a man made, nor has she any fear that it will turn out to be a
monster. On the contrary, if Ben Sparrow's thoughts would only take a
benevolent turn in the shape of a fig for Tottie, or a few plums for
Tottie, or some candied sugar for Tottie, she would be prepared to
enjoy the feat which Ben is about to perform as much as if it were the
best bit of fun in the world.

'Now, then,' commences Ben, with a whimsical glance at Tottie, who
smiles back at him like a true diplomatist, 'I don't know what part is
generally made first, but perhaps it'll be as well to commence with
the stomach. Here it is--here's my stomach.'

He takes one of the halves of the candied lemon-peel, and places it
before him, round side up.

'There's a little too much sugar in me,' he says, with a more
whimsical glance than the first; 'it'll make me rather too heavy, I'm
afraid. And besides, Tottie, it ain't true to nature. My inside ain't
got such a coating as this.'

He breaks a piece of candied sugar from the inside of his stomach,
looks at Tottie, notices her wistful eyes, and gives it to her. She
eats it eagerly, and so quickly as to cause amazement to Ben Sparrow,
who says,

'You shouldn't eat so fast, Tottie. Good little girls don't eat so
fast as that.'

Tottie, with feminine duplicity, accepts this warning in an inverted
sense, and cries, with her mouth full of sugar,

'Tottie's a dood little girl!' as if indorsing a statement made by her
grandfather. But Tottie's thoughts are not upon the good little girl;
at the present moment she resembles a savage. She has tasted blood,
and thirsts for more.

'It's a fatter stomach than mine,' proceeds Ben, laying his hand upon
his stomach of flesh, the stomach he came into the world with; 'it's
rounder and plumper, and would fit the Lord Mayor or an alderman, but
it'll do, I daresay. Now for my neck.'

He picks up the thickest piece of cinnamon, and measures it with his
eye, breaking the stick in two. 'I mustn't make my neck too long--nor
too short--and I take the thickest piece, Tottie, because it's got to
support my head. Like this.' He makes a hole in the end of the
lemon-peel, and sticks the cinnamon in firmly. 'Now to stick my head
on, Tottie.'

He selects the largest of the fat figs, and attaches it to his neck.
'What's the next thing? My eyes, to be sure. Currants.' Remarkably
like eyes do they look when they are inserted in the face of the fat
fig. Then he takes a clove for his nose, and, making a thin slit in
the fig for his mouth, inserts an appropriate morsel of mace. All this
being successfully accomplished, he holds himself up (as far as he
goes) for his own and Tottie's inspection and approval. Tottie claps
her hands, and laughs, but subsides into a quieter humour at a guilty
thought that steals into her mind. She thinks what a delightful thing
it would be to take her grandfather (as far as he goes) and eat him
bit by bit.

'I begin to look ship-shape,' observes Ben Sparrow, gazing admiringly
at the unfinished effigy of himself. 'You see, Tottie, what the people
want nowadays is novelty--something new, something they haven't seen
before. Give them that, and you're all right' (Which vague generality
appears to satisfy him.) 'Now, here it is--here's novelty--here's
something they've never seen before; and if this don't bring custom, I
don't know what will.'

Tottie gives a grave and silent assent; she cannot speak, for her mind
is bent upon cannibalism. She is ready to tear the old man limb from
limb.

'But,' continues Ben Sparrow, unconscious of the horrible thought at
work in the mind of the apparently innocent child before him, 'I must
get along with myself, or I shall never be finished. I haven't been in
any battle that I know of, and I wasn't born a cripple, so my limbs
must be all right when I appear in public. Now for my arms. More
cinnamon! I think I may call cinnamon my bones.'

When two pieces of cinnamon are stuck into the sides of the candied
lemon-peel, they look so naked that he says,

'I must put sleeves on my arms.'

And impales raisins upon them, and sticks five small slips of mace in
each of the last raisins, which serve for fingers.

'Now for my legs, and there I am. More cinnamon!'

Two sticks of cinnamon stuck in the bottom of his candied stomach, and
then clothed with raisins, form his legs, and there he _is_, complete.

'I think I'll do,' he says complacently.

At this moment a voice calls 'Shop!' and a fairy, in the shape of a
shoeless ragged girl, taps upon the counter. Ben Sparrow goes into the
shop to serve, and Tottie is left alone with his effigy. Now it has
been mentioned above that Tottie has a vice, and this is it: she is
afflicted, not with a raging tooth, but with a tooth so sweet as to
weaken her moral sense, so to speak: she is unable to resist
temptation when it presents itself to her in the shape of sweetmeats
or fruit, and her notions as to the sacredness of such-like property
are so loose that (no one being by to see her do it) she helps
herself. And yet it is a proof that she possesses a wakeful
conscience, that she turns her back upon herself when she pilfers, as
if she would wish to make herself believe that she is unconscious of
what she is doing. Thus, seeing, say, a bowl of currants near, and no
person within sight, she will approach the bowl stealthily, and,
turning her back to it, will put her hand behind her, and take a
fistful, with an air of thinking of something else all the while. And
it is a proof that the moral obligation of her conscience is not
entirely dormant, that, after the act is committed and enjoyed, she
will, under the influence of a human eye, instantly defend herself
without being accused, by 'No, I never! no, I never!' This express
admission of guilt she can no more resist than she can resist the
temptation itself. At the present time the sweet effigy of Ben Sparrow
is lying within reach upon the table. Shutting her eyes. Tottie
stretches out her hand, and plucking her grandfather's left leg bodily
from his candied stomach, instantly devours it, cinnamon, raisins, and
all--and has just made the last gulp when Ben Sparrow, having served
his customer, reënters the parlour. He casts a puzzled look at his
dismembered effigy, and mutters,

'Well! if I didn't think I had made my two legs, may I be sugared!'
Which sweet oath is exactly appropriate to the occasion. Then he turns
to Tottie, who is gazing unconsciously at vacancy, with a wonderfully
intense expression in her eyes, and she immediately shakes her head
piteously, and cries,

'No, I never! no, I never!'

Ben Sparrow, having his doubts aroused by this vehement asseveration
of innocence, says mournfully,

'O, Tottie! Tottie! I didn't think you'd do it! To begin to eat me up
like that!'

But Tottie shakes her head still more vehemently, and desperately
reiterates, 'No, I never! no, I never!' With the frightful
consciousness that the proofs of her guilt are in her inside, and that
she has only to be cut open for them to be produced.

Ben Sparrow, with a grave face, makes himself another leg, moving
himself, however, out of Tottie's reach with reproachful significance.
An unexpected difficulty occurs at this point. Being top-heavy he
cannot balance himself upon his legs; but Ben is of an ingenious turn
of mind, and he hits upon the expedient of shoring himself up from
behind with stout sticks of cinnamon. Then, setting himself up, he
gazes at himself in admiration. Tottie's eyes are also fixed upon the
effigy; it possesses a horrible fascination for her.



                  HERE AND THERE ARE FORGET-ME-NOTS.


All night long Saul Fielding kneels by the side of his bed, absorbed
in the memory of the woman whom he loves, and who, out of her great
love for him, has deserted him. At first his grief is so great that he
cannot think coherently; his mind is storm-tossed. But after a time
the violence of his grief abates, and things begin to shape themselves
in his mind. The night is cold, but he does not feel the winter's
chill. The wind sighs and moans at his window, but he does not hear
it. As it leaves his lattice, and travels through the courts and
streets, it bears upon its wings the influence of the grief it has
witnessed, and it sobs to the stone walls, 'There kneels a man in
woe!' It gathers strength when it leaves the packed thoroughfares,
which, huddled together like a crowd of beggars, seem to seek warmth
in close contact, and becomes angry when it reaches the wide streets,
angrier still when it reaches the woods, where the trees tremble as it
rushes past them. Say that it rushes onward and still onward, and that
we have the power to follow it--that we see it merge into other winds,
and become furious--that we see its fury die away--that we leave the
winter and the night behind us--that we travel ahead of it over lands
and seas until we come to where spring and daylight are--that we
travel onward and still onward, until noon and spring are passed, and
we come to where bright sun and summer are. Where are we? Thousands,
upon thousands of miles away; but the time is the same, for as the
warm wind kisses us we look back and see the man kneeling by the side
of his bed. It is winter and night, and there kneels the man. It is
summer and day, and here is another man among the mountains lying on
the earth, looking at the clouds. And the time is the same. The
thoughts of both these men are in the past. What connection can there
be between these two in such adverse places, seasons, and
circumstances? They have never touched hands. What link can bind them?
Heart-links? Perhaps. It would not be so strange. It may be that at
this present moment, in some distant part of the world of which we
have only read or dreamt, links in your life's chain and mine are
being forged by persons whose faces we have never seen.

He is desolate. Jane has gone from him. She has left words of comfort
behind her, but he may never look upon her face again. She has given
him a task to fulfill. 'If I have done my duty by you,' she said, 'and
I have tried to do it, it remains for you to do your duty by me.' He
will be true to his dear woman, as she has been to him. He will strive
to perform the task she has set before him--he will strive to find a
way. Ay, if he dies in the attempt. He will consider presently how he
shall commence. In the mean time, he must think of Jane.

He falls into a doze, thinking of her, and with her in his mind the
past comes to him. The aspirations which filled his boyish mind--his
love for books--his desire to rise above his surroundings--his
reasonings upon the relation of this and that, and his theoretical
conclusions, which were to suddenly divert the common custom of
things, as if a creation could in a moment crumble into dust the
growth of centuries--his delight when he found that he was an orator,
and could move an assembly of men to various passions--his meeting
with Jane---- He went no farther. The memory of her as she was when he
first saw her, a bright flower--ah, how bright, how trustful and
womanly!--stopped farther thought, and for a time no vision appears of
his downfall, his weakness, his disgrace, his sinking lower, lower,
until he is almost a lost man. It comes to him presently with all its
shame; but when he wakes, the chaos of images in his mind resolves
itself into this: his life is before him, full of weeds, like an
untended garden, but here and there are Forget-me-nots, and each one
bears the name of Jane.

The morning light steals in upon his vigil, and still he has not
decided how or in what way he shall commence his new life. In truth he
is powerless. He has no weapons to fight with. His old confidence in
himself, his pride, his strength of will, are covered with the rust of
long weakness. Rising from his knees, he breaks the crust of ice upon
the water in his pitcher, and bathes his face. The cold water seems to
bring strength to him. He looks about the room, and everything within
the poor walls speaks of Jane's love and care for him. The fire is
laid with the last few sticks of wood and the last few lumps of coal.
The old kettle, filled, is on the hob. The last pinch of tea is in the
cup; the remains of the loaf are on the table. Not a thing is
forgotten. 'Dear woman!' he murmurs. 'It is like you!' He paces the
room slowly, striving to think of some path by which he can obtain a
home for Jane, and thereby win her and reward her. It is useless, he
knows, to seek for work here in the neighbourhood where he is known.
He is known too well, and has sunk too low. Who would believe in his
profession of amendment? Besides, what is the use of trying? He is of
the same trade as George Naldret, and even George, a better workman
than he, has resolved to leave, and try his fortune elsewhere, because
of the difficulty he finds in saving sufficient money to buy a home
for the girl he desires to marry. Even George is compelled to
emigrate---- He stops suddenly in the middle of the room, and draws
himself up with a spasmodic motion. Jane's words come to him: 'It is a
blessing for many that these new lands have been discovered. A man can
commence a new life there, without being crushed by the misfortunes or
faults of the past, if he be earnest enough to acquire strength. It
might be a blessing to you.' 'A new life in a new land!' he says
aloud. 'All the weakness and shame of the past wiped away because they
will not be known to those around me. I should feel myself a new
man--a better man; my strength, my courage would come back to me!' So
strong an impression does the inspiration of the thought make upon
him, that he trembles with excitement. But can he leave Jane--leave
the country which holds her dear form? Yes, he can, he will; the
memory of her will sustain him; and she will approve, as indeed she
has done already by her words. 'It is the only way!' he cries; 'the
only way!' Thus far he thinks, and then sinks into a chair,
despairing. The means! How can he obtain the means? He has not a
shilling in the world, nor any friends powerful enough to help him.
Heaven's gate seems to be more easily accessible to him than this new
land across the seas. But he does not allow himself to sink into the
lowest depth of despondency. Jane stands before him; her words are
with him; like wine they revive his fainting soul. 'Come, Saul,' he
cries aloud to himself, resolutely. 'Come--think! Cast aside your
weakness. Be your old self once more!' These words, spoken to himself
as though they came from the lips of a strong man, sound like a
trumpet in his ears, and really strengthen him. Again he thinks of
George Naldret. 'Mr. Million gave him his passage ticket,' he says;
'would Mr. Million give me one?' No sooner has he uttered the words
than the current of his thoughts is diverted, and he finds himself
speculating upon the cause of Mr. Million's generosity to George.
Friendship? No, it can scarcely be that. There can be no friendship
between George and Mr. Million. Kindness? Perhaps; and yet he has
never heard that Mr. Million was noted for the performance of kindly
actions. These considerations trouble him somewhat on George's
account, although he cannot explain to himself why the fact of Mr.
Million giving George a free passage ticket to the other end of the
world should cause him uneasiness. 'I wonder how it came about,' he
thinks. 'I never heard George speak of emigrating until the ticket was
promised to him. At all events, if George has any claim upon him, I
have none. But Mr. Million is a public man, and may be in favour of
emigration. It will cost him but little to assist me. There are
Government emigration ships which take a man over for almost nothing,
I have heard. A line of recommendation from Mr. Million in my favour
would be sufficient, perhaps. I will try; I will try. If I knew a
prayer that would make my appeal successful, I would say it.'



                   BATTLEDOOR AND SHUTTLECOCK.


As a public man, James Million, Esquire, M.P. for Brewingham, felt it
necessary to his position to spend two or three hours in his study
every morning, and to 'make-believe' to be busy. Had you asked James
Million what he was, he would not have told you that he was a brewer
or a capitalist, but would have replied briefly and emphatically, 'A
public man, sir.' Now, to be a public man, you must have a
shuttlecock; and whether it was that Mr. Million had a real sympathy
for the institution known as the working man, or because the working
man drank large quantities of Million's Entire and Million's Treble X,
it is certain that he set up the working man as his shuttlecock; and
it is quite as certain that he set it up without in the least
understanding it, being, indeed, a most unskilful player at any game
in which his own interests were not directly involved. The game of
battledoor and shuttlecock is a popular one with us from childhood
upwards, but I am not aware that any close observer and noter of
curious things has ever calculated how many shuttlecocks an ordinary
battledoor will outlast. Popular as the game is with children, it is
more popular with public men, who, battledoor in hand, are apt (in
their enthusiasm and love for the game) to run into exceedingly wild,
extremes when a new shuttlecock, with spick and span new feathers, is
cast among them. Such a superabundance of energy do they in their zeal
impart into the game that they often sorely bruise the poor
shuttlecock, and so knock it out of all shape and proportion that the
members of its family find it impossible to recognise it. How many a
poor shuttlecock have you and I seen on its last legs, as one might
say, in a desperate condition from being much hit and much missed and
much trodden into the mud, and with feathers that would rival those of
a roupy old hen in the last stage of dissolution! and looking upon it
in melancholy mood, may we not be excused for dwelling sadly upon the
time (but yesterday!) when its feathers were new and crimson-tipped,
and when it proudly took its first flight in the air?

In appearance, James Million, the eminent brewer, was a small, flabby
man, with a white face on which the flesh hung loosely. It had been
said of him that his morals were as flabby as his flesh--but this was
invented by a detractor, and if it conveyed any reproach, it was at
best a hazy one. He had a curious trick with his eyes. They were sound
and of the first water--not a flaw in them, as diamond merchants say;
but whenever there was presented for his contemplation or
consideration a question of a perplexing or disagreeable nature, he
would close one of his eyes, and look at it with the other. It was a
favourite habit with him to walk along the streets so, with one eye
closed; and a man who set himself up for a satirist, or a wag, or
both, once said: 'Jimmy Million is so moral that he doesn't like to
look on the wickedness of the world; so he shuts one eye, and can only
see half of it, and thereby saves himself half the pain.'

To James Million, as he sits in his study, comes a servant, who, after
due tapping at the door, so as not to disturb the ruminations of the
legislator, announces a man in the passage who desires to see Mr.
Million.

'Name? asks Mr. Million.


[Illustration]


'Saul Fielding,' answers the servant, and adds, 'but he says he does
not think you know him.'

'What does he look like?'

The servant hesitates; he has not made up his mind. Although Saul
Fielding is shabbily dressed, he is clean, and Jane's watchful care
has made his wardrobe (the whole of which he wears on his back) seem
better than it is. Besides, there is 'an air' about Saul Fielding
which prevents him being placed, in the servant's mind, on the lowest
rung of vagabondism.

'Is he a poor man? Is he a working man? demands Mr. Million
impatiently.

'He looks like it, sir,' replies the servant, not committing himself
distinctly to either statement.

Mr. Million has an idle hour before him, which he is not disinclined
to devote to the workingman question, so he bids the servant admit the
visitor.

'Wait a minute,' says Mr. Million to Saul Fielding as he enters the
room. Mr. Million evidently has found some very knotty problem in the
papers before him, for he bends over them, with knitted brows and
studious face, and shifts them about, and makes notes on other pieces
of paper, and mutters 'Pish!' and 'Psha!' and 'Very true!' and 'This
must be seen to!' with many remarks indicative of the engrossing
nature of the subject which engages his attention. After a sufficient
exhibition of this by-play, which doubtless impresses his visitor with
a proper idea of his importance and of the immense interest he takes
in public matters, he pushes the papers aside with a weary air, and
looks up, with one eye closed and one eye open. What he sees before
him does not seem to afford him any comfort: for it is a strange thing
with public players of battledoor and shuttlecock, that although they
have in theory a high respect for their shuttlecocks, they have in
absolute fact a very strong distaste for them. Seeing that he is
expected to speak, Saul Fielding commences; he is at no loss for
words, but he speaks more slowly than usual, in consequence of the
heavy stake he has in the interview.

'I have ventured to call upon you, sir,' he says, 'in the hope that
you will take some interest in my story, and that you will extend a
helping hand to a poor man.'

Somewhat fretfully--for careful as he strives to be, Saul Fielding has
been unwise in his introduction, which might be construed into an
appeal for alms--somewhat fretfully, then, Mr. Million interposes with

'A working man?'

'I hope I may call myself so--although, strictly speaking, I have done
but little work for a long time.'

Mr. Million gazes with curiosity at his visitor, and asks, in a
 self-complacent, insolent tone, as if he knows all about it,

'Not able to get work, eh?

'I have not been able to get it, sir.'

'But quite willing to do it if you _could_ get it?'

'Quite willing, sir more than willing--thankful.'

Saul Fielding knows that already he is beginning to lose ground,' but
his voice is even more respectful and humble than at first--although
the very nature of the man causes him to speak with a certain
confidence and independence which is eminently offensive to the
delicate ears of the friend of the working man.

'Of course!' exclaims Mr. Million triumphantly and disdainfully. 'The
old cry! I knew it. The old cry! I suppose you will say presently that
there is not room for all, and that there are numbers of men who are
in the same position as yourself--willing to work, unable to obtain
it.'

Saul Fielding makes no reply; words are rushing to his tongue, but he
does not utter them. But Mr. Million insists upon being answered, and
repeats what he has said in such a manner and tone that Saul cannot
escape.

'I think, sir, that there are many men who are forced to be idle
against their will; that seems to be a necessity in all countries
where population increases so fast as ours does. But I don't complain
of that.'

'O!' cries Mr. Million, opening both his eyes very wide indeed. 'You
don't complain of that! You are one of those glib speakers, I have no
doubt, who foment dissatisfaction among the working classes, who tell
them that they are down-trodden and oppressed, and that masters are
fattening upon them! I should not be surprised to hear that you are a
freethinker.'

'No, sir, I am not that,' urges Saul Fielding, exquisitely distressed
at the unpromising turn the interview has taken; 'nor indeed have I
anything to complain of myself. I am too crushed and broken-down, as
you may see.'

'But if you were not so,' persists Mr. Million, growing harder as Saul
grows humbler, 'if you were in regular work, and in receipt of regular
wages, it would be different with you--eh? You would have something to
complain of then doubtless. You would say pretty loudly that the
working man is underpaid, and you would do your best to fan the flame
of discontent kept up by a few grumblers and idlers. You would do
this--eh? Come, come,' he adds haughtily, seeing that Saul Fielding
does not wish to answer; 'you are here upon a begging petition, you
know. Don't you think it will be best to answer my questions?'

'What is it you wish me to answer, sir?' asks Saul Fielding
sorrowfully.

'The question of wages. I want to ascertain whether you are one of
those who think the working classes are underpaid.'

Saul Fielding pauses for a moment; and in that brief time determines
to be true to himself. 'Jane would not have me do otherwise,' he
thinks.

'I think, sir,' he says, firmly and respectfully, 'that the working
classes--by which I mean all in the land who have to work with their
hands for daily bread--do not receive, as things go, a fair equivalent
for their work. Their wages are not sufficient. They seem to me to be
framed upon a basis which makes the work of ekeing them out so as to
make both ends meet a harder task than the toil by which they are
earned. The working man's discontent does not spring from his work; he
does that cheerfully almost always. It springs out of the fact, that
the results of his work are not sufficient for comfort, and certainly
not sufficient to dispel the terrible anxiety which hangs over the
future, when he is ill and unable to work, perhaps, or when he and his
wife are too old for work.'

'O, indeed!' exclaims Mr. Million. 'You give him a wife!'

'Yes, sir; his life would be a burden indeed without a woman's love.'

Mr. Million stares loftily at Saul Fielding.

'And children, doubtless!'

'Happy he who has them! It is Nature's law; and no man can gainsay
it.' The theme possesses a fascination for Saul Fielding, and he
continues warmly, 'I put aside as distinctly outrageous all that is
said of the folly and wickedness of poor people marrying and having
large families. This very fact, which theorists wax indignant
over--theorists, mind you, who have wives and families themselves, and
who, by their arguments, lay down the monstrous proposition that
nature works in the blood according to the length of a man's
purse--this very fact has made England strong; had it been otherwise,
the nation would have been emasculated. Besides, you can't set natural
feeling to the tune of theory; nor, when a man's individual happiness
is concerned, can you induce him to believe in the truth of general
propositions which, being carried out in his own person as one of the
units, would make his very existence hateful to him.'

Mr. Million opens his eyes even wider than before; such language from
the lips of the ragged man before him is indeed astonishing.

'What more have you to say? he gasps. 'You will want property equally
divided----'

'No, sir, indeed,' interrupts Saul Fielding, daring to feel indignant,
even in the presence of so rich a man, at the suggestion. 'The man who
makes honestly for himself is entitled to possess and enjoy. I am no
socialist.'

'You would, at all events,' pursues Mr. Million, 'feed the working
man with a silver spoon?--You would open the places of amusement for
him on the Sabbath?'

'I would open some places and shut others.'

'What places, now?'

'The museums, the public galleries. I would give him every chance--he
has a right to it--to elevate himself during the only leisure he has.'

'And in this way,' demands Mr. Million severely, 'you would desecrate
the Sabbath!'

For the life of him Saul Fielding cannot help saying,

'A greater desecration than even that can be in your eyes takes place
on the Sabbath in places that are open in the name of the law.'

'You refer to----'

'Public-houses. If they are allowed to be open, what reasonable
argument can be brought against the opening of places the good
influence of which is universally acknowledged? It is the withholding
of these just privileges that causes much discontent and ill-feeling.'

This is quite enough for Mr. Million. This man, ragged, penniless,
has the effrontery to tell the rich brewer to his face that he would
have the public picture-galleries and museums of art opened on the
Sabbath-day, and that he would shut the public-houses. Mr. Million can
find no words to express his indignation. He can only say, stiffly and
coldly,

'I have heard quite enough of your opinions, sir. Come to the point of
your visit. You see'--pointing to the papers scattered about the
table--'that I am very busy.'

'I came, sir,' he says sadly, 'in the hope that, seeing my distress,
you would not have been disinclined to assist me--not with money,
sir,' he adds swiftly, in answer to an impatient look of dissent from
Mr. Million, 'but with your good word. But I am afraid that I have
injured my cause by the expression of my opinions.'

'In what way did you expect that I could aid you?' asks Mr. Million
carelessly, as he settles himself to his papers.

'I have been especially unfortunate in my career, sir. As I told you,
I am willing to work, but am unable to obtain it. If I could emigrate;
if I could get into a new country, where labour is scarce, things
might be better for me.'

The poor man is helpless at the rich man's foot; and the rich man
plays with him, as a cat with a mouse.

'Well,' he says, 'emigrate. The country would be well rid of such as
you.'

Saul Fielding takes no notice of the insult. He is not to be turned
aside from his purpose, although he knows full well that he has missed
his mark.

'I have no means, sir; I am poor and helpless.'

'How do you propose to effect your object, then?'

'There are Government emigrant ships which take men out, I have heard,
for very little--for nothing almost. A line of recommendation from you
would be sufficiently powerful, I thought, to obtain me a passage.'

'Doubtless, doubtless,' this with a smile; 'but you are a man of some
perception, and having observed how utterly I disagree with your
opinions--which I consider abominable and mischievous to the last
degree--you can hardly expect me to give you the recommendation you
ask for. May I ask, as you are a perfect stranger to me, for I have no
recollection of you in any way, to what I am indebted for the honour
you have done me by choosing me to give you a good character?'

'You are a public man, sir, and I have heard a friend to the working
man. And as you had helped a friend of mine to emigrate by giving him
a free passage in a ship that sails this week----'

'Stop, stop, if you please. _I_ help a friend of yours to emigrate by
giving him a free passage! I think you are mistaken.'

'If you say so, sir, I must be. But this is what George Naldret gave
me to understand.'

'And pray who is George Naldret?' demands Mr. Million haughtily; 'and
what are his reasons for emigrating?'

'George Naldret,' returns Saul Fielding, in perplexity, 'is almost the
only friend I have in the world, and he is emigrating for the purpose
of putting himself into a position to marry more quickly than his
prospects here will allow him.'

'As you are introducing me,' says Mr. Million, with an air of supreme
indifference, 'to your friends, perhaps you would like also to
introduce me to the young lady--for of course' (with a sneer) 'she is
a young lady--he desires to marry.'

'Her name is Sparrow--Bessie Sparrow, granddaughter to an old grocer.'

Mr. Million becomes suddenly interested, and pushes his papers aside
with an exclamation of anger.

'What name did you say?'

'Miss Bessie Sparrow.'

The rich brewer ponders for a moment, evidently in no pleasant mood.
Then suddenly rings a bell. A servant appears.

'Is my son in the house?'

'Yes, sir.'

'Tell him to come to me instantly.'

Saul Fielding waits gravely. Seemingly, he also has found new food for
contemplation. Presently young Mr. Million appears.

'You sent for me, sir.'

'Yes, James. Do you know this person?' with a slight wave of the hand
in the direction of Saul Fielding, as towards a thing of no
consequence. Saul Fielding knows that his mission has failed, but does
not resent this contemptuous reference to him. He stands, humble and
watchful, before father and son.

'I have seen him,' says young Mr. Million, 'and I should say he is not
a desirable person in this house.'

'My opinion exactly. Yet, influenced by some cock-and-a-bull story, he
comes here soliciting my assistance to enable him to emigrate. The
country would be well rid of him, I am sure; but of course it is out
of my power to give such a person a good character to the emigration
commissioners.'

'Out of anybody's power, I should say,' assents young Mr. Million
gaily. 'To what cock-and-a-bull story do you refer?'

'He tells me--which is news to me--that I have given a free passage
ticket to a friend of his, George--George--what did you say?'

'George Naldret, sir.' Saul Fielding supplies the name in a manner
perfectly respectful.

'Ay--George Naldret. Such a statement is in itself, of course, a
falsehood. Even if I knew George Naldret, which I do not, and desired
to assist him, which I do not, the fact of his being engaged to be
married to any one of the name of Sparrow--a name which means disgrace
in our firm, as you are aware-would be sufficient for me not to do
so.'

Young Mr. Million steals a look at Saul Fielding, whose face, however,
is a mask; and in a hesitating voice says: 'I think I can explain the
matter; but it is not necessary for this person to remain. You do not
know, perhaps, that he was the chief mover in a strike a few years
ago, which threatened to do much mischief.'

'I am not surprised to hear it,' says the rich brewer; 'the opinions
he has expressed have prepared me for some such statement concerning
him. He would desecrate the Sabbath-day by opening museums and
picture-galleries, and he would curtail the liberty of the subject by
closing public-houses, and depriving the working man of his beer!
Monstrous! monstrous! He has nothing to say for himself, I suppose.'

'No, sir,' answers Saul Fielding, raising his head, and looking
steadily at young Mr. Million, 'except that I believed in the truth of
what I told you, and that I don't know whether I am sorry or glad that
I made the application to you.'

The rich brewer has already touched the bell, and the servant comes
into the room.

'Show this person to the door,' Mr. Million says haughtily; 'and if he
comes again, send for a policeman. He is a dangerous character.'

Saul Fielding's lips wreathe disdainfully, but he walks out of the
room, and out of the house, without a word of remonstrance. This
chance has slipped from him. Where next shall he turn? He walks slowly
onwards until he is clear of the rich brewer's house, and then stops,
casting uncertain looks about him. As a sense of his utter
helplessness comes upon him, a young woman brushes past him without
seeing him. He looks up. Bessie Sparrow! She is walking quickly, and
seems to see nothing, seems to wish to see nothing. Without any
distinct purpose in his mind, but impelled by an uncontrollable
undefinable impulse, Saul Fielding turns and follows her. A gasp of
pain escapes him as he sees her pause before Mr. Million's house. She
rings the bell, and the door is opened. She hands the servant a
letter, and the next moment she is in the house, shut from Saul
Fielding's view. The terror that comes upon him is so great that the
street and the sky swim before his eyes, and he clings to a lamp-post
for support.

'O, George!' he groans. 'O, my friend! How will you bear this? Good
God! what bitterness there is in life even for those who have not
fallen as I have done!'



                           TOTTIE'S DREAM.


When Tottie was put to bed, it was no wonder that she was haunted by
the sweet effigy of old Ben Sparrow, and that his stomach of candied
lemon-peel and his head of rich figs and currants presented themselves
to her in the most tempting shapes and forms her warm imagination
could devise. As she lay in bed, looking at the rushlight in the
washhand basin, the effigy appeared bit by bit in front of the basin
until it was complete, and when it winked one of its currant eyes at
her--as it actually did--the light of the candle threw a halo of glory
over the form. Her eyes wandering to the mantelshelf, she saw the
effigy come out of the wall and stand in the middle of the shelf; and
turning to the table, it rose from beneath it, and sat comfortably
down; with its legs of cinnamon and raisins tucked under it like a
tailor. When she closed her eyes she saw it loom in the centre of
dilating rainbow circles, and in the centre of dark-coloured discs,
which as they swelled to larger proportions assumed bright borderings
of colour, for the express purpose of setting off more vividly the
attraction of the figure. Opening her eyes drowsily, she saw the old
man come down the chimney and vanish in the grate, and as he
disappeared, down the chimney he came again, and continued thus to
repeat himself as it were, as if he were a regiment under full
marching orders. Whichever way, indeed, Tottie's eyes turned, she saw
him, until the room was full of him and his sweetness, and with his
multiplied image in her mind she fell asleep.

No wonder that she dreamt of him. Tottie and Bessie slept in the same
room, and Tottie dreamt that long after she fell asleep--it must have
been long after, for Bessie was in bed--she woke up suddenly. There
she was, lying in bed, wide awake, in the middle of the night. The
room was dark, and she could not see anything, but she could hear
Bessie's soft breathing. She was not frightened, as she usually was in
the dark, for her attention was completely engrossed by one feeling. A
frightful craving was upon her, which every moment grew stronger and
stronger. This craving had something horrible in it, which, however,
she did not quite realise. In the next room slept old Ben Sparrow,
who, according to the fancy of her dream, was not made of blood, and
flesh, and bone, but of lemon-peel, fig, and currants and raisins. All
the sweet things in the shop had been employed in the manufacture, and
there they lay embodied in him.

Tottie knew nothing of theology; knew nothing of the value of her
soul, which, without a moment's hesitation, she would have bartered
for figs and candied lemon-peel. And there the delicious things lay,
in the very next room. If she could only get there!--perhaps he would
not miss an arm or a leg. But to eat the old man who was so kind to
her! She had a dim consciousness of the wickedness of the wish, but
she could not rid herself of it. Thought Tottie, 'He won't know if
he's asleep, and perhaps it won't hurt him. I know it would do me
good.' Her mouth watered, her eyes glistened, her fingers twitched to
be at him, her stomach cried out to her. She could _not_ withstand the
temptation. Slowly and tremblingly she crept out of bed, and groped
along the ground towards the door. Bessie was asleep. Everybody was
asleep. The house was very quiet. Everything favoured the
accomplishment of the horrible deed. 'Nobody will know,' thought
Tottie. Thoroughly engrossed in her desperate cannibalistic purpose,
and with her teeth grating against each other, Tottie turned the
handle of the door and opened it; but as she looked into the dark
passage Ben Sparrow's door opened, and a sudden flood of light poured
upon her. It so dazzled her, and terrified her, that she fled back to
her bed on all-fours, and scrambled upon it, with a beating heart and
a face as white as a ghost's.

[Illustration]


Sitting there glaring at the door, which she had left partly open in
her flight, she saw the light steal into the room, and flying in the
midst of it, old Ben Sparrow. He was not quite as large as life, but
he was ever so many times more sweet and delicious-looking. As old Ben
Sparrow appeared, the room became as light as day, and Tottie noticed
how rich and luscious were the gigantic fig which formed his head, the
candied lemon-peel which formed his stomach, the raisins which clothed
his legs and arms; and as for the ripeness of his dark, beady, fruity
eyes, there was no form of thought that could truly express the
temptation that lay in them. Ben Sparrow hovered in the air for a few
moments, and then steadied himself, as it were: he stood bolt upright,
and, treading upon nothing; advanced slowly and solemnly, putting out
one leg carefully, and setting it down firmly upon nothing before he
could make up his mind to move the other. In this manner he approached
Tottie, and sat down on her bed. For a little while Tottie was too
frightened to speak. She held her breath, and waited with closed lips
for him to say something. But as grandfather did not move or speak,
her courage gradually returned, and with it, her craving for some of
him. She became hungrier than the most unfortunate church-mouse that
ever breathed; her rapacious longing could only be satisfied in one
way. Timorously she reached out her hand towards his face; he did not
stir. Towards his eyes; he did not wink. Her finger touched his eye;
it did not quiver--and out it came, and was in her hand! Her heart
throbbed with fearful ecstasy, as with averted head she put the
terrible morsel in her mouth. It was delicious. She chewed it and
swallowed it with infinite relish, and, when it was gone, thirsted for
its fellow. She looked timidly at the old man. There was a queer
expression in his fig face, which the loss of one of his eyes had
doubtless imparted to it. 'It doesn't seem to hurt him,' thought
Tottie. Her eager fingers were soon close to the remaining eye, and
out that came, and was disposed of in like manner. Tottie certainly
never knew how good Ben Sparrow was until the present time. She had
always loved him, but never so much as now. The eyeless face had a
mournful expression upon it, and seemed to say sadly, 'Hadn't you
better take me next?' Tottie clutched it desperately. It wagged at
her, and from its mace lips a murmur seemed to issue, 'O, Tottie!
Tottie! To serve me like so this!' But Tottie was ravenous. No fear of
consequences could stop her now that she had tasted him, and found how
sweet he was. She shut her eyes nevertheless, as, in the execution of
her murderous purpose, she tugged at his head, which, when she had
torn from his body, she ate bit by bit with a rare and fearful
enjoyment. When she looked again at the headless figure of the old
man, one of the legs moved briskly and held itself out to her with an
air of 'Me next!' in the action. But Tottie, hungering for the
lemon-peel stomach, disregarded the invitation. It was difficult to
get the stomach off, it was so tightly fixed to its legs. When she
succeeded, the arms came with it, and she broke them off short at the
shoulder blade, and thought she heard a groan as she performed the
cruel operation. But her heart was hardened, and she continued her
feast without remorse. How delicious it was! She was a long time
disposing of it, for it was very large, but at length it was all
eaten, and not a piece of candied sugar was left. As she sucked her
fingers with the delight of a savage, a sense of the wickedness of
what she had done came upon her. Her grandfather, who had always been
so kind to her! She began to tremble and to cry. But the arms and legs
remained. They _must_ be eaten. Something dreadful would be done to
her if they were discovered in her bed; so with feverish haste she
devoured the limbs. And now, not a trace of the old man remained.
She had devoured him from head to foot She would never see him
again--never, never! How dreadful the table looked, with him _not_ on
it! How Tottie wished she hadn't done it! She was appalled at the
contemplation of her guilt, and by the thought of how she would be
punished if she were found out. In the midst of these fears the light
in the room vanished, and oblivion fell upon Tottie in the darkness
that followed.



             I CAN SEE YOU NOW, KISSING HER LITTLE TOES.


The next day, being George's last day at home, was a day of sorrow to
all the humble persons interested in his career. He, was to start for
Liverpool by an early train on the following morning, and was to pass
his last evening at Ben Sparrow's, with the old man and Bessie and
Tottie and his mother and father. He had decided to bid Bessie
good-bye in her grandfather's house. Bessie was for sitting up all
night, but he said gently,

'I think, Bessie, that mother would like to have me all to herself the
last hour or two. You know what mothers are! By and by, heart's
treasure! you will have the first claim on me; but now mother looks
upon me as all her own, and it will comfort her heart, dear soul! to
let it be as I say.'

There were tears in George's eyes as he looked down upon the face of
his darling, and his heart almost fainted within him at the thought of
parting from her. And, 'Do you love me, Bess?' he asked, for the
thousandth time.

'With all my heart and soul,' replied Bessie, pressing him in her
arms. And so, with his head bowed down to hers, they remained in
silent communion for many minutes. They were sitting in Ben Sparrow's
parlour, and the old man had left the young people by themselves,
finding occupation in his shop, in the contemplation of his effigy,
and in weighing up quarters of a pound of sugar. There was a woful
look in Ben Sparrow's face as he stood behind his counter; times were
hard with him, and his till was empty.

'Bess, darling,' said George, waking up from his dream. She raised her
tearful eyes to his. He kissed them. 'As I kiss away your tears now,
my dear, so I will try to take sorrow and trouble from you when we
commence our new life.'

'I know it, George; I know it,' she said, and cried the more.

'But that is not what I was going to say. I was going to say this.
Listen to me, dearest: If it were not for you, I shouldn't go; if it
were not for you, I should stay at home, and be content. For I love
home, I love the dear old land, I love mother and father, and the old
black cat, and the little house I was born in. And it's because of you
that I am tearing myself from these dear things. I am going to earn
money enough to make a home for you and me; to make you more quickly
all my own, all my own! How my heart will yearn for you, dear, when I
am over the seas! But it will not be for long; I will work and save,
and come back soon, and then, my darling, then!----' The tenderness of
his tone, and the tenderness there was in the silence that followed,
were a fitter and more expressive conclusion to the sentence than
words could have made. 'I shall say when I am in the ship, I am
here for Bessie's sake. When I am among strangers, I shall think of
you, and think, if I endure any hardship, that I endure it for my
darling--and that will soften it, and make it sweet; it will, my dear!
I shall not be able to sleep very much, Bess, and that will give me
all the more hours to work--for you, my darling, for you! See here,
heart's treasure; here is the purse you worked for me, round my neck.
It shall never leave me--it rests upon my heart. The pretty little
beads! How I love them! I shall kiss every piece of gold I put in it,
and shall think I am kissing you, as I do now, dear, dearest, best! I
shall live in the future. The time will soon pass, and as the ship
comes back, with me in it, and with my Bessie's purse filled with
chairs and tables and pots and pans, I shall see my little girl
waiting for me, thinking of me, longing to have me in her arms as I
long to have her in mine. And then, when I _do_ come, and you start
up from your chair as I open the door!----Think of that moment,
Bess--think of it!'

'O, George, George, you make me happy!'

And in such tender words they passed the next hour together, until
George tore himself away to look after some tools, which he was to
take with him to coin chairs and tables and pots and pans with. But if
he did not wish his tools to rust, it behoved him not to bring them
too close to his eyes, for his eyelashes were dewy with tears.

Now, late as it was in the day for such common folk as ours, Tottie
had not yet made her appearance downstairs. The first in the morning
to get up in the house was old Ben Sparrow, and while he was taking
down his shutters, and sweeping his shop and setting it in order,
Bessie rose and dressed, and prepared the breakfast. Then, when
breakfast was nearly ready, Bessie would go upstairs to dress and wash
Tottie; but on this particular morning, on going to the little girl's
bedside, Tottie cried and sobbed and shammed headache, and as Tottie
was not usually a lie-abed, Bessie thought it would do the child good
to let her rest. And besides being as cunning as the rest of her sex,
Bessie was the more inclined to humour Tottie's whim, because she knew
that George would be sure to drop in early; and if Tottie were out of
the way, she and her lover could have the parlour all to themselves.
George being gone, however, there was no longer any reason for Tottie
keeping her bed; so Bessie washed and dressed the child, and was
surprised, when taking her hand to lead her downstairs, to see Tottie
shrink back and sob and cry that she didn't want to go.

'Come, be a good child, Tottie,' said Bessuel 'grandfather's
downstairs, and he wants to play with you.'

At this Tottie sobbed and sobbed, and shook her head vehemently. She
knew very well that it was impossible for Ben Sparrow to be
downstairs, for had she not eaten him in the night, every bone of him?
She was morally convinced that there was not a bit of him left.
Grandfather play with her! He would never play with her any more; she
had done for him! Her fears were so great that she fancied she could
feel him stirring inside of her. But although she was rebellious, she
was weak, and so, shutting her eyes tight, she went into the parlour
with Bessie. Then she ran tremblingly into a corner, and stood with
her face to the wall, and her pinafore over her head; and there
Bessie, having more pressing cares upon her just then, left her. When
Tottie, therefore, heard the old man's voice calling to her, she
sobbed, 'No, I never! No, I never!' and was ready to sink through the
floor in her fright; and when the old man lifted her in his arms to
kiss her, it was a long time before she could muster sufficient
courage to open her eyes and feel his face and his arms and his legs,
to satisfy herself that he was really real. And even after that, as if
she could not believe the evidence of her senses, she crept towards
him at intervals, and touched him and pinched his legs, to make
assurance doubly sure.

Ben Sparrow found it hard work to be playful to-day, and Tottie had
most of her time to herself. If the anxiety depicted on his face were
any criterion, his special cares and sorrows must have been of an
overwhelming nature. In the afternoon young Mr. Million came in,
spruce and dandified, and handsome as usual. The young gentleman was
not an unfrequent visitor at the little grocer's shop, and would often
pop in and chat for an hour with Ben Sparrow; he would sit down in the
back parlour in the most affable manner, and chat and laugh as if they
were equals. Bessie was not at home when he came this afternoon, and
he seemed a little disappointed; but he stopped and chatted for all
that, and when he went away, the old grocer brightened, and his face
looked as if a load were lifted from his heart. His brighter mood met
with no response from Bessie, when she came in shortly afterwards.
Some new trouble seemed to have come on her since the morning--some
new grief to which she hardly dared give expression. She had been
stabbed by a few presumably chance and careless words spoken by a
neighbour--need it be told that this neighbour was a woman? No weapon
can be keener than a woman's tongue, when she chooses to use it to
stab. The woman who had uttered the words was young--a year older than
Bessie--and it was known at one time that she was setting her cap at
Bessie's sweetheart. But she had met with no encouragement from
George, who, being wrapt heart and soul in Bessie, had no eyes for
other women. George often nodded a laughing assent to a favourite
saying of his mother's, that 'One woman was enough for any man; more
than enough, sometimes,' Mrs. Naldret would occasionally add. The stab
which Bessie received shall be given in the few words that conveyed
it.

'So George goes away to-morrow morning,' was the woman's remark to
Bessie as she was hurrying home with heavy heart.

'Yes,' sighed Bessie; 'to-morrow morning.'

'Ah,' said the woman, 'he'll be nicely cut up at leaving. I daresay
he'd give a good deal, if he could take some one with him.'

'I am sure he would,' said Bessie, thinking that by 'some one' herself
was meant.

'O, I don't mean you,' said the woman, seeing the interpretation that
Bessie put upon her words.

'Who do you mean, then?' asked Bessie, looking up quickly.

The woman laughed and shrugged her shoulders.

'Well!' she exclaimed. 'Some girls _are_ blind! Thank goodness, the
best man in the world couldn't blind me so!'

'What do you mean?' demanded Bessie, in an agitated tone, all the
blood deserting her face. 'What have you to say against George?'

The woman laughed again.

'You've no cause to be jealous, Bessie,' she said, 'it's only a child.
But I _do_ think, if I was George's sweetheart'--Bessie's lip curled,
and this little expression made the woman's tone more venomous--'I
_do_ think,' she added with scornful emphasis, 'that if I was George's
sweetheart--O, you needn't curl your lip, Bessie!--I should ask
him--who--Tottie's--father--was! A woman isn't worth that'--with a
snap of her finger--'if she hasn't got a spirit.'

And George's discarded left Bessie white and trembling, with this
wound in her heart.

Bessie looked after the woman, dazed for a few moments by the
accusation conveyed in the words; then she became suddenly indignant,
and the blood rushed back to her face and neck; it dyed her bosom, and
she knew it and felt it, and felt the stab there also. Then she
hurried home.

Ben Sparrow did not notice her agitation at first; he was too much
rejoiced at the lifting of a heavy weight from him. In the morning
ruin had stared him in the face; a small creditor had come down
upon him; had given him twenty-four hours to pay an account which,
trifling as it was, he was not possessed of. But young Mr. Million had
been to see him and had saved him. He would be able to pay this hard
creditor--I am ashamed to say for how trifling an amount--in the
morning, and he was exultant 'I am only too glad,' this young
gentleman had said, 'to have the opportunity of rendering a service to
Bessie's grandfather.' When he departed, old Ben Sparrow actually
danced in his parlour in thankfulness for the danger escaped.

'Bessie,' cried Ben Sparrow as his granddaughter entered, 'young Mr.
Million has been here.'

Bessie nodded, scarcely heeding the words.

'He's a gentleman,' continued Ben Sparrow, 'every inch of him; to
forget the past, as he does.'

'What past, grandfather?' asked Bessie. 'Forget what?'

'O, nothing--nothing, my dear,' exclaimed Ben hurriedly, and coughing
as if something had come up or gone down the wrong way. 'What I say
is, he's a gentleman, every inch of him.'

'You said that before, grandfather.'

'Did I? yes, of course. But I'm an old man, Bessie, and you must make
allowances. We can't be all bright and fresh, and always happy as my
dear child is.'

Bessie kissed Ben Sparrow's neck, and laid her head oh his shoulder.
'Always happy, grandfather! Am I always happy?'

'Of course you are, dear child, and it's natural and right and proper.
Sorry and grieved, of course, because our sweetheart's going away--but
he'll be back soon, never fear. And we'll talk of him every day and
every night, my dear, and the time'll fly away'--he blew a light
breath--'like that! Ah, my dear! it's only the old that knows how
quickly time flies!'

Bessie said nothing, but pressed closer to the old shield that had
sheltered her from babyhood to womanhood.

'And now see,' said the old shield, 'what young Mr. Million brought
for you. And you're to wear them at once, he said, and I say so too,
and I promised him you would, for he's coming here tonight, and is
going to do me such a kindness as only the kindest heart in the world
could do.'

Ben Sparrow took from his pocket a little box, and opened it, and
produced therefrom a piece of tissue-paper, and from the tissue-paper
a pair of pretty turquoise earrings set in gold. Bessie scarcely
looked at them, and allowed Ben to take from her ears the pair of old
ear-rings she had worn for ever so many years, and replace them with
Mr. Million's pretty present.

'You look, Bessie,' said old Ben, falling back and contemplating her,
'you look like a Princess! and it's my opinion, my dear, that you are
every bit as good as one.'

He held a piece of looking-glass before her, and desired her to look
at herself. To please him she said they _were_ very pretty, and then
said, suddenly coming to what was uppermost in her mind, 'Grandfather,
I want you to tell me about Tottie.'

'About Tottie, my dear!' exclaimed Ben Sparrow wonderingly.

'Yes,' replied Bessie, sitting down, 'about Tottie. All I know is that
you came and asked me once if I would mind if you brought a little
friendless girl home to live with us, and if I would take care of
her.'

'And you said Yes, gladly, for it would be company for us, and would
make the place pleasant. And I'm sure neither you nor me have ever
repented it. If Tottie was our own flesh and blood we couldn't be
fonder of her. I shouldn't know what to do without her now I've got so
used to her. I'll tell you the story by and by, my dear, when George
has gone----'

'No,' interrupted Bessie, so impetuously as to cause old Ben to jump;
'now! I want to know now. Ah, dear grandfather! you have always been
so good to me that I can't help being a tyrant.'

'You a tyrant!' cried Ben, appealing with raised hands to the walls
and the furniture to join him in the repudiation of the astonishing
statement. 'That's a good one, that is. Well, my dear, as you want to
know at once, and as you're such a tyrant--ha, ha! I can't help
laughing, my dear--here goes. It's now three years gone, Bess--before
George and you began to keep company, my dear--that George comes and
tells me a story of a poor little thing that had been thrown helpless
upon the world. "Such a pretty little thing!" says George, "and not a
friend but me to look after her! I wish I knew some one," says George,
"who would take care of the dear; I'm sure I could never be grateful
enough to them." Then I asked how old the child was, and whether she
did not have relations. "Yes," said George, "she had two, but they had
no home and were altogether in too bad a position to take care of the
little one." Then I thought of you, my dear, and thought it would be
company for my Bessie and for me, and that if we grew to love the
child, there would be nothing to repent of. I told George this, and
George confessed that he had the same thing in his mind too, and that
was the reason why he spoke to me about it--hoping that I would say
what I had said. And so, to cut a long story short, one night a woman
came to the door with little Tottie in her arms, and kissed the child
a many times, and George brought Tottie in. I didn't see the woman's
face, but I fancied that she was crying. I have often wished since
that I had seen her face, the poor creature seemed in such distress.
You remember, Bessie, when you came home an hour afterwards, and found
me sitting before the fire with Tottie in my lap, warming her little
toes, how you fell in love with her directly, and how happy she made
us, and how this very parlour was, because Tottie was with us, really
made a great deal more cheerfuller than ever it had been before! You
remember the wonderful dimples that came into her face when she
looked at us, and broke out a-smiling, as much as to say, 'How d'you
do, old Ben and young Bess? I'm very glad to see you!' Why, it was as
good as a play! I can see you now kissing her little toes, and can see
her crowing and laughing when you kissed her neck--so fat, and so full
of creases! and I can see her clenching her little fist and
flourishing it in the air as much as to say, "In this fist I've got a
hundred-pound note, and all the world and his wife sha'n't take it
from me!" Dear, dear! the child _has_ been a comfort to us, and it was
a bright day when she came into the house, the poor little thing! Then
George says, "You're not to be expected to keep Tottie for nothing,
Mr. Sparrow; and here's three shillings a week, and when she gets a
big girl perhaps we'll be able to spare more." And he's paid the three
shillings a week regular, and has brought little things for her now
and then, such as a frock, you know, or a flannel petticoat, or a
little pair of shoes. And that's the whole of the story, Bess.'

Bessie had listened very attentively to the narration of Tottie's
history, and now said, after a pause, with a strange hesitation in her
voice,

'Grandfather, did George never tell you--who--Tottie's--father--was?

'No, my dear. I remember once it coming up between us somehow, but
George turned it off, and said it didn't matter to Tottie, who seemed
as happy as the day was long--and so she was, and is, my dear.'

At that moment 'Shop!' was called, and Ben Sparrow hurried in to
attend to his customer, and the subject dropped.



         ONE KISS FOR HOPE, ONE FOR FAITH, AND ONE FOR LOVE.


Tea was over and cleared away in the little back parlour, and Bessie
and old Ben Sparrow sat looking sadly into the fire. Tottie was also
present in her high chair, but there was nothing of sadness in her
thoughts. She was enjoying, in anticipation, what was spread upon the
table; for after the fashion of humble folk, preparations had been
made for 'a party' on this last evening which George was to spend with
them. There was a bottle of 'sherry wine' on the table, and another of
port, which old Ben had bought at a large grocer's shop over
Westminster-bridge, at a cost, for the two bottles, of two shillings
and fourpence; and that the wine was of an old and rich vintage, was
proved by the mildew and sawdust which clung to the bottles. There
were six wine-glasses of different shapes and patterns; and there was
a plate of almonds and raisins, and another of figs, and some small
seed-cakes, and four oranges cut in quarters; so that, altogether, the
table presented quite a festive appearance. There was nothing festive,
however, in the countenances of Bessie and her grandfather; their
faces were as sad as their thoughts. It was but natural. And yet they
would have been loth to have confessed to each other the exact tenor
of their contemplations.


[Illustration]


A bustle in the shop caused Ben Sparrow to jump from his chair.

'That's Mr. and Mrs. Naldret,' he said, and opened the parlour-door
and gave them welcome.

'Well, Bessie,' said Mrs. Naldret, and 'Well, my girl,' said Jim
Naldret, and they both kissed her, and shook hands with old Ben, who
bustled about doing nothing, while Bessie assisted Mrs. Naldret to
take off her bonnet and things. Mrs. Naldret had with one glance taken
in the preparations for the party, and approved of them.

'What a pretty pair of earrings!' exclaimed Mrs. Naldret, admiring the
turquoise trifles in Bessie's pink ears, and, 'Well, George is a sly
one!' said Jim Naldret, pinching the pretty ears.

'George didn't give them to her,' said Ben Sparrow, rubbing his hands;
'no, nor me either. I'm not rich enough; though if I could afford it,
Bessie should have had such a pair long ago, and a gold chain and a
watch as well.'

'She's pretty enough to have them,' said Jim Naldret.

'And good enough,' added Ben. 'Well, I _am_ glad to see you! But I
wish it was to welcome George back instead of wishing him good-bye.
Eh, Bess?'

'Yes, grandfather,' replied Bessie, with a heavy sigh.

Mrs. Naldret said nothing; she was thinking who had given Bessie the
turquoise ear-rings; she knew they could not have cost less than four
pounds at least.

'There's George,' said Jim Naldret, as the shop-door opened.

Bessie turned eagerly to the door, but Ben Sparrow stepped before her
and said in a hurried agitated tone,

'I should like to have a few quiet words with George, my dear; I
sha'n't have another opportunity. Mrs. Naldret won't mind.'

That worthy woman nodded, and Ben Sparrow, going into the shop,
stopped George's entrance into the parlour.

'Don't go in for a minute,' said Ben; 'I want to speak to you.'

'All right, grandfather; but I must have a kiss of Bessie first.
Bessie!'

The girl ran into the shop at his call, and nestled in his arms for a
moment.

'There! there!' exclaimed old Ben, taking Bessie's hand gently and
kindly. 'Go inside, Bess, my dear. That's all George wanted with you.
We'll be in presently.'

Bessie went into the parlour, and George's heart was like a nest from
which the dearly-loved bird had flown. That little embrace, with
Bessie, warm and soft and tender in his arms, contained such exquisite
happiness as to be painful.

'I'll not keep you two minutes,' said Ben Sparrow; 'come to the door,
so that we may not be heard.'

They went to the shop-door, and into the street, which they paced
slowly as they conversed.

'As I was sitting inside by the fire, just now, George,' resumed Ben,
'there came into my mind something which I think I ought to speak of
before you go away. It brought back old-time memories, too. You see,
my dear boy, I am an old man, and there's no telling what may happen.
It is a comfort to me that Bessie will have a good man for a
husband--for I believe you to be good, and--and a man, George!'

'Indeed, Mr. Sparrow, I will do my best. It will be my happiness to
make her happy.'

'I believe it will be, George, and that's why I'm glad she will be
yours. I have nothing to give her, George, nothing. I am so poor that
I don't know which way to turn sometimes to pay little pay little
bills.'

'I want nothing with her, Mr. Sparrow. I want no better fortune than
Bessie herself.' He was overflowing with love for his dear girl.

'She's good enough to be a Princess,' said Ben proudly, 'good enough
to be a Queen.'

'She's my Princess and my Queen,' replied George; 'and she's a good
girl and will be a good wife, and that's better than all.'

'That it is--that it is. But don't interrupt me, George. I thought
once I should be better off than I am, but something went wrong with
me, and I lost all my little savings. Since then, I have been going
down, till sometimes I think I can't go down any lower.' Old Ben
Sparrow paused here, and before he resumed closed his eyes, and put
his hand over them, as if with his inner sense of sight he were
looking into the past. 'George, I am going to speak of Bessie's
father--and my son; it is only right that I should, for you may meet
him.'

'Meet him, Mr. Sparrow!'

'Yes,' replied the old man in a quiet tone, 'I daresay you have heard
that he ran away, years ago, in disgrace. Bessie was quite a little
thing then, and I don't think any one has been so unkind as to speak
of it to her. To tell you the truth, George, she believed years ago
that her father was dead, and it is best that she should not be told
different. And he may be dead, George, for all I know. He was employed
as one of old Mr. Million's collectors, and he used money that didn't
belong to him. He used my money, too, and put my name to papers
without my knowing; so that when he ran away, to prevent something
worse happening, I had to pay, which brought me down, and kept me
down, George. This is a solemn secret between us, George, and must
never again be spoken of.'

'I understand, sir.'

'But I thought it right that you should know before you go away. It
don't alter your opinion of Bessie, does it, George? does it, my boy?'

'Alter my opinion of Bessie!' exclaimed George warmly. 'It gives her a
greater claim on me. I love her more for it, dear girl, knowing how
unhappy it would cause her to know this. Of course, it must be kept
from her!'

'Dear boy, God bless you! God bless you, dear boy!' cried old Ben
Sparrow, with the tears running down his face. 'And, George--when you
make a little money, and come home with it to make Bessie happy, be
contented. Don't go striving after riches, as my son did, and forgot
the meaning of honesty and the happiness there is in contentment. From
the time he ran away, I have never had a line from him. But I heard
that he was seen in Australia, and if he is alive, you may meet him,
for there are not many people there. Strange things _do_ happen,
George! You may meet him, and know him. I daresay he has grown
something like me, but taller and more gentlemanly. Ah, that was his
ruin, wanting to be a gentleman! Well, if you do meet him, George,'
and the old man took George's hand and pressed it hard, and twined his
fingers with George's nervously; 'if you do, give him--my--my love,
George--my dear love--and tell him to write to me, and that his old
father forgives him, George--that he forgives him! And tell him about
you and Bessie, and how beautiful Bessie has grown, and how she's fit
to be a Princess'----Old Ben broke down here, and George put his arm
round the old man's neck, and patted him on the back, and said, 'Yes,
yes, Mr. Sparrow, I understand, I understand. I'll do all that you
wish and in the way that you wish. And now that I know, I'll look out
for him. What part of Australia do you think he's in?'

'I don't know, George; but Australia can't be very large. I've done
right to tell you, George, haven't I?'

'Yes, quite right.'

With that, they went into the house, and joined the party in the
parlour. It was not a very merry one, and the conversation chiefly
consisted of tender reminiscences and hopeful anticipation. George
tried to be gay, but broke down, and if it had not been for old Ben
Sparrow chirruping out a line of 'Cheer, boys, cheer, there's wealth
for honest labour,' now and then, it would have been difficult to keep
matters going. But a diversion was occasioned in the course of the
evening by the arrival of young Mr. Million, who came in to shake
hands with George, he said, and to wish him good-bye. George was
sitting in the corner, with Tottie on his knee; the child was in a
state of repletion, having feasted her full on the pleasures of the
table, and was curled up in George's arms, feeling very sleepy.
Bessie, sitting next to George (he had a spare arm for her waist,
Tottie notwithstanding), cast strangely disturbed glances at her lover
and the child, and her heart was bleeding from the wound inflicted
upon it by what she had heard that afternoon. Every time George
stooped and kissed Tottie, Bessie's wound opened, and she was almost
distracted with doubt and grief and love. Young Mr. Million was very
sunny and bright--a sunbeam lighting up the sad clouds. He gave just a
glance at the earrings in Bessie's ears, and Bessie blushed as she
rose to allow George to shake hands with him. No one saw the glance
but Mrs. Naldret, and she looked gravely at Bessie. Young Mr. Million
was profuse in his good wishes for George; he wished the young man all
sorts of luck, and hoped he would soon be back. Every one was
gratified at the heartiness with which young Mr. Million expressed his
good wishes--every one but Mrs. Naldret; but then nothing seemed to
please her to-night.

'I must drink your health, George,' said the young brewer.

Ben Sparrow asked him with a grand air whether he would take sherry
wine or port, and he chose sherry, and said that Miss Sparrow should
fill his glass for him. Bessie filled his glass and handed it to him
with a bright flame in her cheeks; her hand shook, too, and a few
drops of the wine were spilt upon the table, which young Mr. Million
said gaily was a good omen.

'And here's good luck to you, George, and a prosperous voyage,' he
said, and shook hands with George and wished him good-bye, and shook
hands also with all in the room. Old Ben Sparrow looked at him very
anxiously, and when the young prince with a quietly significant glance
at the old man, proposed that Miss Sparrow should open the shop-door
for him, Ben said, 'Yes, yes, certainly, sir,' and almost pushed
Bessie into the shop. Now what made Mrs. Naldret open the
parlour-door, and seat herself so that she could see the shop-door? It
may have been done unconsciously, but certain it is that, seeing
something pass between young Mr. Million and Bessie as they shook
hands at the shop-door, she gave a sudden cry, as if overtaken by a
spasm. Bessie ran in at the cry, and then Mrs. Naldret saw in one
quick flash, what no one else saw (for Bessie slipped it into her
pocket), a letter in Bessie's hand! The matron said it was nothing,
merely a stitch in her side; and turned from the maid to her son,
around whose neck she threw her arms, and kissed him again and again.

'Why, mother!' exclaimed George, for Mrs. Naldret was beginning to sob
convulsively. 'Come, bear up, there's a dear soul! or we shall all be
as bad as you!'

Mrs. Naldret repressed her sobs, and pressed him closer to her
faithful breast, and whispered,

'Ah, George, there are a many women in the world for you, but there's
only one mother!'

He whispered back to her, 'There's only one woman in the world for me,
and that's my darling Bessie; and there is only one other who is as
good as she is, and that's the mother I hold in my arms.'

And all she could reply to this was, 'O, George, George! O, my dear,
dear boy!' with a world of love and pity in her voice.

And so the sad evening passed away, until George said, Hadn't father
and mother better go home? He would soon be with them. They knew that
he wanted to say good-bye to Bessie, who sat pale and tearful, with
her hand in his; and they rose to go, saying he would find them up
when he came home.

'I know that, dear mother and father,' he said, and went with them to
the door, and kissed them, and came back with the tears running down
his face.

'I'll tell you what, George,' whispered old Ben Sparrow in George's
ear. 'You shall say good-bye to Tottie and me, and we'll go to bed;
and then you'll have Bessie all to yourself. But don't keep too long,
my dear boy, don't keep too long.'

Tottie had been fast asleep for more than an hour, and George took her
in his arms without waking her.

'Good-bye, Tottie,' he said; 'good-bye, little one!' He kissed her
many times, and the child, stirred by his caresses, raised her pretty
little hand to his face. He kissed her fingers, and then resigned her
to old Ben, who, with his burden in his arms, grasped George's hand
tight, and bade him good-bye and God speed.

'And don't forget, George,' he said, with a secret look towards
Bessie.

'No, Mr. Sparrow,' George replied, 'I'll bear in mind what you told
me.'

'God bless you, then, and speed you back!'

With this the old man ascended the stairs, with Tottie in his arms,
turning over his shoulder to give George a parting look, and humming
'Cheer, boys, cheer!' softly, to keep up the spirit of the lovers.

They had listened with a kind of strained attention to the old man's
voice, and when it was hushed, and silence fell upon them, George
turned to Bessie, and in an instant she was in his arms, lying on his
breast. A long silence followed. George heard Bessie's heart beat
plainer than the tick of the old-fashioned clock, which stood like a
ghost in a corner of the room. Not another sound could be heard but
the ticking of the old clock and the beating of their hearts. As
Bessie lay in her lover's arms, she thought whether it would be
generous in her to question him about Tottie. The very asking of the
question would imply a doubt. A voice whispered to her, 'Trust him;
perfect love means perfect confidence.' But the woman's words were
present to her also; and George was paying for the child. She would
not admit the thought of anything dishonourable in George; but the
sting of the doubt was in her. Would it not be better for her to ask a
simple question, which George could easily answer, than to be
tormented with doubt during the long months he would be away from her?
Would it not be simple justice to Tottie? for if she were not
satisfied, she might grow to hate the child. And Bessie really loved
the pretty little forsaken one. The maternal instinct was in her, like
the seedling of a flower in the ground, waiting for the summer-time to
ripen it into the perfect beauty of motherly love. She loved children.

And here, a word. Whether out of place or not, it must be written.
Trust not that woman who has no love for little ones. She is unworthy
of love.

How long the lovers remained silent they did not know. But the time
flew all too swiftly, for the solemn tongue of Westminster proclaimed
the hour. Each clang was like a knell. It was midnight.

Midnight! What solemn reflections arise at such a moment, if the mind
be attuned to them! If the world were spread before us like a map,
what varied emotion and feeling, what unworthy striving, what
unmerited suffering, what new lives born to pain, what old lives dying
out in it, what thoughts dark and bright, what flowers of tender love,
what weeds of ruthless circumstance, what souls born in the mire and
kept there, what hope, what remorse, what sounds of woe and pleasant
fountain-voices with sparkles in them, what angel-lights and divine
touches of compassion, would, in the brief space occupied by the
striking of the hour, there be displayed! And so that bell may toll,
night after night, for generation after generation, until a time shall
come--say in a hundred years--when every human pulse that at this
moment beats throughout the world, when every heart that thrills and
thirsts, when every vainful mortal that struts and boasts and makes
grand schemes for self's exaltment, shall lie dead in earth and sea!
Such thoughts should make us humble.

The bell awoke the lovers from their dream, and they spoke in low
tones of the future and the hopes that lay in it for them.

'When I come back with a little bit of money, my darling,' said
George, 'I shall be content to settle down to my trade, and we shall
jog along as happy as can be. We couldn't settle down without pots and
pans, and these I am going away to earn. I can see our little home,
with you sitting by the fireside, or waiting at the door for me to
give me a kiss when my day's work is done. Then I shall come round to
mother's old way, with her bread-and-cheese and kisses. That will be
good enough for me, my darling, with you to give me the kisses.'

And he gave and took an earnest of them there and then.

So they talked of one thing and another until One o'clock was tolled
by the Westminster bell, and during all that time Bessie had not found
courage to speak of what was in her mind. George had noticed the
ear-rings in Bessie's ears, but had not spoken of them, thinking that
Bessie would have drawn his attention to them. But Bessie's wound was
too fresh; the pain and bewilderment of it were all engrossing. She
had no thought for anything else.

'And now I must go, my darling,' said George, as they stood by the
shop-door; 'for mother and father are waiting for me.' He took her
face between his hands and kissed her lips. 'One kiss for hope; one
for faith; and one for love.'

Bessie raised her face again to his, and whispered as she kissed,

'And one for confidence.'

'And one for confidence,' he repeated, as heartily as his sadness
would allow.

'There should be no secrets between us, George dear.'

'Certainly there should not be, darling,' he replied, 'though you've
been keeping one from me all the night, you puss!'

'I, George!'

'Yes, you, dearest. You have never told me who gave you those pretty
ear-rings.'

Upon such slight threads often do our dearest hopes hang! Bessie,
yielding to the weak impulse, to play off confidence for confidence,
said,

'Never mind those, George. I want to ask you something first.'

At this moment the sound of music came to them, and the waits
commenced to play the dear old air of 'Home, sweet home.'

'That's Saul's doing,' thought George. 'Good fellow! What will become
of him during the time I am away?' As he and Bessie stood linked in a
close embrace, the soft strains floated through the air into their
hearts.

'There shall be no secrets between us, George, in our own home, sweet
home!'

'None, darling.'

'And you'll not be angry with me for saying something?'

'What can my dear girl say to make me angry? and at such a time!'

'Then tell me, George--about Tottie.'

'The dear little thing! What about her, dearest?'

'George, is she an orphan?'

How long seemed the interval before he replied! Tick--tick--tick--went
the clock, so slowly! O, so slowly, now!

'No, Bessie.'

How strangely his voice sounded! But he held her closer to him, and
she had no power to free herself from his embrace. Indeed, she would
have fallen had he loosed her.

'Do not be angry with me, George,' she whispered, slowly and
painfully. 'She has a father living?'

Another long, long pause, and then, 'Yes,' from George, in the same
strange tone.

'Tell me his name, George.'

He held her from him suddenly, and with his hands upon her shoulders,
looked her steadily in the face. But her eyes drooped in the light of
his earnest gaze.

'I cannot, Bessie,' he said; 'I must not. When we are married I will
tell you all. There shall be no secrets between us in our home, sweet
home. Till then, be satisfied.'

Softer came the dear old air to Bessie's ears. But the tenderer
meaning in it was gone for her. She turned from her lover petulantly.

'I did not think you would refuse me this, George.'

Wiser, stronger, than she, he said,

'Do not let this trivial matter come between us, my dear;' and would
have taken her to his heart again, but she did not meet him as before.
'This trivial matter!' Was he so lost to honour and to love for her?
Something of her mind he saw in her face, and it made his blood hot.
'Good God,' he thought, 'is it possible she suspects me?' Then he
strove to soothe her, but she would not be soothed. She said but
little now; but her face was white with misery; doubt tore at the
wound in her heart. She knew the pain she was inflicting upon him by
the pain she felt herself. But she could not yield; she could not say,
'I know you are true to me. I will be satisfied, and will wait.' So
his efforts were vain, and two o'clock struck, and their agony was not
over. The tolling of the bell, however, brought to him the picture of
his father and mother waiting up at home for him. 'I _must_ go,' he
said hurriedly. 'Good-bye, dear Bessie, and God bless you! Trust to
me, and believe that no girl ever had more faithful lover.'

In spite of her coldness, he pressed her close to his breast, and
whispered assurances of his love and faithfulness. Then tore himself
away, and left her almost fainting in the shop, love and doubt
fighting a sickening battle in her heart.



       YOU ALONE, AND MY MOTHER, ARE TRUE; ALL THE REST OF THE
                           WORLD IS FALSE.


The night was very cold, and George felt the keen wind a relief. He
took off his hat, and looked around. The street was still and quiet;
the last strains of 'Home, sweet home,' had been played, and the
players had departed. All but one, and he waited at the end of the
street for George to come up to him.

'What, Saul!'

'George!'


[Illustration]


They clasped hands.

'I am glad you are here, Saul. I should not have liked to go without
wishing you good-bye.'

'I waited for you, George. I knew you were in there. Mother and father
sitting up for you, I suppose?'

'Yes. In a few hours I shall go from here; then I shall be alone!'

'As I am, George.'

'Nay, Saul, you have Jane.'

'She has left me, dear woman. I may never see her face again. It is
for my good, George, that she has done this. You do not know how low
we have sunk. George,' and here his voice fell to a whisper, 'at times
we have been almost starving! It could not go on like this, and she
has left me, and taken service somewhere in the country. She has done
right. As I suffer, as I stretch out my arms in vain for her, as I
look round the walls of my garret and am desolate in the light of my
misery, I feel and confess she has done right. Here is her letter.
Come to the lamp; there is light enough to read it by.'

George read the letter, and returned it to Saul, saying, 'Yes, she is
right. What do you intend to do?'

'God knows. To try if I can see any way. But all is dark before me
now, George.'

'I wish I could help you, Saul.'

'I know, I know. You are my only friend. If it ever be in my power to
repay you for what you have done----' He dashed the tears from his
eyes, and stood silent for a few moments, holding George's hand in
his. 'George,' he said, in unsteady tones, 'in times gone by you and I
have had many good conversations; we passed happy hours together.
Words that have passed between us are in my mind now.'

'In mine too, Saul.'

'We had once,' continued Saul in the same strange unsteady tones, 'a
conversation on friendship. I remember it well, and the night on which
it took place. We walked up and down Westminster-bridge, and stopped
now and then, gazing at the lights on the water. There is something
grand and solemn in that sight, George; I do not know why, but it
always brings to my mind a dim idea of death and immortality. The
lights stretch out and out, smaller and smaller, until not a glimmer
can be seen; darkness succeeds them as death does life. But the lights
are there, George, although our vision is too limited to see them. You
remember that conversation, George?'

'As if it had taken place this night, Saul. I can see the lights, and
the darkness that follows them.'

'We agreed then upon the quality of friendship, but gave utterance to
many generalities.' Saul paused awhile, and then said slowly, 'I am
considering, George, whether I rightly understand the duties that lie
in friendship.'

'Faithfulness, trustfulness.'

'Yes, those; and other things as well. Say that you had a friend, and
had learnt something, had seen something, of which he is ignorant, and
which he should know; say it is something that you would keep from
your friend if you were false instead of true to him----'

'I should be a traitor to friendship,' interrupted George warmly, 'if
I kept it from him. If I were truly his friend, I should seek him out
and say what I had learnt, what I had seen.'

'Even if it contained pain, George; even if it would hurt him to
know?'

'Even if it contained pain; even if it would hurt him to know. There
is often pain in friendship; there is often pain in love. You have
felt this, Saul, yourself. I have too, dear friend! Often into life's
sweetness and tenderness pain creeps, and we do not know how it got
there.'

George uttered this in a gentle tone; he was thinking of Bessie.
'Come, friend,' he said, seeing that Saul hesitated to speak, 'you
have something to tell your friend. If you are true to him, tell it.'

Thus urged, Saul said: 'First answer me this. When did you first think
of emigrating?'

'I did not think of it at all, before it was put in my head.'

'By whom?'

'By young Mr. Million. One night, not very long ago now, he met me,
and got into conversation with me. Trade had been a little slack, and
I had had a few idle days. This made me fret, for I saw that if things
went on in the same way it might be years before I could save enough
to buy furniture to make a home for Bessie. I let this out in
conversation with young Mr. Million, and he sympathised with me, and
said it was a shame, but that if he were in my place he would put
himself in a position to marry his sweetheart in less than a year.
How? I asked. By emigrating, he said. It staggered me, as you may
guess, Saul. The idea of going away had never entered my head. He went
on to say that his father took a great interest in working men, and
was very interested also in emigration; that only that morning his
father had mentioned my name and had said that he had a passage ticket
for the very ship that is going out of the Mersey to-morrow, Saul--and
that if I had a mind to better myself, he would give the ticket to me.
I thanked him, and told him I would think of it. Well, I _did_ think
of it, and I read about wages over the water, and saw that I could do
what he said. He gave me the ticket, and that's how it came about.'

'George,' said Saul pityingly, for things that were at present dark to
George seemed clear to him, 'Mr. Million never heard your name until
this morning.'

'Stop!' exclaimed George, passing his hand over his eyes with a
bewildered air. 'Speak slowly. I don't know that I understand you. Say
that again.'

Saul repeated: 'Mr. Million never heard your name until this morning.
I went to his house, thinking that as he had helped you, he might help
me; and he scoffed at me, and taunted me bitterly. He had no more to
do with getting your ticket than I had. Every word young Mr. Million
told you about the passage and about his father was false.'

'Good God!' cried George. 'What could be his motive, then, in telling
me these things, and in obtaining this passage ticket for me?'

'Think, George,' said Saul; 'there is such a thing as false kindness.
He _may_ have a motive in wishing you away. I could say more, but I
cannot bring my tongue to utter it.'

'You must, Saul, you must!' cried George, in a voice that rang through
the street. They had walked as they conversed, and they were now
standing outside his mother's house. 'You must! By the friendship I
have borne for you! By the memory of what I have done for you!' The
door of his house was opened as he spoke. His mother had heard his
voice, and the agony in it, and came to the door. George saw her
standing there, looking anxiously towards him, and he said in a voice
thick with pain, 'Stay here until I come out. By the love you bear to
Jane, stop until I come. My mother will know--she is far-seeing, and I
may have been blind.'

He hurried to his mother, and went into the house with her. For full
half an hour Saul waited in suspense, and at the end of that time
George came out of the house, staggering like a drunken man. Saul
caught him, and held him up. His face was as the face of death; a
strong agony dwelt in it.

'I have heard something,' he said, in a tone that trembled with
passion and pain and weakness. 'My mother has doubted for a long time
past. She took a letter from him secretly to-night! Those earrings she
wore he gave her. O, my God! Tell me, you, what more you know! By the
memory of all you hold dear, tell me!'

'George, my dear,' said Saul, in a broken voice, 'a few moments after
I quitted Mr. Million's house, I saw her enter it.'

A long, long silence followed. The stars and the moon shone brightly,
but there was no light in the heavens for George. A sob broke from
him, and another, and another.

'For God's sake,' exclaimed Saul, 'for your mother's sake, who suffers
now a grief as keen as yours, bear up! Dear friend, if I could lay
down my life for you, I would!'

'I know it. You alone, and my mother, are true; all the rest of the
world is false! He wished to get rid of me, did he, and this was a
trap! The false lying dog! But when I meet him!---- See here! Here is
the ticket he gave me. If I had him before me now, I would do to him
as I do to this----'

He crumpled the paper in his hand, and tore it fiercely in twain. Saul
caught his arm, and stayed its destruction.

'No, no, George!' he cried, but his cry was like a whisper. 'Don't
destroy it! Give it, O, give it to me! Remember the letter that Jane
wrote to me. Think of the future that is open to me, to her, unless I
can see a way. The way is here! Here is my salvation! Let me go
instead of you!' He fell upon his knee's and raised his hands
tremblingly, as if the Death-Angel were before him, and he was not
prepared. 'If I live, I will repay you, so help me, the Great God!'

George muttered, 'Take it. For me it is useless. May it bring you the
happiness that I have lost!'

Saul kissed his friend's hand, which fell from his grasp. When he
looked up, his friend was gone. And the light in the heavens that
George could not see, shone on the face of the kneeling man.



                               PART II.



    THEY SAW, UPON ONE OF THE NEAREST PEAKS, A MAN STANDING, WITH
                    SUNSET COLOURS ALL AROUND HIM.


We are in the land of a thousand hills. Height is piled upon height,
range upon range. The white crests of the mountains cut sharp lines in
the clear cold air, and the few trees that are dotted about stand like
sentinels on the watch. On one of the far heights, some trees,
standing in a line, look like soldiers that have halted for rest; and
the clumps of bush that lie in the valleys and on the sides of the
hills are like wearied regiments sleeping.

In dear old England the roses are blooming, and the sun is shining;
but here it is night, and snow-shadows rest on the mountains and
gullies. Among the seemingly interminable ranges, ice-peaks glitter
like diamond eyes. Round about us where we stand there is but little
wood growth; but in the far distance, beyond the eye's reach, are
forests of trees, from the branches of which garlands of icicles hang
fantastically; and down in the depths the beautiful fern-leaves are
rimmed with frosted snow. We are in the new world.

Creation might have been but yesterday. Even these white canvas tents,
lying in the lap of Night, in the centre of the forest of peaks, do
not dispel the illusion. They are clustered in the saddle of a gully
almost hidden from sight by jealous upland. But look within, and you
will see that the old world is marching on to the new. Sturdy men,
asleep upon canvas beds, are resting from their toil. Some are from
old Devon, England's garden land; some from the Cornwall mines; some
from the motherland's fevered cities. Rest, tired workers! Sleep for a
little while, strong, brown-bearded men! Over your spirits, as you
dream and sometimes smile, it may be that the eternal light of a new
childhood is slowly breaking!

Hark! What cry is this that reaches the ear? Come nearer. A baby's
voice! And now we can hear the soft voice of the mother, singing her
child to sleep with an old familiar nursery rhyme. Dear words! Dear
memories! Sweet thread of life! When it snaps, the world is dark, and
its tenderness and beauty have departed from our souls. The mother's
soft voice is like a rill dancing down a hill in the sun's eye. How
sweet it sounds!

What brings these men, women, and children here among the wilds? For
answer, take--briefly told--what is not a legend, but veritable
new-world history.

Two men, adventurers from the old world, attracted thence by the news
of gold discoveries, travelled into new country in search of an
eldorado which they could keep to themselves until their fortunes were
made. They travelled over mountain and plain, and searched here and
searched there, for weeks and months without success, until, almost
starving and penniless, they found themselves on the banks of a
swiftly-flowing river. This river, here wide, here narrow, here
confined between rocky precipices, here widening on the plains,
presented strange contrasts during the year. In the winter, the
mountain snows which fed it came tumbling furiously over the rocks;
then its waters rushed madly through the defiles and overflowed the
plains. In the summer, peace came to it; the warm sun made it drowsy,
and it fell asleep. It curled itself up in its bed, as it were, and
left its banks bare and dry. The snow-torrents from the mountains
brought with them something rarer than snow--gold. The precious metal
grew in the mountain rocks, and when the furious water tore it from
its home, and carried it to the river, it sank into the river's bed
and banks, and enriched every fissure and crevice in its stony bottom.
When the two adventurers camped by the river's side it was summer, and
the banks were dry. They tried for gold, and found it. In a few hours
they unearthed twenty ounces, and they looked at each other with wild
eyes. Not a soul was within many miles of them; only the birds and the
insects knew their secret. But they could not work without food. Some
twenty miles from the scene of their discovery was a sheep-farming
station. Thither they walked in the night, so that they might not be
observed, and slept during the day. Pleading poverty, they bought at
the station a little meat and flour, and walked in the daylight away
from the river. But when night fell, they warily retraced their steps,
and crept through the dark like thieves, until they came to the
precious banks. For weeks and months they worked in secret, and lived
like misers, never daring to light a fire, for fear the smoke might be
seen; the very wind was their enemy. Their flesh wasted, their faces
became haggard, their hair grew tangled and matted, they became
hollow-eyed; and when, after many months of suffering, they had
amassed as much pure gold as they could carry, they walked painfully
and wearily through bush and plain for a hundred and sixty miles,
until they came to a city with a few thousand inhabitants, where,
skeletons among men, they told their story, and for the first time
showed their treasure. Delirium seized the city; men became almost
frantic with excitement; and the next day half the inhabitants were
making preparations to journey to Tom Tiddler's ground. Surely enough
the river's banks proved a veritable gold-mine; and after a time fresh
discoveries were made. Came there one day a man, almost dead, from the
snow mountains, with lumps of gold in his pockets; but the perils of
those regions were great, and men thought twice before they ventured.
Life, after all, is more precious than gold. Some adventurers went
forth: and never returned to tell their story. Then it was said they
were killed by starvation, not by the perils of the weather; or
because they had no guns, and tents, and blankets with them. Said
some, 'Let us take food sufficient for months, and whatever else is
necessary.' They took more; they took wives, those who had them.
Believe me, woman was worth more than her weight in gold. So in the
summer they went into Campbell's Ranges, and pitched their tents
there. And those they left behind them, wrapt in their eager hunt for
gold, forgot them for a time. The town nearest to the Ranges was many
miles away; it was composed of a couple of score of tents and huts,
and perhaps two hundred persons lived there. Wandered into it, looking
about him strangely, wistfully--for old-world's ways were upon him,
and old-world thoughts were stirring in his mind--a man, tall,
blue-eyed, strong; No man is long a stranger in the new world, and
this wayfarer talked to one and another, and heard from a butcher the
story of the two adventurers working on the river's banks until they
were worn to skin and bone.

'But they got gold!' exclaimed the new-comer.

'Almost more than they could carry,' was the answer.

The man looked about him restlessly; the eager longing of his soul was
for gold, but in him it was no base craving.

'If one could get into the mountains now,' he said, 'where the gold
comes from!'

Said the butcher: 'Some went, and didn't come back.'

'They lie over there?' said the man, looking towards the hills.

'Ay,' replied the butcher, 'them's Campbell's Ranges, There's a party
prospecting there now, I've heard. They'll get gold, sure; but it
requires courage.'

'Courage!' exclaimed the man, not scornfully and arrogantly, but
sweetly and gently. 'Who dares not, deserves not. And when a great
thing is at stake!---- Thank you, mate. Good-day!'

And then he walked in the direction of Campbell's Ranges, stopping to
buy a little flour on his way. He could not afford much; his means
were very small.


The rough diggers often spoke among themselves of the manner of his
first coming to them. They were working in the gullies, which were
rich with gold; some were burrowing at the bottom of their mines, some
were standing by the windlasses, hauling up the precious dirt. They
had been working so from sunrise, and their hearts were light; for the
future was as glowing as the bright colours of the sun were when they
turned out to work--as glowing as the beautiful colours in the sky
were now. It was sunset. The gold-diggers standing in the sun's light,
with strong chests partly bared, with strong arms wholly so, were
working with a will. Now and then snatches of song burst from their
lips, now and then jests and good-humoured words were flung from one
to the other. The women were busy outside their tents, lighting fires
to prepare for supper; three or four children were playing with a goat
and a dog; a cat--yes, a cat!--stepped cautiously out of a tent, and
gazed solemnly about. And all around them and above them were the
grand hills and mountains, stretching for miles on every side. It was
a wonderful life amidst wonderful scenes. Close contact with the
grandeur of nature and with its sublime influences humanised many of
the rough men, and melted them to awe and tenderness. The hills were
full of echoes; when the thunder came the titanic hollows sent the
news forth and brought it back again: it was like God's voice speaking
with eternal majesty. As the diggers looked up from their work, they
saw, upon one of the nearest peaks, a man standing, with sunset
colours all around him.



    MORE PRECIOUS THAN GOLD, PURER THAN DIAMONDS, ARE THESE SWEET
                          AND DELICATE WAYS.


Their first thought was, 'Is he alone? Are there more behind him?' for
they were jealous of being overwhelmed by numbers. He looked down upon
the busy workers, and with slow and painful steps came across the
hills, and down the valley towards them. Pale, patient-looking,
footsore, ragged, and with deep lines on his face, he stood in the
midst of them, a stranger among the hills.

'Are these Campbell's Ranges?' he asked humbly.

'Yes, mate.'

The man who answered him had just emptied a bucket of fresh-dug earth
on to a little hillock by the side of his mine. The stranger saw
specks of gold among it. There was no envy in the look that came into
his eyes. It was like a prayer.

'Where do you come from?' asked the gold-digger.

The stranger mentioned the name of the town.

'Did you come in search of us?'

'I heard that there was a party of men working in Campbell's Ranges,
and that there was plenty of gold here; so I came.'

'By yourself?'

'By myself. I know no one. I have been but a short time in the
colony.'

'You have no tent?'

'I had no money to buy one.' He murmured these words in so soft a tone
that the gold-digger did not hear them.

'No blankets?'

'For the same reason.'

Again he murmured the reply, so that the questioner did not know his
destitute condition.

'No pick or shovel?'

The stranger shook his head sadly, and was turning away, when the
gold-digger said:

'Well, mate, the place is open to all; but we want to keep ourselves
as quiet as possible.'

'I shall tell no one.'


[Illustration]


He turned from the worker, and sat himself upon the ground at a short
distance from the human hive, out of hearing. The gold-diggers spoke
to one another, and looked at him, but made no advance towards him.
The women also raised their heads and cast many a curious glance at
the stranger, who sat apart from them. He, on his part, sent many a
wistful glance in their direction, and watched the fires and the
children playing. Behind the hills sank the sun, and night drained the
fiery peaks of every drop of blood. Before the hills grew white, the
gold-diggers left off work, and contrary to their usual custom, took
their buckets and tools to their tents, and took the ropes from their
windlasses. There was a stranger near them.

'He seems decent,' said the women.

'You can never tell,' replied the men, shaking their heads in doubt.

Now and then they came from their tents to see if the stranger were
still there. He had not moved. It was from no want of humanity that
they did not call to him, and offer him food and a shelter. How did
they know that he did not belong to a party of bushrangers, whose
object was plunder? They let off their firearms and reloaded them.
But if they had known this man's heart and mind; if they had known
that he was penniless, friendless, that his feet were sore, and that
he had not tasted food since yesternight; if they had known the
trouble of his soul, and the dim hope which kept up his heart and his
strength--they would have played the part of good Samaritans without a
moment's hesitation. The darker shadows came down upon the valleys,
and wrapt the man and his misery from their gaze and comprehension.
They could see the faint outline of his form: nothing more. What were
his thoughts during this time? 'They suspect me; it is natural. If I
can keep my strength, I may find gold tomorrow, and then they will
sell me food perhaps. If not----there are women among them. I may be
able to touch their hearts.' He gazed around and above him--at the
solemn hills, at the solemn sky, and thought, 'For myself I should be
content to die here, and now. But for her--for her! Give me strength,
great God--sustain me!' He knelt, and buried his face in his hands;
and when the moon rose, as it did soon after, it shone upon his form.
A woman, standing at the door of her tent, was the first to see him in
his attitude of supplication. She hurried in to her husband, who was
nursing a little daughter on his knee.

'David,' she said, 'that man is praying. There can be no harm in him,
and he has no shelter. He may be in want of food.'

'Poor man!' said the little daughter.

The father lifted her gently from his knee, and went out without a
word. The touch of a hand upon his shoulder roused the stranger, and
he looked into David's face.

'What are you doing?' asked David.

'Praying.'

'For what?'

'For strength, for comfort I need both. Turn your face from me! I am
breaking down!'

A great sob came from the stranger's heart. David, with averted face,
stood steady and silent for full five minutes. Then placed his hand
upon the stranger's shoulder, and spoke:

'Come with me. I can give you a shelter to-night. My wife sent me to
you.'

'God bless her!'

'Amen. Come, mate.'

The stranger rose, and they walked together to the tent, where the
woman and child awaited them. The stranger took off his cap--it was in
tatters--and looked at the woman and her child, and stooped and kissed
the little girl, who put her hand on his face, and said pityingly:

'Poor man! Are you hungry?'

'Yes, my child.'

That the man and the woman should turn their backs suddenly upon him
and make a perfectly unnecessary clatter, and become unnecessarily
busy, touched the stranger's sensitive heart, and the unspoken words
were in his mind, 'God be thanked! There is much good in the world.'

More precious than gold, purer than diamonds, are these sweet and
delicate ways.

'Now, David,' cried the woman briskly, 'supper's ready.'

And David and his wife, notwithstanding that they had made their meal
an hour ago, sat down with the stranger, and ate and drank with him.
When supper was over, David said:

'We'll not talk to-night; you must be tired. You slept out last night,
I suppose?'

'Yes.'

'And without a blanket, I'll bet!'

'Yes.'

'A good night's rest will do you good.'

Upon this hint his wife brought some blankets, and gave them to the
stranger. She and her husband and child slept in the back part of the
small tent, the wall of division being strips of green baize. Before
turning in, David said:

'You had best have a look round you in the morning; I can lend you a
pick and shovel. My name's David.'

'Mine is Saul Fielding.'


                          *   *   *   *   *


By his patience and gentleness he soon made his way to the hearts of
the residents in this small colony. First, the children loved him; the
liking of the mothers followed naturally; and within a month every man
there was his friend. Love is not hard to win. Try, you who doubt.
Try, with gentleness and kindness, and with charitable heart.


                          *   *   *   *   *


It is full three months after Saul' Fielding's introduction to the
small settlement in Campbell's Ranges. Of human beings there are fifty
souls, all told. Four women--wives--seven children, and thirty-nine
men. Of other living creatures there are at least a dozen dogs--(what
is your gold-field without its dogs?)--three goats, wise, as all goats
are, in their generation, a large number of poultry (some of them in
the shell), and a cat. The shade of Whittington would rejoice if it
knew that this cat cost an ounce of gold--and a pinch over.

It is June and winter, and the snow-season is in its meridian. The
workers are snow-bound; the heights all around them are more than
man-deep in snow. But they have no fear. They have made wise
preparations for the coming of the enemy, and up to the present time
they have escaped hurt. They have wood and provisions to last them for
full six months. That they are cut off from the world for a time
daunts them not. Their courage is of the Spartan kind. They have been
successful far beyond their expectations, and nearly every man there
is worth his hundred ounces of gold. Some have more, a few less. Saul
has eighty ounces, and he keeps it next to his heart, sewn in his blue
serge shirt David's wife reproved him once for carrying the weight
about.

'It is nearly seven pounds weight, Saul Fielding,' she said; 'it must
weigh you down.'

'Weigh me down, David's wife! he replied, with a sweet look in his
eyes. 'It is a feather's weight. It bears me up! It is not mine; it
belongs to the dearest woman in the world. The little bag that
contains it contains my salvation!'

David and Saul were mates; they dug and shared, and he lived with the
father, mother, and child. The man he called David, the woman David's
wife, the child David's daughter. He said to David's wife one day:

'When I go home and join my dear woman, she and I every night of our
lives will call down a blessing for David and David's wife, and
David's daughter.'

He often said things to David's wife that brought tears to her eyes.

'We shall go home, too,' said David's wife, 'and we shall see her.'

'Please God,' returned Saul, and whispered, 'Come, happy time!'

How tender his heart grew during this time! How he blessed God for His
goodness! What beauty he saw in every evidence of the great Creator!
He made the rough men better, and often in the evening they would
gather round him while he read to them, and talked with them. The
Sabbath-day, from the time he came among them, was never passed
without prayer. And so they had gone on during the summer and the
autumn, digging and getting gold, singing songs to the hills while
they dug and delved; the men had built stronger huts for the women and
children, in anticipation of the winter, and they all lived happily
together. Then the snow began to fall. It came light at first, and
dropped softly to the ground round about the huts of the small
community, as if it were bringing to them a message of love from the
clear bright sky. They laughed when they saw it, for it warmed their
hearts with visions of the dear old land over the seas. It brought
back to them memories of their schoolboy days. 'After the snow,' they
said, 'the primroses;' and in their fancy they saw the old country's
sweet flower: The children played with it, and pelted each other with
snow-balls, and the men joined in the sport. The goats scampered up
the hills in mad delight, and sent snow-sprays in the air with their
hoofs. The women looked on lovingly, and the little gully was filled
with pleasant mirth; and the echoes laughed after them. At night they
clustered round their fires, and raised up pictures for the future.
They talked of their gold, not greedily, but gratefully; they blessed
the land which gave them its treasures willingly; and in their dreams
they dreamed of dear old England and of the dear faces at home--the
dear old faces which would smile upon them again by and by, please
God! And while they dreamt, and while their hearts were light, and
while within them reigned the peace which came from pleasant thought,
the soft snow fell and fell. Day after day passed, week after week,
and still it fell. After many weeks had thus passed, Saul woke in
terror one night. He did not know what, had occasioned the fear that
was upon him. Was it caused by a dream? He could remember none. He
felt as if a spirit's voice had spoken to him. He rose and listened.
He heard nothing. Everything around was wrapt in peace and silence.
Softly he dressed himself, so as not to disturb the sleepers, and went
out of the tent. The snow was falling fast. How white and pure were
the hills! In the far distance they and the sky seemed one. He took a
pole, and feeling his way carefully, walked across the near hills,
ankle deep, knee deep, waist deep, breast deep. And yet he had not
walked far, not five hundred yards. The terror that was upon him now
assumed a tangible shape. He was in a snow prison! Nature held him
fast; had built up barriers between him and Jane. Was it destined that
he should never get away from these snow-bound hills? Suppose the snow
continued to fall for weeks and months! 'Jane!' he cried. And the
echoes cried 'Jane! Jane!' dying away mournfully. The sound frightened
him, and he called no more. Then his reason came back to him. They
could keep the snow away from their tents; all they had to do was to
shovel it down; all they had to do was to be vigilant. He comforted
himself with this thought, and slowly, painfully, retraced his steps
to his tent, and crept among his blankets again. As he lay, he heard a
moan. How every little sound frightened him! It was but the wind.
But the moan grew louder, grew into a shriek, and rushed past the
tent, and over the hills, like an angry spirit. And it brought the
Snow-Drift with it! But he did not think of that, as he lay shivering.
He did not know the new danger that threatened him. 'God shield you,
dear woman!' he murmured, as he fell into a doze. 'God bring me to
you!'

All night long the wind shrieked and whistled through the tents; the
men, tired out with their exertions, did not wake. But the women did,
and lay and trembled. David's wife awoke.

'David!' she whispered, but he did not hear her.

'What's the matter, mother?' murmured her daughter.

'Nothing, child, nothing. It's only the wind. Hush! we mustn't wake
father. Go to sleep, darling!'

The sun rose late the next morning, and a dim blood-veil was in the
sky, which made some of them think that it was night still. The miners
found the snow round their huts to be three feet deep. They looked
anxious at this.

'We can master the snow,' they whispered to one another, 'but the
snow-drift will master us.'

Even as they spoke, the wind, which had lulled, began to moan again,
and before they had been working an hour shovelling away the snow, the
wind-storm, bringing the snow with it from the heights over which it
rushed, blinded them, and drove them into their tents for shelter.
They could not hold their feet. 'Let us hope it'll not last long,'
they said; and they took advantage of every lull to work against their
enemy, not like men, but like heroes.

'What makes you so downcast, Saul?' asked David; he had not begun to
lose heart.

Saul looked in silence at David's wife and David's daughter; they were
at the far end of the hut.

'You are not frightened, Saul, surely?' said David.

'Not for my self, David,' whispered Saul. 'But tell me. What kind of
love do you bear for your wife and child?' David's look was sufficient
answer. 'I have a perfect love for a woman also, David. If she were
here, as your wife is with you, I could bear it, and so could she.
David, we are beset by a terrible danger. Listen to the wind. I am
afraid we may never get out of this.'

David's lips quivered, but he shook away the fear.

'We mustn't lose heart, Saul, and we must keep this danger from the
wife and little one. There's men's work before us, and we must do
it--like men!'

'Trust me, David,' said Saul; 'my heart beats to the pulse of a
willing hand;' and said no more.

The wind-storm continued all the day with such violence, that it was
impossible for the men to work. As the day advanced, the blood-veil in
the sky died away, and when the night came, the moon's light shone
clear and cruel, bright and pitiless.

Worn out with hard toil and anxiety, Saul Fielding lay down that
night, and tried to sleep. 'I must have strength for to-morrow,' he
thought. The fierce wind had grown faint, and it moaned now among the
hills like a weak child. Saul smiled gladly, and accepted it as a good
omen. He hugged his gold close, and vowed that he would not risk
another season of such danger. 'If I do not get an ounce more,' he
thought, 'I will be content. What I have will be sufficient for the
home and for Jane. Jane, dear Jane!' Her name always came to him like
a prayer, and with 'Jane' on his lips, and 'Jane' in his thoughts, he
fell asleep and dreamt of her. He dreamt that he and the others had
escaped from their snow-prison, and that he was on his way home. Blue
waters were beneath him, bright clouds were above him, a fresh breeze
was behind him, and the ship dipped into the sea and rose from it,
like a light-hearted god. The sailors were singing, and he sang with
them as he lent a hand with the ropes. He looked across the sea and
saw Jane standing on a far-off shore, with glad face turned towards
him. 'I am coming, Jane! he cried, and she smiled, and held out her
arms to him. Nearer and nearer he approached to the haven of his
hopes; nearer and nearer, until, although they were divided by many
miles of water, he could speak to her, and hear her speak. 'See!' he
cried, and held out his bag of gold. As she raised her eyes with
thankfulness to the heavens, David's wife and David's daughter
appeared suddenly by his side. 'Here are the friends who saved me,
Jane,' he cried. 'David is below, asleep, and his wife is here,
knowing your story and mine. She insists upon saying that you are her
sister; she is a good woman. The shame of the past is gone.' As he
said these words, a sudden and terrible wind sprang up; and the dark
clouds, rushing down from the heavens, shut Jane from his sight. In a
moment everything was changed. The ship seemed as if it were being
torn to pieces; the waters rose; and the cries of the sailors were
indistinguishable amidst the roaring of the wind. 'My God!' he heard
David's wife cry, and at that moment he awoke, and rising swiftly to
his feet, saw a candle alight in the tent, and David's wife standing
in her nightdress on his side of the green baize which divided the
tent. Her face was white with terror. 'My God!' she cried again; 'we
are lost!' The storm that had arisen in his dream was no fancy. It was
raging now among the hills furiously.

'Go into your room,' said Saul hurriedly. 'I will be dressed in a
minute.'

In less than that space of time he was up and dressed, and then David
tore the green baize aside.

'Saul,' he said, 'this is terrible!' And stepping to Saul's side,
whispered, 'If this continues long, our grave is here.'

Saul went to the door of the tent, and tried to open it; he could not.
The wind had brought with it thousands and thousands of tons of snow
from the heights, and they were, walled up. Saul felt all round the
sides of the tent. The snow was man-high. Only the frail drill of
which the tent was made kept it from falling in, and burying them. In
an instant Saul comprehended their dread peril.

'The tree!' he cried, as if an inspiration had fallen upon him. 'The
tree!'

Just outside the tent, between it and the tent next to it, stood a
great pine-tree, the only tree among the tents. Many a time had it
been suggested to cut down this tree for firewood, but David had
prevented it. 'Wait,' he had said, 'until we want it; when firewood
runs short, and we can't get it elsewhere, it will be time enough.' So
the tree had been saved from the axe, and stood there like a giant,
defying the storm, Saul piled up the rough seats and the tables which
comprised the furniture of the tent, and climbing to the top of them,
cut a great hole in the roof of the tent. It was daylight above, and
the snow was falling fast Saul saw the noble tree standing fast and
firm in the midst of the storm. With a desperate leap he caught a
branch, and raised himself above the tent. And when he looked upon the
awful scene, upon the cruel white snow in which the tents all around
him were embedded, and nearly buried, his heart throbbed despairingly.

But this was no time for despair. It was the time for action. When he
had secured his position in the tree, he stooped over the tent.

'David!' he cried. David's voice answered him.

'This is our only chance,' he said loudly; he spoke slowly and
distinctly, so that those within the tent might hear him. 'Here we
maybe able to find safety until the storm abates and the snow
subsides. Listen to me, and do exactly as I say. Get some provisions
together and some water; and the little brandy that is left. Make them
up in a bundle. Tie rope and cord round it, and let me have it.
Quickly!'

Before he finished speaking, David's wife was busy attending to his
instructions.

'Answer me, Saul,' cried David. 'What do you see of our mates?'

Saul groaned, 'Do not ask me, David! Let us thank God that this tree
was left standing.'

David climbed on to the table in a few minutes, with the bundle of
provisions in his hands. He was lifting it for Saul to take hold when
the pile upon which he was standing gave way, and he fell heavily to
the ground.

At this moment, a movement in the tent nearest to the tree arrested
Saul's attention. One of the men inside had thought also of the tree,
and had adopted Saul's expedient of cutting through the roof of the
tent. His head now appeared above the rent. He saw Saul, but he was
too far away to reach the tree.

'Give me a hand, mate!' he cried. 'Give me a hand, for God's sake!'

'One moment,' replied Saul, deeply anxious for the fate of David, for
he heard the generous-hearted digger groan, and heard David's wife
sobbing. 'Keep your hold and stand firm for a little while. You are
safe there for a time. There is something here in my own tent I must
see to at once.' Then he called, 'David! David! Are you hurt?'

The voice of David's wife answered him with sobs and cries. 'He can't
move, Saul! He can't move! O, my poor dear David! He has broken his
leg, he says, and his back is hurt. What shall I do? O, what shall I
do?'

But although she asked this question, she--true wife and woman as she
was--was attending to the sufferer, not thinking of herself.

'God pity us!' groaned Saul, and raised his hand to the storm. 'Pity
us! pity us! he cried.

But the pitiless snow fell, and the soft flakes danced in the air.

Then Saul cried, 'David's wife! The child! the child!'

'Let me be, wife,' said David; 'I am easier now. Pile up those seats
again; make them firm. Don't hurry. I can wait I am in no pain. Lift
our little daughter to Saul, and the provisions afterwards.'

She obeyed him; she piled the seats one above another. Then brought
the child to David. He took her in his arms, and kissed her again and
again.'

'My pet! my darling!' he moaned. 'Kiss father, little one!'

And the rough man pressed this link of love to his heart, and kissed
her face, her hands, her neck, her lips.

'Now, wife,' he said, and resigned their child to her. David's wife
stood silent for a few moments with the child in her arms, and
murmured a prayer over her, and blessed her, and then, keeping down
her awful grief bravely like a brave woman, climbed to the height, and
raised her arms to Saul with the child in them. Only her bare arms
could be seen above the tent's roof.

'Come, little one,' said Saul, and stooping down, at the risk of his
life, clutched the child from the mother's arms, and heard the
mother's heart-broken sobs.

'Is she safe, Saul?'

'She is safe, dear woman.'

Other heads rose from other tents and turned despairingly about. But
no help for them was near. They were in their grave.

David's wife raised the provisions to Saul, and went down to her
husband.

'Wife,' said David, 'leave me, and see if you can reach Saul. It will
be difficult, but you may be able to manage it.'


[Illustration]


She looked at him tenderly.

'My place is here, David,' she said; 'I shall stay with you, and trust
to God. Our child is safe, in the care of a good man.'

He tried to persuade her, but she shook her head sweetly and sadly,
and simply said, 'I know my duty.' He could say no more, for the next
moment he swooned, his pain was so great. Then his wife knelt by him,
and raised his head upon her lap.

Meanwhile, the man in the next tent who had called to Saul to give him
a hand had not been idle. He found a plank and was raising it to the
roof, with the purpose of resting it upon a branch of the tree. As
with more than a man's strength he lifted the plank forward, Saul
heard a thud beneath him, and looking down saw that the walls of the
tent in which David and his wife were had given way, and that the snow
was toppling over. He turned his head; he was powerless to help them.
The tears ran down his face and beard, and he waited, awe-struck by
the terror of the time. He thought he heard the voice of David's wife
cry,

'Good-bye, my child! God preserve you!'

In a choking voice, he said solemnly to David's little daughter,

'Say, God bless you, mother and father!'

'The child repeated the words in a whisper, and nestled closer to
Saul, and said,

'I'm so cold! Where's mother and father? Why don't they come up?

Saul, with a shiver, looked down. Nothing of David or of David's wife
did he see. The tent was not in sight. The snow had covered it. And
still it fell, and still it drifted.

The digger who occupied the next tent had fined his plank; not a
moment was to be lost; his tent was cracking. Creeping along the
plank, with the nervous strength of desperation, clinging to it like a
cat, he reached the tree and was saved for a time. As he reached it,
the plank slipped into the snow. And still it fell, and rose higher
and higher. Men signalled to each other from tent to tent, and bade
God bless each other, for they felt that, unless the snowdrift and
snowfall should instantly cease, there was no hope for them. But still
it fell; fell softly into the holes in the canvas roofs and sides,
into the chambers below; crept up to them inch by inch; wrapt yellow
gold and mortal flesh in soft shrouds of white, and hid the
adventurers from the light of day.


Only three remained. Soul, and David's little daughter, in the
uppermost branches of the tree. The digger from the nearest tent
clinging to a lower branch.


This man was known by the name of Edward Beaver; a silent man at best,
and one who could not win confidence readily. His face was covered
with hair fast turning gray. Between him and Saul but little
intercourse had taken place. Saul had not been attracted by Beaver's
manner, although often when he looked at the man, a strange impression
came upon him that he knew the face. Saul spoke to Beaver once, and
asked him where he cane from; but Beaver answered him roughly, and
Saul spoke to him no more. In this dread time, however, Beaver's
tongue was loosened.

'This is awful,' he said, looking up at Saul.

Saul looked down upon the white face which was upturned to his, and
the same strange impression of its being familiar to him stole upon
him like a subtle vapour. An agonising fear was expressed in Beaver's
countenance; he was frightened of death. He was weak, too, having just
come out of a low fever, and it needed all his strength to keep his
footing on the tree.

'Do you think we shall die here?' he asked.

'I see no hope,' replied Saul, pressing David's little daughter to his
breast. The child had fallen to sleep. Saul's soul was too much
troubled for converse, and the morning passed almost in silence. Saul
lowered some food and drink to Beaver. 'I have very little brandy,' he
said; 'but you shall share and share.' And when Beaver begged for
more, he said, 'No, not yet; I must husband it. Remember, I have
another life here in my arms to care for.'

The day advanced, and the storm continued; not a trace of the tents or
of those who lay buried in them could be seen. The cruel white snow
had made a churchyard of the golden gully!

Night fell, and brought darkness with it; and in the darkness Saul
shuddered, with a new and sudden fear, for he felt something creeping
up to him. It was Beaver's voice creeping up the tree, like an awful
shadow.

'Saul Fielding,' it said, 'my time has come. The branches are giving
way, and I am too weak to hold on.'

'God help you, Edward Beaver,' said Saul pityingly.

And David's little daughter murmured in her sleep, 'What's that,
mother?' Saul hushed her by singing in a soft tender voice a nursery
rhyme, and the child smiled in the dark, and her arms tightened round
Saul's neck. It was a good thing for them that they were together; the
warmth of their bodies was a comfort, and in some measure a safeguard
to them.

When Saul's soft singing was over, he heard Beaver sobbing, beneath
him. 'I used to sing that once,' the man sobbed in weak tones, 'to my
little daughter.'

'Where is she now?' asked Saul, thinking of those he loved at home.

'Bessie! Bessie!' cried Beaver faintly. 'Where are you? O my God! if I
could live my life over again!'

Saul thought of George's Bessie as he asked, 'Where do you come from?
What part do you belong to?'

It was a long time before he received an answer, and then the words
crept up to him, faint and low, through the darkness, as though the
speaker's strength were waning fast.

'From London--from Westminster.'

'From Westminster!' echoed Saul, and Beaver's face appeared to his
imagination.

'I must tell you,' gasped the dying man; 'I must tell you before I
die. You may be saved, and you will take my message home.'

'I will, if I am spared,' replied Saul, in a voice which had no hope
in it.

'I have been a bad son and a bad father. My name is not Beaver--it is
Sparrow, and my father, if he is alive, lives in Westminster.'

'Old Ben Sparrow, the grocer!' cried Saul, in amazement 'I know him! I
saw him a few weeks before last Christmas. You are Bessie Sparrow's
father; I thought your face was familiar to me.'

'Bad son! bad father!' muttered the man. 'O my God! the tree is
sinking! the branch is giving way! Tell me, quickly, for mercy's sake.
My daughter--Bessie--she is alive, then? Tell me of her.'

'She was well when I saw her,' replied Saul, with a groan, thinking of
George and his lost hopes. 'She has grown into a beautiful woman.'

'Thank God! If you ever see her again, tell her of me--ask my father
to forgive me. Take the love of a dying man to them. I have gold about
me--it is theirs. Say that I intended to come home, and ask
forgiveness, but it has been denied me. God has punished me! I am
sinking!----'

A cry of agony followed, and the wind took it up, and carried it over
the hills. Then all was hushed, and the erring son and father spoke no
more.

Saul offered up a prayer for Bessie's father, and waited sadly for
_his_ time to come.

As the night waned, the fierce wind grew softer, and sighed and
moaned, repentant of the desolation it had caused. What a long, long
night it was! But at length the morning's light appeared, and then
Saul, looking down, saw that he and David's little daughter were the
only ones left. Stronger grew the light, until day had fairly dawned.
As Saul looked over the white expanse, he felt that there was no hope
for him, and his mind began to wander. Long-forgotten incidents of his
childhood came to him; he saw his father and mother, long since dead;
he saw a brother who had died when he himself was a child; he saw Jane
as she was when he first met her, as she was on that sad night when
she told him of the duty that lay before him; he saw George and the
lights on Westminster-bridge. All these visions rose for him out of
the snow. And fields and flowers came, and he wandered among them hand
in hand with Jane, as they had done on one happy holiday. It did not
seem strange to him that there was no colour in any of these things;
it caused no wonder in his mind that all these loved ones and the
fields and flowers, perfect in form and shape, were colourless, were
white and pure as the snow which stretched around him on every side.
They were dear memories all of them; emblems of purity. And in that
dread time he grew old; every hour was a year. But in the midst of all
the terror of the time he pressed David's little daughter closer and
closer to his breast, and committed their souls to God. So that day
passed, and the night; and the sun rose in splendour. The white hills
blushed, like maidens surprised. With wild eyes and fainting soul,
Saul looked around; suddenly a flush of joy spread over his face. Upon
a distant mount, stood Jane. 'Come!' he cried. And as Jane walked over
the snow hills towards him, he waited and waited until she was close
to him; then sinking in her arms, he fell asleep.



                              PART III.



                 I HAVE COME TO RETURN YOU SOMETHING.


On the afternoon of the day on which the Queen of the South (with
George Naldret in it, as was supposed) sailed out of the Mersey for
the southern seas, young Mr. Million, with a small bouquet of choice
flowers in his hand, made his appearance in the old grocer's shop. Ben
Sparrow, who was sitting behind his counter, jumped up when the young
brewer entered, and rubbed his hands and smirked, and comported
himself in every way as if a superior being had honoured him with his
presence. Young Mr. Million smiled pleasantly, and without the
slightest condescension. The cordiality of his manner was perfect.

'Quite a gentleman,' thought old Ben; 'every inch a gentleman!'

Said young Mr. Million: 'As I was passing your way, I thought I would
drop in to see how you and your granddaughter are.'

'It's very kind and thoughtful of you, sir,' replied old Ben
Sparrow. 'Of course, we're a bit upset at George's going. Everything
is at sixes and sevens, and will be, I daresay, for a few days.
Bessie's inside'--with a jerk of his head in the direction of the
parlour--'she's very sad and low, poor dear.'

'We mustn't let her mope, Mr. Sparrow,' remarked young Mr. Million,
striking up a partnership at once with the old grocer.

'No, sir,' assented Ben; 'we mustn't let her mope; it ain't good for
the young--nor for the old, either. But it's natural she should grieve
a bit. You see, sir,' he said confidentially, 'George is the only
sweetheart Bessie's ever had. She ain't like some girls, chopping and
changing, as if there's no meaning in what they do.'

'We must brighten her up, Mr. Sparrow. It wouldn't be a bad thing, if
you were to take her for a drive in the country, one fine day. The
fresh air would do her good.'

'It would do her good, sir. But I couldn't leave the shop. Business is
dreadfully dull, and I can't afford to lose a chance of taking a few
shillings--though, with the way things are cut down, there's very
little profit got nowadays. Some things almost go for what they cost.
Sugar, for instance. I don't believe I get a ha'penny a-pound out of
it.'

Young Mr. Million expressed his sympathy, and said it ought to be
looked to. He would speak to his father, who was a 'friend of the
working-man, you know.'

'I don't know how to thank you, sir,' said Ben gratefully. 'Indeed, I
haven't thanked you yet for the kindness you----'

'I don't want to be thanked,' interrupted young Mr. Million
vivaciously. 'I hate to be thanked! The fact is, Mr. Sparrow, I am an
idle young dog, and it will always give me pleasure to do you any
little service in my power. I will go in, and say How do you do? to
Miss Sparrow, if you will allow me.'

'Allow you, sir!' exclaimed Ben. 'You're always welcome here.'

'I brought this little bunch of flowers for her. Flowers are scarce
now, and the sight of them freshens one up. Although, Mr. Sparrow,
your granddaughter is a brighter flower than any in this bunch!'

'That she is, sir; that she is,' cried Ben, in delight; adding to
himself, under his breath, 'Every inch a gentleman! His kindness to
George and me is a-maz-ing--A-MAZ-ING!'

The idle young dog, entering the parlour, found Bessie very pale and
very unhappy. She was unhappy because of the manner of her parting
from George last night; unhappy and utterly miserable because of the
poisoned dagger which had been planted in her heart.

'I was passing through Covent garden,' said the idle young dog, in
gentle tones, thinking how pretty Bessie looked even in her sorrow,
'and seeing these flowers, I thought you would do me the pleasure to
accept them.'

Bessie thanked him, and took them listlessly from his hand. Tottie,
who was playing at 'shop' in a corner of the room, weighing sand in
paper scales, and disposing of it to imaginary customers as the best
fourpenny-ha'penny moist (is this ever done in reality, I wonder!),
came forward to see and smell the flowers. The idle young dog seized
upon Tottie as a pretext for taking a seat, and, lifting the child on
his knee, allowed her to play with his watch-chain, and opened his
watch for her, and put it to her ear, so that she might hear it
tick--a performance of which she would never have tired. His manner
towards Bessie was very considerate and gentle, and she had every
reason to be grateful to him, for he had been a good friend to her
grandfather and her lover. Certainly he was one of the pleasantest
gentlemen in the world, and he won Tottie's heart by giving her a
shilling--the newest he could find in his pocket. Tottie immediately
slipped off his knee, and went to her corner to brighten the coin with
sand; after the fashion of old Ben Sparrow, who often polished up a
farthing with sand until he could see his face in it, and gave it to
Tottie as a golden sovereign. Tottie valued it quite as much as she
would have done if it had been the purest gold.

The idle young dog did not stay very long; he was no bungler at this
sort of idling, and he knew the value of leaving a good impression
behind him. So, after a quarter of an hour's pleasant chat, he shook
hands with Bessie, and as he stood smiling at her, wishing her
good-day, with her hand in his, the door suddenly opened, and George
Naldret appeared.

His face was white and haggard, and there was a wild grief in his
eyes. The agony through which he had passed on the previous night
seemed to have made him old in a few hours. He stood there silent,
looking at Bessie and young Mr. Million, and at their clasped hands.
It was but for a moment, for Bessie, with a startled cry--a cry that
had in it pain and horror at the misery in his face--had taken her
hand from young Mr. Million's palm; it was but for a moment, but the
new expression that overspread George's face like an evil cloud was
the expression of a man who had utterly lost all faith and belief in
purity and goodness: and had thus lost sight of Heaven.

Bessie divined its meaning, and gave a gasp of agony, but did not
speak. Not so, young Mr. Million.

'Good Heavens!' he cried, with a guilty look which he could not hide
from George's keen gaze. 'George, what has happened?'

George looked at young Mr. Million's outstretched hand, and rejected
it disdainfully and with absolute contempt. Then looked at the flowers
on the table--hothouse flowers he knew they were--then into Bessie's
face, which seemed as if it were carved out of gray-white stone, so
fixed did it grow in his gaze--then at the earrings in her ears: and a
bitter, bitter smile came to his lips--a smile it was pity to see
there.

'These are pretty flowers,' he said, raising them from the table; in
the intensity of his passion his fingers closed upon the blooming
things, and in a moment more he would have crushed them--but he
restrained himself in time, and let them drop from his strongly-veined
hand. 'I beg pardon,' he said, 'they are not mine. Even if they belong
to you--which they do, of course--I can have no claim on them now.'

He addressed himself to Bessie, but she did not answer him. She had
never seen in his face what she saw now, and she knew that it was the
doom of her love and his.

'I have come to return you something,' he said, and took from his
breast a pretty silk purse. It was hung round his neck by a piece of
black silk cord, and he did not disengage it readily. It almost seemed
as if it wished not to be taken from its resting-place.

As he held it in his hand, he knew that his life's happiness was in
it, and that he was about to relinquish it. And as he held it, there
came to Bessie's mind the words he had spoken only the night before:
'See here, heart's-treasure,' he had said, 'here is the purse you
worked for me, round my neck. It shall never leave me--it rests upon
my heart. The pretty little beads! How I love them! I shall kiss every
piece of gold I put in it, and shall think I am kissing you, as I do
now, dear, dearest, best!'

'Take it,' George said now.

She held out her hand mechanically, and as George touched her cold
fingers he shivered. Both knew what this giving and taking meant. It
meant that all was over between them.

Old Ben Sparrow had come into the room, and had witnessed the scene in
quiet amazement; he did not see his way to the remotest understanding
of what had passed. But he saw Bessie's suffering, and he moved to her
side. When the purse was in her hand he touched her, but she repulsed
him gently. Some sense of what was due to herself in the presence of
young Mr. Million came to her, and her womanly pride at George's
rejection of her in the presence of another man came to her also, and
gave her strength for a while.

George's hand was on the door, when young Mr. Million, who was deeply
mortified at George's manner towards himself, and who at the same time
thought it would be a gallant move to champion Bessie's cause, laid
his hand on George's sleeve, and said:

'Stay; you owe me an explanation.'

'Hands off!' cried George, in a dangerous tone, and a fierce gleam in
his eyes. 'Hands off, you sneaking dog! I owe you an explanation, do
I? I will give it to you when we are alone. Think what kind of
explanation it will be when I tell you beforehand that you are a
false, lying hound! Take care of yourself when next we meet.'

Every nerve in George's body quivered with passion and pain.

'You can't frighten me with bluster,' said young Mr. Million, who was
no coward, 'although you may try to frighten ladies with it. As my
presence here is likely to cause farther pain to a lady whom I
esteem'--with a respectful look towards Bessie, which caused George to
press his nails into his palms--'I will take my leave, unless Mr.
Sparrow wishes me to stay as a protection to him and his
granddaughter.'

'No, sir; I thank you,' replied Ben Sparrow sorrowfully. 'George
Naldret can do my child no more harm than he has done already.'

'Then I will go;' and he moved towards the door, 'first saying,
however, that I tried to be this man's friend--'indicating George with
a contemptuous motion of his hand, and repeating, 'that I tried to be
his friend----'

'You lie!' cried George.

'--Thinking,' continued young Mr. Million, with quiet disdain, 'that
he was better than others of his class. But I was mistaken. Mr.
Sparrow, you exonerate me from all blame in what has taken place?'

'Entirely, sir,' said Ben Sparrow, in a sad and troubled voice.

'I wish you and your grandchild good-day, then, and leave my hearty
sympathy behind me.'

With these words, and with a triumphant look at George, the idle young
dog took his departure. Then, after a brief pause, George said:

'I have nothing more to stop for now.'

And, with a look of misery, was about to depart, when Tottie ran to
his side, and plucking him by the coat, looked up into his face.

'Don't go,' said Tottie; 'stop and play.'

'I can't, my dear,' said George, raising the child in his arms and
kissing her. 'I _must_ go. Goodbye, little one.'--He set the child
down; tears were coming to his eyes, but he kept them back.

'One moment, George Naldret,' said old Ben Sparrow, trying to be
dignified, but breaking down. 'George--my dear George--what is the
meaning of this?'

'I have no explanation to give, Mr. Sparrow,' replied George sadly.

'George, my dear boy, think for a moment! Are you right in what you
are doing? Look at my darling, George; look----'

'Grandfather!'


[Illustration]


The word came from Bessie's white lips; but the voice, struggling
through her agony, sounded strange in their ears. The word, however,
was sufficient; it carried its meaning in it; it told her grandfather
not to beg for her of any man.

'You are right, my darling,' he sobbed; 'you are right. But neither
of you will speak, and I am almost distracted. You are not going
abroad then, George?'

'No, Mr. Sparrow; I have no need to go now.'

Bessie's strength was giving way. Pride, humiliation, wounded love,
suspicion of her lover's faith, were conquering her. She held out her
trembling hand to her grandfather. He took it, and cried:

'George! George! you are breaking her heart!'

'She has broken mine!' replied George, and turned without another
word, and left the room, almost blinded by grief and despair. The
moment he was gone, a sigh that was almost a groan broke from Bessie's
wounded heart, and she sank into old Ben Sparrow's arms, and fainted
there.



             WELL, MOTHER, DO YOU WANT ANY WASHING DONE?


When George Naldret was seen in the streets of Westminster, it
occasioned, as may be imagined, no little surprise. His neighbours
supposed him to be on his way to the other end of the world, and they
rather resented his appearance among them, for he had in a certain
measure deceived them. He had promised to write to some, to tell them
how affairs were over the water; and two or three courageous ones had
already made up their minds that if George sent home a good account of
things they would sell every stick they had, and make for a land where
a brighter future awaited them than they could look forward to here.
They would have been satisfied if George had given them an
explanation; but this he absolutely refused to do. 'I have altered my
mind,' was all they could get from him. 'I may do that if I like, I
suppose, and if it don't hurt you.' But some decided that it _did_
hurt them; and when they continued to press him for farther
particulars, he desired them to mind their own business; and as this
was the most difficult task he could set them, it made matters worse.
George was too delicate-minded and too honourable to introduce
Bessie's name; and when the inquisitive ones mentioned it he turned
upon them savagely. It caused quite a commotion in the neighbourhood.

On the first day Mrs. Naldret had tried to persuade George to keep
indoors and not show himself. But he said, 'No, mother; it will be
better for me to show my face at once, and not shirk the thing.' And
his father backed him up in his resolution. When he resolved upon
this, he went to his bedroom and locked himself in, and, after much
sad communing, decided that the first thing it was incumbent on him to
do was to go to Bessie and release her from her promise. Thus it was
that he met young Mr. Million in the parlour of the old grocer's shop,
where he had spent so many happy hours. He had decided in his mind
what to say. He would be gentle and firm with Bessie. And as he walked
to old Ben Sparrow's shop, disregarding the looks of astonishment
which his first appearance in the streets occasioned, he rehearsed in
his mind the exact words he would speak to her. But when he arrived
there, and saw Mr. Million smilingly holding her hand, and saw the
bunch of rare flowers on the table, he received such a shock that his
plans were instantly swept away, and he spoke out of the bitterness of
his heart.

How the news got about was a mystery, and how it grew into exaggerated
and monstrous forms was a greater mystery still. Who has ever traced
to its source the torrent of exciting rumour which, like a rush of
waters, flows and swells, unlocking vivid imagination in its course,
until reason and fact are lost in the whirl? All sorts of things were
said. George was frightened of the water; he was in debt; he had done
something wrong at the shop he had been working for, and was not
allowed to leave without clearing it up; these, and a hundred other
things, were said and commented upon. The peculiarity of this kind of
rumour is, that directly a new theory is started it is accepted as a
fact, and is taken to pieces and discussed in all its bearings. George
was a fruitful theme with the neighbours on that Saturday night and on
the following day; they served him up hot (like a new and appetising
dish), and so seasoned him and spiced him and garnished him, that it
would have made his blood tingle to have known. But he did not know,
and did not even suspect. To be sure, when Jim Naldret went to the
baker's on the Sunday for his baked shoulder of mutton and potatoes,
he heard some remarks which did not please him; but he did not say a
word to George, and the mother, father, and son spent a sad and quiet
evening together, and went to bed earlier than usual.

On the Monday, the startling intelligence was bandied from one to
another that George Naldret and Bessie Sparrow had broken with each
other. Bessie had turned him off, it was said; they had had a dreadful
quarrel the night before he was to start for Liverpool. But it is not
necessary here to set down all the reasons that were given for the
breaking of the engagement. Some of them were bad, and all were false.
But in the course of the day a little rill was started, which grew and
grew, and swelled and swelled, until it swallowed up all the other
waters. A rod was thrown down, which becoming instantly quick with
life, turned into a serpent, and swallowed all the other serpents. It
was said that Bessie had discovered that George had another
sweetheart--who she was, where she lived, and how it had been kept
secret during all this time, were matters of no importance; but it was
first whispered, then spoken aloud and commented on, that this
sweetheart should have been something more than a sweetheart to
George--she should have been his wife. The reason why she should have
been his wife was that George was a father. But where was the child?
Rumour decided this instantaneously. The child was no other than our
poor little Tottie; and George had basely deceived old Ben Sparrow and
Bessie into taking care of the little one by a clever and wicked story
that Tottie was an orphan, without a friend in the world. Here was
food for the gossippers! How this hot dish was served up, and spiced
and seasoned!

It reached George's ears, and he wrote to Ben Sparrow. He said that he
had heard some rumours affecting his character; he did not mention
what these rumours were, but he said they were wicked lies--wicked,
wicked lies, he repeated in his letter. The rumours he referred to may
have reached Mr. Sparrow, and might affect the happiness of a poor
innocent child--a child innocent as he was himself. If so, he was
ready to take the little one from Mr. Sparrow's charge. He said no
more, concluding here, almost abruptly. A reply soon came. Ben Sparrow
had heard the rumours, and was shocked at them; he believed what
George said in his letter. But the child, said old Ben, was a comfort
to them: by 'them' he meant himself and Bessie, but he did not mention
Bessie's name: it formed the principal part of their happiness now in
their little home, and to part with her would cause 'them' great grief
and pain. His letter, also, was short and to the point. And so our
little Tottie remained with old Ben Sparrow and Bessie, and was even
more tenderly cared for than she had been before. Somehow or other,
these letters were a great consolation to George and Bessie.

But the gossippers and rumourmongers would not let them alone. They
said that George's other sweetheart had declared if he went away she
would go with him, and would follow him all over the world. Bessie
then was brought in. She had another lover also, a lover she liked
better than George. Who should it be but young Mr. Million? He gave
her those pretty ear-rings, of course, and he was seen to go into old
Ben's shop with beautiful flowers in his hands, and come away without
them. Ben Sparrow encouraged him, too. O, it was plain to see what was
going on! So both George and Bessie were condemned, and kind
gossippers did what they could to keep them from ever coming together
again.

George and young Mr. Million met. Young Mr. Million was alone; George
had his father with him. The sight of the idle, well-dressed, smiling
young dog made George furious. He left his father, and walked swiftly
up to his enemy. A policeman was near. Young Mr. Million beckoned to
him, and the limb of the law touched his helmet, and came close. Jim
Naldret saw the position of affairs in a moment. 'Come along, George,'
he said, and linking his arm in that of his son, almost dragged him
away. When they reached home, Mrs. Naldret made George promise not to
molest young Mr. Million, not even to speak to him. 'No good can come
of it, my dear boy,' she said; 'let the scum be! Don't get yourself
into trouble for him; he's not worth it. He'll meet with his deserts
one day!'

Time passed, and the world went on as usual. George got work at his
old shop, and worked hard through the ensuing spring and summer. At
that time, murmurs of discontent began to be heard among the builders
and carpenters--not only among them, but among the workers in nearly
every other trade as well. Labour was on the strike all over the
country, and one trade quickly followed the example of another. Jim
himself began to murmur; he wanted to know what he was to do when he
got old, and couldn't work--for he had found it impossible to put by
money for a rainy day.

'Go to the workhouse, I suppose,' he said bitterly.

But Mrs. Naldret said, 'Let be, Jim, let be; what's the use of looking
forward? We should be happy enough as it is if it wasn't for George's
misfortune. Poor lad! all the salt seems to have gone out of his
life.'

In the summer the crisis occurred in the trade; and Jim Naldret came
home one day with his hands in his pockets, and said,

'Well, mother, do you want any washing done? I'm on strike.'

'Jim! Jim!' cried Mrs. Naldret 'What have you done? Remember Saul
Fielding.'

'Saul Fielding wasn't so wrong, after all,' said Jim; 'I was a bit too
hard on him. I can't help myself, mother. I'm obliged to turn out with
the others.'

It was well for them that during this time George had saved a little
money; but although he gave them every penny he had saved, and
although they pledged nearly everything of value they had in the
house, they were in debt when the strike was at an end.

'It'll be spring before we're clear, mother,' said Jim; 'we've got to
pay this and that, you know.'

Mrs. Naldret knew it well enough, and she began to pinch and save;
this little family fought the battle of life well.

Old Ben Sparrow, of course, suffered with the rest. Trade grew duller
and duller, and he drifted steadily, got from bad to worse, and from
worse to worse than that. Autumn came, and passed, and winter began to
make the poor people shiver; for coals were at a wicked price. Down,
down, went old Ben Sparrow; sadder and sadder grew his face; and one
day, within a fortnight of Christmas--alas! it was just a year from
the time when George was nearly going away--Bessie heard a loud and
angry voice in the shop. She hurried in, and saw her grandfather
trembling behind the counter. The man who had uttered the angry words
was quitting the shop. Bessie asked for an explanation.

'It's the landlord, my dear,' he sobbed upon her shoulder, 'it's the
landlord. I've been behindhand with the rent ever so long, and I've
promised him and promised him, hoping that trade would improve, until
he's quite furious, and swears that he'll put a man in possession
to-morrow morning.'

'And you can't pay him, grandfather?'

'Bessie, my darling,' sobbed old Ben; 'there isn't eighteenpence in
the house, and I owe other money as well. I'm a ruined man, Bessie,
I'm a ruined man! And you, my dear!--O, dear! O, dear! what is to
become of us?'

And the poor old fellow pleaded to her, and asked her forgiveness a
hundred times, as if he were the cause of their misfortunes. No need
to say how Bessie consoled and tried to cheer him. She drew him into
the parlour, and coaxed and fondled him, and rumpled the little hair
he had on his head, and so forgot her own sorrow out of sympathy
for his, that he almost forgot it too. But once during the night,
while she was sitting on a stool at his feet, he said softly and
sadly, 'Ah, Bess! I wouldn't mind this trouble--I'd laugh at it
really--if--if----'

'If what, dear?'

'If you and George were together, my darling.'

She did not reply, but rested her head on his knee, and looked sadly
into the scanty fire. She saw no happy pictures in it.



                        THE MAN IN POSSESSION.


Old Ben Sparrow had genuine cause for his distress. Ruin not only
stared him in the face, but laid hold of him with a hard grip. The
landlord was as good (or as bad) as his word. He called the following
morning for his rent, and as it was not forthcoming, he took an
inventory, and put a man in possession. He brought this person in with
him. A strange-looking man, with a twelvemonth's growth of hair at
least on his face and head, and all of it as white as snow. The faces
of Ben Sparrow and Bessie were almost as white as they followed the
hard landlord from room to room, like mourners at a funeral. There was
first the shop, with very little stock in it, and that little in bad
condition. As the landlord said, How could a man expect to do
business, and be able to pay his way honestly, when everything he had
to sell was stale and mouldy? And old Ben answered humbly:

'Yes, yes, sir; you're quite right, sir. I ought to have known better.
It's all my fault, Bessie, my darling; all my fault.' And felt as if,
instead of an immediate execution coming to him, he ought to be led
off to immediate execution.

'What d'ye call these? asked the landlord contemptuously. 'Figs! Why,
they're as shrivelled as--as you are.'

'Yes, yes, sir; quite right, sir. We are, sir, we are; we ought to be
put away! We're worth nothing now--nothing now!'

After the shop came the parlour, with the furniture that old Ben had
bought for his wedding more than forty years ago; he sobbed as the
landlord called out, 'One old armchair, stuffed and rickety!' and said
to Bessie: 'Your grandmother's favourite chair, my darling!'

The old fellow could have knelt and kissed the 'one old arm-chair,
stuffed and rickety,' he was so tender about it. Then they went into
the kitchen; then upstairs to Ben Sparrow's bedroom, and old Ben cried
again as 'One old wooden bedstead: wheezy!' went down in the
inventory; then into another bedroom, where Bessie and Tottie slept.
The man in possession stooped down by the child's bed.

'What are you looking for?' demanded the landlord testily.

'I was thinking the child might be there,' replied the man in
possession meekly; 'there _is_ a child, isn't there?'

'What if there is!' exclaimed the landlord. 'Can't sell a child.
There's no market for them.'

Old Ben explained: 'There is a child. Poor little Tottie! But we've
sent her out to a neighbour's, thinking you would come.'

'And might frighten her, eh?' said the landlord. And shortly
afterwards took his departure, leaving the man in possession with
strict injunctions not to allow a thing to be taken out of the house.

'You're accountable, mind you,' were his last words.

Bessie and her grandfather felt as if the house had been suddenly
turned into a prison, and as if this man, with his strange face and
snow-white hair, had been appointed their gaoler. As he did not appear
to notice them, old Ben beckoned to Bessie, and they crept out of the
parlour into the shop for all the world as if they had been found
guilty of some desperate crime. In the shop they breathed more freely.

'What are we to do with him, Bessie?' asked Ben. 'What do they
generally do with men in possession? They give 'em tobacco and beer,
I've heard. O, dear! O, dear! I don't mind for myself, my darling; I
don't mind for myself. It's time I was put away. But for you,
Bessie--O, my darling child! what have I done to deserve this? What
have I done? What have I done?

'Grandfather,' said Bessie firmly, 'you mustn't go on like this. We
must have courage. Now, I've made up my mind what I'm going to do. I'm
going to take care of you, dear grandfather, as you have taken care of
me. You know how clever I am with my needle, and I intend to get work;
and you shall thread my needles for me, grandfather. We can live on
very little----'

Her poor white lips began to tremble here, and she kissed the old man
again and again, and cried in his arms, to show how courageous she
was.

'I beg your pardon,' said a gentle voice behind them. It was the man
in possession who spoke. 'I beg your pardon,' he repeated. 'May I beg
a word with you in the parlour?'

They dared not for their lives refuse him, and they followed him
tremblingly.

'I am aware,' he said then, as they stood before him like criminals,
'that I am here on an unpleasant duty, and that I must appear very
disagreeable in your eyes----'

'No, no, sir,' remonstrated Ben, feeling that his fate and Bessie's
were in this man's hands; 'don't say that, sir! Quite the contrary,
indeed, sir; quite the contrary, eh, Bessie?'

And the arch old hypocrite tried to smile, to show that he was
delighted with the man's company.

'--But I assure you,' continued the man, 'that I have no desire to
annoy or distress you. I have gone through hardships myself--with a
motion of his hand towards his white hair--'as you may see.'

'What is it you want us to do, sir? asked Ben Sparrow. 'I am sure
anything you want, such as tobacco or beer--or anything that there is
in the cupboard----'

'I want you to feel as if I wasn't in the house. I know, for instance,
that this is your sitting-room; I don't want you to run away from it.
If you like, I will go and sit in the kitchen.'

'No, no, sir!' implored Ben Sparrow. 'Not for worlds. We couldn't
allow such a thing, could we, Bessie? This is my granddaughter,
sir!--the dearest child that man ever had!----'

Why, here was the man in possession, as old Ben broke down, actually
patting him on the shoulder, and looking into his face with such
genuine sympathy, that before Ben knew where he was, he had held out
his hand as to a friend! What would the next wonder be?

'That's right,' said the man in possession; 'we may as well be
comfortable together, and I shall take it ill of you, if you and your
granddaughter do not use the parlour just as if I wasn't here. If you
don't, I shall go and sit in the kitchen.'

They could do nothing else, after this, but look upon the parlour as
their own again. Bessie felt very grateful to the man for the sympathy
he had shown to her grandfather, and she took out her old workbox, and
sat down to mend a pair of Tottie's socks. 'The way that child makes
holes in her toes and heels is most astonishing,' Ben had often
remarked.

The man in possession glanced at the little socks, and then at Bessie
so thoughtfully and kindly, that she gave him a wistful smile, which
he returned, and said:

'Thank you, child!' in a very sweet and gentle tone.

When dinner-time came, and before they could ask him to share their
humble meal, he went to the street-door and called a boy, who, in
obedience to his instructions, bought some cold meat and bread at a
neighbouring shop. All he asked Bessie to give him was a glass of cold
water, and with this and his bread-and-meat he made a good meal. To
the astonishment of Bessie and old Ben, they found they were growing
to like him. After dinner, he seemed to be drowsy, and sat with closed
eyes and thoughtful face in the corner of the room he had appropriated
to himself, which, it maybe remarked, was not the warmest corner.
Bessie and old Ben talked in whispers at first, so as not to disturb
him, but after a time his regular breathing convinced them that he was
sleeping; and Bessie laid down her plans to the old man. When they
were turned out of the shop they would take one room, Bessie said;
they would be very comfortable, she was sure, if they would only make
up their minds to be so, and she would work for all three, for
grandfather, Tottie, and herself. Indeed, the girl showed herself so
much of a true woman in her speech, that she was almost beginning to
persuade the old man that what had occurred was, after all, no great
misfortune.

'How strange that his hair should be white!' remarked Ben, looking at
the sleeping man. 'He does not seem old enough for that. He isn't very
attentive to his duties, whatever they may be. Why, Bessie,' said the
old man in a whisper that was almost gleeful, 'we could actually run
away!' But his thoughts assumed their sadder tenor immediately
afterwards, and he sighed, 'Ah, Bessie! What will George think of all
this? They've had trouble at home too, Bessie dear, during the strike.
I often wished, during that time, that I could have gone and sat with
them, and comforted them; and you wished so too, Bess, I know.'

'Yes, dear,' answered Bess in a quiet tone, 'I wished so too. But
George might have put a wrong construction upon it.'

'Bess, darling, tell me----'

'No, no!' cried Bessie, holding up her hands entreatingly, for she
anticipated what he was about to say. 'Don't ask me, grandfather! It
can never, never be! O my dear, I try to forget, but I can't!' She
paused, unable to proceed for her tears, but presently said, 'I
should be so much happier if he thought better of me--although I know
we can never be to each other what we were! I was angry and indignant
at first, but I am not so now. If he had only answered me about
Tottie--dear little Tottie----'

The man murmured in his sleep, and they spoke in hushed voices.

'It was wrong of me to doubt him,' continued the girl, 'very, very
wrong! I should have trusted him, as he told me to. He can never think
well of me again--never, never! But do you know, dear, that I have
loved Tottie more since that time than I did before--poor little
motherless thing! I shall never be happy again! Never again! O, my
poor heart!'

It was Ben's turn now to be the consoler, and he soothed her, and
caressed her, and suddenly cried:

'Bessie! young Mr. Million!'

What made Bessie turn white at the name? What made her gasp and bite
her lips, as the young gentleman entered the room?

'I am grieved to hear of what has happened, Mr. Sparrow,' he said,
taking off his hat; 'and I have come at once to ask if you will allow
me to assist you.'

'Hush, if you please, sir,' returned Ben. 'Speak low. That--that man
in the corner has been put in by the landlord, and I shouldn't like to
wake him. We are in great distress--ruined, I may say, sir----'

'Then let me help you,' interrupted young Mr. Million eagerly. 'It
will be a pleasure to me. Let me pay this man off. You and Miss
Sparrow will confer an obligation upon _me_--believe me!--if you will
allow me to do this.'

'I thank you for your offer, sir,' replied Ben, with a helpless
look around the humble room in which he had spent many happy years,
'but'--something in Bessie's face imparted a decision to his
voice--'it can't be, sir, it can't be.'

'Why?'

'Well, sir, it might get talked about, and that wouldn't do Bessie any
good. You see, sir, you are so far above us that it's impossible
we--we can mix, sir. Yes, sir, that's it; it's impossible we can mix.
No, sir, it can't be.'

Young Mr. Million was silent for a few moments, and tapped with his
fingers impatiently on the table.

'For some time,' he then said, 'I have seen that you and Miss Sparrow
have rejected my advances, and have been different from what you were.
Why, may I ask again?'

'Well, sir,' replied old Ben, emboldened by the expression on Bessie's
face, 'it will be best to speak plain. You see, sir, the neighbours
_will_ talk; and when they see a gentleman like you always a-visiting
poor people like us, they want to know the reason of it. And as we've
no reason to give, they make one for themselves. People will talk, you
see, sir; and I am afraid that my Bessie's name--my Bessie! the best
girl in the world, sir; good enough to be a Princess----'

'That she is,' put in young Mr. Million.

'--Well, sir, as I was saying, I am afraid that my Bessie's name has
got mixed up with yours by people's tongues in such a way as to cause
sorrow to her and to me. I have heard, sir, that she was seen one
day--nearly a year ago now--go into your house, and that has been set
against her, and flung into her teeth, as a body might say. Well, she
_did_ go into your house that once--and only that once, mind!--and
took a letter from me which you desired me to send by her last year
when I was in trouble. You helped us then, sir, and I am grateful to
you, though I can't pay you. And we've got it into our heads--Bessie
and me--that that, and the earrings you gave her--for _they've_ been
talked about too, and that's the reason we sent them back to you--was
the cause of a greater sorrow to my poor girl than she has ever
experienced in her life.'

'O!' exclaimed young Mr. Million, with a slight sneer in his tone.
'You mean because the affair between Miss Sparrow, and that cub,
George Naldret, has been broken off.'

From Bessie's eyes came such a flash that if the idle young dog could
have flown through the door, and have disappeared there and then
instantaneously, he would have gladly availed himself of the
opportunity. Old Ben Sparrow's blood; also, was up.

'Be kind enough to go, sir,' he said, with more dignity of manner than
Bessie had ever seen in him; 'and wherever we are, either here or
elsewhere, leave us to ourselves and our troubles.'

Their voices roused the man in possession; he yawned, and opened his
eyes. Young Mr. Million saw here an opportunity to assert himself as
the heir of a great brewery, and to indulge in a small piece of
malice, at one and the same time.

'I must show my sense of your ingratitude,' he said, 'by somewhat
severe measures, and therefore you will arrange at once for the
repayment of the money I have advanced to you. I must remind you that
there is such a thing as imprisonment for debt. As for the money which
your son embezzled from our firm, I must leave my father to settle
that with you. In the mean time----'

'In the mean time,' interrupted the man in possession, to the
astonishment of all, 'I'm the master of this house, being in
possession; and as you're not down in the inventory, I must request
you to leave.'

And without allowing the idle young dog to utter another word, the man
in possession, with a wrist of iron, twisted him round, and thrust him
from the old grocer's shop.

So young Mr. Million, for a fresh supply of wild oats, had to go to
another market. And doubtless succeeded in obtaining them: they are
plentiful enough.

Ben Sparrow could not but thank the man in possession for his friendly
interference.

'Don't mention it,' said the man in possession, adding, with an odd
smile, 'he's not down in the inventory, you know.'

The interview had caused old Ben and Bessie great agitation, and left
them sadly distressed; but nothing could exceed the consideration of
the man in possession. He did not ask them for a word of explanation.
When, indeed, the old man stumblingly referred to it, he turned the
conversation, and asked for a sheet of paper and an envelope. These
being supplied to him, he wrote a note, and when, after putting it in
the envelope and addressing it, he looked up, his hitherto sad face
wore such a bright expression that Ben whispered to his granddaughter,

'Really, Bessie, he is a good fellow; he puts heart into one;' and
said aloud, 'Can I post the letter for you, sir?

'No, thank you,' was the reply; 'I can send it by a messenger. I
mustn't let you out of my sight, you know. The landlord said I was
accountable for you.'

Old Ben began to feel as if he were in prison again.

It was dark when Tottie was brought home; she ran into the parlour
calling for grandfather and Bessie, and jumped into their arms, and
kissed them, and pulled old Ben's hair; she seemed to bring light in
with her. 'Is that Tottie?' asked the man in possession in a tremulous
tone.

'Yes, sir, yes,' replied old Ben. 'Go to the gentleman, my dear.'

Something like a sob came from the man in possession as he lifted
Tottie, and kissed her; and when, a little while afterwards, the lamp
was lighted, and Tottie was seen curled up contentedly in the man's
arms, eating sweets which he was giving her: with such a sweet tooth
as Tottie had, it was no wonder she was easily bought over: old Ben
whispered to Bessie,

'Depend upon it, my dear, he has got a little daughter at home, and
that makes him fond of Tottie.'

Everything about this strange man was so gentle, that they actually
looked upon him as a friend instead of an enemy.



             SOFTLY, SWEETLY, PROCEEDS THE HYMN OF HOME.


'It is a story about two friends--' It is the man in possession who is
speaking. Tottie is lying in his arms as contentedly as if she has
known him all her life; he has told her the prettiest of stories, and
the child has crowed and laughed over them, until she is almost tired
with the pleasure and excitement. And now, although it is very nearly
eleven o'clock, and time to think of going to bed, Bessie and her
grandfather find themselves listening to a story which he says he
desires to tell them. Of course they dare not refuse to listen.

'It is a story about two friends--mainly about those, although the
dearest hopes of others better and purer than they are mixed up in it
The story is a true one. What shall I call these friends, so as to
distinguish them? Shall I say George for one---- What is the matter,
my dear?' For Bessie has looked with a startled glance into the
stranger's face. 'George is a common name enough, and this man whom I
call George is a good man, in every sense of the word. Say, shall I
call him George?'

'Yes, if you please,' replies Bessie faintly, turning her face from
him.

'And the other--I will call him Saul.'

'Bessie, my dear!' exclaims old Ben Sparrow. 'Do you hear? Saul and
George!'

Bessie's hand steals into his, and the stranger continues.

'Say, then, Saul and George. They lived and grew to manhood in just
such a neighbourhood as this. Saul was the elder of the two by six or
seven years; but notwithstanding the difference in their ages, they
became firm friends. They talked much together, and read together; for
Saul was a great reader, and took delight in studying, and (according
to his own thinking) setting wrong things right. I believe that, at
one time of his life, he really had a notion that it was his mission
to redress the wrongs of his class; at all events, it is certain that
he elected himself the champion of his fellow-workmen, and as he had
the fatal gift of being able to speak well and fluently, the men
listened to him, and accepted his high-flown words as the soundest of
logic. George admired his friend, although he did not agree with him;
and when he was a man he took an opportunity of vowing eternal
friendship to Saul. Such a vow meant something more than words with
George; for he was constant and true to the dictates of his heart
Where he professed friendship, there he would show it. Where he
professed love, there would he feel it. And it might be depended upon
that neither in his friendship nor his love would he ever change. He
was no idle talker. Saul, working himself into a state of false
enthusiasm respecting his mission, waited but for an opportunity to
raise his flag. The opportunity came. A dispute arose between master
and men in a certain workshop; Saul plunged himself into the dispute,
and by his fatal gift inflamed the men, and fanned the discontent
until it spread to other workshops. Neither men nor masters would
yield. A strike was the result. In this strike Saul was the principal
agitator; he was the speaker and the man upon whom all depended, in
whom all trusted. Hear, in a few words, what occurred then. After
making things as bitter as he could; after making the men believe that
the masters were their natural enemies; after making a speech one
night, filled with false conclusions, but which fired the men to a
more determined resistance; after doing all this, Saul suddenly
deserted his followers, and left them in the lurch. He told them that,
upon more serious consideration, he had been led to alter his mind,
and that he was afraid of the misery a longer fight would bring upon
them and their families. The men were justly furious with him; they
called him names which he deserved to be called; and the result was
that the men returned to work upon the old terms, and that all of
them--masters and men--turned their backs upon the man who had
betrayed them. Only one among them remained his friend. That one was
George. From that day Saul began to sink; he could get no work; and he
dragged down with him a woman who loved him, who had trusted in him,
and whom he had robbed of her good name. Stay, my dear,' said the man
in possession, placing a restraining hand upon Bessie's sleeve; the
girl had risen, uncertain whether to go or stay. 'You must hear what I
have to say; I will endeavour to be brief. This woman had a child, a
daughter, born away from the neighbourhood in which Saul was known.
Her love was great; her grief was greater. Saul showed himself during
this time to be not only a traitor, but a coward. He took to drink.
What, then, did this good woman--ah, my dear, how good she was only
Saul knows!--what did this good woman resolve to do, for her child's
sake? She resolved that she would not allow her child to grow up and
be pointed at as a child of shame; that she would endeavour to find
some place where it could be cared for, and where, if happier times
did not come to her, the child might grow up in the belief that her
parents were dead. Shame should not cast its indelible shadow over her
darling's life. Saul, in his better mood, agreed with her. "I have no
friends," said this woman to Saul; "have you? Have you a friend who,
out of his compassion for the child and friendship for you, would take
my darling from me, and care for it as his own?" Saul had no friend
but one. George! He went to George, and told his trouble, and this
dear noble friend, this Man! arranged with a neighbour to take the
child, and bring her up. He promised sacredly to keep Saul's secret,
and only to tell one person the story of the poor little forsaken one.
"I may marry one day, Saul," he said, "and then I must tell it to my
wife." In this way the mother obtained her desire; in this way came
about her love's sacrifice!'

Tick--tick--tick--comes from the old-fashioned clock in the corner.
Bessie has sunk into her chair, and her head is bowed upon the table.
She hears the clear tick, and thinks of a year ago, when, standing at
the door with her lover, it sounded so painfully in her ears. What
pain, what pleasure, has this strange man brought to her! For she
knows that the story he is telling is true, and that Saul's friend,
George, is her George, whom she has loved truly and faithfully during
all this sad year. What pain! What pleasure! What pain to feel that
George is parted from her for ever! What pleasure to know that he is
without a stain, that he is even more noble than her love had painted
him! She raises her head; her eyes are almost blinded by her tears;
she stretches forth her arms for Tottie.

'Let me nurse her!' she sobs.

'No, my dear,' says the man in possession; but he places Tottie's lips
to hers, and then stoops and kisses Bessie's tears which have fallen
on the little one's face. 'There is more to tell. Shall I go on?'

'Yes.'

'A happy time comes to George. He falls in love with a tender-hearted,
pure-souled girl----'

Bessie kneels at his feet, and looks in bewilderment at the man's
strange face, at his snow-white hair, and in gratitude raises his hand
to her lips.

'There, there, child!' he says; 'sit down: you interrupt my story.
They are engaged to be married, and George is anxious to make a home
for his bird. But trade is slack, and he can save no money. Then comes
a false man, whom we will call Judas, into the story, who, under the
pretence of friendship for George, gives him a passage-ticket to the
colonies, where George can more quickly save money to buy the home to
which he yearns to bring his bird. But on the very night, within three
hours of the time when George is to look his last upon the little
house in which he was born, he learns from Saul that this pretended
friend has played him false, has told him lies, and has given him the
ticket only for the purpose of getting him out of the country, so that
Judas can pay court to the girl who reigns in George's heart. Other
doubts and misunderstandings unfortunately accumulate in these
critical moments; George learns that the girl was seen to go into the
house where Judas's father lives; learns that Judas has given her a
pair of earrings; learns that Judas was seen by George's mother to
place a letter in the girl's hands----'

'It was for grandfather!' cries Bessie. 'It contained money for
grandfather to help him out of his trouble!'

'Hush! my dear! What can you know of this story of mine? When George
learns all this he is in an agony of despair. He takes the ticket from
his pocket, and is about to destroy it, when Saul falls on his knees
at his friend's feet, and begs, entreats in _his_ agony for the
ticket, so that _he_ may go instead of George. For Saul's dear woman
has left him; has charged him, by his love for her and for their
child, to make an effort to lift them from shame; and he sees no way--
no way but this which is suddenly opened to him. George gives his
friend the ticket, and the next day Saul bids good-bye to the land
which holds all that is dear to his heart.'

The man in possession pauses here, and old Ben Sparrow gazes earnestly
at him. When he resumes, his voice grows more solemn.

'Saul reaches his destination, and after much wandering finds a
shelter in the mountains with a little colony of gold-diggers. He
makes a friend there; David. Another; David's wife. God rest their
souls! Another; David's little daughter. Saul finds gold, and thanks
God for His goodness. He will come home and make atonement But the
snow season sets in, and he and his companions are imprisoned by
mountains of snow whose shallowest depth is sufficient for a man's
grave if he is buried upstanding. An awful night comes, when the
snow-drift walls up their tents. In the morning the tents are hemmed
in; the diggers cannot open their doors. Near to the tent in which
Saul and David and David's wife and David's little daughter live is a
tree. Saul climbs to the roof of the tent, breaks through it, climbs
on to the tree, and calls to his friends to follow him. David tries,
and fails; he falls back into the tent, and hurts himself to death.
Saul, in an agony, calls out for David's little daughter, and the
mother succeeds in raising the child through the roof of the tent;
Saul clutches the little girl and takes her to his heart. All this
time the storm is raging; the snow rises higher and higher. David
commands his wife to save herself; she refuses, and stays to nurse
him, and slowly, slowly, my dears! the snow falls; the walls of the
tent give way; and David's wife meets a noble death, and both find
their grave.'

Awe-struck they listen to this strange man's story. A look of pity
steals into his face--and then he murmurs to himself, 'No; why should
I bring sadness upon them this night?' And says aloud:

'The tree to which Saul clings for dear life with David's little
daughter, one other man manages to reach. His story you shall hear
to-morrow; sufficient here to say that it is a strange one, and it
comes strangely to Saul's ears. He bequeaths his gold to Saul for a
good purpose. But this man is weak; his strength fails him in the
night; and when the next morning's sun rises Saul and David's little
daughter are the only ones left. Can you picture Saul to yourself
clinging to the tree, holding in his arms the life of a dear little
one? Can you realise the agony of the time? Can you believe that his
grief and tribulation are so great during the two terrible days that
follow, that his hair turns snow-white----'

'But he is saved?' cries Bessie and her grandfather at once.

'He is saved.'

'And David's little daughter?'

'Is saved also, God be thanked!'

They draw a long breath.

'But little remains to be told. Saul comes home, bringing David's
little daughter with him--bringing gold with him. He seeks his dear
woman. He marries her. He hears that the old man and the dear girl who
have protected and reared his child are in trouble--that an execution
is to be put into the old man's shop for rent----'

'And he becomes a man in possession!' cries old Ben, starting up in
indescribable excitement. 'O, dear! O, dear! He becomes a man in
possession!'

The tolling of a bell is heard.

'As you say. Is not that the Westminster clock beginning to chime the
hour? Listen for one minute more. When Judas comes in this afternoon,
do you think the man in possession is asleep? No; he is awake, and
hears every word that passes, and such a joy comes into his heart as
he cannot describe--for he thinks of George, that dear friend, that
noble friend, that Man! What does the man in possession do when Judas
has gone? He writes a letter, doesn't he? Hark! the last hour is
tolling! Twelve!'

The door opens, and Bessie, with a wild cry, moves but a step, and
presses her hand to her heart. George stands before her, pale with the
excitement of the moment, but hopeful, and with love in his eyes.

'George, my dear boy!' cries old Ben, grasping the young man's hands.

'Can you forgive me, Bessie?' asks George.

A grateful sob escapes from the girl's overcharged heart, and the
lovers are linked in a close embrace.

As if this happy union has conjured them up, there enter on the
instant Jim Naldret and Mrs. Naldret, she nursing David's little
daughter. And behind them, with a wistful look, with hands that are
convulsed with excess of tenderness, with eyes and face and heart
filled with yearning love, stands the Mother hungering for her child!
Tenderly and solemnly Saul places Tottie in Jane's arms. The Mother
steals softly into the shop with her child; and Saul follows, and
kneels before her. Presently she takes him also to her breast.

'Dear wife? he murmurs; and a prayer of infinite thankfulness for the
mercy and the goodness of God comes to his mind.

Half-an-hour afterwards, he enters the room with Jane and their child.

'Bessie,' he says, 'this is my wife, Jane.'

And as Bessie kisses her and caresses her, the sorrow of the past
melts into gratitude for the present.

They sit and talk.

'George and I are going into business together,' says Saul. 'We shall
start a little shop of our own.'

'And stop at home,' remarks Mrs. Naldret, 'and be contented.'

'Yes,' replies George, 'on bread-and-cheese and kisses. I shall be
able to buy my pots and pans now.'

Somehow or other George has come into possession of the little silk
purse again.

'Bessie!' exclaims Mrs. Naldret 'My dream that I told you last year'll
come true!'

The maid blushes. She is dreaming happily now. So are they all indeed.
Old Ben hopes that they will not wake up presently.

Silence falls upon them. And in the midst of the silence, the sounds
of music steal to their ears, and they gaze at each other with earnest
grateful eyes. It is the waits playing 'Home, sweet Home.'

'Do you remember, George?' says Bessie, with a tender clasp.

Softly, sweetly, proceeds the hymn of Home. The air is filled with
harmony and prayer.



                               THE END.



                          *   *   *   *   *
        LONDON: ROBSON AND SONS, PRINTERS, PANCRAS ROAD, N.W.





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ensuring that what you are doing is legal. Do not assume that just because
we believe a book is in the public domain for users in the United States,
that the work is also in the public domain for users in other countries.
Whether a book is still in copyright varies from country to country, and we
can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of any specific book is
allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.



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