A PEEP BEHIND THE SCENES
BY MRS. O. F. WALTON
Author OF 'CHRISTIE'S OLD ORGAN,' 'SAVED AT SEA' 'SHADOWS,' ETC.
II. THE LITTLE THEATRE
III. THE DAY AFTER THE FAIR
IV. THE ACTEESS'S STORY
V. ROSALIE'S FIRST SERMON
VI. A FAMILY SECRET
VII. THE CIRCUS PROCESSION
VIII. LITTLE MOTHER MANIKIN
IX. THE DOCTOR'S VISIT
XI. THE MOTHER'S DREAM
XII. A LONE LAMB
XIII. VANITY FAIR
XIV. BETSEY ANN
XV. LIFE IN THE LODGING-HOUSE
XVI. A DARK TIME
XVII. ALONE IN THE WORLD
XVIII. THE LITTLE PITCHER
XX. MOTHER MANIKIN'S CHAIRS
XXI. IN SIGHT OF HOME
XXII. THE LOST LAMB FOUND
XXIII. THE GREEN PASTURE.
A PEEP BEHIND THE SCENES
Rain, rain, rain! How mercilessly it fell on the Fair-field that Sunday afternoon! Every moment the pools increased and the mud became thicker. How dismal the fair looked then! On Saturday evening it had been brilliantly lighted with rows of flaring naphtha-lights; and the grand shows, in the most aristocratic part of the field, had been illuminated with crosses, stars, anchors, and all manner of devices.
But there were no lights now; there was nothing to cast a halo round the dirty, weather-stained tents and the dingy caravans.
Yet, in spite of this, and in spite of the rain, a crowd of Sunday idlers lingered about the fair, looking with great interest at the half-covered whirligigs and bicycles, peeping curiously into the deserted shows, and making many schemes for further enjoyment on the morrow, when the fair was once more to be in its glory.
Inside the caravans the show-people were crouching over their fires and grumbling at the weather, murmuring at having to pay so much for the ground on which their shows were erected, at a time when they would be likely to make so little profit.
A little old man, with a rosy, good-tempered face, was making his way across the sea of mud which divided the shows from each other. He was evidently no idler in the fair; he had come into it that Sunday afternoon for a definite purpose, and he did not intend to leave it until it was accomplished. After crossing an almost impassable place, he climbed the steps leading to one of the caravans and knocked at the door.
It was a curious door; the upper part of it, being used as a window, was filled with glass, behind which you could see two small muslin curtains, tied up with pink ribbon. No one came to open the door when the old man knocked, and he was about to turn away, when some little boys, who were standing near, called out to him—
'Rap again, sir, rap again; there's a little lass in there; she went in a bit since.'
'Don't you wish you was her?' said one of the little boys to the other.
'Ay!' said the little fellow; 'I wish our house would move about, and had little windows with white curtains and pink bows!'
The old man laughed a hearty laugh at the children's talk, and rapped again at the caravan door.
This time a face appeared between the muslin curtains and peered cautiously out. It was a very pretty little face, so pretty that the old man sighed to himself when he saw it.
Then the small head turned round, and seemed to be telling what it had seen to some one within, and asking leave to admit the visitor; for a minute afterwards the door was opened, and the owner of the pretty face stood before the old man.
She was a little girl about twelve years of age, very slender and delicate in appearance. Her hair, which was of a rich auburn colour, was hanging down to her waist, and her eyes were the most beautiful the old man thought he had ever seen.
She was very poorly dressed, and she shivered as the damp, cold air rushed in through the open door.
'Good afternoon, my little dear,' said the old man.
She was just going to answer him when a violent fit of coughing from within caused her to look round, and when it was over a weak, querulous voice said hurriedly—
'Shut the door, Rosalie; it's so cold; ask whoever it is to come in.'
The old man did not wait for a second invitation; he stepped inside the caravan, and the child closed the door.
It was a very small place; there was hardly room for him to stand. At the end of the caravan was a narrow bed something like a berth on board ship, and on it a woman was lying who was evidently very ill. She was the child's mother, the old man felt sure. She had the same beautiful eyes and sunny hair, though her face was thin and wasted.
There was not room for much furniture in the small caravan; a tiny stove, the chimney of which went through the wooden roof, a few pans, a shelf containing cups and saucers, and two boxes which served as seats, completely filled it. There was only just room for the old man to stand, and the fire was so near him that he was in danger of being scorched.
Rosalie had seated herself on one of the boxes close to her mother's bed.
'You must excuse my intruding, ma'am,' said the old man, with a polite bow; 'but I'm so fond of little folks, and I've brought this little girl of yours a picture, if she will accept it from me.'
A flush of pleasure came into the child's face as he brought out of his pocket his promised gift. She seized it eagerly, and held it up before her with evident delight, whilst her mother raised herself on her elbow to look at it with her.
It was the picture of a shepherd, with a very kind and compassionate face, who was bearing home in his bosom a lost lamb. The lamb's fleece was torn in several places, and there were marks of blood on its back, as if it had been roughly used by some cruel beast in a recent struggle.
But the shepherd seemed to have suffered more than the lamb, for he was wounded in many places, and his blood was falling in large drops on the ground. Yet he did not seem to mind it; his face was full of love and full of joy as he looked at the lamb. He had forgotten his sorrow in his joy that the lamb was saved.
In the distance were some of the shepherd's friends, who were coming to meet him, and underneath the picture were these words, printed in large letters—
'Rejoice with Me, for I have found My sheep which was lost. There is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth.'
The little girl read the words aloud in a clear, distinct voice; and her mother gazed at the picture with tears in her eyes.
'Those are sweet words, ain't they?' said the old man.
'Yes,' said the woman, with a sigh; 'I have heard them many times before.'
'Has the Good Shepherd ever said them of you, ma'am? Has He ever called the bright angels together and said to them of you, "Rejoice with Me, for I have found My sheep which was lost"?'
The woman did not speak; a fit of coughing came on, and the old man stood looking at her with a very pitying expression.
'You are very ill, ma'am, I'm afraid,' he said.
'Yes, very ill,' gasped the woman bitterly; 'every one can see that but Augustus!'
'That's my father,' said the little girl.
'No; he doesn't see it,' repeated the woman; 'he thinks I ought to get up and act in the play, just as usual. I did try at the last place we went to; but I fainted as soon as my part was over, and I've been in bed ever since.'
'You must be tired of moving about, ma'am,' said the old man compassionately.
'Tired?' said she; 'I should think I was tired; it isn't what I was brought up to. I was brought up to a very different kind of life from this,' she said, with a very deep-drawn sigh. 'It's a weary time I have of it—a weary time.'
'Are you always on the move, ma'am?' asked the old man.
'All the summer-time,' said the woman. 'We get into lodgings for a little time in the winter; and then we let ourselves out to some of the small town theatres; but all the rest of the year we're going from feast to feast and from fair to fair—no rest nor comfort, not a bit!'
'Poor thing! poor thing!' said the old man; and then a choking sensation appeared to have seized him, for he cleared his throat vigorously many times, but seemed unable to say more.
The child had climbed on one of the boxes, and brought down a square red pincushion from the shelf which ran round the top of the caravan. From this she took two pins, and fastened the picture on the wooden wall, so that her mother could see it as she was lying in bed.
'It does look pretty there,' said the little girl; 'mammie, you can look at it nicely now.'
'Yes, ma'am,' said the old man, as he prepared to take his leave; 'and as you look at it, think of that Good Shepherd who is seeking you. He wants to find you, and take you up in His arms, and carry you home; and He won't mind the wounds it has cost Him, if you'll only let Him do it.
'Good-day, ma'am,' said the old man; 'I shall, maybe, never see you again; but I would like the Good Shepherd to say those words of you.'
He went carefully down the steps of the caravan, and Rosalie stood at the window, watching him picking his way to the other shows, to which he was carrying the same message of peace. She looked out from between the muslin curtains until he had quite disappeared to a distant part of the field, and then she turned to her mother and said eagerly—
'It's a very pretty picture, isn't it, mammie dear?'
But no answer came from the bed. Rosalie thought her mother was asleep, and crept on tiptoe to her side, fearful of waking her. But she found her mother's face buried in the pillow, on which large tears were falling.
And when the little girl sat down by her side, and tried to comfort her by stroking her hand very gently, and saying, 'Mammie dear, mammie dear, don't cry! What's the matter, mammie dear?' her mother only wept the more.
At length her sobs brought on such a violent fit of coughing that Rosalie was much alarmed, and fetched her a mug of water, which was standing on the shelf near the door. By degrees her mother grew calmer, the sobs became less frequent, and, to the little girl's joy, she fell asleep. Rosalie sat beside her without moving, lest she should awake her, and kept gazing at her picture till she knew every line of it. And the first thing her mother heard when she awoke from sleep was Rosalie's voice saying softly—
'"Rejoice with Me, for I have found My sheep which was lost. There is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth."'
THE LITTLE THEATRE
It was the next evening; the fair was once more in its glory, and crowded with an admiring throng. The great shows were again illuminated, and three rows of brilliant stars shone forth from the little theatre belonging to Rosalie's father. He had been out all day, strolling about the town, and had only returned in time to make preparation for the evening's entertainment.
'Norah,' said her husband, as he put his head in at the door of the caravan, 'surely you mean to come and take your part to-night?'
'I can't, Augustus, and you would know it, if you stayed long enough with me; I've been coughing nearly the whole day.'
'Well, I wish you would get better soon; it's very awkward to have to fill your part up every time. Conrad has to take it, and every one can see he's not used to it, he's so clumsy and slow.'
'I'll come as soon as ever I can,' said the poor wife, with a sigh.
'It's to be hoped you will,' said her husband. 'Women are always fancying they are ill. They lie still thinking about it, and nursing themselves up, long after a man would have been at his work again. It's half laziness, that's what it is!' said Augustus fiercely.
'If you felt as ill as I do, Augustus,' said his wife, 'I'm sure you wouldn't do any work.'
'Hold your tongue!' said her husband; 'I know better than that. Well, mind you have Rosalie ready in time; we shall begin early to-night.'
Little Rosalie had crept to her mother's side, and was crying quietly at her father's rough words.
'Stop crying this minute, child!' said Augustus harshly. 'Wipe your eyes, you great baby! Do you think you'll be fit to come on the stage if they're red and swollen with crying? Do you hear me? Stop at once, or it will be the worse for you!' he shouted, as he shut the caravan door.
'Rosalie, darling,' said her mother, 'you mustn't cry; your father will be so angry, and it's time you got ready. What a noise there is in the fair already!' said the poor woman, holding her aching head.
Rosalie wiped her eyes and washed her face, and then brought out from one of the boxes the dress in which she was to act at the play. It was a white muslin dress, looped up with pink roses, and there was a wreath of paper roses to wear in her hair. She dressed herself before a tiny looking-glass, and then went to her mother to have the wreath of roses fastened on her head.
The poor woman raised herself in bed, and arranged her little girl's long tresses.
What a contrast Rosalie looked to the rest of the caravan! The shabby furniture, the thin, wasted mother, the dirty, torn little frock she had just laid aside, were quite out of keeping with the pretty little white-robed figure which stood by the bed.
At length her father's voice called her, and after giving her mother a last kiss, and placing some water near her on the box, in case a violent fit of coughing should come on, Rosalie ran quickly down the caravan steps, and rushed into the brilliantly-lighted theatre. A crowd of people stared at her as she flitted past and disappeared up the theatre steps.
The audience had not yet been admitted, so Rosalie crept into the room behind the stage, in which her father's company was assembled. They all looked tired and cross, for this was the last night of the fair, and they had had little sleep whilst it lasted.
At length Augustus announced that it was time to begin, and they all went out upon a platform, which was erected half way up the outside of the theatre, just underneath the three rows of illuminated stars. Here they danced, and sang, and shook tambourines, in order to beguile the people to enter. Then they disappeared within, and a crowd of eager spectators immediately rushed up the steps, paid their admission money, and took their seats in the theatre.
After this the play commenced, Augustus acting as manager, and keeping his company up to their various parts. It was a foolish play, and in some of the parts there was a strong mixture of very objectionable language; yet it was highly appreciated by the audience, and met with vociferous applause.
There were many young girls there, some of them servants in respectable families, where they enjoyed every comfort; yet they looked up at little Rosalie with eyes of admiration and envy. They thought her life was much happier than theirs, and that her lot was greatly to be desired. They looked at the white dress and the pink roses, and contrasted them with their own warm but homely garments; they watched the pretty girl going through her part gracefully and easily, and they contrasted her work with theirs. How interesting, how delightful, they thought, to be doing this, instead of scrubbing floors, or washing clothes, or nursing children!
But they knew nothing of the life behind the scenes; of the sick mother, the wretched home, the poor and insufficient food, the dirty, ragged frock. They knew nothing of the bitter tears which had just been wiped away, nor of the weary aching of the little feet which were dancing so lightly over the stage.
And those little feet became more and more weary as the night went on. As soon as the play was over, the people rushed out into the fair to seek for fresh amusement; but the actors had no rest. Once more they appeared on the platform to attract a fresh audience, and then the same play was repeated, the same songs were sung, the same words were said; fresh to the people who were listening, but oh, how stale and monotonous to the actors themselves!
And so it went on all night; as soon as one exhibition was over, another began, and the theatre was filled and refilled, long after the clock of the neighbouring church had struck the hour of twelve.
At last it was over; the last audience had left, the brilliant stars disappeared, and Rosalie was at liberty to creep back to her mother. So weary and exhausted was she, that she could hardly drag herself up the caravan steps. She opened the door very gently, that she might not disturb her mother, and then she tried to undress herself. But she was aching in every limb, and, sitting down on the box beside her mother's bed, she fell asleep, her little weary head resting on her mother's pillow.
Poor little woman! She ought to have been laid in a quiet little nest hours ago, instead of being exposed to the close, hot, stifling air of the theatre through all the long hours of a weary night.
In about an hour's time her mother woke, and found her little girl sleeping in her uncomfortable position, her white dress unfastened, and the pink roses from her hair fallen on the ground. Weak as she was, the poor mother dragged herself out of bed to help her tired child to undress.
'Rosalie, dear,' she said tenderly, 'wake up!'
But for some time Rosalie did not stir, and, when her mother touched her, she sat up, and said, as if in her sleep—
'"Rejoice with Me, for I have found My sheep which was lost."'
'She is dreaming of her picture, poor child,' said the mother to herself.
Then Rosalie woke, and shivered as she felt the cold night air on her bare neck and arms. Very gently the poor weak mother helped her to take off her white dress and her small ragged petticoats; and then the child crept into bed and into her mother's arms.
'Poor little tired lamb!' said the mother, as the weary child nestled up to her.
'Am I the lamb?' said Rosalie, in a sleepy voice.
The mother did not answer, but kissed her child passionately, and then lay awake by her side, weeping and coughing by turns till the morning dawned.
THE DAY AFTER THE FAIR
The next morning Rosalie was waked by a rap at the caravan door. She crept out of bed, and, putting her dress over her shoulders, peeped out between the muslin curtains.
'It's Toby, mammie,' she said; 'I'll see what he wants.'
She opened the door a crack, and Toby put his mouth to it, and whispered—
'Miss Rosie, we're going to start in about half an hour. Master has just sent me for the horses; we've been up all night packing; three of the waggons is loaded, and they've only some of the scenery to roll up, and then we shall start.'
'Where are we going, Toby?' asked the child.
'It's a town a long way off,' said Toby; 'we've never been there before, master says, and it will take us nearly a week to get there. But I must be off, Miss Rosie, or master will be coming.'
'Aren't you tired, Toby?' said the child kindly.
Toby shrugged his shoulders, and said, with a broad grin—
'I wonder if any one in this concern is ever anything else but tired!'
Then he walked away into the town for the horses, which had been put up in the stables of an inn, and Rosalie returned to her mother. There were several things to be done before they could start; the crockery had all to be taken from the shelf and stowed away in a safe place, lest the jolting over the rough and uneven field should throw it down. Besides this, Rosalie had to dress herself and get her mother's breakfast ready, that she might eat it in peace before the shaking of the caravan commenced.
When all was ready, Rosalie stood at the window and looked out. The fair looked very different from what it had done the night before. Most of the show-people had been up all night, taking their shows to pieces, and packing everything up. Though it was not yet nine o'clock, many of them had already started, and the field was half empty. It was a dreary scene of desolation; all the little grass it had once possessed, which had given it a right to the name of field, had entirely disappeared, and the bare, uneven ground was thickly strewn with dirty pieces of paper, broken boxes, and old rags, which had been left behind by the show-people; besides a quantity of orange-peel and cocoa-nut and oyster shells, which had been thrown into the mud the night before. Very dirty and untidy and forlorn it looked, as Rosalie gazed at it from the door of the caravan. Then a waggon jolted past, laden with the largest of the numerous whirligigs, the wooden horses and elephants peeping out from the waterproof covering which had been thrown over them. Then a large swing passed by, then the show of the giant and dwarf; these were followed by a pea-boiling establishment and the marionettes. And, a few minutes afterwards, the show of the blue horse and the performing seal set out on its way to the next feast, accompanied by the shows of the fat boy and of the lady without arms, who performed wonders with her toes in the ways of tea-making and other household business, and whose very infirmities and deformities were thus made into gain, and exposed to the gaze of curious crowds by her own relations.
All these rattled past, and Rosalie watched them out of sight. Then Toby returned with the horses; they were yoked to the waggons and to the caravans, and the little cavalcade set forth. The jolting over the rough ground was very great, and much tried the poor sick woman, who was shaken from side to side of her wretched bed. Then outside the field they had to wait a long time, for the road was completely filled by the numerous caravans of the wild-beast show, and no one could pass until they were gone.
The elephants were standing close to the pavement, now and again twisting their long trunks into the trees of the small gardens in front of the neighbouring houses; and they would undoubtedly have broken the branches to atoms had not their keeper driven them off with his whip. A crowd of children was gathered round them, feeding them with bread and biscuit, and enjoying the delay of the show.
But Augustus became very impatient, for he had a long journey before him; so, after pacing up and down and chafing against the stoppage for some time, he went up to the manager of the wild-beast show, and addressed him in such violent and passionate language, that a policeman was obliged to interfere, and desired him to keep the peace.
At length the huge yellow caravans, each drawn by six strong cart-horses, moved slowly on, led by a procession of elephants and camels, and followed by a large crowd of children, who accompanied them to the outskirts of the town. Here, by turning down a by-street, the theatre party was able to pass them, and thus get the start of them on their journey.
Rosalie was glad to leave the town, and feel the fresh country air blowing upon her face. It was so very refreshing after the close, stagnant air of the fair. She opened the upper part of the door, and stood looking out, watching Toby, who was driving, and talking to him from time to time of the objects which they passed by the way; it was a new road to Rosalie and to her mother.
At length, about twelve o'clock, they came to a little village, where they halted for a short time, that the horses might rest before going farther. The country children were just leaving the village school, and they gathered round the caravans with open eyes and mouths, staring curiously at the smoke coming from the small chimneys, and at Rosalie, who was peeping out from between the muslin curtains. But, after satisfying their curiosity, they moved away in little groups to their various homes, that they might be in time to get their dinner done before afternoon school.
Then the village street was quite quiet, and Rosalie stood at the door, watching the birds hopping from tree to tree, and the bees gathering honey from the flowers in the gardens. Her mother was better to-day, and was dressing herself slowly, for she thought that a breath of country air might revive and strengthen her.
Augustus, Toby, and the other men of the company had gone into the small inn for refreshment, and Toby was sent back to the caravan with large slices of bread and cheese for Rosalie and her mother. The child ate of it eagerly—the fresh air had given her an appetite—but the poor woman could not touch it. As soon as she was dressed, she crept, with Rosalie's help, to the door of the caravan, and sat on the top step, leaning against one of the boxes, which the child dragged from its place to make a support for her.
The caravan was drawn up by the side of a small cottage with a thatched roof. There was a little garden in front of it, filled with sweet flowers, large cabbage-roses, southernwood, rosemary, sweetbriar, and lavender. As the wind blew softly over them, it wafted their sweet fragrance to the sick woman sitting on the caravan steps. The quiet stillness of the country was very refreshing and soothing to her, after the turmoil and din of the last week. No sound was to be heard but the singing of the larks overhead, the humming of the bees, and the gentle rustling of the breeze amongst the branches.
Then the cottage door opened, and a little child, about three years old, ran out with a ball in his hand, which he rolled down the path leading to the garden gate. A minute afterwards a young woman, in a clean cotton gown and white apron, brought her work outside, and, sitting on the seat near the cottage door, watched her child at play with a mother's love and tenderness. She was knitting a little red sock for one of those tiny feet to wear. Click! click! click! went her knitting-needles; but she kept her eyes on the child, ready to run to him at the first alarm, to pick him up if he should fall, or to soothe him if he should be in trouble. Now and then she glanced at the caravan standing at her garden gate, and gave a look of compassion at the poor thin woman, whose cough from time to time was so distressing. Then, as was her custom, she began to sing as she worked; she had a clear, sweet voice, and the sick woman and her child listened.
The words of her song were these:
'Jesus, I Thy face am seeking, Early will I turn to Thee; Words of love Thy voice is speaking: "Come, come to Me.
'"Come to Me when life is dawning, I thy dearest Friend would be; In the sunshine of the morning, Come, come to Me.
'"Come to Me—oh, do believe Me! I have shed My blood for thee; I am waiting to receive thee, Come, come to Me."
'Lord, I come without delaying, To Thine arms at once I flee, Lest no more I hear Thee saying, "Come, come to Me."'
When she had finished singing, all was quite still again; there was hardly a sound except the pattering of the little feet on the garden path. But presently the child began to cry, and the careful mother flew to his side to discover what had pained him. It was only the loss of his ball, which he had thrown too high, and which had gone over the hedge, and seemed to him lost for ever. Only his ball! And yet that ball was as much to that tiny mind as our most precious treasures are to us.
The mother knew this, so she calmed the child's fears, and ran immediately to recover his lost plaything.
But Rosalie was before her. She had seen the ball come over the hedge, and had heard the child's cry; and, when his mother appeared at the gate, she saw the child of the caravan returning from her chase after the ball, which had rolled some way down the hilly road. She brought it to the young mother, who thanked her for her kindness, and then gazed lovingly and pityingly into her face. She was a mother, and she thought of the happy life her child led, compared with that of this poor little wanderer. With this feeling in her heart, after restoring the ball to the once more contented child, she ran into the house, and returned with a mug of new milk, and a slice of bread, spread with fresh country butter, which she handed to Rosalie and begged her to eat.
'Thank you, ma'am,' said little Rosalie; 'but please may mammie have it? I've had some bread and cheese; but she is too ill to eat that, and this would do her such good.'
'Yes, to be sure,' said the kind-hearted countrywoman; 'give her that, child, and I'll fetch some more for you.'
And so it came to pass that Rosalie and her mother had quite a little picnic on the steps of the caravan; with the young woman standing by, and talking to them as they ate, and now and then looking over the hedge into the garden, that she might see if any trouble had come to her boy.
'I liked to hear you sing,' said Rosalie's mother.
'Did you?' said the young woman.' I often sing when I'm knitting; my little one likes to hear me, and he almost knows that hymn now. Often when he is at play I hear him singing, "Tome, tome, to Me," so prettily, the little dear!' she said, with tears in her eyes.
'I wish I knew it,' said Rosalie.
'I'll tell you what,' said the young woman, 'I'll give you a card with it on; our clergyman had it printed, and we've got two of them.'
She ran again into the house, and returned with a card, on which the hymn was printed in clear, distinct type. There were two holes pierced through the top of the card, and a piece of blue ribbon had been slipped through, and tied in a bow at the top. Rosalie seized it eagerly, and began reading it at once.
'We've got such a good clergyman here,' said the young woman; 'he has not been here more than a few months, and he has done so many nice things for us. Mrs. Leslie reads aloud in one of the cottages once a week; and we all take our work and go to listen to her, and she talks to us so beautiful out of the Bible; it always does me good to go.'
She stopped suddenly, as she saw Rosalie's mother's face. She had turned deadly pale, and was leaning back against the box with her eyes fixed upon her.
'What's the matter, ma'am?' said the kind-hearted little woman. 'I'm afraid you've turned faint; and how you do tremble! Let me help you in; you'd better lie on your bed, hadn't you?'
She gave her her arm, and she and Rosalie took her inside the caravan and laid her on her bed. But she was obliged to leave her in a minute or two, as her little boy was climbing on the gate, and she was afraid he would fall.
A few minutes afterwards a great noise was heard in the distance, and a number of the village children appeared, running in front of the wild-beast show, which was just passing through. The young woman took her little boy in her arms, and held him up, that he might see the elephants and camels, which were marching with stately dignity in front of the yellow vans.
When they had gone, Toby appeared with the horse, and said his master had told him he was to start, and he would follow presently with the rest of the waggons. The horse was soon put in the caravan, and they were just starting, when the young woman gathered a nosegay of the lovely flowers in her garden, and handed them to Rosalie, saying, 'Take them, and put them in water for your mother; the sight of them maybe will do her good. You'll learn the hymn, won't you? Good-bye, and God bless you!'
She watched them out of sight, standing at her cottage door with her child in her arms, whilst Rosalie leaned out of the window to nod to her and smile at her.
Then they turned a corner, and came into the main street of the village.
'Can you see the church, Rosalie?' asked her mother hurriedly.
'Yes, mammie dear,' said Rosalie; 'it's just at the end of this street. Such a pretty church, with trees all round it!'
'Are there any houses near it?' asked her mother.
'Only one, mammie dear, a big house in a garden; but I can't see it very well, there are so many trees in front of it.'
'Ask Toby to put you down, Rosalie, and run and have a look at it as we pass.'
So Rosalie was lifted down from the caravan, and ran up to the vicarage gate, whilst her mother raised herself on her elbow to see as much as she could through the open window. But she could only see the spire of the church and the chimneys of the house, and she was too exhausted to get up.
Presently Rosalie overtook them, panting with her running. Toby never dared to wait for her, lest his master should find fault with him for stopping; but Rosalie often got down from the caravan, to gather wild flowers, or to drink at a wayside spring, and, as she was very fleet of foot, she was always able to overtake them.
'What was it like, Rosalie?' asked her mother, when she was seated on the box beside her bed.
'Oh, ever so pretty, mammie dear; such soft grass and such lovely roses, and a broad gravel walk all up to the door. And in the garden there was a lady; such a pretty, kind-looking lady! and she and her little girl were gathering some of the flowers.'
'Did they see you, Rosalie?'
'Yes; the little girl saw me, mammie, peeping through the gate, and she said, "Who is that little girl, mamma? I never saw her before." And then her mamma looked up and smiled at me; and she was just coming to speak to me when I turned frightened, and I saw the caravan had gone out of sight; so I ran away, and I've been running ever since to get up to you.'
The mother listened to her child's account with a pale and restless face. Then she lay back on her pillow and sighed several times.
At last they heard a rumbling sound behind them, and Toby announced, 'It's master; he's soon overtaken us.'
'Rosalie,' said her mother anxiously, 'don't you ever tell your father about that house, or that I told you to go and look at it, or about what that young woman said. Mind you never say a word to him about it; promise me, Rosalie.'
'Why not, mammie dear?' asked Rosalie, with a very perplexed face.
'Never mind why, Rosalie,' said her mother fretfully; 'I don't wish it.'
'Very well, mammie dear,' said Rosalie.
'I'll tell you some time, Rosalie,' said her mother gently, a minute or two afterwards; 'not to-day, though; oh no! I can't tell it to-day.'
Rosalie wondered very much what her mother meant, and she sat watching her pale, sorrowful face as she lay on her bed with her eyes closed. What was she thinking of? What was it she had to tell her? For some time Rosalie sat quite still, musing on what her mother had said, and then she pinned the card on the wall just over her dear picture, and once more read the words of the hymn.
After this she arranged the flowers in a small glass, and put them on the box near her mother's bed. The sweet-briar and cabbage-roses and southernwood filled the caravan with their fragrance. Then Rosalie took up her usual position at the door, to watch Toby driving, and to see all that was to be seen by the way.
They passed through several other villages, and saw many lone farmhouses and solitary cottages. When night came, they drew up on the outskirts of a small market-town. Toby took the horses to an inn, and they rested there for the night.
THE ACTRESS'S STORY
The next morning, as soon as it was light, the horses were put in again, and the theatre party proceeded on their way. Rosalie's mother seemed much better; the country air and country quiet had, for a time, restored to her much of her former strength. She was able, with Rosalie's help, to dress herself and to sit on one of the boxes beside her bed, resting her head against the pillows, and gazing out at the green fields and clear blue sky. The sweet fresh breezes came in at the open door, and fanned her careworn face and the face of the child who sat beside her.
'Rosalie,' said her mother suddenly, 'would you like to hear about the time when your mother was a little girl?'
'Yes, mammie dear,' said Rosalie, nestling up to her side; 'I know nothing at all about it.'
'No, Rosalie,' said her mother; 'it's the beginning of a very sad story, and I did not like my little girl to know about it; but I sometimes think I sha'n't be long with you, and I had rather tell it to you myself than have any one else tell it. And you're getting a great girl now, Rosalie; you will be able to understand many things you could not have understood before. And there have been things the last few days which have brought it all back to me, and made me think of it by day and dream of it by night.'
'Please tell me, mammie dear,' said Rosalie, as her mother stopped speaking.
'Would you like to hear it now?' said the poor woman, with a sigh, as if she hardly liked to begin.
'Please, mammie dear,' said Rosalie.
'Then draw closer to me, child, for I don't want Toby to hear; and, mind, you must never speak of what I'm going to tell you before your father—never; promise me, Rosalie,' she said earnestly.
'No, never, mammie dear,' said little Rosalie.
Then there was silence for a minute or two afterwards—no sound to be heard but the cracking of Toby's whip and the rumbling of the waggons behind.
'Aren't you going to begin, mammie?' said Rosalie at length.
'I almost wish I hadn't promised to tell you, child,' said her mother hurriedly; 'it cuts me up so to think of it; but never mind, you ought to know, and you will know some day, so I had better tell you myself. Rosalie, your mother was born a lady.
'Yes,' said the poor woman, as the child did not speak;
'I was never born to this life of misery, I brought myself to it. I chose it,' she said bitterly; 'and I'm only getting the harvest of what I sowed myself.'
When she had said this, she turned deadly pale, and shivered from head to foot. Rosalie crept still closer to her, and put her little warm hand in her mother's cold one. Then the poor woman by a strong effort controlled herself, and she went on.
'So now, darling, I'll tell you all about it, just as if I was talking about some one else; I'll forget it is myself, or I shall never be able to tell it. I'll try and fancy I'm on the stage, and talking about the sorrows and troubles of some one I never knew, and never cared for, and of whom I shall never think again when my part is over.
'I was born in a country village, hundreds of miles from here, in the south of England. My father was the squire of the place. We lived in a large mansion, which was built half way up the side of a wooded hill, and an avenue of beautiful old trees led up to the house. There was a large conservatory at one side of it, filled with the rarest flowers, and in a shady corner of the grounds my mother had a kind of grotto, filled with lovely ferns, through which a clear stream of water was ever flowing. This fernery was my mother's great delight, and here she spent much of her time. She was a very worldly woman; she took very little notice of her children; and when she was not in the garden, she was generally lying on the sofa in the drawing-room, reading novels, which she procured from a London library.
'My father was a very different man; he was fond of quiet, and fond of his children; but he was obliged to be often from home, so that we did not see as much of him as we should otherwise have done.
'I had one brother and one sister. My brother was much older than we were; there had been several children between us, who had died in their infancy, so that he was in the sixth form of a large public school whilst we were children in the nursery.
'My sister Lucy was a year younger than I was. She was such a pretty child, and had a very sweet disposition. When we were children we got on very well together, and shared every pleasure and every grief. My father bought us a little white pony, and on this we used to ride in turns about the park when we were quite small children, our old nurse following, to see that no harm came to us.
'She was a very good old woman; she taught us to say our prayers night and morning, and on Sundays she used to sit with us under a tree in the park, and show us Scripture pictures, and tell us stories out of the Bible. There was one picture of a shepherd very like that, Rosalie; it came back to my mind the other day, when that old man gave it to you, only in mine the shepherd was just drawing the lamb out of a deep miry pit, into which it had fallen, and the text underneath it was this: "The Son of Man is come to seek and to save that which is lost." We used to learn these texts, and repeat them to our nurse when we looked at the pictures; and then, if we had said them correctly, she used to let us carry our tea into the park and eat it under the tree. And after tea we used to sing one of our little hymns and say our prayers, and then she took us in and put us to bed. I have often thought of those quiet, happy Sundays when I have been listening to the noise and racket of the fair.
'I thought a great deal at the time about what our nurse told us. I remember one Sunday she had been reading to us about the Judgment Day, and how God would read out of a book all the wrong things we had done. And that same afternoon there was a great thunderstorm; the lightning flashed in at the window, and the thunder rolled overhead. It made me think of what nurse had said, and of the Judgment Day. And then I knelt down, and prayed that God would take care of me, and not let the lightning kill me. I crept behind the sofa in the large drawing-room, and trembled lest the books should be opened, and all my sins read out; and I asked God to keep them shut a little longer.
'And I remember another day, when I had told a lie, but would not own that I had done so. Nurse would not let me sleep with Lucy, but moved my little bed into her room, that I might lie still and think about my sin. It was a strange room, and I could not sleep for some time, but I lay awake with my eyes closed. When I opened them I saw one bright star shining in at the closed window. It seemed to me like the eye of God watching me; I could not get the thought out of my mind. I shut my eyes tightly, that I might not see it; but I could not help opening them to see if it was still there. And when nurse came up to bed, she found me weeping. I have often seen that star since, Rosalie, looking in at the window of the caravan; and it always reminds me of that night, and makes me think of that Eye.
'I had a very strong will, Rosalie, and even as a child I hated to be controlled. If I set my heart upon anything, I wanted to have it at once, and if I was opposed, I was very angry. I loved my dear old nurse; but when we were about eight years old, she had to leave us to live with her mother, and then I was completely unmanageable. My mother engaged a governess for us, who was to teach us in a morning and take us out in the afternoon. She was an indolent person, and she took very little trouble with us, and my mother did not exert herself sufficiently to look after us, or to see what we were doing. Thus we learnt very little, and got into idle and careless habits. Our governess used to sit down in the park with a book, and we were allowed to follow our own devices, and amuse ourselves as we pleased.
'When my brother Gerald came home, it was always a great cause of excitement to us. We used to meet him at the station, and drive him home in triumph. Then we always had holidays, and Miss Manders went away, and Gerald used to amuse us with stories of his school friends, as we walked with him through the park. He was a very fine-looking lad, and my mother was very proud of him. She thought much more of him than of us, because he was a boy, and was to be the heir to the property. She liked to drive out with her handsome son, who was admired by every one who saw him, and sometimes we were allowed to go with them. We were generally left outside in the carriage, whilst mamma and Gerald called at the large houses of the neighbourhood; and we used to jump out, as soon as they had disappeared inside the house, and explore the different gardens, and plan how we would lay out our grounds when we had houses of our own. But what's that, Rosalie?—did the waggons stop?'
Rosalie ran to the door and looked out.
'Yes, mammie,' she said; 'my father's coming.'
'Then mind, not a word,' said her mother, in a hoarse whisper.
'Well,' said Augustus, entering the caravan in a theatrical manner, 'I thought I might as well enjoy the felicity of the amiable society of my lady and her daughter!'
This was said with a profound bow towards his wife and Rosalie.
'Glad to see you so much better, madam,' he continued. 'Rather singular, isn't it, that your health and spirits have revived immediately we have left the inspired scene of public action, or—to speak in plain terms—when there's no work to do!'
'I think it's the fresh air, Augustus, that has done me good; there was such a close, stifling smell from the fair, I felt worse directly we got there.'
'It's to be hoped,' he said, with a disagreeable smile on his face, 'that this resuscitation of the vital powers may be continued until we arrive at Lesborough', but the probability is that the moment we arrive on the scene of action, you will be seized with that most unpleasant of all maladies, distaste to your work, and will be compelled once more to resume that most interesting and pathetic occupation of playing the invalid!'
'Oh, Augustus, don't speak to me like that!' said the poor wife.
Augustus made no answer, but, taking a piece of paper from his pocket, twisted it up, and, putting it into the fire, lighted a long pipe and began to smoke. The fumes of the tobacco brought on his poor wife's cough, but he took very little notice of her, except to ask her occasionally, between the whiffs of his pipe, how long that melodious sound was to last. Then his eyes fell upon Rosalie's picture, which was pinned to the side of the caravan.
'Where did you get that from?' he inquired, turning to his wife.
'It's mine, father,' said little Rosalie; 'an old gentleman in the fair gave it to me. Isn't it pretty?'
It will do for a child,' he said scornfully. 'Toby, what are you after? You're creeping along; we shall never get there at this pace.'
'The horse is tired, master,' said Toby; 'he's had a long stretch these two days.'
'Beat him, then,' said the cruel man; 'flog him well. Do you think I can afford to waste time upon the road? The wild beasts are a mile ahead, at the very least, and the marionettes will be there by this time. We shall just arrive when all the people have spent their money, and are tired out.'
Now there was one subject of standing dispute between Toby and his master. Toby was a kind-hearted lad, and hated to see the horses over-worked, ill-fed, and badly used. He was always remonstrating with his master about it, and thereby bringing down upon himself his master's wrath and abuse. Augustus cared nothing for the comfort or welfare of those under him. To get as much work as possible out of them, and to make as much gain by them as he could, was all he thought of. They might be tired, or hungry, or overburdened; what did it matter to him, so long as the end for which he kept them was fulfilled? The same spirit which led him to treat his company and his wife with severity and indifference, led him to ill-treat his horses.
Toby resolutely refused to beat the poor tired horse, which was already straining itself to its utmost, the additional weight of Augustus having been very trying to it the last few miles.
When Augustus saw that Toby did not mean to obey him, he sprang to the door of the caravan in a towering passion, seized the whip from Toby's hand, and then beat the poor horse unmercifully, causing it to start from side to side, till nearly everything in the caravan was thrown to the ground, and Rosalie and her mother trembled with suppressed indignation and horror.
Then, with one last tremendous blow, aimed at Toby's head, Augustus threw down the whip, and returned to his pipe.
ROSALIE'S FIRST SERMON
The next morning, as soon as they had started on their journey, Rosalie begged her mother to continue her story. So, after satisfying herself that her husband did not intend to favour them with his company, the poor woman took up the thread of her story at the place at which she had left it when they were interrupted the day before.
'I was telling you, dear, about my life in that quiet country manor-house. I think I can remember nothing worth mentioning, until an event happened which altered the whole course of our lives.
'Lucy and I had been out riding in the park on the beautiful new horses which our father had given us a few months before, and we had had a very pleasant afternoon. I can see Lucy now in her riding-habit—her fair hair hanging down her back, and her cheeks glowing with the air and exercise. She was very pretty, was my sister Lucy. People said I was handsomer than she was, and had a better figure and brighter eyes; but Lucy was a sweet-looking little thing, and no one could look at her without loving her.
'We got down from our horses, leaving them with the groom who had been riding out with us, and ran into the house. But we were met by one of the servants, with a face white with alarm, who begged us to go quietly upstairs, as our father was very ill, and the doctor said he was to be perfectly quiet. We asked her what was the matter with him, and she told us that as he had been riding home from the railway station, his horse, which was a young one he had just bought, had thrown him, and that he had been brought home insensilble. More than this she could not tell us, but our mother came into our bedroom, and told us, with more feeling than I had ever seen in her face before, that our father could not live through the night.
'I shall never forget that night. It was the first time that I had been brought close to death, and it frightened me. I lay awake, listening to the hall clock as it struck one hour after another. Then I crept out of bed, and put my head out of the window. It was a close, oppressive night,—not a breath seemed to be stirring. I wondered what was going on in the next room, and whether I should ever see my father again. Then I thought I heard a sound, but it was only Lucy sobbing beneath the bedclothes.
'"Lucy," I said, glad to find she was awake, "isn't it a long night?"
'"Yes, Norah," she answered. "I'm so frightened; shall we have a light?"
'I found the matches and lighted a candle; but three or four large moths darted into the room, so that I had to close the window.
'We lay awake in our little beds watching the moths darting in and out of the candle, and straining our ears for any sound from our father's room. Each time a door shut we started, and sat up in bed listening.
'"Wouldn't you be frightened if you were dying, Norah?" said Lucy, under her breath.
'"Yes," I said, "I'm sure I should."
'Then there was silence again for a long time; and I thought Lucy had fallen asleep, when she got up in bed and spoke again—
'"Norah, do you think you would go to heaven if you were to die?"
'"Yes, of course," I said quickly; "why do you ask me?"
'"I don't think I should," said Lucy; "I'm almost sure I shouldn't."
'We lay still for about another hour, and then the door opened, and our mother came in. She was crying very much, and had a handkerchief to her eyes.
"'Your father wants to see you," she said; "come at once."
'We crept very quietly into the room of death, and stood beside our father's bed. His face was so altered that it frightened us, and we trembled from head to foot. But he held out his hand to us, Rosalie, and we drew closer to him. Then he whispered—
'"Good-bye! don't forget your father; and don't wait till you come to die to get ready for another world."
'Then we kissed him, and our mother told us to go back to bed. I never forgot my father's last words to us; and I often wondered what made him say them.
'The next morning we heard that our father was dead. Gerald arrived too late to see him; he was at college then, and was just preparing for his last examination.
'My mother seemed at first very much distressed by my father's death; she shut herself up in her room, and would see no one. The funeral was a very grand one; all the people of the neighbourhood came to it, and Lucy and I peeped out of one of the top windows to see it start. After it was over, Gerald went back to college, and my mother returned to her novels. I think she thought, Rosalie, that she would be able to return to her old life much as before. But no sooner had Gerald passed his last examination than she received a letter from him to say that he intended to be married in a few months, and to bring his bride to the Hall. Then for the first time the truth flashed upon my mother's mind, that she would soon be no longer the mistress of the manor-house, but would have to seek a home elsewhere. She seemed at first very angry with Gerald for marrying so early; but she could say nothing against his choice, for she was a young lady of title, and one in every way suited to the position she was to occupy.
'My mother at length decided to remove to a town in the midland counties, where she would have some good society and plenty of gaiety, so soon as her mourning for my father was ended.
'It was a great trial to us, leaving the old home. Lucy and I went round the park the day before we left, gathering leaves from our favourite trees, and taking a last look at the home of our childhood. Then we walked through the house, and looked out of the windows on the lovely wooded hills with eyes which were full of tears. I have never seen it since, and I shall never see it again. Sometimes, when we are coming through the country, it brings it back to my mind, and I could almost fancy I was walking down one of the long grassy terraces, or wandering in the quiet shade of the trees in the park. Hush! what was that, Rosalie?' said her mother, leaning forward to listen; 'was it music?'
At first Rosalie could hear nothing except Toby whistling to his horse, and the rumbling of the wheels of the caravan. She went to the door and leaned out, and listened once more. The sun was beginning to set, for Rosalie's mother had only been able to talk at intervals during the day, from her frequent fits of coughing, and from numerous other interruptions, such as the preparations for dinner, the halting to give the horses rest, and the occasional visits of Augustus.
The rosy clouds were gathering in the west, as the pure evening breeze wafted to the little girl's ears the distant sound of bells.
'It's bells, mammie,' she said, turning round, 'church bells; can't you hear them? Ding-dong-bell, ding-dong-bell.'
'Yes,' said her mother, 'I can hear them clearly now; our old nurse used to tell us they were saying, "Come and pray, come and pray." Oh, Rosalie, it is such a comfort to be able to speak of those days to some one! I've kept it all hidden up in my heart till sometimes I have felt as if it would burst.'
'I can see the church now, mammie,' said Rosalie; 'it's a pretty little grey church with a tower, and we're going through the village; aren't we, Toby?'
'Yes, Miss Rosie,' said Toby; 'we're going to stop there all night; the horses are tired out, and it's so fair to see, that even master can see it now. We shall get on all the quicker for giving them a bit of rest.'
'Can't you hear the bells nicely now, mammie?' said Rosalie, turning round.
'Yes,' said the poor woman; 'they sound just like the bells of our little church at home; I could almost cry when I hear them.'
By this time they had reached the village. It was growing dark, and the country people were lighting their candles, and gathering round their small fires. Rosalie could see inside many a cheerful little home, where the firelight was shining on the faces of the father, the mother, and the children. How she wished they had a little home!
Ding-dong-bell, ding-dong-bell; still the chimes went on, and one and another came out of the small cottages, and took the road leading to the church, with their books under their arms.
Toby drove on; nearer and nearer the chimes sounded, until at last, just as the caravan reached a wide open common in front of the church, they ceased, and Rosalie saw the last old woman entering the church door before the service began. The waggons and caravans were drawn up on this open space for the night. Toby and the other men led the horses away to the stables of the inn; Augustus followed them, to enjoy himself amongst the lively company assembled in the little coffee-room, and Rosalie and her mother were left alone.
'Mammie dear,' said Rosalie, as soon as the men had turned the corner, 'may I go and peep at the church?'
'Yes, child,' said her mother; 'only don't make a noise if the people are inside.'
Rosalie did not wait for a second permission, but darted across the common, and opened the church gate. It was getting dark now, and the gravestones looked very solemn in the twilight. She went quickly past them, and crept along the side of the church to one of the windows. She could see inside the church quite well, because it was lighted up; but no one could see her as she was standing in the dark churchyard. Her bright quick eyes soon took in all that was to be seen. The minister was kneeling down, and so were all the people. There were a good many there, though the church was not full, as it was the week-evening service.
Rosalie watched at the window until all the people got up from their knees, when the clergyman gave out a hymn, and they began to sing. Rosalie then looked for the door, that she might hear the music better. It was a warm evening, and the door was open, and before she knew what she was about, she had crept inside, and was sitting on a low seat just within. No one noticed her, for they were all looking in the opposite direction. Rosalie enjoyed the singing very much, and when it was over the clergyman began to speak. He had a clear, distinct voice, and he spoke in simple language which every one could understand.
Rosalie listened with all her might; it was the first sermon she had ever heard. 'The Son of Man is come to seek and to save that which is lost.' That was the text of Rosalie's first sermon.
As soon as the service was over, she stole out of the church, and crept down the dark churchyard. She had passed through the little gate and was crossing the common to the caravan before the first person had left the church. To Rosalie's joy, her father had not returned; for he had found the society in the village inn extremely attractive. Rosalie's mother looked up as the child came in.
'Where have you been all this time, Rosalie?'
Rosalie gave an account of all she had seen, and told her how she had crept in at the open door of the church.
'And what did the clergyman say, child?' asked her mother.
'He said your text, mammie—the text that was on your picture: "The Son of Man is come to seek and to save that which is lost."'
'And what did he tell you about it?'
'He said Jesus went up and down all over to look for lost sheep, mammie; and he said we were all the sheep, and Jesus was looking for us. Do you think He is looking for you and me, mammie dear?'
'I don't know, child; I suppose so,' said her mother. 'I shall take a good deal of looking for, I'm afraid.'
'But he said, mammie, that if only we would let Him find us, He would be sure to do it; He doesn't mind how much trouble He takes about it.'
Rosalie's mother was quite still for some time after this. Rosalie stood at the caravan door, watching the bright stars coming out one by one in the still sky.
'Mammie dear,' she said, 'is He up there?'
'Who, Rosalie, child?' said her mother.
'The Saviour; is He up in one of the stars?'
'Yes; heaven's somewhere there, Rosalie; up above the sky somewhere.'
'Would it be any good telling Him, mammie?'
'Telling Him what, my dear?'
'Just telling Him that you and me want seeking and finding.'
'I don't know, Rosalie; you can try,' said her mother sadly.
'Please, Good Shepherd,' said Rosalie, looking up at the stars, 'come and seek me and mammie, and find us very quick, and carry us very safe, like the lamb in the picture.'
'Will that do, mammie?' said Rosalie.
'Yes,' said her mother, 'I suppose so.'
Then Rosalie was still again, looking at the stars; but a sudden thought seized her.
'Mammie, ought I to have said amen?'
'I heard the people at church say it. Will it do any good without amen?'
'Oh, I don't think it matters much,' said her mother; 'you can say it now, if you like.'
'Amen, amen,' said Rosalie, looking at the stars again.
But just then voices were heard in the distance, and Rosalie saw her father and the men crossing the dark common, and coming in the direction of the caravan.
A FAMILY SECRET
How sweet and calm the village looked the next morning, when Rosalie woke and looked out at it. She was quite sorry to leave it, but there was no rest for these poor wanderers; they must move onwards towards the town where they were next to perform. And as they travelled on, Rosalie's mother went on with her sad story.
'I told you, darling, that my mother took a house in town, and that we all moved there, that my brother Gerald might take possession of our old home. We were getting great girls now, and my mother sent Miss Manders away, and left us to our own devices.
'My sister Lucy had been very different since our father died. She was so quiet and still, that I often wondered what was the matter with her. She spent nearly all her time reading her Bible in a little attic chamber. I did not know why she went there, till one day I went upstairs to get something out of a box, and found Lucy sitting in the window-seat reading her little black Bible. I asked her what she read it for, and she said—
'"Oh, Norah, it makes me so happy! won't you come and read it with me?" But I tossed my head, and said I had too much to do to waste my time like that; and I ran downstairs, and tried to forget what I had seen; for I knew that my sister was right and I was wrong. Oh, Rosalie darling, I've often thought if I had listened to my sister Lucy that day, what a different life I might have led!
'Well, I must go on; I'm coming to the saddest part of my story, and I had better get over it as quickly as I can.
'As I got older, I took to reading novels. Our house was full of them, for my mother spent her days in devouring them. I read them and read them till I lived in them, and was never happy unless I was fancying myself one of the heroines of whom I read. My own life seemed dull and monotonous; I wanted to see more of the world, and to have something romantic happen to me. Oh, Rosalie, I got so restless and discontented! I used to wake in the night, and wonder what my fortunes would be; and then I used to light the candle, and go on with the exciting novel I had been reading the night before. Often I used to read half the night, for I could not sleep again till I knew the end of the story. I quite left off saying my prayers, for I could not think of anything of that sort when I was in the middle of a novel.
'It was just about this time that I became acquainted with a family of the name of Roehunter. They were rich people, friends of my mother. Miss Georgina and Miss Laura Roehunter were very fast, dashing girls. They took a great fancy to me, and we were always together. They were passionately fond of the theatre, and they took me to it night after night.
'I could think of nothing else, Rosalie. I dreamt of it every night. It took even more hold of me than the novels had done for it seemed to me like a living novel. I admired the scenery, I admired the actors, I admired everything that I saw. I thought if I was only on the stage I should be perfectly happy. There was nothing in the world that I wanted so much; it seemed to me such a free, happy, romantic life. When an actress was greeted with bursts of applause, I almost envied her. How wearisome my life seemed when compared with hers!
'I kept a book then, Rosalie darling, in which I wrote all that I did every day, and I used to write again and again—
'"No change yet; my life wants variety. It is the same over and over again."
'I determined that, as soon as possible, I would have a change, cost what it might.
'Soon after this the Roehunters told me that they were going to have some private theatricals, and that I must come and help them. It was just what I wanted. Now, I thought, I could fancy myself an actress.
'They engaged some of the professional actors at the theatre to teach us our parts, to arrange the scenery, and to help us to do everything in the best possible manner. I had to go up to the Roehunters' again and again to learn my part of the performance. And there it was, Rosalie dear, that I met your father. He was one of the actors whom they employed.
'You can guess what came next, my darling. Your father saw how well I could act, and how passionately fond I was of it; and by degrees he found out how much I should like to do it always, instead of leading my humdrum life at home. So he used to meet me in the street, and talk to me about it, and he told me that if I would only come with him, I should have a life of pleasure and excitement, and never know what care was. And he arranged that the day after these private theatricals we should run away and be married.
'Oh, darling, I shall never forget that day! I arrived home late at night, or rather early in the morning, worn out with the evening's entertainment. I had been much praised for the way I had performed my part, and some of the company had declared I should make a first-rate actress, and I thought to myself that they little knew how soon I was to become one. As I drove home, I felt in a perfect whirl of excitement. The day had come at last. Was I glad? I hardly knew—I tried to think I was; but somehow I felt sick at heart; I could not shake that feeling off, and as I walked upstairs, I felt perfectly miserable.
'My mother had gone to bed; and I never saw her again! Lucy was fast asleep, lying with her hand under her cheek, sleeping peacefully. I stood a minute or two looking at her. Her little Bible was lying beside her, for she had been reading it the last thing before she went to sleep. Oh, Rosalie, I would have given anything to change places with Lucy then! But it was too late now; Augustus was to meet me outside the house, and we were to be married at a church in the town that very morning. Our names had been posted up in the register office some weeks before.
'I turned away from Lucy, and began putting some things together to take with me, and I hid them under the bed, lest Lucy should wake and see them. It was no use going to bed, for I had not got home from the theatricals till three o'clock, and in two hours Augustus would come. So I scribbled a little note to my mother, telling her that when she received it I should be married, and that I would call and see her in a few days. Then I put out the light, lest it should wake my sister, and sat waiting in the dark. And, Rosie dear, that star—the same star that I had seen that night when I was a little girl, and had told that lie—that same star came and looked in at the window. And again it seemed to me like the eye of God.
'I felt so frightened, that once I thought I would not go. I almost determined to write Augustus a note giving it up; but I thought that he would laugh at me for being such a coward, and I tried to picture to myself once more how fine it would be to be a real actress, and be always praised as I had been last night.
'Then I got up, and drew down the blind, that I might hide the star from sight. I was so glad to see it beginning to get light, for I knew that the star would fade away, and that Augustus would soon come.
'At last the church clock struck five, so I took my carpetbag from under the bed, wrapped myself up in a warm shawl, and, leaving my note on the dressing-table, prepared to go downstairs. But I turned back when I got to the door, to look once more at my sister Lucy. And, Rosalie darling, as I looked, I felt as if my tears would choke me. I wiped them hastily away, however, and crept downstairs. Every creaking board made me jump and tremble lest I should be discovered, and at every turning I expected to see some one watching me. But no one appeared; I got down safely, and, cautiously unbolting the hall door, I stole quietly out into the street, and soon found Augustus, who carried my bag under his arm, and that morning we were married.
'And then my troubles began. It was not half as pleasant being an actress as I had thought it would be. I knew nothing then of the life behind the scenes. I did not know how tired I should be, nor what a comfortless life I should lead.
'Oh, Rosalie, I was soon sick of it. I would have given worlds to be back in my old home. I would have given worlds to lead that quiet, peaceful life again. I was much praised and applauded in the theatre; but after a time I cared very little for it; and as for the acting itself, I became thoroughly sick of it. Oh, Rosalie dear, I have often and often fallen asleep, unable to undress myself from weariness, after acting in the play; and again and again I have wished that I had never seen the inside of a theatre, and never known anything of the wretched life of an actress!
'We stopped for some time in the town where my mother lived, for Augustus had an engagement in a theatre there, and he procured one for me. We had miserable lodgings, and often were very badly off. I called at home a few days after I was married; but the servant shut the door in my face, saying that my mother never wished to see me again, or to hear my name mentioned. I used to walk up and down outside, trying to catch a glimpse of my sister Lucy; but she was never allowed to go out alone, and I could not get an opportunity of speaking to her. All my old friends passed me in the street—even the Roehunters would take no notice of me whatever.
'And then your father lost his engagement at the theatre,
—I need not tell you why, Rosalie darling,—and we left the town. And then I began to know what poverty meant. We travelled from place to place, sometimes getting occasional jobs at small town theatres, sometimes stopping at a town for a few months, and then being dismissed, and travelling on for weeks without hearing of any employment.
'And then it was that your little brother was born. Such a pretty baby he was, and I named him Arthur after my father. I was very, very poor when he was born, and I could hardly get clothes for him to wear, but oh, Rosalie darling, I loved him very much! I wrote to my mother to tell her about it, and that baby was to be christened after my father; but she sent back my letter unread, and I never wrote to her again. And one day, when I took up a newspaper, I saw my mother's death in it; and I heard afterwards that she said on her dying bed that I was not to be told of her death till she was put under the ground, for I had been a disgrace and a shame to the family. And that, they said, was the only time that she mentioned me, after the week that I ran away.
'My sister Lucy wrote me a very kind letter after my mother died, and sent me some presents; but I was sorry for it afterwards, for your father kept writing to her for money, and telling her long tales about the distress I was in, to make her send us more.
'She often sent us money; but I felt as if I could not bear to take it. And she used to write me such beautiful letters—to beg me to come to Jesus, and to remember what my father had said to us when he died. She said Jesus had made her happy, and would make me happy too. I often think now of what she said, Rosalie.
'Well, after a time I heard that Lucy was married to a clergyman, and your father heard it too, and he kept writing to her and asking her for money again and again. And at last came a letter from her husband, in which he said that he was very sorry to be obliged to tell us that his wife could do no more for us; and he requested that no more letters on the same subject might be addressed to her, as they would receive no reply.
'Your father wrote again; but they did not answer it, and since then they have left the town where they were living, and he lost all clue to them. And, Rosalie darling, I hope he will never find them again. I cannot bear to be an annoyance to my sister Lucy—my dear little sister Lucy.
'As for Gerald, he has taken no notice of us at all. Your father has written to him from time to time, but his letters have always been returned to him.
'Well, so we went on, getting poorer and poorer. Once your father took a situation as a post-master in a small country village, and there was a lady there who was very kind to me. She used to come and see my little Arthur; he was very delicate, and at last he took a dreadful cold, and it settled on his chest, and my poor little lamb died. And, Rosalie darling, when I buried him under a little willow-tree in that country churchyard, I felt as if I had nothing left to live for.
'We did not stay in that village long; we were neither of us used to keeping accounts, and we got them in a complete muddle. So I had to leave behind my little grave, and the only home we ever had.
'Then your father fell in with a strolling actor, who was in the habit of frequenting fairs, and between them, by selling their furniture, and almost everything they possessed, they bought some scenery and a caravan, and started a travelling theatre. And when the man died, Rosalie, he left his share of it to your father.
'So the last twelve years, my darling, I've been moving about from place to place, just as we are doing now. And in this caravan, my little girl, you were born. I was very ill a long time after that, and could not take my place in the theatre, and, for many reasons, that was the most miserable part of my miserable life.
'And now, little woman, I've told you all I need tell you at present; perhaps some day I can give you more particulars; but you will have some idea now why I am so utterly wretched.
'Yes, utterly wretched!' said the poor woman, 'no hope for this world, and no hope for the next.'
'Poor, poor mammie!' said little Rosalie, stroking her hand very gently and tenderly—'poor mammie dear!'
'It's all my own fault, child,' said her mother; 'I've brought it all upon my self, and I've no one but myself to blame.'
'Poor, poor mammie!' said Rosalie again.
Then the sick woman seemed quite exhausted, and lay upon her bed for some time without speaking or moving. Rosalie sat by the door of the caravan, and sang softly to herself—
'Jesus, I Thy face am seeking, Early will I come to Thee.'
'Oh, Rosalie,' said her mother, looking round, 'I didn't come to Him early—oh, if I only had! Mind you do, Rosie; it's so much easier for you now than when you get to be old and wicked like me.'
'Is that what "In the sunshine of the morning" means, in the next verse, mammie dear?'
'Yes, Rosalie,' said her mother; 'it means when you're young and happy. Oh, dear, dear! if I'd only come to Him then!'
'Why don't you come now, mammie dear?'
'I don't know; I don't expect He would take me now; oh, I have been such a sinner! There are other things, child, I have not told you about; and they are all coming back to my mind now. I don't know how it is, Rosalie, I never thought so much of them before.'
'Perhaps the Good Shepherd is beginning to find you, mammie.'
'I don't know, Rosalie; I wish I could think that. Anyhow, they are all rising up as clear as if I saw them all; some of them are things I did years and years ago, even when I was a little girl in that old home in the country; they are all coming hack to me now, and oh, I am so very, very miserable!'
'Rosalie,' said her father's voice, at the door of the caravan, 'come into the next waggon. We've a new play on at this town, and you have your part to learn. Come away!'
So Rosalie had to leave her poor mother; and instead of singing the soothing words of the hymn, she had to repeat again and again the foolish and senseless words which had fallen to her share in the new play which her father was getting up. Over and over again she repeated them, till she was weary of their very sound, her father scolding her if she made a mistake, or failed to give each word its proper emphasis. And when she was released, it was time to get tea ready; and then they halted for the night at a small market-town, just eight miles from Lesborough, where they were next to perform, and which they were to enter the next morning, as the fair began on Monday.
THE CIRCUS PROCESSION
It was a bright, sunshiny morning when the theatre party reached Lesborough. Not a cloud was to be seen in the sky, and Augustus was in capital spirits, for he thought that if the fine weather lasted, his profits would be larger than usual.
On the road leading to the town they passed several small shows bound for the same destination. There was the show of 'The Lancashire Lass,''The Exhibition of the Performing Little Pigs,''Roderick Polglaze's Living Curiosities,' and 'The Show of the Giant Horse.' Augustus knew the proprietor of nearly every caravan that passed them, and they exchanged greetings by the way, and congratulated each other on the fine weather which seemed to be before them.
Then they drew near the town, and heard a tremendous noise in the distance. As they entered the main street, they saw a cloud of dust in front of them, and then an immense crowd of people. Rosalie and her mother came to the door of the caravan and looked out.
Presently the dust cleared away, and showed them a glittering gilded car, which was coming towards them, surrounded by throngs of boys and girls, men and women.
'What is it, Toby?' asked Rosalie.
'It's a large circus, Miss Rosie; master said they were going to be here, and he was afraid they would carry a good many people off from us.'
The theatre party had to draw up on one side of the street to let the long procession pass.
First came a gilded car filled with musicians, who were playing a noisy tune. This was followed by about a dozen men on horseback, some dressed in shining armour, as knights of the olden time, and others as cavaliers of the time of the Stuarts.
Then came another large gilded car, on the top of which was a golden dragon, with coloured reins round its neck, which were held by an old man, dressed as an ancient Briton, and supposed to personate St. George. Then came a number of mounted ladies, dressed in brilliant velvet habits, one green, one red, one yellow, one violet; each of them holding long orange reins, which were fastened to spirited piebald horses, which they drove before them.
These were followed by a man riding on two ponies, standing with one leg on each, and going at a great pace. Then two little girls and a little boy passed on three diminutive ponies, and next a tiny carriage, drawn by four little cream-coloured horses, and driven by a boy dressed as the Lord Mayor's coachman.
Then came an absurd succession of clowns, driving, riding, or standing on donkeys, and dressed in hideous costumes. Then, three or four very tall and fine horses, led by grooms in scarlet.
And lastly, an enormous gilded car, drawn by six piebald horses, with coloured flags on their heads. On the top of this car sat a girl, intended for Britannia, dressed in white, with a scarlet scarf across her shoulders, a helmet on her head, and a trident in her hand. She was leaning against two large shields, which alone prevented her from falling from her giddy height. Some way below her, in front of the car, sat her two maidens, dressed in glittering silver tinsel, upon which the rays of the sun made it dazzling to look; whilst behind her, clinging on to the back of the car, were two iron-clad men, whose scaly armour was also shining brightly.
Then the procession was over, and there was nothing to be heard or seen but a noisy rabble, who were hastening on to get another glimpse of the wonderful sight.
There were some girls standing near the caravan, close to Rosalie and her mother, as the circus procession passed, and they were perfectly enraptured with all they saw. When Britannia came in sight, they could hardly contain themselves, so envious were they of her. One of them told the other she would give anything to be sitting up there, dressed in gold and silver, and she thought Britannia must be as happy as Queen Victoria.
'Oh,' said Rosalie's mother, leaning out and speaking in a low voice, 'you would soon get tired of it.'
'Not I,' said the girl; 'I only wish I had the chance.'
Rosalie's mother sighed, and said to Rosalie, 'Poor things! they little know; I should not wonder if that poor girl is about as wretched as I am. But people don't consider; they know nothing about it; they have to be behind the scenes to know what it is like.'
Nothing further happened until the theatre party reached the place where the fair was to be held. It was a large open square in the middle of the town, which was generally used as a market-place. Although it was only Saturday morning, and the fair was not to begin until Monday, many of the shows had already arrived. The marionettes and the wild-beast show had completed their arrangements, and one of the whirligigs was already in action, and from time to time its proprietor rang a large bell, to call together a fresh company of riders.
The children had a holiday, as it was Saturday, and they rushed home and clamoured for pennies, that they might spend them in sitting on a wooden horse, or elephant, or camel, or in one of the small omnibuses or open carriages, and then being taken round by means of steam at a tremendous pace, till their breath was nearly gone; and when they alighted once more on the ground, they hardly knew where they were, or whether they were standing on their heads or on their feet. And for long after many of these children were dizzy and sick, and felt as if they were walking on ground which gave way beneath them as they trod on it.
As soon as Augustus arrived at the place where his theatre was to be erected, he and his men began their work. For the next few hours there was nothing to be heard on all sides but rapping and hammering, every one working with all his might to get everything finished before sunset. Each half hour fresh shows arrived, had their ground measured out for them by the market-keeper, and began to unload and fasten up immediately.
Rosalie stood at the door and looked out; but she had seen it all so often before that it was no amusement to her, and she felt very glad, as, one by one, the shows were finished and the hammering ceased.
But, just as she hoped that all was becoming quiet, she heard a dreadful noise at the back of the caravan. It was her father's voice, and he was in a towering passion with one of the men, who had annoyed him by neglecting to put up part of the scaffolding properly. The two men shouted at each other for some time, and a large number of people, who were strolling about amongst the shows, collected round them to see what was the matter.
At length a policeman, seeing the crowd, came and ordered them off, and they were obliged to retreat inside the theatre.
That night Augustus came into the caravan to smoke his pipe, and informed his wife that it was very well she was so much better, for he and Conrad had had a disagreement, and Conrad had taken his things and gone off, so of course she would have to take her part on Monday night.
Rosalie looked at her mother, and Rosalie's mother looked at her, but neither of them spoke.
But as soon as her father had left them for the night, Rosalie said—
'Mammie dear, you'll never be able to stand all that long, long time; I'm sure it will make you worse, mammie dear.'
'Never mind, Rosalie; it's no use telling your father, he thinks I am only complaining if I do.'
'But oh, mammie dear, what if it makes you bad again, as it did before ?'
'It can't be helped, child; I shall have to do it, so it's no use talking about it; I may as well do it without making a fuss about it; your father is put out to-night, darling, and it would never do to annoy him more.'
But little Rosalie was not satisfied, she looked very tenderly and sorrowfully at her mother; and the next morning she went timidly to tell her father that she did not think her mother would ever get through her part, she was too weak for it. But he told her shortly to mind her own business; so little Rosalie could do nothing more—nothing, except watch her mother very carefully and gently all that long, dreary Sunday, scarcely allowing her to rise from her seat, but fetching her everything she wanted, and looking forward, sick at heart, to the morrow.
The church-bells chimed in all directions, crowds of people in their Sunday clothes passed along the market-place to church or chapel; but to Rosalie and her mother Sunday brought no joy.
It was a fine, bright day, so most of the show-people were roaming about the town; but Rosalie's mother was too weak to go out, and her little girl did not like to leave her.
'Rosalie,' said her mother that Sunday afternoon, 'I'm going to give you a present.'
'A present for me, mammie dear?' said Rosalie.
'Yes, little woman. Pull that large box from under the bed. It's rather heavy, dear; can you manage it ?'
'Oh yes, mammie dear, quite well.'
Rosalie's mother sat down by the box, and began to unpack it. At the top of the box were some of her clothes and Rosalie's; but it was a long time since she had turned out the things at the bottom of the box. She took out from it a small bundle pinned up in a towel, then, calling Rosalie to her side, she drew out the pins one by one, and opened it. Inside were several small parcels carefully tied up in paper.
In the first parcel was a little pair of blue shoes, with a tiny red sock.
'Those were my little Arthur's, Rosalie,' said her mother, with tears in her eyes; 'I put them away the day he was buried, and I've never liked to part with them. No one will care for them when I'm gone, though,' said she, with a sigh.
'Oh, mammie dear,' said Rosalie, 'don't talk so!'
The next parcel contained a small square box; but before she opened it, she went to the door and looked cautiously out. Then, after seeing that no one was near, she touched a spring, and took out of the velvet-lined case a beautiful little locket. There was a circle of pearls all round it, and the letters N.E.H. were engraved in a monogram outside.
Then she opened the locket, and showed Rosalie the picture of a girl with a very sweet and gentle face, and large, soft brown eyes.
'Rosalie darling,' said her mother, 'that is my sister Lucy.'
Rosalie took the locket in her hand, and looked at it very earnestly.
'Yes,' said the poor woman, 'that is my sister Lucy—my own sister Lucy. I haven't looked at it for many a day; I can hardly bear to look at it now, for I shall never see her again—never, darling! What's that, Rosalie?' she said fearfully, covering the locket with her apron, as some one passed the caravan.
'It's only some men strolling through the fair, mammie dear,' said Rosalie.
'Because I wouldn't have your father see this for the world; he would soon sell it if he did. I've hid it up all these years, and never let him find it. I could not bear to part with it; she gave it to me my last birthday that I was at home. I remember it so well, Rosalie dear; I had been very disagreeable to Lucy a long time before that, for I knew I was doing wrong, and I had such a weight on my mind that I could not shake it off, and it made me cross and irritable.
'Lucy was never cross with me, she always spoke gently and kindly to me; and I sometimes even wished she would be angry, that I might have some excuse for my bad behaviour.
'Well, dear, when I woke that morning, I found this little box laid on my pillow, and a note with it, asking me to accept this little gift from my sister Lucy, and always to keep it for her sake. Oh, Rosalie darling, wasn't it good of her, when I had been so bad to her?
'Well, I kissed her, and thanked her for it, and I wore it round my neck; and when I ran away that morning, I put it safely in my bag, and I've kept it ever since. Your father has not seen it for many years, and he has forgotten all about it. When we were so poor, I used to be so afraid he would remember this locket and sell it, as he did all my other jewels. It was hard enough parting with some of them; but I did not care so much so long as I kept this one, for I promised Lucy that morning that I would never, never part with it.'
'It is pretty, mammie dear,' said Rosalie.
'Yes, child; it will be yours some day, when I die; remember, it is for you; but you must never let it be sold or pawned, Rosalie, I couldn't bear to think it ever would be. And now we'll put it back again, it won't be safe here; your father might come in any minute.'
'Here's one more parcel, mammie.'
'Yes, keep that out, dear; that's your present,' said her mother. 'I can't give you the locket yet, because I must keep it till I die; but you shall have the other to-day.'
She took off the paper, and put into Rosalie's hands a small black Testament. The child opened the book, and read on the fly-leaf, 'Mrs. Augustus Joyce. From her friend Mrs. Bernard, in remembrance of little Arthur, and with the prayer that she may meet her child in heaven.'
'I promised her that I would read it, Rosalie; but I haven't,' said the poor woman. 'I read a few verses the first week she gave it to me, but I've never read it since. I wish I had—oh, I do wish I had!'
'Let me read it to you, mammie dear.'
'That's what I got it out for, darling; you might read a bit of it to me every day; I don't know whether it will do me any good, it's almost too late now, but I can but try.'
'Shall I begin at once, mammie dear?'
'Yes, directly, Rosalie; I'll just write your name in it, that you may always remember your mother when you see it.'
So Rosalie brought her a pen and ink, and she wrote at the bottom of the page—'My little Rosalie, with her mother's love.'
'And now, child, you may begin to read.'
'What shall it be, mammie dear?'
'Find the part about your picture, dear; I should think it will say under the text where it is.'
With some trouble Rosalie found Luke xv. and began to read—
'And He spake this parable unto them, saying, What man of you, having an hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost, until he find it? And when he hath found it, he layeth it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he cometh home, he calleth together his friends and neighbours, saying unto them, Rejoice with me; for I have found my sheep which was lost. I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance.'
'I need repentance, Rosalie, child,' said her mother.
'What is repentance, mammie dear?'
'It means being sorry for what you've done, Rosalie darling, and hating yourself for it, and wishing never to do wrong again.'
'Then, mammie, if you need repentance, you must be like the one sheep, not like the ninety-nine.'
'Yes, child, I'm a lost sheep, there's no doubt about that; I've gone very far astray,—so far that I don't suppose I shall ever get back again; it's much easier to get wrong than to get right; it's a very, very hard thing to find the right road when you've once missed it; it doesn't seem much use my trying to get back, I have such a long way to go.'
'But, mammie dear, isn't it just like the sheep?'
'What do you mean, Rosalie darling?'
'Why, the sheep couldn't find its way back, could it, mammie? sheep never can find their way. And this sheep didn't walk back; did it? He carried it on His shoulder, like my picture; I don't suppose it would seem so very far when He carried it.'
Rosalie's mother made no answer when her child said this, but she seemed to be thinking about it. She sat looking thoughtfully out of the window; much, very much was passing in her mind. Then Rosalie closed the Testament, and, wrapping it carefully in the paper in which it had been kept so many years, she hid it away in the box again.
It was Sunday evening now, and once more the church-bells rang, and once more the people went past with books in their hands. Rosalie wished very much that she could creep into one of the churches and hear another sermon. But just then her father and the men came back and wanted their tea; and, instead of the quiet service, Rosalie had to listen to their loud talking and noisy laughter.
And then her father sent for her into the large caravan, and made her go through her part of the play. She was just finishing her recital as the people passed back again from evening service.
LITTLE MOTHER MANIKIN
It was Monday night, and Rosalie's mother was dressing herself, to be ready to act in the play. Rosalie was standing beside her, setting out the folds of her white dress, and fetching everything she needed; her large necklace of pearl beads, the wreath of white lilies for her hair, and the bracelets, rings, and other articles of mock jewellery with which she was adorned. All these Rosalie brought to her, and the poor woman put them on one by one, standing before the tiny looking-glass to arrange them in their proper places.
It was a very thin, sorrowful face which that glass reflected; so ill and careworn, so weary and sad. As soon as she was ready, she sat down on one of the boxes, whilst Rosalie dressed herself.
'Oh, mammie dear,' said Rosalie, 'I'm sure you are not fit to act to-night.'
'Hush, Rosalie!' said her mother; 'don't speak of that now. Come and sit beside me, darling, and let me do your hair for you; and before we go, Rosalie dear, sing your little hymn.'
Rosalie tried to sing it; but somehow her voice trembled, and she could not sing it very steadily. There was such a sad expression in her mother's face, that, in the midst of the hymn, little Rosalie burst into tears, and threw her arms round her mother's neck.
'Don't cry, darling, don't cry!' said her mother; 'what is the matter with you, Rosalie?'
'Oh, mammie dear, I don't want you to go to-night!'
'Hush, little one!' said her mother; 'don't speak of that. Listen to me, dear; I want you to make your mother a promise to-night. I want you to promise me that, if ever you can escape from this life of misery, you will do so; it's not good for you, darling, all this wretched acting—and oh, it makes my heart ache every time you have to go to it. You'll leave it if you can, Rosalie; won't you?'
'Yes, mammie dear, if you'll come with me,' said little Rosalie.
The poor mother shook her head sorrowfully.
'No, dear; I shall never leave the caravan now. I chose this life myself; I chose to live here, darling; and here I shall have to die. But you didn't choose it, child; and I pray every day that God may save you from it. You remember that little village where we passed through, where you got your card?'
'Yes, mammie dear—where we had the milk and bread.'
'Do you remember a house which I sent you to look at?'
'Oh yes, mammie dear—the house with a pretty garden, and a lady and her little girl gathering roses.'
'That lady was my sister Lucy, Rosalie.'
'Aunt Lucy?' said Rosalie; 'was it, mammie dear? And was that little girl my cousin?'
'Yes, darling; I knew it was your Aunt Lucy as soon as that young woman mentioned her name. Lucy married a Mr. Leslie; and it was just like her to read to those people in the cottages, just as she used to do when we lived in that town of which I told you.'